Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Summer Ceviche Salad with Fresh Papalo

The vendor had noticed us ogling her herbs. "It's papalo! Here, take some with you." she chirped. "I'll write the word down for you. It's from Mexico. Use it like cilantro."

At the next stand over, we scored some gray sole and returned home with arms full of tomatoes, onions, lettuces, cucumbers and this unfamiliar herb.

A quick web search revealed that papalo is indeed native to Mexico, and it grows like a weed across the Southwest US as well as Central and South America. Generally eaten raw, is often added to things like guacamole, salsas and sandwiches.

Fresh Papalo

This site claims the flavor is "somewhere between arugula, cilantro and rue," but having not eaten rue, I thought I tasted something slightly citrusy and minty, like something between cilantro and the sushi bar staple, shiso.

Homesick Texan makes a very pretty salsa verde with it, but on this particularly hot, humid day, we had our minds set on a cool ceviche salad for lunch.

This is just a variation on my basic ceviche recipe. I think the only thing that could have made it more delightful would be a sliced avocado on the side.

Ceviche Salad

Summer Ceviche Salad (Serves two)

2 sole fillets (or another white fish) sliced in 1/2" wide strips
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp honey (or a pinch of sugar)
1 tsp chopped papalo (or cilantro)
1 tsp chopped epazote (optional)
1 handful cherry tomatoes, halved
2-3 radishes, sliced very thin
1/4-1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and sliced very thin
1 green onion (white section) sliced very thin
4 cups mesclun or chopped leaf lettuce

1. Combine the lime juice and salt in a glass/pyrex dish or another non-reactive container.
2. Add the fish slices, tossing well to coat the fish with juice, and chill (for up to, but not more than an hour), stirring once or twice during that time to make sure all the fish surface area comes in contact with the juice.
3. After 20-30 minutes, the fish should look white and opaque. Drain off most of the lime juice and incorporate the olive oil. Coat the fish well.
4. Mix in the honey (or a pinch of sugar) and taste the lime juice-olive oil blend. Adjust the flavor, to taste, with salt/sugar.
5. Toss in the herbs, tomatoes, radishes, jalapeño slices and onion.
6. Divide the lettuce greens and make a bed on each plate. Spoon the ceviche on top of the lettuce and drizzle the greens with the lime juice.

Because it's often used as a substitute for cilantro or culantro, you won't be surprised to learn that the papalo was delicious in our ceviche.

I think it'd also make a delightful addition to fish tacos. That citrusy aspect is bound to make papalo welcome anywhere you'd use a pinch of cilantro and a squeeze of lime.

If you happen to be in NYC, you can get your very own papalo (and epazote and other good-lookin' herbs and veggies) at the Angel Family Farm stand at Tompkins Square on Sundays. Looks like they're based in Goshen, NY, and they run a local CSA, as well.

Salud!
Miss Ginsu

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7.30.2009

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

Strawberry Fields 4Evah

At long last, sun emerged from behind a wall of clouds. Heartsick with cabin fever, we leaped at the chance to get out and about. Zipcar provided the wheels, Google provided the directions and PickYourOwn.Org offered up the berry farms.

Strawberry Pint

Truth be told, we spent most of our time hiking on the lovely Delaware Water Gap trails, but on the way back, we popped into Sussex County Strawberry Farm to snatch up a sweet, fragrant pre-picked pint.

Strawberries on the Cutting Board

Though I believe that the very best strawberry enjoyment is of the self-evident straight into the mouth variety, a berry compote, berry jam, berry smoothie or strawberry-rhubarb pie are all very nice as well.

If you're in the mood for something a bit more savory, may I recommend an old favorite of mine? The Spinach-Strawberry Salad with Goat Cheese & Walnuts makes a delightful side dish or brunch item, and it's dead simple to put together.

Spinach-Strawberry Salad

Spinach-Strawberry Salad (Serves 4)

5 cups baby spinach leaves, washed
Mild goat cheese or feta, crumbled
1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted
2 cups strawberries, hulled and halved

For the Balsamic Vinaigrette

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp ground pepper
A dash of salt
1/4 cup olive oil

1. Put the spinach in a large salad bowl and top with walnuts and strawberries.

2. In a smaller bowl, blend the balsamic vinegar, pepper and salt. Whisk in the olive oil until the mixture is smooth and incorporated.

3. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss gently to mix. Top with the goat cheese or feta, divide between four bowls or plates and serve immediately.

Because it's so bright and sprightly, I think this salad would be particularly nice paired with something heavier, like a pressed panini sandwich or a rich bean stew.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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6.06.2009

Cinco de Mayo Whoopie Pies

When I started writing this particular post last October (yes, it's been bounding around the lobes of my brain for a while) I wondered whether Whoopie Pies were poised to be the new Cupcakes.

Back then, I wrote,
"I feel like I'm seeing whoopie pies everywhere I turn. And aren't cupcakes far too 2002 these days?"

But now that I've made a couple of batches of whoopie pies, I realize they're no match for the mighty cupcake. I've come to this conclusion for three key reasons:

1. The Cuteness Factor. Cupcakes are cute. Even scribbled drawings of cupcakes are cute. Whoopie pies are homely.

2. The Travel Factor Cupcakes are less portable than cookies, but whoopie pies are even worse. The filling tends to squish out inappropriately in transit.

3. The Fan Base Nobody puts Cupcake in a corner.

Gigantic Whoopie Pie
The new cupcake? I don't think so.

I do volunteer baking for the Craig's Kitchen Dessert Corps, which organizes a troop of oven-ready cooks to produce desserts for my local soup kitchen. It's a very cool endeavor.

The dessert assignment changes each week, so I've done everything from rice krispie treats to pumpkin cheesecake brownies and red velvet cake.

One of the recent assignments was to make whoopie pies, which seemed interesting and fun until the time came to actually do it and the weather was a random, record-setting 90° F. In April, for the luvvagod.

The hot oven heated my already overheated apartment. The filling drooped and melted. Each very tasty (but very goopy and sticky) whoopie pie was ultimately only barely contained by the individual zip-top sandwich bags into which I slipped them.

I tried to refrigerate the whole messy bunch of them, but delivery to the soup kitchen required they be okay at room temperature... and I'm afraid these little cookie sandwiches probably ended up being a bit too volatile to handle.

Picture the poor and luckless masses of my neighborhood struggling through exploding packs of marshmallow goo to dig out their chocolate whoopie cookies. Seemed like something just short of a dessert fiasco.

What then, would send me back to make more whoopie pies? Well, 1. leftover ingredients and 2. the kind of wisdom that only comes from sorry experience.

This time, I'll be making whoopie pies with a Cinco de Mayo twist (hooray for spiced chocolate!) and I'm not assembling them until I'm safely on location at the event. Then they can ooze and drip all they want.

I'm also making each "pie" into a much smaller affair. The whoopie pies I first baked up were based on a recipe that made enormous versions... 4 to 5 inches across, as you'll see in the photo above at the top of the page.

Whoopie Pie Platter

While my version is by no means bite-sized, you'll find my whoopies are a much more petite treat (more like 2.5 to 3 inches across), which is more than plenty. Those mega-whoopies are enough to feed two to three people, and honestly, who wants to share?
Mini Mexican Chocolate Whoopie Pies (Makes 12-13)
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 2/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cayenne
1 1/3 cups buttermilk (or plain yogurt mixed with milk)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
2 eggs

For the filling
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup powdered confectioner's sugar
2 cups marshmallow creme or marshmallow fluff
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Heat the oven to 375°F and use a little oil or butter to grease two large baking sheets.
2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients: flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and cayenne.
3. In a separate, smaller bowl, blend the buttermilk and vanilla.
4. In a large mixing bowl, blend the butter and brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Whip in the eggs until well incorporated.
5. Into the butter mix, alternate adding the blended dry ingredients and the buttermilk mixture, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. The mix will be very sticky.
6. Drop 1/4 cup portions of the batter 2 inches apart on the greased baking sheets, place the sheets in the oven and bake for about 8 minutes. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 3 minutes before moving the "cookies" to racks to cool fully.
7. To make the filling, blend together the butter, confectioner's sugar, marshmallow creme and vanilla extract.
8. Assemble the whoopie pies by slathering a few tablespoon's worth of the filling on the flat side of one of the cookies. Top the filling with the flat side of another cookie. Repeat this process with the rest of the cookies and filling.
9. Serve immediately, or chill until serving time to help firm up the filling.

If I only had a jar of dulce de leche sitting around the house, I'd try to whip up a filling with that instead of the marshmallow creme (doesn't that sound decadent?) but I do believe these whoopies will have the same whoopie-inducing effect either way.

With that, I bid you a delightful Cinco de Mayo, and may your whooopie-making always be fun, gratifying and easy to clean up.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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5.05.2009

A Beautiful Bean Salad at the Brooklyn Food Conference

The call went out. And the foodies poured in.

The people who pickle and the people who vend kitchenware. The people who grow community gardens and the people who grow kombucha. The Slow Food people and the Just Food people. The vegans and the grass-fed meat vendors.

They came, they spoke and they distributed their recycled paper brochures.

Brooklyn Food Conference Expo

Disappointingly, the workshop I really wanted to attend (Permaculture: an introduction to ecological design systems fro sustainability) was stuffed to the walls with folks pouring out into the hallways of John Jay High School.

But the good news is, the lunch was delicious. The finest cafeteria food I've ever eaten in a high school cafeteria. (I realize that's faint praise, but it really is intended with the highest regard.)

Cafeteria Food at the Brooklyn Food Conference

Here you can see the tender mushroom quiche I couldn't keep my paws off (it was very much like the ones I make, actually) and the delightful bean salad. It had sauteed red onions and a savory sesame dressing. Simple and lovely, with a crunchy shout-out to spring.

You'll note that cafeteria serving tray is compostable sugar cane and the fork is fashioned of some kind of biodegradable corn plastic. Both went into the conference compost bins, although the napkin I used had to hit the trash can, for inexplicable reasons.

Though I can't share much of the food conference with you, I'll try to recreate that tasty salad for you here, dear reader. It seems like it'd be just the thing for a spring picnic: inexpensive to make and no worries of mayonnaise poisoning on a hot day.
Sesame Three-Bean Salad (Makes about 4 cups)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium red onion, halved and sliced
1 cup fiddlehead ferns (or asparagus cut in 1" pieces)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
2 1/2 cups cooked beans (ideally, a mix of black, pinto and navy)
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half

1. Heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a medium-sized skillet. Add the red onions and fiddlehead ferns (or asparagus, if using), and sauté, moving constantly in the pan for 5 minutes or until tender-crisp. Remove from heat.
2. In a small bowl, whisk soy sauce and vinegar. Whisk in sesame oil slowly to incorporate.
3. Mix the onion mixture with the beans and sliced tomatoes. Toss to coat with the sesame vinaigrette. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning with a little more soy sauce or cider vinegar, to your taste.
4. Allow the flavors to mellow for several hours in the fridge before serving.

Thanks to the Brooklyn Food Conference for sponsoring the event, and even more thanks to whomever cooked lunch. You, anonymous anonymous kitchen worker(s), made my day.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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5.03.2009

A Dozen Ideas for Boiled Eggs

Ahh, Easter. Egg dying. Egg hiding. Egg finding. And then... a lot of hard-boiled eggs to use up in a hurry.

Blue Easter Eggs

I'm sure you know how to make a simple egg salad (dice boiled eggs, add chopped celery if you like and slather with enough mayo to moisten), but just in case you're long on eggs and short on ideas, here's a dozen other things to do with a hard-boiled egg.

1. Persian-Style Chicken Salad
Dice a couple of eggs with a few diced boiled potatoes, two cups of diced, cooked chicken, three tablespoons each of chopped pickles, diced celery, sliced black or green olives and fresh dill. Toss gently 1/2 cup of lemon-olive oil vinaigrette or mayonnaise, as you like. Season to taste with salt and black pepper and serve over lettuce leaves with wedges of tomato.

2. Simple Niçoise Salad
Fill a large bowl with four cups of mixed, washed lettuce or Boston lettuce, add a couple of sliced boiled eggs, two to three new potatoes, boiled and halved, about 3/4 cup water-packed or oil-packed tuna, 1/3 cup boiled green beans, two to three tomatoes sliced into wedges, two sliced green onions and a tablespoon of capers or oil-cured black olives. Toss with a vinaigrette of your choice.

3. Classic Deviled Eggs
I love deviled eggs so much. Just peel a dozen eggs, slice in half (reserve the whites, holes-up on a platter) and place the yolks in a mixing bowl with 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1 to 2 tsp Dijon mustard, 1 tsp Worcestershire, 1/2 tsp hot paprika. Blend until smooth and season to taste with salt. Place the yolk mixture in an appropriately sized plastic bag. Clip off one of the corners. Squeeze the mixture from the bag into the hollows of the egg whites. Garnish with cayenne or paprika and serve immediately.

4. Serve with Smoked Fish
Grated eggs go well with smoked fish alongside chives and chopped radishes. On the same note, there's also the Scandinavian Sillsalad or Laxsalad, both of which combine cured fish with eggs, potatoes, apples and caraway.

5. If you have cash to spare, serve with caviar.
Grated eggs are a classic accompaniment to Russian caviar, alongside blini or toast points, diced red onion, capers and sour cream.

6. Scotch Eggs
Peel boiled eggs, cover each in a layer seasoned sausage, roll in breadcrumbs and deep-fry until the sausage is cooked. Decadent pub fare. Make a batch and eat alongside beer. And Rolaids.

7. Workout Snacks
As I mentioned back here, boiled eggs are the protein bar of the ancients. And they come in convenient, eco-sensitive biodegradable packaging, too.

8. Wilted Spinach Salad
Wash and dry four cups of fresh spinach. Place on two plates and top with two to three boiled eggs, sliced; four strips of cooked bacon, diced; two sliced green onions, one tomato cut in wedges. Drizzle with 1/3 cup hot bacon grease, sprinkle on two tablespoons tarragon vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

9. Steamed Asparagus & Salmon Salad
Steam one 6 to 8 oz salmon fillet and one bunch of asparagus. Chop the asparagus into 1" segments. Flake the salmon. Combine in a mixing bowl with an apple cider vinaigrette (whisk together 1 Tbsp cider vinegar, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, juice of quarter of a lemon and 4-5 Tbsp olive oil) and serve over two sliced, boiled eggs and a bed of greens.

10. What's a bowl of ramen without strips of pork, a dollop of seaweed and a sliced, boiled egg? Just a bowl of noodles, nothing more.

11. Stinging Nettle Soup, courtesy of Nami-Nami.

12. The classic Cobb Salad.
Create a bed of romaine, iceberg or Boston lettuce and top with diced bacon, diced ripe avocado, diced cooked chicken breast, diced tomato, diced hard-boiled eggs and roquefort or your favorite blue cheese. Dress with a simple vinaigrette.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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4.12.2009

Food Horoscope: Aries

Happy birth-month, Aries folks!

Aries
Aries, the Ram (March 20 - April 19)

Now, I'm merely a cook, and not an astrologer, but here's my advice for your foodcast:

You've heard the old cliches and expressions regarding patience? Of course you have. I'd bet that just every culture on the planet has one (or more).

I think it might be a good year to meditate on whichever patience mantra speaks to you. And you won't have to wait long. I think you'll quickly find you can practice patience every day, in all kinds of situations.

Rude coworkers. Apathetic counter staff. Rough commutes. Sneaky fees. Reckless drivers. Poor craftsmanship. Run-down roadways, elevators, ATMs, escalators, subway trains and electronic equipment. Redundant paperwork. Insurance claims. Tax forms.

Think of these situations as teaching moments, and you'll find there's really no end to the daily opportunities life offers us to practice patience.

That's why it's such an excellent virtue to cultivate. And you can practice with the recipe I'm going to offer you here. It's not hard, and it's not expensive, but it does require... oh yes... patience.
Ten-Hour Pulled Pork (Serves 6-8)

1 5-7 lb Boston butt pork roast, bone-in
3/4 cup pork rub (use your favorite or see recipe below)

1. Heat your oven (or smoker) to 225°F.

2. With a paring knife, cut a series of diagonal slashes in the fat of the pork, then cut diagonally in the opposite direction to make a cross-hatch design across the fat. Rub in the spice blend liberally, spreading it across the entire roast.

3. Put the pork butt, fat side up, in a roasting pan and roast in middle of oven or smoker for 8-10 hours. Monitor the heat, and when an instant-read thermometer reaches 175°F, remove the roast from the heat and allow it to cool to a temperature that's comfortable to touch. (Check it after 45 minutes.)

4. Using latex gloves to shield your hands, pull the meat from the bone and shred it with hands or with forks, transferring the shredded meat to a serving bowl. Serve with barbecue sauce and coleslaw. Offer buns or slices of potato bread if you want sandwiches.

Spice Rub for Pork (Makes 3/4 cup)
3 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp smoked paprika
2 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp onion powder

Mix well and use immediately or store in an airtight container or lidded jar.

Enjoy your birthday and happy eating!

Miss Ginsu

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4.06.2009

A Way with Les Conserves

On a trip to Paris a while back, I stopped in a bookshop on a quest for cookbooks. There were many fine volumes, but one in particular stood out as a must-have.

Les Conserves

Les Conserves is a glossy, photo-packed soft-cover (Produced by a French division of Reader's Digest! Why don't they make such lovely books for English readers?) is ideal for a French neophyte like me. Just look at this recipe for grape preserves.

Confiture de Raisins/Grape Preserves

You can see for yourself that the recipes in Les Conserves are supporting players to the photography. An interested cook can look over these images and gain insights on preparation, presentation and usage information in just a few seconds before deciding whether to invest a number of minutes processing the written details.

As much as I love words (I do make my living from them), I wonder if more cookbooks shouldn't handle instructions visually.

There's already been so much said about how we eat with our eyes, but the great majority of serious cookbooks contain little more than a centerfold of finished dishes in limited-utility glamour shots (if they contain photographs at all).

The cookbooks that do contain lots of photography and illustration seem to aim more at the coffee-table book audience than the folks who really want to learn to cook. So where, I ask, are the genre of serious instructional cookbooks that embrace the visual presentation of the useful as well as the lovely?

Well, perhaps they're in France. Perhaps they're made by Reader's Digest.

Have a look at the way the ingredients for the Grape Preserves are laid out for prospective cooks here. It's as if they really do want to instruct and inspire.

Ingredients

For those who read even less French than I, I'll offer a translation of the recipe in question:
Grape Preserves -Confiture de Raisins (Makes 1.25 liters/5.3 cups)

1 kg (2 lb) green or red grapes, plucked
2 lemons, cut in halves and sliced thin
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup pecans, lightly toasted
1/2 cup cognac brandy

1. Put the grapes, lemons and sugar in a saucepan. Mix well, cover and let sit for a few hours to let the fruit macerate.
2. Bring to a boil, then cook on medium heat 1 hour to 1 hour, 30 minutes, stirring frequently so that the bottom does not stick.
3. It is unnecessary to test the degree of gelatin for this jam; it is ready when a wooden spoon pulled over the surface leaves a wake.
4. Remove the pot from heat and let the jam stand for a few minutes before putting it in jars (this prevents the fruit from falling to the bottom). Add, in turn, pecans and cognac. Ladle the mixture into sterilized hot jars, then seal with lids.
Cookbook rant done, and I hope you've enjoyed these peeks into Les Conserves.

I'm going to spend the rest of the week focusing on preserves of one type or another. Thrift and handmade charm seem to make them an appropriate topic for this year.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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3.29.2009

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.

Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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3.24.2009

Recession-Proof Espresso: Become a Barista

I must say, I'm a little torn these days between supporting my local coffee shop and saving some money by making my own espresso drinks. They need the money. I need the money. I'll probably just split the difference.

I love the community that local, independent coffee shops provide, but having worked as a barista in college, I also know that the process of creating coffee drinks is easy (and yes! even fun!) once you get the hang of it.

Espresso!

How much can you save? Let's run the math... When you figure about 75 tablespoons of ground coffee per pound of coffee beans, that's about 37 espresso servings in a pound of beans.

At roughly $7 a pound for beans, you can make a serving of espresso for 19 cents. Like lattes? Tack on about 50 cents per serving for organic milk or 25 cents for the conventional stuff.

At about 5 cents per tablespoon for chocolate syrup, you can make an organic mocha latte for just 74 cents. A small mocha latte (with conventional milk) at a coffee shop normally costs between $2.50 and $3, so that's a significant savings. Compelling, no?

My Moka Pot

And yes, I think anyone would love to have a gorgeous espresso machine like J's big red FrancisFrancis!, but at $800-$1,000 apiece, that's just not reasonable... or even necessary.

Instead, I suggest making espresso on the stove using the same inexpensive tool that Italian families use at home: the moka pot or stove-top espresso pot.

This type of espresso pot is cheap ($20 or less) and simple to use. Since they don't have breakable parts, they last and last, so if you figure that a single shot of espresso costs about $1.50 at most coffee shops and amortize the cost, it'll take you less than 20 drinks to pay off a moka pot.

Once you follow the money, it begins to make dollars and sense to learn a little espresso magic.

All you have to do to use one is buy the very fine-ground espresso coffee or, better yet, grind the beans very fine in a coffee grinder.

To make stove-top espresso with a moka-style pot:
1. Unscrew the top of the espresso pot, setting it aside for a moment.
2. Fill the bottom with cold water to just below the safety valve on the side.
3. Fill the funnel-shaped section with about two tablespoons of fine-ground coffee, tamping the top gently to flatten the grounds.
4. Place the funnel back into the bottom section and screw the top back on.
5. Place the pot over medium-high heat. It'll take about 3-4 minutes for the espresso to bubble up to the top. (It's okay... you can peek under the lid while it's bubbling if you want.)
6. When the espresso fills the top section up to the bottom of the pouring wedge, you can remove the moka pot from the heat and pour out the espresso. Yay! Just rinse everything out with water to clean.


Inside the Moka Pot

Dead simple, right? And once you can make espresso, you've opened the door to the giddy world of espresso drinks.

A number of espresso drinks utilize hot milk, which you can obviously just use a saucepot or microwave to produce. A fancy electric milk frother can make quick work of the decorative milk foam, but you can also simply froth the milk with a little dedication and a cheap whisk.

Here are an array of basic recipes for the most common espresso drinks.
Latte
Espresso + 1 cup hot milk + 1 tablespoon decorative milk foam

Mocha Latte
Espresso + hot milk + 1 tablespoon chocolate syrup

Breve
Espresso + 1 cup hot half & half + 1 tablespoon decorative milk foam

Cappuccino
Espresso + 1/3 cup hot milk + 1/3 cup milk foam

Americano
Espresso + 1 cup hot water

Cortado
Espresso + 1 tablespoon hot milk

Macchiado
Espresso + 1 teaspoon milk foam

You'll also find an array of cute coffee construction images over here. And clearly, once you know the process, you can go all crazy with flavored syrups and whipped cream, if that's what you're into.

Now go forth, my friends and caffeinate! (Don't forget to tip yourself.)

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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3.22.2009

The Thick, The Thin & The Hearty

This week brings Shrove Tuesday, known to some as Mardi Gras and known to me as Pancake Day.

Bacon, Eggs n' Pancake

While I grew up with the thick, pillowy pancakes that appear in diners and truckstops across the nation, J. was raised on a delicate, European-style pancake... something more along the lines of a crepe.

Buckwheat Crepe with Egg & Gruyere

I must admit, the discovery that not everyone ate the same kind of pancake was a bit of a shock to me. I'd always considered a pancakes to be something like blankets, and crepes to be those delicate little wraps with fillings in them. Discrete categories, you see?

Mais non! Pancakes are objects of great variation. In the US, we just happen to like 'em fat.

In any case, there's no need to bicker — whether thinner or thicker, the pancake is a little morning gift. As Cookie Monster might say, it's "a sometimes food."

So in honor of Pancake Day this year, I offer my recipe for Sweet Potato Pancakes. In thickness, they're closer to the pillowy variety of my youth, but the addition of vegetable matter makes them sweeter, heftier and heartier.

You'll notice this recipe also provides a great way to use up leftover mashed sweet potatoes. In truth, I developed them as a post-Thanksgiving idea for leftovers, but I think they make an especially nice treat throughout the winter. Just save a little mash from dinner to use in pancakes the following morning.

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Do keep in mind that they'll darken a bit more than your standard pancake. The sugar in the sweet potatoes browns quickly in the pan. I also recommend you pour smaller circles of batter than you might otherwise... smaller cakes are easier to flip.
Sweet Potato Pancakes (Makes 6 pancakes)

1 cup milk or buttermilk
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato
1/2 cup pancake mix
Oil or butter for the griddle/skillet

For Serving: Maple syrup and/or butter

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk/buttermilk, oil and mashed sweet potato. Stir in the pancake mix until just combined.
2. If the batter seems too thick, thin with a teaspoon or so of water to attain a pourable consistency.
3. Heat a large, oiled griddle or skillet over medium-high heat.
4. Working in batches, pour batter in 1/3 cup portions onto the hot griddle/skillet surface and cook until the edges of the pancakes bubble and brown, about 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Carefully flip and cook the reverse side until browned, 1 to 2 minutes more. Repeat the process with the remaining pancake batter.
6. Move the cooked pancakes to a paper towel-lined plate and keep warm in the oven until serving time. Top with butter and/or maple syrup, to taste. Serve hot.

For extra decadence, serve them with alongside a bowl of fresh whipped cream in which you've blended a hint of cinnamon and maple syrup. Mmmm. They're also good with applesauce.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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2.23.2009

A Run on the Food Bank

Riddle me this, reader... It's never taken me more than 10 minutes to complete my annual Community Supported Agriculture program signup. So why did I just return from a CSA signup session that took TWO HOURS?

What's the sudden public obsession with local vegetables? Should I blame Michael Pollan? Mark Bittman? Alice Waters? The recession? The FDA peanut recall? All or none of the above?

Maybe this is the year in which investments in financial markets feel more risky than investments farmers' markets.

Springtime CSA Box

Whatever the reason, I'll tell you this: interest in farm-to-city produce in my neighborhood has skyrocketed this year.

I strolled into my local church basement not long after the doors opened, only to discover a robust room. I was already 48th on the list.

One of the volunteers told me that virtually everyone she'd spoken with tonight had been a signing up as a first-time CSA member.

CSA Lettuces

And maybe I should've been forewarned.

A coworker of mine has belonged to a different Brooklyn CSA for several years, and she told me she was a little late in sending in her signup form this year. Usually that's not a problem.

But her CSA filled up before January. Interest was huge, and she missed the boat. Now she's just a sad, veggie-free name on a long waiting list.

With that kind of tragedy in mind, I should just be grateful to have had options to buy stock in vegetable futures.

But if you're wondering what to do with the veggies of the present... hearty greens like chard, kale and collards and should be your friends right now.

Luckily, our nutritionist at work just gave me an easy, delicious recipe for kale. And since it's from the nutritionist, so you know it can't be bad for you, no?

In any case, I'm sure she wouldn't mind if I share...
Eileen's Crispy Greens (Serves 4)
1 bunch kale
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
Sea salt, to taste

1. Wash the kale well. Strip the leaves away from the stems (save the stems for stock) and cut the leaves into 2" to 3" pieces.
2. In a mixing bowl, toss the pieces with olive oil to coat.
3. Heat the oven to 350°F and spread the prepared leaves across a baking sheet.
4. Sprinkle the leaves with the cider vinegar, then place in the middle of the oven. 5. After 10 minutes, shift the leaves in the pan to help them brown more evenly. Continue roasting until the kale pieces are crisp like potato chips and lightly browned. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with sea salt and serve hot.

So then, what have we learned today?

1. The early bird gets the local vegetables.
2. Even nutritionists know that everything tastes delicious when it's roasted and salted.

Yours in food worship,
Miss Ginsu

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2.17.2009

Wild Rice Porridge 2.0

Last January, I posted my personal take on the Mahnomin Porridge that the groovy Minneapolis restaurant Hell's Kitchen makes for their funky brunch menu.

That recipe was pretty rich, and it takes a while to make, so it's not exactly easy to produce on chilly midweek mornings.

Thus, I've made a new version that's more quick and flexible. The secret, as with many things, is planning ahead.

If you cook the grains for this porridge in the evening (maybe do it while you're making dinner), it's easy to wake up all zombie-like the next day, scoop it into bowls and microwave for a quick and hearty whole-grain brekkie. No pre-coffee brainpower required.

Wild Rice Porridge

Use whatever dried fruit and nuts you like. J particularly loves the combination of currants and walnuts, but I think dried cherries and almonds or pecans and cranberries would be pretty ace, too.

If you save the syrup for the end of the process, everyone can choose to sweeten (or not sweeten) to their hearts' content.
Wild Rice Porridge 2.0 (Makes 4 servings)

1/2 cup wild rice
1/2 cup whole oat groats or brown rice
4 cups water
3/4 cup milk or cream
1/4 cup dried berries: cranberries, blueberries, currants and/or cherries
1/4 cup chopped nuts: hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts or pecans
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Maple syrup, to taste (optional)

1. In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat, combine cooked wild rice with oat groats (or brown rice) and water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the water has evaporated and the rice and groats are tender (about 30 to 35 minutes).
2. Stir in the milk/cream, dried berries, nuts and cinnamon.
3. At this point you can transfer the mixture to a container to refrigerate it for reheating later. To finish, scoop portions of roughly a cup into microwave-safe bowls and cook on HIGH for 1 to 2 minutes, or until hot (the timing will depend on your wattage).
4. Season to taste with the maple syrup, and serve hot with milk or cream on the side.

There's a bunch of research now that indicates that nuts, berries and whole grains and even cinnamon are good for you, but that's not why you should eat wild rice porridge for breakfast.

You should eat it because it's chewy, nutty, satisfying sustenance that makes cold, nasty January mornings just a little more agreeable.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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1.29.2009

Top Ten Tips for Recession-Proof Recipes

The Cooking for the Recession topic recently came up at NPR's Planet Money blog, so I was compelled to comment, having written on the topic for nearly a year now.

As I typed it out, I realized I should probably do a similar top-ten roundup herein. And so, voila!
Top Ten Tips for Recession-Proof Recipes

1. Roasting makes just about anything taste rich and decadent.

2. Full of vitamins, protein, fiber and flavor, beans are your new best friends.

3. Homemade soup stock is a classic way to use kitchen scraps to make thrifty meals. When I worked at restaurants, we used nearly every vegetable scrap for the stockpot, leaving out only the potato peels, lettuce cores and broccoli stems.

4. Look to the world's peasant foods for delicious inspiration on the cheap. Soups, sandwiches, quiches, casseroles and omelets taste luxe but cost little.

5. Use extenders -- inexpensive ingredients that stretch out the use of other, more expensive ingredients. (Rice, pasta, bread, croutons, etc.)

6. Eat in-season produce. It's generally cheaper and tastier at its peak.

7. Don't pay a labor upcharge. Chop your own single-serving fruit/vegetable finger foods and mix your own workout drinks in reusable containers.

8. Stewing/braising turns cheaper, tougher cuts of meat and uglier vegetables into delicious dishes.

9. Inexpensive, flavorful sauces (peanut sauce, roasted red pepper sauce) can help you bring joy to noodle dishes, entrées and salads.

10. Double your batches of dinner and brown-bag the excess for your workaday lunches.


Soup Week!

You'll notice that the recession-proof theme offers up a lot in the way of soup — just in time for soup week! I'll be blogging all about soup this week, so tune in tomorrow for more warm comfort.

Happy eating,
Miss Ginsu

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1.12.2009

Not the Lunchlady's Goulash

At the tender age of six or seven, I had a clear moment of decision in the school lunchroom.

As most epiphanies are, this revelation was heartfelt and simple. Though I'd traditionally devoured nearly anything that crossed my path — poisonous or not — I discovered a newfound hatred for goulash.

Little did I know that the bland hamburger-macaroni combo they'd scooped onto my plastic tray and billed as goulash was actually a low-rent impostor.

After what was essentially a simplified Hamburger Helper, imagine my shock upon learning that goulash was actually supposed to be full of meat chunks, vegetables... flavor!

Spicy Pork Goulash

True gulyás was something entirely different — a beloved, often spicy dish that had a long heritage with the cattlemen of Hungary.

In keeping with any traditional dish, it seems there's a million ways to make a goulash. You'll find that the Wikipedia page on the topic is robust.

I've enjoyed goulash with beef stew meat and chicken, but at the moment I'm particularly in love with a take on the dish that Ryn brought into work for us to sample last week.

She found this spicy pork version in the superb Staff Meals from Chanterelle — a cookbook I recommend highly.

Unlike many of the products of haute restaurants, the recipes in Staff Meals are varied and delicious, but because they're from the back rooms of Chanterelle and not the fancy front tables, they're actually easy for the home cook to reproduce. Yay!

Spicy Pork Goulash

But on to the reformation of goulash...

Despite the whole chunks of meat in this dish, I think it still qualifies as a Recession-Proof Recipe. The meat in question is all about cheaper cuts, and the rest of the dish is filled up with spices and sauerkraut — about as cheap as it gets.

