Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Alternatives to Turkey and Pie

Tolstoy begins Anna Karenina with this famous line: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Similarly, of Thanksgiving dinners, I might say, "Average Thanksgiving dinners are all alike; every interesting Thanksgiving dinner is unique in its own way."

Thanksgiving meals I grew up with were always the most basic Midwestern fare (probably because grandma didn't really enjoy cooking). The menu: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green beans and pie.

In college, I went vegetarian and dined on Tofurkey with stuffing, veggies and the rest of the fixings. (In retrospect, I might've done better to have simply baked a nice casserole.)

I was recently impressed to learn that many southern folks consider a ham to be an essential aspect of the Thanksgiving feast. (Honestly, I really don't know where they find the room in their ovens.)

And in my Polish neighborhood, a Thanksgiving dinner might include turkey alongside "Meat Stuffing, Fruit Stuffing, Vegetable Salad, Pierogies, Apple Cake and Apple Cherry Cake," as advertised in the window of the local cookshop where I snapped this image:

Thanksgiving in Greenpoint

While I'm usually a traditionalist for the Thanksgiving feast, this year I have a broken wrist and a busy week, so we're keeping it as simple and as local as possible with products from our CSA, the NYC farmers markets and the local foods at FreshDirect.

Putting aside tradition, we'll be going with Duck and Flan instead of Turkey and Pie. I've decided on duck breasts because they're fast, they're easy, they're 100% dark meat (no fighting over the legs) and they'll still be lovely with cranberry sauce.

Our Simple, Local Thanksgiving Menu:
You'll note that almost everything on the menu can be found within 200 miles of the city, so I want to offer my heartfelt THANKS to all the people who work hard to grow raise, process and transport our food.

Ending the meal with a slice of pumpkin flan offers a nice change of pace from the standard pumpkin pie. Additionally, if there happens to be anyone on a gluten-free diet at your dinner table, they'll appreciate the lack of crust.

Flan

Flans are pretty easy to make, except for two tricky parts at the beginning and end of the process: caramelizing the sugar and flipping the cooked flan onto a serving plate. Just pay close attention at these junctures and you'll have no problems.

And remember, if you should happen to burn the caramel, it's not a big deal. Just open the window to air out the kitchen, soak the burnt sugar off the bottom of the pan with hot water and try it again with lower heat and a watchful eye.

If you have pumpkin pie spice in the cupboard, you can just use a teaspoon of that in place of the ginger, mace/nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice/cloves.

Spiced Pumpkin Flan (Serves 5-6)

2/3 cups sugar (divided into two parts)
3 large eggs
2 cups canned pumpkin puree
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon mace or nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice or cloves
1 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
2. In a small saucepan, cook 1/3 cup of the sugar over medium heat until it begins to melt. Don't stir or touch it; just lower the flame and heat it, swirling the pan until the melted sugar caramelizes to a golden brown.
3. Quickly pour the liquid caramel into the bottom of a 9" quiche/flan dish or cake pan. Turn the dish to evenly coat the bottom. Allow to cool.
4. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl, blending in the pumpkin, cream, salt and spices.
5. Place the quiche/flan dish inside a roasting pan (with high sides) and pour hot water into the roasting pan until it measures about half-way up the side of the flan dish.
6. Carefully move the roasting pan to center rack of the oven before pouring the pumpkin batter into the flan dish. (This process prevents flan flubs on the way to the oven.) Bake until the flan is firm in the center, but still has a little jiggle — about 50 to 60 minutes.
7. Carefully move the hot flan dish from the roasting pan to a wire rack to cool. Then chill in the refrigerator at least 2 to 3 hours. (Overnight is better.)
8. To serve, warm the flan for a few minutes before running a knife around the edge of the dish. Place a large plate on top of the flan dish. Gently flip both together so that the flan gently flops onto the plate. Lift away the flan dish and cut the flan into wedges.

Having an interesting Thanksgiving dinner this year? Drop a note in the comments!

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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11.23.2009

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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7.14.2009

A Dozen Ideas for Boiled Eggs

Ahh, Easter. Egg dying. Egg hiding. Egg finding. And then... a lot of hard-boiled eggs to use up in a hurry.

Blue Easter Eggs

I'm sure you know how to make a simple egg salad (dice boiled eggs, add chopped celery if you like and slather with enough mayo to moisten), but just in case you're long on eggs and short on ideas, here's a dozen other things to do with a hard-boiled egg.

1. Persian-Style Chicken Salad
Dice a couple of eggs with a few diced boiled potatoes, two cups of diced, cooked chicken, three tablespoons each of chopped pickles, diced celery, sliced black or green olives and fresh dill. Toss gently 1/2 cup of lemon-olive oil vinaigrette or mayonnaise, as you like. Season to taste with salt and black pepper and serve over lettuce leaves with wedges of tomato.

2. Simple Niçoise Salad
Fill a large bowl with four cups of mixed, washed lettuce or Boston lettuce, add a couple of sliced boiled eggs, two to three new potatoes, boiled and halved, about 3/4 cup water-packed or oil-packed tuna, 1/3 cup boiled green beans, two to three tomatoes sliced into wedges, two sliced green onions and a tablespoon of capers or oil-cured black olives. Toss with a vinaigrette of your choice.

3. Classic Deviled Eggs
I love deviled eggs so much. Just peel a dozen eggs, slice in half (reserve the whites, holes-up on a platter) and place the yolks in a mixing bowl with 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1 to 2 tsp Dijon mustard, 1 tsp Worcestershire, 1/2 tsp hot paprika. Blend until smooth and season to taste with salt. Place the yolk mixture in an appropriately sized plastic bag. Clip off one of the corners. Squeeze the mixture from the bag into the hollows of the egg whites. Garnish with cayenne or paprika and serve immediately.

4. Serve with Smoked Fish
Grated eggs go well with smoked fish alongside chives and chopped radishes. On the same note, there's also the Scandinavian Sillsalad or Laxsalad, both of which combine cured fish with eggs, potatoes, apples and caraway.

5. If you have cash to spare, serve with caviar.
Grated eggs are a classic accompaniment to Russian caviar, alongside blini or toast points, diced red onion, capers and sour cream.

6. Scotch Eggs
Peel boiled eggs, cover each in a layer seasoned sausage, roll in breadcrumbs and deep-fry until the sausage is cooked. Decadent pub fare. Make a batch and eat alongside beer. And Rolaids.

7. Workout Snacks
As I mentioned back here, boiled eggs are the protein bar of the ancients. And they come in convenient, eco-sensitive biodegradable packaging, too.

8. Wilted Spinach Salad
Wash and dry four cups of fresh spinach. Place on two plates and top with two to three boiled eggs, sliced; four strips of cooked bacon, diced; two sliced green onions, one tomato cut in wedges. Drizzle with 1/3 cup hot bacon grease, sprinkle on two tablespoons tarragon vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

9. Steamed Asparagus & Salmon Salad
Steam one 6 to 8 oz salmon fillet and one bunch of asparagus. Chop the asparagus into 1" segments. Flake the salmon. Combine in a mixing bowl with an apple cider vinaigrette (whisk together 1 Tbsp cider vinegar, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, juice of quarter of a lemon and 4-5 Tbsp olive oil) and serve over two sliced, boiled eggs and a bed of greens.

10. What's a bowl of ramen without strips of pork, a dollop of seaweed and a sliced, boiled egg? Just a bowl of noodles, nothing more.

11. Stinging Nettle Soup, courtesy of Nami-Nami.

12. The classic Cobb Salad.
Create a bed of romaine, iceberg or Boston lettuce and top with diced bacon, diced ripe avocado, diced cooked chicken breast, diced tomato, diced hard-boiled eggs and roquefort or your favorite blue cheese. Dress with a simple vinaigrette.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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4.12.2009

Regarding the Abuse of Peeps

I don't know what my coworker Suzy Hotrod has against marshmallow Peeps.

For the past couple of years, we've done an Eastover potluck (Easter + Passover dishes), and this year, we made it a St. Eastover potluck, incorporating St. Pat's day in the mix.

Peeps Fondue

Last year, Suzy made a Peeps Fondue, dunking the poor things in a bath of thick, rich chocolate lava.

Peeps Smore

This year, it was Peeps S'mores, their little pink and yellow bodies crushed between slabs of graham cracker.

Now, it was more than a month ago when all this abuse went down, but I couldn't help but notice this week that the Peeps S'more is suddenly hot.

Over at Serious Eats, they profiled this very version of Peeps abuse, as sourced from a Peeps cookbook. Looks like the heating action happens in an oven.

As I recall, Suzy came up with hers independently, working out a system in the microwave. I believe she placed Peeps atop squares of chocolate and spaced those out across a on a piece of parchment. Then she microwaved them (apparently they inflate like you wouldn't believe), and she moved the hot piles of gooey sugar to the graham crackers for sandwiching.

Peeps Smore Closeup

I actually thought they'd be kind of gross, but they were surprisingly good. The crunchy sugar on the outside of the Peeps adds an extra texture aspect. Crisp, gooey, sweet and chewy. The only thing missing was that burnt-sugar flavor you get from campfire s'mores.

Mini Easter Basket

I'd feel terrible if I neglected to mention that the other impressive dish at this year's St. Eastover fest was Ryn's Mini Easter Baskets, cleverly constructed with cupcake liners, jelly beans and foil-wrapped eggs. I think you'll agree the mint is a nice touch for the platter.

Mini Easter Baskets Platter

What kind of Peeps abuse will next year hold? Peep skewers? Peeps on a stick? Peeps pâté? Only Suzy knows.

Late-Breaking Addendum: Aaron Cohen wants you to know that he's compiled a survey of marshmallow Peeps on the Internet, revealing that the abuse of peeps is far more widespread than we ever suspected. The time to take legislative action to protect Peeps is long past, I'm afraid.

Meanwhile, Happy Holidays & Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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4.11.2009

Dangerously Spicy Chocolate-Chili Fudge 2.0

Rich, dark and spicy. Is there a homemade treat for Valentine's Day that's more thematically appropriate than my Dangerously Spicy Chocolate-Chili Fudge?

I'm doubting it... especially now that I've gone through and improved the recipe.

I whipped up the first version of this fudge two years ago, but I thought the texture was slightly less than perfect. It was just a bit too chewy.

In this new & improved version, I've added more butter (which makes it creamier) and I've replaced the nutmeg with vanilla, which improves the overall flavor in a magical way.

chocolate fudge heart

It's still super-fast and very easy to make, and you can use dark chocolate (I do) or milk chocolate, as you prefer.
Dangerously Spicy Chocolate-Chili Fudge 2.0 (Makes about 16 pieces)

One (14oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper (or more, if you're bold)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 lb milk or dark chocolate (use chips, pastilles or pieces you've cut)

1. Butter the bottom of an 8-inch to 9-inch square baking pan, and line with a piece of parchment or wax paper.

2. In a metal or glass bowl, blend together the salt, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and vanilla with the sweetened condensed milk.

3. Set the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water (double boiler), add the butter and chocolate, stirring the mixture occasionally as it melts.

4. When everything is blended and smooth, spread the mixture into the prepared pan and chill in the refrigerator 2 to 3 hours, or until firm.

5. Run a warm knife around edges of pan to loosen the fudge block and flip it over onto a cutting board. Remove the parchment paper and cut the fudge into 1- to 2-inch squares. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container for up to a month.

Since I last posted on this topic, I've also discovered that some high-quality fudge tips exist at Allrecipes.com. Since I try to avoid using corn syrup, I went with the sweetened condensed milk, and yes, it's pretty fool-poof.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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2.13.2009

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.

Cheers!

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2.11.2009

Five Steps to Homemade Birthday Cake

Since the late 1940s, Pillsbury, Duncan Hines and General Mills (aka Betty Crocker) have been putting out cake mixes for the masses. Billions of boxes of cake mix for billions of birthdays and graduations and anniversaries and whatnot.

Knowing that I have personally eaten more of these cakes than I can count, I'm led to wonder what minuscule portion of the population has ever made a cake from scratch.

Though it's true that pouring a little vegetable oil and cracking a couple of eggs into a box mix is about as easy as it gets, the very basic yellow cake isn't much more fuss, and the maker gets a lot more control over the end product.

Flight of the Conchords Cake
Easy to make, easy to customize. Bret & Jemaine would approve

I make a fair number of cakes for coworkers' birthdays, and on certain busy occasions, I've felt a gravitational pull to the box mix aisle.

It generally goes like this: I pick up the pretty packages, read the ingredient lists, sigh, put the boxes back on the shelf and move along to the flour and sugar bags so I can get the supplies I need for a scratch-made cake.

Why? Well... read for yourself. This is an ingredient list for a standard box mix:
Sugar, Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil Shortening (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Propylene Glycol Mono- And Diesters Of Fats, Mono- And Diglycerides), Leavening (Soduim Bicarbonate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate), Wheat Starch. Contains 2% Or Less Of:Salt, Dextrose, Polyglycerol Esters of Fatty Acids, Artificial Flavor, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Dextrin, Cellulose Gum, Xantham Gum, Colored With (Yellow 5 Lake, Red 40 Lake), Nonfat Dry Milk.

None of that stuff is inedible, of course... I'm just wild about partially hydrogenated oils.

On the other hand, my very basic yellow birthday cake recipe has eight ingredients and five steps. It takes about 15 minutes to mix and 30 to bake. No shortening required, no soy involved and if someone has a milk allergy, it's easy to make dairy-free substitutions. Plus, it's got the real yum.
A Very Basic Yellow Birthday Cake (Makes a 13" x 9" sheet cake)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups cake flour or pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and either grease a 13" x 9" rectangular pan, or put a layer of parchment paper across the bottom.
2. Cream together the butter, salt and sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the milk and vanilla until blended.
3. Sift together the flour and baking powder.
4. Blend the dry ingredients into the egg/butter mixture until smooth (but don't overwork it).
5. Bake 35 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean), then remove from the oven and cool on a rack 30 minutes before removing from the pan.

You actually don't have to remove it from the pan. I almost never do. Just dust the top in powdered sugar or slather it with your favorite frosting, then slice and serve casually.

Maybe throw in a home-sung rendition of "Happy Birthday" to go along with your home-made cake.

Happy Eating,
Miss Ginsu

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2.08.2009

The Year of the Ox

Happy New Year! As of yesterday, we've embarked on the year of the ox according to the Chinese lunar calendar, and the Chinatowns here in NYC (and across the globe) will be awash in red and gold for the next three weeks.

The ox (or water buffalo... take your pick) is supposed to represent prosperity through fortitude, hard work, self-sacrifice and thrift. An appropriate set of values for the coming year, don't you think?

Rice Bun Offering

If you're looking to make some festive food, you'll be in good company. Billions of people celebrate the lunar new year, and there's a whole range of traditional foods with deep symbolism.

Lettuce sang choi represents prosperity. Dumplings jiaozi symbolize wealth. Long chinese noodles indicate longevity (so don't cut them), and whole-cooked fish yue demonstrates abundance.

So in honor of the holiday and the steadfast ox, I've selected a few choice links from the vault:

soba noodles

A Field Guide to Lions & Dragons

Thrifty Vegetable Fried Rice

Long, lucky Peanut Soba Noodles (or Slaw)

Delicious Burdock Root Salad

Gung hei fat choi!
Miss Ginsu

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1.27.2009

My Inaugural (Cheese) Ball

Like a lot of folks, I'll be catching some of the inauguration festivities tomorrow — all from the comfort of the cozy indoors, thankfully. I shudder to think of all those chilly folks out there on the frigid capital mall...

My coworkers and I are having a little soiree over lunchtime to munch on snacks while we view the swearing in and the inaugural address.

Our first idea for a food theme was red, white and blue foods. But unless you want to throw around a bunch of blue food coloring, there's not a lot of blue food out there.

I've come up with... bluefin tuna (which isn't blue at all), bluefish (which is sorta blue), blue corn chips, blue potatoes (which are often a bit purple) and blueberries.

Anyway, our second thought for a food theme was simply snacks, because that's really what you're looking for when you watch TV anyway.

American Flag

But lo! Inspiration struck: There was one other "blue" food I forgot. Blue cheese! Yes, folks... it's time to make cheese balls.

Now, quite honestly, I'd never made cheese balls before, so these Inaugural Balls really are my inauguration into the world of cheese shapes.

But now that I've made them, I do understand why they're party food classics. Cheese balls are easy to make, they're not terribly expensive, they're endlessly versatile, they're quite popular and best of all... they can be made in advance.

Behold...
Inaugural Red, White & Blue Cheese Balls!

The Red Cheese Ball
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 Tbsp roasted red pepper
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp onion, finely chopped
1 tsp sweet paprika
To roll: 3/4 cup crumbled bacon (cooked, obviously)

The White Cheese Ball
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 Tbsp celery or water chestnuts, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp white pepper

The Blue Cheese Ball
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
2 Tbsp onion, finely chopped
3 drops hot pepper sauce
1 pinch cayenne pepper
To roll: 3/4 cup finely chopped pecans

Directions for assembling all three cheese balls:

1. In a medium bowl, mix together the cream cheese and the other cheese.
2. Blend in all remaining ingredients for the cheese ball (except the chopped nuts or crumbled bacon for rolling) and chill the mixture for 3 to 4 hours or until firm.
3. Roll the chilled cheese blend into a ball, and roll to coat in the chopped nuts or bacon pieces (if necessary).
4. Wrap the ball in plastic wrap or waxed paper and refrigerate.
5. At service time, place the ball(s) on a plate and serve with alongside crackers, baguette slices and/or celery or carrot sticks. The blue cheese ball is also nice with dried fruit and fresh grapes.

