Thursday, April 30, 2009

Recipe: White Bean & Veggie Salad

It had been quite some time since I'd made some sort of random meal at work; I'd kinda been relying on my old standby, the HSAT, or simple salads with the only cheese I've allowed myself to eat for a few weeks, low-fat feta. When I was packing up for work today, I noticed I had a lot of random veggies, all cut in half. I remembered I had a can of beans at work and knew I could come up with something over my lunch hour.

I don't normally cook with the smaller canned white beans (though I'm a huge fan of dry cannellinis for soups & stews), but I'm not one to waste food so I thought I'd give them a try today. After draining the brine and rinsing them well, I tried a couple and found their flavor to be very smooth & pleasant, perfect for the avalanche of other vegetables that would soon be joining them. I'm fairly certain you can make this dish with any combination of fresh, crunchy veggies, but this particular combo was just lovely. A simple dressing of olive oil and freshly squeezed key lime juice was all this salad needed to lightly enhance the flavors of all the vegetables. Served on a bed of baby lettuce, this has spring & summer written all over it.

But the very best part – aside from the fact that this cost about $1.15 per serving – is how incredibly healthy this is! I walked away feeling ridiculously energized and a bit smug about how low-cal my lunch was compared to my coworkers who were having a heavy Ceasar salad. I did a quick calorie count look-up online and found that this is just a mere 200 calories per serving! I couldn’t believe it, even though I was aware that this sort of meal wouldn’t be too high in calories. And the amount of fiber & vitamins you get out of each serving is another reason to celebrate. Who says you can’t eat healthy food for under $2?

White Bean & Veggie Salad (serves 3; total cost per serving: $1.15)
2 c cooked white beans (cannellini or Navy beans work great for this)
1 medium carrot
½ red bell pepper
½ medium cucumber
2-3 green onions
2 c baby lettuce mix
3 T olive oil
Juice of 4 key limes (lemon or regular lime will do if you don’t have access to key limes)
Salt & pepper to taste

Chop all the veggies into small cubes and place in a bowl. Add the white beans. Whisk together the olive oil, key lime juice, salt, and pepper and pour onto the salad. Toss together gently so that everything is uniformly coated. Serve over a bed of crispy baby lettuce, and enjoy!

Recipe: Spicy Orange Beef over Basil-Cilantro Brown Rice

I scored some beautiful beef medallions on my last $25 Shopping Cart excursion and had a completely different recipe in mind for them. But as usual, these plans were derailed by my ever-fickle nature - and a random, sudden craving for Panda Express (??? you'd think I'd crave more authentic Chinese food). As I stepped off light rail, I weighed the options in my head: waste $7-8 on greasy Chinese that would only give me about 2 oz. Beijing Beef, or head home, scrap the plan for the delicious idea I had in my head for the beef medallions and make something tasty & spicy, not to mention far different, healthier, and cheaper than Panda Express. I wasn't going for the same dish by any means, but it was nice to be provided with the inspiration.

If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you've already noticed I have a penchant for picante and I was craving something nice & hot (on the Kimberscale). Since I was going for something similar but way different from the PE Beijing Beef flavorwise, I wanted to add a lot of heat to this dish but serve it with something healthy with cooler flavoring. When I checked out what I had left in the kitchen, I noticed an orange, one of those little cans of mandarin oranges, some lonely looking brown rice, cilantro that really needed to get eaten.... surely this had to come together nicely with a little effort. And so it did, with the help of a lot of cayenne & crushed red chilies, and the knowledge that brown rice can be kinda pretty, too.

As always, when I cook with citrus I try to make sure the juice I use is from the actual fruit, not from a carton or bottle. This is easy for me because I hardly ever drink anything but water so I never buy juice or sodas, but it is ever-so-convenient to just use a bit of Minute Maid when recipes call for OJ. Try not to fall into that trap; the flavor just isn't the same as what you'd get out of a freshly squeezed orange (no offense to pasteurized juice! Just not the same when cooking). In terms of the mandarins, they're more of a garnish than an ingredient; however, if they're nice & chilled, they provide you with a nice respite from all the heat of the chile & cayenne (which I learned from experience), so feel free to load up; they're delicious with the sauce! As for the basil-cilantro brown rice, this is a easy way to add some interesting flavor to an otherwise simple tasting food. This would go well with a nice Thai curry, some marinated tofu steaks, flavorful chicken, or just about anything. Keep this one in your recipe arsenal because you should be able to use it year-round.

Spicy Orange Beef over Basil-Cilantro Brown Rice (serves 2; total cost per serving: ~ $3.25)

4 beef medallions (or any small cut of tender beef)
1/2 c honey
1/2 c soy sauce
Juice of one medium orange (1/2 - 2/3 c)
3-4 orange peels
1/2 can mandarin orange sections
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1 1/2 t crushed red chile flakes
1/4 black pepper
1 T cooking oil

Basil-Cilantro Brown Rice

1 c brown rice
2 1/2 c water
1 t minced cilantro
1 t minced basil
1/4 t sea salt
Extra cilantro for garnish

Combine the honey, soy sauce, orange juice, orange peels, and peppers in a bowl and whisk together. Reserve about 4-5 T of sauce in a separate bowl. Add the beef medallions and marinate for about 1/2 hour. While the beef is marinating, cook the rice in the 2 1/2 c water, along with the cilantro, basil, and salt. Cook for about 30-35 minutes or until rice is tender. Fluff with a fork, cover, and set aside.

In a large skillet heat the oil over medium high heat. Place a couple of the marinated beef medallions into the skillet along with a couple of orange peels and cook for about 2-3 minutes on each side (depending on how rare or cooked you like your steak). Try to coat each medallion with as much of the marinade that's in the pan as you can, to ensure the highest amount of flavor. Remove from skillet and cook the remaing beef in the same manner. By this time you should have quite a bit of brown bits in the skillet from cooking the beef. Deglaze with the remaining marinade, scraping up all the brown bits from the pan. If you like a thicker sauce, feel free to add a tiny bit of water combined with corn starch to thicken things up.

Spoon a fair amount of the brown rice onto a dish, place two of the beef medallions on top, drizzle with the spicy orange sauce, garnish with mandarin oranges and extra cilantro, and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Long Lost Photograph #1

Earlier this month I promised to finally post some pictures to finally along with the two recipes on here that are sadly picture-less. Though I will have to push back the spanakopita promise yet again (my stove works but my oven decided not to hold a light. *sigh* If it's not one thing, it's another. I'm hoping the maintenance guys get it fixed quick!), I can definitely make good on this promise.

