Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


The Thick, The Thin & The Hearty

This week brings Shrove Tuesday, known to some as Mardi Gras and known to me as Pancake Day.

Bacon, Eggs n' Pancake

While I grew up with the thick, pillowy pancakes that appear in diners and truckstops across the nation, J. was raised on a delicate, European-style pancake... something more along the lines of a crepe.

Buckwheat Crepe with Egg & Gruyere

I must admit, the discovery that not everyone ate the same kind of pancake was a bit of a shock to me. I'd always considered a pancakes to be something like blankets, and crepes to be those delicate little wraps with fillings in them. Discrete categories, you see?

Mais non! Pancakes are objects of great variation. In the US, we just happen to like 'em fat.

In any case, there's no need to bicker — whether thinner or thicker, the pancake is a little morning gift. As Cookie Monster might say, it's "a sometimes food."

So in honor of Pancake Day this year, I offer my recipe for Sweet Potato Pancakes. In thickness, they're closer to the pillowy variety of my youth, but the addition of vegetable matter makes them sweeter, heftier and heartier.

You'll notice this recipe also provides a great way to use up leftover mashed sweet potatoes. In truth, I developed them as a post-Thanksgiving idea for leftovers, but I think they make an especially nice treat throughout the winter. Just save a little mash from dinner to use in pancakes the following morning.

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Do keep in mind that they'll darken a bit more than your standard pancake. The sugar in the sweet potatoes browns quickly in the pan. I also recommend you pour smaller circles of batter than you might otherwise... smaller cakes are easier to flip.
Sweet Potato Pancakes (Makes 6 pancakes)

1 cup milk or buttermilk
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato
1/2 cup pancake mix
Oil or butter for the griddle/skillet

For Serving: Maple syrup and/or butter

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk/buttermilk, oil and mashed sweet potato. Stir in the pancake mix until just combined.
2. If the batter seems too thick, thin with a teaspoon or so of water to attain a pourable consistency.
3. Heat a large, oiled griddle or skillet over medium-high heat.
4. Working in batches, pour batter in 1/3 cup portions onto the hot griddle/skillet surface and cook until the edges of the pancakes bubble and brown, about 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Carefully flip and cook the reverse side until browned, 1 to 2 minutes more. Repeat the process with the remaining pancake batter.
6. Move the cooked pancakes to a paper towel-lined plate and keep warm in the oven until serving time. Top with butter and/or maple syrup, to taste. Serve hot.

For extra decadence, serve them with alongside a bowl of fresh whipped cream in which you've blended a hint of cinnamon and maple syrup. Mmmm. They're also good with applesauce.

Miss Ginsu

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The Most Stylish Meal of the Day

I couldn't help but notice that Esquire is into breakfast right now. I caught sight of their March issue, which contains a sixteen-page food porn spread of home-and-away brekkie delights chock-full of sexy, oozy breakfast glamour shots... so ya know, that's kind of a tip-off.

Bacon, Eggs & Sauteed Ramps

And why shouldn't breakfast be trendy? It's wintertime, and breakfast is comforting. Breakfast is important for good health. It's the most important meal of the day. And in a recession economy, going out with your friends for breakfast (or brunch) makes a lot more sense than going out for dinner.

So in honor of that king of meals, I'm offering a roundup of my favorite brekkie posts to help bring joy to your mornings.

Soft-Boiled Egg & Latte at Le Pain Quotidien

It's kind of a Breakfast Bonanza, if you will, with everything from the mains to nice details and delightful drinks.

The Main Event
  • Wild Rice Breakfast Porridge
  • Easy-Peasy Granola
  • Zucchini Blondies
  • Pumpkin Spice Breakfast Bread
  • Dad's Sunday Morning Blueberry Muffins
  • Do-It-Yourself Pancake Mix
  • Moist & Sticky Fig Cake
  • Custard Baklavah (Galatoboureko)
  • Foraged Quiche
  • Homemade Beans on Toast
  • Nicomachean Eggs

  • Croissant & Latte at Cafe Grumpy

    A Few Nice Details
  • Blended Bacon Butter
  • Quick Lime Curd
  • Spicy Strawberry Compote

  • Hot Chocolate at St. Helen Cafe

    Breakfast Beverages
  • Coffee Concentrate (for Easy Iced Coffees)
  • Power Smoothies
  • Banana Batidas (Banana Shakes)
  • Hot Masala Chai Kit
  • Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix
  • Mulled Apple Cider

  • Of course, as much as I love all of the above, my brekkie of choice is almost always the McCann's Steel-Cut Oats. Simple. Tasty. Wholesome. Always satisfying.

    Any breakfast favorites you'd like to share? Let me know below.

    Yours in brekkie worship,
    Miss Ginsu

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    Wild Rice Porridge 2.0

    Last January, I posted my personal take on the Mahnomin Porridge that the groovy Minneapolis restaurant Hell's Kitchen makes for their funky brunch menu.

    That recipe was pretty rich, and it takes a while to make, so it's not exactly easy to produce on chilly midweek mornings.

    Thus, I've made a new version that's more quick and flexible. The secret, as with many things, is planning ahead.

    If you cook the grains for this porridge in the evening (maybe do it while you're making dinner), it's easy to wake up all zombie-like the next day, scoop it into bowls and microwave for a quick and hearty whole-grain brekkie. No pre-coffee brainpower required.

    Wild Rice Porridge

    Use whatever dried fruit and nuts you like. J particularly loves the combination of currants and walnuts, but I think dried cherries and almonds or pecans and cranberries would be pretty ace, too.

