Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


Battle of the Busy Waters

My friend's daughter calls sparkling mineral water "busy water" (a take on fizzy water, I believe).

It seems quite appropriate to me: bubbly water is liquid on the move. It's the busiest water you're going to find.

As much as I adore New York Tap, I also happen to be a big fan of the sparkling stuff. It replaces soda pop as a recreational beverage for me (no calories, no sugar, lotsa fizz!) and I like the way it settles my upset tummies.

Busy Water

Though busy water also causes me a bit of consternation. It comes in large, heavy glass bottles, and the stuff I've been drinking happens to be from the south of France. Quite a carbon load on that glass of fizz, if you see what I mean.

So J and I recently tested out a group of sparkling candidates from near and far in the hope of tracking down the best of the busy. There's a New York State candidate in here, one from Arkansas, a couple of locally bottled, the French stuff I've been drinking and the most famous Italian contender (just for good measure).

Meet the candidates:

Busy Water Battle

I wanted this tasting to run the gamut from the supremely thrifty and widely available (Canada Dry Seltzer Water) to the very elusive and expensive (Mountain Valley). From the local (Saratoga, NY) to the distant import (San Pellegrino Terme, Italy).

#6: I hadn't expected much from the Canada Dry Seltzer Water. After all, a sodium-free seltzer really couldn't be any match for a good mineral blend, but I threw it into the ring for its wide availability and populist appeal. Vigorously fizzy, but lacking in a pleasant personality, it rated last, thanks to a strange lingering aftertaste. I'll probably still drink it if I can find a slice of lime to throw in the glass.

#5: Initially excited to discover Saratoga, a local sparkling spring water bottled in gorgeous cobalt blue, I was taken aback by the large, vicious bubbles. Sharp and violent, this water actually irritated the tongue and throat with sharp high notes and a bitterness at the back of the mouth. A shame, too. It's local and it's lovely to look at... I just can't drink it.

#4: The Poland Spring Sparkling Water had a medium-low fizz and a flavor that was inoffensive, but nothing to write home about. It paled in comparison to the top three candidates.

#3: Perrier is the fizzy water I've been sipping for years, so I was surprised to put it in third place. It had large, vigorous bubbles and it flowed nicely across the tongue, but it had a flavor that struck me as a little citric, while J found it to be "almost acidic."

#2: Mountain Valley Sparkling Water is drawn up from Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas and artificially carbonated.

It has a very mellow fizz, tiny bubbles and a very soft, round mouthfeel. Sipping Mountain Valley, I was reminded of the way Mountain Dew differs from other, more highly carbonated sodas like 7UP.

It should also be noted that ounce for ounce, this was the most expensive water in the tasting. Even if it was the first-place winner, I wouldn't be able to justify the pricetag.

#1: Our overall winner turned out to be San Pellegrino.

With dainty bubbles, a very nice effervescence, a gentle, satisfying mouthfeel and flavor that tasted sprightly, but not too lively, this seemed to be the best-balanced of the bunch. The company claims that even the great Leonardo da Vinci was a fan.

Unfortunately, San Pellegrino is also the contender that comes from farthest away, so it doesn't help my carbon footprint issue in the least. Bummer.

Maybe I should just pick up one of those CO2 systems and start carbonating the New York tap water to suit my sparkling needs.

Yours in food and drink,
Miss Ginsu

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Dear Miss Ginsu: My Soup is Bland.

Dear Miss Ginsu,

I need help with my bean soup. It's bland. I've already added the salt. What am I doing wrong?

-Desperately Seeking Flavor

Black Bean Soup

Dear DSF,

Bland soup is so disappointing. I feel your pain.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I'm not psychic. Without reading the recipe you used or tasting the soup myself, it's difficult to know what to tell you to add.

That said, I can offer some general help.

I'm assuming you started your bean soup with a flavorful stock, whether vegetable, beef, or chicken. That's the number-one thing you can do to give beans a chance. Well, that and seasoning the pot with salt and pepper before you serve it, but it sounds like you've already hit the shaker.

The next thing I'd ask about is the other ingredients. Smoked pork/bacon is a classic flavor enhancer for bean soups. Likewise, tomatoes also bring a lot of "meaty" taste to a soup. Did you use sautéed onions and/or garlic? They're called "aromatics" for good reason.

And then there's herbs and spices. You didn't mention using pepper. A bay leaf during the cooking is certainly your friend. A little rosemary can help a lot. Allspice is nice. I'm big on dried thyme.

But all those things are what you'd want to think about during the cooking process.

If it's all cooked and you're stuck with a pot of uninspiring soup, the best thing to do might be to work with your garnish options.

Slices of avocado, a little chopped cilantro and a sprinkle of sharp cheddar or mild goat cheese can work wonders on a black bean soup.

A bland navy bean soup could liven up with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil. Or swirl in a spoonful of pesto.

Or try a dollop of sour cream, a bit of fresh-cut basil or parsley, some grated Parmesan, some flavorful croutons, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or a few drops of Tabasco sauce.

You get the idea. If you don't load in the flavor while you're cooking, you need to find a way to bring it in at the end.

Good luck, and happy eating!
Miss Ginsu

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Dear Miss Ginsu: Bitter Tomato Sauce?

Dear Miss Ginsu,

Ok, I figure if anyone knows the answer to this, it's you.

Spaghetti sauce: aside from adding copious amounts of sugar — how does one keep homemade sauce from being sour/bitter?

I'm assuming this comes from a combination of the tomato sauce and bell peppers? Not sure how to counteract this flavor without turning it into "candied" red sauce.


Dear BS,

Cooking all the elements of the process long and slow is a sure-fire way to increase the natural sugars.

Caramelizing the onions so they're nice and brown, getting a little color on the garlic, long-simmering the tomato sauce — not to mention making sure you've removed the skins from the tomatoes... that'll all alleviate bitterness or sour notes. Some people strain out the seeds, too.

So much depends on the quality of the tomatoes you begin with. Since the natural flavors in tomatoes vary so greatly, you can see how it might be difficult to give precise measurements for a sauce recipe.

That said, a *small* amount of sugar added at the end of the process as you're adjusting the seasoning can certainly improve the balance in naturally very acidic or bitter tomatoes.

Though — as you noted — too much sugar just takes the sauce too far down the sweet continuum into candyland.

Also make sure the salt you're using in your recipe isn't "iodized" salt. The iodine that's added to some salt products might protect you from goiters (ew!), but it also adds a note of bitterness. That's just one of the reasons some recipes call for kosher salt.

Hope that helps!
Miss Ginsu

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