Friday, April 30, 2010

The $25 Shopping Cart, version 7.0

It's been quite awhile since I've done a $25 Shopping Cart post, hasn't it? It's not that I haven't been keeping up with my little habit; I just haven't ventured out to stores other than Safeway, Trader Joe's or the Co-op over the past few months. Now that my ankle's healed and that I haven't had anymore bouts with bronchitis & asthma flare-ups, not to mention the fact that the weather is finally starting to figure out that it's spring, I have been out & about a lot more than I was over the winter. And that means finding other stores where I can challenge myself to get some great deals!

For those of you who are new to PGEW and haven't read one of my $25 Shopping Cart posts, here's a quick run-down about my little project: Because I was usually left with about $40 after paying my rent (and that's on a good day when I'm actually current on rent and have a steady job, not a temp one like right now!), money that I had to make sure would last until the next time I got paid, I decided I really had to start reining in my grocery shopping during such scary moments. I had to make sure I stayed within a very strict budget but I also had to make sure I bought enough food to last me a couple of weeks until the next paycheck.* For me, the easiest place for me to do this without having to worry too much about price is Trader Joe's; it's not as expensive as a lot of folks assume it is and I feel confident that I'm buying quality food. However, Trader Joe's do not (yet) exist everywhere, so I wanted to demonstrate that this exercise can be done at practically any grocery store you come across. With the help of some careful shopping, impulse control, and a running mental inventory of what I had left at home, I realized I could do this at places that didn't seem possible to get such value, like Whole Foods Market. Nowadays, I like to challenge myself at different grocery stores, and this month I chose to head over to La Superior.

La Superior is a chain of Mexican/Hispanic foods markets and there are plenty of similar chains like Mi Pueblo, Vallarta, etc., strewn across the state. Part of the reason why I like venturing out to these types of stores is because one can find all sorts of authentic Latin groceries that one can't usually find at traditional grocery stores in addition to a few conventional, national brands. But the real reason I like to visit stores like La Superior is because of the incredible deals on quality produce and meats. From cilantro regularly priced at $0.49/bunch vs. the exorbitant $1.29/bunch price you'll pay at places like the Co-op or Raley's, to ridiculous deals like $0.89/lb fresh chicken drumsticks daily, it's impossible not to find amazing prices at this type of store. And the quality is excellent! The produce is almost farmers market beautiful (read: not covered in wax & fluoridated water) and their meats, seafood and cheeses are lovely and fresh and never covered in freezer burn.

This particular shopping trip proved quite fruitful as I was able to get a few items I wouldn't normally be able to find at my local Safeway or even TJ's. I scored an awesome deal on some fresh shrimp as well, which is truly fabulous because I've been going through some serious crustacean withdrawals lately. I made sure to take my time and look through every aisle and made some awesome discoveries like Salvadorean foods & spices, and was shocked to find they even sold random things like quail eggs! Since those are usually found only in specialty gourmet stores, it was quite a surprise. Anyway, here's what I managed to score this time around:

~ 1 bunch cilantro - $0.49
~ 3 giant chicken leg & thigh pieces - $1.49/lb
~ 1.67 lbs medium shrimp (41-50 ct), fresh - $5.63 (!!!)
~ 1.5 lbs Roma tomatoes - $1.19/lb
~ 1 pack Guerrero "Fresquirica" tortillas - $2.19
~ 1 lb queso Oaxaca (a special kind of mozzarella; imagine giant string cheese) - $2.89
~ 1 lb fresh guavas - $1.99/lb
~ 1 head green leaf lettuce - $0.89
~ 2 bunches green onions - 2 for $0.99
~ 1 cucumber - $0.49
~ 1 2 lb. bag key limes - $2.19
~ 1 16 oz. bottle apple cider vinegar - $1.59
~ 2 large plantains - $0.99/lb
~ 3 fresh mangoes - $0.69/ea

Grand total for this trip: $26.55!

There were a couple of regular grocery items that I had considered buying but my mental math told me I was going to go way overboard if I'd gotten them, so I refrained (but I do miss my Herdez salsa casera & chipotles en adobo!). Though their deals on produce & meats are wonderful, some of their name brand items are slightly overpriced, so it pays to shop carefully at this store. I'm also a bit bummed that I never received my weekly circular with their current sales, because I would have gone yesterday! Apparently that 2 lb bag of key limes would have only cost $0.99. *sob* Still, this was a very productive little excursion and I know I'll be set with some tasty, nutritious meals for at least a week & a half.

How do I know this? Well, one of the keys to a successful $25 Shopping Cart trip is to make sure you've done a running inventory of what you may already have at home. When I have plenty of produce, I try to stock up on grains and a few affordable protein sources to balance everything out. If I'm faced with an empty fridge and a cupboard full of dried legumes and healthy grains like rice, quinoa and couscous, I make sure to get produce and meats to make different meals out of all the ingredients. By knowing what I already have at home, I decrease the risk of doubling up on items I already have enough of, which allows me to spend my small budget on items I actually need.

Here are some sample meals that I could make with tonight's grocery run and the pantry items I already had on hand. (NOTE: Some of these are already PGEW recipes, some are potential PGEW recipes, and others are just ideas of things I could try):

~ Fruit salad or smoothies using the mangoes & guavas with some frozen fruit
~ Pollo o camarones con Hogao (chicken or shrimp with a traditional Colombian tomato-scallion sauce)
~ Rice w/black beans and plantains

The possibilities are endless and this isn't an exact list of what I will do with my new purchases, just a brief overview of what one could make with these items. Since a lot of you had asked that I show what I would make with the food I buy when I go grocery shopping and I couldn't find a good way to show this in a separate post because my menu constantly varies, I thought it would be helpful to add sample ideas of what I could make at the end of a $25 Shopping Cart run. I've also received a few emails asking for help with menu planning, so at some point in the next few months I will try to incorporate that onto the site as well.

