Category Archives: Recipes

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.)

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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: Week of 8/11/2013

Gentle Readers, another week, another road trip. One of the biggest challenges is coming home to an empty kitchen. So I try to shop and plan accordingly. I’ve been stocking the pantry with healthy snacks, and we’ve got fruit in the fridge that can last a bit longer.

Peaches: I'm addicted to you.

Peaches: I’m addicted to you.

I’m eating peaches and nectarines like it’s my part-time job, so no waste there. Quesadilla fixings hold for a bit, so that’s also at the ready. And eggs, which I waxed on about last time, are always there.

So the very light Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: milk, bread, eggs, fruit. On hand, Almond Bars, cereal, pasta. I can live a long time on these things. It’s like shopping for a snowstorm, only add fresh items. I am Southern you know.

Southern Survival: Milk, Bread, Eggs

Southern Survival: Milk, Bread, Eggs

The weekly menus:

Sunday: Dine Out!
Otherwise, rotisserie chicken would be my dinner weapon of choice.

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

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

Monday: Frozen Pizza
That’s what it’s there for. Just add salad and fruit, welcome home.

Tuesday: Open-Faced Sammies
This has been a real break-through this summer. We’ve done tomato, tuna, egg salad, and more. I think the “stuff to bread” ratio is much better, and we fill in the blank with celery, carrots, salad, fruit. It’s working for us.

Some nice person gave me a canteloupe at the car wash. It's a hybrid of canteloupe and honeydew. Delightful.

Some nice person gave me a canteloupe at the car wash. It’s a hybrid of canteloupe and honeydew. Delightful.

Wednesday: Spinach Quesadillas
This is podcast night, and I need to make food efficiently so I can get on air. Making anything in a cast-iron skillet makes it feel like homemade to me.

Thursday: Pasta Primavera
We got a garden-load of veggies from TPCs Parents. Looking forward to some combo tossed with pasta. Simple and to the point.

Friday: Stir-Fry
I have some frozen rice leftover, eggs, and more vegetable bits. Add soy and ketchup, steam some edamame, break out the chopsticks.

Leftover Fried Rice

Leftover Fried Rice

Saturday: Dine Out!
More field research! Another country, perhaps Malaysia? 😉

Send your dinner inspiration my way! It’s almost time for school again, so we’re warming up the lunchboxes. What are you cooking? Post a comment below!

Send bugspray, sharp cheddar, and your cooking secrets 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: The Big Easy in Review: Eating in New Orleans

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Adaptable Pumpkin Pancake Recipe (Halloween Is Everyday)

Gentle Readers, seasonal eating is great, but rulebreaking also tastes delicious. Why store food or have pantry-safe items if not to violate the rules of the season? Enter Pumpkin Pancakes. Having developed a serious taste for the Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancake mix, and lacking any spare boxes, it was time to take action.

Adaptable Pumpkin Pancakes with a side of bacon and walnuts. Winning!

Adaptable Pumpkin Pancakes with a side of bacon and walnuts. Winning!

For those out there who are Halloween fanatics, rolling in pumpkin lattes and beers, this post is for you. Usually, I would tell you to avert your eyes, because I will not touch either of those beverages. Pumpkin, in my humble opinion, belongs in pies, custards, and pancakes. Especially pancakes.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix is both festive and mildly generic looking.

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix is both festive and mildly generic looking.

I don’t drink pumpkin, as delightful as Harry Potter makes it seem. Maybe I’m Vitamin A deficient this week, but wow, these rocked. I ate the leftovers cold.

Adaptable Pumpkin Pancake Recipe

For the sake of testing, I used Trader Joe’s Pancake and Waffle Mix. Any pancake mix should work, or make your own and adapt from there.

Use the pumpkin puree, get orange pancakes!

Use the pumpkin puree, get orange pancakes!

To pumpkinize, make 12- 14 pancakes according to recipe (using about 2 cups of the pancake mix), adding 1/2 can pumpkin puree (NOT PUMPKIN PIE FILLING, the plain stuff), 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (assuming  a plain mix), and 2 Tablespoons sugar (I used vanilla sugar, because I can). You can omit oil in the recipe if you’d like, but I added a smidge for texture.

Vanilla Bean Buried in a Jar of Sugar, Voila, Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla Bean Buried in a Jar of Sugar, Voila, Vanilla Sugar

For those of you that insist on chocolate chips, you can add a handful of those too. I do not care for them in my pancakes.

The pumpkin pancake batter will be thick--you can thin with a bit of extra milk as desired.

The pumpkin pancake batter will be thick–you can thin with a bit of extra milk as desired.