    If you save the syrup for the end of the process, everyone can choose to sweeten (or not sweeten) to their hearts' content.
    Wild Rice Porridge 2.0 (Makes 4 servings)

    1/2 cup wild rice
    1/2 cup whole oat groats or brown rice
    4 cups water
    3/4 cup milk or cream
    1/4 cup dried berries: cranberries, blueberries, currants and/or cherries
    1/4 cup chopped nuts: hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts or pecans
    1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    Maple syrup, to taste (optional)

    1. In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat, combine cooked wild rice with oat groats (or brown rice) and water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the water has evaporated and the rice and groats are tender (about 30 to 35 minutes).
    2. Stir in the milk/cream, dried berries, nuts and cinnamon.
    3. At this point you can transfer the mixture to a container to refrigerate it for reheating later. To finish, scoop portions of roughly a cup into microwave-safe bowls and cook on HIGH for 1 to 2 minutes, or until hot (the timing will depend on your wattage).
    4. Season to taste with the maple syrup, and serve hot with milk or cream on the side.

    There's a bunch of research now that indicates that nuts, berries and whole grains and even cinnamon are good for you, but that's not why you should eat wild rice porridge for breakfast.

    You should eat it because it's chewy, nutty, satisfying sustenance that makes cold, nasty January mornings just a little more agreeable.

    Happy Eating!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Resolution #4: Keep it Low & Slow

    I've learned a lot about healthful eating recently from J, who's interested in the topic for the sake of intellectual curiosity and athletic performance and also my brother Dan, who was diagnosed with diabetes last year.

    The most interesting thing I've learned is that although their goals are different, their methods are almost identical.

    Even though J wants to maximize his performance and Dan is looking to stay healthy, they've both adopted the same philosophy on diet and exercise.

    It mostly boils down to regular, vigorous exercise combined with careful monitoring of the glycemic index (GI) measure for the foods they eat.

    Happy Tummy

    Now, since I've never been on the South Beach Diet (which apparently relies heavily upon monitoring foods' GI), I missed out on the whole glycemic index bandwagon. It goes like this:

    Glucose is simple sugar. When you eat a low GI food (eggs, meat, fish, beans, nuts, most vegetables), glucose is released into your bloodstream slowly and steadily. You need a little to keep your muscles working and your brain happy.

    But when you eat high GI foods (sugar, white bread, baked potatoes, corn flakes) your blood sugar spikes and then crashes.

    You've probably actually felt your blood sugar spike. It's the "sugar crash" after you eat a piece of cake or the "I need to nap" feeling you get after devouring a big plate of pasta.

    Day after day, year after year, all that spiking and crashing can wear out your organs, fatten you up and even make you depressed.

    That's why my Resolution #4 this year is: Keep it Low (the GI) and Slow (the digestion)

    South Beach has a chart of where foods' glycemic index registers (high-medium-low) and there's another printable table over here at Diabetesnet.

    You'll notice that things like potatoes vary greatly depending on how they're cooked (the slow temperature increase of baking tends to convert more of the vegetable's starches to sugar), but it's generally a good bet to fill your weekly shopping list with foods that rate a GI of 55 or less.

    Compose your meals and snacks around:
  • Fish & Meat
  • Eggs & Dairy
  • Beans
  • Most Fruits (except for bananas, dates and watermelon)
  • Most Vegetables (except for potatoes & parsnips)
  • Whole grains

  • High fiber is good. Whole foods are good. Junkfood is evil. Looks kind of like what you should be eating anyway, right? No revelations there.

    The one major problem with eating this way is that it tends to be more expensive.

    All those cheap extenders (rice, pasta, potatoes bread, croutons and the like) tend to be high glycemic index foods. And restaurants just love to fill you up with extenders. Full customers are happy customers.

    That said, good old fashioned beans, oatmeal, apples, soy, barley and a bunch of other inexpensive ingredients are still low, slow and ready to go.

    With that in mind, why not ditch the breakfast cereal and start tomorrow morning with a bowl of yogurt or some oatmeal? Top it with chopped apples and cinnamon... or currants and walnuts, depending on how you're feeling. Happy pancreas, happy liver, happy belly, happy you.

    Just one more resolution tomorrow and that'll cap off the week.

    To our health!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Pumpkin-Spice Breakfast Bread

    Call it squash seduction. Call it the autumnal chill. I don't know what you want to call it, but the pumpkins in the farmers' market have been calling to me.

    Of course, I've been too lazy (or maybe just too busy) as of late to turn one of those tempting gourds into a pie.

    Luckily, I'm told that few palates can actually discern the difference between fresh-made pumpkin puree and the pumpkin puree that's conveniently canned.

    Pumpkins at the Market

    With that thought in mind, I whipped up a pumpkin spice bread for brekkie. I wanted something a bit lower in sugar and higher in whole grain flour than a lot of recipes I've seen. I also wanted to experiment in baking with the ginger liqueur I mentioned last week.

    This little loaf fit the bill and was quite nice both sliced and slathered with cream cheese and also toasted and kissed with butter.
    Pumpkin-Spice Breakfast Bread — Makes One Loaf

    6 Tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus a bit of butter for the pan
    8 oz (1 cup) pumpkin puree (cans are typically 16 oz)
    1 Tbsp ginger liqueur (optional)
    2 eggs
    3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus a bit more for the pan
    1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    1 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
    1 tsp ground ginger
    1 tsp ground cinnamon
    1 cup packed brown sugar

    1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter and flour one 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch (6-cup) loaf pan, and set aside.
    2. In a mixing bowl, blend the sugar, pumpkin, melted butter and eggs.
    3. In a different bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon.
    4. Add the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture and stir until just combined.
    5. Pour the batter into the greased pan, and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 50 minutes.
    6. Let the loaf cool 10 minutes before transferring it to a wire rack to cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to rest overnight. Slice and eat the next morning — toasted, if you like.

    Bon appetit!

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    FoodLink Roundup: 09.15.08

    Cupcake's Link Roundup
    Last week, Cupcake was on the beach in Barcelona (lucky pastry!) Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post a guess in the comments.

