Category Archives: On the Table

Grilling What You’ve Got: Carrots, Cauliflower, Broccoli

Gentle Readers, few things elevate the ordinary into the extraordinary like grilling. The most loathed vegetable becomes the anticipated one with some char marks and seasoning.

IMG_9436.jpg

Carrots, Corn, Broccoli, and Chicken from the Grill

Because, to paraphrase the Simpson’s episode, you can’t make friends with salad, sometimes the easiest way to keep on-hand vegetables from becoming snoozers is to grill them. Whether this will be your whole meal or the side act to your chops, here’s how to up your game.

Grilling Carrots, Cauliflower, Broccoli

  • If you use a gas grill (I’m unapologetic about my love for my Weber), soak some wood chips for at least 30 minutes, drain them, and use a smoker box (well worth the investment) or a foil pouch to contain them on your grill. We are very fond of pecan wood, and even grill/smoked our green beans for Thanksgiving this year.
  • Use skewers (metal or wooden) or a vegetable grate or basket to keep things from falling into your grill.
  • Don’t be afraid of heat. Medium-high to high works well to get the smoke rolling, to put some serious char on the vegetables, and to get you to the table to eat.
  • Don’t hold back on the seasoning. I’ve found that smoke and char are awesome for veggies, but this trinity really benefits from a heavy hand. Try commercial mixes (like the McCormic line), Old Bay, Lowry’s, or any of the Trader Joe’s (garlic salt and everyday seasoning are great). This plus olive oil and you’re getting somewhere.
  • Turn your carrots into hot dogs! (Yes, I’ve done this, and I think they are better than not dogs you would buy at the store.) Bonus: you can shortcut this in the InstantPot before you grill.
  • If you don’t want to go full carrot dog, stab your peeled carrots a few times, make a simple marinade (some oil, a little soy sauce, some ginger, salt and pepper), marinate the carrots while you prep everything else and straight grill them. They don’t fall through the grates and they are so easy. We do the multi-colored ones from Trader Joe’s.
  • Cauliflower benefits from a finishing sauce. I’m working on perfecting my Harissa version, but my go-to is Gobi Manchurian. I grill the cauliflower with just salt, pepper, and olive oil, and I mean I blacken it to some extent, then toss with sauce that is basically reduce ketchup.
  • Broccoli on the grill is just roasted broccoli with less indoor mess. Spice mix, salt, pepper, oil, high heat, toss into a vegetable basket. I like a little red pepper flake with them for interest. The wood smoke also adds a layer of flavor and interest here, so worth the extra step.

Up next time, Vegetarian Hoppin’ John!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under On the Table, Recipes

Beans, Greens, and Cornbread: Creamed Kale Edition

Gentle Readers, now that you’ve been through your pantries and rediscovered the location of your stash of beans and rice, it’s time to cook. Today’s meal features three food groups we eat on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, just in different forms. So this is neither the first nor the last time you’ll hear from me on beans, greens, and cornbread.

IMG_8712.jpg

If you are new to The Practical Cook, or have not memorized my life story, I was born and raised in the southern part of the United States to a family of farmers and life-long cooks, vegetable growers, canners, and bakers. I’ve been in the kitchen since before I could see the top of the stove, and I’ve been eating meatless Sunday night meals since way before it was either cool or in a Chipotle app (though I suppose it is “meatless Monday” that is on trend).

But I digress. Why beans, greens, and cornbread? It’s high in nutrition, it’s easy to make in batches to feed a crowd, and there’s something in it for everyone at my table. My youngest, who we often refer to sarcastically as Dr. Atkins, loves bread like no other human I know. So when greens and beans are too boring/spicy/whatever for her, she can fill up on cornbread.

My eldest has loved legumes since she had her first chickpea as a child (and that was probably in her first 10 foods eaten), so anything involving beans she’ll eat. For Christmas, in her stocking, she got chow chow. For those unfamiliar, it’s a pickled relish that usually has cabbage, peppers, and some onion that you use as a condiment on beans. It can be spicy, sweet, or more vinegary, but it keeps the plainest bean dish interesting.

All three of us love greens, the leafier and the darker the better. Collards, mustard greens, arugula, kohlrabi greens, rainbow chard—the weirder and more bitter it is, the more we are going to eat of it.

This meal is affordable, flexible for what you have in your pantry, and a great way to use up leftovers or make good use out of shelf-stable food.

On the Table

Beans and Rice (I use my Instant Pot Faux Jambalaya Recipe with a couple of edits: I’ve quit using the spice packets in the beans, I add a healthy teaspoon of salt to the cooking water, I lower the cooking time a couple of minutes so I don’t overcook the small beans, and I doubled the tomato sauce because I stock the larger cans of no-salt tomato sauce.)

