Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

$10 Buys Lunch and Maybe More...

Featuring both a great cause (school lunch for kids in Lesotho) and some truly tasty raffle prizes, the Menu for Hope event returns for a fifth big year. (Has it really been a year already?)

If you were reading this blog (or pretty much any other food blog) this time last year, you may remember that food blogger Chez Pim spearheads the Menu for Hope charity raffle, which has been gaining momentum (and distributing cash to good causes) with each passing December.

There's no doubt that buying lunch for kids qualifies as a classic "good deed," and the UN World Food Programme is a well-managed organization, so Cupcake and I are thrilled to join in once again.

Here at Chez Ginsu, we're offering up... The Big, Bad Bakers' Bundle
The Big, Bad Bakers' Bundle
The Big, Bad Bakers' Bundle (Prize UE23): Perfect for the beginning baker (or someone who might like to become a beginning baker), this luscious prize consists of:
1. One copy of "Home Baking" by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid (universally loved as an excellent baker's guide with gorgeous photography)
2. One proofing basket (for your soon-to-be masterpieces)
3. Three totally cute tea towels (always helpful... and did I mention cute?)
4. And... a supercool Bring the Pain tote bag (certain to make you endlessly envied)

It's a prize package worth... well... I'm not sure how much it's worth, but after you're baking bread like a pro, it'll be priceless, just like the Master Card commercials say.

And you could win it all for ten clams. Not bad, eh?

All you have to do is...
1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from the Menu for Hope prize list at Chez Pim.
2. Go to the donation site at First Giving and make a donation.
3. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Specify which prize you’d like in the ‘Personal Message’ section of the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write in how many tickets per prize, and use the prize code. (For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02. Please write 2xEU01, 3xEU02.)
4. If your company matches your charity donation, check the box and fill in the corporate information.
5. Please allow us to see your email address so winners may be contacted. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

Check out the other fab prizes, don't forget to bid on ours (use prize code UE23) and feel good about buying a hungry kid some lunch. Because generosity is kind of what the Christmas spirit is all about.

Holiday Cheer,
Miss Ginsu

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12.16.2008

Day 15: Brandied Caramel Sauce

This post marks Day 15 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Seems like a great year for the home-cooked gift, doesn't it? A little something tasty in a pretty jar. Something you can't just get off a grocery store shelf. Something that says, "I didn't drop a bunch of cash, but there's a whole lotta love in here."

Last season, I recommended you bless friends and family with your own candied orange slices, citrus bitters, do-it-yourself vinaigrettes, a spicy tomato chutney, little lemon loaves and a tangy citrus curd, among other things.

Brandied Caramel Sauce

Today, I have another nice little sauce to add to the holiday gifting lineup: a decadent Brandied Caramel Sauce.
Brandied Caramel Sauce (Makes about 1 cup)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
3 Tbsp Calvados or brandy
2 Tbsp salted butter (or use unsalted butter with 1/2 tsp salt)
1/2 tsp lemon juice

1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan (it must be roomy and completely dry) cook the sugar over medium heat, stirring until the sugar melts.
2. Once the sugar melts, cook without stirring. Simply swirl the pan, until the syrup turns a golden color.
3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and carefully pour the water and brandy into the pan down one side of the pan — the mixture will bubble and steam.
4. Return the pan to the heat and simmer, stirring, until the syrup melts into the liquid.
5. Stir in the butter and lemon juice. To store, cool to room temperature and pour into airtight containers. Keep refrigerated and rewarm before serving.

Though it's dreamy spooned over ice cream or hot bread pudding, it's also ace with sliced apples or pears, so I can see this sauce being a lovely gift in a pretty jar along with a basket assortment of your favorite crisp, local fruit.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.15.2008

Day 14: Lemon-Ginger Bath Cookies

This post marks Day 14 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

There are those gelid winter days on which some part of me believes I'll never be warm again. These are the moments when I pine for a wood-scented sauna, but settle for a hot, spiced bath instead.

J's mom makes awesome soaps, but anything having to do with lye is a bit terrifying to me. I also love fizzy bath bombs notmartha has a great post on that... I just haven't been able to lay hands on liquid glycerin and spherical molds yet.

