Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


Terrifyingly Tasty Treats for Halloween

Halloween really snuck up on me this year, and that never happens. I usually have a costume idea by August. By the first of the month, I'm usually sipping cider and toasting pumpkin seeds.

But this year, I'm in an arm cast, so everything takes longer to do and I'm left with fewer costume options. Mummy? Zombie accident victim? Abominable snowman? I'm at a loss.

Thankfully, cast or no, there can still be treats.

We'll be doing another Halloween potluck at work. If, like me, you've let Halloween sneak up and surprise you, you might need a few good recipe ideas for holiday eats.

Let's have a look at some tasty Halloween party food thoughts, eh?

Halloween Potluck
Note the dry ice "cauldron" in the back. Spooooky, right?

A Menu of Spooky Delights for Halloween
Obviously, sweets tend to be the focus for Halloween, but if you're throwing a party, the guests will certainly be grateful to see a few savory treats as well.

A Few Sweet...
  • Cookies of the Dead (Cute and scary.)
  • Goo-ls (or Globins) (Cute, scary and CRUNCHY!)
  • Brandied Caramel Sauce (For dipping sliced apples or pears.)
  • Pumpkin Spice Bread (Pumpkins!)
  • Not-Very-Scary Cakes (And not too bad for you, either.)
  • Off-The-Hook Maple Nut Bars (Seriously: these are deadly good.)

    A Few Savory...
  • Black Bean Soup (Dark and bubbly.)
  • Devils on Horseback (Good year-round, but great on All Hallow's Eve.)
  • Hot Artichoke Dip (Serve with cut veggies as a nice contrast for all the sweets.)

    And a Couple of Drinks for Good Measure
  • Mulled Hot Apple Cider (for the kids)
  • The Bronx Cocktail (for the grownups)

    Hoping your Halloween costume ideas are going better than mine!

    Miss Ginsu

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  • 10.27.2009

    How to Stuff a Zucchini Blossom

    With so many fruits and vegetables available year-round, it's rare in the modern world to enjoy a food that's really, truly a limited-time offer.

    You can get an apple in June, when, by all rights, all the apples from the previous autumn should be long gone. But it seems it's always apple season somewhere, and we've come to rely on that constant availability.

    But due to a brief season and great delicacy, the zucchini blossom is, I believe, one of just a handful of what I like to think of as "now or never" foods.

    Zucchini Blossoms

    But the blossoms are a-blooming right now at the farmers' markets (and in gardens, presumably), so friends... your once-a-year opportunity has arrived.

    Quick, now! Snap up a half-dozen and a little crottin of goat cheese or maybe a mild, creamy feta — you'll need just over an ounce, but get two to three ounces of cheese, and you'll have a bit extra left over for topping tasty summer salads.

    When it comes down to it, it's very simple to stuff a blossom. I didn't know this until I worked in a restaurant, but after having now stuffed more blossoms than I care to count, I can assure you, the process is dead easy. Like breading a fish fillet. You really can do this, and the results are lovely.

    Interior of the zucchini blossom

    Just take a sharp paring knife (or a pair of kitchen shears) and slice (or snip) into the blossom along one side. Gently open the petals and remove the pollen-covered pistil inside (that's the yellow tube-shaped part).

    Fashion a small, football-shaped portion with about a teaspoon of the cheese and place it where the pistil once was. Close the petals firmly around the cheese. Voila! You're half-way there.

    I like to remove the green leafy bits from the base of the flower (I believe they're called sepals) before moving on. If you like, you can do this much ahead of time and just keep the stuffed blossoms chilled for a few hours before it's time to make dinner.

    Goat cheese stuffed zucchini blossom

    When the time for cooking arrives, you have a few options as far as the breading goes. I've always loved to dip the blossoms in a simple egg wash (one egg beaten with a teaspoon of water), then roll them in panko. Simple as that.

    This summer, J requested a version made without wheat flour, so we've been coating zucchini blossoms in seasoned spelt flour.

    It's such a flexible recipe, I'll be so bold as to use this rule of thumb: if you can use it to bread a fish or chicken breast, you can probably coat a blossom in it, too.

