Friday, December 31, 2010

The PGEW Top 10 of 2010

I'm not one to usually follow the herd (unless chocolate is at the end point), but because this year has been so..... dramatic, and it's the end of the year and the end of a decade, I thought it'd be fun to hop on the Top 10 Posts bandwagon.  I usually like to do recaps during my blogiversaries, but it's also cool to see what's happened in the actual calendar year.  It was bittersweet to read through some of these posts, but I love every single one of them - and apparently, so do you!  Here are the top 10 PGEW favorites (and some honorable mentions) from 2010.*  Enjoy!

*Title links to recipe

#10: Caramel Macchiato Cheesecake Shots:

I absolutely adored this dessert shot recipe, and so did many of you!  Caramel coffee & "whipped cream" flavored cheesecakes with ooey-gooey caramel topping served in shot glasses for a miniature dessert version of a favorite coffeehouse drink.  What's not to love?


#9: Baked Eggs, Ham & Asparagus in Tomato Cups:

If I was omelette-focused in 2009, I was way more baked egg-obsessed in 2010!  These make use of one of the main ingredients as the actual serving receptacle, making for a lovely, unconventional presentation that is also deliciously edible.


#8: Red Quinoa, Apple & Cranberry Cake: 

PFB might have left me a bit morally conflicted, but it certainly brought out the uber-creative in me.  The demand for this recipe was overwhelming, and so was my palate's demand to continue tasting it.  I love it because it's gorgeous to look at, delicious to savor, and healthy/filling enough to not only last awhile, but make you feel a wee bit less guilty about having cake.  Woot!


#7: Honey Glazed Roots & Sprouts with Pan-fried Garlic:

My first recipe of 2010 and a huge reader favorite!  Much like the Hearty Mushroom & Potato Soup recipe of '09, people keep coming to PGEW for this recipe alone, which means I must have done something right!  Nay, I know I did.  One can never go wrong with fresh, local produce, good quality olive oil, and plenty of garlic.


#6: Pineapple Quinoa Salad with Sweet Curry Vinaigrette:

This one really surprised me.  Not because it's not awesome, because it totally is, but because I just had no idea how popular it was!  I am a stats junkie and am usually aware of what folks like the most on PGEW, but somehow this one missed my radar.  It certainly made an indelible impression on people's palates though, and if you haven't tried it yet, I highly recommend it.  It was one of those I-have-really-random-ingredients-now-what-do-I-do recipes and a truly delicious dish.


#5: Cookies & Creme Cheesecake Dessert Shots:

You folks sure do like desserts, don't you?  No worries, so do I!  Here is one of the most popular desserts of 2010, and one of my favorite kitchen mistakes-turned-awesome recipe EVER.


#4: Fiesta Corn & Potato Chowder:

What's not a love about this soup?  Easy to make, filling, tasty, colorful, and super inexpensive to make.  Might have been late in the year, but you folks ate it up (so to speak), and so it gets the #4 spot in the countdown.


#3: The "Spanglish" Sandwich:

I did not invent this sandwich.  Thomas Keller, the greatest chef around, happened to do so.  But it's so genius in its simplicity and so absolutely sexy to experience from assembly to consumption, that it was not only featured in a movie, it was recreated in Poor Girl's kitchen.  I would marry this sandwich if I could.  Try it and you'll feel the same way.


#2: Poor Girl's Beef Stew:

This post always makes me choke up a bit.  I was so devastated to have lost that temp assignment right at the beginning of the year, and that unfortunate event seemed to color 2010 a bit gray for me.  But as I said after making the announcement, when life gives you lemons, make beef stew.  This dish is hearty, flavorful and ridiculously comforting for when you're in the depths of despair or just really cold.  And all of your comments of encouragement & support were doubly comforting during such a rough time.  I bared my soul to you and you all responded with kindness & care.  That and a killer beef stew make this one of my favorite posts.

#1: Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad with Honey-Dijon Vinaigrette:

It links new readers to PGEW every single day.  It made the Foodbuzz Top 9 and a couple other photo/recipe sites.  It is the header photo for this website because it's so darned beautiful.  But most importantly, it's incredibly delicious.  People who didn't think they'd ever eat Brussels sprouts write me regularly to tell me that this salad changed their minds.  Apparently even kids like it, and that's no small feat considering the sprout is right up there with the poor lima bean as everyone's least favorite vegetable!  The combination of flavors, textures and colors makes this one of the most aesthetically pleasing and delectable dishes I've yet to create on this blog.  And it shows that basic ingredients combined with a bit of creativity is always the best recipe for eating well on a minuscule budget.


Honorable Mentions...

