Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


Best. Amateur Cookbook. Ever.

"I think I need more," she said, with only the slightest trace of sheepish guilt in her expression. "If I give you money, can you see if they have more?"

Tomorrow is my CSA pick-up day.

But today, my coworker, a fellow local food devotee, is hitting me up. She's shoving money in my hands. For vegetables? Nah. For fruit? Nope. She wants cookbooks. Cookbooks produced by CSA volunteers, no less.

Well Seasoned Cookbook

Honestly, I bought one out of obligation. Sight unseen, I plunked down my $20 and expected I'd receive in return some homely little packet of jumbled text.

I expected an amateur effort that I'd push into my bookshelf and never, ever reach for (except to drag it from living space to living space throughout the course of my life). That's how these things work.

Well Seasoned Vegetable Guide

But lo! The cover was actually pretty nice. The pages were attractive. The photography was certifiably gorgeous. The interstitial artwork was tasteful. The recipes looked genuinely tasty. Indeed, it appeared this might be the first amateur cookbook I'd put into regular use in my kitchen.

My coworker saw it the next day and immediately wanted one. So at the next week's pick-up, I bought one for her and an extra copy for myself.

This week, I'm going back for more. I'm buying these cookbooks not out of some idea about nurturing the community, but out of a need for more of these great cookbooks that I can give as gifts.

Well Seasoned Side Dish Pages

Keep in mind, this was a very small-run book. You probably won't ever actually see one. (You can cook my two contributions — Summer Succotash and Divine Brine for Ramps, Scallions or Onions — from the recipes here.) But you may someday be involved in creating a community cookbook yourself. After all, thousands of these things are published on small press runs every year.

If and when that happens, you might be interested in doing what the Williamsburg-Greenpoint CSA is doing, because clearly, they're getting a few things right.

Well Seasoned Chapter Pages

Making Your Community Cookbook ROCK (Learnings from the GWCSA Cookbook)
1. Know the Readers. (CSA members, in this case.)
The folks who put this book together were very selective about which recipes would be most useful to their audience. They didn't use every recipe that came to the desk. And I think they chose well. A recipe like Zucchini & Caramelized Kohlrabi Quesadillas might not be right for every cookbook, but that page is bound to be a great relief to someone faced with a bunch of kohlrabi and no ideas. (That'll be me next month.)

2. Keep it Focused.
The Well Seasoned cookbook has a real sense of place. In addition to recipes from GWCSA members, the editors include recipes from beloved local restaurants. I'm looking forward to cooking Enid's Sweet & Hot Collard Greens and making Taco Chulo's Escabeche this summer.

3. Include relevant extras.
The front of the book begins with a guide to identifying and cooking all the major CSA vegetables we see throughout the season. The back of the book features a conversion guide, cooking terms, cook's notes and a nicely organized index. There are sidebars on Home Composting, Cooking for Pets and Preserving Summer's Bounty (canning, pickling and drying).

4. Use gorgeous photography.
So many small-run cookbooks neglect the mouthwatering beauty that color photographs provide, and that's a shame. I know it involves extra cost in the printing, but nothing inspires and motivates a cookbook reader like visions of tastiness dancing in the head.

5. Pay attention to detail.
The book printed on recycled, chlorine-free paper using wind power (see point #1). Each recipe includes servings/yield and the approximate preparation time. Vegan recipes are noted with a symbol beside the recipe name. All the food photography notes the recipe name and its page number. The book is spiral-bound to make it easy to use in the kitchen. There's a consistent recipe style used throughout. Attention to this kind of minutia might seem fussy, but it's essential when you actually want to prepare the recipes, as opposed to using the piece as a coffee table book.

The truth of the matter is this: my CSA, the GWCSA, is populated by very talented professionals. This amateur cookbook isn't strictly amateur. I note that the editor of this volume has years of experience in publishing, the art director/illustrator works for Saveur and the lead photographer seems to know her way around a food shot.

That said, I think anyone doing their own small-run cookbook can heed five simple hints from the pros (know the reader, keep it focused, provide extras, use color photography, mind the details) and polish a rough-hewn booklet into a useful and appealing little gem that'll keep people (like my swooning coworker) coming back for more.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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Chow Chow Chow!

I'm willing to admit it: I'm a northern girl with southern envy. Having grown up on a parade of cream of mushroom soup casseroles, I've since discovered some of the flavorful, everyday delights my southern brethren took for granted... things like red velvet cake, po-boys and one of the finest condiments to cross my palate: chow chow.

It's my great loss that the only chow chows I'd ever encountered were the dog breed and the dancing chow-chow-chow cats of 1970s-era TV advertising.

But then — as if led by destiny — my last roommate abandoned a full jar of Loveless Cafe Old-Fashioned Hot Chow Chow in the fridge. It was amazing. I was immediately hooked.

Now I understand that chow chow is a dog, a dancing cat and a versatile condiment that's used like a pickle relish and flavored like an Indian chutney.

Delicious on grilled meats, it's powerhouse flavor for egg salad and chicken salad. It's a savior for ho-hum bean soups and stews that lack oomph. It's killer on a cheeseburger or sausage roll... and it's delicious straight out of the jar.

Hot Yellow Chow Chow

I imagine chow chow is also going to become my new favorite way to use up extra vegetables that happen to be hanging around the fridge.

Sadly, we won't see any green tomatoes for months, but since I'm an addict now, chow chow can't wait. I'm substituting tomatillos or pickled green tomatoes until I can get my grubby mitts on the garden-fresh versions.
Hot Yellow Chow Chow (Makes about two quarts)

1 cup green tomatoes (or tomatillos), cored and quartered
1 cup green cabbage, shredded
1 cup carrots, shredded
1 cup celery, minced
1 cup bell peppers (red or green), diced
1 jalapeno chili, sliced thin
1 cup white or yellow onions, diced
1/4 cup parsley, minced

Cooking Liquid
2 cups white or red wine vinegar
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp turmeric
1 Tbsp celery seed
2 Tbsp mustard seed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice

1. Soak the tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, celery, bell pepper, onions and parsley in a salt water brine (1/4 cup salt to 1 quart [4 cups] water) overnight.
2. Drain off the brine and place the vegetables in a heavy-bottomed pot with the vinegar, water, sugar, turmeric, celery seed, mustard seed, cinnamon, ground cloves and allspice.
3. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until tender (about 30-40 minutes).
4. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning level with salt and pepper to your liking. Add a little more vinegar if it's too sweet or blend in a little more sugar if you find it too sour. The flavor will become more rich and blended as it cools.
5. Ladle the hot chow chow into sterilized glass jars, add lids and seal in a hot water bath, or cool and transfer to the refrigerator.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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Getting Stuffed

I've been off on a bit of a Claudia Roden kick for the past couple of weeks, and I must admit it's an awfully tasty kick to be off on.

In case you don't know who she is, let me just put in a word for her classic The New Book of Middle Eastern Food — an impressive culinary resource.

I love the way she breaks down recipes to discuss how ingredients and preparations differ a little in the different cultural versions of the same dish.

For a recipe addressing stuffed eggplants, for example, she cites the Syrian version but also refers the reader to a different filling that the Lebanese tend to prefer.

Stuffed Eggplant and Arugula Salad

It makes me wonder why I've shunned stuffed vegetables for so long. They're such an easy and flexible meal. You can use eggplants, peppers, zucchini and a variety of winter squashes.

Roden points out that the fillings range from purely meat and veggie stuffings to ones completely composed of grain and beans. So you can really use whatever you happen to have on hand. That means a stuffed vegetable entree can be made vegetarian or not, as you like it, and expensive or thrifty, depending on your budget.

Hollowing an Eggplant

I used eggplants this weekend, because I love them, and it's easy to just roast or sauté the innards pulled out of the eggplant for a quick baba ganoush.

I found that the easiest way to make a hollow for the stuffing was to draw a 1/2" thick outline around the flesh of eggplant with a paring knife to guide the area that I wanted to scoop. Then I scraped out the flesh with a spoon, as you can see in the image above. This would also work well with zucchini.

Stuffed Eggplants, Ready to Bake

The stuffing was based on one of Roden's recipes, but I used some chopped tomatoes for extra zip.
Stuffed Eggplants (Serves 4)
2 medium-sized eggplants
1 large onion, diced
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 lb ground lamb or beef
8 oz chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Salt and ground pepper, to taste

To garnish: chopped parsley and crumbled feta

1. Halve the eggplants and scoop out the flesh. Place the hollowed eggplant halves on a baking sheet and save the flesh for another purpose.
2. In a large skillet or a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over a medium-high flame and sweat the onions for 10 minutes.
3. Add the lamb or beef, breaking it up for even cooking. Sauté for 10 minutes or until the meat browns well. Carefully drain off excess grease before adding the tomatoes, pine nuts, allspice and cinnamon.
4. Cook another 10 minutes, season with salt and ground pepper, to taste, and remove the pan from the heat.
5. Heat the oven to 375°. Spoon the filling evenly into the eggplant halves and place the baking sheet in the center of the oven. Pour 1/4 to 1/2 cup water into the pan to prevent burning and cook until the eggplant is tender, about 20 minutes.
6. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and crumbled feta. Serve hot.

Obviously, a person could replace the meat with rice or quinoa, maybe add in some chickpeas and come up with an equally happy result.

I'm looking forward to digging deeper into Roden's book, and I'll report more discoveries as I find them.

Happy eating!
Miss Ginsu

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The Thick, The Thin & The Hearty

This week brings Shrove Tuesday, known to some as Mardi Gras and known to me as Pancake Day.

Bacon, Eggs n' Pancake

While I grew up with the thick, pillowy pancakes that appear in diners and truckstops across the nation, J. was raised on a delicate, European-style pancake... something more along the lines of a crepe.

Buckwheat Crepe with Egg & Gruyere

I must admit, the discovery that not everyone ate the same kind of pancake was a bit of a shock to me. I'd always considered a pancakes to be something like blankets, and crepes to be those delicate little wraps with fillings in them. Discrete categories, you see?

Mais non! Pancakes are objects of great variation. In the US, we just happen to like 'em fat.

In any case, there's no need to bicker — whether thinner or thicker, the pancake is a little morning gift. As Cookie Monster might say, it's "a sometimes food."

So in honor of Pancake Day this year, I offer my recipe for Sweet Potato Pancakes. In thickness, they're closer to the pillowy variety of my youth, but the addition of vegetable matter makes them sweeter, heftier and heartier.

You'll notice this recipe also provides a great way to use up leftover mashed sweet potatoes. In truth, I developed them as a post-Thanksgiving idea for leftovers, but I think they make an especially nice treat throughout the winter. Just save a little mash from dinner to use in pancakes the following morning.

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Do keep in mind that they'll darken a bit more than your standard pancake. The sugar in the sweet potatoes browns quickly in the pan. I also recommend you pour smaller circles of batter than you might otherwise... smaller cakes are easier to flip.
Sweet Potato Pancakes (Makes 6 pancakes)

1 cup milk or buttermilk
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato
1/2 cup pancake mix
Oil or butter for the griddle/skillet

For Serving: Maple syrup and/or butter

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk/buttermilk, oil and mashed sweet potato. Stir in the pancake mix until just combined.
2. If the batter seems too thick, thin with a teaspoon or so of water to attain a pourable consistency.
3. Heat a large, oiled griddle or skillet over medium-high heat.
4. Working in batches, pour batter in 1/3 cup portions onto the hot griddle/skillet surface and cook until the edges of the pancakes bubble and brown, about 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Carefully flip and cook the reverse side until browned, 1 to 2 minutes more. Repeat the process with the remaining pancake batter.
6. Move the cooked pancakes to a paper towel-lined plate and keep warm in the oven until serving time. Top with butter and/or maple syrup, to taste. Serve hot.

For extra decadence, serve them with alongside a bowl of fresh whipped cream in which you've blended a hint of cinnamon and maple syrup. Mmmm. They're also good with applesauce.

Miss Ginsu

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A Run on the Food Bank

Riddle me this, reader... It's never taken me more than 10 minutes to complete my annual Community Supported Agriculture program signup. So why did I just return from a CSA signup session that took TWO HOURS?

What's the sudden public obsession with local vegetables? Should I blame Michael Pollan? Mark Bittman? Alice Waters? The recession? The FDA peanut recall? All or none of the above?

Maybe this is the year in which investments in financial markets feel more risky than investments farmers' markets.

Springtime CSA Box

Whatever the reason, I'll tell you this: interest in farm-to-city produce in my neighborhood has skyrocketed this year.

I strolled into my local church basement not long after the doors opened, only to discover a robust room. I was already 48th on the list.

One of the volunteers told me that virtually everyone she'd spoken with tonight had been a signing up as a first-time CSA member.

CSA Lettuces

And maybe I should've been forewarned.

A coworker of mine has belonged to a different Brooklyn CSA for several years, and she told me she was a little late in sending in her signup form this year. Usually that's not a problem.

But her CSA filled up before January. Interest was huge, and she missed the boat. Now she's just a sad, veggie-free name on a long waiting list.

With that kind of tragedy in mind, I should just be grateful to have had options to buy stock in vegetable futures.

But if you're wondering what to do with the veggies of the present... hearty greens like chard, kale and collards and should be your friends right now.

