Who's That Girl

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

Friday, March 29, 2013

2013 Food Challenge: Hominy

Living in the southwest, I have eaten my fill of hominy. I fell in love with the stuff thanks to a staple regional dish: posole. 

Posole is a centuries-old Mexican stew and, as I have been told, the use of hominy was popularized by Native Americans in this region. 

As with any dish, there is vast variation in how posole is served. But I am most familiar with it being served a particular way. In addition to the deep red stew (made with onion, garlic, Ancho and other peppers, oregano and more) and visible nuggets of hominy, the posole includes chicken or pork and is served with slices of lime and radishes and pieces of cilantro and avocado.

But my love for posole was ruined years ago. There was a period that I was so in love with the flavor that I ate posole every day for about one week. Since then, I don’t go near the stew and certainly never, ever any hominy.

So what to do with this challenge item? I did think about making a stew or soup. I also considered bread and muffins. Then it hit me – grits! Grits are derived from hominy! Perfect. 

I grew up with grits. I love the way my mother makes them – not to runny, not ever dry and with a little bit of salt, pepper and cheese. I’ve always had savory grits, never sweet. And, for too-too long, I have wanted to make shrimp and grits.

I began with the onions, sautéing them toward caramelization. Before that point, I added chopped tomatoes, oregano and basil and about a cup or so of water. I let this simmer down        until the water was nearly evaporated.  Meanwhile, I had shelled the shrimp and sprinkled them with Old Bay seasoning.

I then added mushrooms and the shrimp to the tomato sauce. The water for the grits had already begun to boil, so I added it slowly to the pot and stirred and stirred and stirred. My mother had told me earlier in the day to be sure not to leave the stove; that grits are finicky, so you have to be very attentive to them.

Once the water was nearly evaporated, I added shredded sharp cheddar cheese, then poured the grits into a bowl, topping the grits off with the tomatoes and shrimp.

I don’t think I have ever made shrimp and grits in my life. But thank goodness for this week’s challenge item because, finally, I was receptive to trying something that, until this point, I have only mildly considered making. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

2013 Food Challenge: Chayote Squash

I have seen Chayote squash in the grocery store for years. Years without making a purchase.

Until now.

Yes, it's true -- I never took an interest in the Chayote until this week's challenge item.

My impression?

It looks like a gnarly fist; the fist of Hulk's first born child.

Holding it in your hand, it looks like you have somehow transformed into raging hulk-hood, but with a muscular, under-formed fist.

Or, or -- like a budding plant that never made its Little Shop of Horrors debut.

Yeah, Chayote squash is weird.

What's more weird? Cooking it into egg rolls.

I began with the sauce.

I mixed together some ponzu, rice wine vinegar, a ton of sesame seed oil and some spicy Chinese mustard sauce with a sampling of fish sauce. This would be my sautee oil.

I also shaved a bit of fresh ginger into the mix. Thank goodness for fresh, potent ginger. It add such a lovely flavor to a dish.

I had already chopped up the squash and, swear, it's more like a fruit than a squash.

I mean, come on, this thing has a full seed in its interior and everything. How did it get to adopt the qualifier of "squash" when it seems nothing of the sort? 

I had thought about serving it raw, but the taste was too-too bland for an entree.

Chayote is not sweet -- lest I picked an fist that had not yet ripened. I did find that the skin seemed a bit too tough, and the color not yet green enough. These were all the signs that led me to believe I would have to doctor it up in a way that would be more involved than I had originally planned -- hence the sauce.

I had some leftover shrimp and pork, so I tossed that together with the Chayote along with bean sprouts, scallions and a bit of onion powder, since I wanted that extra kick. I also added a bit of cabbage.

One of the things I love about this dish is that the rolls were not fried.

Nope, I baked them.

Yup -- on about 375 degree for about 15 minutes. And I didn't even give them an egg wash. Instead, I simply used water.

The wrappers weren't as crusty as if they had been fried. Not even close, but they did taste all the more luscious and healthy than deep fried ones.

In the end, I served the egg rolls with steamed vegetables. What a fully round dinner with a ton of flavor.

The Chayote does not have an overly distinctive flavor, so it did get lost in this dish, sorry to say. That was a total bummer.

But the egg rolls were a nice idea, I think. The Chayote had somewhat of a strong texture, on account that I left the skin -- I am sure. Thank goodness for that because, yes, the texture was necessary for the softness of the interior of this dish.

