Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


Strawberry-Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Of all the fruits, rhubarb retains the most magical nostalgic quality for me. Back when I was very small, it grew gargantuan each spring around the farmhouse. My mom always made terrific rhubarb desserts. Sweet-tart. Spicy. Distinctly rhubarb-y.

What's funny is that rhubarb isn't actually a fruit. It's a stem, making it technically a vegetable... but who eats rhubarb as a vegetable? No, rhubarb is the vegetable that found its true calling in the fruit world.

And I used to be such a purist about it. None of that strawberry blending for me. Rhubarb was dandy on its own thankyouverymuch.

These days I see the value in marrying the two. They both mature at the same time. My CSA delivers them at the same time. Why shouldn't I cook them at the same time? And what a delight they are together!

For my Dessert Corps project this week, the theme is rhubarb, so I'm contributing a strawberry-rhubarb upside-down cake.

Rhubarb Compote

For this cake, I begin with rhubarb compote. But for my day-to-day life, that's generally where I end. Compote. With yogurt. For dessert. It's sweet-tart tangy, creamy, cool... really divine.

But since my humble yogurt and compote dessert doesn't seem dressy enough (or portable enough) for sharing with the soup kitchen... today, I go beyond compote and into the slightly more complicated world of cake.

Upside-down cakes are an interesting topic on their own. I wrote an article on them a couple of years ago and discovered that flipped cakes were probably born of historical necessity, skillet cakes having been easier to make than standard cakes for those without ovens.

But I digress... On to the cake!

Strawberry Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake (Makes an 8" x 8" cake)

Rhubarb Compote:
2 stalks rhubarb, cut 3/4" thick
15 medium strawberries, quartered
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp water
1/4 cup white or brown sugar

Vanilla Cake:
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup AP flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick butter (6 Tbsp), softened
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp buttermilk (or plain yogurt + milk)

For the Compote: Combine rhubarb pieces, strawberry pieces, water and sugar in a saucepot. Gently simmer, stirring every few minutes, until the fruit is tender, about 12-15 minutes. Remove from heat.

For the Cake:
1. Grease an 8" x 8" round or square cake pan with butter and preheat the oven to 350° F.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and vanilla.
3. In a larger mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Blend in the butter until well incorporated and then stir in the buttermilk. (It will be sticky.)
4. Add about half the egg mixture into the larger mixing bowl, stirring until smooth (about 20 seconds) then stir in the rest of the egg mixture. Incorporate well.
5. Spread the rhubarb mixture evenly across the bottom of the greased pan. Spread the cake mixture evenly over the top of the rhubarb mixture and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
6. Remove cake from the oven when done, cool for 5 minutes on a rack, then loosen the cake from the sides of the pan with a knife, place a serving platter face-down atop the cake pan and invert the cake onto the platter. Some of the fruit may stick in the pan. Scoop this out and replace it atop the cake.

Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream, or cool and serve slices with coffee.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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Bee Sweet: A Bake Sale to Benefit Bees

What: A bake sale to benefit bee research (items containing honey encouraged!)
When: Earth Day: April 22, 2009
Where: At work, at school, out on the street
Who: You, perhaps? And anyone else who'd like to contribute.

Why: Thanks to dedicated research, honey bee populations seem to be on the mend, but the specter of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) still looms. Funding for more study will help our tiny pollinators thrive.

I'll be hosting a Bee Sweet bake sale at my office on Earth Day this year, with the benefits going to the UC Davis Honey Bee Research Facility.

I've also made a handy Bee Sweet graphic in case you'd like to join in and do your own bee benefit. Just click on the graphic below to get a printable PDF.

Bee Sweet
Click for the larger version.

This bake sale will also be a great opportunity to highlight honey as a star ingredient. I've found it's enormously popular for treats in Mediterranean cuisine, being the sweetener that happened to be on hand for hundreds of thousands of years.

Honey can be used in place of sugar in some recipes, but keep in mind: it's best to go conservatively at first, and the liquid in your recipe may need to be reduced. The National Honey Board has a few tips on usage.

I'll be posting a few honey-based goodies in upcoming days to get you thinking sweet thoughts, but in the meantime, here's a few honey treats from the archives:

  • Moist & Sticky Fig Cake
  • Honey Mead
  • Frybread
  • Hot Honey-Ginger Toddy
  • Sugarplums
  • Nutted Halvah

    Happy Eating!
    Miss Ginsu

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  • 4.08.2009

    On The Clock Cake-A-Palooza

    I've always found cake to be a culinary curiosity. It's one of those foods we often tend to value more for the way it looks than the flavor beneath the frosting.

    A lot of the offices in which I've worked buy cakes to mark people's birthdays. In my experience, these cakes usually come from a supermarket.

    Everyone gathers 'round to sing "happy birthday" and then someone cuts up a generic marble cake with frosting that tastes like vegetable shortening mixed with sugar.

