Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Recipe: Cream Cheese & Kumquat Marmalade Muffins

I think I have kumquat ADD.

Several weeks ago, my pal Catherine bequeathed upon me a hefty sack of kumquats from her best friend's rather prolific tree.  I made a fantastic kumquat marmalade and played around with other canning experiments, but mostly I just popped an embarrassing number of them in my mouth.  I savored these little fruit gems like they were candy as I chopped, stirred and canned, thinking I had thousands left over to turn into sweet, candied bits for the Meyer Lemon Cheesecake Shots with Candied Kumquats photo makeover.  After all, a little goes quite a long way in kumquat land, right?.

But as the last few tiny citruses unleashed bursts of mouth-puckering juice onto my tongue, I realized I'd snacked myself into a corner: I'd not only used, but consumed all of my kumquats.  I hung my head in shame, knowing I'd have to put off another blogging task, but also wondering when I could have my next fix.

Like a good dealer, somehow my kumquat-gifting friend knew that I was out and showed up shortly after my embarrassing binge with another bag heavy with the little bright orange fruits.  "What are you using them for?" she asked, a little confused by how quickly I'd used the first huge stash.  "Oh, I'm just canning them," I lied, fingers crossed behind my back. I just couldn't admit to such shameful kumquat binging.

After preparing more kumquat marmalade & chutney with the new stash, I made another attempt at making the cheesecake shots.  But the stormy weather was so lousy, with howling winds and torrents of rain pouring from the sky, that it just seemed like a much better day for baking.  Not wanting to waste the cream cheese I'd set out to soften, I thought it might be fun to make some sort of cream cheese & fruit muffin.  And with the sweet scent of kumquat marmalade in the air, I knew exactly what I'd be using for my new little experiment.

I love baking with cream cheese (or in my case, Neufchatel; it has a slightly different flavor and is lower in fat calories) because of the different texture it gives to the final product.  The crumb is slightly more dense and the mouth feel more velvety than baking with butter.  It also makes cakes or muffins taste more rich & smooth, which is why sweet-tart fruits are such perfect complements. 

Usually, cream cheese muffins are paired with berries, but I found that the kumquat marmalade was just as delightful.  Though the marmalade on its own is tangy sweet, its flavor is smoothed out by the cream cheese batter.  And since I like to keep my marmalade chunky, the large pieces of fruit make for a pleasant little surprise in every bite.

If you don't have access to kumquats or they're too expensive where you live (the lowest price I've seen in this area is about $6/lb), find a friend with a tree!  I'm serious.  Chances are the tree has too much fruit and your pal might not have time to use them all.  Don't have access to one of those?  No worries.  These muffins will probably be just as tasty made with orange marmalade; just be sure to get the kind that has plenty of orange rind in it (Smucker's is your best bet for that), in order to get as much citrus flavor as possible. 

And now that these are out of my system, maybe someday I can get around to those little cheesecake shots for their new photo shoot.  Unless I come up with something new to do with kumquats...

Cream Cheese & Kumquat Marmalade Muffins (makes 12 muffins; total cost per muffin: $0.85)

1 8 oz. package Neufchatel or low-fat cream cheese, softened
1/4 c butter, softened
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 c nonfat milk
4 T kumquat marmalade (recipe follows)
1/2 c sugar
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
2 t baking powder
Pinch of salt
2-3 kumquats, thinly sliced (for garnish)

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Prepare a muffin tin by lining it with muffin liners or greasing well.  Set aside.

Combine the dry ingredients in a medium bowl and stir together.  In a separate, larger bowl, beat together the cream cheese, butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light & fluffy.  Add the egg and milk and mix well.  Next, add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients a half cupful at a time, mixing well in between batches.  Lastly, fold the kumquat marmalade into the batter gently, making sure not to overbeat. 

Drop large spoonfuls of batter into each cup of the muffin tin and top with individual kumquat slices.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Serve with extra kumquat marmalade and enjoy!

Kumquat Marmalade
(Since these tiny little fruits are naturally high in pectin, there is no need to add store-bought pectin to make this marmalade!  All you need is a little extra patience, and it will thicken up beautifully on its own.)

1 lb kumquats (about 20-30 or so)
3/4 c water
1 1/2 c sugar
2 T lemon juice

Rinse the kumquats in a colander and pat dry with paper towels.  Cut off the ends, then slice each kumquat lengthwise, remove the seeds, and cut the halves into quarters. 

In a large saucepan, combine the water, sugar and lemon juice and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Reduce heat to medium low and continue to simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The mixture will start to thicken on its own as you are cooking, and will continue to thicken as it cools.

Allow the marmalade to cool to room temperature, then pour into airtight containers.  It can be refrigerated for up to 2 months and frozen for up to 6 months.  Serve on muffins, toast, scones, or use it as a base for sauces in other recipes.  But most of all, enjoy!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Recipe: Cranberry-Almond Tuna Salad Sandwiches

Like many bloggers, I like to check out my traffic stats on a regular basis, just to see where people are coming from and what has led them to PGEW.  I find it both fascinating & humbling to know that there are people in Spain or Germany or the UK who somehow end up stumbling upon my little blog and stay awhile to read what I have to say.

The most interesting data for me comes from the types of searches that lead people here.  Most searches are pretty straightforward: specific recipes, uses for certain ingredients and the like.  But sometimes the Google searches that bring people to PGEW can be a little... different.  Some are disturbing, others a little confusing, but in general they're just amusing.  "Who is the patron saint of burritos?" is pretty much my all-time favorite odd search, but this week I came across another interesting/amusing search: someone came looking for "unconscious tuna salad".

