Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Food Horoscope: Aquarius

Happy birth-month, Aquarians!

Aquarius
Aquarius, the water bearer (January 20 - February 18)

Now, I'm merely a cook, and not an astrologer, but here's my advice for your foodcast:

This might be a great year to focus on experimentation in your cooking.

Try new ingredients. Sample new flavor combinations. Pick up some books at the library and absorb an entirely new cuisine or a skill, like gardening, chocolate-making or pickling.

Go this route and you'll satisfy a desire for novelty without spending gobs of money at restaurants.

Who knows? You might even learn you have a real knack for your newfound skill and make a side business out of it.

Since January is an ideal month to enjoy citrus fruit (and a far less ideal month to go outdoors) you can start experimenting now, if you like.

Try an approachable salad of fresh mint and grapefruit. Or a clementine sorbet. Or a salad of tangerines and frisee. Or add oranges into a supremely simplified take on a Spanish-style bouillabaisse, like so:
A Simple Spanish Seaside Stew (Serves 4)

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1 28oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 navel oranges — peeled, segmented and halved crosswise
1-2 lb fish of your choice, cut into 2-inch pieces* (or substitute shelled shrimp)
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.
2. Add the sliced onions, bell pepper, thyme and pepper flakes, sauteing 10 minutes.
3. Pour in the diced tomatoes with their juices and the salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook 20 minutes, or until the pepper pieces are very tender.
4. Add the orange pieces and the fish cubes. Gently mix into the tomato mixture and allow to cook 5 to 8 minutes, or until the fish pieces are opaque.
5. Season to taste with additional salt and ground black pepper, if necessary. Garnish with fresh dill and serve with a crisp green salad and/or a crusty hunk of bread for dipping.

The combination of tomatoes and oranges is very common in Mediterranean Spain, and this stew is an easy way to get more fish in your diet for not a lot of money. I find it also makes for tasty lunch leftovers.

Enjoy your birthday and happy eating!
Miss Ginsu

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1.20.2009

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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1.13.2009

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

Not the Lunchlady's Goulash

At the tender age of six or seven, I had a clear moment of decision in the school lunchroom.

As most epiphanies are, this revelation was heartfelt and simple. Though I'd traditionally devoured nearly anything that crossed my path — poisonous or not — I discovered a newfound hatred for goulash.

Little did I know that the bland hamburger-macaroni combo they'd scooped onto my plastic tray and billed as goulash was actually a low-rent impostor.

After what was essentially a simplified Hamburger Helper, imagine my shock upon learning that goulash was actually supposed to be full of meat chunks, vegetables... flavor!

Spicy Pork Goulash

True gulyás was something entirely different — a beloved, often spicy dish that had a long heritage with the cattlemen of Hungary.

In keeping with any traditional dish, it seems there's a million ways to make a goulash. You'll find that the Wikipedia page on the topic is robust.

I've enjoyed goulash with beef stew meat and chicken, but at the moment I'm particularly in love with a take on the dish that Ryn brought into work for us to sample last week.

She found this spicy pork version in the superb Staff Meals from Chanterelle — a cookbook I recommend highly.

Unlike many of the products of haute restaurants, the recipes in Staff Meals are varied and delicious, but because they're from the back rooms of Chanterelle and not the fancy front tables, they're actually easy for the home cook to reproduce. Yay!

Spicy Pork Goulash

But on to the reformation of goulash...

Despite the whole chunks of meat in this dish, I think it still qualifies as a Recession-Proof Recipe. The meat in question is all about cheaper cuts, and the rest of the dish is filled up with spices and sauerkraut — about as cheap as it gets.

You can, of course, serve this entrée with hearty dark-grained bread or buttered noodles and/or mashed potatoes, if you like, but I really love the fact that the dish itself is high-flavor and low-carb. We're a bit mindful about how and when we're carbing it up around this household, so that's an important consideration.

