Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


Bee Smart: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Honey

In honor of Earth Day this week, we'll be doing the Bee Sweet Bake Sale at work to benefit honey bee research.

With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to review some fascinating facts about our favorite bee-stuff: honey. Bet there's at least a couple you didn't know. (Unless you're a beekeeper, in which case I really hope you do know all ten.)

Bee Smart

1. There are four honey grades (Grade A = Good; Grade B = Reasonably Good; Grade C = Fairly Good; Substandard = Poor), and although the USDA sets up the standards, the way a beekeeper grades honey is completely subjective. So it may pay to give your honey an eyeball and grade it yourself before you buy.

Better yet, seek out and support your local beekeepers.

2. Untreated honey seems to have powers of preservation and protects against some kinds of foodborne pathogens.

3. Honey is an acid (with a between 3.2 and 4.5), which also helps prevent bacteria... yet another reason why you can keep it at room temperature in your cupboard.

4. Honey absorbs moisture and odors. So keep it sealed tightly and don't store it near smelly things.

5. Honey can be used in place of sugar in some recipes, but it's important to be careful with the quantities. According the the very useful guide on cooking with honey at the University of Minnesota, "if a recipe calls for 1/2-cup sugar or less, omit the sugar and use the same amount of honey instead." But be careful with larger substitutions. Honey brings both liquid and flavor to the recipe.

6. Research indicates that honey can be used to effectively treat minor to moderate burns, helping to bring healing up to four days earlier. That's good to know as sunburn season approaches...

7. Honey was used in ancient times to brew mead, a treat enjoyed across the ancient world from China through Scandinavia.

Here's an entertaining quote from The Theft of Thor's Hammer in World Mythology in which Viking god Thor, dressed in drag to pass as the goddess Freya, demonstrates an appetite worthy of an immortal:
"Evening arrived, and with it Thrym's beloved. The giants set a feast of food and ale before the bride. She quickly consumed all the sweet dainties that had been reserved for the women, plus a whole ox and eight large salmon. She drank more than three horns of mead."

8. Most of the world's honey is produced in... surprise! China.

9. Honey makes sweet guest appearances in the texts of the world's major religions. It's memorably mentioned in the Christian book of Exodus to describe the Promised Land as a place "flowing with milk and honey." It's key for Jewish celebrations at Rosh Hashanah, for Buddhists in the festival of Madhu Purnima and for followers of Islam, there is both mention of honey and also a chapter in the Qur'an called al-Nahl (the Bee).

10. Used in cosmetics since the time of Cleopatra (she was reported to bathe in honey and milk), honey continues to be a popular ingredient in skin and hair treatments.

The National Honey Board suggests you make like Cleo and add 1/4 cup honey to your bath water "for a fragrant, silky bath." Find more NHB beauty recipes at their Beauty Fact Sheet PDF.

Sweetly Yours,
Miss Ginsu

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Food Horoscope: Aries

Happy birth-month, Aries folks!

Aries, the Ram (March 20 - April 19)

Now, I'm merely a cook, and not an astrologer, but here's my advice for your foodcast:

You've heard the old cliches and expressions regarding patience? Of course you have. I'd bet that just every culture on the planet has one (or more).

I think it might be a good year to meditate on whichever patience mantra speaks to you. And you won't have to wait long. I think you'll quickly find you can practice patience every day, in all kinds of situations.

Rude coworkers. Apathetic counter staff. Rough commutes. Sneaky fees. Reckless drivers. Poor craftsmanship. Run-down roadways, elevators, ATMs, escalators, subway trains and electronic equipment. Redundant paperwork. Insurance claims. Tax forms.

Think of these situations as teaching moments, and you'll find there's really no end to the daily opportunities life offers us to practice patience.

That's why it's such an excellent virtue to cultivate. And you can practice with the recipe I'm going to offer you here. It's not hard, and it's not expensive, but it does require... oh yes... patience.
Ten-Hour Pulled Pork (Serves 6-8)

1 5-7 lb Boston butt pork roast, bone-in
3/4 cup pork rub (use your favorite or see recipe below)

1. Heat your oven (or smoker) to 225°F.

2. With a paring knife, cut a series of diagonal slashes in the fat of the pork, then cut diagonally in the opposite direction to make a cross-hatch design across the fat. Rub in the spice blend liberally, spreading it across the entire roast.

3. Put the pork butt, fat side up, in a roasting pan and roast in middle of oven or smoker for 8-10 hours. Monitor the heat, and when an instant-read thermometer reaches 175°F, remove the roast from the heat and allow it to cool to a temperature that's comfortable to touch. (Check it after 45 minutes.)

4. Using latex gloves to shield your hands, pull the meat from the bone and shred it with hands or with forks, transferring the shredded meat to a serving bowl. Serve with barbecue sauce and coleslaw. Offer buns or slices of potato bread if you want sandwiches.

Spice Rub for Pork (Makes 3/4 cup)
3 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp smoked paprika
2 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp onion powder

Mix well and use immediately or store in an airtight container or lidded jar.

Enjoy your birthday and happy eating!

Miss Ginsu

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Food Horoscope: Pisces

Happy birth-month, Pisceans!


Pisces, the fishes (February 19 to March 20)

Now, I'm merely a cook, and not an astrologer, but here's my advice for your foodcast:

This is probably a good year to let food help you develop your relationships.

