Category Archives: Can this supper be saved?

Soft Foods That Don’t Suck: Ideas for Eating with Braces

Gentle Readers, one of my very favorite parts of eating, is the chewing of food. While that may sound funny, endless studies indicate that chewing makes you feel full, and I’ve certainly found that to be true. Texture matters. A lot. So many foods are hated (looking at you tomatoes and coconut) because of less than flattering descriptions of their mouthfeel.

The Eldest transformed into a teenager overnight, complete with braces and a digital native's gift for the craycray-eyed "selfie."

The Eldest transformed into a teenager overnight, complete with braces and a digital native’s gift for the craycray-eyed “selfie.”

So why am I crafting endless meals around soft food? Meet The Eldest Practical Cook Jr, newly minted into the world of braces. As anyone who has every had their teeth monkeyed about with can tell you, it hurts. Add to this the challenge of a lunch period that has been sliced down to nearly nothing (seriously, try eating in 15 minutes or less, not easy), and you’ve got trouble.

Easy to use lunchbox food.

Easy to use lunchbox food.

PB and J’s are a little challenging to consume quickly, chips are out, carrot sticks are out, apples are out. How can I provide food that is nutritionally sound, reasonably interesting, and palatable to the rest of us on occasion (so we can use leftovers in lunchboxes)?

Kale and Spinach Bites from Trader Joe's: Nutrition Doesn't Have to Suck

Kale and Spinach Bites from Trader Joe’s: Nutrition Doesn’t Have to Suck

3 Soft Foods That Don’t Suck

1. Kale Spinach Bites. Special thanks to TraderJoesMom for bringing this one to my attention! (Yes, a classmate’s mom works at TJ’s, and she is currently my hero for having tried everything on both herself and her kids.) These bites are actually delicious, and I plan to try my hand at making them from scratch. They are much like spanikopita without the crust, and work well at room temperature.

Don't miss these Kale and Spinach Bites from Trader Joe's. I'm working on a recipe now.

Don’t miss these Kale and Spinach Bites from Trader Joe’s. I’m working on a recipe now.

2. Drinkable Yogurt. This is a two-fer: calcium, calories, and a potentially reusable container for me to pack with homemade smoothies. The blender is getting a workout these days. The combinations are infinite. Look for a feature next week on smoothie ideas and recipes.

Raspberry Mango Smoothie? I say yes.

Raspberry Mango Smoothie? I say yes.

3. Soup. Again, seems obvious, but one of my favorite tricks is making stock from the carcass of a rotisserie chicken. You’ve then got the basis of a soup, plus add in a little of the leftover meat, noodles, and cabbage and carrots. There’s some chew, but also plenty of easily accessible calories. Try Mom’s Chicken Noodle Soup for a simple recipe. It was a hit with everyone.

Other things that are soft: poached eggs. My brunch from Beaufort Grocery Company, just because I miss it and remember it fondly.

Other things that are soft: poached eggs. My brunch from Beaufort Grocery Company, just because I miss it and remember it fondly.

More thoughts and reviews coming. There’s nothing like a food challenge to start the creative drive. We are busily blending, stewing, steaming, and serving things on the side to make a single meal work for all of us, with potentials for leftovers to be served in lunch. Share your ideas! The options have certainly evolved past the milkshakes and mashed potatoes period post my wisdom teeth extractions!

The Practical Cook's Mom's Homemade Chicken Soup

The Practical Cook’s Mom’s Homemade Chicken Soup

Send your good wishes, bright ideas, and actual questions to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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Can This Supper Be Saved? Waffle Ingredient Substitution

Gentle Readers, how sweet it is to be in the kitchen again. A near-normal week has meant actual cooking! Of course, as is the hazard when one has been away, some ingredients were past their prime, and in one case, missing altogether!

Prepping Waffles for the Freezer

Prepping Waffles for the Freezer

Breakfast for dinner was on the meal plan, and waffles were to be the centerpiece. They are relatively easy to make in bulk, and they use up a lot of milk, which was nearing expiration time. However, I was missing wheat germ.

Blueberries atop Whole Wheat Waffles

Blueberries atop Whole Wheat Waffles

Let’s hear it for cereal. You know the kind in a box? It’s made from wheat when it’s not something like Cinnamon Toast Crunch (not a cereal, they lost the name). I took two of my heartier cereals, put them in the food processor, and let it blend. I added roughly the equivalent to the batter, and let it sit a little extra time to absorb the liquid.

Pulverized Cereal

Pulverized Cereal

It worked. We could taste a little bit of the cereal (Cracklin Oat  Bran was the key component, and left a slight cinnamon taste), and a little of the texture (similar to pecan waffles), but they were good. Far better to take the chance when the batter was almost ready to go than to stop and try to change the meal.