You can, of course, serve this entrée with hearty dark-grained bread or buttered noodles and/or mashed potatoes, if you like, but I really love the fact that the dish itself is high-flavor and low-carb. We're a bit mindful about how and when we're carbing it up around this household, so that's an important consideration.

And, like any stew, this goulash improves with a bit of mellowing in the fridge... thus, the leftovers are dynamite.
Spicy Pork Goulash (Based on the Staff Meals recipe)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 lb pork stew meat (shoulder is best), cut into 1"-2" cubes
2 large onions, halved and sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chopped bacon
4 cups flavorful stock (vegetable, chicken or beef)
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup sweet Hungarian paprika
1 Tbsp Aleppo pepper (or hot Hungarian paprika)
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
2 lb fresh sauerkraut (avoid the canned stuff)
Salt, to taste
Chopped parsley (Optional, for garnish)
Sour cream (Optional, for garnish)

1. Heat the first portion of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven. In several batches, brown the pork cubes on all sides, moving the seared cubes to a dish while you work.
2. When all the pork is browned, use the same pot to cook the bacon. Add the onions and garlic and cook about 10 minutes.
3. Add the pork (and any juices it releases) back to the pot along with the stock, wine, paprika, caraway and bay. Bring to a boil and then either cover the pot and reduce to a simmer on the stove or move the covered pot to a 375°F oven. Either way, you'll let it cook for one hour.
4. Stir the sauerkraut into the pork mixture and either return it to the oven or keep it cooking on the stove-top for another 20-30 minutes or until the pork is very tender.
5. Carefully remove the stew from the heat and pluck out the bay leaves. Season to taste with salt and more paprika. Garnish (if desired) and serve.

I still find it amazing that this delicious dish and that junk that the lunchlady served with an ice-cream scoop go by the same name.

The sour cream is an optional — but really delicious — accompaniment. It does something magical with the flavors that's hard to describe. I recommend it.

Bon appetit!
Miss Ginsu

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11.06.2008

We Gonna Put it Down on the Big Beet

Big Beet

I'm thinking they should have called beets "groundhogs" and called groundhogs something different. Why? Well, beets really are the swine of the vegetable world.

Hogs and beets share big flavor, big character and you can utilize every little bit of both of these tasty foodstuffs... nose to tail, as they say.

I'll start at the top — though most folks don't.

Every time I go to my farmers' market, I see people asking to have the tops chopped off their beets, and it just about breaks my heart.

But then I ask if I can have some of that massive pile of beet greens, and after I get a sackful, all is repaired again.

I contend that beet greens are some of the tastiest of greens. In addition to the tender leaves, beet greens sport that line of crimson stem running down the center, and that's sweet and rich like the beet root itself.

Simple Beet Greens

Just wash everything really well, chop the stems into 1/4" segments and keep 'em separated from the leafy parts. You can chop the leaves wider (2" to 3" strips works fine).

Heat a tablespoon or so of fat (bacon or olive oil, as you like) in a heavy-bottomed pan over a medium-high flame, and add the stem pieces first. You'll want to give them a head start of about 5 to 8 minutes before you add the leaves.

Wilt down the leaves for about 3 to 4 minutes, adding a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper or a dash of chili pepper flakes. Give the greens a little drizzle (maybe two tablespoons) of cider vinegar or red wine vinegar. This will steam up and help them braise a bit.

Serve 'em up hot. Greens from one bunch of beets usually feeds two as a side dish.

As for the big, sweet bulb at the bottom, there's a wide variety of things a person could do. Here's five:

1. Peel it, slice it into 1/4" pieces and pickle it.

2. Cut it into 2" to 3" chunks, rub with oil, salt and pepper, wrap in foil and roast at 375° for about 45 minutes or until tender. Cool, peel (mind that juice!) and use in a salad with feta or goat cheese or blue cheese. Add some walnuts and/or orange slices if you feel like it.

3. Use it raw in a salad, a' la Adriana's very tasty-looking Raw beets & Toasted Cumin Almonds or maybe in an Alton Brown-style slaw.

4. Borscht!

5. Beet Crisps Beets are like any other root. You can slice 'em super-thin and fry 'em up crispy. As long as you're not afraid of hot oil, it's easy to do.

Just heat 8-10 cups of peanut or canola oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot to 350° to 375°.

To the hot oil, add paper-thin beet slices, just a few at a time, and fry until the edges begin to color and curl up (about 3 to 5 minutes). Do this in batches skimming out the cooked slices and moving them to paper towels to drain.

Sprinkle the cooked chips with salt and fine-chopped tarragon or rosemary, if desired.

Serve when cool.

All that, and they're good for you, too. Pass the groundhogs, please.

Miss Ginsu

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10.07.2008

Dinner with Sarah. Palin, that is.

Watching the debates tonight? Why not really get to know the candidate and dine Sarah Palin style?

My crafty contact M. in the Bay area used Google's 10th anniversary index yesterday to check around for what the potential Republican veep was cooking up a decade ago.

Turns out, she was glazing salmon and submitting her recipes to AlaskaSeafood.org.

glazed mahi


SWEET AND SAUCY GRILLED SALMON
Recipe by Alaska Fisherman Sarah Palin
Wasilla, Alaska

* 1 can (12 oz.) tomato sauce
* 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
* 1/4 cup molases
* 3 tbsp. ketchup
* 2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
* 2 tbsp. dried minced onion
* 1 tbsp. Worcestershure sauce
* 1 tbsp. mustard
* 1 tbsp. dried bell pepper dices
* 1/4 tsp. each cinnamon and nutmeg
* 4 to 6 Alaska salmon fillets or steaks (4 to 6 oz. each)

Blend all ingredients, except seafood, in bowl; let set 10 to 15 minutes. Dip seafood into sauce, then place on hot oiled grill, not directly over heat source (coals or gas). Cover and vent. Cook about 6 to 12 minutes per inch of thickness, brushing with extra sauce, if desired. Do not overcook or burn edges.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Also great with Alaska halibut or cod!

Has anyone tried this one?

Maybe a person could pair it with the neglected Palin Syrah?

It's a bummer we don't have a Biden recipe to go with it. Maybe a Biden cocktail is in order. Or Biden biscotti. Or maybe Biden brownies for dessert.

Cheers,

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10.02.2008

Mystery Macro Unveiled

And the answer to yesterday's Mystery Macro?

Melon. Honeydew melon, to be precise.

Have another look:



In the meantime, thoughts of melon give me a good opportunity to highlight a very tasty and refreshing salad I ate recently...

Some guests to a picnic brought this mozzarella, mint & melon salad, and gosh... It was just the thing.

Mozzarella-Melon Salad

There's not many nice days left this season, but if you do get out to grill just one more time, consider making one of those end-of-season melons into this tasty salad. I think it'd be just as nice with honeydew or cantaloupe or crenshaw. Or whatever melon you happen to find.

I'm told the original salad-makers found the adorable little mozzarella balls you see above (sometimes called ciliegini, which means "little cherries" in Italian") at Fairway Market in Brooklyn.

If you can't find anything so petite, don't fret. Just cut down a larger ball of fresh mozz into bite-sized niblets for this recipe.

Mozzarella, Mint & Melon Salad (Serves 4)

1 medium-sized melon, cut into 1" pieces
Juice from 1 lime
1 cup fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2" cubes
2 Tbsp fresh mint, sliced thin
1/4 tsp salt (optional)

1. Combine melon, lime, mozzarella cubes, mint and salt.
2. Chill until ready to serve.

The lightness and sweetness of this salad would be especially nice with grilled meats, but do keep it on file for a quickie picnic side.

Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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FoodLink Roundup: 09.29.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was located among the pumpkins in Red Hook Farm, Brooklyn. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Kick off Rosh Hashanah with Sephardic savories
Sephardic treats for the New Year holiday.

Ancient Yeast Reborn in Modern Beer
Best thing to come out of amber since the velociraptors in Jurassic Park.

An Urban Farmer Is Rewarded for His Dream
How refreshing it is to read some good news this week...

What the 21st Century Will Taste Like
Chef David Chang has an epiphany about a diet for a smaller planet. Once again, old ideas become new realizations.

Mediterranean Diet Declines, and Weights Rise
An increasingly "American-style" diet produces a generation of tubby Greek kids. So sad!

T. rex's closest living relative found on the farm
Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

New food links — and another postcard from Cupcake — every Monday morning on missginsu.com

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9.29.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: Apple-Bacon Chowdah

As economic worries become yet worse and more frightening, what could be a better Recession-Proof Recipe this week than a soothing mug of chowder?

Comforting, delicious, endlessly flexible and — oh yes! quite economical — chowder is there for you when your 401k looks sad and wilted.

chowder

We talked about classic Manhattan and New England chowdah last January, but now that the season of summer corn is on the wane and the season of autumnal apples is on the rise, it seems appropriate to think about a combination of apples, corn and smoky bacon. Very nice for the crisp days of late summer-early autumn, don't you agree?
Apple-Bacon Chowder (Makes about two quarts)
4 slices bacon, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 small or 1 large potato, diced
3 ears sweet corn, kernels cut away (or use 16oz frozen corn)
2 golden delicious apples, diced
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp black pepper or cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 cup chopped parsley (optional)

1. In a heavy-bottomed stockpot over medium heat, cook the bacon until it begins to brown, about 15 minutes.
2. Add onion and cook an additional 10 minutes, keeping the bacon and onion moving to prevent uneven cooking.
3. As the onion begins to look translucent, add the diced potato, corn kernels and diced apple pieces. Cook 10 minutes before pouring in the chicken stock and milk.
4. Simmer 20-30 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Season to taste with the salt and black or cayenne pepper. Garnish with chopped parsley, if desired.

If you like a thick chowder, purée about 1 cup of the soup in a blender or food processor before stirring it back into the pot, or simply use a stick blender to crush some of the potato and apple pieces.

And if you're not a bacon person, just skip it entirely and use a little olive oil to cook down the onions. You could also dice a red pepper in place of the apples. See? Versatile. Easy. Tasty.

Serve up a cup alongside a crisp green salad and a crust of bread. And it goes down easy with the last of the summer ales and lagers they're clearing off the grocery store shelves right now.

So try not to think about the banking crisis. Enjoy your soup. And think about all the lovely, thrifty lunches you'll pack for yourself this week.

Bon appetit!
Miss Ginsu

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9.16.2008

Old Mr. Boston's Bronx Cheer

Flipping through my Old Mr. Boston De Luxe Official Bartender's Guide (1960 edition, naturally...), I was struck by how many random place names pop up in the cocktails.

Cocktails

There's the Alaska and Alabama cocktails, but with no explanation, Old Mr. Boston gives no such honor to Arizona or Arkansas.

Baltimore represents in the form of both the Baltimore Bracer and the Baltimore Eggnog, but is there a Brooklyn? No. Sadly, there's not. No cocktail for you, Brooklyn.

New York rates two drinks, of course Manhattan gets its own (quite famous) cocktail, and even Fifth Avenue rates a drink, but strangely, of the boroughs Mr. Boston had available for cocktail honors, did he crown Queens? (That'd be a no.) Or stop by Staten Island? (That'd be a hell, no.)

Folks, Old Mr. Boston had it going for The Bronx.

Five cocktail listings for ye olde Bronck's Land. And why is that, anyway? A nod to the thicket of bootleggers and gangs that thrived there during the prohibition era? Does it go even further back to even seedier activities? Only Mr. Boston knows.

And, well, yes... Wikipedia also knows. (Or at least it sorta knows.) Apparently the Bronx Cocktail was the toast of 1934, devised either by Bronx restaurateur Joe Sormani, or perhaps whipped up on a whim in Philly and named for The Bronx's famed zoo. Aw!

Whatever the true origin story, we can appreciate the simple beauty of The Borough's namesake cocktail. All five variations focus on gin with various measures of vermouth, citrus juice and garnish. Easy to make, easy to drink.

I'll list out my two favorites — the straight-up Bronx Cocktail, and the evocatively named Bronx Terrace... where I envision 1934's newly retired bootleggers laid back, sippin' on gin and juice in the really, really old-school Bronx style.
Bronx Cocktail

1 oz dry gin
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1/2 oz dry vermouth
Juice of 1/4 orange

Shake well with cracked ice and strain into a 3-ounce cocktail glass. Serve with a slice of orange.

Bronx Terrace Cocktail

1 1/2 oz dry gin
1 1/2 oz dry vermouth
Juice of 1/2 lime

Shake well with cracked ice and strain into a 3-ounce cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

(Bronx) Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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9.09.2008

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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9.02.2008

Recession-Proof: Bahn Mi Sandwiches

One of the first food adjustments people consider during downmarket days are meats. Like eggs and dairy products, meat is one of those commodities that shows an immediate rate jump. Those Porterhouses and T-bone steaks start looking mighty dear.

And you'll also note that the traditional foods of most cultures tend to embrace "scrap" meat and cheaper cuts. Ground meat, sausages, scrapple, haggis, cured belly bacon, tougher cuts long-stewed to tenderize... these are the foods of the commoners.



Thus, the bahn mi, a Vietnamese-French fusion sandwich made of chopped fresh vegetables with pate, roast pork or ground meat on a baguette, is a classic recession-proof recipe.
Banh Mi (Makes 4 sandwiches)

For the carrots
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp sugar
Dash fish sauce (optional)
3-4 carrots, shredded

For the sandwiches
2 baguettes (or 4 long sandwich rolls)
1/4 lb roast pork or ham
1 small cucumber, peeled & cut into long strips
1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves picked
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
1/8 lb pork liver pate
Chili sauce (I like Sriracha), to taste
Chili peppers (optional)

1. Prepare the carrots: Mix vinegar with water, sugar and fish sauce (if using). Brine the carrots in this mixture overnight in the refrigerator.
2. To make the sandwiches, slice the baguettes in half, cut each one open and distribute the mayonnaise and pate across the bread.
3. Top each dressed baguette with a thin slice of roast pork/ham. Distribute the carrots, cucumber and cilantro leaves. Add chili sauce or peppers to taste and serve immediately.

Not only does this recipe conservatively use its meat component, you'll note it also makes good use of the recession-proof extender factor in the use of the bread as a cheap and tasty tummy filler.

Happy Eating,

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8.21.2008

A Hammock, a Pimm's Cup and Thou

I feel that fully half of what makes the Pimm's Cup such a beguiling summer cocktail is in the garnish. There are multiple variants, of course, but I favor the ultra-simple slice of cucumber + slice of lemon.

Pimm's Cup

Pimm's makes a variety of styles, and that namesake cocktail made with the formulation known as No. 1 has traditionally been popular in the south of England, appearing as one of two staple drinks (the other sip of choice would be champagne) at such rarefied events as Wimbledon, the Henley Royal Regatta and the Glyndebourne opera festival.

Knowing all that, it's interesting to see that the recipe for the classic Pimm's Cup cocktail is terrifyingly simple. Common, even...
Pimm's Cup
2 oz Pimm's No. 1
4 to 6 oz lemonade (some use lemon/lime soda; I favor ginger ale)
Mint leaves, and slices of lemon (or orange, strawberry, apple...)

Originally, the cocktail required borage leaves in lieu of mint/cucumber, but as borage is a bit tough to come by in U.S. markets, cucumber is the go-to garnish hereabouts.

But as I mentioned, I find the cucumber/lemon combo to be particularly magical. The cooling qualities of the cucumber alongside the citrus zip and vigor of the lemon go a long way in gin-style cocktails (and Pimm's No. 1 is one such blend) in particular, since gin is, by nature, herbaceous.

I've even become a great fan of lemon and cucumber slices served with water. So simple, but the scent and flavor results are elegant... perfect for brunch, for time spent on the deck/patio/fire escape and for adding a touch of class to your next grill-fest. Give it a try and see if you don't become a convert.

Cheers,

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8.20.2008

Dear Miss Ginsu: I have eggplants.

Dear Miss Ginsu,

This week the farm share delivered a bunch of eggplants. I have not really done much with them before, so I ask your advice. Other than tossing some sauteed eggplant into a bean salad (not that there's anything wrong with that), what other tips do you have?

Best Regards,
— Desperately Seeking Produce Advice

Grilled Vegetables
Just about anything is tasty when it's brushed with olive oil and grilled...

Dear DSPA,

A ratatouille is a classic use (or stuff hollowed-out shells with ratatouille and bake 'em) and there's always the classic eggplant parm.

Lil Frankie's in the East Village serves eggplant halved, roasted and topped with a zippy chili oil, but I think you'd have to have their wood-fired oven to make it taste that rich and smoky. I've tried it in my oven, and it's just not the same. But eggplant does love the grill. There's something about the smoke that really compliments the flavor.

I usually go Middle Eastern with eggplant (either roasted with olive oil and za'atar spice or in a baba ganoush) and serve it alongside cucumber/tomato/feta salad, hummus and spicy lamb balls.
Baba Ganoush
1 large eggplant
1 garlic clove
2 Tbsp tahini
2-3 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp good olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
Chopped parsley and/or mint (optional, for garnish)

1. Preheat oven to 450F. Poke the eggplant several times with a fork (to create steam-escape routes) and place on a baking sheet.

2. Bake until it is soft, about 20-30 minutes, or you can grill the eggplant (it's okay for it to char) about 10-15 minutes.

3. Allow the eggplant to cool before cutting in half, draining off any excess juice and scooping its flesh into a food processor/blender.

4. Blend eggplant, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil and salt until smooth. Season to taste with a little more lemon juice, olive oil or salt, as you like. Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with chopped parsley and/or mint and serve with pita.

If you dig the heat, I find baba ganoush is pretty great with a little Aleppo pepper added in or sprinkled across the top. I know they sell it at Penzeys (along with za'atar), either online or in shops... there's one at the market at Grand Central Station here in New York.

Happy eating!

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8.19.2008

FoodLink Roundup: 08.18.08


Last week, our sweet protagonist was sussed out by Mr. Hazard at the Coney Island Boardwalk. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Vin Mariani
the nonist makes a rare foray into the realm of food blogging with the bizarre history of Vin Mariani: a most intoxicating beverage...

Make your own "pop tarts"
I have absolute certainty that these are immeasurably better than those little pastry hunks in the silver foil pouches.

Grandma's Grain Recipe
Oh yeah... this one is looking like a likely candidate for the autumn/winter brekkie roster.

Bodega Party in a Box
Your guide to celebrating (and making food from) the friendly neighborhood bodega.

The Frownie
Make a whole plate, and you've got a pity party. Hilarious.

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8.18.2008

Blended Bacon Butter (& Friends)

One of the first techniques we learned in cooking school was for making compound butter. It's essentially just butter that's softened, blended with something flavorful, reformed and re-chilled for serving.

Compound butters are so decadent and so easy — though they never fail to impress guests when you make the effort — and yet, they're one of those delicious details I invariably forget about.

Bread & Butter
Why bread and butter when you could be eating a better butter?

Here's three recipes for compound butters — each supremely simple and very tasty. You'll notice the method is the same for each, so once you've made one or two, you can kind of go crazy and add in just about anything you like.

The Bacon Butter is divine on grilled vegetables (try it on your corn-on-the-cob), the Herb Butter is great sliced and slipped under the skin of a chicken you're about to roast, the Anchovy Butter especially loves steaks and broiled fish... and (surprise!) all three are delicious spread across the surface of a fresh baguette. Or maybe even a hot biscuit. Mmm...
Blended Bacon Butter
1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup crisp bacon, finely crumbled (or proscuitto or serrano ham, minced)
1/4 Tbsp kosher salt (or to taste)
1/2 Tbsp freshly ground pepper (or to taste)

1. Blend the butter in a bowl with the bacon or minced proscuitto/serrano (a wooden spoon works well for this).
2. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Roll the butter into a tight log shape in parchment paper or plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 week. If you won't use it that day, wrap well (or seal in a freezer bag) or freeze for up to 3 months.

Zesty Herb Butter
1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter, softened
1 Tbsp garlic, minced
1 Tbsp parsley, minced
1 Tbsp chives, minced
1/2 Tbsp tarragon, minced
1/2 Tbsp lemon zest
1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 Tbsp kosher salt (or to taste)
1/2 Tbsp freshly ground pepper (or to taste)

1. Blend the butter in a bowl with the garlic, herbs, zest and lemon juice (a wooden spoon works well for this).
2. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Roll the butter into a tight log shape in parchment paper or plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 week. If you won't use it that day, wrap well (or seal in a freezer bag) or freeze for up to 3 months.

Garlic Anchovy Butter
1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter, softened
4 Anchovy fillets, minced
1 Tbsp garlic, minced
1/2 Tbsp lemon zest
1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 Tbsp kosher salt (or to taste)
1/2 Tbsp freshly ground pepper (or to taste)

1. Blend the butter in a bowl with the minced anchovies, garlic, zest and lemon juice (a wooden spoon works well for this).
2. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Roll the butter into a tight log shape in parchment paper or plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 week. If you won't use it that day, wrap well (or seal in a freezer bag) or freeze for up to 3 months.


Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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8.14.2008

Mad for Mascarpone (Ice Cream)

When you have a machine that makes ice cream, unexpected combinations are apt to happen. In addition to the standard chocolate, vanilla and fruit flavors, you're bound to want to experiment with other things in your kitchen.

One finds one's self enjoying rhubarb ice cream. Bacon Ice Cream. And even... cheese ice cream.

To be honest, J and I first encountered cheese gelato in the form of formatgelats at the Formatgeria La Seu cheese shop in Barcelona. The flavors there were enchanting. Musky blue cheese gelato, cabra gelato... they'd certainly be stellar with rich fig jams or dried apricots. Maybe even a nice dessert wine, like a Sauternes.

I did some experimenting of my own in the realm of frozen fromage on returning home. And, as you might expect, cheese ice cream is a bit tricky. Too much ruins the ice cream texture. The cheese must be creamy, not grainy. And the flavor really shouldn't be too bold.

Sweet, creamy blues were nice. Some of the fresher goat cheeses worked well in ice cream form. The ricotta ice cream was very nice. And then, there was the mascarpone ice cream.

Mascarpone Ice Cream on a Chocolate Brownie
Mascarpone Ice Cream on a Chocolate Brownie

Admittedly, using mascarpone for a cheese ice cream is almost cheating. Though it's referred to as a triple-cream cheese, I've never found mascarpone to be much more than a lush, silken dairy spread. It's creamy. It's rich. But is it really cheese?

No matter. It's a lovely spread for fruit breads and a great recipe additive for ice cream, as it turns out.

Mascarpone Ice Cream

Thanks to its outrageous fat content, the texture of this one varies from standard ice creams. It's almost... fluffy. My boss actually said this was his favorite of the homemade ice creams he's tried, because while home freezers tend to make ice creams a bit icier, this recipe leaves no room for ice crystals.

Also: I know this will come as a big shock to you, but... yes, this ice cream is, indeed, stellar with berries and sweets such as the chocolate brownies in the photo (up the page a bit).

Keep in mind this is style of ice cream base that uses uncooked eggs, so be sure to use good, fresh eggs from a reliable farmer.
Mascarpone Ice Cream (Makes about 1 1/2 quarts)

2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
16 oz mascarpone
1 cup cream or half & half
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp salt

1. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar until light.
2. Beat in the mascarpone until the mixture is smooth.
3. Blend in the cream, milk and salt with a whisk.
4. Freeze the mix using an ice cream machine or attachment, pack into pints, and harden in the freezer for at least 5 hours (or overnight).

Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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8.13.2008

Recession-Proof: Spicy Peanut Soba (or Slaw)

I feel a great sauce is like one's most reliable suit or best basic dress. It proves its thrift and usefulness again and again.

A spicy peanut sauce turns out to be one of those go-to recipes. I know I just covered peanuts yesterday, I'm going to run the risk of making it peanut week around here (Heck... why not just make it peanut week around here?), and propose a good peanut sauce as part of your recession-proof recipe package.

Soba Noodles

As ag booster (and legume-hacker) George Washington Carver popularly pointed out, peanuts are supremely useful little legumes. Not only can you use the humble peanut to make paint, dye and nitroglycerin... they're also cheap and tasty.

Use this sauce on shredded cabbage and carrots, and you've got yourself a savory slaw. Use it over soba noodles for a lovely lunch or dinner. Use it as a salad dressing. It's also great with thin-sliced grilled meats in the style of a classic peanut saté sauce.

Veggie Slaw

Thus, a savory peanut sauce is not merely versatile, it's also a flexible meal-maker in which both meat lovers and vegetarians can rejoice with equal fervor.

Ginger-Peanut Soba, Salad or Slaw (Serves 4)

For the Base

1/2 lb soba noodles, cooked according to package instructions, rinsed and cooled

or

1/4 head cabbage, finely sliced & 2 carrots, shredded

or

1 head boston or butterhead lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces

For the Sauce:
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
1-2 tsp hot sauce (or more, if you like it hot)
1 tsp toasted sesame oil (optional)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp lime juice
2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
2/3 cup vegetable oil

Optional Accessories:
3 radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro or mint, roughly chopped
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup (1 ounce) peanuts, chopped
1/2 cup cooked, sliced chicken, pork or beef

1. Blend peanut butter, vinegar, hot sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, lime juice and fresh ginger. Whisk in vegetable oil slowly.

2. Toss peanut sauce with cooked soba noodles or cabbage/carrots or torn lettuce.

3. Top with your choice of optional accessory ingredients and serve. The soba and slaw keep well, but if you're not serving a lettuce salad immediately, wait to dress it until just before serving.


Yours in good, cheap eats,

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8.06.2008

Adventures in Dangerous Baking

"Drop the cookie, ma'am."

"Are you talking to me?"

"Yes. Drop the cookie and raise your hands."

"What? But it--"

"You heard me, ma'am. Drop the peanut-butter cookie and back away slowly."

"But it's my cookie."

"I don't want an argument here. Just drop the cookie and raise your hands above your head."

"It's my lunch. I can't just drop it in the dirt, I--"

"Ma'am, you can't go waving around that cookie. You're within 100 yards of an elementary school. That cookie is a lethal weapon."

"But I baked it this morning... Can't I just eat it? Wait! No! Don't shoot! Fine! I'll drop it! See? I dropped it..."

"You people... Now we need to seal off this whole area and do another detox. Do you know how long that takes? Cripes. And you could've killed somebody's kid, too. Can't you read the signs?"

"And it was a good cookie, too. Wait, there's signs?"

"Of course there's signs. There's signs here. And here. And over there, too. Under penalty of law, no peanuts may enter these premises."

"When did that happen?"

When indeed? This is obviously a dramatization, but what's absolutely true is that you really can't bring peanut butter cookies or peanut trail mix or even good old PB&J into a lot of schools nowadays.

Peanut Butter Cookies... mmmm...

One of my daddy friends tells me that his daughter's school has banned not only peanuts, but homemade snacks in general. So put away your family's favorite recipe for lemon bars. School treats must now be individually packaged snack foods.

Great for food manufacturers. Lousy for parents who want to demonstrate a DIY ethic.

In addition to a general fear of food allergies (a fear that some people feel has been exaggerated as of late), birthday treats are also apparently to blame for making America's children blobby.

Again, my friend's progressive school has banned birthday treats as a way to remedy this issue. Thank goodness childhood obesity isn't the result of too much soda pop, fast food, candy-stocked vending machines and a general lack of exercise.

PB cookies unbaked

Knowing all this, I feel that one of the more dangerous acts one can undertake these days is making and (gasp!) distributing peanut butter cookies.

As I was feeling a bit puckish just recently (and the temperature dropped down for long enough to make baking palatable), I whipped up a batch of these little danger discs.

Salty, sweet, creamy and rich... I love 'em. And there's a million recipes out there.

I find the Joy of Cooking version is more sandy-cakey and the Better Homes & Gardens one is more crispy.

PB cookie dough

I tend more toward the crispy, myself. Here's my version. Bake and consume at your own risk.

Peanut Butter Cookies (Makes about 35-40)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or, just use AP)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
White sugar, for squashing (optional)

1. Beat together butter, peanut butter, sugar, egg and vanilla extract.
2. Sift together flour, soda and baking powder, and combine with the peanut butter mixture.
4. Cover mixing bowl and chill for 1 hour, or wrap well and freeze until you're ready to bake.
5. Heat the oven to 375°F, and roll the dough into 1" balls. Place each ball about 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
6. Compress each ball with the tines of a fork. You may wish to dip the fork in white sugar between impressions, since it makes the tops sparkley with sugar. Or not. It's up to you.
7. Bake 8-10 minutes and cool on a wire rack before devouring with cold milk.


Happy Eating!

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8.05.2008

Make Mine a Mead

Apparently, it's the American Homebrewer's Association Mead Day. And as it's sweltering summertime out there, I can't think of a better day to highlight the pleasures of DIY beverages, not to mention the plight of the threatened honeybee.

Home-brewed mead
Brett's homebrew. Great tiled countertop, right? I helped install that. :)

Though oft dismissed as the stuff of Ren Fairs and the creative anachronism crowd, mead is actually not that difficult to do at home. And (bonus!) being a generous homebrewer is guaranteed to make you immediately popular in your neighborhood and totally valuable after the apocalypse.

My college buddy Brett, a talented photographer and writer, brews all kinds of delights in his enviably large basement in Susquehanna, PA.

And just what does he have down there? Rich molasses-y porters. Dark stouts. Light, spicy Belgian ales. And some new batches of crisp, effervescent mead.

A cold glass beside the sandbox
Nothin' like a cold glass of mead while you play in the sandbox...

While I was out there on a recent visit, he confessed that he's been lazy. Truthfully, he's really only interested in making mead as of late. Why? It's simple. Who wants to fuss with a lot in the summertime?

So here's to simplicity. And here's to the bees that make mead possible. Unfortunately, North America's bee populations are threatened by mysterious, deadly troubles that science is referring to as Colony Collapse Disorder.

A number of honey-loving businesses, from cosmetics company Burt's Bees to ice cream maker Häagen Daz have recently joined forces highlight this issue and throw some money at CCD research.

When honeybees die, we lose more than honey, beeswax products and mead. Bees are essential to agriculture and maintaining our food supply.

Meanwhile, I submit to you a spiced mead you can do at home, if you have the patience, the space and/or your housemates are forgiving. This mead is technically a methyglyn, which is a mead with spices, while a melomel is a mead with fruit.

Before starting, you'll need about 25-30 clean 12oz bottles, the same number of corks or caps and a capper, and primary and secondary fermentation buckets or a carboy that you've sanitized (bleach works well for this).
Double-Fermented Citrus Mead Makes about 2 1/2 gallons, (about 26 12oz bottles)

6 to 9 lb good quality honey
2 1/2 gallons water
1/8 oz freeze-dried wine, champagne or mead yeast
Peels from 4 oranges or lemons (no whites)
2" piece ginger, sliced
2 Tbsp coriander seeds

1. Bring the water to a boil. Once the water reaches a boil, remove it from the heat and mix in the honey, sliced ginger, citrus peel and coriander.

2. Meanwhile, mix 1/2 cup of lukewarm water in a clean bowl with the yeast.

3. When the pot is cool, skim out the peel, spices and ginger and stir in the yeast mixture. Transfer the mixture to a clean, sterile fermentation bucket or a carboy.

4. Cap the bucket/carboy and let the mixture ferment for two to four weeks. The number of carbon dioxide bubbles emitted from the air lock should drop to one bubble every minute, indicating the first fermentation is almost complete.

5. When the bubbling activity subsides the yeast is dead. Carefully siphon the mead the secondary fermentation bucket and cap it (try not to get the lees at the bottom of the bucket). Age for one to four months.

6. Once the mead has cleared and matured, you can siphon it into sterilized bottles and cap them. Let the bottles sit for at least another week or two, then chill and serve.

Brett is quick to remind homebrewers that, like most alcoholic brews, mead improves with age. Even if you're not crazy about the first bottle you sample, you might really love the same brew a few months (or years!) later.

The Beer for Dummies guys offer this additional advice:
Note on equipment: Making mead requires essentially the same basic kit necessary to brew beer at home: primary and secondary plastic-bucket fermenters with air locks and spigots, transfer hosing, a bottle-filler tube, heavy bottles, bottle caps, bottle capper, and a bottle brush and washer. You should be able to find these items for approximately $70 total (excluding the bottles) through a home-brewing supplier, such as The Home Brewery. Bottles cost from $6 to $20 per dozen, depending on style. You might instead buy a couple of cases of beer in returnable bottles, drink the beer, and — after sanitizing them! — reuse those bottles, for the cost of the deposit.


Cheers!

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8.02.2008

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

Recession-Proof Recipes: Cool Beans

Back around tax time when I started this series, basic black bean soup seemed like a really tasty idea, but after a week of 90-degree days, I must admit that thick, hearty soups seem far less appealing. Just turning on the stove seems far less appealing.

Chickpea Salad
Chickpea, Yellow Zucchini & Sweet Corn Salad w/ Red Wine Vinaigrette

Thank goodness for canned beans. Cheap, tasty protein... no flames required. I've been making bean salads with my CSA vegetables for the past two weeks. And thanks to the remarkable versatility and variety of beans, I'm still not sick of them.

