Saturday, February 28, 2009

Recipe: Makeshift Moqueca

In talking to coworkers and friends, and even listening to people's conversations on light rail over the past few weeks, I've noticed a definite trend in conversation topics: cutting back on EVERYTHING because life is simply not affordable anymore. Since those that know me well know I've been struggling financially for quite some time, I don't always like to bring up my woes, so I have just been sitting back and listening to what others have to say as they join me in economic hell. It seems that living a better quality of life (as defined by going out more, spending more money on stuff, etc., etc.) is sorely missed by almost everyone. Heck, even I miss doing more stuff than I do now: the impulse shoe shopping, random dinners at new restaurants, the ability to take time off work to go to concerts without the nagging fear of losing my job. Times are just different now, and everyone is feeling it.

Most of you know by now that this is the main reason I started this blog. I'm of the opinion that just because the rest of my life is difficult and unappetizing, doesn't mean my food needs to be that way too. As I mentioned in my very first post, food is something all of us love and that is a part of all cultures. Something this important should not be overlooked or put on the back burner (so to speak) if one can help it! This reasoning - and a strange craving for Brazilian food - is what prompted me to post this recipe for a traditonal Brazilian seafood stew, also known as moqueca. The way I see it, just because I can't go to a good Brazilian restaurant in San Francisco and partake of their tasty delights doesn't mean I have to deny myself the pleasure of having something similar at home.

This recipe is as close to the real thing as I was able to get within my means. I made sure to follow recipes that were from actual Brazilian websites to make sure I had all the right ingredients and methods (and learned a bit of Portugese on the way). The only things that are different are the absence of dende oil and green bell peppers, and the use of red onions v. white or yellow. The green bell pepper omission is a personal choice as I do not like them (they make me kind of queasy) but I urge you to use them in this recipe if you're a fan of them because I'm sure it would add a different spin. And as much as I appreciate the exotic flavor of dende oil (palm oil), I can neither afford to travel to another city to find an African store to buy it, nor can I afford the $18/6 oz. price online. I have had traditional moqueca and I can tell the difference if dende oil is not use; but I am a Poor Girl and have to do without sometimes, which is just fine. This dish is tasty enough on its own.

Though swordfish and haddock are hailed as some of the best fish to use in this stew, I used Mahi Mahi and found it worked beautifully. I'm sure any light, firm-fleshed fish will do just fine. You can also make this with shrimp alone, though I personally prefer the combination of the two. I'm sure that the addition of some other shellfish like mussels or clams would just improve upon this, but again - I work on a tight budget! Don't worry if you can't find any malagueta or other tiny, super-hot peppers; using a bunch of cayenne will work in a pinch. Do you see why I call this "Makeshift"? It's not exactly the real thing, but it's pretty darned close, a lot like my Sick Person Soup. And it further proves my point that just because you can't afford the best doesn't mean you can't expect the best. Lastly, don't be afraid to try this because it's different! It's very delicious and simple to prepare. Even Anne, the awesome photographer from the Sac News & Review (article on yours truly to be featured there in the next couple of weeks!) agreed it smelled terrific!

Makeshift Moqueca (serves 4; total cost per serving: ~ $4)

1 lb firm-fleshed fish filets (mahi mahi, swordfish, etc)
20-25 shrimp (frozen is okay)
2 T cooking oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large red pepper (or small red & small green pepper), diced
4-5 small tomatoes, chopped
6-7 green onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
Juice of one large lime or 3-4 key limes
1 can light coconut milk
Small handful of cilantro
2-3 small hot peppers, or 1/2 t ground cayenne pepper
Salt & pepper to taste

Cut the fish filets into large bite sized pieces and marinate in the lime juice and some salt & pepper for about 20-30 minutes. If using raw shrimp, marinate them with the fish as well; if using frozen, place into a bowl to thaw while prepping the other ingredients.

Chop the regular onion, red pepper, and tomatoes and place into a bowl. Chop the green onions and cilantro and place in a separate bowl. When the fish has been marinated long enough and the shrimp is thawed, heat 2 T cooking oil in a large, deep skillet or in a large pot. Add garlic and heat for about 1 minute, then add the onion, red peppers, and tomatoes. Cook for about 10-15 minutes over medium-low heat or until the veggies begin to soften. Add the fish and coconut milk and cook for another 15 minutes or so. If using raw shrimp, add them in with the fish; if using frozen, cooked shrimp, add at the very end to avoid overcooking. Cook for about 2 more minutes. Lastly, add the green onions and cilantro, and remove from heat.

Garnish with extra cilantro if desired, serve with white rice or by itself, and aproveita!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Recipe: Tzatziki Chicken Salad

My coworkers are starting to have fun playing "What Is Kimberly Having For Lunch Today". Because I get bored having the same food for lunch all the time, and because it just costs so much to eat out for lunch, I try to bring at least one different ingredient to work in the hopes that I'll be inspired to make something new. Fortunately for me, said groovy, different ingredient was already here. As you all know, I was the lucky winner of a giant box chock full of Mediterranean treats from Cedars Mediterranean Foods, courtesy of FoodieBlogroll.com. Because it was too much stuff for me to carry back home (I sold my car so I use public transit), I decided to leave it in the fridge here at work so that I could always have some fun snacks to nosh on.

I wasn't the biggest fan of the hommus, so I've kind of given that away to our mechanics (they'll eat anything, God bless 'em), but I cannot get enough of the Tzatziki and the Spinach Dip! They're excellent. I had brought in some veggies for an entirely different salad which I will be posting soon, but I thought it would be interesting to combine them instead with some leftover chicken I had and toss that all together with the tzatziki (yogurt dip with cucumber & garlic, for those of you who are new to the tzatziki scene). A little extra lemon juice here, some extra pepper there, and Holy Hannah, I had a delicious, cool, crunchy salad that went perfectly with the pita chips they sent me.