But, really, there was nothing spectacular about the presence of the Chaoyte. I think it would be better suited served raw in a tower of some sort, perhaps with additional vegetables, or with either a steak or tuna tartare. Now, that sounds like a fabulous idea!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

2013 Food Challenge: Mushrooms

Growing up, my mother would call every variation of mushrooms "fungus." Simple and straightforward, she spoke with such vindication when referencing what I learned later in life was, literally, a sort of fungal growth.

I revel now in the fact that my blog actually has a category label for "mushrooms."

I enjoy mushrooms. Very much. May they be served in soups, stuffed, in a salad, eaten raw, sauteed with lamb, cooked up with bean sprouts and scallions or, in this case, served with a parsley polenta.

I have limited experience cooking polenta, but I love when it is done well -- by others, often. I find that polenta reminds me of grits. And if you know me well you know that I absolutely love, love, love me some grits!

Preferably made by my mother.

Preferably with her touch of adding a bit of butter and cheese. 

Preferably when visiting my family at home. 


Back to polenta. So, yes -- polenta reminds me of grits, even though they taste quite different. For the mushrooms, I sauteed them with onions and some soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, onion powder and rice wine vinegar. 

I also added some left over carne asada to the mix at the very end as an after thought, and simply because I needed to get rid of it before it went bad. 
Good save.

Served with some toast, I loved how ultra meaty it turned out, and the polenta was an excellent accompaniment to help balance out the tremendous flavor the mushroom mixte held.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

2013 Food Challenge: Avocados

Avocados. The misunderstood fleshy, green, egg-shaped drupe.

Is it a fruit? Is it a vegetable? How do you peel it? How do you use it? How can you really tell when it is ripe?

To date, I have often had avocados in two forms: as an accompaniment or in the form of guacamole.
But what to do for a challenge item?

I didn't want to make guacamole. I didn't want to make ice cream. I didn't want to batter it in panko and deep fry it. How else can you use avocado?

Turns out that in thinking about what I could do with the avocado I began thinking more about the food concept and food design.

I opted to make a deconstructed sushi roll, topped with avocado slices.

I baked the salmon with salt, butter and a splash of lemon juice, then cooked the shrimp in mirin. Cooking shrimp in mirin is actually one of my favorite preparations of the shellfish. I find that the mirin, as the sugar begins to burn off, gives this nice, semi-thick, semi-sweet richness that allows the shrimp to remain soft and slightly firm at the same time, and with a nice, full flavor.

I also made a sauce for topping: Chinese mustard, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and a bit of wasabi powder. I added a few capers and sauteed scallions (in soy sauce) in the end. What a treat! That turned out to be so, sooo yummy.

The always-fickle sushi rice came out a tiny bit too gummy but the rest of the meal was super delicious. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Product Review: Herdez Salsa

What has happened to me?

I once loved the Herdez Salsa Casera with such ardent affection. I always went with the hot version, having grown quite fond of the spicy flavor. I loved that the salsa had specks of onion, tomato, jalapeno and jalapeno seeds inside.

But, alas, over the years I have grown less and less fond of this particular brand of salsa.

The heat is less potent to me, even though its container indicates that it is a hot salsa. The flavor is not as full, even though it is heating with a hearty mesh of vegetables. And the flavor tastes more like vingear than the spicy sweet that I remember.

But I still buy it, thinking it must be me; must be a failing palate...that one day the once-vibrant flavor will return.

Product Review: Thai Kitchen's Coconut Milk

I have been using Thai Kitchen products for years.

I especially love the coconut milk. It is creamy, thick and mild on the flavor. Sometimes the mildness is a good thing.

I have had more authentic coconut milk, and appreciate when it has a richer, fuller coconut flavor. But I don't care for that flavor when I am cooking Asian-inspired dishes. I don't want that level of depth from the coconut milk and, thus, the Thai Kitchen brand works well.

At this point I have only used it for things like making a curry or for general sauces. And for those of you who are curious, this brand is vegan, dairy free and gluten free -- big plus.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

When I Treat Myself

I love doing this, and usually after I have achieved some great feat in school, work or service.

I like to go to my local grocery store -- whether it be a general store, a specialty shop, or the co-op, and find a nice sampling of cheese, meats and crackers.

Then, while home, I set out a little tray for myself and set a place for a beautiful display.

This was a big week for me in a lot of important ways. In one regard, I have been waiting years -- yes, years -- for this exact moment.

And, so, I chose to celebrate in this small way. Rosemary crackers. An orange and fig jam. And a mozzarella roll with Italian sausage.

This is one of the ways I like to pamper myself when it is well-deserved: with delicious treats and quiet time alone. I feel, in these moments, so happy, blessed and in peace.

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