Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Recipe: Gnocchi Salad with Feta-Garlic Dressing

It's definitely a bare bones time in PGEW land. Since I no longer qualify for food stamp assistance because of the temp job, I don't have the food cushion I was able to fall back on the past couple of months. And I'm still trying to catch up on rent and other bills from December's pneumonia and last month's bronchitis (the life of a temp is hard if you're sick: no sick time to cover days lost and no health insurance)! Needless to say, I'm glad I stocked up on a lot of my bare bones essentials now that I'm out of "fun" ingredients, because the next few weeks are going to be extremely tight.

But there's no need to start panicking! You all know I'm a resourceful gal and I know I can do wonders with what I have left until my next shopping trip. Today I came across a package of gnocchi I'd forgotten I had, but much to my chagrin, I had already finished the last of my heirloom tomato mix so my favorite garlicky-tomatoey gnocchi dish was not gonna happen. Poked around in the fridge & freezer to see how I could make the best out of this dilemma and decided to go a completely different route and use gnocchi in a salad. I'd never done this before but it seemed like a good idea, and with a few random frozen veggies and a killer creamy dressing idea, I got to work.

This dish is pretty self-explanatory, but there are a few things to note to make sure it comes out well. First, be sure not to overcook your gnocchi. I know this is a given, but sometimes one can get distracted and things get a little overdone. You want to make sure the gnocchi retains its slightly chewy texture rather than being soft & mushy for this salad, so be sure to follow the package instructions to a tee. In terms of the dressing, be sure to add your salt & pepper AFTER you mix the main ingredients together. Depending on the type of feta you use (sheep's milk v. cow; low fat v. regular), the saltiness & natural brininess of the feta will vary significantly. If you season too soon you're likely to end up with an extremely salty or an extremely bland dressing, neither of which is bueno. Lastly, be sure to add your dressing to the gnocchi when it's still warm, so it will really absorb the flavor of the dressing!

Okay, enough with the cook's notes; let's check out the recipe!

Gnocchi Salad with Feta-Garlic Dressing (makes 3 side servings; total cost per serving: $2.80)

1 18 oz. package of potato gnocchi
3/4 c small broccoli florets
3/4 c frozen green peas (thawed)
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced

Feta-Garlic Dressing:
1/3 c finely crumbled feta
1/2 c non-fat yogurt
1/4 c non-fat milk
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 T lemon juice
Salt & pepper to taste

Prepare the dressing by whisking together all the dressing ingredients except for the salt & pepper until completely combined. Check for flavoring and adjust accordingly with salt & pepper (though you may only need the pepper). Set aside.

Cook the gnocchi according to the package instructions; drain and set aside. In a large bowl combine the gnocchi, broccoli, peas, onions and about half the dressing (you will have leftover dressing, but that's okay!). Toss together until everything is completely combined, cover and refrigerate (or set aside if you like your salads at room temperature). Serve on a bed of fresh baby spinach or on its own, garnish with extra ground black pepper and enjoy!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Recipe: Baked Eggs with Tomatoes & Peppers

There were a couple fun recipes I planned to post this weekend but I ended up getting distracted by my breakfast this morning, so you get to read this one instead. Lately my weekday breakfasts have been quick and uneventful so that I can get out the door on time, so I'm really relishing having more "fun" breakfasts on the weekends. Crepes, French toast, omelettes.... you know the type; all the fun brunchy type food that you don't always have time to make in the mornings before work. Not wanting to do the scrambled egg scene and (oddly enough) not craving an omelette, I decided to try my hand at some baked eggs for a little something different.

The beauty of baked eggs is that there's a lot less work involved compared to making other egg dishes. Omelettes involve flipping and that proper filling-to-egg ratio; frittatas, although delicious and a great way to use up leftovers, involve a bit more prep; and doing the Eggs Benedict scene can also be a bit of work if you're not too good at egg poaching (I giggle all the time at that scene in Julie & Julia when they finally get it right. "It's kinda cute..."). With baked eggs, you pretty much add a fun filling to your ramekins, crack an egg or two on top, and let the oven do the work so that fifteen minutes later you've got a lovely little breakfast. The "fun fillings" are also a wonderful thing as the possibilities are simply endless. From cheese to vegetables to cured meats, you can combine just about anything with your eggs to get a great little flavor combo. As I'm running pretty low on ingredients right now, I decided to use up the last of my baby heirloom tomato mix and sauté them with a bit of onions, sweet bell peppers and plenty of garlic as my egg accompaniment today.

