Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Summer Ceviche Salad with Fresh Papalo

The vendor had noticed us ogling her herbs. "It's papalo! Here, take some with you." she chirped. "I'll write the word down for you. It's from Mexico. Use it like cilantro."

At the next stand over, we scored some gray sole and returned home with arms full of tomatoes, onions, lettuces, cucumbers and this unfamiliar herb.

A quick web search revealed that papalo is indeed native to Mexico, and it grows like a weed across the Southwest US as well as Central and South America. Generally eaten raw, is often added to things like guacamole, salsas and sandwiches.

Fresh Papalo

This site claims the flavor is "somewhere between arugula, cilantro and rue," but having not eaten rue, I thought I tasted something slightly citrusy and minty, like something between cilantro and the sushi bar staple, shiso.

Homesick Texan makes a very pretty salsa verde with it, but on this particularly hot, humid day, we had our minds set on a cool ceviche salad for lunch.

This is just a variation on my basic ceviche recipe. I think the only thing that could have made it more delightful would be a sliced avocado on the side.

Ceviche Salad

Summer Ceviche Salad (Serves two)

2 sole fillets (or another white fish) sliced in 1/2" wide strips
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp honey (or a pinch of sugar)
1 tsp chopped papalo (or cilantro)
1 tsp chopped epazote (optional)
1 handful cherry tomatoes, halved
2-3 radishes, sliced very thin
1/4-1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and sliced very thin
1 green onion (white section) sliced very thin
4 cups mesclun or chopped leaf lettuce

1. Combine the lime juice and salt in a glass/pyrex dish or another non-reactive container.
2. Add the fish slices, tossing well to coat the fish with juice, and chill (for up to, but not more than an hour), stirring once or twice during that time to make sure all the fish surface area comes in contact with the juice.
3. After 20-30 minutes, the fish should look white and opaque. Drain off most of the lime juice and incorporate the olive oil. Coat the fish well.
4. Mix in the honey (or a pinch of sugar) and taste the lime juice-olive oil blend. Adjust the flavor, to taste, with salt/sugar.
5. Toss in the herbs, tomatoes, radishes, jalapeño slices and onion.
6. Divide the lettuce greens and make a bed on each plate. Spoon the ceviche on top of the lettuce and drizzle the greens with the lime juice.

Because it's often used as a substitute for cilantro or culantro, you won't be surprised to learn that the papalo was delicious in our ceviche.

I think it'd also make a delightful addition to fish tacos. That citrusy aspect is bound to make papalo welcome anywhere you'd use a pinch of cilantro and a squeeze of lime.

If you happen to be in NYC, you can get your very own papalo (and epazote and other good-lookin' herbs and veggies) at the Angel Family Farm stand at Tompkins Square on Sundays. Looks like they're based in Goshen, NY, and they run a local CSA, as well.

Salud!
Miss Ginsu

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7.30.2009

Mmm... Mercadito Cantina

I've never really been wild for flan. It always just seemed like some soggier wanna-be dessert next to the perfection of the divinely crisp 'n creamy, burnt-caramel goodness embodied by the crème brûlée.

And there's so many bad examples of flan out there in the world. But having just recently eaten at Mercadito Cantina, I have seen the light. I am now a flan convert (not that that's going to do anything good for my cholesterol level).

Dos Flans

J happens to have a friend who works there, and seeing as how the place opened months ago, we were loooong overdue for a visit and a taste-test of their fish tacos (so dear to my heart and tastebuds).

After our dinner (which I can't praise enough, by the way: so. very. tasty.), we were sent a duo of dense little flans. Vanilla and Goat's Milk. My goodness, people. A well-made flan is a smooth, rich, decadent delight. A real treat.

Michelada

After freshly-made guacamole, killer salsas, a michelada that rivals my own, excellent fish tacos and sautéed mushrooms with huilacoche (not to mentioin generous bites of J's outstanding pulled pork taquitos), I was so full I couldn't even bear the thought of dessert.

