Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

FoodLink Roundup: 04.28.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was found (thanks to the sharp mind of Mr. Hazard) in the blossom-filled lanes of Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post a guess in the comments.

A Guide to Bakeries in Manhattan's Chinatown
A handy guide for the gweilo, myself included.

Book-Beer Pairings
Slightly less reading comprehension, slightly more giggling while you turn the pages.

The In Vitro Meat Consortium
I've said it before: The future is yucky.

The All-Natural Taste That Wasn’t
“Isn’t it amazing how many additives it takes to make something taste natural?”
Oh, Pinkberry, you haz betrayed my tiny trust.

Manhattan Milk Company
All new... it's retro.

Guide to Kosher Imaginary Animals
A good "just in case" guide.

When Neighbors Become Farmers
Lawn? We don't need no stinking lawn.

The great British breakfast is a killer
Hilarious. Read through to the response at the end.

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4.28.2008

The Donut Wars

I will preface this piece by letting you know this: I'm not a donut person, per se. That said, I will also tell you this: I love donuts in concept.

I love the way donuts are round. I love the way they curve in the palm of the hand. I love the hole in the center. I love that you can sometimes peek through that hole in the center and peer at the someone with whom you're sharing donuts. Maybe you also make a face or a silly noise at that moment. Donuts can be funny. But donuts also show up at wakes and church socials. Donuts can be somber.

Tres Leches Donut
The delightful Tres Leches Donut from the Donut Plant

What I love best about donuts is the idea of donuts and coffee. There's something so classically Americana about donuts and coffee.

The donut of my platonic ideal is the fresh-outta-the-fryer, crisp and steaming cake donut handed to me on a paper towel by an elderly someone who warns me that it's hot, and that I should be very careful not to burn my mouth. Said elderly someone has imbued this donut with his or her old-fashioned care, affection and pride. Needless to say, those donuts are rare as hen's teeth.

Donut Plant Dozen
A recent Donut Plant Dozen... Top left, clockwise: Pomegranate, Ginger, Coconut, Classic Glazed, Valrhona Chocolate, Rose Petal. In the back, Tres Leches, Blackout and another Valrhona.

My next-favorite donut is much more accessible. It's down at the Donut Plant and the cherubic counter man will sell it to you for a dear, but ultimately quite fair, price. Donut Plant donuts will not arrive hot from the fryer, but they are made with old-fashioned care, affection and pride as well as inspiring seasonal ingredients. Donut Plant donuts are taste adventures, and I like that in my food.

My boss liked Donut Plant donuts when I brought a tasting into work recently. He especially liked the Tres Leches donut. But what he REALLY likes are donuts from Peter Pan Bakery on Manhattan Ave. in Greenpoint.

After inhaling his first sampling of Peter Pan donuts just recently, he returned the next day. And the next. He demanded to know why I'd been holding back valuable Peter Pan donut insights for so long. It's not like I was plotting against his happiness. It's just that I'm not a donut person and because Peter Pan donuts were not my first-choice or second-choice donut, their little jellied and powdered gems made a much smaller blip on my personal radar.

One fateful day last week, my boss brought a stack of boxes into work. Boxes filled with donuts. Chocolate Glazed, Powder-Dusted. Some filled with berry jam. Some filled with Bavarian Cream. Cinnamon-Apple Cake Donuts. Strusel-Topped Donuts. Coconut-Flake Donuts.

A Mountain of Donuts from Peter Pan
A Mountain of Donuts from Peter Pan... Top left, clockwise: Chocolate-Glazed Eclaire, Cream-Filled Coconut, another filled eclaire, two custard-stuffed creampuffs, a Glazed Donut and a Strusel-Topped Donut

My coworkers went into a Peter Pan donut frenzy. They yelped. They swooned. They gorged. They ran to their phones and texted significant others with messages like: "OMG!!! We're getting up early Sat 4 DONUTS!" One coworker claimed that these were the long-lost donuts of her childhood, the like of which she hadn't seen in decades. She wrote to her mother about them.

And, yes... They're great donuts. Everyone says so. They're actually much closer to iconic American donuts, raised and glazed, fried fresh every day with good-quality fillings and (presumably) good-quality dough ingredients. (And they're dead cheap. This is Greenpoint, after all.)

The Peter Pan donut is probably very similar to the goods that the very first Dunkin' Donuts shop made waaaay back before they went corporate and started using cheaper fillers, cheaper sweeteners, cheaper fats and mass manufacture. The Peter Pan donut may not be available at every corner, but it really is the pastry of the people.

Admittedly, I felt crushed that my beloved Donut Plant donuts had so quickly rolled to the wayside in favor of a mighty Peter Pan onslaught. It was immediately clear that most people weren't really interested in pomegranate donuts, rose-petal donuts, Valrona chocolate donuts, ginger donuts, coconut-cream donuts or peanut butter and jelly donuts. They didn't want experimental donuts. They wanted donut donuts. They wanted tradition and comfort and sugary cream fillings.

So it seems the traditionalists won the war for the (clogged) hearts of my coworkers.