    I guess I should keep in mind that it's the thought that counts, but I must admit that when faced when one of those unhappy confections, I always find myself taking a square of it to be polite and then looking for an inconspicuous trash bin so I can politely ditch it when nobody's looking.

    Thankfully, at my current office my department is made up of a pretty tight-knit group, so we're able to personalize the birthday cake experience. We really try to jointly come up with something that reflects the recipient's personality and/or sense of humor, and then someone volunteers to do the baking and frosting.

    For the sake of inspiration, I thought I'd share some of the extremely personalized cakes our team produced this year.

    For the athlete: The East German Olympic Swimmer Cake

    Swimmer Cake

    For the prankster: The Chocolate-Marshmallow Catbox Cake

    Kitty Litter Cake

    For the beer lover/Simpsons fan: The Duff Beer Cake

    Duff Beer Cake

    For the bacon devotee: The Chocolate Bacon Cake

    Bacon Cake

    For yours truly: The Miss Ginsu Cake

    Miss Ginsu Cake

    For the Flight of the Conchords groupie: The Bret & Jemaine Cake (with coordinating flipside, of course)

    Bret & Jemaine

    For the Coney Island girl: The Crazy Classic Coney Cake

    And there's a few more that I failed to photograph with any skill, but what I've discovered in this whole process is:

    1. It's less expensive (and more satisfying) to do a cake from scratch (or even a box mix) than it is to buy a far less tasty one from the grocery store.

    2. Homemade means never having to discreetly fling a slice of cake in the wastebasket.

    That said, it's only worth the effort if you actually know and like your co-workers. :)

    Miss Ginsu

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    The Tastiest Raffle Around

    The Menu for Hope raffle deadline has been extended and will now end on New Year's Eve (woot!) so you still have time to snap up a ticket or two.

    Our offering, the supercool "Bring the Pain" tote bag, cookbook, proofing basket, etc. is so fun, I'm tempted to just bid on my own prize to see if I can't keep it for myself, though I don't think that's allowed. :)

    The Bakers' Bundle (Prize UE23)... a combo worth more than $60!

    You can see pictures of the raffle money beneficiaries here or check out the full list of prizes on which to bid here.

    Once you're ready to buy one or more tickets (just $10 each!), go to the First Giving site, and be sure to specify which prize(s) you're interested in. (For the Bakers' Bundle above, use code UE23.)

    Big thanks for helping out, y'all!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Day 19: Cookie o' the Week... Peppermint Snowflakes

    This post marks Day 19 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    I recently ran across the coolest snowflake cookie cutter set; It included tiny pieces to help cut out the decorative bits on the arms of the snowflakes. Pretty slick, but I had no real need to buy it.

    Then it occurred to me that such a thing would be just the ticket for a new take on that stained glass cookie that's made with a basic cut-out recipe and crushed candy that melts into the open spaces. Voila! Peppermint Snowflakes!

    Stained-Glass Snowflake

    I've made these chocolate, because I really like the combination of chocolate and peppermint, but you could certainly skip the cocoa powder, use 1/2 cup more flour and make vanilla snowflakes.

    Crushed Candy Canes and Chocolate Snowflakes

    You can use candy canes, as I did, but I think they'd look pretty cool with those clear blue peppermint candies as well.
    Peppermint Snowflakes (Makes about 4 dozen)
    1 cup sugar
    1 cup (2 sticks) butter
    2 eggs
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1/2 cup cocoa powder
    2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    Candy canes or peppermints
    1 snowflake cookie cutter set

    1. Heat oven to 350° F.
    2. In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter together. Add the egg and the vanilla extract.
    3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and the cocoa powder.
    4. Blend the flour mixture into the butter mixture.
    5. Flatten the dough into a disc or a square, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.
    6. Divide the dough, leave one portion in the refrigerator, and roll out the other portion between 1/4" and 1/8" thick on a floured surface.
    7. Cut out large snowflakes, creating triangle-shaped openings in each. Move the snowflakes to the baking sheets.
    8. Place hard candy or candy canes in a plastic bag, and pulverize the candy into tiny pieces/dust with the base of a jar or a meat mallet.
    9. Fill the openings in the cookies with candy shards/dust. Stuff as much as you can into each opening. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes or until the cookie sets up and the candy is melted and bubbly.
    10. Cool cookies for 3 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire rack to cool fully.

    Though you may be inspired to set these up in the windowsill and admire the stained-glass effect, the candy will melt with moisture of condensation. And since they're really tasty, that's a darn shame. Thus, I must insist you admire them only briefly before munching with a tall, cold glass of milk.

    Holiday Cheer!
    Miss Ginsu

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    $10 Buys Lunch and Maybe More...

    Featuring both a great cause (school lunch for kids in Lesotho) and some truly tasty raffle prizes, the Menu for Hope event returns for a fifth big year. (Has it really been a year already?)

