Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


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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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Almond-Lucuma Cake

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Photo: Akramm via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Akramm via Wikimedia Commons

If you haven’t heard of lucuma, it’s because it’s a fruit indigenous to Peru, Chile, and Ecuador that hasn’t really had much play outside of its native region, especially since it only thrives in subtropical climates. It has a dark green skin, and a pit (sometimes two) that look like avocado pits. Its yellow flesh is dry and often compared to hard-boiled egg yolk, and its mild flavor has been likened to maple syrup, caramel, and sweet potatoes.

Indigenous Andean peoples used lucuma not just as food but medicinally as well. The Incas believed it to be a symbol of fertility and creation and it was dubbed “Gold of the Incas.” Modern studies of lucuma show that the fruit contains beta carotene, iron, zinc, vitamin B3, calcium, and protein. It aids in warding off heart disease and hypertension, maintaining skin health and blood sugar levels (and it is hoped that it will help people with diabetes), and supporting healthy digestion.lucuma[1]
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Sorghum Pilaf

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Sorghum is technically a grass (but for culinary purposes is classified as a grain) that is native to Africa, and was introduced to to the U.S. in the 1800s. It’s always been an important food crop around the world, but in the U.S., it’s been used primarily as animal feed. The exception to this is in the U.S. South, where sorghum molasses is a traditional sweetener, used much in the same way as honey or maple syrup. However, with the rising interest in gluten-free and ancient grains, sorghum is becoming more and more popular as human food in the U.S.IMG_4625

The great thing about sorghum, apart from the fact that it’s gluten free, is that it doesn’t have an outer shell that has to be removed to make it edible. That means that it’s a whole food, and that means that it’s healthy and just plain awesome.
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Gluten-Free Lemon-Poppy Berry-Topped Cake

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On this deep-in-winter February day, I’d like to offer a recipe for a gluten-free cake that is really easy to make and very versatile. The batter doesn’t rise much, which makes it a great vehicle for all kinds of toppings.

I like it because it’s not overly sweet and it can be paired with lots of different things. Instead of berries, you can top it with lemon curd or orange marmalade, or buttercream frosting. You can put the batter into 4 small loaf pans for individual desserts. You can also substitute the lemon zest and juice with orange or other citrus. And with the exception of 1 egg, it’s also dairy free, so for those of you who are lactose intolerant, it’s a great choice.

Enjoy!

Gluten-Free Lemon-Poppy Berry-Topped Cake

Makes 1 8-inch cake.¼ cup sorghum flour

¼ cup chickpea flour
2 tablespoons tapioca flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch sea salt
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 large egg
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons maple crystals or coconut sugar
¼ cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon melted coconut oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cups fresh berries
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch cake springform pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, zest, and poppy seed.

In another medium bowl, whisk egg, sugar, yogurt, oil, and lemon juice. Fold in dry ingredients, just until all ingredients are moistened.

Bake about 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool 5 minutes. Remove ring. Invert onto a plate, remove pan plate, then invert again back onto rack. Let cool completely.

Transfer to a plate. Decorate with berries and dust with confectioners’ sugar, if desired. (The best way to do this is to put sugar in a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl. Then shake the sieve gently over the cake.)

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Avocado Pineapple Cake

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This weekend was my mother’s birthday. She just turned 81. She’s very spry for her age and still sharp in mind, and I’m thankful every day for that.

She’s also set in her ways. She likes what she likes, and doesn’t like what she doesn’t. She’s never liked going out to restaurants much, since, in her opinion, restaurant food lacks in many departments. The one and only time she was ever really excited to go to a restaurant was when my brother and I took my parents to Felidia, Lidia Bastianich’s place in Manhattan. She’s a huge fan of Lidia and just being in her world was a thrill for Mom. (One of my regrets is not getting a picture with Lidia when I met her at the James Beard House when I was interning there. She treasures the picture of me with Jacques Pepin and I think one of me with Lidia would have made her swoon.)

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Gluten-Free Pumpkin-Coconut Cake with Apple Cider-Bourbon Glaze

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One of my favorite things about the autumn holidays is baking with pumpkin. Every year, I try at least one or two new pumpkin recipe. This one is an homage to the people in my life who have gluten issues.

I call this recipe gluten-free but be aware that the flour I chose to use is spelt. If you have a gluten sensitivity, you’re probably able to eat spelt. But if you have Celiac Disease, this isn’t the recipe for you.

