Who's That Girl

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WHO'S THAT GIRL: A higher education obsessed foodie who is documenting her life in the kitchen. I love to cook delicious, gourmet-style foods for those I love and always welcome a challenge in the kitchen. With that challenge comes an impromptu nature. I tend to avoid following recipes to the exact, so you are not likely to find very many posted here. Being that I am a Libra and am learning to be free in the kitchen, the story always goes, "A pinch of this and a smattering of that!" Thank you for visiting -- and happy reading!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

2013 Food Challenge: Corn


We have a wonderful Guatemalan restaurant in town, Maya Quetzal. There, you will find a delicious specialty item of rice, corn and cheese. I cannot recall the name of this dish, but it is quite popular with the locals.

I have wanted to try and replicate this item for years. I tried once before and found that the dish turned out to be less flavorful and somewhat dry. Here is my second go at it.

For the dish, I went with short grain rice -- risotto style. The last time I tried this I went with jasmine rice. That was the first mistake. Comparing the dishes, I find that a bulbous rice with a bit more starch works better with the dish.

I also used Mexican and mozzarella style cheeses along with sour cream, milk and parsley. Maya Quetzal does not use parsley, but I figured why not try it! I love parsley.

For the corn, I went with sweet corn and roasted it in the oven.

That was a first for me.

I'd never considered using the oven to cook rice. But it made little sense to fire up the charcoal grill just to cook two ears of corn. Cooking the corn in the husk at 415 degrees for about 25 minutes in the gas oven resulted in sheer perfection. I highly recommend this method.


In the end, I mixed all of the ingredients together, put them in a buttered pan and baked in the oven with additional cheese on top for about 15 minutes.


This dish is rich. Very rich! I took a few bites and found that I felt my skin was glittering. It is very flavorful and good, and the roasting of the corn turned out to be a brilliant idea. The sweet corn is a must, and the more corn the better.
 
I think the dish could have benefited from the addition of some grilled peppers, especially those that could add some heat. Also, I imagine that, in addition to a side dish, this would serve well in a taco or burrito or under an over easy egg.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

2013 Food Challenge: Buffalo

While living in Houston, I was always on the hunt for kolaches. I'd never heard of such a thing until visiting a cafe near my office in downtown Houston I noticed these cutesy little pastries behind the glass at the counter. I had never seen a pastry of that type. They looked to me like miniature versions of pigs in a blanket. But with more texture. More fluff. More decadence.

The perfect look for luxurious self-indulgence on my morning coffee run.

I ordered one and found that I absolutely loved the flavor of these little treats. They didn't taste like pigs in a blanket, though. From what I remember -- and it's been years since I last had one, they tasted like the distant sister of a croissant sandwich, a lovely dough, wrapped around a flavorful, tiny sausage. 

Like, the best thing ever.


Since leaving the south, I have searched everywhere for kolaches, these wondrous Czech eats. I've looked in Los Angeles and the high desert of southern California; Chicago, Cleveland and throughout Tucson and Phoenix; and at numerous airports during my travels.

Never found.

I figured that I would someday try and replicate the recipe at home and, finally, I had my chance to try.

After reading, I don't know, something like 10 kolache recipes online, I got impatient and set to work. Really, I just wanted to know how to make the dough and be on with it.

I gathered my items: yeast, flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, an egg and the buffalo meat. I even tossed some bread flour in the mix for "fun." Had no idea how that would turn out. By the time the dough was ready, it was already after 11 p.m. I decided to roll it tightly in plastic wrap and place it in the oven, finishing the recipe the following day.

Upon my return, I started with the meat.

For flavoring, I went with brown sugar, roasted garlic and onion seasoning, mustard powder and dill with a pinch of kosher salt. I then formed the bison into "sausages."

I've saved myself -- and you -- the embarrassment and decided to forgo adding images of the shaped meat. Trust me, you don't care to see them. No, really. Just trust me, and remember that therapy is expensive these days. 

I also added, as an afterthought, some cheese as I rolled the meat into the dough. At the end, just before putting the rolls in the oven, I gave them an ample egg wash.

And they are looking gorgeous! At this point I'm thinking, "Awww, yeah! These are going to be amazing! I'm doing something real here!"

Started to see book deals and speaking tours in my future and everything.



