Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


Grocery Store Tourism

This may seem a bit strange, but one of my very favorite overseas travel activities isn't visiting the museums or galleries (though they're very nice, of course)... it's touring local grocery stores and food shops.

I like to see how the average person lives. In Italy, for example, your average shopper has access to powerful traceability and sourcing information.

Behold! Egg coding!

Italian Egg Coding

The eggshells come with printed sets of numbers. The packaging includes the key to translating the numbers.

What do you find in that code? Everything about where that egg came from, including the state, province, municipality and farm where it was produced, the breed of the chicken and of course, the date on which the hen produced the egg.

Pretty cool, no? One glance at the eggshell, and you know just where it came from, what kind of chicken made it and how fresh it is.

Similarly, when I visited both Italy and France, I noticed that the produce is all labeled with the country and/or region of origin... even at the farmers' markets.

Farmers' market labeling

The second reason I enjoy checking out other peoples' groceries: they have things we don't.

While looking in rural France (Les Eyzies) for food that would work well on the grill, we were delighted to find an upgrade on the traditional canned campsite "pork 'n beans" duo. This canned duck confit and lentils heated up just fine on the grill and made couple of très magnifique dinners.

The same shop also had shelf-stable jars of duck rillettes (essentially a fatty duck spread), which tasted amazing when spread across a fresh baguette.

Can of Lentils & Duck Confit

And finally, there's the joy of discovering cool packaging logos and graphic design. You'll find some of my recent favorites, below:

Goat's Milk Yogurt
An adorable goat's milk yogurt label from Trento, Italy

Devilish Rotisserie Chicken Bag
A devilish rotisserie chicken bag from Toulouse, France

Devilish Rotisserie Chicken Bag
A charming nut sack from Berlin, Germany

Corleggy Cheese Label
A lovely little cheese label from Belturbet, Ireland

I know I can't be alone in my tendency toward grocery store tourism. Anyone have foreign food discoveries to report? Let me know in the comments or link me over to your adventures.

Miss Ginsu

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Pistachio Carrot Cake & Saffron Ice Cream

I was planning to write on a different topic today, but when you're inspired, sometimes you have to go where the wind blows you.

Today, the wind was blowing in the a pale green direction, and I'm not talking St. Patrick's Day here (although a person certainly could, were a person so inclined).

The inspiration of the day? Pistachio Carrot Cake & Saffron Coconut Ice Cream. Oh yes. We're just that crazy around here.

My coworkers joined forces for a boffo birthday cake combination, and it turns out, this one's not too difficult for mere mortals to pull off.

Pistachio Carrot Cake with Saffron Coconut Ice Cream

Whack! Pow! Suzy Hotrod cranked out a standard carrot cake (with gooey cream cheese frosting), but she threw an extra cup or so of chopped pistachios into the batter and saved another handful for sprinkling around the top. Easy, nutty, tasty... and green!

Meanwhile, back at the Bat Cave, Kate whipped up a coconut ice cream, but used a hint of saffron for its sunny hue and unmistakable flavor.

Pistachio Carrot Cake with Saffron Coconut Ice Cream

Together, they're like Batman and Robin... a dynamic duo. But don't take my word for it... try for yourself.
Pistachio Carrot Cake (Makes a 13" x 9" cake)

For the cake
4 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup apple sauce
2 cups sugar (all white or half white/half brown)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup chopped pistachios

For the Frosting
1/2 cup butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract or lemon juice
1 cup chopped pistachios (for garnish)

1. Heat oven to 350° F (175° C). Grease and flour a 9" x 13" pan and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, applesauce, sugar and the two teaspoons of vanilla.
3. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon, then blend into the wet ingredients. Stir in carrots and pistachios.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
5. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely. (Or simply leave in the pan and frost the top.)

For the frosting: In a mixing bowl, whip the butter, cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and vanilla or lemon juice. Beat until smooth and creamy. Frost the cooled cake and sprinkle reserved pistachios across the surface.

Saffron-Coconut Ice Cream (Makes about 1 1/2 quarts)

1 cup milk
1 pinch saffron threads
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 (14 ounce) can cream of coconut (not coconut milk!)

1. In a saucepan, combine 1/2 cup of the milk and the pinch of saffron. Heat just until milk is hot, but not boiling. Stir and allow the mixture to steep 10 minutes before moving to the refrigerator to chill completely.
2. Strain out the saffron threads (optional) and whisk together the chilled saffron milk with the remaining 1/2 cup of milk, the cream and the cream of coconut.
3. Freeze the mix using an ice cream machine or attachment, then pack into pints and harden in the freezer for at least 5 hours (or overnight).

So then, what have we learned today? Pistachios are yummy. Cake and ice cream are yummy. Distribution of labor is totally yummy.

