Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Alternatives to Turkey and Pie

Tolstoy begins Anna Karenina with this famous line: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Similarly, of Thanksgiving dinners, I might say, "Average Thanksgiving dinners are all alike; every interesting Thanksgiving dinner is unique in its own way."

Thanksgiving meals I grew up with were always the most basic Midwestern fare (probably because grandma didn't really enjoy cooking). The menu: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green beans and pie.

In college, I went vegetarian and dined on Tofurkey with stuffing, veggies and the rest of the fixings. (In retrospect, I might've done better to have simply baked a nice casserole.)

I was recently impressed to learn that many southern folks consider a ham to be an essential aspect of the Thanksgiving feast. (Honestly, I really don't know where they find the room in their ovens.)

And in my Polish neighborhood, a Thanksgiving dinner might include turkey alongside "Meat Stuffing, Fruit Stuffing, Vegetable Salad, Pierogies, Apple Cake and Apple Cherry Cake," as advertised in the window of the local cookshop where I snapped this image:

Thanksgiving in Greenpoint

While I'm usually a traditionalist for the Thanksgiving feast, this year I have a broken wrist and a busy week, so we're keeping it as simple and as local as possible with products from our CSA, the NYC farmers markets and the local foods at FreshDirect.

Putting aside tradition, we'll be going with Duck and Flan instead of Turkey and Pie. I've decided on duck breasts because they're fast, they're easy, they're 100% dark meat (no fighting over the legs) and they'll still be lovely with cranberry sauce.

Our Simple, Local Thanksgiving Menu:
You'll note that almost everything on the menu can be found within 200 miles of the city, so I want to offer my heartfelt THANKS to all the people who work hard to grow raise, process and transport our food.

Ending the meal with a slice of pumpkin flan offers a nice change of pace from the standard pumpkin pie. Additionally, if there happens to be anyone on a gluten-free diet at your dinner table, they'll appreciate the lack of crust.

Flan

Flans are pretty easy to make, except for two tricky parts at the beginning and end of the process: caramelizing the sugar and flipping the cooked flan onto a serving plate. Just pay close attention at these junctures and you'll have no problems.

And remember, if you should happen to burn the caramel, it's not a big deal. Just open the window to air out the kitchen, soak the burnt sugar off the bottom of the pan with hot water and try it again with lower heat and a watchful eye.

If you have pumpkin pie spice in the cupboard, you can just use a teaspoon of that in place of the ginger, mace/nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice/cloves.

Spiced Pumpkin Flan (Serves 5-6)

2/3 cups sugar (divided into two parts)
3 large eggs
2 cups canned pumpkin puree
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon mace or nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice or cloves
1 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
2. In a small saucepan, cook 1/3 cup of the sugar over medium heat until it begins to melt. Don't stir or touch it; just lower the flame and heat it, swirling the pan until the melted sugar caramelizes to a golden brown.
3. Quickly pour the liquid caramel into the bottom of a 9" quiche/flan dish or cake pan. Turn the dish to evenly coat the bottom. Allow to cool.
4. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl, blending in the pumpkin, cream, salt and spices.
5. Place the quiche/flan dish inside a roasting pan (with high sides) and pour hot water into the roasting pan until it measures about half-way up the side of the flan dish.
6. Carefully move the roasting pan to center rack of the oven before pouring the pumpkin batter into the flan dish. (This process prevents flan flubs on the way to the oven.) Bake until the flan is firm in the center, but still has a little jiggle — about 50 to 60 minutes.
7. Carefully move the hot flan dish from the roasting pan to a wire rack to cool. Then chill in the refrigerator at least 2 to 3 hours. (Overnight is better.)
8. To serve, warm the flan for a few minutes before running a knife around the edge of the dish. Place a large plate on top of the flan dish. Gently flip both together so that the flan gently flops onto the plate. Lift away the flan dish and cut the flan into wedges.

Having an interesting Thanksgiving dinner this year? Drop a note in the comments!

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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11.23.2009

Vive la Clafoutis!

Ah, the 14th of July! The season of fresh, local cherries. The celebration of Bastille Day. The time to bake a fruity dessert for this week's Dessert Corps project.