But the very best part of these is that they're only about $1 apiece! You could easily make these for guests for a nice weekend brunch and wow them with a lovely, delicious breakfast that won't set you back a ton of money. Who says fun breakfasts have to be cost a lot? :)

Baked Eggs with Tomatoes & Peppers (makes 2 servings: total cost per serving: $1!)

2 large Eggland's Best eggs
1 t butter
1/2 c finely chopped tomatoes
1 T finely chopped onions
1/8 c chopped peppers of your choice
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt & pepper to taste
Cilantro for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400°. In a small skillet heat the olive oil and add the garlic and onions. Cook over medium heat for about or until the onions begin to soften. Add the tomatoes & peppers, season with salt & pepper, and cook for another minute or so (just long enough to have the flavors combine but not overcook as they'll finish cooking in the oven).

Grease the ramekins with a bit of the butter and add equal amounts of the tomato & pepper mixture into each. Make a small indentation in the middle and crack one egg into each indentation. Place in a shallow baking pan and bake in the middle of the oven for about 10-15 minutes, depending on how "set" you like your eggs. (For more than 2 servings, cook for 15-20 minutes.) If you have extra tomato mixture, add a bit on top, garnish with a sprig of cilantro and sprinkle with a bit more ground pepper, and enjoy!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review: Meet the new Red Lobster

Red Lobster on Urbanspoon    When was the last time you went to a Red Lobster? I can honestly say it had been several years for me; so many, in fact, that I calculated I was still in my mid-20’s on my last visit (that’s a good 8 years ago… eek!). So when Catherine of Munchie Musings asked if I wanted to join her for some promotional event at Red Lobster this week, I figured I’d tag along, if only to have one of those cheddar biscuits. I don’t know about other Red Lobster patrons, but those warm, crumbly bundles of cheesy, garlicky goodness have always been my favorite part of the RL experience. Until yesterday.

I didn’t know too much about the event until we actually got to the restaurant. Ms. Munchie told me we’d be meeting with some Red Lobster reps and the head chef, but other than that, I wasn’t too sure of what we’d be experiencing. Turns out we ended up having a lovely little tour of the newly remodeled restaurant and a menu tasting of some of the items on the updated Red Lobster menu. Which, I am happy to note, includes many tasty new options that do NOT feature 2-3 inches of greasy deep fried batter or gallons of melted butter with my fish or shrimp. Not that this is what has kept me away from Red Lobster all these years, but it is something that makes me shy away from ordering seafood when I go out. I think it’s a shame to hide such things in butter & batter. Anyway, the event was a way for Red Lobster to reach out to the public and show that they’ve stepped up their game with new items and fresh flavor combinations that you wouldn’t necessarily think Red Lobster would offer.

After being introduced to Red Lobster PR reps, Erica and Kate, Chef Michael LaDuke, head chef of Red Lobster (the entire chain, not just the one on Howe Avenue. You might know him: he’s been a judge on tiny little shows like Iron Chef and The Next Food Network Star, not to mention the rest of his awesome resume which includes being head chef of Disney’s Epcot center. Yeah… Chef Michael knows his stuff.), as well as Julia of Jogging My Memory, we sat down and enjoyed some drinks while we got to know each other through some fun foodie questions like, “What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?” (You’ll all be proud to know I actually did NOT choose cheese as my first choice, lol.)

Shortly thereafter we received our first appetizer, the Lobster Pizza. Now, this wasn’t such a far-fetched idea to me because my mom & I have been huge fans of putting shrimp on our pizzas in the past, so going the extra mile and adding langostino to a nice thin-crust pizza wasn’t as strange to me as it was to some of the others at the table. This is one of those appetizers that would double perfectly as a light lunch or dinner, as it’s the size of a personal pizza and leaves you completely satisfied with its delicate blend of flavors. The crust was lightly seasoned and wonderfully crispy, and the sweetness of the langostino was complemented beautifully by the addition of fresh tomatoes & basil. I could definitely see myself enjoying this with a glass of wine for dinner next time I go into RL.

