Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Poor Girl on SNAP Part I: Getting there

I had originally intended to post this a couple of months ago but decided to postpone it so that I could tie it in with some stories I've contributed to on other sites and media outlets. WalletPop.com and BlogHer have both written about the increase in SNAP use on their sites this month, including some of my story, and I will be featured on News10's morning news on July 1st to talk more about how families & individuals on SNAP can begin to make healthier choices and better use of the assistance they receive. These next two posts will relate my personal experiences and opinions on this program in an effort to raise awareness about hunger, what could be changed about the SNAP program to help foster healthier choices, and that it is perfectly okay to admit you're broke and need help, no matter how hard that may be. - Kimberly

Most of you know that in January I lost the temp assignment (which was supposed to become a permanent position) at the worst possible time. I had had a very rough winter, complete with pneumonia, a sprained ankle, and acute bronchitis among other things, all of which resulted in a lot of missed work. Those of you who are also temps know that missed work = no pay, so you can imagine how much deeper my dark financial hole ended up getting. I lost my temp assignment a mere 10 days before my already backed up rent was due, and with no permanent job opportunities or even other temp assignments in sight, I began to panic. Because I'm good at what I do, I knew I'd be okay on food for a couple of weeks, but as far as shelter went, I had no idea what to do or where to turn.

Fortunately, I listened to my mom who reminded me that as a taxpaying citizen, I did have the right to apply for public assistance to help me through this roughest of rough patches. I will admit that I was hesitant to do this at first. Why? I think I was scared that I'd be denied assistance and have absolutely nowhere to turn to from there. But mostly, I felt like I'd finally reached my rock bottom, having to ask for help when the past few years of financial hell had never forced me to do so. All this time I've just dealt with it: cutting corners, missing out on things I loved, wanted, and even needed, and getting as creative and resourceful as I possibly could. I have actually received some pretty nasty emails for saying that I had to "swallow the last 4 oz. of pride that I had" when I went to apply for public assistance from people who are obviously quick to judge a complete stranger without knowing her complete story.

So here it is.

For me, it was not a case of being too "embarrassed" to ask for help, as some folks have assumed; it was a case of feeling like a personal failure because for the first time in my entire life, I found myself in a hole I couldn't crawl out of on my own. I had already cut back on anything and everything fun (just one asthma inhaler when I desperately need the other two; no more shopping for new clothes & shoes, things I do really need; no more concerts or road trips; no more new music; no more dinners out with friends). And I'd already sold everything I could sell without having to go without the bare necessities, which include my computer and my camera, things I actually do need in order to continue the one thing that has kept me going through all of this: my blog. With so many loyal fans & new readers everyday, folks who have actually written to me privately to thank me for bailing them out of one crisis or another, there was no way I could have chucked the two things that I needed to keep this thing going. I love what I do, love that I can help people. Quitting PGEW was not an option.

And so I went. I walked the few blocks to my local Department of Health & Human Services office and started the application process that I so naively thought would result in some sort of immediate assistance. After all, I'd checked out the information online and realized I did qualify for both food stamps (now called SNAP: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and General Assistance. I'd called the office before going so I wouldn't waste a trip and was told all I had to do was fill out some forms and they could help me right away if I brought my ID and Social Security card. What they don't tell you is that you get to stand in line for a good 20 minutes (if you're lucky) and receive a giant stack of forms asking you for everything but your blood type. Then you get to stand in another line for another 30 minutes so you can turn in this stack of paperwork and be rudely instructed to sit down and wait for someone to call you back into their offices. After another hour or so of waiting, you have a brief 5-7 minute meeting with a social worker who finally tells you that you won't be getting any help today and hands you another slip of paper so you can stand in ANOTHER line that will finally result in an appointment time. For one week later.

One week. 7 days of absolutely no income or even the hope of any assistance at all. My panic increased.

I dealt with it, though. I had been given a large manila envelope full of more paperwork that was quite similar to what I'd already filled out at the office. I patiently filled everything out and spent the last few dollars I had to make copies of the documents they required at my local Kinko's. I made sure everything was filled out correctly so that I couldn't be denied for some minor error. With my large packet in hand, I went to my appointment 30 minutes early, again, to make sure I couldn't be denied for some trivial reason. I checked in and was told I might wait anywhere from 30 minutes to 6 HOURS to be seen. Strange, considering I had an "appointment". I now realize they should change that to "check in time", as I literally did wait 4 1/2 hours before I was finally called back to meet with my case worker.

I was lucky to get a social worker that understood I wasn't there to milk the system, though she was brutally honest about the fact that I probably wouldn't get much in the way of GA. Again, not a good thing, considering my rent was my main concern (and all I got from that was $153. That doesn't even cover a couple nights at Motel 6, let alone real rent!). Finally, after 7 hours of waiting, picture-taking, fingerprinting, PIN selection and signatures galore, I was given the maximum amount of SNAP assistance for a single person: $200. I was shocked, considering I don't even spend that on groceries in a normal month anyway! Sadly, when I did some research later, I learned that the more people there are in a family, the less money is actually received. Here in California, the maximum amount of food stamp assistance for a 4 person family is a mere $668; nearly 17% less than what one would think it would be at the $200/single person rate. Still, it is a big help when you have absolutely nothing to fall back on.