    If you were reading this blog (or pretty much any other food blog) this time last year, you may remember that food blogger Chez Pim spearheads the Menu for Hope charity raffle, which has been gaining momentum (and distributing cash to good causes) with each passing December.

    There's no doubt that buying lunch for kids qualifies as a classic "good deed," and the UN World Food Programme is a well-managed organization, so Cupcake and I are thrilled to join in once again.

    Here at Chez Ginsu, we're offering up... The Big, Bad Bakers' Bundle
    The Big, Bad Bakers' Bundle
    The Big, Bad Bakers' Bundle (Prize UE23): Perfect for the beginning baker (or someone who might like to become a beginning baker), this luscious prize consists of:
    1. One copy of "Home Baking" by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid (universally loved as an excellent baker's guide with gorgeous photography)
    2. One proofing basket (for your soon-to-be masterpieces)
    3. Three totally cute tea towels (always helpful... and did I mention cute?)
    4. And... a supercool Bring the Pain tote bag (certain to make you endlessly envied)

    It's a prize package worth... well... I'm not sure how much it's worth, but after you're baking bread like a pro, it'll be priceless, just like the Master Card commercials say.

    And you could win it all for ten clams. Not bad, eh?

    All you have to do is...
    1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from the Menu for Hope prize list at Chez Pim.
    2. Go to the donation site at First Giving and make a donation.
    3. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Specify which prize you’d like in the ‘Personal Message’ section of the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write in how many tickets per prize, and use the prize code. (For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02. Please write 2xEU01, 3xEU02.)
    4. If your company matches your charity donation, check the box and fill in the corporate information.
    5. Please allow us to see your email address so winners may be contacted. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

    Check out the other fab prizes, don't forget to bid on ours (use prize code UE23) and feel good about buying a hungry kid some lunch. Because generosity is kind of what the Christmas spirit is all about.

    Holiday Cheer,
    Miss Ginsu

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    Day 16: Almond & Olive Oil Cake

    This post marks Day 16 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Compared to cookies or layered bars, or — heaven forbid — strudle, a basic cake is such a simple, lovely treat. Just a few steps. Just a little time in the oven. Just a few ingredients.

    Cake is essentially just flour, butter, sugar and eggs, right? Well, as I discovered on last summer's foray to Rome, sometimes cake is flour, olive oil, sugar and eggs.

    Almond & Olive Oil Cake

    Today's recipe is a sunny, elegant Italian-style cake that's just the thing for cawfee tawk or teatime... but it comes together so quickly, I'd even serve it warm out of the oven as a special breakfast or brunch for holiday guests. It's so delicious, this may just be my new favorite cake.
    Almond & Olive Oil Cake (Makes One 9" Cake)
    1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
    2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 cup sugar
    3 large eggs
    1 1/2 Tbsp finely grated lemon, orange or tangerine zest
    1 tsp almond extract
    1/4 cup milk
    3/4 cup olive oil
    2/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted (optional, for garnish)
    Powdered sugar (optional, for garnish)

    1. Heat the oven to 350°F and oil an 9" round or square cake pan.
    2. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
    3. In a separate bowl, mix the sugar and eggs until fluffy. Add the orange zest, vanilla, milk and olive oil.
    4. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
    5. Set pan on a wire rack to cool 20 minutes before turning the cake out onto the rack to cool completely. Top with toasted, sliced almonds and powdered sugar, if desired.
    The first time I met an olive oil cake, it was a simple citrus-olive combination; absolutely delightful, but I think the emphasis on almonds makes it even more elegant.

    That said, I'm nut crazy, so if for some reason you're not quite so wild about almonds, it's a simple thing to leave them off the top and substitute an orange liqueur (like Grand Marnier) or swap vanilla extract for the almond extract.

    Holiday Cheer!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Day 8: Citrus-Ginger Fruitcakes

    This post marks Day 8 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    If you were reading last year, you'll know I'm batty for citrus around the holidays. It's just so fresh and tasty this time of year.

    So this is a fruitcake I can really get behind. Essentially a buttery poundcake filled with candied ginger and citrus, it's a far cry from the much-maligned shelf-stable drugstore version.

    Although most fruitcake recipes call for store-bought candied fruit, it's really easy and economical to make your own, as I discovered last year. And yes, you can use the same method to make candid ginger. Works great.

