Eat Ugly Food

Among the list of small contributions individuals can make to reduce food waste is to eat ugly food. Fight that primal, biological tendency to select only the most pristine pepper, the flawless fennel, the pure potato, the cleanest cucumber, or the blemish-free blueberry batch.

As I address this topic, let me pause to say that I struggle to walk the walk. The last time I went to the grocery store for produce, I scrutinized nearly every batch of cilantro on display before selecting what I felt was the perkiest. I am part of the problem.

Of course, as I sort through the bins, what I’m trying to do is get the best bang for my buck. At the end of the day, grocery stores probably throw out that slightly marred mango that keeps getting left behind. They are part of the problem, too. What if they charged a premium for perfect produce? With ugly items available, but at an irresistible price? Maybe someone would pay a lesser price. Maybe that lesser price makes the item fit into someone’s budget. Maybe for once healthy produce could be as affordable as junk!

Apples are in prime season right now. I heard a story on NPR the other day in which apple farmers talked about the fact that big box stores stipulate circumference requirements, and offer only 1/2 inch leeway. Read about the high standards of beauty that have been regulated in the U.S. (the links to the U.S.D.A. within this article work again, yay). I remember apple-picking a couple of years ago at a large orchard in Connecticut. There were apples all over the ground, tons of them, bruised and smashed or half-eaten and tossed to the side. Some were probably in fairly good shape, but people kicked them to the side. Of course no one wanted them–they wanted to spot their perfect apple and pick it from the tree. I was saddened by the prospect that these apples weren’t used at all.

My sister-in-law Maggie brought me back a ton of apples from picking this year, and they were all beautiful except for this one!

My sister-in-law Maggie brought me back a ton of apples from her own picking excursion this year. Here’s the only funny-looking one I found!

A UK study found that the amount thrown away due to “ugliness” amounted to 40% of fruits and vegetables, and the article made a point that this is particularly tragic considering that one in eight people worldwide are hungry. UntitledThe UN has taken notice of these shameful facts, and started a Think.Eat.Save campaign. It seems fairly recent. Apparently World Food Day was October 16, though the media I consume did not pick this up.

On a lighter note, I want to talk about a vegetable that is ugly even when it is looking its best–celeriac, or celery root. Like most root vegetables, celeriac works well roasted or mashed and can be very satisfying. Also like most root vegetables, it keeps for some time. I picked up celeriac as one of my CSA items a couple weeks ago and hadn’t gotten around to cooking it. Randomly, when I opened up my new momofuku milk bar cookbook the other day, the page that faced me was the recipe for celery root ganache.
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A friend recently brought over the cookbook for me as a wonderfully thoughtful gift. She reads my blog, and said that the author, chef Christina Tosi, uses leftover crumbs and components from various desserts in other concoctions at the restaurant, so she thought it might fit in with my philosophy. Of course, the ingredients lying around a restaurant kitchen are much different from a home kitchen’s. That’s OK–it’s still fun. If you have ever had a momofuku milk bar dessert, you understand that it might be worth it.

Adapted dish: Celery Root Ganache with Strawberry Sorbet and Ritz Crunch

Part 1
Recipe 1:
Celery Root Ganache

from the momofuku milk bar cookbook
makes 1.5 cups, which is a lot

1 medium celery root, peeled and cut into chunks
1 Tablespoon grapeseed oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
, freshly ground
milk if needed

5.25 ounces white chocolate
3 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons corn syrup or glucose
1/4 Cup cold heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Equipment needed: blender or food processor, mesh strainer or food mill (optional?), immersion blender

Preheat the oven to 325.
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On a large sheet of aluminum foil, toss the celery root chunks with oil, salt and pepper. Fold up to enclose and place on a baking sheet. Roast in oven until celery root is mushy, and hopefully caramelized. The cookbook says 30-60 minutes, but I wasn’t satisfied with the mushiness until around 90 minutes.
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Use a blender to puree the celery root. Add milk if needed to get a smoother puree.
DSC_5988Then press through a fine-mesh strainer, or perhaps a food mill, to get a baby-food like texture. You will need 1/2 Cup.
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This is where I started to wonder if this was worth it. I was pressing and pressing and not getting enough squeezed out of my mesh strainer. I had already added a good amount of milk at the blender stage so I didn’t want to thin it out too much. I spent a lot of time to get just a few tablespoons of smooth puree, so I eventually gave up and decided to accept a grainier texture.