Now if only all this came with instructions and a better set of rules...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The $25 Shopping Cart, version 9.0

You ever just have one of those weeks or months when EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. is chock full of events or commitments or something random to do? June's been like that for me, and though I've enjoyed everything I've gotten to do, it's seriously making a dent in my PGEW time! I've cooked up new recipes, shopped at different stores, and started about a half dozen new posts, all in the hopes of bringing you some good stuff; alas, there are only 24 hours in the day and that’s not always enough. So to you and to my beloved little blog, I apologize profusely, and bequeath upon thee the 99-cent Store edition of the $25 Shopping Cart.

Now, I hadn't planned on doing this particular project this way. I'd had every intention of heading to ye olde 99-cent Store on a day off or after work when I'd have time to look at every single can, jar and package slowly and carefully. But again, with the kind of schedule I've been keeping I had to make due with the warp speed edition that I did over lunch one day last week with Adam, one of my friends from work. He wanted to get more candy to fill his candy dispensers on his desk and I needed more cheap low-sodium soy sauce; it was the perfect lunch date (except for the clock ticking my super short 30 minute lunch break, of course).

I have to pat myself on the back for this one. Not because of how well I did pricewise, since it's almost impossible to mess that up at a place where everything is 99 cents; but because of my crazy speed shopping that resulted in some pretty good choices. I felt like one of those contestants on that 80's grocery shopping show (Shop 'Til You Drop, I think it was?), just throwing things from aisle to basket, occasionally doing quick 7 second comparisons before deciding on a particular item. A record 12 minutes and a much needed Toblerone later, here's what I left with:
  • 1 18 oz. bag Thai Jasmine Rice
  • 1 16 oz. bag dried lentils
  • 1 package of gorditas (thick tortillas)
  • 1 8 oz. package sliced crimini mushrooms
  • 1 can organic black beans
  • 1 can pinto beans
  • 1 lb linguine
  • 1 12 oz. cannister panko crumbs
  • 1 12 oz. box Thompson raisins
  • 4 cans Chicken of the Sea chunk light tuna in water (just $0.59 for 2 cans! I couldn't pass that up!)
  • 1 2 lb bag key limes (!!!!!!!!!!)
  • 1 3 package Roma tomatoes
  • 4 red bell peppers
  • 3 green plantains (3 for $0.99)
  • 1 6 oz package paprika
  • 2 4 oz. packages Cacique queso fresco (not pictured... I was trying to hide them from StuKitty as he loves cheese more than his mommy does)
  • 1 full-sized Toblerone (that is actually good until 2011, go figure... usually their candy expires the next day)
  • 1 ginormously loud hot pink 99-Cent Store bag (to lug all my provisions home in super swanky style, lol)
Sadly, they were out of the low-sodium soy sauce so I'll have to get that some other time. But even with the contraband chocolate AND the bag, I only spent $21.17 after tax! (I won't even tell you how much candy Adam got, but let's just say I'm glad this store exists because he'd be bankrupt otherwise!) This was definitely a fruitful venture, and I was able to stock up on some staples that were starting to dwindle.

However, since this was an unplanned visit and I didn't have a detailed inventory of what I had at home so that I could build around it, I'm not going to post possible meal ideas until the next time I head there (which will be in the 2nd or 3rd week of July, if not earlier). Granted, I had a general idea of what was in my cupboards, but part of making the $25 Shopping Cart a success is knowing what you have and building on it creatively. For now, I'm just happy I didn't have to go completely tomato-less for another couple weeks, and that I finally have exactly what I need to finally bring that one dessert shot idea to fruition.

Not to mention that sweet, creamy Toblerone... I mean, seriously: where else could Poor Girl have been able to afford one of those? ;)

New recipe coming tomorrow night, so stay tuned!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wanchai Ferry Giveaway Winner!

WOW, you guys! I'm still relatively new to the giveaway scene, so color me completely surprised to see how many of you entered to win this prize courtesy of Wanchai Ferry and MyBlogspark! Over 80 entries & bonus tweets came in for this one, so thanks to all of you who entered. It was awesome seeing what everyone's favorite Chinese take out is, and even better to see that I'm not the only one who has about 3-4 "favorites" (which, by the way, include General Tso's chicken, Shrimp Lo Mein and Szechuan Prawns... nom...).

Anyway, because the number of entries was so overwhelming, I finally had to use the random number generator from Random.org. It told me #34 was the lucky number and that person happens to be: Dontcallmelissa! *cue applause* She's a big fan of hot and sour soup, egg rolls, and mu shu vegetable or egg fu yung, and of course, the almighty fortune cookie!

Melissa, please email me right away so I can get your contact info over to the MyBlogSpark folks and you can get your prize!

Thanks again to all of you who entered and don't fret: there will be more giveaways in the future. In the meantime, stay tuned for the latest installment in the $25 Shopping Cart series and a couple of tasty new recipes!

Lv,
PG

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Recipe: Fresh Cherry-Berry Granita

I seem to have developed a serious cherry addiction this year.

Now, this isn't really a new thing, as I've always loved them and literally grew up surrounded by cherries. We lived on the border between Santa Clara and Sunnyvale, California, and some of my fondest memories include trips with my mom to C.J. Olson's orchards (back before that giant condo development monstrosity killed off all the beautiful trees... *sigh*). There, we would buy as many luscious, dark red cherries as we could fit into the back of her car. We'd polish off about half a pound by the time we got home and proceed to make jams and other lovely desserts. Every year I try to buy at least one large batch of cherries to continue this tradition, but this year I seem to have gone a little overboard! It seems like every time I visit the farmer's market, I have to buy at least one pound of these sweet, juicy orbs of happiness.