After giggling for a little bit (I couldn't help myself), I realized that this wasn't such a bad search after all.  It reminded me that I hadn't had a good tuna salad in ages, and with spring finally showing its face around here, it seemed like a perfect time to whip up a new batch.

In Tuna Salad Land, there are two distinct camps: the sweet tuna lovers and the savory tuna fans.  For most of my life, I've been a part of the latter, primarily because I grew up with my mom's completely kickass tuna & scallion salad.  After having something so crisp and refreshing, it was almost depressing to have to take a bite of the sweet pickle relish kind.

While that version has grown on me over the years, I'm still a bigger fan of more savory tuna salads, my favorite being the fabulous Mediterranean Style Tuna Salad I posted a couple years back.  Unfortunately, I only had tuna and baby spinach to play with, so that salad was out of the question.  But once I'm struck with a craving, I cannot let the idea go until I've satisfied that crazy need.  I was going to come up with something else. 

It looked like the ingredients in my pantry were conspiring to make sure I had something sweet thrown into my tuna because the only things that seemed to work well were dried cranberries and slivered roasted almonds.  Luckily, tuna's one of those uber-versatile ingredients that can go in a million different directions depending on what you pair it with, so once it was mixed together with the fruit & nuts and a couple other key ingredients, I ended up with a pretty nice little salad. 

With some dried herbs and crisp red onion I was able to have my savory craving satisfied, but the dried cranberries also lent a sweet-tart kick that was a welcome change to my standard tuna fare.  The slivered roasted almonds also added a fun, crunchy texture to the mix.  This easy-to-prepare salad is great on its own with some fresh greens, or in a sandwich as I've done here.  It would also make a fantastic pita filling, if you prefer that kind of sandwich.  I'm pretty sure the kids will like it, too!  Let's check it out.

Cranberry-Almond Tuna Salad Sandwiches (makes 2 sandwiches, total cost per sandwich: ~ $1.75)

1 can of water-packed tuna, drained
2 T finely chopped red onion
3 T dried cranberries
2 T slivered roasted almonds
2-3 T mayonnaise (you can use more or less depending on personal taste)
1/2 t herbes de provence*
Pinch of salt & pepper
4 slices whole grain, whole wheat bread
Small handful of baby spinach or spring mix

1. Combine the first 6 ingredients in a bowl and mix together until completely combined.  Check for flavor and add salt & pepper to taste. 
2. Toast or grill the bread to desired doneness. 
3. Add half the tuna salad mixture on one side of each sandwich and spread a tiny amount of mayo on the other side. 
4. Top with greens, put the sandwiches together, grab some napkins, and enjoy!

*Can't find herbes de provence at your store?  Make your own version with equal amounts of dried thyme, basil, savory, and marjoram, a couple small pinches of fennel seed and rosemary, and if you have it, a tiny amount of dried lavender (yes, lavender!).  Mix together until thoroughly combined, store in an airtight container, and voila!  Your very own jar of herbes de provence. :)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Review: Pho Bac Hoa Viet - Folsom, CA

I think it's safe to say that I'm rather noodle soup-obsessed right now.  From my insatiable udon cravings to my rekindled love affair with soba noodles, these days I long for the comforting joy of slurping up long tender noodles from hot, steamy broth.  So when my friend & fellow food blogger, Kristy, invited me to partake of more noodle soup love at Pho Bac Hoa Viet a few weeks ago, I immediately said yes.

We went on a Friday night right after I got off work.  Because the dinner rush hadn't started yet, we were seated almost immediately by our young server.  She was friendly and attentive, offering to help us with any questions we might have on the rather overwhelmingly huge menu.  Knowing that many patrons wouldn't be familiar with some of the items offered at this Vietnamese-Chinese restaurant, she explained that part of her training included trying as many dishes as possible so she could guide her customers with ease.  Aside from its cleanliness, that immediately registered in my mind as the first good thing about Pho Bac Sac (as it's lovingly referred to on Twitter).  To me, there's nothing more off-putting than asking your server for recommendations or clarifications on the menu and having him either stare at you blankly or just shrug and say, "I don't know.  Haven't tried it."

Because we were busy catching up on our gossip, it took us awhile to look through the large menu.  As I said before, it's quite extensive and a bit overwhelming for a first-timer.  But as Kristy explained, they don't just serve the traditional Vietnamese pho; they also serve more standard Chinese fare for the less adventurous eaters.  But even if the menu is large in size, their prices aren't, with most items ranging from $6-8.  For their more mainstream Chinese fare, they offer rice plates that cost around $7.50 each, or a la carte versions for a slightly higher amount. 

But I wasn't there for the kind of Chinese food I can get just about anywhere; I was there for one thing and one thing only: a big steaming bowl of pho.

Pronounced "fuh", pho is a fabulous melange of flavors, textures and cultural influences swimming in a giant bowl of steaming hot broth.  Inspired by different aspects of Chinese and French cooking, the ingredients are simple: noodles, meat and broth, served with a healthy side of sprouts, basil, mint, and other leafy greens.