Hope you all enjoyed this edition of The $25 Shopping Cart! Next stop: either the 99-cent Store or Raley's/Bel Air. Should be fun!

* Because I live alone and cook for myself and maybe 1 other person, I can keep my budget to $25. Obviously, those of you with larger families would need to increase your budget, but I have gotten emails from folks who have tried this exercise for their 4-6 person families and they've been able to get amazing results shopping with just $60! Give it a shot and see how you do!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Review: Guaymas - Tiburon, CA

Guaymas on Urbanspoon     Nestled quietly on the Tiburon peninsula just a few miles north of San Francisco is the adorable little town of Tiburon (also known as Belvedere-Tiburon to some). Filled with plenty of small town charm and spectacular views of the city, Angel Island and the bay, Tiburon is great for stay-cation if you happen to live in Northern California. It is also the home of Guaymas Restaurant, a gem of Mexican restaurant for those who truly appreciate both seafood and authentic Mexican food. Situated just south of Tiburon's picturesque and quaint downtown area along the edge of the peninsula, Guaymas offers spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay and all its bustling ferry & sailboat activity from both the inside and the large deck reserved for outdoor diners. Inside, the restaurant is spacious and boasts the traditional tiled floors and brightly colored walls that are typical of most Mexican eateries. What's not typical is the large and beautifully-stocked bar and the impeccably clean and efficient open kitchen; that kitchen was spotless! Granted, we were there early in the day, but the restaurant had plenty of filled tables, so it was quite a treat to watch a well-trained crew with a strong chef keep their work area so pristine despite the busy workload.

Since we were there for my mom's birthday (her "from herself to herself" birthday treat was going to Guaymas), I let her do most of the ordering. She decided we should start off with their sangria, which was a bit strange for her, considering she doesn't usually drink red wine. Still, I wasn't about to complain as I adore sangria and I was happy to find the Guaymas sangria to be most satisfying. It was a sweet deep purple, packed with fruit and potent enough to elicit a tiny "woo hoo" from both Mama and me. With our sangria came our chips & salsa, a fabulous treat when done properly as theirs was. Nothing worse than diving into that basket of tortilla chips only to find that the chips are cold, stale & rancid! These were the exact opposite: fresh, warm and deliciously crispy, cut large enough to hold generous portions of the slightly smoky (dare I say chipotle-spiked?) fresh salsa.

It's impossible to go to Guaymas and not have their guacamole, which is quite possibly the most perfect restaurant guacamole I have ever had. It's exactly the way guacamole ought to be: fresh and chunky (not puréed!) with plenty of fresh cilantro and just the perfect amount of chopped tomatoes to add some color & texture. Because Guaymas focuses primarily on seafood based dishes (it's named for the small Mexican fishing village along the Sea of Cortez), and because my mom & I are both huge ceviche fans, we decided to give their Ceviche Trio a shot. A mixture of mahi mahi, shrimp and scallops marinated in delicate citrus juices was accented beautifully by its fried plantain garnish. The seafood was cooked to perfection, and the only things I would have added was a bit more cilantro and a bit more lime juice (it seemed a bit on the sweet side).

We were originally considering their tamale trio platter as our entrée, but I couldn't take my eyes off the Mariscada, a sizzling platter of marinated fish, shrimp, squid, mussels, clams, mushrooms and onions. (!!!!!) Seriously, all they needed to add was tomatoes, chocolate and cheese and I would have had a sizzling platter of everything I love to eat! Because of the price and the fact that we were starting to feel our tummies get full, my mom & I chose to split this entrée between the two of us. This was a very wise decision because the platter was generously filled with more than enough fresh seafood for two, and the entree included fresh, homemade flour tortillas and a large bowl of rice and black beans. After taking a couple hundred photos from different angles (and getting scolded for it by my mom... she should really know better by now, right?), we both dug in and fell silent as we savored this dish. Everything was perfectly cooked and seasoned with plenty of citrus and spices, and the addition of the wild mushrooms added an unexpected gameyness and texture (can we say "umami"?). I was too involved in my seafood to notice my rice & beans, but Mama assured me that the beans were delicious and that both were cooked in a rich chicken broth, something we're both going to try in our own kitchens.

After a quick break and vows that we would walk off this giant meal immediately, Mama ordered her favorite - a Kahlua & coffee (or, as I like to call it, a Kimberlatte) - along with the coconut flan for dessert. We were very pleased that they got our drinks right and used a rich, freshly brewed coffee as the base. Our flan was beautifully presented with shredded coconut, fresh mint leaves and strawberry sauce for the garnish, but I personally thought it was a little bland. Perhaps it was because I still had the gustatory memory of the homemade flan from our Staff Appreciation lunch in the forefront of my mind; or perhaps it was because it was a coconut flan and, therefore, supposed to be milder than the traditional creme brulée-esque flan. Either way, it was not bad flan; I just felt it could have used a bit more flavor.

Overall, this visit to Guaymas - only my 2nd or 3rd, actually - was a true delight. From our attentive server to the delicious food, we couldn't have asked for a nicer experience. Though it's not the most Poor Girl friendly in terms of prices, the value of the food is well worth it, particularly when it comes to the seafood dishes. The portions are generous and the quality & freshness of the seafood is just excellent. Sure, there are reviews out there that knock the food and service (admittedly, we have had some rude waitresses serve us there in the past), but it seems to me that what these folks are expecting Taco Bell by the bay. Guaymas doesn't serve the extra spicy, red sauce laden food that's so common in a lot of Mexican restaurants here in the US; it strives to serve the flavorful, lighter fare that is traditionally found on dinner tables in Mexico. Those of you who have visited this country, especially the tiny fishing villages in Baja California, know that true Mexican food is fresh, light, and bursting with unexpected flavors & spices, not smothered in greasy sauces. So if you're looking for the Americanized version of Mexican food, Guaymas may not be the place for you. However, if you're heading up the coast to Stinson or Muir Beach and craving fresh, perfectly cooked seafood, authentic dishes like chiles rellenos and tamales seasoned with real jalapeño, serrano & poblano peppers and plenty of fresh citrus, not to mention the spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay, Guaymas is a great place to relax, unwind and savor life over a really good meal.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Recipe: The Ultimate Fresh Strawberry Crepe