We served with toasted walnuts and maple syrup, side of bacon. They were spicy (not overly, even with that much seasoning, but if your pumpkin pie spice is fresh, back it off a bit and smell the batter first), warm, and wonderfully orange. They aren’t as crispy as some pancakes, but they were fluffy and filling.

Beware, these pancakes are addictive, reasonably nutritious, and available year-round. What’s your favorite pancake adaptation?

Send your pumpkins, questions, 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 on the Road!

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Chorizo Hash Recipe: Leftovers You Will Love

Gentle Readers, we meet again. I’m happy about that, just like I’m happy to have leftovers visit the table again. However, to keep things interesting, it’s fun to dress them up a bit. Hash is the perfect vehicle for the second meeting. Infinitely flexible and fast, this Chorizo Hash came from some leftover baked potatoes and a dream.

Chorizo Hash: I think I love you

Chorizo Hash: I think I love you

To be fair, I baked extra potatoes on purpose without a clear vision of their future, just because turning the oven on for so few potatoes always seems ridiculous to me.

Why not make extra baked potatoes?

Why not make extra baked potatoes?

Also, topping anything with a runny egg makes it more delicious and beautiful in my opinion. Do not skip the eggs, even if you like yours a bit more firm. I won’t judge. Much.

Chorizo Hash Recipe

1 lb (or whatever you have on hand) chorizo sausage (this is bulk, not the Spanish link style)
dash of olive oil
1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 leftover baked potatoes, skinned and diced large (bake them now if you  must, boiled potatoes would also suffice)
1/2 bag baby spinach
3 scallions, whites and greens, chopped
1/2 cup or so shredded cheese
salt and pepper to taste
runny eggs (completely not optional, runny being relative to personal taste)
hot sauce (optional I suppose)

1. In a large skillet, brown the chorizo over medium heat. Drain excess fat, and put cooked chorizo on paper towels on a plate while you complete the next steps.

2. If the skillet is now quite dry, add a splash of olive oil. Heat to medium, then saute the onion until soft and wilted, add the garlic. Saute until you smell it. Quickly add the potatoes and stir to mix. Feel free to season with salt and pepper to taste at this phase.

Toss and wilt the spinach. Feel free to say "Bork Bork Bork" like the Swedish chef. I know I did.

Toss and wilt the spinach. Feel free to say “Bork Bork Bork” like the Swedish chef. I know I did.

3. Cook for a few minutes until the mixture is well mixed and heated through. Add the reserved chorizo back to the skillet. Stir and cook until flavors meld, another few minutes. Add the baby spinach and stir into the mixture. Cook until it wilts.

Cheese, just because it adds dimension and adhesion to the chorizo hash.

Cheese, just because it adds dimension and adhesion to the chorizo hash.

4. Toss the green onions and cheese in, leaving the pan on the burner, but turning off the flame. Let the cheese melt and the flavors meld while you make eggs. I’ll wait.

5. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Serve a portion topped with eggs and hot sauce. Thank me later.

Are you a fan of the runny egg topping? Now is the time to come clean. Confess in the comments box below, or on Twitter for all the world to see. I’ll be waiting.

Send your questions, queries, and quips 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 time!

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Spatzle Time! (With a recipe)

Gentle Readers, sometimes a perfectly good plan goes terribly wrong. The other day, with pork chops on the menu, I wanted to make a simple side. I looked in the freezer for pierogie. Nada. Okay, gnocchi. And that was out of date. So now what?

Spatzle with pork chops, apple sauce, and green beans.

Spatzle with pork chops, apple sauce, and green beans.

Stop, spatzle time.

I love spatzle. TPCs Jr love spatzle, and it’s really very easy to make. I’ve tried more complicated recipes, but this is the one that works every time. If you’ve never tried spatzle, now is the time! A great simple side or a vegetarian dish if you add some cheese.

Spatzle in all their fried glory.

Spatzle in all their fried glory.

Do you have to have a spatzle maker? No, but they are awesome and inexpensive and make the whole process so very simple.

My spatzle maker at work.

My spatzle maker at work.

Fool-Proof Spatzle Recipe

1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup all-purpose flour
butter (for frying)

1. Combine all ingredients. Mix well but don’t overmix.

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt. Drop spatzle batter into the boiling water either through a colander or BEST through your spatzle maker.

3. When the spatzle float, they’re done. You can eat them now, OR you can fry them in butter. Guess which I would suggest?

Enjoy! Have you ever had spatzle? Schnitzel? Post your comments below. I’m waiting.

Send your questions, brilliant ideas, and general witticisms 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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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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