Category Archives: Punt!

Creamy Corn and Roasted Pepper Soup Review (and Bonus Recipe)

Gentle Readers, there are few things that are simpler and more diverse than soup. Yes, scratch soups are awesome, and I’ve got many a previous post on them. However, when you have 10 minutes to feed the troops, it never hurts to have some Punt! options on hand. Enter the line of Trader Joe’s boxed soups. Often available as organic and low-sodium, they, to use the vernacular, rock.

Creamy Corn and Rosted Pepper Soup from Trader Joe's

Creamy Corn and Rosted Pepper Soup from Trader Joe’s

Today we’ll be reviewing the Creamy Corn and Roasted Pepper Soup. Do not mistake this for a red pepper, it is in fact a green one. The soup is not overly think, and has a distinct Southwestern flair. I’ve found many of the soups run fairly sweet, and this is no exception. Well balanced, it was a hit with the whole of Team Practical Cook.

It's not easy being green, soup.

It’s not easy being green, soup.

But wait, there’s more! Feeding vegetarians, growing vegetarians, is no simple task. To make this meal more substantial, we doctored the soup. Here’s how.

Creamy Corn and Roasted Pepper Soup Recipe Suggestion

1 box Trader Joe’s Cream Corn and Roasted Pepper Soup
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed well
1/2 can of quartered artichoke hearts, drained
handful of crushed tortilla chips

In a medium pot over medium heat, bring the soup to a boil. (Tip, open and pour it into the pot, do not add the box whole.) When the soup comes to a simmer, add the chickpeas and artichoke hearts. Simmer for 10 minutes. Serve, topped with a smattering of crushed tortilla chips.

Chickpeas and artichokes add protein and dimension to the soup, chips add crunch and bring out the corn flavor.

Chickpeas and artichokes add protein and dimension to the soup, chips add crunch and bring out the corn flavor.

If you like heat, consider garnishing with fresh or pickled jalepeño in a fine dice.

This soup is truly delicious, and making it a more complete meal is obscenely easy. You can thank me later. Perhaps with the extra time you can make some cookies.

Are you a fan of boxed soups? Have you tried the Trader Joe’s line? Do you think I live in the store? Comment below.

Send your kitchen confessions, food dilemmas, and poundcakes 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, it’s Sunday Sunday Sunday! Weekly Menus Time.

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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.

Questions, quips, and winning lottery tickets may be sent 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, 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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Coming up Sunday: Weekly Menus, Vegetarian/Travel Edition!

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Fast Food at Home (Lunch and Dinner Edition)

Gentle Readers, sometimes life doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for food preparation. In my job, I have the good fortune of being able to work from wherever there’s wifi. My kitchen is the corporate kitchen most days of the week. However, before you submit your resumes to me to pass along, be prepared to eat lunch on camera and to prep it in 3 to 10 minutes.

Speedy Salad: Strawberries, rotisserie chicken, almonds, goat cheese, greens.

Speedy Salad: Strawberries, rotisserie chicken, almonds, goat cheese, greens.

Yes, that’s right, there were no zeros missing from the above statement. I attend a lot of conference calls. I’m committed to being present in the meeting, so I use my webcam. The meetings run 30 minutes to an hour, and they’re often back to back. Because I work West coast hours, that spans the traditional lunch time. So I know quite a bit about fast food.

Open-faced tomato sammie, or tapas!

Open-faced tomato sammie, or tapas!

Dinner is 30 minutes or less by necessity. So fast food in the commercial sense is not really an option for me. Talking about quick meals with a chef friend, I asked what he made for himself when he was tired and wanted something easy. His answer: a roasted chicken with roasted potatoes and turnips.

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.

Um, yeah, that’s not something I can prepare when I’m exhausted and it’s late! He even excused it as “rustic.” My point here, you have to work within your skill level and expertise. I can’t whip out a souffle or bi bim bap, but I can rock some pancakes, a quesadilla, or some tapas.

Spinach quesadilla with avocado slices FTW!

Spinach quesadilla with avocado slices FTW!

The Practical Cook’s 5 Tips for Making Fast Food at Home

1. Shop smart. I’ve been over this before, but stocking your pantry with Punt! meals that you can make in your sleep is key. You can’t eat the leg of your desk. Things I’m never without currently: peanut butter, bananas, bread, tortillas, spinach, cheese, yogurt, walnuts. I can make salads, sandwiches, parfaits, and more in seconds with these.

2. Plan ahead. This is a laudable goal, and I admire greatly those who succeed at it. This week, I’m happy to remember to dress in the AM. From my friend Literacy Cook, boil eggs in advance! From Complicated Veggie, pack lunch the night before! Go team! This could also include leaving leftovers in a state of near-readiness (single serving bowls, lined up in the fridge, etc.).

3. Practice. You’ll never get faster if you don’t. It may be years before I consider roasting a chicken and root veggies fast food (Chef tips: turn the oven on immediately when you get home, high heat and spatchcock the bird), but the more often I am forced to perform this dance, the faster I get.

4. Recruit help. I am fortunate in that The Practical Cooks Junior make excellent sous chefs and wait staff. They can now set the table, read labels, open jars, pour water and milk, and so on. It slows things down a bit short-term, but think of the long-term rewards!

5. Remain open. This bit of advice is as open as it sounds. You know what makes things fast? Not binding yourself to the notion of meat and three. You need nutritious food, not to win Iron Chef. Yogurt parfaits are fantastic and infinitely variable, cereal can work in a pinch, leave the top off your sandwich and eat it as tapas, throw random leftovers into a bowl of lettuce and call it salad.

