Monday, August 31, 2009

Recipe: My Dad's Seafood Enchiladas

Back in the day my dad was rather up there in the Southern California restaurant business scene. He schmoozed with the Beverly Hills Country Club types as a result of his cooking, and got folks like the owner of the Acapulco Mexican Restaurant chain not only to make him corporate manager, but to become my godfather, too. The following is a recipe that my godfather and my dad created together. Very rarely did we encounter an occasion special enough to warrant making these fabulous enchiladas, but I do recall them being seriously delicious. Unfortunately, when I was a kid my daddy was not as willing to have little hands help him in the kitchen as my mom was, so I didn’t really get to watch him cook as much as I would have liked, especially when it comes to this dish (though it was kinda cool when awesome food just magically appeared out of nowhere). I’d been craving these for quite some time and knew the basic gist of the recipe, but I wasn’t 100% sure I’d be doing this right. After some major Daddy’s Girl style persuading, I managed to convince him to part with a modified version of the recipe (apparently the “real” thing must always be a secret), which I’d like to share with you today.

This doesn’t sound like it could qualify as a Poor Girl recipe; in fact, I didn’t even think it would make the cut in terms of cost. However, I was very pleasantly surprised to know that not only is this über-affordable, if you have too much in the way of filling, you can actually make two completely different meals (more on that later). Now, my dad wasn’t that good about giving me some rough measurements for this (not that I blame him; we’re the type that just throws food together in random quantities until it tastes good, so strict measuring does not run in my family), but I managed to come up with a good ratio of ingredients so you could all recreate this affordably. I don’t expect anyone to have affordable access to real crabmeat but if you do, use it! It can only make this taste better. Whatever you do, try to resist the temptation to use flour tortillas in this dish. Though I prefer flour to corn, using the wrong tortilla will not only change the dish structurally, but tastewise as well. There is something about the combination of flavors that truly lends itself to using corn tortillas, so if you’re a flour tortilla lover like me, exercise some restraint and you’ll have fabulous results.

Now, I’d mentioned that this becomes really, really cheap if you go the two meal route with this one. This filling not only works in enchilada form but makes an incredible omelette filling, too. All you would need to do is add the filling and some of the sauce into the omelette, finish cooking, and add extra sauce when serving/garnishing. As long as you and your family are not easily bored, it is quite feasible to have the enchiladas for dinner one night and have the omelettes for brunch the next morning. Your sides can vary depending on the meal to keep things interesting, but you really can make two fabulous dishes from just one recipe. The choice is yours! And if you do end up making both recipes sometime, I’d love to hear which one you liked better! I think it’d be interesting to know what everyone preferred (and my dad was curious anyway, haha).

Seafood Enchiladas or Omelettes (serves 4; total cost per serving: $3.25)

8 white corn tortillas
½ lb imitation crab meat
½ lb bay shrimp (also known as shrimp meat, depending on the store)
3/4 c fat free sour cream
1 8 oz. jar salsa verde (green tomatillo sauce)
½ c shredded Monterey jack cheese (optional)
6 scallions, chopped
Small handful of cilantro, chopped
Sliced black olives (optional for garnish)

Preheat the oven to 375 and spray a square baking pan (preferably glass) with cooking spray. In a large bowl combine the sour cream and 1/2 the jar of salsa verde (roughly 4 oz.), and whisk together until completely combined. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the finished sauce in a smaller bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl combine the crab meat and bay shrimp with the remainder of the salsa verde and mix together well.

Take each tortilla and dip it into the large bowl with the sour cream & salsa mixture, making sure both sides are coated evenly but lightly. Fill the tortilla with the crab & shrimp mixture, sprinkle with a bit of cheese, and roll together as tightly as possible without breaking the tortilla (this is a little tricky but it gets easier with practice). Place into the baking dish and repeat until each tortilla has been filled. Drizzle any extra sour cream & salsa mixture on top, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for about 20 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle any extra cheese on top and bake for another 5 minutes. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

When ready to serve, place 2 enchiladas on a plate, generously drizzle the reserved sour cream & salsa verde mixture, sprinkle with chopped scallions & cilantro and sliced black olives, and enjoy!

Recipe: Grilled Eggplant & Veggie "Sandwiches"

I don’t know about you but there are times when I see certain fresh produce and don’t see food; I see art. I see the beauty of the shapes, the intensity of the colors, the amazing textures; it’s all so beautiful that I just want to take pictures or paint or do something to show off such exquisiteness. But I also see more art, the art of using each vegetable or fruit as a component of an even lovelier whole, the art of the finished product that is a delicious dish. This happens to me a lot at farmers markets, especially in the summertime when everything looks so lush and perfect. And it was definitely the case when I saw some simply gorgeous eggplants a few weeks ago.

Although I truly love eggplant, it’s another one of those items that I just haven’t gotten around to experimenting with in my own kitchen. Since the whole goal for 2009 has been to step outside my cooking comfort zone and work with different ingredients, I figured now was as good a time as any to start playing around with eggplant. For the past few weeks, my favorite farmers market under the freeway on 8th & X Streets has been offering some absolutely perfect looking eggplants, so beautiful that it seemed a shame to drown them in marinara sauce & cheese (even though eggplant parmagiana is a favorite of mine). They’ve also had some gorgeous zucchini and other squash, not to mention all the rest of my favorite vegetables and fruits. Since I still don’t feel like I’ve been getting enough veggies in my diet over the past few weeks, I came home after one of my recent farmers market forays and decided to make something with almost every vegetable I had, without resorting to a soup or stew. I wanted something a bit more substantial, something I could sink my teeth into. A sandwich, perhaps? Of course! I’d turn a big mountain of veggies into a delicious, breadless sandwich.

