Who's That Girl

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WHO'S THAT GIRL: A higher education obsessed foodie who is documenting her life in the kitchen. I love to cook delicious, gourmet-style foods for those I love and always welcome a challenge in the kitchen. With that challenge comes an impromptu nature. I tend to avoid following recipes to the exact, so you are not likely to find very many posted here. Being that I am a Libra and am learning to be free in the kitchen, the story always goes, "A pinch of this and a smattering of that!" Thank you for visiting -- and happy reading!

Sunday, 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.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What's in Your Fridge?

Ah, the world of condiments!

I grew up in a world of mustard, ketchup,  mayonnaise (*shivers*) and, for some reason A1 Steak Sauce.

Anyone actually use A1? I don't see the attraction.


As an adult, the culinary world has introduced me to so many of my current favorites: Soy sauce, fish sauce, chili sauce and paste (especially with a hint of garlic) and rice vinegar.

Also, Worcester, horseradish, Sriracha, Dave's Insanity Hot Sauce, the Hernandez brand of salsa...

...and in honor of my late brother, Dontia, Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce. That was his favorite, and it will continue to be mine as well.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ghee Whizz! A New Taco Tradition

Ah, the ubiquitous taco -- in this region at least.

You can find tacos with grilled or charred beef, pork or chicken; with tripe, chorizo asado, cactus paddles; or with shrimp, a range of fish, though cod and tilapia are quite popular; vegetarian style stuffed with avocado, sweet chilies and corn; and then there is cabeza or meat from a cow’s head, slow cooked – this being my least favorite. Blech! I do not care for barbacoa. To me, the feeling must be comparable to those who do not enjoy “fishy” fish.

Then you have your doados, flautas and taquitos.

For me, I like my tacos best when they are served with carne asada with fresh onions and cilantro and some spicy salsa or hot sauce.

*kisses fingertips*

My most recent tacos were a combination of ground beef and potatoes with bell peppers and onion.

I began with the potatoes, then cooked the onions and peppers. I added the beef last, adding some broth.

By the time the broth boiled off, the taco stuffing was ready.

I warmed my tortillas over the stove’s open flame and added a dab of ghee and also some shredded mozzarella cheese, then Sriracha.

Delicious!

The ghee added a wonderful flavor to the tacos that, in effect, MADE these tacos!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Praise for Polenta

Nancy really enjoys polenta. I’d only had it twice before – once in a lamb ragu recipe dish while in Indianapolis and in my attempt to replicatee the dish after we returned home. During our last trip out of town, we came upon polenta again. It reminded me of that prior experience and, within Nancy raving about how good it was, I opted to try to make it again.

Sorry for the terrible, terrible quality of the images! I used my phone this time. Big mistake!

...anyway...

My last attempt at polenta was substandard. Thank goodness the ragu was full of flavor. Otherwise, the dish may have gone to the trash. This time, I opted to do some experimentation.

I follow the standard procedure of four or so times the water included while boiling the polenta. But my added procedure was in the few additions. When the polenta was nearly done cooking, I stirred in Parmesan cheese, chives and pepper. I also added a bit of unsalted butter. Goodness! I wish I’d had ghee on hand.

I skipped baking the polenta, as I had the first time I cooked it. Instead, I swift fried the polenta. Swift fried is a relative term here. I think I used the wrong pan. I wanted a nice, even sear but, instead, the polenta began to fall apart at the edges. I would suggest a sauté pan perhaps if you are going to try this at home.

As for that strange concoction sitting atop the polenta -- that's a crab claw mixed with Dijon mustard, olive oil infused mayonnaise, salt and pepper. My mistake was adding entirely too much mustard and mayonnaise. Way too much. Really, I should have gone with about a teaspoon of each -- a tablespoon at the most. The flavor was nice, but it drowned out the taste of the crab, which is what I was going for. Arrrgghhhh!!!

See, after all this time -- still learning.

In the end, though, it came out well. In retrospect, I might have added a sharper cheese. The Parmesan cheese was nice, but did not have as potent a flavor. And I might also have added some gently cooked onions or scallions. Oooh!!! Now I’m thinking of all sorts of ideas! It's such a versitile grain!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Imitation Cobb Salad

It is not an authentic cobb salad, but a near sister.

