Friday, May 29, 2009

Recipe: Roasted Sweet Potato, Mango, and Edamame Salad

I have this giant bowl in my kitchen where I like to keep certain ingredients. Usually it has an assortment of onions & potatoes, garlic & shallots, as well as the occasional avocado or other tough skinned fruit (my kitchen is approximately the size of a thumbtack, so I have to use every inch of space efficiently). Every so often I go in there to clean it and make sure nothing has spoiled. I was doing this yesterday and found the last of some sweet potatoes I'd bought a couple weeks ago, and though they weren't spoiled, I knew I'd better use them soon. But quite honestly, other than baking them or making fries out of them, I haven’t really done much else with the sweet potato. I didn’t really feel like making anything winter-y or comfort food-y with them but I didn’t want to waste them either.

Fortunately, when I turned around I spied the lovely mango I’d bought on my way home from work (10 for $10 at Safeway! I only bought one, though). For some reason my mind immediately did some food math and I came to the conclusion that somehow these two beautiful orange & yellow-fleshed pieces of produce needed to be put together in a dish. As usual, the rest of the idea fell into place as I started chopping, and I was excited to try my new summer salad. Edamame, a slightly sweet & sour dressing with just a kiss of cool cilantro… yeah, this was going to look & taste like summer.

Again, I’m finding that roasting my root veggies is more practical if I’m using them in salads. They’re slightly sturdier this way, so I’m able to toss them with other ingredients instead of being turned to mush, plus they just have that wonderful flavor that you can only get from roasting. If you can’t find fresh edamame at your store, no worries! I was able to snag a bag of frozen edamame at a discount grocery store, and it’s just as good. All you have to do is thaw & shell. The best part about this recipe is that the roasting is probably the hardest part, and that’s only because it requires some patience. Otherwise, this is ridiculously simple to make and uber-healthy. And really, really inexpensive!

Roasted Sweet Potato, Mango, and Edamame Salad (serves 2-3; total cost per serving: ~ $2.50)

4 small sweet potatoes
1 large mango
½ c shelled edamame
2 T plus 1 T olive oil
Salt & pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
2 T honey
1 T rice vinegar
Small handful of finely chopped cilantro

Preheat the oven at 425°. Rinse & scrub the sweet potatoes well and pat dry. Cut into 1 ½” cubes and place in a bowl. Add the 2 T olive oil and a generous dash of salt & freshly ground pepper and toss until well-coated. Spread the sweet potatoes onto a foil-lined cookie sheet and roast for about 15 minutes or until tender.

While the sweet potatoes are roasting, prepare the dressing by combining the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, lemon juice, honey, rice vinegar, and cilantro, and whisk together well. Set aside. Peel & cut the mango into 1” cubes, and if you’re using frozen, whole edamame, thaw & shell it so you have the individual beans at your disposal.

When the potatoes are done roasting, allow them to cool for a few minutes. Combine the potatoes, mango, and edamame in a large bowl. Drizzle the dressing on top & toss lightly. Serve on a bed of greens or on its own, and enjoy!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Recipe: My Favorite Grilled Steak Sandwiches

When I was in elementary school I used to tell my parents that I always had "the bestest" lunches. While my classmates were having dry peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, Cheetos, and warm milk, I was having steak salad, grapes, and homemade cake. My family wasn't exactly rolling in it, but we always made sure to have great food, first graders included. In fact, I remember being extremely upset my first day of first grade because my mom had packed this amazing lunch into my Strawberry Shortcake lunch box and some stupid girl with the same exact lunch box and an earlier lunchtime ended up taking said amazing lunch and left me with this awful cheese sandwich and a thermos of warm milk. The nerve! Since then we made sure to label everything with my name and I was able to have all of the bestest lunches from there on.

This sandwich is inspired by the steak sandwiches my parents used to make for me. A more grown-up version - with a grammatically correct name, no less - they still taste pretty awesome and make me feel like I'm having something just a tiny bit better than the traditional lunch. Served on grilled sourdough bread with a mountain of veggies, stoneground mustard, these assault the palate with incredible flavors and textures. And yet, they're not all that expensive to make. Something similar to this would run about $9 or more at a restaurant, so to be able to make these at home for about $4 a sandwich is a nice deal. Sure, it's a sandwich that costs a bit more than some of my other recipes, but they're well worth it in my opinion. This is a great way to make use of leftovers, too. Making these after a nice steak dinner, or even making use of those BBQ leftovers further cuts the cost because you're not buying any extra ingredients for it. Don't like sourdough? Any firm, non-sweet bread will be perfect for this. I used a nice tri tip for this, but this would be delicious with quickly cooked flank steak or a nice London Broil.

Make your coworkers jealous at lunchtime! Here's the kitchen blueprint for these amazing sandwiches.

My Favorite Grilled Steak Sandwiches (serves 2-3; total cost per sandwich: ~ $4)

12 oz. your favorite steak
6 slices sliced sourdough bread
1 tomato, sliced
1 avocado, sliced
1/4 red onion, sliced
1/2 c mixed greens or lettuce
3 T stone ground mustard
2 T butter
Salt & pepper to taste
Aged Cheddar cheese slices (optional)

Lightly season the steak with salt & pepper while warming the grill. Slice the tomato, avocado, and onion. When the grill is ready, cook the steaks as you like them (though these sandwiches are infinitely better if you cook the steaks medium rare). Remove from the grill and allow to cool for a few minutes.

In the meantime, lightly butter the bread and grill lightly, or until the bread becomes slightly crispy on the outside. Remove from grill and spread the mustard on each slice. Add the lettuce/greens, onions, tomato, and avocado. Top with thick cuts of steak, some aged cheddar cheese slices if you've got 'em, add the other slice of bread, cut in two for easier handling, and enjoy!

