Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Hopping with anticipation

Remember the anticipation of childhood? The upcoming birthday. Christmas morning. Summer camp. Children are capable of an eagerness so passionate, you can almost watch them vibrate when they ponder certain approaching moments.

Of course, we soon learn that the anticipation is often strangely sweeter than the ultimate gratification.

But I must admit, I'm feeling some great, giddy excitement since visiting the Brooklyn Flea recently and picking up one of Brooklyn Brew Shop's dandy little homebrew beer kits.

Gallon Brew Kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop

Check it out: freshly cracked barley, yeast, hops, sugar and an adorable gallon-sized glass carboy that'll actually fit in a New York City-sized apartment. Genius.

You may be thinking I'm an alcoholic or wondering whether I'm unaware that NYC features both terrific beer pubs and excellent beer shops. Why make it when you could just buy it and be assured of a good product every time?

Valid thoughts across the board. But what I'm really amped about, that is, my true reason for excitement... well, it isn't really about the beer at all — it's the thrill of discovery. If this little kit produces a gallon of nice beer at the end of the process, that's just a satisfying bonus.

I chose the Belgian Tripel kit, though the Brew Shop also offers a Grapefruit Honey Ale, a Berry Red Ale and a Chocolate Maple Porter — which may be next on my to-do list if all goes well with the Belgian.

In this video, you can watch Brooklyn Brew Shop's gregarious brewmaster/millmeister Stephen Valand crushing (gently, so gently) my newly purchased Belgian barley. He'll also tell you why this is important to the brewing process.



I'll report back once my little yeasty beasties have done their work.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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10.06.2009

But You Can't Tuna Fish

When it comes to a surplus, some foods are easier to wrangle than others. Extra apples become applesauce and apple butter. Easy.

Extra peaches become preserves. No problem. Extra cabbage becomes sauerkraut or kimchi. Cucumbers, beans, onions and carrots become pickles.

But what happens when you come across a great sale on tuna? Well, as it turns out, that, too can be preserved.

Tuna!

J and I are huge fans of the oil-packed tuna that typically comes in jars from Spain and Italy, but those are not cheap.

An article in the LA Times a few months ago illustrated how the same process can be accomplished at home, so when we recently ran across some bargain albacore steaks, we stocked up.

Preserved Tuna

As the piece illustrates, oil-poaching tuna is a supremely simple process with the potential to save lots of money if you get a good price on the tuna. And the end result is very satisfying.

Watching your salt intake? Don't use it. Like a little citrus flavor? Add some lemon peel to the oil. We've been pleased with the addition of thin-sliced garlic.

Essentially, you just cover a tuna steak in olive oil, add some herbs, citrus peel, garlic and/or salt to the liquid (if you like) and cook it at the lowest cooking temperature you can manage for about 12 to 15 minutes.

Once it's opaque and flaking, it's ready to go in jars and hang out in the fridge... become a tuna salad sandwich or top a lovely salad, like this feta-olive-chickpea-tomato number. Mmm...

Mediterranean Salad

Our home-poached tuna is also J's new favorite thing when paired with avocado. We shared this salad the other night, and I have a feeling it's going to become a regular part of the dinner lineup.

Note: I didn't post an image here yesterday out of pure laziness... and lack of quality light in the windowsill, but mum insisted on a photo, so we made it again today. Yum.

Tunacado Salad
J's Tunacado Salad (Serves Two)
4-5 cups mixed lettuce, chopped or torn
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup drained tuna chunks
1 ripe Hass avocado, in 1" pieces
1-2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1-2 scallions, sliced thin
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (use some of the poaching oil!)
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Dash of salt, grind of pepper

1. Combine lettuce, tomatoes, tuna, avocado, parsley and scallions.
2. Drizzle with a vinaigrette composed of the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.
3. Devour immediately.

The parsley and scallions are minor, but very tasty additions. If you must, you can get by without them, but it really is a superior salad when they're included.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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4.04.2009

Recession-Proof Espresso: Become a Barista

I must say, I'm a little torn these days between supporting my local coffee shop and saving some money by making my own espresso drinks. They need the money. I need the money. I'll probably just split the difference.

I love the community that local, independent coffee shops provide, but having worked as a barista in college, I also know that the process of creating coffee drinks is easy (and yes! even fun!) once you get the hang of it.

Espresso!

How much can you save? Let's run the math... When you figure about 75 tablespoons of ground coffee per pound of coffee beans, that's about 37 espresso servings in a pound of beans.

At roughly $7 a pound for beans, you can make a serving of espresso for 19 cents. Like lattes? Tack on about 50 cents per serving for organic milk or 25 cents for the conventional stuff.

At about 5 cents per tablespoon for chocolate syrup, you can make an organic mocha latte for just 74 cents. A small mocha latte (with conventional milk) at a coffee shop normally costs between $2.50 and $3, so that's a significant savings. Compelling, no?

My Moka Pot

And yes, I think anyone would love to have a gorgeous espresso machine like J's big red FrancisFrancis!, but at $800-$1,000 apiece, that's just not reasonable... or even necessary.

Instead, I suggest making espresso on the stove using the same inexpensive tool that Italian families use at home: the moka pot or stove-top espresso pot.

This type of espresso pot is cheap ($20 or less) and simple to use. Since they don't have breakable parts, they last and last, so if you figure that a single shot of espresso costs about $1.50 at most coffee shops and amortize the cost, it'll take you less than 20 drinks to pay off a moka pot.

Once you follow the money, it begins to make dollars and sense to learn a little espresso magic.

All you have to do to use one is buy the very fine-ground espresso coffee or, better yet, grind the beans very fine in a coffee grinder.

