Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


The Missing Tooth & The Red Velvet Pig

My boss, let's call him Dr. Bacon, completely missed out on his birthday cake this week.

If you're a longtime reader, you may recall that the one we did last year was the chocolate bacon cake. Well, this one wasn't half so crazy, but it was still sort of cute and appropriate to the recipient.

I blame the dentist. After a vicious morning root canal, Dr. Bacon wasn't up for work, or cake, or even consciousness, I'd wager. Too bad.

We ate up the red velvet pig on his behalf. Piggy wasn't willing to hang around waiting.

Red Velvet Pig

His frosting isn't perfect (but maybe that gives him character?), and yes... the eyes, hooves and snout are paper cut-outs, (which is kind of cheating), but I still think he's rather charming.

He certainly looked very cool after we divided him into pieces. Some gleefully went for pieces of the pork belly. Others claimed the ham, or the loin. I went after one of the tasty trotters.

I think my favorite aspect of red velvet cake is the cream cheese frosting, and since I use less sugar than most people, mine is still a bit more cream-cheese tangy and not eye-poppingly sweet. That said, if you love the super-sweet frosting, by all means... double or even triple the confectioners' sugar in this recipe.
Red Velvet Sheet Cake (Makes one 13" x 9" cake)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk (or 3/4 cup plain yogurt and 1/4 cup water or milk)
2 tbsp (1 oz) red food color
1 tsp white vinegar (raspberry vinegar is also nice)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp salt

For the frosting:
1 8oz package cream cheese, softened
4 tbsp butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup chopped pecans (optional, for garnish)

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 13" x 9" baking pan.
2. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add in the eggs and vanilla, beating well.
3. In a separate bowl, blend the buttermilk and food color.
4. Sift the flour, cocoa, salt and soda, then add this dry blend to the butter mixture, alternating with additions of the buttermilk mixture. Mix out any lumps, but don't over-beat.
5. Stir in the vinegar, and pour the batter into the prepared pan.
6. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center of the comes out clean. When done, remove the pan from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
7. Make the frosting by blending together the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar and vanilla extract. When smooth and creamy, smooth it across the surface of the cake. Top with chopped pecans, if desired.

To make the pig shape, I cut out a cardboard template and made a home-made pan by wrapping it with aluminum foil. And no, it didn't catch on fire in the oven, but you could just as easily (and probably more safely) get the same effect by cutting hooves, an ear and a snout out of the cake after it cools.

The lack of curly tail was noted, and if we'd been prepared, I think we might have inserted a twisted piece of ropey red liquorice or a slice of curly fried bacon.

Alas, the pig went without a tail, Mr. Bacon went without cake and the dentist ran away with the tooth.

But you know, that's how some days go down. At such times, all we can do is hope that tomorrow offers better prospects for healthy teeth, proud tails and tender slices of cake.

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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On The Clock Cake-A-Palooza

I've always found cake to be a culinary curiosity. It's one of those foods we often tend to value more for the way it looks than the flavor beneath the frosting.

A lot of the offices in which I've worked buy cakes to mark people's birthdays. In my experience, these cakes usually come from a supermarket.

Everyone gathers 'round to sing "happy birthday" and then someone cuts up a generic marble cake with frosting that tastes like vegetable shortening mixed with sugar.

I guess I should keep in mind that it's the thought that counts, but I must admit that when faced when one of those unhappy confections, I always find myself taking a square of it to be polite and then looking for an inconspicuous trash bin so I can politely ditch it when nobody's looking.

Thankfully, at my current office my department is made up of a pretty tight-knit group, so we're able to personalize the birthday cake experience. We really try to jointly come up with something that reflects the recipient's personality and/or sense of humor, and then someone volunteers to do the baking and frosting.

For the sake of inspiration, I thought I'd share some of the extremely personalized cakes our team produced this year.

