Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish!

A toast to you...

I'm hanging up the oven mitt, folks!

After five and a half years of food blogging, at least four site redesigns, a few culinary mishaps and many tasty adventures, I've decided to stop posting here at MissGinsu.com (though I'll leave the site online for continued reference).

Special thanks to everyone who stopped by offering comments, insights and links. I appreciate the whole grand assortment of moments that people like you have devoted to this endeavor over the years.

My intention is to free up some time and energy to use in developing new projects. In the meantime, you'll find me over at Haiku Lunchbox

Again, I offer heartfelt appreciation for your time and attention. I will miss Miss Ginsu (and will probably continue to compulsively photograph all my food), but I'm looking forward to what comes next.

Happy eating!
Miss Ginsu

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A Run on the Food Bank

Riddle me this, reader... It's never taken me more than 10 minutes to complete my annual Community Supported Agriculture program signup. So why did I just return from a CSA signup session that took TWO HOURS?

What's the sudden public obsession with local vegetables? Should I blame Michael Pollan? Mark Bittman? Alice Waters? The recession? The FDA peanut recall? All or none of the above?

Maybe this is the year in which investments in financial markets feel more risky than investments farmers' markets.

Springtime CSA Box

Whatever the reason, I'll tell you this: interest in farm-to-city produce in my neighborhood has skyrocketed this year.

I strolled into my local church basement not long after the doors opened, only to discover a robust room. I was already 48th on the list.

One of the volunteers told me that virtually everyone she'd spoken with tonight had been a signing up as a first-time CSA member.

CSA Lettuces

And maybe I should've been forewarned.

A coworker of mine has belonged to a different Brooklyn CSA for several years, and she told me she was a little late in sending in her signup form this year. Usually that's not a problem.

But her CSA filled up before January. Interest was huge, and she missed the boat. Now she's just a sad, veggie-free name on a long waiting list.

With that kind of tragedy in mind, I should just be grateful to have had options to buy stock in vegetable futures.

But if you're wondering what to do with the veggies of the present... hearty greens like chard, kale and collards and should be your friends right now.

Luckily, our nutritionist at work just gave me an easy, delicious recipe for kale. And since it's from the nutritionist, so you know it can't be bad for you, no?

In any case, I'm sure she wouldn't mind if I share...
Eileen's Crispy Greens (Serves 4)
1 bunch kale
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
Sea salt, to taste

1. Wash the kale well. Strip the leaves away from the stems (save the stems for stock) and cut the leaves into 2" to 3" pieces.
2. In a mixing bowl, toss the pieces with olive oil to coat.
3. Heat the oven to 350°F and spread the prepared leaves across a baking sheet.
4. Sprinkle the leaves with the cider vinegar, then place in the middle of the oven. 5. After 10 minutes, shift the leaves in the pan to help them brown more evenly. Continue roasting until the kale pieces are crisp like potato chips and lightly browned. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with sea salt and serve hot.

So then, what have we learned today?

1. The early bird gets the local vegetables.
2. Even nutritionists know that everything tastes delicious when it's roasted and salted.

Yours in food worship,
Miss Ginsu

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Miss Ginsu, Meet... Ginsu

Any longtime readers may remember I had a spot of trouble last year with a fellow who wasn't keen on my use of the name Miss Ginsu.

As it turned out, one of the execs at Quikut, the company who owns the Ginsu name saved the day, and this little food blog lived on. Yay!

And now, suprise, surprise... that very same executive just sent over an actual set of Ginsu knives for me to check out. I'm a field tester. Woo!

Ginsu Knives

It's a set of 12 (the ones you see above, plus a bunch more steak knives) and it looks like this in the box.

Ginsu Chikara Knives

My standard set of knives are heavy German-style Wustof ones (they were the standard-issue knife at school), and I have one Kai Shun Japanese pairing knife.

That said, as long as it's sharp, I'm not opposed to using any knife out there.

I'm most interested in function, and after using the chef's knife and pairing knife fairly heavily over the weekend, I can attest to the fact that they do seem sharp and durable.

So here were the initial comments from friends and coworkers on the Chikara set.
"Wow... they kind of look like Japanese knives, but they're heavy and sharpened on both sides like the German knives. It's like the axis powers joined in cutlery."

"They're better than I expected."

"These are Ginsu? Have you tried them out on a tin can yet?"

"Huh. They're actually pretty nice. Nicer than I thought they'd be. I like the wood block. It's fancy."

So there you have it. Sharp knives, nice heft, German-style blades with Japanese styling and about a third of the price of what you'd pay for the Wustof ones.

Anyway, I'll keep using them for a bit and check in again after a while to let you know how it goes.

Happy chopping,
Miss Ginsu

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A Request and a Little Somethin'

Gotta take care of a little business today, so I come to you with a request and a reward, if you will.

First off, I'm trying to decide what to do with blog content around these parts this year, so if you get just a moment, hit the little poll at the left side of my site and let me know what you'd like to see more often around these parts.

I based the suggestions off of some of the most popular posts last year, but if you have other ideas, I'm all ears (and pigtails).

And just so you're able to make an educated vote, you can click one of the links below for an example post to illustrate what I mean by the following...

  • More recipes!
  • More videos!
  • More product comparisons!
  • More Dear Miss Ginsu!
  • More graphs, charts and infographics!

  • And secondly, the afore-mentioned treat: I have five tiny Bring the Pain pins to give away out of my swag shop, like so:

    Totally not actual size...

    If you want one, just drop a note to my gmail (missginsu), and I'll mail one over to you. And remember... I only have five, so this is one of those first-come, first-served kind of deals.

    And whether you win or not, whether you comment or not and whether you vote or not, here's a sincere thanks for reading!

    Miss Ginsu

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    New Year's Wellness Resolutions

    Some people hate resolutions. I think they loathe setting themselves up for failure or feeling pressured to perform or something of that nature.

    I look at New Year's resolutions as a great time to stop and hit the reset button. Our national custom of resolution creation is a reminder that it's occasionally important to look across the landscape of one's life and work on some upgrades. What's bad about that?

    If you're a longtime reader, you may recall that I posted some wellness goals last year. They were essentially:

    1. Hydration
    2. Portion Control
    3. Making Good Health Convenient
    4. Seeking Out Unprocessed Food
    5. Eating in Season
    6. Embracing the Salad
    7. Eating More Seafood

    I did pretty well with those last year (life is always a work in progress, no?), so I'm feeling confident enough to plan out a brand-new set of wellness resolutions for this year. (Woo hoo!)

    Next week, I'll be posting five new health goals — a fresh one for each workday, starting on Monday.

    Wishing you all the best in the New Year!
    Miss Ginsu

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    The 2008 Top-Ten Tastiest

    The end of the calendar year is a fine time to cast a glance backward before we press on into the new frontier. What went well? What didn't go so well? How can we improve? What should be cast away, never to be spoken of again?

    And so, before we recycle the upsie-downsie pages of 2008, here's a rundown of what we'll call:

    The 2008 Readers' Choice Top-Ten Tastiest Posts
    (as judged by total web traffic)

    10. Faux Yo... in which the distinguished food scientist Harold McGee weighs in on active cultures in fro-yo.

    Susky Banana Rama

    9. A Scoop of Nutella-Bacon Swirl... because we love the bacon — even in our ice cream. :)

    Bacon Ice Cream

    8. What, Me Bitter?... discovering the delight of homemade bitters.

    Homemade Bitters

    7. For Love of Chocolate Almond Daim Cakes... in which we attempt to recreate an IKEA classic.

    Daim Cakelets

    6. I Drink Your Milkshake... after all, who doesn't need a creepy baby bib?

    Milkshake Bib

    5. Snuggle Up With a Good Label... in which we consider packaged foods vs. whole foods.

    Food Guide

    4. Top Ten Real-Food Workout Foods... a list of healthful snacks for active folks.

    Chickpeas in the Park

    3. Bacon + Cake = Yay!... a much-loved post on the combination of bacon and chocolate cake.

    bacon cake!