Lemon-Ginger Bath Cookies

So homemade bath cookies are about as complicated as I'll probably get with body care recipes for the moment. Though they don't fizz, they do make the water feel soft and pleasant, they're cheap, they're endlessly customizable and as with traditional cookies, they're pretty fun to make.

You can find vitamin e and epsom salt at drugstores. (The vitamin e is optional, but it's good for the skin.) Essential oil shows up at natural food stores, craft stores and places like the Body Shop. Add a little color for festivity, or go au naturel, as you like.
Lemon-Ginger Bath Cookies (Makes about 36)

2 cups epsom salt or finely ground salt
1/2 cup baking soda
1/2 cup cornstarch
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp vitamin e oil (optional)
2 eggs
1 Tbsp lemon zest
1 Tbsp ground ginger
Food color and/or Essential Oil (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 350° F.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine the salt, baking soda and corn starch, blending well.

3. In a small saucepan, heat the olive and vitamin E oils (add a few drops of essential oil, such as lavender, if you like) just until they're warm.

4. Whisk the eggs into the warmed oil and pour this mixture into the dry ingredients. Blend just until the mixture forms a dough.

5. Roll heaping tablespoon-sized portions into discs. The dough will begin to dry, so work quickly. Place 1" apart on ungreased baking sheets and bake for 7 to 9 minutes.

6. Cool on the baking sheet before storing in airtight containers. Allow to rest overnight before using. To use, drop 1 to 2 cookies into a hot bath and allow them to dissolve slowly.

Use them for yourself or put some in a pretty box with some "do not eat" usage instructions. They make a festive — and comforting — homemade gift.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.14.2008

Day 8: Citrus-Ginger Fruitcakes

This post marks Day 8 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

If you were reading last year, you'll know I'm batty for citrus around the holidays. It's just so fresh and tasty this time of year.

So this is a fruitcake I can really get behind. Essentially a buttery poundcake filled with candied ginger and citrus, it's a far cry from the much-maligned shelf-stable drugstore version.

Although most fruitcake recipes call for store-bought candied fruit, it's really easy and economical to make your own, as I discovered last year. And yes, you can use the same method to make candid ginger. Works great.

Candied Lemon & Tangerine Peel
Candied lemon and tangerine peels

Citrus-Ginger Fruitcakes (Makes 4 little fruitcakes)
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature (plus extra for greasing the pans)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (plus extra for flouring the pans)
1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
4 tsp brandy, amaretto or ginger liqueur (plus extra for soaking the cakes)
2 tsp orange or lemon zest
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup dried figs, minced
2 Tbsp candied or crystallized ginger, minced fine
2 Tbsp candied orange or lemon peel, minced

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 4 mini loaf pans or 4 large muffin cups, tapping out any excess flour.
2. In a medium-size mixing bowl, blend the butter and sugar, beating until creamy, about 1 minute.
3. Beat in the egg, the 4 teaspoons of brandy or liqueur and the citrus zest until just blended.
4. Sift together the flour and salt, beating the flour mixture into the egg mixture until just blended.
5. Fold in the almonds, figs, ginger and candied fruit.
6. Divide the batter between the prepared pans or cups, and fill any empty muffin cups halfway with water (to prevent uneven heating).
7. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes for mini loaf pans or 35 minutes for the muffin cups.
8. Once baked, move the pans to a wire rack to cool. After ten minutes, take the cakes out of the pans and place directly on the wire rack. Brush with brandy or liqueur while they're still warm, then let the cakes cool completely.
9. To finish the cakes, soak squares of cheesecloth in the brandy or liqueur, wrap each cake with a square of damp cheesecloth, then wrap individually in aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Chill the wrapped cakes in the refrigerator for at least 1 week.
10. To serve, bring the cakes to room temperature, slice and serve with mascarpone, fresh ricotta or cream cheese.

You'll have a few of these, so when it's time for gifting, unwrap the foil/plastic and cheesecloth, re-wrap to make it pretty and add a ribbon and a gift tag.

Since fruitcake has such a bad rep, you might want to call these something else. Brandy Cakes. Ginger-Citrus Cakes. Think of a nice alias. You can reveal the awful truth after they fall in love with these wee wonders.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.08.2008

The Big, Sweet Grossout

Here's a revelation that should come as a surprise to nobody who knows a 7- to 12-year-old: Kids like gross.

