Sunday, July 31, 2011

Recipe: Encurtido (Colombian Style Pickled Vegetables)

Earlier this month, food bloggers and non-bloggers alike were invited to the first ever internet Pie Party, a celebration of all things pie hosted by Shauna of Gluten Free Girl and Garrett of Vanilla Garlic.  Hundreds of people, from accomplished baker to novice pie maker (like myself), joined together and posted their favorite pies on Facebook, Twitter and beyond.

This time around, we've been called to party together in a different way.  Our assignment: pickling.  That's right - for our August "party", food enthusiasts have been asked to pickle things.  Not just cucumbers, which is the first thing most of us think of when we think of pickling.  We have been told to go on & pickle away to our hearts' content.  Nothing is off limits: vegetables, fruits, eggs... if it can be pickled, we've been called to do it.

At first I felt a little lost with this one.  Sure, pickling is one of the most common ways of preserving & enjoying certain foods, and it seems like a fairly simple task if you know what you're doing.  But I'd never actually done any of this on my own.  Or had I?  When I thought about it a little more, I realized that there were plenty of things I'd pickled in the past, so I got to work on one of my two favorite pickling recipes.

After soliciting some help from my mom who was visiting me this weekend, we set about making encurtido, a very simple, yet beyond flavorful recipe for Colombian style pickled vegetables.  Not to be confused with curtido, a traditional Salvadorean pickled cabbage slaw that is commonly served with pupusas, encurtido is something I've enjoyed since my childhood.  One of my favorite non-guilty "guilty" pleasures, I love to eat this over a bit of brown rice for a simple summer dinner.  It's healthy & light, but so incredibly tasty there's no way one could ever feel "cheated" eating this stuff.

The other thing I love about encurtido is that it's a delicious way for almost anyone to enjoy vegetables.  And I mean those who aren't always able to have access to the fresh stuff.  Too many folks across the country are living in food deserts where fresh produce is almost never available.  Pickling is a great way to preserve the veggies so they will last a bit longer for those who can't access fresh produce on a regular basis.  It also doesn't require that the ingredients used be fresh from the produce section.  In fact, we usually make this using frozen bagged vegetables, which is the next best thing to the fresh stuff and much easier to find in areas that don't have full service grocery stores or farmers markets.  

While the vegetables I've listed are the ones that we usually use, you're more than welcome to use your favorite veggies to make this your own.  I have it on good authority from the master encurtido maker herself (me mum) that you want to stick to sturdier vegetables like carrots, cauliflower and the like, so that they keep their texture & form better the longer they pickle.  Other than that, there's not much to note on this one except that you can serve it on just about anything.  Use it as a side, as a base for salads, or tapas style for a nice summer dinner party.  Let's check out the recipe.

Encurtido (makes 8-10 1-cup servings; total cost per serving: $1)

1 16 oz. bag frozen broccoli, cauliflower & carrot blend (commonly called "California style" blend)
1 16 oz. bag frozen peas
1 16 oz. bag frozen green beans
1 large yellow onion, sliced into 1" pieces
1 lb Brussels sprouts, sliced in half
1/2 head green cabbage, cut into 2" strips
1 1/2 c water
1 1/2 c white vinegar
2 T cumin
1 T salt

For blanching the veggies:
6 c water
1 T salt

1.  Bring the 6 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a rolling boil.  Working in separate batches, blanche all the frozen veggies and the cabbage for about 1 minute apiece.  Then blanche the Brussels sprouts for about 90 seconds.  (NOTE: Do not blanche the onions.)   After each batch, immediately plunge the blanched veggies into cold water to stop the cooking process, then place in a large bowl with the onions.

2.  In a separate small bowl, combine the remaining water, vinegar, cumin & salt, and whisk together.  Pour the mixture over the vegetables and toss until everything is completely combined.

3.  Place the encurtido in glass jars and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to allow the vegetables to begin the pickling process.  Serve over rice, as a side for meats or as a zesty salad topper, and enjoy!  

