Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


Terrifyingly Tasty Treats for Halloween

Halloween really snuck up on me this year, and that never happens. I usually have a costume idea by August. By the first of the month, I'm usually sipping cider and toasting pumpkin seeds.

But this year, I'm in an arm cast, so everything takes longer to do and I'm left with fewer costume options. Mummy? Zombie accident victim? Abominable snowman? I'm at a loss.

Thankfully, cast or no, there can still be treats.

We'll be doing another Halloween potluck at work. If, like me, you've let Halloween sneak up and surprise you, you might need a few good recipe ideas for holiday eats.

Let's have a look at some tasty Halloween party food thoughts, eh?

Halloween Potluck
Note the dry ice "cauldron" in the back. Spooooky, right?

A Menu of Spooky Delights for Halloween
Obviously, sweets tend to be the focus for Halloween, but if you're throwing a party, the guests will certainly be grateful to see a few savory treats as well.

A Few Sweet...
  • Cookies of the Dead (Cute and scary.)
  • Goo-ls (or Globins) (Cute, scary and CRUNCHY!)
  • Brandied Caramel Sauce (For dipping sliced apples or pears.)
  • Pumpkin Spice Bread (Pumpkins!)
  • Not-Very-Scary Cakes (And not too bad for you, either.)
  • Off-The-Hook Maple Nut Bars (Seriously: these are deadly good.)

    A Few Savory...
  • Black Bean Soup (Dark and bubbly.)
  • Devils on Horseback (Good year-round, but great on All Hallow's Eve.)
  • Hot Artichoke Dip (Serve with cut veggies as a nice contrast for all the sweets.)

    And a Couple of Drinks for Good Measure
  • Mulled Hot Apple Cider (for the kids)
  • The Bronx Cocktail (for the grownups)

    Hoping your Halloween costume ideas are going better than mine!

    Miss Ginsu

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  • 10.27.2009

    Mission: The Ice Cream Smore'wich

    As the last big weekend for summer grilling approaches, what's the ultimate summer dessert? The ice cream sandwich? The s'more?

    I had a thought this week... why not combine the two? Behold: The Ice Cream Smore'wich!

    Ice Cream Smore'wich Blueprint
    Click in for the full-size version

    I've done a bit of (rich, tasty, chocolaty) experimentation, and I'm here to tell you, there's the fast and easy way, and then there's the longer (but rewarding) way. Your choice.

    Ice Cream Smore'wich — The Easy Way

    You'll need:
    Graham crackers
    Chocolate fudge sauce
    Vanilla ice cream
    Jumbo-size marshmallows
    Plastic wrap or wax paper

    1. Select two graham crackers and slather one side of one graham cracker with chocolate fudge sauce (or go crazy with Nutella, if you're so inclined).
    2. Open a carton of your favorite vanilla ice cream and cut or portion a 1" slice of the ice cream to match the length and width of the remaining graham cracker base.
    3. Place the ice cream slice/portion atop the remaining graham cracker base and move both graham crackers to a tray or plate in the freezer to chill.
    4. Use a skewer/stick to toast the marshmallow to your liking.
    5. To assemble, gently compress the cooled toasted marshmallow between the chocolate fudge and the ice cream-layered graham crackers. Return the completed smore'wich to the freezer for 15 minutes to firm, then wrap snugly in plastic wrap or wax paper and keep frozen until ready to consume.

    ice cream smore'wich

    Ice Cream Smore'wich — The Homemade Way

    First, you'll need homemade graham crackers. Rather than repainting the Mona Lisa, I will merely refer you to Smitten Kitchen's Awesome Graham Cracker Post.

    For the chocolate fudge sauce layer:
    Simple Chocolate Fudge Sauce (Makes about 3 cups)

    1 cup chopped 60% chocolate (or good quality chocolate chips)
    1/2 cup butter
    2 cups confectioners' sugar
    3/4 cup milk or cream
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract or brandy
    1/8 teaspoon salt

    Combine the chocolate and butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Melt over medium-low heat, stirring to blend. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Gradually blend in the milk (or cream). Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the vanilla (or brandy) and salt. Serve immediately or store, chilled. (Can be rewarmed in the microwave.)

    Finally, the toasted marshmallow ice cream:

    Although the Torani company makes a very exciting-looking Toasted Marshmallow Syrup, I wasn't able to secure any for this test. Instead, I've gone with a classic ice cream base with a toasted marshmallow swirl.

    Toasted Marshmallow Swirl Ice Cream (Makes 1+ quart)

    For the Toasted Marshmallow Swirl:
    15 large-sized marshmallows
    1/2 cup milk or water

    Place the marshmallows and liquid in a heavy-bottomed sauce pot and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the marshmallows melt and the sauce attains a rich brown color (about 20 minutes). Add a little hot water if the mixture seems too thick and scrape the edges and bottom well to pick up the caramelized sugar.
    When the sauce is thick and caramel colored, remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool.

    For the Ice Cream Base:
    2 free-range eggs
    3/4 cup sugar
    2 cups heavy cream
    1 cup milk

    1. Whisk the eggs 1-2 minutes.
    2. Whisk in the sugar.
    3. When blended, pour in the cream and milk. Blend well.
    4. Pour this blend into your ice cream machine and prepare as directed.
    5. When the ice cream is very thick and nearly ready (about five to ten minutes before completion), fold in the toasted marshmallow sauce.
    6. Pack the ice cream into pints and freeze overnight.

    To assemble the homemade Smore'wich
    1. Select two graham crackers and slather one side of one graham cracker with chocolate fudge sauce.
    2. Slather a thick portion of the ice cream across the length and width of the remaining graham cracker base.
    3. Gently compress the coated sides of both graham crackers together. Wrap the sandwich snugly in plastic wrap or wax paper and keep frozen until ready to consume.

    While my toasted marshmallow swirl ice cream is pretty tasty, it's not quite as toasty as I'd like it to be.

    I still want to try out the toasted marshmallow syrup, but in the meantime, if anyone knows a foolproof method for getting that rich caramelized flavor into ice cream, please let me know in the comments!

    Have a lovely long weekend, and happy eating!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Vive la Clafoutis!

    Ah, the 14th of July! The season of fresh, local cherries. The celebration of Bastille Day. The time to bake a fruity dessert for this week's Dessert Corps project.

    Oh, hey... look at that. It's like a cosmic alignment of forces telling me it's time to make a cherry clafoutis, the traditional custard pudding of Limousin in the heart of la belle France.

    Rainier Cherry Bowl

    As it happens, the fantastic Dessert Corps volunteer crew provided me with a half-dozen eggs and more than a pound of gorgeous, blushing Rainier Cherries — sweet, fragrant and fresh from the Greenpoint farmers' market.

    Not familiar with the Rainier? It was developed in Washington state in the 1950s, as a descendant of the big, beautiful Bing Cherry and the smaller, more obscure (but very hardy) Van Cherry.

    Apparently the Rainier fetches princely prices because the birds eat about a third of the crop and because they bruise easily, so there's some waste in transit.

    By that measure, a Rainier Cherry Clafoutis is a dessert (or brunch treat) that's fit for kings! Or perhaps just recently deposed royalty! Or maybe even friends who happen to be a bit down on their fortunes and need a bit of home-baked comfort.

    Rainier Cherry Clafoutis

    You choose the audience. I'll provide the recipe:
    Golden Rainier Cherry Clafoutis (Makes one 8" dish)
    2 1/2 cups (roughly) pitted Rainier cherries
    1 teaspoon cornstarch
    1/3 cup all purpose flour
    1/4 cup toasted almonds
    4 large eggs
    1/2 cup white sugar
    1/4 tsp salt
    1 cup cream (or milk)
    1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
    1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
    1 tsp lemon zest (optional)

    Confectioner's sugar (for dusting)

    1. Preheat oven to 325°F and butter an 8" round or square baking dish.
    2. In a medium bowl, gently toss the cherries with the cornstarch and spread evenly across the bottom of the buttered dish.
    3. Blend the flour and almonds in a blender or food processor until nuts are very finely chopped.
    4. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and salt. Whisk in flour until just mixed.
    5. Blend in cream, melted butter, vanilla (or almond) extract and lemon zest (if using), whisking until smooth. Pour this mixture over the cherries.
    6. Bake until the center sets and the top begins to turn golden, about 55 minutes.
    7. Cool to room temperature before dusting the surface with powdered sugar. Serve with vanilla ice cream or yogurt, if desired.

    Bon appétit, mes amis!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Strawberry-Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

    Of all the fruits, rhubarb retains the most magical nostalgic quality for me. Back when I was very small, it grew gargantuan each spring around the farmhouse. My mom always made terrific rhubarb desserts. Sweet-tart. Spicy. Distinctly rhubarb-y.

    What's funny is that rhubarb isn't actually a fruit. It's a stem, making it technically a vegetable... but who eats rhubarb as a vegetable? No, rhubarb is the vegetable that found its true calling in the fruit world.

    And I used to be such a purist about it. None of that strawberry blending for me. Rhubarb was dandy on its own thankyouverymuch.

    These days I see the value in marrying the two. They both mature at the same time. My CSA delivers them at the same time. Why shouldn't I cook them at the same time? And what a delight they are together!

    For my Dessert Corps project this week, the theme is rhubarb, so I'm contributing a strawberry-rhubarb upside-down cake.

    Rhubarb Compote

    For this cake, I begin with rhubarb compote. But for my day-to-day life, that's generally where I end. Compote. With yogurt. For dessert. It's sweet-tart tangy, creamy, cool... really divine.

    But since my humble yogurt and compote dessert doesn't seem dressy enough (or portable enough) for sharing with the soup kitchen... today, I go beyond compote and into the slightly more complicated world of cake.

    Upside-down cakes are an interesting topic on their own. I wrote an article on them a couple of years ago and discovered that flipped cakes were probably born of historical necessity, skillet cakes having been easier to make than standard cakes for those without ovens.

    But I digress... On to the cake!

    Strawberry Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake (Makes an 8" x 8" cake)

    Rhubarb Compote:
    2 stalks rhubarb, cut 3/4" thick
    15 medium strawberries, quartered
    1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp water
    1/4 cup white or brown sugar

    Vanilla Cake:
    2 large eggs
    2 Tbsp milk
    1/2 tsp vanilla
    1 cup AP flour
    3/4 cup sugar
    3/4 teaspoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    3/4 stick butter (6 Tbsp), softened
    1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp buttermilk (or plain yogurt + milk)

    For the Compote: Combine rhubarb pieces, strawberry pieces, water and sugar in a saucepot. Gently simmer, stirring every few minutes, until the fruit is tender, about 12-15 minutes. Remove from heat.

    For the Cake:
    1. Grease an 8" x 8" round or square cake pan with butter and preheat the oven to 350° F.
    2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and vanilla.
    3. In a larger mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Blend in the butter until well incorporated and then stir in the buttermilk. (It will be sticky.)
    4. Add about half the egg mixture into the larger mixing bowl, stirring until smooth (about 20 seconds) then stir in the rest of the egg mixture. Incorporate well.
    5. Spread the rhubarb mixture evenly across the bottom of the greased pan. Spread the cake mixture evenly over the top of the rhubarb mixture and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
    6. Remove cake from the oven when done, cool for 5 minutes on a rack, then loosen the cake from the sides of the pan with a knife, place a serving platter face-down atop the cake pan and invert the cake onto the platter. Some of the fruit may stick in the pan. Scoop this out and replace it atop the cake.

    Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream, or cool and serve slices with coffee.

    Happy Eating!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Cinco de Mayo Whoopie Pies

    When I started writing this particular post last October (yes, it's been bounding around the lobes of my brain for a while) I wondered whether Whoopie Pies were poised to be the new Cupcakes.

    Back then, I wrote,
    "I feel like I'm seeing whoopie pies everywhere I turn. And aren't cupcakes far too 2002 these days?"

    But now that I've made a couple of batches of whoopie pies, I realize they're no match for the mighty cupcake. I've come to this conclusion for three key reasons:

    1. The Cuteness Factor. Cupcakes are cute. Even scribbled drawings of cupcakes are cute. Whoopie pies are homely.

    2. The Travel Factor Cupcakes are less portable than cookies, but whoopie pies are even worse. The filling tends to squish out inappropriately in transit.

    3. The Fan Base Nobody puts Cupcake in a corner.

    Gigantic Whoopie Pie
    The new cupcake? I don't think so.

    I do volunteer baking for the Craig's Kitchen Dessert Corps, which organizes a troop of oven-ready cooks to produce desserts for my local soup kitchen. It's a very cool endeavor.

    The dessert assignment changes each week, so I've done everything from rice krispie treats to pumpkin cheesecake brownies and red velvet cake.

    One of the recent assignments was to make whoopie pies, which seemed interesting and fun until the time came to actually do it and the weather was a random, record-setting 90° F. In April, for the luvvagod.

    The hot oven heated my already overheated apartment. The filling drooped and melted. Each very tasty (but very goopy and sticky) whoopie pie was ultimately only barely contained by the individual zip-top sandwich bags into which I slipped them.

    I tried to refrigerate the whole messy bunch of them, but delivery to the soup kitchen required they be okay at room temperature... and I'm afraid these little cookie sandwiches probably ended up being a bit too volatile to handle.

    Picture the poor and luckless masses of my neighborhood struggling through exploding packs of marshmallow goo to dig out their chocolate whoopie cookies. Seemed like something just short of a dessert fiasco.

    What then, would send me back to make more whoopie pies? Well, 1. leftover ingredients and 2. the kind of wisdom that only comes from sorry experience.

    This time, I'll be making whoopie pies with a Cinco de Mayo twist (hooray for spiced chocolate!) and I'm not assembling them until I'm safely on location at the event. Then they can ooze and drip all they want.

    I'm also making each "pie" into a much smaller affair. The whoopie pies I first baked up were based on a recipe that made enormous versions... 4 to 5 inches across, as you'll see in the photo above at the top of the page.

    Whoopie Pie Platter

    While my version is by no means bite-sized, you'll find my whoopies are a much more petite treat (more like 2.5 to 3 inches across), which is more than plenty. Those mega-whoopies are enough to feed two to three people, and honestly, who wants to share?
    Mini Mexican Chocolate Whoopie Pies (Makes 12-13)
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    3/4 cup cocoa powder
    1 tsp salt
    1 2/2 tsp baking soda
    1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
    1 tsp ground cayenne
    1 1/3 cups buttermilk (or plain yogurt mixed with milk)
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
    1 1/3 cups brown sugar
    2 eggs

    For the filling
    1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
    1 cup powdered confectioner's sugar
    2 cups marshmallow creme or marshmallow fluff
    1 tsp vanilla extract

    1. Heat the oven to 375°F and use a little oil or butter to grease two large baking sheets.
    2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients: flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and cayenne.
    3. In a separate, smaller bowl, blend the buttermilk and vanilla.
    4. In a large mixing bowl, blend the butter and brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Whip in the eggs until well incorporated.
    5. Into the butter mix, alternate adding the blended dry ingredients and the buttermilk mixture, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. The mix will be very sticky.
    6. Drop 1/4 cup portions of the batter 2 inches apart on the greased baking sheets, place the sheets in the oven and bake for about 8 minutes. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 3 minutes before moving the "cookies" to racks to cool fully.
    7. To make the filling, blend together the butter, confectioner's sugar, marshmallow creme and vanilla extract.
    8. Assemble the whoopie pies by slathering a few tablespoon's worth of the filling on the flat side of one of the cookies. Top the filling with the flat side of another cookie. Repeat this process with the rest of the cookies and filling.
    9. Serve immediately, or chill until serving time to help firm up the filling.

    If I only had a jar of dulce de leche sitting around the house, I'd try to whip up a filling with that instead of the marshmallow creme (doesn't that sound decadent?) but I do believe these whoopies will have the same whoopie-inducing effect either way.

    With that, I bid you a delightful Cinco de Mayo, and may your whooopie-making always be fun, gratifying and easy to clean up.

    Happy Eating!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Attack of the Killer Waffle Batter

    Just in case you were wondering... yes. The rumors are true. Our Bee Sweet Bake Sale for Earth Day last week was a sweet success (probably one of our biggest in-office bake sales to date) with a menu consisting of such treats as:

    Honey Raisin Oatmeal Cookies
    Banana Bread with Honeyed Cream Cheese
    Chocolate-Honey Mini Cupcakes
    Spicy Ginger Brownies (honey-free)
    Honey Peanut Butter Cookies
    Whole-Wheat Honey Fruit Squares
    Honeyed Hot Masala Chai

    ...and an ambitious (and delicious) Spicy Caramelized Onion and Fontina Cheese Pizza on Wheat-Free Teff Crust with Kalamata Olive & Honey Glaze (it was delightful).

    Bee Sweet Bake Sale

    My contribution came in the form of Honey Sourdough Waffles with butter, powdered sugar and a homemade Honey-Berry Syrup. And I'm going to tell you right now, the waffles turned out to be light, crisp and quite tasty, but they scared the hell out of me.

    Let me tell you a little waffle story, then I'll give you the recipe to try... if you dare.

    Based on the wild success of freshly cooked waffles at previous bake sales, I figured I'd bring out the waffle iron once again for this bake sale.

    This time I thought I'd let the batter go overnight to give it extra flavor and y'know... personality. Well, this waffle batter had personality to spare.

    When I woke up and opened the refrigerator door, there was a batter fountain flowing down the side of the refrigerator and across all the food below. Wow. That's not the nicest way to wake up.

    After a 25-minute clean-up job, the batter was still bubbling, still threatening to erupt across the kitchen... but it was all worth it, right? Delicious, no?

    Actually, no. I had a little sample and it tasted terrible. Simply horrid. Like spoiled milk. I wanted to cry.

    I took it to work anyway. What was I supposed to do? I had a bake sale to support. And I had this irrational thought that cooking it might make it taste better. In waffle form, maybe it'd shape up and taste tangy and delicious. But I really didn't have much faith.

    In any case, I stirred it up to keep the burbling growth at bay, put the lid back on it and carted it to work, terrified it would explode in a sticky, globby mess on the way.

    Erupting Waffle Batter
    Even at the office, it's threatening to spill over the edge of the jar...

    Then at work, well... I wish you could have been there, because it was a waffle miracle. I fired up the iron. I ladled the batter. There was sizzling and steaming. And wonder of wonders — it tasted fine. Better than fine. It tasted terrific. Airy, crisp and full of yeasty flavor. A delight with melted butter.

    Dozens and dozens of waffles were made. Money was donated. People were happy.

    Would I do it again? Yes, but I'd either increase the size of the jar or halve the recipe.

    And I'll give you the warning I should've given myself: if you let the batter burble overnight, you must give it the opportunity to triple in size. My jar was 3/4 full when it went into the fridge and that was a big, dumb, messy mistake.

    So this recipe isn't officially sourdough, since it's not made with a sourdough starter, but since the batter is awfully sour, I'm calling it sourdough and nobody is going to stop me.

    If you're paying close attention, you'll notice it's loosely based on the "My Mother's Waffles" recipe by Ruth Van Waerebeek that I posted a couple of years ago.

    Honey "Sourdough" Waffles (Makes about 20)

    2 packages active dry yeast
    4 cups milk, warmed to 100°F
    3 large egg yolks
    6 Tbsp (3/4 stick) butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
    1/2 cup honey
    Pinch of salt
    4 cups all-purpose flour
    3 large egg whites

    To Serve (choose one or more)
    Fresh whipped cream
    Berries or cut fruit
    Powdered sugar
    Maple Syrup

    1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in one cup of the milk.
    2. In a large, rooomy mixing bowl (the dough will double or triple in volume), whisk the egg yolks, melted butter, yeast mixture, honey and salt.
    3. Gradually sift the flour into the batter. Alternate additions of flour with the remaining milk, stirring the batter after each addition.
    4. Loosely cover and let the mixture develop overnight in the refrigerator.
    5. The next morning, stir the batter, adding a splash of water if it seems too thick.
    6. Beat the egg whites into soft peaks, then fold the egg whites into the batter.
    7. Heat the waffle iron and bake your waffles according to the manufacturers' instructions. I use a ladle to portion the batter, but some recommend transferring the batter to a pitcher and pouring it into the waffle iron.
    8. Immediately serve baked waffles with butter and powdered sugar or whipped cream and fresh fruit. To store leftover waffles, make sure you cool them completely before wrapping well and freezing.

    Happy Eating!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Love is Sweet. (And Sometimes Crunchy.)

    I've seen a few cake toppers in my time, but I just had to share these candy ones that were recently in the photo studio on the way to their cake-top destiny — they're just so supercute:

    Bride and Groom Cake Topper Front

    Bride and Groom Cake Topper Back

    That bouquet is particularly great, isn't it?

    They're made to resemble the sister and new brother in law of my coworker Suzy Hotrod.

    And as Ms. Hotrod points out, it's kind of hilarious that they're made to fit together perfectly, but it also looks like he's patting her bum from the back view. Completely unintentional I'm sure, but still funny.

    The sculptor is Gotham Girl Roller Derby menace Miss Beatrix Slaughter, and of course the photography is by the über-talented Suzy Hotrod herself.

    If you or someone you know are gettin' hitched sometime soon, you can drop Slaughter a note at her real-life gmail digs. Her handle is zklogan.

    I know I've been a bad blogger (bad blogger! no cookie for you!), but I'll be back on the web soon with some smokin' recipe action.

    Miss Ginsu

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    Regarding the Abuse of Peeps

    I don't know what my coworker Suzy Hotrod has against marshmallow Peeps.

    For the past couple of years, we've done an Eastover potluck (Easter + Passover dishes), and this year, we made it a St. Eastover potluck, incorporating St. Pat's day in the mix.

    Peeps Fondue

    Last year, Suzy made a Peeps Fondue, dunking the poor things in a bath of thick, rich chocolate lava.

    Peeps Smore

    This year, it was Peeps S'mores, their little pink and yellow bodies crushed between slabs of graham cracker.

    Now, it was more than a month ago when all this abuse went down, but I couldn't help but notice this week that the Peeps S'more is suddenly hot.

    Over at Serious Eats, they profiled this very version of Peeps abuse, as sourced from a Peeps cookbook. Looks like the heating action happens in an oven.

    As I recall, Suzy came up with hers independently, working out a system in the microwave. I believe she placed Peeps atop squares of chocolate and spaced those out across a on a piece of parchment. Then she microwaved them (apparently they inflate like you wouldn't believe), and she moved the hot piles of gooey sugar to the graham crackers for sandwiching.

    Peeps Smore Closeup

    I actually thought they'd be kind of gross, but they were surprisingly good. The crunchy sugar on the outside of the Peeps adds an extra texture aspect. Crisp, gooey, sweet and chewy. The only thing missing was that burnt-sugar flavor you get from campfire s'mores.

    Mini Easter Basket

    I'd feel terrible if I neglected to mention that the other impressive dish at this year's St. Eastover fest was Ryn's Mini Easter Baskets, cleverly constructed with cupcake liners, jelly beans and foil-wrapped eggs. I think you'll agree the mint is a nice touch for the platter.

    Mini Easter Baskets Platter

    What kind of Peeps abuse will next year hold? Peep skewers? Peeps on a stick? Peeps pâté? Only Suzy knows.

    Late-Breaking Addendum: Aaron Cohen wants you to know that he's compiled a survey of marshmallow Peeps on the Internet, revealing that the abuse of peeps is far more widespread than we ever suspected. The time to take legislative action to protect Peeps is long past, I'm afraid.

    Meanwhile, Happy Holidays & Happy Eating!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Bee Sweet: A Bake Sale to Benefit Bees

    What: A bake sale to benefit bee research (items containing honey encouraged!)
    When: Earth Day: April 22, 2009
    Where: At work, at school, out on the street
    Who: You, perhaps? And anyone else who'd like to contribute.

    Why: Thanks to dedicated research, honey bee populations seem to be on the mend, but the specter of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) still looms. Funding for more study will help our tiny pollinators thrive.

    I'll be hosting a Bee Sweet bake sale at my office on Earth Day this year, with the benefits going to the UC Davis Honey Bee Research Facility.

    I've also made a handy Bee Sweet graphic in case you'd like to join in and do your own bee benefit. Just click on the graphic below to get a printable PDF.

    Bee Sweet
    Click for the larger version.

    This bake sale will also be a great opportunity to highlight honey as a star ingredient. I've found it's enormously popular for treats in Mediterranean cuisine, being the sweetener that happened to be on hand for hundreds of thousands of years.

    Honey can be used in place of sugar in some recipes, but keep in mind: it's best to go conservatively at first, and the liquid in your recipe may need to be reduced. The National Honey Board has a few tips on usage.

    I'll be posting a few honey-based goodies in upcoming days to get you thinking sweet thoughts, but in the meantime, here's a few honey treats from the archives:

  • Moist & Sticky Fig Cake
  • Honey Mead
  • Frybread
  • Hot Honey-Ginger Toddy
  • Sugarplums
  • Nutted Halvah

    Happy Eating!
    Miss Ginsu

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  • 4.08.2009

    The Missing Tooth & The Red Velvet Pig

    My boss, let's call him Dr. Bacon, completely missed out on his birthday cake this week.

    If you're a longtime reader, you may recall that the one we did last year was the chocolate bacon cake. Well, this one wasn't half so crazy, but it was still sort of cute and appropriate to the recipient.

