Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


Giddy for Green Tomato Gazpacho

As the family legend has it, on the night before I was born, my mother cooked up a pizza topped with sliced green tomatoes, and the next morning, pop! There I was. (Though, truth be told, it may actually have taken a bit more effort than I'm leading on...)

I won't go so far as to call green tomatoes some kind of folk remedy for inducing labor, but I sure do think they provide awfully good incentive for anyone taking their sweet time in the womb.

Now that I've been out in the world a few years, I've discovered all kinds of other ideas for what to do with green tomatoes.

Green Tomatoes at the Market

My first suggestion would be that you take just a little time and invest it in making a green tomato chow chow. If you can some now, you'll have it this winter, and it really is just divine, especially when mixed into bean soups, egg salads or (my very favorite) served alongside grilled/broiled meat or fish. Nom!

But if you happen to have a few green tomatoes and not much time to spare, I'd recommend gazpacho. It's easy, it's low-key and since it's not a cooked dish, you won't heat up the kitchen. Or even break a sweat, to be perfectly honest.
Supremely Easy Green Tomato Gazpacho (Serves 3 to 4)

2 cups green tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 cup green or yellow pepper, roughly chopped
2 small or 1 large clove garlic
1 medium Kirby cucumber, quartered
1 jalapeño pepper, halved and seeds removed (optional)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs or 1/2 slice stale bread, torn to pieces
1 cup tomato juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano (or 1/2 tsp fresh oregano)
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce (optional)
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

Optional Garnish
chopped cilantro, 1/2" cubes of cucumber, sliced green onion and/or cubed avocado

1. In a blender or food processor, chop the tomatoes, peppers, garlic, cucumber and jalapeño, if using.
2. Add the breadcrumbs or pieces, tomato juice and olive oil. Pulse to incorporate.
3. Stir in the chopped cilantro, oregano and Worcestershire.
4. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to adjust to your desired flavor.
5. Chill for at least three hours (or overnight). Garnish, if desired, and serve cold or at room temperature. It's great with chewy baguette slices or garlic bread.

The beauty of a gazpacho is that it's so flexible and so forgiving. You can leave it chunky or make it really smooth. You can really even drop half the ingredients here and still come out with a tasty soup, though this happens to be the formula I like.

And on that note, you might notice that this recipe is almost identical to the Red Tomato Gazpacho I blogged a few years ago, or maybe even the Tomato-Watermelon Gazpacho from last August.

Huh! Funny how that happens! Yes, folks. You're on to me. It's all about theme and variation here at Chez Ginsu...

Miss Ginsu

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Chicken Soup 5 Ways

Through an error in calculation, I robbed ya'll of a soup post last week. Mea culpa. I make good today.

So we're aware there's more than one way to pluck a chicken... or make a chicken soup, for that matter.

In addition to making a supremely simple homemade chicken soup from a rotisserie bird, I'm offering up five inspirations from points across the globe on ways to make that satisfying bowl of chicken-soup comfort entirely different. One for each day of the work-week.

Chicken Soup Five Ways
Around the World with a Rotisserie Bird

1. Go Italian: Rotisserie Tortellini Soup (Serves 4)

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 fat garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp dried crushed red pepper
1 cup tomatoes, diced
6 cups chicken broth
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 lb spinach, chopped
1 15oz can kidney beans or cannellini, drained & rinsed
8 oz mushroom or cheese tortellini
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1-2 cups chopped rotisserie chicken

Grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, for serving

1. In a heavy stockpot over a medium-high flame, heat the oil. Add the onions and peppers and cook 8 minutes.
2. Add the garlic, fennel and red pepper flakes and cook 2 minutes more.
3. Add the tomatoes and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 20 minutes.
4. Add the zucchini, spinach, beans and tortellini. Simmer 10 minutes.
5. Add the basil and chicken and cook another 5 minutes to heat through. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with a little salt and ground pepper, if necessary. Serve hot, with cheese to garnish.