Newsworthy: PGEW featured in The Sacramento Bee

Once again, yours truly was asked to be featured in some local press, this time, in Food & Wine section of the main newspaper for the Sacramento area, The Sacramento Bee. This time around, I was more the main focus of the piece and it gives a bit more insight into my background, though I'm pretty much an open book on here anyway. (Which reminds me, apparently people get really touchy when those of us with imperfect finances are honest about our respective situations. You wouldn't believe how snarky some of the comments were, bashing me for all sorts of things from having cats, to my weight [never let yourself get photographed with a fish eye lens; really packs on the pounds! My arm is SO not that big!], to the fact that I have the nerve to own a computer. *faux gasp*)

I suppose there will be naysayers regardless of what one does, which is the price of fame no matter how slight it may be. But I don't really have time to waste on all that, because I have a bunch of new readers I need to welcome to PGEW! I truly appreciate having you here. Hopefully you're all enjoying your first visits to the site, and if you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a line.

Otherwise, for those of you who haven't checked out the article, you can read it here, along with a few of the recipes I've posted in the past. Hope you all like it (I thought it was good), and stay tuned for a new recipe tonight!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Recipe: Tropical Fruit Crepes with Zabaglione

I had a bunch of random little pieces of fruit lying around this week and I knew I needed to do something more with them than just chop them and toss them into my yogurt in the mornings. I had one banana, some leftover pineapple, half a mango.... it was a great little mix of tropical style fruit, and with the visions of sweet crepes dancing in my head, I figured it would be fun to make some yummy fruit crepes. But I wanted something more than just fruit in my crepes, especially since I was going outside of my usual crepe-fruit comfort zone (cinnamon apples or fresh strawberries, both absolutely incredible, but I wanted something different). In my head I visualized something custardy or creamy, but I wasn't sure that I wanted to go to all the trouble of making a full custard from scratch.

Then it hit me: zabaglione would be perfect for these crepes! It's a very light Italian custard that does require a little effort, but not as much as a regular baked custard would. Since its consistency is a bit like pudding (though mine came out a little more runny than I would have liked... still pretty tasty, though!), it seemed like it would be just right to add to my fruit before assembling my crepe.

Zabaglione is cooked bain-marie style, which is basically a double-boiler technique. If you've never tried this method of cooking, no worries! It's not hard at all. Don't have a double boiler? Use a metal or glass bowl in a pot of barely simmering water. You will get the same result. Just be sure not to add too much water, since some of it will spill over while you're whisking up the zabaglione (I speak from experience, hahaha). The crepe recipe I used for my Herbed Chicken Crepes with Fresh Rosemary Cream Sauce is the same I used for this meal, so you can see that it's a very good, basic recipe to keep on hand for sweet & savory treats.

The beauty of these crepes is that they can be served for breakfast or dessert. Though this recipe features more tropical style fruits (some papaya would have been lovely in these, too, had I had it), you can certainly use different types of fruits, as the zabaglione will go well with most of them. In fact, I made a separate set of crepes for my mom this morning, using fresh strawberries, as she is allergic to bananas. She loved them! So, definitely feel free to play around with these. I probably wouldn't use the cinnamon apples with the zabaglione, but different berries, cherries, peaches, etc., would be lovely variations.

Let's take a look at the recipe!

Tropical Fruit Crepes with Zabaglione (serves 6; 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

1/2 c pineapple chunks
1/2 c mango chunks
1/2 banana, sliced

3 egg yolks
1/3 c sugar
2 T your favorite white or rose wine (if using white wine, choose a dry variety so that this isn't too sweet)

Place the mango & pineapple chunks into a bowl, the banana slices in a separate one and set aside. Prepare the crepes by following the basic crepe instructions.

Prepare the zabaglione by vigorously whisking together the egg yolks, sugar, and wine (or mixing well with a hand mixer at medium speed) until combined well. Place the bowl over a large pot of water that is just about simmering. Do not let the water boil as you will end up overcooking the egg yolks and end up with something similar to sugary scrambled eggs. Beat the mixture well until it starts to increase in volume and becomes a creamy, custard-like consistency.

Remove the zabaglione from heat and use immediately in the crepes. Take one crepe and fill with a small amount of banana slices, followed by the pineapple and mango chunks. Drizzle about one tablespoon of zabaglione on top of the fruit, roll the crepe together, and proceed to the next one. Top with a little more zabaglione and some extra fruit for garnish, and enjoy!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Recipe: White Zin-ful Strawberry Cooler

Memorial Day weekend is finally here and I couldn't be happier. It's really a long haul from President's Day to Memorial Day when you work a standard Monday - Friday job, so I truly appreciate this 3-day weekend. I thought this would be the perfect time to wind down with a nice drink, and the amazing strawberries my mom brought up on this weekend's visit seemed like they would be perfect for a simple drink idea I'd been mulling over for a couple of weeks.

I call this a cooler because it's really not a sangria. Not enough fruit & different juices are involved with the wine to make this a true sangria. However, I've always thought that a nice White Zinfandel would go great with some fruit to make a nice little punch on a hot summer day. Because white zin is already a slightly sweet little wine, I wanted to play with that and add some more sweetness with some fresh, juicy strawberries (really, it was very serendipitous that Mom should bring them this weekend). Some lemon juice for sass & some ginger ale for sparkle, and I knew I had the makings of a refreshingly sweet little drink.

Again, there is no need to go for the uber expensive wine, especially when you're making a fruity punch with it. A modestly priced wine will still be delicious, though you should try your best to buy the sweetest, juiciest strawberries out there so that they infuse the wine with their lovely flavor. Other than that, not much to note on this one! Just relax & enjoy. :)

White Zin-ful Strawberry Cooler (serves 4; total cost per serving: ~$1.15)

1 bottle well-chilled White Zinfandel
1 c chilled ginger ale
Juice of 1 large lemon (about 1/4 c)
1 c sliced strawberries
4 whole strawberries
1/4 c sugar

Combine the wine, ginger ale, and lemon juice in a large pitcher half-filled with ice and stir well. Lightly wet the rims of each glass with a bit of lemon juice (the easiest way to do this is rub the remainder of the lemon you just squeezed for the juice around the edge of each glass). Dip the rim of the glass into the bowl of sugar and give it a little twist. Presto! You have a nice sugared wine glass rim.

