Saturday, January 31, 2009

Recipe: Spicy Shrimp Quesadillas

I've been lagging a bit on posting this recipe mainly because I always seem to end up eating all the cheese. Clearly my obsession with cheese has become a bit of an addiction worthy of a 12-step program, but I have hope that I can control myself someday. For now, I will share with you one of my favorite cheese-filled indulgences that, regardless of the simplicity of the recipe, seems to be a hit no matter who ends up eating it with me. Not only is it super tasty and exploding with cheese, it's incredibly simple & inexpensive to make. This should also make a great half-time snack for tomorrow's Super Bowl festivities.

Quesadilla recipes are all over the place in cookbooks and recipe sites because of the simple & inexpensive factor. The Mexican version of a grilled cheese, this gives you some bare bones nutrition with very little effort. But plain ol' cheese & tortillas can get a little dull, so I like to jazz mine up a bit. A lot, actually. I like to add plump, tender, well-seasoned and spicy hot shrimp. Though I don't have a super high tolerance for spicy foods, these can get pretty high on the Kimber-heat scale. However, the creamy gooeyness of the cheese absorbs a lot of this and gives your tongue a bit of a reprieve.

I use frozen cooked shrimp but can guarantee you that making this with fresh raw shrimp is even more delicious. Back when I could afford to make these with the fresh shrimp that was all I would use, the reason being that after awhile, the flavors of the spices & chilies infuse the shrimp. So instead of a coating of spices, you end up with flavorful shrimp the entire way through. It's also easier to avoid tough, hardened shrimp due to cooking already cooked shrimp. Alas, one makes due with what one can afford. Anyway, I usually get my shrimp at TJ's, the medium cooked 50-60 count, for $5.99. I have seen similar bagged shrimp at stores like Safeway for about $8.00, but even if you do get them at the increased price, this is a low-priced dish. Shredding my own cheese saves me about $1-2 per 8 oz. of finished product, and buying my vegetables at the farmer's market cut those costs in more than half.
If you're unable to eat spicy foods, just cut out the cayenne and chilies from the recipe. I suggest keeping the other spices in because this saves you from the humdrum cheese & tortilla problem. Keep in mind that these can also be made with chicken, steak, or just veggies, as most quesadillas; I just happen to think that shrimp is more fun. I mention serving this with Pico de Gallo and promise to have the recipe up shortly. And now, on with the show!

Spicy Shrimp Quesadillas (Serves 1-2 depending on appetite; Total Cost Per Person: Around $3.33)

4 large flour tortillas
20-25 medium shrimp
3/4 c freshly shredded cheddar cheese
3/4 c freshly shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 t sea salt
1/2 t crushed garlic
1/8 t cumin
1/8 t ground black pepper
1/8 t cayenne pepper
1/8 t crushed dried red chilies
1-2 fresh chilies, finely chopped (aji amarillo, Thai chilies, or any small, fiery red chile will do)
Couple drizzles of olive oil

Rinse shrimp and pat dry. In a bowl combine shrimp, garlic, salt, and all the spices & peppers. Toss together until all the shrimp are evenly coated and set aside. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes so that the shrimp can absorb some of the flavors. Shred or grate the cheeses until you've come up with enough for 3/4 cup of each type. Combine in a bowl and blend until you have an even mix.

In a small skillet heat a small drizzle of olive oil over medium heat. When oil is heated, add shrimp with all the spices & chilies and sautee for about 2-3 minutes tops. Remove from heat. In a larger skillet heat another drizzle of olive oil over medium heat. When pan & oil are completely hot, place one tortilla in the pan and heat until large bubbles form in the tortilla. Flip and heat the other side the same way. Flip again and add half the cheese. For quick melting, cover the pan with a lid and heat for about 1 minute. Add about 1/2 the shrimp with some of the juices. Place another tortilla on top and flip the entire quesadilla so that the new tortilla is being grilled. Heat for about 2-3 minutes or until cheese is completely melted. Cut in quarters, serve with Pico de Gallo or other sides like guacamole or sour cream, and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tip #5 - Do It Yourself!

It’s so easy to go to the grocery store and grab an 8 oz. bag of shredded cheese for that week’s pizza or quesadillas and not think anything of it. Just as easy to grab packaged diced onions so that you don’t have to worry about crying as you chop away. Most salads are already bagged with all the convenient fixings already included, and who can possibly resist the call of Bertolli’s bagged frozen pasta meals that have everything you need to fake being a good cook? The marketing execs at major food companies have made a fortune for themselves by making us nice & lazy; and we’re the ones who pay for it.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the convenience of my TJ’s bagged baby spinach more than anything because I don’t have to rinse & sort through the potential bad leaves. And I do love the little frozen cubes of crushed garlic, basil, or cilantro for cooking. I have my lazy moments and love that there are convenient versions of yummy things out there, so that I may indulge my laziness. However, I’m sure those of you who regular readers have noticed that as much as possible, I like to do things on my own: I cook from scratch more often than not, I start with as many whole ingredients as possible, and I’ll buy things in bulk and package them at home according to my needs. Sure, it takes some effort, but consider the savings:

~ The other day I was at Safeway for some cat food & accessories and figured I’d stroll around to see if there were any good deals in the meat department. Though most people think I’m a vegetarian because I don’t eat meat that often, that’s not the case - I’m just cheap. Er, frugal. Meat costs an arm & a leg most of the time, which is why I buy the very basics as inexpensively as possible. Though I prefer going to TJ’s, large chain supermarkets can have some pretty amazing deals if you just look hard enough. Aside from the killer deal of $0.99/lb for some rather healthy looking Cornish game hens, I also scored a great flat of chicken thighs – about 16 in the flat – for $5.59. The same flat of chicken would have cost around $9 if it hadn’t been for the club card savings, so this was a steal. What does a single person who usually cooks for one do with such an insane amount of chicken, you ask? Separate it into different meal portions, stick it in individual zippered bags, and freeze it. Had I bought a four-pack of the same thighs I would have paid $6 or more for ¼ of what I’d just purchased. Plus, I’m not wasting food by cooking up all that chicken and having no one else to try & eat it but me. I will also do this with a whole chicken if I can find a good deal – just butcher it properly and you have breasts for one meal, thighs & legs for another, and some excellent pieces to begin a nice broth or consommé. Shrimp also gets the same treatment if I can find a good deal on some fresh ones by the pound – buy a lot, separate, pack, and freeze.