2. Go Greek: Rotisserie Avgolemono Soup (Serves 4)

6 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup orzo
3 eggs
3 lemons, juiced
1 cup rotisserie chicken, torn in thin strips
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1. In a heavy stockpot over a medium-high flame, bring the the chicken stock to a boil.
2. Add the orzo and simmer 20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs 1 minute before beating the lemon juice into the eggs.
4. Carefully scoop out 2 cups of the hot stock and pour it into the egg mixture in a slow stream, whisking vigorously to prevent curdling.
5. Add the the egg-lemon mixture and the chicken strips to the stockpot. Stir well, season to taste with salt and ground black pepper, and serve.


3. Go Mexican: Rotisserie Tortilla Soup (Serves 4)

2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced
3 fat cloves garlic, minced
1 15oz can kidney beans, drained & rinsed
1 cup diced tomatoes
6 cups chicken stock
1 lime, juiced
1-2 cups chopped rotisserie chicken
3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
Salt & pepper, to taste

Ripe avocado and tortilla chips, for garnish

1. In a heavy stockpot over a medium-high flame, heat the oil. Add the onions, celery and peppers and garlic and cook 8 minutes.
2. Add the beans, tomatoes and chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 20 minutes.
3. Add the lime juice and chicken and cook another 5 minutes to heat through.
4. Stir in the cilantro, taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with a little salt and ground pepper, if necessary. Serve hot, with tortilla chips and sliced avocado atop each portion.

4. Go Thai: Rotisserie Tom Kha Gai (Serves 4)

1 dried chili pepper
1/2 small green chili, sliced thin
1 medium shallot, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1" piece ginger, peeled & minced
1" piece galangal, peeled & minced
6 cups chicken stock
3 limes, juiced
2 Tbsp Asian fish sauce
1/4 cup sliced bamboo shoots
2 stalks lemongrass
4 kaffir lime leaves, shredded (optional)
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1-2 cups chopped rotisserie chicken

Rice, for serving (optional)

1. Give the lemongrass stalks 2 to 3 good, hard whacks with a meat tenderizer or a rolling pin.
2. Heat a heavy stockpot (or a wok) and toast the dried chili in it for 3 minutes. Crumble the chili
3. Add a little oil to the pot and saute the green chili, shallot, garlic, ginger and galangal for 3 minutes.
4. Add the chicken stock to the pot along with the lime juice, fish sauce, bamboo shoots, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, if using. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
5. Cook 20 minutes before adding the chopped chicken. Cook for 5 more minutes to heat the chicken. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with a little more lime or some salt, if necessary. Discard the lemongrass and serve hot, with rice, if desired.


5. Go Indian: Rotisserie Mulligatawny Soup (Serves 4)

2 Tbsp cup vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped
4 fat garlic cloves, chopped
1" piece ginger, peeled & minced
2 Tbsp garam masala
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tart apple, peeled and diced
2 cups red lentils
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 lime, juiced
1-2 cups chopped rotisserie chicken

Basmati rice, for serving (optional)

1. In a heavy stockpot over a medium-high flame, heat the oil. Add the onions and cook 12 minutes.
2. Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more.
3. Add the garam masala, coriander, tumeric and cayenne. Blend the spices into the onion mixture and cook 1 minute.
4. Add the apple pieces, the lentils and the chicken broth. Bring the soup to boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the lentils are tender, about 25 minutes.
5. Stir in the coconut milk, lime juice and the chicken. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with a little some salt and ground pepper, if necessary. Serve hot, with basmati rice, if desired.

Hoping you stay warm, dry and full of goodness,
Miss Ginsu

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Dear Miss Ginsu: My Soup is Bland.

Dear Miss Ginsu,

I need help with my bean soup. It's bland. I've already added the salt. What am I doing wrong?

-Desperately Seeking Flavor

Black Bean Soup

Dear DSF,

Bland soup is so disappointing. I feel your pain.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I'm not psychic. Without reading the recipe you used or tasting the soup myself, it's difficult to know what to tell you to add.

That said, I can offer some general help.

I'm assuming you started your bean soup with a flavorful stock, whether vegetable, beef, or chicken. That's the number-one thing you can do to give beans a chance. Well, that and seasoning the pot with salt and pepper before you serve it, but it sounds like you've already hit the shaker.