Place 1/4 c of strawberries into each glass. Using a ladle or cup with a spout, gently pour the wine mixture into each glass, taking care not to ruin the sugared glass rim. If you like, add an extra squeeze of lemon juice to each glass. Take the whole strawberries & slice them almost completely in half, leaving the top with the greens intact. Roll each strawberry in the sugar, place on the glass rim, kick back, relax, and enjoy!

Tip #7 - Need what you buy, but allow yourself a splurge or two

So I’ve been helping another writer from the Sacramento News & Review with an article about foodie-ism (it’s so flattering to be sought after as a consultant these days!), and it got me thinking about something I didn’t mention in my last tip post. I talked about buying what you need & reading price tags as carefully as possible, but I didn’t talk about needing what you buy. Allow me to expand on this and philosophize for a mo’.

When Nick from the SN&R interviewed me, he asked if there was any particular food I missed buying since my finances took a nosedive. My response? It wasn’t any one food in particular; it was the impulsive buying that I missed the most. Like most Americans, I’ve gotten used to instant gratification in almost every aspect of life: instant access to my bank account online; instant contact with anyone through my cell phone, etc., etc. This is also a society that is accustomed to instantly caving in to one's shopping desires, buying more than what we probably should within our means, thanks to the trusty credit card (which, fortunately, I don't have).

Though I’ve gotten much better about this, it used to be very easy for me to just start tossing things into my grocery cart without even flinching because I wanted it, I had the extra dough and I just could. Brie en brioche, 3-4 bottles of wine, high quality cuts of pre-marinated meats, etc. I’m sure some of you can relate to this, too. There will be times you’ll go to the store and just start putting stuff in your cart without really thinking about it, because it just looked good, or perhaps it was a new product that was recently advertised and you wanted to try it. It happens to us all. With the amount of choices available to consumers and the fact that we as humans are impulsive by nature, buying what we want is almost inevitable.

That’s what got me thinking: how much of what I end up buying on one of these shopping binges is what I need vs. what I want?

How many times do you grab something random at the store because it seemed like a good idea at the time, only to realize a few weeks later that it’s still in your cupboards untouched, or even worse, in your fridge slowly rotting away? Then you mentally kick yourself for having to waste perfectly good food or try to figure out when in the world this item will make its way onto your plate. It’s not that you chose poorly, you simply bought something out of plain old desire instead of necessity. By focusing on what you need when you shop, and by exercising some restraint at the store, you will eventually start to see your bill go down. Or allow yourself the opportunity to buy more of what you may actually utilize.

This isn’t to say that you should only buy the bare necessities and never have anything fun. This type of behavior doesn’t do any good, because all you're left with is the feeling of dissatisfaction, or even worse, deprivation, and that can lead to trying to overcompensate for that deprivation later. You should definitely treat yourself to at least one little splurge.

I liken this to how I went about successfully losing 70 lbs about 5 years ago (and how I'm successfully whittling my way back down to my happy size). Sure, I worked out religiously and ate very healthily, but I made sure to give myself a break every now & then and enjoy something really sinful. I never felt deprived this way, and reminded myself how to enjoy everything in moderation. I do the same thing when I go to the store. I keep to the basic necessities like fruits, veggies, grains, etc., but I also go to the dessert or cheese aisle to see what I can treat myself to. I spend far less than I used to, and I still get to have a sinful treat.

It's okay to buy things you want, but try to keep the impulsive buying to a minimum. When you're shopping and you see your cart is filling up a little too fast (thereby emptying your wallet quickly, too), ask yourself if you really need some of the items that have ended up in there. If you do, by all means, buy what you need! But if there are a few things you know you can live without or that you just don't see yourself using anytime soon, save them for another day. You can save more money, or buy more of what you actually need; either way, you'll be doing yourself a favor. But even if times are tough and you're trying to save a little money, remember to grab at least one or two simple treats along the way and enjoy them. You deserve them!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Recipe: Jeweled Potato & Green Bean Salad with Sunflower Seed Dressing

Ahhh, potato salad. Who doesn't love at least one variation of it? From the traditional "deviled egg" style, to German potato salad, to all the other varieties out there, there seems to be a potato salad for everyone out there. Because there are so many different potatoes and so many possibilities when it comes to making a salad out of them, I thought it would be fun to play around with my own version to see what I would come up with. Part of the inspiration came from the beautiful combination of colors in this great bag of potatoes I see regularly at Trader Joe's (and that I spied at the farmer's market, too). The bright yellow, red, and blue potatoes look like vibrant little jewels, so it's hard not to try & come up with non-traditional ways to serve such good-looking produce.

I had to play around with this recipe a couple of times before it came out the way I wanted it to. Though the potatoes were already colorful enough on their own, I wanted to add some green to the rest of these great colors. The French-cut green beans hanging out in my fridge seemed like they would be an interesting addition for their color & texture, and some thinly sliced red onions would add some crispness and flavor. Since I was out of mayo or mayo-making ingredients and had been playing around with new dressing ideas, I thought I might try my new sunflower-seed dressing with this. When I first made this salad, I was sans a working stove or oven, so I made due with what I had and boiled the potatoes to cook them. With the green beans, onions, and sweet & creamy dressing, it was a good salad, it just lacked something. The potatoes just didn't seem right and I knew it was because they were just boiled. This time around, I lightly roasted the potatoes with some herbs and the difference was incredible! Now the potatoes were flavorful, the textures of all the veggies complemented each other, and the dressing just brought everything together. It's a creamy, yet not at all heavy potato salad with some crunch, and is perfect for spring & summer picnics or potlucks.

One last thing to note: since this isn't a mayo or ranch-dressed potato salad, those of you who have egg allergies or just a natural aversion to mayonnaise will be happy to note that you can still partake of a creamy, dairy-free dressing. When processed & pureed with the rest of the ingredients, the sunflower seeds become part of a thick, creamy dressing that is very low in cholesterol and full of other great things like vitamin E and magnesium. This makes for a tasty, guilt-free alternative to mayonnaise, ranch, and other heavier dressings out there. Now, enough with the health talk and on with the show!

