Category Archives: One Ingredient Three Ways

More Pumpkin in Review: The Pies Have It!

Gentle Readers, it is with great relief that I’m winding up this personal pumpkin challenge. To be frank, I almost wept openly in Trader Joe’s when I saw the number of pumpkin items yet untried, mainly in the frozen dessert aisle.

The cutest pumpkins ever. Clementines with an apple stem. One more pumpkin and I'll scream like those bananas though.

The cutest pumpkins ever. Clementines with an apple stem. One more pumpkin and I’ll scream like those bananas though.

But enough is enough–why do I need to buy pumpkin bread pudding when I’m more than capable of making my own? In spite of the toll my real life schedule takes on my cooking time (and my blogging time for that matter), every day that I cook something from scratch, or simply feed myself and TPCs Jr, feels like a victory.

Almost from scratch pumpkin pie. Hold the Cool Whip please.

Almost from scratch pumpkin pie. Hold the Cool Whip please.

So making a pumpkin pie from “scratch” (air quotes to honor the Trader Joe’s frozen pie crust deployed into this fight) seems worthy of a ticker tape celebration. I even served it with Pumpkin Ravioli. Thus the pumpkin tales end where they began.

Three More Favorite Pumpkin Things:

1. Pumpkin Ravioli. These are actually good, though the batch we had was less than smooth in the filling of a few of them. Serve with a simple brown butter and sage sauce–melt butter, fry sage, toss with cooked pasta, call it gourmet. This is a family favorite, worthy of serving special guests.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Ravioli with Brown Butter and Sage--Nom!

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Ravioli with Brown Butter and Sage–Nom!

2. Pumpkin Pancakes. Still the house favorite, using the Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle mix as a starter, we often add ground flaxseed, applesauce, almond meal, and/or chopped walnuts. It’s very flexible, have at it. On rare occasions, we add chocolate chips. I still don’t like them in my pancakes, judge me if you will.

World's Largest Pumpkin Pancake. I totally flipped it midair, no spatula. #win

World’s Largest Pumpkin Pancake. I totally flipped it midair, no spatula. #win

3. Pumpkin Pie. I made the recipe from the back of the Libby’s pumpkin can, a time-honored approach. I swapped in the Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice, which I adore, and used the aforementioned frozen crust, also from TJ’s. I know it’s got no trans fats in it, but I found it a bit doughy and brittle, and that’s not just operator error. It’s crust in the end, so it’s still good, but apparently I like a little more trans fat in my pie crusts.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pie Spice: With Cardamom and Lemon Peel, I Love This Stuff

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice: With Cardamom and Lemon Peel, I Love This Stuff

Honorable Mentions:

  • Pumpkin Toaster Pastries. Not my favorite, but TPCs Jr gave these a thumbs up as a seasonal travel food.
  • Pumpkin Bars. Not a bad entry, bordering on the dessert category.
  • Pumpkin Biscotti. These were also not bad, but having made my own, I’m now permanently spoiled.
  • Pumpkin Blondies. Okay, but I didn’t really see the point here.
  • Pumpkin Loaf Bread Mix. Again, a pretty strong contender, but quick breads aren’t hard to make from scratch, and you have more control over the flavor profile. Secretly, I still greatly prefer Starbucks Pumpkin Bread. It’s the seeds I tell you!
  • Pumpkin Butter. A nice side with apples or the Trader Joe’s Triple Gingersnaps.
So much pumpkin at Trader Joe's: butter and mix and decorative gourds oh my!

So much pumpkin at Trader Joe’s: butter and mix and decorative gourds oh my!

And thus ends my pumpkin journey. I’m now heading into Thanksgiving season with a healthy portion of condensed soups and fried onions from my favorite alternative grocery store. It’s casserole and stuffing season, and I’ll pay allegiance to other winter squashes henceforth. Acorn and Delicata, I’ve missed you.

What’s your favorite of the pumpkin products? Send a Tweet or comment below! The pumpkin polls are open!

Until next year, leaving the largess of pumpkin behind. TPCs Jr celebrate the overlarge veggies at N.C. State Fair!

Until next year, leaving the largess of pumpkin behind. TPCs Jr celebrate the overlarge veggies at N.C. State Fair!