The next thing I'd ask about is the other ingredients. Smoked pork/bacon is a classic flavor enhancer for bean soups. Likewise, tomatoes also bring a lot of "meaty" taste to a soup. Did you use sautéed onions and/or garlic? They're called "aromatics" for good reason.

And then there's herbs and spices. You didn't mention using pepper. A bay leaf during the cooking is certainly your friend. A little rosemary can help a lot. Allspice is nice. I'm big on dried thyme.

But all those things are what you'd want to think about during the cooking process.

If it's all cooked and you're stuck with a pot of uninspiring soup, the best thing to do might be to work with your garnish options.

Slices of avocado, a little chopped cilantro and a sprinkle of sharp cheddar or mild goat cheese can work wonders on a black bean soup.

A bland navy bean soup could liven up with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil. Or swirl in a spoonful of pesto.

Or try a dollop of sour cream, a bit of fresh-cut basil or parsley, some grated Parmesan, some flavorful croutons, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or a few drops of Tabasco sauce.

You get the idea. If you don't load in the flavor while you're cooking, you need to find a way to bring it in at the end.

Good luck, and happy eating!
Miss Ginsu

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Recession Proof: Rumsford's Soup

If you read much food writing, you may have encountered writer MFK Fisher's notes on thrifty cuisine.

In her 1942 recession-proof tome, How to Cook a Wolf she wrote of an inexpensive, nutritious meat-grain subsistence loaf (writer Jeffrey Steingarten later taste-tested that very recipe in The Man Who Ate Everything).

But far earlier than that, in the late 1700s, a remarkably multi-talented scientist/inventor named Benjamin Thompson (later known as Count von Rumford) was also interested in nutritious subsistence food, which led him to the creation of Rumford Soup.

Soup Bowl

The original Rumford Soup was composed of nothing more than pearl barley, yellow peas, potatoes, salt, old, sour beer and maybe a bit of vinegar. Cheap eats, indeed.

In today's prices, Rumford's recipe makes a meal for less than $1 per person, the most expensive ingredient being the beer.

This soup (as well as his efficient stove innovations) caught on in Europe and America and led to the establishment of the soup kitchens that nourished generations of the poor.

The traditional version of the recipe goes something like this:
Classic Rumford Soup (Serves 6)

1 cup pearl barley
1 cup dried yellow split peas
4 cups diced potatoes
1 tsp salt, or to taste
3 cups water
3 cups (2 12oz bottles) wheat beer (hefeweizen)
Malt or cider vinegar (to taste)

1. Put the barley, split peas, potato cubes, salt and water in a large stockpot. Slowly simmer the mixture for 1 to 2 hours, adding additional water, as necessary.
2. When the soup begins to thicken, add the beer and continue to simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Season to taste with a little vinegar and more salt, if needed. Serve with bread.

I think this recipe could be improved immensely by replacing the beer with some flavorful stock and adding some ground black pepper, a liberal sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of fresh parsley... but all that would obviously add a few cents onto the per-person price.

I've come up with a revisited version of Rumsford's famous soup, which is a little more dolled up and comes out to about $2 per serving if you make your own stock.
The Rumsford Redux (Serves 6)
4 cups chicken, beef or vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups split yellow peas
2 medium potatoes, diced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 cup pearl barley
1 to 2 bay leaves
1 to 2 carrots, peeled and sliced (1/2")
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & ground black pepper, to taste

Soup Garnish (optional)
1 small red onion, minced
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Juice of 1 lemon

1. In a heavy-bottomed stock pot, combine the 4 cups broth with the peas and the potatoes.
2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to a steady simmer. Covered and cook until the peas and potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion in the oil about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and add to the potatoes and peas.
4. Add the barley and carrot and continue simmering until the barley is tender, about 40 minutes.
5. Prepare the garnish by combining the chopped onion, parsley and lemon in a small bowl.
6. Remove the soup from the heat, and if it seems a bit thin, add a little more water. Stir in the grated cheese, and season with salt and pepper. Serve with small spoonful of the garnish (if using) atop each portion.

