3/4 c freshly shredded cheddar cheese
Saturday, January 31, 2009
3/4 c freshly shredded cheddar cheese
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Don’t get me wrong – I love the convenience of my TJ’s bagged baby spinach more than anything because I don’t have to rinse & sort through the potential bad leaves. And I do love the little frozen cubes of crushed garlic, basil, or cilantro for cooking. I have my lazy moments and love that there are convenient versions of yummy things out there, so that I may indulge my laziness. However, I’m sure those of you who regular readers have noticed that as much as possible, I like to do things on my own: I cook from scratch more often than not, I start with as many whole ingredients as possible, and I’ll buy things in bulk and package them at home according to my needs. Sure, it takes some effort, but consider the savings:
~ The other day I was at Safeway for some cat food & accessories and figured I’d stroll around to see if there were any good deals in the meat department. Though most people think I’m a vegetarian because I don’t eat meat that often, that’s not the case - I’m just cheap. Er, frugal. Meat costs an arm & a leg most of the time, which is why I buy the very basics as inexpensively as possible. Though I prefer going to TJ’s, large chain supermarkets can have some pretty amazing deals if you just look hard enough. Aside from the killer deal of $0.99/lb for some rather healthy looking Cornish game hens, I also scored a great flat of chicken thighs – about 16 in the flat – for $5.59. The same flat of chicken would have cost around $9 if it hadn’t been for the club card savings, so this was a steal. What does a single person who usually cooks for one do with such an insane amount of chicken, you ask? Separate it into different meal portions, stick it in individual zippered bags, and freeze it. Had I bought a four-pack of the same thighs I would have paid $6 or more for ¼ of what I’d just purchased. Plus, I’m not wasting food by cooking up all that chicken and having no one else to try & eat it but me. I will also do this with a whole chicken if I can find a good deal – just butcher it properly and you have breasts for one meal, thighs & legs for another, and some excellent pieces to begin a nice broth or consommé. Shrimp also gets the same treatment if I can find a good deal on some fresh ones by the pound – buy a lot, separate, pack, and freeze.
~ I love cheese. Sometimes I love it too much. I’m trying to wean myself from it but still find myself buying it like a total addict. What I refuse to do though, is buy pre-shredded cheese. The amount of money wasted on this convenience is enough to make my head spin! The best deal I have ever found on shredded cheese is a club card special of 2 8oz packages for $5. $2.50/bag sounds pretty reasonable, right? WRONG. I can buy the same 8 oz. block of cheddar for under $4 most of the time, I wind up with a whopping 4-5 cups of the final shredded product. For less than what the “sale” price would be, you end up with more than twice as much cheese to work with if you just do the work yourself. You are also getting better quality cheese that might melt a little more easily because it’s not coated in whatever preservative they use to make sure it doesn’t clump together in the bag. Graters are a relatively small investment, and you can use them for more than just cheese (make your own hash browns, grate parmesan for pasta, etc.). An added bonus: toned arms!
~ Even if you’re in love with bagged salads and pre-cut veggies, try to cut back on this indulgence. Again, it takes some work to rinse & dry the leaves of lettuce, spinach, arugula, etc., but 95% of the time you’re paying less for a head or bunch of these greens than you would with a single bag. Because I get most of my bagged greens at Trader Joe’s, I don’t pay as much as regular grocery stores charge. The average cost of bagged lettuce at a chain store is around $3.50/8oz, whereas at TJ’s I pay no more than $2.29 for the same amount or double. Still, compared to the great deals on lettuce & spinach I saw at the Farmer’s Market this weekend, this is more than you’d pay to just grab a fresh head of lettuce & process it yourself. Invest in a salad spinner and some storage bags and you’re good to go.
~ As I mentioned in my post for Curried Chicken & Samosas with Mango-Pineapple Cheater Chutney, yummy sauces in jars can sometimes cost quite a bit. If you’re adventurous and have a bit of patience to make your own from scratch, it is very easy to cut costs on things like mayonnaise, BBQ sauce, chutneys, salad dressings, other types of spreads, pasta sauces, bruschetta, you name it! It may require some chopping, blending, or pureeing, but you get the same product for less, and you made it.