And then it appeared... the little platter of tasty flanitos. One bite, thought I. But oh, mama. They broke my will. (Oh, what a thrill...)

Iban and the cooks

That said, if you want to visit for yourself, you'll have to be crafty.

Word is already out, and true to New York standards, the place is not roomy.

We went on a Tuesday, and they were well-filled by 8 p.m. I don't even want to see the crush on Friday. Early dinners and brunches may be a better bet.

4 spoons

Mercadito Cantina
Mercadito Cantina on Urbanspoon
172 Avenue B
East Village, NYC
212.388.1750

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9.23.2008

Mi Chelada Es Su Chelada

Nearly 10 years ago, I visited the Yucatán Peninsula for the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival and discovered a drink they called the michelada. It was a refreshing cocktail of sour, savory and salty flavors with brisk carbonation... just the thing for an afternoon of snorkeling, sunbathing and snacking on fresh fish tacos beside the sea.

I didn't see another michelada until I moved to NYC and rediscovered them at Barrio Chino, where the staff poured micheladas just the way I remembered, not to mention great fish tacos. But Barrio Chino is nearly always busy when I'm hankering for a michelada, so I learned to make them on my own.



Through much experimentation, I found that Clamato, a tomato-clam juice, makes the most balanced michelada. Unfortunately, Clamato is also made with high-fructose corn syrup — an additive I actively try to avoid.

So go with Clamato if you can take the MSG and HFCS, or just use your favorite tomato juice. Standard V8 works fine and R.W. Knudsen also makes a nice vegetable blend without corn syrup, but their juice is pretty tart, so you may have to notch down the lime you'll add to the michelada recipe to get the right flavor balance.

One more thing: this is a salty drink. Maybe don't serve it to friends with sodium-sensitive hypertension, okay?
Miss G's Michelada
A small bowl or dish of kosher salt (for salting the glass rim)
1/2 cup Clamato or your favorite tomato juice
juice of 1 lime
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
1 dash soy sauce
1-2 shakes of hot sauce or 1/2 tsp Sriracha sauce
1 bottle Negra Modelo, Corona or Sol, chilled

1. Dampen the rim of the glass you intend to use (a pint glass is perfect) with water or lime juice, and dip the dampened rim into the bowl or dish of salt.
2. Pour tomato juice, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and hot sauce into the glass and mix well.
3. Add ice, if desired, and pour in the beer. The beer will froth in the glass, so pour slowly. You may not get the entire beer in the glass. This is fine. Sip your cocktail and pour in the rest of the beer when you have space.

Last year, I saw that Budweiser was marketing a savory beer based on the same concept: The Budweiser Chelada. I haven't had one, but I can't help but think that fresh-squeezed limes have a lot to do with the charm of this drink. And if you ask me, canning a highly acidic beverage in aluminum sounds like a recipe for nasty off-flavors.

All I'm saying is this: don't try the Bud Chelada (or, similarly, the Miller Chill) and think you've had the genuine article. A real michelada needs to be freshly prepared, and it has a flavor that's somewhere between a Bloody Mary and a Corona with lime. Wait for a sweltering hot, crushingly humid day and make yourself a michelada based on the recipe above.

Salud!

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6.19.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: DIY Tamales

I've noticed that after you've been blogging for a while, you find that your commenters often come up with even better material than you do. Oh, how I love online community!

A couple of my favorite blog comments can be found at the bottom of this post, in which commenter M. delves far beyond my sci-fi depth and in this post, in which an anonymous commenter has an astoundingly vast knowledge of butter.

This weekend, I received a very cool note from wine wizard Eric Hazard, who convincingly pitches this week's Recession-Proof Recipe: Homemade Tamales. What a gift!

Just about the only thing he doesn't provide is a wine pairing... although I think I'd prefer these little guys with horchata or an icy lager, myself.

Oaxacan tamale at La Loma, Minneapolis
Oaxacan tamales at La Loma, Minneapolis

From the man himself:
So, here's something to consider, since it is great way to extend meat and it is just so much fun to make: tamales.