I fully intend to make this again using my own tzatziki and will post that recipe in the next few days. There's absolutely nothing wrong with store bought (or Greek deli, if you have one handy), it's just more cost-effective to make one's own. This recipe is also a great way to make use of any leftovers you may have in your fridge at home and leftovers should never be ignored. It's amazing what you can come up with when you start thinking out of the box. Lastly, feel free to play around with this one! You can stuff a pita pocket with this salad, or use it on regular bread, or just have some atop some fresh, crisp greens. This is a very versatile, healthy, and refreshing lunch, and I hope I've been able to teach you that you can get just as creative in your breakroom at work as you can in your kitchen!

Tzatziki Chicken Salad (serves 2-3; total cost: ~$1.75/serving)

1 c chicken breast (or thighs), chopped
1/2 cucumber
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 red onion
3 T tzatziki
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Couple dashes ground black pepper
Handful of pita chips

Chop all veggies into 1/2" pieces and place in a medium bowl. Add chicken, tzatziki, lemon juice, and pepper, and mix together until everything is uniformly coated. Spoon onto a plate, serve with pita chips, and enjoy!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Recipe: Spinach, Red Pepper & Feta Stuffed Pork over Herbed Cous Cous

After my recent recipe of Pork Loin Medallions in Balsamic Honey Glaze a couple weeks ago, I made sure to save the other half of that beautiful pork loin in the freezer so I could use it for something else. Though I was tempted to have the same dish again tonight because it's super tasty (and I've been getting some wonderful emails & comments about it) I have just been too full of recipe ideas lately, so I had to get at least one out before another long work week. I was inspired to make this because of something similar my local Trader Joe's used to carry a couple summers ago. They offer a stuffed beef dish that has either the same or slightly different stuffing, but at around $9.99/lb, it was one of those splurges that I used to be able to get but can no longer afford now. Still, I'm not one to give up having something good just because I can't afford it, and since pork loin tends to be leaner than beef (and less spendy) and because I'd just gone on a Trader Joe's run with my mom who came to visit me this weekend, I thought it would be fun to experiment.

This is another one of those examples of how to have a swank looking meal without forking over the swank amount of money to line someone else's pockets. Presentation really is everything, and it makes all the difference in the world if you want to make a simple dish look super attractive. And just because it's simple doesn't mean it's bland! The combo of spinach, sweet red peppers, and tangy feta complement each other very nicely and go great with the lean pork. Though I cook for one most of the time and was able to make a couple meals out of 1 pork loin, this is also a very affordable dish even if you have to grab enough pork loin for 4+ people. It's also a healthy, flavorful meal that takes about 45 minutes tops to make (including prep time). If I had a family I'd definitely say that this could be either a busy weekday night or weekend meal.

Don't worry if you don't have all the herbs available for the Herbed Cous Cous. Even a small combo of 2 or 3 different herbs and a light dusting of sea salt will transform your cous cous into something more exotic. Plus, with the deglazing of the pan after the pork has been cooked, you have a lovely sauce that will add a ton of taste to the final product. I encourage you to experiment with different herbs for the cous cous, though; it's always fun to see what one comes up with if one gets creative enough. Here's the recipe!

Spinach, Red Pepper & Feta Stuffed Pork over Herbed Cous Cous (serves 2; total cost per serving: ~ $3)

1 c whole wheat cous cous
1 c water
1 t butter
1/4 t salt
1/8 t rosemary
1/8 t oregano
1/8 t basil
1/8 t thyme

3/4 lb pork loin
1 small handful fresh baby spinach
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2" strips
3 oz low-fat feta cheese
2 T olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
1/4 c white wine or chicken broth for deglazing (optional)


Filet the pork loin lengthwise until you have a smooth, even sheet about 1/2" thick. Next, cut the sheet of pork into strips about 2" wide. Take one strip of the pork loin and arrange about 4-5 spinach leaves on top. Then add a few of the red pepper strips, followed by a few sprinkles of crumbled feta cheese. Roll the pork loin with stuffing into a tight spiral and fasten with a toothpick. Continue this procedure until all of your pork strips have been stuffed.

Prepare the herbed cous cous by bringing 1 c water and 1/4 t salt to a boil. Add the cup of cous cous and the teaspoon of butter and stir well, removing from heat. Let sit for about 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Season each pork loin roll with salt & pepper. Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, place the pork loin rolls in the skillet, seasoned side down. Season the other side with more salt & pepper, then cover and allow to cook for about 3 minutes on one side. Turn each pork roll over and cook on the other side for another 2-3 minutes, or until the pork is no longer pink when cut. Remove the pork and set aside on a plate. Reduce heat and add the wine or chicken broth to the pan, scraping up any brown bits until you have a nice bit of sauce.

Spoon some of the herbed cous cous onto individual dishes, then add 2-3 of the stuffed pork loin rolls on top. Drizzle the pan dripping on top, garnish with extra red pepper strips & spinach, crumble some extra feta on top, and enjoy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Recipe: Berry-Chevre Cheesecake Parfait Shots

There's a particularly addictive type of chevre (goat cheese, en francais) at Trader Joe's that my friend Jodi turned me onto recently. You TJ's addicts have probably already tried it: the Chevre with Honey. It's pure creamy bliss with just the slightest hint of honey sweetening the tartness of the goat cheese. Great on crackers or bread, or just straight out of the package, most cheese fans will agree that this is a delectable little treat. For me it's just a bit too rich to enjoy straight or even on crackers (one 8 oz. package could last me about 2 weeks) but when I first had it, it occurred to me that it would make a fabulous base for a dessert. Almost immediately I thought of it as a great alternative to cream cheese for a nice cheesecake. And since it's scary week and I don't have much in the way of baking essentials, I figured it'd be fun to experiment with a no-bake chevre cheesecake concoction that I could throw into a shot glass for a new Dessert Shot.

