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Weekly Menus with Bonus Tapas Recipe: Week of 11/10/2013

Gentle Readers, what a long strange week it has been. Just finished up with a very large project that involved time spent cooking in a kitchen (not my own). What did I discover? I love asparagus and pancake mix is infinitely better when you doctor it. Not earth shattering, perhaps, but it’ll do for this week.

One of the best tapas from Barcelona's famed Cervezeria y Catalana, Asparagus and Mushrooms. We ordered two.

One of the best tapas from Barcelona’s famed Cervezeria y Catalana, Asparagus and Mushrooms. We ordered two.

Having recently returned from Barcelona, I find myself missing the concept of small plates. Though so much of the traditional tapas fair is meat or seafood focused, my heart was won over by the simplest of dishes, roasted mushrooms and asparagus. This was not fancy, just some good salt and olive oil, fresh ingredients, and a practiced hand.

My version of asparagus and mushrooms at home!

My version of asparagus and mushrooms at home!

Since then, it’s created a small obsession. I reenacted at home, to much fanfare (the small bit left over made for a killer lunch omelet the next day). Again, I discovered that asparagus is often the answer for me. I love the combo, too, either standing alone as tapas, or in an omelet, pasta, risotto, etc.

Asparagus from the Bull and Bear at The Waldorf Astoria in New York. My favorite thing on the menu.

Asparagus from the Bull and Bear at The Waldorf Astoria in New York. My favorite thing on the menu.

Tapas Recipe: Roasted Mushrooms and Asparagus

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush the dirt of some baby bella (or white button) mushrooms. Drizzle with good Spanish olive oil and a bit of coarse salt. Roast until tender but not dry, about 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Pair with asparagus, soaked in water to remove grit and rinsed and patted dry, woody ends snapped off. You can oven or pan-roast the asparagus, same technique. Enjoy. Ole.

Sometimes I struggle to stop cooking once I start: 3 side dishes for Sunday dinner? Sure. (Green Bean Casserole, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Acorn Squash with Maple Syrup)

Sometimes I struggle to stop cooking once I start: 3 side dishes for Sunday dinner? Sure. (Green Bean Casserole, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Acorn Squash with Maple Syrup)

But back to this week’s weekly menus. I can’t stay out of the kitchen right now–I want to practice all the things I’ve learned and eaten, which means:

Weekly Menus: 11/10/2013

Weekly Menus: 11/10/2013

The Four-Square Grocery list is pretty simple:

The Four Square Grocery List: 11/10/2013

The Four Square Grocery List: 11/10/2013

Which all translates into:

Sunday: Pork, Brussels Sprouts, and Acorn Squash, with Green Bean Casserole
I really do love casseroles, and apparently it’s genetic. TPCs Jr ate their weight in the Trader Joe’s rendition. Not gonna lie, I heart their Portabella Mushroom Soup and Fried Onions. The addition of extra sauteed mushrooms makes this nothing but win for team TPC. (Sidenote: the deli already cooked pork loin was a crime against pigs. Please do not cook your pork to sawdust. Thanks, the mgmnt)

Trader Joe's Portabella Mushroom Soup

Trader Joe’s Portabella Mushroom Soup

Monday: Burgers and Fries
The Jrs decided they wanted to honor veterans, and shy of MREs, this is what we came up with. This All-American meal, we may have it on English Muffins. Don’t judge. Thank you for your service.

Tuesday: Mexican
Favorite quote from the grocery aisle today: what’s the “International Food” aisle? I explain, the Jrs respond, oh, you mean dinner. I still find the denotation odd and amusing, but straight from the International aisle to you, we’re serving up leftover pork soft tacos. Or Fauxnitas.

Korean Pork Tacos

Korean Pork Tacos

Wednesday: Breakfast for Dinner
Mainly an excuse to eat grits and biscuits, truth be told. I will throw sauteed spinach and heirloom tomatoes on the eggs to fancy it up, but there will be molasses involved. It’s fall, and one must battle anemia where one may.

The Practical Cook Loves Molasses

The Practical Cook Loves Molasses

Thursday: Spanikopita and Salad
We’re trying a slightly crustless spanikopita thing from the frozen aisle of Trader Joe’s. We shall see how this goes. I think the salad will be fruit to provide balance in the force. Perhaps some sliced apples with Maple Butter. Seriously fall, I have a crush on you right now. Even if you have a pumpkin aftertaste.

