Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Chow Chow Chow!

I'm willing to admit it: I'm a northern girl with southern envy. Having grown up on a parade of cream of mushroom soup casseroles, I've since discovered some of the flavorful, everyday delights my southern brethren took for granted... things like red velvet cake, po-boys and one of the finest condiments to cross my palate: chow chow.

It's my great loss that the only chow chows I'd ever encountered were the dog breed and the dancing chow-chow-chow cats of 1970s-era TV advertising.

But then — as if led by destiny — my last roommate abandoned a full jar of Loveless Cafe Old-Fashioned Hot Chow Chow in the fridge. It was amazing. I was immediately hooked.

Now I understand that chow chow is a dog, a dancing cat and a versatile condiment that's used like a pickle relish and flavored like an Indian chutney.

Delicious on grilled meats, it's powerhouse flavor for egg salad and chicken salad. It's a savior for ho-hum bean soups and stews that lack oomph. It's killer on a cheeseburger or sausage roll... and it's delicious straight out of the jar.

Hot Yellow Chow Chow

I imagine chow chow is also going to become my new favorite way to use up extra vegetables that happen to be hanging around the fridge.

Sadly, we won't see any green tomatoes for months, but since I'm an addict now, chow chow can't wait. I'm substituting tomatillos or pickled green tomatoes until I can get my grubby mitts on the garden-fresh versions.
Hot Yellow Chow Chow (Makes about two quarts)

1 cup green tomatoes (or tomatillos), cored and quartered
1 cup green cabbage, shredded
1 cup carrots, shredded
1 cup celery, minced
1 cup bell peppers (red or green), diced
1 jalapeno chili, sliced thin
1 cup white or yellow onions, diced
1/4 cup parsley, minced

Cooking Liquid
2 cups white or red wine vinegar
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp turmeric
1 Tbsp celery seed
2 Tbsp mustard seed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice

1. Soak the tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, celery, bell pepper, onions and parsley in a salt water brine (1/4 cup salt to 1 quart [4 cups] water) overnight.
2. Drain off the brine and place the vegetables in a heavy-bottomed pot with the vinegar, water, sugar, turmeric, celery seed, mustard seed, cinnamon, ground cloves and allspice.
3. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until tender (about 30-40 minutes).
4. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning level with salt and pepper to your liking. Add a little more vinegar if it's too sweet or blend in a little more sugar if you find it too sour. The flavor will become more rich and blended as it cools.
5. Ladle the hot chow chow into sterilized glass jars, add lids and seal in a hot water bath, or cool and transfer to the refrigerator.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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4.15.2009

But You Can't Tuna Fish

When it comes to a surplus, some foods are easier to wrangle than others. Extra apples become applesauce and apple butter. Easy.

Extra peaches become preserves. No problem. Extra cabbage becomes sauerkraut or kimchi. Cucumbers, beans, onions and carrots become pickles.

But what happens when you come across a great sale on tuna? Well, as it turns out, that, too can be preserved.

Tuna!

J and I are huge fans of the oil-packed tuna that typically comes in jars from Spain and Italy, but those are not cheap.

An article in the LA Times a few months ago illustrated how the same process can be accomplished at home, so when we recently ran across some bargain albacore steaks, we stocked up.

Preserved Tuna

As the piece illustrates, oil-poaching tuna is a supremely simple process with the potential to save lots of money if you get a good price on the tuna. And the end result is very satisfying.

Watching your salt intake? Don't use it. Like a little citrus flavor? Add some lemon peel to the oil. We've been pleased with the addition of thin-sliced garlic.

Essentially, you just cover a tuna steak in olive oil, add some herbs, citrus peel, garlic and/or salt to the liquid (if you like) and cook it at the lowest cooking temperature you can manage for about 12 to 15 minutes.

Once it's opaque and flaking, it's ready to go in jars and hang out in the fridge... become a tuna salad sandwich or top a lovely salad, like this feta-olive-chickpea-tomato number. Mmm...

Mediterranean Salad

Our home-poached tuna is also J's new favorite thing when paired with avocado. We shared this salad the other night, and I have a feeling it's going to become a regular part of the dinner lineup.

Note: I didn't post an image here yesterday out of pure laziness... and lack of quality light in the windowsill, but mum insisted on a photo, so we made it again today. Yum.

