Sunday, November 11, 2012

Recipe: Super Simple Egg White & Veggie Salad

Back in the day when I still had an office job, there were times when there was so much work to do, even things like my lentil tacos took too much time to prepare in our break room. Getting through lengthy audits and dealing with the madness of moving offices made lunchtime degenerate into a sad, sad state of affairs. Sometimes a handful of almonds was considered a lunchtime feast; at others, it was a spoonful of almond butter (I know, I know, that does NOT a meal make!). But most of the time, I just indulged in my perpetual snack of hard boiled eggs.

It should come as no surprise to my regular readers that I have a slight obsession with eggs. I have a slight obsession with a lot of things, like cheese, chocolate, tomatoes, kale, etc., but somehow eggs seem to sneak into a lot of things I make. When I'm too tired from a pain flare up to make a full meal, I fall back on my old standby of scrambled egg whites with salsa for dinner. I don't do so regularly, but on weekends I love to make things like frittatas, bread puddings, custards, and the like, and it's a rare day when you open my fridge and don't find a bowl of perfectly hard boiled eggs ready for snacking.

And why not? They're relatively inexpensive (compared to most foods right now), they're packed with nutrients, and that high protein factor helps keep you fueled and full for several hours. As much as I love nuts, they're not too easy on the budget, so a hard boiled egg is a much better option for me when it comes to snacking or the quickest meal possible.

But eating them straight all the time can get boring. Heck, even my favorite Deviled Egg Sandwich can get old, and I don't often like to go there because the homemade mayo (as tasty as it can be) is so rich and heavy. So how the heck do you enjoy eggs (or, more specifically, their hard boiled whites) without resorting to the same old thing?

You make yourself a fine salad with them, that's how.

It happened like this: There used to be this great little veggie blend that was available in most grocery stores' freezers. They called it the "Fiesta Blend", possibly because it was so darn fun. It had the usual frozen veggie suspects like broccoli, carrots and peppers, but it also had garbanzos, kidney beans, and other legumes that pretty much made it a solid meal on its own.

One day when I was hastily trying to figure out when I was going to fit in eating with everything else I had to do, I quickly checked my "pantry bag" I kept in our break room fridge, and noted all I had left were two hard boiled eggs and about 1/4 bottle of Italian salad dressing. Panicked, I checked the freezer to see if I'd stashed anything there, and sure enough, I had a bag of said Fiesta Blend hanging out behind someone's Hot Pockets. It seemed like an odd combo at first, but I was pressed for time and so hungry I was ready to eat the toaster oven. So I bit the bullet, hacked up my egg whites, tossed them in with the thawed veggies and some salad dressing and took it back to my desk to chow down.
And it wasn't half bad.

It's a protein lover's dream, what with all the beans and eggs, and when you're super busy, you want a meal that will fill you up for awhile, without sitting like a brick in your stomach. All those veggies definitely help pack in a lot of fiber and nutrients (frozen veggies are, contrary to popular belief, oft' times more nutritious than the "fresh" vegetables you'll get in your grocer's produce section, as those can sit on a truck for weeks, while most frozen veggies are picked when ripe and flash frozen). And it's so quick to make, it's not even funny.

I've fallen back on this dish several times throughout the year because of its simplicity, and the fact that it's so filling and nutritious. Sometime in the spring, I realized that the fiesta blend was no longer being sold at Safeway. Or at Save Mart. Or at Raley's or any other store I tried, desperately hunting for the darn bag of goods. But it's not the end of the world. Really, this is best when you use all those odds & ends veggies that you might be tempted to toss, but will hopefully turn into stock instead.

You can use any veggie combo you can imagine in this; whatever suits your tastes and current inventory. You can also do what I did and make your own "fiesta blend" to portion out into different bags or containers that you can freeze later. Because of its flexibility, this salad definitely falls under the whole "ingredient assembly" category vs. an actual recipe, but it works either way. And since this is one of my famous chopped salads, a few ingredients can go a long, long way.

So I dedicate this one to you, my fellow I'm-too-busy-to-think guys and gals, for all those harried, frazzled days when you know you should eat something better than some Fritos but don't really have the time or money to go grab a healthier alternative (and we all know those are few & far between at fast food joints). And at just $0.95 per serving, you can get back to work without worrying about your waistline or your wallet. : )



Super Simple Egg White & Veggie Salad (makes about 3-4 servings; average cost per serving: $0.95)

Not sure what to do what all those egg yolks, but don't want to waste food? You can crumble them over a spinach & bacon salad for extra richness or turn them into extra deviled egg filling the next time you have a party and need to bring an easy appetizer (you know how quickly that filling runs out!). 
And if you don't want to measure out all those vegetables, simply use your favorite frozen veggie blend (thawed, of course), or use scrap veggies from your fridge (so they don't go to waste). 


Ingredients
3-4 large hard boiled eggs
1/3 c broccoli florets
1/3 c  chopped carrots
1/3 c red pepper strips
1/3 c cooked red kidney beans
1/3 c cooked white kidney beans (or garbanzos, which I would have used, but didn't realize were hidden behind some pineapple, lol)
1/3 c sweet corn (drained)
2-3 T Italian dressing or your favorite vinaigrette


Directions
1.  Peel the eggs and set aside the yolks to use in other dishes (see head notes). Chop into 1/2" squares and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine all the veggies. Add the chopped egg whites and dressing, then gently toss everything together. If you have time, set aside in the fridge for about 20 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Otherwise, serve up a nice portion on a bed of greens or on its own, drizzle with extra dressing if you like, and enjoy!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Recipe: Chimichurri Potato & Tomato Salad

Whenever I'm asked where I get my recipe inspirations from, I can honestly say, "Everywhere." I'm not kidding. Not only am I constantly creating things in my head, I'm also highly suggestible and can be easily swayed to try something different just by reading a new article, hearing bits & pieces of a conversation, or glancing at a photo.

The inspiration from this one came from a Facebook session (surprise, surprise; I do most of my social networking there). I was catching up on my news & links of the day, "liking" this photo, snickering at friends' comments. As I scrolled down a bit further on my news feed, I noticed a still from a segment on the Today Show, featuring Chef Eric Ripert and his recipe for a nice flank steak. The caption mentioned something to the effect of "flank steak with chimichurri, potato salad". Sounds tasty enough, right? I love all these components and knew they'd be lovely together, but I can't always afford much steak, so I mentally filed that one away as a To Try Later dish.

But the mind is a funny thing, especially when you're quickly skimming through things on Facebook (because really, we don't always read stuff on there unless it's really caught our attention). Since I was reading so fast, my brain did not immediately register the comma in the "flank steak with chimichurri, potato salad". Instead, I read it as "Flank Steak with Chimichurri Potato Salad", and then I almost fell off my chair.

