Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


Autumn in New Amsterdam: Tasty!

I just spent all my allowance on food. But honestly, you would've done the same, right? It was a beautiful autumn day in New York, and there were rows and rows of tempting food vendors at the New Amsterdam Market.

New Amsterdam Market

I attended the market for the first time in June last year, and it's just gotten bigger and better in the interim.

If you've not been, the New Amsterdam is kind of a cross between the Brooklyn Flea, the Union Square Farmers Market and the food markets at Essex Street and Chelsea.

Since the focus is on great food that's grown or produced in New York, there's some familiar faces for those who already know and love the artisanal butchers, bakers, cheese-makers, apiaries, dairies, farmers, canners and picklers in the local food scene.

You'll also find top-notch specialty goods... delicious, effervescent kombucha that reminds me of a crisp, dry cider (and I don't even like kombucha). There's pâté and pork rillettes spread on toast (thank you, Dickson's.) There's now a whole row of local wineries, and not one, but two vendors of oysters on the half-shell, not to mention the truly superior, ultra-fresh BoBo chickens I mentioned last year.

Indeed, there's such a buffet of people who are putting their love (and high-quality ingredients) into the food at New Amsterdam, it's a good thing they don't have the place open year-round. I'd drain my account and give myself a bellyache every weekend.

If you're in New York and you've managed to miss the other market days, there's two more chances (November 22 and December 20) to go before the year's out. Meanwhile, here are few things that delighted me today:

Meat Chart Bike Jersey
This very cool meat chart bike jersey from Fleisher's

Saxelby Cheese Mongers
The ever-charming Benoit from Saxelby Cheese.

New Yorker Tomato Seeds
Heirloom tomato seeds from The Hudson Valley Seed Library. They're supposed to be good for container gardens. We'll see about that next year...

Sullivan Street's Raisin Loaf
Raisin Walnut Loaves from Sullivan Street Bakery. So, so tasty... Nom!

Want to see more? Check out the full New Amsterdam Market photo set.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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Grocery Store Tourism

This may seem a bit strange, but one of my very favorite overseas travel activities isn't visiting the museums or galleries (though they're very nice, of course)... it's touring local grocery stores and food shops.

I like to see how the average person lives. In Italy, for example, your average shopper has access to powerful traceability and sourcing information.

Behold! Egg coding!

Italian Egg Coding

The eggshells come with printed sets of numbers. The packaging includes the key to translating the numbers.

What do you find in that code? Everything about where that egg came from, including the state, province, municipality and farm where it was produced, the breed of the chicken and of course, the date on which the hen produced the egg.

Pretty cool, no? One glance at the eggshell, and you know just where it came from, what kind of chicken made it and how fresh it is.

Similarly, when I visited both Italy and France, I noticed that the produce is all labeled with the country and/or region of origin... even at the farmers' markets.

Farmers' market labeling

The second reason I enjoy checking out other peoples' groceries: they have things we don't.

While looking in rural France (Les Eyzies) for food that would work well on the grill, we were delighted to find an upgrade on the traditional canned campsite "pork 'n beans" duo. This canned duck confit and lentils heated up just fine on the grill and made couple of très magnifique dinners.

The same shop also had shelf-stable jars of duck rillettes (essentially a fatty duck spread), which tasted amazing when spread across a fresh baguette.

Can of Lentils & Duck Confit

And finally, there's the joy of discovering cool packaging logos and graphic design. You'll find some of my recent favorites, below:

Goat's Milk Yogurt
An adorable goat's milk yogurt label from Trento, Italy

Devilish Rotisserie Chicken Bag
A devilish rotisserie chicken bag from Toulouse, France

Devilish Rotisserie Chicken Bag
A charming nut sack from Berlin, Germany

Corleggy Cheese Label
A lovely little cheese label from Belturbet, Ireland

I know I can't be alone in my tendency toward grocery store tourism. Anyone have foreign food discoveries to report? Let me know in the comments or link me over to your adventures.

Miss Ginsu

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How to Stuff a Zucchini Blossom

With so many fruits and vegetables available year-round, it's rare in the modern world to enjoy a food that's really, truly a limited-time offer.

You can get an apple in June, when, by all rights, all the apples from the previous autumn should be long gone. But it seems it's always apple season somewhere, and we've come to rely on that constant availability.

But due to a brief season and great delicacy, the zucchini blossom is, I believe, one of just a handful of what I like to think of as "now or never" foods.

Zucchini Blossoms

But the blossoms are a-blooming right now at the farmers' markets (and in gardens, presumably), so friends... your once-a-year opportunity has arrived.

Quick, now! Snap up a half-dozen and a little crottin of goat cheese or maybe a mild, creamy feta — you'll need just over an ounce, but get two to three ounces of cheese, and you'll have a bit extra left over for topping tasty summer salads.

When it comes down to it, it's very simple to stuff a blossom. I didn't know this until I worked in a restaurant, but after having now stuffed more blossoms than I care to count, I can assure you, the process is dead easy. Like breading a fish fillet. You really can do this, and the results are lovely.

Interior of the zucchini blossom

Just take a sharp paring knife (or a pair of kitchen shears) and slice (or snip) into the blossom along one side. Gently open the petals and remove the pollen-covered pistil inside (that's the yellow tube-shaped part).

Fashion a small, football-shaped portion with about a teaspoon of the cheese and place it where the pistil once was. Close the petals firmly around the cheese. Voila! You're half-way there.

I like to remove the green leafy bits from the base of the flower (I believe they're called sepals) before moving on. If you like, you can do this much ahead of time and just keep the stuffed blossoms chilled for a few hours before it's time to make dinner.

Goat cheese stuffed zucchini blossom

When the time for cooking arrives, you have a few options as far as the breading goes. I've always loved to dip the blossoms in a simple egg wash (one egg beaten with a teaspoon of water), then roll them in panko. Simple as that.

This summer, J requested a version made without wheat flour, so we've been coating zucchini blossoms in seasoned spelt flour.

It's such a flexible recipe, I'll be so bold as to use this rule of thumb: if you can use it to bread a fish or chicken breast, you can probably coat a blossom in it, too.

The cooking process is simple pan-frying. Just dip a stuffed blossom in the egg wash, roll to coat in the panko/flour/crumbs, then move the prepared blossom to a skillet heated over a medium-high flame with a few tablespoons of olive, canola or veg oil.

Cook each blossom about a minute before turning. Continue cooking and gently turning the blossoms until the whole surface crisps, about three minutes total.

Move the cooked blossoms (a pair of tongs helps for this) to a paper towel to cool slightly. Serve hot alongside your favorite entrée. Stuffed blossoms go especially well with grilled meats and seafood or as garnish atop pasta dishes.