In my family we've always valued the gift of time over material gifts when it comes to things like birthdays, Christmas, etc. Don't get me wrong: we definitely enjoy getting nice gifts, but it's never been a requirement to make holidays or birthdays "special"; in fact, we preferred giving OF ourselves on our special days. When I was little, my parents & I would go to Colombia every year for summer vacation, and since my birthday is in August, we would always celebrate it there. Being an only child, I was naturally thrown a pretty large party; but being an unconventional family, we did things a bit differently. Instead of having the huge party JUST for me, we would lug everything - party favors, food, a giant birthday cake, extra kids - to the local orphanage and celebrate my birthday there with about a hundred kids my age who had absolutely nothing except for the clothes they wore. Though I was the birthday girl and definitely spoiled, I was taught to share my special day with those less fortunate. And at the end of the day, it was the looks of pure joy on those poor kids' faces that I remembered as "the bestest part of the day". For most of those kids, that was the only party they'd ever get to attend, and it touched me even then to see them enjoy their party favors & big slices of cake.

I think - actually, I know - that because of this type of upbringing, I have learned it's okay not to spend a ton of money on things for others, and that the best gift one can give is one's time and consideration. My mom's the queen of this and for her belated birthday celebration this weekend, she gave me more in the way of stuff than I gave her. I wish I could have competed with her in the "stuff" department, but I was still pretty confident in my gift of a special brunch recipe I made just for her. And because she's such a difficult person to surprise, I made sure to come armed with most of my special recipe already made so that it could be easily assembled during one of her "down" moments. (Seriously, the woman never stops!)

Despite the difficulty I have surprising her, food-wise Mama's pretty easy to please. She's a fan of most foods but is quite adamant about what she LOVES. One of those loves would be the lovely strawberry, so I wanted to take that love and create something different for her. Since she's always complaining that I never save her a portion of most of the dishes I feature on PGEW, particularly the crepes, I thought it would be nice to make her some fresh strawberry crepes. But you know me... why be ordinary when you can take things to a whole other level, right? Fresh strawberry crepes are all over the place, so I made them extra special for her by creating a fresh strawberry sauce and a special strawberry-goat cheese base to go along with the fresh strawberry filling. About the only thing that was completely berry-less on its own was the actual crepe! This was sinful but light, familiar but different, and I'm happy to report that Mama LOVED her birthday brunch!

I'm rather proud of the whole thing because I managed to pull everything together while she actually slept in for the 2nd or 3rd time in her entire life. I didn't have to kick her out of her own kitchen or anything! The best part? She actually asked me, "What did you PUT in that stuff?" thinking I'd added some sort of addictive substance because she couldn't stop savoring it after she was done. Those of you who know my mom know she's an extremely harsh critic who minces no words, so to get that type of response was pure gold to me! Sure, this isn't a genius recipe or anything, but it just goes to show that properly combining simple ingredients with a bit of imagination will always get winning results. Happy Birthday, Mama!!!

The Ultimate Fresh Strawberry Crepe (makes 4-6 filled crepes; total cost per 2 crepe serving: $3.00)

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

1 16 oz. basket of fresh strawberries
3 T sugar
8 oz goat cheese (if you don't have access to goat cheese, cream cheese will also work beautifully)

(Note: this recipe is a little time consuming, so it's best to prep the strawberries & goat cheese the night before if you're able to.)

Begin by thoroughly rinsing the strawberries and slicing them into 1/4" - 1/2" slices. Place the sliced strawberries in a large bowl, add the sugar, and toss to coat completely. Cover and set aside in the refrigerator for at least an hour; this will allow the strawberries to release their natural juices and create their own "syrup". When the sugar has completely dissolved and your strawberries have made their syrup, set aside about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of the sliced berries w/syrup in a separate bowl. Using a hand blender, purée the remaining strawberries until almost smooth.

In a separate bowl, combine the goat cheese (or cream cheese) and about 1/3 cup of strawberry purée until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for about an hour or so, until the mixture is slightly set (it will be slightly softer than no-bake cheesecake consistency). In the meantime, combine about 3/4 cup of the reserved sliced strawberries with 3/4 cup of the strawberry purée and mix together. This will be your "sauce", or the topping for the final dish. Set aside. When the strawberry prep has been completed, combine the crepe ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk together until smooth. Follow the cooking instructions for the basic crepe recipe here.

To assemble your crepes, add about 1 tablespoon of the strawberry-goat cheese mixture to one of the freshly made crepes and spread around in a thin layer (you can add more if you like). Add 1/4 - 1/3 cup of the remaining sliced strawberries and roll the crepe together. Top with the strawberry sauce, sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired, garnish with extra fresh strawberries, and enjoy!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Recipe: Brown Rice, Veggie & Tuna Salad

Wednesday was Administrative Professionals Day and the program heads & office managers all got together to buy the entire staff a wonderful spread for our staff appreciation lunch. From soup to pasta to some wonderful salads, they really went all out for us and it felt good to be a part of that. Everything tasted great, but I have to confess that I went a little crazy when it came time for dessert. Sure, there was a cake and cake can be good; however, when there is a giant homemade flan sitting next to a store-bought cake with questionable looking icing, there really is no contest. I had a slice of flan about the size of my computer and thoroughly enjoyed every delicious bite of it, but felt immediately guilty for ruining my nearly perfect eating track record for the past few weeks (which is quite easy to do when you're bare bonesin' it, actually). I wanted to get back on the wagon immediately after my flan-dulgence because I knew I'd be going all out for my mom's belated birthday celebration this weekend, and figured a tasty brown rice salad would be a great way to finish out the work week in a healthy fashion.