Picking only ten posts was HARD, so here are a few more recipes, posts, and features that definitely made an impact in 2010:

  • Poor Girl on SNAP Parts I & II - My personal journey through unemployment and the food stamp/general assistance system.  PGEW is not just about the fun recipes, it's about a real person who is going through what a lot of folks are going through during this recession.  It's tough to talk about, but putting a human face on these issues makes it easier to open up, brainstorm, and support each other during difficult times.
  • Luxury Dinner Party: For the Love of Chocolate - I'm tellin' you, PFB made us really think outside the box!  I loved my Pu-pizza post just as much, but this one will always hold a special spot in my heart as my first "real" dinner party and one of the best examples of how Poor Girl - and her guests - can eat so well.
  • Thai-Style Sticky Rice & Mango Dessert Shots - I turned my favorite Thai dessert into a dessert shot!!!  I love how beautifully tasty this one is.  Perfect for summertime entertaining, so be sure to bookmark it!
  • Blueberry-Lemon Clafoutis - I finally discovered how wonderful blueberries can be and became OBSESSED, I tell you!  From crepes to juice to smoothies, I couldn't stop putting blueberries in everything after going berry-picking this summer.  This clafoutis recipe is simple, tasty, and showcases this gorgeous berry perfectly.
  • Summer Veggies & Quinoa with Cilantro Pistachio Pesto - Seriously?  Nuff sed on this one.  Cilantro pistachio pesto may be my most favorite pesto EVER, and you can slather it on everything, including fresh summer veggies!
  • Mushrooms, Tomatoes & Cheese on Grilled Sourdough - Grilled cheese sandwiches rock, but grown-up grilled cheeses are even better!  All of us loved this one, and now I think I must have this for lunch.  :)
  • The $25 Shopping Cart series - Always a PGEW favorite!  I go to different stores during "scary week" with $25 in hand and see if I can grab enough versatile ingredients to make some good food that'll last a couple weeks until the next payday.  Many of you have gleaned inspiration from this series and emailed me with your own awesome shopping experiences, which makes me so proud!  If this is the only way I can help folks make the most of their food dollar, then I'm a happy camper.
  • The Anthony Bourdain review - I <3 Bourdain and his snarky, pork-loving travel/eating show, but never thought I'd actually be able to experience his rants in person.  That all changed this year when he stopped in Sacramento during his No Reservations tour!  Though I didn't get to meet him, that two-hour lecture/comedy-show/snarkfest was one of the highlights of my food year.  A lot of folks dug my recap so much it encouraged them to go see Bourdain themselves in their own towns!  I dig this review a lot.  Hope you do, too.
  • IFBC (International Food Blogger Conference) - I've been to some other foodie festivals, but IFBC 2010 stood out as the best one, hands-down.  It was fun, informative and full of great food.  It also gave me the opportunity to visit Seattle for the first time and make some new, fabulous friends that I cannot WAIT to see at the next IFBCs!!!
Thanks for taking this trip down memory lane with me!  I hope you all have a fun-filled, safe New Year's Eve, and wish you all the best in 2011.  HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Recipe: Creamy Wild Rice & Broccoli Soup

Well, I made it!  Twelve difficult months, six-and-a-half of which I was unemployed or underemployed, most of them shrouded by the constant threat of eviction, and not one Three Day Notice or Unlawful Detainer received!  WOO HOO!!!  Thanks to friends, family, my own resourcefulness, and many of you incredibly generous readers, I made it through the toughest year of my adult life a little shaken, but in one piece.  And though I'm still waiting for that first paycheck to see if I can spare a few bucks for some new food before it all goes to rent (though Santa was very generous and gave me some Grocery Outlet gift cards for Christmas, which will definitely help), I can't help but feel lighter & brighter already.  Next year is bound to be better than this one was, and I'm really looking forward to the opportunities it will bring. 

But first things first.  I had to figure out what to feed myself during these last paltry weeks, and with my bare bones staples dwindling, that task was more of a challenge than usual.  I've done alright, though.  I've enjoyed some old bare bones recipes like my Farro & Red Beans with Caramelized Onions, plenty of eggs, and even whipped up some Fiesta Corn & Potato Chowder to take away some of the chill in the air.  And because it just keeps getting colder and I have the perfect excuse to enjoy soup, soup, and more soup, I decided I would make.... more soup.  But exactly what the heck would I be able to make with so few supplies?

Here were the contents of my kitchen this morning: a quart of milk, half a stick of butter, mustard, a jar of olives, half a bag of baby spinach and some leftover quinoa in the fridge; a couple loaves of bread from the yard sale, frozen berries, homemade veggie stock and some frozen broccoli florets in the freezer; dried herbs, spices, flour, raw sugar, about five cans of sliced beets (what the...?  I totally forgot I had these.  Already brainstorming ideers for their use), canola oil, some dried black & navy beans, some rice pilaf mix that I'd forgotten about, and about a cup of honey in the cupboard; and two heads of garlic and one yellow onion, in Big Bowl.  Not completely out of food, but not exactly the best mix of ingredients for a sensational soup, on first glance.

But that's what food math is for, and once I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and thought about what I could make for a warm, filling work lunch, I honed in on the wild rice pilaf, the basics of flour, butter and milk, and the broccoli.  They may seem like pretty mundane ingredients, but when all is said and done they make a fantastic winter soup.  It can only get better with the addition of extra veggies like carrots or mushrooms, or perhaps some diced chicken or ham, but it's quite satisfying as is.  Some of the my absolute favorite PGEW dishes have come about in a very similar fashion to this one, and as one of the last recipes of 2010, this uber-bare bones recipe will definitely be part of my regular winter rotation from now on.  It's cheap, it's filling, it's tasty (with enough herbs & seasonings), and far better than some can of sodium-laden canned soup or pasta.