~ I love cheese. Sometimes I love it too much. I’m trying to wean myself from it but still find myself buying it like a total addict. What I refuse to do though, is buy pre-shredded cheese. The amount of money wasted on this convenience is enough to make my head spin! The best deal I have ever found on shredded cheese is a club card special of 2 8oz packages for $5. $2.50/bag sounds pretty reasonable, right? WRONG. I can buy the same 8 oz. block of cheddar for under $4 most of the time, I wind up with a whopping 4-5 cups of the final shredded product. For less than what the “sale” price would be, you end up with more than twice as much cheese to work with if you just do the work yourself. You are also getting better quality cheese that might melt a little more easily because it’s not coated in whatever preservative they use to make sure it doesn’t clump together in the bag. Graters are a relatively small investment, and you can use them for more than just cheese (make your own hash browns, grate parmesan for pasta, etc.). An added bonus: toned arms!

~ Even if you’re in love with bagged salads and pre-cut veggies, try to cut back on this indulgence. Again, it takes some work to rinse & dry the leaves of lettuce, spinach, arugula, etc., but 95% of the time you’re paying less for a head or bunch of these greens than you would with a single bag. Because I get most of my bagged greens at Trader Joe’s, I don’t pay as much as regular grocery stores charge. The average cost of bagged lettuce at a chain store is around $3.50/8oz, whereas at TJ’s I pay no more than $2.29 for the same amount or double. Still, compared to the great deals on lettuce & spinach I saw at the Farmer’s Market this weekend, this is more than you’d pay to just grab a fresh head of lettuce & process it yourself. Invest in a salad spinner and some storage bags and you’re good to go.

~ As I mentioned in my post for Curried Chicken & Samosas with Mango-Pineapple Cheater Chutney, yummy sauces in jars can sometimes cost quite a bit. If you’re adventurous and have a bit of patience to make your own from scratch, it is very easy to cut costs on things like mayonnaise, BBQ sauce, chutneys, salad dressings, other types of spreads, pasta sauces, bruschetta, you name it! It may require some chopping, blending, or pureeing, but you get the same product for less, and you made it.

You can see the general trend here: do what you can on your own and you’ll be spending a lot less at the store. Many may argue that time is money, but I’m guessing more people are interested in saving money these days. Convenience is something that more and more people can’t afford anymore. Then there are folks who may still be baffled by the idea of making one’s own salad dressing or BBQ sauce when it’s so easy and quick to just grab a bottle of it and go from there. Remember there was a time when everything was made from scratch and there was still time to read a book, do yard work, or spend with loved ones & family. Including your family in the cooking-for-yourselves process is a great way to spend time with them, and while your teaching the kids (or yourself) how to cook, you can also gain the satisfaction of knowing that all that delicious food was made by you.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Recipe: Leek & Cannellini Bean Soup with Cous Cous

This is one of my favorite soups to make and eat: Crunchy, slightly sweet leeks with tender cannellini beans swimming in a highly fragrant broth with just enough cous cous for added texture and heartiness. It's a wonderful departure from many creamy soups that we tend to have during the winter months and a fabulous way to get some potassium and Vitamin C into your diet. I can't remember which magazine gave me the original idea several years ago (Self or Shape or something like that), but it was incredibly good! Sadly, I tossed the magazine without tearing out the recipe and had to work from my palate's memory to recreate it and think my version is just as good, not to mention easy to prepare.

If you're a fan of cumin, you are going to love this recipe! The smokiness of this spice lends a delicious aroma to the flavorful broth, bringing out the flavor of the cannellinis and complementing the leeks in an unexpected way. The measurements may seem like a lot but this is not supposed to be a bland soup. This is fragrant, flavorful, and very bold. A couple of other things to note: Resist the urge to cut corners and use a vegetable broth instead of water. I did it once and it completely changed (and ruined) the flavor of the soup. It's best to let the spices, garlic, and onions do their own thing. Be sure to choose the largest, most gorgeous leek you can, with plenty of dark green tops - the leek is the visual "star" of this show. Though this recipe calls for dried cannellini beans that you'll need to soak overnight, canned cannellinis will work fine in a pinch. You'll just need to toss them in towards the end to avoid ending up with mush. Lastly, though I prefer whole wheat cous cous in general, it's not always easy to find. Any good quality cous cous will work okay.
PS - This soup also freezes well, so be sure to save & freeze some of the leftovers to eat on a different day.

Leek & Cannellini Bean Soup with Cous Cous
6 c water
1 large leek, chopped, whites & green tops separated
1 1/2 c dried cannellini beans
1 c whole wheat cous cous
1/2 large yellow onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 level t sea salt
1 heaping T ground cumin
1/2 t cayenne pepper
3 T olive oil
Fresh ground pepper for garnish

Soak the cannellini beans overnight. On cooking day, cook the beans in a crockpot or on the stove for about 45 minutes or until al dente but slightly tender. Do not overcook! They will soften more once you add them to the broth.

In a large pot heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, and white part of the leeks and sautee for about 1 minute, then add the salt, cumin, and cayenne pepper and sautee for another minute. Next, toss in the cooked beans. Add the water and bring to a low boil, then let simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the beans are nice & tender. Check for flavors at this point and adjust seasonings accordingly (you may need more cumin; I usually do).

Add the chopped green tops of the leeks and let the soup simmer slowly for another 3 to 4 minutes. The leek greens should be tender but not overcooked to the point that they begin to turn brown. Turn off the heat and add the cup of cous cous, stirring well. Cover and let sit for about 5 minutes to allow the cous cous to cook.

Ladle into a large bowl or mug, grind some fresh ground pepper on top, and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Recipe: Shrimp & Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes

Those of you who know me well know about my almost unhealthy obsession with tomatoes. Not nutritionally unhealthy, of course, since tomatoes are packed with so many health benefits it would take an entire blog to list them all. It's just not normal to go into a small panic when I realize I'm out of tomatoes at home, at work, or anywhere. On average I probably eat about 2 tomatoes a day, in fresh or salsa fresca form. I put them in everything, from salads to soups, on top of entrees or to garnish nachos. If you think I'm obsessed with Trader Joe's, think again: there's nothing like seeing me around a juicy, vine-ripened tomato.

