Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


Vibrant Green Coconut-Mint Chutney

I tend to eat lamb year-round, but for many, springtime is prime time for lamb roasts and chops. And I must admit, I'm not sure why mint jelly is the traditional accompaniment. I mean, it's fine, but I just don't think it's quite as tasty or complex in flavor as my Coconut-Mint Chutney.

Coconut-mint chutney

This bright, fresh-tasting sauce is very similar to one I learned while working with Chef Cardoz. It's terrific with curries, Indian-spiced meats and fish or simple, straight-up sautéed lamb chops.

Lambchop with chickpea salad & coconut-mint chutney

If you're familiar with the Argentinian chimichurri sauce, you'll notice some similarity here. The flavors are similarly fresh and zippy, but because it's coconut-based, this chutney tends to be smoother and creamier.

A bunch of mint

A couple of notes on this recipe... I use the term "small bunch of mint" here. See the photo above for an illustration of what I mean by that. If jaggery, a traditional Indian cane sugar, was more widely available, I'd recommend you sweeten this chutney with that, but it's not, so maple syrup or brown sugar make good substitutions.
Coconut-Mint Chutney (Makes about 1.5 cups)

1 small bunch of mint
1 small bunch of cilantro
Soft flesh of 1 young coconut (or 1/2 cup shredded coconut)
1/2 small onion, cut in half
1/2 long green chili or jalapeno
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup water (or coconut water)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp brown sugar or maple syrup (optional)

1. Pick the leaves from the stems of the mint and cilantro. Use the stems for stock or discard.
2. Place the leaves, coconut flesh, onion pieces, chili, lime juice, cumin and water in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.
3. Sample and season to taste with salt and sugar or maple syrup, if desired. Serve immediately, or store, chilled, in an airtight container for up to a week.

Although you can store this chutney in the fridge for a few days, it's always best when fresh. If you have extra, you can also freeze it and toss it into the pot next time you make a coconut-based soup or curry.

Happy eating!
Miss Ginsu

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Day 21: A Festive Frybread

This post marks Day 21 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Since today marks the first day of Hanukkah (as well as the shortest day of the year), I thought it'd be appropriate to commemorate the miracle of the oil with a frybread recipe... a treat for anyone, really.

It's interesting to note that just about any culture that eats bread has its own version of frybread.

The classic Donut. Southern Hushpuppies. South American Sopaipillas. Spanish Churros. Indian Poori. Japanese Tenkasu. Chinese Youtiao. Eastern European Pirozhki. Kazakh baursak. Israeli Sufganiyot... and so on.

Frybread and Wojapi

I'm assuming that the universality of the method has to do with:
1.) accessibility — not everyone has an oven.
2.) ease — whip it up in minutes; all you need is a pot of hot oil.
3.) tastiness — just about anything tastes good when fried.

Since I grew up attending a lot of powwows and rodeos, frybread was always a part of my cultural landscape.

Frybread tacos. Frybread and honey. Frybread and cinnamon sugar. Frybread and wojapi (see below for more on that).

After all, it's the official state bread of my people. (Not to mention the source of some controversy.) While it's certainly not an everyday food, frybread is most definitely a tasty special occasion food.

My favorite recipe for frybread (sometimes called bannock) is a Chippewa version that's made with meat drippings... mmm! It's really best when it features that savory angle, but if you can't take the meat, I've got a reliable (albeit less umami-filled) substitution.

Wojapi (WHOA-jza-pee) is a delicious dark berry sauce that's sometimes served as a dipping sauce with frybread.

The stuff I ate as a kid was almost always made with wild chokecherries, but you could easily use little wild plums or blueberries or blackberries or whatever dark fruits you happen to have around.
Very Basic Wojapi (Makes about 1 pint)
2 cups of dark fruit/berries
1/2 cup sugar or honey
1/8 cup water

1. In a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, combine fruit, sugar or honey and water.
2. Simmer slowly, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
3. Serve immediately or, if using cherries or plums, allow the sauce to cool to room temperature before removing any pits or seeds. Then rewarm to serve with hot frybread.
I like to use canola oil for frying because it doesn't smoke as readily as many other oils, but use what you have and try to monitor the heat so your oil doesn't burn.
Savory Frybread (Serves 4-6)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
5 Tbsp meat drippings (or substitute 4 Tbsp milk + 1/2 tsp salt + 1 Tbsp vegetable oil)
3/4 cup water
Extra flour (for kneading)
Melted lard (preferably) or Canola oil (for frying)

1. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder.
2. Add the meat drippings (or milk/salt/oil) and water. Mix well.
3. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and knead lightly.
4. Pat the dough out into a 1/2" layer and slice into 2" strips or squares. If you're making tacos, cut larger pieces and puncture each piece in its center for ventilation.
5. Pour the frying oil in a deep skillet or heavy-bottomed pot so that it reaches 3/4" to 1" up the side of the pan, and set a paper towel-covered wire rack on a baking sheet (for cooling the hot frybread).
6. Heat the pot/pan until the oil is between 350°F and 375°F — at this point, a small dough ball dropped into the oil will immediately begin to bubble and cook, but the oil won't be smoking. Maintain this temperature throughout frying.
7. Carefully drop the dough into the oil with metal tongs, one or two pieces at a time.
8. Cook dough 3 to 5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Move cooked frybread to the prepared cooling rack while you fry the rest. Serve warm with honey, cinnamon sugar, wojapi sauce or traditional taco fillings.

If you don't have the time (or the berries) to make wojapi, you can thin down some berry preserves with water and adjust the flavor with a little lemon juice to give the sauce a balance of sweetness and tartness, to your taste.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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Day 18: Warm Gingerbread w/ Bourbon Custard Cream

This post marks Day 18 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

I really wanted to make a Warm Gingerbread Bread Pudding, which seemed like it'd be a decadent holiday dessert for the snowy, blustery days leading up to Christmas.

But in order to make a bread pudding, one really needs stale bread. And honestly, who has a bunch of gingerbread laying around getting stale? So I gave up that idea for quicker, more simple — but still truly tasty — Warm Gingerbread with Bourbon Custard Cream.

Gingerbread with Bourbon Custard Cream

I like the method Alice Medrich uses for gingerbread in her delicious book, Chocolate Holidays.

It's quick, spicy and makes the kitchen smell like a homecoming hug. I've modified hers a bit for our evil purposes here. (Bwah-haha!)
Quick & Tasty Gingerbread (Makes one 9" square or round cake)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup honey
1 egg
1/3 cup fresh ginger, peeled and grated
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9" round or square pan (or line it with parchment)
2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and ginger.
3. In another mixing bowl, blend the brown sugar, molasses and honey, then whisk in the egg and ginger.
4. Heat the butter and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan until the butter melts.
5. Whisk the butter mixture into the brown sugar mixture. Add the dry mix and stir until smooth.
6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes.
7. Cool the cake on a rack about 20 minutes before loosening the edges of the cake with a butter knife and turning it out onto a plate.

This custard sauce is essentially just a modified Crème Anglaise, one of those classic patissier sauces that make people go mad with delight.
Bourbon Custard Cream (Makes about 1 cup)
1 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (optional)
1 Tbsp bourbon

1. In a saucepan set over moderate heat, combine the milk and vanilla and cook about 5 minutes — just until small bubbles begin to appear.
2. Meanwhile, whisk the sugar, egg yolks and nutmeg (if using) until blended.
3. Pour about half of the hot milk into the egg mixture in a thin stream, blending well as you pour.
4. Mix the hot egg mixture into the remaining milk in saucepan, stirring and cooking until the sauce thickens (about 4 to 5 minutes).
5. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the bourbon. Serve immediately atop the warm gingerbread or refrigerate until needed. It'll keep in an airtight container for a few days in the fridge.

To serve, cut the warm gingerbread into wedges and top with a dollop of the Bourbon Custard Cream. Maybe anoint the whole thing with a dusting of cinnamon if you're feeling fancy.

And if you somehow find that your guests remain unmoved by all that wonder and delight, I have to conclude they're jaded souls who simply won't be wooed.

Enjoy your slice of warm gingerbread and thank your lucky stars that you have light in your heart and custard cream on your lips.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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Day 15: Brandied Caramel Sauce

This post marks Day 15 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Seems like a great year for the home-cooked gift, doesn't it? A little something tasty in a pretty jar. Something you can't just get off a grocery store shelf. Something that says, "I didn't drop a bunch of cash, but there's a whole lotta love in here."

Last season, I recommended you bless friends and family with your own candied orange slices, citrus bitters, do-it-yourself vinaigrettes, a spicy tomato chutney, little lemon loaves and a tangy citrus curd, among other things.