Good lessons, indeed. I think that about does it for today. See you back here at the same Bat Time, same Bat Channel.

Miss Ginsu

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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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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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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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Off the Hook Maple-Nut Death Bars

How do you know if you've met with bake sale success?

Sometimes, all you need are pure, simple, organic raves from coworkers. Here's three from my office's recent "raise funds for Wagga the injured cat" bake sale:
"ohmygod so good. I don't even want to know what's in those."

"Not right! Maple walnut OFF THE HOOK!!! Pairs with Camel Lights and black coffee..."

"Those maple bars are lethal. Can you give me the recipe??"

Coconut Maple Bars

Will I give the recipe?

Yes, of course I will give the recipe. Just don't tell anyone.

In the wrong hands, Maple Nut Bars could be used for evil purposes. (Or maybe even evil porpoises... you never know what creepy things villains are up to.)

Coconut Maple Bars
They don't look like much, but gosh, people sure like 'em.

Dead Tasty Chewy Maple Nut Bars (Makes about 21 deadly bars)

Shortbread Base
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown (or white) sugar
1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter, softened

Deadly Nut Topping
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
1/2 to 3/4 cup dried coconut (preferably unsweetened)

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 11 x 7" baking pan.
2. For the shortbread, blend together the sugar and flour, add the butter, and mix until the mixture is a crumby dough. Press the dough gently across the bottom of the baking pan.
3. Bake the shortbread until it begins to color around the edges, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
4. Meanwhile, make the topping by beating together the sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, butter and eggs. When blended, stir in the nuts and coconut.
5. Spread the maple-nut topping evenly over the cooled shortbread.
6. Bake in the center of the oven until the top is browned and set, about 25-30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before cutting and serving. Don't let people eat more than one. Like I said... deadly.

Happy baking!
Miss Ginsu

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Scoop of Nutella Bacon Swirl?

After the resounding success of the bacon cake, I knew we had to try bacon ice cream as an encore.

One of the best (or maybe I should say, most dangerous) kitchen gadgets an ice cream freak can have is, of course, an ice cream maker. It's like setting a meth junkie up with a home lab. I own the attachment kit for my KitchenAid mixer, and I use it. (More often than I should, honestly.)

Peanut Butter Bacon Crunch

But how else would I answer important questions like, "What's tastier: Peanut Butter Bacon Crunch or Nutella Bacon Swirl?" And what would the Mellow Maple Bacon blend taste like?

My go-to guide for homespun ice cream happiness has always been Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book. Chock-full of goofy cartoons and ice cream anecdotes, I've found it to be simple, playful and inspiring, and it's well-fingerprinted from many episodes of hands-on enjoyment.

I'm going to do three bacon ice cream recipes herein, and you'll note that they're largely the same. As it turns out, once you get the hang of ice cream, it's pretty simple to whip up your own crazy variations. Frankly, I'm convinced that experimentation is half the fun.

Bacon & Peanuts

For my ice cream adventures, I usually start off with the B&J sweet cream base #1, which is a simple 4-ingredient blend that you don't have to cook. I trust the eggs I get (they're organic, free-range eggs) but if you don't know where yours come from, you might want to think about using a base recipe that involves some cooking.
1. Peanut Butter Bacon Crunch Ice Cream(Makes 1+ quart)
2 free-range eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup peanuts, chopped
4-5 bacon strips, fried crisp and minced

1. Whisk the eggs 1-2 minutes.
2. Whisk in the sugar.
3. When blended, pour in the cream and milk. Blend well.
4. Add peanut butter and whisk out any lumps.
5. Pour blend into your ice cream machine and prepare as directed.
6. When the ice cream is very thick and nearly ready, five to ten minutes before completion, blend in the chopped peanuts and bacon.
7. Continue freezing to desired texture.

Nutella-Bacon Swirl

2. Nutella-Bacon Swirl Ice Cream(Makes 1+ quart)
2 free-range eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/3 cup Nutella (or another chocolate-hazelnut sauce)
4-5 bacon strips, fried crisp and minced

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

2. Mellow Maple Bacon Ice Cream(Makes 1+ quart)
2 free-range eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
4-5 bacon strips, fried crisp and minced

1. Whisk the eggs 1-2 minutes.
2. Whisk in the sugar.
3. When blended, pour in the cream, milk and maple syrup. Blend well.
4. Pour blend 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 bacon.
6. Continue freezing to desired texture.

Around the office there was enormous love for the Peanut Butter Bacon Crunch, although one of my supervisors was partial to the Nutella-Bacon Swirl.

Once you bring bacon bits into your ice cream, the possibilities seem endless. Maybe Bacon-Pecan Buttercrunch? A sundae of Roasted Apple Ice Cream with bacon and caramel bits? What about Bacon, Peanut Butter & Banana? (The Presley Special, perhaps?)

