Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


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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Video Treat: Open a Young Coconut

When you open an older coconut, you need to dig in the toolbox for a hammer. On the other hand, opening a young coconut (sometimes called "green coconut") is much easier: a sharp knife and a level surface usually do the trick.

In this how-to video you can watch me take a sharp knife (and a not-so-level surface) and open a young coconut.

Well, to be truthful... I eventually get the coconut open. There's some coconut chopping hijinks in the middle there.

Some people shave the white husk away to get at the nut inside. I usually have good luck with getting a wedge in, but I think extending my arms and working on a wooden tray rather than a cutting board were maybe not my best moves.

Thus, I have to stress the need for a steady, sturdy cutting surface. It's a must when using a knife. Nobody wants to their chop hands instead of their food.

Oh... and I owe beoucoup thanks to J, my steady-handed camera guy.

Once you actually get inside the coconut, the coconut water is cool and delicious, and the soft flesh is a sweet, creamy delight when added to coconut curries, blended into Thai-style coconut soup, puréed into smoothies/frozen drinks (daiquiris, anyone?) and mixed into the pretty green chutney I made last week.

Miss Ginsu

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Day 3: Devils on Horseback

This post marks Day 3 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Knowing one or two dead simple (and deadly delicious) hors d'oeuvres around the holidays comes in handy for the harried host.

Even better, I'm going to reveal a recipe that relies on things you can keep around the house for a bit... they just lie in wait until some unassuming guest happens to drop by.

I'm referring to Devils on Horseback... a sweet n' savory treat you might also know as "stuffed dates wrapped in bacon," but isn't the former name a little more romantic than the latter?

Devils on Horseback

You need only a handful of dried dates, some bacon strips, paper-thin prosciutto or serrano ham and a wee bit of blue cheese. Have any water chestnuts or almonds? All the better...

If you're going with bacon, you may also want to fasten the meat in place with toothpicks (soak them in water for about 10 minutes first... it prevents burning in the oven), but I don't generally need toothpicks when I use serrano or prosciutto.

When that lucky holiday guest arrives, fix him or her a drink and excuse yourself for just a moment.

In just a few minutes, you can toss a few of these together and open up a full-bodied red wine. Maybe go with a Spanish tempranillo, since these little treats are so tapas-ready.
Devils on Horseback(Makes a dozen)
12 large dates, pitted
6 slices bacon, halved crosswise
OR 12 4" x 2" strips of serrano ham/prosciutto.
1/4 cup crumbled Stilton cheese
12 almonds
OR 6 water chestnuts (halved) (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375°F and soak 12 toothpicks in a small bowl filled with water for about 10 minutes.
2. Set a wire rack on a baking sheet and set aside.
3. Halve the ugliest side of the dates lengthwise, but don't cut all the way through.
4. Place a small amount of cheese (if using) in the center of each date. Bury an almond or water chestnut (if using) in the cheese.
5. Wrap a piece of bacon/ham around each date and secure the tails with a moistened toothpick.
6. Place the prepared dates on the baking rack, and cook until browned and cooked through — about 20 to 25 minutes.
7. Drain/cool for 2 to 3 minutes on paper towels before serving.

Some baby arugula or fresh watercress makes a nice bed for serving them, but it's an optional nicety... once you've had a bite, you won't care a bit about the presentation.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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Day 2: Cranberry Cream Tart

This post marks Day 2 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Everyone needs a nice little "company's coming" recipe that they can make up ahead of time, and this one is an inexpensive and impressive trick that works with leftovers, so it's super-thrifty.

Cranberry Cream Tart

I whipped up this idea for work to help people use up excess Thanksgiving cranberry sauce, but I think you could really use whatever fruit jelly strikes your fancy. In fact, I really want to do one with a batch of Lemon Curd. Yum.

You'll see it has a few steps, but none of them are trying. It's about 20 minutes of your time actively mixing, etc., and then there's a couple of hours of inactive chilling or cooking time, so this is a good one to work in while you're doing other things in the kitchen.

Obviously, you'll need a tart pan for this recipe. Use a 9" pan. I love the ones with the smooth coating and the removable base, because it makes serving up a flawless tart such an easy task.
Cranberry Cream Tart (Makes a 9" Tart)

For the Tart Shell:
1/2 cup hazelnuts or walnuts
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut in 1/2" pieces
1 large egg

For the Filling:
8 oz cream cheese
1 tablespoon sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup cranberry sauce, warmed to room temperature

1. To make the tart shell, pulse nuts, flour, sugar, nutmeg (if using) and salt in a food processor or blender until finely ground.
2. Add butter pieces and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with few small lumps. (You may also cut in the butter with the tines of a fork.)
3. Blend in the egg, mixing just until the mixture clumps. Chill for 20 minutes to improve handling.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°F, and press the chilled dough evenly across the bottom and sides of a tart pan.
5. Bake in the center rack of the oven for 20 minutes, then remove the tart shell from the oven and cool on a rack for 10 minutes.
6. As the crust cools, whip the cream cheese, sugar and egg in a mixing bowl until smooth.
7. Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly across the base of the tart pan and bake 20 minutes.
8. Cool the tart on a rack for 10 minutes before spreading the warmed cranberry sauce across the surface of the cream cheese layer.
9. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 3 hours (or overnight). Cut into 12 slices to serve.

I've served this dolloped with a little fresh whipped cream (sweetened with maple syrup mmmm....), but that's just pure decadence, so skip it if you're not in the mood.

I think this would make a smashing offering at brunch or maybe teatime, but go crazy and serve it for dessert if you want.

Happy Holidays!
Miss Ginsu

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Food Quote Friday: David Budbill

Purple Grapes in the Hand

Sometimes when day after day we have cloudless blue skies,
warm temperatures, colorful trees and brilliant sun, when
it seems like all this will go on forever,

when I harvest vegetables from the garden all day,
then drink tea and doze in the late afternoon sun,
and in the evening one night make pickled beets
and green tomato chutney, the next red tomato chutney,
and the day after that pick the fruits of my arbor
and make grape jam...

David Budbill from "Sometimes"

More colorful food quotes can be found within the food quote archive.

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Mystery Macro Unveiled

And the answer to yesterday's Mystery Macro?

Melon. Honeydew melon, to be precise.

Have another look:

In the meantime, thoughts of melon give me a good opportunity to highlight a very tasty and refreshing salad I ate recently...

Some guests to a picnic brought this mozzarella, mint & melon salad, and gosh... It was just the thing.

Mozzarella-Melon Salad

There's not many nice days left this season, but if you do get out to grill just one more time, consider making one of those end-of-season melons into this tasty salad. I think it'd be just as nice with honeydew or cantaloupe or crenshaw. Or whatever melon you happen to find.

I'm told the original salad-makers found the adorable little mozzarella balls you see above (sometimes called ciliegini, which means "little cherries" in Italian") at Fairway Market in Brooklyn.

If you can't find anything so petite, don't fret. Just cut down a larger ball of fresh mozz into bite-sized niblets for this recipe.

Mozzarella, Mint & Melon Salad (Serves 4)

1 medium-sized melon, cut into 1" pieces
Juice from 1 lime
1 cup fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2" cubes
2 Tbsp fresh mint, sliced thin
1/4 tsp salt (optional)

1. Combine melon, lime, mozzarella cubes, mint and salt.
2. Chill until ready to serve.

The lightness and sweetness of this salad would be especially nice with grilled meats, but do keep it on file for a quickie picnic side.

Miss Ginsu

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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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Mad for Peaches

Millions of peaches, peaches for me...

With July now ripe and full, I believe the whole world's tipping at the brink of peach madness.

Over at the White On Rice Couple blog, one finds adorable dogs licking peaches.

I myself just received 15 juicy little darlings in last night's CSA box. They're about to become peach compote or peach pie or maybe just peaches with yogurt if only I can keep myself from devouring them all in a dripping, fleshy mess over the sink.

Then, of course, I stumbled over this entertaining peach reverie (from The Chronicles of Clovis by Saki [H. H. Munro]) at Project Gutenberg while eating a particularly fine specimen myself:

"How nice of you to remember my aunt when you can no longer recall the names of the things you ate.

Now my memory works quite differently. I can remember a menu long after I've forgotten the hostess that accompanied it. When I was seven years old I recollect being given a peach at a garden-party by some Duchess or other; I can't remember a thing about her, except that I imagine our acquaintance must have been of the slightest, as she called me a 'nice little boy,' but I have unfading memories of that peach.

It was one of those exuberant peaches that meet you halfway, so to speak, and are all over you in a moment. It was a beautiful unspoiled product of a hothouse, and yet it managed quite successfully to give itself the airs of a compote. You had to bite it and imbibe it at the same time.

To me there has always been something charming and mystic in the thought of that delicate velvet globe of fruit, slowly ripening and warming to perfection through the long summer days and perfumed nights, and then coming suddenly athwart my life in the supreme moment of its existence. I can never forget it, even if I wished to.

And when I had devoured all that was edible of it, there still remained the stone, which a heedless, thoughtless child would doubtless have thrown away; I put it down the neck of a young friend who was wearing a very décolleté sailor suit.

I told him it was a scorpion, and from the way he wriggled and screamed he evidently believed it, though where the silly kid imagined I could procure a live scorpion at a garden-party I don't know. Altogether, that peach is for me an unfading and happy memory--"

Now, I wasn't going to offer up a recipe at all, because, after all, a summer peach is a glorious thing. Why mess with success, right?

But then I realized that I've been needlessly cruel. In checking through my online recipe file, it's clear that I've never posted my glorious Ginger Peach Pie. For shame! It's a delight that never fails to please a crowd.

