Thursday, November 21, 2013

Recipe: Pan-Roasted Cauliflower with Kale & Poached Eggs


Hi there. : )

I don't even know where to begin with this one. The first recipe post after my Daddy's passing is bound to feel awkward, but I know he would want me to keep doing what I'm doing, so... yeah. Here I am.

It's been a very rough seven weeks filled with tears, anguish, sorrow, pain, sadness, fear, guilt, anxiety, nostalgia, more tears, and a lot of Kleenex. I have felt more emotions in a single hour than I ever thought I would feel in a lifetime, and the roller coaster just continues. Knowing my mom and I are so broke we can't even have Thanksgiving together this year is just making everything worse. We've NEVER had to give up Thanksgiving, no matter how bad things would get. Unfortunately, this year really beat us to a pulp.

But I'm trying. I'm trying everyday to get through the hours, the days, the weeks that have become all at once slower than molasses yet fast as a blur. I'm swallowing a lot of my emotions just to be functional at work and in daily life, though... a practice that I know isn't the best one for me in the long run, but one that's helping me focus on my perpetual task at hand: survival.

In my last post, however, I mentioned a promise I'd made to my dad before he passed. Nothing mind-blowing, just a simple promise to take care of myself, just as he'd always tell me at the end of every phone conversation. "Take care of yourself, hijita."

Okay, Daddy. Whatever you say.

Now, I have to admit that I wasn't quite sure how I would take care of myself when I told him this. I just knew that I would. For the most part, I feel like I do try to take good care of myself - I eat as well as I can, stay out of the sun as much as possible, look both ways before I cross the street.... That's all fine and dandy, but that wasn't really enough. Once my beloved was actually gone and I sat alone with the emptiness of that realization, all I could do was think about how much more I could do to take care of myself. Not just physically, but emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

And cuisine-wise.

The first step: learning to be kinder to myself.

We're all our own worst critics, but for some reason I tend to take that to the extreme. I've done so all my life and it's a tough habit to break. But the shock of a loss as great as this one sometimes jolts you into reflection, and that can lead to a great deal of insight. It's not something I'll be able to fix easily or quickly, but I'm taking baby steps.

I'm not sure why or how my convoluted, sorrow-ridden brain processed this to mean that I should start exercising more, but exercise more I have done and it's been an AMAZING way to get through my grief. On a scientific level, I know it's helping to balance out my neurotransmitter levels and all that jazz; but it's also helping me just deal. With everything. Even though I've already lost about 90+ lbs over the past 20 months or so, my illnesses zap so much out of me that I've just felt useless and un-me. And I wasn't finished yet anyway, so I am eager to finish transforming my body to make it even better than it was when I thought I was at my fittest (I was just super thin back then; my goal is to be fit. Big difference!).

While I can't do the same kinds of exercises or get to the same intensity levels as before, it's been a relief to start feeling stronger in at least one aspect of my life. Sure, there are times when I'll collapse in the middle of a particularly grueling squat session and burst into tears; partly because of the pain (not my PHN, my arse, lol) and partly because I'll have some random Dad thought and am overcome with emotion. But then I remember my promise to him, and I'm reminded that this is as much for me as it for him, and I get up and keep going.

I suppose there could be worse ways to manage my grief. I know from firsthand experience after my best friend passed away in a car accident 7 years ago. I'll take a sore posterior over the other options any day.

I've been eating decently, too, of course. I've made sure to pay extra attention to that since my dad's passing because I know I can't afford to let myself get too sick. My biggest worry was having such a traumatic loss trigger some serious shingles/PHN flare ups, so I've been UBER careful about food and exercise. Not that I'm the biggest junk food person (actually, most of it grosses me out), but I've made sure to stick with as many healthy things as possible so I stay well.

More taking care of myself, I suppose. Daddies drive a tough bargain once you've made them a promise.

Now, this is one healthy meal that I think he would have really liked if I'd made it for him. Naturally, he loved all sorts of Dad foods: burgers, pizzas, etc. But he was a chef by trade and at heart, so there was nothing that pleased him more than fresh, gorgeous ingredients. He was as delighted with an enormous salad of farmers' market treasures as he was with a Double-Double from In-N-Out, so this would have been right up his alley.