On this weekend's trip to my favorite under-the-freeway market I got a little nutty and ended up buying some Brooks & Rainiers (couldn't resist the super low price of $1.75/lb! And they were actually GOOD!), among many other tasty fruits & veggies. I already had a fresh cherry granita in mind, but when I got home I realized I still had several gorgeous strawberries leftover from a super sweet find my mom & I had scored the previous weekend, not to mention one last box of blackberries. Combining all of these to make a sinfully sweet and gorgeous granita seemed like a fabulous idea, and it definitely was. This is a perfect summertime dessert and a nice alternative to the usual jams & preserves that most berries & cherries become during this season. And with a little careful shopping at your local stores and farmer's markets, this dessert is as refreshing for your wallet as it is for the palate.

Fresh Cherry-Berry Granita (makes 6-8 servings; total cost per serving: $1)

2 c pitted fresh Brooks or Bing cherries
1 c sliced fresh strawberries
1 8 oz. package fresh blackberries
1 c water
1/2 c sugar
2 T fresh squeezed lemon juice

Combine the berries & cherries in a food processor and purée until almost smooth (leave a little texture to make things interesting). Quickly boil together the water and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Combine the fruit purée and simple syrup in a large bowl and stir together well. Pour the mixture into a 9" x 11" metal pan and place in the freezer. After 30 minutes, scrape the edges toward the center of the pan with a fork and return to freezer. Repeat this process every 30 minutes until you end up with icy, flaky crystals of dessert. Serve with extra berries for garnish, store the rest in an airtight container and enjoy!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Giveaways & Contests Galore!

There's something about summertime that just brings out the fun in everything, particularly in the food & cooking world. Don't get me wrong: the holiday season is also chock full of great recipes and creative uses of food at parties or to use as gifts, etc., but summertime pretty much equals "fun" no matter how you look at it. There are the blockbuster movies, the national holidays, the BBQ's, the potlucks, the parties; it's just hard not to enjoy summer! And if you're a foodie, there are a ton of great contests & giveaways that help make summertime even more fantastic! Here are few that I've been asked to share with you from some great companies and people:
  • Ms. Munchie of Munchie Musings is giving away four passes to the Sacramento preview of the 3rd installment in the Twilight series: Eclipse! I've been sharing this one a LOT on Facebook & Twitter, All you have to do is create an original recipe (savory or sweet) that's inspired by the books & movies and send the recipe and photos to Ms. Munchie by noon tomorrow (6/22). I know it's super short notice here on the blog (which is why it's so important to follow PGEW on Facebook & Twitter; this way you'll be on top of all the updates!), but I'm sure you Sac Twi-hard foodies can whip up something awesome in no time! Yours truly will be one of the judges, so show me what you've got, Sacramento! I love seeing what other folks come up with. Click here for complete details & rules.
  • The fine folks at SkinMD Natural are holding an awesome Backyard BBQ Giveaway, just in time for the 4th of July! The prize pack is incredible and a must have for the summer BBQ season! Valued at over $300, it includes 10 bottles of SkinMD (!!!), hot dog & fry serving baskets, a 16 pc. cutlery set, insulated tumblers, wine charms, the Ultimate Barbeque Cookbook (w/over 300 recipes!), all0natural Caribbean burger blend seasoning, hickory wood smoking chips, candlholder, and more! Contest ends 6/25/10. I'm definitely entering because it's too good to pass up! Follow this link for rules and entry methods.
  • Though I want to win this badly, I do love some healthy competition, so let's all enter Mezzetta's "Make That Sandwich" recipe contest! This is a big one, folks. The grand prize is $25,000 and a trip for two to the lovely Napa Valley (home of Mezzetta HQ). This year, they're also featuring 7 celebrity chefs who will be competing against each other to win a $10,000 donation to the winning chef's favorite charity! It's a huge contest but sounds like too much fun to pass up, so get your sandwich on! Simply go to www.makethatsandwich.com for rules and more details.
  • FINALLY, yours truly is still holding the Wanchai Ferry VIP coupon giveaway along with MyBlogSpark.com! In addition to the great savings coupon, you'll also receive two lovely organic green tea sets, so it's great little prize. Contest ends this Wednesday, 6/23/10, so you still have a couple of days to enter, but I'd hurry if I were you! I've received over 50 entries and a ton of bonus Twitter entries, so the competition's fierce! To enter, check out the post for the Wanchai Ferry giveaway and follow the super simple rules.
WHEW! That was a lot! Have a fabulous 1st day of summer and stay tuned for some new recipes this week!

Lv,
PG

6/22/10 UPDATE: A couple of folks had mentioned that the link to the SkinMD Natural site didn't have the info regarding the BBQ Giveaway, so I went ahead and updated that for you so you all can enter. This is the link that will take you to the contest page. Sorry about that! Happy contest entering! :)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Recipe: Baked Eggs, Ham & Asparagus in Tomato Cups

A couple of months ago, the awesome peeps at Foodbuzz got together with the ever-so-wonderful folks at Eggland's Best Eggs got together to offer us Tastemakers a chance to get creative with our free dozen of eggs for a chance to win a year's supply of EB's eggs. Naturally, I made sure to make the most of this and ended up submitting three of my egg recipes: The "Spanglish" Sandwich, The Ultimate Veggie Omelette, and my Baked Eggs with Tomatoes & Peppers. I'm not sure which one got their attention (though the baked eggs did end up being one of EgglandsBest.com's featured recipes) but whichever one it was, I was stoked to know it made me one of the 10 winners of this awesome prize!

