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, October 31, 2010

HoneyBaked Ham Knockoff

I have many fond childhood memories of Christmas and Easter time when my mother would purchase a HoneyBaked Ham for the family dinner.

What I loved most about the ham was it syrupy sweet glaze coating, which was always slightly crunchy. We would enjoy our ham with macaroni and cheese and dinner rolls or King's Hawaiiam Bread.

Once, my mother and I tried to replicate the recipe. It didn't go over as well. I tried again tonight, and I now know what has been missing all along: a torch.

That's right. If I had a torch this meal would have been top notch. I'll get one someday.

My torch-less method was quite simple. I purchased a one-pound ham that had been cooked. I placed this in a baking container lined with foil. For the first phase of cooking, I put in a little bit of water and brown sugar on top. Not much brown sugar, just enough to try and create a thin coating.

I cooked the ham for 20 minutes, covered. Meanwhile, I sauteed sweet onions and green bell peppers, added some garlic and cinnamon with the spice pack for couscous before adding the grain to cook.

Next I tossed together a salad. I let the tomatoes, cucumbers and olives marinate in a blue cheese dressing with a bit of feta and Parmesan cheese.

After the 20 minutes for the ham, I added a mixture that I had headed in a sauce pot: brown sugar, mirin and also ground cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. When this was nearing a boil, I poured it over the ham and returned the ham -- uncovered -- to the oven for about 10 minutes. For the last 10 minutes, I put the oven on broil, checking every few minutes to baste the ham with its juices. I also added some pineapple slices at the end.

The ham did not crisp as I had hoped. Bummer. But it had a nice flavor and turned out to be a complimentary meal for this wonderful Halloween evening.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

FOOD CHALLENGE: Pumpkin

Nancy brought home this cute little pumpkin this week.

Just in time. Turned out this week's food challenge was pumpkin.

My mind was already wild with ideas. I had never prepared a pumpkin before and have very rarely had pumpkin in life. But I do find that I enjoy gourd-like squashes so I figured this week's challenge would be entertaining, educational and engaging for me as a cook. 

But, goodness -- how many iterations of recipes could I go through in one night alone? For pumpkin, the number turned out to be three.

I wanted to make a pumpkin curry thanks to the suggestion of a friend of mine.

But I opted last minute to make a pumpkin pizza.

I do not know from what corner of my mind this idea sprang. Not a clue. But when it came to mind I was immediately glued to the idea.


I cheated a little. I didn't make the dough from scratch (Don't judge me!) and I didn't make the pasta sauce. Yep -- file this under one of my most lazy cooking attempts.

But, I must say, I did have great fun putting this one together. First step: Slicing up the pumpkin. I must say that I honestly thought this would be easy! I pulled out the best knife I had and set to it. Seriously, I almost strained a muscle at one point. I couldn't believe the density of the pumpkin. I should have had one of those wire cutters people use to carve pumpkins. That would have been far more efficient. I think it took me a good 15 minutes with three breaks to cut through it.


I tried to get the skin off the chunks of pumpkin, but found it too difficult. I decided to boil the bits in water and apricot nectar with a bit of salt for about 20 minutes. 


Next, I prepared the first layer of the pizza. I used an organic Newman's Own pasta sauce with chunks of tomatoes in it. I also sprinkled some parsley into the sauce and on the crust.

Next came the toppings! It was silly fun turning to Nancy and saying, "And what toppings would you like on your pizza? We went for mozzarella, olives, mushrooms, red and green bell peppers and lamb mince. By this point, the pumpkin was ready. But I was disappointed when I tasted it. It was so very bland. It hadn't picked up any flavor from the juice. Disappointed, I covered the toppings with pizza cheese and put the pizza in the oven. I chose then to make a kind of dessert with the pumpkin.



The dessert called for brown sugar, cloves, butter, vanilla extract and nutmeg. All the things I wanted to avoid in using the pumpkin. But when I stirred all this together, it still tasted kind of boring to me.


So, I took the pizza -- LOVELY -- out of the oven, and put the pumpkin in a pan and tried to roast them. Nancy and I began enjoying the pumpkin-less pizza. It was quite nice.


But then a strange thing happened. When the roasted pumpkin came out I was quite pleased with the flavor and opted -- last minuted -- to add some to the pizza. The verdict: Success. This was MUCH better. The pumpkin had a nice, slightly sweet flavor that complimented the pizza.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Foodie Conundrum

Oh, the pressure.

Nancy and I are having our food and photography event in eight days and I am still struggling with the menu.

I want to go with small plates, for sure -- but not certain what to do. I want to make sure that the meal is a stand out, but also complements what is in season.