There was something about the eggplant that was begging to be the “bread” for the giant “sandwich” of vegetables I wanted to create, and with zucchini, summer squash, mushrooms, and some crispy red onions, I knew the filling for this would be just perfect. This recipe is very simple to prepare and will allow you to thoroughly enjoy each vegetable’s individual flavor, as there is very minimal seasoning in this dish. A healthy & hearty dish, when served with a chunky tomato & herb sauce on the side, you might actually be able to convince the finicky eaters in your family to try some veggies.

The most important thing to note about this one is that you need a knife & fork for this! Just because it says “sandwich” doesn’t mean you can pick it up with both hands and start chowing down. Well, I suppose you could; just use a LOT of napkins if you do. :)

Grilled Eggplant & Veggie “Sandwiches” (serves 2; total cost per serving: $2.25)

4 1 ½” slices of fresh eggplant
1 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise into ½” slices
1/4” thick red onion slice, separated into individual rings
10 white mushrooms, sliced
½ t minced garlic
1 T olive oil
Salt & pepper
2 T olive oil, for brushing

1/2 can diced tomatoes
1/4 t sea salt
1/4 t dried oregano
1/4 t dried basil
1/4 t dried rosemary
1/4 t ground black pepper

Prepare the chunky tomato sauce by combining the last 6 ingredients in a small saucepan and heating over medium low heat. Allow to simmer slowly for about five minutes, remove from heat, and set aside.

Preheat the grill. While grill is heating, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a separate pan over medium heat and add the garlic. Brown the garlic slightly then add the sliced mushrooms, seasoning lightly with salt & pepper. Cook for about 3 minutes, remove from heat and set aside.

Brush both sides of the eggplant and zucchini slices with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt & pepper (if desired). Grill the vegetables for about 2-3 minutes on each side, or until tender but still firm.

To assemble your sandwiches, place one grilled eggplant slice on a plate, add zucchini, mushrooms, fresh onions, and a spoonful of chunky tomato sauce, followed by another slice of grilled eggplant. Serve with extra sauce on the side, a fork & knife and plenty of napkins, and enjoy!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Recipe: Creamy Shrimp & Asparagus Quinoa Risotto

Like most of us I have my fair share of fears, some logical, some totally ridiculous. Up until recently, one of my truly ridiculous fears has been that of risotto. Not eating it, of course, but making it. For some reason the whole process of adding little bits of this and waiting for that seemed like it could be something I might mess up, so I just avoided the whole thing entirely. But I’m also the type who likes to face some fears head on, so I made up my mind to just suck it up and cook.

As most of you who have been making risotto for years with no problems know, there was really nothing to be afraid of. About the only tricky part to making this creamy dish is exercising a bit of patience to allow everything to simmer and absorb properly. Other than that this is a piece of cake to make, and once I got over this irrational kitchen fear, I set about making risotto out of everything, not just rice. My current favorite is quinoa risotto, probably due to the distinctly different texture of the quinoa, as opposed to rice or farro. Though using farro also results in a lovely risotto, I really like the combination of flavors and textures that are in this particular dish. The tender asparagus go beautifully with the sweetness of the shrimp and the light sprinkling of parmesan, and the creamy quinoa brings it all together. I used olive oil as opposed to butter to cut back on the bad fat for this dish, though I’m sure it will be delicious if butter is used. This is a wonderful entrée or a hearty side and can definitely be served year round.

A few notes for you: If you don’t have wine around the house, simply substitute an extra 1/2 cup of broth. Speaking of broth, this is even more flavorful if you use fresh shrimp, as you can boil them in the broth before making the risotto. However, if all you have at home are the frozen cooked shrimp do not go out and buy extra! Save your money! This is just as flavorful without using shrimp broth. If you buy your quinoa in bulk the price of this dish goes way down, and if you can’t find any fresh asparagus that are affordable enough, by all means use frozen ones. And now for the recipe.

Creamy Shrimp & Asparagus Quinoa Risotto (serves 6; total cost per serving: $1.35)

1 c uncooked quinoa
5 c chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 c white wine
2 ½ T olive oil (or butter, if you prefer)
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
30-35 large frozen cooked shrimp, thawed
6 medium asparagus, cut into 3/4” long pieces
1/4 c shredded parmesan cheese
1/4 t dried tarragon
1/4 t dried thyme
Salt & pepper to taste

Carefully rinse the quinoa about 3 times to ensure that it is completely clean and drain well. In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook slowly until the onion begins to soften.

Increase the heat to about medium high and add the rinsed quinoa. Cook for about 3 minutes then add the wine and simmer until the quinoa absorbs the wine. Slowly pour about 1/2 cup of chicken broth into the quinoa and allow to simmer until it is completely absorbed by the quinoa, stirring frequently. Continue this process, pouring in the broth only 1/2 cup at a time, until the quinoa is creamy and the quinoa germs have burst (you may have extra broth left over; if so, set aside for a different meal), about 20 minutes.

While the last bit of broth is being simmered and absorbed, add the ¼ c of parmesan cheese and continue to stir well. Add the shrimp and asparagus and mix in gently, cooking for another 3-4 minutes. Season with tarragon, thyme, and a couple dashes of salt & pepper. Serve with extra parmesan sprinkle on top of you like, and enjoy!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Recipe: Quick & Easy Tofu, Mushroom & Swiss Chard Stir Fry

Simplicity can sometimes be the spice of life, and an absolute lifesaver in the kitchen. Though I love to experiment with food, there are times when I just want something quick, easy, and healthy to eat. I make my fair share of salads to get over this particular bump in the food road, but even those can get old after a while. This recipe, though not the most ingenious, is one that I find myself coming back to very often because it covers all the bases: quick, simple, tasty, healthy, and CHEAP. Seriously, you can feed 4 people with this for about $7 and still have a few leftovers. That's just $1.75 per serving for a dish that's packed with protein, fiber, vitamins A & C, potassium, and a truckload of other good-for-you stuff. It's also very low in calories, so your guilt factor plummets way down.