Jeweled Potato & Green Bean Salad with Sunflower Seed Dressing (serves 4; total cost per serving: ~$2.25)

6 medium new (yellow) potatoes
6 medium red potatoes
6 medium blue potatoes
1 c French-cut green beans, cut in half
1/2 medium red onion
1 T olive oil
1/4 t thyme
1/4 t tarragon
1/8 t rosemary
1/8 t dried basil
1/2 t sea salt
1/2 fresh ground pepper

1/2 c light olive oil
1/2 c hulled sunflower seeds
1/3 c freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 T white wine vinegar
2 T honey
3-4 T water (for thinning)
1/2 t sea salt

Preheat oven to 425°. Rinse the potatoes well and pat dry. Cut the potatoes into quarters or eighths (chunks should be about 1-1 1/2" in size) and place in a bowl. Add the 2 T olive oil and toss together, followed by the herbs, sea salt, and ground pepper. Mix together well so that all of the potato chunks are evenly coated with the oil & herbs. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Place in the oven and roast for about 20-30 minutes. Remove from oven & allow to cool.

In the meantime, quickly blanche the green beans by putting them in a pot of rapidly boiling water for about 30 seconds and immediately transfer them to a bowl of ice water. Drain & set aside. Thinly slice the red onion and add to the green beans. Prepare the dressing by combining all ingredients except for the water and puree well until you have a thick, creamy base. The dressing will be very thick & almost pasty at first; don't worry! Simply add the water one tablespoon at a time until the dressing is about the same consistency as ranch or bleu cheese.

When potatoes have cooled, place in a bowl and add the green beans & onions. Toss together gently. Spoon onto a plate or bowl and drizzle generously with the dressing. If you prefer your salad to have the dressing already mixed in, add about 2-3 tablespoons of the dressing to the potatoes & veggies and fold into the salad until everything is completely coated. Serve as a side or an entree, and enjoy!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Recipe: Rainbow Chard & Roasted Beet Fettuccine

So you know how I made it one of my PGEW goals to be more experimental with my ingredient choices? I think that frequent trips to the farmer’s market this summer will definitely help me achieve that goal. My trip last Sunday alone resulted in a few items that I’ve eaten and enjoyed but not necessarily cooked with, like the enormous and gorgeous bunch of rainbow chard I ended up buying. Though it’s pretty much the same as regular chard, I haven’t actually played around with it, so I figured this would be a good time to do so. I had also scored a giant beet (and I mean giant: the thing was about 6” in diameter!) that would be great roasted, and some fresh garlic with the shoots still attached. I had some nice whole-wheat pasta at home and thought these veggies would go with it nicely to create a healthy, delicious entrĂ©e.

Though it’s perfectly okay to boil your beets for this, roasting them is just as easy and offers a slightly more distinct flavor that I’m rather fond of. Just be sure to give yourself a little extra time for the roasting process when you’re planning your meal prep time. The rest of the recipe is quick to prepare, even if it looks like there are a lot of steps. If you can’t find rainbow chard, regular chard works just as well. I would have liked to prepare this with some sort of crumbled cheese like goat cheese or feta (or goat’s milk feta, even betta!), but since payday still eludes me and I wanted to add a little something extra at the end, I whipped up a quick Dijon sauce-slash-dressing to drizzle on top of the pasta at the end. Not only does it add even more color to this already lovely dish, but the sharpness of the Dijon mustard also complements the sweetness of the beets & chard beautifully. If you're not a fan of Dijon, I'm sure this would also taste great with an extra drizzle of olive oil and some freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Lastly, don’t worry if your fettuccine turns a little pink! Trust me, mine did in the worst way at first, so unfortunately I wasn't able to get the freshest shot of the finished dish. But that’s just what happens when beets are tossed in with other things, I guess. It's still a lovely-looking dish, though! If you want to add the beets at the end to avoid this problem for presentation purposes, that’s perfectly fine, too. Otherwise, enjoy this interesting little dish that’s chock full of good-for-you things like folate, fiber, vitamins & C, potassium, and the added bonus of tasting really good. :)

PS - Just had this as a cold leftover for lunch, having tossed some extra dressing on top before leaving home, and oh my gosh! This is even better cold!

Rainbow Chard & Roasted Beet Fettuccine (serves 4-6; total cost per serving: $1.50 - $2.25!)

10 oz. whole wheat fettuccine
3 medium beets
1 large bunch of rainbow or Swiss chard
1 head of fresh garlic
½ medium red onion
4 T olive oil, divided
1 t sea salt, divided
1 t lemon pepper, divided
Freshly ground pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
3 T stone-ground Dijon mustard (regular Dijon works, too)
2 T white wine vinegar
1 T honey

Preheat oven to 425°. Wash the beets thoroughly and remove any greens. Pat dry and individually wrap each beet in foil. Place in the center of the oven rack and roast for about 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until beets are tender.

In the meantime, wash the chard thoroughly and separate the stems from the leaves. Spin dry the leaves in a salad spinner so they’re nice & crisp, and chop into 1” pieces. Chop the stems into ¾” pieces and place in a separate bowl. Next, slice the onions into 1” pieces and set aside, then coarsely chop the garlic (yes, the whole thing!), also setting it aside in a separate bowl. Prepare the Dijon dressing by combining the Dijon mustard, honey, and vinegar in a bowl & whisking together well. Cover & set aside.

When the beets are finished roasting, set aside to cool before peeling. Add several cups of water to a large pot, salt well, and heat until it reaches a rolling boil. Add the fettuccine and cook for about 10-12 minutes, or until pasta is al dente. In the meantime, heat 2 T olive oil in a skillet and add half of the chopped garlic. Cook the garlic over medium heat until it just begins to brown and become fragrant. Add the chard stems, season with half the salt & lemon pepper, and stir fry for about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook covered for another 2-3 minutes, or until the stems are slightly tender. In a separate skillet heat the rest of the olive oil and cook the garlic in the same manner, adding the chopped chard leaves when the garlic begins to brown. Stir fry the leaves quickly, just about 1 minute, seasoning with the remaining salt & lemon pepper. Remove from heat immediately.

