Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Food Quote Friday: Lewis Grizzard



"It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato."

Lewis Grizzard


Love a luscious food quote? Find more here.

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8.29.2008

The Mysteries of Tomato-Watermelon Gazpacho

I've known those who salt their watermelon, and those who sugar their tomatoes. I once thought these practices were madness.

After culinary school, I become more flexible in my appreciation of these summer flavors. Yes, watermelon could get along happily in a savory salad. Yes, tomatoes could represent the sweet aspect of a dish.

Tomato & Watermelon

Once I'd gotten past the prejudices of my youth, I learned that tomatoes and watermelon could be great friends in salads.

And yet, tomato and watermelon match-ups still seem like strange bedfellows to me. An odd couple.

"But why is this pairing so strange?" I ask myself. They're both fruit. They grow and ripen together.

In fact, under-ripe watermelons taste quite like cucumbers. Since I think nothing of combining cucumbers and tomatoes, tomato-watermelon dishes should be second nature.

Then each summer tomato + watermelon is a minor culinary revelation. These cautious notions must be simply be old habits dying long, hard, tortured deaths.

Tomato & Watermelon Gazpacho

When I finally do take that terrifying leap and add, gasp! watermelon to my gazpacho... the result isn't horrifying at all. It's truly lovely.

For that matter, this dynamic duo is economical. Since both are simultaneously in surplus at the same time, it's a quick (and rewarding) task to blend them up together into soup.
Tomato-Watermelon Gazpacho (Makes about 6 cups)

1/2 cup water or tomato juice
2 medium tomatoes, quartered
1 cup watermelon, seeded & cubed
1 small cucumber, peeled and quartered
1/4 small red onion
1/2 jalapeño pepper (or substitute 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper)
1 slice whole-grain bread, torn into small pieces
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh lime juice (optional)

Optional Garnishes
1-2 Tbsp cilantro or mint, chopped
1 Tbsp small-diced cucumber
1 Tbsp small-diced watermelon
1 Tbsp crumbled fresh cheese or feta

1. Combine water or juice, tomatoes, watermelon, cucumber, onion, 1/2 jalapeño, bread pieces and salt in a blender or food processor and purée smooth. (You may need to do this in batches.)

2. Taste the gazpacho and adjust the seasoning with 1 tsp fresh lime juice and a little more salt, if desired.

3. Chill one hour or until ready to serve (the flavor will improve overnight). Garnish with chopped herbs, mint, diced cucumber, diced watermelon and/or crumbled fresh cheese.

I find that crunchy fresh-baked croutons are really nice in a gazpacho as well. Or go crazy and throw on some bacon bits. It's a flexible dish.

This is actually a great dish for brown bagging. Just skip the garnish. It'll hold up well for a few hours without refrigeration and won't require on-site heating. Serve it with a salad for a lovely light lunch at some lunching locale of your choice. Like, say... the park.

Salud!
Miss Ginsu

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8.28.2008

Dear Miss Ginsu: Bitter Tomato Sauce?

Dear Miss Ginsu,

Ok, I figure if anyone knows the answer to this, it's you.

Spaghetti sauce: aside from adding copious amounts of sugar — how does one keep homemade sauce from being sour/bitter?

I'm assuming this comes from a combination of the tomato sauce and bell peppers? Not sure how to counteract this flavor without turning it into "candied" red sauce.

Yours,
Bittersweet




Dear BS,

Cooking all the elements of the process long and slow is a sure-fire way to increase the natural sugars.

Caramelizing the onions so they're nice and brown, getting a little color on the garlic, long-simmering the tomato sauce — not to mention making sure you've removed the skins from the tomatoes... that'll all alleviate bitterness or sour notes. Some people strain out the seeds, too.

So much depends on the quality of the tomatoes you begin with. Since the natural flavors in tomatoes vary so greatly, you can see how it might be difficult to give precise measurements for a sauce recipe.

That said, a *small* amount of sugar added at the end of the process as you're adjusting the seasoning can certainly improve the balance in naturally very acidic or bitter tomatoes.

Though — as you noted — too much sugar just takes the sauce too far down the sweet continuum into candyland.

Also make sure the salt you're using in your recipe isn't "iodized" salt. The iodine that's added to some salt products might protect you from goiters (ew!), but it also adds a note of bitterness. That's just one of the reasons some recipes call for kosher salt.