    2. Unlock the Salad Code... the secrets of stellar salads revealed!

    Salad Chart

    And finally, the number-one post of the year, as judged by web readers...

    1. On Bread & Butter Alone... a shoot-out tasting of nine rich and creamy contenders.

    Nine Butters

    Thanks again to everyone who stopped by and "voted" at MissGinsu.com with your eyeballs this year! It's great to know there folks out there peeping and reading.

    To 2009! Cheers,
    Miss Ginsu

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    Yay! Happy Holidays!

    You guys rule. Thanks for stopping by, for leaving comments, for correcting my typos, for guessing as to Cupcake's whereabouts and for being friendly fellow travelers out there in internetland.

    Happy Holidays

    Cupcake and I are both wishing you the happiest of holidays and the tastiest of new years.

    We raise our cocoa cups to you!

    - Cupcake & Miss G.

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    Coming Soon... The 2008 Advent Calendar

    Cupcake, Miss G and the Calendar

    Last year, Cupcake and I posted a daily blogging advent calendar in memory of Leslie Harpold, who used to post the most awesome internet advent calendars each year.

    Ours wasn't even remotely near Leslie's realm of awesomeness, but we had fun with it, so we're going to do a repeat performance this year.

    Watch this space, friends: as of next Monday, we'll begin to unveil another 24 Days of Delight.

    Miss Ginsu

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    Bring the Pain

    One of my dear friends noted that it's been forever since I updated the site Swag Shop. And she's right, of course.

    So today, we play with bread punnery. Because honestly, there's nothing funnier than an angry baguette. Well, almost nothing. An angry dinner roll is pretty funny, too.

    Bring the Pain
    Le pain? Oh it's already been brung.

    And because an angry baguette and company just weren't enough... I whipped up a pack of mean little dinner rolls for you.

    Bring the Pain
    Watch out! Those buns are tough!

    Find angry baguettes and dinner rolls, not to mention culinary-minded bunnies, coffee-thoughtful fishes and little ninja MissGinsu wielding her scary ninja powers on buttons, totes, tees and all that kind of stuff in the Swag Shop.

    And tomorrow, we'll put down the puns and get back to the regularly scheduled food blog.


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    Kind of Blue

    I've met people who seem to resent their bodies. Maybe they find their skin and bones limiting or ugly or even bothersome. Truthfully, there is responsibility involved in owning a body. It needs to be fed, walked, watered, bathed and stroked. Some would, understandably, rather just spend time on other projects and pursuits.

    On the other hand, there here are, among us, those who truly relish living in their bodies. They're sensualists. Hedonists. Lovers. Athletes. Thrill-seekers. Epicurians. Dancers. These are often the people we describe as having a joie de vivre.

    My dad was among that latter group. He loved his body. He praised it and developed it. He grew his hair long and shiny. He was fearless at the beach, and he showed off his thickly muscled arms and legs whenever he could.

    So it was especially rotten when he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease) last fall. His muscles freaked out. His nerves stopped talking. He grew a little weaker every day. It progressed faster than anyone expected.

    There was nothing to be done. It's fatal. Weirdly, doctors told him to avoid saturated fat and meat. But when you're issued a death sentence, that advice doesn't seem very rational. A coronary would've been a blessing.

    So I cooked. We ate. We talked. I'm grateful for that.

    Honestly, all lives have limited-time offers. We hope for 80 or more healthy years, but we really don't know how much time we're allotted. It's one of those mysteries we collectively share. Today could be the last day above ground. Or maybe it's tomorrow. Who knows?

    washed blueberries

    My childhood Sundays with dad always meant picking apart the Sunday paper with hot blueberry muffins and a soundtrack by Miles Davis.

    Sometimes he put on Sketches of Spain, but most of the time, it was Kind of Blue.

    He sipped coffee. I drank milk. And we spent our Sunday mornings in delicious idle domesticity.

    Coincidentally, his death corresponds with the dawn of our local blueberry season, so I submit this recipe in honor of my dad, who so beautifully demonstrated a love of life.
    Classic Sunday-Morning Blueberry Muffins (Makes 12-15)
    3/4 cup butter
    1 cup sugar
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    3/4 cup milk
    1 egg
    1 3/4 cup sifted flour (use All-Purpose or an AP/whole wheat blend)
    2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 cup blueberries (or more!)
    1 tsp lemon zest (optional)

    1. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar.
    2. Beat in the milk, egg and vanilla.
    3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and add the dry mixture into the butter mixture.
    4. Mix until just moistened. Fold in the blueberries and zest (if using).
    5. Line a muffin pan with papers, or grease the cups before filling each cup 2/3 full with the batter.
    6. Bake at 400°F for 20 to 25 minutes, and serve with butter, the Sunday paper and Miles Davis, if desired.

    You can actually use whichever berry strikes your fancy or happens to look good at the market.


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    Middle Feastern Delights

    Filled with lots of tangy citrus and yogurt flavors and plenty of cool cucumbers, the foods of the Middle East seem particularly suited for warmer weather.

    I first encountered spiced ground lamb as a Turkish kabob, but I discovered that the whole operation with the stick seemed like just a bit too much fuss for regular use.

    Why not just make spiced lamb meatballs? They're fun to make, not too fussy and are even very nice when munched as cold leftovers for your midnight snacking needs.

    Lamb Balls, Raw
    Lamb Balls, Cooking
    Lamb Balls, Cooling

    This Cucumber-Yogurt Raita goes very well with lamb. You'll find it's similar to a Greek Tzatziki, but tzatziki typically uses garlic instead of citrus. If you'd like something more Greek-y, drop the cumin and substitute puréed garlic for the citrus juice. Voila!
    Spicy Lamb Balls w/ Cool Cucumber Raita (Makes 25 meatballs)
    For the Spice Blend
    1 Tbsp whole coriander
    1 Tbsp whole cumin
    1/2 Tbsp whole black peppercorn
    1/2 Tbsp whole fennel seed or anise

    For the Lamb Meatballs
    2 pounds lamb
    1/2 cup fine breadcrumbs
    1 egg
    1 tsp kosher salt
    1 small onion, minced (optional)
    1 tsp olive or canola oil

    1. Grind the spices in a spice grinder. (If you're using pre-ground spices, simply blend them together and use 3 tablespoons of the mix for this recipe.)
    2. Mix together the lamb, egg, salt, onion (if using) and the ground spice blend in a large mixing bowl.
    3. Form golf-ball-sized spheres with the meat mix and set them on a plate while you heat the skillet.
    4. In a large (17") skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add about half the lamb balls and cook about 1 minute before gently rolling each ball over with a pair of tongs.
    5. Continue cooking the lamb balls for about 5-7 minutes, rolling each ball every 60 seconds to an uncooked side. Remove the cooked balls and drain them on paper towels.
    6. Cook the second batch of lamb balls the same way you cooked the first batch. Serve hot or warm with cucumber raita (below).

    Cool Cucumber Raita
    1 small cucumber, peeled (or half of an unpeeled hothouse cucumber)
    1 cup plain yogurt
    1 Tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp ground cumin
    1-2 Tbsp chopped mint, cilantro or parsley (optional)

    1. Shred the cucumber on a grater and squeeze out all the excess juice you can.
    2. Blend squeezed cucumber shreds with yogurt, citrus juice, salt, cumin and herbs (if using).
    3. Taste, and if the mixture seems too tart, add a dash of sugar. Serve immediately with the lamb balls. This raita is also terrific with a variety of Indian curries.

