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Weekly Menus: Week of 10/6/2013, Travel Prep Edition

Gentle Readers, this week I must start with a mea culpa. I was traveling last week, and forgot what day it was until I was back, and thus missed the Wednesday publishing cycle. From the amount of mail I received on the topic (none), I can tell there was a public outcry. So I will publish said Smoothie article this week. Meanwhile, look what I got to eat last week:

Biscotti and Cookie Platter at Babbo in NYC. OMG good.

Biscotti and Cookie Platter at Babbo in NYC. OMG good.

Yes, it was that delicious. A tip for anyone who is in NYC and hasn’t been to Babbo. If you go when it opens, right at 5 pm, you can snag a seat at the bar and eat. Highly recommend the pasta tasting menu or just eating around the menu at your leisure. Don’t skip the Brussels sprouts and the biscotti.

The Beer Festival Tasting Glass. Durham, NC

The Beer Festival Tasting Glass. Durham, NC

But I digress. My real life is quite a bit less glamorous but equally delicious. This week I went to my first beer tasting. I learned that there are many horrific beers in the world that taste like fruits and lawn clippings. I also found quite a few local brews that were delightful, and an interesting Pecan number that I’ll need to investigate. Shockingly, my favorite part was the food, especially the pairings, such as provided by my friend Carrie from G2B Gastropub. The andouille sausage with a little mustard was ideal beer food.

The inimitable Chef Carrie from G2B Gastropub in Durham, NC!

The inimitable Chef Carrie from G2B Gastropub in Durham, NC!

Okay, enough, I actually do cook sometimes too. The tasting of all the pumpkin things continues. A full report is coming soon.

Pumpkin Cake Doughnut with Latte Glaze from Rise. Hellooooo nurse.

Pumpkin Cake Doughnut with Latte Glaze from Rise. Hellooooo nurse.

Fried Green Tomato with Pimento Cheese Biscuit from Rise in Durham, NC. Just because.

Fried Green Tomato with Pimento Cheese Biscuit from Rise in Durham, NC. Just because.

 

Here’s what’s happening on this week’s menus:

Weekly Menus: 10/6/2013

Weekly Menus: 10/6/2013

And the Four-Square Grocery list (a little lean as I use up what’s here and plan to shop more heavily next week before  I travel):

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 10/6/2013

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 10/6/2013

Which all translates to:

Sunday: Steak and potatoes
I’m feeling red meat today, and the weather is a little autumnal. Perhaps the potatoes will be sweet or an acorn squash instead. If you’re not tossing winter squash in your cart regularly, you’re missing out!

Monday: Veggie Chili
This keeps getting delayed in lieu of other fast meals that don’t generate leftovers, but I’m making it this time, even if I have to freeze it for later!

Tuesday: Omelets
These were such a huge hit the other night, complete with quick sauteed spinach and portobello mushrooms that we’re doing it again. TPCs Jr are huge mushroom fan, and we’re committed to trying all of the types. That’s our schtick.

Wednesday: Pizza!
We’ve got a social to attend, and well, we all love pizza. Honestly, I could eat it 3 times a day. In fact, I’ve had to add it to my things not to leave unattended in the house list, as I will eat cold pizza until I founder. It’s a different food group that hot pizza, and I actually prefer it.

Thursday: Salmon and Couscous
We have to get more healthy fat in our diets. Plus I need to try to stay smarter than my offspring. I plan to tell them this and serve myself the largest portion. I’ll keep you posted on the results.

Friday: Mexican!
Probably burritos or quesadillas to accommodate the braced on, but we may be able to pull off nachos. Yum!

Saturday: Dine out!
So many possibilities, we often lament we only have 3 stomachs between us.

What do you do to prepare for a trip? Buy easy prep food, eat down the supplies? Share your tips in the comments area  below!

