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!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Very Own Professional Mixer

You cannot imagine my surprise, glee, amazement, eagerness when I opened a box my Ma had mailed me for Christmas. Of course, I was opening the box before her eyes as I opted to go home for Christmas, driving it along with me.

She bought me a KitchenAid mixer.

A KitchenAid mixer?!

Was it a joke?

Was it actually a stack of books hidden away in that KitchenAid mixer box, I wondered?

Could it be a neatly folded pile of clothes instead?

Or how about a tiny, tiny letter that when read with a magnifying glass would say something like, "Ha! Fooled ya!"

...I mean, really! How could it be this awesome and amazing mixer -- just for me?

That's not to say that my Ma wouldn't do something like this or that I don't have trust in her ability to bestow awesome gifts. She has and does.

It's just that receiving a gift like this is such a tremendous -- goodness, I don't know what to say. It's a tremendous sign that not only does my Ma know me so very, very well, but she also trusts in my culinary skills and believes in investing in me and my hobby.

I mean, wow.

I am back home now and I finally pulled the mixer out of its box, still with a giddy smile on my face and with such intimidation. I wanted to make biscuits or a breakfast bread tonight, but after standing before the mixer in the kitchen I had to take a step back.

I am still utterly amazed and so very appreciative. And a little intimidated, still. 

But very soon I am going to break this baby in.

Thank you Ma!

First Pickling Attempt, Ever

Living in the southwest, I have grown fond of zanahorias -- as at least one popular Mexican restaurant here attests that is what they are called, though I believe that zanahorias is merely the Spanish word for "carrots" and may not suggest that the carrots are, indeed, pickled.

Either way, these little, circular pickled carrots are amazing.

While enjoy your taco, burrito, torta or whatever other delicious soul foodish type of meal you order, you are free to pop one or two (or more if you like. I won't judge you) of these into your mouth.

Brined along with onions and jalapeno peppers, the carrots take on a lightly spicy and semi-sweet flavor, keeping a mild crunch.


I have developed an affinity for these little carrots, but had not thought to attempt to make them at home until having Vietnamese food the other afternoon at Pho 88 (HIGHLY recommend this restaurant) during which pickled carrots were served.

So, here is my home version.

Though I have never brined anything before, I suspected I would need vinegar, salt and sugar.
For fun, I added a bay leaf and peppercorn to the mix. I also added garlic and one Italian onion -- a small-looking version of the Vidalia onion, but more of a white than a yellow tint to it. This will be my first time enjoying these onions.

And look at me reusing items! From blueberry preserves to pickled carrots -- I cannot wait to taste these tomorrow night. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Holiday Cooking at Home

Home for the holidays and thrilled that my parents wanted me to cook for them. And they had a request -- enchiladas!

Goodness, I cannot recall the last time I cooked enchiladas. I am not even sure if I made them this year at all. I think that would have been last year. I know I made them for me and Nancy last, but I honestly cannot remember when that was. See there -- my memory is going. ...just kidding.

For my family, and by request, I would make three types -- those with shrimp, another with ground beef and another with hot sausage.

Also, my sister made a surprise visit home -- as did I, so she volunteered to serve as my sous chef. That was a great help because making enchiladas can be a huge mess.

I like to cook my enchiladas using broth of some kind. Generally, I will cook chicken enchiladas, but no one hand interest in them this time. So I purchased vegatable broth, whcih I then added to the enchilada sauce.

The remainder of my procedure is pretty standard for cooking enchiladas -- I soften the corn tortillas in the sauce/broth mixture before rolling them with the mixture. I also drenched the finished enchiladas in the sauce before putting them in the often for 15 to 20 minutes.

I swiftly sauteed the shrimp in olive oil, having seasoned them with Old Bay and pepper. And I added a little bit of butter at the end to lend added flavor.

I also made refried beans and rice with paprika and cayenne pepper. All delicious flavors. And I added a bit of vegetable broth in the rice as well.