    This recipe also makes great sandwiches, so if you're in the mood for hand-held food, stuff two to three warm lamb balls into toasted pita halves. Add a bit of shredded lettuce and tomato slices and drizzle with the cucumber sauce.

    J loves this meal quite a lot, so we eat it with some frequency. Favorite accompaniments include tabbouleh, hummus, fresh cucumber-tomato salads, pickled beets (locally, the good fellas at Rick's Picks and Wheelhouse Pickles both make some terrific pickled beets) or pickled ramps and tahini sauce.


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    Zen and the Art of Blog Maintenance

    I used to reluctantly admit to food blogging as though I were revealing a shameful secret. "Um, well, yes... I write. Online. It's, you know, a kind of journal. Yes, I did go to journalism school. I suppose it is kind of like a blog. Okay, fine... It's a .. (food blog)."

    I mean, even the word itself has a certain embarrassing mouthfeel to it. Blog. It's sort of damp and heavy, isn't it?

    But after four years of doing this, I think I've mostly gotten over the online stigma.

    Aside from 100% searchability (thanks, Google!) I think the major advantage that food blogging has over traditional food journalism is the interlinked relationships made possible through comment systems, links and forums. An online recipe (or article) isn't necessarily the static, stand-alone work of yesteryear. Nowadays, the reader is empowered (nay, encouraged!) to be more active, to immediately offer up variations, suggestions, compliments and comparisons.

    Last week, the lovely Adrianna over at What I Made for Dinner bestowed a "Blogging With A Porpoise Purpose" award on this here blog.

    It's very sweet, but I'll admit that I do fear online awards. Such a thing arrives at the doorstep with a grinning, gap-teethed face and a fist full of fresh responsibility. In the best-case scenario, the recipient is supposed to, in turn, bestow the award on deserving others. There's so much pressure there. What if I wrongly bestow? What if I neglect a deserving candidate?

    Rather than weight anyone down with duty, I'd like to send the love without the obligation. For those who want the award, it's yours. I feel that anyone who takes the time and energy to regularly blog is driven by a purpose.

    Meanwhile, as anyone who peruses food blogs very well knows, there's all kinds of luscious food blogs out there and very limited internet hours in the week.

    Just like everyone else, I try to keep tabs on the big dogs of the food blog world: Chowhound, Serious Eats, Grub Street, 101 Cookbooks, Orangette, Delicious Days, The Kitchn, Eater, Chez Pim... It's a mighty reading list.

    I can't read everything, but here's some of what's new-ish and tasty in my RSS:

    The Guerrilla Gourmet
    New blog on the block. Love the design. Love the mission.

    White on Rice Couple
    A lush garden, a motorcycle and the gorgeous California landscape. Always a treat to see what these kids are up to.

    Food for the Thoughtless
    A San Francisco food blog with bite.

    Wine Hazard
    To hell with Parker. Eric Hazard reviews the wines I can actually afford.

    What I Made for Dinner
    Adrianna describes Brooklyn motherhood and food exploration in all its harrowing, hilarious detail.

    Twenty Bucks a Day
    Mike Lee is trying to eat at every restaurant on the Village Voice's Cheap Chow Now list (2005). Bonne chance, Mike.

    Baking Blondie
    A sweet, ambitious 15-year-old food blogger with baking skillz and a good lookin' dog.


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    Happy Blogiversary!

    In lieu of Food Quote Friday today, this website is celebrating its 4th birthday. Yay!

    Started off under the name "The Hedonista," this blog began with a silly gush of praise over Fage Yogurt. But over the years since, it's come to mean a great deal more to me.

    These days, I get the biggest thrill from being able to explore all the weird and wonderful things that food brings into a life. And I get to share with and learn from all sorts of people across the web that I'd never meet otherwise.

    From fellow food bloggers to random readers, you folks brighten my days. So, thanks. Thanks to everyone who's ever stopped by. Thanks to those who comment and those who link over here. You make the world seem like a small, friendly place that's filled with interested and interesting people.

    Miss Ginsu

    If you've been reading all along (hi, mom!) you've probably seen most everything that's come across the screen hereabouts. If not, you might have missed a thing or two. Herein, you'll find the Best of Miss Ginsu, as determined by reader visits and links.

    Happy blogiversary to me and Cupcake, and also to you, dear reader.


    The Best of 2008 (so far)
    Bacon + Cake = Yay!... The infamous and strangely tasty bacon cake.
    On Bread (and Butter) Alone... A survey of 9 butters and 1 sick food blogger.
    April Fish!... In which we explore the wacky history of fishes and April 1.
    Bacon + Cake = Yay!... It's far better than you'd think.
    The Donut Wars... Because my donut is not necessarily your donut.
    Beans on Toast Strike Back... A recipe for homemade tomatoed beans.
    I Drink Your Milkshake... I do. I drink it up.
    Wild Rice for Breakfast... A porridge worth waking up for.
    A Revised Food Pyramid... Because the USDA could make a few adjustments.
    Unlock the Salad Code... The secrets of the professional garde manger.
    New Year Dog Biscuits... For four-legged friends.

    The Best of 2007
    The World's Lunchboxes... To-go, the world over.
    Hot Artichoke Dip... Because everyone needs delicious hot dip recipe.
    The Ginger Toddy... It cures what ails yeh.
    The Yule Log Cake... It's a log! It's a cake! It's a log cake!
    Make Your Own Bitters... In which we find out how easy (and pretty homemade bitters are.
    Your Own Vinaigrette... In which we explore dressings.
    A Spot of Chai... A nice method for homemade chai masala.
    Sugarplums!... Yes, they do dance in my head.
    Merry Citrus!... And a Fruitful New Year!
    A Tale of 3 Ramen... Three great ramen shops. No weird little seasoning packets.
    The Cookies of the Dead... Why Day of the Dead is cooler than Halloween.
    The Power Smoothie... A power breakfast evolves.
    Top-10 Real Workout Foods... Energy from natural sources. Like your kitchen.
    Friday Food Quotes... Great minds, great mouths, great quotes.
    The Gastrognomes!... Because Minneapolis doesn't suck.
    In Space, No One Can Hear You Wretch... Why is space food so unappetizing?
    Chocolate Daim Cakes... Why should IKEA have all the fun?

    The Best of 2004-2006
    Podunk: A Nook for Tea & Decorum... In which we explore a mysterious tea shop.
    Thinking Outside The Cave... A consideration of the original pasta primavera.
    Tools Make the Chef... Tips on the kitchen essentials.
    Tomato + Watermelon = Friends Forever... It's a soup! It's a salad!
    The Foodie's Apocalypse Kit... In which we explore better options for our Emergency Stashes.
    Happy National Tortilla Chip Day... Because everyone loves a good food holiday.
    Desktop Panini 101... In which we discover the secrets of desktop dining.
    Garlic Challenge: Part II... In which we enjoy "bona calda."
    Cold Comfort... In which we discuss the cooling refreshment of horchata.

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    Recession-Proof Recipes: The Saladwich

    Confessional time: I love sandwiches. Truthfully, I'm rather sandwich crazy. This is probably a personality flaw on my part, but for some reason, everything tastes better when it's wrapped in some kind of starch.

    J is generally the opposite. Bread is often too... you know, bready. Having been spoiled by homemade bread and Paris living, he's a bread nerd who'll just do without if he can't get something from the fine local bakers at Sullivan Street, Balthazar or, in a pinch, Le Pain Quotidien.