    I blame the dentist. After a vicious morning root canal, Dr. Bacon wasn't up for work, or cake, or even consciousness, I'd wager. Too bad.

    We ate up the red velvet pig on his behalf. Piggy wasn't willing to hang around waiting.

    Red Velvet Pig

    His frosting isn't perfect (but maybe that gives him character?), and yes... the eyes, hooves and snout are paper cut-outs, (which is kind of cheating), but I still think he's rather charming.

    He certainly looked very cool after we divided him into pieces. Some gleefully went for pieces of the pork belly. Others claimed the ham, or the loin. I went after one of the tasty trotters.

    I think my favorite aspect of red velvet cake is the cream cheese frosting, and since I use less sugar than most people, mine is still a bit more cream-cheese tangy and not eye-poppingly sweet. That said, if you love the super-sweet frosting, by all means... double or even triple the confectioners' sugar in this recipe.
    Red Velvet Sheet Cake (Makes one 13" x 9" cake)

    1/2 cup butter, softened
    1 1/2 cups sugar
    2 eggs
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1 cup buttermilk (or 3/4 cup plain yogurt and 1/4 cup water or milk)
    2 tbsp (1 oz) red food color
    1 tsp white vinegar (raspberry vinegar is also nice)
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 1/2 tsp baking soda
    1/3 cup cocoa powder
    1 tsp salt

    For the frosting:
    1 8oz package cream cheese, softened
    4 tbsp butter, softened
    1 cup powdered sugar
    1 tsp vanilla extract

    1/4 cup chopped pecans (optional, for garnish)

    1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 13" x 9" baking pan.
    2. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add in the eggs and vanilla, beating well.
    3. In a separate bowl, blend the buttermilk and food color.
    4. Sift the flour, cocoa, salt and soda, then add this dry blend to the butter mixture, alternating with additions of the buttermilk mixture. Mix out any lumps, but don't over-beat.
    5. Stir in the vinegar, and pour the batter into the prepared pan.
    6. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center of the comes out clean. When done, remove the pan from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
    7. Make the frosting by blending together the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar and vanilla extract. When smooth and creamy, smooth it across the surface of the cake. Top with chopped pecans, if desired.

    To make the pig shape, I cut out a cardboard template and made a home-made pan by wrapping it with aluminum foil. And no, it didn't catch on fire in the oven, but you could just as easily (and probably more safely) get the same effect by cutting hooves, an ear and a snout out of the cake after it cools.

    The lack of curly tail was noted, and if we'd been prepared, I think we might have inserted a twisted piece of ropey red liquorice or a slice of curly fried bacon.

    Alas, the pig went without a tail, Mr. Bacon went without cake and the dentist ran away with the tooth.

    But you know, that's how some days go down. At such times, all we can do is hope that tomorrow offers better prospects for healthy teeth, proud tails and tender slices of cake.

    Miss Ginsu

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    On Bulding a Bombe

    At culinary school, we spent one whole class period making bombes, and it was a wonderful experience, although I've noticed it's not polite to talk about that sort of thing in public.

    People can't hear the silent "e" at the end of bombe, so one risks being labeled a terrorist. Thus, it becomes necessary to modify the word on each utterance... "pastry bombe" or "ice cream bombe" or "bombe cake" or something of the sort.

    The bombe glacée is a traditional French confection made with a cake dome that encloses a mousse or ice cream center.

    You don't see them that often, and that's a shame, because it's fairly easy to construct a bombe.

    I find that the mousse variety holds up a bit longer at room temperature, but the ice cream bombe seems to make people (particularly small people) squeal with delight.

    To get started, you'll need a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with a raised edge and a large, deep metal or glass mixing bowl. (Mine is from K-Mart's affordable Martha Stewart line)

    The construction of a basic bombe works like this:
    1. Bake a flat, flexible cake layer. (I used the chocolate genoise recipe for this.)
    2. Cool the cake and and cut into pieces/strips.
    3. Line the metal mixing bowl with plastic wrap and then line with the cake pieces, cutting smaller shapes (as necessary) to fit in all the spaces and make a single, uniform layer. This process is like making a cake puzzle across the inside of the bowl.
    4. Pack mousse or softened (but not melted) ice cream into the empty space atop the cake, cover the entire bowl with plastic wrap or parchment and freeze 5 hours (or overnight).
    5. Optional: Cover exposed ice cream top (cake bottom) with a quick chocolate ganache and let harden for 30 minutes in the freezer. This is just to seal up the bottom, but it doesn't show, and it's not necessary.
    6. Using the plastic wrap lining for leverage, invert the bombe on a platter and quickly frost or ice it and/or decorate it. Return the bombe the freezer until it's time to cut and serve.

    To illustrate, here's a bombe, still in the chilled bowl with the hardened ganache spread across the top.

    Bombe in the Bowl

    Observe the inverted, undecorated bombe here (you'll note the white ice cream crevices where the cake pieces fit together).

    Bombe Cake (unfrosted)

    And the frosted bombe here...

    Bombe Cake (frosted)

    The lovely Suzy Hotrod kindly documented the before and after bombe photos, so toques off to her for making this funny little cake look professional.

    I do recommend avoiding the lowfat ice creams for this project. They're often very airy and whipped, making them melt too quickly for use here. But that aside, you can really use whatever ice cream you like. I went with plain old vanilla but most anything you enjoy will work fine.


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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.

    Miss Ginsu

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    Chocolate Fondue the Lazy Way

    Feeling rushed this week? Broke? Out of ideas for something special you might want to do for the Valentine's Day holiday?

    Consider the Lazy Cook's Chocolate Fondue, a recipe that's easy, cheap, fun to do, a little out of the ordinary and supremely decadent — all at the same time.

    Chocolate Fondue with Peeps

    The nice thing about this recipe (other than the fact that it's dead simple, cheap and reliably tasty) is that it's so very flexible.

    If the berries look ugly (February isn't exactly their best month), get dried fruit instead.

    Don't like marshmallows? No problem: skip 'em.

    Need a Valentine's Day treat for the whole family? Double the recipe. Kids love to dip things... especially in chocolate.

    Prefer dark to milk? Go crazy.

    Whatever your preferences, this is the chocolate treat for you and your valentine, because you can customize it perfectly to suit the occasion and the participants involved.

    Chocolate Fondue with Peeps (Close Up)
    Chocolate Fondue the Lazy Way (Serves 2-4)

    For the sauce
    1/2 cup heavy cream
    8oz (1/2 lb) chocolate chips, pastilles or small chunks (milk, dark or white)

    For dipping (Choose one or more)
    Fresh strawberries, raspberries or blackberries
    Bananas, cut into 1" chunks
    Pound cake, cut into 1" cubes
    Dried fruit (apricots, figs, dried cherries, banana chips and pineapple work well)
    Jumbo marshmallows
    Graham crackers or shortbread cookies
    Walnut or pecan halves
    Fresh coconut, cut into 1" cubes

    1. Count out forks or skewers and prepare a serving plate with the dipping items. (You'll want them at the ready so the sauce doesn't cool down completely while your fussing.)
    2. Place the cream and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat. Whisk constantly until the chocolate melts and incorporates.
    3. Pour the chocolate sauce into a pretty bowl and serve immediately alongside your prepared platter of dippers.

    Totally easy, right? You can whip this up in less than 20 minutes.

    I'm not a white chocolate person, but I must admit it looks particularly cool on the berries.

    And feel free to use broken up chocolate bars, chocolate chips, one of those huge Hershey chocolate kisses hacked into little pieces... whatever chocolate you happen to have.


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    Five Steps to Homemade Birthday Cake

    Since the late 1940s, Pillsbury, Duncan Hines and General Mills (aka Betty Crocker) have been putting out cake mixes for the masses. Billions of boxes of cake mix for billions of birthdays and graduations and anniversaries and whatnot.

    Knowing that I have personally eaten more of these cakes than I can count, I'm led to wonder what minuscule portion of the population has ever made a cake from scratch.

    Though it's true that pouring a little vegetable oil and cracking a couple of eggs into a box mix is about as easy as it gets, the very basic yellow cake isn't much more fuss, and the maker gets a lot more control over the end product.

    Flight of the Conchords Cake
    Easy to make, easy to customize. Bret & Jemaine would approve

    I make a fair number of cakes for coworkers' birthdays, and on certain busy occasions, I've felt a gravitational pull to the box mix aisle.

    It generally goes like this: I pick up the pretty packages, read the ingredient lists, sigh, put the boxes back on the shelf and move along to the flour and sugar bags so I can get the supplies I need for a scratch-made cake.

    Why? Well... read for yourself. This is an ingredient list for a standard box mix:
    Sugar, Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil Shortening (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Propylene Glycol Mono- And Diesters Of Fats, Mono- And Diglycerides), Leavening (Soduim Bicarbonate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate), Wheat Starch. Contains 2% Or Less Of:Salt, Dextrose, Polyglycerol Esters of Fatty Acids, Artificial Flavor, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Dextrin, Cellulose Gum, Xantham Gum, Colored With (Yellow 5 Lake, Red 40 Lake), Nonfat Dry Milk.

    None of that stuff is inedible, of course... I'm just wild about partially hydrogenated oils.

    On the other hand, my very basic yellow birthday cake recipe has eight ingredients and five steps. It takes about 15 minutes to mix and 30 to bake. No shortening required, no soy involved and if someone has a milk allergy, it's easy to make dairy-free substitutions. Plus, it's got the real yum.
    A Very Basic Yellow Birthday Cake (Makes a 13" x 9" sheet cake)

    1/2 cup butter, softened
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 1/2 cups sugar
    4 eggs
    1 cup milk
    2 tsp vanilla extract
    2 1/2 cups cake flour or pastry flour
    2 tsp baking powder

    1. Heat the oven to 350°F and either grease a 13" x 9" rectangular pan, or put a layer of parchment paper across the bottom.
    2. Cream together the butter, salt and sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the milk and vanilla until blended.
    3. Sift together the flour and baking powder.
    4. Blend the dry ingredients into the egg/butter mixture until smooth (but don't overwork it).
    5. Bake 35 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean), then remove from the oven and cool on a rack 30 minutes before removing from the pan.

    You actually don't have to remove it from the pan. I almost never do. Just dust the top in powdered sugar or slather it with your favorite frosting, then slice and serve casually.

    Maybe throw in a home-sung rendition of "Happy Birthday" to go along with your home-made cake.

    Happy Eating,
    Miss Ginsu

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    Lemon-Ginger Fairy Cakes

    I think I've mentioned before that J is an alien creature who often resembles a normal fellow but occasionally exposes his true color (green, naturally). One of his little oddities I discovered recently is a propensity to refer to cupcakes as "fairy cakes."

    Though there's a little friendly debate about what constitutes a proper fairy cake in the comments over at Becks & Posh and Cupcakes Take the Cake, the Wikipedia lumps cupcakes and fairy cakes together on the same page.

    When it comes down to it, the difference between a fairy cake and a cupcake actually seems to be geography.

    Ginger Cakelet

    I believe that J might insist that the true fairy cake — that is, the most correct example of the genre — is the one that's exactly to his taste: Simple. Petite. Spiced with an unexpected hit of ginger. Something to enjoy with his pot of afternoon tea, perhaps.
    Lemon-Ginger Fairy Cakes (Makes about a dozen)

    3 cups all-purpose or pastry flour
    1/2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp salt
    2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
    2 cups sugar
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1/4 cup lemon zest (from about 3 lemons)
    2 Tbsp crystallized ginger, chopped finely
    3 eggs
    3/4 cup lemon juice
    3/4 cup buttermilk

    1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease the cups of a muffin pan or line them with wrappers.
    2. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
    3. In a separate bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, then add the vanilla, lemon zest, ginger and the eggs, beating well.
    4. Add about a quarter of the flour mixture into the butter mixture, blending well. Blend in about a quarter of the buttermilk, then continue alternating the flour mixture and buttermilk, incorporating everything until just blended.
    5. Pour the batter into the muffin cups to about 2/3 of the way full. Bake cupcakes for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick poked in the center of one comes out clean.
    6. Remove from oven and cool in the pan 10 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. Ice with simple cream cheese frosting (below) and share with people you like.

    Across the pond, I think the cakes (fairy and otherwise) tend to have more conservative icing than the mountains of fluffy frosting you see on cakes hereabouts. If you've seen Nigella Lawson's pretty little tabletop-flat cakelets, you'll know what I mean.

    But I just can't be satisfied with a thin icing. Truthfully, I'm devoted to cream cheese frosting. It's rich, smooth and tangy and it tastes good on everything from carrot cake to devil's food.

    For a recipe like the one above, I add a bit of lemon zest, but I'd resist that urge for cakes of a chocolate persuasion.
    Simple Cream Cheese Frosting (Makes enough to frost a 13" x 9" cake or about a dozen cupcakes.)

    1 8oz package cream cheese, softened
    2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
    1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (or more, to taste)
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1 Tbsp lemon zest (optional)

    In a mixing bowl, blend the butter and cream cheese. Slowly blend in the powdered sugar, beating until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Blend in the vanilla extract and lemon zest (if using).

    Cheers to you and all the fairies in your life!
    Miss Ginsu

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    On The Clock Cake-A-Palooza

    I've always found cake to be a culinary curiosity. It's one of those foods we often tend to value more for the way it looks than the flavor beneath the frosting.

    A lot of the offices in which I've worked buy cakes to mark people's birthdays. In my experience, these cakes usually come from a supermarket.

    Everyone gathers 'round to sing "happy birthday" and then someone cuts up a generic marble cake with frosting that tastes like vegetable shortening mixed with sugar.

    I guess I should keep in mind that it's the thought that counts, but I must admit that when faced when one of those unhappy confections, I always find myself taking a square of it to be polite and then looking for an inconspicuous trash bin so I can politely ditch it when nobody's looking.

    Thankfully, at my current office my department is made up of a pretty tight-knit group, so we're able to personalize the birthday cake experience. We really try to jointly come up with something that reflects the recipient's personality and/or sense of humor, and then someone volunteers to do the baking and frosting.

    For the sake of inspiration, I thought I'd share some of the extremely personalized cakes our team produced this year.

    For the athlete: The East German Olympic Swimmer Cake

    Swimmer Cake

    For the prankster: The Chocolate-Marshmallow Catbox Cake

    Kitty Litter Cake

    For the beer lover/Simpsons fan: The Duff Beer Cake

    Duff Beer Cake

    For the bacon devotee: The Chocolate Bacon Cake

    Bacon Cake

    For yours truly: The Miss Ginsu Cake

    Miss Ginsu Cake

    For the Flight of the Conchords groupie: The Bret & Jemaine Cake (with coordinating flipside, of course)

    Bret & Jemaine

    For the Coney Island girl: The Crazy Classic Coney Cake

    And there's a few more that I failed to photograph with any skill, but what I've discovered in this whole process is:

    1. It's less expensive (and more satisfying) to do a cake from scratch (or even a box mix) than it is to buy a far less tasty one from the grocery store.

    2. Homemade means never having to discreetly fling a slice of cake in the wastebasket.

    That said, it's only worth the effort if you actually know and like your co-workers. :)

    Miss Ginsu

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    Day 22: Eggnog Flan

    This post marks Day 22 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    After falling in love with the divine flan at Mercadito Cantina recently, I thought it'd be a good plan to combine a lifelong passion for eggnog with the decadent flan genre.

    In case you've never made flan, it's kind of a two-step process. The first step involves making a caramel sauce that coats the bottom of the pan. Thereafter, a custard mixture is poured over the caramel and it's baked, then flipped over to put the caramel at the top, making the dish very like a tarte tatin or a pineapple upside-down cake.

    You could, of course, pour the caramel sauce and the batter into individual ramekins, but I don't have that many ramekins or that much ambition... so I'm going with one large flan that gets cut into wedges. Less pretty, but it's faster to make and easier to transport.

    As it turns out, the recipe for flan and the recipe for eggnog are very similar. The major difference is in the preparation.

    In fact, I reserved a bit of my flan batter and warmed it up in a double boiler while the rest of the flan baked. Cream, fresh eggs, sugar and spice... no surprise this combo made a fine, festive 'nog.
    Merry Eggnog Flan (Serves 6-8)

    3/4 cup sugar
    3 large eggs
    1 (14oz) can sweetened condensed milk
    1 cup cream
    1/4 cup milk
    2 Tbsp spiced rum or whiskey (optional)
    1 tsp ground nutmeg

    1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
    2. In a small saucepan, cook the sugar over medium heat until begins to melt. Don't stir or touch it; just lower the heat and heat it, swirling the pan, until the melted sugar caramelizes to a golden brown.
    3. Pour the caramel into the bottom of a 9" quiche/flan dish or cake pan. Turn the dish to evenly coat the bottom. Allow to cool.
    4. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl, blending in the condensed milk, cream, milk, the rum/whiskey and the nutmeg.
    5. Place the quiche/flan dish inside a roasting pan (with high sides) and pour hot water into the roasting pan until it measures about half-way up the side of the flan dish.
    6. Carefully move the roasting pan to center rack of the oven and pour the egg batter into the flan dish. (This process prevents flan flubs on the way to the oven.) Bake until the flan is firm in the center, but still has a little jiggle — about 50 to 60 minutes.
    7. Carefully move the hot flan dish from the roasting pan to a wire rack to cool. Then chill in the refrigerator at least 2 to 3 hours.
    8. To serve, warm the flan for a few minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the dish and place a large plate on top of the flan dish. Gently flip them both together so that the flan gently flops onto the plate. Lift away the flan dish and cut the flan into wedges.

    Though it'd be a lovely afternoon treat with hot coffee, I think this flan would also make an appropriate postre for the holiday taquitos of Calendar Day 6.

    Feliz navidades a todos!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Day 19: Cookie o' the Week... Peppermint Snowflakes

    This post marks Day 19 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    I recently ran across the coolest snowflake cookie cutter set; It included tiny pieces to help cut out the decorative bits on the arms of the snowflakes. Pretty slick, but I had no real need to buy it.

    Then it occurred to me that such a thing would be just the ticket for a new take on that stained glass cookie that's made with a basic cut-out recipe and crushed candy that melts into the open spaces. Voila! Peppermint Snowflakes!

    Stained-Glass Snowflake

    I've made these chocolate, because I really like the combination of chocolate and peppermint, but you could certainly skip the cocoa powder, use 1/2 cup more flour and make vanilla snowflakes.

    Crushed Candy Canes and Chocolate Snowflakes

    You can use candy canes, as I did, but I think they'd look pretty cool with those clear blue peppermint candies as well.
    Peppermint Snowflakes (Makes about 4 dozen)
    1 cup sugar
    1 cup (2 sticks) butter
    2 eggs
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1/2 cup cocoa powder
    2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    Candy canes or peppermints
    1 snowflake cookie cutter set

    1. Heat oven to 350° F.
    2. In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter together. Add the egg and the vanilla extract.
    3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and the cocoa powder.
    4. Blend the flour mixture into the butter mixture.
    5. Flatten the dough into a disc or a square, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.
    6. Divide the dough, leave one portion in the refrigerator, and roll out the other portion between 1/4" and 1/8" thick on a floured surface.
    7. Cut out large snowflakes, creating triangle-shaped openings in each. Move the snowflakes to the baking sheets.
    8. Place hard candy or candy canes in a plastic bag, and pulverize the candy into tiny pieces/dust with the base of a jar or a meat mallet.
    9. Fill the openings in the cookies with candy shards/dust. Stuff as much as you can into each opening. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes or until the cookie sets up and the candy is melted and bubbly.
    10. Cool cookies for 3 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire rack to cool fully.

    Though you may be inspired to set these up in the windowsill and admire the stained-glass effect, the candy will melt with moisture of condensation. And since they're really tasty, that's a darn shame. Thus, I must insist you admire them only briefly before munching with a tall, cold glass of milk.

    Holiday Cheer!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Day 18: Warm Gingerbread w/ Bourbon Custard Cream

    This post marks Day 18 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    I really wanted to make a Warm Gingerbread Bread Pudding, which seemed like it'd be a decadent holiday dessert for the snowy, blustery days leading up to Christmas.

    But in order to make a bread pudding, one really needs stale bread. And honestly, who has a bunch of gingerbread laying around getting stale? So I gave up that idea for quicker, more simple — but still truly tasty — Warm Gingerbread with Bourbon Custard Cream.

    Gingerbread with Bourbon Custard Cream

    I like the method Alice Medrich uses for gingerbread in her delicious book, Chocolate Holidays.

    It's quick, spicy and makes the kitchen smell like a homecoming hug. I've modified hers a bit for our evil purposes here. (Bwah-haha!)
    Quick & Tasty Gingerbread (Makes one 9" square or round cake)

    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/4 tsp salt
    1 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    1 tsp ginger
    1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
    1/4 cup molasses
    1/4 cup honey
    1 egg
    1/3 cup fresh ginger, peeled and grated
    6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

    1. Heat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9" round or square pan (or line it with parchment)
    2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and ginger.
    3. In another mixing bowl, blend the brown sugar, molasses and honey, then whisk in the egg and ginger.
    4. Heat the butter and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan until the butter melts.
    5. Whisk the butter mixture into the brown sugar mixture. Add the dry mix and stir until smooth.
    6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes.
    7. Cool the cake on a rack about 20 minutes before loosening the edges of the cake with a butter knife and turning it out onto a plate.

    This custard sauce is essentially just a modified Crème Anglaise, one of those classic patissier sauces that make people go mad with delight.
    Bourbon Custard Cream (Makes about 1 cup)
    1 cup whole milk
    1/2 tsp vanilla
    1/4 cup sugar
    2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
    1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (optional)
    1 Tbsp bourbon

    1. In a saucepan set over moderate heat, combine the milk and vanilla and cook about 5 minutes — just until small bubbles begin to appear.
    2. Meanwhile, whisk the sugar, egg yolks and nutmeg (if using) until blended.
    3. Pour about half of the hot milk into the egg mixture in a thin stream, blending well as you pour.
    4. Mix the hot egg mixture into the remaining milk in saucepan, stirring and cooking until the sauce thickens (about 4 to 5 minutes).
    5. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the bourbon. Serve immediately atop the warm gingerbread or refrigerate until needed. It'll keep in an airtight container for a few days in the fridge.

    To serve, cut the warm gingerbread into wedges and top with a dollop of the Bourbon Custard Cream. Maybe anoint the whole thing with a dusting of cinnamon if you're feeling fancy.

    And if you somehow find that your guests remain unmoved by all that wonder and delight, I have to conclude they're jaded souls who simply won't be wooed.

    Enjoy your slice of warm gingerbread and thank your lucky stars that you have light in your heart and custard cream on your lips.

    Holiday Cheer!
    Miss Ginsu

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    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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    Day 16: Almond & Olive Oil Cake

    This post marks Day 16 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Compared to cookies or layered bars, or — heaven forbid — strudle, a basic cake is such a simple, lovely treat. Just a few steps. Just a little time in the oven. Just a few ingredients.

    Cake is essentially just flour, butter, sugar and eggs, right? Well, as I discovered on last summer's foray to Rome, sometimes cake is flour, olive oil, sugar and eggs.

    Almond & Olive Oil Cake

    Today's recipe is a sunny, elegant Italian-style cake that's just the thing for cawfee tawk or teatime... but it comes together so quickly, I'd even serve it warm out of the oven as a special breakfast or brunch for holiday guests. It's so delicious, this may just be my new favorite cake.
    Almond & Olive Oil Cake (Makes One 9" Cake)
    1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
    2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 cup sugar
    3 large eggs
    1 1/2 Tbsp finely grated lemon, orange or tangerine zest
    1 tsp almond extract
    1/4 cup milk
    3/4 cup olive oil
    2/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted (optional, for garnish)
    Powdered sugar (optional, for garnish)

    1. Heat the oven to 350°F and oil an 9" round or square cake pan.
    2. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
    3. In a separate bowl, mix the sugar and eggs until fluffy. Add the orange zest, vanilla, milk and olive oil.
    4. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
    5. Set pan on a wire rack to cool 20 minutes before turning the cake out onto the rack to cool completely. Top with toasted, sliced almonds and powdered sugar, if desired.
    The first time I met an olive oil cake, it was a simple citrus-olive combination; absolutely delightful, but I think the emphasis on almonds makes it even more elegant.

    That said, I'm nut crazy, so if for some reason you're not quite so wild about almonds, it's a simple thing to leave them off the top and substitute an orange liqueur (like Grand Marnier) or swap vanilla extract for the almond extract.

    Holiday Cheer!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Day 12: Cookie o' the Week... Citrus Pignoli

    This post marks Day 12 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Welcome to the second Cookie o' the Week! Last week we sampled a Dutch delight, and this week, we're moving south.

    As a wee little thing, I sold (and ate) many, many boxes of Girl Scout cookies. They seemed mighty fine at the time (especially the Thin Mints nibbled straight out of the freezer), but that was before I discovered Pignoli Cookies, an Italian confection made up of little more than pine nuts, sugar and almond paste.

    Pignoli Cookies

    So chewy in the center, so crisp at the edges! Rich and nutty, perfect with a cup of tea... they're divine. Definitely one of my top-five cookies, and that's saying a lot. I really love cookies.

    But between the price of pine nuts being what it is (scary) and the relative scarcity of almond paste in the stores where I usually shop, I don't make them often.