It took about 35 or so minutes of baking on about 375 and they were ready.

I loved the smell and the look of the "kolaches." But I found that they didn't smell anything like I recalled. They didn't feel the way I recalled either. Turns out bison is gamey as all get out. As. All. Get. Out. Also, I realized at that very moment that I completely forgot to add baking soda to the dough.

Doh!

But I felt motivated. The flavor was good, but I cannot call these kolaches. I have so much more work to do before I am able to closely replicate these lovely little treats.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

2013 Food Challenge: Green Olives


I love how this dish did not require a trip to the grocery store -- I had everything on hand at home. Thrilling when that happens.

For this week's challenge item, I went with pimento-stuffed olives. I love pimentos -- those yummy little peppers. It was very difficult to think up something new. I really wanted to make a tapenade but wound up making a pasta dish instead. I believed that the sharp taste of the olives would meld well with the mildly flavored pasta. I also added a tad bit of butter peas, carrots, spinach, Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper, believing would balance the dish nicely.

It turned out to be a strange marriage. In retrospect, I could have used far, far fewer olives -- they were so very strong in flavor -- and more spinach. The amount of peas and carrots along with the cheese was perfect.

The dish is quite simple. Almost too simple. I am not sure where to go with it or how yet to improve it. It will require much more time and attention to detail to perfect it.


Friday, May 24, 2013

2013 Food Challenge: Curry

I realize I have held a largely westernized view of curry, always assuming that curry is merely an assorted grounded out collection of spices. Always powdered. Always sharply stringent in smell and flavor.

Thank goodness for lifelong learning.

What I have since learned is that the history of curry proves to serve as yet another explain of the proliferation of imperialism and colonial power. What is curry? It is the oft-seen orange-tinted powder we westerners are prone to imagine. But that is not real curry.

The term is apparently derived from another term, kari -- a Tamil term -- which holds an entirely different meaning: sauce, not a stew served with rice. The term "curry," then, is illustrative of a centuries-old history of transcontinental trade, cultural appropriation and assimilationist practices -- a reminder of the historic, organized effort to make uniform and culturally singular whole populations of culturally, ethnically and socially diverse peoples.

"Curry" -- both its spelling and pervasive definiton in western society -- is a lump sum term that simultaneously ignores and washes away references to an important culinary tradition.

I am daftly appreciative of learning such things and wish I'd known this prior to prepping this week's challenge item.

For the challenge, I made a curry chicken salad. Having barbecued over the weekend, I used the grilled chicken leftover in the fridge. Mixing the curry with leftover coconut milk from yet another night of cooking, I added Dijon mustard, cayenne, celery, freshly chopped garlic and onions.

But something was missing.

Consulting with a friend, she recommended adding a bit of agave nectar.

Hum...what an idea.

It rounded out the flavor completely. I was so impressed.

Then, I simply mixed this vigorously for the plating and served the salad with a few slices of celery and Milton's crackers. It was a snack that turned, quite swiftly, into my evening meal.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Shrimp and Salmon Roe Nigiri

One day I will make an exceptional batch of sushi rice.

That's the greatest problem I've dealt with in producing decent, home prepared sushi of any kind.

But that's OK. Making this type of nigiri was a first to me and the fact that it was edible at all was reason enough to sing my own good graces. I especially loved the ikura, which is a bit of an obsession at the moment.


Friday, May 17, 2013

2013 Food Challenge: Something Sweet

How can I turn something sweet into something savory?

With this week's challenge item being a sweetener of some kind, the possibilities seemed so very, very broad.

I wanted to make a mango-flavored chicken, relying on the sweet fruit to brighten the meat. 

I also wanted to make honey dipped ricotta puffs using puff pastry but, alas, I will have to save that for another day.

For this week's challenge, I opted to make honey and brown sugar-baked bacon biscuits with cheddar cheese, onions and parsley.

I can't even remember why I wanted to make these.

I lined a baking sheet with foil, sprinkled the bacon with brown sugar and honey, then baked them for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, I prepared the dough, adding some garlic salt and onions that I had cooked with parsley. That turned out to be an excellent addition and was so nice a fragrant.

At the last minute, I decided to add the shredded cheddar cheese.