I served the meal with red hot chipotle chilies, sour creme, avocado, black olives and freshly chopped onions.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Slow Cooked Cornish Hens

Crockpot heaven -- that is where I was.

My mother gave me this crockpot last year, but I rarely have a chance to use it. Rephrase: I rarely use it.

I find that I am not especially fond of many of the typical crockpot dishes.

I also admit that my knowledge of more advanced crockpot cooking is somewhat limiting, as is my experience. I too often think of soups and roasts.

But I am inspired by A Year of Slow Cooking which provides ample inspiration for non-traditional crockpot recipes. 

So here I was -- in the grocery store with Nancy -- when she spotted cornish hens and asked if I would make them. I love this! I love it when she puts in requests for dishes. It shows me that she is taking an interest in my cooking and that she also enjoys my cooking.

Also folks, I am a Libra (as you know) so choosing meals all the time comes to be quite repetitive and sometimes difficult, so it's nice to have Nancy's coaxing.

So this was my method: I cleaned the hens and seasoned them with salt and pepper.

For the base, I then used whatever we had on hand, which amounted to -- literally -- three ounces of broth! I just about melted.

Ah well, I boiled up some bouillon and added this to the crockpot along with the itty bitty bit of broth available. I also added elephant garlic (the ones that look like potatoes in the first image), onions and bay leaves.

I let this cook on low for about nine hours. After that point, I roasted the hens in the oven for about 15 minutes on a high temperature. In retrospect, I should have browned the meat before putting it into the crockpot. But no worries, the meat was succulent and fairly moist throughout. It went quite well with this wonderful mustard-garlic sauce I made, and the side salad was a nice touch. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

An Electricity-Free Dinner

Ah, electricity.

These photos are terrible for a reason: We had yet another night of no electricity for some unknown reason.

The first time was the result of a terrible wreck in the vicinity. So very terrible.

The second came after a day of insanely beautiful torrential rain. Goodness, I love rainy days.

So, yes -- we had to cook in the near dark. Thank goodness that Nancy stocks up on candles. We had plenty. She also has butane camping stove.

Honesty, it wasn't a hassle not having electricity, though it certainly made me think of the dependency. We merely used the butane stove to make our veggies and the grill out back for our steaks. We also had some nice bread on hand, which was perfect.

It was quite lovely and relaxing, actually. We set up dinner on the sofa and sat and talked in the near dark. The lights wouldn't come on until after Nancy had got in bed, so we had the full night to enjoy ourselves.

*Note: Yes, I did call the electric company to ask when we needed to start worry about the food in the fridge and freezer. Amazingly, this person told me 8 to 10 hours for most conventional refridgerators. Interesting. I thought it was two.

Monday, December 20, 2010

It's a Fancy Hamburger Helper

A fancy Hamburger Helper? No, no, not -- that is not what I was going for. But, alas, that is exactly what tonight's dish brought immediately to mind.

Ah well.

This was something like three dishes in one. It was meant to be a Greek lasagna dish, but a couple of things happened:

1. I was about one hour late to start dinner.

2. I was feeling exhausted -- no, lazy.

3. I had some leftovers in the fridge that I knew wouldn't be eaten lest I produced a culinary mash up.

That's what I set out to do -- and here it is.

I started out making the meat sauce.

I opted for lamb -- no, not hamburger mince, incidentally -- inspired by a recipe from Saveur. I started out with the onions and green bell peppers.

Once soft, I removed the vegetables from the skillet and cooked the lamb until nearly done.

Then I added some left over chorizo which included rice and onions. I also included the roasted potatoes we were going to have for breakfast this morning but never got to.

When the meat was browned all the way through, I added some chicken stock, a couple of bay leaves, one cinnamon stick and sliced tomatoes.

You can actually see the cinnamon stick in the picture to the left. Awww! And it was quite fragrant to me, which was so lovely. *long, deep sigh*

I cooked this for about 20 minutes -- until the stock was nearly evaporated, which left me with something of a medium-thin sauce. It looked good. In retrospect, I may have gone ahead and added a little bit of tomato paste and some red wine.