Fortunately, I also obsess over the other two main ingredients in this dish: avocados and shrimp. For me this recipe is absolute bliss, made more amazing by the fact that it's entirely guilt-free. Sure, shrimp and avocados are relatively high in fat, but they're good, healthy fats (and the cholesterol in shrimp is the good kind, for you shrimpaphobics out there). Tomatoes are high in Vitamins A and C, as well as lycopene, and are very low in calories. Non-fat yogurt gives you your calcium and herbs are just delicious for the palate and the soul. This is quick, easy, and very inexpensive to make. And don't let the small size of the portions fool you: this is very filling!

Did I not tell you I'd bring you onboard my weight loss train? And deliciously so, I might add. So for all you resolutioners out there, add this to your list of easy & healthy lunches, or serve as an appetizer before a nice dinner. You will not be disappointed.

Shrimp & Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes

2 medium tomatoes
1 avocado
12 - 15 large frozen cooked shrimp, thawed
2-3 scallions, finely chopped
3 T plain nonfat yogurt
1/2 t lime juice
1/4 t thyme
1/4 t tarragon (or other herbes fines)
1/4 t salt

Cut the tomatoes in half crosswise. With a spoon, remove the flesh & seeds, making sure to leave enough flesh to keep the tomato sturdy (if you just follow where the tomato naturally begins to form the seeds, you're good to go). Chop any large pieces of the flesh and put in a bowl. Chop the avocado into small bite-sized pieces and add to the tomato along with the scallions. When shrimp are completely thawed, cut them in small pieces (same size as the avocado) and add to the rest of the ingredients.

In a separate bowl whisk together the yogurt, lime juice, salt, and herbs until completely combined. Pour the mixture into the bowl with the shrimp & veggies and fold together gently until everything is uniformly coated. Spoon into your tomato "cups", garnish with extra scallion tops, serve with some extra avocado if desired, and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Easy Meal Recipe: Curried Veggie Chicken and Veggie Samosas with Mango-Pineapple Cheater Chutney

Sometimes I crave Indian food so much it hurts. The problem is that it's not always available and if it is, it's not always affordable. So here's an example of one of my lazy meals. As much as I like to cook from scratch, there are times when I'm just too tired & headachy to make everything myself. Fortunately for me, I have my friend Mr. Trader Joe to help out. I know many of you in certain areas don't have this wonderful store that I harp about too often, but there are plenty of these ingredients available at your local supermarket, albeit at a slightly higher price. The resulting meal is not exactly authentic, but it has a lot of the requisite flavors and stands alone just fine on its own.

Trader Joe's has started carrying these fabulous little Indian soup pouches for about $1.99. They have two varieties right now: Lentil, Spinach, Garlic, and the Carrot Lentil that I am using in this evening's recipes. They're meant to be enjoyed as a quick microwaveable meal, but I always see these things as the beginning of something more. TJ's also sells these incredibly delicious Vegetable Samosas for just $3.49 per half dozen. Filled with peas, carrots, and potatoes, these flaky pastry pockets are both a great appetizer and a fabulous entree, depending on how they're served. Though they're tasty enough on their own with plenty of cumin, curry, and other delicious spices, I'm a big fan of sauces to dip into, and chutney is a favorite of mine. There are probably a million chutney variations out there, some in jars, some just written down in recipes. I have combined the best of both worlds and have come up with a simple, quick version of chutney, and even if it is far from traditional, it's very tasty and gets the job done.

What I want to accomplish in this post, however, is to show you how easy it is to modify pre-made products and make them your own if you just use your imagination. I've done nothing to change the samosas, but buying the chutney itself would have cost me an arm and a leg for a mere 6 oz., so being able to stretch my raw (and/or frozen) ingredients is very appealing to me. With a pound of frozen mango, a pound of frozen pineapple, an entire bottle of sweet chili sauce, several cloves of garlic, and an arsenal of spices, you can see how all of these ingredients can lend themselves to hundreds of other recipes when used individually. And that is what I want to teach you: how to make the most out of each ingredient. Right now we're combining a lot to make an unorthodox version of a classic favorite, but it's nonetheless delicious. Feel free to add raisins & cucumbers into the chutney for more texture but in a pinch, rest assured that this is all you need for a few frozen samosas. And now, on with the show.

Curried Veggie Chicken and Veggie Samosas with Mango-Pineapple Cheater Chutney

4 Trader Joe's Vegetable Samosas
1 package Trader Joe's Carrot Lentil Vegetable Soup
4 chicken thighs
2 crushed garlic cloves, divided
1/2 t garlic salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
1 T cumin, divided
1 t curry powder
1 T crushed red chilies, divided
1 t ground cinnamon
1 c TJ's frozen mango chunks
1/3 c TJ's frozen pinapple tidbits
1/4 c TJ's Sweet Chili Sauce
2 T chopped cilantro for garnish

Prepare Cheater Chutney by thawing mango & pineapple. Once thawed, chop or mash with a large fork until the fruit reaches a chunky, stew-like consistency. Add chili sauce, 1 clove crushed garlic, 1/2 T cumin, cinnamon, 1/T chilies, and mix together well. Set aside.

Season chicken thighs with garlic salt, ground black pepper, curry powder, chilies, and 1/2 T cumin. In a medium skillet sprayed with cooking spray (I like to use the olive oil spray myself, but any regular cooking spray like PAM will do), add the crushed garlic and heat over medium heat until browned, not burned. Add seasoned chicken with as many extra seasonings as possible, reduce heat to medium low, and cover. Cook for approximately 5 minutes on each side (since the meat is covered, it will cook through faster).

In the meantime, heat the samosas in the oven according to the package instructions. When the chicken has cooked thoroughly and is no longer pink on the inside, place on a plate and chop into bite-sized pieces, then return to the pan with original drippings. Add the pouch of Carrot Lentil Soup and cook until completely heated through, simmering for about 4 minutes over medium-low heat. Check for flavor and add seasonings accordingly.