Obviously, Rumsford's soup was vegan-friendly, and my modernized version can certainly be made vegetarian or vegan as well... just make sure the stock is veggie and skip the cheese.

AND as promised, here's the solution to yesterday's soup crossword.

Yours in tasty thrift,
Miss Ginsu

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Soup's On: A Culinary Crossword

It's been so cold and blustery and snowy out there, so I'm doing a soup-themed week. Half my coworkers are sick and there's no better time of the year to think about warm bowls of liquid comfort.

To really kick things off, I've created my very first first food-based crossword puzzle... just a little something to keep cabin fever at bay.

Download the Soup's On! Crossword from the link, or just click into the image below to get the PDF.

Crossword Mini

Tomorrow, we'll look at an ancient soup recipe and I'll put up the crossword solution.

Meanwhile, let me know if the puzzle is too hard or too easy or too stupid or whatever. It's kind of my first time at puzzle-making.

Stay warm and dry!
Miss Ginsu

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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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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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FoodLink Roundup: 10.13.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was shopping and dining at the Brooklyn Flea. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Open Letter to the Next Farmer in Chief
Common-Sense Food Activist Michael Pollan Strikes Back!

Brazilian-inspired soup
A slightly lighter take on that classic Brazilian takedown: feijouada.

Bread Without Yeast
Just add flour, water and patience.

Change Your Pumpkin, Change Your World
Is food political? You bet your sweet squash it is...

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

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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.


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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The Mysteries of Tomato-Watermelon Gazpacho

I've known those who salt their watermelon, and those who sugar their tomatoes. I once thought these practices were madness.

After culinary school, I become more flexible in my appreciation of these summer flavors. Yes, watermelon could get along happily in a savory salad. Yes, tomatoes could represent the sweet aspect of a dish.

Tomato & Watermelon

Once I'd gotten past the prejudices of my youth, I learned that tomatoes and watermelon could be great friends in salads.

And yet, tomato and watermelon match-ups still seem like strange bedfellows to me. An odd couple.

"But why is this pairing so strange?" I ask myself. They're both fruit. They grow and ripen together.

In fact, under-ripe watermelons taste quite like cucumbers. Since I think nothing of combining cucumbers and tomatoes, tomato-watermelon dishes should be second nature.

Then each summer tomato + watermelon is a minor culinary revelation. These cautious notions must be simply be old habits dying long, hard, tortured deaths.

Tomato & Watermelon Gazpacho

When I finally do take that terrifying leap and add, gasp! watermelon to my gazpacho... the result isn't horrifying at all. It's truly lovely.

For that matter, this dynamic duo is economical. Since both are simultaneously in surplus at the same time, it's a quick (and rewarding) task to blend them up together into soup.
Tomato-Watermelon Gazpacho (Makes about 6 cups)

1/2 cup water or tomato juice
2 medium tomatoes, quartered
1 cup watermelon, seeded & cubed
1 small cucumber, peeled and quartered
1/4 small red onion
1/2 jalapeño pepper (or substitute 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper)
1 slice whole-grain bread, torn into small pieces
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh lime juice (optional)

Optional Garnishes
1-2 Tbsp cilantro or mint, chopped
1 Tbsp small-diced cucumber
1 Tbsp small-diced watermelon
1 Tbsp crumbled fresh cheese or feta

1. Combine water or juice, tomatoes, watermelon, cucumber, onion, 1/2 jalapeño, bread pieces and salt in a blender or food processor and purée smooth. (You may need to do this in batches.)

2. Taste the gazpacho and adjust the seasoning with 1 tsp fresh lime juice and a little more salt, if desired.

3. Chill one hour or until ready to serve (the flavor will improve overnight). Garnish with chopped herbs, mint, diced cucumber, diced watermelon and/or crumbled fresh cheese.

I find that crunchy fresh-baked croutons are really nice in a gazpacho as well. Or go crazy and throw on some bacon bits. It's a flexible dish.

