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 28, 2011

Cheesy Seafood Mashup

My friend Elaine is tremendously brilliant and absolutely amazing.

No, really -- this woman is a trained dancer, has traveled around the world, is highly intuitive, speaks several languages (she teaches French and Spanish), is one of the most attentive hosts I have ever met in life and is an excellent cook.

While vising her just recently, she made this amazing conglomeration of Mahi Mahi, crawfish and scallops.

It was decadent. One of the best home cooked meals I have had, I am sure. It was very slightly spicy with the right amount of fish and shellfish -- and that sauce!

I was surprised to learn that she used Brianna's dressing (which I blogged about earlier) for the sauce. I knew I would have to try and replicate this when I returned home.

But, alas, my grocer did not have any fresh scallops or Mahi Mahi in stock. Indeed, the fish is not in season at the moment, so I went with a frozen version. NOT my favorite thing to do. I also went with crawfish and shrimp.

The recipe is quite simple: Cook the fish alone, then set aside while you cook the shellfish. Add the two before pouring in the requisite amount of sauce. You can add the whole bottle if you like. Really, it comes down to how saucy you like it.

You need no seasoning whatsoever in producing this dish. Just allow the dressing to do all the work. No kidding -- no salt necessary. You don't have to dress the shrimp if you do not want to. I did go with seasoned crawfish, but that was not at all necessary.

I write this off as a culinary mashup because it seems somewhat counterintuive to meld fish and shellfish with salad dressing -- and a cheesy salad dressing, no less.

Served with a green bean casserole and a few slices of bread, this made the perfect, round meal. I am sure you can do this with chicken or a whole range of vegetables. It seems quite versatile. Thank you Elaine!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

One Year Later, a Tickle in My Throat

Signs of sickness. Howrah! Just in time for the holiday season. *sulks*

Remember my Death to Sickness post more than one year ago? That was the last time I felt even a hint of a cold. Thankfully, I did not get sick last year largely, I believe, to the tremendous amount of orange juice and Emergen-C I ingested -- along with my fail safe recovery soup. So, really, I have not been sick with a cold or the flu for about two years ago. Nice.

But it's back again. The dry cough. The congestion. The sneezing and sniffles. This happened, literally, overnight less than 24 hours ago. I immediately took my Emergen-C and have had plenty of tea. But I am not feeling myself.

Rather, I am feeling like someone who has fallen off the bed onto a hard floor in the middle of a sleep.

Not the best feeling. No.

So, to the kitchen I went. I did not have all of my necessary ingredients. Crud! But I did have quite a few goodies on hand: Chicken broth, carrots, spinach, rice, cabbage and one chicken breast along with 1.5 limes.

I slowly cooked the chicken in 1/2 water and 1/2 broth with onion powder, seasoning salt and pepper and some Jasmine rice. Next, I added the carrots and boiled this until the carrots began to soften. In went the cabbage, spinach and parsley along with more pepper.

I served this with a huge squeeze of lime. I am feeling OK now, but tomorrow will be the true determinant about whether or not I am in the clear. Please wish me well!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Potluck Delights

There was a time when I had major potluck parties quarterly. How things can change so quickly. Though I do not have them regularly anymore, I do still love the opportunity when the house is full of warmth, laughter and storytelling, not to mention a beautiful spread of delicious food served community style.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Product Review: Brianna's Homestyle Chipotle Cheddar Dressing

I have tried Briannas dressings in the past, but never the chipotle cheddar. I had this dressing for the first time while visiting a dear friend for Thanksgiving. She made this wonderful seafood medley, using the dressing as the sauce. I was quite impressed with the flavor of the dish and was enthusiastic about purchasing this dressing when I got back home.

I give the dressing a B -- would have earned an A if it went with more natural ingredients and if it had a bit more spice. I live in the southwest and we can be sometimes serious when it comes to claims of spicy food. Not that Briannas describes this dressing as spicy. In fact, it reads that the dressing was made "with smoked jalapeno peppers mild." Yep. But, really. If you are going to have such a prominently displayed dried chipotle pepper on the front, the expectation for spicy hot gets to be pretty steep.

On with the review.

The scent is absolutely amazing. Just lovely. But it does not have the scent of chipotle. It smells, well frankly, like flavored, spiced ranch dressing. Yep, that's how it smells. This is just occurring to me now. I am not a fan of ranch dressing because it reminds me of mayonnaise. But that's not the type of ranch dressing Briannas brings to mind. The smell is quite nice.

