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!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Night After...

Oh my goa!

I went to Red Robin last night with a friend to celebrate his birthday -- my first time there. I had heard about Red Robin before, but had never dined there. I didn't realize it was such a burgers-and-fries-driven restaurant.

Wow...I should have just ordered the salad. And only the salad. And water, though water is all I cared to have anyway with the meal.

Oh but no, no, no, no, no!

I had to order the Royal Red Robin Burger instead.

Goodness, gracious. What on earth was I thinking?

Red Robin calls this the "aristocrat of all burgers." What a lovely complement. The burger has tomatoes, bacon, American cheese, mayo and -- here we go -- a fried egg.

*big, long, deep sigh*

You know how attracted I am to eggs. But -- bad idea! It was such a heavy meal with the burger and fries. Too much for my weak system.

And who would have known?! A gal raised on Salisbury steaks and fried chicken and corn dogs dipped in honey and fried biscuits.

But, goodness, that burger was too much! So much that I had a salad for lunch today and desired a light dinner -- one with less lard.

And when I got home from work, I decided to jog a bit before taking Topee and Alex for a walk around the park. Honestly, I needed the exertion.

My body felt as though it were experiencing some mild form of toxic shock! No kidding. I told Nancy I was experiencing a grease overdose. That is not to demean the meal. The food was quite delicious at Red Robin! I simply realize that I have grown accustomed to cooking at home and eating less heavy meals so that my body is not as resilient when it comes to traditionally heavy American foods.

So, yes -- tonight required something requiring no red meat at all.

I began with a salad.

I think I've mentioned before that I once made the world's most bland salads. No kidding. Look up "bland salad" in a dictionary. See what you find.

But tonight's was wonderful!

...tell the truth. Do I gloat too much?

I threw together feta cheese, Kalamata olives, cucumbers, red onions and lettuce. Hum...and a couple of other things can't recall. I tossed all of this with about a tablespoon or so of black truffle oil. I was going to throw fresh spinach in there but, alas, I was feeling lazy. Yes, lots of ingredients; but layers of texture and color.

Inspired by a recipe by StephenC, I poached cod in butter with chives. Very light and decadent. And so little work, which was wonderful considering the heat is still too high for this region. That coupled with the humidity. The monsoon still has not quite activated, so we are dealing with quite a bit of residual heat.

But the dinner -- so very refreshing!

Yes, I admit NOW that the burger and fries of last night were too much for me. I even told my friend that I should have stopped with the last french fry.

But tonight was all about redemption and restoration. 

Also, I have been quite curious about turmeric and rice, so I prepared jasmine rice with about two tablespoons of turmeric, salt and butter. Very simple, but very flavorful! Granted, this thought came to me at about the last three minutes of cooking. But no matter. I simply added a tad bit more water and all my extra ingredients and it all worked out just fine.


But while cleaning after dinner I realized a great omission. 

Bummer! I completely forgot to add the ginger!!!


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dinner Deconstructed

I began dinner much later than expected. And I had made no prior decision about what to cook. So we all know what that means: Operation Indecision.

What to cook. I made a swift trip to the market to get fresh spinach and potatoes and decided I would have to make a meal around those two items. Time was short.

Luckily, I had some shrimp in the fridge left over from I don't know what I made at the end of last week.

I thought, "Hum...can I toss this together to make a lump sum meal?" Goa, at the end of the day, and provided that I have been slightly low energy lately, I couldn't expend too much brain power.

So, the result: a deconstructed dinner -- oven-baked potatoes with a range of seasoning, chive and butter-dunked shrimp and garlic-spinach.

A light, lovely dinner. And so very perfect for the season: The monsoon blossomed this evening.
 

Monday, July 26, 2010

FOOD CHALLENGE: Cardamom

I got my first chance at picking the mystery ingredient for the group’s food challenge over the weekend. It took a while to decide because I kept changing my mind.

“You’re a Libra,” Nancy would say with each go.

I pondered: “How about rice? Or what about wonton wrappers? But, really, it should be something I rarely cook so I am forced to be even more creative. Something like eggplant.”

