Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Recipe: Chewy Apple-Chamomile Cookies

So did everyone have a good Thanksgiving holiday?  I know I did!  Despite the fact that I was hobbling around yet again (yeah, yeah.... Genius over here broke yet another toe; I'm waiting for my Klutziest Person Alive award to arrive in the mail any day now), my mom & I spent a quiet, but fabulous Thanksgiving, filled with a lot of blessings to be thankful for and plenty of good eats.  Like most folks, I'm making the most of my Thanksgiving leftovers, and I do have a couple new recipes to help you make the most of all that extra turkey.  But I know many of you are suffering from turkey overload, so I thought I'd give you all a breather and post a little something sweet first.

It's funny... as much as I like baked goods, I don't know that I've ever baked as much as I have over the past couple of months.  A lot of it has to do with being unemployed, I'm sure; I mean, there are only so many British period dramas one can watch before one's eyes begin to cross and one begins seriously considering wearing bonnets when running errands.  Baking gives me the ability to stretch staples like flour and sugar by creating individual, bite sized treats that I can enjoy for days on end, and it makes me break out of my savory cooking comfort zone.  I've mentioned time and again that I'm not the best baker out there because it requires so much precision.  However, like my knife technique, it's something I knew I needed to practice, so I've tried to make the most of this scary, income-less time by flexing my baking muscles.

So far, I'm rather pleased with the results, particularly with my baking-with-quinoa experiments.  This latest venture was inspired by the copious amounts of tea I've been consuming to chase away the chill that the past few weeks have brought to this part of the nation.  As much as I love coffee, I don't drink it as much as I drink tea, and because we've been dealing with unusually cold temperatures (for us) and I don't want to run my heater too much, I've been staying warm from the inside out with soups and teas.

But tea without something to nibble on can get a bit boring after awhile, so I thought it would be fun to take some of that tea and put it in a cookie.  I've been obsessed with the idea of baking with tea since I had that Earl Grey Lavender cupcake from Esther's Cupcakes here in Sac (seriously the greatest cupcake on Earth), and decided that chamomile, combined with some of the apples I still had hanging out in Big Bowl, would make a fantastic cookie.

I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but they turned out beautifully, in my opinion.  Since I prefer softer cookies to harder ones, I made sure to keep things moist so I'd have a chewy end result.  They actually ended up in between chewy and cake-y, which I found to be a perfect accompaniment to my steaming cup of Good Earth tea; had they been more chewy and flat, they would have probably been better for dunking in milk.  The flavors of the tart apple and sweet, aromatic chamomile couldn't have come together more beautifully, and the slight addition of honey in the dough rounded out the "cup of tea"-like experience to perfection.  These are perfect for any time of year, but will definitely make a wonderful new addition to your holiday baking repertoire.  And now for the recipe!

Chewy Apple-Chamomile Cookies (makes about 3 dozen cookies; total cost per dozen: $1.05 )

1/2 c butter
1 1/3 brown sugar
1 T honey
1 t vanilla
1 egg
1/2 c milk
2 c flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 c chamomile flowers (or 8-10 chamomile tea bags, opened, chamomile removed), finely chopped
1 1/2 c finely chopped apple (Granny Smith or another tart variety works best)
1/2 t cinnamon
1 T sugar

Preheat oven to 350°.  Combine the apples, cinnamon and tablespoon of sugar in a bowl and mix together well.  Set aside.  In a separate bowl, combine the salt & flour and stir to combine.  Cream together the butter, brown sugar and honey in a third, larger bowl.  Whisk in the egg, milk and vanilla until creamy and smooth.  Add the flour to the butter mixture in small batches, stirring together to combine completely in between batches.  Next, add the chamomile flowers and apples, and fold into the mixture to incorporate.

Drop by scant teaspoonfuls onto a cookie sheet that has been lightly greased or lined with a Silpat.  Bake 13-15 minutes, or until a light golden brown.  Cool on a cookie rack for a few minutes, serve with your favorite tea, and enjoy!

Friday, November 26, 2010

PGEW Art for Sale!

Are you a fan of PGEW food photos?  Looking for something unique to give to your friends & family (especially the foodies) this Christmas?  If you're not a fan of the crowds & mayhem of Black Friday and you prefer to spending the day after Thanksgiving relaxing and indulging in leftovers, please take a moment to stop on by my shop at RedBubble, where I'm selling some of my better food photography in different formats.  From high quality post cards & greeting cards, posters to framed prints, you can give gifts made from some of the great photos you know and love from PGEW.