This is actually a great dish for brown bagging. Just skip the garnish. It'll hold up well for a few hours without refrigeration and won't require on-site heating. Serve it with a salad for a lovely light lunch at some lunching locale of your choice. Like, say... the park.

Miss Ginsu

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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.


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Food Quote Friday: MFK Fisher

Spinach Soup

"I don't think we eat enough soup here in the States. It can, and often should, be a meal in itself, as an occasional good book devoted to the subject tries to prove. What is better, more resting on a Sunday night than a tureen of steaming, buttery oyster stew, plenty of little round crackers and some cold white wine or lager beer?"

MFK Fisher

More steaming, buttery food quotes can be found here

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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: Black Bean Soup

    Last week when I started up this series on good eating for bad financial times, I mentioned roasting, which magically makes just about anything tastier on the cheap. This week, I want to throw in a good word for beans.

    fresh chickpeas

    Packed with protein and fiber (nutritionists love 'em!), readily available, totally cheap (even cheaper if you soak and cook the dried ones), vegetarian-friendly and delicious for breakfast, lunch or dinner, beans are classic in haut cuisine and poverty fare alike.

    I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that legumes/pulses have sustained generations of people across this planet for thousands of years. Why not try to work a few extra into your diet?

    Here's ten classic ways to make beans a part of your week:

    1. Chili
    2. Lentil Soup or Salad
    3. Hummus
    4. Beans on Toast
    5. Bean Dip/Spread
    6. Channa Masala (Chickpea Curry)
    7. Minestrone
    8. Bean Burritos
    9. Vegetarian Cassoulet
    10. Beans & Rice

    And here's one more just for good measure: Black Bean Soup. It's what I'm eating this week. It's really easy to make this one vegetarian or meatetarian, as you prefer.
    Black Bean Soup

    2 cups dried black beans, washed
    1 bay leaf
    4 strips thick-cut bacon, diced OR 1 Tbsp olive oil*
    1 fresh jalapeño, sliced into rounds
    2 large onions, diced
    2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
    4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
    1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
    Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

    Sour cream or plain yogurt (optional), for serving
    Chopped cilantro or scallions (optional), for serving

    1. Soak the beans overnight.
    2. The next day cover the beans with additional water to bring the level by 1 inch above the beans. Add the bay leaf, cover and bring to a boil.
    3. Turn down the heat to a low simmer, and cook until the beans test tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
    4. *If using bacon, cook that now, remove it from the pan (to drain) when done, and use the bacon fat to cook the veggies instead of using olive oil. If making a vegetarian soup, add the olive oil to a deep skillet and heat over a medium flame.
    5. Add the onions and green peppers and sauté until softened, about 12 minutes. 6. Stir in the garlic and cook a few minutes more.
    7. Add the tomatoes and simmer 10 minutes.
    8. When the beans are tender, add in the vegetable mixture (and diced bacon, if using). Let simmer another 20 minutes.
    9. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, or refrigerate and reheat the following day to enjoy it after the flavors have melded a bit.

    Happy eating!

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    Five Favorites: Soup For What Ails Yeh

    Just about everyone I know has a cold right now. They snuffle, they sniffle, they choke and cough. And I know what they need. They need soup.

    For those of us without the foresight, fortitude or free time to make and freeze quick stock for quick soups (and yes, I often find I've left my freezer lacking at exactly the wrong time), New York City provides many delicious options. (Thanks, New York!)

    Here's my Top 5 NYC soup fixes for those days when I'm feeling horrid and lacking the time and energy to make soup:

    Takeout Pho

    1. Pho Grand (277 Grand Street, between Eldridge and Foresyth, close to the Grand St. B/D stop)

    My truly favorite sick-day soup is pho (which looks like it might be pronounced foh but is properly pronounced more like fuh), a gingery Vietnamese beef broth with noodles. It's traditionally served alongside wedges of lime, crisp bean sprouts and sprigs of fresh mint and Thai basil.

    You dress it as you like it with the garnishes so it's always to your taste (and I usually stir in a teaspoon of Sriracha sauce because I adore the heat).