    That's why I think the holidays are the ideal occasion to seek out the necessaries and bake a batch of these decadent, elegant treats.

    Be warned... although you may want to hog them for yourself, they're a bit too rich to eat on your own. So dial up a friend or two, or package them with a pretty bow to give away. They're great host gifts (as long as your host doesn't have a nut allergy).

    This year, I deviated a bit from my classic recipe adding lemon zest, which I think makes them even more lovely and citrus-season appropriate.
    Citrus Pignoli Cookies (Makes about 3 dozen)

    1 cup powdered sugar
    8 oz almond paste
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1 tbsp grated lemon zest
    2 egg whites
    1/4 cup all-purpose flour
    1/4 tsp salt
    1/4 tsp baking powder
    1 1/2 cups pine nuts

    1. Heat the oven to 350°F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
    2. In a mixing bowl, blend powdered sugar, almond paste, vanilla and lemon zest before mixing in the egg whites.
    3. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder, blending the dry mix into the egg mixture. Blend just until the dough comes together.
    4. Chill the dough for 30 to 40 minutes for easier handling. (It's a sticky dough.)
    5. Roll dough into 3/4-inch balls and then roll each dough ball in a shallow dish filled with the remaining pine nuts. Press the nuts into the surface of the cookies.
    6. Place the balls about two inches apart on baking sheets, and bake until the cookies begin to turn golden at the edges — about 12 to 15 minutes.
    7. Transfer the parchment with the hot cookies to a wire rack to cool completely before peeling the cookies off the paper.

    You can sometimes find pine nuts for a bit cheaper in the big-big stores (Costco, Sam's Club, etc.), and sometimes they're sold in bulk at food co-ops or specialty shops.

    Holiday Cheer!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Day 9: What Would Jesus Eat?

    This post marks Day 9 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    I find it really interesting that the Christmas season is supposed to be about the birth of Christ, and yet modern-era Christmas celebrations don't feature anything that calls to mind the early Christian-era foods... that is, the foods of the Middle East.

    Rather than eating something like pita with hummus and baba ganoush or a Moroccan Stew or Spiced Ground Lamb, we feast on roasted turkey or baked hams for the holidays.

    Nutted Halvah

    To remedy this obvious oversight in our holiday celebrations, today's advent calendar features an ancient recipe.

    Halvah, an earthy-sweet sesame treat, has been common in the Middle East through time immemorial, so I feel confident that Jesus himself must have encountered it at some point during his journeys.

    In my own childhood, I knew only the marbled sesame halvah that my dad liked so much, but a little research revealed that people make halvah with a wide variety of nuts, fruits, roots and grains.

    The buttery Indian pudding known as sooji ka halwa is a common halvah variation. In fact, halwa in Arabic simply indicates a sweet of some kind. Fascinating!

    I've seen recipes that include flour, which sounds pretty unappealing. I decided to go with a simple multi-nut halvah recipe made with milk and honey (synonymous with ancient luxury) for maximum holiday decadence.

    Depending on your preferences, you could surely substitute other nuts or skip them altogether.

    I'm also using a little vanilla here, but if you want to go crazy with authenticity, just omit it.
    Pistachio-Almond Halvah (Makes a 9" x 3" slab)
    1 cup sesame paste (tahini)
    1/3 cup honey
    1/2 Tbsp vanilla (optional)
    1 1/4 cups powdered milk
    1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped
    1/2 cup pistachios, chopped

    1. Combine the tahini, honey, vanilla and powdered milk until well blended. The mixture should be very dry.
    2. Fold in the almonds and pistachios.
    3. Pack the mixture very firmly into an 9" by 3" cake pan, or a pan of similar size.
    4. Use knife to loosen the edges of the halvah, and turn the slab onto a tray or platter. Refrigerate until firm (at least 2 hours) before cutting into thin slices to serve.

    Jesus probably would've had wine mixed with water or maybe an infusion of herbs alongside his halvah, but thanks to the wonders of global trade, we can enjoy ours with coffee or tea.

    Happy Eating!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Day 8: Citrus-Ginger Fruitcakes

    This post marks Day 8 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    If you were reading last year, you'll know I'm batty for citrus around the holidays. It's just so fresh and tasty this time of year.

    So this is a fruitcake I can really get behind. Essentially a buttery poundcake filled with candied ginger and citrus, it's a far cry from the much-maligned shelf-stable drugstore version.

    Although most fruitcake recipes call for store-bought candied fruit, it's really easy and economical to make your own, as I discovered last year. And yes, you can use the same method to make candid ginger. Works great.

    Candied Lemon & Tangerine Peel
    Candied lemon and tangerine peels

    Citrus-Ginger Fruitcakes (Makes 4 little fruitcakes)
    1/2 cup butter, at room temperature (plus extra for greasing the pans)
    1/2 cup all-purpose flour (plus extra for flouring the pans)
    1/3 cup sugar
    2 large eggs
    4 tsp brandy, amaretto or ginger liqueur (plus extra for soaking the cakes)
    2 tsp orange or lemon zest
    1/4 tsp salt
    1 cup chopped almonds
    1/2 cup dried figs, minced
    2 Tbsp candied or crystallized ginger, minced fine
    2 Tbsp candied orange or lemon peel, minced

    1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 4 mini loaf pans or 4 large muffin cups, tapping out any excess flour.
    2. In a medium-size mixing bowl, blend the butter and sugar, beating until creamy, about 1 minute.
    3. Beat in the egg, the 4 teaspoons of brandy or liqueur and the citrus zest until just blended.
    4. Sift together the flour and salt, beating the flour mixture into the egg mixture until just blended.
    5. Fold in the almonds, figs, ginger and candied fruit.
    6. Divide the batter between the prepared pans or cups, and fill any empty muffin cups halfway with water (to prevent uneven heating).
    7. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes for mini loaf pans or 35 minutes for the muffin cups.
    8. Once baked, move the pans to a wire rack to cool. After ten minutes, take the cakes out of the pans and place directly on the wire rack. Brush with brandy or liqueur while they're still warm, then let the cakes cool completely.
    9. To finish the cakes, soak squares of cheesecloth in the brandy or liqueur, wrap each cake with a square of damp cheesecloth, then wrap individually in aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Chill the wrapped cakes in the refrigerator for at least 1 week.
    10. To serve, bring the cakes to room temperature, slice and serve with mascarpone, fresh ricotta or cream cheese.

    You'll have a few of these, so when it's time for gifting, unwrap the foil/plastic and cheesecloth, re-wrap to make it pretty and add a ribbon and a gift tag.

    Since fruitcake has such a bad rep, you might want to call these something else. Brandy Cakes. Ginger-Citrus Cakes. Think of a nice alias. You can reveal the awful truth after they fall in love with these wee wonders.

    Holiday Cheer!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Day 7: Superb English Tea Scones

    This post marks Day 7 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Somehow, we Americans tend to fixate on the Victorian era, particularly in London, as the point on the time-space continuum for maximum holiday revelry. I think we can blame Dickens for this.

    These days, we don't travel in open sleighs, we don't open the shutters and throw up the sash to spy St. Nick on the lawn, and you won't catch us wearing furry beaver muffs or lighting lanterns around our homes unless it's for reasons of historical romance, but these visions all somehow seem holiday-appropriate to us.

    Ice skating at 72nd Street Lake, Central Park, 1894, (from NYC Parks & Rec)

    I won't argue with this oddity, but I'll offer that even though the classic English Tea Scone is not in any way fixed on the holidays, it certainly seems to be an appropriately festive addition to the landscape.
    Superb English Tea Scones (Makes 10-12)
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/4 cup sugar
    2 1/2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp salt
    6 Tbsp butter
    1/3 cup currants (optional)
    1 large egg
    1/3 cup milk or cream
    Additional milk or cream (for brushing)
    Sugar (for sprinkling)

    1. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
    2. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or a long-tined fork until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
    3. Whisk together the egg and half & half.
    4. Mix the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients just until they hold together. Form a ball with your hands and turn the ball onto a floured work surface.
    5. Heat oven to 400°F and lightly roll the dough into a 1/2" thick disc.
    6. Cut disc into 10-12 wedges, and move the wedges to an ungreased baking sheet, 1" to 2" apart.
    7. Brush each wedge with milk or half & half, then sprinkle with sugar. Bake until lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes.

    Serve the warm scones alongside your favorite preserves and Devonshire cream, if you can get it. (If not, you can fake up a faux Devonshire cream by whipping 3 oz cream cheese, 1 tsp powdered sugar and 1 cup cream until thick and smooth. Cover and chill at least 2 hours.)

    You'll want to gather some friends, iron your grandmother's linens and brew up a nice hot pot of tea to serve with your scones, of course. Coffee just seems... improper.

    Holiday Cheer!
    Miss Ginsu

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    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.


    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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    Day 2: Cranberry Cream Tart

    This post marks Day 2 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Everyone needs a nice little "company's coming" recipe that they can make up ahead of time, and this one is an inexpensive and impressive trick that works with leftovers, so it's super-thrifty.

    Cranberry Cream Tart

    I whipped up this idea for work to help people use up excess Thanksgiving cranberry sauce, but I think you could really use whatever fruit jelly strikes your fancy. In fact, I really want to do one with a batch of Lemon Curd. Yum.

    You'll see it has a few steps, but none of them are trying. It's about 20 minutes of your time actively mixing, etc., and then there's a couple of hours of inactive chilling or cooking time, so this is a good one to work in while you're doing other things in the kitchen.

    Obviously, you'll need a tart pan for this recipe. Use a 9" pan. I love the ones with the smooth coating and the removable base, because it makes serving up a flawless tart such an easy task.
    Cranberry Cream Tart (Makes a 9" Tart)

    For the Tart Shell:
    1/2 cup hazelnuts or walnuts
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1/4 cup sugar
    1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut in 1/2" pieces
    1 large egg

    For the Filling:
    8 oz cream cheese
    1 tablespoon sugar
    1 large egg
    3/4 cup cranberry sauce, warmed to room temperature

    1. To make the tart shell, pulse nuts, flour, sugar, nutmeg (if using) and salt in a food processor or blender until finely ground.
    2. Add butter pieces and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with few small lumps. (You may also cut in the butter with the tines of a fork.)
    3. Blend in the egg, mixing just until the mixture clumps. Chill for 20 minutes to improve handling.
    4. Preheat the oven to 350°F, and press the chilled dough evenly across the bottom and sides of a tart pan.
    5. Bake in the center rack of the oven for 20 minutes, then remove the tart shell from the oven and cool on a rack for 10 minutes.
    6. As the crust cools, whip the cream cheese, sugar and egg in a mixing bowl until smooth.
    7. Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly across the base of the tart pan and bake 20 minutes.
    8. Cool the tart on a rack for 10 minutes before spreading the warmed cranberry sauce across the surface of the cream cheese layer.
    9. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 3 hours (or overnight). Cut into 12 slices to serve.

    I've served this dolloped with a little fresh whipped cream (sweetened with maple syrup mmmm....), but that's just pure decadence, so skip it if you're not in the mood.

    I think this would make a smashing offering at brunch or maybe teatime, but go crazy and serve it for dessert if you want.

    Happy Holidays!
    Miss Ginsu

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    A Day for Goooools and Globins

    I'd intended on making chocolate skulls with white chocolate and dark chocolate detailing. They were going to be So. Very. Cool.

    Unfortunately, the white chocolate refused to come out of the plastic skull molds looking like little chocolate skulls. Instead, it looked like globby white chocolate messes.

    I needed a Plan B. Stat.

    White Chocolate Globins

    Thanks to some handy pepitas, shredded coconut and chow mein noodles, Plan B was hatched... and out came these cute little globins. My roomie called 'em that.

    I was thinking they should perhaps be called goooools, but they're just so globby and cute. She's right. Globins it is.

    As you'll see in the photo below, these guys were perfectly happy to see and be seen at our lunchtime Halloween potluck at work this week.

    We feasted on chocolate chip cookies, a delicious pumpkin bread, candied apples, coffee-braised beef ribs with spiced pumpkin, an addictive pumpkin dip with homemade tortilla chips and bottles of Orangina. You'll also see that Travis brought the burbling dry ice as his contribution in the back there.

    Halloween Picnic

    Clearly, as a fall-back plan, these little fellows were supremely easy to make. The white chocolate becomes both the molding material and the glaze on the outside, so I think you could make them with close to anything munch-able you happen to have around the house.

    No pepitas? Use some other nut or seed. No chow mein noodles? Substitute something else for the arms. Maybe black liquorice ropes. Easy. I think they'd be great with just granola in them.

    Globins (Makes about 14 globins)
    12 oz (1 bag) white chocolate chips
    2 Tbsp milk + 1 Tbsp milk
    1 cup pepitas (or some other seed or chopped nut)
    1 cup shredded coconut
    1 cup chow mein noodles + a few extras for arms
    A small handful of dried currants or black sesame seeds (for eyes)

    1. Over low heat in a saucepan, melt 3/4 of the bag of white chocolate with 2 Tbsp milk. Stir constantly.
    2. Combine the nuts, coconut and chow mein noodles in a bowl.
    3. Pour the melted white chocolate over the nut-noodle mixture. Blend well and place in the freezer to chill for about 20 minutes.
    4. Line a baking sheet or cake pan with parchment paper.
    5. When the mixture is cool, but still pliable, remove from the freezer and form 1 Tbsp portions into tall mounds.
    6. Melt the remaining 1 Tbsp milk with the remaining white chocolate chips. This will become your glaze.
    7. Carefully roll one the globin mounds in the glaze to coat. (You may want to use latex gloves for this task.) Stand the globin up on the parchment.
    8. Push two currents or sesame seeds into the top of the globin for eyes and push chow mein noodles into both of its sides for arms (see photo, above). Repeat this glazing and decorating step with all the little naked globin mounds.
    9. Allow your globins to cool on the parchment paper for a few hours or overnight. They're alive! Aliiiiive!

    As party guests, I must say... the globins were perfect gentlemen and they were very popular with all the other guests. They mingle well and they're just so charming, they end up drawing a lot of attention. I'd certainly invite these little chaps along to another party.

    All of which goes to show that sometimes Plan B is even better than Plan A. So that's my lesson of the day. Be open to Plan B, or whatever Plan B turns out to be.

    Wishing you a spooooooky Halloween!
    Miss Ginsu

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    FoodLink Roundup: 10.20.08

    Cupcake's Link Roundup
    Last week, Cupcake was reviewing flats of sweets in Istanbul, Turkey. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

    River Cottage Bramley lemon curd
    A lovely photo series composed of lemon curd made with apples. Mmm...

    i voted!
    As if voting wasn't already its own reward... Now, there's ice cream.

    Rancher’s Goat Meat Grabs Attention of Chefs
    Niman dumps the cows, goes for the goat.

    On recession gardens
    The retro Victory Garden returns in new, credit-crunched clothing.

    Credit Crunch Cooking
    Cheap meats, thoughts of eating the pets and a return to MFK Fisher.

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

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    The Big, Sweet Grossout

    Here's a revelation that should come as a surprise to nobody who knows a 7- to 12-year-old: Kids like gross.

    They're crazy for it. If it's candy gross, all the better.

    And with that in mind, I know just the thing for the rambunctious young'in in your life... Behold! The Box of Boogers.

    With Halloween coming up, it's none too soon to put in a bulk order for the whole neighborhood.

    Box of Boogers

    Suzy Hotrod recently dug up these little beauties as well as the Chef Ghoulicious Zit Poppers, which are so icky I really couldn't bear to photograph them.

    But back to the Boogers... They smell like watermelon Nerds and chew like soft gummies. And although the box claims they look and feel like "real" boogers, I must say that I pity anyone who actually has boogers with the consistency of rubber cement, the size of quarters and the color of tropical fish.

    Back in my day, there were plastic noses with candy snot, gummy worms and lollies with bugs in them, but it was Garbage Pail Kids that really ruled the candy store. (Interesting, considering there wasn't actually any candy in the GPK packs... could it be that by diverting allowance from candy to trading cards, GPKs saved a generation from tooth decay?)

    But for anyone hosting Halloween parties this year (and those who really can't get enough gross) I recommend Candy Addict's Top-10 Gross Candies list. (The earwax one makes me cringe just thinking about it.)

    Miss Ginsu

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    Food Quote Friday: Lawrence Ferlinghetti

    Maple-Bacon Lolly

    "The Pennycandystore beyond the El
    is where I first
         fell in love
              with unreality
    Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom
    of that september afternoon
    A cat upon the counter moved among
                  the licorice sticks
              and tootsie rolls
          and Oh Boy Gum"

    Lawrence Ferlinghetti from "The Pennycandystore Beyond the El"

    More sticky-sweet food quotes can be found within the food quote archive.

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    Mmm... Mercadito Cantina

    I've never really been wild for flan. It always just seemed like some soggier wanna-be dessert next to the perfection of the divinely crisp 'n creamy, burnt-caramel goodness embodied by the crème brûlée.

    And there's so many bad examples of flan out there in the world. But having just recently eaten at Mercadito Cantina, I have seen the light. I am now a flan convert (not that that's going to do anything good for my cholesterol level).

    Dos Flans

    J happens to have a friend who works there, and seeing as how the place opened months ago, we were loooong overdue for a visit and a taste-test of their fish tacos (so dear to my heart and tastebuds).

    After our dinner (which I can't praise enough, by the way: so. very. tasty.), we were sent a duo of dense little flans. Vanilla and Goat's Milk. My goodness, people. A well-made flan is a smooth, rich, decadent delight. A real treat.


    After freshly-made guacamole, killer salsas, a michelada that rivals my own, excellent fish tacos and sautéed mushrooms with huilacoche (not to mentioin generous bites of J's outstanding pulled pork taquitos), I was so full I couldn't even bear the thought of dessert.

    And then it appeared... the little platter of tasty flanitos. One bite, thought I. But oh, mama. They broke my will. (Oh, what a thrill...)

    Iban and the cooks

    That said, if you want to visit for yourself, you'll have to be crafty.

    Word is already out, and true to New York standards, the place is not roomy.

    We went on a Tuesday, and they were well-filled by 8 p.m. I don't even want to see the crush on Friday. Early dinners and brunches may be a better bet.

    4 spoons

    Mercadito Cantina
    Mercadito Cantina on Urbanspoon
    172 Avenue B
    East Village, NYC

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    Food Quote Friday: George Harrison

    Guinness Chocolate Brownies

    "Creme tangerine and Montélimar
    A ginger sling with a pineapple heart
    A coffee dessert — yes you know it's good news...
    But you’ll have to have them all pulled out
    After the Savoy truffle."

    George Harrison

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    Off the Hook Maple-Nut Death Bars

    How do you know if you've met with bake sale success?

    Sometimes, all you need are pure, simple, organic raves from coworkers. Here's three from my office's recent "raise funds for Wagga the injured cat" bake sale:
    "ohmygod so good. I don't even want to know what's in those."

    "Not right! Maple walnut OFF THE HOOK!!! Pairs with Camel Lights and black coffee..."

    "Those maple bars are lethal. Can you give me the recipe??"

    Coconut Maple Bars

    Will I give the recipe?

    Yes, of course I will give the recipe. Just don't tell anyone.

    In the wrong hands, Maple Nut Bars could be used for evil purposes. (Or maybe even evil porpoises... you never know what creepy things villains are up to.)

    Coconut Maple Bars
    They don't look like much, but gosh, people sure like 'em.

    Dead Tasty Chewy Maple Nut Bars (Makes about 21 deadly bars)

    Shortbread Base
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup brown (or white) sugar
    1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter, softened

    Deadly Nut Topping
    1 cup brown sugar
    1/4 cup maple syrup
    1 Tbsp vanilla extract
    2 Tbsp butter, melted
    2 large eggs
    1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
    1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
    1/2 to 3/4 cup dried coconut (preferably unsweetened)

    1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 11 x 7" baking pan.
    2. For the shortbread, blend together the sugar and flour, add the butter, and mix until the mixture is a crumby dough. Press the dough gently across the bottom of the baking pan.
    3. Bake the shortbread until it begins to color around the edges, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
    4. Meanwhile, make the topping by beating together the sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, butter and eggs. When blended, stir in the nuts and coconut.
    5. Spread the maple-nut topping evenly over the cooled shortbread.
    6. Bake in the center of the oven until the top is browned and set, about 25-30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before cutting and serving. Don't let people eat more than one. Like I said... deadly.

    Happy baking!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Mad for Mascarpone (Ice Cream)

    When you have a machine that makes ice cream, unexpected combinations are apt to happen. In addition to the standard chocolate, vanilla and fruit flavors, you're bound to want to experiment with other things in your kitchen.

    One finds one's self enjoying rhubarb ice cream. Bacon Ice Cream. And even... cheese ice cream.

    To be honest, J and I first encountered cheese gelato in the form of formatgelats at the Formatgeria La Seu cheese shop in Barcelona. The flavors there were enchanting. Musky blue cheese gelato, cabra gelato... they'd certainly be stellar with rich fig jams or dried apricots. Maybe even a nice dessert wine, like a Sauternes.

    I did some experimenting of my own in the realm of frozen fromage on returning home. And, as you might expect, cheese ice cream is a bit tricky. Too much ruins the ice cream texture. The cheese must be creamy, not grainy. And the flavor really shouldn't be too bold.

    Sweet, creamy blues were nice. Some of the fresher goat cheeses worked well in ice cream form. The ricotta ice cream was very nice. And then, there was the mascarpone ice cream.

    Mascarpone Ice Cream on a Chocolate Brownie
    Mascarpone Ice Cream on a Chocolate Brownie

    Admittedly, using mascarpone for a cheese ice cream is almost cheating. Though it's referred to as a triple-cream cheese, I've never found mascarpone to be much more than a lush, silken dairy spread. It's creamy. It's rich. But is it really cheese?

    No matter. It's a lovely spread for fruit breads and a great recipe additive for ice cream, as it turns out.

    Mascarpone Ice Cream

    Thanks to its outrageous fat content, the texture of this one varies from standard ice creams. It's almost... fluffy. My boss actually said this was his favorite of the homemade ice creams he's tried, because while home freezers tend to make ice creams a bit icier, this recipe leaves no room for ice crystals.

    Also: I know this will come as a big shock to you, but... yes, this ice cream is, indeed, stellar with berries and sweets such as the chocolate brownies in the photo (up the page a bit).

    Keep in mind this is style of ice cream base that uses uncooked eggs, so be sure to use good, fresh eggs from a reliable farmer.
    Mascarpone Ice Cream (Makes about 1 1/2 quarts)

    2 large eggs
    3/4 cup sugar
    16 oz mascarpone
    1 cup cream or half & half
    2 cups milk
    1/2 tsp salt

    1. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar until light.
    2. Beat in the mascarpone until the mixture is smooth.
    3. Blend in the cream, milk and salt with a whisk.
    4. Freeze the mix using an ice cream machine or attachment, pack into pints, and harden in the freezer for at least 5 hours (or overnight).

    Miss Ginsu

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    Peanut-Butter Glazed Chocolate Cake

    Now that we have an official MissGinsu.com Peanut Week theme around these parts, I realized I had to address one of the world's greatest flavor combinations: chocolate and peanut butter. (Thank you, Reese's. The world owes you a great debt.)

    A recent commenter led me to Jen's Chocolate Cake... a brilliantly simple single-post blog that features a chocolate cake recipe. A chocolate bundt cake recipe, to be precise.

    And as a side note, I'm honestly incapable of making a bundt cake anymore without thinking of the "parental conflict over bundt cake" scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

    And as a side note to the side note, Bundt is actually a registered trademark of the Minnesota-based Nordic Ware company, the folks who've made these pans for sixty years. That's why so many cookbooks refer to "tube pans" instead of bundt pans these days.

    But back to the chocolate cake. Jen's recipe makes a very moist, rich cake, and she recommends a couple of different accompanying glazes.

    And I've got one more that complements this cake very nicely. (Just remember what we discussed on Tuesday and don't bring it into school for snacktime.)
    Jen Kwok's Chocolate Cake
    1.75 cups all-purpose flour
    2 tsp baking soda
    2 tsp baking powder
    0.5 tsp salt
    0.5+ cup (two heaped quarter cups) cocoa
    2 cups brown sugar
    0.75 cup vegetable oil
    0.5 cup milk
    2 eggs
    1 tsp vanilla
    0.75 cup boiling water

    Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a bundt or tube pan. Blend all dry ingredients. Blend in brown sugar. Whisk in remaining ingredients, except water. Add boiling water and whisk until smooth. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes (turning about halfway through,) until cake tester comes out clean. Cool ten minutes in pan. Turn out of pan and finish cooling on rack.

    My Peanut Butter Glaze for Jen's Chocolate Cake (Makes about 2 cups)

    1/2 cup peanut butter (preferably smooth)
    1/2 cup powdered sugar
    3/4 cup milk
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    2 Tbsp cream cheese
    1/2 tsp salt (if you're using natural peanut butter)

    1. Whisk together all the ingredients until the mixture is smooth and lump-free. Add a tablespoon or so more milk if it seems too thick to drizzle.

    2. Drizzle over the chocolate cake. Use excess glaze to spoon over individual slices, if you wish. Or just save it and serve it over vanilla ice cream. Mmm...

