Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

But You Can't Tuna Fish

When it comes to a surplus, some foods are easier to wrangle than others. Extra apples become applesauce and apple butter. Easy.

Extra peaches become preserves. No problem. Extra cabbage becomes sauerkraut or kimchi. Cucumbers, beans, onions and carrots become pickles.

But what happens when you come across a great sale on tuna? Well, as it turns out, that, too can be preserved.

Tuna!

J and I are huge fans of the oil-packed tuna that typically comes in jars from Spain and Italy, but those are not cheap.

An article in the LA Times a few months ago illustrated how the same process can be accomplished at home, so when we recently ran across some bargain albacore steaks, we stocked up.

Preserved Tuna

As the piece illustrates, oil-poaching tuna is a supremely simple process with the potential to save lots of money if you get a good price on the tuna. And the end result is very satisfying.

Watching your salt intake? Don't use it. Like a little citrus flavor? Add some lemon peel to the oil. We've been pleased with the addition of thin-sliced garlic.

Essentially, you just cover a tuna steak in olive oil, add some herbs, citrus peel, garlic and/or salt to the liquid (if you like) and cook it at the lowest cooking temperature you can manage for about 12 to 15 minutes.

Once it's opaque and flaking, it's ready to go in jars and hang out in the fridge... become a tuna salad sandwich or top a lovely salad, like this feta-olive-chickpea-tomato number. Mmm...

Mediterranean Salad

Our home-poached tuna is also J's new favorite thing when paired with avocado. We shared this salad the other night, and I have a feeling it's going to become a regular part of the dinner lineup.

Note: I didn't post an image here yesterday out of pure laziness... and lack of quality light in the windowsill, but mum insisted on a photo, so we made it again today. Yum.

Tunacado Salad
J's Tunacado Salad (Serves Two)
4-5 cups mixed lettuce, chopped or torn
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup drained tuna chunks
1 ripe Hass avocado, in 1" pieces
1-2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1-2 scallions, sliced thin
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (use some of the poaching oil!)
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Dash of salt, grind of pepper

1. Combine lettuce, tomatoes, tuna, avocado, parsley and scallions.
2. Drizzle with a vinaigrette composed of the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.
3. Devour immediately.

The parsley and scallions are minor, but very tasty additions. If you must, you can get by without them, but it really is a superior salad when they're included.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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4.04.2009

Video Treat: Open a Young Coconut

When you open an older coconut, you need to dig in the toolbox for a hammer. On the other hand, opening a young coconut (sometimes called "green coconut") is much easier: a sharp knife and a level surface usually do the trick.

In this how-to video you can watch me take a sharp knife (and a not-so-level surface) and open a young coconut.

Well, to be truthful... I eventually get the coconut open. There's some coconut chopping hijinks in the middle there.

Some people shave the white husk away to get at the nut inside. I usually have good luck with getting a wedge in, but I think extending my arms and working on a wooden tray rather than a cutting board were maybe not my best moves.

Thus, I have to stress the need for a steady, sturdy cutting surface. It's a must when using a knife. Nobody wants to their chop hands instead of their food.

Oh... and I owe beoucoup thanks to J, my steady-handed camera guy.



Once you actually get inside the coconut, the coconut water is cool and delicious, and the soft flesh is a sweet, creamy delight when added to coconut curries, blended into Thai-style coconut soup, puréed into smoothies/frozen drinks (daiquiris, anyone?) and mixed into the pretty green chutney I made last week.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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3.08.2009

The Thick, The Thin & The Hearty

This week brings Shrove Tuesday, known to some as Mardi Gras and known to me as Pancake Day.

Bacon, Eggs n' Pancake

While I grew up with the thick, pillowy pancakes that appear in diners and truckstops across the nation, J. was raised on a delicate, European-style pancake... something more along the lines of a crepe.

Buckwheat Crepe with Egg & Gruyere

I must admit, the discovery that not everyone ate the same kind of pancake was a bit of a shock to me. I'd always considered a pancakes to be something like blankets, and crepes to be those delicate little wraps with fillings in them. Discrete categories, you see?

Mais non! Pancakes are objects of great variation. In the US, we just happen to like 'em fat.

In any case, there's no need to bicker — whether thinner or thicker, the pancake is a little morning gift. As Cookie Monster might say, it's "a sometimes food."

So in honor of Pancake Day this year, I offer my recipe for Sweet Potato Pancakes. In thickness, they're closer to the pillowy variety of my youth, but the addition of vegetable matter makes them sweeter, heftier and heartier.

You'll notice this recipe also provides a great way to use up leftover mashed sweet potatoes. In truth, I developed them as a post-Thanksgiving idea for leftovers, but I think they make an especially nice treat throughout the winter. Just save a little mash from dinner to use in pancakes the following morning.