I chose coconut milk. But it turned out that the group had a coconut milk challenge before I began participating.

Bummer! Had to make yet another decision. *wink, wink* I ended up choosing cardamom.

I have cooked with cardamom one other time, but have had it in numerous dishes. I immediate considered a range of things: curry, biryani. Chai tea – which meant I just HAD to throw those ideas out.

I chose pulla, a cardamom bread that I have wanted to make since reading about the recipe in Saveur.

It took four hours to make the bread, which is not a long time at all! The last time I made bread, it took about 12 hours.

I followed the recipe – something I rarely do to the exact -- but omitted the nuts. I’m not a fan.




Honestly, the whole experience was entertaining. I freaked out a bit when my yeast didn’t activate after a few minutes, but it turned out well. Maybe it was because I kept hovering over it. Heavy breathing probably doesn’t help the process. But, my, the smell! Like tiny little breads baking in the bowl.

And the kneading! I wish I’d been able to knead and take a photo at the same time. The dough was so sticky and strong! I felt I was fighting against it. Of course, the recipe called for the use of a machine. But because I don’t have a blending machine, I had to do this old school. Goa, I felt like a gladiator. (It looked something like this photo, courtesy of Goddess of Cake).



Then the braiding. Have you ever braided dough?! It must be done ever so gently and swiftly because all the time you are working, the dough is growing in size.

But, my goodness, it came out looking and tasting quite lovely! But you must love the smell and taste of cardamom because the flavor is quite strong. Not spicy, just strong.


Friday, July 23, 2010

My Secret Rendezvous: Late Night Eggs

Call it an obsession.

Call it a dietary deficiency.

Some nights I cannot help but to sneak into the fridge and pluck one or two eggs from their carton cases. I love the way those oval shells feel in my hands -- smooth, tender, soft.

Hard-boiled eggs are wonderful for a midnight snack. Alone or with a pinch of salt and pepper. Or with a bit of feta cheese. Or sprinkled with a sampling of Parmesan.

Always in a bowl. Always with a fork on hand. Always munching slowly and deliberately.

It is a guilty pleasure of mine. An obsession? Perhaps.

Pasta, Sans the Red Sauce

I think I mentioned before that I do not have a tremendous affinity for Italian food.

Sure, I love my crostini and bruschetta, Parmesan and certain types of pizza, but considering that Italian food tends to be full and rich, I've found it difficult to understand why I don't favor it.

Mostly, my complaint is with the American version of Italian food -- heavy, tomato based sauce with lots and lots of cheese, drowning out what amazing flavors reside beneath the hull. And, really, the domesticated version here does not often capture the full regional-based range of Italian cuisine native to the country.

Perhaps it's been my poor experience with Italian cuisine: Dry gnocchi, overpowered pesto and grainy polenta for example.

But I bless the day Nancy began allowing me to adopt her subscriptions of Saveur. The May 2010 edition was devoted to "comfort food," which included a series of pages focused exclusively on Italian cuisine.

Well, after taking about 20 minutes to decide what to cook, I settled on shrimp pasta. I used fettuccine, which I boiled with a half-block of shrimp-flavored bouillon.

Meanwhile, I marinated the shelled and cleaned shrimp with lemon juice, Old Bay seasoning and a teaspoon of truffle oil.

All the while, I was working on my caramelization, this time using sweet onions.

Then, I swiftly cooked the shrimp with some ginger shavings in one skillet while I sauteed the pasta in another skillet with about two tablespoons of butter and another two tablespoons of chives. When the shrimp and onions (which were splendid this time!!!) were ready, I added it to the pasta.

For the finish, I added some freshly cut basil and toasted french bread.

Fantastic! I will certainly be making this dish again.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

FOOD CHALLENGE: Red Onions


For those of you who have read Holes by Louis Sachar -- one of my favorite childhood books -- recall the scene when Stanley meets the kid who can eat an onion like an apple? 

I so wanted to do that as a child but I was repulsed by onions.

So much has changed in my adult years. I enjoy peeling away layers of onions and popping them in my mouth from time to time. Yes, yes -- world's worst case of onion breath, but there is something about the tangy, slightly sweet and crunchy texture of sweet onions that simply forces my hand to do this.