After a long, long wait, I finally received my prize last week (in the form of coupons not a giant crate of eggs, in case you're wondering). I was all flustered at first because the idea of being able to make all sorts of egg recipes without having to worry about how to afford the next dozen was just too good to be true! I settled on a new baked egg variation and did what I always do to get some inspiration: I poked around my kitchen to see what else I could throw into my little ramekins. Ham - check! Asparagus spears - check! I was about to get cookin' when I saw those two perfect tomatoes I still hadn't sunk my teeth into. They were so perfectly shaped and round and large, that it seemed almost criminal not to use them as my "ramekins" this time. And so my tomato cups were born.

This combo is simple yet so very tasty, and the recipe is ridiculously easy to prepare. I used plain ol' deli ham and some thawed asparagus spears from Trader Joe's because the good fresh ones have gotten expensive again (meh). The only thing that will take some caution and care is removing the flesh & seeds from the inside of the tomato without ruining the outer part. The best way to do this is to cut just a very small part off the tomato top (resist cutting it in half as you'll lose most of your cup's shape this way) and scoop out the insides gently. Other than that and a little bit of chopping, this practically cooks itself! It's another great way to enjoy eggs, and even with the way the skin "tears" with the heat of the oven (don't worry, this is normal!) it's makes for a lovely & unique presentation, so it would be great to serve to guests for Sunday brunch. Served with some warm crusty bread to sop up the yolk & you have a fabulous little meal for very little moolah!

Baked Eggs, Ham & Asparagus in Tomato Cups (serves 1; total cost per serving: $1.75)

1 large tomato
1 large egg
2 T diced ham (cubes should be about 1/4" in size)
2 T chopped asparagus (also 1/4" in size)
Pinch of salt
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 425°. Lightly coat the bottom of a small baking dish with cooking spray and set aside. Cut off the top of the tomato and gently scoop out the flesh and seeds (don't toss it! You can use this to make a light salsa later). Sprinkle the inside of the tomato cup with a small pinch of salt and add the diced ham and asparagus. Crack the egg into the tomato and carefully place the filled tomato into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes or so (longer if you like a harder yolk). Remove from heat and carefully transfer to a serving plate with a wide spatula or slotted cooking spoon. Serve with extra asparagus spears and a nice chunk of warm crusty bread, and enjoy!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Recipe: Summer Veggies with Quinoa & Cilantro-Pistachio Pesto

I've come to the conclusion that I have serious self-control issues when I’m at the farmer’s market. I’m surrounded with so much fresh, delicious produce, I tend to get a little euphoric and covet everything I see. Fortunately not only are farmer’s market prices nice & low but I have no car, so there’s only so much I can lug back home in my backpack and 87 reusable shopping bags from assorted stores. However, the lack of restraint thing always ends up making me resemble a human pack mule once I’m done shopping, no matter how little I’ve spent. The last time around was no different, especially because all sorts of wonderful summer veggies are starting to show up all over the place. I left with pounds of fresh produce, including the first baby squashes of the season, carrots, and the most ginormous fava beans I had EVER seen (they were even bigger than the ones I got during my Follow the Chef tour!). A ton of fresh herbs, greens and, of course, some sweet summer cherries, and I practically sprinted home to start playing with all this yummy goodness.

The inspiration for this definitely came from the three gorgeous bunches of cilantro I was able to score for just $0.99. They were so fragrant and fresh that I immediately wanted to make a nice pesto with it. But when I got home I realized I had neither pine nuts nor almonds, two of the most commonly used nuts in pesto recipes. I was about to turn my cilantro into something else when I remembered I still had a giant bag of pistachios I could use, and voila! A tasty new pesto was born. It’s refreshing and almost a little tangy, and because this version uses no cheese whatsoever, even my vegan friends & readers can enjoy this.

The pesto recipe will yield far more than what’s needed for the actual dish, but we all know how versatile pesto can be and you can certainly use this in anything and everything you want. I thought a nice place to start would be with some of the vegetables I’d picked up, along with some sort of grain. My first instinct was to serve this with couscous, considering how well regular pesto went with it in my Pesto Couscous Salad from earlier this year. Alas, I was all out, so I used the ever-so-handy Mother Grain: quinoa. When all was said and done, I had a light yet filling dish packed with plenty of protein & fiber from the quinoa & veggies, as well as a ton of flavor from the pesto. This is great as a side but also makes an amazing meat-free entrée that you can enjoy year ‘round. Quick, healthy, and super affordable – gotta love that!

Summer Veggies with Quinoa & Cilantro-Pistachio Pesto (makes 4 servings; total cost per serving ~$1.50)

1 ½ c cooked quinoa
1 large carrot
1 medium zucchini
1 medium summer squash
1 c shelled fava beans
1/2 medium red onion, sliced
2 t olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 t thyme
Salt & pepper to taste

Cilantro-Pistachio Pesto:
2 ½ c (packed) cilantro, both leaves & stems
1 c pistachios
2 cloves of garlic
1 c olive oil
3 T fresh lemon juice
1/2 t salt

Combine the pesto ingredients in a food processor (or blender if you don’t have a food processor) and purée until smooth. Set aside.