Send your Cool Whip, maple syrup, and spooky thoughts 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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Next up on Sunday, Weekly Menus: Casserole Edition!

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Pumpkin Pumpkin Everywhere, Not a Drop to Drink: Round 1

Gentle Readers, it seemed like such a simple mission at the start, trying all of the pumpkin things at Trader Joe’s. I gleefully tossed them in my cart with the joy of a completist blog in my future. It looked like this:

Back when I thought it was all about the Pumpkin Pancakes and a fun challenge. Trader Joe's Round 1.

Back when I thought it was all about the Pumpkin Pancakes and a fun challenge. Trader Joe’s Round 1.

Then I went back to the store the next week. And the pumpkin offerings expanded. Now my cart looked like this:

Pumpkin soup, oatmeal, ravioli--wait, how did the Joe Joe's get in there.

Pumpkin soup, oatmeal, ravioli–wait, how did the Joe Joe’s get in there.

Is it possible to suffer from Vitamin A poisoning? Or is this a Michael Pollan level conspiracy, as wonderfully outlined in The Pumpkin Industrial Complex? I’ll wait for you to stop laughing.

Welcome to the N.C. State Fair Memory Lane, Large Pumpkin Edition

Welcome to the N.C. State Fair Memory Lane, Large Pumpkin Edition

So rather than everything, I’m going to start by reviewing a few of my favorite things.

3 Practical Pumpkin Things

1. Pumpkin Granola. I love this cereal. I would eat it regardless of season or the PIC (Pumpkin Industrial Complex). Crunchy, spicy, with a little bit of raisin sass, this is two spoons up.

Pumpkin granola cereal from Trader Joe's, in aggregate.

Pumpkin granola cereal from Trader Joe’s, in aggregate.

2. Pumpkin-Cranberry Scones. Of the mixes I’ve tried, this is one of my favorites. They are simple to make, with a pretty good texture, and a nice pumpkin-ness to them. The cranberries make a lovely addition as well.

Nice texture and warmth, this scone mix is pretty easy to work with.

Nice texture and warmth, this pumpkin scone mix is pretty easy to work with.

3. Pumpkin Crisps. If you’re a fan of the rosemary crisps, this is a run don’t walk situation. Fabulous with a touch of goat cheese or a schmear of pumpkin butter, these I would eat until I foundered. Not your mama’s cracker.

Pumpkin crisps atop, wait for it, pumpkin soup from Trader Joe's. TPC's Jr are pretty much over it.

Pumpkin crisps atop, wait for it, pumpkin soup from Trader Joe’s. TPC’s Jr are pretty much over it.

That’s it for round 1. I’ve got lots more to review, and will even reveal some of my less favorite options. But I will need help from you loyal readers. If you’d like to guest blog, email me. If you’d like to just drop a quick one-line review in the comments, go for it. If you want to get into a pumpkin pie eating contest, I’ll take you on there as well.

Adapatable Pumpkin Pancakes Stack, Birthday Style.

Adapatable Pumpkin Pancakes Stack, Birthday Style.

Send your non-pumpkin items, good ideas, and mind-blowing suggestions 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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Next up on Sunday, Weekly Menus: State Fair Edition

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Road Salad: A How-To-Survive Guide for Eating While Traveling

Gentle Readers, it’s a good thing I love my job and the travel that goes with it, because business travel is not for the faint of heart. Yes, it’s a great opportunity to see the inside of conference halls across the globe. Yes, I adore seeing colleagues I work with constantly and remotely. Yes, I even get to eat meals sometimes. But for all of you who travel as part of your job, or as part of your life, you know that cocktail nibbles do not a healthy diet make.

This Tower of Bacon was featured in a recent party I threw for work. Though there is parsley present, it is not a salad.

This Tower of Bacon was featured in a recent party I threw for work. Though there is parsley present, it is not a salad.

When I can, I bring my running shoes. When I can’t, I throw towels down on the floor and do yoga. There’s always a way to bring a little zen into the schedule. I have a friend who only stays in hotels with pools so he can swim. Make it work for you. Eat fruit and veg when you can, and salads are a great way to do that.

