Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


Terrifyingly Tasty Treats for Halloween

Halloween really snuck up on me this year, and that never happens. I usually have a costume idea by August. By the first of the month, I'm usually sipping cider and toasting pumpkin seeds.

But this year, I'm in an arm cast, so everything takes longer to do and I'm left with fewer costume options. Mummy? Zombie accident victim? Abominable snowman? I'm at a loss.

Thankfully, cast or no, there can still be treats.

We'll be doing another Halloween potluck at work. If, like me, you've let Halloween sneak up and surprise you, you might need a few good recipe ideas for holiday eats.

Let's have a look at some tasty Halloween party food thoughts, eh?

Halloween Potluck
Note the dry ice "cauldron" in the back. Spooooky, right?

A Menu of Spooky Delights for Halloween
Obviously, sweets tend to be the focus for Halloween, but if you're throwing a party, the guests will certainly be grateful to see a few savory treats as well.

A Few Sweet...
  • Cookies of the Dead (Cute and scary.)
  • Goo-ls (or Globins) (Cute, scary and CRUNCHY!)
  • Brandied Caramel Sauce (For dipping sliced apples or pears.)
  • Pumpkin Spice Bread (Pumpkins!)
  • Not-Very-Scary Cakes (And not too bad for you, either.)
  • Off-The-Hook Maple Nut Bars (Seriously: these are deadly good.)

    A Few Savory...
  • Black Bean Soup (Dark and bubbly.)
  • Devils on Horseback (Good year-round, but great on All Hallow's Eve.)
  • Hot Artichoke Dip (Serve with cut veggies as a nice contrast for all the sweets.)

    And a Couple of Drinks for Good Measure
  • Mulled Hot Apple Cider (for the kids)
  • The Bronx Cocktail (for the grownups)

    Hoping your Halloween costume ideas are going better than mine!

    Miss Ginsu

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  • 10.27.2009

    Bottle and brew for the bird (and you)

    If you're reading this in the US, you're very likely celebrating Thanksgiving with a turkey. If you've heard this tune before, you may have noticed by now that the turkey can be a tricky dance partner.

    When the breast meat is done, the legs are overcooked. When the legs are perfect, the breast is raw.*

    A whole turkey takes up most of the oven for most of the day, leaving little room for side dishes or desserts.

    And how are you going to raise a toast when the light meat is clearly calling out for something crisp and light and the dark meat demands something big and juicy?

    I might not be able to help you out much with a crowded oven (though you could consider making the pie the day before and doing the sides on the stovetop), I will add my voice to the masses recommending beverage pairings for your feast.


    Some people just split the light/dark difference by bringing a juicy Beaujolais Nouveau to the feast, but why not pick up a nice rosé or cava for the light bits and a berry-filled red for the dark? The flavonoids provide good antioxidant effects, right?

    Here's a few tasty bottles (in a wide price range) I've recently sampled. Everything's drinkable with or without food, the reds are bold with berries, and the bubbly is slightly sweet and simply fun to drink.

    Cave d'Ige Bourgogne Rouge $15
    Flying Fish Merlot 2005 $12
    Villadoro Montepulciano $9
    Fattoria di Lucignano Chianti $15
    Bodegas Muga Rioja Reserve $27
    Oriel "Hugo" Russian River Valley Zinfandel $32
    Goyette Cabernet $24
    Invictus Cabernet $40

    Beer makes a good choice for those who can't take the sulfites (and for brewheads, naturally). Personally, I'm wild for a bunch of the food-friendly Belgian brews, and both Goose Island and Brewery Ommegang domestically craft some very fine beers that would complement bird.

    Those crazy folks at Beer Advocate also suggest recipes for actually cooking the whole Thanksgiving feast with beer. Ambitious.

    However you choose to kick up your heels your Thursday, I bid you bountiful good cheer and a boisterous bon appétit from over here at Chez Ginsu.

    *Some people try to solve this issue by chilling the breast meat with ice packs before cooking it or keeping the breasts covered with foil during baking. I think just butterflying (splitting across the front and cooking flat) the bird solves the breast/thigh issue pretty neatly.

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    The Cookies of the Dead

    Much as I love Halloween, I think the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is far cooler.

    A couple of hundred years ago, Halloween held a solid position in the autumn calendar as a religious event. These days, I'd bet a lot of people don't even realize that the "Eve of All Hallows" is supposed to be followed by All Saints' Day on November 1st and All Souls' Day on the 2nd.