With the meat sauce prepared, I added a little bit of nutmeg and ground cinnamon. I honestly did not think that the one cinnamon stick would lend as much flavor as I would have wanted. Turned out that adding the ground cinnamon was a fantastic idea. It turned out to have a subtle but obvious flavor. The nutmeg, along with the cinnamon, had a nice overtone, but not overwhelming. 

I cooked the elbow noodles as I did this. Really, I should have waited much later to make the noodles but I didn't want to fuss with them toward the end.

With the meat sauce prepared, I opted to include a white sauce -- from a can! I have been sitting on this sauce for about six weeks now.

I am not prone to buy canned anything but it did come in handy.

Otherwise I would have just made the sauce from scratch, which would have taken another half hour.

I added some milk and Parmesan cheese to the noodles, then layered the noodles and meat sauce in a baking dish. This was merely for presentation. I could have just as easily mixed the two together and not baked it at all. Right before I put this in the oven for less than 15 minutes, I sprinkled a little bit of black pepper on top.

The meat was the only disappointment. For some reason it quite simply tasted like ground beef. But, in all, the dish wasn't half bad! If I had never had Hamburger Helper in my life I think I could have appreciated this dish much, much more. It had just about everything necessary:

A nice tinge of spice -- not too hot, but not swiftly passing either.

A sweetness provided by the cinnamon and nutmeg combined.

A slight creamy texture -- not overpowering to the point that the dish fell flat on the mouth and stuck to the back of the throat. No, not at all! It carried a wonderful essence -- perhaps the bay leaves and Parmesan intermingling?

The noodles were still soft, but they did not merely give way in the mouth. They were cooked quite perfectly.

But I likely will never cook this again. Not without mass modification. Eggplant anyone? Maybe some cumin and paprika? Or yellow bell peppers?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Chorizo Tacos, in Memory of my Great-Grandmother

I have such fond memories of my maternal great-grandmother, Viola Coleman.

I spent quite a bit of time with her -- and my maternal grandmother -- as a child. I particularly recall spending nights with my great grandmother who was gracious enough to let me sleep in her bed, nudged between her and her husband.

Good times.

I was a wild sleeper, so someone was bound to get a toe lodged in their back. Strangely, they continued to let me sleep with them for time some until, alas, it proved to be too much. She eventually set up shop for me in her sewing room. That may well have been the very moment I developed a terrible fear of porcelain dolls! Hum....

In addition to my 6-year-old self enjoying playing in her front yard, leaping from the porch onto the dense grass and running up and down the driveway, I so enjoyed our mornings together. She would wake somewhere around 4:30 or 5 and go about her morning routine. I knew it was time to wake when I smelled the familiar deep, meaty and slightly spicy smell of chorizo.

I would leap up so excited sometimes that she would have to remind me to wash my face and hands and to brush my teeth before breakfast!

How I loved chorizo. She instilled the desire in me to have it for breakfast every weekend. *long, deep sigh full of rememberence* I never had it otherwise. Chorizo wasn't something my parents often prepared. But somehow me and my great-grandmother seemed to have it quite often.

Of course I fully acknowledge that my memories may be somewhat biased.

Anyway, my great-grandmother would take the chorizo block and put it in a skillet, gradually breaking it apart as it cooked. I don't recall her adding anything to the mix -- no vegetables, no spices, no oil. Just the chorizo. But when nearly cooked through, she would drop in fresh eggs.

Sometimes she would call me to breakfast -- always waking me gently -- or I would naturally wake to that wondrous, fragrant smell and her smiling face.

So while doing the grocery shopping tonight, I took great interest in the pork chorizo in the meat section. It wasn't in the usual block, but in a casting. How strange. But I was not in the mood for much else, I grabbed a package and was on my way.

I opted not to cook it with eggs -- though that was my first inclination. I decided to mix it with jazmine rice instead.

