Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Two words

Two words that embody what's awesome about flying Air France:

"Champagne Apéritif"

Champagne Aperitif

Ahhhhhh. Chanoine Brut Grande Reserve. The fennel crackers weren't half bad, either.

Actually, I love flying Air France for a number of these little niceties. The texture of the blankets and pillowcases. The fact that (even in the standard economy-class seats) they give me a little travel packet with a moist towelette, earplugs, headphones and an eyeshade.

And I love the menus. Actually, I'll share the menu here. Isn't it lovable?

In-Flight Menu

Here are the offerings within:

Choice of Beverages: beer (Heineken), mineral water, juices, soft drinks, white wine (Vin de Pays d'Oc Chardonnay 2008 La Baume) or red wine (Vin de Pays d'Oc Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 La Baume)

* Surimi, carrot and zucchini salad with ratatouille bread

Choice of Main Course
* Chicken with spiced coconut sauce, basmati rice and fried onions
-or-
* Four-cheese tortellini with Neapolitan sauce and Italian cheese

* Butter, demi-baguettes, Camembert wedge, gingerbread-fig tart, fruit smoothie, coffee and tea

Don't forget the after-dinner brandy digestif and the pre-landing snack pack (mineral water, butter cookies, drinkable yogurt).

Nowadays, I usually pack my own picnics on flights. Boiled eggs, summer sausage, apples, grapes, cheese, carrot sticks, raw almonds, a bite or two of chocolate...

I realize cost-cutting is important and all, but flying used to be part of the fun of the travel adventure. I miss those days. Thankfully, Air France still manages to hold on to a few of the humanizing details that make a multi-hour flight bearable.

More from the adventures in Northern Italy and Southern France on the way. Meanwhile, I'd be happy to hear any in-flight food survival tactics, so if you've got one, throw it in the comments.

Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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10.02.2009

Cinco de Mayo Whoopie Pies

When I started writing this particular post last October (yes, it's been bounding around the lobes of my brain for a while) I wondered whether Whoopie Pies were poised to be the new Cupcakes.

Back then, I wrote,
"I feel like I'm seeing whoopie pies everywhere I turn. And aren't cupcakes far too 2002 these days?"

But now that I've made a couple of batches of whoopie pies, I realize they're no match for the mighty cupcake. I've come to this conclusion for three key reasons:

1. The Cuteness Factor. Cupcakes are cute. Even scribbled drawings of cupcakes are cute. Whoopie pies are homely.

2. The Travel Factor Cupcakes are less portable than cookies, but whoopie pies are even worse. The filling tends to squish out inappropriately in transit.

3. The Fan Base Nobody puts Cupcake in a corner.

Gigantic Whoopie Pie
The new cupcake? I don't think so.

I do volunteer baking for the Craig's Kitchen Dessert Corps, which organizes a troop of oven-ready cooks to produce desserts for my local soup kitchen. It's a very cool endeavor.

The dessert assignment changes each week, so I've done everything from rice krispie treats to pumpkin cheesecake brownies and red velvet cake.

One of the recent assignments was to make whoopie pies, which seemed interesting and fun until the time came to actually do it and the weather was a random, record-setting 90° F. In April, for the luvvagod.

The hot oven heated my already overheated apartment. The filling drooped and melted. Each very tasty (but very goopy and sticky) whoopie pie was ultimately only barely contained by the individual zip-top sandwich bags into which I slipped them.

I tried to refrigerate the whole messy bunch of them, but delivery to the soup kitchen required they be okay at room temperature... and I'm afraid these little cookie sandwiches probably ended up being a bit too volatile to handle.

Picture the poor and luckless masses of my neighborhood struggling through exploding packs of marshmallow goo to dig out their chocolate whoopie cookies. Seemed like something just short of a dessert fiasco.

What then, would send me back to make more whoopie pies? Well, 1. leftover ingredients and 2. the kind of wisdom that only comes from sorry experience.

This time, I'll be making whoopie pies with a Cinco de Mayo twist (hooray for spiced chocolate!) and I'm not assembling them until I'm safely on location at the event. Then they can ooze and drip all they want.

I'm also making each "pie" into a much smaller affair. The whoopie pies I first baked up were based on a recipe that made enormous versions... 4 to 5 inches across, as you'll see in the photo above at the top of the page.

