Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


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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The Hedonista Hundred, Part V: 21-25

Pushing onward in the quest to uncover and document 100 wonderful and tasty things...

If you've missed prior twenty, you'll find 'em at the archive page.

Ollie's Noodle Shop
Takeout from Ollie's Noodle Shop on a flat-top rock in Central Park.

21. Picnic food. Even if it's only a loaf of bread and a chunk of cheese. Even if you don't have a blanket. Even if you didn't make it yourself. There's just something twice as grand about eating outside under the sky.

roadside farm
Next exit: Ripe stonefruit, berry baskets and fresh zucchini (3 for $1).

22. Roadside produce stands. Likewise, fresh sweet corn out of the back of a pickup truckbed. Sweet. Juicy. Awesome. Extra bonus: farm stands offer unique discoveries... which is kind of the philosophical opposite of the cookie-cutter, gas-n-go, drive-thru, "back on the highway in ten minutes flat" experience one finds along the New Jersey Turnpike.

Canned goods at the Hong Kong Mall, Queens
Canned goods at the Hong Kong Mall in Queens, NY

23. Local grocery stores. Think the museums and monuments tell the whole story? Not likely. Stop into local food shops around the world to gawk at the cool packaging and variety. See how the natives stock their pantries. You don't really know a place until you know how its people eat.

Williamsburg CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) pick-up day

24. Community-Supported Agriculture Groups and farmers' markets. Give the money to the farmer. Get vegetables, fruit, eggs and flowers. It's fresh. It's direct. It's local. It's environmentally friendly. What's not to like?

Podunk in the East Village
The afternoon cream tea with scones and berries at Podunk

25. Teatime. I don't have a lot of love for their bangers and mash, but the Brits were really on to something with the afternoon tea. Civility, serenity, caffeine and lush snackies. That's a tradition I can get behind.

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Deck the halls with... groceries

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

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

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

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

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

SD State Capitol Display
The overview from the balcony

Marshmallow Man
Do you know the marshmallow man?

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

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

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

Santa on a stick
Santa on a stick!

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

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The Birth of an Entrée

Alas... my digi camera is dead dead dead. Mourning its decline, I perused my archives and thought y'all might enjoy this little "back of the house" tour from the perspective of a veg cook (one of my kitchen stations back in the day).

Keep in mind, we're not talking short-order slapdash here. This ain't no Denny's. This is how it's done in a *good* kitchen.

It's the foundation of your station. You never find a line cook in a high-end kitchen just standing around. There's always something to chop up or clean up. This is Davey making quick work of a ginger julienne.

Mis en place (mees-ehn-plahs).
It's all about prepwork and organization, folks. In this cooler drawer (called a lowboy) we find lovingly trimmed turnips, boiled potatoes, lamb bits, braised squash with mustard seeds, toasted coconut, blanched green beans and brussels sprouts, and on the upper left, roasted shallots, turnips and cauliflower, methinks... I can't remember what that reddish-colored stuff is. The meat cook made that.

On fire.
When you hear the order come in, down go the pans. This is a chickpea panisse for the lamb dish. You'll note the blue "side towel" in my friend's hand here. You don't see hot pads or oven mitts in professional kitchens. You see side towels, and god help you if you don't have a dry side towel, because you'll learn the conductivity of water in a heartbeat if you grab a hot handle with a wet towel. Zow!

The lineup.
These plates just came out of the warmer, so they're still pretty warm on the fingers. The veg generally goes in rings to shape it while it waits for the meat cook to finish slicing and fanning out the meat.

The product.
Here we see the lamb veg (turnips, potatoes, leeks and bits of lamb roast) and the afore-mentioned chickpea panisse just before the meat cook makes his addition. You'll note that my veg plays backup to that juicy spread of lamb. All this dish needs is a drizzle of sauce, a garnish, and an approval by the chef. I'm actually hungry just looking at it...

Chef puffs his cheeks, deep in thought.
Nothing goes out without scrutiny from the chef or whichever of his sous chefs happens to be manning the front line. He's got a whole palette of funky garnishes he can use to give your entrée a finishing touch. You know... stuff like finely chopped chives, cilantro chiffonade, mint chiffonade, microgreens, fried ginger, fried lotus root strips and the like.

Just in case any of this makes you hungry, all these photos were taken in the kitchen at Tabla (Corner of 24th & Madison, NYC). The chef is Floyd Cardoz, and the disembodied hands belong to my brother in arms, Dave S.

Miss Ginsu

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