Pho Perfection

Traditionally, it is served with beef but as it's gained popularity here in the U.S., it's sometimes served with chicken or other meats.  The best way to eat it, however, is the real way: with plenty of steak, brisket, tendon and tripe.  For those who are a little squeamish about the last two ingredients, don't fret: Pho Bac offers over ten different versions of this beef noodle soup, giving one the opportunity to customize it according to one's personal tastes. 

Because I'm a staunch believer that the only tripe I can eat is the kind found in my mother's mondongo (the Colombian - and far better - version of menudo), I decided to order the #5, which comes with rare steak, well-done flank, and tendon.  Since our goal was to do a small menu tasting, we also ordered the lettuce wraps with pork, wor wonton soup, and the charbroiled shrimp & pork over vermicelli, a.k.a. the #51.

Lettuce Wraps with Grilled Pork

If the Pho Bac Sac menu is huge, their portions are even bigger.  I could have enjoyed our lettuce wrap appetizer for dinner and still end up with leftovers, such was the amount of food served to us.  Beautifully presented, it came with a generous serving of rice noodles, perfectly-seasoned charbroiled pork and a healthy wedge of iceberg lettuce, from which you would peel your individual wrap's leaves.  A side of fresh cilantro, mint and bean sprouts accompanied this lovely appetizer which is definitely something to be shared between a couple people.

Our soups came out next, served steaming hot in large bowls.  Kristy's wor wonton soup was a beautifully colorful affair, with plenty of greens & pink cured pork accenting the hefty wonton dumplings that swam in a perfect looking broth.  I was instantly jealous until my big bowl was placed in front of me, after which I couldn't have cared less, for I was in blissful pho country.

Wor Wonton Soup

The first thing I do when I try a new noodle soup is to try the broth by itself.  Yes, noodles are important, but if they're floating in nothing but salt water all the luster of a perfect bowl of noodle soup is lost.  My small bowl of pho (which is actually quite large) came with a wel-balanced broth: not too salty, not bland, with the subtle flavors of the beef bones it was cooked from showing up at the very end of the slurp, right before you swallow.  Since my noodles were buried under the meat, I tried the steak and flank next, finding them both tender and lightly seasoned.  The noodles were long, chewy, and perfect for slurping (and no, I'm not a heathen; noodle soup is supposed to be slurped!), and the tendon, once I dug it up from under the noodles, was also very tender and added a fabulous flavor to the rest of the soup.

Because I was already pretty full from lettuce wraps and the pho, I knew that my beautiful plate of vermicelli, charbroiled pork and skewered shrimp was not going to be entirely consumed that night, but I couldn't leave without at least taking a couple of bites.  Served with more sprouts and fresh herbs like cilantro, basil and mint, and sprinkled with chopped peanuts, this is my favorite Vietnamese dish to enjoy next to pho.  The sweet, smoky pork combined with the tender rice noodles and all those crunchy veggies is further accented by what I consider to be the star of that show: the slightly sweet rice vinegar dressing with matchstick carrots.  Poured on top of the entire dish, it adds just the right amount of moisture and ties all the flavors together perfectly. 

Charbroiled Shrimp & Pork over Vermicelli Noodles

The only thing that would have made this fabulously filling dinner even better would have been a small glass of plum wine, but at that time they only had their regular beverage menu available.  Apparently I'm not the only one who's requested this, because as of April 1st, both the Rancho Cordova and Folsom locations will be offering a small wine selection, so that should be nice to try in the future.  I did have every intention of ordering a Vietnamese coffee after dinner, since that's the best way to top off a good Vietnamese dinner.  Alas, I was way too full of noodles to do so, and just sipped at my tea while my giant vermicelli plate and the rest of my pho were packed neatly in to-go containers.

All in all, I really enjoyed my first Pho Bac Sac experience.  The service was quick, the food served hot and filled with traditional flavors, as opposed to the more Americanized versions of these dishes that one might find at other restaurants.  It's a little far for me to get to right now, but if you live a little east of Sacramento and are traveling down the Highway 50 corridor, be sure to take a little detour and give Pho Bac Hoa Viet a try.  You'll be a fan, pho sure!  (Sorry, couldn't resist!)

Pho Bac Hoa Viet has two locations: 606 E. Bidwell Street in Folsom, and 3110 Bradshaw Road in Rancho Cordova.  You can follow them on Twitter @phobacsac and on Facebook at:

Pho Bac Hoa Viet on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Newsworthy: Poor Girl Becomes An Official Mushroom Channel Contributor!

Don't you just love it when you get a great piece of news and it makes even the stormiest of days seem bright & sunny?  That was the case for me last Saturday, when the news that I'd scored my very first paid writing gig made the violent winter storm whipping around outside my window seem like total child's play.

That's right, folks!  I got a paid recipe writing gig!  For the next year, yours truly will be one of ten featured contributors to The Mushroom Channel, a fabulous website that covers anything & everything mushroom-related.  You all know how much I love, love, LOVE mushrooms, so to be able to develop a series of new mushroom recipes for fellow fungophiles is awesome enough; to know that I'll also be getting paid for these recipes is beyond fabulous!  Talk about finally getting some street cred as a recipe writer!

I'm not alone in this fantastic project, and I want to give a shout out to the other awesome bloggers who will also be creating magnificent mushroom recipes throughout the year.  Here's the complete list of the 2011 crew:
Some I'm quite familiar with, others I've just learned about, but we all have one thing in common: we love our funghi.