    The full english: a Flickr set
    A bold call for the big breakfast. In color!

    Burglar wakes men with spice rub, sausage attack
    Clearly a foodie.

    Corn Syrup Manufacturers Getting A Little Nervous
    The High-Fructose Corn Syrup lobby fights back! Take that, wary American public!

    Make Sure the TSA Doesn't Grab Your Snacks
    Do remember to pack snacks, but beware of peanut butter portions larger than 3oz...

    heita3: vegetable musician
    Play (music) with your food! It's the ultimate in biodegradability...

    New food links — and a new postcard from Cupcake — every Monday morning on missginsu.com

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    FoodLink Roundup: 08.18.08

    Last week, our sweet protagonist was sussed out by Mr. Hazard at the Coney Island Boardwalk. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

    Vin Mariani
    the nonist makes a rare foray into the realm of food blogging with the bizarre history of Vin Mariani: a most intoxicating beverage...

    Make your own "pop tarts"
    I have absolute certainty that these are immeasurably better than those little pastry hunks in the silver foil pouches.

    Grandma's Grain Recipe
    Oh yeah... this one is looking like a likely candidate for the autumn/winter brekkie roster.

    Bodega Party in a Box
    Your guide to celebrating (and making food from) the friendly neighborhood bodega.

    The Frownie
    Make a whole plate, and you've got a pity party. Hilarious.

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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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    Food Quote Friday: Baron Wormser

    a farm-fresh dozen

    "What a person desires in life is a properly boiled egg. This isn't as easy as it seems."
    Baron Wormser from A Quiet Life

    More food quotes can be found within the food quote archive.

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    Ten Thousand Picnics & One Custard Baklava

    Our extended cold, damp spring was all forgiven this past weekend. For those of us who stuck around for the holiday, three glorious days of sunshine, blue skies and idyllic chirping birds reminded us that New York can actually be a pleasant place to live.

    From my informal survey of city parklands, I estimate there were roughly oh, somewhere in the neighborhood of ten thousand picnics happening around the city this weekend.

    Prospect Park, Central Park, McCarren Park and every other patch of urban green upheld seas of blankets, spread after spread of good eats and a few million grinning hominids.

    Sheep in the Sheep Meadow
    Sheep in the Sheep Meadow, Central Park, image from the NYPL. Circa 1870?

    Picnics in the Sheep Meadow
    Picnics in the Sheep Meadow, Central Park. Circa 2008

    For my own pic-a-nicking, I was in the mood for something exotic. I found a recipe for galatoboureko (custard baklava) in Cold-Weather Cooking by Sarah Leah Chase and, despite the book's out-of-season topic, I thought it might make for a nice picnic dish. My adapted version appears herein.

    As it turns out, a bourek boureko is either a Greek dish or a Turkish dish (depending on whether you're speaking with a Greek or a Turk) composed of layered phyllo with a filling of meat, or cheese or veggies or a sweet or savory egg custard.

    J recently traveled through both countries and found it everywhere (particularly the not-so-sweet egg variety, which he ate for breakfast). His suspicion is that galatoboureko hails from an ancient neighborhood in Istanbul (so ancient it was still Constantinople at the time) called Galata.

    Processing the phyllo


    The recipe below has a few adaptations from the original, which makes enough to feed an army (about 42 pieces). This one will serve a smaller army with about 21 pieces, depending on how you make your cuts.
    Galatoboureko (Custard Baklava)
    For the citrus syrup:
    1/2 cups sugar
    1/4 cup water
    2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
    1 slice orange (optional)

    For the custard:
    1 quarts milk
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/2 cup farina or Cream of Wheat cereal
    1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
    Pinch of salt
    6 large eggs
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1/2 tsp nutmeg

    For the phyllo:
    1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
    1/2 pound phyllo dough, thawed

    1. To make the syrup: Add sugar, water, lemon juice and orange slice (if desired) to a heavy saucepan and simmer 10 minutes, skimming away any froth at the surface. Remove and discard the orange slice. Set aside to cool.
    2. To make the custard: Heat the milk and sugar in a deep saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. When the milk steams and is about to boil, shake in the farina. Add the butter and salt. Stir until the butter has melted and the mixture is thick and smooth, then remove from the heat and let the mixture cool to room temperature.
    3. Beat the eggs and vanilla together in a large bowl until light, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cooled farina mixture, blending thoroughly.
    4. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
    5. To assemble the dish, brush a 11 x 9-inch baking pan with a thin coating of the melted butter. Unwrap the phyllo dough, laying it out flat on a clean surface, and covering it with a slightly damp kitchen towel to keep it from drying out.
    6. Lay 1 half-sheet of phyllo dough on the bottom of the pan and brush it with a thin coating of melted butter. Continue layering and buttering the dough in the same manner for 8 half-sheets.
    6. Pour in all the custard and spread it evenly. Cover the custard with 8 more half-sheet layers of buttered phyllo dough. Puncture the top sheets with a sharp knife in several places to allow the custard to breathe during baking.
    7. Bake until the custard is set and the pastry shakes loose from the pan, about 30-45 minutes.
    8. Let cool 30 minutes, then pour the sugar syrup over the pastry. Cool completely before cutting into triangles or rectangles. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

    The version of galatoboureko J has encountered abroad is much like this one, but he said they didn't generally use the citrus syrup to finish it and the dish was usually served for breakfast rather than dessert.

    Either way, I can picture this boureko fitting in well at a brunch buffet... it holds up nicely at room temperature. Just don't plan on storing it too long before serving it. I find that storage softens the phyllo a bit much.

    Now that we have another half-box of phyllo to play with, I'm excited to try out a savory bourek...

    Meanwhile... cheers, ya'll!