Rice salads in general are awesome because you can get most of your basic food groups in one easy, tasty dish. They're quite easy to make and extremely economical, what with rice being a very inexpensive staple and the way rice salads make use of all those little veggie leftovers you may have hanging around in your fridge. Made with brown rice, you can up the nutrition factor of your salad with a higher fiber content and essential nutrients like magnesium & zinc. When you're really bare-bonesin' it because you're down to your last few dollars and bits of food, it's great to know that there are ways to pack in plenty of nutrition instead of falling into the fast food or processed food trap that so many succumb to. To ensure I could make a balanced meal out of this salad, I added some tuna for protein and some fun flavor & texture.

You can get as creative as you want with this one, which is yet another fun thing about rice salads. I've seen versions that include all sorts of random veggies, from celery to cucumber (and oh, how I wish I'd had a cucumber for mine!). I made mine with what I had on hand and it turned out just lovely. When it comes to the dressing, feel free to use your favorite bottled vinaigrette (I used my all-time fave, Wish Bone Italian) or make your own simple vinaigrette from scratch. Let's check out this über-quick & easy recipe.

Brown Rice, Veggie & Tuna Salad (makes 4 servings; total cost per serving: ~$0.85)

1 1/2 c cooked brown rice
1 can of tuna, drained
4 scallions, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 large tomato, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
3 T your favorite bottled vinaigrette or quick vinaigrette (recipe below)

Quick vinaigrette:
2 T olive oil
3 T red wine vinegar
1 clove of garlic, minced
Salt & pepper to taste

If making your dressing, combine all dressing ingredients into a small bowl and whisk together until completely combined. Set aside. In a larger bowl, add the rice, drained tuna and all the veggies, and toss together with the dressing. If you have some time and want a richer flavor, refrigerate the salad for at least 1 hour to allow all the flavors to combine well; otherwise, serve immediately. Serve with some spring greens or baby spinach, and enjoy!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Recipe: Spicy Edamame Succotash Salad

It's been a great week in PGEW land. Yes, I'm still as broke as ever and my rent is STILL backed up (takes SO long to catch up! Remind me not to sign up for walking pneumonia again), but now it's only backed up by a couple weeks as opposed to a whole month. Gas bill's paid so I can continue to enjoy my stove, oven, and the blessings of hot water; got a new project in the works (to which you shall all be privy by next month); and I've had a couple great meetings that will hopefully result in some more interesting prospects for yours truly. Even the weather has been kind enough to cooperate these past few days (though Mother Nature STILL can't seem to make up her mind and more rain's a-comin' next week; I won't think about that right now, though); today is simply gorgeous and this weekend promises to be the most springlike we've seen all season, all of which helps round out a very good week.

The beautiful weather combined with my more-insane-than-usual obsession with Jamie Oliver (and his Food Revolution, though I've been obsessed with Jamie since he released his very first cookbook), as well as a huge craving for the shelled edamame that's been taunting me from my freezer door, all seemed to point me into the direction of a fresh, tasty salad of some sort. I was thinking of having another round of my Sweet Potato, Mango, and Edamame Salad, but I had that not too long ago and wanted to save my last 2 sweet potatoes for something else I have in mind. I almost started eating the edamame straight out of the bag when I remembered I had one last can of corn lurking in the back of my cupboard, as well as a few other key ingredients that would make the perfect succotash. But I wanted something cold, crisp and fresh, so instead of cooking said succotash, I made a salad out of it, along with a spicy, slightly sweet dressing.

Now, you're more than welcome to make this the standard way, with lima beans instead of edamame. However, it's become more & more popular to substitute edamame in succotash variations, so if you're not a fan of the taste & texture of lima beans this is a wonderful alternative. As I didn't have any fresh red bell peppers on hand, I used a recent sample of fire roasted red peppers from the fine folks at Mezzetta (INCREDIBLE!!! I could have eaten the entire jar on its own), but if you like an extra crunch and you have them on hand, definitely use the fresh ones. For a different twist and because I do *heart* a little heat in my food, I decided to add some chopped Serrano peppers and made a sweet & spicy vinaigrette to tie this all together. The flavors complement each other perfectly and get better the longer you let the salad marinate. Though this has plenty of protein on its own and can be eaten as an entrée salad on a nice bed of greens, this little salad works beautifully as a side and goes well with chicken or your favorite protein. This is a great dish to make for potlucks and the upcoming BBQ season, as it's colorful, tasty, and easy to prepare. Make sure you bookmark this one for all the nice weather activities that should be starting up soon!

Of course, the best part is that it's a truly affordable dish: the whole recipe comes out to just about $5, and you definitely have enough for 4 healthy servings. Healthy, delicious, and under $2/serving? Just goes to show that you don't have to compromise taste or nutrition just because you're on a tight budget. :)

Spicy Edamame Succotash Salad (makes 4 servings; total cost per serving: $1.25)

1 12 oz. package frozen shelled edamame
1/2 can sweet yellow corn (if you have fresh corn, by all means, use this instead!)
1/3 c red bell peppers, diced (fresh or roasted, both work okay)
1/2 medium red onion, diced
2 serrano peppers, finely chopped
1/4 c chopped cilantro
1 large tomato, diced

3 T canola oil
1/4 c rice vinegar
2 T agave nectar or honey
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/4 t ground chipotle pepper (optional)
1/4 t sea salt
1 clove of garlic, minced

Combine all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and whisk together until completely combined. Set aside. In a larger bowl, combine the edamame, corn, both peppers, onion, tomato and cilantro. Add the dressing and toss together to blend. Cover and allow to marinate in the fridge for at least an hour. Serve on a nice bed of greens or as a side with some grilled chicken or fish, and enjoy!

And the winner is...

First, a big THANK YOU to all who entered the Paso Robles Wine Country Grand Tasting contest! It's bound to be an amazing event and I believe there are tickets still available, for those of you who are still interested in going (and I love that part of the proceeds will be going to help Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services; such a great organization!). It was also great seeing what varietals people like, most of them being some of my faves as well (Sangiovese, Barbera, Cabs, and of course, Zin... oh Zin!).