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Do keep in mind that they'll darken a bit more than your standard pancake. The sugar in the sweet potatoes browns quickly in the pan. I also recommend you pour smaller circles of batter than you might otherwise... smaller cakes are easier to flip.
Sweet Potato Pancakes (Makes 6 pancakes)

1 cup milk or buttermilk
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato
1/2 cup pancake mix
Oil or butter for the griddle/skillet

For Serving: Maple syrup and/or butter

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk/buttermilk, oil and mashed sweet potato. Stir in the pancake mix until just combined.
2. If the batter seems too thick, thin with a teaspoon or so of water to attain a pourable consistency.
3. Heat a large, oiled griddle or skillet over medium-high heat.
4. Working in batches, pour batter in 1/3 cup portions onto the hot griddle/skillet surface and cook until the edges of the pancakes bubble and brown, about 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Carefully flip and cook the reverse side until browned, 1 to 2 minutes more. Repeat the process with the remaining pancake batter.
6. Move the cooked pancakes to a paper towel-lined plate and keep warm in the oven until serving time. Top with butter and/or maple syrup, to taste. Serve hot.

For extra decadence, serve them with alongside a bowl of fresh whipped cream in which you've blended a hint of cinnamon and maple syrup. Mmmm. They're also good with applesauce.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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2.23.2009

Lemon-Ginger Fairy Cakes

I think I've mentioned before that J is an alien creature who often resembles a normal fellow but occasionally exposes his true color (green, naturally). One of his little oddities I discovered recently is a propensity to refer to cupcakes as "fairy cakes."

Though there's a little friendly debate about what constitutes a proper fairy cake in the comments over at Becks & Posh and Cupcakes Take the Cake, the Wikipedia lumps cupcakes and fairy cakes together on the same page.

When it comes down to it, the difference between a fairy cake and a cupcake actually seems to be geography.

Ginger Cakelet

I believe that J might insist that the true fairy cake — that is, the most correct example of the genre — is the one that's exactly to his taste: Simple. Petite. Spiced with an unexpected hit of ginger. Something to enjoy with his pot of afternoon tea, perhaps.
Lemon-Ginger Fairy Cakes (Makes about a dozen)

3 cups all-purpose or pastry flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup lemon zest (from about 3 lemons)
2 Tbsp crystallized ginger, chopped finely
3 eggs
3/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup buttermilk

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease the cups of a muffin pan or line them with wrappers.
2. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
3. In a separate bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, then add the vanilla, lemon zest, ginger and the eggs, beating well.
4. Add about a quarter of the flour mixture into the butter mixture, blending well. Blend in about a quarter of the buttermilk, then continue alternating the flour mixture and buttermilk, incorporating everything until just blended.
5. Pour the batter into the muffin cups to about 2/3 of the way full. Bake cupcakes for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick poked in the center of one comes out clean.
6. Remove from oven and cool in the pan 10 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. Ice with simple cream cheese frosting (below) and share with people you like.

Across the pond, I think the cakes (fairy and otherwise) tend to have more conservative icing than the mountains of fluffy frosting you see on cakes hereabouts. If you've seen Nigella Lawson's pretty little tabletop-flat cakelets, you'll know what I mean.

But I just can't be satisfied with a thin icing. Truthfully, I'm devoted to cream cheese frosting. It's rich, smooth and tangy and it tastes good on everything from carrot cake to devil's food.

For a recipe like the one above, I add a bit of lemon zest, but I'd resist that urge for cakes of a chocolate persuasion.
Simple Cream Cheese Frosting (Makes enough to frost a 13" x 9" cake or about a dozen cupcakes.)

1 8oz package cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (or more, to taste)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp lemon zest (optional)

In a mixing bowl, blend the butter and cream cheese. Slowly blend in the powdered sugar, beating until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Blend in the vanilla extract and lemon zest (if using).

Cheers to you and all the fairies in your life!
Miss Ginsu

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2.04.2009

Resolution #5: It's All In the Timing

What's even more confusing than the research flip-flopping every decade or so on whether it's okay to eat buttered toast or not? Recent findings indicate that you really need to pay attention to the time of day to determine what to eat.

Yup. One more thing to think about. But the good news is, Resolution #5 is pretty easy to incorporate. You just have to remember two little rules about timing:

Watchman

1. The morning is the best time for protein and carbs. Go low-carb for the rest of the day.
2. ...Unless you work out. You have up to an hour after a hard workout (the "golden hour") to refuel your body with carbohydrates and protein.

The reasoning behind these rules is simple.

While you're sleeping, you're fasting. Carbohydrates at breakfast deliver glucose to your bloodstream, starting up your brain and muscles. If you eat a big breakfast, you're going to give your body what it needs to perform better mentally and physically (and you might even lose weight). Carbs eaten later in the day are more likely to be processed to make fat.