Visually, it is a beautiful dressing -- a yellow-orange hue with specks of black and red throughout. Its could would suggest spicy hot. But the taste is not spicy hot. Not at all folks. It has a subtle sharp, peppery and cheesy flavor to it. I would not have guessed it was all about the cheddar. In fact, there is a hint of blue cheese to me.

As it turns out, the dressing is quite versatile! In addition to serving it with a mixture of Mahi Mahi, scallops and crawfish, it goes well with a straight salad, with a salad that has corn and tomatoes and with tuna patties. I would not be at all surprised if it tasted decadent on steak, or baked with chicken. I most certainly will be experimenting with this a bit more.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Imitation Ikea Meatballs

This was one of those workplace challenges. The first time a co-worker gave me a food challenge, I produced A Bundt Full of Fists.

This time, a different co-worker asked me to make imitation Ikea meatballs with the accompanying sauce. Not being the type who enjoys desserts, I was pleased to make this one knowing I would actually eat it.

But I had never had these meatballs, so I wasn't sure how they were meant to taste. I turned to the Interwebs.

After reading about a half dozen or so recipes, I had it set in my mind that I would use ground beef and ground pork. I wanted to include ground lamb, but couldn't find any in stock.

I started with the chopped onion, cooking them slowly in olive oil. I also began boiling the chopped potatoes. Then I prepped the meat.

Now, something you must know about me -- if I have yet to mention it -- is that I cannot stand getting my hands dirty. Yes, it's true. A cook who has a revulsion of dirty hands? It can happen, apparently. So, the meat was the most difficult part.

I seasoned the meat with pepper, then made a mock allspice using nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves (I thought I had allspice, but apparently it ran off with my favorite serving spoon). This worked out quite well, I think. I sprinkled this over the meat, adding a little bit of garlic salt, then mashed this like crazy with my hands. Eck!

Once the potatoes and onions had cooled to the point where I could handle them, I mashed them into the meat as well. I did the same with some breadcrumbs I had made in the food processor. I wanted to use panko, but forgot I had finished the bag off a couple days prior.

I then put a little flour on a cutting board and proceeded to make one meatball mound -- the tester. I found that I needed a bit more mock allspice, so I made about another tablespoon of it, including it in the mix. Wouldn't you know it, I had to mash this again! Goodness -- I hadn't washed my hands so much.

I did not make another tester -- I just got to business. Once they were all rounded, I cooked them in butter. A ton of butter. Thank goodness everyone was only allotted two or three of these. As they were cooking, I made the sauce, which was quite simple -- add the beef broth, then some sour cream and milk and slowly cook until it thickens. Feel free to add flour if you are having trouble getting the consistency you like.

Eat and enjoy. They turned out to be quite popular. And I first had reservations about adding breadcrumbs and potatoes, but it turned out to be a good idea to help with keeping the shape and a good consistency. In all, I think I made something like 30 of these and I am pleased to report that not a single one was left behind. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Making Eggs -- a New Method

OK -- in all honesty, I am not certain this is a new method. It likely is not. But it is new to me.

I love baked eggs. Love them. But we don't have all day.

I also love poached eggs. But, incidentally a contradiction exists -- I do not like runny eggs. Yes, I understand this makes zero sense at all. And yet, there you have it.

I wondered: Could I meld the two concepts -- a poaching process to mimic cooking eggs in the oven, but with less the wait?

Yes, yes you can.

I took out a trusty ramekin, lined it with butter, then added my eggs. I added salt, pepper and green onions, topped the eggs with a little bit of cheese, then placed the ramekin in a pot of boiling water.

If you opt to do this, be forewarned: Make sure there is not so much water in the pot that you return to find your ramekin topped off with hot water, leaving you purely frustrated because you are now wondering if this will fiddle with the flavor at all. Then you have to fish for a wide spoon to collect the boiling water from the ramekin, being sure not to scoop out the melting cheese and still soft egg. And what do you know! You see seasoning in the spoon of water -- seasoning you carefully added prior carefully placing the ramekin in the water. Now you are even more frustrated with yourself, wondering if you should add more salt and pepper. Annoyed, you decide against it.


All that to say, yes, the eggs turned out nicely. By a miracle! Fancy that. I cut up a tomato and served this with a slice of bread. In all, a nice meal. But, yeah, the water threw the flavor off a bit. Ah well -- lesson learned.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Almost-Vegetarian Pot Pie Love

Ah, the pot pie -- warm, savory, full. I grew up eating chicken pot pies. I loved the neatly folded crust, the creamy filling, the chunks of soft chicken.