Slice the carrot, zucchini and summer squash into ½” thick pieces. In a large skillet heat the olive oil and garlic until the garlic becomes fragrant and golden brown. Add the sliced carrots and sauté over medium heat for about 2-3 minutes until they just start to become tender. Add the zucchini, summer squash, fava beans, thyme and salt & pepper and sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Finally, add the sliced onions and cook until tender. In a large bowl combine the quinoa and about 3 tablespoons of the cilantro-pistachio pesto and mix well (you may add more if you like a stronger flavor). Place in a couple of bowls or dishes, top with a generous amount of the sautéed veggies, and enjoy!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Product Review: Wanchai Ferry Beef & Broccoli + GIVEAWAY!

Raise your hand if you love take-out! I know I do and although I don't indulge in it anywhere near as often as I used to, it's still a nice treat from time to time. The only un-fun part about the whole thing is the price. Take-out & delivery food is just NOT affordable, what with the minimum order amount, the delivery fees, and the tips. When all is said and done, even if you're ordering for two, you can still end up spending around $30 for the whole meal (though, you can always find ways to stretch that out as I've shown you in the past). Sure, you can always learn from Poor Girl and make your own fun take-out style meals, but there are just some days when even my simple recipes can seem like a chore. What to do, what to do?

Enter Wanchai Ferry. The fine folks at MyBlogSpark.com contacted me awhile ago to let me know that this brand had just launched their latest frozen dinner: Beef & Broccoli. Aside from Sweet & Sour Pork, I'm fairly certain this is one of the most popular Chinese take-out items ordered. And seriously, what's not to like? Chunks of tender beef, lots of broccoli, that sauce... it's pretty much a winner for me, too. So I was definitely curious to see if a frozen dinner could match up to my local Chinese restaurants' beef & broccoli and agreed to give Wanchai Ferry's dinner a go.

Now, you all know how I feel about pre-made frozen dinners in general: fun, tasty, convenient but definitely something you could make yourself for less money! But I know that's not always possible for some folks. My other issue with them is that when it comes to the Asian-inspired pre-made dinners out there, they don't often end up tasting as good as some of the Italian pasta varieties. I will admit, I was definitely skeptical. But I like it when I'm proven wrong in these instances. Of course, there was plenty of broccoli and some crispy water chestnuts, but I was quite surprised by the amount of beef that was included. Usually in these dinners you get nothing but veggies and maybe a few cubes of beef - and that goes for take-out, too! It was nice to see that they didn't skimp on the good stuff. There was also a generous amount of pre-cooked rice to go along with everything, and even without a microwave I was able to heat it up easily. But what really impressed me was the sauce: not too salty and definitely in the restaurant category when it came to its consistency. And there was plenty of it, too! That impressed me again, as you're usually struggling to find the sauce in some of those frozen dinners. The whole meal took just under the quoted 14 minutes to prepare and it was very tasty. And at just around $7 for two people, it's definitely more affordable than take-out!

Well, that's all fine & dandy, Poor Girl, but what's in it for me?

I'm glad you asked. :) Not only is there a great Wanchai Ferry coupon available for $1.60 off any flavor frozen entrée, but you can also enter to win a special VIP coupon for Wanchai Ferry products and two very lovely little tea sets, courtesy of Wanchai Ferry via MyBlogSpark! I actually got mine the other day and they're quite adorable. You receive two individually wrapped sets that include a sleek tea mug and a generous container of organic green tea leaves. You can enjoy them for yourself or keep one and give the other as a gift (and it's already wrapped! Sweet!).

To enter, simply leave a comment below answering the following question: What's YOUR favorite Chinese takeout item?

Please comment by 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 23rd. You can earn bonus entries by tweeting about the contest with the following: Win a VIP Wanchai Ferry coupon & organic green tea sets from MyBlogSpark @PoorGrlEatsWell! Contest ends 6/23. Pls RT! (You must comment below AND tweet in order to earn the bonus entry.) One lucky winner will be chosen at random on Wednesday, so get your entries in soon!

That's it for now, folks. I'll be busy working on non-PGEW projects for the next day or so, but don't fret! There's a refreshing new dessert recipe a-comin', as well as more fun with farmer's market produce, so stay tuned!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Recipe: Crispy Mahi Mahi with Mango-Cucumber Relish

When I was shopping at Trader Joe's a few weeks ago, I was about to grab my standard bag of frozen shrimp when it occurred to me that I have not been eating enough fish as of late. Crustaceans I've had aplenty. I've had chicken and steak and plenty of veggies; but no healthy, tasty fish! I suppose my regular tuna consumption could count, but that's usually of the canned variety, which I use in salads and such. I felt it was high time to enjoy another type of fish that I could prepare in different ways, so I put down my bag of shrimp and picked up a couple of filets of mahi mahi instead.

I love most types of fish but find myself going back to mahi mahi and ahi tuna quite a bit. Their texture, flavor and versatility make them huge favorites of mine. TJ's offers both pre-marinated and plain versions of each in their freezer section and they're quite affordable ($4.99/lb to $5.99/lb). I had chosen some plain mahi mahi filets so that I'd have some more options on how to prepare it. For this particular dish, I decided to make a crispy mahi mahi, something I rarely do as I'm more fond of fish without any type of batter or crust. Enter the lovely panko crumb, a lighter way to get that tasty crunch everyone loves. And because it finally warmed up a bit this weekend, I decided a nice fresh fruit salsa or relish would be a great accompaniment to my crispy fish. With the great deal on fresh ripe mangos that Ms. Munchie and I had found last weekend, I knew they would definitely be a part of this new recipe.

