Category Archives: Punt!

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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Coming up Sunday: Weekly Menus, It’s Finally Fall Edition

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Doctoring Store-Bought Food: Tailgating Recipes Edition

Gentle Readers, sometimes one has all the time in the world to create a culinary masterpiece, and sometimes one must PUNT! In the spirit of football season and tailgating parties, here are two recipes devised to save time and save face.

Speaking of saving face, looks like the crowd approves the side dishes. Or you took selfies with my phone.

Speaking of saving face, looks like the crowd approves the side dishes. Or you took selfies with my phone.

If you have to feed a crowd in a hurry, what better choices than baked beans and potato salad? But on a busy weekend during the school year, however much I may like to start from scratch, I will compromise and doctor store-bought. I even signed my name to one of them.

Mildly doctored blondies: wasn't blown away by this mix, better from scratch. But they are pretty.

Mildly doctored blondies: wasn’t blown away by this mix, better from scratch. But they are pretty.

Doctored Potato Salad Recipe

I bought this beauty from SuperTarget, selected for quantity, price, and not being overly mayo-filled or celery seed laced. I have evolved in my acceptance of celery over the years, but I am unyielding on those celery seeds. They are not delicious to me. I digress.

Specially doctored by The Practical Cook: SuperTarget Potato Salad!

Specially doctored by The Practical Cook: SuperTarget Potato Salad!

1 container of potato salad that meets your personal needs (size and flavor profile)
yellow mustard
sweet or dill relish, or  a combination
chopped parsley (optional)
dash of hot sauce
sliced cherry tomatoes

Now you have a decision to make–is the container large enough to stir in your add-ins, or do you need to mix in a separate bowl? I’ll wait while you sort this out. Now you also must decide whether you own the doctoring or go full out and pass it as your own in a nice bowl.

Regardless, stir in the yellow mustard (a healthy dose if you want to offset mayo), relish, parsley (will make it taste fresh, don’t overdo it), and a dash of hot sauce (like Tabasco, and I mean just a dash) until fully blended. Top with sliced cherry tomatoes. Serve with a smile on your face.

Beer and Bacon Baked Beans Recipe

I adapted this recipe from Beer-Can Chicken, an amazing little cookbook that I worked on promoting many years ago. It calls for ribs and a grill, but bacon and an over work just fine, too.

Beer and Bacon Baked Beans before the oven!

Beer and Bacon Baked Beans before the oven!

1 large can of pork-n-beans (yes, the ones with the fatback and tomato sauce that are crazy cheap and taste bad by themselves)
1 can each: black beans, pinto beans, dark red kidney beans–rinsed thoroughly
smoky meat: can be leftover ribs, a bit of ham, or my favorite, cooked bacon
1 small onion, diced
1/2 – 3/4 cup diced mixed peppers (the sweet kind, I use the frozen mixed ones)
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/3 cup barbecue sauce (doesn’t have to be fancy, I use Kraft because it’s cheap)
2 healthy teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 of a beer, the rest is for the cook
Ground black pepper to taste
a shot of your favorite hot sauce, to taste

Mix it all up in a 9 by 13 glass dish (or aluminum one if you’re wanting to toss it later), heat in a grill or in a 375-400 degree oven until bubbling and reduced. Thank me later, but feel free to invite me to your tailgate party now.

Beer and Bacon Baked Beans Completed!

Beer and Bacon Baked Beans Completed!

What are your favorite things to buy and make better? Post a comment here or Tweet my way! Special thanks to #vGingerBeard and family for the invitation and the unsolicited thumbs up.

Send your good ideas, lucrative offers, and free chocolate samples 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!

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Weekly Menus: Fast Food Edition

Gentle Readers, sometimes one must concede to gravity, time, or other immutable forces. This is one such week. I’m at the crossroads at one of the largest events I work every year, with one of the most important ones. That would be my company’s tech conference and The Youngest Practical Cook’s Birthday Party. Yes, there were two parties, it happens sometimes.

