Tag Archives: easy recipes

Weekly Menus: Week of 2/17/2013

Gentle Readers, three cheers for The Practical Cooks Junior. Not only have they mastered several breakfast items, they are now taking on school lunch, snack, and meal planning with great enthusiasm. This is a great help in not having to guess what they want.

The Practical Cooks Junior at Work: Shake Shack Reviewing

The Practical Cooks Junior at Work: Shake Shack Reviewing

The flipside, I’m raising two strong-willed women with advanced and particular palates. Please send help.

Without further adieu, and before they make additional editorial changes, here are this week’s menus:

Weekly Menus: 2/17/2013

Weekly Menus: 2/17/2013

And the Four-Square Grocery Shopping List:

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 2/17/2013

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 2/17/2013

Which translates to:

Sunday: Fish and Chips
The Eldest opted to have a slice of bacon at dinner the other night. It’s unclear if this is a change or a one-off. We shall see. Meanwhile, I’m going to try homemade fish and chips again.

Monday: Beans and Rice
Love this meal for simplicity and creating possibility through leftovers.

Black Beans and Rice: Simple and Satisfying for Dinner

Black Beans and Rice: Simple and Satisfying for Dinner

Tuesday: Rustic Veggie Tart
This rustic tart will be caramelized onions, sweet potato, and goat cheese.

Sweet Potato and Bacon Rustic Tart with Goat Cheese

Sweet Potato and Bacon Rustic Tart with Goat Cheese

Wednesday: Pasta and Salad
Probably cheese tortellini, but potentially spaghetti and veggie meatballs.

Thursday: Breakfast for Dinner
This is so simple and variable I struggle not to serve it daily. Never fails to please the crowd.

Grits go with everything. Especially breakfast for dinner.

Grits go with everything. Especially breakfast for dinner.

Friday: Leftovers
I am thinking either soup or burritos based on the week’s bounty.

Saturday: Dine Out!
Getting ready to travel again, so one last celebration on the way. Probably over a salad. 🙂

Eat the rainbow (salad)!

Eat the rainbow (salad)!

How does your crew feel about cheese sticks/pre-cut cheese? TPCs Jr are firmly against, and have started a movement to make our own. Discuss.

Send inspiration, desperation, and chocolate 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: Sour Cherries on Top: One Ingredient, Three Ways

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One Ingredient, Three Ways: Just Beet It!

Gentle Readers, sometimes one has to pump iron. That is both literal and figurative. I’m a big fan of a few curls between conference calls, but also of the humble yet sweet beet. How many vegetables are that nutritious and that pretty at the same time?

Sweet Roasted Beets

Sweet Roasted Beets

Admittedly, I grew up a beet fan, surrounded by scads of home-canned pickled ones. I am spoiled that way. I have featured beets on more than on occasion on these very pages. And, in the land of vegetarians, the multi-colored vegetables are king. That’s an old proverb. That I just made up.

Squeaky Clean Beets

Squeaky Clean Beets

One Ingredient, Three Ways: Beets

1. Raw and shredded: This is my new favorite salad topping at the Whole Foods salad bar. I admit that I have a WF salad bar problem, as the infinite combinations and pretty colors lure me. Raw shredded beets are gorgeous, flavorful, and add a nice peppery crunch. Give them a try, just wear an apron if you grate them by hand.

Take it from the pros like Whole Foods, Salad Bars work.

Take it from the pros like Whole Foods, Salad Bars work.

2. Pickled on a salad: Cubes of pickled beet with herb salad mix (my personal fave), walnuts, and a salty grated cheese is the bomb. Goat is a natural match, but don’t overlook Romano or the Sartori Balsamic Bellavitano. Simply dressed, the crunch and the sweet are an amazing combo.

Pickled Beets, Walnuts, Sartori Cheese and Herb Salad Mix. Divine.

Pickled Beets, Walnuts, Sartori Cheese and Herb Salad Mix. Divine.

3. Sliced on a burger: Be it beef, buffalo, veggie, or portabello, beets on burgers are awesome. They are awesome AS burgers (Goaty McBeet Burger FTW). Why not layer iron on iron? Add some sauteed onions and goat cheese and you have a party on your hands.

Goaty McBeet Burger with Slaw

Goaty McBeet Burger with Slaw

If you’ve not given beets a chance lately, try them and let me know. Post a comment below. I’m listening. With my superhuman beet-powered ears.

Send your questions, kudos, and 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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Coming up next, Sunday Menus: I’m Eating Your Dinner Edition.

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Soup Review and Recipes: Trader Joe’s Mushroom Soup Two Ways

Gentle Readers, with cooler weather upon us, and holiday demands being what they are, soup is an excellent fast choice. Do not let it be said that I don’t love to make the stuff from scratch, I do. However, I currently have two newly converted vegetarians and a lot of chicken stock on hand.