Chimichurri Potato Salad??? Holy crap, Chef Ripert is a genius!!!

Of course, when I re-read the title I realized my error, but I didn't care - A) I think Chef Ripert is still a genius (and pretty dreamy looking; sorry, couldn't resist) and B) the new recipe bug had bitten me. I had to have chimichurri in a potato salad, and I had to have it now.

Don't get me wrong - I love a good, traditional potato salad as much as the next person (as long as it's my mom's recipe, of course); but why must all potato salads be so blah-looking? And so mayo-laden? Why do we jazz up hot potatoes so much, yet sentence our cold spuds to a dismal fate of too much mayo and not enough wow?

But that's the beauty of cooking; there's always a way to reinvent the familiar and create new traditions. This is something I threw together after my reading-error-slash-intensive-need-for-chimichurri-in-a-salad. As with many of my creations, it started off quite modestly (just potatoes & chimichurri) and evolved into a spectacular entrée salad that I'll be taking full advantage of during this year's tomato season. Not only do the tomatoes add a lovely pop of color to the finished dish, they tie everything together both flavor and texture-wise.

Um, Poor Girl? What the heck is a chimichurri???

Oh, yeah! I should probably explain what it is, considering I sound like an obsessed freak (and it's been about 2 years since I posted a recipe using it).

Chimichurri, for those who are unfamiliar with this amazing condiment, is an Argentinian sauce made from fresh herbs, garlic, vinegar and a little bit of kick from some peppers. It's most commonly used by drizzling it atop grilled meats, but as it's gained popularity stateside, it's being used in many different dishes. Often made using fresh parsley and oregano, some versions include cilantro, which is how I like mine. Adding a few tablespoons of this piquant green sauce to pan-roasted potatoes is every bit as delicious as it seems, and really gives them that wow factor that's sometimes missing when it comes to a salad made of spuds.

Because potatoes love to absorb everything you put on them, I decided to pan-roast mine to give them a bit of a sturdier texture. Most potato salads have dressings that are designed to infuse the potatoes with that particular flavor, but for this one, I wanted to use the chimichurri as an accent, not the central flavor theme. Of course, if you want to do that (or if you're just too tired to take that extra pan-frying step), you're more than welcome to coat those 'taters with as much chimichurri as you like. But I'd give it a try as written first; the flavor of the pan-roasted potatoes mixed with the other salad elements is just lovely.

Not much else to note on this one! This is a wonderful dish for an entree salad, or as a side dish for bigger meals or potluck. While this looks a lot fancier than it costs, it's a fabulous example of how amazing - and affordable - eating real food can be. Keep costs down by using your own home-grown tomatoes and herbs, or grabbing some while they're still in season. You'll have plenty of chimichurri sauce left over to use in another salad or over meats the way it's traditionally used, which further stretches out that food dollar.

Okay, time to stop babbling, as I'm far too distracted by these photos (I'm quite proud of these!). Let's check out that recipe!


Chimichurri Potato & Tomato Salad (makes 4-6 servings; average cost per serving: $1.15)

This salad is excellent served warm or cold. To keep the potatoes from soaking up all that chimichurri if you're serving it warm, drizzle about 1 teaspoon onto the pan-roasted potatoes, toss, then add the chimichurri sauce. The sauce can be stored in the fridge in an airtight glass container for about two weeks.

Ingredients

For the salad
1 lb Yukon gold potatoes
1 lb baby red potatoes
1 T olive oil
Salt & pepper
1 c cherry tomatoes, halved
Chimichurri (recipe to follow)

For the Chimichurri
1 c fresh Italian parsley (packed)
1/2 c fresh cilantro (packed)
2 large garlic cloves
1/2 c olive oil
1/3 c vinegar (red wine is preferable, but cider vinegar also works well)
1/2 t crushed red chile flakes
1/2 t salt
1/4 t ground cumin

Directions
1. Prepare the chimichurri sauce. Finely chop the cilantro, parsley and garlic cloves and set aside in a bowl. Add the crushed chile flakes, salt, cumin, and toss. Add the vinegar and olive oil and mix well. Cover and set aside.

2. Bring a large kettle of salted water to a boil. After washing the potatoes, cut them into 1 1/2" chunks. Cook for about 6-8 minutes, or until just fork-tender, then drain completely.

3. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the potatoes and spread into an even layer so that they cook evenly. Cook until golden brown on one side, toss gently with a spatula or spoon, then brown the other side. Remove from heat and set aside to cool completely.

4. To assemble your salad, combine the potatoes and about 1/4 cup of chimichurri sauce and fold together gently. Add the halved cherry tomatoes and toss again. Garnish with extra chimichurri and herbs, serve as an entree or side, and enjoy!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Recipe: Stuffed Tomatoes with Herbed Chicken & Orzo Salad

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I am very close to my mama. From a very early age I always considered her my best friend (and apparently introduced her as such to everyone I encountered; never did clarify that she was also my mom, lol), and I consider myself truly blessed to have a mom that's not just a mom, but a tremendous friend.

Like most BFFs, there are situations in which we realize we kind of share a brain. Sometimes we'll finish each other's sentences; sometimes we'll both surprise each other with the same present; and yes, sometimes we even crave the same meal. Which is exactly how this awesome little recipe came about.

I love stuffed edible things, something else that's quite evident after a good perusal of ye olde blog. If it's food and can be turned into an edible container, then I'm probably not too far away, figuring out what to stuff into said container. I'm all about efficiency and love a dish that can pretty much serve itself without much help from heavy dishware. But except for the occasional stuffed pepper or squash, I've only done this with breakfast (wait, I lie; there was that one very ancient stuffed tomato appetizer I posted years ago. I'll have to give that one a photo makeover).

Since summer is in full swing and tomatoes of all colors & sizes are popping up everywhere, I thought I'd break out of that rut and stuff a tomato for lunch instead. My original idea was to use some quinoa in there (and I still plan to do so; that recipe's going in the book, though), but when Mom told me she was also craving a stuffed tomato for lunch, she had an entirely different vision from mine. And it sounded really good.

Stubborn mule that I am at times and still deep in New Recipe Developing Mode, I was quite adamant about the quinoa idea. But then Mom suggested I try remembering what it's like to eat something other than quinoa, since it had been a while since I'd posted something with a different grain. As usual, she was right (why are moms always right?!); while it's not a bad thing, I do use quinoa quite frequently, so it's nice to change things up a bit. After doing some mental food math with her stuffed tomato idea and mine, I came up with this lovely idea and its fantastic results.