Anyway, here is the accompanying shot to the Black Bean, Chicken, and Mango Stew I posted way back in November. I had it for dinner a couple nights ago and had almost forgotten how good it was! It's definitely fun for the palate, what with all the wonderful flavors. And it's good for you. This is definitely earning the Kimberly's Non-Diet label. A guilt-free dinner, indeed! And rather pretty, too. :)

Next up: the Long Lost Photo of Farro & Red Beans with Caramelized Onions.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tastemaker Program Recipe: Mushroom Agnolotti with Fresh Spinach & Asiago Alfredo Sauce

Like most of my fellow Featured Publishers & Tastemaker participants, I received a lovely sample of Buittoni's Wild Mushroom Agnolotti on my doorstep a few days ago. They seemed delicious and I was very eager to try them right then & there. But I've been rather busy lately so I wanted to save this for a nice weekend dinner when I'd have more time to play around with sauce ideas. Though I generally shy away from heavier, cream-based sauces when the weather begins to warm, I thought these mushroom & cheese stuffed cousins of ravioli would go perfectly with sharp, yet creamy alfredo sauce. Something told me they'd be able to stand up to the sharpness of an alfredo sauce made with asiago instead of parmesan cheese, so I figured I'd step outside the norm and give it a go. Extra mushrooms & some fresh chopped spinach seemed to be perfect additions to this dish, tossed in at the very end. This and a glass of vino made for a wonderful meal after such a crazy busy week.

Naturally, I made sure to try a couple of these agnolotti by themselves so I could get an idea of their true flavor and what future sauces I could concoct for them. Made with a variety of wild mushrooms and parmesan cheese, the filling and the tender pasta surrounding it would go quite well with a tomato-based sauce, maybe some prosciutto & peas, or some pesto (not all at the same time, of course). A couple glugs of olive oil and some freshly grated parmesan and black pepper would also be perfect for these, if you're not into a lot of sauce. This isn't the cheapest PG meal I've made; but at around $4/package (12 agnolotti per pack), this is not too expensive a meal/side if you're feeling a bit lazy, as long as you make your own sauce. Buitoni does offer some terrific sauces, but you know me... if I can make it at home, even better!

If you're not particularly into sharp, pungent sauces, feel free to stick to a regular alfredo sauce (just substitute parmesan for the asiago). I found this to be a sinfully delicious sauce, but I happen to like bold flavors. Because all I had was half & half at home, I ended up with a slightly thinner sauce than most alfredos, but if you use heavy whipping cream you'll be sure to have the right consistency. Lastly, if you don't get full easily, treat this as a side as opposed to an entree. These agnolotti aren't the heartiest little pasta out there, but they certainly would jazz up an otherwise boring meal, or go great as an entree with a nice salad.

Mushroom Agnolotti with Fresh Spinach & Asiago Alfredo (serves 2; total cost per serving: $4.50)

1 package Buitoni Wild Mushroom Agnolotti
2/3 c heavy whipping cream (or half & half)
1/2 c butter
1 1/4 c grated Asiago cheese
Plenty of fresh ground pepper
1/2 c sliced mushrooms
1/2-3/4 c chopped fresh spinach

Bring several cups of salted water to a boil & add the agnolotti. Cook for about 7 minutes, drain, add a couple glugs of olive oil to prevent from sticking, and set aside. In a medium saucepan, heat the cream and butter together until the butter is completely melted. Add the asiago cheese in small handfuls, whisking well to make sure the cheese melts evenly. When all the cheese has been added, heat for another 2 minutes over medium heat until completely heated through (sauce might bubble a bit; that's okay, just don't let it get to a full boil to prevent from sticking/burning). Add plenty of fresh ground pepper and stir well. Finally, add the mushrooms and remove from heat. The mushrooms will be cooked by the heat of the sauce.

In a bowl or separate saucepan, combine the agnolotti and the sauce with mushrooms. Add the fresh spinach and stir gently to combine. The spinach will wilt slightly in the sauce but not be completely cooked (i.e. mushy). Sprinkle extra grated parmesan or asiago cheese, serve with a salad, and enjoy!

The $25 Shopping Cart, Version 3.0

Though I had every intention of heading out to a much more expensive store for this edition of The $25 Shopping Cart, life, as usual, got in the way. So instead of heading to the spendy store, I hit up my local outlet grocery store: Food Source. Or as I lovingly call it, Ghetto Superstore (it's in Oak Park, which Sacramento locals know is pretty much the hood, hence the name. Only problem with this nickname is that I always end up singing "Ghetto Superstar" for the rest of the day and it's rather vexing. But I digress...).

When I first moved to Sacramento, I had no idea which neighborhoods were good or bad (I just knew I wanted to be Downtown or close to it), so unfortunately, I did end up living in Oak Park for 6 months. This made me become very familiar with Food Source, as it was the closest grocery store in the area, and since I've always been rather frugal, I was also drawn to their low prices. Part of the Raley's family of grocery stores, Food Source is the "outlet" store, featuring no swank decor and a bag-your-own-stuff checkout process. These two things alone must drastically cut down on their overhead, thereby passing down those savings to the customers, and as much as I like pretty places & things, I applaud these stores for getting down to basics (who really needs earth tones & ambient lighting in a grocery store anyway?). It had been a long time since I'd gone to my ghetto superstore, since I primarily shop at Trader Joe's or Safeway. But TJ's isn't always close enough when I'm feeling really lazy and though it's the closest to my apartment, Safeway is never cheap enough when I'm feeling lazy and frugal. Since it's only a couple miles away, I find FS to be a great alternative store, with a built-in workout to boot.

Since I hadn't been there in awhile and the early morning rush of shoppers was over, I took my time winding through almost every aisle, scanning everything and marveling at things like the amount of junk food out there, how brand name packaging has changed, and how expensive cereal has gotten, even at a low-priced store such as this one (the most I pay for cereal at TJ's is $2.99). Keeping in mind the bare bones staples and other food I already had at home, I shopped more for produce than anything else and was delighted to score 2 bunches of cilantro for just $0.50, 3 bunches of green onions for $1, and 3 avocados at just $0.98/each (I'd originally grabbed 5 but realized I'd be spending 1/5 my budget on avocados alone; very tasty but not very wise). Very rarely do I check their meat & seafood sections, but I thought I'd give them a shot and really lucked out! I was able to get some beef medallions for just $2.76 and a lovely Red Snapper filet for just $3.51. These, some White Zinfandel, and my random find of Marsala cooking wine were my splurges for this shopping trip. Here's the rest of the list:

1 bottle Tisdale White Zinfandel - $2.50
1 bottle Marsala Cooking Wine - $2.99
8 oz. package of white mushrooms - $1.98
1.3 lbs roma tomatoes - $1.23
3 avocados - $0.98/each
2 bunches of cilantro - $0.50
3 bunches of green onions - $1
1 cucumber - $0.50 (!!!)
1 (giant) head of Romaine lettuce - $1.18
1 pint fat-free sour cream - $1.88
Red Snapper Filet - $3.51
Beef medallions - $2.75
1 small red bell pepper - $0.55
16 oz. package of fresh strawberries - $2.28
1 package whole oregano - $0.88 (!!!)
1 package ground cumin - $0.88
Honey Ham & turkey slices - $0.50/each
Can of corn kernels - $0.68
Frozen edamame - $1.58
And cat food and a couple household items.