While 'tis true that my blue cheese ball isn't really blue as in Smurf-blue or bluejay-blue, it's also true that every one of these cheese balls is true-blue delicious. So there.

Now, if you're going this route, really show off your American pride and use all-American cheeses in your cheese balls. Maytag Blue is one of my favorite examples of the blue family, there's tons of great American goat cheeses and all kinds of domestic cheddars out there (Wisconsin! Vermont! New York!) to tickle your tastebuds.

Happy Inauguration Day to everyone!
Miss Ginsu

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1.19.2009

Video Treat: Saxelby's Cheese Sandwich

This savory little treat is overdue, but tasty nevertheless... and since it's an ideal choice for New Year's Eve appetizers, I think now's the right time to unveil it.

Behold! Snazzy grilled cheese as done by Anne Saxelby, charming monger of the Essex Street Market.

This video was captured at this year's NYC International Pickle Festival, back when short sleeved shirts and light summer dresses were appropriate attire. (Oh, how I pine for the sun!)


Saxelby's Snazzy Grilled Cheese
Good sliced bread
Olive oil for drizzling
Puréed pickled peppers (Anne uses Rick's Picks Peppi Pep Peps)
Thin slices of feta cheese

1. Lay out two slices of bread and drizzle olive oil on one side of one of the slices.
2. Spread about a tablespoon of pureed pickled peppers on that same slice of bread.
3. Stack two thin slices of feta cheese atop the pickled pepper puree.
4. Top the stack with the other slice of bread and toast the sandwich in a hot panini grill for 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Slice into quarters and serve immediately.

You may ask yourself, why would this sandwich make a good New Year's Eve treat? Good question!

Salty, rich foods often go well with drier bubbly sips, so when you crack open the Champagne (or maybe try a Spanish Cava this year... it's just as festive and waaay cheaper), I'd urge you to consider serving up a few wedges of Anne's Grilled Cheese as a cheesy, cheery pairing partner. Delight ensured.

May the new year be healthy, happy and even more delicious than the last.

Cheers to auld lang syne, my dears!
Miss Ginsu

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12.30.2008

Yay! Happy Holidays!

You guys rule. Thanks for stopping by, for leaving comments, for correcting my typos, for guessing as to Cupcake's whereabouts and for being friendly fellow travelers out there in internetland.

Happy Holidays

Cupcake and I are both wishing you the happiest of holidays and the tastiest of new years.

We raise our cocoa cups to you!

- Cupcake & Miss G.

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12.25.2008

Day 24: Candy Cane Crunch & Shortbread Stars

This post marks Day 24 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Merry Christmas Eve!

If the weather outside is frightful, the first thing you're thinking of might not be ice cream. But die-hards (like me) think about ice cream year-round — the holidays are no exception.

I haven't done an ice cream recipe in a few months, but I wanted to make this one a little more snazzy and festive for Christmas Eve — thus, the addition of those stripey little canes. And yes, I'll admit it: I have a small candy cane obsession.

Candy Cane Bonanza

Candy Cane Crunch Ice Cream

Candy Cane Crunch Ice Cream (Makes 1+ quart)
Base
2 free-range eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
Add-ins
1/2 cup candy canes (crush in a plastic bag with a jar or mallet)

1. Whisk the eggs for 1 to 2 minutes.
2. Whisk in the sugar.
3. When blended, pour in the cream and milk. Blend well.
4. Pour the mix into your ice cream machine and prepare as directed.
5. When the ice cream is very thick and nearly ready, five to ten minutes before completion, blend in the crushed candy canes.
6. Continue freezing to desired texture.

If you've been reading closely, you'll recognize this dough as the vanilla version of the Peppermint Snowflakes from Day 19. Since the dough can be made ahead and refrigerated (or even frozen and thawed), these cookie cut-outs are pretty convenient to make on the fly.
Sugar Cookie Stars (Makes about 2 dozen — just enough for you and Santa)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg white + 1 Tbsp water, beaten together
White or colored sugar for decorating
1 star-shaped cookie cutter

1. Heat oven to 350° F.
2. In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter together. Add the egg and the vanilla extract.
3. In a separate bowl, sift together the salt and the flour.
4. Blend the flour into the butter mixture.
5. Flatten the dough into a disc or a square, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.
6. Divide the dough, leave one portion in the refrigerator, and roll out the other portion between 1/4" and 1/8" thick on a floured surface.
7. Cut out stars with the cookie cutter and place them about 1" apart on ungreased baking sheets. Brush the cookies with the egg white/water mixture and sprinkle with sugar.
8. Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes. Cool for 3 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool fully.

Now, you could cheat on all this if you find yourself pressed for time... just use a pre-made cookie dough for the stars, then mix crushed candy canes into a softened pint of regular old vanilla ice cream and refreeze it.

Ice Cream and Star Cookie

Serve a festive scoop of Candy Cane Crunch ice cream with a Sugar Cookie Star stuck in the side as a jaunty garnish. Then leave a few more stars on a plate alongside a glass of milk for Old Saint Nick.

Happy Holidays!
Miss Ginsu

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12.24.2008

Day 23: Christmas Gumbo

This post marks Day 23 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

In my neighborhood, 'tis the season of the big carp slaughter. Apparently it's traditional for Polish folks to eat fresh carp for Christmas (part of the traditional "fish on holy days" tradition, no doubt) so the fishes are currently swimming about in cold-water pools waiting to be chopped up for dinners across the 'hood.

Likewise, in Italy, southern folks celebrate the feast of the seven fishes over the holidays.

I, too, think of the sea when I think of Christmas. My mom's family has a tradition having to do with eggs and herring roe (one I generally skip), but I appreciate the idea of honoring this season with the fruits of the sea.

Thus, I propose a seafood gumbo, one with red, white and green colors (for the sake of festivity) and fresh shrimp or clams (for the sake of tradition).

Onions & Peppers

Christmas Gumbo

This recipe feeds many, doesn't cost much to make and comes together without much fuss. In fact, the biggest pain is in the vegetable chopping — a task which may be farmed out to any eager-to-help holiday guests.
Christmas Gumbo (Serves 5-6)
1 lb sausage (chicken, pork or seafood)
3 Tbsp bacon fat or olive oil
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 medium onions, diced
1 small green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 to 3 stalks celery, sliced into 1/2" pieces
1 bay leaf
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or less, if you're sensitive)
1 pound okra (fresh or frozen), sliced in 1/2" pieces
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
3 cups chicken stock or water
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 lb shell-on shrimp and/or 6 to 8 clams (optional)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Salt to taste
6 to 8 cups cooked rice (for serving)

1. In a heavy-bottomed pot or a dutch oven over medium heat, cook the sausage in the bacon fat or olive oil until it begins to brown.
2. Remove the sausage from the pan, add the flour to the pan oils and stir well to incorporate the flour into the fat. Cook the flour mixture 3 to 5 minutes or until it begins to turn golden.
3. Add the onions, bell pepper pieces, celery and bay leaf to the pot and cook 10 to 15 minutes, stirring well to cook evenly.
4. Add the cayenne, okra, tomatoes and the stock (or water) and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the okra is very tender, about 30 minutes.
5. Add the wine and simmer for another 10 minutes.
6. Bring the pot to a boil and add the shrimp or clams (if using). Cover and cook about 3 to 5 minutes — just long enough until the cook through and/or the clams have opened.
7. Stir in the chopped parsley and adjust salt the and/or cayenne, if necessary. Serve hot over rice.

Serve with a sliced baguette, a crisp green salad and a glass of dry white wine or cold ale. The seasonal ales with some spice and citrus go nicely with this dish.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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12.23.2008

Day 22: Eggnog Flan

This post marks Day 22 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

After falling in love with the divine flan at Mercadito Cantina recently, I thought it'd be a good plan to combine a lifelong passion for eggnog with the decadent flan genre.



In case you've never made flan, it's kind of a two-step process. The first step involves making a caramel sauce that coats the bottom of the pan. Thereafter, a custard mixture is poured over the caramel and it's baked, then flipped over to put the caramel at the top, making the dish very like a tarte tatin or a pineapple upside-down cake.

You could, of course, pour the caramel sauce and the batter into individual ramekins, but I don't have that many ramekins or that much ambition... so I'm going with one large flan that gets cut into wedges. Less pretty, but it's faster to make and easier to transport.

As it turns out, the recipe for flan and the recipe for eggnog are very similar. The major difference is in the preparation.

In fact, I reserved a bit of my flan batter and warmed it up in a double boiler while the rest of the flan baked. Cream, fresh eggs, sugar and spice... no surprise this combo made a fine, festive 'nog.
Merry Eggnog Flan (Serves 6-8)

3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 (14oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup cream
1/4 cup milk
2 Tbsp spiced rum or whiskey (optional)
1 tsp ground nutmeg

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
2. In a small saucepan, cook the sugar over medium heat until begins to melt. Don't stir or touch it; just lower the heat and heat it, swirling the pan, until the melted sugar caramelizes to a golden brown.
3. Pour the caramel into the bottom of a 9" quiche/flan dish or cake pan. Turn the dish to evenly coat the bottom. Allow to cool.
4. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl, blending in the condensed milk, cream, milk, the rum/whiskey and the nutmeg.
5. Place the quiche/flan dish inside a roasting pan (with high sides) and pour hot water into the roasting pan until it measures about half-way up the side of the flan dish.
6. Carefully move the roasting pan to center rack of the oven and pour the egg batter into the flan dish. (This process prevents flan flubs on the way to the oven.) Bake until the flan is firm in the center, but still has a little jiggle — about 50 to 60 minutes.
7. Carefully move the hot flan dish from the roasting pan to a wire rack to cool. Then chill in the refrigerator at least 2 to 3 hours.
8. To serve, warm the flan for a few minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the dish and place a large plate on top of the flan dish. Gently flip them both together so that the flan gently flops onto the plate. Lift away the flan dish and cut the flan into wedges.

Though it'd be a lovely afternoon treat with hot coffee, I think this flan would also make an appropriate postre for the holiday taquitos of Calendar Day 6.

Feliz navidades a todos!
Miss Ginsu

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12.22.2008

Day 21: A Festive Frybread

This post marks Day 21 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Since today marks the first day of Hanukkah (as well as the shortest day of the year), I thought it'd be appropriate to commemorate the miracle of the oil with a frybread recipe... a treat for anyone, really.

It's interesting to note that just about any culture that eats bread has its own version of frybread.

The classic Donut. Southern Hushpuppies. South American Sopaipillas. Spanish Churros. Indian Poori. Japanese Tenkasu. Chinese Youtiao. Eastern European Pirozhki. Kazakh baursak. Israeli Sufganiyot... and so on.

Frybread and Wojapi

I'm assuming that the universality of the method has to do with:
1.) accessibility — not everyone has an oven.
2.) ease — whip it up in minutes; all you need is a pot of hot oil.
3.) tastiness — just about anything tastes good when fried.

Since I grew up attending a lot of powwows and rodeos, frybread was always a part of my cultural landscape.

Frybread tacos. Frybread and honey. Frybread and cinnamon sugar. Frybread and wojapi (see below for more on that).

After all, it's the official state bread of my people. (Not to mention the source of some controversy.) While it's certainly not an everyday food, frybread is most definitely a tasty special occasion food.

My favorite recipe for frybread (sometimes called bannock) is a Chippewa version that's made with meat drippings... mmm! It's really best when it features that savory angle, but if you can't take the meat, I've got a reliable (albeit less umami-filled) substitution.

Wojapi (WHOA-jza-pee) is a delicious dark berry sauce that's sometimes served as a dipping sauce with frybread.

The stuff I ate as a kid was almost always made with wild chokecherries, but you could easily use little wild plums or blueberries or blackberries or whatever dark fruits you happen to have around.
Very Basic Wojapi (Makes about 1 pint)
2 cups of dark fruit/berries
1/2 cup sugar or honey
1/8 cup water

1. In a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, combine fruit, sugar or honey and water.
2. Simmer slowly, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
3. Serve immediately or, if using cherries or plums, allow the sauce to cool to room temperature before removing any pits or seeds. Then rewarm to serve with hot frybread.
I like to use canola oil for frying because it doesn't smoke as readily as many other oils, but use what you have and try to monitor the heat so your oil doesn't burn.
Savory Frybread (Serves 4-6)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
5 Tbsp meat drippings (or substitute 4 Tbsp milk + 1/2 tsp salt + 1 Tbsp vegetable oil)
3/4 cup water
Extra flour (for kneading)
Melted lard (preferably) or Canola oil (for frying)

1. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder.
2. Add the meat drippings (or milk/salt/oil) and water. Mix well.
3. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and knead lightly.
4. Pat the dough out into a 1/2" layer and slice into 2" strips or squares. If you're making tacos, cut larger pieces and puncture each piece in its center for ventilation.
5. Pour the frying oil in a deep skillet or heavy-bottomed pot so that it reaches 3/4" to 1" up the side of the pan, and set a paper towel-covered wire rack on a baking sheet (for cooling the hot frybread).
6. Heat the pot/pan until the oil is between 350°F and 375°F — at this point, a small dough ball dropped into the oil will immediately begin to bubble and cook, but the oil won't be smoking. Maintain this temperature throughout frying.
7. Carefully drop the dough into the oil with metal tongs, one or two pieces at a time.
8. Cook dough 3 to 5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Move cooked frybread to the prepared cooling rack while you fry the rest. Serve warm with honey, cinnamon sugar, wojapi sauce or traditional taco fillings.

If you don't have the time (or the berries) to make wojapi, you can thin down some berry preserves with water and adjust the flavor with a little lemon juice to give the sauce a balance of sweetness and tartness, to your taste.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.21.2008

Day 20: The Scarborough Loaf

This post marks Day 20 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Like me, you may know a few vegetarians. Like me, you may have once been one of those vegetarians.

In those days, I was always a little befuddled at the holidays. I mean, feast foods are pretty proscribed for omnivores (1. roast something 2. add starchy sides).

Those who shun meat are left without a lot of festive "center of the plate" foods. Spinach lasagna just seemed so everyday, and I was never wild about the tofurkey.

Scarborough Loaf

While making this vegetarian loaf I was humming a little Simon & Garfunkle, so you can probably guess the inspiration for the seasonings...

Though suitable for lacto-ovo vegetarians, this loaf does contain a little egg and milk, which help it stick together better. If you're making a vegan loaf, skip the egg and milk and substitute 1/2 cup vegetable stock.

Chestnuts are a bit easier to come by at the holidays, and I think they make the loaf particularly seasonal.
The Scarborough Loaf (Makes 1 9" by 3" loaf)
1/2 cup brown or red lentils
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided in two portions
1/2 lb (8oz) mushrooms, chopped
1 large onion, chopped (1/2" pieces)
10-12 whole chestnuts, roasted & chopped (or substitute 1 cup chopped walnuts/pecans)
3 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh sage
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp fresh thyme
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp soy sauce

1. Put the lentils in a saucepan with enough water to cover by 1 inch. Add a pinch of salt to the pan, set over a medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Simmer 15-20 minutes or until very soft. Drain off any excess water and reserve the lentils.
2. Meanwhile, pour 1 tablespoon of the olive oil into a large skillet and sauté the chopped mushrooms for 10 to 12 minutes. When softened, move the mushrooms to a large mixing bowl.
3. To the same skillet, add the other tablespoon of olive oil and sweat the onion pieces. When the onions are soft and translucent, remove them from the heat and add to the mushrooms in the mixing bowl.
4. Mix the drained lentils, chopped chestnuts, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and ground pepper into the mushroom-onion mixture.
5. Blend in the breadcrumbs, then add the egg, milk, balsamic vinegar and soy sauce.
6. Lightly oil a loaf pan, press the mixture firmly into the pan and bake at 350°F for 25 minutes. Slice and serve warm.

While quite nice on its own, I think it'd be even more fancy (and tasty) drizzled with a mushroom cream sauce or a vegetarian gravy.

Holiday Cheer,
Miss Ginsu

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12.20.2008

Day 19: Cookie o' the Week... Peppermint Snowflakes

This post marks Day 19 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

I recently ran across the coolest snowflake cookie cutter set; It included tiny pieces to help cut out the decorative bits on the arms of the snowflakes. Pretty slick, but I had no real need to buy it.

Then it occurred to me that such a thing would be just the ticket for a new take on that stained glass cookie that's made with a basic cut-out recipe and crushed candy that melts into the open spaces. Voila! Peppermint Snowflakes!

Stained-Glass Snowflake

I've made these chocolate, because I really like the combination of chocolate and peppermint, but you could certainly skip the cocoa powder, use 1/2 cup more flour and make vanilla snowflakes.

Crushed Candy Canes and Chocolate Snowflakes

You can use candy canes, as I did, but I think they'd look pretty cool with those clear blue peppermint candies as well.
Peppermint Snowflakes (Makes about 4 dozen)
1 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Candy canes or peppermints
1 snowflake cookie cutter set

1. Heat oven to 350° F.
2. In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter together. Add the egg and the vanilla extract.
3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and the cocoa powder.
4. Blend the flour mixture into the butter mixture.
5. Flatten the dough into a disc or a square, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.
6. Divide the dough, leave one portion in the refrigerator, and roll out the other portion between 1/4" and 1/8" thick on a floured surface.
7. Cut out large snowflakes, creating triangle-shaped openings in each. Move the snowflakes to the baking sheets.
8. Place hard candy or candy canes in a plastic bag, and pulverize the candy into tiny pieces/dust with the base of a jar or a meat mallet.
9. Fill the openings in the cookies with candy shards/dust. Stuff as much as you can into each opening. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes or until the cookie sets up and the candy is melted and bubbly.
10. Cool cookies for 3 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire rack to cool fully.