Anyway, it's time to pick a winner! The random, lucky winner of two tickets to the Paso Robles Wine Country 2010 Grand Tasting is.......

Christine! *cue applause* Christine loves Barbera and a good Sauvignon Blanc (gal after my own heart!), and now she'll have the chance to sample those and many more at this fantastic event! Christine, be sure to email me with your contact info ASAP so that I can point you in the direction of your tickets.

Thanks again to all who entered, and I hope that some of you will still try to make it to this fabulous wine tasting! I'll be there, so if you do attend, be sure to stop by and say hello!

New recipe post coming up next. :)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Giveaway: Paso Robles Wine Country 2010 Grand Tasting Tour

Attention Sacramento area wine lovers!

Just wanted to let you know about a fabulous wine tasting event that’s coming up next week! Next Tuesday, April 20th, the Paso Robles Wine Country Grand Tasting Tour will be stopping in Sacramento to showcase some of their winemakers’ finest work. From winemaker dinners pairing some of Sacramento’s best restaurants with winemakers from the area, to a Grand Tasting event featuring the best of what this the Paso Robles Wine Country has to offer, this event is definitely not to be missed! The best part is that portion of the proceeds will benefit an organization very near & dear to my Sacramento heart: Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

Here’s the scoop:

Date: Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Location: Sacramento Grand Ballroom, 629 J Street, Sacramento
Admission: $45/person in advance; $55/person at the door

To purchase tickets in advance (recommended), click on the following link. And to win tickets, keep reading! :)

Taking place at the elegant Sacramento Grand Ballroom, this event will feature over 150 wines from more than 30 wineries from the Paso Robles area. Appetizers will also be provided. In addition to this amazing tasting event, the following Sacramento restaurants are pairing up with the touring winemakers to offer special menu & wine pairings and give diners the opportunity to meet the winemakers from the Paso Robles wineries.

Participating Restaurants:

Grange Restaurant and Bar
926 J Street, Sacramento
Participating Wineries - Halter Ranch Vineyard, Niner Wine Estates, Tablas Creek Vineyard, Terry Hoage Vineyard, and Vina Robles.

Lounge ON20
1050 20th Street, Suite 100Midtown, Sacramento
Participating Wineries - Clavo Cellars, Derby Wine Estates, Four Vines Winery, and Peachy Canyon Winery.

McCormick and Schmick’sFresh Seafood Restaurant
1111 J Street, Sacramento
Participating Wineries - Clayhouse Wines, Ortman Family Vineyards, STANGER Vineyards, and Treana (Hope Family Wines).

Mulvaney’s B&L
1215 19th Street, Suite 100, Sacramento
Participating Wineries - J.Lohr Vineyards & Wines, Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery, and Silver Horse Winery (more TBC)

As if all that wasn’t good enough already, there are also a couple smaller tasting events being held at retailers this week, in case you can’t make it to the Grand Tasting:

Retail Tastings – Friday, April 16

Beyond Napa Wine Merchants
2580 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento, CA
Will be sampling Four Vines Winery
Time: 3 -7 p.m.

Nugget Market
157 Main St., Woodland, CA
Will be sampling J.Lohr Vineyards & Wines
Time: 5 - 7pm

Now for the fun part! PGEW is helping one lucky winner receive a pair of tickets to the Grand Tasting event on Tuesday, April 20th!

To enter, simply comment below with your favorite wine varietal (or blend, if you’re into blended wines…). For extra entries, be sure to tweet about the giveaway on Twitter with the following tweet: Win a pair of tix to the Paso Robles Wine Country Grand Tasting from @PoorGrlEatsWell! (By the way, are you following PGEW yet? If not, do it now! I’ll wait… ;) )

One lucky winner will be selected at random. The contest ends Saturday, April 17th, so be sure to enter today! PLEASE NOTE: Due to the specific location of this event, this contest is only open to those living in Sacramento or surrounding metropolitan areas.

Good luck, everyone!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Recipe: Mushroom Fajita Omelette

The quirks of a food blogger are many and oft’ times quite charming, particularly the obsessive photo-taking one. I have yet to meet a food blogger who doesn't always have a camera ready whenever they're in the vicinity of any type of food, from gourmet cuisine to the ever-so-frightening Twinkie. Depending on the focus of one’s blog, this photo-taking quirk can either remain strictly in control, only manifesting itself at potlucks or larger functions to get the general “feel” of the food vibe; or it can turn a girl into a stark raving mess who refuses to even post a recipe if the picture isn’t *assume Zoolander accent here* really, really, ridiculously good looking.

As you might have guessed, I fall under the 2nd category. Granted, part of the problem I had over the weekend (and the reason why I didn’t end up posting that one promised egg recipe I had in mind) was that I had forgotten my camera’s battery charger at work. Not being able to access all of the photos on my memory card or take anything new certainly put a damper on my weekend of what ought to have been blogging bliss. I suppose I could have posted the other recipe, as it’s a good one and the picture isn’t all that bad. But because I’ve turned into THAT blogger and I ended up making an even better egg dish over the weekend, I figured I’d wait and make everyone happy with a new recipe and a nicer photo.

On this weekend’s jaunt to Safeway for kitty food & other feline provisions, I managed to have enough change leftover for some baby portabella mushrooms and a lovely head of butter lettuce (both on sale!); and because produce in Poor Girl’s kitchen has been slowly dwindling, I figured I was worth these splurges. I had every intention of enjoying both together in a nice giant salad, but as I was slicing the baby bellas into these thick, meaty-looking slices, I began to imagine them in a steaming hot platter of fajitas. When the reality of not having tortillas for this endeavor broke through my fajita daydream, I switched gears and began to imagine the mushrooms in a nice cheesy omelette. That wasn’t going to work so well either considering the lack of cheese in my house, so I finally put both dreams together and decided to make a mushroom fajita omelette.