Even though I was born and raised in Los Angeles and visit my hometown at least twice annually, I do not believe I have ever had an authentic cobb salad. The salad was originally created at the Brown Derby Restaurant in Hollywood. 


More to come!

*Nancy put her excellent photo editing skills to the task here.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ode to Musubi

I cannot stop thinking about musubi!

Is this a new obsession of mine?

No. It cannot be.

It must not be.

But I have decided that, yes, I like Spam. There, I said it. I love it served with sushi rice and seaweed with rice seasoning and panko. It's a nice, filling treat.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Salad from the Heavens

There is nothing like a nutty, sweet and soft salad with a slight crunch drizzled with a mixture of honey, mustard and balsamic vinegar that makes you look apathetically to the other side of the plate and wonder, “Now, what was the point in cooking that meat?”

Such is life.

It took me an hour – a full hour – to prepare the country style ribs.

I produced a rub, which later turned out to be unnecessary, and let the meat sit for about 20 minutes.

Then, I grilled the meat, adding sauce at the end.

The meat takes an obvious back seat here. It’s the salad that sparkled for me.

It wasn’t packed with many vegetables – just spinach, red and yellow tomatoes and cress and a homemade dressing. But it lit up my mouth in such a lovely way. The meat was too harsh against the gentle flavor of the salad. But the jalapeno cheese bread was a nice touch.

I ended up having the bread and salad, washing off the sauce and rub and giving some to Topee. She loved it! Thank goodness because I'd lost my interest.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Seaweed on Spam


Put this in the section of: Yes, I made that. And, yes, I ate that.

Based on my very peripheral knowledge, I understand that musubi is a popular snack in Hawaii. Often, it includes Spam, rice and seaweed, but you can also find musubi served with eggs and, instead of Spam, katsu chicken or with vegetables.

Now, I try not to be a food snob. Nothing worse than one, right? Especially when there are whole populations on this planet that would look at "American" cuisine and grimace at the thought of eating fast food cheeseburgers, sauce-soaked chicken wings, deep fried anything, pickled pigs feet or "Beanee Weenee." Really? Beanee Weenee, eh?

So this is how it goes: I was visiting my family in California when, one day, I opt for Hawaiian BBQ. It's hard to find good Hawaiian BBQ here. We have two locations that I know of. One of which is OK; the other I haven't tried. But back home, I saw musubi on the menu and without asking what is is, what's in it, how it's made, what it tastes like, I order one.

To me, it looks like Frankenstein's foot -- boot and all. But I took my first bite and I love it! Loved it! Granted, I thought it could be done much fresher than served, so I opted to try it at home. (Oops! There's the food snob!)

Enter Google.

Type "musubi."

Read with horror.

It contains Spam?!

I do not ever recall having ever willingly tried Spam in my life. This was the quasi meat we made fun of as children even though we didn't know what it was. That was all the fun, right! Making fun of something you knew nothing about. *sad*

Moving on in the conversation. So, yes -- I jotted down the essentials: Spam, seaweed, sushi rice. Seems basic. I had all but the Spam.

I decided to add some extras, and I had a backup meal in case I failed with this one.

I got the sushi rice going and waited until it was done before frying the Spam. When it was nearly done, I began cooking the panko. I also had some rice seasoning on hand, so I pulled that out. I also made some wasabi (too thin, though. Should have added less water) and prepped the rice vinegar with salt and sugar for the sushi rice. I also cut up some avocado.

Then I assembled everything, adding a garlic hot sauce just for fun.

Pretty good! It was actually better than I recall. It was nice and fresh -- not greasy at all. And I expected the meat to taste like brains, but it tasted like...I don't know...a cut of ham without the rendered fat.

I understand the seaweed should wrap around the musubi, but I couldn't figure out how to do this without a mold.

...as I am typing this, I realized I could have used a biscuit cutter. Crud!

Anyway -- yes. These were pretty good.

Will I be making them again? Yes!

Will I be making them anytime soon? Probably not.

Do I recommend that you try these at home? Yes! And feed them to your family.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Happy First Year!!!