    As you can imagine, this cake + glaze combo was popular around the office.

    One of the best things about Bundt, er... tube cakes is that they're great for sharing. I love how everyone can slice off just as much as they want. It offers more flexibility than the rigid squares/rectangles you get out of a 9"x13" pan.

    Happy Eating!

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    Adventures in Dangerous Baking

    "Drop the cookie, ma'am."

    "Are you talking to me?"

    "Yes. Drop the cookie and raise your hands."

    "What? But it--"

    "You heard me, ma'am. Drop the peanut-butter cookie and back away slowly."

    "But it's my cookie."

    "I don't want an argument here. Just drop the cookie and raise your hands above your head."

    "It's my lunch. I can't just drop it in the dirt, I--"

    "Ma'am, you can't go waving around that cookie. You're within 100 yards of an elementary school. That cookie is a lethal weapon."

    "But I baked it this morning... Can't I just eat it? Wait! No! Don't shoot! Fine! I'll drop it! See? I dropped it..."

    "You people... Now we need to seal off this whole area and do another detox. Do you know how long that takes? Cripes. And you could've killed somebody's kid, too. Can't you read the signs?"

    "And it was a good cookie, too. Wait, there's signs?"

    "Of course there's signs. There's signs here. And here. And over there, too. Under penalty of law, no peanuts may enter these premises."

    "When did that happen?"

    When indeed? This is obviously a dramatization, but what's absolutely true is that you really can't bring peanut butter cookies or peanut trail mix or even good old PB&J into a lot of schools nowadays.

    Peanut Butter Cookies... mmmm...

    One of my daddy friends tells me that his daughter's school has banned not only peanuts, but homemade snacks in general. So put away your family's favorite recipe for lemon bars. School treats must now be individually packaged snack foods.

    Great for food manufacturers. Lousy for parents who want to demonstrate a DIY ethic.

    In addition to a general fear of food allergies (a fear that some people feel has been exaggerated as of late), birthday treats are also apparently to blame for making America's children blobby.

    Again, my friend's progressive school has banned birthday treats as a way to remedy this issue. Thank goodness childhood obesity isn't the result of too much soda pop, fast food, candy-stocked vending machines and a general lack of exercise.

    PB cookies unbaked

    Knowing all this, I feel that one of the more dangerous acts one can undertake these days is making and (gasp!) distributing peanut butter cookies.

    As I was feeling a bit puckish just recently (and the temperature dropped down for long enough to make baking palatable), I whipped up a batch of these little danger discs.

    Salty, sweet, creamy and rich... I love 'em. And there's a million recipes out there.

    I find the Joy of Cooking version is more sandy-cakey and the Better Homes & Gardens one is more crispy.

    PB cookie dough

    I tend more toward the crispy, myself. Here's my version. Bake and consume at your own risk.

    Peanut Butter Cookies (Makes about 35-40)
    1/2 cup butter
    1/2 cup peanut butter
    1 cup brown sugar, packed
    1 large egg
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or, just use AP)
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp baking powder
    White sugar, for squashing (optional)

    1. Beat together butter, peanut butter, sugar, egg and vanilla extract.
    2. Sift together flour, soda and baking powder, and combine with the peanut butter mixture.
    4. Cover mixing bowl and chill for 1 hour, or wrap well and freeze until you're ready to bake.
    5. Heat the oven to 375°F, and roll the dough into 1" balls. Place each ball about 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
    6. Compress each ball with the tines of a fork. You may wish to dip the fork in white sugar between impressions, since it makes the tops sparkley with sugar. Or not. It's up to you.
    7. Bake 8-10 minutes and cool on a wire rack before devouring with cold milk.

    Happy Eating!

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    Food Quote Friday: Rose Art Industries

    Ginny eats her cotton candy

    "This unit is equipped with a safety system using magnetic fields, infrared beams, thermal controllers and time base logic to ensure the accurate and safe functioning of your new Cotton Candy Machine."

    — Excerpted from the Rose Art Cotton Candy Machine Instruction Manual

    More sugary-sweet food quotes can be found within the food quote archive.

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    Mad for Peaches

    Millions of peaches, peaches for me...

    With July now ripe and full, I believe the whole world's tipping at the brink of peach madness.

    Over at the White On Rice Couple blog, one finds adorable dogs licking peaches.

    I myself just received 15 juicy little darlings in last night's CSA box. They're about to become peach compote or peach pie or maybe just peaches with yogurt if only I can keep myself from devouring them all in a dripping, fleshy mess over the sink.

    Then, of course, I stumbled over this entertaining peach reverie (from The Chronicles of Clovis by Saki [H. H. Munro]) at Project Gutenberg while eating a particularly fine specimen myself:

    "How nice of you to remember my aunt when you can no longer recall the names of the things you ate.

    Now my memory works quite differently. I can remember a menu long after I've forgotten the hostess that accompanied it. When I was seven years old I recollect being given a peach at a garden-party by some Duchess or other; I can't remember a thing about her, except that I imagine our acquaintance must have been of the slightest, as she called me a 'nice little boy,' but I have unfading memories of that peach.

    It was one of those exuberant peaches that meet you halfway, so to speak, and are all over you in a moment. It was a beautiful unspoiled product of a hothouse, and yet it managed quite successfully to give itself the airs of a compote. You had to bite it and imbibe it at the same time.

    To me there has always been something charming and mystic in the thought of that delicate velvet globe of fruit, slowly ripening and warming to perfection through the long summer days and perfumed nights, and then coming suddenly athwart my life in the supreme moment of its existence. I can never forget it, even if I wished to.

    And when I had devoured all that was edible of it, there still remained the stone, which a heedless, thoughtless child would doubtless have thrown away; I put it down the neck of a young friend who was wearing a very décolleté sailor suit.

    I told him it was a scorpion, and from the way he wriggled and screamed he evidently believed it, though where the silly kid imagined I could procure a live scorpion at a garden-party I don't know. Altogether, that peach is for me an unfading and happy memory--"

    Now, I wasn't going to offer up a recipe at all, because, after all, a summer peach is a glorious thing. Why mess with success, right?

    But then I realized that I've been needlessly cruel. In checking through my online recipe file, it's clear that I've never posted my glorious Ginger Peach Pie. For shame! It's a delight that never fails to please a crowd.

    And, after all, one who is blessed with peaches should at least consider sharing them. Especially with ice cream. Or crème fraîche.
    Spiced Ginger Peach Pie (with or without crumble topping, below)

    2 Tbsp dry tapioca pearls
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1/2-3/4 tsp garam masala blend (or substitute 1/4 tsp ground allspice, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg and 1/4 tsp ground dry ginger or cinnamon)
    1/4 tsp salt
    3 large peaches, sliced in 1/2" wedges
    1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger (about 1" piece)
    2 tsp fresh lime juice
    1 tsp lime zest

    1 pie crust
    Crumble topping (use a double crust if you're not doing the crumble topping)

    1. Heat oven to 375°F and blind bake* the pie shell for 10-15 minutes.
    2. Pulverize the tapioca pearls with a clean coffee grinder, a mortar/pestle or a food processor. Blend the powdered tapioca with the brown sugar and garam masala (or ground spices) and salt.
    3. In a mixing bowl, gently combine the peach slices with the freshly grated ginger, brown sugar/tapioca blend, lime juice and zest.
    4. Pour the peach mixture into the baked pie shell, packing the slices into place.
    5. Sprinkle evenly with the crumble topping (if using) or lay on the top pie crust. If using a pie crust top, be sure to open up several holes to allow steam to escape.
    6. Bake the pie on a cookie sheet for about 45 minutes (or until the filling bubbles), checking the pie after 20 minutes to make sure the edges aren't overbrowning. (If the edges do start looking a bit brown, cover them with strips of aluminum foil.)
    7. Cool the pie on a rack for approximately 1 hour before serving.

    *Blind baking is a process that involves pre-cooking the pie shell a bit (usually with pie weights or dry beans in the shell to keep it from bubbling and rising). This keeps the crust more crisp, which is especially nice for juicy fruit pies.

    Crumble Topping
    3 Tbsp flour
    4 Tbsp brown sugar
    1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, optional
    1 dash salt
    1/2 cup rolled oats
    1/4 cup pecans, walnuts or pistachios, coarsely chopped
    1/4 cup chilled butter, cut in 1/2" pieces

    1. In a mixing bowl, blend together flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, oats and nuts.
    2. Cut the butter into the mixture with a fork until the blend resembles a uniform gravel. Sprinkle atop the pie filling and bake as directed above.


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    Faux Yo?

    With new fro-yo joints spreading like a plague around the city, proclaiming health superiority, probiotic power and "live & active cultures," I got to thinking back to junior high biology... could frozen yogurt really could support active bacterial cultures? I mean, isn't freezing one of those things we do to food to stop the growth of bacteria?

    Susky Banana Rama
    Fro-Yo... no better than the Susky Banana Rama?

    So I wrote to food science writer Harold McGee for the, er, scoop:
    Mr. McGee,

    I've seen a lot of ads for probiotic products at frozen yogurt shops as of late. I understand the desire for healthy flora, but doesn't the process of freezing a yogurt kill off the little buggers? It doesn't seem like a frozen yogurt could possibly do much good for the intestines.

    Best Regards,
    Miss G.


    Miss G,

    Freezing does kill some but not all of the bugs, so if they've "fortified" with probiotics, you'll get something. If it's just standard froyo, then the yogurt is diluted with lots of sugar and other stuff and you'll get less.

    Best wishes,

    Aha! So it is possible to get some helpful cultures in the tummy though your Pinkberry, but somehow I think it's still better for the belly to eat un-frozen yogurt.

    Heidi Swanson of (101 cookbooks) posted a very tasty-looking (not to mention easy looking) vanilla frozen yogurt on her site that I'm planning to try out, but I view that as fun, not filled with health benefits.

    Meanwhile, I'll stick with morning yogurt and granola or smoothies to feed my belly buggies. But given the popularity of fro-yo, I'm probably alone in my suspicions that it's no good for you at all.

    So what about you, reader? Do you consider the care and feeding of your internal flora? Or do you let the little guys fend for themselves? If you've got a minute, drop a note and let me know.


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    Food Quote Friday: Benoît Charest

    Daim Cake

    "J'veux pas finir ma vie à Singapour
    Jouer au dico manger des petits fours
    Moi j'veux être zidiote
    Triplement zidiote
    Gondolée comme une Triplette de Belleville

    I won’t be an old man in Singapore
    Playing scrabble and eating petits-fours
    I want to be wicked,
    Utterly wicked,
    Wicked like a Triplet from Belleville"
    Benoît Charest from The Triplets of Belleville

    More sweet food quotes can be found within the food quote archive.

    Cheers to chlotrudis.org for the translation.

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    FoodLink Roundup: 06.02.08

    Cupcake's Link Roundup
    Last week, Cupcake was located in old-timey Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post a guess in the comments.

    Gummi Bear Anatomy
    File under: Things you never really wanted to see...

    Swansong to tube boozing
    What? Heavy drinking leads to bad behavior? I'm astounded!

    Slow Travel
    For the tourist who prefers a dreamy pace...

    A Tease for the Taste Buds
    Perception-bending fruit worthy of a Philip K. Dick story.

    One Country's Table Scraps, Another Country's Meal
    So much waste! Pretty disturbing.

    Soup Noodles in Manhattan's Chinatown
    There's so many noodle shops in Manhattan's Chinatown, but how many are worth a stop?

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    Food Quote Friday: Herman Melville

    Ginger Stars

    "Copying law papers being proverbially a dry, husky sort of business, my two scriveners were fain to moisten their mouths very often with Spitzenbergs to be had at the numerous stalls nigh the Customs House and Post Office. Also, they sent Ginger Nut very frequently for that peculiar cake — small, flat, round, and very spicy — after which he had been named by them. Of a cold morning when business was but dull, Turkey would gobble up scores of these cakes, as if the were mere wafers — indeed they sell them at the rate of six or eight for a penny — the scrape of his pen blending with the crunching of the crisp particles in his mouth."

    Herman Melville in Bartelby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street

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    Ten Thousand Picnics & One Custard Baklava

    Our extended cold, damp spring was all forgiven this past weekend. For those of us who stuck around for the holiday, three glorious days of sunshine, blue skies and idyllic chirping birds reminded us that New York can actually be a pleasant place to live.

    From my informal survey of city parklands, I estimate there were roughly oh, somewhere in the neighborhood of ten thousand picnics happening around the city this weekend.

    Prospect Park, Central Park, McCarren Park and every other patch of urban green upheld seas of blankets, spread after spread of good eats and a few million grinning hominids.

    Sheep in the Sheep Meadow
    Sheep in the Sheep Meadow, Central Park, image from the NYPL. Circa 1870?

    Picnics in the Sheep Meadow
    Picnics in the Sheep Meadow, Central Park. Circa 2008

    For my own pic-a-nicking, I was in the mood for something exotic. I found a recipe for galatoboureko (custard baklava) in Cold-Weather Cooking by Sarah Leah Chase and, despite the book's out-of-season topic, I thought it might make for a nice picnic dish. My adapted version appears herein.

    As it turns out, a bourek boureko is either a Greek dish or a Turkish dish (depending on whether you're speaking with a Greek or a Turk) composed of layered phyllo with a filling of meat, or cheese or veggies or a sweet or savory egg custard.

    J recently traveled through both countries and found it everywhere (particularly the not-so-sweet egg variety, which he ate for breakfast). His suspicion is that galatoboureko hails from an ancient neighborhood in Istanbul (so ancient it was still Constantinople at the time) called Galata.

    Processing the phyllo


    The recipe below has a few adaptations from the original, which makes enough to feed an army (about 42 pieces). This one will serve a smaller army with about 21 pieces, depending on how you make your cuts.
    Galatoboureko (Custard Baklava)
    For the citrus syrup:
    1/2 cups sugar
    1/4 cup water
    2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
    1 slice orange (optional)

    For the custard:
    1 quarts milk
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/2 cup farina or Cream of Wheat cereal
    1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
    Pinch of salt
    6 large eggs
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1/2 tsp nutmeg

    For the phyllo:
    1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
    1/2 pound phyllo dough, thawed

    1. To make the syrup: Add sugar, water, lemon juice and orange slice (if desired) to a heavy saucepan and simmer 10 minutes, skimming away any froth at the surface. Remove and discard the orange slice. Set aside to cool.
    2. To make the custard: Heat the milk and sugar in a deep saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. When the milk steams and is about to boil, shake in the farina. Add the butter and salt. Stir until the butter has melted and the mixture is thick and smooth, then remove from the heat and let the mixture cool to room temperature.
    3. Beat the eggs and vanilla together in a large bowl until light, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cooled farina mixture, blending thoroughly.
    4. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
    5. To assemble the dish, brush a 11 x 9-inch baking pan with a thin coating of the melted butter. Unwrap the phyllo dough, laying it out flat on a clean surface, and covering it with a slightly damp kitchen towel to keep it from drying out.
    6. Lay 1 half-sheet of phyllo dough on the bottom of the pan and brush it with a thin coating of melted butter. Continue layering and buttering the dough in the same manner for 8 half-sheets.
    6. Pour in all the custard and spread it evenly. Cover the custard with 8 more half-sheet layers of buttered phyllo dough. Puncture the top sheets with a sharp knife in several places to allow the custard to breathe during baking.
    7. Bake until the custard is set and the pastry shakes loose from the pan, about 30-45 minutes.
    8. Let cool 30 minutes, then pour the sugar syrup over the pastry. Cool completely before cutting into triangles or rectangles. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

    The version of galatoboureko J has encountered abroad is much like this one, but he said they didn't generally use the citrus syrup to finish it and the dish was usually served for breakfast rather than dessert.

    Either way, I can picture this boureko fitting in well at a brunch buffet... it holds up nicely at room temperature. Just don't plan on storing it too long before serving it. I find that storage softens the phyllo a bit much.

    Now that we have another half-box of phyllo to play with, I'm excited to try out a savory bourek...

    Meanwhile... cheers, ya'll!

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    Scoop of Nutella Bacon Swirl?

    After the resounding success of the bacon cake, I knew we had to try bacon ice cream as an encore.

    One of the best (or maybe I should say, most dangerous) kitchen gadgets an ice cream freak can have is, of course, an ice cream maker. It's like setting a meth junkie up with a home lab. I own the attachment kit for my KitchenAid mixer, and I use it. (More often than I should, honestly.)

    Peanut Butter Bacon Crunch

    But how else would I answer important questions like, "What's tastier: Peanut Butter Bacon Crunch or Nutella Bacon Swirl?" And what would the Mellow Maple Bacon blend taste like?

    My go-to guide for homespun ice cream happiness has always been Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book. Chock-full of goofy cartoons and ice cream anecdotes, I've found it to be simple, playful and inspiring, and it's well-fingerprinted from many episodes of hands-on enjoyment.

    I'm going to do three bacon ice cream recipes herein, and you'll note that they're largely the same. As it turns out, once you get the hang of ice cream, it's pretty simple to whip up your own crazy variations. Frankly, I'm convinced that experimentation is half the fun.

    Bacon & Peanuts

    For my ice cream adventures, I usually start off with the B&J sweet cream base #1, which is a simple 4-ingredient blend that you don't have to cook. I trust the eggs I get (they're organic, free-range eggs) but if you don't know where yours come from, you might want to think about using a base recipe that involves some cooking.
    1. Peanut Butter Bacon Crunch Ice Cream(Makes 1+ quart)
    2 free-range eggs
    3/4 cup sugar
    2 cups heavy cream
    1 cup milk
    1/3 cup peanut butter
    1/3 cup peanuts, chopped
    4-5 bacon strips, fried crisp and minced

    1. Whisk the eggs 1-2 minutes.
    2. Whisk in the sugar.
    3. When blended, pour in the cream and milk. Blend well.
    4. Add peanut butter and whisk out any lumps.
    5. Pour blend into your ice cream machine and prepare as directed.
    6. When the ice cream is very thick and nearly ready, five to ten minutes before completion, blend in the chopped peanuts and bacon.
    7. Continue freezing to desired texture.

    Nutella-Bacon Swirl

    2. Nutella-Bacon Swirl Ice Cream(Makes 1+ quart)
    2 free-range eggs
    3/4 cup sugar
    2 cups heavy cream
    1 cup milk
    1/3 cup Nutella (or another chocolate-hazelnut sauce)
    4-5 bacon strips, fried crisp and minced

    1. Whisk the eggs 1-2 minutes.
    2. Whisk in the sugar.
    3. When blended, pour in the cream and milk. Blend well.
    4. Pour blend into your ice cream machine and prepare as directed. Meanwhile, mix the bacon bits into the Nutella.
    5. When the ice cream is very thick and nearly ready, five to ten minutes before completion, fold in the bacon-y Nutella.
    6. Continue freezing to desired texture.

    2. Mellow Maple Bacon Ice Cream(Makes 1+ quart)
    2 free-range eggs
    3/4 cup sugar
    2 cups heavy cream
    1 cup milk
    1/4 cup pure maple syrup
    4-5 bacon strips, fried crisp and minced

    1. Whisk the eggs 1-2 minutes.
    2. Whisk in the sugar.
    3. When blended, pour in the cream, milk and maple syrup. Blend well.
    4. Pour blend into your ice cream machine and prepare as directed.
    5. When the ice cream is very thick and nearly ready, five to ten minutes before completion, blend in the bacon.
    6. Continue freezing to desired texture.

    Around the office there was enormous love for the Peanut Butter Bacon Crunch, although one of my supervisors was partial to the Nutella-Bacon Swirl.

    Once you bring bacon bits into your ice cream, the possibilities seem endless. Maybe Bacon-Pecan Buttercrunch? A sundae of Roasted Apple Ice Cream with bacon and caramel bits? What about Bacon, Peanut Butter & Banana? (The Presley Special, perhaps?)

    J was sweet enough to gift me with an enormous box of pint-sized ice cream cartons scored from a restaurant supply store on Bowery. You can use other containers, but trust me: if you really get into ice cream making, you'll want to make sure you can push off gift pints on friends. If you're not a New York local, never fear... any place that has restaurants is going to have a restaurant supply store nearby.


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    Seis de Mayo: Brownie Tamales

    So, Seis de Mayo. You might be thinking: Why not Cinco de Mayo? It's a perfectly reasonable question. As it turns out, Cuatro de Mayo was unreasonably busy for my coworkers and I, but we still really wanted an excuse to cook and eat a Mexican-themed potluck.

    As far as potluck themes go, you really can't go wrong with Cinco de Mayo. I mean, c'mon... it's got the tasty built right in. Mexican and Tex-Mex foods are some of the most popular dishes in the nation. Salsa has surpassed ketchup as our national condiment of choice (judged via per-capita consumption). And nearly every American city now features excellent Mexican and Central American specialty foods.

    Here in NYC, it's a cinch to walk into the Essex Street Market and pick up a stack of soft corn tortillas for practically nothing. Corn husks for making tamales are just a couple of dollars for a hearty fistful. There's baffling varieties of dried chilies. There's exotic sauce brands. The papayas, fresh tomatillos and cactus paddles await your salad-making pleasure.

    Cheese quesadillas done up on the George Foreman grill seemed like a quick-and-easy winner for our slightly belated department holiday picnic this week, but I also wanted to try out something a little more ambitious.

    Tamale in the Steamer

    I found a delicious-sounding candidate in Rosa's New Mexican Table by Chef Roberto Santibañez, formerly of NYC's Rosa Mexicano restaurant... Brownie Tamales.

    Having been burned by an unfortunate barbecue sauce recipe over the weekend, I was a little recipe-shy, but this one was actually created by Nick Malgieri, the many-times-published pastry chef who created the curriculum at my cooking school. Since I love Santibañez's instincts and I've had great success with all of Malgieri's recipes, I figured I couldn't lose.

    Steam Bath Full of Tamales

    I've doubled the recipe and made a few tweaks — I just can't leave anything alone — but it's pretty close to the original. You might want to plan for a little loss. I had a couple of blowouts. The failed tamales were still edible... just not very pretty.

    Speaking of which, I highly recommend a sauce or ice cream to serve with these. They're quite tasty, but they're sort of homely on their own. Cinnamon ice cream would make an outstanding addition.
    Brownie Tamales (Makes 12-14)
    6 6-inch corn tortillas
    3/4 cup butter
    2/3 cup brown sugar
    13 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
    8 large eggs, at room temperature
    2 2/3 cups ground pecans (8 oz)
    1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
    Grated zest of 1 orange
    1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
    12 large dried corn husks, soaked (7" across the bottom by 7" long)

    1. Tear each tortilla into small pieces and grind them in a food processor (you may have to do this in batches). The texture should resemble coarse cornmeal. Set aside.
    2. Beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add in the melted chocolate.
    3. Beat in four eggs, then blend in half the pecans and half the ground tortillas.
    4. Add the remaining eggs, followed by the rest of the pecans, tortillas, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange zest. Fold in the chocolate chips.
    5. Drain the corn husks. While they're still damp, flatten out a husk on the surface before you and stuff with 1/2 cup of the brownie filling in the center of the husk. Fold the sides over the filling. I find it helpful to gather up the bottoms and tie them with a few inches of twine. (The top end will remain open. Just fold it over.) Repeat to form 12 tamales.
    6. Place two or three dimes in the bottom of a large pot (while it boils, they'll jingle, letting you know there's still water in the pot) fitted with a steamer basket and water that meets the basket's base, but doesn't rise above it.
    7. Stand the filled husks (open-end up) in the basket, keeping them upright, but not cramped.
    8. Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to keep the water simmering gently. Steam the tamales this way for about 30 minutes, carefully adding more water if the level runs low.
    9. After 30 minutes, carefully remove a tamale, unwrap it and cut into it. It should be moist and semi-firm. If the tamale is still overly soft, return it to the basket and steam a bit more. If it's done, turn off the heat and let the tamales stand for 5 minutes.
    10. Serve hot in opened husks with a scoop of ice cream, caramel sauce or whipped cream.


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    The Banana Batida: Crave Hero

    I can pass on cake. I can stop at one cookie. I'll often slice a brownie in half and be satisfied with a slim portion. I demonstrate wonderful restraint when presented with a box of chocolates... one every few days is really all I crave.

    But ice cream is the point at which restraint and prudence end. I really love ice cream. It's probably my biggest dessert weakness. Maybe it's genetic. My mother believes that any proper vacation includes "ice cream every day."

    To rip on the words of a newer, more moderate Cookie Monster, "Cookies are a sometimes food." And I think the same goes for ice cream. Ice cream is a sometimes food.

    And yet, super-premium, super-chunky, super-sweet ice creams come in darling pint-sized containers that wait, beguilingly, in the freezer.

    If there's not a siren pint of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey calling from my freezer, there's a whole gaggle of them less than a block away at my local bodega, which is kind of like an "off-site freezer," actually.

    Sometimes I get on a kick and I want ice cream every night. That's just not practical. Once a week, yes. Five times a week, no. So lately, when the ice cream urge strikes, I've been heading for the blender.

    Banana Batida
    Banana batida at Caracas Arepa Bar, NYC

    I've been enchanted with the batida for a long while now. It's essentially a fruit shake, although many spike their batidas with rum or cachaca for cool cocktails.