And I'm not just featuring food photos, either!  Though I'm no professional, I do love to take pictures of random things around town, so I'll be featuring some other great shots as well.  I only have a small selection up right now, but I'll be adding more shortly, so be sure to keep checking back by using the widget on the left sidebar.  In the meantime, here's a slideshow of the work I currently have available.

I hope you enjoy what you see!  If you do, please pass the word along to your friends & family; that is, unless you're planning on buying a postcard or set of greeting cards for them...  ;)

Thanks in advance, and be sure to stay tuned for a new recipe this weekend!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Last minute Thanksgiving ideas!

As I was typing up my latest recipe for Sweet Potato, Mushroom & Veggie Stuffing, it occurred to me that there may be some folks who are still scrambling for last minute recipes for tomorrow's big feast, just like I'm scrambling to do my last minute packing.  So in honor of all of us who procrastinate, or for those who simply want to serve up something a little different either during dinner or the hours leading up to it, here are a few Turkey Day-esque recipes to help bail you out.  Enjoy!

And if you're feeling really adventurous and energetic after the big meal, try tackling the leftovers with these recipes:

Happy Thanksgiving to thee & thine!


Recipe: Sweet Potato, Mushroom & Veggie Stuffing

Thanksgiving, my favorite food holiday of the entire year, is but a mere twelve hours away and I am already drooling at the thought of my mom's candied yams, her stuffing, and everything else that we inhale on that special day.  I'm also looking forward to seeing just how much I'll be able to bring back home in terms of leftovers, as that's what usually gets me through most of the month of December.  In preparation for this onslaught of foil wrapped packages and plastic containers, I thought it'd be a good idea clear out my fridge & freezer, a task I'll admit I've been neglecting for awhile.  It proved a fruitful endeavor, and I found some items I knew I wasn't going to use in any other dishes for awhile, like a ton of wheat bread (I'm just not the biggest bread eater...).  With some produce I didn't want to risk having to throw out after the long weekend and a giant sweet potato I'd been looking forward to sinking my teeth into, I decided to make a nice stuffing that would supplement the leftovers that will be coming soon.

Now, I find my mom's stuffing to be the best stuffing ever, so to even consider a different stuffing recipe seems almost sacrilegious.  It's like one's mom's meatloaf or potato salad: there are just some things that moms make that taste better than any other variation of the dish.  But I suppose that doesn't mean I can't try my hand at something new, and that's how I decided to approach this dish.  While it's definitely Thanksgiving-worthy, it doesn't necessarily have to be a Thanksgiving-only dish, making it quite versatile.  With plenty of crunchy veggies, meaty mushrooms and the tender sweetness of roasted sweet potatoes, it's great pretty much year round.  It's a unique, tasty way to make use of any vegetable odds & ends, as well as any extra bread that might have gone stale while you weren't looking.  

Because it has a high veggie-to-bread ratio, this is a bit less sinful than most stuffing recipes you may see at this time of year that are made with all sorts of evil things like bacon or sausage or a ton of heavy cream and butter.  I used a minimal amount of butter and used my homemade vegetable stock to moisten this stuffing, keeping things tasty, but lower in fat than traditional recipes. While it's great as a side, I found myself enjoying it as a hearty, meatless, one-dish meal, so my non-meat-eating friends can partake of this as well.  Serve it with your favorite gravy, and voila!  Dinner is served!  

And did I mention it feeds a small army for just about $7 for the entire dish?  :)

Sweet Potato, Mushroom & Veggie Stuffing (makes 6-8 servings; total cost per serving: $1.20)

3 c cubed wheat bread (preferably stale)
1 large red sweet potato (about 1-2 lbs)
1 c chopped carrots
1 c chopped celery
1 c chopped red onion
1 8 oz. package white mushrooms, sliced into 1/2" thick pieces
2 1/2 c vegetable stock or broth
4 T butter, melted
2 T olive oil, divided
1 T + 1/2 t salt
1 t dried sage
1 t + 1/2 t thyme
1 t + 1/2 t ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425°.  Line a cookie sheet with foil and set aside.  Peel and chop the sweet potato into 1" cubes.  Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper, and toss together until combined.  Place on the cookie sheet in a single layer and roast for about 10 minutes, or until barely tender (do NOT overcook!).  Set aside and allow to cool.

Reduce the oven heat to 350° and lightly grease a 9" x 13" x 2" baking dish.  In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil and add the mushrooms.  Season with the 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of thyme and 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper, and sauté over medium heat until just.  Remove from heat.