And, after all, one who is blessed with peaches should at least consider sharing them. Especially with ice cream. Or crème fraîche.
Spiced Ginger Peach Pie (with or without crumble topping, below)

2 Tbsp dry tapioca pearls
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2-3/4 tsp garam masala blend (or substitute 1/4 tsp ground allspice, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg and 1/4 tsp ground dry ginger or cinnamon)
1/4 tsp salt
3 large peaches, sliced in 1/2" wedges
1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger (about 1" piece)
2 tsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp lime zest

1 pie crust
Crumble topping (use a double crust if you're not doing the crumble topping)

1. Heat oven to 375°F and blind bake* the pie shell for 10-15 minutes.
2. Pulverize the tapioca pearls with a clean coffee grinder, a mortar/pestle or a food processor. Blend the powdered tapioca with the brown sugar and garam masala (or ground spices) and salt.
3. In a mixing bowl, gently combine the peach slices with the freshly grated ginger, brown sugar/tapioca blend, lime juice and zest.
4. Pour the peach mixture into the baked pie shell, packing the slices into place.
5. Sprinkle evenly with the crumble topping (if using) or lay on the top pie crust. If using a pie crust top, be sure to open up several holes to allow steam to escape.
6. Bake the pie on a cookie sheet for about 45 minutes (or until the filling bubbles), checking the pie after 20 minutes to make sure the edges aren't overbrowning. (If the edges do start looking a bit brown, cover them with strips of aluminum foil.)
7. Cool the pie on a rack for approximately 1 hour before serving.

*Blind baking is a process that involves pre-cooking the pie shell a bit (usually with pie weights or dry beans in the shell to keep it from bubbling and rising). This keeps the crust more crisp, which is especially nice for juicy fruit pies.

Crumble Topping
3 Tbsp flour
4 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, optional
1 dash salt
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup pecans, walnuts or pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chilled butter, cut in 1/2" pieces

1. In a mixing bowl, blend together flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, oats and nuts.
2. Cut the butter into the mixture with a fork until the blend resembles a uniform gravel. Sprinkle atop the pie filling and bake as directed above.


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Apricots, Apriums, Plumcots, Pluots & Plums

Am I the only one that's confused by exactly what the difference is between a pluot and a plumcot?

Heck... It was only very recently that I discovered the existence of the aprium.

As it turns out, pluots and apriums aren't just recently popularized fruits. They're the result of hard work by the Zaiger family of Modesto, California, who for the last 30 years or so, have been quietly marrying apricots and plums — among other stone fruits — in an effort to create crazy new fruits (with Zaiger-registered trademarks, of course) for the marketplace.

As it turns out, apricots, like plums are actually members of the same species, Prunus. Who knew? Well, apparently the Zaigers knew.

In general, I find any in-season stonefruit to be so delightful, a recipe is hardly necessary. Just a napkin, please.

That said, you can dress up any stonefruit just a bit by making a quickie summer pastry with it. For little tartlet, don't even fuss with making up a pastry base. Just thaw some puff pastry, mount it with macerated fruit (use whichever ones you happen to run across) and bake. Voila! Stonefruit perfection.
Plum/Apricot Tartlets (Servings Vary)

Frozen puff pastry (thawed)
1 Apricot, Aprium, Plumcot, Pluot or Plum per serving (cut in 1/2" slices)
1/2 tsp sugar per fruit
1-2 shakes ground cinnamon (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 400°F.
2. Cut 1 4"x 4" puff pastry square for each serving. Rewrap and freeze any remaining puff pastry.
3. Place pastry squares on a baking sheet.
4. Stir sliced stonefruit, sugar and cinnamon (if using) in a mixing bowl.
5. Pile sugared fruit in the center of each pastry square, leaving a 1" pastry border.
6. Fold up the edges to create casual pastry cups around the fruit, and bake for 30 minutes, or until pastry is golden.

As you can imagine, these are really nice served warm with plain yogurt, crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream.


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What's In The Box? Part II

It's week two of my half-share CSA distribution. The local weather's been alternating between gorgeous sunny days and violent thunderstorms recently. That has to be affecting the local veggies.

The first shipment was heavy on lettuces. So what's in the box this week?

What's in the Box?

  • Arugula
  • Zucchini... big 'uns!
  • Chinese cabbage (flowering, but still tasty)
  • Mesclun lettuce mix
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Pea shoots
  • Baby braising greens (a mix of tatsoi, mustard greens, kale and mizuna)
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Eggs
  • A bouquet of cosmos, snapdragons, sunflowers, dianthus, rye and oats

    Alas, asparagus season is over. Goodbye, local asparagus!

    Everything looked great except for the radishes, a few of which had burst open (I assume that's the result of our irregular rain this season) and the strawberries, which were clearly soft and on their way out.

    The radishes were just a cosmetic issue, but I knew the berries wouldn't last the night. So as I piled my pint in a zip-top bag and pedaled home, I thought of one magic word: compote

    Yes, a simple compote is the fruit buyer's best friend. Mushed, soft berries, excess rhubarb, bruised peaches... clean 'em off, chop 'em up and throw 'em in a saucepan with a little sugar.

    Whack! Pow! Twenty minutes later, you've got yourself a compote that's ready to mix into plain yogurt for a snack that's tastier than any grocery-store fruit-on-the-bottom blend you'll ever meet.

    A good compote is so simple, you hardly need a formal recipe, but I'm going to give you one anyway, because I had a kitchen inspiration I wanted to share.

    A while back J & I took tea at the sweet little Podunk teashop in the West Village. One of the things we remembered with greatest fondness was Ms. Espeth's strawberry jam, which was spiced with a peppery kick that hit in the back of the throat. A delight!


    As I lopped the tops off the strawberries last night (off with their heads!) I thought with fondness of that strawberry jam. So why not make a peppery strawberry compote?

    Herein, dear readers, is your ticket to that very confection. And, hurrah! you probably have just about everything but the strawberries already hanging around in your kitchen.

    Some strawberries are sweeter or more tart than others, so I usually start with less sugar and add in more, to taste, as I go. So feel free to mess with the sugar : acid : spice ratios. A compote is only perfect when you, the cook, say so.
    Kapow! Strawberry Compote (Makes about 1 cup)
    1 pint strawberries (trimmed of their tops & bruises)
    1/8-1/4 cup sugar
    2 Tbsp water
    1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
    1/4 tsp finely ground black pepper
    1/8 tsp ground mace or ground cardamom (optional)
    1 dash salt (optional)

    1. In a small-to-medium saucepan, combine the trimmed strawberries, sugar and water, and heat over medium flame.
    2. Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Don't let the mixture boil; It'll just froth up a storm and make a big, sticky mess on your stovetop.
    3. Turn down the heat, taste the mixture and stir in the lemon juice, spices and salt, if using. The compote will thicken and develop in flavor as it cools, so don't over-spice it at this point.
    4. Use warm, or chill it down and keep it for up to a week in the refrigerator.

    I love this compote with yogurt, but it's also superb on ice cream or used on biscuits or as a way to give strawberry shortcakes a little kick.


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  • 6.26.2008

    The Cocktail Kit: A Sweet Conspiracy

    In the last edition of the Cocktail Kit, we took another look at the joy of Homemade Bitters. This time, we're looking at a seasonal cocktail delight that also has uses in number of impressive non-cocktail treats... the preserved cherry.

    I posted about maraschino cherries back in '05, gave a bit of history and offered up a DIY recipe, but I didn't give enough thought to one of the dastardly details that surround the maraschino cherry saga...

    The fact is, the very first maraschino cherries were preserved with liqueur. This treat lost traction as the temperance movement of the early 1900s came to a head, and by 1920 — the dawn of U.S. Prohibition — maraschino cherries were manufactured without any liqueur at all.

    "Less liqueur was used in processing and almond oil was substituted for some of the liqueur. Finally, the liqueur was eliminated altogether. By 1920, the American maraschino cherry was so popular that it had replaced the foreign variety in the United States."

    The piece I quoted in my original maraschino post seems to indicate that liquor-soaked cherries simply lost the national popularity contest to sugar-soaked cherries. But the match-up in the date pattern indicates something different: the sugar-soaked maraschino cherry was marched in as a watered-down replacement for a treat that was just too vice-ridden for the dry 1920s to handle.

    Bourbon Cherries
    Bing cherries preserved in (gasp!) alcohol.

    No wonder the maraschino rides high atop ice cream sundaes. No wonder it's a necessary component of that most legendary of the goodie-goodie cocktails — the Shirley Temple.

    The maraschino is the bright-red flag of a nation attempting to return to some mythological state of innocence.

    It's a sugar-coated conspiracy! A syrupy cover-up!

    So what happened to the liquor-preserved cherries of old? Well, other, less puritanical countries continued making them, and they've sustained an underground existence in homes and pantries in the U.S. As it happens, those little demon berries are in my kitchen and in my cocktails right now.

    Brandied cherries continue to be popular Southern treats (particularly when they're covered in chocolate), but you can also do what I do: preserve 'em with bourbon.

    Cherry season is coming right up, so now's the time to take a Sunday afternoon and make up a few batches. Enjoy some now and save some for the holidays. Little jars of bourbon cherries make great gifts alongside a couple of cool cocktail or dessert recipes.

    The biggest part of the task is simply pitting the fruits. Either do it by hand (just cut a 1/2-inch slice into each cherry along the stem end and dig out the pits), or invest in a cherry pitter.
    Bourbon Cherries
    2 lb sweet cherries
    1/3 cup sugar
    1/3 cup water
    1 Tbsp lemon juice
    1/2 cup bourbon
    1 cinnamon stick (optional)
    1-2 whole star anise (optional)

    1. Wash and pit the cherries.
    2. In a large saucepan, combine sugar, water, lemon juice and spices (if using).
    3. Bring the mixture to a boil before reducing the heat to a simmer. Add cherries and simmer for 5 minutes.
    4. Remove cherry mix from the heat, and stir in the brandy.
    5. Pack the hot cherries and syrup into sterilized jars, leaving some headspace.
    6. Cap the jars, and if you're planning to can them, simmer for about 15 minutes in a bath of boiling water. If not, just cool and store the jars in the refrigerator.

    Bourbon cherries make punchier stand-ins for their maraschino counterparts, or use them to top ice cream... or even sautéed duck breast.


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    What's In The Box?

    What's in the Box?

    Oh, anticipation! I haven't felt so giddy since I was a kid at Christmastime. Several months ago, I signed up for my local Community Supported Agriculture group (that's a CSA to the regulars) and, swoon! the first delivery arrived last night.

