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!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Quick, Easy, Inexpensive Dinner


What do you do after a long and challenging day at work, when feeling tired and lazy, and after you skipped out on the grocery story but are terribly, terribly hungry?

Raid the fridge.

I had a half bag of broccoli slaw left over. Peas and carrots in the freezer. And a tiny bit of peanut sauce left.

Tossed into a pot and cooked for about eight minutes, this is what you get: A wonderfully flavorful and light dish for dinner.

And plenty more time to relax.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Juicy Marinade with Hoisin

This marinade was juicy! Or, better yet, jooo-say! 

Don't bother measuring these things out -- just add to taste: Hoisin sauce, honey Dijon mustard, ponzu, sesame oil, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic and lemon.

I went heavy on the Hoisin and the rice vinegar and squeezed in a half lemon.

I also put in about a half-thumb-sized shaving of ginger and added six garlic cloves. I should have gone a little bit more on the garlic. Turns out that six cloves just wasn't enough to bring out the full flavor I was looking for.


Lots going on, eh? Your mouth will thank you later.

I didn't have time to marinade the chicken -- I chose boneless chicken thighs for this recipe -- for 12 hours, so I tried a two-point method. I baked the chicken in the marinade, then sauteed it in the skillet until browned.

It worked out well. It gave a slight glaze to the chicken and a bit of char, which I think balanced the meat out a bit. The thigh was so succulent and soft that I imagine it would have felt as though it were swimming over the tongue while eating. With the charring allowing for more texture, it gave the teeth something to grip onto.

Strange description?

...though, in retrospect, I would have gone with a little less hoisin. Why? I like the slight sweetness hoisin offered, especially given that this was a meat-centric meal.

But I am not a huge fan of hoisin.

I find this strange myself, considering that I have two containers of hoisin -- for a reason unknown to me -- in the fridge. I think it's something about the vinegar. It's both the flavor and the feel.

For me, hoisin falls strangely to the sides of the tongue.

I find that I prefer foods that activate the taste buds to the front and middle of my tongue. Ah well, I was pleased with the results.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Elotes y Camarones

I live in the southwest, a region that holds a strong Mexican influence, largely because this land once belonged to Mexican and indigenous populations.

Actually, it still does, no matter what you've been told.

Here, it is easy to find carne asada, birria, pozole, menudo, baracoa, carnitas, pan, the contemporary Sonoran hot dog and other traditional Mexican and Mexico-inspired dishes.

Indeed, the issue of authenticity is huge here. A few good measures: if a restaurant isn't family-owned, does not sell pozole or menudo on the weekends and if also if it isn't frequented by families and abuelos, it likely is not anywhere near being authentic.

Those are my good measures.

Another mainstay: Elotes.

You can find elote stands in various southern locations in my city. The corn is roasted in the husk. Then, with your order, the server strips down the husk, rubbing the corn, or "elote,"  with mayonnaise, butter, cheese and crema, or sour cream. You can then add chili powder and lime juice, maybe even cumin or garlic, depending on the location.

Street food at it's best.

Tonight I made elotes with a side of sauteed camarones, or shrimp, that I had seasoned with Old Bay seasoning and lime juice. You could also try this with lemon juice or lemon pepper seasoning. I went without the mayonnaise. Can't stand the stuff.

Delicious meal! While the shrimp was quite tasty with a slight crisp, it was the elotes that made my night.

I wasn't born here. I wasn't raised here. But with an elote in hand, I feel that I am home. 


Thursday, July 26, 2012

No Pasta "Spaghetti"

A fake pasta? This worked out so well, better than I had anticipated. Did you know that you can use zucchini in place of starchy pasta? Yep. Goes well for those of us who are diligently at work trying to cut some carbs out of our regular diets.

I learned this just this week.

You simply julienne the zucchini and boil it as you would pasta, but only for a few minutes you. And, yes, I realize that those slices are no where near being a julienne cut. I really must work on my technique!

