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, August 29, 2010

A Massive, Delicious Cap Full

Goodness, gracious! I couldn't believe the size and sheer perfection of the portobello mushrooms at the grocery store today! Granted, the thought did come to mind, "Could these have been modified...."

I decided to go for it.

I can't recall the last time I made portobello mushroom caps. I actually cannot recall ever a moment that I have made them for me and Nancy -- so a couple of years at least.

Such a simple recipe:

I patted the cap with some olive oil and salt, then put them on the grill for about six minutes -- four minutes with the smooth side down and the rest of the time with the grill size down.

Then, I sauteed some marinated artichoke hearts in a skillet on the stove top.

When the artichokes were nearly done, I added about a tablespoon of panko.

I had already chopped marinated mozzarella balls, peppadew peppers and Kalamata olives. After removing the skillet from the heat, I tossed this mixture in and stirred it quickly before placing the melted mixture of yummy-ness onto the mushroom cap.

Not bad (and Nancy took the photos tonight):

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Some of My Favorite Things

Ah, kitchen tools.

I feel blessed to have some decent kitchenware.

Like the red set trivet and spoon holder my mother gave me as a gift during my work as a master’s student. Or the comal I got years ago from a second hand store.
And the amazing ergonomic garlic press made by Pampered Chef (I have tried a couple of the company’s products. They are pretty study and wonderfully designed).

Also the lime press, which I use as a lemon press as well. The lemons never quite fit, but it does the job as it should.

And a couple of things that belong to Nancy – like her awesome beater, peeler and grater. Love this! I never cared much for hand held graters before, but I find that are much more easy to use and maneuver and I am less prone to cut my knuckles while working. Same with the peeler. I never knew peeling potatoes and cucumber could be so stress free! I had never had a tool like this before.

I also absolutely love my kitchen cubby. It was part of a get-well gift my office gave me a couple years back. It was a basket full of teas, jams and other kitchen items. After emptying the lot, I fell immediately in love with the basket and have used it to hold my high demand kitchen items ever since.

Of course, my high demand items have grown substantially over the years, so I now use it to hold items that are visually appealing or have an awkward shape that is to strange to fit comfortably into the overhead cabinet.

And containers! I love containers – bowls, jars, cups and the like. I especially love this rose bowl that someone left at my housewarming party years ago. Not sure who – that person has not come forward for it. I have been using it for three years. And Nancy converted one of my soy sauce dishes into a garlic container. Very smart. And I use other small bowls for storing and mixing sauces and the like.

Yes – this all makes for a vibrant kitchen.

Century Eggs, Take One

I consider myself very open minded and curious about all things culinary – and most other things, in a general sense.

Yes, even about the century egg.

I learned about these eggs no more than one year ago. Apparently, these are considered a delicacy in China. The name might suggest that the eggs are preserved for 1,000 years, but that is not so.

After learning about the eggs, I felt compelled to try one. My sister, during a trip to China last year, also sent me a photo of a buffet in which century eggs were being served! And, goodness, we all know about my egg obsession.

Granted, my interest in trying a century egg was out of curiosity. I must admit this. But, I did not have any interest in glorifying the experience in the sense that I was trying something so “exotic” or “taboo.”

That would be ridiculous.

Nonetheless, I purchased some century eggs from the 17th Street Market and opened my first this week.

I was so disappointed. Maybe a little unnerved.

No, I did not prepare fruit, soup, rice or tofu to go along with the egg. I tried it alone. I wanted to get a good sense of its smell and flavor. I thought the egg was so beautifully preserved, but I was so surprised that I did not like the smell or taste – not even a little bit.

…alas, I may give it another try on another day.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Black Figs, Etcetera

I have wanted to prepare figs since I first had them about four months ago. A friend of mine had plucked them fresh from her mother's yard. The green, tear-shaped fruit felt full in my mouth. I couldn't believe I had never had them before.

So, when I found a container tonight at Trader Joe's I immediately snatched it up!

I boiled some mirin in a pot with a pinch of salt and reduced it about 1/4 before adding the cut figs for about two to three minutes. I then removed them and added the tiniest pinch of sugar to each before letting them cool in the fridge.

Dinner was quite simple. I prepared a salad, focusing more on the presentation than the ingredients, along with filet mignon with lemon dripped broccoli and two types of mushrooms -- oyster and portobella. The mushrooms were gently sauteed in olive oil. Toward the end, I added a slight bit of fresh garlic and tapa marinade for the finish.

Then came the dessert!