We had them with sautéed zucchini and the supremely tasty pork chops of Tamarack Hollow Farm.

If you're in NYC, you can pretty much score the whole meal — blossoms, goat cheese, eggs, zucchini and those superb chops — at the Union Square Market on Wednesdays and test your newfound stuffing skills right away.

But hurry... summer is short, and zucchini blossoms really are a limited-time offer.

Bon appetit!
Miss Ginsu

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Strawberry Fields 4Evah

At long last, sun emerged from behind a wall of clouds. Heartsick with cabin fever, we leaped at the chance to get out and about. Zipcar provided the wheels, Google provided the directions and PickYourOwn.Org offered up the berry farms.

Strawberry Pint

Truth be told, we spent most of our time hiking on the lovely Delaware Water Gap trails, but on the way back, we popped into Sussex County Strawberry Farm to snatch up a sweet, fragrant pre-picked pint.

Strawberries on the Cutting Board

Though I believe that the very best strawberry enjoyment is of the self-evident straight into the mouth variety, a berry compote, berry jam, berry smoothie or strawberry-rhubarb pie are all very nice as well.

If you're in the mood for something a bit more savory, may I recommend an old favorite of mine? The Spinach-Strawberry Salad with Goat Cheese & Walnuts makes a delightful side dish or brunch item, and it's dead simple to put together.

Spinach-Strawberry Salad

Spinach-Strawberry Salad (Serves 4)

5 cups baby spinach leaves, washed
Mild goat cheese or feta, crumbled
1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted
2 cups strawberries, hulled and halved

For the Balsamic Vinaigrette

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp ground pepper
A dash of salt
1/4 cup olive oil

1. Put the spinach in a large salad bowl and top with walnuts and strawberries.

2. In a smaller bowl, blend the balsamic vinegar, pepper and salt. Whisk in the olive oil until the mixture is smooth and incorporated.

3. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss gently to mix. Top with the goat cheese or feta, divide between four bowls or plates and serve immediately.

Because it's so bright and sprightly, I think this salad would be particularly nice paired with something heavier, like a pressed panini sandwich or a rich bean stew.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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Old World vs New World: a Ricotta Comparison

As I mentioned in my last post, I was up at Coach Farm in Upstate New York last Friday. In the days since, I've been trying to wrangle all the video clips together into a watchable form.

Thus far, I've got a quick video that illustrates how they're doing a brand-new product: ricotta cheese.

If you're a cheese person, you already know that ricotta is a classically useful product for cheesemakers because it's made with the cast-offs of the cheesemaking process: the whey.

Coach Farm is doing their ricotta in the same old-fashioned way that Italy's alpine farmers do it:

1. Collect the whey in a pot and heat it to 180°F (they're also adding in some milk to make it creamier).
2. Add an agent (rennet or an acid) to help the curds form.
3. Collect the curds in cheesecloth and allow to drain.

Simple, right? So simple you could do it on the side of a mountain over an open flame... which is what I saw when I went to Italy last year.

In that case, the farmer first made pecorino cheese and then reheated the leftover whey to make a delicious ricotta. You'll notice the environs are a little different.

I'll repost that video below the Coach Farm one for comparison.

More video fun yet to come!
Miss Ginsu

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My Inaugural (Cheese) Ball

Like a lot of folks, I'll be catching some of the inauguration festivities tomorrow — all from the comfort of the cozy indoors, thankfully. I shudder to think of all those chilly folks out there on the frigid capital mall...

My coworkers and I are having a little soiree over lunchtime to munch on snacks while we view the swearing in and the inaugural address.

Our first idea for a food theme was red, white and blue foods. But unless you want to throw around a bunch of blue food coloring, there's not a lot of blue food out there.

I've come up with... bluefin tuna (which isn't blue at all), bluefish (which is sorta blue), blue corn chips, blue potatoes (which are often a bit purple) and blueberries.

Anyway, our second thought for a food theme was simply snacks, because that's really what you're looking for when you watch TV anyway.

American Flag

But lo! Inspiration struck: There was one other "blue" food I forgot. Blue cheese! Yes, folks... it's time to make cheese balls.

Now, quite honestly, I'd never made cheese balls before, so these Inaugural Balls really are my inauguration into the world of cheese shapes.

But now that I've made them, I do understand why they're party food classics. Cheese balls are easy to make, they're not terribly expensive, they're endlessly versatile, they're quite popular and best of all... they can be made in advance.

Inaugural Red, White & Blue Cheese Balls!

The Red Cheese Ball
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 Tbsp roasted red pepper
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp onion, finely chopped
1 tsp sweet paprika
To roll: 3/4 cup crumbled bacon (cooked, obviously)

The White Cheese Ball
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 Tbsp celery or water chestnuts, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp white pepper

The Blue Cheese Ball
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
2 Tbsp onion, finely chopped
3 drops hot pepper sauce
1 pinch cayenne pepper
To roll: 3/4 cup finely chopped pecans

Directions for assembling all three cheese balls:

1. In a medium bowl, mix together the cream cheese and the other cheese.
2. Blend in all remaining ingredients for the cheese ball (except the chopped nuts or crumbled bacon for rolling) and chill the mixture for 3 to 4 hours or until firm.
3. Roll the chilled cheese blend into a ball, and roll to coat in the chopped nuts or bacon pieces (if necessary).
4. Wrap the ball in plastic wrap or waxed paper and refrigerate.
5. At service time, place the ball(s) on a plate and serve with alongside crackers, baguette slices and/or celery or carrot sticks. The blue cheese ball is also nice with dried fruit and fresh grapes.

While 'tis true that my blue cheese ball isn't really blue as in Smurf-blue or bluejay-blue, it's also true that every one of these cheese balls is true-blue delicious. So there.

Now, if you're going this route, really show off your American pride and use all-American cheeses in your cheese balls. Maytag Blue is one of my favorite examples of the blue family, there's tons of great American goat cheeses and all kinds of domestic cheddars out there (Wisconsin! Vermont! New York!) to tickle your tastebuds.

Happy Inauguration Day to everyone!
Miss Ginsu

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Video Treat: Saxelby's Cheese Sandwich

This savory little treat is overdue, but tasty nevertheless... and since it's an ideal choice for New Year's Eve appetizers, I think now's the right time to unveil it.

Behold! Snazzy grilled cheese as done by Anne Saxelby, charming monger of the Essex Street Market.

This video was captured at this year's NYC International Pickle Festival, back when short sleeved shirts and light summer dresses were appropriate attire. (Oh, how I pine for the sun!)

