Tag Archives: easy recipes

Three of My New Favorite Indgredients (Or Why I Should Not Shop Alone)

Gentle Readers, today’s post is by the Eldest Practical Cook Junior, who was greatly amused at the thought of me skipping down the aisles tossing items into the cart with abandon. The Practical Cook must admit, a research trip to the grocery store borders on nirvana for her. So here it is, a post for her, but I shall not scan and share the receipt that went along with it.

Three of My New Favorite Ingredients

Let the record show, for thematic purposes, all items are from Trader Joe’s. I also find that shopping there frees me from some of my stricter shopping rules. I don’t know if it’s the relatively small size of the store, the random factor, or the Hawaiian-print shirts, but into my cart items leap.

As a further disclaimer, if you want serious ingredients, with gorgeous pictures and actual useful information, visit my friend David Schiller’s blog, aptly named The Ingredients.

Ciabatta, Cookies, and Walnuts from Trader Joe's

Ciabatta, Cookies, and Walnuts from Trader Joe's

1. Ciabatta. Though not new, the Trader Joe’s version is quite respectable, and stales quickly enough to become fabulous French Toast. You may all be jealous of my breakfast tomorrow. It also made a great tomato sandwich.

2. Cinnamon Schoolbook Cookies. These are great for teaching spelling, um right. And when that gets old, toss them in the food processor and make a cookie crumb crust. These were featured in yesterday’s Personal Banana Pudding recipe as one of the crumb contributors.

3. California Walnut Halves and Pieces. Gentle Readers, I have a walnut problem, but I just bought them for the first time at Trader Joe’s. Wow, they are really tasty. I do eat them straight up, but also slip them into pancakes, muffins, parfaits, trail mix, and whatever else. These are can’t miss. Seriously.

Thoughts, pictures, blog requests? 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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Tomorrow, live and on video, Which Tastes Better, Moon Pie or Choco Pie?

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Filed under Kitchen Tool Talk, On the Table, Snacks

Recipes in Review: The Top 5 Performers

Though this is not a particular anniversary for the Practical Cook Blog, it seemed like a good time to look fondly back at some of the favorite recipes as determined by you, the Gentle Readers, and by the interweb at large. Admittedly, this is also because TPC was out late doing field research at a chic local establishment and she is a marketer by trade and a stats fan. But I digress.

Here are the Top 5 Performing Recipes, determined by hits, requests, comments, and questions regarding:

1. Mafe. Who knew there would be such an ongoing demand for this little obsession of mine. It gets searched almost daily.

Mafe with Couscous

Mafe with Couscous

2. Spaghetti Bird’s Nests. Simple yet popular.

Spagetti Bird's Nests

Spagetti Bird's Nests

3. Moroccan French Toast. I can’t lie, it is that delicious. (But in case my boss is reading this, I must confess it is neither French nor Moroccan.) People ask me about this one, just because of the picture.

Moroccan French Toast

Moroccan French Toast

4. Fried Squash with Soda Cracker Crumb Coating. Crunchy summer goodness, this one is a sure-fired hit for the friends of fried.

Golden-Brown Fried Squash with Soda Cracker Crumbs

Golden-Brown Fried Squash with Soda Cracker Crumbs

5. Pasta with Broccoli, Mushrooms, Tomatoes, and Goat Cheese. No idea why this is such a popular search term. Apparently many people are looking for ways to tie these elements together. Perhaps it’s the disturbing picture of my overstuffed, disorganized fridge that’s the big draw.

Fridge Pasta Toss

Fridge Pasta Toss

Honorable mentions to “Roma Beans” and “Zucchini.” Clearly a seasonal search. And to the person who searched for “fried orka,” well, I wish you luck.

What’s my favorite? Well, I love all of my children equally. I will admit, I struggle to make the same thing twice, I’m always on the hunt for the next thing. Having kids has challenged me in that way, for the good, to repeat and improve recipes instead of create from whole cloth all of the time.

Do you have a favorite recipe from here? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. Or Tweet away.

Send a picture of your favorite TPC creation 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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How time does fly. Up tomorrow, Weekly Menus.

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Garlicky Roma Beans with Tomatoes Recipe

Gentle Readers, the Practical Cook adores a simple summer side. Though she used to be a green bean hater, she has now been transformed because of her CSA, courtesy of Brinkley Farms, and a boatload of garlic. You see, growing up in the South, I was subjected to endless overcooked green beans that squeaked. I love you mom, but I do despise a limp green bean.