Hope that helps!
Miss Ginsu

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8.27.2008

Simplicity, Thy Name is Bruschetta

Friends, it appears to be Tomato Week here at Chez Ginsu, so if you're not a love apple lover, I'd encourage you to stop back next week, when we'll see some tantalizing sweet stuff and a post on the tastiest yogurt I could find in these parts.

But for now, it's all about that juicy little god of the gardening world.

Tomatoes in the market bins

Truthfully, I'm so crazy about good, ripe tomatoes, I don't touch them for most of the year.

Late fall through early summer, I'll get by with cherry tomatoes, dried tomatoes and canned tomatoes. But when the lush, fresh, local tomatoes start rolling in, woo-hoo! Apologies to snow bunnies, but I feel tomato season really marks the most wonderful time of the year.

Time was, I used to believe that the open-faced, sliced tomato sandwich was probably the ultimate tomato-worship recipe (and no, biting into a tomato or just eating the slices doesn't count as a recipe).

Grilled ciabatta bread

But I did some rooftop garden-sitting for my boss last week, and now I've gone even more puritanical. No compound-ingredient spread necessary. Just grilled bread, olive oil and tomatoes. (Maybe salt, pepper and some fresh basil, if it happens to be on hand.)

This is the kind of recipe that's so simple, highest quality in each ingredient is key to success. Mealy tomatoes, off-flavored oil, gummy bread? Any flaw ruins the whole dish.

It's also the kind of recipe that seems to occur to just about anyone who has bread, olive oil and tomatoes on hand. In Spain, they might call it pa amb tomaquet
and in Italy, you might see it served as a bruschetta, but it's the same tasty idea. Go all crazy with this line of thought, and you'll soon find yourself eating pizza.

Grilled Tomato Bruschetta

Cherry tomatoes? Beefsteaks? Green zebras? Brandywines? Tomato type doesn't matter, as long as they're luscious.

The bread? I like a ciabatta or a baguette, but that's also negotiable. Just make sure it's good bread and the holes aren't too big.

Pick an olive oil you love (grassy, buttery, spicy... it's up to you), and while the grill's heating up for your entrée, throw down some generously brushed slices of bread.

Easy-peasy. Pour a glass of wine, munch a tomato-topped slice and offer a toast to simplicity.

Miss Ginsu

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8.26.2008

FoodLink Roundup: 08.25.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Though he may have appeared to have been in Nova Scotia last week (a fine guess), Cupcake was actually located just down the way from Bonaparte Breads in Fells Point, Baltimore. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Conserving locally caught tuna, Italian style
Since I buy the Italian stuff by the case, it helps to know how to actually make it.

Not Just a Garden, but Cows
The latest thing in suburban status symbols: Jersey Cows.

The Essential Barbecue Guide
Duck, Venison... The Guardian's take on grilling looks a bit more adventurous than your standard US grill feature.

Dirt exposure boosts happiness
A little something gardeners have known all along...

Fish Tale Has DNA Hook
Teens testing restaurant dishes find some fishy business afoot.

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8.25.2008

Food Quote Friday: Marge Piercy

Espresso in Paris

"Mornings you go off in my mouth like an electric
siren, radiating to my fingertips and toes.
You rattle my spine and buzz in my brain."
Marge Piercy from In Praise of Joe

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8.22.2008

Recession-Proof: Bahn Mi Sandwiches

One of the first food adjustments people consider during downmarket days are meats. Like eggs and dairy products, meat is one of those commodities that shows an immediate rate jump. Those Porterhouses and T-bone steaks start looking mighty dear.

And you'll also note that the traditional foods of most cultures tend to embrace "scrap" meat and cheaper cuts. Ground meat, sausages, scrapple, haggis, cured belly bacon, tougher cuts long-stewed to tenderize... these are the foods of the commoners.



Thus, the bahn mi, a Vietnamese-French fusion sandwich made of chopped fresh vegetables with pate, roast pork or ground meat on a baguette, is a classic recession-proof recipe.
Banh Mi (Makes 4 sandwiches)

For the carrots
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp sugar
Dash fish sauce (optional)
3-4 carrots, shredded

For the sandwiches
2 baguettes (or 4 long sandwich rolls)
1/4 lb roast pork or ham
1 small cucumber, peeled & cut into long strips
1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves picked
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
1/8 lb pork liver pate
Chili sauce (I like Sriracha), to taste
Chili peppers (optional)

1. Prepare the carrots: Mix vinegar with water, sugar and fish sauce (if using). Brine the carrots in this mixture overnight in the refrigerator.
2. To make the sandwiches, slice the baguettes in half, cut each one open and distribute the mayonnaise and pate across the bread.
3. Top each dressed baguette with a thin slice of roast pork/ham. Distribute the carrots, cucumber and cilantro leaves. Add chili sauce or peppers to taste and serve immediately.