Luckily, our nutritionist at work just gave me an easy, delicious recipe for kale. And since it's from the nutritionist, so you know it can't be bad for you, no?

In any case, I'm sure she wouldn't mind if I share...
Eileen's Crispy Greens (Serves 4)
1 bunch kale
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
Sea salt, to taste

1. Wash the kale well. Strip the leaves away from the stems (save the stems for stock) and cut the leaves into 2" to 3" pieces.
2. In a mixing bowl, toss the pieces with olive oil to coat.
3. Heat the oven to 350°F and spread the prepared leaves across a baking sheet.
4. Sprinkle the leaves with the cider vinegar, then place in the middle of the oven. 5. After 10 minutes, shift the leaves in the pan to help them brown more evenly. Continue roasting until the kale pieces are crisp like potato chips and lightly browned. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with sea salt and serve hot.

So then, what have we learned today?

1. The early bird gets the local vegetables.
2. Even nutritionists know that everything tastes delicious when it's roasted and salted.

Yours in food worship,
Miss Ginsu

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How I Fell in Love with Brussels Sprouts

I grew up with Brussels Sprouts prejudice. My dad didn't like 'em. He'd only ever known the sprightly sprout under poor conditions — namely, my grandmother's vicious habit of boiling veggies into submission.

They were bitter and mushy at the same time. Wretched pale lumps. I didn't blame him for loathing them, and with his opinionated introduction, I never even considered experimenting with sprouts.

Brussels Sprouts on the Stalk

Later on, (much later, to my great dismay these days) I discovered the Brussels Sprout the way it was meant to be: roasted.

Oh, sweet revelation, thy name is roasted vegetables, and my relationship with these cutie little cabbages hasn't been the same since.

Brussels Sprouts and Pecans

If, like my dad, you find that you and Brussels Sprouts somehow got off on the wrong foot, I urge you to give peace a chance.

This technique is simplicity defined, and may your life be well changed when you try it. If you hate pecans, just skip 'em. I like them quite a bit, but they're not necessary, just tasty.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pecans (Serves 4)
2 pints fresh Brussels Sprouts
3/4 cup whole or halved pecans
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
4 to 5 grinds of black pepper, or to taste

1. Heat the oven to 350°F, cut the Brussels Sprouts into 1/4" slices and pile them into a mixing bowl as you work.
2. Add the pecans, olive oil, salt and pepper to the mixing bowl. Toss to mix well.
3. Spread the sprouts and nut mixture across a sheet tray and place in the oven to roast.
4. After 15 minutes, stir the sprouts on the tray to help them cook more evenly, and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. At this point they should be beginning to show some browning at the edges. (If not, continue roasting for a few more minutes.) Remove from the oven and serve hot.

These days I've grown to love the flavor of Brussels Sprouts au naturel and I often just steam them, but roasting brings out such sweetness and richness, I feel a dish like this is bound to win over the hearts (and tastebuds) of haters.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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Resolution #2: Rearrange the Plate

In culinary school, we did a lot of plate drawings. The elements were always different, but the formula was invariable: Protein, Veg, Starch. Protein, Veg, Starch.

J recently started trying to drop weight to qualify for a lower weight division at tournaments, and he suggested that we drop the starch sector from our plates.

"Just double the vegetables and put the meat on the side."

At the time, this statement was revolutionary, and I must admit, not terribly welcome. Martin Luther pounding at the kitchen door. Drop the starch? But that was 1/3 of the plate! Utter madness!

Reorganizing the Plate

It's taken some trial and error (old habits die hard) and some dishes have been dropped entirely (pasta and potato dishes fail under this plan), but I'm endeavoring to change, and behold! J has lost weight and I've felt less dopey after meals.

So my second resolution for the new year is to rearrange the plate that exists in the mind... the one that's been imprinted there by a lifetime of Protein, Veg, Starch combos.

The new plate is steak and sautéed broccoli. Or chili and salad. Or turkey and Brussels sprouts. Or a big Greek salad. Or beans and collard greens. Or a stir-fry, hold the rice.

Potatoes, rice, noodles and bread now become condiments to be used sparingly rather than major players on the plate.

Now, I'm a big bread lover, so this is a resolution — and a revolution — in progress, but I think it's a worthy goal that will pay dividends in weight maintenance, more veggie consumption and just feeling good overall.

Three more resolutions to come!

To our health!
Miss Ginsu

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FoodLink Roundup: 11.24.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was located inside the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Crunch these numbers before munching on turkey
Rusty on your arithmetic? Brush up on basic calculations for the holiday.

Wylie, Eggs, Chihuahuas
Studio 360 is all about food arts and sciences this week. Worth a listen.

Bagels (girda nan) a hot commodity in China too
On the ancient bagel-like girda nan and the quiet invasion of Jewish-style bagels in China.

Kitchen Essentials: 10 versatile pantry items
Not your grandma's list of staples. Ten ingredients for the intermediate to advanced home cook.

Jerusalem artichokes with manouri and basil oil
You kind of can't go wrong with roasted veg and some tasty fats...

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

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Food Quote Friday: David Budbill

Purple Grapes in the Hand

Sometimes when day after day we have cloudless blue skies,
warm temperatures, colorful trees and brilliant sun, when
it seems like all this will go on forever,

when I harvest vegetables from the garden all day,
then drink tea and doze in the late afternoon sun,
and in the evening one night make pickled beets
and green tomato chutney, the next red tomato chutney,
and the day after that pick the fruits of my arbor
and make grape jam...

David Budbill from "Sometimes"

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

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We Gonna Put it Down on the Big Beet

Big Beet

I'm thinking they should have called beets "groundhogs" and called groundhogs something different. Why? Well, beets really are the swine of the vegetable world.

Hogs and beets share big flavor, big character and you can utilize every little bit of both of these tasty foodstuffs... nose to tail, as they say.

I'll start at the top — though most folks don't.

Every time I go to my farmers' market, I see people asking to have the tops chopped off their beets, and it just about breaks my heart.

But then I ask if I can have some of that massive pile of beet greens, and after I get a sackful, all is repaired again.

I contend that beet greens are some of the tastiest of greens. In addition to the tender leaves, beet greens sport that line of crimson stem running down the center, and that's sweet and rich like the beet root itself.

Simple Beet Greens

Just wash everything really well, chop the stems into 1/4" segments and keep 'em separated from the leafy parts. You can chop the leaves wider (2" to 3" strips works fine).

Heat a tablespoon or so of fat (bacon or olive oil, as you like) in a heavy-bottomed pan over a medium-high flame, and add the stem pieces first. You'll want to give them a head start of about 5 to 8 minutes before you add the leaves.

Wilt down the leaves for about 3 to 4 minutes, adding a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper or a dash of chili pepper flakes. Give the greens a little drizzle (maybe two tablespoons) of cider vinegar or red wine vinegar. This will steam up and help them braise a bit.

Serve 'em up hot. Greens from one bunch of beets usually feeds two as a side dish.

As for the big, sweet bulb at the bottom, there's a wide variety of things a person could do. Here's five:

1. Peel it, slice it into 1/4" pieces and pickle it.

2. Cut it into 2" to 3" chunks, rub with oil, salt and pepper, wrap in foil and roast at 375° for about 45 minutes or until tender. Cool, peel (mind that juice!) and use in a salad with feta or goat cheese or blue cheese. Add some walnuts and/or orange slices if you feel like it.

3. Use it raw in a salad, a' la Adriana's very tasty-looking Raw beets & Toasted Cumin Almonds or maybe in an Alton Brown-style slaw.

4. Borscht!

5. Beet Crisps Beets are like any other root. You can slice 'em super-thin and fry 'em up crispy. As long as you're not afraid of hot oil, it's easy to do.

Just heat 8-10 cups of peanut or canola oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot to 350° to 375°.

To the hot oil, add paper-thin beet slices, just a few at a time, and fry until the edges begin to color and curl up (about 3 to 5 minutes). Do this in batches skimming out the cooked slices and moving them to paper towels to drain.

Sprinkle the cooked chips with salt and fine-chopped tarragon or rosemary, if desired.

Serve when cool.

All that, and they're good for you, too. Pass the groundhogs, please.

Miss Ginsu

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What to Buy For the Eater

After getting a few nifty gastronomy-centric gifts for my birthday this year, I realized another Miss Ginsu gift guide might be in order.

Thus, I give you: What to Buy for the Eater

The basic philosophy is this: if you already know your recipient loves food, all you have to do is just select one of the secondary characteristics listed below and voila... they're gift-ified! (And since most of the stuff here costs less than $30, you shouldn't have to smash the piggybank to make 'em smile.)

The Coolest Temporary Tattoos

Does your foodie have a sense of humor?

Food Lovers' Tattoos

As Seattle's home of the goofy, Archie McPhee has always been a rich source of gifts for foodies, thanks to clever classics like the toast clock and the freeloader fork. And in keeping with our bacon-saturated times, there's even an entire page of bacon items.

But the recent addition of temporary tattoos for food lovers may be my favorite thing yet. All done in the retro "Sailor Jerry" school of 'tats, these sweet slicks are tempting arm candy... no commitment required.


Handmade Mesh Produce Bags

Is your foodie a farmer's market farmers' market fiend or co-op junkie?

Mesh Produce Bags

Ooo! I know just the thing...

I bought a pack of reusable mesh produce bags off Etsy.com in the early spring, and I've been enjoying them all summer long.

They're cheap, too, so consider including a nice market tote bag. (And no. I'm not ashamed to recommend my own.)

These little guys are great because they're light, see-through, easy to open, they help you avoid collecting excess plastic... and they really do make you the envy of the farmers' market. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten envious looks and remarks on the lines of, "Oh! Those are so cool! Where'd you get them?"

Though the supplier I bought mine from is currently pursuing other things (i.e. has a life) there's lots of other folks who are selling them now in lots of pretty colors.


Do-It-Yourself Cheese

Is your foodie the hands-on/DIY type?

Ricki's Cheese-Making Kit

I saw Ricki Carroll's sweet little Mozzarella and Ricotta Kit at Grand Central Market and immediately knew I needed to look her up.

As it turns out, Ricki's the "Cheese Queen" of the interweb, and does a lot of cheese-making education.

Her kit seems like a really fun, accessible way to introduce food lovers — especially younger ones — to the pleasures of cheese-making.

Then again, if the easy-cheesy mozzarella kit seems a bit elementary for your advanced DIY-er, consider a kit for making homemade soda, wine or beer or maybe even a mustard-making kit.


Supremely Cute Salt & Pepper Shakers

Is your foodie a museum-lover? Possibly even... artsy?

Hugging S&P Shakers

The food geeks who are also design geeks are powerless in the face of designware from the MOMA shop.

A little caveat, since I realize any gourmand worth his or her, ahem... salt uses a pepper grinder instead of a pepper shaker for that freshly-ground goodness. I'm a sucker for the cute. And this Hugging Salt & Pepper set has the real cute. Oh! I am helpless in the face of its cuteness.

But if you know your gift recipient is way too sophisticated to be buffaloed by cuteness... you should probably go for the supercool Index Chopping Boards instead.


One For the Road

Is your foodie sentimental?


Consider a food gift that acknowledges a taste of reminiscence.

For those with a sweet tooth, Oldtimecandy and NostalgicCandy both feature retro packs that coordinate to the era of your recipient's youth.

Homesick former New Yorkers might appreciate things like the Frrozen Hot Chocolate from Serendipity 3, a classic deli-style lunch with the pastrami sandwich kit from Zingerman's or the ceramic version of NYC's ubiquitous We Are Happy To Serve You paper cup.


Yum on the Run

Is your foodie active? Maybe even... sporty?

Happy campers (or boaters, or hikers, or picnickers) will love something practical (and cool-looking) for their alfresco dining.

REI has fun stuff in general, but I really like their Light My Fire Meal Kit, which comes with a compact set of two plates, a lidded cup, a crazy spoon/fork utensil, a little waterproof box (for berries?) and a colander/cutting board.

Pretty colors (a whole range of 'em), recyclable, no metal to freak out the TSA staff at the airport... and it floats.

For the bean-worshipers, REI also features a nifty French Press Commuter Mug, which comes in a variety of colors and serves as a combo coffee press, travel mug and coffee caddy. Pretty slick.

Miss Ginsu

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FoodLink Roundup: 09.15.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was on the beach in Barcelona (lucky pastry!) Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post a guess in the comments.

The full english: a Flickr set
A bold call for the big breakfast. In color!

Burglar wakes men with spice rub, sausage attack
Clearly a foodie.

Corn Syrup Manufacturers Getting A Little Nervous
The High-Fructose Corn Syrup lobby fights back! Take that, wary American public!

Make Sure the TSA Doesn't Grab Your Snacks
Do remember to pack snacks, but beware of peanut butter portions larger than 3oz...

heita3: vegetable musician
Play (music) with your food! It's the ultimate in biodegradability...

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

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Dear Miss Ginsu: I have eggplants.

Dear Miss Ginsu,

This week the farm share delivered a bunch of eggplants. I have not really done much with them before, so I ask your advice. Other than tossing some sauteed eggplant into a bean salad (not that there's anything wrong with that), what other tips do you have?

Best Regards,
— Desperately Seeking Produce Advice

Grilled Vegetables
Just about anything is tasty when it's brushed with olive oil and grilled...

