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Dangerously Spicy Chocolate-Chili Fudge 2.0

Rich, dark and spicy. Is there a homemade treat for Valentine's Day that's more thematically appropriate than my Dangerously Spicy Chocolate-Chili Fudge?

I'm doubting it... especially now that I've gone through and improved the recipe.

I whipped up the first version of this fudge two years ago, but I thought the texture was slightly less than perfect. It was just a bit too chewy.

In this new & improved version, I've added more butter (which makes it creamier) and I've replaced the nutmeg with vanilla, which improves the overall flavor in a magical way.

chocolate fudge heart

It's still super-fast and very easy to make, and you can use dark chocolate (I do) or milk chocolate, as you prefer.
Dangerously Spicy Chocolate-Chili Fudge 2.0 (Makes about 16 pieces)

One (14oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper (or more, if you're bold)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 lb milk or dark chocolate (use chips, pastilles or pieces you've cut)

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

2. In a metal or glass bowl, blend together the salt, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and vanilla with the sweetened condensed milk.

3. Set the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water (double boiler), add the butter and chocolate, stirring the mixture occasionally as it melts.

4. When everything is blended and smooth, spread the mixture into the prepared pan and chill in the refrigerator 2 to 3 hours, or until firm.

5. Run a warm knife around edges of pan to loosen the fudge block and flip it over onto a cutting board. Remove the parchment paper and cut the fudge into 1- to 2-inch squares. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container for up to a month.

Since I last posted on this topic, I've also discovered that some high-quality fudge tips exist at Allrecipes.com. Since I try to avoid using corn syrup, I went with the sweetened condensed milk, and yes, it's pretty fool-poof.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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2.13.2009

Day 23: Christmas Gumbo

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

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

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

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

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

Onions & Peppers

Christmas Gumbo

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

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

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

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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12.23.2008

Day 17: Sweet-Hot Candied Nuts

This post marks Day 17 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

I've been trying not to fixate on financial news, but I recently read a prediction that if bad news keeps rolling in, people may want to want to burrow into their homes and watch movies on the couch. They think the pricetag on going out might be a bit too dear for a tough year.

If that's true, and we're all turning down the thermostats and stuffing ourselves into our living rooms, I hope we've all got good company and tasty snacks as we watch our Netflix or pay-per-views or whatever we happen to be watching.

Sweet-Hot Nuts

I may not be able to assist with the good company part of that equation, but I have a suggestion for tasty snacks I'd like to offer up: my Sweet-Hot Candied Nuts.

Joke if you must — I'll just be over here munching nuts while I conduct my annual viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Sweet-Hot Candied Nuts (Makes 2 cups)
1 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp molasses
1 Tbsp finely grated orange zest
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups mixed nuts

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment or aluminum foil.
2. Stir together butter, sugar, molasses, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt in a roomy, heavy-bottomed saucepan.
3. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat.
4. Add nuts and cook 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.
5. Spread the coated nuts across the prepared baking sheet, breaking up any clumps with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula.
6. Bake, (stirring nuts once halfway through) 12 to 15 minutes or until golden and bubbling.
7. Move the baking sheet to a wire rack to cool, then serve or store in an airtight container for about a week.

With the price of nuts, this snack may not be as cheap as popcorn, but if you're skipping the ticket price of various entertainments to stay home, this little luxury is a relative bargain... not to mention a thoughtful treat for visiting friends.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.17.2008

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

Recession-Proof: Bahn Mi Sandwiches

One of the first food adjustments people consider during downmarket days are meats. Like eggs and dairy products, meat is one of those commodities that shows an immediate rate jump. Those Porterhouses and T-bone steaks start looking mighty dear.

And you'll also note that the traditional foods of most cultures tend to embrace "scrap" meat and cheaper cuts. Ground meat, sausages, scrapple, haggis, cured belly bacon, tougher cuts long-stewed to tenderize... these are the foods of the commoners.