Trader Joe's Portabella Mushroom Soup

Trader Joe’s Portabella Mushroom Soup

Thus I was led to the boxed soup aisle of Trader Joe’s. As the weeks progress, look for more reviews here. Today we tackle the Trader Joe’s Portobella Mushroom Soup and two applications of it. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Trader Joe’s Mushroom Soup Two Ways

1. Mushroom Soup with Wild Rice: Make the soup according to directions on the package (in our case, we went with water instead of milk at the request of TPCs Junior). Add 2 cups of cooked wild rice. Season with black pepper to taste. Eat. This was a huge hit with everyone. I’m sure other faster grains would work (barley, bulgar, etc.), but we had wild rice on hand. It was toothsome, full of umami goodness, and disturbingly simple.

Wild rice stuffed squash = leftover wild rice. What to do?

Wild rice stuffed squash = leftover wild rice. What to do?

2. Not Your Great Aunt’s Green Bean Casserole: Steam a pound of green beans (we used French-cut frozen ones), cut in bite-sized pieces as needed. Mix with concentrated soup (do not dilute) and 1/4 cup or so of grated Parmesan. Top with Trader Joe’s Fried Onions. Do not substitute on this one. They are in fact the bomb. Bake at 350 to 400, depending on how much time you have, covering with foil until the last few minutes to prevent burning. Thank me later.

What would you do with a non-gloppy mushroom soup? Share your ideas in the comments section below!

Send your lucrative book deals, garlic fries, and good 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 Friday, For the Love of Doughnuts.

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Weekly Menus: Week of 8/12/2012

Gentle Readers, it is hard to believe that summer is drawing to a close. I will fully admit that I’m reaching the end of my tomato consuming capacity, I’m done with humidity, and I look forward even to the structure the school year will bring. Perhaps that’s because this was a summer like any other for Team Practical Cook: we embraced it with both arms and squeezed.

Mango dessert at ONE Restaurant. "I'm going to eat this until it's gone." --The Youngest

Mango dessert at ONE Restaurant. “I’m going to eat this until it’s gone.” –The Youngest

I haven’t been in the kitchen as much it seems, but when I am, there has been great joy and relative simplicity. It has been about cooking with and for more people, new adventures, new places, new tastes. There’s an incredible backlog of things to try, and I look forward to working through that list this fall. Please keep your challenges and questions coming, they will be addressed as the seasons turn.

Summer adventures in the Guggenheim.

Summer adventures in the Guggenheim.

Enough waxing poetic, we still all have to eat. Here’s what’s on the menu this week:

Weekly Menus: 8/12/2012

Weekly Menus: 8/12/2012

And the Four-Square Grocery Shopping List:

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 8/13/2012

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 8/13/2012

The above is still so lean because we continue to get vegetable drive-bys from the family. Not complaining, just explaining how I can feed the family without ever apparently shopping for food.

Which all translates into:

Sunday: Eggplant Parm or Dine Out
I know, I know, we are dining out a lot. But the Juniors have a much richer social calendar than I do, and I have to accommodate the requests for their time. Field research has been fantastic, more on this upcoming. Otherwise, we’re making Italian food at home.

Monday: Nachos!
A family favorite. We’re taste testing different chips, and this is a good way to use them up. Our version is with black beans and sweet potatoes, cheesy without being gloppy, and no meat.

Tuesday: Salad Surprise
The other trick of this summer has been lots of salad. Great way to use up leftovers. Always evolving, and make it according to your own personal style.

Wednesday: Pancake Courses
We’ve been challenged to create a 3-course pancake meal. This will either be the test run or the live edition, if the guest of honor (aka, the challenger) is available. It will be appetizer pancakes (small cornmeal ones), savory crepes, then a dessert pancake (like an apple fritter).

Thursday: Beef and Veg
We really have to use up the cow in the freezer. It’s becoming a friend at this point.

Friday: Soup and Sammie
The heat has broken enough that soup (not just gazpacho) is on my mind again.

What is your summer food memory for this year? Share your comment below! It’s wide open there, like the beach first thing in the morning.

Send all challenges, strokes of brilliance, and gold medals 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 Wednesday: Simply Herb Pasta Recipe.

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Restaurant Review: Gregoria’s Kitchen (with bonus black beans recipe)

Gentle Readers, sometimes atmosphere and service really and truly matter. Gregoria’s Kitchen in Durham, NC, is that special sort of place. Located in an old house near the very longest traffic light in the entire city, the space is lovely and relaxing, the service is warm and personable, and the food, well, read on.