It’s an unorthodox food pairing but I must say I was quite pleased with the results! The flavors & textures played off each other nicely, and I didn’t even miss my warm flour tortillas (that much). This dish is hearty and tasty, and absolutely perfect for a breakfast for dinner night. And if you’re not an egg fan, the mushroom fajita filling is excellent on its own so definitely feel free to use it in the traditional fajita manner. Not much else to note on this one, so let’s check out the recipe!

Mushroom Fajita Omelette (makes enough filling for 2 omelettes; total cost for 1 omelette as written: $3)
3 large eggs
½ 8 oz. package baby portabella mushrooms (white button mushrooms work too), sliced
1/2 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
3/4 c red, yellow & green bell pepper strips (the frozen kind is fine)
1 t olive oil
1 t butter
¼ t granulated garlic
1/8 t cayenne pepper
1/8 t ground cumin
Salt & pepper to taste
Sour cream, salsa, and cilantro (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a small skillet and add the sliced mushrooms & onions and the salt, peppers, and cumin. Sauté together over medium high for about 2 minutes, add the pepper strips, and cook for another 1-2 minutes or until everything is heated through. Set aside.

In a separate skillet or pan, melt the butter and swirl until the entire pan is coated. Add the beaten eggs and cook over medium heat until the omelette is set and there is only a small amount of unset egg left. Spoon a generous amount of mushroom fajita filling into the omelette, fold in half, and cook for a few more seconds to allow it to fully set. Garnish with a couple of sprigs of cilantro, serve with sour cream, salsa, or whatever your usual fajita fixin’s may be, and enjoy!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Newsworthy: Get the new PGEW Widget & Mobile Site!

So I went on a slight geeky techy binge last night and quickly made a couple of fun little doo-dads to help you stay connected to PGEW wherever you may be.

The first one is the Poor Girl Eats Well widget, which you can install practically anywhere. You can add it to your blog, share it on Facebook, or add it to your iGoogle page, so you'll always have the latest PGEW updates on hand. Just click on on the "Get Widget" button at the bottom of the widget that I have posted on the left sidebar, select which site(s) you want to add it to, and voila! Instant PGEW. :)

The second one is for all you iPhone, Android, and other swankyphone users out there. Though I know that PGEW loads just beautifully on these little devices, the print is a bit small and it can be a hassle to always have to increase text size, etc. PGEW Mobile not only allows you to view posts in a more user-friendly manner, but makes it easy to follow me on Twitter and includes the Tip of the Week feature, so you can make the most of your shopping dollar and the food you buy. I've implemented the mobile feature on the site so those of you who access the regular site with iPhones, etc. should be automatically redirected to the mobile version but if you're not, simply go to the following link and you'll be connected right away (I made my friend, Rich, be my guinea pig last night and he said it worked great, so if it doesn't we'll blame him. HA!).

Please let me know if you're having trouble viewing either of these gadgets, particularly the mobile site. Otherwise, enjoy the new stuff and be sure to spread the word!


Tip #11: Never Underestimate the Power of Eggs

Remember that egg commercial that used to be on years ago? You know, the one with the fun little jingle: “The incredible, edible egg!” I couldn’t help but hum this to myself as I was diving into my little baked egg breakfast this morning (amazing what one can get accomplished after a full night’s sleep and less dawdling online…) because it truly is a wonderful food. From the star of the show to its use as a basic ingredient in loftier recipes like homemade cheesecake, the egg is versatile, nutritious, and a great way to continue to eat well despite one’s tiny budget. Honestly, if it weren’t for the almighty egg, I doubt I’d eat half as well as I do, especially right now! A dozen can go a long way and bail me out of potentially boring meals at any time of the day, and I'm ever so grateful for the occasional sale on eggs at any of the stores I go to, as it helps stretch things even further.

Now, we all know eggs have gotten a bad rap in the past. I don’t think it was too long after The Incredible Edible Egg jingle that eggs were all of a sudden considered off limits and evil as they were packed with cholesterol and heart disease. Fortunately, research has come a long way and science has proven that the egg is not as evil and death-inducing as was once feared. But just like everything else, eggs should just be eaten in moderation to avoid any further health issues. I will admit that I try to eat egg whites more often than the whole egg because it cuts way back on the calories (unless I’m craving an omelette, of course), but even the egg yolk is remarkably healthy, as it’s packed with good-for-you nutrients like Vitamins B12, A and D, a generous amount of choline, and even iron and folate. And let’s not forget what an incredible source of protein eggs can be! Most of us know how important it is to get an adequate amount of protein in our diets, and eggs are an easy, tasty way to make that happen.

But enough with the health talk already! The bottom line is that eggs are cheap, delicious and ridiculously versatile, making it very easy to eat well when you’re strapped for cash. As illustrated in my last egg post, one could easily make 2 servings of the baked egg recipe and feed two people for $4 in a much healthier way than you would do if you went to McDonald’s for an egg & sausage burrito. That’s just 1/3 of your dozen eggs, the remainder of which can be used to turn into a couple of hearty omelettes. Can’t stay away from the breakfast burrito? Scramble a couple eggs & throw them into a tortilla like I did with my Hunger Challenge breakfast burrito. $0.65 v. $1 and change at McDonald's, plus you know it's got a lot less junk than the fast food burrito (all that extra butter, sausage, the processed cheese, etc). A dozen large eggs will run anywhere from $1.79 (yay, Trader Joe’s!) to $3.99 (for cage free, organic eggs), making your average dozen about $2.89 or so. And because one doesn’t use the entire dozen in one recipe (unless you have a small army to feed), it’s easy to stretch a dozen to make a few different dishes.

But Poor Girl, all I do with eggs is scramble them or have 'em over easy! That gets boring after awhile!!!