Dear DSPA,

A ratatouille is a classic use (or stuff hollowed-out shells with ratatouille and bake 'em) and there's always the classic eggplant parm.

Lil Frankie's in the East Village serves eggplant halved, roasted and topped with a zippy chili oil, but I think you'd have to have their wood-fired oven to make it taste that rich and smoky. I've tried it in my oven, and it's just not the same. But eggplant does love the grill. There's something about the smoke that really compliments the flavor.

I usually go Middle Eastern with eggplant (either roasted with olive oil and za'atar spice or in a baba ganoush) and serve it alongside cucumber/tomato/feta salad, hummus and spicy lamb balls.
Baba Ganoush
1 large eggplant
1 garlic clove
2 Tbsp tahini
2-3 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp good olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
Chopped parsley and/or mint (optional, for garnish)

1. Preheat oven to 450F. Poke the eggplant several times with a fork (to create steam-escape routes) and place on a baking sheet.

2. Bake until it is soft, about 20-30 minutes, or you can grill the eggplant (it's okay for it to char) about 10-15 minutes.

3. Allow the eggplant to cool before cutting in half, draining off any excess juice and scooping its flesh into a food processor/blender.

4. Blend eggplant, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil and salt until smooth. Season to taste with a little more lemon juice, olive oil or salt, as you like. Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with chopped parsley and/or mint and serve with pita.

If you dig the heat, I find baba ganoush is pretty great with a little Aleppo pepper added in or sprinkled across the top. I know they sell it at Penzeys (along with za'atar), either online or in shops... there's one at the market at Grand Central Station here in New York.

Happy eating!

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Recession-Proof Recipes: Cool Beans

Back around tax time when I started this series, basic black bean soup seemed like a really tasty idea, but after a week of 90-degree days, I must admit that thick, hearty soups seem far less appealing. Just turning on the stove seems far less appealing.

Chickpea Salad
Chickpea, Yellow Zucchini & Sweet Corn Salad w/ Red Wine Vinaigrette

Thank goodness for canned beans. Cheap, tasty protein... no flames required. I've been making bean salads with my CSA vegetables for the past two weeks. And thanks to the remarkable versatility and variety of beans, I'm still not sick of them.

While blanching corn cobs, fava beans or green beans does require a pot of boiling water, there's plenty of veggies out there that are perfectly happy to hop into your salads in raw form.

Market-Fresh Succotash

And since bean salads are so simple, it hardly seems worth it to write up a recipe. So but I'll just do a little quasi-mathematical formula:

1 can of your favorite beans (washed & drained)
+ 1 cup sliced zucchini, cucumber, bell pepper, tomato, shredded carrot (or whatever veggies you like)
+ 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (basil, mint, dill and parsley all work just fine)
+ 2 Tbsp olive oil
+ 1 Tbsp citrus juice/vinegar (white wine, red wine, cider, malt, balsamic...)

= Tasty Bean Salad

White Bean Salad
White Bean, Cucumber, Tomato & Parsley Salad w/ Lemon Vinaigrette

Beans are already little protein powerhouses, but if you're mad for protein, or just really love meat, you can toss sliced, cooked beef, chicken, tuna, lamb, sausage, etc. atop any of these salads.

I particularly love bean salads with the olive oil-soaked tuna like the Spanish Ortiz Bonito Del Norte, but that kind of blows the economical angle. :)

Bon appetit, ya'll!

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Quick Bites: Rome

Buongiorno! Welcome to Molto MissGinsu week. (After all, why should Mario have all the fun?)

Molto MissGinsu!

Arriving back in the states after a recent quest to the Italian regions of Lazio and Abruzzo, I realized there was just far too much in the way of tasty sites and flavors to sequester the lot into just one post.

So for this week, a special multi-part Italy feature splashes across missginsu.com like a paper sack filled with sun-ripe tomatoes.

Tomorrow we visit the goats and sheep in the mountains, but today we'll check out a few of the varied glories of Rome.

Emperor Constantine's Toes
Emperor Constantine's toes at the Roman Capitoline Museums

Hail, Scooter!
Hail, Scooter!

Vine-on tomatoes
Vine-on tomatoes from the market. So sweet! So rich!

A ripening pomegranate
A pomegranate ripens in a random park.

Market-fresh melons
Market-fresh cantaloupe at the Mercato Esquilino.

The Big View

In Rome, the ever-present tourist season reaches its teeming height in the summertime. I honestly can't imagine why. I hit town on the first of July because J had a conference to attend, but given the choice, I think most any other month would've been preferable.

Simply put, Rome in July is hot and crowded. Think Times Square in July with fewer LEDs and better architecture.

But it's really true what they say... there's something special about the light in Italy.

Buttery mornings. Toasty yellow afternoons. Peachy-pinks every evening.

For the traveler, Rome is expensive, chaotic and occasionally frustrating (transit strike, anyone?), but it's also beautiful, multilayered and quite often, delightful.

While in the city, we stayed at The Beehive, a conveniently located spot that offers friendly, affordable lodging as well as a vegetarian cafe with really tasty cappuccinos, yoga classes, wifi, a quiet garden for reading and Ingmar, the very purr-y resident cat.

The 'hive is situated close to the centrally located Termini Station, a hub for trains, trams, the city's two subway lines and enough shops that you might mistake the place for a shopping mall.

The Bites

From Termini, it's just a short walk to Nuovo Mercato Esquilino (Via Principe Amadeo between the Termini and Piazza Vittorio metro stations) a well-stocked covered market that vends cheap threads in one building, and in the other, all manner of inexpensive fish, veggies, antipasti, cheese, meats, fruits and grocery dry goods. It's great option for fresh fruits or for self-catering, if you happen to have a kitchen on hand. (Go in the morning. They close in the afternoons.)

There's good (and not-so good) eats across the city, of course, but our very favorite Roman meals consisted of:

* The luscious multi-course flavor bonanza at Il Posto Accanto... After, You Sing at Via del Boschetto 36/a. Vegetables are kings here, but they also serve excellent pasta and a meltingly luscious steak with mushrooms.

* The good, simple fare and gorgeous wines at Via Cavour 313, at 313 Via Cavor (naturally). Made with love and located conveniently just 'round the corner from the Colosseum.

* The light, cracker-crisp, artisanal, by-the-slice delights at Come Manna dal Cielo... Like Manna from Heaven at Via del Latini 68/70 (Tel: 06-44362242) in Rome's hip student neighborhood, San Lorenzo. (We stopped here on three separate occasions, so I'll swoon over this spot yet again in my upcoming Roman pizza post.)

* And just down the way, Da Franco ar Vicoletto, San Lorenzo's very no-nonsense, prix-fixe, working-class seafood resto at Via dei Falisci 1/b. They'll offer you clams and mussels in butter sauce, whole fish on platters, the house white wine (ideal with fish!) and dozens of boisterous Italian families enjoying dinner together.

The Takeaway

A lot of the beauty of Italian food is based in its good, locally available ingredients. While there, I couldn't help but notice that many of the vegetable sides were simply (deliciously) done up with a drizzle of olive oil and maybe a squeeze of fresh lemon.

So the takeaway for this trip is a supremely simple recipe for Romi-inspired sautéed zucchini (which happens to be in season at the markets right now)... but gosh, you could use this easy, tasty olive oil/lemon juice trick to accent just about any green vegetable, whether sautéed, roasted, grilled, broiled or boiled.

Just use good, fresh olive oil with good, fresh veggies and maybe add an herb like chopped parsley, mint or basil. Molto fast, molto easy, molto mouthwatering.
Zucchini Di'Lazio

1 tsp olive oil for cooking (+ a little extra for drizzling)
1/2 clove olive oil, minced (optional)
1 medium zucchini or yellow squash, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 fresh lemon
A few fresh basil leaves/flowers (optional, to garnish)

1. Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the garlic, if using. Cook for 1 minute before adding the zucchini or squash.

2. Sauté for 5-8 minutes, stirring up the slices frequently to prevent over-coloring.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste before transferring to a serving plate. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a garnish of basil leaves/flowers, if using. Serve immediately.

And, of course, I took a bunch of lovely photos (mostly food, of course) that reside here in the full Italy photoset at Flickr.

Ciao for now!

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Recession-Proof Recipes: Summertime Succotash

It's really, truly summer when the sweet corn arrives. Then we see the the zucchini and tomatoes. And that's when it's time for summer succotash — one of the most lovely, fresh and versatile of seasonal salads.

summer succotash

By definition, a succotash consists of beans and corn — sometimes baked.

But the succotashes I've always known have been simple summer salads composed of just-shucked sweet corn, ripe tomatoes, beans (sometimes green beans, sometimes lima beans or kidney beans) and maybe even some jalapeño, slices of zucchini, fresh-chopped basil, fresh parsley or cubes of smoky bacon. Some people use sliced fresh okra.

In theory, this is an inexpensive dish. Everything should be in season, and very little is absolutely required, so unavailable or unattainable ingredients can be skipped.

Clearly, I'm no succotash purist. But it's summertime, and the livin' is supposed to be easy.

So use this recipe for a basis and then go crazy. Add in yellow squash, sliced scallions or red bell peppers. Maybe you'll toss in some cooked salad shrimp. It doesn't matter. Succotash is going to be delicious any way you choose to do it.
Easy Summertime Succotash (Serves 6-8)
4 ears corn
1/4 cup fresh basil and/or parsley, chopped
1 15oz can lima beans, kidney beans or canneloni beans, rinsed well
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 lb sliced bacon, cooked crisp (optional)

1. Cut the kernels away from the corn and hold in a large mixing bowl.
2. Mix in the drained beans, chopped herb(s) and tomato halves.
3. While whisking, drizzle the olive oil into the cider vinegar to incorporate the two into a simple vinaigrette.
4. Toss the salad with the vinaigrette. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and garnish with crumbled bacon, if desired. Serve immediately or hold at room temperature for an hour or two until serving time.

Summertime succotash also won't wilt like green salads, so it makes a good barbecue side or a "make it & take it" dish for potlucks and picnics.


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What's In The Box? Part II

It's week two of my half-share CSA distribution. The local weather's been alternating between gorgeous sunny days and violent thunderstorms recently. That has to be affecting the local veggies.

The first shipment was heavy on lettuces. So what's in the box this week?

What's in the Box?

  • Arugula
  • Zucchini... big 'uns!
  • Chinese cabbage (flowering, but still tasty)
  • Mesclun lettuce mix
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Pea shoots
  • Baby braising greens (a mix of tatsoi, mustard greens, kale and mizuna)
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Eggs
  • A bouquet of cosmos, snapdragons, sunflowers, dianthus, rye and oats

    Alas, asparagus season is over. Goodbye, local asparagus!

    Everything looked great except for the radishes, a few of which had burst open (I assume that's the result of our irregular rain this season) and the strawberries, which were clearly soft and on their way out.

    The radishes were just a cosmetic issue, but I knew the berries wouldn't last the night. So as I piled my pint in a zip-top bag and pedaled home, I thought of one magic word: compote

    Yes, a simple compote is the fruit buyer's best friend. Mushed, soft berries, excess rhubarb, bruised peaches... clean 'em off, chop 'em up and throw 'em in a saucepan with a little sugar.

    Whack! Pow! Twenty minutes later, you've got yourself a compote that's ready to mix into plain yogurt for a snack that's tastier than any grocery-store fruit-on-the-bottom blend you'll ever meet.

    A good compote is so simple, you hardly need a formal recipe, but I'm going to give you one anyway, because I had a kitchen inspiration I wanted to share.

    A while back J & I took tea at the sweet little Podunk teashop in the West Village. One of the things we remembered with greatest fondness was Ms. Espeth's strawberry jam, which was spiced with a peppery kick that hit in the back of the throat. A delight!


    As I lopped the tops off the strawberries last night (off with their heads!) I thought with fondness of that strawberry jam. So why not make a peppery strawberry compote?

    Herein, dear readers, is your ticket to that very confection. And, hurrah! you probably have just about everything but the strawberries already hanging around in your kitchen.

    Some strawberries are sweeter or more tart than others, so I usually start with less sugar and add in more, to taste, as I go. So feel free to mess with the sugar : acid : spice ratios. A compote is only perfect when you, the cook, say so.
    Kapow! Strawberry Compote (Makes about 1 cup)
    1 pint strawberries (trimmed of their tops & bruises)
    1/8-1/4 cup sugar
    2 Tbsp water
    1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
    1/4 tsp finely ground black pepper
    1/8 tsp ground mace or ground cardamom (optional)
    1 dash salt (optional)

    1. In a small-to-medium saucepan, combine the trimmed strawberries, sugar and water, and heat over medium flame.
    2. Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Don't let the mixture boil; It'll just froth up a storm and make a big, sticky mess on your stovetop.
    3. Turn down the heat, taste the mixture and stir in the lemon juice, spices and salt, if using. The compote will thicken and develop in flavor as it cools, so don't over-spice it at this point.
    4. Use warm, or chill it down and keep it for up to a week in the refrigerator.

    I love this compote with yogurt, but it's also superb on ice cream or used on biscuits or as a way to give strawberry shortcakes a little kick.