While blanching corn cobs, fava beans or green beans does require a pot of boiling water, there's plenty of veggies out there that are perfectly happy to hop into your salads in raw form.

Market-Fresh
Market-Fresh Succotash

And since bean salads are so simple, it hardly seems worth it to write up a recipe. So but I'll just do a little quasi-mathematical formula:

1 can of your favorite beans (washed & drained)
+ 1 cup sliced zucchini, cucumber, bell pepper, tomato, shredded carrot (or whatever veggies you like)
+ 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (basil, mint, dill and parsley all work just fine)
+ 2 Tbsp olive oil
+ 1 Tbsp citrus juice/vinegar (white wine, red wine, cider, malt, balsamic...)

= Tasty Bean Salad


White Bean Salad
White Bean, Cucumber, Tomato & Parsley Salad w/ Lemon Vinaigrette

Beans are already little protein powerhouses, but if you're mad for protein, or just really love meat, you can toss sliced, cooked beef, chicken, tuna, lamb, sausage, etc. atop any of these salads.

I particularly love bean salads with the olive oil-soaked tuna like the Spanish Ortiz Bonito Del Norte, but that kind of blows the economical angle. :)

Bon appetit, ya'll!

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7.22.2008

Apricots, Apriums, Plumcots, Pluots & Plums



Am I the only one that's confused by exactly what the difference is between a pluot and a plumcot?

Heck... It was only very recently that I discovered the existence of the aprium.

As it turns out, pluots and apriums aren't just recently popularized fruits. They're the result of hard work by the Zaiger family of Modesto, California, who for the last 30 years or so, have been quietly marrying apricots and plums — among other stone fruits — in an effort to create crazy new fruits (with Zaiger-registered trademarks, of course) for the marketplace.

As it turns out, apricots, like plums are actually members of the same species, Prunus. Who knew? Well, apparently the Zaigers knew.

In general, I find any in-season stonefruit to be so delightful, a recipe is hardly necessary. Just a napkin, please.

That said, you can dress up any stonefruit just a bit by making a quickie summer pastry with it. For little tartlet, don't even fuss with making up a pastry base. Just thaw some puff pastry, mount it with macerated fruit (use whichever ones you happen to run across) and bake. Voila! Stonefruit perfection.
Plum/Apricot Tartlets (Servings Vary)

Frozen puff pastry (thawed)
1 Apricot, Aprium, Plumcot, Pluot or Plum per serving (cut in 1/2" slices)
1/2 tsp sugar per fruit
1-2 shakes ground cinnamon (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 400°F.
2. Cut 1 4"x 4" puff pastry square for each serving. Rewrap and freeze any remaining puff pastry.
3. Place pastry squares on a baking sheet.
4. Stir sliced stonefruit, sugar and cinnamon (if using) in a mixing bowl.
5. Pile sugared fruit in the center of each pastry square, leaving a 1" pastry border.
6. Fold up the edges to create casual pastry cups around the fruit, and bake for 30 minutes, or until pastry is golden.

As you can imagine, these are really nice served warm with plain yogurt, crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream.

Cheers!

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7.08.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: Summertime Succotash

It's really, truly summer when the sweet corn arrives. Then we see the the zucchini and tomatoes. And that's when it's time for summer succotash — one of the most lovely, fresh and versatile of seasonal salads.

summer succotash

By definition, a succotash consists of beans and corn — sometimes baked.

But the succotashes I've always known have been simple summer salads composed of just-shucked sweet corn, ripe tomatoes, beans (sometimes green beans, sometimes lima beans or kidney beans) and maybe even some jalapeño, slices of zucchini, fresh-chopped basil, fresh parsley or cubes of smoky bacon. Some people use sliced fresh okra.

In theory, this is an inexpensive dish. Everything should be in season, and very little is absolutely required, so unavailable or unattainable ingredients can be skipped.

Clearly, I'm no succotash purist. But it's summertime, and the livin' is supposed to be easy.

So use this recipe for a basis and then go crazy. Add in yellow squash, sliced scallions or red bell peppers. Maybe you'll toss in some cooked salad shrimp. It doesn't matter. Succotash is going to be delicious any way you choose to do it.
Easy Summertime Succotash (Serves 6-8)
4 ears corn
1/4 cup fresh basil and/or parsley, chopped
1 15oz can lima beans, kidney beans or canneloni beans, rinsed well
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 lb sliced bacon, cooked crisp (optional)

1. Cut the kernels away from the corn and hold in a large mixing bowl.
2. Mix in the drained beans, chopped herb(s) and tomato halves.
3. While whisking, drizzle the olive oil into the cider vinegar to incorporate the two into a simple vinaigrette.
4. Toss the salad with the vinaigrette. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and garnish with crumbled bacon, if desired. Serve immediately or hold at room temperature for an hour or two until serving time.

Summertime succotash also won't wilt like green salads, so it makes a good barbecue side or a "make it & take it" dish for potlucks and picnics.

Cheers!

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7.03.2008

Kind of Blue

I've met people who seem to resent their bodies. Maybe they find their skin and bones limiting or ugly or even bothersome. Truthfully, there is responsibility involved in owning a body. It needs to be fed, walked, watered, bathed and stroked. Some would, understandably, rather just spend time on other projects and pursuits.

On the other hand, there here are, among us, those who truly relish living in their bodies. They're sensualists. Hedonists. Lovers. Athletes. Thrill-seekers. Epicurians. Dancers. These are often the people we describe as having a joie de vivre.

My dad was among that latter group. He loved his body. He praised it and developed it. He grew his hair long and shiny. He was fearless at the beach, and he showed off his thickly muscled arms and legs whenever he could.

So it was especially rotten when he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease) last fall. His muscles freaked out. His nerves stopped talking. He grew a little weaker every day. It progressed faster than anyone expected.

There was nothing to be done. It's fatal. Weirdly, doctors told him to avoid saturated fat and meat. But when you're issued a death sentence, that advice doesn't seem very rational. A coronary would've been a blessing.

So I cooked. We ate. We talked. I'm grateful for that.

Honestly, all lives have limited-time offers. We hope for 80 or more healthy years, but we really don't know how much time we're allotted. It's one of those mysteries we collectively share. Today could be the last day above ground. Or maybe it's tomorrow. Who knows?

washed blueberries

My childhood Sundays with dad always meant picking apart the Sunday paper with hot blueberry muffins and a soundtrack by Miles Davis.

Sometimes he put on Sketches of Spain, but most of the time, it was Kind of Blue.

He sipped coffee. I drank milk. And we spent our Sunday mornings in delicious idle domesticity.

Coincidentally, his death corresponds with the dawn of our local blueberry season, so I submit this recipe in honor of my dad, who so beautifully demonstrated a love of life.
Classic Sunday-Morning Blueberry Muffins (Makes 12-15)
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
1 3/4 cup sifted flour (use All-Purpose or an AP/whole wheat blend)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries (or more!)
1 tsp lemon zest (optional)

1. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar.
2. Beat in the milk, egg and vanilla.
3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and add the dry mixture into the butter mixture.
4. Mix until just moistened. Fold in the blueberries and zest (if using).
5. Line a muffin pan with papers, or grease the cups before filling each cup 2/3 full with the batter.
6. Bake at 400°F for 20 to 25 minutes, and serve with butter, the Sunday paper and Miles Davis, if desired.

You can actually use whichever berry strikes your fancy or happens to look good at the market.

Cheers,

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7.02.2008

What's In The Box? Part II

It's week two of my half-share CSA distribution. The local weather's been alternating between gorgeous sunny days and violent thunderstorms recently. That has to be affecting the local veggies.

The first shipment was heavy on lettuces. So what's in the box this week?

What's in the Box?

  • Arugula
  • Zucchini... big 'uns!
  • Chinese cabbage (flowering, but still tasty)
  • Mesclun lettuce mix
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Pea shoots
  • Baby braising greens (a mix of tatsoi, mustard greens, kale and mizuna)
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Eggs
  • A bouquet of cosmos, snapdragons, sunflowers, dianthus, rye and oats

    Alas, asparagus season is over. Goodbye, local asparagus!

    Everything looked great except for the radishes, a few of which had burst open (I assume that's the result of our irregular rain this season) and the strawberries, which were clearly soft and on their way out.

    The radishes were just a cosmetic issue, but I knew the berries wouldn't last the night. So as I piled my pint in a zip-top bag and pedaled home, I thought of one magic word: compote

    Yes, a simple compote is the fruit buyer's best friend. Mushed, soft berries, excess rhubarb, bruised peaches... clean 'em off, chop 'em up and throw 'em in a saucepan with a little sugar.

    Whack! Pow! Twenty minutes later, you've got yourself a compote that's ready to mix into plain yogurt for a snack that's tastier than any grocery-store fruit-on-the-bottom blend you'll ever meet.

    A good compote is so simple, you hardly need a formal recipe, but I'm going to give you one anyway, because I had a kitchen inspiration I wanted to share.

    A while back J & I took tea at the sweet little Podunk teashop in the West Village. One of the things we remembered with greatest fondness was Ms. Espeth's strawberry jam, which was spiced with a peppery kick that hit in the back of the throat. A delight!

    Strawberries

    As I lopped the tops off the strawberries last night (off with their heads!) I thought with fondness of that strawberry jam. So why not make a peppery strawberry compote?

    Herein, dear readers, is your ticket to that very confection. And, hurrah! you probably have just about everything but the strawberries already hanging around in your kitchen.

    Some strawberries are sweeter or more tart than others, so I usually start with less sugar and add in more, to taste, as I go. So feel free to mess with the sugar : acid : spice ratios. A compote is only perfect when you, the cook, say so.
    Kapow! Strawberry Compote (Makes about 1 cup)
    1 pint strawberries (trimmed of their tops & bruises)
    1/8-1/4 cup sugar
    2 Tbsp water
    1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
    1/4 tsp finely ground black pepper
    1/8 tsp ground mace or ground cardamom (optional)
    1 dash salt (optional)

    1. In a small-to-medium saucepan, combine the trimmed strawberries, sugar and water, and heat over medium flame.
    2. Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Don't let the mixture boil; It'll just froth up a storm and make a big, sticky mess on your stovetop.
    3. Turn down the heat, taste the mixture and stir in the lemon juice, spices and salt, if using. The compote will thicken and develop in flavor as it cools, so don't over-spice it at this point.
    4. Use warm, or chill it down and keep it for up to a week in the refrigerator.

    I love this compote with yogurt, but it's also superb on ice cream or used on biscuits or as a way to give strawberry shortcakes a little kick.

    Cheers!

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  • 6.26.2008

    Middle Feastern Delights

    Filled with lots of tangy citrus and yogurt flavors and plenty of cool cucumbers, the foods of the Middle East seem particularly suited for warmer weather.

    I first encountered spiced ground lamb as a Turkish kabob, but I discovered that the whole operation with the stick seemed like just a bit too much fuss for regular use.

    Why not just make spiced lamb meatballs? They're fun to make, not too fussy and are even very nice when munched as cold leftovers for your midnight snacking needs.

    Lamb Balls, Raw
    Lamb Balls, Cooking
    Lamb Balls, Cooling

    This Cucumber-Yogurt Raita goes very well with lamb. You'll find it's similar to a Greek Tzatziki, but tzatziki typically uses garlic instead of citrus. If you'd like something more Greek-y, drop the cumin and substitute puréed garlic for the citrus juice. Voila!
    Spicy Lamb Balls w/ Cool Cucumber Raita (Makes 25 meatballs)
    For the Spice Blend
    1 Tbsp whole coriander
    1 Tbsp whole cumin
    1/2 Tbsp whole black peppercorn
    1/2 Tbsp whole fennel seed or anise

    For the Lamb Meatballs
    2 pounds lamb
    1/2 cup fine breadcrumbs
    1 egg
    1 tsp kosher salt
    1 small onion, minced (optional)
    1 tsp olive or canola oil

    1. Grind the spices in a spice grinder. (If you're using pre-ground spices, simply blend them together and use 3 tablespoons of the mix for this recipe.)
    2. Mix together the lamb, egg, salt, onion (if using) and the ground spice blend in a large mixing bowl.
    3. Form golf-ball-sized spheres with the meat mix and set them on a plate while you heat the skillet.
    4. In a large (17") skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add about half the lamb balls and cook about 1 minute before gently rolling each ball over with a pair of tongs.
    5. Continue cooking the lamb balls for about 5-7 minutes, rolling each ball every 60 seconds to an uncooked side. Remove the cooked balls and drain them on paper towels.
    6. Cook the second batch of lamb balls the same way you cooked the first batch. Serve hot or warm with cucumber raita (below).

    Cool Cucumber Raita
    1 small cucumber, peeled (or half of an unpeeled hothouse cucumber)
    1 cup plain yogurt
    1 Tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp ground cumin
    1-2 Tbsp chopped mint, cilantro or parsley (optional)

    1. Shred the cucumber on a grater and squeeze out all the excess juice you can.
    2. Blend squeezed cucumber shreds with yogurt, citrus juice, salt, cumin and herbs (if using).
    3. Taste, and if the mixture seems too tart, add a dash of sugar. Serve immediately with the lamb balls. This raita is also terrific with a variety of Indian curries.

    This recipe also makes great sandwiches, so if you're in the mood for hand-held food, stuff two to three warm lamb balls into toasted pita halves. Add a bit of shredded lettuce and tomato slices and drizzle with the cucumber sauce.

    J loves this meal quite a lot, so we eat it with some frequency. Favorite accompaniments include tabbouleh, hummus, fresh cucumber-tomato salads, pickled beets (locally, the good fellas at Rick's Picks and Wheelhouse Pickles both make some terrific pickled beets) or pickled ramps and tahini sauce.

    Cheers!

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    6.24.2008

    Mi Chelada Es Su Chelada

    Nearly 10 years ago, I visited the Yucatán Peninsula for the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival and discovered a drink they called the michelada. It was a refreshing cocktail of sour, savory and salty flavors with brisk carbonation... just the thing for an afternoon of snorkeling, sunbathing and snacking on fresh fish tacos beside the sea.

    I didn't see another michelada until I moved to NYC and rediscovered them at Barrio Chino, where the staff poured micheladas just the way I remembered, not to mention great fish tacos. But Barrio Chino is nearly always busy when I'm hankering for a michelada, so I learned to make them on my own.



    Through much experimentation, I found that Clamato, a tomato-clam juice, makes the most balanced michelada. Unfortunately, Clamato is also made with high-fructose corn syrup — an additive I actively try to avoid.

    So go with Clamato if you can take the MSG and HFCS, or just use your favorite tomato juice. Standard V8 works fine and R.W. Knudsen also makes a nice vegetable blend without corn syrup, but their juice is pretty tart, so you may have to notch down the lime you'll add to the michelada recipe to get the right flavor balance.

    One more thing: this is a salty drink. Maybe don't serve it to friends with sodium-sensitive hypertension, okay?
    Miss G's Michelada
    A small bowl or dish of kosher salt (for salting the glass rim)
    1/2 cup Clamato or your favorite tomato juice
    juice of 1 lime
    1 dash Worcestershire sauce
    1 dash soy sauce
    1-2 shakes of hot sauce or 1/2 tsp Sriracha sauce
    1 bottle Negra Modelo, Corona or Sol, chilled

    1. Dampen the rim of the glass you intend to use (a pint glass is perfect) with water or lime juice, and dip the dampened rim into the bowl or dish of salt.
    2. Pour tomato juice, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and hot sauce into the glass and mix well.
    3. Add ice, if desired, and pour in the beer. The beer will froth in the glass, so pour slowly. You may not get the entire beer in the glass. This is fine. Sip your cocktail and pour in the rest of the beer when you have space.

    Last year, I saw that Budweiser was marketing a savory beer based on the same concept: The Budweiser Chelada. I haven't had one, but I can't help but think that fresh-squeezed limes have a lot to do with the charm of this drink. And if you ask me, canning a highly acidic beverage in aluminum sounds like a recipe for nasty off-flavors.

    All I'm saying is this: don't try the Bud Chelada (or, similarly, the Miller Chill) and think you've had the genuine article. A real michelada needs to be freshly prepared, and it has a flavor that's somewhere between a Bloody Mary and a Corona with lime. Wait for a sweltering hot, crushingly humid day and make yourself a michelada based on the recipe above.

    Salud!

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    6.19.2008

    Recession-Proof Recipes: French Lentil Salad

    Never does a cold salad sound so good as on a sticky, hot, lethargic day.

    That's when there's nothing finer than slumping over to the fridge and finding a tasty stash tucked away. Yes, some generous former version of yourself (perhaps that productive weekend you?) had the foresight to prepare and place this delight in the fridge for your current lazy enjoyment. Thanks, past-tense self. You rule.

    Using the spicy horseradish mustard whipped up in last week's post, it's quick (and tasty) work for you (or some former version of you) to make a one of this household's summertime favorites... the French Lentil Salad.

    This is a terrific salad to have around because it's full of protein, it's easy to make vegetarian or meatetarian, it's easy to make in advance (and travels well to picnics), it doesn't take long to cook and it keeps in the fridge for several days, so you can make a large batch on a Sunday and eat it for your weekday lunches and lazy midweek moments.

    French Lentil Salad with marinated artichokes
    French Lentil Salad with marinated artichokes

    The accommodating French Lentil Salad also welcomes a variety of ingredients. This week, we happened to have baby leeks in the CSA box, so sliced baby leeks replaced the scallions I usually use.

    If I have a can of marinated artichokes around... in they go. A few extra olives in the fridge? Slice 'em up. Sun-dried tomatoes? Delightful. J really loves this salad with oil-packed tuna. (At $10 a jar, it's a splurge, but we really love the Ortiz Bonito del Norte. Mmm...)

    French Lentil Salad with Serrano Ham
    French Lentil Salad with Serrano ham

    Basic French Lentil Salad (Makes about five cups)
    The lentils
    9 oz dried green lentils
    1 tsp salt
    1 bay leaf
    Water, to cover

    1. In a large pot, soak the lentils, covered in salt water, for 1 hour.
    2. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer until tender, but not overcooked, about 15 minutes.
    3. Drain, spread on a sheet tray to cool, and combine with the salad ingredients.

    The vinaigrette
    1/4 cup spicy mustard (or DIY mustard)
    3 Tbsp wine vinegar
    1/2 cup olive oil
    Salt and pepper to taste
    1 pinch sugar (optional)

    1. Mix the mustard and vinegar.
    2. Whisk in the olive oil until smooth.
    3. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar, to taste.

    The salad
    1. Mix the cooled lentils in a large bowl with the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
    2. Add in your choice of additions. Use whatever you have. I usually mix in:

    1/2 to 1 cup chopped herbs (parsley, mint, cilantro or a combination thereof)
    2-3 slices Serrano or Proscuitto ham, diced
    1/4 to 1/2 cup dried currants, softened in hot water for 20 minutes
    2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

    While French Lentils aren't the cheapest legume on the shelf, I can still pick up about 18 oz for less than three bucks, so a basic version of this recipe can be made for as little as 80 cents a cup (the olive oil, lentils and any dressy bits you add in being the expensive ingredients).

    Not a bad price for such a delightful source of protein and fiber.

    Cheers!

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    6.18.2008

    No stove, please. I'll have ceviche.

    Bah! Cooking... Who needs it? With the temps the 80s and high humidity all week, I just can't get excited about turning on the oven when I come home from work. Raw-food diets suddenly begin to seem more attractive.

    J and I try to maintain a Fish n' Film Friday dinner (it's a great mnemonic device to keep fish in our diets), but the thought of turning on the stove last week was just... too... much. So then, our thoughts turned to tangy, spicy bits of ceviche.

    Grouper ceviche
    Grouper ceviche with radishes, jalapeño and cilantro

    Ceviche (sometimes spelled seviche) is simply thin-sliced (or cubed) raw fish that's marinated in a strong acid, usually citrus-based, such as lemon, lime or grapefruit juice. The acid pickles or "cooks" the fish, turning its appearance from translucent to opaque.

    Ceviche can be made with salmon or mackerel, of course, but those are fattier, more fully-flavored fish. I prefer the white fishes or ceviches made with shell-off shrimp and scallops. My recommendation? Go with snapper, grouper, sea bass, flounder, halibut, sole or mahi-mahi and doll it up with whatever tasty things you have in the fridge.

    Chopped herbs or minced onions are a natural. Peruvian ceviche is very minimalist (and usually served with onions, sweet potatoes and corn), while Mexican ceviche is often mixed with a sort of pico de gallo of chilies, tomatoes and onions. I recently discovered it's also delightful when mixed with chopped-up pickled onions or pickled ramps.
    Basic Ceviche
    1 pound white fish (sliced uniformly thin), shelled shrimp or scallops
    1 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice (about 4 limes)
    1 tsp salt
    1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
    2 Tbsp olive oil

    Optional extras
    1 Tbsp chopped pickled ramps
    1 small red onion, sliced very thin and rinsed in cold water
    1 handful cherry tomatoes, halved
    3-4 radishes, sliced very thin
    1/4 red pepper, diced
    1/4-1/2 jalapeño pepper, sliced very thin

    1. Combine the lime juice, salt and cilantro.
    2. Put the fish in a glass/pyrex dish or another non-reactive container.
    3. Pour the lime juice mixture over the fish and chill for up to two hours, stirring once or twice during this time to make sure all the surfaces are covered.
    4. After two hours, the fish should look white and opaque. Drain off the lime juice and toss the fish with olive oil to stop the "cooking." Season to taste. (You may wish to mix in the tiniest pinch of sugar if the mixture seems too tart.)
    5. Toss in your choice of optional extras, or simply serve as-is, over fresh greens or piled in a cocktail glass.

    For my own personal tastes, I find that ceviche cries out for some tortillas (fresh or fried), a crisp salad of fresh greens or even avocados and a cold beer. Wheat beers like Hefeweizen seem to work very well, as do classic Mexican beers like Sol, Corona or Negra Modelo.

    Salud!

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    6.17.2008

    The Cockail Kit

    It's natural, expected even, for we humans to swoon over autumn. Those crisp mornings followed by sweet, golden afternoons are bankable bliss. Likewise, the daffy days of springtime are an easy sell.

    Loving nothing more and nothing less than the temperatures between 45 and 85 °F, we hairless apes are among the most delicate of creatures, and summer and winter — the seasons of extremes — are the times that try our good will. Temperature hardship tends to ensure we lose a bit of that stuff we refer to (with more than a little pride) as our humanity.

    Whether packed into airless cubbies, tearing sweat-soaked clothes from rashy skin or cursing our clammy shoes and shivering from a malingering chill that stings noses, fingers and toes... the harsh months require boosts of external cheer. In short, we need cocktails.

    Perhaps it's only me who believes that cocktails are bound to time and temperature. That said, I'm sincerely of a mind that the cocktail was invented to sustain us through winter colds, seasonal affective disorder and glum January just as it revives us from summertime bouts of immobility, irritability and heat-induced wilt.

    I also firmly believe that cocktails belong within the realm of the home cook. After all, why should lovingly constructed drinks be the exclusive domain of the professionals?

    With all that in mind, I'm going to dedicate a handful of upcoming posts to homespun summer cocktails. May they provide a sense of restorative ease — and perhaps even exoticism — to those cruelest of months.

    Homemade Bitters

    When I whipped up home-brewed batches of bitters last December (and drank them with great glee the following month), I realized that there are three compelling reasons to make something yourself when you could more easily stroll down to the store and buy it.

    1. You can make it cheaper.
    2. You can make it better.
    3. You teach yourself a bit about the world you inhabit.

    I haven't actually done a cost breakdown on my homemade bitters vs. a readily available brand like Peychaud (I suspect the results wouldn't fly in favor of the homespun... the cost of materials probably throws this one off), but I can certainly put in a good word for reasons two and three.

    An additional bonus: it's so much swankier to breeze into a backyard barbecue or a rooftop grillfest with a jar of one's own limited-edition bitters and a couple of classy cocktail recipes. And as an urbanite lacking outdoor space, repeat invitations from grateful hosts are precious, indeed.

    So make up a few jars of bitters now. Set 'em on top of the fridge and let them steep for a week or two. Next time you have an invite, grab your jar and print out the cocktails below. Adoration is assured.

    The Old Fashioned is perhaps the oldest cocktail on record, back in the days when the word cocktail actually implied the use of bitters. And the Sazerac, an old New Orleans special, isn't much more new fashioned than the Old Fashioned. So learn to whip up just these two and you can impress the Steampunk neighbors down the way with your old-school cocktail insights.
    Easy: The Sazerac

    3/4 oz simple syrup
    1 dash bitters
    3 oz rye whiskey
    1 tsp absinthe
    1 lemon twist (to garnish)

    1. Chill a rocks glass.
    2. Blend the syrup and bitters. Add the whiskey.
    3. Swirl the inside of the rocks glass with the absinthe and discard any excess.
    4. Fill the glass with crushed ice and pour the whiskey mixture over it.
    5. Garnish with lemon twist.

    Easier: The Old Fashioned

    2 oz Bourbon or rye whiskey
    1 splash of simple syrup
    2 dashes bitters
    1 orange twist

    1. Place a handful of ice cubes in an old-fashioned glass (rocks glass)
    2. Pour in syrup, bitters and whiskey. Mix well.
    3. Garnish with the orange twist.

    Easiest: Seltzer & Bitters

    Fill a rocks glass with ice (shaved or cubed, as you prefer). Pour in a shot of bitters and finish the glass with seltzer.


    Cheers!

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    6.10.2008

    Recession-Proof Recipes: Lamejun

    As long as there's been flour, there's been flatbread. And about as long as there's been flatbread, there's been folks tossing sauces and tidbits atop their flatbreads. Much later of course, such things were called "pizzas," (there's really no point in denying the lengthy, pre-Italian pizza history...) and now, pretty much any old cracker, bagel or tortilla with sauce on it is freely referred to as pizza.

    Lamejun

    But let's not forget those tasty flatbread precursors in our current age of pizza mania. Pizza, or pide or paratha or any of the other tasty members of the flatbread family are, at heart, basic peasant foods.

    Lamejun

    Anya Von Bremzen's book Please to the Table features a pizza/pide cousin she spells as lachmanjun and refers to as an Armenian pizza. I believe the more popular spelling is lahmacun or lamejun, but however you spell it or say it, this dish makes for a tasty, economical meal.

    Lamejun

    My version of lamejun is based around Von Bremzen's. I reckon you could probably use a food processor to chop the veggies if you felt like it and you could make it with beef (or no meat at all) if you feel some sort of aversion to lamb. I'd serve it alongside a rich red and a crisp bowl of dressed greens or a tomato-cucumber salad, myself.
    Lamb Lamejun (Turkish Pizza) (Serves 8)

    For the Crusts:
    1 package active dry yeast
    1/4 tsp sugar
    1 1/4 cups water
    1/4 cup vegetable oil
    1/2 tsp salt
    3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    + Extra flour for kneading

    For the Toppings
    1 lb ground lamb
    2 medium onions, minced
    1 red or green bell pepper, minced
    3 Tbsp tomato paste
    1/2 cup diced tomatoes (canned or fresh)
    1 tsp minced garlic
    1 tsp Aleppo pepper (or substitute 1/2 tsp sweet paprika and 1/2 tsp hot paprika)
    Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
    2 Tbsp parsley or mint, chopped (for garnish)
    2 Tbsp crumbled feta or mild goat cheese (for garnish)

    1. Combine the yeast, sugar and water in a large bowl and let stand about 5 minutes. 2. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the oil and the salt.
    3. Add the flour, about a cup at a time, blending well after each addition. Transfer the dough to a work surface. Coat your hands with some of the remaining oil and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, adding just enough of the remaining flour to prevent sticking.
    4. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a large bowl. Drizzle with the remaining vegetable oil and coat the dough. Drape with a vaguely moist linen kitchen towel and let the dough rise in a warm place about an hour or until it doubles in bulk.
    5. Meanwhile, make the topping in another large bowl. Simply combine the lamb, onions, diced peppers, tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, spice and salt and mix well.
    6. After the dough has risen, divide into eight equal balls. Place on a floured surface and let rest, covered with a towel for 10 minutes.
    7. Preheat the oven to 450°F and lightly oil two large baking sheets.
    8. Using a floured rolling pin, flatten out each ball of dough into a circle about 4 inches across.
    9. Divide the topping into eight portions, and spread one portion across each circle.
    10. Arrange the dough circles on the prepared sheets and bake until the crust is crisp and the topping is browned, about 15 minutes.
    11. Serve immediately as is, or sprinkle with chopped parsley/mint and cheese before serving.

    Feel free to halve it or to freeze some of the dough balls for later use if you're only serving two.

    Cheers!

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    6.05.2008

    Recession-Proof Recipes: DIY Tamales

    I've noticed that after you've been blogging for a while, you find that your commenters often come up with even better material than you do. Oh, how I love online community!

    A couple of my favorite blog comments can be found at the bottom of this post, in which commenter M. delves far beyond my sci-fi depth and in this post, in which an anonymous commenter has an astoundingly vast knowledge of butter.

    This weekend, I received a very cool note from wine wizard Eric Hazard, who convincingly pitches this week's Recession-Proof Recipe: Homemade Tamales. What a gift!

    Just about the only thing he doesn't provide is a wine pairing... although I think I'd prefer these little guys with horchata or an icy lager, myself.

    Oaxacan tamale at La Loma, Minneapolis
    Oaxacan tamales at La Loma, Minneapolis

    From the man himself:
    So, here's something to consider, since it is great way to extend meat and it is just so much fun to make: tamales.

    Being from South Texas, I have long ago given up trying to find good tamales in NYC. So I took to making my own last year, and I've got it pretty well down.

    Even though they look extremely difficult, the base ingredients are really simple.

    Most crucial is Masa Harina. I had a devil of a time finding it in Manhattan, I'm sure it would be easier to find in the ethnic food markets in the boroughs. If not, $20 will buy plenty via Amazon. Corn husks can also be ordered, but this time of year, corn is plentiful so why not save the husks to be used later? (Plus, how cool is it to find a use for what most people would just throw away).

    Tamale masa is basically a combination of the masa harina corn meal, lard, baking soda, salt and chicken stock. This forms the basis for whatever meat (or vegetable) you wish to put into the tamale. It is really tasty and really filling, making the more expensive ingredients inside go a long way.

    For my filling, I use pork, cooked with green chilies, diced tomatoes, garlic, onion, cumin, chili powder, and enough chicken stock to keep it honest as it slowly boils. Once finished, I run it through the food processor to chop it up and evenly distribute the flavors.

    Then it is a matter of spreading the masa on the moist corn husks, laying down some filling and rolling up. The batch is then steamed for 45 minutes and you're done.

    Really filling, really tasty and you can make a ton to freeze and save for later. If I had to take a guess, I'd say I can make a dozen for about $10. Most of that being the cost of pork.

    As an extra bonus, the Homesick Texan just recently posted about making your own lard, so you could really go to town on the DIY tip if you were inspired.

    As far as quantities for the batter, you should probably go with about a cup of fat to every four cups of masa harina. That'll yield about 35 tamales.

    DIY Tamales
    1 cup lard or vegetable shortening
    4 cups masa harina
    1 Tbsp baking soda
    1 tsp salt
    3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

    You'll also need
    Your filling of choice (stewed pork, cheese, chicken, veggies, etc.)
    About 40 corn husks, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
    Twine or kitchen string

    1. Blend lard or shortening, masa harina, soda, salt and stock together.
    2. Spread about 1/4 cup of tamale batter across the center of each husk.
    3. Spoon about a tablespoon of filling along the center of the batter.
    4. Wrap the batter around the filling, rolling in the sides and tucking the bottom of the husk. Bind top (and bottom, if necessary) with lengths of twine or kitchen string. Repeat this process with the remaining husks, batter and filling.
    5. Place two or three dimes in the bottom of a large pot fitted with a steamer basket (while it boils, they'll jingle, letting you know there's still water in the pot) and add enough water to meet the basket base, but doesn't let that level rise above it.
    6. Stand the filled husks in the basket, keeping them upright, but not cramped.
    7. Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to keep the water simmering gently. Steam about 45 minutes.


    If you really go crazy for homemade tamales, you should definitely try some Brownie Tamales while you're at it. Invite a few amigos over. Bust out the cervezas. Have a fiesta on the cheap!

    Muchas gracias a Señor Hazard por una buena idea!

    Salud a todos!

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    5.28.2008

    Recession-Proof Recipes: Savory Green Curry

    In a time of high food costs, people often look to cheaper proteins, but I think turkey is often overlooked because of its association with winter holiday meals.

    T-Day Turkey
    Not just for Thanksgiving anymore

    Turkey is a flavorful, inexpensive meat, and if you get a small bird (some stores even sell half-birds or breast roasts), you don't have to spend all day cooking it. Just wash it, dry it, give it a quick massage with some oil, salt and pepper, set the oven to 375°F, put the bird (or half-bird, or whatever) in a roasting pan, set the timer for 15 minutes per pound of meat and go find something else to do for a while.

    The cooked meat is great everywhere you'd normally use chicken. Use it for turkey salad sandwiches. Put it in chili. Make yourself a Turkey Pot Pie.