Place the bread cubes, chopped carrots, onions and celery into a large bowl.  Add the vegetable stock, melted butter and remaining seasonings, and mix together until the bread is moist and everything is well combined.  Next, add the sweet potatoes and cooked mushrooms, and gently fold them into the bread mixture.  Transfer to the baking dish and bake until heated through and golden brown, about 40 minutes.  Serve as a side with your favorite holiday meal, top with gravy, and enjoy!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Recipe: Fiesta Corn & Potato Chowder

So it's finally here: our first real storm of the winter season, complete with rain, wind, and plenty of below average temps.  As someone who finds nothing good about cold, wet weather except for the fact that I get to wear PJ's with feet (yes, they make me look like I'm a giant four year old, but I don't care... I love them!), this evil storm thrills me not.  However, it does give me the excuse to have more soup than I normally would, and that goes extremely well with the aforementioned fuzzy, warm pajamas.

Though the weather was still relatively nice a couple of days ago, I made a batch of my Creamy Navy Bean Soup with Chicken & Veggies (sans bread bowls, as I had none) to prep myself for the upcoming storm, and it has served me well thus far.  Today, however, I was not only running out of said soup; I was also in the mood for something a little different.  I had all the makings of my Hearty Mushroom & Potato Soup ready to go, but wanted to save my mushrooms for a different recipe.  A quick scan of my cupboards resulted in a fabulous treasure trove of plenty of canned corn, so I decided to use those to make a quick, but extremely hearty & delicious chowder to chase away the cold.

Every time I make a new soup recipe, I'm overcome with excitement of how amazing soup can be, and this time was no different.  Seriously, Poor Girl?  You think soup is "amazing"?  Yes.... yes, I do.  As I've mentioned before, soup is filling, nutritious, and can make use of a whole bunch of ingredients you wouldn't otherwise think of using.  Today's soup is by no means exotic, but it does take care of a lot of the third major soup function: it makes use of a whole bunch of ingredients you wouldn't otherwise use.  Really, what else can I do with a ton of canned corn when it's 40 below (okay, it's like 45°, but to me, that is near arctic...)?  Combined with some red potatoes I had in Big Bowl and the last few red bell peppers from my urban garden (how lucky am I to still have a fruitful garden?!), this made for a hearty, filling, and delicious soup.

Now, I understand that it may be a bit odd to add the term "fiesta" to a dish that has no other traditional "fiesta" type ingredients except for the peppers & jalapeños.  I mean, heck... there's an entire tablespoon of thyme in this soup!  Not exactly a "fiesta" herb at all, right?  But fiesta means "party", and the different colors in this particular chowder are so lovely that they look like a ton of fun, as a party should be.  Therefore, this dish is named after the fun of the colors used in it: yellows, reds, greens, magentas... it's as beautiful a soup to look at as it is to enjoy.  Though the peppers are a prominent part of the chowder, they are barely sweet and only added at the end, in order to make the most of their textures & flavors.  Everything else in the soup is mild, rich and comforting, only making the crunch and spice of the sweet peppers all that more exciting. To make a more sinful soup, try adding about 3/4 cups of shredded cheese; otherwise, take heart in the fact that this soup is simple to make, good for you, and most of all, delicious.

Fiesta Corn & Potato Chowder (makes 6 servings; total cost per serving: $1.45)

2 cans sweet corn kernels, drained
1/2 c diced onion
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 medium red potatoes, diced into 1/2" pieces
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 large jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
2 T olive oil
1 14 oz can chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 c milk
1 T thyme
1 T salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large soup pot over medium high heat and add the oil.  When hot, add the onions & garlic and sauté until they become fragrant and just begin to turn translucent.  Next, add the potatoes, salt, thyme and black pepper, and cook until the potatoes begin to brown slightly.  Add the broth and bring to a low boil; simmer for about 5 minutes, until the potatoes soften.  Add the corn kernels and the milk and bring back to a low boil.

Remove about 3/4 of the soup mixture and carefully puree in a food processor or with a hand blender until completely smooth.  Return the puree to the pot, add the peppers, and bring to a slow simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat, ladle into soup bowls, garnish with freshly ground black pepper, and enjoy!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Recipe: Spiced Butternut & Quinoa Muffins with Almond Streusel

The more things seem to go south for me these days the happier I am that I have my baby blog as an escape.  Don't get me wrong: I know I'm not the only one in this situation and I feel awful for those who are experiencing worse.  But right now, I'm so stressed I can't even see straight, which is why I'm glad cooking and being creative in the kitchen is such an amazing stress-reliever.  Experimenting with new recipes and seeing awesome end results has always been fun for me, but now it's almost therapeutic.  It's like in Julie & Julia, when Julie's had a bad day at work and tells her husband that it's such a comfort to know that no matter how bad things are, you can always count on cooking to turn certain ingredients into a delicious pie.

