Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


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Palline di Castagne

Campania

Hello again. Thanks for coming back to see where I am in my 20 Regions of Italy project, based on the book La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine).

Again, I’m going to take a step back from Emilia-Romagna to Campania. This time, I made Palline di Castagne, or Chestnut Balls. They resemble chocolate truffles in appearance, but have a unique flavor.

I must say that some recipes benefit from a test run and a re-do, and this is one of those recipes, because the first batch I made was inedible, while the second batch was really good and worthy of serving to guests. But I did make one very important modification.

The recipe calls for 1 cup milk, which, as I discovered, was way too much. The resulting confections were much too wet. So much so that they couldn’t be rolled out into smooth balls, and the texture was very off-putting. I must confess that I made half the recipe (in other words, I used ½ cup milk). The ingredients are few enough and simple enough that halving the recipe wasn’t a problem, but I have to wonder if, somehow, it affected the end product. However, I don’t think this was the case. What I did with the second batch was to add a little bit of milk, a little at a time, just until the ingredients held together. In total, I used maybe a couple of tablespoons.

Here’s my personal tip: The original recipe says to pass the cooked chestnuts through a sieve. I tried this method and found that, because of their texture, some of the chestnuts gets trapped in the mesh of the strainer. I found it to be both messy and wasteful. Then I tried grating it, and the result was pretty much the same, if not worse. I found that using a food processor works best. It does the job quickly, with minimal mess, and the least amount of waste. It may not be traditional, but it’s the most effective.

I’m giving half the recipe here because it made 28, and I feel that’s a good number of confections to make. Of course, if you want to make a full batch, just double everything. But be careful with that milk!

Palline di Castagne

Chestnut Balls

Makes 28.

1 pound chestnuts
2½ tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon bitter cocoa powder
2 tablespoons rum or Marsala wine
¼ cup whole milk

½ cup confectioners’ sugar

Using a paring knife, cut an “x” in the flat sides of the chestnuts, or cut a little flap in the top part of the chestnuts. Place the chestnuts in a medium pot and cover with water. Bring the pot to a boil; lower the heat and simmer until the chestnuts are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the chestnuts and let them cool. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel them.Pulverize them either by passing them through a mesh sieve, grating them, or pulsing them in a food processor. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl.Add the sugar, cocoa power, and rum or Marsala and stir. Begin adding the milk a little at a time just until the mixture holds together. Mix well.Spread the confectioners’ sugar out on a plate.

Take a tablespoon of the mixture and roll it into a ball. Make a few more and place them in the sugar. Roll them around to coat them fully and place them on a platter. Repeat with the remaining mixture.Arrange them on a plate and serve. You can make these a day or two ahead of time, but wait until the last minute to roll them in the sugar because the sugar will eventually melt.


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Cream Cheese-Peanut Butter Wafer Sandwiches

Dessert sandwiches are so much fun to eat. Proof of this is the popularity of ice cream sandwiches, for which the wafers I use here were intended. The wafers are like ice cream cones, only flat. However, you can use them in many different ways.

I decided to try an unusual combination of cream cheese and peanut butter for the filling. It’s extremely easy and delicious, if not low-calorie. While I used regular, dairy cream cheese, you can substitute vegan cream cheese. And if peanuts are a problem for you, substitute almond or cashew butter. Adults and kids alike will love this.

Enjoy!

Cream Cheese-Peanut Butter Wafer Sandwiches

Makes 3 sandwiches.

8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup peanut butter (or almond or cashew butter)
2 tablespoons maple sugar
8 oz. chocolate, melted
6 (5-inch) wafers
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachios

With an electric mixer, cream together the cream cheese, peanut butter, and maple sugar until well blended. Set aside.In a double boiler or non-aluminum bowl set over a small pot, melt the chocolate over simmering water.Set a wafer on a flat surface.

Spread ½ cup of the cream cheese filling over it. Top it with another wafer. Repeat this twice.Drizzle chocolate over each sandwich, then top each with a tablespoon of the pistachios.