With its sweet, juicy tomatoes and pile of fresh herbs, this little dish is pure summertime. A nice break from the usual mayo-laden pasta salads that seem to dominate warm weather meals, this little salad gets its flavor from cool herbs like basil and cilantro, and tender chicken. I happened to have some fresh chicken thighs I needed to use, so I cooked those especially for this orzo salad. However, this is really meant to be one of those Use Your Leftovers meals, so if you have leftover cooked chicken from the night before, be sure to use that in this recipe, rather than cooking up a whole new batch of chicken.

I've gotten into the habit of whisking together vinaigrettes to go with whatever salad I'm making, and I've included a super basic one in this recipe. But again, this is a leftovers dish, so if you're putting this together on a weeknight after a crazy day and don't want to deal with making your own, feel free to use your favorite bottled vinaigrette. My favorite bottled dressing is Wishbone Italian, and I have no problem giving this lunch an extra drizzle of that for added zip! Since this is a tangy vs. creamy salad, I wouldn't recommend using ranch or blue cheese dressings, but if that's all you have on hand, use it. It definitely won't detract from the flavor.

Last thing to note: unless you have absolutely zero choice but to buy regular grocery store tomatoes, please don't. At least not until the summer winds down and tomato season wraps up. This is prime tomato harvesting time and tomato fans should take advantage of any and all tomatoes they can get from the farmers' market, CSA boxes, or their own backyards. Since they're in season right now, many varieties are running about $1.50 to $2.00 per pound at farmers' markets, and you can score some phenomenal deals if you shop wisely.

Remember, buying produce in season not only gives you the best flavor & quality, it also saves you money by cutting out all those extra costs associated with storing or transporting produce that isn't quite ready to consume. Of course, come wintertime that gets a little more challenging, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, enjoy this awesome little taste of summer. : )



Stuffed Tomatoes with Herbed Chicken & Orzo Salad (makes 3-4 servings; average cost per serving: $1.85)

Depending on the size of your tomatoes, you may have a lot of the orzo salad left over. Don't fret, though! You can always use it in a different meal, or save it for more tomato stuffing. Speaking of tomatoes, when you're done hollowing them, don't throw away the tomato flesh and juice! Mix them into a salsa or use it as the base for gazpacho or pasta sauce and you're good to go with zero wasted food!

Ingredients
3-4 medium to large tomatoes (Beefsteak, heirloom, Shady Lady, etc. all work)
1 c cooked orzo
1 c cooked chicken, cut into bite-size cubes
1/4 c finely chopped herbs of your choice (any combo of parsley, cilantro, basil, chives will be lovely)
1/4 c finely chopped scallions
1/2 c vinaigrette (recipe to follow) or bottled vinaigrette dressing of your choice
Simple Vinaigrette
1/4 c olive oil
1/3 c white wine vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt & pepper to taste

Directions
1. If you're making the vinaigrette, whisk together the last four ingredients in a bowl until mixed thoroughly. Set aside.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the orzo, cubed chicken, chopped herbs & scallions and mix well. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for about 10-15 minutes, to allow the flavors to meld together.
3. In the meantime, slice off the top of each tomato (about 1"-1.5" should suffice). Using a spoon, carefully scoop out the flesh, seed pockets and juice, making sure not to break the sides of the tomato. (If the tomato innards are being uncooperative, feel free to use a knife to help you loosen it out. Just be careful not to cut through the sides.) Spoon generous amounts of the chicken & orzo salad into each tomato, top with extra chopped cilantro or basil, and enjoy!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Recipe: Asian Noodle & Veggie Salad with Soy Vinaigrette

Back in the day when I used to work at a regular 9-5 jobs in offices filled with cubes of modular furniture, lunchtime was a big deal. It marked that special moment when you can say your workday is almost half done; it gave folks a chance to escape the stale, recycled office air and catch some sun; and, of course, it was a chance to go fill one's tum.

Here in Sacramento, one of the 9-5ers' favorite haunts is a popular deli chain called La Bou. Specializing in tasty baked goods, sandwiches and fresh salads, it offers standard California lunchtime fare with subtle Asian twists and is definitely an area staple. There were many days in my past when I'd stop by to enjoy one of their breakfast sandwiches, or their ever-so-tasty Chinese chicken salad. But even when I did have enough money to spend on dining out, I always felt there was one problem with the place: the price of the food. I never have felt like the items offered should be done at such high prices, so after awhile, La Bou became more of an once-in-a-blue-moon treat than a daily ritual.

Except for the croissants and other baked goods outside my pastry-making expertise, there isn't much on their menu that I can't recreate at home, so every once in awhile when I have a craving, I'll throw something together that's La Bou-esque and call it a day (not that hard to do with simple paninis, etc.). But there's one particular salad I've been meaning to try for a while, and with another weekend of soaring temperatures looming, I figured now was the right time to give it a go.

There's not much to it, really, and that's why I like it. Just lots of chewy noodles filled with tangy soy vinaigrette flavor and plenty of crisp, colorful veggies. You can use any Asian-style noodle you like, from lo mein (which is what I used) to good ol' soba noodles (udon noodles are awesome but due to their larger size, may require more marinade, so I'd try to stay away from these until more tweaking is done). Type of veggies used is also totally up to you, but the more colorful & crispy, the better. The usual assortment is made up of peppers, broccoli and bean sprouts, but this would also be awesome with edamame, carrots, mushrooms, and a whole slew of other veggies. The sky's the limit!

The beauty of this recipe is that it's ridiculously easy to prepare and yields so much, it lends itself beautifully as a leftovers-for-lunch-or-dinner generator. For around $6 for the whole recipe (as written; the price will obviously go up the more veggies you use), you can make enough of this salad to make a nice lunch or dinner for two, and still have more than enough for lunch the next day (again for two). Noodles are just awesome like that, which is why having them and other bare bones staples on hand is great for extremely lean times.

Compare that to the $5 you'll spend for a small lunch serving alone when you're actually at a deli that serves stuff like this, and you can see why it's so much more cost effective (and tasty) to make your own at home and brown bag it to work.

Feel like your plate's a little naked sans protein? No problem? This salad is perfect for pairing with your favorite proteins, from chicken or fish, to tofu or seitan. Add one of these to your salad and voila! Instant balanced meal. Have fun with this one, folks!