And, like any stew, this goulash improves with a bit of mellowing in the fridge... thus, the leftovers are dynamite.
Spicy Pork Goulash (Based on the Staff Meals recipe)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 lb pork stew meat (shoulder is best), cut into 1"-2" cubes
2 large onions, halved and sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chopped bacon
4 cups flavorful stock (vegetable, chicken or beef)
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup sweet Hungarian paprika
1 Tbsp Aleppo pepper (or hot Hungarian paprika)
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
2 lb fresh sauerkraut (avoid the canned stuff)
Salt, to taste
Chopped parsley (Optional, for garnish)
Sour cream (Optional, for garnish)

1. Heat the first portion of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven. In several batches, brown the pork cubes on all sides, moving the seared cubes to a dish while you work.
2. When all the pork is browned, use the same pot to cook the bacon. Add the onions and garlic and cook about 10 minutes.
3. Add the pork (and any juices it releases) back to the pot along with the stock, wine, paprika, caraway and bay. Bring to a boil and then either cover the pot and reduce to a simmer on the stove or move the covered pot to a 375°F oven. Either way, you'll let it cook for one hour.
4. Stir the sauerkraut into the pork mixture and either return it to the oven or keep it cooking on the stove-top for another 20-30 minutes or until the pork is very tender.
5. Carefully remove the stew from the heat and pluck out the bay leaves. Season to taste with salt and more paprika. Garnish (if desired) and serve.

I still find it amazing that this delicious dish and that junk that the lunchlady served with an ice-cream scoop go by the same name.

The sour cream is an optional — but really delicious — accompaniment. It does something magical with the flavors that's hard to describe. I recommend it.

Bon appetit!
Miss Ginsu

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11.06.2008

The Million Method March

My first Moroccan Stew recipe, out of Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, was essentially a tomato-rich vegetable stew with a handful of black olives and a squeeze of lemon. It was full of potato cubes, artichoke hearts and green beans, with no real spice to speak of.

Later on, I discovered that lamb was a fairly traditional component of Moroccan Stew, though lots of cooks used chicken. Cinnamon, apricots and cured olives seemed to be common ingredients. Some ingredient lists included orange sections or apricot pieces, while some suggested only strips of orange zest or squeeze of fresh lemon at the end. Some cooks insisted on a couscous accompaniment. Some only mentioned couscous in passing.

The majority of Moroccan Stew recipes seemed to bear about as much resemblance to each other as individual members in a fleet of Elvis impersonators. I mean, you know they're all striving for basically the same thing, but...

I'm convinced there must be hundreds of variations, and I used to be intimidated by that breadth of options. Which one was the right one? Which was most authentic?

Lately I've come to see all those variants as empowering rather than confounding. Why? A million methods means you can't really mess it up. Your ideal Moroccan Stew is for you to determine. Don't eat meat? Don't use it. Fresh out of olives or apricots? Skip 'em. Love chickpeas? Go crazy.

Moroccan Stew with Chicken

As for me, I use Moroccan Stew recipes as more like suggestions than prescriptions. Just use some good ingredients and cook 'em gentle and slow. It'll come out nice-like.

When everything's tender, taste it and season to taste with salt, pepper and some lemon and fresh herbs. Dish it up with couscous or some toasted pita or maybe just a day-old hunk of baguette.

It'll be fine. I'm betting it'll even be tasty. Maybe it'll be a work of art your guests will remember with fondness for the rest of their lives.

That's why there's a million recipes for Moroccan Stew. No matter how you do it, you're almost guaranteed to get it right.

Moroccan Stew for a Cold Winter's Night

2 Tbsp olive oil
4 skin-on chicken thighs OR 1 1/2 lb lamb cubes (optional)
1-2 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp dried thyme
1-2 cinnamon sticks
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1-2 tsp Aleppo pepper (optional)
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 15oz can chickpeas, drained
2 cups cubed tomatoes, chopped (or 1 14oz can diced tomatoes)
3-4 cups stock, (vegetable or chicken)
1/2 cup flavorful olives, pitted
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro and/or chopped mint
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

In a heavy-bottomed stockpot or a dutch oven, heat olive oil until it shimmers. Add the meat of your choice (if using) and sear until it acquires some color. Remove the meat and sauté the onions, bell pepper and garlic in the same pan until the onions are translucent.

Add thyme, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, Aleppo pepper, tomatoes, chickpeas, olives, apricot pieces and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 60 to 90 minutes, or until meat and vegetables are fork-tender.

Stir in lemon juice and fresh herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with couscous or toasted pita, or store overnight and reheat the next day, when the flavor will be all the better.

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2.12.2008