    Candied Lemon & Tangerine Peel
    Candied lemon and tangerine peels

    Citrus-Ginger Fruitcakes (Makes 4 little fruitcakes)
    1/2 cup butter, at room temperature (plus extra for greasing the pans)
    1/2 cup all-purpose flour (plus extra for flouring the pans)
    1/3 cup sugar
    2 large eggs
    4 tsp brandy, amaretto or ginger liqueur (plus extra for soaking the cakes)
    2 tsp orange or lemon zest
    1/4 tsp salt
    1 cup chopped almonds
    1/2 cup dried figs, minced
    2 Tbsp candied or crystallized ginger, minced fine
    2 Tbsp candied orange or lemon peel, minced

    1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 4 mini loaf pans or 4 large muffin cups, tapping out any excess flour.
    2. In a medium-size mixing bowl, blend the butter and sugar, beating until creamy, about 1 minute.
    3. Beat in the egg, the 4 teaspoons of brandy or liqueur and the citrus zest until just blended.
    4. Sift together the flour and salt, beating the flour mixture into the egg mixture until just blended.
    5. Fold in the almonds, figs, ginger and candied fruit.
    6. Divide the batter between the prepared pans or cups, and fill any empty muffin cups halfway with water (to prevent uneven heating).
    7. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes for mini loaf pans or 35 minutes for the muffin cups.
    8. Once baked, move the pans to a wire rack to cool. After ten minutes, take the cakes out of the pans and place directly on the wire rack. Brush with brandy or liqueur while they're still warm, then let the cakes cool completely.
    9. To finish the cakes, soak squares of cheesecloth in the brandy or liqueur, wrap each cake with a square of damp cheesecloth, then wrap individually in aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Chill the wrapped cakes in the refrigerator for at least 1 week.
    10. To serve, bring the cakes to room temperature, slice and serve with mascarpone, fresh ricotta or cream cheese.

    You'll have a few of these, so when it's time for gifting, unwrap the foil/plastic and cheesecloth, re-wrap to make it pretty and add a ribbon and a gift tag.

    Since fruitcake has such a bad rep, you might want to call these something else. Brandy Cakes. Ginger-Citrus Cakes. Think of a nice alias. You can reveal the awful truth after they fall in love with these wee wonders.

    Holiday Cheer!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Day 7: Superb English Tea Scones

    This post marks Day 7 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Somehow, we Americans tend to fixate on the Victorian era, particularly in London, as the point on the time-space continuum for maximum holiday revelry. I think we can blame Dickens for this.

    These days, we don't travel in open sleighs, we don't open the shutters and throw up the sash to spy St. Nick on the lawn, and you won't catch us wearing furry beaver muffs or lighting lanterns around our homes unless it's for reasons of historical romance, but these visions all somehow seem holiday-appropriate to us.

    Ice skating at 72nd Street Lake, Central Park, 1894, (from NYC Parks & Rec)

    I won't argue with this oddity, but I'll offer that even though the classic English Tea Scone is not in any way fixed on the holidays, it certainly seems to be an appropriately festive addition to the landscape.
    Superb English Tea Scones (Makes 10-12)
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/4 cup sugar
    2 1/2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp salt
    6 Tbsp butter
    1/3 cup currants (optional)
    1 large egg
    1/3 cup milk or cream
    Additional milk or cream (for brushing)
    Sugar (for sprinkling)

    1. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
    2. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or a long-tined fork until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
    3. Whisk together the egg and half & half.
    4. Mix the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients just until they hold together. Form a ball with your hands and turn the ball onto a floured work surface.
    5. Heat oven to 400°F and lightly roll the dough into a 1/2" thick disc.
    6. Cut disc into 10-12 wedges, and move the wedges to an ungreased baking sheet, 1" to 2" apart.
    7. Brush each wedge with milk or half & half, then sprinkle with sugar. Bake until lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes.

    Serve the warm scones alongside your favorite preserves and Devonshire cream, if you can get it. (If not, you can fake up a faux Devonshire cream by whipping 3 oz cream cheese, 1 tsp powdered sugar and 1 cup cream until thick and smooth. Cover and chill at least 2 hours.)

    You'll want to gather some friends, iron your grandmother's linens and brew up a nice hot pot of tea to serve with your scones, of course. Coffee just seems... improper.

    Holiday Cheer!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Day 5: Cookie o' the Week... Pfeffernusse

    This post marks Day 5 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    For me, the holidays are all about cookies. I'm not sure why this is... perhaps it's not such a bad thing to keep the oven on for a while on these chilly December days? Maybe it's because cookies are convivial and easy to share? Maybe they transport well in one-horse open sleighs?

    You've got me. Whatever the reason, I like 'em, and the advent calendar this year will feature a cookie of the week. So pay attention: this is the first of your weekly cookie treats.


    Pfeffernüsse (literally: Pepper Nuts) are little Dutch spice biscuits baked for Sinterklaas, which is the feast of St. Nicholas — traditionally celebrated today. (That's if you're in the Netherlands. Belgians do it the morning of December 6.)

    The whole Santa thing is a very different tradition there. Presents arrive with scraps of poetry, and the guy who's coming down the chimney isn't St. Nick but Black Pete (Zwarte Piet), Santa's sooty bad-cop companion. And honestly, you really don't want Zwarte Piet leaving anything for you. He's there for the kids.