Though you may be inspired to set these up in the windowsill and admire the stained-glass effect, the candy will melt with moisture of condensation. And since they're really tasty, that's a darn shame. Thus, I must insist you admire them only briefly before munching with a tall, cold glass of milk.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.19.2008

Day 18: Warm Gingerbread w/ Bourbon Custard Cream

This post marks Day 18 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

I really wanted to make a Warm Gingerbread Bread Pudding, which seemed like it'd be a decadent holiday dessert for the snowy, blustery days leading up to Christmas.

But in order to make a bread pudding, one really needs stale bread. And honestly, who has a bunch of gingerbread laying around getting stale? So I gave up that idea for quicker, more simple — but still truly tasty — Warm Gingerbread with Bourbon Custard Cream.

Gingerbread with Bourbon Custard Cream

I like the method Alice Medrich uses for gingerbread in her delicious book, Chocolate Holidays.

It's quick, spicy and makes the kitchen smell like a homecoming hug. I've modified hers a bit for our evil purposes here. (Bwah-haha!)
Quick & Tasty Gingerbread (Makes one 9" square or round cake)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup honey
1 egg
1/3 cup fresh ginger, peeled and grated
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9" round or square pan (or line it with parchment)
2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and ginger.
3. In another mixing bowl, blend the brown sugar, molasses and honey, then whisk in the egg and ginger.
4. Heat the butter and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan until the butter melts.
5. Whisk the butter mixture into the brown sugar mixture. Add the dry mix and stir until smooth.
6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes.
7. Cool the cake on a rack about 20 minutes before loosening the edges of the cake with a butter knife and turning it out onto a plate.

This custard sauce is essentially just a modified Crème Anglaise, one of those classic patissier sauces that make people go mad with delight.
Bourbon Custard Cream (Makes about 1 cup)
1 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (optional)
1 Tbsp bourbon

1. In a saucepan set over moderate heat, combine the milk and vanilla and cook about 5 minutes — just until small bubbles begin to appear.
2. Meanwhile, whisk the sugar, egg yolks and nutmeg (if using) until blended.
3. Pour about half of the hot milk into the egg mixture in a thin stream, blending well as you pour.
4. Mix the hot egg mixture into the remaining milk in saucepan, stirring and cooking until the sauce thickens (about 4 to 5 minutes).
5. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the bourbon. Serve immediately atop the warm gingerbread or refrigerate until needed. It'll keep in an airtight container for a few days in the fridge.

To serve, cut the warm gingerbread into wedges and top with a dollop of the Bourbon Custard Cream. Maybe anoint the whole thing with a dusting of cinnamon if you're feeling fancy.

And if you somehow find that your guests remain unmoved by all that wonder and delight, I have to conclude they're jaded souls who simply won't be wooed.

Enjoy your slice of warm gingerbread and thank your lucky stars that you have light in your heart and custard cream on your lips.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.18.2008

Day 17: Sweet-Hot Candied Nuts

This post marks Day 17 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

I've been trying not to fixate on financial news, but I recently read a prediction that if bad news keeps rolling in, people may want to want to burrow into their homes and watch movies on the couch. They think the pricetag on going out might be a bit too dear for a tough year.

If that's true, and we're all turning down the thermostats and stuffing ourselves into our living rooms, I hope we've all got good company and tasty snacks as we watch our Netflix or pay-per-views or whatever we happen to be watching.

Sweet-Hot Nuts

I may not be able to assist with the good company part of that equation, but I have a suggestion for tasty snacks I'd like to offer up: my Sweet-Hot Candied Nuts.

Joke if you must — I'll just be over here munching nuts while I conduct my annual viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Sweet-Hot Candied Nuts (Makes 2 cups)
1 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp molasses
1 Tbsp finely grated orange zest
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups mixed nuts

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment or aluminum foil.
2. Stir together butter, sugar, molasses, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt in a roomy, heavy-bottomed saucepan.
3. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat.
4. Add nuts and cook 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.
5. Spread the coated nuts across the prepared baking sheet, breaking up any clumps with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula.
6. Bake, (stirring nuts once halfway through) 12 to 15 minutes or until golden and bubbling.
7. Move the baking sheet to a wire rack to cool, then serve or store in an airtight container for about a week.

With the price of nuts, this snack may not be as cheap as popcorn, but if you're skipping the ticket price of various entertainments to stay home, this little luxury is a relative bargain... not to mention a thoughtful treat for visiting friends.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.17.2008

$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 16: Almond & Olive Oil Cake

This post marks Day 16 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Compared to cookies or layered bars, or — heaven forbid — strudle, a basic cake is such a simple, lovely treat. Just a few steps. Just a little time in the oven. Just a few ingredients.

Cake is essentially just flour, butter, sugar and eggs, right? Well, as I discovered on last summer's foray to Rome, sometimes cake is flour, olive oil, sugar and eggs.

Almond & Olive Oil Cake

Today's recipe is a sunny, elegant Italian-style cake that's just the thing for cawfee tawk or teatime... but it comes together so quickly, I'd even serve it warm out of the oven as a special breakfast or brunch for holiday guests. It's so delicious, this may just be my new favorite cake.
Almond & Olive Oil Cake (Makes One 9" Cake)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 Tbsp finely grated lemon, orange or tangerine zest
1 tsp almond extract
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup olive oil
2/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted (optional, for garnish)
Powdered sugar (optional, for garnish)

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and oil an 9" round or square cake pan.
2. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
3. In a separate bowl, mix the sugar and eggs until fluffy. Add the orange zest, vanilla, milk and olive oil.
4. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
5. Set pan on a wire rack to cool 20 minutes before turning the cake out onto the rack to cool completely. Top with toasted, sliced almonds and powdered sugar, if desired.
The first time I met an olive oil cake, it was a simple citrus-olive combination; absolutely delightful, but I think the emphasis on almonds makes it even more elegant.

That said, I'm nut crazy, so if for some reason you're not quite so wild about almonds, it's a simple thing to leave them off the top and substitute an orange liqueur (like Grand Marnier) or swap vanilla extract for the almond extract.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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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 13: A Homespun Holiday

This post marks Day 13 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

I got my holiday tree this week, and I realized it's one of those annual purchases that never creates buyers' regret for me. The pine scent, the warm glow of the lights and the homey little ornaments all add up to great joy for the few weeks it comes to visit.

Digging through the holiday box, it also struck me that the oldest and most humble ornaments are the best ones in the bunch. No doubt Hallmark makes spiffy things, but they never kindle the sweet sentimentality of the little homespun items.

Thus, today is dedicated to nifty homemade holiday decorations — the ideal combination of thrift and flair.

On a trip to the South Dakota State Capitol building (where they host tons of lovely trees every year), I snapped up five great ideas for what you and fam or friends can make with a few popsicle sticks, some glue, a bit of paint, crafting felt, raffia and other stuff you might have around the house.

Marshmallow Snowman
1. Marshmallow Snowman

Wood Spoon Cat
2. Wood Spoon Cat

Golden Walnut
3. Fishing Lures and Gold-Painted Walnuts

Dried Apple & Raffia Garland
4. Dried Apple & Raffia Garland (+ bonus Popsicle Stick Snowflake in the Corner)

Popsicle Stick Santa
5. Popsicle Stick Santa

All these things are cheap (and fun) to make and give... and maybe that's just what's needed in a year when a bunch of us have more time than money.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.13.2008

Day 12: Cookie o' the Week... Citrus Pignoli

This post marks Day 12 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Welcome to the second Cookie o' the Week! Last week we sampled a Dutch delight, and this week, we're moving south.

As a wee little thing, I sold (and ate) many, many boxes of Girl Scout cookies. They seemed mighty fine at the time (especially the Thin Mints nibbled straight out of the freezer), but that was before I discovered Pignoli Cookies, an Italian confection made up of little more than pine nuts, sugar and almond paste.

Pignoli Cookies

So chewy in the center, so crisp at the edges! Rich and nutty, perfect with a cup of tea... they're divine. Definitely one of my top-five cookies, and that's saying a lot. I really love cookies.

But between the price of pine nuts being what it is (scary) and the relative scarcity of almond paste in the stores where I usually shop, I don't make them often.

That's why I think the holidays are the ideal occasion to seek out the necessaries and bake a batch of these decadent, elegant treats.

Be warned... although you may want to hog them for yourself, they're a bit too rich to eat on your own. So dial up a friend or two, or package them with a pretty bow to give away. They're great host gifts (as long as your host doesn't have a nut allergy).

This year, I deviated a bit from my classic recipe adding lemon zest, which I think makes them even more lovely and citrus-season appropriate.
Citrus Pignoli Cookies (Makes about 3 dozen)

1 cup powdered sugar
8 oz almond paste
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp grated lemon zest
2 egg whites
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups pine nuts

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a mixing bowl, blend powdered sugar, almond paste, vanilla and lemon zest before mixing in the egg whites.
3. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder, blending the dry mix into the egg mixture. Blend just until the dough comes together.
4. Chill the dough for 30 to 40 minutes for easier handling. (It's a sticky dough.)
5. Roll dough into 3/4-inch balls and then roll each dough ball in a shallow dish filled with the remaining pine nuts. Press the nuts into the surface of the cookies.
6. Place the balls about two inches apart on baking sheets, and bake until the cookies begin to turn golden at the edges — about 12 to 15 minutes.
7. Transfer the parchment with the hot cookies to a wire rack to cool completely before peeling the cookies off the paper.

You can sometimes find pine nuts for a bit cheaper in the big-big stores (Costco, Sam's Club, etc.), and sometimes they're sold in bulk at food co-ops or specialty shops.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.12.2008

Day 11: Herein We Go a Wassail-ing

This post marks Day 11 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

When I lived in Minneapolis, one of my friends organized annual holiday caroling. It was probably my favorite thing about the whole holiday season.

We spent far more time "practicing" than caroling (you can accurately insert "goofing around" for the quoted material above), but it was good fun for all. We stuck to the classics, and Here We Go a-Wassailing was always on the list. (It's SO much easier to sing than O Holy Night...)

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wandering
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.

We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door,
But we are neighbors' children
Whom you have seen before
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.


Wassail with an Orange Slice

Had we known at the time that wassailing really referred to the same sort of drunken revelry in which we were partaking, it might have made that ancient song all the more charming and relevant.

Indeed, the reason our ancestors sang with love and joy about wassailing was really all about the warmth of companionship... and the love of the drink.

The cider those folks were sipping back then was the hard stuff. (You'll find some nice wassailing history here.)

The trusty wikipedia entry will tell you that for a traditional wassail pot: "Sugar, ale, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon would be placed in a bowl, heated, and topped with slices of toast as sops."

My recipe appears below and yes, I skip the toast. But as with many traditional recipes, folks back then pretty much used what they had on hand, and so, dear reader, can you!

Just make sure that apples make some kind of an appearance (as cider or cooked as fruit). Apples are crucial, but you can also use an ale, wine or sherry as the base along with your favorite mulling spices. For a virgin wassail, skip the booze and do it up more like a spicy mulled apple cider.
Holiday Wassail Pot (Serves 6-8)
4 apples, peeled and cored
4 tbsp brown sugar
1 bottle dry sherry or dry Madeira
3 cinnamon sticks
3-4 allspice berries
4 whole cloves
2 cardamom pods (or 1/2 tsp ground cardamom)
1 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
Zest from 1/2 lemon
1 cup Calvados or brandy

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Place the apples in a baking dish and stuff each with a tablespoon of brown sugar. Add a little water to the bottom of the pan to prevent burning (about 1/4 inch), and bake for 30 minutes.
2. Pour the sherry or Madiera in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Add the cinnamon sticks, allspice berries, cloves, cardamom, ginger, brown sugar and lemon zest. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer over low heat.
3. When apples are done baking, add the apples and pan liquid to the wassail pot. Add the Calvados/brandy and heat for another 20 minutes.
4. Strain out the spice and ladle into mugs to serve.

As you can see, there's enough alcohol in this recipe to ensure a very merry caroling party indeed! I beg you to wassail responsibly, and don't let your soprano pass out in a snow drift.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.11.2008

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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12.10.2008

Day 9: What Would Jesus Eat?

This post marks Day 9 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

I find it really interesting that the Christmas season is supposed to be about the birth of Christ, and yet modern-era Christmas celebrations don't feature anything that calls to mind the early Christian-era foods... that is, the foods of the Middle East.

Rather than eating something like pita with hummus and baba ganoush or a Moroccan Stew or Spiced Ground Lamb, we feast on roasted turkey or baked hams for the holidays.

Nutted Halvah

To remedy this obvious oversight in our holiday celebrations, today's advent calendar features an ancient recipe.

Halvah, an earthy-sweet sesame treat, has been common in the Middle East through time immemorial, so I feel confident that Jesus himself must have encountered it at some point during his journeys.

In my own childhood, I knew only the marbled sesame halvah that my dad liked so much, but a little research revealed that people make halvah with a wide variety of nuts, fruits, roots and grains.

The buttery Indian pudding known as sooji ka halwa is a common halvah variation. In fact, halwa in Arabic simply indicates a sweet of some kind. Fascinating!

I've seen recipes that include flour, which sounds pretty unappealing. I decided to go with a simple multi-nut halvah recipe made with milk and honey (synonymous with ancient luxury) for maximum holiday decadence.

Depending on your preferences, you could surely substitute other nuts or skip them altogether.

I'm also using a little vanilla here, but if you want to go crazy with authenticity, just omit it.
Pistachio-Almond Halvah (Makes a 9" x 3" slab)
1 cup sesame paste (tahini)
1/3 cup honey
1/2 Tbsp vanilla (optional)
1 1/4 cups powdered milk
1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped

1. Combine the tahini, honey, vanilla and powdered milk until well blended. The mixture should be very dry.
2. Fold in the almonds and pistachios.
3. Pack the mixture very firmly into an 9" by 3" cake pan, or a pan of similar size.
4. Use knife to loosen the edges of the halvah, and turn the slab onto a tray or platter. Refrigerate until firm (at least 2 hours) before cutting into thin slices to serve.

Jesus probably would've had wine mixed with water or maybe an infusion of herbs alongside his halvah, but thanks to the wonders of global trade, we can enjoy ours with coffee or tea.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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12.09.2008

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

Day 7: Superb English Tea Scones

This post marks Day 7 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Somehow, we Americans tend to fixate on the Victorian era, particularly in London, as the point on the time-space continuum for maximum holiday revelry. I think we can blame Dickens for this.

These days, we don't travel in open sleighs, we don't open the shutters and throw up the sash to spy St. Nick on the lawn, and you won't catch us wearing furry beaver muffs or lighting lanterns around our homes unless it's for reasons of historical romance, but these visions all somehow seem holiday-appropriate to us.


Ice skating at 72nd Street Lake, Central Park, 1894, (from NYC Parks & Rec)

I won't argue with this oddity, but I'll offer that even though the classic English Tea Scone is not in any way fixed on the holidays, it certainly seems to be an appropriately festive addition to the landscape.
Superb English Tea Scones (Makes 10-12)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp butter
1/3 cup currants (optional)
1 large egg
1/3 cup milk or cream
Additional milk or cream (for brushing)
Sugar (for sprinkling)

1. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
2. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or a long-tined fork until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
3. Whisk together the egg and half & half.
4. Mix the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients just until they hold together. Form a ball with your hands and turn the ball onto a floured work surface.
5. Heat oven to 400°F and lightly roll the dough into a 1/2" thick disc.
6. Cut disc into 10-12 wedges, and move the wedges to an ungreased baking sheet, 1" to 2" apart.
7. Brush each wedge with milk or half & half, then sprinkle with sugar. Bake until lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes.

Serve the warm scones alongside your favorite preserves and Devonshire cream, if you can get it. (If not, you can fake up a faux Devonshire cream by whipping 3 oz cream cheese, 1 tsp powdered sugar and 1 cup cream until thick and smooth. Cover and chill at least 2 hours.)

You'll want to gather some friends, iron your grandmother's linens and brew up a nice hot pot of tea to serve with your scones, of course. Coffee just seems... improper.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.07.2008

Day 6: Holiday Party Taquitos

This post marks Day 6 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

There's nothing particularly holiday-centric about these little tacos other than the fact that they're red, green and festive. But color counts for a lot, and these are just so good, I can't hold back on sharing them.

We had them for dinner recently (and definitely will again) but I think they'd be fantastic as party eats, since it's easy to make fillings in volume ahead of time and let people go crazy making their own bites while you socialize.

Green Caper Salsa

The secret is in the sauce. Sure, you can go buy something in a jar, but it's never going to taste as fresh and vibrant as what you make a'la minute.

So let's get to the sauce first. I discovered a version of this sauce in Steven Raichlen's Barbecue Bible. (He called it a French West Indian Caper Sauce and used it with grilled snapper.)

I changed a few things, tried it with fish tacos and was immediately hooked.