The Junior Practical Cook Assists with the Beans

The Junior Practical Cook Assists with the Beans

Enter the Chinese buffet. After some experimentation, and a natural prey drive (er, buffet drive?) to try one of everything, I discovered I liked very lightly cooked, slender, garlicky green beans. Preferably with soy. My Brinkley Farms beans are so good, I don’t even need soy.

This led to more experimentation, and the consumption of Roma beans. They’re the flat ones. Here’s a riff on my basic recipe, a simple side, and pretty too.

Garlicky Roma Beans with Tomatoes Recipe

splash of olive oil
1 lb Roma beans (or standard, government issue fresh green beans), washed, dried, and ends trimmed
minimum of 3 cloves of garlic minced or pressed (if you press, press them into a teaspoon of water to prevent burning)
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the olive oil until shimmering over a strong medium heat in a medium skillet that has a lid. The lid is not on, but nearby during this stage.

2. When the oil is hot, toss the prepped Roma beans into the oil. If they are not dry, you will not be happy at this moment. Please make sure they’re dry or you’re standing back from the pan. Stir-fry the beans for a couple of minutes, tossing thoroughly in the oil.

Toss the Tomatoes into the Romas

Toss the Tomatoes into the Romas

3. Add the garlic, saute for 30 seconds, then add a splash of water. Toss with the beans and season with salt and pepper. Slap the lid on the skillet. Steam/saute for 2 more minutes. Add tomatoes. Stir, cook for a few more minutes, or until tomatoes are warm and beans are just cooked. (If you need them floppy and squeaky, I will avert my eyes at this point.)

Summer  Vegetables, Christmas Colors

Summer Vegetables, Christmas Colors

Pat yourself on the back, and serve the beautiful green and red side dish. Tastes even better if you employ small people to snap the bean ends for you.

Raising a Non-Green-Bean Hater

Raising a Non-Green-Bean Hater

What is your most loathed vegetable from childhood? Do you still hate it? Comment here, or Tweet.

Send your extra garlic 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 next, Kitchen Tool Talk, 3 More of My Favorite Things.

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Bacony Potato Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

Gentle readers, though the Practical Cook adores a vinaigrette, she misspells it in a new way each and every time. Thankfully, it is far easier to make than to spell. The recipe goes out to the mayo-haters and to the hash brown fans.

Bacony Potato Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

This dish was created to go with the Easy Trout from yesterday, completing the classic trinity of trout, bacon, and potatoes.

Bacony Potato Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

Bacony Potato Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

1 Tablespoon bacon grease (or some other full-flavored fat, like a strong olive oil, or a combo of olive oil and butter)
1 quart Yukon Gold potatoes (courtesy of our CSA from Brinkley Farms), scrubbed clean, peeled, and cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch dice
salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
juice from 1/2 lemon
1 to 2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 or 3 Tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley

1. In a large skillet, melt or heat the fat of your dreams over a strong medium heat.

Yukon Golds in the Skillet

Yukon Golds in the Skillet

2. When hot but not smoking, add potatoes. Fry, turning occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until nicely browned, cooked through, but not super mushy. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

The Mixing of the Vinaigrette

The Mixing of the Vinaigrette

3. Meanwhile, mix mustard, lemon juice, and olive oil in a medium-sized serving bowl till thoroughly combined. Taste. Adjust the mix according to your personal “tang” preference. If it’s too sharp, add a little more oil. If you want more bite, up the lemon juice.

4. Add the warm, cooked potatoes to the vinaigrette. Toss to coat potatoes. Add the parsley, toss, serve.

**Note: this dish reheats fairly well, and the leftovers taste good. Would be fine to make ahead and reheat, just add the parsley later.

Where do you stand in the great mayo debate? Pro or con, share with us here.

Send food photos and good ideas only 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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Coming up tomorrow, Reader Questions! There’s still time to ask your question. (Ask now, or I’ll make up the question I knew you wanted to ask and attribute it to you.)

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Questions from Readers: Can this (insert noun) be saved?

Gentle readers, if you haven’t noticed, the Practical Cook is a fan of the advice columns of old. From Miss Manners to Dear Abby to LHJ, she devoured and enjoyed them. And now, thanks to the internet, the Practical Cook can follow in those hallowed footsteps. Here are 3 reader questions, complete with spiffy monikers, just like when newspapers and magazines were printed.

*******

Dear Practical Cook,
So today, I made “easy applesauce muffins.” They are really, really easy. I cut the butter by two tablespoons to see if they would taste the same, and they do—except now they stick to the paper wrapping and leave much of themselves behind. Do you think I should add back the butter? Spraying Pam on paper baking cups seems ridiculous. 