    One of the things I love about CSAs is how closely it ties one to the local environs. Here's what was in the box this week:

  • Red Lettuce
  • Green Lettuce
  • Radishes
  • Arugula
  • Mesclun Lettuce
  • Baby Leeks
  • Asparagus
  • Strawberries
  • Rhubarb
  • Eggs
  • Flowers

    Now, since we've had a long, cool, damp spring (punctuated with a sudden heat wave last weekend), I can see and taste the weather trends in my produce. The lettuces — lovers of chilly days — are fantastic. On the other hand, the strawberries are big, but not as sweet or concentrated in flavor as they have been in other years.

    My little apartment doesn't have any space for a garden, so these agricultural details thrill me. Here's a few shots other shots from the pickup:

    Running a bit short on time this week (and stuffing my mouth full of juicy berries), but in future CSA box reports, I'll provide some recipes for usage. I've found that few people know what to do with, say, kohlrabi.


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  • 6.12.2008

    Food Quote Friday: May Sarton

    The Mangosteen

    "Now for a little I have fed on loneliness
    As on some strange fruit from a frost-touched vine—
    Persimmon in its yellow comeliness,
    Of pomegranate-juice color of wine,
    The pucker-mouth crab apple, or late plum—
    On fruit of loneliness have I been fed."

    May Sarton, from Encounter in April

    More sweet and bitter food quotes can be found within the food quote archive.

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    Tapas Party in a Jar

    One of the great things about serving tapas is that it's just good, simple food. Score a cheap rioja and a Spanish cheese, slice a sausage, make a nice salad and open a bunch of jars. In Spain, they actually put tasty things in jars.

    I have a favorite Spanish salad recipe that's made up of bacalao, oranges, tomatoes and green olives. This might sound strange if you're not accustomed to sweet and savory salads, but this kind of flavor combination is very ordinary in the Mediterranean.

    Tapas on the table
    Baguette, quince paste and fig cake in the foreground, tuna, remojón, and assorted olives in the back.

    It's colorful, easy to put together and very nice as part of a tapas party spread.
    Remojón (Spanish Cod & Orange Salad) (Makes 4-6 appetizer servings)

    3/4 cup (about a 5"x4" piece) of dried salt cod
    12 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
    2 oranges
    1 small red onion
    10 Spanish olives, pitted and halved (optional)
    1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
    1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper (or chili flakes)
    3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

    1. Toast the fish over a flame or under a broiler until lightly browned.
    2. Soak the the toasted cod in a bowl of cool water while you segment the oranges. Cut each orange segment in half.
    3. Cut the red onion in half and cut each half into thin slices. Soak slices in cold water if you want to take out some of the bite.
    3. Mix the drained tomatoes, onion slices, olives (if using) and the halved orange segments.
    4. Drain the soaking fish and remove any skin or bones. Shred or chop the fish and add to the salad.
    5. Blend the Aleppo pepper (or chili flakes) into the vinegar before whisking in the oil. Pour this dressing over the salad and toss to blend.

    This salad holds up well (and probably even improves) as it sits at room temperature while you zip around the house picking up stray items in preparation for guests.
    Easy-Peasy Tapas for 4-6

    1/2 lb block of Manchego cheese, sliced
    and/or a half-pound of Garrotxa cheese, sliced

    1/2 lb chunk of membrillo (quince paste)
    and/or fig paste

    1 jar of oil-preserved tuna
    and/or Spanish Cod & Orange Salad (see recipe, above)

    1/4 lb thin-sliced serrano ham
    and/or 1/4 lb salchichon slices

    1-2 types of salt-cured or Spanish green olives
    and/or roasted peppers and/or marinated tomatoes

    1 baguette, thinly sliced
    and/or some good lookin' crackers

    Nice extras
    Dried dates
    Roasted almonds
    Dried figs


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    Food Quote Friday: E B White

    black grapes

    "We should all do what in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry."

    E B White from The Letters of E B White

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    Give a fig? I give a fig cake!

    I'd always known that figs were beloved fruits of the ancients. They sang and wrote poetry about figs. Figs glowed as symbols of the good life in their literature. It was the first plant mentioned in the Bible. And don't forget: Buddha done got enlightened while meditating underneath a fig tree. (Take that, Newton!)

    And there's hundreds of different fig trees. The Weeping Fig. (ficus benjamina) The Creeping Fig. (ficus pumila) The Fiddle-leaved Fig. (Ficus lyrata) The Bengal Fig. (ficus benghalensis) The Florida Strangler Fig. (ficus aurea) There's a fig for every mood.

    fresh figs with cheese

    But until fairly recently, the only figs I'd really encountered came in "Newton" form. Chewy and sweet, but not exactly inspiring.

    Then I met fresh figs, which were a revelation. Juicy, fleshy, tender-skinned and scented like musky vanilla and honey with hints of grass... the fresh fig gave me a new outlook on why this fruit was so cherished in the ancient world.

    Later still, I discovered that dried figs came in various incarnations. At my favorite little shop of delights, The Sweet Life, the Turkish ones tend to be brunette, chewy and covered with a sugary sap. The dried California are blonder, fatter and more supple. (Read into that whatever you like.)

    dried California fig

    These days, my office's favorite Friday treat is the empanada run from Mama's Empanadas in Sunnyside. We'd noticed that Ryn really loved the fig and caramel empanada, so naturally, when her birthday rolled around, we needed a fig cake.

    I was inspired by one I saw on the FreshDirect recipe page, but it was missing by the time I went back to find it, so I improvised a fig cake based on a recipe I found at Baby Rambutan's site.

    It so happened that I wanted a cake that was not terribly sweet. Since fig preserves are already quite rich, I just skipped the sugar altogether. That makes this cake a nice option for breakfasting/brunching.

    That said, I think most people are looking for a little more decadence in their cakes, so I'd recommend 1/2 cup to 1 cup of sugar, depending on your preference or audience.

    fig cake, devoured

    Moist & Sticky Fig Cake

    2 cups all-purpose or pastry flour
    1/2 to 1 cup sugar
    1 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    1 cup buttermilk (or plain yogurt)
    1 cup fig preserves
    3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted
    3 eggs, beaten
    1 Tbsp vanilla
    1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
    1/2 cup sliced dried figs (optional)

    Sticky Fig Glaze
    1/4 cup fig preserves
    3 Tbsp honey
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    1/2 cup water

    1. Preheat oven to 325° F.

    2. Butter the bottom of a 13- x 9-inch pan or a 10-inch round pan. Cut out a piece of parchment paper the same size as the bottom of your pan and place the parchment on top of the butter to stick it in place.

    3. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, soda, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.

    4. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk (or yogurt) with 1 cup fig preserves until smooth. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add fig preserves and pecans, if using.

    5. Combine wet and dry ingredients, stirring just until combined.

    6. Pour into the prepared pan and bake 35-40 minutes. If a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, remove from oven and cool the cake in the pan. Cover it to keep the steam in.

    6. While the cake cools, make the glaze by combining the remaining 1/4 cup fig preserves, honey, cinnamon and water. Heat, stirring, in a saucepan on the stovetop (or zap in a bowl in the microwave) until simmering, but not boiling. Spread across the cake, letting the glaze drip down the sides if you dig that sort of rich and oozy look.

    Serve with vanilla ice cream, crème fraîche or Mediterranean-style thick yogurt.

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    Food Quote Friday: Charles Reznikoff

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

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

    Charles Reznikoff

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

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    Coming Soon: Bananapocalypse

    Last week on the radio program Fresh Air, Terry Gross announced that she'd interviewed Dan Koeppel, the author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. Hearing that, I almost turned the radio off.

    "Really?" I wondered, "Does the world actually need another single-word-title history book?"

    Consider just a sampling of the single-subject history genre: Tobacco. Mayflower. Cod. Salt. Hotel. Gin. Rum. Citrus. Spice.

    You'll find that many of this ilk have big, blustery subtitles. For Cod, it's: "A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World," while Rum is "The Epic Story of the Drink That Conquered the World." One begins to wonder if there's a food, drink or object that didn't change the world.

    Despite my weariness of the big-big little history book, I listened in on Fresh Air for a few moments and — of course — got sucked in. That Terry Gross is some talker. And Koeppel's single-subject discussion was actually pretty interesting. Bananas did change the world for many people.

    For one thing, I didn't realize that the banana (now grown across most of the world's tropical zones) originated in Southeast Asia. I also didn't know that the banana our grandparents knew and loved (the Gros Michel, which was said to be terribly tasty and easy to ship) essentially died out due to a fungal disease.

    Banana Bunch

    The familiar long, slender, fragile banana that appears in every grocery store across the U.S. is the Cavindish banana, which was thought to be so bland and delicate that Koeppel said the Chiquita banana company nearly went out of business because they resisted switching over to Cavindishes as the Gros Michels whithered away.

    As it turned out, those bland, fussy Cavindish bananas were quickly adopted by the banana-eating public and faster than you can say "Yes, We Have No Bananas," the tasty Gros Michels were all but forgotten.

    Much as I enjoy a nice Cavindish, that seems like a sad turn of events for all of us. Because every Cavindish is essentially a clone of every other Cavendish and our appetite for them is seemingly insatiable (Koeppel says Americans purchase more bananas than they do apples and oranges combined), it seems like it was only a matter of time before another bananapocalypse. (I think we've already observed the dangers of crop monoculture.)

    Indeed, Koeppel says that banana fungus is on the move, and it's really only a matter of time before American banana crops are affected. Scary thought.

    Thankfully, there are other bananas in the world. The only problem is, they're not widely cultivated, so if the Cavindish goes offline, it'll be a long, banana-less age in which scarcity ensures that banana muffins are served in only the finest of restaurants, and things like banana splits, bananas foster and banana smoothies are forgotten entirely.

    Unfortunately, while Koeppel's discussion of ruthless banana barons, scummy produce marketing practices and impending fungal doom piqued my interest in his book, it also made me crave bland old Cavindish bananas in a big way.