Some of you who tried the Banana Caramel Parfait Shots have written to me letting me know that it is, indeed, just the right amount of dessert after any meal (and how sinfully rich it was!). I'm glad to see people agree with me! Don't get me wrong, I love my dessert and would eat a Grand Marnier Souffle the size of my refrigerator if I could, but only if that was all I was eating for a week. Sweet, after-dinner treats ought to be small (the serving, not the entire dessert) not only for the waistline's sake but because the stomach is usually not done registering fullness after a meal; adding a huge dessert at the end of a big meal can only cause misery afterwards. As I mentioned in my previous dessert post, many restaurants are finally starting to pare down the size of their desserts, probably more as a marketing ploy to get the dieters to indulge a bit. Still, when it comes to cheesecake, traditional serving sizes have always been rather small, mainly due to its richness. I've never seen a slice of New York Cheesecake bigger than a small sliver, and rightly so! Such a dense, rich dessert should be eaten in small quantities.

That being said, I have a couple things to note about this recipe. Do not expect this to taste exactly like cheesecake because it's not. Still, its creamy, rich texture will make you think of a delicious cheesecake filling with the interesting bite that comes from goat cheese. Because the flavors are sharper and more distinct, using a chocolate "crust" enhances the dessert more than a traditional graham crust would, and what easier way to make this than with Oreos? Lastly, though I used frozen berries in this recipe, feel free to use fresh ones if you're lucky enough to have them around right now! That will only make this more delicious. And now for the recipe.

Berry-Chevre Cheesecake Parfait Shots (makes approximately 10 shot-glass servings; Total Cost per serving: ~ $0.80)

8 oz. Chevre w/Honey, softened (plain goat cheese will also do, though you may want to increase the sweetener according to taste)
4 T sugar, divided
1/4 c frozen blueberries
1/2 c frozen strawberries
10 Oreo cookies

Prepare your "crust" by pulsing the Oreos (cream and all!) in a blender/small food processor and pulse until you have a coarse powder. Set aside. Place the frozen berries into a large bowl with 2 T of sugar and allow to thaw. The sugar will allow the berries to release their juices and create a sort of "syrup" that will be the flavor base for this dessert. When the berries are mostly thawed, use a hand blender to puree well (if some slightly frozen bits remain, that's okay).

In another bowl, use an electric mixer to whip the chevre and remaining 2 T until it becomes smooth, with an almost frosting-like consistency. Add 4 T of the berry puree and mix into the chevre until it becomes a light pinkish mauve in color. Add more if desired but be careful not to add to much so that you don't end up with a runny cheesecake base.

Assemble several shot glasses together (or small juice glasses if that's all you have, though these will be larger desserts) and add about 1 t cookie crust on the bottom of each glass. Add about 1 T cheesecake filling, another layer of cookie crust, then 1 t berry puree, and so on and so forth until you have filled each glass. Your last layer should be of the cheesecake mix so that you can dust a nice sprinkle of cookie crust on top for a nice contrast. Chill in the fridge for about an hour before serving, and enjoy!

(Note: you can also make these up to a day ahead if entertaining.)

PGEW.com wins a Foodie Blogroll Giveaway!

So last week, the fine folks at FoodieBlogroll.com chose Poor Girl Eats Well at random as the winner of their Mediterranean Mondays Giveaway. Woo hoo! So what did I get for being the lucky winner? According to the site, I was going to get a "box full of Cedar's Mediterranean Foods goodies and a T-shirt". I did, but let me tell you, this was the understatement of the year! I was expecting some small, sample sized tzatziki and hummus (they spell it "hommus"; I wonder which is more correct?). Instead, Foodie Blogroll teamed up with the oh-so-generous Cedars Mediterranean Foods family to send me this giant box of Mediterranean food that will surely last me for a couple of weeks! Everything I received was full sized, which is not the norm when it comes to prizes & giveaways. I was truly surprised! Here's what I got:

Traditional Tzatziki
Roasted Red Pepper Tzatziki (though unfortunately, someone ended up swiping it from the fridge at work. Kleptos!!! This is why I had to label everything, in case you were wondering from the photo)
Roasted Garlic Hommus
Spinach & Artichoke Hommus
Spinach Dip
Plain Pita Chips
Garlic Pita Chips
And a very comfy T-shirt I'm currently wearing as my new pajamas :)

Everything came nicely packaged in a foam cooler with little ice packs to keep everything fresh. I had wondered how I was going to get Tzatziki delivered to me and had speculated I might have been getting some sort of mix, but when I saw this great package I realized how wrong I was. I've never won a food giveaway before but if they're all like this, I am more than happy to enter any and every contest out there!

I tried the Spinach Dip & Tzatziki today with the pita chips and really liked them. I will let you know how the hommus turns out (you know how I feel about that stuff!). For now, I just want to thank Cedars Mediterranean Foods for this incredible prize and urge all of you with food blogs to post your blog on FoodieBlogroll.com. Not only is it a great way to get more exposure and meet up w/other foodies, but they have some really great contests! Who knows, you may be the next winner!

*runs off to enjoy more Spinach Dip (this stuff is really good!)*

Friday, February 13, 2009

Recipe: Open-faced Fontina Sandwiches with Caramelized Onions & Shallots

My obsession with cheese of all kinds continues. Today we will explore the delicious simplicity that is the grilled cheese sandwich. Everybody loves a mean grilled cheese with all of its melty-toastiness; it seems like it's a universal favorite, no matter what one's cheese preference may be. But after awhile the standard American cheese on white or cheddar & swiss on wheat can get a little boring. You want to try something else with your perfectly toasted or grilled cheese-filled concoction, make it grow up a bit. I have many variations of grown-up grilled cheeses that I plan to post, but this one is currently the star.

This isn't a quick lunchtime sandwich; this is hearty, fragrant, flavorful and definitely holds its own as a nice dinner when paired with a fresh salad and a glass of wine. What makes this so different, you may ask? It's just cheese & bread, right? Sure, but it's Fontina cheese, with smoky nutty tones accented beautifully by the sweetness of caramelized onions and shallots. I like the combination of the two because of their individual flavors: the red onions are stronger, more pungent, and zestier, while the shallots lend a more delicate taste and aroma. This will all go well on top of any crusty type of bread, but I feel that the chewiness of Ciabatta that's been lightly toasted in a warm oven goes best with the eventual gooeyness of the melted cheese.

