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!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Copycat Cheese and Olive Appetizer



I usually do not like following recipes, but this appetizer I came across in Gourmet's special addition was too beautiful -- and simple -- to pass.

It is one of these five-ingredients-or-less recipes that takes only about 15 minutes to prepare.

You need only olives of your choice, a few thyme sprigs, some olive oil, lemon zest and goat cheese medallions or buttons.

I was pleased to be preparing a dish with fresh thyme. I do this so seldom. If it's a fresh herb that I am working with it's usually a parsley, cilantro, mint or basil. Thyme and sage are wonderful to me, but I am such a novice that I am not always sure how to use them in a dish.


So I was thrilled to see such an easy dish incorporate the thyme.

Along with the goat cheese, olives and lemon zest, this amounted to a very nice and light appetizer.

It was painless to make this. Oh, but I don't have a zester.

I like those microplane zesters, but have a tendency to steer clear of items that are not multipourpose and functional outside of the intended range. Hence no microplane zester. I may someday buckle, but not now. For now, the extra sharp knife had to do.

It worked out well. The cheese tasted simply gorgeous with the lime and thyme. A nice marriage of tastes.

Next time I will have to experiment with other types of cheeses, or perhaps roll the cheese in some sort of mixture prior to adding the other goodies.

Lamb Ragù Makes its Debut

During our Indianapolis visit, Nancy and I had one of the most luscious dishes in recent memory. The chef called it lamb ragù served with Parmesan shavings and polenta.

I had never had this before, though it reminded me of doro wat, without the spice. The flavor was intense, and the way the chef prepared it resulted in a subtle burst of sage.

Lovely.

We fell instantly in love with this dish. I promised to try and make this from my memory of smell, taste and sight, but I couldn't remember it all, so I relied on Winter Recipe: Rich and Meaty Lamb Ragù for guidance.

This amounted to our Thanksgiving dinner. Yep -- unconventional, I know.

The kitchen was nearly stocked for this. I already had thyme, sage, rosemary, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, tomatoes, cumin, stock, mushrooms, tomato paste and red wine for the mix. I purchased lamb loin chops for this recipe.

I began with the vegetables and sauteed them until they were softened. I then added the tomato paste and the red wine, letting this simmer while I browned the lamb.

Sounds easy enough.

But, silly me. I began on the vegetables before measuring out anything or chopping up the meat. Cooking the vegetables took less than 10 minutes, so I had to do a rush job to get everything else ready. What was I thinking? I wasn't. What a fiasco. It was madness trying to get everything else prepped in time. Too bad I could not have grown four extra arms.

With the vegetables ready and the lamb browned, I added the lamb to the dutch oven, adding the stock and the garlic at the end. I did not crush the garlic this time. Instead, I merely removed the skin and tossed them into the pot. I also added some bay leaves and parsley last minute. I may have added a couple other spices as well.


I let this boil shortly, then simmered it for about two hours.

Meanwhile, I prepared polenta.

I have never prepared polenta before, but after having failed to find it at two grocery stores, I opted to make it from scratch. It is, literally, water, salt and cornmeal. I didn't realize it was that simple.

Of course I now know polenta is quite versitle and works well in both sweet and savory dishes. I want to try cornbread from scratch or an attempt at making a cobbler with this mush.

I boiled the cornmeal as directed, then let it cool before chilling it in the fridge for about a half hour. Then I baked it for about 20 minutes. This created an interesting firm texture on top, but a nice semi-soft feel inside. Slightly fluffy, but not too soft that it melted in your mouth. It retained it consistency but did not taste at all grainy as I had expected. 

When the liquid had reduced completely in the dutch oven, I cut out circular pieces of the polenta, sprinkled it with Parmesan, then added the lamb ragù. I also made a side of corn on the cob and broccoli and, during the serving, finished off the ragù with a small sampling of cilantro.

The only disappointments were that you couldn't taste the sage at all and that the meat, while soft, was not as soft as I would have liked. In all, the dish wasn't as flavorful as the chef's, but it is certainly worth the time and certainly worth making again in my kitchen. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

FOOD CHALLENGE: Honey


This has to be the most simplistic recipe, which is fine. Because I needed something mild tonight. I am going to be cooking for hours tomorrow.

Yes, yes, yes. I feel I opted to produce something that didn't have strong enough a challenge.

...crud. Now I feel guilty.

But I did not feel the least bit guilty while eating the wonderful, savory dish. Tee hee.

Quite simply, this is shrimp and rice. Shrimp and rice with a ton of seasoning and effort.

That makes up for quite a bit, really it does.