Just goes to show that a little effort and plenty of patience with one's paltry kitchen contents can go a heck of a long way to make sure one eats as well as one deserves.

Creamy Wild Rice & Broccoli Soup (makes 3-4 servings; total cost per serving: $1.05)

1 c cooked wild rice pilaf (any rice or rice pilaf will do just fine)
3/4 c broccoli florets
3 c vegetable stock or broth
1 c milk
1/2 c chopped yellow onion
1/4 c flour (or corn starch)
1/4 c water
2 T butter
1/2 T sea salt
1/4 t ground pepper
1/2 t dried thyme
1/2 t garlic powder

Melt the butter in a large pot and add the onions.  Sauté over medium heat until translucent, then add the salt, garlic powder, pepper and thyme, and stir together.  Next, add the vegetable stock & milk, stir to combine, and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes to allow the flavors to incorporate.

Add the cooked rice and simmer for 2-3 minutes.  In the meantime, prepare the flour slurry by whisking together the water & flour.  Slowly add the slurry to the broth, whisking constantly to ensure there is no clumping while the broth thickens.  Finally add the broccoli florets to the soup and allow to cook for another 2 minutes or so.  Reduce heat to low, check for seasoning and adjust according to taste.

Add diced chicken or ham towards the end of the cooking process with the broccoli, if you like.  Serve generous amounts in soup bowls or mugs, garnish with extra black pepper, and enjoy!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Giveaway #3 WINNERS!

Did everyone have a fabulous Christmas?  I know I did!  I had a short but fun visit with me mum and got seriously spoiled, which was overwhelming and sincerely appreciated.  As the Christmas evening winds down, I wanted to spread some more of that good cheer to the three lucky folks who were the winners of my last giveaway!  It was a quick one but there were still plenty of entries to win each of the fabulous books I had to offer.  And without further ado, here are the 3 randomly selected winners!

Congrats to all of you, and I can't wait for you to enjoy your new books!  It looks like I have contact info for a couple of you, please email me by Tuesday, 12/28 with shipping info just in case, and I'll get these out to you later this week.

Thanks to all of you who entered the giveaways this Christmas season!  It was a lot of fun to get to know you folks a bit better this way, but even more fun to have a chance to thank the best food blog readers EVER for all your support.  Stay tuned for a couple new recipes & tips this week!  Enjoy the rest of the Christmas weekend!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Giveaway #3: One Day, Three Lucky Winners

I had wanted to get this last giveaway up earlier this week, but I had some pressing issues that needed taking care of first.  Now that everything is taken care of, I have the chance to share not one, but three great prizes for the holiday season!   The catch?  There's only ONE day to enter!

Aside from the super-speedy entry time, I thought I'd do something a bit different with this one.  I've given away food, I've given away gadgets; but the one thing I haven't really focused on is the almighty book.  A few fabulous books have come across my path this year, and I couldn't help but share them with you fine readers.  And the first two have nothing to do with food.  At least not directly.

You all know that about 95% of what I talk about here on PGEW is food-related, but there have been occasions when I've talked about my love of wine & other fun spirits.  My Sweet & Fruity White Wine Sangria has always been a reader favorite, and last year's Pink Bubbly Martini was also well-received.  Though I'd love to post more drink recipes & articles, I'm not always in the position to enjoy more than some 2-Buck-Chuck.  A real splurge for me is something in the $8-10 range, but even if I know what my palate likes, I'm not always sure where to start when it comes to choosing a bottle.


Enter The Wine Trials, a book I've really wanted to read since I met the author, Robin Goldstein, at this summer's IFBC.  I won't do a complete review just yet as I'm just getting started on my own copy, but suffice to say that this book, currently in its third edition, is an excellent complement to what I discuss here on PGEW.  I show you that it's entirely possible to enjoy delicious, oft' times restaurant-quality meals made from everyday ingredients that most people can afford, while helping you to spot and avoid marketing techniques that will rope you into spending more than you really need to at the grocery store. The Wine Trials, through a series of blind tasting sessions comparing expensive wines to their value counterparts, does something similar, illustrating that one's one taste perceptions are just as trustworthy - if not more so - than what the industry would like you believe when it comes to choosing a good bottle of wine. Just because a bottle is priced at $70 doesn't automatically mean that's a better wine, and The Wine Trials walks through this concept, and offers a wonderful list of wines under $15 that most of their tasters found to be better than their much more expensive cousins.  Pair these with some of your favorite PGEW dishes, and you'll be able to enjoy some pretty fab dining for a fraction of what the industry would prefer that you pay.


The Beer Trials explores this same concept by ranking several beers using the same blind tasting technique.  I'm not the biggest beer fan, but I know many of you are and actually prefer beer over wine, so I thought it would be great to offer something for my beer afficionados as well.  Why not find some great affordable beers to go with PGEW's Grilled Steak Tacos or some of your other faves?


