Tag Archives: kid-friendly meals

Pasta Toss with Lemony Ricotta and Asparagus

With the weather turning a bit warmer here, at least enough to make the pollen fly, culinary thoughts turn to lighter flavors. For the Practical Cook, that often means lemon and parsley. Today’s dish features both, plus asparagus and ricotta. This dish is light, simple, and was very well-received by the whole crew.

Did I mention the whole wheat linguine? No, I did not. But seriously, try the De Cecco Whole Wheat Linguine. I’ve tried them all, and it’s the best.

Pasta Toss Ingredients

Pasta Toss Ingredients

Pasta Toss with Lemony Ricotta and Asparagus Recipe

1/2 pound dry pasta, something noodley works best (spaghetti, thin spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine)
1 medium-sized container of ricotta (or cottage cheese, blended smooth), ~1 or 1 1/2 cups
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 lemon, zested (with your Microplane zester!) and juiced (through a strainer please)
olive oil
8  to 10 ounces of mushrooms, sliced thin
1 large bunch of asparagus, tough ends snapped off and reserved for another use (like veggie stock), rinsed and patted dry, cut into thirds
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 handful fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring water to boil for pasta. Add salt, cook according to directions on package, reserving 1 or 2 cups of the pasta water.

Take that, pasta!

Take that, pasta!

2. Meanwhile, combine ricotta, Parmesan, lemon juice and zest in medium bowl, beating (by hand or with hand-held mixer) until smooth.

Mix the ricotta and lemon juice until ricotta is smooth

Mix the ricotta and lemon juice until ricotta is smooth

3. Heat a splash of olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium-high heat until oil shimmers but isn’t smoking. Saute mushrooms until they release their water, about 7 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

Sizzle sizzle my little mushies

Sizzle sizzle my little mushies

4. Add a little more oil to the same saute pan and reduce heat to medium. Heat until oil shimmers. Toss asparagus pieces in and stir-fry until crisp tender, with time depending on thickness of the asparagus. Just before asparagus is done, toss in the minced garlic, leaving on heat about 30 seconds to a minute, until you smell the garlic.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Crisp tender asparagus

Crisp tender asparagus

4. Thin the ricotta mixture with the reserved pasta water, a little bit at a time, to your preferred consistency.

Thin and mix the ricotta mixture

Thin and mix the ricotta mixture

5. Toss pasta and ricotta mixture in saute pan with mushrooms and asparagus mixture, gently now. Taste for seasoning, adding salt, pepper, Parmesan, and lemon juice to taste. Finish with chopped parsley.

Linguine with Lemony Ricotta and Asparagus

Linguine with Lemony Ricotta and Asparagus

That’s it! Simpler than a full-fledged pasta bake, less of a calorie bomb than full-on Alfredo.

Coming up tomorrow, a St. Patrick’s Day retrospective featuring my new favorite Irish Brown Bread. So easy even I can make it, and believe you me, I’m a cook, not a baker. (There’s a difference, we will certainly have that discussion here, gentle readers.)

Until then, what’s in your pasta? practicalcook at gmail dot com

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Weekly Menus: Week of 3/20/2011

This is the most pitiful weekly menu I’ve ever produced, gentle readers. Apologies. There is so much punting going on that it’s hard to keep track of what the original intent actually was. However, we’re continuing to eat down the reserves in the freezer, loving the plentiful farm-fresh eggs from the farmer’s market, and spending a lot of time outside. A week of chaos is but a drop in the bucket of a food life.

For anyone raising a junior foodie, you know you’ve created a monster when you ask them if they’d prefer a flat cake, or one that’s square and stacked or round and stacked, and they answer, I’d like a tiered one like my piñata. Great. Let’s see how that turns out.

Remains of a Baker's Day

Remains of a Baker's Day

Here’s what’s on tap:

Weekly Menus: Week of 3/20/2011

Weekly Menus: Week of 3/20/2011

Four-Square Grocery List: Week of 3/20/2011

Four-Square Grocery List: Week of 3/20/2011

Which translates into:

Sunday Night Vegetable: Carrot Cake

Sunday Night Vegetable: Carrot Cake

Sunday: Birthday Party Pizza, Cake and Ice Cream
Risk of getting anyone to eat a vegetable that not inside a cake: slim

Monday: Breakfast for Dinner, featuring leftover Irish Brown Bread Toast
Shout-out to Brinkley Farms for the grits and eggs!