    Or take it to the Far East and toss your turkey meat into a green curry. I haven't dined on the local birds thereabouts, but I'd be willing to bet that turkey's gamier flavor probably tastes more like Thailand's native poultry than the standard American chicken does.

    Obviously a handful fresh Kafir lime leaves would be great in this paste (just nix the lime juice if you're going that route), but I'm not putting them in the recipe because they're not terribly easy for a lot of people to find. If you can't find the lemongrass either, go ahead and skip that, too. Fish sauce is usually available in Chinese markets. Feel free to sub in baked or fresh tofu and go all vegetarian on this if that's how you want to play it.
    Savory Green Curry (Serves 4)
    For the Paste
    5 green chilies or jalapeños (or less, to taste)
    1 medium white onion, quartered
    2 garlic cloves
    1" piece ginger root, peeled
    1-2 lemongrass bulbs (white section of the stalk), chopped
    1 Tbsp ground coriander
    1 Tbsp ground cumin
    1/2 tsp ground black pepper
    1 Tbsp fish sauce or dried shrimp paste (optional)
    1 cup fresh basil (preferably Thai basil)
    1 cup fresh cilantro
    4 limes, zested and juiced
    1/2 cup water
    Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

    For the Curry
    1 medium white onion, halved and sliced
    1 green bell pepper, cut into 1" squares (or substitute 1 cup diced eggplant)
    1 Tbsp oil
    1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
    1 13 oz can unsweetened coconut milk
    1 1/2 cups cooked turkey, cut into cubes (or cubed tofu)

    Additional mint and cilantro (to garnish)
    Lime wedges (to garnish)
    Steamed rice or noodles (for serving)

    1. In a blender or food processor, puree chilies, onion, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, cumin, coriander, black pepper, fish sauce, basil, cilantro and lime zest and juice. As you blend, add in enough water to make a smooth paste. Season to taste with salt and ground pepper.

    2. Place a heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat and warm the oil to the pan. Add in the onion and green pepper pieces (or eggplant), cooking 15 minutes to soften.

    3. Add the green curry paste to the vegetables in the pan and allow it to cook for 10 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking.

    4. Stir in the broth, the coconut milk and the cooked turkey or tofu cubes. Blend well and bring the mixture to a simmer. Season to taste. The mixture should taste bright and herbaceous. If it seems a bit too sour, add a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar to balance it out.

    5. Garnish with additional cilantro, mint leaves and lime wedges (if desired) and serve with steamed rice or noodles.


    Bon appétit!

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    5.22.2008

    A (Much Tastier) Chicken in Every Pot

    Though Herbert Hoover is often (and falsely) credited with a campaign promise to give the nation "a chicken in every pot," the phrase never sounded terribly enticing to me. Chicken was usually pretty disappointing in the flavor department.

    Truthfully, when I was growing up, there wasn't much chicken around the house. After we moved off the farm, Dad thought the grocery store chickens lacked the appropriate oomph, so we ate lots more turkey than chicken.

    Girl embracing chicken
    Girl embracing chicken at the Red Hook Farm

    But when I went to Paris last fall, I had a kind of chicken revelation. It seemed like every chicken dish we ate was made of magic. Every morsel was rich and robust. They tasted somehow twice as chicken-y as the chickens I'd known.

    Discovering that, I ordered chicken at every opportunity. I mourned lost meals spent dining on tripe or crêpe when there could've been chicken Yes, indeed. Those were the chickens worthy of campaign promises.

    After returning to the states, I considered the chicken. Why were French birds so much tastier? Not even our free-range, organic birds had the flavor of the average French chicken. On the internet, I learned that the answer could be in the breed. One internet source here in the U.S. promised to ship rich, delicious chickens just like the ones in France. I was quite tempted, but the price was dear.

    So rather than ordering straight away, I procrastinated. Maybe it's for the best that I did, because last week, we were given a poultry miracle.

    Crowing cock, Paris
    Crowing cock, Paris

    J's butcher, Jeffrey, gave us a rooster for our pot. A full-on, head-on, feet and spurs and all rooster. It was cleaned and plucked, thank goodness, and recently. One or two tiny feathers still clinging to his flesh told us he was a black-feathered fellow.

    Our dinner rooster had been killed and chilled so recently, he had a fresh scent and his skin was dry and taut, with none of the sliminess I expect from standard store-bought chickens. After a 40-minute simmer with garlic, onion, bay leaf, salt and halved tomatillos? Juicy. Rich. Delicious. Best chicken either J or I have had since Paris.

    From whence this miracle bird? Well, it turns out that Jeffrey scored some kind of exclusive distributorship for the heritage chickens from Bo Bo Poultry Market a Chinese outfit that raises the birds upstate and brings them down to Brooklyn for killing, plucking and local distribution.

    For years, Bo Bo sold exclusively to the Chinese market. Later on, Latino buyers got in on the action. The mainstream buyer just wasn't interested in whole, fresh-killed chickens, and most shops and distributors found it cumbersome and costly to deal with them. But these days, there's steadily building demand for local, heritage birds from chefs, locavores and food lovers, so the market for Jeffrey's tasty chickens might be ready.

    Jeffrey's planning to package and sell the birds to restaurants and shops, but if you happen to be a New Yorker, you can get them directly from him. I'm convinced he's one of the friendliest people on the planet. I hope this whole thing works out for him. With chicken soup as tasty as this, a chicken in every pot seems like a mighty fine idea.

    Chicken in a Pot

    I used a recipe based on a Caldo de Pollo recipe from Rosa's New Mexican Table. Muy delicioso.
    Mi Sopa de Gallo (Serves 4-6)
    For the soup stock
    1 chicken
    3 quarts water
    1 large onion, quartered
    1-2 tomatillos, washed and halved
    1 head garlic, halved horizontally
    2 bay leaves
    1 jalapeño, halved
    1 Tbsp salt
    1 bunch cilantro stems (bound with twine)
    1-2 sprigs thyme

    Tasty add-ins
    1 14oz can diced tomatoes
    2 cups cooked rice (optional)
    1-2 chopped green onions
    1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
    1/2 cup chopped mint leaves
    1 lime, cut in wedges (to garnish)

    1. Rinse the chicken well and put it in a large stockpot with the water, onion, tomatillos, garlic, bay, jalapeno, salt, cilantro stems and thyme.
    2. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and let the pot gently simmer, partially covered, for about 40 minutes. (Check for doneness by cutting into the thigh and peering in at the joint that connects it to the back. It should be free from any pinkness.) Skim the soup surface of any foam that may rise to the top.
    3. Remove the pot from the heat and cool the chicken in the broth.
    4. When cool enough to handle, move the chicken from the broth to a platter. Strain off the broth and set it aside while you strip the meat away from the bones. Chop any large pieces into manageable bites.
    5. Return the meat to the broth, add in the tomatoes and cooked rice, and bring the soup back to a boil. Turn off the heat and season the soup to taste with additional salt and pepper, if desired.
    6. To serve, spoon the soup into serving bowls, and garnish with green onions, cilantro, mint and lime wedges.

    Salud!

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    5.20.2008

    Recession-Proof Recipes: A Foraged Feast

    I remember Alton Brown once referred to quiche as "Refrigerator Pie," and while that phrase gave me the heebie-jeebies, I now see what he was getting at.

    Quiche may sound a little stuffy or unapproachable, but if you think of a quickie egg custard in a pie shell as a tasty carrier for a world of little tidbits hanging around the fridge... that quiche suddenly goes from stuffy to sensible.

    Have a random bit of cheese? Maybe there's a few herbs in the crisper? A mushroom or two? Some shriveling cherry tomatoes? What if all you have are onions? Never fear... dinner is close at hand.

    The secret to making quiche a quick, easy and economical dinner is making sure you have a pie crust in the freezer. I know of no hungry person who's interested in rolling out a pie crust. Leave the crust-rolling and freezing to some lazy weekend day. Or just buy a pack of reliable frozen crusts from your favorite store.

    When you meet up with that inevitable "there's nothing for dinner" day, just remember the handy pie crust in your freezer and do a quick forage through the fridge.

    Mushroom Quiche and Lemon Greens

    I always like to pair a richly flavored quiche with a crisp green salad.

    Luckily, salads can also be great friends for the fridge forager and the hawk-eyed produce aisle sale watcher. One of my favorite salads of late has been the "bitter greens with a lemon vinaigrette" version. Something about a bitter green just loves the tangy bite of a fresh-squeezed lemon. Arugula, spring dandelion... even spinach works well for this recipe.

    A word to the would-be lawn foragers: Picking baby dandelion greens from your own yard can be a terrific way to make a salad on the cheap, but you really have to be sure that 1. the dandelions haven't bloomed yet (for some reason, the blooms make the leaves inedibly bitter) and 2. nobody's chemically treated the lawn for at least three years. Nobody's looking for a mouthful of Roundup in their salad.
    Forage Quiche
    Quiche Base
    1/2 cup cream, half & half or milk
    3 eggs
    1/2 tsp kosher salt
    1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
    Freshly ground pepper, to taste
    1 9-inch pie crust

    Add-ins
    Grated cheese (up to 1 cup), sautéed onions, leeks or mushrooms, a tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs or a teaspoon of crumbled dry herbs, roasted red pepper slices, cooked spinach or arugula, cubed cooked ham, bacon bits, cooked spinach, marinated artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes or sliced cherry tomatoes, chopped roasted vegetables.

    1. Heat oven to 375°F. If you prefer a crispier crust, pierce the shell several times with a fork and pre-bake it for 25 minutes before proceeding to the filling step.

    2. In a suitably sized bowl, whisk together the cream (or half & half or milk) with the eggs. Add the salt, nutmeg and pepper.

    3. Spread about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of add-in fillings across the pie crust. Pour the egg custard mix over the fillings and place the quiche on a baking sheet.

    4. Bake until the quiche is set in the center, about 35 minutes. Let it cool on a rack for 15 minutes to an hour before serving. Leftover slices are great for lunchboxes.

    Lemon Green Salad
    1/2 lemon, juiced
    1 pinch sugar
    2 Tbsp olive oil
    Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
    2 cups tender greens
    6 halved cherry tomatoes (optional)
    6-8 hard cheese shavings or crumbles of goat cheese (optional)

    1. Whisk together the lemon juice and sugar. Whisk in the olive oil in a stream until incorporated as a vinaigrette. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a little more sugar, if desired.
    2. Toss greens and vinaigrette in a salad bowl.
    3. Top with cherry tomato halves and cheese, if desired. Serve immediately.

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    5.15.2008

    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)
    Base
    2 free-range eggs
    3/4 cup sugar
    2 cups heavy cream
    1 cup milk
    Add-ins
    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)
    Base
    2 free-range eggs
    3/4 cup sugar
    2 cups heavy cream
    1 cup milk
    Add-ins
    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)
    Base
    2 free-range eggs
    3/4 cup sugar
    2 cups heavy cream
    1 cup milk
    Add-ins
    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.

    Cheers!

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    5.13.2008

    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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    5.08.2008

    Recession-Proof Recipes: The Saladwich

    Confessional time: I love sandwiches. Truthfully, I'm rather sandwich crazy. This is probably a personality flaw on my part, but for some reason, everything tastes better when it's wrapped in some kind of starch.

    J is generally the opposite. Bread is often too... you know, bready. Having been spoiled by homemade bread and Paris living, he's a bread nerd who'll just do without if he can't get something from the fine local bakers at Sullivan Street, Balthazar or, in a pinch, Le Pain Quotidien.

    Now, I love a gorgeous loaf, but I'm not half so choosy. I mean, sometimes I really need a sandwich. If I always waited for the perfect loaf to roll into my fingers, I'd deprive myself of one of life's greatest pleasures.

    It's a salad! It's a sandwich!

    Enter the saladwich. This recipe provides not only an economical meal, but a problem-solver. J gets his salad, I get my sandwich, and we're both happy and well-fed. It's also a great meal for households in which someone's concerned about carb reduction or there's a split between veggies and meat-eaters.

    Convertible Greek Saladwiches (serves 2)
    1/2 hothouse cucumber, sliced thin
    1/2 small red onion, sliced thin
    1/3 cup cooked chickpeas
    1-2 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped
    1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
    1/2 head green leaf lettuce, washed and chopped/torn
    1-2 whole wheat pitas, halved
    Cooked chicken cutlets, tuna or leftover steak, sliced (optional)

    Tahini Dressing
    1 Tbsp olive oil
    1 lemon, juiced
    1 garlic clove
    2 Tbsp tahini
    6 oz plain yogurt
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

    1. Toss together the cucumber slices, onions, chickpeas, dill and tomatoes (as well as any meat, if desired) with the chopped or torn lettuce.
    2. Blend the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, yogurt and tahini in a blender or food processor. Season to taste with the salt and pepper.
    3. Dress the salad mix and serve to anyone who's eating the dish as a salad. Stuff 3/4 cup of the salad mix in the pita halves, drizzle with additional dressing, and serve in pita form to anyone who prefers a sandwich.

    If you have extra dressing (and you should), save it for a future salad or use it for dipping raw vegetables. Mmm...
    Bon appétit!

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    5.07.2008

    Seis de Mayo: Brownie Tamales

    So, Seis de Mayo. You might be thinking: Why not Cinco de Mayo? It's a perfectly reasonable question. As it turns out, Cuatro de Mayo was unreasonably busy for my coworkers and I, but we still really wanted an excuse to cook and eat a Mexican-themed potluck.

    As far as potluck themes go, you really can't go wrong with Cinco de Mayo. I mean, c'mon... it's got the tasty built right in. Mexican and Tex-Mex foods are some of the most popular dishes in the nation. Salsa has surpassed ketchup as our national condiment of choice (judged via per-capita consumption). And nearly every American city now features excellent Mexican and Central American specialty foods.

    Here in NYC, it's a cinch to walk into the Essex Street Market and pick up a stack of soft corn tortillas for practically nothing. Corn husks for making tamales are just a couple of dollars for a hearty fistful. There's baffling varieties of dried chilies. There's exotic sauce brands. The papayas, fresh tomatillos and cactus paddles await your salad-making pleasure.

    Cheese quesadillas done up on the George Foreman grill seemed like a quick-and-easy winner for our slightly belated department holiday picnic this week, but I also wanted to try out something a little more ambitious.

    Tamale in the Steamer

    I found a delicious-sounding candidate in Rosa's New Mexican Table by Chef Roberto Santibañez, formerly of NYC's Rosa Mexicano restaurant... Brownie Tamales.

    Having been burned by an unfortunate barbecue sauce recipe over the weekend, I was a little recipe-shy, but this one was actually created by Nick Malgieri, the many-times-published pastry chef who created the curriculum at my cooking school. Since I love Santibañez's instincts and I've had great success with all of Malgieri's recipes, I figured I couldn't lose.

    Steam Bath Full of Tamales

    I've doubled the recipe and made a few tweaks — I just can't leave anything alone — but it's pretty close to the original. You might want to plan for a little loss. I had a couple of blowouts. The failed tamales were still edible... just not very pretty.

    Speaking of which, I highly recommend a sauce or ice cream to serve with these. They're quite tasty, but they're sort of homely on their own. Cinnamon ice cream would make an outstanding addition.
    Brownie Tamales (Makes 12-14)
    6 6-inch corn tortillas
    3/4 cup butter
    2/3 cup brown sugar
    13 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
    8 large eggs, at room temperature
    2 2/3 cups ground pecans (8 oz)
    1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
    Grated zest of 1 orange
    1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
    12 large dried corn husks, soaked (7" across the bottom by 7" long)

    1. Tear each tortilla into small pieces and grind them in a food processor (you may have to do this in batches). The texture should resemble coarse cornmeal. Set aside.
    2. Beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add in the melted chocolate.
    3. Beat in four eggs, then blend in half the pecans and half the ground tortillas.
    4. Add the remaining eggs, followed by the rest of the pecans, tortillas, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange zest. Fold in the chocolate chips.
    5. Drain the corn husks. While they're still damp, flatten out a husk on the surface before you and stuff with 1/2 cup of the brownie filling in the center of the husk. Fold the sides over the filling. I find it helpful to gather up the bottoms and tie them with a few inches of twine. (The top end will remain open. Just fold it over.) Repeat to form 12 tamales.
    6. Place two or three dimes in the bottom of a large pot (while it boils, they'll jingle, letting you know there's still water in the pot) fitted with a steamer basket and water that meets the basket's base, but doesn't rise above it.
    7. Stand the filled husks (open-end up) in the basket, keeping them upright, but not cramped.
    8. Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to keep the water simmering gently. Steam the tamales this way for about 30 minutes, carefully adding more water if the level runs low.
    9. After 30 minutes, carefully remove a tamale, unwrap it and cut into it. It should be moist and semi-firm. If the tamale is still overly soft, return it to the basket and steam a bit more. If it's done, turn off the heat and let the tamales stand for 5 minutes.
    10. Serve hot in opened husks with a scoop of ice cream, caramel sauce or whipped cream.

    Salud!

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    5.06.2008

    Recession-Proof Recipes: A Manageable Mole

    The skinless, boneless chicken breast may be the monarch of the meat world these days, but thighs hold so much more flavor and are at least half the price of breasts.

    Plus, legs and thighs are terrific stewed. Cook 'em long (braising or stewing is as good as roasting for making the most of cheaper cuts) season 'em well and serve 'em up over rice or noodles for some super-thrifty extender action.

    I must admit, the disappointing part about stewing/braising is having to smell the wonderful stuff simmering away and knowing that it'll be hours before that pot of goodness is ready to eat.

    The upside? Making your neighbors jealous. Oh, yes. They'll smell it. They'll ask about it. You might even receive sudden party invitations. The adorable Czech lass on the fourth floor recently wailed, "Are you the apartment that's cooking the curries? It's torture. You're making us all so hungry!"

    Chicken thighs are terrific in curries. But today, we're going to Mexico. Just in time for next week's Cinco de Mayo, I'm in the mood for molé.

    Pepper roasting on the stove
    Avocado garnish: tasty, but not recession-proof

    Now, I've cooked a lot of molés. With all due respect to the generations of dedicated mamas and abuelas who labored and sweated over the cookstove, those ladies who ground countless hours in their mortars, those solid individuals who gathered up 37 different ingredients and processed each separately...

    I have the greatest respect for that kind of manual labor, but I have to say that the molés I've worked hardest and longest for did not taste markedly different from the ones I've thrown together and let simmer.

    Or rather, there's a flavor difference, but it's not different enough. I don't know about you, but I've got a day job, and if I ever want to eat molé, it's going to be a supremely pared down version.

    I initially wanted to make a Pasilla-Prune Molé, but the Key Food did not provide anything resembling a pasilla pepper. What did they have? Well, aside from the standard bell peppers, they had fresh jalapeños and I happened to find a jar of organic roasted piquillo peppers. (Woo hoo!)

    I'd recommend you try to score at least three pepper varieties if you can manage to find 'em. Different peppers bring different personalities to the party, and since molé is essentially a flavor party, we want personality.

    If you find dried peppers, you'll need to soak them for a few hours (or overnight) to soften them, so just plan that into your schedule.

    Pepper roasting on the stove

    If you're using bell peppers or jalapeños, you might want to char them. It's not essential, but it's extra flavor (yay, flavor!) and a nice char can be accomplished pretty easily if you have a gas grill. Just blacken them on all sides (use tongs to turn them) and toss them in a paper sack to steam for a half-hour or so. Then wipe off all the blackened skin (it should pull away easily) and use the peppers.

    Those poor souls who only have electric ranges at hand can char their peppers in a skillet kept at high heat.

    Those who are intimidated by even thinking about charring a pepper can probably find roasted peppers somewhere. But it's cheaper to roast 'em yourself.

    If you're sensitive, remove the seeds and mind how many of the really spicy peppers you use. I found that a ratio of 8 oz piquillos to 4 oz roasted bell pepper and 4 oz roasted jalapeños worked well, (though I still wish I could've gotten my hands on some nice dried chilis.) Just remember, you can always pump up the heat before you serve it, but you can't really undo a too-spicy dish.
    Three-Pepper Prune Molé (Serves 4, with extra sauce)
    1 Tbsp vegetable oil
    3 lb bone-in chicken thighs
    1 large onion (halved, then sliced thin)
    2 cups roasted peppers (3-4 roasted jalapeños, 1 roasted bell pepper, 8oz roasted piquillo peppers, for example)
    14oz diced tomatoes (try to find fire-roasted tomatoes, if you can)
    1 cup pitted prunes
    1 tsp ground cinnamon
    2 tsp ground cumin
    2 oz unsweetened chocolate
    2 Tbsp nut butter (almond butter or sesame butter work well)
    1 tsp salt, or to taste

    Nice options for serving
    Steamed rice
    Warmed corn tortillas
    Wedges of lime
    Cilantro leaves
    Toasted sesame seeds or pepitas
    Créme fraîche or sour cream

    1. Heat large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the vegetable oil and coat the bottom of the pan. Brown the chicken thighs on all sides.
    2. Hold the browned thighs on a plate while you brown the sliced onion in the same pan. Keep the slices moving to avoid uneven browning or sticking.
    3. When the onions are soft and have some color, add the chicken back into the pan along with the peppers, tomatoes, prunes, cinnamon, cumin, chocolate and nut butter. Bring the mixture to a boil before turning the heat to low.
    4. Let simmer, covered, for an hour, stirring occasionally to ensure the mixture doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.
    5. After an hour, the chicken should be falling off the bone. Carefully move the thighs from the pan to a clean plate and turn off the heat.
    6. Taste the sauce, and add salt to taste. If it's not spicy enough at this point, add a pinch of cayenne.
    7. Allow the sauce and chicken to cool a bit, and remove the bones and skin from the thighs.
    8. You could serve the sauce chunky, but a smooth molé is more traditional. Cool the sauce to a safe handling temperature and pour it in a blender or food processor. Blend smooth before transferring back to the pan to re-warm for serving.
    9. Serve the chicken with warm corn tortillas and steamed rice and the warm molé sauce.

    Because molé is such a monochrome brown color, I usually like to garnish the dish with lime wedges, sesame seeds or pepitas, cilantro and/or créme fraîche or sour cream. They all add good flavor and visual contrast. The sauce is even better the next day and it freezes very well. In fact, molé sauce is fantastic with leftover turkey, so remember that next Thanksgiving.

    Salud, amigos!

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    5.01.2008

    Recession-Proof Recipes: Veggie-Fried Rice

    Last week, Recession-Proof Recipes discussed the satisfying (but cheap) crépe complete. This week, let's consider the lowly extender.

    When I say "extender," I mean: an inexpensive ingredient that stretches out the use of other, more expensive ingredients.

    Potatoes, pastas, rice, cassava and cabbage are some of the world's most popular extenders.

    With a good amount of filler on hand, a meal can be made with very little meat (or none at all). Spanish paella. French gratin. Cuban black beans and rice. Indian curries. Irish cabbage and potatoes. Ukrainian cabbage soup. Have a glance at any of the world's poverty cuisines, and you'll quickly find extensive, creative uses of the locally available extenders.

    Sometimes the use of extenders results in unique and beloved foods that are consumed even after the economic situation improves. Ground chickory root, for example, was once added to coffee as a filler ingredient, but chickory coffee later became a classic Louisiana beverage in its own right. Mmm... beignets and chickory coffee...

    Likewise, thrifty Japanese long ago used toasted rice to extend their green tea supply. Genmaicha was the roasty-flavored result. It's actually one of my favorite teas.

    As it's composed almost entirely of an inexpensive extender, the classic vegetable fried rice is dead cheap... not to mention extremely simple to pull off. And it's a great use of leftovers.

    If you really can't stand the thought of a meal without meat, add some cubed ham. If you want to get all fancy, toss in some sliced mushrooms or bean sprouts or minced ginger or diced tofu.



    Veggie Fried Rice (Serves 2)
    2 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided in two portions
    2 eggs, beaten
    3 cups leftover rice
    1 clove garlic, minced
    4 scallions, thinly sliced
    1 cup frozen peas (or peas & carrots)
    1/2 tsp soy sauce, tamari or shoyu
    freshly ground black or white pepper, to taste

    1. Heat half the oil over moderately high heat in a wok or a large skillet. Before the oil starts smoking, add the eggs and cook briefly, until soft but beginning to set up. Transfer to a plate.
    2. Heat remaining tablespoon oil in wok, then add garlic. Cook for one minute before adding the rice, soy sauce and pepper. Stir-fry until hot and beginning to crisp, about 3-5 minutes.
    3. Add scallions and peas and stir-fry briefly.
    4. Stir in the egg and warm through.
    5. Serve immediately.


    Cheers!

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    4.23.2008

    FoodLink Roundup: 04.21.08

    Cupcake's Link Roundup
    Last week, Cupcake was hanging out in Les Halles (1st arrondissement) in Paris. (Nice work, Hazard!) Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post a guess in the comments.

    The UK fig roll crisis
    What will become of tea time?

    McCain Recipes Lifted from the Food Network
    Quick! Throw the intern to the wolves!

    Roller Girls roll out cookbook
    Oh those enterprising Michiganites...

    Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter… and Umami
    I missed this one when it came out last fall.

    Laguiole : Exceptional knives
    Wow... really ugly web page, but them's some beautiful knives.

    Choices and Finger-Pointing
    Hmmm... dinner for a week or a tank full of gas?

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    4.21.2008

    The Banana Batida: Crave Hero

    I can pass on cake. I can stop at one cookie. I'll often slice a brownie in half and be satisfied with a slim portion. I demonstrate wonderful restraint when presented with a box of chocolates... one every few days is really all I crave.

    But ice cream is the point at which restraint and prudence end. I really love ice cream. It's probably my biggest dessert weakness. Maybe it's genetic. My mother believes that any proper vacation includes "ice cream every day."

    To rip on the words of a newer, more moderate Cookie Monster, "Cookies are a sometimes food." And I think the same goes for ice cream. Ice cream is a sometimes food.

    And yet, super-premium, super-chunky, super-sweet ice creams come in darling pint-sized containers that wait, beguilingly, in the freezer.

    If there's not a siren pint of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey calling from my freezer, there's a whole gaggle of them less than a block away at my local bodega, which is kind of like an "off-site freezer," actually.

    Sometimes I get on a kick and I want ice cream every night. That's just not practical. Once a week, yes. Five times a week, no. So lately, when the ice cream urge strikes, I've been heading for the blender.

    Banana Batida
    Banana batida at Caracas Arepa Bar, NYC


    I've been enchanted with the batida for a long while now. It's essentially a fruit shake, although many spike their batidas with rum or cachaca for cool cocktails.

    They make batidas par excellence at Caracas Arepa bar... cool, creamy, sweet (but not too sweet), a little malty and lightly spiced with cinnamon (and perhaps nutmeg). So delightful, I'm not even wishing for ice cream.

    While a serving of my beloved Chunky Monkey (that's 1/2 cup or 1/4 of the pint) contains:
    300 calories
    19 grams of fat (11 grams saturated fat)
    26 grams of sugar
    and just 4 grams of protein

    My banana batida (a 1-cup serving) is more like :
    195 calories
    6 grams of fat (1 gram saturated fat)
    16 grams of sugar
    10.5 grams of protein
    and 5 grams of fiber

    A little fiber and protein help to make the batida more satisfying, since sugar without fiber often just gives me a sugar high followed by a slump. There's also some research that indicates that cinnamon may help some people regulate their sugar absorption. I just think it's tasty.

    And if I were really concerned about my fat intake, I could make my batida even more virtuous by using nonfat yogurt and nonfat soymilk. But I'm more interested in flavor than virtue.

    Crave-Busting Banana Batida (About 8 oz; Serves 1)

    1/2 frozen banana
    1/4 cup plain yogurt
    6 oz plain soymilk
    1 Tbsp malt powder
    Sprinkle of cinnamon
    Dusting of nutmeg

    1. Put banana, yogurt, soymilk and malt powder in a blender. Spin until smooth.
    2. Garnish with cinnamon and nutmeg.
    3. Enjoy immediately.

    You can switch it up by using chocolate malt powder (Choco-Banana Batida!) or a 1/2 cup frozen strawberries instead of the frozen banana (Strawberry Batida!), or frozen blueberries (Blueberry Batida!)... you get the point. Frozen fruit is essential to keeping the drink cool and giving it thickness.

    I've seen recipes that use fresh fruit and ice instead of frozen fruit. That's probably the best option if you happen to have access to quality produce.

    Salud!

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    4.17.2008

    Recession-Proof Recipes: La Crepe Complete

    Last week's Recession-Proof Recipe examined stock and gave a fast variation for Pho. Pho is simple peasant food, and this week, I'd like to take an economical eating cue from yet another group of peasants.

    Like yesterday's cassoulet, a humble country casserole that's often elevated beyond its original station, the sometimes pretentiously presented French crêpe is essentially just a thin pancake with tasty tidbits rolled up inside it. It's the peasant food of Brittany.

    Several years ago I discovered I could afford a ticket to fly overseas and spend few days in Paris, but didn't have much money for lodging or food. So I ended up with a week of Paris hostels, student entry to museums and a host of street crepes.

    For that week, my diet was primarily composed of the sweet crepe, or crêpe sucrée (it was supremely cheap and the whole transaction used up the only 15 words of French I could remember)... a charming banana-Nutella combo that I still remember fondly and order whenever I encounter it on a menu.

    After traveling around with J a bit, I discovered his crepe preference invariably fell to the crepe complete, a classic buckwheat crepe filled with an egg (whites cooked, but with a runny yolk, please) with melted gruyere and ham. Simple. Filling. Complete.

    Whether in Montreal...

    crepe complete in Montreal

    In Mediterranean Spain...

    crepe complete in Girona

    In Midtown Manhattan...

    crepe complete in the Midtown CyberCafe

    Or in Paris...

    crepe complete in Paris

    Across the universe, la crepe complete is his crepe of choice.

    As you may notice in those photos, my crepe is generally in the foreground, and I always order something else. The vegetable crepe. The goat cheese and fig crepe. The ratatouille crepe. And then I find I'm always jealous of J's hearty, savory crepe. He's made a convert of me.

    By using just the slightest bit of ham and cheese with the egg, this meal manages to be simultaneously inexpensive and satisfying. And the construction of the dish is somehow magically classier than some lowly pancake and egg with skimpy slices of ham and cheese.

    Though you may have encountered sweet crêpe batters before, I must insist on the buckwheat in this recipe. The earthy flavor really does something special alongside the cheese and ham. Those Breton peasants knew something about flavor on a budget.

    Ladies and gentlemen of the blog-reading public, may I present:
    The Crêpe Complete (Serves 2-4)
    For the crêpes
    1/2 cup water
    1/2 cup milk
    2 eggs
    1/4 cup buckwheat flour
    1/3 cup all-purpose flour
    1/4 tsp salt
    1 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

    For the filling
    4 eggs, warmed to room temp
    4 pieces ham, thin-sliced (or skip it, if you're vegetarian)
    4 pieces gruyere or Swiss cheese, thin-sliced

    1. Whisk together the water, milk, eggs, flours, salt and butter or whir in a blender until uniform. Cover and chill for 1 hour (or up to two days).
    2. Place an oven-proof plate in the oven and turn the oven on to 200° F. Remove the crepe batter from the fridge and stir it up to unite everything.
    3. Heat a large (12-17") crepe pan or skillet over moderately high heat. Melt a dollop of butter in the pan, swirling to cover the surface.
    4. When butter sizzles, add 1/4 cup of the crepe batter and, again, swirl to cover the pan surface. Cook several minutes until the bottom develops a golden texture. Then flip the crepe over with the aid of a spatula/pancake turner.
    5. Gently break one egg into center of the newly flipped crepe (try to keep the yolk intact).
    6. Cook the crepe and egg just until the white is set. Top with one slice of ham and one slice of cheese. Gently fold two sides (or four sides, as you prefer) of the crepe in to overlap the egg, cheese and ham.
    7. Use a hot pad to remove the warmed plate from the oven, then move the cooked crepe to the warm plate with a spatula.
    8. Keep your completed crepes warm in the oven while you repeat steps 3-7 with the remaining crepe batter, eggs, ham and cheese. Serve crepes hot with a crisp green salad and a cold mug of dry cider.

    Bon appétit!

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    4.16.2008

    Cassou-lazy

    In some book somewhere, Julia Child has a fantastic quote about cassoulet. I can't locate it at the moment, but it's something about cassoulet being a food ideally suited for a lumberjack. In Manitoba. In January.

    Like I said, it's awesome. And it's hidden deep inside some text that apparently isn't part of Project Gutenberg.

    In the readily indexed Larousse Gastronomique, we find that cassoulet is "A dish, originally from Languedoc, which consists of haricot (navy) beans cooked in a stewpot with pork rinds and seasonings." Simple as that.

    But then they go into a discussion of longstanding ingredient disagreements and cassoulet rivalries in a variety of provencal French towns. The cassoulet section also includes recipes that insist pretty strongly that cassoulet must contain such-and-such a thing or must be made such-and-such a way.