I am usually not fanatic about dessert. I don't care much for sweets, actually. I much prefer salt -- so I tend to go with cheese for my after dinner treat.

For the finish, I crumbled a bit of goat cheese over the figs and gave Nancy some chocolate. It was a very round meal, but I found that adding blue cheese to the figs created a much more substantial flavor. The goat cheese was wonderful, but it had nearly the same consistency as the fig. The blue cheese and its more meaty texture and sharpness added a greatness to the figs that I had not expected. Luscious. 

Our Photography and Food Party

Nancy and I have been talking for about the last two months or so about hosting an event during which she would provide a photography lesson and I would cater.

It finally came to fruition.  And my darling friend Christina took some AMAZING photos! All of the photos include here are her images.

The party, hosted by Kelly -- one of Nancy's dear friends -- went off last night. Luckily, the monsoon rains didn't start until about one hour after the photo lesson, which was held on the deck outside.

While Nancy was giving her lesson (she's a professional photographer. I am not sure I had mentioned that previously), I was busy in the kitchen.
Photo Credit: Christina White
This was quite a challenge because I had to bring all of my food, utensils, spices and sauces and dishes to Kelly's house for the feast.

You should have seen the two cars loaded up! What a sight.

So, I decided to make tuna towers in the spirit of Chef Neff, the former head chef at Miraval. My variation of his recipe required: fresh ahi tuna, avocados, sesame seeds, sesame oil, cucumber, daikon, sriracha, scallops, mirin, onion salt and a couple other ingredients I can't quite recall at the moment.

I also made two types of salad -- one in the sense of a traditional North American salad and the other inspired by Asian cuisine, more specifically, Japanese. Other additional items used: cherry and Roma tomatoes, feta cheese, smoked salmon, truffle oil and a few other additions.  

I also prepared desserts! Simple deserts

I prepared strawberries, drizzling them with an apple sauce reduction with vanilla and a small sprinkling of confectioner's sugar.

I also prepared a vegetable and cheese platter for a second dessert -- fresh parmesean and Manchango cheeses with almond stuffed green olives and marinated peppadew peppers.

We later discovered that the truffle oil mixed with my reduction served an excellent accompaniment for the Manchango! Simply delicious and succulent tender sweetness with a soft, semi-smoky flavor that melted on the tongue and lingered for a minute thereafter. Goodness, almighty! It was an amazing accidental discovery. I most certainly will be preparing this again in this way.

I didn't see any of Nancy's presentation because I was too busy working the kitchen, but I hear she did an excellent job. No surprise -- she is a great teacher and has a sharp eye. Also quite patient with those of us who still can't grasp the meaning behind ISO settings and F-stop.

*long, deep, frustrated sigh*

But, yes -- great execution! And wonderful friends, ambiance and conversation. We are looking forward to doing this again, on a regular basis. Maybe monthly; maybe quarterly. We haven't quite figured it out.

Photo Credit: Christina White

Thursday, August 19, 2010

FOOD CHALLENGE: Tomatoes

I struggled with this week's challenge. That's good -- I needed a mental exercise. Right before the start of the new academic year. Need to get the brain cells hyped up for next week and the next few months of their lives. It's going to be an extra busy term. I can already tell.

So, as you may know, I tend to use tomatoes in my dishes quite often but, really, it tends to always be in the form of salads or, on the rare occasion, when I actually prepare a red sauce.

But what about something wildly different?

I still haven't had a chance to address my sushi obsession, so lox sounded attractive. It's been going strong for about a good six weeks or so now. Poor Nancy. That's about all I can think about most of these days: fresh, succulent fish! Unfortunately, we live in the desert, so decent fish is hard to come by. *sigh*

But, yes, the food challenge was heavy on my mind this week. I played with the idea of a new type of sauce. And ice cream. And other desserts with tomatoes.

But, alas, I change my mind often. Eventually, I though: Why not tomatoes and an assortment of other fillings inside a smoked salmon wrapping?

I set out to roast the tomatoes with crushed garlic, a pinch of lemongrass, basil, salt and pepper drizzled with olive oil. I put this in the oven at about 400 degrees for about 40 minutes.

That was perfect timing About half the tomatoes shriveled and slightly popped while the other half were prepped to burst. A few minutes before removing them from the oven, I topped the plum tomatoes with mozzarella or a mozzarella and prosciutto combo.

Then I prepared the shrimp. Nothing fancy -- just Old Bay seasoning and onion salt with a slight drizzle of olive oil before going into the oven for a few minutes.