Remove samosas from oven and place on a plate with a couple ladles of the curried chicken & veggies. Serve with Cheater Chutney on the side and enjoy!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Review: Andy Nguyen's - Sacramento, CA

Andy Nguyen's on Urbanspoon       I know I still owe a review of last Saturday night’s dinner at The Firehouse, but I’m still waiting on some pictures that said date took for me. Note to self: CLEAR MEMORY CARD BEFORE ATTENDING MAJOR DINNER FOR FUTURE BLOGGING!!! Anyway, I’m going to skip ahead to Tuesday's dinner at Andy Nguyen’s with my dear friend Jodi instead, since it’s still fresh in my mind and I have my pictures handy.
Those of you local to the greater Sacramento area have probably heard of Andy Nguyen’s. Originally a regular mom & pop Vietnamese restaurant, they shifted gears towards vegetarian cuisine, as the owners are devout Buddhists and wanted to keep their traditions & beliefs alive in the food they cooked. Last Tuesday night was only my 2nd time there in about two years, though I’ve meant to try it again on several occasions and wish I could go there more often. Since Jodi’s a vegetarian and we usually go to the same Greek fast food place whenever we meet for dinner, she decided we should go to AN’s instead. Problem solved.
Located on Broadway & 20th Streets, it’s easy to miss during the day unless you know what you’re looking for, but they make up for it at night with a blazing red sign. Their décor is very “zen”: dark cherry walls & tables, dim lighting, lush plants, and charming little Buddha statues all over the place. Soft new age-y music plays in the background and I personally feel they should have a small fountain somewhere just to complete the entire effect. Their menu matches the décor in that everything has a very enlightened, peaceful name: Enlightened Mind Rolls; Generating Compassion; Wisdom Puffs. I’m a sucker for anything different and rather easily amused, so I will admit this is my favorite part of going to AN’s.
Because Jodi is becoming more strict in her vegetarianism and AN’s is a free-for-all for her, she came armed with a large appetite and with the intent to order too much food so she could take some home. I was still a little full from lunch and am always on a budget, so I took my time perusing the menu of dishes ranging from $8-$16 so I could choose carefully. Our servers were very patient with our indecisiveness, though the offer to answer questions was never made, nor were any recommendations. We started with the Enlightened Mind Rolls, one of their most popular appetizers, followed by the Wisdom Puffs. The spring rolls stuffed with noodles, tofu shrimp (yes, it exists), and herbs were very tasty and beautifully presented on a long rectangular dish. The peanut sauce that came with them was fresh, creamy, and sprinkled with plenty of chopped peanuts. We both agreed that the Wisdom Puffs were rather lacking in flavor; meant to be a vegetarian version of a cream cheese crab puff, they were filled with bits of tofu “crab” and…. something else. They were very crispy and again, beautifully displayed, but they just didn’t do it for either one of us, unless drenched in the two sauces that came on the dish.
I’ll have to get with Jodi on the actual names of the entrees she ordered, but one was a noodle bowl filled with button mushrooms, scrambled “egg”, and a mountain of veggies. Though it was something I’d considered ordering for myself and looked so healthy I could have cried from happiness, we agreed that it could have used more yummy sauce (which appeared at the bottom of the bowl when she dumped it into her take home container… guess we were supposed to toss it all together). The other dish had two filets of “salmon” served with gorgeous mushrooms, carrots, and broccoli, sprinkled with deliciously crispy onions. The sauce was excellent, probably based the traditional oyster sauce, and though I didn’t try the “salmon”, the entire dish looked scrumptious.
I ordered the Awakening of Faith, which is pretty much the vegetarian version of a traditional Vietnamese rice noodle salad that I order anytime I go to a Pho house. I got a huge bowl of fresh rice noodles with plenty of faux meats, hearty mushrooms, and a large handful of chopped lettuce, bean sprouts, and herbs. Served with a delicious sauce of rice vinegar, sugar, and chili pepper meant to be drizzled over the entire bowl, I was pleased with the amount of food I was able to get for just $8.50. Clearly enough for dinner AND lunch the next day. I would have preferred a bit more sauce, but I made up for it by dumping in the remaining sweet chili sauce that came with the Wisdom Puffs.
All in all, Andy Nguyen's is a good place to eat healthy food without breaking the bank. Though the prices may look high at first, when you consider their portion sizes you're actually getting a pretty good deal. Though I've read nasty reviews about their bad service and inconsistent food quality, I haven't found this to be the case just yet. Sure, the staff could be a bit more attentive but it's not like you're eating at The Firehouse. You're on Broadway, for crying out loud! Just being able to get a good meal that's not swimming in fat and staff who will at least come & check on you once in awhile is more than one could ask for. Squeamish about tofu meats? Give it a try anyway. It's not entirely authentic but it's still a nice, healthy departure from the norm.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Recipe: Banana Caramel Parfait Shots

Dessert shots are all the rage in a lot of restaurants right now. I think chefs have finally realized that giant desserts are not necessary after a large meal, especially since most of the mammoth ones end up uneaten anyway. These tiny treats are a great way to indulge the palate with something sweet without all the guilt of a regular sized dessert. And once you've had one, you wonder why all desserts aren't this size to begin with! Really, they're all you need after a hearty meal. I use either double shot glasses or my 4 oz juice glasses, and find that they're more than enough dessert after a regular dinner.

I will probably feature many dessert shot variations in the coming months, as I have a crazy sweet tooth but still need to shed these 20 evil pounds (how did this happen, HOW??? I'm over it, really...). Since most of my success in losing and keeping my extra weight off is to NOT deny myself the yummy things in life, these treats are an excellent way to indulge without bulging up. I'd wanted to start out with my Key Lime Cheesecake shots, but I had some extra bananas around right now, and was getting rather tired of just adding them to oatmeal and yogurt. This is quite a sugary dessert and though it's a little time consuming to make one's own caramel (or Dulce de Leche, really; same thing in a way), it's still a lot of fun to eat the finished product. And remember that anything in moderation is totally okay to have. I'm sure that these would also go great with a couple tablespoons of ice cream in each glass, if you're feeling really evil. :)

Banana Caramel Parfait Shots

2 small bananas
2 T butter
6 T brown sugar (divided)
2 T cinnamon (divided)
1/2 t nutmeg
12 vanilla wafers
1/2 can condensed milk
1/4 c nonfat milk
2 T wine or brandy (optional)

Make the caramel by combining the condensed milk, 3 T brown sugar and 1 T butter, in a small saucepan. Bring to a low boil over medium low heat, stirring constantly to avoid burning. Reduce to low heat and continue to cook until the mixture turns a medium to deep golden brown, making sure to continue stirring throughout the heating process. If the boil becomes too rapid, remove from heat to continue stirring, then return to heat. The whole proces should take about 20 minutes. If caramel becomes too thick, whisk in a couple of drops of milk at a time until all milk is used. You want to make sure the caramel is thick but not near solid; if you don't need to use all the milk to achieve this effect, simply set the rest of the milk aside or discard.

