Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Pistachio Carrot Cake & Saffron Ice Cream

I was planning to write on a different topic today, but when you're inspired, sometimes you have to go where the wind blows you.

Today, the wind was blowing in the a pale green direction, and I'm not talking St. Patrick's Day here (although a person certainly could, were a person so inclined).

The inspiration of the day? Pistachio Carrot Cake & Saffron Coconut Ice Cream. Oh yes. We're just that crazy around here.

My coworkers joined forces for a boffo birthday cake combination, and it turns out, this one's not too difficult for mere mortals to pull off.

Pistachio Carrot Cake with Saffron Coconut Ice Cream

Whack! Pow! Suzy Hotrod cranked out a standard carrot cake (with gooey cream cheese frosting), but she threw an extra cup or so of chopped pistachios into the batter and saved another handful for sprinkling around the top. Easy, nutty, tasty... and green!

Meanwhile, back at the Bat Cave, Kate whipped up a coconut ice cream, but used a hint of saffron for its sunny hue and unmistakable flavor.

Pistachio Carrot Cake with Saffron Coconut Ice Cream

Together, they're like Batman and Robin... a dynamic duo. But don't take my word for it... try for yourself.
Pistachio Carrot Cake (Makes a 13" x 9" cake)

For the cake
4 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup apple sauce
2 cups sugar (all white or half white/half brown)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup chopped pistachios

For the Frosting
1/2 cup butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract or lemon juice
1 cup chopped pistachios (for garnish)

1. Heat oven to 350° F (175° C). Grease and flour a 9" x 13" pan and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, applesauce, sugar and the two teaspoons of vanilla.
3. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon, then blend into the wet ingredients. Stir in carrots and pistachios.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
5. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely. (Or simply leave in the pan and frost the top.)

For the frosting: In a mixing bowl, whip the butter, cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and vanilla or lemon juice. Beat until smooth and creamy. Frost the cooled cake and sprinkle reserved pistachios across the surface.

Saffron-Coconut Ice Cream (Makes about 1 1/2 quarts)

1 cup milk
1 pinch saffron threads
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 (14 ounce) can cream of coconut (not coconut milk!)

1. In a saucepan, combine 1/2 cup of the milk and the pinch of saffron. Heat just until milk is hot, but not boiling. Stir and allow the mixture to steep 10 minutes before moving to the refrigerator to chill completely.
2. Strain out the saffron threads (optional) and whisk together the chilled saffron milk with the remaining 1/2 cup of milk, the cream and the cream of coconut.
3. Freeze the mix using an ice cream machine or attachment, then pack into pints and harden in the freezer for at least 5 hours (or overnight).

So then, what have we learned today? Pistachios are yummy. Cake and ice cream are yummy. Distribution of labor is totally yummy.

Good lessons, indeed. I think that about does it for today. See you back here at the same Bat Time, same Bat Channel.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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3.10.2009

Day 5: Cookie o' the Week... Pfeffernusse

This post marks Day 5 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

For me, the holidays are all about cookies. I'm not sure why this is... perhaps it's not such a bad thing to keep the oven on for a while on these chilly December days? Maybe it's because cookies are convivial and easy to share? Maybe they transport well in one-horse open sleighs?

You've got me. Whatever the reason, I like 'em, and the advent calendar this year will feature a cookie of the week. So pay attention: this is the first of your weekly cookie treats.

Pfeffernusse

Pfeffernüsse (literally: Pepper Nuts) are little Dutch spice biscuits baked for Sinterklaas, which is the feast of St. Nicholas — traditionally celebrated today. (That's if you're in the Netherlands. Belgians do it the morning of December 6.)

The whole Santa thing is a very different tradition there. Presents arrive with scraps of poetry, and the guy who's coming down the chimney isn't St. Nick but Black Pete (Zwarte Piet), Santa's sooty bad-cop companion. And honestly, you really don't want Zwarte Piet leaving anything for you. He's there for the kids.

But back to the sweets... I hadn't made these cookies before this year, but I'm just crazy for warm, gingery spices in wintertime sweets, so they looked perfect.

The first time I made them, they were too cake-y and I discovered they could really be nuttier (after all, something called a "pepper nut" should be nutty, no?) so I've doubled the nuts, removed an egg and increased the butter.

Pfeffernüsse (Makes 4 Dozen)
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
2 cups brown sugar
1 Tbsp orange or lemon zest
1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped very fine
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cloves
2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Powdered sugar (for dusting)

1. Blend sugar and butter together in large mixing bowl until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs and blend in the nuts.
2. Sift flour with the salt, baking soda, ground pepper, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.
3. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Cover and chill at least two hours.
4. Heat oven to 375°F. Scoop out dough by the teaspoonful and form 1" balls.
5. Place the dough balls an inch apart on ungreased baking sheets, and bake 10 to 12 minutes.
6. When done, move the cookies to wire racks to cool, sprinkling the cookies with powdered sugar while they're still warm.

