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, April 26, 2013

2013 Food Challenge: Collard Greens

 There are quite a few food items largely representative of the south and southern cooking -- some in iconic ways.

Among them: crawdads and crawfish etouffee, peach cobblers (yummmm -- one sweet I will eat), black eyed peas, oxtails, BBQ of all kinds, a hefty steak (preferably a T-bone), savory cornbread, fried catfish, pecan pie and, of course, the quintessential collard greens.

My dad's side of the family is from the south and, coupled with living in the Los Angeles region, we had a hefty amount of soul food-inspired dishes. Not often collard greens, that I can recall.

But having lived a blip of my live in the south -- hello Beaumont; hello Houston -- I realize that these things held true. People of the south are serious about their food. It is something I so appreciated while living in Texas and, honestly, of the things Texas gave me in my young, budding 20s was most certainly a more refined palate.

*nods head* Yes, it's true.

But collard greens? I may have had them two or three times in Texas. Seldom enough and not at all memorable. Actually, I have found that I am not especially drawn to collard greens, especially not in the way I've had them prepared: wet, with ham.

Funny, that's how I would prepare them for this week's challenge item.

But, seriously, if I had the choice between corn on the cob, string beans, Mac n' Cheese or a biscuit, I would most certainly always choose one of those over collard greens.

Alas, the challenge group is pushing me to my limits.

Mah limits, folks! Interesting to note -- and fascinating realization -- that the recent items have been of the south, and also things I am not especially fond of eating: beans of the adzuki type, hominy and pecans.


So, for this week's challenge I decided to try and marry the old with the new -- something traditional with a contemporary feel.

Not familiar with collard greens, and based on of my prior experiences with the greens, I purchased some mustard greens and chard, believing that the collards would be too-too simple.

I also went with a lamb rack instead of steak, which I grilled using the wondrous indoor grill. I know, cheating.

I also decided to make a cauliflower puree.

Cooking the collard greens was a near nightmare. Why, you ask?

1. I purchased ham hocks to cook with the collards. I understood that this was the thing to do if you were going to be keeping it real.

But I found that ham hocks, which I have never, never, ever purchased in my life, are simply repulsive.

The look.

The feel.

The smell. Blecht! Oh, the smell! I've added a little picture here because, really, you don't want to see it any larger than it is presented here. Maybe you don't want to see it at all. I don't blame you.

2. I started with one pot of liquid for the flavoring and had to start over midway finding that the collards were not taking on the flavor of the garlic, onion, red peppers and mustard powder that I added.

In the end, I dumped the liquid and reserved as much of the garlic and onion as possible, adding some oil along with seasoning salt, a bouillon (I didn't use broth -- bummer) and three slices of bacon.

That helped.

Interesting thing: I find that I like the taste of raw collard greens. They taste, well, green. I especially like the taste of the stems. After eating a few, I imagined I would look at my tongue and find that it had turned a green hue. Cooked, they taste completely different.

So, in all, the dish was pretty good. I plated the lamb with mushrooms sauteed in Worcestershire sauce, and also the puree mix, which came out perfectly with the addition of the parsley. I also added some Toscano cheese with black pepper, courtesy of Trader Joe's, to add a bit of sharpness to the dish.

I felt OK about the greens but, goodness! Leftover lunch the following day was simply amazing. Yes, these were the type of greens that had to sit in their stew for a day in order to justify a blog post.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Challenge Item Motivation: The Pantry Purge

This is a continuation of the challenge item from weeks ago -- the pantry purge.

I found that I had all these wonderful ingredients on hand -- in the fridge and in the pantry -- and, literally, slapped it together.

It took little time.

No stress.

Just a nice, fresh full meal with tons of greens, marinated chicken and lovely noodles.

Ahhhhhhhh. Nice.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Product Review: Dell'Alpe Hot Giardiniera

Why have I never heard of this?

It was during a trip to Cleveland that I learned of giardiniera. Staying at a bed and breakfast, the owner made delicious toasts for breakfast that were topped with Swiss cheese and this mixture of what appeared to be red peppers and jalapenos.

I loved the spicy, slightly sweet flavor of whatever it was. Then, I forgot about it.

One day back home while browsing the condiments (something I am prone to do), I saw this jar: Dell'Alpe Hot Giardiniera.

My heart leapt into my throat.

It looked just like what was served at the Cleveland bread and breakfast. I looked at the ingredient list and description. Yes! It had to be. I placed a jar in my cart and was home-bound soon thereafter.

Once home, I toasted a slice of bread, pulled some cheese and butter out of the fridge and opened the jar.

That tale-tale smell was there. The ingredients looked the same. The appearance of being pickled also presented itself.

Could it be...