 The only thing -- the biscuits did not turn out as nearly as fluffy as I would have liked. I should have added an egg to the batter, for sure! But the flavor was pretty nice. As they baked, I did add a dollop and butter splash on top, which left the biscuits with a lovely golden glow and a gentle sweet flavor at the end. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Salmon Roe Stuffed Shrimp with Scallion and Miso Tofu

This is a meeting of heavenly ingredients. But, alas, I am getting way, way ahead of myself.


His name is Yuri Rabayev. And, apparently, we were destined to meet.

I have been on a wild search for a grocer who sells salmon roe in town. I've had little luck. AJ's informed me that they have salmon roe for $20 for two ounces. A bit steep, I thought. A couple of market that do carry roe were apparently out and not expecting a shipment for some time. A number of grocers carry jarred caviar, but never salmon -- and I have decided never to buy another jar of caviar again. Ever.

But what luck. A fluke call to an unsuspecting location -- Rincon Market, which I had wrongly assumed only specialized in cheeses, meats and hard-to-fine wines -- yielded the answer I was looking for: "Yes," Yuri said, "we carry fresh salmon roe. It's called caviar. And it is some of the best in the world."

I was skeptical, but thrilled.

This love for salmon roe is a new obsession of mine -- literally only three to four weeks in age. I ordered salmon roe at Sushi Ten as an experiment of taste. I fell instantly in love. The color. The texture. The flavor. The taste. The feel of the roe gently exploding bead after bead. The succulent nature of the roe.

A literal culinary love explosion.

But I couldn't eat salmon roe alone. Well...yes, I could. And I did, taking tiny samples over the course of preparing dinner.

While talking to Yuri (who, interestingly, I had heard of before but never met), it came to me: salmon roe stuffed shrimp.


With the appetizer set, I tried to figure out what might accompany such a delicate, yet flavor-foward sampler.

Tofu. Miso-marinated tofu. Miso-marinated tofu with bean sprouts cooked in a swift stir fry with ginger, bamboo shoots, scallions and a dash of ponzu.

And that's what came to past.


This dish took forever, mostly because I was having a hard time figuring out what to cook at what point. I wanted the end product to be fully cooked, yet gently warmed, shrimp topped with cold salmon roe served beside a warm dish of the miso tofu stir fry.

I began with the tofu. I had to press it, and opted to do this for only about a half hour. Meanwhile, I prepared the miso with water and a few shaves of ginger.

I cooked the tofu in a skillet and, once brown, added the scallions, bean sprouts and bamboo shoots for a couple of minutes. In with the sauce, and a swift cook and it was ready. 

At this point, I had already butterflied the shrimps and gently tossed them in lemon juice and kosher salt. I then put them in the oven in a thin layer of butter for about 10 minutes.

Once they were out of the oven and cooling, I prepped for the presentation. At the very end, I tossed the tofu around in the skillet on high heat, then began the plating. 

The tofu came out very, very nicely! I loved the flavor and found that the miso was a huge addition to the dish.

But my favorite, my all time favorite, was the flavor of roe atop the colossal shrimp. What a lovely, lovely and blessed end of the day and the week.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Salmon Roe-Inspired Mini "Sushi" Bites


I have been craving sushi like I've lost my mind.

I am a huge fan of sashimi and nigiri, never the rolls. In fact, I never order the rolls. I prefer plump cuts of raw fish draped gently over a small mound of rice. My favorite cuts are salmon, mackerel, yellowtail, inari, tamago (!) and tuna. I also especially love spicy scallops.

Hum...why didn't I just use all of the Japanese names instead of code-switching between English and Japanese. Weird.

Anyway...

I haven't been craving those cuts lately.

What have I been craving? Salmon roe. But salmon roe is pricy, and -- in the desert -- very, very hard to find.

And I've seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi and fully recognize that I have not yet had amazing sushi just yet. I mean, come on -- when you get a flat, non-fatty piece of salmon or realize that, no, there was no way that that octopus was massaged for more than 15 minutes, you realize that you may be living either in the wrong region or the wrong continent for star sushi.

Still, I can dream, desire, want, obsess, fawn over my sushi if I like! *Note: Thank you Ma for making me read the dictionary as a child!

So what did I do here?

I sliced pieces of cucumber and gently topped them with cream cheese and a bit of mashed avaocado, which I treated with a slight sampling of soy sauce.