A few good carb + protein breakfast options:
  • Beans on Toast
  • Poached Eggs & Toast Points
  • Yogurt & Granola
  • La Crepe Complete
  • Spinach Omelette and Whole-Grain Toast
  • Grilled Cheese Sandwich
  • Cottage Cheese & Sliced Fruit
  • After a hard workout, your muscles need to rehydrate, regain their glycogen stores and repair damage. During the "golden hour" after a sweaty workout, you can eat the simple carbohydrates (like bananas) that you should normally avoid, because your body processes them differently. Eating enough carbs (and some protein) immediately after a workout will help you feel stronger the next day. Some research recommends chocolate milk.

    Here's a more elaborate version of chocolate milk that J sometimes gets post-workout at a local juice bar. Just the thing to dream of while you're on the last, most difficult stretch of your exertions...
    Bulldozer Smoothie
    1/2 banana
    1-2 Tbsp peanut butter
    1 scoop chocolate whey protein
    (or 1 scoop regular whey protein + 1 tsp cocoa powder)
    1 cup milk or soymilk
    2 ice cubes

    1. Combine banana, peanut butter, protein powder, milk/soymilk and ice in a blender.
    2. Blend until smooth, pour into a glass and serve immediately.
    And you'll find more recovery-ready smoothie variations here .

    So that's it for wellness resolutions this year:
    1. Better Brown Bagging
    2. Rearrange the Plate
    3. Get Cultured
    4. Keep it Low & Slow
    ...aaand #5: It's All in the Timing

    Know a great one you think I've missed? Working on something worth sharing? Spill the beans in the comments.

    To our health!
    Miss Ginsu

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    1.09.2009

    Resolution #2: Rearrange the Plate

    In culinary school, we did a lot of plate drawings. The elements were always different, but the formula was invariable: Protein, Veg, Starch. Protein, Veg, Starch.

    J recently started trying to drop weight to qualify for a lower weight division at tournaments, and he suggested that we drop the starch sector from our plates.

    "Just double the vegetables and put the meat on the side."

    At the time, this statement was revolutionary, and I must admit, not terribly welcome. Martin Luther pounding at the kitchen door. Drop the starch? But that was 1/3 of the plate! Utter madness!

    Reorganizing the Plate

    It's taken some trial and error (old habits die hard) and some dishes have been dropped entirely (pasta and potato dishes fail under this plan), but I'm endeavoring to change, and behold! J has lost weight and I've felt less dopey after meals.

    So my second resolution for the new year is to rearrange the plate that exists in the mind... the one that's been imprinted there by a lifetime of Protein, Veg, Starch combos.

    The new plate is steak and sautéed broccoli. Or chili and salad. Or turkey and Brussels sprouts. Or a big Greek salad. Or beans and collard greens. Or a stir-fry, hold the rice.

    Potatoes, rice, noodles and bread now become condiments to be used sparingly rather than major players on the plate.

    Now, I'm a big bread lover, so this is a resolution — and a revolution — in progress, but I think it's a worthy goal that will pay dividends in weight maintenance, more veggie consumption and just feeling good overall.

    Three more resolutions to come!

    To our health!
    Miss Ginsu

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    1.06.2009

    Ten Thousand Picnics & One Custard Baklava

    Our extended cold, damp spring was all forgiven this past weekend. For those of us who stuck around for the holiday, three glorious days of sunshine, blue skies and idyllic chirping birds reminded us that New York can actually be a pleasant place to live.

    From my informal survey of city parklands, I estimate there were roughly oh, somewhere in the neighborhood of ten thousand picnics happening around the city this weekend.

    Prospect Park, Central Park, McCarren Park and every other patch of urban green upheld seas of blankets, spread after spread of good eats and a few million grinning hominids.

    Sheep in the Sheep Meadow
    Sheep in the Sheep Meadow, Central Park, image from the NYPL. Circa 1870?

    Picnics in the Sheep Meadow
    Picnics in the Sheep Meadow, Central Park. Circa 2008

    For my own pic-a-nicking, I was in the mood for something exotic. I found a recipe for galatoboureko (custard baklava) in Cold-Weather Cooking by Sarah Leah Chase and, despite the book's out-of-season topic, I thought it might make for a nice picnic dish. My adapted version appears herein.

    As it turns out, a bourek boureko is either a Greek dish or a Turkish dish (depending on whether you're speaking with a Greek or a Turk) composed of layered phyllo with a filling of meat, or cheese or veggies or a sweet or savory egg custard.

    J recently traveled through both countries and found it everywhere (particularly the not-so-sweet egg variety, which he ate for breakfast). His suspicion is that galatoboureko hails from an ancient neighborhood in Istanbul (so ancient it was still Constantinople at the time) called Galata.

