Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

FoodLink Roundup: 06.23.08

Link Roundup
Last week, that globe-trotting Cupcake was hangin' at the trés cool Marche d'Aligre in Paris. Where in the world is cupcake this week? Think you know? Post it in the comments.

Yes, We Will Have No Bananas
Enjoy that smoothie while you can. The end of cheap bananas seems nigh.

Can Lifestyle Changes Bring Out the Best in Genes?
Once again, diet and exercise seem good for health. It's like a mantra. Eat well and exercise. Eat well and exercise...

Girl, 12, Chases Lemonade Stand Robber
Robbing a kid's lemonade stand has gotta be the very definition of lame...

How to nap
Yay! An awesome infographic on one of my favorite topics...

Homemade Guanciale
Home-cured pork jowl done up in a small urban apartment.

On Kimchi
“kimchi is truth, truth kimchi; that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Holla.

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6.23.2008

The Banana Batida: Crave Hero

I can pass on cake. I can stop at one cookie. I'll often slice a brownie in half and be satisfied with a slim portion. I demonstrate wonderful restraint when presented with a box of chocolates... one every few days is really all I crave.

But ice cream is the point at which restraint and prudence end. I really love ice cream. It's probably my biggest dessert weakness. Maybe it's genetic. My mother believes that any proper vacation includes "ice cream every day."

To rip on the words of a newer, more moderate Cookie Monster, "Cookies are a sometimes food." And I think the same goes for ice cream. Ice cream is a sometimes food.

And yet, super-premium, super-chunky, super-sweet ice creams come in darling pint-sized containers that wait, beguilingly, in the freezer.

If there's not a siren pint of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey calling from my freezer, there's a whole gaggle of them less than a block away at my local bodega, which is kind of like an "off-site freezer," actually.

Sometimes I get on a kick and I want ice cream every night. That's just not practical. Once a week, yes. Five times a week, no. So lately, when the ice cream urge strikes, I've been heading for the blender.

Banana Batida
Banana batida at Caracas Arepa Bar, NYC


I've been enchanted with the batida for a long while now. It's essentially a fruit shake, although many spike their batidas with rum or cachaca for cool cocktails.

They make batidas par excellence at Caracas Arepa bar... cool, creamy, sweet (but not too sweet), a little malty and lightly spiced with cinnamon (and perhaps nutmeg). So delightful, I'm not even wishing for ice cream.

While a serving of my beloved Chunky Monkey (that's 1/2 cup or 1/4 of the pint) contains:
300 calories
19 grams of fat (11 grams saturated fat)
26 grams of sugar
and just 4 grams of protein

My banana batida (a 1-cup serving) is more like :
195 calories
6 grams of fat (1 gram saturated fat)
16 grams of sugar
10.5 grams of protein
and 5 grams of fiber

A little fiber and protein help to make the batida more satisfying, since sugar without fiber often just gives me a sugar high followed by a slump. There's also some research that indicates that cinnamon may help some people regulate their sugar absorption. I just think it's tasty.

And if I were really concerned about my fat intake, I could make my batida even more virtuous by using nonfat yogurt and nonfat soymilk. But I'm more interested in flavor than virtue.

Crave-Busting Banana Batida (About 8 oz; Serves 1)

1/2 frozen banana
1/4 cup plain yogurt
6 oz plain soymilk
1 Tbsp malt powder
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Dusting of nutmeg

1. Put banana, yogurt, soymilk and malt powder in a blender. Spin until smooth.
2. Garnish with cinnamon and nutmeg.
3. Enjoy immediately.

You can switch it up by using chocolate malt powder (Choco-Banana Batida!) or a 1/2 cup frozen strawberries instead of the frozen banana (Strawberry Batida!), or frozen blueberries (Blueberry Batida!)... you get the point. Frozen fruit is essential to keeping the drink cool and giving it thickness.

I've seen recipes that use fresh fruit and ice instead of frozen fruit. That's probably the best option if you happen to have access to quality produce.

Salud!

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4.17.2008

Shrove Thursday

In honor of miserably cold weather, the glories of a homespun breakfast and the last few days of Pancake Month, I got up a little early to make pancakes for myself today. Blueberry-Banana Wholegrain Pancakes, to be precise.

"Miss G," I thought, "You've had a tough week at work, and you need comfort food that makes your Thursday just a little more awesome." It's a simple demonstration of good self-care.