Next, we were treated to the Maui Luau Shrimp & Salmon. Served atop a wild rice pilaf with a side of steamed broccoli, this was a great little combo of wood fire grilled salmon and large prawns accompanied with a sweet chili glaze. Catherine & I were both pretty stoked that the dish automatically came with extra glaze, something one usually has to wrestle for (and usually end up having to pay extra for) when dining out. The salmon was just a tad overcooked but still tender & flaky, and the prawns were grilled to perfection. The sweet chili glaze was just a little hotter than I’m normally used to, a welcome change for a place like Red Lobster which has generally featured sauces that are a bit more on the tame side. And I know sides of broccoli aren’t all that exciting, but I was very pleased to note that this broccoli was truly steamed, not steamed then drenched in butter like some other chain restaurants will do (*cough cough Applebee’s*).

This was followed by a beautifully presented pair of Mango Jalapeño Shrimp Skewers which were nestled atop some crispy fried onions. The sauce could have used a bit more kick to it (I was expecting the jalapeño bit to get to me but it didn’t), but it was still quite tasty. Chef Michael told us that the heat factor was something they were still working on, so I’ll have to go back to see how spicy they end up making it! He also explained that they used some of the sweet chili sauce that was featured with the previous dish as a base, and I could see myself recreating something like this in my own kitchen someday. What I really liked about this presentation, though, was the way they interlocked 2 shrimp at a time on the skewer in a sort of Yin-Yang type embrace. Not only did this look good, it made Poor Girl very happy to know that if I were to ever order this, I would actually get what I was paying for. I mean, seriously: how often do you ask for skewered anything and get more than 3-4 pieces of the good stuff? This featured a good 8-10 medium shrimp, generously coated with the sweet glaze. Muy delicioso, indeed!

Maple Glazed Chicken was next. A little something different from the seafood, this was also wood fire grilled (which Chef Michael explained to us is not only a change they’re making for flavor but for overall nutrition as well, since it’s a healthier way to cook) and glazed with a sweet maple sauce with dried cherries. Chef Michael told us that he's a huge fan of maple, having grown up in New York, so he likes to throw it into the mix every so often. Now, I couldn’t really taste the cherries too well but the maple flavor went really well with the smoky flavor of the chicken. Personally, I preferred the seafood but I thought this was still a solid little dish. However, it was nowhere near as delicious as our next dish, Wood Fire Grilled Tilapia. Featuring a soy glaze with a perfect amount of wasabi for extra kick and served over fresh asparagus and tomatoes, this was by far my favorite of the evening (and I’m a huge fan of sweet & spicy sauces in general, so that’s saying a lot!). The tilapia was cooked to absolute perfection! It was tender and flaky and simply melted in your mouth, and the addition of the soy-wasabi reduction was the perfect complement without being overpowering. If I could have put the leftovers in my pockets I would have taken them home with me, they were that good!

I figured we were probably done with tasting for the evening but we wanted dessert and Erica also suggested we try another appetizer, so we were given some menus to peruse. We decided on the Wood Grilled Shrimp Bruschetta as our appetizer and went back to our fun foodie discussions, covering topics from our greatest kitchen/food accomplishments to our favorite gadgets. We paused a bit to take pictures of the lovely bruschetta before digging in (okay, we paused a bit for every dish because you know how food bloggers can be: Must. Get. Every. Angle. Before. Eating!!!). This was another perfectly prepared appetizer, the tender shrimp, basil, tomatoes, onions and balsamic vinegar perched on the best bruschetta toastettes I’ve had in a long time. Part of the problem with bruschetta is that the toastettes are often over or undercooked, so you either get soggy mush or a broken tooth out of the whole experience. I liked being able to enjoy this without having to bite into it gingerly out of fear, not to mention the fact that the flavor was fantastic! Another must have for sure.

Last, but certainly not least, was the Molten Chocolate Chip Cookie. Everyone’s had a molten chocolate lava cake by now; they’ve become popular enough so that they’re even available in the frozen dessert section of most grocery stores. But a molten chocolate chip cookie? A 3-4” thick chewy chocolate chip cookie that oozes even MORE chocolate and is then topped with ice cream? Unprecedented! It was truly delicious and if I hadn’t been so darned full at that point I would have had a couple more bites.