Saxelby's Snazzy Grilled Cheese
Good sliced bread
Olive oil for drizzling
Puréed pickled peppers (Anne uses Rick's Picks Peppi Pep Peps)
Thin slices of feta cheese

1. Lay out two slices of bread and drizzle olive oil on one side of one of the slices.
2. Spread about a tablespoon of pureed pickled peppers on that same slice of bread.
3. Stack two thin slices of feta cheese atop the pickled pepper puree.
4. Top the stack with the other slice of bread and toast the sandwich in a hot panini grill for 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Slice into quarters and serve immediately.

You may ask yourself, why would this sandwich make a good New Year's Eve treat? Good question!

Salty, rich foods often go well with drier bubbly sips, so when you crack open the Champagne (or maybe try a Spanish Cava this year... it's just as festive and waaay cheaper), I'd urge you to consider serving up a few wedges of Anne's Grilled Cheese as a cheesy, cheery pairing partner. Delight ensured.

May the new year be healthy, happy and even more delicious than the last.

Cheers to auld lang syne, my dears!
Miss Ginsu

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Pizza on a Flat-Bed Trailer

I cooked with Dave Sclarow at Tabla back in the day. He was always a pretty handy guy and a solid cook (he's now running the kitchen at Lunetta in Brooklyn), but he recently got in the NY Times and various other publications for what essentially amounts to a novelty act: he built a wood-fired pizza oven on a flat-bed trailer.

Voila! It's porta-pizza!

Dave Sclarow and his Pizza Oven

Pizza Moto

Dave Sclarow and his Pizza Oven

Now you can catch him at the Brooklyn Flea on Sundays. Mom and I were there for the first pie outta the oven a couple of weekends ago. Here's the quick and dirty how-to video:

I swear I'll someday feature something other than cheese-based foods in my food videos.

Miss Ginsu

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Mystery Macro Unveiled

And the answer to yesterday's Mystery Macro?

Melon. Honeydew melon, to be precise.

Have another look:

In the meantime, thoughts of melon give me a good opportunity to highlight a very tasty and refreshing salad I ate recently...

Some guests to a picnic brought this mozzarella, mint & melon salad, and gosh... It was just the thing.

Mozzarella-Melon Salad

There's not many nice days left this season, but if you do get out to grill just one more time, consider making one of those end-of-season melons into this tasty salad. I think it'd be just as nice with honeydew or cantaloupe or crenshaw. Or whatever melon you happen to find.

I'm told the original salad-makers found the adorable little mozzarella balls you see above (sometimes called ciliegini, which means "little cherries" in Italian") at Fairway Market in Brooklyn.

If you can't find anything so petite, don't fret. Just cut down a larger ball of fresh mozz into bite-sized niblets for this recipe.

Mozzarella, Mint & Melon Salad (Serves 4)

1 medium-sized melon, cut into 1" pieces
Juice from 1 lime
1 cup fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2" cubes
2 Tbsp fresh mint, sliced thin
1/4 tsp salt (optional)

1. Combine melon, lime, mozzarella cubes, mint and salt.
2. Chill until ready to serve.

The lightness and sweetness of this salad would be especially nice with grilled meats, but do keep it on file for a quickie picnic side.

Miss Ginsu

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What to Buy For the Eater

After getting a few nifty gastronomy-centric gifts for my birthday this year, I realized another Miss Ginsu gift guide might be in order.

Thus, I give you: What to Buy for the Eater

The basic philosophy is this: if you already know your recipient loves food, all you have to do is just select one of the secondary characteristics listed below and voila... they're gift-ified! (And since most of the stuff here costs less than $30, you shouldn't have to smash the piggybank to make 'em smile.)

The Coolest Temporary Tattoos

Does your foodie have a sense of humor?

Food Lovers' Tattoos

As Seattle's home of the goofy, Archie McPhee has always been a rich source of gifts for foodies, thanks to clever classics like the toast clock and the freeloader fork. And in keeping with our bacon-saturated times, there's even an entire page of bacon items.

But the recent addition of temporary tattoos for food lovers may be my favorite thing yet. All done in the retro "Sailor Jerry" school of 'tats, these sweet slicks are tempting arm candy... no commitment required.


Handmade Mesh Produce Bags

Is your foodie a farmer's market farmers' market fiend or co-op junkie?

Mesh Produce Bags

Ooo! I know just the thing...

I bought a pack of reusable mesh produce bags off Etsy.com in the early spring, and I've been enjoying them all summer long.

They're cheap, too, so consider including a nice market tote bag. (And no. I'm not ashamed to recommend my own.)

These little guys are great because they're light, see-through, easy to open, they help you avoid collecting excess plastic... and they really do make you the envy of the farmers' market. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten envious looks and remarks on the lines of, "Oh! Those are so cool! Where'd you get them?"

Though the supplier I bought mine from is currently pursuing other things (i.e. has a life) there's lots of other folks who are selling them now in lots of pretty colors.


Do-It-Yourself Cheese

Is your foodie the hands-on/DIY type?

Ricki's Cheese-Making Kit

I saw Ricki Carroll's sweet little Mozzarella and Ricotta Kit at Grand Central Market and immediately knew I needed to look her up.

As it turns out, Ricki's the "Cheese Queen" of the interweb, and does a lot of cheese-making education.

Her kit seems like a really fun, accessible way to introduce food lovers — especially younger ones — to the pleasures of cheese-making.

Then again, if the easy-cheesy mozzarella kit seems a bit elementary for your advanced DIY-er, consider a kit for making homemade soda, wine or beer or maybe even a mustard-making kit.


Supremely Cute Salt & Pepper Shakers

Is your foodie a museum-lover? Possibly even... artsy?

Hugging S&P Shakers

The food geeks who are also design geeks are powerless in the face of designware from the MOMA shop.

A little caveat, since I realize any gourmand worth his or her, ahem... salt uses a pepper grinder instead of a pepper shaker for that freshly-ground goodness. I'm a sucker for the cute. And this Hugging Salt & Pepper set has the real cute. Oh! I am helpless in the face of its cuteness.

But if you know your gift recipient is way too sophisticated to be buffaloed by cuteness... you should probably go for the supercool Index Chopping Boards instead.


One For the Road

Is your foodie sentimental?


Consider a food gift that acknowledges a taste of reminiscence.

For those with a sweet tooth, Oldtimecandy and NostalgicCandy both feature retro packs that coordinate to the era of your recipient's youth.

Homesick former New Yorkers might appreciate things like the Frrozen Hot Chocolate from Serendipity 3, a classic deli-style lunch with the pastrami sandwich kit from Zingerman's or the ceramic version of NYC's ubiquitous We Are Happy To Serve You paper cup.


Yum on the Run

Is your foodie active? Maybe even... sporty?