Tuesday: Smoked Polish Sausage (CSA) with Kale and Perogies
The Practical Cook and her junior sous chefs fell for the marketing ploy of free samples. This Sausage, also from Brinkley, was transcendent.

Wednesday: Frozen pizza and salad
Purple rain, purple rain. That’s right, the Practical Cook is going to see Prince, so it’s every diner for themselves on this night.

Thursday: Mexican
Either a sopa seca/layered dish or black bean and sweet potato burritos

Friday: Family Dine Out/Girls Night?
Will it be Indian,  Italian, Thai, or Mexican? Tune in to find out.

Saturday: Spring Break!
Field research!

For anyone out there cooking the bounty of spring, what are you making these days?

Time to hang a piñata from a tree and whip up a batch of cream cheese frosting. Look for the Irish Brown Bread recipe this week, along with an ode to cereal and much much more. (Still deciding what tomorrow’s post will be, so you’ll have to tune in to find out.)

Send in your weekly menus to practicalcook at gmail dot com.

Twitter: practicalcook

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The Secret Art of Sandwiches: From Types to Presentation

This marks the end of a very long week, with all aspects of the Practical Cook’s life demanding complete and undivided attention.  Cue the sandwiches, or sammies as we call them.  Punt sandwiches. Including one made on a waffle when the bread ran out.

Punting Platter of Sandwiches

Punting Platter of Sandwiches

Here’s how to punt with sandwiches:

Creamy Tomato Soup (from a Can)

Creamy Tomato Soup (from a Can)

  • Consider making your own bread. Any sandwich is more special that way. A bread machine makes light work of it, and there are quick breads (like Irish Soda Bread or Brown Bread, look for upcoming recipes) that even I can manage (and I’m not a talented baker).  Then you’ll generally have good bread around.
  • When that fails, consider what else in your home can be used instead of bread: waffles with peanut butter, English Muffins with eggs and cheese, tortillas with spreadable cheese or hummus, bagels with anything, etc.
  • Presentation counts! Stack the sandwiches, cut them neatly, provide a platter with multiple choices.
  • Toasting. If the bread isn’t the freshest, or if the cheese is wilting, toast it. Even if everything is fine, toasting makes it seem special. It melts peanut butter, warms avocados, and makes cheese gooey. Score.
  • Think outside the jar. There is life beyond peanut butter. Find it. Do not bore yourself or your children to death. Try a different nut spread, honey and banana, tuna fish, white beans/garlic/lime juice pulverized into
    Bagels are Sandwiches Too!

    Bagels are Sandwiches Too!

    hummus, pickled items paired with luncheon meats. If it will stay on a piece of bread or in a wrap, it could be a sandwich.

  • Cut into triangles. Okay, that’s just if you’re making a sandwich for me. Mom, I appreciate your doing that for me.
  • Pair the classics together. Sandwiches go with chips, salads, and soups at delis and restaurants across the country for a reason. All of these items are readily available, and if they’re not typically served in your house, it’s a treat. Don’t forget to add a fruit plate to the table, sandwiches cry out for apple slices or berries, things you can eat with your hands.

Sometimes, the answer is as simple as grilled cheese and tomato soup. Here at the Practical Cook kitchen, we often spend so much time trying new things, that the classics taste really good.

Classic Grilled Cheese

Classic Grilled Cheese

Up tomorrow, we’ll do a first ever Readers Review. Feedback on recipes made and how it turned out. This is the last call for content—if you’ve made a Practical Cook recipe, and you have a story or a picture, send it in to practicalcook at gmail dot com!

Twitter: practicalcook

Thanks for all of the great questions and suggestions.

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Spaghetti Bird’s Nests

The challenge of having a family that eats most things is that said family rejects obvious things. My children are regularly invited to meals as tools to get picky eaters to eat something, anything! But can the Practical Cook serve buttered noodles and some nice green peas—no, they are soundly rejected.