Pumpkin is a strong flavor and usually trumps any other flavors that it’s combined with. I wanted to make the coconut in this cake as bold as I could, so I used coconut in several forms: coconut sugar, coconut flour, coconut milk, coconut rum, and shredded coconut. This cake is dense but moist with a nice little crunch from the shredded coconut. And best of all, those of you with gluten issues don’t have to miss out on the pumpkin goodness at the holidays.

Enjoy and have a safe, healthy, happy Thanksgiving.

Gluten-Free Pumpkin-Coconut Cake with Apple Cider-Bourbon Glaze

1 cup spelt flour
1 cup coconut flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup coconut rum
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup coconut (palm) sugar
4 large eggs
1 15-oz can pumpkin puree
½ cup coconut milk
½ cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans, almonds, or walnuts

Glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons bourbon
2 teaspoons apple cider

Grease and flour a 10-inch cake pan. Preheat the oven to 375.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the spelt and coconut flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt. Place shredded coconut in a small bowl and pour rum over it. Mix and let sit.

Cream together the butter and coconut sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, incorporating each one. Beat in pumpkin puree, coconut milk, applesauce, and vanilla.

Gradually add flour mixture and mix until well blended. Fold in shredded coconut and nuts.

Pour into cake pan and bake 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center comes out fairly clean (the knife will be slightly wet but you don’t want to see raw batter coming out). Place on a cooling rack and let cool completely in pan, then invert onto a plate. The cake will be fragile while it’s hot.

Make Apple Cider Glaze:

Place confectioner’s sugar in a medium bowl. Add 1 teaspoon each bourbon and cider, then a little more at a time until it reaches the right consistency. Pour over cake. Decorate as desired.

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Sweet Potato Flour Scones

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For those of you who don’t know, I took all my own photos for Vegetarian Italian: Traditions, volumes 1 and 2 (volume 1 is available now from all online retailers, and volume 2 is due out some time next year). I am taking photos for my upcoming cookbooks as well. What this means for me is that I’m in a constant testing/shooting mode. Which in turn means that I don’t often have a chance to cook just for the pleasure of it or to randomly experiment. Between a full-time job, my fiction writing, and my cooking/writing, I just don’t have the time.VegItalCover FINAL_Page_1

Lately, though, I’ve been in a bit of a slump in my fiction writing, so I’ve been able to devote a little bit more time to my cooking/writing. The following recipe is one result.

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I go out all the time to the specialty and ethnic markets near where I work and buy something new to try. The Asian markets have sweet potato flour, which I’d never seen before, so I picked up a bag and finally got to use it. It’s great for gluten-free baking, and I decided to try out a scone. I started with a standard gluten-free flour combination and incorporated the sweet potato flour. It turned out very well.IMG_3792

You can alter the recipe any way you like. I prefer dried cranberries, blueberries, or other dried fruit, but if you prefer to go traditional and stick with raisins, go right ahead. For added moisture, you can soak the fruit for an hour or so before adding them to the batter. Or omit them altogether. You can add nuts or change the flavor profile by adding orange or lemon zest, or your favorite flavor extract. And if you like scones on the sweeter side, add a bit more sugar.

Gluten-free scones tend to dry out faster than regular scones, so they’re best eaten fresh. Store leftovers in a plastic bag at room temperature for the first couple of days (unless it’s very hot and humid, then put it in the refrigerator). If you have any longer than that, then put it in the refrigerator. You can freeze it up to 3 months as well. I shaped mine flat to mimic some of “gourmet” scones I’ve seen, but it actually might come out better if you mound it in the traditional dome shape.

As much as I love warm scones, gluten-free baked goods tend to have a weaker structure and often crumble easily. This is one of those, so it’s best if you let it cool completely before cutting into it. But if you want it warm, go ahead and dig in right away, just be aware that it will crumble. But, then, you may like that! Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Flour Scones

Makes one 9-inch round scone.

1 cup sweet potato flour
1 cup rice flour
½ cup almond flour
¼ cup tapioca starch
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon maple crystals

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together sweet potato flour, rice flour, almond flour, tapioca starch, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and salt.

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Cut the butter into little pieces and add to bowl. Using a pastry cutter, a fork, or your fingers, blend the butter into the flour until you have coarse crumbs.

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Stir in cranberries. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the buttermilk and add the rest to the bowl, along with the egg and honey.