Thus, the bahn mi, a Vietnamese-French fusion sandwich made of chopped fresh vegetables with pate, roast pork or ground meat on a baguette, is a classic recession-proof recipe.
Banh Mi (Makes 4 sandwiches)

For the carrots
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp sugar
Dash fish sauce (optional)
3-4 carrots, shredded

For the sandwiches
2 baguettes (or 4 long sandwich rolls)
1/4 lb roast pork or ham
1 small cucumber, peeled & cut into long strips
1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves picked
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
1/8 lb pork liver pate
Chili sauce (I like Sriracha), to taste
Chili peppers (optional)

1. Prepare the carrots: Mix vinegar with water, sugar and fish sauce (if using). Brine the carrots in this mixture overnight in the refrigerator.
2. To make the sandwiches, slice the baguettes in half, cut each one open and distribute the mayonnaise and pate across the bread.
3. Top each dressed baguette with a thin slice of roast pork/ham. Distribute the carrots, cucumber and cilantro leaves. Add chili sauce or peppers to taste and serve immediately.

Not only does this recipe conservatively use its meat component, you'll note it also makes good use of the recession-proof extender factor in the use of the bread as a cheap and tasty tummy filler.

Happy Eating,

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8.21.2008

No stove, please. I'll have ceviche.

Bah! Cooking... Who needs it? With the temps the 80s and high humidity all week, I just can't get excited about turning on the oven when I come home from work. Raw-food diets suddenly begin to seem more attractive.

J and I try to maintain a Fish n' Film Friday dinner (it's a great mnemonic device to keep fish in our diets), but the thought of turning on the stove last week was just... too... much. So then, our thoughts turned to tangy, spicy bits of ceviche.

Grouper ceviche
Grouper ceviche with radishes, jalapeño and cilantro

Ceviche (sometimes spelled seviche) is simply thin-sliced (or cubed) raw fish that's marinated in a strong acid, usually citrus-based, such as lemon, lime or grapefruit juice. The acid pickles or "cooks" the fish, turning its appearance from translucent to opaque.

Ceviche can be made with salmon or mackerel, of course, but those are fattier, more fully-flavored fish. I prefer the white fishes or ceviches made with shell-off shrimp and scallops. My recommendation? Go with snapper, grouper, sea bass, flounder, halibut, sole or mahi-mahi and doll it up with whatever tasty things you have in the fridge.

Chopped herbs or minced onions are a natural. Peruvian ceviche is very minimalist (and usually served with onions, sweet potatoes and corn), while Mexican ceviche is often mixed with a sort of pico de gallo of chilies, tomatoes and onions. I recently discovered it's also delightful when mixed with chopped-up pickled onions or pickled ramps.
Basic Ceviche
1 pound white fish (sliced uniformly thin), shelled shrimp or scallops
1 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice (about 4 limes)
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
2 Tbsp olive oil

Optional extras
1 Tbsp chopped pickled ramps
1 small red onion, sliced very thin and rinsed in cold water
1 handful cherry tomatoes, halved
3-4 radishes, sliced very thin
1/4 red pepper, diced
1/4-1/2 jalapeño pepper, sliced very thin

1. Combine the lime juice, salt and cilantro.
2. Put the fish in a glass/pyrex dish or another non-reactive container.
3. Pour the lime juice mixture over the fish and chill for up to two hours, stirring once or twice during this time to make sure all the surfaces are covered.
4. After two hours, the fish should look white and opaque. Drain off the lime juice and toss the fish with olive oil to stop the "cooking." Season to taste. (You may wish to mix in the tiniest pinch of sugar if the mixture seems too tart.)
5. Toss in your choice of optional extras, or simply serve as-is, over fresh greens or piled in a cocktail glass.

For my own personal tastes, I find that ceviche cries out for some tortillas (fresh or fried), a crisp salad of fresh greens or even avocados and a cold beer. Wheat beers like Hefeweizen seem to work very well, as do classic Mexican beers like Sol, Corona or Negra Modelo.

Salud!

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6.17.2008

Red! Hot!

Valentine's day's signature candy... some would claim it's chocolate.

Since I consider dark chocolate to be a major food group, a single-holiday association is terribly restrictive. Other folks are all about the "conversation hearts," but I've always found them to be chatty, chalky, cloying. Their colors seem faded, their sentiments too common.


Thanks to TS for the "cinnamon imperials" image

For me, Valentine's Day will always be about the red hots. There's something simultaneously so vixenish and second-grader cute in those shiny candy shells.

Known in the confections field under the far-too-formal generic title "cinnamon imperials," a handful of these little guys act like fireworks in the mouth, leaving you with cinnamon-fresh breath, a bright red tongue and a quick sugar high. And isn't that a bit more representative of the kind of love Valentines Day usually promotes?

Thus today, I take time to pay homage to valentines, romantic love and a million tiny droplets of sweet cinnamon with the REDHOTS Virtual Tour.

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2.14.2005