    One of my favorite banana recipes (although one I don't often make — for obvious reasons) is based off of the banana pudding recipe from Bill Smith and Lee Smith's Seasoned in the South.

    I'm usually not much for meringue, so I leave that off and just go with a sprinkle of cinnamon as garnish. If you've never made pudding that wasn't made from a box, I think you'll taste a big difference in the pudding recipe below. Homemade pudding isn't difficult. If you make it with good ingredients, it's a seriously tasty tribute to the last days of the Cavindish banana.

    Cavendish Banana Pie (Serves 4-6)

    2 cups half & half
    1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
    3 Tbsp cornstarch
    2 large eggs
    1/2 cup sugar
    4 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1" slices
    1/2 box (6 oz) vanilla wafers
    2 medium-sized ripe bananas

    Dash ground cinnamon (optional)
    Dollop fresh whipped cream (optional)

    1. Heat 1 1/2 cups of the half & half with the split vanilla bean in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat until it just steams and begins to form a skin, about 5 minutes. Do not boil.

    2. Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch into the remaining 1/2 cup of half & half to dissolve it. Beat in the eggs.

    3. Pouring in a slow stream, whisk the hot half & half into the egg mixture. Pour the mixed liquids back into the heavy-bottomed pot, returning the vanilla bean.

    4. Cook the liquid over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. After 3 to 5 minutes, the custard will begin to thicken. Continue to stir for a few minutes more, being sure to move the whisk over the entire bottom of the pot.

    5. When the surface begins to steam a little, gradually stir in the sugar. Be careful, because this will make the custard more likely to burn on the bottom.

    6. Remove the pot from the heat and beat in the butter. Stir constantly to help the butter to absorb. This will temporarily thin the custard. Discard the vanilla bean.*

    7. Pour a cup of the hot custard into a deep-dish pie pan or an 8" square pan. Line the bottom and sides with vanilla wafers. Slice the bananas over the cookies, then layer any remaining wafers over the bananas. Gently pour the rest of the custard over the cookies and banana slices.

    8. Cover, lightly, with plastic wrap, and chill for two hours or overnight. Serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon and fresh whipped cream, if desired.

    * Alternatively, save the pod to make vanilla sugar. Just dry used vanilla pods and add to a roomy mason jar that's filled 3/4 full of white sugar. Keep the jar lidded and shake it every once in a while to scent the sugar with vanilla. Use in desserts.

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    The Million Method March

    My first Moroccan Stew recipe, out of Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, was essentially a tomato-rich vegetable stew with a handful of black olives and a squeeze of lemon. It was full of potato cubes, artichoke hearts and green beans, with no real spice to speak of.

    Later on, I discovered that lamb was a fairly traditional component of Moroccan Stew, though lots of cooks used chicken. Cinnamon, apricots and cured olives seemed to be common ingredients. Some ingredient lists included orange sections or apricot pieces, while some suggested only strips of orange zest or squeeze of fresh lemon at the end. Some cooks insisted on a couscous accompaniment. Some only mentioned couscous in passing.

    The majority of Moroccan Stew recipes seemed to bear about as much resemblance to each other as individual members in a fleet of Elvis impersonators. I mean, you know they're all striving for basically the same thing, but...

    I'm convinced there must be hundreds of variations, and I used to be intimidated by that breadth of options. Which one was the right one? Which was most authentic?

    Lately I've come to see all those variants as empowering rather than confounding. Why? A million methods means you can't really mess it up. Your ideal Moroccan Stew is for you to determine. Don't eat meat? Don't use it. Fresh out of olives or apricots? Skip 'em. Love chickpeas? Go crazy.

    Moroccan Stew with Chicken

    As for me, I use Moroccan Stew recipes as more like suggestions than prescriptions. Just use some good ingredients and cook 'em gentle and slow. It'll come out nice-like.

    When everything's tender, taste it and season to taste with salt, pepper and some lemon and fresh herbs. Dish it up with couscous or some toasted pita or maybe just a day-old hunk of baguette.

    It'll be fine. I'm betting it'll even be tasty. Maybe it'll be a work of art your guests will remember with fondness for the rest of their lives.

    That's why there's a million recipes for Moroccan Stew. No matter how you do it, you're almost guaranteed to get it right.

    Moroccan Stew for a Cold Winter's Night

    2 Tbsp olive oil
    4 skin-on chicken thighs OR 1 1/2 lb lamb cubes (optional)
    1-2 medium onions, chopped
    3 cloves garlic, sliced
    1 tsp dried thyme
    1-2 cinnamon sticks
    2 tsp ground coriander
    2 tsp ground cumin
    1-2 tsp Aleppo pepper (optional)
    1 red bell pepper, chopped
    1 15oz can chickpeas, drained
    2 cups cubed tomatoes, chopped (or 1 14oz can diced tomatoes)
    3-4 cups stock, (vegetable or chicken)
    1/2 cup flavorful olives, pitted
    1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
    1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
    1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro and/or chopped mint
    Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

    In a heavy-bottomed stockpot or a dutch oven, heat olive oil until it shimmers. Add the meat of your choice (if using) and sear until it acquires some color. Remove the meat and sauté the onions, bell pepper and garlic in the same pan until the onions are translucent.

    Add thyme, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, Aleppo pepper, tomatoes, chickpeas, olives, apricot pieces and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 60 to 90 minutes, or until meat and vegetables are fork-tender.

    Stir in lemon juice and fresh herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with couscous or toasted pita, or store overnight and reheat the next day, when the flavor will be all the better.

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    Goal 5: Eat In Season

    January is a grim season for locavores. I try to eat locally whenever I can, but there's no way I'm going to pass up a juicy Pomelo in January or a sweet box of clementines in December. Thankfully, citrus is in season during the winter months, even if it does have a lengthy sojourn on the way here.

    If you live on on the West Coast, you have a few more options. Om Organics has a nice chart of what's growing when in the Bay Area.

    For those of us out here in the East, things are pretty sparse at the farmers markets. What should you be eating now? Broccoli. Cauliflower. Root Vegetables. Pumpkins. Citrus fruits and all manner of hearty greens.

    Eating peak-season produce is a great food resolution because it's cheaper, it's more nutritious and when you buy locally, you support your farming neighbors. And that's just plain old good karma.

    I've made up a chart here to keep those of us in the Northeast region on track throughout the year. (Anything that's not grown locally is indicated with an asterisk.)

    Apples to Cabbages
    Apples through Cabbages

    Carrots to Grapefruit
    Carrots through Grapefruit

    Green Garlic to Sweet Onions
    Green Garlic through Sweet Onions

    Blood Oranges to Wild Ramps
    Blood Oranges through Wild Ramps

    Raspberries to Turnips
    Raspberries through Turnips

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    Goal 3: Create Convenience

    The problem with convenience food is that convenience is its only attribute. It's there. It's available. It's shelf-stable.

    Sheetz Market, PA

    On the other hand, list of what convenience food is not goes on and on. It's not fresh, not nutritious, not vibrant, not wholesome, not flavorful, not sustainable, not natural...

    When we strive to offer ourselves the gift of a better, tastier, fresher, more healthful diet, we need to plan ahead to make the magic happen.

    Fruit & Cheese

    Sometimes life gives you a beautiful fruit stand. Far more often, the modern world will offer up its shelf-stable candy aisles and its fast food chains. The convenience is there, but you pay for that convenience with your health and your hard-earned dollars.

    If you can plan ahead, you'll create convenience on your own terms.

    1. Make sure you know where your next meal is coming from.

    Most people need three (or more) meals a day. Make sure you know how that's going to happen. Buy groceries with several meal plans in mind. Cook on Sunday and put soups and casseroles in the freezer. Pack lunches or look up in advance the local options for places that will feed you healthful foods. Don't leave your good intentions for nutritious, delicious meals in the hands of fate. She'll turn around and hand you a Ho-Ho.

    2. Pack food.

    You've packed your ipod, your sunglasses, your book and your sweater. What about snacks? Pack a water bottle. Pack an apple. Pack a banana. Pack a sandwich. Pack a bento box. Pack a hard-boiled egg in a plastic bag with a paper towel. When it comes to traveling (whether that's across town or across the country) it pays to be a little paranoid.

    3. Don't leave hungry.

    That party that's supposed to offer food? The appointment that's supposed to be a lunch meeting? Don't believe the hype. You never know what the future holds, so don't go anywhere with a ravenous hunger. You'll end up eating whatever's put in front of you, and because you're desperate, you'll probably eat far more of it than you normally would have. Life is uncertain, so make sure you at least eat a handful of nuts or an apple before leaving the house.

    4. Make fresh food convenient.

    We all have moments when our inner caveman takes over, and we stumble through the kitchen in search of something... anything... to eat. That's a particularly vulnerable state to be in.

    When you stock the house with easy, healthy snacks, you offer a gift to your hungry caveman. Make sure you always have healthful supplies on hand. Think fresh fruit, snack-sized vegetables, dried fruit and nuts, juices, yogurt, cottage cheese, granola, etc. Conversely, make convenience foods inconvenient. Keep them away from your home, your office and your car. They're just not allowed.

    A box of crackers will sit, inert, on a shelf for years. A banana goes brown and spotty after a week or less.

    So yes, eating fresh, nutritious foods takes some effort on a regular basis. But planning ahead for healthful meals and snacks means convenience foods... actually become a little less convenient.

    Miss out on previous days? Read Goal 1 and Goal 2.

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    Day 7: Pain, Protection and the Pomander

    This post marks Day 7 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Delightful to smell, dead easy to make and ubiquitous around the holidays, I'd grown up believing the clove-studded orange pomander was the one true thing.

    Pomander Progress

    As it turns out, pomanders weren't initially citrus-based at all. They were expensive aroma plus precious metals, cherished as the ancient things of queens and kings. The pomanders of old were fancy perfume carriers.

    Apparently, the name comes from the French pomme dambre, i.e. "apple of amber." The amber to which they refer is actually the time-tested perfume agent ambergris. And you may, as I do, remember ambergris from your elementary-school cetacean studies as expensive whale vomit. (Darn it, don't you just love etymology?)