    But back to the sweets... I hadn't made these cookies before this year, but I'm just crazy for warm, gingery spices in wintertime sweets, so they looked perfect.

    The first time I made them, they were too cake-y and I discovered they could really be nuttier (after all, something called a "pepper nut" should be nutty, no?) so I've doubled the nuts, removed an egg and increased the butter.

    Pfeffernüsse (Makes 4 Dozen)
    1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
    2 large eggs
    2 cups brown sugar
    1 Tbsp orange or lemon zest
    1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped very fine
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 tsp salt
    2 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp ground black pepper
    1 tsp ground cloves
    2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
    1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
    Powdered sugar (for dusting)

    1. Blend sugar and butter together in large mixing bowl until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs and blend in the nuts.
    2. Sift flour with the salt, baking soda, ground pepper, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.
    3. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Cover and chill at least two hours.
    4. Heat oven to 375°F. Scoop out dough by the teaspoonful and form 1" balls.
    5. Place the dough balls an inch apart on ungreased baking sheets, and bake 10 to 12 minutes.
    6. When done, move the cookies to wire racks to cool, sprinkling the cookies with powdered sugar while they're still warm.

    Pfeffernüsse have some bite, so I find they're a really lovely treat with a hot mug of tea on a wintery day. As it looks like we might be in for a cold winter, these little guys might come in handy.

    Holiday Cheer!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Day 2: Cranberry Cream Tart

    This post marks Day 2 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Everyone needs a nice little "company's coming" recipe that they can make up ahead of time, and this one is an inexpensive and impressive trick that works with leftovers, so it's super-thrifty.

    Cranberry Cream Tart

    I whipped up this idea for work to help people use up excess Thanksgiving cranberry sauce, but I think you could really use whatever fruit jelly strikes your fancy. In fact, I really want to do one with a batch of Lemon Curd. Yum.

    You'll see it has a few steps, but none of them are trying. It's about 20 minutes of your time actively mixing, etc., and then there's a couple of hours of inactive chilling or cooking time, so this is a good one to work in while you're doing other things in the kitchen.

    Obviously, you'll need a tart pan for this recipe. Use a 9" pan. I love the ones with the smooth coating and the removable base, because it makes serving up a flawless tart such an easy task.
    Cranberry Cream Tart (Makes a 9" Tart)

    For the Tart Shell:
    1/2 cup hazelnuts or walnuts
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1/4 cup sugar
    1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut in 1/2" pieces
    1 large egg

    For the Filling:
    8 oz cream cheese
    1 tablespoon sugar
    1 large egg
    3/4 cup cranberry sauce, warmed to room temperature

    1. To make the tart shell, pulse nuts, flour, sugar, nutmeg (if using) and salt in a food processor or blender until finely ground.
    2. Add butter pieces and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with few small lumps. (You may also cut in the butter with the tines of a fork.)
    3. Blend in the egg, mixing just until the mixture clumps. Chill for 20 minutes to improve handling.
    4. Preheat the oven to 350°F, and press the chilled dough evenly across the bottom and sides of a tart pan.
    5. Bake in the center rack of the oven for 20 minutes, then remove the tart shell from the oven and cool on a rack for 10 minutes.
    6. As the crust cools, whip the cream cheese, sugar and egg in a mixing bowl until smooth.
    7. Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly across the base of the tart pan and bake 20 minutes.
    8. Cool the tart on a rack for 10 minutes before spreading the warmed cranberry sauce across the surface of the cream cheese layer.
    9. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 3 hours (or overnight). Cut into 12 slices to serve.

    I've served this dolloped with a little fresh whipped cream (sweetened with maple syrup mmmm....), but that's just pure decadence, so skip it if you're not in the mood.

    I think this would make a smashing offering at brunch or maybe teatime, but go crazy and serve it for dessert if you want.

    Happy Holidays!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Peanut-Butter Glazed Chocolate Cake

    Now that we have an official MissGinsu.com Peanut Week theme around these parts, I realized I had to address one of the world's greatest flavor combinations: chocolate and peanut butter. (Thank you, Reese's. The world owes you a great debt.)

    A recent commenter led me to Jen's Chocolate Cake... a brilliantly simple single-post blog that features a chocolate cake recipe. A chocolate bundt cake recipe, to be precise.

    And as a side note, I'm honestly incapable of making a bundt cake anymore without thinking of the "parental conflict over bundt cake" scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

    And as a side note to the side note, Bundt is actually a registered trademark of the Minnesota-based Nordic Ware company, the folks who've made these pans for sixty years. That's why so many cookbooks refer to "tube pans" instead of bundt pans these days.

    But back to the chocolate cake. Jen's recipe makes a very moist, rich cake, and she recommends a couple of different accompanying glazes.