Of course, the best part about any grilled cheese sandwich - aside from the taste - is the price. It truly is an affordable meal. People have been eating staples of bread and cheese for centuries, not only because they pair well but because they are relatively affordable staples. Does a wedge of Fontina cost a bit more than a pack of American cheese? Perhaps, but not by much. A pack of 16 slices (about 12 oz.) of Kraft American Cheese will regularly run about $4.50 at most grocery stores, while store brands run about a dollar less. A 1/2 lb wedge of Fontina will cost about $4-5, and once it's been shredded, it yields about 2 cups (16 oz.). You've just scored 4 oz. of extra cheese for roughly the same price, and can take comfort in the fact that you're eating real cheese, as opposed to a "pasteurized cheese food product". Nothing wrong with some American cheese now & then, but it is very much a processed food with less nutritional value than the real thing.

I will step off my cheese soapbox now and give you the recipe. :)

Open-faced Fontina Sandwiches with Caramelized Onions & Shallots (serves 2-4, depending on appetite; Total Cost per complete sandwich: $1.75)

2 ciabatta rolls, sliced in half
1 c shredded Fontina cheese
1 small red onion
1 shallot
2 T olive oil
1/4 t salt
Pinch of sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 425°. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and set aside. Peel and slice the onion and shallot lengthwise, making sure to separate all the pieces so that they're not clumped together. Heat 2 T olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, then add the onions, shallots, and salt (if you like a sweeter result, add just a small pinch of sugar). Cook the onions slowly until they become translucent and browned. Remove from heat.

Place the four halves of ciabatta on the foil-lined cookie sheet and add 1/4 c shredded Fontina to each slice. Cook in the oven for about 5 minutes, or until cheese is mostly melted. Carefully slide out the oven rack with your sandwiches and add about 1 T of the caramelized onions & shallots. Put the sandwiches back into the oven and cook for another 2 minutes or until the cheese barely starts to brown. You don't want crispy cheese, but some browned bits at the top of the melted Fontina are always tasty. Serve with a nice salad and perhaps some wine, and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Recipe: Ginger Beef, Snow Pea, and Rice Noodle Stir-fry

I had another recipe I was going to post before this, but I felt this one was more relevant since it's made almost entirely of ingredients I bought in this week's $25 Shopping Cart. This was also fun for me because as much as I love rice noodles, I've never actually cooked with them myself. I am bound and determined to keep experimenting with ingredients I've never cooked before, so this was a fun change for me.

As I mentioned in my last post, once I'd found that great deal on the round tip beef strips the wheels in my head started rapidly spinning with all the potential dishes I could make. As soon as I had the snow peas I knew exactly what I wanted to go with these two star ingredients: some light & tender rice noodles. Because I don't cook with beef that often, I have historically been a little limited in what I use to season it, so I tossed around some potential sauce ideas before I decided a ginger and soy-based marinade would be best for what I was thinking of having. It had been a long time since I'd used ginger in any of my food and this seemed like a great time for it to make a comeback.

I was pretty pleased with how well this turned out; it's always fun to see and taste a dish come out the way you envision it. If I'd had fresh ginger at my disposal I would have definitely used some, since I know it would have revved up the dish. Still, ground ginger works just fine and with a some good soy sauce, it flavors the beef beautifully. The snow peas are a nice departure from the standard broccoli that accompanies beef, and using rice noodles as opposed to a thicker, heavier noodle like chow mein complements their delicate texture. This dish is very quick & easy to make too, so it's a perfect weeknight meal. The longest you'll spend with any one ingredient will be the 10-15 minutes it takes to soak the rice noodles. Finally, at about $1.70/person for 3 servings, you can be sure that both your palate and your pocketbook will enjoy making this. Now, on with the show!

Ginger Beef, Snow Pea, and Rice Noodle Stir Fry (Serves 2-3; total cost per person: ~ $1.70)

~ 3/4 lb round tip beef strips (or any other lean cut of beef)
10-15 snow pea pods
3 oz. rice noodles
1/4 c plus 3 T low-sodium soy sauce
1 t plus 1/4 t ground ginger
2 T honey
1 T rice vinegar
1/2 t crushed garlic
1/2 t crushed red chilies
Couple glugs of cooking oil
2 chopped scallions (optional)

Prepare the beef marinade with 1/4 c of soy sauce and 1 t ground ginger in a medium bowl. Add the beef strips and make sure the marinade completely coats all the beef. Cover and set aside. While the the meat is marinating, soak the rice noodles in a large bowl of cold water for about 10-15 minutes. Be sure to completely submerge the noodles so that you don't end up with any random crispy ones.

In the meantime, prepare the dressing by combining the rest of the soy sauce, ginger, honey, and rice vinegar and whisking together until completely smooth. You can also use this time to rinse the snow peas and snip off the ends if desired (they can sometimes be a bit tough and cumbersome). Once the rice noodles have softened, drain completely and set aside.

In a medium skillet heat a tablespoon or two of cooking oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and heat for about 15-20 seconds: just enough to heat it through but not enough to scorch it. Add the beef strips with as little marinade as possible and stir fry for about 2 minutes. Since the meat is cut so thin, this will cook very quickly. Add the snow peas and stir fry for another 2 minutes or until they just begin to soften. In a larger skillet, heat another tablespoon of cooking oil over medium high to high heat and add the drained noodles. Add the beef and snow peas with all the juices and toss together until everything is combined. Cook for about 3 more minutes and remove from heat.

Arrange a nice portion of the stir fry onto a dish and drizzle generously with the soy, ginger, and honey dressing. Top with chopped green onions and crushed red chilies, and enjoy!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The $25 Shopping Cart, Version 2.0

It's been awhile since I've done one of these and I do apologize for taking so long to bring you Version 2.0 of the $25 Shopping Cart. The reason for this is that I go to Trader Joe's more than any other store. But I know that there are many places still deprived of this store, and I promised you that I could do this at almost any grocery store, so to make good on that and as a challenge to myself, I headed to Safeway (VON'S in SoCal) for this edition. I'll be honest and let you know that this time around I actually spent $33.92, but that was due to the kitties (hey, they need to eat, too!). Although I'd toyed around with the idea of keeping to $25 for all of us, I decided to stick to having the human food count towards that amount for the sake of the assignment. Still, paying close to $34 for all of us is quite a steal.