The way in which one eats a pot pie is just as noteworthy.

Some just dive right in.

Others puncture the round crust, then fork the darker round crust into the center.

Some leave the outer crust for last. I'm that kind of leave-the-outer-crust-for-last type of person. But preparing a pot pie in such a manner requires time and diligence -- both of which came in short supply the evening I chose to make my first pot pie.

The recipe was actually quite simple. Actually, that is misleading. I did not follow a particular recipe. I had read pot pie recipes in the past and was quite familiar with the process, so I just winged it. Start to finish, this took about 1.5 hours.

I began with the buttery rosemary potatoes I blogged about before.

Next, I prepped the filling.

I slowly cooked chopped onions in a tiny bit of olive oil. In a separated pot I added the cream of chicken soup (hence it is an almost-vegetarian pot pie), adding some black pepper, dried parsley and onion powder.

When this was prepared -- just warm -- I tossed in the mixed vegetables, which included peas, carrots, green peas and carrots.

I did not bother steaming them in advance, but I did soak them in water to remove the frost. I found that steaming them was completely unnecessary in the end. Then, I added the rosemary potatoes to the mix.

Next, I moved this mixture to a dutch oven. I had already rolled out the biscuits -- yes, I used biscuits instead of making the dough from scratch -- so that I ended up with a single, flat biscuit. This turned out perfectly. I then placed it over the mixture in the dutch oven, slathered it with some melted butter and popped it in the oven for about 35 minutes.

The result: Decadence. 

I did not use any meat, which turned out to be just fantastic!

...but, OK, so the biscuits were good, but not amazing. I really should have mad the crust from scratch. But for a swift, easy meal, this was good enough. I especially believe that the parsley and rosemary were both excellent additions. The filling had the right amount of vegetables and a good texture. I cannot wait to try this again, perhaps adding mushrooms, paprika and garlic.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tilapia with Neighborly Friends

It had been some time since I had made a fancy meal for another.

I knew I wanted to go with tilapia -- because my dear friend is a fan of this particular fish -- and some sort of vegetable mix along with broccoli.

For some reason, I had a mad craving for broccoli. But, really, it's no surprise. Corn and broccoli are, indeed, two of my favorite vegetables.

I think I had the food presentation in mind before I even began cooking.

I began boiling the corn on the cob and then started on the fish.

In a bowl, I stirred together olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon, dried parsley and paprika.

I then marinated the fish in this beautiful mixture for about 15 minutes.

It occurred to me later that I should have picked up some mango while at the grocery store.

It seems this is the common way to make this sort of vegetable-based side dish. 

...then it occurred to me that mango is no longer in season, so no point in that.

Next, I started in on the broccoli. .

I opted to use a broccoli and cheese rice soup, reducing it all the way down so that I would be able to serve it as a side, not a soup. I also added bunches of additional shavings of broccoli to the mix when it was nearly done cooking. In all, I let this cook according to instruction.

Then, I began on the corn-based mix.

This required sautéing onion and red bell peppers.

When the vegetables were ready, I tossed in the shaved corn and added about one tablespoon for butter.

I let this cook for about eight minutes. I then let it cool, tossing in the fresh cilantro and red onions at the very end and setting this aside for the plating.

I waited until everything else was complete before cooking the tilapia, which I pan fried.

Quite delicious and feeling, and with a lovely presentation! The first plated the broccoli rice, then the vegetables, nestling the tilapia directly in the middle.

I was quite pleased, and Jackson said he felt the same.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Steamy, Buttery Rosemary Potatoes

This kind of fell together. I decided to make a vegetarian pot pit. The weather has been cold -- in the 70s. All you East Coast and Midwest readers, don't laugh.

These potatoes -- actually, I only used one -- were made for a vegetarian pot pie I made. But they turned out so well I figured they deserved their own post.

I used Yukon potatoes cut into cubes. The process was quite easy -- I put them in a pot with a steamer, then sprinkled them with garlic powder, dried rosemary and pepper with a very small sampling of garlic salt. Very tiny amount. Midway through cooking, I slathered a tablespoon of butter on the potatoes.

Goodness, I wish I could channel smells through the Internet. That capability is coming, I am sure.

The potatoes were so wonderfully fragrant! And the flavor was nicely rounded out. I recommend using these for stuffing or even a standard side dish. Or, if you have the midnight munchies, this could make a quick, easy meal.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Introduction to a Spice-Centric Mole

Mole is somewhat ubiquitous in the Southwest.