To make stove-top espresso with a moka-style pot:
1. Unscrew the top of the espresso pot, setting it aside for a moment.
2. Fill the bottom with cold water to just below the safety valve on the side.
3. Fill the funnel-shaped section with about two tablespoons of fine-ground coffee, tamping the top gently to flatten the grounds.
4. Place the funnel back into the bottom section and screw the top back on.
5. Place the pot over medium-high heat. It'll take about 3-4 minutes for the espresso to bubble up to the top. (It's okay... you can peek under the lid while it's bubbling if you want.)
6. When the espresso fills the top section up to the bottom of the pouring wedge, you can remove the moka pot from the heat and pour out the espresso. Yay! Just rinse everything out with water to clean.


Inside the Moka Pot

Dead simple, right? And once you can make espresso, you've opened the door to the giddy world of espresso drinks.

A number of espresso drinks utilize hot milk, which you can obviously just use a saucepot or microwave to produce. A fancy electric milk frother can make quick work of the decorative milk foam, but you can also simply froth the milk with a little dedication and a cheap whisk.

Here are an array of basic recipes for the most common espresso drinks.
Latte
Espresso + 1 cup hot milk + 1 tablespoon decorative milk foam

Mocha Latte
Espresso + hot milk + 1 tablespoon chocolate syrup

Breve
Espresso + 1 cup hot half & half + 1 tablespoon decorative milk foam

Cappuccino
Espresso + 1/3 cup hot milk + 1/3 cup milk foam

Americano
Espresso + 1 cup hot water

Cortado
Espresso + 1 tablespoon hot milk

Macchiado
Espresso + 1 teaspoon milk foam

You'll also find an array of cute coffee construction images over here. And clearly, once you know the process, you can go all crazy with flavored syrups and whipped cream, if that's what you're into.

Now go forth, my friends and caffeinate! (Don't forget to tip yourself.)

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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3.22.2009

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: 08.04.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was spotted in the Tuillerie Gardens in Paris. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

In a jam
Summer in a jar... faster.

Six of a Kind: Pizza / Slice of heaven
Six best pizzas in the bay area? I'm a bit far afield. Anyone have intelligence on this one?

I'll Take the Manhattan
Mmmmm. You can't argue with the classics...

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8.04.2008

Make Mine a Mead

Apparently, it's the American Homebrewer's Association Mead Day. And as it's sweltering summertime out there, I can't think of a better day to highlight the pleasures of DIY beverages, not to mention the plight of the threatened honeybee.

Home-brewed mead
Brett's homebrew. Great tiled countertop, right? I helped install that. :)

Though oft dismissed as the stuff of Ren Fairs and the creative anachronism crowd, mead is actually not that difficult to do at home. And (bonus!) being a generous homebrewer is guaranteed to make you immediately popular in your neighborhood and totally valuable after the apocalypse.

My college buddy Brett, a talented photographer and writer, brews all kinds of delights in his enviably large basement in Susquehanna, PA.

And just what does he have down there? Rich molasses-y porters. Dark stouts. Light, spicy Belgian ales. And some new batches of crisp, effervescent mead.

A cold glass beside the sandbox
Nothin' like a cold glass of mead while you play in the sandbox...

While I was out there on a recent visit, he confessed that he's been lazy. Truthfully, he's really only interested in making mead as of late. Why? It's simple. Who wants to fuss with a lot in the summertime?

So here's to simplicity. And here's to the bees that make mead possible. Unfortunately, North America's bee populations are threatened by mysterious, deadly troubles that science is referring to as Colony Collapse Disorder.

A number of honey-loving businesses, from cosmetics company Burt's Bees to ice cream maker Häagen Daz have recently joined forces highlight this issue and throw some money at CCD research.

When honeybees die, we lose more than honey, beeswax products and mead. Bees are essential to agriculture and maintaining our food supply.

Meanwhile, I submit to you a spiced mead you can do at home, if you have the patience, the space and/or your housemates are forgiving. This mead is technically a methyglyn, which is a mead with spices, while a melomel is a mead with fruit.

Before starting, you'll need about 25-30 clean 12oz bottles, the same number of corks or caps and a capper, and primary and secondary fermentation buckets or a carboy that you've sanitized (bleach works well for this).
Double-Fermented Citrus Mead Makes about 2 1/2 gallons, (about 26 12oz bottles)

6 to 9 lb good quality honey
2 1/2 gallons water
1/8 oz freeze-dried wine, champagne or mead yeast
Peels from 4 oranges or lemons (no whites)
2" piece ginger, sliced
2 Tbsp coriander seeds

1. Bring the water to a boil. Once the water reaches a boil, remove it from the heat and mix in the honey, sliced ginger, citrus peel and coriander.

2. Meanwhile, mix 1/2 cup of lukewarm water in a clean bowl with the yeast.

3. When the pot is cool, skim out the peel, spices and ginger and stir in the yeast mixture. Transfer the mixture to a clean, sterile fermentation bucket or a carboy.

4. Cap the bucket/carboy and let the mixture ferment for two to four weeks. The number of carbon dioxide bubbles emitted from the air lock should drop to one bubble every minute, indicating the first fermentation is almost complete.

5. When the bubbling activity subsides the yeast is dead. Carefully siphon the mead the secondary fermentation bucket and cap it (try not to get the lees at the bottom of the bucket). Age for one to four months.

6. Once the mead has cleared and matured, you can siphon it into sterilized bottles and cap them. Let the bottles sit for at least another week or two, then chill and serve.

Brett is quick to remind homebrewers that, like most alcoholic brews, mead improves with age. Even if you're not crazy about the first bottle you sample, you might really love the same brew a few months (or years!) later.