In a microwave-safe dish, combine the white chocolate and butter and heat at 15-second bursts in the microwave, stirring in between. The mixture should come together but be barely warm, not hot.

Transfer chocolate mixture to a tall, narrow container like a quart deli container.
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In another bowl, microwave corn syrup for 15 seconds and then add to the chocolate mixture. Use immersion blender to combine. Then stream in heavy cream with blender running and buzz until it comes together in a silky, smooth texture.
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Add to celery root puree to this along with the extra salt.
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Taste to see if it needs any additional salt. What will it taste like? I will tell you what I thought: yogurt-covered pretzel, all the way.

Ganache should be chilled in fridge for at least 4 hours to firm and can be stored there long-term, in an airtight container.

Part 2
Recipe 2:
Ritz Crunch

Makes about 2 Cups, which is dangerous

1 sleeve Ritz crackers (110g)
1/2 Cup sugar
1/4 Cup milk powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
7 Tablespoons butter
, melted

Heat the oven to 275.
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Crush crackers with your hands in a medium bowl. Add the milk powder, sugar and salt and toss. Add melted butter; toss to coat.

Spread on parchment or Silpat-lined sheet pan.
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Bake for 20-25 minutes. It will be done when the clusters are slightly more golden and feel a little crispy.
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Cool completely before storing, in an airtight container. They can be stored at room temperature, in fridge, or in freezer.

Part 3
Strawberry Sorbet

This I purchased, on a late-season visit to Ralph’s Italian Ice.

To bring the parts together:
Shmear cold ganache across small desert plate. Scatter the Ritz crunch around. Place a generous scoop of strawberry sorbet at center.
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Yes, even when shortcuts and substitutes, this dessert took me a couple of days and generated infinite dirty dishes. When I tasted the final product–with the icy cold, sweet but fruity-tart sorbet, the delightfully salty ganache, and the buttery Ritz crunch–my main thought was “wow.” Also, “Christina Tosi is a genius.”

Peanut Butter Pretzel Time

A bag of pretzels lasts a really long time in my house.

When I snack, which of course happens, I choose almost anything other than pretzels by themselves. They just aren’t tempting.

Until you add chocolate to them.

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This bag of pretzels, which we had because of a giveaway or something, is destined to be crushed up and mixed with peanut butter and chocolate to make peanut butter truffle balls.

This recipe looked shockingly simple. No oven needed! I regret to inform you that I found it to be a pain in the you-know-what. Keep reading though–it might still interest you!

Peanut Butter Pretzel Truffles
From The Girl Who Ate Everything post and her source How Sweet It Is
Makes 20-30 Truffles

1 Cup natural peanut butter
3/4-1 Cup salted pretzels

1 Cup milk chocolate chips, or other chocolate to your liking (I do think milk chocolate works best with peanut butter)

Chop pretzels in a food processor.
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Combine peanut butter and pretzels in a small bowl.
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Chill in the freezer until very firm, at LEAST 30 minutes (I attempted rolling the mixture at one point and had to put the mix back).

Still not firm enough

Still not firm enough


Roll the peanut butter mixture into approximately 20 balls about 2 teaspoons each. You can try using a melon baller and your fingers or a small spoon, or two small spoons, and prepare to get messy. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper and freeze until very firm, at least one hour more more.
These don't look like balls.

These don’t look like balls.


When truffles are hard enough, prepare chocolate by melting it in the microwave at 15-20 second intervals, stirring each time. Roll the frozen balls in melted chocolate. Refrigerate until the chocolate is set, about 30 minutes.
I did use bittersweet chocolate for some of the truffles.

I did use bittersweet chocolate for some of the truffles.


That one truffle in the back looks nice.

That one truffle in the back looks nice.


Here’s the issue: I hate getting my hands messy. I strongly dislike stirring natural peanut butter, tahini, etc. (my friend Kristen will tell you about my struggles and groaning about tahini) because it often gets my hands message and greasy.