Peel the beets under cool running water and cut away any remaining tough parts. Chop into 1” cubes. Add the cooked chard stems & leaves and all the garlic to the drained fettuccine and toss together gently (you may want to add a little bit of olive oil to the pasta to prevent it from sticking together). Add the beets and toss together, or as mentioned above, add them to the pasta at the end. Spoon onto a couple of plates, drizzle generously with the Dijon dressing, and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Recipe: Black Bean, Shrimp & Corn Burritos

What does one have for dinner when it's a super-lean bare bones week and a newspaper is coming to your place to do a photo shoot?

This is the question that has been looming over me like a little rain cloud for the past few days. Truthfully, except for Sunday's score of amazing produce at the farmer's market, there isn't much in my fridge other than a tub of non-fat sour cream, 4 whole wheat & corn tortillas, a bunch of cilantro, and assorted condiments. Fortunately my freezer & cupboards didn't look as scary when I peeked inside, so I felt like I could probably get through this without panicking. A can of corn, some black beans, the better part of a bag of shrimp, and all those fresh tomatoes and onions from Sunday would all go with the other lonely ingredients in the fridge. I had nothing to worry about.

I'm not sure why I'm so into pocket food lately. By pocket food I mean anything of the "wrap" or burrito persuasion. Everything is just so neatly surrounded by a tortilla, pita, or other thin sheet of dough to create a utensil-free, virtually zero clean-up meal, that it's impossible to resist making everything this way, especially when afflicted with a bad case of spring fever like I am. Plus they're filling and portable, they're a great option for lunch as well. This particular burrito recipe is very simple to make and insanely good for you as it's chock full of protein and fiber. And it's bursting with flavor! The ingredients are simple but the flavors are bold, and you definitely get your fair share of veggies with this one. Since I'm not a big fan of having rice in my burrito (I figure I already have a tortilla... why all the extra starch?), you won't see it in this recipe. If you like rice in your burritos but still want to keep it on the healthy side, the Basil-Cilantro Brown Rice from a few postings ago would go great in this, just note that it will make your burrito slightly higher in calories.

As you can see I've served this with my Chunky Pico de Gallo, which was not the original intent. I had planned on making a corn salsa and serving it with the black bean & shrimp burritos, but I think I was a little nervous about the photo shoot and dumped the whole can of beans in with the corn. *sigh* These things happen, though, and the show must go on. I improvised by making a quick batch of the Pico de Gallo to go along with the new plan. Still worked out beautifully, but a corn salsa IS coming!

Anyway, that's about it for this one! The recipe speaks for itself. As usual, I'm advocating for my friend the avocado to be included in this one as a garnish, as I would have done had they not been so pricey at the farmer's market over the weekend (they weren't unreasonably priced, I've just gotten a little spoiled by the great avocado deal offered by Trader Joe's lately). Other standard burrito accompaniments like cheese or sour cream can also be added, of course. And speaking of cheese, can we all have a round of applause for yours truly, who has been cheese-free for 3 weeks now? I'm not quitting it entirely, of course, so cheese-lovers, don't fret! Cheese will be back on the menu soon. I'm just proud that I have found my self-restraint again!

Black Bean, Shrimp & Corn Burritos (serves 3; avg. cost per serving: ~$2)

4 whole wheat tortillas
35-40 frozen medium cooked shrimp, thawed
1 can black beans
1 can sweet corn kernels
1/2 t garlic salt
1/4 t cumin
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1/2 serrano pepper
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Cooking spray
1/2 T cooking oil

In a medium bowl, combine the thawed shrimp, garlic salt, cumin, and cayenne pepper and mix to coat the shrimp thoroughly. Let sit (refrigerated) for about 1/2 hour to infuse the shrimp with as much flavor as possible. In the meantime, drain the cans of black beans and corn completely and combine in a bowl. Chop the garlic and cut the serrano pepper lengthwise; remove the seeds & veins. This will keep the flavor of the pepper but eliminate a lot of the extra heat.

When the shrimp are ready, heat 1/2 T cooking oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the chopped garlic & serrano pepper. Cook for about 1 minute, until the garlic & pepper just become fragrant. Add the shrimp. Cook for about 2-3 minutes or until completely heated through. In a separate skillet that's been sprayed with cooking spray, combine the black beans & corn and heat for 3 minutes, or until the black beans are heated through and slightly softer. In the meantime, heat the tortillas over low heat and place on a covered plate to keep warm.

To assemble your burritos, spoon about 12 shrimp to one of the tortillas, add some of the warm black beans & corn, followed by a generous amount of pico de gallo, and wrap together. Serve with extra pico de gallo, avocados, sour cream, etc. and enjoy!

PGEW invited to be a Guest For Dinner!

I was recently invited to be a Guest For Dinner on one of my favorite food blogs to read, What's For Dinner? In addition to her daily postings of what her dinner was for the day (I wish I could be as disciplined!), Mara, the creator of What's For Dinner?, often spotlights other food bloggers from her enormous blogroll to write guest posts in addition to her postings about what dinner was for that day (I wish I could be as disciplined and post everyday!). I was asked to write about one of my favorite budget dinners, and I chose the Herbed Chicken Crepes with Fresh Rosemary Cream, so you can revisit that one in case you haven't given it a try.

Definitely check out What's For Dinner for my little guest posting and Mara's great chronicles of good, healthy dinners, her personal weight loss saga, an incredible blogroll of some pretty great food blogs, and fun features like Cute Food Saturday. Have fun!

Monday, May 11, 2009

I <3 the Farmer's Market

Don't you just love it when you're going through some laundry or some old purses and you find money you completely forgot you had? That happened to me this weekend, and I knew exactly how to spend this minor windfall: save myself from a pathetically paltry bare bones week and hit the farmer's market under the freeway on 8th & W.