Happy campers (or boaters, or hikers, or picnickers) will love something practical (and cool-looking) for their alfresco dining.

REI has fun stuff in general, but I really like their Light My Fire Meal Kit, which comes with a compact set of two plates, a lidded cup, a crazy spoon/fork utensil, a little waterproof box (for berries?) and a colander/cutting board.

Pretty colors (a whole range of 'em), recyclable, no metal to freak out the TSA staff at the airport... and it floats.

For the bean-worshipers, REI also features a nifty French Press Commuter Mug, which comes in a variety of colors and serves as a combo coffee press, travel mug and coffee caddy. Pretty slick.

Miss Ginsu

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Mad for Mascarpone (Ice Cream)

When you have a machine that makes ice cream, unexpected combinations are apt to happen. In addition to the standard chocolate, vanilla and fruit flavors, you're bound to want to experiment with other things in your kitchen.

One finds one's self enjoying rhubarb ice cream. Bacon Ice Cream. And even... cheese ice cream.

To be honest, J and I first encountered cheese gelato in the form of formatgelats at the Formatgeria La Seu cheese shop in Barcelona. The flavors there were enchanting. Musky blue cheese gelato, cabra gelato... they'd certainly be stellar with rich fig jams or dried apricots. Maybe even a nice dessert wine, like a Sauternes.

I did some experimenting of my own in the realm of frozen fromage on returning home. And, as you might expect, cheese ice cream is a bit tricky. Too much ruins the ice cream texture. The cheese must be creamy, not grainy. And the flavor really shouldn't be too bold.

Sweet, creamy blues were nice. Some of the fresher goat cheeses worked well in ice cream form. The ricotta ice cream was very nice. And then, there was the mascarpone ice cream.

Mascarpone Ice Cream on a Chocolate Brownie
Mascarpone Ice Cream on a Chocolate Brownie

Admittedly, using mascarpone for a cheese ice cream is almost cheating. Though it's referred to as a triple-cream cheese, I've never found mascarpone to be much more than a lush, silken dairy spread. It's creamy. It's rich. But is it really cheese?

No matter. It's a lovely spread for fruit breads and a great recipe additive for ice cream, as it turns out.

Mascarpone Ice Cream

Thanks to its outrageous fat content, the texture of this one varies from standard ice creams. It's almost... fluffy. My boss actually said this was his favorite of the homemade ice creams he's tried, because while home freezers tend to make ice creams a bit icier, this recipe leaves no room for ice crystals.

Also: I know this will come as a big shock to you, but... yes, this ice cream is, indeed, stellar with berries and sweets such as the chocolate brownies in the photo (up the page a bit).

Keep in mind this is style of ice cream base that uses uncooked eggs, so be sure to use good, fresh eggs from a reliable farmer.
Mascarpone Ice Cream (Makes about 1 1/2 quarts)

2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
16 oz mascarpone
1 cup cream or half & half
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp salt

1. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar until light.
2. Beat in the mascarpone until the mixture is smooth.
3. Blend in the cream, milk and salt with a whisk.
4. Freeze the mix using an ice cream machine or attachment, pack into pints, and harden in the freezer for at least 5 hours (or overnight).

Miss Ginsu

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Italian Pecorino Cheese: A How-To Video

In my short career in video blogging, I've run through making fresh paneer cheese, watching the Salvatore Ricotta folks stuff cheese into cannoli and now, my latest clip documents the making of uber-traditional pecorino in the Italian countryside.

I'm afraid you'll start to believe I'm a bit cheese-obsessed. I assure you, the theme is entirely coincidental. I swear the next video will be about something other than cheese.

Meanwhile, I have to say, this is really my favorite clip yet, featuring some truly charming Italian sheep and goats I met in the mountains of Abruzzo while on a farm stay near Sora, Italy. They were excellent actors, all. Very cooperative.

Abruzzo, Italy

A very charming goat

Sheep stomach

You'll notice that, in making the cheese, the shepherd uses nothing more than milk in a big, black cauldron, a stick(!), some sheep's stomach and coarse salt. That's it. There's a campfire on hand for making ricotta, which is a byproduct of his pecorino processing.

Aside from the shepherd's snazzy threads, there's very little here that's any different from the way people have been making cheese for thousands of years.

Looks easy, no? But before you go and get yourself a herd of your own, know this: the shepherd and his wife get up before dawn every day to do this. Weekends. Holidays. Every day. There's no vacation from a herd of sheep and goats.

Meanwhile, I secreted a wheel of this very cheese back to the states in my luggage and am going to ask Anne Saxelby to nestle it in her cave to age for a bit. We'll see how it tastes after it's had a few months to rest.

Cheers, ya'll!

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The Real Ricotta Makes the Real Cannoli

[to Rocco who has killed Paulie in the car]
Miss Ginsu: Leave the cannoli. Take the gun.

Oh yes... let me add my voice to the massive city-wide swoon over the brilliant new Brooklyn Flea. Part craft fair, part food festival, part reliquary of the bizarre, the Flea is my new favorite Brooklyn tradition.


Cool bric a brac

Enormous Clock

From pulp fiction to papusas, the Flea offers something for just about everyone. The roomie and I spotted a black leather analyst's couch, the jawbone of some large mammal (a horse?), 30's-era vintage fans and an enormous two-piece interlocking yin-yang couch (doesn't every rec room need an interlocking yin-yang couch?), among the host of treasures.

Salvatore Bklyn cannoli

Despite a huge lot filled with crazy wonders, my biggest find was undoubtedly the cannoli from Salvatore Bklyn. Ohhh, heavenly. Freshly piped into the crisp cookie shell, the smooth, creamy ricotta carries a hint of marsala and flakes of dark chocolate. Really nice stuff.

I was so impressed, I made a short video of the filling process:

I'd first encountered Salvatore's divine ricotta at Ms. Anne's Essex Street cheese outpost. While I've never been a big ricotta fan, this was the stuff of revelation: buttery-smooth, rich and creamy. In other words, nothing like the grainy grocery-variety ricotta I'd always known. J tells me the Salvatore ricotta is very much like the ricotta he's eaten in Italy. What a lovely addition to the Brooklyn landscape!

Sadly, the roomie and I had just dined on a lovely little brunch at iCi before we stopped by the Flea, but on my next visit, I'll arrive hungry and try out the tasty-looking wares at Wafels & Dinges and Choice Market.

If you're in the neighborhood, find your way to the Flea and get thee to a cannoli. If you're friendly, you can score yourself an iced coffee sample from the sweet kids at Crop to Cup in the booth next door. And yes, quality cannoli and quality coffee really do create one of those "So Happy Together" moments.