My method: I prepared jasmine rice as is. No seasoning added. Actually, I wanted to prepare this dish with broken rice but I didn't have the time to commit.

The meal actually took about 20 minutes start to finish.

I marinated the shrimp in lemon juice and added some salt and pepper to the mix. Meanwhile, I swiftly cooked some dried chives in a pot with only olive oil.

In a skillet, I sauteed some onions with olive oil. I then added some chili sauce before adding the shrimp. I then included some chili sauce with shavings of fresh ginger and honey toward the end, cooking this until the honey began to thicken.

Then I presented it with the chives and some black sesame seeds.

Looks good and tastes good. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wonderful Winter Soup

Ah, winter.

In Arizona? Well...it's a late and mild winter. It has not gotten anywhere near cold enough to the point that it warrants a winter coat.

And yet we still somehow have access to wonderful autumn and winter squashes. I found what I wanted -- butternut and acorn squashes. Curious. This is even the case at the markets.

Next time I am in I must inquire.

So why make this soup?

You see, while we were flying back from Indianapolis, we came upon one of Wolfgang Puck's knockoff restaurants in the airport.

After a nearly two hour flight delay we were hungry.

Nancy wanted the turkey sandwich and I wanted the butternut squash soup. The soup was lovely and luscious, but I could not help wondering, "Could I make this at home better and for more than half the price."

Yep.

What was required in addition to the squash: Butter, salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, red bell peppers, onions and whatever else I threw in there last minute.

I roasted the squash for about one hour. I had sprinkled them with salt, pepper and nutmeg with a spread of butter. I believe this is the traditional method.

I also added some carrots and celery for fun. Turned out to be a bad idea. The crunch was nice, but after a while the flavor was just...strange.

I think too much of a water yield from those veggies. In retrospect, I would have cooked them much longer prior to adding them to the pureed squash.

At that point, the squash just needed to be mixed with the base of vegetables. But I was not done cooking them. My mistake.

All the while, Nancy helped out with the lighting.

For my regulars, I am sure you have noticed that some of my images can be quite dark. This is because I much prefer natural light and I also have little interest -- and even less time -- to edit my images before posting.

Hence the dark images.

But, honestly, can you tell from these that the soup was, in all, quite tasty?

It was. I am sure I will be making this again and again and again.

Chocolate Biscotti After the Hiatus

Goodness -- it's been entirely too long. But for good reason.

We were at the Association for the Study of Higher Education where I presented my original research. It was only my second conference presentation. I presented at the American Sociological Association last year. Different project.

Yes, I realize this is not a higher education/research blog -- but my goodness! What a wonderful conference! I loved learning about the prevailing need to consider race and ethnicity in research, but with more dynamic and comprehensive approaches and the importance in evaluating the spiritual and religious nature of students (I initiated a project on the subject over the summer).

Some of my other favorite sessions were on students with disabilities and the particular challenges they face in transitioning from high school to college (something I am currently studying as a trainee), new definitions of academic capitalism and the influential nature of globalization on most every facet of the higher education structure.

I could go on! But, alas...the conference included no discussions about food -- food choices for college students anyone? Ramen noodles. Taco Bell. Pizza.

And we did not have a kitchenette, so I couldn't cook.

We opted to then stayed a couple of days after my presentation to enjoy downtown Indianapolis. Lovely downtown! We enjoyed the canal walk and this lovely restaurant, Left Bank Cafe, and also Tastings and Sushi on the Rocks. Honestly, this will go down as one of the most prominent experiences during my graduate career.

We also had some time to enjoy the presence of some of my higher education counterparts. While I loved Indy -- my second visit -- I also was pleased to return to my kitchen.

That's one difficulty with traveling -- rarely is there an opportunity to truly cook in the same form as home cooking.

But since my return I have been busy.

First stop -- chocolate biscotti. In this batch went vanilla extract, honey, butter, fresh cranberries, almonds, cinnamon and I don't know what else. I was on a mission to reconnect with the kitchen and to create a better batch than the one I put together before we left for our trip.

The result? Success. The bag I took to work was gone by the lunch hour.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Fitting Gift

All done.

This is the finished product for both the pudding food challenge and the special dessert for Nancy's mother, to be delivered later tonight.

I love it.

Of course this is one of three iterations. The other two were failures. Utter and complete failures. I will save myself the embarrassment and not post images of the other plates. But I will say this -- too much chocolate in one location without the benefit of other colors is a terrible, terrible thing. Terrible. And don't ever, ever attempt to cover in chocolate greetings written in crème fraiche. Instead, write it in something like strawberry or cherry creme. Never chocolate.