Donuts can be tasty, but they tend to make me crash out with sugar shakes... and that's not exactly setting myself up for success. The hot bowl of steel-cut oatmeal or my very own homemade granola are delicious — and very satisfying — ways to wake up, but that's what I eat pretty much every day.



A small stack of pancakes, on the other hand... now that sounded pretty great. Regardless of what happened for the rest of Thursday, I could rely on the gift of pancakes to make the day a little more special.

I find that aside from the feelings of warm bliss they produce, pancakes are a nice treat because most of the measuring can be done in advance. Like many people I know, I operate on about a quarter of my normal brain as I bump around the kitchen in the morning.

Easy DIY Pancake Mix

8 cups flour of your choice
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp + 2 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Sift the ingredients together. Store in an airtight container for up to three months, or keep it the mix in the freezer for even longer.

To make a batter, measure out 1 cup mix and blend with 1 egg, 1 cup buttermilk (or substitute 3/4 cup plain yogurt and 1/4 cup water or milk) and 3 Tbsp melted butter.

Thin it out with a little more milk or some water if it seems too thick.

You can use all-purpose flour or a mix of flours. J really enjoys a flavorful buckwheat pancake, so a half-and-half mix of whole-grain flour and buckwheat flour works well for those.

To make a whole-grain mix, try whole-grain pastry flour, which has a finer texture. Oat flour blends are nice, too. Feel free to add in some wheat germ if you're a fan.
Blueberry-Banana Pancakes (with Cinnamon!)

1 cup buttermilk (or substitute 3/4 cup plain yogurt + 1/4 cup milk or water)
1 egg
1 cup Easy Pancake Mix
3 Tbsp butter, melted

1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 ripe banana, well-mashed
1/2 cup blueberries

Additional butter, for cooking

1. Heat the oven to 250°F and place a cookie sheet on the top rack.

2. Whisk together the yogurt/buttermilk, milk and egg until smooth.

3. Blend in the pancake mix until the lumps are worked out. Add a little more milk or water if it seems too thick.

4. Stir in the melted butter, cinnamon and mashed banana and blueberries.

5. Heat skillet or griddle over medium heat.

6. Melt a teaspoon of butter on the pan, creating an oiled surface.

7. Using a 1/4 cup to measure the batter, pour disks onto the hot griddle. When bubbles begin to form in the center of the cooking pancake, carefully flip it and cook other side.

Keep finished pancakes warm in the oven until you're ready to serve 'em.


Got extras? Don't pitch 'em! Wrap well and freeze. You can revive pancakes in a warm oven or toaster oven some desperate morning in the future. (I'd avoid using the microwave, however... it makes breads so rubbery.)

Wishing happy breakfasts to all!

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2.28.2008

Coming Soon: Bananapocalypse

Last week on the radio program Fresh Air, Terry Gross announced that she'd interviewed Dan Koeppel, the author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. Hearing that, I almost turned the radio off.

"Really?" I wondered, "Does the world actually need another single-word-title history book?"

Consider just a sampling of the single-subject history genre: Tobacco. Mayflower. Cod. Salt. Hotel. Gin. Rum. Citrus. Spice.

You'll find that many of this ilk have big, blustery subtitles. For Cod, it's: "A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World," while Rum is "The Epic Story of the Drink That Conquered the World." One begins to wonder if there's a food, drink or object that didn't change the world.

Despite my weariness of the big-big little history book, I listened in on Fresh Air for a few moments and — of course — got sucked in. That Terry Gross is some talker. And Koeppel's single-subject discussion was actually pretty interesting. Bananas did change the world for many people.

For one thing, I didn't realize that the banana (now grown across most of the world's tropical zones) originated in Southeast Asia. I also didn't know that the banana our grandparents knew and loved (the Gros Michel, which was said to be terribly tasty and easy to ship) essentially died out due to a fungal disease.

Banana Bunch

The familiar long, slender, fragile banana that appears in every grocery store across the U.S. is the Cavindish banana, which was thought to be so bland and delicate that Koeppel said the Chiquita banana company nearly went out of business because they resisted switching over to Cavindishes as the Gros Michels whithered away.

As it turned out, those bland, fussy Cavindish bananas were quickly adopted by the banana-eating public and faster than you can say "Yes, We Have No Bananas," the tasty Gros Michels were all but forgotten.