The Beer for Dummies guys offer this additional advice:
Note on equipment: Making mead requires essentially the same basic kit necessary to brew beer at home: primary and secondary plastic-bucket fermenters with air locks and spigots, transfer hosing, a bottle-filler tube, heavy bottles, bottle caps, bottle capper, and a bottle brush and washer. You should be able to find these items for approximately $70 total (excluding the bottles) through a home-brewing supplier, such as The Home Brewery. Bottles cost from $6 to $20 per dozen, depending on style. You might instead buy a couple of cases of beer in returnable bottles, drink the beer, and — after sanitizing them! — reuse those bottles, for the cost of the deposit.


Cheers!

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8.02.2008

Italian Pecorino Cheese: A How-To Video

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

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

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

Abruzzo, Italy

A very charming goat

Sheep stomach

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



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

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

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

Cheers, ya'll!

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7.16.2008

Colonel Mustard. In the Kitchen. With a Knife.

I wonder if the entrée is a bit like a family's first child. Lots of attention. Lots of photos. Lots of fuss. Conversely, the condiments of a meal are more like the third or fourth children. They're loved and cherished, of course, but they don't get the same kind of special notice.

It was close to 100°F today, so there was no cooking in our dinner plans. We ate a big dinner-sized salad made up of farmer's market lettuce, cherry tomatoes, diced rotisserie chicken and pepperoncini slices dressed in a zippy mustard vinaigrette.

It was wonderful... alive with flavor. But the tastes we enjoyed were dependent on the freshness of the lettuce, the juiciness of the rotisserie chicken, the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes and most of all, the bold, lively flavor of the mustard vinaigrette, a delight made possible by J's close proximity to The Pickle Guys and Guss' Pickles.

Pickles & Mustard Crocks at L'Express in Montreal
Pickles & Mustard Crocks at L'Express in Montreal.

Long ago, households made their own mustard as a matter of course. It varied from home to home. It had personality. The mustards of yesteryear developed and matured in flavor as they sat in pottery crocks on the shelves of larders.

But today's mustards are shelf-stable and consistent. They're the same from day 1 to day 321. They're clones. Every bottle of French's is like every other.

Though these United States are awash in dead yellow packets and squeeze bottles of uninspired mass-market mustard, there are still delis and pickle guys and grandmas making their own, god bless 'em. Spicy homemade mustard. Mustard with vigor. Mustard with cojones.

I think summertime is a fine time to have some of the real stuff. It's a time of bratwurst and hamburgers, potato salads and barbecue sauces and picnic sandwiches.

If you happen to live too far from one of the keepers of the ancient yellow flame, you can make mustard yourself without much trouble at all. You can even be generous about it. Divide your batch in half and pack a bottle as a gift. Throw your own custom label on it. Go crazy.
DIY Spicy Horseradish Mustard (Makes 1 1/2 cups)

3/4 cup wine vinegar (red or white)
1/8 cup brown mustard seeds
1/4 cup dry mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp prepared horseradish
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt

1. Combine the vinegar, mustard seeds, dry mustard, garlic, horseradish, sugar and salt with 1/4 cup of water in a jar with a lid.
2. Cap the jar and shake well.
3. Refrigerate for two days.
4. Puree mixture in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return to the jar and use immediately or store, chilled. Your mustard will mature and improve over a few weeks' time.

Quick Mustard Vinaigrette (Makes about 1/2 cup)
I find this mustard is particularly tasty with meaty salads and salads that include a cheddar cheese.

1 Tbsp DIY mustard
2 Tbsp wine vinegar
1/2 Tbsp water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pinch sugar (optional)

1. Mix the mustard, water and vinegar.
2. Whisk in the vegetable oil until smooth
3. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar, to taste.

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6.11.2008

The Cockail Kit

It's natural, expected even, for we humans to swoon over autumn. Those crisp mornings followed by sweet, golden afternoons are bankable bliss. Likewise, the daffy days of springtime are an easy sell.

Loving nothing more and nothing less than the temperatures between 45 and 85 °F, we hairless apes are among the most delicate of creatures, and summer and winter — the seasons of extremes — are the times that try our good will. Temperature hardship tends to ensure we lose a bit of that stuff we refer to (with more than a little pride) as our humanity.

Whether packed into airless cubbies, tearing sweat-soaked clothes from rashy skin or cursing our clammy shoes and shivering from a malingering chill that stings noses, fingers and toes... the harsh months require boosts of external cheer. In short, we need cocktails.

Perhaps it's only me who believes that cocktails are bound to time and temperature. That said, I'm sincerely of a mind that the cocktail was invented to sustain us through winter colds, seasonal affective disorder and glum January just as it revives us from summertime bouts of immobility, irritability and heat-induced wilt.

I also firmly believe that cocktails belong within the realm of the home cook. After all, why should lovingly constructed drinks be the exclusive domain of the professionals?

With all that in mind, I'm going to dedicate a handful of upcoming posts to homespun summer cocktails. May they provide a sense of restorative ease — and perhaps even exoticism — to those cruelest of months.

Homemade Bitters

When I whipped up home-brewed batches of bitters last December (and drank them with great glee the following month), I realized that there are three compelling reasons to make something yourself when you could more easily stroll down to the store and buy it.

1. You can make it cheaper.
2. You can make it better.
3. You teach yourself a bit about the world you inhabit.

I haven't actually done a cost breakdown on my homemade bitters vs. a readily available brand like Peychaud (I suspect the results wouldn't fly in favor of the homespun... the cost of materials probably throws this one off), but I can certainly put in a good word for reasons two and three.

An additional bonus: it's so much swankier to breeze into a backyard barbecue or a rooftop grillfest with a jar of one's own limited-edition bitters and a couple of classy cocktail recipes. And as an urbanite lacking outdoor space, repeat invitations from grateful hosts are precious, indeed.

So make up a few jars of bitters now. Set 'em on top of the fridge and let them steep for a week or two. Next time you have an invite, grab your jar and print out the cocktails below. Adoration is assured.