With the kitty food and cleaning sundries, I did get up to $33 for the entire cart of goodies, and I admit I went a couple bucks overboard because of the taxable items, but overall this shopping trip remained in the $28 range. Not bad for all the random stuff I ended up getting, including wine, fresh fish and beef! I was a little disappointed that I couldn't find any asiago cheese there for tonight's dinner, so I do have to head to the Co-op for that, but I suppose I was deluding myself just a little bit when I thought they might carry it (c'mon, they had prosciutto!). Otherwise, it was another successful shopping trip and I got a 4.5 mile walk out of it, too. Gotta love multitasking. :)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Recipe: Gnocchi in Heirloom Tomato Sauce

I am made of cravings and I refuse to let the next 5 days of no working stove stand in the way of them. I’ve been seriously craving a good chunky, garlicky tomato sauce lately. I think the memory of the tomato relish that was on top of my dish at McCormick & Schmick’s a couple weeks ago has a lot to do with it, though it’s not exactly what I’m after right now. Still, it’s close, and with summer just around the corner (well, almost… it’s 96 here today so it feels like June), tomatoes are all I can think about. Tomatoes are usually all I think about anyway as I eat at least one a day, but I haven’t actually made anything with tomatoes in a very long time and there are so many beautiful ones cropping up all over the place that it seems a real pity not to.

My current tomato crush is on the tiny heirloom tomato mix that Trader Joe’s has been offering lately. Grape-and-cherry-tomato-sized and all shades of red, orange, yellow, and green, these little guys are bursting with flavor and so beautiful they would go with just about anything. Since I’ve also been craving some gnocchi (I currently have no patience to make my own, but someday soon I will), I thought a light flavorful sauce made from these tiny heirlooms would be a lovely complement to these wonderful little potato pillows. A welcome change from the heavier, cream-based sauces usually used on gnocchi, this seemed to be the perfect dinner for a warm spring day when paired with a nice salad and served with some chilled white wine.

If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s in your neck of the woods or a farmer's market that will sell the small heirlooms, don’t fret. Use a couple of large heirloom tomatoes (try to mix up the colors a bit for sauce aesthetics) and you’ll be set. Don't be afraid to almost overdo the garlic on this one; it does nothing but bring out the flavor of the tomatoes and adds a delicious aroma to the entire dish. And feel free to lay on the herbs heavily, too! Gnocchi is hearty and can absorb a lot of flavor, so go for it! Because you'll be using plenty of herbs and not a lot of salt, as well as fresh produce, this is definitely in the good-for-you category. But as always, the best part of this dish is the price. Even using fancy-schmancy tomatoes, this dish still goes for about a mere $3/serving or so. Adding salad & wine, you still have a delicious meal that costs less than your average fast food "value" combo. Gotta love that!

Gnocchi in Heirloom Tomato Sauce (serves 2; total cost per serving: $2.89)

1 lb mini heirloom tomato mix (or 2-3 large heirloom tomatoes)
1 16 oz. package gnocchi
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 large shallot, chopped
2-3 T olive oil
1/4 T sea salt
1/2 t oregano
1/4 t rosemary
1/4 t thyme
1/4 t fresh ground pepper
1/4 c white wine

Rinse tomatoes well and pat dry. Cut most of them in half unless they're rather large, in which case you should quarter them. The goal here is to have pieces about 1/2" - 3/4" in size. Set aside in a bowl. Coarsely chop the garlic & shallot. In the meantime, boil about 2 quarts of water in a large pot and salt well. When at a rolling boil, add the gnocchi. Cook until the gnocchi floats to the top; drain, add a drizzle of olive oil to prevent the gnocchi from sticking, cover & set aside.

In a large pan heat the 2-3 T olive oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic & shallots and cook for about 1 minute, or until very fragrant. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 1 minute. Next, add the salt, pepper, and herbs. Cook over medium heat for about 4 minutes, until the tomatoes release most of their juices. Add the white wine and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Do not overcook! Texture is key in this dish, so you want to make sure that you have sauce, but a lot of chunky tomatoes.

Spoon some gnocchi onto a plate and add a generous amount of sauce. Sprinkle fresh parmesan on top (if you have it), serve with a salad and a dry white wine, and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Recipe: Grilled Steak, Pepper & Asparagus Wraps

So this is a rather embarrassing and I'm trusting you all not to stop reading my blog because of this, but in the interest of being brutally honest about how hard it is for me to make ends meet, and to prove that no matter how difficult the circumstances (some have doubted the authenticity of my poverty), I will always find a way to eat well, I confess to the following:

Poor Girl forgot to pay her gas bill. *hangs head in shame*

With all the crazy practicing & performing for Easter, the increased stress at work, and some unexpected bills popping up, making this a very bare bones April, I both forgot to pay the bill and could not afford to do so. I came home today and found a friendly little disconnection notice on my door, just as I was thinking of this great new recipe to try tonight. I sighed, came in, and apologized to the cats for being such an irresponsible mother (not that the lack of stove & oven usage really affects them). Hopefully they - and you, dear readers, as I honestly value your opinions quite highly - have not lost any respect for me.

The gas will be turned back on in the next couple of days, of course. I'm just feeling a little stupid right now for letting this completely slip my mind, especially when I had so much good food planned. Still, I don't get paid well at all and am always waiting for that next paycheck to arrive just to keep body & soul together (this recession and increased price of everything out there is making matters even worse). Even if I hadn't forgotten, I would have been subject to disconnection soon enough (PG&E is getting vicious these days). However, if there's one thing I've learned about always being broke is that you absolutely canNOT let it get you so down that it rules your life. Yes, it sucks. I hate living this way. But everyone is feeling the pains of this recession more and more each day, not just me. Everywhere you look you read horrible stories of entire families taking the scary way out just because they can't escape the bills, or great renters who have been evicted because building owners cannot afford their own mortgage, or thousands more Americans losing their jobs. When you think of all these things and put them in perspective, you realize that even situations like my current one are not so dire. I have a roof over my head; I have a job; I have a ridiculously resourceful mind and spirit; I have electricity; I have asparagus and beef in my refrigerator. Life really isn't as bad as it could be.

I was originally saving the beef for one final round of steak quesadillas before trying to quit most gooey melty cheeses cold turkey, as well as using it for easy protein in salads, etc. With the cool new idea I had thought I could realize just tossed out the window with my blue gas flame, I had to quickly reassess the situation and figure out what to do with said steak. I had thought about throwing it in a baked potato, but that wouldn't work because I can't bake anything right now (and I live microwave-free, so that wasn't an option). Perhaps as part of a taco salad? Yes, but no... not today. Then I remembered a nice little bundle of frozen asparagus I'd gotten on my last TJ's run. Yes..... steak and asparagus, and some red pepper and feta, all wrapped up together in a tortilla (which should be whole wheat but beggars can't be choosers). A portable, almost dirty-dish-free meal. I was all for it. The flavors blend together beautifully, the colors are gorgeous, it's not entirely bad for you, even when made with a flour tortilla.... really, what more could you want?