Now I know there are folks out there who are afraid of healthy sounding words like "tofu" and "chard". It can conjure up crazy ideas of tastelessness and dullness, which are completely unfounded if you know what you're doing. In fact, whenever I make something like this I am reminded of a former coworker named Dave who just couldn't understand how I considered vegetables and tofu to be tasty little tidbits, and would tell me he would never eat vegetables because they might mess with his system (which was used to nothing but the hugest burgers known to mankind). If you're like Dave, try to think outside the box a bit and do not be afraid of the good stuff! Just because it's good for you doesn't mean that it tastes bad; that only applies to medications, if you ask me. Though there's not much to this dish in terms of seasoning, it's that simplicity of ingredients that brings out the flavors of the vegetables and tofu, allowing your palate to be reminded of what certain foods actually taste like.

I used the frozen mushroom mix that I scored at the Co-op last weekend, but if your store doesn't carry this type of thing, or if the mix is too expensive, feel free to use regular white mushrooms in this. I usually like to eat this dish by itself, but I also serve it with a side of rice noodles or some brown rice. If you really want to make this recipe stretch to the max, toss the finished stir-fry together with the rice noodles instead of serving them on the side. This could pretty much double your recipe, cutting your cost per serving way down. And though it loses a bit of its aesthetic appeal, it will also keep well in the fridge for a couple of days, so you can use the leftovers for lunch or to augment a future dinner. Other than that, I don't have much to note, so let's get on with the show!

Quick & Easy Tofu, Mushroom & Swiss Chard Stir Fry (serves 4; total cost per serving $1.75)
1 10 oz. package of extra firm tofu
1 10 oz. bag of frozen mixed mushrooms (or about 1 cup sliced white mushrooms)
1 1/2 c chopped Swiss chard, greens and stems
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 T olive oil
1 T granulated garlic
1 t sea salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
1/4 t cayenne pepper
Crushed red chili flakes for garnish

Rinse the Swiss chard well and pat dry. Chop the stems into 1" pieces and set aside in a bowl, then chop the greens into 1-2" strips and place in a separate bowl. Dice the tofu into 1/2" cubes and add to the chopped chard stems. Add the granulated garlic, salt, and both types of pepper to the chard stems & tofu and toss until combined.

Heat the 2 T of olive oil an a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the minced garlic and brown slightly, followed by the chopped chard stems and tofu. Stir fry for about 2-3 minutes, until the chard stems begin to soften. Add the mushrooms and cook for another 3 minutes or so. (Note: If using frozen mushrooms, keep in mind that they will start to release some of their juices so you may need to drain them from the stir fry. Fresh mushrooms will not release as much.) Lastly, add the Swiss chard leaves and cook until just slightly wilted.

Serve by itself over rice or noodles, garnish with some crushed red chili flakes, and enjoy!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Recipe: My Birthday French Toast

Well, here it is. My birthday. Today I turn 33 and I have no clue how I got here so fast. I remember it seeming like an impossible age to be, and here I am, feeling just like I did when I was 19 (only with slightly sorer joints). Things aren’t perfect, but then again whose life is? I have a lot to be thankful for, though: I have my little site and all you awesome readers, I have my health, a great new job, some pretty great friends and family; life's not too bad. Since most of my friends and family are nowhere near me, and not having a special guy in my life to spoil me on my special day (which also means I have no man-headaches, so WOO HOO for singlehood! But I digress.), I figure it falls upon me to spoil myself rotten today. I have decided to start with a sinfully delicious breakfast.

I've been craving French toast for awhile now, but without eggs it has been impossible to indulge in it. Taking advantage of the first relatively free weekend in a long time, I went to a few different stores last Sunday and took care of the eggless problem. I'm sure the basics of the recipe I've tweaked & improved over the years are similar to many other French toast recipes you may have encountered over the years, though I do like to add a couple things to mine. My finished product always has something sweet on top, but I also like for my actual toast to have a little bit of flavor, so I add vanilla and a bit of cinnamon to mine. Growing up, my mom usually topped my French toast with butter & cinnamon sugar as opposed to maple syrup (SO good!) and I still like serve mine that way these days. However, I wanted to add a little something extra today, and the cinnamon apples & raisins seemed like they’d go perfectly with my already cinnamon-y French toast.

This is one of those rare PGEW moments when I post a recipe that is not somewhat healthy, so indulge in the sinfulness! I did make a slight effort to reduce the sinful factor by using non-fat milk and some egg whites in my egg mixture, but otherwise this is a rather rich breakfast. Howerver, this is a special occasion; it’s not like I eat breakfast like this everyday (in fact, those three pieces in the photo will probably be my breakfast for the rest of the week, they’re so filling!), so a little indulgence is okay every now & then. Just remember this when serving, so that you don’t inadvertently give yourself or your guests a serious blood sugar spike. If you have thick cut bread, by all means use it! I only used what I had available to me this morning, but French toast is always better when the bread is nice & thick. And if you’re a raisin-phobe, feel free to skip them. I just happen to love how raisins, apples, and cinnamon all go together like they’re food soul mates. :) Anyway, I’m forgetting the best part about this! The low low LOW price per serving of about $1.33! Usually one would pay about $8 for a few slices of dried out French toast at your local greasy spoon. This French toast is moist, tasty, and not at all like what you’d find in restaurants, so you can’t beat that when coupled with the price! I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. Though I would have preferred to serve mine with a candle… oh well, there’s always this evening’s happenings!