The Old Fashioned is perhaps the oldest cocktail on record, back in the days when the word cocktail actually implied the use of bitters. And the Sazerac, an old New Orleans special, isn't much more new fashioned than the Old Fashioned. So learn to whip up just these two and you can impress the Steampunk neighbors down the way with your old-school cocktail insights.
Easy: The Sazerac

3/4 oz simple syrup
1 dash bitters
3 oz rye whiskey
1 tsp absinthe
1 lemon twist (to garnish)

1. Chill a rocks glass.
2. Blend the syrup and bitters. Add the whiskey.
3. Swirl the inside of the rocks glass with the absinthe and discard any excess.
4. Fill the glass with crushed ice and pour the whiskey mixture over it.
5. Garnish with lemon twist.

Easier: The Old Fashioned

2 oz Bourbon or rye whiskey
1 splash of simple syrup
2 dashes bitters
1 orange twist

1. Place a handful of ice cubes in an old-fashioned glass (rocks glass)
2. Pour in syrup, bitters and whiskey. Mix well.
3. Garnish with the orange twist.

Easiest: Seltzer & Bitters

Fill a rocks glass with ice (shaved or cubed, as you prefer). Pour in a shot of bitters and finish the glass with seltzer.


Cheers!

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6.10.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: DIY Tamales

I've noticed that after you've been blogging for a while, you find that your commenters often come up with even better material than you do. Oh, how I love online community!

A couple of my favorite blog comments can be found at the bottom of this post, in which commenter M. delves far beyond my sci-fi depth and in this post, in which an anonymous commenter has an astoundingly vast knowledge of butter.

This weekend, I received a very cool note from wine wizard Eric Hazard, who convincingly pitches this week's Recession-Proof Recipe: Homemade Tamales. What a gift!

Just about the only thing he doesn't provide is a wine pairing... although I think I'd prefer these little guys with horchata or an icy lager, myself.

Oaxacan tamale at La Loma, Minneapolis
Oaxacan tamales at La Loma, Minneapolis

From the man himself:
So, here's something to consider, since it is great way to extend meat and it is just so much fun to make: tamales.

Being from South Texas, I have long ago given up trying to find good tamales in NYC. So I took to making my own last year, and I've got it pretty well down.

Even though they look extremely difficult, the base ingredients are really simple.

Most crucial is Masa Harina. I had a devil of a time finding it in Manhattan, I'm sure it would be easier to find in the ethnic food markets in the boroughs. If not, $20 will buy plenty via Amazon. Corn husks can also be ordered, but this time of year, corn is plentiful so why not save the husks to be used later? (Plus, how cool is it to find a use for what most people would just throw away).

Tamale masa is basically a combination of the masa harina corn meal, lard, baking soda, salt and chicken stock. This forms the basis for whatever meat (or vegetable) you wish to put into the tamale. It is really tasty and really filling, making the more expensive ingredients inside go a long way.

For my filling, I use pork, cooked with green chilies, diced tomatoes, garlic, onion, cumin, chili powder, and enough chicken stock to keep it honest as it slowly boils. Once finished, I run it through the food processor to chop it up and evenly distribute the flavors.

Then it is a matter of spreading the masa on the moist corn husks, laying down some filling and rolling up. The batch is then steamed for 45 minutes and you're done.

Really filling, really tasty and you can make a ton to freeze and save for later. If I had to take a guess, I'd say I can make a dozen for about $10. Most of that being the cost of pork.

As an extra bonus, the Homesick Texan just recently posted about making your own lard, so you could really go to town on the DIY tip if you were inspired.

As far as quantities for the batter, you should probably go with about a cup of fat to every four cups of masa harina. That'll yield about 35 tamales.

DIY Tamales
1 cup lard or vegetable shortening
4 cups masa harina
1 Tbsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

You'll also need
Your filling of choice (stewed pork, cheese, chicken, veggies, etc.)
About 40 corn husks, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
Twine or kitchen string

1. Blend lard or shortening, masa harina, soda, salt and stock together.
2. Spread about 1/4 cup of tamale batter across the center of each husk.
3. Spoon about a tablespoon of filling along the center of the batter.
4. Wrap the batter around the filling, rolling in the sides and tucking the bottom of the husk. Bind top (and bottom, if necessary) with lengths of twine or kitchen string. Repeat this process with the remaining husks, batter and filling.
5. Place two or three dimes in the bottom of a large pot fitted with a steamer basket (while it boils, they'll jingle, letting you know there's still water in the pot) and add enough water to meet the basket base, but doesn't let that level rise above it.
6. Stand the filled husks in the basket, keeping them upright, but not cramped.
7. Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to keep the water simmering gently. Steam about 45 minutes.


If you really go crazy for homemade tamales, you should definitely try some Brownie Tamales while you're at it. Invite a few amigos over. Bust out the cervezas. Have a fiesta on the cheap!

Muchas gracias a Señor Hazard por una buena idea!

Salud a todos!

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5.28.2008

FoodLink Roundup: 03.10.08

Cupcake Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was romping through Sabino Canyon near Tucson, Arizona. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post in the comments if you think you know...

The Psychology Of Commerce
A quick lesson in commodity exchange... demonstrated with the aid of vegetables and chickens.

Free the Grapes!
Wine lovers unite to do battle against the evil forces of distribution blue laws (via WineHazard)

A Brief History of Chocolate
"Who would have thought, looking at this, that you can eat it?"

Self-control consumes real energy
Why your deprivation dieting plans fail every time...

Thomas Heatherwick East Beach Cafe
The most expensive chippy you've ever seen. Hope those chips are tasty.

Coffee Prices Skyrocket
Horrors! Time to stockpile those vacuum packs.