Brandied Caramel Sauce

Today, I have another nice little sauce to add to the holiday gifting lineup: a decadent Brandied Caramel Sauce.
Brandied Caramel Sauce (Makes about 1 cup)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
3 Tbsp Calvados or brandy
2 Tbsp salted butter (or use unsalted butter with 1/2 tsp salt)
1/2 tsp lemon juice

1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan (it must be roomy and completely dry) cook the sugar over medium heat, stirring until the sugar melts.
2. Once the sugar melts, cook without stirring. Simply swirl the pan, until the syrup turns a golden color.
3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and carefully pour the water and brandy into the pan down one side of the pan — the mixture will bubble and steam.
4. Return the pan to the heat and simmer, stirring, until the syrup melts into the liquid.
5. Stir in the butter and lemon juice. To store, cool to room temperature and pour into airtight containers. Keep refrigerated and rewarm before serving.

Though it's dreamy spooned over ice cream or hot bread pudding, it's also ace with sliced apples or pears, so I can see this sauce being a lovely gift in a pretty jar along with a basket assortment of your favorite crisp, local fruit.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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Day 6: Holiday Party Taquitos

This post marks Day 6 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

There's nothing particularly holiday-centric about these little tacos other than the fact that they're red, green and festive. But color counts for a lot, and these are just so good, I can't hold back on sharing them.

We had them for dinner recently (and definitely will again) but I think they'd be fantastic as party eats, since it's easy to make fillings in volume ahead of time and let people go crazy making their own bites while you socialize.

Green Caper Salsa

The secret is in the sauce. Sure, you can go buy something in a jar, but it's never going to taste as fresh and vibrant as what you make a'la minute.

So let's get to the sauce first. I discovered a version of this sauce in Steven Raichlen's Barbecue Bible. (He called it a French West Indian Caper Sauce and used it with grilled snapper.)

I changed a few things, tried it with fish tacos and was immediately hooked.

It's a beautiful shade of green and has a zippy, lightly briny flavor reminiscent of Veracruz-style coastal cuisine. Easy to make. Also good with chicken, beef or pork... It's a keeper for sure.
Caribbean Caper Sauce for Taquitos(Makes about 1 cup)
1 clove garlic
1 shallot or small red onion, halved
1/4 cup fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
2 Tbsp drained capers
1 jalapeño pepper, halved and seeded
1 to 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/3 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1. Put garlic, shallot/onion, parsley, capers, jalapeño, lime juice, vinegar and olive oil in a blender and purée smooth.
2. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

I'd also recommend a red salsa to keep the red and green theme going. You could make one with fresh-chopped tomatoes if you have good ones, but since tomatoes tend to be less wonderful in the winter, I have a recipe for roasted red peppers.

Roast the peppers yourself or buy 'em in a jar... This recipe works either way.
Roasted Red Pepper Salsa (Makes about 1 cup)
1 clove garlic
1 shallot or small red onion, halved
1/4 cup fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
3 roasted red peppers, drained if necessary
2 Tbsp drained capers
1/2 jalapeño pepper, halved and seeded
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1. Put garlic, shallot/onion, parsley, capers, jalapeño, lime juice and red peppers in a blender or food processor and pulse to achieve the texture you desire.
2. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Once you pour these lovely salsas in bowls, all you have to do is set out a bowl of shredded cabbage, maybe some sliced limes and cherry tomatoes, a packet of small-size tortillas (heated, of course), a bowl of sour cream and a protein of some kind... maybe some shredded chicken, pork, beef or beans, or a plate of grilled fish.

Voila!... Holiday-ready taquitos!

Feliz navidades, mis amigos!
Miss Ginsu

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Dear Miss Ginsu: Bitter Tomato Sauce?

Dear Miss Ginsu,

Ok, I figure if anyone knows the answer to this, it's you.

Spaghetti sauce: aside from adding copious amounts of sugar — how does one keep homemade sauce from being sour/bitter?

I'm assuming this comes from a combination of the tomato sauce and bell peppers? Not sure how to counteract this flavor without turning it into "candied" red sauce.


Dear BS,

Cooking all the elements of the process long and slow is a sure-fire way to increase the natural sugars.

Caramelizing the onions so they're nice and brown, getting a little color on the garlic, long-simmering the tomato sauce — not to mention making sure you've removed the skins from the tomatoes... that'll all alleviate bitterness or sour notes. Some people strain out the seeds, too.