Breakfast for Dinner: I almost forgot, I bought more grits too.

Breakfast for Dinner: Featuring grits!

Admittedly, I should have checked the pantry for a back-up on that one before starting the recipe. However, even the most Practical Cook can overlook the obvious sometimes. The key lesson here: keep going. Food doesn’t have to be that hard. Just keep cooking.

Lightly Browned Waffles

Lightly Browned Waffles

What’s the strangest substitution you’ve ever done? Post a comment below, or Tweet away!

Questions, meal plans, cereal? Email them to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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Gentle Reader Questions Answered: Picky Eaters Unite!

Gentle Readers, there are few things more irksome than the way one’s gentle offspring can try one’s nerves at the dining table. This week’s mailbag features two such challenges. For everyone who has sworn they wouldn’t say things about the starving children in Africa, this post is for you.

The Hippie Answer to Lucky Charms: Marshmallow Oaties

The Hippie Answer to Lucky Charms: Marshmallow Oaties

Question 1: What would be the best sugary, decadent cereal, which is actually healthier than regular cereals like Special K or regular Cheerios? I need something that will fool the kids into thinking they’re getting something traditionally off limits in our household. –Virtual Cook

The Practical Cook Answers: Great question, and it depends on what you consider healthy. Sometimes you want a cereal the kids will actually eat, sometimes you want low salt and sugar, high fiber, etc. I believe in letting some sweet cereals in the house on occasion (like the small boxes Santa delivers into the stocking, or the experimental one above), because it demystifies them. They are not always delicious every morning.

Relying on my team of experts, The Practical Cooks Junior, here are three faves that will hopefully suit the bill:

Frosted Mini-Wheats, Grape-Nuts, Autumn Wheat

Frosted Mini-Wheats, Grape-Nuts, Autumn Wheat

Frosted wheat cereals are not the worst, and they look like forbidden fruit. The shredded wheat underneath is pretty darn healthy. Grape-Nuts is not overly sweet, but The Youngest eats it by the metric ton. It has a great crunch and a lot of umami for a cereal. It’s more salty/malty and pairs incredibly well with fruit. If your offspring are fruit fans and anti-soggy, it’s a great choice.

And of course, you know I love Autumn Wheat. It’s actually very sweet, but extremely simple. You’ll note a trend here, whole wheat cereals are naturally sweet tasting. Opt for those first.

One last thought, I am also a fan of the Barbara’s line of cereals, especially the Puffins, but only eaten dry. Oftentimes cereals are less appealing (texture and flavor) in milk. The Eldest used to eat dry cereal exclusively with a milk chaser. Give that a try for something different. The slightly sweet cereals taste that much sweeter.

Beautifully varied snack saves the day.

Beautifully varied snack saves the day.

Question 2: My 3-year-old is currently asserting her independence and says she doesn’t want to eat her food. This  would be fine, but then she wants a treat (either something she really likes, such as grapes, or a dessert), which takes me to the “you don’t get that if you don’t eat your dinner” conversation, which seems to negate the whole what/when/if/how much thing because it puts  me right where I don’t want to be–negotiating over food. –Blended Familia

The Practical Cook Answers: I would suggest putting a reasonable amount of a favorite item, like grapes, on the table with dinner. Dessert isn’t even discussed as a regular option, and that way you’re always able to choose to serve it at the end of a successful meal or not.

Hungry people eat, and I feel sure your child will. Perhaps she gets to pick a favorite dinner once a week as part of the meal plan?

So there you have it, problems solved. I am coming to see the difference between picky eaters and discerning. I was a picky eater for a long time, and I became a discerning ones. I’m discerning that I won’t eat eels in Barcelona, for instance. 🙂

But that is a blog for a different day. What food challenges do you have with your kids? Any other helpful advice for our Gentle Readers? Post a comment below!

Send your dilemmas, freshly baked pies, and tapas to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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The Art of Leftover Surprise

Gentle Readers, The Practical Cook celebrates leftovers. Yes, even the tiny bits. There’s always soup or some complex reintroduction, but there’s also a bowl, a tortilla, and some imagination. After a travel week, there’s inevitably more food in my house than when I left (looking at you TPC’s Mom).

Summer Thanksgiving Feast

Summer Thanksgiving Feast

You see, I am Southern. Culturally, this means my mother has to feed the Juniors as if they were on the brink of starvation at all times. Fortunately for my newly minted vegetarian, I am from a farming family, so this means approximately 20 vegetables are served at any given meal. This may sound a bit exaggerated, but it really is not.