    The cooking process is simple pan-frying. Just dip a stuffed blossom in the egg wash, roll to coat in the panko/flour/crumbs, then move the prepared blossom to a skillet heated over a medium-high flame with a few tablespoons of olive, canola or veg oil.

    Cook each blossom about a minute before turning. Continue cooking and gently turning the blossoms until the whole surface crisps, about three minutes total.

    Move the cooked blossoms (a pair of tongs helps for this) to a paper towel to cool slightly. Serve hot alongside your favorite entrée. Stuffed blossoms go especially well with grilled meats and seafood or as garnish atop pasta dishes.

    We had them with sautéed zucchini and the supremely tasty pork chops of Tamarack Hollow Farm.

    If you're in NYC, you can pretty much score the whole meal — blossoms, goat cheese, eggs, zucchini and those superb chops — at the Union Square Market on Wednesdays and test your newfound stuffing skills right away.

    But hurry... summer is short, and zucchini blossoms really are a limited-time offer.

    Bon appetit!
    Miss Ginsu

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    My Inaugural (Cheese) Ball

    Like a lot of folks, I'll be catching some of the inauguration festivities tomorrow — all from the comfort of the cozy indoors, thankfully. I shudder to think of all those chilly folks out there on the frigid capital mall...

    My coworkers and I are having a little soiree over lunchtime to munch on snacks while we view the swearing in and the inaugural address.

    Our first idea for a food theme was red, white and blue foods. But unless you want to throw around a bunch of blue food coloring, there's not a lot of blue food out there.

    I've come up with... bluefin tuna (which isn't blue at all), bluefish (which is sorta blue), blue corn chips, blue potatoes (which are often a bit purple) and blueberries.

    Anyway, our second thought for a food theme was simply snacks, because that's really what you're looking for when you watch TV anyway.

    American Flag

    But lo! Inspiration struck: There was one other "blue" food I forgot. Blue cheese! Yes, folks... it's time to make cheese balls.

    Now, quite honestly, I'd never made cheese balls before, so these Inaugural Balls really are my inauguration into the world of cheese shapes.

    But now that I've made them, I do understand why they're party food classics. Cheese balls are easy to make, they're not terribly expensive, they're endlessly versatile, they're quite popular and best of all... they can be made in advance.

    Inaugural Red, White & Blue Cheese Balls!

    The Red Cheese Ball
    1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
    1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
    2 Tbsp roasted red pepper
    1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
    2 Tbsp onion, finely chopped
    1 tsp sweet paprika
    To roll: 3/4 cup crumbled bacon (cooked, obviously)

    The White Cheese Ball
    1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
    1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
    2 Tbsp celery or water chestnuts, finely chopped
    2 cloves garlic, finely minced
    1/2 tsp white pepper

    The Blue Cheese Ball
    1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
    1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
    2 Tbsp onion, finely chopped
    3 drops hot pepper sauce
    1 pinch cayenne pepper
    To roll: 3/4 cup finely chopped pecans

    Directions for assembling all three cheese balls:

    1. In a medium bowl, mix together the cream cheese and the other cheese.
    2. Blend in all remaining ingredients for the cheese ball (except the chopped nuts or crumbled bacon for rolling) and chill the mixture for 3 to 4 hours or until firm.
    3. Roll the chilled cheese blend into a ball, and roll to coat in the chopped nuts or bacon pieces (if necessary).
    4. Wrap the ball in plastic wrap or waxed paper and refrigerate.
    5. At service time, place the ball(s) on a plate and serve with alongside crackers, baguette slices and/or celery or carrot sticks. The blue cheese ball is also nice with dried fruit and fresh grapes.

    While 'tis true that my blue cheese ball isn't really blue as in Smurf-blue or bluejay-blue, it's also true that every one of these cheese balls is true-blue delicious. So there.

    Now, if you're going this route, really show off your American pride and use all-American cheeses in your cheese balls. Maytag Blue is one of my favorite examples of the blue family, there's tons of great American goat cheeses and all kinds of domestic cheddars out there (Wisconsin! Vermont! New York!) to tickle your tastebuds.