Though Safeway is largely considered one of the more pricey major chain grocery stores in this area, I like to shop there on occasion for a few different reasons: I prefer their atmosphere and selection to their competitors', they usually offer better prices on my cat supplies, and I'm a fan of their Club Card specials. They can't match my beloved TJ's, but they offer great opportunities to save on national brand and comparable store brand products. One way to get wind of these new specials is to check out the weekly circulars that come in the mail. I ignore most of them because they're for stores I don't frequent due to distance, but I do check out the ones for stores I visit. If I've tossed it before viewing it, I try to hop online and sort through the store items by their Club Card specials first. And if I'm just rushing there after work because I'd forgotten to purchase something I needed, I try to take a quick walk through the aisles I frequent to see what's on sale, when the sales end, and make a mental note of it for later. Because I was on assignment, I also came prepared with a few coupons I'd printed online from their site.

I don't normally go into this with a set list of what I want to buy unless I'm entertaining and know ahead of time what I'll be making, and this time was no different. I did make sure to remember what I already had at home so that I could build around that, focusing on buying ingredients that would make several different meals. Again, it's tempting to buy premade meals, but when you're trying to make a small amount like $25 stretch as far as possible, buying whole ingredients is a much better option. I had a coupon for some yogurt and knew I wanted to get a couple of cans of tuna, but aside from that I was ready to see what Safeway had to offer me. I went through every aisle except the junk food aisles, since that just doesn't appeal to me at all. I was both shocked by some things ($28 for 21-50 frozen shrimp???) and pleasantly surprised by others (grapes for $0.88/lb, snow peas for $1/lb, woo hoo!). It wasn't until I hit the meat department and found this crazy sale on some beef round tip strips that a recipe idea started to form in my head. Though I'd normally buy the whole cut of beef and cut it myself, this deal was way too good to pass up. Spotted some sweet treats here & there, picked up a bottle of vino for happiness & heart health, and I had myself the makings of a interesting week of non-TJ's/farmer's market food.

Here's the shopping list:

1 6 oz. package of rice noodles - $1.25
2 cans tuna - $0.89/each
1 4-pack vanilla yogurt - $1.50 (after coupon)
1 6-pack Skinny Cow Cookies & Cream ice cream sandwiches - $3.99
1.57 lb round tip beef strips - $5.48 (after extra discount)
1 bottle Sutter Home Zinfandel - $3.48
1.4 lb green grapes at $0.88/lb - $1.24
1 cucumber - $0.99 (this hurt, but I know I won't be able to head to the farmer's market for a couple of weeks, so I gave in)
1 large head red leaf lettuce - $1
0.34 lb snow peas at $1/lb - should have been $0.34, but the kid didn't know better and charged me for snap peas, so I paid $1.01
~ 0.5 lb Fontina cheese - $4.18

Even with the mischarge on the snow peas and the splurges of cheese, wine, and ice cream, my total cost for my food was just about $26. I was one buck over and bought enough food to add to the little I had at home to have:

- A lovely beef & rice noodle dish I'm concocting as we speak
- Grilled cheese sandwiches
- Tuna salad
- Grapes & yogurt for a work snack
- Rice noodles & snow peas with tofu (which I had at home)
- A traditional Umbrian farro & beef dish I've been dying to try
- a nice low-cal, low fat ice cream sandwich to help continue my voyage back into size 4 pants (I've lost 8lbs already, hooray!)
- some mystery dishes I haven't even thought of yet!

I'll admit this was a lot harder than a Trader Joe's run, partly because I have their prices memorized, and partly because Safeway is just that much more expensive, even though everything - except for the rice noodles - was on sale. Still, with a little bit of planning and a keen eye, it is completely possible to buy a week's worth of food for about 2 people or a couple week's worth for one for about $25. And for just $7-8 more, the feline members of my family have a little gourmet feast of their own for about 2 weeks.

Stay tuned for the next edition of the $25 Shopping Cart! I won't tell you where I'm going next, but trust me, this one will be a true exercise in savvy shopping!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Recipe: Caprese Omelette

Those of you on Foodbuzz.com have probably noticed a trend with me in the "What I'm Craving" section of my profile. More often than not, I'm craving some sort of omelette. I'm not sure if it's the versatility of the omelette, the ease of preparation, or the fact that you can get a nice, filling, high-protein meal in one dish, or all of the above, but I love a great omelette. Even when I happen to be at a restaurant for breakfast (read: Denny's after a concert), my eye usually lands on the omelette section of the menu. I try them at almost every restaurant that will offer them, learning what not to do and acquiring new tips for my home creations (thanks, Cheesecake Factory for the lovely addition of herbs in your California Omelette!). What I don't like about restaurant omelettes is how greasy they can be. There's a certain grease threshold I have and most places beat that more often than not. The worst part about a restaurant omelette, however, is the price: $9-11 on average for some eggs with a bit of filling? Unacceptable!

I came up with this recipe about a year ago and have loved it ever since. I think it's hard not to love a traditional Caprese salad for it's simplicity and combination of flavors: fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, and fresh mozzarella cheese. I was dying to do something new with my omelettes and had just scored said fresh ingredients at the farmer's market, so I thought it would be interesting to throw a Caprese salad in an omelette. It was a great idea! It's fresh tasting, oozing with cheese (someone really ought to find me a cheese rehab center), and incredibly easy to make. The key to making this taste as wonderful as it does is to have the freshest ingredients possible. This will not work with dried basil and as much as I love sundried tomatoes, they won't achieve the same result as a juicy, fresh one will. And of course, there's the cheese. Resist the urge to get regular or processed mozzarella if at all possible. Buy a container of fresh mozzarella balls or a nice mozzarella "chub" as this will make all the difference in the world. It will cost about the same as the processed gunk (~ $3/8oz) and tastes a lot better.

