Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

A Hammock, a Pimm's Cup and Thou

I feel that fully half of what makes the Pimm's Cup such a beguiling summer cocktail is in the garnish. There are multiple variants, of course, but I favor the ultra-simple slice of cucumber + slice of lemon.

Pimm's Cup

Pimm's makes a variety of styles, and that namesake cocktail made with the formulation known as No. 1 has traditionally been popular in the south of England, appearing as one of two staple drinks (the other sip of choice would be champagne) at such rarefied events as Wimbledon, the Henley Royal Regatta and the Glyndebourne opera festival.

Knowing all that, it's interesting to see that the recipe for the classic Pimm's Cup cocktail is terrifyingly simple. Common, even...
Pimm's Cup
2 oz Pimm's No. 1
4 to 6 oz lemonade (some use lemon/lime soda; I favor ginger ale)
Mint leaves, and slices of lemon (or orange, strawberry, apple...)

Originally, the cocktail required borage leaves in lieu of mint/cucumber, but as borage is a bit tough to come by in U.S. markets, cucumber is the go-to garnish hereabouts.

But as I mentioned, I find the cucumber/lemon combo to be particularly magical. The cooling qualities of the cucumber alongside the citrus zip and vigor of the lemon go a long way in gin-style cocktails (and Pimm's No. 1 is one such blend) in particular, since gin is, by nature, herbaceous.

I've even become a great fan of lemon and cucumber slices served with water. So simple, but the scent and flavor results are elegant... perfect for brunch, for time spent on the deck/patio/fire escape and for adding a touch of class to your next grill-fest. Give it a try and see if you don't become a convert.

Cheers,

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8.20.2008

Recipe Rock Star #7: Perfect Your Presentation

The Recipe Rock Star is a cooking tutorial series meant to make you a better home cook. It's essentially kitchen hacking.

So far, we've covered one focused minute, mise en place, the importance of quality, the proper tools for the task and details that make a big impact and organizing under pressure. These aren't necessarily ordered, so feel free to read, review, skim or skip. Now then...

sushi appetizer with shiso flowers
A gorgeous little appetizer from Soto in the West Village, NYC. Note the color contrast, the vertical rise, and the shiso flowers: A beautiful, delicious garnish.

Recipe Rock Star #7: Perfect Your Presentation

What's a major differences between your delicious home-cooked delights and those you find in a restaurant? Setting aside tab, tax and tip, tablecloth, menu, crumb-scraper, cook, dishwasher and waitstaff for a moment... it's presentation. Restaurants endeavor to feed your eyes as well as your mouth.

Professional cooks have a bag of tricks that make food look real purty. You can snatch up one or two and make a big difference in the number of oohs and ahhs you rack up at any given dinner party or special occasion.

In Edition 5, I mentioned the Last-Minute Herb Attack... a staple of any mid-level kitchen environment.
Ever notice how restaurant chefs often toss a pinch of fresh-chopped parsley, cilantro, basil, chervil, rosemary, chives or mint on top of your dinner entrée? It's not just garnish (although fresh herbs do generally make any dish look a little more swanky.) The vibrant, verdant flavors of the last-minute herb sprinkle (or citrus squeeze) have a big flavor impact... particularly in heavy dishes that benefit from the contrast.

Let's expand on that a little. Japanese food, just for example, is often presented with a great deal of attention paid to eye-appeal. Consider: Dark seaweed wrapped around white rice. Interesting, varied shapes. Striking color contrasts. Geometric plates. Dramatic, edible garnishes.


Metal rings in action as the veggies await the fanned slices of meat, a drizzle of sauce and an herb attack at the chef's station.

Restaurants will often use metal rings when plating starches or vegetables. Meats are sliced and fanned across. Plastic squeeze bottles are sometimes used to distribute the sauce just so... here in a pool, there in a drizzle.

And then, of course, there are garnishes: Edible flowers. Micro-greens. A chiffonade of herbs. One lovely shiso leaf. A perfectly placed pile of roe. A sprinkle of fleur de sel. A tiny flake of sparkling gold leaf.

In culinary school, plate presentation was so key, we were asked to make drawings to plan out all the meals we were to cook. Food elements were to be arranged in odd numbers and triangles. Attention had to be paid to height, color balance and distribution on the plate, with focus at the center.

The next time you're planning a special meal (perhaps in say... a month from now around Valentine's Day?), consider thinking past the grocery list and the clean fold of the napkins. A little attention paid to how a plate looks makes a big difference in how it's received.

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1.15.2008

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.

Cheers!

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6.23.2005