Seriously, we have no shortage of restaurants claiming the best mole. But take my word -- one of the best spots for mole is serve at La Indita on Fourth Avenue. Hands down.

But to make mole at home? What an arduous task. It takes hours upon hours and tremendous care -- along with dozens of ingredients -- to make a great mole.

But, alas, I work full time and am pursuing that doctorate so time can be skimpy sometimes.

...well that, and I don't like chocolate. *Let the boos commence!*

That tidbit aside, I do enjoy the deep, lush taste of mole. I have twice made it at home -- the first time (years and years ago) burning the paste.

The second time it came out nice, but not memorable, apparently, as I have not made mole at home for something like five years.

But when a dear colleague gifted me a bag of Don Pancho mole straight from Mexico -- *squeals* -- I couldn't wait to try my hand again. And I had never used mole in powder form, so this would be a new venture.

I decided to also prepare rice with achiote, onion, chicken broth and frozen peas and carrots. I am not certain why, but I have been on this peas and carrots kick for a good week or so. I highly recommend the El Mexicano achiote if you can get your hands on it. I like most of El Mexicano's products anyway, so no surprise there.

So, I began with the rice.

I used jasmine rice in the rice cooker. In went the chicken broth, garlic, cleaned rice, vegetables and a few dabs of poblano hot sauce. I suspended the achiote paste in a little bit of water. I suppose I could have just put it in the cooker.

Ah well.

And I wish I had used LOTS more of it. I used a smidgen (word used when I do not know exactly how much I used, but know for certain it was a tiny bit). I think a full tablespoon would have been much better! And I should have added a tiny bit of some sort of salt.

As for the chicken -- I went for tights. I thought about using chicken breasts but wanted a cut that had a bit more juicy flavor, plus I didn't have time to marinade the chicken, though I did sit them in olive oil with lime shortly before cooking.

I first browned the thighs in the skillet on very high heat, adding some Lawry's Seasoning Salt. The use of Lawry's is especially important here, as no other seasoning salt will serve as a better substitute.

Then, I tossed in the onions, which I had nearly minced. I then added chicken broth to the mix. I ended up having to add a little bit of water because the broth had begun to thicken, which is not what I was going for at all. I wanted the chicken to simmer for an extended period of time -- in this case, about 45 minutes. This worked out quite well, though, and did not reduce the delicious flavoring I had built before.

I used a saucepan for the mole. The instructions are in Spanish, which was a wonderful treat as I am not fluent in Spanish. Granted, I have picked up some Spanish over the years -- but not enough to read a full set of recipe instructions! I tried typing everything in BabelFish, but that just proved to be an annoyance.

So I winged it.

To the dry and clean saucepan, I added seven or eight tablespoons of the mole. I let this cook slightly, waiting for it to melt down. But it never did. Hum, I thought. I figured that while the mole had chocolate in it, chocolate was not the overwhelming ingredient.

Suits me well!

First thing I noticed, this mole had a different smell than the moles I have had in the past. It smelled faintly of chocolate, but was was more overwhelming was the scent of pepper, or chile. Nice! I added some water and stirred it like mad! I was afraid of it burning, so I stuck to the stove. When it had a nice consistency and was fully fragrant, I set to plating the chicken, pouring a bit of mole over the top.

The mole turned out to lean more toward the flavor of chile and less toward chocolate, though the flavor of chocolate certainly was there. I dressed the chicken with some sesame seeds (could have added more), the rice, avocado, and lettuce and cabbage. Good stuff!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Product Review: Don Pancho Mole

It seems the world is in turmoil, and life is difficult at times, and yet I still find that there is something so beautiful, so pure and endearing in sharing a meal with others.

Also, cooking for oneself remain a critical practice, especially when you have access to *good* food -- nutritious, nurturing and preferably local food.

Cooking at home using basic ingredients and fresh items, I believe, has a great potential to breed discipline and a deep desire to be more selective about the food products you consume.

At least this is true for me.

And so, those are reasons enough to remain devoted to cooking wholesome home prepared dishes.

I miss regularly cooking, and I miss this blog. And, thus, it is with this post that I intend to return to you.

A dear colleague of mine brought back a bag of powdered mole, gifting it to me because she was well aware of my love for cooking.