This week marks my blog's first-year anniversary! I have learned so much in that time! Some of it functional culinary mastery, some of it common sense stuff -- like:

Never use a glass container when baking at high heat.

You must cook red beans longer than 30 minutes.

Do not add additional lighter fluid to a grill already prepped with the food you are cooking.

Put the BBQ sauce on grilled meat toward the end of cooking, not the beginning.

Ah. Living is learning. To celebrate the first-year anniversary, here are some of my favorite posts (in no particular order):

FOOD CHALLENGE: Pudding: I miss my Food Challenge group. The group was the very reason why I began this blog. But it disbanded a few month after I joined as a member -- everyone had been getting increasingly busy, finding it difficult to commit to weekly challenges. I thought about walking away from the blog, but I couldn't do it. I love it that much, and it still encourages me to be creative and giddy in the kitchen. The pudding challenge was so fun! I had a great time doing some plate decorating, too.

Why I Cook: In addition to having an awesome and adorable photo of myself when I was a 5-year-old (and I actually remember the photo being taken), this post led to my one-year commitment, one that continues. My affection for home cooked meals has only intensified since I began this blog. More and more, I love the process of preparing food and have become increasingly concerned with issues of sustainability. I am not yet a master, but I am working through it.

The Famous Mystery Sauce: My kitchen feats have left me saying, "Did I make that?!" ...both in the good and bad way. But mostly good. I am always thoroughly impressed when I am able to eat a meal in public and then replicate it at home. Even better when it's better. I have not yet mastered the shrimp culichi, but I am on my way.

Buttermilk White Sauce with Pasta: This one perplexes me. Based on my site hits, this entry is consistently the most visited one. I have run no serious analytics to understand why -- it's just one of those perplexing things. It wasn't even one of my favorite dishes or posts! And yet I get people from Canada and various parts of Europe and Africa who visit to read this post.

SAVEUR: Boudin-Stuffed Turkey Breast: This is one of my all-time favorites. This was one of the most hilarious culinary experiences I have had in life. I think it was a great combination of experimentation, lack of knowledge but a sense of urgent dedication to having a good outcome. I literally laughed much of the time I was preparing this dish and while posting the blog. Incidentally, it is the top viewed post on the blog.

Some of My Favorite Things: I do not have tons of culinary devices, but I do have a few reliables. Among my favorites are the red trivets my mother gave me as a housewarming gift. I hang them over the oven as decorative additions, pulling them off the wall whenever I need them.

Ghee and Me: I was only introduced to ghee this year. I fell instantly in love. So much that I opted to make my own at home. It the simplist of culinary attempts, but requries precision and care.

A Fitting Gift: I very much enjoy preparing food for other people. It makes me happy and pleases me to no end when I find that the the other person can appreciate what I have made. Cooking for me is such a relaxing and creative almost meditative outlet. An d while I have not yet mastered baking or desserts, this post is about a treat I made for Nancy's mother. It was so decadent that she asked me, "Where did you get this?" There is something absolutely wonderful in begin able to say, "Honey, I made that."

Favorite Photos, Favorite Dishes: And what's a blog without images? I can tell my photography has improved since launching the blog. I am not a trained photographer. I took one photojournalism course during my undergraduate years and took some of the worse images imaginable. I have tried some experimentation with my images -- different angles and taking photos at different points in the process. Granted, I won't get a front page splash in the Los Angeles Times, but I am quite pleased with my continued improvement. That is what this blog is all about.

Friday, July 1, 2011

What Could have Been

Have you ever cooked something that, while cooking it, you knew that it was going to be an epic food fail.

As you know, I have had my share of gaffes. Re: The Oops section on this blog.

For this particular Oops addition, let me introduce the worst red beans ever.

Goodness, these were terrible. What made it worse was that the beans actually smelled so wonderfully fragrant. I sauteed onions and garlic then added tomato sauce and brown sugar. I then added the beans with salt and pepper and cooked them for a half hour.


The sauce was fantastic! But the beans tasted chalky. Meck! Yes, I now know I should have cooked them much, much longer. But I do not often cook beans. Ever. Actually, almost never. These could have been pretty good beans, I think. If I ever make them again, I'll use a crockpot.

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