So stay tuned, fellow fungophiles!  My first official post will be out on April 4th, and it's going to be a good one.  For now, feel free to rejoice along with me by enjoying a small handful of the many (and I mean many) mushroom recipes here on PGEW...
Enjoy! :)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Recipe: Polenta Mini Pizzas with Mushrooms & Olives

I'm baaaaack!

Did you miss me?  I certainly missed blogging here during the past few weeks!  Though I had some fabulous guest bloggers help me out in the interim, it's good to get back to work on my baby.  I just have to keep reminding myself that I have to take it slowly at first.

As most of you know, I moved - rather unexpectedly - to a different apartment in my building (for those of you who really want to know all the details behind my decision, you can check out my post on my other blog).  It was one of the best moves I've made in a long time, and I am quite happy settling in to a place that feels brighter, happier, and safer than where I was before.

The only sucky part was that I had a really strict deadline and almost zero help or preparation to get said move accomplished, so it was probably the most difficult move I've ever had to do.  One thing's knowing that you're going to move and having time to pack and get rid of excess junk; another is having to move all that crap with you in less than a week with no boxes or sweet friends to help you (and who can blame them, considering there was hardly any notice!).

So up & down the stairs I trudged, carrying whatever I could in my hands, making sure not to carry too much so I wouldn't lose my balance and fall (which is something I'd probably do, I'm so darned accident-prone).  Before and after work I'd do this, falling into bed exhausted at completely inexcusable hours, freaking out more & more each day as my move-out deadline approached.  Gah.

And so, in traditional form whenever stress levels get too high for me, my body shut down.  Again, I won't go into the details of what I'm dealing with, but let's just say I'm in quite a bit of pain due to the neuralgia I'm experiencing, and have a few more weeks of recovery time before I'm back to normal.  So as happy as I was to get everything moved in on time, my body decided that settling in was going to take a spot on the back burner because health was more important.  I guess I can't disagree with it; I just wished it would let me know in advance before it freaks out in major ways.

The good news is that I'm on the mend and have slowly gained enough strength to get some work done around here.  I've created a small workspace so that I can blog again, and have learned to navigate my much tinier, but way cuter new kitchen.  The bad news is that I have to rein in my lofty new recipe ideas for awhile, so tonight's recipe is super simple.

But as you all know, in my world, super simple can still = super delicious.

I was inspired to make the following recipe for a number of reasons, namely: A) I wanted a mushroom & olive pizza but didn't want to spend $30+ on delivery, and B) I needed to do something with my big ol' tube of polenta.

In the spirit of my dessert shots, which pack all the sweet joy of dessert into tiny little shot glasses to minimize the guilt factor, I decided to turn my pizza craving into something equally tiny & less evil.  It's not my usual made-completely-from-scratch work, but it does a great job at making a quick, tasty meal without too much effort.

Using a regular tube of prepared polenta, I simply grilled up small medallions of it in one of my trusty skillets, brushed some impromptu pizza sauce on top, added my favorite toppings, and voila!  Tiny pizzas that are undoubtedly way less fattening than the delivery kind, and far less expensive.  Served with a nice spinach salad, I had a great little meal for dinner tonight, and plenty of polenta leftover for more nano-pizzas or something different!  Let's check out the recipe...

Polenta Mini Pizzas with Mushrooms & Olives (makes 4-6 mini pizzas; total cost per serving: $2.75)

NOTE: Mushrooms & olives just happen to be my favorite pizza toppings, so if yours differ, by all means, use  whatever toppings you enjoy!

1/2 18 oz. tube prepared polenta
10-12 small black olives, sliced
5-6 small white button mushrooms, sliced
1 c shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese
1 T olive oil
Salt & pepper

"Pizza" sauce
4 oz. tomato sauce
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t dried basil
1/4 t dried rosemary
1/2 t minced garlic
1/8 t salt
1/4 t ground black pepper
(Note: if you're really in a pinch, 4-6 oz. of prepared pasta or pizza sauce will work just as well!)

Prepare the "pizza sauce" by combining all ingredients in a small saucepan and cooking over medium low heat until heated through (about 4-5 minutes).  Remove from heat & set aside.

Cut the polenta into 1/2" thick slices.  Season both sides of each slice very lightly with salt & pepper and set aside.  Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil.  When oil is heated through, arrange the polenta slices in the skillet and pan-fry for about 3 minutes on each side, or until slightly golden brown & crispy to the touch.

Remove the polenta from the skillet and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain the excess oil.  Add about a teaspoon of sauce to each polenta slice, top with a teaspoon or so of shredded cheese, then add the olives & mushrooms.  Return the mini pizzas to the skillet and cover, cooking for another 2-3 minutes, or until the cheese has melted.  Garnish with fresh chopped basil, serve with a nice salad, and enjoy!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Guest Post: Tex-Mex Enchiladas

My final guest post comes from Ann of Sacatomato, another fantastic Sacramento food blog that features everything from recipes to local food events.  Ann, a culinary consultant, is also the author of the cookbook, Hands-off Cooking.  As mom to an adorable, rambunctious three-year-old, she seemed like the perfect person to tackle yet another dilemma about which many of you have emailed me: how to feed your little ones good, healthy food without breaking the bank.  Since my children are of the four-legged, furry variety, my experience with finicky human eaters has been fairly slim.  So it was great to get a recipe written from a working mom's perspective for this post.