Chinese Food: America's National Cuisine
Exploring the march of the ubiquitous "Chinese" restaurant across America.

Make Coca-Cola at home
DIY Coke... A great skill to have after the apocalypse.

Honibe Honey Drop
Solid honey drops. A nifty innovation for tea-drinking travelers. (via
The Food Section)

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3.10.2008

Shrove Thursday

In honor of miserably cold weather, the glories of a homespun breakfast and the last few days of Pancake Month, I got up a little early to make pancakes for myself today. Blueberry-Banana Wholegrain Pancakes, to be precise.

"Miss G," I thought, "You've had a tough week at work, and you need comfort food that makes your Thursday just a little more awesome." It's a simple demonstration of good self-care.

Donuts can be tasty, but they tend to make me crash out with sugar shakes... and that's not exactly setting myself up for success. The hot bowl of steel-cut oatmeal or my very own homemade granola are delicious — and very satisfying — ways to wake up, but that's what I eat pretty much every day.



A small stack of pancakes, on the other hand... now that sounded pretty great. Regardless of what happened for the rest of Thursday, I could rely on the gift of pancakes to make the day a little more special.

I find that aside from the feelings of warm bliss they produce, pancakes are a nice treat because most of the measuring can be done in advance. Like many people I know, I operate on about a quarter of my normal brain as I bump around the kitchen in the morning.

Easy DIY Pancake Mix

8 cups flour of your choice
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp + 2 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Sift the ingredients together. Store in an airtight container for up to three months, or keep it the mix in the freezer for even longer.

To make a batter, measure out 1 cup mix and blend with 1 egg, 1 cup buttermilk (or substitute 3/4 cup plain yogurt and 1/4 cup water or milk) and 3 Tbsp melted butter.

Thin it out with a little more milk or some water if it seems too thick.

You can use all-purpose flour or a mix of flours. J really enjoys a flavorful buckwheat pancake, so a half-and-half mix of whole-grain flour and buckwheat flour works well for those.

To make a whole-grain mix, try whole-grain pastry flour, which has a finer texture. Oat flour blends are nice, too. Feel free to add in some wheat germ if you're a fan.
Blueberry-Banana Pancakes (with Cinnamon!)

1 cup buttermilk (or substitute 3/4 cup plain yogurt + 1/4 cup milk or water)
1 egg
1 cup Easy Pancake Mix
3 Tbsp butter, melted

1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 ripe banana, well-mashed
1/2 cup blueberries

Additional butter, for cooking

1. Heat the oven to 250°F and place a cookie sheet on the top rack.

2. Whisk together the yogurt/buttermilk, milk and egg until smooth.

3. Blend in the pancake mix until the lumps are worked out. Add a little more milk or water if it seems too thick.

4. Stir in the melted butter, cinnamon and mashed banana and blueberries.

5. Heat skillet or griddle over medium heat.

6. Melt a teaspoon of butter on the pan, creating an oiled surface.

7. Using a 1/4 cup to measure the batter, pour disks onto the hot griddle. When bubbles begin to form in the center of the cooking pancake, carefully flip it and cook other side.

Keep finished pancakes warm in the oven until you're ready to serve 'em.


Got extras? Don't pitch 'em! Wrap well and freeze. You can revive pancakes in a warm oven or toaster oven some desperate morning in the future. (I'd avoid using the microwave, however... it makes breads so rubbery.)

Wishing happy breakfasts to all!

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2.28.2008

Day 23: Five Hot Little Gift Ideas

This post marks Day 23 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Where has the month gone? It's late in the gift-giving game, so if you haven't already gotten your act together, I've got five quick picks (in a wide range of price points) for presents that'll thaw the icebox.

1. We've seen how an increasingly hotter planet has made Earth-friendly choices all the rage in high society this year.

Habana Outpost, New York’s first "eco-eatery," (complete with indoor/outdoor flea market, biodegradable cups, solar power, rainwater-flushing toilets and a bike-powered blender to mix smoothies and margaritas) has been doing the Earth-hugging thing for two years. And though they might not be selling a lot of their signature limed-up cheesy corn during the off season, I bet they're doing a brisk business in this hot little slice of cheesecake... the 2008 Habana Girls Pin-Up Calendar (made with recycled paper with vegetable ink, por supuesto).

All the models are cafe waitstaff who volunteered for the project, and proceeds are donated to Habana Works, Inc., a nonprofit that aims to better the local community through free programs that educate, unite and engage, such as Habana Labs. Generosity is hot.


Cute Apron 2. Etsy has all kinds of zippy little things, and I especially love their Shop by Color function. (I'm not sure how useful it is, but it's all kinds of fun.)

Everything is made by regular people (as opposed to transglobal mega-corps), so there's some schlock, of course, but Etsy also features a lot of gems.

I'm a big fan of the coy Betsy Johnson-inspired apron (at right), EnfinLaVoila's Funky Chicken cards and these Personalized Artichoke cards


FrancisFrancis Espresso Machine3. Strangely, I'm not a huge fan of Italian food (I'm thinking that's because it's often so poorly executed stateside. Those wishing to re-educate me with a trip to Puglia are more than welcome to offer.) but Italian design... mama mia!

J has a big red FrancisFrancis! espresso machine, and while it's clearly excessive, it's just such a wonderful object. Sleek lines, sexy curves, glorious finish, reminiscent of classic sp With one of these, my gorgeous KitchenAid stand mixer, a long silk scarf and a sweet little Vespa, I'm sure I could be living La Dolce Vida.

Penzeys' Spice Box 4. If you've never cooked with fresh spices, you're in for a revelation. The lowly peppercorn, toasted gently, releases high notes that sing in citrus melodies. The cinnamon stick is more nuanced and powerful than you ever knew it could be. It's like seeing strange new passions burning in your oldest friends.