...really.

I am sure you've guessed it -- this week's challenge called for onions. Red onions. And, my goodness -- isn't that the most adorable, perfect-looking red onion?!

I made yet another attempt to caramelize onions. Nope, still haven't perfected the skill. But the onions were soft and semi-sweet.

I then prepared my towers, using an ahi tuna steak, sesame seed oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, fresh ginger, green onions, avocado, daikon and sriracha. For a nice surprise, and to add a little bit more texture and flavor, I added slices of seared scallops toward the bottom and center.

I made one for me; one for Nancy. Nancy's was plated with seared spinach, tossed with black truffle oil. She's not a huge fan of onions.

I omitted the spinach for my stack, using the red onions instead. In retrospect, I wish the onions had been slightly more sweet.

I will have to practice pulling out the sweetness in a slow cook, though I am not sure where I went wrong considering it took about 40 minutes to prepare and cook the onions.


I'll have to do a bit more research there.


But, in all -- good flavor
and decent presentation.

Doro Wat, Part II

Thank goodness for do overs.

My doro wat was quite basic the first I tried and, disappointed that it didn't get the full effect of the deep, rich flavor of berbere, I tried again.

A tablespoon of cardamom, about three tablespoons more paprika, a 1/2 cup more chicken broth and, most importantly, more time. About one hour more.

The recipe is improving, but it has not yet reached heaven yet.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Kitchen Disaster, Redeemed

I haven't been this disappointed in the kitchen in quite a while. But, alas, we live and learn.

I had grand ideas for the kitchen. I wanted to make a mint-based sauce for the fresh lamb rack -- my first time preparing a lamb rack...though I did not french it myself. I will master that skill someday in the future. But, no, not today.

I was thoroughly disappointed in the sauce! It came out tasting quite tart and somewhat grainy. The processor did not mince the mint finely enough and I made the mistake of adding a bit of rosemary. I thought I could slowly heat the sauce on the stovetop to activate the flavors, but it didn't work. I tried to do this slowly but the yogurt began to curdle a bit. Ruined, I thought, but Nancy liked the flavor.

And while I was making the potatoes my pepper mill fell apart! This threw hundreds of tiny peppers all over the counter tops, stove, into the sink and into my potatoes! There is something in the universe, I think...or I am just having a clumsy day. Ah well, tomorrow is another day full of wondrous possibilities! And, really, the dinner wasn't so bad in the end (Photo courtesy of Nancy).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tired Night; Swift Cooking

Why didn't I take photos of the wonderful eggs benedict I made for breakfast this morning. Bummer.

But it's evening now. And it is nights like these that call for simplicity.

We had a wonderful day out of town visiting a darling friend and, upon returning home, were exhausted.

As Nancy took a nap, I prepared the ribs that had been marinating overnight and all day in a gorgeous liquid of so many things. Honestly, I cannot recall everything I used, but it was some combination of a rub and Filipino sauce.

While the ribs were on the grill, I braised some cabbage with onions and a range of seasonings. Turned out to be quite succulent. And there was a familiar nutty smell in the air as it cooked that so reminded me of home. Perhaps it was something about the nutmeg, or in the red cabbage mixing with the onion. I am not certain.

Oh, and important note to self: Remember to learn how to appropriately control flair ups on the grill. I did slightly char the ribs tonight. Arrggghhh!!! 

And, yes -- I generally do not like to rush cooking a meal. All told, dinner took less than 45 minutes. But it was by no means a disappointment. It turned out to be a lovely pairing. Perfect for an evening of rest.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

FOOD CHALLENGE: Goat Cheese

I am a total and complete lover of cheese, so I was thrilled to learn that this week's challenge item was goat cheese.

Some of the best goat cheese I've had thus far was at a darling restaurant in Chicago, as part of a cheese board at the Marriott in Tucson and during a farmer's market during wine tasking weekend in Sonoita, southern Arizona's wine region. Yep, we have a wine region.