They're crazy for it. If it's candy gross, all the better.

And with that in mind, I know just the thing for the rambunctious young'in in your life... Behold! The Box of Boogers.

With Halloween coming up, it's none too soon to put in a bulk order for the whole neighborhood.

Box of Boogers

Suzy Hotrod recently dug up these little beauties as well as the Chef Ghoulicious Zit Poppers, which are so icky I really couldn't bear to photograph them.

But back to the Boogers... They smell like watermelon Nerds and chew like soft gummies. And although the box claims they look and feel like "real" boogers, I must say that I pity anyone who actually has boogers with the consistency of rubber cement, the size of quarters and the color of tropical fish.

Back in my day, there were plastic noses with candy snot, gummy worms and lollies with bugs in them, but it was Garbage Pail Kids that really ruled the candy store. (Interesting, considering there wasn't actually any candy in the GPK packs... could it be that by diverting allowance from candy to trading cards, GPKs saved a generation from tooth decay?)

But for anyone hosting Halloween parties this year (and those who really can't get enough gross) I recommend Candy Addict's Top-10 Gross Candies list. (The earwax one makes me cringe just thinking about it.)

Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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10.14.2008

What to Buy For the Eater

After getting a few nifty gastronomy-centric gifts for my birthday this year, I realized another Miss Ginsu gift guide might be in order.

Thus, I give you: What to Buy for the Eater

The basic philosophy is this: if you already know your recipient loves food, all you have to do is just select one of the secondary characteristics listed below and voila... they're gift-ified! (And since most of the stuff here costs less than $30, you shouldn't have to smash the piggybank to make 'em smile.)

The Coolest Temporary Tattoos

Does your foodie have a sense of humor?

Food Lovers' Tattoos

As Seattle's home of the goofy, Archie McPhee has always been a rich source of gifts for foodies, thanks to clever classics like the toast clock and the freeloader fork. And in keeping with our bacon-saturated times, there's even an entire page of bacon items.

But the recent addition of temporary tattoos for food lovers may be my favorite thing yet. All done in the retro "Sailor Jerry" school of 'tats, these sweet slicks are tempting arm candy... no commitment required.

*****

Handmade Mesh Produce Bags

Is your foodie a farmer's market farmers' market fiend or co-op junkie?

Mesh Produce Bags

Ooo! I know just the thing...

I bought a pack of reusable mesh produce bags off Etsy.com in the early spring, and I've been enjoying them all summer long.

They're cheap, too, so consider including a nice market tote bag. (And no. I'm not ashamed to recommend my own.)

These little guys are great because they're light, see-through, easy to open, they help you avoid collecting excess plastic... and they really do make you the envy of the farmers' market. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten envious looks and remarks on the lines of, "Oh! Those are so cool! Where'd you get them?"

Though the supplier I bought mine from is currently pursuing other things (i.e. has a life) there's lots of other folks who are selling them now in lots of pretty colors.

*****

Do-It-Yourself Cheese

Is your foodie the hands-on/DIY type?

Ricki's Cheese-Making Kit

I saw Ricki Carroll's sweet little Mozzarella and Ricotta Kit at Grand Central Market and immediately knew I needed to look her up.

As it turns out, Ricki's the "Cheese Queen" of the interweb, and does a lot of cheese-making education.

Her kit seems like a really fun, accessible way to introduce food lovers — especially younger ones — to the pleasures of cheese-making.

Then again, if the easy-cheesy mozzarella kit seems a bit elementary for your advanced DIY-er, consider a kit for making homemade soda, wine or beer or maybe even a mustard-making kit.

*****

Supremely Cute Salt & Pepper Shakers

Is your foodie a museum-lover? Possibly even... artsy?

Hugging S&P Shakers

The food geeks who are also design geeks are powerless in the face of designware from the MOMA shop.

A little caveat, since I realize any gourmand worth his or her, ahem... salt uses a pepper grinder instead of a pepper shaker for that freshly-ground goodness. I'm a sucker for the cute. And this Hugging Salt & Pepper set has the real cute. Oh! I am helpless in the face of its cuteness.

But if you know your gift recipient is way too sophisticated to be buffaloed by cuteness... you should probably go for the supercool Index Chopping Boards instead.

*****

One For the Road

Is your foodie sentimental?