    I get my pho at Pho Grand because I dig the proximity to J's place and the Vietnamese diner feel. At Pho Grand, the pho is both delicious and cheap, and they'll make you up a quick pack for takeout. They have lots of variations, but my fave is the Pho Bo Lui because it comes with sesame beef.

    2. Cafe Medina (9 East 17th Street, just west of Union Square)
    Tasty, inexpensive soups and a nice variety of 'em. Choices vary by day. Walk all the way to the back to find the soup station. Ask for a taste if you're undecided. I recently had the chicken chowder and the eggplant-lentil. Both were very satisfying soups.

    Rai Rai Ken Ramen

    3. Rai Rai Ken Ramen House (214 E. 10th Street, near 2nd Ave)

    I love Momofuku and Setagaya ramen, of course, but fashionable and loud or frenetic and bright are not what I'm looking for when I'm feeling low. What I want is a large, deep bowl of steaming ramen soup with dim light and low music. I want it full-flavored, filling and cheap. And I also get a huge kick out of the crazy white and magenta surimi disc that floats on top of a bowl of Rai Rai Ken ramen.

    4. The Soup Kiosk at Fanelli's Cafe (94 Prince Street, west of Broadway)

    A good bunch of good soups. Too bad they're only open during the day. But you're probably taking the day off work anyway. Choose one off the short list here and take it home where you can convalesce in peace. Or better yet, send someone reliable to go stand on line for you. After all, you're sick. You need your rest.

    5. The Soup Spot (220 West 31st Street, between 7th & 8th Aves)

    If you happen to be closer to Penn Station than Soho, you'll be better off hitting this soup shack. Unfortunately, they're also a lunch-only option and you won't be the only one standing in the soup line. But in this case at least, business also happens to be a reliable indicator of goodness.

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    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

    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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    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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    Day 2: Soup for a Rainy (or Snowy) Day

    This post marks Day 2 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Chicken soup is now scientifically proven to alleviate symptoms of the common cold (and even if it wasn't... it's so warm and soothing we probably shouldn't care about the scientific studies that much anyway). I think it makes sense to keep a few pints of it in the freezer.

    Why? Well, what if you should happen to catch a cold? It is, after all, cold season.

    If you've prepared in advance, a welcoming bowl of home-cooked soup is sitting right there waiting for you to warm it up. And if a friend or loved one gets the flu... you get to be Jenny on the Spot... there, soup in hand, to rescue the poor dear with a lightning-fast delivery of love. The well-stocked domestic goddess is a good friend to have.

    Neon Matzo
    Matzo on the run in Berkeley, CA

    If you happen to be one of the many who enjoy the convenience of the rotisserie chicken, you're already halfway there.

    Step 1: Rotisserie Chicken Stock

    Eat most of the rotisserie chicken, saving aside all the bones and excess skin. In a separate container, save out about 1 cup chopped chicken for the soup. You can use white meat, dark meat or a combination of the two.

    Put the bones in a large stock pot and cover with water (about 2 quarts).

    1 bay leaf
    1 tsp black peppercorns
    2 medium onions (quartered)
    2 carrots (roughly chopped)
    2 celery stalks (roughly chopped)
    2 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
    A handful of parsley stems

    Simmer, covered, for an hour to an hour and a half.

    When the bones are boiled bare and the vegetables are soft, place a colander (or a sieve) over a suitably-sized pot or bowl and carefully pour the hot liquid through, catching the solid materials in the colander. Discard all the bones, herbs and veggies. You can cool the stock and store it in convenient pint-size containers in the freezer or move right on to...

    Step 2: Comforting Chicken Soup

    4 cups chicken stock (the rotisserie version or otherwise made/purchased)
    1 cup onion, diced
    1 cup celery, diced
    1/2 cup carrots or parsnips, diced
    1 clove garlic, minced
    1 cup chicken meat, chopped (reserved from the rotisserie chicken)
    2 tsp chopped fresh parsley, dill or tarragon
    Salt & pepper, to taste

    Optional fanciness for serving:
    lime or lemon wedges
    matzo balls, cooked egg noodles or rice

    Over high heat, bring stock to a boil in a large stockpot with lid on. Add onion, celery, carrot/parsnip and garlic. Lower heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until veggies are tender. Add chicken and simmer 5 more minutes. Remove from heat, add herbs and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add in cooked noodles, rice or matzo balls (if using).* Finish with a squeeze of citrus, if desired.