Serve this for Sunday brunch or as a nice change for dinner with some crusty Italian bread. Then sit back and marvel at how beautifully delicious this is for about $2/omelette, a savings of up to $8 for something you probably won't find at every restaurant. And it's much healthier because you know exactly how it's being cooked.

Caprese Omelette (Serves 1-2, depending on appetite; Total Cost per Omelette: about $2)


3 eggs
1-2 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese
1 medium tomato
1 small bunch of fresh basil
1 T olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Prepare the filling by rinsing the basil, patting it dry, then cutting into small shreds. Next, slice or dice the tomato into 1/2" pieces, and finally, cut your mozzarella cheese into small 1/8" thick rounds (this helps it melt more easily).

Beat eggs well until they are light and fluffy-looking in the bowl. A tip I learned from a TV cooking show is to add a couple drops of water for extra fluffy eggs, and because this actually works better than milk, I highly suggest this. Heat the olive oil (or butter, if you're a traditional omelette maker) in a pan over medium high heat until hot and add eggs. Swirl your pan around until the egg coats the entire bottom and some of the sides. When the eggs bubble, take your spatula and pierce the steam bubble, tilting your pan to fill the hole with the remaining eggs. Continue this process until the eggs stop bubbling and reduce heat to medium. Sprinkle a tiny pinch each of salt and pepper, place the mozzarella rounds in the omelette and cover for about 90 seconds, or just until the cheese starts to soften. At this point you will want to start using your spatula to help loosen the omelette from the pan, making sure it doesn't break in the process. Once you've loosened it most of the way, add the tomatoes and basil shreds. Flip one side of the omelette on top of the other with your spatula and cook for about 20 seconds. Flip the entire thing onto the other side and do the same. By now you should have reached a perfect golden color on the outside of the omelette.

Slide the omelette onto a plate, garnish with extra diced tomato and a sprig of basil on top, add some good, crusty Italian bread for a side if desired, and enjoy!

(Note: If your omelette breaks while flipping, don't worry about it at all! Even I can't do a perfect flip sometimes. It will still taste the same; you just have Caprese Eggs, instead. :) )

Friday, February 6, 2009

Recipe: Pork Loin Medallions in Balsamic Honey Glaze over Potato Pancakes

During one of my recent jaunts to Trader Joe’s, I had to stop and ask one of the staff there if they were out of the Sweet Chili Sauce I use in my Cheater Chutney. While I was waiting for him to check the stock in the back, I meandered around and checked out what was new in the meat department. New marinated steaks and lamb were just added to their stock, but it was a beautifully lean pork loin that caught my eye. Not only was it lean and perfectly pink (you fellow foodies understand great finds like this), it was literally $4.49. Mind you, I don’t shop for pork that often because I’m more of a chicken and seafood girl, but I’m pretty sure something of this quality is not usually priced so low. Since I promised myself I’d start buying outside of my comfort zone so I could come up with some new recipes, and because I knew I had a bunch of new potatoes at home, I threw it in my basket.

I wanted to stay away from more traditional pork recipes that tend to pair the meat with apples. Though it’s a perfect pairing because the sweetness of the apples enhances the flavor of the pork, I wanted to try something new. I’m currently obsessed with making glazes and thought one with balsamic vinegar and honey would complement the pork beautifully. I also wanted to cook the potatoes differently, and though I’m not too keen on fried foods, I figured making some shredded potato pancakes would be a nice change. I’d been craving some really crispy potatoes so this seemed perfect.

This recipe is a prime example of how to make something that looks like expensive restaurant fare right at home for a very low price. Though this looks like something you could get at a restaurant that charges about $15/entrée, this recipe literally costs about $3/person for 4 servings. As one of my favorite college professors used to say all the time, presentation is everything. This definitely applies to food. Sure, mashed potatoes are incredibly tasty, but these little potato pancakes are a lot prettier. These are also fun to make and you can get your older kids involved in peeling & shredding the potatoes. Now, on with this super easy, but very tasty recipe!

Pork Loin Medallions with Balsamic Honey Glaze over New Potato Pancakes (serves 4; Total Cost: $3/person)

1 lb lean pork loin
10-15 new potatoes (any potato will do in a pinch)
1 egg white
½ c honey
¼ c balsamic vinegar
2 T olive oil
½ c vegetable oil for frying
¼ t salt
1/8 t ground pepper
Extra pinches of salt & pepper (for potatoes)
Parsley or cilantro for garnish

Make the glaze by combining the balsamic vinegar and honey in a bowl and mixing together well until completely smooth. Set aside.

Peel and shred the potatoes into a large bowl. Since the shredding process will extract quite a bit of liquid from the potatoes, you may need to drain them in a colander. Some moisture is okay, but you want to make sure that they’re as dry as possible. Season with a couple pinches of salt & pepper. Lightly beat the egg white and add to the shredded potatoes, mixing together until completely coated. This will act as a binder to make sure they stay together during the frying process. In a large frying pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat until it becomes iridescent. You can test the oil’s heat by flicking a couple drops of water (carefully!) and if it starts to pop, you're good to go. Take a small handful of the potato mixture and arrange into a “pancake” about 3” in diameter. Gently place the pancake into the oil and fry for about 3 minutes on each side or until both sides are a nice golden brown (like hash browns). Once cooked, remove from oil and place on a plate with plenty of paper towels for draining excess oil. Depending on the size of your pan, you can probably make 3 or 4 of these at a time.

Cut the pork loin into medallions about ¾” in size. Season both sides of each medallion lightly with salt & pepper. In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When pan is heated, add a couple of pork medallions and cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side or until the meat is no longer pink on the inside. Do not overcook! When all the pork is cooked, add about half the glaze to the pan and scrape up any brown bits. If you like, you can place the pork back in the pan with hot glaze to coat lightly for extra flavor.

Arrange 3 or 4 potato pancakes on a plate. Top with 3 pork medallions, drizzle dish with remaining glaze, garnish with parsley or cilantro, and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Recipe: Superfood Nirvana Salad

It’s been unseasonably warm on the West coast lately. We’ve been having beautiful, spring-like weather for about 2 weeks now (I feel bad that everyone else in the nation is freezing to death), and though I love it, it worries me. But rather than go into my tirade about the global climate crisis, I thought I would share a recipe that can best be described as early spring in a bowl. It’s gorgeous, colorful, delicious, and ridiculously healthy.