You can see the general trend here: do what you can on your own and you’ll be spending a lot less at the store. Many may argue that time is money, but I’m guessing more people are interested in saving money these days. Convenience is something that more and more people can’t afford anymore. Then there are folks who may still be baffled by the idea of making one’s own salad dressing or BBQ sauce when it’s so easy and quick to just grab a bottle of it and go from there. Remember there was a time when everything was made from scratch and there was still time to read a book, do yard work, or spend with loved ones & family. Including your family in the cooking-for-yourselves process is a great way to spend time with them, and while your teaching the kids (or yourself) how to cook, you can also gain the satisfaction of knowing that all that delicious food was made by you.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
PS - This soup also freezes well, so be sure to save & freeze some of the leftovers to eat on a different day.
Leek & Cannellini Bean Soup with Cous Cous
6 c water
1 large leek, chopped, whites & green tops separated
1 1/2 c dried cannellini beans
Soak the cannellini beans overnight. On cooking day, cook the beans in a crockpot or on the stove for about 45 minutes or until al dente but slightly tender. Do not overcook! They will soften more once you add them to the broth.
In a large pot heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, and white part of the leeks and sautee for about 1 minute, then add the salt, cumin, and cayenne pepper and sautee for another minute. Next, toss in the cooked beans. Add the water and bring to a low boil, then let simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the beans are nice & tender. Check for flavors at this point and adjust seasonings accordingly (you may need more cumin; I usually do).
Add the chopped green tops of the leeks and let the soup simmer slowly for another 3 to 4 minutes. The leek greens should be tender but not overcooked to the point that they begin to turn brown. Turn off the heat and add the cup of cous cous, stirring well. Cover and let sit for about 5 minutes to allow the cous cous to cook.
Ladle into a large bowl or mug, grind some fresh ground pepper on top, and enjoy!
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Those of you local to the greater Sacramento area have probably heard of Andy Nguyen’s. Originally a regular mom & pop Vietnamese restaurant, they shifted gears towards vegetarian cuisine, as the owners are devout Buddhists and wanted to keep their traditions & beliefs alive in the food they cooked. Last Tuesday night was only my 2nd time there in about two years, though I’ve meant to try it again on several occasions and wish I could go there more often. Since Jodi’s a vegetarian and we usually go to the same Greek fast food place whenever we meet for dinner, she decided we should go to AN’s instead. Problem solved.
Located on Broadway & 20th Streets, it’s easy to miss during the day unless you know what you’re looking for, but they make up for it at night with a blazing red sign. Their décor is very “zen”: dark cherry walls & tables, dim lighting, lush plants, and charming little Buddha statues all over the place. Soft new age-y music plays in the background and I personally feel they should have a small fountain somewhere just to complete the entire effect. Their menu matches the décor in that everything has a very enlightened, peaceful name: Enlightened Mind Rolls; Generating Compassion; Wisdom Puffs. I’m a sucker for anything different and rather easily amused, so I will admit this is my favorite part of going to AN’s.
Because Jodi is becoming more strict in her vegetarianism and AN’s is a free-for-all for her, she came armed with a large appetite and with the intent to order too much food so she could take some home. I was still a little full from lunch and am always on a budget, so I took my time perusing the menu of dishes ranging from $8-$16 so I could choose carefully. Our servers were very patient with our indecisiveness, though the offer to answer questions was never made, nor were any recommendations. We started with the Enlightened Mind Rolls, one of their most popular appetizers, followed by the Wisdom Puffs. The spring rolls stuffed with noodles, tofu shrimp (yes, it exists), and herbs were very tasty and beautifully presented on a long rectangular dish. The peanut sauce that came with them was fresh, creamy, and sprinkled with plenty of chopped peanuts. We both agreed that the Wisdom Puffs were rather lacking in flavor; meant to be a vegetarian version of a cream cheese crab puff, they were filled with bits of tofu “crab” and…. something else. They were very crispy and again, beautifully displayed, but they just didn’t do it for either one of us, unless drenched in the two sauces that came on the dish.