    Serve immediately, or cool and ladle into pint or quart containers to freeze for future tastiness and/or rescue missions.

    * If you're planning to freeze this soup, I'd recommend leaving out the starch.

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    A Tale of Three Ramen

    Like a lot of American kids my age, I grew up with an imposter. Fool that I was, I loved it with an unreserved passion.

    To my great shame, I still distinctly remember turning down countless opportunities for actual food in favor of plastic pouches of pasty-white ramen noodles.

    Oh, how strange it now seems. I was held in a spell, rapt in blind adoration of a bunch of airy white bricks that magically transformed in hot water. Three minutes... and voila! Tender, wiggly noodles steeped one of eight or ten nearly indistinguishable monosodium glutamate flavor packets. Pure comfort-food bliss.

    Despite a winning name, Top Ramen really wasn't the star player in my affections. For my personal ontology, noodle bricks weren't even in the same genre as the ambrosial Nissin Cup o' Noodles. Many happy childhood memories involve warming my hands atop the smooth paper barrier that retained precious steam for those three mystical moments between shelf-stable starch and ramen.

    Now that I'm slightly more worldly, I know that real ramen holds very little resemblance to either the starchy brick or the salty cup.

    I've come to discover that real ramen doesn't involve MSG packets. It isn't even really about the noodles. Real ramen is a sensual experience closer to poetry.

    Between the pork and the seaweed, the mushrooms and the egg, the scallions and the broth, the noodle and the steam, real ramen is about comparison. It begins just breathing in the aroma of the bowl. Then the exploration: One bite is briny sea, the next is rich, savory earth. This one is bracing and vegetal. That one, creamy and smooth. This one is chewy, that one, crisp. Real ramen is revelation.

    I'd intended to present a comparison of three Manhattan ramen shops, but I find myself torn between them.

    Momofuku Ramen
    Momofuku Noodle Bar (163 First Ave, near 10th St.)

    Momofuku Noodle Bar, the critics' darling, was big, bold, meaty ramen with thick, sturdy noodles... a very American ramen experience. They make it with Berkshire pork and serve it alongside crisp Hitachino ales. It's luxe, crowded, efficient, expensive and oh-so-very NYC.

    Momofuku Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

    Setagaya Ramen
    Setagaya (141 First Ave., near St. Marks Pl.)

    Ramen Setagaya is very clearly a US outpost of a slick Japanese chain. From a strangely mesmerizing wall display of Japanese food TV to the focused menu and overwhelmingly Japanese clientele, entering Setagaya felt more like a entering a teleportation device that dumped diners off in the midst of suburban Tokyo. The ramen, too, was transportive: tabletop to forest floor, rocky cliff and seaside farm.

    Ramen Setagaya on Urbanspoon

    Rai Rai Ken Ramen
    (Rai Rai Ken Ramen House, 214 E. 10th St.)

    Rai Rai Ken Ramen House is a dim closet behind a red curtain. Dark wood and a skinny ledge. The counter is high. The ramen is passed down from on high by a stoic staff of skilled young men. Chat with your companion. They're there to cook. The ramen is steamy, satisfying and dead cheap. Workers, students and hungry strangers approach needy and leave restored. This is a noodle shop for the proletariat.

    Rai Rai Ken on Urbanspoon

    Each of these ramen stops is within a stone's throw of the others. And each seems to represent a different aspect of the modern ramen experience. When I sat down to consider which might be considered the one true ramen experience, I really couldn't pick just one. It's situational.

    Now, I'm no ramen expert, but I have a theory.

    Setting the starchy grocery-store ramen aside as the phony junkfood it really is, the "best" ramen is less about single noodle bar or a single noodle bowl. It's really about the ramen bowl for who you are and how you're feeling at a particular time. Sometimes, the dark cave presents the right bowl of ramen. Sometimes it's the ramen on the slick countertop with the pretty servers.