Out with a spoon from the drawer and into the jar it went. With the first taste, I was sold. This was it! I now had a name for my new obsession: Dell'Alpe Hot Giardiniera.

I am not certain that the owner used Dell'Alpe Hot Giardiniera, but what he put on the toast most certainly was giardiniera. What luck! What total and complete luck! I love the brand. The vegetables are perfectly pickled and not too salty; not too sweet. The scent is consuming. That's one of my favorite parts.

I will have to experiment with other giardiniera brands but, for now, I can at least say that I endorse Dell'Alpe Hot Giardiniera 100 percent.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

2013 Food Challenge: Adzuki Beans

Adzuki beans are small red beans generally used in sweet Japanese dishes. Unable to find adzuki beans, I went with their closets companion: small red beans. Yup, that's what was recommended, and that's what it said on the bag.

It has been pretty well established that I am not a fan of the majority of beans, so I wasn't sure what to do. Then, while driving home one day, I considered making a gourmet bean dip. What fun. I began with the soak.

I figured out too-too late that I had to soak the beans for hours. I opted to soak them overnight.

The next day, I was surprised to see the amount of growth in the beans. Also, they had turned a pinkish color and were a little shriveled, as though they had spent too much time in the pool. ...actually, yes, that's exactly right. They spent too much time in the pool. You know what your fingers and toes look like after a long swim? That's what they looked like the day after.

I immediately took a taste and, wow -- realization! I forgot I had to actually cook the freakin' beans!

Into a deep skillet they went with sauteed onions, garlic, kosher salt, pepper, roasted onion seasoning and vegetable broth. I cooked this for about one hour, adding water after the one can of vegetable broth cooked through.

I had a flat steak leftover, so I opted to swiftly cook it on the stove. Meanwhile, I chopped up some tomatoes, an avocado and an ear of corn that I had boiled in water only.

When the beans were done cooking, I put them in a food processor, reserving some to mix after processing to aid with the structure of what would become a bean tower.

Then came the plating.

Served with a dollop of sour cream and purple chips, I was quite please with the flavor -- especially of the beans, which did not taste like kidney beans as I had feared -- and the presentation. Fancy, fancy.

Monday, April 15, 2013

My Very First Brisket

I first had brisket years ago, at a traditional Passover Seder. It was my first taste of brisket.

I fell instantly in love with this cut of meat. The meat was so rich and tender, and tasted like something I had not ever experienced.

So, with brisket filling the stores for Passover 2013, I decided to buy a small one and try my hand.

My instructions were simple: Find a nice-sized brisket and be sure to marinade it for days. Don't get too fancy with the marinade. It's not that necessary. After letting it sit in the fridge for the weekend, cook it on very low heat for several hours. Then slice and serve.

Well, I went full-out fancy with it.

When I opened the packet, I found that there was this little pouch in there with the meat. I didn't realize there would be a packet. It looked beautiful. I couldn't make out all the spices, but I was sure there was coriander seeds -- whole seeds! -- and bay leaves.

"Ooh," I thought with the full body response of a Disney character. I am certain my eyes became nicely rounded and glistening when I set eyes on that packet. I imagined the amazing flavor burst it would yield! Can you just imagine! Look at the first photo alone! Doesn't that make you want to swim in it?!

...I have since learned that this was the very packet that would give the brisket a corned beef flavor. Crud! I hate the flavor of corned beef! Not to mention that adding a flavor packet goes against every culinary core in my body! Big no-no. No-no, I say!

Back to the preparation.

In addition to the non-descript flavor packet, I included fresh dill, fresh garlic, red wine and chicken broth were included. I also patted the brisket with onion powders.

This sat in the fridge Friday evening through Sunday afternoon, at which point I began cooking the brisket covered in the oven at about 275 degrees.

Cooked for about three hours, I found that this was not enough time. It had already become fragrant and, to my dismay, smelled like corned beef. Folks, I could have punched myself in the stomach!

I let the meat cook another hour and a half. It turned out quite nice. I would have done many things differently: excluded the spice pack; turned the meat several times between Friday and Sunday; cooked another hour or so for sure.

The meat was versatile, which I appreciated. I ate it alone, placed it into a wrap and found that serving it with noodles and rice would be sufficient.

So for a brisket first, I can at least smile because it was edible, and I also can laugh at my mistakes.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

2013 Food Challenge: Non-Purchased Food

Have you hear about the Natural Resources Defense Council study results finding that Americans waste 40 percent of their food.

40 percent?!

Imagine purchasing a container of 20 strawberries and trashing eight of them. Buy a pound of steak and immediately toss 181 grams into the garbage. Don't even bother cooking it. Just throw it away. Or peeling an orange and chucking one of the slices.