It was in the cards that I should head there this weekend. It's not often that we get a Sunday off from choir, so between the unexpected day off and the gorgeous, warm weather, and an extra $25 in my hands, it was next to impossible for me to stay home. As usual, I scored big once I got there and did my preliminary rounds:
  • Swiss chard
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes on the vine
  • Cherries
  • Strawberries
  • Mushrooms
  • Green onions
  • Thai basil
  • The hugest beet I have EVER seen
  • Chives
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Red onions
  • Apricots
I've probably forgotten a couple of items, but let's just say that this unofficial Farmer's Market edition of the $25 Shopping Cart was a true success! As always, everything was so beautiful I didn't know where to turn & look. Here are some of my favorite shots from this Sunday. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Recipe: Bay Scallop Ceviche

One of my favorite memories from childhood involves one of my family's many summer trips to Colombia. I was about 9 or 10 years old, and we spent part of this particular trip in Medellin at my great aunts' beautiful Spanish-style mansion (yes, an actual mansion... it's an entirely different life down there). One afternoon my aunts asked my dad to cook something for them, since they were usually doing the cooking and knew my dad was a great chef. He made an incredible batch of ceviche, a traditional Central and South American dish made of citrus-marinated fish. Most often served as an appetizer, ceviche is also wonderful as a main course when served as a salad, which is what my dad prepared for us that day. I think this was probably the first time I'd ever had ceviche and I was absolutely hooked! Tender, yet firm fish, cilantro, onions, tomatoes, all marinated to with some of the finest limes & lemons; what's not to love?

Since then, my love for ceviche has blossomed into including the different versions of it, including sweet & spicy and ceviche made with shrimp instead of fish. Though I'm still a purist and think the fish kind is the best, I'm the biggest fan of my mom's shrimp ceviche, and the version they serve at Midtown Sacramento's very own Tres Hermanas is to die for. Since my mom's too far away and I can't afford to buy Tres Hermanas's ceviche salad as often as I crave it, I realized I'd have to get off my lazy bum and make my own. I do a fantastic job, but this time around I wasn't really craving the usual ceviche; what I really wanted to do was see how it would work with some nice bay scallops (and oddly enough, my mom pointed out that a recent edition of Gourmet magazine had featured a scallop ceviche, only made with a lot of extra bells & whistles).

The principles are the same as with the fish & shrimp varieties: use the acidic nature of citrus to "cook" the scallops the same way it would cook fish or shrimp. Since the scallops I had were rather large, I made sure to chop them into much smaller pieces to allow the key lime juice to do it's whole chemical reaction thing as thoroughly as possible (I've worked in the restaurant biz enough to have all sorts of food safety tips running through my head at all times). If at all possible, use key lime juice when making ceviche. Key limes are more commonly used than regular limes in Latin American cooking, and their distinct flavor makes any dish unique. If you don't have access to key limes that's okay, but by all means use the key lime if you can; you'll thank me for it. Also, even though I liked the recipe featured in Gourmet magazine, I still felt like having a more simple, traditional set of veggies and flavoring for my dish. I stuck to the very basics: onions, cilantro, and tomatoes. I served my ceviche on two huge, crisp leaves of romaine that served as my "salad", and would have definitely added sliced avocado to the meal had I had some on me. I still think the avocado is necessary, so I'm including it in the ingredient list.

Lastly, don't be afraid to try this because it's not cooked over heat! It's perfectly safe as the shellfish is most definitely not raw. As I mentioned before, the chemical reaction of the lime juice with the seafood is similar to what heat does to cook food, so you will not have clear, slimy scallops; they will be firm and have almost the same texture as traditionally cooked scallops (the same goes with fish or shrimp). If you're not a scallop eater, no worries! Just substitute shrimp or a flaky white fish and you'll have an equally delicious ceviche.

Now if only I could be eating mine on the beaches of San Felipe, Baja California, swinging on a hammock as the gentle waves of the Sea of Cortez lap quietly on the shore...... (Poor Girl really needs a vacation, can you tell?)

Bay Scallop Ceviche (serves 2; average cost per serving: ~ $4.50)

12 oz. bay scallops, chopped
1/2 small white onion, diced
1/2 medium tomato, diced
small bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
Juice of 10-12 key limes
1 T white vinegar
1/2 t garlic salt
1/2 t sea salt
Dash of cayenne pepper
Dash of cumin
4 large Romaine lettuce leaves
1 avocado, sliced

Rinse the scallops well & pat dry. Chop them into cubes no larger than 1/2" and place into a bowl. Add the chopped onion, tomato, and cilantro, and mix together gently. Next add the key lime juice, vinegar, and spices, and stir together well. You should have far more "juice" than scallops but if you don't, squeeze a couple more key limes into the mix; you want all of your scallops and veggies to be almost completely submerged in the liquid to ensure that everything will marinate thoroughly. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours, or until the scallops are no longer clear on the inside (I chopped my scallops too large so I had to let mine sit overnight).

Arrange a couple leaves of Romaine lettuce onto a plate and spoon the ceviche on top. Add 1/2 sliced avocado, garnish with extra cilantro, and enjoy!

Happy Mother's Day!

Just wanted to wish all of you amazing, devoted mothers out there a fabulous Mother's Day! Of all the jobs out there, I think the job of a mother is the most important, most difficult, yet most underappreciated out there, and I am glad that there is a day to honor such incredible women. You all know that I'm very close to my mother (the lovely lady pictured next to me in my favorite photo of the two of us, taken a couple years ago), and even if I thank her everyday for teaching me random things throughout the years, I like to spoil her on Mother's Day. Like with her birthday, we have to postpone things until next week, but I'm definitely spoiling her when she comes up this way next weekend. Part of that includes cooking her something special, of course. I have a little something up my sleeve for next week, but I thought it would be nice to share some of my - and my mom's - ideas of past PGEW dishes that would make for some nice Mother's Day meals. If you're on a budget and out of ideas for what to do for Mom today, these are delicious, affordable options that will make your mom happy that you know how to cook and how to budget.