    Processing the phyllo

    Galatoboureko

    The recipe below has a few adaptations from the original, which makes enough to feed an army (about 42 pieces). This one will serve a smaller army with about 21 pieces, depending on how you make your cuts.
    Galatoboureko (Custard Baklava)
    For the citrus syrup:
    1/2 cups sugar
    1/4 cup water
    2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
    1 slice orange (optional)

    For the custard:
    1 quarts milk
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/2 cup farina or Cream of Wheat cereal
    1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
    Pinch of salt
    6 large eggs
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1/2 tsp nutmeg

    For the phyllo:
    1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
    1/2 pound phyllo dough, thawed

    1. To make the syrup: Add sugar, water, lemon juice and orange slice (if desired) to a heavy saucepan and simmer 10 minutes, skimming away any froth at the surface. Remove and discard the orange slice. Set aside to cool.
    2. To make the custard: Heat the milk and sugar in a deep saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. When the milk steams and is about to boil, shake in the farina. Add the butter and salt. Stir until the butter has melted and the mixture is thick and smooth, then remove from the heat and let the mixture cool to room temperature.
    3. Beat the eggs and vanilla together in a large bowl until light, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cooled farina mixture, blending thoroughly.
    4. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
    5. To assemble the dish, brush a 11 x 9-inch baking pan with a thin coating of the melted butter. Unwrap the phyllo dough, laying it out flat on a clean surface, and covering it with a slightly damp kitchen towel to keep it from drying out.
    6. Lay 1 half-sheet of phyllo dough on the bottom of the pan and brush it with a thin coating of melted butter. Continue layering and buttering the dough in the same manner for 8 half-sheets.
    6. Pour in all the custard and spread it evenly. Cover the custard with 8 more half-sheet layers of buttered phyllo dough. Puncture the top sheets with a sharp knife in several places to allow the custard to breathe during baking.
    7. Bake until the custard is set and the pastry shakes loose from the pan, about 30-45 minutes.
    8. Let cool 30 minutes, then pour the sugar syrup over the pastry. Cool completely before cutting into triangles or rectangles. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

    The version of galatoboureko J has encountered abroad is much like this one, but he said they didn't generally use the citrus syrup to finish it and the dish was usually served for breakfast rather than dessert.

    Either way, I can picture this boureko fitting in well at a brunch buffet... it holds up nicely at room temperature. Just don't plan on storing it too long before serving it. I find that storage softens the phyllo a bit much.

    Now that we have another half-box of phyllo to play with, I'm excited to try out a savory bourek...

    Meanwhile... cheers, ya'll!

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    5.27.2008

    A (Much Tastier) Chicken in Every Pot

    Though Herbert Hoover is often (and falsely) credited with a campaign promise to give the nation "a chicken in every pot," the phrase never sounded terribly enticing to me. Chicken was usually pretty disappointing in the flavor department.

    Truthfully, when I was growing up, there wasn't much chicken around the house. After we moved off the farm, Dad thought the grocery store chickens lacked the appropriate oomph, so we ate lots more turkey than chicken.

    Girl embracing chicken
    Girl embracing chicken at the Red Hook Farm

    But when I went to Paris last fall, I had a kind of chicken revelation. It seemed like every chicken dish we ate was made of magic. Every morsel was rich and robust. They tasted somehow twice as chicken-y as the chickens I'd known.

    Discovering that, I ordered chicken at every opportunity. I mourned lost meals spent dining on tripe or crêpe when there could've been chicken Yes, indeed. Those were the chickens worthy of campaign promises.

    After returning to the states, I considered the chicken. Why were French birds so much tastier? Not even our free-range, organic birds had the flavor of the average French chicken. On the internet, I learned that the answer could be in the breed. One internet source here in the U.S. promised to ship rich, delicious chickens just like the ones in France. I was quite tempted, but the price was dear.

    So rather than ordering straight away, I procrastinated. Maybe it's for the best that I did, because last week, we were given a poultry miracle.

    Crowing cock, Paris
    Crowing cock, Paris

    J's butcher, Jeffrey, gave us a rooster for our pot. A full-on, head-on, feet and spurs and all rooster. It was cleaned and plucked, thank goodness, and recently. One or two tiny feathers still clinging to his flesh told us he was a black-feathered fellow.

    Our dinner rooster had been killed and chilled so recently, he had a fresh scent and his skin was dry and taut, with none of the sliminess I expect from standard store-bought chickens. After a 40-minute simmer with garlic, onion, bay leaf, salt and halved tomatillos? Juicy. Rich. Delicious. Best chicken either J or I have had since Paris.

    From whence this miracle bird? Well, it turns out that Jeffrey scored some kind of exclusive distributorship for the heritage chickens from Bo Bo Poultry Market a Chinese outfit that raises the birds upstate and brings them down to Brooklyn for killing, plucking and local distribution.