Fast Food: Toast, Egg Over Medium, Bacon, Sprinkle of Frank's Hot Sauce. Side of Watermelon.

Fast Food: Toast, Egg Over Medium, Bacon, Sprinkle of Frank’s Hot Sauce. Side of Watermelon.

I can now make a carrot cake in my sleep (and almost did after midnight last night). The larger point being–I still have to pull a Weasley Car act and shove more into one bag than should fit. At least I’m generally packed for this business trip, but I still have miles to go and need some sleep.

Carrot Cake, Stark Naked. Renamed WTFCake due to the state of the week. Smells like magic and sunshine.

Carrot Cake, Stark Naked. Renamed WTFCake due to the state of the week. Smells like magic and sunshine.

So I’m breaking format with some thoughts about how I eat and feed TPCs Jr during crunch time, something I often tag on Instagram as #fastfood. My friend @ConvertibleLife had a great picture the other day of a pita pizza topped with produce-box offerings.

Peanut Butter Toast: Seriously Fast Food. Side of Cherries.

Peanut Butter Toast: Seriously Fast Food. Side of Cherries.

My version of #fastfood is a commitment to keeping the house stocked with things we can eat quickly that provide more nutritional firepower than the commercial Fast Food. We are not making quiches and roasts here, I ate quesadillas for lunch most days last week, under 10 minutes prep including bringing a cast iron skillet up to proper heat.

Another spinach quesadilla, but with Pepadew Havarti and Cowboy Caviar. Fast Food.

Another spinach quesadilla, but with Pepadew Havarti and Cowboy Caviar. Fast Food.

We keep a lot of fruit on hand at this time of year–cherries, apples, bananas, watermelon, strawberries– and one day I fueled up almost exclusively on watermelon and granola bars. This is not ideal, I’ll fully admit, but it’s still better for me than the alternatives. I don’t want to rely on frozen heat-up meals. I don’t want to eat powerbars or drink my lunch. I like to chew.

I can’t afford the physical crash that follows a typical burgers and fries fast food meal. Believe you me, I heart junk food, it’s just not sustainable when I need to stay alert and energized. For me, plain yogurt with fruit, nuts, and a sprinkle of muesli or granola is a much better option. More importantly, it’s faster than driving through.

Spinach salad with walnuts, cherries, and goat cheese. Balsamic and olive oil drizzle. Fast Food.

Spinach salad with walnuts, cherries, and goat cheese. Balsamic and olive oil drizzle. Fast Food.

I made this salad in 5 minutes, the key was having the ingredients on hand. Obviously I have my breaking point when it comes to time, as this not-weekly menus post proves. I’m traveling on business next week, and I need to push pause here and focus. I’ll pick back up next Sunday. In the meantime, I encourage you to find new ways to eat and feed your family when time is the most precious commodity. Try cheese, crackers, fruit, and carrots.

Summer happiness = watermelon

Summer happiness = watermelon

And forgive yourself the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches too. One day I’ll cook complex and interesting meals again, just not this week. See you soon–would love to hear your comments and see your #fastfood.

Send your SPF, watermelon, 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! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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Coming up Next Sunday: Back on Track, Weekly Menus Resume!

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Weekly Menus: Week of 5/5/2013 (Vegas Baby)

Gentle Readers, it’s that time again. In my professional life, May hearkens the beginning of conference season. The big ones. The ones where I’m transported back to my college days where I find myself working as hard as I did before final exams, where days slip one into the other. Then, it’s time to execute, and someone you find the energy.

Not Practical Shoes: Over/Under Odds on Falling?

Not Practical Vegas Shoes: Over/Under Odds on Falling?

All of this takes fuel, and some forgiveness on the lack of originality. This is what menu planning is for, really, to cover you when you need to go on autopilot. Plus, TPC’s Mom will be at the helm in the kitchen, and she has her own views on what’s for dinner. (Did you like how I phrased that? I’m very diplomatic.)

