Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

The Untold Delights of Duluth

Gooseberry Falls

The Big View

Ah, Duluth... So much easier to say than, say Keegewaquampe (though in truth, the Chippewa kind of had first dibs on naming rights).

Mum and I met up in Minneapolis and pushed north to take in the promised delights of the Lake Superior region. And delight there was.

We were only there overnight, so I won't be revealing any state secrets here, but I will say that if only famed Kentucky Representative J. Proctor Knott had been able to join our foray, his bitter (though humorous) rant on The Untold Delights of Duluth might have contained more odes to pie and fewer snide remarks about the natives and the bison.

But we'll get to the pie soon enough...

First Stop: Pine City. Every road trip needs a coffee break, and you could do worse than to stop by Java Joe's Bistro in Pine City (take the town's second northbound exit unless you're amped to take the ten-minute town tour).

Java Joe's

With a charming moose head on the wall, homey decor and a fine baker at work in the kitchen, Joe's is welcoming for the road-weary traveler. I recommend splitting one of their enormous muffins over your java.

From Joe's you can cruise along historic Highway 61 (if you're a Bob Dylan junkie) or get back on 35N and make for the lake.

Historic Brass Tubing at Fitger's Brewery

Mom and I splurged for this trip and stayed at Fitger's Inn, an 1880s brewery that was renovated into a hotel with an attached complex of shops, restaurants and an operating microbrewery.

It was a fascinating place to stay, with heaps of historic detail as well as Fitger's very modern microbrew pub built right into the experience.

Immediate access from our room to Duluth's lakeside boardwalk made for both a charming twilight stroll as well as a gorgeous morning jog the following day.

The Bites

Just down the way from Fitger's you'll find Sir Benedict's Tavern on the Lake, a sweet little pub with an exceedingly friendly staff who served us tasty soups and high-piled sandwiches (don't miss their spicy honey mustard).

Al Fresco Lunch at Sir Benedicts

As you can see in the photo evidence above, I got the bacon-avocado sandwich and chicken wild rice soup with a seasonal Leinkugel's, and ate it under the canopy of a gorgeous spring day... a pairing I'd recommend without reservation.

When visiting Duluth, you really can't miss a lakeside drive to see the lovely, lonely lighthouses, Gooseberry Falls State Park and, of course there must be a stopover at Betty's Pies when you're done hiking "those vast and fertile pine barrens."

Betty's serves other stuff, of course. You can get a full meal there if you want to. But clearly, you'd do well to save space for dessert. The place isn't called Betty's Meatloaf.

Betty's Pies

And yes... you do want it a la mode. The ice cream is real and it's real good. Mom and I sampled the Bumbleberry (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries) and the Great Lakes pie (a combo of apple, blueberry, rhubarb, strawberry and raspberry), and both were superb.

When dinnertime rolled around, Duluth offered up a cornucopia of interesting options (check Chowhound for the frontrunners), but we opted to stay on Superior Street and entrusted ourselves to the historic Pickwick Restaurant.

I was dying for a plate of simply cooked trout and tender-crisp vegetables alongside a quality beer, and the Pickwick provided. Mom chose a barbecued shrimp dish, which was far too sweet and gooey for me, (though I admit that might have be someone's ideal preparation). They do seem to offer a wide variety of American classics, and the beers are good.

The Takeaway

While swooning over the tangy fruit and pastry crust of Betty's Pies, I realized that it'd been forever since I'd eaten a slice of pie that wasn't my own or the work of someone I knew personally. And there's one big reason for this: canned fillers.

It's a darn shame, but most places make pies with gelatinous canned pie filler. Why? It's cheap, easy and few people complain.

In fact, if restaurants charged what Betty's charges for its slices of pie (get ready to shell out six bucks a slice) people would complain.