Serendipity3

Consider a food gift that acknowledges a taste of reminiscence.

For those with a sweet tooth, Oldtimecandy and NostalgicCandy both feature retro packs that coordinate to the era of your recipient's youth.

Homesick former New Yorkers might appreciate things like the Frrozen Hot Chocolate from Serendipity 3, a classic deli-style lunch with the pastrami sandwich kit from Zingerman's or the ceramic version of NYC's ubiquitous We Are Happy To Serve You paper cup.

*****

Yum on the Run

Is your foodie active? Maybe even... sporty?

Happy campers (or boaters, or hikers, or picnickers) will love something practical (and cool-looking) for their alfresco dining.

REI has fun stuff in general, but I really like their Light My Fire Meal Kit, which comes with a compact set of two plates, a lidded cup, a crazy spoon/fork utensil, a little waterproof box (for berries?) and a colander/cutting board.

Pretty colors (a whole range of 'em), recyclable, no metal to freak out the TSA staff at the airport... and it floats.

For the bean-worshipers, REI also features a nifty French Press Commuter Mug, which comes in a variety of colors and serves as a combo coffee press, travel mug and coffee caddy. Pretty slick.

Miss Ginsu

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9.30.2008

Hungry for the Classics

Long before I flirted with food love, I fell hard for books. But the sad truth was, it really didn't matter how hard LeVar Burton worked at making Reading Rainbow relevant. I was still one of those bookworms that caught flying iceballs in the face from November through March.

These days I'm spared the iceballs (usually) and I'm really bowled over by what Penguin Books has been doing with their Graphic Classics series. Daaamn... The classics are suddenly edgy!

These are books I want to be seen with on my subway commute. Witty illustrators like Chris Ware doing the covers. Current scribblers like Fast Food Nation's Eric Schlosser doing commentary. For the luvvagod, French flaps!

I swoon. And when J sent along the cover to The Three Musketeers, I knew I had to share, as well.

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2.27.2008

Day 23: Five Hot Little Gift Ideas

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

harissa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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12.23.2007

Day 20: Have a Holly-Jolly Chutney

This post marks Day 20 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Ah, the office gift exchange! Secret Santas. Perpetually exchanged fruitcakes. $5 gift certificates that get lost immediately.

Between the cost restraints and varying levels of regular interaction, a gift exchange with coworkers can be tricky business, indeed. The classic white elephant gift exchange is fun, but I feel like I end up with a desk full of silly things that I need to dust periodically.

Last year, one of my coworkers gave me a jar of zippy tomato chutney with a little snowflake sticker stuck on it. It was delicious, and I was so pleased to receive something useful, tasty and homespun.

They went all out with the canning, but you could just as easily make a quick refrigerator chutney if you don't feel like sterilizing jars or don't have the space for a sealing operation.

tomato chutney

This chutney is ultra-easy and very tasty with meats, veggies or rice dishes. It's a simplified version of a recipe by my former chef, Floyd Cardoz of Tabla restaurant. Go ahead and double or triple it if you're going to be giving away jars to friends or coworkers.
Quick & Spicy Tomato Chutney (Makes 3 pints)

1 28-ounce can whole or diced tomatoes*
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp nigella seeds
1 Tbsp finely chopped garlic
1.5 Tbsp finely chopped peeled ginger
1/2 cup white onion, minced
1 small dried red chili, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp lemon juice, or to taste
1 Tbsp sugar, or to taste

1. If using whole tomatoes, chop the into 1" chunks. Reserve juices.

2. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until it's hot but not smoking.

3. Add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds and nigella seeds to the pan, stirring until the mustard seeds pop (watch for flying seeds!).

4. Quickly add the garlic, ginger, onion and chilis.

5. Immediately reduce the heat and cook, stirring, until the garlic and onion are soft, but not browned.

6. Stir in the tomatoes, bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour.

7. Remove the chutney from the heat, and add the lemon juice, sugar and salt and pepper to taste (the mixture should have a nice balance).

8. Remove the chili and pour into sterilized jars. If you're giving them as gifts, seal the jars in a water bath, or for home use, simply keep the chutney refrigerated (up to a week) or frozen.

*If you can find them, use the fire-roasted tomatoes from Muir Glen.

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12.20.2007

Day 18: Tag!

