Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Mission: The Ice Cream Smore'wich

As the last big weekend for summer grilling approaches, what's the ultimate summer dessert? The ice cream sandwich? The s'more?

I had a thought this week... why not combine the two? Behold: The Ice Cream Smore'wich!

Ice Cream Smore'wich Blueprint
Click in for the full-size version

I've done a bit of (rich, tasty, chocolaty) experimentation, and I'm here to tell you, there's the fast and easy way, and then there's the longer (but rewarding) way. Your choice.

Ice Cream Smore'wich — The Easy Way

You'll need:
Graham crackers
Chocolate fudge sauce
Vanilla ice cream
Jumbo-size marshmallows
Plastic wrap or wax paper

1. Select two graham crackers and slather one side of one graham cracker with chocolate fudge sauce (or go crazy with Nutella, if you're so inclined).
2. Open a carton of your favorite vanilla ice cream and cut or portion a 1" slice of the ice cream to match the length and width of the remaining graham cracker base.
3. Place the ice cream slice/portion atop the remaining graham cracker base and move both graham crackers to a tray or plate in the freezer to chill.
4. Use a skewer/stick to toast the marshmallow to your liking.
5. To assemble, gently compress the cooled toasted marshmallow between the chocolate fudge and the ice cream-layered graham crackers. Return the completed smore'wich to the freezer for 15 minutes to firm, then wrap snugly in plastic wrap or wax paper and keep frozen until ready to consume.

ice cream smore'wich

Ice Cream Smore'wich — The Homemade Way

First, you'll need homemade graham crackers. Rather than repainting the Mona Lisa, I will merely refer you to Smitten Kitchen's Awesome Graham Cracker Post.

For the chocolate fudge sauce layer:
Simple Chocolate Fudge Sauce (Makes about 3 cups)

1 cup chopped 60% chocolate (or good quality chocolate chips)
1/2 cup butter
2 cups confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup milk or cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or brandy
1/8 teaspoon salt

Combine the chocolate and butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Melt over medium-low heat, stirring to blend. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Gradually blend in the milk (or cream). Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the vanilla (or brandy) and salt. Serve immediately or store, chilled. (Can be rewarmed in the microwave.)

Finally, the toasted marshmallow ice cream:

Although the Torani company makes a very exciting-looking Toasted Marshmallow Syrup, I wasn't able to secure any for this test. Instead, I've gone with a classic ice cream base with a toasted marshmallow swirl.

Toasted Marshmallow Swirl Ice Cream (Makes 1+ quart)

For the Toasted Marshmallow Swirl:
15 large-sized marshmallows
1/2 cup milk or water

Place the marshmallows and liquid in a heavy-bottomed sauce pot and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the marshmallows melt and the sauce attains a rich brown color (about 20 minutes). Add a little hot water if the mixture seems too thick and scrape the edges and bottom well to pick up the caramelized sugar.
When the sauce is thick and caramel colored, remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool.

For the Ice Cream Base:
2 free-range eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk

1. Whisk the eggs 1-2 minutes.
2. Whisk in the sugar.
3. When blended, pour in the cream and milk. Blend well.
4. Pour this blend into your ice cream machine and prepare as directed.
5. When the ice cream is very thick and nearly ready (about five to ten minutes before completion), fold in the toasted marshmallow sauce.
6. Pack the ice cream into pints and freeze overnight.

To assemble the homemade Smore'wich
1. Select two graham crackers and slather one side of one graham cracker with chocolate fudge sauce.
2. Slather a thick portion of the ice cream across the length and width of the remaining graham cracker base.
3. Gently compress the coated sides of both graham crackers together. Wrap the sandwich snugly in plastic wrap or wax paper and keep frozen until ready to consume.

While my toasted marshmallow swirl ice cream is pretty tasty, it's not quite as toasty as I'd like it to be.

I still want to try out the toasted marshmallow syrup, but in the meantime, if anyone knows a foolproof method for getting that rich caramelized flavor into ice cream, please let me know in the comments!

Have a lovely long weekend, and happy eating!
Miss Ginsu

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9.01.2009

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

Day 24: Candy Cane Crunch & Shortbread Stars

This post marks Day 24 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Merry Christmas Eve!