J was sweet enough to gift me with an enormous box of pint-sized ice cream cartons scored from a restaurant supply store on Bowery. You can use other containers, but trust me: if you really get into ice cream making, you'll want to make sure you can push off gift pints on friends. If you're not a New York local, never fear... any place that has restaurants is going to have a restaurant supply store nearby.


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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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For the love of Chocolate-Almond Daim Cakes

chocolate almond daim cake
The Chocolate-Almond Daim Cake

Long, long, ago (well, in 2005, actually...), I wrote up a little review on that most refreshing shopping oasis: the IKEA snack bar. Since then, hundreds of interested souls have traveled to this very website in search of a recipe for the Daim Cake I mentioned. Although that wasn't the intention of the original article, who am I to turn away a gang of hungry travelers?

To that end, I bring you: the homemade Daim Cake.

And now for a quick disclaimer.... IKEA's official website propaganda describes their Daim Cake as: "An original cake made out of Daim candy and almond cake."

For my Daim Cake (well, cakelets, really), I make almond cakes with crushed Daim bars and a simple chocolate ganache. If you've eaten the IKEA original, you can't help but notice that my version is less a thin, flat torte and more an individual snack cake. In fact, I think my version is more like what snack cakes should be... small, cute and made without industrial preservatives.

But yes... this Daim Cake is different. If you need thin tortes, go to IKEA. If you want something that ranks high in the "tasty" category, is simple to whip up and fun to assemble and eat (not to mention something that will probably impress the hell out of your neighborhood coffee klatch), give this recipe a whirl.

chocolate almond daim cake
Daim bars in their natural habitat... my kitchen.

Now then: The first step (and this may be the hardest part of the process) is locating the Daim bars. I found mine at The Sweet Life on the Lower East Side, but if you're not a Manhattanite, you can probably search for them at your local IKEA food shop or a neighborhood candy store that cares. Barring that, substitute the Skor bar, which is awfully similar to the Daim and much, much easier to find here in the states.

You'll need one Daim bar to accommodate three mini-cakes. Making the full recipe (six cakes)? Get two bars. Get three if you're snacky. Put them in the freezer when you get them home.

almond cakes
Unadorned mini almond cakes
For the almond cakes, you'll need a standard-size muffin tin and:
Flour and butter (to grease and flour the muffin tin)
8oz sweetened almond paste (often sold in a can or tube)
3 fresh eggs, separated
2 Tbsp cream
3 Tbsp pastry flour/cake flour
1 tsp powdered sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour six cups in a standard-size muffin tin.
2. Blend together the almond paste, egg yolks and cream until they form a smooth, thick, almond-scented mixture. Incorporate the flour.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with the teaspoon of powdered sugar until you achieve firm, white peaks.
4. Scoop about half of the whipped egg whites into the almond mixture and fold it in until all the white is incorporated.
5. Scoop the remaining half of the whipped whites into the almond mixture and fold it in. Don't overwork the mixture at this point.
6. Fill six cups in the muffin tin with the batter. (In a 12-cup tin, I usually alternate filled cups with empty cups so it's balanced.)
7. Cook for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the cakes comes out without batter stuck to it.
8. Cool 5-10 minutes in the tin, then run a butter knife around the edge of each cake to help release them from the pan. Be free, little cakes!

assembling chocolate almond daim cakes
Assembling the Chocolate-Almond Daim Cakes

Once you have cooled cakes, use a serrated knife to cut the rounded tops off. These are tasty. Eat one now, and save the rest for later snacking... maybe with berries and whipped cream. Yum.

Bisect each cake so you have two equally-sized tiers to work with.

Take the Daim bars out of the freezer. Don't unwrap them. Immediately throw them down onto the kitchen floor as hard as you can. Pick them up and throw them again. Do this again if it makes you feel good. You're trying to shatter them as much as possible without sending chunks of chocolate flying across your kitchen. Once those bars are appropriately pummeled, open up the packages and pour out the pieces onto your cutting board. Chop up any large hunks so you have a nicely uniform "crumb."

Make the chocolate ganache in a small saucepan with:

2 cups chocolate pieces (I believe IKEA uses milk chocolate, but I prefer semi-sweet or dark, myself)
1/3 cup cream
1 Tbsp butter

Combine the chocolate, cream and butter in a saucepan over very, very low heat. Whisk all the lumpy chocolate bits until the sauce is smooth and shiny. Don't let it burble. Burbling is bad in this case.

Take apart the bisected cakes and lay them out on across a sheet pan you've covered in a protective layer of parchment, wax paper or plastic.

Use a small rubber spatula or a butter knife to spread a thin layer of chocolate ganache over the tops of the lower layers and the bottoms of the uppper layers. Evenly sprinkle about a half-teaspoon of the Daim bar crumbs on each ganache-coated bottom layer (like the middle cake in the photo above), then put the tops on 'em (like the cake in the foreground).