Whoopie Pie Platter

While my version is by no means bite-sized, you'll find my whoopies are a much more petite treat (more like 2.5 to 3 inches across), which is more than plenty. Those mega-whoopies are enough to feed two to three people, and honestly, who wants to share?
Mini Mexican Chocolate Whoopie Pies (Makes 12-13)
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 2/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cayenne
1 1/3 cups buttermilk (or plain yogurt mixed with milk)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
2 eggs

For the filling
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup powdered confectioner's sugar
2 cups marshmallow creme or marshmallow fluff
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Heat the oven to 375°F and use a little oil or butter to grease two large baking sheets.
2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients: flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and cayenne.
3. In a separate, smaller bowl, blend the buttermilk and vanilla.
4. In a large mixing bowl, blend the butter and brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Whip in the eggs until well incorporated.
5. Into the butter mix, alternate adding the blended dry ingredients and the buttermilk mixture, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. The mix will be very sticky.
6. Drop 1/4 cup portions of the batter 2 inches apart on the greased baking sheets, place the sheets in the oven and bake for about 8 minutes. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 3 minutes before moving the "cookies" to racks to cool fully.
7. To make the filling, blend together the butter, confectioner's sugar, marshmallow creme and vanilla extract.
8. Assemble the whoopie pies by slathering a few tablespoon's worth of the filling on the flat side of one of the cookies. Top the filling with the flat side of another cookie. Repeat this process with the rest of the cookies and filling.
9. Serve immediately, or chill until serving time to help firm up the filling.

If I only had a jar of dulce de leche sitting around the house, I'd try to whip up a filling with that instead of the marshmallow creme (doesn't that sound decadent?) but I do believe these whoopies will have the same whoopie-inducing effect either way.

With that, I bid you a delightful Cinco de Mayo, and may your whooopie-making always be fun, gratifying and easy to clean up.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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5.05.2009

Food Quote Friday: Men at Work


Image by Kham Tran

Buying bread from a man in Brussels,
he was six foot four and full of muscles.
I said, do you speak-a my language?
He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich.

Men at Work from Business As Usual

More salty, yeasty food quotes can be found within the food quote archive

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4.25.2008

Food Quote Friday: Horace

The Crepe Complete
The traditional crêpe complete: cheese, ham and a soft-centered egg. Mmm... So simple. So tasty.

"A hungry stomach seldom scorns plain food."

Horace

Hungry for more food quotes? Find 'em here.

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3.07.2008

The Donut Wars

I will preface this piece by letting you know this: I'm not a donut person, per se. That said, I will also tell you this: I love donuts in concept.

I love the way donuts are round. I love the way they curve in the palm of the hand. I love the hole in the center. I love that you can sometimes peek through that hole in the center and peer at the someone with whom you're sharing donuts. Maybe you also make a face or a silly noise at that moment. Donuts can be funny. But donuts also show up at wakes and church socials. Donuts can be somber.

Tres Leches Donut
The delightful Tres Leches Donut from the Donut Plant

What I love best about donuts is the idea of donuts and coffee. There's something so classically Americana about donuts and coffee.

The donut of my platonic ideal is the fresh-outta-the-fryer, crisp and steaming cake donut handed to me on a paper towel by an elderly someone who warns me that it's hot, and that I should be very careful not to burn my mouth. Said elderly someone has imbued this donut with his or her old-fashioned care, affection and pride. Needless to say, those donuts are rare as hen's teeth.

Donut Plant Dozen
A recent Donut Plant Dozen... Top left, clockwise: Pomegranate, Ginger, Coconut, Classic Glazed, Valrhona Chocolate, Rose Petal. In the back, Tres Leches, Blackout and another Valrhona.

My next-favorite donut is much more accessible. It's down at the Donut Plant and the cherubic counter man will sell it to you for a dear, but ultimately quite fair, price. Donut Plant donuts will not arrive hot from the fryer, but they are made with old-fashioned care, affection and pride as well as inspiring seasonal ingredients. Donut Plant donuts are taste adventures, and I like that in my food.

My boss liked Donut Plant donuts when I brought a tasting into work recently. He especially liked the Tres Leches donut. But what he REALLY likes are donuts from Peter Pan Bakery on Manhattan Ave. in Greenpoint.