So, of course, my love for cheese is broad: Asiago, blue, cotija, edam, feta, gouda, gruyere, havarti (especailly with dill), manchego, paneer, parmesan, ricotta, romano, swiss and Tillamook cheddar to name a select few. Actually, manchego and ricotta are new additions for me. And now that I'm looking at this list, I realize I am not too fond of American cheeses. Most of my culinary interests are international.

So, back to the food challenge.

I decided to make a simple appetizer. Honestly, this has got to be the most simple dish I have made. OK...perhaps taking third place after boiled rice and cheese toast.

I basically rolled a dollop of goat cheese into a mint leaf and prosciutto. In retrospect, I could have added just the slightest pinch of nutmeg to round out the flavors or, as Nancy suggested, added cucumber. The flavors mingled well, but there was virtually no texture to be had.

But one appetizer wasn't enough. Oh no! I had to make bruchetta as well.

I started out slowly cooking onion in olive oil, then added chunks of tomatoes, then slices of peaches -- with the fuzzy skin and all. I then added one glove of fresh garlic and a tablespoon or so of honey.

I could not believe how much this dish reduced! ...to nothing almost. I think I cooked it about 20 minutes too long. But the flavor was very well condenses, almost like a jam, so very little was necessary to add to the slices of french toast I prepared.
For dinner, I grilled a flat iron steak and baked Yukon gold potatoes with parsley. Quite simple, really.

With it all, we enjoyed a nice bottle of zinfandel from my favorite vineyards, Klinker Brick Winery, which is located in Lodi, California.

By the way, Klinker Brick is hands down, no question and no contest one of the absolute best wineries I have ever come across. I highly suggest checking out their wines! Steve, the wine maker, only produces three types -- but, to borrow an expression from my sister, he "puts his foot in it!"

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Midnight Nibble

A bag of chips simply won't do.

Craving a midnight snack, I scoured the kitchen. Disappointed in not having cheese, an occasional craving of mine, I tried to figure out what I could toss together at short notice.

I opted to make a pasta dish. 

We had some left over spinach and chive pasta from Trader Joe's and some actual chives.

Then, I used a bit of garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and butter for the sauce.

So simple, yet so refreshing and palatable.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dining on Air

Tonight called for a light dinner. My interpretation: A full meal with dessert, but with light, fluffy flavors.

This called for fish -- tilapia. It also called for couscous and the broccoli I kept meaning to steam. Plus, Nancy arrived at the house this morning with a sizable donation of strawberries, blueberries and grapes from a friend she had spent time visiting. I immediately thought about the wontons (recall how inexpensive they are). I also gathered crimini mushrooms, fresh garlic. confectioner's sugar, heavy whipped cream and a few other things for dinner and dessert.

I began with the whipped cream. I have never whipped up a cream before, so I wasn't sure what to do. I went ahead and placed the liquid, beater and bowl in the freezer, believing it would help if they were quite cold. I also figured you should just take a beater to a small sampling of the cream and, after about 30 seconds, would begin to see the liquid set.

...not so.

After two failed attempts at beating the liquid, taking a few minutes to catch my breath both times (it was rigorous work!), I decided to turn to the internet. I had no idea whatsoever that you had to add a bit of sugar to the liquid to help it begin to set! Silly me. Live and learn, eh?


So I added about one tablespoon of sugar and another tablespoon of cream cheese and a tiny bit of vanilla extract and watched with total and complete giddiness as the liquid turned into light, fluffy pillows. Yep, keeping with the theme of light. When prepared, the bowl went back into the fridge.

Next up -- the fish. I seasoned the tilapia with salt, pepper and Old Bay seasoning and prepared a butter mixture in a pan, slowly sautéing fresh garlic with chives, adding fresh lemon at the very end. I then transferred the mixture to the fish and baked it, uncovered, on 425 for about a half hour. I then covered it and put the head up to 475 for about another 20 minutes.

I then sauteed some garlic and mushrooms in a pan before tossing in the broccoli with about 1/3 cup of water. I placed a lid over the mixture and brought down the heat a bit. Then I made the couscous according to instructions and also prepared the wontons for the dessert.