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    Recession-Proof Recipes: Black Bean Soup

    Last week when I started up this series on good eating for bad financial times, I mentioned roasting, which magically makes just about anything tastier on the cheap. This week, I want to throw in a good word for beans.

    fresh chickpeas

    Packed with protein and fiber (nutritionists love 'em!), readily available, totally cheap (even cheaper if you soak and cook the dried ones), vegetarian-friendly and delicious for breakfast, lunch or dinner, beans are classic in haut cuisine and poverty fare alike.

    I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that legumes/pulses have sustained generations of people across this planet for thousands of years. Why not try to work a few extra into your diet?

    Here's ten classic ways to make beans a part of your week:

    1. Chili
    2. Lentil Soup or Salad
    3. Hummus
    4. Beans on Toast
    5. Bean Dip/Spread
    6. Channa Masala (Chickpea Curry)
    7. Minestrone
    8. Bean Burritos
    9. Vegetarian Cassoulet
    10. Beans & Rice

    And here's one more just for good measure: Black Bean Soup. It's what I'm eating this week. It's really easy to make this one vegetarian or meatetarian, as you prefer.
    Black Bean Soup

    2 cups dried black beans, washed
    1 bay leaf
    4 strips thick-cut bacon, diced OR 1 Tbsp olive oil*
    1 fresh jalapeño, sliced into rounds
    2 large onions, diced
    2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
    4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
    1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
    Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

    Sour cream or plain yogurt (optional), for serving
    Chopped cilantro or scallions (optional), for serving

    1. Soak the beans overnight.
    2. The next day cover the beans with additional water to bring the level by 1 inch above the beans. Add the bay leaf, cover and bring to a boil.
    3. Turn down the heat to a low simmer, and cook until the beans test tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
    4. *If using bacon, cook that now, remove it from the pan (to drain) when done, and use the bacon fat to cook the veggies instead of using olive oil. If making a vegetarian soup, add the olive oil to a deep skillet and heat over a medium flame.
    5. Add the onions and green peppers and sauté until softened, about 12 minutes. 6. Stir in the garlic and cook a few minutes more.
    7. Add the tomatoes and simmer 10 minutes.
    8. When the beans are tender, add in the vegetable mixture (and diced bacon, if using). Let simmer another 20 minutes.
    9. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, or refrigerate and reheat the following day to enjoy it after the flavors have melded a bit.

    Happy eating!

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    FoodLink Roundup: 03.31.08

    Link Roundup
    Last week, Cupcake was dining at the Minnesota State Fair. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Think you know? Post it in the comments.

    What Was Lost
    A long-lost French grape is rediscovered 150 years later in a far-away land under an assumed name. Danger! Intrigue! (via WineHazard.com)

    Italy roiled by a cheese scare
    Not the cheese, Gromit!

    Diet pill’s icky side effects keep users honest
    So it's come to this...

    TeaMap: Tea Room Directory
    Looking for tea while you roam? Look no further!

    Skipping Breakfast and Packing on Pounds
    More research news that really should come as no surprise: brekkie is the most important meal of the day.

    Ten Tastiest Food Photography Tips
    This piece presents really silly copy, but the tips are good advice whether you're a full-on food blogger or just a food fanatic.

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    Give a fig? I give a fig cake!

    I'd always known that figs were beloved fruits of the ancients. They sang and wrote poetry about figs. Figs glowed as symbols of the good life in their literature. It was the first plant mentioned in the Bible. And don't forget: Buddha done got enlightened while meditating underneath a fig tree. (Take that, Newton!)

    And there's hundreds of different fig trees. The Weeping Fig. (ficus benjamina) The Creeping Fig. (ficus pumila) The Fiddle-leaved Fig. (Ficus lyrata) The Bengal Fig. (ficus benghalensis) The Florida Strangler Fig. (ficus aurea) There's a fig for every mood.

    fresh figs with cheese

    But until fairly recently, the only figs I'd really encountered came in "Newton" form. Chewy and sweet, but not exactly inspiring.

    Then I met fresh figs, which were a revelation. Juicy, fleshy, tender-skinned and scented like musky vanilla and honey with hints of grass... the fresh fig gave me a new outlook on why this fruit was so cherished in the ancient world.

    Later still, I discovered that dried figs came in various incarnations. At my favorite little shop of delights, The Sweet Life, the Turkish ones tend to be brunette, chewy and covered with a sugary sap. The dried California are blonder, fatter and more supple. (Read into that whatever you like.)

    dried California fig

    These days, my office's favorite Friday treat is the empanada run from Mama's Empanadas in Sunnyside. We'd noticed that Ryn really loved the fig and caramel empanada, so naturally, when her birthday rolled around, we needed a fig cake.

    I was inspired by one I saw on the FreshDirect recipe page, but it was missing by the time I went back to find it, so I improvised a fig cake based on a recipe I found at Baby Rambutan's site.

    It so happened that I wanted a cake that was not terribly sweet. Since fig preserves are already quite rich, I just skipped the sugar altogether. That makes this cake a nice option for breakfasting/brunching.

    That said, I think most people are looking for a little more decadence in their cakes, so I'd recommend 1/2 cup to 1 cup of sugar, depending on your preference or audience.

    fig cake, devoured

    Moist & Sticky Fig Cake

    2 cups all-purpose or pastry flour
    1/2 to 1 cup sugar
    1 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    1 cup buttermilk (or plain yogurt)
    1 cup fig preserves
    3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted
    3 eggs, beaten
    1 Tbsp vanilla
    1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
    1/2 cup sliced dried figs (optional)

    Sticky Fig Glaze
    1/4 cup fig preserves
    3 Tbsp honey
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    1/2 cup water

    1. Preheat oven to 325° F.

    2. Butter the bottom of a 13- x 9-inch pan or a 10-inch round pan. Cut out a piece of parchment paper the same size as the bottom of your pan and place the parchment on top of the butter to stick it in place.

    3. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, soda, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.