Not only does this recipe conservatively use its meat component, you'll note it also makes good use of the recession-proof extender factor in the use of the bread as a cheap and tasty tummy filler.

Happy Eating,

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8.21.2008

A Hammock, a Pimm's Cup and Thou

I feel that fully half of what makes the Pimm's Cup such a beguiling summer cocktail is in the garnish. There are multiple variants, of course, but I favor the ultra-simple slice of cucumber + slice of lemon.

Pimm's Cup

Pimm's makes a variety of styles, and that namesake cocktail made with the formulation known as No. 1 has traditionally been popular in the south of England, appearing as one of two staple drinks (the other sip of choice would be champagne) at such rarefied events as Wimbledon, the Henley Royal Regatta and the Glyndebourne opera festival.

Knowing all that, it's interesting to see that the recipe for the classic Pimm's Cup cocktail is terrifyingly simple. Common, even...
Pimm's Cup
2 oz Pimm's No. 1
4 to 6 oz lemonade (some use lemon/lime soda; I favor ginger ale)
Mint leaves, and slices of lemon (or orange, strawberry, apple...)

Originally, the cocktail required borage leaves in lieu of mint/cucumber, but as borage is a bit tough to come by in U.S. markets, cucumber is the go-to garnish hereabouts.

But as I mentioned, I find the cucumber/lemon combo to be particularly magical. The cooling qualities of the cucumber alongside the citrus zip and vigor of the lemon go a long way in gin-style cocktails (and Pimm's No. 1 is one such blend) in particular, since gin is, by nature, herbaceous.

I've even become a great fan of lemon and cucumber slices served with water. So simple, but the scent and flavor results are elegant... perfect for brunch, for time spent on the deck/patio/fire escape and for adding a touch of class to your next grill-fest. Give it a try and see if you don't become a convert.

Cheers,

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8.20.2008

Dear Miss Ginsu: I have eggplants.

Dear Miss Ginsu,

This week the farm share delivered a bunch of eggplants. I have not really done much with them before, so I ask your advice. Other than tossing some sauteed eggplant into a bean salad (not that there's anything wrong with that), what other tips do you have?

Best Regards,
— Desperately Seeking Produce Advice

Grilled Vegetables
Just about anything is tasty when it's brushed with olive oil and grilled...

Dear DSPA,

A ratatouille is a classic use (or stuff hollowed-out shells with ratatouille and bake 'em) and there's always the classic eggplant parm.

Lil Frankie's in the East Village serves eggplant halved, roasted and topped with a zippy chili oil, but I think you'd have to have their wood-fired oven to make it taste that rich and smoky. I've tried it in my oven, and it's just not the same. But eggplant does love the grill. There's something about the smoke that really compliments the flavor.

I usually go Middle Eastern with eggplant (either roasted with olive oil and za'atar spice or in a baba ganoush) and serve it alongside cucumber/tomato/feta salad, hummus and spicy lamb balls.
Baba Ganoush
1 large eggplant
1 garlic clove
2 Tbsp tahini
2-3 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp good olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
Chopped parsley and/or mint (optional, for garnish)

1. Preheat oven to 450F. Poke the eggplant several times with a fork (to create steam-escape routes) and place on a baking sheet.

2. Bake until it is soft, about 20-30 minutes, or you can grill the eggplant (it's okay for it to char) about 10-15 minutes.

3. Allow the eggplant to cool before cutting in half, draining off any excess juice and scooping its flesh into a food processor/blender.

4. Blend eggplant, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil and salt until smooth. Season to taste with a little more lemon juice, olive oil or salt, as you like. Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with chopped parsley and/or mint and serve with pita.

If you dig the heat, I find baba ganoush is pretty great with a little Aleppo pepper added in or sprinkled across the top. I know they sell it at Penzeys (along with za'atar), either online or in shops... there's one at the market at Grand Central Station here in New York.

Happy eating!

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8.19.2008

FoodLink Roundup: 08.18.08


Last week, our sweet protagonist was sussed out by Mr. Hazard at the Coney Island Boardwalk. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Vin Mariani
the nonist makes a rare foray into the realm of food blogging with the bizarre history of Vin Mariani: a most intoxicating beverage...

Make your own "pop tarts"
I have absolute certainty that these are immeasurably better than those little pastry hunks in the silver foil pouches.

