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Day 23: Christmas Gumbo

This post marks Day 23 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

In my neighborhood, 'tis the season of the big carp slaughter. Apparently it's traditional for Polish folks to eat fresh carp for Christmas (part of the traditional "fish on holy days" tradition, no doubt) so the fishes are currently swimming about in cold-water pools waiting to be chopped up for dinners across the 'hood.

Likewise, in Italy, southern folks celebrate the feast of the seven fishes over the holidays.

I, too, think of the sea when I think of Christmas. My mom's family has a tradition having to do with eggs and herring roe (one I generally skip), but I appreciate the idea of honoring this season with the fruits of the sea.

Thus, I propose a seafood gumbo, one with red, white and green colors (for the sake of festivity) and fresh shrimp or clams (for the sake of tradition).

Onions & Peppers

Christmas Gumbo

This recipe feeds many, doesn't cost much to make and comes together without much fuss. In fact, the biggest pain is in the vegetable chopping — a task which may be farmed out to any eager-to-help holiday guests.
Christmas Gumbo (Serves 5-6)
1 lb sausage (chicken, pork or seafood)
3 Tbsp bacon fat or olive oil
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 medium onions, diced
1 small green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 to 3 stalks celery, sliced into 1/2" pieces
1 bay leaf
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or less, if you're sensitive)
1 pound okra (fresh or frozen), sliced in 1/2" pieces
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
3 cups chicken stock or water
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 lb shell-on shrimp and/or 6 to 8 clams (optional)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Salt to taste
6 to 8 cups cooked rice (for serving)

1. In a heavy-bottomed pot or a dutch oven over medium heat, cook the sausage in the bacon fat or olive oil until it begins to brown.
2. Remove the sausage from the pan, add the flour to the pan oils and stir well to incorporate the flour into the fat. Cook the flour mixture 3 to 5 minutes or until it begins to turn golden.
3. Add the onions, bell pepper pieces, celery and bay leaf to the pot and cook 10 to 15 minutes, stirring well to cook evenly.
4. Add the cayenne, okra, tomatoes and the stock (or water) and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the okra is very tender, about 30 minutes.
5. Add the wine and simmer for another 10 minutes.
6. Bring the pot to a boil and add the shrimp or clams (if using). Cover and cook about 3 to 5 minutes — just long enough until the cook through and/or the clams have opened.
7. Stir in the chopped parsley and adjust salt the and/or cayenne, if necessary. Serve hot over rice.

Serve with a sliced baguette, a crisp green salad and a glass of dry white wine or cold ale. The seasonal ales with some spice and citrus go nicely with this dish.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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12.23.2008

FoodLink Roundup: 10.06.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was not in Las Vegas, but in front of the Louvre museum in Paris. Another good guess by Mr. Hazard. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Mackerel Economics in Prison Leads to Appreciation for Oily Fillets
Hold on... you're telling me this *isn't* a piece from The Onion?

Making Meals in a Rice Cooker
Brilliant. I love this.

Celebrity Chef Barbie
Just in case you didn't truly believe that "Celebrity Chef" is now a legitimate career... Dream big, girls!

Street Vendor Project
Advocacy for the little guy. Plus: the annual Vendy Awards. Mmm... social justice is tasty.

The Swill Is Gone
Dirty politics and a long, unappetizing history lolling behind the current Chinese milk scandal. Ew.

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

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10.06.2008

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

Day 11: Rice + Sock = Comfort

This post marks Day 11 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

I'm sure we're all well aware that December can be a taxing month. Weather issues make the commute challenging. People tend to feel a lot of pressure to buy gifts, write out cards and fulfill extra holiday obligations. Less sun means more Seasonal Affective Disorder. Critters that cause colds and flu float around offices, schools and public spaces. Dozens of events, gatherings and errands stuff the calendar. It's a recipe for stress.

If someone you know (maybe you?) is in need of comfort, here's a quick and supremely easy-to-execute tip I picked up from my last roomie: the rice sock.

Rice Sock
Rice... It's not just for takeout anymore

Thanks to the miracle of the microwave, you can zap a sock filled with rice, and in mere moments, you have a malleable heating pad that's ready to soothe sore muscles.

Toss it in the freezer for a cold pack that won't freeze your skin. It's a cheap and easy therapy tool for sore necks, shoulders or whatever part of you happens to need some warm (or cold) comfort.

In essence, it's just a 100% cotton sock filled with uncooked grain. Just close up the end with a knot, a few stitches or a pretty ribbon. Voila!

To chill, freeze for 45 minutes or more. To heat, microwave the sock for 30 seconds (in powerful microwaves) to 1 minute (in standard microwaves).

The rice sock molds to the body and holds its temperature for a surprisingly long time. Unlike a cold pack or a bag of frozen peas, it won't sweat and make your skin damp.

It has a pleasant, rice-y scent (no big surprise there), but Wikihow has an involved DIY guide to making them, that includes options for scent add-ins if you'd prefer to smell lavender or lemons.

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12.11.2007

Mi Horchata = Cold Comfort

Our cool, damp spring screeches to a sudden halt with a day so muggy it's like walking around in someone's mouth.

And of course the air conditioner's out at work. Can't think. Can't focus. So sweaty and gritty I want to peel my skin off. A cool, white, liquid beacon hovers in my mind like a shimmering promise of sweet refreshment. Horchata.

Horchata

In Mexico, horchata is a creamy, lightly sweetened rice milk blended with flavors of cinnamon and almond. The drink was brought to Mexico from Spain, and was probably brought to Spain by the Moors, who made it with the chufa — a root pod also known as the “tigernut.”

I’m told that chufa horchata is liquid ambrosia, but since my corner market doesn’t sell a lot of chufa, I can’t corroborate that rumor. The sad fact of the matter is, I can’t even find a rice-based horchata ‘round my pierogi-rich ‘hood. What’s an overheated girl to do?

Luckily, horchata is extremely simple to make, and since there’s so many variations out there, it seems nearly impossible go wrong.

Some recipes use a little milk or coconut milk. Some add in a bit of lime zest or a squeeze of juice. Some use a little vanilla. Some instructions recommend grinding the dry rice to a powder before adding water. Others tell you to cook the rice nice and soft first, then blend it to a smooth consistency. (You could, of course, skip the rice preparation altogether and just use a commercial rice milk like Rice Dream.)
Mi Horchata (Makes enough for 4-6 folks)

White rice (1 cup per roughly 8-10 cups of water)
Whole raw almonds (maybe a cup)
Cinnamon (1-2 sticks)
Sugar (1/2 cup or more, to your taste)

1. In a heavy-bottomed stockpot, simmer the rice, almonds, cinnamon and water until very tender (about 30 minutes).
2. Remove the cinnamon stick.
3. If a thicker version is desired, blend the mixture smooth in batches in a blender or food processor.
4. Strain through layered cheesecloth or a fine sieve. Chill well. Pour in an ice-filled glass and revel in the cool, creamy (non-dairy!) goodness.

Some folks like theirs with chewy rice at the bottom, something like the tapioca pearls in bubble tea.

Personally, I find that it's lovely blended, strained and poured over crushed ice like a cocktail. Throw in a touch of rum or tequila if the mood strikes you. Oh, what's that? The heat index is up over 100? Bring it on.

Miss Ginsu

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6.09.2004