Down in the trenches, covered in a dusting of powdered sugar and sweating off the sugar-crash shakes, I reflect and find I've learned a few things.

I have strong donut opinions. I may have a delicate donut ego. And I guess I just happen to have a slightly off-the-mainstream donut perspective. And if I have all that, well... hell. Maybe I really am a donut person after all.

Peter Pan Doughnuts & Pastries
Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop on Urbanspoon
727 Manhattan Ave
Brooklyn, NY
718.389.3676

Donut Plant
Doughnut Plant on Urbanspoon
379 Grand St
New York, NY
212.505.3700

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3.06.2008

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

Get thee to The Donut Plant

tres leches donut

Hola, todos y feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Should you happen to be in New York City today, I highly recommend you stop by The Donut Plant. And I'm not even a "donut person," per se. That said, I am a Donut Plant person.

Always in touch with the tiny details of seasonal change, the sandwich board outside The Donut Plant is my reliable source for what's timely. In the autumn, the specials mature from apple donuts to pumpkin donuts to cranberry donuts to chestnut donuts. In the spring, the sign bounds from ginger-chai donuts to Meyer lemon donuts to the first berry donuts of the new season. And, big bonus: the round-faced fellow who mans the counter is boundlessly friendly.

Today, the sandwich board goes Mexican-style churros and a tres leches donut that's crisp on the outside and lightly sweet on the inside with silky pockets of creamy vanilla pudding. It's heaven alongside a café con leche.

How do they put tres leches inside donuts that have holes? I don't know. They're magic, those Donut Plant people. I don't attempt to replicate their sweet sorcery. I just eat it.

4 spoons

The Donut Plant
379 Grand Street (near Essex)
Manhattan, NY
212.505.3700

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5.05.2007

Forget Foodies. Unleash the GastroGnomes!

The New York Times published an article today that features "The Foodie Scene in the Twin Cities," the subhead for which proclaims, "In another sign of a cultural awakening, dining out in this city of sensible industry is no longer confined to steakhouses."

Sitting on the couch this morning, I read this line aloud with ill-hidden outrage.
Confined to steakhouses? Seriously? Did the writer actually visit MSP? I lived thereabouts for close to ten years and I can't remember ever eating at a steakhouse.

My sweetheart chuckled from his desk a few feet away. Having already read the piece, he knew my boiling blood wouldn't cool a bit as the thesis statement of said article became clear.

As it happens, the "Foodie Scene" covered in the Times refers almost entirely to some recent "celebrity chef" action. Oh sure, there's a passing reference to one of the excellent farmers' markets and to Chef Brenda Langton, a Minneapolis fixture who's been cooking tasty things as long as I can remember, but as far as the Times is concerned, the term "foodie" seems to be confined to those looking for high-end five-to-seven course prixe fix dining directed from on high by the new gods of expense account cuisine (Wolfgang Puck and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, in this case).

Why all the rage? Well, if I knew nothing about the Twin Cities (and honestly, that's true of the majority of New Yorkers I've met), I might read that article and think to myself, "Thank heaven for those bold, selfless celebrity chefs. How else would a backwater like that learn any kind of appreciation for organic and regional ingredients? God bless Wolfgang and Jean-Georges."

All of which is complete and utter hogwash. But wait... is it possible that they mean something different by the word "foodies?"

With that thought in mind, it seems the foodies of the Times eat exclusively at tables with very high thread-count coverings. Said foodies would also have to have completely forgotten Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson who ran Restaurant Aquavit in Minneapolis (and NYC) until recently. And they'd have to be blind to places like La Belle Vie, whose chef, Tim McKee, was recognized by Gourmet, James Beard and the local City Pages. (And for that matter, I recommend that those seeking guidance on MSP just skip the Times and read the City Pages food reviews. They know all the best things going.)

I could go on, but I feel we should get back to business: "Foodie." I've never liked the word. It just sounds dumb. Like someone affixed a vowel sound to a random noun to make a label. It's what little kids do to form insults.

They can have that word. I just want to clarify that "Foodie Scene" as used in the article mentioned above should be read as the "Status Dining Scene."

On the other hand, I feel that those people who are dedicated to ferreting out and exploring the world of tasty, exciting, horizon-expanding foods available any a given place should be called something else.

"Gourmets" sounds flaccid and snobby. "Epicurians" seems accurate, but it comes off as a tad stiff. "Chowhounds" isn't bad, but it's rather specific. I'm going to go with something more like "Gastronomes," which conjures up an image of an army of garden gnomes armed with forks and knives, ready to explore and devour. Unleash the Gastro-Gnomes! (A bit terrifying, isn't it?)