    Happy Inauguration Day to everyone!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Day 6: Holiday Party Taquitos

    This post marks Day 6 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    There's nothing particularly holiday-centric about these little tacos other than the fact that they're red, green and festive. But color counts for a lot, and these are just so good, I can't hold back on sharing them.

    We had them for dinner recently (and definitely will again) but I think they'd be fantastic as party eats, since it's easy to make fillings in volume ahead of time and let people go crazy making their own bites while you socialize.

    Green Caper Salsa

    The secret is in the sauce. Sure, you can go buy something in a jar, but it's never going to taste as fresh and vibrant as what you make a'la minute.

    So let's get to the sauce first. I discovered a version of this sauce in Steven Raichlen's Barbecue Bible. (He called it a French West Indian Caper Sauce and used it with grilled snapper.)

    I changed a few things, tried it with fish tacos and was immediately hooked.

    It's a beautiful shade of green and has a zippy, lightly briny flavor reminiscent of Veracruz-style coastal cuisine. Easy to make. Also good with chicken, beef or pork... It's a keeper for sure.
    Caribbean Caper Sauce for Taquitos(Makes about 1 cup)
    1 clove garlic
    1 shallot or small red onion, halved
    1/4 cup fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
    2 Tbsp drained capers
    1 jalapeño pepper, halved and seeded
    1 to 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
    1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
    1/3 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

    1. Put garlic, shallot/onion, parsley, capers, jalapeño, lime juice, vinegar and olive oil in a blender and purée smooth.
    2. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

    I'd also recommend a red salsa to keep the red and green theme going. You could make one with fresh-chopped tomatoes if you have good ones, but since tomatoes tend to be less wonderful in the winter, I have a recipe for roasted red peppers.

    Roast the peppers yourself or buy 'em in a jar... This recipe works either way.
    Roasted Red Pepper Salsa (Makes about 1 cup)
    1 clove garlic
    1 shallot or small red onion, halved
    1/4 cup fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
    3 roasted red peppers, drained if necessary
    2 Tbsp drained capers
    1/2 jalapeño pepper, halved and seeded
    1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
    Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

    1. Put garlic, shallot/onion, parsley, capers, jalapeño, lime juice and red peppers in a blender or food processor and pulse to achieve the texture you desire.
    2. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

    Once you pour these lovely salsas in bowls, all you have to do is set out a bowl of shredded cabbage, maybe some sliced limes and cherry tomatoes, a packet of small-size tortillas (heated, of course), a bowl of sour cream and a protein of some kind... maybe some shredded chicken, pork, beef or beans, or a plate of grilled fish.

    Voila!... Holiday-ready taquitos!

    Feliz navidades, mis amigos!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Day 3: Devils on Horseback

    This post marks Day 3 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Knowing one or two dead simple (and deadly delicious) hors d'oeuvres around the holidays comes in handy for the harried host.

    Even better, I'm going to reveal a recipe that relies on things you can keep around the house for a bit... they just lie in wait until some unassuming guest happens to drop by.

    I'm referring to Devils on Horseback... a sweet n' savory treat you might also know as "stuffed dates wrapped in bacon," but isn't the former name a little more romantic than the latter?

    Devils on Horseback

    You need only a handful of dried dates, some bacon strips, paper-thin prosciutto or serrano ham and a wee bit of blue cheese. Have any water chestnuts or almonds? All the better...

    If you're going with bacon, you may also want to fasten the meat in place with toothpicks (soak them in water for about 10 minutes first... it prevents burning in the oven), but I don't generally need toothpicks when I use serrano or prosciutto.

    When that lucky holiday guest arrives, fix him or her a drink and excuse yourself for just a moment.

