Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Just a few days ago I would have called anyone who tried to roast anything – beets or otherwise - utterly crazy, since most of California was roasting just fine on its own and needed no help from local ovens. Alas, autumn has finally made its presence known with a little crisp nip in the morning air and fiery colored leaves on all the trees, so it seemed like a good time to reacquaint myself with my oven. A few fresh beets still lingered in my fridge from my final farmers market foray for awhile (choir season’s back in full swing, so farmers markets are few & far between *sob*) and I planned on roasting them for some random recipe. As I was trying to come up with said random recipe, another idea popped into my head and I decided to combine my idea with one that I saw on epicurious.com a couple years ago.
My original idea was to somehow incorporate beets into a nice warm farro salad, but as the idea of sweet roasted beets combined with smoky caramelized onions and chewy farro began to take shape, I was reminded of a similar farro-less beet recipe that I’m almost a fan of. Because I find the flavors of that particular dish completely unbalanced when made as written, I haven’t really gone back to it. However, the idea of the whole thing seems genius and I’ve wanted to play with it for some time now, just to get it to where I think it should be flavor wise. With a little tweaking here & there, I knew I could turn into a deliciously healthy meal that will not completely assault your palate with salt.
You can certainly use canned beets if you don’t find any worthy fresh ones to roast. The dish will still taste great and you’d only need about 1 can tops to yield the same amount as the roasted ones do. It might be fun to try sautéing the beet greens and adding them to the whole thing, something I would have done if they had been worthy of saving. Let me know how it turns out if you try it that way!
Roasted Beet & Farro Salad with Feta and Caramelized Onions (serves 3-4; total cost per serving: ~ $1.70)
3 medium beets
2 c cooked farro
1/2 large yellow onion, sliced into thin strips
1/2 c fresh spinach, cut into ribbons
3 T olive oil
1/2 t salt
3/4 t sugar
2 oz. crumbled feta
3 T rice vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
1 T honey
1/2 t salt
2 T olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400. Rinse the beets very well and pat dry. Wrap each beet individually in foil. When oven is heated, place the beets inside and roast for about 25 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the dressing by combining all ingredients and whisking together well. Divide into two separate bowls and set aside.
While the beets are roasting, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onions, salt and sugar, and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until the onions become a deep caramel brown. When the beets are done, carefully remove the foil wrappings and place in a bowl with cold water. When they are cool enough to handle, rub off the peel with your fingers. Cut any stems or root ends that may remain, then chop into 1” cubes.
Pour one of the bowls of dressing onto the beets and toss together. Place the farro in a large bowl and pour the rest of the dressing on top, along with the caramelized onions (you may want to reserve a bit of the onions for garnish). Add the spinach and toss together well. Place a bit of the farro & spinach mixture on a plate, top with plenty of beets, crumble a generous amount of feta on top, and enjoy!
Saturday, September 26, 2009
When I looked to see what I had left in my fridge, I noticed there was still a bit of hummus left in the last little tub I’d bought, so I was all excited to make an H.S.A.T. Then I realized I didn’t have spinach or avocado, nor could I afford to buy them, so I improvised and made a hummus, lettuce, and tomato sandwich instead (and H.L.T.). Not quite the same as the best sandwich ever, but still very yummy. I had it with about half of my yogurt cup, so lunch came to around $1. For dinner, I made things really easy for myself and just had the rest of Day 4’s dinner, the Veggie & Seitan Stir-fry with Quinoa. I went all out and had some pomegranate-berry yogurt with mixed berries for dessert, so the evening meal came out to $1.65. Grand total for the day: $3.50. Way to go, me! I actually made it through the whole week. :)
3/4 c cooked quinoa
1/3 – 1/2 c frozen mixed berries
1 T sugar
Couple drops of lemon juice
1/2 T butter
1/8 c almonds, roughly chopped
Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the berries, sugar and lemon juice, and cook over medium low heat, until the berries begin to soften and a light syrup is created with their juices & the sugar. Add the quinoa and cook until heated through. Serve in a large bowl with plenty of chopped almonds on top, and enjoy!