I happened to have some coconut milk rice from the other night, so I warmed that gently in the microwave.

Next, I sauteed some portobello mushrooms and chives in a little bit of butter, adding some oil at the finish. This turned out to be an amazing addition. In the future -- if ever I make this dish again -- I am pretty sure I would skip the tomatoes and double the mushrooms. They added a much needed texture to this meal. And it helped to add a tad bit of truffle oil to the mushrooms before adding them to the mix.
Then came the assembly, which was quite easy.

I lined ramekins with the smoked salmon then added all of the filings. I then chopped up some fresh basil and sprinkled it atop the "cups."

Next, I adorned each plate with some tomatoes and a few shrimps each.

And there you have it -- this strange-looking meal that turned out to be quite different with nearly every single bite.

I think, also, keeping with the sticky rice was a good choice. I don't think standard white rice would have done this dish any good. Having that slighty sweet flavor helped to pull out the flavors of other dishes. In the end, though, I think I would have let the mushrooms and the tomatoes cool a bit longer before serving so as not to disrupt the tender coolness of the salmon.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fancy Lamb and Couscous

Goodness – halfway through the week and not a clue yet to do with this week’s secret ingredient. Tomatoes. Hum…


Ah, well. It didn’t happen last night.

Instead, Nancy and I had lovely, grilled lamb! Dressed with a bit of brown sugar, cinnamon, cumin, steak seasoning (don’t laugh. It worked out somehow) and a garlic and herb mixture with some olive oil. I let this sit for about a half hour before placing the lamb on the grill.

Meanwhile, I prepared what turned out to be – hands down! – my best couscous to date. I grilled some onions with onion salt (tee hee) and then tossed in some chopped yellow peppers. Before adding the water and seasonings, I added some Baby Bella mushrooms. I wanted to add portabellas but, alas, they were hiding from me behind a couple of jars in the fridge. With the water, I added a bit of cinnamon.

And I had to redo the salad from the other night – this time adding daikon and cucumber.

This was, without a doubt, one of the most flavorful dishes I have ever made!

The Comal Conundrum

I have been on this sushi kick for a couple of weeks now, but my cravings have not yet been squashed.

So no wonder that I craved fresh, raw fish Monday night. I opted to make tuna.

Last week I discovered that the comal I have had for something like eight years can be used to sear meats. How wonderful! I usually try to sear my tuna on the grill, but the fire is never hot enough to do the job, so it ends up cooking too close to the middle. But this comal – I have never used it for anything other than heating tortillas – something I hadn’t done in quite a while since I don’t often use tortillas any more in my cooking. But I figured I could try something new!

I made a marinade for the tuna then combined black and white sesame seeds on a plate to cover the tuna before placing it on the comal. I then waited for the comal to get extra hot before gently placing the tuna on it.



Mistake.

I have never seen so much smoke lift immediately from a cooking dish! And it took longer than expected to sear the tuna. And the seeds were starting to burn! Arggghhh!!!

I would like to take this moment to reiterate that I am a chef in training – a home chef, to be specific.

Now, nothing to worry about. We didn’t have to call the fire department. I quickly removed some of the seeds and added a bit of grapeseed oil (big no no for me, but ah well…) and seared the tuna for about two minutes.

Then I made the salad.

I simply mixed soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, a little bit of sesame oil and some red chili oil with a generous shaving of ginger then tossed the salad. Marvelous flavor!

I served the tuna over the salad and there you have it! It was actually a pleasant meal. And for dessert – I made sticky rice and mango, but using jasmine rice instead of sticky rice. I also made a sticky coconut milk reduction to spread over the rice with sesame seeds. My first try at the dessert. Not bad.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Quick Home Eats

I have been exhausted lately, so trying to keep it simple.

I cannot remember the last time I made tacos. And I don’t know where the interest in making them this week came from. They turned out well – ground beef from 17th Street Market with corn, avocado, tomatoes, onion, red bell peppers and cilantro made the dish. And I don’t care much for lard-laden tortillas, so found a healthy version, also from 17th Street Market.

It took about a half hour to put this meal together, which meant Nancy and I had more time to sit casually and talk. Nice treat! And a nice vacation from the kitchen – though I love it, it usually takes a good two hours to prepare a meal.

...and Nancy took this photo:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

FOOD CHALLENGE: Coffee

 
Seriously, I had no idea how this would turn out. As I was laying the chicken over a bed of Yukon gold potatoes within an foil wrap, I chucked to myself: "Whole beans baked with chicken. Bah! This will never work!"