Extra points for any restaurant located in an old house: Gregoria's Kitchen

Extra points for any restaurant located in an old house: Gregoria's Kitchen

Let’s just say that we ordered one of everything. Not quite, because the shellfish would kill me, but almost everything else. Why? Because it’s what one should do when one has the opportunity, and a dining companion as nuts as oneself. (Said dining companion is not a blog reader currently, there is a lesson here.)

Don't miss the seasoned butter. It is tasty!

Don't miss the seasoned butter. It is tasty!

We ordered:

Chicharrones: When bacon puts on its formal ware, it tastes like this. Pork belly with tamarind sauce.

Pork belly + mood lighting with a tamarind drizzle. Mmmmm.

Pork belly + mood lighting with a tamarind drizzle. Mmmmm.

Yuquita Frita: Fantastic rendering, the cilantro sauce is divine. If you’ve never tried yucca fries, this is a run, not walk, situation. I think they are far superior to French fries.

Yuquita Frita: Fun to say, more fun to eat.

Yuquita Frita: Fun to say, more fun to eat.

Tostones: Good, but I’ve had homemade that were better.
Lechon Asado: My personal favorite. It’s like Southern gone a bit further South, essentially a pulled pork dish.
and a Shredded Beef dish (don’t see it currently listed on the menu!): The favorite of  the Eldest Practical Cook Junior and my dining companion, this dish was complex and interesting.
Beans and Rice: Black beans and rice were the sides with both mains, and they were fabulous. The Jrs consumed all of it in a snap.

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

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

(I should note, enough food was ordered that 4 boxes of leftovers came home, and were devoured by certain short foodies.)

I am not here to argue about the authenticity of the food (in my experience, Cuban food is only approved of by Cubans when served in Miami or in their grandmother’s house, irrespective of location), I will just say I really liked this meal. Each bite was interesting, and clearly prepared with care. The flavors were clean and sharp, the presentation was lovely, and the pork belly made me want to do a little dance. If you’re local to NC, check out Gregoria’s and let me know what you think!

Pretty Quick Black Bean Soup

Adapted from Elsie’s Cuban Black Bean Soup recipe, found in Bean by Bean by Crescent Dragonwagon. This book is fabulous, and I’m thoroughly enjoying working my way through it. I served this thick soup over rice with diced avocado and lime wedges on the side. Simplicity itself, it was a huge hit. Enjoy.

Black Beans and Rice: Simple and Satisfying for Dinner

Black Beans and Rice: Simple and Satisfying for Dinner

2 cups black beans, rinsed thoroughly, picked over and soaked if you have time (I did not)
Enough water to cover the beans in the pot by at least 2 inches
2 bay leaves
1 fresh jalapeno (I only had a Serrano, which worked well), stemmed and seeded
splash of olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt

1. Put the rinsed and drained beans into a large heavy soup pot, fill with water till it’s 2 inches above the bean line. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a strong steady simmer because you forgot to do this in advance and it’s dinnertime soon. Drop in the bay leaves and the pepper. Cover tightly and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, 1 1/2 hours or so.

2. At the end of the cooking time, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until they become translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the peppers (feel free to add more if you’ve got them), and saute for a couple of minutes more. Add the garlic and spices last, including some salt, and cook until you smell the garlic. Turn off the heat.

3. When the beans are tender, stir in the onion mixture. Salt to taste. If you want thicker soup, mash some of the beans up in the pot and stir. Simmer slowly, uncovered, for at least 20 minutes, or until your kids yell that they’re starving. Discard the bay leaves and the pepper.

4. Serve over or beside hot rice, with avocados and lime wedges. A dollop of sour cream is in order for the spice-a-phobes, though we found this flavorful and not spicy with one seeded pepper.

Are you a fan of Cuban food? Of beans and rice? How do you get your fix?

Send blog ideas, challenges, and compliments 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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It’s time for Weekly Menus, live on Sunday. Not all of them will be chocolate bunny meals.

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Filed under Recipes, Restaurant Reviews

Shepherd’s Pie, or Mashed Potatoes Cover All Sins

True confession Gentle Readers, I have never before made Shepherd’s Pie, and I’ve eaten few of them. However, when my friend Cooking in the Darkroom posted a Facebook photo that was drool-worthy of said item the other week, I became inspired. And I had leftover mashed potatoes. Here’s what transpired.