Peel and slice the bananas. In a small skillet melt remaining butter over medium heat, then add the rest of the brown sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Stir until the sugar and spices have melted into the butter, and heat for about 2 minutes. Add the sliced bananas and heat for 2-3 minutes, or until bananas begin to soften. Remove from heat and stir in the brandy/wine.

In double shot or small juice glasses, place 1-2 vanilla wafers on the bottom, then layer caramel and bananas (the cookies act as your "crust"). Add another couple of wafers and continue to layer ingredients until you'v reached the top. Top with remaining caramel, let sit for about 2 minutes to let the cookies absorb the banana syrup and enjoy!

Recipe: Ahi Tuna & Legumes with Mandarin Honey Glaze

The Co-op has an awesome deal going on right now: fresh mandarins for just $1.99/lb. You really can't get anything better than some cheap and tasty vitamin C, so I bought about 2 pounds worth. Close cousin to the orange, as many of you know, the mandarin has a distinctly different flavor that is simply delightful in fresh juices & desserts. However, I'd also been toying with the idea of making an interesting glaze with it, since I have a ton of fresh honey from a guy that has his own local hives here in Sacramento. I'd forgotten I had some marinated Ahi tuna steaks in my freezer, and with my need & desire to return to a normal size, I thought they'd make a great weekend dinner. The mandarin glaze seemed like it would go well with the tuna, and with plenty of veggies around the kitchen to steam or stir fry, particularly Trader Joe's Brittany Blend (green beans, wax beans, and baby carrots - yum!), everything fell into place just beautifully.

If you don't have access to mandarins, don't worry: regular oranges will do just fine in this recipe. Do not use plain old orange juice though, as the key to this glaze is fresh juice and quality honey. The mandarin sections aren't necessary (now I know why the canned ones are so expensive: they're almost impossible to peel properly!), but they add a beautiful appearance and flavor to the whole dish. I sear my tuna steaks since I find this to be the most delicious tasting result, but if you or your family are squeamish, you can cook the tuna all the way through (just try to avoid overcooking, as the fish will toughen and lose its flavor). This dish is excellent for those on a low cal and relatively low-carb eating plan (I tend to shy away from low-carb menus as an entire diet of them is not healthy at all, but they're good in the short term), and the glaze makes it an easy way to sneak fruits, veggies, and fish into a kids diet, for all you moms out there.

Ahi Tuna & Legumes with Mandarin Honey Glaze

Juice of 4 mandarin oranges
2 T orange blossom honey (regular honey is fine)
1 clove crushed garlic
1/4 t salt
2 medium marinated Ahi tuna steaks (if using plain Ahi tuna, season lightly with lemon pepper, sea salt, and garlic; reserve a couple tablespoons of olive oil for cooking)
2 c Brittany Blend (or any blend of wax and green beans, and baby carrots)
Lemon pepper & salt to taste
Mandarin sections (about 6)
Couple sprigs of cilantro for garnish

Prepare the glaze by combining the mandarin juice, honey, garlic, and salt in a bowl and whisking vigorously until completely mixed. In a small saucepan, heat the glaze mixture over medium heat until it comes to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cook for about 3 minutes & remove from heat. Glaze will thicken on its own.

Heat oil in a skillet on medium high heat until oil is moving on its own. Add the tuna steaks and sear for about 2 minutes on each side (depending on thickness). In the meantime, steam the vegetables in a steamer, adding lemon pepper and garlic before steaming so the flavors seep into the vegetables. When veggies and tuna are finished cooking, remove from heat. Allow tuna to cool for about 2 minutes before slicing. Place about 1/2 cup of legumes on a plate, then arrange a few thick slices of tuna on top. Add a few mandarin orange sections and some fresh, rinsed cilantro leaves, and drizzle the dish generously with the mandarin honey glaze. For a little extra heat, sprinkle some crushed red chilies on top. Enjoy!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Recipe: My Favorite Sandwich - The HSAT

I can actually recall a time when I didn’t think hummus was all that appetizing. I was working at the UC Davis CoHo (Coffee House, for you non-Aggies) in the cold foods section, watching it being made in great quantities. The tahini was in this large, opaque plastic bottle with a faded label written in old Sharpie, so you couldn’t really tell what was in there, and when they were squeezing it out into the garbanzo bean mix it just looked…… WRONG. The guy training me also had me try it before the lemon juice and spices had been put in, so all I got was bland goop. Needless to say, I was not impressed. I like to give things second chances though, so I wound up trying it again, this time from a tub of Haig’s Hummus that my friend Don had lying around. NOW we were talking! It was creamy, lemony, garlicky… just delicious! I became an instant devotee and now eat it very regularly.

Though I’ve never made it from scratch (it’s on my To-Do list), I know exactly the flavors I’m looking for, so I do stick to Haig’s a lot of the time. However, it’s a bit pricey and I’ve shopped around for something more affordable, trying a variety of different brands. I was very unimpressed with the Athenos brand, so I’ll never touch that again; the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op has a few different varieties, but like everything there, they are really expensive; the Davis Food Co-Op makes their own and it’s outstanding, but alas, they’re in Davis; lastly, Trader Joe’s has a couple different kinds, my new fave being their Mediterranean Hummus. Their traditional one is just fine but this Mediterranean one comes with pine nuts, parsley, spices, and a nice drizzle of olive oil, all suspended in the middle, ready for you to stir into the rest of the generous 16 oz. tub. It is a little too creamy though, so I use the traditional one in my sandwiches instead since it’s a little sturdier.

Before I launch into yet another super-easy recipe for one of my favorite lunches ever, I feel I should discuss why hummus is such a staple in this Poor Girl’s fridge. First of all, it’s relatively inexpensive if you shop around for something you like. I’m sure making it from scratch would cut the cost in relation to the volume, but I can’t say for sure since I’ve yet to do so. Still, when you figure how many different ways you can use it, it pays off. Second, it’s a great source of protein and healthy fats, and when you’re tight on cash it becomes a little harder to pay attention to nutrition v. just filling one’s belly. Since I’m hell-bent on staying relatively healthy no matter how poor I am, this is a huge selling point for me. Lastly, it just tastes GOOD. Whether it’s the traditional kind, black bean, white bean, or TJ’s new edamame one, hummus is just GOOD.