Part of me was ecstatic! I figured this was a creative try.

But another part felt I was lazy:

"What, really? You're not even going to do anything with the beans? Just sit them there, in a foil wrap? Just like that? Nothing...fancy? Nothing that requires, what...I don't know. Time and procedure? No? ...oh, OK."

I even had a backup meal, expecting this one to fail -- miserably.

But, yeah. Coffee beans?!

Like that part in "Young Frankenstein" when Frankenstein yells, "Sedagive?!" That's kind of how I felt as I was preparing the dish -- as though I was creating some monstrosity of a dish.

All the while I imagined myself at 3 in the morning, rocking gently while murmuring, "Must sleep. Must sleep! Please, just sleep!" 

I have never cooked with coffee. Never even considered it. I thought of just about everything: A cake with ground coffee. A coffee rub with steak. A mixture post blender phase. But all of those things seemed too strange to try.

But what about baking whole beans to grab the flavor and essence of coffee, but without the bite? I thought I had stumbled upon an invention! Something that would become a common method in households around the world! A culinary feat that would change us all!

...but, alas, someone had already thought this up.

Ah, well...I set out to try it anyway -- but my own way.

With my naturally raised chicken and potatoes I included in the wrap sprinkles of salt, Old Bay seasoning, cumin and -- cinnamon? That was a mistake. I was going for the cumin but accidentally went for the cinnamon instead. Turned out well with some olive oil and small dabs of butter.

I baked this about 40 minutes and removed the beans for plating. 

The flavor was full. Bulbous. Shapely. I was so impressed! All this using French Roast beans. It was meaty, almost, leathery. Something worth writing home about and preparing again. What a delight.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

My Spice Rack

One of the challenges here has been in arranging my spices. I have entirely too many, yet cannot let any of them go.

I had done the usual -- stuffed them into the overhead cabinets, opting to pick through them to find the ones I needed prior to cooking. It was never a problem, until...

Well, remember when I spilled all of those fresh peppers into the mashed potatoes after my pepper mill had broken in my hands? I had dropped it onto the countertop while going for the Old Bay seasoning, causing it to hit the floor. I didn't realize it was broken.

Then there was that time I was preparing a marinade in the salad bowl my father gave me. It had belonged to his mother, who'd had the bowl for decades. Well, I dropped rosemary -- I believe -- and it hit the rim of the bowl, causing a horrendous chip and a crack that creeps down to the bottom side of the bowl.

ARRGGGHHH!!!

I needed an alternative.

And I've found one. 

Nancy and I were at Michael's getting a gift for her nephew who had just turned 16. The kid is into arts and food -- love him!

Anyway, I was browsing in the basket section in search of something that could neatly contain my spices. I had considered a spice rack, but they seem a waste of space to me. There should be something to do with the void they create.

But I came upon this awesome, non-descriptive but study basket (see left; Alex looks so very amused. Actually, she's annoyed that I am taking pictures and not cooking).

Perfect! I crammed enough spices in the box -- the ones I use more frequently, then packaged the seldom-used ones away in a bag and placed them in a dark, dry space in the house.

So now when I cook, I simply pull out the basket and get what I need and, when finished, slide it back onto the fridge where it now lives. No mess and no danger of a glass spice container careening off of the shelf and into an antique container that has been handed down from my great grandmother.

Sweet.

FOOD CHALLENGE: Yogurt

Last week was a rough week for me in the kitchen.

I wasn't feeling to well for half the week and, during the other half, I obsessed over the week's food challenge item: yogurt.

Turned out a friend of mine, Dina, had a birthday. Good motivation for making a cake. So, I hoped to make a cake using yogurt.

I thought I was the first to think about such a thing, but later found out that there are whole cookbook recipes dedicated to the art of making cakes using yogurt.

Ah well.

I used about 1.5 cups of flour as the base and included Greek-style plain yogurt from Trader Joe's, about a tablespoon of butter, two eggs, some salt, some olive oil, the juice from one lemon and, as a last thought, some poppy seeds.

In retrospect, I should have added some of the zest! Argghhh! I also could have added more poppyseeds, but this was my first go at making a cake other than chocolate from scratch. And it was such an enjoyable experience. Quite easy in comparison. It took me about 15 minutes to mix the ingredients about was about 40 minutes in the oven for the cake.

It was a delicious, moist cake! I was quite surprised at the yield. Pretty good for my first go. But question of the day: Why did it turn out looking the way it did? So strange.

Anyway -- Nancy and I had plans to visit with Dina to celebrate her birthday last night.