Friday, September 25, 2009
I’m not sure why, but the 3rd day of the Hunger Challenge was tough for me. Everything started out just fine: I decided to cook a big batch of quinoa in the morning so that I could make different meals with it throughout the day. I’m sure some of you have noticed that I’ve done that with different ingredients this week, like the ham from Day 2, etc. This can be a very good way to help keep costs down while experimenting with different foods. Sure, having the same type of food all day long may seem boring at first, but it forces you to get creative no matter what.
I happen to love quinoa and everything about it, so it was easy for me to use this as my base ingredient. A lot of people have asked me why I use such an “expensive” ingredient if I’m so broke. That’s because quinoa is not that expensive if you buy it in bulk and consider how much it yields. I used one cup of dry quinoa and was able to get about 2 ½ cups of cooked product. Because cooked quinoa also fluffs up well like cooked cous cous, you end up with quite a bit of it when all is said and done. From that one cup – which costs anywhere from $1.25 to $2, depending on where you buy it – I was able to make 3 different meals and still have leftovers to make more dishes later on. Even at the $2/cup price, if you’re able to make 3 meals that can make at least 2 servings, you can see how cost effective eating quinoa can be. The biggest bonus (aside from how versatile it is) is the fact that it’s nothing but easy calories & nutrition! That’s a way better deal than any Twinkie, Pop Tart, or other scary, overly processed junk food you can find! When you think about it in terms of something like the Hunger Challenge, you can see how eating quinoa is actually a very good option for those who can’t afford to spend too much on food.
For breakfast, I returned to my first recipe post of 2009, Warm Breakfast Quinoa with Cinnamon Apples & Almonds. Though it’s quite sweet, it still packs some good nutrition from the apples, almonds & quinoa. At lunch, I combined leftover Chipotle Corn Chili from Day 1 and added it to about ½ cup of quinoa (which really helped calm the heat of the chili!). And for dinner, I got all sorts of creative with the tiny amounts of frozen veggies left in my freezer and made a nice little seitan stir-fry that was also served with quinoa. Each meal was $1.25 or under, making my daily total just $3.55!
HOWEVER………….. Poor Girl’s slight case of hypoglycemia started to kick in around 3pm and by the time I got home from work I was cranky and a little woozy. So I succumbed to temptation and ate an entire pack of that super thinly sliced turkey. It has about 10 paper thin slices in a pack and is only 90 calories for the whole thing, so it’s not entirely evil. But it cost $0.79! :( It made me go over my budget by 34 cents. *sigh*
This really made me wonder how those who have similar medical issues but not enough money get through the day. When I worked at crisis houses for people with mental illness way back in the day, I had several clients who had physical health issues like hypoglycemia, diabetes, etc., which were sometimes hereditary but a lot of times due to their psychotropic medications. Making sure they ate decently was easy for staff members to do because the crisis house provided their food, but when they went back to living on their own, their tiny SSI stipend (and lack of knowledge on the matter) made it very difficult for them to eat right.
Once again, even if Poor Girl is constantly struggling, this hunger challenge really puts one into hypermode, magnifying everything that real hunger can bring about. I know I will be far more conscious of these matters from now on!
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Though the spice issue can be a problem for some, especially if you’re not able to afford or find some of the more exotic spices out there, one good thing about food from this area of the world is that it’s based in what I call “bare bones staples” (things like grains & legumes). This makes it easy to make some pretty basic recipes at the very least, and you can find most of these items in most grocery stores. If you are lucky enough to have a decently stocked spice pantry, you can play around with aromas and flavors as much as you like. That’s exactly what I did with this simple dish. What if you find spices to be too expensive? Check out my tip on how to Find Your Spice Staples for some cost-effective tips on how to stock your spice pantry. Even with a very, very limited income, (which I, myself, am definitely feeling right now), you can still have access and afford some of the things that can make even the most ordinary food really tasty.
Curried Garbanzo Beans – Makes 3 servings; Total Cost for Recipe: $1.22; Cost per serving (with rice): $0.51
1 can of garbanzo beans, drained, with liquid reserved
½ medium tomato, diced
½ yellow onion, diced
1/8 t curry powder
1/8 t ground nutmeg
1/8 t sea salt
1/8 t granulated garlic
1/8 t cayenne pepper
2 T cooking oil
Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until they begin to soften and become translucent. Add the beans and about half the reserved liquid, as well as the diced tomatoes and all the spices. Cook over medium low heat for about 10 minutes or so, allowing the garbanzos to soften and absorb the flavor. The sauce should thicken on its own during the cooking process. Serve over white rice, add some fresh cilantro if you like, and enjoy!