But the truth is... when it comes to pie, you get what you pay for. So if you love pie, find a trustworthy baker and pay well, or make your own. Betty's inspired me with their multi-fruit combinations, so here's a pie inspired by their delicious Bumbleberry Crunch, a combo that happens to be in season at the moment

Betty's Pie a la mode

Quadberry Crumble Pie (Makes one pie)
1 9-inch single-crust pie shell
4 cups (1 quart) fresh berries (any combo of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and sliced strawberries)
1/2 cup white sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp lemon zest (optional)
Crumble Topping (see below for recipe)
Vanilla ice cream, for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. In large bowl, blend together the sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and zest (if using).
3. Add the berries to the bowl and toss gently to coat.
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell and sprinkle evenly with the Crumble Topping.
5. Gently place the pie on a baking sheet, and bake for about 45-50 minutes or until the crust is a deep golden brown color and the juices are thickened and bubbling.
6. Move the baked pie to a wire rack to cool for several hours. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.

Crumble Topping
3 Tbsp flour
4 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1 dash salt
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup pecans, walnuts or pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chilled butter, cut in 1/2" pieces

1. In a mixing bowl, blend together flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, oats and nuts.
2. Cut the butter into the mixture with a fork until the blend resembles a uniform gravel. Sprinkle atop the pie filling and bake as directed above.

Love pictures? Who doesn't? You can see the full Duluth Photo Set here.

Meanwhile, Happy Trails!
Miss Ginsu

Java Joe's Bistro
Java Joe's Bistro on Urbanspoon
1300 Northridge Ct NW
Pine City, MN

Fitger's Inn
Fitger's Brewhouse on Urbanspoon
600 East Superior St
Duluth, MN 55802
218.722.8826

Sir Benedict's Tavern on the Lake
Sir Benedict's Tavern on Urbanspoon
805 E Superior St
Duluth, MN 55802
218.728.1192

Betty's Pies
Betty's Pies on Urbanspoon
1633 Highway 61
Two Harbors, MN 55616
218.834.3367

Pickwick Restaurant
Pickwick on Urbanspoon
508 E Superior St.
Duluth, MN 55802
218.727.8901

Gooseberry Falls State Park
3206 Highway 61
Two Harbors, MN 55616
218.834.3855

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7.22.2009

Mad for Peaches

Millions of peaches, peaches for me...

With July now ripe and full, I believe the whole world's tipping at the brink of peach madness.

Over at the White On Rice Couple blog, one finds adorable dogs licking peaches.

I myself just received 15 juicy little darlings in last night's CSA box. They're about to become peach compote or peach pie or maybe just peaches with yogurt if only I can keep myself from devouring them all in a dripping, fleshy mess over the sink.



Then, of course, I stumbled over this entertaining peach reverie (from The Chronicles of Clovis by Saki [H. H. Munro]) at Project Gutenberg while eating a particularly fine specimen myself:

"How nice of you to remember my aunt when you can no longer recall the names of the things you ate.

Now my memory works quite differently. I can remember a menu long after I've forgotten the hostess that accompanied it. When I was seven years old I recollect being given a peach at a garden-party by some Duchess or other; I can't remember a thing about her, except that I imagine our acquaintance must have been of the slightest, as she called me a 'nice little boy,' but I have unfading memories of that peach.

It was one of those exuberant peaches that meet you halfway, so to speak, and are all over you in a moment. It was a beautiful unspoiled product of a hothouse, and yet it managed quite successfully to give itself the airs of a compote. You had to bite it and imbibe it at the same time.

To me there has always been something charming and mystic in the thought of that delicate velvet globe of fruit, slowly ripening and warming to perfection through the long summer days and perfumed nights, and then coming suddenly athwart my life in the supreme moment of its existence. I can never forget it, even if I wished to.

And when I had devoured all that was edible of it, there still remained the stone, which a heedless, thoughtless child would doubtless have thrown away; I put it down the neck of a young friend who was wearing a very décolleté sailor suit.

I told him it was a scorpion, and from the way he wriggled and screamed he evidently believed it, though where the silly kid imagined I could procure a live scorpion at a garden-party I don't know. Altogether, that peach is for me an unfading and happy memory--"


Now, I wasn't going to offer up a recipe at all, because, after all, a summer peach is a glorious thing. Why mess with success, right?