Friday, July 29, 2011

Photo Friday: I ♥ PDX

As I work on the final edits for my recap of last weekend's trip to Portland & Salem for the Oregon Berry Festival, I've also been sifting through the zillions of pictures I took.  Many of them are berry-related, of course, but some of them wandered off to other tasty Portland attractions and things I found to be fun novelties (like how organized they are about recycling... I loved that!).

Those taken with ye olde telephone, however, seemed to focus more on the life-in-the-moment shots rather than my usual food porn & beautifully plated food fixation.  I thought it would be a fun change of pace to feature some of those for today's edition of Photo Friday, so without further ado, here are a few of my faves...

I LOVED the packaging of this sweet smelling tea at Boone's Ferry Berries...

Sleeping food carts on an early Saturday morn...

Sparkling Riesling & the memory of a fresh blackberry martini
at the cocktail reception for the Berry Festival Gala Dinner...

Spicy Dark Chocolate sipping chocolate from Cacao at the Heathman...
(aka Chocolate Bliss in a Tiny Cup)

Brunch at Mother's Bistro & Bar... (and the best mug ever!)

That's all for now!  Stay tuned for the full recap - and a new recipe (or two) - this weekend.  Happy Friday, everyone!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Recipe: Quinoa, Edamame & Sweet Pepper Lettuce Wraps

I'm baaaaack!

Now that I've returned from my berry-filled trip to Portland & Salem this past weekend, I'm happily ensconced in my nano-apartment once more. Between the berries, the unusually gorgeous weather, the fabulous company and all that incredible food, I had a wonderful time in the City of Roses.   

But all that food, as fantastic as it was, left me feeling a little woozy.  Before I can even write about my trip to berry heaven I feel like I need a solid week of cleansing veggies, grains & tea to get me back on track. 

So much so that I even stopped by the 99-cent store on my way home from work yesterday to pick up some super cheapie veggies with my last $5 to last me 'til next payday. 

And you guys know I hardly ever do that. I really do try my best to work with what I have on hand before I go out shopping for new food.  But desperate times call for desperate measures (can you tell Poor Girl eat a little too well this weekend? I had every reason to; wait 'til you see what they served us! :) ).

Since I didn't have much to spend and the 99-cent store isn't exactly known for its large selection of produce, I only picked up a few things that I knew would go well with what I still had at home.  I picked up some carrots, some baby spinach, a couple of sweet red bell peppers, and the most unlikely find: a head of hydroponic butter lettuce.  Fresh, unwilted and just $0.99?  Yes, please!

By the time I walked home, I had a plan.  With such beautiful butter lettuce, I couldn't just hack it all up, put it in a bowl with other things and call it a salad.  It was the type of lettuce that was meant for lettuce wraps, so I set about making a quick filling with the peppers, some shelled edamame I had in the freezer, and some freshly cooked quinoa.  I whipped up a simple sauce out of my last resort stash of soy sauce & a few other ingredients, and voila!  A light, easy to prepare meal that was perfect for the warm summer evening.

Of course, not all of you will have access to 99-cent hydroponic butter lettuce, so if you can't find it at an affordable price, by all means use another type of lettuce.  Green leaf lettuce is far less expensive and will has a sturdy, yet more pliable leaf than Romaine.  Other than that, there's not much else to note for this one!  It's simple, nutritious, ever-so-tasty and a nice, easy-to-stomach $1/serving.

Welcome home, Poor Girl!  ;)   

Quinoa, Edamame & Sweet Pepper Lettuce Wraps (makes 6-8 servings; total cost per serving $1.05)

1 1/2 c cooked quinoa
1 c shelled frozen edamame, thawed
1 medium bell pepper, seeded & chopped
1/2 c chopped red onion
8-10 lettuce leaves, rinsed & dried (butter or green leaf lettuce works best)
1/4 c rice vinegar
2 T soy sauce
1 T honey
1 clove of garlic, minced

1.  Combine the last 4 ingredients in a bowl and whisk together until completely combined.  Set aside.

2.  In a larger bowl add the quinoa, edamame, pepper and onion and toss together.  Pour the sauce over the quinoa and mix together until the mixture is completely coated. 