Today's ingredients did not result in pie, but they did turn into these awesome little muffins that just scream "Fall is here!"  We're not feeling the fall weather that much just yet in this, but it is starting to cool down and baking something just seemed like a good idea.  Since I'm still rather obsessed with the idea of baking with quinoa after making my Red Quinoa, Apple & Cranberry Cake last month, I thought it'd be fun to play around with that a bit more while making something different with butternut squash.  Though I've done pretty much everything savory you can think of with this lovely little squash, I wanted to try my hand at baking with it.  After all, we bake with a lot of other squashes, namely pumpkin and zucchini; so why not butternut?

Once again, the addition of cooked quinoa adds a certain nutty quality to the overall flavor of the muffin, but my favorite part about baking with the mother grain is how moist it makes the finished product.  I kept the spices simple but used enough to truly enhance the sweetness of the freshly roasted butternut squash that was the base of the recipe.  I'd considered tossing in some raisins but decided not to at the last minute, opting instead to make a sweet almond streusel to top off the muffins.  Next time I make these I think I will add either nuts or raisins to the actual batter, but even with the delicate streusel alone, these were still quite delicious.  It's a great way to make use of any extra butternut squash you may have lying around and is a nice departure from the perpetual pumpkin baked goods we see this time of year (though I will be doing a fun li'l pumpkin recipe soon!).  And since these are of a reasonable size, as opposed to what one would get at a coffee shop or bakery, they're slightly less bad for you.  Let's check 'em out.

Spiced Butternut & Quinoa Muffins with Almond Streusel (makes 12 muffins; total cost per muffin: $0.60)

1 ¼ c whole wheat flour
¾ c brown sugar, packed
½ t ground cinnamon
½ t ground nutmeg
1 t baking powder
½ t salt
¾ c cooked quinoa
2 eggs
1 small butternut squash (should yield ¾-1 c pureed squash)
4 T butter, melted
½ c milk
2 t vanilla extract
1 T cooking oil
1 T brown sugar

Almond Streusel
1/3 c chopped or slivered almonds
1/4 c sugar
2 T whole wheat flour
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t ground nutmeg
2 T butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 425°.  Peel and chop the butternut squash into 1" cubes and toss together with the oil and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar.  Place in a single layer on a foil lined cookie sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes, or until tender.  Allow to cool for a few minutes and puree until smooth using a food processor or hand blender.  Set aside and reduce the oven heat to 400°.

Prepare the streusel by combining all the ingredients in a bowl and mixing together until crumbly.  Set aside.  In a separate medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg, and stir until well combined.  In a larger bowl, beat together the butternut squash puree, eggs, vanilla, melted butter and milk until smooth.  Gradually add the flour mixture to the squash mixture in small batches, stirring until smooth between batches.  Finally, fold in the cooked quinoa until completely combined.

Spoon the batter into a muffin tin that's either been greased or lined with paper muffin liners.  Top each muffin with a small amount of streusel then bake for 30 minutes, until the streusel is golden and the center of the muffin is no longer moist when tested with a toothpick.  Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before removing from the pan.  Serve for breakfast or for a quick snack with some excellent coffee, and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The $25 Shopping Cart, version 12.0

Hey there... remember me?  ;)

I've been sans internet at home for over a week now and it's killing me, so I've been everywhere I can think of to find a place with wi-fi that isn't too far away and that my moody computer will deem acceptable.  Yesterday, many of you suggested I try the library, but the only one I knew of was still going to cost me a day pass for light rail, and right now $6 might as well be $600.  Even Starbucks seemed like a cheaper option.  As luck would have it though, I was on my way home from a short walk yesterday afternoon and took a different route, since the fall foliage was even more lovely one particular street than any other in my neighborhood.  As a result, I stumbled upon what I consider to be the greatest discovery of the year: a library in my neighborhood.

Okay, okay, so it's been here for over 70 years.  I feel a little dumb for not knowing that there was a library so close to me all this time, especially since I've lived in this part of Sacramento for about 5 years now.  But the important thing is that I found it, it has internet that my computer likes, and it's only 4 blocks from where I live.  All it needs is a kitchen for me to work in and it's pretty much nirvana.

ANYWAY...  that means I can post again!  Since we're already 10 days into the month, I won't bother with a What's In Store post so I can launch right into the good stuff: like my most recent $25 Shopping Cart excursion.  This is probably the last one I'll be able to do for awhile, since Poor Girl is still unemployed and waiting for her SNAP appointment to finally arrive, but I'm grateful that I was able to even do this small run thanks to some of your generous donations.  In order to make the most of the few bucks I had, not to mention that I hadn't yet done an official  $25 Shopping Cart from this particular store, I headed to the new Grocery Outlet in Midtown to stock up on some goods.