It's a beautiful shade of green and has a zippy, lightly briny flavor reminiscent of Veracruz-style coastal cuisine. Easy to make. Also good with chicken, beef or pork... It's a keeper for sure.
Caribbean Caper Sauce for Taquitos(Makes about 1 cup)
1 clove garlic
1 shallot or small red onion, halved
1/4 cup fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
2 Tbsp drained capers
1 jalapeño pepper, halved and seeded
1 to 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/3 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1. Put garlic, shallot/onion, parsley, capers, jalapeño, lime juice, vinegar and olive oil in a blender and purée smooth.
2. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

I'd also recommend a red salsa to keep the red and green theme going. You could make one with fresh-chopped tomatoes if you have good ones, but since tomatoes tend to be less wonderful in the winter, I have a recipe for roasted red peppers.

Roast the peppers yourself or buy 'em in a jar... This recipe works either way.
Roasted Red Pepper Salsa (Makes about 1 cup)
1 clove garlic
1 shallot or small red onion, halved
1/4 cup fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
3 roasted red peppers, drained if necessary
2 Tbsp drained capers
1/2 jalapeño pepper, halved and seeded
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1. Put garlic, shallot/onion, parsley, capers, jalapeño, lime juice and red peppers in a blender or food processor and pulse to achieve the texture you desire.
2. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Once you pour these lovely salsas in bowls, all you have to do is set out a bowl of shredded cabbage, maybe some sliced limes and cherry tomatoes, a packet of small-size tortillas (heated, of course), a bowl of sour cream and a protein of some kind... maybe some shredded chicken, pork, beef or beans, or a plate of grilled fish.

Voila!... Holiday-ready taquitos!

Feliz navidades, mis amigos!
Miss Ginsu

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12.06.2008

Day 5: Cookie o' the Week... Pfeffernusse

This post marks Day 5 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

For me, the holidays are all about cookies. I'm not sure why this is... perhaps it's not such a bad thing to keep the oven on for a while on these chilly December days? Maybe it's because cookies are convivial and easy to share? Maybe they transport well in one-horse open sleighs?

You've got me. Whatever the reason, I like 'em, and the advent calendar this year will feature a cookie of the week. So pay attention: this is the first of your weekly cookie treats.

Pfeffernusse

Pfeffernüsse (literally: Pepper Nuts) are little Dutch spice biscuits baked for Sinterklaas, which is the feast of St. Nicholas — traditionally celebrated today. (That's if you're in the Netherlands. Belgians do it the morning of December 6.)

The whole Santa thing is a very different tradition there. Presents arrive with scraps of poetry, and the guy who's coming down the chimney isn't St. Nick but Black Pete (Zwarte Piet), Santa's sooty bad-cop companion. And honestly, you really don't want Zwarte Piet leaving anything for you. He's there for the kids.

But back to the sweets... I hadn't made these cookies before this year, but I'm just crazy for warm, gingery spices in wintertime sweets, so they looked perfect.

The first time I made them, they were too cake-y and I discovered they could really be nuttier (after all, something called a "pepper nut" should be nutty, no?) so I've doubled the nuts, removed an egg and increased the butter.

Pfeffernüsse (Makes 4 Dozen)
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
2 cups brown sugar
1 Tbsp orange or lemon zest
1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped very fine
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cloves
2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Powdered sugar (for dusting)

1. Blend sugar and butter together in large mixing bowl until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs and blend in the nuts.
2. Sift flour with the salt, baking soda, ground pepper, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.
3. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Cover and chill at least two hours.
4. Heat oven to 375°F. Scoop out dough by the teaspoonful and form 1" balls.
5. Place the dough balls an inch apart on ungreased baking sheets, and bake 10 to 12 minutes.
6. When done, move the cookies to wire racks to cool, sprinkling the cookies with powdered sugar while they're still warm.

Pfeffernüsse have some bite, so I find they're a really lovely treat with a hot mug of tea on a wintery day. As it looks like we might be in for a cold winter, these little guys might come in handy.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.05.2008

Day 4: Holiday Glühwein

This post marks Day 4 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Ever open up a bottle of wine and then wish you hadn't bought it? It's not corked or anything. It's just... not your thing.

The Germans have a thrifty and practical solution for this in the form of glühwein, which you might also know as Norwegian glögg or simply mulled wine.

In fact, most wine-drinking cultures have some kind of mulled wine tradition, so I don't wonder whether this recipe started with the need to do something with unsatisfactory vino.

Gluhwein

If you don't have an unappealing bottle of wine to use up, you can simply use an inexpensive one. You'll be adding sweetener and so many other flavors, you shouldn't really notice the wine's flaws.

Though red wine is usually used, it's not out of line to spice white wine in the same way.

There's as many recipes as families, I'd imagine, but I like the following variation.
Holiday Glühwein (Serves 4-6)
1 cup water
2 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp grated lemon or orange peel
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
4 allspice berries
1 vanilla bean, split (optional)
1 750ml bottle red wine
Lemon or orange juice (optional, to taste)

1. Bring the water, honey, citrus zest, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and vanilla (if using) to a boil in a saucepan.
2. Turn off the heat and let the mixture steep 30 minutes, before straining out the spices. Pour the bottle of wine into the spiced liquid and heat to a boil.
3. Reduce heat, adjust flavor with a little lemon or orange juice and a little extra honey (to taste). Serve hot in mugs.

In Nordic countries the local glögg is drunk during the Christmas season with sweets such as gingerbread that are served with blue cheese.

Num! I may very well try the same some bone-chilling afternoon this month.

A holiday toast to you and yours!
Miss Ginsu

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12.04.2008

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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12.03.2008

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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12.02.2008

Day 1: Welcome Cocoa

This post marks Day 1 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

One of the things I enjoy most about winter is that feeling of warmth and comfort that comes after being outdoors in the dank chill.

There's nothing like skating, or sledding or shoveling the walk (or simply bearing up to the driving the winter wind), and then finding yourself indoors — safe and cozy.

It's the "fresh, dry socks and a cup of hot cocoa" feeling.

Hot Chocolate

Maybe you can't always offer up a pair of dry socks to wayward travelers, but it's nice to be able to welcome winter visitors (or maybe just yourself) with a quick cup of homemade cocoa.

Make some of your own mix now, and you'll be ready for those moments of cocoa comfort.

The mix makes a nice gift as well. Just put it in a jar and add a ribbon with a cute tag with the basic how-to.
Hot Cocoa Mix (Makes 8 servings)
3/4 cup good quality cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt

1. In a mixing bowl, blend cocoa powder, sugar, cinnamon and salt.
2. Store mixture in a lidded jar or another airtight container.

To prepare the hot cocoa:

1. Whisk together 2 1/2 tablespoons of cocoa mix (for each serving) with 1/4 cup hot water (for each serving) until smooth and blended.
2. Blend in 3/4 cup whole milk (for each serving) heat the cocoa until it steams.
3. Serve hot one-cup portions in mugs.

For an extra-nice cuppa, I like to add in a 1/4 tsp (for each serving) of vanilla extract and maybe a dollop of cream, whipped cream or marshmallows, but all that's just lovely excess...

This mix is also delightful served with a cinnamon stick, a peppermint stick or a shot of peppermint schnapps, as you like it.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.01.2008

Coming Soon... The 2008 Advent Calendar

Cupcake, Miss G and the Calendar

Last year, Cupcake and I posted a daily blogging advent calendar in memory of Leslie Harpold, who used to post the most awesome internet advent calendars each year.

Ours wasn't even remotely near Leslie's realm of awesomeness, but we had fun with it, so we're going to do a repeat performance this year.

Watch this space, friends: as of next Monday, we'll begin to unveil another 24 Days of Delight.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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11.25.2008

FoodLink Roundup: 11.24.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was located inside the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Crunch these numbers before munching on turkey
Rusty on your arithmetic? Brush up on basic calculations for the holiday.

Wylie, Eggs, Chihuahuas
Studio 360 is all about food arts and sciences this week. Worth a listen.

Bagels (girda nan) a hot commodity in China too
On the ancient bagel-like girda nan and the quiet invasion of Jewish-style bagels in China.

Kitchen Essentials: 10 versatile pantry items
Not your grandma's list of staples. Ten ingredients for the intermediate to advanced home cook.

Jerusalem artichokes with manouri and basil oil
You kind of can't go wrong with roasted veg and some tasty fats...

New food links — and another postcard from Cupcake — every Monday morning on missginsu.com

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11.24.2008

Food Quote Friday: Linus Van Pelt

Pumpkin Patch at the Brooklyn Farm

"I've learned there are three things you don't discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin."

Linus Van Pelt (Charles M. Schultz) from "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown"

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10.31.2008

A Day for Goooools and Globins

I'd intended on making chocolate skulls with white chocolate and dark chocolate detailing. They were going to be So. Very. Cool.

Unfortunately, the white chocolate refused to come out of the plastic skull molds looking like little chocolate skulls. Instead, it looked like globby white chocolate messes.

I needed a Plan B. Stat.

White Chocolate Globins
Woooooooooooo-oooooooo!

Thanks to some handy pepitas, shredded coconut and chow mein noodles, Plan B was hatched... and out came these cute little globins. My roomie called 'em that.

I was thinking they should perhaps be called goooools, but they're just so globby and cute. She's right. Globins it is.

As you'll see in the photo below, these guys were perfectly happy to see and be seen at our lunchtime Halloween potluck at work this week.

We feasted on chocolate chip cookies, a delicious pumpkin bread, candied apples, coffee-braised beef ribs with spiced pumpkin, an addictive pumpkin dip with homemade tortilla chips and bottles of Orangina. You'll also see that Travis brought the burbling dry ice as his contribution in the back there.

Halloween Picnic

Clearly, as a fall-back plan, these little fellows were supremely easy to make. The white chocolate becomes both the molding material and the glaze on the outside, so I think you could make them with close to anything munch-able you happen to have around the house.

No pepitas? Use some other nut or seed. No chow mein noodles? Substitute something else for the arms. Maybe black liquorice ropes. Easy. I think they'd be great with just granola in them.

Globins (Makes about 14 globins)
12 oz (1 bag) white chocolate chips
2 Tbsp milk + 1 Tbsp milk
1 cup pepitas (or some other seed or chopped nut)
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chow mein noodles + a few extras for arms
A small handful of dried currants or black sesame seeds (for eyes)

1. Over low heat in a saucepan, melt 3/4 of the bag of white chocolate with 2 Tbsp milk. Stir constantly.
2. Combine the nuts, coconut and chow mein noodles in a bowl.
3. Pour the melted white chocolate over the nut-noodle mixture. Blend well and place in the freezer to chill for about 20 minutes.
4. Line a baking sheet or cake pan with parchment paper.
5. When the mixture is cool, but still pliable, remove from the freezer and form 1 Tbsp portions into tall mounds.
6. Melt the remaining 1 Tbsp milk with the remaining white chocolate chips. This will become your glaze.
7. Carefully roll one the globin mounds in the glaze to coat. (You may want to use latex gloves for this task.) Stand the globin up on the parchment.
8. Push two currents or sesame seeds into the top of the globin for eyes and push chow mein noodles into both of its sides for arms (see photo, above). Repeat this glazing and decorating step with all the little naked globin mounds.
9. Allow your globins to cool on the parchment paper for a few hours or overnight. They're alive! Aliiiiive!

As party guests, I must say... the globins were perfect gentlemen and they were very popular with all the other guests. They mingle well and they're just so charming, they end up drawing a lot of attention. I'd certainly invite these little chaps along to another party.

All of which goes to show that sometimes Plan B is even better than Plan A. So that's my lesson of the day. Be open to Plan B, or whatever Plan B turns out to be.

Wishing you a spooooooky Halloween!
Miss Ginsu

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10.30.2008

Seis de Mayo: Brownie Tamales

So, Seis de Mayo. You might be thinking: Why not Cinco de Mayo? It's a perfectly reasonable question. As it turns out, Cuatro de Mayo was unreasonably busy for my coworkers and I, but we still really wanted an excuse to cook and eat a Mexican-themed potluck.

As far as potluck themes go, you really can't go wrong with Cinco de Mayo. I mean, c'mon... it's got the tasty built right in. Mexican and Tex-Mex foods are some of the most popular dishes in the nation. Salsa has surpassed ketchup as our national condiment of choice (judged via per-capita consumption). And nearly every American city now features excellent Mexican and Central American specialty foods.

Here in NYC, it's a cinch to walk into the Essex Street Market and pick up a stack of soft corn tortillas for practically nothing. Corn husks for making tamales are just a couple of dollars for a hearty fistful. There's baffling varieties of dried chilies. There's exotic sauce brands. The papayas, fresh tomatillos and cactus paddles await your salad-making pleasure.

Cheese quesadillas done up on the George Foreman grill seemed like a quick-and-easy winner for our slightly belated department holiday picnic this week, but I also wanted to try out something a little more ambitious.

Tamale in the Steamer

I found a delicious-sounding candidate in Rosa's New Mexican Table by Chef Roberto Santibañez, formerly of NYC's Rosa Mexicano restaurant... Brownie Tamales.

Having been burned by an unfortunate barbecue sauce recipe over the weekend, I was a little recipe-shy, but this one was actually created by Nick Malgieri, the many-times-published pastry chef who created the curriculum at my cooking school. Since I love Santibañez's instincts and I've had great success with all of Malgieri's recipes, I figured I couldn't lose.

Steam Bath Full of Tamales

I've doubled the recipe and made a few tweaks — I just can't leave anything alone — but it's pretty close to the original. You might want to plan for a little loss. I had a couple of blowouts. The failed tamales were still edible... just not very pretty.

Speaking of which, I highly recommend a sauce or ice cream to serve with these. They're quite tasty, but they're sort of homely on their own. Cinnamon ice cream would make an outstanding addition.
Brownie Tamales (Makes 12-14)
6 6-inch corn tortillas
3/4 cup butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
13 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
8 large eggs, at room temperature
2 2/3 cups ground pecans (8 oz)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
12 large dried corn husks, soaked (7" across the bottom by 7" long)

1. Tear each tortilla into small pieces and grind them in a food processor (you may have to do this in batches). The texture should resemble coarse cornmeal. Set aside.
2. Beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add in the melted chocolate.
3. Beat in four eggs, then blend in half the pecans and half the ground tortillas.
4. Add the remaining eggs, followed by the rest of the pecans, tortillas, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange zest. Fold in the chocolate chips.
5. Drain the corn husks. While they're still damp, flatten out a husk on the surface before you and stuff with 1/2 cup of the brownie filling in the center of the husk. Fold the sides over the filling. I find it helpful to gather up the bottoms and tie them with a few inches of twine. (The top end will remain open. Just fold it over.) Repeat to form 12 tamales.
6. Place two or three dimes in the bottom of a large pot (while it boils, they'll jingle, letting you know there's still water in the pot) fitted with a steamer basket and water that meets the basket's base, but doesn't rise above it.
7. Stand the filled husks (open-end up) in the basket, keeping them upright, but not cramped.
8. Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to keep the water simmering gently. Steam the tamales this way for about 30 minutes, carefully adding more water if the level runs low.
9. After 30 minutes, carefully remove a tamale, unwrap it and cut into it. It should be moist and semi-firm. If the tamale is still overly soft, return it to the basket and steam a bit more. If it's done, turn off the heat and let the tamales stand for 5 minutes.
10. Serve hot in opened husks with a scoop of ice cream, caramel sauce or whipped cream.

Salud!

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5.06.2008

The Eastover Potluck

It was too cold, too drizzly and too long since our last convivial food gathering. We needed another office potluck to bring cheer to our cubicles. But what's the food holiday that falls between Easter and Passover?

Well, Eastover, of course. An opportunity to use up some of that leftover ham. A time to clean out the excess Peeps. An excuse to munch matzo. The Eastover Potluck!

Peeps go for a Dip

Since Easter is such a ham-heavy holiday and Passover is, well... not, there was some definite sacrilege going down at our potluck table. But we're a spiritually apathetic bunch of Jews, Christians and Agnostics, so it was all in good fun.

Ryn made latkes (not that those really work for Passover, but hey... everybody loves a latke) with the requisite apple sauce and sour cream, Kate brought rugelach and hamantashen and Mike scored hummus and pita. Tomi made spring-y little cucumber tea sandwiches. Marc inexplicably brought bottles of Orangina and Anna Bollocks ponied up the Girl Scout Cookies.

The best in show prize for dramatic presentation went to Suzy Hotrod's Platter o' Peeps Fondue. (Because nothing compares to a Peep dipped in chocolate...) I'd share the recipe, but it doesn't really require one. Just follow along with the photo below: assorted Peeps and whole strawberries displayed on a platter with a side of thick chocolate sauce for dipping.

Peeps Fondue

For my part, I dedicated my potluck offering to bringing peace between vegetarians and the meatheads. Thus: egg matzo with two spreads: one, a zippy deviled ham; the other, a spicy roasted carrot dip based loosely on a recipe I found in Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon.

The deviled ham spread is a bit ugly, so I really recommend some garnish to make it look tasty, but once people give it a try, it's always wildly popular. The carrot spread scored many fans as well, and it would actually make a welcome dip at Passover (even the reverent tables), since it requires no grain, dairy or meat products.

Spicy Roasted Carrot Spread on Egg Matzo


Dip 1: Spicy Roasted Carrot Spread (Makes about 2 cups)
1 5-6 medium carrots, peeled and trimmed
1 large red onion, quartered
1 head garlic, unpeeled, cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons hot paprika (or a combination of sweet paprika and cayenne pepper)
2 Tablespoons orange juice or tomato juice (or water)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Chopped parsley, to garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 375° F.
2. Place the carrots, onion pieces and garlic in a baking dish. Toss the vegetables with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Arrange the onions with the cut side down.
3. Bake until the carrots are soft and browned, about 45 minutes. Let cool.
4. Remove any papery skin layers from the onion. Place the carrots and onion in the food processor or blender. Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins. Add pour in the last tablespoon of oil, cumin, coriander and paprika.
5. Pulse, adding the juice a little at a time to help make a smooth blend.
6. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill. The flavor will improve overnight. Serve cool or at room temperature, garnished, if desired, alongside crackers, crudités, pita or matzo.