    Now, I love a gorgeous loaf, but I'm not half so choosy. I mean, sometimes I really need a sandwich. If I always waited for the perfect loaf to roll into my fingers, I'd deprive myself of one of life's greatest pleasures.

    It's a salad! It's a sandwich!

    Enter the saladwich. This recipe provides not only an economical meal, but a problem-solver. J gets his salad, I get my sandwich, and we're both happy and well-fed. It's also a great meal for households in which someone's concerned about carb reduction or there's a split between veggies and meat-eaters.

    Convertible Greek Saladwiches (serves 2)
    1/2 hothouse cucumber, sliced thin
    1/2 small red onion, sliced thin
    1/3 cup cooked chickpeas
    1-2 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped
    1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
    1/2 head green leaf lettuce, washed and chopped/torn
    1-2 whole wheat pitas, halved
    Cooked chicken cutlets, tuna or leftover steak, sliced (optional)

    Tahini Dressing
    1 Tbsp olive oil
    1 lemon, juiced
    1 garlic clove
    2 Tbsp tahini
    6 oz plain yogurt
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

    1. Toss together the cucumber slices, onions, chickpeas, dill and tomatoes (as well as any meat, if desired) with the chopped or torn lettuce.
    2. Blend the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, yogurt and tahini in a blender or food processor. Season to taste with the salt and pepper.
    3. Dress the salad mix and serve to anyone who's eating the dish as a salad. Stuff 3/4 cup of the salad mix in the pita halves, drizzle with additional dressing, and serve in pita form to anyone who prefers a sandwich.

    If you have extra dressing (and you should), save it for a future salad or use it for dipping raw vegetables. Mmm...
    Bon appétit!

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    Beer Respect: March Edition

    I've been a fan of Beer Advocate for a while. After all, their official slogan is "Respect Beer." So simple. So direct. So reverently hedonistic.

    glowing hefe

    As one of my recent resolutions was to drink a new beer every week and record my thoughts about it for future reference, I discovered that Beer Advocate's online review system provided a terrific tool for this purpose. (Though sadly, my daily running resolution hasn't been half as easy to maintain.)

    I'm hoping to be able to post my beer explorations here each month. Below you'll find the beer name, the brewery, the beer type and the letter grade I ended up bestowing on each. (Be forewarned that I naturally skew toward Belgian farmhouse styles and creamy dark stouts, so MGD and Pabst aren't likely to earn high marks over here at Chez Ginsu.)

    Overall, I was very pleased with what I found this month, though I'm sorry to report that the Raspberry Porter from the Southern Tier Brewing Company ended up being a low point.

    Gulden Draak (Dark Triple)
    Brouwerij Van Steenberge N.V.
    Belgian Strong Dark Ale
    Grade: A / 4.45
    "A beautiful beer. And damn fine with barbecue!"

    Smuttynose Hanami Ale
    Smuttynose Brewing Company
    Fruit / Vegetable Beer
    Grade: B / 3.7
    "This one's a challenge. Could be great with roasted duck."

    IPA (India Pale Ale)
    Southern Tier Brewing Company
    American IPA
    Grade: A / 4.3
    "A very drinkable IPA. Great with curry (go figure)."

    Raspberry Porter
    Southern Tier Brewing Company
    American Porter
    Grade: D / 2.2
    "Not really sure what this beer would go well with..."

    Brooklyn Local 1
    Brooklyn Brewery
    Belgian Strong Pale Ale
    Grade: A / 4.4
    "A lovely brew with tiny, delicate, champagne-like bubbles that zip up the glass in long strings"

    Brasserie Dupont
    Saison / Farmhouse Ale
    Grade: A / 4.45
    "Ace. This crisp blondie is one of my all-time favorites."

    You can read any of the full reviews at BA. Meanwhile, if you're already a beer advocateer, make me your buddy! I'm MissGinsu, naturally.


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    On Razor-Sharp Knives and American Endings

    As much as I appreciate the so-called "French Ending" in films (i.e. things go bad, then they get worse; there's a brief glimmer of hope... and then the protagonist dies, loses the girl/guy, messes up the heist, gets deported, etc.), I really appreciate the all-American happy ending in my actual life.

    So after last weekend's drama, you can imagine how thrilled I was to hear from GINSU® today. Short version: They're not interested in suing Miss Ginsu... this food blog will live on!

    You can read the full text below. Hooray for amicable resolutions and level-headed decision-making!

    I understand you recently received an email from Ed Valenti regarding use of the GINSU® mark as part of your blog name. Although Mr. Valenti’s email was well-intentioned, I thought it best if you heard directly from the owner of the GINSU® mark.

    By way of introduction, I am the Director of Global Operations of Quikut, a company located in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas. Quikut is a division of The Scott Fetzer Company, which is the registered owner of the GINSU® mark.

    GINSU® is a mark that is recognized around the world, and we are proud of the established fame this mark enjoys. To protect our registration, trademark law requires that we assess the circumstances under which and how this mark is used by others. This brings us to your use of the mark in "Miss Ginsu".

    To our knowledge, you are not using your blog to associate yourself with Quikut, to promote the sale of knives, or to otherwise engage in an activity that diminishes the image of the GINSU® mark. As such, under the present circumstances, Quikut is not opposed to your continuing to use Miss Ginsu in the name of your blog. We reserve the right to reassess our position should circumstances change.

    We appreciate the disclosure statement that you placed on the blog concerning the ownership of the GINSU® mark, and ask that you revise it to accurately reflect the correct name of the owner, The Scott Fetzer Company.

    We trust you will find this to be a reasonable resolution, and we wish you continued success and enjoyment with your blog.


    Russell Hougham
    Director of Global Operations
    Douglas Quikut

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    She Slices, Dices... & Gets Slapped with a Cease & Desist

    Golly! I never realized that such a mild (and frankly, nerdy) hobby as food blogging could be so edgy. So disquieting. So dangerous.

    So... get this: I just got hate mail from Ed Valenti, who is apparently one of the marketing gurus who launched Ginsu Knives into the public eye back in the late '70s.

    Here's the story, according to your friend and mine, the Internet:

    The knife that is now sold under the "Ginsu" name was once a blade called "Quikut" — a mild-mannered utensil manufactured in Ohio to little fanfare.

    In Japan, the hand can be used like a knife... but it can't cut a tomato!

    Thanks to some fast-talking ad copy, a fabricated name and the services of a Japanese foreign exchange student who appeared in the ads, a classic commercial was launched out into TV-land. The campaign was a cheesy wonder and the U.S. post was inundated with "limited-time offer" shipments of razor-sharp Ginsu knives traveling to homes across America.

    Dave Choppity-Chopping

    NOW how much would you pay?

    Of course, as a pop-culture reference, the word "Ginsu" was also a source of good laughs. Jerry Seinfeld, Weird Al Yankovic, Notorious B.I.G. and Nas have all made sharp-sharp Ginsu knife references in their works.

    That's probably why one of my fellow cooks called me "Miss Ginsu" while observing my killa fresh-outta-cooking-school knife skills. Soon thereafter I started food blogging, and I used "Miss Ginsu" as my pen-name rather than the far-less-catchy real name that my parents gave me.

    But that's not all!

    Fast-forward to today, when I receive this fan letter in my Gmail inbox:
    Please be advised that Ginsu is a registered trademark of the Berkshire Hathaway Company. You indicate a copyright after your name. Please provisde me with any copyrights you have obtained or a letter of permission to use the mark from BH....