I’ll have to get with Jodi on the actual names of the entrees she ordered, but one was a noodle bowl filled with button mushrooms, scrambled “egg”, and a mountain of veggies. Though it was something I’d considered ordering for myself and looked so healthy I could have cried from happiness, we agreed that it could have used more yummy sauce (which appeared at the bottom of the bowl when she dumped it into her take home container… guess we were supposed to toss it all together). The other dish had two filets of “salmon” served with gorgeous mushrooms, carrots, and broccoli, sprinkled with deliciously crispy onions. The sauce was excellent, probably based the traditional oyster sauce, and though I didn’t try the “salmon”, the entire dish looked scrumptious.
I ordered the Awakening of Faith, which is pretty much the vegetarian version of a traditional Vietnamese rice noodle salad that I order anytime I go to a Pho house. I got a huge bowl of fresh rice noodles with plenty of faux meats, hearty mushrooms, and a large handful of chopped lettuce, bean sprouts, and herbs. Served with a delicious sauce of rice vinegar, sugar, and chili pepper meant to be drizzled over the entire bowl, I was pleased with the amount of food I was able to get for just $8.50. Clearly enough for dinner AND lunch the next day. I would have preferred a bit more sauce, but I made up for it by dumping in the remaining sweet chili sauce that came with the Wisdom Puffs.
All in all, Andy Nguyen's is a good place to eat healthy food without breaking the bank. Though the prices may look high at first, when you consider their portion sizes you're actually getting a pretty good deal. Though I've read nasty reviews about their bad service and inconsistent food quality, I haven't found this to be the case just yet. Sure, the staff could be a bit more attentive but it's not like you're eating at The Firehouse. You're on Broadway, for crying out loud! Just being able to get a good meal that's not swimming in fat and staff who will at least come & check on you once in awhile is more than one could ask for. Squeamish about tofu meats? Give it a try anyway. It's not entirely authentic but it's still a nice, healthy departure from the norm.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Monday, January 12, 2009
So the recipe sounds like an entrance exam into a professional school, but once you read the simple ingredients you will know what they stand for. Creamy hummus, crisp spinach, ripe avocado, and tangy tomatoes, all on toasted whole grain bread. Though I'm a firm believer in a mean grilled cheese, this truly is my favorite sandwich to eat. I hope it will become one of yours too. And now, on with the show.
1/2 avocado, sliced
Couple of sprinkles of ground pepper
Thursday, January 8, 2009
~ I’m sure those of you that have been with me since I started this last August have noticed some changes around here. Black has turned into different shades of blue (I think I’ve finally settled on one), you can sort posts by different labels, and my photography is starting to get a little better (though I can’t help it if all I have is my phone when I do work lunches, so please forgive me). The biggest change, however, has been the addition of my Foodbuzz Featured Publisher widget, of which I am very proud. I joined this outstanding community just last month, and though I’m still trying to figure the whole place out in terms of navigation, I am really loving being a part of this site. The best part for me was having been turned into a Featured Publisher pretty much 24 hours after having joined the site. It’s brought a lot of new readers to Poor Girl Eats Well, and I’m truly enjoying getting to know fellow foodies out there. I’m also toying with the idea of submitting something to the 24, 24, 24 feature in the next couple of months, but I’m feeling a little shy about doing it so soon, especially since I don’t feel I have enough time to prepare. We’ll see what happens!
~ I was visiting 101cookbooks.com the other day (perhaps my very favorite online food journal) and Heidi was talking about her newly painted kitchen cupboards helping her feel like she was getting a fresh start for the New Year. She asked her readers to share some resolutions and there were several postings. Those of you who know me well know that I prefer goals to resolutions, since I feel they have a more positive connotation, something you can work towards and look forward to, as opposed to resolving to have to do something. One of the many goals I’ve set for myself this year that relates directly to my blog is to get more creative & adventurous in my cooking. Sure, sure, I harp all the time about getting creative with limited ingredients because one is broke; but what if I got more creative with the acquisition of said ingredients, so more interesting things can happen in my little kitchen? I’ll still get a lot of my favorites and combine them in different ways but I plan to branch out a lot over the next few months, trying things I’ve been meaning to try, or perhaps stuff that I’d not been too familiar with until recently, like harissa (HOW could I have not known about this?). Fortunately for my readers and for me, I like to eat pretty much anything, so this can only be a good thing for all of us.