So much depends on the quality of the tomatoes you begin with. Since the natural flavors in tomatoes vary so greatly, you can see how it might be difficult to give precise measurements for a sauce recipe.

That said, a *small* amount of sugar added at the end of the process as you're adjusting the seasoning can certainly improve the balance in naturally very acidic or bitter tomatoes.

Though — as you noted — too much sugar just takes the sauce too far down the sweet continuum into candyland.

Also make sure the salt you're using in your recipe isn't "iodized" salt. The iodine that's added to some salt products might protect you from goiters (ew!), but it also adds a note of bitterness. That's just one of the reasons some recipes call for kosher salt.

Hope that helps!
Miss Ginsu

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A Guide to Troubleshooting Marinades

My brother called me up the other day and left a message. It went like this:
"Hey! How you doing? I'm having a barbecue on Friday night and I was wondering if you had some ideas you could give me. Maybe something special? Drop a line and let me know. Thanks!"

Ay yi yi! No information about guest preferences. No information about his protein of choice... pretty much no information.

What would have been most helpful, of course, would be a hint about his flavor preferences. I've found that most meat marinades and sauces zero in on a combination of two (or more) of the following flavors:

Spicy, Salty, Tangy, Sweet, Fresh, Savory and Earthy.

Lime-Cumin Marinade? Earthy, Salty, Tangy
Teriyaki Marinade? Salty, Sweet, Tangy
Balsamic Marinade? Sweet, Tangy
Tandoori Marinade? Tangy, Earthy, Spicy
Mint-Yogurt Marinade? Fresh, Tangy, Spicy
Pomegranate Shashlik Marinade? Tangy, Sweet, Spicy
Jerk Marinade? Spicy, Salty, Tangy
Sesame-Orange Marinade? Sweet, Tangy, Savory
Honey-Mustard Glaze? Sweet, Spicy, Tangy
Argentine Chimichurri Sauce? Fresh, Spicy, Tangy
Classic Barbecue Sauce? Sweet, Tangy, Salty, Savory

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Since I assumed he'd choose beef, I offered my brother a chimichurri sauce and a cumin-lime marinade.

He settled on the chimichurri, but called me just before the barbecue in a minor panic. The sauce was just... so spicy... so herby.

I told him to mix in a teaspoon of sugar and call me back. It worked like a charm. The barbecue was a success. The guests were impressed. But I realized afterward that I should have asked him a couple of questions about his general flavor preferences before winging recipes at him.

Ultimately the secret to sauces and marinades is in the balance of those flavors. Too much salt, too much spice, too much sweetness, too tangy and not savory enough... these are the problems that plague weekend grill chefs everywhere.

My advice is always this: taste the mixture before you marinate your steak/chicken/shrimp/whatever in it. Is it bland? Too full of high notes and not enough low notes? Take note of the following cures:

Could Be More Tangy: prepared mustard, a squeeze of citrus or a shot of vinegar, sometimes plain yogurt works

Bland/Needs More Salt: Try a shake of soy sauce, a little salt or a hint of fish sauce; or, try a dab of black olive or anchovy paste.

Needs More Depth (earthiness): Depending on the recipe, you could try ground cumin, ground coriander, toasted sesame oil, dried oregano or dried thyme.

Could be More Fresh-Flavored: Try chopped fresh basil, parsley, cilantro, mint or pesto.

Not Rich Enough: Kick up the umami with sesame oil, tomato paste, caramelized onions, mushroom powder, fish sauce, anchovy paste or Worcestershire sauce.

Could Use Some Spice: A few chilies, ground black pepper, mustard, cayenne powder or hot paprika usually do the trick.

Needs a Little Sweetness: Try a little sugar, honey, maple syrup, or fruit juice.

Too spicy? You can't take back the chilies, but you can add back some balance with a little honey or sugar.

For your weekend grilling needs, I offer the recipes I gave my brother, plus one extra for the folks who prefer their marinades a little sweeter and less spicy.

Lime-Cumin Skirt Steak
1 beef skirt or flank steak (about 1 1/2 lb)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (or less, if you can't take the heat)
2 garlic cloves, minced/smashed
1 1/2 Tbsp ground cumin

1. Blend the marinade ingredients together.
2. Chill the steak and the marinade overnight in a zip-top bag.
3. Grill as you normally would. (Probably 3 minutes per side on a medium-high
4. Let the meat rest about 10 minutes, and cut into thin slices to serve. This is great with tortillas, grilled onions and peppers.