The Brownstoner's Brooklyn Flea
Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School
Lafayette Ave. (btwn Clermont & Vanderbilt Ave.)
Fort Greene, Brooklyn

BTW: I took about a dozen Brooklyn Flea shots, so if you're interested, you can see the full set at flickr.

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FoodLink Roundup: 05.26.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was located out at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. (Go, Hazard, go!) Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post a guess in the comments.

Inside the chef's larders
Uncovering the grocery products that UK chefs love.

A Caucasian cheese circle
"Even the best cheese cannot change everybody's attitudes overnight."

Carrotmob Bargains for Eco-Friendliness
A nice demonstration of the utility of consumer pressure.

That's Gross: Bread Head Bakery
Bread art. Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.

The BYOB Hero
A delightful-looking sandwich option for a food-deprived district of Manhattan...

Why low-fat ice cream melts faster
Deciphering ice cream additives with science! If my high school chem teacher had run this kind of experiment, I might have paid more attention in class...

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Recession-Proof Recipes: La Crepe Complete

Last week's Recession-Proof Recipe examined stock and gave a fast variation for Pho. Pho is simple peasant food, and this week, I'd like to take an economical eating cue from yet another group of peasants.

Like yesterday's cassoulet, a humble country casserole that's often elevated beyond its original station, the sometimes pretentiously presented French crêpe is essentially just a thin pancake with tasty tidbits rolled up inside it. It's the peasant food of Brittany.

Several years ago I discovered I could afford a ticket to fly overseas and spend few days in Paris, but didn't have much money for lodging or food. So I ended up with a week of Paris hostels, student entry to museums and a host of street crepes.

For that week, my diet was primarily composed of the sweet crepe, or crêpe sucrée (it was supremely cheap and the whole transaction used up the only 15 words of French I could remember)... a charming banana-Nutella combo that I still remember fondly and order whenever I encounter it on a menu.

After traveling around with J a bit, I discovered his crepe preference invariably fell to the crepe complete, a classic buckwheat crepe filled with an egg (whites cooked, but with a runny yolk, please) with melted gruyere and ham. Simple. Filling. Complete.

Whether in Montreal...

crepe complete in Montreal

In Mediterranean Spain...

crepe complete in Girona

In Midtown Manhattan...

crepe complete in the Midtown CyberCafe

Or in Paris...

crepe complete in Paris

Across the universe, la crepe complete is his crepe of choice.

As you may notice in those photos, my crepe is generally in the foreground, and I always order something else. The vegetable crepe. The goat cheese and fig crepe. The ratatouille crepe. And then I find I'm always jealous of J's hearty, savory crepe. He's made a convert of me.

By using just the slightest bit of ham and cheese with the egg, this meal manages to be simultaneously inexpensive and satisfying. And the construction of the dish is somehow magically classier than some lowly pancake and egg with skimpy slices of ham and cheese.

Though you may have encountered sweet crêpe batters before, I must insist on the buckwheat in this recipe. The earthy flavor really does something special alongside the cheese and ham. Those Breton peasants knew something about flavor on a budget.

Ladies and gentlemen of the blog-reading public, may I present:
The Crêpe Complete (Serves 2-4)
For the crêpes
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

For the filling
4 eggs, warmed to room temp
4 pieces ham, thin-sliced (or skip it, if you're vegetarian)
4 pieces gruyere or Swiss cheese, thin-sliced

1. Whisk together the water, milk, eggs, flours, salt and butter or whir in a blender until uniform. Cover and chill for 1 hour (or up to two days).
2. Place an oven-proof plate in the oven and turn the oven on to 200° F. Remove the crepe batter from the fridge and stir it up to unite everything.
3. Heat a large (12-17") crepe pan or skillet over moderately high heat. Melt a dollop of butter in the pan, swirling to cover the surface.
4. When butter sizzles, add 1/4 cup of the crepe batter and, again, swirl to cover the pan surface. Cook several minutes until the bottom develops a golden texture. Then flip the crepe over with the aid of a spatula/pancake turner.
5. Gently break one egg into center of the newly flipped crepe (try to keep the yolk intact).
6. Cook the crepe and egg just until the white is set. Top with one slice of ham and one slice of cheese. Gently fold two sides (or four sides, as you prefer) of the crepe in to overlap the egg, cheese and ham.
7. Use a hot pad to remove the warmed plate from the oven, then move the cooked crepe to the warm plate with a spatula.
8. Keep your completed crepes warm in the oven while you repeat steps 3-7 with the remaining crepe batter, eggs, ham and cheese. Serve crepes hot with a crisp green salad and a cold mug of dry cider.

Bon appétit!

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Quick Bites: Barcelona

A friend of mine recently journeyed to Barcelona. Having loved the place so much when I went, I was somehow certain she would encounter wonders on every corner.

Sadly, she returned with an appreciation for the architecture and the climate, but little love for the food.

Though aghast, I blame myself. I didn't offer up any advice at all on the favorite spots I'd visited... and it's so easy to go astray when a traveler doesn't know the territory.

In an effort to help friends and random readers avoid similar fates, I'm starting up a new series: Quick Bites. Each edition will feature a few city highlights, a few beautiful photographs, and a recipe inspired by the locale. By no means an exhaustive list (these are nibbles, after all) my hope is that web travelers and world travelers can both encounter something enjoyable.

In this first edition: Barcelona, Spain

Contemplative Bull
Shall I go to the beach, or visit Sagrada Familia?

The Big View

The art! The beach! The sunshine! The wine! The cheese! Oh, lovely Barcelona! We were lucky enough to be in an apartment, so I was able to take full advantage of the enormous Boqueria market (see below).

I'd made up my mind beforehand to try every paella I could get my hands on. I now believe that was a mistake. The paellas were fine, but even the best seemed to pale in comparison to the very simplest dishes we ate... the tapas (locally referred to as pintxos, in the Basque tongue), the fresh-squeezed orange juice, the rich hit of a cortado (an espresso with a splash of hot milk), the toasty delight of double-baked brioche and the creamy wonder of cheese gelatos.

The Bites

Cabra in the Cave
Cabra in the cheese cave

As you stroll through the Gothic Quarter, walk into this tidy cheese shop, gawk at the tasty cheese cave and speak with the friendly cheese mongress, a charming Scot, who vends wonderful local cheeses, delightful small plates and flights of her delicious, inventive cheese gelatos (formatgelats).

Formatgeria La Seu
Carrer Dagueria 16
Tel: 93 412 65 48)

Fried Chilies
Simple, tasty fried chili tapas.

Supremely simple tapas in a no-nonsense old-school wine tavern. They're all about the basics here. Glasses of wine with ungarnished platters of cheese, sausage, serrano, pa amb tomaquet (tomato-rubbed bread) and tasty classics like the fried chilies pictured above. I found the place to be a refreshing oasis of homeyness in an overdeveloped 'hood.