    Similarly, the Day of the Dead (sometimes called the Día de los Fieles Difuntos) is observed in Mexico from November 1-2. Annual rituals involve activities like cleaning and decorating loved ones' graves and building altars or small shrines that include supremely amusing little skeleton figurines made from paper mache, photos of deceased relatives, crosses, orange marigolds, candles, liquor and food, such as the pan de muerto (bread of the dead).

    Dia de los Muertos Altar

    While our modern Halloween has lightened its dark roots in favor of overflowing candy buckets for the little ones and sexy cop, nurse, shepherdess, fairy, zombie, etc. costumes for the adults, the Day of the Dead really can't help but remain conscious of the tenuous barrier between life and death. It's right there in the name. More than that, it's rooted in a culture that's apparently more strongly linked to remembrance than candy and costume. And because remembrance is such a personal process, the Day of the Dead necessarily demonstrates a more handmade and individual texture.

    Dia de los Muertos Parade

    A while back, I visited Tulum and Playa del Carmen on the Yucatán Peninsula during the Día de los Muertos celebrations. Different towns have different celebrations, of course, but Playa del Carmen went all out with an elaborate parade sponsored by the local culture center. It was a stunning carnival of fire and fireworks, undead musicians and jugglers, whirling dancers, springing acrobats and skeletons (both tall and tiny).

    Dia de los Muertos Children

    Homespun, heart-filled and gorgeous, that celebration was rich with reminders of death, and it made me love life all the more.

    You can imagine how ecstatic I was when I found an Alice Medrich recipe for Day of the Dead Cookies in her excellent Chocolate Holidays cookbook. A whole stack of chocolate-vanilla skulls. The accompanying photo was both cute and creepy. I was instantly sold.

    When I actually baked them, I discovered that this cookie is little complicated to make and it has about a 50% success rate. By that I mean: Only about half of the cookies are recognizable as skulls. I was initially a little crushed, but then I reconsidered. Even the rejects were delicious and the skulls that work are pretty cute.

    Here's my recommendation: Make the cookies and separate them into two piles. Label the rejects, "Chocolate-Vanilla Crinkle Cookies." They're crispy, tasty and excellent with a cup of coffee. Take them to work and give them to your hungry coworkers. The other pile with the more successful skulls are your "Day of the Dead Cookies," and they're cute and crispy and tasty (and also good with coffee). Revel in the fact that they're delicious and imperfectly homemade, much like the Día de los Muertos itself.

    Dia de los Muertos Cookies
    Spooky, scary or just plain dumb. A gang of tasty skull cookies.

    Maya's Day of the Dead Cookies
    from Chocolate Holidays by Alice Medrich
    (Makes about 3 dozen. About half of them will look like skulls.)

    Vanilla Dough:
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
    1 cup sugar
    1 egg
    1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    Chocolate Dough:
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, Dutch process or natural
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon baking powder
    1/8 teaspoon salt
    8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
    1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar, lump free
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1 egg
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    Baking sheets lined with parchment paper

    1. To make the vanilla dough, mix the flour, baking powder and salt together thoroughly with a whisk or a fork. Set aside.

    2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla. On low speed, beat in the flour until just incorporated. Form the dough into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Set aside.

    3. To make the chocolate dough, in a medium bowl, mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together thoroughly with a whisk or fork. Set aside.

    4. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar with the back of a spoon or an electric mixer until smooth and creamy but not fluffy (less than 1 1/2 minutes with an electric mixer). Beat in the egg and vanilla. On low speed, beat in the flour until just incorporated. Form the dough into a log the same length as the vanilla log. If the dough is too soft and sticky to handle, place it in the freezer to firm up.

    5. To shape the skulls, reshape each log of dough so that it is skull-shaped rather than round: Make one side of the skull narrow for the chin and jaw and leave the other side wide for the cranium. Wrap and refrigerate the chocolate dough. Form features in the vanilla dough, using the handle of a wooden spoon to poke holes for eyes through the entire length of the log. Form the nose with a skewer, poking two holes for nostrils. Form the mouth by inserting a narrow table knife and wiggling it back and forth gently to lengthen and widen the opening. Don't try for perfection: irregular holes make the best and weirdest skulls. Wrap and refrigerate the vanilla dough. Chill both doughs at least two hours, preferably overnight.