Another nice option (one that doesn't involve marinating) is the Argentinian chimichurri. They're big on steak there, and this is supposedly the traditional sauce of the gauchos.
Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
Flank steak (1 1/2 to 2 lb)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1-2 jalapeño peppers (start out with just one)
4 cloves garlic
4 bay leaves
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1/2 cup fresh oregano
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar (optional)
Olive oil, salt and pepper (for the steak)

1. Blend the vinegar, pepper(s), garlic, bay, parsley, cilantro, oregano and olive oil until smooth.
2. Season to taste with salt and sugar, if using.
3. Dress the flank steak with olive oil, salt and pepper and grill over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes per side.
4. Let the meat rest about 10 minutes, then cut into thin slices (across the grain), and serve with the chimichurri sauce. Mmm. Tasty.

This recipe is great served with grilled green onions.

Sesame-Orange Marinated Steak
1 lb beef skirt, flank or tri-tip steak
1 Tbsp ginger, chopped
2 tsp soy sauce
1/4 cup orange juice (preferably fresh-squeezed)
2 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds (optional, for garnish)

1. Combine ginger, soy, orange juice, sesame oil and honey to a blender and mix until incorporated.
2. Pour marinade into a zip-top bag, add the steak and marinate overnight.
3. Remove steak from the marinade, pat off any excess moisture and grill over medium-high coals for 3 to 4 minutes per side.
4. Let the meat rest about 10 minutes, and cut into thin slices (across the grain) to serve. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds if desired.

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Colonel Mustard. In the Kitchen. With a Knife.

I wonder if the entrée is a bit like a family's first child. Lots of attention. Lots of photos. Lots of fuss. Conversely, the condiments of a meal are more like the third or fourth children. They're loved and cherished, of course, but they don't get the same kind of special notice.

It was close to 100°F today, so there was no cooking in our dinner plans. We ate a big dinner-sized salad made up of farmer's market lettuce, cherry tomatoes, diced rotisserie chicken and pepperoncini slices dressed in a zippy mustard vinaigrette.

It was wonderful... alive with flavor. But the tastes we enjoyed were dependent on the freshness of the lettuce, the juiciness of the rotisserie chicken, the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes and most of all, the bold, lively flavor of the mustard vinaigrette, a delight made possible by J's close proximity to The Pickle Guys and Guss' Pickles.

Pickles & Mustard Crocks at L'Express in Montreal
Pickles & Mustard Crocks at L'Express in Montreal.

Long ago, households made their own mustard as a matter of course. It varied from home to home. It had personality. The mustards of yesteryear developed and matured in flavor as they sat in pottery crocks on the shelves of larders.

But today's mustards are shelf-stable and consistent. They're the same from day 1 to day 321. They're clones. Every bottle of French's is like every other.

Though these United States are awash in dead yellow packets and squeeze bottles of uninspired mass-market mustard, there are still delis and pickle guys and grandmas making their own, god bless 'em. Spicy homemade mustard. Mustard with vigor. Mustard with cojones.

I think summertime is a fine time to have some of the real stuff. It's a time of bratwurst and hamburgers, potato salads and barbecue sauces and picnic sandwiches.

If you happen to live too far from one of the keepers of the ancient yellow flame, you can make mustard yourself without much trouble at all. You can even be generous about it. Divide your batch in half and pack a bottle as a gift. Throw your own custom label on it. Go crazy.
DIY Spicy Horseradish Mustard (Makes 1 1/2 cups)

3/4 cup wine vinegar (red or white)
1/8 cup brown mustard seeds
1/4 cup dry mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp prepared horseradish
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt

1. Combine the vinegar, mustard seeds, dry mustard, garlic, horseradish, sugar and salt with 1/4 cup of water in a jar with a lid.
2. Cap the jar and shake well.
3. Refrigerate for two days.
4. Puree mixture in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return to the jar and use immediately or store, chilled. Your mustard will mature and improve over a few weeks' time.

Quick Mustard Vinaigrette (Makes about 1/2 cup)
I find this mustard is particularly tasty with meaty salads and salads that include a cheddar cheese.