    For years, Bo Bo sold exclusively to the Chinese market. Later on, Latino buyers got in on the action. The mainstream buyer just wasn't interested in whole, fresh-killed chickens, and most shops and distributors found it cumbersome and costly to deal with them. But these days, there's steadily building demand for local, heritage birds from chefs, locavores and food lovers, so the market for Jeffrey's tasty chickens might be ready.

    Jeffrey's planning to package and sell the birds to restaurants and shops, but if you happen to be a New Yorker, you can get them directly from him. I'm convinced he's one of the friendliest people on the planet. I hope this whole thing works out for him. With chicken soup as tasty as this, a chicken in every pot seems like a mighty fine idea.

    Chicken in a Pot

    I used a recipe based on a Caldo de Pollo recipe from Rosa's New Mexican Table. Muy delicioso.
    Mi Sopa de Gallo (Serves 4-6)
    For the soup stock
    1 chicken
    3 quarts water
    1 large onion, quartered
    1-2 tomatillos, washed and halved
    1 head garlic, halved horizontally
    2 bay leaves
    1 jalapeño, halved
    1 Tbsp salt
    1 bunch cilantro stems (bound with twine)
    1-2 sprigs thyme

    Tasty add-ins
    1 14oz can diced tomatoes
    2 cups cooked rice (optional)
    1-2 chopped green onions
    1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
    1/2 cup chopped mint leaves
    1 lime, cut in wedges (to garnish)

    1. Rinse the chicken well and put it in a large stockpot with the water, onion, tomatillos, garlic, bay, jalapeno, salt, cilantro stems and thyme.
    2. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and let the pot gently simmer, partially covered, for about 40 minutes. (Check for doneness by cutting into the thigh and peering in at the joint that connects it to the back. It should be free from any pinkness.) Skim the soup surface of any foam that may rise to the top.
    3. Remove the pot from the heat and cool the chicken in the broth.
    4. When cool enough to handle, move the chicken from the broth to a platter. Strain off the broth and set it aside while you strip the meat away from the bones. Chop any large pieces into manageable bites.
    5. Return the meat to the broth, add in the tomatoes and cooked rice, and bring the soup back to a boil. Turn off the heat and season the soup to taste with additional salt and pepper, if desired.
    6. To serve, spoon the soup into serving bowls, and garnish with green onions, cilantro, mint and lime wedges.

    Salud!

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    5.20.2008

    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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    5.07.2008

    Recession-Proof Recipes: La Crepe Complete

    Last week's Recession-Proof Recipe examined stock and gave a fast variation for Pho. Pho is simple peasant food, and this week, I'd like to take an economical eating cue from yet another group of peasants.

    Like yesterday's cassoulet, a humble country casserole that's often elevated beyond its original station, the sometimes pretentiously presented French crêpe is essentially just a thin pancake with tasty tidbits rolled up inside it. It's the peasant food of Brittany.

    Several years ago I discovered I could afford a ticket to fly overseas and spend few days in Paris, but didn't have much money for lodging or food. So I ended up with a week of Paris hostels, student entry to museums and a host of street crepes.

    For that week, my diet was primarily composed of the sweet crepe, or crêpe sucrée (it was supremely cheap and the whole transaction used up the only 15 words of French I could remember)... a charming banana-Nutella combo that I still remember fondly and order whenever I encounter it on a menu.

    After traveling around with J a bit, I discovered his crepe preference invariably fell to the crepe complete, a classic buckwheat crepe filled with an egg (whites cooked, but with a runny yolk, please) with melted gruyere and ham. Simple. Filling. Complete.

    Whether in Montreal...

    crepe complete in Montreal

    In Mediterranean Spain...

    crepe complete in Girona

    In Midtown Manhattan...

    crepe complete in the Midtown CyberCafe

    Or in Paris...

    crepe complete in Paris

    Across the universe, la crepe complete is his crepe of choice.

    As you may notice in those photos, my crepe is generally in the foreground, and I always order something else. The vegetable crepe. The goat cheese and fig crepe. The ratatouille crepe. And then I find I'm always jealous of J's hearty, savory crepe. He's made a convert of me.

    By using just the slightest bit of ham and cheese with the egg, this meal manages to be simultaneously inexpensive and satisfying. And the construction of the dish is somehow magically classier than some lowly pancake and egg with skimpy slices of ham and cheese.

    Though you may have encountered sweet crêpe batters before, I must insist on the buckwheat in this recipe. The earthy flavor really does something special alongside the cheese and ham. Those Breton peasants knew something about flavor on a budget.

