Category Archives: Recipes

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

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


  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.


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Rice, It’s What’s for Breakfast

Gentle Readers, being Southern, as I am, there are few versions of chicken and rice that I haven’t tried. Yet, no matter how much of a fan of leftovers I am (cold fried chicken, cold pizza, cold Mexican, yes please), I rarely considered rice for breakfast.

As a regular business traveler to the West Coast, I have certainly seen the pot of congee gurgling along right beside the oatmeal, but I passed it by.

For various reasons, mainly that the Moscone Conference center has been undergoing major renovations, business life has kept me from downtown San Francisco, home to a little tea house called Samovar. I eat two things there: the yogurt with dates and apples and mint, and the jook with smoked duck. (I have been known to devour the grilled cheese with pesto when wisely special ordered by a friend, but let’s not let fact checking disrupt my flow here.)

Shame on me for not investigating further and realizing this before last month, but jook and congee are really close relatives. So when I started to crave jook, I googled and learned the new love of my kitchen life, my Instant Pot, could deliver.

Shout out to Sweet Comfort Kitchen, the Instant Pot Chicken Jook recipe I based my trial run upon. I used all water instead of broth. Chicken quarters are cheapest, and since I’m picky about my bird (I can legitimately taste the difference between commercial and organic chicken, snarky Perdue commercials notwithstanding), I bought those and cut them into two pieces with my trusty poultry shears.

(Sidenote, if you don’t own a pair of actual hardcore kitchen scissors, run don’t walk. To get them that is. After that, walk, because, well, scissors.)

Now just follow the recipe in the link above and you’ll get this:


Don’t be afraid to add more water to adjust to your preferred texture. And if you’re new to this like me, and have texture issues, like me, don’t skip the green onions and chopped peanuts or cashews. The soy sauce and toasted sesame oil shown here are key to punching the flavor. And when pollen slapped me in the face, I added red chili flakes to punch back.

At its core, this is very simple chicken and rice with ginger, amended at the table to your specific taste. The recipe makes a lot. Everyone ate it and I froze a couple for delayed gratification. The chicken was hearty and filling as well, and it reminded me a lot of Chicken and Dumplings with 1/10th of the work involved.

Not quite the refined smoked duck version of Samovar, but a great and simple technique to diversify breakfast, or really any meal. Savory rice, like so many other folks eat around the world, also lasts longer than my beloved commercial cereals, though it pains me to admit that.

What’s on your breakfast table? Tweet my way @practicalcook!

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Ginger Miso Soba Noodle Soup

Gentle readers, in this season of a million germs, few things are more delicious than a bright gingery soup full of greens and carrots. Let us pause to say, I love ramen, I love noodles, and I love the little shops that sell those things. But I don’t live next door to any of them, and the habit gets expensive. And when I’m feeling a touch under the weather, I don’t feel like a fuss.

Enter a homemade version. After a bit of googling, and combining recipes, here’s what I devised. This is flexible, work with what you’ve got in the house, substitute to your taste, with a couple of caveats: 1) the miso paste is worth finding as it adds a depth of flavor; 2) I love soba noodles in this, but you can sub (but buckwheat!), just cook the noodles separately!

The goal here is hot soup that is flavorful, filling, pretty healthy, and can open your sinuses without killing you in the process. Enjoy.


Ginger Miso Soba Noodle Soup 


splash of olive oil
1 Tbsp ginger, minced
1 shallot, minced
1-2 carrots, peeled and cut into circles
4 cups chicken, vegetable, or whatever stock you like
1 Tbsp miso paste
half a bag of spinach, chard, or quick cooking baby greens (anything green that wilts nicely will do)
1/2 package soba noodles, cooked according to package instructions (mine came in a 4-pack of noodles, I used 2 “rounds”)
1 soft-boiled egg per bowl of soup (3 or 4 will be plenty)
soy sauce, to taste
red pepper flakes or Siracha, to taste


  1. In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. When hot but not sputtering, sauté the ginger, shallots, and carrots, stirring frequently.
  2. When carrots are a little soft and the mixture is fragrant, add the chicken stock. Heat until it bubbles.
  3. Take out a cup of the soup liquid, add the miso paste to it, stir to mix well, add back to the soup pot.
  4. Add the greens, cutting the heat off as they start to wilt.
  5. Taste the soup at this point. If you’d like, add soy sauce or red pepper flakes to adjust the flavor. Depending on how salty the stock was, you may not need to do much.
  6. In individual serving bowls, put a portion of soba noodles, and ladle the soup over them. Top with soft-boiled eggs cut in half. Serve immediately with soy sauce and spicy things (red pepper flakes or Siracha) so people can adjust to their level of tolerance.


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The Return of the Practical Cook

Gentle readers, it’s good to see you again. After a rather long hiatus that included an unanticipated kitchen remodel and an evolving set of household eaters, it’s time to put knife to chopping board and fingers to keyboard again.