Grandma's Grain Recipe
Oh yeah... this one is looking like a likely candidate for the autumn/winter brekkie roster.

Bodega Party in a Box
Your guide to celebrating (and making food from) the friendly neighborhood bodega.

The Frownie
Make a whole plate, and you've got a pity party. Hilarious.

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8.18.2008

Food Quote Friday: James Beard

Orchard-Fresh Plums

"There is absolutely no substitute for the best. Good food cannot be made of inferior ingredients masked with high flavor. It is true thrift to use the best ingredients available and to waste nothing."

James Beard in The Fireside Cook Book

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8.15.2008

Blended Bacon Butter (& Friends)

One of the first techniques we learned in cooking school was for making compound butter. It's essentially just butter that's softened, blended with something flavorful, reformed and re-chilled for serving.

Compound butters are so decadent and so easy — though they never fail to impress guests when you make the effort — and yet, they're one of those delicious details I invariably forget about.

Bread & Butter
Why bread and butter when you could be eating a better butter?

Here's three recipes for compound butters — each supremely simple and very tasty. You'll notice the method is the same for each, so once you've made one or two, you can kind of go crazy and add in just about anything you like.

The Bacon Butter is divine on grilled vegetables (try it on your corn-on-the-cob), the Herb Butter is great sliced and slipped under the skin of a chicken you're about to roast, the Anchovy Butter especially loves steaks and broiled fish... and (surprise!) all three are delicious spread across the surface of a fresh baguette. Or maybe even a hot biscuit. Mmm...
Blended Bacon Butter
1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup crisp bacon, finely crumbled (or proscuitto or serrano ham, minced)
1/4 Tbsp kosher salt (or to taste)
1/2 Tbsp freshly ground pepper (or to taste)

1. Blend the butter in a bowl with the bacon or minced proscuitto/serrano (a wooden spoon works well for this).
2. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Roll the butter into a tight log shape in parchment paper or plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 week. If you won't use it that day, wrap well (or seal in a freezer bag) or freeze for up to 3 months.

Zesty Herb Butter
1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter, softened
1 Tbsp garlic, minced
1 Tbsp parsley, minced
1 Tbsp chives, minced
1/2 Tbsp tarragon, minced
1/2 Tbsp lemon zest
1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 Tbsp kosher salt (or to taste)
1/2 Tbsp freshly ground pepper (or to taste)

1. Blend the butter in a bowl with the garlic, herbs, zest and lemon juice (a wooden spoon works well for this).
2. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Roll the butter into a tight log shape in parchment paper or plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 week. If you won't use it that day, wrap well (or seal in a freezer bag) or freeze for up to 3 months.

Garlic Anchovy Butter
1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter, softened
4 Anchovy fillets, minced
1 Tbsp garlic, minced
1/2 Tbsp lemon zest
1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 Tbsp kosher salt (or to taste)
1/2 Tbsp freshly ground pepper (or to taste)

1. Blend the butter in a bowl with the minced anchovies, garlic, zest and lemon juice (a wooden spoon works well for this).
2. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Roll the butter into a tight log shape in parchment paper or plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 week. If you won't use it that day, wrap well (or seal in a freezer bag) or freeze for up to 3 months.


Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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8.14.2008

Mad for Mascarpone (Ice Cream)

When you have a machine that makes ice cream, unexpected combinations are apt to happen. In addition to the standard chocolate, vanilla and fruit flavors, you're bound to want to experiment with other things in your kitchen.

One finds one's self enjoying rhubarb ice cream. Bacon Ice Cream. And even... cheese ice cream.

To be honest, J and I first encountered cheese gelato in the form of formatgelats at the Formatgeria La Seu cheese shop in Barcelona. The flavors there were enchanting. Musky blue cheese gelato, cabra gelato... they'd certainly be stellar with rich fig jams or dried apricots. Maybe even a nice dessert wine, like a Sauternes.

I did some experimenting of my own in the realm of frozen fromage on returning home. And, as you might expect, cheese ice cream is a bit tricky. Too much ruins the ice cream texture. The cheese must be creamy, not grainy. And the flavor really shouldn't be too bold.

Sweet, creamy blues were nice. Some of the fresher goat cheeses worked well in ice cream form. The ricotta ice cream was very nice. And then, there was the mascarpone ice cream.