Perplexed

Cool the muffins in the tin for a few minutes.

Cool the muffins in the tin for a few minutes.

Dear Perplexed,
First, I would suggest sharing the recipe with me because I do adore an easy muffin (see All-Purpose Blueberry Muffins and Raisin Bran Muffins). But that solves my problem more than yours. There are three ways to approach this problem:

1. Don’t use paper liners at all, just spray the muffin tin. I’ve done this before with stickier recipes with great success.
2. Use foil liners. These are also better for the sticky.
3. Let the muffins sit in the tin for a few minutes, then let cool on a rack before you attempt to peel them. Even when I cut the fat in a muffin recipe, this seems to be the key, a bit of time. Cooling off yields more muffin in mouth than on liner.

Good luck, and send us a picture (and, er, a muffin),
The Practical Cook

********

Dear Practical Cook,
I just made your Salmon Cakes, using dried bread crumbs, and they kept falling apart! The crumbs were delicious, but I’d like a whole cake. What’s your prescription for success?

Doctor Particular

Crispy Salmon Cakes

Crispy Salmon Cakes

What’s up Doc?
Oh, I’ve waited years to say that. First, make sure that you’re adding enough moisture for the dried bread crumbs. The ratios should work, but feel free to add a bit more moisture if you have exceptionally thirsty crumbs: a smidge more mayo and mustard, even an additional egg if you’d like. Second, this is a hands-on food. You’ll need to press the cakes together and give them a chance to set. Third, size matters. If you make them as thin as pancakes, you’ll have trouble flipping them.

Keep up the practice!
The Practical Cook

*******

Dear Practical Cook,
Help! I’m making the Rustic Chard Tart, and I don’t know if I can eat the stems of the chard. Do I chop or discard? Call back fast, I’m making it now.

Blended Familia

Hello, My Beautiful Tart!

Hello, My Beautiful Tart!

Dear BF,
Great question! Chard stems (especially rainbow) are beautiful and delicious. Chop and discard just an inch or so, and then dice the rest into bite-sized pieces and continue with the recipe.

Enjoy!
The Practical Cook (exchange via vmail)

*******

Thanks for the great questions, keep them coming! Do you have a question? Pose it here or send a Tweet. You could earn a nickname and an answer in a future edition of Questions from Readers!

Send your successes, questions, and confessions to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Like, like, like! Press “like” on Facebook today! Thank to everyone for helping to earn our very own name: facebook.com/practicalcook)

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On deck tomorrow, Extremely Practical Slaw, or Punting! with Cabbage.

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Summer Rolls, and You Can Too (with video)

Gentle readers, today’s video features a very special guest, The Practical Cook Junior. In an effort to prove that you can both cook and convince the junior members on your team to cook and eat, too, TPC Junior kindly agreed to demonstrate the proper summer roll making technique. It is very hot this week, and you’re probably noticing a theme.

Not only is the fridge laden with veggies, I’m not in the mood for a hot soup. The full dinner menu was stir-fry and rolls, the rolls added because all of the veggies I wanted to use wouldn’t fit in the pan. Summer rolls are a great way to use up a bit of this and that, and to leave a bit of this and that for other uses.

Summer Rolls Recipe

The only special ingredient you’ll need are the wrappers, which are sold dry, in the Asian section of your supermarket. I would recommend buying the smaller size, if you have a choice. You’ll see why. Roll the instructional video:

3 to 4 spring rolls skins (yeah, and it feels like skin, too)
a few ounces small noodles, cooked (traditionally vermicelli or cellophane noodles, but I used Somen noodles, which I had on hand, and they were fine, angel hair pasta would work, too)
1/4 block of extra-firm tofu, cut into matchsticks
1 cucumber, seeded and cut into matchsticks (if available!)
1 carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
a few lettuce leaves
a few sprigs of cilantro, tough stem ends removed
peanut sauce for dipping (I used commercial, still in the test kitchens perfecting a recipe, please send one if you have one you love)

Tofu Matchsticks

Tofu Matchsticks

1. Soak the skin, one at a time, in a shallow container of cool water.

Cooked Noodles

Cooked Noodles

2. When the skin is pliable, remove to a plate or other work surface and add fillings, being careful to not overfill. Don’t add more than you would see in an egg roll. This is NOT a burrito, people.