Before I go on, I wanted to point out that a lot of folks have asked me why the rules for this challenge are so strict, especially in light of the fact that work function food can sometimes be a means of survival for those who cannot afford to buy too much food. However, I realized that in the scope of this challenge, it would be too easy to “cheat” so to speak. The whole point is to get an idea of not just how difficult it can be to spend $4 or less on food everyday, but what it’s like to feel that. Hunger isn’t a very comfortable feeling and most of us are not aware of what that’s like. Getting free food from work or friends will definitely help you fill up, and that defeats the whole purpose of the challenge. At least that’s how I’ve interpreted it.
Anyway, I started out the day with a small breakfast burrito made with a couple of eggs and half a package of the thinly sliced ham that I got at Safeway the other day. Wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla and accompanied by a simple tomato & green onion mixture, this was really quite satisfying without being overly filling (nothing worse than food coma at the beginning of the work day!). For lunch I had half of my leftover pasta & tuna salad from the day before, along with a simple ham, lettuce & tomato sandwich. People kept on offering me leftovers of the very lovely cupcake “cake” they had made for dessert earlier, but I was very good about resisting. It’s funny, though; it really puts everyone’s eating habits into perspective when you’re doing something like this. Sometimes we just don’t realize how much extra food we consume throughout the day just because it’s there, even if we’re not really hungry; food that others could probably use. Food for thought, so to speak.
Dinner was fun because it made my kitchen smell incredibly delicious and I was able to make the entire recipe for about $1.50. Granted, I had the help of some clearance priced ingredients, but when you’re living on a tight budget the clearance section can be your very best friend. I made a fabulous little dish of curried garbanzos which I served over some leftover rice from the night before, which helped to cut the cost of the meal. Though I wanted to have a small salad with it, I found this was more than enough on its own and decided to save my greens for another day.
All in all, this hasn’t been too much of a hassle for me. Perhaps it’s because I’m pretty much used to doing everything I can to stretch my food budget as much as possible. Still, when I did some very generalized calculations of my food intake in dollars, even at PGEW level I can eat about $6-7 worth of food per day (especially if I’m getting all exotic). Those couple extra dollars really add up, especially when you don’t have them to spend on food. The whole thing has made me even more conscious of my kitchen habits, so even though I’m really good at eating on a tiny budget, I could always do better. Don’t worry, though! I won’t stop posting the good stuff! I’ll just eat more frugally on my “off” days. :)
And now, for a super easy breakfast recipe (Dinner to follow in a separate post. Lunch was just a sandwich, so you should be able to figure that one out on your own, lol):
Ham & Egg Burrito – Cost for 1 burrito: $0.65
1 whole wheat tortilla
4 slices deli-thin ham (like Buddig, etc. Bigger brand names will cost WAY more!)
1 T chopped tomatoes
1 green onion, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
Slowly heat the tortilla in a large skillet. Chop the ham into bite sized pieces. Scramble the eggs in a separate pan and add the ham towards the end of the scrambling process. Spoon the egg & ham mixture into the tortilla, add the chopped tomatoes & onions, and season with salt & pepper. Wrap into a burrito and enjoy!
Monday, September 21, 2009
Oddly enough, this challenge coincides with the return of my uber tight living, now that my rent is due again. For those of you who are new or don’t remember, I had prepaid a couple months after I received my tiny little windfall this summer, so I was able to have a little breathing room and catch up on other bills for a change. Now, the evilness of rent looms before me once more, and because I am a temp at this new job – meaning no real benefits or cushy things like holiday pay – paying for everything will just be that much harder from now on. I knew I’d be facing this, so the Hunger Challenge will actually be helpful to me, as it will keep me more mindful of using my bare bones recipes more often.