IMG_6690Corn bread: I have both plain cornmeal and self-rising on hand. For self-rising, my preference is to add some sugar and salt to make the flavor pop, and always choose melted butter over oil. (If you want THE resource for cornbread, for you or as a fabulous holiday gift, get The Cornbread Gospels [yes, I worked for the company in a past life, and swear by this cookbook]). I eat mine with molasses instead of honey and I’ll happily fight you on this topic.

Creamed kale: Now this is where we go off script. I had cream leftover from making yogurt in the InstantPot (yes, we can discuss that another time). I had two bags of kale that were overcrowding my fridge. If there’s creamed spinach, there must be creamed kale, right? Spoiler alert: my eldest called this restaurant quality and she isn’t given to exaggeration. We were both very impressed with ourselves (she researched recipes while I was prepping, a joint effort).

Creamed Kale Recipe

To prepare, I read two recipes (this one from Bobby Flay and this one) and then ignored them both. Okay, not ignored, but took some technique from and liberties with. Cooking is not baking, adapt at will to your tastes and what you have on hand. This is not the time to only make recipes that you have every ingredient for, this is the time to make do.

431739D0-1E86-478E-AA44-6BDACBEB0F7C

Creamed Kale

Tip: I’ve recently taken the habit of taking the half of an onion that is inevitably left from some recipe and chopping it right then and putting it in a zipper bag in the freezer. You’ll thank me and your past self later. I used some onion from frozen from this new habit. I also keep nutmeg whole on hand because I make carrot cakes and greens and it’s great in both and stays fresher longer. Use a Microplane grater to grate and yes order one if you don’t have it because it’s awesome. But also you can leave it out and just grind a little more black pepper or add some red pepper flakes. Don’t sweat the technique. 

Olive oil
Butter
around 1/4 cup chopped onions
1 bag of kale (Tuscan, fluffy, whatever Trader Joe’s or your store has in a bag in the salad aisle)
salt and pepper
some fresh grinds of nutmeg
1/2 cup of cream or so

  1. Heat a large non-stick skillet (use one that has a lid that fits, you’ll need to cover it later) over medium-high heat, then add about a tablespoon each of olive oil and butter. Melt the butter and when it’s hot add the onion and lower to medium. Cook the onion until it’s softened, a couple of minutes.
  2. Add the bag of kale, season with salt and pepper, stir well so you mix the oil/butter/onion mixture into the kale, then put a lid on it. Let this cook, covered, stirring a time or two, until the kale is significantly wilted and actually fits into your pan, a few minutes.
  3. Add a few grinds of nutmeg (maybe adds up to 1/4 teaspoon) and your cream. Stir. If you like creamier kale or have a really big bag, add more cream. Make sure all the kale has been bathed in delicious cream, cover it back up, and let it cook for several minutes, checking on it and stirring occasionally.
  4. When the kale is cooked to your preferred tenderness, and the cream is reduced, taste for seasoning, adjust, and serve.

Coming up next: Vegetable Stock from Scratch and Scraps

 

Leave a comment

Filed under On the Table, Recipes

Cooking from the Pantry

Hello Gentle Readers, it has been a minute. As we are in a time of unprecedented uncertainty and disruption, many of us sheltering in place by choice or by law, there are a lot of us spending a lot more time in the kitchen. I’ve often said that having been raised on a farm by an extended family that did survive the Great Depression, that I had missed my era to shine.

Vegetable stock in progress

Vegetable stock from saved trimmings and scraps. Something for nothing, soon to be vegetable risotto.

I am a Great Depression style cook—I would rather make do with what I have, or use a simpler recipe, than shop for and cook exactly from a recipe. So bear with me, because I know there are a hundred better and more well-photographed recipes for anything I’ll put up here. But this is not a moment to go out and purchase one tablespoon or a third of a handful of something you don’t already own.

Now is the time to survey your pantry, decide what you like to eat, and figure out how to map those two things together. I’m kicking the blog off again for a while, and I will tell you what I’m making and how I did it, but I also hope it will inspire you to be confident in your taste and your skills, or maybe just provide a little comfort in a day full of challenging news.

With my life schedule upended, I have time not just to get back in the kitchen, but to teach the Practical Cooks Junior how I cook, how I create inventory and use up what we’ve got, and how to take a reasonable amount of time to get food on the table. (Not going to lie, Gentle Readers, I still don’t have the precision of a true baker, that is my youngest, or the persistence and sheer bravery that my eldest brings to the kitchen.)