Don Pancho's mole atocpan is full and densely flavored. But it does not carry the strong chocolate essence I am accustomed to smelling and tasting when I have had mole. Instead, it carries the sharp tinge of spices.

This mole appears to be quite divergent from the mole I am accustomed to having in the southwest -- there is a divergent range of mole sauces and pastes, I have come to realize. This was my first time preparing mole from either a powder or paste.

The produce has an earthy smell and taste to it. Indeed, it looks like beautifully produced soft soil. To the taste, you can capture hints of chocolate, but the chile is overpowering -- especially the ancho.

I do like the product but might add a little bit of oil to the product when producing the sauce. Merely using broth was not efficient to develop the appropriate consistency or flavor.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Play-Doh Peach Cobbler?

Peach cobbler is one of the few desserts I actually enjoy, but it is often very difficult to find fresh peach cobbler here.

There is nothing like the syrupy, sweet cinammon and slight chew that a perfect cobbler yields. And when the crust is perfectly browned with a tiny bit of char -- brilliant! It is delectable. Lovely. Wholesome. Full. 

While home a couple of weeks back, I worked alongside one of my cousins to produce a cobbler from scratch. She worked on the peaches; I worked on the dough.

But I did add some vanilla and brown sugar to the cobbler mix, that and a substantial amount of nutmeg. The smell and flavor were ideal.

The dough looks, quite literally, like Play-Doh, doesn't it? Weird, eh? But, no. No real Play-Doh was utilized in the making of this fun and fancy cobbler. I mean, come on! Look at that cross stitch!

I think it needed more sugar and milk. Being that I am not a baker, I wasn't sure, so I went skimpy. Also, I did not want it to be too sweet. I should have gone against instinct.

But it was still pretty good, and the family polished it off, so that's a complement. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Bundt Full of Fists

So, one day I decided that I wanted to take a little treat in for my office mates. Desserts seem to be popular. I have tried a couple of things in the past -- mostly breads and little sweet things.

But nothing quite like this.

Really, this wasn't my initial idea or intention for my office mates. 

It happened on day that I decided I want to take a treat to the office.

I was at the grocery store and I ended up going for these lovely-looking mini-raspberry pastries.

They looked delicious but, alas, they were pre-made.

So I asked the office to challenge me to a homemade dish.

The first recommendation that came over: Monkey bread.

You know by now that I am not a tremendous fan of desserts.

Not even a little bit.

I'm all savory, all the time.

But I love cooking for other people. 

Still, I didn't even know what monkey bread was.

Yep -- had to Google it. And what I saw was terrifying! The intimidation factor was intense!

It seemed there were two common methods: Make the dough from scratch -- something I was attracted to doing -- or use biscuits.

I opted to use biscuits. Yeah, not my favorite method.

But I would have had to get up at 3 a.m. (slight exaggeration) in order to get the monkey bread ready for a morning delivery to the office.

I wanted it to be fresh, and I didn't want to go wrong, and since this was my first attempt I took the easy route.

That's allowed, eh?

So, yes, the recipe was quite simple. It basically, and simply, called for:

Brown sugar

Please don't laugh at me about the biscuits. I added some vanilla, which turned out to be a good idea.

But, yes -- next time I do intend to make the dough from scratch.

Moving on.

It was also so much fun putting this together.

There is something about the touch of pillowy biscuits that puts me in a gentle mood.

And the whole process of saturating them with the cinnamon and sugar was quite fun.

I cannot quite explain -- I suppose it reminded me of arts and crafts during elementary and high school.

I used a zip lock bag for that purpose, and the method was oh so simple but also so much fun.

Then, gently pushing each biscuit cutout into the bundt pan -- how wonderful!

...really, am I getting too giddy over this or what?

It was just all so unusual for me.

And I was preparing something I have never tried and never heard of, thus all the fun.

After placing the biscuits in the bundt pan, I poured melted butter and sugar over the top and placed this in the oven for about a half hour to 40 minutes.

It may have come out about five minutes earlier because it was slightly overcooked on the flat bottom -- which spilled over the top just a little bit.

But that was OK. It did not burn, thank goodness.

In all, it came together nicely. Visually, it was very appealing.

And my office mates seemed satisfied.

By lunch hour, half of it was gone. By the end of the day, another 1/4 of it was gone.

They polished it off the next morning! That's was the best complement.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Homemade Sushi: My Fail-Safe Method

I am doing much better producing good sushi rice. The key: Patience!

Also, I have been meticulous about my measurements, carefully measuring the rice and the water. I find this to be crucial.