After dinner, I layered the dessert on a dish. The two of us were so goofy in our photo-taking that we dropped one of the stacks!

And as we sat enjoying our meal, Nancy and I considered the cost of such a meal had we had it in public. We estimated that, all told, the cost would have run us at least $60, and without the tip. I am pretty sure I was able to make dinner and dessert for less than $20. 

Kitchen Experiment: Food Mold

I have wanted a cylinder-shaped cookie cutter or food mold that I could use in the kitchen. But, while out shopping, it is not something I generally remember, especially since I envisioned that I would use the cylinder very infrequently.

But, yes, it was something I desired. I figured I would use it for shaping rice, couscous and the tuna tower I love making from time time.

Well, turned out that today while standing in line at the grocery story my eyes inadvertently looked down the aisle with all the picnic items.

I pondered: "A plastic cup..."

Finding the plastic cups, I snatched a stack and made my way gleefully home. Would this, could this work? Might this be exactly what I have needed? 

When I arrived home, I began preparing my snack: jasmine rice with a vegetable sautee. When all was prepared to plate, I took my "cylinder mold" and began molding the rice. It worked perfectly! And what's more, it didn't need any kind of cooking spray.

Oh -- and if interested: I prepared the jasmine rice as noted. I then slowly cooked the onions so that they could caramelize slightly, then I added the mushrooms and red bell peppers (I like my slightly crunchy) to the pan and blasted the heat for a few minutes -- just until the peppers got slightly soft.  I then served the dish with a smattering of paprika. The result: Not bad at all.

Confessions of an Obsessed Cook

I am in one of those moods. Happens from time to time.

All I want to do this lovey Sunday morning and early afternoon is to study my cookbooks and recipes to figure out what I can attempt to make next.

Yes, I could do this for hours. For me, it is serious study time.

I've been very curious lately about cooking curries and using Indian spices and, always, presentation. The challenge for me today is in deciding whether I want to spend the day in the kitchen, or working on my research project (recall that I am a graduate student in an amazing higher education program).

I'll do both.

But, for now, my thoughts are trained. I cannot stop thinking about what I could be doing with a sheet of puff pastry. Or how I could shape a fish fillet, then bake it to retain the shape. Or how I can make a spice mixture for a rub, then gently sautee the compound until nicely toasted and ready to use as rub. Or what about poaching fruits. I hadn't done that in some time. Or making a semi-sweet, spicy sauce. And what about fennel? What could I do with fennel besides toss it in a salad. Or how about the lotus roots? And, my goodness, how long will they actually hold in the fridge? And another thing, how do people take long pasta and swirl it into such neat and tiny mounds?

Hum...that reminds me. What's for dinner?

Twist on Lamb Burgers, along with a Mustard Spread

Generally, if Nancy and I are having lamb, we prefer rib chops and loin chops. Typically I will make some sort of spice rub for the lamb, then grill them, serving them with any number of sides, such as mashed potatoes or a basic salad perhaps. Nothing to deter too much from the delicious taste of well-cooked lamb. But Nancy had a craving for lamb burgers -- something I had never prepared. I figured it would be a fun challenge.

Off to the market I went to purchase lamb mince and additions for the side salad: artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, tomatoes and cucumber.

It must have been about one year ago that I realized my salads were So. Very. Bland. My technique now is to marinade the tomatoes in olive oil, fresh garlic and lemon (when in the mood) before tossing it with the rest of the other parts of the salad. And I would say that 90 percent of the time, we do not need any salad dressing at all. Typically we'll drizzle a bit of balsamic vinegar on the salad before, but this salad, which included feta cheese, was robust enough that it required no other attention.

Next up: After an unsuccessful try at making tzatziki (*Mental note: Never, ever buy vanilla yogurt ever again!), I opted to try and pull together a different type of spread. I took about three tablespoons of honey mustard (without the mustard seeds), added about one tablespoon each of paprika, cumin and olive oil then beat the mixture until it was soft.

All this time, the lamb mince was marinating in a little bit of olive oil with onion garlic and herb spices. While shaping them, I placed a small cube of feta at the center.