    4. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk (or yogurt) with 1 cup fig preserves until smooth. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add fig preserves and pecans, if using.

    5. Combine wet and dry ingredients, stirring just until combined.

    6. Pour into the prepared pan and bake 35-40 minutes. If a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, remove from oven and cool the cake in the pan. Cover it to keep the steam in.

    6. While the cake cools, make the glaze by combining the remaining 1/4 cup fig preserves, honey, cinnamon and water. Heat, stirring, in a saucepan on the stovetop (or zap in a bowl in the microwave) until simmering, but not boiling. Spread across the cake, letting the glaze drip down the sides if you dig that sort of rich and oozy look.

    Serve with vanilla ice cream, crème fraîche or Mediterranean-style thick yogurt.

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    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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    Beans on Toast Strike Back

    After a recent post profiling the wonders of Beans on Toast, a reader asked about a recipe for do-it-yourself beans.

    I'm not sure why I thought the task might be tricky. The beans in question are really just navy beans in a lightly sweetened tomato sauce. So surely it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that homemade beans for toast are cheap, easy... and yes, even tastier than beans from a can.

    Aside from thrift and first-hand knowledge of the ingredients, there's another significant bonus. When you make the beans yourself, you get to tweak the flavor to your liking.

    In the afore-mentioned bean showdown, J and I preferred the British beans because they were less sweet and had more tangy, tomato-y flavor. But we also liked the hint of molasses in the American beans.

    I started out with Muir Glen tomato sauce, because I like the organic tomatoes and the lined cans — hooray for no horrid can flavor! Muir Glen tomato sauce already has a little garlic powder, salt and vinegar in it, so it arrives slightly flavored, but all you should really notice is a vivid tomato taste.

    For this experiment I used a can of small white beans that I rinsed well under running water, but in the future, I'll try to remember to just soak and cook dried navy beans in advance. If you're not really fond of the deep, bass-note richness that molasses provides, certainly feel free to substitute sugar instead.

    Home-cooked beans vs. canned beans
    Home-cooked beans at the foreground, Heinz beans (imported from the UK) at the rear.

    You'll notice right off the color of your home-cooked beans is more bright and saturated than the beans from a can. Why? Well, you're not using any filler, like modified food starches, which will thin down the tomato sauce enough to make it more orange-red and slightly pasty by comparison.

    Beans on Toast (from Scratch)
    1 8oz can tomato sauce
    1 15oz can small white beans or navy beans (or use 2 cups cooked beans)
    1 1/2 Tbsp molasses
    1 tsp sugar (or to taste)
    1 Tbsp rice vinegar or cider vinegar
    Sliced bread (preferably whole-grain), for serving

    Combine ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and simmer 15-20 minutes. Season to taste with a little more sugar, molasses or salt. Serve hot over toasted bread.

    You can probably find a pound of dry navy beans for a $1 to $1.25, depending on where you live, and that bag will offer many, many beany brekkies. A small can of tomato sauce will run you .65 to $1.

    Now, beans on toast isn't an expensive option to begin with, but you can immediately see how economical this protein-packed brekkie can be.

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    Wild Rice for Breakfast? Hell, Yes.

    A while back, I wrote a piece detailing a few favorite food spots in Minneapolis. (And to be honest, I really need to do a follow-up.)

    As I peek in my website search results, all kinds of readers hit that page, but it's not guidance on where to eat you're looking for... ya'll want to find a recipe for the Mahnomin Porridge featured at that favorite creepy brunch spot, "Hell's Kitchen."

    I can't blame you. It's good stuff.

    Hell's Raven

    According to Hell's Kitchen, Mahnomin Porridge is:
    "Warm, Native-harvested, hand-parched wild rice with dried blueberries, sweetened cranberries and roasted hazelnuts, drizzled with warm maple syrup and cream. Folks, if you've never tried porridge, you are in for such a treat! Bowl $6.75, Sampler Cup $3.50"

    Is it good? Hell, yes. But don't take my word for it. Don't even listen to the masses of people who've been hungrily searching for the recipe.

    In announcing their "Twin Cities' Best Breakfast" (circa 2005) award, the City Pages rhapsodized for 3 1/2 lines about the stuff:
    "The unlikely jewel in this crown is the wild rice porridge. Wild. Rice. Porridge. It's a sumptuous mixture of wild rice, blueberries, cranberries, hazelnuts, sweet cream, and pure maple syrup. It's also one of the best reasons to get out of bed since Christmas."

    So there you have it. Nutty, chewy, sweet and creamy. Northwoods-style heaven in a bowl. But if you don't happen to live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul greater metropolitan area (and as of today, approximately 6,639,326,967 of us don't), you'll have to make it yourself.

    Hell's Frites
    A great menu and all my brother wants is fries. What's wrong with the youth of America?

    Is this it? Is this the holy grail porridge recipe that will make diners faint dead away in blissful swoons? Well, it's not theirs. But gosh, it sure makes a hell of a tasty breakfast.

    Just don't eat it every day. Without a hearty workday to match this hearty brekkie, that much cream'll kill ya off.
    My Mahnomin Porridge Knock-Off

    2 cups wild & brown rice blend, cooked
    1/2 cup cream
    1/4 cup dried cranberries
    1/4 cup dried blueberries or currants
    1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts or almonds
    dash nutmeg
    dash cinnamon
    2-3 Tbsp pure maple syrup, or to taste

    1. In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat, combine cooked wild rice, cream, dried fruit, nuts and spices.
    2. Bring to a boil.
    3. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes.
    4. Season to taste with the maple syrup, and serve hot with cream on the side.

    Oh, and while we're on the subject of grains, I just have to plug a very funny piece I an across while poking about for information on wild rice and its little friends. The zombie/food reference is just too awesome to pass up: grains! graaaaaaaaains!

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    Brekkie Showdown: Beans on Toast

    J grew up with a basketful of alien habits, thanks in part to his mum, an Irish immigrant.