I only bought a few things for the week, partly because I still had a decent amount of food from when I'd last gone shopping, and partly because I currently have $18 to my name and have to feed the cats, too. I have been very good about keeping the grain portion my Bare Bones Staples well stocked, so I had a good starting base. As usual, I surveyed what I had before I went shopping so that I wouldn’t waste my precious few dollars on any duplicates, and because of transportation & time issues I had to head to my local Safeway for my shopping trip. Of course, I would have preferred to go to Trader Joe’s or even Food Source, but I’m not certain that TJ’s accepts EBT cards (California’s food stamp card) and Food Source was just a bit too far & expensive to get to, since the transit fare hike started this month.
Still, if you really pay attention to prices and keep an open mind, you can do wonders with very little. I spent $10.37, $4.50 of which was actually cat food (my babies need to eat too), and I was able to get:
~ 2 cans sweet golden corn (on clearance at 50% off)
~ 1 can garbanzo beans (also 50% off)
~ 1 yellow onion
~ 2 packets of thin sliced deli meat
~ 2 tomatoes
~ 2 containers of yogurt
With the grains and few veggies I still had at home, I know I’d be just fine this week.
The trick was just finding the right combination and being mindful of serving sizes (something that actually ends up helping you out in the long run to ensure healthy portion control). As you can tell by the picture of my lunch today (Pasta & Tuna Salad), I packed it in my ridiculously adorable bento box, which holds about 1 ½ cups of food. That’s actually a pretty decent size amount that definitely satisfies you, and I was able to make that one dish last a little longer by not eating as much. Gotta love that. So far, I saw this as a great exercise even for someone as frugal about things as I am. But that’s not the point of the exercise, and I became very aware of that today. Even though I cut costs and calories, which is always awesome, today I also realized that those who are receiving the very limited assistance that’s available to them need to do this all the time just to make sure they don’t go hungry. I go through moments when I have to do that myself, so I know what this is like. But I never go through it for more than 2 or 3 days. Five days will definitely be a challenge.
Day 1 hasn’t been bad at all, except for the not-being-able-to-have-coffee thing. Though I don’t do it for the caffeine and only have what’s at work (which is quite good for an office), I love my morning coffee routine at work. But it’s against guidelines (you’re not allowed to take food people offer you either). Other than that, I think I fared okay. Here was today’s menu:
Breakfast: Scrambled Egg & Tomato Sandwich
Lunch: Pasta & Tuna Salad
Dinner: Chipotle Corn Chili and Rice
Dessert: Pomegranate Raspberry Yogurt
I ate about $3.30 worth of food when all was said and done today, and that was with a tiny serving of dinner seconds (seriously, that chili turned out really good!). I did feel hungry throughout the day, as I’m used to grazing during work hours (grazing… I just made myself sound like cattle, lol); having to stick to my 3 squares again was a little rough. But I made it through with my incessant water drinking, which I normally do anyway but will definitely be stepping up this week to help feel satisfied.
I do have to admit that it was tempting to wait until payday to get the kitty food and get a few more items to bring a couple more elaborate recipe ideas to life now. But I remembered the rent, rent, evil rent, and did the prudent thing, knowing I could do just fine without the fun stuff. It’s kinda fun to be a little less impulsive every now and then and really appreciate the little one does have.
DAY 1 BREAKFAST & LUNCH RECIPES
Scrambled Egg & Tomato Sandwich - Cost per sandwich: $0.82
Friday, September 18, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
It amuses me that this is something I probably would have thrown together at work. As I was making this I giggled to myself that this was nothing but another “ingredient assembly,” that little mess of ingredients that makes me feel all guilt-ridden for not having done anything to them but combine them.
Granted, I've used canned or frozen corn for this dish and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. But if have access to fresh corn, or if you’ve found a fabulous deal on the fresh stuff, use that instead! The flavor will be much more distinct. It’s also not imperative to use grape tomatoes; any ripe tomato will do for this recipe. There’s not much to the dressing either; I have been known to make something like this with only a couple dashes of my favorite Italian dressing, so if you can’t make the dressing in the recipe just use what you have! Cilantro-phobes, just omit the cilantro and you, too, will be as happy eating this as everyone else. :)
1 1/2 c sweet yellow corn (fresh is preferable, but frozen or canned will do in a pinch)
5 large green onions, chopped (greens & tops)
Small handful of cilantro, chopped (optional)
3 T olive oil
3 T rice vinegar
1/8 t sea salt
1/8 t granulated garlic
Plenty of fresh ground pepper
Prepare the dressing by combining the last 5 ingredients and whisk together well. Combine the sliced tomatoes, corn, chopped green onions and chopped cilantro in a large bowl and toss together. Add the dressing and mix well. Refrigerate up to an hour, serve by itself or as a nice side, and enjoy!
