Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Food Horoscope: Aquarius

Happy birth-month, Aquarians!

Aquarius
Aquarius, the water bearer (January 20 - February 18)

Now, I'm merely a cook, and not an astrologer, but here's my advice for your foodcast:

This might be a great year to focus on experimentation in your cooking.

Try new ingredients. Sample new flavor combinations. Pick up some books at the library and absorb an entirely new cuisine or a skill, like gardening, chocolate-making or pickling.

Go this route and you'll satisfy a desire for novelty without spending gobs of money at restaurants.

Who knows? You might even learn you have a real knack for your newfound skill and make a side business out of it.

Since January is an ideal month to enjoy citrus fruit (and a far less ideal month to go outdoors) you can start experimenting now, if you like.

Try an approachable salad of fresh mint and grapefruit. Or a clementine sorbet. Or a salad of tangerines and frisee. Or add oranges into a supremely simplified take on a Spanish-style bouillabaisse, like so:
A Simple Spanish Seaside Stew (Serves 4)

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1 28oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 navel oranges — peeled, segmented and halved crosswise
1-2 lb fish of your choice, cut into 2-inch pieces* (or substitute shelled shrimp)
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.
2. Add the sliced onions, bell pepper, thyme and pepper flakes, sauteing 10 minutes.
3. Pour in the diced tomatoes with their juices and the salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook 20 minutes, or until the pepper pieces are very tender.
4. Add the orange pieces and the fish cubes. Gently mix into the tomato mixture and allow to cook 5 to 8 minutes, or until the fish pieces are opaque.
5. Season to taste with additional salt and ground black pepper, if necessary. Garnish with fresh dill and serve with a crisp green salad and/or a crusty hunk of bread for dipping.

The combination of tomatoes and oranges is very common in Mediterranean Spain, and this stew is an easy way to get more fish in your diet for not a lot of money. I find it also makes for tasty lunch leftovers.

Enjoy your birthday and happy eating!
Miss Ginsu

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1.20.2009

Day 12: Cookie o' the Week... Citrus Pignoli

This post marks Day 12 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Welcome to the second Cookie o' the Week! Last week we sampled a Dutch delight, and this week, we're moving south.

As a wee little thing, I sold (and ate) many, many boxes of Girl Scout cookies. They seemed mighty fine at the time (especially the Thin Mints nibbled straight out of the freezer), but that was before I discovered Pignoli Cookies, an Italian confection made up of little more than pine nuts, sugar and almond paste.

Pignoli Cookies

So chewy in the center, so crisp at the edges! Rich and nutty, perfect with a cup of tea... they're divine. Definitely one of my top-five cookies, and that's saying a lot. I really love cookies.

But between the price of pine nuts being what it is (scary) and the relative scarcity of almond paste in the stores where I usually shop, I don't make them often.

That's why I think the holidays are the ideal occasion to seek out the necessaries and bake a batch of these decadent, elegant treats.

Be warned... although you may want to hog them for yourself, they're a bit too rich to eat on your own. So dial up a friend or two, or package them with a pretty bow to give away. They're great host gifts (as long as your host doesn't have a nut allergy).

This year, I deviated a bit from my classic recipe adding lemon zest, which I think makes them even more lovely and citrus-season appropriate.
Citrus Pignoli Cookies (Makes about 3 dozen)

1 cup powdered sugar
8 oz almond paste
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp grated lemon zest
2 egg whites
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups pine nuts

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a mixing bowl, blend powdered sugar, almond paste, vanilla and lemon zest before mixing in the egg whites.
3. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder, blending the dry mix into the egg mixture. Blend just until the dough comes together.
4. Chill the dough for 30 to 40 minutes for easier handling. (It's a sticky dough.)
5. Roll dough into 3/4-inch balls and then roll each dough ball in a shallow dish filled with the remaining pine nuts. Press the nuts into the surface of the cookies.
6. Place the balls about two inches apart on baking sheets, and bake until the cookies begin to turn golden at the edges — about 12 to 15 minutes.
7. Transfer the parchment with the hot cookies to a wire rack to cool completely before peeling the cookies off the paper.