Asian Noodle & Veggie Salad with Soy Vinaigrette (makes 4 servings; average cost per serving: $1.50)

If fresh veggies like broccoli florets are a little too crispy or hard on your teeth, feel free to give them a little blanch first. Bring 4-6 cups of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the broccoli and let it cook for 45-60 seconds, until it turns bright green and is still crunchy & firm, but yields easily to a fork's tines. Immediately transfer the broccoli to a bowl of water with ice (to stop the cooking process). Drain and set aside to use in the salad. Done! : )


Ingredients
1/3 c canola oil
1/2 c low sodium soy sauce
1/2 c rice vinegar
1 T brown sugar
1/2 t ground ginger
1/2 t granulated garlic
1 10 oz package Asian style noodles (lo mein, chow mein, soba, etc.)
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1" strips
1 c broccoli florets
1 c bean sprouts
1/2 c chopped cilantro
1/2 c chopped scallions
3/4 c chopped peanuts or cashews (optional)


Directions
1. Prepare the dressing by combining the first 6 ingredients in a bowl and whisking together vigorously until smooth. Cover and set aside.
2. Cook the noodles according to package instructions. Drain and rinse under cold running water until the noodles are at room temperature or cool. Drain them very well a second time and place in a bowl. Pour about 2/3 of the dressing over the noodles and toss together until completely coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
3. Remove the noodles from the fridge and add the broccoli, pepper strips, bean sprouts and any other veggies you may be using. Add the rest of the dressing and toss everything together until well-coated.
4. Serve generous portions of salad in bowls or on salad plates. Top with chopped scallions & cilantro, add a healthy sprinkle of chopped nuts, and enjoy!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Recipe: Blueberry Cream Cheese Pie with Shortbread Cookie Crust

You may recall that last year Facebook foodies were all abuzz about the Pie Party hosted by Shauna of Gluten Free Girl and Garrett of Vanilla Garlic. This was the party that forced me to venture out of my savory cooking comfort zone and finally tackle seemingly frightening things like crust. Well, they're at it again this year, bringing along new friends and inviting everyone and anyone that will play. The rules are simple: Make pie, take picture, post. Easy as... well... pie.

I didn't always think pie was easy to tackle. A nice slice of it on a plate, perhaps accompanied with a giant scoop of ice cream - that's easy enough to handle. It was the pie crust making, with all its little nuances of cold butter here and ice water there; that scared me. It was just way too precise.

I got over it, though, and while I still prefer the easy magic of savory cooking, it did help remove some of that unnecessary anxiety that surrounded my baking things other than muffins. Last year I made wee peach pies for my first official pie-making attempt, and they were a huge success. This year I felt a little more confident, so I decided to try something a little different.

Anytime I'm faced with making pie, I get all sorts of quaint, Norman Rockwell-esque ideas and this time was no different. I had originally set out to make a simple fresh cherry & berry pie with all the cherries my favorite vendors have been throwing at me lately, but then summer arrived. About a week early. With a vengeance! For the past couple years we've had some really mild summers, but this year the traditional triple-digit Sacramento summer came back in full force, and let's just say that 104° weather + upstairs apartment + subpar windows that let in all the heat ≠ an ideal pie-making scenario.

Not wanting to torture myself with more heat from my oven, I had to come up with a new plan. And that plan included the least amount of baking time possible, while still keeping with making my own crust from scratch (not a requirement for the Pie Party, but A) it's better than store bought, and B) I also wasn't about to go buy crust when I could just make it. 'Tis the PGEW way.).

Because my schedule nowadays is all over the place, large chunks of free time are few & far between, so I decided to save making regular pie crust for another day. Playing some mental food math in my head, I figured it would be nice to incorporate a more shortbread cookie-esque crust to go with my berries (narrowed down to blueberries & blackberries, since I had other plans for my strawberries). But that seemed like it could be too dull on its own, so I decided to add an easy but delicious cream cheese filling, on top of which I could spoon all those sweet, luscious berries.

Yo, Poor Girl: Blueberries and blackberries are NOT cheap! Why is this on your blog?

For one, I love pie, and I don't celebrate it nearly enough, so if there's an unofficial holiday for it then I darnit, I'm making pie. But I also chose this to showcase the beauty - and affordability - of eating seasonally. It should come as no surprise to anyone that fruits & vegetables that are enjoyed in season are far more delicious than those that were picked eons ago and left to "ripen" in some warehouse. With that awesome quality comes the added bonus of lower prices. Because there's no need to incur storage or transportation costs for produce that is not in season, there's no need to pass on all those extra costs to you, the paying customer.

Granted, there are many places where certain fruits & vegetables aren't available, or if they are, it's only for a very small window of time. And there are places where even seasonal produce can cost a lot, just depending on where one is located. So believe me when I say I understand if you can't trot on down to your local farmers' market like I do, grab a bunch of cheap & sexy (oh, that sounded bad) produce and go about your merry way. But eating seasonally is good to keep in mind, regardless of how limited your store selection is. Even at major chain grocery stores, you will notice a difference in both quality and price when it comes to certain items.

So what if your boyfriend loves blueberries and you want to make this for his birthday, but he has the nerve to celebrate his entrance into this world in December, when there are just no blueberries left? No problem. These things happen. You can get around this in one of two ways: try to stock up on summertime berries and freeze them so you'll be able to use them throughout the year (the best way to solve your dilemma), or B) buy frozen berries (not as awesome, but they'll get the job done).

Again, eating seasonally is best, but I personally don't feel the need to deny myself something like blueberry pie just because it's wintertime (watch me get slammed for that one; but really, it's not the end of the world to eat something out of season. Unless it's a fresh tomato. Those things are sacred.). Don't stress; this is pie and it's supposed to be fun.

And hey, guess what? You're still allowed to have fun even if you're broke. Just do so in moderation (as most things should be done). This isn't an everyday thing, and you're certainly not going to sit down and eat this entire thing in one sitting. Just save this sort of thing for a special occasion or for when you already have most (if not all) of the ingredients on hand. Running out and buying stuff for a recipe, especially when you're having a rough time financially, is not necessary. If you're really set on making a certain recipe, try to see where you can make substitutions with ingredients you already have on hand. This way, you won't be spending too much extra just for one dish.

Speaking of costs, not sure you can afford to make this entire pie? Most of the time, I can't either! But again, this is not an "everyday" recipe and we can still solve this problem a couple different ways. You can cut the recipe in half and use smaller pie dishes to make something a little more user & pocket friendly, or you could make mini pies in muffin tins. Either way, you can really stretch out your ingredients so you can make the best use of them. If all else fails, ditch the crust and make dessert shots! The cream cheese and blueberry fillings make a super simple parfait that you can use in shot glasses or small juice glasses, and make a lovely summertime treat.

Okay, no more babbling. It's time for PIE!!!


Blueberry-Cream Cheese Pie with Shortbread Crust (makes 10-12 servings; total cost per serving $1.25)

I wrote this recipe according to the 9" pie I made for the Pie Party, but please feel free to adjust it to fit your needs. If you have smaller pie pans, you can divvy up the crust & fillings among those. You can also cut the recipe in half and make one smaller pie and a few dessert shots. Because each element of the pie stands on its own quite well, it's easy to adjust the amounts you use for your finished product according to your budgetary and equipment needs.