    They make batidas par excellence at Caracas Arepa bar... cool, creamy, sweet (but not too sweet), a little malty and lightly spiced with cinnamon (and perhaps nutmeg). So delightful, I'm not even wishing for ice cream.

    While a serving of my beloved Chunky Monkey (that's 1/2 cup or 1/4 of the pint) contains:
    300 calories
    19 grams of fat (11 grams saturated fat)
    26 grams of sugar
    and just 4 grams of protein

    My banana batida (a 1-cup serving) is more like :
    195 calories
    6 grams of fat (1 gram saturated fat)
    16 grams of sugar
    10.5 grams of protein
    and 5 grams of fiber

    A little fiber and protein help to make the batida more satisfying, since sugar without fiber often just gives me a sugar high followed by a slump. There's also some research that indicates that cinnamon may help some people regulate their sugar absorption. I just think it's tasty.

    And if I were really concerned about my fat intake, I could make my batida even more virtuous by using nonfat yogurt and nonfat soymilk. But I'm more interested in flavor than virtue.

    Crave-Busting Banana Batida (About 8 oz; Serves 1)

    1/2 frozen banana
    1/4 cup plain yogurt
    6 oz plain soymilk
    1 Tbsp malt powder
    Sprinkle of cinnamon
    Dusting of nutmeg

    1. Put banana, yogurt, soymilk and malt powder in a blender. Spin until smooth.
    2. Garnish with cinnamon and nutmeg.
    3. Enjoy immediately.

    You can switch it up by using chocolate malt powder (Choco-Banana Batida!) or a 1/2 cup frozen strawberries instead of the frozen banana (Strawberry Batida!), or frozen blueberries (Blueberry Batida!)... you get the point. Frozen fruit is essential to keeping the drink cool and giving it thickness.

    I've seen recipes that use fresh fruit and ice instead of frozen fruit. That's probably the best option if you happen to have access to quality produce.


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    The Eastover Potluck

    It was too cold, too drizzly and too long since our last convivial food gathering. We needed another office potluck to bring cheer to our cubicles. But what's the food holiday that falls between Easter and Passover?

    Well, Eastover, of course. An opportunity to use up some of that leftover ham. A time to clean out the excess Peeps. An excuse to munch matzo. The Eastover Potluck!

    Peeps go for a Dip

    Since Easter is such a ham-heavy holiday and Passover is, well... not, there was some definite sacrilege going down at our potluck table. But we're a spiritually apathetic bunch of Jews, Christians and Agnostics, so it was all in good fun.

    Ryn made latkes (not that those really work for Passover, but hey... everybody loves a latke) with the requisite apple sauce and sour cream, Kate brought rugelach and hamantashen and Mike scored hummus and pita. Tomi made spring-y little cucumber tea sandwiches. Marc inexplicably brought bottles of Orangina and Anna Bollocks ponied up the Girl Scout Cookies.

    The best in show prize for dramatic presentation went to Suzy Hotrod's Platter o' Peeps Fondue. (Because nothing compares to a Peep dipped in chocolate...) I'd share the recipe, but it doesn't really require one. Just follow along with the photo below: assorted Peeps and whole strawberries displayed on a platter with a side of thick chocolate sauce for dipping.

    Peeps Fondue

    For my part, I dedicated my potluck offering to bringing peace between vegetarians and the meatheads. Thus: egg matzo with two spreads: one, a zippy deviled ham; the other, a spicy roasted carrot dip based loosely on a recipe I found in Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon.

    The deviled ham spread is a bit ugly, so I really recommend some garnish to make it look tasty, but once people give it a try, it's always wildly popular. The carrot spread scored many fans as well, and it would actually make a welcome dip at Passover (even the reverent tables), since it requires no grain, dairy or meat products.

    Spicy Roasted Carrot Spread on Egg Matzo

    Dip 1: Spicy Roasted Carrot Spread (Makes about 2 cups)
    1 5-6 medium carrots, peeled and trimmed
    1 large red onion, quartered
    1 head garlic, unpeeled, cut in half crosswise
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    2 teaspoons ground cumin
    2 teaspoons ground coriander
    2 teaspoons hot paprika (or a combination of sweet paprika and cayenne pepper)
    2 Tablespoons orange juice or tomato juice (or water)
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    Chopped parsley, to garnish

    1. Preheat the oven to 375° F.
    2. Place the carrots, onion pieces and garlic in a baking dish. Toss the vegetables with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Arrange the onions with the cut side down.
    3. Bake until the carrots are soft and browned, about 45 minutes. Let cool.
    4. Remove any papery skin layers from the onion. Place the carrots and onion in the food processor or blender. Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins. Add pour in the last tablespoon of oil, cumin, coriander and paprika.
    5. Pulse, adding the juice a little at a time to help make a smooth blend.
    6. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill. The flavor will improve overnight. Serve cool or at room temperature, garnished, if desired, alongside crackers, crudités, pita or matzo.

    Dip 2: Deviled Ham Spread (Makes about 1 3/4 cups)
    1 1/2 cups cooked, diced ham
    1 egg, hard-boiled
    2-3 Tbsp Dijon mustard
    1 Tbsp mango chutney
    1/4 cup mayonnaise
    1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
    1 tablespoon finely chopped celery
    Sweet paprika, for garnish
    1 Tbsp sliced scallion or chopped parsley, for garnish

    1. Pulse ham, egg, mustard, chutney, mayonnaise and cayenne pepper in blender or food processor until smooth.
    2. Transfer to a bowl and stir in celery. Season to taste with more cayenne, if desired.
    3. Sprinkle spread with paprika and greenery, if desired. Serve with toast points, pita wedges, crackers... or matzo, if you're nasty.

    Cheers, ya'll!

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    Bacon + Cake = Yay!

    "It's totally weird. I've never had anything like it before. And I want one for my birthday in November." — Marc

    My boss is one of those people who considers the onion and the potato his favorite vegetables (all the better if they're fried). A meal just isn't a meal without meat, and practically any meal can be made better with the addition of a pork product. Not to mention that he's the only person I know who has three enormous barbecue grills on his Brooklyn patio roof-space.

    So when his birthday rolled around, the email conversation naturally turned to bacon. There's been a lot of bacon sweets in the blog press lately. Bacon Brittle. Bacon Lollypops. The Vosges Bacon Chocolate Bar.

    Could we really do a bacon cake? With real bacon? And how would that work?

    Bacon Cake

    Tomi bravely took the plunge (she says she was actually rather terrified by the whole prospect), going for a simple rectangular chocolate layer cake. She discovered a plastic pig at the dollar store to drive home the whole piggy point and topped her cake off with a pretty pink version of Paula Deen's Brown Butter Icing, crunchy pink sugar sprinkles aaaaand.... BACON!

    Now, before you say "eeeew!" remember that sweet and salty tastes are often pretty great together. Chocolate covered pretzels, say. Or salted butter caramels. Or peanut-butter cookies. Sweet plus salty makes them multi-dimensional and more exciting to the tongue. And crunchy bacon bits on a chocolate cake offer a third dimension... sweet + salty + savory. Very exciting!

    Some approached cautiously, but everyone who tried the chocolate bacon cake proclaimed enjoyment. Some went back for seconds. In the end, not a single slice went unclaimed. The boss man was pleased, and the whole thing was an enormous success. I was left wondering why bacon bits aren't a standard topping for cakes in the same way they are for salads, casseroles and omelettes.

    Bacon Cake Slice

    The assembly couldn't be easier. (Bake cake. Make icing. Ice cake. Top with bacon bits.) The chocolate cake itself is ultra-basic. The icing's a snap. The key to this recipe is in the bacon. It must be crispy, and it must be broken into bits. Long, limp slices won't do at all.

    A Simple Chocolate Cake

    3 oz semisweet (or bittersweet) chocolate, chopped
    1 cup hot black coffee
    2 cups all-purpose flour (or pastry flour)
    1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    1 tsp baking soda
    1 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp salt
    3 large eggs
    2 cups sugar
    1 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
    1/2 cup vegetable oil
    1 tsp vanilla extract

    1. Preheat oven to 350° F.

    2. Combine hot coffee and chocolate pieces in a bowl. Let stand 5 minutes before whisking smooth.

    3. Butter and flour the bottom of a 9- x 13-inch cake pan. (Or butter the bottom of the pan and lay in a piece of parchment.)

    4. In a separate bowl, blend together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

    5. In another bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until slightly thickened and pale, about 3 minutes. Gradually add yogurt (or buttermilk), vegetable oil, vanilla and coffee-chocolate mixture to eggs. Stir to combine well.

    6. Add the dry ingredients into the moist ingredients and continue to beat until just combined.

    7. Pour cake batter into the prepared pan and bake about 40-45 minutes (or until the cake springs back lightly when touched and a tester inserted in center comes out clean).

    8. Place cake pan on a rack and cool completely in the pan. To remove, run a knife around edge of the pan and invert cake onto a rack. (May be wrapped tightly and kept at room temperature for up to 2 days or frozen for 3 weeks.)

    Paula Deen's Browned Butter Icing (in a Pretty Piggy Pink)
    1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
    1 cup confectioners' sugar
    Red food color (optional)

    Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, or until butter is lightly browned. Whisk in confectioners' sugar until smooth. Stir in 2-3 (or more) drops red food color to achieve your own perfect piggy pink.


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    Give a fig? I give a fig cake!

    I'd always known that figs were beloved fruits of the ancients. They sang and wrote poetry about figs. Figs glowed as symbols of the good life in their literature. It was the first plant mentioned in the Bible. And don't forget: Buddha done got enlightened while meditating underneath a fig tree. (Take that, Newton!)

    And there's hundreds of different fig trees. The Weeping Fig. (ficus benjamina) The Creeping Fig. (ficus pumila) The Fiddle-leaved Fig. (Ficus lyrata) The Bengal Fig. (ficus benghalensis) The Florida Strangler Fig. (ficus aurea) There's a fig for every mood.

    fresh figs with cheese

    But until fairly recently, the only figs I'd really encountered came in "Newton" form. Chewy and sweet, but not exactly inspiring.

    Then I met fresh figs, which were a revelation. Juicy, fleshy, tender-skinned and scented like musky vanilla and honey with hints of grass... the fresh fig gave me a new outlook on why this fruit was so cherished in the ancient world.

    Later still, I discovered that dried figs came in various incarnations. At my favorite little shop of delights, The Sweet Life, the Turkish ones tend to be brunette, chewy and covered with a sugary sap. The dried California are blonder, fatter and more supple. (Read into that whatever you like.)

    dried California fig

    These days, my office's favorite Friday treat is the empanada run from Mama's Empanadas in Sunnyside. We'd noticed that Ryn really loved the fig and caramel empanada, so naturally, when her birthday rolled around, we needed a fig cake.

    I was inspired by one I saw on the FreshDirect recipe page, but it was missing by the time I went back to find it, so I improvised a fig cake based on a recipe I found at Baby Rambutan's site.

    It so happened that I wanted a cake that was not terribly sweet. Since fig preserves are already quite rich, I just skipped the sugar altogether. That makes this cake a nice option for breakfasting/brunching.

    That said, I think most people are looking for a little more decadence in their cakes, so I'd recommend 1/2 cup to 1 cup of sugar, depending on your preference or audience.

    fig cake, devoured

    Moist & Sticky Fig Cake

    2 cups all-purpose or pastry flour
    1/2 to 1 cup sugar
    1 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    1 cup buttermilk (or plain yogurt)
    1 cup fig preserves
    3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted
    3 eggs, beaten
    1 Tbsp vanilla
    1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
    1/2 cup sliced dried figs (optional)

    Sticky Fig Glaze
    1/4 cup fig preserves
    3 Tbsp honey
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    1/2 cup water

    1. Preheat oven to 325° F.

    2. Butter the bottom of a 13- x 9-inch pan or a 10-inch round pan. Cut out a piece of parchment paper the same size as the bottom of your pan and place the parchment on top of the butter to stick it in place.

    3. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, soda, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.

    4. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk (or yogurt) with 1 cup fig preserves until smooth. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add fig preserves and pecans, if using.

    5. Combine wet and dry ingredients, stirring just until combined.

    6. Pour into the prepared pan and bake 35-40 minutes. If a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, remove from oven and cool the cake in the pan. Cover it to keep the steam in.

    6. While the cake cools, make the glaze by combining the remaining 1/4 cup fig preserves, honey, cinnamon and water. Heat, stirring, in a saucepan on the stovetop (or zap in a bowl in the microwave) until simmering, but not boiling. Spread across the cake, letting the glaze drip down the sides if you dig that sort of rich and oozy look.

    Serve with vanilla ice cream, crème fraîche or Mediterranean-style thick yogurt.

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    The Donut Wars

    I will preface this piece by letting you know this: I'm not a donut person, per se. That said, I will also tell you this: I love donuts in concept.

    I love the way donuts are round. I love the way they curve in the palm of the hand. I love the hole in the center. I love that you can sometimes peek through that hole in the center and peer at the someone with whom you're sharing donuts. Maybe you also make a face or a silly noise at that moment. Donuts can be funny. But donuts also show up at wakes and church socials. Donuts can be somber.

    Tres Leches Donut
    The delightful Tres Leches Donut from the Donut Plant

    What I love best about donuts is the idea of donuts and coffee. There's something so classically Americana about donuts and coffee.

    The donut of my platonic ideal is the fresh-outta-the-fryer, crisp and steaming cake donut handed to me on a paper towel by an elderly someone who warns me that it's hot, and that I should be very careful not to burn my mouth. Said elderly someone has imbued this donut with his or her old-fashioned care, affection and pride. Needless to say, those donuts are rare as hen's teeth.

    Donut Plant Dozen
    A recent Donut Plant Dozen... Top left, clockwise: Pomegranate, Ginger, Coconut, Classic Glazed, Valrhona Chocolate, Rose Petal. In the back, Tres Leches, Blackout and another Valrhona.

    My next-favorite donut is much more accessible. It's down at the Donut Plant and the cherubic counter man will sell it to you for a dear, but ultimately quite fair, price. Donut Plant donuts will not arrive hot from the fryer, but they are made with old-fashioned care, affection and pride as well as inspiring seasonal ingredients. Donut Plant donuts are taste adventures, and I like that in my food.

    My boss liked Donut Plant donuts when I brought a tasting into work recently. He especially liked the Tres Leches donut. But what he REALLY likes are donuts from Peter Pan Bakery on Manhattan Ave. in Greenpoint.

    After inhaling his first sampling of Peter Pan donuts just recently, he returned the next day. And the next. He demanded to know why I'd been holding back valuable Peter Pan donut insights for so long. It's not like I was plotting against his happiness. It's just that I'm not a donut person and because Peter Pan donuts were not my first-choice or second-choice donut, their little jellied and powdered gems made a much smaller blip on my personal radar.

    One fateful day last week, my boss brought a stack of boxes into work. Boxes filled with donuts. Chocolate Glazed, Powder-Dusted. Some filled with berry jam. Some filled with Bavarian Cream. Cinnamon-Apple Cake Donuts. Strusel-Topped Donuts. Coconut-Flake Donuts.

    A Mountain of Donuts from Peter Pan
    A Mountain of Donuts from Peter Pan... Top left, clockwise: Chocolate-Glazed Eclaire, Cream-Filled Coconut, another filled eclaire, two custard-stuffed creampuffs, a Glazed Donut and a Strusel-Topped Donut

    My coworkers went into a Peter Pan donut frenzy. They yelped. They swooned. They gorged. They ran to their phones and texted significant others with messages like: "OMG!!! We're getting up early Sat 4 DONUTS!" One coworker claimed that these were the long-lost donuts of her childhood, the like of which she hadn't seen in decades. She wrote to her mother about them.

    And, yes... They're great donuts. Everyone says so. They're actually much closer to iconic American donuts, raised and glazed, fried fresh every day with good-quality fillings and (presumably) good-quality dough ingredients. (And they're dead cheap. This is Greenpoint, after all.)

    The Peter Pan donut is probably very similar to the goods that the very first Dunkin' Donuts shop made waaaay back before they went corporate and started using cheaper fillers, cheaper sweeteners, cheaper fats and mass manufacture. The Peter Pan donut may not be available at every corner, but it really is the pastry of the people.

    Admittedly, I felt crushed that my beloved Donut Plant donuts had so quickly rolled to the wayside in favor of a mighty Peter Pan onslaught. It was immediately clear that most people weren't really interested in pomegranate donuts, rose-petal donuts, Valrona chocolate donuts, ginger donuts, coconut-cream donuts or peanut butter and jelly donuts. They didn't want experimental donuts. They wanted donut donuts. They wanted tradition and comfort and sugary cream fillings.

    So it seems the traditionalists won the war for the (clogged) hearts of my coworkers.

    Down in the trenches, covered in a dusting of powdered sugar and sweating off the sugar-crash shakes, I reflect and find I've learned a few things.

    I have strong donut opinions. I may have a delicate donut ego. And I guess I just happen to have a slightly off-the-mainstream donut perspective. And if I have all that, well... hell. Maybe I really am a donut person after all.

    Peter Pan Doughnuts & Pastries
    Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop on Urbanspoon
    727 Manhattan Ave
    Brooklyn, NY

    Donut Plant
    Doughnut Plant on Urbanspoon
    379 Grand St
    New York, NY

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    Coming Soon: Bananapocalypse

    Last week on the radio program Fresh Air, Terry Gross announced that she'd interviewed Dan Koeppel, the author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. Hearing that, I almost turned the radio off.

    "Really?" I wondered, "Does the world actually need another single-word-title history book?"

    Consider just a sampling of the single-subject history genre: Tobacco. Mayflower. Cod. Salt. Hotel. Gin. Rum. Citrus. Spice.

    You'll find that many of this ilk have big, blustery subtitles. For Cod, it's: "A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World," while Rum is "The Epic Story of the Drink That Conquered the World." One begins to wonder if there's a food, drink or object that didn't change the world.

    Despite my weariness of the big-big little history book, I listened in on Fresh Air for a few moments and — of course — got sucked in. That Terry Gross is some talker. And Koeppel's single-subject discussion was actually pretty interesting. Bananas did change the world for many people.

    For one thing, I didn't realize that the banana (now grown across most of the world's tropical zones) originated in Southeast Asia. I also didn't know that the banana our grandparents knew and loved (the Gros Michel, which was said to be terribly tasty and easy to ship) essentially died out due to a fungal disease.

    Banana Bunch

    The familiar long, slender, fragile banana that appears in every grocery store across the U.S. is the Cavindish banana, which was thought to be so bland and delicate that Koeppel said the Chiquita banana company nearly went out of business because they resisted switching over to Cavindishes as the Gros Michels whithered away.

    As it turned out, those bland, fussy Cavindish bananas were quickly adopted by the banana-eating public and faster than you can say "Yes, We Have No Bananas," the tasty Gros Michels were all but forgotten.

    Much as I enjoy a nice Cavindish, that seems like a sad turn of events for all of us. Because every Cavindish is essentially a clone of every other Cavendish and our appetite for them is seemingly insatiable (Koeppel says Americans purchase more bananas than they do apples and oranges combined), it seems like it was only a matter of time before another bananapocalypse. (I think we've already observed the dangers of crop monoculture.)

    Indeed, Koeppel says that banana fungus is on the move, and it's really only a matter of time before American banana crops are affected. Scary thought.

    Thankfully, there are other bananas in the world. The only problem is, they're not widely cultivated, so if the Cavindish goes offline, it'll be a long, banana-less age in which scarcity ensures that banana muffins are served in only the finest of restaurants, and things like banana splits, bananas foster and banana smoothies are forgotten entirely.

    Unfortunately, while Koeppel's discussion of ruthless banana barons, scummy produce marketing practices and impending fungal doom piqued my interest in his book, it also made me crave bland old Cavindish bananas in a big way.

    One of my favorite banana recipes (although one I don't often make — for obvious reasons) is based off of the banana pudding recipe from Bill Smith and Lee Smith's Seasoned in the South.

    I'm usually not much for meringue, so I leave that off and just go with a sprinkle of cinnamon as garnish. If you've never made pudding that wasn't made from a box, I think you'll taste a big difference in the pudding recipe below. Homemade pudding isn't difficult. If you make it with good ingredients, it's a seriously tasty tribute to the last days of the Cavindish banana.

    Cavendish Banana Pie (Serves 4-6)

    2 cups half & half
    1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
    3 Tbsp cornstarch
    2 large eggs
    1/2 cup sugar
    4 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1" slices
    1/2 box (6 oz) vanilla wafers
    2 medium-sized ripe bananas

    Dash ground cinnamon (optional)
    Dollop fresh whipped cream (optional)

    1. Heat 1 1/2 cups of the half & half with the split vanilla bean in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat until it just steams and begins to form a skin, about 5 minutes. Do not boil.

    2. Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch into the remaining 1/2 cup of half & half to dissolve it. Beat in the eggs.

    3. Pouring in a slow stream, whisk the hot half & half into the egg mixture. Pour the mixed liquids back into the heavy-bottomed pot, returning the vanilla bean.

    4. Cook the liquid over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. After 3 to 5 minutes, the custard will begin to thicken. Continue to stir for a few minutes more, being sure to move the whisk over the entire bottom of the pot.

    5. When the surface begins to steam a little, gradually stir in the sugar. Be careful, because this will make the custard more likely to burn on the bottom.

    6. Remove the pot from the heat and beat in the butter. Stir constantly to help the butter to absorb. This will temporarily thin the custard. Discard the vanilla bean.*

    7. Pour a cup of the hot custard into a deep-dish pie pan or an 8" square pan. Line the bottom and sides with vanilla wafers. Slice the bananas over the cookies, then layer any remaining wafers over the bananas. Gently pour the rest of the custard over the cookies and banana slices.

    8. Cover, lightly, with plastic wrap, and chill for two hours or overnight. Serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon and fresh whipped cream, if desired.

    * Alternatively, save the pod to make vanilla sugar. Just dry used vanilla pods and add to a roomy mason jar that's filled 3/4 full of white sugar. Keep the jar lidded and shake it every once in a while to scent the sugar with vanilla. Use in desserts.

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    It's Log! It's Log!

    "So it's like a giant Yodel." My boss was watching me glaze the yule log cake as he said this. I really couldn't argue with the assessment.

    For those who don't know the Yodel, fret not. It's an East Coast thing. As it turns out, Yodels or Ding Dongs or whathaveyou, are essentially tiny yule logs.

    One of my exceedingly cool coworkers is a punk rock guitar goddess, the captain of a multi-championship roller derby team and the proud owner of one of those cursed right-around-Christmas birthdays.

    But she also has a great sense of humor, and this year, she requested a yule log birthday cake to complete her fest.

    I'd never made one, so I was happy to take on the challenge. There were some moments of terror (Gah! Cracks in the cake!) but as you can see, it turned out pretty great. As she's also a talented food photographer, she snapped a quick studio shot of the final product for me. Pretty rad, no?

    Yule Log, with Garden Gnome

    Though actual Yule Logs — sometimes known as Ashen Faggots — and their copycat cakes might be considered quaint (and yes, maybe even tacky) to our modern sensibilities, there's a venerated tradition in there. The log-based cake even has a fancy French name with lots of diacritical marks: Bûche de Noël

    There's piles of recipes for log cakes, some including complicated marzipan holly and all kinds of faux greenery. I evaluated a few and decided to base my bûche de noël off Martha Stewart's recipe. I'm a big fan of the meringue mushrooms. So cute!

    I'm here to tell you the yule log cake isn't supremely difficult, but it is fairly time-consuming. You can make the whole project seem more achievable if you break the steps into four smaller recipes plus one assembly project. I did the four recipes the night before and then finished up with assembling the mushrooms and frosting the cake the next day while I was on-site.

    Before you get started, know that you will need a candy thermometer, a 10 1/2 by 15 1/2 by 1" pan and a pastry bag (preferably one with a large-sized tip). I've added a few other usage notes and tips between the recipes *within the asterisks.*

    Yule log on fire

    Bûche de Noël (Serves about 12)

    Step 1: Chocolate Genoise Cake

    5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for parchment and pan
    2/3 cup sifted cake flour (not self-rising)
    1/3 cup sifted cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
    Pinch of baking soda
    6 large eggs
    3/4 cup sugar
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    1. Heat oven to 350°. Butter a 10 1/2-by-15 1/2-by-1-inch pan. Line with parchment; butter and flour paper, tapping out the excess flour.
    2. Sift flour, cocoa, and baking soda together twice into a medium bowl. Set aside. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Skim off white foam, and pour clear yellow butter into a bowl, discarding white liquid at the bottom. Set aside in a warm place.
    3. In a medium-size heat-proof bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar. Set bowl over a pan of simmering water; stir until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, and beat on high speed until mixture is thick and pale and has tripled in bulk. Reduce speed to medium, add vanilla, and beat 2 to 3 minutes more.
    4. In three additions, sift flour mixture over egg mixture, folding in gently with a spatula. While folding in last addition, dribble melted butter over batter and fold in.
    5. Spread batter evenly in pan, leaving behind any unincorporated butter in the bottom of the bowl. Tap pan on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake until cake springs back when touched in center, 15 to 20 minutes. Don't overbake or cake will crack. Let sit in pan on a wire rack until cool enough to handle.
    6. Dust surface with cocoa powder. To make rolling easier, trim edges of cake, and cover with a sheet of waxed paper and a damp dish towel. Invert onto a work surface, and peel off parchment; dust with cocoa. Starting from the long side, carefully roll up cake in towel. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate until ready to use.
    7. To assemble cake, carefully unroll genoise on the back side of a baking sheet (discard the plastic wrap and waxed paper, but keep the towel). Spread chocolate mousse evenly on cake to within 1 to 2 inches of one long end. Reroll cake, starting from other long end, using towel to help roll it. Cover with plastic wrap; chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

    *Don't worry if the cake cracks a little when you're rolling. You can usually frost over the crevasses pretty successfully.*

    Rolled yule log
    Step 2: Chocolate Mousse

    4 ounces semisweet chocolate
    4 tablespoons unsalted butter
    4 large eggs, separated
    Pinch of cream tartar
    1/2 cup heavy cream

    1. In a double boiler, melt together chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat, and transfer to a large bowl. Whisk in egg yolks, stirring well. Let cool to room temperature.
    2. In a large bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff. Whisk a third of the whites into chocolate mixture; gently fold in remainder of the egg whites.
    3. Whip cream until it holds soft peaks, and fold into chocolate mixture. Chill until set, about 1 hour.