You can sometimes find pine nuts for a bit cheaper in the big-big stores (Costco, Sam's Club, etc.), and sometimes they're sold in bulk at food co-ops or specialty shops.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.12.2008

Day 8: Citrus-Ginger Fruitcakes

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

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

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

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

Candied Lemon & Tangerine Peel
Candied lemon and tangerine peels

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

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

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

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

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.08.2008

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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12.24.2007

Day 19: Orange you impressed?

This post marks Day 19 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Have I blogged about citrus yet this week? No? Horrors! Let that oversight be mended now.

For some reason I always think the things I love to eat must certainly be beyond my ability to make. Maybe that's some kind of weird culinary-related self-esteem issue.

When I actually do the research on a given recipe, I often find out that I could have been supplying myself with something tasty and homemade (not to mention cheaper...) all along. Great Gazpacho? I could whip it up in my sleep. Tasty breakfast granola? A snap! Coffee Concentrate? A cinch! Home-brewed cocktail bitters? Easy-peasy... who knew?

That's why I'm happy to report that while amazing chocolate, wine and beer-making powers may still be outside my realm of competency, I believe candied citrus fruits have finally fallen into my greedy hands.

chocolate-dipped candied orange
Candied Orange dipped in dark chocolate from The Sweet Life

Yes, folks... the lovely chocolate-dipped candied orange slice you see in the photo above can easily be whipped up at home. All you need is a little patience and a handful of ingredients you may already have at home.

The recipe herein is based off one for candied orange peel I found in Sweet Gratitude by Judith C. Sutton.

Ms. Sutton stops at the peel, but I've eaten enough orange slices (like the one above), to know that the whole slice is certainly possible. The secret? Cut 'em thin and treat 'em with all due care and delicacy while you cook 'em.

candied orange
My very own candied orange slice, ready for the dippin'
Chocolate-Dipped Candied Oranges

3 large navel oranges, scrubbed
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 cup white sugar
1 cup water
16oz dark or milk chocolate
2 Tbsp vegetable shortening
parchment or wax paper

1. Using a very sharp knife, cut the orange into thin slices (1/8-inch).

2. Put the orange slices into a large heavy saucepan, add cold water to cover, and bring to a boil; drain. Return the slices to the saucepan, add cold water to cover by about 1 inch, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the peels are tender when tested with a fork, about 15 minutes; drain and set aside.

3. Set a large wire rack, preferably a mesh one, over a baking sheet; set aside. Combine the corn syrup, sugar and water in the same saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Wash down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to remove any sugar crystals (which could cause the syrup to crystallize) and add the orange slices.

4. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat, and simmer gently, stirring once or twice with a clean spoon, until the peel is translucent and very tender and the syrup has reduced to a few spoonfuls, 40 to 60 minutes. (Do not allow the syrup to reduce to less than this, or the bottom of the pan will become too hot and will crystallize the sugar. Add in a little more water if the level gets too low.)

5. Using a slotted spoon or a fork, carefully move the slices to the wire rack to drain; be sure to keep them separate and dry at least 4 hours.

6. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate and shortening, blending until smooth.

7. Dip the orange slices half-way into the chocolate mixture. Allow any excess chocolate to drip off, and let the dipped slices harden on parchment or wax paper.

Though this recipe isn't strictly a holiday-only offering, I'd bet that if you wrapped 'em in waxed paper and nestled 'em in a cute little tin, these would make a smashing holiday gift for your favorite citrus lover. And if you were so inclined, I bet lemons or grapefruit would work just as well.

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12.19.2007

Day 12: What, me bitter?

This post marks Day 12 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

The dank, dark days of December are famously crowded with cocktail parties. Cocktails and latkes for Hanukkah parties, cocktails and pigs in blankets for Christmas parties, cocktails and blini for New Year's Eve.

Aside from the sleek glassware and ostentatious garnishes, my favorite aspect of the cocktail is the stories that follow in the wake of every highball, martini, gimlet and toddy out there. To follow the history of cocktails is to dive down a fascinating rabbit warren of nooks, crannies, characters and concoctions.

My obsession of the moment is with bitters. Having recently discovered that Marlow & Sons, my local shop of culinary wonders was making their own bitters, my mind opened to a new world of possibility.

You can make bitters? Like, not buy them but make them? At home? Without a still? What an adventure!