Dip 2: Deviled Ham Spread (Makes about 1 3/4 cups)
1 1/2 cups cooked, diced ham
1 egg, hard-boiled
2-3 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp mango chutney
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped celery
Sweet paprika, for garnish
1 Tbsp sliced scallion or chopped parsley, for garnish

1. Pulse ham, egg, mustard, chutney, mayonnaise and cayenne pepper in blender or food processor until smooth.
2. Transfer to a bowl and stir in celery. Season to taste with more cayenne, if desired.
3. Sprinkle spread with paprika and greenery, if desired. Serve with toast points, pita wedges, crackers... or matzo, if you're nasty.

Cheers, ya'll!

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4.08.2008

April Fish!

I love-love-love the tale behind the poisson d'avril, aka the April fish. And to think! I went my whole life not knowing this slippery story until last year when J filled me in, bless him!

If you already know, just skip ahead to the recipe. If not, allow me to unwind this kinky yarn:

Waaay back in the day, Charles IX decreed that January 1 would officially be the new New Year's Day in France. Now, personally, I resent that decision because the holidays get so bunched up in late December that I'm never ready for another one on January 1. It just seems overcrowded. I've had more than enough hors d'oeuvres and cocktails by the end of Christmas, thank you very much.

It seems the good people of 1564 felt similarly. They'd been whooping it up on April 1 for pretty much... forever (doesn't late winter / early spring seem a perfectly reasonable time of year to whoop it up?), and they were none too thrilled with stupid old Charlie IX.

Plenty of other people didn't hear about the change of dates at all. Boy howdy! Didn't they look stupid kicking up their crazy yellow tights and crimson doublets, clowning around and celebrating the new year on April 1st when everyone else was calmly calculating the results of their first fiscal quarter.

It became a common prank in France to attempt to sneak a dead fish into the clothing of one's friends. (A dangerous liaison, indeed!) Sticking a paper fish to friends and loved ones has become the more modern (and far less stanky) version of this bizarre ritual.

Trout Duxelles

While I may try to sneak a paper fish or two onto some of my co-workers (not that they'd have any idea what I was on about...), I'd much prefer to receive my April fish in the form of dinner.

Thanks to a pair of whole, fresh rainbow trout, brussels sprouts, some herbs, a shallot and a handful of mushrooms, it's easy to whip up a schmantzy dinner in no time flat. (No foolin'!)

A duxelles (dook-SEHL) sounds challenging (that's French for you), but it's just sauteéed mushrooms and onions (or shallots) with a little thyme and some parsley. Divide the mixture between two cleaned and trimmed trout, rub on a little olive oil and roast. And that's about all there is to it.

Trout Duxelles with Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Trout Duxelles (Serves 2)

1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 large or 2 medium-sized shallots, sliced thin
1 lb button mushrooms, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbsp red wine or sherry
1/2 tsp thyme
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
2 rainbow trout, cleaned and trimmed
Olive oil (to coat the trout)

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat and add the shallots. Sauté until fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Add the mushrooms to the pan with a dash of salt and pepper. Stir frequently to avoid uneven cooking.

4. After 15 minutes or so, the mushrooms should have shrunken considerably and should be apt to stick to the pan a bit. Add the wine or sherry to the pan to deglaze. (Take this opportunity to work any stuck bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.)

5. Add herbs and simmer until the alcohol has reduced. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

6. Place trout on a baking sheet and rub exterior with a little olive oil.

7. Divide the duxelles and spoon into the body cavity of each trout. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until trout flesh is white and opaque. Serve with a good ale and a crisp salad, a nice rice pilaf or roasted vegetables.


Happy eating!

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4.01.2008

The St. Pat's Hangover Brunch

I'm a bit sad to report that St. Pat's day in New York creeps closer and closer into Halloween territory with each passing year.

This year I saw the now-ubiquitous Mardi Gras-style plastic beads joined by kelly green handlebar moustaches, flowing green nylon wigs, sparkling green eye shadow and green short-shorts. And that was just on my subway commute. I didn't dare hit the bars.

I don't mean to sound like a hater, but hosting a St. Pat's party these days almost seems like a dangerous invitation. "Come, friends! Bring your booze! Eat my green cupcakes! Vomit outlandish colors on my carpet!"

Irish Soda Bread
Kate's surprisingly moist Irish Soda Bread

But a clever coworker, the lovely Suzy Hotrod(TM) came up with an ingenious idea for our latest department potluck: The Post-Patrick's Day Hangover Brunch. No hangover, derby hat or green food coloring required.

The crew was inspired, and the ensuing feast was a delight, with not a drop of green food coloring in sight. It was truly a St. Patrick's day miracle surpassing all that snake harassment for which the old legends give him credit.

Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes
Suzy Hotrod's Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes

I contributed Irish Cheddar Mac & Cheese (with both veg-friendly and Berkshire Bacon variations), Suzy contributed Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting, Mike brought the home fries, Kate brought a moist and flavorful Irish soda bread, Marc brought Orangina (because everything's better with Orangina), Ryn made what may be the most tasty boiled brisket and cabbage dinner I've ever had and the mighty-mighty Anna Bollocks brought the totally tasty bangers (as well as Cadbury Chocolate Roses and Irish tea) from the 61st Street Deli in Woodside (3967 61st Street, Queens).

Honestly, the Mac & Cheese was so tasty and simple to make, I think it'd be a shame to reserve it for those few days fore and aft the ides of March. And clearly, you can use whatever cheddar you happen to have on hand.

Irish Cheddar Mac & Cheese
With bacon in the foreground, veggie-friendly in the back

Irish Cheddar Mac & Cheese (Makes three 8" x 8" pans)

1 16oz box macaroni elbows
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp dry ground mustard (or 3 Tbsp prepared mustard)
5 cups milk
1 tsp salt
Ground black pepper, to taste
1 1/4 lb Irish Cheddar, shredded
6-8 strips bacon, cooked, cooled and chopped (optional)
Sweet paprika (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375°F., and cook macaroni elbows in a large pot of salted, boiling water until tender (about 8-10 minutes). Drain in a colander, rinse with cold water and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat butter in a heavy-bottomed stockpot until it bubbles. Whisk in flour, mixing well.

3. Add mustard and salt to the mixture, then gradually whisk in the 5 cups of milk, working out any flour lumps that appear.

4. Cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens and burbles.

5. Remove sauce from heat and stir in half the shredded cheese.

6. Combine the sauce with the macaroni and distribute evenly in the pan or pans. (Don't overfill the pans... they need room to bubble a bit in the oven.)

7. If using, sprinkle bacon across the macaroni, then evenly top with the remaining cheese. Sprinkle on sweet paprika for a jaunty garnish.

8. At this point you can cover and refrigerate for baking later, or for immediate enjoyment, bake approximately 40 minutes (60 if it's been in the fridge) or until lightly browned and bubbly. Let rest 10-15 minutes before serving.

Sláinte!

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3.19.2008

A Potlucky New Year

I was always told that potlucks were named as such because you were lucky if everyone brought a pot of something to share.

Our department hosted a potluck to kick off the start of the Lunar New Year today, and I'm now wondering if the really lucky part of a potluck is actually less about having enough to eat and more about the discovery of new dishes.

The Golden Carp oversees our Lunar New Year potluck

Foodwise, we got pretty lucky. Ryn brought pork and sautéed pea shoots. Kate made a tasty cold peanut noodle salad, I brought dumplings and a candy-filled golden carp from Kam Man on Canal Street, Alvin brought custards and pork buns from an apparentmob-scene New Year crowd in the Flushing outlet of the Tai Pan Bakery. Kristin picked up some tasty green tea ice cream. And Tomi made a delightful tofu-ginger dish and a very tasty salad of chewy, crunchy, spicy burdock root... a veggie I'd never really used before.

We cranked up the traditional Chinese music for ambiance (thank you, internet!) and compared the various virtues of our signs in the Chinese Zodiac. Despite a dumpling mishap, a good time was had by all.

I think our potluck did, in fact, make us feel lucky. We were lucky to enjoy the company of our coworkers. We were lucky to have food before us. And I know I felt very lucky when Tomi said she'd share her burdock root salad recipe.

Gobi (Burdock Root) Salad

After lunch we got email from Ms. T:
I’ll try to approximate amounts as best I can... but this was always a ‘stand next to mom at the stove and watch’ kind of thing. I know she has a Japanese-American church bazaar cookbook with a recipe... and those amounts never seemed like enough to me.

I went online and found: In addition to its healing qualities, burdock is a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, folacin and fiber.

Having not had mama's salad or the church bazaar version, I can say we were all huge fans of Tomi's amped-up gobi salad.

And lucky for all involved, Ms. Tomi was kind enough to offer up not only her salad recipe, but also an accompanying poem from Ms. Shirley Kishiyama, her mum, which was published in American Tanka magazine, spring, 1999:

burdock root darkens

my fingers as I cut small sticks

bitter taste from my youth

I long for the taste of earth

I long for the crunch, crunch, crunch


Even if you've never had burdock and won't recall the taste from your youth or the crunch, crunch, crunch in your mind's memory, after trying this salad, I think you'll empathize (as I now do) with the longing. I think burdock is just one of those vegetables that encourages one to reminisce.

After you're through chopping up the burdock root, this salad looks simple enough to make. You could certainly turn down the heat if you're not a fan of spice.

I suspect the only tricky part for most people will likely be tracking down burdock root. You could probably use a root like celeriac as a substitute. Carrot would offer a slightly sweeter end result.

Tomi's Spicy Kimpira Gobo (or Kinpira Gobo)

3 stalks burdock (gobo) root, each about 2 1/2-feet long, cut into 2-inch long matchsticks. (I buy my gobo at Dynasty Supermarket @ the corner of Elizabeth and Hester.)

2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2-2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons shoyu (soy sauce)
1 cup coriander (cilantro) leaves, rinsed and dried
Equipment:
Large bowl of cold water
Large sauté pan

Working one half of a root at a time:

  • Peel burdock root.. there will be natural brown spots on the white flesh, but it's all gravy.

  • Cut the root into 2-inch lengths.

  • Cut each 2-inch section lengthwise into 4 slices.

  • Cut slices lengthwise into 3 to 4 matchstick-sized pieces.

  • Promptly put matchsticks in bowl of water to keep from browning — some browning will occur, but not to worry!

  • I like to give the gobo a second spin in some new cold water at this point, just to knock off any residual dirt.

  • Drain gobo in colander right before cooking.


1. In a large pan heat oil over medium-high heat until very hot.
2. Add gobo to oil and sauté.
3. As gobo is just beginning to turn translucent, add sugar and toss to coat. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring regularly so you don’t burn the sugar but get a nice caramelization goin’ on.
4. Add shoyu, toss to coat and cook until most of the shoyu has been cooked into the gobo or evaporated — approximately 5 minutes.
5. Add cayenne and crushed red pepper. Toss to coat and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Taste to adjust seasonings.
6. When all is said and done, you should see a nice, shiny, dark brown gloss on the gobo.
7. Let cool completely before adding coriander leaves. Serve at room temp or cold.


Gung hei fat choi!
Miss Ginsu

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2.07.2008

The Second Day Goes to the Dogs

Dragons and lions will be set loose in the streets. Explosions will sound. Noodles will be slurped.

Yes, the Lunar New Year (celebrating the Brown Earth Rat) celebrations begin this week on Thursday and run for 15 days. Here in New York, that means parades out in New York's new Chinatown (Flushing, Queens) and many a dumpling consumed down in Manhattan's old Chinatown.

I've been doing a bit of research, and it turns out that New Year traditions are pretty involved: clean the house, burn the kitchen god, visit the old folks, light up lots of fireworks, give the kids red envelopes full of money, cook whole fish and dumplings, remember which days are unlucky for visiting the relatives, etc. etc.

In all, it's a pretty exhausting list of tasks, but I'm particularly charmed by a few details, including the tradition on the second day of the New Year, which is reserved for being sweet to dogs. Apparently, the second Lunar New Year day is the birthday of all dogs. Awww!

Attack Pugs

I don't have a pup of my own at the moment, but there's certainly some four-legged friends I love quite a lot. Here's a recipe for homemade Lunar New Year pooch treats just in time for your second-day celebrations.

Make up a batch of all-natural bites for some cutie canine you care for, and wish 'em a happy birthday for me.

Lunar New Year Doggie Crunchers

2 2/3 cups whole-wheat flour
1/3 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup mashed squash or squash baby food
1/4 cup vegetable oil (or reserved bacon fat)
4 crisp-cooked bacon slices, crumbled

1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
2. Blend flour and wheat germ in a bowl.
3. Mix milk, egg, squash and vegetable oil in a separate bowl.
4. Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix in bacon crumbles.
5. Roll out dough on a floured surface to 1/2" thick and cut out shapes with your favorite cookie cutter (or the open edge of a juice glass).
6. Place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 50 minutes or until crisp and dried.
7. Transfer to a baking sheet to cool. Store in an airtight container.

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2.05.2008

A Field Guide to Lions and Dragons

After moving to NYC, I began seeing lions (or were they dragons?) in the streets. Dancing lions. Lettuce-eating lions. Colorful, big-headed, nimble-footed creatures with long eyelashes and beguiling expressions.

In J's neighborhood, lions materialize year-round with roving drum corps. They dance and gyrate to help provide auspicious openings for shops and bakeries. That said, prime time for both lion and dragon sightings is really during the Lunar New Year (year 4706 on the Chinese calendar) which starts on February 7 this year.



For a few years, I was seriously confused about what constituted a lion and what constituted a dragon. Thankfully, J is a Kung Fu practitioner, so he was able to clarify the genres for me. Now I feel like I'm a qualified amateur lion-dragon spotter... so of course I'd like to pass on that information on to you, dear reader.

Let's start with the lions. Lions come in an array of colors, based on symbolic meaning, and one of the first things you'll notice about lions is that they're not as long as dragons.

Of course, if you don't have a dragon on hand for comparison purposes, this may not be a helpful measure, but you can look at the feet. Lions generally have two sets of feet, whereas dragons have many, many more.



Secondarily, there's context. During the Lunar New Year, lions travel en masse, often down commercial streets, with drummers and other hangers-on. Lions, in other words, have posses.

As it turns out, lion dances are the community service projects of Kung Fu schools.* Kung Fu students work out lion dance choreography, drumming and theatrics (and of course, they're strong and acrobatic enough to execute the dances well). Shopkeepers, in turn, offer the lions red envelopes filled with donations as thanks for the privilege of hosting those lucky lion dances.

Finally, there's one detail that really separates lions from dragons. Just keep an eye out for lettuce. Lions eat lettuce. Whole heads of it. They go through lettuce like Cookie Monster tears through cookies. Dragons, on the other hand, don't touch the stuff. So the appearance of lettuce is a very reliable lion indicator.

In general, you'll find that dragon sightings are much more rare. I've only seen them during the Lunar New Year celebrations, and they don't typically hang around shops. That's just not how they roll.



A dragon will often be seen undulating through the streets chasing a golden pearl. And no, he'll never catch the pearl. The pearl symbolizes wisdom, and we all know wisdom is about the journey, not the destination.



Dragons are sometimes an auspicious red, sometimes a harvest green, sometimes yellow or gold and silver. And yes, as you might expect, the longer the dragon, the luckier the dragon.

Just remember: Short creature with a posse and a salad frolicking around a business? Lion. Long creature undulating down the street after a pearl? Dragon. Now go forth and spot with confidence! Gung hay fat choy!

*Dragons are often the creations of Kung Fu schools as well, so this isn't a hard-and-fast difference; You may, indeed, see a dragon with a posse.

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2.04.2008

The Chowder Bowl

The Super Bowl is a copyrighted phrase owned by the NFL, so I guess I'm not even really supposed to mention those words together in this here blog post.

I somehow doubt the league will run me down with a cease and desist order. Even so, maybe I'll just call it "The Big Game" to play it safe. You'll all know what I'm talking about, no?

So I was thinking the other day... The Big Game is coming up this very weekend (February 3rd, for those of you who only watch this one game each year) and I know that our newest national holiday is pretty much locked down as far as the menu goes. At any party you attend, you're likely to find chips and salsa, chili, hot wings, pizza, enormous party-size sandwiches, chips, dips and beer.

Now, that's all well and good, but I think we've never had a better year to make a big deal about the bowl. Is your bowl going to be New England or Manhattan?

It's an age-old rivalry, and both sides have their raving fans. We've probably all seen some good performances and some fumbles. So much depends on the quality of the players, I mean... ingredients.

I'm referring, of course, not to the showdown between the Pats and the Giants, but to a far older and far more epic battle: New England Clam Chowder vs. Manhattan Clam Chowder.

Chowders are thought to come from coastal Brittany, and the word, of course, from the French chaudière, which was a cauldron. This makes sense in the same way that, for example, a tagine supper is cooked in a clay tagine and a casserole dinner is cooked in a casserole dish. There's some other linguistic explanation about chowder's origins in an Old English word, jowter, which means fishmonger, but I don't buy that for a second. A creamy seafood stew just screams out as the product of Northern France, doesn't it?

But I digress... let's get back to the battle at hand.

fresh clams at the market

Chowders can be based in fish, crab, scallops or clams, but the secret to quality in any chowder is fresh seafood. If fresh clams or good quality fish cubes aren't an option, consider frozen seafood.