    Cookies are biscuits. Sweaters are pullovers. Tea goes with brekkie, as well as the afternoon biscuit for teatime. Shepherd's pies have lamb in them, dammit. Oatmeal is steel-cut. The instant stuff in the packets is dust (or if he's feeling less than generous, it's shite.)

    And beans, apparently, are for toast. Beans on toast? Why not beans near toast? Why not beans beneath toast? These are not valid questions. Beans go on toast.

    Not just any beans, mind you. There are beans, and then there are beans. The beans J recognizes as beans (and craves on toast) are, in fact, navy beans.

    Internet research told me that BoT is among the world's best performance breakfasts, thanks to its protein/carbohydrate ratio. Gets you going in the morning with lasting energy to power you (and your brain) through to lunchtime. Clearly, breakfast experimentation was in order.

    The internet also told me I should use "Heinz Beans with tomato sauce" (a UK import product I ran across at my local Key Food), though "Heinz Premium Vegetarian Beans in rich tomato sauce" (an American product) could do in a pinch.

    Who am I to argue with the internet? I decided to go with the double-header. Beano a beano.

    Bean v. Bean

    The Queen's Beans sold for $1.49 but came with a slick pull-tab on the can. The Yankee Beans cost me a mere .99, no pull-tab, no frills. Immediate comparison showed that the Yankee beans sported twice the sugar and a bit more fat. Both products promised a tomato sauce.

    J said that when it's part of the Full Irish, Beans on Toast is generally served with fried eggs, potatoes, rashers (bacon) and sliced tomatoes. Sometimes a white pudding is in attendance.

    As I was hoping to remain ambulatory after breakfast, we decided to go with bacon, poached eggs and BoT with a side of fresh cherry tomatoes.

    Making Brekkie

    The contents were immediately differentiated on opening the cans. As you can see, the Brit beans sit like little pearls in their pinky, translucent tomato sauce, while the American variety are darker and the sauce and beans share the same hue.

    J didn't see the bean pouring process, so he wasn't aware which bowl of beans was which, but as it turned out, we both immediately preferred the UK version of the Heinz beans. The beans themselves were toothsome ("They taste like beans.") and their sauce was sweetly tangy. Real tomato flavor was apparent.

    The Premium Vegetarian Beans were comparatively cloying. They tasted less like beans and tomato sauce, more like salt and sugar.

    Beans on Toast with Poached Egg and Rashers

    At that point, we couldn't bear to ruin perfectly good toast with substandard beans; we scooped only the tangy, tomato-y UK beans across our toast. Truly tasty, wholly satisfying and entirely worth the extra half-dollar.

    J was happy. I was happy. I'd even go so far as to say that beans on toast may very well take up a spot alongside steel-cut oats, granola and power smoothies in our brekkie rotation. Meanwhile, I'll let you know if I suddenly begin rating better on standardized tests.

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    Day 24: Curd Crazed

    This post marks Day 24 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Welcome Christmas Eve! The 24th has arrived, and if you had great intentions of doing anything before the holiday, it's kind of too late. Why not relax and let go of unrealistic expectations?

    I've blogged about the thrills of lemon curd previously, but here we are in the middle of citrus season, and I've only blogged four times about various citrus fruits this month, and not even once have I mentioned limes. For shame!

    Citrus curds are one of those great condiments that have fallen by the wayside. Is it the name? Curd. Like curds and whey, right? But no. Citrus curds are, in fact, sweet-tart, silky-smooth, sunny-hued and almost translucent.

    Lime curd at tea-time

    Or are curds unpopular because they're at their very best when they're fresh-made? Truthfully, most people simply don't make fresh spreads for teatime and brekkie anymore. We're busy people. We crack open jars of jelly and twist the tops off honey jars instead of making fresh curd on the stove.

    Maybe it's a combination of poor naming associations and lack of free minutes. But listen: you probably have Christmas Day off from work. Making curd takes mere moments, and it's one of those special things you probably never enjoy. You can make some up tonight and it'll be chilled and waiting for your morning toast. A wonderful breakfast adventure to look forward to...

    Or do like the Brits and take your curd at teatime. Brew some black tea, make some toast or shortbread and set out your great auntie's teacups. It'll be cute and old-fashioned.

    Lime curd is a cinch (And don't let the double boiler frighten you off. It's just a bowl set over a pot of boiling water. How hard is that?), and it makes a great mix-in for yogurt, a glaze for cakes, a topping for cheesecake and a spread to adorn hot crepes. It's also lovely spread on muffins or scones, in tart shells, on fingers...

    Supremely Easy Lime Curd (Makes a bit less than a cup.)

    1 large, fresh egg
    1/4 cup lime juice (1-2 limes)
    1/2 tsp lime zest
    1/4-1/3 cup sugar, or to taste
    1 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cold

    1. Cut butter into small 1/2" chunks.

    2. Boil a small amount of water in a small pot and cover with a stainless steel or Pyrex bowl. (This, friends, is the double-boiler heating method.) Whisk together the egg, juice, zest and sugar in the glass or metal bowl.

    3. Whisk the lime mixture continuously over the steamy pot for about three to four minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl to avoid overcooking the edges. (You can hold the bowl in place with a hotpad, if it feels unstable.) The curd should grow progressively thicker as you whisk, and it will look like a pourable pudding when it's done.

    4. When the lime mixture is thickened, take the bowl off the heat. (At this point, you could strain it if you cared to do so. I really don't care about the zest remaining in my curd, so I don't.)

    5. Add in the butter chunks, and stir to melt and blend the curd.

    Transfer the finished curd to a storage container and, if you don't want a skin to develop, cover with plastic wrap touching the surface of the curd.

    Lime curd doesn't last forever — two weeks at the max — so use it while you've got it. (Come to think of it, that seems like good advice for most of life.)