After inhaling his first sampling of Peter Pan donuts just recently, he returned the next day. And the next. He demanded to know why I'd been holding back valuable Peter Pan donut insights for so long. It's not like I was plotting against his happiness. It's just that I'm not a donut person and because Peter Pan donuts were not my first-choice or second-choice donut, their little jellied and powdered gems made a much smaller blip on my personal radar.

One fateful day last week, my boss brought a stack of boxes into work. Boxes filled with donuts. Chocolate Glazed, Powder-Dusted. Some filled with berry jam. Some filled with Bavarian Cream. Cinnamon-Apple Cake Donuts. Strusel-Topped Donuts. Coconut-Flake Donuts.

A Mountain of Donuts from Peter Pan
A Mountain of Donuts from Peter Pan... Top left, clockwise: Chocolate-Glazed Eclaire, Cream-Filled Coconut, another filled eclaire, two custard-stuffed creampuffs, a Glazed Donut and a Strusel-Topped Donut

My coworkers went into a Peter Pan donut frenzy. They yelped. They swooned. They gorged. They ran to their phones and texted significant others with messages like: "OMG!!! We're getting up early Sat 4 DONUTS!" One coworker claimed that these were the long-lost donuts of her childhood, the like of which she hadn't seen in decades. She wrote to her mother about them.

And, yes... They're great donuts. Everyone says so. They're actually much closer to iconic American donuts, raised and glazed, fried fresh every day with good-quality fillings and (presumably) good-quality dough ingredients. (And they're dead cheap. This is Greenpoint, after all.)

The Peter Pan donut is probably very similar to the goods that the very first Dunkin' Donuts shop made waaaay back before they went corporate and started using cheaper fillers, cheaper sweeteners, cheaper fats and mass manufacture. The Peter Pan donut may not be available at every corner, but it really is the pastry of the people.

Admittedly, I felt crushed that my beloved Donut Plant donuts had so quickly rolled to the wayside in favor of a mighty Peter Pan onslaught. It was immediately clear that most people weren't really interested in pomegranate donuts, rose-petal donuts, Valrona chocolate donuts, ginger donuts, coconut-cream donuts or peanut butter and jelly donuts. They didn't want experimental donuts. They wanted donut donuts. They wanted tradition and comfort and sugary cream fillings.

So it seems the traditionalists won the war for the (clogged) hearts of my coworkers.

Down in the trenches, covered in a dusting of powdered sugar and sweating off the sugar-crash shakes, I reflect and find I've learned a few things.

I have strong donut opinions. I may have a delicate donut ego. And I guess I just happen to have a slightly off-the-mainstream donut perspective. And if I have all that, well... hell. Maybe I really am a donut person after all.

Peter Pan Doughnuts & Pastries
Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop on Urbanspoon
727 Manhattan Ave
Brooklyn, NY
718.389.3676

Donut Plant
Doughnut Plant on Urbanspoon
379 Grand St
New York, NY
212.505.3700

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3.06.2008

Food Quote Friday: Charles Reznikoff

Man with an Apple
"A Mounted Man with an Apple" from the peerless NYPL

"Showing a torn sleeve, with stiff and shaking fingers the old man pulls off a bit of the baked apple, shiny with sugar, eating with reverence food, the great comforter."

Charles Reznikoff

A deep bowl of food-quote comfort can be found here.

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2.29.2008

Five Favorites: Soup For What Ails Yeh

Just about everyone I know has a cold right now. They snuffle, they sniffle, they choke and cough. And I know what they need. They need soup.

For those of us without the foresight, fortitude or free time to make and freeze quick stock for quick soups (and yes, I often find I've left my freezer lacking at exactly the wrong time), New York City provides many delicious options. (Thanks, New York!)

Here's my Top 5 NYC soup fixes for those days when I'm feeling horrid and lacking the time and energy to make soup:

Takeout Pho

1. Pho Grand (277 Grand Street, between Eldridge and Foresyth, close to the Grand St. B/D stop)

My truly favorite sick-day soup is pho (which looks like it might be pronounced foh but is properly pronounced more like fuh), a gingery Vietnamese beef broth with noodles. It's traditionally served alongside wedges of lime, crisp bean sprouts and sprigs of fresh mint and Thai basil.