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  • 6.26.2008

    FoodLink Roundup: 06.16.08

    Cupcake's Link Roundup
    Happy Bloomsday! Last week, Cupcake was located in Chinatown, NYC, just south of Canal on Mott Street. (Another win for Mr. Hazard.) Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post a guess in the comments.

    US Tomato Industry in "Complete Collapse"
    Gosh, wouldn't it be great if we had accurate paper trails on our produce crops? Of course, I couldn't help notice the x-treme price-jump effect this news produced in the grape tomatoes at my local market... see here for the evidence at Flickr.

    Triple whammy
    As with many things mythical and natural, it seems that three is a magic number in the kitchen.

    Tasting the Grape, Among Other Things
    A conference to taste those wines that "you would not, of your own volition, spend an entire weekend drinking"

    Japan, Seeking Trim Waists, Measures Millions
    Can you imagine the uproar this would cause in the US?

    10 paths to painless pizza-making
    Smitten Kitchen does up a very liberating guide to the art of making pizza at home.

    Peak-Season Produce Map
    An excellent use of the internet. Thanks, Epicurious!

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    What's In The Box?

    What's in the Box?

    Oh, anticipation! I haven't felt so giddy since I was a kid at Christmastime. Several months ago, I signed up for my local Community Supported Agriculture group (that's a CSA to the regulars) and, swoon! the first delivery arrived last night.

    One of the things I love about CSAs is how closely it ties one to the local environs. Here's what was in the box this week:

  • Red Lettuce
  • Green Lettuce
  • Radishes
  • Arugula
  • Mesclun Lettuce
  • Baby Leeks
  • Asparagus
  • Strawberries
  • Rhubarb
  • Eggs
  • Flowers

    Now, since we've had a long, cool, damp spring (punctuated with a sudden heat wave last weekend), I can see and taste the weather trends in my produce. The lettuces — lovers of chilly days — are fantastic. On the other hand, the strawberries are big, but not as sweet or concentrated in flavor as they have been in other years.

    My little apartment doesn't have any space for a garden, so these agricultural details thrill me. Here's a few shots other shots from the pickup:

    Running a bit short on time this week (and stuffing my mouth full of juicy berries), but in future CSA box reports, I'll provide some recipes for usage. I've found that few people know what to do with, say, kohlrabi.


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  • 6.12.2008

    Recession-Proof Recipes: Savory Green Curry

    In a time of high food costs, people often look to cheaper proteins, but I think turkey is often overlooked because of its association with winter holiday meals.

    T-Day Turkey
    Not just for Thanksgiving anymore

    Turkey is a flavorful, inexpensive meat, and if you get a small bird (some stores even sell half-birds or breast roasts), you don't have to spend all day cooking it. Just wash it, dry it, give it a quick massage with some oil, salt and pepper, set the oven to 375°F, put the bird (or half-bird, or whatever) in a roasting pan, set the timer for 15 minutes per pound of meat and go find something else to do for a while.

    The cooked meat is great everywhere you'd normally use chicken. Use it for turkey salad sandwiches. Put it in chili. Make yourself a Turkey Pot Pie.

    Or take it to the Far East and toss your turkey meat into a green curry. I haven't dined on the local birds thereabouts, but I'd be willing to bet that turkey's gamier flavor probably tastes more like Thailand's native poultry than the standard American chicken does.

    Obviously a handful fresh Kafir lime leaves would be great in this paste (just nix the lime juice if you're going that route), but I'm not putting them in the recipe because they're not terribly easy for a lot of people to find. If you can't find the lemongrass either, go ahead and skip that, too. Fish sauce is usually available in Chinese markets. Feel free to sub in baked or fresh tofu and go all vegetarian on this if that's how you want to play it.
    Savory Green Curry (Serves 4)
    For the Paste
    5 green chilies or jalapeños (or less, to taste)
    1 medium white onion, quartered
    2 garlic cloves
    1" piece ginger root, peeled
    1-2 lemongrass bulbs (white section of the stalk), chopped
    1 Tbsp ground coriander
    1 Tbsp ground cumin
    1/2 tsp ground black pepper
    1 Tbsp fish sauce or dried shrimp paste (optional)
    1 cup fresh basil (preferably Thai basil)
    1 cup fresh cilantro
    4 limes, zested and juiced
    1/2 cup water
    Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

    For the Curry
    1 medium white onion, halved and sliced
    1 green bell pepper, cut into 1" squares (or substitute 1 cup diced eggplant)
    1 Tbsp oil
    1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
    1 13 oz can unsweetened coconut milk
    1 1/2 cups cooked turkey, cut into cubes (or cubed tofu)

    Additional mint and cilantro (to garnish)
    Lime wedges (to garnish)
    Steamed rice or noodles (for serving)

    1. In a blender or food processor, puree chilies, onion, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, cumin, coriander, black pepper, fish sauce, basil, cilantro and lime zest and juice. As you blend, add in enough water to make a smooth paste. Season to taste with salt and ground pepper.

    2. Place a heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat and warm the oil to the pan. Add in the onion and green pepper pieces (or eggplant), cooking 15 minutes to soften.

    3. Add the green curry paste to the vegetables in the pan and allow it to cook for 10 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking.

    4. Stir in the broth, the coconut milk and the cooked turkey or tofu cubes. Blend well and bring the mixture to a simmer. Season to taste. The mixture should taste bright and herbaceous. If it seems a bit too sour, add a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar to balance it out.

    5. Garnish with additional cilantro, mint leaves and lime wedges (if desired) and serve with steamed rice or noodles.

    Bon appétit!

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    Ramps, glorious ramps!

    'Round these parts, you've got to get up pretty early to get your hands on ramps. Even then, you'll be going elbow-to-elbow with the chefs, sous-chefs and epicureans who understand just how short is the season, how tasty is the plant and how brief is our dance with this coy forest onion.

    The number-one question among the vegetable groupies hanging around the ramp bins is, of course, "What do I do with them? How do I cook them?"

    Ramps... Oh yes, ramps

    The short answer: Cook them simply and with respect.

    The longer answer: Consider the ramp to be two vegetables in one. It's like a green onion. The top and bottom fare better when their destinies diverge.

    The ramp's leafy tops are perfectly happy to be sautéed with a little olive oil (or bacon fat, if you're nasty) in a hot pan. They take about sixty seconds to cook, and it's fun to watch as the leaves inflate like tiny jade balloons in the skillet.

    Keep in mind that they cook down to practically nothing, so you'll need about one bunch to serve two people.

    Sautéed ramps are ace alongside meats (particularly bison, venison and gamier meats), in omelettes, with fried eggs and bacon in the morning, or as a stuffing with mushrooms for dumplings, chicken or fish.

    Ramps for brekkie

    The stems and bottoms will want to be washed, trimmed of roots and stripped of the thin, protective layer hanging loosely around the bulbs.

    Chop them into thin rings and use as you would use shallots, or, better yet: make pickles.

    One of my bosses recently got into refrigerator pickling, and now he's nuts for it. Why? It's easy, it's cheap, it's satisfying and it feels like a creative act. You're playing with your food again.

    Ramps await their pickling

    The only downside to the fridge pickling method might be space limitations. The best thing is that you don't have to sterilize jars, create water baths to seal lids or take special care in handling hot equipment. Just load up jars with raw materials. Bring your pickling brine to a boil, and pour the brine into the prepared jars. Chill down and store in your fridge for a few days. Boom: pickles.

    Last year I went ramp crazy and bought a dozen bunches. We ate sautéed ramps for two weeks, and I pickled the lot in an enormous jar using a simplified version of my old chef's ramp pickling recipe.

    If you happen to make Indian food, you'll probably have all these spices sitting around in your pantry. If not, you can skip the spices you don't have; you'll just get less punch in the final product.

    Divine Brine for Pickled Ramps, Scallions or Onions (based on a recipe by Chef Floyd Cardoz of Tabla)

    1 cup sugar
    2 cups white wine vinegar
    1 tsp mustard seeds
    1 tsp fennel seeds
    2 tsp coriander seeds
    1/4 tsp fenugreek
    2 small dried red chilies
    3 whole cloves
    1/2 lb ramp bulbs, scallion bulbs or onions (sliced into 1/2-inch rounds)

    1. Mix sugar, vinegar, mustard, fennel, coriander, fenugreek, chilies and cloves in a suitably sized saucepot and bring to a boil.

    2. Make sure bulbs or onion slices are trimmed and very clean. Place them in a clean glass jar with enough room so they can swim a bit.

    3. Carefully pour the boiling brine over the ramps, scallions or onions. Cap the jar, chill and refrigerate.

    4. After three days, your ramps will be pickled and ready for eating or using in recipes, but you can brine them for longer, and they'll keep (chilled) for months.

    My three favorite things to do with pickled ramps:
    1. Chop and toss into a basic egg (or chicken) salad. Awesome.
    2. Chop and layer onto a hamburger, cheeseburger or just about any savory sandwich.
    3. Chop and use with some of the brine to make a vinaigrette (especially over grilled or sautéed asparagus!)

    Bon appétit!

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    Recession-Proof Recipes: Veggie-Fried Rice

    Last week, Recession-Proof Recipes discussed the satisfying (but cheap) crépe complete. This week, let's consider the lowly extender.

    When I say "extender," I mean: an inexpensive ingredient that stretches out the use of other, more expensive ingredients.

    Potatoes, pastas, rice, cassava and cabbage are some of the world's most popular extenders.

    With a good amount of filler on hand, a meal can be made with very little meat (or none at all). Spanish paella. French gratin. Cuban black beans and rice. Indian curries. Irish cabbage and potatoes. Ukrainian cabbage soup. Have a glance at any of the world's poverty cuisines, and you'll quickly find extensive, creative uses of the locally available extenders.

    Sometimes the use of extenders results in unique and beloved foods that are consumed even after the economic situation improves. Ground chickory root, for example, was once added to coffee as a filler ingredient, but chickory coffee later became a classic Louisiana beverage in its own right. Mmm... beignets and chickory coffee...

    Likewise, thrifty Japanese long ago used toasted rice to extend their green tea supply. Genmaicha was the roasty-flavored result. It's actually one of my favorite teas.

    As it's composed almost entirely of an inexpensive extender, the classic vegetable fried rice is dead cheap... not to mention extremely simple to pull off. And it's a great use of leftovers.

    If you really can't stand the thought of a meal without meat, add some cubed ham. If you want to get all fancy, toss in some sliced mushrooms or bean sprouts or minced ginger or diced tofu.

    Veggie Fried Rice (Serves 2)
    2 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided in two portions
    2 eggs, beaten
    3 cups leftover rice
    1 clove garlic, minced
    4 scallions, thinly sliced
    1 cup frozen peas (or peas & carrots)
    1/2 tsp soy sauce, tamari or shoyu
    freshly ground black or white pepper, to taste

    1. Heat half the oil over moderately high heat in a wok or a large skillet. Before the oil starts smoking, add the eggs and cook briefly, until soft but beginning to set up. Transfer to a plate.
    2. Heat remaining tablespoon oil in wok, then add garlic. Cook for one minute before adding the rice, soy sauce and pepper. Stir-fry until hot and beginning to crisp, about 3-5 minutes.
    3. Add scallions and peas and stir-fry briefly.
    4. Stir in the egg and warm through.
    5. Serve immediately.


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    In some book somewhere, Julia Child has a fantastic quote about cassoulet. I can't locate it at the moment, but it's something about cassoulet being a food ideally suited for a lumberjack. In Manitoba. In January.

    Like I said, it's awesome. And it's hidden deep inside some text that apparently isn't part of Project Gutenberg.

    In the readily indexed Larousse Gastronomique, we find that cassoulet is "A dish, originally from Languedoc, which consists of haricot (navy) beans cooked in a stewpot with pork rinds and seasonings." Simple as that.

    But then they go into a discussion of longstanding ingredient disagreements and cassoulet rivalries in a variety of provencal French towns. The cassoulet section also includes recipes that insist pretty strongly that cassoulet must contain such-and-such a thing or must be made such-and-such a way.

    I've seen the dish served at high prices in plenty of fancy restaurants, but here's the thing: at its core, cassoulet simply just what Julia and Larousse initially said. It's a beautiful, economical peasant food.

    The finished cassoulet: ducky, porky, bean-y and tasty

    Now, if you've ever made a cassoulet, you might balk at my use of the word "economical," above, but in truth, the French farmhouse wives that created the first cassoulets weren't going for haute cuisine... they were using up what was stored around the farm.

    They kept ducks, and preserving the duck legs in a fat just happens to be pretty practical for those wondering what to do with a bunch of duck legs. They had cured bacon at hand. They had pork sausages, which were a frugal way of using up random pig bits. They had dried beans in the larder and root vegetables stocked in the root cellar. All the things that went into a cassoulet recipe were part of their everyday lives.

    clove-studded onion
    A clove-studded onion gives this dish a hint of the exotic.

    Most cassoulet recipes are going to ask you to start with dry beans, soak them, simmer them with spices, etc. etc.

    Now, I've made cassoulet from the bottom up, preparing the sausages myself, making the duck confit from scratch, soaking and simmering the beans... the whole nine yards. I'm here to tell you that yes, you can do all that, but that means you'll only have the time and energy to make cassoulet once (or maybe twice) in your lifetime, and that'd be a darn shame. Because it's really, really tasty.