Lastly, I have a fabulous cookbook from Sur La Table called Eating Local.  This is a gorgeous book filled with simply exquisite recipes that celebrate the best of local, seasonal ingredients.  I had received this as part of my IFBC swag bag, but ended up getting a second one as a gift, so I wanted to share the love of sensational produce and all you can do with it.

Three excellent books covering three subjects that any eating & drinking enthusiast is sure to enjoy!  And because they are so different, I thought it would be fun to have three lucky winners choose their favorite book.

To enter, simply comment below and tell me which book you would like to win and why.  Are you obsessed with wine?  Passionate about beer?  Overcome by the beauty & flavors of fresh, local produce?  Whatever your reason, let me know by 9am Christmas morning!  Three lucky winners will be randomly selected to receive the book of their choice.  The winners will be announced Christmas Day.

Have fun and Merry Christmas Eve!!!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Giveaway #2 WINNER!

Holy Hannah, people!  If the first giveaway for the Get Spicy gift set was filled with a ton of awesome, fun-to-read comments, this one definitely beat it!  You responded with over 100 comments & tweets with your dream kitchen gadgets, a lot of which are on my list as well.  Though this little elf can't grant you all those wishes, I can still give you some pretty awesome gadgets in the form of the Go Go Gadget gift pack.

Since I'm pretty sore & ready to get my grub on, I won't waste any more time in announcing the winner of this awesome prize!  The lucky random winner of the Go Go Gadget gift pack is.....

TABETHA!!!!!

Tabetha's dream gadgets (among many others) include a candy thermometer, a mortar & pestle, and a flour sifter; all things Poor Girl dreams of having in her kitchen someday, too!  For now, though, she'll be getting a corn peeler, berry colander, French Press coffee maker, and several other goodies to add to her kitchen collection.

Congratulations, Tabetha!!!  I've got your contact info (thanks for leaving that in your comment!), so I'll get in touch w/you for your shipping info shortly.

Thanks to all of you who entered this contest with such awesome wish lists!  If I were Santa, I would grant you each & every wish you desired in a heartbeat (after buying stock in KitchenAid and VitaMix first, LOL)!  Who knows, though?  I'm a firm believer in throwing things out into the universe to see what happens, so you never know what may happen....

And thanks to those who mentioned they were sending good thoughts & prayers my Daddy's way.  I really appreciate it, and hope that they'll help him feel better soon!

The last giveaway post will be up tomorrow!  It'll be a bit different but awesome nonetheless.  AND there will be more than one winner, so you'll have a much better shot at winning!  Stay tuned!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Recipe: Hearty Steak & Red Bean Chili

Last weekend I had a yard sale to help raise some money that would hopefully tide me over until I get my second paycheck from my new job (I can't count with the first one, as it belongs to my landlord.  *le sigh*  It'll be fun looking at it, though!).  And though I'm dealing with this evil broken toe/foot (why must I be so friggin' thorough when I injure myself???), I had the feeling that last weekend might bring us the last decent weather of the year.  So I forced myself to haul out all the junk from Evil Closet and put on the sale, putting off decking my tiny halls with Christmas decorations until this weekend instead.  It was an extremely wise move on my part because I wouldn't have been able to do it this weekend.  The weather right now SUCKS!  If you live in the general Northern California area you know what I'm talking about: ridiculous winds, super heavy rain & flooding, and far too much snow.  It's ugly, it's scary at times, and apparently it's going to last until the end of time.  Or at least the end of this week (I like to round up).

Naturally, weather this wretched makes me either want to curl up on the couch with a warm blanket, purring furbabies, and a good book, or it makes me want to prepare soup.  Or both.  But today I wanted something heartier than even my heartiest of soups, something filling that I could really chew on, so I opted to make a batch of chili.  I was just about to make my Easiest 3-Bean Chili Ever (a super old-school PGEW recipe, but awesome for Bare Bones moments), when I remembered I'd taken out the last of the stew meat I'd gotten on sale to use in.... well.... stew.  Not the smartest move, considering I didn't have many of the fixings for Poor Girl's Beef Stew.  So I just put together what I did have on hand and made a chunky, hearty steak chili instead.

It was just what I needed and ever-so-simple to prepare!  I'd already cooked up some red kidney beans so there was very little to do in that department.  Of course, canned beans will also work just fine; I just find it cheaper to buy dried beans in bulk and cook them up on my own.  I seasoned my meat well beforehand so it would be tender & flavorful, not the bland, shoe sole-esque steak that sometimes makes itself into chili recipes like this.  And because I'm officially a tomato snob suffering with tomato withdrawals due to the fact that everything in the stores these days is either pink & waxy or bruised & mushy, I did not use fresh tomatoes.  I used the last of my very favorite jarred salsa, Herdez Salsa Casera, which gave my chili plenty of kick and cut down on about 10 minutes of meticulous chopping.