If the weather outside is frightful, the first thing you're thinking of might not be ice cream. But die-hards (like me) think about ice cream year-round — the holidays are no exception.

I haven't done an ice cream recipe in a few months, but I wanted to make this one a little more snazzy and festive for Christmas Eve — thus, the addition of those stripey little canes. And yes, I'll admit it: I have a small candy cane obsession.

Candy Cane Bonanza

Candy Cane Crunch Ice Cream

Candy Cane Crunch Ice Cream (Makes 1+ quart)
Base
2 free-range eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
Add-ins
1/2 cup candy canes (crush in a plastic bag with a jar or mallet)

1. Whisk the eggs for 1 to 2 minutes.
2. Whisk in the sugar.
3. When blended, pour in the cream and milk. Blend well.
4. Pour the mix into your ice cream machine and prepare as directed.
5. When the ice cream is very thick and nearly ready, five to ten minutes before completion, blend in the crushed candy canes.
6. Continue freezing to desired texture.

If you've been reading closely, you'll recognize this dough as the vanilla version of the Peppermint Snowflakes from Day 19. Since the dough can be made ahead and refrigerated (or even frozen and thawed), these cookie cut-outs are pretty convenient to make on the fly.
Sugar Cookie Stars (Makes about 2 dozen — just enough for you and Santa)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg white + 1 Tbsp water, beaten together
White or colored sugar for decorating
1 star-shaped cookie cutter

1. Heat oven to 350° F.
2. In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter together. Add the egg and the vanilla extract.
3. In a separate bowl, sift together the salt and the flour.
4. Blend the flour into the butter mixture.
5. Flatten the dough into a disc or a square, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.
6. Divide the dough, leave one portion in the refrigerator, and roll out the other portion between 1/4" and 1/8" thick on a floured surface.
7. Cut out stars with the cookie cutter and place them about 1" apart on ungreased baking sheets. Brush the cookies with the egg white/water mixture and sprinkle with sugar.
8. Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes. Cool for 3 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool fully.

Now, you could cheat on all this if you find yourself pressed for time... just use a pre-made cookie dough for the stars, then mix crushed candy canes into a softened pint of regular old vanilla ice cream and refreeze it.

Ice Cream and Star Cookie

Serve a festive scoop of Candy Cane Crunch ice cream with a Sugar Cookie Star stuck in the side as a jaunty garnish. Then leave a few more stars on a plate alongside a glass of milk for Old Saint Nick.

Happy Holidays!
Miss Ginsu

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12.24.2008

Day 19: Cookie o' the Week... Peppermint Snowflakes

This post marks Day 19 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

I recently ran across the coolest snowflake cookie cutter set; It included tiny pieces to help cut out the decorative bits on the arms of the snowflakes. Pretty slick, but I had no real need to buy it.

Then it occurred to me that such a thing would be just the ticket for a new take on that stained glass cookie that's made with a basic cut-out recipe and crushed candy that melts into the open spaces. Voila! Peppermint Snowflakes!

Stained-Glass Snowflake

I've made these chocolate, because I really like the combination of chocolate and peppermint, but you could certainly skip the cocoa powder, use 1/2 cup more flour and make vanilla snowflakes.

Crushed Candy Canes and Chocolate Snowflakes

You can use candy canes, as I did, but I think they'd look pretty cool with those clear blue peppermint candies as well.
Peppermint Snowflakes (Makes about 4 dozen)
1 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Candy canes or peppermints
1 snowflake cookie cutter set

1. Heat oven to 350° F.
2. In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter together. Add the egg and the vanilla extract.
3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and the cocoa powder.
4. Blend the flour mixture into the butter mixture.
5. Flatten the dough into a disc or a square, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.
6. Divide the dough, leave one portion in the refrigerator, and roll out the other portion between 1/4" and 1/8" thick on a floured surface.
7. Cut out large snowflakes, creating triangle-shaped openings in each. Move the snowflakes to the baking sheets.
8. Place hard candy or candy canes in a plastic bag, and pulverize the candy into tiny pieces/dust with the base of a jar or a meat mallet.
9. Fill the openings in the cookies with candy shards/dust. Stuff as much as you can into each opening. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes or until the cookie sets up and the candy is melted and bubbly.
10. Cool cookies for 3 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire rack to cool fully.