Ingredients

For the crust
1/2 c (1 stick) of butter
1/4 c sugar
1 c flour
1/8 t baking powder

For the cream cheese filling
1 eight oz. package of cream cheese, softened (light or Neufchatel also work beautifully and have fewer calories)
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1/3 c freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the blueberry topping
3 c fresh blueberries (frozen is also fine)
1/2 c sugar
3 T lemon juice
2 T cornstarch

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a small bowl, mix together the flour & baking powder. In a separate, larger bowl, cream the butter & sugar until light & fluffy. Add the flour a couple tablespoons at a time, and mix until thoroughly incorporated, taking care not to overwork the dough. Carefully press the dough into a 9" pie plate or pan (this will take some effort as this isn't a "rolling" kind of dough; just be patient and make sure all sides are covered evenly). Poke a few shallow holes at the bottom of the crust with a fork, then place in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the edges are a light golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside to cool on a rack.

2.Prepare the cream cheese filling by whipping the cream cheese with an electric mixer until light & fluffy. Add the condensed milk and mix until silky smooth, about 2 minutes (on a medium speed setting). Finally, add the lemon juice. Mix for another 20-30 seconds, until the mixture starts to gel a bit.

3. Prepare the blueberry filling: Combine the cornstarch & lemon juice in a small bowl and mix well to create a quick slurry. In a medium saucepan, combine the berries, sugar and cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes, until the berries start to release their juices and break down slightly. Add the lemon juice-cornstarch slurry and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for another minute or so, until the berry mixture starts to thicken. Remove from heat and set aside in a bowl to cool completely.

4. By this time, your crust should be cool enough to start assembling your pie. Pour the cream cheese filling into the pie crust. Tap the dish a couple times to make sure the mixture settles evenly and smooth the top with a spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

5. Remove pie from fridge and carefully spoon the cooled berry mixture onto the pie. Using a spatula, gently distribute the berry mixture over the pie, taking care not to squish the berries into the cream cheese filling (we're making layers here). Cover and refrigerate for another 30-60 minutes, or until ready to serve. Garnish with extra fresh blueberries, and enjoy!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Recipe: Double Mushroom Burger




Despite all my kale-lovin', quinoa-eatin' ways, there are days when nothing sounds better to me than a good, juicy burger. That craving has been coming up more often as of late, possibly because barbecue season is now officially under way and the smell of burgers on the grill wafts by fairly regularly around Midtown. And possibly because I've been busy racking my brain to come up with an outstanding burger recipe for my book (Rodney, a fantastic foodie friend and awesome Kickstarter backer, is one of the lucky 25 that gets to choose a new recipe for me to develop. Since he pens the Burger Junkies blog, naturally he chose a burger. : ) ).

But I definitely have burgers on the brain because of Father's Day, and I know one of my daddy's (and most dads') favorite things on the planet is enjoying a good, juicy burger.

Because my dad lives out of the country, I don't get to spoil him with fantastic meals for Father's Day or his birthday the way I wish I could. Hopefully I'll be able to do so soon, because I haven't seen him in about seven years and I not only miss him so much it hurts, I kinda want to show him what his little girl can do now. Growing up, he was always the parent I was allowed to watch in the kitchen, but never help out (and I turned out the same way, lol), so I'm sure he'd be thrilled to try some of my dishes.

Alas, I only have the phone and the interwebs to help me spoil my main man, so I dedicate this burger recipe to him.

I'm a huge fan of mushrooms on my burgers, so I knew they'd be featured heavily in this latest dish. But I didn't want just another burger topped with mushrooms; everyone has those so they're not all that hard to find. I wanted my burger to have mushrooms in it, and so into the burger they went. For more reasons than just a simple craving.
The mushroom's meaty texture and rich, umami flavor make it a natural pairing with beef. Combining mushrooms with the ground beef used for your burgers not only amps up those delicious qualities, it cuts down on the fat of each individual burger, and helps to yield more finished product. And since mushrooms cost less than meat, you can really stretch out that meal without spending too much extra.

There are a lot of mushroom-stuffed burger recipes that seem pretty awesome, but my goal was to have the mushrooms become part of the actual burger. What I did for my recipe was to add finely chopped mushrooms into the ground beef and seasoning mixture, much in the same way I did for my Garbanzo & Mushroom Burgers. The trick is to make sure that your mushrooms are very finely and evenly chopped - one stray chunk larger than the others can make your patty prone to breaking apart.

I kept the seasonings fairly simple in this one, since the whole point is to let the burger - and all those magnificent mushrooms - shine. Granted, I've been using the amazing, quality meat offered by Lucky Dog Ranch (it's my monthly $5 splurge, lol), so a lot of seasoning isn't needed anyway. Naturally, the sauteed mushrooms that top this little piece of umami heaven add even more flavor to the finished product, which is another reason not to go overboard with seasoning the meat.  As much as I love a ton of different seasonings in certain dishes, when it comes to burgers, I'm kind of a purist.


While this one falls under the PGEW Splurges category, it's definitely more cost effective than getting a similar burger at a restaurant or fast food chain. You also know exactly what's going into your burger, which is important to know, especially in this day & age. Depending on how large or small you form your patties, you can make up to six burgers with this recipe. Granted, that leaves you with two extra burger buns in the package, but you can always save those for another kind of sandwich. Lastly, when it comes to toppings & condiments, feel free to use what you normally would. I like a lot of produce on my burgers (can ya tell?), but having this with a simple garlic aioli spread on the bun is also quite delicious.

Oh, how I wish I could be with my daddy to make him a low-carb version of this! Alas, I will just have to enjoy one in his honor (which I know he will give me hell for once I describe this to him in a few minutes. "That's not fair, hija," he's going to say, lol). But this burger's great for anytime of year, so when you're having a craving and don't feel like forking out too much for a restaurant burger, you can give this one a shot. I think it's worth it. :)

Double Mushroom Burger (makes 4-6 servings; total cost per serving: $3.05)

Not sure you'll need all those burgers? Split the meat & mushroom mixture in half and make meatballs with the second half. Then use them in pasta or a sub sandwich, and voila! Totally different meal from one recipe. 


Also, regarding cooking method, I cooked mine in a skillet on the stovetop, but I know a lot of you like to grill. I am not good at grilling (yet), so I won't give you tips until I feel more confident in that area. Instead, check out the grill master himself, Bobby Flay, and his Perfect Burger recipe  for tips on how to cook the perfect burger on any cooking surface. It worked for me!


