Category Archives: Snacks

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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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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Snack Wisdom: Travel Foods

Gentle Readers, the irony of this post and timing is noted. Just this past week, while traveling, I almost ran out of snacks. While this may fall squarely in #firstworldproblems territory, I am notoriously cranky when hungry. I eat. I eat often. When I crash, it is hard and fast.

Snacktime Smackdown: Peanut M&M's vs Peanut Butter M&M's

Snacktime Smackdown: Peanut M&M’s vs Peanut Butter M&M’s

Thank goodness my friends know me, and one had just given me a piece of chocolate from Turin, which was still in my purse. The day was saved. TPCs Jr literally fell silent while I ate it, much like I had just seen a dementor and was receiving the cure from Honeyduke’s.

So how does one avoid such a crisis? First, don’t clean out your purse, and carry one. Barring that, here are some tips.

Snack Wisdom: Travel Foods

1. Hoard plane snacks. If they give you two packages, don’t eat them both unless you are starving. These snacks are small, unobtrusive, and right sized for emergencies. Spend them wisely.

Two packages of these Biscoff cookies are like gold in the travel bag.

Two packages of these Biscoff cookies are like gold in the travel bag.

2. Dry cereal. I can’t emphasize how useful this is. It works as breakfast for hungry Jrs on the go, and feels a little familiar in a strange situation. Pour it in zipper bags and go. What could be easier? I recommend any square cereal–they travel well and taste pretty good dry. Cheerios and round cereals are my second choice. Or create a nice blend.

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

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

3. Granola bars. I’m currently completely obsessed with the Trader Joe’s Almond Bars, and we’ve blown through a container each time we have traveled. They also work well as a light breakfast, and they have both “fast” and “long” energy–you’ll feel full for a while, but you get an immediate sugar jolt, too.

Trader Joe's Five Seed Almond Bars, How I Love Thee.

Trader Joe’s Five Seed Almond Bars, How I Love Thee.

4. Parfait FTW. Though there are plenty of junky options, so many kiosks sell parfaits now. I like them because they are big enough to share, pack some nutritional punch, and they are portable. A great choice to take on the plane or take a break at the amusement park. Make them at home and you’ll have a comfort snack that’s familiar on a trip.

Mango and Blackberry Parfait (not quite a recipe, but lovely nonetheless)

Mango and Blackberry Parfait (not quite a recipe, but lovely nonetheless)

5. Peanut M & M’s. When the chips are down, this is my go-to snack. Chocolate and peanuts, it’s like a candy-coated version of the trail mix I typical carry with me. Widely available, shareable sizes, easy distribution. This is the snack that wins friends.

Don't leave home without Peanut M & M's.

Don’t leave home without Peanut M & M’s.

What are your snacks on the go? Post a comment here, or Tweet my way! All snack ideas welcome.

Send your chocolates, good ideas, and Pinkberry punch cards 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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Weekly Menus: Week of 7/7/2013

Gentle Readers, summer is going full tilt here at Team Practical Cook HQ. Between blistering heat, monsoons, and a rain of toads (fine, a single gecko looking escapee), life has been wonderfully busy. Still not a lot of kitchen time, but we are cooking, and we are eating together, and we are trying new things.

This gentleman attempted to sell us insurance from a water fountain at Carowinds.

This gentleman attempted to sell us insurance from a water fountain at Carowinds.

Last night we visited Korea, and this happened. That was formerly Kalbi (ribs), Edamame, and BiBimBap. I didn’t have a chance to shoot the empty dumpling plate. The Youngest even tried the fish cakes that came as part of the round of free appetizers. Chopsticks were wielded with a vengeance.

TPCs Jr left not a trace at Minga in Chapel Hill.

TPCs Jr left not a trace at Minga in Chapel Hill.

So the grocery list continues to be about fresh fruits and veggies, and snack food. The focus is on learning to be strong swimmers and as much adventure as we can cram into a few weeks. Above all, keep your head up and your hands in the air.

Wave your hands in the air like you just don't care. (Goldrusher at Carowinds)

Wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care. (Goldrusher at Carowinds)

So this week’s weekly menus are:

Weekly Menus: 7/7/2013

Weekly Menus: 7/7/2013

And the Four Square Grocery Shopping List is:

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 7/7/2013

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 7/7/2013

Which all means:

Sunday: Pasta and Salad
At the request of The Eldest PC, we’re having carbonara and a Ceasar Salad. Simple, comforting, easy to make.