This time I stirred the peanut butter with the long handle part of a wooden spoon, which was an improvement of my past experiences, when I used a shorter spatula, and the stuff got all over the handle somehow.
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As for the step of rolling the peanut butter mixture into balls? There was no staying clean then. And coating them in chocolate? The melted chocolate is warm! So guess what, it melted the peanut butter! It was a joke. I wish I had gloves.

Once the process was complete I determined that it is not worth it to make fancy little balls, for me at least. Sure, I have raved about other people’s homemade truffles and how cute they are in their little one- to two-bite portions. But in this case, it would be SO MUCH EASIER to make bars!

Step 1. Melt enough milk chocolate to spread on the bottom of a small square baking pan. Put in freezer until hardened.
Step 2. Spread peanut butter on top of the chocolate layer. Top with pretzels broken into smaller pieces. Put in freezer until hardened.
Step 3. Melt enough milk chocolate to spread on top of the peanut butter pretzel layer. Put in freezer until hardened. Cut into small bars. Refrigerate when not serving.

What do these bars remind me of? Take 5 candy bars!! I remember when the Take 5 came out (Wikipedia tells me it was 2004, when I was just starting the period of life when I made the vast majority of my own food and grocery purchasing decisions), and I thought they were made especially for me. This is coming from someone whose main weaknesses are ice cream and cookies, but who doesn’t dive into just any candy. Somehow, I even have the willpower to forgo the tin of chocolate kisses in the hallway at work, where I pass multiple times. The two mass-produced candies that I love are peanut butter M&Ms, and Take 5 candy bars. Those I would have a much much harder time passing up.

Feel free to take notes. It is my birthday today after all 🙂

Look how my lovely formica countertop hides the peanut butter spills!

Look how my lovely formica countertop hides the peanut butter spills!

The Cucumber Conundrum

I am learning how different two years can be for vegetable crops!

I was wrong about getting lots of radishes and turnips. The zucchini hasn’t buried me. And my tomato crops, while not barren, haven’t produced so much that I have many to give away. As promised, here is the “after” picture.

I realize that it looks a little silly for my sunflowers to tower over the Japanese maple tree.

I realize that it looks a little silly for my sunflowers to tower over the Japanese maple tree.

And before.
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On the other hand, there has been SO MUCH cucumber from the farm share. It’s a tough one to keep fresh and interesting. Cucumber is eaten almost exclusively cold; you can’t generally preserve it by, say, drying it out (Googling to check…oh wait of course you can), and freezing it messes with the texture, right? The most common thing to do is make pickles. And I don’t love pickles! (Another problem that reduced my pickling motivation: I have managed to kill two dill plants before I had a chance to use them. Are they a tricky plant?)

So far, I have made a warm cucumber soup and some tomato cucumber salads. This week, I branched out and made cucumber sorbet!

Simple Mojito Cucumber Sorbet

From Vegetariantimes.com

3.4 – 1 Cup sugar
1 ½ cups mint leaves
2-3 medium cucumbers
, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
¼ Cup lime juice
2 oz. rum
, optional

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Naked cucumber

Naked cucumber

Side note: this is an awesome peeler.

Side note: this is an awesome peeler.

Bring sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Boil 1 minute, or until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, and add mint leaves. Cover, and cool.

Riley wants to know what I'm up to.

Riley wants to know what I’m up to.


Transfer mint syrup to blender or food processor, and process until mint leaves are finely chopped.
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Add cucumber chunks, and blend until very smooth.
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Chill in refrigerator until cold. Remove from fridge and stir lime juice and rum (if using).
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Churn in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions.
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Just getting started

Just getting started


I think we are there!

I think we are there!

Transfer to container and freeze.
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Note: Numerous variations on the theme of cucumber sorbet/ice cream can be found online. Many steep the mint leaves instead of blending them in, like this does. Most also strain out the solids from the cucumber as well. I can see the benefit of a smoother texture. However, I think the chewiness of this recipe made it feel especially icy-cold and refreshing.