Sometimes the wonders of the egg's versatility aren't totally obvious, so when you think of eggs try and remember that they don't have to be the main star of the show; omelettes and big scrambles are awesome, but adding eggs to certain ingredients can also turn the mundane into the deliciously exciting! From frittatas to omelettes, meringues to crepes, it’s very easy to make fancy sounding dishes out of a couple of eggs and a few leftovers. Consider the crepe: sounds all fancy Frenchy and like it should cost an arm and a leg, but all it amounts to is flour, milk, butter, and eggs. Throw in some fruit, veggies, or meat and you have a fabulous little meal for very little money. Adding a few beaten eggs to some stale bread chunks turns into oh-so-comforting bread pudding. The possibilities are endless when it comes to eggs, and you don't have to break the bank by going out to brunch just to have these tasty indulgences! Sure, going out is nice, but if you're strapped for cash it's much more practical and to stay home and use your imagination in the kitchen.
You also don't have to think of eggs as being just a breakfast food. Many a night after choir practice I've found myself scrambling a couple together with a tomato and calling that dinner (quick and not too heavy to have late at night). I'm also a huge fan of breakfast for dinner and enjoy making a giant omelette filled with all sorts of goodies for a nice alternative to the usual dinner fare. And don't even get me started on how fun eggs can be as appetizers! I often dream of my mom's deviled eggs (the best on the entire planet, IMO) and the other fun egg creations she would make when catering for small parties back in the day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, hors d'oeuvre or even dessert, eggs can do it all in a tasty, economical way.

So what's your favorite way to use eggs? I know I love 'em but I know there are probably a ton of egg dishes that I'm not aware of, so I'd love to hear what you all cook on a regular basis (or for special occasions). Feel free to comment below. In the meantime, here are some of my favorite PGEW egg recipes for you to check out sometime, and you can always check out the egg label for more...

Before I sign off, I do want to acknowledge that this tip will obviously not help those folks with egg allergies or other special dietary needs. However, I also want to remind you that PGEW isn't just about all the yummy recipes! I often get emails from folks marveling at the fact that I can eat the way I do when I am so completely broke, and I always refer them to my Tips section because THAT is how I make good food happen: by following some of my own, school-of-hard-knocks advice. The tips are few in number but rich in information, so don't forget to check them out! You may find an idea or two that hadn't occurred to you before, or be reminded of some money-saving tricks of your own.

Stay tuned for a new "incredible egg" recipe tomorrow!


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Recipe: Quick & Easy Fried Rice with Asparagus

The other day one of my coworkers decided he was craving Thai food for lunch and he dragged me along for the ride. It was one of those rare, serendipitous days when I had forgotten my lunch, only to find that I had $6 all crumbled together with an old receipt in my jacket pocket (don't you love it when you switch jackets or purses and find MONEY???). Normally I would have squirreled away the funds for another day, but I couldn't exactly go the whole day on one cup of yogurt & some almonds without slipping into a faint, so I splurged and went for a small yellow curry with veggies & tofu. There went my $6 (which was a painful reminder of how much it can cost to go out to lunch on a regular basis) but I was rewarded with a generous amount of delicious, aromatic curry with plenty of tender veggies, and an even more generous amount of white rice on the side. Seriously, there was about twice as much rice as there was curry! Since I don't really eat white rice that often when it's all by itself, I was sorta bummed that I only used about 1/4 cup of it to go with my curry. But I don't like to waste food, especially not when it's scary bare bones time, so I brought the remaining rice home and figured the inspiration to use it in something else might strike at some point.

Anyway, when I got home yesterday the cats were all up in my stuff because it was dinner time for them, so when I opened the fridge they did their usual time-for-mommy-to-give-us-dinner dance. This usually includes chirping and trilling by Hana and a breakout solo dance by StuKitty, which featured said cat standing on his hind legs trying to stick his face in the remainder of my Swiss chard ("Stuart the Cat Morales, stay AWAY from my Swiss chard!!!" is commonly heard in Poor Girl's kitchen) and knocking over some asparagus. For once, I thanked my youngest and most terrible furbaby for going through my produce because I had honestly forgotten that I had any fresh asparagus at all! Though I had a package of frozen asparagus spears from TJ's, I much prefer fresh asparagus and thought it would make the perfect addition to my lonely leftover rice.

This dish is super easy to prepare, with the most prep time devoted to cracking & beating the eggs and chopping the scallions, so it's definitely a great busy weeknight dish. It's the perfect way to recycle those rice leftovers that you might have hanging around after a weekend of Chinese takeout, and lends itself perfectly to easy work lunches. I made mine super Po' Girl style and used leftover takeout soy sauce packets (where DID my bottle of soy sauce go anyway?), which goes to show that you can still make great food even if you think you're missing ingredients. The addition of asparagus not only adds flavor, but much-valued nutrition as well. Want to up the protein factor? Throw in some stir-fried tofu and between that and the eggs you'll be set. One last note: if I had the money to afford sesame oil on a regular basis I would definitely use it, but since I don't, I refrain from throwing it in there. HOWEVER, if you have it, use it; it truly makes a difference in the authenticity of the flavor. But if you don't have it on hand, don't worry! This is still super yummy as written. And now, on with the show!

Quick & Easy Fried Rice with Asparagus (makes 3 servings; total cost per serving: $1.05)

2 c cooked white rice
1/2 c frozen mixed vegetables
3 eggs, lightly beaten
8 asparagus spears, chopped into 1" pieces
4 scallions, chopped
2 T plus 1 t cooking oil
3-4 T soy sauce
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 c well-salted water (for blanching)

Heat 1 teaspoon of cooking oil in a small skillet over medium high heat. Add the beaten eggs and cook until light, fluffy, and no longer moist. Set aside. In the meantime, boil the salted water for the asparagus. When the water is at a rolling boil, add the asparagus and blanch for about 1 minute at the most. Drain and put the asparagus in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside.

In a larger skillet, heat the remaining oil and add the garlic. Heat until fragrant and add the rice and frozen veggies. Cook until the veggies are thawed and the rice no longer clumps together. Add the fried egg and soy sauce and mix together well, followed by the asparagus. Finally, add the chopped scallions.