Pfeffernüsse have some bite, so I find they're a really lovely treat with a hot mug of tea on a wintery day. As it looks like we might be in for a cold winter, these little guys might come in handy.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.05.2008

Pumpkin-Spice Breakfast Bread

Call it squash seduction. Call it the autumnal chill. I don't know what you want to call it, but the pumpkins in the farmers' market have been calling to me.

Of course, I've been too lazy (or maybe just too busy) as of late to turn one of those tempting gourds into a pie.

Luckily, I'm told that few palates can actually discern the difference between fresh-made pumpkin puree and the pumpkin puree that's conveniently canned.

Pumpkins at the Market

With that thought in mind, I whipped up a pumpkin spice bread for brekkie. I wanted something a bit lower in sugar and higher in whole grain flour than a lot of recipes I've seen. I also wanted to experiment in baking with the ginger liqueur I mentioned last week.

This little loaf fit the bill and was quite nice both sliced and slathered with cream cheese and also toasted and kissed with butter.
Pumpkin-Spice Breakfast Bread — Makes One Loaf

6 Tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus a bit of butter for the pan
8 oz (1 cup) pumpkin puree (cans are typically 16 oz)
1 Tbsp ginger liqueur (optional)
2 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus a bit more for the pan
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup packed brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter and flour one 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch (6-cup) loaf pan, and set aside.
2. In a mixing bowl, blend the sugar, pumpkin, melted butter and eggs.
3. In a different bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon.
4. Add the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture and stir until just combined.
5. Pour the batter into the greased pan, and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 50 minutes.
6. Let the loaf cool 10 minutes before transferring it to a wire rack to cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to rest overnight. Slice and eat the next morning — toasted, if you like.

Bon appetit!

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11.11.2008

The Problem with Chickpea Masala

You know what the biggest problem with my Chickpea Masala is? I can't get it to look good. It smells great. It tastes wonderful. It looks... homely.

Oh, sure. I can toss some chopped cilantro or some parsley over the top of it. But come on... that's just putting lipstick on a pig. (Or is that a dog? Who knows these days?) Curry is just a homely dish.

Chickpea Masala

This is really the problem with all the bowl-foods. Delicious, yes. Tasty, yes. Recession-proof? Of course. Easy to make on Sunday and then take to work as leftovers? Without a doubt.

Just not good-lookin' enough for shmantzy guests, that's all. This is peasant cuisine.

Still, that's not going to stop me from sharing the recipe. It's so quick, easy and good for work-a-day lunches, I can't resist its humble charms.

Fast Chickpea Masala (Serves 2 (with leftovers) or 4)

1 Tbsp vegetable oil or ghee
1 medium-sized onion, halved and cut in 1/4" slices
2 cloves garlic, minced or mashed to a pulp
1 2" piece ginger, peeled and minced
1 jalapeño, seeded and sliced thin (optional)
2-3 Tbsp Masala Spices (see below) or a mix of your own
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 15-oz can chickpeas (drained and washed)
1 to 1 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
3 cups cooked rice (for serving)

Optional Garnishes
Chopped cilantro
Plain yogurt or cucumber raita

1. Heat the oil/ghee over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed pan and add the onion slices.

2. Cook until the onion goes from white to translucent (about 10 minutes) and add in the garlic, ginger and jalapeño slices. Cook 5 minutes more.

3. Add in the spice mixture. Cook an additional 3 minutes. The spices should begin sticking to the pan.

4. Add the tomatoes and chickpeas. Lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 30 minutes.

5. Season to taste with the salt. (At this point, you may wish to add either a pinch of sugar, or a squeeze of lime juice, as needed, to please your palate.) Serve immediately with rice and garnishes, or pack up for work-week lunches.

Masala Spice Mix

1 Tbsp cumin seeds
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 cardamom pods
1 tsp fennel
2 whole cloves
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp turmeric

It's best to use whole spices, toasting them in a pan and then grinding them up for this mix, but you can get away with ready-ground spices if that's all you can find. The turmeric, for example, is almost always found pre-ground, so if you're grinding, just add that at the end.

If you're going to skip anything, don't skip the cumin and coriander. They're essential. The others are all negotiable. If you like more heat in your mix, add in some cayenne. I enjoy using fresh chilies when possible, so I like to leave it out.

Store the surplus in an empty spice jar and use within a week or so.

A pilaf of white basmati rice would obviously be the traditional choice to serve with this curry, but I've been liking the brown basmati lately. It has extra fiber and extra nuttiness.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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9.11.2008

Food Quote Friday: Aldous Huxley

Herbs from the Marche d'Aligre

"The scent organ was playing a delightfully refreshing Herbal Capriccio — rippling arpeggios of thyme and lavender, of rosemary, basil, myrtle, tarragon; a series of daring modulations through the spice keys into ambergris; and a slow return through sandalwood, camphor, cedar and newmown hay (with occasional subtle touches of discord — a whiff of kidney pudding, the faintest suspicion of pig's dung) back to the simple aromatics with which the piece began. The final blast of thyme died away; there was a round of applause; the lights went up."