I had marinara sauce on hand, so I used the sauce along with onion, garlic snow peas and some mushrooms, cooking the mix briefly in the pot. I served the sauce over the zucchini. Topped with a little bit of Parmesan cheese, it turned out to be a very nice and somewhat light dinner. 




Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My First Perfectly Poached Egg

Finally, and for the first time, I have successfully poached an egg in the traditional form.

OK -- the egg was not a 100 percent perfect orb of egg whites, fully encapsulating the yolk. But it was perfect to me.

The egg whites were delicate; demanding of respect, requiring a tenderness with the fork. This was not an egg to be gobbled down, but one that had to be respected. Revered. Noted with intense curiosity.

I was partially driven by amazement: Did I -- *me* -- finally poach an egg in a way that is edible and visually appealing? Did I just create that?

I added nothing to the water. No vinegar. No baking soda. No magic. Only patience and more patience -- and boiled water. That was all that was required. In the end, the poached egg was dressed with a little bit of salt and pepper.

When dressed, I stood there, looking over the egg. Astonished, surprised. At that moment, it was a near perfect orb. The shapely yolk was plump beneath the blanketed glair. And with a gentle poke, the egg let loose its delicate center.

Golden. Ripe. Rich. Inviting.

Lovely.
 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cold Chicken Curry Salad

There are a few restaurants and markets in town that sell chicken curry salad. I remember the first time I had it -- years ago at what was once the corner market near campus.

The salad was sold in 6-ounce containers at nearly $3. At the time, I thought this was a steal. But, over the years, I have seen that same container marked up to nearly $6 at locations elsewhere.

Just this week, I was at one of our markets and saw a container going or about $5. That was it! I wondered: Really, people! How hard can it be to make this at home for a portion of the price?

The answer: Not. Not hard at all.

It's best to have a nice cut of chicken breast. For this recipe, I went with two along with an ample amount of celery, red onions, three garlic cloves, scallions, a few squirts of fresh lemon juice and about two tablespoons of powered curry. I am not certain how much coconut milk I used -- maybe about 1/4 of a cup.

Also, it seems that this salad is always made with mayonnaise. But I chose coconut milk because A. I do not have mayonnaise at home and B. I do not like the look, smell or taste of mayonnaise on its own -- not even to scoop a spoonful out into a bowl.

That's another story for another time. 

I slowly cooked the chicken breasts in a skillet. I had seasoned them with garlic salt and pepper -- just enough to give the meat some sort of a base flavor. I had cut the chicken into chunks but, while cooking, found that they were still too large, so I tried to cut them with the spatula while in the skillet. The chunks were still way too large in the end. Shredded chicken next time, perhaps?

With the chicken done, I whisked together the curry and coconut milk, tossed or squeezed in the rest of the ingredients, then added the chicken.

The initial flavor was heavy on curry. I felt immediately disappointed, thinking I had done a terrible, terrible job. But I recalled that this salad is always served cold. So I put it in the fridge for about two hours. Coming back for a taste, I felt I had begun to levitate. It was MUCH improved!

It was wonderful, though still not a good as the restaurants perhaps because of the lack of mayonnaise, salt, butter, creme or whatever else they may add to entice Americanized taste buds. But the flavor was full and delicious enough. This seems the perfect dish for potlucks and picnics. I will certainly be making this again!



Friday, July 20, 2012

Riceless Smoked Salmon Nori Rolls


This was a perfect afternoon snack -- especially for those of us who are going the low carb and reduced carb route.

Finding that I had a mean desire to eat, I raided the fridge. What luck! I had some smoked salmon. Hum...maybe that sushi craving I've had for the last few days could be satisfied after all.

I also had some toasted sesame seeds and veggie flavored creme cheese and also some carrots. The assembly was simple.

I have never had a riceless nori or sushi roll before, and found that this method could get wildly  creative. I also considered a shrimp salad or tuna. I will have to experiment with this.