    In any case, it seems our stinky European forebears used pomanders to ward off the personal and public effluvia that pervaded their stuffy lives. Back in the day, there was widespread belief that airborne funk carried plague, cholera, etc., so a sweet-smelling pomander was seen as a tool of protection.

    Pomander Detail
    Detail from a painting of an unknown lady holding a pomander on a chain. Pieter Janz. Pourbus

    Somehow, pomanders became associated with the holidays. I have a hunch that's a function of the December citrus season connection.

    Though our modern lives feature far less stench, I think we still appreciate little things that smell pretty.

    Finished pomanders dry, shrink and make excellent holiday decorations. Keep in mind, too, that you can use whichever citrus you prefer or happen to have on hand. I think lemon or lime pomanders would be just as lively.

    As I was pushing cloves into an orange recently, my fingers started to hurt a bit. I wimped out and only made a very basic pomander, figuring that fewer cloves gave it a clean and spartan look. Some people go the distance with their pomanders, pushing in dozens of cloves, devising complicated patterns, tying on ribbons and rolling the thing in a mixture of warm spices, like ground cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and orris root — a natural preservative.

    Later on, I did a little pomander research and realized that most people use a skewer or toothpick to poke holes in the orange before inserting the cloves. Ah, well... Bruised fingertips are a small price for such a merry scent.

    J picked up my sparely poked pomander the next morning and compared it to Cenobite villain Pinhead of Clive Barker's Hellraiser series.

    Pomander Pinhead
    Maybe Clive Barker was really into pomanders...

    Accurate maybe, but that's not exactly the look I was going for. So much for simple and clean. Maybe next time I'll use an intricate spiral pattern and spring for some ribbons.

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    Day 3: Merry Citrus!

    This post marks Day 3 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Some people begin lighting candles for Hanukkah this week, some folks are more about Christmas, others get into Saturnalia or Kwanzaa or Festivus... but pretty much everyone (barring maybe the northernmost locavores) can get behind citrus season as a reason for celebration.

    The clementines are back, the grapefruit are rich and juicy and I've seen some excellent oranges recently. Cold months are a little sad and spare in the farmers' market, but the shops are robust with crates of sweet-tart juiciness. Why not whip up some little lemon loaves to mark the seasonal return of sunshine-state citrus?

    Merry Citrus
    If you happen to like this cheery lemon, click it to get the printable PDF version.

    I like to make a batch of little lemon loaves in December and give them away, wrapped up in parchment paper and kitchen twine, with the tag above.

    You can usually find the little disposable/recyclable aluminum foil cake pans at grocery stores and discount shops. Get a package of the 5" long x 3" wide x 2" high size. I make my lemon loaves with a variation of Ina Garten's Lemon Cake from Barefoot Contessa Parties! It's yummy on its own and looks fantastic as a dessert with a drizzle of raspberry sauce. Mmm...

    Luscious Little Lemon Loaves

    For the Cakes
    1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter
    2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
    4 large eggs (at room temperature)
    1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1 tsp kosher salt
    3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
    3/4 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt at room temperature
    1 tsp pure vanilla extract

    For the Glaze
    2 cups confectioners' sugar
    1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

    1. Preheat the oven to 350°F, and grease four 5 x 3 x 2-inch loaf pans.

    2. Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, and then add in the lemon zest.

    3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.

    4. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk or yogurt and the vanilla.

    5. Alternate adding the flour and buttermilk mixtures to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour.

    6. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

    7. Meanwhile, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves and makes a syrup.

    8. When the cakes are done, let them cool on a rack for 10 minutes. If you'll be giving the loaves away, leave them in the pans. If not, turn out onto a rack. In either case, spoon the lemon syrup over the cakes and allow them to cool completely before glazing.

    9. For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice in a bowl, whisking smooth. Pour over the top of the cakes and allow to set up before wrapping them.

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    Going Bananas: The Mighty Morphin Power Smoothie

    the mighty morphin power smoothie

    It all started simply enough. Most consuming passions do. I had too many ripe bananas.

    Normally, a quickie banana bread would solve the banana issue. But even a banana-loving person can only eat so much banana bread.

    So I started freezing ripe banana halves and using them for breakfast. I'd just toss a frozen banana half in my blender with a cup or so of orange juice. Voila! Cool, refreshing smoothie.

    So that's how it started:
    Banana + OJ = Smoothie

    After a while, I thought it might be nice to get some of the good enzymes from active -culture plain yogurt into my system. Started adding about a half-cup.

    The new digestively correct version:
    Banana + OJ + Yogurt = Smoothie

    Over time, I wanted to reduce the volume of orange juice (so much sugar!) and I did some experimenting and figured out that soymilk helped keep my smoothies thin enough. (Milk curdles if you're also using oj. Not appealing first thing in the morning.) Substituting a tablespoon of peanut butter or Nutella for the oj made for veeeery tasty smoothies.

    The improved formula became:
    Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + PB = Smoothie

    When I started making them for J, he wanted to add tablespoon of wheat germ (for additional vitamins and fiber). And since J is wild for berries, we also started adding in some fresh or frozen berries instead of juice or peanut butter.

    The nutritious, collaborative recipe:
    Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Wheat Germ + Berries = Smoothie

    After J returned to a heavy workout program, he needed more protein. Meanwhile, I was doing more running, so I figured a protein + carb combo breakfast couldn't hurt. At that point we started adding some protein powder (a "designer" whey product, made using milk solids) to power the muscles.

    The high-tech protein power version:
    Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Wheat Germ + Berries + Protein Powder = Smoothie

    After a while J read up on nutritional supplements for athletic recovery and got into L-Glutamine (an amino acid recovery supplement) and BCAA (Branched Chain Amino Acid) powders. The glutamine doesn't taste like much, but the BCAA is seriously bitter. I continued pouring my smoothie at the high-tech protein powder version (above), before adding a little glutamine and BCAA into the blender for J's smoothie.

    J's big muscle recovery smoothie:
    Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Wheat Germ + Berries + Protein Powder + BCAA + L-Glutamine = Smoothie

    Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee), the fruit of the Brazilian Açaí Palm, seems to go wherever Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners go. They suck on frozen packets of the stuff after practice.

    So when J took up jits, we learned all about acai. It's high in fiber and antioxidants, and it seems as though it may also reduce inflammation in the body. Handy stuff. In our casual testing, J says he's able to work out longer without getting hungry when he's had an acai smoothie. And since FreshDirect delivers Sambazon pure acai packets along with delicious frozen sliced peaches, the smoothies have been very happy indeed.

    The individually tailored potions:
    Me: Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Berries (or Peaches) + Protein Powder + Acai = Smoothie

    J: Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Berries (or Peaches) + Protein Powder + Acai + BCAA + L-Glutamine = Smoothie

    These days, there's a minor panic in the house when banana supplies run low; It's funny to remember that the whole winding evolution was hatched by a surplus.

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    Fig Quote Friday: Platina


    "Some figs are called Chian from a place, taking the name from a city in Syria. I think the African fig is so-called from that province. The anxious Cato brought its fruit into the Senate when he was seeking a third Punic War and badgering the senators, especially those who did not think it at all the stuff of Roman virtue that Carthage be destroyed. As soon as he said, 'How long do you think this fruit has been picked from its own tree? Since all agree that it is fresh, know that it was picked not three days ago at Carthage, so close is our enemy,' at once the Third Punic War was launched, by which Carthage, once the rival of the Roman Empire, was destroyed."

    — Platina from On Right Pleasure and Good Health, 1465

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    Food Quote Friday: Wendell Berry

    market strawberries

    "Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup."

    Wendell Berry

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    Charge of the Peach Brigade

    Peaches at Tompkin's Square Greenmarket

    Down on the Lower East Side, the invasion slipped in quietly.

    For ages (was it months? years?) there wasn't a peach to be found. Then suddenly, in the space of a few spectacular days, a fleet of luscious peaches rolled in on fuzzy skins. We saw them first in the Tompkin's Square Greenmarket.

    White Peach Donuts (and Sweet Basil Donuts) overtook the ever-seasonal sandwich board outside The Donut Plant. Peach Cobbler Muffins lined up in the Essex Street Market. A Market Beet & Peach Salad materialized on the menu at Little Giant. Towering crates of peaches stood stacked inside the door of Il Laboratorio del Gelato.

    Once we realized we were surrounded by peaches on all sides, it was too late. We were powerless against them. How easily they entered our homes, our businesses, our lives. We were captives. Captivated. Stunned. Transfixed.

    Just Peachy Cobbler Muffins at Tra La La Juice Bar

    As the days progressed, I suppose it was predictable that we became accustomed to their presence. I think we developed a kind of stonefruit Stockholm syndrome, allying with them, inviting them to join us at breakfast, lunch, dinner and teatime.

    I can't verify anything, but there may have been a few tantalizing trysts of sweet, sticky juice and tender flesh savored over the sink. Who can tell? It's all a dizzy blur now.

    In the last few days, I've heard rumors (just whispers, mind you) of a retreat. It seems like a wild fiction. Having become so pervasive, such fixtures in our lives, is it possible they could vanish entirely? I won't believe it.

    The future? Speculative. (It always is.) The one thing I can say with certainty is this: our present moment is peaches.

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    Food Quote Friday: Andrew Marvell

    Fruit at the Atwater Market in Montreal

    The nectarine and curious peach
    Into my hands themselves do reach;
    Stumbling on melons, as I pass,
    Ensnared with flowers, I fall on grass

    Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) from "Thoughts in a Garden"

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    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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    Food Quote Friday: Edward Bunyard

    Pera Perla
    Pera Perla from the peerless NYPL Digital Image Gallery

    "It is, in my view, the duty of an apple to be crisp and crunchable, but a pear should have such a texture as leads to silent consumption."

    Edward Bunyard

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    Food Quote Friday: Bill Buford

    perhaps a wheat?

    "A white truffle, which elsewhere might sell for hundreds of dollars, seemed easier to come by than something fresh and green. What could be got from the woods was free and amounted to a diurnal dining diary that everyone kept in their heads. May was wild asparagus, arugula, and artichokes. June was wild lettuce and stinging nettles. July was cherries and wild strawberries. August was forest berries. September was porcini."