This was served in place of a pre-dinner cocktail on a warm night.
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Sourdough Carrot Cake

Have I mentioned that I am in possession of living culinary matter, matter that demands nurturing and care, also known as sourdough starter? I know I have mentioned my husband’s love of bread, and that is what led me to give him the starter as a birthday gift years ago. That same starter survives today, supplying tang to our breads, pizza doughs, and waffles, and this time, our cake.

The care I’m referring to is the regular “feeding.” Sourdough starter is kept in best tip-top shape by feeding it every week with some new flour and water. First, you dispose of, or use, 1 cup. And I will confess that we probably dispose of that cup more than 50% of the time, especially since many recipes call for FED starter.
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The latest King Arthur Flour catalog arrived, and one of the recipes that caught my eye was the Sourdough Carrot Cake that used UNFED starter! This recipe is a great example of my ability to cook my pantry with the addition of very few specially purchased grocery items. This time, that special item was crushed pineapple.

I followed this recipe almost exactly–I was surprised by how much oil it called for considering the pineapple added so much moisture, so I think I put in a smidge less oil than it called for, which I modify in the version below. This does make a generous amount of cake. It could also be served in a more bread-like form, similar to zucchini of banana bread. It would make at least two loaves. I completely eyeballed volumes with the various containers I used in an attempt to make cute little layer cakes. My output was the six ramekins (which puffed up) plus a full loaf pan.

Bonus: I ended up with little carrot cake cookies, when I sliced the top off these!

Bonus: I ended up with little carrot cake cookies, when I sliced the top off these!


Sourdough Carrot Cake
From King Arthur Flour

1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
2 Cups sugar
1 Cup sourdough starter
, right from the fridge, not fed
3 eggs
1 Cup (8 oz.) crushed pineapple
, mostly drained
2 Cups grated carrots
1/2 Cup chopped walnuts
1/2 Cup shredded coconut
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 Cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
Cream Cheese Frosting
(optional)*

Grease desired baking pans – suggested single size is 9 x 13-inch – and sprinkle with flour. Set aside.

Combine oil and sugar, and stir in sourdough starter. Mix in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Fold in pineapple, carrots, walnuts, coconut and vanilla.

I was feeling lazy and used the food processor.

I was feeling lazy and used the food processor.


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In a separate bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda.
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Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, stirring just to combine.
I tried to capture the whir of the KitchenAId with my camera...haven't quite figured it out.

I tried to capture the whir of the KitchenAId with my camera…haven’t quite figured it out.


Spoon batter into pan. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean. Remove cake from oven and cool completely before frosting.

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*The frosting made the cake totally decadent, but I don’t think it is necessary. Feel free to half the below recipe, to incorporate with some but not all of the cake.

Simple Cream Cheese Frosting
1/4 to 1/2 Cup (1/2 to 1 stick) butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 cups (1 pound) confectioners’ sugar
milk, as needed for consistency

Combine butter, cream cheese and vanilla; beat until light and fluffy. Add sugar gradually, beating well. Add milk, a little at a time, until frosting is a spreadable consistency.

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Perhaps this recipe is irrelevant to you because you don’t have sourdough starter! Well, if you’re interested (and local), I’d be happy to get some of my starter in your hands. If you’re not interested in taking on such responsibility, King Arthur Flour has another similar, highly-rated carrot cake recipe.

A taste of childhood

After eating some of the leftovers with my lunch at work on two occasions, I still had some of the rice and sweet potato in my fridge.

Then it dawned on me: make rice pudding. That’s what my dad would do.

My dad isn’t much of a cook, and never has been. He has gotten by the past 30 years, showering my mom with praises for her cooking, and cleaning up after meals. When my mom was was taking night seminary classes for a few years during my childhood, we mainly ate fast food.

But my dad has a sweet tooth to challenge the best of ’em.  This sweet tooth has been a motivating factor for him to dabble in the area of baking.  I remember him baking rice pudding quite regularly.  I think he secretly added extra rice to the pot during dinner prep so there would be enough left over! Because rice pudding can take a long time to bake, sometimes it would be still be baking well into my bedtime, intoxicating the house with its delicious scent.  Those were the nights my dad and I brushed our teeth twice.