The one photographed here is the one I will present.

It's weird. The dessert looks strangely beautiful while, at the same time, it also looks quite simply like a mound of refried beans adorned with frosting and cranberries. I hope Nancy's mother doesn't think this is just a joke.

FOOD CHALLENGE: Pudding

Basic math comes in handy.

This was my week to choose the challenge item and I opted to go for pudding to make a chocolate truffle dessert. I am not sure how common it is -- or not -- to use pudding in a dessert of this kind, but I will explain later.

Strangely, I could not find this recipe with something more accessible than gram and milliliter measurements. So I had to use a conversion calculator, which proved to be wonderful and easy to use.

So, yes, there was still some basic math involved because even after I converted into cups, I had to figure out how many of the bars of chocolate to include. I also had to do a basic conversion for the cups of vanilla pudding because I honestly did not see the point of scooping out the pudding and putting it all into a measuring cup just to then scoop it out of the measuring cup so that I could then fold it into the chocolate.
That's just more dishes to wash.

So, yes -- I am making dessert.

But, no, not for me.

Actually, not for Nancy either. It's for Nancy's mother, who will be celebrating her birthday soon. Her parents are in town for their annual visit and we are spending the evening with the family.

I met Nancy's parents last year during our trip to Maine. We stayed on her family's property and, during our stay, had lunch and a couple of dinners with her parents. Her mother is drawn to sweets. Loves the stuff -- I know where Nancy gets it.

So with her mother's birthday fast approaching and with the parents in town, I figured we could do something a little special.

Nancy informed me that her mother loves chocolate. I wanted to make a decadent something, but specially made for her. And I wanted to do something decorative.

So I settled on a couple of ingredients: chocolate, cranberries and crème fraiche were necessary. And I had already decided that I would want to use the cranberries and crème fraiche to decorate the plate.

...but what about the dessert?

I rarely make desserts -- as you can see from my postings here. I was blessed not to have been born with a sweet tooth. But cheese? Goodness gracious, I love cheese. That's my downfall.

But, anyway -- so here I am, trying to decide what to make when I came upon this recipe, which is pretty straightforward. Only problem: I could not find ready made custard. I guess I could have made the custard from scratch. What', it's only eggs, sugar, milk, butter and maybe some flour?

...but I have a paper due today. So while I wanted to do this all from scratch and do my absolute best, there was a time limit.

I grabbed the vanilla pudding instead, believing it might make a good substitute for custard.

It did not take too long to get the chocolate ready. I merely melted it -- did not add anything to it at all.

Meanwhile, I set the crème fraiche on the plate with the juice from the cranberries. Honestly, this was the most difficult part because I had not separated the cranberries from the juice. So it was a lot of tilting of the container and waiting for the juice to separate going on, but it was worth the patience. I think the decorated plate came out looking marvelous.

Then, I mixed the heavy cream and vanilla pudding into the chocolate, which created these awesome mounds in the mixture. What fun. And it had this gorgeous marbling effect until I was able to get the mixture to meld easily, which took some time.

My technique was to use two spoons, the convex sides up, rolling the spoons over and over one another. It was a better mixture, I think, than using a beater. And it was more fun and less straining to do it this way. And true to my word, I had to make an addition. That's where the cranberries come from.

So, now, the mixtures are sitting in little ramekins in the freezer, where they will remain for about another hour. I hope she will enjoy this.

...OK -- back to studying.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

FOOD CHALLENGE: Sour Cream

ARRGGHHH!!!

Probably not the best way to start a posting, but I am so annoyed!

I had it all planned for the sour cream challenge. I wanted to make beads to decorate a dish, which would require getting my hands on some sodium alginate to try reverse spherification I have spent the last two days trying to find a culinary grade -- grocery stores, pharmacies, compounding businesses, chemical manufacturing companies even. But no luck.

Bummer. I was so excited!

When plan A didn't work, I swiftly began thinking up other concoctions: "Could I, like, freeze sour cream then create a meat or wonton roll around it then bake it so that when you break into the meal sour cream comes pouring out? Or, could I mix it with cream cheese and make spherical mounds?"

Bah -- nevermind.

I settled on stuffed chicken breasts with sour cream, chives and mushrooms with a side of cabbage with onions and bacon bits.

I know, I know.

This was my method: I used a mallet on the chicken to try and thin it out because I was less interested in butterflying the meat. I then salted it and added some onion salt to the mix. Then, I prepped the sour cream.

I went for Cacique Crema Mexicana instead of the typical Americana sour cream. I used to keep this stuffed stocked at home -- back when I was prone to cook imitation Mexican food. It is excellent on tacos, burritos, tostadas, rolled tacos, tortas, enchiladas -- yum!