I put the rice on first, cooking it in the usual way. When it was halfway through, I put the chorizo in a skillet, adding a dab of butter once I put in the cooked rice. Meanwhile, I prepared a salad, cut up some avacado and then put the tortillas in a skillet with a little bit of mozerella.

Once the cheese was melted, I plated the tacos, adding the chorizo and rice mixture, then sprinkled the top with a littie bit more cheese and some slices of avacado.

The chorizo was not spicy, but the flavor was quite nice. I did not takes the way my great-grandmother made it, but -- still -- it reminded me of her in a way that I wished she were in the room, sitting across the table with her cup of coffee and that lovely, lovely grin on her face. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Nice Surprise

So simple, yet decadent.

Simple descriptors move me:

Slighty crunchy
Then soft
Sharp spice

This dish was a total and complete surprise. I did not expect ground lamb, green bell peppers and onions with garlic, a smattering of seasoning and cheese all rolled up into a puff pastry to amount to anything other than a late evening quick eat.

It is worth trying again.

In Memory of...

Thank goodness for my higher education program.

I have not been intellectually challenged in the kitchen for the last couple of weeks.


Well, I shouldn't be so negative. It is, after all, the end of the first semester of my doctoral degree -- so it was somewhat heavy coming to a close. I think I did well this semester, though I am still waiting for grades on a final paper and a project that I feel absolutely in love with, despite all the stress.

But, yes -- all this working and wrapping up of the semester has kept me from being elbow deep in the kitchen. Well, actually you can see from prior posts that I have been cooking, but it has all been swift cooking. I love for the days where it took upwards from three hours to prepare a single meal.

I can heard you: "Crazy woman!"

OK. Yes, I accept that label.

But, really -- regardless to it being the end of the of the semester, I am not sure what has been going on.

I have been pleased with the dishes I have made in the last couple of weeks but I want to do something of a grand cathedral scale! ...much like the images presented here.

 These are all images of dishes that were quite challenging at the time -- dishes and desserts that required the sort of intense attention that my eyelids were burning at the end of it all.

I want to get out of the habit of my maystays. This makes me feel the need to grant a full disclosure for another reason I am so desiring of a challenge right now. 

So, while in Indianapolis I came upon this cookbook/concept book that made me realize that not only do I have much to learn, but it feature elBulli, said to be among the most famed restaurants in the world.

I was so jealous. So very, very jealous. Now, you'll remember my deep desire a while back -- during the sour cream challenge -- in wanting to enter the world of molecular gastronomy. This elBulli specializes in the art of molecular gastronomy in a way I have never, ever imagined -- ever.

Come on now -- when you are an able to pull off such a culinary feat that you can take food and turn it into elaborate, ornate presentations that mimic orbs of light, flowers from the sea, angel's wings seemingly suspended in air, or my kinky, curly hair -- why, it's masterpiece theater in the mouth, I am sure. 

I need to let it go and get back to my own version of creativity within the confines of my reality -- no culinary kitchen; no formal culinary training; no torch -- still -- but a with a tenacity, obsession and devotion to improving my cooking skills.

But, really -- I consider it not a fault that I have not been able to make or prioritize the kitchen time I want and need. In fact, I am looking forward to this brief winter break with full intention of catching up on some ideas I've had in mind. And I have some catching up to do! The Saveur food challenge is behind! I should have completed that one already. The next magazine should be arriving next week. Eek! I'll get on it.

So, yes, be patient with me as a regroup and resurface. And, as always, if you have any ideas do let me know.

But for now, I will enjoy the memories of yesterday and recipes past. They serve as motivation for much better and far more complex creations in the future.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Speedy Homemade Pizza

Did that just happen? Did I really just make a pizza crust in only about five minutes?

Yes, indeed.

I had no idea it could be this easy. But making the dough required flour, salt, sugar, yeast, flour and warm water. I added a few herbs to spice things up -- nothing like a bland lump of dough.

Interesting thing, though, this dough needed no time to rise at all! The moment I started adding the water -- after having mixed the warm ingredients -- the dough just kind of came to be, naturally and automatically into existence.