    Ed Valenti
    1775 Bald Hill Rd
    Warwick,RI 02886
    401 826 3600

    I posted my very first food blog entry waaay back in May, 2004, and like most people who cook, eat and feel some strange need to share all that the internet, I've been blogging in obscurity ever since.

    Do I make money from this site? Nope. Food blogging has been a four-year drain on my free time and my personal finances. Why do I do it? I love food. I love connecting with other people about food. I love all the things I discover about food as I travel and cook. And I love sharing that stuff.

    So why does marketing guru and accomplished public speaker Ed Valenti care about harassing an obscure food blog?

    Well, it all comes back to dollars. He doesn't own the word "Ginsu," nor my nickname, "Miss Ginsu," (I guess Berkshire Hathaway owns all that) but since Ed Valenti makes his money in lecture halls and marketing books about "Ginsu" concepts, it seems that he has his own business interests to protect.

    ...But this is a limited time offer, so call now!

    So here's where you come in, dear reader. I'll probably have to change my name and my website pretty soon. I find it sad that crushing little food bloggers with legal power is sorta the way this country does business.

    I used to blog as Miss Ginsu, and my blog was titled, "The Hedonista," but that got pretty confusing. People asked me, are you "The Hedonista" or Miss Ginsu? Understandable confusion.

    These days, this site is about excitement and discovery and the way food discussion is relevant in nearly every aspect of our lives. I don't know if "The Hedonista" really encompasses that food exploration theme.

    Anyone out there on the inter-webs have a good suggestion for a name replacement? I'll offer a T-shirt to the kind soul who comes up with a winner. Help a girl out and post in the comments. Thanks, y'all!

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    Shrove Thursday

    In honor of miserably cold weather, the glories of a homespun breakfast and the last few days of Pancake Month, I got up a little early to make pancakes for myself today. Blueberry-Banana Wholegrain Pancakes, to be precise.

    "Miss G," I thought, "You've had a tough week at work, and you need comfort food that makes your Thursday just a little more awesome." It's a simple demonstration of good self-care.

    Donuts can be tasty, but they tend to make me crash out with sugar shakes... and that's not exactly setting myself up for success. The hot bowl of steel-cut oatmeal or my very own homemade granola are delicious — and very satisfying — ways to wake up, but that's what I eat pretty much every day.

    A small stack of pancakes, on the other hand... now that sounded pretty great. Regardless of what happened for the rest of Thursday, I could rely on the gift of pancakes to make the day a little more special.

    I find that aside from the feelings of warm bliss they produce, pancakes are a nice treat because most of the measuring can be done in advance. Like many people I know, I operate on about a quarter of my normal brain as I bump around the kitchen in the morning.

    Easy DIY Pancake Mix

    8 cups flour of your choice
    1/2 cup sugar
    2 Tbsp + 2 tsp baking powder
    1 Tbsp + 1 tsp baking soda
    1 tsp salt

    Sift the ingredients together. Store in an airtight container for up to three months, or keep it the mix in the freezer for even longer.

    To make a batter, measure out 1 cup mix and blend with 1 egg, 1 cup buttermilk (or substitute 3/4 cup plain yogurt and 1/4 cup water or milk) and 3 Tbsp melted butter.

    Thin it out with a little more milk or some water if it seems too thick.

    You can use all-purpose flour or a mix of flours. J really enjoys a flavorful buckwheat pancake, so a half-and-half mix of whole-grain flour and buckwheat flour works well for those.

    To make a whole-grain mix, try whole-grain pastry flour, which has a finer texture. Oat flour blends are nice, too. Feel free to add in some wheat germ if you're a fan.
    Blueberry-Banana Pancakes (with Cinnamon!)

    1 cup buttermilk (or substitute 3/4 cup plain yogurt + 1/4 cup milk or water)
    1 egg
    1 cup Easy Pancake Mix
    3 Tbsp butter, melted

    1 tsp ground cinnamon
    1 ripe banana, well-mashed
    1/2 cup blueberries

    Additional butter, for cooking

    1. Heat the oven to 250°F and place a cookie sheet on the top rack.

    2. Whisk together the yogurt/buttermilk, milk and egg until smooth.

    3. Blend in the pancake mix until the lumps are worked out. Add a little more milk or water if it seems too thick.

    4. Stir in the melted butter, cinnamon and mashed banana and blueberries.

    5. Heat skillet or griddle over medium heat.

    6. Melt a teaspoon of butter on the pan, creating an oiled surface.

    7. Using a 1/4 cup to measure the batter, pour disks onto the hot griddle. When bubbles begin to form in the center of the cooking pancake, carefully flip it and cook other side.

    Keep finished pancakes warm in the oven until you're ready to serve 'em.

    Got extras? Don't pitch 'em! Wrap well and freeze. You can revive pancakes in a warm oven or toaster oven some desperate morning in the future. (I'd avoid using the microwave, however... it makes breads so rubbery.)

    Wishing happy breakfasts to all!

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    A Whole Lotta Clams...

    Four years ago, Pim Techamuanvivit (of the food blog, Chez Pim) had a simple idea: organize food bloggers help raise money for those going hungry.

    This year, her annual Menu for Hope campaign continued extending that idea. Menu for Hope 4 involved dozens of food bloggers who sponsored some truly impressive prizes, including luxe meals at hungrily-sought hot-spots, weekend stays in lovely locales and unique opportunities to meet with heavies in the food industry.

    The Menu for Hope 4 total donation for the UN World Food Programme: $91,188.00

    That's double last year's amount... and imagine what next year will bring! I can't help but see Pim's MFH as a truly inspirational demonstration of the power of initiative and determined passion.

    Chef Bunny Tote

    Though it's quite humble by comparison to some of the offerings, I truly hope Ms. Jennifer Fishman will enjoy her winnings from here at Chez Ginsu: a natural cotton chef-bunny tote bag with an array of aromatic spice blends.

    Thanks so much to everyone who donated to the cause and to the ever-classy Adam Kuban (of A Hamburger Today, Serious Eats and Slice) for rounding up the wily Northeast-region food bloggers.

    I'm already looking forward to seeing how MFH grows. Meanwhile, go check Pim's site to see if you've won anything.

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    2007's Best of Miss Ginsu

    There's what I think and then there's what you, the blog-reading public have to say.

    Sometimes we agree. Sometimes there's a slight difference of opinion. There's no throwing pans or shouting. Just a quiet variance in our preferences. That's what makes it all so interesting, don't you think?

    So before we don our gay apparel and take a cup o’ kindness yet for auld lang syne, let's have a quick look at the things you, John and Jane Q Blogreader, ranked as top content on missginsu.com this year.

    power smoothie

    Top Posts as Determined by You! (through help from Google Analytics)
    Excellent posts all, but if it were me, I might have swapped out Kritamo, Toy Food or Daim Cakes with some of my own 2007 favorites:
    What should we deduce from your fickle favorites, dear reader?

    You like sweets! You enjoy recipes. You like to hear about food explorations and food discoveries. And in a happy moment of cosmic alignment, it happens that I really love those things, too.

    So cheers to you, cheers to me and have a joyous New Year’s Eve!

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    Brekkie Showdown: Beans on Toast

    J grew up with a basketful of alien habits, thanks in part to his mum, an Irish immigrant.

    Cookies are biscuits. Sweaters are pullovers. Tea goes with brekkie, as well as the afternoon biscuit for teatime. Shepherd's pies have lamb in them, dammit. Oatmeal is steel-cut. The instant stuff in the packets is dust (or if he's feeling less than generous, it's shite.)

    And beans, apparently, are for toast. Beans on toast? Why not beans near toast? Why not beans beneath toast? These are not valid questions. Beans go on toast.