    *Chocolate mousse is delicious as a simple dessert on its own, so if you have extra, save it!*

    spreading the chocolate mousse
    Step 3: Chocolate Ganache (Makes 1 1/2 cups)

    6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
    1 cup heavy cream

    1. Chop chocolate into small pieces, and place in a medium bowl.
    2. Heat cream until bubbles begin to appear around the edges (scalding).
    3. Pour cream over chocolate. Let stand 5 minutes, then stir until smooth.
    4. Refrigerate until cold but not solid, stirring occasionally.

    *This ganache is easy, delicious and makes a great all-purpose frosting recipe to keep in your personal arsenal.*

    meringue mushrooms, ready to be baked
    Step 4: Meringue Mushrooms

    1 cup sugar
    4 large egg whites
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1 tablespoon cocoa powder
    3 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

    1. Heat oven to 225°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and set aside.
    2. In a small saucepan, heat sugar and 1/2 cup water over low heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil; cook until liquid reaches 248°F.(hard-ball stage) on a candy thermometer.
    3. Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric beater fitted with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on low speed until soft peaks form. Increase speed to high, and add hot syrup in a steady stream, beating constantly. Continue beating until cool and stiff, about 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Fold in cocoa powder.
    4. Spoon meringue into a large pastry bag fitted with a coupler and large plain tip. Pipe meringue onto prepared baking sheet to form 2-inch domes. Pipe a separate stem shape for each dome.
    5. Bake until dry, about 2 hours. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
    6. To assemble mushrooms, melt chocolate in a double boiler or in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Trim off points from tops of stems. With a small offset spatula, spread chocolate on underside of a cap and place trimmed end of stem into center of cap. Place mushroom, stem side up, in an egg carton to harden. Repeat with remaining mushrooms; refrigerate until set.

    *Essentially, you want flatter little domes for the mushroom caps and taller columns for stems, but even when they're lopsided the stems look good, so don't freak out too much about making them vertical.*

    meringue mushrooms, setting up
    Step 5: Assemble the Log

    1. Place cake, seam side down, on a serving platter; tuck parchment around it to keep platter clean while decorating.
    2. Whip ganache at medium speed until it has the consistency of soft butter. Cut one wedge off an end of the cake at a 45° angle; set aside. Ice log with a thin layer of ganache. Attach wedge to the side of the log. Spread ganache all over log, using a small spatula or a the back of a knife to form barklike ridges. Chill until ganache is firm, about 30 minutes.
    3. When ready to serve, arrange meringue mushrooms around and on cake, and dust lightly with confectioners' sugar to create "snow." Add garden gnomes and tinsel. Serve with panache.

    *I also used some pulverized chocolate cookies to make "dirt" that sat around the log on the platter. This had the added benefit of covering any accidental ganache drips.*

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    Day 19: Orange you impressed?

    This post marks Day 19 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Have I blogged about citrus yet this week? No? Horrors! Let that oversight be mended now.

    For some reason I always think the things I love to eat must certainly be beyond my ability to make. Maybe that's some kind of weird culinary-related self-esteem issue.

    When I actually do the research on a given recipe, I often find out that I could have been supplying myself with something tasty and homemade (not to mention cheaper...) all along. Great Gazpacho? I could whip it up in my sleep. Tasty breakfast granola? A snap! Coffee Concentrate? A cinch! Home-brewed cocktail bitters? Easy-peasy... who knew?

    That's why I'm happy to report that while amazing chocolate, wine and beer-making powers may still be outside my realm of competency, I believe candied citrus fruits have finally fallen into my greedy hands.

    chocolate-dipped candied orange
    Candied Orange dipped in dark chocolate from The Sweet Life

    Yes, folks... the lovely chocolate-dipped candied orange slice you see in the photo above can easily be whipped up at home. All you need is a little patience and a handful of ingredients you may already have at home.

    The recipe herein is based off one for candied orange peel I found in Sweet Gratitude by Judith C. Sutton.

    Ms. Sutton stops at the peel, but I've eaten enough orange slices (like the one above), to know that the whole slice is certainly possible. The secret? Cut 'em thin and treat 'em with all due care and delicacy while you cook 'em.

    candied orange
    My very own candied orange slice, ready for the dippin'
    Chocolate-Dipped Candied Oranges

    3 large navel oranges, scrubbed
    3 tablespoons light corn syrup
    1 cup white sugar
    1 cup water
    16oz dark or milk chocolate
    2 Tbsp vegetable shortening
    parchment or wax paper

    1. Using a very sharp knife, cut the orange into thin slices (1/8-inch).

    2. Put the orange slices into a large heavy saucepan, add cold water to cover, and bring to a boil; drain. Return the slices to the saucepan, add cold water to cover by about 1 inch, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the peels are tender when tested with a fork, about 15 minutes; drain and set aside.

    3. Set a large wire rack, preferably a mesh one, over a baking sheet; set aside. Combine the corn syrup, sugar and water in the same saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Wash down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to remove any sugar crystals (which could cause the syrup to crystallize) and add the orange slices.

    4. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat, and simmer gently, stirring once or twice with a clean spoon, until the peel is translucent and very tender and the syrup has reduced to a few spoonfuls, 40 to 60 minutes. (Do not allow the syrup to reduce to less than this, or the bottom of the pan will become too hot and will crystallize the sugar. Add in a little more water if the level gets too low.)

    5. Using a slotted spoon or a fork, carefully move the slices to the wire rack to drain; be sure to keep them separate and dry at least 4 hours.

    6. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate and shortening, blending until smooth.

    7. Dip the orange slices half-way into the chocolate mixture. Allow any excess chocolate to drip off, and let the dipped slices harden on parchment or wax paper.

    Though this recipe isn't strictly a holiday-only offering, I'd bet that if you wrapped 'em in waxed paper and nestled 'em in a cute little tin, these would make a smashing holiday gift for your favorite citrus lover. And if you were so inclined, I bet lemons or grapefruit would work just as well.

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    Day 14: Brittle charms

    This post marks Day 14 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Back in the dark days of '01 after the dot-com bubble burst, Miss Ginsu was left out on the street (not that there was much space out there with all the other dazed and ruined coders, systems engineers and venture capitalists).

    Luckily, your tiny, pig-tailed heroine was kicked to the curb just in time for the Christmas season (ho-ho-ho) and was able to find temp work as a See's Candy girl at the mall.

    "Oops! These ones expired yesterday! Darn. Guess I'll have to work my way through another tasty box of Nuts & Chews..."

    Yes, the ensemble was silly and standing around on concrete floors is murder on the feet, but the pay wasn't bad, and the job offered all the expired chocolates I could eat. And gosh, they're actually really good. Grandma See didn't use any preservatives, and neither do the current See's Candy elves. Thus, we white-garbed choco-chicks spent a lot of time checking expiration dates and rotating stock.

    Did I gain some weight? Yeah, most likely. But I also gained an appreciation for fresh chocolates that aren't filled with weird waxes, colors and fillers. I also learned about the wonders of buttery-crisp peanut brittle.

    I'd always considered nut brittle one of the candies of a bygone age. I assumed it was something my grandmother and dad appreciated. I'd probably never understand its charms. But boy howdy! See's peanut brittle changed my tune. That stuff is addictively tasty.

    Pecan Brittle in the Pan

    Since I live on the East Coast now, and See's is a decidedly West Coast thing, the only cheap, reliable way to make my tastebuds dance is DIY brittle. The recipe below is based on one I found in a sweet (ha!) little cookbook by Robbin Gourley called Sugar Pie & Jelly Roll.

    I used pecans in this one, but you can use whichever nut speaks to you. (After all, talking nuts deserve to be boiled in hot sugar, right?)

    It's not quite as awesome as See's (I'm still working on that...), but it's pretty darn great. My coworkers all said so, and because I know they can be cold, cruel beasts when presented with inferior sweets, that positive commentary stands for something.

    Pecan Brittle in a tin

    Almost as Awesome Nut Brittle (Makes a full cookie sheet)
    Make sure you have an operational candy thermometer before you make this recipe. "Close enough" counts for a lot of things, but you really do want accuracy for activities like structural engineering, brain surgery and candy making.

    1/2 cup water
    1/4 tsp salt
    1 cup light corn syrup
    2 cups sugar
    3 cups pecans, cashews, walnuts or peanuts
    1/2 Tbsp baking soda
    2 Tbsp butter
    1 tsp vanilla extract

    1. Pour water, syrup, sugar and salt into a large saucepan* and bring to a boil.

    2. Add nuts, stirring occasionally and scraping down the pan edges.

    3. Cook to 296°F on a candy thermometer.

    4. Remove from the heat and add baking soda, butter and vanilla all at once. Stir thoroughly.

    5. Pour onto a greased greased baking pan. Use a heat-proof spatula or spoon to spread quickly to 1/4-inch thickness.

    6. When cooled, break into small pieces.

    I recommend a large saucepan for this recipe because the hot sugar-nut mix froths a good bit when you add the baking soda. Trust me... you don't want boiling sugar frothing up and burning a hole in your hand.

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    Day 13: Name that Cookie

    This post marks Day 13 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    My dad's family grew up poor. Six kids in an uninsulated shack. My uncle and his brothers were all stuffed into the attic, and he told me he remembers that on cold winter mornings they woke up with frost on the blankets.

    Grandpa built the place himself and worked a series of odd jobs to support the family.

    Grandma cooked, sewed, cleaned and did everything from scratch, from home-brewed cough syrup (rosehips brewed with honey and brandy) to the kids' haircuts and clothes.

    I know everyone waxes nostalgic about their grandma's cooking. It's like a national obsession. I'm not sure whether it was more a lack of skill or a lack of quality materials, but my grandmother was a terrible cook. I just can't get on board that "Over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house we go" haywagon.

    Though she was far from Martha Stewart, I still remember with enormous fondness the gifts she made for everyone every Christmas.

    We'd all arrive for Christmas Day dinner to find a long line of red cotton stockings labeled in permanent marker with our names. Inside, she'd stuff hard candies, oranges and shell-on nuts.

    name cookies

    Additionally, each holiday brought a new round of grandma's famous name cookies. She'd bake everyone in the family a rock-hard cookie as big as your open hand and frost it with something akin to sugary plaster. Every cookie was iced in grandma's shaky hand with flowers, decorations and your very own name.

    She individually wrapped the cookies in plastic, slipped each inside one of the margarine boxes she'd saved up throughout the year (nothing went to waste in that house), and stacked them in the freezer for presentation on Christmas Day.

    My cousin and I were kids, so we'd spend hours gnawing happily at the edges. I have a feeling my aunts and uncles saved their name cookies to toss out at the soonest private opportunity.

    We all had good fun at the expense of grandma's cooking, but truthfully, grandma died soon after my senior prom in high school, and I still miss those awful cookies.

    I loved name cookies not for their flavor, but for the feeling of love and individual recognition they gave me each holiday season. Even in a shack filled with smoke, tension and far too many people, I was remembered. I was known.

    Every December meant my very own name on a homely red stocking and a marginally edible cookie. All made by hand by a grandma who loved me.

    This year, I won't be sewing any stockings, but I'm making name cookies as a gift for some folks at work that I want to recognize and appreciate.

    Like grandma's, my name cookies will demonstrate thought, effort, resourcefulness and a love of homespun craft. Unlike grandma's cookies, my name cookies will be tasty. Unlike grandma, I have good kitchen equipment and the resources to buy real butter, good flour, farm-fresh eggs, good spices and pure vanilla extract.

    You can the basic version of the Wonder Dough recipe I mentioned the other day, or the gingerbread cutout cookies below.
    Gingerbread Name Cookies

    2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
    3/4 cup packed brown sugar
    1 egg
    1/2 cup dark molasses
    1/2 tsp vanilla extract
    3 1/4 cups flour
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1/4 tsp salt
    1 tsp ground cinnamon
    2 tsp ground ginger
    1/4 tsp ground cloves

    For the icing:
    2 egg whites
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

    Optional Decorations
    Raisins or chocolate chips
    Food colors
    Colored sugars or other edible sprinkles

    For Gingerbread Cookies
    1. Cream the butter until smooth. Blend in the sugar and eggs.
    2. Mix in the molasses and vanilla.
    3. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.
    4. Add the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture in three batches, mixing after each addition.
    5. Flatten dough, wrap in waxed paper or plastic and refrigerate 1 - 2 hours.
    6. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
    7. Roll dough out on floured board about 1/8-inch thick.
    8. Cut large circles with a big cookie cutter, or cut the dough the way grandma did: use the cut edge of an emptied and well-cleaned 28 oz can.
    9. Place cookies onto a cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool in the pan 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool fully.

    For Royal Icing
    Beat the egg whites with the vanilla extract until frothy. Add the sifted powdered sugar and beat until stiff and glossy. If desired add food color. Transfer to a pasty bag and pipe on cooled cookies. Allow 2-3 hours for the icing to dry.

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    Day 5: Sugarplums!

    This post marks Day 5 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Two years ago, I wrote about sugarplums. Oh, how time flies when you're busy food blogging...

    It's the right time of year again, and it seems proper that we attempt to introduce a new generation of kids to one of those things they keep hearing about in holiday Christmas carols and are unlikely to have ever actually tried. (Figgy pudding and chestnuts roasting over an open fire will have to wait patiently at the sidelines for another post.)

    In that spirit, I'm reprinting the recipe below. They're exceedingly easy to make, and seeing as they're chock-full of dried fruit and nuts, sugarplums are probably one of the healthier holiday sweets available.


    Sugarplums! (Makes about 20)

    Chopping the almonds and fruits ahead of time won't be necessary if you have a food processor. These treats keep well in a tin or a pretty box lined with parchment or wax paper and they make a nice gift. They could last up to a month, but you shouldn't need to find out, since they're tasty snacks and tend to disappear.

    1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped
    6 oz dried figs (or dried prunes), roughly chopped
    1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
    1 Tbsp honey
    1 Tbsp grated orange zest
    1/2 tsp almond extract
    1/2-3/4 cup turbanado/raw sugar, for rolling

    1. Combine toasted almonds, chopped fruits, cinnamon, cocoa and almonds in a food processor or mash with a mortar and pestle.

    2. Mix until blended and paste-like. Add the honey, orange zest and extract. Pulse or stir until well mixed.

    3. Pour the raw sugar in a small bowl (cereal bowls and soup dishes work well).

    4. Scoop out teaspoons of the fig paste and roll in your hands to form 1-inch balls. Roll balls in sugar.

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    Day 3: Merry Citrus!

    This post marks Day 3 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

    Some people begin lighting candles for Hanukkah this week, some folks are more about Christmas, others get into Saturnalia or Kwanzaa or Festivus... but pretty much everyone (barring maybe the northernmost locavores) can get behind citrus season as a reason for celebration.

    The clementines are back, the grapefruit are rich and juicy and I've seen some excellent oranges recently. Cold months are a little sad and spare in the farmers' market, but the shops are robust with crates of sweet-tart juiciness. Why not whip up some little lemon loaves to mark the seasonal return of sunshine-state citrus?

    Merry Citrus
    If you happen to like this cheery lemon, click it to get the printable PDF version.

    I like to make a batch of little lemon loaves in December and give them away, wrapped up in parchment paper and kitchen twine, with the tag above.

    You can usually find the little disposable/recyclable aluminum foil cake pans at grocery stores and discount shops. Get a package of the 5" long x 3" wide x 2" high size. I make my lemon loaves with a variation of Ina Garten's Lemon Cake from Barefoot Contessa Parties! It's yummy on its own and looks fantastic as a dessert with a drizzle of raspberry sauce. Mmm...

    Luscious Little Lemon Loaves

    For the Cakes
    1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter
    2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
    4 large eggs (at room temperature)
    1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1 tsp kosher salt
    3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
    3/4 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt at room temperature
    1 tsp pure vanilla extract

    For the Glaze
    2 cups confectioners' sugar
    1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

    1. Preheat the oven to 350°F, and grease four 5 x 3 x 2-inch loaf pans.

    2. Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, and then add in the lemon zest.

    3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.

    4. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk or yogurt and the vanilla.

    5. Alternate adding the flour and buttermilk mixtures to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour.

    6. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

    7. Meanwhile, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves and makes a syrup.

    8. When the cakes are done, let them cool on a rack for 10 minutes. If you'll be giving the loaves away, leave them in the pans. If not, turn out onto a rack. In either case, spoon the lemon syrup over the cakes and allow them to cool completely before glazing.

    9. For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice in a bowl, whisking smooth. Pour over the top of the cakes and allow to set up before wrapping them.

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    Day 1: Wonder Dough

    I love any one thing that does many things. The Swiss Army knife. The cast-iron Skillet. Duct tape.

    With that in mind, what's not to love about the efficiency of a single cookie dough that offers endless variation? Around the time-crunched holidays, a versatile recipe makes gift baking simple.

    If need be, you can make just one little batch of sugar cookies, one batch of ginger cookies and just one batch of chocolate-peppermint cookies. Voila! A mixed cookie plate to take to work and a few more to give away to cookie-munching friends and neighbors.

    And everyone knows that homemade cookies taste better. They're fresh, they don't contain high-fructose corn syrup or weird shelf-life extenders, and above all, they're rich in love. Store-bought cookies never have enough love in 'em.

    The below recipe is based off of one that was published in Real Simple magazine a while back. It's a quick little sugar cookie on its own and can easily be dolled up with spices, nuts, candies, shapes and colors, as per the variations. It's really like ten recipes in one. Pretty handy, no?

    the gingerman
    One dough to rule them all, one dough to find them, one dough to bring them all and in the darkness bind them...

    Wonder Dough
    2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
    1 cup packed brown sugar
    1/2 cup white sugar
    2 tablespoons corn syrup
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1 egg
    2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 1/4 tsp baking soda

    Beat together the butter, sugars, corn syrup and vanilla extract. Mix in the egg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Add ingredients from the variation of your choice.

    Heat oven to 375° F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or use silpat baking sheets. Unless the directions for the variation state otherwise, form the dough into tablespoon size mounds. Place on the prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake until lightly browned at the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to wire racks. Cool completely and store for up to 1 week.

    The Wonder Dough Variations...

    Gingersnaps (Makes 60 cookies)
    Make the base recipe, adding 2 tsp ground ginger and 3 more Tbsp flour. Divide the dough into 2 portions, roll into discs and wrap each in plastic. Freeze for 1 hour. On a floured surface, roll the dough out 1/4" thick. Use cookie cutters to make stars or people. Bake about 8 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to wire racks. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar or decorate with white icing. (Just blend together a cup of sifted confectioners' sugar with 1-2 tablespoons milk. Adjust the liquid/sugar ratio for the consistency you want.)

    Fruitcake Bars (Makes 30 bars)
    Make the base recipe, adding 1 cup dried cranberries, 1 cup candied or plain pecans, and 1 Tbsp rum. Spread the batter in a buttered or parchment-lined 9" square baking pan. Bake for 35 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack. Cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

    Cinnadoodles (Makes 60 cookies)
    Make the base recipe. Form the dough into 1 1/2" balls. Blend 3 Tbsp sugar with 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon in a small bowl. Roll the balls in the cinnamon mixture and place on prepared baking sheets. Flatten the balls into 1/2-inch thick disks. Bake about about 12 minutes or until until light brown. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to wire racks.

    Oatmeal-Spice Cookies (Makes 60 cookies)
    Make the base recipe, adding 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats and 1 tsp pie spice (or substitute 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground ginger, and 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg). Shape and bake as in the base recipe. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to wire racks.

    Chocolate-Peppermint Pinwheels (Makes 40 cookies)
    Make the base recipe, and divide the dough into 2 portions. Melt 3 oz unsweetened chocolate and mix into one of the dough balls. In a separate bowl, blend 1 egg yolk, 1 tsp peppermint extract and 1/2 cup crushed peppermint candies into the other dough ball. On a floured surface, roll each dough separately to about 1/4" thick. Place a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap on the work surface and stack the peppermint layer atop the chocolate layer. Press around the edges to form a uniform disc. Using the wax paper or wrap, roll the stack into a log. Wrap well and freeze for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and cut chilled log into 1/2-inch slices, placing 1" apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake about 12 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to wire racks.

    Chocolate Nut Cookies (Makes 40 cookies)
    Make the base recipe, adding 12 oz semisweet chocolate (chopped or chips) and 1 cup chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts). Shape, bake and cool according to the base recipe.

    Pine Nut Drops (Makes 40 cookies)
    Make the base recipe, blending in 1 tsp almond extract. Form into tablespoon-size balls. Spread 2 1/2 cups raw pine nuts on a plate. Roll each ball in the pine nuts, pressing nuts into the cookies. Place 2" apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake and cool according to the base recipe.

    White Chocolate Snowballs (Makes 20 cookies)
    Make the base recipe. Form the dough into teaspoon-size balls. Spread one 7 oz bag of sweetened flaked coconut on a plate. Roll each ball into the coconut, pressing so it adheres. Place on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to wire racks. Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl placed over, but not touching, simmering water, melt 12 oz white chocolate (chopped or chips). Turn half the cookies upside down and spread the flat sides with the white chocolate. Sandwich them with the remaining cookies.

    Jam Jewels (Makes 40 cookies)
    Make the base recipe. Form into tablespoon-size balls. Place about 2" apart on prepared baking sheets. Press a thumb about 1/2" deep into the center of each ball. Fill each indentation with about 1/2 teaspoon apricot, strawberry or raspberry jam. Bake and cool according to the base recipe.

    This post marks Day 1 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. Happy holidays!

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    The Cookies of the Dead

    Much as I love Halloween, I think the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is far cooler.

    A couple of hundred years ago, Halloween held a solid position in the autumn calendar as a religious event. These days, I'd bet a lot of people don't even realize that the "Eve of All Hallows" is supposed to be followed by All Saints' Day on November 1st and All Souls' Day on the 2nd.

    Similarly, the Day of the Dead (sometimes called the Día de los Fieles Difuntos) is observed in Mexico from November 1-2. Annual rituals involve activities like cleaning and decorating loved ones' graves and building altars or small shrines that include supremely amusing little skeleton figurines made from paper mache, photos of deceased relatives, crosses, orange marigolds, candles, liquor and food, such as the pan de muerto (bread of the dead).

    Dia de los Muertos Altar

    While our modern Halloween has lightened its dark roots in favor of overflowing candy buckets for the little ones and sexy cop, nurse, shepherdess, fairy, zombie, etc. costumes for the adults, the Day of the Dead really can't help but remain conscious of the tenuous barrier between life and death. It's right there in the name. More than that, it's rooted in a culture that's apparently more strongly linked to remembrance than candy and costume. And because remembrance is such a personal process, the Day of the Dead necessarily demonstrates a more handmade and individual texture.

    Dia de los Muertos Parade

    A while back, I visited Tulum and Playa del Carmen on the Yucatán Peninsula during the Día de los Muertos celebrations. Different towns have different celebrations, of course, but Playa del Carmen went all out with an elaborate parade sponsored by the local culture center. It was a stunning carnival of fire and fireworks, undead musicians and jugglers, whirling dancers, springing acrobats and skeletons (both tall and tiny).

    Dia de los Muertos Children

    Homespun, heart-filled and gorgeous, that celebration was rich with reminders of death, and it made me love life all the more.

    You can imagine how ecstatic I was when I found an Alice Medrich recipe for Day of the Dead Cookies in her excellent Chocolate Holidays cookbook. A whole stack of chocolate-vanilla skulls. The accompanying photo was both cute and creepy. I was instantly sold.

    When I actually baked them, I discovered that this cookie is little complicated to make and it has about a 50% success rate. By that I mean: Only about half of the cookies are recognizable as skulls. I was initially a little crushed, but then I reconsidered. Even the rejects were delicious and the skulls that work are pretty cute.

    Here's my recommendation: Make the cookies and separate them into two piles. Label the rejects, "Chocolate-Vanilla Crinkle Cookies." They're crispy, tasty and excellent with a cup of coffee. Take them to work and give them to your hungry coworkers. The other pile with the more successful skulls are your "Day of the Dead Cookies," and they're cute and crispy and tasty (and also good with coffee). Revel in the fact that they're delicious and imperfectly homemade, much like the Día de los Muertos itself.