So the recipe sounds like an entrance exam into a professional school, but once you read the simple ingredients you will know what they stand for. Creamy hummus, crisp spinach, ripe avocado, and tangy tomatoes, all on toasted whole grain bread. Though I'm a firm believer in a mean grilled cheese, this truly is my favorite sandwich to eat. I hope it will become one of yours too. And now, on with the show.

My Favorite Sandwich - The HSAT (Hummus, Spinach, Avocado & Tomato)

2 slices of whole grain bread
4 T good quality hummus
1 small Roma tomato
1/2 avocado, sliced
Small handful of fresh spinach
Drizzle of Italian dressing or balsamic vinegar
Couple of sprinkles of ground pepper

Lightly toast the bread. Thinly slice the tomato and avocado, and rinse the spinach (unless you’re using the bagged kind, though it’s always a good idea to rinse it anyway). Spread the hummus on each slice of bread. Put a few slices of the tomato on one side, spinach and avocado on the other. Drizzle with either vinegar or some yummy Italian dressing onto the tomatoes and/or the spinach (not too much so it's not messy), sprinkle plenty of fresh ground pepper on both sides, put the sandwich together, and enjoy! Oh, and be sure to grab plenty of napkins... sometimes if the avocado is too ripe this can get a little messy, though ever-so-tasty.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

What’s In Store for January

So things are taking off here in PGEW-land, and it’s forcing me to get a bit more organized with posts, pictures, etc. Since I also have a lot of random notes and ideas to share, I figured I’d start a new monthly feature called What’s In Store. In it, I plan to feature the aforementioned random thoughts, recipes and tips I plan to feature that month, news regarding this little endeavor of mine, and anything else that tickles my fancy. And since it’s January, I figure now’s as good a time as any to get this started.

~ I’m sure those of you that have been with me since I started this last August have noticed some changes around here. Black has turned into different shades of blue (I think I’ve finally settled on one), you can sort posts by different labels, and my photography is starting to get a little better (though I can’t help it if all I have is my phone when I do work lunches, so please forgive me). The biggest change, however, has been the addition of my Foodbuzz Featured Publisher widget, of which I am very proud. I joined this outstanding community just last month, and though I’m still trying to figure the whole place out in terms of navigation, I am really loving being a part of this site. The best part for me was having been turned into a Featured Publisher pretty much 24 hours after having joined the site. It’s brought a lot of new readers to Poor Girl Eats Well, and I’m truly enjoying getting to know fellow foodies out there. I’m also toying with the idea of submitting something to the 24, 24, 24 feature in the next couple of months, but I’m feeling a little shy about doing it so soon, especially since I don’t feel I have enough time to prepare. We’ll see what happens!

~ I was visiting the other day (perhaps my very favorite online food journal) and Heidi was talking about her newly painted kitchen cupboards helping her feel like she was getting a fresh start for the New Year. She asked her readers to share some resolutions and there were several postings. Those of you who know me well know that I prefer goals to resolutions, since I feel they have a more positive connotation, something you can work towards and look forward to, as opposed to resolving to have to do something. One of the many goals I’ve set for myself this year that relates directly to my blog is to get more creative & adventurous in my cooking. Sure, sure, I harp all the time about getting creative with limited ingredients because one is broke; but what if I got more creative with the acquisition of said ingredients, so more interesting things can happen in my little kitchen? I’ll still get a lot of my favorites and combine them in different ways but I plan to branch out a lot over the next few months, trying things I’ve been meaning to try, or perhaps stuff that I’d not been too familiar with until recently, like harissa (HOW could I have not known about this?). Fortunately for my readers and for me, I like to eat pretty much anything, so this can only be a good thing for all of us.

~ For you locals, don't forget to hit up Dine Downtown Restaurant Week here in Sacramento! Some of the best restaurants in Sac offer special 3-course prix-fixe menus for just $30. How's that for eating well on a budget? I'm still not sure which restaurant I'm heading to (with a blind date no less, eek!), but I'm finally going to give this event a try. And of course, write about it. Visit for full details and menus.

~ I mentioned in my last recipe post that I’ve gained some extra pounds and do not like them on me. Since January is the time when most folks are all gung-ho about weight loss (the “resolutioners”, as a friend of mine calls them), you’re going to see some stuff here & there that is going to reflect my own need to get back to my normal size. Don’t worry, though; part of my success of keeping most of my weight off for over 5 years now has been never to deny myself, so there will still be yummy indulgences here & there.

~ Speaking of yummy indulgences, a lot of folks have been inquiring about the Spicy Shrimp Quesadillas that I talk about all the time, so that is definitely going to be a featured recipe this month. I have some fun ideas for this great Mahi Mahi I bought at Trader Joe’s the other day, so look for that to show up this month as well. And because it’s cold, stay tuned for some new soup and chowder recipes too.

~ Last, but not least, I wanted to share with you some random pictures from the New Year. Have a great month and keep sending in those comments and suggestions! It’s fun getting to know you all. :)

It was cold on New Year's Eve, but the ball drop was fun!
The California State Capitol, New Year's Day

I was trying to clean out my cupboards and ended up with a kitchen
assistant instead...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Review: Happy Hour at Chops Steakhouse & Seafood – Sacramento, CA

A coworker & I needed to let off some steam after a hectic Monday and he’d heard Chops made a mean martini, so we decided to head there. Located on 11th & L Streets in Downtown Sacramento, I marveled at how I’d never noticed that it was so close to the Cathedral where I sing (it’s literally down the street; apparently I never turn my head in that direction). A sign near their small patio invited us to “Get Happy” with their happy hour that runs from 3-7pm, and in we went.

The décor is pretty par for the course with many “hip” restaurants and ultralounges in the Sacramento area these days: rich, dark wood mixed with the obligatory dim lighting and metallic accents throughout; gentle blues, browns, and creams softening the darkness. What caught my attention were the thoughtful cowboy-style accessories here and there, so that you would remember you were in a steakhouse and not just the hip restaurant of the moment. The bar stools covered in either horse or cow hair had to be my favorite, though I did feel a little badly for sitting on a former Palomino. The crowd was standard Downtown Sacramento, filled with lawyer & executive types, with the occasional disgruntled looking state worker here & there.

We put in our drink orders (some sort of mixed drink for him, a dirty vodka martini with 2 olives for me) and perused the food menu. A lot of the choices sounded very appetizing, from their Jumbo Stuffed Mushrooms with spinach, cream cheese, and creamy garlic-parmesan sauce, to their Ahi Poki, served “Hawaiian style” with soy, garlic, chilies, and cilantro. My coworker chose the Sauteed Jumbo Prawns, and after much vacillating between the Thai Skewered Beef and the Tiger Prawn Quesadilla, I chose the latter.