But, goodness -- fall eats can be so predictable.

As a consequence, I have been browsing some of the dishes I have previously prepared. Nothing seems good enough! Goodness -- it's like looking in the closet and complaining, "Bah! I have nothing to wear!" It's always a lie. 

I trust in my culinary skills -- I do.

But what to make?

I thought about stuffed pork.

Too simple; too easy.

Turkey? Too predictable.

Filet mignon? Oooh -- that would be awesome!

Would a roast be too predictable?

But I did get my copy of Saveur today. Maybe I will do the cover challenge for the event. Not sure at this moment, but I would gladly take your suggestions.


Death to Sickness

Whenever my body begins to express the slightest suggestion that, "Oooh, I think I'm getting sick," I whip out the big guns.

It all started over the weekend -- what seemed like seasonal allergies turned into a sore throat. Then the sore throat developed swollen glands. Next came the congestion.

But I am a fighter -- especially when work and school are this busy AND Nancy and I are prepping for our food and photography event.

No way I'm getting sick.

I pack my body with Vitamin C and liquids, but the real secret -- I believe -- is in the soup. I basically dump in whatever vegetables I have. Normally I would use corn and chicken as well, but I didn't have any in the house. I always use a ton of citrus, pepper/spice and jasmine rice. This soup isn't meant to taste good -- it is meant to cure you. And it does just that. But, really, the soup didn't taste bad at all. But, eck! The tea I made to go with it was terrible.

No matter. Two days later and I am feeling like Tina Turner's twin sister.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Scenting the House with Lavender Biscotti

Un-be-lieve-able!

During my birthday stay at Miraval, Nancy and I attended a presentation by the pastry chef. I was so very, very, very impressed with her ability to take sugar, eggs, butter, salt and whatever else she felt like for that nice fall day and toss it into a gentle mix, resulting in the type of sweets that made Nancy turn to me and mouth the words: "Make this for me!"

OK -- maybe that is a slight exaggeration. But only slight.

All that to say biscotti has been on my mind for some time. I enjoy biscotti, for the most part. But I find that getting it right there at the coffee shop tends to be somewhat uneventful. Hard, tasteless biscotti has been my mainstay experience thus far.

But, oh my! The biscotti she prepared for us that day was lightly toasted, still warm and so very savory.

I wanted more.

This only meant that I had to learn how to make these at home because I seriously was not about to embarrass myself by elbowing the other guests out of the way so that I could reach the skimpy leftovers.

Yes -- the biscotti was quite popular.

But I promised myself that day that I would go ahead and try this at home. The warning disclaimer is out the window.

But intimidating? Yes.

Why?

Well, I'm not much of a baker and I can live without sweets.

No, really. It's true.

I really don't get a kick out of eating cookies, brownies, muffins, pies, cakes, and, goodness -- just about anything with chocolate in it is an immediate turn-off for me. I'm just not attracted to sweets -- unless it is in the form of brown sugar mixed into a rub for steak or lamb. That gets me every single time.

So I set out to make the biscotti.

I mixed the sugar and butter first until it resembled crystallized frosting. Then I added vanilla extract. Next, I prepared the dry mixture -- flour, salt, baking powder and lavender.

Lavender?

Yes -- Nancy got me a small packet of lavender some time ago and I have been meaning to try it in a recipe.

So, I reserved the almonds for later, intending to put them in the mix when I combined the dry and wet ingredients.

But of course -- my memory was out to have its midnight snack.

I had the two biscotti loaves set on the baking sheet and was cleaning the counter when I noticed the bag of almonds sitting there, staring up at me grimacing as if to say, "How could you forget about us?"

Bummer.

I looked at the neat loaves, then back at the almonds, then back at the loaves again and decided -- last minute -- to just gently stuff the almonds into the mixture.

Then I noticed the dried cranberries sitting on the baker's rack. I decided to include those as well. Hey -- why not?

All this went into the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

At about 16 minutes, the mixture became fragrant. It was such a beautiful and amazing smell. I can't quite explain it other than to say it must be what angels smell like when they are working out and mustering up a sweat.

It took everything inside of me not to open the oven and take a peak before the midway point -- 20 minutes. But I made it.

And when I pulled the pan out of the oven I just about fell over laughing.

The loaves were huge!

I should have made three or four of these instead of just two loaves. They were wide and thick -- and not cooked throughout so that when I went to cut them they began to crumble slightly. This meant I needed an extra sharp knife and had to cut each piece with a very swift cut.

Thank heavens I can laugh at myself otherwise I just might give up cooking.