My rice was made with a chicken broth substitute, so that savory aspect had to be dealt with. I hadn’t added too much salt and pepper to the dish as a whole, so that allowed for flexibility. I incorporated some other leftovers I had lying around — some of my raisins and cinnamon came from leftover rugelach filling (there always seems to be leftover filling, no matter what you’re making). I researched a few online versions of the recipe (like Paula Dean’s) and decided to follow one that involved some precooking of the custard on the stovetop, which meant that the pudding baked for around 30 minutes instead of an hour and a half.

Leftover Rice Pudding
adapted from Jolinda Hacket’s About.com post

2 Cups milk (I used a combination of 1/2 Cup half and half and 1.5 Cups skim milk)
1 cup leftover pre-cooked rice
(even one that had been cooked in broth with sweet potatoes a little salt added worked OK!)
2 eggs
1/4 cup+ granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon,
divided
1/3 cup raisins
dash of nutmeg

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Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and rice, stirring frequently so the milk doesn’t burn. Bring to a slow simmer. This takes at least 5 minutes.
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In a separate large bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, raisins, and 1/4 tsp of cinnamon.
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Add egg mixture to the milk and rice and allow to cook for just a few minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour into casserole or baking dish. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 tsp of cinnamon and dash of nutmeg on top of the custard.

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Not-so-evenly sprinkled cinnamon.

Bake for 20-30 minutes – 28 for my oven. If you can wait, allow to cool slightly before serving.

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Not too fancy, but comforting. Can be served hot or cold. But in case you’re wondering, my dad always eats it hot.

Bake it into a cake

Last week, I kept seeing in the freezer a container of leftover canned pumpkin and thought, I better use that up.  Pumpkin is generally though to be a fall/winter ingredient, and we are heading straight into summer, based on the weather forecast.  I do wish that pumpkin recipes better matched up with the standard quantity in cans, because there is always some remaining!

As I said before, my first idea for using a leftover ingredient often involves baking a dessert.  Fortunately, this was going to be a welcome addition to my husband’s family’s Easter meal gathering the next day.

Pumpkin Roulade with Ginger Frosting

Adapted from Ina Garten’s Food Network Recipe

For the cake:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3 extra-large eggs, or 4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

For the filling:
8 ounces cream cheese
scant 4 ounces plain yogurt (I used greek)
1 1/4 C confectioners’ sugar, sifted
~2 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup minced dried crystallized ginger
pinch of kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 13 by 18 by 1-inch sheet pan (also known as a jelly roll pan?). Line the pan with parchment paper, or in my case a silpat, and add grease and flour to that–it is very important so the cake doesn’t stick!

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Place the eggs and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high until light yellow and thickened (this goes faster if your eggs have fully come up to room temperature). With the mixer on low, add the pumpkin, then slowly add the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Finish mixing the batter by hand with a rubber spatula. Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the top springs back when gently touched.

While the cake is baking, lay out a clean, thin cotton dish towel on a flat surface and sift the entire 1/4 cup of confectioners’ sugar evenly over it. (This is to prevent the cake from sticking to the towel). Remove the cake from the oven and immediately loosen it around the edges with a rubber spatula. Invert cake squarely onto the prepared towel. Peel away the parchment paper or silpat.
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Gently roll the warm cake and the towel together (without squeezing), starting at the short end of the cake. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Ina’s recipe calls for 12 oz Italian marscapone cheese, 1 1/4 C confectioners sugar, and 2 tablespoons of heavy cream. My beloved Trader Joe’s was out of marscapone, so I followed a reviewers suggestion of using cream cheese. Since I only bought one package, I thought I needed to beef it up closer to 12 ounces. But there was plenty of frosting — I probably could have just used the cream cheese and reduced the sugar to 3/4 Cup. I also used the skim milk I had on hand rather than buying a container of heavy cream.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, and milk/cream together for about a minute, until light and fluffy. I added just enough to milk to reach the desired consistency. Stir in the crystallized ginger  and salt.

To assemble, carefully unroll the cake onto a board with the towel underneath. Spread the cake evenly with the filling.

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Reroll the cake in a spiral using the towel as a guide. Remove the towel and trim the ends to make a neat edge. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve sliced. (I refrigerated to preserve for the next day, and sliced immediately before serving.)

Ta-da! My first roulade:
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