Mascarpone Ice Cream on a Chocolate Brownie
Mascarpone Ice Cream on a Chocolate Brownie

Admittedly, using mascarpone for a cheese ice cream is almost cheating. Though it's referred to as a triple-cream cheese, I've never found mascarpone to be much more than a lush, silken dairy spread. It's creamy. It's rich. But is it really cheese?

No matter. It's a lovely spread for fruit breads and a great recipe additive for ice cream, as it turns out.

Mascarpone Ice Cream

Thanks to its outrageous fat content, the texture of this one varies from standard ice creams. It's almost... fluffy. My boss actually said this was his favorite of the homemade ice creams he's tried, because while home freezers tend to make ice creams a bit icier, this recipe leaves no room for ice crystals.

Also: I know this will come as a big shock to you, but... yes, this ice cream is, indeed, stellar with berries and sweets such as the chocolate brownies in the photo (up the page a bit).

Keep in mind this is style of ice cream base that uses uncooked eggs, so be sure to use good, fresh eggs from a reliable farmer.
Mascarpone Ice Cream (Makes about 1 1/2 quarts)

2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
16 oz mascarpone
1 cup cream or half & half
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp salt

1. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar until light.
2. Beat in the mascarpone until the mixture is smooth.
3. Blend in the cream, milk and salt with a whisk.
4. Freeze the mix using an ice cream machine or attachment, pack into pints, and harden in the freezer for at least 5 hours (or overnight).

Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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8.13.2008

On Swordfish Heads & Side Trips

Invariably, travels take people to some big destination city. After all, that's where the airports are, and said destination city is probably chock-full of wealth and wonders, museums and mausoleums.

But there's something infinitely charming and memorable about the little side trips on the way to and from those destination cities.

Is the delight of the small locale wrapped up in its lack of options? Are they winsome because big cities offer predictable experiences and guidebook-ready hot spots, while little villages and tiny towns pop up into your world with no expectations at all? Is the charming side trip completely the product of surprise?

That's probably a big part of it. It's probably also why one person's charming side trip is another person's boring little town in the middle of nowhere.

I don't think one can will or recreate serendipitous travel magic. That said, I will highlight the beguiling little spots I happen across. Maybe you, too, will discover wonder in these tiny map-specks.

One very satisfied chicken
Chicken graffiti in Anzio, Italy.

In Anzio, Italy, just a short train ride from Rome, we arrived hungry. A wander down to the beach led us to the Mare Nostrum Taberna, attractive because it was:
1. Open for lunch.
2. Near the beach.
3. Apparently a seafood restaurant.

Although there were no other customers in sight, when the proprietor told us they had their own dedicated fishing boat that brought back the ocean-fresh seafood he served in the restaurant, we were sold.

Fritto Misto
Ocean-fresh fritto misto di mare

The pasta and bread were forgettable, but all was forgiven when the Fritto Misto di Mare* arrived. Large plates of assorted fresh sea life, dipped in an angel-light batter and fried until crisp and steaming. Even the lemon wedges were fresh, sweet and fragrant, like peak-season Meyer lemons.

Midway through our munching, the proprietor came from the kitchen with the head of a swordfish plunked onto a plate.

Swordfish Head
A swordfish head the proprietor brought out from the kitchen

He proceeded to tell us (in Italian) all about the migratory path of the swordfish, even going so far as to draw a map.

The migratory path of the swordfish
"They follow the same route every time," he said. "So we know just where to find them."

Minutes later, the chef scurried out of the kitchen to reclaim his precious head.

Unfortunately, Anzio does observe the siesta with great enthusiasm, so most of the shops were closed all afternoon. The beach, thankfully, was not.

mmm... gelato

Nor was the artisanal gelateria on the town square, from whence as we walked back to the train station, we scored some of the best gelato we ate during our Roman holiday.

In sum, Anzio, Italy's treasures turned out to be:
1. Ultra-fresh seafood
2. A lazy, lounge-y beach
3. A cute harbor full of boats
4. Really tasty gelato

Worth a meander? Yes. All hail the side trip!

Ciao for now!


* If you happen across a bunch of supremely fresh and tasty-looking little fishes, squids, shrimps and things, you can do your own version of this dish without too much trouble. All you'll need is a deep pot of hot (375°F frying oil), and a seasoned flour coating in which to roll the fish, etc., some lemon wedges and some paper towels on which to drain the crisp-fried results. Sprinkle the hot fish with kosher salt and serve with a dry white wine. Bliss!

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8.12.2008

FoodLink Roundup: 08.11.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
It's Cupcake's birthday! Hooray, and happy birthday, Cupcake! Last week, our exploratory pastry hero was located out in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Beijing breakfast of champions
Eggs and tomatoes... with ginger!