Lunch & Dinner

Dessert & Drinks

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Recipe: Banana, Almond Butter, and Honey Sandwich

I'm being asked more & more frequently what it is that Poor Girl has for breakfast on a regular work day. I realized that though I've posted a couple of my weekend breakfast favorites here - meals that aren't complicated but require a bit more time to make & savor than I have Monday through Friday - they don't really illustrate what I toss into my bag and bring to work for a quick breakfast. Admittedly, my weekday breakfasts aren't always that exciting, which is why I don't really post about them. Usually this most important meal of the day consists of some yogurt with flax seed sprinkled on top and maybe some fruit, or perhaps a nice steaming bowl of apple-cinnamon oatmeal. Quick, easy, no thinking required at all, which I like when I'm not fully awake (I'm not a morning person at all!).

But that can get old, and it certainly isn't as complete a meal as I should be having. The following sandwich isn't exactly the picture of a "complete" breakfast, but it covers a few more nutritional bases than a simple cup of yogurt and is still a relative no-brainer to make. Whole grain bread, almond butter, honey, and a sliced banana are all you need for this one, and even if it’s a little messy and not the prettiest breakfast, it’s still quite tasty. Think Elvis’s favorite sandwich, only without the heart-stopping bacon fat, almond v. peanut butter, and a kiss of honey to add a little something extra.

You can definitely use peanut butter if you prefer, as I’m sure the flavors would work together just fine. I’m personally just not a fan of peanut butter unless there’s chocolate involved. Though I stick to toasting my bread for this sandwich, I suppose it couldn’t hurt to grill it, as long as you can do so in a non-Elvis way with a light cooking spray or the smallest amount of butter possible. Don’t get me wrong, I do like big heavy breakfasts every once in awhile. This is just supposed to be something to get you going for the workday ahead, not give you food coma. Still, you will get full! This may not look like a big deal, but it’s full of fiber & protein, and should keep you going at least until lunchtime. I often have to split it and have each half a couple hours apart because I just can’t eat it all!

Anyway, enough of my babbling. Here’s a quick, easy, tasty breakfast that costs less than a McGriddle and won't raise your cholesterol like the rest of its fast food breakfast sandwich family can.

Banana, Almond Butter, and Honey Sandwich (makes 1 sandwich; average cost per sandwich: $1.10)

  • 2 slices whole grain bread
  • 1 small banana
  • 1 T creamy almond butter
  • 1/2 - 1 T honey
  1. Lightly toast the bread.
  2. Cut the banana in half, and then in half again lengthwise.
  3. Spread the almond butter on one slice of bread, and the honey on the second slice.
  4. Arrange the banana slices vertically on either slice of bread, top with the other, slice diagonally (helps to keep the banana in there), and enjoy!
*Note: for extra health benefits, try sprinkling a bit of flaxseed onto your sandwich before assembling. It adds a fun, healthy crunch!

Monday, May 4, 2009

What's In Store for May

Happy May, everyone! Crazy to think that tomorrow is already Cinco de Mayo, a fine excuse to celebrate with good food & drinks, even though the celebration isn’t technically ours (still, most of us are willing to join anyone’s party). I doubt I’ll be partaking in any of these celebrations since beer & early week hangovers aren’t really my thing, though I could seriously go for some guacamole. But that doesn’t mean that May won’t be full of good food and other fun stuff! Except for this crazy early-May rain, the weather will finally be perfect, and I am looking for it to warm up and stay warm! There’s so much more to do when the weather’s nice, including more Farmer’s Markets springing up, as well as random food festivals. And of course, barbeque season – along with summer (unofficially) –starts at the end of this month, so I’m pretty excited. After doing some spring cleaning over the weekend, I was finally able to pull out my little BBQ from its confines in my storage closet, so I’m hoping to finally start putting it to use and finally honing those skills!

~ Folks were so receptive of my very first drink recipe (Sweet & Fruity White Wine Sangria), that I thought it’d be fun to feature another one. It’ll probably be another version of sangria, but it’s oh-so-tasty.

~ The spanakopita I keep promising all of you is going to be put on hold until further notice. I don’t know if the fillo dough gods are conspiring against me, but every time I’m ready to make it, something gets in the way! So rather than keep promising to post about it, I’ll just surprise you with it someday. :)

~ Breakfast for dinner – could there be anything better? Sometimes, I think not! Stay tuned for some hearty breakfast/dinner options this month, like seafood omelettes and more crepe concoctions. Mmmm, breakfast…….

~ Warmer weather brings with it barbeques and backyard potlucks, most of which wouldn’t be complete without some sort of potato salad. I’ve been tossing around the idea of a rather non-traditional version that I may just have to feature sooner rather than later, because it should be a good one. And relatively healthy (you know me & too much mayo don’t mix…)!

~ Is it possible to make a meal from stuff you get at a mini-mart? Of course it is; I just haven’t a clue as to what that meal might be. Someone challenged me to do this, and I’m gonna! Look for the Mostly Mini Mart Meal later this month!

~ Yours truly has been tagged for yet another article regarding! As soon as the story is done, I'll give you guys all the details.

Enjoy your May and don’t forget about Mom! Mother’s Day is this Sunday, May 10, so make her something special for brunch or dinner. I’ll post some PGEW Mother’s Day options later this week so you can get some ideas for spoiling mom without her getting mad at you for spending too much money. J

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Long Lost Photograph #2

Earlier this week I posted one of two lost recipe photos and promised you a second one. Here it is! For those of you wondering what the Farro & Red Beans with Caramelized Onions looks like, here you go. :) Not as gorgeous as the Black Bean, Chicken, and Mango Stew, but it's still helpful to reference if this is your first time cooking the farro recipe.

I'm feelin' like a bloggin' fool today, so there may be another recipe today! If not, it'll be here tomorrow. My creative juices have been flowing overtime, so I want to share as much as possible!