Who needs croutons? We use chow mein noodles.

Who needs croutons? We use chow mein noodles.

Monday: Spinach Quesadilla
Straight back from college, this has become our quick meal of summer. It’s a little different each time, and crazy easy to make. Look for a post soon about how to make Ranchero Beans from canned pintos in a flash.

Spinach Quesadilla and Ranchero Beans

Spinach Quesadilla and Ranchero Beans

Tuesday: Omelets
We are egg-crazy right now. Great way to feed greens to TPCs JR, and infinite variety. Add toast for crunch, or possibly some grits. Win!

Green eggs frying in the pan . . .

Green eggs frying in the pan . . .

Wednesday: Sammies!
Also known as Mama Tapas, we are doing a lot of open-faced sandwiches. Cheese and apple, tuna salad, guacammus (another test kitchen experiment, results pending), you name it, we’ll try it.

Open-faced tomato sammie, or tapas!

Open-faced tomato sammie, or tapas!

Thursday: Leftover delight!
We have more travel in our future, so we are constantly trying to eat down our supplies as opposed to buying more. This meal will be whatever is left atop a bed of greens. Slightly frostbitten veggie corn dogs may be an entree. It is not glamorous, but it is necessary!

Friday: Not Dogs
Though I’ve lost some enthusiasm for hot dogs after seeing my first hot dog eating contest (I just saw pictures of the winners before–I have looked into the heart of food darkness, and this is it), I’m still craving them. Last week it didn’t work out to eat hot dogs on the 4th, as is required by US Law, so I’m delaying.

Saturday: Dine Out!
So much great outdoor dining to do. I’ve got a date planned with my foodie gal pal who never steers me wrong! Field research commence!

What do you eat when you’re on vacation? Do you dine out, cook big family style meals in, snack? Post your comments below!

Questions, comments, SPF? Send them 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: Adapted Pumpkin Pancakes Recipe!

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Double Scoop Ice Cream Review: Ben and Jerry’s Cannoli and German Chocolate Gelato (with Video!)

Gentle Readers, summer is not officially here, but the mosquitoes certainly are. In an effort to balance the scales of karma, I have declared it open season on ice cream yet again. Last year, here in The Practical Cook test kitchen, we sampled a number of the controversially named Ben and Jerry’s ice creams.

Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Pyramid: I have more selection than the corner store.

Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Pyramid: I have more selection than the corner store.

This year, we’re expanding our reach to whatever is on sale, sounds interesting, or we’re challenged to test. Game on gentle readers. That’s not contrapuntal at all.

I digress, let’s roll the tape:

Two flavors were tried, the first being Cannoli (why is it not Holy Cannoli? Looking at you Ben.) from Ben and Jerry’s. This is mascarpone ice cream with pastry shell chunks and some chocolate. Infinitely edible, just not 100% for me. Very strong flavor in the ice cream–would have preferred a lighter touch there. If you’re a cannoli fan, though, give it a try.

This should be called Holy Cannoli because the mascarpone slaps you. (Cannoli Ice Cream from Ben and Jerry's)

This should be called Holy Cannoli because the mascarpone slaps you. (Cannoli Ice Cream from Ben and Jerry’s)

Next up was my personal favorite, German Chocolate Cake Gelato from Talenti. Lighter than ice cream, but deeply flavorful, I do love coconut. Bonus, they didn’t try to make it taste like cake, and it’s full of ingredients a 5 year old can read.

German Chocolate Cake Gelato from Talenti with the delightful screw top. It's the little things that make me happy.

German Chocolate Cake Gelato from Talenti with the delightful screw top. It’s the little things that make me happy.

TPC’s Mom says the Belgian Chocolate from this brand is even better, but I’m yet to find it in the wild. If you are a fan of the Chocolate Coconut Almond from Ben and Jerry’s, or Almond Joys, this is for you. Coconut haters, this will be to you as Nutella is to me.

Beautiful presentation, but beware, those are hazelnuts.

Beautiful presentation, but beware, those are hazelnuts. (AKA, they taste like rancid.)