Oh, hey... look at that. It's like a cosmic alignment of forces telling me it's time to make a cherry clafoutis, the traditional custard pudding of Limousin in the heart of la belle France.

Rainier Cherry Bowl

As it happens, the fantastic Dessert Corps volunteer crew provided me with a half-dozen eggs and more than a pound of gorgeous, blushing Rainier Cherries — sweet, fragrant and fresh from the Greenpoint farmers' market.

Not familiar with the Rainier? It was developed in Washington state in the 1950s, as a descendant of the big, beautiful Bing Cherry and the smaller, more obscure (but very hardy) Van Cherry.

Apparently the Rainier fetches princely prices because the birds eat about a third of the crop and because they bruise easily, so there's some waste in transit.

By that measure, a Rainier Cherry Clafoutis is a dessert (or brunch treat) that's fit for kings! Or perhaps just recently deposed royalty! Or maybe even friends who happen to be a bit down on their fortunes and need a bit of home-baked comfort.

Rainier Cherry Clafoutis

You choose the audience. I'll provide the recipe:
Golden Rainier Cherry Clafoutis (Makes one 8" dish)
2 1/2 cups (roughly) pitted Rainier cherries
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup toasted almonds
4 large eggs
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup cream (or milk)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
1 tsp lemon zest (optional)

Confectioner's sugar (for dusting)

1. Preheat oven to 325°F and butter an 8" round or square baking dish.
2. In a medium bowl, gently toss the cherries with the cornstarch and spread evenly across the bottom of the buttered dish.
3. Blend the flour and almonds in a blender or food processor until nuts are very finely chopped.
4. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and salt. Whisk in flour until just mixed.
5. Blend in cream, melted butter, vanilla (or almond) extract and lemon zest (if using), whisking until smooth. Pour this mixture over the cherries.
6. Bake until the center sets and the top begins to turn golden, about 55 minutes.
7. Cool to room temperature before dusting the surface with powdered sugar. Serve with vanilla ice cream or yogurt, if desired.

Bon appétit, mes amis!
Miss Ginsu

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7.14.2009

Strawberry-Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Of all the fruits, rhubarb retains the most magical nostalgic quality for me. Back when I was very small, it grew gargantuan each spring around the farmhouse. My mom always made terrific rhubarb desserts. Sweet-tart. Spicy. Distinctly rhubarb-y.

What's funny is that rhubarb isn't actually a fruit. It's a stem, making it technically a vegetable... but who eats rhubarb as a vegetable? No, rhubarb is the vegetable that found its true calling in the fruit world.

And I used to be such a purist about it. None of that strawberry blending for me. Rhubarb was dandy on its own thankyouverymuch.

These days I see the value in marrying the two. They both mature at the same time. My CSA delivers them at the same time. Why shouldn't I cook them at the same time? And what a delight they are together!

For my Dessert Corps project this week, the theme is rhubarb, so I'm contributing a strawberry-rhubarb upside-down cake.

Rhubarb Compote

For this cake, I begin with rhubarb compote. But for my day-to-day life, that's generally where I end. Compote. With yogurt. For dessert. It's sweet-tart tangy, creamy, cool... really divine.

But since my humble yogurt and compote dessert doesn't seem dressy enough (or portable enough) for sharing with the soup kitchen... today, I go beyond compote and into the slightly more complicated world of cake.

Upside-down cakes are an interesting topic on their own. I wrote an article on them a couple of years ago and discovered that flipped cakes were probably born of historical necessity, skillet cakes having been easier to make than standard cakes for those without ovens.

But I digress... On to the cake!

Strawberry Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake (Makes an 8" x 8" cake)

Rhubarb Compote:
2 stalks rhubarb, cut 3/4" thick
15 medium strawberries, quartered
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp water
1/4 cup white or brown sugar

Vanilla Cake:
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup AP flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick butter (6 Tbsp), softened
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp buttermilk (or plain yogurt + milk)

For the Compote: Combine rhubarb pieces, strawberry pieces, water and sugar in a saucepot. Gently simmer, stirring every few minutes, until the fruit is tender, about 12-15 minutes. Remove from heat.