We arrived with some gifts, the cake and this rice/corn dish I have been meaning to make for ages.

The dish was inspired by one I had at Maya Quetzal. If you are ever in the Tucson area, I would highly recommend checking out this restaurant. It is a small establishment, but the owners and employees work hard to keep the place up and running. Locally owned; not a chain -- another attractive feature. And in a land ruled by Mexican food -- much of which is pretty good -- this Guatemalan restaurant is a fantastic deviation from the norm.

One of the side dishes offered is this amazing melding of corn and rice. I have had it twice before and wanted to try and duplicate the dish at home. I have no idea what is included in the dish and going from memory, stirred together prepared jasmine rice that had been cooked in chicken broth, corn, some creme cheese and shredded mozzerella cheese. I also adding some garlic powder with parsley on top before cooking in the oven for a half hour.

The flavors were amazing! ...but it was nothing close to the delicious nature of what the Maya Quetzal chefs have produced.

Hum...maybe I should have added some yogurt and a tiny bit of milk?

*long, deep sigh*

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Bursting with Flavor

We had a dinner guest last night. My, I do love entertaining. I decided to make a brisket and toss together a salad and couscous. Very, very simple.

I began cooking Monday night. I had to make a stock. In restroscpect, I’m not sure why…there was chicken stock in the fridge….

Well, it was good exercise.

I had been saving the chicken bones from the doro wat, but didn’t have enough bones, so ended up using bouillon as well. And, true to my character, I couldn’t keep it simple and just use the chicken bouillon. I added beef and shrimp bouillon just out of curiosity. I figured that if it turned out horrible, I would simply add water and seasoning to the crock pot while cooking the brisket.

I cooked this with a few garlic cloves (whole) for about two hours, skimming off the top periodically.

In the morning, I browed the brisket in a skillet and into the crock pot it went with the stock/ bouillon concoction on low heat for eight hours.

But when I returned from work, it wasn’t quite ready! Didn’t make sense – this was only a one-pounder. I turned up the heat to high and cooked it for about another hour and a half. It was just about ready then.

The salad was quite simple – much like the one I made a few days ago with black truffle oil as the only dressing.

Then I set out on making the couscous. I wanted to use turmeric. Just because. So, I saut̩ed some onions in a bit of olive oil, added the water and then also added a tablespoon Рmaybe a little bit less Рof turmeric with some cinnamon and two garlic cloves and chives. What a fantastic idea!

And that was that. Dinner. Honestly, though – my photos do not do the meal any justice at all!

And this week's challenge: yogurt! Eek. What to make?!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Culinary Love Letter

I have written Nancy countless love letters -- sent them to her e-mail inbox; mailed them to her doorstep; left them in strange places, like her coffee bean jar or freezer; left them under her dinner plate and the like.

But what about a culinary love letter?

Once the thought was in my head it became an obsession. But where to begin?

This wasn't because her birthday was coming, or that I was preparing for our anniversary. It was a sheer "just because."

Sure, I have meticulously prepared meals in her honor, being quite careful about the types of ingredients included. Among the prominent food items that she enjoys are:

Chocolate (and, no, there is no coincidence that I listed this item first)
Steak: Tenderloin (filet mignon), ribeye, T-bone, flank
Lamb
Salmon
Light pasta 
Flat bread
Bruschetta and crostini
Salads

Of course this is a tremendously condensed list. Nancy has a broad palate, as do I. 

But I wanted to produce something so complex and succulent and full of flavor and color, something that would indicate the tremendous love I feel for her.

And so today I set out to prepare a love note in the form of a dinner.

The list of ingredients is lengthy.

For the desert: Pears, strawberries, cinnamon, vanilla extract, heavy creme, sugar, creme cheese and red wine.

For the entree: Pork tenderloin, blue cheese, hibiscus flowers, hoisin sauce, spinach, salt and pepper, paprika and onion salt.

For the sides: Basil, eggs, tomatoes, lettuce, avocado, zucchini, yellow squash, feta cheese, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, truffle oil and cucumber.

With these ingredients, I prepared an entree, which consisted of the stuffed tenderloin, and a vegetable timbale.

Dessert consisted of the strawberries and poached pears, drizzled in a creme that included a red wine reduction.

And thank goodness for gorgeous weather. As I was preparing the table -- about 15 minutes before Nancy would arrive -- I decided to set the table outside instead. The weather was nice. We had gorgeous overcast. And a lovely breeze.

Looks like I pulled it off well.  Look at that lovely expression:

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