We may not take this practice literally but, apparently, this is the equivalent of what much of us do.

This weeks' challenge item charge was to take a look inside the pantry or refrigerator and come up with a meal that utilized a food item that did not have to be purchased.

For this meal, I didn't purchase anything at all. I so wanted some fresh ginger, but nope. I decided to forgo the purchase, using what I had on hand.

Rethinking my food consumption and waste, I realize that my house is filled with food. In addition to the tons of condiments in the fridge, I had bags of rice and noodles; three eggs; cans of soup and broth; some biscuits; the fridge was full of an assortment of vegetables, some of them nearing the end of their refrigerated lives; a freezer stocked with some chicken and shrimp. A nice range of foods to pull together dozens of dishes. Dozens, folks.

This reminds me of a dear friend who lives in Santa Barbara. She and her buddies get together and have freezer parties. Love her; love the concept. Seriously amazing to find that there are folks all over the place who freeze their leftover, then come together for potlucks with the intention -- and action -- of raiding the freezer for food.

I pulled a few things together -- carrots, broccoli, broken rice, scallions, garlic and shrimp with rice wine vinegar, fish sauce and soy sauce -- to make imitation cơm tấm. I didn't come close to the fabulous Vietnamese dish, but that was no matter. What I prepared was delicious, filling and didn't cost an extra dime.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Simple Breakfast and a Saturday Afternoon

Sometimes I just want a delicious big breakfast; a breakfast with eggs, biscuits, beans and bacon.

You can easily spend about $10 -- or more -- for such a breakfast here.


Or, better yet, just cook it at home one beautiful Saturday afternoon.

My favorite parts? Crispy bacon. Fluffy eggs with just a tiny bit of extra sharp cheddar cheese. Grape jelly-filled soft biscuits. Delicious beans. Fresh cuts of avocado. Then, opening the windows and doors and enjoying the breeze and view.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Product Review: La Tauna Tortillas

La Tauna is a Tucson-grown company that specializes in vegan tortillas. Born and raised in Tucson, but the company is getting nationwide sales now. I had not heard of the company, nor did I know the tortillas were vegan, when I spotted them at the Co-Op.

Good catch, eye!

Look at them! All in their "spicy" glory. I snagged a bag and headed home.

What are they like? Think about your general non-vegan flour tortillas.They are likely to be cream-colored, buttery. pliable and soft.

But these tortillas are very, very different.

First of all, they have a clean, natural taste to them. No buttery anything going on here. Yup, they are vegan. And, secondly, being that they are whole wheat and butter-less, they are somewhat stronger than non-vegan flour tortillas. They are not hard -- no, no, no. But they don't remind you of a pillow when you touch or eat them.

Ha. Tortilla pillow.

As for the flavor -- the flavor of spice is strangely intermittent. At one moment, you're wondering, "Well, where is it?" In the next bite, you get a burst of spicy flavor. Think about eating sushi: You're going along your merry business, enjoying that luscious raw fish, when suddenly a wild speck of wasabi appears.

Yeah, these tortillas are like that.

But I do like them. Use them as you would any tortilla and take note that you are doing your body good.

Friday, April 5, 2013

2013 Food Challenge: Pecans

Ah, simplicity in life. 

This week called for pecans. Because I am not a fan of nuts -- only pistachios, only -- it is always even more of a challenge to see when others request them in a dish.

Crap. What to do?

I made buttered cinnamon-sugar pecan croissants and gifted them to a neighbor. 

This totally reminds of a decadent childhood treat: We would butter both sides of slices of wheat toast then, on one of the buttered sides, sprinkle cinnamon-sugar that we would whip up quickly in a bowl.

We would then sprinkle the mixture on one side of the bread and place the other side down on a skillet. When the toast began to brown, we added cheese -- a cinnamon-sugar cheese toast! Some people call it grilled cheese.

Yum. And, yes, I was more attracted to sugar in my younger days.

Pre-made croissants, a roll and then a turn in the oven and there you have it: buttered cinnamon-sugar pecan croissants. They smelled so, so good, but they were not my taste.

I hope my neighbors like them.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Nitty Gritty Eating, and Memories

Sometimes it has to be as simple and a wholesome as this -- a dinner that reminds me of my childhood because:

1. I am missing home

2. I am exhausted

3. I need to remember what it feels like, given the distance between me and my family, of what it felt like to be so much more innocent and nearly completely whole

It fascinates me that food can create these emotional (read: chemical) effects within us; that food can illicit memories of happiness, joy, connection and the sense of being hole -- being part of a close family unit.

And it is ever-more lovely that the thought of loved ones can also illicit such a lovely and nuturing feeling, even when hundreds and hundreds and hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of miles apart.

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