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Gently combine just until all dry ingredients are moistened and you have a soft dough.

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Transfer to the baking sheet and shape it into a round loaf. Brush with some of the reserved buttermilk and sprinkle maple crystals on top. Score the top with a knife (optional).

IMG_3803Bake for 20 minutes. Lower the heat to 375 and bake another 15 minutes, or until golden brown and top feels firm (but not hard!). Transfer with parchment to a rack and let cool completely.

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Sorghum Stir-Fry

When I step back momentarily from my hectic life, I realize that I’ve packed so much into my days, weeks, and months that lose control of what’s happening. I lose my grip on the reins and things just go all cray-cray.

Sorghum Stir-Fry

Sorghum Stir-Fry

And it’s because of this cray-cray-ness that it’s been such a struggle for me lately to blog regularly. I keep vowing that I will get back on track—and I always mean it—but I succumb to the insanity again and again.

Sorghum

Sorghum

One of the consequences is that I haven’t been able to cook much. I mean, I cook to test recipes or photograph for my cookbooks, but not simply for the pleasure of it. So, I have all these products in my pantry that have been just sitting there, particularly grains. But last weekend, I was determined to pull something out of the pantry and use it. It turned out to be sorghum.

Sorghum is a great gluten-free grain to have as a substitute for rice. It has a firm, meaty texture and it’s difficult to overcook. It can tend to be dry, but paired with the right ingredients, it works really well for an alternative grain fix. I prepared it on its own, then added it to a stir-fry in place of rice and the result was excellent. Now, I chose to use some cooked veggies that I had in the refrigerator, but you can use whatever vegetables you want. If you don’t pre-cook them, then make sure you stir-fry them until tender before adding the beans.

Sorghum Stir-Fry

½ cup sorghum
1 tablespoon coconut or other cooking oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil
½ small onion, sliced
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
1½ cups chopped roasted squash
1 small cooked Japanese yam, peeled and diced
½ cup chopped roasted eggplant
1 (15-oz) can white beans
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 tablespoon soy sauce

Bring 1¼ cups water to a boil. Add sorghum; lower the heat, cover, and cook for about 20-25 minutes, or until sorghum is tender but firm. If water is absorbed but sorghum still seems hard, add a little more water and keep cooking until tender.

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Heat coconut oil and 1 teaspoon sesame oil in a wok or large frying pan. Add onion and garlic and sauté until softened. Add squash, yam, and eggplant and stir-fry for 5 minutes. Add beans and peas; mix in well.

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Add soy sauce and remaining sesame oil and stir in. Add sorghum and mix well. Cook for 5 minutes. Add salt if desired.

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Makes 4 big servings.


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Cassava Bread

cassava bread 1 cassava bread  2I’m always finding new products to try, and this week, it was cassava bread.

Prior to buying this product, I had seen, and even made, bread made out of cassava, but it was not what is known on the market as “cassava bread.” This particular bread—a typical product in the Dominican Republic—is dry, flat, and cracker-like. It’s quite plain and meant to be eaten as an accompaniment to meats and stews. (What’s funny is that the store where I bought it had it stacked on a shelf in the produce aisle. Um, sure. You know, plantains, potatoes, and cassava bread all go together, right?)

I asked a Dominican friend at work about it when I brought back from the store during my lunch breadk. She warned me that it’s very plain, and she was right. The texture was dry and hard, and the flavor (if it can be called that) is that of saltless toast. But that makes sense. When eating a spicy stew or sauce-covered meat, this bread is probably just right as a counter balance. I tried mine with tomatoes and olive oil, like a bruschetta. It wasn’t bad. It probably does better when left to soak up stew juices, though.

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Photo: Melissa’s Produce

Cassava, by the way, also goes by the names yuca, manioc, and tapioca. It’s a staple food for South America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and Africa, and it can be used fresh (i.e., the root) or as a flour (sometimes called tapioca starch). It’s a creamy white root, very starchy, and pretty bland. But it cooks up like a potato and is extremely versatile. It’s not the prettiest root in town, but it’s filling and is a great vehicle for all kinds of flavors. And it’s gluten free!

And, yes, it’s the same tapioca they use to make tapioca pearls from. That’s what you need for pudding and bubble tea. 🙂

Have you ever eaten cassava bread? How did/do you eat it? I love to learn about how ethnic foods are eaten, so please share.