Next came the bread. Because I did not get buns while at the store (tee hee...), we opted to use the french toast we had on hand. I toasted each in the toaster, then paired one buttered and one unbuttered toast for dinner.

Funny thing -- even though I left a thumbprint in each of the lamb burgers (which we aptly named lamb sliders), they came out looking something like large meatballs. No worries, Nancy simply cut hers in half, placing both halves face down on the bread. Good idea, that one.

What a scrumptious meal! And we most definitely will be having that spread again!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

First Attempt at Doro Wat

I first thought it pretentious, to try and reproduce what is commonly referred to as Ethiopia's national dish. But doro wat is one of my personal favorite dishes. I also love gomen, tikil gomen, yebeg alitcha, yebeg wot and ayib be gomen. But doro wat! It's spicy, chunky flavor is amazing. And the dish is served with a hard boiled egg! I am a sucker for eggs, you know.

I began with a recipe by Marcus Samuelsson and threw in a few alterations. Shamefully, I admit I did not serve the dish with injera, but used couscous garnished with cilantro instead.

My method:

I gently cooked red and yellow onions with ginger and five cloves of garlic in olive oil for about 20 minutes in a dutch oven. I then added about 1/2 cup of tomato sauce (sorry, no tomato paste in the house) with berbere. I added about three tablespoons of butter, two tablespoons of paprika to the mix and about one cup of chicken stock and cooked this for about another 20 minutes. 

I began boiling the eggs at this point and preparing the couscous, which included a spice pack an obscure  addition of Parmesan cheese that turned out to be an excellent choice.

While this was being prepared, I added some oil to a pan for the chicken that had been marinating in lemon juice and salt for almost one hour.

I pan fried the chicken until slightly brown before placing in the dutch oven. I covered the pot and cooked on a simmer for about 45 minutes. Then I removed the top and blasted the heat for another half hour to burn off some of the juice, rendering a slightly darker sauce.

I wanted a much deeper sauce, but I probably should have cooked it on low for another hour. Toward the end, I added the eggs.

This was my first attempt at doro wat. The flavor was rich and the chicken tasty, having taken on subtle tones of the spices. In the future, I will have to allow for more time for this amazing dish. And, seriously, I need to find some cardamom!

My Kitchen Companion

Meet Alex.

Alex is Nancy's Golden Retriever, and my faithful kitchen companion. The running joke in the house is that Alex is so taken my by cooking -- the fragrant and spicy nature of the foods I tend to cook -- that she enjoys living in the kitchen during the evening hours. 

True as word, whenever I began to remove the pots, pans, cutting boards and ingredients for the evening's meal, Alex finds her way into the kitchen, inevitably plopping down nearby so that she can watch my every move.

She is never a bother. In fact, most times she is so coy, as if to say, "Goodness...I hope you don't mind me sitting here." Perhaps she is taking notes -- my undercover apprentice. Or maybe always keeping watch for the tiniest grain or granule of food to escape my wooden spoon. Strangely, the kitchen floor tends to remain fairly clean no matter how complex the meal I am cooking.

Hum...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

FOOD CHALLENGE: Blackberries

When I got the e-mail announcing blackberries this week I thought, "Oh no! Blackberries?!" After inadvertently buying blueberries for the market, resulting in a second trip, I decided on a sauce. Silly me.

I decided to make a pork tenderloin, roasted potatoes with rosemary and basil along with a blackberry and balsamic vinegar reduction. I also intended to make a small chocolate cake with blended blackberries.



I began by sorting out the ingredients. Nancy, the professional photographer, stepped in to take some vanity shots of the preparation work and the finished product. Meanwhile, I took some vanity shots of Nancy: 


I blended the blackberries with a tiny bit of brown sugar (my shot): 



Meanwhile, I cooked the potatoes in the oven and the tenderloin on the grill. I also sauteed some sweet onions and mushrooms. Then I began preparing for the cake/brownie -- whatever it turned out to be (my shot): 


The end results (Nancy's shot):



Dinner... (Nancy's shot):



























...and dessert (my shot):


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