Penzeys Spices are varied, fresh and easily accessible, thanks to stores across the nation and a web presence. They use bay leaves as packing material in some of their gift boxes, and the bay they use for packing was fresher and more delightful than any I'd previously encountered. Their gift boxes make great spice introductions for newbies and seasoned (ha!) chefs alike.

harissa

5. Apparently, Roast Chicken & Other Stories is the hot cookbook of the season, so there's no way you're going to get your hands on it anytime soon. (I guess being dubbed the "Most Useful Cookbook of All Time," really couldn't hurt sales...)

Take a raincheck on the "must-have" gift and give, instead, a gift of Moroccan flavors, including a hot-hot-hot jar of harissa (homemade or store-bought) alongside an ultra-easy recipe for Harissa-Roasted Chicken (below). If you're feeling generous, make it a Moroccan feast and throw in a nice unglazed clay tagine.

Classic Harissa
You can use whatever chilies you like, or use a blend. Ancho chilies make a milder harissa, New Mexico and Guajillo chilies are medium-spicy. Cayenne, Scotch Bonnet and Chipotle make a searing harissa.

10-12 dried red chili peppers
3-4 garlic cloves
1/4 cup diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground fennel (or caraway)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp sweet paprika
2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1. Soak the chilies in hot water for 60 minutes or overnight.

2. Remove stems and seeds (you may wish to use latex gloves for this task), reserving about 1 cup of the chili water. Place the chilies in a food processor or blender with the tomatoes, coriander, fennel, cumin, paprika, salt, olive oil and lemon juice.

3. In a blender, purée smooth with 1/2 cup chili water. Add more chili water, as needed, into the mix to make a smooth blend.

4. Season to taste and store in airtight container, drizzled with a small amount of olive oil on top. Should keep for about a month in the refrigerator.

Harissa is divine on grilled meats, roasted vegetables, couscous, chickpea curries, tagines and this tasty (and stunningly simple) chicken dish...

Harissa-Roasted Chicken
1 Roaster chicken (about 3 1/2 to 4 lb)
1/2 cup harissa
1/4 cup Greek-style plain yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Mix harissa, yogurt and lemon juice and massage the mixture all over the chicken. (You may wish to use latex gloves for this task.) Let the chicken marinate, chilled, for 1 hour.

2. Heat oven to 450°F. In a roasting pan placed in the center of the oven, roast the marinated chicken for 20 minutes. Add 1 cup of water to the pan and roast until the juices run clear and the thigh registers 165°F on a meat thermometer, about 30-40 minutes more.

3. Carefully transfer the chicken to a cutting board, and let it rest for 10-15 minutes before carving. Serve with couscous, roasted vegetables or a cucumber-tomato salad.

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12.23.2007

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 11: Rice + Sock = Comfort

This post marks Day 11 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

I'm sure we're all well aware that December can be a taxing month. Weather issues make the commute challenging. People tend to feel a lot of pressure to buy gifts, write out cards and fulfill extra holiday obligations. Less sun means more Seasonal Affective Disorder. Critters that cause colds and flu float around offices, schools and public spaces. Dozens of events, gatherings and errands stuff the calendar. It's a recipe for stress.

If someone you know (maybe you?) is in need of comfort, here's a quick and supremely easy-to-execute tip I picked up from my last roomie: the rice sock.

Rice Sock
Rice... It's not just for takeout anymore

Thanks to the miracle of the microwave, you can zap a sock filled with rice, and in mere moments, you have a malleable heating pad that's ready to soothe sore muscles.

Toss it in the freezer for a cold pack that won't freeze your skin. It's a cheap and easy therapy tool for sore necks, shoulders or whatever part of you happens to need some warm (or cold) comfort.

In essence, it's just a 100% cotton sock filled with uncooked grain. Just close up the end with a knot, a few stitches or a pretty ribbon. Voila!

To chill, freeze for 45 minutes or more. To heat, microwave the sock for 30 seconds (in powerful microwaves) to 1 minute (in standard microwaves).

The rice sock molds to the body and holds its temperature for a surprisingly long time. Unlike a cold pack or a bag of frozen peas, it won't sweat and make your skin damp.

It has a pleasant, rice-y scent (no big surprise there), but Wikihow has an involved DIY guide to making them, that includes options for scent add-ins if you'd prefer to smell lavender or lemons.

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12.11.2007

Sharper-than-Ginsu sharp


Russkoe vooruzhenie from the beloved NYPL Digital Gallery

To a cook, knives are important. Really important. Cooks talk about their knives the way motorheads brag about their cars, pumping up their knives' past achievements, comparing the relative advantages of German vs. Japanese blades and busting each other's chops over sharpening technique. Water stone? Oil stone? How many strokes across the surface? How hard? What angle? Take a honing steel to it afterward?

There's a lot of professional pride wrapped up in a cook's tools. I've known that for years. But there's something I didn't know until today: when it comes to sharp knives, there's sharp, there's really sharp and then there's Scary-Sharp.

If you're deep into woodworking, maybe you've heard this one before (and if you like, you can read the long tale of obsessive woodworkers and their blade-sharpening experimentation here), but in essence, the "scary sharp" sharpening method involves a series of progressively finer-grit sandpaper strips which are applied to a smooth, flat surface (like marble, granite or heavy glass) with the aid of adhesive spray.

If it works for chisels, it's bound to work for kitchen knives. And though it sounds like fair bit of fuss for those of us who don't have a lot of fresh sandpaper laying around, the sandpaper method apparently takes about 10 minutes to do (as long as you happen to have all the materials on hand) and produces an edge that's, oh yes: scary sharp. So sharp the blade is shiny like a mirror and capable of cutting pine shavings that are four ten-thousandths of an inch thick. (I know I'm in constant need of supremely thin pine shavings. How about you?)