Our bartender was a little slow in getting the drinks made as it was fairly busy, but the martini did not disappoint. Though I still have fantasies of that incredible vodka martini at Olive Bar in San Francisco (honestly, I think it was the Gorgonzola-stuffed olives that made the difference), this one wasn’t bad at all. Unlike my martini fiasco at Castagnola’s on Fisherman’s Wharf, this one was filled most of the way, tasted like there was actually vodka in it, and came with the splash of olive juice, not in a dirty, spotted glass. My buddy's drink looked very potent and he reported it was “just what [I] need” (seriously, it was one of those Mondays!)

Because of the slow service, we were both able to get to the second drink before the Jumbo Prawns arrived. I enjoyed these quite a bit, since I’m a fan of simple dishes. The prawns were actually jumbo as described (there are a lot of places that call medium prawns “jumbo”) and cooked to perfection. Sauteed in a simple sauce of garlic, fresh tomato, basil, and lemon butter, served with crusty bread, this was a great dish for snacking or a light meal.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t as pleased with the Tiger Prawn Quesadilla. When I make my prawn quesadillas I keep the shrimp whole. These were chopped very finely, almost worthy of a ceviche, so I’m sure that there were only about 3-4 in the entire dish. The menu stated the quesadilla came with chopped jalapenos, almonds, and garlic, all of which were barely noticeable in flavor and texture. I think they must have forgotten to bring it out and reheated it, because much of the cheese had assimilated into the tortilla, so it wasn’t the good gooey mess I was expecting. Lastly, the mango aioli drizzle was more like a couple of drops on top of the quesadilla, lending very little to the dish as a whole. It’s a dish I would not recommend or try again, though it did give me a couple of ideas for how to modify my current (and very awesome) Spicy Prawn Quesadillas (recipe coming this week).

Overall, Chops isn’t a bad place to hang out after a long day’s work; their drinks are good and that’s usually what Happy Hour is for. The food menu is a bit overpriced in general, but at least they deliver on certain items. Still, it’s a pretty good happy hour joint, and the steaks that were being taken to the regular diners did look quite tasty, so when this Poor Girl isn’t so poor, I might just give them a try.

Chops Steak Seafood & Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Recipe: Breakfast Tofu Scramble on Toast with Herb Spread

Sometimes it's hard to make a healthy breakfast when choices like French Toast, waffles, and crazy cheese-filled omelettes are all over the place, not to mention the occasional souffle or fritatta. And we can't forget about my obsession with crepes: there are entire months when the weekends will be filled with nothing but crepe variations because they're so easy and tasty (and French-ish). But over the fall & winter I've gained a few pounds and they don't sit well (or look well) on me at all. So aside from my crazy exercise routine (I'm determined to be a size 4 again! An 8 is unacceptable!) I've had to buckle down, steer away from all my cheese-filled breakfasts, and get serious.

Now, I will admit that normally when I cook w/tofu, it's for lunches and dinners. They haven't made their way on here yet, but my marinated tofu steaks are sometimes even better than a nice filet mignon (sometimes). Living with Dennis & Michael in Davis taught me a lot about how to cook with the most healthy & versatile product out there, from simple stir fries to crazy complicated curry dishes. Very rarely do I make a breakfast scramble, however, simply because I love eggs way too much to substitute them with a soy product. Fortunately for my waistline, I've been enjoying my time off way too much to head to the grocery store, so instead of eggs, I have tofu; instead of cheese, I have plain yogurt, which I've been wanting to play with in a nice, healthy herb spread as of late.

I believe this is a sign. The universe agrees that I am better off at a size 4 and my refrigerator contents are in concurrence. Now, if I can get my butt out there to walk & run today, I'll be in business!

Breakfast Tofu Scramble on Toast with Herb Spread

Herb Spread
3 T nonfat plain Greek-style yogurt
1 T herbes de provence
1 t chopped fresh dill
1 t chopped fresh chives
1/2 t chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 t crushed garlic
1/2 t salt
1/2 t lemon juice

4 oz firm or extra firm tofu
1 medium tomato, diced
3 scallions, chopped
1/4 t lemon pepper
1/4 t fresh ground pepper
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1/8 t salt
Splash of olive oil

1/4 c fresh baby spinach
2 slices whole grain bread (I like to use the California Complete Protein bread from TJs and other brands make this same type of bread).

Make herb spread by combining all ingredients and mixing well. Chill for at least 1/2 hour for the mixture to become a bit more solid. For the scramble, heat a healthy splash of olive oil in a skillet until it becomes irridescent. Add tofu and stir fry for about 5 minutes over medium high heat, or until completely heated through. Add diced tomatoes, scallions, and spices, and mix together well, heating for another 2-3 minutes. While making the scramble, toast the bread. When bread is toasted, spread about 1-2 teaspoons of the herb spread on each slice. Add a few leaves of fresh baby spinach and spoon the tofu & veggies on top. Enjoy with very little guilt at all!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Recipe: Bright & Sunny Black Bean Salad

I’m always looking for quick but healthy lunches to make at work. The roach coach does try to cater to those of us not looking for the Cholesterol Special by offering a “Chef Salad” and it’s sweet of them to try. Sadly, there’s zero nutritional value in the pile of near-white iceberg lettuce, rings of ham, and small sprinkle of shredded cheese, not to mention the 3 oz. container of ranch dressing they give you on the side. I am not into the typical American salad because they end up being exactly this bland and fattening. And boring! I like my salads to be bright, colorful, filled with delicious ingredients I can pronounce (because I’m fairly certain that ranch dressing isn’t made with real buttermilk and spices) and that I know will not defeat the purpose of having a salad.

Part of the inspiration for this very simple, yet tasty salad also comes from the current weather. It’s cold, gray, and rainy, and I hate it. Not that I mind the occasional romantic foggy or rainy day so I can curl up in bed with the kitties and read a good book, but I like the sun. Sue me. Anyway, since I can’t have bright sunny weather, I figured I’d have a bright sunny lunch instead. There are many variations of black bean and corn salads out there, so this is not a groundbreaking experiment here. But the addition of tender avocado, green onions, ripe tomatoes, all tossed together with some crisp spinach just makes this variation colorful and fresh tasting. The best part is I had most of the ingredients here in our break room fridge anyway, so it was easy to put together.