Tunacado Salad
J's Tunacado Salad (Serves Two)
4-5 cups mixed lettuce, chopped or torn
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup drained tuna chunks
1 ripe Hass avocado, in 1" pieces
1-2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1-2 scallions, sliced thin
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (use some of the poaching oil!)
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Dash of salt, grind of pepper

1. Combine lettuce, tomatoes, tuna, avocado, parsley and scallions.
2. Drizzle with a vinaigrette composed of the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.
3. Devour immediately.

The parsley and scallions are minor, but very tasty additions. If you must, you can get by without them, but it really is a superior salad when they're included.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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4.04.2009

A Way with Les Conserves

On a trip to Paris a while back, I stopped in a bookshop on a quest for cookbooks. There were many fine volumes, but one in particular stood out as a must-have.

Les Conserves

Les Conserves is a glossy, photo-packed soft-cover (Produced by a French division of Reader's Digest! Why don't they make such lovely books for English readers?) is ideal for a French neophyte like me. Just look at this recipe for grape preserves.

Confiture de Raisins/Grape Preserves

You can see for yourself that the recipes in Les Conserves are supporting players to the photography. An interested cook can look over these images and gain insights on preparation, presentation and usage information in just a few seconds before deciding whether to invest a number of minutes processing the written details.

As much as I love words (I do make my living from them), I wonder if more cookbooks shouldn't handle instructions visually.

There's already been so much said about how we eat with our eyes, but the great majority of serious cookbooks contain little more than a centerfold of finished dishes in limited-utility glamour shots (if they contain photographs at all).

The cookbooks that do contain lots of photography and illustration seem to aim more at the coffee-table book audience than the folks who really want to learn to cook. So where, I ask, are the genre of serious instructional cookbooks that embrace the visual presentation of the useful as well as the lovely?

Well, perhaps they're in France. Perhaps they're made by Reader's Digest.

Have a look at the way the ingredients for the Grape Preserves are laid out for prospective cooks here. It's as if they really do want to instruct and inspire.

Ingredients

For those who read even less French than I, I'll offer a translation of the recipe in question:
Grape Preserves -Confiture de Raisins (Makes 1.25 liters/5.3 cups)

1 kg (2 lb) green or red grapes, plucked
2 lemons, cut in halves and sliced thin
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup pecans, lightly toasted
1/2 cup cognac brandy

1. Put the grapes, lemons and sugar in a saucepan. Mix well, cover and let sit for a few hours to let the fruit macerate.
2. Bring to a boil, then cook on medium heat 1 hour to 1 hour, 30 minutes, stirring frequently so that the bottom does not stick.
3. It is unnecessary to test the degree of gelatin for this jam; it is ready when a wooden spoon pulled over the surface leaves a wake.
4. Remove the pot from heat and let the jam stand for a few minutes before putting it in jars (this prevents the fruit from falling to the bottom). Add, in turn, pecans and cognac. Ladle the mixture into sterilized hot jars, then seal with lids.
Cookbook rant done, and I hope you've enjoyed these peeks into Les Conserves.

I'm going to spend the rest of the week focusing on preserves of one type or another. Thrift and handmade charm seem to make them an appropriate topic for this year.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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3.29.2009

Food Quote Friday: David Budbill

Purple Grapes in the Hand

Sometimes when day after day we have cloudless blue skies,
warm temperatures, colorful trees and brilliant sun, when
it seems like all this will go on forever,

when I harvest vegetables from the garden all day,
then drink tea and doze in the late afternoon sun,
and in the evening one night make pickled beets
and green tomato chutney, the next red tomato chutney,
and the day after that pick the fruits of my arbor
and make grape jam...

David Budbill from "Sometimes"

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

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11.21.2008

The Cocktail Kit: A Sweet Conspiracy

In the last edition of the Cocktail Kit, we took another look at the joy of Homemade Bitters. This time, we're looking at a seasonal cocktail delight that also has uses in number of impressive non-cocktail treats... the preserved cherry.

I posted about maraschino cherries back in '05, gave a bit of history and offered up a DIY recipe, but I didn't give enough thought to one of the dastardly details that surround the maraschino cherry saga...

The fact is, the very first maraschino cherries were preserved with liqueur. This treat lost traction as the temperance movement of the early 1900s came to a head, and by 1920 — the dawn of U.S. Prohibition — maraschino cherries were manufactured without any liqueur at all.

"Less liqueur was used in processing and almond oil was substituted for some of the liqueur. Finally, the liqueur was eliminated altogether. By 1920, the American maraschino cherry was so popular that it had replaced the foreign variety in the United States."

