Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


Resolution #3: Get Cultured

There's nothing like the zeal of the convert, and ever since I started getting regular doses of probiotics in my diet, I can't shut up about 'em.

After years of having a constantly grumpy tummy, the belly is soothed and I feel my overall health is better. Thank you, gut flora.

Fermented milk products like yogurt or kefir are an obvious way to get the probiotic party started, but not everyone eats dairy, so those folks can look to fermented plant products like pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso and kombucha for their healthy bacteria.

Probiotic Party

I eat yogurt almost daily now and have a happy flora party rocking out in my guts, so as a good party host, I want to make sure my little guests have snacks they enjoy.

As it turns out, gut flora like soybeans, unrefined oats, wheat and barley and foods that contain inulin, like onions, garlic, jicama, burdock, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory root and dandelion.

So in that spirit, this wellness resolution is all about getting (and growing) my active cultures. I'll now be on the lookout for ways to boost inulin, like adding jicama to my favorite mango salsa. After all, what's a probiotic party without salsa?

Jicama Mango Salsa (Makes 6 to 8 servings)
1 lb jicama (1 medium root): peeled diced
1 medium cucumber: peeled, seeded and diced
2 mangoes, peeled and diced
1 small red onion, minced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 1 lime)
2 to 3 Tbsp olive oil
Salt, to taste

1. In a large bowl, combine diced jicama, cucumber and mango with minced onion, jalapeno and cilantro.
2. In another bowl, mix together the cumin and lime juice. Slowly pour in the olive oil, incorporating it with a whisk.
3. Dress the jicama-mango mix with the lime dressing and season to taste with salt. Spoon over grilled meat, chicken or fish, or serve with tortilla chips or tacos.

Two more wellness resolutions on the way...

To our health!
Miss Ginsu

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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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Dear Miss Ginsu: Pickling green beans?

Dear Miss Ginsu,

We have a huge bean harvest — got any recipes for pickled beans?

— Swimming in 'em

garden beans

Dear Swimmer,

Oh, how I lurv pickled beans! They're so very tasty. And texture-wise, I prefer 'em to pickled cucumbers. In fact, I hope there's still some CSA or farmers' market beans to be had. If I can keep from just boiling and eating them straight away, I'd like to get some into jars.

You can really just use any regular dill pickle brine recipe — bring it up to a boil, pour it over beans packed in jars, cool 'em and throw 'em in the fridge.

Or you can do the whole canning thing if you're inspired, though I'm rarely up to actually canning, so the refrigerator pickles are fine by me.

Here's a spiced vinegar brine that's good for pickling beets and beans and other stuff:

Spicy Bean Pickling Brine (Makes enough brine for about 1 quart of beans)

2 cups cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2" piece horseradish root, sliced thin (or 1 tbsp grated horseradish)
1/2 tsp whole allspice
2 tsp mustard seeds
1 cinnamon stick
10 whole cloves
1 lb green beans, washed and trimmed

1. Bring the vinegar, sugar, salt, horseradish, allspice, mustard seeds, cinnamon stick and cloves to a boil.

2. Place the cleaned, trimmed beans in a sterile quart jar. Carefully pour the hot brine over the beans.

3. Cap the jar, cool it down, refrigerate and wait a week before munching.

Enjoy your pickled beans as-is, or standing proud in Bloody Marys, or displayed among appetizer assortments, or chopped up in salads. Try them tossed into a summer succotash or served alongside a plate of Middle Eastern-style mezze delights. Nom!

Yours in pickle worship,
Miss Ginsu

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Ramps, glorious ramps!

'Round these parts, you've got to get up pretty early to get your hands on ramps. Even then, you'll be going elbow-to-elbow with the chefs, sous-chefs and epicureans who understand just how short is the season, how tasty is the plant and how brief is our dance with this coy forest onion.

The number-one question among the vegetable groupies hanging around the ramp bins is, of course, "What do I do with them? How do I cook them?"

Ramps... Oh yes, ramps

The short answer: Cook them simply and with respect.

The longer answer: Consider the ramp to be two vegetables in one. It's like a green onion. The top and bottom fare better when their destinies diverge.

The ramp's leafy tops are perfectly happy to be sautéed with a little olive oil (or bacon fat, if you're nasty) in a hot pan. They take about sixty seconds to cook, and it's fun to watch as the leaves inflate like tiny jade balloons in the skillet.

Keep in mind that they cook down to practically nothing, so you'll need about one bunch to serve two people.

Sautéed ramps are ace alongside meats (particularly bison, venison and gamier meats), in omelettes, with fried eggs and bacon in the morning, or as a stuffing with mushrooms for dumplings, chicken or fish.

Ramps for brekkie

The stems and bottoms will want to be washed, trimmed of roots and stripped of the thin, protective layer hanging loosely around the bulbs.

Chop them into thin rings and use as you would use shallots, or, better yet: make pickles.

One of my bosses recently got into refrigerator pickling, and now he's nuts for it. Why? It's easy, it's cheap, it's satisfying and it feels like a creative act. You're playing with your food again.

Ramps await their pickling

The only downside to the fridge pickling method might be space limitations. The best thing is that you don't have to sterilize jars, create water baths to seal lids or take special care in handling hot equipment. Just load up jars with raw materials. Bring your pickling brine to a boil, and pour the brine into the prepared jars. Chill down and store in your fridge for a few days. Boom: pickles.