Send your make-ahead food ideas, chocolate covered peanuts, and pumpkin-themed whatnot 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, Smoothie Recipes and Tips (I Promise This Time)

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It’s a Small (Food) World After All: Traveling by Way of Cuisine

Gentle Readers, sometimes, the cheapest way to travel is through one’s stomach. Food is a wonderful shorthand to culture, and we here at Team Practical Cook are fans of food of all types. To challenge ourselves, we’ve started collecting stamps on our culinary passport by “visiting” a new country every few weeks.

Black beans and rice from Gregoria's Kitchen in Durham.

Black beans and rice from Gregoria’s Kitchen in Durham.

This started accidentally, with the inimitably cranky Waldorf peppering TPCs Jr with trivia questions about the country whose food we were eating. The Jrs loved it.

Roti from Banana Leaf in San Jose, CA

Roti from Banana Leaf in San Jose, CA

So far we’ve been to Cuba, Singapore, Mexico, Italy, and Germany. We’re going to France next, as The Eldest wishes to practice her language skills. I will not be practicing my snail skills, for the record.

Vegetarian Enchiladas at a local Mexican Restaurant (fresh spinach and potatoes, nice!)

Vegetarian Enchiladas at a local Mexican Restaurant (fresh spinach and potatoes, nice!)

Questions can include geography, politics, math (what time is it in Germany right now?), along with language and culture. This was obviously constructed as a fun way to bring the world into view for kids, but the adults are enjoying it too. It’s easy to fall into the habit of eating the same rotation of foods. We are essentially gamifying dinner.

Spatzle in all their fried glory.

Spatzle in all their fried glory.

Though one could certainly cook international foods at home (we made spatzle right after our “trip” to Germany), I strongly encourage you to seek out places to dine. First, the more obscure the cuisine, the more likely it’s a mom and pop operation, which is always nice to support.

The Jrs take on the Big City!

The Jrs take on the Big City!

Second, the culture is often present in the restaurant itself (unless you try to pass off the Olive Garden as a trip to Italy, don’t get me started). Food is served at different temperatures, in different ways. Service is different; manners are different.

Bubbling Hot Tofu Soup from Vit Goal

Bubbling Hot Tofu Soup from Vit Goal

So I challenge you, Gentle Readers,  to try a new cuisine, and use it as a learning experience. Life is simply too short for endless chicken fingers. Write to me and let me know how it is. Comments welcome. There’s a box for them. Or email or Tweet. Look forward to hearing your story!

Koh Samui is a refuge off the beaten bath. Well worth the trek for good Thai!

Koh Samui is a refuge off the beaten bath. Well worth the trek for good Thai!

Send all deep thoughts, lucrative book deals, and unicorns 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: Vegas Baby!

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Leftover Salad, a Recipe of Sorts

Gentle Readers, sometimes it is difficult to determine how best to use up leftovers. Things that were once delicious can seem foreign or small, or fuzzy. Excluding the latter category as science experiment, let us discuss one of the most efficient ways to solve the leftover problem: a bed of lettuce.

Beautiful lettuces all in a row at the Farmer's Market.

Beautiful lettuces all in a row at the Farmer’s Market.

Yes, in the season of rabbits, greens are the great connector. After a fantastic meal with friends and colleagues at G2B Restaurant recently, I walked home with leftovers from the charcuterie plate and half my steak. What is a Practical Cook to do?

Leftover Salad, courtesy of steak, onions, and cheese from G2B Restaurant.

Leftover Salad, courtesy of steak, onions, and cheese from G2B Restaurant.

This. I sliced the steak into bite-sized pieces, and crumbled one of the cheeses over the top. Dollop of the caramelized onions, and topped with balsamic and olive oil. I also added a handful of dried cherries. It was transforming. I wanted to eat one the next day.

Charcuterie plate becomes salad bar!

Charcuterie plate becomes salad bar!

Alas, the blessing and curse of the leftover salad, each one as unique as a snowflake. The larger point, start looking at your leftovers like toppings at a salad bar. It will change your relationship to them and to lunch. Enjoy.