Much as I enjoy a nice Cavindish, that seems like a sad turn of events for all of us. Because every Cavindish is essentially a clone of every other Cavendish and our appetite for them is seemingly insatiable (Koeppel says Americans purchase more bananas than they do apples and oranges combined), it seems like it was only a matter of time before another bananapocalypse. (I think we've already observed the dangers of crop monoculture.)

Indeed, Koeppel says that banana fungus is on the move, and it's really only a matter of time before American banana crops are affected. Scary thought.

Thankfully, there are other bananas in the world. The only problem is, they're not widely cultivated, so if the Cavindish goes offline, it'll be a long, banana-less age in which scarcity ensures that banana muffins are served in only the finest of restaurants, and things like banana splits, bananas foster and banana smoothies are forgotten entirely.

Unfortunately, while Koeppel's discussion of ruthless banana barons, scummy produce marketing practices and impending fungal doom piqued my interest in his book, it also made me crave bland old Cavindish bananas in a big way.

One of my favorite banana recipes (although one I don't often make — for obvious reasons) is based off of the banana pudding recipe from Bill Smith and Lee Smith's Seasoned in the South.

I'm usually not much for meringue, so I leave that off and just go with a sprinkle of cinnamon as garnish. If you've never made pudding that wasn't made from a box, I think you'll taste a big difference in the pudding recipe below. Homemade pudding isn't difficult. If you make it with good ingredients, it's a seriously tasty tribute to the last days of the Cavindish banana.

Cavendish Banana Pie (Serves 4-6)

2 cups half & half
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 Tbsp cornstarch
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1" slices
1/2 box (6 oz) vanilla wafers
2 medium-sized ripe bananas

Dash ground cinnamon (optional)
Dollop fresh whipped cream (optional)

1. Heat 1 1/2 cups of the half & half with the split vanilla bean in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat until it just steams and begins to form a skin, about 5 minutes. Do not boil.

2. Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch into the remaining 1/2 cup of half & half to dissolve it. Beat in the eggs.

3. Pouring in a slow stream, whisk the hot half & half into the egg mixture. Pour the mixed liquids back into the heavy-bottomed pot, returning the vanilla bean.

4. Cook the liquid over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. After 3 to 5 minutes, the custard will begin to thicken. Continue to stir for a few minutes more, being sure to move the whisk over the entire bottom of the pot.

5. When the surface begins to steam a little, gradually stir in the sugar. Be careful, because this will make the custard more likely to burn on the bottom.

6. Remove the pot from the heat and beat in the butter. Stir constantly to help the butter to absorb. This will temporarily thin the custard. Discard the vanilla bean.*

7. Pour a cup of the hot custard into a deep-dish pie pan or an 8" square pan. Line the bottom and sides with vanilla wafers. Slice the bananas over the cookies, then layer any remaining wafers over the bananas. Gently pour the rest of the custard over the cookies and banana slices.

8. Cover, lightly, with plastic wrap, and chill for two hours or overnight. Serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon and fresh whipped cream, if desired.


* Alternatively, save the pod to make vanilla sugar. Just dry used vanilla pods and add to a roomy mason jar that's filled 3/4 full of white sugar. Keep the jar lidded and shake it every once in a while to scent the sugar with vanilla. Use in desserts.

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2.25.2008

(Not Very) Scary Cakes

Long ago, of my coworkers earned the nickname, "Scary Cakes." I wasn't around at the time, but I gather it was hoisted upon him after he recommended that every conceivable occasion deserved a new line of themed cupcakes.

Cupcakes were produced for Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year's, Mother's Day, Football Season, Groundhog Day, National Tortilla Chip Day... you get the picture. It was scary.

Last week, I was talking with the nutritionist at work about healthier Halloween treats and I thought about how the holiday really is a nutritional wasteland. It's about bags and buckets of processed sugar bombs and cheaply made pseudo-chocolate.

Halloween features the occasional caramel-covered apple, but for the most part, it's grim. The pumpkins aren't for eating, and there's no corn in candy corn (unless you count high-fructose corn syrup).

Inspired by the thought that a homemade banana muffin with fruit, nuts and some whole-grain flour is a far better nutritional deal than most Halloween treats, I made these cuties, which I'm going to call "Not Very Scary Cakes" in honor of my office's own patron saint of holiday cupcakes.

not-so-scary cakes
Woooooo! (Not Very) Scary Cakes haunt the windowsill.