You dress it as you like it with the garnishes so it's always to your taste (and I usually stir in a teaspoon of Sriracha sauce because I adore the heat).

I get my pho at Pho Grand because I dig the proximity to J's place and the Vietnamese diner feel. At Pho Grand, the pho is both delicious and cheap, and they'll make you up a quick pack for takeout. They have lots of variations, but my fave is the Pho Bo Lui because it comes with sesame beef.

2. Cafe Medina (9 East 17th Street, just west of Union Square)
Tasty, inexpensive soups and a nice variety of 'em. Choices vary by day. Walk all the way to the back to find the soup station. Ask for a taste if you're undecided. I recently had the chicken chowder and the eggplant-lentil. Both were very satisfying soups.

Rai Rai Ken Ramen

3. Rai Rai Ken Ramen House (214 E. 10th Street, near 2nd Ave)

I love Momofuku and Setagaya ramen, of course, but fashionable and loud or frenetic and bright are not what I'm looking for when I'm feeling low. What I want is a large, deep bowl of steaming ramen soup with dim light and low music. I want it full-flavored, filling and cheap. And I also get a huge kick out of the crazy white and magenta surimi disc that floats on top of a bowl of Rai Rai Ken ramen.

4. The Soup Kiosk at Fanelli's Cafe (94 Prince Street, west of Broadway)

A good bunch of good soups. Too bad they're only open during the day. But you're probably taking the day off work anyway. Choose one off the short list here and take it home where you can convalesce in peace. Or better yet, send someone reliable to go stand on line for you. After all, you're sick. You need your rest.

5. The Soup Spot (220 West 31st Street, between 7th & 8th Aves)

If you happen to be closer to Penn Station than Soho, you'll be better off hitting this soup shack. Unfortunately, they're also a lunch-only option and you won't be the only one standing in the soup line. But in this case at least, business also happens to be a reliable indicator of goodness.

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2.17.2008

Food Quote Friday: Graham Greene

Cream Tea at Podunk

"Tea at college was served on long tables with an urn at the end of each. Long baguettes of bread, three to a table, were set out with meagre portions of butter and jam; the china was coarse to withstand the schoolboy-clutch and the tea strong. At the Hôtel de Paris I was astonished at the fragility of the cups, the silver teapot, the little triangular savoury sandwiches, the éclairs stuffed with cream."

— Graham Greene from The Comedians

Sample more savoury food quotes here.

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2.15.2008

Food Quote Friday: Madame d'Arestel

Hot Chocolate with fresh-whipped cream at Angelina in Paris

" 'Monsieur,' Madame d'Arestel, Superior of the convent of the Visitation at Belley, once said to me more than fifty years ago, "whenever you want to have a really good cup of chocolate, make it the day before, in a porcelain coffeepot, and let it set. The night's rest will concentrate it and give it a velvety quality which will make it better. Our good God cannot possibly take offense at this little refinement, since he himself is everything that is most perfect.' "

— as quoted by Brillat-Savarin from The Physiology of Taste, 1825

Sip up more decadent food quotes here.

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2.08.2008

Brekkie Showdown: Beans on Toast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bean v. Bean

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

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

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

Making Brekkie

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

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

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

Beans on Toast with Poached Egg and Rashers

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

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

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12.29.2007

Day 6: Will Sing for Cider

This post marks Day 6 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

The other day I received a scrap of a note from a friend. He wrapped it up succinctly: "I will see you soon, I hope. HOT MULLED APPLE CIDER FTW!!!"

And I have to agree. On a cold, wet, blustery day, is there an aroma more homey and welcoming than simmering spiced cider on the stove? "Come on in," it says, "Sit down and take off your galoshes. You'll soon warm up and everything will be fine."

hot mulled cider

A Minneapolis friend of mine used to organize December caroling rounds. In childhood, she'd done time in a children's oncology ward and wanted to be able to bring a little joy (or maybe just comedy, in our case) to the kids there.

We'd divide into multiple cars to make the rounds from the children's hospital to the homes of key family and friends. Strangely, everywhere we went, someone forced hot cups of cider into our chilly fingers. It was as if the entire Twin Cities area just happened to be simmering spices on their stovetops. "Come on in! You must be freezing! Here, have some hot cider!"