This satisfied my bowl-of-hearty-something cravings for awhile, and I got to serve it in one of the little sourdough bread bowls one of my yard salers had generously donated to me last week (bartering can be just as fun as selling!).  I have enough leftover for tomorrow's work lunch, and still have plenty of dried beans to make The Easiest 3-Bean Chili Ever, if I get another craving before I get my coveted second paycheck.  Who says Bare Bonesin' it can't be fun & tasty?

Hearty Steak & Red Bean Chili (makes 4 servings; total cost per serving: $2)

2 c cooked red kidney beans
1 1/2 c cubed beef for stew, further cut into smaller, 1/2" cubes
1 c chopped yellow onion
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 c veggie or beef broth
1 c prepared salsa
2 T cooking oil
1/2 t cumin
1/4 t garlic powder
1/4 t onion powder
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t salt
2 T brown sugar
1/4 c soy sauce (or Bragg's Aminos)
Chili fixings: cheese, chopped onions, sour cream, etc. (optional)

In a small bowl combine the cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper and salt, and stir to combine.  Add the steak, soy sauce brown sugar and seasonings to a larger bowl, and toss everything together until the steak is completely coated with the mixture.  Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Heat a large pot over medium heat and add the oil.  Toss in the garlic and onions, and allow to cook for about 1-2 minutes, until just fragrant and the onion begin to turn translucent.  Add the seasoned steak and cook until just browned, about 4 minutes.  Add the beans, broth and salsa, and bring to a simmer.  Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the liquid has reduced by about 1/3 and the remaining broth is thick & rich.  Check for seasonings and adjust according to taste.  Remove from heat.

Serve generous amounts of chili in bread bowls or regular soup mugs, top with your favorite chili fixings, and enjoy!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Giveaway #2: Go Go Gadget!

Just 9 days left 'til Christmas, can you believe it?  Perhaps it's part of the aging process, but all I've been doing this year is marveling at how quickly time has flown by!  Regardless, I'm looking forward to the holiday.  It's always a special, magical time, and even if it will be very meager for me and I'm concerned about my dad's health again (get well thoughts & prayers would be greatly appreciated, if you do that sort of thing), I still have a LOT for which to be grateful.  There's the new job, I might be able to keep my apartment (provided my landlord remains in the holiday spirit), and I have been shown incredible amounts of support & kindness from you fine folks.  You're truly amazing.

So I'm here to play Santa's Elf once more, to show how much I appreciate the greatest readers in the blogosphere.  My first Christmas Giveaway for the Get Spicy gift set was a lot of fun, and hopefully you'll all be just as excited about this one!  It's chock full of great goodies that should make any cooking aficionado a happy camper! I'm calling it my Go Go Gadget gift set.

That's right, my kitchen gadget-loving friends!  This little prize pack is made up entirely of super awesome gadgets to make your cooking experience just that much more fun.  They're all fabulous, high-end pieces that have come in the swag bags from some of the great foodie events I attended this year, so rest assured that they're of the highest quality.  But there are only so many duplicates one can have, especially when one's kitchen is approximately the size of a thumbtack and there's hardly any storage space.  So my loss is your gain!  Here's what you'll receive:

  • Sur La Table Collapsible Berry Colander
  • Citrus Reamer w/pit catcher from Joseph (awesome, but I already have 3 reamers)
  • OXO Good Grips Corn Peeler 
  • Polka dot vinyl table runner (super cute, but too big for my table)
  • Sur La Table Cupcake Corer (for adding yummy fillings to your cupcakes!)
  • Bodum Brazil Cafetiere French Press (the piece de resistance of this set!)

This fabulous prize package is worth almost $100!  It's definitely a good one, so if you're into fun kitchen equipment, you won't want to miss out on this one!

To enter, please comment below with your 3 dream kitchen gadgets.  These are things that you don't already have, but have been dreaming about using for all of your cooking life!  I'm always wishing for stuff and love learning about other folks' wishes, too.  Particularly if they're kitchen-related!  Perhaps you want to get your hands on a microplane?  Or something simple like a tomato shark so you don't waste all that delicious, juicy tomato flesh?  Maybe you've always wanted the perfect candy thermometer and just haven't gotten your hands on one yet.  Whatever your dream kitchen gadgets are, I wanna know!  One lucky winner will be chosen at random to get this awesome set of swag.

But because Christmas is RIGHT around the corner, you must enter by 6pm Pacific Time on Sunday, December 20th!

As usual, bonus entries are available through Twitter.  To take advantage of this, tweet the following: "PGEW Christmas Giveaway #2: Win the Go Go Gadget prize pack from @PoorGrlEatsWell at http://poorgirleatswell.com! #giveaway".  Remember, tweets only count as bonus entries; you must comment below to be officially entered into the drawing.

So start commenting, folks!  The entries for the Get Spicy set were a ton of fun to read, so I'm sure these will be a blast, too!  Have fun!

Christmas Giveaway #1 winner!!!

Wow, you guys!  It was so fun to read all the entries for my first Christmas giveaway for the Get Spicy set!  Made me shed a tiny tear to know that so many of you have such well-stocked spice pantries, for as I'm always preachin', that's one of the keys to making this Poor Girl eat so durned well.  From cumin to peppers, curries to herbs, there were over 60 comments & tweets that shows you all know how to eat pretty well, too!