The Juniors and I have embraced summer with 6 arms this year. We set aside dinner formality to work together, play together, and eat together. I’m sure the structure of a new school year will return us to more traditional meals as well, but we’ve learned a lot about being creative in the kitchen. They’ve asked that I do a breakfast edition of this post, so look for that soon. What do you eat for fast food? Share your ideas below!

Send your speedy suggestions, good ideas, and mayhem 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, A Little Vegetarian.

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Simply Herb Pasta Recipe

Gentle Readers, sometimes the answer is pasta. For anyone going carb-less, it may be time to avert your eyes. It’s summertime, and the herbs and tomatoes are still in abundance. What better to pair them with than Parmesan and pasta? It’s fast, filling, and fun. Plus, the Practical Cooks Junior got a lesson in Herbology that even Snape would admire.

Simply Herb Pasta

Simply Herb Pasta

Simply Herb Pasta Recipe

This is more guideline than actual recipe, in great part because full credit goes to Waldorf for the idea. Thanks. Here are the basic ingredients:

garlic
olive oil
crushed red pepper flakes
mixture of herbs (mint, parsley, thyme, rosemary, basil, oregano, in any combination
grape tomatoes
white wine
Parmesan
cooked pasta (this was with spaghetti, but other shapes would be nice too)

Saute garlic in olive oil over medium heat with a few red pepper flakes. Meanwhile, assign kitchen helpers to identify and de-stem a variety of herbs, rendering a cup or so of them. Chop them vigorously and set aside. Add grape tomatoes sliced in half to your pan, and some white wine. (No judgment passed if you had some to the cook too.) Reduce your sauce. Taste for seasoning, add the herbs and saute till you smell them. Toss the cooked pasta in, add Parmesan. Serve.

Prep work goes fast with small chefs in training.

Prep work goes fast with small chefs in training.

What I loved about this was the complexity of each bite. Each one was different, and you had to reach for the flavors. The Jrs were able to identify the spices at a restaurant the next night. Here’s the Eldest’s picture of them.

From the kitchen of ONE restaurant, rosemary and thyme. (photo credit: The Eldest)

From the kitchen of ONE restaurant, rosemary and thyme. (photo credit: The Eldest)

Are you single herb or multiple for your pasta? Post a comment below. School is back in session soon and you will be tested.

Deep thoughts, burgers, and fries can be sent 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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This Friday: Burger Wars, Another Entry from the Field.

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Simply Squash: Summer Meets Winter

Gentle Readers, simple is so often the best way forward with vegetables. The thing about cooking in the summer, it’s hot. There are days where I would like to subsist on nothing but watermelon and dreams of fall, but alas, one must eat. And sometimes, amazing vegetables fall into your lap from your family. Okay, that’s just my good luck being from a farming family.

Sweet Dumpling Squash: Winter Visits the Summer Table

Sweet Dumpling Squash: Winter Visits the Summer Table

We identified these as Sweet Dumpling Squash, and proceeded to cook them for lunch. The Practical Cooks Junior assisted and ate the whole thing in one sitting. It was a much-needed break from typical summer fare. Winter squash, not just for winter.

Simply Squash: Sweet Dumpling Squash Recipe

Wash and dry your squash. Jab it a few times with a sharp knife. Avoid your fingers. Put it on a plate, and microwave for 5 minutes. Turn it over, microwave for another 5 minutes. See if the squash feels soft. If yes, let it sit for a few, then slice in half, scoop out and toss the seeds and the membranes. Then scoop out the flesh (like a squash zombie), add some butter (I don’t judge), and a pinch or two of salt and nutmeg. Mash. Eat. Thank me later.

Beautiful Sweet Dumpling Squash Pre-Scooping

Beautiful Sweet Dumpling Squash Pre-Scooping

What are you craving this summer? Confess all by posting a comment below. Or Tweet in my direction.

If you are actually reading this fine print, feel free to email me at 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 Sunday, Weekly Menus!

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Punt! Peanut Butter Banana Pancakes with a Side of Bacon

Gentle Readers, sometimes good fruit goes almost bad. The tomatoes sat too close to the bananas, chaos ensued. Normally I freeze the overripe bananas, but I’ve got a stockpile awaiting banana bread time. And it was breakfast, and the Juniors and I were hungry and creative. Peanut Butter Banana Pancakes with a Side of Bacon were born.

Trader Joe's Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter with Sea Salt

Trader Joe’s Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter with Sea Salt

Peanut Butter Banana Pancakes Recipe

Start with your favorite pancake mix. I prefer whole grain or buckwheat. Don’t judge. There will be more on this topic soon when I deploy my emergency pancake rescue team. Make according to the mix, but go light on the oil. Add 1-2 thoroughly mashed, completely overripe bananas. We’re talking blackening ones. Mash mash mash. Add the bananas and a spot of dark brown sugar to the mix. Make silver dollar size pancakes.

One Very Large Banana Pancake!

One Very Large Banana Pancake!

And if you’re me, make the last one a gigantor pancake, for no reason other than you want to sit down and eat and it’s what you’ve always done.

Melt a few tablespoons of peanut butter in the microwave, just takes a few seconds. Apply as a drizzle or light spread to pancakes, top with maple syrup, serve with bacon (or facon, the salt is what’s important here).

Sing Love Me Tender at the top of your lungs and thank me later.

What do you like to add to your pancakes? Post a comment below, I’m listening. Better still, Tweet me a video of you covering Elvis. Special thanks to the Juniors for helping invent and consume these. You are the bestest.

Send your good ideas, your challenges, and your kind regards 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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Sunday Sunday Sunday, will be late. I’ll be in the air, but you’ll get Weekly Menus later in the day.

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