For the athlete: The East German Olympic Swimmer Cake

Swimmer Cake

For the prankster: The Chocolate-Marshmallow Catbox Cake

Kitty Litter Cake

For the beer lover/Simpsons fan: The Duff Beer Cake

Duff Beer Cake

For the bacon devotee: The Chocolate Bacon Cake

Bacon Cake

For yours truly: The Miss Ginsu Cake

Miss Ginsu Cake

For the Flight of the Conchords groupie: The Bret & Jemaine Cake (with coordinating flipside, of course)

Bret & Jemaine

For the Coney Island girl: The Crazy Classic Coney Cake

And there's a few more that I failed to photograph with any skill, but what I've discovered in this whole process is:

1. It's less expensive (and more satisfying) to do a cake from scratch (or even a box mix) than it is to buy a far less tasty one from the grocery store.

2. Homemade means never having to discreetly fling a slice of cake in the wastebasket.

That said, it's only worth the effort if you actually know and like your co-workers. :)

Miss Ginsu

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Office Productivity

Burlap sack of corn
Yes, sir. That's a burlap sack of corn next to my desk.

Alvin with Corn
The boss, demonstratively gleeful.

My office often produces blaring false fire alarms. Sometimes it produces actual fire alarms. Once in a while, it produces clouds of poisonous ammonia gas, and sometimes they clean the grease traps. I really can't begin to describe how ghastly a large grease trap smells if you've never had the pleasure.

So why do I stick around? Occasionally my office also produces something joyous.

Sometimes, there's sweet corn so fresh, it's less than 120 minutes away from the field where it was picked. Sweet corn so juicy, so prime, you don't even have to heat it. The sugars haven't yet turned to starch.

Shuck an ear, lean over the cubicle trash bin, close your eyes, take a bite and pretend you can't hear the fire alarms sounding. Again.

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Desktop Panini 101

Tired of brown-bagging cold sandwiches? Here's my method for making hot, crusty paninoteca-style delights in my cubicle with no fuss and no mess. I've been doing it all week and I'm hooked.

This is so darn simple, it's really more of a method than a recipe.
Desktop Panini
1 roll of aluminum foil
1 George Foreman grill or electric waffle iron
electrical socket
desk space
sandwich of your choice

1. Plug in grill/iron. (Don't plug it into the same outlet as your computer. I'm not going to be responsible for the productivity dive when you blow a fuse or something.)
2. Wrap sandwich in foil.
3. Toast sandwich in grill/iron for 12-16 minutes.

A few sample panini combos to try:
Cuban sandwiches (mustard, pork, ham & Provolone with pickles)
Roast beef & cheddar
Reubens or "Rachel" sandwiches (turkey, sauerkraut, thousand-island dressing & swiss)
Roasted onion, red pepper & sun-dried tomato
Turkey, provolone & pesto with hummus
Sauerkraut, grainy mustard & pastrami

I find desktop panino work best with sandwiches that include cheese, but now that I think about it, I bet a Nutella-banana sandwich would be tasty, too.

Whatever you go with, it'll end up toasty on the outside, gooey on the inside. Easy-peasy, yummy and cheesy. Downside? Jealous coworkers will smell what you're up to...

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USDA Changes Pyramid to Pie

USDA pyramid
And at the top, you'll find nutritional enlightenment...

Yeah, maybe most of the world has been watching the Sistine Chapel for a plume of white smoke. Meanwhile, my coworkers have been salivating at their screens, counting down the moments to this morning's USDA webcast announcement for the new food pyramid. (Weirdos.)

Essentially, they've divided the hierarchy into vertical slices of varying widths to represent relative consumption. The slices are color-coded, and you have to check at MyPyramid.gov to get your own, personalized recommendation on what the government thinks you should be eating.

The reactions among the troops here?

"It's stupid!"

"It's terrible information design! The image isn't sufficient on its own. They don't provide labels for the sections, so it's just confusing"

"They tipped the pyramid over and spilled it out all over the place. It's like they're saying, 'hey you figure it out' "

"It's a food pie"

"Well... it takes into account individual people's needs."

"It doesn't tell me why I'm supposed to eat all these grains."

Overall, there's confusion and disappointment. Our nutritionist was the most cautiously optimistic among us.

The bottom line? Eat whole grains, vary your vegetables, focus on fruits, find calcium-rich foods, eat lean proteins, know the difference between fats, and exercise every day.

I haven't yet found a mention about remembering to floss and getting eight hours of sleep every night, but I'm sure that's in here somewhere...

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