But there are more giveaways on deck, so it's time to pick a winner for this one!  With the aid of my good friend, Mr. Random Number Generator, I was able to choose one lucky person from this fun & enthusiastic bunch to as the recipient of this hot & spicy little gift set.  And the winner is...

*cue drum roll*

CATHERINE E.!!!!!

She's a big fan of "fresh garlic cloves, red pepper flakes, basil, ginger, cumin, rock salt and cayenne pepper"; all absolute classics that make almost anything taste better!  Congratulations!!!  Now all you have to do is email me with your shipping info and I'll get that out to you in the next couple of days!


If you didn't win, don't fret!  I'll be posting another fun gift pack in about an hour, so stay tuned and thanks for playing!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Recipe: Pork & Apple Fajitas (a.k.a, Christmas Came Early!)

As many of you have already heard via Facebook & Twitter, I, Kimberly A. Morales, a.k.a. Poor Girl, finally got a job.  A real, permanent, full-time, this-might-actually-pay-my-bills-once-I-catch-up JOB!!!  Though I received the offer a few weeks ago, I held off on announcing it because I wanted to make sure that nothing would stand in the way of such amazing news.  No more temping, no more worrying about things like holidays or illnesses cutting into my paycheck because I didn't have basic things like holiday or sick pay; I'm like a citizen of the world again, and though I know no job is perfect, I'm ecstatic & grateful to be employed.

But I can't get too carried away just yet.  I have a long, hard road ahead, filled with catching up on some seriously delinquent rent & utilities, and getting back to whittling down the debt that put me in the "poor girl" situation eons before these last two painfully difficult years.  I'm definitely not out of the woods yet, especially since my first 3-4 paychecks will all go to my landlord, but dammit, I have a job!  Every once in awhile I still pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming, and apparently I'm not because I can feel & see all the tiny little bruises that come from the disbelief.  Yesterday was my first day of training and there will be much more of that in the next couple of weeks, but it's real, folks!  I'm employed!

Because I'm still dealing with my broken toe/metatarsal issues and had a lot of post-yard sale clean-up & Christmas decorating to do, I held off on having my celebratory dinner until this evening.  As many of you regulars know, I love celebrating momentous occasions with some fabulous dish, and this is definitely qualifies as one.  But because I'm working only with serious bare bones food until at least the middle of January - minus some good stuff I still had in the freezer - I didn't want to break into said good stuff until I had a good reason to do so.  I had some nice boneless pork chops in the freezer and plenty of crisp, juicy Braeburn apples in Big Bowl, so I thought I'd make something delicious with this classic ingredient combo.  But I didn't want to make the usual pork chops & applesauce (insert Peter Brady impression here); I wanted something different with a bit more kick and pork & apple fajitas seemed like the perfect solution.

I'd been flirting with the idea of making this dish for awhile and I'm glad I finally made it happen.  It's hearty and tasty, the crisp sweetness of the apples accented by brown sugar creating the perfect accompaniment to the cumin-spiced pork & aromatic veggies.  The dish is special enough to be celebration dinner-worthy, but easy enough to whip up quickly on a weeknight.  And because the pork has been sliced into strips and mixed with plenty of veggies and fruit, this is not only a flavorful dinner, but a filling one that will serve at least three people generously.  This is a great way to remember to think outside the box - or the plastic-wrapped meat package - to make the most out of the little bit you have.

Pork & Apple Fajitas (makes 3-4 servings; total cost per serving: $3.50!  Take that, Chevy's!!!)

3-4 medium boneless pork chops, sliced into 1/2" wide strips
1 small red onion, sliced into strips
2 apples (Braeburns, Fujis, or even Granny Smith would work well), sliced into 1'2" thick sticks
1 1/2 c bell pepper strips
2 T olive oil, divided
1 T butter
2 T brown sugar
1 t ground cumin
1/2 t garlic salt
6-8 flour or whole wheat tortillas
Fajita fixins (salsa, sour cream, cilantro, shredded cheese, etc.)

Toss the apples & brown sugar together in a medium bowl and set aside.  Season the pork with the cumin & garlic salt.  Heat a large skillet over medium high heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then add the seasoned pork.  Stir fry for 4-5 minutes, until the pork is no longer pink on the inside, but not tough.

In the meantime, heat a separate skillet and add the remaining oil, followed by the onions.  Cook the onions over medium heat until they just begin to turn fragrant, then add the peppers.  Sauté until just cooked through and the onions are slightly browned but still a bit crunchy.  Remove from heat, place the pepper & onion mixture in a bowl, and set aside.

In a smaller pan, melt the butter and add the brown sugar-tossed apples.  Cook for 2-3 minutes, until just softened but still crisp.  Add the apples, onions and peppers to the pork and stir together over medium heat until everything is combined & warmed through.  Spoon generous portions onto individual plates, serve with warm tortillas and your favorite fajita fixins, and enjoy!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Giveaway #1: Get Spicy!