Where do the Gastrognomes of Minneapolis-St. Paul eat? In many places, as it turns out. Ask a few. They'll tell you. In that spirit, I'll list just a handful of my favorite Twin Cities food spots:

The Midtown Global Market, where you'll now find a killah combination of cheap+tasty, including Manny's Tortas, Holy Land and La Loma, the home of tasty tamales.
920 E Lake St
Minneapolis
612.872.4041

One-stop picnic shop: The Wedge Co-Op, where you can get a loaf of bread, a fresh-pressed fruit juice, an array of treats and be on your way to the Sculpture Garden for lunch.
2105 Lyndale Avenue South
Minneapolis MN, 55405
612-871-3993

The improbable Sea Salt Eatery for fish sandwiches and crab cakes that have no right to be so tasty. Be warned: They're only open in the good months.
4825 Minnehaha Ave
Minneapolis
612.721.8990

Ted Cook's 19th Hole Barbeque — Classic baked beans, cornbread, greens and saucy barbecue. Worth getting lost on the residential streets trying to find it? Hell yeah.
2814 E 38th St
Minneapolis
612.721.2023

Victor's 1959 Cafe Eggs with black beans and fried yuca? Toast with guava jelly? Yeah, I'm in.
3756 Grand Ave S
Minneapolis
612.827.8948

Hell's Kitchen, which makes awesome bison sausage and their signature brunchy treat: the luxe Mahnomin Porridge.
89 South 10th St
Minneapolis
612.332.4700

Emily's Lebanese Deli I've been trying for close to 6 years to make tabbouleh that tasty...
641 University Ave NE
Minneapolis
612.379.4069

Blue Nile I'm a sucker for Ethiopian. Mmm... Stew.
2027 E Franklin Ave
Minneapolis
612.338.3000

Surdyk's wine + cheese shop extraordinaire
303 East Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis
612.379.3232

Rustica Bakery Breads, rolls and pastries made with love, skill and a bonus helping of tastiness.
816 W 46th St
Minneapolis
612.822.1119

A Baker's Wife's Pastry Shop Unassuming, inexpensive, impressive. Get a tart.
4200 28th Ave S
Minneapolis
612.729.6898

Coffee Gallery at Open Book. This listing really isn't all about the food. There aren't many things I crave more than Books + Coffee. Open Book is an amazing resource for anyone who loves books and enjoys seeing how they're constructed.
1011 Washington Ave S
Minneapolis
612.215.2626

Bayport Cookery Okay, so it's actually a stone's throw from MSP. But my lord, people... they host a morel fest. It's damn tasty and not terribly expensive. Make the trip. These guys were doing sustainable, local cuisine before it was cool.
328 5th Ave N
Bayport, MN
651.430.1066

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4.29.2007

Swept up in the Mistral

Ramble down the length of Sant Antoni, and you'll spot a beguiling little bakery with a name that conjures a cool mountain wind whipping across the Mediterranean.

The windows are lined with temptations, and yet, you may hesitate. After all, you've been burned before, haven't you? Croissants made with vegetable shortening. Cloying pastries. Loaves that seem artisanal at first, only to later reveal loveless manufacture.



Fear not, hungry one! Mistral's squat peasant loaf has a stone-oven crispy exterior and a chewy, slightly tangy bite that fills the mouth with the flavors of warm grain. Have 'em slice it, pair with a friendly neighborhood cheese and you've got a picnic on the fly.



But wait... have they burnt the brioche? No, dear — that dark, buttery pastry is twice-baked to cultivate a crispy demeanor that dances blithely across the edge of bitterness. (Think: Stephen Colbert on a good day.) It's not one for the kids, but you, lover of biting greens, tannic wines and bold stouts, will revel in its depth. It wants... a cortado, a latte, a cup of chocolate to complement its sophisticated flavor and inviting crunch.

Alas... if only the Mistral blew its delights a bit closer to Brooklyn.



Forn de Pa Mistral
Ronda Sant Antoni 96
(or Torres i Amat 7)
Barcelona
93.301.80.37
Tel./Fax: 93.302.41.39

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5.31.2006

Hey, Hey, Babycakes!

Babycakes

Aw! A cupcake mosaic on the front stoop of that spanking-new Lower East Side bakery! Adorable.

Oh! The pretty shopgirls all wear obscenely cute candy-striped pink pinafores. Sweet!

Whoah! Vegan? Really? No, wait... Not just vegan but sugar-free, gluten-free and all-natural? Daaaamn!

Babycakes

Yes, my LES operative reports that the mint-lemonade is refreshing, the lemon cake is tasty and the menu is... well, confusing.

Imagine! A whole shop filled with baked goods whipped up with no cream, no refined sugar, no eggs, no white flour and no butter. In short, a traditionally-trained pastry chef's worst nightmare.

And yet... they have muffins. They have poundcakes. They presumably have cupcakes. So what do they use to construct their sweet treats?

J. reports it's spelt and garbanzo flour sweetened with things like fresh, farmers' market fruits (local peaches, for example).

He's sworn to eat his way through their menu for the sake of science (and those friendly gals in candy-striped aprons). Brave man. We await his report.

Babycakes
248 Broome St.
(btwn Ludlow and Orchard)
212.677.5047

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9.08.2005

Bread. In a doorway. Cooling.

It's been said that the phrase "cellar door" is perhaps the most beautiful in the English language. More lovely than, say, "beautiful," or "sky," or "check enclosed."

Cellar door. Easy on the ears. Still... I can't help but wonder whether Tolkien really gave due consideration to "bakery door."

Bakery Door

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9.06.2005