    I've seen the dish served at high prices in plenty of fancy restaurants, but here's the thing: at its core, cassoulet simply just what Julia and Larousse initially said. It's a beautiful, economical peasant food.

    cassoulet
    The finished cassoulet: ducky, porky, bean-y and tasty

    Now, if you've ever made a cassoulet, you might balk at my use of the word "economical," above, but in truth, the French farmhouse wives that created the first cassoulets weren't going for haute cuisine... they were using up what was stored around the farm.

    They kept ducks, and preserving the duck legs in a fat just happens to be pretty practical for those wondering what to do with a bunch of duck legs. They had cured bacon at hand. They had pork sausages, which were a frugal way of using up random pig bits. They had dried beans in the larder and root vegetables stocked in the root cellar. All the things that went into a cassoulet recipe were part of their everyday lives.

    clove-studded onion
    A clove-studded onion gives this dish a hint of the exotic.

    Most cassoulet recipes are going to ask you to start with dry beans, soak them, simmer them with spices, etc. etc.

    Now, I've made cassoulet from the bottom up, preparing the sausages myself, making the duck confit from scratch, soaking and simmering the beans... the whole nine yards. I'm here to tell you that yes, you can do all that, but that means you'll only have the time and energy to make cassoulet once (or maybe twice) in your lifetime, and that'd be a darn shame. Because it's really, really tasty.

    If you make cassoulet the lazy way, you're more likely to make it a bit more often, and regardless of what Larousse might say, the end result of the lazy method is not so different from the "took me three weeks to do everything myself" method.

    For most of us here in the States, duck confit is a bit challenging to come by, but if you happen to live in a large city (or in close proximity to a duck farm) you may, like me, have some on hand. I get mine from FrescoDirecto, where you can find them in the deli Tongue & More area (a title that always makes me giggle).

    No duck legs? No problem. Skip the confit and make your cassoulet with beans, sausages and bacon. You could probably even get away with veg stock, veggie bacon and veggie sausage to make it vegan. Whatever. It's all good. Just make it soon. This is food best suited for chilly stay-inside evenings, and those cool nights will soon give way to sweltering summer.

    cassoulet in progress
    I used two clove-studded onions. They were small.
    Cassoulazy (Serves 6-8)
    1 medium-sized onion, peeled
    8 whole cloves
    1 1/2 cups good stock (chicken, duck or vegetable)
    1-2 bay leaves
    3 carrots, washed and sliced in 1" segments
    3 cloves garlic, peeled
    4 strips thick-cut bacon, sliced in half
    1 pound garlicky pork sausages (I use sweet Italian sausages if I can find 'em)
    A little bundle of fresh herbs, if you have 'em*
    3 duck legs, confit (if you can locate duck confit, if not, skip 'em)
    3 14oz cans navy beans (or cannellini beans), drained & rinsed
    1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
    Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

    For the crusty top (if desired)
    2 cups breadcrumbs
    3 Tbsp olive oil
    1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

    1. Heat oven to 325° F.
    2. Poke the cloves into the flesh of the onion. Place the onion in an ovenproof heavy-bottomed pot or a Dutch oven.
    3. Pour the stock into the pan and add the bay leaves, carrots, garlic, bacon pieces, pork sausages and the bundle of herbs (if using).
    4. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and allow to simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
    5. Add duck legs (if using), beans and tomatoes to the pot. Grind black pepper over the mixture. (Do not add salt. The cured meats will make this dish plenty salty.)
    6. Cover the Dutch oven or stockpot, carefully place in the center of the oven and let the mixture cook for 1 1/2 hours. When done, carefully remove the pot from the oven and pluck out the bay leaves, herbs and leg bones (the meat should fall away easily).
    7. If you'd like a crispy top crust, combine the breadcrumbs with the parsley and olive oil and sprinkle this mixture atop the hot cassoulet at the end of the cooking process. Turn the oven up to about 400° F and bake the cassoulet, uncovered, for an additional 10-15 minutes to brown the breadcrumbs.
    8. Serve hot with a crisp green salad and a nice lager, an ale or a rich red wine with moderate tannins.

    *This is sometimes referred to as a bouquet garni. Parsley stems tied with a sprig each of rosemary, sage and thyme are nice. Enclose the herbs between two celery stalks, if you're so inclined.

    This dish makes very tasty leftovers for lunch, so don't be afraid to make a batch that's far larger than you need.

    Bon appétit!

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    4.15.2008

    Recession-Proof Recipes: Soup of the Evening

    Last week's Recession-Proof Recipe focused on the tasty, nutritious and protein-rich bean. This week we'll explore the legendary kitchen economy (and big flavor win!) provided by a homemade soup stock.

    Gingered Duck Soup

    I've mentioned the ease and wonder of homemade stock on a couple of occasions previously, so I was simply tickled when I happened to read a piece this week by MFK Fisher (found in With Bold Knife & Fork) on the joys of simple soups made of simple stocks.

    I'm thus inspired to share a snippet of her insight taken from Especially of the Evening.

    "There is excitement and real satisfaction in making an artful good soup from things usually tossed away: the washed tops of celery stalks, stems of parsley, skeletons of fowl, bones of animals... at home I do not hesitate, if a fine T-bone lies fairly naked on the platter, to make a stock from it, remove any fat when it is chilled, and use it within a few days for a soup base or a sauce."

    Fisher goes on to write fondly of many soups, including a hearty egg-fortified broth she was served in the alps, a restorative beef broth she was given while convalescing as a child, and the lovely hot leek-potato soup that's served cold under the guise of Vichyssoise.

    But I was most pleased to read an utterly simple, comforting recipe she includes for using up some of that economical stock:
    A Life Saver
    1 part good stock
    1 part tomato juice or V8
    1 part clam juice

    Mix, heat to simmer point and serve, seasoning and garnishing as wished. Good alone or with a sandwich for lunch.

    This can be varied for grown-ups, and indeed made quite sophisticated, by substituting for the tomato juice one part dry white wine added at the last...

    Simple. Frugal. Brilliant. Because truly, what is pho or ramen or chicken noodle soup, after all, but wonderful stock to which we add yet more tasty things?

    Part of the magic of pho (pronounced fuh) is that the soup arrives au naturel. Just a clean, fragrant, steaming broth with a pile of noodles (and maybe a few vegetables or meats) in it. Each diner garnishes his or her own soup to his or her own heart's delight... or not at all.

    That said, the beef broth must be made with love. All success in this dish depends on the beauty of the broth.
    Pho Bo Fast (Serves 2)

    For the Broth
    4 cups beef broth
    1-inch piece ginger, sliced
    2 whole star anise
    2 whole cloves
    6 oz flat rice noodles
    2 Tbsp Asian fish sauce
    1/2 tsp Sriracha hot sauce, or to taste (optional)

    For the Garnish Platter*
    Lime wedges
    Bean sprouts, rinsed
    Fresh basil sprigs, (preferably Asian basil)
    Fresh cilantro sprigs
    Sliced scallions
    Thin-sliced strips of leftover steak
    Serrano chili, sliced thin
    Hoisin sauce

    1. In a heavy-bottomed pan, bring the beef broth to a boil with the ginger, cloves and star anise. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
    2. In a large bowl, cover the rice noodles in hot water and soak about 15 minutes, or until softened. Meanwhile, arrange the garnish platter.
    3. Strain out the star anise, cloves and ginger, and add the fish sauce and hot sauce to taste.
    4. Divide noodles into two bowls and ladle hot broth over the noodles. Serve soup alongside garnish platter. Dress your soup as you see fit with torn basil, cilantro leaves, a squeeze of citrus, a few chilis, a little steak...
    *I consider the first three garnishes to be essentials and the others, nice options.

    Bon appétit!


    Related Posts:
  • Rotisserie Chicken Stock & Soup
  • Moroccan Stew
  • Chilled Yogurt-Spinach Soup
  • Cream of Celery Root Soup

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  • 4.09.2008

    Recession-Proof Recipes for Downmarket Days

    I probably don't need to tell you that the US economy has been looking bleak for a while. You've probably noticed that much for yourself.

    Even if they're not yet ready to call it an o-fish-al recession*, those of us who read the paper or listen to the news occasionally know better. We have some hunch that these days won't be remembered in future history books as "The Roaring Oughts."

    While a little kitchen economy is always a great idea for your personal bottom line, this nation's recent period of economic growth and development may have left your sense of thrift in some forgotten corner of the pantry. Maybe it's hanging out back there alongside a can of butter beans and some dusty jar of unlabeled jam.

    Or maybe you've just never had the need to be frugal, you lucky soul!

    Whatever the case, a recession, er... make that economic downturn is the perfect time to dust off (or brush up on) some kitchen conservation cred.

    One caveat first: I'll not discuss a diet consisting of Top Ramen, Hamburger Helper or store-brand Cheerios here. You can find that stuff on your own (though I'm not sure why you'd want to...) These tips speak to real dining and real food (with actual nutritional value) on the cheap.

    baked apple

    Thrifty Tip #1: Roasting makes just about anything taste decadent.

    Ever baked an apple? Steaming, tender, candy-like... It's always hard for me to believe that it's the same fruit as a raw apple. Something magic happens in that oven.

    Sure, you can core an apple and stuff it with nuts, butter, sugar and rolled oats beforehand. You can maybe sprinkle on some cinnamon, but all that's totally unnecessary. Just a plain old peeled and cored apple baked in the oven for a half-hour or so is strangely heavenly.

    Serve warm with a drizzle of cream or sour cream or plain yogurt and a baked apple is positive bliss. Simple, delightful and dead cheap.

    And just about everyone knows about the wonder of oven-fried potatoes, but it might not have occurred to you that the same roasting magic works with all kinds of vegetables.

    Ho-hum cauliflower is suddenly heavenly after a little time on the roasting tray. Just chop down a head into florets of similar size, toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and roast until the cauliflower is tender and has a little brown on the tips (about 30-40 minutes at 350°F). Toss the florets around on the pan about half-way through cooking to ensure they roast evenly.

    One of my favorite inexpensive (yet decadent!) meals is the classic Roasted Vegetable Salad. Roasting concentrates the flavor to make the veggies rich and satisfying.

    It takes a little time to get the roasting done, but that's mostly the passive variety of "find something else to do" time while you wait for the oven buzzer to sound.

    Extra bonuses: the bounty of root veg gives it good fiber and nutrient value, you can play around with a wide variety of vegetables in the dish and you can adjust the end product to suit meat eaters or vegheads, as needed.

    Feel free to use whatever firm vegetables you happen to find on special at your favorite market. Try (similar-sized) cubes of hard squash (butternut, acorn, delicata), sliced fennel, zucchini, broccoli florets, potato cubes, roasted asparagus, celery root... I've even used roasted radishes.

    Just keep in mind that the slices or cubes of each vegetable to be roasted should be of similar size. Different vegetables also roast at different rates, if you're not sure about how fast a particular vegetable will roast, keep it segregated from the rest so you can easily remove it when it's tender.

    Roasted Vegetable Salad (Serves 2)
    2 medium-size carrots, peeled & cut into 1" pieces
    2 medium-size parsnips, peeled & cut into 1" pieces
    3 to 5 small beets, peeled & quartered
    1 large onion, cut in 1" wedges (or 4-5 shallots, halved)
    1 to 2 large portabello mushrooms (sliced into 1/2" strips)
    About 3 Tbsp olive oil
    Salt and black pepper, to taste
    1/2 head green leaf lettuce (torn into bite-sized pieces, washed & spun dry)
    1/3 cup dressing of your choice (I favor a vinaigrette or a sun-dried tomato dressing)

    3 to 4 slices thick-cut bacon or pancetta; diced, cooked & drained (optional)
    1 oz fresh Parmesan, feta or goat cheese, crumbled (optional)

    Preheat oven to 400°. Toss carrot, parsnip and beet pieces in a large bowl with 1.5 tablespoons olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

    Separately toss onion wedges and portobello slices in the remaining 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

    Since the more dense root vegetables will need to cook longer, spread them across a baking tray and roast them separately from the faster-cooking onion and mushroom pieces (which you should spread evenly across another tray). Place both trays in the oven and roast for 15 minutes.

    After 15 minutes, stir tray contents to help them cook evenly and return to the oven for another 15 minutes. At this point, the mushrooms and onions should look shrunken and lightly browned. Remove them from the oven and stir the root vegetables again. Remove the roots from the oven when they're fork-tender.

    Cool roasted vegetables on the trays for 10 minutes before tossing them together with the torn lettuce, the dressing of your choice and the cooked, diced bacon (if using). Divide salad between two plates and top with cheese (if using).


    Roasted vegetables are also wonderful served over penne, baked into a quiche or just served as a side dish on their own.

    Look for another Recession-Proof Recipe next week!

    Cheers!


    * Such terrifying terminology is reserved for declines that persist for two or more consecutive quarters. Translate that as "eight or more dreadful months" if you're more into dividing your year via the Gregorian calendar.

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    3.27.2008

    Bacon + Cake = Yay!

    "It's totally weird. I've never had anything like it before. And I want one for my birthday in November." — Marc

    My boss is one of those people who considers the onion and the potato his favorite vegetables (all the better if they're fried). A meal just isn't a meal without meat, and practically any meal can be made better with the addition of a pork product. Not to mention that he's the only person I know who has three enormous barbecue grills on his Brooklyn patio roof-space.

    So when his birthday rolled around, the email conversation naturally turned to bacon. There's been a lot of bacon sweets in the blog press lately. Bacon Brittle. Bacon Lollypops. The Vosges Bacon Chocolate Bar.

    Could we really do a bacon cake? With real bacon? And how would that work?

    Bacon Cake

    Tomi bravely took the plunge (she says she was actually rather terrified by the whole prospect), going for a simple rectangular chocolate layer cake. She discovered a plastic pig at the dollar store to drive home the whole piggy point and topped her cake off with a pretty pink version of Paula Deen's Brown Butter Icing, crunchy pink sugar sprinkles aaaaand.... BACON!

    Now, before you say "eeeew!" remember that sweet and salty tastes are often pretty great together. Chocolate covered pretzels, say. Or salted butter caramels. Or peanut-butter cookies. Sweet plus salty makes them multi-dimensional and more exciting to the tongue. And crunchy bacon bits on a chocolate cake offer a third dimension... sweet + salty + savory. Very exciting!

    Some approached cautiously, but everyone who tried the chocolate bacon cake proclaimed enjoyment. Some went back for seconds. In the end, not a single slice went unclaimed. The boss man was pleased, and the whole thing was an enormous success. I was left wondering why bacon bits aren't a standard topping for cakes in the same way they are for salads, casseroles and omelettes.

    Bacon Cake Slice

    The assembly couldn't be easier. (Bake cake. Make icing. Ice cake. Top with bacon bits.) The chocolate cake itself is ultra-basic. The icing's a snap. The key to this recipe is in the bacon. It must be crispy, and it must be broken into bits. Long, limp slices won't do at all.

    A Simple Chocolate Cake

    3 oz semisweet (or bittersweet) chocolate, chopped
    1 cup hot black coffee
    2 cups all-purpose flour (or pastry flour)
    1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    1 tsp baking soda
    1 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp salt
    3 large eggs
    2 cups sugar
    1 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
    1/2 cup vegetable oil
    1 tsp vanilla extract

    1. Preheat oven to 350° F.

    2. Combine hot coffee and chocolate pieces in a bowl. Let stand 5 minutes before whisking smooth.

    3. Butter and flour the bottom of a 9- x 13-inch cake pan. (Or butter the bottom of the pan and lay in a piece of parchment.)

    4. In a separate bowl, blend together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

    5. In another bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until slightly thickened and pale, about 3 minutes. Gradually add yogurt (or buttermilk), vegetable oil, vanilla and coffee-chocolate mixture to eggs. Stir to combine well.

    6. Add the dry ingredients into the moist ingredients and continue to beat until just combined.

    7. Pour cake batter into the prepared pan and bake about 40-45 minutes (or until the cake springs back lightly when touched and a tester inserted in center comes out clean).

    8. Place cake pan on a rack and cool completely in the pan. To remove, run a knife around edge of the pan and invert cake onto a rack. (May be wrapped tightly and kept at room temperature for up to 2 days or frozen for 3 weeks.)

    Paula Deen's Browned Butter Icing (in a Pretty Piggy Pink)
    1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
    1 cup confectioners' sugar
    Red food color (optional)

    Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, or until butter is lightly browned. Whisk in confectioners' sugar until smooth. Stir in 2-3 (or more) drops red food color to achieve your own perfect piggy pink.

    Cheers!

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    3.25.2008

    The St. Pat's Hangover Brunch

    I'm a bit sad to report that St. Pat's day in New York creeps closer and closer into Halloween territory with each passing year.

    This year I saw the now-ubiquitous Mardi Gras-style plastic beads joined by kelly green handlebar moustaches, flowing green nylon wigs, sparkling green eye shadow and green short-shorts. And that was just on my subway commute. I didn't dare hit the bars.

    I don't mean to sound like a hater, but hosting a St. Pat's party these days almost seems like a dangerous invitation. "Come, friends! Bring your booze! Eat my green cupcakes! Vomit outlandish colors on my carpet!"

    Irish Soda Bread
    Kate's surprisingly moist Irish Soda Bread

    But a clever coworker, the lovely Suzy Hotrod(TM) came up with an ingenious idea for our latest department potluck: The Post-Patrick's Day Hangover Brunch. No hangover, derby hat or green food coloring required.

    The crew was inspired, and the ensuing feast was a delight, with not a drop of green food coloring in sight. It was truly a St. Patrick's day miracle surpassing all that snake harassment for which the old legends give him credit.

    Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes
    Suzy Hotrod's Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes

    I contributed Irish Cheddar Mac & Cheese (with both veg-friendly and Berkshire Bacon variations), Suzy contributed Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting, Mike brought the home fries, Kate brought a moist and flavorful Irish soda bread, Marc brought Orangina (because everything's better with Orangina), Ryn made what may be the most tasty boiled brisket and cabbage dinner I've ever had and the mighty-mighty Anna Bollocks brought the totally tasty bangers (as well as Cadbury Chocolate Roses and Irish tea) from the 61st Street Deli in Woodside (3967 61st Street, Queens).

    Honestly, the Mac & Cheese was so tasty and simple to make, I think it'd be a shame to reserve it for those few days fore and aft the ides of March. And clearly, you can use whatever cheddar you happen to have on hand.

    Irish Cheddar Mac & Cheese
    With bacon in the foreground, veggie-friendly in the back

    Irish Cheddar Mac & Cheese (Makes three 8" x 8" pans)

    1 16oz box macaroni elbows
    1/2 cup butter
    1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    2 tsp dry ground mustard (or 3 Tbsp prepared mustard)
    5 cups milk
    1 tsp salt
    Ground black pepper, to taste
    1 1/4 lb Irish Cheddar, shredded
    6-8 strips bacon, cooked, cooled and chopped (optional)
    Sweet paprika (optional)

    1. Preheat oven to 375°F., and cook macaroni elbows in a large pot of salted, boiling water until tender (about 8-10 minutes). Drain in a colander, rinse with cold water and set aside.

    2. Meanwhile, heat butter in a heavy-bottomed stockpot until it bubbles. Whisk in flour, mixing well.

    3. Add mustard and salt to the mixture, then gradually whisk in the 5 cups of milk, working out any flour lumps that appear.

    4. Cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens and burbles.

    5. Remove sauce from heat and stir in half the shredded cheese.

    6. Combine the sauce with the macaroni and distribute evenly in the pan or pans. (Don't overfill the pans... they need room to bubble a bit in the oven.)

    7. If using, sprinkle bacon across the macaroni, then evenly top with the remaining cheese. Sprinkle on sweet paprika for a jaunty garnish.

    8. At this point you can cover and refrigerate for baking later, or for immediate enjoyment, bake approximately 40 minutes (60 if it's been in the fridge) or until lightly browned and bubbly. Let rest 10-15 minutes before serving.

    Sláinte!

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    3.19.2008

    Life Gives You Spinach? Make Palek Paneer.

    Spotting a fine sale on washed spinach last week, my thoughts turned to darkness... as in the rich green darkness one finds in a pot of long-simmered spinach.

    "Great Scott!" I cried, "It's a sign from the food gods! I will make palek paneer!" (I'm sure this sort of thing happens to everyone, no?)

    I realize that for those who haven't spent a lot of time staring at Indian take-out menus, palek paneer might sound like a lot of mumbo-jumbo. For zealots (myself included) it translates more like this: "really tasty spiced and slow-cooked spinach (palek) with cubes of very mild, creamy white cheese (paneer)"

    Palek paneer looming in my bowl

    The real problem with palek paneer is the spinach. If you've ever cooked creamed spinach, you know that a big pile of it wilts down to practically nothing. For this dish to be worth the effort, you need a bushel of spinach.

    But one large produce sale and three bulky 10oz bags of spinach later, the fridge was stuffed with greenery and I was ready to get my simmer on.

    First, the Palek

    If you have a spice grinder (or a coffee grinder that can be put into service as a spice grinder), it's really best to use whole spices for Indian dishes. They're more flavorful, and we're looking for flavor when we add spice to a dish.

    That said, if you can't grind your spices, go with pre-ground, but keep in mind that you might need to use extra spice to flavor the dish properly.

    So-Simple Palek Paneer (Feeds six, if served with rice)

    1 Tbsp cumin seed
    1 Tbsp coriander seed
    1 tsp fennel or caraway seed
    2 whole cloves
    1 tsp fenugreek seed

    Grind in a clean coffee grinder and combine with:

    1/2 tsp ground turmeric
    1/2 tsp ground cayenne or Aleppo pepper (if you like it spicy)

    Heat in a heavy bottomed stock pot or skillet:

    1-2 Tbsp vegetable oil (or ghee, if you prefer)

    Add the spice blend to the pan and allow it to heat for 30 seconds.

    Add to the pan:

    2 small onions, diced (about 1 cup)
    1 jalapeno pepper, halved and sliced thin
    3 garlic cloves, minced
    1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated (or minced)
    1 tsp salt

    Saute until onions are translucent, and add to the pan:

    3-4 medium tomatoes, chopped (or 1 28oz can diced tomatoes)

    Bring the mixture to a simmer and add (in several batches, if the spinach is fresh)

    30 oz fresh spinach (washed and chopped) OR 2 8oz boxes frozen spinach

    Simmer mixture, covered, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. While this cooks down, make the paneer. (See paneer how-to, below.)

    Uncover pot and season the mixture to taste.

    At this point, you may wish to make your palek smooth by using an immersion blender (or cool off the mixture and blend it in a traditional blender.) I don't mind a little visible fiber, so I generally skip this step.

    If the mixture seems too thin, simmer another 15-20 minutes to reduce to your desired thickness.

    Before serving, gently fold paneer cubes into the palek. Heat 2-3 minutes more.

    Serve with a basmati pilaf, assorted chutneys and naan or chapati, if desired.

    Variations: Chickpea lovers (you know who you are) may wish to add a 14oz can (drained) while the spinach simmers, and those who aren't dairy-eaters can certainly substitute tofu cubes for the paneer — though they'll miss out on all the fun of making paneer, of course.

    All About Paneer...

    A coworker recently asked me about making paneer. It took about 15 seconds to explain the process. "And that's it?" was his incredulous response. Yup. That's it.

    The fact is, paneer, like all farmer cheese, is embarrassingly simple to make. I say "embarrassingly" because once you make it yourself, you'll be mortified at the thought of ever having paid money for someone else to make your paneer. That's how easy it is.

    Paneer-like farmer cheeses can be found wherever milk is found (as it turns out, people all over the world come to roughly similar conclusions when confronted with surplus milk) and considering how simple (and frankly, how fun) it is to make fresh cheeses, I'm a little surprised it's not a part of everyone's standard home-cooking routine.

    I learned how to make paneer using coconut vinegar, but honestly, any tasty acid will work just fine.

    I've made a video to demonstrate the process, but in case you're one of those rare people who enjoy reading, the instructions are written out below.

    Warning: This is my first cooking video. It's hand-held and done without a prepared script, so it's a bit rough. I promise these will get better...



    So then, you'll need:

    1 quart of whole milk
    the juice of two lemons
    a triple-layered sheet of cheese cloth (or a clean, thin cotton towel)

    Rest the towel or cheese cloth in a colander.

    Heat the milk in a saucepan to hot, but not boiling (it will steam).

    While stirring the milk, pour in the lemon juice. The mixture should clot as you stir. Drain the coagulated solids through the cloth in the colander. Gather the hot curd into a packet, and when it's cool enough to handle, press it into a block, squeezing out any excess liquid. Cool down your block of paneer and slice it into cubes for use in recipes. (You may wish to weigh it down beneath a cutting board to extract excess liquid and make the paneer more firm.)

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    3.18.2008

    Give a fig? I give a fig cake!

    I'd always known that figs were beloved fruits of the ancients. They sang and wrote poetry about figs. Figs glowed as symbols of the good life in their literature. It was the first plant mentioned in the Bible. And don't forget: Buddha done got enlightened while meditating underneath a fig tree. (Take that, Newton!)

    And there's hundreds of different fig trees. The Weeping Fig. (ficus benjamina) The Creeping Fig. (ficus pumila) The Fiddle-leaved Fig. (Ficus lyrata) The Bengal Fig. (ficus benghalensis) The Florida Strangler Fig. (ficus aurea) There's a fig for every mood.

    fresh figs with cheese

    But until fairly recently, the only figs I'd really encountered came in "Newton" form. Chewy and sweet, but not exactly inspiring.

    Then I met fresh figs, which were a revelation. Juicy, fleshy, tender-skinned and scented like musky vanilla and honey with hints of grass... the fresh fig gave me a new outlook on why this fruit was so cherished in the ancient world.

    Later still, I discovered that dried figs came in various incarnations. At my favorite little shop of delights, The Sweet Life, the Turkish ones tend to be brunette, chewy and covered with a sugary sap. The dried California are blonder, fatter and more supple. (Read into that whatever you like.)

    dried California fig

    These days, my office's favorite Friday treat is the empanada run from Mama's Empanadas in Sunnyside. We'd noticed that Ryn really loved the fig and caramel empanada, so naturally, when her birthday rolled around, we needed a fig cake.

    I was inspired by one I saw on the FreshDirect recipe page, but it was missing by the time I went back to find it, so I improvised a fig cake based on a recipe I found at Baby Rambutan's site.

    It so happened that I wanted a cake that was not terribly sweet. Since fig preserves are already quite rich, I just skipped the sugar altogether. That makes this cake a nice option for breakfasting/brunching.

    That said, I think most people are looking for a little more decadence in their cakes, so I'd recommend 1/2 cup to 1 cup of sugar, depending on your preference or audience.

    fig cake, devoured

    Moist & Sticky Fig Cake

    2 cups all-purpose or pastry flour
    1/2 to 1 cup sugar
    1 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    1 cup buttermilk (or plain yogurt)
    1 cup fig preserves
    3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted
    3 eggs, beaten
    1 Tbsp vanilla
    1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
    1/2 cup sliced dried figs (optional)

    Sticky Fig Glaze
    1/4 cup fig preserves
    3 Tbsp honey
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    1/2 cup water

    1. Preheat oven to 325° F.

    2. Butter the bottom of a 13- x 9-inch pan or a 10-inch round pan. Cut out a piece of parchment paper the same size as the bottom of your pan and place the parchment on top of the butter to stick it in place.

    3. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, soda, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.

    4. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk (or yogurt) with 1 cup fig preserves until smooth. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add fig preserves and pecans, if using.

    5. Combine wet and dry ingredients, stirring just until combined.

    6. Pour into the prepared pan and bake 35-40 minutes. If a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, remove from oven and cool the cake in the pan. Cover it to keep the steam in.

    6. While the cake cools, make the glaze by combining the remaining 1/4 cup fig preserves, honey, cinnamon and water. Heat, stirring, in a saucepan on the stovetop (or zap in a bowl in the microwave) until simmering, but not boiling. Spread across the cake, letting the glaze drip down the sides if you dig that sort of rich and oozy look.

    Serve with vanilla ice cream, crème fraîche or Mediterranean-style thick yogurt.

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    3.11.2008

    Shrove Thursday

    In honor of miserably cold weather, the glories of a homespun breakfast and the last few days of Pancake Month, I got up a little early to make pancakes for myself today. Blueberry-Banana Wholegrain Pancakes, to be precise.

    "Miss G," I thought, "You've had a tough week at work, and you need comfort food that makes your Thursday just a little more awesome." It's a simple demonstration of good self-care.

    Donuts can be tasty, but they tend to make me crash out with sugar shakes... and that's not exactly setting myself up for success. The hot bowl of steel-cut oatmeal or my very own homemade granola are delicious — and very satisfying — ways to wake up, but that's what I eat pretty much every day.



    A small stack of pancakes, on the other hand... now that sounded pretty great. Regardless of what happened for the rest of Thursday, I could rely on the gift of pancakes to make the day a little more special.

    I find that aside from the feelings of warm bliss they produce, pancakes are a nice treat because most of the measuring can be done in advance. Like many people I know, I operate on about a quarter of my normal brain as I bump around the kitchen in the morning.

    Easy DIY Pancake Mix

    8 cups flour of your choice
    1/2 cup sugar
    2 Tbsp + 2 tsp baking powder
    1 Tbsp + 1 tsp baking soda
    1 tsp salt

    Sift the ingredients together. Store in an airtight container for up to three months, or keep it the mix in the freezer for even longer.

    To make a batter, measure out 1 cup mix and blend with 1 egg, 1 cup buttermilk (or substitute 3/4 cup plain yogurt and 1/4 cup water or milk) and 3 Tbsp melted butter.

    Thin it out with a little more milk or some water if it seems too thick.

    You can use all-purpose flour or a mix of flours. J really enjoys a flavorful buckwheat pancake, so a half-and-half mix of whole-grain flour and buckwheat flour works well for those.

    To make a whole-grain mix, try whole-grain pastry flour, which has a finer texture. Oat flour blends are nice, too. Feel free to add in some wheat germ if you're a fan.
    Blueberry-Banana Pancakes (with Cinnamon!)

    1 cup buttermilk (or substitute 3/4 cup plain yogurt + 1/4 cup milk or water)
    1 egg
    1 cup Easy Pancake Mix
    3 Tbsp butter, melted

    1 tsp ground cinnamon
    1 ripe banana, well-mashed
    1/2 cup blueberries

    Additional butter, for cooking

    1. Heat the oven to 250°F and place a cookie sheet on the top rack.

    2. Whisk together the yogurt/buttermilk, milk and egg until smooth.

    3. Blend in the pancake mix until the lumps are worked out. Add a little more milk or water if it seems too thick.

    4. Stir in the melted butter, cinnamon and mashed banana and blueberries.

    5. Heat skillet or griddle over medium heat.

    6. Melt a teaspoon of butter on the pan, creating an oiled surface.

    7. Using a 1/4 cup to measure the batter, pour disks onto the hot griddle. When bubbles begin to form in the center of the cooking pancake, carefully flip it and cook other side.

    Keep finished pancakes warm in the oven until you're ready to serve 'em.


    Got extras? Don't pitch 'em! Wrap well and freeze. You can revive pancakes in a warm oven or toaster oven some desperate morning in the future. (I'd avoid using the microwave, however... it makes breads so rubbery.)

    Wishing happy breakfasts to all!

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    2.28.2008

    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

    The Million Method March

    My first Moroccan Stew recipe, out of Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, was essentially a tomato-rich vegetable stew with a handful of black olives and a squeeze of lemon. It was full of potato cubes, artichoke hearts and green beans, with no real spice to speak of.

    Later on, I discovered that lamb was a fairly traditional component of Moroccan Stew, though lots of cooks used chicken. Cinnamon, apricots and cured olives seemed to be common ingredients. Some ingredient lists included orange sections or apricot pieces, while some suggested only strips of orange zest or squeeze of fresh lemon at the end. Some cooks insisted on a couscous accompaniment. Some only mentioned couscous in passing.

    The majority of Moroccan Stew recipes seemed to bear about as much resemblance to each other as individual members in a fleet of Elvis impersonators. I mean, you know they're all striving for basically the same thing, but...

    I'm convinced there must be hundreds of variations, and I used to be intimidated by that breadth of options. Which one was the right one? Which was most authentic?

    Lately I've come to see all those variants as empowering rather than confounding. Why? A million methods means you can't really mess it up. Your ideal Moroccan Stew is for you to determine. Don't eat meat? Don't use it. Fresh out of olives or apricots? Skip 'em. Love chickpeas? Go crazy.

    Moroccan Stew with Chicken

    As for me, I use Moroccan Stew recipes as more like suggestions than prescriptions. Just use some good ingredients and cook 'em gentle and slow. It'll come out nice-like.

    When everything's tender, taste it and season to taste with salt, pepper and some lemon and fresh herbs. Dish it up with couscous or some toasted pita or maybe just a day-old hunk of baguette.

    It'll be fine. I'm betting it'll even be tasty. Maybe it'll be a work of art your guests will remember with fondness for the rest of their lives.

    That's why there's a million recipes for Moroccan Stew. No matter how you do it, you're almost guaranteed to get it right.