Clearly it’s right up my alley as well, since there sautéed kale and a friggin’ egg on top (I swear the next recipe will not be topped with an egg. Especially since it’s a dessert!). I’m absolutely obsessed with cauliflower these days, and this is my current favorite way to enjoy it. My original intent was to roast it in the oven, but that day I was also roasting a chicken and was too impatient to wait for the oven. This was much quicker and gave me an equally delicious result, that amazing caramelization adding a lovely dimension to the finished dish. It’s a simple, elegant dish that is still filling and healthy.

Not to mention ridiculously tasty.

Breakfast, brunch, brinner - you name it, this meal will cover it. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!


Pan-roasted Cauliflower with Sauteed Kale & Poached Egg (makes 2 servings; total cost per serving: $2)

If egg-poaching isn’t your thing, you’re certainly welcome to just sub a regular fried egg. I've done it and it is equally fabulous. But if you’re feeling adventurous, I've detailed the instructions in the recipe below. And if you really need more help, you can also check out my video for easy egg-poaching instructions.

Ingredients:
¼ medium cauliflower
3 c raw kale
2 T olive oil, divided
1-2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 large eggs
Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Cut the cauliflower into small “steaks”. To do this, follow the natural “flowers” and cut each chunk at the base. From there, slice each flower into 1” thick “steaks”. Season both sides with salt and pepper and set aside.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet. When oil is hot, add the cauliflower steaks in a single layer (you may need to work in batches depending on how much cauliflower you have). Cook for about 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown on the outside and fork tender on the inside.

3. Next, poach the eggs! Fill a skillet or saucepan with about 3″ of water and bring to a low boil. Add a generous pinch of salt and adjust the heat so you’re left with gently simmering water (look for a constant parade of tiny bubbles at the bottom of the pan; if the bubbles are too big, lower the heat).

4. Crack one egg into a small bowl or ramekin. Gently slide the egg into the simmering water and let it cook on its own for about 30-45 seconds, until the whites start to curl up and firm up on their own, and the yolk is no longer visible. Cover, turn OFF the heat, and allow the egg to poach for 3-5 minutes, depending on how firm you like your yolks.

5. After the time is up, remove the lid and, using a slotted spoon, gently remove the egg from the water. Let it drain as much as possible so you don’t end up with watery eggs & toast when serving. Place on a plate and set aside.

6. In a separate skillet, heat the remaining olive oil. Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant, then add the kale. Season with salt and pepper, saute until just wilted, then remove from heat.

7. Place a generous amount of kale on a plate, followed by 2-3 cauliflower steaks. Slide a poached egg on top, season with extra salt & pepper if you like, and enjoy!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Garlicky Kale with Fried Eggs & Salsa

At work the other day I took a reservation from a guest whose only dietary restriction was a strong aversion to poached or fried eggs on top of her dish. She pointed out that this was becoming rather trendy (it has), and I got to thinking: that wasn't the first time egg non-lovers have mentioned this (disturbing to them) trend. I've actually been asked why one would "ruin" a perfectly good dish with an egg!

As someone who loves eggs on top of almost anything, my question is: why wouldn't you make your dish more awesome with an egg (or two)? For one, it's an easy protein fix, especially if your dish is rather carb-heavy. They elevate the aesthetics of the dish, in my opinion, with their bright whites and sunshiny yolks. Most importantly, they just taste really damn good on everything. Whether it's the crispy fried edges of the white, or the deliciousness of the yolk, eggs just make everything taste better.

Which is why they're being put on top of everything. Like this ridiculously simple little dish.

While my love affair with eggs on top of other food has been well documented, my current egg obsession is having eggs atop a bed of sauteed greens. Any greens. With the constant fatigue caused by being in perpetual pain or chronically sick, I keep looking to streamline my already super simple cooking process. And for a while, I will admit that greens 'n' eggs was the best I could do. I'm always in search of one-dish meals that are as balanced as possible, and this was about as balanced & easy as I could get. Fiber & other good nutrients from the greens; protein from the egg; and a splash of color and extra flavor (not to mention some Vitamin C and lycopene) from the salsa. Done and done.