Sticky with juice, giddy on fructose, we'd try to stay on key and remember the order of the verses. Yeah, we were even loopy enough to go for that high section in O Holy Night. On multiple occasions. Crazy kids...

Should you not already happen to have a family recipe for Hot Mulled Cider, I'm including mine, below. Or just ring up anyone in Minnesota. I think the state must be sending out cider kits inside their annual tax packets.

Hot Mulled Apple Cider (FTW!!!)
1 half-gallon jug apple cider
1 cup water
2 cinnamon sticks
3 allspice berries
2 star anise
1 orange, thinly sliced
cheesecloth & kitchen twine or a strainer

Either tie spices into a cheesecloth bundle before you make the cider or know that you'll need to pour the finished product through a strainer before serving.

Add spices, cider and orange slices to an medium-sized saucepan and simmer until a convivial aroma fills your kitchen.

Remove spice bundle and orange peels or pour through a strainer into cups. Serve with a cinnamon stick.

Warning: this recipe may attract carolers.

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12.06.2007

Day 2: Soup for a Rainy (or Snowy) Day

This post marks Day 2 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Chicken soup is now scientifically proven to alleviate symptoms of the common cold (and even if it wasn't... it's so warm and soothing we probably shouldn't care about the scientific studies that much anyway). I think it makes sense to keep a few pints of it in the freezer.

Why? Well, what if you should happen to catch a cold? It is, after all, cold season.

If you've prepared in advance, a welcoming bowl of home-cooked soup is sitting right there waiting for you to warm it up. And if a friend or loved one gets the flu... you get to be Jenny on the Spot... there, soup in hand, to rescue the poor dear with a lightning-fast delivery of love. The well-stocked domestic goddess is a good friend to have.

Neon Matzo
Matzo on the run in Berkeley, CA

If you happen to be one of the many who enjoy the convenience of the rotisserie chicken, you're already halfway there.

Step 1: Rotisserie Chicken Stock

Eat most of the rotisserie chicken, saving aside all the bones and excess skin. In a separate container, save out about 1 cup chopped chicken for the soup. You can use white meat, dark meat or a combination of the two.

Put the bones in a large stock pot and cover with water (about 2 quarts).

Add:
1 bay leaf
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 medium onions (quartered)
2 carrots (roughly chopped)
2 celery stalks (roughly chopped)
2 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
A handful of parsley stems

Simmer, covered, for an hour to an hour and a half.

When the bones are boiled bare and the vegetables are soft, place a colander (or a sieve) over a suitably-sized pot or bowl and carefully pour the hot liquid through, catching the solid materials in the colander. Discard all the bones, herbs and veggies. You can cool the stock and store it in convenient pint-size containers in the freezer or move right on to...

Step 2: Comforting Chicken Soup

4 cups chicken stock (the rotisserie version or otherwise made/purchased)
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup carrots or parsnips, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup chicken meat, chopped (reserved from the rotisserie chicken)
2 tsp chopped fresh parsley, dill or tarragon
Salt & pepper, to taste

Optional fanciness for serving:
lime or lemon wedges
matzo balls, cooked egg noodles or rice

Over high heat, bring stock to a boil in a large stockpot with lid on. Add onion, celery, carrot/parsnip and garlic. Lower heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until veggies are tender. Add chicken and simmer 5 more minutes. Remove from heat, add herbs and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add in cooked noodles, rice or matzo balls (if using).* Finish with a squeeze of citrus, if desired.

Serve immediately, or cool and ladle into pint or quart containers to freeze for future tastiness and/or rescue missions.

* If you're planning to freeze this soup, I'd recommend leaving out the starch.

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12.02.2007

Borrowed Comforts

Is comfort food necessarily bound up in the place in which we spend our developmental years? I have some quibble with that notion.

The comfort food of my people is supposed to be monochrome and starchy: bread, potatoes, beef and butter served alongside a tall glass of milk or a cup of dark coffee. I sprouted in the Upper Midwest of these United States, and that's how we rock it up there.

Yet, in times of stress, sorrow, sickness or stupor I so often find myself drawn toward the comfort foods of far-flung regions: Venezuelan arepas, Vietnamese pho, Japanese ramen, Indian curries, Israeli shakshoukas and Moroccan tagines.