3.  To serve, place a couple tablespoons of the quinoa mixture into each lettuce leaf, wrap it or roll it up, and enjoy! 

Note: This should be enough sauce to keep the mixture moist but not over-dressed.  If you like a lot of dressing or want some extra sauce for a dip, simply double the ingredients for the sauce, use half for the quinoa mixture and the other half on the side.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Photo Friday: Shadows, Light & Berries

I'm sitting here at the airport right now, waiting for my flight to depart to the fair city of Portland.  The fine folks at the Oregon Fruit Company are generously hosting me and a couple other food bloggers as their guests for the first annual Oregon Berry Festival and all the fun events that accompany it.  From the sounds of it, this weekend is going to be pure berry heaven.

In honor of this weekend of berry bliss, I thought I'd share the following photo.  Featuring a blueberry fool that I'd made for my first article for CBS local, it was never meant to be an actual shot.  But as I was fiddling around with my camera set-up, I glanced over and was struck by how the light was hitting my little dessert.  It was so beautiful to me - bright & hopeful in some places, quiet & subdued where the shadows were most prominent - that I just couldn't help myself and took the shot.

It's not the best photo in the world, nor is it retouched or edited in any way.  But I love it because it clearly shows that there is beauty in everything we see, no matter how much you prepare to make things "perfect".  I don't even see the dessert here; I see the beauty of shadows & light and to me they're just stunning.

Have a fabulous weekend, everyone!


PS - For you dessert recipe junkies, the Blueberry Fool recipe is available directly after my article, which you can find here. :)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Recipe: Chunky Gazpacho

It's been a rough week.

I'm sure those of you who have ever had shingles or the resulting PHN can certainly empathize.  Day after day of burning, aching discomfort can wear on the body, mind and spirit.  It's been hard not feeling like my usual, bouncy self who's always on the go doing something.  I miss being able to do that.  I miss me.

Fortunately, I still have to eat.  Since my butler and chef have a lousy work ethic and never show up to work (tee hee), that means I still have to cook.  But that's okay.  It may not always be easy, but I actually love it when I can muster the strength to cook when I'm sick.  Because seriously, it's the best. therapy. EVER. 

I can get lost in the repetition of chop, chop, chopping away at an onion or slicing smoothly through a pound of ripe tomatoes.  I get to gaze upon bright colors and inhale sensational aromas that waft through my tiny kitchen.  Less romantically, I get to concentrate on things like not burning myself or hacking off my thumb while I debone a chicken. 

In short, it takes my mind off whatever is ailing me.  And that is five million times more awesome than the resulting meal.

After a couple of days of meals no more exciting than scrambled eggs, I decided to make something different.  More nourishing.  More interesting to look at, at the very least.  After poking around in the kitchen, I saw I had some tomatoes that were right on the edge of becoming bad theater ammunition if they ripened any further, as well as a few veggie tails (not to be confused w/the cartoon) from an earlier chopped salad.  Carrots + cucumber + peppers + a bunch of ripe tomatoes?  I'd say that definitely equals gazpacho.

Another one of those things that sounds ridiculously gourmet and complicated to make, gazpacho is definitely up there with Sick Person Soup in terms of ease of preparation.  In fact, it's even easier than that because you don't actually have to cook anything.  A cold soup that's usually enjoyed in the warmer months, gazpacho is traditionally made with fresh tomatoes, stale bread, garlic and olive oil.  Variations of the classic version abound, as do the more interesting versions like those made from almonds, avocado, or watermelon. 

The way I see it, though, gazpacho is a highly customizable chilled soup, made best by the personal touches each cook adds to her own recipe.  I like my gazpacho on the spicier side, so I'll add some heat by using serrano peppers and some crushed red chile flakes.  Since I also like a lot of texture, I try to keep my gazpacho a bit chunkier than the norm.  The juxtaposition of the crisp chunks of veggies with the smooth tomato base is an absolute party for the palate and looks just gorgeous when served.  And it's beyond healthy!  Between its natural beauty and all those antioxidants & vitamins from the tomatoes, gazpacho is a fabulous pick-me-up meal with zero guilt.