    And I've got one more that complements this cake very nicely. (Just remember what we discussed on Tuesday and don't bring it into school for snacktime.)
    Jen Kwok's Chocolate Cake
    1.75 cups all-purpose flour
    2 tsp baking soda
    2 tsp baking powder
    0.5 tsp salt
    0.5+ cup (two heaped quarter cups) cocoa
    2 cups brown sugar
    0.75 cup vegetable oil
    0.5 cup milk
    2 eggs
    1 tsp vanilla
    0.75 cup boiling water

    Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a bundt or tube pan. Blend all dry ingredients. Blend in brown sugar. Whisk in remaining ingredients, except water. Add boiling water and whisk until smooth. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes (turning about halfway through,) until cake tester comes out clean. Cool ten minutes in pan. Turn out of pan and finish cooling on rack.

    My Peanut Butter Glaze for Jen's Chocolate Cake (Makes about 2 cups)

    1/2 cup peanut butter (preferably smooth)
    1/2 cup powdered sugar
    3/4 cup milk
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    2 Tbsp cream cheese
    1/2 tsp salt (if you're using natural peanut butter)

    1. Whisk together all the ingredients until the mixture is smooth and lump-free. Add a tablespoon or so more milk if it seems too thick to drizzle.

    2. Drizzle over the chocolate cake. Use excess glaze to spoon over individual slices, if you wish. Or just save it and serve it over vanilla ice cream. Mmm...

    As you can imagine, this cake + glaze combo was popular around the office.

    One of the best things about Bundt, er... tube cakes is that they're great for sharing. I love how everyone can slice off just as much as they want. It offers more flexibility than the rigid squares/rectangles you get out of a 9"x13" pan.

    Happy Eating!

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    Kind of Blue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    washed blueberries

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

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

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

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

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

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


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    Bacon + Cake = Yay!

    "It's totally weird. I've never had anything like it before. And I want one for my birthday in November." — Marc

    My boss is one of those people who considers the onion and the potato his favorite vegetables (all the better if they're fried). A meal just isn't a meal without meat, and practically any meal can be made better with the addition of a pork product. Not to mention that he's the only person I know who has three enormous barbecue grills on his Brooklyn patio roof-space.

    So when his birthday rolled around, the email conversation naturally turned to bacon. There's been a lot of bacon sweets in the blog press lately. Bacon Brittle. Bacon Lollypops. The Vosges Bacon Chocolate Bar.

    Could we really do a bacon cake? With real bacon? And how would that work?

    Bacon Cake

    Tomi bravely took the plunge (she says she was actually rather terrified by the whole prospect), going for a simple rectangular chocolate layer cake. She discovered a plastic pig at the dollar store to drive home the whole piggy point and topped her cake off with a pretty pink version of Paula Deen's Brown Butter Icing, crunchy pink sugar sprinkles aaaaand.... BACON!

    Now, before you say "eeeew!" remember that sweet and salty tastes are often pretty great together. Chocolate covered pretzels, say. Or salted butter caramels. Or peanut-butter cookies. Sweet plus salty makes them multi-dimensional and more exciting to the tongue. And crunchy bacon bits on a chocolate cake offer a third dimension... sweet + salty + savory. Very exciting!

    Some approached cautiously, but everyone who tried the chocolate bacon cake proclaimed enjoyment. Some went back for seconds. In the end, not a single slice went unclaimed. The boss man was pleased, and the whole thing was an enormous success. I was left wondering why bacon bits aren't a standard topping for cakes in the same way they are for salads, casseroles and omelettes.

    Bacon Cake Slice

    The assembly couldn't be easier. (Bake cake. Make icing. Ice cake. Top with bacon bits.) The chocolate cake itself is ultra-basic. The icing's a snap. The key to this recipe is in the bacon. It must be crispy, and it must be broken into bits. Long, limp slices won't do at all.

    A Simple Chocolate Cake

    3 oz semisweet (or bittersweet) chocolate, chopped
    1 cup hot black coffee
    2 cups all-purpose flour (or pastry flour)
    1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    1 tsp baking soda
    1 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp salt
    3 large eggs
    2 cups sugar
    1 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
    1/2 cup vegetable oil
    1 tsp vanilla extract

    1. Preheat oven to 350° F.

    2. Combine hot coffee and chocolate pieces in a bowl. Let stand 5 minutes before whisking smooth.

    3. Butter and flour the bottom of a 9- x 13-inch cake pan. (Or butter the bottom of the pan and lay in a piece of parchment.)

    4. In a separate bowl, blend together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

    5. In another bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until slightly thickened and pale, about 3 minutes. Gradually add yogurt (or buttermilk), vegetable oil, vanilla and coffee-chocolate mixture to eggs. Stir to combine well.

    6. Add the dry ingredients into the moist ingredients and continue to beat until just combined.

    7. Pour cake batter into the prepared pan and bake about 40-45 minutes (or until the cake springs back lightly when touched and a tester inserted in center comes out clean).