The other huge reason why this became a staple in Poor Girl's kitchen over these past few months is that it's really, really, really cheap. Really. Even if I went the pre-packaged kale route on weeks when I was too sick to go to my beloved farmers' market to get the super fresh kind, I was only shelling out about $2 per 16 oz. bag. Taking advantage of sales on eggs also kept costs low.

About the only thing I had to forego during the hard tomato-less winter months was a nice pile of fresh tomatoes for salsa making. Fresh tomatoes in late winter and early spring are an abysmal thing - they're either pink balls of styrofoam covered in wax and stickers alleging freshness, or hothouse tomatoes that cost about $6/lb. Either way, it's a very difficult time of year for a tomato addict. If you're unable to afford decent tomatoes for homemade salsa fresca, or if the ones at your store just don't make the cut, feel free to go the store bought route. Many in-store delis have pretty decent salsa fresca without all the crazy jarred salsa additives and preservatives.

I don't usually suggest store bought over homemade, especially when it comes to something as sacred as salsa, but sometimes you've gotta do what you've gotta do. Fortunately, summer is pretty much here for most of us, so ripe, juicy tomatoes at affordable prices will start cropping up everywhere. You can follow my pico de gallo recipe, or use your own fresh salsa recipe as your topper for this dish.

Other than that, there's not too much to note! If you prefer poached eggs over fried, feel free to use those instead, as they're also fantastic over super garlicky greens. Serve this for breakfast, lunch, quick dinner when you're too tired to cook anything else - whenever! Anytime is a good time for greens and happy things like eggs. : )

Garlicky Kale with Fried Eggs & Salsa (makes 2 servings; average cost per serving: $1.25)

How garlicky you go is up to you, but I highly suggest going a little heavy on the garlic for maximum flavor. It gives the kale a nice kick and complements the eggs beautifully. Looking for a good salsa recipe to finish off this simple meal? Check out my Chunky Pico de Gallo here.

Ingredients:
1 T + 1 t olive oil, divided
1-2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 c (packed) chopped fresh kale
Salt & pepper
2-4 eggs
4-6 T pico de gallo or salsa fresca

Directions:
1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and just golden brown. Add the kale, sprinkle with salt & pepper, and sautee for 1-2 minutes only, until the kale begins to soften. Remove from heat. The residual heat from the pan will continue to cook the kale without overdoing it.

2. In a separate pan, heat the rest of the oil and add the eggs. Fry until they're done to your liking, then remove from heat.

3. Place a generous amount of garlicky kale on a plate. Top with the eggs, add as much salsa as you like, and enjoy!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Recipe: Chipotle Mushroom Sub Sandwich with Chunky Pico de Gallo

Moving sucks.

Granted, when the dust has settled and I actually have a couch to lounge on again, it will be a wonderful move. It's just that this was one more curve ball life threw my way that I could have done without.

In my last post, I mentioned that I had a bunch of updates for you, and I do. I just didn't like where my original post was going, because it was beyond depressing. Mind you, a lot of what I've been dealing with over these past couple of months has been beyond depressing, but still... I don't want to drag everyone else down, and rehashing the bad only makes me continue to feel funky.

So, to catch everyone up to this point, here's the Cliff's Notes edition of what I've been dealing with these past couple of months:

My health continues to suffer, and I just got over the longest, most intense PHN/shingles flare ups since I was diagnosed with this lovely disease two years ago (already?!) it lasted 6 weeks; my father, who is in early renal failure due to complications from diabetes, was hospitalized for a long time due to a serious bout of pneumonia and he almost died; my mother's health is taking a turn for the worst again, even after her successful surgery last summer; I lost my sweet little girl cat, Hana Leigh, to a 3-month battle with her own diabetic complications, including hind leg paralysis which involved a lot of nursing (she died in my arms early one morning... seriously THE most intense, heart-wrenching things I will ever experience); and the eviction I've been fighting so hard to avoid these past two incredibly hard years, almost became a reality. But I do need to move because I will never get out of this financial hell with the overblown rent I struggle to pay here. The good news is that I'll be going somewhere I can feel a lot less stress, and which will hopefully have no negative impact on my health like this place does. (That's a WHOLE other blog post, though.)