1 Tbsp DIY mustard
2 Tbsp wine vinegar
1/2 Tbsp water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pinch sugar (optional)

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

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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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Rhubarb! Five ways to master spring stalking

Is rhubarb-eating some kind of shibboleth? I'm just wondering. I merrily bought a pound at the farmer's market this weekend and brought a strawberry-rhubarb pie into work yesterday.

I was a bit shocked to discover that a significant number of my coworkers (all of whom were folks with city childhoods) had never tried the stuff. I felt invisibly branded a country mouse, apt to dine on field greens and ditch weeds.

Of course, I'm from a place where the rhubarb runs wild. It sprouts up in the countryside every spring, always in the same places. It's tough to kill. I knew haters who repeatedly mowed right over it without the slightest success in subduing it.

I figure, (apologies to Annie Proulx), if you can't kill it, you got to eat it.

As for me, I've always looked forward to rhubarb season with glee. In childhood, it was my favorite pie (though I might be swayed to the charms of fresh peach pie these days), and the households of my memory all contained rhubarb preserves of some kind.

Find yourself wandering bewildered with an armful of blushing fresh rhubarb stalks? Lucky you! In just five simple steps, I'll make you a master stalker. Wash 'em well, and let's proceed to make:

1. Pie!
I used the strawberry-rhubarb recipe out of the Cook's Illustrated: The New Best Recipe." Seemed like a quality pie, but if you're looking for something a little different:

Rhubarb Custard Pie
2 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup sugar (all white or use half brown... your choice)
2 egg yolks (save the whites for a meringue top)
1 Tbsp AP flour
1/2 cup cream
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp cold butter (cut into four pieces)
unbaked pie shell

Toss cut rhubarb with half the sugar. Macerate (allow to sit in the sugar) 10 minutes. Mix the remaining sugar with the flour, egg yolks, cream and cinnamon. Pour rhubarb into an unbaked pie shell Pour cream mix over rhubarb.

Distribute butter on top and bake at 350°F for 1 hour. Whip reserved egg whites at high speed to make a meringue. Spread meringue over baked pie, and briefly return to the oven to brown. Cool on a wire rack.

2. Crisp!
I kind of prefer crisps to pies anyway... less fuss with the pastry. More crunchiness on top. I'm still seeing the "Rome beauties" at the farmers' market, and they're great baking apples. This is a nice transitional recipe, since it uses the last of last fall's apples with the first of this spring's rhubarb.

Gingered Apple-Rhubarb Crisp
1/3 c sugar
1 Tbsp AP flour
1 tsp grated fresh ginger root
2 cups apples, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 1/2 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp butter, melted

Combine the sugar, 1 Tbsp flour and ginger root. Toss with the rhubarb and apple pieces. Place in a greased baking dish or casserole. Combine brown sugar, oats, flour and melted butter. Sprinkle over the rhubarb-apple mixture. Bake at 400°F 30 to 40 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

3. Chutney!
Chutneys are a great way to use rhubarb in savory dishes. Fantastic with pork, chicken, duck, venison and, of course, curries.

Rhubarb-Currant Chutney
4 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 Tbsp minced fresh garlic
1/4 cup chopped fresh shallots
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/3 cup dried currants or raisins

Combine vinegar, brown sugar, salt, pepper, shallots, fresh ginger, garlic, coriander seeds, ground ginger and mustard in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 5 minutes. Stir in rhubarb and currants. Simmer until rhubarb is just tender (10-15 minutes). Remove from heat and cool 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust with a little sugar or vinegar as needed. Refrigerate (or freeze) until ready to use.

4. Sauce!
This is so easy I'm not even providing a recipe, really. Put about a cup of rhubarb (chopped in 1-inch pieces) into a saucepan with enough water to cover the 3/4 of the fruit (a cup or so) and about 2 Tbsp sugar. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and -- stirring occasionally -- simmer about 25 minutes or until rhubarb is broken down and the mixture looks thickened. Add a pinch of salt and taste the mixture. Does it need to be brighter, more tangy? You might add a little lemon juice. Is it too sour? Mix in a little sugar. Voila! Sauce!

5. Ice Cream!
You could pour that sauce over ice cream, of course... or you could put it in the ice cream. That's what I did this weekend. It's yummy. Like rhubarb pie a'la mode without the crust.