This is a great way to make use of your little George Foreman grill, or any other little electric grill. These little machines are very handy and are not meant for burgers alone. Weather too bad to grill outdoors? Use this to make some tasty kebabs! Don't have time to lug out all your grilling equipment? Plug in and grill away. Poor Girl doesn't eat well just because she's good at food math; she makes use of everything in her kitchen, even the most kitschy sounding gadget. If I can have a yummy dish without the full use of my kitchen or owning a microwave, so can you. Just get creative, think survival, and start cooking. Now prepare to enjoy your indoor, outdoor-tasting meal. And did I mention it's super simple to make and relatively guilt-free, not to mention cheap? Even better!

Grilled Steak, Pepper & Asparagus Wraps (serves 2; total cost per serving: ~$2.75)

2 flour (or whole wheat, preferrably) tortillas
4 oz. flank steak
1/4 c low-sodium soy sauce
1/8 c rice vinegar
1/2 T garlic salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Dash of cayenne pepper
1 small red bell pepper, cut into strips
10 asparagus spears
2-3 oz. crumbled feta cheese

Marinate the flank steak in the soy sauce, vinegar, garlic salt, and both peppers for about 1/2 hour. Heat the grill and grill the asparagus; set aside. Next grill the red pepper strips. Finally, grill the steak, making sure not to overcook so it's not tough & inedible. Cut the steak into long strips and set aside. Heat the tortilla on both sides until just golden brown, then add a bit of feta. Assemble the wraps by adding the asparagus, pepper, and steak strips, a bit more crumbled feta, then rolling together into a neat little wrap. Cut into small rounds if you like, or eat the entire wrap burrito style. Either way, enjoy!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Recipe: Herbed Chicken Crepes with Fresh Rosemary Cream Sauce

You find the strangest things at light rail stations sometimes. There are times when you may see toy cars that have been carjacked for parts; other times you find fresh rosemary growing next to some uninteresting plants. I was pleased to discover the latter while I was waiting for my train to arrive last week. I didn't have a book with me and my iPod was out of battery, so I had nothing to do but take in my surroundings. At first I didn't recognize the little herb plant because it was in full bloom with dainty little blue flowers. But on closer inspection, I saw that it was, indeed, rosemary! I'm sure there's a reason why they planted rosemary at a light rail station in an industrial area of Sacramento, but it's unbeknownst to me and I really don't care to know. I was just stoked to find fresh herbs for free. Since I'd been craving savory crepes over sweet ones lately, my mind started putting together some possibilities and I knew this herb find would come in very handy when creating a new recipe. I envisioned aromatic chicken and a delicate, creamy sauce going together perfectly with my little crepes. And since I don't often cook with rosemary, and because I'd been such an irresponsible Poor Girl at McCormick & Schmick's last Friday, I figured this would be a great time to experiment with it and create my own Easter feast. These crepes, some chilled white wine, and some makeshift chocolate mousse all made for a delicious - and far more affordable - Easter meal than I paid for my meal at M& S's. No regrets, though; that was truly an incredible meal!

Crepes are wonderfully versatile, and this is just one of 5,472,715,186 ways to eat them (give or take). From berry-stuffed to cheese-filled to crepes suzettes, these thin little French "pancakes" are a wonderful base for some fantastic meals & desserts. Definitely experiment with these, because you won't be disappointed! The recipe I offer below is a very basic one that is just perfectly balanced in flavor so that you can use sweet or savory fillings, so by all means, have fun ith it!

Anyway, if you don't have access to fresh (or free) rosemary, do not fret; this will work out beautifully with the dried herb. However, it's just so much more aesthetically pleasing with fresh rosemary! The dark green of the herb looks so beautiful next to the stark whiteness of the cream, but looks aren't always everything, so you'll get plenty of yummy flavor with dried rosemary. This dish would also probably go beautifully with some sort of green vegetable inside the crepes w/the chicken; I was just feeling like having meat & crepes after a long couple weeks of nothing but spinach, quinoa, and choir rehearsals. Feel free to experiment with asparagus or said spinach in these; I'm sure they'd turn out fantastic! The crepe recipe is easily doubled, so if you have a smaller family, take advantage of this fact and make dinner and dessert out of one batch of batter. I'll be posting a sweet crepe recipe in the next week or two if you need inspiration. But enough of my babble! Have some ridiculously easy-to-make and uber tasty crepes. :)

Herbed Chicken Crepes with Fresh Rosemary Cream Sauce (makes 6-8 crepes; total cost per crepe: ~$0.90!)

1/2 c all purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 c nonfat milk
1 T butter, melted
1 T sugar
1/2 T butter for cooking

4 chicken thighs, cubed
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 t sea salt
1/4 t rosemary
1/4 t thyme
1/8 t freshly ground black pepper
2 T olive oil

1/2 c half & half
1 T butter
1/2 T fresh rosemary
1/2 T corn starch or flour, mixed in with a bit of water
Salt & pepper to taste

Season the cubed chicken thighs and heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and heat until just lightly golden brown. Add the chicken, cover, and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until thickest part of the cube is no longer pink on the inside. Remove from heat, keep covered, and set aside.

While chicken is cooking, combine the crepe ingredients into a bowl and mix together well with a wire whisk. The consistency of the batter will be runny at first and it should be - we are making crepes, not pancakes! However, it will thicken slowly (if it becomes too thick while you are cooking the crepes, add a splash or two of extra milk to thin it out). In a medium skillet, heat the 1/2 T butter and coat the entire pan with it. Using either a measuring cup or ladle with a spout, slowly pour some of the batter into the skillet until it covers the entire bottom. If you pour too fast, you'll end up with a ton of splattered batter (hey, that rhymed) and very uneven-looking crepes. Cook over medium low heat until the edges become slightly dry, about 45 seconds. With a spatula, check to make sure the crepe is starting to turn a golden brown on the bottom. If so, it's ready to flip onto the other side. Cook for about another 30 seconds or until the bottom side is golden brown. Transfer onto a plate and cover, so that the crepes stay moist and warm. Repeat the process until all the batter has been used.

Prepare the fresh rosemary cream after the crepes and chicken are completely cooked. In a small saucepan, heat the butter over medium low heat until melted and add the half & half, whisking to make sure the cream doesn't burn. Next, add the fresh chopped rosemary and salt & pepper and whisk to mix. When the cream barely starts to boil around the edges, stir in the cornstarch (or flour) and water mixture and whisk briskly so that the sauce begins thicken. Cook for another minute or so, or until your sauce thickens well. Don't worry if it's a little runny at first; it will thicken after removing it from the heat.

Assemble your crepes by placing a spoonful or two or chicken (depending on how full you want your crepes) in the center of each crepe, drizzle a little bit of rosemary cream on the inside if you like, roll together, and place on a plate. Continue until all crepes have been assembled. Ladle a generous amount of the rosemary cream sauce on top of each serving, garnish with extra fresh rosemary sprigs, and enjoy!