    Not just any beans, mind you. There are beans, and then there are beans. The beans J recognizes as beans (and craves on toast) are, in fact, navy beans.

    Internet research told me that BoT is among the world's best performance breakfasts, thanks to its protein/carbohydrate ratio. Gets you going in the morning with lasting energy to power you (and your brain) through to lunchtime. Clearly, breakfast experimentation was in order.

    The internet also told me I should use "Heinz Beans with tomato sauce" (a UK import product I ran across at my local Key Food), though "Heinz Premium Vegetarian Beans in rich tomato sauce" (an American product) could do in a pinch.

    Who am I to argue with the internet? I decided to go with the double-header. Beano a beano.

    Bean v. Bean

    The Queen's Beans sold for $1.49 but came with a slick pull-tab on the can. The Yankee Beans cost me a mere .99, no pull-tab, no frills. Immediate comparison showed that the Yankee beans sported twice the sugar and a bit more fat. Both products promised a tomato sauce.

    J said that when it's part of the Full Irish, Beans on Toast is generally served with fried eggs, potatoes, rashers (bacon) and sliced tomatoes. Sometimes a white pudding is in attendance.

    As I was hoping to remain ambulatory after breakfast, we decided to go with bacon, poached eggs and BoT with a side of fresh cherry tomatoes.

    Making Brekkie

    The contents were immediately differentiated on opening the cans. As you can see, the Brit beans sit like little pearls in their pinky, translucent tomato sauce, while the American variety are darker and the sauce and beans share the same hue.

    J didn't see the bean pouring process, so he wasn't aware which bowl of beans was which, but as it turned out, we both immediately preferred the UK version of the Heinz beans. The beans themselves were toothsome ("They taste like beans.") and their sauce was sweetly tangy. Real tomato flavor was apparent.

    The Premium Vegetarian Beans were comparatively cloying. They tasted less like beans and tomato sauce, more like salt and sugar.

    Beans on Toast with Poached Egg and Rashers

    At that point, we couldn't bear to ruin perfectly good toast with substandard beans; we scooped only the tangy, tomato-y UK beans across our toast. Truly tasty, wholly satisfying and entirely worth the extra half-dollar.

    J was happy. I was happy. I'd even go so far as to say that beans on toast may very well take up a spot alongside steel-cut oats, granola and power smoothies in our brekkie rotation. Meanwhile, I'll let you know if I suddenly begin rating better on standardized tests.

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    Joyous Christmas & a Tasty New Year!

    Miss Ginsu & Cupcake wish you a joyous season!

    Thanks to all for stopping by this year, adding your comments and sharing in all the food adventures.

    Wishing you a season of celebration and a tasty new year!
    -Miss G. & Cupcake

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    Day 21: Ginger Toddy

    This post marks Day 21 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    The common cold. It really is the gift that keeps giving.

    I've got one now (sneezing, coughing and reaching for tissues as I type... but don't worry: it's not a virus), and it brings to mind all the other colds I've had in all the other winters of my life.

    When I was little, my grandmother used to make me a cough syrup with honey, brandy and simmered rose hips (chock-full of vitamin C).

    When I was sick at one of my restaurant jobs, an older Indian lady simmered up something similar that her mother had always made with some jaggery (a flavorful raw sugar used in India), fresh lime juice and simmered fresh ginger.

    One of my coworkers told me about a time when he was sick with a cold in France and a kind soul administered hot Calvados with lemon and honey until my coworker fell into a deep sleep. He awoke the next day much repaired. He claims it's a panacea.

    Just recently, I realized that all these beverages are simply variations on a Hot Toddy.

    I don't know if it's the warmth on the throat, the soothing sweetness or the direct application of affection that makes homemade cough remedies feel so good, but I guess I don't care. Whatever works, works. Make one for yourself or someone you love.

    Obviously, I'm not suggesting anyone fall off the wagon or liquor up the kids (that was the practice of another era), but I have the requisite number of years behind me, and I think the brandy sounds like a good move.

    Below, my amalgam of the remedy tonics administered throughout my life. Good for a cold, and good even when you don't have a cold.
    Ginger Toddy
    1" fresh ginger, sliced
    2 cups hot water
    2 Tbsp honey
    1 Tbsp lemon juice

    Optional add-ins
    1 cinnamon stick
    2 cloves

    1. Simmer water and sliced ginger (with the spices, if desired) in a small saucepan for 20-30 minutes.
    2. Stir in honey and lemon juice and taste. Adjust with a little more honey and/or lemon, to taste.
    3. Add in a shot of brandy (if using), and serve immediately.

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    Introducing: The New Chez Ginsu

    Miss Ginsu & Cupcake

    After months of thinking, tinkering, plotting, planning and fussing about, I'm proud to present the new & improved MissGinsu.com. (With boundless thanks to J for patiently debugging my buggy code and The Roomie for her advice on cuteness.)

    It's still not perfect ("Dammit, Jim! I'm a cook, not a programmer!), but I hope that once you have look around, you'll agree it's a heck of a lot better.

    The new display is best viewed on Safari and Firefox, tolerable on IE 7 and still miserably broken on IE6. If you're on a PC and you don't have Firefox yet, you can download it here for free and get the whole awesome Miss Ginsu experience.

    What's Changed
    • The Name: Is the site called, The Hedonista? Is it called, Miss Ginsu? In truth, it was supposed to be "The Hedonista: A Food Blog by Miss Ginsu", but it was pretty confusing. That's over now. We're going totally Miss Ginsu from here on out.

    • Simplified Navigation: The navigation bar has been stripped down to the basics: Tasty Places to go, tantalizing Recipes to cook and our favorite Food Finds. Looking for something? Check out the search bar (at right) or browse the archive.

    • The Color Scheme: It's brighter, happier and more diner-like.

    • The Miss Ginsus: The place is chock-full of 'em. Why? Well, why not? They're cute. And we think the world could use more cute. Also: Naps. But we'll work on cute for now.

    Meanwhile thanks for reading, and I hope you like the new look!

    -Miss G.

    PS: Completely unrelated, but also important... The Roomie wants anyone knitty (or crochety) to know that the Love Keeps You Warm program could really use scarves or yarn donations to help warm folks that are living with HIV/AIDS. If you have skillz, scarves or a bunch of extra yarn sitting around, contact Diana Previtire at Actor's Equity NYC before November 30. More info on the flyer at Miss Heather's Greenpoint Dog Log Blog.

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    Going Bananas: The Mighty Morphin Power Smoothie

    the mighty morphin power smoothie

    It all started simply enough. Most consuming passions do. I had too many ripe bananas.

    Normally, a quickie banana bread would solve the banana issue. But even a banana-loving person can only eat so much banana bread.

    So I started freezing ripe banana halves and using them for breakfast. I'd just toss a frozen banana half in my blender with a cup or so of orange juice. Voila! Cool, refreshing smoothie.

    So that's how it started:
    Banana + OJ = Smoothie

    After a while, I thought it might be nice to get some of the good enzymes from active -culture plain yogurt into my system. Started adding about a half-cup.

    The new digestively correct version:
    Banana + OJ + Yogurt = Smoothie

    Over time, I wanted to reduce the volume of orange juice (so much sugar!) and I did some experimenting and figured out that soymilk helped keep my smoothies thin enough. (Milk curdles if you're also using oj. Not appealing first thing in the morning.) Substituting a tablespoon of peanut butter or Nutella for the oj made for veeeery tasty smoothies.

    The improved formula became:
    Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + PB = Smoothie

    When I started making them for J, he wanted to add tablespoon of wheat germ (for additional vitamins and fiber). And since J is wild for berries, we also started adding in some fresh or frozen berries instead of juice or peanut butter.