A good fruit salsa or relish is always great to have on hand in the summertime because they offer a refreshing, sweet twist to seafood, chicken, and even pork dishes. Because the cooler weather held on for so long, I hadn't been all that inspired to make a fruit relish 'til now. In fact, the last one I made - a cantaloupe-nectarine relish that went with some chicken; muy delicioso - was almost a year ago! Needless to say, it was high time for me to prepare a new one and instead of sticking to my usual mango salsa recipe, I decided to throw in some cool, crisp cucumber & red bell peppers to create a refreshing little relish. Combined with the crispy fish it was an absolutely delightful! Serve this with side of grilled veggies or a fresh salad, and you'll have a healthy, inexpensive summertime dinner with very little effort.

Crispy Mahi Mahi with Mango-Cucumber Relish (serves 2-3; total cost per serving: ~$3.50)

1 lb mahi mahi filets
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 c panko crumbs
1 T garlic salt
1/2 t ground black pepper
2 T olive oil (gives the panko crumbs a light golden color when baked)

Mango-Cucumber Relish:
1 large mango, chopped
1 medium cucumber, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
2 T honey
Juice of 3 key limes
Pinch of salt
1/4 t cayenne pepper

Prepare the relish by combining all the ingredients and mixing together well. Cover and refrigerate while you prepare the fish.

Preheat the oven to 450°. Prepare a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a small rack lightly sprayed with cooking spray on the baking sheet (this will help prevent the fish from sticking and keep the fish crispy on both sides instead of becoming soggy on the bottom). In a small bowl, combine the panko crumbs, garlic salt, pepper and olive oil and mix together well. Set out two dishes, one for the beaten eggs, the other for the seasoned panko crumbs. Pat dry the mahi mahi with paper towels. Dip each filet in the egg wash, then in the panko crumb mix. Press the crumbs into the fish so they adhere well. Place the panko-crusted filet on the prepared baking sheet and repeat. Bake on the top rack of the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the panko crumbs are a light golden brown and the fish is tender & flaky.

Top the fish with a generous amount of the mango-cucumber relish, serve with grilled veggies or a crisp salad, and enjoy!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Recipe: Red Potato & Spinach Mini Frittatas

So I've mentioned on Facebook that I'm having MAJOR insomniac issues this weekend. I'm not sure if it's because of the stress of my apartment building being sold and not knowing if I'll have a place to live, or if it's because I'm not sure if I'll have a job past the end of this month, but apparently Poor Girl's subconscious mind is dealing with some stuff that won't let her sleep. Still, my sleep loss is your gain and I've whipped up a few fun recipes that I'll be posting in the next few days (one of which will be posted later today). But despite the insomnia, I realized this morning that I absolutely HAD to eat something substantial before I got sick, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and create a new breakfast recipe that I could share with everybody.

As well as I did with my awesome food shopping last weekend, I have to admit I neglected to buy enough breakfast options. Sure, I have a few breakfast quinoa recipes I can whip out if worse comes to worst, but for a Sunday breakfast I like to have something a little more special. When I peered into the fridge I found I had very few eggs left, so I couldn't make the egg-filled crepes that I had originally been craving. Baked eggs seemed like a fun option but I wasn't really feeling the ingredient combos I could make out of what I had. However, I did find baby spinach, chives and the red potatoes I bought at last weekend's farmer's market, so I decided these could actually make a fun little frittata. Problem was, I only had 4 eggs. That does not a decent-sized frittata make! Unless it's a very tiny little frittata, and with some cute little ramekins in my kitchen, I knew I could make some pretty tasty, tiny breakfasts.

This is another great way to entertain any guests you might have over for brunch on a nice weekend, as they give a slightly nicer presentation than a standard frittata and definitely keep the portions under control. The best part is, you can make these out of just ONE medium potato? How many recipes can serve 3-4 people using just ONE potato? And don't let the small size of these little guys fool you, either; just one is enough to be satisfying, actually, and if you serve it with a side of fresh fruit and a slice of whole grain toast, you have a fabulous, perfectly balanced breakfast for just pennies. Gotta love that!

Red Potato & Spinach Mini Frittatas (makes 4 mini frittatas; total cost per serving: $0.65)

1 medium red potato, diced into 1/4" cubes
4 baby spinach leaves, finely chopped
4 large eggs
1 T grated Parmesan cheese
1 T olive oil, divided
1 T chopped chives (for garnish)
Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350°. In a small skillet, heat 1/2 tablespoon of oil and add the diced red potatoes. Sprinkle with salt & pepper and cook over medium heat until slightly browned and tender. Remove from heat.

Grease four 3 oz. ramekins with the remaining bit of olive oil (you may not need it all; that's okay). Place equal amounts of the pan-fried potatoes in each dish, followed by equal amounts of chopped baby spinach. Lightly beat the eggs together with the parmesan cheese in a bowl, then pour equal amounts of egg over the spinach & potatoes in each ramekin.

Place the ramekins into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the egg is set. Allow to cool for about 2 minutes, garnish with a tiny amount of parmesan and chopped chives, and enjoy!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Recipe: Chicken Farfalle with Mushrooms & Chives

My last $25 Shopping Cart trip combined with my accidental farmer's market $25 Shopping Cart from last Sunday (which was so amazing I should have written another post) has given me a LOT to work with for the next couple of weeks. I'm so proud of what I was able to do with just $50 that I don't even know where to start! Fortunately, work has been SO extremely hectic and there's been so much other crazy stuff going on in Kimberland that I have only been inspired to do the bare minimum (for now; I have HUGE plans for the weekend). The other night I came home, peered at all the possibilities in my kitchen and created a simple, yet tasty dish that costs a lot less than it sounds like it would.