    In just a few minutes, you can toss a few of these together and open up a full-bodied red wine. Maybe go with a Spanish tempranillo, since these little treats are so tapas-ready.
    Devils on Horseback(Makes a dozen)
    12 large dates, pitted
    6 slices bacon, halved crosswise
    OR 12 4" x 2" strips of serrano ham/prosciutto.
    1/4 cup crumbled Stilton cheese
    12 almonds
    OR 6 water chestnuts (halved) (optional)

    1. Preheat oven to 375°F and soak 12 toothpicks in a small bowl filled with water for about 10 minutes.
    2. Set a wire rack on a baking sheet and set aside.
    3. Halve the ugliest side of the dates lengthwise, but don't cut all the way through.
    4. Place a small amount of cheese (if using) in the center of each date. Bury an almond or water chestnut (if using) in the cheese.
    5. Wrap a piece of bacon/ham around each date and secure the tails with a moistened toothpick.
    6. Place the prepared dates on the baking rack, and cook until browned and cooked through — about 20 to 25 minutes.
    7. Drain/cool for 2 to 3 minutes on paper towels before serving.

    Some baby arugula or fresh watercress makes a nice bed for serving them, but it's an optional nicety... once you've had a bite, you won't care a bit about the presentation.

    Holiday Cheer!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Simplicity, Thy Name is Bruschetta

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

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

    Tomatoes in the market bins

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

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

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

    Grilled ciabatta bread

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

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

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

    Grilled Tomato Bruschetta

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

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

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

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

    Miss Ginsu

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    Tapas Party in a Jar

    One of the great things about serving tapas is that it's just good, simple food. Score a cheap rioja and a Spanish cheese, slice a sausage, make a nice salad and open a bunch of jars. In Spain, they actually put tasty things in jars.

    I have a favorite Spanish salad recipe that's made up of bacalao, oranges, tomatoes and green olives. This might sound strange if you're not accustomed to sweet and savory salads, but this kind of flavor combination is very ordinary in the Mediterranean.

    Tapas on the table
    Baguette, quince paste and fig cake in the foreground, tuna, remojón, and assorted olives in the back.

    It's colorful, easy to put together and very nice as part of a tapas party spread.
    Remojón (Spanish Cod & Orange Salad) (Makes 4-6 appetizer servings)

    3/4 cup (about a 5"x4" piece) of dried salt cod
    12 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
    2 oranges
    1 small red onion
    10 Spanish olives, pitted and halved (optional)
    1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
    1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper (or chili flakes)
    3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

    1. Toast the fish over a flame or under a broiler until lightly browned.
    2. Soak the the toasted cod in a bowl of cool water while you segment the oranges. Cut each orange segment in half.
    3. Cut the red onion in half and cut each half into thin slices. Soak slices in cold water if you want to take out some of the bite.
    3. Mix the drained tomatoes, onion slices, olives (if using) and the halved orange segments.
    4. Drain the soaking fish and remove any skin or bones. Shred or chop the fish and add to the salad.
    5. Blend the Aleppo pepper (or chili flakes) into the vinegar before whisking in the oil. Pour this dressing over the salad and toss to blend.

    This salad holds up well (and probably even improves) as it sits at room temperature while you zip around the house picking up stray items in preparation for guests.
    Easy-Peasy Tapas for 4-6

    1/2 lb block of Manchego cheese, sliced
    and/or a half-pound of Garrotxa cheese, sliced

    1/2 lb chunk of membrillo (quince paste)
    and/or fig paste

    1 jar of oil-preserved tuna
    and/or Spanish Cod & Orange Salad (see recipe, above)

    1/4 lb thin-sliced serrano ham
    and/or 1/4 lb salchichon slices

    1-2 types of salt-cured or Spanish green olives
    and/or roasted peppers and/or marinated tomatoes

    1 baguette, thinly sliced
    and/or some good lookin' crackers

    Nice extras
    Dried dates
    Roasted almonds
    Dried figs


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    Varied Culinary Magic

    Patel's Market

    Patel's Market

    Karela Melon

    Montréal seemed so full of promise. Look! (said we) cheap tickets! We'll fly for the New Year's holiday! There will be fun! There will be bistros! There will be cafés! They will love the food just as much as we do!

    Alas... in late December all the cute places in Montréal close up and goes south for the holidays. Gone to Martinique. Gone to Florida. Gone to Guadeloupe. Who could blame them? Shards of frozen water fell from the sky, cutting wee wounds into the dry, flaking skin of our wind-burnt cheeks.