Step 1: Know Your Pantry

What is in your pantry? Hopefully you were able to get some basic supplies, and if not, perhaps spend some time making a list and using a drive-through option or delivery service to get some building blocks.

The Practical Cook Pantry

  • Dried pasta
  • Dried beans: chickpeas, pintos, black-eyed peas, limas, mixed beans, and whoever took off with all of the black beans, we are going to have words
  • Canned beans, no-salt (you can add that yourself later): black beans, kidney beans, vegetarian baked beans, navy beans, refried beans
  • Canned fish: tuna and salmon (again, what other old lady besides me raids the canned salmon? It was all gone, and somebody is going to have a fit when they find the bones in there.)
  • Tomatoes: whole ones, sun-dried, cans of no-salt tomato sauce, and tubes of tomato paste
  • Dried potato flakes: not for mashed potatoes, but they are the bomb at thickening things that go wrong
  • Rice: jasmine, basmati, arborio
  • Pickles: refrigerator pickles, chow chow, pickled okra, and more pickles (because I’m Southern and we realize that when good gets boring, pickles help)
  • Indian pantry: some jars of my local store-brand simmer sauces, which are surprisingly good when doctored a bit, coconut milk, spices
  • Chinese pantry: new for me, and more on that in posts upcoming, I have an arsenal of soy sauces, vinegars, and pastes
  • Long-term veggies and fruits: cabbage, onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes (sweet, Russet, Yukon Gold), apples
  • Baking: Assorted flours, sugar, butter, dried buttermilk, evaporated milk, raisins and nuts, oats, cornmeal

Do not panic if you don’t have a carbohydrate-laden war chest. Everyone eats differently. That’s really the point: my kitchen serves 4 people, all fairly big eaters, 2 pescatarians, 1 vegetarian, and me, the omnivore. Each non-meat eater is picky in a unique and special way (one hates tofu, one hates vegetables, one likes everything but carrots in certain forms, and one is allergic to fish).

However, it is possible to feed them all without resorting to Waffle House style short order cookery. Everyone eats eggs. Everyone eats pasta. Everyone loves cabbage for some unknown reason. There is hope.

Step 2: Know Your Tastes

Gentle Readers, I am obsessed with food. I do not expect you to be. But it does help to be aware of your tastes, and the preferences of those in lockdown with you. Here are a few basic parameters to assist in self-diagnosis.

Grilled Pineapple

I like foods grilled fruits and I cannot lie.

 

  • Texture: Meals are more successful if there are multiple textures. I’ve never been one for smoothies as meal replacements, I have to chew food to think I’m eating. So all soft meals don’t work, I need crunch. Picky eaters very often have texture issues. Figure that out and add some crunch or some options for the texture-challenged. This also applies to overly wet or dry foods. Soups may not pass muster, but stews will.
  • Spice: If you have spice adverse people, bring the heat to the table to add individually. Pickled jalepeños, red pepper flakes, hot sauce, spicy pickles, whatever it takes. If you are bored of pantry-safe meals, add some heat to change them up.
  • Heat: Now I mean temperature. Consider how you’re serving this meal. Does it taste the same freshly made, at room temp, cold? Does it suffer in one of those states? If you make ahead, don’t be afraid to suggest warming up an individual serving if someone likes piping hot food. Often dishes benefit from adding a little liquid when you reheat them.
  • Salt, butter, cream: As a very wise chef friend once told me, add enough of any of these, and food will taste good. Someone told me recently that they couldn’t taste salt, so they didn’t cook with it. Gentle readers, just no. If you have health conditions that preclude it, by all means work around. Otherwise, rinse your canned beans and use no-salt when you have the chance, and add kosher salt throughout the cooking process (salted water for pasta, salt to help sweat and sauté veggies, taste and finish with salt if needed before serving). Butter and cream, that goes without saying, and you don’t have to add it to everything, but it can go in one dish and it will be delicious.

Step 3: Prepare to Improvise

The internet is a glorious place full of flexible recipes, suggested swaps for missing ingredients, and easier recipes if you don’t feel like soufflé tonight. The other day I planned to make wontons with my leftover wonton wrappers. I made the filling, had to take a break, and then came back just before dinner. The wonton wrappers had obtained a mold that very well may be the missing cure to something. It was not good. The filling was cabbage and chives and fauxsage and I suddenly realized it looked a lot like moo shu. I know that moo shu pancakes are not unlike tortillas, which I did have. Best of all, it is much faster to heat up tortillas and filling than to make wontons (at least for this beginner!). Don’t panic, just pivot.

Tea with the Ladies Who Lunch: China Edition

Still my favorite critics, the Practical Cooks Junior have moved from loving dumplings to making them.