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Triple-Flavor Ice Cream Cake with Gluten-Free Cookies

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What do you do when you have a birthday lunch or dinner to go to, and one of the people going has Celiac Disease and can’t have regular cake, but it’s 100 degrees F out and the thought of turning on the oven to bake a gluten-free cake makes you want to cry?

You make an ice cream cake.

Make an ice cream cake? Why not just buy an ice cream cake, you ask.

Well, let me explain it to you this way. I come from an Italian family. My father loves telling stories about how when he was a boy, he would go up into the mountains in his hometown in Italy and pick fresh chestnuts and eat them until he got sick, and how he remembers the cheeses and curing meats hanging in the kitchen of his family home. I have a mother whose idea of a simple meal consists of a minimum of six different dishes—for the second course, mind you—and for whom a “quick” sauce means opening up a jar of home-canned tomatoes. So, you see, buying a Shop Rite ice cream cake won’t do. Even Cookie Puss wouldn’t be able to charm his way onto my parents’ table.

Anyway, back to the cake. I drew the line at making the ice cream from scratch, so I went out and bought three different flavors: white chocolate raspberry truffle, coffee caramel, and pineapple coconut.

I also bought gluten-free cookies, which I crushed to put in between the layers. Each flavor of ice cream was different layer, with the cookies in between.

The end result was a very attractive and definitely delicious dessert that was simple to make and let the house stay unbaked in the middle of summer. Huge plus. Continue reading


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Wheat-Free Carrot Cake

IMG_5598This is one of those recipes that I made spur of the moment but, luckily, turned out well. So, I needed a quick dessert to make for a lunch at my parents’ house. We were having a guest who is gluten-free and I wanted to make sure there would be dessert for her.

There’s nothing easier than carrot cake. I love carrot cake. It’s not only flavorful and delicious, but it’s also very difficult to do badly. I mean, I’ve had great carrot cake, good carrot cake, and so-so carrot cake, but I don’t recall ever having terrible carrot cake.

That’s probably because it would take a deliberate effort to make a terrible carrot cake. There’s no creaming of butter, no whipping of egg whites, no adding of things in additions, or layering of ingredients. Aside from whisking together the dry ingredients first, everything gets mixed together. (And, quite honestly, you probably don’t even really need to mix the dry ingredients. I just recommend it to ensure that you get no lumps.)

I call this cake “wheat free” and not “gluten free” because it calls for spelt flour. I didn’t want to use all chickpea flour because I didn’t want it to be too heavy or dense or taste to “beany.” Spelt is related to wheat, so it’s the non-wheat flour that is closest to it in chemistry, flavor, and behavior. However, because it’s related to wheat, people who have Celiac disease can’t digest it. People who have a gluten/wheat intolerance, on the other hand, can usually consume it without negative consequences.

I (and everyone else) was pleasantly surprised at how light and moist this cake came out. It has a somewhat unusual flavor because of the chickpea flour but not a bad one. Just different. I hope you like it.

Wheat-Free Carrot Cake

1 cup chickpea flour
¼ cup spelt flour
½ cup coconut (palm) or date sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded carrots
2 medium eggs, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup applesauce
¼ cup water

Frosting:
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange zest

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan or line it with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt.

Stir in the carrots, eggs, vanilla, applesauce, and water with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Transfer to a cooling rack and let it cool completely.

Make the frosting: With an electric mixer, cream together the cream cheese, sugar, and zest until smooth.

Remove the cake from the pan. Invert the cake, then invert it again on a serving plate. If you used parchment, peel it off gently. Spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides. Serve.

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(For the cake in the photo, I chose to use a simpler confectioners’ sugar icing and coconut flakes. Mix 1 cup confectioners’ sugar with a tablespoon of water. Mix until smooth, adding a tiny bit more water at a time, as needed. Spread over the cake, then sprinkle on 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes.)


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PB&J Cake, aka Space Cake

IMG_5052You might be wondering why I’ve given this cake the alternate name of Space Cake. Or maybe you’re not, but I’m going to tell you anyway.