Sorting Out Coffee’s Contradictions
Contrary to popular mythology, coffee doesn't appear to cause cancer, send you to the loo or give you high blood pressure.

Cutting Calories and Saving D'oh
Very nicely done.

Consumers are raising cane over corn sweetener
Count me in among the wary. I'm a big label-reader and HFCS-avoider these days...

.: Jen's Chocolate Cake :.
Not a blog, but simplicity itself: a single chocolate cake recipe that Jen (and others) apparently adore. I made a peanut-butter glaze for it last week.

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8.11.2008

Food Quote Friday: Orson Welles

Peanut Butter Bacon Crunch
PB Bacon Crunch ice cream

"I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can't stop eating peanuts."
Orson Welles

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8.08.2008

Peanut-Butter Glazed Chocolate Cake

Now that we have an official MissGinsu.com Peanut Week theme around these parts, I realized I had to address one of the world's greatest flavor combinations: chocolate and peanut butter. (Thank you, Reese's. The world owes you a great debt.)



A recent commenter led me to Jen's Chocolate Cake... a brilliantly simple single-post blog that features a chocolate cake recipe. A chocolate bundt cake recipe, to be precise.

And as a side note, I'm honestly incapable of making a bundt cake anymore without thinking of the "parental conflict over bundt cake" scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

And as a side note to the side note, Bundt is actually a registered trademark of the Minnesota-based Nordic Ware company, the folks who've made these pans for sixty years. That's why so many cookbooks refer to "tube pans" instead of bundt pans these days.

But back to the chocolate cake. Jen's recipe makes a very moist, rich cake, and she recommends a couple of different accompanying glazes.

And I've got one more that complements this cake very nicely. (Just remember what we discussed on Tuesday and don't bring it into school for snacktime.)
Jen Kwok's Chocolate Cake
1.75 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
0.5 tsp salt
0.5+ cup (two heaped quarter cups) cocoa
2 cups brown sugar
0.75 cup vegetable oil
0.5 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
0.75 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a bundt or tube pan. Blend all dry ingredients. Blend in brown sugar. Whisk in remaining ingredients, except water. Add boiling water and whisk until smooth. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes (turning about halfway through,) until cake tester comes out clean. Cool ten minutes in pan. Turn out of pan and finish cooling on rack.

My Peanut Butter Glaze for Jen's Chocolate Cake (Makes about 2 cups)

1/2 cup peanut butter (preferably smooth)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp cream cheese
1/2 tsp salt (if you're using natural peanut butter)

1. Whisk together all the ingredients until the mixture is smooth and lump-free. Add a tablespoon or so more milk if it seems too thick to drizzle.

2. Drizzle over the chocolate cake. Use excess glaze to spoon over individual slices, if you wish. Or just save it and serve it over vanilla ice cream. Mmm...

As you can imagine, this cake + glaze combo was popular around the office.

One of the best things about Bundt, er... tube cakes is that they're great for sharing. I love how everyone can slice off just as much as they want. It offers more flexibility than the rigid squares/rectangles you get out of a 9"x13" pan.

Happy Eating!

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8.07.2008

Recession-Proof: Spicy Peanut Soba (or Slaw)

I feel a great sauce is like one's most reliable suit or best basic dress. It proves its thrift and usefulness again and again.

A spicy peanut sauce turns out to be one of those go-to recipes. I know I just covered peanuts yesterday, I'm going to run the risk of making it peanut week around here (Heck... why not just make it peanut week around here?), and propose a good peanut sauce as part of your recession-proof recipe package.

Soba Noodles

As ag booster (and legume-hacker) George Washington Carver popularly pointed out, peanuts are supremely useful little legumes. Not only can you use the humble peanut to make paint, dye and nitroglycerin... they're also cheap and tasty.

Use this sauce on shredded cabbage and carrots, and you've got yourself a savory slaw. Use it over soba noodles for a lovely lunch or dinner. Use it as a salad dressing. It's also great with thin-sliced grilled meats in the style of a classic peanut saté sauce.

Veggie Slaw

Thus, a savory peanut sauce is not merely versatile, it's also a flexible meal-maker in which both meat lovers and vegetarians can rejoice with equal fervor.