I’ve adapted this recipe from my favorite salad at a local restaurant here in Midtown. The first time I had this I thought I’d reached some sort of superfood nirvana, hence the name. Quinoa, berries, pepitas, beets, fresh greens, acai berry dressing…… I doubt I’d gotten this giddy over a superfood dish since that macrobiotic plate of deliciousness that I had at the Monterey Music Summit in 2007. Instead of acai berry dressing, I decided to make more of a winter berry vinaigrette with strawberries & blueberries and a little bit of acai berry juice. I added sliced kiwifruit for color and zip, and not finding pepitas anywhere, I’ve thrown in sunflower seeds. This is not a conventional salad but still really tasty.

You’re probably wondering how something so healthy with all sorts of quirky ingredients could possibly be affordable. I’m sure many of you have noticed that the food industry is good at marking up health food and keeping most junk reasonably priced, making it easier to eat fattening, processed foods (which a huge contributing factor to the nation's obesity epidemic, but again, I digress. Sorry, I woke up on the socially conscious side of the bed today!). However, it is extremely easy to get affordable, healthy produce at your local farmer’s market, and that’s exactly what I did to make this salad for about $4 per person, versus the $9 I’ve had to pay for my own serving. Might seem a bit high for a salad, but keep in mind that this is meant to be an entrée, not a side.

Here’s the breakdown on the ingredients: The greens cost $1.99/bag at Trader Joe’s and the frozen blueberries $2.29, also at TJ’s. The beets were about $1/can. I buy my quinoa in bulk and that usually translates into roughly $0.75/cup of cooked quinoa. I also purchased my sunflower and flax seeds in bulk and paid about $0.50 & $0.75/quarter pound, respectively. From the farmer's market I got strawberries, $3.50/basket; kiwis, $1/bag of 10 (!!!); the acai berry juice was about $2.50 at the co-op; vinegars & oil were free since they were already in my pantry. You can see that even if you were to use every ingredient in the amount you purchased, you would still come up with an inexpensive meal.

Some things to note: If you can’t find kiwis right now you can omit them; I know it can sometimes be hard to find exotic fruits in certain areas. The same thing goes for the berries (even I had trouble finding fresh blueberries); you can definitely do this with frozen berries, though the texture will be a little different. I was lucky enough to find some acai berry juice for the dressing at the Sac Foods Co-op, and would assume stores like Whole Foods sell this hip juice du jour. But if you can’t find it, you should be okay using some sort of berry juice (blueberry, strawberry, etc). Lastly for all you moms & dads, this might be a great way to start introducing more veggies & fruits into your kids’ diets. The bright colors and delicious combination of fruits will make this a lot more fun than the average salad. Here’s the recipe!

Superfood Nirvana Salad (serves 4; total cost per person: around $4)

6 c mixed greens (baby lettuce mix, herb salad, etc)
2 c cooked quinoa
1 c strawberries, sliced
1 c blueberries
3 kiwis, peeled & sliced
1 can diced beets
½ c sunflower seeds (hulled)
¼ c golden flax seeds

Berry Vinaigrette Dressing:

½ c olive oil
1/4 c balsamic vinegar
1/4 c white wine vinegar
1/3 c acai berry juice
¼ c blueberries
1/3 c strawberries
Couple pinches of salt
Freshly ground pepper

Prepare dressing by combining all ingredients into a bowl and pureeing with a hand blender until completely smooth. Set aside. (FYI, this will be a thick dressing due to the amount of fruits.)

In a large salad bowl gently toss together the greens, beets, and blueberries. Place equal amounts on 4 plates or bowls and top each with about ½ c of quinoa. Arrange kiwi and strawberry slices on top, sprinkle the sunflower seeds and flax seeds on top, drizzle each plate generously with the dressing, and enjoy!

(For added flavor, take about a third of the quinoa, combine with a couple tablespoons of dressing, then add to the rest of the quinoa and mix well. This gives it an extra bit of pizzazz.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What's In Store for February

So it's been a whirlwind of activity so far in '09. I've posted many new recipes, thought of a million more to post down the line as funds permit, added some reviews, and made the news (hey, that rhymed). Some may think that I'll be slowing down; au contraire, my friends! I'm one of those weirdos who thrives on positive feedback and busy work, so there will be a lot more to come to PGEW starting this month.

~ Cost of recipes: Thanks to one of my new readers, I will now be featuring the average cost of each recipe I post. I'd been meaning to do this since the beginning, but food has always appealed to me more than math so I've avoided it. However, it makes a lot of sense. What I'm trying to show folks is that you can eat some great food for a low price; no sense in posting just the food unless I can prove the prices to you. I actually started doing that for the last couple recipes, so expect to see more of that in the future. Keep in mind, however, that prices do vary not only from store to store but from state to state. But considering California's one of the most expensive states to live in, you can probably bank on your costs being the same or lower than mine.

~ Product reviews: One of the perks of being a Foodbuzz.com Featured Publisher is free swag. Though it's not required to review the yummy goods they send you, I want to start doing that as part of my commitment to that program, and to keep you posted on what's new out there. This month I'll be featuring the new Quaker True Delights granola bars, so stay tuned for that. I also plan to start reviewing certain products that make my life in the kitchen a lot easier and allow me to do some of the things I talk about in my postings. Kitchen gadgets, certain appliances, etc., will start to make their way into the mix starting this month.

~ Trader Joe's 101: I've been meaning to post this for a few weeks now but just never got around to it. This month will feature the Frozen Foods section, so all you TJ's addicts, be on the lookout!

~ And of course, new recipes: one of my favorite restaurant-inspired salads will be making an appearance, as well as my first brainstormed pork loin & potato recipe. Broccoli lovers (I know you're out there) will be pleased to see a couple recipes based on this great veggie since I recently scored a great deal on broccoli at the farmer's market. I'm also tossing a new dessert idea in my head so everyone's sweet tooth can stay happy.