Though you may be inspired to set these up in the windowsill and admire the stained-glass effect, the candy will melt with moisture of condensation. And since they're really tasty, that's a darn shame. Thus, I must insist you admire them only briefly before munching with a tall, cold glass of milk.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.19.2008

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 5: Cookie o' the Week... Pfeffernusse

This post marks Day 5 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

For me, the holidays are all about cookies. I'm not sure why this is... perhaps it's not such a bad thing to keep the oven on for a while on these chilly December days? Maybe it's because cookies are convivial and easy to share? Maybe they transport well in one-horse open sleighs?

You've got me. Whatever the reason, I like 'em, and the advent calendar this year will feature a cookie of the week. So pay attention: this is the first of your weekly cookie treats.

Pfeffernusse

Pfeffernüsse (literally: Pepper Nuts) are little Dutch spice biscuits baked for Sinterklaas, which is the feast of St. Nicholas — traditionally celebrated today. (That's if you're in the Netherlands. Belgians do it the morning of December 6.)

The whole Santa thing is a very different tradition there. Presents arrive with scraps of poetry, and the guy who's coming down the chimney isn't St. Nick but Black Pete (Zwarte Piet), Santa's sooty bad-cop companion. And honestly, you really don't want Zwarte Piet leaving anything for you. He's there for the kids.

But back to the sweets... I hadn't made these cookies before this year, but I'm just crazy for warm, gingery spices in wintertime sweets, so they looked perfect.

The first time I made them, they were too cake-y and I discovered they could really be nuttier (after all, something called a "pepper nut" should be nutty, no?) so I've doubled the nuts, removed an egg and increased the butter.

Pfeffernüsse (Makes 4 Dozen)
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
2 cups brown sugar
1 Tbsp orange or lemon zest
1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped very fine
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cloves
2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Powdered sugar (for dusting)

1. Blend sugar and butter together in large mixing bowl until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs and blend in the nuts.
2. Sift flour with the salt, baking soda, ground pepper, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.
3. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Cover and chill at least two hours.
4. Heat oven to 375°F. Scoop out dough by the teaspoonful and form 1" balls.
5. Place the dough balls an inch apart on ungreased baking sheets, and bake 10 to 12 minutes.
6. When done, move the cookies to wire racks to cool, sprinkling the cookies with powdered sugar while they're still warm.

Pfeffernüsse have some bite, so I find they're a really lovely treat with a hot mug of tea on a wintery day. As it looks like we might be in for a cold winter, these little guys might come in handy.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.05.2008

Adventures in Dangerous Baking

"Drop the cookie, ma'am."

"Are you talking to me?"

"Yes. Drop the cookie and raise your hands."

"What? But it--"

"You heard me, ma'am. Drop the peanut-butter cookie and back away slowly."

"But it's my cookie."

"I don't want an argument here. Just drop the cookie and raise your hands above your head."

"It's my lunch. I can't just drop it in the dirt, I--"

"Ma'am, you can't go waving around that cookie. You're within 100 yards of an elementary school. That cookie is a lethal weapon."

"But I baked it this morning... Can't I just eat it? Wait! No! Don't shoot! Fine! I'll drop it! See? I dropped it..."

"You people... Now we need to seal off this whole area and do another detox. Do you know how long that takes? Cripes. And you could've killed somebody's kid, too. Can't you read the signs?"

"And it was a good cookie, too. Wait, there's signs?"

"Of course there's signs. There's signs here. And here. And over there, too. Under penalty of law, no peanuts may enter these premises."

"When did that happen?"

When indeed? This is obviously a dramatization, but what's absolutely true is that you really can't bring peanut butter cookies or peanut trail mix or even good old PB&J into a lot of schools nowadays.

Peanut Butter Cookies... mmmm...

