Category Archives: On the Table

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.)

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On Friday, Why I Don’t Go Negative.

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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.)

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Coming up Sunday: Weekly Menus, Travel Edition

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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.)

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

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Is Turkey Bacon Real Bacon?

Gentle Readers, this post is coming to you from the San Jose airport, and thus will be brief. Apparently, California is already experiencing a bacon shortage. This broad statement is derived from a small data set. Twice, yes twice, I went to breakfast establishments that didn’t carry “real” bacon. Shocking!

Smiling does not improve turkey bacon's taste. Just saying.

Smiling does not improve turkey bacon’s taste. Just saying.

Mind you, I was too busy stuffing my face full of coffeecake on both occasions to audibly complain. But it raised an important question. Is turkey bacon real bacon?

For our taste test purposes, we decided it was not worth the caloric spend. I found it to be more like facon than bacon. It was crisp and salty, but why not just eat a bit less bacon? I’ve never understood substituting as a reason to consume more of something less tasty.

Mmmm coffeecake from Hobee's.

Mmmm coffeecake from Hobee’s.

Not that I am biased. Perhaps we will do bacon brackets with alternative bacons this March. Stay tuned.

Real bacon spotted!

Real bacon spotted!

Send questions, quips, and lucrative investments 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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Filed under Bacon Brackets, On the Table

For the Love of Cheese and Jelly

Gentle Readers, it is once more time to open up the food confessional. When I was a kid, one of my favorite snacks, and please don’t ask how this came to pass, was a slice of American cheese covered with strawberry jam. Though I’ve advanced to cheddar and chutney, there is still a special place in my heart for the plasticine combo.

Afterschool snack requested by the Juniors: goat cheese with pepper jelly and wine jelly.

Afterschool snack requested by the Juniors: goat cheese with pepper jelly and wine jelly.

Enter The Practical Cooks Junior. Never have two people been more willing to combine things on their plate. The Eldest keeps everything separate simply so she can combine in the proportions and permutations of her choosing. So when we held a mini cheese tasting the other day, brought about by a sale at the local cheese shop, it was game on.

Strawberry Jam Session

Strawberry Jam Session

For those of you who are Southern, you may skip ahead. For everyone else, meet Pepper Jelly. It’s a slightly sweet and a little bit spicy concoction, best served with goat or cream cheese in my opinion. And definitely on a salty cracker.

When in doubt, taste jelly with a spoon!

When in doubt, taste jelly with a spoon!

But why stop there? Brie and chutney is a classic, so we paired a hoop cheese with red wine jelly. The list goes on. It makes for an amazing grilled cheese: white cheddar melted on good bread, schmear it with apple butter. The salty and sweet are made for each other.

Classic Grilled Cheese

Classic Grilled Cheese

Not every combo is a winner, but the fun is in the journey. Special thanks to Miss Clairol for the inspiration and the jellies. It’s good to revisit one’s culinary roots sometimes.

Are you a fan of the cheese and jelly pairing? Share your combos in the comments section!

Questions? Submit now. The question that is. Your free will is still your own. Email me: 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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Coming up Friday, Get Your Iron On: Beet It!

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Filed under On the Table, Snacks

Turkeyless Thanksgiving for the Junior Pilgrims: Sides FTW

Gentle readers, if one wants to start a fight, threaten the national bird of Thanksgiving. There are few holidays that cause more passionate feelings around the table than this yearly feast. New-fangled ideas are generally not welcome. Such was the hue and cry around my declaration that the unconventional Practical Cooks Junior would not be having turkey this year.

Happy Thanksgiving! Turkey Cookie Craft Completed.

Happy Thanksgiving! Turkey Cookie Craft Completed.

They are both now declared vegetarians, and they plan to thank turkeys by keeping them alive. Truthfully, and lean in close here, I have always preferred the side dishes at Thanksgiving over the turkey. In the debate of turkey vs. sides, we pit a typically dry, flavorless bird against an infinite variety of starch and veg. How is that a fair fight?

Voila! Pumpkin Coconut Pudding with a Cinnamon Graham Cracker Crust is born!

Voila! Pumpkin Coconut Pudding with a Cinnamon Graham Cracker Crust is born!

For my good friend Dr. Tweeter, why not serve a virtual bird, hmm? Augment the reality of that turkey. We will have pictures of turkeys, and there will be a chicken casserole for those who wish to partake. Meanwhile, I have been given license to go wild on the side dishes. Thanks, I think I will.

Here’s the rough Thanksgiving menu, still in progress:

Chicken casserole
Homemade cranberry sauce (I adore this stuff, and turkey has always been merely a vector for it)
Turnip/mustard greens
Pea casserole
Fruit salad
Macaroni and cheese
Corn pudding
Acorn squash stuffed with wild rice, dried cranberries, and mushrooms
Sweet potato casserole
Bread

Desserts will hopefully include a pumpkin pie, cherry pie, and spice cake of some stripe. I would add brownies to the mix, but then I would just find a reason to be overly thankful for them.

Turbaconducken FTW!

Turbaconducken FTW!

In all fairness, and with my extensive knowledge of Fried, I have never had deep-fried turkey. I’m sure I would like it. Or bacon-wrapped turkey (as shown here). Until such moment that one of these arrives at my doorstep, it’s turkey-free Thanksgiving for the extended Team Practical Cook.

Where do you stand in the turkey vs sides debate? What’s your favorite Thanksgiving side dish?

Send your cranberry, your turkey cantankerousness, and your pumpkin bread 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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Filed under Fried, Kitchen Philosophy, On the Table

School Lunches, Revisted

Gentle Readers, multiple times a week, The Practical Cook faces the ultimate challenge: prepping two lunches that are portable, healthy, vegetarian, and able to be consumed in 15 minutes or less. Now, the joy of raising the Juniors as foodies is immeasurable. Conversely, they are incredibly adept food critics.

The ultimate leftover compliment.

The ultimate leftover compliment.

So here are a few tricks we’ve pulled out in the last few weeks. Also for the record, since both Practical Cooks Junior have converted to vegetarianism, we really haven’t partaken of the cafeteria lunch.

School Lunches, Revisited

1. Cheese and Crackers. Serve this with fruit and make everything bite-sized. The Whole Foods bits and pieces bin is a great value for trying new cheeses. It keeps lunch interesting to try different flavors.

Two cheese are better than one. From the bits and pieces bin at Whole Foods, Parmesan and Romano.

Two cheese are better than one. From the bits and pieces bin at Whole Foods, Parmesan and Romano.

2. Hummus and Mini Pitas. Just add baby carrots, celery sticks, or cucumbers. Throw in a fruit leather if you feel crazy.

3. Bagels with Cream Cheese. Half a bagel with cream cheese has been the perfect serving size. Serve with a side of nuts and some raisins.

The Jrs' First New York Bagel

The Jrs’ First New York Bagel

4. Yogurt with Fruit and Granola. The key here is including the toppings separately. Mixing your lunch is very satisfying. I often serve this with nuts or a side of fruit as well.

Apple Walnut Parfait!

Apple Walnut Parfait!

5. Pumpkin Butter and Cream Cheese on Bread. Tis the season! Pumpkin butter is a great peanut butter alternative. Served with kale chips or dried seaweed for balance.

What’s in your lunchbox these days? Post a comment below!

Send your quips, brownies, and good 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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Coming up Friday, How Skim Is Your Milk?

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Filed under On the Table, Snacks