What I love about Ann's approach is that she doesn't believe in "hiding" vegetables & other healthy foods from kids.  As a child who was encouraged to try everything (which I thank my parents for daily), I developed a love for almost all foods, and I think it's great that more parents are giving their children this same opportunity.  And though it's not always easy because some kids really are just that picky, the way Ann tackles this in the following recipe is just fabulous.  Let's take a look at this kid and adult friendly recipe...

Tex-Mex Enchiladas

Thanks, Kimberly, for asking me to guest post here! I’m usually over at Sacatomato and Sacramento News & Review, where I write about my adventures in eating. As the overscheduled and budget-conscious mom of a small child, I’m always trying to think of ways to cook quick meals that are also nutritious and affordable. Years as a recipe developer have helped build this skill, and I can usually pull something together from the pantry items I keep on hand, plus whatever is in my garden or comes in my bi-weekly CSA box.

These enchiladas came about one summer because my husband loves Tex-Mex food and we had a garden full of zucchinis threatening to turn into baseball bats. I had some family coming to visit, and there would be five kids of varying ages. I needed to serve something that I could make ahead and have ready quickly. I’m not a big fan of hiding vegetables to fool children, since I think they’ll be much happier if they know the veggies are there and they still like them. So I made up a double batch of these enchiladas and stashed them in the fridge. Before dinner, I slid them into the oven to heat through and dinner was done! (Also a good plan for your moving day, Kimberly.)

While my own child flatly refused to eat this cheesy deliciousness, all the other kids loved them—even
knowing they were eating zucchini. I leave the skin on to provide extra fiber, but they cook so briefly
that the squash doesn’t have a chance to get even slightly slimy. Instead they’re bathed in melty cheese
and chili gravy. Don’t opt out if you’re nervous about spice--you can vary the heat level considerably
depending on the chili powder or ground chile that you choose. Remember that the spice will be
tempered a bit by the cheese as well. And even if you don’t have a passel of kids on hand, you should
make at least one whole batch, because it’s easy to eat five or six at one sitting!

Tex-Mex Enchiladas (makes 4 to 6 servings; total cost per serving: about $2.15)

Make the chili gravy ahead so that it can cool slightly before you need to roll the enchiladas.

Chili Gravy
½ cup lard, bacon fat, or vegetable oil (I like to use a combo)
½ cup flour
¾ teaspoon ground pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon powdered garlic (NOT garlic salt)
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
¼ cup chili powder or ground pure chile (such as New Mexico or Ancho/Pasilla)
1 quart chicken broth
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar (optional)

2 cups (about 8 ounces) shredded zucchini
3 cups (about 12 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
16 (5 ½-inch) corn tortillas
1 cup diced onion (this can be added at the table for onion fearing children)

To make the gravy: Heat the lard or oil in a wide skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and
continue stirring until it makes a light brown roux (about the color of a kraft paper bag). Stir in the
pepper, salt, garlic, cumin, oregano, and chili powder/ground chile until smooth. Stir in the broth and
bring to a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes at a low simmer, until the sauce is thick. Taste it, and add
the sugar if it’s a little bitter. (Some chili powders will do that.) Remove it from the heat and let it cool
until you can touch it comfortably.

To make the enchiladas: Mix together the zucchini and 2 cups of the cheese in a bowl and set aside.
Warm the tortillas either by wrapping them loosely in a damp towel and microwaving for 30 seconds
OR by spraying them lightly with oil and heating them on both sides in a pan until pliable. The goal is to
keep the tortillas from breaking.

Set up an assembly line with the cooled sauce, warm tortillas, and filling at hand. Line a baking sheet
with sides with aluminum foil and spray it with oil. Lay a tortilla in the sauce and then flip it over. Lift it
out by the edge and let excess sauce drip off. Lay the tortilla on the foil-covered sheet and put about
¼ cup filling down the middle. Roll up the tortilla and scoot it seam-side down to the end of the baking
sheet. Repeat with the remaining tortillas and filling, until you have them all lined up neatly on the
pan. Scrape any remaining sauce over the enchiladas and top with the remaining 1 cup cheese. You can
sprinkle on the onion now or wait until the enchiladas are cooked.

At this point, they can be covered and refrigerated or you can bake them in a 450°F oven for 10 minutes
(15 if refrigerated), just until the cheese melts. Serve immediately!

Thank you so much for this recipe, Ann!  I'm definitely going to add this to my To Make list, as it looks super tasty yet simple to prepare. 

I'd also like to thank Catherine & Andrew, my other fabulous guest bloggers!  Without all these awesome bloggers' help, PGEW would have been a dismal little place as I finished this random, unplanned (but soooo much for the better) move.  I hope that you've all enjoyed reading their posts as much as I enjoyed sharing them with you. 

As for me, once my kitchen is all unpacked and have access to the interwebs again (four. more. grueling. days), I'll be posting some new recipes!  Stay tuned!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Guest Post: Scrappy Veggie Stock

My next guest post comes from my awesome friend, Andrew, of Eating Rules, an amazing blog that focuses on healthy eating by following three simple rules.  Whether he's challenging you to avoid processed foods or encouraging you to look closely at food labels so that you're making the most nutritious choices possible, Andrew makes you think about what you're putting into your body (something which a lot of us don't do often enough).  The best part is that he does it in a truly approachable, positive way, without that hefty serving of guilt that some writers serve with their health lessons.