This post marks Day 18 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Who couldn't use a little something around the holidays that's both timely and free?

I've made up a downloadable PDF with 18 handmade holiday gift tags. Penguins. Snowdudes. Holly. Cupcake and Miss Ginsu in holiday finery. All cute, fun, useful and free for the downloadin'. Yay!

Just click the sample graphic below to get the full page and print it out at 8 1/2 by 11. It'll look better on a color printer, but black & white should suffice in a pinch.

There's room on the left side of each to use a hole punch or a skewer if you want to attach them to jars or boxes with ribbons.

snowman tag

Cheers, ya'll!

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12.18.2007

Day 11: Rice + Sock = Comfort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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12.11.2007

Day 10: Lunch for Elijah

This post marks Day 10 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Happy Hanukkah! Any holiday that promotes fire, wine and fried food sounds like a good time to me.

challah

Overall, I think Hanukkah is a far tastier holiday than, say, Passover (I happen to be a big fan of leavened bread), but there's one thing about Passover that I always miss at the other Jewish holidays: the chair for Elijah. At Passover, it's traditional to set a place at the table for the prophet. Because you never know... he might show up.

I like the empty chair. I feel like every feast needs an empty chair. It's a reminder that as cheery as we are, as full of bread and wine and laughter as we might be, there's others to think about. The table is never really complete.

So today, in my multi-denominational advent calendar, I'd like to suggest something a little out of season (though the holiday spirit of generosity is certainly seasonal).

Consider leaving some space at your lunch table this week. Just aside the amount of money you might spend on treating a friend (or a visiting prophet) and use it to buy lunch for the friend you've never met.

There's dozens of good causes out there, but here's three of my favorite suggestions on where to put your lunch dollars...

Chefbunny Eco Tote 1. Chez Pim's annual Menu for Hope drive for the UN World Food Programme. Take this opportunity to donate $10 (or more!) Who knows... You might even win one of the prizes donated by food bloggers across the web (I'm offering my Chefbunny Natural Cotton Eco Tote — at left — stuffed with five signature spice blends. Just write-in code UE28). At the same time, you'll be assisting the UN in getting food into needy mouths.

Child with Chicken 2. A chicken in every pot. Heifer International purchases farm animals for needy families. They get a flock of chicks or a pair of bunnies, or a llama or sheep. These animals provide ongoing resources that help provide income sources to clothe the kids and feed the family. Check out their online gift catalog to learn more.

Can of Worms 3. Open a can of worms. The Oxfam America gift section makes it easy to plant trees, buy school uniforms and even unite farmers with worms. Buy some needy someone a sheep without having to transport it yourself. Sheep are so squirmy.

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12.10.2007

Day 9: Introducing... Your Own Vinaigrette

This post marks Day 9 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Around this time of year, waaay back in the early '80s, actor Paul Newman and author A. E. Hotchner, were up to some culinary mischief in Newman's basement...

For several years, Paul Newman and his long-time friend, author A.E. Hotchner, were in the habit of giving bottles of their homemade salad dressing to friends as holiday gifts. They would mix up a batch in Newman's basement and hand out old wine bottles filled with the dressing while Christmas caroling in their Westport, Connecticut, neighborhood. The response was favorable, and their 'limited edition' bottled dressing became a sought-after item in neighborhood gourmet shops.

Newman and Hotchner reasoned they might attempt to market their dressing. They were told to expect to spend $400,000 on test marketing, but instead they simply invited a group of friends to choose from among a few salad dressing samples, and then selected the favorite. The two men each contributed $40,000, and a private manufacturer agreed to bottle the dressing. Thus, in 1982, Newman's Own, Inc., created its first product: Olive Oil & Vinegar Salad Dressing. As a joke, Newman put a likeness of his own face on the label...

Twenty-five years later, the Newman's Own company has created dozens of products and earned more than $200 million for thousands of charities.

Keep in mind — this multi-million-dollar company all started thanks to some random holiday cheer put forth by a couple of Christmas carolers armed with bottles of their homemade salad dressing. Granted, those carolers were already millionaires with good connections... but you see what I'm getting at here.

Erick's Own

A couple of years after Paul Newman started pimping his dressing for charity, my dad began whipping up bottles of homemade oil and vinegar vinaigrette as gifts. They were complete knock-offs, labeled "ERICK'S OWN" with a photocopied caricature that my uncle drew. (See above for a scan of one of the original labels.)