Oatmeal Toppings at Grand Luxe Cafe: Golden Raisins, Brown Sugar, Milk, Bananas

Oatmeal Toppings at Grand Luxe Cafe: Golden Raisins, Brown Sugar, Milk, Bananas (My Glamorous Vegas Breakfast of Choice)

So here are some guidelines, the only request that holds firm is nachos, requested by TPC’s Jr. The proposed weekly menus are as follows:

Weekly Menus: 5/5/2013

Weekly Menus: 5/5/2013

Which means The Four Square Grocery List was very light (no wasting of food!):

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 5/5/2013

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 5/5/2013

All translating into:

Sunday: Rotisserie Chicken and Rice
They are on sale on Sundays in many places, and kicking of the week simply has many advantages.

Monday: Chicken Salad with Grapes
Advantages include leftovers early in the week! I had a salad the other night with duck confit and grapes, and this is a low-lift rendition, unless of course you have duck confit just waiting to be used. If so, proceed and please invite me over.

Tuesday: _______
This is an extra busy night, and I’m going to let TPC’s Mom fill in the blank. I can only imagine it will be a casserole or one-pan dish, and I’ll probably wish I was there eating it. Favorite include tortilla casserole, tomato pie, lasagna.

Wednesday: Nachos!
TPC’s Jr can make this, with a bit of help turning on the oven and opening a can of beans. I look forward to what happens. Please take pictures Mom.

Thursday: Pizza and Salad
I am not without humanity–there are frozen pizzas and salad in the house.

Friday: Vegetable Delight
I’m Southern, deeply so. Oftentimes growing up, one meal would be the clean-up hitter–a mix of every vegetable known to mankind. Great way to use up leftovers, often served with Beans and Franklins (as I used to call them) and/or Deviled Eggs. I will get off the plane hungry, and this already sounds good.

Saturday: Dine Out!
Though I will undoubtedly be up to my eyeballs in cocktail party food, Fried, and bacon-laced items, we will still dine out. It’s a family tradition, and one the Jrs and I very much enjoy. I’ll be ordering a salad.

Watch for the food posts from Vegas this week on Twitter. What kind of menus do you leave when someone else is in your kitchen? Do you prep food in advance? Leave money for pizza? Post your comments below!

Send good luck, lucrative offers, 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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Coming up Wednesday: Oooop!

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Leftover Salad, a Recipe of Sorts

Gentle Readers, sometimes it is difficult to determine how best to use up leftovers. Things that were once delicious can seem foreign or small, or fuzzy. Excluding the latter category as science experiment, let us discuss one of the most efficient ways to solve the leftover problem: a bed of lettuce.

Beautiful lettuces all in a row at the Farmer's Market.

Beautiful lettuces all in a row at the Farmer’s Market.

Yes, in the season of rabbits, greens are the great connector. After a fantastic meal with friends and colleagues at G2B Restaurant recently, I walked home with leftovers from the charcuterie plate and half my steak. What is a Practical Cook to do?

Leftover Salad, courtesy of steak, onions, and cheese from G2B Restaurant.

Leftover Salad, courtesy of steak, onions, and cheese from G2B Restaurant.

This. I sliced the steak into bite-sized pieces, and crumbled one of the cheeses over the top. Dollop of the caramelized onions, and topped with balsamic and olive oil. I also added a handful of dried cherries. It was transforming. I wanted to eat one the next day.

Charcuterie plate becomes salad bar!

Charcuterie plate becomes salad bar!

Alas, the blessing and curse of the leftover salad, each one as unique as a snowflake. The larger point, start looking at your leftovers like toppings at a salad bar. It will change your relationship to them and to lunch. Enjoy.

What’s the strangest salad combo you’ve ever made? I won’t tell. Post a comment, send a tweet, hail a carrier pigeon, just share!

Send your leftovers, witty rejoinders, and binders full of 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 next on Friday, Roasted Broccoli with Oranges, or How to Fake Chinese Takeout.