After enjoying the incredibly fun conversation and wonderful food, we went on a quick tour of the newly remodeled restaurant. We were told that the Sacramento Red Lobster locations were all recently renovated and I must say it’s a vast improvement from the décor the Howe Avenue location used to have. There was a definite nautical theme to the whole place (which reminded me of the Mountain View location my parents & I would go to on occasion), but it wasn’t hokey or overdone. The highlight was definitely the lovely new patio which is absolutely perfect for those balmy Sacramento summer evenings that will be coming soon. We took some photos with Chef Michael, met the general manager of the location we were visiting, who I completely forgot to thank for the excellent service we had. Though it wasn’t the traditional dining experience, our servers were friendly, attentive and quick to bring out each course without being intrusive, something that’s always appreciated.

Overall, it was a really fun experience and a nice way to reintroduce Red Lobster into my vocabulary. Not that I was as anti-RL as Catherine & Julia had been before this event (my tastes run from the most humble little tamale vendor outside of Big Lots to Top of the Mark in San Francisco, so I don’t discriminate too much!), but I really had written the place off because it had just gotten too boring. Chef Michael LaDuke’s talent is definitely an asset and a secret weapon, as I’m sure this will force other chain restaurants to start stepping up their game as well. And though it’s not something I can afford to do regularly, the next time I’m in the area with some disposable income I think I will make it a point to stop by Red Lobster and enjoy some of the dishes we tried, particularly the appetizers. Because the portions are so generous, you really can go the budget route and have a perfectly satisfying meal made of appetizers without going completely broke.

Or just go in for the Molten Chocolate Chip Cookie. That’s a balanced meal, isn’t it? ;)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Recipe: Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad with Honey-Dijon Vinaigrette

This past weekend was so incredibly gorgeous I almost forgot to eat. You know the type: blue skies with puffy white clouds, blossoms bursting from every tree branch, birds chirping all over the place; if we hadn't just gone through the longest, grayest winter in forever, the whole scene would be nauseatingly perfect. Instead, it's very welcome and I spent a lot of time enjoying the sun and reminding myself of what it's like to walk without an ankle brace (after 4 loooong months! Yay!). I even went as far as to treat myself to an al fresco lunch in my non-backyard (it's really a fenced in parking lot, but enough imagination fixes that). The menu included some grilled shrimp over couscous and a little salad I've been meaning to post since the beginning of the year, when I was all freaked out about that MasterChef audition.

I had originally wanted this to be a salad of delicate little brussels sprout leaves, but once I started getting going on that task I realized I have absolutely no patience for such a crazy thing. Maybe it's because I was antsy to get back outside to enjoy said salad instead of working with tiny leaves, but I hope to make this happen someday as I’m sure it will be very lovely. Anyway, I decided to cheat and pan-fry my sprouts instead and though it changed the recipe a bit, I was still pretty pleased with the result. The nutty flavor of the pan-fried sprouts is complemented beautifully by the sweet tartness of the cranberries and crunchy texture of the almonds, with everything brought together by a light honey & Dijon vinaigrette. It’s the type of salad that could run you anywhere from $7-10 per serving at a restaurant or café but will only cost you about that much on the ingredients alone for 3 servings if you make your own at home. With the money you save you can splurge and have a bit of wine with your al fresco lunch; which I would have done had I not decided to go crazy and give up wine for Lent (!!!!!!!!!!).

Oh, and if you have access to some good goat cheese, I highly recommend crumbling some on top once the salad is ready to serve. It lends an amazing creaminess that goes perfectly with the rest of the salad ingredients! If not, no worries; I’d just happened to find a small bit hanging out behind my low-fat feta and figured it might be fun to try it out. The salad’s delicious just as written, so don’t feel pressured to run out and get goat cheese just to make this (NEVER feel pressured to buy any ingredients just to make a particular PGEW recipe! Use what you have at home to cook and make a different recipe if you have to; trust me, I have plenty). Now, let’s check out the recipe.

Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad with Honey Dijon Vinaigrette (makes 3 side servings; total cost per serving: ~$3)

1-2 lbs Brussels sprouts (about 30 sprouts or so)
½ c dried cranberries
1/3 c chopped almonds
1 T olive oil
1-2 cloves finely minced garlic
Salt & pepper to taste
1-2 oz. crumbled goat cheese (optional)

Honey Dijon Vinaigrette
2 T light olive oil
1 ½ T white wine vinegar
1 T honey
1 T Dijon mustard
¼ t granulated garlic
Pinch of salt
Dash of black pepper

Prepare the dressing by combining all dressing ingredients in a bowl and whisking together vigorously until completely combined. Set aside. Rinse the Brussels sprouts, trim off the ends and remove any soiled or wilted leaves, then cut each sprout into quarters (if they’re really small, halves will also be okay). Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet and add the minced garlic, cooking until just slightly fragrant. Add the Brussels sprouts and stir fry over medium high heat for about 4-5 minutes or until slightly tender, seasoning with salt & pepper about halfway through. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, assemble the salad by tossing together the sprouts, cranberries, chopped almonds and the dressing. Let the salad sit for a few minutes before serving. Garnish with extra chopped almonds and plenty of freshly ground pepper, and enjoy!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Photo Makeover: Bright & Sunny Black Bean Salad

It's been awhile since I've had one of the millions of bean-based salads I seem to always come up with and after having found a random can of black beans in my backpack (seriously, the weirdest things end up in there sometimes; the other day I found an avocado in there...), I knew exactly which one to have: an old, forgotten homage to the burgeoning of spring and warmer weather, otherwise known as the Bright & Sunny Black Bean Salad.

I think I came up with this one at work last year when I was tired of the gloomy gray of winter and wanted something happy looking to eat. Only problem was that I was sans camera that day, so the photo I took was taken with *gasp* my cell phone. Now, the old Razr's camera is perfectly fine for things like my random photo blog, SacraMental, but it's SO not a good thing to use for food photography. Of all the bad photos that I've taken (I'm slowly working on making over all the fluorescent lighted & cell phone shots), this is probably the one that embarrasses me the most. How I allowed myself to even post that thing is beyond me! (I was probably on a blogging high or something...)

Anywho, here's the much lovelier updated photo to go along with this very tasty & nutritious little lunch salad that takes little to no effort at all to put together. And it's CHEEEEEAP! I think in the original post I mention that you can get about 3 days' worth of lunch out of the whole $7 recipe, which is awesome considering folks will spend more than that on a sandwich or a salad at a local café or restaurant. $2 and some change for a far more nutritious lunch is muy bueno! Enjoy, my friends. :)
PS - For those of you with keen eyes, yes, I posted two different shots. They were too pretty so I couldn't decide which one to post!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Recipe: Ginger-Grapefruit Granita

It’s nice to see that spring has decided it might consider showing its face around here (you all know how tired of winter I am!). All of my weather sources are predicting sun and warmer temperatures for this week and part of the next coming week, so I have decided to celebrate the sun with a nice frozen confection. I’d mentioned a couple posts back that my friend Catherine of Munchie Musings has been giving me as many grapefruits from her crazy tree as my tiny kitchen can handle, so I’ve had all the fresh juice I could possibly want (handy when I’m constantly afflicted with these bronchial infections!). As I was freezing said juice in some ice trays for later use, it occurred to me that I could probably make better use of it by making a nice granita instead, something I hadn’t done since…. well, since my last granita back in late March of last year (yikes!).

As I’ve said in the past, I love granitas because they’re fairly easy to make and look like you spent a lot more time & effort than you actually did. And depending on how much sugar you use, it’s not too heavy on the guilt factor either. Using grapefruit to make a granita can be a bit tricky when it comes to how much sugar to add because of how much the sweetness varies from fruit to fruit. Personally I prefer that this sort of thing err on the tart side of things so that it’s more refreshing, but use your judgment when it comes to how much extra sugar to add to your own batch. To make this a bit more interesting, I threw in some freshly grated ginger. Because of the crazy double hit I took from the sinus infection + bronchitis I’ve had the past couple of weeks, I’ve made it a point to keep plenty of fresh ginger on hand so I could make some tea out of it. Although it didn’t have the amazing cleansing effects everyone was telling me it would have, it was still a nice spicy treat to add to all the hot beverages I was drowning in and has come in quite handy for new recipe ventures such as this one. If you’re not a fan of ginger feel free to omit it, but if I highly recommend using it if you’re feeling a bit adventurous.

