Tag Archives: cooking ahead

Weekly Menus: Week of 9/22/2013

Gentle Readers, I’ve decided that Fall makes me hungry. There’s no other explanation for the number of hours I’m currently spending dreaming about my next meal. For the sake of sparing my feelings, let’s pretend this is a seasonal affectation and not a constant state. As the weather cools, I think more about warm and hearty foods.

Veggie Chili Simmering

Veggie Chili Simmering

Also, larger portions at dinner mean warm lunches the next day. We are currently putting the Thermos Food Jars (I love them) through their paces. Here’s how, with this week’s weekly menus:

Weekly Menus: 9/22/2013

Weekly Menus: 9/22/2013

And the Four-Square Grocery Shopping List:

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 9/22/2013

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 9/22/2013

Which all means:

Sunday: Breakfast for Dinner
A perennial favorite, this is a good excuse to make pumpkin pancakes (a team favorite right now), biscuits, or even baked cheese grits. All great possibilities for batch cooking that’s eaten through the week.

Light golden-brown biscuits!

Light golden-brown biscuits!

Monday: Not Dogs and Fries
Simple and from the freezer, plus using up some of the cabbage I bought for Chicken Noodle Soup last week as slaw. This is the vegetarian junk food meal you don’t have to be guilty about.

Hot Dog from The Pig with Ketchup, Mustard, and Relish

Hot Dog from The Pig with Ketchup, Mustard, and Relish

Tuesday: Veggie Chili or Lentil Chili
More stews and one-pot dishes! This will feature standard legumes or the fast cooking lentil. Great vegetarian choices to be paired with cornbread or my new favorite Cheese Sticks from Trader Joe’s (review coming). Great for the lunchbox the following day as well.

Wednesday: Tuna Melts
Because we’ve been eating so many hot lunches, the bread had to head to the freezer. It’s breaking out now as open-faced tuna melts. We discovered it’s the one way we all like tuna salad. Not overdressed, a little kick from hot sauce, and way pickley.

Can't decide between a tuna melt and a peanut butter? Choose both.

Can’t decide between a tuna melt and a peanut butter? Choose both.

Thursday: Gnocchi with Pink Sauce
A break from the standard pasta, we are all deeply in love with the creamy organic tomato sauce from Trader Joe’s right now. There is a story here, coming soon, of why I am redoubling my love for the store.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Extra Crispy Sage

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Extra Crispy Sage

Friday: Leftover Delight
We can only eat so much, I know that there will be food left, and there’s no better time to watch a movie and munch the best of the previous week than a Friday.

A lot of little leftovers can add up to a whole meal.

A lot of little leftovers can add up to a whole meal.

Saturday: Dine Out
So many options, plus outdoor eating with a fall chill!

Fall says latte to me--but never ever pumpkin ones.

Fall says latte to me–but never ever pumpkin ones.

What’s in your kitchen these days? I’m looking for good one-pot and stew ideas. I feel a slow-cooker edition coming on! Post your comments below, or send a Tweet my way.

Send bright ideas, rashers of bacon, and pumpkin 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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Coming up Wednesday: Soft Foods that Don’t Suck–Braces Edition

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Can This Supper Be Saved? Waffle Ingredient Substitution

Gentle Readers, how sweet it is to be in the kitchen again. A near-normal week has meant actual cooking! Of course, as is the hazard when one has been away, some ingredients were past their prime, and in one case, missing altogether!

Prepping Waffles for the Freezer

Prepping Waffles for the Freezer

Breakfast for dinner was on the meal plan, and waffles were to be the centerpiece. They are relatively easy to make in bulk, and they use up a lot of milk, which was nearing expiration time. However, I was missing wheat germ.

Blueberries atop Whole Wheat Waffles

Blueberries atop Whole Wheat Waffles

Let’s hear it for cereal. You know the kind in a box? It’s made from wheat when it’s not something like Cinnamon Toast Crunch (not a cereal, they lost the name). I took two of my heartier cereals, put them in the food processor, and let it blend. I added roughly the equivalent to the batter, and let it sit a little extra time to absorb the liquid.

Pulverized Cereal

Pulverized Cereal

It worked. We could taste a little bit of the cereal (Cracklin Oat  Bran was the key component, and left a slight cinnamon taste), and a little of the texture (similar to pecan waffles), but they were good. Far better to take the chance when the batter was almost ready to go than to stop and try to change the meal.