My Birthday French Toast – (serves 2; total cost per serving: $1.33)

4 slices thick cut bread
3 large eggs + 1 egg white
2 T nonfat milk
1/4 t cinnamon
1/2 t vanilla extract
Cooking spray

1 medium apple
1/4 c golden raisins (Thompson seedless are fine if you can’t find the golden ones)
1/3 c sugar
1 heaping T cinnamon
Few drops of lemon juice
2 T butter

Combine the cinnamon & sugar for the cinnamon apples and mix until thoroughly combined. Chop the apple into ½” cubes and place in a bowl along with the raisins and the lemon juice (this protects the apple against discoloration). Add the cinnamon sugar mixture and toss everything together well. Melt the butter in a small pan and add the apple mixture (including all the cinnamon sugar!). Sautee lightly until the apples soften slightly and the raisins begin to plump. The fruit will create its own syrup. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, egg white, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon, and whisk together vigorously. Heat a medium skillet sprayed with cooking spray over medium high heat. While skillet is heating, dip one slice of bread in the egg mixture, making sure both sides are completely coated and that the bread slightly absorbs the egg. Place the bread in the skillet and heat until the bottom begins to turn a golden brown and the edges begin to dry a bit, about 2-3 minutes, depending on the thickness of your bread. Flip onto the other side and cook in the same manner for about another couple of minutes. Remove from heat and place on a covered plate and cook the rest of the French toast.

Place a couple slices onto a plate, spoon a generous amount of the apples & raisins along with plenty of fruity syrup, and enjoy!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The $25 Shopping Cart, Version 5.0

Remember how excited I was to do the Whole Foods edition of The $25 Shopping Cart? For some reason I was confident and totally jazzed to prove that I could tame the expensive Whole Foods beast, and I was very pleased when I actually did it. But as excited as I was to do that one, I was equally nervous to do this edition, featuring none other than the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. Perhaps it's because I still have issues with this store.

Now, I talk about going to the Co-op all the time, partly because I love stores that are not intimidating with their giant aisles of cartoon-packaged processed foods, and partly because it's a mere 6 blocks from where I live. Proximity of certain stores is a huge factor for those of us who are vehicularly challenged. Some folks joke that I live at the Co-op almost as much as I do at Trader Joe's (and lately it's been more so because it's just been too hectic around here for me to head to my beloved TJ's). But I have to admit that it kinda scares me to shop there sometimes. Though I haven't lived in Davis for about 5 years now, I still feel more comfortable at that Co-op than the one here in Sacramento, and I think it's because of the generally laid-back attitude; I find the workers and clientele at the Sacramento one to be a bit on the pretentious side, actually, and that sometimes deters me from going. It scares me to shop there because of the very expensive organic produce that's being sold there, when I know I can get equally good, organic produce at the farmers market for a lot less. And it scares me to shop there because I just don't think it's right to pay $12.99 for a jar of almond butter when I know I can get the same quality & goodness from my $5.99 jar at Trader Joe's.

However, not everything at the Sacramento Co-op is scary. I have definitely come to appreciate it a lot more over the years, now that I've gotten around the snotty floor staff (the cashiers are great, though) and the Don't Even Go There aisles. Their bulk section is incredible, and I'd put it up against the Whole Foods bulk section any day, not only because of their selection but their prices, too. I find the best quality and most affordable tofu at the Co-op (though the Davis one DOES beat it because of its bulk tofu that costs next to nothing), and I've mentioned many times how amazing their deli is. But my new favorite part has to be my recent discovery of the reduced-price produce area.

I don't know if I had just missed it before, since I usually skip their produce section because of the prices, even if everything looks lovely. Carefully tucked away out of most people's view in a stand-alone refrigerated case, under the dates and organic herb mixes lies a pile of produce that almost looks like it's been forgotten. Upon closer inspection, one finds the exact opposite: this produce has been carefully selected to be individually packaged and sold at a reduced price because it is no longer perfect for the shelves. You know the type: the apple with one small bruise, the zucchini that may have been mishandled a few times, etc. It's perfectly good produce and should definitely be eaten as opposed to wasted, it just doesn't look as pretty for the shelves. I think of it as the Co-op's own response to the freegan movement and I am a big fan of this. Too many folks shy away from the not-so-perfect tomato or the slightly wilted lettuce heads of the world because they are not aesthetically pleasing enough. Sadly, a huge amount of food is put to waste because of this superficial attitude towards food, and before I launch into a social tirade about this issue, I will just state that I think more stores should offer this type of deal so that more folks can enjoy decent food.

Anyway, since I got up so early for a Sunday and felt I was still decently stocked from my last trip the farmers market, I thought it would be a good day to attempt the $25 Shopping Cart at the Co-op. Armed with the strategy to stock up on some bulk items and hit the reduced produce area, I figured I might be able to score a few good deals. Once again I went a couple bucks over (maybe I should change it to the $30 Shopping Cart? Nah... doesn't flow as nicely), but for just $28.54, I think I did a great job and was able to score the following:

~ 1 2.5 lb cantaloupe @ $0.69/lb
~ 1 small bottle of Annie's Naturals Goddess Dressing - $2.49 (on sale)
~ 1 can whole chipotle peppers in adobo - $1.69
~ 1 can Muir Glen Organic Diced Tomatoes w/Onion & Garlic - $1.99
~ 1 can Muir Glen Organic Roasted Tomatoes in Adobo - $2.19 (total impulse purchase but I can't wait to use these!)
~ 1 10 oz. package extra-firm tofu - $1.69
~ 1 package frozen organic mixed mushrooms - $2.39 (on sale)
~ 1 package organic angel hair pasta - $2.99 (on sale)
~ .9 lb small red onions @ $1.29/lb
~ 1 giant bunch of organic Swiss chard - $1.99
~ REDUCED PRODUCE: 1 bunch fresh organic basil - $0.89 (seriously!)
~ REDUCED PRODUCE: 8 organic baby zucchini - $1.39
~ REDUCED PRODUCE: 2 large Braeburn apples - $0.50 (for both, not each!!!)
~ .85 lb organic golden flax seed - $1.82
~ .60 lb organic red quinoa - $2.25
~ .92 lb organic cous cous - $1.74
~ Refill on my 1/2 gallon jug of H20 (yes, I really do drink that much water, and usually a lot more) - $0.20