That’s it for now. Summer is long, and more taste tests are coming. Let me know if you’ve found the bestest or strangest flavor, I’ll be happy to try it on air. What’s your favorite flavor right now? Post a comment, or send a Tweet my way!

Send waffle cones, flavors to try, 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, Al Fresco Edition.

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An Ode to Belgian Chocolate

Gentle Readers, my heart has gone 74% dark. And Belgian. At a recent industry event I attended as part of my day job, one of my colleagues brought chocolate from his home country. Eating it has been a life altering experience.

Strawberry-filled Milk Chocolate, Belgian Style. I <3 You.

Strawberry-filled Milk Chocolate, Belgian Style. I

The Practical Cooks Junior and I have been slowly working our way through the various types, and it is truly amazing. I’ve eaten what are considered the best chocolates in the United States, I’ve had Swiss chocolate, but my heart belongs to Belgium.

Glorious selection of Belgian Chocolates

Glorious selection of Belgian Chocolates

The 74% dark chocolate mentioned above is rich without being bitter, and somewhat floral in a non gross way. The Eldest PC Jr, who is outspoken on her dislike of dark chocolate, called it her favorite of the whole group.

The Youngest PC Jr fell in love with the strawberry filled milk chocolate. It was exceptional.

Hello Extra Dark Belgian Chocolate. You are never bitter.

Hello Extra Dark Belgian Chocolate. You are never bitter.

In terms of texture, purity of flavor, and quality, the Belgian chocolates are unmatched for me. It’s easy to eat just a little of it, as the experience is one to be savored. But how do I handle Easter, Halloween, etc. with foodie kids? Farewell KitKat bars, hello dark chocolate. Special thanks to GreenFoodie for the chocolate!

What’s the best chocolate you’ve ever eaten? No really, I want to know this. Perhaps we’ll do a chocolate tasting here in upcoming months!

Send your questions, lucrative book deals, and kitchen confessions 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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On Friday, Why I Don’t Go Negative.

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Bachi Burger, I Think I Love You: Las Vegas Field Resarch

Gentle Readers, there are friends, and then there are friends who show up with pork bahn mi and coordinates for pork belly buns. On a recent trip to Las Vegas, my friend, whom we shall call BaconNBourbon, took me on a food adventure worthy of Thelma and Louise, minus the negative outcome.

Barbecued pork bahn mi on homemade bread. Wow. Just wow.

Barbecued pork bahn mi on homemade bread. Wow. Just wow.

First, there were these two types of bahn mi, straight from some small shop in Chinatown. They were amazing.

The urge to make dam jokes is irresistible: Hoover Dam

The urge to make dam jokes is irresistible: Hoover Dam

Next, Hoover Dam. If you haven’t been, go, it is truly remarkable engineering.

Pork Belly Buns from Bachi Burger in Las Vegas. To die for.

Pork Belly Buns from Bachi Burger in Las Vegas. To die for.

Then, pork belly buns with parmesan truffle fries and a salted caramel shake with a toasted marshmallow top from Bachi Burger. OMG. No really. If you are anywhere in the Pacific Standard Timezone, this is not a drill. Drop what you’re doing and go.

Hello my pretties: parmesan truffle fries from Bachi Burger

Hello my pretties: parmesan truffle fries from Bachi Burger

The buns come with a sauce that reminds me somewhat of tamarind, but with a Chinese five spice kick. Skip it, and just eat. It’s fine, but they aren’t improved by the dipping. The fries were salty and balanced, not overly truffled (which in truth makes me gag, though BaconNBourbon argues there is no such thing as overtruffling), and crisp. A true delight.

Salted Caramel Shake with Toasted Marshmallow on top from Bachi Burger. Dreamy.

Salted Caramel Shake with Toasted Marshmallow on top from Bachi Burger. Dreamy.

And then, the shake. Just admire it for a minute. Wow. Just wow. Our only regret was not staying longer to eat more, as the burgers (they have sliders on the appetizers menu) looked amazing.

So special thanks to my foodie friend for redeeming my faith in the power of the food adventure, and for giving me a day of fresh air and pork in the midst of a smoke-filled business trip! Have you been to Bachi Burger? What’s your opinion?

Send your truffles, trials, and triumphs 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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