Breakfast for Dinner: I almost forgot, I bought more grits too.

Breakfast for Dinner: Featuring grits!

Admittedly, I should have checked the pantry for a back-up on that one before starting the recipe. However, even the most Practical Cook can overlook the obvious sometimes. The key lesson here: keep going. Food doesn’t have to be that hard. Just keep cooking.

Lightly Browned Waffles

Lightly Browned Waffles

What’s the strangest substitution you’ve ever done? Post a comment below, or Tweet away!

Questions, meal plans, cereal? Email 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 Sunday, Weekly Menu Time!

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Weekly Menus: Week of 12/4/2011

Gentle Readers, today The Practical Cook is running way behind schedule. There is no grand reason, just the accumulation of little ones. In short, I overslept. Having borrowed against the sleep bank for weeks, the bill came due. So as I came to, in that fuzzy place where you’re not sure what day it is, much less what time, I realized there’s way too much going on right now. This week’s menu is built for simplicity and survival.

I’m not looking to win a James Beard award: I’ve got 2 school snack projects to deal with, the extra duties the holidays bring, and a full-time job that I enjoy thoroughly and would like to keep. Beyond that, I feel that drive to bring magic to the season for The Practical Cooks Junior, who are prepping their Santa lists and studying Arctic climes to learn something about the man behind the suit. So if things are a little hectic here in Practical Cook-ville, I do hope you’ll forgive me. I’ll share my survival strategies, and I hope you’ll share yours. Today, the answer was sleep.

Without further delay, here are the Weekly Menus:

Weekly Menus: 12/4/2011

Weekly Menus: 12/4/2011

And the Four-Square Grocery List:

Four-Square Grocery List (with bonus snack menu): 12/4/2011

Four-Square Grocery List (with bonus snack menu): 12/4/2011

Which translates into:

Sunday: Nachos!
This is quickly becoming a Sunday dinner favorite. It really does scale nicely, and can be eaten on the run. When you’re serving a basketball team’s worth of kids, this is a major plus.

Monday: Beef Stroganoff
Life conspired to prevent the making of this last week. I’m planning to try a slow cooker version. Wish me luck.

Tuesday: Breakfast for Dinner
After dreamily reminiscing about the grits at Dame’s Chicken and Waffles, I decided to spend some time working on cheese grits. Necessary research.

Wednesday: Sausage/Greens/Pierogie
A classic. One of my holiday break projects is to make pierogie from scratch. There, I’ve said it. Now I’m committed. Feel free to nag me about this.

Thursday: Pizza and Salad
Punt! We haven’t punted much with frozen pizza lately, and I’m feeling like that might happen Thursday.

Friday: Leftover Surprise
Perhaps I’ll turn Monday + Wednesday into soup. One never knows when inspiration will strike.

Saturday: Dine Out!
Sources tell me this will be Chinese food. Those sources are known as the Juniors, and they want to get their scallion pancake on.

BONUS SCHOOL SNACK MENU:

Monday: apple slices and seasonal cheese cubes

Tuesday: letter “k” trail mix (sponsored by the letter k, perhaps with a side of kiwi?)

Wednesday: TBD

Thursday: orange rolls and oranges

Friday: Rudolph muffins (I’m thinking frosted carrot or pumpkin muffins with pretzel antlers, craisin nose, etc.)

What’s on your to-do list right now? Post a comment below!

Send your weekly menus, questions, and blog 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!)

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Coming up tomorrow, Insanity Plums.

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Weekly Menus: Week of 8/9/2011

It is hot out there! The week’s menu reflects that. I’m cooking ahead, turning up the spice, and keeping it simple here in the Practical Cook kitchen. Here are the results for this week, featuring many make-ahead items. I’ll be burning the midnight oil, when it’s cooler in the kitchen!

On the table, the weekly menus:

Weekly Menus: Week of 8/7/2011

Weekly Menus: Week of 8/7/2011

Four-Square Grocery List:

Four-Square Grocery List: 8/7/2011

Four-Square Grocery List: 8/7/2011

CSA from Brinkley Farms:

2 lbs cucumbers
1 lb japanese eggplant
1 poblano peppers
1 pk regular bratwurst

Which translates into:

Sunday: Fish and Veg
Probably a mild white fish with cornbread, fried okra, sliced tomatoes, cukes and onions, and butterbeans. You know, a light repast.

Monday: Veg Casserole
This will probably be Italian in theme, involve eggplant and zucchini, basil, tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese. Stay tuned.