I used the simple Sweet Cream Base recipe from the Ben & Jerry's ice cream book and my Kitchenaid ice cream attachment to do this. I'm not big on a lot of weird doohickeys (New York City kitchens are not known for spaciousness), but if you already have a Kitchenaid mixer and like experimenting with ice cream, I truly recommend this particular doohickey. It's a lot of fun.

Add about a cup of sauce to this recipe of Sweet Cream Base and make the ice cream as directed for the machine you're using. Make sure the sauce is not just cool but COLD when you add it. Otherwise you'll put your machine through a lot of extra stress and — even worse — you might ruin the ice cream.

Sweet Cream Base (from "Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream & Dessert Book")

2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy or whipping cream
1 cup milk

Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the cream and milk and whisk to blend.

Makes 1 quart

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Oh, Yes... Apricots!


Goodness! What's to be done with three pounds of apricots?

Well, you could eat apricots until you never care to see another apricot again. There's also salads, crisps, tarts, jams, pickles and purées, of course.

But what of chutney? Sweet, savory, spicy and simple. You really can't go wrong with a few pints of chutney stacked in storage.

It's fantastic straight up on lamb, chicken, pork, salmon or duck, you can thin it a bit for a glaze or a fruit salad drizzle, mix up a tablespoon with a bit of canola oil and cider vinegar for a first-rate vinaigrette.

It'd be fun on vanilla ice cream or in a tart. Not to mention a pairing with cheese. A blue, perhaps? A friendly goat?

Here's my version...
Apricot-Ginger Chutney

3 Tbsp canola oil
1 dried chili
2 cinnamon sticks
5 star anise
1 large onion, minced
3" piece fresh ginger, chopped
2 cups sake (or dry white wine)
3 lbs fresh apricots, pitted & quartered
1 1/2 Tbsp ground, dried ginger
1 1/2 Tbsp ground black pepper
1/4 c rice vinegar (or to taste)
3 T brown sugar (or to taste)
1/2 Tbsp salt (or to taste)

1. Heat the canola oil with the chili, cinnamon and star anise (no more than 1-2 minutes).
2. Add in the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes.
3. Add in the ginger and cook for 2-3 minutes more.
4. Pour in the sake/wine and add apricot slices. Simmer until the apricots are tender. (Simmer a bit less if you like a chunkier chutney.) Blend in the pepper and dried ginger.
5. Strain the mixture through a colander, reserving juices. Pick out the spices and discard. Pour the reserved juices back to the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick and bubbly (about 15-20 minutes).
6. Taste the thickened chutney liquid, adjusting the acid-sweetness-salt balance with a touch of rice vinegar, sugar and/or salt.
7. Incorporate the apricot pulp in the colander into the liquid in the pot. Transfer to sterilized jars (if you're canning), or cool the mixture and transfer it to prepared pint containers (for short-term refrigeration or longer-term freezing).

Makes enough to fill three pint containers, and takes around an hour from start to finish. Slap a cute homemade label on the jar, and it's great for gifting!

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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Q. What is Kritamo?

I recently found myself wondering, "What is kritamo?" You, dear reader, may have the same question.

Is kritamo:

A. Wild rock fennel.

B. Briny, Grecian shoreline weed

C. Exclusive Whole Foods weed.

D. All of the above.

The kritamo is figure 1. Image from this site.

Yup. It's all that and more.

Kritamo (also known as rock fennel or samphire), is a wild Grecian seaside herb that's reportedly a bit difficult to harvest and apparently available domestically at Whole Foods.

Kritamo often appears in salads, though it's not likely to make a cross-Atlantic trek in a form other than in alongside olives as a seasoning ingredient (it absorbs the briny flavor of the Mediterranean).

I'm thinking kritamo could also happily make a substitute for the brininess usually brought to the party by capers.

If you actually get your hands on some, why not try a simple Kritamo-Lemon sauce for pan-fried fish or fowl?
Kritamo-Lemon Sauce

2 tsp kritamo, chopped (or substitute capers, drained)
4 Tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

1. In a skillet or saucepan, melt butter
2. Sautée garlic 1-2 minutes, or it just begins to color.
3. Add lemon juice and kritamo or capers. Reduce heat and heat for 30 seconds.
4. Remove from heat and add parsley, if using.
5. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle immediately over cooked chicken, fish or steamed vegetables and serve.

Anyone have more experience with Kritamo? I'd love to hear about it. Post in the comments if you've got tips.

Miss Ginsu

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