    The nutritious, collaborative recipe:
    Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Wheat Germ + Berries = Smoothie

    After J returned to a heavy workout program, he needed more protein. Meanwhile, I was doing more running, so I figured a protein + carb combo breakfast couldn't hurt. At that point we started adding some protein powder (a "designer" whey product, made using milk solids) to power the muscles.

    The high-tech protein power version:
    Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Wheat Germ + Berries + Protein Powder = Smoothie

    After a while J read up on nutritional supplements for athletic recovery and got into L-Glutamine (an amino acid recovery supplement) and BCAA (Branched Chain Amino Acid) powders. The glutamine doesn't taste like much, but the BCAA is seriously bitter. I continued pouring my smoothie at the high-tech protein powder version (above), before adding a little glutamine and BCAA into the blender for J's smoothie.

    J's big muscle recovery smoothie:
    Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Wheat Germ + Berries + Protein Powder + BCAA + L-Glutamine = Smoothie

    Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee), the fruit of the Brazilian Açaí Palm, seems to go wherever Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners go. They suck on frozen packets of the stuff after practice.

    So when J took up jits, we learned all about acai. It's high in fiber and antioxidants, and it seems as though it may also reduce inflammation in the body. Handy stuff. In our casual testing, J says he's able to work out longer without getting hungry when he's had an acai smoothie. And since FreshDirect delivers Sambazon pure acai packets along with delicious frozen sliced peaches, the smoothies have been very happy indeed.

    The individually tailored potions:
    Me: Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Berries (or Peaches) + Protein Powder + Acai = Smoothie

    J: Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Berries (or Peaches) + Protein Powder + Acai + BCAA + L-Glutamine = Smoothie

    These days, there's a minor panic in the house when banana supplies run low; It's funny to remember that the whole winding evolution was hatched by a surplus.

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    Happy Pi Day!

    Yes, even kidneys taste better in a pie... Steak & Kidney Pie from the peerless NY Public Library Digital Image Gallery

    Somehow, the presence of a pie shell makes just about anything more special.

    Consider, if you will: the humble vanilla pudding. It becomes more than formless goo when placed in a pie shell over a carefully ringed base of sliced bananas. Suddenly, it's Banana Cream Pie. Magic. Delight. The audience oohs and ahhs.

    The assortment of random savory tidbits in my refrigerator becomes a tempting brunch quiche, thanks to a quick-whisked custard and a pie shell.

    A thickened chicken stew, poured in a pie shell and topped with puff pastry? Poof! Chicken Pot Pie. Hearty, homey decadence.

    In essence, I'm in favor of pie. And, for that matter pi. So in honor of Pi Day (3.14... get it?), I urge you to make and stockpile a few pie shells. It's like a gift to your future self. That future self will love you for this. It's an investment in yum.

    This recipe makes two supremely easy pie crusts that don't use shortening. Yay! No artificial trans fats! The secret for success? Make pie crusts on a cool day, keep the ingredients chilly and don't overwork the dough. (I know, I know... that's like three secrets, not one.)
    Supremely Easy Pie Crust (Makes 2 Crusts)

    2 1/2 cups pastry flour (substitute up to 1 cup of whole-wheat flour to give more texture)
    1/2 tsp sugar
    1/2 tsp salt
    2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2" pieces
    4 Tbsp ice water

    1. Blend 2 1/2 cups flour, salt and sugar in a medium-size bowl. With a pastry blender or a long-tined fork, cut in the butter pieces until mixture looks like coarse cornmeal.
    2. Add ice water and mix until dough forms a ball. If dough is still dry and crumbly, add more a tablespoon of water at a time (up to 4 more tablespoons) until it comes together. Don't overwork the dough. Seriously. That's what makes it tough.
    3. Divide the dough, flattening each half into a disk. Individually wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.
    4. Roll each chilled disk on a lightly floured surface into 12-inch rounds. To shift a crust into a pie tin, gently drape the dough circle around a rolling pin and unroll it over the pie tin.
    5. Lightly press the dough into the plate, and use a pairing knife to trim the round, leaving a little extra dough at the edges.
    6. Fold in extra dough and seal it, crimping the edges with your fingers or a fork. Wrap each shell in plastic and freeze for future pie pleasures.

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    Dinosaurs in the recipe box

    The dinosaurs!
    The Dinosaurs, courtesy of the NYPL Image Collection

    Occasionally it occurs to me that my recipe card file is bogged down with dinosaurs. Raaar!

    Among them, the petrified recipes I experimented with while I was a vegetarian. The newspaper clippings that piqued my interest on the page, but never materialized on the plate. Rich and complicated French sauces from cooking school that just don't fit my workaday lifestyle. A spate of the neatly filed, color-coded 3x5 cards that demarcate my lifetime of culinary dreams.

    And then, there's the recipes that stay at the front of the box. They're not appropriately categorized. They're stained from use. They're full of illegible scribbled notes. Most are more or less committed to memory.

    (Let's get really multimedia and add in an old-school audio cue to this blog post... I recommend The Replacments' "Here Comes a Regular.")

    Yes, here come the regulars.

    I'm working in food media and recipe editing right now, and I've come to understand that most people use a limited repertoire of the foods they make regularly. That changes with the seasons, of course, and most like to break out and experiment with something new if they feel reasonably confident they'llhave some success. No research to back this up, but I'd wager that risk-takers and those with professional chops have a far wider breadth of regular recipes than those who fear the stove.

    The question, then. Do your own "house specialties" constitute a rut, or a groove? I prefer to view my reliable regulars as supremely groove-worthy. Especially since their simplicity begs boundless improvisation.

    Our standard Sunday hummus enjoyed heaps of fresh garlic last week, zatar spice and roasted red peppers the week before, a curry blend and whole chickpeas the week before that.

    My super-rich poundcake is normally cooked in a bundt pan, but around the holidays, it gets lemon zest and a juicy glaze and gets baked into small, individual pans for gift-giving.

    In fresh berrry season, the granola is very plain (to make way for tangy-sweet berry goodness). During the barren winter, it's a festival of dried fruits and nuts. Most of the time, I sweeten it with maple syrup, but honey works just as well (and is quite a bit cheaper than the pure maple).

    Moving into fall, I foresee these as the top-twenty regulars for Chez Ginsu (with a hopelessly long list of variations):

    1. The green salad (and its best friend, the vinaigrette)
    2. The poundcake (see below for recipe variation)
    3. Green veggies 'n bacon
    4. The bean soup
    5. The lamb stew
    6. The hummus
    7. The granola
    8. The carrot cake
    9. The banana bread
    10. That egg thing: The shakshuka
    11. The chai masala
    12. The curry masala
    13. The garam masala
    14. The chicken salad
    15. The oatmeal cookies
    16. The quiche (and its partner in crime, the pie shell)
    17. The fresh fruit pie/tart (which will move from apple to pear to pumpkin)
    18. The chicken soup
    19. The squash soup
    20. The fruit chutney/compote

    Sadly, the fresh fruit salsa, the panzanella and the pickling brine will need a winter break, due to seasonal produce constraints.

    Below, the recipe that inspired this post, a well-loved and requested variation on "the poundcake."