Tuesday: Sammies
Good way to clear out whatever is left from before, on bread.

Wednesday: Pasta
Hooked on that butternut squash ravioli from Trader Joe’s, I purchased some more. Hello, sage.

Thursday: Taco Night!
Do I need to explain this one? I didn’t think so.

Friday: Indian Food
We have a lot of okra, and some leftover buttermilk. Together, with curry leaves, they are magical. Add dal and some papadam, and call it dinner.

Saturday: Dine Out!

What are you cooking this week? Post a comment below!

Questions, ideas? Email 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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Up next, Personal Banana Puddings.

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When a Casserole Says I Love You

This week marks another week on the road for the Practical Cook. One of the most challenging things for any cook is planning, and planning for someone else to execute in one’s absence is that much more complex. So what is the very last thing I did before heading to the airport on Sunday? I stuffed some shells of course.

Stuffed Shells

Stuffed Shells

Because my job (which I dearly love for the flexibility and support) requires some travel, I find myself challenged to use up what’s on hand, ease the burden of childcare, and support my ideals of home-cooked food in my absence. What better way than leaving behind a casserole of some sort?

Stuffed Shells with Cooking Directions Attached

Stuffed Shells with Cooking Directions Attached

The last time I left town, I left a roast in the slow cooker. Apparently part of my exit strategy is leaving food behind. Technology affords me the ability to talk to my kids on a webcam in real time. Wow. My Great Depression era cook self drives me to make comfort food.

Swiss chard saved from the compost heap!

Swiss chard saved from the compost heap!

In this case, I sauteed some Swiss chard, a small amount of leftover spinach, and some green garlic in olive oil. Tossed with ricotta cheese, some nutmeg, oregano, salt and pepper to taste, and grated Parmesan. Stuff shells, cover in sauce, seal in foil, add instructions.

I love you kiddos!

I love you kiddos!

I know that the Practical Cooks Junior ate their veggies on Tuesday night, and have leftovers ready for lunch or dinner on Wednesday. I can sleep just a little bit better. Sometimes a casserole says I love you.

Do you have a favorite make-ahead or leave-behind dish? Join the conversation here or on Twitter.

Send blog ideas and queries to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading the Practical Cook gospel. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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Next time, what may become a controversial review of In-N-Out Burger: Another Adventure in Eating.

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I’m Tired, What’s for Dinner?

Who has endless amounts of time and energy at the end of the day to cook a healthy balanced meal that will create leftovers, but not too many? Wait, the answer is no one I know. If you’ve read this blog ever, you know that there is no shame in Punting (take out, frozen food, etc.), but what if you’re ready to up your game?

The Practical Cook does not claim that you can make a gourmet dinner with separate sauces and courses every night between 6 and 7 pm in the time zone of your choice. Read on for some thoughts on solving this problem.

Mr. T Needs to Eat

Mr. T Needs to Eat

Today’s reader question comes to us from someone we shall call Mr. T. I pity the fool who asks him to eat meat.

Dear Practical Cook:

I love to cook but I rarely do because I hate the time it requires. I often go to the gym after work, and when I get home I’m usually so hungry that I don’t want to spend time fixing myself something and will instead opt for cereal, a sandwich, or a Whole Foods microwave meal. I’d like to change this behavior—I want to eat healthier and I’d also like to have leftovers for lunch and other dinners. Do you/your readers have any recipe suggestions for quick, delicious, nutritious vegetarian meals? (Note: I don’t like spaghetti or marina/tomato sauce—strange, I know, but it’s the way I’m hardwired.)

Your fan,
Mr. T

The Practical Cook loves a challenge. A bit more investigation gave me more detail on preferences, and here’s what I suggest for Mr. T:

1. Make a list and shop once a week. Don’t waste time going to a crowded store after work multiple times a week. That’s an extra trip to the gym, time in the kitchen, 25 potential Tweets. Anyone who wants the deep-dive on this topic can look at the “Weekly Menus” category for ideas. Suggested staples:

  • Dry Pasta
  • Whole Wheat Tortillas
  • Salad
  • Eggs
  • Canned Beans, Selection of
  • Cereal (including Oatmeal)
  • Carrots/Celery/Crudite

2. Batch cook once a week. Do this either on the day you shop or the next day. Find what works for you. Since Mr. T is a fan of pasta primavera, I would suggest pan-roasting, grilling, or broiling a selection of veggies (squash, zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, eggplant, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers, asparagus, whatever is in season) with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, basil or oregano. If you have mostly-prepped ingredients, such as any combo of the veggies above, you can make:

  • Pasta Primavera
  • Veggie Burrito (add beans or tempeh, rice if you like it, salsa, cheese)
  • Pita Pizza (a little goat cheese would be great for this, some prepared pesto for the non-marinara factor)
  • Omelet
  • Salad (with tempeh or tofu, beets, nuts, goat cheese)
  • Stuffed Baked Potato
  • Gratin (just add a little cheese) and Toast
Bobby Flay Purees

Bobby Flay Purees

3. Start small. There’s no need to go all Bobby Flay on the first day. Nothing is worse than buying too much, having food waste, being really tired, and feeling guilty. Set a goal for cooking more, but stock cereal, sandwich stuff, and emergency frozen food. Or start a blog about cooking and force yourself to cook more because you need fodder. Just an idea.

4. Mix and match. Nothing is worse than spending too much time with the same leftovers. If you opt to make something like soup or chili (both great options), automatically freeze most of it in appropriate portion sizes. Now you’ve got your own emergency frozen food! Find ways to repurpose your leftovers (like discussed above), or consider tossing it in a blender and changing the texture.

Hello Kitty Food Jar from Thermos

Hello Kitty Food Jar from Thermos

5. Buy cute leftover/lunch containers. This actually matters, and not just for kids. There are any number of Bento box lunch kits and BPA free containment devices. Make your food appealing to you, and you’ll be more likely to pull it out of the freezer or pack your lunch.

Great question Mr. T! What are some of your favorite quick and easy vegetarian meals, gentle readers? Post them here for the world to see.

Send your dinner questions (no problem too large or small) to practical cook at gmail dot com. Or post a comment here, or connect on Facebook (The Practical Cook Blog).

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Leftover Ham? Make Meatballs.

Gentle readers, has anyone ever, and I do mean ever, finished a ham in a typical family meal setting? The local purveyors seem to supersize even the most petite orders. This past Easter, another ham, another ham bone (score), piles upon piles of stuff that only the Practical Cook will eat on a sandwich. It is time for some leftover subterfuge.

Since a defrosting fail kept me from making meatballs last week, I needed to use the finally defrosted ground beef up on Sunday night. Ground beef, meet leftover ham, you’ll be getting acquainted in a 375 degree oven.

Meatballs in the Oven

Meatballs in the Oven

Leftover Ham Meatballs or Meatball Surprise!

Since leftover ham meatballs is neither sexy nor very catchy, I recommend the fallback for nameless food here in the Practical Cook test kitchen, add Surprise! to the end of it and make everyone guess what’s in it. This recipe is a variation on the Cheap.Fast.Good! batch meatball recipe, which is my go-to. (Just buy this cookbook, seriously, it will make your cooking life easier.) Once you’ve made these, you’ll never buy frozen again.

Toasted Bread Crumbs

Toasted Bread Crumbs

2 pounds ground beef
1/2 to 1 cup minced ham (made from leftover ham tossed in the food processor or chopped fine)
1 cup toasted bread crumbs (store-bought or in this case, homemade from that pita I keep using in everything)
1/3 cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 to 4 Tablespoons  sweet onion, finely minced
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a broiler pan with oil.

Meatball Ingredients to Be Mixed

Meatball Ingredients to Be Mixed

2. Combine ingredients with a spoon or your hands. This is not a neat recipe, I would advise just going with your hands.

3. Using a large spoon or a cookie dough scoop, portion out golf-ball-sized scoops, rolling each gently to form a ball. Should make around 48 of them. Place them on the prepared broiler pan as you go.

4. Bake the meatballs for 32 to 35 minutes, or until done through. (Use a meat thermometer to check if you’re not sure.)

5. Serve warm on a toothpick or cool and store in the freezer until you need them.

Welcome to Meatball Mountain

Welcome to Meatball Mountain

More recipe ideas will be coming for how to use these. For now, I’ve just managed to eat them off of the pan. I have issues with some meatballs for the unpleasant texture or bland taste. These meatballs are not guilty, they are amazing.  I foresee using them in a strogonoff or spaghetti-and fashion in the near future.

Next, spring is in the air, and potatoes are in the ground. One Ingredient, Three Ways: Potato Edition.

How do you use up leftovers? Share your secrets in a comment, with a carrier pigeon, or via email:practical cook at gmail dot com

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