Monday, September 14, 2009
The beauty of pizza in general is its versatility. From regular red sauce to pesto, creamy garlic sauce to barbeque sauce; from pineapple to Italian sausage to artichoke hearts – you name it and it will probably top a pizza. This opens a world of possibilities to the creative and the picky, and I’m sure you all have your own favorite combination of flavors for your pie. Using hummus as the “sauce” or base for a non-traditional pizza is always a fun alternative since it allows you to kill two birds with one stone: flavor & nutrition. Often times it’s hard to pack a bit of protein into a pizza without loading up on the fat. Hummus will definitely give you some protein while offering a delicious base to build on. You can add almost any veggie topping you can imagine and it will taste great (good way to use up leftover bits of vegetables instead of letting them go to waste!). Since I cannot get enough eggplant these days, I decided to combine that with some mushrooms, caramelized onions and feta for a nice, light dinner.
It occurred to me while making this that one could make a few of these in advance, wrap them individually in plastic wrap, and pop one in the oven whenever you’re in a hurry for a quick, healthy meal. I’d be interested to see if this works well in the freezer too, since I’ve never frozen hummus before (if you have and gotten good results, let me know!). However, I do advise doing this for other more traditional homemade pizzas if you have some time. It’s a great way to get the family involved in the dinner-making process; it solves the problem of meal planning for at least one or two meals of the week; and is a far healthier & more cost effective alternative to delivery or frozen pizzas. Made ahead of time or on the spot, I’m sure you hummus & veggie lovers will like this one as much as I do.
Roasted Eggplant & Hummus Pizza (serves 1-2; total cost per pizza: $2.05)
1 large whole wheat tortilla
1-2 T hummus
1-2 thin slices of eggplant, cut into wedges
3-4 white mushrooms, sliced
2 T caramelized onions*
2 T crumbled feta
Mixed dried herbs (optional)
Preheat oven to 425. Spread the hummus onto the tortilla in a thin, even layer. Arrange the eggplant and mushrooms on top, followed by the crumbled feta. Place on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until the eggplant has lightly roasted and the feta has begun to melt. Remove from oven, top with caramelized onions and extra feta, sprinkle with rosemary, basil, or your favorite dried herb mix, serve with a nice salad, and enjoy!
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Now, those of you who are new to PGEW may be wondering how in the world asiago cheese can be part of a Poor Girl’s menu. It isn’t exactly a cheap cheese, though it is moderately priced compared to some other varieties. But by grating & shredding it as opposed to using pre-cut slices, I am not only able to increase the amount of usable cheese available to me, I also give myself a chance to use the cheese in a variety of different ways. One 4-5 oz. wedge will yield over 2 cups of shredded product, giving me ample room to use it or store it as I see fit. From this single wedge of cheese, I was able to make a couple of cups of a delicious alfredo sauce, a very cheesy omelette, and I still had enough left over to store for another day when asiago could be used. As I mention in my Do It Yourself tip, taking that extra time in the kitchen can end up saving you a bundle in the long run.
Flavor wise, this omelette is another fun one for either brunch or Breakfast for Dinner. The combination of lightly sautéed mushrooms and sharp asiago are complemented perfectly by the caramelized onions that are added right at the end. If you have a few leftovers of the caramelized onions, use them as a fun topping for another dish. Whether you have this or with some roasted potatoes or fresh tomato slices, either way you’ve got yourself quite the little omelette for less than half of what you’d pay for something similar at a restaurant.
Mushroom & Asiago Omelette (serves 1; total cost per omelette: ~ $3)
3 large eggs
¼ c sliced white mushrooms
¼ c grated asiago cheese
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced into 1 ½” long strips
3 T olive oil
½ t sugar
Pinch of salt
1 T butter, divided
Salt & pepper to taste
In a medium skillet heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, sugar, and salt, and cook for about 15 minutes or until the onions turn a deep brown (but do not burn), stirring occasionally.
