Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Day 11: Herein We Go a Wassail-ing

This post marks Day 11 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

When I lived in Minneapolis, one of my friends organized annual holiday caroling. It was probably my favorite thing about the whole holiday season.

We spent far more time "practicing" than caroling (you can accurately insert "goofing around" for the quoted material above), but it was good fun for all. We stuck to the classics, and Here We Go a-Wassailing was always on the list. (It's SO much easier to sing than O Holy Night...)

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wandering
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.

We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door,
But we are neighbors' children
Whom you have seen before
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.


Wassail with an Orange Slice

Had we known at the time that wassailing really referred to the same sort of drunken revelry in which we were partaking, it might have made that ancient song all the more charming and relevant.

Indeed, the reason our ancestors sang with love and joy about wassailing was really all about the warmth of companionship... and the love of the drink.

The cider those folks were sipping back then was the hard stuff. (You'll find some nice wassailing history here.)

The trusty wikipedia entry will tell you that for a traditional wassail pot: "Sugar, ale, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon would be placed in a bowl, heated, and topped with slices of toast as sops."

My recipe appears below and yes, I skip the toast. But as with many traditional recipes, folks back then pretty much used what they had on hand, and so, dear reader, can you!

Just make sure that apples make some kind of an appearance (as cider or cooked as fruit). Apples are crucial, but you can also use an ale, wine or sherry as the base along with your favorite mulling spices. For a virgin wassail, skip the booze and do it up more like a spicy mulled apple cider.
Holiday Wassail Pot (Serves 6-8)
4 apples, peeled and cored
4 tbsp brown sugar
1 bottle dry sherry or dry Madeira
3 cinnamon sticks
3-4 allspice berries
4 whole cloves
2 cardamom pods (or 1/2 tsp ground cardamom)
1 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
Zest from 1/2 lemon
1 cup Calvados or brandy

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Place the apples in a baking dish and stuff each with a tablespoon of brown sugar. Add a little water to the bottom of the pan to prevent burning (about 1/4 inch), and bake for 30 minutes.
2. Pour the sherry or Madiera in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Add the cinnamon sticks, allspice berries, cloves, cardamom, ginger, brown sugar and lemon zest. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer over low heat.
3. When apples are done baking, add the apples and pan liquid to the wassail pot. Add the Calvados/brandy and heat for another 20 minutes.
4. Strain out the spice and ladle into mugs to serve.

As you can see, there's enough alcohol in this recipe to ensure a very merry caroling party indeed! I beg you to wassail responsibly, and don't let your soprano pass out in a snow drift.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.11.2008

Smoked Chops & Apple-Kissed Kraut

I had grand plans for a gorgeous autumnal Choucroute Garni, but life interfered (I'm certain you're well aware of know how life tends to do that) and I realized that a long-cooking dish in the Dutch oven simply wouldn't do.

Food needed to appear on the table STAT.

Luckily, a deconstructed Choucroute Garni happens to make for one of the quickest meals out there. And a darn tasty one at that.

Chops & Kraut

Enter... Smoked Chops and Apple-Kissed Kraut.

Easy! Fast! Tasty! Seasonally appropriate! Exactly the kind of thing you want in your weeknight dinner arsenal, no?

I've configured this recipe for two, but if you want to serve more, just double the chops and kraut.

If you can't find smoked pork chops, you can use the standard ones, but the smoked ones (a German specialty) are really quite tasty, so I'd recommend you try to track them down.
Smoked Chops and Apple-Kissed Kraut (Serves 2)
1 apple
1 onion
2 tsp vegetable oil or bacon fat
2 smoked pork chops
1 cinnamon stick
3 cups sauerkraut
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp honey (or a little more, to taste)

1. Chop the apple into 1/2" cubes and slice the onion.
2. Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil or bacon fat in a medium-sized saucepan and the remaining teaspoon of oil in a skillet.
3. Saute the chopped apple and sliced onion in the saucepan for 5-10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, begin searing the pork chops over medium-high heat in the skillet.
5. Add the cinnamon stick, sauerkraut and cider vinegar into the apple-onion mixture. Let the kraut mixture simmer for 10-15 minutes.
6. When the pork chops have a little color on each side, remove from the heat and allow them to rest. (Smoked pork chops are already fully cooked. If you're cooking raw pork chops, make they reach an internal temperature of 160°.)
7. Season the apple-kraut mixture (to taste) with a little honey, divide it between two plates and serve each of the cooked pork chops on its own little bed of kraut.