Anyway, Nancy helped out with the preparation. Tonight was one of those clear out the refrigerator nights so we went for whatever we could to add to the pizza. 

I placed down parchment paper and rolled out the dough. I then gently punched my fingers into the dough, making little dimples throughout. Then I added a little bit of olive oil. I think that was a good addition.

But, bummer! We should have included some fresh garlic. Ah well. Next time.

We opted for green bell peppers, onions and some pepperoni. Yes...we had pepperoni in the house. Don't ask, don't ask.

We also had oodles of mozzarella for some reasons along with some pasta sauce. After preparing the dough, Nancy slathered on the sauce -- just enough for the personal pizza we were about to share.

...yeah, maybe I should have added more flour.

She then added the pepperoni and I added the onion and bell peppers. Next, we tossed the cheese on top -- we had shredded mozzarella and fresh mozzarella.

We were going to add some goat cheese, but opted against it. In the end, I think that was a good idea. It was more of a standard pizza than a fancy one.

This wasn't the type of pizza where we would be adding freshly clipped basil, gently sauteed carpaccio, fresh tomatoes with squash blossoms with a few anchovy placed atop.

Not at all! This was down home cooking.

And it was looking pretty good!

Fifteen minutes later, and the pizza was ready. And those with an attentive eye -- yes, I somehow managed to char the parchment paper. Not a worry in the world, however. After this came after the hour and cooled for about five minutes -- OK...three minutes, it was all nom nom nom from there.

B & Bs -- The Bubbly Biscuits

This is what happens when you mix late night munchies with terrible allergies and exhaustion -- what I am aptly calling bubbly biscuits.

Folks I put, like, zero effort into these. Really. And, strangely, they came out tasting pretty magnificent.

Now, now, now -- please do not take this the wrong way. I am in no way advocating for or endorsing a sloth-like lifestyle.

Indeed, I was exhausted -- apparently tossing flour around the kitchen like there would never be another day.

*Note: Nancy was quick to inform me in the morning that I had left a tremendous mess in the kitchen the night before and that she was so very curious to know what I had gotten myself into.

You want to know? The answer is quite simple: Flour, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, salt, less than a half stick of butter, one egg and some garlic salt and onion powder.

Sure, they came out looking like fried chicken, but with a small slather of butter and some jam, the flavor was decadent, semi sweet and fluffy. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Melts-in-Your-Mouth Chicken with Soup/Sauce

Whoot, whoot! This is my 100th post!

And it was a good one.

I had one of those nights at the grocery store where I wasn't sure what I wanted to prepare.

This happens periodically and the security -- I am sure -- is always watching me from surveillance wondering when I am going to slip something into my pocket.


Anyway, I started in the meat department, looking over the fish and steaks but nothing was drawing my attention. I then went to the produce department and found some lovely looking broccoli. I grabbed those, along with some plump mushrooms. I also snatched up an onion and some carrots.

Where am I going with this, I thought?

I wasn't sure what I wanted. Ha -- what do you know? Libra.

Then the thought occurred to me: What about baked chicken served atop a portobello mushroom with a kind of mushroom sauce made from soup?

I swiftly rushed over to the soup aisle. I wasn't sure what I would go with. I figured cream of mushroom would be my best bet when I saw a cream of chicken mushroom. I'd never heard of such a thing, but I went for it.

*Note: As I am writing this, I realize I have quite a few vertical shots tonight. That's strange. I usually take horizontal shots and am short of the vertical types.

Anyway, my method was to sautee the onions and red peppers until just softened.

I then added some Baby Bellas.

Next came the soup. I added the entire can, then about another can of water to the mix before adding my seasonings. I also added some heavy cream -- eyeballing it.

Now, you all know this is where I always get stalled. I can never recall what I toss in the mix. Really, when it comes to spices and herbs, it is all stream of consciousness with no dictation involved. I think I put in some onion powder, garlic salt along with actual garlic (yes -- I rubbed the chicken with fresh garlic), black pepper, chives and paprika -- as we can tell from the image. I may have put in a little bit of cumin as well.