    Dia de los Muertos Cookies
    Spooky, scary or just plain dumb. A gang of tasty skull cookies.

    Maya's Day of the Dead Cookies
    from Chocolate Holidays by Alice Medrich
    (Makes about 3 dozen. About half of them will look like skulls.)

    Vanilla Dough:
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
    1 cup sugar
    1 egg
    1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    Chocolate Dough:
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, Dutch process or natural
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon baking powder
    1/8 teaspoon salt
    8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
    1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar, lump free
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1 egg
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    Baking sheets lined with parchment paper

    1. To make the vanilla dough, mix the flour, baking powder and salt together thoroughly with a whisk or a fork. Set aside.

    2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla. On low speed, beat in the flour until just incorporated. Form the dough into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Set aside.

    3. To make the chocolate dough, in a medium bowl, mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together thoroughly with a whisk or fork. Set aside.

    4. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar with the back of a spoon or an electric mixer until smooth and creamy but not fluffy (less than 1 1/2 minutes with an electric mixer). Beat in the egg and vanilla. On low speed, beat in the flour until just incorporated. Form the dough into a log the same length as the vanilla log. If the dough is too soft and sticky to handle, place it in the freezer to firm up.

    5. To shape the skulls, reshape each log of dough so that it is skull-shaped rather than round: Make one side of the skull narrow for the chin and jaw and leave the other side wide for the cranium. Wrap and refrigerate the chocolate dough. Form features in the vanilla dough, using the handle of a wooden spoon to poke holes for eyes through the entire length of the log. Form the nose with a skewer, poking two holes for nostrils. Form the mouth by inserting a narrow table knife and wiggling it back and forth gently to lengthen and widen the opening. Don't try for perfection: irregular holes make the best and weirdest skulls. Wrap and refrigerate the vanilla dough. Chill both doughs at least two hours, preferably overnight.

    6. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the chocolate dough into 1/8-inch slices and place them at least 1 1/2 inches apart on the lined baking sheets. Cut the vanilla dough into 1/8-inch slices and place 1 slice on top of each chocolate slice. Bake until pale golden at the edges, 12 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking. Slide parchment liners directly from the baking sheets to the rack with a metal pancake turner, waiting 1 to 2 minutes if necessary to let the cookies form up before moving them. Cool cookies completely before stacking or storing. Cookies keep at least 1 week in an airtight container.

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    (Not Very) Scary Cakes

    Long ago, of my coworkers earned the nickname, "Scary Cakes." I wasn't around at the time, but I gather it was hoisted upon him after he recommended that every conceivable occasion deserved a new line of themed cupcakes.

    Cupcakes were produced for Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year's, Mother's Day, Football Season, Groundhog Day, National Tortilla Chip Day... you get the picture. It was scary.

    Last week, I was talking with the nutritionist at work about healthier Halloween treats and I thought about how the holiday really is a nutritional wasteland. It's about bags and buckets of processed sugar bombs and cheaply made pseudo-chocolate.

    Halloween features the occasional caramel-covered apple, but for the most part, it's grim. The pumpkins aren't for eating, and there's no corn in candy corn (unless you count high-fructose corn syrup).

    Inspired by the thought that a homemade banana muffin with fruit, nuts and some whole-grain flour is a far better nutritional deal than most Halloween treats, I made these cuties, which I'm going to call "Not Very Scary Cakes" in honor of my office's own patron saint of holiday cupcakes.

    not-so-scary cakes
    Woooooo! (Not Very) Scary Cakes haunt the windowsill.

    Okay, now come up really close to your screen so I can whisper this:
    {they're not technically cupcakes... they're banana muffins slathered with honeyed cream cheese, okay? but they look like cupcakes, so just call them banana-walnut cakes with cream cheese icing and don't tell anyone it's not cake!}

    Not Very Scary Cakes (Makes a dozen)

    For the Muffins:
    1 3/4 cups flour (I like to use a blend of whole-wheat and AP flour)
    2 tsp baking powder
    1/4 tsp salt
    1/2 cup sugar
    3/4 cup mashed banana (from 1 to 2 very ripe bananas)
    3/4 cup plain yogurt
    1/4 cup vegetable oil
    1 egg, beaten
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional, but really good)

    For the Cream Cheese Spread:
    1 8-oz package neufatchel cheese or reduced-fat cream cheese
    1-2 Tbsp honey (to taste)

    A handful of dark raisins or chocolate chips (for eyes)

    1. Heat the oven to 375°F and line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners (or rub the cups with some vegetable oil on a paper towel).

    2. Blend flour, baking powder, salt and walnuts in a bowl.

    3. In a separate bowl, combine sugar and mashed banana. When well blended, add in yogurt, oil, egg and vanilla extract.

    4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed. Don't overmix. Nobody loves a tough muffin.

    5. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin and bake until golden (about 25 minutes). When done, remove from the oven and move the muffins onto a wire rack to cool.

    6. Meanwhile, whip together the honey and cream cheese to a spreading consistency.
    When the muffins are cool, slather the cream cheese spread over the tops and decorate with the "eyes" of your choice.

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    Not actually baking for the bake sale

    the cupcake meeting

    I mentioned a while back that I was heading up a weekly office bake sale to raise funds for SOS (Share Our Strength).

    Not surprisingly, summertime makes for some tough recruiting. From an operations standpoint, I can't really think of a worse time to run a bake sale. It's hot. It's humid. People are on vacation. People are seeing themselves in swimwear and reconsidering the wisdom of noshing on cookies... even if said cookies happen to be for charity.

    Despite all that, it went pretty well. We made over $1020. (Not including a very generous online donation from my mom... thanks, mom!)

    But truthfully, I have a shameful secret... for most of the summer, my own oven didn't work. The landlord kept putting off getting it fixed, and I kept forgetting to call that repair guy I saw on Craigslist, so I found myself heading up a charity bake sale without an operational oven.

    Thus, as you might imagine, I've come up with a few great strategies for not actually baking for the bake sale:

    1. Let someone else do the cooking. I don't mean purchasing premade cookies and bars and passing them off as your own stuff (though I've seen this done). There are actually a lot of recipes in which store-bought graham crackers, pound cake or cereal provide texture without requiring oven time on your part. Consider, for example, the graham crust in no-bake cheesecake bars or the ladyfingers in tiramisu. Still tasty... just not oven-dependent.

    2. Cool desserts! One caveat: Do you have on-site refrigeration? Icebox Cakes and the like tend to get melty if they're not kept cool.

    3. Think modern appliances. My waffle iron, untouched at home, became the belle of the bake sale ball. I used the "My Mother's Waffles" recipe from Everybody Eats Well in Belgium by Ruth Van Waerebeek (see below). The beguiling yeasty scent of sizzling DIY waffles drifted throughout the office and the accompanying bowls of sliced berries and fresh-whipped cream made for easy advertising.

    4. Rice Krispy Treats. The classic. They take 12 minutes to make, they use three ingredients and the nostalgia factor dives widespread love (not to mention cravings). Dress 'em up with a handful of chocolate chips, a dollop of peanut butter or a sprinkling of dried cranberries for color and zip.

    5. Buckeye balls, peanut brittle, taffy and other stovetop candies also make good no-bake candidates. Now that it's fall, I'd throw caramel apples in the mix. Mmm... caramel apples...

    And now: The afore-mentioned awesome waffle recipe:

    My Mother's Waffles
    by Ruth Van Waerebeek
    (Makes about 40)

    4 packages active dry yeast
    6 cups milk, warmed to 100°F
    6 large egg yolks
    12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) margarine, melted and cooled to lukewarm
    1 cup sugar
    1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    Pinch of salt
    8 cups all-purpose flour
    6 large egg whites, beaten to soft peaks

    1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of the lukewarm milk.
    2. In a large, deep mixing bowl (the dough will double or triple in volume), whisk the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the remaining milk and the melted butter and margarine. Add the yeast mixture, sugar, vanilla, and salt.
    3. Gradually add the flour to the batter by sifting it in. Alternate additions of flour with the remaining 4 1/2 cups milk. Stir with a wooden spoon after each addition.
    4. Fold in the beaten egg whites.
    5. Cover with a clean towel and put in a warm place. Let rise for 1 hour. The batter should double or even triple in volume. (While you wait, you have time to brew the coffee, set the table, and heat up your waffle iron.) Check the batter from time to time to make sure it isn't about to erupt like an impatient volcano. Stir it down once or twice.
    6. Bake the waffles in a hot waffle iron. The easiest way to get the batter onto the waffle iron is to do what my mother does. Transfer the batter (by batches) into a water pitcher and pour the batter from the pitcher.
    7. Serve the baked waffles with confectioners' sugar and butter, or whipped cream and fresh fruit. Allow any leftover waffles to cool on a rack before storing.

    (PS: If you happen to be anywhere near Cooperstown, NY this weekend, Brewery Ommegang is doing their annual Waffles & Puppets fest. Belgian waffles, fantastic Belgian-style beers and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow interpreted with puppets. Crazy fun. Really wish I could be there. Cheers!)

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    Happy SSZoYNP Day!

    zucchini  with blossoms

    Yes, friends... it's once again Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbors' Porch Day (or Night — your preference), one of those obscure and frivolous holidays we rootless Americans create out of festive necessity.

    That said, I think the concept is solid. The zucchini (or courgette, for you Europeans) tends to hit a point of outrageous surplus right about now. Once you've already sautéed, puréed, broiled, grilled, fried and stuffed them, there's a risk of becoming bored with zucchini. Since it may be difficult to offload a stack of squash on a bewildered random citizen, "gifting" the neighbors seems like great fun.

    A suggestion for would-be squash sneakers? Slip a quality recipe into that bag or basket.

    In addition to the savory stuff, like ratatouilles, stews, tagines and summer succotashes, zucchinis tend to play well in sweets. Zucchini bread is a popular choice, but why not try Zucchini Blondies?

    I use a variation on the recipe in Victoria Wise's Gardeners' Community Cookbook, and it's proved to be popular at my office bake sale.

    Zucchini Blondies
    5 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
    1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
    1 large egg
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1/8 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 medium zucchini, peeled and grated
    1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
    1/2 cup white chocolate chips

    1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom of a 9" square baking pan.
    2. Mix the butter, brown sugar, egg and vanilla in a large mixing bowl, and beat together until blended.
    3. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into the same bowl and stir to blend. Incorporate the zucchini and nuts. The blend should be thick.
    4. Spread the batter across the baking pan, and sprinkle the chips over the top.
    5. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
    6. Remove, cool and slice into squares.
    They'll keep for about 3 days at room temperature, or wrap individually and freeze for future snacking.

    zucchini needlepoint kit

    But if, like me, you lack both garden and porch (alas!), you can always soothe your great green envy with a kitchy needlecraft kit like this one, uncovered on a recent web foray. Those crazy crafters! No stone unturned. No zucchini unstitched.

    However you choose to celebrate, I wish you a very happy SSZoYNP Day, and many tasty returns.

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    Food Quote Friday: Eleanor Lerman


    "So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
    late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
    then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
    while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
    with smiles on their starry faces as they head
    out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea."

    From Starfish by Eleanor Lerman

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    Gelato Throwdown

    il laboratorio del gelato: Avocado Gelato
    The avocado gelato at Il Laboratorio del Gelato

    Sometimes the food is about more than just the food.

    Flavor is a factor, of course, but given food experience is also influenced by the ambiance, the price, the service, the level of love involved in the operation and the convenience factor (not to mention the quality level when compared to other available options).

    Recently caught the grip of a sultry spring evening, and J and I trekked up to Grom, the first US outpost of an Italian chain that's fast become the Upper West Side's must-have sweet fix. Not surprisingly, so did hundreds of other New Yorkers.

    Milling about in a line that stretched down to 76th street, we compared notes with our fellow line lizards. The couple ahead were true believers, back for another fix. The couple behind questioned the collective intelligence of sixty people who would wait in line upwards of 30 minutes for pricey cups of gelato.

    The verdict? Grom is good. Their menu promising seasonal change is appealing. Their Slow Food-approved flavors are compelling. And their rich, dark Ecuadorian Extranoir Chocolate was probably the best flavor of the sampling we tried.

    But truthfully, my perennial favorite, Il Laboratorio del Gelato, is still better. A spoon-to-spoon comparison of Grom's pistachio vs. Laboratorio's pistachio revealed more richness and more ka-pow pistachio flavor for a significantly lower price. (A small cup runs $3.50 at LdG vs. $4.75 (plus 8.375% tax) at Grom.)

    For some, Grom's uptown location and conveniently late-night hours (Laboratorio closes around six — unbearably early for those with impulsive post-dinner cravings) may outweigh the benefits of Laboratorio's creamy superiority. I respect that. But for my purposes, I'll make the effort to stock the freezer with Laboratorio in those few sweet hours when they're open.

    Grom's not bad, but thankfully, there are better options. This girl does not live on Grom alone.

    three spoons
    GROM (Gelato Come Una Volta)
    Grom on Urbanspoon
    2165 Broadway (betwn 76th & 77th)
    Manhattan, NY

    four spoons
    Il Laboratorio del Gelato
    Laboratorio Del Gelato on Urbanspoon
    95 Orchard St (below Delancey)
    Manhattan, NY

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    Taking on the issues, one lemon bar at a time

    chocolate chip cookies
    One Cookie to rule them all, One Cookie to find them, One Cookie to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them

    For the most part, I think most people feel helpless when faced with the big, vague Issues. Take Injustice. Or Suffering. Or Torture. Or Poverty. (No, really. Take them.)

    These are concepts too large for a human brain to really conceive. Twelve million children in America have too little food? I can't even hold a detailed picture of more than 150 hungry people in my little brain. They begin to smear together and lose their distinctions as individual people. Beyond 150 or so, they're an anonymous crowd.

    Twelve million people is so far beyond my mental abilities as to seem unreal. Imaginary. Like all those billions of stars they tell me are out there. I live in New York where I see Orion. Occasionally. And maybe a dipper if I'm very lucky. The other billions of stars are a kind of fiction to me. Like those 12 million starving children.

    When faced with capital-"i" Issues, I think many people have similar feelings. What can I do? I can't do anything. I'm just me. I'm small and not very capable. My superpowers are extremely limited.

    But small actions committed en mass actually do make a difference.

    For example, I found out last week from the people at Earth Pledge that the temperature in a city like NYC can be up to 10°F hotter than the surrounding countryside. It's known as the Urban Heat Island effect, and it's caused by heat reflected off urban surfaces (read: apartments, offices, bodegas, schools, etc.) and heat created by all the little people running around on, around and in those surfaces doing the things that people do.

    Ten degrees. That's a significant change made by the ordinary activities of a few million individuals like me.

    Similarly, I'd encourage you to consider the impact you can make in your kitchen. The Share Our Strength Great American Bake Sale begins this weekend. It's their summer-long campaign intended to inspire people to bake, eat, donate and take thousands of small actions toward alleviating the childhood hunger in America. (Those with dietary concerns and carbon qualms can, of course, simply donate to the cause without munching or baking.)

    SOS hosts a number of great programs, but this one seems particularly joyous: Battling issues with muffin power! Taking on poverty with pie pans! Fleets of cookies flying into action!

    For my part, I'm organizing my office team and bringing treats with which to woo my co-workers on Friday mornings throughout the campaign, which runs from May 19 through August 31.

    Do my tangy lemon bars (see recipe below) or rhubarb-apple crisp make a big difference? No. They make a small difference. Alongside a nation's brigade of brownies and sky-darkening clouds of oatmeal-raisin cookies, my lemon bars contribute to a ten-degree kind of difference. My lemon bars are a tiny force for good.

    Want to start your own bake sale? SOS kicks off this Saturday. Sign up today at the Share Our Strength site.

    A Terribly Sincere Batch of Lemon Bars (Makes 24 bars)

    For the shortbread crust:
    1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    2 cups all-purpose or pastry flour
    A pinch of salt

    For the lemon filling:
    Grated zest from 3 lemons
    4 large eggs
    1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
    3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
    1/3 cup all-purpose flour

    1. Preheat the oven to 350°F, and lightly butter a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking pan.

    2. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Combine the flour and salt and blend into the butter mixture.

    3. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom and sides of the pan with lightly floured fingertips, raising about a 1/2-inch ledge around the pan sides.

    4. Bake for 20 minutes, and cool on a wire rack before you make the filling.

    5. To make the filling, whisk together the sugar, eggs, zest, juice and flour.

    6. Pour lemon mixture over the cooled crust, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the filling looks set (not liquid). Cool to room temperature in the pan.

    Keep, covered and chilled, for up to three days. Before serving, cut into squares and dust with confectioners' sugar, if desired.

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    Get thee to The Donut Plant

    tres leches donut

    Hola, todos y feliz Cinco de Mayo!

    Should you happen to be in New York City today, I highly recommend you stop by The Donut Plant. And I'm not even a "donut person," per se. That said, I am a Donut Plant person.

    Always in touch with the tiny details of seasonal change, the sandwich board outside The Donut Plant is my reliable source for what's timely. In the autumn, the specials mature from apple donuts to pumpkin donuts to cranberry donuts to chestnut donuts. In the spring, the sign bounds from ginger-chai donuts to Meyer lemon donuts to the first berry donuts of the new season. And, big bonus: the round-faced fellow who mans the counter is boundlessly friendly.

    Today, the sandwich board goes Mexican-style churros and a tres leches donut that's crisp on the outside and lightly sweet on the inside with silky pockets of creamy vanilla pudding. It's heaven alongside a café con leche.

    How do they put tres leches inside donuts that have holes? I don't know. They're magic, those Donut Plant people. I don't attempt to replicate their sweet sorcery. I just eat it.

    4 spoons

    The Donut Plant
    379 Grand Street (near Essex)
    Manhattan, NY

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    Forget Foodies. Unleash the GastroGnomes!

    The New York Times published an article today that features "The Foodie Scene in the Twin Cities," the subhead for which proclaims, "In another sign of a cultural awakening, dining out in this city of sensible industry is no longer confined to steakhouses."

    Sitting on the couch this morning, I read this line aloud with ill-hidden outrage.
    Confined to steakhouses? Seriously? Did the writer actually visit MSP? I lived thereabouts for close to ten years and I can't remember ever eating at a steakhouse.

    My sweetheart chuckled from his desk a few feet away. Having already read the piece, he knew my boiling blood wouldn't cool a bit as the thesis statement of said article became clear.

    As it happens, the "Foodie Scene" covered in the Times refers almost entirely to some recent "celebrity chef" action. Oh sure, there's a passing reference to one of the excellent farmers' markets and to Chef Brenda Langton, a Minneapolis fixture who's been cooking tasty things as long as I can remember, but as far as the Times is concerned, the term "foodie" seems to be confined to those looking for high-end five-to-seven course prixe fix dining directed from on high by the new gods of expense account cuisine (Wolfgang Puck and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, in this case).

    Why all the rage? Well, if I knew nothing about the Twin Cities (and honestly, that's true of the majority of New Yorkers I've met), I might read that article and think to myself, "Thank heaven for those bold, selfless celebrity chefs. How else would a backwater like that learn any kind of appreciation for organic and regional ingredients? God bless Wolfgang and Jean-Georges."

    All of which is complete and utter hogwash. But wait... is it possible that they mean something different by the word "foodies?"

    With that thought in mind, it seems the foodies of the Times eat exclusively at tables with very high thread-count coverings. Said foodies would also have to have completely forgotten Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson who ran Restaurant Aquavit in Minneapolis (and NYC) until recently. And they'd have to be blind to places like La Belle Vie, whose chef, Tim McKee, was recognized by Gourmet, James Beard and the local City Pages. (And for that matter, I recommend that those seeking guidance on MSP just skip the Times and read the City Pages food reviews. They know all the best things going.)

    I could go on, but I feel we should get back to business: "Foodie." I've never liked the word. It just sounds dumb. Like someone affixed a vowel sound to a random noun to make a label. It's what little kids do to form insults.

    They can have that word. I just want to clarify that "Foodie Scene" as used in the article mentioned above should be read as the "Status Dining Scene."

    On the other hand, I feel that those people who are dedicated to ferreting out and exploring the world of tasty, exciting, horizon-expanding foods available any a given place should be called something else.

    "Gourmets" sounds flaccid and snobby. "Epicurians" seems accurate, but it comes off as a tad stiff. "Chowhounds" isn't bad, but it's rather specific. I'm going to go with something more like "Gastronomes," which conjures up an image of an army of garden gnomes armed with forks and knives, ready to explore and devour. Unleash the Gastro-Gnomes! (A bit terrifying, isn't it?)

    Where do the Gastrognomes of Minneapolis-St. Paul eat? In many places, as it turns out. Ask a few. They'll tell you. In that spirit, I'll list just a handful of my favorite Twin Cities food spots:

    The Midtown Global Market, where you'll now find a killah combination of cheap+tasty, including Manny's Tortas, Holy Land and La Loma, the home of tasty tamales.
    920 E Lake St

    One-stop picnic shop: The Wedge Co-Op, where you can get a loaf of bread, a fresh-pressed fruit juice, an array of treats and be on your way to the Sculpture Garden for lunch.
    2105 Lyndale Avenue South
    Minneapolis MN, 55405

    The improbable Sea Salt Eatery for fish sandwiches and crab cakes that have no right to be so tasty. Be warned: They're only open in the good months.
    4825 Minnehaha Ave

    Ted Cook's 19th Hole Barbeque — Classic baked beans, cornbread, greens and saucy barbecue. Worth getting lost on the residential streets trying to find it? Hell yeah.
    2814 E 38th St

    Victor's 1959 Cafe Eggs with black beans and fried yuca? Toast with guava jelly? Yeah, I'm in.
    3756 Grand Ave S

    Hell's Kitchen, which makes awesome bison sausage and their signature brunchy treat: the luxe Mahnomin Porridge.
    89 South 10th St

    Emily's Lebanese Deli I've been trying for close to 6 years to make tabbouleh that tasty...
    641 University Ave NE

    Blue Nile I'm a sucker for Ethiopian. Mmm... Stew.
    2027 E Franklin Ave

    Surdyk's wine + cheese shop extraordinaire
    303 East Hennepin Ave

    Rustica Bakery Breads, rolls and pastries made with love, skill and a bonus helping of tastiness.
    816 W 46th St

    A Baker's Wife's Pastry Shop Unassuming, inexpensive, impressive. Get a tart.
    4200 28th Ave S

    Coffee Gallery at Open Book. This listing really isn't all about the food. There aren't many things I crave more than Books + Coffee. Open Book is an amazing resource for anyone who loves books and enjoys seeing how they're constructed.
    1011 Washington Ave S

    Bayport Cookery Okay, so it's actually a stone's throw from MSP. But my lord, people... they host a morel fest. It's damn tasty and not terribly expensive. Make the trip. These guys were doing sustainable, local cuisine before it was cool.
    328 5th Ave N
    Bayport, MN

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    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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    Is that your message on my medium?

    In case you were wondering...

    'Tis the season for candy conversation hearts, so I'm just now mulling over a practice that I find a bit mystifying: verbose food.

    I've known for some time that it's possible to print up custom M&Ms that exclaim very short messages. And I'd bet that anyone who's attended a few trade shows or weddings may have encountered personalized candy bars or chocolate coins, but I'm still not sure that I fully understand what drives the custom candy urge.

    Marketers will throw a logo on anything, but what are Robert and Barbara really trying to say when they offer me a commemorative Bob&Barb chocolate-almond slab at their reception? Does a mass-produced novelty represent their union? Am I supposed to keep it until their first anniversary? Do I munch it, dreamily, after the party, thinking all the while of how sweet and nutty my friends are? What if I only eat dark chocolate? Am I symbolically shunning their symbolic generosity with my food snobbery? Should I feel guilty about that?

    Etiquette complications aside, if one thinks of sweets as more like inexpensive blank surfaces than tasty delights, using them as inexpensive signage becomes understandable. Those who savor higher-quality bonbons don't generally scrawl "Happy Birthday, Marge!" across La Maison du Chocolate treats or the cache of treasures snagged at Richard Donnelly's shop of tasties.

    By comparison, chalky little pastel Valentine's hearts are fair game for proclamations. The practice reminds me of restaurants that boast killer views. In my experience, if the scenery is stunning, the food surely won't be. (Though rest assured, the tab generally matches the view in its breathtaking qualities.)

    So perhaps candy communiqués really deliver two messages... one spelled out across the sweet and a quieter, less savory tale told by the presence of the former.

    I'll think I'll take my candy messages in virtual form. Those undisturbed by chatty sweets can follow these links to find DIY candy bar wrapper templates and more information on customized candy.

    Late-Breaking Newsflash: Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories not only sports an irresistable name, they've also done an investigation of a pen with food-safe ink, for yes, yet more scribbling on food. At least they have the good sense to question whether the valentine hearts on which they write are actually food.

    Though it might be a little late in the game to secure a food-safe pen for your Valentine's Day doodles, you can always fall back on my favorite 2nd grade trick... ballpoint pen messages/drawings across the skin of an unpeeled banana. Cheap. Fun. Nutritious. Apply allusion of choice here.

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    Food Quote Friday: James Beard (yes, again)

    valentine heart cookies

    "I am still convinced that a good, simple, homemade cookie is preferable to all the store-bought cookies one can find."