One last note on this one: though you can certainly make this with bottled grapefruit juice if that’s all you have access to, check with your friends & neighbors first to see if they might have a tree. There’s always someone out there who has an unloved tree that gives far too much fruit for that particular family to handle. And this doesn’t just go for grapefruits! Plums, peaches, cherries, etc., grow in a lot of folks’ yards, so you’ll be doing both parties a favor by absolving them of a lot of that excess fruit. It’s another good way to go about getting fresh produce for the least possible cost. Now, go raid someone’s tree! This dessert is worth it. :)

Ginger-Grapefruit Granita (makes 4-6 servings; total cost per serving: ~$0.89)

4 c freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
1 T freshly grated ginger
½ c granulated sugar (use more or less depending on the natural sweetness of the grapefruit juice)

In a large bowl combine the grapefruit juice, grated ginger and sugar and mix together well until the sugar is completely dissolved. Place the mixture into a 9” x 9” metal pan and freeze for about 30 minutes. Using a fork, scrape the frozen edges toward the center and allow to freeze for another 30 minutes. Repeat this process until the dessert is completely frozen. Garnish with mint or extra grapefruit sections, and enjoy!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Recipe: Vegetable Farro Soup

Last night was the first in 8 looooooong nights that I was able to sorta breathe and sleep without waking up every 30 minutes to deal with the indecencies afflicting my lungs. I’m not sure what evil crawled in there this time, but I am, once again, grateful to be coming out of this alive. The weather has also started to become a much brighter, healthier looking affair, so that’s helped boost my spirits a bit, but I’ve been a good girl and have laid low as much as possible to ensure swift recovery. Sure, I could have used a couple of things from a couple different stores, but since none of those things had the name "inhaler" or "steroid" attached to it, I figured I was good for another few days.

Still, bright beautiful days make me want bright beautiful food and despite my oxygen-deprived funk, I wanted something pretty - and pretty tasty - over the weekend to see if I could encourage myself to eat. All Poor Girl’s been able to eat for the past several days is a couple of scrambled eggs here & there, and with absolutely none of the enthusiasm that usually goes with that (I really *heart* my eggs). It’s rather strange for me not to be cooking something, no matter how sick I might be (remember the Hearty Mushroom & Potato Soup? Sometimes my best recipes come to me when I’m ill), but I just wasn’t feelin’ it! Absolutely nothing has appealed to me recently. I’d even cooked up some farro in the hopes that I could make some sort of hearty meal out of it but just couldn’t get myself to eat it. Fortunately it was still waiting for me patiently, so that Sunday’s idea for a lovely new soup could finally come to fruition.

There’s nothing difficult or overly spectacular about this, but it is ever-so-tasty and makes me happy just to look at it. Using the unexpected score of some lovely ripe tomatoes from last week’s farmers market excursion and plenty of garlic, the broth is light but quite flavorful, the perfect backdrop to the multitude of veggies added in. Chewy farro completes this early spring soup with its hearty, nutty flavor. No fresh tomatoes yet? No worries! This will work out just fine with a couple of cans of diced tomatoes. And if you can’t find farro (or spelt, as it’s more commonly known), you can add any leftover brown or wild rice you may have and get wonderful results. And if you absolutely MUST have some sort of meat in your soup, adding a bit of cooked, cubed chicken would be a great way to get your meat on and up the protein content a bit as well.

Vegetable Farro Soup (makes 6-8 servings; total cost per serving: ~$1.75)

6 c chicken or vegetable broth
1 ½ c cooked farro
2 1/2 c chopped fresh tomatoes (or 1-2 cans diced tomatoes, juices reserved)
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
1 c broccoli florets (cut into very tiny pieces; about ½” max)
1 c green peas
1 c sliced mushrooms
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 T olive oil
3 large cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
¼ t thyme
¼ t tarragon
¼ t rosemary
½ t sea salt
Small pinch of raw sugar (to bring out the flavor of the tomatoes)
Plenty of freshly ground pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot and add the garlic & onions. Cook over medium heat until just fragrant and add the thyme, tarragon, rosemary, salt and pepper. Next, add the tomatoes and the pinch of sugar, and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the carrot slices & broccoli florets and cook for another 2-3 of minutes before adding the broth. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium low and cook for 5-7 minutes. Add the cooked farro and bring back to a low simmer for about 3-4 minutes. Finally, add the peas and the mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes or so. Check for seasoning and adjust with salt & pepper accordingly. Serve generous portions in large soup mugs, season with plenty of ground black pepper, and enjoy!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

What's in Store for March

Raise your hand if you're SO over this winter like I am!!!