Around here, this is the kind of meal that's typically served alongside a crisp green salad (maybe with apples, walnuts, goat cheese and a cider vinaigrette?) or steamed Brussels sprouts, but you'll have to gauge your own tastes.

In any case, it certainly makes an excellent autumnal meal (those apples! that cabbage!) for not a whole lot of money or time investment. And who couldn't use a few more of those?

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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11.19.2008

What's For Dinner? Autumnal Arugula-Apple Saute

On Monday night, I cooked a turkey breast roast. With some roasted Brussels Sprouts and pan gravy, it was a fine dinner.

I cubed the rest of the roast, and this week I've been using up the cubes in various ways. The turkey-black bean burrito on a whole-wheat tortilla. The turkey cubes in my antipasti salad at lunch.

Autumnal Saute

Tonight's meal might be my favorite of this week's leftover turkey dishes. An Autumnal Turkey-Apple Sauté in just 15 minutes flat. Good on vitamins, pretty low in the carb department, seasonal, economical and tasty, too.

You can't beat that with a stick, as my pa used to say.

Sauteed apples and onions

Now, you could used cooked tofu cubes or seitan cubes or pork cubes or chicken cubes or whatever protein you like, but I happened to have turkey on hand.

You could also go all crazy and peel the apple. I didn't. Why? Well, because I'm lazy and because I justify my behavior with the thought of extra fiber and nutrients in the peel. So there. It was just as tasty with the peel on.
Autumnal Arugula-Apple Sauté (Serves two... or one with leftovers)

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, halved and sliced thin
1 apple, cut into 3/4" cubes
1/4 cup pecans (unsalted)
1 bunch arugula (or spinach), washed and chopped
1 cup cooked turkey cubes (1") (or whatever protein you like)
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
A pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper

1. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed pot or skillet until it shimmers.
2. Add the onion slices and the apple cubes. Sautée 10 minutes, or until the onions soften and begin to brown a bit. Add the pecans to the pan.
3. Add the arugula or spinach, along with the cooked turkey cubes. Keep it moving in the pan, cooking down the greens, for about 5 minutes.
4. Season to taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper, and serve.


You could serve this with a starchy side dish (couscous?) or a hot buttered roll or something, but I'm going low-carb this week, so no bread for me.

Still, it's a tasty dish... the apples provide sweetness, the pecans are nutty and rich and the turkey fits right in. I also have leftovers for lunch.

I'll do this one again soon, leaving out the protein cubes, and serving it as an autumnal side to a pork chop or something.

I bet this'll also be a good dish to keep on file for the days after Thanksgiving when turkey is in abundance and both ideas and energy to cook are running low.

Bon appetit!
Miss Ginsu

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10.16.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: Apple-Bacon Chowdah

As economic worries become yet worse and more frightening, what could be a better Recession-Proof Recipe this week than a soothing mug of chowder?