Cucumbers and Onions

Cucumbers and Onions

So I return from trips to find various bits and pieces. I’ve learned to accept this, even as my OCD self yearns to see the back of my fridge. With an extreme case of jet-lag and “event kennel cough” (my new favorite term, not one I coined myself), complex repackaging of food was not in the cards.

A lot of little leftovers can add up to a whole meal.

A lot of little leftovers can add up to a whole meal.

I opened the fridge, laid out the dishes, offered some tips, and let the Juniors put together meals. There were beans of different stripes, rice, tomatoes, cheese, tortillas, cooked apples, bagged salad. The Eldest went Mexican, using her tortilla like a chapati to pick up her food. We made a quick Mexican salad dressing to toss on the salad (salsa verde, juice of 1/2 lime, couple teaspoons of sour cream, stir), and she was set.

Mexican Salad Dressing: Simple and Tangy

Mexican Salad Dressing: Simple and Tangy

The Youngest made Hoppin’ John from black-eyed peas, rice, corn, tomatoes, and cheese. She dipped her cucumbers into the Mexican salad dressing.

The lesson: kids don’t have some preconceived notion of what should and should not be paired, or what constitutes a “real” meal. What a gift, to be without boundaries on your culinary creativity. If the combo tastes bad, don’t eat it again. Simple really.

Leftover corn mixed with a diced roasted yellow pepper, cherry tomatoes, and a fresh sweet pepper.

Leftover corn mixed with a diced roasted yellow pepper, cherry tomatoes, and a fresh sweet pepper.

And there was enough corn leftover to turn into a simple topping for the salmon the next night. Genius. Lunch, solved. The kids, happy and full of vegetables. My fridge, clean. How do you manage small bits and pieces of leftovers? Post a comment below today! I’m waiting.

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On Friday, The Tower of Bacon.

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A Little Vegetarian

Gentle Readers, the most important part of developing a functional weekly meal plan is acknowledging that things may go completely off the rails. Sometimes, for instance, one’s amazingly thoughtful seven-year-old will quietly decide to become a vegetarian before dinner.

The Eldest Practical Cook Junior reads labels to the Youngest.

The Eldest Practical Cook Junior reads labels to the Youngest.

That’s right, The Eldest Practical Cook Junior, after consideration, told me she simply preferred animals walking around. There is no agenda she’s promoting, no gotcha, just an expression of a pure heart unencumbered by years of food marketing or cultural training. So how does a mom respond to this, much less one who is on record as a bacon fan?

Nutritious snacks, no problem. Nuts are your friend.

Nutritious snacks, no problem. Nuts are your friend.

Simple really. I thanked her for letting me know, I assured her that I would help her eat a balanced diet. And I promised her that I would wait for her to tell me if she changed her mind instead of constantly offering meat, and would respect her decision either way. This was Sunday, and the resolution has held.

Vegetarian Enchiladas at a local Mexican Restaurant (fresh spinach and potatoes, nice!)

Vegetarian Enchiladas at a local Mexican Restaurant (fresh spinach and potatoes, nice!)

But do lean in close Gentle Readers, I have a confession. You see, I was a vegetarian for 7 years. I returned to omnivorous eating for a number of reasons, not all of them good ones, and we still eat a lot of beans, rice, tofu, and cheese in this household. We are probably meatless over 50% of the time.

Free form Mexican Meal made with The Jrs. Squash, guacomole, beans and rice, chips.

Free form Mexican Meal made with The Jrs. Squash, guacomole, beans and rice, chips.

I feel very confident in my ability to feed her nutritious meals, and as a family we’re having ongoing conversations about food, culture, animals, and the environment. Additionally, both the Juniors are adventurous eaters, so we’ll be trying all sorts of international delights.

Stone pot bibimbap is available with or without beef!

Stone pot bibimbap is available with or without beef!

The Eldest is not doing this for attention or publicity, she is simply living by her convictions. What a beautiful thing. Here’s to the little vegetarian. I’m honored to have the privilege of knowing you, much less raising you.

How many of you are or have been vegetarians? Share you story in the comments below.

Send your tofu and veggies to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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Not Quite Carbonara Recipe (Vegetarians Welcome)

Gentle Readers, sometimes The Practical Cook winds up in the kitchen in less than perfect circumstances. This past week, the days were perfect, time spent on vacation in the mountains. But we had so much fun we failed to really grocery shop, and got home tired. What to do?

Not Quite Pasta Carbonara with Spinach

Not Quite Pasta Carbonara with Spinach

Work with what you’ve got. In this case, we were feeding a vegetarian, and there was not a strip of bacon in sight. But there was pasta, and spinach, and eggs. Go!