Personally, I'd like to see a couple of heavyweights do a throwdown on this one. Here's a Manhattan Clam Chowder recipe from Emeril and a New England-style Chowdah from talented (and prolific) recipe author Susan Hermann Loomis.

May the best chowdah win!

Emeril Lagasse's Manhattan Clam Chowder

8 pounds quahog or large cherrystone clams, scrubbed and rinsed, opened clams discarded
4 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch lengths
2 cups finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
3/4 cup diced carrot
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 1/4 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
1 cup chicken stock
3 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes or 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, chopped and juices reserved
1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt

In a large stockpot bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add clams, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Uncover, quickly stir clams well with a wooden spoon, and recover. Allow clams to cook 5 to 10 minutes longer (this will depend on the type and size of clams you are using), or until most of the clams are opened. Transfer clams to a large bowl or baking dish and strain broth through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl. (You should have about 6 cups of clam broth. If not, add enough water to bring the volume up to 6 cups.) When clams are cool enough to handle, remove them from their shells and chop into 1/2-inch pieces. Set clams and broth aside.

In a large heavy pot add bacon and render until golden and crispy. Pour off all fat except 4 tablespoons. Add onions, celery, bell pepper and carrots and cook for 10 minutes, until vegetables are softened. Do not allow to color. Add garlic, bay leaves, oregano, thyme and crushed red pepper and cook an additional 2 minutes. Increase heat to high and add potatoes, reserved clam broth, and chicken stock and bring to a boil, covered. Cook for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender and the broth has thickened somewhat. Add tomatoes and continue to cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add reserved clams and parsley and season with pepper and salt, if necessary. Allow chowder to sit for up to 1 hour to allow flavors to meld, then reheat slowly over low fire if necessary. Do not allow to boil.

fresh clams at the market

The Great American Seafood Cookbook by Susan Hermann Loomis

Creamy Clam Chowder (Serves 4)

3 pounds Manila, butter, or littleneck clams, shells well scrubbed under cold running water
4 ounces slab bacon, rind removed, cut into 1/2 x 1/4 x 1/4-inch pieces
2 tender interior celery ribs, finely chopped
1 bunch (about 5) scallions, trimmed, the white bulbs and light green stems cut in thin rounds
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 even pieces
1/4 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced
Paprika, for garnish

1. Rinse the clams. Combine them with 1 cup of water in a medium-size saucepan. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook just until the clams open, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat. Drain the clams, reserving the liquor; discard any that do not open.
2. Remove the clams from their shells and reserve them, covered, so they don't dry out. Strain the clam cooking liquor through a double thickness of cheesecloth; reserve.
3. Render the bacon in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat until crisp and golden. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels. Add the celery, scallions, and potatoes to the bacon fat and sauté just until the scallions and celery begin to turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the clam liquor and 1 cup of water. Cook until the potatoes are tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes.
4. Add the milk and cream, stirring occasionally and making sure the chowder doesn't boil, until heated through, about 10 minutes. Add the clams and cook until they are heated through, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. To serve the soup, ladle into 4 soup bowls. Top each bowl with a pat of butter, a shower of parsley, and a dusting of paprika. Pass the bacon separately. Serve immediately.

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1.31.2008

It's Log! It's Log!

"So it's like a giant Yodel." My boss was watching me glaze the yule log cake as he said this. I really couldn't argue with the assessment.

For those who don't know the Yodel, fret not. It's an East Coast thing. As it turns out, Yodels or Ding Dongs or whathaveyou, are essentially tiny yule logs.

One of my exceedingly cool coworkers is a punk rock guitar goddess, the captain of a multi-championship roller derby team and the proud owner of one of those cursed right-around-Christmas birthdays.

But she also has a great sense of humor, and this year, she requested a yule log birthday cake to complete her fest.

I'd never made one, so I was happy to take on the challenge. There were some moments of terror (Gah! Cracks in the cake!) but as you can see, it turned out pretty great. As she's also a talented food photographer, she snapped a quick studio shot of the final product for me. Pretty rad, no?

Yule Log, with Garden Gnome

Though actual Yule Logs — sometimes known as Ashen Faggots — and their copycat cakes might be considered quaint (and yes, maybe even tacky) to our modern sensibilities, there's a venerated tradition in there. The log-based cake even has a fancy French name with lots of diacritical marks: Bûche de Noël

There's piles of recipes for log cakes, some including complicated marzipan holly and all kinds of faux greenery. I evaluated a few and decided to base my bûche de noël off Martha Stewart's recipe. I'm a big fan of the meringue mushrooms. So cute!

I'm here to tell you the yule log cake isn't supremely difficult, but it is fairly time-consuming. You can make the whole project seem more achievable if you break the steps into four smaller recipes plus one assembly project. I did the four recipes the night before and then finished up with assembling the mushrooms and frosting the cake the next day while I was on-site.

Before you get started, know that you will need a candy thermometer, a 10 1/2 by 15 1/2 by 1" pan and a pastry bag (preferably one with a large-sized tip). I've added a few other usage notes and tips between the recipes *within the asterisks.*

Yule log on fire

Bûche de Noël (Serves about 12)

Step 1: Chocolate Genoise Cake

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for parchment and pan
2/3 cup sifted cake flour (not self-rising)
1/3 cup sifted cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
Pinch of baking soda
6 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Heat oven to 350°. Butter a 10 1/2-by-15 1/2-by-1-inch pan. Line with parchment; butter and flour paper, tapping out the excess flour.
2. Sift flour, cocoa, and baking soda together twice into a medium bowl. Set aside. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Skim off white foam, and pour clear yellow butter into a bowl, discarding white liquid at the bottom. Set aside in a warm place.
3. In a medium-size heat-proof bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar. Set bowl over a pan of simmering water; stir until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, and beat on high speed until mixture is thick and pale and has tripled in bulk. Reduce speed to medium, add vanilla, and beat 2 to 3 minutes more.
4. In three additions, sift flour mixture over egg mixture, folding in gently with a spatula. While folding in last addition, dribble melted butter over batter and fold in.
5. Spread batter evenly in pan, leaving behind any unincorporated butter in the bottom of the bowl. Tap pan on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake until cake springs back when touched in center, 15 to 20 minutes. Don't overbake or cake will crack. Let sit in pan on a wire rack until cool enough to handle.
6. Dust surface with cocoa powder. To make rolling easier, trim edges of cake, and cover with a sheet of waxed paper and a damp dish towel. Invert onto a work surface, and peel off parchment; dust with cocoa. Starting from the long side, carefully roll up cake in towel. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate until ready to use.
7. To assemble cake, carefully unroll genoise on the back side of a baking sheet (discard the plastic wrap and waxed paper, but keep the towel). Spread chocolate mousse evenly on cake to within 1 to 2 inches of one long end. Reroll cake, starting from other long end, using towel to help roll it. Cover with plastic wrap; chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

*Don't worry if the cake cracks a little when you're rolling. You can usually frost over the crevasses pretty successfully.*

Rolled yule log
Step 2: Chocolate Mousse

4 ounces semisweet chocolate
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large eggs, separated
Pinch of cream tartar
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. In a double boiler, melt together chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat, and transfer to a large bowl. Whisk in egg yolks, stirring well. Let cool to room temperature.
2. In a large bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff. Whisk a third of the whites into chocolate mixture; gently fold in remainder of the egg whites.
3. Whip cream until it holds soft peaks, and fold into chocolate mixture. Chill until set, about 1 hour.

*Chocolate mousse is delicious as a simple dessert on its own, so if you have extra, save it!*

spreading the chocolate mousse
Step 3: Chocolate Ganache (Makes 1 1/2 cups)

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream

1. Chop chocolate into small pieces, and place in a medium bowl.
2. Heat cream until bubbles begin to appear around the edges (scalding).
3. Pour cream over chocolate. Let stand 5 minutes, then stir until smooth.
4. Refrigerate until cold but not solid, stirring occasionally.

*This ganache is easy, delicious and makes a great all-purpose frosting recipe to keep in your personal arsenal.*

meringue mushrooms, ready to be baked
Step 4: Meringue Mushrooms

1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
3 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

1. Heat oven to 225°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, heat sugar and 1/2 cup water over low heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil; cook until liquid reaches 248°F.(hard-ball stage) on a candy thermometer.
3. Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric beater fitted with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on low speed until soft peaks form. Increase speed to high, and add hot syrup in a steady stream, beating constantly. Continue beating until cool and stiff, about 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Fold in cocoa powder.
4. Spoon meringue into a large pastry bag fitted with a coupler and large plain tip. Pipe meringue onto prepared baking sheet to form 2-inch domes. Pipe a separate stem shape for each dome.
5. Bake until dry, about 2 hours. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
6. To assemble mushrooms, melt chocolate in a double boiler or in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Trim off points from tops of stems. With a small offset spatula, spread chocolate on underside of a cap and place trimmed end of stem into center of cap. Place mushroom, stem side up, in an egg carton to harden. Repeat with remaining mushrooms; refrigerate until set.

*Essentially, you want flatter little domes for the mushroom caps and taller columns for stems, but even when they're lopsided the stems look good, so don't freak out too much about making them vertical.*

meringue mushrooms, setting up
Step 5: Assemble the Log

1. Place cake, seam side down, on a serving platter; tuck parchment around it to keep platter clean while decorating.
2. Whip ganache at medium speed until it has the consistency of soft butter. Cut one wedge off an end of the cake at a 45° angle; set aside. Ice log with a thin layer of ganache. Attach wedge to the side of the log. Spread ganache all over log, using a small spatula or a the back of a knife to form barklike ridges. Chill until ganache is firm, about 30 minutes.
3. When ready to serve, arrange meringue mushrooms around and on cake, and dust lightly with confectioners' sugar to create "snow." Add garden gnomes and tinsel. Serve with panache.

*I also used some pulverized chocolate cookies to make "dirt" that sat around the log on the platter. This had the added benefit of covering any accidental ganache drips.*

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12.30.2007

The World's Lunchboxes

You may be aware that today marks Boxing Day, a tradition that's commonly celebrated in the UK and several of its former colonies.

Dating back to the middle ages, the day after Christmas has traditionally been marked by the giving of gifts (boxed, of course) to employees and the poor.

Boxing day also means post-Christmas sales (hooray!) and the start of a handful of sporting events. (Though, interestingly, boxing doesn't seem to be among them...)

Boy Scouts boxing
A cigarette collectors' card (published ca. 1903-1917), featuring boxing Boy Scouts.*

One of the etymological explanations for Boxing Day roots in a tradition that had servants boxing up Christmas feast leftovers for their home visits and their masters eating boxed meals while the help was away.

For me, all this brings to mind the great diversity of food boxes across the world. Just for a little Boxing Day fun, I'll illustrate a few solutions to the lunch-toting issue herein.

Star Wars Lunchbox
The Star Wars lunch box... a classic!

In the modern U.S., the simple brown bag, the more deluxe insulated cooler bag and the metal or plastic lunch box are popular food transport solutions, though in a bygone era, people would have brought their food with them in baskets, pails or knotted kerchiefs.

The interrupted picnic
A detail from The Interrupted Picnic.*

Pupils at Lunch, 1927, Tinela, Ala
Pupils at Lunch with their lunch pails. Tinela, AL, 1927*

In Japan, bento boxes, those cute, convenient multi-compartmental trays, were traditionally made with durable, beautiful woods and metals and wrapped for travel in a furoshiki cloth, which acted as a dual bag/place mat. Modern bento boxes are often made of disposable materials.

Black Bento Box
Black lacquered bento box from Pearl River

Similar to the bento, the Indian tiffen-boxes (also called dabbas) are a multi-chambered lunch system, but while bentos are horizontally divided, tiffens are tiered.

In India, tiffins/dabbas are carried by tiffin wallahs or dabbawalas, a crack team of heavyweight lunch-luggers, each toting loads averaging 175-200 lb.

Blue Tiffen Box
Multicolored plastic tiffin box via Pearl River

It works this way: wives, servants or caterers pack tasty lunches into tiffins and give them to the wallahs, who transport them the hungry workers. What's really stunning is their accuracy rate — apparently, they average one mistake in every 16,000,000 deliveries.

Honestly, I'd quite like a wallah. The food delivery culture is mighty in New York, but it's sure not like a lunch packed with homemade love.

Anyone know of other lunch transport methods? Jars on heads? Fish in slings? If you know, I'd love to hear about 'em. If you've got anything, throw it down in the comments... in the meantime, a very happy Boxing Day to you!

*Found via the superb NYPL.

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12.26.2007

Joyous Christmas & a Tasty New Year!

Miss Ginsu & Cupcake wish you a joyous season!

Thanks to all for stopping by this year, adding your comments and sharing in all the food adventures.

Wishing you a season of celebration and a tasty new year!
-Miss G. & Cupcake

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12.25.2007

Day 24: Curd Crazed

This post marks Day 24 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Welcome Christmas Eve! The 24th has arrived, and if you had great intentions of doing anything before the holiday, it's kind of too late. Why not relax and let go of unrealistic expectations?

I've blogged about the thrills of lemon curd previously, but here we are in the middle of citrus season, and I've only blogged four times about various citrus fruits this month, and not even once have I mentioned limes. For shame!

Citrus curds are one of those great condiments that have fallen by the wayside. Is it the name? Curd. Like curds and whey, right? But no. Citrus curds are, in fact, sweet-tart, silky-smooth, sunny-hued and almost translucent.

Lime curd at tea-time

Or are curds unpopular because they're at their very best when they're fresh-made? Truthfully, most people simply don't make fresh spreads for teatime and brekkie anymore. We're busy people. We crack open jars of jelly and twist the tops off honey jars instead of making fresh curd on the stove.

Maybe it's a combination of poor naming associations and lack of free minutes. But listen: you probably have Christmas Day off from work. Making curd takes mere moments, and it's one of those special things you probably never enjoy. You can make some up tonight and it'll be chilled and waiting for your morning toast. A wonderful breakfast adventure to look forward to...

Or do like the Brits and take your curd at teatime. Brew some black tea, make some toast or shortbread and set out your great auntie's teacups. It'll be cute and old-fashioned.

Lime curd is a cinch (And don't let the double boiler frighten you off. It's just a bowl set over a pot of boiling water. How hard is that?), and it makes a great mix-in for yogurt, a glaze for cakes, a topping for cheesecake and a spread to adorn hot crepes. It's also lovely spread on muffins or scones, in tart shells, on fingers...

Supremely Easy Lime Curd (Makes a bit less than a cup.)

1 large, fresh egg
1/4 cup lime juice (1-2 limes)
1/2 tsp lime zest
1/4-1/3 cup sugar, or to taste
1 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cold

1. Cut butter into small 1/2" chunks.

2. Boil a small amount of water in a small pot and cover with a stainless steel or Pyrex bowl. (This, friends, is the double-boiler heating method.) Whisk together the egg, juice, zest and sugar in the glass or metal bowl.

3. Whisk the lime mixture continuously over the steamy pot for about three to four minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl to avoid overcooking the edges. (You can hold the bowl in place with a hotpad, if it feels unstable.) The curd should grow progressively thicker as you whisk, and it will look like a pourable pudding when it's done.

4. When the lime mixture is thickened, take the bowl off the heat. (At this point, you could strain it if you cared to do so. I really don't care about the zest remaining in my curd, so I don't.)

5. Add in the butter chunks, and stir to melt and blend the curd.

Transfer the finished curd to a storage container and, if you don't want a skin to develop, cover with plastic wrap touching the surface of the curd.

Lime curd doesn't last forever — two weeks at the max — so use it while you've got it. (Come to think of it, that seems like good advice for most of life.)

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12.24.2007

Day 22: Hot Artichoke Dip

This post marks Day 22 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Everybody needs a few never-fail foods in their recipe collections. A few go-to goodies that score points and leave 'em wanting more every time.

I have more cookbooks than I like to think about. I have recipe card boxes stuffed to bursting with clippings and scratched notes. I have pages ripped from cooking magazines and loose pages printed off websites.

But when it comes down to the moment of truth... I keep going back to that small collection of dishes that do the job.

This one is one of my favorite winter potluck, holiday party, covered dish and general "I don't know... just bring something" dishes for cold-weather gatherings.

artichoke dip

Don't show your cardiologist, nutritionist, lifecoach or personal trainer. It's seriously scary and rich. It's also seriously tasty. I first tried it at Brit's Pub in dear old Minneapolis. (Speaking of which, if you happen to be in the Twin Cities in the summertime, I recommend Brits as a fun joint for rolling lawn balls, munching Scotch eggs and downing pints...) The recipe you see below is a variation of theirs.

Omigod Hot Artichoke Dip (Makes 5 cups)

28oz artichoke hearts (Two 14oz cans)
8oz cream cheese
8oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 cup (4oz) cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup (4oz) mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup green onion, sliced
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika

For serving
1/4 cup diced tomato
Shredded Parmesan cheese
Sliced sourdough bread

1. Preheat oven to 350°F
2. Chop artichoke hearts and squeeze any excess water from the spinach.
3. Combine chopped artichokes, cream cheese, spinach, cheddar, mozzarella, onions, sour cream, dijon mustard, salt and paprika.
4. Pour mixture into a 10" square casserole dish or baking pan. Smooth the surface.
5. Bake 45-60 minutes, or until the dip is bubbling and browned on the surface.
6. Garnish with tomato and/or shredded Parmesan. Serve hot.