    If you make cassoulet the lazy way, you're more likely to make it a bit more often, and regardless of what Larousse might say, the end result of the lazy method is not so different from the "took me three weeks to do everything myself" method.

    For most of us here in the States, duck confit is a bit challenging to come by, but if you happen to live in a large city (or in close proximity to a duck farm) you may, like me, have some on hand. I get mine from FrescoDirecto, where you can find them in the deli Tongue & More area (a title that always makes me giggle).

    No duck legs? No problem. Skip the confit and make your cassoulet with beans, sausages and bacon. You could probably even get away with veg stock, veggie bacon and veggie sausage to make it vegan. Whatever. It's all good. Just make it soon. This is food best suited for chilly stay-inside evenings, and those cool nights will soon give way to sweltering summer.

    cassoulet in progress
    I used two clove-studded onions. They were small.
    Cassoulazy (Serves 6-8)
    1 medium-sized onion, peeled
    8 whole cloves
    1 1/2 cups good stock (chicken, duck or vegetable)
    1-2 bay leaves
    3 carrots, washed and sliced in 1" segments
    3 cloves garlic, peeled
    4 strips thick-cut bacon, sliced in half
    1 pound garlicky pork sausages (I use sweet Italian sausages if I can find 'em)
    A little bundle of fresh herbs, if you have 'em*
    3 duck legs, confit (if you can locate duck confit, if not, skip 'em)
    3 14oz cans navy beans (or cannellini beans), drained & rinsed
    1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
    Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

    For the crusty top (if desired)
    2 cups breadcrumbs
    3 Tbsp olive oil
    1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

    1. Heat oven to 325° F.
    2. Poke the cloves into the flesh of the onion. Place the onion in an ovenproof heavy-bottomed pot or a Dutch oven.
    3. Pour the stock into the pan and add the bay leaves, carrots, garlic, bacon pieces, pork sausages and the bundle of herbs (if using).
    4. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and allow to simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
    5. Add duck legs (if using), beans and tomatoes to the pot. Grind black pepper over the mixture. (Do not add salt. The cured meats will make this dish plenty salty.)
    6. Cover the Dutch oven or stockpot, carefully place in the center of the oven and let the mixture cook for 1 1/2 hours. When done, carefully remove the pot from the oven and pluck out the bay leaves, herbs and leg bones (the meat should fall away easily).
    7. If you'd like a crispy top crust, combine the breadcrumbs with the parsley and olive oil and sprinkle this mixture atop the hot cassoulet at the end of the cooking process. Turn the oven up to about 400° F and bake the cassoulet, uncovered, for an additional 10-15 minutes to brown the breadcrumbs.
    8. Serve hot with a crisp green salad and a nice lager, an ale or a rich red wine with moderate tannins.

    *This is sometimes referred to as a bouquet garni. Parsley stems tied with a sprig each of rosemary, sage and thyme are nice. Enclose the herbs between two celery stalks, if you're so inclined.

    This dish makes very tasty leftovers for lunch, so don't be afraid to make a batch that's far larger than you need.

    Bon appétit!

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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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    Recession-Proof Recipes for Downmarket Days

    I probably don't need to tell you that the US economy has been looking bleak for a while. You've probably noticed that much for yourself.

    Even if they're not yet ready to call it an o-fish-al recession*, those of us who read the paper or listen to the news occasionally know better. We have some hunch that these days won't be remembered in future history books as "The Roaring Oughts."

    While a little kitchen economy is always a great idea for your personal bottom line, this nation's recent period of economic growth and development may have left your sense of thrift in some forgotten corner of the pantry. Maybe it's hanging out back there alongside a can of butter beans and some dusty jar of unlabeled jam.

    Or maybe you've just never had the need to be frugal, you lucky soul!

    Whatever the case, a recession, er... make that economic downturn is the perfect time to dust off (or brush up on) some kitchen conservation cred.

    One caveat first: I'll not discuss a diet consisting of Top Ramen, Hamburger Helper or store-brand Cheerios here. You can find that stuff on your own (though I'm not sure why you'd want to...) These tips speak to real dining and real food (with actual nutritional value) on the cheap.

    baked apple

    Thrifty Tip #1: Roasting makes just about anything taste decadent.

    Ever baked an apple? Steaming, tender, candy-like... It's always hard for me to believe that it's the same fruit as a raw apple. Something magic happens in that oven.

    Sure, you can core an apple and stuff it with nuts, butter, sugar and rolled oats beforehand. You can maybe sprinkle on some cinnamon, but all that's totally unnecessary. Just a plain old peeled and cored apple baked in the oven for a half-hour or so is strangely heavenly.

    Serve warm with a drizzle of cream or sour cream or plain yogurt and a baked apple is positive bliss. Simple, delightful and dead cheap.

    And just about everyone knows about the wonder of oven-fried potatoes, but it might not have occurred to you that the same roasting magic works with all kinds of vegetables.

    Ho-hum cauliflower is suddenly heavenly after a little time on the roasting tray. Just chop down a head into florets of similar size, toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and roast until the cauliflower is tender and has a little brown on the tips (about 30-40 minutes at 350°F). Toss the florets around on the pan about half-way through cooking to ensure they roast evenly.

    One of my favorite inexpensive (yet decadent!) meals is the classic Roasted Vegetable Salad. Roasting concentrates the flavor to make the veggies rich and satisfying.

    It takes a little time to get the roasting done, but that's mostly the passive variety of "find something else to do" time while you wait for the oven buzzer to sound.

    Extra bonuses: the bounty of root veg gives it good fiber and nutrient value, you can play around with a wide variety of vegetables in the dish and you can adjust the end product to suit meat eaters or vegheads, as needed.

    Feel free to use whatever firm vegetables you happen to find on special at your favorite market. Try (similar-sized) cubes of hard squash (butternut, acorn, delicata), sliced fennel, zucchini, broccoli florets, potato cubes, roasted asparagus, celery root... I've even used roasted radishes.

    Just keep in mind that the slices or cubes of each vegetable to be roasted should be of similar size. Different vegetables also roast at different rates, if you're not sure about how fast a particular vegetable will roast, keep it segregated from the rest so you can easily remove it when it's tender.

    Roasted Vegetable Salad (Serves 2)
    2 medium-size carrots, peeled & cut into 1" pieces
    2 medium-size parsnips, peeled & cut into 1" pieces
    3 to 5 small beets, peeled & quartered
    1 large onion, cut in 1" wedges (or 4-5 shallots, halved)
    1 to 2 large portabello mushrooms (sliced into 1/2" strips)
    About 3 Tbsp olive oil
    Salt and black pepper, to taste
    1/2 head green leaf lettuce (torn into bite-sized pieces, washed & spun dry)
    1/3 cup dressing of your choice (I favor a vinaigrette or a sun-dried tomato dressing)

    3 to 4 slices thick-cut bacon or pancetta; diced, cooked & drained (optional)
    1 oz fresh Parmesan, feta or goat cheese, crumbled (optional)

    Preheat oven to 400°. Toss carrot, parsnip and beet pieces in a large bowl with 1.5 tablespoons olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

    Separately toss onion wedges and portobello slices in the remaining 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

    Since the more dense root vegetables will need to cook longer, spread them across a baking tray and roast them separately from the faster-cooking onion and mushroom pieces (which you should spread evenly across another tray). Place both trays in the oven and roast for 15 minutes.

    After 15 minutes, stir tray contents to help them cook evenly and return to the oven for another 15 minutes. At this point, the mushrooms and onions should look shrunken and lightly browned. Remove them from the oven and stir the root vegetables again. Remove the roots from the oven when they're fork-tender.

    Cool roasted vegetables on the trays for 10 minutes before tossing them together with the torn lettuce, the dressing of your choice and the cooked, diced bacon (if using). Divide salad between two plates and top with cheese (if using).

    Roasted vegetables are also wonderful served over penne, baked into a quiche or just served as a side dish on their own.

    Look for another Recession-Proof Recipe next week!


    * Such terrifying terminology is reserved for declines that persist for two or more consecutive quarters. Translate that as "eight or more dreadful months" if you're more into dividing your year via the Gregorian calendar.

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    FoodLink Roundup: 03.24.08

    Link Roundup
    Last week, Cupcake was romping in Barcelona, España (Yes, Mr. Hazard, you were right on with Spain!) Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Think you know? Post it in the comments.

    The Fat Pack Wonders if the Party’s Over
    Fellow NYC food blogger Jason Perlow gets diabetes, drops off the pounds and challenges the culture of excess embodied by some food media heavies.

    The Myth of Food Miles
    A backlash against the UK locavore movement. "The concept of food miles is unhelpful and stupid. It doesn't inform about anything except the distance travelled..."

    Putting Dunkin' Donuts Coffee to the Test
    I'd always suspected it was a viral marketing scheme (or perhaps an alien brain wave device?) that managed to convince a nation of Dunkin' Donuts coffee superiority.

    The Turnip That Stirred Panic
    “I’m now on constant alert against this and other rooted vegetables,” GiaQuinta said. Hilarious.

    Leaving Behind the Trucker Hat
    It's like a headline from The Onion: American Youth Flee Hip Urban 'Hoods for Country Backwaters.

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    The Million Method March

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

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

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

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

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

    Moroccan Stew with Chicken

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

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

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

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

    Moroccan Stew for a Cold Winter's Night

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

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

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

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

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    A Potlucky New Year

    I was always told that potlucks were named as such because you were lucky if everyone brought a pot of something to share.

    Our department hosted a potluck to kick off the start of the Lunar New Year today, and I'm now wondering if the really lucky part of a potluck is actually less about having enough to eat and more about the discovery of new dishes.

    The Golden Carp oversees our Lunar New Year potluck

    Foodwise, we got pretty lucky. Ryn brought pork and sautéed pea shoots. Kate made a tasty cold peanut noodle salad, I brought dumplings and a candy-filled golden carp from Kam Man on Canal Street, Alvin brought custards and pork buns from an apparentmob-scene New Year crowd in the Flushing outlet of the Tai Pan Bakery. Kristin picked up some tasty green tea ice cream. And Tomi made a delightful tofu-ginger dish and a very tasty salad of chewy, crunchy, spicy burdock root... a veggie I'd never really used before.

    We cranked up the traditional Chinese music for ambiance (thank you, internet!) and compared the various virtues of our signs in the Chinese Zodiac. Despite a dumpling mishap, a good time was had by all.

    I think our potluck did, in fact, make us feel lucky. We were lucky to enjoy the company of our coworkers. We were lucky to have food before us. And I know I felt very lucky when Tomi said she'd share her burdock root salad recipe.

    Gobi (Burdock Root) Salad

    After lunch we got email from Ms. T:
    I’ll try to approximate amounts as best I can... but this was always a ‘stand next to mom at the stove and watch’ kind of thing. I know she has a Japanese-American church bazaar cookbook with a recipe... and those amounts never seemed like enough to me.

    I went online and found: In addition to its healing qualities, burdock is a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, folacin and fiber.

    Having not had mama's salad or the church bazaar version, I can say we were all huge fans of Tomi's amped-up gobi salad.

    And lucky for all involved, Ms. Tomi was kind enough to offer up not only her salad recipe, but also an accompanying poem from Ms. Shirley Kishiyama, her mum, which was published in American Tanka magazine, spring, 1999:

    burdock root darkens

    my fingers as I cut small sticks

    bitter taste from my youth

    I long for the taste of earth

    I long for the crunch, crunch, crunch

    Even if you've never had burdock and won't recall the taste from your youth or the crunch, crunch, crunch in your mind's memory, after trying this salad, I think you'll empathize (as I now do) with the longing. I think burdock is just one of those vegetables that encourages one to reminisce.

    After you're through chopping up the burdock root, this salad looks simple enough to make. You could certainly turn down the heat if you're not a fan of spice.

    I suspect the only tricky part for most people will likely be tracking down burdock root. You could probably use a root like celeriac as a substitute. Carrot would offer a slightly sweeter end result.

    Tomi's Spicy Kimpira Gobo (or Kinpira Gobo)

    3 stalks burdock (gobo) root, each about 2 1/2-feet long, cut into 2-inch long matchsticks. (I buy my gobo at Dynasty Supermarket @ the corner of Elizabeth and Hester.)

    2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
    1 1/2-2 tablespoons granulated sugar
    1 to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
    1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
    2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons shoyu (soy sauce)
    1 cup coriander (cilantro) leaves, rinsed and dried
    Large bowl of cold water
    Large sauté pan

    Working one half of a root at a time:

    • Peel burdock root.. there will be natural brown spots on the white flesh, but it's all gravy.

    • Cut the root into 2-inch lengths.

    • Cut each 2-inch section lengthwise into 4 slices.

    • Cut slices lengthwise into 3 to 4 matchstick-sized pieces.

    • Promptly put matchsticks in bowl of water to keep from browning — some browning will occur, but not to worry!

    • I like to give the gobo a second spin in some new cold water at this point, just to knock off any residual dirt.

    • Drain gobo in colander right before cooking.