    We spent bitterly chilly days pressing irritated noses into the cold windowpanes of shuttered restaurants while we wandered in a hopeless search for flavorful food. At last resort there were greasy diners and Canadian restaurant chains. These were, sadly, no better than their American counterparts. Our disappointment grew more and more humorous until we were overtaken by fits of giggles.

    On the brighter side, our B&B was clean and friendly (thank you, Geraldine!) and the city was inexpensive (hooray for favorable exchange rates!). We found a couple of open bookstores and saw a vast array of fantastically weird beetles, spiders, termites, scorpions, butterflies and bees at the Insectarium. This stop turned out to be my personal highlight. Montréal gives great bug.

    And the beer and cheese... also good. But one cannot live on beer and cheese, books and bugs.

    Abandoning the quest for freshness and flavor, we pleaded for a smidgeon of savory spice from the chipper Scot who served us at the Bombay Palace on St. Catherine St.

    Our man recommended a round of crisp Cheetah beer to wash down a basket of tandoor-fresh naan, a delightfully tender lamb vindaloo and a homey eggplant masala. We left our anxious bellies in his hands. I should note that Indian restaurants present a particularly nerve-wracking risk for me. I love subcontinental cuisine so much, and having cooked in an Indian-style restaurant, I'm particularly aware of how good every dish can and should be. The food was, thankfully, just fine.

    The meal warmed our bones (momentarily) and made me hunger for a journey out to Patel Brothers back in Flushing, Queens.

    Serving up spice since 1974, Patel is apparently a national chain. The Flushing shop contains aisles and aisles of spices, rices, peppers, pots, pans, sweets and snacks, and (as promised on their website) the spacious store provides a charming "range of authentic Indian groceries and bring joy and celebration of the taste of motherland India right at your doorstep. To bring those warm indian memories we have a wide range of Spices, Pickles, Chutnes, Pules, Lentils, Basmati Rice, to name a few. Helping you create the countries varied culinary magic right in your home."

    Mmm... warm Indian memories.

    And what's to be done with all the treasures you plum from Patel? I'll reproduce a recipe I recently posted in the comments field on I(heart)bacon.

    Here's a simplified version of a bhel puri used as an app. The trick with Indian cooking (and with most cooking for that matter) is this: you have to taste it to get the seasoning right. It's supposed to be a tasty balance of tangy, sweet, spicy and salty. Brands vary in seasoning, so your tamarind chutney may be sweeter than mine. It's difficult, therefore, to recommend an exact quantity.

    Pick up the sev (noodley things), puffed rice, tamarind chutney and mint chutney at an Indian food shop, online or at an enlightened supermarket.

    (I like the Patak's brand for store-bought chutneys and pickles. Their lime pickle is fantabulous.)

    Bhel Puri (makes approx 24-30 apps, served in cucumber cups*)

    1 small onion, minced
    2 green chilies (anaheims work well), deseeded and minced
    1/2 cup hothouse cucumber (diced)
    1/2 cup tart apple or mango (diced)
    1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chiffonade or chop finely
    1/2 cup chopped mint leaves, chiffonade or chop finely
    juice of 1 lime
    1 tsp chili powder
    1 tsp chaat masala
    tamarind chutney (about 1.5 Tbsp or to taste)
    mint chutney (about 1.5 Tbsp or to taste)
    salt/sugar/cayenne pepper (to taste)
    1/2 cup puffed rice (to mix in at the very last moment before serving)
    Sev (sprinkle on top for garnish)

    1. In a bowl, mix all the ingredients together except rice and sev.

    2. Taste for balance and adjust flavor with chutneys and seasonings.

    3. Add puffed rice just before serving (otherwise, it'll get soggy).

    4. Scoop by teaspoon into cucumber cups*. Sprinkle with sev.

    5. Serve immediately with a hoppy ale.

    *Slice hothouse cucumbers into 3/4" rounds. Scoop out a little cup in the middle of each slice with a teaspoon or melon-baller.

    Patel Brothers
    42-92 Main St
    Flushing, NY 11355

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