Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Tri Harder

If you're a longtime reader, you may have noticed I've posted more infrequently lately. There's a reason for that: In order to fulfill a personal New Year's Resolution this year, I'm training for my very first triathlon — a sprint tri in Central Park that takes place next month.

Now, maybe some people can complete an Ironman event in their sleep, but if you'd known me when I was a sprout, you'd know what a big deal even a sprint-length triathlon is for me. My high school class did not vote me "most likely to drop a lot of money on protein powder."

I was an arty kid. I couldn't even make it the one mile around the track for the Presidential Physical Fitness tests they administered every year in gym class. Just running a quarter mile made my lungs feel like they were burning.

But after college, a funny thing happened. I jogged a bit, and it wasn't so bad. No burning lungs. So I jogged a bit more. I thought I'd be the best I could be when I hit that long-awaited mile run, but it turns out I can now zip out for a 3.5-mile run before breakfast.

Chickpeas on the Run

So what made the difference? I credit two success factors: 1. Lack of judgement from gym teachers and classmates. 2. Not living with a smoker (Dad was a heavy smoker throughout most of my childhood).

And the best part? progress with running helped show that I wasn't athletically retarded (something I'd long believed). This year I enrolled in swim classes at the YMCA. And while I'm not a sleek dolphin in the water yet, I'm now proud to say I'm less of a sea cow.

A great benefit I've discovered about training for a triathlon is the diversity. If I have a blister from running, I can switch over to swimming. If my arms are sore from swimming, I can work on my biking. The built-in variety means I'm never bored. There's just so much to concentrate on.

That's also part of the downside of triathlon training. Even for a shorter-distance triathlon (like the sprint tri I'm working toward) there's a major time commitment to balance each aspect of the sport.

Aside from juggling the schedule to accommodate training, anyone attempting athletic events quickly finds that eating becomes a major planning factor. When do you eat? What do you eat? How much do you eat? In what form should you eat it? I must admit, I'm not really jazzed about eating (slurping?) those sugary little goo packets I see in sporting goods stores.

Additionally, many events start early. Should you wake up extra-early to eat so you have time to digest beforehand? When the event is long, as in the many hours involved in a marathon, how do you eat on the run (literally), without upsetting the tummy?

Luckily, those who work out tend to experiment and find their own solutions to these questions. And they're usually happy to share.

Dave's New Pizza Oven
Dave's New Pizza Oven

Just yesterday, I stopped by the Fort Greene Brooklyn Flea to chat with my friend Chef Dave Sclarow of Lunetta and Pizza Moto while he kneaded dough into crusts. (BTW, he's expanding into the Sunday Flea in Dumbo in a couple of weeks.)

He gave me a handy tip for even more simple smoothies: Instead of using an upright blender, use a big cup (or a mason jar) with a stick blender (aka "immersion blender"). Fast, easy and less laborious to clean up. Brilliant.

Smoothie in a Jar
Smoothie in a Jar

Dave offers this recipe for his workout smoothies: two ice cubes, half a banana, big scoop of peanut butter and soy milk. Sometimes he adds a little maple syrup if he wants it to be sweeter.

So today, I made my morning smoothie in a mason jar with a lid, and kept it cold in the fridge for my post-workout recovery drink. Slick.

One of his pizza-slingers mentioned that the sesame-seed & honey bars that are sometimes found in natural food stores make good workout snacks, too. A little protein. Some sugars. Easy to carry. A good option.

I've done posts on workout snacks before, but I'm always open to new tips and helpers. Drop 'em if you've got 'em!

Yours in good health,
Miss Ginsu

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7.12.2009

My Inaugural (Cheese) Ball

Like a lot of folks, I'll be catching some of the inauguration festivities tomorrow — all from the comfort of the cozy indoors, thankfully. I shudder to think of all those chilly folks out there on the frigid capital mall...

My coworkers and I are having a little soiree over lunchtime to munch on snacks while we view the swearing in and the inaugural address.

Our first idea for a food theme was red, white and blue foods. But unless you want to throw around a bunch of blue food coloring, there's not a lot of blue food out there.

I've come up with... bluefin tuna (which isn't blue at all), bluefish (which is sorta blue), blue corn chips, blue potatoes (which are often a bit purple) and blueberries.

Anyway, our second thought for a food theme was simply snacks, because that's really what you're looking for when you watch TV anyway.

American Flag

But lo! Inspiration struck: There was one other "blue" food I forgot. Blue cheese! Yes, folks... it's time to make cheese balls.