Garnish with extra chopped scallions and soy sauce, serve with your favorite protein or on its own, and enjoy!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Recipe: Quinoa with Mushrooms, Tomatoes & Scallions

A couple of days ago I cooked a decent amount of quinoa and have been using it in several different forms to create different meals. I had some for breakfast with some yogurt, dried fruit & nuts, made a couple random salads with it, and even incorporated it into a makeshift curry dish that I'll have to post at some point (it was super tasty!). Today I was down to the last cup and a half or so, and though it would have been fun to do something a bit more elaborate with it, I thought I'd stick to something light & simple that I could enjoy for lunch.

To make this I used my last few mushrooms ($1.69 for the usual 8 oz. package at Trader Joe's! Gotta love that!) and my favorite combo to put on almost anything, tomatoes & scallions. Maybe it's because I grew up eating a lot of crisp salads with tomatoes & scallions (aka green onions, spring onions, etc.), but I find that the two bring a great fresh flavor to almost anything savory. Though I love all onions and their cousins, my favorite has to be the green onion because of its distinct flavor, which tends to be less overpowering than a red onion and not as sweet as a white one. Combined with a juicy tomato, it enhances the natural flavor of the tomato by adding just the right amount of "kick", not to mention the lovely color combination. And if you look in places such as your local farmers market, you can find some great deals on this lovely little onion.

You can certainly make this in a hurry as it takes just about 10-12 minutes to prepare if you include chopping time (provided your quinoa is cooked and ready to go, of course). It's great as a side or as a nice lunch entrée because of the lovely mother grain, it's got plenty of protein to help keep you full for awhile. Lovely, easy, healthy, and inexpensive; what's not to love?

Quinoa with Mushrooms, Tomatoes & Scallions (makes 2-3 lunch servings; total cost per serving: ~$2)

1 c cooked quinoa
1 large tomato, diced
2-3 scallions, chopped (both greens & whites)
6-8 white mushrooms, sliced
1-2 T butter
Salt & pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a medium skillet. Add the mushrooms with a pinch of salt and pepper and cook over medium heat until they begin to soften. Add the diced tomato and cook for about 2-3 minutes, making sure the tomatoes release their juices but do not turn mushy. Add the quinoa and mix everything together, cooking until everything is heated through. Lastly, add the chopped scallions and mix well. Check for seasoning and adjust accordingly. Serve hot or cold, on its own or on a nice bed of greens. Enjoy!

(NOTE: If you're enjoying this cold and prefer a moister quinoa, add a tiny bit of your favorite salad dressing and mix well. Yum!)

What's in Store for April

Ahh, April. Springlike, full of unpredictable weather, and the month when I help celebrate the most birthdays of the year. Seriously! Almost everyone I know has a birthday in the first 2 weeks of April including my mom and two of my best friends (even StuKitty celebrates his kitty birthday this month!). Needless to say, I'm very grateful that my friends and family are understanding of my situation and know I can't afford gifts for everyone; they're usually content with me cooking something special for them or doing some other homemade crafty type thing.

But aside from all this birthday hullabaloo, April is also the month that brings us all sorts of wonderful new produce in this region, particularly asparagus. Every April, the city of Stockton offers the only reason I find to go there besides visiting some old friends: the Stockton Asparagus Festival. From gourmet dishes to everyone's favorite, the deep fried asparagus spears, this 3 day festival celebrates all things asparagus related and offers many fun family activities for everyone to enjoy. I haven't been to one in awhile because I can't really get there sans vehicle, but that doesn't mean I can't have my own asparagus fest here at Chez Poor Girl!

Here's what else is coming to PGEW this month:

~ As I mentioned in the Gnocchi Salad post, my food stamp cushion is no longer and I'm so behind on all bills & rent that I won't be able to go food shopping for at least 3 weeks (hopefully sooner if I can sell a few things!), so expect plenty of bare bones recipes! In a way, I'm looking forward to the challenge, as it really forces me to get as creative and resourceful as I possibly can. Though I could use some more legumes, I'm pretty well-stocked on most grains, so that'll help me stretch things a bit. Everyone could use a whole grain boost every now & then, so it'll be fun to experiment with these for sure. And come to think of it, I haven't had one of my favorite bare bones recipes in a long time - the Farro & Red Beans with Caramelized Onions - so I may have to bring that back into regular rotation as it's a good one.

~ Speaking of food stamps, my post on that experience will finally be posted, now that I've finally done enough research to get some true stats & figures for everyone. One thing is posting my own rant about how I feel the system sometimes fails us, another is to show some facts & numbers to back all that up. Don't worry, it's not all a rant! I'm supremely grateful for the help I was able to get for the past couple of months and was able to do wonders with the aid I was given; I just wish certain things about the system could be streamlined a bit so that those who need the aid can actually get it.

~ I'm hoping to bring back the $25 Shopping Cart towards the latter half of this month! It's been awhile since I've done one of these, mainly because of the bad weather & my poor health. Makes it kinda hard to head to different stores that are far away when it's all stormy and gross. I have 3 very different places in mind for this month's feature, so we'll see which one I end up choosing!

~ From the feedback I got in last month's What's In Store, I've decided I'll incorporate potential recipes into my $25 Shopping Cart features from now on. I feel it's the best way for me to show what I buy and what I do with it without being totally redundant. I think I did this in my very first $25 Shopping Cart post, and I might expand on what I did there to give some more specific examples of what one can do with what one buys (and has on hand). Should be fun!

~ Easter's tomorrow and though it'll be much more low key than last year (I was singing in the choir for an entire weekend last year, but sadly the pneumonia, bronchitis, and different work schedule forced me to take this season off), I still plan to treat myself to a nice brunch and that bottle of wine I've been staring at ALL LENT! It'll be nice to enjoy some vino again after such a long hiatus.

That's about it for now! I'd love to hear what all of you will be doing/having for Easter brunch and/or dinner, so please feel free to share the love! Have a fabulous April!


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