Ingredients
1 lb ground beef
1 8 oz package of mushrooms
1/4 c + 1 T finely chopped red onion
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 T soy sauce
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 T light cooking oil (canola, etc.)
4-6 slices of cheese (optional)
Burger buns
Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mayo, and other fixings
Directions
1. Take about 2/3 of the mushrooms from the package and slice into 1/4"-1/2" thick slices. Set aside. Take the remaining mushrooms and chop very finely (pieces should only be about 1/4" in size). Place in a separate bowl and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, garlic, 1/4 cup of red onion, the chopped mushrooms, soy sauce, and salt & pepper. Mix everything together until the mushrooms, garlic and onion are evenly distributed throughout. (At this point it may look like way too many mushrooms, but that's the goal.)
3. Divide the meat into 4-6 equal portions, depending on how large you like your burgers. Carefully shape each one into a 1/2"-3/4" thick patty, taking care not to overwork the meat. Heat the oil in the skillet over high heat until iridescent. Carefully place the burgers in the pan and cook for about 3 minutes, until golden brown on the bottom. Flip and continue cooking for another 3-4 minutes, until they're nice & golden brown (and slightly charred... Bobby's right about that part! Tastes so good!). Top with cheese if you're using it, allow the cheese to melt by covering the pan with a lid for just a couple minutes, and remove from pan.
4. In a small saute pan, heat about 1/2 tablespoon of oil. Add the onions and saute for about 30 seconds, until they start to turn translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender, about 3 minutes or so, making sure to add a pinch of salt at the end. Remove from heat and set aside.
5. Assemble your burgers by adding your favorite condiments to the buns. Place the burgers on the bottom bun, top with plenty of sauteed mushrooms, and keep adding your tower of toppings. Serve with chips or a salad, grab plenty of napkins, and enjoy!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Recipe: Caribbean Jerk Chicken & Mango Stuffed Avocados

Since the death of my tiny TV (the one that actually did something other than serve as a monitor for my DVDs, even if it only picked up one channel), I've been a little out of the loop weather-wise, so I'm not quite sure how the rest of the country is faring right now. Here in sunny California, however, it's been... well, sunny! Sunny and warm and beautiful and everything California ought to be. And when things are this lovely, I can't help wanting to celebrate with something equally lovely & delicious.

This was one of those accidental dinners that happened the other night, and I must say this one's probably going to be in regular rotation this summer (depending on avocado prices, of course). As always, it started because yours truly had a craving and would not rest until that craving was satisfied. I'm currently obsessed with Caribbean spices and flavors, so I've been playing around with jerk chicken lately, trying spice mixes others have created, or making my own to suit my personal tastes.

I finally nailed down a jerk spice concoction that I'm pretty pleased with (meaning it tastes good and doesn't cost a fortune to put together), so I had some chicken thighs taking a spa day in a bowl of some, just waiting to be thrown into some random recipe. My original intent was to have a burrito or some tacos with the chicken and a fruit salsa or something. Then I decided I'd already eaten enough carbs for one day, so I switched to a salad idea, which quickly turned into, "Hmmm, maybe I'll just do lettuce wraps instead."

Until I remembered the avocados.

I was in Davis for a work meeting recently, and since we'd arrived early and our meeting was in the same area as one of their Nugget markets, I decided to kill some time by wandering through the store. I chose a good day to do so, because they had avocados on sale for a ridiculous $0.88/each (!!!), and a few of those little guys ended up coming home with me. I dug into a couple over Cinco de Mayo, but I'd kinda forgotten about the rest until one fell out of Big Bowl and StuKitty started chasing after it (kids these days...). It was clearly a sign that these A) needed to be used immediately, and B) needed to be stuffed with jerk chicken. And some other tasty stuff.

Now, this recipe can be kind of tricky price-wise if you're not careful, so I highly suggest taking advantages of summer sales on things like avocados and mangoes to keep costs low. Even still, it's on the PGEW Splurges side of the price spectrum, so make sure to pay attention to those price tags at the store. I know not every store has crazy $0.88/each deals, but many will have great sale prices on avocados from time to time, especially in the summer. Same thing goes for the mangoes, so if you can find some 10 for $10 deals, stock up on those. Bonus Savings Tip: for the lowest prices and (most of the time) best quality on things like avocados and mangoes, head to your nearest Latin/Hispanic food market; you won't be sorry!

Lastly, if you don't want to go through the trouble of cooking chicken specifically for this recipe, by all means, don't! You can make this with regular leftover chicken and it'll still taste fine. But if you do have the time, try it with the jerk-spiced chicken - it definitely takes it to a whole new level. Not a meat-eater? Substitute seitan for that meaty quality, or just throw some quinoa into the mix with the mangoes & peppers, and you're good to go.

This is a lovely summertime meal that can be thrown together in minutes, and goes perfectly with a nice salad and perhaps a glass of Riesling. Yeah.... summer's definitely around the corner if I'm already starting to imagine white wine pairings with my food! So, enough of my daydreaming; let's check out the recipe!


Caribbean Jerk Chicken & Mango Stuffed Avocados (makes 2 servings; total cost per serving: $3.75)

Ingredients
1/3 c cider vinegar
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 T dark brown sugar
1 T low-sodium soy sauce
1 t dried thyme
1 t ground allspice
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground nutmeg
1 t ground ginger
2 t sea salt
1 t cayenne pepper
1 t black pepper
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1-2 t cooking oil

3/4 c chopped mango (fresh is preferable, but frozen is just fine)
1/2 c chopped red bell pepper
2 T lime juice
1 t honey
Salt & pepper

2 large avocados
Lime slices (optional for garnish)

Directions
1. Whisk together the first 12 ingredients until completely smooth. Place the chicken thighs in a separate bowl and pour enough jerk seasoning to cover it completely (this way if you have leftover seasoning, you can still use it for a different dish or as a sauce). Marinate for at least an hour, preferably overnight.

2. When ready to cook, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add the chicken and cook for about 7 minutes, until cooked through and no longer pink inside. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

3. In the meantime, combine the chopped mango and peppers in a medium bowl. Whisk together the lime juice, honey and salt & pepper in a separate bowl, then pour over the mangoes & peppers. Chop the chicken into bite sized pieces, add to the mango-pepper mixture, and toss together until combined.

4. Slice each avocado in half and remove the pit. Squeeze a few drops of extra lime juice on each avocado half to prevent discoloration. Spoon generous amounts of the chicken & mango mixture into each avocado (it's okay if they overflow a bit past the hole left by the pit) and garnish with a slice of lime. Serve with a nice salad and enjoy!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Recipe: Apple, Kale & Cheddar Melt with Red Onion Marmalade

As a responsible food blogger, it is only right that I close out the month of April with a grilled cheese sandwich. April is/was National Grilled Cheese Month, and it's been a mouthwatering delight to see all the amazing melted cheese concoctions food bloggers & chefs have created.