Comforting, delicious, endlessly flexible and — oh yes! quite economical — chowder is there for you when your 401k looks sad and wilted.

chowder

We talked about classic Manhattan and New England chowdah last January, but now that the season of summer corn is on the wane and the season of autumnal apples is on the rise, it seems appropriate to think about a combination of apples, corn and smoky bacon. Very nice for the crisp days of late summer-early autumn, don't you agree?
Apple-Bacon Chowder (Makes about two quarts)
4 slices bacon, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 small or 1 large potato, diced
3 ears sweet corn, kernels cut away (or use 16oz frozen corn)
2 golden delicious apples, diced
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp black pepper or cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 cup chopped parsley (optional)

1. In a heavy-bottomed stockpot over medium heat, cook the bacon until it begins to brown, about 15 minutes.
2. Add onion and cook an additional 10 minutes, keeping the bacon and onion moving to prevent uneven cooking.
3. As the onion begins to look translucent, add the diced potato, corn kernels and diced apple pieces. Cook 10 minutes before pouring in the chicken stock and milk.
4. Simmer 20-30 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Season to taste with the salt and black or cayenne pepper. Garnish with chopped parsley, if desired.

If you like a thick chowder, purée about 1 cup of the soup in a blender or food processor before stirring it back into the pot, or simply use a stick blender to crush some of the potato and apple pieces.

And if you're not a bacon person, just skip it entirely and use a little olive oil to cook down the onions. You could also dice a red pepper in place of the apples. See? Versatile. Easy. Tasty.

Serve up a cup alongside a crisp green salad and a crust of bread. And it goes down easy with the last of the summer ales and lagers they're clearing off the grocery store shelves right now.

So try not to think about the banking crisis. Enjoy your soup. And think about all the lovely, thrifty lunches you'll pack for yourself this week.

Bon appetit!
Miss Ginsu

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9.16.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes for Downmarket Days

I probably don't need to tell you that the US economy has been looking bleak for a while. You've probably noticed that much for yourself.

Even if they're not yet ready to call it an o-fish-al recession*, those of us who read the paper or listen to the news occasionally know better. We have some hunch that these days won't be remembered in future history books as "The Roaring Oughts."

While a little kitchen economy is always a great idea for your personal bottom line, this nation's recent period of economic growth and development may have left your sense of thrift in some forgotten corner of the pantry. Maybe it's hanging out back there alongside a can of butter beans and some dusty jar of unlabeled jam.

Or maybe you've just never had the need to be frugal, you lucky soul!

Whatever the case, a recession, er... make that economic downturn is the perfect time to dust off (or brush up on) some kitchen conservation cred.

One caveat first: I'll not discuss a diet consisting of Top Ramen, Hamburger Helper or store-brand Cheerios here. You can find that stuff on your own (though I'm not sure why you'd want to...) These tips speak to real dining and real food (with actual nutritional value) on the cheap.

baked apple

Thrifty Tip #1: Roasting makes just about anything taste decadent.

Ever baked an apple? Steaming, tender, candy-like... It's always hard for me to believe that it's the same fruit as a raw apple. Something magic happens in that oven.

Sure, you can core an apple and stuff it with nuts, butter, sugar and rolled oats beforehand. You can maybe sprinkle on some cinnamon, but all that's totally unnecessary. Just a plain old peeled and cored apple baked in the oven for a half-hour or so is strangely heavenly.

Serve warm with a drizzle of cream or sour cream or plain yogurt and a baked apple is positive bliss. Simple, delightful and dead cheap.

And just about everyone knows about the wonder of oven-fried potatoes, but it might not have occurred to you that the same roasting magic works with all kinds of vegetables.

Ho-hum cauliflower is suddenly heavenly after a little time on the roasting tray. Just chop down a head into florets of similar size, toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and roast until the cauliflower is tender and has a little brown on the tips (about 30-40 minutes at 350°F). Toss the florets around on the pan about half-way through cooking to ensure they roast evenly.

One of my favorite inexpensive (yet decadent!) meals is the classic Roasted Vegetable Salad. Roasting concentrates the flavor to make the veggies rich and satisfying.

It takes a little time to get the roasting done, but that's mostly the passive variety of "find something else to do" time while you wait for the oven buzzer to sound.

Extra bonuses: the bounty of root veg gives it good fiber and nutrient value, you can play around with a wide variety of vegetables in the dish and you can adjust the end product to suit meat eaters or vegheads, as needed.