'Tis the season of giving all over the world right now, and that includes the blogosphere.  From cookbooks to edible gifts, those of us who write about food are donning our Santa hats and sharing some great foodie swag with our fine readers.  Yours truly's blog is no different, especially considering I have, hands-down, THE best, most generous readers in the food blogging world!  As a thank you for all your incredible support, I wanted to do a few different giveaways this Christmas season.  Most of what I have to raffle off comes from the fantastic swag I've gotten over the past few months from some of the awesome foodie events I've attended and either have duplicates of, or simply no room/use for them.  Other gifts come courtesy of some fabulous folks I've met through said foodie events, and are wonderful additions to anyone's food & wine repertoire.  Regardless, everything I'm giving away is brand new, of the highest quality, and sure to please any food lover out there.

Just a quick note about these giveaways before we get started: because we're so close to the Christmas holiday, I want to make sure you all have a chance to get your prizes on time, which means these are going to move very quickly!  So if you want to win something, be sure to enter ASAP, lest you miss out on some great goodies.  

For the first giveaway, I'm starting out with a small set of gifts, but one that packs a serious flavor punch, which I'm calling my "Get Spicy!" set.  A modest mix of tasty spice rubs and fiery, peppery ingredients, this is perfect for anyone who has a fearless palate.  Here's what you'll receive:

  • 1 2 oz. package of Chef Jason McClure's Homemade Spice Rub (for chicken, fish, steak, veggies, etc.)
  • 1 5.5 oz. Steak Barbecue Rub from Steven Raichlen
  • 1 2.5 oz. Harissa Spice Mix from Whole Spice
  • 1 16 oz. jar Golden Peperoncinis from Mezzetta

Use any of these fabulous ingredients to spice up your meats & veggies, create new soups or sauces (particularly with that harissa mix), or just add new flavors & textures to any of your favorite dishes.

Entering to win this spicy little package is easy!  Simply comment below and tell me what your "must-have" herbs & spices are!  Are you a fan of the fiery peppers?  Or the more mysterious, exotic tasting turmerics, cumins, and sumacs?  Are you more of an herb person, preferring the aromatic coolness of thymes & tarragons?  Whatever herbs & spices are your faves, just comment below before 3pm on Thursday, December 16th, for your chance to win this great set of goodies.  One lucky winner will be selected at random on Thursday evening.

For bonus entries, tweet about the contest by posting the following: "PGEW Christmas giveaway #1: Win the Get Spicy prize pack from @PoorGrlEatsWell at http://www.poorgirleatswell.com! #giveaway".  Please note that you must still comment below in order to be officially entered into the contest (a tweet alone will not count!).

Good luck, everyone!  Stay tuned for a new recipe tomorrow, as well as Giveaway #2!  They'll both be good ones!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What's in Store for December

December.  I truly can't believe that 2010 has flown by so quickly that we're now at the end of it!  It seems like it was just a couple of weeks ago that I was writing December '09 posts, prepping for Christmas and the approaching new decade, but alas, it really has been a whole year.  I can't say that I'm all that sorry to see this year come to a close; it's been a tough one for me and for many of my friends and loved ones.  But it's also been filled with new adventures, new opportunities, new friends and a lot of good food.

So to celebrate the good and say "Good riddance!" to the bad of 2010, I'm going to make December as fun as possible (within my still-unemployed means, of course)!  Here's what's in store for this last month of the year...

  • GIVEAWAYS!  'Tis the season of giving, and though I don't have much, I do have some fabulous stuff to share with the most generous audience in the blogosphere.  Books?  Perhaps.  Gadgets?  Huge possibility.  Food?  You never know!  You'll have to stay tuned to see what this little elf has to share with you. :)
  • The PGEW newsletter is almost here!  That's right, folks!  PGEW is really growing up & I want to make sure everyone is kept in the loop!  Though I keep folks updated on PGEW happenings on Facebook & Twitter, I know there are some of you who either don't use these services regularly, or are just allergic to them in general and refuse to use them.  Sadly, this means these folks miss out on a lot!  Hence the newsletter.  Sent twice a month, it will be chock full of news featured recipes & tips, and plenty of other fun stuff.   It should be ready to launch within the next week or two, so be on the lookout for a special post announcing how/where to subscribe.
  • It's baaaaaack!  PGEW - To Go!, the mini-book I self-published last year, is back.  Only 10x better!  PGEW - To Go! Vol. 2 will not only feature new recipes & tips, it will also be available as an ebook!  Due to popular demand (and thanks to all of you who have been asking and/or patiently waiting for me to do this), I decided to release a 2nd edition that with 20 recipes not featured in Vol. 1, some new tips and the ability to download or print at your leisure.  No more waiting!  If enough of folks dig the new format, I'll look into making Vol. 1 an ebook as well.  In the meantime, look for Vol. 2 to be available by December 15th.  
  • I posted about this last month, but in case you missed it, I'm selling some of my photos as greeting cards, postcards, etc. on RedBubble!  From some of my better PGEW food photos to random shots of cool architecture, nature, or fabulous felines, there's a little something for everyone, and I add new pictures regularly.  The postcards & greeting cards would make fun & unique Christmas gifts, so if you're looking for something different, stop on by my RedBubble profile here and take a look around!    
  • But Poor Girl, what about the food?  Well, folks, we're Bare Bonesin' it this month!  I have just a few cents left to my name and a very demanding landlord, so I'm really tightening my belt this month. Even I'm having a bit of trouble figuring out what to make from what little I have left in my kitchen!  But because I follow my own advice (thank goodness), I have a fair amount of bare bones staples on hand, plenty of turkey & veggie stock in the freezer for soups or stews, and some lovely squashes to make things colorful and interesting.  And because I have such an awesome mom, I have some lovely salmon to work with, too!  Haven't had fish in a long time, so it'll be fun to come up with something new!  