But in the future I think it will be important to splash the smoked salmon with a tiny bit of rice vinegar. The flavor that smoked salmon yields simply is not sushi-esque to me. I did add a little bit of fresh lemon juice to try and lighten the flavor, but it didn't work well enough. So, yes, I think the rice vinegar would have made a huge difference in the recipe. But, in all, very tasty.
 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bun-Less Burger Wrap


The carb cravings have begun to subside but, time to time, I do find that I cannot control the desire to enjoy a couple slices of bread. Above all, I miss Milton's Multi-Grain.

It will be another 1.5 weeks before I am able to reintroduce carbs, albeit in limited amounts, so I've had to be a bit creative.

I am not burger-prone, but I've been desiring one. So I opted to make a bun-less burger at home. Using ground beef, I added a combo of Lawry's and garlic salt, onion powder, pepper, sweet onions and parsley. I simply cooked the patties in a dry skillet, adding a dab of butter toward the end.

Not bad, wrapped in romaine lettuce with cheddar, tomatoes and whole pepporcinis.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Thai-Inspired Shimp Delight


A late, rushed dinner that required taking what was on hand. I raided the freezer, fridge and pantry, finding: Shrimp, onion, the last of the coconut milk, those portabellinis, peas and carrots along with chili paste and the crab paste I mentioned in another post.

Ah, a Thai-inspired dish.

Start to finish, the dish took about a half hour. I shelled the shrimp and put them in a bowl with lemon juice and salt.

I then slowly cooked the onion in a bit of olive oil. I then added the crab paste and, when fragrant, added the chili paste.

Then in went the coconut milk. When this came to a boil, I added the mushrooms and, soon thereafter, the shrimp. Lastly, I added the peas and carrots.

In all, very nice! I should have added a bit more chili paste. The dish was not as spicy was I would have liked. Also, the coconut milk had a strange thickness to it. Good flavor, but the texture was somewhat distracting. And the peas and carrots? Great addition! As for the crab paste, I only put a tablespoon, but that was plenty. It gave a lovely and light aftertaste.

So, yes, this dish had much going on: Nice, full flavor; good use of on hand ingredients; decent amount of spice; excellent nutrition.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Product Review: Crab Paste with Bean Oil


First of all, this has got to be one of the most non-descriptive labels ever in human history. It took me a while to even figure out who manufactures the paste and the nutritional information and ingredients are in such small print.

Called Crab Paste with Bean Oil, this product is put out by the Anhing Corporation, which is based in my hometown of Los Angeles. Opening the jar, there is a strong scent of garlic and chili, but not crab, which might be a great thing. It actually is very, very fragrant, so no need to take a huge whiff of the stuff. A gentle whiff will give you the full effect.

The taste is milder than the color lends. It has a bright, almost industrial redish hue. And the taste is crab is hard to find. In fact, it tastes almost nothing like crab. Actually, what am I saying? I've had crab in Maine. This tastes nothing like crab. At all. You wouldn't even know crab was in it if a crab wasn't so prominently displayed on the jar.

But I do like the flavor. It goes very well on top of cooked rice and fried into rice. I imagine this would taste mighty fine in noddles or spring rolls as well. I still have quite to go with the jar, so I will be experimenting. But lest I come upon an amazing recipe that calls for the paste, I likely will not buy another jar in the future.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Carrot and Red Bell Pepper Mash

Making this carrot and red pepper mash is somewhat time consuming, but it always comes out tasting so, so delicious.

I find that I do not mind. The roasting process is quite wonderful for me.

In the roasting pan goes the vegetables -- all shiny after having received an ample massage with olive oil. This time, I added some rosemary sprigs.

Good idea!

This is just part one of something like a seven-step process. Start to finish, it takes about two hours to make the mash -- a hearty side dish that is a bit too hot and heavy for the summer, but too alluring to wait for fall.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Honey-Sugar-Vanilla Based Peanut Butter Balls

What's this? It's the base for peanut butter balls.

I remember the first and only time I encountered peanut butter balls -- a once-close friend of my mother had me over for the weekend. She loved to bake, especially sweets, and we often found ourselves at work in the kitchen.