Being from South Texas, I have long ago given up trying to find good tamales in NYC. So I took to making my own last year, and I've got it pretty well down.

Even though they look extremely difficult, the base ingredients are really simple.

Most crucial is Masa Harina. I had a devil of a time finding it in Manhattan, I'm sure it would be easier to find in the ethnic food markets in the boroughs. If not, $20 will buy plenty via Amazon. Corn husks can also be ordered, but this time of year, corn is plentiful so why not save the husks to be used later? (Plus, how cool is it to find a use for what most people would just throw away).

Tamale masa is basically a combination of the masa harina corn meal, lard, baking soda, salt and chicken stock. This forms the basis for whatever meat (or vegetable) you wish to put into the tamale. It is really tasty and really filling, making the more expensive ingredients inside go a long way.

For my filling, I use pork, cooked with green chilies, diced tomatoes, garlic, onion, cumin, chili powder, and enough chicken stock to keep it honest as it slowly boils. Once finished, I run it through the food processor to chop it up and evenly distribute the flavors.

Then it is a matter of spreading the masa on the moist corn husks, laying down some filling and rolling up. The batch is then steamed for 45 minutes and you're done.

Really filling, really tasty and you can make a ton to freeze and save for later. If I had to take a guess, I'd say I can make a dozen for about $10. Most of that being the cost of pork.

As an extra bonus, the Homesick Texan just recently posted about making your own lard, so you could really go to town on the DIY tip if you were inspired.

As far as quantities for the batter, you should probably go with about a cup of fat to every four cups of masa harina. That'll yield about 35 tamales.

DIY Tamales
1 cup lard or vegetable shortening
4 cups masa harina
1 Tbsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

You'll also need
Your filling of choice (stewed pork, cheese, chicken, veggies, etc.)
About 40 corn husks, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
Twine or kitchen string

1. Blend lard or shortening, masa harina, soda, salt and stock together.
2. Spread about 1/4 cup of tamale batter across the center of each husk.
3. Spoon about a tablespoon of filling along the center of the batter.
4. Wrap the batter around the filling, rolling in the sides and tucking the bottom of the husk. Bind top (and bottom, if necessary) with lengths of twine or kitchen string. Repeat this process with the remaining husks, batter and filling.
5. Place two or three dimes in the bottom of a large pot fitted with a steamer basket (while it boils, they'll jingle, letting you know there's still water in the pot) and add enough water to meet the basket base, but doesn't let that level rise above it.
6. Stand the filled husks in the basket, keeping them upright, but not cramped.
7. Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to keep the water simmering gently. Steam about 45 minutes.


If you really go crazy for homemade tamales, you should definitely try some Brownie Tamales while you're at it. Invite a few amigos over. Bust out the cervezas. Have a fiesta on the cheap!

Muchas gracias a Señor Hazard por una buena idea!

Salud a todos!

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5.28.2008

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

Didja Hear the One About the Avocado?

Testicles, avocados and lawyers. This is why I'm in love with etymology:

"The history of avocado takes us back to the Aztecs and their language, Nahuatl, which contained the word ahuacatl meaning both 'fruit of the avocado tree' and 'testicle.' The word ahuacatl was compounded with others, as in ahuacamolli, meaning 'avocado soup or sauce,' from which the Spanish-Mexican word guacamole derives.

Mexicali Avocado

"In trying to pronounce ahuacatl, the Spanish who found the fruit and its Nahuatl name in Mexico came up with aguacate, but other Spanish speakers substituted the form avocado for the Nahuatl word because ahuacatl sounded like the early Spanish word avocado (now abogado), meaning 'lawyer.' In borrowing the Spanish avocado, first recorded in English in 1697 in the compound avogato pear (with a spelling that probably reflects Spanish pronunciation), we have lost some traces of the more interesting Nahuatl word."

--Dictionary.com

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2.01.2005