Not bad at all! I already plan to make a yummy stir fry with my chard, mushrooms, and tofu (might do that tonight, actually), and I know I will find some good uses for the tomatoes & chipotles in adobo. The basil will probably turn into pesto later today, thereby extending its short life rather than wasting it because it's not perfect; and the apples I will probably use for my next brunch. It took careful scanning of prices, but even at the "nut & twig hippie food stores" (thanks to my friend, Rich, for that term, lol), a $25 Shopping Cart is possible!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Recipe: Black Bean, Sweet Potato & Cranberry Salad

So I played with my food again at work today. However, this time it was a little nerve-racking because of the fact that I've only been working at this job for 1 week. Regardless, I opened a can, chopped some stuff, and ended up with enough food for 2-3 lunches. You know how much I love it when that happens! And considering my recent imprudence during lunchtime (due to the fact that Andy Nguyen’s and all of its enlightened food is merely 1/2 a block away), it felt good to make something healthy and delicious for less than my favorite Zen-inspired noodles.

The ingredient combo is a tad unconventional but very tasty nonetheless. As usual with my work meals, I wanted to make use of leftovers, and the 1/3 bag of frozen diced sweet potatoes was just begging to be used. I’d thrown the black beans in my bag by mistake but realized they might actually go well with the sweet potatoes if I played around with them enough. I felt a sweet & tangy dressing would complement both quite well. Texturally, however, I knew I had to throw in something a little chewy or crispy, lest I end up with a mushy meal. So I played and I played and ended up with the following salad that features black beans, sweet potatoes, green onions, and cranberries, all in a simply sweet rice vinaigrette.

My tastebuds were happy and my office mates commended me for my healthy lunch, as they dug in to their sandwiches or Chinese food. I briefly told them what I do outside of my day job and warned them that random food photography might happen. They all smiled at me like I was a little silly, but I take comfort in the fact that I not only saved money for the rest of the week when it comes to lunch, but I did end up with a couple of new readers, too. :)

Black Bean, Sweet Potato & Cranberry Salad (Makes 3 servings; Total cost per serving: ~ $1.25)

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
½ c diced sweet potatoes (should be about ½” in size)
4 green onions (tops & greens), chopped
¼ c dried cranberries
2 T rice vinegar
Juice of one lemon
1 1/2 T agave nectar (honey will work, too)
¼ t ground black pepper
Dash of salt

Prepare the dressing by combining the rice vinegar, lemon juice, agave nectar, pepper, and salt in a small bowl and whisking together well. In a larger bowl or container, combine the black beans, diced sweet potatoes, green onions, and cranberries and toss together gently. Add the dressing and mix together well. Serve with greens or by itself, add some chopped nuts (if you have ‘em) for extra crunch, and enjoy!

Recipe: Herbed Shrimp & Red Potatoes

Once again I’m obsessed with a certain food, and this time around my victim is the red-skinned potato. My last couple of treks to my favorite farmers market has resulted in some great deals on the baby red potatoes ($0.75/lb!) so this has probably contributed to my current obsession. Though I’ve never met a potato I didn’t like, I’m rather partial to the red potato because of its smooth texture and the distinct flavor of its skin. While some of its other potato cousins can only handle being baked or mashed, this is a rather versatile root, lending itself well to salads, soups, sides, and a slew of other recipes. As is usually the case whenever I’m into a particular food, I will probably end up posting a few more recipes featuring this lovely little root, so bear with me.

In regards to this recipe, I threw it together over the weekend when I was feeling a bit tired and not all that creative in the kitchen. I figured a quick stir-fry or scramble would be nice to have, but I really, really wanted my little red potatoes and poked around to see what I could add to them. I had a few frozen shrimp that were threatening me with potential freezer burn if I didn’t use them soon (odd, since I usually eat shrimp regularly; I guess I’ve been neglecting them lately) and liked the idea of putting them together with a nice blend of herbs for a hearty little dish. I also wanted to take advantage of my latest Tastemaker Program care package, which included a variety of products from Emeril Lagasse, so I thought this was a good way to start making use of some of his signature Essence.

If you don’t have Emeril’s Essence at home, or if they don’t carry it at your local grocery store, do not fret. Though the ratios may be different, it’s very easy to recreate (and fun to play around with its flavoring while doing so). I used dried herbs as opposed to fresh ones for this dish, not only because of the lack of the fresh kind in my fridge, but because the way this is cooked lends itself more to the versatility of dried herbs. The last thing I have to note is that this is one of those fabulous I Can Be A Side Or An Entrée dishes, so don’t feel bound to having it all by itself for dinner! I paired mine with a nice side salad, but this would make a great side or appetizer for a larger meal. And now for the good stuff. :)

Herbed Shrimp & Red Potatoes (serves 2 as an entrée; total cost per serving: ~$1.95)

3/4 lb (about 12-15, depending on size) baby red-skinned potatoes, quartered
15-20 large cooked shrimp
1 small red onion, chopped
1/2 t minced garlic
1/2 T Emeril’s Essence Seasoning
1/2 t dried thyme
1/2 t dried rosemary
1/2 t dried dill
2 T plus 1 T olive oil
Fresh cilantro or parsley for garnish

Rinse and scrub the potatoes well so that there any lingering dirt is removed and cut into quarters (if using larger potatoes, cut into 1” cubes). Place the potatoes in a large bowl, add the Essence and dried herbs and toss together well. Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the garlic and sautee for about 1 minute, or until it just begins to brown. Add the potatoes and cook for about 3 minutes uncovered, stirring well. Cover and cook for another 3-4 minutes, or until they begin to soften. Add the last tablespoon of olive oil (if needed; if you like less oil, don’t add as much), the shrimp and the diced red onion, and cook until the onion barely begins to soften and until the shrimp are heated through (if using fresh shrimp, cook until pink and add the onions afterwards).