But then I realized that I've been needlessly cruel. In checking through my online recipe file, it's clear that I've never posted my glorious Ginger Peach Pie. For shame! It's a delight that never fails to please a crowd.

And, after all, one who is blessed with peaches should at least consider sharing them. Especially with ice cream. Or crème fraîche.
Spiced Ginger Peach Pie (with or without crumble topping, below)

2 Tbsp dry tapioca pearls
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2-3/4 tsp garam masala blend (or substitute 1/4 tsp ground allspice, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg and 1/4 tsp ground dry ginger or cinnamon)
1/4 tsp salt
3 large peaches, sliced in 1/2" wedges
1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger (about 1" piece)
2 tsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp lime zest

1 pie crust
Crumble topping (use a double crust if you're not doing the crumble topping)

1. Heat oven to 375°F and blind bake* the pie shell for 10-15 minutes.
2. Pulverize the tapioca pearls with a clean coffee grinder, a mortar/pestle or a food processor. Blend the powdered tapioca with the brown sugar and garam masala (or ground spices) and salt.
3. In a mixing bowl, gently combine the peach slices with the freshly grated ginger, brown sugar/tapioca blend, lime juice and zest.
4. Pour the peach mixture into the baked pie shell, packing the slices into place.
5. Sprinkle evenly with the crumble topping (if using) or lay on the top pie crust. If using a pie crust top, be sure to open up several holes to allow steam to escape.
6. Bake the pie on a cookie sheet for about 45 minutes (or until the filling bubbles), checking the pie after 20 minutes to make sure the edges aren't overbrowning. (If the edges do start looking a bit brown, cover them with strips of aluminum foil.)
7. Cool the pie on a rack for approximately 1 hour before serving.

*Blind baking is a process that involves pre-cooking the pie shell a bit (usually with pie weights or dry beans in the shell to keep it from bubbling and rising). This keeps the crust more crisp, which is especially nice for juicy fruit pies.

Crumble Topping
3 Tbsp flour
4 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, optional
1 dash salt
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup pecans, walnuts or pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chilled butter, cut in 1/2" pieces

1. In a mixing bowl, blend together flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, oats and nuts.
2. Cut the butter into the mixture with a fork until the blend resembles a uniform gravel. Sprinkle atop the pie filling and bake as directed above.


Cheers!

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7.24.2008

Coming Soon: Bananapocalypse

Last week on the radio program Fresh Air, Terry Gross announced that she'd interviewed Dan Koeppel, the author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. Hearing that, I almost turned the radio off.

"Really?" I wondered, "Does the world actually need another single-word-title history book?"

Consider just a sampling of the single-subject history genre: Tobacco. Mayflower. Cod. Salt. Hotel. Gin. Rum. Citrus. Spice.

You'll find that many of this ilk have big, blustery subtitles. For Cod, it's: "A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World," while Rum is "The Epic Story of the Drink That Conquered the World." One begins to wonder if there's a food, drink or object that didn't change the world.

Despite my weariness of the big-big little history book, I listened in on Fresh Air for a few moments and — of course — got sucked in. That Terry Gross is some talker. And Koeppel's single-subject discussion was actually pretty interesting. Bananas did change the world for many people.

For one thing, I didn't realize that the banana (now grown across most of the world's tropical zones) originated in Southeast Asia. I also didn't know that the banana our grandparents knew and loved (the Gros Michel, which was said to be terribly tasty and easy to ship) essentially died out due to a fungal disease.

Banana Bunch

The familiar long, slender, fragile banana that appears in every grocery store across the U.S. is the Cavindish banana, which was thought to be so bland and delicate that Koeppel said the Chiquita banana company nearly went out of business because they resisted switching over to Cavindishes as the Gros Michels whithered away.

As it turned out, those bland, fussy Cavindish bananas were quickly adopted by the banana-eating public and faster than you can say "Yes, We Have No Bananas," the tasty Gros Michels were all but forgotten.