On this particular visit, she mentioned peanut butter balls. I had never heard of such a thing. She was surprised, then informed me that they were pretty much the best invention ever. Yes, better than sliced bread and apple pie and cheddar cheese and chicken n' waffles -- combined! OK -- I'm kidding about that last part. But she did rave on and on and on about them.

They were so simple to make, and I was surprised that they required no cooking at all.

I cannot recall how we made them then, but this is how I made them -- this time for the office:

I scooped a ton (overstatement) of creamy peanut butter into a bowl. Without measuring, I added honey, brown sugar and confectioners sugar along with vanilla extract.

Turns out I needed more peanut butter and, thus, more sweetner.

All told, I have no idea how much I added. This was one of those go-with-the-flow type of encounters.

I am actually amazed that for someone who does not care for sweets and who does so little baking of sweets at home that I actually had all the ingredients -- even the chocolate. Strange indeed.

For dipping and rolling, I used Lindt dark chocolate with 70 percent cocoa, crushed walnuts and also coconut shavings.

Nice combination. In the end, they looked to me like miniature donuts. Tee hee.

It was a multi-stepped process.

I first mixed the peanut butter and sweets together stirring with such intensity that I felt I was getting an upper body workout.

Nice.

I then let the mixture sit in the freezer for a half hour hoping that it would be easier to handle. It was! I then quickly rolled the peanut butter into little balls. All of this was quite easy. I know that some recipes call for butter, but I didn't see the point in it. I did, however, grease the bowl I was using to melt the chocolate with a little bit of butter. That worked out well.

I had returned the balls to the freezer while prepping the chocolate. From then on, it was kind of haphazard. The peanut butter balls melt quickly, and I found it challenging using toothpicks while covering them in melted chocolate. I will have to think of a better method.

For the assembly, some went bare, and others were mixed. Start to finish, the process took almost two hours.

With everything dipped, rolled and dressed, I put the balls back in the fridge overnight, taking them to work the next morning. 

I did sneak a plain one the night prior. For a minute, I could understand why lovers of peanut butter and chocolate would believe -- as my childhood friend did -- that these treats were, indeed, invented by the Prince of Darkness.

Cook's note: Be sure to have some wax or parchment paper on hand. I ran out in the process and had to sit about 10 of these balls on a plate. Bad idea. Yep -- big oops! While the bare and coconut-rolled balls came off with little tension, the chocolate ones pretty much melded to the plate. I had to warn my office mates that the dented ones were not half eaten but that I had to use herculean strength to pry them from the plate.

And bonus points if in the photo below you can see the peanut butter balls that look like they've just heard a ridiculous joke. Here's a hint: They are fraternal cyclops twins.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mini Stuffed Mushrooms

While at the grocery story, these little "portabellinis" caught my eye. I have never heard of or seen these mushrooms before, and I find the name somewhat funny sounding. 

But there was nothing funny tasting about them.

I understand that these miniature mushrooms are in the same family as the portabello, but I wouldn't say that the taste/flavor is an unriped or immature version of portabellos.

Still, portabellinis are not as full and meaty as portabello mushrooms, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The flavor and texture are consistent enough.

Visually, it looks just like a portabello -- just sized down. The black gills seem darker, however.

I am not sure why, but the first thought I had was to stuff these. 

I set out almost immediatly to making the stuffing, even before I had put all the groceries away.

Simplicity was the key considering that I wasn't familiar with this little guys. I opted for feta cheese, artichoke hearts, scallions and tomatoes. Yea! Clearing out the fridge.

I simply sliced everything up into tiny pieces and dashed the mixture with a bit of pepper. No other seasoning was required, though I should have added a clove of garlic.

Into the oven set at 400 for 15 minutes and that was it!

They are very small, so about two to three bites per mushroom. A wonderful appetizer for future reference -- lest you are looking for a light dinner in which case I would say that three to four of these per person is ample.

So, yeah...I am not sure why one would buy these little mushrooms instead of the larger portabellos, lest you are having a cocktail party. Or placing them in a burger of some kind. Or are watching your figure. Or are trying to be cute.