I experienced a major flooding event this past summer–a cold water connection, the braided steel that leads into a sink, burst while we were on vacation. It is every homeowner’s nightmare, and led to a six month absence and took things down to the studs in over 80% of the house.

But from chaos comes innovation, and forced change can be good change, and that’s where this story starts. I had to pack up my whole kitchen and leave within 3 days. I had some choices to make about putting things back just the same or making changes. And how was I going to cook without my beloved grill in a rental kitchen half the size?

There will be more stories about what one should take in such circumstances, and lots on renovating kitchens, but today is about food and my new love, the Instant Pot. I held out, thought it was faddish, turned a deaf ear to the wonders. Then the Black Friday sales pitches started and I caved.

Much like the Return of the Jedi, in this case the Instant Pot was my light saber. I remembered that I could cook. I remembered that I could make legit food from scratch. And I remembered that if I wrote it down, I could refer back to it later. (Many of my cookbooks suffered water damage, and I used this very blog to access recipes during my time of kitchen separation.)

This won’t become the definitive Instant Pot site, and I can’t promise you’ll even like the recipes. But Gentle Reader, this one is for me. So join along if you so choose, and I’ll get back to business in the kitchen.


The Practical Cook Vegetarian Instant Pot Jambalaya

Tools Used: Instant Pot 6 Quart Duo


1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
pinch of Mexican oregano
20 oz package of mixed bean soup, cajun style (I used Hurst beans for this, readily available in most grocery stores)
1 cup or so cooked, leftover rice (never waste that 3rd carton of rice from the cheap Chinese place down the street, put it in the freezer now and thank me later)
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
Salt and Pepper



  1. Plug in your Instant Pot and make sure you have the lid ready and set up for Sealing.
  2. Using the Sauté function, heat the oil in the steel insert pot and add the onion, carrots, and celery. Crumble the pinch of Mexican oregano on tops and stir. Sauté for a few minutes until the veggies are softened slightly.
  3. While the veggies are sautéing, rinse the dried beans and set aside the seasoning packet.
  4. When the veggies are softened, add the rinsed beans and 7 1/2 cups of water to the Instant Pot, stir to mix. Hit cancel, put the lid on and lock it, and using Manual Pressure Cook, set the IP for 30 minutes on high.
  5. Take this new-found time that you are cooking for your family to read a book, write a blog post, do a crossword puzzle. I won’t tell. Yell out from the kitchen how hard you are working, take a selfie with your IP, live life.
  6. When the time is up, use the Quick Release method to release pressure, please don’t burn yourself.
  7. Remove the lid, add the tomato sauce, the spice packet, and the cooked rice. Stir and adjust seasonings as needed. If it’s too soupy, keep stirring and let the beans and rice absorb some liquid. You can always add more rice or water to adjust, but don’t react too fast before the dish finds its balance (Zen jambalaya).
  8. Using silicone mits or hot pads, remove the pot from the cooker, and check seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you need meat, you can serve with cooked chicken, sausage, etc. There are some veggie versions that would work as well, but we went straight hot sauce and let the good times roll.

Until next time, would love to hear what you’ve been cooking!

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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.)

Follow practicalcook on Twitter

Next up on Sunday, Weekly Menus: Casserole Edition!

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Weekly Menus: Week of 10/27/2013, N.C. State Fair Edition

Gentle Readers, so much for good intentions! Apologies for the delayed posting, but this weekend has been slam-packed with fall festivities. Let’s run down the list, shall we: pumpkin selecting, pumpkin carving, costume provisioning, bowling with friends (do not take on POTUS2040), Neko Case, soccer, and the N.C. State Fair!

Fear the pumpkin uprising!

Fear the pumpkin uprising!

We are full up to our eyeballs with pumpkin and deep-fried, shaken and not stirred. Thank goodness it’s a school holiday so I can recover. As a result of all of this, you’ll find a grocery list that’s light on pumpkin but otherwise very heavy on vegetables and ease of use.

Dinner Grits, an idea whose time has come.

Dinner Grits, an idea whose time has come.

I found that we were less crazed about the deep-fried aspects of the fair this year. Perhaps because we haven’t held back the previous years, the novelty has worn off in favor of rides and games. However, I continue to display hound-dog like accuracy in discerning one fried food from another, and could detect the difference in funnel cake vs Krispy Kremes at several hundred feet and in an competitive smell environment. It’s a gift and a curse.

We tried the new deep-fried red velvet Oreos with cream cheese drizzle. Good, but not my favorite fried.

We tried the new deep-fried red velvet Oreos with cream cheese drizzle. Good, but not my favorite fried.

None of us were interested in the Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joe, the new offering at the fair this year. They need to work on the KK McGriddle–think doughnuts and pig people, not cow! We also bid farewell to The Pork Chop Shop.