Feel free to use whatever firm vegetables you happen to find on special at your favorite market. Try (similar-sized) cubes of hard squash (butternut, acorn, delicata), sliced fennel, zucchini, broccoli florets, potato cubes, roasted asparagus, celery root... I've even used roasted radishes.

Just keep in mind that the slices or cubes of each vegetable to be roasted should be of similar size. Different vegetables also roast at different rates, if you're not sure about how fast a particular vegetable will roast, keep it segregated from the rest so you can easily remove it when it's tender.

Roasted Vegetable Salad (Serves 2)
2 medium-size carrots, peeled & cut into 1" pieces
2 medium-size parsnips, peeled & cut into 1" pieces
3 to 5 small beets, peeled & quartered
1 large onion, cut in 1" wedges (or 4-5 shallots, halved)
1 to 2 large portabello mushrooms (sliced into 1/2" strips)
About 3 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1/2 head green leaf lettuce (torn into bite-sized pieces, washed & spun dry)
1/3 cup dressing of your choice (I favor a vinaigrette or a sun-dried tomato dressing)

3 to 4 slices thick-cut bacon or pancetta; diced, cooked & drained (optional)
1 oz fresh Parmesan, feta or goat cheese, crumbled (optional)

Preheat oven to 400°. Toss carrot, parsnip and beet pieces in a large bowl with 1.5 tablespoons olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Separately toss onion wedges and portobello slices in the remaining 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Since the more dense root vegetables will need to cook longer, spread them across a baking tray and roast them separately from the faster-cooking onion and mushroom pieces (which you should spread evenly across another tray). Place both trays in the oven and roast for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, stir tray contents to help them cook evenly and return to the oven for another 15 minutes. At this point, the mushrooms and onions should look shrunken and lightly browned. Remove them from the oven and stir the root vegetables again. Remove the roots from the oven when they're fork-tender.

Cool roasted vegetables on the trays for 10 minutes before tossing them together with the torn lettuce, the dressing of your choice and the cooked, diced bacon (if using). Divide salad between two plates and top with cheese (if using).


Roasted vegetables are also wonderful served over penne, baked into a quiche or just served as a side dish on their own.

Look for another Recession-Proof Recipe next week!

Cheers!


* Such terrifying terminology is reserved for declines that persist for two or more consecutive quarters. Translate that as "eight or more dreadful months" if you're more into dividing your year via the Gregorian calendar.

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3.27.2008

Yeah, I Know the Muffin Man

So stop me if you've heard this one before:

There's a batch of muffins baking in the oven. One muffin says to another, "Wow! It's hot in here." The other muffin says, "Holy shit! A talking muffin!"

(Thanks, folks! I'll be here all week. Don't forget to tip your server.)


Fresh muffins at Essex Street Market

The muffin man and me, we go waaaay back. I mean, moist, delicious, snack-sized and terribly portable... what's not to like?

The nice folks at Red Jacket Orchards were sweet enough to send me a case of Newtown Pippins (the official apple of New York city), and I made up a batch of apple muffins (the official muffin of New York state) last night.

Curiously enough, the official recipe for the official muffin officially uses the non-official Empire apple.

I tweaked the official recipe a bit (can't help it... I'm a tweaker) and have come up with a version that's perfect for those of us who need to use up apples and like chunky foods (chunky peanut butter, chunky brownies, Ben & Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk...).

If you do use this recipe, I recommend these changes:

1. Don't melt the butter. Instead, cream it with the sugar, eggs, spices and cream cheese. Then go ahead and stir in your flour and fold in the chopped apples. (The apple pieces will soften but won't break down, so keep that in mind as you're judging the size of your dice.)

2. I doubled the amount of apple pieces.

3. Finally, just drop the spoon and walk away, or you're going to overmix. Remember: nobody loves a tough muffin.

My oven required a 27-minute cook-time on these babies, but yours might run hotter, so test with a knife/toothpick for doneness.

Oh, and here's my favorite muffin website. I know, I know, you've probably got your own favorite muffin website, but that's mine, and I'm sticking by it.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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11.19.2004