The ingredients are all very ordinary, everyday ingredients that anyone can find. Pasta, chicken breast, some mushrooms & chives, a little butter & leftover wine, even a few sweet peas that I still had hangin' around... none of this is rocket science, but put together it becomes a delightful little dish. And when all is said & done, it only takes about 30 minutes to prepare; definitely something that one can pull off after a long day at work. This is a prime example of what I mean by buying whole ingredients vs. pre-made meals. Sure, those frozen pre-made meals can be pretty darned convenient & tasty (because they're loaded with a ton of sodium, but I won't focus on that today), but their serving sizes are far too small for the amount of money you're paying. Not to mention the fact that the selection is pretty slim, regardless of which brand you're buying. With a nice selection of whole ingredients like meats, veggies, grains and pastas, you can create a wide variety of dishes that will make many more servings, and you won't be spending that much more.

In fact, you can actually save money this way! Consider buying a pre-made bagged frozen pasta dinner "for two" for every night of the work week for a couple of weeks (and I'm being nice and not including weekends). At $5 to $6 a bag, you've just spent the same amount of money as I did for a ton of ingredients that will make dishes yielding 3-4 servings that will last me a couple of weeks or more. Would you rather spend $50 for 10 days worth of small dinner portions, or spend the same amount on ingredients that will create a much larger variety of meals, including dessert? Sure, this could involve some chopping here & there, but the end result will be far healthier and much more satisfying for the palette and the soul.

Farfalle & Chicken with Mushroom-Chive Sauce (makes 3-4 servings; total cost per serving: $1.95)

8 oz. uncooked farfalle pasta
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4-6 oz. white mushrooms (about 8-10), sliced
1/2 c sweet green peas
1/4 c finely chopped chives
2 t butter
1 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c white wine, divided
Salt & pepper to taste

Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain, drizzle with a small amount of olive oil to prevent it from sticking, and set aside. Cut the chicken breasts into 1 1/2" chunks. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the garlic. Brown the garlic for about 1 minute until golden brown and fragrant, then add the chicken breast chunks. Sprinkle lightly with salt & pepper and cook over medium heat until the chicken is no longer pink inside. Remove the chicken from the pan & set aside.

Keeping the pan at medium high heat, deglaze the brown bits in the pan with 1/2 cup of wine. Add the butter & cook until melted, then add the mushrooms. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the mushrooms begin to soften. Return the chicken to the pan, add the peas, pasta and remaining wine, and cook for about 4 minutes, or until everything is heated through. Remove from heat and toss in the chopped chives, mixing everything together until completely coated.

Serve with a nice salad or on its own, and enjoy!

What's in Store for June

I want to start off by thanking all of you for your compliments and feedback on PGEW's new design & features! I'll admit I was a little nervous about putting it out there, especially when so many of you dear readers have been following since the very beginning and have gotten used to things around here. But it was definitely time for a change, and I'm so glad that my goals of easier post reading and ease of navigation were reached with the new design.

Especially when you consider the fact that the next recipe I post will be Recipe #175!!! I just stumbled across this fact yesterday when I was cleaning up some stuff on the back end of the site. I knew I'd posted more than 100 original recipes, but almost 200? It's no wonder I was having a hard time finding certain recipes for myself on this thing! And it definitely means it's time to write the real book, but I'll talk about that in another post. ;) For now, here's what's in store for this month:
  • It looks like summer might actually happen this year! That means I'll be out & about and heading to the farmer's market a LOT more than I've been able to all year. Just like last year, I'm hoping to experiment with a few ingredients I like to eat but have never cooked with before, so look for some new fruits & veggies to show up in June's recipes.
  • With the warmer weather also come the "cool" dishes! I'm thinkin' more granita, more popsicles and more soup. Soup? Of course! I haven't had a good gazpacho in forever, so I'm hoping I can score tomatoes for that towards the end of the month.
  • Mango lovers, rejoice! Because my friend Catherine of Munchie Musings and I scored some perfectly ripe mangos last weekend, I've been able to bring one of my latest dessert shot ideas to fruition! One of the first recipes of the month will feature this super-sweet fruit in the most delightful little dessert shot I've made to date. Well, except for all those cheesecake ones... ;)
  • We're right in the middle of cherry season and I'm LOVING it! Hopefully you've all been able to score some Brooks or some sweet little Rainiers over the past couple of weeks. If not, don't fret! The fine folks at Whole Foods Market wanted me to let you know that they're having a fabulous cherry sale this month! For 1-day only on June 18th, all Whole Foods Markets across the country will be selling cherries at just $1.99/lb! An incredible deal, indeed! I'll be sure to remind all of you via Facebook & Twitter as the sale date approaches.
  • Speaking of fun through social media, if you haven't become a PGEW Facebook fan (or a "liker" as they like to call it now; I prefer "fan") or a follower on Twitter, be sure to do so when you get the chance! It's a great way to stay connected and get a lot of updates on sales & what's going on in PGEW land when I'm not actually on the blog.
That's it for now, folks! Stay tuned for a new recipe today or tomorrow, and for a BIG announcement in the next couple of weeks.

Happy June, everyone!
:) K

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Recipe: Grilled Steak Tacos!

Since this Memorial Day weekend was every bit as lovely as we locals had hoped, most folks were out and about enjoying the warm weather and the extra day off. From activities along the river to the annual jazz festival, to simply getting out and enjoying the sunshine in one of Sacramento's many parks, the capital city was buzzing with activity. Of course, that included the official start to the BBQ & grilling season, and no matter where you turned someone was grilling sausages, hot dogs, burgers - you name it! My area of Downtown Sac smelled like one giant bacon-wrapped sausage most of the weekend, and it inspired me to crawl into evil closet and whip out my tiny little grill.