Seriously, when will all of this end? Sure, we had a couple sunny days here & there in February, and I thank Mother Nature profusely for the break. But for crying out loud, I'm beginning to think this is the longest, ugliest winter this nation has seen in ages and I'm so ready for it to be GONE. It's not just the fact that I feel all glum when it's ugly and gray all the time either; I don't like being sick all the time, and despite what some folks say, this weather does NOT help at all! I got hit with my 2nd bout of acute bronchitis/borderline pneumonia earlier this week (my doc says whatever's going around has hit a lot of her patients within 2-3 days, just like me, and that it's quite awful) and attempting to go in to work with a storm a-ragin' only sent me to the ER with severe symptoms and the worst asthma attack I've ever had in my life (bronchitis + asthma = no no NO bueno!).

Needless to say, it's just ONE more setback for Poor Girl & her crappy finances, so March is going to be yet another über-challenging month! Fortunately, I've gotten help from unexpected places and a few Tastemaker Program goodies in the cupboards, so I'll be able to jazz things up a bit regardless. And now for some notes from last month and what's in store for the month of March:

~ First of all, I want to give all of you who have donated to the Po' Girl cause another HUGE thank you for your extreme generosity. I said it on Facebook awhile back but want to say it here, too. Without your help I literally would not have been able to get through the month of February. I was able to pay my phone bill & some utilities, so even though I'm still paying February's rent (eek! March will be late now, too. *sob* Thank GOD my landlady's being understanding right now!), I'm at least able to contact people and stay warm through this entire mess. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You have no idea how much this means to me and I hope I can repay you someday.

~ This is terribly embarrassing to admit, but I've admitted so many other things on this blog that I think I'm about out of shame here, so here it is: things got so bad after the loss of my temp assignment in January that I had to swallow the 4 oz. of pride I had left and applied for food stamps. I will be blogging about this in depth in the next couple of weeks, not so that you can feel sorry for me or anything, but so that folks have an idea of what this is like. I have struggled financially for awhile but had been fortunate enough not to have to go "there" until now, and I think that with the state of our economy and so many others suffering in even worse situations than mine, an inside look at what this is like and how broken our system is necessary to bring awareness to the plights of those in absolute poverty. It won't be pretty, but hopefully it'll help to continue movements to end hunger & motivate folks to help in their communities.

~ I am having a hard time with this whole Poor Girl's Shopping List post as I'm still not so sure what you all want to see. I've gotten several emails from folks telling me they want to know what I buy so they can copy what I do; others say they want a list of what's actually in my cupboard & fridge at any given time, etc., etc. Because everyone's tastes are different, I'm having difficulty making this post work. I don't want you buying what I buy and going, "EW!!!" So what exactly do you want to see? Actual food that I buy, or more of a guideline as to how I shop? Please comment below so I can finally get this to you folks! For now, please don't forget to check out the Tips button in the menu bar above, where you'll get a lot of good info on how to save $ whist shopping. For those of you still unsure of how to stock your cupboards, start with Tip #2: Find Your Spice Staples and Tip #3: Find Your Bare Bone Staples.

~ My friend Catherine of Munchie Musings has been generously drowning me in metric tons of grapefruits from her very prolific tree this winter, so I've been having fun with all the free grapefruit juice I can drink! But that can get old too, so I'm also having fun using this wonderful fruit in different ways, so citrus lovers, stay tuned for some good grapefruit recipes!

~ The fine folks of Bertolli have joined with Foodbuzz to provide us Tastemakers with two full sized jars of some of their newest sauces: Arrabbiata and Four Cheese Rosa! I've already played with the Arrabbiata and it is GOOOOOOD! Recipes using these great flavors coming up in the next couple of weeks.

~ I'm obsessed with eating brussels sprouts these days, and since this is March and St. Patrick's Day's a-comin', I think I'm going to be making a lot of green things this month. And green food is so good for you, too! For those afraid of greens, I'll try my best to make even the biggest skeptic a little less afraid of things like chard, and kale, and brussels sprouts..... mmmmm.... :)

That's about all I've got in me right now, folks! I'm about ready to collapse, so it's probably time for some meds to see if I can breathe & sleep. I need to try and get in at least a few hours of work tomorrow so I won't have a nano-paycheck to look forward to, right? Have a marvelous March, all!

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