Don’t have some piece of kitchen gear? Look for alternate recipes or prep methods that approximate. Don’t have an ingredient? Decide if it’s central or a sidenote.

That is the journey through the mind of The Practical Cook. It’s how I learned to cook, it’s how I learned to eat, it’s how I learned to watch what people were eating and more successfully feed even the pickiest. And I’ve raised two people who are comfortable cooks in their own right.

CAF7D6C7-A9CA-4A9E-B52C-0C101EF7BDF5

Coming up next time, last night’s dinner complete with recipes: beans, greens, and cornbread. 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Kitchen Philosophy, On the Table

When Life Gives You Artichokes, Make Pasta

Gentle Readers, here we are, springing forward.Though I love the birds chirping and the tree frogs singing, one could do without the loss of sleep. As we enter this time between seasons (is it liony outside, is it lamby, one never knows), I often crave substantial but not heavy fare.

Enter the humble pasta toss. You know it, the thing you create from whatever’s available? This is that, but guided by a desire for stronger flavor and not one more jar of red sauce. Without further ado, and certainly without enough sleep . . .

Pasta with Artichokes and Beans

Pasta with Artichokes and Beans

Pasta with Cannellini Beans, Artichokes, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Ingredients: 
2 cups dried cavatapi
olive oil
3 cloves garlic, skins on
1 1/2 cups sliced carrots (I cannot lie, I use the baby carrots that are not on their first opening and looking little sad and soggy in the bag)
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon or so of Italian seasoning blend
1 can of artichokes (not the marinated kind, just in water), drained and roughly chopped
1 can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 Tablespoons or so sun-dried tomatoes packed in seasoning and oil
1/4-1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
juice of 1/2 lemon

Method: 

  1. Put on a large pot of water to boil, add salt when the water boils, and cook the pasta per pot directions. Cook until al dente and then drain and set aside briefly.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium pot with a good lid, heat some olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the sliced carrots and the garlic cloves in their skin. Add some salt (I leave this to you), and the Italian seasonings. Cover with the lid and stir and check on it often while the pasta cooks.
  3. When the carrots are a bit softened and the garlic is starting to soften, add the artichokes to the pot. Keep stirring. When the garlic cloves are softened, pull them out, peel them, mash them with a fork, then add them back to the pot.
  4. Lower the heat, add the beans, cooked pasta, and sun dried tomatoes. Be sure to include some of the oil they were packed in.
  5. Add the poultry seasoning, don’t ask, just trust me, additional olive oil as needed to make it moist, and stir gently until warmed through.
  6. Bring off the heat, put in serving dish, top with lemon juice, and adjust salt and olive oil to personal taste.

Enjoy! I love the simplicity of the dish, and the savory nature without it being a complete salt lick. It’s infinitely flexible, so match it to your needs. It is a very filling dish though, so it will easily feed a family of 4.

Leave a comment

Filed under On the Table, Recipes

An Ode to Belgian Chocolate

Gentle Readers, my heart has gone 74% dark. And Belgian. At a recent industry event I attended as part of my day job, one of my colleagues brought chocolate from his home country. Eating it has been a life altering experience.

Strawberry-filled Milk Chocolate, Belgian Style. I <3 You.

Strawberry-filled Milk Chocolate, Belgian Style. I

The Practical Cooks Junior and I have been slowly working our way through the various types, and it is truly amazing. I’ve eaten what are considered the best chocolates in the United States, I’ve had Swiss chocolate, but my heart belongs to Belgium.

Glorious selection of Belgian Chocolates

Glorious selection of Belgian Chocolates

The 74% dark chocolate mentioned above is rich without being bitter, and somewhat floral in a non gross way. The Eldest PC Jr, who is outspoken on her dislike of dark chocolate, called it her favorite of the whole group.

The Youngest PC Jr fell in love with the strawberry filled milk chocolate. It was exceptional.

Hello Extra Dark Belgian Chocolate. You are never bitter.

Hello Extra Dark Belgian Chocolate. You are never bitter.

In terms of texture, purity of flavor, and quality, the Belgian chocolates are unmatched for me. It’s easy to eat just a little of it, as the experience is one to be savored. But how do I handle Easter, Halloween, etc. with foodie kids? Farewell KitKat bars, hello dark chocolate. Special thanks to GreenFoodie for the chocolate!

What’s the best chocolate you’ve ever eaten? No really, I want to know this. Perhaps we’ll do a chocolate tasting here in upcoming months!

Send your questions, lucrative book deals, and kitchen confessions 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.)

Follow practicalcook on Twitter

On Friday, Why I Don’t Go Negative.