Review: Kazoo Japanese Restaurant - San Jose, CA

Kazoo on Urbanspoon     I've been meaning to get this review posted for a couple weekends now, but I keep on getting distracted. I was just going through the photos on my memory card, though, and figured now was the time to focus on the memory of really, really, really delicious - and affordable - sushi. Not quite fair on a Saturday morn since I'm nowhere near this place, but what can you do.

I was in San Jose a few weekends ago to visit my mom for her belated birthday celebration. Since I'd been too busy with choir during Holy Week and Easter and she hadn't been able to come up this way, I wasn't able to spend time with her until the weekend after Easter. She & I are cool like that, though: most special days can still be special a week or so later (except for Thanksgiving; I'd get shot if I missed that one!). We'd decided to just have an easy, relaxing girl's weekend without any concrete plans, except for heading to Kazoo Japanese Restaurant for some sushi.

Located in historic Japantown, Kazoo sits quietly on the corner of Jackson and 6th Streets, unfazed by the larger, modern buildings across from it while it hangs on to its traditional Japanese appearance & composition. It is a small restaurant, making use of almost every available square inch with tables sitting very close together, making it feel a bit tight but not claustrophobic. The decor is far more traditional than any other Japanese restaurants I've visited in the past; no trendy dark paneling with excessive cherry blossom use or futuristic, metal-heavy themes here. Just simple, authentic decorations of small Japanese lanterns, good luck cat figurines, and plenty of bamboo. I haven't been to Japan yet, but I felt a little closer to being there at Kazoo as opposed to being at, say, Mikuni (which I do like, just not decor or price-wise). My mom decided we should sit at the crescent-shaped sushi bar as opposed to a table, and we were seated promptly.

I'd never sat at a sushi bar like this, but I'm assuming they're not uncommon (they just haven't made it up to Sac yet). Instead of telling the sushi chefs what you want and watch them assemble your nigiri or hand-rolls, you choose your meal from adorable little wooden boats that float along this little "river" in front of you. The rolls or other fish are placed on small porcelain plates with signs telling you the name & ingredients of each piece (for the most part). The porcelain dishes all have different designs & patterns on them, and the sushi is priced according to the plate, starting at a ridiculously low $1.20. Don't let the super-low prices fool you: this is not your average sushi.

I'm willing to bet that a lot of what floats past you in those cute little boats is not on the standard menu, which is what makes it kinda fun to sit at the bar. Again, you're not really interacting with your chefs as much, but just watching the different selections float past you is entertaining enough, and a bit time consuming if you're a little obsessive like me and want to know what all your choices are before selecting a few. Our first choice was the Mexican Hat: spicy tuna on a crispy, sturdy tortilla chip, topped with mango & cilantro. It sorta did look like a cute little sombrero, but it tasted phenomenal! The tuna was super fresh and very spicy, but oh-so-delicious & addicting! I could have eaten my weight in those hot little sombreros, as long as the ice water kept coming. Alas, we were there for variety, so we tried a little bit of everything. Here's a list of what we had:
  • San Jose Roll, which was pretty much a California Roll with some spicy sauce on top
  • San Diego Roll, with tempura ebi (shrimp), spicy tuna, and avocado
  • Tropical Roll, made with tuna, avocado, banana, tempura flakes, and a spicy sauce
  • Philadelphia Roll, with salmon, masago, and cream cheese
  • New York Roll, made with fresh shrimp, avocado, and cucumber
  • California Roll - the standard (but for those who've never had this, it's crab salad & avocado)
I pretty much took care of the spicy rolls because my mom has severe reactions to anything spicy. It took awhile for us to find the cooler, less spicy rolls float by us because the bar - and the whole restaurant - was very full, due to the Saturday lunch rush. These were still very delicious and the couple pieces I was allowed to try (she was very possessive of her birthday lunch!) were nice distractions from the flames that were setting up camp in my mouth. I didn't care though! Everything we tried was of the highest quality & flavor. Part of what I enjoy about Kazoo's sushi rolls, aside from the freshness of the fish they use, is their rice. It's slightly less heavy & sticky than a lot of the rice used in sushi joints here in Sacramento, and has the best flavor. I realize sushi rice does need to be of a certain consistency to make sure everything stays together, but sometimes I think they use glue in some restaurants. This was perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, and perfectly tasty. As with the decor, I have the feeling Kazoo uses a much more traditional way of cooking that allows for more authentic flavors. You can tell this restaurant is not all about snazzy sauce combinations that drown out the flavors of the rice, seaweed, and fish, but downright quality Japanese food. Of the sushi we tried that day, my two favorites - by a landslide - were the Mexican Hat, whose virtues I've already extolled, and the Tropical Roll. I have never had sushi with fruit other than mango in it, and I was very surprised by how beautifully the banana in this roll complemented the spicy tuna & avocado, and the tempura flakes added a delightful little crunch.

Now for the best part of this entire experience: we gorged ourselves on a total of 8 little dishes of high quality, authentic sushi and a pot of green tea. The grand total for this lunch? *drumroll please* $22.18 (!!!) As you can tell by the photos, it's not like we had only one piece of each roll. Though these weren't the usual large rolls served at most sushi restaurants, they were all very healthy in size and amount of fish, and 4-6 pieces of each were served. Even at lunch prices, I don't know of any sushi restaurant in this area that can give you this much food for less than $40, let alone under $25. I'm interested to see the rest of the menu someday, to see if having a sushi-less meal with choices like udon noodles & teriyaki would be just as affordable. I am fairly certain that would be the case, but I don't know that I can have a meal there without some of their sushi, it's just that good.

If I had some sort of rating system, Kazoo would earn the highest marks for quality and service. All the servers we've encountered have been very obliging and not pushy at all, and you are always greeted with sincerity. Those of you who know me well know that I'll forgive lower quality of food over poor service, and I feel Kazoo does a great job with both aspects. If you're ever in the San Jose area and have some time, definitely stop by this hidden little gem of a restaurant. And once you've stuffed yourself with their amazing food, there's always a chance to walk it off while taking in the sights of historic Japantown, a tiny piece of San Jose just bursting with history & culture.


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