Cover each cake with a smooth layer of ganache, sprinkle another half-teaspoon or so of crumbs on the tops, and finish the cakes by spreading another teaspoon or so of ganache across the Daim-crumb-topped cakes.

You should be able to smooth out most irregularities in the ganache with a butter knife that you've warmed in a glass of hot water... but don't get crazy about it. They should look a little irregular. It's better that way.

See? Tasty, simple and fun to make.

Cool the cakes at room temperature until the chocolate firms up, and serve 'em with hot coffee. Spare yourself the mad IKEA crowds, and dream of furniture-assembly instructions that make sense.

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My Big Fat Granola Epiphany

Sometimes, I'm just rolling along with my life and I'm suddenly hit upside the head with the realization I've been doing something completely silly for years.

Case in point: Granola. Why have I been buying granola? I feel like such a dope for having paid Kellogg's to make a substandard version of it for me.

It's painfully quick and easy to make. It creates a warm, homey aroma in your kitchen. It's fresh. It's yummy. It's cheap.

And when you make it at home, you can put whatever you want in it. Looking to make it healthier? Toss in some extra oat bran. Not a big fan of raisins? No problem. Love hazelnuts more than life itself? Go nuts. Literally.

And it's even better with fresh berries and yogurt...

This stuff is good with milk, nice for crunch over yogurt, ice cream, fresh fruit or pudding. Get yourself a big tin of rolled oats and forage for some dried fruit and nuts in the back of your cupboard.

So don't be a rube like me. Stop buying granola. Take this recipe and fly free, little sparrow.
DIY Granola Base Recipe (Makes about 4 1/2 cups)
4 1/2 cups rolled oats (NOT instant)
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp molasses
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup canola oil (or another light, unflavored oil)
1/2 to 1 cup of your favorite chopped nuts or seeds, if you wish a combination of: sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, flax seeds, etc.

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a mixing bowl, blend all the ingredients.
2. Spread the mix on a cookie sheet or sheet tray and bake 15-25 minutes, stirring once or twice during baking to brown the mix evenly.
3. Cool the tray on a rack, stirring occasionally. Add dried fruit, if desired, after granola has cooled.

After you've done the base batch once or twice, experiment with coconut flakes, macadamia nuts and dried pineapple or perhaps hazelnut and cranberry or maybe dried cherries and almonds or maybe dried apple and walnut...

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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Mi Horchata = Cold Comfort

Our cool, damp spring screeches to a sudden halt with a day so muggy it's like walking around in someone's mouth.

And of course the air conditioner's out at work. Can't think. Can't focus. So sweaty and gritty I want to peel my skin off. A cool, white, liquid beacon hovers in my mind like a shimmering promise of sweet refreshment. Horchata.


In Mexico, horchata is a creamy, lightly sweetened rice milk blended with flavors of cinnamon and almond. The drink was brought to Mexico from Spain, and was probably brought to Spain by the Moors, who made it with the chufa — a root pod also known as the “tigernut.”

I’m told that chufa horchata is liquid ambrosia, but since my corner market doesn’t sell a lot of chufa, I can’t corroborate that rumor. The sad fact of the matter is, I can’t even find a rice-based horchata ‘round my pierogi-rich ‘hood. What’s an overheated girl to do?

Luckily, horchata is extremely simple to make, and since there’s so many variations out there, it seems nearly impossible go wrong.

Some recipes use a little milk or coconut milk. Some add in a bit of lime zest or a squeeze of juice. Some use a little vanilla. Some instructions recommend grinding the dry rice to a powder before adding water. Others tell you to cook the rice nice and soft first, then blend it to a smooth consistency. (You could, of course, skip the rice preparation altogether and just use a commercial rice milk like Rice Dream.)
Mi Horchata (Makes enough for 4-6 folks)

White rice (1 cup per roughly 8-10 cups of water)
Whole raw almonds (maybe a cup)
Cinnamon (1-2 sticks)
Sugar (1/2 cup or more, to your taste)

1. In a heavy-bottomed stockpot, simmer the rice, almonds, cinnamon and water until very tender (about 30 minutes).
2. Remove the cinnamon stick.
3. If a thicker version is desired, blend the mixture smooth in batches in a blender or food processor.
4. Strain through layered cheesecloth or a fine sieve. Chill well. Pour in an ice-filled glass and revel in the cool, creamy (non-dairy!) goodness.

Some folks like theirs with chewy rice at the bottom, something like the tapioca pearls in bubble tea.

Personally, I find that it's lovely blended, strained and poured over crushed ice like a cocktail. Throw in a touch of rum or tequila if the mood strikes you. Oh, what's that? The heat index is up over 100? Bring it on.

Miss Ginsu

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