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter, everyone! I hope everyone had a fabulous holiday spent with family & friends, as well as the obligatory tasty Easter food. As many of you know, I've kinda been away from my kitchen for awhile due to a grueling rehearsal & performance schedule for the choir I'm part of (not to mention work!), and I must say things turned out very well, despite a few glitches here & there. I wanted to thank all you awesome readers for your patience with me this month! I know I don't need to post everyday, but sometimes I feel a little pressured to do so, which has made me feel a little guilty for not cooking for you all (and for me!). Anyway, I spent the rest of my holiday taking a walk in the beautiful spring weather, doing some light spring cleaning, hanging out with the kittens, and taking a comfy, well-deserved nap. I also became reacquainted with my stove today, and I have a delicious new savory crepe recipe that I'll be posting tomorrow, so stay tuned with that.

In the meantime, I thought it'd be fun to share of one of my mom's adorable handmade Easter picture eggs. She makes these completely by hand and the durned thing is only about an inch and a half high! My mother is super talented! If I'd had more foresight, I would have submitted this to Mara's Cute Food Saturday... next year, I promise! :)

Anyway, just wanted to check in with everyone and let you know Poor Girl is back in the kitchen! I'd love to hear how all of you spent your Easter and what kind of yummy brunches & dinners you had, so feel free to post your Easter (and Passover... can't forget about Passover!) stories. See you tomorrow with the new recipe!

:) Kimberly

PS - I'm not the only one who enjoyed the gorgeous weather! After treating Hana & Stuart to an Easter feast of their own, I let them hang out at the backdoor to watch the birds and squirrels play in the backyard. This picture was too cute not to share. :)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Review: McCormick & Schmick's - Sacramento, CA

McCormick & Schmick's on Urbanspoon      Yesterday's Good Friday mass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament (where I sing soprano in the choir) was solemnly beautiful. Weeks of rehearsing some difficult and hauntingly beautiful pieces really paid off and Rex, our choir director, invited us to join him and our guest conductor Dr. Bob Johnson to have a late lunch. As it was Good Friday we figured it would be best to go someplace seafood-oriented and since McCormick & Schmick's is so conveniently located across the street from the Cathedral, we decided to go there. This was my very first time at McCormick & Schmick's. I have stood outside the restaurant several times as I waited for the light to change so I can cross over J Street, but that was the extent of my contact with the place. I'd peeked inside a couple of times and always wrote it off as Too Expensive For Poor Girl To Eat There These Days: the nice table settings, the dark wood decor, the well-dressed waiters...... I just knew my meal would cost about the same amount as one of my grocery shopping trips, so I just put it on my Someday list. I was a little apprehensive about going there because of this, but I'm a resourceful gal and figured I could, at the very least, make a meal out of an appetizer or a small salad & soup. And some drinks, of course (we choir folk like - no, NEED to unwind after big performances such as yesterday's!).
After a quick jaunt to the ATM, Debbi and I entered through the bar and found the rest of our group. A very charming waiter stood in their midst holding a tray of heavenly desserts. I already knew that I'd A) enjoy this place, because anywhere they show you a tray of desserts before you're even seated shares my same mindset (I tend to plan my meals around my dessert when I'm out), and B) I'd have to review the gorgeous, berry-filled chocolate concoction that instantly drew me to the dessert tray. Everything else looked just as sinful, but I cannot resist the combination of chocolate with berries, especially when it was so beautifully presented. But I'll get to that later.
Because our group was large and we just kinda dropped in, it took them awhile to get us situated. Though I was busy socializing with my fellow choristers, I didn't fail to notice the quick, yet subtle moves of the staff trying to get our table settings & other pre-meal accoutrements ready. Bussers, servers, and our hostess rushed about quietly to make sure we had everything we needed before taking our drink orders. Being a real stickler for service, this pleased me very much and I knew we'd end up having a good experience. After our drink orders were taken (dirty vodka martini w/2 olives for me, though their wine selections looked just lovely), I set at the task of perusing the menu. Printed twice daily, according to our server, this large sheet offered so many delicious-sounding choices that I felt sorry for myself and my lack of decision-making capabilities. I can't even decide what to eat at Subway sometimes; how was I to decide between Roasted Trio of Beets with Goat Cheese & Balsamic Reduction and things like Thresher Shark Tacos or Seared Ahi Tuna Nicoise Salad? Having to stick to a budget (though I must confess right now that Poor Girl was VERY irresponsible yesterday and spent way more than she should have. The martinis were just that good!), I knew that dishes like the Grilled Shrimp Brochette or the San Francsisco Style Seafood Stew ($14.95 and $15.95, respectively) were out of my league if I was also to have dessert & drinks, so I carefully scanned the menu for less expensive options.
I let out a small cry of joy when I saw the Capitol Specials section at the very bottom of the menu. There, in a little box, were listed three very tasty sounding options for a mere $7.95! Now THAT is Poor Girl-friendly! The choices were not boring either: Atlantic Salmon Burger w/Lemon Dill Aioli on Toasted Ciabbatta; Cajun Shrimp Skewers served over Mascarpone Polenta & Tomato Broth; and the Chowder Bowl, the Seafood Corn Chowder in a Sourdough Bread Bowl served with Mixed Field Greens in a White Balsamic Vinaigrette. Any one of these dishes would have definitely pleased me, but to know that I could have this kind of fare - at a nice restaurant, and not just at my own home - for just $7.95 almost made my toes curl! Though I've been craving salmon and was toying with the idea of having the salmon burger, I was intrigued by the idea of Mascarpone Polenta, and my server's confident recommendation of the Cajun Shrimp Skewers that would be served over said polenta cemented that decision. I eagerly awaited my order as I ate their delicious bread and sipped my very well-balanced martini.
You all know how much I love beautifully presented food, so when my elegant square white plate of lunch arrived, I wanted to flog myself for not having my trusty camera with me (I normally carry that thing everywhere but hadn't expected we'd be going out to eat and left it at home). The meal could have tasted like a stale bag of Doritos and I still would have loved it, it was that beautifully presented. Six very healthy sized shrimp, dusted with just the right amount of Cajun spices, skewered with red & green peppers and onions, lay on a pool of delicate mascarpone polenta and were generously topped with a gorgeous tomato relish. After taking a couple of photos with my phone's camera (so unfair to the food, but it's all I had), I set about removing my shrimp & veggies from their skewers before eating (I'm rather accident-prone and always fear I'll poke out an eye with a skewer whilst eating, so I get them out of the way as soon as possible). The flavors were incredible and absolutely perfect for a spring meal. The shrimp were perfectly seared and the Cajun spices brought out their natural sweetness; the tomato relish added tangy pizzazz; but the mascarpone polenta was phenomenal! Light, creamy, and deliciously different, it was the perfect accompaniment to the stronger flavors of the shrimp and tomatoes. The folks at the end of my table seemed to be enjoying how much I was loving my dish, but it was because it was that good, not because I'd already had a strong martini on an empty stomach. Incidentally, I almost forgot about the 2nd martini because I was so in love with my lunch! The meal was satisfying without being overly filling, and I would definitely have it again, if I knew what day it would be served.
I did notice that the rest of the food on our table was also gorgeous and looked very tasty. Jonathan had the Albacore Sashimi with Hot Chili Oil, Soy Sauce & Crispy Onions, as well as fresh oysters; Debbi had their Deep Fried Calamari w/3 Dipping Sauces (a very generous amount of calamari at that); Damien had the Grilled Tuna Steak Sandwich w/Caper Aioli & Fries; Jenn had the Atlantic Salmon, Cedar Plank Roasted w/Northwest Berry Sauce on the side; Reena had the Salmon & Penne Pasta (I think); and at the opposite end of the table, the Canadian Black Mussels Steamed in Chimichurri Broth that Rex & Dr. Bob were sharing smelled so amazing I wanted to crawl over the table to ask for one. As you can tell, none of these dishes is boring and seeing as it is all fresh seafood, you can see why I never came in before; it's delicious, but so out of my league with my current budget! However, I have been to many seafood restaurants in my not-so-financially-strapped past, and I must say that the lunch prices (as I'm sure dinner is slightly more expensive) were very reasonable for the quality and quantity of food served.
Music-talk, more drinks, and a whole lot of laughing later, we were asked if we wanted dessert. Since Lola was sitting near Rex at the opposite end of the table, the dessert she & Jonathan had decided they'd split was all hers. He and I decided to split the Chocolate Bag, and oh! I'm so glad that we did. A delicate "bag" of white & dark chocolate was filled with a semi-sweet chocolate mousse, fresh blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries, and the freshest of whipped creams. Served on a lovely translucent green plate drizzled with a raspberry coulis, this was the perfect dessert to follow my incredible lunch. The berries were of the best quality and I was happy I didn't have to fight Jonathan for the strawberry because he was more in love with the blackberries and the strawberry was one of the sweetest I've ever had. The chocolate mousse was rich, not too fluffy, and just the perfect combination of sweet & bitter, juxtaposing the sweet berries beautifully. I could not have been happier with this dessert.
I let Stewart (or Stuart... I didn't get the proper spelling of his name), our excellent server, know that I truly enjoyed my first experience at McCormick & Schmick's and that I'd be writing a very positive review here on PGEW. I was pleased to know that he knew of me from last month's article in the Sacramento News & Review and he told me a friend of his was encouraging him to start his own video blog about living on a budget. I hope he does! He left to tend to other folks and I went back to the rest of my martini. A few minutes later, a very tall chef was brought to my side and introduced to me as Chef Lamar, or in Kimberland, my personal hero that day. Chef Lamar is the Executive Chef at McCormick & Schmick's in Sacramento, and he very graciously talked with me for a few minutes, as I raved about the amazing food he had created for us. Chef Hazel is apparently the dessert chef, and I hope they let her know how much I enjoyed her lovely dessert.
It was lovely to meet the man behind the food, and after signing up for their email club ($10 discount certificate will be mine shortly!) and receiving their happy hour specials (which Jonathan had raved about earlier... 1/2 pound cheeseburger for $2.95! Flash Fried Clam Strips for $1.95! Unprecedented!), I let them know quite honestly, that I would definitely be back. It is not a place I can visit everyday, of course, but it really pleased me to know that even at slightly higher end establishments, a Poor Girl can still eat. It has taught me - and hopefully you, too, dear readers - that you cannot judge a restaurant by its dark wood and crisp white tablecloths. There are hidden gems of discounted specials everywhere if you just look hard enough (and if you split dessert with someone else). And I now know of a new treasure chest to find these gems, right in my neck of the woods.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tip #6 - Buy what you need, but read carefully!