I've also tried this dip with Swiss and smoked gouda, and that's nice, but I think there's something special about the cheddar.

It's about as simple as recipes get. The only way you can go wrong with this dip is if you don't supply enough bread or crackers. So slice a couple of baguettes or a big loaf of pumpernickel to serve alongside, and don't say I didn't warn you.

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12.21.2007

Day 19: Orange you impressed?

This post marks Day 19 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Have I blogged about citrus yet this week? No? Horrors! Let that oversight be mended now.

For some reason I always think the things I love to eat must certainly be beyond my ability to make. Maybe that's some kind of weird culinary-related self-esteem issue.

When I actually do the research on a given recipe, I often find out that I could have been supplying myself with something tasty and homemade (not to mention cheaper...) all along. Great Gazpacho? I could whip it up in my sleep. Tasty breakfast granola? A snap! Coffee Concentrate? A cinch! Home-brewed cocktail bitters? Easy-peasy... who knew?

That's why I'm happy to report that while amazing chocolate, wine and beer-making powers may still be outside my realm of competency, I believe candied citrus fruits have finally fallen into my greedy hands.

chocolate-dipped candied orange
Candied Orange dipped in dark chocolate from The Sweet Life

Yes, folks... the lovely chocolate-dipped candied orange slice you see in the photo above can easily be whipped up at home. All you need is a little patience and a handful of ingredients you may already have at home.

The recipe herein is based off one for candied orange peel I found in Sweet Gratitude by Judith C. Sutton.

Ms. Sutton stops at the peel, but I've eaten enough orange slices (like the one above), to know that the whole slice is certainly possible. The secret? Cut 'em thin and treat 'em with all due care and delicacy while you cook 'em.

candied orange
My very own candied orange slice, ready for the dippin'
Chocolate-Dipped Candied Oranges

3 large navel oranges, scrubbed
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 cup white sugar
1 cup water
16oz dark or milk chocolate
2 Tbsp vegetable shortening
parchment or wax paper

1. Using a very sharp knife, cut the orange into thin slices (1/8-inch).

2. Put the orange slices into a large heavy saucepan, add cold water to cover, and bring to a boil; drain. Return the slices to the saucepan, add cold water to cover by about 1 inch, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the peels are tender when tested with a fork, about 15 minutes; drain and set aside.

3. Set a large wire rack, preferably a mesh one, over a baking sheet; set aside. Combine the corn syrup, sugar and water in the same saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Wash down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to remove any sugar crystals (which could cause the syrup to crystallize) and add the orange slices.

4. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat, and simmer gently, stirring once or twice with a clean spoon, until the peel is translucent and very tender and the syrup has reduced to a few spoonfuls, 40 to 60 minutes. (Do not allow the syrup to reduce to less than this, or the bottom of the pan will become too hot and will crystallize the sugar. Add in a little more water if the level gets too low.)

5. Using a slotted spoon or a fork, carefully move the slices to the wire rack to drain; be sure to keep them separate and dry at least 4 hours.

6. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate and shortening, blending until smooth.

7. Dip the orange slices half-way into the chocolate mixture. Allow any excess chocolate to drip off, and let the dipped slices harden on parchment or wax paper.

Though this recipe isn't strictly a holiday-only offering, I'd bet that if you wrapped 'em in waxed paper and nestled 'em in a cute little tin, these would make a smashing holiday gift for your favorite citrus lover. And if you were so inclined, I bet lemons or grapefruit would work just as well.

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12.19.2007

Day 17: Seasoned Greetings!

This post marks Day 17 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

I sort of enjoy the holiday newsletters that arrive at my mailbox every December. And yes, I realize I may represent the minority opinion in this.

I'm sure you know the ones I mean: "Happy Holidays! Wow, it's that time again, isn't it? Where does the year go? This year little Molly started third grade and..."

Truthfully, I almost wish people sent biannual newsletters. "Happy July! This month, we're all taking off across the country on a quest to document every tourist trap on I-90..."

It's so rare these days to get actual letters with actual stamps on them. In an age of email and texting, people don't generally take the time to write.

What might be even better is if everyone sent along a recipe in their holiday cards. It'd be like a savory version of chain letters. We'd all send out a few dozen holiday cards that included a tasty recipe, and everyone would see their mailboxes stuffed with a host of tasty recipes in return. Some of them would be duds, of course, and that would be funny. Some would be gems.

Seasoned Oyster Crackers

When I was in first grade, we all had to bring a favorite family recipe to school. They were all compiled, copied and bound with coversheets made of excess wallpaper. We all got a copy. The recipe I submitted was one of my favorite things at the time... my mother's seasoned oyster crackers.

For your holiday pleasure, I submit the recipe herein. Mom's oyster crackers are salty, citrusy, crisp and addictively snackable. The adult me politely recommends you serve them at your next cocktail party. The six-year-old me simply insists that you make them and share them.

In there between the Never Fail Chocolate Cake, the Hamburger-Tot Hot Dish the Ants on a Log and the Tostado Pie sits one of my childhood favorites: crisp, salty, citrusy oyster crackers. I must warn you up front: they're addictively snackable.
Linda Jo's Seasoned Oyster Crackers

2 10-11oz packages oyster crackers
1 pkg ranch dressing mix
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 tsp dried dill
1/2 tsp lemon pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder

Coat oyster crackers with oil. Mix spices and sprinkle over crackers. Mix well.
Mom's original version ended with a jaunty "That's it!"

I should also mention that my mother usually put the coated crackers in a paper bag and passed that over to me to shake with all the vigor a six-year-old can summon. This may have added extra charm to the experience (as well as absorbing excess oil).

They're quick and oh-so simple... consider them for your next cocktail party!

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12.17.2007

Day 16: When Cake Imitates Life

This post marks Day 16 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

I don't know about you, but I enjoy the notion of novelty cakes. I've always been entertained by the idea of the Coca-Cola Cake, the Orange Dreamsicle Cake, the Daim Cake and the Wacky Cake.

My boss loves to talk about his girlfriend's orange cake, which is actually pretty tasty. Whenever he explains this cake of wonders to someone, he inevitably exclaims, "It's got pudding in it!" as if the notion of pudding mix in a cake brings some kind of magic to the whole enterprise.

One of my dad's favorite cakes is simply a dark chocolate boxed cake mix that he pours into the pan over a 14oz can's worth of pitted dark cherries (and the syrup, presumably). It's then frosted like a standard chocolate cake. Dad's chocolate-cherry cake is fruity and gooey at the bottom... I suppose it's sort of a lazy man's German Chocolate Cake. A bit rich for my taste, but people always rave and ask him for the recipe.

Maybe it's some kind of kitchen alchemy, this combination of manufactured items and home-cooked goods. Or maybe the use of grocery products offers an element of adventure (will it work?) and an aspect of surprise (you'll never guess what's in it!).

Perhaps we've all just been brainwashed by generations of recipes produced and published by food manufacturers. (Try these easy, delicious Spamwiches!)

hot chocolate cake

Regardless of the psychology burbling in the brain, I found myself taken with a Hot Chocolate Cake I recently found through the aid of Real Simple magazine.

The Hot Chocolate Cake is essentially a (nearly) flourless chocolate cake that's topped with marshmallows and browned to perfection just before serving. You can do individual portions in teacups or cocoa mugs with mini-marshmallows (a terrific presentation) or one larger round cake with the big marshmallows (as seen herein).

I think I'd recommend the individual cakes in oven-safe teacups. Presentation is key for a novelty cake. You want to hear the round of "oohs" and "aahs" as the desserts are presented. They'd be fab for cold-weather entertaining (Christmas dinner, anyone?)

The cakes (or cake, if you're doing an individual one) are truly tastiest if they're still a bit soft and underdone in the middle, so take care not to overbake.
Hot Chocolate Cake (Makes 8 servings)

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for coating
10 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for dusting
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup mini marshmallows (Or 1 bag large marshmallows for a full-size cake)

Heat oven to 375°F. Generously butter, flour, and sugar eight 6-ounce ramekins or ovenproof coffee cups or mugs, tapping out any excess coatings. Wipe the rims clean and place on a baking sheet.

Place the butter and chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (the bowl should not touch the water). Heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter and chocolate are melted and smooth. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium-high, beat the eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, salt, and sugar until the mixture doubles in volume, about 5 minutes; set aside. Stir the flour into the chocolate mixture.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Fill each ramekin or cup with batter until it's 1/2 inch from the rim.

Bake until the cakes puff and crack on the surface but are still slightly liquid in the center, 13 to 17 minutes, depending on the size of the cups. Remove from oven.

Sprinkle with the marshmallows. Return to oven until the marshmallows begin to crisp, 2 to 4 minutes. Let cool for at least 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tip: You could make a single hot chocolate cake instead of individual ones. To do this, you'll need a 10-inch springform pan and enough regular-size marshmallows to cover the surface. You'll also need to increase the initial baking time to 22 to 25 minutes or, if you prefer a more gooey center, to 17 to 20 minutes.

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12.16.2007

Day 15: To Blog the Nog

This post marks Day 15 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Christmas means different foods to different families. Some people go for gingerbread houses or pigs in blankets, but for me... it's all about the nog.

The "egg" aspect of eggnog is easy enough to figure, but people bicker about the origins of the "nog."

I was entertained to learn that within the taxonomy of cocktails, the eggnog falls under the "flip" category and is sometimes referred to as an "egg flip."

For me, the ideal 'nog is rich, creamy, loaded with nutmeg and spiked with rum. I usually go for the Ronnybrook stuff, locally available at NYC farmers' markets and FreshDirect.

But eggnog is so darn easy to make, I should really just suck it up once a year and whip up my own. All you really need is milk, cream and reliably fresh eggs.

If you don't trust your eggs, or are serving the squeamish (or immune-deficient), Alton Brown's frothy 'nog recipe provides a handy cooked method.

eggnog
It's nog, it's nog! It's thick, it's heavy, it's cream!

Alton Brown's Eggnog

4 egg yolks*
1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
1 pint whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 ounces bourbon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 egg whites*

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until it is completely dissolved. Add the milk, cream, bourbon and nutmeg and stir to combine.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat to soft peaks. With the mixer still running gradually add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.

Whisk the egg whites into the mixture. Chill and serve.

*Cook's Note: For cooked eggnog, follow procedure below.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until it is completely dissolved. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, over high heat, combine the milk, heavy cream and nutmeg and bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and gradually temper the hot mixture into the egg and sugar mixture. Then return everything to the pot and cook until the mixture reaches 160°F. Remove from the heat, stir in the bourbon, pour into a medium mixing bowl, and set in the refrigerator to chill.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. With the mixer running gradually add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Whisk the egg whites into the chilled mixture.


Cheers!

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12.15.2007

Day 14: Brittle charms

This post marks Day 14 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Back in the dark days of '01 after the dot-com bubble burst, Miss Ginsu was left out on the street (not that there was much space out there with all the other dazed and ruined coders, systems engineers and venture capitalists).

Luckily, your tiny, pig-tailed heroine was kicked to the curb just in time for the Christmas season (ho-ho-ho) and was able to find temp work as a See's Candy girl at the mall.


"Oops! These ones expired yesterday! Darn. Guess I'll have to work my way through another tasty box of Nuts & Chews..."

Yes, the ensemble was silly and standing around on concrete floors is murder on the feet, but the pay wasn't bad, and the job offered all the expired chocolates I could eat. And gosh, they're actually really good. Grandma See didn't use any preservatives, and neither do the current See's Candy elves. Thus, we white-garbed choco-chicks spent a lot of time checking expiration dates and rotating stock.

Did I gain some weight? Yeah, most likely. But I also gained an appreciation for fresh chocolates that aren't filled with weird waxes, colors and fillers. I also learned about the wonders of buttery-crisp peanut brittle.

I'd always considered nut brittle one of the candies of a bygone age. I assumed it was something my grandmother and dad appreciated. I'd probably never understand its charms. But boy howdy! See's peanut brittle changed my tune. That stuff is addictively tasty.

Pecan Brittle in the Pan

Since I live on the East Coast now, and See's is a decidedly West Coast thing, the only cheap, reliable way to make my tastebuds dance is DIY brittle. The recipe below is based on one I found in a sweet (ha!) little cookbook by Robbin Gourley called Sugar Pie & Jelly Roll.

I used pecans in this one, but you can use whichever nut speaks to you. (After all, talking nuts deserve to be boiled in hot sugar, right?)

It's not quite as awesome as See's (I'm still working on that...), but it's pretty darn great. My coworkers all said so, and because I know they can be cold, cruel beasts when presented with inferior sweets, that positive commentary stands for something.

Pecan Brittle in a tin

Almost as Awesome Nut Brittle (Makes a full cookie sheet)
Make sure you have an operational candy thermometer before you make this recipe. "Close enough" counts for a lot of things, but you really do want accuracy for activities like structural engineering, brain surgery and candy making.

1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup light corn syrup
2 cups sugar
3 cups pecans, cashews, walnuts or peanuts
1/2 Tbsp baking soda
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Pour water, syrup, sugar and salt into a large saucepan* and bring to a boil.

2. Add nuts, stirring occasionally and scraping down the pan edges.

3. Cook to 296°F on a candy thermometer.

4. Remove from the heat and add baking soda, butter and vanilla all at once. Stir thoroughly.

5. Pour onto a greased greased baking pan. Use a heat-proof spatula or spoon to spread quickly to 1/4-inch thickness.

6. When cooled, break into small pieces.

I recommend a large saucepan for this recipe because the hot sugar-nut mix froths a good bit when you add the baking soda. Trust me... you don't want boiling sugar frothing up and burning a hole in your hand.

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12.14.2007

Day 13: Name that Cookie

This post marks Day 13 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

My dad's family grew up poor. Six kids in an uninsulated shack. My uncle and his brothers were all stuffed into the attic, and he told me he remembers that on cold winter mornings they woke up with frost on the blankets.

Grandpa built the place himself and worked a series of odd jobs to support the family.

Grandma cooked, sewed, cleaned and did everything from scratch, from home-brewed cough syrup (rosehips brewed with honey and brandy) to the kids' haircuts and clothes.

I know everyone waxes nostalgic about their grandma's cooking. It's like a national obsession. I'm not sure whether it was more a lack of skill or a lack of quality materials, but my grandmother was a terrible cook. I just can't get on board that "Over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house we go" haywagon.

Though she was far from Martha Stewart, I still remember with enormous fondness the gifts she made for everyone every Christmas.

We'd all arrive for Christmas Day dinner to find a long line of red cotton stockings labeled in permanent marker with our names. Inside, she'd stuff hard candies, oranges and shell-on nuts.

name cookies

Additionally, each holiday brought a new round of grandma's famous name cookies. She'd bake everyone in the family a rock-hard cookie as big as your open hand and frost it with something akin to sugary plaster. Every cookie was iced in grandma's shaky hand with flowers, decorations and your very own name.

She individually wrapped the cookies in plastic, slipped each inside one of the margarine boxes she'd saved up throughout the year (nothing went to waste in that house), and stacked them in the freezer for presentation on Christmas Day.

My cousin and I were kids, so we'd spend hours gnawing happily at the edges. I have a feeling my aunts and uncles saved their name cookies to toss out at the soonest private opportunity.

We all had good fun at the expense of grandma's cooking, but truthfully, grandma died soon after my senior prom in high school, and I still miss those awful cookies.

I loved name cookies not for their flavor, but for the feeling of love and individual recognition they gave me each holiday season. Even in a shack filled with smoke, tension and far too many people, I was remembered. I was known.

Every December meant my very own name on a homely red stocking and a marginally edible cookie. All made by hand by a grandma who loved me.

This year, I won't be sewing any stockings, but I'm making name cookies as a gift for some folks at work that I want to recognize and appreciate.

Like grandma's, my name cookies will demonstrate thought, effort, resourcefulness and a love of homespun craft. Unlike grandma's cookies, my name cookies will be tasty. Unlike grandma, I have good kitchen equipment and the resources to buy real butter, good flour, farm-fresh eggs, good spices and pure vanilla extract.

You can the basic version of the Wonder Dough recipe I mentioned the other day, or the gingerbread cutout cookies below.
Gingerbread Name Cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup dark molasses
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves

For the icing:
2 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

Optional Decorations
Raisins or chocolate chips
Food colors
Colored sugars or other edible sprinkles

For Gingerbread Cookies
1. Cream the butter until smooth. Blend in the sugar and eggs.
2. Mix in the molasses and vanilla.
3. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture in three batches, mixing after each addition.
5. Flatten dough, wrap in waxed paper or plastic and refrigerate 1 - 2 hours.
6. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
7. Roll dough out on floured board about 1/8-inch thick.
8. Cut large circles with a big cookie cutter, or cut the dough the way grandma did: use the cut edge of an emptied and well-cleaned 28 oz can.
9. Place cookies onto a cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool in the pan 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool fully.

For Royal Icing
Beat the egg whites with the vanilla extract until frothy. Add the sifted powdered sugar and beat until stiff and glossy. If desired add food color. Transfer to a pasty bag and pipe on cooled cookies. Allow 2-3 hours for the icing to dry.

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12.13.2007

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 6: Will Sing for Cider

This post marks Day 6 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

The other day I received a scrap of a note from a friend. He wrapped it up succinctly: "I will see you soon, I hope. HOT MULLED APPLE CIDER FTW!!!"

