Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Video Treat: Open a Young Coconut

When you open an older coconut, you need to dig in the toolbox for a hammer. On the other hand, opening a young coconut (sometimes called "green coconut") is much easier: a sharp knife and a level surface usually do the trick.

In this how-to video you can watch me take a sharp knife (and a not-so-level surface) and open a young coconut.

Well, to be truthful... I eventually get the coconut open. There's some coconut chopping hijinks in the middle there.

Some people shave the white husk away to get at the nut inside. I usually have good luck with getting a wedge in, but I think extending my arms and working on a wooden tray rather than a cutting board were maybe not my best moves.

Thus, I have to stress the need for a steady, sturdy cutting surface. It's a must when using a knife. Nobody wants to their chop hands instead of their food.

Oh... and I owe beoucoup thanks to J, my steady-handed camera guy.



Once you actually get inside the coconut, the coconut water is cool and delicious, and the soft flesh is a sweet, creamy delight when added to coconut curries, blended into Thai-style coconut soup, puréed into smoothies/frozen drinks (daiquiris, anyone?) and mixed into the pretty green chutney I made last week.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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3.08.2009

Dear Miss Ginsu: Bitter Tomato Sauce?

Dear Miss Ginsu,

Ok, I figure if anyone knows the answer to this, it's you.

Spaghetti sauce: aside from adding copious amounts of sugar — how does one keep homemade sauce from being sour/bitter?

I'm assuming this comes from a combination of the tomato sauce and bell peppers? Not sure how to counteract this flavor without turning it into "candied" red sauce.

Yours,
Bittersweet




Dear BS,

Cooking all the elements of the process long and slow is a sure-fire way to increase the natural sugars.

Caramelizing the onions so they're nice and brown, getting a little color on the garlic, long-simmering the tomato sauce — not to mention making sure you've removed the skins from the tomatoes... that'll all alleviate bitterness or sour notes. Some people strain out the seeds, too.

So much depends on the quality of the tomatoes you begin with. Since the natural flavors in tomatoes vary so greatly, you can see how it might be difficult to give precise measurements for a sauce recipe.

That said, a *small* amount of sugar added at the end of the process as you're adjusting the seasoning can certainly improve the balance in naturally very acidic or bitter tomatoes.

Though — as you noted — too much sugar just takes the sauce too far down the sweet continuum into candyland.

Also make sure the salt you're using in your recipe isn't "iodized" salt. The iodine that's added to some salt products might protect you from goiters (ew!), but it also adds a note of bitterness. That's just one of the reasons some recipes call for kosher salt.

Hope that helps!
Miss Ginsu

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8.27.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: A Manageable Mole

The skinless, boneless chicken breast may be the monarch of the meat world these days, but thighs hold so much more flavor and are at least half the price of breasts.

Plus, legs and thighs are terrific stewed. Cook 'em long (braising or stewing is as good as roasting for making the most of cheaper cuts) season 'em well and serve 'em up over rice or noodles for some super-thrifty extender action.

I must admit, the disappointing part about stewing/braising is having to smell the wonderful stuff simmering away and knowing that it'll be hours before that pot of goodness is ready to eat.

The upside? Making your neighbors jealous. Oh, yes. They'll smell it. They'll ask about it. You might even receive sudden party invitations. The adorable Czech lass on the fourth floor recently wailed, "Are you the apartment that's cooking the curries? It's torture. You're making us all so hungry!"

Chicken thighs are terrific in curries. But today, we're going to Mexico. Just in time for next week's Cinco de Mayo, I'm in the mood for molé.

Pepper roasting on the stove
Avocado garnish: tasty, but not recession-proof

Now, I've cooked a lot of molés. With all due respect to the generations of dedicated mamas and abuelas who labored and sweated over the cookstove, those ladies who ground countless hours in their mortars, those solid individuals who gathered up 37 different ingredients and processed each separately...

I have the greatest respect for that kind of manual labor, but I have to say that the molés I've worked hardest and longest for did not taste markedly different from the ones I've thrown together and let simmer.

Or rather, there's a flavor difference, but it's not different enough. I don't know about you, but I've got a day job, and if I ever want to eat molé, it's going to be a supremely pared down version.

I initially wanted to make a Pasilla-Prune Molé, but the Key Food did not provide anything resembling a pasilla pepper. What did they have? Well, aside from the standard bell peppers, they had fresh jalapeños and I happened to find a jar of organic roasted piquillo peppers. (Woo hoo!)

I'd recommend you try to score at least three pepper varieties if you can manage to find 'em. Different peppers bring different personalities to the party, and since molé is essentially a flavor party, we want personality.

If you find dried peppers, you'll need to soak them for a few hours (or overnight) to soften them, so just plan that into your schedule.

Pepper roasting on the stove

If you're using bell peppers or jalapeños, you might want to char them. It's not essential, but it's extra flavor (yay, flavor!) and a nice char can be accomplished pretty easily if you have a gas grill. Just blacken them on all sides (use tongs to turn them) and toss them in a paper sack to steam for a half-hour or so. Then wipe off all the blackened skin (it should pull away easily) and use the peppers.