Shepherd's Pie, The Practical Cook Way

Shepherd's Pie, The Practical Cook Way

Shepherd’s Pie, TPC Style

mix of ~1 Tablespoon butter and olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into bite-size pieces
2 squash, scraped clean and cut into bite-size pieces
1 tsp dried thyme, crumbled
salt and pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cup cooked butterbeans (or whatever else you have, green peas, green beans, etc.)
1 Tablespoon flour
1 cup chicken stock
2 sliced cooked bacon, diced (0ptional, but delicious)
~2 cups leftover mashed potatoes
1/2 cup cheese, cheddar, mozzarella, Parmesan, or a mix

Diced Onion, Carrot, and Squash

Diced Onion, Carrot, and Squash

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat the butter and oil in medium skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Saute onion and carrots until onion is soft. Add squash and saute a few minutes longer, until crisp-tender. Add thyme and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Vegetables Sauteing in Thyme

Vegetables Sauteing in Thyme

2. Add garlic and butterbeans and stir until combined and you can smell the garlic (~30 seconds to a minute). Stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Add chicken stock and reduce heat. Stir until combined. Add bacon if you dare.

Saute the veggie mixture until crisp-tender.

Saute the veggie mixture until crisp-tender.

3. Pour almost vegetarian mixture into a deep-dish pie pan. Put the pie pan on a baking sheet. Spread mashed potatoes over the mixture evenly. Top with cheese. Cook for 20 minutes, or until it bubbles and cheese melts. Broil for the last minute if needed to brown and melt the cheese.

Spread the mashed potatoes evenly and top with cheese.

Spread the mashed potatoes evenly and top with cheese.

Shepherd's Pie from The Practical Cook

Shepherd's Pie from The Practical Cook

Truthfully, this is essentially like my chicken pie go-to recipe, minus the chicken and crust, plus mashed potatoes and bacon. It was divine. Serve with a salad and you’ve got a meal made of leftovers no one will recognize. (The Eldest Practical Cook called it Sheriff’s Pie.)

Simple Supper Served Fast

Simple Supper Served Fast

How do you use up leftover mashed potatoes? Post a comment or Tweet.

Send your leftovers 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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Tomorrow, Cooking in Someone Else’s Kitchen, A Guide.

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The Joy of Pesto

Nothing screams fresh and bright like good pesto. Personally, I am a fan when it’s tempered with some sweet and juicy tomatoes diced atop the final dish. Last night, in a superheroic effort to save some on the brink basil, I made pesto with what was at hand. It was good, really good, but there was a blender fail. Can this pesto be saved? Read on.

The Journey Begins: Basil in the Blender

The Journey Begins: Basil in the Blender

I’m pretty sure I’ve always made pesto in the blender, but while my water was boiling furiously, and this picture is lovely, it would not blend. There was some language used that was less than gentle. But never fear, Gentle Readers, The Practical Cook soldiers on.

Pulverized Basil, or Pesto, in the Food Processor

Pulverized Basil, or Pesto, in the Food Processor

I heart my Kitchen Aid Food Processor more than I can say right now. A few seconds later, I had pesto and was able to complete the dish.

Tortellini with Pesto and Tomatoes

Tortellini with Pesto and Tomatoes

If I had a true recipe here, I would share it, but lean in and I’ll tell you a secret: you can make pesto out of almost anything. Yes, it’s true, as long as you have a few key flavor elements, it will work nicely.

The Elements of Pesto

1. Something Green. Basil is the leading contender, and I like to add a bit of parsley for brightness. But I’ve made pesto from spinach and just parsley before when basil went MIA.

2. Something Nutty. Though I’ve made pesto without nuts for family, I prefer the nuts. Toast them before for flavor, pine nuts are traditional, but walnuts are great, and I’ve used pistachios in a Greek version.

3. Garlic. Accept no substitutes.

4. Cheese. Parmesan or Romano are traditional, but feta and cottage are lovely too. Try a combo, and alter based on the flavor profile you’re seeking.

5. Olive Oil. Do not skimp or use crappy stuff. You can taste it in the final dish, pick a flavor you like and go for it.

Tips: Frankly, I toss all the stuff into the food processor (now that I’ve learned my lesson) and blend. Add salt and pepper to taste and adjust seasonings and elements to suit yourself. If it’s dry, add more oil, bland, add more cheese or green, or a little more salt.

And most importantly, make a big batch while you’re doing it, and freeze the leftovers in cubes, to be whipped out like a magician during a future feeding emergency.

Pesto Cubes Heading for the Freezer

Pesto Cubes Heading for the Freezer

Pesto is a natural with pasta, but try it over a stronger tasting fish or chicken. I had some of the best beef shortribs of my life that featured a pesto drizzle. Use your pesto in small portions, but with creativity, and you’ll never look back.

Are you a pesto fan? Purist or experimental? Share your thoughts by posting a comment below, or Tweet!

Send your basil 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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Tomorrow, we conclude the week with German Chocolate Cake and Frosting Recipe.

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Filed under Can this supper be saved?, Punt!, Recipes