Much as I enjoy a nice Cavindish, that seems like a sad turn of events for all of us. Because every Cavindish is essentially a clone of every other Cavendish and our appetite for them is seemingly insatiable (Koeppel says Americans purchase more bananas than they do apples and oranges combined), it seems like it was only a matter of time before another bananapocalypse. (I think we've already observed the dangers of crop monoculture.)

Indeed, Koeppel says that banana fungus is on the move, and it's really only a matter of time before American banana crops are affected. Scary thought.

Thankfully, there are other bananas in the world. The only problem is, they're not widely cultivated, so if the Cavindish goes offline, it'll be a long, banana-less age in which scarcity ensures that banana muffins are served in only the finest of restaurants, and things like banana splits, bananas foster and banana smoothies are forgotten entirely.

Unfortunately, while Koeppel's discussion of ruthless banana barons, scummy produce marketing practices and impending fungal doom piqued my interest in his book, it also made me crave bland old Cavindish bananas in a big way.

One of my favorite banana recipes (although one I don't often make — for obvious reasons) is based off of the banana pudding recipe from Bill Smith and Lee Smith's Seasoned in the South.

I'm usually not much for meringue, so I leave that off and just go with a sprinkle of cinnamon as garnish. If you've never made pudding that wasn't made from a box, I think you'll taste a big difference in the pudding recipe below. Homemade pudding isn't difficult. If you make it with good ingredients, it's a seriously tasty tribute to the last days of the Cavindish banana.

Cavendish Banana Pie (Serves 4-6)

2 cups half & half
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 Tbsp cornstarch
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1" slices
1/2 box (6 oz) vanilla wafers
2 medium-sized ripe bananas

Dash ground cinnamon (optional)
Dollop fresh whipped cream (optional)

1. Heat 1 1/2 cups of the half & half with the split vanilla bean in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat until it just steams and begins to form a skin, about 5 minutes. Do not boil.

2. Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch into the remaining 1/2 cup of half & half to dissolve it. Beat in the eggs.

3. Pouring in a slow stream, whisk the hot half & half into the egg mixture. Pour the mixed liquids back into the heavy-bottomed pot, returning the vanilla bean.

4. Cook the liquid over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. After 3 to 5 minutes, the custard will begin to thicken. Continue to stir for a few minutes more, being sure to move the whisk over the entire bottom of the pot.

5. When the surface begins to steam a little, gradually stir in the sugar. Be careful, because this will make the custard more likely to burn on the bottom.

6. Remove the pot from the heat and beat in the butter. Stir constantly to help the butter to absorb. This will temporarily thin the custard. Discard the vanilla bean.*

7. Pour a cup of the hot custard into a deep-dish pie pan or an 8" square pan. Line the bottom and sides with vanilla wafers. Slice the bananas over the cookies, then layer any remaining wafers over the bananas. Gently pour the rest of the custard over the cookies and banana slices.

8. Cover, lightly, with plastic wrap, and chill for two hours or overnight. Serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon and fresh whipped cream, if desired.


* Alternatively, save the pod to make vanilla sugar. Just dry used vanilla pods and add to a roomy mason jar that's filled 3/4 full of white sugar. Keep the jar lidded and shake it every once in a while to scent the sugar with vanilla. Use in desserts.

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2.25.2008

Food Quote Friday: Eleanor Lerman

Ivan

"So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea."

From Starfish by Eleanor Lerman

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8.03.2007

Happy Pi Day!


Yes, even kidneys taste better in a pie... Steak & Kidney Pie from the peerless NY Public Library Digital Image Gallery

Somehow, the presence of a pie shell makes just about anything more special.

Consider, if you will: the humble vanilla pudding. It becomes more than formless goo when placed in a pie shell over a carefully ringed base of sliced bananas. Suddenly, it's Banana Cream Pie. Magic. Delight. The audience oohs and ahhs.

The assortment of random savory tidbits in my refrigerator becomes a tempting brunch quiche, thanks to a quick-whisked custard and a pie shell.

A thickened chicken stew, poured in a pie shell and topped with puff pastry? Poof! Chicken Pot Pie. Hearty, homey decadence.