    James Beard (1903-1985)

    Want to make the cookies? Here's the recipe. Happy Valentine's Day!

    Shortbread Valentine Hearts (Makes about 20)

    3/4 lb unsalted butter, softened (3 sticks)
    1 cup powdered sugar
    1/2 tsp salt
    3 cups unbleached pastry flour
    1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

    For the sugar crystals:
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1 drop red food color

    Other equipment:
    Cookie sheets
    Heart-shaped cookie cutter
    Cooling rack
    Clean, dry jar with a tight-fitting lid

    1. Pour the granulated sugar into the jar, add one drop of red food color, close tightly and shake well to distribute the color
    throughout the sugar.
    2. Cream butter and powdered sugar together until light and fluffy.
    3. Sift flour and salt together and blend into the butter mixture.
    4. Gather dough, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour (or overnight).
    5. Preheat oven to 350°F.
    6. Roll the dough on a floured surface to 1/8-inch thick. Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut cookies and
    transfer them to ungreased cookie sheets with a metal spatula.
    7. Chill for 30 minutes, sprinkle with colored sugar and bake until just golden, about 10 to 12 minutes.
    8. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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    For the love of Chocolate-Almond Daim Cakes

    chocolate almond daim cake
    The Chocolate-Almond Daim Cake

    Long, long, ago (well, in 2005, actually...), I wrote up a little review on that most refreshing shopping oasis: the IKEA snack bar. Since then, hundreds of interested souls have traveled to this very website in search of a recipe for the Daim Cake I mentioned. Although that wasn't the intention of the original article, who am I to turn away a gang of hungry travelers?

    To that end, I bring you: the homemade Daim Cake.

    And now for a quick disclaimer.... IKEA's official website propaganda describes their Daim Cake as: "An original cake made out of Daim candy and almond cake."

    For my Daim Cake (well, cakelets, really), I make almond cakes with crushed Daim bars and a simple chocolate ganache. If you've eaten the IKEA original, you can't help but notice that my version is less a thin, flat torte and more an individual snack cake. In fact, I think my version is more like what snack cakes should be... small, cute and made without industrial preservatives.

    But yes... this Daim Cake is different. If you need thin tortes, go to IKEA. If you want something that ranks high in the "tasty" category, is simple to whip up and fun to assemble and eat (not to mention something that will probably impress the hell out of your neighborhood coffee klatch), give this recipe a whirl.

    chocolate almond daim cake
    Daim bars in their natural habitat... my kitchen.

    Now then: The first step (and this may be the hardest part of the process) is locating the Daim bars. I found mine at The Sweet Life on the Lower East Side, but if you're not a Manhattanite, you can probably search for them at your local IKEA food shop or a neighborhood candy store that cares. Barring that, substitute the Skor bar, which is awfully similar to the Daim and much, much easier to find here in the states.

    You'll need one Daim bar to accommodate three mini-cakes. Making the full recipe (six cakes)? Get two bars. Get three if you're snacky. Put them in the freezer when you get them home.

    almond cakes
    Unadorned mini almond cakes
    For the almond cakes, you'll need a standard-size muffin tin and:
    Flour and butter (to grease and flour the muffin tin)
    8oz sweetened almond paste (often sold in a can or tube)
    3 fresh eggs, separated
    2 Tbsp cream
    3 Tbsp pastry flour/cake flour
    1 tsp powdered sugar

    1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour six cups in a standard-size muffin tin.
    2. Blend together the almond paste, egg yolks and cream until they form a smooth, thick, almond-scented mixture. Incorporate the flour.
    3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with the teaspoon of powdered sugar until you achieve firm, white peaks.
    4. Scoop about half of the whipped egg whites into the almond mixture and fold it in until all the white is incorporated.
    5. Scoop the remaining half of the whipped whites into the almond mixture and fold it in. Don't overwork the mixture at this point.
    6. Fill six cups in the muffin tin with the batter. (In a 12-cup tin, I usually alternate filled cups with empty cups so it's balanced.)
    7. Cook for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the cakes comes out without batter stuck to it.
    8. Cool 5-10 minutes in the tin, then run a butter knife around the edge of each cake to help release them from the pan. Be free, little cakes!

    assembling chocolate almond daim cakes
    Assembling the Chocolate-Almond Daim Cakes

    Once you have cooled cakes, use a serrated knife to cut the rounded tops off. These are tasty. Eat one now, and save the rest for later snacking... maybe with berries and whipped cream. Yum.

    Bisect each cake so you have two equally-sized tiers to work with.

    Take the Daim bars out of the freezer. Don't unwrap them. Immediately throw them down onto the kitchen floor as hard as you can. Pick them up and throw them again. Do this again if it makes you feel good. You're trying to shatter them as much as possible without sending chunks of chocolate flying across your kitchen. Once those bars are appropriately pummeled, open up the packages and pour out the pieces onto your cutting board. Chop up any large hunks so you have a nicely uniform "crumb."

    Make the chocolate ganache in a small saucepan with:

    2 cups chocolate pieces (I believe IKEA uses milk chocolate, but I prefer semi-sweet or dark, myself)
    1/3 cup cream
    1 Tbsp butter

    Combine the chocolate, cream and butter in a saucepan over very, very low heat. Whisk all the lumpy chocolate bits until the sauce is smooth and shiny. Don't let it burble. Burbling is bad in this case.

    Take apart the bisected cakes and lay them out on across a sheet pan you've covered in a protective layer of parchment, wax paper or plastic.

    Use a small rubber spatula or a butter knife to spread a thin layer of chocolate ganache over the tops of the lower layers and the bottoms of the uppper layers. Evenly sprinkle about a half-teaspoon of the Daim bar crumbs on each ganache-coated bottom layer (like the middle cake in the photo above), then put the tops on 'em (like the cake in the foreground).

    Cover each cake with a smooth layer of ganache, sprinkle another half-teaspoon or so of crumbs on the tops, and finish the cakes by spreading another teaspoon or so of ganache across the Daim-crumb-topped cakes.

    You should be able to smooth out most irregularities in the ganache with a butter knife that you've warmed in a glass of hot water... but don't get crazy about it. They should look a little irregular. It's better that way.

    See? Tasty, simple and fun to make.

    Cool the cakes at room temperature until the chocolate firms up, and serve 'em with hot coffee. Spare yourself the mad IKEA crowds, and dream of furniture-assembly instructions that make sense.

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    The Hedonista Hundred, Part IV: 16-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Podunk: a nook for tea and decorum

    Tea at Podunk
    Cream Tea (scones, fresh whipped cream, berries, strawberry jam, apple butter, cream and sugar) at Podunk

    When we walked into Podunk, a tiny tea shop on a strangely quiet block of 5th Street, J and I were desperate for cardamom cake.

    The proprietress seemed tickled that such a craving might force people to canvass the city. She asked if we'd found her shop via Google. Indeed, we had, but more precisely, we found her shop through Halldór Laxness, an Icelandic writer (and Nobel Laureate) with a talent for food description that drove us drooling mad with cardamom-infused daydreams.

    The Citysearch reviews for Podunk were puzzling. A flood of gushing praise (cute decor! lovely owner! amazing cakes!) peppered with venomous tales of a witchy woman who flies into rages and throws customers out into the street.

    Our experience had been so thoroughly positive (and the cardamom cake so unequivocally delicious), that we left puzzled. That sweet lady in the apron and disheveled bun was obnoxious? A mad woman? It seemed improbable.

    On another occasion, strolling past 5th Street, we were taken by a sudden whim for tea cakes. We stopped by and found Espeth (the afore-mentioned tea mistress) brandishing the last piece of her apple chai tea cake — a surprisingly spicy confection layered with chunks of fresh apples. We talked about that day's sudden autumnal yen for apples and spice. Though the piece was much too large to offer as a single slice, and slightly too small to divide, she gave us the whole grand thing for the price of a single. Rude service, indeed!

    On our third visit, we arrived for the tea. Nestling into chairs, we reviewed the menu, ordered the cream tea, and looked through a few of her vast array of children's books. The tea service arrived lush and beautiful. Her strawberry jam packed a peppery whollop in the back of the throat. The scones were airy, crisp and tender. The whipped cream was freshly whipped and begging for juicy berries.

    As we sipped, a woman burst through the front door, fresh off her cellphone with that unmistakable air of patented New York impatience. We looked up from our steaming cups.

    "Can I get a coffee to go?" she asked.

    "No," said our tea mistress, "We don't have to-go cups. There's a Starbucks around the corner."

    And that's when I resolved the Jekyll and Hyde mystery. Podunk is a reflection of what one brings to it. You don't walk in with self-importance, irritability and an enormous ego yearning to break free.

    Tea is a civil occasion. It's a quiet nook in the day for sipping, nibbling and practicing good behavior. Present yourself as well-mannered, warm and friendly. You'll be greeted in kind... and discover some really fantastic tea and cakes in the process.

    But honestly, whether there's cakes in the bargain or not, isn't that simply a nicer way to approach your fellow man?

    Podunk on Urbanspoon
    231 East 5th St (Btwn 2nd & Bowery)
    New York, NY 10003

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    Rhubarb! Five ways to master spring stalking

    Is rhubarb-eating some kind of shibboleth? I'm just wondering. I merrily bought a pound at the farmer's market this weekend and brought a strawberry-rhubarb pie into work yesterday.

    I was a bit shocked to discover that a significant number of my coworkers (all of whom were folks with city childhoods) had never tried the stuff. I felt invisibly branded a country mouse, apt to dine on field greens and ditch weeds.

    Of course, I'm from a place where the rhubarb runs wild. It sprouts up in the countryside every spring, always in the same places. It's tough to kill. I knew haters who repeatedly mowed right over it without the slightest success in subduing it.

    I figure, (apologies to Annie Proulx), if you can't kill it, you got to eat it.

    As for me, I've always looked forward to rhubarb season with glee. In childhood, it was my favorite pie (though I might be swayed to the charms of fresh peach pie these days), and the households of my memory all contained rhubarb preserves of some kind.

    Find yourself wandering bewildered with an armful of blushing fresh rhubarb stalks? Lucky you! In just five simple steps, I'll make you a master stalker. Wash 'em well, and let's proceed to make:

    1. Pie!
    I used the strawberry-rhubarb recipe out of the Cook's Illustrated: The New Best Recipe." Seemed like a quality pie, but if you're looking for something a little different:

    Rhubarb Custard Pie
    2 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch chunks
    1 cup sugar (all white or use half brown... your choice)
    2 egg yolks (save the whites for a meringue top)
    1 Tbsp AP flour
    1/2 cup cream
    1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    1 Tbsp cold butter (cut into four pieces)
    unbaked pie shell

    Toss cut rhubarb with half the sugar. Macerate (allow to sit in the sugar) 10 minutes. Mix the remaining sugar with the flour, egg yolks, cream and cinnamon. Pour rhubarb into an unbaked pie shell Pour cream mix over rhubarb.

    Distribute butter on top and bake at 350°F for 1 hour. Whip reserved egg whites at high speed to make a meringue. Spread meringue over baked pie, and briefly return to the oven to brown. Cool on a wire rack.

    2. Crisp!
    I kind of prefer crisps to pies anyway... less fuss with the pastry. More crunchiness on top. I'm still seeing the "Rome beauties" at the farmers' market, and they're great baking apples. This is a nice transitional recipe, since it uses the last of last fall's apples with the first of this spring's rhubarb.

    Gingered Apple-Rhubarb Crisp
    1/3 c sugar
    1 Tbsp AP flour
    1 tsp grated fresh ginger root
    2 cups apples, cut into 1-inch pieces
    3 1/2 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch chunks
    1/4 cup flour
    1/4 cup rolled oats
    1/3 cup brown sugar
    2 Tbsp butter, melted

    Combine the sugar, 1 Tbsp flour and ginger root. Toss with the rhubarb and apple pieces. Place in a greased baking dish or casserole. Combine brown sugar, oats, flour and melted butter. Sprinkle over the rhubarb-apple mixture. Bake at 400°F 30 to 40 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

    3. Chutney!
    Chutneys are a great way to use rhubarb in savory dishes. Fantastic with pork, chicken, duck, venison and, of course, curries.

    Rhubarb-Currant Chutney
    4 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1/2 cup white wine vinegar
    2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
    2 Tbsp minced fresh garlic
    1/4 cup chopped fresh shallots
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp coriander seeds
    1/2 tsp ground ginger
    1/4 tsp ground black pepper
    1/4 tsp dry mustard
    1/3 cup dried currants or raisins

    Combine vinegar, brown sugar, salt, pepper, shallots, fresh ginger, garlic, coriander seeds, ground ginger and mustard in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 5 minutes. Stir in rhubarb and currants. Simmer until rhubarb is just tender (10-15 minutes). Remove from heat and cool 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust with a little sugar or vinegar as needed. Refrigerate (or freeze) until ready to use.

    4. Sauce!
    This is so easy I'm not even providing a recipe, really. Put about a cup of rhubarb (chopped in 1-inch pieces) into a saucepan with enough water to cover the 3/4 of the fruit (a cup or so) and about 2 Tbsp sugar. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and -- stirring occasionally -- simmer about 25 minutes or until rhubarb is broken down and the mixture looks thickened. Add a pinch of salt and taste the mixture. Does it need to be brighter, more tangy? You might add a little lemon juice. Is it too sour? Mix in a little sugar. Voila! Sauce!

    5. Ice Cream!
    You could pour that sauce over ice cream, of course... or you could put it in the ice cream. That's what I did this weekend. It's yummy. Like rhubarb pie a'la mode without the crust.

    I used the simple Sweet Cream Base recipe from the Ben & Jerry's ice cream book and my Kitchenaid ice cream attachment to do this. I'm not big on a lot of weird doohickeys (New York City kitchens are not known for spaciousness), but if you already have a Kitchenaid mixer and like experimenting with ice cream, I truly recommend this particular doohickey. It's a lot of fun.

    Add about a cup of sauce to this recipe of Sweet Cream Base and make the ice cream as directed for the machine you're using. Make sure the sauce is not just cool but COLD when you add it. Otherwise you'll put your machine through a lot of extra stress and — even worse — you might ruin the ice cream.

    Sweet Cream Base (from "Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream & Dessert Book")

    2 large eggs
    3/4 cup sugar
    2 cups heavy or whipping cream
    1 cup milk

    Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the cream and milk and whisk to blend.

    Makes 1 quart

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    Sugarplums contain no plums


    It's true. That sugarplum vision dancing in your head may not necessarily contain any plum. Mark another tally into the book of mythology and misdirection. If there wasn't egg in the eggnog and fruit in the fruitcake, I might lose all faith in tradition.

    That said, a sugarplum in the right hands is not prohibited from contact with plums. It just so happens that the word "sugarplum" has changed from a sugary little fruit to a sugary little treat.

    Here's the recipe you see in the photo above.
    Sugarplums! (Makes about 20 sugarplums)

    Chopping the almonds and fruits beforehand won't be necessary if you have a food processor. These treats keep well in a tin or a pretty box lined with parchment or wax paper and make a nice gift. They might last up to a month, but you shouldn't need to find out, since they're tasty and tend to disappear...

    1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped
    6 oz dried figs (or dried prunes), roughly chopped
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
    1 Tbsp honey
    1 Tbsp grated orange zest
    1/2 tsp almond extract
    about 1/2-3/4 cup turbanado sugar (for rolling)

    Combine toasted almonds, chopped fruits, cinnamon, cocoa and almonds in a food processor or mash with a mortar and pestle. Mix until blended and paste-like. Add the honey, orange zest and extract. Pulse or stir until well mixed. Pour the sugar in a small bowl (cereal bowls and soup dishes work well). Scoop teaspoons of the fig paste and roll in your hands to form 1-inch balls. Roll balls in sugar.

    Late breaking note: Leslie Harpold's excellent Advent Calendar also included a bit on sugarplums yesterday. Sugarplum Zeitgeist!

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    I (heart) Hot Chocolate

    Zucco dishes it up schnazzy.

    I realize this is one of those far-from-controversial opinions.

    Proclaiming a passion for hot chocolate falls in along the lines of revealing a long-held affection for large-eyed puppies.

    That said... wouldn't you agree that it's still about the best thing winter has to offer?

    Ice Skating and Hot Chocolate
    Courtesy of this week's Manhattan User's Guide:

    Skate: Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers
    Hot Chocolate: Le Gamin, 183 9th [21st] 212.243.8864

    Skate: The Pond at Bryant Park
    Hot Chocolate: The Pond Snack Bar

    Skate: Rock Center Rink
    Hot Chocolate: Cafe SFA at Saks.

    Skate: Wollman Rink
    Hot Chocolate: Serendipity

    Skate: Lasker Rink
    Hot Chocolate: Hungarian Pastry Shop, 1030 Amst [110th/111th]

    Skate: Riverbank State Park
    Hot Chocolate: You’ll have to fill your thermos for this one – Jacques Torres perhaps...350 Hudson [King] 212.414.2462

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    Hey, Hey, Babycakes!


    Aw! A cupcake mosaic on the front stoop of that spanking-new Lower East Side bakery! Adorable.

    Oh! The pretty shopgirls all wear obscenely cute candy-striped pink pinafores. Sweet!

    Whoah! Vegan? Really? No, wait... Not just vegan but sugar-free, gluten-free and all-natural? Daaaamn!


    Yes, my LES operative reports that the mint-lemonade is refreshing, the lemon cake is tasty and the menu is... well, confusing.

    Imagine! A whole shop filled with baked goods whipped up with no cream, no refined sugar, no eggs, no white flour and no butter. In short, a traditionally-trained pastry chef's worst nightmare.

    And yet... they have muffins. They have poundcakes. They presumably have cupcakes. So what do they use to construct their sweet treats?

    J. reports it's spelt and garbanzo flour sweetened with things like fresh, farmers' market fruits (local peaches, for example).

    He's sworn to eat his way through their menu for the sake of science (and those friendly gals in candy-striped aprons). Brave man. We await his report.

    248 Broome St.
    (btwn Ludlow and Orchard)

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    A composed dessert

    J. made this for me because he's full of good things and has to share some of them in order to avoid bursting open, which would be terribly unattractive and inconvenient.

    A splendid summer sweet, this dessert is lovely to look at and tangy-sweet-refreshing to consume. Some of the nicest dinner-endings are more like delightful assemblies of good ingredients and less like cooking or baking

    Thus, I will attempt to relay the assembly list for you:

    A Quick & Lovely Summer Dessert
    Lime-Basil Gelato (Il Laboratorio del Gelato)
    New Jersey Blueberries
    Torn Fresh Mint Leaves
    Drizzle of Lime-Blossom Honey

    If you were serving this to a crowd, I'd ask you to consider chilling the plates in the freezer and putting down a gingersnap or a teaspoon of poundcake crumbs before plating the gelato. That keeps the melty-ness at bay while you do up a series of plates for your lucky guests.

    Bon appétit!
    Miss Ginsu

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    Pete: Gastronomic Overachiever

    chocolate chart
    Barkeep, serve it up hard and bitter!

    You've probably tried one of Pete's beers. A longtime homebrewer, Pete Slosberg's now ubiquitous Pete's Wicked Ale launched out of the basement in 1986 and has since bubbled up into a whole hoppy, happy family of award-winning brews.

    You'd think Pete would be happy with being a well-known national brand. You'd think Pete would kick back and pop a cap, admiring a job well done.

    Apparently, you'd be wrong. Waiting on line at the checkout last night I discovered beer-brewin' Pete's been moonlighting. Doing what? you ask. A pizza shop? Nope. Hot dogs? Nope. High-end vodka? Nope.

    The wicked one left the brewery to ferment on its own and went to culinary school to start up a second career as a chocolatier. Under the pseudonym
    Cocoa Pete, the intrepid everyman's gourmet tries his hand at crowd pleasin' chocolate products in an attempt to stock America's shelves with something better than the waxy packs they pump out of Pennsylvania.

    I was sucked in by the Caramel Knowledge bar, a dark chocolate (joy!), caramel and coffee confection that fuses three of my favorite vices in one four-mounded "bar." The pieces conveniently break off into dome-like chunks reminiscent of a quartet of caramel-filled dark chocolate igloos.

    I had one of the sections last night (one rich, sweet chunk was about as much as I could take at a go) and it was, indeed far more satisfying for a dark chocolate lover than its closest comparison, the Cadbury Caramello.

    If you really, truly prefer milk chocolate, I'm sorry, and this may not be the bar for you, but Pete's site allows you to download a groovy chocolate 101 flavor chart, so you can compare what you already know you like to what you might possibly like.

    My favorite aspect of Pete's new venture, however, is the "Bill of Rights" under the Chocolate Rights section of his website. That document that should be required reading for anyone stepping close to the rack of nasty chocolate bars at the convenience store. At the very least, it should be posted on the sides of waxy chocolate bars like the Surgeon General's warning.

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    Bizarro Cookbooks: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Cookbook

    Wizard of Oz Cookbook

    Published in 1981, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Cookbook features 121 bright pages of simple recipes meant "for the young, and for the young in heart," plus a handy cooking terms section and index.

    Don't go envisioning Judy Garland now, friends. This book explores the far more complex Oz of literature.

    Author Monica Bayley explains in a foreword that her recipes are suggested by a formula of regional associations, references in the story text, and dominant food color matchups with Oz locations such as the yellow brick road, the Emerald City and the lands of Quadlings, Winkies, Gillikins and Munchkins.

    Of course, we all remember that Munchkinland is blue and Quadlingland is red, right? Yeah, me neither. But never fear... there's a handy map at to guide you through the struggle of blueberries vs. tomatoes.

    As well as Kansas recipe standards such as Aunt Em's Chicken & Dumplings, Uncle Henry's Short Ribs and Toto's Almond Bark (get it?), we find the Wonderful Winkie Omlet, the Winged Monkey Banana Sauté and a recipe for an 8 full ounces of Liquid Courage. (I'll be keeping that one on hand for when I attempt my taxes...)

    Although this book seemed terribly exotic when I found it at my local library as a tyke, all the recipes are very simple Midwestern American fare renamed and reorganized.

    What makes this book special are the whimsical engraving-style illustrations by W.W. Denslow and the accompanying pull-quotes from L. Frank Baum's richly visioned stories.

    "Before them was a great stretch of country having a floor as smooth and shining and white as the bottom of a big platter. Scattered around were many houses made entirely of china and painted in the brightest colors."

    China Princess Pecan Brittle
    1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
    1/4 cup light corn syrup
    1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
    1/4 cup water
    1 cup broken pecan meats
    2 tablespoons butter
    1 tablespoon soda

    Put sugar, syrup, cream of tartar and water into deep, heavy saucepan and boil until candy thermometer registers 250°F (hard-ball stage). Add pecans and boil until thermometer registers 300°F (hard-crack stage). Add butter, remove from heat, add soda and stir vigorously. Pour onto buttered platter and spread thin. When cold, cut or break into pieces.

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    Cream-Filled Puff, a Cup of Joe and Thou.

    Cream Puff and Coffee
    A quiet moment with Papa.

    For every trying moment in which the city is cruel and mean, there's another full of bliss and whimsy that makes my heart thump with love.

    Sometimes, on a chilly March morning, all it takes is a perfectly crisp and airy cream puff, a hot cup of coffee and a bright, clean shop populated with cheery Japanese girls in sunny yellow neckerchiefs.

    Thanks, Beard Papa. You saved the day.

    Beard Papa's
    740 Broadway
    New York, NY

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    Feeling the Power of the Peep

    As much as I adore hot chocolate and wooly sweaters, I've started (with a bit of guilt, perhaps, for not "living in the moment") looking forward to soothing, warm days full of far-more-robust farmers' markets and lots of springy fresh little things such as garden peas, morels, asparagus, ramps and tiny lettuces.

    Spring also brings a profusion of marshmallows. In particular, marshmallow chicks, which sell by the truckload for a very short period of time leading up to Easter.

    As much as I'm certain their parent company (a candy company disturbingly called "Just Born") would like to see greater sales of marshmallow ghosts at Halloween and marshmallow trees for the holidays, Easter is truly that one shining moment in the sun for marshmallow novelty candy.

    And gosh, there's just something so weird and lovely about the marshmallow Peep.

    I don't even actually eat the little sugarbombs (I'm more of a dark chocolate girl, truth be told). I simply enjoy looking at them, individually or stacked in trios, sporting pastel hues and blank, soulless faces.

    But don't think for a moment I'm the only one hypnotized by Peep love. People cherish marshmallow Peeps for experiments, interior design, target practice and strategy wargames, not to mention a legion of crazed fans wrapped in marshmallow idolatry.

    Think making pastel marshmallow treats is child's play? Maybe you want to try your hand at a few marshmallow concoctions of your own?

    You'd best consult the Howstuffworks "How do they make marshmallows?" guide. Good luck, and may the Peeps be with you.

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    Hot Lovin'

    Hot and cold and sweet all over. My precious. My love. The one that's never done me wrong. My hot fudge sundae.

    The HFS has been around (since 1906). He's been been there (born at C.C. Browns, a Hollywood Boulevard ice cream parlor on in Los Angeles); he's done that (Kellogg's introduced Hot Fudge Sundae Frozen Pop Tarts July 8... consider me extremely skeptical).

    Make mine the classic. Dress him up with crushed nuts and hold the cherry, please.

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