Fried Squash Blossoms on a bed of shaved zucchini. Totally counts as a salad.

Fried Squash Blossoms on a bed of shaved zucchini. Totally counts as a salad.

Road Salad:

1. Take control of your salad destiny in both portion size and toppings. You can order salad almost anywhere, it’s what happens next that can destroy the mission. If you only like one type of salad and it’s way high-cal, order the smaller one. If you’re crazy for greens, go big and limit the toppings. Make it work for you. Small and dense salads can be perfect in a grab and go situation on the road. Just limit the dressing and save the calories for something you want to eat.

Small but mighty, this salad features halloumi cheese and veggie kebabs (with a side of masala chai for kick). From Samovar Tea House, San Francisco.

Small but mighty, this salad features halloumi cheese and veggie kebabs (with a side of masala chai for kick). From Samovar Tea House, San Francisco.

2. If you’re tired of leafy greens, try the beet salad, or the caprese, or even fruit! Expand your mind to include a broader range. Another great choice is a main that is served over a bed of greens. May not be in the salad column, but totally counts.

Greek yogurt with dates, honey, fruit, and basil and mint, plus walnuts. I dream of this sometimes. Also from Samovar Tea House in San Francisco.

Greek yogurt with dates, honey, fruit, and basil and mint, plus walnuts. I dream of this sometimes. Also from Samovar Tea House in San Francisco.

3. Don’t fear the protein. Be it egg, fish, meal, or fowl, or legumes or nuts for that matter, add some lasting energy to your salad. If you are doing fruit salad, get yogurt or cheese. Balance in the force. You’ll stay full longer. This is not about starvation, this is about nutrition with some enjoyment.

Lunch salad from Chevy's Mexican with avocado and steak. Yes please.

Lunch salad from Chevy’s Mexican with avocado and steak. Yes please.

My favorite trick: a Peppermint Patty as a conclusion. I’m not a huge mint person, but mint makes me think of brushing my teeth, which signals that it’s time to stop eating. And chocolate = winning. Feel virtuous about your salad and have a sweet to conclude. You’ll feel satisfied and ready to face the canape again, I promise.

Rare tuna on a bed of greens. Perfect light entree.

Rare tuna on a bed of greens. Perfect light entree.

Send your green leafies, good ideas, and food challenges 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, Busy Family Edition

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Ode to Eggs: One Ingredient, Three Ways

Gentle Readers, it’s that time again. It seems like TPCs Jr and I are in our suitcases more than we are out of them. But have no fear, we have meals to cover the in between times. This summer, the overwhelming winner of the protein Olympics has been the incredible, edible egg.

Sunflower Yellow Egg Yolk from Farm Fresh Egg

Sunflower Yellow Egg Yolk from Farm Fresh Egg

On its own, or in something, eggs have saved the day on multiple occasions. Here are some ideas on how to bring more eggs into your lunch and dinner plans.

Eggs on asparagus with lardons from Guglhupf. It's like a salad, right?

Eggs on asparagus with lardons from Guglhupf. It’s like a salad, right?

One Ingredient, Three Ways: Eggs

1. Egg Salad: The classic and a fantastic way to use up eggs that are on the edge. I boil mine just enough: using the 5 minutes of boiling and 10 minutes of sitting method. Cool, shell, toss with just a touch of mayo, a healthy dose of Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Delightful.

Eggs on their way to becoming egg salad.

Eggs on their way to becoming egg salad.

2. Pasta Tossed with Eggs: We fake carbonara all the time here. Eggs make a fantastic sauce tossed with pasta. Beat three eggs with some olive oil, grated Parmesan or Romano, and juice from half of a lemon. Toss fresh herbs in to taste. Toss with hot pasta, using the residual heat of the pasta and pasta water that clings to drained pasta to form the sauce and just cook the eggs. Toss with chopped bacon or quick pan roasted cherry tomatoes, or leftover grilled zucchini and squash. Sigh.

Not Quite Pasta Carbonara with Spinach

Not Quite Pasta Carbonara with Spinach

3. Eggs on Salad: Either hard-boiled and diced or egg salad itself, this is a great way to use very little dressing and make a big impact. I always do this on the work salad bar with balsamic and olive oil to dress. Really fattens up a dull salad nicely, while avoiding the salad bar cream-based dressings that are full of who knows what and nasty.