For this post, he's created a fabulous, basic recipe, that also helps me cover another one of the topics I keep meaning to get to here on PGEW: making homemade stock.  I've referred to my homemade veggie, chicken, and turkey stocks in the past, but have yet to get them up on the blog.  And I'm kind of glad now, since Andrew's veggie stock looks so much better than mine!  Let's check out this great recipe that helps make the most of any extra produce you may have. 

Scrappy Veggie Stock

I'm honored and very excited to be writing a guest post for Kimberly today!  We first met last August at the International Food Blogger Conference. Just before I left town, my friend Kara, a die-hard PGEW reader, told me that I simply HAD to seek out Kimberly. I shrugged, and told her, "Sure, no problem."

So I flew to Seattle, and that afternoon, while waiting in line for registration, started introducing myself to the folks nearby. Sure enough, Kimberly was standing right next to me!  As soon as I learned who she was, I blurted out, "Oh!  My friend Kara says 'Hi!'" Clearly I was a total fan dork -- by association, no less.  Even so, within minutes, Kimberly and I had become great friends, and the rest is, well, food blogger history.

On my own blog, Eating Rules, I seek out ways to balance healthful with delicious. This simple, base recipe is one of those that hits the trifecta: Good, healthy, and cheap!

Since this stock uses vegetable scraps and trimmings -- and I'm pretty liberal in what I'm willing to throw in the pot -- I wouldn't necessarily ladle it into a bowl and serve it to my dinner guests.  However, it's terrific in place of water when cooking whole grains (a few of PGEW's Quinoa Recipes come to mind) or as a base for other soups and other dishes. It's easiest if you freeze it in pre-measured amounts, so you can simply melt it in a pot and start cooking with it in the same step.

Vegetable Scrap Stock (makes about 3 quarts, cost per quart about $0.01)

Step 1 - Get Scrappy

I keep a one-gallon-size zip-top bag in my freezer, and add my vegetable trimmings anytime I cook.  Once the bag is full -- which happens surprisingly quickly -- it's time to make stock!

Also, if I find veggies in my fridge that are "on their way out" but not actually spoiled yet, I may toss it into the freezer bag if it would end up going to waste otherwise.

The best scraps to use include:  Onions, garlic, carrots, celery, parsley, leeks, chard, mushrooms, scallions, potato peelings, lettuce, eggplant, zucchini, green beans, and bell peppers.

Other good scraps to include -- but will impart more specific flavors, so be careful -- include:  Asparagus, parsnips, squash, fennel, corn cobs, pea pods, and cilantro.

Scraps to avoid:  Turnips, cabbages, brussels sprouts (these all get bitter), and anything already rotting that you wouldn't eat otherwise.

Step 2 - Boil 'em!

Fill a large pot halfway with water, about 3-4 quarts, and bring to a boil.  Drop in all the vegetable scraps and bring back to boiling.

Step 3 - Simmer & Season

Once the pot returns to boiling, you may want to add some seasonings.  Good options include thyme, basil, and a bay leaf or two. I also add one or two teaspoons of kosher salt (remember, though -- it's easier to add more salt later than to take out too much!)

Simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Simmering longer won't extract any more flavor, unlike when making meat stocks.

Step 4 - Strain

Allow to cool for a few minutes. Carefully scoop out the larger vegetable scraps with a slotted spoon, placing in a large bowl so they can cool.  Next, take a fine-meshed strainer or colander lined with cheesecloth, and carefully pour the remaining broth through the strainer into another pot.

Step 5 - Chill Out

Let everything cool to room temperature, which will take an hour or two. Give the broth a taste and add any additional salt or seasonings as desired. 

Discard the vegetable scraps (compost, anyone?).  Then measure out the stock in 2- or 4-cup increments, and freeze in individual containers, being sure to leave a little bit of headroom for it to expand when it freezes.

Further Reading

If you're intrigued by making your own stocks, you might also want to check out Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which has a great primer on stocks and soup recipes.

Thanks so much, Andrew!  I absolutely love this recipe and will definitely be adding this to my broth & stock recipes. 

Hope you all enjoyed this post!  Be sure to check out Andrew's blog, Eating Rules, and stay tuned for another guest post in the next few days!  In the meantime, it's time to get back to more moving & cleaning.  Can't wait to start sharing new recipes from my new kitchen!  :)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Guest Post: Crockpots & Soda Shortcuts

My first guest post comes from my good friend, Catherine, of the Sacramento blog, Munchie Musings.  I chose her as my first guest blogger because of a new feature she started on her site: Crockpot Wednesdays.  Every week she showcases a different recipe, from entree to dessert, each one made entirely in her handy crockpot.  I've received a lot of mail from folks requesting crockpot recipes, but since I don't have one (nor do I have the space for it), I haven't been able to fulfill this request myself.  Fortunately, Catherine can.  Here are some great, affordable crockpot tips and a few recipes from Ms. Munchie herself...

Soda Shortcuts

Hello. I’m Catherine, known to you as Ms. Munchie of Munchie Musings in Kimberly’s posts. I feel honored that she asked me to do a guest post on her site while she moves. I can tell you all - she needed to move. Even though it is only upstairs and I have yet to see it, it has to be better than the downstairs apartment. So I’m glad she’ll be getting piece of mind from her move.

This year I have been doing Crockpot Wednesdays on my site. I have this lovely Hamilton Beach slow cooker that my brother got for me and I hadn’t used it as much as I wanted. I figured that having to do a recipe every Wednesday would solve that problem. Everyone can be challenged by time and slow cookers are wonderful devices for helping with that problem, especially when you have a recipe where you just toss the ingredients in and walk away.