Just one important note: if possible, use the freshest, ripest tomatoes you can find.  I know this is easier said than done, especially in this year of crazy weather and confused crops.  Since many tomato plants are just starting to share their fruit, it might be a little tough to find the good ones right now.  But they're there if you look hard enough!  Don't have a garden of your own?  No worries!  At the farmer's markets - and even at regular grocery stores - tomato prices are starting to go down and quality is going up, so the good ones are definitely on their way to us. 

And that means a lot more gazpacho....  :)

Chunky Gazpacho (makes 4 servings; total cost per serving: $1.75)

1 lb ripe plum tomatoes
1 medium cucumber
1 small red onion
1 small red bell pepper
1 large carrot
1 T finely chopped serrano pepper
1/2 t crushed red chile flakes
2 large garlic cloves
2 c tomato juice
1/4 c olive oil
2 T balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste

1.  Dice the onion, bell pepper, carrot and cucumber (unpeeled) and place in a different bowl.  Coarsely chop the tomatoes and place in a larger bowl.  Be sure to reserve about 1 cup in a separate small bowl to use later.

2.  Add half the onion/pepper/carrot/cucumber mixture to the large bowl of chopped tomatoes and reserve the other half.  Add the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper and toss together.  Working in small batches, puree the mixture using a blender or hand mixer until smooth.

3.  Place the pureed mixture into a large bowl or pot.  Add the remaining chopped vegetables, tomatoes & peppers and mix well.  Check for flavoring & adjust according to taste with salt & pepper.  Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes.  Garnish with cilantro or chopped scallions, and enjoy!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Photo Fridays: Summertime

Seems like we just had a Photo Friday, eh?  I had all sorts of fun recipes to post over the past week, but my body had other plans for me, unfortunately.  A second bout of shingles kicked my ass again, so it's been hell on Earth trying to manage that on top of the neuropathy caused the first time around.

Needless to say, everything - including cooking, photo yoga-ing and even thinking - has been painfully difficult for the past week, hence the lack of new posts.  Fortunately I'm starting to slowly recuperate and I have a couple new things to share with you this weekend.

Before I do that, though, here are some fun shots of summertime noshings throughout Sacramento...

Fresh cocteles de fruta at my favorite Sunday tamale cart...

Nothing better than an icy cold MexiCoke!  (Secret to tasting to awesome? No HFCS!)

Sweet summer cherries!

MiniBurger madness!  Clockwise from left: The Ninja (aka OMGthisisthebestburgerever), The OG and The Cowbell.

This dude was too cool not to photograph!  (At the Sacramento Food Truck Alliance gathering at Tognotti's)

That's it for now!  New recipe coming up later this weekend (I promise!  I have to eat at some point, lol).  Happy Friday, everyone!


Friday, July 8, 2011

Photo Friday: Kitty Bombs, Part 1

As many of you know, I've been practicing my food photography like crazy this year.  Except for a few pictures from my early days I've never been that displeased with the photos here on PGEW; having a good eye and fairly decent plating skills have always helped.  But I've always known I could step things up a notch or two, and as they say, practice makes perfect. 

While I'm nowhere near the "perfect" end of the scale, consistent practice has definitely made a huge difference.  Since I'm taking pictures of everything these days, I thought it would be fun to start sharing some of the photos that don't always make the cut for the site.  I figure it'll help me continue to improve my photo skills, and you'll get some insight into other parts of life in PGEW-land, too.

For my first Photo Friday, I thought I'd share my first set of what I like to call Kitty Bombs.  Those of you with cats & food blogs have probably had similar experiences to mine.  You have everything set up perfectly: the lighting is right, the food is plated just the way you want it, you've found the perfect angle and are ready to hit the shutter button when...


Since StuKitty is the youngest of my three furbabies, he is also the most agile & the most inquisitive.  This means he's also the biggest kitty bomber of the house (though Beni & Hana are just as guilty of this sort of thing!)...

"Hmm... these look like fun..."

It can be very frustrating, of course, especially when I think I'm about to get a good shot.  But I have to admit he does it with exceptional finesse...

"Don't hate me because I'm beautiful....  Oh yeah, which way to the catnip aisle?"

I can never stay mad at him for very long, though.  Look at that face!  Melts Mommy's heart every time.