In short, it's been a very, very dark time.

Which is part of why I enjoy bright, happy-looking food.

Fortunately, the one bright spot has been my job. I still have one, which is awesome in this still-flailing job market, and while it's one of the most challenging jobs I've had in years, I absofrigginlutely love it. In a slightly masochistic way, lol. Maybe it's because I grew up with parents in the restaurant business, as well as my own personal restaurant experience. It's hard work, has taken over 75% of my dreams since I started, and really keeps me on my toes. It suits me though, and I'm learning a lot about a side of the restaurant business I never expected I would enjoy so much, but again, that's a whole other post. I'm also surrounded by some of the most amazing culinary talent in Sacramento, so it's great to be next to so much creativity and drive.

ANYWAY....

During those uber-crappy months of January, February and most of March, I was stuck in survival cooking mode. Like I mentioned in my last post, that was a very bad idea, and I'm still trying to make amends with myself for stifling my creative side for so long. And while a lot of what I've been making lately has been quite simple, it's been fun letting my mind go for a while, using my cooking as a way to escape all the difficult things I've had to deal with recently.

This is one of those recipes. Actually, I take that back. This is one I'd developed a few months ago, right before all the proverbial shit hit the fan, so it got pushed aside. But it was one I thought about almost daily, picturing how it would look once plated, imagining how the flavors & textures would dance across my taste buds.

Turns out it's also a real case of better late than never, because HOLY HANNAH! this is SO my new favorite vegetarian sandwich. (Sorry, Apple, Kale & Cheddar Melt! I still love you, though...)

It's super simple to make, and if you're a fan of spicy foods like I am, it's another way to get your heat on without resorting to the usual fare. Filled with plenty of meaty mushrooms, melty cheese, and fresh, chunky pico de gallo, this sandwich is a total party in your mouth. It's is such a hearty sandwich, even some meat-lovers will find this one equally satisfying as a meat-centric sub. And don't worry about this being too spicy - the cool salsa really helps tone down the spicy hot mushrooms.

Just a couple of things to note for this one: feel free to use your favorite bread rolls for this sub-style sandwich. I'm in a Dutch crunch phase right now so that's what I used for mine, but almost any sandwich roll should do. I'd probably stay away from the sourdough since it could compete with the flavor of the mushrooms, but otherwise you're good to go. And if you want to go the burrito or taco route instead, just spoon the filling into some tortillas, add pico de gallo and start chowing down.

Okay, enough babbling already! Recipe in 3...2...1...


Chipotle Mushroom Sub with Chunky Pico de Gallo (makes 1 sandwich; total cost per sandwich $1.95)

Can't handle the heat of the actual pepper with your sandwich? Feel free to sub 1-2 teaspoons of the adobo sauce and you'll be fine. No access to chipotles in adobo at your store? Feel free to use about 1/2 teaspoon of ground chipotle pepper instead.

Ingredients:
1 c sliced white or cremini mushrooms
1 T chopped onion
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, finely chopped
Pinch of smoked paprika (regular paprika is also fine)
Salt & pepper
1 t cooking oil
1/4 c shredded cheese (mozzarella, cheddar, pepper jack, etc.)
1 6" sandwich roll
2-3 tablespoons Chunky Pico de Gallo (view full recipe here).

Directions:
1. Prepare the Pico de Gallo and set aside in the fridge while preparing the mushrooms. Heat the oil in a medium skillet and add the onions. Cook until fragrant, then add the mushrooms, paprika, salt & pepper.

2. Saute the mushrooms over medium heat until they soften and start to release their moisture. Add the chipotle pepper and its adobo and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and a sauce has been created. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. Split the sandwich roll and sprinkle both sides with cheese. Place under broiler until cheese is melted, then add a generous spoonful of mushrooms. Top with plenty of pico de gallo, serve with a cool, crisp salad (or maybe just a cool, crisp beer if you like that sort of thing), and enjoy!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Recipe: Spicy Beef & Sweet Potato Tacos

As I get more settled into my new job and schedule, I'm finding more ways to streamline my day, especially when it comes to meals. Gone are the days of being able to keep a big bag of supplies in the break room fridge and coming up with different concoctions whenever lunchtime arrived. Now I'm all about packing lunches, prepping for meals a few days in advance, and trying to come up with sensible things to eat after work. I feel like the mother of a kindergartner at this point, such is the need for constant prep work!