When ready to serve, garnish with fresh cilantro or parsley, serve with a nice salad, and enjoy!

Sunday, August 9, 2009 Celebrates Its 1st Birthday!

It's weird to think that it's already been a whole year since I started Poor Girl Eats Well. Truthfully, I never expected it to get this far; I was just having fun writing about food. Though it's still a relative new kid on this block, PGEW has earned some great successes here & there, even at the tender age of 1. Why am I talking about this like it's a baby? Because it is; it's my baby. I have created something that people really respond to and actually thank me for (which is so cool to me!), and it's so much a part of me that sometimes I wonder why I didn't start sooner!

For those of you who are new to Poor Girl Eats Well, here are some highlights of the site's first year:

~ 8/2008: The launch of the little blog that apparently really, really could!
~ 12/2008: PGEW becomes part of the Featured Publisher community, a groovy little honor, a great way to connect with other amazing foodies out there, and the beginning of some cool exposure.
~ 1/2009: Yours truly writes the simple little iReport that started the buzz for PGEW, including some CNN Radio interviews! (Though I never was able to get those sound clips to share with everyone...)
~ 2/2009: Two of PGEW's recipes featured on's article, 10 Meals for $10 or Less, and officially becomes (aww, yeah...)
~ 3/2009: This time your favorite authoress was featured in the 15 Minutes section of the Sacramento News & Review, where I was hailed as the "Rachael Ray of Blogging". Not too shabby.
~ 5/2009: The Sacramento Bee features PGEW in a rather large, 2-page spread in their Food & Wine section. VERY awesome!
~ 6/2009: Despite making a few unofficial restaurant reviews, I was invited to do my very first official review at Hawks Restaurant! (And, might I add, if all restaurants are this good and treat me so well, I could definitely get used to the food critic thing!)
~ 8/2009: The first, officially unofficial PGEW book arrives! And it will be even more thrilling once we all get it in our hot little hands (trust me, I'm dying to see it myself!)

Not a bad ride for the first year! I hope that the next 12 months will bring even bigger and better things, and trust me, I have plans! I've already been approached for some future workshop & speech engagements, a huge honor for me, as it lets me do one of my very favorite things in this world: help others. Sounds hokey, but it's true! I will give more details as the date approaches. Of course, there's also the very biggest plan of all: The official Poor Girl Eats Well book. It's going to be a huge effort, but it will be well worth it. And this one will definitely be available in major bookstores and retail websites, so stay tuned for that.

On a more personal note, today I interviewed for a new job and I actually scored the gig! I'm still making about the same but I actually end up saving money because it's just a few blocks from home. Since I know a lot of you have been following my workplace drama these past few weeks, I thought you might enjoy celebrating this new change with me.

As always, I want to give everyone a giant THANK YOU for your support and word-of-mouth! It's so great to hear stories about people who live on opposite ends of the country tell each other to try this really cool recipe, only to find out they've both been reading PGEW! Small world indeed. Anyway, back to doing what I do best! I have some really fun recipes up my sleeve this month! :)

Recipe: Eggless Breakfast Quesadilla

I'm sure you've all noticed that my horrible cheese addiction is finally under control. I am now able to leave Trader Joe's without 3 different types of cheese (it's just not normal for a single person who lives alone, though it's not like I ate them all at once). However, this doesn't mean that I don't like to indulge in some delicious meltiness every now & then, and today I decided to succumb to said indulgence.

I'd originally wanted to make a giant breakfast burrito for myself, the kind that is so huge it not only qualifies as brunch because of the time of day it would be eaten, but because it's filling enough to count as two meals. Sadly, I haven't had the chance to head to the store for some eggs lately, so that plan was scrapped. Undaunted, I decided to modify my brunch plans and make myself a hearty breakfast quesadilla. I figured it would be also be a good way to bring a new recipe to those of you who have requested some eggless options here & there. Though I prefer having eggs in some form during brunch time, it really isn't necessary, and it's always a nice change to try something other than omelettes or French toast (though I love the two quite a bit!).

Though I used bacon in my quesadillas, feel free to omit the bacon or substitute ham or sausage if you like. I usually make this sort of thing without meat and it's equally delicious, so definitely give that a try. Just note that if you are using bacon or fresh sausage, do NOT use more oil or grease! There is more than enough that is released by these products (which makes this one of the least healthy recipes on PGEW, but it's always good to be bad every now & then), so resist the urge to use oil, butter, or anything like that. This is also a great option for a Breakfast For Dinner night, if you do that in your household. You can serve this with any number of sides & sauces, like Pico de Gallo, guacamole, sour cream, or your just your favorite jarred salsa (I used Herdez's Salsa Casera on mine), and I'm fairly certain this would also taste great with some spinach or other hearty greens. Play around with it! I know I will be doing so in the next few weeks. This one was really good! :)
Eggless Breakfast Quesadilla (serves 4; total cost per serving: ~$2)

4 corn (or flour) tortillas
6-8 strips of lean bacon
8 small red potatoes, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 small red onion, chopped
8-10 white button mushrooms, sliced
Salt & pepper to taste
1 1/2 c cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 c red, yellow & green pepper strips
Avocado & cilantro for garnish
Pico de Gallo or your favorite salsa on the side

In a non-stick skillet, cook the bacon as you normally would (I like mine more meaty than crispy, but feel free to cook it as you like it). When bacon is cooked, remove from skillet and place on a plate lined with a couple of paper towels, in order to absorb the excess fat. If there is too much bacon fat in the skillet (more than 1 T), drain it away until you only have about 1 tablespoon. Add the cubed potatoes and fry them over medium high heat for 4-5 minutes, or until they start to brown on the outside and become slightly tender on the inside. While potatoes are frying, chop the bacon into small pieces. Add the chopped onion to the potatoes. Sautee for about 1 minute, then add the sliced mushrooms and pepper strips, sauteeing for another minute or two. Remove from heat & cover.