Now, quite honestly, I'd never made cheese balls before, so these Inaugural Balls really are my inauguration into the world of cheese shapes.

But now that I've made them, I do understand why they're party food classics. Cheese balls are easy to make, they're not terribly expensive, they're endlessly versatile, they're quite popular and best of all... they can be made in advance.

Behold...
Inaugural Red, White & Blue Cheese Balls!

The Red Cheese Ball
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 Tbsp roasted red pepper
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp onion, finely chopped
1 tsp sweet paprika
To roll: 3/4 cup crumbled bacon (cooked, obviously)

The White Cheese Ball
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 Tbsp celery or water chestnuts, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp white pepper

The Blue Cheese Ball
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
2 Tbsp onion, finely chopped
3 drops hot pepper sauce
1 pinch cayenne pepper
To roll: 3/4 cup finely chopped pecans

Directions for assembling all three cheese balls:

1. In a medium bowl, mix together the cream cheese and the other cheese.
2. Blend in all remaining ingredients for the cheese ball (except the chopped nuts or crumbled bacon for rolling) and chill the mixture for 3 to 4 hours or until firm.
3. Roll the chilled cheese blend into a ball, and roll to coat in the chopped nuts or bacon pieces (if necessary).
4. Wrap the ball in plastic wrap or waxed paper and refrigerate.
5. At service time, place the ball(s) on a plate and serve with alongside crackers, baguette slices and/or celery or carrot sticks. The blue cheese ball is also nice with dried fruit and fresh grapes.

While 'tis true that my blue cheese ball isn't really blue as in Smurf-blue or bluejay-blue, it's also true that every one of these cheese balls is true-blue delicious. So there.

Now, if you're going this route, really show off your American pride and use all-American cheeses in your cheese balls. Maytag Blue is one of my favorite examples of the blue family, there's tons of great American goat cheeses and all kinds of domestic cheddars out there (Wisconsin! Vermont! New York!) to tickle your tastebuds.

Happy Inauguration Day to everyone!
Miss Ginsu

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1.19.2009

Hedonista Hundred, Part VI: 26-30

In which Miss Ginsu gushes about a run of wonderful, inexpensive pleasure places.

Yes, this is a project that's taking me forever to complete, but I press on... The Hedonista 100 is an ongoing list of 100 favorite food finds: cookbooks, snacks, tools, places, recipes, ideas & more.

Now, I could give you a thousand words each on these delicious entries, but I believe a pretty photo alongside an ounce of linguistic restraint might be a bit more in order. Thus, herein you'll find a five-pack of tasty photos and their corresponding source sites.

Brekkie at Le Pain Quotidien
26. The Grand Street (off Broadway) Le Pain Quotidien. A soft-boiled egg and bread with a cafe latte whilst sitting at the communal table, perusing the Sunday Times.

Shakshuka and Hummus Brunch
27. Shakshuka and hummus brunch at Hummus Place, 109 St Marks Place just off Tomkins Square Park. Don't miss their zippy, spicy green sauce. It ignites the tongue (in a good way).

Gingered Duck Soup at the Slanted Door
28. Gingered Duck Soup at the Slanted Door in the Ferry Market, San Francisco. Clean, sleek decor alongside fresh, flavorful food. Whenever I feel I'm teetering at the edge of a cold, I want this gingered soup in a bad way.

Pastries at Bonaparte Bread in Baltimore
29. Pastries at Bonaparte Bread (903 South Ann Street, Fells Point in Baltimore, MD) are everything a pastry should be: flaky, tender, buttery, lightly salted... among of the best you'll find this side of Paris.


30. Banana batidas and tasty arepas at Caracas Arepa Bar, 91 East 7th St in the East Village. Always crowded... and with good reason. They just keep putting out awesome food at reasonable prices.

Miss out on the previous 25 wondrous food finds? You'll find them at the archive page.

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1.16.2008

Goal 3: Create Convenience

The problem with convenience food is that convenience is its only attribute. It's there. It's available. It's shelf-stable.

Sheetz Market, PA

On the other hand, list of what convenience food is not goes on and on. It's not fresh, not nutritious, not vibrant, not wholesome, not flavorful, not sustainable, not natural...

When we strive to offer ourselves the gift of a better, tastier, fresher, more healthful diet, we need to plan ahead to make the magic happen.

Fruit & Cheese

Sometimes life gives you a beautiful fruit stand. Far more often, the modern world will offer up its shelf-stable candy aisles and its fast food chains. The convenience is there, but you pay for that convenience with your health and your hard-earned dollars.

If you can plan ahead, you'll create convenience on your own terms.