Ginger-Peanut Soba, Salad or Slaw (Serves 4)

For the Base

1/2 lb soba noodles, cooked according to package instructions, rinsed and cooled

or

1/4 head cabbage, finely sliced & 2 carrots, shredded

or

1 head boston or butterhead lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces

For the Sauce:
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
1-2 tsp hot sauce (or more, if you like it hot)
1 tsp toasted sesame oil (optional)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp lime juice
2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
2/3 cup vegetable oil

Optional Accessories:
3 radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro or mint, roughly chopped
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup (1 ounce) peanuts, chopped
1/2 cup cooked, sliced chicken, pork or beef

1. Blend peanut butter, vinegar, hot sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, lime juice and fresh ginger. Whisk in vegetable oil slowly.

2. Toss peanut sauce with cooked soba noodles or cabbage/carrots or torn lettuce.

3. Top with your choice of optional accessory ingredients and serve. The soba and slaw keep well, but if you're not serving a lettuce salad immediately, wait to dress it until just before serving.


Yours in good, cheap eats,

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8.06.2008

Adventures in Dangerous Baking

"Drop the cookie, ma'am."

"Are you talking to me?"

"Yes. Drop the cookie and raise your hands."

"What? But it--"

"You heard me, ma'am. Drop the peanut-butter cookie and back away slowly."

"But it's my cookie."

"I don't want an argument here. Just drop the cookie and raise your hands above your head."

"It's my lunch. I can't just drop it in the dirt, I--"

"Ma'am, you can't go waving around that cookie. You're within 100 yards of an elementary school. That cookie is a lethal weapon."

"But I baked it this morning... Can't I just eat it? Wait! No! Don't shoot! Fine! I'll drop it! See? I dropped it..."

"You people... Now we need to seal off this whole area and do another detox. Do you know how long that takes? Cripes. And you could've killed somebody's kid, too. Can't you read the signs?"

"And it was a good cookie, too. Wait, there's signs?"

"Of course there's signs. There's signs here. And here. And over there, too. Under penalty of law, no peanuts may enter these premises."

"When did that happen?"

When indeed? This is obviously a dramatization, but what's absolutely true is that you really can't bring peanut butter cookies or peanut trail mix or even good old PB&J into a lot of schools nowadays.

Peanut Butter Cookies... mmmm...

One of my daddy friends tells me that his daughter's school has banned not only peanuts, but homemade snacks in general. So put away your family's favorite recipe for lemon bars. School treats must now be individually packaged snack foods.

Great for food manufacturers. Lousy for parents who want to demonstrate a DIY ethic.

In addition to a general fear of food allergies (a fear that some people feel has been exaggerated as of late), birthday treats are also apparently to blame for making America's children blobby.

Again, my friend's progressive school has banned birthday treats as a way to remedy this issue. Thank goodness childhood obesity isn't the result of too much soda pop, fast food, candy-stocked vending machines and a general lack of exercise.

PB cookies unbaked

Knowing all this, I feel that one of the more dangerous acts one can undertake these days is making and (gasp!) distributing peanut butter cookies.

As I was feeling a bit puckish just recently (and the temperature dropped down for long enough to make baking palatable), I whipped up a batch of these little danger discs.

Salty, sweet, creamy and rich... I love 'em. And there's a million recipes out there.

I find the Joy of Cooking version is more sandy-cakey and the Better Homes & Gardens one is more crispy.

PB cookie dough

I tend more toward the crispy, myself. Here's my version. Bake and consume at your own risk.

Peanut Butter Cookies (Makes about 35-40)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or, just use AP)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
White sugar, for squashing (optional)

1. Beat together butter, peanut butter, sugar, egg and vanilla extract.
2. Sift together flour, soda and baking powder, and combine with the peanut butter mixture.
4. Cover mixing bowl and chill for 1 hour, or wrap well and freeze until you're ready to bake.
5. Heat the oven to 375°F, and roll the dough into 1" balls. Place each ball about 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
6. Compress each ball with the tines of a fork. You may wish to dip the fork in white sugar between impressions, since it makes the tops sparkley with sugar. Or not. It's up to you.
7. Bake 8-10 minutes and cool on a wire rack before devouring with cold milk.


Happy Eating!

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8.05.2008

FoodLink Roundup: 08.04.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was spotted in the Tuillerie Gardens in Paris. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

In a jam
Summer in a jar... faster.

Six of a Kind: Pizza / Slice of heaven
Six best pizzas in the bay area? I'm a bit far afield. Anyone have intelligence on this one?

I'll Take the Manhattan
Mmmmm. You can't argue with the classics...