Things are looking up for me though, and with some luck & perseverance, I should be seeing some light at the end of this tunnel soon!  If I can't get a new $25 Shopping Cart post up this month, I'll definitely have one up by the New Year!  Some folks are already giving me suggestions for my next few $25 SC's, so if you have any ideas of places in Sac that I haven't hit (and that I can get to on transit), feel free to comment!  I'd love to hear your suggestions.

That's all for now, folks!  Happy December!

Lv,
PG

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Recipe: Turkey Shepherd's Pie

It's already been a week since Thanksgiving and many folks are either finished with or nearing the end of all those leftovers.  I'm at that point myself, and not wanting to have Thanksgiving Plate #18 for dinner, I decided to take a good look at the remaining pile of holiday food (which pretty much amounts to some turkey and some of my mom's wickedly good, yet practically fat-free mashed potatoes) and see what else I could do with it.  Let's face it: as fun as it is to cook with post-Turkey Day leftovers, after awhile of seeing those same foods over and over, your eyes can start to glaze over and your creativity wanes a bit.  Especially when that's all you're living off of for awhile (trying to conserve my bare bones staples and very limited supply of core ingredients for later this month)!  I've done it all with what's been available to me.  I've had a couple turkey sandwiches.  I've had turkey salad (my favorite post-Thanksgiving meal, actually).  I'm well-stocked on my mom's Arroz Con Pavo, made plenty of turkey stock, and froze some of my Spicy Turkey & Chipotle Pepper Soup to enjoy later.  I'm completely out of pie and fruit salad and anything else sweet & fun ('cept for the Apple-Chamomile cookies I just made).  So what the heck am I supposed to do with the rest of my smashed taters and plain ol' turkey when there's nothing else fun or interesting to serve with them???

Why, Shepherd's Pie, of course!

Shepherd's Pie, as many of you know, is one of those fabulous British/Irish inventions that turns otherwise humdrum things into a comforting, convenient one-dish meal.  Meat & veggies are topped with a mashed potato "crust", baked until bubbly, et voila!  Dinner is served!  Though most Shepherd's Pies are typically made with ground beef or lamb (the latter of which I MUST try someday!), I find that using leftover turkey is a perfect substitute, making the most of that extra meat and keeping things just a little bit leaner.  Instead of the usual plain peas (because frankly, I ate all my sweet, buttery Thanksgiving peas long ago), I used some frozen mixed vegetables for color & flavor, further amping up the veggie factor with some onions & crisp celery.  With just a touch of my remaining turkey gravy and some herbs thrown in for good measure, this mashed potato-topped pie is good to go.  Admittedly, it's not the most attractive dish once served, but it's quick, easy, tasty and, because you're using those leftovers rather than buying more ingredients, CHEAP!!!

Affordable comfort food.  What could be more comforting?

Turkey Shepherd's Pie (makes 4-6 servings; total cost per serving: $1 - or practically free, depending on how you look at leftovers!)

2 c leftover turkey, shredded
2 c frozen mixed veggies, thawed
1/2 c diced onion
1 c chopped celery
1/2 c leftover turkey gravy
1/2 t dried thyme
Salt & pepper to taste (optional)
1 1/2 c leftover mashed potatoes

Preheat oven to 400°.  Combine the turkey, onion, celery and mixed veggies in a large skillet and cook over medium heat until just heated through.  Add the gravy, thyme and salt & pepper (if needed) and stir well to coat all the ingredients.  Remove from heat and carefully transfer the mixture into a 9" x 9" baking dish or casserole.  Spoon the mashed potatoes on top (zap them in the microwave first if you just took them out of the fridge), and smooth into an even layer using the back of the spoon.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the filling is bubbly and the potatoes are a light golden brown.  Allow to cool for about 5-10 minutes before serving.  Pair with a nice salad and enjoy!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Recipe: Chewy Apple-Chamomile Cookies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 26, 2010

PGEW Art for Sale!

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

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





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

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Last minute Thanksgiving ideas!

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


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


Happy Thanksgiving to thee & thine!

Lv,
Kimberly

Recipe: Sweet Potato, Mushroom & Veggie Stuffing


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Recipe: Fiesta Corn & Potato Chowder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Recipe: Spiced Butternut & Quinoa Muffins with Almond Streusel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The $25 Shopping Cart, version 12.0

Hey there... remember me?  ;)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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