    Ladies and gentlemen of the blog-reading public, may I present:
    The Crêpe Complete (Serves 2-4)
    For the crêpes
    1/2 cup water
    1/2 cup milk
    2 eggs
    1/4 cup buckwheat flour
    1/3 cup all-purpose flour
    1/4 tsp salt
    1 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

    For the filling
    4 eggs, warmed to room temp
    4 pieces ham, thin-sliced (or skip it, if you're vegetarian)
    4 pieces gruyere or Swiss cheese, thin-sliced

    1. Whisk together the water, milk, eggs, flours, salt and butter or whir in a blender until uniform. Cover and chill for 1 hour (or up to two days).
    2. Place an oven-proof plate in the oven and turn the oven on to 200° F. Remove the crepe batter from the fridge and stir it up to unite everything.
    3. Heat a large (12-17") crepe pan or skillet over moderately high heat. Melt a dollop of butter in the pan, swirling to cover the surface.
    4. When butter sizzles, add 1/4 cup of the crepe batter and, again, swirl to cover the pan surface. Cook several minutes until the bottom develops a golden texture. Then flip the crepe over with the aid of a spatula/pancake turner.
    5. Gently break one egg into center of the newly flipped crepe (try to keep the yolk intact).
    6. Cook the crepe and egg just until the white is set. Top with one slice of ham and one slice of cheese. Gently fold two sides (or four sides, as you prefer) of the crepe in to overlap the egg, cheese and ham.
    7. Use a hot pad to remove the warmed plate from the oven, then move the cooked crepe to the warm plate with a spatula.
    8. Keep your completed crepes warm in the oven while you repeat steps 3-7 with the remaining crepe batter, eggs, ham and cheese. Serve crepes hot with a crisp green salad and a cold mug of dry cider.

    Bon appétit!

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    4.16.2008

    A Field Guide to Lions and Dragons

    After moving to NYC, I began seeing lions (or were they dragons?) in the streets. Dancing lions. Lettuce-eating lions. Colorful, big-headed, nimble-footed creatures with long eyelashes and beguiling expressions.

    In J's neighborhood, lions materialize year-round with roving drum corps. They dance and gyrate to help provide auspicious openings for shops and bakeries. That said, prime time for both lion and dragon sightings is really during the Lunar New Year (year 4706 on the Chinese calendar) which starts on February 7 this year.



    For a few years, I was seriously confused about what constituted a lion and what constituted a dragon. Thankfully, J is a Kung Fu practitioner, so he was able to clarify the genres for me. Now I feel like I'm a qualified amateur lion-dragon spotter... so of course I'd like to pass on that information on to you, dear reader.

    Let's start with the lions. Lions come in an array of colors, based on symbolic meaning, and one of the first things you'll notice about lions is that they're not as long as dragons.

    Of course, if you don't have a dragon on hand for comparison purposes, this may not be a helpful measure, but you can look at the feet. Lions generally have two sets of feet, whereas dragons have many, many more.



    Secondarily, there's context. During the Lunar New Year, lions travel en masse, often down commercial streets, with drummers and other hangers-on. Lions, in other words, have posses.

    As it turns out, lion dances are the community service projects of Kung Fu schools.* Kung Fu students work out lion dance choreography, drumming and theatrics (and of course, they're strong and acrobatic enough to execute the dances well). Shopkeepers, in turn, offer the lions red envelopes filled with donations as thanks for the privilege of hosting those lucky lion dances.

    Finally, there's one detail that really separates lions from dragons. Just keep an eye out for lettuce. Lions eat lettuce. Whole heads of it. They go through lettuce like Cookie Monster tears through cookies. Dragons, on the other hand, don't touch the stuff. So the appearance of lettuce is a very reliable lion indicator.

    In general, you'll find that dragon sightings are much more rare. I've only seen them during the Lunar New Year celebrations, and they don't typically hang around shops. That's just not how they roll.



    A dragon will often be seen undulating through the streets chasing a golden pearl. And no, he'll never catch the pearl. The pearl symbolizes wisdom, and we all know wisdom is about the journey, not the destination.



    Dragons are sometimes an auspicious red, sometimes a harvest green, sometimes yellow or gold and silver. And yes, as you might expect, the longer the dragon, the luckier the dragon.

    Just remember: Short creature with a posse and a salad frolicking around a business? Lion. Long creature undulating down the street after a pearl? Dragon. Now go forth and spot with confidence! Gung hay fat choy!

    *Dragons are often the creations of Kung Fu schools as well, so this isn't a hard-and-fast difference; You may, indeed, see a dragon with a posse.

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    2.04.2008

    Goal 1: Hydration

    I love resolutions. In fact, I love 'em so much, I tend to make biannual resolutions, because sometimes the things I resolve in January make less sense six months later.

    Thus, I'm embarking on seven days of healthy food resolutions this week.

    Each goal will support good health with good food without wrecking one of my other goals: saving money so I can pay down my student loans.