In the meantime, lightly sauté the mushrooms in 1/2 tablespoon of butter with a little salt & pepper. Set aside. Beat the eggs in a small bowl and season lightly with salt & pepper. Heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of butter in a skillet and add the eggs when butter has melted. Add the beaten eggs and cook over medium high heat until most of the egg has dried around the edges & middle (for flawless omelettes, follow this procedure). Add the grated cheese and cover for about 45 seconds, so that the cheese will melt. Add the sliced mushrooms and a generous amount of caramelized onions and fold over the other half of the omelette. Serve with tomatoes, hash browns, or the side of your choice, and enjoy!
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
This dish is inspired by the Butter Poached Shrimp with Yellow Peppers & Housemade Cavatelli that I had the pleasure of enjoying at Hawks Restaurant in Granite Bay a couple of months ago. I was so taken by the sweet yellow pepper sauce made by Chef Michael that I just knew I had to recreate it at home. Though I cannot remember all of the steps to the lengthy sauce process described to me by Chef Michael, I feel I did a decent job at bringing back that smooth, slightly sweet & spicy flavor that I fell in love with. For the Poor Girl version, I used angel hair pasta versus cavatelli (I can never find it in stores and have not gotten around to teaching myself how to make it; yes, I am lazy) and added red & yellow pepper strips for more color and texture. I also used regular cooked shrimp as that was all I had at my disposal and wanted to cut back on the amount of fat in the dish, but if and when I have a chance to buy some fresh shrimp again, I will definitely try the butter poached approach (hey, that rhymed…).
I was very pleased to know that this can easily be made at home for two people for about the same price as that of my light rail day pass. Though good quality sweet yellow peppers can sometimes cost up to $2 apiece (don't worry, you can find them way cheaper most of the time!), the recipe will yield close to 2 cups of sauce and the rest of the ingredients are fairly inexpensive. It requires a bit more work than some of my other dishes do, and offers a lovely alternative to standard pasta dishes and sauces. Not that I don’t enjoy a good marinara, alfredo, or puttanesca sauce; it’s just nice to have some non-traditional options available. This would definitely be a great dish to serve at a nice dinner party, as the colors are gorgeous and the flavors so different. Vegetarians, simply omit the shrimp and add some zucchini (that’s how I had originally planned to make it) and you will have an amazing dinner!
Just goes to show that just because you can’t get to the restaurant doesn’t mean you can’t bring the restaurant to you. :)
Shrimp & Angel Hair Pasta with Sweet Yellow Pepper Sauce (serves 2; total cost per serving: $3.50)
2 large yellow bell peppers
½ small yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ c chicken or vegetable broth
3 T + 1 T olive oil
½ t cayenne pepper
1 cup angel hair pasta
20 large cooked shrimp
1 small red bell pepper, cut into strips
Salt & pepper to taste
Parsley for garnish (optional)
Rinse the yellow bell peppers well and slice in half. Remove the stem & seeds and rinse once more to make sure no seeds remain. Chop the pepper into 1” pieces. In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic & onions and cook until the onion begins to soften. Add the chopped yellow peppers and sauté until they become very soft, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for a couple of minutes. Place the cooked pepper & onion mixture into a food processor with the ½ cup of broth and cayenne pepper and puree until smooth.
Cook the angel hair pasta according to the package instructions. When cooked, drain, drizzle with a tiny bit of olive oil to prevent it from sticking together, and set aside. Lightly sauté the red bell pepper strips and shrimp in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and salt & pepper to taste.
To serve, add a generous amount of the yellow pepper sauce onto a plate. Add a neat bundle of angel hair pasta on top of the sauce, then add the shrimp & peppers. Garnish with parsley & fresh ground pepper if desired, and enjoy!
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Anyway, to those of you who are just stopping by for the first time because of the news feature, welcome to Poor Girl Eats Well! I hope you enjoy the recipes and tips I share with everyone, as well as the occasional restaurant review. If you have any questions at all on tips, recipes or site navigation, don't hesitate to email me.