Yes, Virginia, you can whip up your own homemade bitters. As it turns out, that's what our ancestors used to do. Bitters were common among the herbal tinctures and tonics of an ancient age. And though they're rarely used in cocktails today, bitters preceded the first cock-tails and were, by definition, a necessary component of the earliest cocktail mixes.

The second known printed reference to cocktails comes in the May 13, 1806, edition of the Balance and Columbian Repository of Hudson, New York:
"Cocktail is a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters — it is vulgarly called a bittered sling and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said, also to be of great use to a Democratic candidate: because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow anything else."

Hardy har har.

In all seriousness, the bitters-making process is embarrassingly easy and endlessly adjustable, based on your own tastes.

There's heaps of ancient recipes out there, calling for everything from obscure botanicals like columbo root, gentian and Virginia snake root to better-known additives like chamomile, cherry bark, cardamom and caraway.

I'm going with lemon, ginger and common household spices for mine. Look how pretty my steeping bitters look!

375

DIY Citrus Bitters

1/2 cup raisins
2-3 cinnamon sticks
1" piece fresh ginger, sliced
2 lemons, sliced
1 Tbsp whole cloves
1 Tbsp whole allspice
750 ml whiskey, rum or vodka (highest proof you can find)

1. Combine spices, citrus and liquor.
2. Cover, refrigerate and soak for 1-4 weeks.
3. Strain into a clean jar of your choice.

Make bitters now, and they'll be ready for your Christmas and New Year's cocktails.

Toss aside your Angostura and your Campari and imagine how clever you'll look when you whip out your very own home-brewed bitters at your next party.

Or be generous... Make custom labels and give bottles away as gifts.

How will you use your newfound skill in making bitters? Glad you asked! I've included three quick recipes below. Just keep in mind: bitters are not meant for straight-up sipping. Add to cocktails with a light hand, as you would use a seasoning or garnish.
1. Hot Mulled Wine
You may notice some similarity between this recipe and the Hot Mulled Apple Cider recipe from last week. I think they work well in tandem at parties. Offer Mulled Cider to the kids and teetotalers, Mulled Wine to your favorite boozehounds.

1 750-ml bottle red wine
1 cup water
1 tsp DIY Citrus Bitters
1/3 cup honey
2 cinnamon sticks
3 allspice berries
2 star anise
Zest of 1 orange, removed with a vegetable peeler

1. Pour the wine, water, honey and bitters into a large saucepan.
2. Wrap the spices and orange slices in a square of cheesecloth and tie with kitchen string (or simply use a strainer to remove spices and slices the at the end of simmering).
3. Add the spice bag to the pan and heat the wine, uncovered, over very low heat until hot, about 30 minutes.
4. Remove the spice bag (or strain out the spices and oranges), and serve hot, garnished with cinnamon sticks.

2. Citrus Bitters & Soda
Cool and refreshing on a hot summer day.

6 oz DIY Citrus Bitters
6 oz soda water

1. Half-fill a highball glass with ice.
2. Pour in bitters.
3. Fill the rest of the glass with soda water.
4. Top with a twist of citrus. Serve immediately.

3. The Gin Bitter
A cocktail classic. Substitute rum or whiskey for the gin, if you prefer.

2 jiggers gin
2 dashes DIY Citrus Bitters

1. Half-fill an old fashioned glass with cracked ice.
2. Shake gin and bitters with 1/2 cup cracked ice.
3. Pour into prepared glass.
4. Top with a twist of citrus and/or a thin slice of cucumber. Serve immediately.

Happy adventuring, all! Cheers!

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12.12.2007

Day 7: Pain, Protection and the Pomander

This post marks Day 7 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Delightful to smell, dead easy to make and ubiquitous around the holidays, I'd grown up believing the clove-studded orange pomander was the one true thing.

Pomander Progress

As it turns out, pomanders weren't initially citrus-based at all. They were expensive aroma plus precious metals, cherished as the ancient things of queens and kings. The pomanders of old were fancy perfume carriers.

Apparently, the name comes from the French pomme dambre, i.e. "apple of amber." The amber to which they refer is actually the time-tested perfume agent ambergris. And you may, as I do, remember ambergris from your elementary-school cetacean studies as expensive whale vomit. (Darn it, don't you just love etymology?)