~ I mentioned in my last recipe post that I’ve gained some extra pounds and do not like them on me. Since January is the time when most folks are all gung-ho about weight loss (the “resolutioners”, as a friend of mine calls them), you’re going to see some stuff here & there that is going to reflect my own need to get back to my normal size. Don’t worry, though; part of my success of keeping most of my weight off for over 5 years now has been never to deny myself, so there will still be yummy indulgences here & there.
~ Speaking of yummy indulgences, a lot of folks have been inquiring about the Spicy Shrimp Quesadillas that I talk about all the time, so that is definitely going to be a featured recipe this month. I have some fun ideas for this great Mahi Mahi I bought at Trader Joe’s the other day, so look for that to show up this month as well. And because it’s cold, stay tuned for some new soup and chowder recipes too.
~ Last, but not least, I wanted to share with you some random pictures from the New Year. Have a great month and keep sending in those comments and suggestions! It’s fun getting to know you all. :)
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
The décor is pretty par for the course with many “hip” restaurants and ultralounges in the Sacramento area these days: rich, dark wood mixed with the obligatory dim lighting and metallic accents throughout; gentle blues, browns, and creams softening the darkness. What caught my attention were the thoughtful cowboy-style accessories here and there, so that you would remember you were in a steakhouse and not just the hip restaurant of the moment. The bar stools covered in either horse or cow hair had to be my favorite, though I did feel a little badly for sitting on a former Palomino. The crowd was standard Downtown Sacramento, filled with lawyer & executive types, with the occasional disgruntled looking state worker here & there.
We put in our drink orders (some sort of mixed drink for him, a dirty vodka martini with 2 olives for me) and perused the food menu. A lot of the choices sounded very appetizing, from their Jumbo Stuffed Mushrooms with spinach, cream cheese, and creamy garlic-parmesan sauce, to their Ahi Poki, served “Hawaiian style” with soy, garlic, chilies, and cilantro. My coworker chose the Sauteed Jumbo Prawns, and after much vacillating between the Thai Skewered Beef and the Tiger Prawn Quesadilla, I chose the latter.
Our bartender was a little slow in getting the drinks made as it was fairly busy, but the martini did not disappoint. Though I still have fantasies of that incredible vodka martini at Olive Bar in San Francisco (honestly, I think it was the Gorgonzola-stuffed olives that made the difference), this one wasn’t bad at all. Unlike my martini fiasco at Castagnola’s on Fisherman’s Wharf, this one was filled most of the way, tasted like there was actually vodka in it, and came with the splash of olive juice, not in a dirty, spotted glass. My buddy's drink looked very potent and he reported it was “just what [I] need” (seriously, it was one of those Mondays!)
Because of the slow service, we were both able to get to the second drink before the Jumbo Prawns arrived. I enjoyed these quite a bit, since I’m a fan of simple dishes. The prawns were actually jumbo as described (there are a lot of places that call medium prawns “jumbo”) and cooked to perfection. Sauteed in a simple sauce of garlic, fresh tomato, basil, and lemon butter, served with crusty bread, this was a great dish for snacking or a light meal.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t as pleased with the Tiger Prawn Quesadilla. When I make my prawn quesadillas I keep the shrimp whole. These were chopped very finely, almost worthy of a ceviche, so I’m sure that there were only about 3-4 in the entire dish. The menu stated the quesadilla came with chopped jalapenos, almonds, and garlic, all of which were barely noticeable in flavor and texture. I think they must have forgotten to bring it out and reheated it, because much of the cheese had assimilated into the tortilla, so it wasn’t the good gooey mess I was expecting. Lastly, the mango aioli drizzle was more like a couple of drops on top of the quesadilla, lending very little to the dish as a whole. It’s a dish I would not recommend or try again, though it did give me a couple of ideas for how to modify my current (and very awesome) Spicy Prawn Quesadillas (recipe coming this week).