    -Bill Buford in Heat

    Pile your basket with wild food quotes here.

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    Food Quote Friday: Chekhov

    16 Varieties of Gooseberries
    16 Varieties of Gooseberries from the NYPL

    "A man wants nothing so badly as a gooseberry farm."

    - Anton Chekhov

    Craving another mouthful of tangy food quotes? Check 'em out here.

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    Nothing says gratitude like a slaughtered lamb

    the lamb and the wolf
    Symbols of gratitude and danger living in perfect harmony. Image: NYPL digital library.

    My boss asked me to track down a traditional "thank you" food.

    He wanted to give that unknown thing as a gift of appreciation to our best customers. It seemed like a good idea. I'd just do some research, discover that flash-frozen steaks were a universally acknowledged symbol of goodwill and esteem, and out they'd go. Boss happy. Customers happy. Easy-peasy, right?

    On the ensuing search for consumables as symbols of appreciation, I discovered... well, it's not so easy. I should have known. Symbolic meaning is relative. More than that, it's local. So there's not a lot in the way of universally recognizable representations. Particularly not in the way of food items, which have traditionally tended to be very local.

    Oh sure, you'll find quite a few quasi-universal symbols out there. There are flags to represent nations, the white cross, which generally symbolizes medical help, the golden arches, which symbolize heart failure and the swoosh, which means I'm about to pay a surcharge for a piece of clothing. But the great efforts used to make those symbols into something globally recognizable was intentional. And, generally, well financed.

    The more organically occurring symbolic representations tend to be "readable" only by those in certain groups, or regions.

    When I grew up in the Dakotas, I attended pow wows, sweats and other events at which tobacco was a gift that demonstrated respect and appreciation. Presenting someone in Manhattan with a nice pouch of fresh tobacco probably wouldn't read the same way. Particularly in this "tobacco as symbol of death and/or decadence" era.

    So back in the frustrating realm of my food symbol quest, it seems that a pineapple might say "hospitality" to me (this fellow has a nice rundown of why the pineapple has historically been recognized in that capacity... I love the bit about how pineapples used to be rented short-term for parties in order to demonstrate one's status and taste), but it might just suggest "Hawaiian cocktails" (or even worse, "Williams-Sonoma") to our customers.

    The slaughtered lamb was once pretty widely used as a dramatic "thanks a lot" gesture, but again... it's all about location, location, location. And context. Symbols are language, meaning, of course, that the recipient of the symbol has to speak your language.

    I submitted my findings. He ended up sending out boxes of chocolate.

    But now that I think about it, considering our best customers are high-spending NYC food buyers, maybe a box of steaks wasn't such a bad idea as a symbol of appreciation after all. It's extravagant and not really not that far afield from the slaughtered lamb. And isn't extravagance nearly always recognized as symbolic of appreciation?

    In no particular order, some of my findings on food symbols and their meanings:
    Apple = appreciation (generally of teachers), temptation, New York
    Peach = longevity, marriage
    Pear = affection
    Olive = peace, healing
    Garlic = strength
    Gourds = good health, longevity
    Chocolate = devotion, love
    Fish = faith (Christian faith in particular)
    Rabbit = fertility
    Lotus Root = unconditional love
    Lamb = faith (again, it's about Jesus)
    Maple Syrup = Canada, eh
    Pineapple = hospitality, welcome
    Pumpkin = prosperity, festivity, harvest
    Pomelo, basket/cornucopia, sheaf of wheat = bounty
    Slaughtered lamb, tobacco = appreciation, gratitude
    Rosemary = fidelity, remembrance
    Pomegranate = fertility
    Lavender = good luck
    Salt = wealth, loyalty, incorruptibility, immortality
    Honey = wealth, happiness
    Turnips = charity
    Pepper = lust, spice
    Fig, bamboo, pig = prosperity
    Banana = hey... sometimes a banana is just a banana, okay?

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    Food Quote Friday: Ananios (Ananias)

    Image from the NYPL Digital Image Collection

    "If a man were to lock in his house a hoard of gold, a few figs, and two or three men, he would find out how much better figs are than gold."

    -Ananios (Ananias), 6th Century BCE

    A hoard of food quotes can be found here.

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    In praise of the microseason

    Williamsburg CSA
    Williamsburg CSA

    First day CSA
    First Day of my CSA (June)

    Last day CSA
    Last Day of my CSA (November)

    See more food photos: missginsu @ flickr

    Some people know the season via the calendar. These folks enjoy what I consider the seasonal four-pack: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

    Those in close contact with farmers' markets and CSA groups know a veritable color wheel of microseasons within those macroseasons embraced by the rest of the population. There's ramp-morel-lettuce season followed closely by spinach-pea-strawberry season. There's the highly anticipated tomato-corn-zucchini season. Right now, it's very clearly sweet potato-cranberry-Brussels sprouts season.

    Thanks to Just Food, a nonprofit org dedicated to things like food-selling opportunities for small farmers and food-buying opportunities for urbanites like me, I was able to hook up with the Williamsburg Community Supported Agriculture group this year and enjoy six months' worth of microseasons in the form of organic produce from the farmers at Garden of Eve.

    CSAs exist all over the country (I used to belong to the Loring Park CSA in Minneapolis), and while I wouldn't say membership is a good decision for everyone (some people, for example, just wouldn't be satisfied with the "Iron Chef Mystery Ingredient" aspect of a CSA group's weekly variety pack, and some would have no clue about what to do with three pounds of kohlrabi or a quarter-peck of habañero peppers), I've found that supporting local produce from actual people has been ethically, sensually and culinarily satisfying for me*.

    Additionally, I've learned a lot about preservation. In years past, home cooks dealt with the seasons as they arrived. If it was tomato-corn-zucchini season and the kitchen overflowed with bags and bags of red, yellow and green produce, everyone ate succotash, zucchini bread, fresh vegetable chowders, and buttery cornbread muffins.

    Thanks to a constant flow of produce available in any local shop, today's cooks are far less practiced in using up a surplus. Canning, drying, fermenting and pickling are the arts of the ancients. We buy what we need. The majority of us will never be pressed into anything resembling our progenitors' annual frantic frenzy of canning, baking, stewing and jamming an entire orchard or garden over the space of a week or two during the harvest.

    That said, today's CSA member (and thrify produce buyers in general) often discover a need for those techniques of antiquity.

    In a month or two, (around Meyer Lemon season), it will be time to start signing up for a new CSA year. For those who plan on joining one (localharvest.org compiles national listings), here's a few tips I've discovered that might make your produce microseasons more efficient and enjoyable:

    Block out some time. Right after pickup, you'll want an hour or so to care for your vegetables. Rinse the apples and pears. Wash and dry the lettuces. (I love my salad spinner.) Cut the carrots into sticks for easy snacking. Separate the celery stalks from the celery roots. Rinse and chop up the beet greens for easy sauteing.

    Triage. Softer fruits and vegetables will rot first. Can't use 'em right away? Think: chutneys, sauces, jams, soups. A lot of fruit and veggies freeze better once they're already cooked (Quickly blanch and shock tomatoes to get the skins off, then toss 'em in a freezer bag.) Save any root vegetables for last.

    Same technique, different vegetable. Enjoy mashed potatoes? Try the same thing with mashed celery root, carrots or parsnips. Ratatouille, soup, slaw, salad and stir-fries are all your friends. The butternut squash soup is just as good with acorn squash. Sauteed greens are yummy whether they're beet greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, escarole, chard, kale, frisee or spinach. Nearly anything can be pickled. Almost everything is tastier when it's done up with a layer of olive oil, salt, pepper and some roasting time in the oven.

    * That is, apart from the getting dressed and leaving the house early on Saturday morning thing.

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    Food Quote Friday: Cezanne

    Cezanne's Still Life with Apple
    Cézanne's Still Life with Apple

    "I wish to astonish Paris with an apple."

    -Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)

    Nip into more astonishing food quotes here.

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    Tomato + Watermelon = Friends Forever

    tomato-watermelon salad
    Salad today, soup tomorrow.

    During the peak season for any particular piece of produce, it's common to find that its flavor friends are also hitting a high.

    Asparagus, ramps and morels in the springtime. Tomatoes, basil and cucumbers in the summer. Apples, sage and butternut squash in the autumn. Rutabaga and... well, rutabaga might be the lonely exception.

    When I found a recipe for "Tomato & Watermelon Salad" from Bill Smith's delicious volume, Seasoned in the South, I was initially a bit put off. Tomatoes and watermelons? Really? Yes, really. Really good, actually.

    As it turns out, tomatoes and watermelon — both in full flush at the markets right now — are also natural meal companions.

    Tomato & Watermelon Salad (Serves 4-6)

    5 cups ripe, bite-sized watermelon chunks, seeded as best you can, but don't go crazy
    1 1/2 pounds very ripe tomatoes, finely chunked
    3 teaspoons sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 small red onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
    1/2 cup red wine vinegar
    1/4 cup good, strong-flavored extra-virgin olive oil

    Toss the melon and tomatoes with the sugar and the salt. Let sit for 15 minutes. Then fold in the onions, vinegar, and oil. Serve very cold. This salad is amazingly refreshing.
    And he's right. It's fast, it's easy, it's slightly unusual and, to quote Cosmo Kramer, it's "very refreshing!"

    Best of all, I found you can very easily serve up any leftovers the next day pureéed as a gazpacho.

    For every four cups of leftover salad, just add a finely minced chile pepper (or less, depending on your heat tolerance) and a teaspoon or two of ground cumin. Pureé, then adjust the flavor to taste with some salt and lime juice. Stir in a small cucumber (chopped into 1/2-inch chunks) and serve with a garnish of cilantro or mint.

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    Food Quote Friday: Washington Irving

    "Sometimes the table was graced with immense apple-pies, or saucers full of preserved peaches and pears; but it was always sure to boast an enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog's fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks — a delicious kind of cake, at present scarce known in this city, except in genuine Dutch families."