    8. Place cake pan on a rack and cool completely in the pan. To remove, run a knife around edge of the pan and invert cake onto a rack. (May be wrapped tightly and kept at room temperature for up to 2 days or frozen for 3 weeks.)

    Paula Deen's Browned Butter Icing (in a Pretty Piggy Pink)
    1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
    1 cup confectioners' sugar
    Red food color (optional)

    Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, or until butter is lightly browned. Whisk in confectioners' sugar until smooth. Stir in 2-3 (or more) drops red food color to achieve your own perfect piggy pink.


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    Day 1: Wonder Dough

    I love any one thing that does many things. The Swiss Army knife. The cast-iron Skillet. Duct tape.

    With that in mind, what's not to love about the efficiency of a single cookie dough that offers endless variation? Around the time-crunched holidays, a versatile recipe makes gift baking simple.

    If need be, you can make just one little batch of sugar cookies, one batch of ginger cookies and just one batch of chocolate-peppermint cookies. Voila! A mixed cookie plate to take to work and a few more to give away to cookie-munching friends and neighbors.

    And everyone knows that homemade cookies taste better. They're fresh, they don't contain high-fructose corn syrup or weird shelf-life extenders, and above all, they're rich in love. Store-bought cookies never have enough love in 'em.

    The below recipe is based off of one that was published in Real Simple magazine a while back. It's a quick little sugar cookie on its own and can easily be dolled up with spices, nuts, candies, shapes and colors, as per the variations. It's really like ten recipes in one. Pretty handy, no?

    the gingerman
    One dough to rule them all, one dough to find them, one dough to bring them all and in the darkness bind them...

    Wonder Dough
    2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
    1 cup packed brown sugar
    1/2 cup white sugar
    2 tablespoons corn syrup
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1 egg
    2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 1/4 tsp baking soda

    Beat together the butter, sugars, corn syrup and vanilla extract. Mix in the egg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Add ingredients from the variation of your choice.

    Heat oven to 375° F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or use silpat baking sheets. Unless the directions for the variation state otherwise, form the dough into tablespoon size mounds. Place on the prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake until lightly browned at the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to wire racks. Cool completely and store for up to 1 week.

    The Wonder Dough Variations...

    Gingersnaps (Makes 60 cookies)
    Make the base recipe, adding 2 tsp ground ginger and 3 more Tbsp flour. Divide the dough into 2 portions, roll into discs and wrap each in plastic. Freeze for 1 hour. On a floured surface, roll the dough out 1/4" thick. Use cookie cutters to make stars or people. Bake about 8 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to wire racks. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar or decorate with white icing. (Just blend together a cup of sifted confectioners' sugar with 1-2 tablespoons milk. Adjust the liquid/sugar ratio for the consistency you want.)

    Fruitcake Bars (Makes 30 bars)
    Make the base recipe, adding 1 cup dried cranberries, 1 cup candied or plain pecans, and 1 Tbsp rum. Spread the batter in a buttered or parchment-lined 9" square baking pan. Bake for 35 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack. Cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

    Cinnadoodles (Makes 60 cookies)
    Make the base recipe. Form the dough into 1 1/2" balls. Blend 3 Tbsp sugar with 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon in a small bowl. Roll the balls in the cinnamon mixture and place on prepared baking sheets. Flatten the balls into 1/2-inch thick disks. Bake about about 12 minutes or until until light brown. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to wire racks.

    Oatmeal-Spice Cookies (Makes 60 cookies)
    Make the base recipe, adding 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats and 1 tsp pie spice (or substitute 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground ginger, and 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg). Shape and bake as in the base recipe. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to wire racks.

    Chocolate-Peppermint Pinwheels (Makes 40 cookies)
    Make the base recipe, and divide the dough into 2 portions. Melt 3 oz unsweetened chocolate and mix into one of the dough balls. In a separate bowl, blend 1 egg yolk, 1 tsp peppermint extract and 1/2 cup crushed peppermint candies into the other dough ball. On a floured surface, roll each dough separately to about 1/4" thick. Place a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap on the work surface and stack the peppermint layer atop the chocolate layer. Press around the edges to form a uniform disc. Using the wax paper or wrap, roll the stack into a log. Wrap well and freeze for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and cut chilled log into 1/2-inch slices, placing 1" apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake about 12 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to wire racks.

    Chocolate Nut Cookies (Makes 40 cookies)
    Make the base recipe, adding 12 oz semisweet chocolate (chopped or chips) and 1 cup chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts). Shape, bake and cool according to the base recipe.

    Pine Nut Drops (Makes 40 cookies)
    Make the base recipe, blending in 1 tsp almond extract. Form into tablespoon-size balls. Spread 2 1/2 cups raw pine nuts on a plate. Roll each ball in the pine nuts, pressing nuts into the cookies. Place 2" apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake and cool according to the base recipe.