La Bodegueta
Rambla de Catalunya 100

Twice-Baked Brioche
Twice-baked brioche

I've already covered this bakery more exhaustively in a previous post, but for the moment I'll just say... yum. And there's more than one location, so you can go twice in a day without looking like a swine.

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

The Boqueria Mercado
Roasted vegetable salad at the Boqueria

On visiting Barcelona, I'm sure every food writer is required by law to mention the Mercat de la Boqueria. There's good reason for the hype. The place has been around since time immemorial, forever featuring great food and lots of it. I think I went there every day... Sometimes twice a day. Fresh tapas at this counter, gorgeous local fruit over there, fascinating mushrooms or nuts or cured meats or fresh fish or... or... or... I'm still thinking about this delicious roasted vegetable and hummus salad I got at a little shop right next to the back entrance. Go exploring there and uncover your own new favorite thing.

Mercat de la Boqueria
Plaça de la Boqueria,
Tel: 93.318.25.84

Thick Chocolate at Origen 99.9
Pudding-like chocolate at Origen 99.9%

The ultimate in of-the-moment travel, Origen 99.9% sources its ingredients and recipes locally, basing its cuisine in Catalan classics. Going heavy on lunch (and lighter on dinner) in Barcelona makes this town a better bargain, and Origen 99.9% provides a delicious (and satisfying) three-course prix fixe to get you through siesta and into tapas-time. Don't miss their in-house food magazine and the line of ready-made delights they sell.

Origen 99.9%
Several Locations
Tel: 932 411 600
Fax: 932 411 786

Cortado and Fresh Orange Juice
Barcelona addictions: the cortado and fresh-squeezed local orange juice

This isn't a place recommendation, per se, but a couple of directives.

The cortado (espresso and a splash of hot milk) is a wonderful drink, so if you're into coffee, order one. They're ubiquitous and addictively drinkable.

Also: If you ever come across (and you will... they're everywhere) a Zummo or Frucasol machine — crazy contraptions that squeeze oranges into wonder juice, order juice immediately. Fresh-squeezed Spanish oranges are so lively and delicious you'll never be happy with a carton of Tropicana again.

The Takeaway

I ate Pan Tomaquet (Pa amb Tomaquet in Catalan) daily while I visited Barcelona. The tomatoes were luscious, good olive oil was plentiful, the bread was nearly always decent and the resulting dish was a simple delight. I wouldn't attempt it without garden-fresh tomatoes, good bread and good olive oil. The most simple dishes invariably require the best ingredients.

Pa Amb Tomaquet
Pa Amb Tomaquet Tomato-Rubbed Bread (Serves 2-3)

1 baguette, cut into 5"-6" portions and halved (toasted, if you wish)
1-2 large, ripe, in-season tomatoes, halved
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Rub cut-side of tomato across top of baguette.
2. Drizzle with olive oil.
3. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Serve with glasses of rioja and some nice Spanish olives or anchovies.


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FoodLink Roundup: 04.07.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was located out in the black mining hills of Dakota. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post a guess in the comments.

Antarctic Cafeteria Chef Can Boost or Bust Morale
"Sally in the Galley" creates happiness (or misery) for hundreds with canned, dried and preserved foods.

Food riots feared after rice prices hit a high
Eight BILLION people rely on rice, now at its weakest stock level in 30 years. Kind of terrifying.

Frito-Lay Angrily Introduces Line Of Healthy Snacks
"It's a brand-new taste sensation unlike anything you've ever experienced, unless you've ever eaten sisal twine."

A chunk of feta keeps tummies in fine fettle
Beneficial bacteria wins again!

Whatever Happened to Sumerian Beer?
More proof that there's nothing new under the sun... Hamurabi's bureaucracy closed the tap on ancient beer production.

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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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Food Poem Friday: Edward Lear

cheese at the ferry market

"They sailed to the Western Sea, they did,
To a land all covered with trees,
And they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart,
And a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart,
And a hive of silvery Bees.
And they bought a Pig, and some green Jack-daws,
And a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws,
And forty bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree,
And no end of Stilton Cheese
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve."

Taken from The Jumblies by Edward Lear

Going to sea? Take along a few choice food quotes.

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The St. Pat's Hangover Brunch

I'm a bit sad to report that St. Pat's day in New York creeps closer and closer into Halloween territory with each passing year.

This year I saw the now-ubiquitous Mardi Gras-style plastic beads joined by kelly green handlebar moustaches, flowing green nylon wigs, sparkling green eye shadow and green short-shorts. And that was just on my subway commute. I didn't dare hit the bars.

I don't mean to sound like a hater, but hosting a St. Pat's party these days almost seems like a dangerous invitation. "Come, friends! Bring your booze! Eat my green cupcakes! Vomit outlandish colors on my carpet!"

Irish Soda Bread
Kate's surprisingly moist Irish Soda Bread

But a clever coworker, the lovely Suzy Hotrod(TM) came up with an ingenious idea for our latest department potluck: The Post-Patrick's Day Hangover Brunch. No hangover, derby hat or green food coloring required.

The crew was inspired, and the ensuing feast was a delight, with not a drop of green food coloring in sight. It was truly a St. Patrick's day miracle surpassing all that snake harassment for which the old legends give him credit.

Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes
Suzy Hotrod's Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes

I contributed Irish Cheddar Mac & Cheese (with both veg-friendly and Berkshire Bacon variations), Suzy contributed Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting, Mike brought the home fries, Kate brought a moist and flavorful Irish soda bread, Marc brought Orangina (because everything's better with Orangina), Ryn made what may be the most tasty boiled brisket and cabbage dinner I've ever had and the mighty-mighty Anna Bollocks brought the totally tasty bangers (as well as Cadbury Chocolate Roses and Irish tea) from the 61st Street Deli in Woodside (3967 61st Street, Queens).

Honestly, the Mac & Cheese was so tasty and simple to make, I think it'd be a shame to reserve it for those few days fore and aft the ides of March. And clearly, you can use whatever cheddar you happen to have on hand.

Irish Cheddar Mac & Cheese
With bacon in the foreground, veggie-friendly in the back

Irish Cheddar Mac & Cheese (Makes three 8" x 8" pans)

1 16oz box macaroni elbows
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp dry ground mustard (or 3 Tbsp prepared mustard)
5 cups milk
1 tsp salt
Ground black pepper, to taste
1 1/4 lb Irish Cheddar, shredded
6-8 strips bacon, cooked, cooled and chopped (optional)
Sweet paprika (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375°F., and cook macaroni elbows in a large pot of salted, boiling water until tender (about 8-10 minutes). Drain in a colander, rinse with cold water and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat butter in a heavy-bottomed stockpot until it bubbles. Whisk in flour, mixing well.