In a separate skillet sprayed with a small bit of cooking spray, quickly heat the tortillas on each side. Take each individual tortilla, add about 1/4 of the shredded cheese, and allow to melt for a minute or so (the easiest way to do this is to cover the pan; the steam will help the cheese melt faster). Add a large spoonful of the potato, bacon & veggie mixture to the quesadilla and fold in half. Flip onto the other side and cook for about 1-2 more minutes, or until the cheese is completely melted.

Slide onto a plate and garnish with sliced avocado and fresh cilantro sprigs. Add salsa, guacamole, or whatever your favorite sides may be, and enjoy!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Recipe: Summer Veggie & Farro Salad with Citrus Parmesan Dressing

The past three weeks or so have been an absolute roller coaster ride of happenings and emotions for me. Between the insane work issues, the crazy peeping jerk, the unexpected return of an ex-boyfriend, getting the book ready, and learning that my poor mom was in a bad car accident this evening, my stress level has been beyond high lately. My body's starting to feel it, too, so instead of indulging in a mountain of Ritter Sport chocolate (best chocolate bars on the planet, imo) and gallons of Ben & Jerry's like most normal stressed people would, I have realized that I need to get in a good amount of veggies and other good food in me so I can deal with all of this without getting sick. And since I have the tendency to be sick on or around my birthday, I have extra incentive to fuel my body with good food.

It's not that I've been eating poorly lately; I try to make sure I have something good for me at least twice a day. But I could definitely use a pick-me-up, and I thought the remainder of some summer squash, zucchini, and carrots would be a good way to go. I also found a random bag of farro in my cupboard today and figured I could make a nice summer salad out of this little batch of ingredients. A salad is not complete without its proper dressing, of course, and taking some inspiration from one of my favorite food bloggers EVER, Heidi Swanson of, I played around with a my own version of a citrus parmesan vinaigrette until I was satisfied with the result.

If you're unable to find farro or spelt berries, or if you have any wheat allergies, by all means feel free to make this with brown rice instead. The cooking time for the grains is roughly the same, so there won't be too much of a difference in prep time. If you have your own garden (or generous friends & neighbors like I have), take advantage of the free and superfresh produce in order to further reduce the cost of this already affordable recipe. Other than that, there's not much to note! This is very easy to make, quite tasty, and a great way to get in some extra veggies that you may be missing.

Summer Veggie & Farro Salad with Citrus Parmesan Dressing (serves 6; total cost per serving: $1.25)

2 c cooked farro or spelt berries
1 large carrot
1 c salted water
1 medium zucchini
1 medium summer squash
1 small red onion
Extra freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Citrus Parmesan Dressing

2 T olive oil
Juice of 1 small orange
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/4 t thyme
1/4 t salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Prepare the dressing by combining all ingredients and blending together with a hand blender until smooth. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use for the salad.

Cook the farro according to the package instructions (general rule is 2 1/2 c water per cup of dry farro, 20 minute cooking time). Allow to cool while chopping the zucchini, summer squash, carrot, and onion into 1/2" size pieces. Blanche only the carrot pieces for about 45 seconds in the rapidly boiling salted water. Remove from pot and cool under cold running water. This will ensure that the carrots are slightly tender but still crunchy. There is no need to do this with the zucchini and squash as they are already tender vegetables. In a large bowl, combine the farro and veggies, and toss together. Add the dressing and mix together well. Chill for about an hour, or serve right away with extra grated parmesan cheese and a twist of lemon for garnish. Enjoy!
*Note: If you like a more moist salad, feel free to double the dressing recipe and reserve the 2nd half for drizzling on top (the farro & veggies will absorb the first half in a few hours anyway). Just an extra tip! :) PG

Friday, August 7, 2009

Newsworthy: PGEW featured on!

I know you’re probably wondering, “When in the world is the next recipe coming?” Never fear, I will definitely be posting a few this weekend, so hang in there. In the meantime, I just thought I would share this fun little tidbit. My most recent dessert shot recipe, the Meyer Lemon Cheesecake with Candied Kumquats, has been chosen as one of the featured recipes on! I was contacted with the good news a few days ago by April, a representative from the site, and the recipe went live today. I even got this cute little badge out of the whole deal, so I’ve started a new section on the sidebar for little awards and other fun stuff that PGEW gets as it continues to grow.

My Cheesecake Recipe is featured on

All of you cheesecake lovers out there should definitely check out this site because it’s absolutely scrumptious! Lots of great cheesecake classics and alternatives on there, and I’m very proud to be a part of it.

Lastly, thanks to all of you who have already pre-ordered your copies of Poor Girl Eats Well – To Go! I truly appreciate it and hope they get printed properly sooner rather than later so I can send them to you ASAP. Stay tuned for the next recipe! It’s a-comin’, I promise! :)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Newsworthy: Poor Girl Eats Well - To Go!

*drum roll, please*

I'm very excited to announce that the first PGEW book, Poor Girl Eats Well - To Go, is officially available for pre-orders today! Though I'd hoped to have my copies ready to go today, there were some issues w/the printing & binding, so they won't be available to send out (or even show you, meh) until next Monday. However, I told you this would be ready to order today, and I did not want to leave all of you hanging!

I am rather proud of my first little self-publication. As I mentioned in the last post, it's nothing fancy at all - no glossy pages and swanky hardcovers here (I mean, let's face it: I'm poor and almost unemployed!). But it's still quality, with all the fun writing and great pictures you've come to expect from yours truly. I put a lot of work into this, and even though many of the recipes have already been featured on the site, working on the layout, the cover design, etc., were definite challenges, especially considering I have never done this before. I've learned a lot, though, and now know what to expect when I start work on the "real" Poor Girl Eats Well book, which I hope to have out sometime next year.