Aldous Huxley from Brave New World

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2.01.2008

Day 8: Care for a Spot of Chai?

This post marks Day 8 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

In a special file in my brain, I keep a cache of borrowed memories. Things I've read, scenes from films, stories collected from the mouths of others. I take them out every now and then. I turn them slowly to watch how they catch the light. Everyone must have something similar.

I once worked with a cook who told me beautiful yarns about his travels. He was one of those with a gift for stories. In the short time I knew him, he filled my mind with brief, colorful scenes from around the world. A lovely gift, no? It's the kind of gift that never wears out. You get to keep it for just as long as you keep your mind.

One of my favorite visions was a description of pressing into a crowded train traveling across India. The cars were loaded with people and baggage, but small, lithe boys would scamper through, swinging on the handrails, banging cups and shouting, "Chai! Chai!" For a pittance, they'd serve it up, hot and milky, before swinging down to the next car.

hot masala chai

My chef grew up in Bombay and Goa. He gave me stories about his grandmother's mango tree and his first kitchen job peeling heaping mountains of onions. He also told me that Indians drink their masala chai hot when the weather's hot. "The spice makes you sweat. The sweat makes you cool."

That's quite a contrast to way we drink it in America: hot in the winter, iced in the summer. But Western though the custom may be, brewing up a hot cup of spice, sweetness and steam seems perfectly welcome to me on a blustery winter morning.

Here's my Masala Chai method. It's maybe a little less traditional than the way chef's grandma does hers, but it's fast, easy, delicious, and just the thing to get me going on a cold winter's morning.

Now, a masala is simply a mixture of spices, and chai literally means tea. Not spiced tea, but just plain old tea. Here in the states, people just say chai when they're looking for spiced chai. I generally try to talk about masala chai when I mean tea mixed with spices.

Ready Masala Chai Mix
It's best to freshly grind whole spices, as the preground ones lose their power pretty quickly. For this recipe, I like a blend of brown and green cardamom pods. The brown ones bring in a nice smokiness. If you can only find green ones (more commonly used in baking) don't fret. It'll still be a nice blend.

Spice Mix
6 cardamom pods
2 sticks cinnamon
4 black peppercorns
1 star anise
6 whole cloves
1 tsp ground ginger

Other Necessaries
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
Tea, for brewing (Assam, Ceylon or Darjeeling work well)

1. Crush the cardamom, reserving the seeds.
2. Add cardamom seeds, cinnamon, peppercorns, star anise and cloves to a clean coffee grinder (alternately, you can use a morter & pestle) and grind to a fine powder.
3. Blend sweetened condensed milk and spices.
4. Brew a pot of tea (or just a cup, as you like).
5. Add a rounded spoonful of the Ready Masala Chai Mix to a hot cup of tea. Stir well. Sip with pleasure.

Store excess mix in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Makes many delicious cups of chai and keeps for quite a long time.


In addition to being an easy hot beverage for holiday gatherings, a kit of pre-ground chai spices wrapped up in a pretty pack alongside a can of sweetened condensed milk, a box of loose tea and a set of instructions might make a welcome gift for a chai-loving friend or coworker.

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12.08.2007

Dangerously Spicy Hot Chocolate Chili Fudge


Warning! Dangerously Spicy Chocolate-Chili Fudge

I'm an introvert. My coworkers probably wouldn't describe me as a particularly demonstrative individual (except when I'm outrageously caffeinated). Therefore, I bake. It's a display of affection with a side bonus; I have a built-in audience on which to offload my extra sweets.

Really... nobody needs more than one slice of banana bread, one muffin, one brownie, one sliver of cake or one piece of fudge. But it's also impossible to make a single square of fudge without making a dozen more in the process.

Thus, it was a wicked combination of altruism and personal craving that drove me to bring in a pan of fudge to the office on a particularly cold morning last week.

It was my first fudge — which is actually surprising, since the Upper Midwest (where I was reared) is covered in a dark, thick layer of the stuff. I was terribly pleased when it went over well. An officemate who claimed to hate fudge ate two pieces. Said one victim, "It rocks. It reminds me of Jacque T.'s ancho chocolate. Give up the day job and sell this."

I shared the recipe, of course, as I will with you. But be warned: This fudge is not supremely sweet or crystalline, like some I've tried. It's almost... chewy. It's dark, bittersweet, brownie-esque and not for those of tender palate.

Dangerously Spicy Chocolate-Chili Fudge (Delights about 15 coworkers)
1 lb high-quality dark chocolate, chopped (I used Lindt Excellence 70%)
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cayenne
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk

Butter the bottom of an 8-inch to 9-inch square baking pan, and line with a square of parchment or wax paper.

Put ingredients into a metal bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water, and stir the mixture occasionally to melt. It's going to be very thick. Spread mixture into the pan and chill until firm (or overnight).

Run a warm knife around edges of pan to loosen the fudge block and flip it over onto a cutting board. Remove the paper, and cut the fudge into 1-inch squares.

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2.21.2007