I've got something in mind that I think will help you do this in two ways.

The sourdough loaf, leavened by naturally occurring wild yeasts, comes to us through a very ancient tradition that requires patience and consistent care... powerful virtues in an era that tends to pay more attention to haste and impermanence. Some sourdough starters have been carefully tended and passed down from baker to baker for tens or hundreds of years.

The practice of patience and consistency helps ensure that your sourdough starter survives, but these skills also helpful things to remember in tending one's friendships.

And both the starter and the products it makes are ideal for sharing, another powerful relationship builder. When you think back on some of your favorite meals, you're likely to find they were spent with people you love. As long as there have been people, people have shared their food, so this is a pretty old concept.

So my thought is this: a new friend to break bread, or gather together a group of old friends to join you for brunch. Conspire to launch projects and solve problems.

I'd post the sourdough particulars here, but Sharon Vail's supremely cool recipes and story here at NPR sum up just about everything I'd want to say on the topic. She uses her starter in pancakes, biscuits, loaves and even chocolate cake.

On the other hand, the impatient among you might consider purchasing a little sourdough community to get your starter started right.

So with that thought in mind, enjoy your birthday and happy eating!
Miss Ginsu

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Chocolate Fondue the Lazy Way

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

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

Chocolate Fondue with Peeps

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

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

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

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

Prefer dark to milk? Go crazy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Food Horoscope: Aquarius

Happy birth-month, Aquarians!

Aquarius, the water bearer (January 20 - February 18)

Now, I'm merely a cook, and not an astrologer, but here's my advice for your foodcast:

This might be a great year to focus on experimentation in your cooking.

Try new ingredients. Sample new flavor combinations. Pick up some books at the library and absorb an entirely new cuisine or a skill, like gardening, chocolate-making or pickling.

Go this route and you'll satisfy a desire for novelty without spending gobs of money at restaurants.

Who knows? You might even learn you have a real knack for your newfound skill and make a side business out of it.

Since January is an ideal month to enjoy citrus fruit (and a far less ideal month to go outdoors) you can start experimenting now, if you like.

Try an approachable salad of fresh mint and grapefruit. Or a clementine sorbet. Or a salad of tangerines and frisee. Or add oranges into a supremely simplified take on a Spanish-style bouillabaisse, like so:
A Simple Spanish Seaside Stew (Serves 4)

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1 28oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 navel oranges — peeled, segmented and halved crosswise
1-2 lb fish of your choice, cut into 2-inch pieces* (or substitute shelled shrimp)
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.
2. Add the sliced onions, bell pepper, thyme and pepper flakes, sauteing 10 minutes.
3. Pour in the diced tomatoes with their juices and the salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook 20 minutes, or until the pepper pieces are very tender.
4. Add the orange pieces and the fish cubes. Gently mix into the tomato mixture and allow to cook 5 to 8 minutes, or until the fish pieces are opaque.
5. Season to taste with additional salt and ground black pepper, if necessary. Garnish with fresh dill and serve with a crisp green salad and/or a crusty hunk of bread for dipping.

The combination of tomatoes and oranges is very common in Mediterranean Spain, and this stew is an easy way to get more fish in your diet for not a lot of money. I find it also makes for tasty lunch leftovers.

Enjoy your birthday and happy eating!
Miss Ginsu

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Day 10: Dough for Play

This post marks Day 10 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Even if you don't have kids, you may find yourself in the company of little folks around the holidays. And wet, mucky, sleety days mean it's not so fun to go outside and play.

If you're anticipating small guests, (or maybe just playful older guests), you can plan ahead and make some homemade play dough for a nice kitchen-table activity.

Dough for Play

To my mind, there's two ways you can go with the homemade play dough. You can make it edible, or you can make it pretty. The pretty stuff isn't toxic... it just doesn't taste very nice. The edible stuff isn't visually exciting.

I've got recipes for both, and they're both easy to make, so you should just make your own decision on the pretty vs. yummy axis.
Snackable Play Dough (Makes 2 cups)

1 cup peanut butter
1 cup honey
2 cups powdered milk

1. Mix peanut butter, honey and powdered milk in a bowl until a soft, pliable dough forms.
2. Form shapes, snacking on the dough if you like.
3. To store, keep the dough, refrigerated in an airtight container.

For this second dough, you can omit the food color until the end of the process, divide the dough in two parts, and color each part separately. If you do this, you may want to use latex gloves to avoid colorful fingers.
Colorful Play Dough (Makes 2 cups)

1/2 cup salt
2 cup warm water
2 cup flour
1 Tbsp cream of tartar
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
Food coloring

1. In a small saucepan, blend salt, water, flour, cream of tartar and vegetable oil over medium heat.
2. Whisk until smooth, adding 5 or more drops of food coloring to the mixture.
3. Stir until the mixture begins to thicken and clump. Remove from heat and cool.
4. Knead the dough to achieve a pliable consistency.
5. Form dough into shapes. This dough can also be dried and painted.

I'd advise you to keep both doughs away from the carpeting and pets. You'll also find that cookie cutters, chopsticks and dull butter knives make fun accessories to the play dough playtime repertoire.

Happy Play!
Miss Ginsu

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