One of my daddy friends tells me that his daughter's school has banned not only peanuts, but homemade snacks in general. So put away your family's favorite recipe for lemon bars. School treats must now be individually packaged snack foods.

Great for food manufacturers. Lousy for parents who want to demonstrate a DIY ethic.

In addition to a general fear of food allergies (a fear that some people feel has been exaggerated as of late), birthday treats are also apparently to blame for making America's children blobby.

Again, my friend's progressive school has banned birthday treats as a way to remedy this issue. Thank goodness childhood obesity isn't the result of too much soda pop, fast food, candy-stocked vending machines and a general lack of exercise.

PB cookies unbaked

Knowing all this, I feel that one of the more dangerous acts one can undertake these days is making and (gasp!) distributing peanut butter cookies.

As I was feeling a bit puckish just recently (and the temperature dropped down for long enough to make baking palatable), I whipped up a batch of these little danger discs.

Salty, sweet, creamy and rich... I love 'em. And there's a million recipes out there.

I find the Joy of Cooking version is more sandy-cakey and the Better Homes & Gardens one is more crispy.

PB cookie dough

I tend more toward the crispy, myself. Here's my version. Bake and consume at your own risk.

Peanut Butter Cookies (Makes about 35-40)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or, just use AP)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
White sugar, for squashing (optional)

1. Beat together butter, peanut butter, sugar, egg and vanilla extract.
2. Sift together flour, soda and baking powder, and combine with the peanut butter mixture.
4. Cover mixing bowl and chill for 1 hour, or wrap well and freeze until you're ready to bake.
5. Heat the oven to 375°F, and roll the dough into 1" balls. Place each ball about 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
6. Compress each ball with the tines of a fork. You may wish to dip the fork in white sugar between impressions, since it makes the tops sparkley with sugar. Or not. It's up to you.
7. Bake 8-10 minutes and cool on a wire rack before devouring with cold milk.


Happy Eating!

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8.05.2008

FoodLink Roundup: 07.14.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Happy Bastille Day! Last week, Cupcake was found lollygagging in London, scoring yet another win for Mr. Hazard. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Quest for the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie
A very nicely done piece breaking down the various elements of the perfect chocolate chip cookie.

Bacon mania
'People now wear bacon like it's a mark of status or tribal membership,' says a New York writer who blogs under the name Miss Ginsu and has garnered online attention for making her own bacon cake and bacon ice cream." Woo! I'm a bacon expert. :)

The best croissant in Paris
Pim thinks she's found it. And oh, how I'd love to follow up on this experiment personally...

Secret report: biofuel caused food crisis
Uh oh... Study says "plant fuels have played a 'significant' part in pushing up food prices to record levels"

Do You Know Where Your Mushrooms Come From?
European countries have been labeling their produce sources for years... it's about time the US quit stalling.

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7.14.2008

Foodlink Roundup: 04.14.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was, as surmised, in Bryant Park, Manhattan. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post a guess in the comments.

Cookie Monster: Is Me Really Monster?
McSweeney's takes a peek inside the mind of an addict.

Pacific Coast Salmon Fishing Shut Down
This year's low fish stocks mean bad news for salmon lovers.

This Is Just To Say
So long, and thanks for all the fish. One of my favorite food poems, re-imagined.

Ever Had a Nice Bottle of Greenpoint?
Garage bands, underground art scenes... and now, warehouse wine. (via WineHazard)

pintprice.com: the price of beer anywhere
A handy tool for comparing the true cost of living.

Carl Warner: Photographer
Click the orange box for the fantasy food photos. (Via MUG)

FoodFilmFest.com
Who knew there were enough films and docs on food justice to fill up an annual fest?

Aqua Ban at NY Hot Spots
Bottled water, is like, sooo last year...

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4.14.2008

Day 13: Name that Cookie

This post marks Day 13 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

My dad's family grew up poor. Six kids in an uninsulated shack. My uncle and his brothers were all stuffed into the attic, and he told me he remembers that on cold winter mornings they woke up with frost on the blankets.

Grandpa built the place himself and worked a series of odd jobs to support the family.