Back in the oven the slices went, but with a swift drizzle of sugar on each. I thought about adding honey, but at the last minute decided against it, believing that the mixture might leave us with slightly soggy biscotti in the morning. We can do without soggy biscotti for now.

The turn out?

They were slightly crispy on the edges and still slightly most on the inside. The most prominent flavor is the lavender! Strangely. I added less than three tablespoons to the mix, but it is quite potent. Still, for a first batch, this was quite the memorable experience.

The Homecoming

Last night, the Wildcats played Washington during the UA's Homecoming. The Wildcats took the game -- 44-14.

But it was another homecoming -- Nancy and Alex had returned after 2.5 days away.

This called for an elaborate meal and a warm welcome.

And look! I got to use the awesome dutch oven Nancy got me for my birthday

I spent part of the day prepping the house -- tidying up, laying out Nancy's pajamas, lining up some of the items she would need when she returned home. Then I set out to prepare dinner.

I served the peppadews as an appetizer. We both love those little, potent peppers. I stuffed most of them with a plain goat cheese and a couple of others with marinated mozzarella balls that I ended up having to cut in half because they simply would not fit neatly inside of the peppers.

I then served a couple of the peppadews with mint leaves. This created an interesting flavor -- spicy and mint makes for a curious combination.

The appetizer, I decided, would consist of cucumbers, avocado, cottage cheese and scallops.

Taking my queues from The Enchanted Cook, I decided to experiment with turmeric.

We've been trying to cut back on olive oil so this was a great time to experiment without it. I generally salt my scallops and douse them in lemon juice before I sauteed them so, for this recipe, I kept with the salt and lemon, then added about one and a half tablespoons of turmeric to the scallops.

I let this sit for a good while before sauteeing them with a small smattering of butter.

I then plated the scallops with the mock-guacamole. It was not a true guacamole I was trying to make -- just flavored avocado, really. I thought it would complement the scallops well, and it did, quite nicely.

Now to the chicken.

Nancy is not a huge fan of chicken, so I had to make a recipe that would melt with flavor. I opted for teriyaki and soy sauce base to serve as the base flavor and decided I would make some sweet potato fries to compliment the chicken.

I am now realizing what an elaborate meal this was! Didn't seem that way while I was preparing it.

Anyway, so I quick cooked the chicken thighs in the dutch oven, intending to use the browned scraps for a sort of juice. But, this being the first time I have ever used the oven, I didn't realize how quickly it heated! Turns out I had to use two dishes -- one for the chicken (which I had to promptly clean at the end) and the other for the Mexican baby squash and onions.

But I was able to use the pot with the vegetables to deglaze, which called for sake. After deglazing, I added the chicken and cooked on a simmer while the wine reduced. In the end, sticky semi-sweet chicken rounded out the meal. We had a wonderful dinner and evening. It was so nice to have the both of them back home.

Precious Peppadews

From what I know, peppadew peppers are native to South Africa and since the 1990s have begun making their rounds to the United States.

I love the sweet, slightly spicy flavor of the peppadews.

I've experimented with serving them chopped up in a salad and stuffed with goat cheese. I also tried them with mint and goat cheese -- though just plainly served with the goat cheese has been my favorite thus far.

But, really, the flavor is so amazing that you could just pop one of these into your mouth and just savor the flavor alone.

And they are quite lovely to look at.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Tuna Doppelgänger

I went out with a friend to Armitage -- a lovely, local wine lounge. Lovely place.

The restaurant has a decent wine menu and tasty, reasonably priced food items during happy hour.

Nancy and I had been a few times before, and the atmosphere is always ideal -- reminds me of the time I lived in Seattle, or Houston. Very urban and smooth. And the food is quite tasty and served in the perfect, edible portions.

On this evening, Diane and I decided to share four appetizers -- one of which was the ahi tuna carpaccio. Good stuff; I'd had it before, but -- for some reason -- I was terribly jealous this time. So much that I tried to master the recipe myself.

But I didn't ask the chef for the recipe, so I was winging it.

I started with a salt and lemon base, adding a little bit of both to both sides of the fish. I let this settle in for a few minutes, all the while admiring the absolutely gorgeous patterns in the fish.

Next, I prepared a rub. OK -- it's a stretch folks. I cannot recall exactly what I put in the mix but it think all the ingredients that I ended up choosing to include were paprika, garlic and onion salt, two different types of steak seasoning, ground mustard seed and cayenne pepper.
 
I then put some grapeseed oil in a very hot skillet -- should have used a sautee pan. Ah well.

I then cooked the tuna for about three to four minutes each side.

Then I made a mistake.

I wanted to toss some soy sauce in the skillet but inadvertently grabbed the teriyaki sauce.