    1. In a large pan heat oil over medium-high heat until very hot.
    2. Add gobo to oil and sauté.
    3. As gobo is just beginning to turn translucent, add sugar and toss to coat. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring regularly so you don’t burn the sugar but get a nice caramelization goin’ on.
    4. Add shoyu, toss to coat and cook until most of the shoyu has been cooked into the gobo or evaporated — approximately 5 minutes.
    5. Add cayenne and crushed red pepper. Toss to coat and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Taste to adjust seasonings.
    6. When all is said and done, you should see a nice, shiny, dark brown gloss on the gobo.
    7. Let cool completely before adding coriander leaves. Serve at room temp or cold.

    Gung hei fat choi!
    Miss Ginsu

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    The Seeds of Hope Within Dank January

    Ever circle a toy in a catalog with a marker and imagine your future self loving and enjoying it? I imagine a lot of kids have done something like that. Of course, these days they probably just make Amazon wishlists or send out URLs of their favorite things prior to the holidays.

    Here I'll file for the "weird kid on the block" title once again. For most of my life, the end of January has always created great anticipation of the season of seed catalogs.

    Marker in hand, I'd circle pages and pages of tomato seeds, lettuce seeds, peapod packs, squashes, sunflowers and mystery flower envelopes. I'd puzzle over whether bicolor, yellow or Indian corn would look better growing up along our garage wall. I'd ponder their packs of live ladybugs and mantises. I'd grid the garden and feed the compost pit with starry-eyed anticipation.

    I wonder now if seeds helped those ancient generations of pioneers survive cold northern winters prior to the age of reliable heat, merino wool and internet access. I imagine them looking at their seeds, dreaming about their summer gardens and filling up with hope, even during long months passed with nothing more than grandma's root vegetables and one unending game of gin rummy.

    I know some of my darkest, dankest, most hopeless days of winter were annually made colorful and vivacious with pages of plantable potential. After all, hope is really what seed catalogs are all about.

    Tragically, my Brooklyn apartment does not come equipped with a garden, and my Januaries tick-tick-tick along without those life-restoring seed catalogs.

    CSA lettuces
    Beginning of the CSA summer season

    But lo! There's still joyful options for sad, cold city dwellers lacking access to both personal and community gardens. For me, hope arrives now in the form of my CSA, which I'm happy to report, I signed up for this very evening.

    For any who don't know, a CSA is a community supported agriculture group, which essentially works like buying stock in a farm at the beginning of the growing season. CSA members (the investors) pony up some cash and determine their terms. The farmers return dividends over the course of the season in veggies and also sometimes (if the farmer/s have relationships with other nearby farms) fruit, farm-fresh eggs or meat and flowers.

    Like the stock market, the vegetable market is variable and returns are not guaranteed. Sometimes there's nothing but lettuce. Sometimes the lettuce gets washed away and it's all kale and kohlrabi. It helps to have a good attitude about adventurous eating before joining a CSA.

    Different CSAs are run differently, of course, but as half-share member of the amazingly well-organized Greenpoint-Williamsburg CSA for this season, I'll pick up my goodies once every other week from mid-June through mid-November at the appointed location and I'll volunteer for a distribution shift at some point during the season.

    There's also the option of going on a field trip to the farm that's supplying my veggies, and there's apparently some other social occasions (Kohlrabi fest?) during the year.

    Close of the CSA summer season

    No, I won't be paging through seed catalogs this year, and I won't be plotting out my garden patch. I won't be puzzling over how to keep my beneficial insects from flying over into the neighbor's garden instead of eating the fat little aphids in my garden.

    Chris and Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht will be doing all that. But I'm still supporting a sustainable, certified organic business and enjoying very competitively priced local fruit and veggies picked fresh off the farm. I'll pick up 12 nifty shipments filled up with color and flavor and life. And actually, I get nearly the same happy tingle of late-January hope just thinking about that.

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    Goal 6: Unlock the Salad Code

    My boss loves it when I make salads for our department lunches. He's not really into vegetables (he usually claims his favorite veggie is either the potato or the onion), so it's kind of a nice compliment when he takes a big portion of salad.

    I find it disturbing, however that he believes there's some kind of magic behind making a good salad. Shouldn't a set of basic salad skills be one of the rights and responsibilities befitting a modern citizen? (Just behind the our rights to participatory government and free speech, of course.)

    Salads shouldn't be relegated to the corner as "virtuous" food alongside culinary misfits like alfalfa sprouts, rutabaga and wheat germ.

    Though they invariably contain heaps of healthful vegetables, salads are often quite fatty. In my book, salads really have more in common with the food of jubilation than the food of deprivation.

    Granted, while I worked in a garde manger position, I did spend nine months of my life doing little more than making salads at high speed. One could say I have a certain expertise in the area.

    The thing is, most people have been buffaloed into believing salads are not only virtuous but maybe even difficult.

    I'm here to tell you it's not true, and I'll prove it with an infographic. Whee!

    I've broken down some popular salads based on their major components. You'll note that the pattern is pretty easy to follow...
      1. Take a bowl of the lettuce of your choice.
      2. Sprinkle on a sweetly savory component, such as roasted red peppers or cherry tomatoes.
      3. Chop up an herbaceous component.
      4. Add crumbled/diced cheese or boiled egg.
      5. If you wish, add cooked beans or a diced protein.
      6. Dress with a harmonious vinaigrette.
      7. Toss and serve.

    Salad Chart

    Just remember... every salad you make is an opportunity for a party on your plate.

    Miss any of the previous resolutions? You'll find #1, #2, #3, #4 & #5 linked here.

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    Goal 5: Eat In Season

    January is a grim season for locavores. I try to eat locally whenever I can, but there's no way I'm going to pass up a juicy Pomelo in January or a sweet box of clementines in December. Thankfully, citrus is in season during the winter months, even if it does have a lengthy sojourn on the way here.

    If you live on on the West Coast, you have a few more options. Om Organics has a nice chart of what's growing when in the Bay Area.

    For those of us out here in the East, things are pretty sparse at the farmers markets. What should you be eating now? Broccoli. Cauliflower. Root Vegetables. Pumpkins. Citrus fruits and all manner of hearty greens.

    Eating peak-season produce is a great food resolution because it's cheaper, it's more nutritious and when you buy locally, you support your farming neighbors. And that's just plain old good karma.

    I've made up a chart here to keep those of us in the Northeast region on track throughout the year. (Anything that's not grown locally is indicated with an asterisk.)

    Apples to Cabbages
    Apples through Cabbages

    Carrots to Grapefruit
    Carrots through Grapefruit

    Green Garlic to Sweet Onions
    Green Garlic through Sweet Onions

    Blood Oranges to Wild Ramps
    Blood Oranges through Wild Ramps

    Raspberries to Turnips
    Raspberries through Turnips

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    Goal 3: Create Convenience

    The problem with convenience food is that convenience is its only attribute. It's there. It's available. It's shelf-stable.

    Sheetz Market, PA

    On the other hand, list of what convenience food is not goes on and on. It's not fresh, not nutritious, not vibrant, not wholesome, not flavorful, not sustainable, not natural...

    When we strive to offer ourselves the gift of a better, tastier, fresher, more healthful diet, we need to plan ahead to make the magic happen.

    Fruit & Cheese

    Sometimes life gives you a beautiful fruit stand. Far more often, the modern world will offer up its shelf-stable candy aisles and its fast food chains. The convenience is there, but you pay for that convenience with your health and your hard-earned dollars.

    If you can plan ahead, you'll create convenience on your own terms.

    1. Make sure you know where your next meal is coming from.

    Most people need three (or more) meals a day. Make sure you know how that's going to happen. Buy groceries with several meal plans in mind. Cook on Sunday and put soups and casseroles in the freezer. Pack lunches or look up in advance the local options for places that will feed you healthful foods. Don't leave your good intentions for nutritious, delicious meals in the hands of fate. She'll turn around and hand you a Ho-Ho.

    2. Pack food.

    You've packed your ipod, your sunglasses, your book and your sweater. What about snacks? Pack a water bottle. Pack an apple. Pack a banana. Pack a sandwich. Pack a bento box. Pack a hard-boiled egg in a plastic bag with a paper towel. When it comes to traveling (whether that's across town or across the country) it pays to be a little paranoid.

    3. Don't leave hungry.

    That party that's supposed to offer food? The appointment that's supposed to be a lunch meeting? Don't believe the hype. You never know what the future holds, so don't go anywhere with a ravenous hunger. You'll end up eating whatever's put in front of you, and because you're desperate, you'll probably eat far more of it than you normally would have. Life is uncertain, so make sure you at least eat a handful of nuts or an apple before leaving the house.

    4. Make fresh food convenient.

    We all have moments when our inner caveman takes over, and we stumble through the kitchen in search of something... anything... to eat. That's a particularly vulnerable state to be in.

    When you stock the house with easy, healthy snacks, you offer a gift to your hungry caveman. Make sure you always have healthful supplies on hand. Think fresh fruit, snack-sized vegetables, dried fruit and nuts, juices, yogurt, cottage cheese, granola, etc. Conversely, make convenience foods inconvenient. Keep them away from your home, your office and your car. They're just not allowed.

    A box of crackers will sit, inert, on a shelf for years. A banana goes brown and spotty after a week or less.

    So yes, eating fresh, nutritious foods takes some effort on a regular basis. But planning ahead for healthful meals and snacks means convenience foods... actually become a little less convenient.

    Miss out on previous days? Read Goal 1 and Goal 2.

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    Goal 2: Eat like Mr. Miyagi

    The good people of Okinawa, Japan, are known for more than mind-blowing karate. Okinawans are also some of the longest-lived people on the planet, and are reported to have the largest population of centenarians in the world.

    Of course, our modern era being what it is, that fact that has subsequently spurred the so-called Okinawa Diet, a reduced-calorie plan that's based, for the most part, around veggies and fish. (Gee whiz, Wally... doesn't that sound like the Mediterranean Diet? Maybe veggies and fish really are good for you...)

    There's been some interesting research lately into calorie-restricted diets and their effect on longevity. At least in smaller life forms, a calorie-restricted diet really does appear to translate to a slightly longer life.

    Although I don't think I could fully enact that notion (I enjoy hot chocolate and French pastries far too much), consuming a diet full of vegetables and fishes seems like it's just plain old good advice.

    That said, I think the best take-away from the Okinawa plan is their very savvy skills in portion control.

    We live in a land of plenty. More than plenty, really, so it's not surprising that most people in this culture have no idea how much they should actually eat at any given meal.

    That lack of skill in deciding what a portion should be is precisely why our nation's nutritionists try to give us visual cues. A portion of banana is half the banana. A portion of meat looks like a hockey puck, not a frisbee. A portion of nuts is a small handful, not a bag. A portion of Ben & Jerry's does not look like a pint container. Your dinner should not look like a plate loaded to the rim at the Old Country Buffet...

    Bento Box
    Sensei says... give those gyoza away and leave the rice behind.

    The Okinawa portion control rule is easy to remember and easy to execute. Just remember 80%.

    Step 1: Eat until you're 80% full.
    Step 2: Stop eating.

    Simple, right?

    Now, an enterprising soul could probably go publish an "Everything I need to know about my health I learned from Mr. Miyagi" tome, because there's a lot of solid principles in the Okinawa plan (Enjoy your food, eat vast quantities of vegetables, be a kick-ass mentor, paint the house, wash the car, etc.), but personally, I'm seeking a few small, achievable steps.

    Being a karate master takes a lifetime, but being good at 80% is something that can be achieved at any given meal.

    This post marks the second of Seven Food Resolutions. Miss out on Goal 1? Find it here.

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    Food Quote Friday: Col. Robert Johnson


    "The time will come when this luscious golden tomato, rich in nutrition, a delight to the eye, a joy to the palate whether fried, baked, broiled or even eaten raw will form the foundation of a great garden industry."

    - Col. Robert Johnson

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    Food Quote Friday: French Peasant in Love

    A postcard sent by a peasant from the Vendée to his fiancée

    "You're so fresh and lovely the only thing I can compare you to is fields of young cabbages before the caterpillars have got to them."

    from Graham Robb's The Discovery of France

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    Food Quote Friday: Pablo Neruda

    Tomatoes in the Barcelona Boqueria

    "the tomato offers
    its gift
    of fiery color
    and cool completeness."

    Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) "Ode to Tomatoes"

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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: Ulysses S. Grant

    shallot gone wild

    "I will not move my army without onions."

    - Ulysses S. Grant (1822 -1885)

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    Food Quote Friday: Ralph Waldo Emerson

    "The greatest delight the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me and I to them."

    Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

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    Food Quote Friday: Bill Buford

    perhaps a wheat?

    "A white truffle, which elsewhere might sell for hundreds of dollars, seemed easier to come by than something fresh and green. What could be got from the woods was free and amounted to a diurnal dining diary that everyone kept in their heads. May was wild asparagus, arugula, and artichokes. June was wild lettuce and stinging nettles. July was cherries and wild strawberries. August was forest berries. September was porcini."

    -Bill Buford in Heat

    Pile your basket with wild food quotes here.

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    Food Quote Friday: Sydney Smith

    Shallot gone wild from missginsu at flickr

    "Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl and, half-suspected, animate the whole."

    - Sydney Smith, (1771-1845) from "Recipe for a Salad"

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    Food Quote Friday: François Rabelais

    Family of FSA client shredding cabbage
    Family of FSA client shredding cabbage, from the peerless NYPL Digital Gallery

    "Oh thrice and four times happy... those who plant cabbages."