The Practical Salad

The Practical Salad

Dinner or lunch, no problem. Eggs are not just for breakfast anymore! What’s your summer meal these days? Post a comment below!

Croque Madame? Oui. (From Vin Rouge)

Croque Madame? Oui. (From Vin Rouge)

Send your farm fresh eggs, your insightful questions, and lucrative deals 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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Up next on Sunday: Weekly Menus, NOLA style.

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The Whole Foods Salad Bar: A User’s Guide

Gentle Readers, it is serious confession time. I love the Whole Foods salad bar in a way most people reserve for God and Country. I love the variety. I love that I didn’t have to prep 1 million individual ingredients. I love the fresh crispy vegetables and the potential of using squash casserole as a topping.

Shredded beets and two cubes of tofu, yes please. Whole Foods Salad.

Shredded beets and two cubes of tofu, yes please. Whole Foods Salad.

That’s right, squash casserole. Don’t judge. Here are my tips to making the most of your trip, without taking out a second mortgage.

The Whole Foods Salad Bar: The Practical Cook Way

1. Limit the salad dressing. Nothing cranks up the cost like too much dressing. Also, it overpowers your careful selections. Let other things flavor your salad, like couscous, quinoa, egg salad, fruit, etc.

Quinoa can add flavor, and is typically already dressed. Whole Foods Salad.

Quinoa can add flavor, and is typically already dressed. Whole Foods Salad.

2. Diversify your offerings. There are so many things from which to choose, don’t get caught loading up on any one thing. If the salad is just for you, take one of each kind of tofu, one tomato, one broccoli, and so on.

Yes, that is squash casserole on top.

Yes, that is squash casserole on top.

3. Don’t skip the hot bar. The vegetables don’t stop at the edge of the salad bar, try steamed green beans and asparagus, cooked carrots, salsa, squash casserole (can’t recommend that enough), the sky’s the limit.

Whole Foods Quinoa and Firecracker Slaw: Working Mom Food

Whole Foods Quinoa and Firecracker Slaw: Working Mom Food

4. Meat is salad too. This will cost you your weight in gold, so limit the addition. However, the smoked meat bar is perfect for a single wing, a portion of brisket, or the top of a rib (skip the bones).

5. Sweet, Crunchy, Salty. The best salads are balanced in composition. Look for different ways to bring color, texture, and taste. Try unusual combinations. If you’re stuck, employ your kids to assist. They don’t come with the same barriers and restrictions you do in terms of “right” and “not right.” Be prepared to eat some combos that would be best on Man vs Food. My favorite right now? Adding a piece of fried yucca on the top.

Whole Foods Salad Bar, I love you.

Whole Foods Salad Bar, I love you.

What’s your favorite trick or foodstuff at the Whole Foods Salad Bar? Post a comment here or on the Facebook page, or Tweet my way!

Send heavy items, good ideas, and legitimate 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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Cereal in Review: Chocolate Almond Granola from Trader Joe’s

Gentle Readers, it is time to meet your new addiction. Perhaps you think you’ve outgrown the sugary cereals of yore (great recap of dead cereals here). Maybe you only watch cartoons streaming now. It’s time to think outside the bowl. Meet Chocolate Almond Granola from Trader Joe’s.

My current cereal addiction: Chocolate Almond Granola from Trader Joe's

My current cereal addiction: Chocolate Almond Granola from Trader Joe’s

If you can’t find it, assume I bought all of the boxes in your location.

It’s both that delicious and extremely multipurpose. Dry, it’s like the best crumbled up dark chocolate oat granola bar you could imagine.

Bananas plus Maraschino cherries and walnuts? I say yes.

Bananas plus Maraschino cherries and walnuts? I say yes.

Paired with fruit (I’ve tried strawberries, cherries, and bananas) and plain yogurt, Chocolate Almond Granola is the pair of snakeskin shoes to the favorite black t-shirt and jeans. It just adds that something something.