This branch of Grocery Outlet opened this summer and brought another much needed grocery store to the Midtown area.  Except for my Safeway on 19th & R and the Co-op, there really aren't many food store options for us Midtowners.  Located on 17th & Capitol, it's a great central spot for anyone to access.  Despite being a small store, they carry a wide variety of quality foods and other products, and even have an impressive wine & beer section.  Though it's still very new, I'm always impressed with the cleanliness of the store and the overall friendliness of the staff.  But my favorite part would definitely have to be the insanely low prices they offer.  You all know I love me some Trader Joe's because of their low prices, but Grocery Outlet is a whole other animal in that respect.  Observe...

  • 1 8 oz container baby portabella mushrooms - $1.49
  • 1 8 oz bag baby spinach - $1.99 (I can do better at TJ's, but this is still a good deal)
  • 2 red onions - $0.50/each
  • 2 yellow onions - $0.50/each
  • 2 white onions - $0.50/each
  • 2 bunches green onions - $0.50/each (yes, that's a lot of onions, but you can never have enough onions in the house!)
  • 1 package Canadian bacon - $1.99
  • 1 6 oz block havarti cheese - $0.50 (!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  • 1 6 oz block Kerrygold Aged Cheddar Cheese - $1.23 (at this point, I pretty much fainted)
  • 2 large russet potatoes - $0.50/each
  • 1 butternut squash - $1.29
  • 1 bag split peas - $0.79
  • 1 Foster Farms "Picnic Pack" (8 drumsticks & 8 thighs) - $4.14
  • 1 12 oz bag brown rice pasta shells - $1.99
  • 1 package of napkins - $1.59

As if that wasn't enough, I was even able to cater a bit to the furbabies:

  • Meow Mix Wholesome Goodness wet food for my gravy lovin' StuKitty - 3/$1
  • 26 lbs Arm & Hammer litter - $7.99 (!!!!!!!!!!)

Total for everything, including the cat provisions: $31.42.  CRAZINESS!!!

That means that without the kitty stuff, I only spent about $22 on food for me.  And it's stuff I know I can stretch to make several different meals.  I had this idea in mind when I purchased that large flat of chicken legs & thighs, as I was actually leaning more towards the whole chickens they had available for just $0.99/lb.  However, I knew that it would be easier for me to bag the pieces separately before freezing them, giving me more room for variety rather than cooking the whole chicken.  I also had visions of warm, comforting split pea soup dancing in my head once I saw those split peas, and I'm sort of regretting not getting a few more bags.  With the few frozen veggies I have in the freezer and some more grains & beans in the cupboard, I should be set for a few weeks of interesting eating, thanks to Grocery Outlet's crazy cheap prices.

There's only one bad thing about G.O.: if you don't get an item right away, you're pretty much never going to see it again because of the close-out nature of the store.  So if you can afford it and you're absolutely in love with a certain product, try to get more than one (this is the only time I suggest doing this!).  Actually, I take that back.  The OTHER bad part about G.O. is that it is quite possible to become intoxicated by the super low prices, therefore causing one to be in danger of overfilling one's shopping cart and possibly overspend (I speak from experience).

Other than that, I find myself visiting this new Grocery Outlet a lot more than my standard go-to stores.  I can walk to it for free and the prices are definitely Poor Girl friendly.  So they don't carry Chevre with Honey or some of the other oddball things I consider to be so wonderful at Trader Joe's; their location, ever-changing inventory, and ridiculously low prices are swiftly making this the first grocery store I visit.  Even before TJ's (Shhh!  Don't tell them I said that!).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Posting from my phone.......

I honestly have no idea how this will look once it's posted but I had to write!  There are things I need to clarify & things I must update you on, even if it is from the confines of my phone...

~ I am completely sans internet right now. I can't afford it & there's no one nearby to help me with it, not even a cafe (which is ever so irksome).

~ I did not stop writing because of Project Food Blog. As per my previous post, I am rather happy to be out of that contest!

~ Project Food Blog & October: Unprocessed are NOT the same thing! So those of you who thought so, please know my last post was about PFB, not Unprocessed!

~ I have about 7-8 posts to share w/all of you, but until I can get online again, phone blogging may be it! :(

~ I miss writing & interacting w/all of you more than you know! Pray that I can update you properly soon - you wouldn't believe my last $25 Shopping Cart!

Thanks for putting up with this evil glitch!



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