Those poor souls who only have electric ranges at hand can char their peppers in a skillet kept at high heat.

Those who are intimidated by even thinking about charring a pepper can probably find roasted peppers somewhere. But it's cheaper to roast 'em yourself.

If you're sensitive, remove the seeds and mind how many of the really spicy peppers you use. I found that a ratio of 8 oz piquillos to 4 oz roasted bell pepper and 4 oz roasted jalapeños worked well, (though I still wish I could've gotten my hands on some nice dried chilis.) Just remember, you can always pump up the heat before you serve it, but you can't really undo a too-spicy dish.
Three-Pepper Prune Molé (Serves 4, with extra sauce)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 lb bone-in chicken thighs
1 large onion (halved, then sliced thin)
2 cups roasted peppers (3-4 roasted jalapeños, 1 roasted bell pepper, 8oz roasted piquillo peppers, for example)
14oz diced tomatoes (try to find fire-roasted tomatoes, if you can)
1 cup pitted prunes
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cumin
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 Tbsp nut butter (almond butter or sesame butter work well)
1 tsp salt, or to taste

Nice options for serving
Steamed rice
Warmed corn tortillas
Wedges of lime
Cilantro leaves
Toasted sesame seeds or pepitas
Créme fraîche or sour cream

1. Heat large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the vegetable oil and coat the bottom of the pan. Brown the chicken thighs on all sides.
2. Hold the browned thighs on a plate while you brown the sliced onion in the same pan. Keep the slices moving to avoid uneven browning or sticking.
3. When the onions are soft and have some color, add the chicken back into the pan along with the peppers, tomatoes, prunes, cinnamon, cumin, chocolate and nut butter. Bring the mixture to a boil before turning the heat to low.
4. Let simmer, covered, for an hour, stirring occasionally to ensure the mixture doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.
5. After an hour, the chicken should be falling off the bone. Carefully move the thighs from the pan to a clean plate and turn off the heat.
6. Taste the sauce, and add salt to taste. If it's not spicy enough at this point, add a pinch of cayenne.
7. Allow the sauce and chicken to cool a bit, and remove the bones and skin from the thighs.
8. You could serve the sauce chunky, but a smooth molé is more traditional. Cool the sauce to a safe handling temperature and pour it in a blender or food processor. Blend smooth before transferring back to the pan to re-warm for serving.
9. Serve the chicken with warm corn tortillas and steamed rice and the warm molé sauce.

Because molé is such a monochrome brown color, I usually like to garnish the dish with lime wedges, sesame seeds or pepitas, cilantro and/or créme fraîche or sour cream. They all add good flavor and visual contrast. The sauce is even better the next day and it freezes very well. In fact, molé sauce is fantastic with leftover turkey, so remember that next Thanksgiving.

Salud, amigos!

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5.01.2008

Going Bananas: The Mighty Morphin Power Smoothie

the mighty morphin power smoothie

It all started simply enough. Most consuming passions do. I had too many ripe bananas.

Normally, a quickie banana bread would solve the banana issue. But even a banana-loving person can only eat so much banana bread.

So I started freezing ripe banana halves and using them for breakfast. I'd just toss a frozen banana half in my blender with a cup or so of orange juice. Voila! Cool, refreshing smoothie.

So that's how it started:
Banana + OJ = Smoothie

After a while, I thought it might be nice to get some of the good enzymes from active -culture plain yogurt into my system. Started adding about a half-cup.

The new digestively correct version:
Banana + OJ + Yogurt = Smoothie

Over time, I wanted to reduce the volume of orange juice (so much sugar!) and I did some experimenting and figured out that soymilk helped keep my smoothies thin enough. (Milk curdles if you're also using oj. Not appealing first thing in the morning.) Substituting a tablespoon of peanut butter or Nutella for the oj made for veeeery tasty smoothies.

The improved formula became:
Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + PB = Smoothie

When I started making them for J, he wanted to add tablespoon of wheat germ (for additional vitamins and fiber). And since J is wild for berries, we also started adding in some fresh or frozen berries instead of juice or peanut butter.

The nutritious, collaborative recipe:
Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Wheat Germ + Berries = Smoothie

After J returned to a heavy workout program, he needed more protein. Meanwhile, I was doing more running, so I figured a protein + carb combo breakfast couldn't hurt. At that point we started adding some protein powder (a "designer" whey product, made using milk solids) to power the muscles.

The high-tech protein power version:
Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Wheat Germ + Berries + Protein Powder = Smoothie

After a while J read up on nutritional supplements for athletic recovery and got into L-Glutamine (an amino acid recovery supplement) and BCAA (Branched Chain Amino Acid) powders. The glutamine doesn't taste like much, but the BCAA is seriously bitter. I continued pouring my smoothie at the high-tech protein powder version (above), before adding a little glutamine and BCAA into the blender for J's smoothie.