Since February is such a short month (and since my choir is singing again..... TONS of rehearsing is in my near future), I'm going to leave it at that for what's to come. Sorry there are no new pictures of my "kitchen assistant" this time around, and I'll check in with a new recipe soon!

Newsworthy: PGEW (and yours truly) hits CNN!

The past few days have been really exciting for me. Last week I posted a short article on iReport.com about surviving this terrible economy and within a day, CNN had contacted me about featuring my pictures/content either on CNN.com or TV, as well as asking me to write a new article for their featured assignment, Recession Recipes. Naturally, I obliged and posted the second iReport with the Brown Rice, Lentil, and Feta Salad recipe. Both my articles were branded as "On CNN" but I could not for the life of me figured out where. (Many iReporters do end up having their work featured on CNN in some format, so I just figured I'd be quickly mentioned in some write-up about the recession.) The next day I was shocked to find I already had a couple thousand views for the recipe article. When I went to CNN.com I realized why: there was a nice link to my article right on their homepage!

I was very excited about it and have received some tremendous exposure as a result. In fact, many of my new readers found me through that link! I want to welcome you and let you know that I'm very grateful for all of the positive feedback and comments I've received so far, and look forward to bringing all of you some great tips and delicious recipes.

But the CNN fun did not stop there.

I was also asked to do a phone interview for CNN Radio regarding my economic survival strategies last Thursday. I spoke with Martha Dalton and was pleased to know I could offer so much help. We touched upon ways to cut back on different types of spending, how to stay away from credit cards & other things that put you into debt, and of course, food. I was then asked to do a second interview over the weekend that focused solely on eating on a budget. I covered a lot of the tips I’ve already written about here and offered a couple of new tips that I will be featuring in the next few weeks. As soon as the CNN folks send me the mp3 clips of what was used on the air I’ll post them here (I’m curious to hear what they used anyway!).

All in all this has been a great ride. I definitely don’t expect superstardom from this (everyone at work is calling me a “celebrity”, lol), but I’m really happy to know that people are enjoying what they are reading here and that I can be a resource to those who are having a hard time adjusting to these difficult times. If anything else happens, I’ll definitely post about it! For now, stay tuned for the February edition of What’s In Store and of course, more yummy food.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Recipe: Chunky Pico de Gallo

Well, it's Super Bowl Sunday, the national non-holiday so many people wait for after the traditional run of holidays in November and December. Though I am not the biggest sports fan (and didn't really know who was playing in this year's Super Bowl until last Friday *gasp*), the viewing parties are usually a fun time for all. In honor of this "holiday" I thought I would post a simple recipe that goes well with all those chips and crackers most folks will be having, as well as the Spicy Shrimp Quesadillas I posted about last night: my Chunky Pico de Gallo.

As a certified tomato addict, it always amuses me that there are so many people who claim they hate tomatoes yet love tomato products like ketchup, marinara sauce, and salsa. It's my belief that most people will eat tomatoes in some way, shape, or form. Though this may be a bit closer to an actual tomato than most haters like, I promise this is far better than any jarred salsa you will ever have. No offense to the cooked salsas of the world; I'm just of the opinion that a fresh salsa offers more in the way of flavor and texture. Pico de Gallo is essentially just that: a fresh salsa. The only difference is that the ingredients are chunkier than in a traditional salsa. Fresh tomatoes, crispy onions (I prefer red over white for a good Pico though they both work fine; yellow onions are too strong for this), cool cilantro and tangy lime juice is all chopped and tossed together for bliss in a dip. You could easily go from a Pico de Gallo to a Salsa Fresca in no time with a few more chops of each ingredient and a little more liquid. I find Pico de Gallo a bit more versatile because of its heartier nature - there's more substance, more texture, so it's easier to use as a dip, topping, dressing, etc.

Which brings me to my next point: do not think of this as something reserved only for chips! There are many times that I use a good Pico de Gallo to add zesty flavor and texture to: salads, rice dishes, quesadillas, soups, you name it. It's a great variation of the traditional bruschetta, holding up just as nicely on a crusty piece of baguette as its Italian & Mediterranean cousins. And of course, who can resist the perfect food trifecta: cheap, tasty, and good for you? With some keen shopping for a good deal on hearty tomatoes, red onions, and cilantro (subliminal message: hit your farmer's market), you can easily make a giant bowl that will serve several party guests for about $4. A large jar of Pace picante sauce could cost you about the same, yield less product, and does not hold up as sturdily on top of a giant, crispy tortilla chip.

And did I mention it's pretty to look at? :)

Chunky Pico de Gallo (yields about 3 cups; Total Cost of recipe: about $3.50)

5 medium tomatoes, ripe but slightly firm
1/2 red onion (or a whole one if it's small)
1 small bunch of cilantro (about 15 individual sprigs)
1 T freshly squeezed key lime juice (regular lime is fine; do not use lemon as it changes the flavor)
1/4 t crushed garlic
1/4 t sea salt
1/8 t ground black pepper
Couple dashes of cumin (optional)
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Gently rinse all veggies & tomatoes and pat dry. Dice onion so that your pieces are about 1/4" in size and put in a large bowl. Finely chop cilantro, leaves and stems, and add to onion (the stems have even more flavor than the leaves, and offer a nice texture). Core the tomatoes and chop them coarsely, so that each piece is 1/2" - 3/4" in size. Add the tomatoes and all of the juice to the rest of the veggies along with the garlic, salt, lime juice, pepper, cumin, and cayenne, and mix together completely. Check for seasonings and adjust accordingly, keeping in mind that this is NOT supposed to be salty. The salt should be used only to bring out the flavors of the tomato, onion, and cilantro; you should be tasting them and the lime juice more than the salt.

Make ahead of time and chill covered in the fridge for a more enhanced flavor, stirring together before serving. Serve with chips or on top of the Spicy Shrimp Quesadillas. If there are leftovers, put them in a jar or plastic container and use later to top anything you can imagine! Enjoy!

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