Another reject: spaghetti and meatballs. Though the Practical Cook counts a turkey meatball as one of her top 5 best meals ever (Mario Batali restaurant, and it was literally one big softball-size turkey meatball, when I thought I was ordering spaghetti and meatballs), the crew is not buying it.

Enter Spaghetti Bird’s Nests. Secretly, they are a play on spaghetti and meatballs, minus the meat and plus some faux pesto. Perhaps not as much as a play on as a play near situation. However, healthy, pretty fast, and a nice break from routine, the Practical Cook encourages you to play with your food and see what you can come up with!

Spaghetti Bird’s Nests Recipe

1/2 box Barilla Plus Spaghetti (I specify because this worked for me, whole wheat or the plus variety will be less starchy and less sticky–if you use regular spaghetti, move quickly or you’ll end up with more of a tangled yarn than bird’s nest look)
8 to 10 ozs mushrooms, sliced
~1 to 1 1/2 cups cottage cheese (sorry, didn’t measure this)
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 lb baby spinach (CSA!)
handful of parsley leaves and tender stems (optional)
1 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce, or homemade if you prefer
a few ounces of goat cheese (local) or Parmesan or mozzarella

1. Boil water. Prepare pasta according to directions on box.

Bubble Bubble Pasta Pot

Bubble Bubble Pasta Pot

2. While pasta is cooking, saute mushrooms over medium-high heat until water is mostly evaporated.

3. Place cottage cheese, garlic, spinach, and parsley into food processor. Will it blend? Yes. Blend until smooth.

Food Processor Pesto

Food Processor Pesto

4. Drain cooked pasta, and let cool briefly, until you can handle it without screaming like Ned Flanders. Put a thin layer of sauce into an oven-safe baking dish, and twist the noodles around until they form nests as shown.

Twist and Fill Spaghetti Bird's Nests

Twist and Fill Spaghetti Bird's Nests

5. Fill each nest with a dollop of pesto, a few mushrooms, and a sprinkle of goat cheese.

Mushroom Birds Alight on Nests

Mushroom Birds Alight on Nests

6. When the pan is full, top with enough extra sauce to prevent the noodles from drying out.

7. Bake, covered with foil, in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until sauce bubbles. Remove foil and bake for another few minutes to brown/melt cheese.

8. Serve carefully with a spatula to preserve the shape. Add a side salad, and enjoy!

Spagetti Bird's Nests

Spagetti Bird's Nests

Coming up next time–Punt! A viewer request for the Top 10 Punt Ingredients will be served up. Timely, because the Practical Cook just punted this evening.

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All-Purpose Blueberry Muffins

Ever since the Practical Cook can remember, she’s loved blueberries: fresh, frozen, in pancakes, pies, muffins, and turnovers. Blueberry cereal—brilliant. Turns out, I’m not alone in this passion. The recipe that follows is both simple, made from common pantry staples, and flexible, providing room for you to adapt according to your cooking goals, from health to not force-feeding breakfast to the younger set. For your creative convenience, you’ll find a number of options listed below and within the recipe. Remember, guidelines.

Blueberry Muffins

Mrs. McGee's Blueberry Muffins

Mrs. McGee’s Blueberry Muffins

This recipe is passed down from the Practical Cook’s mom (who is a reader and thus will not be referred to as PC Sr., but as PCM), and came from Mrs. McGee, whom I don’t really know. However, she made a mean muffin.

1/2 cup oatmeal (not instant, quick-cook or slow-cook will work)
1/2 cup orange juice or water
1/2 cup sugar (I cut this to just over 1/4)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (you can swap up to 1/2 cup or more of whole wheat pastry flour, whole wheat flour, or almond meal)
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup oil (not olive, but anything else will work, canola, grapeseed, walnut; also, I cut this to about 1/3 and make up the difference with a dollop of applesauce; can also sub lowfat plain yogurt)
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

Topping:
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with muffin liners, or grease lightly with butter or oil.