Lo and behold, the dressing was mighty popular among the friends and neighbors. It seems that some formulas are simply recipes for success.

Why not produce some salad condiments of your own? It doesn't take much to get going... a few bottles, a little vinegar, a little olive oil. Custom labels seem to help quite a lot. Paul Newman might claim to have launched Newman's Own as a joke, but he certainly knew what he was doing when he slapped his grinning mug across everything from steak sauce to lemonade.

Miss Ginsu's Own

Your Own Vinaigrette
The ingredients below represent a very basic vinaigrette, which you can doll up as you see fit. My dad always used thin-sliced garlic cloves and dried herbs in his, and they tended to clog the shaker top, but I think the flavor was worth it.

1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 cup olive oil

1. Combine vinegar, honey, salt and pepper in a bowl or a blender. Whisk or blend well.

2. Add oil to the mixture in a slow stream as you whisk or blend.

You can store a vinaigrette in the refrigerator, but the oil will congeal. Simply remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes prior to service to bring to room temperature. Shake well before using.

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12.09.2007

Day 8: Care for a Spot of Chai?

This post marks Day 8 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

In a special file in my brain, I keep a cache of borrowed memories. Things I've read, scenes from films, stories collected from the mouths of others. I take them out every now and then. I turn them slowly to watch how they catch the light. Everyone must have something similar.

I once worked with a cook who told me beautiful yarns about his travels. He was one of those with a gift for stories. In the short time I knew him, he filled my mind with brief, colorful scenes from around the world. A lovely gift, no? It's the kind of gift that never wears out. You get to keep it for just as long as you keep your mind.

One of my favorite visions was a description of pressing into a crowded train traveling across India. The cars were loaded with people and baggage, but small, lithe boys would scamper through, swinging on the handrails, banging cups and shouting, "Chai! Chai!" For a pittance, they'd serve it up, hot and milky, before swinging down to the next car.

hot masala chai

My chef grew up in Bombay and Goa. He gave me stories about his grandmother's mango tree and his first kitchen job peeling heaping mountains of onions. He also told me that Indians drink their masala chai hot when the weather's hot. "The spice makes you sweat. The sweat makes you cool."

That's quite a contrast to way we drink it in America: hot in the winter, iced in the summer. But Western though the custom may be, brewing up a hot cup of spice, sweetness and steam seems perfectly welcome to me on a blustery winter morning.

Here's my Masala Chai method. It's maybe a little less traditional than the way chef's grandma does hers, but it's fast, easy, delicious, and just the thing to get me going on a cold winter's morning.

Now, a masala is simply a mixture of spices, and chai literally means tea. Not spiced tea, but just plain old tea. Here in the states, people just say chai when they're looking for spiced chai. I generally try to talk about masala chai when I mean tea mixed with spices.

Ready Masala Chai Mix
It's best to freshly grind whole spices, as the preground ones lose their power pretty quickly. For this recipe, I like a blend of brown and green cardamom pods. The brown ones bring in a nice smokiness. If you can only find green ones (more commonly used in baking) don't fret. It'll still be a nice blend.

Spice Mix
6 cardamom pods
2 sticks cinnamon
4 black peppercorns
1 star anise
6 whole cloves
1 tsp ground ginger

Other Necessaries
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
Tea, for brewing (Assam, Ceylon or Darjeeling work well)

1. Crush the cardamom, reserving the seeds.
2. Add cardamom seeds, cinnamon, peppercorns, star anise and cloves to a clean coffee grinder (alternately, you can use a morter & pestle) and grind to a fine powder.
3. Blend sweetened condensed milk and spices.
4. Brew a pot of tea (or just a cup, as you like).
5. Add a rounded spoonful of the Ready Masala Chai Mix to a hot cup of tea. Stir well. Sip with pleasure.

Store excess mix in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Makes many delicious cups of chai and keeps for quite a long time.


In addition to being an easy hot beverage for holiday gatherings, a kit of pre-ground chai spices wrapped up in a pretty pack alongside a can of sweetened condensed milk, a box of loose tea and a set of instructions might make a welcome gift for a chai-loving friend or coworker.