Not all of us are in the same financial situation – some folks have a family with dual incomes; some have a family but because of the many job losses out there, they are trying to adjust to living on one income; others, like me, live alone and struggle to live paycheck to paycheck (and on borrowed time); and still others are trying to make ends meet on fixed incomes of disability or retirement benefits. The one thing we do share in common is figuring out how to cut costs and make our dollars stretch during these tough economic times.

It’s different for everyone, of course. For those with larger families, buying in bulk at places like Costco or Sam’s Club can save quite a bit of money. There is enough food for everyone, and many things that won’t be used immediately can be vacuum-sealed for later use. For smaller families or single folks like me, however, buying in bulk can be more of a hindrance than anything else. Giant containers of ketchup and packages of 24 rolls of paper towels wouldn’t fit anywhere in my apartment and would take me forever to get through (though I do wish I could have an endless supply of paper towels), so I try to buy what I need, while making sure I have certain bare bones staples always at my disposal. But no matter what your buying habits are it’s important to read prices & labels carefully to make sure you really are getting the best deal.

Take the infamous Club Card Specials that most large chain grocery stores offer. Some of these deals can be really amazing, like 10 items for $10, or 2 for $5, etc. But what if you don't really need 10 of a certain item? If you only need 5 of that particular product, just buy what you need; just because the price tag says you can get 10 items for $10 doesn't mean you have to buy all ten! This is marketing at its finest, tapping into an American's almost genetic need for a "good deal". Sure, it's a good deal, but if you're trying to stretch your dollars on a certain grocery trip, it won't work if you play into said marketing ploy. HOWEVER..... pay close attention to the fine print on that sales tag if you do just buy what you need; not all stores will allow you to have the discounted price unless you buy the advertised lot, so you end up paying more because you're charged the regular price for each individual item. Also check the dates of these sales. Sometimes they last for several months at a time, so you can plan ahead when making your shopping list; other times, they last only a few days.

Another thing to check when reading sale labels is whether or not it's actually a "sale" or if the advertised reduced price is only valid after a mail-in or online rebate. This happens more often at drug stores, but I have seen it at grocery stores as well. Our busy minds being programmed to skim over labels & ads, we tend to go blind at the fine print, and we miss a lot that way. You may be thinking you have this fabulous deal on something, but will be very unpleasantly surprised at the cash register when you're charged regular price and are given some sort of voucher to submit so that you can get your money back 6-8 weeks later. If you can wait for your rebate, by all means, go for it! Deals are great! But if you're looking for immediate savings, be sure that that's what you're getting.

Similar cautions apply to coupons as well. Be sure to read whether the coupon is a manufacturer's coupon or a store coupon only. Check the expiration dates (those with none are the best!) and read the offers thoroughly. If you can only save $0.75 on TWO items that cost $3.95 each, you're saving money but probably not that much. It might be better to go with the store's sale progams instead. Of course, if you shop for many people and go to the store armed with an arsenal of coupons, these miniscule savings add up. And it is definitely possible to combine coupons AND store sales, saving you even more money. Again, you have to read everything carefully and make sure these types of discounts will still apply.

Though I mentioned that for someone single like me, it's not always a good idea to buy larger, bulk priced items, that doesn't always apply. If you read the breakdown of prices on the price tags of each item, many times the larger amounts will cost less than the smaller ones. For example, a small 8 oz. bottle of salad dressing could cost you $0.30/oz, whereas the larger bottle could be twice the size yet only cost $0.20/oz. You'll be paying more up front, but you will have more product for less and it will last you longer. This sort of ties into my next point of store brand v. national brands on sale. Sometimes the most intuitive choice is not always the best one. I usually have no problem buying store brand items because they tend to be of the same quality and same ingredients as national brand names, and cost much less. However, some sales make it so that the national brand items cost less than the store brands for the duration of that sale, so unless you're completely boycotting a certain company, by all means, take advantage of the sale!