The hardest part has been making the switch from fun & exciting dinners to fun & exciting lunches. After years of working the 8-5 circuit, not having the evenings free is a little strange. I miss celebrating things like Taco Tuesdays, and breakfast-for-dinner gets really confusing once you start having it around 2am (because at that point, isn't it just breakfast again?). So, I'm making small lunchtime changes here & there to allow these little traditions to continue, only on a less elaborate scale.

I threw these puppies together a few days ago on a whim, chucking the more time-consuming sweet potato hash with poached eggs I'd originally had in mind for some quick tacos instead. Going in a sweet potato-less direction was not an option, as it appears that they're my first I'm Obsessed With You, Dear Ingredient of 2013, so I figured I'd cook them up with some ground beef I had defrosting in the fridge for a simple taco filling. But let me tell ya, these are anything but simple when it comes to flavor.

Easy to prepare and quick to assemble, these little guys are packed with spices and a little heat for kick. Earthy, smoky cumin, spicy cayenne pepper, and a couple dashes of smoked paprika take an otherwise tasty taco filling to a whole different level. The mild sweetness and velvety smoothness of the sweet potatoes help to tame a bit of that kick, so if you're a little on the shy side when it comes to spicy food, you should be just fine with these.

Served street-style on small corn tortillas with plenty of chopped onions and cilantro for garnish and crunch, just two or three of these make for a delicious, yet effortless lunch. Because I get home so late these days, I try to have dinner options in place before I leave so I don't have to start from scratch when I get home, and this recipe turned out to be perfect for this new practice. I made a big batch of filling, had the fresh veggie toppers all chopped up and ready to go, and all I had to do is reheat and serve. If you're pressed for time and looking for meal-related time savers, you'll definitely want to bookmark this one.

Before we check out the recipe, I wanted to point out how keeping your spice pantry stocked, even with the very basics, can make all the difference in the world when you're cooking. As you can see here, what could have been a good dish is now a fun one, alive with exciting flavors. Except for the spiced paprika, which I actually happened to find at my beloved Trader Joe's for a mere $1.99 (!!!), the ingredients used to take the taco filling from meh to OMG are quite simple and relatively inexpensive.

Of course, you could just go the taco seasoning packet route and save yourself some measuring time. But you'll be spending way more in the long run and won't have the ability to tweak those flavors until they make your taste buds sing. Keeping basic herbs & spices on hand opens up a world of possibilities, and with some of the shopping suggestions in Tip #2, you should be able to create a decent spice pantry of your own without breaking the bank. Once you find out what works for you and you commit to keeping those herbs & spices well-stocked, there's no limit to what you can do, even with the most basic ingredients.

Okay, it's recipe time! Let's check it out. : )


Spicy Beef & Sweet Potato Tacos (makes about 4-6 two-taco servings; average cost per serving: $1.50)

Ingredients
1 small sweet potato, cut into 1/2" cubes (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 c chopped yellow onion
1 T cooking oil
1 lb ground beef
2 T tomato paste
1/4 t ground cumin
1/4 t ground cayenne
1/4 t smoked paprika (regular paprika works just fine)
Salt & pepper to taste
8-12 small (4") corn tortillas
Chopped onion & cilantro for garnish
Salsa or pico de gallo (optional)

Directions
1. In a large skillet or fry pan, heat the oil and add the garlic & onions. Cook until just fragrant and slightly translucent. Add the chopped sweet potatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, until they start to soften slightly and just begin to brown.

2. Add the ground beef, tomato paste and seasonings, and fold gently into the potatoes & onions. Cook the meat until completely browned and the sweet potatoes are tender. Check for seasoning and adjust according to taste with salt & pepper (and a little more cayenne if you're up for it).