Grandma cooked, sewed, cleaned and did everything from scratch, from home-brewed cough syrup (rosehips brewed with honey and brandy) to the kids' haircuts and clothes.

I know everyone waxes nostalgic about their grandma's cooking. It's like a national obsession. I'm not sure whether it was more a lack of skill or a lack of quality materials, but my grandmother was a terrible cook. I just can't get on board that "Over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house we go" haywagon.

Though she was far from Martha Stewart, I still remember with enormous fondness the gifts she made for everyone every Christmas.

We'd all arrive for Christmas Day dinner to find a long line of red cotton stockings labeled in permanent marker with our names. Inside, she'd stuff hard candies, oranges and shell-on nuts.

name cookies

Additionally, each holiday brought a new round of grandma's famous name cookies. She'd bake everyone in the family a rock-hard cookie as big as your open hand and frost it with something akin to sugary plaster. Every cookie was iced in grandma's shaky hand with flowers, decorations and your very own name.

She individually wrapped the cookies in plastic, slipped each inside one of the margarine boxes she'd saved up throughout the year (nothing went to waste in that house), and stacked them in the freezer for presentation on Christmas Day.

My cousin and I were kids, so we'd spend hours gnawing happily at the edges. I have a feeling my aunts and uncles saved their name cookies to toss out at the soonest private opportunity.

We all had good fun at the expense of grandma's cooking, but truthfully, grandma died soon after my senior prom in high school, and I still miss those awful cookies.

I loved name cookies not for their flavor, but for the feeling of love and individual recognition they gave me each holiday season. Even in a shack filled with smoke, tension and far too many people, I was remembered. I was known.

Every December meant my very own name on a homely red stocking and a marginally edible cookie. All made by hand by a grandma who loved me.

This year, I won't be sewing any stockings, but I'm making name cookies as a gift for some folks at work that I want to recognize and appreciate.

Like grandma's, my name cookies will demonstrate thought, effort, resourcefulness and a love of homespun craft. Unlike grandma's cookies, my name cookies will be tasty. Unlike grandma, I have good kitchen equipment and the resources to buy real butter, good flour, farm-fresh eggs, good spices and pure vanilla extract.

You can the basic version of the Wonder Dough recipe I mentioned the other day, or the gingerbread cutout cookies below.
Gingerbread Name Cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup dark molasses
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves

For the icing:
2 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

Optional Decorations
Raisins or chocolate chips
Food colors
Colored sugars or other edible sprinkles

For Gingerbread Cookies
1. Cream the butter until smooth. Blend in the sugar and eggs.
2. Mix in the molasses and vanilla.
3. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture in three batches, mixing after each addition.
5. Flatten dough, wrap in waxed paper or plastic and refrigerate 1 - 2 hours.
6. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
7. Roll dough out on floured board about 1/8-inch thick.
8. Cut large circles with a big cookie cutter, or cut the dough the way grandma did: use the cut edge of an emptied and well-cleaned 28 oz can.
9. Place cookies onto a cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool in the pan 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool fully.

For Royal Icing
Beat the egg whites with the vanilla extract until frothy. Add the sifted powdered sugar and beat until stiff and glossy. If desired add food color. Transfer to a pasty bag and pipe on cooled cookies. Allow 2-3 hours for the icing to dry.

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12.13.2007

Day 1: Wonder Dough

I love any one thing that does many things. The Swiss Army knife. The cast-iron Skillet. Duct tape.

With that in mind, what's not to love about the efficiency of a single cookie dough that offers endless variation? Around the time-crunched holidays, a versatile recipe makes gift baking simple.

If need be, you can make just one little batch of sugar cookies, one batch of ginger cookies and just one batch of chocolate-peppermint cookies. Voila! A mixed cookie plate to take to work and a few more to give away to cookie-munching friends and neighbors.

And everyone knows that homemade cookies taste better. They're fresh, they don't contain high-fructose corn syrup or weird shelf-life extenders, and above all, they're rich in love. Store-bought cookies never have enough love in 'em.