I could go on for days about this, but just wanted to touch upon some of the more important points about savvy shopping. Remember: buy what you need, just make sure you read everything carefully so that you make the best, informed decisions that will save you money. Happy Shopping! :)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Recipe: Sweet & Fruity White Wine Sangria

Those of you who know me well know that I love my wine. However, I am definitely not a wine snob. I probably could be if I had a larger income, but I still don't see myself looking down upon others who can't afford $78 bottles of wine. I'm not completely well-versed in all the ways of viticulture (yet), but I know what I like and I know the basics.

That being said, I'm definitely not above wines like Trader Joe's good ol' Two Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw), or other "value" wines. Boxed wine I will definitely pass up, but I'm realistic and know what I can and can't afford. Sutter Home, Charles Shaw, and a few others have suited me just fine over the years, and will probably continue to do so until I can finally afford that incredible Zinfandel from Ledson Vineyards. Honestly, if I knew more about how to review a wine, I would give some recommendations on some rather delicious wines for under $7. If you're interested in these, shoot me an email and I'll tell you about some of my favorites.

Anyway, aside from loving my wine on its own, I'm also a HUGE fan of sangria. I'm not sure which inventive Spaniard came up with this wine-based "punch", but I will always and forever be grateful to him or her for it. Though it's traditionally made with red wine, I have been playing with white wine versions for awhile now, and this weekend's beautiful warm weather inspired me to enjoy my favorite concoction outside with some cheese and a good book (Poor Girls may be poor but should always know how enjoy themselves no matter what).

Someday I'll post a more traditional recipe, and I'm definitely looking to duplicate the amazing - albeit heavily spiked - version that they offer at Iberia Restaurant, but with a spring storm scheduled to ruin the rest of this week, I thought it'd be nice to post a reminder of the warm weather that will stick around at some point in the future.

I definitely cheat with this one and use frozen fruit and well-chilled wine to make sure I can enjoy my sangria as soon as possible. Naturally, sangria tastes better after a day or two, but this is still very good right away.

Since for me it's more about the combination of flavors as opposed to focusing on the wine itself, I have absolutely no problem using Two Buck Chuck for this, making this completely affordable. Honestly, I would feel terrible if I used a $40 bottle of wine for sangria, but that's just me. Another TJ's product I make use of for this recipe is the Mangolicious fruit blend (mangos, raspberries & blueberries) because of its wonderful combination of fruits. You can definitely use fresh fruit, but you'll need to ice your sangria very well to enjoy its flavors to their fullest. I like the idea of mangos and berries together, and you can easily find these in most frozen food aisles of supermarkets. I add a little pineapple, some orange slices, a bit of ginger ale, and I end up with a delicious, lightly fizzy serving of fruit with my wine. Talk about multitasking. :)

Sweet & Fruity White Wine Sangria (serves 4-6; Total cost per serving: $2)

1 bottle of well-chilled white wine
1/2 liter ginger ale
1 c Mangolicious frozen fruit blend (or 1/3 c frozen blueberries, 1/3 c frozen mango, and 1/3 c frozen raspberries)
1/3 c frozen pineapple
1/2 orange, sliced
A few cubes of ice (optional for extra chilling)

Combine the wine & ginger ale in a large pitcher and stir well. Add the fruit & ice and stir gently. Allow to sit for an hour at the very least. Garnish glasses with orange slices, and enjoy!

Become a fan of PGEW on Facebook!

Just a quick note to let you all know that PGEW now has a Facebook page! Took me awhile to figure it all out and I'm still settling in, but at least it's up. It's just another way you can stay connected to your favorite frugal food site.

Become a fan here & tell all your friends!

:) Kimberly

PS - don't forget you can also follow me & my crazy ramblings on Twitter, too!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Recipe: Orange-Scented Quinoa with Spiced Carrots

I'm the lucky recipient of all sorts of fun kitchen gadgets thanks to my awesome mom. Last weekend when she was up on a short visit, she gave me this supercool little dicer/mincer and we tested it out on some fresh carrots. When I saw the end result of perfect little carrot cubes, a recipe idea immediately popped into my head. I didn't know if it would work or not, as it's one of my many experimental dishes; but now that I've taken a few bites of the finished product, I must say this turned out quite well. Even better than I expected.

My original idea was to just make some yummy spiced carrots and toss them into some quinoa. But my love for aesthetics being what it is, I couldn't just stop at such a lifeless looking dish. A few additions for color & texture here, some spice adjustments there, and I felt a lot better about this new little concoction I was making. This is great over some fresh greens, or would make a fabulous accompaniment to some Moroccan or Indian flavored chicken. It is healthy, light, and aromatic, making it a perfect spring dish. It also looks fabulous, so if you're into entertaining, this will look simply lovely on the table.

Of course, the best part about this healthy little meal is that it costs next to nothing to make. Though I've always been good about cooking relatively healthy on a budget, I am still amazed at how easy it can be to enjoy truly good-for-you food without having to pay an arm and a leg for it. Gone are the days of having to buy overpriced deli salads that may or may not contain the ingredients they claim to have; through this blog I've discovered how deliciously creative I can get with "nut & twig people" food (as one of my friends used to call it before I fed it to him and he liked it). And with my strong desire and determination to get rid of the rest of this winter weight - not to mention my poor excuse for an income - this ability couldn't come in more handy! Seriously, where else can you get some exotic sounding quinoa dish for under $4/serving? Nowhere but one's very own home. Which pleases me even more, because unfortunately, Sacramento is lacking in more healthy restaurant options. And now for this interesting little recipe...

Orange-Scented Quinoa with Spiced Carrots (serves 2 as a main dish; Total Cost per serving: ~ $3.50)

1 c quinoa (will yield roughly 2 c cooked)
1 c water
2 medium carrots, diced
1/4 small, sweet white onion, diced
Juice & zest of 1 orange
1/8 t cinnamon
1/8 t cumin
1/8 t curry powder
1/4 t balsamic vinegar
1/2 t honey
Dash of salt
1 T olive oil
1/4 c raisins
Small handful of cilantro, finely chopped

Combine cinnamon, curry powder, cumin, balsamic vinegar, honey, and a small dash of salt in a bowl and whisk together until well combined. Add the diced carrots and stir until well-coated. Allow to sit for a few minutes so that the carrots absorb the flavors of the spices.

Rinse the quinoa very well and cook in 1 c water and about 1/2 c freshly squeezed orange juice (if you have any remaining juice, set aside for later) along with a 1" piece of orange peel. While the quinoa is cooking, chop the onion & cilantro and set aside. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is thoroughly heated, add the spiced carrots and cook quickly until carrots just become tender. They should still have plenty of crunchy texture and not be mushy at all.