It's funny: I am a huge fan of grilled cheese sandwiches; however, I've only posted a couple here on PGEW. I'm not sure why... it's not like I'm trying to hide anything from you. I just can't imagine why I haven't posted more than this and this, considering my love for all things grilled cheesy, so today, I'm going to fix that.

I've sort of constructed this sandwich over the years, adding some things, removing others, but always keeping the apple & cheddar element intact. Sharp cheddar and crisp Granny Smith apples are always such a good combo in my world, and I've often enjoyed them in quesadilla form as well. The addition of regular ol' caramelized onions came pretty quickly, as the flavor combo just makes sense to me.

But the more I sat down to indulge in this sandwich, the more I felt like something was missing. Something green, aside from the green skin of the apples. While spinach makes regular appearances in my grilled cheeses, I wasn't too keen on that idea for this particular sandwich, so I tried some heartier, sturdier kale, and have enjoyed them this way ever since.

Like last night, for example.

Well, not really. At first I wasn't feeling the way the kale worked with the other flavors in the sandwich, particularly with the caramelized onions. It felt like there was too much sweet-upon-sweet and not enough contrasting tang. But I really, really, really wanted kale in my sandwich, if only to pretty it up with some extra color (and to make me feel less guilty about all that cheese). After a couple more tweaks, I decided to keep the kale as the very last thing to add to the sandwich, lest it become too wilted, and switch from regular ol' caramelized onions to lovely red onion marmalade.

And suddenly, all was right in my sandwich world.

With the kale hovering deliciously between tender and slightly chewy, and with the extra tang & zip provided by the onion marmalade, the whole sandwich worked much more beautifully. It also took on a more "gourmet" quality once that marmalade was thrown in there, which wasn't the intent but still very much appreciated.

Based loosely on an onion marmalade recipe some friends & I cooked at a canning party a couple years ago, I kept this one a little simpler and just used some fresh rosemary to enhance the flavor of the finished product. It starts off as a nice batch of caramelized onions, but with the aid of some balsamic vinegar and a little longer cooking time, it transforms into a lovely, slightly tangy marmalade that can be used on almost any savory dish.

I hope you enjoy this sandwich as much as I do! If you're not into kale, feel free to omit it from the recipe, or serve it up in a different way, like in one of these salads. Otherwise, I highly suggest sticking to this recipe when it comes to using sharp cheddar, tart Granny Smith apples, and getting that marmalade just right, so that the flavors all come together perfectly. Let's check out the recipe!


Apple, Kale & Cheddar Melt with Red Onion-Rosemary Marmalade (makes 1 sandwich; total cost per sandwich: $2.75)

Ingredients

For the Red Onion Marmalade
2 large red onions, thinly sliced
2 T olive oil
1/2 t salt
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c balsamic vinegar
1 t fresh rosemary leaves (dried is fine, too)

For the sandwich
2 slices of bread (French, sourdough, Italian, etc.)
1/2 T butter
2-3 slices of sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced
1 medium kale leaf, torn in half
1-2 T Red Onion Marmalade

Directions
1. Prepare the red onion marmalade. In a deep skillet, heat the olive oil over medium low heat. Add the onions & salt, and cook for about 15 minutes, until softened, translucent, and beginning to caramelize. Add the sugar and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Increase heat to medium, add the balsamic vinegar & rosemary, and bring to a simmer. Cook until the onions have completely caramelized and tender, stirring constantly. (Note: if you need to, reduce the flame just a little during cooking, to ensure the onions don't burn.) Remove from heat and set aside.*

2. Now for the easy part! Preheat a pan or griddle over medium heat. Butter one side of each slice of bread, and add the cheese, apple slices and onion marmalade to the unbuttered sides. Place on the griddle and cook for about 2 minutes or so, then add the kale. Put both halves together and grill for another 1-2 minutes on each side, until the golden brown on the outside and warm, gooey and melty on the inside.

3. Serve on its own or with a nice salad (a kale one, for good measure!), and enjoy!

* The red onion marmalade can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for 2-3 weeks. That is, if it lasts that long!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Recipe: Crispy Baked Tofu Fries with Sriracha Ketchup

I'm sorry about the radio silence this week, folks. Truth is, I've been (and still am) in major survival mode, and it's taking every ounce of energy not to go crazy. Between looking for ways to make ends meet while I find another job, and having to come to terms with the fact that my neuropathy is essentially a disability that has and will continue to make this job hunt difficult, the first two months of this year have not yet treated me kindly. Regardless, I'm doing everything I can to make sure that neither I nor this blog end up totally on our back ends. It's hard, but I'm determined to get through this, no matter how difficult it may be.

Survival mode is never fun. It includes icky things like putting off awesome projects to apply for SNAP again, scrambling to sell the few things I'd replaced when I was employed in order to pay for gas & electricity, and hoping like hell that a miracle will happen so I can pay my rent this month. The rent, the rent, the rent! I swear, the minute I come into a financial situation when that most evil of four-letter words does not automatically open up a giant pit of anxiety & despair in my stomach, I'm throwing a party and you are ALL invited! ALL of you!

Bummer mode aside (because there was enough of that in 2010 and I just don't want to drag you guys down with me, since we usually have so much fun), the good news is that when I'm not laid up with a serious flare-up, I've been spending more time developing new recipes for the book (woo hoo!!!). I've also scored some great opportunities for more freelance food writing projects, which has me beyond giddy with excitement. Truthfully, if I didn't have to worry about the rent, this would be the happiest time of my life. Cooking and writing and photographing all the livelong day? That's pretty much my dream come true!

These super lean times have also rekindled my love affair with bare bones staples. As I mentioned in the last few recipes, I love working on bare bones recipes not only because they're so cheap, but because I'm practically forced to put on my thinking cap to get more creative than usual. And when I can create a special treat for myself that is delicious and aesthetically pleasing, I can sit back, relax, and temporarily forget my troubles. That's part of why Poor Girl insists on eating so well: a good meal can be the one bright spot in one's day, and that's worth every ounce of effort I put into it.

Tofu fries are not new. Many vegetarians have been doing interesting things with tofu for years, and this is one of the results. But as an omnivore, it's good for me to look at tofu in a different way - basically, like a bare bones staple that can be worked into all sorts of recipes. Like most folks, I tend to play it safe with tofu, using it mainly in soups & stir fry recipes. But since I'm such a fan of the parmesan-crusted tofu I serve alongside my garlic soba noodles, I figured it'd be fun to try an even crispier version, preferably with an interesting dip to go alongside it.

Enter Sriracha sauce.