That's it for this week's edition of Photo Fridays!  New recipes coming in the next day or two, so be sure stay tuned for those. 

Have a fabulous weekend!

:) K

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Recipe: Mini Peach Pies

Holy Hannah!  I made PIE!

As I mentioned in my last post, there is an internet-wide Pie Party going on today.  The brainchild of Shauna from Gluten Free Girl and Garrett of Vanilla Garlic, this fun virtual party celebrates all things pie - AND encourages others to face their pie-making fears.

Yes, I'll admit it. Up until now I've been terrified of making pie.  Well, not the whole pie; fillings I can handle with great aplomb. But crust? Flaky, buttery crust that holds all that luscious filling in its perfectly golden clutches so that it simply melts in your mouth the instant you bite into it?  Totally scary to me.

Like I've said in the past, I've always considered myself more of a savory cook than a baking pro.  Frozen confections & other non-baked desserts I can whip up with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back. But baking things from scratch has always intimidated me.  The precision required is quite daunting, especially for someone who comes from the pinch-of-this and dash-of-that school of cooking.  But I'm also the type who loves a good challenge, so when presented with the opportunity to tackle homemade pie crust, I forged ahead with great determination.

I consulted with a few experts, of course.  Though I'm a reasonably good cook, I do recognize my kitchen weaknesses, so I try to learn as much as I can from those who are more knowledgeable than I.  My friend & fellow food blogger, Garrett, is a baking whiz (seriously, if you haven't checked out his blog, be sure to do so ASAP; his stuff is incredible), so I asked for any pearls of wisdom he may have.  He told me there was nothing to this pie-making business, especially when one uses Elise's pie crust recipe on Simply Recipes.  "And make sure your butter is really cold, the colder the better," he added.

What if I didn't have the appropriate machine to process my dough?  "Use a pastry blender."  And if I didn't have one of those?  "Use two forks.  You have two forks."

Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I do.

And so I set off to make pie.  In 157-degree heat (give or take a few degrees).  In a hot, tiny kitchen that could double as a kiln, especially when the oven is preheating.  Not the best conditions for keeping butter as cold as possible, but that's what freezers & fridges are for, right?  And while I'm sure this whole process is much easier with the appropriate equipment, the old two-fork method wasn't so bad.  Like my irrational risotto-making fear from a couple years ago, this also proved to be a completely unfounded phobia.  Making pie crust is easy!  It just requires a bit more patience than what I'm used to.  Hm... patience.  I can have extra patience if the end result is pie.

Once all the hullabaloo about the pie crust was over, I could set about taking care of less intense affairs: like what I was going to put inside my homemade crust.  My all-time favorite pie is apple (nothing like a truly well-done apple pie...  om nom nom), but I decided to stick with what was available at the farmer's market.  Since it's summertime and so many fabulous fruits are in season, I have more than my fair share of options.  Cherry, blueberry, blackberry, peach, strawberry - the possibilities are endless with so many fantastic fruits at their peak of sweetness.

I could have easily made one of each, but because it had been forever and a day since I'd had a good peach pie (and because I'd scored some gorgeous ones at the farmer's market for just $1/lb), I decided to go with that.  A little extra sweetness here, a little spice there, and voila!  The perfect pie filling.  And because every good pie deserves a little something extra, I decided to whip up a batch of homemade vanilla ice cream to go on top.  Not a requirement of course, but for me, creamy, melty vanilla ice cream swirled together with the fruit & juices of my pie is the icing on the proverbial cake pie.

Now for some pretty fantastic - and easy-to-prepare - pie.

Mini Peach Pies (makes 6 4-inch pies or 1 9" pie; total cost of recipe: $3.50)


For the crust:
(Adapted from the Perfect Pie Crust recipe on Simply Recipes)
2 1/2 c all-purpose flour, plus a bit extra for rolling
1 c (2 sticks) of butter, very cold, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 t salt
1 t sugar
6-8 T ice water

For the filling:
2 c sliced fresh peaches
1/4 c raw sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground nutmeg
2 T flour

1 egg
1 T water
4" mini pie or tart pans
- or -
9" pie pan
Vanilla Ice Cream (optional)

1.  Combine the flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl (or food processor bowl) and mix until completely combined.  Add the butter and mix with a food processor, pastry blender or two forks until the mixture resembles a coarse meal (pea size chunks of butter are okay).  Add the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing or mixing until the mixture begins to clump together.