With a timed rice cooker, it makes the cooking process much easier. But as soon as the device beeps, I set to work. I find this also is essential.

I leave the warmer on, but immediately fluff the rice while still in the cooker, trying to remove as much moisture/steam as possible. I then allow it to sit no more than to minutes with the lid up.

I do not have the bamboo bowl and fan, so I use a glazed stoneware bowl. I find that plastic bowls and glass bowls only lead to disasterous results.

I have my rice vinegar prepared with salt and sugar and ready. Immediately before placing the rice in the bowl, I add a little bit of vinegar and swirl it around in the bowl. I then lightly fold the rice in and over itself, using a kind of chopping motion while I add the additional vinegar and blowing on the rice.

Yes, blowing on the rice.

If you are thinking about a circus show at the moment, that may well be what it looks like as I am doing this. But, thank goodness, I have yet to faint while doing this.

As for the ingredients, I have been experimenting with vegetables, panko and shrimp. That's another thing -- I haven't advanced to nigiri or sashimi. It can be difficult to find fresh, reasonably priced sushi-grade cuts in Tucson -- especially sustainable types. But I find that if I toss shrimp into a boiling mixture of soy sauce and mirin, it gives it a nice lovely, sticky-sweet flavor for the rolls. It's a good start at preparing sushi at home for, literally, something like 60 percent less than it would cost to go to a restaurant.

The only thing, though, is I know that it will take at least an hour before I am able to begin rolling the sushi because between cleaning, soaking and cooking the rice, this takes about 45 minutes. But it's well worth it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Very, Very Slow-Cooked Pulled Pork

I grew up in Los Angeles and spent some of my adult live living in the South. You might think I'm a huge fan of sauce-slathered barbecue meats, but I'm not really. Hence my reason for having so very little experience with pulled pork.

Indeed, I believe I have only had it twice in life -- both times teeming with sauce.

Now, I am indeed a fan of barbecue sauce with Sweet Baby Ray's being my favorite (love you Dontia, miss you). But I do not like having too much of the stuff. If I'm eating barbecue meat I want to be able to taste the meat.

No w, I understand that there are multiple ways to produce pulled pork. For my purposes, I didn't barbecue this cut of pork. I decided to cook it only in the crockpot. In with the cut went an assortment of things: brown sugar, onion powder, a tiny bit of cinnamon, paprika, cumin, mustard, rice vinegar (just an experiment), Worcestershire sauce and Sweet Baby Ray's, of course, and a couple other things.

I cooked this on low for about eight hours. That wasn't enough time, so I left it on for about another three hours.

The meat came out quite nice, pullable, as expected. But the flavor was somewhat subdued, so I added a bit more of Sweet Baby Ray's and it turned out well.

But, goodness. I will never cook this again, lest there is a party.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bacon-Flavored Tilapia

I might have denied it before, but it appears that you can find most anything that comes as bacon-flavored.

We have bacon-flavored toothpaste, salt, mints, dental floss, chapstick, popcorn, soda…

The list, unfortunately, goes on and on and on.

Introducing bacon-flavored olive oil.

Interesting thing about it is that it does not smell like bacon, neither in the bottle nor in the pan.

But the oil does lend a slight flavor of bacon to the finished product.

Let’s try tilapia fillets.

I am not sure how or why the idea was born. But it a frenzied fit, I put some of the olive oil in a bowl with onion powder, dried parsley, salt, pepper, Old Bay seasoning and freshly squeezed lemon and lime.

I made sure to get both sides of each fillet, then pan fried them on the highest setting.

The flavor was full and round, even in using the dried parsley.

I think the Old Bay helped to make this dish – that and the lemon and lime.

In all, the fish tasted peppery, spicy and smooth with nice, crisp edges. Served with a side salad – and you’ll need it – made for a solid meal.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Trying to Master Pizza Crust

Note to self: When using yeast, allow the dough time to rise.

Goodness gracious. This is one of those "would coulda been" entries.

Look at the pizza. In all its glory. Beautifully shaped. Nice amount of toppings. Delicious looking, eh?

If only I had not have put the dough to work before it got its due rest!

But I find when I do have the time and the energy, I enjoy making pizza at home. I find that I do need quite a bit more practice.

My pizza dough is never as fluffy as I would like. I tend to add olive oil and dried herbs. This last time around, I went with basil.