In essence, I'm in favor of pie. And, for that matter pi. So in honor of Pi Day (3.14... get it?), I urge you to make and stockpile a few pie shells. It's like a gift to your future self. That future self will love you for this. It's an investment in yum.

This recipe makes two supremely easy pie crusts that don't use shortening. Yay! No artificial trans fats! The secret for success? Make pie crusts on a cool day, keep the ingredients chilly and don't overwork the dough. (I know, I know... that's like three secrets, not one.)
Supremely Easy Pie Crust (Makes 2 Crusts)

2 1/2 cups pastry flour (substitute up to 1 cup of whole-wheat flour to give more texture)
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2" pieces
4 Tbsp ice water

1. Blend 2 1/2 cups flour, salt and sugar in a medium-size bowl. With a pastry blender or a long-tined fork, cut in the butter pieces until mixture looks like coarse cornmeal.
2. Add ice water and mix until dough forms a ball. If dough is still dry and crumbly, add more a tablespoon of water at a time (up to 4 more tablespoons) until it comes together. Don't overwork the dough. Seriously. That's what makes it tough.
3. Divide the dough, flattening each half into a disk. Individually wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.
4. Roll each chilled disk on a lightly floured surface into 12-inch rounds. To shift a crust into a pie tin, gently drape the dough circle around a rolling pin and unroll it over the pie tin.
5. Lightly press the dough into the plate, and use a pairing knife to trim the round, leaving a little extra dough at the edges.
6. Fold in extra dough and seal it, crimping the edges with your fingers or a fork. Wrap each shell in plastic and freeze for future pie pleasures.

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3.14.2007

The Hipster/Domesticity Link


Enid's (2nd Annual) Apple Pie Contest

I imagine being a hipster must be so trying. I mean, the trend-spotting, look-innovating, show-hopping (so you can be the first to be bored by any given up-and-coming band), cheap-beer drinking and “I’m so done with all the mainstream bullshit” attitude maintenance must be exhausting.

That same cool-factor fatigue must account for the packed house last night at Enid’s in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (oh-so close to nearly-played-out Williamsburg) for their 2nd Annual Apple Pie Contest. Enid’s, home of cheap beer, satisfying Southern-style brunches, old-school arcade games and hipsters aplenty.

I brought a pie, thinking the competition would be easy pickin’s. I mean, please… I live food and couldn’t imagine the Enid’s population in my neighborhood producing much more than frozen pies and limp little tarts on a random Tuesday night.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

Through that double-door poured pies. All kinds of pies. Guys with bushy beards and tight cardigan sweaters carrying pies. Girls with dresses over jeans (yeah, I know you hate that look, K…) carrying pies. Cute little gay boys with their boyfriends carrying pies. At least twenty pies and a half-dozen judges. Everything from a cream-topped apple-peanut butter pie to a domed dessert with a Halloween-pumpkin style face (that one took top honors… damn good!).
Flat pies with crumble tops, one in a casserole dish, and an apple-pizza pie with olives and sausage (surprisingly nice).

The judges tasted. They tested. They rated. They raved. They convened, argued, re-tasted and reconvened. My own humble pie was among the group of re-tastings. The roomie squealed in delight as they picked at the crust and sampled an apple chunk.

I analyzed the judges with a fellow pie-maker, Mason (co-father of the PB-Apple pie), who observed, “It seems like hipsters are really into domesticity lately. Everyone I know is knitting or crocheting and baking. I mean, look around.” Indeed. The place was chock-full of the hip. They circled the pie table like sharks with plastic forks, waiting impatiently to dive in for the kill.

My pie (Granny Smith and Macintosh apples, standard crust, pastry vines and berries with an egg-wash and sprinkled turbinado sugar on top) garnered the “prettiest pie” prize… a title with honor, a T-shirt and two drink tickets.

The winner, one of those bushy-bearded lanky guys in Mason’s posse, looked dizzy with excitement. He gripped his recycled bowling trophy and free brunch tickets. He grinned like a child. And lucky for me, he happily spilled his pie-making secrets with all the passion of a hipster who’s found the coolest new thing.

All I can say is: I’m ready for next year.

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10.26.2004