    White Chocolate Snowballs (Makes 20 cookies)
    Make the base recipe. Form the dough into teaspoon-size balls. Spread one 7 oz bag of sweetened flaked coconut on a plate. Roll each ball into the coconut, pressing so it adheres. Place on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to wire racks. Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl placed over, but not touching, simmering water, melt 12 oz white chocolate (chopped or chips). Turn half the cookies upside down and spread the flat sides with the white chocolate. Sandwich them with the remaining cookies.

    Jam Jewels (Makes 40 cookies)
    Make the base recipe. Form into tablespoon-size balls. Place about 2" apart on prepared baking sheets. Press a thumb about 1/2" deep into the center of each ball. Fill each indentation with about 1/2 teaspoon apricot, strawberry or raspberry jam. Bake and cool according to the base recipe.

    This post marks Day 1 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. Happy holidays!

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    Not actually baking for the bake sale

    the cupcake meeting

    I mentioned a while back that I was heading up a weekly office bake sale to raise funds for SOS (Share Our Strength).

    Not surprisingly, summertime makes for some tough recruiting. From an operations standpoint, I can't really think of a worse time to run a bake sale. It's hot. It's humid. People are on vacation. People are seeing themselves in swimwear and reconsidering the wisdom of noshing on cookies... even if said cookies happen to be for charity.

    Despite all that, it went pretty well. We made over $1020. (Not including a very generous online donation from my mom... thanks, mom!)

    But truthfully, I have a shameful secret... for most of the summer, my own oven didn't work. The landlord kept putting off getting it fixed, and I kept forgetting to call that repair guy I saw on Craigslist, so I found myself heading up a charity bake sale without an operational oven.

    Thus, as you might imagine, I've come up with a few great strategies for not actually baking for the bake sale:

    1. Let someone else do the cooking. I don't mean purchasing premade cookies and bars and passing them off as your own stuff (though I've seen this done). There are actually a lot of recipes in which store-bought graham crackers, pound cake or cereal provide texture without requiring oven time on your part. Consider, for example, the graham crust in no-bake cheesecake bars or the ladyfingers in tiramisu. Still tasty... just not oven-dependent.

    2. Cool desserts! One caveat: Do you have on-site refrigeration? Icebox Cakes and the like tend to get melty if they're not kept cool.

    3. Think modern appliances. My waffle iron, untouched at home, became the belle of the bake sale ball. I used the "My Mother's Waffles" recipe from Everybody Eats Well in Belgium by Ruth Van Waerebeek (see below). The beguiling yeasty scent of sizzling DIY waffles drifted throughout the office and the accompanying bowls of sliced berries and fresh-whipped cream made for easy advertising.

    4. Rice Krispy Treats. The classic. They take 12 minutes to make, they use three ingredients and the nostalgia factor dives widespread love (not to mention cravings). Dress 'em up with a handful of chocolate chips, a dollop of peanut butter or a sprinkling of dried cranberries for color and zip.

    5. Buckeye balls, peanut brittle, taffy and other stovetop candies also make good no-bake candidates. Now that it's fall, I'd throw caramel apples in the mix. Mmm... caramel apples...

    And now: The afore-mentioned awesome waffle recipe:

    My Mother's Waffles
    by Ruth Van Waerebeek
    (Makes about 40)

    4 packages active dry yeast
    6 cups milk, warmed to 100°F
    6 large egg yolks
    12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) margarine, melted and cooled to lukewarm
    1 cup sugar
    1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    Pinch of salt
    8 cups all-purpose flour
    6 large egg whites, beaten to soft peaks

    1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of the lukewarm milk.
    2. In a large, deep mixing bowl (the dough will double or triple in volume), whisk the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the remaining milk and the melted butter and margarine. Add the yeast mixture, sugar, vanilla, and salt.
    3. Gradually add the flour to the batter by sifting it in. Alternate additions of flour with the remaining 4 1/2 cups milk. Stir with a wooden spoon after each addition.
    4. Fold in the beaten egg whites.
    5. Cover with a clean towel and put in a warm place. Let rise for 1 hour. The batter should double or even triple in volume. (While you wait, you have time to brew the coffee, set the table, and heat up your waffle iron.) Check the batter from time to time to make sure it isn't about to erupt like an impatient volcano. Stir it down once or twice.
    6. Bake the waffles in a hot waffle iron. The easiest way to get the batter onto the waffle iron is to do what my mother does. Transfer the batter (by batches) into a water pitcher and pour the batter from the pitcher.
    7. Serve the baked waffles with confectioners' sugar and butter, or whipped cream and fresh fruit. Allow any leftover waffles to cool on a rack before storing.

    (PS: If you happen to be anywhere near Cooperstown, NY this weekend, Brewery Ommegang is doing their annual Waffles & Puppets fest. Belgian waffles, fantastic Belgian-style beers and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow interpreted with puppets. Crazy fun. Really wish I could be there. Cheers!)

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    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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