    Moroccan Stew for a Cold Winter's Night

    2 Tbsp olive oil
    4 skin-on chicken thighs OR 1 1/2 lb lamb cubes (optional)
    1-2 medium onions, chopped
    3 cloves garlic, sliced
    1 tsp dried thyme
    1-2 cinnamon sticks
    2 tsp ground coriander
    2 tsp ground cumin
    1-2 tsp Aleppo pepper (optional)
    1 red bell pepper, chopped
    1 15oz can chickpeas, drained
    2 cups cubed tomatoes, chopped (or 1 14oz can diced tomatoes)
    3-4 cups stock, (vegetable or chicken)
    1/2 cup flavorful olives, pitted
    1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
    1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
    1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro and/or chopped mint
    Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

    In a heavy-bottomed stockpot or a dutch oven, heat olive oil until it shimmers. Add the meat of your choice (if using) and sear until it acquires some color. Remove the meat and sauté the onions, bell pepper and garlic in the same pan until the onions are translucent.

    Add thyme, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, Aleppo pepper, tomatoes, chickpeas, olives, apricot pieces and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 60 to 90 minutes, or until meat and vegetables are fork-tender.

    Stir in lemon juice and fresh herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with couscous or toasted pita, or store overnight and reheat the next day, when the flavor will be all the better.

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    2.12.2008

    A Potlucky New Year

    I was always told that potlucks were named as such because you were lucky if everyone brought a pot of something to share.

    Our department hosted a potluck to kick off the start of the Lunar New Year today, and I'm now wondering if the really lucky part of a potluck is actually less about having enough to eat and more about the discovery of new dishes.

    The Golden Carp oversees our Lunar New Year potluck

    Foodwise, we got pretty lucky. Ryn brought pork and sautéed pea shoots. Kate made a tasty cold peanut noodle salad, I brought dumplings and a candy-filled golden carp from Kam Man on Canal Street, Alvin brought custards and pork buns from an apparentmob-scene New Year crowd in the Flushing outlet of the Tai Pan Bakery. Kristin picked up some tasty green tea ice cream. And Tomi made a delightful tofu-ginger dish and a very tasty salad of chewy, crunchy, spicy burdock root... a veggie I'd never really used before.

    We cranked up the traditional Chinese music for ambiance (thank you, internet!) and compared the various virtues of our signs in the Chinese Zodiac. Despite a dumpling mishap, a good time was had by all.

    I think our potluck did, in fact, make us feel lucky. We were lucky to enjoy the company of our coworkers. We were lucky to have food before us. And I know I felt very lucky when Tomi said she'd share her burdock root salad recipe.

    Gobi (Burdock Root) Salad

    After lunch we got email from Ms. T:
    I’ll try to approximate amounts as best I can... but this was always a ‘stand next to mom at the stove and watch’ kind of thing. I know she has a Japanese-American church bazaar cookbook with a recipe... and those amounts never seemed like enough to me.

    I went online and found: In addition to its healing qualities, burdock is a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, folacin and fiber.

    Having not had mama's salad or the church bazaar version, I can say we were all huge fans of Tomi's amped-up gobi salad.

    And lucky for all involved, Ms. Tomi was kind enough to offer up not only her salad recipe, but also an accompanying poem from Ms. Shirley Kishiyama, her mum, which was published in American Tanka magazine, spring, 1999:

    burdock root darkens

    my fingers as I cut small sticks

    bitter taste from my youth

    I long for the taste of earth

    I long for the crunch, crunch, crunch


    Even if you've never had burdock and won't recall the taste from your youth or the crunch, crunch, crunch in your mind's memory, after trying this salad, I think you'll empathize (as I now do) with the longing. I think burdock is just one of those vegetables that encourages one to reminisce.

    After you're through chopping up the burdock root, this salad looks simple enough to make. You could certainly turn down the heat if you're not a fan of spice.

    I suspect the only tricky part for most people will likely be tracking down burdock root. You could probably use a root like celeriac as a substitute. Carrot would offer a slightly sweeter end result.

    Tomi's Spicy Kimpira Gobo (or Kinpira Gobo)

    3 stalks burdock (gobo) root, each about 2 1/2-feet long, cut into 2-inch long matchsticks. (I buy my gobo at Dynasty Supermarket @ the corner of Elizabeth and Hester.)

    2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
    1 1/2-2 tablespoons granulated sugar
    1 to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
    1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
    2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons shoyu (soy sauce)
    1 cup coriander (cilantro) leaves, rinsed and dried
    Equipment:
    Large bowl of cold water
    Large sauté pan

    Working one half of a root at a time:

    • Peel burdock root.. there will be natural brown spots on the white flesh, but it's all gravy.

    • Cut the root into 2-inch lengths.

    • Cut each 2-inch section lengthwise into 4 slices.

    • Cut slices lengthwise into 3 to 4 matchstick-sized pieces.

    • Promptly put matchsticks in bowl of water to keep from browning — some browning will occur, but not to worry!

    • I like to give the gobo a second spin in some new cold water at this point, just to knock off any residual dirt.

    • Drain gobo in colander right before cooking.


    1. In a large pan heat oil over medium-high heat until very hot.
    2. Add gobo to oil and sauté.
    3. As gobo is just beginning to turn translucent, add sugar and toss to coat. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring regularly so you don’t burn the sugar but get a nice caramelization goin’ on.
    4. Add shoyu, toss to coat and cook until most of the shoyu has been cooked into the gobo or evaporated — approximately 5 minutes.
    5. Add cayenne and crushed red pepper. Toss to coat and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Taste to adjust seasonings.
    6. When all is said and done, you should see a nice, shiny, dark brown gloss on the gobo.
    7. Let cool completely before adding coriander leaves. Serve at room temp or cold.


    Gung hei fat choi!
    Miss Ginsu

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    2.07.2008

    The Second Day Goes to the Dogs

    Dragons and lions will be set loose in the streets. Explosions will sound. Noodles will be slurped.

    Yes, the Lunar New Year (celebrating the Brown Earth Rat) celebrations begin this week on Thursday and run for 15 days. Here in New York, that means parades out in New York's new Chinatown (Flushing, Queens) and many a dumpling consumed down in Manhattan's old Chinatown.

    I've been doing a bit of research, and it turns out that New Year traditions are pretty involved: clean the house, burn the kitchen god, visit the old folks, light up lots of fireworks, give the kids red envelopes full of money, cook whole fish and dumplings, remember which days are unlucky for visiting the relatives, etc. etc.

    In all, it's a pretty exhausting list of tasks, but I'm particularly charmed by a few details, including the tradition on the second day of the New Year, which is reserved for being sweet to dogs. Apparently, the second Lunar New Year day is the birthday of all dogs. Awww!

    Attack Pugs

    I don't have a pup of my own at the moment, but there's certainly some four-legged friends I love quite a lot. Here's a recipe for homemade Lunar New Year pooch treats just in time for your second-day celebrations.

    Make up a batch of all-natural bites for some cutie canine you care for, and wish 'em a happy birthday for me.

    Lunar New Year Doggie Crunchers

    2 2/3 cups whole-wheat flour
    1/3 cup wheat germ
    1/2 cup milk
    1 egg, beaten
    1/2 cup mashed squash or squash baby food
    1/4 cup vegetable oil (or reserved bacon fat)
    4 crisp-cooked bacon slices, crumbled

    1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
    2. Blend flour and wheat germ in a bowl.
    3. Mix milk, egg, squash and vegetable oil in a separate bowl.
    4. Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix in bacon crumbles.
    5. Roll out dough on a floured surface to 1/2" thick and cut out shapes with your favorite cookie cutter (or the open edge of a juice glass).
    6. Place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 50 minutes or until crisp and dried.
    7. Transfer to a baking sheet to cool. Store in an airtight container.

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    2.05.2008

    The Chowder Bowl

    The Super Bowl is a copyrighted phrase owned by the NFL, so I guess I'm not even really supposed to mention those words together in this here blog post.

    I somehow doubt the league will run me down with a cease and desist order. Even so, maybe I'll just call it "The Big Game" to play it safe. You'll all know what I'm talking about, no?

    So I was thinking the other day... The Big Game is coming up this very weekend (February 3rd, for those of you who only watch this one game each year) and I know that our newest national holiday is pretty much locked down as far as the menu goes. At any party you attend, you're likely to find chips and salsa, chili, hot wings, pizza, enormous party-size sandwiches, chips, dips and beer.

    Now, that's all well and good, but I think we've never had a better year to make a big deal about the bowl. Is your bowl going to be New England or Manhattan?

    It's an age-old rivalry, and both sides have their raving fans. We've probably all seen some good performances and some fumbles. So much depends on the quality of the players, I mean... ingredients.

    I'm referring, of course, not to the showdown between the Pats and the Giants, but to a far older and far more epic battle: New England Clam Chowder vs. Manhattan Clam Chowder.

    Chowders are thought to come from coastal Brittany, and the word, of course, from the French chaudière, which was a cauldron. This makes sense in the same way that, for example, a tagine supper is cooked in a clay tagine and a casserole dinner is cooked in a casserole dish. There's some other linguistic explanation about chowder's origins in an Old English word, jowter, which means fishmonger, but I don't buy that for a second. A creamy seafood stew just screams out as the product of Northern France, doesn't it?

    But I digress... let's get back to the battle at hand.

    fresh clams at the market

    Chowders can be based in fish, crab, scallops or clams, but the secret to quality in any chowder is fresh seafood. If fresh clams or good quality fish cubes aren't an option, consider frozen seafood.

    Personally, I'd like to see a couple of heavyweights do a throwdown on this one. Here's a Manhattan Clam Chowder recipe from Emeril and a New England-style Chowdah from talented (and prolific) recipe author Susan Hermann Loomis.

    May the best chowdah win!

    Emeril Lagasse's Manhattan Clam Chowder

    8 pounds quahog or large cherrystone clams, scrubbed and rinsed, opened clams discarded
    4 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch lengths
    2 cups finely chopped onion
    1 cup finely chopped celery
    1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
    3/4 cup diced carrot
    1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
    3 bay leaves
    1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
    4 sprigs fresh thyme
    1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
    1 1/4 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
    1 cup chicken stock
    3 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes or 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, chopped and juices reserved
    1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves
    Freshly ground black pepper
    Salt

    In a large stockpot bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add clams, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Uncover, quickly stir clams well with a wooden spoon, and recover. Allow clams to cook 5 to 10 minutes longer (this will depend on the type and size of clams you are using), or until most of the clams are opened. Transfer clams to a large bowl or baking dish and strain broth through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl. (You should have about 6 cups of clam broth. If not, add enough water to bring the volume up to 6 cups.) When clams are cool enough to handle, remove them from their shells and chop into 1/2-inch pieces. Set clams and broth aside.

    In a large heavy pot add bacon and render until golden and crispy. Pour off all fat except 4 tablespoons. Add onions, celery, bell pepper and carrots and cook for 10 minutes, until vegetables are softened. Do not allow to color. Add garlic, bay leaves, oregano, thyme and crushed red pepper and cook an additional 2 minutes. Increase heat to high and add potatoes, reserved clam broth, and chicken stock and bring to a boil, covered. Cook for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender and the broth has thickened somewhat. Add tomatoes and continue to cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add reserved clams and parsley and season with pepper and salt, if necessary. Allow chowder to sit for up to 1 hour to allow flavors to meld, then reheat slowly over low fire if necessary. Do not allow to boil.

    fresh clams at the market

    The Great American Seafood Cookbook by Susan Hermann Loomis

    Creamy Clam Chowder (Serves 4)

    3 pounds Manila, butter, or littleneck clams, shells well scrubbed under cold running water
    4 ounces slab bacon, rind removed, cut into 1/2 x 1/4 x 1/4-inch pieces
    2 tender interior celery ribs, finely chopped
    1 bunch (about 5) scallions, trimmed, the white bulbs and light green stems cut in thin rounds
    2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
    1 cup milk
    1 cup heavy or whipping cream
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 even pieces
    1/4 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced
    Paprika, for garnish

    1. Rinse the clams. Combine them with 1 cup of water in a medium-size saucepan. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook just until the clams open, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat. Drain the clams, reserving the liquor; discard any that do not open.
    2. Remove the clams from their shells and reserve them, covered, so they don't dry out. Strain the clam cooking liquor through a double thickness of cheesecloth; reserve.
    3. Render the bacon in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat until crisp and golden. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels. Add the celery, scallions, and potatoes to the bacon fat and sauté just until the scallions and celery begin to turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the clam liquor and 1 cup of water. Cook until the potatoes are tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes.
    4. Add the milk and cream, stirring occasionally and making sure the chowder doesn't boil, until heated through, about 10 minutes. Add the clams and cook until they are heated through, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
    5. To serve the soup, ladle into 4 soup bowls. Top each bowl with a pat of butter, a shower of parsley, and a dusting of paprika. Pass the bacon separately. Serve immediately.

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    1.31.2008

    There Will Be Milkshakes

    The Golden Globes are in the bag, the Oscars are rolling up and all the fashionable awards parties should really be serving spiked milkshakes, shouldn't they?

    For your Saturday enjoyment, here's a quick recipe accompanied by a shot of my little friend Dash rocking the "There Will Be Blood" trend wave.

    I drink your milkshake baby onesie
    White Russian Milkshakes (Makes 4 Servings)
    8 oz vodka
    4 oz coffee liqueur, (such as Kahlùa)
    4 cups pure vanilla ice cream
    2 tsp vanilla extract
    2 cups milk

    In a blender whip all ingredients together until smooth. Serve immediately in tall glasses with straws. Drink it up.

    An enterprising soul could also substitute frangelico, amaretto or a chocolate liqueur and enjoy tasty results.

    Meanwhile, if you know any under-clothed babies (or adults, for that matter), by all means, do make haste to swaddle them in something sassy.

    Cheers,

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    1.26.2008

    Beans on Toast Strike Back

    After a recent post profiling the wonders of Beans on Toast, a reader asked about a recipe for do-it-yourself beans.

    I'm not sure why I thought the task might be tricky. The beans in question are really just navy beans in a lightly sweetened tomato sauce. So surely it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that homemade beans for toast are cheap, easy... and yes, even tastier than beans from a can.

    Aside from thrift and first-hand knowledge of the ingredients, there's another significant bonus. When you make the beans yourself, you get to tweak the flavor to your liking.

    In the afore-mentioned bean showdown, J and I preferred the British beans because they were less sweet and had more tangy, tomato-y flavor. But we also liked the hint of molasses in the American beans.

    I started out with Muir Glen tomato sauce, because I like the organic tomatoes and the lined cans — hooray for no horrid can flavor! Muir Glen tomato sauce already has a little garlic powder, salt and vinegar in it, so it arrives slightly flavored, but all you should really notice is a vivid tomato taste.

    For this experiment I used a can of small white beans that I rinsed well under running water, but in the future, I'll try to remember to just soak and cook dried navy beans in advance. If you're not really fond of the deep, bass-note richness that molasses provides, certainly feel free to substitute sugar instead.

    Home-cooked beans vs. canned beans
    Home-cooked beans at the foreground, Heinz beans (imported from the UK) at the rear.

    You'll notice right off the color of your home-cooked beans is more bright and saturated than the beans from a can. Why? Well, you're not using any filler, like modified food starches, which will thin down the tomato sauce enough to make it more orange-red and slightly pasty by comparison.

    Beans on Toast (from Scratch)
    1 8oz can tomato sauce
    1 15oz can small white beans or navy beans (or use 2 cups cooked beans)
    1 1/2 Tbsp molasses
    1 tsp sugar (or to taste)
    1 Tbsp rice vinegar or cider vinegar
    Sliced bread (preferably whole-grain), for serving

    Combine ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and simmer 15-20 minutes. Season to taste with a little more sugar, molasses or salt. Serve hot over toasted bread.


    You can probably find a pound of dry navy beans for a $1 to $1.25, depending on where you live, and that bag will offer many, many beany brekkies. A small can of tomato sauce will run you .65 to $1.

    Now, beans on toast isn't an expensive option to begin with, but you can immediately see how economical this protein-packed brekkie can be.

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    1.14.2008

    The Trouble with Truffles

    "Ye, the first parents of the human race, whose gourmandise is mentioned in history, you who ruined yourself for an apple, what would you not have done for a truffled turkey?"

    — Jean Antheleme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste

    Unless you live near the forest and keep a trained pig, black truffles are a luxury item. An ounce is of those things you really can't justify purchasing.
    There's always something else that's more practical, more important... A bill. A water filter. A dentist appointment. Ointment for your pet pig's snout rot.

    I suspect that's why one of my coworkers teared up on seeing the black truffles my boss gave each of us over the holidays. Twelve black truffles nestled into twelve little cups of white rice. They were ugly. They were beautiful. I was immensely pleased.

    Truffle nesting in rice

    What I immediately learned is that the gift of a truffle isn't simply a gift, it's a culinary challenge. I'd had truffle oil and truffle butter, of course, but I'd never had a truffle in my hands. Never cooked with one. A truffle neophyte, was I.

    Our company lawyer enthused about the wonders of truffled eggs. "Just put your truffle in the refrigerater in a container with a dozen eggs," he said. "In a day or so, you'll have truffle-flavored eggs. It's amazing. They're great in omelettes or scrambled."

    My Larousse Gastronomique agreed.
    "When you feel like eating boied eggs, if you have some truffles in the house, put them in a basket with the eggs and the next day you will have the best boiled eggs you have ever tasted in your gastronomic life." (M. des Ombiaux)

    Perfect. Two days of downtime with the eggs would buy valuable time while I decided what to do with my stinky little friend. I put my truffle in a zip-top freezer bag with a dozen organic eggs and rested the nest on the bottom shelf of the fridge, a decision I'd soon regret.

    The next day, my boss asked if I'd used my truffle yet. No, I hadn't.

    He had already made a special trip to Raffetto's on Houston street to pick up some of their artisanal pasta.

    "Have you been to this place? They make it right there in front of you. It's been there for a million years or something. But I gotta say, it was the most bizarre experience. As I was buying the pasta, people were doing some kind of confessional at the checkout line. To the checkout clerks. Amazing stuff. Stuff like, 'You don't know what your pasta means to me and my family.' 'It's not the holidays if we don't have your pasta.' And you could tell they meant it. All these amazing quotes just pouring out of people. And yeah, the pasta's pretty great."

    He'd been thinly shaving his truffle over cream-sauced pasta and using truffle butter on bread, potatoes, steamed green beans... everything. "When you peel the skin off the truffle, before you slice it," he said, "save the peelings and put them in some butter. You can amp truffle butter up with truffle oil, too."

    My boss was using his a cheap plastic mandoline to shave his truffle. Thanks to my outrageously expensive culinary school degree, I figured I could make paper-thin slices with my super-sharp knives. Some of my other coworkers were less confident about their truffle-handling prowess. "Are you getting a slicer for it? I'm going to check at Macy's to see if they have them there."

    Truffle Scrapings

    By this time I'd decided that my truffle would meet its end in a truffled roast turkey. After all, the great Rossini (clearly a fellow who knew how to eat) claimed to have wept only three times in his life: "Once when my first opera failed. Once again, the first time I heard Paganini play the violin. And once when a truffled turkey fell overboard at a boating picnic."

    On Christmas Eve, I went to the refrigerator (it was strangely fragrant as I opened the door) and discovered that the my lumpy black compatriot had scented the dozen eggs, yes. He'd also assaulted the milk, the cream, the pitcher of water, the sticks of butter. Everything permeable tasted of truffles. Apparently, a zip-top plastic bag was no match for the power of truffle.

    As I sipped my cup of truffle-scented coffee, I decided to douse the little guy with olive oil, which would, with any luck, seal in the truffle power and gently scent the oil. With scent that strong, who needs a pig? I feel like I could root out truffles on my own.

    Truffle Scrapings

    Soon after, I made the truffled turkey. It was good. Was it transformative? Maybe I needed to slice up few more truffles to really open the gates of gourmet heaven.

    My favorite part of my truffle experience was actually the simplest usage: a schmear of truffle butter across good fresh bread while I waited for the turkey to cook.

    Second-favorite usage? A truffled turkey pot pie made with the leftovers. But then, who can't be wooed with homemade pot pie, truffles or no? If you don't happen to have truffles, throw some sliced mushrooms into the vegetable mix. It'll still be tasty.

    Truffled Turkey Pot Pie

    1 prepared pie crust
    1 Tbsp olive oil
    1 small onion, chopped
    1 stalk celery, chopped
    2 carrots, chopped
    1 Tbsp truffle butter
    3 Tbsp flour
    2 cups chicken stock
    2 small potatoes, scrubbed and diced
    2 cups truffled turkey, chopped
    2 Tbsp parsley, chopped (optional)
    1 egg yolk, beaten
    1 prepared pie crust
    1 6" x 6" sheet puff pastry, thawed

    1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
    2. Pierce the pie crust with a fork several times and bake for 15 minutes, or until very lightly browned.
    3. Meanwhile, heat a tall-sided skillet or heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat and pour in the olive oil.
    4. Cook the onions, celery and carrots about 10 minutes.
    5. Melt in the truffle butter.
    6. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes.
    7. Add chicken stock and bring to a simmer.
    8. Add potatoes and simmer until fork-tender.
    9. Stir in turkey and parsley (if using). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
    10. Pour mixture into baked pie crust.
    11. On a floured surface, roll out the puff pastry until it's large enough to cover the pie shell. Trim away any overlapping pastry.
    12. Cover the pot pie with the rolled pastry and brush the top with the beaten egg. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until crust is golden. Serve hot.

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    1.09.2008

    Wild Rice for Breakfast? Hell, Yes.

    A while back, I wrote a piece detailing a few favorite food spots in Minneapolis. (And to be honest, I really need to do a follow-up.)

    As I peek in my website search results, all kinds of readers hit that page, but it's not guidance on where to eat you're looking for... ya'll want to find a recipe for the Mahnomin Porridge featured at that favorite creepy brunch spot, "Hell's Kitchen."

    I can't blame you. It's good stuff.

    Hell's Raven

    According to Hell's Kitchen, Mahnomin Porridge is:
    "Warm, Native-harvested, hand-parched wild rice with dried blueberries, sweetened cranberries and roasted hazelnuts, drizzled with warm maple syrup and cream. Folks, if you've never tried porridge, you are in for such a treat! Bowl $6.75, Sampler Cup $3.50"

    Is it good? Hell, yes. But don't take my word for it. Don't even listen to the masses of people who've been hungrily searching for the recipe.

    In announcing their "Twin Cities' Best Breakfast" (circa 2005) award, the City Pages rhapsodized for 3 1/2 lines about the stuff:
    "The unlikely jewel in this crown is the wild rice porridge. Wild. Rice. Porridge. It's a sumptuous mixture of wild rice, blueberries, cranberries, hazelnuts, sweet cream, and pure maple syrup. It's also one of the best reasons to get out of bed since Christmas."

    So there you have it. Nutty, chewy, sweet and creamy. Northwoods-style heaven in a bowl. But if you don't happen to live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul greater metropolitan area (and as of today, approximately 6,639,326,967 of us don't), you'll have to make it yourself.

    Hell's Frites
    A great menu and all my brother wants is fries. What's wrong with the youth of America?

    Is this it? Is this the holy grail porridge recipe that will make diners faint dead away in blissful swoons? Well, it's not theirs. But gosh, it sure makes a hell of a tasty breakfast.

    Just don't eat it every day. Without a hearty workday to match this hearty brekkie, that much cream'll kill ya off.
    My Mahnomin Porridge Knock-Off

    2 cups wild & brown rice blend, cooked
    1/2 cup cream
    1/4 cup dried cranberries
    1/4 cup dried blueberries or currants
    1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts or almonds
    dash nutmeg
    dash cinnamon
    2-3 Tbsp pure maple syrup, or to taste

    1. In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat, combine cooked wild rice, cream, dried fruit, nuts and spices.
    2. Bring to a boil.
    3. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes.
    4. Season to taste with the maple syrup, and serve hot with cream on the side.

    Oh, and while we're on the subject of grains, I just have to plug a very funny piece I an across while poking about for information on wild rice and its little friends. The zombie/food reference is just too awesome to pass up: grains! graaaaaaaaains!

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    1.08.2008

    2007's Best of Miss Ginsu

    There's what I think and then there's what you, the blog-reading public have to say.

    Sometimes we agree. Sometimes there's a slight difference of opinion. There's no throwing pans or shouting. Just a quiet variance in our preferences. That's what makes it all so interesting, don't you think?

    So before we don our gay apparel and take a cup o’ kindness yet for auld lang syne, let's have a quick look at the things you, John and Jane Q Blogreader, ranked as top content on missginsu.com this year.

    power smoothie

    Top Posts as Determined by You! (through help from Google Analytics)
    Excellent posts all, but if it were me, I might have swapped out Kritamo, Toy Food or Daim Cakes with some of my own 2007 favorites:
    What should we deduce from your fickle favorites, dear reader?

    You like sweets! You enjoy recipes. You like to hear about food explorations and food discoveries. And in a happy moment of cosmic alignment, it happens that I really love those things, too.

    So cheers to you, cheers to me and have a joyous New Year’s Eve!

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    12.31.2007

    It's Log! It's Log!

    "So it's like a giant Yodel." My boss was watching me glaze the yule log cake as he said this. I really couldn't argue with the assessment.

    For those who don't know the Yodel, fret not. It's an East Coast thing. As it turns out, Yodels or Ding Dongs or whathaveyou, are essentially tiny yule logs.

    One of my exceedingly cool coworkers is a punk rock guitar goddess, the captain of a multi-championship roller derby team and the proud owner of one of those cursed right-around-Christmas birthdays.

    But she also has a great sense of humor, and this year, she requested a yule log birthday cake to complete her fest.

    I'd never made one, so I was happy to take on the challenge. There were some moments of terror (Gah! Cracks in the cake!) but as you can see, it turned out pretty great. As she's also a talented food photographer, she snapped a quick studio shot of the final product for me. Pretty rad, no?

    Yule Log, with Garden Gnome

    Though actual Yule Logs — sometimes known as Ashen Faggots — and their copycat cakes might be considered quaint (and yes, maybe even tacky) to our modern sensibilities, there's a venerated tradition in there. The log-based cake even has a fancy French name with lots of diacritical marks: Bûche de Noël

    There's piles of recipes for log cakes, some including complicated marzipan holly and all kinds of faux greenery. I evaluated a few and decided to base my bûche de noël off Martha Stewart's recipe. I'm a big fan of the meringue mushrooms. So cute!

    I'm here to tell you the yule log cake isn't supremely difficult, but it is fairly time-consuming. You can make the whole project seem more achievable if you break the steps into four smaller recipes plus one assembly project. I did the four recipes the night before and then finished up with assembling the mushrooms and frosting the cake the next day while I was on-site.

    Before you get started, know that you will need a candy thermometer, a 10 1/2 by 15 1/2 by 1" pan and a pastry bag (preferably one with a large-sized tip). I've added a few other usage notes and tips between the recipes *within the asterisks.*

    Yule log on fire

    Bûche de Noël (Serves about 12)

    Step 1: Chocolate Genoise Cake

    5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for parchment and pan
    2/3 cup sifted cake flour (not self-rising)
    1/3 cup sifted cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
    Pinch of baking soda
    6 large eggs
    3/4 cup sugar
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    1. Heat oven to 350°. Butter a 10 1/2-by-15 1/2-by-1-inch pan. Line with parchment; butter and flour paper, tapping out the excess flour.
    2. Sift flour, cocoa, and baking soda together twice into a medium bowl. Set aside. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Skim off white foam, and pour clear yellow butter into a bowl, discarding white liquid at the bottom. Set aside in a warm place.
    3. In a medium-size heat-proof bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar. Set bowl over a pan of simmering water; stir until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, and beat on high speed until mixture is thick and pale and has tripled in bulk. Reduce speed to medium, add vanilla, and beat 2 to 3 minutes more.
    4. In three additions, sift flour mixture over egg mixture, folding in gently with a spatula. While folding in last addition, dribble melted butter over batter and fold in.
    5. Spread batter evenly in pan, leaving behind any unincorporated butter in the bottom of the bowl. Tap pan on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake until cake springs back when touched in center, 15 to 20 minutes. Don't overbake or cake will crack. Let sit in pan on a wire rack until cool enough to handle.
    6. Dust surface with cocoa powder. To make rolling easier, trim edges of cake, and cover with a sheet of waxed paper and a damp dish towel. Invert onto a work surface, and peel off parchment; dust with cocoa. Starting from the long side, carefully roll up cake in towel. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate until ready to use.
    7. To assemble cake, carefully unroll genoise on the back side of a baking sheet (discard the plastic wrap and waxed paper, but keep the towel). Spread chocolate mousse evenly on cake to within 1 to 2 inches of one long end. Reroll cake, starting from other long end, using towel to help roll it. Cover with plastic wrap; chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

    *Don't worry if the cake cracks a little when you're rolling. You can usually frost over the crevasses pretty successfully.*

    Rolled yule log
    Step 2: Chocolate Mousse

    4 ounces semisweet chocolate
    4 tablespoons unsalted butter
    4 large eggs, separated
    Pinch of cream tartar
    1/2 cup heavy cream

    1. In a double boiler, melt together chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat, and transfer to a large bowl. Whisk in egg yolks, stirring well. Let cool to room temperature.
    2. In a large bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff. Whisk a third of the whites into chocolate mixture; gently fold in remainder of the egg whites.
    3. Whip cream until it holds soft peaks, and fold into chocolate mixture. Chill until set, about 1 hour.

    *Chocolate mousse is delicious as a simple dessert on its own, so if you have extra, save it!*

    spreading the chocolate mousse
    Step 3: Chocolate Ganache (Makes 1 1/2 cups)

    6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
    1 cup heavy cream

    1. Chop chocolate into small pieces, and place in a medium bowl.
    2. Heat cream until bubbles begin to appear around the edges (scalding).
    3. Pour cream over chocolate. Let stand 5 minutes, then stir until smooth.
    4. Refrigerate until cold but not solid, stirring occasionally.

    *This ganache is easy, delicious and makes a great all-purpose frosting recipe to keep in your personal arsenal.*

    meringue mushrooms, ready to be baked
    Step 4: Meringue Mushrooms

    1 cup sugar
    4 large egg whites
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1 tablespoon cocoa powder
    3 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

    1. Heat oven to 225°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and set aside.
    2. In a small saucepan, heat sugar and 1/2 cup water over low heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil; cook until liquid reaches 248°F.(hard-ball stage) on a candy thermometer.
    3. Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric beater fitted with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on low speed until soft peaks form. Increase speed to high, and add hot syrup in a steady stream, beating constantly. Continue beating until cool and stiff, about 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Fold in cocoa powder.
    4. Spoon meringue into a large pastry bag fitted with a coupler and large plain tip. Pipe meringue onto prepared baking sheet to form 2-inch domes. Pipe a separate stem shape for each dome.
    5. Bake until dry, about 2 hours. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
    6. To assemble mushrooms, melt chocolate in a double boiler or in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Trim off points from tops of stems. With a small offset spatula, spread chocolate on underside of a cap and place trimmed end of stem into center of cap. Place mushroom, stem side up, in an egg carton to harden. Repeat with remaining mushrooms; refrigerate until set.

    *Essentially, you want flatter little domes for the mushroom caps and taller columns for stems, but even when they're lopsided the stems look good, so don't freak out too much about making them vertical.*

    meringue mushrooms, setting up
    Step 5: Assemble the Log

    1. Place cake, seam side down, on a serving platter; tuck parchment around it to keep platter clean while decorating.
    2. Whip ganache at medium speed until it has the consistency of soft butter. Cut one wedge off an end of the cake at a 45° angle; set aside. Ice log with a thin layer of ganache. Attach wedge to the side of the log. Spread ganache all over log, using a small spatula or a the back of a knife to form barklike ridges. Chill until ganache is firm, about 30 minutes.
    3. When ready to serve, arrange meringue mushrooms around and on cake, and dust lightly with confectioners' sugar to create "snow." Add garden gnomes and tinsel. Serve with panache.

    *I also used some pulverized chocolate cookies to make "dirt" that sat around the log on the platter. This had the added benefit of covering any accidental ganache drips.*

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    12.30.2007

    Day 24: Curd Crazed

    This post marks Day 24 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Welcome Christmas Eve! The 24th has arrived, and if you had great intentions of doing anything before the holiday, it's kind of too late. Why not relax and let go of unrealistic expectations?

    I've blogged about the thrills of lemon curd previously, but here we are in the middle of citrus season, and I've only blogged four times about various citrus fruits this month, and not even once have I mentioned limes. For shame!

    Citrus curds are one of those great condiments that have fallen by the wayside. Is it the name? Curd. Like curds and whey, right? But no. Citrus curds are, in fact, sweet-tart, silky-smooth, sunny-hued and almost translucent.

    Lime curd at tea-time

    Or are curds unpopular because they're at their very best when they're fresh-made? Truthfully, most people simply don't make fresh spreads for teatime and brekkie anymore. We're busy people. We crack open jars of jelly and twist the tops off honey jars instead of making fresh curd on the stove.