3. Heat the tortillas on a griddle or skillet. For the softest tortillas, lightly moisten your hands with water and pat both sides of each tortilla until it's just damp. Place on the griddle and cook over medium heat for about 45-60 seconds on each side. Place on a plate and keep covered with foil until ready to serve. For crispier tortillas, spray your griddle with cooking spray or add a small amount of oil, then add the tortillas. Cook until warmed through and slightly browned around the edges.

4. Assemble those tacos! Grab a couple of tortillas and place a generous spoonful of the beef & sweet potato mixture inside. Top with chopped onion and cilantro, serve with a side of salsa if you like, and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Recipe: Cranberry-Pistachio Oatmeal-Quinoa Cookies

I hate to admit it, but this (er, last) year I could not get into the Christmas spirit until about 10pm last Saturday night. Between all the craziness I've already been dealing with this year both healthwise and financially, providing what's essentially hospice care for my sweet kitty, Hana, and adjusting to the new schedule of my new job (it's hard going from diurnal to nocturnal when you're no longer a young whipper snapper, lol), I completely forgot to feel festive.

It’s sad, really. Usually, once Thanksgiving is over, I’m in hyper-Christmas mode, donning Santa hats and jingle bell rings whenever I get the chance, and busting out the holiday decorations by no later than December 1st. But life seriously kicked my ass in 2012, and if it hadn't been because of all the Christmas parties going on at work, and the fact that my mom was coming to rest after her post-surgery return to work, I would have been blindsided by Christmas.

Fortunately, it all worked out. At the restaurant we finished an absolutely jam-packed week that left us all exhausted, so it was nice to spend some quiet time at home with my mom. Those of you who've been following the blog for awhile know that when she and I hang out, cooking and baking are always involved, so naturally we took advantage of our days off to get some of that done.

While she set about whipping up some incredible piña colada cupcake concoction (it's okay to be jealous... I'm jealous of myself and all the treats I get whenever she comes over), I decided finally to add another notch in my baking-with-quinoa belt by making quinoa cookies. Not quinoa-only, per se, as I'm still working on a recipe that pleases me in that respect, but something just as awesome: a chunky but moist cookie, mild in its sweetness but simply exploding with fun textures.

The goal wasn't to make a holiday cookie - really, all I wanted to do was bake to take the chill out of the air and the stress out of my hear. But because of the seasonal favorites of cranberries and nuts, and the added festive look of the red quinoa, these worked out nicely for our holiday dessert spread. But these are definitely year-round cookies, so don't feel like you have to bookmark these for this new year's holiday baking frenzy. Like my strawberry-banana quinoa muffins, I have the feeling these are going to be on heavy rotation for me as pre- or during-work snacks.

Though the title might suggest that this is a rather involved recipe, its deceptively simple to make, especially if you're like me and are used to cooking up decent sized batches of quinoa to have on hand. My plan was to work on a new savory red quinoa recipe for the new year, but quinoa is a funny thing once it cooks, yielding far more than you needed for the recipe in mind. This is one of the biggest reasons I harp about quinoa as a PGEW Bare Bones staple - like pasta and rice, the finished product it yields makes this ancient grain a sound culinary investment. The fact that it also packs an awesome nutritional punch makes it an even better choice, with its range and versatility making this one of the most valuable ingredients around (in my kitchen, at least).

But back to the cookies...

Using whatever chunky, chewy and crunchy things I had on hand, I whipped these together fairly quickly, despite the elbow grease expended on the actual mixing, now that one of my mixer's attachments has walked away from my kitchen (where the heck is that thing?). Even with the added arm workout, prep time for these only came out to about 10-12 minutes tops, which is an added bonus. Baking can be so much fun, but I feel like I can only enjoy it when I have a full day of nothing else to do, so it's a rare joy to find one I can put together in less than an hour.

I used cranberries and pistachios in my cookies because A) I love that combination, and B) that's all I had on hand, but I know these would be amazing with almonds or pecans instead. The dough itself is very mild in flavor, so you don't have to worry about these being overly sweet. With the rolled oats and the fun pop! of the quinoa, if you're a fan of textures like I am, this is definitely the cookie for you!