Farewell Pork Chop Shop. #blessyourheart

Farewell Pork Chop Shop. #blessyourheart

In a testimony to my kids’ amazing manners, we were offered free sheets of ride tickets not once, but twice, from folks who had to leave before using their allotment up. Thank you to both donors–you are reinforcing the use of “please and thank you” with several underlines and an exclamation mark or two.

Free ride tickets paved the road here: the swings.

Free ride tickets paved the road here: the swings.

But I digress. On to this week’s recovery Weekly Menus:

Weekly Menus: 10/27/2013

Weekly Menus: 10/27/2013

And the Four-Square Grocery Shopping List:

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 10/27/2013

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 10/27/2013

Which all means:

Sunday: Spinach Quesadillas
My pantry staple, and a good quick end to a long day at the fair. We paired them with homemade refried black beans (which really just means rinsing a can of black beans and heating with some salsa of your choosing, mashing a few of the beans with the back of a spoon to thicken the texture, and then thinning and simmering with a bit of water).

Monday: Salmon and Couscous
Did I mention I had to get my cholesterol checked soon? Every year right after the fair. Sigh.

Tuesday: Nachos
A great way to use up a little of this and that. We have another pack of veggie chili to go. When you add mushrooms and avocado, you can make something pretty interesting.

Veggie Nachos Perfected! With pickled jalepeno on top, for good measure.

Veggie Nachos Perfected! With pickled jalepeno on top, for good measure.

Wednesday: Thai Tofu
I have a jarred sauce I need to try. I’m going for broke and pairing with the much maligned tofu.

Thursday: Tuna Melts!
High protein and interesting courtesy of being open faced and sprinkled with cheese, we go for a bit of hot sauce kick and a lot of pickle relish.

Peanut Butter Tuna Salad Being Invented

Peanut Butter Tuna Salad Being Invented

Friday: Pasta Primavera or Omelets
Read: I need to use up little bits of vegetables accumulated during the week.

Saturday: Dine Out!
Adventure dining awaits, I look forward to see what it will be!

Raising Rock Stars: Before the Neko Case Concert at DPAC

Raising Rock Stars: Before the Neko Case Concert at DPAC

What’s your fall quick meal these days? Don’t say pumpkin or I’ll scream. We always strive for something simple and attractive pre-Halloween candy march. Post a comment below, let me know you’re out there!

Send your deep-fried, exercise tips, and non-gummi Halloween candy 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 Wednesday (or thereabouts), Pumpkin Madness Take 2! Oh there’s more.

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Smoothie Recipes and Tips: Drinking Your Lunch

Gentle Readers, it’s confession time. I like to chew my food. Having grown up in an era of diet plans that included SlimFast, I have never understood how people lose weight like that. If I drink calories, I’m still hungry. So I can not in good faith recommend a drinkable only diet.

My preferred means of cold yogurt consumption! (And current addiction--I love toppings.)

My preferred means of cold yogurt consumption! (And current addiction–I love toppings.)

However, when it comes to feeding growing kids who have loose teeth and/or braces something nutritious in a short time, I’m willing to go outside my own personal set of rules. Smoothies are very calorie dense, and when that’s important, they are a great option for portable snacks, breakfast on the go, and infinitely variable lunch additions.

Here are some of my findings.

The Practical Cook’s Smoothie Recipes and Tips:

1. Use frozen fruit instead of ice to achieve good smoothie texture. No one likes a watered down smoothie. My favorite trick, throw that last banana that’s almost too ripe in the freezer, in its own wrapper.

2. However, let the frozen fruit come up to temperature a bit, or pop in the microwave to speed the blending process. Remember that banana? Thirty seconds in the microwave and you can peel it and blend.

Start with the liquids before adding the fruit to avoid the dreaded blender jam.

Start with the liquids before adding the fruit to avoid the dreaded blender jam.

3. Put the liquids and yogurt in first. This will absolutely aid the blending process. I’ve blended a lot of food in my time, in commercial and home settings. Trust me on this. No matter how much you paid for your Blend-O-Matic, this rule holds true.

4. Try orange juice or another whole fruit juice as your liquid/sweetener. If that’s not enough, add a dash of honey!

Mango Raspberry Smoothies--Pretty Snacks!

Mango Raspberry Smoothies–Pretty Snacks!

5. Mix your fruits. This goes without saying, the blends usually work better. The house favorite right now is plain low-fat yogurt, OJ, mango, raspberries, and a dash of honey. My personal favorite? The Elvis: plain low-fat yogurt, peanut butter, a frozen banana, a little milk, and honey.

The best way to transport? We’re saving the drinkable yogurt bottles for re-use with homemade concoctions. It’s a great hit of protein and calcium that can be consumed very quickly while talking during a short school lunch period.

So drink up, and share your favorite combinations! Post a comment or tweet in my direction. I can hear you out there.

Send your frozen fruit, lucrative ideas, and travel cups 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 next: Weekly Menus, Remote Edition

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