Loved by many and the object of many internet comics and memes, this fiery chili sauce is the ingredient du jour right now. Everyone loves Sriracha! And how could we not? It's tangy, it's spicy, it wakes up your senses and clears out your sinuses in one fell swoop, adding color and fire to almost any savory dish you can find.

And it makes an excellent addition to plain ol' ketchup.

Again, I'm sure it's been done before, for there are many Sriracha experimenters out there. But I only discovered this for myself quite by accident the other day, when I blindly pulled out a bottle of something reddish to go with my scrambled eggs, only to have the top of my head blown off by the fiery of dollop of red sauce I'd just licked off my finger (this is why you should not assemble dinner for yourself when you're on a long distance call). Crap.... that was supposed to be ketchup!!!

Not being one to waste anything, I quickly went into rescue mode, adding a dollop of quiet, mild-mannered ketchup to the small puddle of flames sitting next to my eggs, swirling it around until it was perfectly blended. One quick taste and I was SOLD! This is pretty much the condiment of the gods, and now I want to eat it with everything.

I realize there are homemade sriracha and homemade ketchup recipes out there and that I could probably tackle them with aplomb (in fact, I already have with the latter! There's your first sneak peek at what'll be in the book, lol. ). But for this recipe, which is something that should be easy and fun, I just stick with the pros: Sriracha & Heinz. It took me a while to find the right Sriracha-to-ketchup ratio for me, and you may find that you prefer a different ratio, which is totally okay. Feel free to make this as mild or as spicy as your little heart desires! But you might want to reserve a special container for it: it's so good, you probably won't want to waste the 2 seconds it takes to mix it together before you dig in. At least, I don't!



Crispy Baked Tofu Fries with Sriracha Ketchup (makes 2-3 servings; total cost per serving: $1.25)

To ensure you have the crispiest fries possible, be sure to blot out as much moisture from the tofu as you possibly can. Too much moisture = soggy fries, and we don't want that!

Ingredients
1 8 oz. block of extra firm tofu
1 c panko crumbs
1/4 t sea salt
1/4 t granulated garlic
1/8 t ground cayenne pepper (optional, for your super spicy food lovers)
1 egg, lightly beaten

For the Sriracha Ketchup
1/2 c ketchup
2 T Sriracha sauce (give or take a few drops)

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Prepare the Sriracha ketchup by mixing the ingredients together until completely combined. Check for flavoring and adjust according to taste. Set aside.

2. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper or cooking spray and set aside. Cut the tofu into "fries" of about 1/2" thick (unless you want them thicker, which is just fine). Carefully wrap the tofu fries in a couple of paper towels, then set a plate, pan or cutting board on top to weigh them down. Allow the tofu to sit like that for about 10-15 minutes, until most of the moisture is absorbed into the paper towels. Unwrap and set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, mix the panko crumbs, salt and garlic until well combined. Set up your "assembly line" with the egg mixture at the beginning, followed by the panko mixture. Dip the tofu sticks in the egg mixture then transfer to the panko crumbs, coating the fries on all sides until completely covered. Place on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the tofu.

4. Bake the fries for about 10 minutes on each side, until golden brown and crispy. Allow to cool for a few minutes before handling. Serve with sriracha ketchup and enjoy!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Recipe: Herbed Quinoa Risotto with Butternut Squash & Sweet Peas

There were a couple other things I wanted to post before the first recipe of 2012, but I made this last night and was so happy with the way it turned out that I just had to share it with you first. And since it continues the unofficial PGEW tradition of starting off each new year with a quinoa recipe, this works out perfectly.

While we've had an incredibly dry winter thus far (and I'm the only person in California who's happy about that; only because I don't have a car and hate walking in the rain), it's definitely been a cold winter. And like most people, when that cold weather hits, I crave heartier, creamier, more comforting food. The problem with that, however, is that most comfort food involves heavier, richer, less good-for-you ingredients in its preparation. A difficult dilemma, indeed.

Fortunately, there are ways around this problem. From pasta casseroles to traditional party food, I've found my own ways to keep the "comfort" part of comfort food, without sacrificing flavor or nutrition. That's why risotto is such a wonderful option. While there are some recipes out there that are a bit heavy on the cheese, the beauty of risotto is that it gets its rich creaminess from the natural starches of the rice - not from heavy creams or sauces.

Quinoa offers similar results, with the added bonus of getting a healthy dose of protein in every bite. It's a great option for vegetarians & vegans, or for omnivores like me who participate in Meatless Mondays. My first foray into risotto-making was actually with the fair mother grain (come to think of it, I have yet to make a proper risotto using rice; I need to fix that), and it was everything I'd hoped it would be. Creamy but not mushy, and full of flavor and texture, with that fun little "pop" that only quinoa can give to a dish.

This time around, I kept things simple and just used some roasted butternut squash and sweet green peas for my risotto add-ins. The sweetness of each vegetable complements the savory quinoa beautifully, keeping the dish nicely balanced. While it's a seasonal dish with respect to the butternut, you can easily make this year 'round by using frozen squash instead. If your store doesn't carry it, you can easily freeze your own to use whenever you want.

While I enjoyed it as a fabulous meatless entrée, this risotto will also make a lovely side dish to complement meats or other dishes at dinnertime. Other than that, there's not much else to note on this one! Let's check out the recipe...


Herbed Quinoa Risotto with Butternut Squash & Sweet Peas (makes 4-6 servings; total cost per serving: $1.35)

Ingredients
2 T olive oil
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1/2 c diced yellow onion
1 c uncooked quinoa
1/2 c white wine*
4 c vegetable broth
1/4 c parmesan cheese (optional)
1 T herbes de provence
1/4 t dried sage
1 c roasted or sauteed butternut squash cubes
1 c frozen green peas, thawed
Salt & pepper to taste

Directions
1. Carefully rinse the quinoa 2-3 times to ensure that it is completely clean and then drain well. Heat a large skillet heat over medium heat and add the olive oil. When oil is hot, add the onion and garlic and cook slowly until the onion begins to soften. Add a generous pinch of salt and a bit of pepper and mix in.

2. Increase the heat to medium high and add the rinsed quinoa. Cook for about 3 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until the wine is absorbed completely. Slowly pour about 1/2 cup of broth into the quinoa and allow to simmer until the quinoa has absorbed it all, stirring frequently. Continue this process, pouring in the broth only 1/2 cup at a time, until the quinoa is creamy and the quinoa germs have burst (you may have extra broth left over; if so, set aside for a different meal), about 20 minutes.

3. While the last bit of broth has almost been absorbed, add the ¼ c of parmesan cheese (if you're using it) and continue to stir well. Add the herbes de provence & sage, then gently fold in the butternut squash and peas. Serve by itself or as an accompaniment to meats or other meatless sides, and enjoy!

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