But I haven't purchased it in some time. It is slightly more mild than generica cream cheese, but smoother and still full of flavor.

I mixed the sour cream with fresh chives and mushrooms before spooning the mixture into the chicken breasts, which I then folded in half, squirted a couple of times with olive oil, sprinkled with a bit of paprika and Parmesan cheese then set to bake for about a half hour.

Then I prepared the green cabbage side dish. I first sauteed some onions, then added the chopped up cabbage before adding a bit of salt and pepper and the bacon bits. I covered this and cooked it on medium heat for a good 15 minutes or so. Just enough to be al dente.

I plated this in a simple way. Pretty good. The Parmesan was a good idea. Cooked in the oven, it ended a nice nutty flavor with the droplet of truffle oil that I added in the end.


SAVEUR: Boudin-Stuffed Turkey Breast

What a treat to find five different recipes on the Saveur magazine for this month. A friend asked: "Doesn't that mean you have to make all five?" No way -- that means I get to choose one of the five. That's the policy from here on out.

I chose the boudin-stuffed turkey breast. That is on the lower left side of the magazine, shown in the image to the right.

I have to be honest, the recipe was the most simple of the five, and that is part of the reason why I went for it. After the food and photography event, I needed something a bit more mellow.

*laughs maniacally and hysterically* Goodness, was I wrong.

I have never cooked turkey before and I've had a limited amount of turkey in my life -- normally just cold cuts. That sort of thing. I'm not generally fond of turkey, finding my run ins with it thus far have been leaning heavily toward the dried out turkey recipes. Unfortunate, I know.

But I was determined to make a juicy mimic of the front cover. I mean, look at it! In all its gracious lusciousness.

It took me a while to find the turkey breasts in the grocery store. Apparently, the whole turkey is more readily available. And when I found the turkey breast I was quite surprised. It looked exactly like a whole chicken. I though: "Good God! How can two cuts of breast meat be so large?"

Full disclosure: I didn't know what I was doing, but I gather you figured that out by now.

It took two whole days for the turkey breast to defrost. I figured -- well, why not? I mean, look at the size of this bag. It's going to take a little bit of time. Which was fine, because I wouldn't be able to cook it for a couple of days anyway.

Now, another key part of this story is the boudin sausage.

I had quite a bit of this sausage while living in the south (Houston and Beaumont in 2003 and 2004). Apparently there are various ways to produce boudin with French, German and Canadian styles being popular.

The Cajun style common to Louisiana and the eastern region of Texas is most familiar to me. I loved the stuff and, while living in the south, would buy it in bulk, freezing it until I was ready to defrost and cook it. But I was disturbed to later find out that pork blood is commonly used in southern-style boudin. *shivers*

Moving on in the conversation.

So, yes, boudin was easy to find in the south -- in grocery stores and restaurants, even convenience stores.

But this is Tucson, folks. The southwest. I tried five different grocery stories/butchers. Most of the time the person on the other side of the line had not a clue what I was talking about. It was obvious -- I would have to make boudin from scratch, something I've never done before.

...bring it on.

Actually that wasn't the hard part about the four hours it took to make this stuffed turkey breast. 
No, the hard part was opening up the bag and finding -- you guessed it -- the entire ribcage attached to the turkey breasts. 
So, you know those moments of sheer frustration when you want to just wail out in agony or slam your fists against the kitchen counter or toss the bone-in turkey breast in the trash and have a do over? 
OK so, yes, that is all a bit extreme, but I did have a near melt-down. You know the kind when you are so exacerbated that the only release you can muster is a high-shrill type of laughter? 
Yep, that's what happened. 
After I pulled myself together, I pulled out my laptop and found a video of how to debone a turkey breast and got my best knife and set to work. I had to watch the video about three times, going over and over particular scenes even as I was attempting to remove the bone. I had never attempted to debone anything, so I wasn't sure exactly what to look or feel for. *shivers*
It took about a half hour to complete this process, which was aggravating because it took the master chef about two minutes! But I'm practicing. Honesty, I was slightly disturbed by the whole process, but I did say a prayer to the bird. 
After I had to two breast laid flat on the cutting board I began working on the boudin.
I started with a sautee of onions and red bell peppers. I then added the ground pork and browned this a bit with Old Bay seasoning, garlic salt and four or five garlic cloves.
I then added enough water to cover the meat, and added some paprika to the mix.