I wanted to keep consistent with Kimberly’s theme of easy meals on a budget. I decided that I would share with you a few quick, even desperate, recipes that I learned from my 13+ years selling Pampered Chef. After all, PC says that homemade doesn’t have to mean made from scratch, it just means it is made at home! PC is known for doing what that Sandra Lee chick does way before she showed up on TV. They take shortcuts cooking by using grocery products.

For instance, this week’s recipe comes from my friends, Scott and Michelle.  I was over for poker night (I’m the only women cleaning out those poor guys) and they had made pulled pork sandwiches. Thing is, all they did was put the pork butt into the slow cooker with a bottle of good quality root beer.  Then when you served it you poured on some BBQ sauce. So simple and yet delicious!

That was when I remembered all the other PC shortcut recipes. Sodas are great to have on hand for desperation cooking. Colas, in particular and like the root beer, have the acidity and carbonation to tenderize the meat but also the caramel/molasses flavor used in so many recipes. The key to making the recipes great is adding the veggies and extra spices you want.

Here are some examples:

Pot roast = can of cola + can of cream of mushroom soup (even better, add a package of onion soup mix)
BBQ = can of cola + 2 cups of ketchup
Baked ham = ½ liter of coke

I don’t have children but know it often happens that a child tells their parent at the last minute, “Mom, it’s my turn to bring cupcakes to class tomorrow.” No problem if you have a box of cake mix and a can of soda lying around. You don’t need to do anything else but mix those two things together. The carbonation gives the batter extra lift for a nice fluffy, moist cake. Think about the combos:

Chocolate cake + cola
Chocolate cake + cherry cola
White or yellow cake + lemon lime, grapefruit, or orange soda
Spice cake + Dr. Pepper

For the frosting you can blend together 4 cups of powdered sugar + 6 T butter + 3 T soda

So those were brief descriptions of what is possible when you are either low on cash, ingredients, time or all of the above.  Having staples in your pantry including some cans of soda can really come in handy.  For those who want a little extra information with doctoring up the above mentioned combos, here are more detailed versions:

6-8 lbs pork butt
1 can/bottle of root beer

Place ingredients in slow cooker and cook for 8 hours on low. Remove pork and set aside. Save 1/3 cup of juices and toss the rest. Using two forks, carefully shred the pork. Return to slow cooker to keep warm on warm setting.  Serve on buns with BBQ sauce and cole slaw.

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. vegetable oil
2 c. catsup
1 can cola
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 t. Mustard
2 T. Vinegar

Saute onions and garlic in oil until translucent. Add remaining ingredients.
Simmer 30 minutes until thick.

3-4 lb. roast, cheap cut
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cola
1 pkg. onion soup

Put on low for 8 hours. If you want it thicker, when done stir in a tablespoon of flour.

1 ham
1 can cola or cherry cola
Cloves (not powdered)

Put ham in deep pan on aluminum foil. Pour Coke over. Pierce the entire ham with clove spikes about ¼ inch apart. Bake at low temperature (300 degrees) for 2-2 1/2 hours. Baste occasionally with pan juices. Coke will turn into syrup.

Thanks so much, Catherine! 

I hope you folks found this information as interesting as I did.  Stay tuned for another guest post later this week.  Back to packing & moving!  

:) Kimberly

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It's Mardi Gras! Time to Indulge...

Ahh, Mardi Gras.  Otherwise known as "Fat Tuesday", Mardi Gras is the last day before the season of Lent begins.  Since Lent is a time of self-reflection through sacrifice - traditionally the sacrifice of richer, more indulgent foods - the day before is a time to celebrate and and all excess with reckless abandon. 

Most people tend to think of New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and with good reason: NOLA peeps are the ones who celebrate it best.  In New Orleans, the celebration & revelry start a good two weeks before the actual Mardi Gras holiday arrives, with happy folks indulging in the parties, parades, and of course, all that incredible food.

But just because they do Mardi Gras best in NOLA doesn't mean one is bound to indulging in spicy, flavorful Cajun & Creole food and mounds of King Cake.  In the UK & Australia, folks are celebrating Shrove Tuesday with Pancake Day (though the traditional UK pancakes are much closer to crepes than our fluffy ol' American pancakes), and other countries are celebrating with their own traditional foods. 

Though I'm still in the process of moving to my new apartment (all the way upstairs... I travel far), I still wanted to stop by PGEW and share a few Fat Tuesday recipes, for those of you who might want to celebrate this most fabulous day of excess.  But because the closest thing I have to New Orleans style food on PGEW is my Farro & Red Beans with Caramelized Onions, I figured I'd share a few of my favorite crepes with you instead... 

(Title links to recipe)

I hope you enjoy these!  Don't forget to stay tuned this week for some fabulous guest posts from three terrific bloggers.  I'll be back with new PGEW recipes (including some new crepes) from my tiny new kitchen next week! 


Saturday, March 5, 2011

What's in Store for March

Ah, March... the month of all things green & St. Patrick-esque, March Madness, Mardi Gras (at least this year), and moving.


Yes, moving.  I swore to myself that I wouldn't do this again until I actually bought a home, but here I am, moving this week, and to what I hope will be a much better apartment!  Same building, but much safer & secure than where I've been dwelling for the past three years.  It all happened at a whirlwind pace and my kitchen will still be super tiny, but when an opportunity like this opens up, one just takes it.  Peace of mind is priceless in my world, and it looks like I'll finally be able to find it.