NOTE: Had I been making this at home, I can guarantee that cilantro would have made its way into this dish immediately, but alas, I must make due without it. *sigh* Also, if you’re doing this at work like I am, you probably don’t have your full spice pantry at your disposal. Don’t think you have access to crushed red pepper flakes that add heat to this dish? Think again! Somewhere in the depths of the drawers in your break room, there are leftover packets of said crushed chili flakes from the last time a pizza was ordered. Just one of these little packets is the perfect amount for this salad. Think outside the box!

Bright & Sunny Black Bean Salad (makes 3-4 servings; total cost per serving: $2.25)

1 can black beans, drained
1 can sweet corn, drained
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2-3 green onions, chopped
1 avocado, pitted & chopped
1 c baby spinach leaves
4 T lime juice
1 T ground black pepper
¾ T salt
½ t crushed chili flakes

In a large bowl (or Ziploc container…. remember this is a work lunch so you may not have access to real dishes) combine beans, corn, tomatoes, onions, and avocado, and toss together gently (you don’t want the avocado to turn to mush). In a smaller bowl, whisk together lime juice, salt, pepper, and chili flakes. Add dressing to the veggies. Tear spinach leaves into smaller, bite sized pieces, add to the rest of the ingredients, toss together, and enjoy!

NOTE: This will probably make more than enough for 2 or 3 lunches, so only toss the spinach into what you'll be eating that day and save the rest of the veggies for the next day's lunch. And keep in mind you've just made yourself 3 days' worth of lunch for under $7 - can't beat that!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Recipe: Shrimp & Green Peas in Wine Sauce, with Quinoa and Spinach

TWO (quinoa) recipes in one day, you say? Well, it IS New Year's Day, and I have the day off. Which means I can cook, photograph, and blog to my heart's content. I should probably organize my closet instead, but this is far more fun. And more yummy. :)

So I had a generous amount of quinoa left from this morning's breakfast, since I like to make a big batch of it and dole it out to different recipe ideas as I see fit. I also had an abundance of leftover frozen peas from Thanksgiving, so I wanted to use them in a non-boring way. Granted, fresh peas would work even more beautifully in this dish, but no one is open on New Year's Day, so I had to make due with what I had. I'd just bought some shrimp last night from Trader Joe's ($5.99 for 50-70 shrimp - what a steal!), and I figured they'd all go together well in a nice dish. The ingredients are simple, as is the recipe, but the flavors are sweet and fresh. It's a healthy meal with just a tiny bit of sass, the sweetness of the shrimp and green peas accented by the sharpness of the wine sauce and feta, the coolness of the spinach lending balance to the dish. This is great for either lunch or dinner, and is sure to become a favorite, as it's swiftly become a favorite of mine.

Shrimp & Green Peas in Wine Sauce, with Quinoa and Spinach (serves 1-2)

15-20 medium cooked shrimp (frozen is just fine)
1 10 oz package frozen baby peas in butter sauce
1 T butter
1 t crushed garlic
1/3 c white wine (Chardonnay, Sauvingon Blanc, Chablis... it will all work well)
1/2 T garlic salt
1/2 t ground black pepper
3/4 c cooked quinoa
2 scallions or green onions, chopped
1 c baby spinach
1 oz crumbled feta

Heat butter in a large skillet and allow to melt very slowly over medium heat. Add package of frozen peas and heat until defrosted (the package usually calls for either nuking the peas or boiling them for 25 minutes in a large pot of water; I find that simply ripping open the package and heating them in a pan is good enough). Add garlic, wine, garlic salt, and pepper, and let heat for about 2-3 minutes. When peas are just starting to become warm, add the cooked shrimp and cook until heated through, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and add cooked quinoa to the peas & shrimp, and mix together.

Arrange rinsed & dried baby spinach on a plate. Spoon the shrimp, pea, and quinoa mixture onto the spinach. Sprinkle chopped scallions and crumbled feta cheese on top, and enjoy!

Recipe: Warm Breakfast Quinoa with Cinnamon Apples & Almonds

Happy New Year, everyone! Hope everyone had a great time celebrating last night, without the residual New Year's Day hangover. I was a good girl and didn't have a lot to drink last night, but I still woke up craving a hearty breakfast. And with two Granny Smith apples just sitting there, forgotten in my fruit bowl, I knew what my New Year's breakfast would be today.

I've been meaning to post this for awhile now, since I'm such a huge fan of quinoa and am trying to experiment with it outside of the standard salad fare. Quinoa for breakfast is very healthy, offering you a ton of protein and good calories to energize you at the beginning of your day. Super-versatile, you can make this recipe with practically any fruit: bananas, pears, berries...... just go for it! I am very partial to ridiculously rich cinnamon-apples, so I like to add them to a basic bowl of creamy quinoa, with some nuts for added texture and crunch. I love the Cinnamon Almonds from Trader Joe's, and you can make your own easily (recipe to follow later), but regular almonds or any other nut will work just fine with this recipe. This is a little sweet & rich, but a decadent breakfast with some nutrition hidden in there somewhere is never a bad thing.
A quick note: always rinse your quinoa before cooking. Most quinoa varieties are nice & clean, but there is still this residual taste that clings to anything you make w/it unless you rinse it.
That being said, here's the recipe!
Warm Breakfast Quinoa with Cinnamon Apples & Almonds
1 c quinoa, rinsed
1 c water
1/2 c nonfat milk
2 large tart apples (Granny Smith, etc)
3 T organic white sugar
1 T organic brown sugar
1 1/2 t ground cinnamon
3 T butter
1/4 c chopped cinnamon almonds (or regular roasted almonds)
kiss of key lime or lemon juice

Combine the sugars and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside. Peel & dice apples into bite sized pieces, squeeze a bit of key lime or lemon juice onto them, and add to the cinnamon-sugar mix. Toss to coat the apples thoroughly with the sugar and set aside to let the apples' natural juices seep forth. In the meantime, combine rinsed quinoa, water, and milk in a saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed. While quinoa is cooking, melt the butter in a skillet. Add cinnamon apples and cook over medium heat until they're cooked through (tender, but not soft). You'll probably have a little extra quinoa after it's cooked, so take about 3/4 of the quinoa, add cinnamon apple mixture and almonds, and mix together. Place a few extra apples on top of your warm steamy bowl, add a few extra chopped almonds for garnish and enjoy!


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