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Smoked Salmon Salad: A Recipe of Sorts

Gentle Readers, sometimes life requires hitting the reset button. After weeks of being on the road, meal after meal out, it is time to detox. The good eating habits were taking a beating, and the chocolate chip cookies were being consumed in grosses. When that happens, I have to stop and smell the carrot sticks.

Smoked Salmon Salad, now with pea pods!

Smoked Salmon Salad, now with pea pods!

I don’t really like carrot sticks, which makes it that much more effective. However, I do love salad. So I’ve been eating one most days for lunch. This one is exceptionally tasty, borne of what was on hand. Great blend of salt and crunch, tied together with a little smoke. Special thanks to SmokerNinja and family for the leftover salmon that anchors this creation.

Romaine lettuce prep!

Romaine lettuce prep!

Smoked Salmon Salad

a serving of leftover smoked salmon (prefer hot smoked over cold for this)
romaine lettuce
1/2 avocado, diced
sugar snap pea pods
crunchy rice noodles (in the Asian section of the grocery store, near chow mein noodles)
Caesar-Romano Dressing (or something light and fruity, your choice)

Avocado sliced in the halfshell.

Avocado sliced in the halfshell.

Toss in quantities of your choice. I was low on romaine and used a lot of pea pods. It was pretty fantastic. Smoked salmon adds depth, but leftover cooked salmon would work as well. Don’t skip the crunchy noodles, they are our current favorite salad topping.

Trader Joe's Romano Caesar Dressing, I Heart You

Trader Joe’s Romano Caesar Dressing, I Heart You

So what’s in your salad bowl? Share your ideas in the comments box below!

Send your bacon, your lettuce, and your vine-ripened tomatoes 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!

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Soy Chicken Review: Friend or Foul Fowl?

Gentle Readers, lean in close, it’s confession time. For many many years, I was a vegetarian but not a particularly good one. I was more of a cheesetarian, with a side of veggie burgers. Now that TPCs Jr have declared themselves to be vegetarians, I feel far more invested in expanding their diet.

Bubbling Hot Tofu Soup from Vit Goal

Bubbling Hot Tofu Soup from Vit Goal

All of that said, it boils down to a simple conundrum: I like tofu, they do not. The Youngest could write an ode to her dislike of the stuff, but I have not yet thrown in the tofu-water soaked towel. So while I’m not crazy over the idea of “meat substitutes,” I use them. I would much prefer each meal to be a lovingly prepared and balanced variety of veggies, legumes, and more, but let’s keep it real people.

Gardein Teriyaki Chick'n Strips

Gardein Teriyaki Chick’n Strips

Enter Gardein Teriyaki Chick’n Strips. I typically find soy chicken one of the more noxious offerings, but TPCs Jr loved it at a local Chinese place. So I bought a package as an experiment. OMG. They probably lace the sauce package with fairy dust, but this stuff is actually good.

I can't believe it's not chick'n!

I can’t believe it’s not chick’n!

First, it is chicken strip shaped, but the texture is way better than typically found. Second, the sauce is nicely balanced. It has umami. It’s a blend of salt, tang, and sugar that works. Cook some rice or noodles, steam some broccoli, pan-steam a few veggie dumplings, boil some edamame. Dinner is served.

Full fake Chinese meal!

Full fake Chinese meal!

And it is served at 1/4 of the price of getting the exact same thing at the local Chinese place. I still consider this cheating, and file it as “vegetarian junk food,” but it is incredibly good. The three of us can plow through a package, so for a large appetite group or more people, you may want to double down.

I won't lie, this soy chicken is tasty.

I won’t lie, this soy chicken is tasty.

Highly recommended for anyone who has to work and feed gourmands. I still hold out hope they’ll fall in love with tofu (they eat edamame by the bushel), but until then, to the Gardein I go.

What’s your stance on meat substitutes? Post a comment below or Tweet my way. I look forward to hearing from you!

Send your witticisms, deep thoughts, 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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Coming up Sunday, it’s Weekly Menu Time! or How to Cook in Chaos.

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