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    (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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    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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    Food Quote Friday: Josh Billings

    Breakfast at Le Pain QuotidienBrekkie at Le Pain Quotidien

    "Never work before breakfast; if you have to work before breakfast, eat your breakfast first."

    Josh Billings (1818-1885)

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    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

    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

    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

    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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    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

    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

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    Food Quote Friday: Meyers & Martin

    granola and yogurt with fresh strawberries
    Granola and yogurt with fresh strawberries from MissGinsu @ Flickr

    "...Manson’s violent, antisocial behavior might have been avoided if only he had put some chopped walnuts in his granola."

    - Kristin Meyers | Joby Martin in the Monterey County Weekly

    Find more crunchy, nutty food quotes here.

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    Sea and Crumpets

    J, a mouth on the move between Seattle and San Jose this week, reports in from the field (or dock, as it were) on a subject dear to my stomach: quality brekkie.

    First good brekkie of the trip today. There's a place at Pike
    called The Little Crumpet Shop that rocks unconditionally.

    $1.50 for a mug of unlimited refills of freshly brewed loose leaf
    tea, $3 for a bowl of groats(!) with honey, milk and currants. Mmm.

    My insides are so happy. They had the usual little sign about not
    bringing outside food into the place, but they wrote in special
    permission to bring fresh fruit from the market. Aw.

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    Food Quote Friday: John Gunther

    "All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast."

    - John Gunther (1901-1970)

    Find a steaming-hot batch of wholesome food quotes here.

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    Barcelona, the Land of Luscious

    Brekkie On The Terrace
    Fresh strawberries and yogurt for breakfast

    Wow! Mangosteens! Those aren't allowed in the U.S.! Now available in the US... irradiated, of course.

    Bumpy, savory little garden tomatoes at the Boqueria

    I believe that in my native tongue (Hedonistese? Hedonistish?), I will make "Barcelona" synonymous with succulent fresh fruit. I've just finished my week there, and have been consistently agog with the flavor power in the ubiquitous glasses of fresh-squeezed orange juice, the sweet perfume floating up off the flats of strawberries in the Market de Boqueria and the luscious tropical gush in the local peaches.

    The oranges, of course, are well-known here. Valencia, just down the road, lends its name and reputation to them. In Barcelona, it seems every little cafe contains the same mesmorizing juice press: the Zummo.

    Looking like a Rube Goldberg device for citrus, the push of a button drops oranges down a wire gutter to the waiting slicer, turns the halves to face the reamer, and presses out tangy-sweet rivulets of nectar into a pitcher or glass below. Ahhh... bliss. I want one, but it costs thousands of dollars and my kitchen is too tiny... even for the far-more diminutive Zummito. I'd have to choose between my beloved Kitchenaid mixer and the Zummito. It's too painful even to contemplate.

    Barcelona's streets are filled with shops displaying tasty little pastries, but they're generally a bit too cloying for me. When we had the menu for lunch last week at the terribly tasty and satisfyingly sustainable cafe Origen 99.9%, J chose the seasonal fruit for dessert, and received one perfect golden apple presented on a napkin-covered plate.

    We were a little shocked at first. Dessert is generally so dainty and fussy that the presentation of one single fruit seems like underachievement. But after our richly braised entrées, a large, crisp and honeyed local apple was actually quite welcome.

    I forget, sometimes, how treasured fruit once was. The apple in particular has had a rich history full of status and prestige.

    When mated slices of his perfect apple with my adorable glass pot of creamy yogurt, the flavors loved each other very much. It turned out to be so much more satisfying than the usual parade of saccharine-sweet pastries and brownies done up with sparklers for additional dining drama. I could picture thousands of years of happy diners enjoying the simple, fresh flavors of fresh fruit and tangy sheep's milk yogurt, and that, too, added satisfaction to the experience.

    Fruit is the plant's demonstration of affection for us. (Well, that and the natural inclination to propagate more plants.) I'll need to wait a few weeks for the local berries to arrive and another month or so before the stone fruits. It's gustatory affection on pause.

    Meanwhile, Barcelona, rich in fruit, echoes across the ocean with its sonorous song of sweetness. I can hear it now... Barcelona! Barcelona! Barcelona!

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    Want Coffee With That, Hon?

    Neighborhood joints should have a bit of fun with their menus, right?

    I mean, maybe restaurants in contention for multi-star reviews have some reason to write up flowery prose with cursive fonts, but I feel that the corner bistro and the neighborhood greasy spoon can afford to demonstrate a little personality.

    Sometimes I love a menu so much, I'm forced to beg for it (failing that, I’m sometimes forced to thief it). Get a load of this one lifted a while back from The Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis.

    The brekkie was fairly standard hip brunch-y grub (with some extra love for the veggies), but the menu itself... Swoon!

    For your enjoyment, I've put forth the effort to transcribe the Breakfast Specialties (yes, unedited, thankyouverymuch), below.

    Don’t blame me if, after reading this, you need to run in search of fried eggs and home fries, stat.


    Welcome to the Triple Rock Social Club. We've put some serious thought into the composition of our menu, but chances are pretty good that you might want something customized a little bit. That’s cool, were into making everything available exactly the way you want it. So wipe he frown off your face and ask one of our bitter, overworked, underpaid servers for what you want. They’ll be less than thrilled to accommodate your every whim. Let’s get it on!

    IMPORTANT NOTE FOR VEGANS: Most items on the menu can be made strictly vegan (*=can be prepared vegan). If you would like your food to be prepared in a strict vegan manner, just talk to your friendly server and we’ll do what we can to hook it up. And yes, the soy cheese is casein-free. Feel free to discuss any concerns you might have with your server and we’ll make it your way. Girl, you know it’s true…

    SPECIALTY BREAKFASTS [Jump start your morning with one of our kick-ass specialties. You won’t be sorry]

    The Mothertrucker $6.50
    So you’ve got a great big convoy, you’re ridin’ cross the land. Sit your mudflaps down and dig in. We got the platter with what you need to keep all 18 wheels running. Home Fries with veggies and cheddar, topped with three eggs. Comes with delicious Toast. Get it with Bacon, Sausage, Ham or Veggie Sausage for only $1.25. Dedicated to Gertie.