Good God almighty!

This is why I will never, ever work in a commercial kitchen -- hahahahah!

Yes, yes, yes. I do and must laugh at myself from time to time. It keeps me humble and sane.

But it turned out just fine (there's my optimism). It yielded a much fuller flavor -- yes, fuller than I expected. But I did douse the tuna with a little bit of soy sauce in the end.

Armitage does it better, but the taste was just as nice. 

More Time for Togetherness

We all know that I love the big, elaborate dinners that require at least two hours in the kitchen.

Nancy? Not so much.

She prefers to prepare simple, quick eats -- the type that make for a lovely evening without all the work and fuss.

And, honestly, with so much going on, that is very necessary at times.

On this particular night earlier in the week, we went for what we had in the fridge and freezer: samosas, veggie sausages and a salad.

Sometimes this all I need -- a nice, relaxing and carefree evening with my love, and that beautiful smile on her face. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Simple Dinner without Compromising Flavor

Having spent a good two hours -- or more -- working on my poster presentation (My project was accepted for presentation Friday and Saturday!), I set out to toss together a dinner.

I had been craving corn and spinach. I boiled the corn in water with a hint of Bragg's. The majority of the time I do not care for salt or butter on my corn. But Bragg's adds the perfect amount of flavor. Quite nice, and nutritious.

The spinach required some work. I could not believe the amount of mud on the leaves! I take this as a good sign, not matter the extra exertion.

Then I pan fried the leave with some chives and garlic and a couple teaspoons of olive oil.

I also grilled a pork chop. We still had some of those double cut chops, so I cut them in half, seasoned the two of them with salt and pepper and put them in a marinade with teriyaki sauce and Mama Sita's marinade before tossing them on the grill. Good stuff -- semi sweet and slightly syrupy. Turned out to be a quick and easy treat.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Apple Sausage in Plush Bedding

As a child, my parents would buy hot dogs and biscuits  to prep for pigs in the blanket, as we fondly called them. Apparently, people have named these little treats a number of things, including sausage in a nightgown and sausage in a biscuit.

I cannot quite explain the allure of hot dogs wrapped in a warm pillow of dough, a concoction my siblings and I would aptly dip into maple syrup.

The savory mixture - warm and palpable, mixed with the sweet syrupy texture became a strong reminder of home.

Fast food restaurants have tried to remake -- and, possibly, reclaim this household favorite -- and have failed. I am reminded of the McDonald's sausage biscuit. I once loved these things. But after watching Food Inc.

I realized exactly how far from the accurate these little buns are.

Honsetly, there should be absoltuely no gristle in a pig in the blanket -- and the gag reflex should never be kicked into activation while attempting to enjoy one of these.

Seriously, I have not had one of these since September 2009. Food Inc. awakened my palate in a way I never expected.

But back to home cooking.

We would have pigs in the blanket semi-frequently, with there being five of us, this proved to be an inexpensive but delicious and filling tabletop meal.

I set out to replicate this recipe as an adult.

Honestly -- this may well be the first attempt since age 15 that I have attempted to make
pigs in a blanket at home.

The idea began with a late night giggle fest with Nancy.

How did we get on the subject?

We may have been reflecting on our childhoods, talking about family food or something along that similar tangent.

I am not sure.

Tangents are popular with us.

But eating pigs in a blanket is one of those prominent memories for me.

I remember the excitement around them -- yes, a meal that both the adults and the children could have fun producing. There was something exciting about getting the hands all gooey (I hate this now) in making the blankets. Funny -- the dough these days seems to stick together quite nicely. It doesn't burst from the container in the same way, oozing whichever way.

The shortening -- um, yeah...bad idea!

But I used croissants tonight -- and apple and sausage links. We had to go gourmet style. Instead of the standard hot dogs and biscuits, we used apple sausage and croissants.

And I prepped an elaborate salad. Yep.

And, of course, as I was taking photgraphs, Nancy stuck in for a pluck of the olives! She did it so quickly that I did not have time to react.

Oh -- and why all the eats in the salad? We had avocado, red peppers, Anaheim chilies, feta, tomatoes (the most beautiful looking ones, too), olives, broccoli, peppadews and olive oil with truffle oil. The reason: We're still trying to clear out the fridge.

Together, the result was a light, but luxurious meal. Ma would be proud.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Clearing out the Fridge

It was about time to clear out the fridge -- take as many vegetables as possible and form them into a single dish.

We wanted bruchetta, but -- no.

Tonight was the night: I had to figure out how to get red peppers, Anaheim chilies, mushrooms, onions and broccoli into a single dish.