    So here's my thought: don't let anyone tell you they've got a line on the ramen. Top ramen is a state of mind.

    Miss G.

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    Food Quote Friday: Beethoven

    Cool yogurt soup
    A cool, soothing yogurt-spinach soup basking in my windowsill.

    "Only the pure of heart can make a good soup."

    Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

    Hungry for more food quotes? Get 'em here.

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    Chilled Spinach Soup. So cool. So refreshing.

    Cool Spinach Soup
    Hot day, cool soup.

    Martha Stewart's May issue contained an enticing Chilled Yogurt-Spinach Soup with Shrimp.

    It was pretty steamy and warm today, and although I didn't have the requisite cucumbers, Greek-style yogurt, chicken broth, red onion or fresh spinach, I really couldn't face going grocery shopping or doing any actual cooking.

    So I changed her recipe up a bit. Never fear! It's still really lovely and couldn't be faster or more satisfying on a stuffy June evening.

    I served mine up with a few steamed shrimp and felt blissful. Now if only my landlords would let me out into their backyard...

    Chilled Yogurt-Spinach Soup
    1 pkg frozen spinach (thawed and drained)
    2 cups plain yogurt
    8 oz sour cream
    2 scallions (chopped roughly)
    2-3 fat garlic cloves
    Juice of one lime
    1 Tbsp olive oil
    1 1/2 cups light stock (I used a fish stock, but chicken would be fine)
    Salt & Pepper to taste
    Pea shoots for garnish

    Blend spinach, yogurt, sour cream, scallions, garlic, lime juice, olive oil and stock in blender until smooth. Garnish with fresh pea shoots, chopped parsley, fresh mint, basil or maybe croutons and serve immediately.

    Happy Eating!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Gazpacho redemption

    Sadly, one of my favorite local joints recently charged me $6 for the pleasure of a cup and a half of poorly made gazpacho... gazpacho with far too much raw onion and nearly no spice or salt.

    Worst, it just tasted flat. It needed a shot of acid. It came with a little sprinkle of chives, but no pita, no cracker, no toast tip. Alas!

    Above you see the gazpacho I was hoping for. Nicely spiced, mouth-wateringly zesty, with rich tomato flavor and hints of celery, cucumber and fresh jalapeño.

    All it took was a quick trip to the farmers' market and a spin through the blender. Some stuff out of the pantry... salt, pepper, a shot of lemon juice... Adjust seasoning and add a couple slices of awesome garlic cheese bread on the side.

    Heavenly. Inexpensive. Satisfying. A'la Scarlett O'Hara, I'm compelled to alert the world, "With god as my witness, ah will never suffer substandard gazpacho again!"

    Just Good Old Gazpacho (Serves 3-4)
    2 cups ripe, red tomatoes, roughly chopped
    1/2 cup green or yellow pepper, roughly chopped
    2 small or 1 large clove garlic
    1 medium cucumber, quartered
    1 jalapeño pepper, halved and seeds removed (optional)
    1/2 cup breadcrumbs or 1/2 slice stale bread, torn to pieces
    1 cup tomato juice
    1/3 cup olive oil
    1 Tbsp red or white wine vinegar (or substitute lemon juice)
    1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
    1 tsp dried oregano (or 1/2 tsp fresh oregano)
    1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce (optional)
    Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

    Optional Garnish
    chopped cilantro, 1/2" cubes of cucumber, sliced green onion and/or cubed avocado

    1. In a blender or food processor, chop the tomatoes, peppers, garlic, cucumber and jalapeño, if using.
    2. Add the breadcrumbs or pieces, tomato juice, olive oil and vinegar. Pulse to incorporate.
    3. Stir in the chopped cilantro, oregano and Worcestershire.
    4. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to adjust to your desired flavor.
    5. Chill for at least three hours (or overnight). Garnish, if desired, and serve cold or at room temperature.

    As I mentioned, I served it with the garlic cheese bread I picked up at the farmers' market, but you can go with croutons, baguette or whichever loaf you love.

    Bon appetit!
    Miss Ginsu

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