    François Rabelais

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    Food Quote Friday: John Tyler Petee

    Roast potato vendor and his movable oven on an east side street from the NYPL Digital Gallery

    “Pray for peace and grace and spiritual food,
    For wisdom and guidance, for all these are good,
    but don't forget the potatoes.”

    — John Tyler Pettee in "Prayer and Potatoes"

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    The Hedonista Hundred, Part V: 21-25

    Pushing onward in the quest to uncover and document 100 wonderful and tasty things...

    If you've missed prior twenty, you'll find 'em at the archive page.

    Ollie's Noodle Shop
    Takeout from Ollie's Noodle Shop on a flat-top rock in Central Park.

    21. Picnic food. Even if it's only a loaf of bread and a chunk of cheese. Even if you don't have a blanket. Even if you didn't make it yourself. There's just something twice as grand about eating outside under the sky.

    roadside farm
    Next exit: Ripe stonefruit, berry baskets and fresh zucchini (3 for $1).

    22. Roadside produce stands. Likewise, fresh sweet corn out of the back of a pickup truckbed. Sweet. Juicy. Awesome. Extra bonus: farm stands offer unique discoveries... which is kind of the philosophical opposite of the cookie-cutter, gas-n-go, drive-thru, "back on the highway in ten minutes flat" experience one finds along the New Jersey Turnpike.

    Canned goods at the Hong Kong Mall, Queens
    Canned goods at the Hong Kong Mall in Queens, NY

    23. Local grocery stores. Think the museums and monuments tell the whole story? Not likely. Stop into local food shops around the world to gawk at the cool packaging and variety. See how the natives stock their pantries. You don't really know a place until you know how its people eat.

    My CSA
    Williamsburg CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) pick-up day

    24. Community-Supported Agriculture Groups and farmers' markets. Give the money to the farmer. Get vegetables, fruit, eggs and flowers. It's fresh. It's direct. It's local. It's environmentally friendly. What's not to like?

    Podunk in the East Village
    The afternoon cream tea with scones and berries at Podunk

    25. Teatime. I don't have a lot of love for their bangers and mash, but the Brits were really on to something with the afternoon tea. Civility, serenity, caffeine and lush snackies. That's a tradition I can get behind.

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    Food Quote Friday: H. D. Thoreau

    Brussels Sprouts and Pecans
    Brussels Sprouts with pecans — oiled, seasoned and ready to roast (from MissGinsu @ flickr)

    "Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of each. Grow green with the spring, yellow and ripe with autumn."

    Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

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    Seven simple solutions for surplus celeriac

    workers harvesting celery
    Migratory laborers cutting celery, Belle Glade, FL, January 1941 via the NYPL digital gallery

    Maybe you bought too much for a recipe, and now it's just sitting around the bottom of your crisper. Maybe you got one in your Christmas stocking. Maybe your favorite farmer wanted to give you a little something extra, and now you don't know what to do with it.

    It doesn't matter how you got it. You're stuck with a celery root — that knobby, crispy vegetable also known as celeriac — and you don't want the poor thing to go to waste. And there's no need. Celeriac is delicious, and it plays well with others.

    Herein, find 7 Easy Ways to Use Your Extra Celery Root
    (In relative order of simplicity.)

    1. Roasted Celeriac

    Peel a celery root and slice into into evenly sized pieces. Toss in a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of both salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast on a sheet tray/cookie sheet in a 375°F oven, stirring every 15 minutes to avoid uneven cooking, until lightly browned and tender. Serve as a side dish on their own, or cool and toss into a green salad with your favorite vinaigrette.


    2. Celery Root Mash

    Peel a celery root and slice into into evenly sized pieces. Put the pieces in a medium-sized pot and cover with water. Add a teaspoon of salt to the pot and bring the water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and when the celeriac is tender enough to crush (about 30 minutes), drain away the water. Mash the pieces with 1/2 cup of cream or whole milk. Season to taste with salt, ground black pepper and a pinch of ground
    nutmeg. Serve hot.


    3. Braised Celeriac

    1 celery root, peeled and sliced into evenly sized pieces
    1 tsp olive oil
    1/2 cup vegetable broth or chicken stock
    Salt & freshly ground pepper

    1. Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a medium-sized skillet on medium-high heat until shimmering, but not smoking.

    2. Add the celeriac pieces to the pan. Keep the pieces moving in the pan, coating them with the oil.

    3. When the celeriac begins to brown, turn down the heat and add the stock. Cover the skillet and cook until tender.

    4. Season to taste with a grind or two of pepper and a pinch of salt. Serve hot.


    4. Céleri Remoulade

    1 celery root, peeled and grated or shredded
    1/3 cup mayonnaise
    3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
    1 tsp Dijon mustard
    2 Tbsp heavy cream
    1 tsp fresh tarragon or parsley, chopped (optional)
    Salt and freshly ground pepper

    1. In a small bowl, use a whisk to combine the mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard and cream (and herbs, if using).

    2. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Toss the dressing with the celery root shreds and chill for 1/2 hour or more. Makes a tasty vegetable side, and it's delicious alongside smoked salmon for brunch.


    5. Super-Easy Cream of Celeriac Soup

    1 large celery root, peeled and cut into uniform pieces
    2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
    1/2 cup heavy cream
    Salt and ground black pepper and ground nutmeg, to taste

    1. Put the pieces in a medium-sized pot, cover with stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, until pieces are fork-tender (timing depends on the size of the pieces).

    2. After about 5 to 8 minutes, the celeriac should show a little color. Reduce the temperature to medium-low, and add about a 1/4 cup of stock to the pan. Cover the skillet and allow the vegetables to steam until tender. If the celeriac is still too firm when the liquid is gone, add a little more stock or water to the pan.

    3. Purée the celery root with the remaining stock using an immersion blender or
    "stick" blender. (If you don't have an immersion blender, just cool the celery root down and purée with the stock in a standard blender or food processor.)

    4. Stir in the cream, season with salt and pepper, to taste. Sprinkle on ground nutmeg as a garnish.


    6. Apple-Celeriac Slaw

    1 celery root, peeled and shredded
    1-2 tart apples, shredded
    1 carrot, grated or shredded
    1 scallion, thinly sliced on the bias
    1 Tbsp lemon juice
    1/4 cup mayonnaise
    Salt and black pepper, to taste
    1-2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley, mint or tarragon (optional)

    1. Blend the shredded celery root, apples, carrot (if using) and scallion in a bowl.

    2. In another small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice and parsley, if using.

    3. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Combine the shreds and dressing. Serve immediately or chill and serve cold.


    7. Celeriac-Potato Latkes

    1 large celery root, peeled
    3 large russet potatoes, peeled and trimmed
    1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    1 large yellow onion, peeled
    2/3 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
    4 large eggs, lightly beaten
    1 1/4 teaspoons salt
    1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
    1 1/2 cups vegetable oil (for frying)
    Applesauce and/or grated horseradish (optional, for serving)

    1. Place a metal rack on a sheet tray in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 200°F.

    2. Coarsely grate the celery root, onions and potatoes into a bowl. Add lemon juice and stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to a colander, pressing out as much liquid as possible. Return the veggies to the bowl and stir in the flour, eggs, salt and pepper.

    3. Heat about 1/2 inch oil in a skillet over moderately high heat until the oil is hot, but not smoking. Spoon about 1/4 cup vegetable mix into the hot skillet, using a spatula to flatten the mound into a pancake (about 1/2-inch thick).

    4. Add 1 to 2 more latkes, avoiding any crowding in the pan. Fry the first side 2 to 3 minutes, before carefully flipping the latkes and continuing to fry the other side until golden, about 1 1/2 to 3 minutes more.

    5. Remove cooked latkes from the oil and drain briefly over paper towels before transferring to the warming tray in the oven. Fry the rest of the veggie mix in same way. Serve with applesauce and/or grated horseradish, if desired.

    Bon appetit!

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    Food Quote Friday: "Doug Larson"

    rainbow swiss chard

    Some richly hued rainbow chard leaves from my CSA

    "Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon."

    -The (possibly fabricated?) English writer, Doug Larson, (1902-1981)

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    Nothing says gratitude like a slaughtered lamb

    the lamb and the wolf
    Symbols of gratitude and danger living in perfect harmony. Image: NYPL digital library.

    My boss asked me to track down a traditional "thank you" food.

    He wanted to give that unknown thing as a gift of appreciation to our best customers. It seemed like a good idea. I'd just do some research, discover that flash-frozen steaks were a universally acknowledged symbol of goodwill and esteem, and out they'd go. Boss happy. Customers happy. Easy-peasy, right?

    On the ensuing search for consumables as symbols of appreciation, I discovered... well, it's not so easy. I should have known. Symbolic meaning is relative. More than that, it's local. So there's not a lot in the way of universally recognizable representations. Particularly not in the way of food items, which have traditionally tended to be very local.

    Oh sure, you'll find quite a few quasi-universal symbols out there. There are flags to represent nations, the white cross, which generally symbolizes medical help, the golden arches, which symbolize heart failure and the swoosh, which means I'm about to pay a surcharge for a piece of clothing. But the great efforts used to make those symbols into something globally recognizable was intentional. And, generally, well financed.

    The more organically occurring symbolic representations tend to be "readable" only by those in certain groups, or regions.

    When I grew up in the Dakotas, I attended pow wows, sweats and other events at which tobacco was a gift that demonstrated respect and appreciation. Presenting someone in Manhattan with a nice pouch of fresh tobacco probably wouldn't read the same way. Particularly in this "tobacco as symbol of death and/or decadence" era.

    So back in the frustrating realm of my food symbol quest, it seems that a pineapple might say "hospitality" to me (this fellow has a nice rundown of why the pineapple has historically been recognized in that capacity... I love the bit about how pineapples used to be rented short-term for parties in order to demonstrate one's status and taste), but it might just suggest "Hawaiian cocktails" (or even worse, "Williams-Sonoma") to our customers.

    The slaughtered lamb was once pretty widely used as a dramatic "thanks a lot" gesture, but again... it's all about location, location, location. And context. Symbols are language, meaning, of course, that the recipient of the symbol has to speak your language.

    I submitted my findings. He ended up sending out boxes of chocolate.

    But now that I think about it, considering our best customers are high-spending NYC food buyers, maybe a box of steaks wasn't such a bad idea as a symbol of appreciation after all. It's extravagant and not really not that far afield from the slaughtered lamb. And isn't extravagance nearly always recognized as symbolic of appreciation?

    In no particular order, some of my findings on food symbols and their meanings:
    Apple = appreciation (generally of teachers), temptation, New York
    Peach = longevity, marriage
    Pear = affection
    Olive = peace, healing
    Garlic = strength
    Gourds = good health, longevity
    Chocolate = devotion, love
    Fish = faith (Christian faith in particular)
    Rabbit = fertility
    Lotus Root = unconditional love
    Lamb = faith (again, it's about Jesus)
    Maple Syrup = Canada, eh
    Pineapple = hospitality, welcome
    Pumpkin = prosperity, festivity, harvest
    Pomelo, basket/cornucopia, sheaf of wheat = bounty
    Slaughtered lamb, tobacco = appreciation, gratitude
    Rosemary = fidelity, remembrance
    Pomegranate = fertility
    Lavender = good luck
    Salt = wealth, loyalty, incorruptibility, immortality
    Honey = wealth, happiness
    Turnips = charity
    Pepper = lust, spice
    Fig, bamboo, pig = prosperity
    Banana = hey... sometimes a banana is just a banana, okay?

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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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    Food Quote Friday: Parisian Street Hawkers

    Brassica capitata alba, et viridis = Cauolo Bolognese = Chou
    Brassica capitata alba, et viridis = Cauolo Bolognese = Chou from the rich files of the NYPL Digital Gallery

    "Choux gelées, les bons chou gelées!
    Ils sont plus tendres que rosée,
    Ils sont crû parmi les poirées
    Et n'ont jamais été grêlées!"

    "Frozen cabbages, good frozen cabbages!
    They are more tender than the dawn,
    They have grown amongst the white beet
    And never been struck by hail!"

    - Parisian street hawkers' cry, circa 1220-1900 (via the Larousse Gastronomique, of course)

    More tender food quotes may be found here.

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    In praise of the microseason

    Williamsburg CSA
    Williamsburg CSA

    First day CSA
    First Day of my CSA (June)

    Last day CSA
    Last Day of my CSA (November)

    See more food photos: missginsu @ flickr

    Some people know the season via the calendar. These folks enjoy what I consider the seasonal four-pack: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

    Those in close contact with farmers' markets and CSA groups know a veritable color wheel of microseasons within those macroseasons embraced by the rest of the population. There's ramp-morel-lettuce season followed closely by spinach-pea-strawberry season. There's the highly anticipated tomato-corn-zucchini season. Right now, it's very clearly sweet potato-cranberry-Brussels sprouts season.

    Thanks to Just Food, a nonprofit org dedicated to things like food-selling opportunities for small farmers and food-buying opportunities for urbanites like me, I was able to hook up with the Williamsburg Community Supported Agriculture group this year and enjoy six months' worth of microseasons in the form of organic produce from the farmers at Garden of Eve.