2. Combine oats and orange juice. Stir well and let sit till OJ is fully absorbed.

3. Add flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda, oil, and egg. Mix well.

4. Fold in blueberries.

5. Spoon into muffin tin, filling to 2/3 full.

6. Mix together topping and sprinkle on top of the unbaked muffins.

7. Bake for 18-22 minutes, until golden brown.

8. Let cool in pan for 2-3 minutes, then put on cooling rack or plate. Enjoy!

Other Options: Trade out the blueberries for any other type of berry, or dried cranberries or cherries. Add some chopped nuts (less than 1/4 cup). Add flax seed meal or toasted wheat germ (1-2 tablespoons).

If you’ve got kids, they can help with this recipe. They can measure, mix the oats and OJ, and also help customize the recipe. And they are prime candidates to put the muffin liners into the pan.

Staying with this theme, the next blog post is about Food Presentation: Why Go Vertical? Keep sending in those questions!

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The Bland and the Beautiful

Today’s post is devoted to one of the the most common challenges any Practical Cook faces—how to make something everyone in the family will eat. The Practical Cook is yet to meet a family where everyone agrees, and her own experience is right in line. The eldest will try most things, but has some texture issues and a highly-developed sense of taste. No putting anything past her. The youngest we call “Dr. Atkins” (tongue in cheek), as she loves carbs in all their forms above all else. Everything tastes “spicy” (said as loudly as possible). The adults prefer stronger flavors and tire of eating bland food or the same things over and over. Sound familiar? Cue the theme music.

The key to gaining mindshare (oops, marketing brain just took over) across diverse palates is choice. Choice with empowerment, better still. Plain English–the answer is a bar. Gentle readers, I can hear you thinking—that is not practical. I’m not advising you to hit the bottle or chop a million things. This is all about marketing.

Here are three road-tested ways to apply the basic idea:

  1. Baked Potato Bar
    Scrub, prick, and bake the appropriate amount of russet potatoes (microwave or oven, the Practical Cook doesn’t judge). 

    Topping ideas: butter, sour cream, plain yogurt, cheese, marinated mushrooms, scallions, salsa, olives, steamed broccoli, crispy bacon, pepperoni, roasted garlic, pickled jalapenos, diced green/yellow/red peppers, roasted red peppers.

  2. Omelet Bar
    Plan for 1 egg for young kids or light eaters, and 1.5-2 for everyone else. Use a largish measuring cup if you have one (medium mixing bowl if you don’t), scramble eggs with some milk (splash of per egg) and a dash of salt. Heat a non-stick frying pan with some butter over medium heat. Now make like the Waffle House, creating custom omelets using each person’s topping bowl, and yell out “Order Up” when each one is done. The sheer spectacle will stun some reluctant eaters into eating a good meal.

    Topping ideas:
    spinach, cheese, olives, mushrooms, peppers of all sorts, leftover potatoes or winter squash, salsa, black beans, tomatoes, bacon, ham, sausage, fauxsage or facon, scallions, avocado.
  3. Personal Pizza Bar
    If you have the time, make your own pizza crust, or look in your store’s deli section for quick dough, or the dairy case for commercial pizza dough in the can. Also try English muffins, whole wheat pita, or even sandwich bread in a pinch. Top with tomato sauce or pizza sauce (your own or jarred), sprinkle cheese on the top. Now add the topping bowl toppings.

    Topping ideas:
    any standard pizza topping will work, but consider fruit (like pineapple, pears, apples) or fresh or dried herbs.

General How-To:

  • Do you have small bits of cheese, vegetable, meat to get rid of? What flavor combinations do you like/have you seen on a menu/has your blandy-bear ever consumed?
  • Chop your toppings into smallish pieces, as you would expect to see on a salad bar. If texture is an issue, chopping small can convince the picky to try something.
  • Provide small bowls/ramekins/etc. for each person to select their toppings.

That’s it. Pick the bland medium that serves your needs best, and then let everyone choose their own flavor journey. Serve a side salad or fruit, and dinner is served. Your job is to lead by example. Provide a range of topping options, and comment on what you do and don’t like and why.

The hard part–don’t comment on what the bland-fans choose or don’t choose.  (For more on the topic, especially in the context of raising good eaters, check out Ellyn Satter.)

Coming next, Easy Fish, or How Not to Flounder.

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