The below recipe is based off of one that was published in Real Simple magazine a while back. It's a quick little sugar cookie on its own and can easily be dolled up with spices, nuts, candies, shapes and colors, as per the variations. It's really like ten recipes in one. Pretty handy, no?

the gingerman
One dough to rule them all, one dough to find them, one dough to bring them all and in the darkness bind them...

Wonder Dough
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp baking soda

Beat together the butter, sugars, corn syrup and vanilla extract. Mix in the egg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Add ingredients from the variation of your choice.

Heat oven to 375° F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or use silpat baking sheets. Unless the directions for the variation state otherwise, form the dough into tablespoon size mounds. Place on the prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake until lightly browned at the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to wire racks. Cool completely and store for up to 1 week.

The Wonder Dough Variations...

Gingersnaps (Makes 60 cookies)
Make the base recipe, adding 2 tsp ground ginger and 3 more Tbsp flour. Divide the dough into 2 portions, roll into discs and wrap each in plastic. Freeze for 1 hour. On a floured surface, roll the dough out 1/4" thick. Use cookie cutters to make stars or people. Bake about 8 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to wire racks. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar or decorate with white icing. (Just blend together a cup of sifted confectioners' sugar with 1-2 tablespoons milk. Adjust the liquid/sugar ratio for the consistency you want.)

Fruitcake Bars (Makes 30 bars)
Make the base recipe, adding 1 cup dried cranberries, 1 cup candied or plain pecans, and 1 Tbsp rum. Spread the batter in a buttered or parchment-lined 9" square baking pan. Bake for 35 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack. Cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

Cinnadoodles (Makes 60 cookies)
Make the base recipe. Form the dough into 1 1/2" balls. Blend 3 Tbsp sugar with 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon in a small bowl. Roll the balls in the cinnamon mixture and place on prepared baking sheets. Flatten the balls into 1/2-inch thick disks. Bake about about 12 minutes or until until light brown. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to wire racks.

Oatmeal-Spice Cookies (Makes 60 cookies)
Make the base recipe, adding 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats and 1 tsp pie spice (or substitute 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground ginger, and 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg). Shape and bake as in the base recipe. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to wire racks.

Chocolate-Peppermint Pinwheels (Makes 40 cookies)
Make the base recipe, and divide the dough into 2 portions. Melt 3 oz unsweetened chocolate and mix into one of the dough balls. In a separate bowl, blend 1 egg yolk, 1 tsp peppermint extract and 1/2 cup crushed peppermint candies into the other dough ball. On a floured surface, roll each dough separately to about 1/4" thick. Place a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap on the work surface and stack the peppermint layer atop the chocolate layer. Press around the edges to form a uniform disc. Using the wax paper or wrap, roll the stack into a log. Wrap well and freeze for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and cut chilled log into 1/2-inch slices, placing 1" apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake about 12 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to wire racks.

Chocolate Nut Cookies (Makes 40 cookies)
Make the base recipe, adding 12 oz semisweet chocolate (chopped or chips) and 1 cup chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts). Shape, bake and cool according to the base recipe.

Pine Nut Drops (Makes 40 cookies)
Make the base recipe, blending in 1 tsp almond extract. Form into tablespoon-size balls. Spread 2 1/2 cups raw pine nuts on a plate. Roll each ball in the pine nuts, pressing nuts into the cookies. Place 2" apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake and cool according to the base recipe.

White Chocolate Snowballs (Makes 20 cookies)
Make the base recipe. Form the dough into teaspoon-size balls. Spread one 7 oz bag of sweetened flaked coconut on a plate. Roll each ball into the coconut, pressing so it adheres. Place on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to wire racks. Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl placed over, but not touching, simmering water, melt 12 oz white chocolate (chopped or chips). Turn half the cookies upside down and spread the flat sides with the white chocolate. Sandwich them with the remaining cookies.

Jam Jewels (Makes 40 cookies)
Make the base recipe. Form into tablespoon-size balls. Place about 2" apart on prepared baking sheets. Press a thumb about 1/2" deep into the center of each ball. Fill each indentation with about 1/2 teaspoon apricot, strawberry or raspberry jam. Bake and cool according to the base recipe.

This post marks Day 1 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. Happy holidays!

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12.01.2007