Overall, Chops isn’t a bad place to hang out after a long day’s work; their drinks are good and that’s usually what Happy Hour is for. The food menu is a bit overpriced in general, but at least they deliver on certain items. Still, it’s a pretty good happy hour joint, and the steaks that were being taken to the regular diners did look quite tasty, so when this Poor Girl isn’t so poor, I might just give them a try.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
Now, I will admit that normally when I cook w/tofu, it's for lunches and dinners. They haven't made their way on here yet, but my marinated tofu steaks are sometimes even better than a nice filet mignon (sometimes). Living with Dennis & Michael in Davis taught me a lot about how to cook with the most healthy & versatile product out there, from simple stir fries to crazy complicated curry dishes. Very rarely do I make a breakfast scramble, however, simply because I love eggs way too much to substitute them with a soy product. Fortunately for my waistline, I've been enjoying my time off way too much to head to the grocery store, so instead of eggs, I have tofu; instead of cheese, I have plain yogurt, which I've been wanting to play with in a nice, healthy herb spread as of late.
Breakfast Tofu Scramble on Toast with Herb Spread
1 T herbes de provence
1 t chopped fresh dill
1/2 t chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 t crushed garlic
1/2 t salt
1/2 t lemon juice
1 medium tomato, diced
3 scallions, chopped
1/4 t lemon pepper
1/4 t fresh ground pepper
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1/8 t salt
Splash of olive oil
2 slices whole grain bread (I like to use the California Complete Protein bread from TJs and other brands make this same type of bread).
Make herb spread by combining all ingredients and mixing well. Chill for at least 1/2 hour for the mixture to become a bit more solid. For the scramble, heat a healthy splash of olive oil in a skillet until it becomes irridescent. Add tofu and stir fry for about 5 minutes over medium high heat, or until completely heated through. Add diced tomatoes, scallions, and spices, and mix together well, heating for another 2-3 minutes. While making the scramble, toast the bread. When bread is toasted, spread about 1-2 teaspoons of the herb spread on each slice. Add a few leaves of fresh baby spinach and spoon the tofu & veggies on top. Enjoy with very little guilt at all!
Friday, January 2, 2009
Part of the inspiration for this very simple, yet tasty salad also comes from the current weather. It’s cold, gray, and rainy, and I hate it. Not that I mind the occasional romantic foggy or rainy day so I can curl up in bed with the kitties and read a good book, but I like the sun. Sue me. Anyway, since I can’t have bright sunny weather, I figured I’d have a bright sunny lunch instead. There are many variations of black bean and corn salads out there, so this is not a groundbreaking experiment here. But the addition of tender avocado, green onions, ripe tomatoes, all tossed together with some crisp spinach just makes this variation colorful and fresh tasting. The best part is I had most of the ingredients here in our break room fridge anyway, so it was easy to put together.
NOTE: Had I been making this at home, I can guarantee that cilantro would have made its way into this dish immediately, but alas, I must make due without it. *sigh* Also, if you’re doing this at work like I am, you probably don’t have your full spice pantry at your disposal. Don’t think you have access to crushed red pepper flakes that add heat to this dish? Think again! Somewhere in the depths of the drawers in your break room, there are leftover packets of said crushed chili flakes from the last time a pizza was ordered. Just one of these little packets is the perfect amount for this salad. Think outside the box!
Bright & Sunny Black Bean Salad (makes 3-4 servings; total cost per serving: $2.25)
1 can black beans, drained
1 can sweet corn, drained
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2-3 green onions, chopped
1 avocado, pitted & chopped
1 c baby spinach leaves
4 T lime juice
1 T ground black pepper
¾ T salt
½ t crushed chili flakes
In a large bowl (or Ziploc container…. remember this is a work lunch so you may not have access to real dishes) combine beans, corn, tomatoes, onions, and avocado, and toss together gently (you don’t want the avocado to turn to mush). In a smaller bowl, whisk together lime juice, salt, pepper, and chili flakes. Add dressing to the veggies. Tear spinach leaves into smaller, bite sized pieces, add to the rest of the ingredients, toss together, and enjoy!
Thursday, January 1, 2009
A quick note: always rinse your quinoa before cooking. Most quinoa varieties are nice & clean, but there is still this residual taste that clings to anything you make w/it unless you rinse it.
That being said, here's the recipe!
Warm Breakfast Quinoa with Cinnamon Apples & Almonds