    Maybe it's a combination of poor naming associations and lack of free minutes. But listen: you probably have Christmas Day off from work. Making curd takes mere moments, and it's one of those special things you probably never enjoy. You can make some up tonight and it'll be chilled and waiting for your morning toast. A wonderful breakfast adventure to look forward to...

    Or do like the Brits and take your curd at teatime. Brew some black tea, make some toast or shortbread and set out your great auntie's teacups. It'll be cute and old-fashioned.

    Lime curd is a cinch (And don't let the double boiler frighten you off. It's just a bowl set over a pot of boiling water. How hard is that?), and it makes a great mix-in for yogurt, a glaze for cakes, a topping for cheesecake and a spread to adorn hot crepes. It's also lovely spread on muffins or scones, in tart shells, on fingers...

    Supremely Easy Lime Curd (Makes a bit less than a cup.)

    1 large, fresh egg
    1/4 cup lime juice (1-2 limes)
    1/2 tsp lime zest
    1/4-1/3 cup sugar, or to taste
    1 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cold

    1. Cut butter into small 1/2" chunks.

    2. Boil a small amount of water in a small pot and cover with a stainless steel or Pyrex bowl. (This, friends, is the double-boiler heating method.) Whisk together the egg, juice, zest and sugar in the glass or metal bowl.

    3. Whisk the lime mixture continuously over the steamy pot for about three to four minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl to avoid overcooking the edges. (You can hold the bowl in place with a hotpad, if it feels unstable.) The curd should grow progressively thicker as you whisk, and it will look like a pourable pudding when it's done.

    4. When the lime mixture is thickened, take the bowl off the heat. (At this point, you could strain it if you cared to do so. I really don't care about the zest remaining in my curd, so I don't.)

    5. Add in the butter chunks, and stir to melt and blend the curd.

    Transfer the finished curd to a storage container and, if you don't want a skin to develop, cover with plastic wrap touching the surface of the curd.

    Lime curd doesn't last forever — two weeks at the max — so use it while you've got it. (Come to think of it, that seems like good advice for most of life.)

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    12.24.2007

    Day 23: Five Hot Little Gift Ideas

    This post marks Day 23 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Where has the month gone? It's late in the gift-giving game, so if you haven't already gotten your act together, I've got five quick picks (in a wide range of price points) for presents that'll thaw the icebox.

    1. We've seen how an increasingly hotter planet has made Earth-friendly choices all the rage in high society this year.

    Habana Outpost, New York’s first "eco-eatery," (complete with indoor/outdoor flea market, biodegradable cups, solar power, rainwater-flushing toilets and a bike-powered blender to mix smoothies and margaritas) has been doing the Earth-hugging thing for two years. And though they might not be selling a lot of their signature limed-up cheesy corn during the off season, I bet they're doing a brisk business in this hot little slice of cheesecake... the 2008 Habana Girls Pin-Up Calendar (made with recycled paper with vegetable ink, por supuesto).

    All the models are cafe waitstaff who volunteered for the project, and proceeds are donated to Habana Works, Inc., a nonprofit that aims to better the local community through free programs that educate, unite and engage, such as Habana Labs. Generosity is hot.


    Cute Apron 2. Etsy has all kinds of zippy little things, and I especially love their Shop by Color function. (I'm not sure how useful it is, but it's all kinds of fun.)

    Everything is made by regular people (as opposed to transglobal mega-corps), so there's some schlock, of course, but Etsy also features a lot of gems.

    I'm a big fan of the coy Betsy Johnson-inspired apron (at right), EnfinLaVoila's Funky Chicken cards and these Personalized Artichoke cards


    FrancisFrancis Espresso Machine3. Strangely, I'm not a huge fan of Italian food (I'm thinking that's because it's often so poorly executed stateside. Those wishing to re-educate me with a trip to Puglia are more than welcome to offer.) but Italian design... mama mia!

    J has a big red FrancisFrancis! espresso machine, and while it's clearly excessive, it's just such a wonderful object. Sleek lines, sexy curves, glorious finish, reminiscent of classic sp With one of these, my gorgeous KitchenAid stand mixer, a long silk scarf and a sweet little Vespa, I'm sure I could be living La Dolce Vida.

    Penzeys' Spice Box 4. If you've never cooked with fresh spices, you're in for a revelation. The lowly peppercorn, toasted gently, releases high notes that sing in citrus melodies. The cinnamon stick is more nuanced and powerful than you ever knew it could be. It's like seeing strange new passions burning in your oldest friends.

    Penzeys Spices are varied, fresh and easily accessible, thanks to stores across the nation and a web presence. They use bay leaves as packing material in some of their gift boxes, and the bay they use for packing was fresher and more delightful than any I'd previously encountered. Their gift boxes make great spice introductions for newbies and seasoned (ha!) chefs alike.

    harissa

    5. Apparently, Roast Chicken & Other Stories is the hot cookbook of the season, so there's no way you're going to get your hands on it anytime soon. (I guess being dubbed the "Most Useful Cookbook of All Time," really couldn't hurt sales...)

    Take a raincheck on the "must-have" gift and give, instead, a gift of Moroccan flavors, including a hot-hot-hot jar of harissa (homemade or store-bought) alongside an ultra-easy recipe for Harissa-Roasted Chicken (below). If you're feeling generous, make it a Moroccan feast and throw in a nice unglazed clay tagine.

    Classic Harissa
    You can use whatever chilies you like, or use a blend. Ancho chilies make a milder harissa, New Mexico and Guajillo chilies are medium-spicy. Cayenne, Scotch Bonnet and Chipotle make a searing harissa.

    10-12 dried red chili peppers
    3-4 garlic cloves
    1/4 cup diced tomatoes
    1 Tbsp ground coriander
    2 tsp ground fennel (or caraway)
    2 tsp ground cumin
    1 Tbsp sweet paprika
    2 tsp salt
    2 Tbsp olive oil
    2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

    1. Soak the chilies in hot water for 60 minutes or overnight.

    2. Remove stems and seeds (you may wish to use latex gloves for this task), reserving about 1 cup of the chili water. Place the chilies in a food processor or blender with the tomatoes, coriander, fennel, cumin, paprika, salt, olive oil and lemon juice.

    3. In a blender, purée smooth with 1/2 cup chili water. Add more chili water, as needed, into the mix to make a smooth blend.

    4. Season to taste and store in airtight container, drizzled with a small amount of olive oil on top. Should keep for about a month in the refrigerator.

    Harissa is divine on grilled meats, roasted vegetables, couscous, chickpea curries, tagines and this tasty (and stunningly simple) chicken dish...

    Harissa-Roasted Chicken
    1 Roaster chicken (about 3 1/2 to 4 lb)
    1/2 cup harissa
    1/4 cup Greek-style plain yogurt
    1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

    1. Mix harissa, yogurt and lemon juice and massage the mixture all over the chicken. (You may wish to use latex gloves for this task.) Let the chicken marinate, chilled, for 1 hour.

    2. Heat oven to 450°F. In a roasting pan placed in the center of the oven, roast the marinated chicken for 20 minutes. Add 1 cup of water to the pan and roast until the juices run clear and the thigh registers 165°F on a meat thermometer, about 30-40 minutes more.

    3. Carefully transfer the chicken to a cutting board, and let it rest for 10-15 minutes before carving. Serve with couscous, roasted vegetables or a cucumber-tomato salad.

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    12.23.2007

    Day 22: Hot Artichoke Dip

    This post marks Day 22 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Everybody needs a few never-fail foods in their recipe collections. A few go-to goodies that score points and leave 'em wanting more every time.

    I have more cookbooks than I like to think about. I have recipe card boxes stuffed to bursting with clippings and scratched notes. I have pages ripped from cooking magazines and loose pages printed off websites.

    But when it comes down to the moment of truth... I keep going back to that small collection of dishes that do the job.

    This one is one of my favorite winter potluck, holiday party, covered dish and general "I don't know... just bring something" dishes for cold-weather gatherings.

    artichoke dip

    Don't show your cardiologist, nutritionist, lifecoach or personal trainer. It's seriously scary and rich. It's also seriously tasty. I first tried it at Brit's Pub in dear old Minneapolis. (Speaking of which, if you happen to be in the Twin Cities in the summertime, I recommend Brits as a fun joint for rolling lawn balls, munching Scotch eggs and downing pints...) The recipe you see below is a variation of theirs.

    Omigod Hot Artichoke Dip (Makes 5 cups)

    28oz artichoke hearts (Two 14oz cans)
    8oz cream cheese
    8oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed
    1 cup (4oz) cheddar cheese, shredded
    1 cup (4oz) mozzarella cheese, shredded
    1/2 cup green onion, sliced
    1/2 cup sour cream
    1/4 cup dijon mustard
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp paprika

    For serving
    1/4 cup diced tomato
    Shredded Parmesan cheese
    Sliced sourdough bread

    1. Preheat oven to 350°F
    2. Chop artichoke hearts and squeeze any excess water from the spinach.
    3. Combine chopped artichokes, cream cheese, spinach, cheddar, mozzarella, onions, sour cream, dijon mustard, salt and paprika.
    4. Pour mixture into a 10" square casserole dish or baking pan. Smooth the surface.
    5. Bake 45-60 minutes, or until the dip is bubbling and browned on the surface.
    6. Garnish with tomato and/or shredded Parmesan. Serve hot.


    I've also tried this dip with Swiss and smoked gouda, and that's nice, but I think there's something special about the cheddar.

    It's about as simple as recipes get. The only way you can go wrong with this dip is if you don't supply enough bread or crackers. So slice a couple of baguettes or a big loaf of pumpernickel to serve alongside, and don't say I didn't warn you.

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    12.21.2007

    Day 21: Ginger Toddy

    This post marks Day 21 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    The common cold. It really is the gift that keeps giving.

    I've got one now (sneezing, coughing and reaching for tissues as I type... but don't worry: it's not a virus), and it brings to mind all the other colds I've had in all the other winters of my life.

    When I was little, my grandmother used to make me a cough syrup with honey, brandy and simmered rose hips (chock-full of vitamin C).

    When I was sick at one of my restaurant jobs, an older Indian lady simmered up something similar that her mother had always made with some jaggery (a flavorful raw sugar used in India), fresh lime juice and simmered fresh ginger.

    One of my coworkers told me about a time when he was sick with a cold in France and a kind soul administered hot Calvados with lemon and honey until my coworker fell into a deep sleep. He awoke the next day much repaired. He claims it's a panacea.

    Just recently, I realized that all these beverages are simply variations on a Hot Toddy.

    I don't know if it's the warmth on the throat, the soothing sweetness or the direct application of affection that makes homemade cough remedies feel so good, but I guess I don't care. Whatever works, works. Make one for yourself or someone you love.

    Obviously, I'm not suggesting anyone fall off the wagon or liquor up the kids (that was the practice of another era), but I have the requisite number of years behind me, and I think the brandy sounds like a good move.



    Below, my amalgam of the remedy tonics administered throughout my life. Good for a cold, and good even when you don't have a cold.
    Ginger Toddy
    1" fresh ginger, sliced
    2 cups hot water
    2 Tbsp honey
    1 Tbsp lemon juice

    Optional add-ins
    1 cinnamon stick
    2 cloves
    brandy

    1. Simmer water and sliced ginger (with the spices, if desired) in a small saucepan for 20-30 minutes.
    2. Stir in honey and lemon juice and taste. Adjust with a little more honey and/or lemon, to taste.
    3. Add in a shot of brandy (if using), and serve immediately.

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    Day 20: Have a Holly-Jolly Chutney

    This post marks Day 20 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Ah, the office gift exchange! Secret Santas. Perpetually exchanged fruitcakes. $5 gift certificates that get lost immediately.

    Between the cost restraints and varying levels of regular interaction, a gift exchange with coworkers can be tricky business, indeed. The classic white elephant gift exchange is fun, but I feel like I end up with a desk full of silly things that I need to dust periodically.

    Last year, one of my coworkers gave me a jar of zippy tomato chutney with a little snowflake sticker stuck on it. It was delicious, and I was so pleased to receive something useful, tasty and homespun.

    They went all out with the canning, but you could just as easily make a quick refrigerator chutney if you don't feel like sterilizing jars or don't have the space for a sealing operation.

    tomato chutney

    This chutney is ultra-easy and very tasty with meats, veggies or rice dishes. It's a simplified version of a recipe by my former chef, Floyd Cardoz of Tabla restaurant. Go ahead and double or triple it if you're going to be giving away jars to friends or coworkers.
    Quick & Spicy Tomato Chutney (Makes 3 pints)

    1 28-ounce can whole or diced tomatoes*
    2 tsp vegetable oil
    1 tsp mustard seeds
    1 tsp cumin seeds
    1 tsp nigella seeds
    1 Tbsp finely chopped garlic
    1.5 Tbsp finely chopped peeled ginger
    1/2 cup white onion, minced
    1 small dried red chili, crumbled
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    1 Tbsp lemon juice, or to taste
    1 Tbsp sugar, or to taste

    1. If using whole tomatoes, chop the into 1" chunks. Reserve juices.

    2. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until it's hot but not smoking.

    3. Add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds and nigella seeds to the pan, stirring until the mustard seeds pop (watch for flying seeds!).

    4. Quickly add the garlic, ginger, onion and chilis.

    5. Immediately reduce the heat and cook, stirring, until the garlic and onion are soft, but not browned.

    6. Stir in the tomatoes, bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour.

    7. Remove the chutney from the heat, and add the lemon juice, sugar and salt and pepper to taste (the mixture should have a nice balance).

    8. Remove the chili and pour into sterilized jars. If you're giving them as gifts, seal the jars in a water bath, or for home use, simply keep the chutney refrigerated (up to a week) or frozen.

    *If you can find them, use the fire-roasted tomatoes from Muir Glen.

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    12.20.2007

    Day 19: Orange you impressed?

    This post marks Day 19 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Have I blogged about citrus yet this week? No? Horrors! Let that oversight be mended now.

    For some reason I always think the things I love to eat must certainly be beyond my ability to make. Maybe that's some kind of weird culinary-related self-esteem issue.

    When I actually do the research on a given recipe, I often find out that I could have been supplying myself with something tasty and homemade (not to mention cheaper...) all along. Great Gazpacho? I could whip it up in my sleep. Tasty breakfast granola? A snap! Coffee Concentrate? A cinch! Home-brewed cocktail bitters? Easy-peasy... who knew?

    That's why I'm happy to report that while amazing chocolate, wine and beer-making powers may still be outside my realm of competency, I believe candied citrus fruits have finally fallen into my greedy hands.

    chocolate-dipped candied orange
    Candied Orange dipped in dark chocolate from The Sweet Life

    Yes, folks... the lovely chocolate-dipped candied orange slice you see in the photo above can easily be whipped up at home. All you need is a little patience and a handful of ingredients you may already have at home.

    The recipe herein is based off one for candied orange peel I found in Sweet Gratitude by Judith C. Sutton.

    Ms. Sutton stops at the peel, but I've eaten enough orange slices (like the one above), to know that the whole slice is certainly possible. The secret? Cut 'em thin and treat 'em with all due care and delicacy while you cook 'em.

    candied orange
    My very own candied orange slice, ready for the dippin'
    Chocolate-Dipped Candied Oranges

    3 large navel oranges, scrubbed
    3 tablespoons light corn syrup
    1 cup white sugar
    1 cup water
    16oz dark or milk chocolate
    2 Tbsp vegetable shortening
    parchment or wax paper

    1. Using a very sharp knife, cut the orange into thin slices (1/8-inch).

    2. Put the orange slices into a large heavy saucepan, add cold water to cover, and bring to a boil; drain. Return the slices to the saucepan, add cold water to cover by about 1 inch, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the peels are tender when tested with a fork, about 15 minutes; drain and set aside.

    3. Set a large wire rack, preferably a mesh one, over a baking sheet; set aside. Combine the corn syrup, sugar and water in the same saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Wash down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to remove any sugar crystals (which could cause the syrup to crystallize) and add the orange slices.

    4. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat, and simmer gently, stirring once or twice with a clean spoon, until the peel is translucent and very tender and the syrup has reduced to a few spoonfuls, 40 to 60 minutes. (Do not allow the syrup to reduce to less than this, or the bottom of the pan will become too hot and will crystallize the sugar. Add in a little more water if the level gets too low.)

    5. Using a slotted spoon or a fork, carefully move the slices to the wire rack to drain; be sure to keep them separate and dry at least 4 hours.

    6. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate and shortening, blending until smooth.

    7. Dip the orange slices half-way into the chocolate mixture. Allow any excess chocolate to drip off, and let the dipped slices harden on parchment or wax paper.

    Though this recipe isn't strictly a holiday-only offering, I'd bet that if you wrapped 'em in waxed paper and nestled 'em in a cute little tin, these would make a smashing holiday gift for your favorite citrus lover. And if you were so inclined, I bet lemons or grapefruit would work just as well.

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    12.19.2007

    Day 17: Seasoned Greetings!

    This post marks Day 17 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    I sort of enjoy the holiday newsletters that arrive at my mailbox every December. And yes, I realize I may represent the minority opinion in this.

    I'm sure you know the ones I mean: "Happy Holidays! Wow, it's that time again, isn't it? Where does the year go? This year little Molly started third grade and..."

    Truthfully, I almost wish people sent biannual newsletters. "Happy July! This month, we're all taking off across the country on a quest to document every tourist trap on I-90..."

    It's so rare these days to get actual letters with actual stamps on them. In an age of email and texting, people don't generally take the time to write.

    What might be even better is if everyone sent along a recipe in their holiday cards. It'd be like a savory version of chain letters. We'd all send out a few dozen holiday cards that included a tasty recipe, and everyone would see their mailboxes stuffed with a host of tasty recipes in return. Some of them would be duds, of course, and that would be funny. Some would be gems.

    Seasoned Oyster Crackers

    When I was in first grade, we all had to bring a favorite family recipe to school. They were all compiled, copied and bound with coversheets made of excess wallpaper. We all got a copy. The recipe I submitted was one of my favorite things at the time... my mother's seasoned oyster crackers.

    For your holiday pleasure, I submit the recipe herein. Mom's oyster crackers are salty, citrusy, crisp and addictively snackable. The adult me politely recommends you serve them at your next cocktail party. The six-year-old me simply insists that you make them and share them.

    In there between the Never Fail Chocolate Cake, the Hamburger-Tot Hot Dish the Ants on a Log and the Tostado Pie sits one of my childhood favorites: crisp, salty, citrusy oyster crackers. I must warn you up front: they're addictively snackable.
    Linda Jo's Seasoned Oyster Crackers

    2 10-11oz packages oyster crackers
    1 pkg ranch dressing mix
    1 cup vegetable oil
    1/2 tsp dried dill
    1/2 tsp lemon pepper
    1/4 tsp garlic powder

    Coat oyster crackers with oil. Mix spices and sprinkle over crackers. Mix well.
    Mom's original version ended with a jaunty "That's it!"

    I should also mention that my mother usually put the coated crackers in a paper bag and passed that over to me to shake with all the vigor a six-year-old can summon. This may have added extra charm to the experience (as well as absorbing excess oil).

    They're quick and oh-so simple... consider them for your next cocktail party!

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    12.17.2007

    Day 16: When Cake Imitates Life

    This post marks Day 16 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    I don't know about you, but I enjoy the notion of novelty cakes. I've always been entertained by the idea of the Coca-Cola Cake, the Orange Dreamsicle Cake, the Daim Cake and the Wacky Cake.

    My boss loves to talk about his girlfriend's orange cake, which is actually pretty tasty. Whenever he explains this cake of wonders to someone, he inevitably exclaims, "It's got pudding in it!" as if the notion of pudding mix in a cake brings some kind of magic to the whole enterprise.

    One of my dad's favorite cakes is simply a dark chocolate boxed cake mix that he pours into the pan over a 14oz can's worth of pitted dark cherries (and the syrup, presumably). It's then frosted like a standard chocolate cake. Dad's chocolate-cherry cake is fruity and gooey at the bottom... I suppose it's sort of a lazy man's German Chocolate Cake. A bit rich for my taste, but people always rave and ask him for the recipe.

    Maybe it's some kind of kitchen alchemy, this combination of manufactured items and home-cooked goods. Or maybe the use of grocery products offers an element of adventure (will it work?) and an aspect of surprise (you'll never guess what's in it!).

    Perhaps we've all just been brainwashed by generations of recipes produced and published by food manufacturers. (Try these easy, delicious Spamwiches!)

    hot chocolate cake

    Regardless of the psychology burbling in the brain, I found myself taken with a Hot Chocolate Cake I recently found through the aid of Real Simple magazine.

    The Hot Chocolate Cake is essentially a (nearly) flourless chocolate cake that's topped with marshmallows and browned to perfection just before serving. You can do individual portions in teacups or cocoa mugs with mini-marshmallows (a terrific presentation) or one larger round cake with the big marshmallows (as seen herein).

    I think I'd recommend the individual cakes in oven-safe teacups. Presentation is key for a novelty cake. You want to hear the round of "oohs" and "aahs" as the desserts are presented. They'd be fab for cold-weather entertaining (Christmas dinner, anyone?)

    The cakes (or cake, if you're doing an individual one) are truly tastiest if they're still a bit soft and underdone in the middle, so take care not to overbake.
    Hot Chocolate Cake (Makes 8 servings)

    8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for coating
    10 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
    4 large eggs
    1 large egg yolk
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1/4 tsp kosher salt
    1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for dusting
    3 Tbsp all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
    1/2 cup mini marshmallows (Or 1 bag large marshmallows for a full-size cake)

    Heat oven to 375°F. Generously butter, flour, and sugar eight 6-ounce ramekins or ovenproof coffee cups or mugs, tapping out any excess coatings. Wipe the rims clean and place on a baking sheet.

    Place the butter and chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (the bowl should not touch the water). Heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter and chocolate are melted and smooth. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

    Meanwhile, in a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium-high, beat the eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, salt, and sugar until the mixture doubles in volume, about 5 minutes; set aside. Stir the flour into the chocolate mixture.

    With the mixer on low, slowly add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Fill each ramekin or cup with batter until it's 1/2 inch from the rim.

    Bake until the cakes puff and crack on the surface but are still slightly liquid in the center, 13 to 17 minutes, depending on the size of the cups. Remove from oven.

    Sprinkle with the marshmallows. Return to oven until the marshmallows begin to crisp, 2 to 4 minutes. Let cool for at least 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

    Tip: You could make a single hot chocolate cake instead of individual ones. To do this, you'll need a 10-inch springform pan and enough regular-size marshmallows to cover the surface. You'll also need to increase the initial baking time to 22 to 25 minutes or, if you prefer a more gooey center, to 17 to 20 minutes.

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    12.16.2007

    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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    12.14.2007

    Day 12: What, me bitter?

    This post marks Day 12 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    The dank, dark days of December are famously crowded with cocktail parties. Cocktails and latkes for Hanukkah parties, cocktails and pigs in blankets for Christmas parties, cocktails and blini for New Year's Eve.

    Aside from the sleek glassware and ostentatious garnishes, my favorite aspect of the cocktail is the stories that follow in the wake of every highball, martini, gimlet and toddy out there. To follow the history of cocktails is to dive down a fascinating rabbit warren of nooks, crannies, characters and concoctions.

    My obsession of the moment is with bitters. Having recently discovered that Marlow & Sons, my local shop of culinary wonders was making their own bitters, my mind opened to a new world of possibility.

    You can make bitters? Like, not buy them but make them? At home? Without a still? What an adventure!

    Yes, Virginia, you can whip up your own homemade bitters. As it turns out, that's what our ancestors used to do. Bitters were common among the herbal tinctures and tonics of an ancient age. And though they're rarely used in cocktails today, bitters preceded the first cock-tails and were, by definition, a necessary component of the earliest cocktail mixes.

    The second known printed reference to cocktails comes in the May 13, 1806, edition of the Balance and Columbian Repository of Hudson, New York:
    "Cocktail is a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters — it is vulgarly called a bittered sling and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said, also to be of great use to a Democratic candidate: because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow anything else."

    Hardy har har.

    In all seriousness, the bitters-making process is embarrassingly easy and endlessly adjustable, based on your own tastes.

    There's heaps of ancient recipes out there, calling for everything from obscure botanicals like columbo root, gentian and Virginia snake root to better-known additives like chamomile, cherry bark, cardamom and caraway.

    I'm going with lemon, ginger and common household spices for mine. Look how pretty my steeping bitters look!

    375

    DIY Citrus Bitters

    1/2 cup raisins
    2-3 cinnamon sticks
    1" piece fresh ginger, sliced
    2 lemons, sliced
    1 Tbsp whole cloves
    1 Tbsp whole allspice
    750 ml whiskey, rum or vodka (highest proof you can find)

    1. Combine spices, citrus and liquor.
    2. Cover, refrigerate and soak for 1-4 weeks.
    3. Strain into a clean jar of your choice.

    Make bitters now, and they'll be ready for your Christmas and New Year's cocktails.

    Toss aside your Angostura and your Campari and imagine how clever you'll look when you whip out your very own home-brewed bitters at your next party.

    Or be generous... Make custom labels and give bottles away as gifts.

    How will you use your newfound skill in making bitters? Glad you asked! I've included three quick recipes below. Just keep in mind: bitters are not meant for straight-up sipping. Add to cocktails with a light hand, as you would use a seasoning or garnish.
    1. Hot Mulled Wine
    You may notice some similarity between this recipe and the Hot Mulled Apple Cider recipe from last week. I think they work well in tandem at parties. Offer Mulled Cider to the kids and teetotalers, Mulled Wine to your favorite boozehounds.

    1 750-ml bottle red wine
    1 cup water
    1 tsp DIY Citrus Bitters
    1/3 cup honey
    2 cinnamon sticks
    3 allspice berries
    2 star anise
    Zest of 1 orange, removed with a vegetable peeler

    1. Pour the wine, water, honey and bitters into a large saucepan.
    2. Wrap the spices and orange slices in a square of cheesecloth and tie with kitchen string (or simply use a strainer to remove spices and slices the at the end of simmering).
    3. Add the spice bag to the pan and heat the wine, uncovered, over very low heat until hot, about 30 minutes.
    4. Remove the spice bag (or strain out the spices and oranges), and serve hot, garnished with cinnamon sticks.

    2. Citrus Bitters & Soda
    Cool and refreshing on a hot summer day.

    6 oz DIY Citrus Bitters
    6 oz soda water

    1. Half-fill a highball glass with ice.
    2. Pour in bitters.
    3. Fill the rest of the glass with soda water.
    4. Top with a twist of citrus. Serve immediately.

    3. The Gin Bitter
    A cocktail classic. Substitute rum or whiskey for the gin, if you prefer.

    2 jiggers gin
    2 dashes DIY Citrus Bitters

    1. Half-fill an old fashioned glass with cracked ice.
    2. Shake gin and bitters with 1/2 cup cracked ice.
    3. Pour into prepared glass.
    4. Top with a twist of citrus and/or a thin slice of cucumber. Serve immediately.

    Happy adventuring, all! Cheers!

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    12.12.2007

    Day 9: Introducing... Your Own Vinaigrette

    This post marks Day 9 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Around this time of year, waaay back in the early '80s, actor Paul Newman and author A. E. Hotchner, were up to some culinary mischief in Newman's basement...

    For several years, Paul Newman and his long-time friend, author A.E. Hotchner, were in the habit of giving bottles of their homemade salad dressing to friends as holiday gifts. They would mix up a batch in Newman's basement and hand out old wine bottles filled with the dressing while Christmas caroling in their Westport, Connecticut, neighborhood. The response was favorable, and their 'limited edition' bottled dressing became a sought-after item in neighborhood gourmet shops.

    Newman and Hotchner reasoned they might attempt to market their dressing. They were told to expect to spend $400,000 on test marketing, but instead they simply invited a group of friends to choose from among a few salad dressing samples, and then selected the favorite. The two men each contributed $40,000, and a private manufacturer agreed to bottle the dressing. Thus, in 1982, Newman's Own, Inc., created its first product: Olive Oil & Vinegar Salad Dressing. As a joke, Newman put a likeness of his own face on the label...

    Twenty-five years later, the Newman's Own company has created dozens of products and earned more than $200 million for thousands of charities.

    Keep in mind — this multi-million-dollar company all started thanks to some random holiday cheer put forth by a couple of Christmas carolers armed with bottles of their homemade salad dressing. Granted, those carolers were already millionaires with good connections... but you see what I'm getting at here.

    Erick's Own

    A couple of years after Paul Newman started pimping his dressing for charity, my dad began whipping up bottles of homemade oil and vinegar vinaigrette as gifts. They were complete knock-offs, labeled "ERICK'S OWN" with a photocopied caricature that my uncle drew. (See above for a scan of one of the original labels.)

    Lo and behold, the dressing was mighty popular among the friends and neighbors. It seems that some formulas are simply recipes for success.

    Why not produce some salad condiments of your own? It doesn't take much to get going... a few bottles, a little vinegar, a little olive oil. Custom labels seem to help quite a lot. Paul Newman might claim to have launched Newman's Own as a joke, but he certainly knew what he was doing when he slapped his grinning mug across everything from steak sauce to lemonade.

    Miss Ginsu's Own

    Your Own Vinaigrette
    The ingredients below represent a very basic vinaigrette, which you can doll up as you see fit. My dad always used thin-sliced garlic cloves and dried herbs in his, and they tended to clog the shaker top, but I think the flavor was worth it.

    1/2 cup red wine vinegar
    2 Tbsp lemon juice
    Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
    1 cup olive oil

    1. Combine vinegar, honey, salt and pepper in a bowl or a blender. Whisk or blend well.

    2. Add oil to the mixture in a slow stream as you whisk or blend.

    You can store a vinaigrette in the refrigerator, but the oil will congeal. Simply remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes prior to service to bring to room temperature. Shake well before using.

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    12.09.2007

    Day 8: Care for a Spot of Chai?

    This post marks Day 8 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    In a special file in my brain, I keep a cache of borrowed memories. Things I've read, scenes from films, stories collected from the mouths of others. I take them out every now and then. I turn them slowly to watch how they catch the light. Everyone must have something similar.

    I once worked with a cook who told me beautiful yarns about his travels. He was one of those with a gift for stories. In the short time I knew him, he filled my mind with brief, colorful scenes from around the world. A lovely gift, no? It's the kind of gift that never wears out. You get to keep it for just as long as you keep your mind.

    One of my favorite visions was a description of pressing into a crowded train traveling across India. The cars were loaded with people and baggage, but small, lithe boys would scamper through, swinging on the handrails, banging cups and shouting, "Chai! Chai!" For a pittance, they'd serve it up, hot and milky, before swinging down to the next car.

    hot masala chai

    My chef grew up in Bombay and Goa. He gave me stories about his grandmother's mango tree and his first kitchen job peeling heaping mountains of onions. He also told me that Indians drink their masala chai hot when the weather's hot. "The spice makes you sweat. The sweat makes you cool."

    That's quite a contrast to way we drink it in America: hot in the winter, iced in the summer. But Western though the custom may be, brewing up a hot cup of spice, sweetness and steam seems perfectly welcome to me on a blustery winter morning.

    Here's my Masala Chai method. It's maybe a little less traditional than the way chef's grandma does hers, but it's fast, easy, delicious, and just the thing to get me going on a cold winter's morning.

    Now, a masala is simply a mixture of spices, and chai literally means tea. Not spiced tea, but just plain old tea. Here in the states, people just say chai when they're looking for spiced chai. I generally try to talk about masala chai when I mean tea mixed with spices.

    Ready Masala Chai Mix
    It's best to freshly grind whole spices, as the preground ones lose their power pretty quickly. For this recipe, I like a blend of brown and green cardamom pods. The brown ones bring in a nice smokiness. If you can only find green ones (more commonly used in baking) don't fret. It'll still be a nice blend.

    Spice Mix
    6 cardamom pods
    2 sticks cinnamon
    4 black peppercorns
    1 star anise
    6 whole cloves
    1 tsp ground ginger

    Other Necessaries
    1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
    Tea, for brewing (Assam, Ceylon or Darjeeling work well)

    1. Crush the cardamom, reserving the seeds.
    2. Add cardamom seeds, cinnamon, peppercorns, star anise and cloves to a clean coffee grinder (alternately, you can use a morter & pestle) and grind to a fine powder.
    3. Blend sweetened condensed milk and spices.
    4. Brew a pot of tea (or just a cup, as you like).
    5. Add a rounded spoonful of the Ready Masala Chai Mix to a hot cup of tea. Stir well. Sip with pleasure.

    Store excess mix in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Makes many delicious cups of chai and keeps for quite a long time.


    In addition to being an easy hot beverage for holiday gatherings, a kit of pre-ground chai spices wrapped up in a pretty pack alongside a can of sweetened condensed milk, a box of loose tea and a set of instructions might make a welcome gift for a chai-loving friend or coworker.

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    12.08.2007

    Day 5: Sugarplums!

    This post marks Day 5 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Two years ago, I wrote about sugarplums. Oh, how time flies when you're busy food blogging...