Sliced strawberries with yogurt and a sprinkle of chocolate granola? Afternoon just got a whole lot more interesting.

Sliced strawberries with yogurt and a sprinkle of chocolate granola? Afternoon just got a whole lot more interesting.

It’s not overly sweet, relying more on cocoa powder than sugar, and the balance of crunch and almond, with enough fat to hold it together, it’s just amazing. As a cereal with milk, TPCs Junior favor a blend. This one features Oatmeal Squares.

Trader Joe's Chocolate Almond Granola plus Oatmeal Squares, a morning blend.

Trader Joe’s Chocolate Almond Granola plus Oatmeal Squares, a morning blend.

Cocoa Krispies and Cocoa Puffs hang their heads in shame near this venerable box. Yes, the milk still turns chocolatey, but you don’t get the mouth film effect. And it’s granola, it has to be healthy, right?

A Pyramid of Sugar Cereals

A Pyramid of Sugar Cereals

This is a multiple box buy situation. I’ll wait for your ingenuity in terms of application. You’re welcome. (Feel free to post your best combos in the comments section or on Twitter!)

Send milk, cartoons, and extra Saturday mornings 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: Summer Summer Summertime!

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3 Salad Ideas OR Greens with Envy

Gentle Readers, in the inimitable words of Shakira, hips don’t lie. Into every bacon-fueled life, some salad must fall. With the onset of summer and the quest to run a 5k (an even more poignant goal as my heart goes out to Boston), it’s time to focus on my other favorite food group, salad.

Blueberry Herb Salad: This picture just makes me want to eat it again.

Blueberry Herb Salad: This picture just makes me want to eat it again.

Yes, you can make friends with salad. It’s infinitely diverse and interesting, and not because you load it down with cheese and dressing and whatever else. It takes time to eat. It’s pretty. I love to top it with fruit.

Tomato Watermelon Salad from Crook's Corner

Tomato Watermelon Salad from Crook’s Corner

But I digress. Here are 3 salad ideas to get you started.

1. Mediterranean style. Greens with goat cheese, orange segments, dates, and almonds. I had this salad this week at Sitti, a Lebanese restaurant in downtown Raleigh. With a light lemony dressing, this was summer on a plate. Delightfully balanced between bitter, salty, sour, and sweet.

Orange Date Salad from Sitti. Mmmm Dates.

Orange Date Salad from Sitti. Mmmm Dates.

2. Ole! Who says salsa is not a salad dressing? This is a new wave take on an old idea: taco salad. A bed of greens, a diced avocado, a mango, some stray black beans, and a few crunchy noodles (forgive me, they should be tortilla strips), and you’ve got a party. I thinned the peach salsa (hello, Trader Joe’s)  just a bit with Orange Champagne Vinegar (also from Trader Joe’s), and it was a hit with everyone.

This is a different salad, because I ate the taco salad too quickly. This is greens, mango, goat cheese, and walnuts. Plus the orange champagne vinegar and a splash of olive oil.

This is a different salad, because I ate the taco salad too quickly. This is greens, mango, goat cheese, and walnuts. Plus the orange champagne vinegar and a splash of olive oil.

3. New Chicken Salad. Rotisserie chicken, diced apples (pink lady FTW), walnuts, Caesar Romano Dressing. I know, perhaps not what you would think of at first, but you’re taking Waldorf salad and mashing it up with chicken Caesar. Don’t be afraid.

TPC Tested, Ninja Approved: New Chicken Salad

TPC Tested, Ninja Approved: New Chicken Salad

As you can tell, I take my salad inspiration from leftovers. I often have less than 5 minutes to prep lunch. If you pre-chop and wash Romaine and leave it in your salad spinner in the fridge, you will grab for it first. Dicing fruit takes less than no time, and then toss something else crunchy or salty on top. Done.

Colander, Salad Spinner, Metal Bowl

Colander, Salad Spinner, Metal Bowl

What are your salad ideas of the moment? Tweet me your salad beauty shots by ccing @practicalcook on Twitter or @amylewi on Instagram. I’m waiting!

Send your food puns, questions, and frosted cupcakes 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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Up next on Friday, Kitchen Tool Talk: 3 More of My Favorite Things

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