The piece I quoted in my original maraschino post seems to indicate that liquor-soaked cherries simply lost the national popularity contest to sugar-soaked cherries. But the match-up in the date pattern indicates something different: the sugar-soaked maraschino cherry was marched in as a watered-down replacement for a treat that was just too vice-ridden for the dry 1920s to handle.

Bourbon Cherries
Bing cherries preserved in (gasp!) alcohol.

No wonder the maraschino rides high atop ice cream sundaes. No wonder it's a necessary component of that most legendary of the goodie-goodie cocktails — the Shirley Temple.

The maraschino is the bright-red flag of a nation attempting to return to some mythological state of innocence.

It's a sugar-coated conspiracy! A syrupy cover-up!

So what happened to the liquor-preserved cherries of old? Well, other, less puritanical countries continued making them, and they've sustained an underground existence in homes and pantries in the U.S. As it happens, those little demon berries are in my kitchen and in my cocktails right now.

Brandied cherries continue to be popular Southern treats (particularly when they're covered in chocolate), but you can also do what I do: preserve 'em with bourbon.

Cherry season is coming right up, so now's the time to take a Sunday afternoon and make up a few batches. Enjoy some now and save some for the holidays. Little jars of bourbon cherries make great gifts alongside a couple of cool cocktail or dessert recipes.

The biggest part of the task is simply pitting the fruits. Either do it by hand (just cut a 1/2-inch slice into each cherry along the stem end and dig out the pits), or invest in a cherry pitter.
Bourbon Cherries
2 lb sweet cherries
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup bourbon
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
1-2 whole star anise (optional)

1. Wash and pit the cherries.
2. In a large saucepan, combine sugar, water, lemon juice and spices (if using).
3. Bring the mixture to a boil before reducing the heat to a simmer. Add cherries and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Remove cherry mix from the heat, and stir in the brandy.
5. Pack the hot cherries and syrup into sterilized jars, leaving some headspace.
6. Cap the jars, and if you're planning to can them, simmer for about 15 minutes in a bath of boiling water. If not, just cool and store the jars in the refrigerator.

Bourbon cherries make punchier stand-ins for their maraschino counterparts, or use them to top ice cream... or even sautéed duck breast.

Cheers!

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6.25.2008

Little Red Zombies

Now that cherry season is in full swing, let's take a gander at this fruit's twisted doppleganger... the unnaturally red, uniformly flavored maraschino.

Like tiny Stepford Wives, maraschino cherries begin life as juicy tree fruits but are turned soulless through a process of bleaching, dying and sweetening. Creepy, right?

Fresh Sour Cherries

A little background:
"Maraschino cherries, the kind most often used in drinks and on ice cream sundaes, are made from sweet cherries. The maraschino cherry originated in Yugoslavia and northern Italy where merchants added a liqueur to a local cherry called the 'Marasca.' This cherry product was imported to the United States in the 1890s as a delicacy to be used in the country's finest restaurants and hotels.

In 1896 U.S. cherry processors began experimenting, using a domestic sweet cherry called the Royal Anne. Less liqueur was used in processing and almond oil was substituted for some of the liqueur. Finally, the liqueur was eliminated altogether. By 1920, the American maraschino cherry was so popular that it had replaced the foreign variety in the United States."

Taking a cue from ancient instructions at Uncle Phaedrus, a self-anointed "finder of lost recipes," I've revamped an version of do-it-yourself maraschinos for a smaller batch that suits the modern kitchen.

As it turns out, maraschino-making is very much like pickling, but instead of brine, we use a sweet, colored syrup as the preservative vehicle. I imagine if you're opposed to dyes, you could just leave out the coloring altogether. You'll simply end up with preserved cherries that have a (far more natural) rust-colored hue.
Homemade Maraschino Cherries
For the brine
1/2 quart water
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp alum

For the cherries
1 lb sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup water
1 lb pitted cherries
1/2 Tbsp almond extract
1/2 Tbsp red food coloring

1. In a saucepan, mix the water, salt and alum and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and soak cherries overnight in this brine.

2. Drain the cherries the following day and rinse them in cold water. Pack in sterilized, sealable jars.

3. In a saucepan, combine the sugar, lemon juice and water. Bring to a boil and add the almond extract and red food coloring. Remove from heat and pour the mixture into the jars of cherries.

4. If you want your cherries to be shelf-stable, seal in a water bath (about 20 minutes for pints or 25 minutes for quarts). Or simply seal, chill and store in your refrigerator.

Use to garnish your own homespun sundaes, killer cocktails or crazy-good banana splits.

Cheers!

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6.23.2005