For the Cake:
1. Grease an 8" x 8" round or square cake pan with butter and preheat the oven to 350° F.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and vanilla.
3. In a larger mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Blend in the butter until well incorporated and then stir in the buttermilk. (It will be sticky.)
4. Add about half the egg mixture into the larger mixing bowl, stirring until smooth (about 20 seconds) then stir in the rest of the egg mixture. Incorporate well.
5. Spread the rhubarb mixture evenly across the bottom of the greased pan. Spread the cake mixture evenly over the top of the rhubarb mixture and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
6. Remove cake from the oven when done, cool for 5 minutes on a rack, then loosen the cake from the sides of the pan with a knife, place a serving platter face-down atop the cake pan and invert the cake onto the platter. Some of the fruit may stick in the pan. Scoop this out and replace it atop the cake.

Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream, or cool and serve slices with coffee.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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6.16.2009

Chocolate Fondue the Lazy Way

Feeling rushed this week? Broke? Out of ideas for something special you might want to do for the Valentine's Day holiday?

Consider the Lazy Cook's Chocolate Fondue, a recipe that's easy, cheap, fun to do, a little out of the ordinary and supremely decadent — all at the same time.

Chocolate Fondue with Peeps

The nice thing about this recipe (other than the fact that it's dead simple, cheap and reliably tasty) is that it's so very flexible.

If the berries look ugly (February isn't exactly their best month), get dried fruit instead.

Don't like marshmallows? No problem: skip 'em.

Need a Valentine's Day treat for the whole family? Double the recipe. Kids love to dip things... especially in chocolate.

Prefer dark to milk? Go crazy.

Whatever your preferences, this is the chocolate treat for you and your valentine, because you can customize it perfectly to suit the occasion and the participants involved.

Chocolate Fondue with Peeps (Close Up)
Chocolate Fondue the Lazy Way (Serves 2-4)

For the sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream
8oz (1/2 lb) chocolate chips, pastilles or small chunks (milk, dark or white)

For dipping (Choose one or more)
Fresh strawberries, raspberries or blackberries
Bananas, cut into 1" chunks
Pound cake, cut into 1" cubes
Dried fruit (apricots, figs, dried cherries, banana chips and pineapple work well)
Jumbo marshmallows
Graham crackers or shortbread cookies
Walnut or pecan halves
Fresh coconut, cut into 1" cubes

1. Count out forks or skewers and prepare a serving plate with the dipping items. (You'll want them at the ready so the sauce doesn't cool down completely while your fussing.)
2. Place the cream and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat. Whisk constantly until the chocolate melts and incorporates.
3. Pour the chocolate sauce into a pretty bowl and serve immediately alongside your prepared platter of dippers.

Totally easy, right? You can whip this up in less than 20 minutes.

I'm not a white chocolate person, but I must admit it looks particularly cool on the berries.

And feel free to use broken up chocolate bars, chocolate chips, one of those huge Hershey chocolate kisses hacked into little pieces... whatever chocolate you happen to have.

Cheers!

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2.11.2009

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

Sweet-Tart-Cool-Fresh-Bliss!

A composed dessert

J. made this for me because he's full of good things and has to share some of them in order to avoid bursting open, which would be terribly unattractive and inconvenient.

A splendid summer sweet, this dessert is lovely to look at and tangy-sweet-refreshing to consume. Some of the nicest dinner-endings are more like delightful assemblies of good ingredients and less like cooking or baking

Thus, I will attempt to relay the assembly list for you:

A Quick & Lovely Summer Dessert
Lime-Basil Gelato (Il Laboratorio del Gelato)
New Jersey Blueberries
Torn Fresh Mint Leaves
Drizzle of Lime-Blossom Honey

If you were serving this to a crowd, I'd ask you to consider chilling the plates in the freezer and putting down a gingersnap or a teaspoon of poundcake crumbs before plating the gelato. That keeps the melty-ness at bay while you do up a series of plates for your lucky guests.

Bon appétit!
Miss Ginsu

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7.25.2005