When quinoa is finished cooking, drain any excess liquid (if any) and remove the orange peel. Add the rest of the orange zest and spiced carrots with their juices. Next, add the diced onion, raisins, and finely chopped cilantro. Mix together until everything is uniformly combined. Check for seasonings and adjust accordingly. If quinoa seems a bit dry, add any remaining juice. Serve by itself or as a side with some flavorful curried chicken, and enjoy!

Friday, April 3, 2009

What's In Store for April

I can’t believe April is already here! This year seems to be flying by even faster than the last, but I can’t complain because at least spring is here. Though we have a few showers in our forecast, it’s still gorgeous these days. As much as I love cozy winter food, I have to admit I’m looking forward to lighter spring & summer fare in the months to come. Last weekend was so warm and beautiful that it reminded me I have to search the depths of Evil Storage Closet for my little barbeque because it’s almost time to start outdoor grilling & yummy barbeque-ing! (is that a word? If not, it is today.) I’ve done very little BBQ work in the past, but now that I live in a place with a backyard I think it’s high time to start refining those skills. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Anyway, here’s what’s to come to PGEW in the month of April.

~ The spanakopita I promised to post about last month is still coming; I am just waiting for a specific recipe from my friend’s adorable Greek mother before I try to make my own version. Though I have every confidence in my spanakopita-making abilities, I’d love to try a traditional recipe instead. Either way, it will definitely make an appearance this month.

~ You can now follow PGEW on Twitter! You can do so by clicking on the link to the left, or by going to Twitter and searching for PoorGrlEatsWell. Be sure not to add the "i" in "girl"! Apparently Twitter has a 15 character limit for usernames, so this was the best I could come up with. Stay tuned for a Facebook page as well.

~ Several of you have written requesting photos of the two lonely recipes that have been neglected by my camera: the Black Bean, Chicken, and Mango Stew, and the Farro & Red Beans with Caramelized Onions recipes. It just so happens that I’m having an extremely bare bones couple of weeks ahead of me and I’m down to those exact ingredients, so those will be appearing shortly for all of you to reference. Thanks for your patience!

~ Another reader request last month was for cheap, healthy, homemade granola. This works out beautifully for me since I have been craving the same thing for the past few weeks, so I’m up to the challenge! Store bought granola tends to be either stale or high in fat, so a homemade option is always nice to have. Look for it towards the latter half of the month (Easter is going to be keeping me SUPER busy with the Cathedral Choir! Oh, the life of a soprano…)

~ I don’t know about you but I adore crepes. I haven’t had them in quite some time and between the withdrawals and a recent viewing of Talladega Nights where they went on for awhile about the deliciousness that is the crepe, I’ve decided it’s time to whip up a batch or 3. Look for both sweet and savory versions in the next couple of weeks!

As always, these are just some of the things I plan to do during each month. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way because of scheduling conflicts or random ideas that pop into my head. There will always be something tasty to read about & try, and be sure to stay tuned for another $25 Shopping Cart this month. Happy April!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Recipe: Old-fashioned Strawberry Shortcake Dessert Shots

I’ve been dying to try this since stores started teasing me with fresh strawberries a few weeks ago. I will eat strawberries in almost any form, but one of my favorite ways to enjoy this near-perfect fruit is to make a nice strawberry shortcake.

Though I always make mine with fresh strawberries, I tend to use a shortcut and make it with pound cake or the synthetic, Twinkie-tasting cakes they stock next to the strawberries at the grocery stores. While it tastes just fine that way and definitely satisfies my shortcake craving, it’s just not the same as having the real thing. I have been trying to get back into baking and thought it would be fun to start off with something simple like making actual shortcake from scratch – but dessert shot sized. I envisioned my usual parfait-style shots, but with tiny, shot-glass sized shortcake biscuits. I couldn’t help but imagine how cute that would be and just had to try it over the weekend.

I figured if I was making the shortcake from scratch and would be using fresh strawberries, I would go for broke and make my own whipped cream. Cool Whip is fun, but it just didn’t seem right to use it with all this homemade goodness. It may sound like this is a lot of work for dessert shots but it really wasn’t that difficult. Shortcake is ridiculously easy and quick to make: the strawberries take care of themselves, and a few pulses with a hand blender is all it takes to turn cream into fluffy clouds of deliciousness.

I adapted the shortcake recipe from a Southern food website and don’t have much to note except that you can’t overwork your dough. I was very careful with mine, but if you do over-knead your dough you run the risk of having a very solid, hockey-puck-like result. If you’re new to making shortcake from scratch, also remember that you don’t have to make it super-sweet, especially not for a strawberry shortcake recipe. The natural syrup the berries create will be more than enough sweetener for these tiny treats. This shortcake recipe is easily doubled, so if you plan on making a lot of these, you’ll be fine.

Lastly, have fun making these! Use more whipped cream if you can’t get enough of it, or if you’re a straight berry-lover, fill your shot glasses with just one shortcake biscuit and a ton of berries. These would be perfect for upcoming spring parties, bridal showers, or baby showers, or just to keep on hand in the fridge for a quick dessert.

Old-fashioned Strawberry Shortcake Dessert Shots (Makes 12-16 shots; Total Cost per Serving: $0.40-0.50!)
1 c all-purpose flour
1/2 T baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 1/2 T sugar
1/2 stick (4 T) chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 to 1/2 c milk

2 c sliced strawberries
1/3 c sugar

1/2 pint heavy whipping cream
1 T sugar

Preheat oven to 425°. In a large bowl, combine the sliced strawberries & sugar and set aside. The strawberries will react with the sugar to release their own natural syrup, so you really don’t have to do much more with them until it’s time to assemble your shots.

In another large bowl (or food processor if you have one), combine the dry ingredients for the biscuits and mix until combined. Using a hand mixer on low speed, add the butter to the flour mixture and mix until you end up with a coarse meal. Some larger pieces of butter are okay to have in the mix at this point. Add the milk slowly and mix with a fork until the dough begins to moisten. Don’t overmix!

Transfer the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead gently, maybe 3-4 times, until the dough holds together on its own. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough until it’s about ½” thick. With a cookie cutter (or the smaller end of your shot glass), cut out tiny little shortcakes. You should be able to make at least 16 1 ½” biscuits. Place the biscuits onto a foil-lined cookie sheet, sprinkle with some sugar (if desired) and bake in the oven for 8-11 minutes or until a light golden brown at the top. Remember, ovens vary, so to be on the safe side, check on these after about 8 minutes to make sure they don’t burn.

While the shortcake biscuits are baking, make the whipped cream by combining the cream & 1 T sugar in a bowl and whipping until light & fluffy. Be careful not to overwork this either; if you whip too much you’ll end up with something closer to butter than whipped cream!

Once the biscuits are done, allow to cool on a rack for a few minutes. Assemble your dessert shots parfait-style, layering a biscuit, strawberries, and whipped cream in whatever order you wish. If your biscuits are a little big, feel free to cut them to fit your individual glasses. Garnish with whipped cream and more strawberries, and enjoy!


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