    Goal 1: Hydration

    One of the cheapest, most sensible tips I've found for maintaining a healthy weight and a happy body is bizarrely simple: Stay hydrated.

    There's so many compelling reasons to keep ample fluids in the body. When you drink enough water, you give yourself the gift of nourished skin, better breath, more energy, happy bowels and kidneys, easier digestion, more brainpower and very probably a decreased caloric intake (dehydrated people tend to snack).

    There was a period in my life several years ago when I didn't drink water. Ever. I drank milk, juice, sodas, tea, cocoa, lemonade... anything but water. To be honest, straight-up water kind of bored me.

    In retrospect, it's not surprising that I also had chapped lips, often felt dizzy and passed out in public places with concerning frequency. (They called an ambulance when I passed out in the Rainbow Foods checkout line.) My doctor took blood tests and did an EKG to try to figure out the fainting spells, but came to no conclusion.

    At some point, I realized I'd never really paid any attention at all to that whole "drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day" rule. I gave it a shot (though I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that the experiment was more for the promised energy boost than anything else).

    Suddenly, like the forgotten plant on the windowsill... water brought me back to life. Random headaches, swooning, dry skin, constipation and dry mouth? Gone. Turns out I had low blood pressure thanks to a mild, but chronic, dehydration.

    I haven't had a dizzy spell since, and I now begin every list of annual resolutions with this one simple statement: Drink more water.

    Washable Water Bottle
    Your ally in the war on dehydration

    There's a few easy ways to make this resolution stick.

    1. Figure out how much you need.

    Honestly, that whole six to eight glasses of water a day rule might not be right for you. If you exercise heavily, that's probably too little. If you drink a lot of other fluids, six to eight glasses might be too much. The proof is in the loo. Do Is your urine clear or pale yellow? You're probably doing fine. (Though it's important to note that B vitamins and some medications change the color of your fluids.)

    2. Get yourself a water bottle you love (and a brush to keep it clean).

    Most people are probably aware by now that disposable plastic water bottles are an environmental nightmare, so gift yourself a nice reusable water bottle. I've got a quart-sized Nalgene bottle on my desk at work and a smaller one that goes in my purse. Keep in mind that a bottle brush is key... nobody loves funky water.

    3. Bored by water? Cut it with a little juice.

    I mentioned this one a few months back in my post on workout foods, but somehow, it's even more valid in the winter. For some reason, I always think water tastes better in the summer. For the winter months, like to I hit my waterglass up with a wedge of lemon, lime or orange.

    4. Take pride in your city tap water.

    J was on the Staten Island Ferry recently when he overheard a young lady telling her friends, "Omigod, you guys... I am so broke. My parents didn't give me anything this week. You guys, I drank water... out of the water fountain!"

    First, it's funny. Then, it's sad. I realize not every municipality has tasty water, but darn it, I really believe New York City has some of the finest water in the country. (In fact, Jeffrey Steingarten had a great chapter on this topic in his book, The Man Who Ate Everything.)

    If your city water is horrible, then buy a tap filter and make it your civic duty to protest loudly, angrily and often. Bad city water needs to be an outrage, not a reason to give more money to Coke or Pepsi (Pepsi's Aquafina and Coke's Dasani bottled waters are processed from municipal taps).

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    1.01.2008

    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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    12.29.2007

    Day 7: Pain, Protection and the Pomander

    This post marks Day 7 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Delightful to smell, dead easy to make and ubiquitous around the holidays, I'd grown up believing the clove-studded orange pomander was the one true thing.

    Pomander Progress

    As it turns out, pomanders weren't initially citrus-based at all. They were expensive aroma plus precious metals, cherished as the ancient things of queens and kings. The pomanders of old were fancy perfume carriers.

    Apparently, the name comes from the French pomme dambre, i.e. "apple of amber." The amber to which they refer is actually the time-tested perfume agent ambergris. And you may, as I do, remember ambergris from your elementary-school cetacean studies as expensive whale vomit. (Darn it, don't you just love etymology?)

    In any case, it seems our stinky European forebears used pomanders to ward off the personal and public effluvia that pervaded their stuffy lives. Back in the day, there was widespread belief that airborne funk carried plague, cholera, etc., so a sweet-smelling pomander was seen as a tool of protection.

    Pomander Detail
    Detail from a painting of an unknown lady holding a pomander on a chain. Pieter Janz. Pourbus

    Somehow, pomanders became associated with the holidays. I have a hunch that's a function of the December citrus season connection.

    Though our modern lives feature far less stench, I think we still appreciate little things that smell pretty.

    Finished pomanders dry, shrink and make excellent holiday decorations. Keep in mind, too, that you can use whichever citrus you prefer or happen to have on hand. I think lemon or lime pomanders would be just as lively.