I'll take suggestions.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Vegetable Overload

I've recently made a lifestyle change: I am cutting back on carbs.

This is not a diet, but a plan I am incorporating in life. I find that I eat way too many carbs without the balance of fruits and vegetables.

So I have made a point to skip the rice, breads, pastas and such more often, prefering now to cook or dine on meals that incorporate more fruits and vegetables. I am not giving up carbs all together, just making better and healthier choices about my intake.

As such, I made this freakin' amazing dish. A vegetable meadley, really. It was something like a stirfry and called for onion, garlic, shallots, scallions, cabbage, mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, lemon, Bragg's and shrimp. I was going to use ponzu, but opted instead for Bragg's last minute. Bragg's Liquid Aminos basically tastes like soy sauce, but with a lower concentration of sodium. It also is slightly more tart in comparison and gives you a huge boost of protein.


Two Years Down, Where do we Go?


OK -- this is my longest post to date:

So much has happened in two years -- the length of time I have managed this blog.
 
I recall that I introduced this blog as an experiment -- I had joined a food challenge group and felt this would be a great way to document history. While the group no longer connects to challenge one another with a weeky ingredient, I continued on with the blog.

It filled me; the blog nurtured in a way I didn't expect and didn't realize was possible.

Over the last two years I have experienced much in life -- and in the kitchen.

I've earned a master's degree and began work toward the doctorate (with plans to defend my proposal in a few months).

Friends and loved ones have drifted away.

And I have met some other amazing friends -- some of you locally, some hundreds of miles away and others across the digital transom.

I have traveled throughout southern California, to Chicago, Illinois and Vancouver -- a city I have wanted to visit for years.

I have become an aunt to a lovely, lovely little girl.


Then there is my work in the kitchen.

I have learned -- finally -- how to make luscious salads, curry and sushi.

I make a mean BBQ and an assortment of marinades and rubs. I now know how to butterfly meat.

I can finally fry catfish.

I feel I will soon perfect the soft boiled egg.

And I can easily prepare dishes that call for upwards from 10 ingredients without heaving over while reading the recipe.

And so much more.  
 
Along the way, I've learned a few important things:

A chef in the kitchen is ideal. A chef an a sous chef -- that's good, too. But more than two cooks in the kitchen and chaos ensues.

Patience is one of a cook's best virtues.

Treat your knives as you would natural hair -- with love, attention, patience and care.

Do not underestimate the power of broccoli.

A turkey breast is freakin' huge!

Onion and garlic are key for adding much needed depth to many dishes.

Frozen vegetables are not the enemy.

Honey and brown sugar are decadent on beef and chicken. 

I look forward to what's to come with this blog, and with life.

Making simple bread and cheese is easier than the general cook might assume.

A colorful, balanced plate makes or a happy eater.

Salt can be and should be substituted when possible. 

Thank you for reading! ...and enjoy the photos, which represent some of my favorite foodie moments over the last two years.




...pears poached in red wine and cinnamon which, after the reduction, is syrupy sweet.


...prosciutto wraps. They make a wonderful appetizer, especially when stuffed with feta. 


...boiled eggs with salt, pepper and feta -- a midnight snack and guilty  pleasure.





...one of the "challenge items" for work -- monkey bread (I take suggestions from office mates and make dishes to share with the office about every other month).



...that time I forgot to add the ginger.







...that time my mother warned me: "You are putting the biscuits too close together. You're just going to have one big biscuit."



...part of the culinary love note to Nancy.

...one of the food/photography parties. Great fun!


...one of my all time favorite photos -- my poached black figs. 


...a new method for cutting and cooking potatoes. They are called hasselback potatoes.


...a must-do: Pampered Chef party. 


...my cure for sickness. 





And a few more:  



...a wonderful birthday gift from my mother -- this beautiful and powerful blender. 














...making ghee for the very first time.















 ...fire roasted green chilies? A must!











Alex, once my kitchen companion.




 ...and finally, my first time making cheese:


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