I cooked this on medium heat for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, the mushroom was out of the oven within the same amount of time. The chicken cooked for about 30 minutes. I kept it in a foil wrap with some olive oil and seasonings. Eek! Don't ask which ones.

Oh! And I made some jasmine rice as well.

For the plating, I wasn't sure what to do with the mushroom. I had intended to make one mushroom for me and one for Nancy, but they were sizable enough that we could share one. That tossed out the original idea I had to serve the chicken over the mushroom.

So I kind of went cosy with this one -- a mushroom slice gently pushed up against a bed of rice with the chicken nearby, nearly covered in my soup/sauce concoction. I need to come up with a name for this one.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Squash Puree Biscuits

I should have submitted this for the Thanksgiving leftover challenge week instead of the sauerkraut.

I still had some puree left over from the roasted squash that soup I made, so I opted to make some "biscuits."

It was a simple recipe. I used flour, baking powder, heavy cream, milk, the puree and also added in some Old Bay seasoning for fun.

They turned out pretty nice.

The only disappointment was that there was so little lift from the moment I put them in the oven to when I pulled them out about 18 minutes later.

Ah well, the flavor was decent and I had some fun with the shaping. In retrospect, I would have added some sugar or vanilla extra to lift out the sweeter flavors. The puree had all sorts of vegetables.

One biscuit even had an awesome carrot sticking out. It was so adorable and awesome.

I would love to make these again.

FOOD CHALLENGE: Thanksgiving Leftovers

Nancy and I didn't have Thanksgiving leftovers for this week's challenge. This is the challenge that stems from a group I am part of.

Each week, one person from the group of us ladies on rotation chooses a food item. Then we all have one week to cook that surprise item it into a dish, whether an entree, appetizer, desert drink -- whatever we individually choose. 

I didn't cook a Thanksgiving meal with a turkey, stuffing, cranberries (*bleecchhht*), collard greens or anything of the sort. I made that awesome lamb ragu -- remember that?! Amazing dish.

Actually, I am thinking about redoing it this week, with some modifications and techniques to bring out the flavors even more.

Anyway, the lamb ragu dish was so delicious we had no leftovers by the time the new challenge item came out a couple of days later.

This created a conundrum.

I had no interest in foregoing the week's challenge merely because I did not make a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Instead, I scoured the fridge for Thanksgiving-like items.

I am not sure how I got it into my head that sauerkraut was actually a Thanksgiving-type dish, but -- I believe -- this had been common among Polish immigrants celebrating the holiday in the state.

Nonetheless, I so happened to have some sauerkraut and some chicken apple sausage. Oh! And I also had some ground lamb leftover. I figured this would make a wonderful marriage.

*laughs maniacally*

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Let's first talk about procedure.

I was like a mad woman in the kitchen. After I cut up the sausages (which would have been amazing ON THEIR OWN) I layered them in a Crock Pot with the sauerkraut and ground lamb.

That was mistake No. 1.

I should have let the sauerkraut cook in the spices for a while with the vegetables before adding the additional meats.

I digress.

I put everything in the pot together. Meats, kraut, red bell peppers and spices: celery salt, onion powder, pepper. I am not sure what else, but I am certain that I put another three or four spices in the mix. I then added vegetable stock and a little bit of water, put the pot on high and walked away content.

Yes, folks -- content. That was mistake No. 2 -- being so sure of myself. *hahahahaha*

Yes, I laugh now. I wasn't laughing when I tasted the dish.

The sausage was amazing! ...but everthing else was a massive, epic fail. The kraut was so very bitter! And the ground lamb was grainy. Overall, the flavor was tart beyond any ability to save it. I write this off as a tremendous failure.

The best part about the dinner was the cheesy bread Nancy made. She melted goat cheese mozzarella on ciabatta bread. Don't let the photos fool you. Seriously, we just at the cheesy bread and called it a night.

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