    6. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the chocolate dough into 1/8-inch slices and place them at least 1 1/2 inches apart on the lined baking sheets. Cut the vanilla dough into 1/8-inch slices and place 1 slice on top of each chocolate slice. Bake until pale golden at the edges, 12 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking. Slide parchment liners directly from the baking sheets to the rack with a metal pancake turner, waiting 1 to 2 minutes if necessary to let the cookies form up before moving them. Cool cookies completely before stacking or storing. Cookies keep at least 1 week in an airtight container.

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    (Not Very) Scary Cakes

    Long ago, of my coworkers earned the nickname, "Scary Cakes." I wasn't around at the time, but I gather it was hoisted upon him after he recommended that every conceivable occasion deserved a new line of themed cupcakes.

    Cupcakes were produced for Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year's, Mother's Day, Football Season, Groundhog Day, National Tortilla Chip Day... you get the picture. It was scary.

    Last week, I was talking with the nutritionist at work about healthier Halloween treats and I thought about how the holiday really is a nutritional wasteland. It's about bags and buckets of processed sugar bombs and cheaply made pseudo-chocolate.

    Halloween features the occasional caramel-covered apple, but for the most part, it's grim. The pumpkins aren't for eating, and there's no corn in candy corn (unless you count high-fructose corn syrup).

    Inspired by the thought that a homemade banana muffin with fruit, nuts and some whole-grain flour is a far better nutritional deal than most Halloween treats, I made these cuties, which I'm going to call "Not Very Scary Cakes" in honor of my office's own patron saint of holiday cupcakes.

    not-so-scary cakes
    Woooooo! (Not Very) Scary Cakes haunt the windowsill.

    Okay, now come up really close to your screen so I can whisper this:
    {they're not technically cupcakes... they're banana muffins slathered with honeyed cream cheese, okay? but they look like cupcakes, so just call them banana-walnut cakes with cream cheese icing and don't tell anyone it's not cake!}

    Not Very Scary Cakes (Makes a dozen)

    For the Muffins:
    1 3/4 cups flour (I like to use a blend of whole-wheat and AP flour)
    2 tsp baking powder
    1/4 tsp salt
    1/2 cup sugar
    3/4 cup mashed banana (from 1 to 2 very ripe bananas)
    3/4 cup plain yogurt
    1/4 cup vegetable oil
    1 egg, beaten
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional, but really good)

    For the Cream Cheese Spread:
    1 8-oz package neufatchel cheese or reduced-fat cream cheese
    1-2 Tbsp honey (to taste)

    A handful of dark raisins or chocolate chips (for eyes)

    1. Heat the oven to 375°F and line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners (or rub the cups with some vegetable oil on a paper towel).

    2. Blend flour, baking powder, salt and walnuts in a bowl.

    3. In a separate bowl, combine sugar and mashed banana. When well blended, add in yogurt, oil, egg and vanilla extract.

    4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed. Don't overmix. Nobody loves a tough muffin.

    5. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin and bake until golden (about 25 minutes). When done, remove from the oven and move the muffins onto a wire rack to cool.

    6. Meanwhile, whip together the honey and cream cheese to a spreading consistency.
    When the muffins are cool, slather the cream cheese spread over the tops and decorate with the "eyes" of your choice.

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    Happy SSZoYNP Day!

    zucchini  with blossoms

    Yes, friends... it's once again Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbors' Porch Day (or Night — your preference), one of those obscure and frivolous holidays we rootless Americans create out of festive necessity.

    That said, I think the concept is solid. The zucchini (or courgette, for you Europeans) tends to hit a point of outrageous surplus right about now. Once you've already sautéed, puréed, broiled, grilled, fried and stuffed them, there's a risk of becoming bored with zucchini. Since it may be difficult to offload a stack of squash on a bewildered random citizen, "gifting" the neighbors seems like great fun.

    A suggestion for would-be squash sneakers? Slip a quality recipe into that bag or basket.

    In addition to the savory stuff, like ratatouilles, stews, tagines and summer succotashes, zucchinis tend to play well in sweets. Zucchini bread is a popular choice, but why not try Zucchini Blondies?

    I use a variation on the recipe in Victoria Wise's Gardeners' Community Cookbook, and it's proved to be popular at my office bake sale.