    Washington Irving (1783-1859)
    from Knickerbocker's History of New York

    Thanks to Mother Tongue Annoyances for today's quote.

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    Forbidden Fruit: The Mangosteen

    The mangosteen, unadulterated.

    Press gently on the tough shell to break open the fruit.

    The tender mangosteen alongside its plentiful packaging.

    When I spotted mangosteens in the Barcelona Boqueria, I was shocked... shocked! I'd heard all about the mangosteen from Asia-exploring friends (mangosteens favor a tropical climate) and the raves of David Karp, Gourmet magazine's fruit detective.

    Residents of the United States are not allowed to enjoy them, you see (though some of us apparently love them enough to sneak in a box every now and then.) As mentioned in a comment a few posts back, this particular fruit is said to keep company with a dangerous fruit fly.

    Even simply purchasing them at the market carried the cachet of illicit behavior. Why, think of the fit they'd throw at customs if they found me concealing dangerous fruit. (Come to think of it, that might be my next band: Concealing Dangerous Fruit.)

    Well, purchase I did, and consume I did. But first, there was the task of getting the darn things open. The shells are tough and leathery. The edible pulp is tender and easily bruised. My research indicated that the brightly colored skins stain fabrics permanently. Cut them? Nope. Smash them? Nope. Press a thumb in to puncture and then tear open the fibrous shell.

    The flavor of mangosteens reminded me of strawberry-flavored lychees. Sweet, a bit tart, with that additional vanilla note that whispers "tropical."

    Tasty, sure. Worth Mission Impossible espionage maneuvers to acquire them? Not really. The flat of fragrant local strawberries waiting in the next stall were so much less fuss and far more heavenly.

    Still, there's something undeniably sexy about momentarily savoring a flavor that's held just slightly beyond reach.

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    Barcelona, the Land of Luscious

    Brekkie On The Terrace
    Fresh strawberries and yogurt for breakfast

    Wow! Mangosteens! Those aren't allowed in the U.S.! Now available in the US... irradiated, of course.

    Bumpy, savory little garden tomatoes at the Boqueria

    I believe that in my native tongue (Hedonistese? Hedonistish?), I will make "Barcelona" synonymous with succulent fresh fruit. I've just finished my week there, and have been consistently agog with the flavor power in the ubiquitous glasses of fresh-squeezed orange juice, the sweet perfume floating up off the flats of strawberries in the Market de Boqueria and the luscious tropical gush in the local peaches.

    The oranges, of course, are well-known here. Valencia, just down the road, lends its name and reputation to them. In Barcelona, it seems every little cafe contains the same mesmorizing juice press: the Zummo.

    Looking like a Rube Goldberg device for citrus, the push of a button drops oranges down a wire gutter to the waiting slicer, turns the halves to face the reamer, and presses out tangy-sweet rivulets of nectar into a pitcher or glass below. Ahhh... bliss. I want one, but it costs thousands of dollars and my kitchen is too tiny... even for the far-more diminutive Zummito. I'd have to choose between my beloved Kitchenaid mixer and the Zummito. It's too painful even to contemplate.

    Barcelona's streets are filled with shops displaying tasty little pastries, but they're generally a bit too cloying for me. When we had the menu for lunch last week at the terribly tasty and satisfyingly sustainable cafe Origen 99.9%, J chose the seasonal fruit for dessert, and received one perfect golden apple presented on a napkin-covered plate.

    We were a little shocked at first. Dessert is generally so dainty and fussy that the presentation of one single fruit seems like underachievement. But after our richly braised entrées, a large, crisp and honeyed local apple was actually quite welcome.

    I forget, sometimes, how treasured fruit once was. The apple in particular has had a rich history full of status and prestige.

    When mated slices of his perfect apple with my adorable glass pot of creamy yogurt, the flavors loved each other very much. It turned out to be so much more satisfying than the usual parade of saccharine-sweet pastries and brownies done up with sparklers for additional dining drama. I could picture thousands of years of happy diners enjoying the simple, fresh flavors of fresh fruit and tangy sheep's milk yogurt, and that, too, added satisfaction to the experience.

    Fruit is the plant's demonstration of affection for us. (Well, that and the natural inclination to propagate more plants.) I'll need to wait a few weeks for the local berries to arrive and another month or so before the stone fruits. It's gustatory affection on pause.

    Meanwhile, Barcelona, rich in fruit, echoes across the ocean with its sonorous song of sweetness. I can hear it now... Barcelona! Barcelona! Barcelona!

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    Rhubarb! Five ways to master spring stalking

    Is rhubarb-eating some kind of shibboleth? I'm just wondering. I merrily bought a pound at the farmer's market this weekend and brought a strawberry-rhubarb pie into work yesterday.

    I was a bit shocked to discover that a significant number of my coworkers (all of whom were folks with city childhoods) had never tried the stuff. I felt invisibly branded a country mouse, apt to dine on field greens and ditch weeds.

    Of course, I'm from a place where the rhubarb runs wild. It sprouts up in the countryside every spring, always in the same places. It's tough to kill. I knew haters who repeatedly mowed right over it without the slightest success in subduing it.

    I figure, (apologies to Annie Proulx), if you can't kill it, you got to eat it.

    As for me, I've always looked forward to rhubarb season with glee. In childhood, it was my favorite pie (though I might be swayed to the charms of fresh peach pie these days), and the households of my memory all contained rhubarb preserves of some kind.

    Find yourself wandering bewildered with an armful of blushing fresh rhubarb stalks? Lucky you! In just five simple steps, I'll make you a master stalker. Wash 'em well, and let's proceed to make:

    1. Pie!
    I used the strawberry-rhubarb recipe out of the Cook's Illustrated: The New Best Recipe." Seemed like a quality pie, but if you're looking for something a little different:

    Rhubarb Custard Pie
    2 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch chunks
    1 cup sugar (all white or use half brown... your choice)
    2 egg yolks (save the whites for a meringue top)
    1 Tbsp AP flour
    1/2 cup cream
    1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    1 Tbsp cold butter (cut into four pieces)
    unbaked pie shell

    Toss cut rhubarb with half the sugar. Macerate (allow to sit in the sugar) 10 minutes. Mix the remaining sugar with the flour, egg yolks, cream and cinnamon. Pour rhubarb into an unbaked pie shell Pour cream mix over rhubarb.

    Distribute butter on top and bake at 350°F for 1 hour. Whip reserved egg whites at high speed to make a meringue. Spread meringue over baked pie, and briefly return to the oven to brown. Cool on a wire rack.

    2. Crisp!
    I kind of prefer crisps to pies anyway... less fuss with the pastry. More crunchiness on top. I'm still seeing the "Rome beauties" at the farmers' market, and they're great baking apples. This is a nice transitional recipe, since it uses the last of last fall's apples with the first of this spring's rhubarb.

    Gingered Apple-Rhubarb Crisp
    1/3 c sugar
    1 Tbsp AP flour
    1 tsp grated fresh ginger root
    2 cups apples, cut into 1-inch pieces
    3 1/2 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch chunks
    1/4 cup flour
    1/4 cup rolled oats
    1/3 cup brown sugar
    2 Tbsp butter, melted

    Combine the sugar, 1 Tbsp flour and ginger root. Toss with the rhubarb and apple pieces. Place in a greased baking dish or casserole. Combine brown sugar, oats, flour and melted butter. Sprinkle over the rhubarb-apple mixture. Bake at 400°F 30 to 40 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

    3. Chutney!
    Chutneys are a great way to use rhubarb in savory dishes. Fantastic with pork, chicken, duck, venison and, of course, curries.

    Rhubarb-Currant Chutney
    4 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1/2 cup white wine vinegar
    2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
    2 Tbsp minced fresh garlic
    1/4 cup chopped fresh shallots
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp coriander seeds
    1/2 tsp ground ginger
    1/4 tsp ground black pepper
    1/4 tsp dry mustard
    1/3 cup dried currants or raisins

    Combine vinegar, brown sugar, salt, pepper, shallots, fresh ginger, garlic, coriander seeds, ground ginger and mustard in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 5 minutes. Stir in rhubarb and currants. Simmer until rhubarb is just tender (10-15 minutes). Remove from heat and cool 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust with a little sugar or vinegar as needed. Refrigerate (or freeze) until ready to use.

    4. Sauce!
    This is so easy I'm not even providing a recipe, really. Put about a cup of rhubarb (chopped in 1-inch pieces) into a saucepan with enough water to cover the 3/4 of the fruit (a cup or so) and about 2 Tbsp sugar. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and -- stirring occasionally -- simmer about 25 minutes or until rhubarb is broken down and the mixture looks thickened. Add a pinch of salt and taste the mixture. Does it need to be brighter, more tangy? You might add a little lemon juice. Is it too sour? Mix in a little sugar. Voila! Sauce!

    5. Ice Cream!
    You could pour that sauce over ice cream, of course... or you could put it in the ice cream. That's what I did this weekend. It's yummy. Like rhubarb pie a'la mode without the crust.

    I used the simple Sweet Cream Base recipe from the Ben & Jerry's ice cream book and my Kitchenaid ice cream attachment to do this. I'm not big on a lot of weird doohickeys (New York City kitchens are not known for spaciousness), but if you already have a Kitchenaid mixer and like experimenting with ice cream, I truly recommend this particular doohickey. It's a lot of fun.

    Add about a cup of sauce to this recipe of Sweet Cream Base and make the ice cream as directed for the machine you're using. Make sure the sauce is not just cool but COLD when you add it. Otherwise you'll put your machine through a lot of extra stress and — even worse — you might ruin the ice cream.

    Sweet Cream Base (from "Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream & Dessert Book")

    2 large eggs
    3/4 cup sugar
    2 cups heavy or whipping cream
    1 cup milk

    Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the cream and milk and whisk to blend.

    Makes 1 quart

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    Mowing the Kiwifruit


    Yes... I realize I've been a negligent blogger. There have been technical issues.

    I'll be chewing on the web again next week — but in the meantime you must-must-must go see this ever-so-cute French foodporn site.

    Tiny people excavating watermelon seeds!