Not Quite Carbonara Recipe

Please note that absolutely everything about this is an approximation. I was trying to feed people, not document each step.

olive oil
garlic (2 or 3 cloves, whole or minced)
baby leaf spinach

fresh pasta (dried will do), 1 pound will feed a crowd
3 eggs
lemon juice (depends on how potent it is, at least a teaspoon or two)
salt and pepper to taste
grated Parmesan

1. Put pasta water on the stove to boil. Meanwhile, heat olive oil and garlic over a strong medium heat until you smell garlic. Toss in the spinach and saute quickly until leaves are coated with garlicky oil and just starting to wilt. Pull off heat.

2. Scramble the 3 eggs with lemon juice and a splash of olive oil. Blend thoroughly.

3. By this point the pasta water should be boiling. Make the pasta according to direction (we used fresh black pepper spaghetti, but anything will do). Cook until just al dente. Drain and toss in heatproof serving bowl with the egg mixture immediately.

4. Toss thoroughly to coat and cook the eggs a bit. Add in garlicky spinach. Toss and top with a bit of Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Remember, with enough garlic and Parmesan, you won’t miss the bacon. That much. 🙂 This egg sauce technique will work with many other combos. Enjoy! Special thanks to Waldorf for allowing me to co-opt the idea and technique.

S'mores solve the dinner dilemma too.

S’mores solve the dinner dilemma too.

What’s your go-to dish when things are looking bare in the cupboard? Post a comment below!

Send your pasta, wisecracks, and actual questions to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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Make a Meal from My Freezer: Reader Challenge!

Gentle Readers, is there anything better than a challenge? I think not. Long-time reader Blended Familia came to dinner the other night with this list in hand:

The Practical Cook Freezer Challenge: What Can I Make With This?

The Practical Cook Freezer Challenge: What Can I Make With This?

And a request. What can I make out of this? Delightful! First thing to note, there are warring camps here, as there always are. She is eating healthy and feeding an army of meat eaters. Not that meat isn’t healthy, but everyone runs differently. She needs a little, they want a lot.

BF is also looking to streamline the food budget, and meat, especially from the farmer’s market, is not cheap. How to blend these requests as seamlessly as her familia? Read on.

The Practical Cook Freezer Challenge: 5 Meals

1. Paella. This will use 1/2 a sausage and one package of chicken thighs and makes a lot. The onions and garlic are part of the recipe, combined with rice and tomatoes, you can make a lot. Great to make and freeze in portions if you’re cooking for something less than an army as well. Another bonus, this recipe lends itself well to the addition of hot sauce at the table. Add paprika and saffron in the process, but let people season to their level of fire.

2. Sausage and Greens. Bow to the meat eaters and make a bratwurst with whatever greens are in market at the time: kale, beet, mustard, etc. Simplify your life with a package of pierogie, stretch with applesauce, or make some mashed potatoes or hash browns. When I make this for The Practical Cook’s Junior, I eat double greens and let them have the extra sausage. Everyone’s happy.

Sausage, greens, and pierogie

Sausage, greens, and pierogie

3. Chorizo Burritos. The beauty of this one, you can use 1/2 package, or brown the whole thing and let everyone decide how much to add to their burrito. Stretch the meat with pinto beans, sweet potatoes, avocados, lettuce, rice, etc. I love chorizo for its intense flavor, and find a little bit goes a long way.

Hello beautiful sweet potatoes.

Hello beautiful sweet potatoes.

4. Gumbo. Another great way to use chicken thighs and sausage. Don’t fear okra, I beg you.I don’t want to hear about the slimy factor, not if you like Jell-O.  If you are unable to face it, add spinach or something else green here, even butterbeans, but do include tomatoes, onions, and rice.

Non-horsey Okra Pods

Non-horsey Okra Pods

5. Pasta Toss. For what I think is Italian sausage, this is ideal. You can cook it in slices separately with peppers and onions, and let people toss with red sauced pasta to taste. That way, you can go more veg if you choose. The big box Italian restaurants are doing this, take a page from their book. We do a lot of pasta bars, letting everyone choose their own taste adventure. Serve with a salad and call it a day.

The Joy of Self-Service: Pasta Bar

The Joy of Self-Service: Pasta Bar

Mission accomplished. These meals are set up to cook once but customize at the table. Meat can be featured in the quantities you prefer, and ingredients are used to stretch the whole thing.

What’s in your freezer? If you’d like to take the Freezer Challenge, post a comment below, send me an email, or tweet #freezerchallenge in my direction. I promise you, I can make a meal out of it.

Send your freezer-burned pictures, challenges, and bright ideas to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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On Friday, Ham and Cheese Tea Sandwiches (a recipe).

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