All that aside, let me give you some of the details of the book. It features 13 recipes, ten of which you fine folks helped me choose, three of which are brand spankin' new and not on this site at all (though if you like 'em enough, I may just have to post them), as well as three tips - some old, some new - to bring both you, my loyal readers, and some new folks the full PGEW experience. I realized that there are a lot of folks who may not live online like I do, but who could still benefit from some of these affordable meals and little pearls of wisdom that I like to post on my little blog, and even if I have great plans for the big book, I thought this would be a good time to spread the PGEW word to the masses. I've made it on the small side so it's easy to access in the kitchen (laptops and cutting boards just don't mix) and handy enough to take to work, in case you're ever faced with a what-do-I-have-for-lunch-today dilemma, hence the title, PGEW To Go.

Favorites like the Shrimp with Warm Pepper-Pineapple Relish and My Favorite Grilled Steak Sandwiches are included in the recipe section, as well as some other tried & true desserts, salads, sandwiches, and breakfast items. The tips section features the very popular Buy What You Need, But Need What You Buy and Find Your Bare Bones Staples (and of course, the new one that you'll just have to read about in the book!). I tried to find the best of my old & new tips so that everyone can be reminded of some of the philosophies behind eating as well as possible even if one is as broke as can be. New readers of PGEW probably don't delve too deeply into the older postings, so this is my way of bringing those old tips to a fresh audience.

To pre-order, simply click on the Buy Now button at the top left of the page, and you will be taken to a secure Google Checkout page to complete your order. Nervous about doing the online ordering thing? No worries! Send me an email with your shipping information and how many books you would like, I will then send you an email invoice, and you can pay by money order or check. Sacramento locals, you can skip the shipping fees (and meet your favorite local food blogger, lol) and pick up your books if you like.

And remember, at just $10 each (that's less than $1/recipe!), you're not just getting some great ideas and advice, you're also getting the perfect stocking stuffer or white elephant gift for those holiday parties that will creep up on us any second now!

Thanks again for ALL of your positive comments and awesome support. You are the greatest fans out there and though I doubt I would stop this anytime soon, you give me the motivation to keep bringing you delicious, most-of-the-time healthy, and all-of-the-time affordable meal ideas. This is just the beginning for me and my little endeavor as an author, and I couldn't have done it without you! *end sappy moment* ;)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

What's In Store for August (you'll want to read 'til the end of this one!)

July was a rather slow month here at PGEW, and I do apologize for that. I had two awesome Dad recipes that I really wanted to post, but because of the unforseen work drama, the return of the Peeping Tom, and working hard on my little surprise for you all, I wasn't able to get everything done in time. No worries, though! You know I always deliver, and these two great Dad recipes, in addition to a ton of other new things I've been experimenting with lately, will be on the site this month. August is also my birth month, so I'll probably become increasingly irritating with birthday talk as the 25th approaches. I take my birthday very seriously! To me, birthdays ought to be one's own little national holiday to be celebrated with energetic style, and with all the drama & issues that have arisen lately, I may just celebrate the entire month of August because I need some good times in my life!

Anyway, here are some picture highlights from July and things to come this month on Poor Girl Eats Well...

~ Last month after the Fourth of July holiday, Sacramento locals got to partake of the very amazing Sacramento Wine & Dine Week. 50+ restaurants and several regional wineries got together to bring diners some amazing menus - complete with wine pairings - for just $30-$50 per person! It was a great way to try out some new-to-me restaurants, as well as some fantastic wine. I hit up 58° & Holding Co. and Hot Italian, and I may still post the reviews this month (they're actually worth it). Here are some of the mouthwatering pictures I took of Mom's and my meals at 58° & Holding Co.:

~ Because of my tiny windfall last month, I was finally able to get new glasses & prescription sunglasses, too! I know this isn't food-related, but it really helps when your favorite authoress can see without having to worry about her old, superglued glasses falling apart on her whilst cooking! (I am picking up the sunglasses today, so those won't be up 'til later.)

~ The new company decided to keep me on, but the offer letter I received is written in such a way that I might as well consider myself unemployed. I'm hoping when they do start laying off those of us who worked for the old company, it will be next month or something in the not-so-near future, so I can save a little bit before I am stuck competing with everyone else for the same jobs. I'm fortunate that I have a little extra time, but it sure would have been nice to have a better guarantee of employment! The panic continues...

~ I have finally gotten over my fear of making risotto and cooking with eggplant, so stay tuned for some yummy recipes featuring those two delicious items! I know risotto isn't that hard to make using the traditional ingredients, but when you're me and you're trying to mess with different styles of risotto, you never know what can happen. And the eggplant recipe, mon dieu! I even impressed myself with that one. Maybe I should take all your advice and look into the whole chef thing as a career... I could see myself enjoying this. I'm a creative person by nature, and applying that to food is just as rewarding to me as drawing, writing, singing, composing, etc.

~ So the older I get, the more I turn into my mother, and the following announcement is proof that the little mug she gave me once ("Mirror, mirror, on the wall, I am my mother after all") couldn't be more truthful! I honestly tried to hold out until August 5th to make the grand announcement, but the suspense - and all your comments about how I should do this - is killing me! (My mother's always been awful at keeping "good news" secrets, and apparently so am I.) Ergo, I would like to formally announce that yes, I will be self-publishing a slim volume of PGEW fodder for all of you! Thought a "real" Poor Girl Eats Well book is in the works, I wanted to give you all something tangible as a big THANK YOU for all of your support. It will feature some of your favorite recipes from the site, some new ones that aren't on the site (woo hoo!), as well as a couple of tips, and it will be very, very affordable! It should be available to order on August 5th, and I will have all the details for you then!

That's all for now! Hope you have a fabulous August!


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