3. Add mustard and salt to the mixture, then gradually whisk in the 5 cups of milk, working out any flour lumps that appear.

4. Cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens and burbles.

5. Remove sauce from heat and stir in half the shredded cheese.

6. Combine the sauce with the macaroni and distribute evenly in the pan or pans. (Don't overfill the pans... they need room to bubble a bit in the oven.)

7. If using, sprinkle bacon across the macaroni, then evenly top with the remaining cheese. Sprinkle on sweet paprika for a jaunty garnish.

8. At this point you can cover and refrigerate for baking later, or for immediate enjoyment, bake approximately 40 minutes (60 if it's been in the fridge) or until lightly browned and bubbly. Let rest 10-15 minutes before serving.


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Life Gives You Spinach? Make Palek Paneer.

Spotting a fine sale on washed spinach last week, my thoughts turned to darkness... as in the rich green darkness one finds in a pot of long-simmered spinach.

"Great Scott!" I cried, "It's a sign from the food gods! I will make palek paneer!" (I'm sure this sort of thing happens to everyone, no?)

I realize that for those who haven't spent a lot of time staring at Indian take-out menus, palek paneer might sound like a lot of mumbo-jumbo. For zealots (myself included) it translates more like this: "really tasty spiced and slow-cooked spinach (palek) with cubes of very mild, creamy white cheese (paneer)"

Palek paneer looming in my bowl

The real problem with palek paneer is the spinach. If you've ever cooked creamed spinach, you know that a big pile of it wilts down to practically nothing. For this dish to be worth the effort, you need a bushel of spinach.

But one large produce sale and three bulky 10oz bags of spinach later, the fridge was stuffed with greenery and I was ready to get my simmer on.

First, the Palek

If you have a spice grinder (or a coffee grinder that can be put into service as a spice grinder), it's really best to use whole spices for Indian dishes. They're more flavorful, and we're looking for flavor when we add spice to a dish.

That said, if you can't grind your spices, go with pre-ground, but keep in mind that you might need to use extra spice to flavor the dish properly.

So-Simple Palek Paneer (Feeds six, if served with rice)

1 Tbsp cumin seed
1 Tbsp coriander seed
1 tsp fennel or caraway seed
2 whole cloves
1 tsp fenugreek seed

Grind in a clean coffee grinder and combine with:

1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cayenne or Aleppo pepper (if you like it spicy)

Heat in a heavy bottomed stock pot or skillet:

1-2 Tbsp vegetable oil (or ghee, if you prefer)

Add the spice blend to the pan and allow it to heat for 30 seconds.

Add to the pan:

2 small onions, diced (about 1 cup)
1 jalapeno pepper, halved and sliced thin
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated (or minced)
1 tsp salt

Saute until onions are translucent, and add to the pan:

3-4 medium tomatoes, chopped (or 1 28oz can diced tomatoes)

Bring the mixture to a simmer and add (in several batches, if the spinach is fresh)

30 oz fresh spinach (washed and chopped) OR 2 8oz boxes frozen spinach

Simmer mixture, covered, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. While this cooks down, make the paneer. (See paneer how-to, below.)

Uncover pot and season the mixture to taste.

At this point, you may wish to make your palek smooth by using an immersion blender (or cool off the mixture and blend it in a traditional blender.) I don't mind a little visible fiber, so I generally skip this step.

If the mixture seems too thin, simmer another 15-20 minutes to reduce to your desired thickness.

Before serving, gently fold paneer cubes into the palek. Heat 2-3 minutes more.

Serve with a basmati pilaf, assorted chutneys and naan or chapati, if desired.

Variations: Chickpea lovers (you know who you are) may wish to add a 14oz can (drained) while the spinach simmers, and those who aren't dairy-eaters can certainly substitute tofu cubes for the paneer — though they'll miss out on all the fun of making paneer, of course.

All About Paneer...

A coworker recently asked me about making paneer. It took about 15 seconds to explain the process. "And that's it?" was his incredulous response. Yup. That's it.

The fact is, paneer, like all farmer cheese, is embarrassingly simple to make. I say "embarrassingly" because once you make it yourself, you'll be mortified at the thought of ever having paid money for someone else to make your paneer. That's how easy it is.

Paneer-like farmer cheeses can be found wherever milk is found (as it turns out, people all over the world come to roughly similar conclusions when confronted with surplus milk) and considering how simple (and frankly, how fun) it is to make fresh cheeses, I'm a little surprised it's not a part of everyone's standard home-cooking routine.

I learned how to make paneer using coconut vinegar, but honestly, any tasty acid will work just fine.

I've made a video to demonstrate the process, but in case you're one of those rare people who enjoy reading, the instructions are written out below.

Warning: This is my first cooking video. It's hand-held and done without a prepared script, so it's a bit rough. I promise these will get better...

So then, you'll need:

1 quart of whole milk
the juice of two lemons
a triple-layered sheet of cheese cloth (or a clean, thin cotton towel)

Rest the towel or cheese cloth in a colander.

Heat the milk in a saucepan to hot, but not boiling (it will steam).

While stirring the milk, pour in the lemon juice. The mixture should clot as you stir. Drain the coagulated solids through the cloth in the colander. Gather the hot curd into a packet, and when it's cool enough to handle, press it into a block, squeezing out any excess liquid. Cool down your block of paneer and slice it into cubes for use in recipes. (You may wish to weigh it down beneath a cutting board to extract excess liquid and make the paneer more firm.)

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FoodLink Roundup: 03.03.08

Cupcake Goes Western
Where in the world is Cupcake? Post in the comments if you think you know...

Recent interesting food news found roaming out there on the world wild web:

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Day 22: Hot Artichoke Dip

This post marks Day 22 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Everybody needs a few never-fail foods in their recipe collections. A few go-to goodies that score points and leave 'em wanting more every time.

I have more cookbooks than I like to think about. I have recipe card boxes stuffed to bursting with clippings and scratched notes. I have pages ripped from cooking magazines and loose pages printed off websites.

But when it comes down to the moment of truth... I keep going back to that small collection of dishes that do the job.

This one is one of my favorite winter potluck, holiday party, covered dish and general "I don't know... just bring something" dishes for cold-weather gatherings.

artichoke dip

Don't show your cardiologist, nutritionist, lifecoach or personal trainer. It's seriously scary and rich. It's also seriously tasty. I first tried it at Brit's Pub in dear old Minneapolis. (Speaking of which, if you happen to be in the Twin Cities in the summertime, I recommend Brits as a fun joint for rolling lawn balls, munching Scotch eggs and downing pints...) The recipe you see below is a variation of theirs.