    CSAs exist all over the country (I used to belong to the Loring Park CSA in Minneapolis), and while I wouldn't say membership is a good decision for everyone (some people, for example, just wouldn't be satisfied with the "Iron Chef Mystery Ingredient" aspect of a CSA group's weekly variety pack, and some would have no clue about what to do with three pounds of kohlrabi or a quarter-peck of habañero peppers), I've found that supporting local produce from actual people has been ethically, sensually and culinarily satisfying for me*.

    Additionally, I've learned a lot about preservation. In years past, home cooks dealt with the seasons as they arrived. If it was tomato-corn-zucchini season and the kitchen overflowed with bags and bags of red, yellow and green produce, everyone ate succotash, zucchini bread, fresh vegetable chowders, and buttery cornbread muffins.

    Thanks to a constant flow of produce available in any local shop, today's cooks are far less practiced in using up a surplus. Canning, drying, fermenting and pickling are the arts of the ancients. We buy what we need. The majority of us will never be pressed into anything resembling our progenitors' annual frantic frenzy of canning, baking, stewing and jamming an entire orchard or garden over the space of a week or two during the harvest.

    That said, today's CSA member (and thrify produce buyers in general) often discover a need for those techniques of antiquity.

    In a month or two, (around Meyer Lemon season), it will be time to start signing up for a new CSA year. For those who plan on joining one (localharvest.org compiles national listings), here's a few tips I've discovered that might make your produce microseasons more efficient and enjoyable:

    Block out some time. Right after pickup, you'll want an hour or so to care for your vegetables. Rinse the apples and pears. Wash and dry the lettuces. (I love my salad spinner.) Cut the carrots into sticks for easy snacking. Separate the celery stalks from the celery roots. Rinse and chop up the beet greens for easy sauteing.

    Triage. Softer fruits and vegetables will rot first. Can't use 'em right away? Think: chutneys, sauces, jams, soups. A lot of fruit and veggies freeze better once they're already cooked (Quickly blanch and shock tomatoes to get the skins off, then toss 'em in a freezer bag.) Save any root vegetables for last.

    Same technique, different vegetable. Enjoy mashed potatoes? Try the same thing with mashed celery root, carrots or parsnips. Ratatouille, soup, slaw, salad and stir-fries are all your friends. The butternut squash soup is just as good with acorn squash. Sauteed greens are yummy whether they're beet greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, escarole, chard, kale, frisee or spinach. Nearly anything can be pickled. Almost everything is tastier when it's done up with a layer of olive oil, salt, pepper and some roasting time in the oven.

    * That is, apart from the getting dressed and leaving the house early on Saturday morning thing.

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    Point & click for orchard, field and meadow

    This was on the NPR Marketplace Morning Report:

    Local Foods Plymouth... like FreshDirect for the farmers' market.

    The website is supremely limited, but the report made it sound like it’s been really popular there. People said they liked picking up all their farmers' market produce in one place.

    I like the way they handle expectations on the first page (you can only order on Tuesdays) and they inform you that if you don’t pick up by 6 p.m. on delivery day, your food gets donated to a local charity.

    Like City Farms & Community Supported Agriculture, online farmers' markets could offer yet another option for busy urbanites to connect to the bounty of the fields... and it gives small farmers a way to manage inventory and prevent waste.

    I’m sure we’ll see more of this to come as the various pockets of our culture become more web-savvy.

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    The Barcelona Mystery Green

    Some help? Anyone?

    Anybody know this vegetable? It's crisp, watery, slightly salty and covered in a bumpy, translucent skin that looks like perma-dew.

    We discovered it first in our fresh mesclun mix from the big Barcelona Boqueria. Later, we found a vendor who sold them alongside sea beans and arugula. She said it was a local Spanish plant with a very long name.

    It's tasty and fascinating, but we haven't used it in anything other than fresh salads. If anyone knows this green and has tips on use, I'd be happy to hear all about it!

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    Gratuitous Frisee Action

    No legitimate reason for this post. I just love looking at frisee.

    It's a silly, fuzzy muppet in a world of staid veggies like endive, arugula and romaine, and its mere existence makes me happy.

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    Office Productivity

    Burlap sack of corn
    Yes, sir. That's a burlap sack of corn next to my desk.

    Alvin with Corn
    The boss, demonstratively gleeful.

    My office often produces blaring false fire alarms. Sometimes it produces actual fire alarms. Once in a while, it produces clouds of poisonous ammonia gas, and sometimes they clean the grease traps. I really can't begin to describe how ghastly a large grease trap smells if you've never had the pleasure.

    So why do I stick around? Occasionally my office also produces something joyous.

    Sometimes, there's sweet corn so fresh, it's less than 120 minutes away from the field where it was picked. Sweet corn so juicy, so prime, you don't even have to heat it. The sugars haven't yet turned to starch.

    Shuck an ear, lean over the cubicle trash bin, close your eyes, take a bite and pretend you can't hear the fire alarms sounding. Again.

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    Eat This Now: 8-Ball Zucchini

    8-Ball Zucchini

    More fun at the farmers' market... my produce girl recommended these lovely 8-ball zucchini. What veg lover could bypass such adorable little squashes?

    Besides boasting a beguiling green skin, they also have a satisfying heft in the palm. (No squash tossing allowed, kiddies.)

    The name is whimsical fun, but in fact, these little babies are closer to the size of a baseball than an eight.

    Produce Girl likes 'em sliced, fried and used in sandwiches, on pizza, in wraps, etc. Online, dominant theories seem to lean toward scraping out the insides and stuffing 'em. They'd be fab with a ratatouille, but here's a handful of other fillings to try...

    Orzo Stuffing
    Sausage & Fennel Stuffing
    Feta & Basil Stuffing

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    Garlic Challenge, Part II

    Oh, how time flies when you have a ticking time bomb sitting in your refrigerator.

    I'm talking, of course, about my super-abundance of garlic, as mentioned in a previous post.

    Although the posted expiration date is past, they seem to be holding up well, so I've had some time to play with these stinky little gems.

    bulb of garlic

    After discovering the many ways one can use up one's supply of roasted garlic spread, making 40-clove chicken (twice), pumping out a bunch of Indian cuisine and sneaking slices of the stuff into everything short of breakfast cereal, I was casually wondering why I haven't had a date in weeks. That's when I received this note from an old friend:

    Found your garlic dilemma interesting.

    Here's a suggestion: I went to a party in Colorado a few years ago. The host, Tom Cavelli, made something he called bona calda. I don't remember the exact recipe — we both had a lot of beer that night — but it included a huge amount of garlic.

    Here goes:
    2 cups, yes cups, of finely chopped garlic.
    4 ounces of anchovies
    enough cream to kind of hold it all together

    It seems like he sautéed the garlic and anchovies, then added the cream.

    We all dipped bread and vegetables into the bona calda while it was still in the pan. I thought it was wonderful, but as I said, I had a lot of beer that night.

    For the next three days, I could not get toothpaste to foam up in my mouth.

    This helpful suggestion seems to fall into under the "when your cup runneth over with stinky bulbs, pile on fermenting fish" school of thought, and I believe that only the addition of Corn Nuts could ensure a more foul perfume.

    But following Dan's lead, I did, indeed whip up a delightfully nasty frenzy of garlic, fish and fat. I recommend you pair this recipe with a hoppy India Pale Ale, a pile of Netflix and a weekend alone.

    More commonly known as Bagna Cauda (bahn-yah cow-dah), this creamy-salty-fragrant sauce is of Northern Italian (Piedmont) extraction.

    The name translates as "hot bath," and it's traditionally served as the hot bath for cut veggies. Think: fennel slivers, sunchoke strips, carrot sticks, sliced red peppers, zucchini sticks, etc.

    As one of the folks in the comments mentioned, it's a popular Italian New Year's Eve appetizer (with, of course, attendant rumors of good luck and good fortune).

    Additionally, as you might gather from the name, it's intended to be served warm (maximize that aroma!), but don't boil it.

    Many folks do as Dan and his crew did, gathering around the kitchen and eating bagna cauda straight from the pan. A piece of bread is often used as an edible platform for any delicious drippings that are bound to occur.

    Meanwhile, back at Chez Ginsu, five cups of garlic still remain in the fridge, so it seems some kind of garlic jelly looms in my future... I'll document that conclusion in Part III of the garlic saga.

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    Introducing: Darth Tater

    Darth Tader
    Forget Obi-Wan Kohlrabi, Luke. Join Monsanto and together we'll rule the marketplace as father and son!

    I'll admit it. I find the Darth Tater figurine totally adorable.

    Unfortunately, if Episode 1 and 2 are any indication, Grocery Store Wars is likely to be better than Episode 3.

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    Q. What is Kritamo?

    I recently found myself wondering, "What is kritamo?" You, dear reader, may have the same question.

    Is kritamo:

    A. Wild rock fennel.

    B. Briny, Grecian shoreline weed

    C. Exclusive Whole Foods weed.

    D. All of the above.

    The kritamo is figure 1. Image from this site.

    Yup. It's all that and more.

    Kritamo (also known as rock fennel or samphire), is a wild Grecian seaside herb that's reportedly a bit difficult to harvest and apparently available domestically at Whole Foods.

    Kritamo often appears in salads, though it's not likely to make a cross-Atlantic trek in a form other than in alongside olives as a seasoning ingredient (it absorbs the briny flavor of the Mediterranean).

    I'm thinking kritamo could also happily make a substitute for the brininess usually brought to the party by capers.

    If you actually get your hands on some, why not try a simple Kritamo-Lemon sauce for pan-fried fish or fowl?
    Kritamo-Lemon Sauce

    2 tsp kritamo, chopped (or substitute capers, drained)
    4 Tbsp butter
    1 clove garlic, finely minced
    2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
    1 tsp fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

    1. In a skillet or saucepan, melt butter
    2. Sautée garlic 1-2 minutes, or it just begins to color.
    3. Add lemon juice and kritamo or capers. Reduce heat and heat for 30 seconds.
    4. Remove from heat and add parsley, if using.
    5. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle immediately over cooked chicken, fish or steamed vegetables and serve.

    Anyone have more experience with Kritamo? I'd love to hear about it. Post in the comments if you've got tips.

    Miss Ginsu

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    Didja Hear the One About the Avocado?

    Testicles, avocados and lawyers. This is why I'm in love with etymology:

    "The history of avocado takes us back to the Aztecs and their language, Nahuatl, which contained the word ahuacatl meaning both 'fruit of the avocado tree' and 'testicle.' The word ahuacatl was compounded with others, as in ahuacamolli, meaning 'avocado soup or sauce,' from which the Spanish-Mexican word guacamole derives.

    Mexicali Avocado

    "In trying to pronounce ahuacatl, the Spanish who found the fruit and its Nahuatl name in Mexico came up with aguacate, but other Spanish speakers substituted the form avocado for the Nahuatl word because ahuacatl sounded like the early Spanish word avocado (now abogado), meaning 'lawyer.' In borrowing the Spanish avocado, first recorded in English in 1697 in the compound avogato pear (with a spelling that probably reflects Spanish pronunciation), we have lost some traces of the more interesting Nahuatl word."


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    Gazpacho redemption

    Sadly, one of my favorite local joints recently charged me $6 for the pleasure of a cup and a half of poorly made gazpacho... gazpacho with far too much raw onion and nearly no spice or salt.

    Worst, it just tasted flat. It needed a shot of acid. It came with a little sprinkle of chives, but no pita, no cracker, no toast tip. Alas!

    Above you see the gazpacho I was hoping for. Nicely spiced, mouth-wateringly zesty, with rich tomato flavor and hints of celery, cucumber and fresh jalapeño.

    All it took was a quick trip to the farmers' market and a spin through the blender. Some stuff out of the pantry... salt, pepper, a shot of lemon juice... Adjust seasoning and add a couple slices of awesome garlic cheese bread on the side.

    Heavenly. Inexpensive. Satisfying. A'la Scarlett O'Hara, I'm compelled to alert the world, "With god as my witness, ah will never suffer substandard gazpacho again!"

    Just Good Old Gazpacho (Serves 3-4)
    2 cups ripe, red tomatoes, roughly chopped
    1/2 cup green or yellow pepper, roughly chopped
    2 small or 1 large clove garlic
    1 medium cucumber, quartered
    1 jalapeño pepper, halved and seeds removed (optional)
    1/2 cup breadcrumbs or 1/2 slice stale bread, torn to pieces
    1 cup tomato juice
    1/3 cup olive oil
    1 Tbsp red or white wine vinegar (or substitute lemon juice)
    1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
    1 tsp dried oregano (or 1/2 tsp fresh oregano)
    1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce (optional)
    Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

    Optional Garnish
    chopped cilantro, 1/2" cubes of cucumber, sliced green onion and/or cubed avocado

    1. In a blender or food processor, chop the tomatoes, peppers, garlic, cucumber and jalapeño, if using.
    2. Add the breadcrumbs or pieces, tomato juice, olive oil and vinegar. Pulse to incorporate.
    3. Stir in the chopped cilantro, oregano and Worcestershire.
    4. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to adjust to your desired flavor.
    5. Chill for at least three hours (or overnight). Garnish, if desired, and serve cold or at room temperature.

    As I mentioned, I served it with the garlic cheese bread I picked up at the farmers' market, but you can go with croutons, baguette or whichever loaf you love.

    Bon appetit!
    Miss Ginsu

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