Coffee at Les Enfants Terribles
Coffee and J's furry arm at Les Enfants Terribles

In the darkness, Canal street cutie, Les Enfants Terribles, is a crush of beautiful people who drink and laugh and flirt.

But on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the place is a low-key gem, providing me with a corner table, sunny windows, a view of the international soccer matches, a hot cup of coffee, a crusty baguette and a plate of tasty tagine alongside rockin' Moroccan harissa. My tagine is hot, tender and rich in meaty chicken flavor with a hint of lemon. Slathered with a little searing harissa, it's pure comfort food.

Tagine and couscous at Les Enfants Terribles
Tagine (at front) and couscous (at rear) from Les Enfants Terribles

This is certainly not the finest tagine on the planet (that's a mystical meal I imagine as some kind of slow-cooked masterpiece I'd discover in the kitchen of a Moroccan grandmum). What it is, however, is warm, welcoming, inexpensive and... yes, comforting.

When I really think about it, is my brunch tagine so different from the cuisine of childhood? The tagine is really just a stew. Baguette in place of sliced bread, couscous for the potatoes, chicken or lamb replace the beef and the coffee... well, that's still coffee.

The arepas I love so much are simply a crispy corn shell holding a pocket of stewed meat or vegetables. Pho and Ramen are steaming bowls of veg and meat with noodles. India's curries are highly spiced stews served with basmati rice. The shakshuka is a hot tomato-pepper stew served with eggs and pita. None of these dishes are really so different from the others.

It's clear that the accents are different. One man's harissa is another man's ketchup, no? But could it be that when we speak of comfort food, the world communicates with something like a common tongue?

Three Spoons

Les Enfants Terribles
37 Canal St. (at Ludlow St.)
Lower East Side, NYC
212.777.7518

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11.18.2007

Mi Horchata = Cold Comfort

Our cool, damp spring screeches to a sudden halt with a day so muggy it's like walking around in someone's mouth.

And of course the air conditioner's out at work. Can't think. Can't focus. So sweaty and gritty I want to peel my skin off. A cool, white, liquid beacon hovers in my mind like a shimmering promise of sweet refreshment. Horchata.

Horchata

In Mexico, horchata is a creamy, lightly sweetened rice milk blended with flavors of cinnamon and almond. The drink was brought to Mexico from Spain, and was probably brought to Spain by the Moors, who made it with the chufa — a root pod also known as the “tigernut.”

I’m told that chufa horchata is liquid ambrosia, but since my corner market doesn’t sell a lot of chufa, I can’t corroborate that rumor. The sad fact of the matter is, I can’t even find a rice-based horchata ‘round my pierogi-rich ‘hood. What’s an overheated girl to do?

Luckily, horchata is extremely simple to make, and since there’s so many variations out there, it seems nearly impossible go wrong.

Some recipes use a little milk or coconut milk. Some add in a bit of lime zest or a squeeze of juice. Some use a little vanilla. Some instructions recommend grinding the dry rice to a powder before adding water. Others tell you to cook the rice nice and soft first, then blend it to a smooth consistency. (You could, of course, skip the rice preparation altogether and just use a commercial rice milk like Rice Dream.)
Mi Horchata (Makes enough for 4-6 folks)

White rice (1 cup per roughly 8-10 cups of water)
Whole raw almonds (maybe a cup)
Cinnamon (1-2 sticks)
Sugar (1/2 cup or more, to your taste)

1. In a heavy-bottomed stockpot, simmer the rice, almonds, cinnamon and water until very tender (about 30 minutes).
2. Remove the cinnamon stick.
3. If a thicker version is desired, blend the mixture smooth in batches in a blender or food processor.
4. Strain through layered cheesecloth or a fine sieve. Chill well. Pour in an ice-filled glass and revel in the cool, creamy (non-dairy!) goodness.

Some folks like theirs with chewy rice at the bottom, something like the tapioca pearls in bubble tea.

Personally, I find that it's lovely blended, strained and poured over crushed ice like a cocktail. Throw in a touch of rum or tequila if the mood strikes you. Oh, what's that? The heat index is up over 100? Bring it on.

Miss Ginsu

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6.09.2004