I went into my local kosher market to pick up a few specific things (it’s the only place I know of that carries my favorite hummus). As I do in any market, I started looking around to see if there was anything new and/or unusual, anything I haven’t tried before. And I was rewarded for my efforts.IMG_5025

I found a bottle of peanut butter powder. Yes, that’s correct. Peanut butter that has been dehydrated and turned into powder. Curiosity overcame me and, of course, I had to buy it. To use it, you mix the powder with water until it’s a paste. When I did that, I have to say that it looked, smelled, and tasted like peanut butter.

Space food.

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Coconut Rice-Cake Pudding

IMG_5017What is rice-cake pudding? you ask. I’m going to tell you.

I recently found in an Asian market another product that I had never seen before: rice cakes. Not the round disks of puffed rice that dieters have been munching on for decades, but flattened oval, kind of paddle-shaped, disks made from pounded sticky rice. Of course, I bought some.IMG_4999I had absolutely no idea at the time what I was supposed to do with these, so I looked around a bit. I saw a few recipes where the rice cakes are sautéed or stir fried with other vegetables, and that’s something that I’m going to try. But according to the package, they can be fried for a popped rick cake snack, to which you can add “highly tasteful or plain ingredients” for “indeed a favourable dish either for entertainment or for home meal.”IMG_5001Well, how could I not give it a try? I fried a small batch in oil and, as you can see in the photo below, they do puff up. I fried them until they were golden brown, at which point they are quite crisp but hard. Not unpleasantly hard—some people like that, including me. The ones that were more lightly fried had a flakier texture. A sprinkle of sea salt over the top and that was it.

So there you have it for fried rice cakes—a lighter fry for flaky/crispy, a longer fry for crunchy/crispy. (Make sure you dry the rice cakes before putting them in the oil. See note below about soaking.)IMG_5007But what I really wanted to try was rice pudding. Would it taste or be anything like regular rice pudding? I made mine with coconut milk and I can honestly say that it came out pretty darn good. What made it truly different from regular rice pudding, though, was the texture. Because the rice is in the form of these paddles that retain their shape, you have something that requires chewing, not just a mashing, as with regular rice pudding. I’m very much about texture where food is concerned, so I enjoyed this more than I normally enjoy rice pudding (never one of my favorite desserts).

If rice pudding is not usually your thing, whether because of the texture or because it’s a “milky” dish (another reason why I don’t usually care for it), try my recipe below. You might just like it.

So this is my coconut rice-cake pudding. It’s vegan, gluten free, and dairy free. Give it a go, and let me know what you think. Enjoy!

Coconut Rice-Cake Pudding

Note that the rice cakes have to soak in water a minimum of 12 hours or overnight before using them in any recipe.

Makes 2 servings.

2 ounces (about 2 cups) rice cakes
1 cinnamon stick
2 cups coconut milk
½ cup coconut water or plain water
¼- 1/3 cup sugar (based on your sweetness preference)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Garnish: Cinnamon and coconut flakes

Place the rice cakes in a bowl with enough water to cover by about an inch for a small amount or 2 inches for an entire bag. Cover and let soak in refrigerator at least 12 hours or overnight.

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Rice cakes after soaking overnight

Drain the rice cakes and place them, along with the cinnamon stick, in a medium saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil; lower the heat to low and simmer 5 minutes.IMG_5012Drain and return the rice cakes and cinnamon to the pot. Add the coconut milk, coconut water, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Bring to a boil; lower heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until thick and creamy, about 45 to 55 minutes. Stir frequently, especially in the last 15 minutes of cooking.

Divide the pudding between 2 pudding dishes and garnish with cinnamon and/or coconut flakes.

(I left my pudding unadorned in the photos so that you can see how the rice cakes retained their shape.)IMG_5024


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Gluten-Free Buttermilk Coconut-Almond Cake

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In the world of gluten-free baking, things can get complicated. Without wheat flour, you need the right combination of ingredients to create a a cake that is light and flavorful, that has good texture and pleasant mouthfeel. A gluten-free cake can very easily be heavy, dense, bland, gritty, flat, and, at its worst, taste like sawdust.

But when the ingredients come together well, you have something that rivals traditional wheat-flour cake. It won’t taste exactly the same, but it’s just as good.

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