    It's the right time of year again, and it seems proper that we attempt to introduce a new generation of kids to one of those things they keep hearing about in holiday Christmas carols and are unlikely to have ever actually tried. (Figgy pudding and chestnuts roasting over an open fire will have to wait patiently at the sidelines for another post.)

    In that spirit, I'm reprinting the recipe below. They're exceedingly easy to make, and seeing as they're chock-full of dried fruit and nuts, sugarplums are probably one of the healthier holiday sweets available.

    sugarplums

    Sugarplums! (Makes about 20)

    Chopping the almonds and fruits ahead of time won't be necessary if you have a food processor. These treats keep well in a tin or a pretty box lined with parchment or wax paper and they make a nice gift. They could last up to a month, but you shouldn't need to find out, since they're tasty snacks and tend to disappear.

    1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped
    6 oz dried figs (or dried prunes), roughly chopped
    1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
    1 Tbsp honey
    1 Tbsp grated orange zest
    1/2 tsp almond extract
    1/2-3/4 cup turbanado/raw sugar, for rolling

    1. Combine toasted almonds, chopped fruits, cinnamon, cocoa and almonds in a food processor or mash with a mortar and pestle.

    2. Mix until blended and paste-like. Add the honey, orange zest and extract. Pulse or stir until well mixed.

    3. Pour the raw sugar in a small bowl (cereal bowls and soup dishes work well).

    4. Scoop out teaspoons of the fig paste and roll in your hands to form 1-inch balls. Roll balls in sugar.

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    12.05.2007

    Day 4: A Hot Chocolate Field Guide

    This post marks Day 4 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate. Also: Happy Hanukkah!

    When it comes to cocoa, there are distinct camps. I think of them as the Swiss Misstics and the Chocovores.

    Identifying the Parties

    The Swiss Misstic thinks the Chocovore is a pompous twit. The Chocovore sees the Swiss Misstic as a philistine. It's a war over definition.

    What nobody understands is the very simple difference at hand. The classic Swiss Misstic is looking for something like warmed milk with chocolate in it. The Chocovore is looking for something like warmed chocolate with milk in it.

    It's a difference of ratio, decoration and price vs. quality.

    Epistrophy Cocoa
    Epistrophy (on Mott Street) serves up a cream-covered hedonist treat for Swiss Misstics

    The Swiss Misstics

    The classic Misstic is looking for a warm cup of comfort. If it comes with whipped cream, chocolate drizzles, flavored syrups, mini marshmallows or cookies for dipping, that's all the better, but the Misstic is easy to please. Just serve up a powdered mix and hot water or chocolate syrup mixed into warmed milk.

    Here's a quick recipe for homemade cocoa mix. Mix up a packet and give it to your favorite Misstic along with instructions and a cute mug.

    Homemade Cocoa Mix (Makes about 7 1/2 cups of mix)

    Basic Ingredients
    5 cups dry milk
    1 cup unsweetened cocoa
    1 cups granulated sugar
    1/2 tsp salt

    Optional Add-Ins:
    1/2 cup crushed candy canes
    1 cup mini marshmallows
    1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

    1. Blend ingredients.

    2. Store in an airtight container or plastic bag.

    3. To make a single serving, combine 1/4 cup mix and 3/4 cup hot water in a mug. Stir well to blend.


    Epistrophy Cocoa
    The chocolate at St. Helen Cafe (in Brooklyn) is dark and rich under all that foam.

    The Chocovores

    A Chocovore insists on splendor. It's high-quality chocolate or none at all. You'll rarely see ornamentation on the chocovore's cuppa, and if you do, it's probably something simple, like chocolate shavings. Give the chocovore something made with whole milk and melted dark chocolate nibs (at least 70%). Chocovores also enjoy name dropping. Give them packs of Jacques Torres, MarieBelle, Schokinag Drinking Chocolate or Vosges Couture Cocoa.

    To each, his own (cup)

    I think we can all get along. Mutual understanding is the key to peace between the factions this holiday season.

    If you're mixing up hot chocolate at a holiday party, you can easily please Misstics and Chocovores alike.

    Adjustable Hot Chocolate

    Add a cup of milk for each cocoa drinker to a saucepan and heat on medium, incorporating pieces of bittersweet chocolate with a whisk until the liquid matches the correct color scheme (see below).

    You'll stop early for the Misstics, offering up mugs of lighter-colored liquid topped with marshmallows or whipped cream and chocolate drizzles.

    Keep whisking in chocolate for the chocovores. Offer decorations, but don't be offended if they just want their fix straight up.

    Use the following chart for color reference:

    hot chocolate chart

    However you drink your cocoa, I wish good cheer to all, and to all, a good cup!

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    12.04.2007

    Day 3: Merry Citrus!

    This post marks Day 3 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Some people begin lighting candles for Hanukkah this week, some folks are more about Christmas, others get into Saturnalia or Kwanzaa or Festivus... but pretty much everyone (barring maybe the northernmost locavores) can get behind citrus season as a reason for celebration.

    The clementines are back, the grapefruit are rich and juicy and I've seen some excellent oranges recently. Cold months are a little sad and spare in the farmers' market, but the shops are robust with crates of sweet-tart juiciness. Why not whip up some little lemon loaves to mark the seasonal return of sunshine-state citrus?

    Merry Citrus
    If you happen to like this cheery lemon, click it to get the printable PDF version.

    I like to make a batch of little lemon loaves in December and give them away, wrapped up in parchment paper and kitchen twine, with the tag above.

    You can usually find the little disposable/recyclable aluminum foil cake pans at grocery stores and discount shops. Get a package of the 5" long x 3" wide x 2" high size. I make my lemon loaves with a variation of Ina Garten's Lemon Cake from Barefoot Contessa Parties! It's yummy on its own and looks fantastic as a dessert with a drizzle of raspberry sauce. Mmm...

    Luscious Little Lemon Loaves

    For the Cakes
    1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter
    2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
    4 large eggs (at room temperature)
    1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1 tsp kosher salt
    3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
    3/4 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt at room temperature
    1 tsp pure vanilla extract

    For the Glaze
    2 cups confectioners' sugar
    1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

    Procedure:
    1. Preheat the oven to 350°F, and grease four 5 x 3 x 2-inch loaf pans.

    2. Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, and then add in the lemon zest.

    3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.

    4. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk or yogurt and the vanilla.

    5. Alternate adding the flour and buttermilk mixtures to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour.

    6. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

    7. Meanwhile, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves and makes a syrup.

    8. When the cakes are done, let them cool on a rack for 10 minutes. If you'll be giving the loaves away, leave them in the pans. If not, turn out onto a rack. In either case, spoon the lemon syrup over the cakes and allow them to cool completely before glazing.

    9. For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice in a bowl, whisking smooth. Pour over the top of the cakes and allow to set up before wrapping them.

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    12.03.2007

    Day 1: Wonder Dough

    I love any one thing that does many things. The Swiss Army knife. The cast-iron Skillet. Duct tape.

    With that in mind, what's not to love about the efficiency of a single cookie dough that offers endless variation? Around the time-crunched holidays, a versatile recipe makes gift baking simple.

    If need be, you can make just one little batch of sugar cookies, one batch of ginger cookies and just one batch of chocolate-peppermint cookies. Voila! A mixed cookie plate to take to work and a few more to give away to cookie-munching friends and neighbors.

    And everyone knows that homemade cookies taste better. They're fresh, they don't contain high-fructose corn syrup or weird shelf-life extenders, and above all, they're rich in love. Store-bought cookies never have enough love in 'em.

    The below recipe is based off of one that was published in Real Simple magazine a while back. It's a quick little sugar cookie on its own and can easily be dolled up with spices, nuts, candies, shapes and colors, as per the variations. It's really like ten recipes in one. Pretty handy, no?

    the gingerman
    One dough to rule them all, one dough to find them, one dough to bring them all and in the darkness bind them...

    Wonder Dough
    2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
    1 cup packed brown sugar
    1/2 cup white sugar
    2 tablespoons corn syrup
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1 egg
    2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 1/4 tsp baking soda

    Beat together the butter, sugars, corn syrup and vanilla extract. Mix in the egg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Add ingredients from the variation of your choice.

    Heat oven to 375° F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or use silpat baking sheets. Unless the directions for the variation state otherwise, form the dough into tablespoon size mounds. Place on the prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake until lightly browned at the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to wire racks. Cool completely and store for up to 1 week.

    The Wonder Dough Variations...

    Gingersnaps (Makes 60 cookies)
    Make the base recipe, adding 2 tsp ground ginger and 3 more Tbsp flour. Divide the dough into 2 portions, roll into discs and wrap each in plastic. Freeze for 1 hour. On a floured surface, roll the dough out 1/4" thick. Use cookie cutters to make stars or people. Bake about 8 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to wire racks. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar or decorate with white icing. (Just blend together a cup of sifted confectioners' sugar with 1-2 tablespoons milk. Adjust the liquid/sugar ratio for the consistency you want.)

    Fruitcake Bars (Makes 30 bars)
    Make the base recipe, adding 1 cup dried cranberries, 1 cup candied or plain pecans, and 1 Tbsp rum. Spread the batter in a buttered or parchment-lined 9" square baking pan. Bake for 35 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack. Cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

    Cinnadoodles (Makes 60 cookies)
    Make the base recipe. Form the dough into 1 1/2" balls. Blend 3 Tbsp sugar with 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon in a small bowl. Roll the balls in the cinnamon mixture and place on prepared baking sheets. Flatten the balls into 1/2-inch thick disks. Bake about about 12 minutes or until until light brown. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to wire racks.

    Oatmeal-Spice Cookies (Makes 60 cookies)
    Make the base recipe, adding 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats and 1 tsp pie spice (or substitute 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground ginger, and 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg). Shape and bake as in the base recipe. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to wire racks.

    Chocolate-Peppermint Pinwheels (Makes 40 cookies)
    Make the base recipe, and divide the dough into 2 portions. Melt 3 oz unsweetened chocolate and mix into one of the dough balls. In a separate bowl, blend 1 egg yolk, 1 tsp peppermint extract and 1/2 cup crushed peppermint candies into the other dough ball. On a floured surface, roll each dough separately to about 1/4" thick. Place a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap on the work surface and stack the peppermint layer atop the chocolate layer. Press around the edges to form a uniform disc. Using the wax paper or wrap, roll the stack into a log. Wrap well and freeze for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and cut chilled log into 1/2-inch slices, placing 1" apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake about 12 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to wire racks.

    Chocolate Nut Cookies (Makes 40 cookies)
    Make the base recipe, adding 12 oz semisweet chocolate (chopped or chips) and 1 cup chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts). Shape, bake and cool according to the base recipe.

    Pine Nut Drops (Makes 40 cookies)
    Make the base recipe, blending in 1 tsp almond extract. Form into tablespoon-size balls. Spread 2 1/2 cups raw pine nuts on a plate. Roll each ball in the pine nuts, pressing nuts into the cookies. Place 2" apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake and cool according to the base recipe.

    White Chocolate Snowballs (Makes 20 cookies)
    Make the base recipe. Form the dough into teaspoon-size balls. Spread one 7 oz bag of sweetened flaked coconut on a plate. Roll each ball into the coconut, pressing so it adheres. Place on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to wire racks. Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl placed over, but not touching, simmering water, melt 12 oz white chocolate (chopped or chips). Turn half the cookies upside down and spread the flat sides with the white chocolate. Sandwich them with the remaining cookies.

    Jam Jewels (Makes 40 cookies)
    Make the base recipe. Form into tablespoon-size balls. Place about 2" apart on prepared baking sheets. Press a thumb about 1/2" deep into the center of each ball. Fill each indentation with about 1/2 teaspoon apricot, strawberry or raspberry jam. Bake and cool according to the base recipe.

    This post marks Day 1 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. Happy holidays!

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    12.01.2007

    The Cookies of the Dead

    Much as I love Halloween, I think the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is far cooler.

    A couple of hundred years ago, Halloween held a solid position in the autumn calendar as a religious event. These days, I'd bet a lot of people don't even realize that the "Eve of All Hallows" is supposed to be followed by All Saints' Day on November 1st and All Souls' Day on the 2nd.

    Similarly, the Day of the Dead (sometimes called the Día de los Fieles Difuntos) is observed in Mexico from November 1-2. Annual rituals involve activities like cleaning and decorating loved ones' graves and building altars or small shrines that include supremely amusing little skeleton figurines made from paper mache, photos of deceased relatives, crosses, orange marigolds, candles, liquor and food, such as the pan de muerto (bread of the dead).

    Dia de los Muertos Altar

    While our modern Halloween has lightened its dark roots in favor of overflowing candy buckets for the little ones and sexy cop, nurse, shepherdess, fairy, zombie, etc. costumes for the adults, the Day of the Dead really can't help but remain conscious of the tenuous barrier between life and death. It's right there in the name. More than that, it's rooted in a culture that's apparently more strongly linked to remembrance than candy and costume. And because remembrance is such a personal process, the Day of the Dead necessarily demonstrates a more handmade and individual texture.

    Dia de los Muertos Parade

    A while back, I visited Tulum and Playa del Carmen on the Yucatán Peninsula during the Día de los Muertos celebrations. Different towns have different celebrations, of course, but Playa del Carmen went all out with an elaborate parade sponsored by the local culture center. It was a stunning carnival of fire and fireworks, undead musicians and jugglers, whirling dancers, springing acrobats and skeletons (both tall and tiny).

    Dia de los Muertos Children

    Homespun, heart-filled and gorgeous, that celebration was rich with reminders of death, and it made me love life all the more.

    You can imagine how ecstatic I was when I found an Alice Medrich recipe for Day of the Dead Cookies in her excellent Chocolate Holidays cookbook. A whole stack of chocolate-vanilla skulls. The accompanying photo was both cute and creepy. I was instantly sold.

    When I actually baked them, I discovered that this cookie is little complicated to make and it has about a 50% success rate. By that I mean: Only about half of the cookies are recognizable as skulls. I was initially a little crushed, but then I reconsidered. Even the rejects were delicious and the skulls that work are pretty cute.

    Here's my recommendation: Make the cookies and separate them into two piles. Label the rejects, "Chocolate-Vanilla Crinkle Cookies." They're crispy, tasty and excellent with a cup of coffee. Take them to work and give them to your hungry coworkers. The other pile with the more successful skulls are your "Day of the Dead Cookies," and they're cute and crispy and tasty (and also good with coffee). Revel in the fact that they're delicious and imperfectly homemade, much like the Día de los Muertos itself.

    Dia de los Muertos Cookies
    Spooky, scary or just plain dumb. A gang of tasty skull cookies.


    Maya's Day of the Dead Cookies
    from Chocolate Holidays by Alice Medrich
    (Makes about 3 dozen. About half of them will look like skulls.)

    Vanilla Dough:
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
    1 cup sugar
    1 egg
    1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    Chocolate Dough:
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, Dutch process or natural
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon baking powder
    1/8 teaspoon salt
    8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
    1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar, lump free
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1 egg
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    Equipment:
    Baking sheets lined with parchment paper

    1. To make the vanilla dough, mix the flour, baking powder and salt together thoroughly with a whisk or a fork. Set aside.

    2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla. On low speed, beat in the flour until just incorporated. Form the dough into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Set aside.

    3. To make the chocolate dough, in a medium bowl, mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together thoroughly with a whisk or fork. Set aside.

    4. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar with the back of a spoon or an electric mixer until smooth and creamy but not fluffy (less than 1 1/2 minutes with an electric mixer). Beat in the egg and vanilla. On low speed, beat in the flour until just incorporated. Form the dough into a log the same length as the vanilla log. If the dough is too soft and sticky to handle, place it in the freezer to firm up.

    5. To shape the skulls, reshape each log of dough so that it is skull-shaped rather than round: Make one side of the skull narrow for the chin and jaw and leave the other side wide for the cranium. Wrap and refrigerate the chocolate dough. Form features in the vanilla dough, using the handle of a wooden spoon to poke holes for eyes through the entire length of the log. Form the nose with a skewer, poking two holes for nostrils. Form the mouth by inserting a narrow table knife and wiggling it back and forth gently to lengthen and widen the opening. Don't try for perfection: irregular holes make the best and weirdest skulls. Wrap and refrigerate the vanilla dough. Chill both doughs at least two hours, preferably overnight.

    6. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the chocolate dough into 1/8-inch slices and place them at least 1 1/2 inches apart on the lined baking sheets. Cut the vanilla dough into 1/8-inch slices and place 1 slice on top of each chocolate slice. Bake until pale golden at the edges, 12 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking. Slide parchment liners directly from the baking sheets to the rack with a metal pancake turner, waiting 1 to 2 minutes if necessary to let the cookies form up before moving them. Cool cookies completely before stacking or storing. Cookies keep at least 1 week in an airtight container.

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    11.02.2007

    (Not Very) Scary Cakes

    Long ago, of my coworkers earned the nickname, "Scary Cakes." I wasn't around at the time, but I gather it was hoisted upon him after he recommended that every conceivable occasion deserved a new line of themed cupcakes.

    Cupcakes were produced for Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year's, Mother's Day, Football Season, Groundhog Day, National Tortilla Chip Day... you get the picture. It was scary.

    Last week, I was talking with the nutritionist at work about healthier Halloween treats and I thought about how the holiday really is a nutritional wasteland. It's about bags and buckets of processed sugar bombs and cheaply made pseudo-chocolate.

    Halloween features the occasional caramel-covered apple, but for the most part, it's grim. The pumpkins aren't for eating, and there's no corn in candy corn (unless you count high-fructose corn syrup).

    Inspired by the thought that a homemade banana muffin with fruit, nuts and some whole-grain flour is a far better nutritional deal than most Halloween treats, I made these cuties, which I'm going to call "Not Very Scary Cakes" in honor of my office's own patron saint of holiday cupcakes.

    not-so-scary cakes
    Woooooo! (Not Very) Scary Cakes haunt the windowsill.

    Okay, now come up really close to your screen so I can whisper this:
    {they're not technically cupcakes... they're banana muffins slathered with honeyed cream cheese, okay? but they look like cupcakes, so just call them banana-walnut cakes with cream cheese icing and don't tell anyone it's not cake!}


    Not Very Scary Cakes (Makes a dozen)

    For the Muffins:
    1 3/4 cups flour (I like to use a blend of whole-wheat and AP flour)
    2 tsp baking powder
    1/4 tsp salt
    1/2 cup sugar
    3/4 cup mashed banana (from 1 to 2 very ripe bananas)
    3/4 cup plain yogurt
    1/4 cup vegetable oil
    1 egg, beaten
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional, but really good)

    For the Cream Cheese Spread:
    1 8-oz package neufatchel cheese or reduced-fat cream cheese
    1-2 Tbsp honey (to taste)

    A handful of dark raisins or chocolate chips (for eyes)

    1. Heat the oven to 375°F and line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners (or rub the cups with some vegetable oil on a paper towel).

    2. Blend flour, baking powder, salt and walnuts in a bowl.

    3. In a separate bowl, combine sugar and mashed banana. When well blended, add in yogurt, oil, egg and vanilla extract.

    4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed. Don't overmix. Nobody loves a tough muffin.

    5. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin and bake until golden (about 25 minutes). When done, remove from the oven and move the muffins onto a wire rack to cool.

    6. Meanwhile, whip together the honey and cream cheese to a spreading consistency.
    When the muffins are cool, slather the cream cheese spread over the tops and decorate with the "eyes" of your choice.

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    10.30.2007

    Going Bananas: The Mighty Morphin Power Smoothie

    the mighty morphin power smoothie

    It all started simply enough. Most consuming passions do. I had too many ripe bananas.

    Normally, a quickie banana bread would solve the banana issue. But even a banana-loving person can only eat so much banana bread.

    So I started freezing ripe banana halves and using them for breakfast. I'd just toss a frozen banana half in my blender with a cup or so of orange juice. Voila! Cool, refreshing smoothie.

    So that's how it started:
    Banana + OJ = Smoothie

    After a while, I thought it might be nice to get some of the good enzymes from active -culture plain yogurt into my system. Started adding about a half-cup.

    The new digestively correct version:
    Banana + OJ + Yogurt = Smoothie

    Over time, I wanted to reduce the volume of orange juice (so much sugar!) and I did some experimenting and figured out that soymilk helped keep my smoothies thin enough. (Milk curdles if you're also using oj. Not appealing first thing in the morning.) Substituting a tablespoon of peanut butter or Nutella for the oj made for veeeery tasty smoothies.

    The improved formula became:
    Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + PB = Smoothie

    When I started making them for J, he wanted to add tablespoon of wheat germ (for additional vitamins and fiber). And since J is wild for berries, we also started adding in some fresh or frozen berries instead of juice or peanut butter.

    The nutritious, collaborative recipe:
    Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Wheat Germ + Berries = Smoothie

    After J returned to a heavy workout program, he needed more protein. Meanwhile, I was doing more running, so I figured a protein + carb combo breakfast couldn't hurt. At that point we started adding some protein powder (a "designer" whey product, made using milk solids) to power the muscles.

    The high-tech protein power version:
    Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Wheat Germ + Berries + Protein Powder = Smoothie

    After a while J read up on nutritional supplements for athletic recovery and got into L-Glutamine (an amino acid recovery supplement) and BCAA (Branched Chain Amino Acid) powders. The glutamine doesn't taste like much, but the BCAA is seriously bitter. I continued pouring my smoothie at the high-tech protein powder version (above), before adding a little glutamine and BCAA into the blender for J's smoothie.

    J's big muscle recovery smoothie:
    Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Wheat Germ + Berries + Protein Powder + BCAA + L-Glutamine = Smoothie

    Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee), the fruit of the Brazilian Açaí Palm, seems to go wherever Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners go. They suck on frozen packets of the stuff after practice.

    So when J took up jits, we learned all about acai. It's high in fiber and antioxidants, and it seems as though it may also reduce inflammation in the body. Handy stuff. In our casual testing, J says he's able to work out longer without getting hungry when he's had an acai smoothie. And since FreshDirect delivers Sambazon pure acai packets along with delicious frozen sliced peaches, the smoothies have been very happy indeed.

    The individually tailored potions:
    Me: Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Berries (or Peaches) + Protein Powder + Acai = Smoothie

    J: Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Berries (or Peaches) + Protein Powder + Acai + BCAA + L-Glutamine = Smoothie

    These days, there's a minor panic in the house when banana supplies run low; It's funny to remember that the whole winding evolution was hatched by a surplus.

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    10.20.2007

    Not actually baking for the bake sale

    the cupcake meeting

    I mentioned a while back that I was heading up a weekly office bake sale to raise funds for SOS (Share Our Strength).

    Not surprisingly, summertime makes for some tough recruiting. From an operations standpoint, I can't really think of a worse time to run a bake sale. It's hot. It's humid. People are on vacation. People are seeing themselves in swimwear and reconsidering the wisdom of noshing on cookies... even if said cookies happen to be for charity.

    Despite all that, it went pretty well. We made over $1020. (Not including a very generous online donation from my mom... thanks, mom!)

    But truthfully, I have a shameful secret... for most of the summer, my own oven didn't work. The landlord kept putting off getting it fixed, and I kept forgetting to call that repair guy I saw on Craigslist, so I found myself heading up a charity bake sale without an operational oven.

    Thus, as you might imagine, I've come up with a few great strategies for not actually baking for the bake sale:

    1. Let someone else do the cooking. I don't mean purchasing premade cookies and bars and passing them off as your own stuff (though I've seen this done). There are actually a lot of recipes in which store-bought graham crackers, pound cake or cereal provide texture without requiring oven time on your part. Consider, for example, the graham crust in no-bake cheesecake bars or the ladyfingers in tiramisu. Still tasty... just not oven-dependent.

    2. Cool desserts! One caveat: Do you have on-site refrigeration? Icebox Cakes and the like tend to get melty if they're not kept cool.

    3. Think modern appliances. My waffle iron, untouched at home, became the belle of the bake sale ball. I used the "My Mother's Waffles" recipe from Everybody Eats Well in Belgium by Ruth Van Waerebeek (see below). The beguiling yeasty scent of sizzling DIY waffles drifted throughout the office and the accompanying bowls of sliced berries and fresh-whipped cream made for easy advertising.

    4. Rice Krispy Treats. The classic. They take 12 minutes to make, they use three ingredients and the nostalgia factor dives widespread love (not to mention cravings). Dress 'em up with a handful of chocolate chips, a dollop of peanut butter or a sprinkling of dried cranberries for color and zip.

    5. Buckeye balls, peanut brittle, taffy and other stovetop candies also make good no-bake candidates. Now that it's fall, I'd throw caramel apples in the mix. Mmm... caramel apples...

    And now: The afore-mentioned awesome waffle recipe:

    My Mother's Waffles
    by Ruth Van Waerebeek
    (Makes about 40)

    4 packages active dry yeast
    6 cups milk, warmed to 100°F
    6 large egg yolks
    12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) margarine, melted and cooled to lukewarm
    1 cup sugar
    1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    Pinch of salt
    8 cups all-purpose flour
    6 large egg whites, beaten to soft peaks

    1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of the lukewarm milk.
    2. In a large, deep mixing bowl (the dough will double or triple in volume), whisk the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the remaining milk and the melted butter and margarine. Add the yeast mixture, sugar, vanilla, and salt.
    3. Gradually add the flour to the batter by sifting it in. Alternate additions of flour with the remaining 4 1/2 cups milk. Stir with a wooden spoon after each addition.
    4. Fold in the beaten egg whites.
    5. Cover with a clean towel and put in a warm place. Let rise for 1 hour. The batter should double or even triple in volume. (While you wait, you have time to brew the coffee, set the table, and heat up your waffle iron.) Check the batter from time to time to make sure it isn't about to erupt like an impatient volcano. Stir it down once or twice.
    6. Bake the waffles in a hot waffle iron. The easiest way to get the batter onto the waffle iron is to do what my mother does. Transfer the batter (by batches) into a water pitcher and pour the batter from the pitcher.
    7. Serve the baked waffles with confectioners' sugar and butter, or whipped cream and fresh fruit. Allow any leftover waffles to cool on a rack before storing.


    (PS: If you happen to be anywhere near Cooperstown, NY this weekend, Brewery Ommegang is doing their annual Waffles & Puppets fest. Belgian waffles, fantastic Belgian-style beers and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow interpreted with puppets. Crazy fun. Really wish I could be there. Cheers!)

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    10.09.2007

    Taking on the issues, one lemon bar at a time

    chocolate chip cookies
    One Cookie to rule them all, One Cookie to find them, One Cookie to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them

    For the most part, I think most people feel helpless when faced with the big, vague Issues. Take Injustice. Or Suffering. Or Torture. Or Poverty. (No, really. Take them.)

    These are concepts too large for a human brain to really conceive. Twelve million children in America have too little food? I can't even hold a detailed picture of more than 150 hungry people in my little brain. They begin to smear together and lose their distinctions as individual people. Beyond 150 or so, they're an anonymous crowd.

    Twelve million people is so far beyond my mental abilities as to seem unreal. Imaginary. Like all those billions of stars they tell me are out there. I live in New York where I see Orion. Occasionally. And maybe a dipper if I'm very lucky. The other billions of stars are a kind of fiction to me. Like those 12 million starving children.

    When faced with capital-"i" Issues, I think many people have similar feelings. What can I do? I can't do anything. I'm just me. I'm small and not very capable. My superpowers are extremely limited.

    But small actions committed en mass actually do make a difference.

    For example, I found out last week from the people at Earth Pledge that the temperature in a city like NYC can be up to 10°F hotter than the surrounding countryside. It's known as the Urban Heat Island effect, and it's caused by heat reflected off urban surfaces (read: apartments, offices, bodegas, schools, etc.) and heat created by all the little people running around on, around and in those surfaces doing the things that people do.

    Ten degrees. That's a significant change made by the ordinary activities of a few million individuals like me.

    Similarly, I'd encourage you to consider the impact you can make in your kitchen. The Share Our Strength Great American Bake Sale begins this weekend. It's their summer-long campaign intended to inspire people to bake, eat, donate and take thousands of small actions toward alleviating the childhood hunger in America. (Those with dietary concerns and carbon qualms can, of course, simply donate to the cause without munching or baking.)

    SOS hosts a number of great programs, but this one seems particularly joyous: Battling issues with muffin power! Taking on poverty with pie pans! Fleets of cookies flying into action!

    For my part, I'm organizing my office team and bringing treats with which to woo my co-workers on Friday mornings throughout the campaign, which runs from May 19 through August 31.

    Do my tangy lemon bars (see recipe below) or rhubarb-apple crisp make a big difference? No. They make a small difference. Alongside a nation's brigade of brownies and sky-darkening clouds of oatmeal-raisin cookies, my lemon bars contribute to a ten-degree kind of difference. My lemon bars are a tiny force for good.

    Want to start your own bake sale? SOS kicks off this Saturday. Sign up today at the Share Our Strength site.

    A Terribly Sincere Batch of Lemon Bars (Makes 24 bars)

    For the shortbread crust:
    1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    2 cups all-purpose or pastry flour
    A pinch of salt

    For the lemon filling:
    Grated zest from 3 lemons
    4 large eggs
    1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
    3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
    1/3 cup all-purpose flour

    1. Preheat the oven to 350°F, and lightly butter a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking pan.

    2. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Combine the flour and salt and blend into the butter mixture.

    3. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom and sides of the pan with lightly floured fingertips, raising about a 1/2-inch ledge around the pan sides.

    4. Bake for 20 minutes, and cool on a wire rack before you make the filling.

    5. To make the filling, whisk together the sugar, eggs, zest, juice and flour.

    6. Pour lemon mixture over the cooled crust, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the filling looks set (not liquid). Cool to room temperature in the pan.

    Keep, covered and chilled, for up to three days. Before serving, cut into squares and dust with confectioners' sugar, if desired.

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    5.15.2007

    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

    Dangerously Spicy Hot Chocolate Chili Fudge


    Warning! Dangerously Spicy Chocolate-Chili Fudge

    I'm an introvert. My coworkers probably wouldn't describe me as a particularly demonstrative individual (except when I'm outrageously caffeinated). Therefore, I bake. It's a display of affection with a side bonus; I have a built-in audience on which to offload my extra sweets.

    Really... nobody needs more than one slice of banana bread, one muffin, one brownie, one sliver of cake or one piece of fudge. But it's also impossible to make a single square of fudge without making a dozen more in the process.

    Thus, it was a wicked combination of altruism and personal craving that drove me to bring in a pan of fudge to the office on a particularly cold morning last week.

    It was my first fudge — which is actually surprising, since the Upper Midwest (where I was reared) is covered in a dark, thick layer of the stuff. I was terribly pleased when it went over well. An officemate who claimed to hate fudge ate two pieces. Said one victim, "It rocks. It reminds me of Jacque T.'s ancho chocolate. Give up the day job and sell this."

    I shared the recipe, of course, as I will with you. But be warned: This fudge is not supremely sweet or crystalline, like some I've tried. It's almost... chewy. It's dark, bittersweet, brownie-esque and not for those of tender palate.

    Dangerously Spicy Chocolate-Chili Fudge (Delights about 15 coworkers)
    1 lb high-quality dark chocolate, chopped (I used Lindt Excellence 70%)
    1 Tbsp unsalted butter
    1 tsp ground cinnamon
    1/2 tsp ground cayenne
    1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk

    Butter the bottom of an 8-inch to 9-inch square baking pan, and line with a square of parchment or wax paper.

    Put ingredients into a metal bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water, and stir the mixture occasionally to melt. It's going to be very thick. Spread mixture into the pan and chill until firm (or overnight).

    Run a warm knife around edges of pan to loosen the fudge block and flip it over onto a cutting board. Remove the paper, and cut the fudge into 1-inch squares.

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    2.21.2007

    Food Quote Friday: James Beard (yes, again)

    valentine heart cookies

    "I am still convinced that a good, simple, homemade cookie is preferable to all the store-bought cookies one can find."

    James Beard (1903-1985)

    Want to make the cookies? Here's the recipe. Happy Valentine's Day!

    Shortbread Valentine Hearts (Makes about 20)

    3/4 lb unsalted butter, softened (3 sticks)
    1 cup powdered sugar
    1/2 tsp salt
    3 cups unbleached pastry flour
    1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

    For the sugar crystals:
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1 drop red food color

    Other equipment:
    Cookie sheets
    Heart-shaped cookie cutter
    Cooling rack
    Clean, dry jar with a tight-fitting lid

    1. Pour the granulated sugar into the jar, add one drop of red food color, close tightly and shake well to distribute the color
    throughout the sugar.
    2. Cream butter and powdered sugar together until light and fluffy.
    3. Sift flour and salt together and blend into the butter mixture.
    4. Gather dough, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour (or overnight).
    5. Preheat oven to 350°F.
    6. Roll the dough on a floured surface to 1/8-inch thick. Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut cookies and
    transfer them to ungreased cookie sheets with a metal spatula.
    7. Chill for 30 minutes, sprinkle with colored sugar and bake until just golden, about 10 to 12 minutes.
    8. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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    2.09.2007

    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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    1.28.2007