2 Comments

Filed under Kitchen Philosophy, On the Table, Snacks

One of Each: Dessert Tasting at J Betski’s

Gentle Readers, sometimes choosing is too hard. My dining companions, upon learning that I had a food blog, insisted we order one of each dessert on the menu at J Betski’s. For those of you who are math inclined, there were three of us and five desserts. I do like those odds.

The Remains of the Day: Dessert Graveyard

The Remains of the Day: Dessert Graveyard

I met the dessert I want to marry. Typically, I am not a big fan of chocolate and orange. However, I love bread pudding, and I love chocolate and walnuts. But milk chocolate and walnuts and orange?

Hello chocolate bread pudding. No, I don't want to share you.

Hello chocolate bread pudding. No, I don’t want to share you.

It was pure unicorns. Run, don’t walk.

Chocolate hazelnut (blech) bacon sea salt dessert. The bacon made me do it.

Chocolate hazelnut (blech) bacon sea salt dessert. The bacon made me do it.

We also tasted gingerbread and carrot cake and a bacon chocolate sea salt number (marred only by hazelnuts, which loyal readers know I believe were created by the devil) and a strudel of sorts. But they were dead to us after tasting the bread pudding.

Spicy Gingerbread

Spicy Gingerbread

Sometimes, you just have to try them all to decide. Have you ever ordered one of everything? Do tell, it will be our secret. Try the comments box below, it doesn’t bite.

Strudel!

Strudel!

Special thanks to my DessertOps dining companions. I look forward to the next round. Apologies for the delay of game on the potato chips. I’m too full of sugar to edit video right now.

Carrot Cake!

Carrot Cake!

Send black coffee, good ideas, and cooking 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.)

Follow practicalcook on Twitter

Coming up Sunday: Weekly Menus, Travel Edition

Leave a comment

Filed under On the Table

School Lunch Reprise: Observations and Ideas

Gentle Readers, what do you remember about school lunch? My brother and I often reminisce less than fondly about the smell of bloaty peas that seemed to permeate our cafeteria, with a hint of green cleaner. The world has changed, and while schools often promote the concept of healthy eating, it’s a high nugget environment.

Easy to use lunchbox food.

Easy to use lunchbox food.

Last week I had the opportunity to do some on the ground research courtesy of The Practical Cooks Junior. I went to eat lunch with both of them, two separate yet similar experiences. First observation, every kid who got school lunch chose nuggets and fries, only the fruit varied. Second observation, almost every kid ate the fruit, sometimes first.

Sliced oranges (shown with dried cranberries and bananas) make a great side dish for garlicky pasta.

Sliced oranges (shown with dried cranberries and bananas) make a great side dish for garlicky pasta.

The Jrs pack their lunch, their choice, and as vegetarians, a smart one. The “crushers” (essentially chunky fruit juice) and “squishers” (yogurt in a tube) were big hits. Reminded me of the days of Froot Rollups. Food marketing matters. Kids still sit in judgment of one another’s lunch, and in turn, the judged rarely cares if they like what they’re eating.

Don't overlook the afterschool snack!

Don’t overlook the afterschool snack!

I saw cookies eaten first, but a lot of whole fruit consumed as well. And I saw fries greatly ignored, and who could blame them. A floppy fry is abysmal.Conclusion, bad food is bad, and kids are not fooled by that.

World's Largest Fortune Cookie: Tao in Las Vegas

World’s Largest Fortune Cookie: Tao in Las Vegas

Here are some lunchbox faves from TPCs Jr:

  • bagel with cream cheese
  • nuts — walnuts and pecans lead the pack
  • clementines — these are like kid crack, a favorite classroom snack as well, they’ll go through 2 or 3 of them
  • phoney baloney — the traditional sandwich with cheese is still a favorite
  • fruit cup with 100% juice — these always were and still are fun, and less cloying with the rise of fruit juice as the medium
  • fortune cookies — I have no issue with a lunch box treat, and this is a great way to surprise them. The fortunes always get read, and perhaps they can learn a little Chinese in the process.

The Jrs are still young enough that I am allowed to sit with them at the table and it be a cool thing, which is probably why peer pressure around food is not in full swing either. So while there’s still time, keep pushing those whole foods. They will get eaten!

Bagels are Sandwiches Too!

Bagels are Sandwiches Too!

What’s your school cafeteria memory? Post a comment in the box below! It’s wide open and waiting for you.

Send your hot tea, strokes of brilliance, and kitchen confessions 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.)

Follow practicalcook on Twitter

Coming up Friday: Smoked Salmon Salad, A Recipe of Sorts.

Leave a comment

Filed under On the Table, Snacks