Then, I gently wrapped pieces of mackerel in slices of nori and placed them atop the dressed cucumber.

I then topped the nori wrap with a tiny bit of Sriracha. I also made a single cucumber topped with avocado, Sriracha and whitefish roe.

Delicious! These were great appetizers. I did find the roe a bit too-too salty, but the flavor was nice. I especially loved the mackerel wrapped in the nori. That was a fabulous idea. The cream cheese would have served well to mix with the roe, cutting the salt, instead of the avocado.

It was nothing close to getting a nice, delectable mound of salmon roe. But, in all, I was pleased with the serving, the presentation and much of the flavor.


Monday, May 6, 2013

A Simple Love of Grilling

Summer is coming.

I am not a huge fan of summer months. Why? It's hot. In Arizona, combined with dry heat, it is hot enough to instantly evaporate the tears you shed because you have, yet again, failed to find covered parking despite the ubiquitous nature of the mesquite.

Oh, Arizona. 

But there are a few reasons to absolutely love the summer.


It is time for visits to see the family, to hang out by the pool and, one of my favorite pastimes, grilling up all kinds of decadent eats.

As you know, I especially love cooking for family and friends. This is one of the ultimate ways I show my care, concern, compassion, adoration and love for people.

This is especially true for grilling. Interestingly, I find that I generally grill only for close family. I think it is because of the time required and, most often, I am going to be spending a good chunk of my day with either my co-workers or my family. Too bad we don't have a grill at the office...

I especially love pork ribs. I also like to grill chicken, hot links, peppers and corn.

And how? I grew fond of gas grills because of the swift simplicity of the tool. But it breeds laziness and does not yield the deep flavor necessary. My favorite method is a slow grill with mesquite chips with the lid closed. But this is not always possible.

I don't mind using charcoal briquettes. I find that marinating the meat with liquid smoke helps to add the depth of flavor.

But no matter what the method, I love the process of grilling; of later smelling the smokiness in my hair, and seeing the smiles of family and friends when they take the first bite.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

2013 Food Challenge: Cinnamon Sticks


This was two items turned into one challenge item and, all told, took me something like four hours to produce.

It all began with an idea to produce a low carb/no carb bread made out of seeds. I chose flax seed and sunflower seeds.


I began with the grinding, using my mortar and pestle, and goodness gracious, how did the people of yesteryear do this?! I cut myself three times during the process. Three times, folks. And I got nearly a full body workout in the process.


Could this have been easier done if I had purchased already-ground seed?

Yes.

Could this have been easier if I had a coffee grinder?

Yes.



But, alas, neither was the case. It took me two full hours, a lot of sweating, a lot of fits of sheer annoyance and a lot of fist pumping motivation to turn flax and sunflower seeds into what turned out to look exactly like a brown-tinted flour.


Success!

...well, not so soon.


Making a no carb, grain free bread seemed nearly impossible. How would it bind? How would it gain lift? How would it hold flavor?

I mixed four eggs with vanilla extract, coconut milk, salt, baking powder, a tiny bit of sugar and and some water. I then mixed in the "flour" very slowly, finding that the mixture was a bit too-too wet.

Oh well.

Into the oven it went at about 350 for 22 minutes. That wasn't long enough; another 10 minutes did the trick.



I loved the smell and, though the bread seemed a bit flat, was excited to taste it.

Bummer! I should have ground the flax a bit more. You could actually taste tiny flecks of seed. Ah well, despite the crunch, I was so thrilled to have made my first grain free bread!


I shaved some cinnamon and mixed it with a little bit of sugar, thinking I would make savory and sweet cauliflower tacos with leftover oxtails.


But, alas, it was a poor mixture of frozen cauliflower and too little attention to cooking that resulted in a flat and burnt "taco shell." 

I couldn't believe it! I had so looked forward to making tacos shells out of cauliflower, especially considering that a grain free diet is my way  to go these days. I will have to try this one again. I think the trick is in making sure that the cauliflower doesn't turn into a mashed potato-like texture, which was the case here.

Ah well.

Utterly frustrated, I simply sliced off a piece of bread, topped it with a slice of mozzarella and some of the fresh cinnamon mixture, heated up some leftover sweet carrots and called it a night.

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