2.  Remove the dough from the bowl or machine and place on a clean, dry surface.  Gently shape the dough into 2 large discs by kneading gently (if making mini pies, break into 6-8 smaller discs).  Be careful not to over-knead the dough. Sprinkle each disc with a little flour, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

3.  Preheat the oven to 400°.  Remove the crust and let it sit for about 5-10 minutes.  Roll out the dough with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface.  For mini pies, roll out to a 6-7" disc; for larger pies, roll out to a 12" disc.  Gently place the dough in the pie dishes, pressing against the sides & bottom.  Roll out the remaining dough into a large disc and cut into 1/2" wide strips (for large pies, use 1" strips).

4.  Lightly beat the egg & water together and set aside.  Toss the peaches, sugar, spices and flour together in a bowl and mix until well combined.  Brush the inside of each pie crust with a bit of egg wash to prevent the bottom from getting soggy.  Place the filling in the pie dishes, then assemble the lattice crust.  Gently lay 2-3 dough strips on top of the pie, then repeat by laying the other 2-3 strips on top crosswise.  Firmly pinch together the edges of the crust to secure.

5.  Brush the top and edges of the pie with egg wash.  Bake for about 30-45 minutes (depending on size of pie), until the crust is golden brown and the pie juices can be seen bubbling through.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before slicing.  Serve each mini pie or individual slice with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream and enjoy!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Fourth of July Recipe Ideas (and some PGEW updates)!

I love July.  Summer's in full swing, it's the time to celebrate my Daddy's birthday & Independence Day, and between BBQ's, picnics, and oodles of frozen confections to enjoy, food couldn't be more fun if it tried! (It's also just one month 'til my birthday & blogiversary, but that's a whole other animal. :) )

Since it's going to be another crazy busy month here in PGEW-land, I'm going to skip the What's In Store feature for July.  Instead, I'll combine a few awesome updates & announcements with some fun recipe ideas you can use over the long holiday weekend. 
  • First & foremost: I got my first freelance writing gig!  *cue applause*  Over the next couple of months, I'll be writing a few articles for the "Best of: Restaurants, Bars & Food" section of CBS Local.  From interviews to restaurant recommendations, I'll be covering some different topics than those I discuss here on PGEW.  I'm super excited for the opportunity and couldn't be happier to reach new readers in a different forum.  I'll be posting the links to my stories on FacebookTwitter, so be sure to follow them to stay in the loop!
  • Poor Girl's First Pie: No, it's not the first pie I've ever eaten; it's the first pie I will make from scratch.  EVER.  Thanks to Shauna of Gluten Free Girl, Garrett of Vanilla Garlic and a few others, an internet-wide Pie Party is happening on July 5th to help celebrate (and get over the fear of making) pie from scratch.  Since I'm not a baker, it should be very interesting to see how well I do making my first pie crust, but I'm determined to give it a go!  Love pie?  There's still time to RSVP!  Check out the event page on Facebook and be sure to follow the party on Twitter by using the #PieParty hashtag.  Should be fun!
  • As far as what's in store recipe-wise, all I have to say is... I'm going berry picking tomorrow, so beware!  Blueberry, blackberry and (hopefully) raspberry recipes will surely flood this dear blog of mine for the next few weeks.  :)
And now for the recipe round-up. 

I thought about going the whole red, white & blue route, but then I realized A) everyone is doing red, white & blue recipe round ups, and B) I don't have enough blue food on this site to make it worthwhile (though I just realized the PGEW color scheme is quite patriotic).  So I decided to celebrate our nation by highlighting the "melting pot" aspect of good ol' USA.  These aren't the most authentic recipes out there, but they were inspired by the many cultures that are represented here.  And as always, I've made sure there's room for dessert.  :)

(Title links to recipe)

Have a wonderful Fourth of July holiday, everybody!  :)


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