    Feeds a throng. Awesome sliced and served with a hot cup of joe. Definitely not appropriate for those with dietary concerns. Feel free to cut back the sugar to 2.5 cups if you prefer yours a little less sweet.
    The Massive Cardamom Cream Cake (Serves 12-15)

    3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
    8 oz full-fat sour cream or 8 oz cream cheese
    3 cups sugar
    6 fresh eggs, at room temperature
    1 tsp pure vanilla extract
    1 tsp freshly ground green cardamom
    3 cups pastry flour (for best results, sift before using)
    1 tsp salt

    1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a bundt pan.
    2. Cream the butter and sour cream (or cream cheese) with the sugar until light and airy, about 5-7 minutes.
    3. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
    4. Add the vanilla, cardamom and salt, then add the flour all at once. Mix only until the flour is blended. Over-beating leads to tough cake. Nobody likes tough cake.
    5. Pour the batter into the pan and even out the top with a rubber spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean (about 1 hour, 15 minutes).
    6. Cool the pan on a rack for 30 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan and let cool completely. Enjoy with coffee or tea.

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    May, and the crisper goes mad with spring fever


    J left on Sunday for sunny Spain, and it's been cold and gray here in New York ever since. (Check the weather reports and you'll see this statement is not simply the skewed view of a pining girlfriend.)

    While I labor in the industrial zone in Queens, he sends me notes that go like this:
    I made a picture of today's picnic lunch for you, but my internet connection isn't good enough to upload it. The place where I bought the food was like the prepared food area of a Whole Foods, only better appointed and staffed by grown-ups. They had several counters, each with some sort of focus (breads, savories, pastries, chocolates). The items on sale were priced by the kilo, save some things that are typically sold in slices, such as tartas and quiches.

    When I selected my veggie quiche, the quiche-lady wrapped it in butchers' paper, tied the parcel with a string, then handed me my food and a small placard on which she wrote the price in grease pencil over a space labeled with her counter's name (there was one slot for each section). When I was done, I took my parcels and the placard to the door where I was charged for everything at once, after which the clerk erased (i.e. wiped clean) the placard and placed it in a stack to be returned to the counters. The quiche, which I ate in the big park by the Prado, was excellent.


    Ah, for a leisurely life of sunny picnics and charmingly wrapped quiches!

    Meanwhile, back in Gotham, my crisper drawer is mad with spring fever. I brought home fresh spinach, strawberries and local grouper for a solo Friday night fish feast and discovered that every shallot bulb, garlic clove, onion, shallot and scallion in the bunch sprouted green tops and depleted the white bits I'd normally use in my sauté.

    Sitting in the cool darkness of the refrigerator floor, how do they know it's springtime? They didn't do this to me two months ago. Suddenly, it's May, and all the aromatics in the household are suddenly inspired to burst into fresh sprays of chartreuse sprouts. I've been wishing for some space to garden, but this wasn't quite what I'd had in mind.

    I was disoriented and dismayed until I remembered that green tops are just as yummy and useful as white bulbs. So then, marching on to dinner:

    Montauk Grouper
    with a quick brown butter sauce, sliced green shallots and fresh cilantro chiffonade

    Spinach-Strawberry Salad
    with toasted walnuts, Israeli feta and a balsamic vinaigrette

    Three small chocolate-chip cookies*

    Easy, quick, delicious, seasonally appropriate (except for the cookies, but when are cookies ever in season?), and a good use of my newly discovered refrigerator garden.

    I won't join J. in the sunshine for another week, and every day until then is scheduled for darkness and rain. That said, as long as the market is full of fresh produce and my refrigerator remains rich in garlic and shallot sprouts, I can't help but feel the daily pulse of spring on my dinner plate.

    *Cookie Tip for Single People: Next time you bake chocolate-chip cookies, make extra dough, chill it down, form the cold dough into fat discs the size of slightly squashed golf balls and keep 'em securely wrapped in your freezer. That way you can just take out two or three at a time. Bake frozen cookies in an oven preheated at 350°F for about 12 minutes. Presto! Fresh, hot cookies with no need to commit to a whole dozen.

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    Crushably Cute + Yummy

    Ike & Sam

    Three products I'm wild for right now (that also happen to have have meltingly cute packaging):

    aztec dark hot chocolate

    goat's milk ice cream

    Ike & Sam's:

    (* Limited range of sale... if you happen to live in the Tri-state, pick it up at Garden of Eden shops in Manhattan and some Key Foods and C-Town stores on the Upper East Side.)

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    Office Productivity

    Burlap sack of corn
    Yes, sir. That's a burlap sack of corn next to my desk.

    Alvin with Corn
    The boss, demonstratively gleeful.

    My office often produces blaring false fire alarms. Sometimes it produces actual fire alarms. Once in a while, it produces clouds of poisonous ammonia gas, and sometimes they clean the grease traps. I really can't begin to describe how ghastly a large grease trap smells if you've never had the pleasure.

    So why do I stick around? Occasionally my office also produces something joyous.

    Sometimes, there's sweet corn so fresh, it's less than 120 minutes away from the field where it was picked. Sweet corn so juicy, so prime, you don't even have to heat it. The sugars haven't yet turned to starch.

    Shuck an ear, lean over the cubicle trash bin, close your eyes, take a bite and pretend you can't hear the fire alarms sounding. Again.

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    A composed dessert

    J. made this for me because he's full of good things and has to share some of them in order to avoid bursting open, which would be terribly unattractive and inconvenient.

    A splendid summer sweet, this dessert is lovely to look at and tangy-sweet-refreshing to consume. Some of the nicest dinner-endings are more like delightful assemblies of good ingredients and less like cooking or baking

    Thus, I will attempt to relay the assembly list for you:

    A Quick & Lovely Summer Dessert
    Lime-Basil Gelato (Il Laboratorio del Gelato)
    New Jersey Blueberries
    Torn Fresh Mint Leaves
    Drizzle of Lime-Blossom Honey

    If you were serving this to a crowd, I'd ask you to consider chilling the plates in the freezer and putting down a gingersnap or a teaspoon of poundcake crumbs before plating the gelato. That keeps the melty-ness at bay while you do up a series of plates for your lucky guests.

    Bon appétit!
    Miss Ginsu

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    The Butcher Who Broke My Heart

    Free-Range Duckies

    Occasionally, my job has unusual perks. Last week they sent me out to visit a free-range duck farm on Long Island with the butcher, the photographer and a few important decision-makers.

    The ducks were healthy, terribly clean, seemingly happy and surrounded by grass, trees, sunshine, spring water, fresh breezes... all the stuff you'd hope a duck's life would entail.

    Sadly, the less uplifting part of the story is that these little guys are a meat commodity. Their lives are short (just a few months) and after their speedy dispatch (a quick cut in the jugular) the ducks get dipped in parafin, stripped of their feathers (which are cleaned and used in pillows and coats) and prepared for sale.

    Whole ducks for Chinese markets are prepped "Confucian-style" (whole, organs and all) and frozen, while breasts and legs for standard sale are trimmed by a loyal staff of workers who've been with this family business for years. Tongues and feet are also beloved by the Chinese restaurants, so they're frozen for sale by the pound.

    This was such a meticulously clean and efficient farm, I came away with a feeling of satisfaction. My post-vegetarian guilt was assuaged. The ducks have short lives, yes, but their handful of numbered days seem pleasant, unlike the crowded, stifling chicken mills and turkey barns I've had the misfortune of encountering.

    The butcher, a self-described "man at the top of his game" with more than thirty years in the business, left the farm shaking his head and sighing. "I hope someday in the future we humans won't have to do this," he said. "It's different when you get the meat on my end. You package it, and it's a product."

    "But when you're here and you're looking at them... I mean, this is a beautiful farm, you know? It just seems so barbaric that we have to do this."

    In competition for the deeper soul, I think I was out-hearted by the man who deals in death. I'm still not sure if the water rimming up in my eyes was more about fate of the ducks or my own loss of innocence.

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