Okay, now come up really close to your screen so I can whisper this:
{they're not technically cupcakes... they're banana muffins slathered with honeyed cream cheese, okay? but they look like cupcakes, so just call them banana-walnut cakes with cream cheese icing and don't tell anyone it's not cake!}


Not Very Scary Cakes (Makes a dozen)

For the Muffins:
1 3/4 cups flour (I like to use a blend of whole-wheat and AP flour)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup mashed banana (from 1 to 2 very ripe bananas)
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional, but really good)

For the Cream Cheese Spread:
1 8-oz package neufatchel cheese or reduced-fat cream cheese
1-2 Tbsp honey (to taste)

A handful of dark raisins or chocolate chips (for eyes)

1. Heat the oven to 375°F and line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners (or rub the cups with some vegetable oil on a paper towel).

2. Blend flour, baking powder, salt and walnuts in a bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, combine sugar and mashed banana. When well blended, add in yogurt, oil, egg and vanilla extract.

4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed. Don't overmix. Nobody loves a tough muffin.

5. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin and bake until golden (about 25 minutes). When done, remove from the oven and move the muffins onto a wire rack to cool.

6. Meanwhile, whip together the honey and cream cheese to a spreading consistency.
When the muffins are cool, slather the cream cheese spread over the tops and decorate with the "eyes" of your choice.

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10.30.2007

Going Bananas: The Mighty Morphin Power Smoothie

the mighty morphin power smoothie

It all started simply enough. Most consuming passions do. I had too many ripe bananas.

Normally, a quickie banana bread would solve the banana issue. But even a banana-loving person can only eat so much banana bread.

So I started freezing ripe banana halves and using them for breakfast. I'd just toss a frozen banana half in my blender with a cup or so of orange juice. Voila! Cool, refreshing smoothie.

So that's how it started:
Banana + OJ = Smoothie

After a while, I thought it might be nice to get some of the good enzymes from active -culture plain yogurt into my system. Started adding about a half-cup.

The new digestively correct version:
Banana + OJ + Yogurt = Smoothie

Over time, I wanted to reduce the volume of orange juice (so much sugar!) and I did some experimenting and figured out that soymilk helped keep my smoothies thin enough. (Milk curdles if you're also using oj. Not appealing first thing in the morning.) Substituting a tablespoon of peanut butter or Nutella for the oj made for veeeery tasty smoothies.

The improved formula became:
Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + PB = Smoothie

When I started making them for J, he wanted to add tablespoon of wheat germ (for additional vitamins and fiber). And since J is wild for berries, we also started adding in some fresh or frozen berries instead of juice or peanut butter.

The nutritious, collaborative recipe:
Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Wheat Germ + Berries = Smoothie

After J returned to a heavy workout program, he needed more protein. Meanwhile, I was doing more running, so I figured a protein + carb combo breakfast couldn't hurt. At that point we started adding some protein powder (a "designer" whey product, made using milk solids) to power the muscles.

The high-tech protein power version:
Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Wheat Germ + Berries + Protein Powder = Smoothie

After a while J read up on nutritional supplements for athletic recovery and got into L-Glutamine (an amino acid recovery supplement) and BCAA (Branched Chain Amino Acid) powders. The glutamine doesn't taste like much, but the BCAA is seriously bitter. I continued pouring my smoothie at the high-tech protein powder version (above), before adding a little glutamine and BCAA into the blender for J's smoothie.

J's big muscle recovery smoothie:
Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Wheat Germ + Berries + Protein Powder + BCAA + L-Glutamine = Smoothie

Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee), the fruit of the Brazilian Açaí Palm, seems to go wherever Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners go. They suck on frozen packets of the stuff after practice.

So when J took up jits, we learned all about acai. It's high in fiber and antioxidants, and it seems as though it may also reduce inflammation in the body. Handy stuff. In our casual testing, J says he's able to work out longer without getting hungry when he's had an acai smoothie. And since FreshDirect delivers Sambazon pure acai packets along with delicious frozen sliced peaches, the smoothies have been very happy indeed.

The individually tailored potions:
Me: Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Berries (or Peaches) + Protein Powder + Acai = Smoothie

J: Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Berries (or Peaches) + Protein Powder + Acai + BCAA + L-Glutamine = Smoothie

These days, there's a minor panic in the house when banana supplies run low; It's funny to remember that the whole winding evolution was hatched by a surplus.

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10.20.2007