And I have to agree. On a cold, wet, blustery day, is there an aroma more homey and welcoming than simmering spiced cider on the stove? "Come on in," it says, "Sit down and take off your galoshes. You'll soon warm up and everything will be fine."

hot mulled cider

A Minneapolis friend of mine used to organize December caroling rounds. In childhood, she'd done time in a children's oncology ward and wanted to be able to bring a little joy (or maybe just comedy, in our case) to the kids there.

We'd divide into multiple cars to make the rounds from the children's hospital to the homes of key family and friends. Strangely, everywhere we went, someone forced hot cups of cider into our chilly fingers. It was as if the entire Twin Cities area just happened to be simmering spices on their stovetops. "Come on in! You must be freezing! Here, have some hot cider!"

Sticky with juice, giddy on fructose, we'd try to stay on key and remember the order of the verses. Yeah, we were even loopy enough to go for that high section in O Holy Night. On multiple occasions. Crazy kids...

Should you not already happen to have a family recipe for Hot Mulled Cider, I'm including mine, below. Or just ring up anyone in Minnesota. I think the state must be sending out cider kits inside their annual tax packets.

Hot Mulled Apple Cider (FTW!!!)
1 half-gallon jug apple cider
1 cup water
2 cinnamon sticks
3 allspice berries
2 star anise
1 orange, thinly sliced
cheesecloth & kitchen twine or a strainer

Either tie spices into a cheesecloth bundle before you make the cider or know that you'll need to pour the finished product through a strainer before serving.

Add spices, cider and orange slices to an medium-sized saucepan and simmer until a convivial aroma fills your kitchen.

Remove spice bundle and orange peels or pour through a strainer into cups. Serve with a cinnamon stick.

Warning: this recipe may attract carolers.

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12.06.2007

Day 5: Sugarplums!

This post marks Day 5 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Two years ago, I wrote about sugarplums. Oh, how time flies when you're busy food blogging...

It's the right time of year again, and it seems proper that we attempt to introduce a new generation of kids to one of those things they keep hearing about in holiday Christmas carols and are unlikely to have ever actually tried. (Figgy pudding and chestnuts roasting over an open fire will have to wait patiently at the sidelines for another post.)

In that spirit, I'm reprinting the recipe below. They're exceedingly easy to make, and seeing as they're chock-full of dried fruit and nuts, sugarplums are probably one of the healthier holiday sweets available.

sugarplums

Sugarplums! (Makes about 20)

Chopping the almonds and fruits ahead of time won't be necessary if you have a food processor. These treats keep well in a tin or a pretty box lined with parchment or wax paper and they make a nice gift. They could last up to a month, but you shouldn't need to find out, since they're tasty snacks and tend to disappear.

1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped
6 oz dried figs (or dried prunes), roughly chopped
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp grated orange zest
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2-3/4 cup turbanado/raw sugar, for rolling

1. Combine toasted almonds, chopped fruits, cinnamon, cocoa and almonds in a food processor or mash with a mortar and pestle.

2. Mix until blended and paste-like. Add the honey, orange zest and extract. Pulse or stir until well mixed.

3. Pour the raw sugar in a small bowl (cereal bowls and soup dishes work well).

4. Scoop out teaspoons of the fig paste and roll in your hands to form 1-inch balls. Roll balls in sugar.

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12.05.2007

Day 4: A Hot Chocolate Field Guide

This post marks Day 4 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate. Also: Happy Hanukkah!

When it comes to cocoa, there are distinct camps. I think of them as the Swiss Misstics and the Chocovores.

Identifying the Parties

The Swiss Misstic thinks the Chocovore is a pompous twit. The Chocovore sees the Swiss Misstic as a philistine. It's a war over definition.

What nobody understands is the very simple difference at hand. The classic Swiss Misstic is looking for something like warmed milk with chocolate in it. The Chocovore is looking for something like warmed chocolate with milk in it.

It's a difference of ratio, decoration and price vs. quality.

Epistrophy Cocoa
Epistrophy (on Mott Street) serves up a cream-covered hedonist treat for Swiss Misstics

The Swiss Misstics

The classic Misstic is looking for a warm cup of comfort. If it comes with whipped cream, chocolate drizzles, flavored syrups, mini marshmallows or cookies for dipping, that's all the better, but the Misstic is easy to please. Just serve up a powdered mix and hot water or chocolate syrup mixed into warmed milk.

Here's a quick recipe for homemade cocoa mix. Mix up a packet and give it to your favorite Misstic along with instructions and a cute mug.

Homemade Cocoa Mix (Makes about 7 1/2 cups of mix)

Basic Ingredients
5 cups dry milk
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Optional Add-Ins:
1/2 cup crushed candy canes
1 cup mini marshmallows
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

1. Blend ingredients.

2. Store in an airtight container or plastic bag.

3. To make a single serving, combine 1/4 cup mix and 3/4 cup hot water in a mug. Stir well to blend.


Epistrophy Cocoa
The chocolate at St. Helen Cafe (in Brooklyn) is dark and rich under all that foam.

The Chocovores

A Chocovore insists on splendor. It's high-quality chocolate or none at all. You'll rarely see ornamentation on the chocovore's cuppa, and if you do, it's probably something simple, like chocolate shavings. Give the chocovore something made with whole milk and melted dark chocolate nibs (at least 70%). Chocovores also enjoy name dropping. Give them packs of Jacques Torres, MarieBelle, Schokinag Drinking Chocolate or Vosges Couture Cocoa.

To each, his own (cup)

I think we can all get along. Mutual understanding is the key to peace between the factions this holiday season.

If you're mixing up hot chocolate at a holiday party, you can easily please Misstics and Chocovores alike.

Adjustable Hot Chocolate

Add a cup of milk for each cocoa drinker to a saucepan and heat on medium, incorporating pieces of bittersweet chocolate with a whisk until the liquid matches the correct color scheme (see below).

You'll stop early for the Misstics, offering up mugs of lighter-colored liquid topped with marshmallows or whipped cream and chocolate drizzles.

Keep whisking in chocolate for the chocovores. Offer decorations, but don't be offended if they just want their fix straight up.

Use the following chart for color reference:

hot chocolate chart

However you drink your cocoa, I wish good cheer to all, and to all, a good cup!

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12.04.2007

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

Day 1: Wonder Dough

I love any one thing that does many things. The Swiss Army knife. The cast-iron Skillet. Duct tape.

With that in mind, what's not to love about the efficiency of a single cookie dough that offers endless variation? Around the time-crunched holidays, a versatile recipe makes gift baking simple.

If need be, you can make just one little batch of sugar cookies, one batch of ginger cookies and just one batch of chocolate-peppermint cookies. Voila! A mixed cookie plate to take to work and a few more to give away to cookie-munching friends and neighbors.

And everyone knows that homemade cookies taste better. They're fresh, they don't contain high-fructose corn syrup or weird shelf-life extenders, and above all, they're rich in love. Store-bought cookies never have enough love in 'em.

The below recipe is based off of one that was published in Real Simple magazine a while back. It's a quick little sugar cookie on its own and can easily be dolled up with spices, nuts, candies, shapes and colors, as per the variations. It's really like ten recipes in one. Pretty handy, no?

the gingerman
One dough to rule them all, one dough to find them, one dough to bring them all and in the darkness bind them...

Wonder Dough
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp baking soda

Beat together the butter, sugars, corn syrup and vanilla extract. Mix in the egg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Add ingredients from the variation of your choice.

Heat oven to 375° F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or use silpat baking sheets. Unless the directions for the variation state otherwise, form the dough into tablespoon size mounds. Place on the prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake until lightly browned at the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to wire racks. Cool completely and store for up to 1 week.

The Wonder Dough Variations...

Gingersnaps (Makes 60 cookies)
Make the base recipe, adding 2 tsp ground ginger and 3 more Tbsp flour. Divide the dough into 2 portions, roll into discs and wrap each in plastic. Freeze for 1 hour. On a floured surface, roll the dough out 1/4" thick. Use cookie cutters to make stars or people. Bake about 8 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to wire racks. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar or decorate with white icing. (Just blend together a cup of sifted confectioners' sugar with 1-2 tablespoons milk. Adjust the liquid/sugar ratio for the consistency you want.)

Fruitcake Bars (Makes 30 bars)
Make the base recipe, adding 1 cup dried cranberries, 1 cup candied or plain pecans, and 1 Tbsp rum. Spread the batter in a buttered or parchment-lined 9" square baking pan. Bake for 35 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack. Cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

Cinnadoodles (Makes 60 cookies)
Make the base recipe. Form the dough into 1 1/2" balls. Blend 3 Tbsp sugar with 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon in a small bowl. Roll the balls in the cinnamon mixture and place on prepared baking sheets. Flatten the balls into 1/2-inch thick disks. Bake about about 12 minutes or until until light brown. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to wire racks.

Oatmeal-Spice Cookies (Makes 60 cookies)
Make the base recipe, adding 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats and 1 tsp pie spice (or substitute 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground ginger, and 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg). Shape and bake as in the base recipe. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to wire racks.

Chocolate-Peppermint Pinwheels (Makes 40 cookies)
Make the base recipe, and divide the dough into 2 portions. Melt 3 oz unsweetened chocolate and mix into one of the dough balls. In a separate bowl, blend 1 egg yolk, 1 tsp peppermint extract and 1/2 cup crushed peppermint candies into the other dough ball. On a floured surface, roll each dough separately to about 1/4" thick. Place a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap on the work surface and stack the peppermint layer atop the chocolate layer. Press around the edges to form a uniform disc. Using the wax paper or wrap, roll the stack into a log. Wrap well and freeze for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and cut chilled log into 1/2-inch slices, placing 1" apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake about 12 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to wire racks.

Chocolate Nut Cookies (Makes 40 cookies)
Make the base recipe, adding 12 oz semisweet chocolate (chopped or chips) and 1 cup chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts). Shape, bake and cool according to the base recipe.

Pine Nut Drops (Makes 40 cookies)
Make the base recipe, blending in 1 tsp almond extract. Form into tablespoon-size balls. Spread 2 1/2 cups raw pine nuts on a plate. Roll each ball in the pine nuts, pressing nuts into the cookies. Place 2" apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake and cool according to the base recipe.

White Chocolate Snowballs (Makes 20 cookies)
Make the base recipe. Form the dough into teaspoon-size balls. Spread one 7 oz bag of sweetened flaked coconut on a plate. Roll each ball into the coconut, pressing so it adheres. Place on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to wire racks. Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl placed over, but not touching, simmering water, melt 12 oz white chocolate (chopped or chips). Turn half the cookies upside down and spread the flat sides with the white chocolate. Sandwich them with the remaining cookies.

Jam Jewels (Makes 40 cookies)
Make the base recipe. Form into tablespoon-size balls. Place about 2" apart on prepared baking sheets. Press a thumb about 1/2" deep into the center of each ball. Fill each indentation with about 1/2 teaspoon apricot, strawberry or raspberry jam. Bake and cool according to the base recipe.

This post marks Day 1 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. Happy holidays!

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12.01.2007

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

Sugarplums contain no plums

sugarplums

It's true. That sugarplum vision dancing in your head may not necessarily contain any plum. Mark another tally into the book of mythology and misdirection. If there wasn't egg in the eggnog and fruit in the fruitcake, I might lose all faith in tradition.

That said, a sugarplum in the right hands is not prohibited from contact with plums. It just so happens that the word "sugarplum" has changed from a sugary little fruit to a sugary little treat.

Here's the recipe you see in the photo above.
Sugarplums! (Makes about 20 sugarplums)

Chopping the almonds and fruits beforehand won't be necessary if you have a food processor. These treats keep well in a tin or a pretty box lined with parchment or wax paper and make a nice gift. They might last up to a month, but you shouldn't need to find out, since they're tasty and tend to disappear...

1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped
6 oz dried figs (or dried prunes), roughly chopped
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp grated orange zest
1/2 tsp almond extract
about 1/2-3/4 cup turbanado sugar (for rolling)

Combine toasted almonds, chopped fruits, cinnamon, cocoa and almonds in a food processor or mash with a mortar and pestle. Mix until blended and paste-like. Add the honey, orange zest and extract. Pulse or stir until well mixed. Pour the sugar in a small bowl (cereal bowls and soup dishes work well). Scoop teaspoons of the fig paste and roll in your hands to form 1-inch balls. Roll balls in sugar.

Late breaking note: Leslie Harpold's excellent Advent Calendar also included a bit on sugarplums yesterday. Sugarplum Zeitgeist!

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12.14.2005

Garlic Challenge, Part II

Oh, how time flies when you have a ticking time bomb sitting in your refrigerator.

I'm talking, of course, about my super-abundance of garlic, as mentioned in a previous post.

Although the posted expiration date is past, they seem to be holding up well, so I've had some time to play with these stinky little gems.

bulb of garlic

After discovering the many ways one can use up one's supply of roasted garlic spread, making 40-clove chicken (twice), pumping out a bunch of Indian cuisine and sneaking slices of the stuff into everything short of breakfast cereal, I was casually wondering why I haven't had a date in weeks. That's when I received this note from an old friend:

Found your garlic dilemma interesting.

Here's a suggestion: I went to a party in Colorado a few years ago. The host, Tom Cavelli, made something he called bona calda. I don't remember the exact recipe — we both had a lot of beer that night — but it included a huge amount of garlic.

Here goes:
2 cups, yes cups, of finely chopped garlic.
4 ounces of anchovies
enough cream to kind of hold it all together

It seems like he sautéed the garlic and anchovies, then added the cream.

We all dipped bread and vegetables into the bona calda while it was still in the pan. I thought it was wonderful, but as I said, I had a lot of beer that night.

For the next three days, I could not get toothpaste to foam up in my mouth.


This helpful suggestion seems to fall into under the "when your cup runneth over with stinky bulbs, pile on fermenting fish" school of thought, and I believe that only the addition of Corn Nuts could ensure a more foul perfume.

But following Dan's lead, I did, indeed whip up a delightfully nasty frenzy of garlic, fish and fat. I recommend you pair this recipe with a hoppy India Pale Ale, a pile of Netflix and a weekend alone.

More commonly known as Bagna Cauda (bahn-yah cow-dah), this creamy-salty-fragrant sauce is of Northern Italian (Piedmont) extraction.

The name translates as "hot bath," and it's traditionally served as the hot bath for cut veggies. Think: fennel slivers, sunchoke strips, carrot sticks, sliced red peppers, zucchini sticks, etc.

As one of the folks in the comments mentioned, it's a popular Italian New Year's Eve appetizer (with, of course, attendant rumors of good luck and good fortune).

Additionally, as you might gather from the name, it's intended to be served warm (maximize that aroma!), but don't boil it.

Many folks do as Dan and his crew did, gathering around the kitchen and eating bagna cauda straight from the pan. A piece of bread is often used as an edible platform for any delicious drippings that are bound to occur.

Meanwhile, back at Chez Ginsu, five cups of garlic still remain in the fridge, so it seems some kind of garlic jelly looms in my future... I'll document that conclusion in Part III of the garlic saga.

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5.25.2005

Feeling the Power of the Peep

As much as I adore hot chocolate and wooly sweaters, I've started (with a bit of guilt, perhaps, for not "living in the moment") looking forward to soothing, warm days full of far-more-robust farmers' markets and lots of springy fresh little things such as garden peas, morels, asparagus, ramps and tiny lettuces.



Spring also brings a profusion of marshmallows. In particular, marshmallow chicks, which sell by the truckload for a very short period of time leading up to Easter.

As much as I'm certain their parent company (a candy company disturbingly called "Just Born") would like to see greater sales of marshmallow ghosts at Halloween and marshmallow trees for the holidays, Easter is truly that one shining moment in the sun for marshmallow novelty candy.

And gosh, there's just something so weird and lovely about the marshmallow Peep.

I don't even actually eat the little sugarbombs (I'm more of a dark chocolate girl, truth be told). I simply enjoy looking at them, individually or stacked in trios, sporting pastel hues and blank, soulless faces.

But don't think for a moment I'm the only one hypnotized by Peep love. People cherish marshmallow Peeps for experiments, interior design, target practice and strategy wargames, not to mention a legion of crazed fans wrapped in marshmallow idolatry.

Think making pastel marshmallow treats is child's play? Maybe you want to try your hand at a few marshmallow concoctions of your own?

You'd best consult the Howstuffworks "How do they make marshmallows?" guide. Good luck, and may the Peeps be with you.

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2.20.2005

Red! Hot!

Valentine's day's signature candy... some would claim it's chocolate.

Since I consider dark chocolate to be a major food group, a single-holiday association is terribly restrictive. Other folks are all about the "conversation hearts," but I've always found them to be chatty, chalky, cloying. Their colors seem faded, their sentiments too common.


Thanks to TS for the "cinnamon imperials" image

For me, Valentine's Day will always be about the red hots. There's something simultaneously so vixenish and second-grader cute in those shiny candy shells.

Known in the confections field under the far-too-formal generic title "cinnamon imperials," a handful of these little guys act like fireworks in the mouth, leaving you with cinnamon-fresh breath, a bright red tongue and a quick sugar high. And isn't that a bit more representative of the kind of love Valentines Day usually promotes?

Thus today, I take time to pay homage to valentines, romantic love and a million tiny droplets of sweet cinnamon with the REDHOTS Virtual Tour.

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2.14.2005

The Year of the Cock

Ugh... A Blogger publishing issue erased my post, and I'm too depressed to recreate it right now.

Here's the short version: Chinese New Year. Golden Unicorn restaurant in Chinatown. Awful Service. Decent Food. And a good time was had by all.

And... a photo of the Peking Duck Sandwich preparation for your viewing pleasure.

Peking Duck

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2.10.2005