    Rock Star Egg in a Hole $4.25
    If you are unfamiliar with the Egg In A Hole, you are definitely not a rock star. Through a complicated scientific process, we mold Egg and Toast together, creating a hybrid to kick breakfast ass. We’ll serve you up two Eggs in A Hole plus a side of Home Fries. Get it with cheese for $.75.

    Fried Egg Sandwich $5.00
    Eggs and cheese fried up like they were crazy and served on Toast. What, are you serious? Damn straight. Comes with a bunch of Home Fries, too. We’ll add Bacon, Ham, Sausage or Veggie Sausage for only $1.25.

    Steak and Eggs $6.95
    Three eggs, Home Fries and toast. Start your day off on the right track and pamper yourself with sizzling steak.

    *Tofu Scrambler $5.25
    A perfect way to start a guilt-free day. Resistance is futile. Comes with Home Fries and Toast. Get it with cheese or soy cheese for $0.75. Add veggie sausage for only $1.25.

    OMELETTES [Eggs-celent. All omelettes served with Home Fries and Toast.]

    Great American Pork-Off $5.75
    This porkalicious concoction is chock full of every part of the pig from the rooter to the tooter. Bacon. Ham. Sausage & Cheddar. Suuuieeee!

    Veggie Non-Porkorama $5.25
    God Damn! If there’s one thing we love around here, its fake meat! Veggie Sausage, Cheddar and Onion.

    Bob Denver Omelette $5.50
    This ain’t your rocky mountain high, baby! This taller, goofier omelette is just what you need to keep your stomach satisfied on anyh three hour cruise. The Professor made us a bicycle-powered griddle and we’re not afraid to use it. Ham, Cheddar, Green Peppers and Onions are all included. This breakfast will keep you going until you get back to port, if that ever happens…

    Devil Went Down to Georgia Omelette $5.00
    Cheddar and Onions in a huge honkin’ omelette smothered with World Famous Triple Rock ChiliTM. Satan Endorsed. Satan Approved. We’ll add Bacon, Ham, Sausage or Veggie Sausage to your omelette for only $1.25.

    Mushroom and Swiss Omelette $5.00
    We knew we had to have something standard and regular for you damn geniuses. You know it, you love it. We own you, so eat it and shut up. We’ll add Bacon, Ham, Sausage or Veggie Sausage to your omelette for only $1.25.

    Farmer Ted’s Omelette $5.00
    Take down your overalls and bend over for this omelette, cuz we’re gonna serve it up hot. Farmer’s been workin’ overtime to give it to you garden-style. Onions, Green Peppers, Tomatoes, Mushrooms and Spinach. Add cheese for $0.75.

    Plain Omelette $4.50
    We’ll add cheese or veggies to your omelette for $0.75 each. We’ll add Bacon, Ham, Sausage or Veggie Sausage to your omelette for only $1.25.

    BETH”S BREAKFAST BURRITO [Out-freakin-standing.]

    Beth’s Breakfast Burrito $5.00
    We had our best people work this on out for us. It uses the same powerful technology as the burrito, but this one will cure all morning afflictions. Scrambled Eggs, Spanish Rice and Homemade Salsa, bound by the goodness of ooey gooey cheese, and wrapped in the love only a good tortilla can supply. Home Fries will round out the experience for you. We’ll let you up the ante with Ham, Sausage, Bacon or Veggie Sausage for $1.25. The deals just keep on coming…

    The Triple Rock Social Club
    629 Cedar Avenue
    Minneapolis, MN

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    My Big Fat Granola Epiphany

    Sometimes, I'm just rolling along with my life and I'm suddenly hit upside the head with the realization I've been doing something completely silly for years.

    Case in point: Granola. Why have I been buying granola? I feel like such a dope for having paid Kellogg's to make a substandard version of it for me.

    It's painfully quick and easy to make. It creates a warm, homey aroma in your kitchen. It's fresh. It's yummy. It's cheap.

    And when you make it at home, you can put whatever you want in it. Looking to make it healthier? Toss in some extra oat bran. Not a big fan of raisins? No problem. Love hazelnuts more than life itself? Go nuts. Literally.

    And it's even better with fresh berries and yogurt...

    This stuff is good with milk, nice for crunch over yogurt, ice cream, fresh fruit or pudding. Get yourself a big tin of rolled oats and forage for some dried fruit and nuts in the back of your cupboard.

    So don't be a rube like me. Stop buying granola. Take this recipe and fly free, little sparrow.
    DIY Granola Base Recipe (Makes about 4 1/2 cups)
    4 1/2 cups rolled oats (NOT instant)
    1/2 tsp nutmeg
    2 tsp cinnamon
    2 Tbsp molasses
    1/2 cup maple syrup
    1/3 cup canola oil (or another light, unflavored oil)
    1/2 to 1 cup of your favorite chopped nuts or seeds, if you wish a combination of: sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, flax seeds, etc.

    1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a mixing bowl, blend all the ingredients.
    2. Spread the mix on a cookie sheet or sheet tray and bake 15-25 minutes, stirring once or twice during baking to brown the mix evenly.
    3. Cool the tray on a rack, stirring occasionally. Add dried fruit, if desired, after granola has cooled.

    After you've done the base batch once or twice, experiment with coconut flakes, macadamia nuts and dried pineapple or perhaps hazelnut and cranberry or maybe dried cherries and almonds or maybe dried apple and walnut...

    Happy Eating!
    Miss Ginsu

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