As a person who's spent a good amount of time on blade sharpening (and, admittedly, occasionally dropped some cash when I've felt lazy about it), I really like the DIY angle in this method. Scary sharp is an awfully attractive promise.

Truthfully, I'm not sure I want that kind of power. I wonder if I really need my kitchen blades to be all that they can be. I mean, a sharp knife is a thing of beauty. A knife that whips through tomatoes (and then steel cans!) is an enviable possession. But a knife that could fillet my fingers with the effort of a whisper? With great power comes great responsibility.

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6.28.2007

Top-Ten Real-Food Workout Foods

park-side power food

In elementary school, I was always the slowest kid at the track during the mile-run in the annual Presidential Physical Fitness tests. Every spring I'd see all the other kids perched at the edge of the track, pulling up tufts of grass while I puffed my way around the turns to complete those eternally long mile-long runs.

Even my most patient gym teachers grew drowsy watching their stop watches before I poked along into the final stretch.

Thus, it tickles me pink that I'm now a person who runs. I may even be so bold as to call myself a runner.

This month, in fact, I'm in training to run a jaunty little 3.5 miles for the gigantic JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge run in Central Park. I have an official number that'll be pinned to my tanktop. And I'm not just going to complete it, I'm going to run the whole thing.

Yeah, it's no Ironman, but I bet even old Mr. Wolf would be slightly impressed at my bookworm-to-budding-jock progress.

One of the things the newbie athlete (or honestly, anyone who has working eyeballs) can't help but notice along the journey to fitness is all the so-called "power food" on the market. Endurance workouts are undeniably hungry-making, and there's all kinds of products competing to fill your empty belly. Nutrition bars. Performance beverages. Magic athletic potions and powders.

I have a hard time believing that convenient, inexpensive real-food snacks (such as a handful of dried prunes mixed with raw almonds) could somehow be less powerful for an active body than those nutrition bars that run between $1.50-$2 and contain:
Soy Protein Nuggets (Isolated Soy Protein, Rice Flour, Tapioca Starch, Malt, Salt), Milk Chocolate Flavored Coating (Sugar, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Nonfat Dry Milk, Cocoa Powder, Lecithin, Salt, Natural Flavor), Corn Syrup, Sodium Caseinate, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sweetened Condensed Milk, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Peanuts And Less Than 2% Of The Following: Butter, Lecithin, Gelatin, Salt, Natural Flavor, Ascorbic Acid, Magnesium Oxide, Ascorbyl Palmitate, D-Alpha Tocopherol Acetate, Niacinamide, Zinc Oxide, Fish Oil, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin, Vitamin A Palmitate, Thiamin Mononitrate, Chromium Chloride, Folic Acid, Sodium Selenite, Sodium Molybdate, Biotin, Cyanocobalamin.

I don't buy into products with yard-long ingredient statements, and I don't believe anybody's body really needs more high-fructose corn syrup. Thus, I offer my top recommendations for cheap, easy, tasty performance foods that are made out of genuine, old-school food.

My Top-Ten Real-Food Workout Foods:

1. Boiled Eggs. Mankind's original power food. Eggs come in their own biodegradable packaging, offer protein, iron and vitamin A and cost about 18 cents each for the high-end organic variety. Boil a few on Monday for workout snacks all week long.
2. Yogurt-Fruit Smoothies. A tasty, nearly-instant breakfast. Combine, in a blender, a half-cup of yogurt, a cup of plain soy milk, a half-banana (store the other half in the freezer for future smoothie action) and a tablespoon of peanut butter or a half-cup of any fruit you happen to have around. Throw in a tablespoon of wheat germ and a scoop of whey powder for a fiber + protein power boost if you're into that. Blend until smooth. Drink. And feel pleased you've avoided any sticker shock you might experience at the local Jamba Juice.
3. Fruit & Nut Bars. The Clif company recently produced a line of bars they're calling Clif Nectar Organic Fruit-Nut Bars. I'm pleased to report that they're tasty and the formula contains no high-fructose corn syrup... just dried fruit, roasted nuts, cinnamon, vanilla and the like. All certified organic, of course. That's great, but it seems to me that the cheaper route would be a DIY bar made of the same stuff. As it happens, others have already had this idea. So if you've got a blender, an oven and some plastic wrap or waxed paper for easy wrapping and transportation, you're set to make "power" bars on the cheap.
4. Juice + Water. Gaterade? Powerade? Vitaminwater? You're paying dearly for their national marketing campaigns. My co-worker, a Gotham Girls Roller Derby powerhouse, needs to drink a lot of water to keep up her speed and bruiser moves on the rink. She dopes that quart-size water bottle at her desk with juice to keep the hydration task more interesting. Do like the rollergirl and tip in about a half-cup for every quart of water. WebMD recommends you add a half-teaspoon of salt and/or baking soda if you want to give it electrolytes like the ones found in Gatorade or Smartwater.
5. Scrambled Egg Burritos/English Muffins. Fry or scramble an egg in a small amount of olive oil with salt and pepper to taste. Pile onto/into a warmed tortilla or a toasted whole-wheat English Muffin. Fast fiber + protein = yum.
6. Ripe avocados. A hyper-fast post-workout snack. Full of fats? Pshaw. It's all good fat. Do 'em up like my big, strong (and remarkably slim) boyfriend: Cut avocado in half lengthwise, remove the pit, sprinkle each half with salt and pepper. Scoop into mouth with a spoon.
7. Apple slices with peanut butter. Fuji apples are a good choice, and Smucker's Natural PB has a nicely roasty flavor.
8. Carrots with hummus. Vitamin A, protein, fiber and flavor.
9. Classic trail mix. Throw some raisins or dried currants in a little bag with your favorite nuts. Add some apricot pieces or coconut chips if you're feeling wacky.
10. Chickpeas/Garbanzo Beans. A great source of protein with iron and fiber... but that's not why I eat 'em. They're deliciously addictive when drizzled with the slightest amount of good olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh pepper. Add a squirt of fresh lemon or some chopped cherry tomatoes if you're into it. Go fancy with some chopped parsley or diced cucumbers if you have 'em around.