Don't ask me how we ended up with so many veggies.

And when I cut into the red bell pepper, look at the most adorable growth that I found inside! I was like a miniature version of the red pepper.

How darling!

Anyway....

So here I am looking at all these vegetables and it occurs to me that I so happened to have some coconut milk, ginger, chili paste, fish sauce, shrimp and lemon. 

All ideal for an imitation Thai dish.
I very much enjoy Thai food, but don't often get out to restaurants to try it.

And, granted, the Thai dish I made tonight -- which has no name -- was not authentically Thai.

In fact, two Thai restaurants in Tucson are so very wonderful: and Char's and Bangkok Cafe. We have a couple other reasonable Thai restaurants in town. I find that my favorite dish is the red curry. Is that predictable?

But what I tried tonight quite lovely nonetheless.

Mild, tender, full of flavor, slightly spicy.

I served the dish with a mound of jasmine rice that had been cooked with tiny slivers of fresh garlic. The garlic was not at all overpowering -- very subtle.

Ahhh -- so wonderful. And, look -- during the time I was cooking, I had an audience: 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

FOOD CHALLENGE: Pecans

Sabatoged!

I went to the market, intending to purchase mahi mahi and pecans and while I found some woefully overpriced pecans, the store was not carrying any fresh mahi mahi.

I had to think on my feet? What would make a good substitute?

It thought the cod would be too mild, catfish would be too strong, shrimp – eh, swordfish might be too meaty – but salmon? I usually go simple with the salmon: Lemon. Butter. Parsley. Period.

But why not. It was challenge food night, so I had to come up with something.

Salmon it is!

OK...now what?

On the drive home I thought of the many ways I could prepare the salmon. Then it hit me – a honey and soy sauce for the base with pecan shaving on top.


And there you have it.

I mixed two tablespoons each of honey and soy sauce and chopped up the pecans in the food processor.

For the fish, I salted it, then, I spritzed some lemon juice over it before spooning over the sauce mixture. Then I added the pecans. As an afterthought, I drizzled a last bit of honey over the nuts before putting this in the oven for about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, I prepared the sides: a tossed salad with almonds, cranberries, feta cheese and tomatoes; red potatoes with mustard and dill; plain peas. We could have done without the peas and had broccoli instead.

All together, a nice, filling meal.

And I could not believe how lovely the salmon tasted. Just sweet and slightly oily. The pecans came out well – not crunch, just softened and also lightly sweetened.

This is most certainly a must-make-again.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sushi as Dessert

Must have been something like a month ago I was at my local Albertsons and the store was having this amazing sale on books of all types.

I, of course, was naturally drawn to the cookbook section and was quite amazed to see books going for $1.99 to $6.99 -- and for decent books at that.

I grabbed a few books -- one about quick eats and another focused on inexpensive gourmet-type meals -- and continued on with my grocery shopping. I wonder what I was shopping for that day..... Hum...can't recall.

Anyway, one of the books was produced by Biró, the owner of a restaurant in Wisconsin that I believe has since been shut down. I cannot find a site anywhere.

I was immediately attracted to the book because it had a substantial amount of Asian-inspired dishes. But it also had quite a few European-inspired dishes. I thought this was an interesting combination and, from the looks of the cover, decided to go for it. 

The book is quite amazing, actually -- very descriptive and detailed with some nice photography.

And what I enjoy about it is that there are details about how to plate the dishes! Presentation is huge for me -- as you know, so I was pleased to see that addition.

One of the recipes caught my eye -- a dessert formed to look like sushi.

And, goodness, we all know what a lover of sushi I am!

I couldn't wait to try this out. I know what you're thinking -- but she hates following recipes. Yes, you are right. For this, I omitted the kiwi, cut the sugar and salt and was on my way.

I cannot recall the last time I used my bamboo mat, so I was thrilled about that.

And I was pleased to be trying out a dessert that required virtually no sugar and not to mention no chocolate to be heard of. And with rice, no less! I love rice! All around, a very attractive recipe.

I feel the images do not do the dessert justice at all, whatsoever. It was quite lovely, actually -- soft flavor all around. I used strawberries, mangoes and pineapples for the filling. The rice, which required coconut milk, salt, sugar and a bit of water, was nicely done. The fruit was just ripened.

The only struggle I had was in forming the rolls. That is no surprise. No matter how much I love sushi, I cannot make the rolls to save my life! Honestly, the roll -- I only made one -- came out to be one hunkin' log. I was slightly disappointed, because I was really going for nice, dainty rolls. But that's OK. I prefer nigiri and sashimi anyway.

In fact, that is how I intend to have my desert tomorrow.


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