Omigod Hot Artichoke Dip (Makes 5 cups)

28oz artichoke hearts (Two 14oz cans)
8oz cream cheese
8oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 cup (4oz) cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup (4oz) mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup green onion, sliced
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika

For serving
1/4 cup diced tomato
Shredded Parmesan cheese
Sliced sourdough bread

1. Preheat oven to 350°F
2. Chop artichoke hearts and squeeze any excess water from the spinach.
3. Combine chopped artichokes, cream cheese, spinach, cheddar, mozzarella, onions, sour cream, dijon mustard, salt and paprika.
4. Pour mixture into a 10" square casserole dish or baking pan. Smooth the surface.
5. Bake 45-60 minutes, or until the dip is bubbling and browned on the surface.
6. Garnish with tomato and/or shredded Parmesan. Serve hot.

I've also tried this dip with Swiss and smoked gouda, and that's nice, but I think there's something special about the cheddar.

It's about as simple as recipes get. The only way you can go wrong with this dip is if you don't supply enough bread or crackers. So slice a couple of baguettes or a big loaf of pumpernickel to serve alongside, and don't say I didn't warn you.

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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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Tell me again why I'm here.

terrible martinis
Terrible martinis at the Time Out Eat Out Awards. Amaretto, vodka and lemon sour. Blorg. For the record, I really don't understand what's wrong with a standard olive-studded gin martini.

Saxelby Cheesemongers
Cheese Mongeress Anne Saxelby and the Saxelby Cheese Gang pose for their album cover.

It's widely known that bloggers are the media's ugly stepchildren. Actually, it's worse than that. Bloggers are the stinky kids at the edge of the playground that the traditional media is eventually forced to select for their teams.

Knowing this, I was (reasonably, I believe) torn about whether I should go to the Time Out New York Eat Out Awards last night.

Good reasons against going: It's not really my thing. No plus one allowed. Not really dressed for cocktails. Knew I'd have to admit out loud that I, ahem, blog.

Good reasons for going: Free drinks. A possibility of chef-spotting. Monday night.

So yes. I sent in my RSVP. I printed my invite. And upon arriving, I went for my nametag. That's when I discovered I wasn't on the list. That's when it hit me: not only was I illegitimate media, I was illegitimate party-crashing media. Sad and sadder.

After forcing me to spell out the name of my blog (rather more loudly than I would have preferred), they let me in (as a nametag-free pariah) and I was handed a drink. Well, kind of a drink. An exceedingly sweet martini that made me remember why I don't pay money for such beverages.

The place was crammed with the NYC food industry... bar people, restaurant people, front of the house, back of the house. Made me wonder who was running the city's bars and restaurants until I remembered nobody goes out on Monday anyway.

Feeling slightly ridiculous, like an underdressed interloper, I looked for someplace to ditch the "martini." The inner critic handed me twelve good reasons why I'd be better off at home. Just then, like a calming patch of blue sky in a sea of storm clouds, the crowd parted to reveal the good kids from Saxelby Cheesemongers in the Essex Street Market.

And I knew I was safe. Why? Because people who care, deeply, about cheese, are also people who love the world's underdogs. They're the compassionate souls who would pick the stinky kids at the edge of the playground for their teams because they really, truly believe in the potential of those stinky kids.

I know this about cheese people because cheeses are the food world's underdogs. They are funky, stinky, runny, barnyard-y, lumpy and sometimes covered in spotty molds. They're not pretty, shiny and colorful, like apples or immediately beguiling, like barbecue. Cheeses are not the popular kids. It takes a brave and loving soul to look beyond their surface textures. Truthfully, many cheeses need extra time and care to become exquisite. Not everyone has that kind of patience.

Despite our earnest catcalls, Saxelby Cheesemongers didn't win the Reader's Choice Award for Best Cheese Shop. That honor went to Murray's. Again. The friendly folks at Against the Grain didn't win for Best New Bar, either. So after the show, the cheese losers, beer losers and one tag-along media outcast packed into cabs and sped away to Grape and Grain (the tiny, homey eatery next-door to AtG).

We drank wine, we toasted each other and we ate, lavishly, by candlelight. We had a grand time. And at some point I realized the best reason of all to go to a food award night: It's a reminder that even in as large a city as New York, the community of dedicated food people is small and intertwined.

As much as the restos, bars and food shops compete with each other, they also necessarily, support each other. Whether Murray's wins or Anne Saxelby wins, the community of cheese lovers grows. And I think that bodes well for all of us.

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Food Quote Friday: Robert Lewis Stevenson

Ferry Market Cheese Counter
Cheese bounty at the Ferry Market in San Francisco from missginsu @ Flickr

"Many's the long night I've dreamed of cheese — toasted, mostly."

Robert Lewis Stevenson

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What's that on your shoulder?

crazy crepe chef
that crazy crepe chef from the missginsu photostream at Flickr

This just in from J... yet more evidence that each of us is insane in his or her own special way.
It is the Way of the Web to show us all things, even things we'd never have thought to seek. In this case, it was the Wikipedia entry for former supermodel Helena Christensen (known to me as "the chick from the video for Chris Isaak's Wicked Game"), which includes this entertaining observation:

"Whenever my head is like a maze, I turn to the easy things in life, the things that mean the most to me: sex and cheese. These things are connected. Truth be told, I love all cheese: French cheese, Italian cheese, even British cheese, but Danish cheese is the greatest. I get my best nightmares after I eat Danish cheese. Actually I've seriously thought about getting a cheese tattoo. A nice Edam on my shoulder, maybe."

I'm not immune to the charms of a quality cheese, but... gosh. Victoria's Secret underwear models tattooed in cheese. It's like the embodiment of a lonely affineur's wildest cheese-cave daydreams.

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Spring, and cheese shops are abloom

A note from my operative on the Lower, Lower East Side:

"The new cheese shop at the Essex Street Market opens tomorrow.
They have an interesting mission: stock only artisanal American
cheeses. I recommend a visit for a bit of wine and, of course, cheese."

This new enterprise joins the freshly formed Essex Street Cheese Company — a charming Comté-only outpost run by Jason Hinds of Neal's Yard Dairy in England and Daphne Zepos (formerly a cheese heavy at the Artisanal Premium Cheese Center).

Sensing some market competition? Cheese wars afoot? Nay. It's all friendly on Essex street. Apparently, those who love curd, love community.

Another of my food scenesters reports that Ms. Zepos is acting as consigliere to the new spot's young proprietress. Perhaps cheese maturation mellows the fromager as much as the fromage.

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