For those of you who are never home in time for the 5 o'clock news, and especially for those who live nowhere near Sacramento, click on the following link to watch the video of PGEW doing what she loves best.
And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming. :)
Guacamole recipes abound and it’s always great when you find one that really works for you. I’ve tweaked mine over the years and am rather pleased with the result, as are most people who try it. Depending on my mood, I will also add tomato to it, but I find this tastes great either way. If I can afford it, I try to serve it with things like my Spicy Shrimp Quesadillas to make the most of the condiments that can go with that dish, especially if I have friends over. Generally speaking, though, I could eat guacamole everyday if I could afford the avocados; I love it that much. Alas, that is not the case, so I try to make the most of it when I do have it. As fun as it is to do the traditional “dip” method of consumption, I do like to play with my guacamole options, and I’ve used it in a number of non-traditional ways in the past. One of my favorite ways to use it is as a spread on sandwiches and wraps. A lot of folks do this with regular mashed avocado, which is very tasty; I just feel that using guacamole takes things a step further in the flavor department.
If you barbequed this weekend and have any leftover chicken, by all means use it instead of cooking more for this recipe. This is a fabulous way to make use of leftovers to cut back on the cost, and I imagine the barbequed flavor of the chicken (not BBQ sauce, lol) will add a nice kick. Though I used lavash bread for mine, this is sure to be delicious on a flour tortilla or some regular pita bread. This is very easy to make and makes a good, healthy, portable lunch, or can work very well as a nice lazy weeknight meal. If your making this on a flour tortilla or lavash bread, you will definitely have enough to make two meals out of one wrap, since you have plenty of delicious filling inside. And it’s affordable! You only use a couple tablespoons of the guacamole on each wrap, so you can make several these or do half with chicken, half without for a nice vegetarian option, stretching your savings to the max.
Chicken & Guacamole Wraps (makes about 4 wraps; total cost per wrap: $2.25)
1 c cooked, sliced chicken (breast or thigh meat, whichever you prefer)
4 large slices of lavash bread (or 4 flour tortillas)
1 tomato, cut into wedges
1 c baby spring mix or chopped lettuce
2 large ripe avocados
½ medium red onion, finely diced
1 serrano pepper, seeded & deveined and finely chopped
1 T finely chopped cilantro (leaves and stems)
2 T diced tomato (optional)
Juice of 2 key limes (the secret ingredient, though you can also use regular limes)
¼ t sea salt
First, prepare the guacamole. Cut the avocados in half, remove the seed, and gently scoop out the avocado flesh. In a medium bowl, combine the avocado, diced onion chopped Serrano pepper, chopped cilantro, key lime juice and salt, and mash together with a fork. Check for flavor and adjust the lime juice and sea salt accordingly.
Place the lavash bread or tortilla on a plate and add two heaping tablespoons of guacamole. Using a small spatula spread the guacamole around evenly, not quite to the edge. Add a small handful of greens or lettuce then top with a generous handful of chicken and about 3 wedges of tomato. Carefully roll everything together as tightly as possible. Cut into individual slices or into two large halves, serve with tomato slices and extra guacamole if desired, and enjoy!
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Located at 2026 Broadway, Pancho's is one of several ethnic restaurants that lines this long avenue in Sacramento. It appears a bit uninteresting from the outside as most of them do, but inside the decor is warm, cozy, and inviting, its murals and traditional Mexican accents tasteful but not overdone. The clean interior is colorful and lively, but not to the point of needing sunglasses, which I've almost had to put on in other Mexican cocinas. I also love the personal touches that they've added, like autographed pictures of Sylvester Stallone in his Rocky days; it makes it feel more homey and cozy. However, the first thing that I always notice at Pancho's is their incredibly friendly staff: they seem truly happy to see you and end up making you feel like a regular almost immediately. During lunch (I have yet to go there for dinner) you can pretty much seat yourself and your chips & salsa and ice cold water appear almost immediately in the hands of a smiling staff member. The first time I went to Pancho's and experienced such genuine hospitality, I knew I was already a fan and probably would have forgiven them for serving mediocre Mexican if that's what they actually served. Fortunately, mediocre is not the case when it comes to Pancho's.