So, what does that mean for PGEW this month?  Fun stuff, I promise!  I, myself, will be busy for the next couple of weeks, but I will keep you quite entertained with the help of some of my favorite food blogging friends.  Here's what's in store for this month:

  • Guest posts: For the first time in PGEW history, I'm going to invite other bloggers into my home & share with you some of their best frugal/amazing meals.  I'm not usually open to this as PGEW is highly personal, but these folks have been hand-selected from my very favorite blogging friends to bring you a variety of tasty, affordable recipes for you to enjoy.
  • Crepes: these are coming from me, and though they may not be posted 'til later this month, believe me when I say the new recipes I've concocted are beyond awesome.  I just need to get all settled into the new place to get some good photos, then I can share their awesomeness with all of y'all.
  • Restaurant reviews: one of the perks about having blogger friends is that sometimes they take you to some fabulous places for dinner!  Because of a couple of projects I've been working on, I wasn't able to bring these to you last month, but no worries!  I'll finally be able to share them with you in March. :)
  • The Long Lost Dessert Shot: last month I had an amazing dessert shot to share with you, but I ended up having an even more amazing kitchen disaster and shared that with you instead.  At last, one of my favorite dessert shot masterpieces will be featured here on PGEW.  Hope you all like it as much as I do!
  • Poor Girl's Return to the Farmer's Market: As if blustery, wet, freezing weather hadn't been enough, the scary plastic-wrapped produce at my last $25 Shopping Cart just solidified my need to return to my favorite farmer's market.  I'm not sure which weekend it will be, but the next relatively dry Sunday that I find myself with at least $20 to spend on real vegetables & fruit, I will be there, camera in hand.  
  • ??????? - Yeah, that's right!  Because March was all of a sudden turned upside down with the move, there's not much more I can plan for it!  But that only means good things for you, because the more random my life, the more creative I get in the kitchen.  So just stay tuned & let me bring you the best that my mind & pantry can bring to you!

In the meantime, enjoy the St. Patrick's Day parties, the March Madness grub-fests, and all the Mardi Gras goodness you can handle.

Happy March, everybody!


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Save the Date: Sacto MoFo is coming on April 30th!

Gourmet food trucks.  Often mistaken for "roach coaches", they're actually clean, quality restaurants on wheels, buzzing with impressive culinary activity.  From lamb sliders to wood-fired pizzas, succulent porchetta sandwiches to sensational desserts, gourmet food trucks are taking most major U.S. cities by storm.  Collectively they've become one of the biggest food trends out there, but Sacramento still hasn't gotten on board.  Like the cupcake phenomenon, we seem to be a couple steps behind what's really trending in the food world.

Why is that?  Is the capital of California really that out of it when it comes to food?

Of course not!  If there's one thing Sacramento really knows how to do, it's food.  We have fabulous restaurants here in the Capital City, as well a solid base of incredibly passionate foodies who are always ready to try, review and recommend the latest hot spots. 

Unfortunately, current city ordinances are making it next to impossible for mobile food to find a home here in Sacramento.  From certain restaurants afraid of the competition, to the common misconception that food trucks are unsanitary and would attract the "wrong crowd", some folks just don't want to see those funny little trucks setting up shop around town. 

Luckily, there's Sacto MoFo.

Part community event, part social movement, Sacto MoFo (which stands for Sacramento Mobile Food) was founded as a way to bring awareness to this rising food trend and the issues blocking it from becoming a vital part of Sacramento's culture.  Not only would it provide an economic boost to our area (which is one of of the hardest hit in the nation by the recession), it would help revitalize our image and put us on the map as a true foodie town.  We love food here, and we should be able to enjoy it in every way possible - whether it's at a fine, established restaurant, or the hippest new food truck on the block.

The possibilities for mobile food here are endless.  Because Sacramento is so culturally diverse, a wide variety of cuisines could be represented here via mobile food vendors.  How great would it be to see a soul food truck or maybe a pupusa vendor traveling through the downtown area?  And of course, there's my favorite part of the whole thing: mobile food = good food for less!  Who can resist a great tasting meal that won't set you back $50 at a time?

On April 30th, Sacto MoFo will hold a full fledged food festival, with more than fifteen of Northern California's best mobile food vendors coming to the Capital city to show the public and the city council what mobile food can do for our area.

Sacto MoFo will be held at Fremont Park on Saturday, April 30th, from noon to 6pm.  Featuring local food vendors like Mini Burger, and San Francisco Bay Area mobile food rockstars like Spencer on the Go and Roli Roti, this event is sure to have something for everyone.  There's no admission fee, and those of you who will be taking advantage of the (hopefully) excellent weather & riding your bikes can enjoy free valet bike parking, courtesy of SABA

While all the vendor slots have been filled, this 100% volunteer-driven event could still use some support in the form of sponsorships or donations.  For the complete list of vendors and details on how you can help Sacto MoFo, you can visit their site at

Of course, the best way to show your support is to mark April 30th on your calendar and spread the word!  It's sure to be an awesome event that will be fun for the whole family.  Hopefully it will also bring about some serious changes in those city ordinances.  We all want to see Sacramento revitalized & re-energized, and I can't think of a better way to start doing that than with something everyone has in common: a genuine love of food.


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