J's big muscle recovery smoothie:
Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Wheat Germ + Berries + Protein Powder + BCAA + L-Glutamine = Smoothie

Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee), the fruit of the Brazilian Açaí Palm, seems to go wherever Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners go. They suck on frozen packets of the stuff after practice.

So when J took up jits, we learned all about acai. It's high in fiber and antioxidants, and it seems as though it may also reduce inflammation in the body. Handy stuff. In our casual testing, J says he's able to work out longer without getting hungry when he's had an acai smoothie. And since FreshDirect delivers Sambazon pure acai packets along with delicious frozen sliced peaches, the smoothies have been very happy indeed.

The individually tailored potions:
Me: Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Berries (or Peaches) + Protein Powder + Acai = Smoothie

J: Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Berries (or Peaches) + Protein Powder + Acai + BCAA + L-Glutamine = Smoothie

These days, there's a minor panic in the house when banana supplies run low; It's funny to remember that the whole winding evolution was hatched by a surplus.

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10.20.2007

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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10.09.2007

Sharper-than-Ginsu sharp


Russkoe vooruzhenie from the beloved NYPL Digital Gallery

To a cook, knives are important. Really important. Cooks talk about their knives the way motorheads brag about their cars, pumping up their knives' past achievements, comparing the relative advantages of German vs. Japanese blades and busting each other's chops over sharpening technique. Water stone? Oil stone? How many strokes across the surface? How hard? What angle? Take a honing steel to it afterward?

There's a lot of professional pride wrapped up in a cook's tools. I've known that for years. But there's something I didn't know until today: when it comes to sharp knives, there's sharp, there's really sharp and then there's Scary-Sharp.

If you're deep into woodworking, maybe you've heard this one before (and if you like, you can read the long tale of obsessive woodworkers and their blade-sharpening experimentation here), but in essence, the "scary sharp" sharpening method involves a series of progressively finer-grit sandpaper strips which are applied to a smooth, flat surface (like marble, granite or heavy glass) with the aid of adhesive spray.

If it works for chisels, it's bound to work for kitchen knives. And though it sounds like fair bit of fuss for those of us who don't have a lot of fresh sandpaper laying around, the sandpaper method apparently takes about 10 minutes to do (as long as you happen to have all the materials on hand) and produces an edge that's, oh yes: scary sharp. So sharp the blade is shiny like a mirror and capable of cutting pine shavings that are four ten-thousandths of an inch thick. (I know I'm in constant need of supremely thin pine shavings. How about you?)

As a person who's spent a good amount of time on blade sharpening (and, admittedly, occasionally dropped some cash when I've felt lazy about it), I really like the DIY angle in this method. Scary sharp is an awfully attractive promise.

Truthfully, I'm not sure I want that kind of power. I wonder if I really need my kitchen blades to be all that they can be. I mean, a sharp knife is a thing of beauty. A knife that whips through tomatoes (and then steel cans!) is an enviable possession. But a knife that could fillet my fingers with the effort of a whisper? With great power comes great responsibility.

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6.28.2007

Handy Stuff: Coffee Concentrate

Q. How do you make coffee concentrate?

A. Put it in a quiet, well-lit room with minimal distractions.

ice coffe

Thanks... I'll be here all week. But seriously, folks.

Iced coffee season is officially open, and it's an occasion that fills me with a need to empower any ambitious folks who are willing to listen. For some reason, adding ice to one's java tends to increase the asking price from a straight-up buck to $2.50 or more. Call me cheap, that seems a bit dear.

Iced coffee is something I believe people can and should be able to make at home.

So what's to prevent you from dropping a few cubes in your mug? Well... good sense, naturally. Nobody wants a watery cuppa joe. I've seen some people recommend ice cubes made out of coffee, but I personally think a concentrate is the way to go.

So then, how do you make coffee concentrate?

Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book recommends using a little device known as a Coffee Toddy.
To prepare coffee concentrate, you will need a coffee toddy, 1 pound medium to fine ground coffee, and 1/2 gallon cold water. Set the toddy over an empty jar, place the coffee in the filter, and pour the water over it. Let the coffee drip overnight. This makes 5 ounces of concentrate.

Once made, it's easy to keep coffee concentrate on hand in the fridge for use in ice cream, cakes, smoothies, gelato, granitas and of course... iced coffee.

Take back the power, people. If you're an iced coffee devotee (sipping say, four times a week from now through August) who's paying $2.50-$3 for the stuff, you could end up spending $400 or more to get a summer's worth of fix. A toddy and a bag of beans at the beginning of the season will cost you less than $30.

As an added bonus, by using your own insulated mug, you won't be tossing away dozens of the standard-issue plastic ones. DIY iced coffee is better for your pocketbook and better for the planet. Best of all, it's reliably delicious. And if that's not worth an ounce of concentration, I don't know what is.

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4.28.2007