I also began boiling jasmine rice with a pork bouillon and about four sage leaves. The rice was ready in about 20 minutes, but the pork would have to cook at least one hour. 
Meanwhile, I prepped the turkey.

This required pounding the meat with a mallet. This took some time. Once done, I seasoned the breasts with salt and pepper and also lemon juice and let this sit for a while. I was not able to leave it overnight, as the recipe demanded. I was thrilled to be using fresh sage and thyme. The freshness of both herbs was so unbelievably wonderful. I massaged the chopped up herbs all over the turkey and under the skin. 
Everything was coming together. 
When the water was nearly completely evaporated from the pork, I removed the sage leaves from the rice and added the rice to the skillet, cooking this through for a few minutes. I then let the mixture -- the boudin -- cool a bit before stuffing the turkey breast. 
I followed the cooking instructions directly and nearly two hours later, the turkey was done. It was massive, but moist and full of flavor. Truth be told, I likely will never do this again -- without a serious request.  

Foodtography

We had our second food and photography event – during which Nancy provides a one-hour photography lesson and I prepare the food. I do not have a chance to sit in on her class because I am frantically preparing food for 10 people or more.

We have been planning this event since having a successful first event. We’re planning to have another in January. Interested in coming?

I was quite pleased with the turnout. I could not decide what I wanted to prepare until the last minute – literally, Saturday morning. That was the most frustrating part. I just could not make up my mind. But it was turned out to be splendid.

I made pork ribs. For these, I made a rub for the meat and marinated the ribs in a mixture of soy sauce and Mama Sitas Tapa Marinade with pepper.

I also made a stuffed pork loin. I marinated the loin in teriyaki sauce and orange juice, then stuffed it with goat cheese and spinach.

Last on the list for protein, I made a flat iron steak. I produced a rub, using brown sugar, onion salt, paprika and an herb mix and also added some vinegar, marinating the meat for a few hours.

On to the sides. 

I wanted to make cheddar crisps. I had tried these before, but they came out looking like bright orange blobs. Not attractive at all. And terribly, terribly greasy. Blecth. I believe the trick is in getting better quality cheddar cheese and going skimpy on each round. They were delicious. So simple -- and only took about 15 minutes to prepare six at a time.

I didn't go for a tossed salad this time. Instead, I made these veggie pockets. I used butter lettuce -- something I had never eating until recently. Along the stem of each leaf, I placed a spreadable cheese, a slice of red bell pepper and either smoked ham or roast beef, both cold cuts. I then tied them into little bundles with fresh chives.

That was an experience.

I cleaned each of the chives, but I should have kept them wet. It would have saved me a lot of stress and anxiety when trying to tie them into neat little knots without them breaking instantly in half. You love and learn, I guess.

I also had marinated mozzarella balls and mushrooms with olives and made mashed potatoes with cottage cheese instead of sour cream I also use garlic salt and pepper for the potatoes, and I tossed some chives in there. And I made apple -- I don't know what. It was a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon and a little bit of oil. I sauteed them until they were nice and glazed. Lastly, I also had grapes and persimmons for dessert.

Next time I'll try and go more daring with the recipes! And this time I didn't present the food, but I do have some idea for January. If you have some as well, feel free to post them here.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Wholesome Eats with Ease

Cleaning out the fridge is such a marvelous activity.

I love going grocery shopping – maybe too much? I am not the person at all attracted to, say, shopping for clothing, shoes or handbags. Eck. Not at all. But shopping for food is such an entertaining activity.

But, still, I find great pleasure in being able to take what is already in the house and toss together an elaborate meal.

Such was the case last night.

The ingredients: purple and green cabbage, black and white sesame seeds, sesame oil, soy sauce, wonton wrappers, carrots, shrimp, onions. It was something like an Asian salad. I could have added more ingredients but, alas, we did not have them in the house. No worries. From start to finish, the process took a half hour with a nice yield.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

FOOD CHALLENGE: Curry Powder

I absolutely love red baked potatoes.

Love them.

But my methods in preparing them have tended not to change in the last two years I have begun cooking them regularly at home.

I figured this week’s challenge was a good way to try and mix it up a bit.

I decided I would still bake the potatoes but instead of just using salt, pepper and maybe some parsley, I would use curry powder and brown sugar as the base. I also added some pepper and some onion and herb seasoning.



I like the flavor. I could have gone more heavy handed with the curry powder because the flavor was a bit more subtle than I had desire.

But, in all, pretty decent recipe. I did add some butter to the mixture as it was cooking in the oven, and I found it took twice as long to cook these. Normally it takes about 20 minutes.

I may not make the potatoes this way ever again, but it was a fun experiment nonetheless.


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