Yet it doesn't matter how poorly the crust turns out, The ingredients are always good. And, fancy that, I learned that I absolutely love sauteed green bell peppers on a pizza! I'll keep experimenting.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Lamb with a Carrot Mash: A Culinary Surprise

In celebration of two birthdays, I decided to prepare something of an involved dinner. I began at 2 p.m., we sat to eat around 6:30. It wasn’t that it was an overly difficult meal to prepare, but it was one that required quite a bit of thinking and on-the-spot trial and error.

I know. What was I thinking? I should have gone with something a bit more predictable. But, no – it was time for a culinary challenge.

The main ingredients for this meal were one rack of lamb, carrots butternut squash, a red bell pepper, onions, peso and linguini.

Side story: I wanted to prepare a carrot mash with scallops, and then realized one of my guests did not eat shellfish. Bummer.  At the last minute, I opted for charred shallots instead. But believing the carrot purée – or carrot mash – would be to mild, I wound up packing it with all sorts of yummy goodness.
Here goes.

So, when making a carrot mash it seems the standard or well-established approach is to try and capture the essence of cumin. I did add cumin, but not much of it. Instead, I packed the puree with garlic, onion, Parmesan cheese, cilantro and Italian parsley with a tiny bit of milk and some olive oil. Overkill?

I prefer the Italian parsley, which was an excellent idea here because it has a sharper, more prominent – read: pungent – flavor than the standard parsley you find at the grocery store.

The method: I prepared the rack for a four-hour marinade – olive oil, salt and pepper with fresh rosemary and lemon. Somewhat predictable, yes. 

I then roasted about seven carrots along with the butternut squash and one red bell pepper (should have used two of these) for about 45 minutes or so. This left the carrots with a nice charring that I thought I would soon regret, but never did. The squash had to roast for about another 15 minutes. Then, I let everything cool until I could handle them without having to use kitchen mittens.

*tee hee, funny word, “mittens”*

Then, I seared the rack of lamb before I put it in the oven to roast for about 20 minutes. I might have left it in for about an additional 10 minutes. It was medium rare, which was fantastic, but I wanted it to be a little less red and more pinkish. Ah well. It had a nice, full flavor. But the rosemary was so subtle. That was odd, because I cut up two sprigs, which I thought would be plenty.

At this point, I began boiling the linguini. I would later toss it with the pesto and chopped walnuts.

I then pulled out the food processor. I had to process everything in batches because the yield was huge. In with the carrots, red bell pepper, squash, cheese and herbs. After processing, I set a pot with olive oil on the stove, cooking the chopped onions until they became pearly. I then added the garlic. When the garlic became fragrant, I added the puree. I ended up having to add more of everything to create a strong and delicious flavor.

It turned out well. I could tell because everyone wanted seconds. That’s always the best complement. And I am pleased with the mash! I cannot wait to try that one again. Maybe adding other vegetables and herbs to fill out the color and flavor.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Oldies but Goodies: Higher Education-Influenced Shrimp Noodle Soup

A shout out to all you college students getting ready for the start of the new term.

Ah, I remember my days as a new freshman. I was all wide-eyed and bushy-tailed! My future awaited me! Little did I know that my residence hall would have such a meager kitchen. Seriously, it was a three-story hall and we all had to share a kitchen with one electric range.

This meant having a microwave was golden. And lucky me, my mother got an industrial sized microwave for me. The kind you’d find in a small commercial kitchen.

No lie. One of the best investments ever! Of course this meant I was prone to microwave lunches and dinners for some of my wing mates. I didn’t mind at all.

One of the more popular eats was Ramen noodles. You know the kind that comes in the wrapper that’s seems as thin as a fingernail. When you rip it open it’s bound to throw shards of noodles all over the place. Thank goodness Ma also made sure I had a vacuum cleaner.

I still have fond memories of Ramen noodles – that and microwaved pizza and hot potatoes. But I can’t just Ramen noodles anymore. No! Not with all these years of national and international travel and social refinement – I have to have my noodles spiced with garlic chili sauce, scallions and fresh shrimp!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fluffy, Crunchy Goodness

Fry bread – it has a sordid history. From what I understand, tribal members who were forced centuries ago to walk to a location near Fort Summer, New Mexico where they were imprisoned.

The government provided rations of flour, salt, yeast and other items that were then used to produce the dough for what would become known as fry bread.

My first encounter with fry bread was at a car show while in high school.

A friend of mine wanted a fry bread taco and urged me to try my own. In looking at the ingredients, I settled on powdered sugar and cheese.