Now, because these have relatively pricey ingredients like pistachios, cranberries and quinoa, they're not as uber-cheap as, say, a sugar cookie recipe. But that doesn't mean this has to be a $15 recipe. Paying attention to and using what you have on hand, and using some of those ingredients wisely (like splitting batches of cooked quinoa into different recipes) can help keep those costs down. You might not have cranberries but maybe you do have raisins, so you can use those instead. No nuts? No problem? They're not an absolute requirement, and you'll still have plenty of fun texture to play with without them. With a recipe like this, it's okay to goof around with the additions; as long as your basic cookie dough recipe is measured out properly, you can take liberties with those add-ons.

How else can you keep a cookie recipe with so many healthy, happy things so affordable? Keep an eye on those Bare Bones staples! As I delve further into the world of baking, I realize those little guys don't only come in handy for regular meals, but for fun baking projects, too. A silly "discovery" really, because it's not like I didn't already know this. But when you're not used to baking regularly, a lot of those ingredients seem to fade into the background until they're actually needed.

It's been worth taking a closer look at them, though... Those oats don't have to suffer through another life sentence of breakfast-dom; that quinoa can turn into almost anything from what I can gather; and all that dried fruit that usually goes into salads or pilafs when I"m the one doing the cooking? It can actually go into something fun like a batch of cookies! Who knew, eh? ; ) Think outside the box, repurpose the familiar, and you'll be amazed at what kind of kitchen magic you can conjure up.

Have fun with this one, folks! And if you end up using different fruit & nut combos for your cookies, let me know what you come up with in the comments below! I have the feeling these will be just as versatile as those sweet little muffins. : )


Cranberry-Pistachio Oatmeal-Quinoa Cookies (makes approx. 2 dozen cookies; average cost per dozen: $2.50)

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups flour (whole wheat or whole wheat white are okay)
1 t salt
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/4 cup raw sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar (packed)
2 T honey
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup cooked quinoa (red or white is fine)
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped pistachios

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 375°. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder, and stir well. Set aside.

2. In a separate, larger bowl, combine the butter, sugars, vanilla extract and honey. Using a wooden spoon and some serious elbow grease, beat the hell out of them until they know who's boss* (or until creamy). Add the eggs and whip together until light & fluffy (about 2 minutes).

3. Add the flour to the butter/sugar mixture about 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well between batches. Next, mix in the oats, followed by the cranberries and pistachios. Lastly, fold in the cooked quinoa gently, making sure all ingredients are evenly distributed in the dough.

4. Spoon 2-tablespoon sized portions of dough onto your cookie sheet, about 1" apart. Bake for 14-17 minutes until golden brown, then allow to cool on a wire rack. Grab a couple of cookies and a glass of milk, and enjoy!

*A simple electric mixer will also do just fine. : )

Recipe: Brown Rice-Quinoa Pilaf with Butternut, Mushrooms & Kale

It seems to have become PGEW tradition for me to start off each new year with a quinoa recipe - two quinoa recipes, actually. It might have started way back in 2009, my first PGEW New Year. I was feeling rather prolific that morning, despite all the champagne consumed the night before. I wanted something tasty but much more healthy than what I'd had earlier that week, so I cooked up a large batch of quinoa and whipped up two totally random dishes. They ended up being some of the most popular dishes of that year and the a new tradition was born.

And with good reason. 'Tis the season to be focusing on health goals, eating more healthfully, and all that jazz. As I've said time and time again, quinoa is a wonderful staple to keep around, not only because of its high yield and versatility, but because of its nutritional values as well. In an effort to restock my freezer with new supplies for the beginning of the new year, I like to cook up big batches bare bones staples like quinoa, so that I can portion them out and freeze for later use.

But before freezing must come experimenting, so I divvied up some of my most recent batch between my Cranberry-Pistachio Oatmeal-Quinoa Cookies and this new little pilaf I've been thinking about for days. I'd played around with an easy quinoa pilaf over the Christmas holiday and liked the result so much, I started coming up with other flavor combos. I had a good idea in mind but didn't want to use up all my quinoa for this dish, since I was eager to getting the freezing & stocking portion of my day out of the way.