Cilantro, Lettuce, Carrots in Matchstick Form

Cilantro, Lettuce, Carrots in Matchstick Form

3. Fold the ends up, then tuck the skin around the filling, and roll. Slice into sections, eat.

Summer Rolls

Summer Rolls

And these things are expensive to buy out, but they are really that easy. You can shove any variety of crunchy and soft items in there. Everything tastes good with peanut sauce. Except shrimp, which would kill me. Feel free to add some if they won’t kill you.

Perfect side item for stir-fry or any Asian-themed dish you’ve got planned. Have you ever made summer rolls? What do you like in them?

Send greetings and thoughts and peanut sauce recipes to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Like, like, like! Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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Up next, Kitchen Tool Talk!

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Filed under Punt!, Recipes

Leftover Rice Fried Rice Recipe

Picking up on yesterday’s theme on dining out, today we’ll talk about using the bounty that comes with Chinese takeout—delightfully sticky rice. Why fry your own if you can just order fried rice with your meal? For the Practical Cook, it is better to control your oil and vegetable intake. Plus with plain rice you have a flexible ingredient to be used other ways (soup, burrito, etc.) rather than a finished dish.

So if you love Chinese takeout like I do, but never make it through two containers of rice, do not throw it out! Save the extra in the freezer until you need to clean out the vegetable bin.

Carrots and Broccoli on the Chopping Block

Carrots and Broccoli on the Chopping Block

Leftover Rice Fried Rice Recipe

splash of canola or peanut oil
2-3 cups of vegetables (or more don’t be shy, TPC prefers at least a 2:1 ratio of veg to rice), assorted (see Note)
2 inch piece of ginger, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup cooked meat, optional (see Note)
1 cup leftover Chinese takeout rice, white or brown (or your own, if you’ve got it on hand)
soy sauce, to taste (hey, save those packets from the takeout and use a couple here)
1-2 Tablespoons ketchup, or to taste (I suppose you can save packets of this too, but let’s not get out of hand)
3 eggs
Siracha (optional)

1. Heat oil in a medium skillet (choose one with higher sides; substitute a wok if you own one) over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking.

Use More Vegetables for Fried Rice

Use More Vegetables for Fried Rice

2. Toss in your vegetable medley, and saute a few minutes (until the frozen comes off of any frozen veggies, or the other veggies are just starting to cook), stirring continuously. (This is a stir-fry, not a stand there and watch fry.)

Ginger and Garlic, Minced

Ginger and Garlic, Minced

3. Add the ginger and garlic to the pan, stirring to incorporate. Saute until you can smell ginger and garlic, about 30 seconds. If you are adding meat, stir in now and let warm through, about a minute.

Stir gently to incorporate ingredients.

Stir gently to incorporate ingredients.

4. Add rice, soy sauce, and ketchup and stir, cooking for another minute or so.

Blend Egg into Fried Rice

Blend Egg into Fried Rice

5. Crack eggs into the mixture, letting cook for a minute before stirring in. (If you prefer less chunky egg bits you can stir earlier. More chunky, wait longer to stir.) Fry the rice until it’s your desired level of doneness—if you like bi bim bop, then you can cook until it’s got a little more crunch on the bottom.

Leftover Rice Fried Rice

Leftover Rice Fried Rice

Note: Vegetables can include, but are not limited to: diced carrots, chopped broccoli, quartered mushrooms, frozen peas, frozen or fresh peppers, sliced onions, water chestnuts, pea pods, frozen or fresh sliced zucchini and/or squash, sliced cabbage. If you choose to add meat, don’t overdo it. The tradition is to use just a bit to flavor the dish. In the rendition shown here, I added a little bit of leftover ground pork. You could use deli ham, bacon, sausage, chicken, shrimp (or “death by the sea” as I like to call it, but the more you eat of it, the less likely I’ll encounter it!), tofu, etc.

Serve with Siracha, additional soy sauce, ketchup (for the kids and the kids at heart), and chopsticks (because it’s just more fun to eat with chopsticks). The Practical Cook serves edamame on the side so that the young eaters can eat one thing easily while they’re working out their chopstick skills.

Coming up next, Tool Talk, three more Practical Cook kitchen favorites.

Till then, keep those ideas coming, and those cameras snapping. Submit both at practicalcook at gmail dot com. Twitter: practicalcook

Note to Email Subscribers: Be sure to check your various folders if the notice doesn’t arrive in the morning. I found my copy in a folder that shall not be named, lest it end up there again for having mentioned the word. (Hint, it’s a famous ham substitute, and I refuse to eat or cook with it.)

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