    As I was pushing cloves into an orange recently, my fingers started to hurt a bit. I wimped out and only made a very basic pomander, figuring that fewer cloves gave it a clean and spartan look. Some people go the distance with their pomanders, pushing in dozens of cloves, devising complicated patterns, tying on ribbons and rolling the thing in a mixture of warm spices, like ground cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and orris root — a natural preservative.

    Later on, I did a little pomander research and realized that most people use a skewer or toothpick to poke holes in the orange before inserting the cloves. Ah, well... Bruised fingertips are a small price for such a merry scent.

    J picked up my sparely poked pomander the next morning and compared it to Cenobite villain Pinhead of Clive Barker's Hellraiser series.

    Pomander Pinhead
    Maybe Clive Barker was really into pomanders...

    Accurate maybe, but that's not exactly the look I was going for. So much for simple and clean. Maybe next time I'll use an intricate spiral pattern and spring for some ribbons.

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    12.07.2007

    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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    10.28.2007

    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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    10.20.2007

    Tilapia Sandwich and a Tra La La. To go.

    tra la la muffin

    I wasn't going to say anything. I mean, when you find something good, you don't necessarily want the whole world showing up for their piece of the action, right?

    And yet, discovery was inevitable. Last weekend while I was at the Essex Street Market, I couldn't help but see the signs.

    Literally. They've gone and hung big, colorful vendor signs in the aisles. In the past year Essex has gone from dead-cheap produce, meats and fishes to a market that additionally features two wee gourmet food shops and an American artisanal cheesemonger.

    The neighborhood is on the make, and the change is in the air. Or maybe that's just the scent of fresh-baked Tra La La muffins.

    Ron and Ira run Rainbo's Fish and Tra La La Juice Bar, the improbably delightful dual-purpose shop at the north side of the market that features fresh-squeezed juices, my platonic ideal of the muffin genre and... fresh fish.

    They're fishmongers by trade, and on many happy occasions I've gleefully forked out a pittance in return for their hot, fresh, meltingly tender fish sandwiches slathered in a tangy-creamy tartar sauce.

    J writes today to tell me that he's been spying on the progress of their new prepared food counter. His Mission Impossible-style surveillance skills reveal they'll open their gates on Thursday. According to his report, they'll be featuring:
    Fish and baked goods, of course, but also other prepared foods. They gave me a sample of a savory (and slightly spicy) cornmeal waffle yesterday that will become a serving platform for some kind of seafood stew or sauce or something (scallops were mentioned).

    Alas... It looks like I'll lose my super-secret cheap-and-tasty fish sandwich + muffin shack (and my not-so-secret urban market) to the inevitable tide of hungry humanity.

    But I'll try to be a good sport about this whole affair. My loss, your gain.

    three spoons

    Rainbo's Fish and Tra La La Juice Bar
    Essex Street Market
    Corner of Delancey and Essex
    Manhattan, NY
    212.312.3603

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    5.08.2007

    Sea and Crumpets

    J, a mouth on the move between Seattle and San Jose this week, reports in from the field (or dock, as it were) on a subject dear to my stomach: quality brekkie.

    First good brekkie of the trip today. There's a place at Pike
    Market
    called The Little Crumpet Shop that rocks unconditionally.

    $1.50 for a mug of unlimited refills of freshly brewed loose leaf
    tea, $3 for a bowl of groats(!) with honey, milk and currants. Mmm.

    My insides are so happy. They had the usual little sign about not
    bringing outside food into the place, but they wrote in special
    permission to bring fresh fruit from the market. Aw.

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    11.08.2006

    What's that on your shoulder?

    crazy crepe chef
    that crazy crepe chef from the missginsu photostream at Flickr

    This just in from J... yet more evidence that each of us is insane in his or her own special way.
    It is the Way of the Web to show us all things, even things we'd never have thought to seek. In this case, it was the Wikipedia entry for former supermodel Helena Christensen (known to me as "the chick from the video for Chris Isaak's Wicked Game"), which includes this entertaining observation:

    "Whenever my head is like a maze, I turn to the easy things in life, the things that mean the most to me: sex and cheese. These things are connected. Truth be told, I love all cheese: French cheese, Italian cheese, even British cheese, but Danish cheese is the greatest. I get my best nightmares after I eat Danish cheese. Actually I've seriously thought about getting a cheese tattoo. A nice Edam on my shoulder, maybe."

    I'm not immune to the charms of a quality cheese, but... gosh. Victoria's Secret underwear models tattooed in cheese. It's like the embodiment of a lonely affineur's wildest cheese-cave daydreams.

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    10.04.2006

    May, and the crisper goes mad with spring fever

    shallot_gone_wild

    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.

    Yours,
    J.

    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:

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

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

    chc_chp_cookies
    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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    5.12.2006

    Sweet-Tart-Cool-Fresh-Bliss!

    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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    7.25.2005