I've only tried a few things so far and everything I have had has been truly delicious. From their a la carte quesadillas (an absolute steal for just $3.25, which includes a nice little salad) to "Pancho's Salad" (plenty of crisp lettuce and cabbage, a generous amount of marinated chicken breast and grilled mushrooms, all garnished with guacamole & salsa), the food is fresh, tasty, and light, not laden with lard as some Mexican restaurants' food can be. This time around I tried their Carne Asada Quesadilla lunch special, and once again they did not disappoint. Although I'm not of Mexican descent, I'm a bit of a carne asada snob; to me there's nothing worse than to be expecting deliciously seasoned and tender steak, only to be presented with tough little nuggets of blandness. Pancho's does it right and they do not skimp on the meat portion like a lot of other restaurants will. This quesadilla was cheesy without being overly so (though you know there's no such thing as too much cheese in Kimberland) and filled to the brim with hot carne asada, and the fact that they grill the tortilla to a slight crisp adds a fun texture that you don't usually find in quesadillas. All of Pancho's lunch specials are served with Spanish rice, refried beans, a small salad, and warm flour tortillas, all of which are freshly made and tasty. About the only thing that I found was lacking in flavor was their guacamole, though it's easily salvaged with a dash of salt and a bit of their salsa.
As I mentioned before, the amount of food you get - even in a lunch special - is generous almost to the point of obscene (you can tell by the picture), and I found I am actually able to get about 3 meals out of one lunch special! I had the quesadilla at the restaurant and took the rice, beans, tortillas and leftover salsa with me to make some no-meat burritos for lunch at work. Not bad for just $5.95! That's right, I got all that food for just a bit over $6 after tax. That comes just $2 for the three mini meals I was able to have out of one lunch special! Which brings me to the other "best part" about Pancho's: price & value. I can't stress just how Poor Girl friendly this place is! Their lunch menu ranges from $5.95 to $7.95, the short order items running from $3 to $5. Don't let the "short order" moniker fool you either. The first time I went there I ordered a bowl of their homemade soup ($3.25), fully expecting to get a regular sized bowl or cup. What I received was this giant bowl of delicious, hot soup, with plenty of rice and perfectly seasoned broth; probably a good 2-3 cups worth of soup for just $3.25. Other short order items like tacos de carnitas or a chicken quesadilla will come with a small salad and only cost about $3.75. A lot of local taquerias will charge you the same for just the one item, so I do appreciate that they try to give you a decent amount of veggies with every meal.
Other Pancho's perks that I fully intend to try one day when I have a slightly larger disposable income include their nice selection of sipping tequilas and glasses or full pitchers (!!!) of Mai Tais, margaritas, or Piña Coladas. They offer things like pozole during the regular work week, which is practically unheard of at most Mexican restaurants (though their menudo is only served on weekends like other places), and take very special care of their To Go customers, ensuring that their food is made fast & fresh so one can get going quickly. This is a huge plus for those of us who are pressed for time, especially during lunchtime.
Overall, I'd say you can't go wrong with Pancho's if you want tasty, affordable Mexican food that's obviously made with a lot of care & pride. I highly recommend them for lunch as you can get some incredible deals on real food for about the same price as a fast food "value" meal. Pancho's is a far healthier, tastier option, and you will always feel like you just ate an old friend's.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
~ PGEW To Go seems to be doing fairly well and I definitely appreciate the support of everyone who has ordered one. I sincerely apologize for the delays in shipping, too. I'm the only one who gets these printed and shipped, and I was definitely not expecting the kind of response I had, so things got very backed up! I'm pretty much caught up now, so if you've been holding off on buying one, feel free to take the plunge and get one. I'm well-stocked right now.
~ Yours truly will be featured on KOVR 13's Save with Dave feature next Wednesday at 5pm! If you're a Sac local be sure to tune in, and if you're not, sit tight and I will post a link to the story the minute they send it to me. Here's to hoping the camera won't add 246308279 pounds!
That's all I have planned for now, but that doesn't mean that's all that will happen this month! I have a ton of dried goods I need to use, as well as some fun dessert ideas up my sleeve, so there'll be plenty to keep both you & me busy! Happy September!