Now, I am not the biggest griller. It's not that I don't like it, I'm just not so sure I'm always doing things properly. Still, I love any excuse to be outside when the weather's as great as this past weekend's, and I truly love the flavor BBQing and grilling can give to almost any food. Especially steak! I know most folks like to do the traditional burgers & hot dogs scene, but throw some lean steak or some skewered shrimp on my grill and I'm much happier. Fortunately, I had some small packages of flank steak defrosting in my fridge and decided the best way to enjoy said steak was to turn 'em into tacos. I made my own makeshift carne asada-esque marinade so the steak would be super tasty, and I even whipped up a fresh batch of pico de gallo for the occasion (Poor Girl SCORED on pico-makin' materials at the farmer's market this weekend!). All I needed was a nice sangria to complete my meal; alas, I had to make due with what I had (LOTS of ice water, lol).

Going this route as opposed to the burgers & dogs can be equally delicious but a lot lighter in calories provided you pay attention to your condiments. The type of meat (not to mention the amount used in each taco) will be a lot lower in fat & calories but will still be loaded with flavor. By using traditional fixings such as chopped onion & cilantro, lime wedges, and pico de gallo as opposed to things like cheese & sour cream, you're also cutting back on some very sneaky calories & fat grams. And believe it or not, it'll also help you save money, too! The smallish (for me) batch of pico I made only came out to about $1.75 for the whole thing, and I had enough for 2.5 tacos and plenty of leftovers. Compared to a $3 jar of mayo for some burgers, this is definitely a nice deal and so much better for you. And with just 1-2 lbs of steak and a small packet of corn tortillas (or better yet, make your own), you might just save a bit more money than the burger & dog route. Not to mention the headache of trying to figure out the how-many-buns vs. how-many-hot-dogs-in-a-packet conundrum..... ;)

Grilled Steak Tacos! (serves 3-4 at 2 tacos apiece; total cost per serving: ~$2.10)

1 lb lean flank steak
1/3 c canola oil
2 T apple cider vinegar
Juice of 2 Key limes
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 t paprika
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t ground cumin
2 T sugar (or agave nectar if you have it on hand)
Pinch of salt

6-8 corn tortillas
3/4 c chopped yellow or white onion
1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro
Pico de gallo (optional)
1-2 avocados, diced (optional)

Place all the marinade ingredients into a large bowl and whisk together until completely combine. Add the steak, making sure to coat each side with the marinade, cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for about 2-3 hrs (overnight is great if you have time!).

Prepare the grill by preheating to medium high and brushing the grill with a small amount of oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Remove the steak from the marinade. Grill the steak for just a couple minutes on each side (otherwise it will get too tough) and remove from heat immediately. When the steak has cooled for a couple of minutes, chop into bite sized pieces or strips.

Warm the tortillas on the grill or on a dry skillet or pan. Place about 1/4 - 1/3 cup of grilled steak in each one and add plenty of chopped onion & cilantro. Serve with avocado cubes, pico de gallo and fresh Key lime wedges, and enjoy!

TIP: For the softest, taco-ready tortillas, sprinkle a couple drops of water on each side of the tortilla before warming. The steam will make them super soft and ready for all the meat & fixings!

PGEW Gets a Makeover!

In case you're rubbing your eyes in confusion right now, don't fret! Thine eyes doth not deceive - Poor Girl Eats Well just finally got its makeover! *cue applause* I'd like to thank all of you for being so patient and putting up with my whining & complaining (particularly those of you on Facebook & Twitter; you're all champs!). Creating the new look wasn't as much of an issue as making the darn thing work, but I'm happy & proud that I finally got it to work.

There are some definite changes but I think you should still feel right at home despite the facelift. As you can see, I didn't completely let go of my favorite blue background. How come? A) Once I made the announcement that the look would be changing, a lot of you actually wrote back saying you'd miss the cool background; and B) I love my blue! I think it's part of what makes PGEW unique and I didn't want the changes to be too drastic (I had a very scary white layout going on for awhile...). However, the changes that have been made should make both reading and navigating PGEW a lot easier.
  • All recipes & posts are now on a lighter background, so folks who had issues reading the white print on blue background should now have a much nicer reading experience
  • The new menu bar makes things a lot easier to get around PGEW! Major categories like About PGEW, Recipes, Tips, Reviews, Press, etc., all have their own tab now, making certain posts more accessible. Recipes & Tips are further broken down into sub-categories, which should help cut back on searching for things on the site.
  • You can still search for posts by label, but even that's a little more streamlined as you can now search by ingredient or by post/label type.
  • NEW features include the Basic Recipes & Methods and the Glossary. I created these with the novice cook in mind, in order to help take some of the mystery away from certain terms used on PGEW. I've received a lot of feedback from folks who are either new to cooking or new to a lot of the less common ingredients I use in my recipes, so I figured having these very basic guides on the site would be quite helpful. NOTE: These two features are still works in progress, so stay tuned for more info on each in the next few months!
I hope you all like the new look & features! It's not a huge change but just enough to keep things interesting around here. :) If there are any broken links or other issues, please let me know so I can get them fixed right away. Don't forget to stay tuned for a new recipe based on this weekend's backyard adventures!

Lv,
PG

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