What’s the strangest salad combo you’ve ever made? I won’t tell. Post a comment, send a tweet, hail a carrier pigeon, just share!

Send your leftovers, witty rejoinders, and binders full of 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 next on Friday, Roasted Broccoli with Oranges, or How to Fake Chinese Takeout.

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Rise Review: Biscuits and Doughnuts, Oh My

Gentle Reader, sometimes the only answer is to order one of each. Such is the case in two recent field research missions to the fairly new Rise in Durham. (Follow them @risedurham for specials etc.) First, mad props for the name. Well done. Second, great customer service. They actually care what you think.

The happy crossroads of sweet and savory: Rise

The happy crossroads of sweet and savory: Rise

But with a number of strong biscuit contenders and my love for Krispy Kreme, how does Rise fare? Thanks to my able assistants, The Practical Cooks Junior, for sacrificing and helping try a boatload of things. As you can see, I am here for you, always willing to try new things.

TPCs Jr, Labeled Vegetarians

TPCs Jr, Labeled Vegetarians

Biscuits:

1. Country Fried Steak Biscuit: Served with lettuce and Duke’s mayo (props for naming names), this was a good but not great entry. A note on the Facebook page later indicated that some of the portions were not cut well with an offer to make it right. Mine was one of them. Very impressive admission and customer service. I found the seasonings a little light as well, but it was very fresh.

Country Fried Steak Biscuit from Rise

Country Fried Steak Biscuit from Rise

2. Cauliflower, Red Pepper, and Goat Cheese Biscuit: The vegetarian surprise hit, this was tangy and interesting. The Jrs enjoyed it, as did I. Not a neat biscuit to eat.

Cauliflower Biscuit from Rise: Delicious!

Cauliflower Biscuit from Rise: Delicious!

3. Egg and Cheese Biscuit: This was the unanimous favorite. You could taste the biscuit more, and the scrambled egg and white cheddar were head and shoulders above the typical offering. We will go back for this one. (It was so good, I failed to shoot a picture, a rare and telling occurrence.)

4. Fried Chicken Biscuit: Good Fried, but again, not quite salty enough for my taste. Very high-quality chicken, just needed a little more oomph in comparison to others I’ve tried.

Fried Chicken Biscuit from Rise

Fried Chicken Biscuit from Rise

Doughnuts:

1. Glazed: A very good offering. Bigger than a Krispy Kreme, and slightly less fluffy, it has a homey quality that I could easily love. And the vanilla glaze tastes like vanilla. Nice job.

Vanilla Glazed Doughnut from Rise

Vanilla Glazed Doughnut from Rise

2. Sprinkled: This was a surprise hit for me. It was sprinkles with a strawberry glaze. First, it was pink-ish, which is delightful, and second, strawberry. I’m not a huge sprinkles fan, but this was a great one. A favorite of the Eldest as well.

3. Bacon Maple: Yes, I ate the whole thing. The bacon there is top-notch, and the maple glaze was obscene and delightful at the same time. I saw some glycemic stars in the sky after, but worth it.

Hello Bacon Maple Doughnut. I missed you too. (Rise)

Hello Bacon Maple Doughnut. I missed you too. (Rise)

4. Apple Fritter: This was another huge win in my book. They are BIG, and they are crunchy sweet with real fruit. You will never face a lesser apple pie with anything less than disdain after one of these. They kicked the Fair Fritter’s proverbial buns. This is not a one-person mission. Share, share alike. It took three of us more than one day to complete.

Ginormous Apple Fritter from Rise

Ginormous Apple Fritter from Rise

5. Crushed Oreo: This was the favorite pick of the Youngest. An excellent entry, I’m not a huge crushed Oreos fan, but the doughnut itself was quality, and with good topping adherence.

Random: The Hash Cake. Do not miss this. I will be adding one to the order as a standard upgrade. It’s shredded potatoes, onions, and cheese, and it is unicorn good.