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8.04.2008

Make Mine a Mead

Apparently, it's the American Homebrewer's Association Mead Day. And as it's sweltering summertime out there, I can't think of a better day to highlight the pleasures of DIY beverages, not to mention the plight of the threatened honeybee.

Home-brewed mead
Brett's homebrew. Great tiled countertop, right? I helped install that. :)

Though oft dismissed as the stuff of Ren Fairs and the creative anachronism crowd, mead is actually not that difficult to do at home. And (bonus!) being a generous homebrewer is guaranteed to make you immediately popular in your neighborhood and totally valuable after the apocalypse.

My college buddy Brett, a talented photographer and writer, brews all kinds of delights in his enviably large basement in Susquehanna, PA.

And just what does he have down there? Rich molasses-y porters. Dark stouts. Light, spicy Belgian ales. And some new batches of crisp, effervescent mead.

A cold glass beside the sandbox
Nothin' like a cold glass of mead while you play in the sandbox...

While I was out there on a recent visit, he confessed that he's been lazy. Truthfully, he's really only interested in making mead as of late. Why? It's simple. Who wants to fuss with a lot in the summertime?

So here's to simplicity. And here's to the bees that make mead possible. Unfortunately, North America's bee populations are threatened by mysterious, deadly troubles that science is referring to as Colony Collapse Disorder.

A number of honey-loving businesses, from cosmetics company Burt's Bees to ice cream maker Häagen Daz have recently joined forces highlight this issue and throw some money at CCD research.

When honeybees die, we lose more than honey, beeswax products and mead. Bees are essential to agriculture and maintaining our food supply.

Meanwhile, I submit to you a spiced mead you can do at home, if you have the patience, the space and/or your housemates are forgiving. This mead is technically a methyglyn, which is a mead with spices, while a melomel is a mead with fruit.

Before starting, you'll need about 25-30 clean 12oz bottles, the same number of corks or caps and a capper, and primary and secondary fermentation buckets or a carboy that you've sanitized (bleach works well for this).
Double-Fermented Citrus Mead Makes about 2 1/2 gallons, (about 26 12oz bottles)

6 to 9 lb good quality honey
2 1/2 gallons water
1/8 oz freeze-dried wine, champagne or mead yeast
Peels from 4 oranges or lemons (no whites)
2" piece ginger, sliced
2 Tbsp coriander seeds

1. Bring the water to a boil. Once the water reaches a boil, remove it from the heat and mix in the honey, sliced ginger, citrus peel and coriander.

2. Meanwhile, mix 1/2 cup of lukewarm water in a clean bowl with the yeast.

3. When the pot is cool, skim out the peel, spices and ginger and stir in the yeast mixture. Transfer the mixture to a clean, sterile fermentation bucket or a carboy.

4. Cap the bucket/carboy and let the mixture ferment for two to four weeks. The number of carbon dioxide bubbles emitted from the air lock should drop to one bubble every minute, indicating the first fermentation is almost complete.

5. When the bubbling activity subsides the yeast is dead. Carefully siphon the mead the secondary fermentation bucket and cap it (try not to get the lees at the bottom of the bucket). Age for one to four months.

6. Once the mead has cleared and matured, you can siphon it into sterilized bottles and cap them. Let the bottles sit for at least another week or two, then chill and serve.

Brett is quick to remind homebrewers that, like most alcoholic brews, mead improves with age. Even if you're not crazy about the first bottle you sample, you might really love the same brew a few months (or years!) later.

The Beer for Dummies guys offer this additional advice:
Note on equipment: Making mead requires essentially the same basic kit necessary to brew beer at home: primary and secondary plastic-bucket fermenters with air locks and spigots, transfer hosing, a bottle-filler tube, heavy bottles, bottle caps, bottle capper, and a bottle brush and washer. You should be able to find these items for approximately $70 total (excluding the bottles) through a home-brewing supplier, such as The Home Brewery. Bottles cost from $6 to $20 per dozen, depending on style. You might instead buy a couple of cases of beer in returnable bottles, drink the beer, and — after sanitizing them! — reuse those bottles, for the cost of the deposit.


Cheers!

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8.02.2008

Food Quote Friday: Rose Art Industries

Ginny eats her cotton candy

"This unit is equipped with a safety system using magnetic fields, infrared beams, thermal controllers and time base logic to ensure the accurate and safe functioning of your new Cotton Candy Machine."

— Excerpted from the Rose Art Cotton Candy Machine Instruction Manual

More sugary-sweet food quotes can be found within the food quote archive.

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8.01.2008