Got a good real-food workout snack of your own? Throw it in the comments!

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6.13.2007

Taking on the issues, one lemon bar at a time

chocolate chip cookies
One Cookie to rule them all, One Cookie to find them, One Cookie to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them

For the most part, I think most people feel helpless when faced with the big, vague Issues. Take Injustice. Or Suffering. Or Torture. Or Poverty. (No, really. Take them.)

These are concepts too large for a human brain to really conceive. Twelve million children in America have too little food? I can't even hold a detailed picture of more than 150 hungry people in my little brain. They begin to smear together and lose their distinctions as individual people. Beyond 150 or so, they're an anonymous crowd.

Twelve million people is so far beyond my mental abilities as to seem unreal. Imaginary. Like all those billions of stars they tell me are out there. I live in New York where I see Orion. Occasionally. And maybe a dipper if I'm very lucky. The other billions of stars are a kind of fiction to me. Like those 12 million starving children.

When faced with capital-"i" Issues, I think many people have similar feelings. What can I do? I can't do anything. I'm just me. I'm small and not very capable. My superpowers are extremely limited.

But small actions committed en mass actually do make a difference.

For example, I found out last week from the people at Earth Pledge that the temperature in a city like NYC can be up to 10°F hotter than the surrounding countryside. It's known as the Urban Heat Island effect, and it's caused by heat reflected off urban surfaces (read: apartments, offices, bodegas, schools, etc.) and heat created by all the little people running around on, around and in those surfaces doing the things that people do.

Ten degrees. That's a significant change made by the ordinary activities of a few million individuals like me.

Similarly, I'd encourage you to consider the impact you can make in your kitchen. The Share Our Strength Great American Bake Sale begins this weekend. It's their summer-long campaign intended to inspire people to bake, eat, donate and take thousands of small actions toward alleviating the childhood hunger in America. (Those with dietary concerns and carbon qualms can, of course, simply donate to the cause without munching or baking.)

SOS hosts a number of great programs, but this one seems particularly joyous: Battling issues with muffin power! Taking on poverty with pie pans! Fleets of cookies flying into action!

For my part, I'm organizing my office team and bringing treats with which to woo my co-workers on Friday mornings throughout the campaign, which runs from May 19 through August 31.

Do my tangy lemon bars (see recipe below) or rhubarb-apple crisp make a big difference? No. They make a small difference. Alongside a nation's brigade of brownies and sky-darkening clouds of oatmeal-raisin cookies, my lemon bars contribute to a ten-degree kind of difference. My lemon bars are a tiny force for good.

Want to start your own bake sale? SOS kicks off this Saturday. Sign up today at the Share Our Strength site.

A Terribly Sincere Batch of Lemon Bars (Makes 24 bars)

For the shortbread crust:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose or pastry flour
A pinch of salt

For the lemon filling:
Grated zest from 3 lemons
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F, and lightly butter a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking pan.

2. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Combine the flour and salt and blend into the butter mixture.

3. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom and sides of the pan with lightly floured fingertips, raising about a 1/2-inch ledge around the pan sides.

4. Bake for 20 minutes, and cool on a wire rack before you make the filling.

5. To make the filling, whisk together the sugar, eggs, zest, juice and flour.

6. Pour lemon mixture over the cooled crust, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the filling looks set (not liquid). Cool to room temperature in the pan.

Keep, covered and chilled, for up to three days. Before serving, cut into squares and dust with confectioners' sugar, if desired.

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5.15.2007

Handy Stuff: Coffee Concentrate

Q. How do you make coffee concentrate?

A. Put it in a quiet, well-lit room with minimal distractions.

ice coffe

Thanks... I'll be here all week. But seriously, folks.

Iced coffee season is officially open, and it's an occasion that fills me with a need to empower any ambitious folks who are willing to listen. For some reason, adding ice to one's java tends to increase the asking price from a straight-up buck to $2.50 or more. Call me cheap, that seems a bit dear.

Iced coffee is something I believe people can and should be able to make at home.

So what's to prevent you from dropping a few cubes in your mug? Well... good sense, naturally. Nobody wants a watery cuppa joe. I've seen some people recommend ice cubes made out of coffee, but I personally think a concentrate is the way to go.

So then, how do you make coffee concentrate?

Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book recommends using a little device known as a Coffee Toddy.
To prepare coffee concentrate, you will need a coffee toddy, 1 pound medium to fine ground coffee, and 1/2 gallon cold water. Set the toddy over an empty jar, place the coffee in the filter, and pour the water over it. Let the coffee drip overnight. This makes 5 ounces of concentrate.

Once made, it's easy to keep coffee concentrate on hand in the fridge for use in ice cream, cakes, smoothies, gelato, granitas and of course... iced coffee.

Take back the power, people. If you're an iced coffee devotee (sipping say, four times a week from now through August) who's paying $2.50-$3 for the stuff, you could end up spending $400 or more to get a summer's worth of fix. A toddy and a bag of beans at the beginning of the season will cost you less than $30.

As an added bonus, by using your own insulated mug, you won't be tossing away dozens of the standard-issue plastic ones. DIY iced coffee is better for your pocketbook and better for the planet. Best of all, it's reliably delicious. And if that's not worth an ounce of concentration, I don't know what is.

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4.28.2007