He thought this was such a crazy idea, as did our server. Both informed me that it was typical to put add powdered sugar and honey or cheese with beans and meat -- but not cheese and powdered sugar together.

I pushed my nose up, defiant, and ordered it anyway.

It’s the only way I have eaten fry bread since. Here, members of the Tohono O’odham serve fry bread at the Mission San Xavier del Bac on the weekends. I always order my standard toppings, and still will sometimes get that sideways look or the evil eye.

But I so love it this way.

I decided to try it at home.

The recipe is quite simple. I find that some call for yeast and others don’t. I tried it both ways and found that the one with yeast was much more flavorful!

My first batch was terrible though – too thick and too bumpy.

The trick is to ensure that the dough is flattened out completely and somewhat thin. I don’t think I let the dough sit long enough. It literally looked like a honeycomb blanket. Terrible, terrible.

But the taste! Near perfection. I have learned that it is best to put the powdered sugar down before the cheese, lest you want to be covered in speckles of confectioners sugar.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Looks Like Fried Chicken...

...but it's not! It is twice-cooked chicken. I love fried chicken. But, goodness, I do not want to eat it very often. I tried a new method, which had some pretty awesome results. I began with my spices of choice and rubbed them all over my chicken legs, placing them in a bowl. I then spritzed them with lemon, next putting them in a bowl with olive oil. This sat in the fridge for, I don't know, a half hour or so.

Next, I poached the meat, but then cooked it longer so than necessary on a very low heat. By this point, the meat was cooked completely through. I left it cool off to the point that I could handle it. At that point, I dipped each leg in eggs that I had beat until foam sat on top. Then I tossed them in a bowl of panko.

I then put the legs in the oven at 450 for about 12 minutes or so.

Delicious! I served the chicken with sriracha and a blue cheese dressing. The flavor was full and light at the same time -- without the greasy fingers fried chicken brings.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

What Food Preparation Teaches

Sitting to write this, I am reminded of the film, “Like Water for Chocolate.” My teenage self adored the cinematography and storyline, but my adult self has learned to appreciate one of its pivotal messages: Within our souls resides a deep connection with our food, and that our food can and does propel the action of our senses and emotions.

It has taken me nearly my entire lifetime to appreciate the art of cooking – the sometimes slow and methodical effort it takes to mix and mold dishes into luscious wonders for the mouth, body and spirit. I now understand and appreciate that preparing dishes can teach you to be patient, to be curious, to wonder and to love. Granted, it also can infuriate you to no end – especially when learning how to debone a turkey or properly cook red beans or discovering that your “culinary feat” is both bland and unsightly.

Sushi rice is perhaps one such ingredient that has the power to evoke such an emotional range.

I have been learning to cook sushi rice for years. My first batch, prepared roughly five years ago, was a total and complete disaster. Gummy, tough and flavorless, I had to sacrifice the yield to the trash.

But I have been practicing.

I find that, above all, patience is key. Sushi rice is delicate, yet demanding of your attention to detail. I have found that preparing it requires such precision – in the time to clean, to soak, to boil, to rest, to mix with the vinegar, salt and sugar, to cool and to shape, either for nigiri or rolls.

After all these years, I am getting so close to happiness with my sushi rice preparation. That is not to say I do not digress. I most certainly do. After all, I am not a trained sushi chef. But the progress fills me full of happiness and love.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

My Favorite Cup

The weekend I moved into my residence hall as a new minted university freshman (Go Wildcats!), my mother took me shopping for the essentials: School supplies, food, bedding, bathroom items, cooking materials and the like. 

I recall with such fondness standing in an aisle at Target looking at coffee cups.

"Pick out a coffee cup," my mother suggested.

I wasn't a coffee drinker at the time and didn't see that I would need one.

"I don't think I'll need a coffee cup," I told her. Of course she looked at me with a stern, yet loving expression on her face as though to say, "Honey, you're a college student now. I don't know why we're buying all this food anyway when you will be living off of coffee for the next four years."

Ah, the words of wisdom.

So I looked quickly at the selection, settling on this yellow-colored cup with abstract grapes -- or military medals. I haven't been able to figure that over the years. This cup has seen me through so much -- about eight different moves, umpteenth bouts of sickness, several jobs and other major life events.

OK, this is not a posting in the traditional sense of a food blog. But the cup lives in my kitchen and, to this day, serves as a lasting testament as my mother's love and compassion for her daughter as she set out to send her -- the first -- off to college. For this reason, this remains my favorite cup.

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