Eyeing the pot of brown rice that had just finished cooking on the stove, I had an idea I'm ashamed I hadn't thought of earlier. Put the two things together, for crying out loud! It makes sense, right? The rice helps to stretch the use of the quinoa even further, helping to spend less on the mother grain, while the quinoa lends extra protein and nutrition to a familiar staple. A few vegetable additions later and voila! Dinner is served.

I'm still in seasonal cooking mode, so I made use of this ridiculously adorable butternut squash I'd been hoarding for a couple weeks. Along with tender, meaty mushrooms, and some bright green kale for color and crunch, this quickly became a fabulous one-dish meal. And because I'm throwing dried cranberries into everything these days (holy recent bulk sale, Batman!), I added a few of those at the very end, for even more color and an added zing. I realize some folks might find this addition a bit odd, so I've left them as an optional ingredient in the recipe, but if you'll trust me on this one, try it with the cranberries first. They really kick things up a notch!

Though I'm used to making a lot of these one-dish meals, I have the feeling I'll be making a lot more of these this year. With the new work schedule, my dinnertime is way off, happening either around 3pm on the train headed there, or at around 1:30am, once I've tended to the furchildren and soaked my sore feet. Having this sort of thing on hand to take with me to work or have on hand to reheat quickly after my shift is over is an absolute lifesaver, so if you struggle with the same kind of hectic day, you'll love what's coming this year. Just commit to setting aside a few hours of just one day to get a lot of your prep done - like cooking and freezing staples like rice, beans and other grains - and you're good to go.

Back to this dish, though... I love it. I had two bowlfuls of it the first time I made it and smiled happily with every bite. You can tell that it's good for you with all that healthy nuttiness lent by the quinoa and brown rice, but it's not like typical "health food". It's more like health comfort food: a big, hearty dish that's both filling and filled with great flavors. The sweetness of the squash, the crunchy green flavor of the kale, all those mighty, meaty mushrooms - everything comes together beautifully. As I've mentioned before, it makes a fantastic meatless entree, but it's also a wonderful side for lean cuts of chicken or pork. And while it's meant to be served hot, I just snuck a bite from the bowl in the fridge and found it's pretty darn tasty cold, too!

Enough babbling! It's time to check out the recipe. Here's to a much happier and (hopefully) healthier year for all of us! Happy New Year, everyone! : )


Brown Rice-Quinoa Pilaf with Butternut, Mushrooms & Kale (makes 4 servings; average cost per serving: $1.50)

Because the main components of the dish are relatively mild in flavor, I felt it was important to incorporate some acidity, in order to bring out their full flavor potential. While the savoriness of the onions & garlic go a long way, a bit of balsamic vinegar added to the mushrooms enhance both the flavor of the mushrooms, and that of the dish as a whole. If you feel it's a bit too "tangy", reduce the amount to 1/2 tablespoon and you'll be set.

Ingredients
2 T olive oil, divided
1 small butternut squash
1/2 c chopped red onion
1 t minced garlic
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 8 oz. package white or cremini mushrooms
1 c (packed) chopped kale
1 1/2 c cooked brown rice
1 1/2 c cooked quinoa (red or white is fine)
1 c dried cranberries (optional)
Salt & pepper to taste

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with foil and set aside. Peel, seed and chop the butternut squash into 1" cubes. Toss the squash with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a bit of salt & pepper, then place on prepared cookie sheet in a single layer. Roast for 15-20 minutes, or until tender. Remove from oven and set aside.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the remaining olive oil. Add the garlic and onions and sauté until fragrant and softened. Next, add the mushrooms and balsamic vinegar, and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the chopped kale, and mix well. (The residual heat will wilt the kale so that it's tender.)

3. Combine the brown rice and quinoa in a bowl and mix until both ingredients are evenly distributed. Toss this into the mushroom & kale mixture and mix well. Next, add about 1 1/2 cups of the roasted squash and mix in gently. Lastly, mix in the dried cranberries (if you'll be using them).

4. Check for flavoring and adjust according to taste with more salt & pepper if needed. Serve as a one-dish meatless entree, or as a hearty side to lean proteins, and enjoy!

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