The Humble Hash Cake is full of flavor and sprinkled with salt. (Rise)

The Humble Hash Cake is full of flavor and sprinkled with salt. (Rise)

Overall, I give Rise a big thumbs up. It can get busy, but the ticket system works fairly well, and it smells like doughnuts. Great alternative to sitting down to breakfast or brunch with the kids.

What’s your favorite doughnut flavor? And do you venture on the wild side for biscuits? Post a comment or Tweet my way.

Send your glazed, sprinkled, 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 Friday, Creamy Corn and Roasted Pepper Soup Review (and Recipe).

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Happy China Restaurant Review

Gentle Readers, ever find a restaurant that serves one dish that is so good you’ll go just to order it? Has that dish ever been green beans? Yes, you heard that right. Having come full circle in this lifetime, once being a sworn green bean hater (and truthfully, I still have an aversion to the overcooked Southern kind, please don’t burn my club card), now I would walk on hot rocks to order the Dry Roasted Green Beans from Happy China.

Dry Roasted Green Beans at Happy China

Dry Roasted Green Beans at Happy China

Following the time-honored tradition of Chinese food on Christmas Day, fellow field tester CloudofCaroline and I ordered Tofu with Garlic Sauce, Kung Pao Chicken, and the green beans of which I speak of in reverent tones.

Tofu in Garlic Sauce at Happy China: Sweet and Savory

Tofu in Garlic Sauce at Happy China: Sweet and Savory

Full further confession, I went to Happy China once before, and wasn’t blown away. I don’t do negative reviews, so I let it drop. But Christmas is a busy time, and Happy China had space and food. This trip was made of win. The tofu was awesome, the peanuts in the Kung Pao Chicken were a surprise hit, and the green beans, sigh. Two grown women fought over them with chopsticks, that’s all I’m saying.

CloudofCaroline showcasing Peanut Skills

CloudofCaroline showcasing Peanut Skills

Moral of this story, I would pass on the appetizers, order brown rice, and double down on the green beans. They are like perfectly grilled asparagus in green bean form, plus salt. Trust me. Well worth the trip for a veggie high.

We had the good fortune to land at Happy China!

We had the good fortune to land at Happy China!

Will you return to a place if you love just one dish? Post your comments and thoughts below!

Send your chopsticks, dumplings, and legitimate 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!)

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Coming up Sunday, Weekly Menus: New Year Edition.

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Food Truck Rodeo: A Short Story

Gentle Readers, do you ever have one of those good ideas on paper moments? My classic example is the all-day outdoor concert. Wow, that sounds like fun. Buy a ticket. Anticipate. Go. Curse the parking, the crowds, the heat, and the lack of indoor plumbing. See and maybe even hear good music. Admit you’re old and cranky and prefer smaller venues.

Durham Food Truck Rodeo Mob Scene

Durham Food Truck Rodeo Mob Scene

This is, I’m afraid my sentiment about my second Food Truck Rodeo. The first time we went, it was raining and the competition was not so fierce. This time, the one held in Durham’s Central Park was well advertised and very well attended. We had to Punt! and attempted to go to Geer Street Garden. They, bless them, were also packed.

Food was found, and the emergency snack crackers were used, but a valuable lesson was learned. I don’t like to wait in long lines for food. Ever. When I’m hungry, I’m hungry. And the capacity of a food truck to feed the masses is not extreme. This week I’m going to stalk the new dumpling truck, Chirba Chirba, but I fear the same end result.

So these are my pictures of the crowd, some highlights of the day. I am sure the food was delish, and hats off to everyone for supporting an awesome movement of small businesses. For me, I will go at off hours, when no one is looking. Because I do need to commune with my Rib Sliders and Sweet Potato Fries in quieter ways.

What do you think of Food Truck Rodeos? Mass chaos or fun dining? Post a comment or Tweet!

Email your pictures and queries 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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Up next, French Toast Simplified.

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