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12.08.2007

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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12.07.2007

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

Procedure:
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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12.03.2007

Random Generosity: 24 Days of Delight

December is just around the corner, and I already feel a longing for Leslie Harpold's advent calendar.

For those who missed out on all the fun, writer/designer/web pioneer
Leslie Harpold used to post online advent calendars each December. She filled the days with holiday memories, wacky links and special little surprises.

She wasn't trying to sell anything or preach points or create converts. It was just a series of sweet gifts that brightened a cold, dark month. I looked forward to clicking through to see the daily delights.

marshmallow snowman

Last year, in the middle of December, Leslie's advent calendar simply stopped. I saw the eulogy appreciation for her shortly thereafter on The Morning News.

I didn't know her, but I miss the generosity of spirit that drove her to offer something simple and sweet in which the world's tide of random web-surfing strangers could float in and find cheer.

I've been thinking about that kind of random generosity recently, and in that spirit, I'd like to offer my own online advent calendar this year.

Beginning tomorrow, you'll find Miss Ginsu's Advent Calendar posted in this space.

It's not intended to be a replacement or a replication. Think of it as more of a celebration: 24 days, each featuring a fun, simple thing to make and give, inspired by Leslie and anyone else who offers their talents in the service of random generosity.

Cheers,
Miss G.

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11.30.2007

Tantalizing toy food finds

Parents and kids often have very different ideas about what constitutes a "good" toy. I remember the year I so desperately wanted the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine. I'm not sure why I skipped the E-Z Bake Oven (also popular at the time) and went straight for Sno-Cones, but my five-year old brain was obsessed with visions of making and sharing syrupy day-glo Sno-Cones in the livingroom.

Sticky syrup, brightly colored food dyes, garish commercialism... After all these years, I finally begin to understand why my father was horrified by the request. Needless to say, he didn't buy me the Sno-Cone machine. Instead, dad settled on the far more practical art set.

I imagine there are gobs of households filled with children who beg for art sets and receive, instead, items that more closely represent that household's parental hopes and dreams. Tiny doctors' bags, for example. Itty-bitty briefcases.

No, dad didn't try to force me into medicine or law. And yes, I used the art set. A lot. But I never forgot my Sno-Cone Machine dreams.

Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine

My food production fantasies turned to other outlets... I shaped the backyard mud into loaves to be baked on stones in the sun. I made salads of yard grasses and tried to feed them to the cats.

I coveted the adorable set of tiny plastic packaged foods and the toy cash register that belonged to another little girl whose name I remember only as "Kelly." As I recall, Kelly and I played grocery store over and over again until she gave me lice and then we broke up. She, much to my disappointment, kept the grocery store.

Later in life, I heard from other kids that the Sno-Cone Machine kind of sucked. The ice was always too hard for the flimsy grating device, and it mostly just dripped. Small vindication.

Several years ago, I finally enacted my revenge on a world that had seemingly plotted against my involvement with food commerce. I enrolled in cooking school. I took jobs in kitchens until I could no longer afford to pay both rent and school loans and had to quit.

Sudden career diversion, $30,000 in culinary school debt, a few bad marks on my credit... could all this have been avoided with a Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine? I can't say. Such mania may be inevitable.

Wooden Sushi Toys

Then again, today's toy food is ten times more compelling than the cartoon tie-ins of yesteryear. See, for example, the work of award-winning toy company Melissa & Doug.

I recently tripped across these items while paging through a copy of New York Family in the dentist's office. One peek at the orderly bento boxes sent me to the web, where I found the charming "Look, mom! I'm a sushi chef" play set, and a "nutritionist-in-training" wooden food groups assortment.

What food geek — whether five or fifty — wouldn't be dying to play?

Some favorites:
  • Sushi Pretend Food
  • More Wooden Sushi Toys
  • Sushi Slicing Kit
  • The Food Groups (in toy form)

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  • 5.20.2006

    Introducing: Darth Tater

    Darth Tader
    Forget Obi-Wan Kohlrabi, Luke. Join Monsanto and together we'll rule the marketplace as father and son!

    I'll admit it. I find the Darth Tater figurine totally adorable.

    Unfortunately, if Episode 1 and 2 are any indication, Grocery Store Wars is likely to be better than Episode 3.

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    5.13.2005