    Zucchini Blondies
    5 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
    1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
    1 large egg
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1/8 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 medium zucchini, peeled and grated
    1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
    1/2 cup white chocolate chips

    1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom of a 9" square baking pan.
    2. Mix the butter, brown sugar, egg and vanilla in a large mixing bowl, and beat together until blended.
    3. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into the same bowl and stir to blend. Incorporate the zucchini and nuts. The blend should be thick.
    4. Spread the batter across the baking pan, and sprinkle the chips over the top.
    5. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
    6. Remove, cool and slice into squares.
    They'll keep for about 3 days at room temperature, or wrap individually and freeze for future snacking.

    zucchini needlepoint kit

    But if, like me, you lack both garden and porch (alas!), you can always soothe your great green envy with a kitchy needlecraft kit like this one, uncovered on a recent web foray. Those crazy crafters! No stone unturned. No zucchini unstitched.

    However you choose to celebrate, I wish you a very happy SSZoYNP Day, and many tasty returns.

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    Get thee to The Donut Plant

    tres leches donut

    Hola, todos y feliz Cinco de Mayo!

    Should you happen to be in New York City today, I highly recommend you stop by The Donut Plant. And I'm not even a "donut person," per se. That said, I am a Donut Plant person.

    Always in touch with the tiny details of seasonal change, the sandwich board outside The Donut Plant is my reliable source for what's timely. In the autumn, the specials mature from apple donuts to pumpkin donuts to cranberry donuts to chestnut donuts. In the spring, the sign bounds from ginger-chai donuts to Meyer lemon donuts to the first berry donuts of the new season. And, big bonus: the round-faced fellow who mans the counter is boundlessly friendly.

    Today, the sandwich board goes Mexican-style churros and a tres leches donut that's crisp on the outside and lightly sweet on the inside with silky pockets of creamy vanilla pudding. It's heaven alongside a café con leche.

    How do they put tres leches inside donuts that have holes? I don't know. They're magic, those Donut Plant people. I don't attempt to replicate their sweet sorcery. I just eat it.

    4 spoons

    The Donut Plant
    379 Grand Street (near Essex)
    Manhattan, NY

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    A year of food, G-Cal style

    gingerbread man

    It's 46°F in New York City, and I just watched a guy walk down the street in a tank top and running shorts. Nevertheless, I'm feeling some holiday spirit. (Of course, that might just be the whiskey in my eggnog.)

    As my gift to all y'all, I've compiled the US Food Holidays list in an ever-available, easy-to-install Google Calendar format.

    Now you'll know the appropriate day to celebrate pigs in a blanket (inexplicably, it's April 24) and the proper night to sneak zucchini onto your neighbor's porch (August 8, naturally). Together we can all puzzle over the meaning of Cheese Sacrifice Purchase Day or Ice Cream and Violins Day.

    A few caveats: This won't work with non-Google calendars. I've not included the national food months (too cumbersome), and I really have no way to verify the dates, so if you have quibbles about whether Lemon Cupcake Day is really on December 15 or not, I'm not sure we can really resolve the issue with complete accuracy. Therefore, take these with the proverbial grain of salt. They're just for fun.

    Ready to install? Click the cute little button below, or search for "US food holidays" in your Google Calendar.

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    Deck the halls with... groceries

    I'm sticking around New York this year for the holidays, but I thought I'd post this series I took a couple of years ago at the South Dakota state capitol building.

    They go all out there with the decorated trees. Local schools, boy scout troops, philanthropic organizations and fraternal clubs rally their resources to put up a pine and adorn it with homespun ornamentation. If you're thinking, "Gosh, that sounds ever-so Norman Rockwell," you're on the right track.

    Here's a quick virtual tour via photo essay that, of course, can't really hint at the pine-resin breeze or compare with the twinkling splendor of the genuine article.

    In keeping with my personal obsession, I've focused on the food-related aspects.

    Here's hoping you get some time off for feasting and festing. Enjoy your holidays!

    SD State Capitol Display
    The overview from the balcony

    Marshmallow Man
    Do you know the marshmallow man?

    Wooden spoon cat
    Apparently, wooden spoons were meant to be cats. This explains why they turn out to be such crappy utensils for eating.

    Walnuts and fishing lures
    We go together like walnuts and fishing lures, baby.

    Dried apples on raffia
    Dried apples + raffia = rustic holiday cheer

    Santa on a stick
    Santa on a stick!

    Find heaps of food photos at my flicker page: flickr.com/photos/missginsu

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