In any case, it seems our stinky European forebears used pomanders to ward off the personal and public effluvia that pervaded their stuffy lives. Back in the day, there was widespread belief that airborne funk carried plague, cholera, etc., so a sweet-smelling pomander was seen as a tool of protection.

Pomander Detail
Detail from a painting of an unknown lady holding a pomander on a chain. Pieter Janz. Pourbus

Somehow, pomanders became associated with the holidays. I have a hunch that's a function of the December citrus season connection.

Though our modern lives feature far less stench, I think we still appreciate little things that smell pretty.

Finished pomanders dry, shrink and make excellent holiday decorations. Keep in mind, too, that you can use whichever citrus you prefer or happen to have on hand. I think lemon or lime pomanders would be just as lively.

As I was pushing cloves into an orange recently, my fingers started to hurt a bit. I wimped out and only made a very basic pomander, figuring that fewer cloves gave it a clean and spartan look. Some people go the distance with their pomanders, pushing in dozens of cloves, devising complicated patterns, tying on ribbons and rolling the thing in a mixture of warm spices, like ground cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and orris root — a natural preservative.

Later on, I did a little pomander research and realized that most people use a skewer or toothpick to poke holes in the orange before inserting the cloves. Ah, well... Bruised fingertips are a small price for such a merry scent.

J picked up my sparely poked pomander the next morning and compared it to Cenobite villain Pinhead of Clive Barker's Hellraiser series.

Pomander Pinhead
Maybe Clive Barker was really into pomanders...

Accurate maybe, but that's not exactly the look I was going for. So much for simple and clean. Maybe next time I'll use an intricate spiral pattern and spring for some ribbons.

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12.07.2007

Day 3: Merry Citrus!

This post marks Day 3 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Some people begin lighting candles for Hanukkah this week, some folks are more about Christmas, others get into Saturnalia or Kwanzaa or Festivus... but pretty much everyone (barring maybe the northernmost locavores) can get behind citrus season as a reason for celebration.

The clementines are back, the grapefruit are rich and juicy and I've seen some excellent oranges recently. Cold months are a little sad and spare in the farmers' market, but the shops are robust with crates of sweet-tart juiciness. Why not whip up some little lemon loaves to mark the seasonal return of sunshine-state citrus?

Merry Citrus
If you happen to like this cheery lemon, click it to get the printable PDF version.

I like to make a batch of little lemon loaves in December and give them away, wrapped up in parchment paper and kitchen twine, with the tag above.

You can usually find the little disposable/recyclable aluminum foil cake pans at grocery stores and discount shops. Get a package of the 5" long x 3" wide x 2" high size. I make my lemon loaves with a variation of Ina Garten's Lemon Cake from Barefoot Contessa Parties! It's yummy on its own and looks fantastic as a dessert with a drizzle of raspberry sauce. Mmm...

Luscious Little Lemon Loaves

For the Cakes
1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs (at room temperature)
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the Glaze
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Procedure:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F, and grease four 5 x 3 x 2-inch loaf pans.

2. Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, and then add in the lemon zest.

3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.

4. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk or yogurt and the vanilla.

5. Alternate adding the flour and buttermilk mixtures to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour.

6. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

7. Meanwhile, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves and makes a syrup.

8. When the cakes are done, let them cool on a rack for 10 minutes. If you'll be giving the loaves away, leave them in the pans. If not, turn out onto a rack. In either case, spoon the lemon syrup over the cakes and allow them to cool completely before glazing.

9. For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice in a bowl, whisking smooth. Pour over the top of the cakes and allow to set up before wrapping them.

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12.03.2007

Ooo. Blood Oranges Are Pretty.

Blood Orange Scraps
... but they stain your chefs' whites somethin' fierce.

One of the best things about cooking is the task's intrinsic aesthetic qualities.

Sometimes I'm just so enamored with a particular vegetable, or, in this case, blood orange rinds collecting on the board.

And by the way... blood oranges are in season right now. Snatch 'em up if you see 'em in your store. Since they're a little less sweet and a little more savory than other oranges, they're excellent in salads with, say, spinach, goat cheese and walnuts.

Mmm...

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3.25.2005