1. Make sure you know where your next meal is coming from.

Most people need three (or more) meals a day. Make sure you know how that's going to happen. Buy groceries with several meal plans in mind. Cook on Sunday and put soups and casseroles in the freezer. Pack lunches or look up in advance the local options for places that will feed you healthful foods. Don't leave your good intentions for nutritious, delicious meals in the hands of fate. She'll turn around and hand you a Ho-Ho.

2. Pack food.

You've packed your ipod, your sunglasses, your book and your sweater. What about snacks? Pack a water bottle. Pack an apple. Pack a banana. Pack a sandwich. Pack a bento box. Pack a hard-boiled egg in a plastic bag with a paper towel. When it comes to traveling (whether that's across town or across the country) it pays to be a little paranoid.

3. Don't leave hungry.

That party that's supposed to offer food? The appointment that's supposed to be a lunch meeting? Don't believe the hype. You never know what the future holds, so don't go anywhere with a ravenous hunger. You'll end up eating whatever's put in front of you, and because you're desperate, you'll probably eat far more of it than you normally would have. Life is uncertain, so make sure you at least eat a handful of nuts or an apple before leaving the house.

4. Make fresh food convenient.

We all have moments when our inner caveman takes over, and we stumble through the kitchen in search of something... anything... to eat. That's a particularly vulnerable state to be in.

When you stock the house with easy, healthy snacks, you offer a gift to your hungry caveman. Make sure you always have healthful supplies on hand. Think fresh fruit, snack-sized vegetables, dried fruit and nuts, juices, yogurt, cottage cheese, granola, etc. Conversely, make convenience foods inconvenient. Keep them away from your home, your office and your car. They're just not allowed.


A box of crackers will sit, inert, on a shelf for years. A banana goes brown and spotty after a week or less.

So yes, eating fresh, nutritious foods takes some effort on a regular basis. But planning ahead for healthful meals and snacks means convenience foods... actually become a little less convenient.

Miss out on previous days? Read Goal 1 and Goal 2.

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1.03.2008

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 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

(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

The Hedonista Hundred, Part IV: 16-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1.01.2007

Caracas Arepa Bar: Now featuring twice the yum.

Arepas!
Hot, crispy arepas

banana batida
A batida that's built for two

There are only a handful places that I feel meet the test of "consistently delicious bang for the buck," and that's kind of a shame.

I know it's tough to run a restaurant day in, day out, while maintaining high quality, infusing the food with love, and making everyone feel welcome and valued (not to mention trying to turn a buck in the process), but as a diner, that's what I'm seeking. I have high standards, namely: I want them to care about the food, and I want to feel as though the food is as delicious as (or, gosh, maybe even better than) what I could make at home.

I hope I'm not jinxing my good luck as I type this, but Caracas has always delivered the goods. On nearly every occasion I've had opportunity to visit their cozy East Village shop, there's always been a line of the hungry salivating just outside the door. After getting through the skinny door and squeezing behind a tiny table, I've always found the breathless staff to be friendly folks with agile bodies that maneuver with masterful elasticity between tight bag-filled corridors and stabbing table edges.

The arepas — crisp corn cakes opened like steaming round envelopes and stuffed with all manner of tasty fillings — are fresh, hot, and made to order, as they should be. The salads are crisp and inviting. There's food for my vegetarian friends and food for my meat freaks. The batidas (light shakes) are thick, cool and creamy. The lunch specials include fresh juice and your choice of arepas with a side of either soup or salad, all for slightly less than a ten-spot. (Why, oh why do I work in Queens when such delights beckon in the East Village?)

Leaving Caracas, I slide out the door (seeing the patiently hungry on the outdoor bench eye my newly emptied table) and stretch out in the sunshine on the nearby corner at 7th Street and 2nd Avenue feeling satisfied. Full, but not gluttonously so. Satiated and ready to take on the afternoon.

And now, Caracas is doubly delightful. With expansion in a storefront just two buildings away from the original nest, there's extra seating and reduced waiting in the new spot and a to-go counter in the old (though it seems you can still grab a table and eat there for lunch).

Best of all — despite nail-biting nervousness over potential growing pains in one of my favorite spots — success appears not to have spoiled the magic. Ah do believe there's still a great deal of love in them there arepas.

4 spoons

Caracas Arepa Bar
Caracas Arepa Bar on Urbanspoon
91 East 7th Street
East Village, NYC
212.228.5062

2008 UPDATE! There's now a Caracas branch in Williamsburg, BK (291 Grand St.) More space, same great food. Yay!

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8.06.2006