    Itty-bitty astronauts exploring the rocky surface of a crème brulée!

    Lilliputian workers mowing the kiwifruits! Swoon!

    Step up and see all that (and more) right here: Minimiam

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    The Leftover Lovers

    The Gleaners
    The Gleaners, by Jean François Millet 1814-1875

    In my youth, I was a drainpipe spelunker, a dumpster diver and a wild berry forager. "DISCARDED" loomed large in my early memories, stamped across the worn covers of my storybooks in a black serifed font.

    I turned over piles of rotting leaves looking for morels, climbed trees to cut down the oyster mushrooms, sorted out asparagus stalks from the field grasses, plucked prairie turnips from the soil. I bought my housecat gently used, found my job on Craig's List and furnished my Brooklyn apartment with castoffs and curb produce.

    Maybe that's why gleaning holds such appeal for me. Having recently watched the French film Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse (The Gleaners and I), an exploration of those who live off the discard pile, I discovered I'm not alone in loving the leftovers.

    Not only is there a rich cultural history woven into the forgotten harvest, there's legal and biblical justification as well.

    As Leviticus 19:9-10 instructs its devotees,
    "When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all
    the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your
    harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen
    fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the

    Allowing a harvest of castoffs makes sense morally and logically, but as Agnès Varda reveals in her film, many of the stoppages in modern gleaning come down to a lack of information and distribution.

    Taking advantage of their established connections, the folks at America's Second Harvest and New York's CityHarvest effectively work as modern gleaners. Their gleaning armies organize daily gathering expeditions and distribution runs in an attempt to fill up America's empty bellies with the mountains of food that would otherwise rot in dumpsters.

    For those of us hungrier in spirit than body, there's something primally satisfying in doing one's own hunting and gleaning. Out on the Left Bank, similar ideas brew: fallenfruit.org is an organization founded by three CalArts professors after they discovered a forgotten Los Angeles city law that designates as public property any fruit that hangs over sidewalks.

    Their website promotes access to the city's free produce via Fruit Alerts and Fruit Maps. New Yorkers can check the Department of Sanitation's collection schedules for nights to rummage in the dark or the free section on Craig's List for an array of pickings.

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    Oh, Yes... Apricots!


    Goodness! What's to be done with three pounds of apricots?

    Well, you could eat apricots until you never care to see another apricot again. There's also salads, crisps, tarts, jams, pickles and purées, of course.

    But what of chutney? Sweet, savory, spicy and simple. You really can't go wrong with a few pints of chutney stacked in storage.

    It's fantastic straight up on lamb, chicken, pork, salmon or duck, you can thin it a bit for a glaze or a fruit salad drizzle, mix up a tablespoon with a bit of canola oil and cider vinegar for a first-rate vinaigrette.

    It'd be fun on vanilla ice cream or in a tart. Not to mention a pairing with cheese. A blue, perhaps? A friendly goat?

    Here's my version...
    Apricot-Ginger Chutney

    3 Tbsp canola oil
    1 dried chili
    2 cinnamon sticks
    5 star anise
    1 large onion, minced
    3" piece fresh ginger, chopped
    2 cups sake (or dry white wine)
    3 lbs fresh apricots, pitted & quartered
    1 1/2 Tbsp ground, dried ginger
    1 1/2 Tbsp ground black pepper
    1/4 c rice vinegar (or to taste)
    3 T brown sugar (or to taste)
    1/2 Tbsp salt (or to taste)

    1. Heat the canola oil with the chili, cinnamon and star anise (no more than 1-2 minutes).
    2. Add in the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes.
    3. Add in the ginger and cook for 2-3 minutes more.
    4. Pour in the sake/wine and add apricot slices. Simmer until the apricots are tender. (Simmer a bit less if you like a chunkier chutney.) Blend in the pepper and dried ginger.
    5. Strain the mixture through a colander, reserving juices. Pick out the spices and discard. Pour the reserved juices back to the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick and bubbly (about 15-20 minutes).
    6. Taste the thickened chutney liquid, adjusting the acid-sweetness-salt balance with a touch of rice vinegar, sugar and/or salt.
    7. Incorporate the apricot pulp in the colander into the liquid in the pot. Transfer to sterilized jars (if you're canning), or cool the mixture and transfer it to prepared pint containers (for short-term refrigeration or longer-term freezing).

    Makes enough to fill three pint containers, and takes around an hour from start to finish. Slap a cute homemade label on the jar, and it's great for gifting!

    Happy Eating!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Hello, Summer! Goodbye, Summer!

    Fresh Currants
    black currants

    Bing Cherries
    sweet bing cherries

    Sour Cherries
    tart cherries

    Haiku for a Fleeting Moment

    A flash of color!
    berries strut in the market's
    sweet summer moment.

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    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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    mel·on·cho·li·a (n.)

    A mental disorder characterized by hopelessness and withdrawal stemming from a realization that the melon season is short, while the rest of the year is filled with charlatans masquerading in the market stalls.

    Six melons you need to befriend:

    1. Crenshaw... seductive, sexy, sweetly spicy with rich, gold-pink flesh
    2. Charantais... queen of the melon patch reigns in a cloud of delicate, floral scents
    3. Casaba... custard-smooth sweetness with a hint of its cousin, the cucumber
    4. Juan Canary Melons... honey-perfumed and creamy white-fleshed
    5. Ambrosia... intensely orange, sweeter and muskier than the muskmelon
    6. Persian... firm, orange flesh that blends the fragrant flavors of air and earth

    It's also handy to keep in mind that melons love to be near: ginger, prosciutto, manchego, mint, lime, lemongrass, chili, nutmeg and arugula.

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    Little Red Zombies

    Now that cherry season is in full swing, let's take a gander at this fruit's twisted doppleganger... the unnaturally red, uniformly flavored maraschino.

    Like tiny Stepford Wives, maraschino cherries begin life as juicy tree fruits but are turned soulless through a process of bleaching, dying and sweetening. Creepy, right?

    Fresh Sour Cherries

    A little background:
    "Maraschino cherries, the kind most often used in drinks and on ice cream sundaes, are made from sweet cherries. The maraschino cherry originated in Yugoslavia and northern Italy where merchants added a liqueur to a local cherry called the 'Marasca.' This cherry product was imported to the United States in the 1890s as a delicacy to be used in the country's finest restaurants and hotels.

    In 1896 U.S. cherry processors began experimenting, using a domestic sweet cherry called the Royal Anne. Less liqueur was used in processing and almond oil was substituted for some of the liqueur. Finally, the liqueur was eliminated altogether. By 1920, the American maraschino cherry was so popular that it had replaced the foreign variety in the United States."

    Taking a cue from ancient instructions at Uncle Phaedrus, a self-anointed "finder of lost recipes," I've revamped an version of do-it-yourself maraschinos for a smaller batch that suits the modern kitchen.

    As it turns out, maraschino-making is very much like pickling, but instead of brine, we use a sweet, colored syrup as the preservative vehicle. I imagine if you're opposed to dyes, you could just leave out the coloring altogether. You'll simply end up with preserved cherries that have a (far more natural) rust-colored hue.
    Homemade Maraschino Cherries
    For the brine
    1/2 quart water
    2 tsp kosher salt
    1/2 tsp alum

    For the cherries
    1 lb sugar
    1 Tbsp lemon juice
    3/4 cup water
    1 lb pitted cherries
    1/2 Tbsp almond extract
    1/2 Tbsp red food coloring

    1. In a saucepan, mix the water, salt and alum and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and soak cherries overnight in this brine.

    2. Drain the cherries the following day and rinse them in cold water. Pack in sterilized, sealable jars.

    3. In a saucepan, combine the sugar, lemon juice and water. Bring to a boil and add the almond extract and red food coloring. Remove from heat and pour the mixture into the jars of cherries.

    4. If you want your cherries to be shelf-stable, seal in a water bath (about 20 minutes for pints or 25 minutes for quarts). Or simply seal, chill and store in your refrigerator.

    Use to garnish your own homespun sundaes, killer cocktails or crazy-good banana splits.


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    Ooo. Blood Oranges Are Pretty.

    Blood Orange Scraps
    ... but they stain your chefs' whites somethin' fierce.

    One of the best things about cooking is the task's intrinsic aesthetic qualities.

    Sometimes I'm just so enamored with a particular vegetable, or, in this case, blood orange rinds collecting on the board.

    And by the way... blood oranges are in season right now. Snatch 'em up if you see 'em in your store. Since they're a little less sweet and a little more savory than other oranges, they're excellent in salads with, say, spinach, goat cheese and walnuts.


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    Tangerines, I Say.

    NYC restaurants are on a saffron kick these days, all aswirl with excitement over Cristo's miles of billowing fabric. I went today, and indeed... in the right beam of sunlight I could see saffron.

    It's not that I don't love saffron. Truth is, I'm just mad about saffron. (heh...) But what I saw was tangerine. Miles and miles of tangerine. Flattened Clementines strung up in sheets. My eyes thus attuned to the color, I saw it everywhere for the rest of the afternoon. Tangerine scarves, tangerine subway seats, tangerine balloons and sweaters and traffic cones.

    The Gates
    The sun shone, the wind subsided, and all of New York stuffed into a few miles' space to gawk at The Gates.

    So, in honor of The Gates and the tangerine, which both have a fleeting season that will soon end, I offer up a tangerine salad reminiscent of thousands of orange sheets against thousands of bare trees.

    Tangerine-Frisee Salad

    3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
    1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
    1 tsp coarse-ground pepper
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/4 tsp sugar
    1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

    1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
    3 large tangerines segmented with peel and pith removed (or five small tangerines, peeled and segmented)
    2 bunches frisee, stemmed, cut down, washed and dried

    1. Cover the onion slices with ice water and let soak 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette by whisking the vinegar with the mustard, pepper, salt and sugar.
    2. Pour in the olive oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly until all the oil is incorporated.
    3. Drain the onion slices, pat dry with paper towels and separate into rings.
    4. Mix the tangerines, onions and the frisee lightly. Drizzle in vinaigrette and toss to coat. Serve immediately.

    Miss Ginsu

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