Last year I went ramp crazy and bought a dozen bunches. We ate sautéed ramps for two weeks, and I pickled the lot in an enormous jar using a simplified version of my old chef's ramp pickling recipe.

If you happen to make Indian food, you'll probably have all these spices sitting around in your pantry. If not, you can skip the spices you don't have; you'll just get less punch in the final product.

Divine Brine for Pickled Ramps, Scallions or Onions (based on a recipe by Chef Floyd Cardoz of Tabla)

1 cup sugar
2 cups white wine vinegar
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek
2 small dried red chilies
3 whole cloves
1/2 lb ramp bulbs, scallion bulbs or onions (sliced into 1/2-inch rounds)

1. Mix sugar, vinegar, mustard, fennel, coriander, fenugreek, chilies and cloves in a suitably sized saucepot and bring to a boil.

2. Make sure bulbs or onion slices are trimmed and very clean. Place them in a clean glass jar with enough room so they can swim a bit.

3. Carefully pour the boiling brine over the ramps, scallions or onions. Cap the jar, chill and refrigerate.

4. After three days, your ramps will be pickled and ready for eating or using in recipes, but you can brine them for longer, and they'll keep (chilled) for months.

My three favorite things to do with pickled ramps:
1. Chop and toss into a basic egg (or chicken) salad. Awesome.
2. Chop and layer onto a hamburger, cheeseburger or just about any savory sandwich.
3. Chop and use with some of the brine to make a vinaigrette (especially over grilled or sautéed asparagus!)

Bon appétit!

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The Hedonista Hundred, Part IV: 16-21

Yeah, I've been slacking a bit on my previously stated mission to share 100 wonderful and tasty things. Sorry about that. I'm resolving to be more consistent.

But I know ya'll like pretty pictures, so my (very slowly growing) directory of really awesome food things continues today with five succulent snacks in a pretty little photo essay.

If you've missed the count from 1-5, 6-10 or 11-15, you'll find 'em at the archive page. Meanwhile...

chocolate-covered orange
16. Nuts and candies from The Sweet Life, 63 Hester St (at Ludlow), NYC

Wheelhouse Bread & Butter Pickles
17. The fine brines from Wheelhouse Pickles, representing in Brooklyn, yo.

Mexicali avocados
18. Creamy little Mexicali avocados from Ferry Marketplace in San Francisco.

Oaxacan tamales at La Loma, Minneapolis
19. Oaxacan tamales at La Loma in Minneapolis.

Chili-Lime Mango Slices
20. Chili-lime mango slices from a street vender along Grand street just below the Broadway Junction JMZ subway stop in Brooklyn.

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If I only had a brine...

Happy Pickle Day
Happy Pickle Day from missginsu's photos at flickr

Pickle history
Pickle history from missginsu's photos at flickr

Lineup for Pickles
Lineup for Pickles at Guss' from missginsu's photos at flickr

Why is it that we nationally celebrate Christopher Columbus (a man generally acknowledged as a less-than-stellar individual), and not the pickle?

I’m wondering, of course, because yesterday was International Pickle Day on the Lower East Side. People enjoyed informational displays, samples, cucumber-green balloons for the kids. It’s an annual celebration of all things pickled. Bread & Butters. Kim Chi. Chutneys. Sauerkraut. Oshinko. The good old kosher dill. How great is that?

Pickling is one of the oldest known methods of food preservation. Pickles have sustained and enriched people’s lives across the globe for a few thousand years. They kept folks alive on long voyages. They offered something vegetal during those long, cold winter months on the plains. They dress up salads. They brighten sushi. They’ve made the Chicago Dog a stunning ballpark snack. Do they have a big day of observance and celebration? Of course not. Pickles get a sunny afternoon on a single city block.

Columbus has parks, schools, streets, expensive statuary and a national bank holiday. As far as I know, Columbus was simply a sea-faring prospector. He reported back to the Spanish royal court about a continent that all kinds of people already knew pretty well, while simultaneously delivering disease and slavery to the people he “discovered.”

What about public displays of pickle pride? I'm all for endorsing Pickle High School, Kim Chi Circle and West Gherkin Boulevard.

Am I saying there’s direct correspondence between old Chris having a day of celebration and a sad underrepresentation in food preservation? Nope. Just want to point out the inherent lack of consistency at work in our government-sponsored observances. Why shouldn’t we link national celebrations to values that are thoroughly worthy of celebration? I also think Election Day should be a holiday, but that’s a topic for another post…

You’ll never know whether one of your great forbearers was fed and nourished with pickles, but it’s likely. You may, indeed, owe your existence in some small part, to pickles.

Pickles save lives.* Pickling evokes the technology of our ancestors. It represents thrift and good planning. And a jar of pickles humbly, eloquently symbolizes the concept of hope. Think about that the next time you twist the top on a fresh jar of pickles and hear the peppy pop. That’s the tiny, briny bang of pickled preservation... a noise I can't help but feel is worthy of pomp and fireworks.

* As an added bonus, having recently watched a very silly customer service video at work, I can assure you that pickles not only save lives, they also inspire people to treat each other with common decency (a value that, sadly, may not be not all that common.) Go on… Give ‘em the pickle.

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