Friday: Tuna Noodle Casserole
I don’t joke about casserole love. Clearly I was born in the wrong decade, or have fallen under the spell of my latest kitchen wall hanging. Oh, this is a classic.

My latest kitchen acquisition: calorie counter from days gone by.

My latest kitchen acquisition: calorie counter from days gone by.

Saturday: Dine Out
I feel a run to China Wok or some other exotic location is in order. Bahn Mi? I say oui.

Pulled Pork Bahn Mi from Num Pang. It's like Cambodia meets the South plus Sriracha.

Pulled Pork Bahn Mi from Num Pang. It’s like Cambodia meets the South plus Sriracha.

Thanks for sticking around. I’m planning to limit the blog to once a week for a while so that I have time to cook and keep up with TPCs Jrs’ active lifestyles. I’m still doing recipe and menu prep, and will break out the blogs accordingly as time and ingredients permit. What challenges can I solve for you? I take requests. Post a comment below. I don’t bite unless you’re shaped like a lamb-burger.

Send your casserole dishes, mulling spices, and strokes of genius 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 with Bonus Thanksgiving Tips and Recipes!

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Weekly Menus from The Practical Cook’s Mom, A Guest Blog of Sorts

Gentle Readers, though The Practical Cook does like to make a general eating roadmap for the week, she is all for spontaneity. Apparently this runs in the family. Perhaps you recall when I left The Practical Cook’s Mom at the helm in the kitchen a few weeks back. I had one set of menus, we conferred, keep it simple. This is what actually happened:

Weekly Menus, Courtesy of The Practical Cook's Mom

Weekly Menus, Courtesy of The Practical Cook’s Mom

So this week, as I travel one more time, I’m not planning anything. Here’s her list. I’ll run you through the highlights reel so you can follow her method. I should also note, that she brings her own cooler of food, too, so stocking up is futile pursuit.

Monday: Tacos, pintos, fried okra, lettuce and tomato
How does okra pair with tacos? This is one of the many mysteries I faced in my youth. I still don’t have an answer for you.

Wednesday: Baked ham biscuits (you know them as Ham and Cheese Tea Sandwiches), steamed mixed vegetables, okra/beet pickles, pinwheel pasta salad
Yes, this is enough food to feed the troops. If they were running a marathon. Leftovers are very important in meal planning!

Thursday: Fried Chicken, rice, slaw, kale, crudites
Why have one vegetable when you can serve three? Welcome to dinner from a farming family in the summer. And believe me, there were probably more veggies lurking.

The Moral Here: Make a lot of food, focusing on vegetables. Ignore any and all rules of what vegetables pair with what. Serve.

The Second Moral: My kids always eat a ton when my parents are in the house. TPC’s Mom’s food just tastes better.

Do you cook like or with your mom? Discuss by posting a comment below. My mom might show up at your house with a cooler if you do.

Send suggestions, challenges, and heaps of praise 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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On Wednesday, Three More of My Least Favorite Things, Summertime Edition.

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Weekly Menus: Week of 12/18/2011

Gentle Readers, if The Practical Cook acknowledges that this is one of the last weekly menus of the year, she will pass out and hit her head, rendering her unable to finish out the year. So let’s move to other subjects, shall we? This is a busy time of year, and the menus will reflect that. If ever there was a time for Punting! and eating healthy/lightly between feasts and fests, this is it.

So here we go, the Weekly Menus for this week:

Weekly Menus: Week of 12/16/2011

Weekly Menus: Week of 12/16/2011

The accompanying Four-Square Grocery list (with last-minute Santa and baking items):

The Four-Square Grocery List: 12/18/2011

The Four-Square Grocery List: 12/18/2011

Which translates into:

Sunday: Sammies
This could be avocado and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, or quickie hummus, made from beans on hand. Point: It’s fast, because the Juniors and I have plans!

Monday: Sausage and gnocchi
We still have a load of pork to eat up in the freezer, and this is a quick and satisfying meal. Everyone likes it, can expand to feed more, etc.

Tuesday: Omelets with salad and fruit
The Eldest Practical Cook Junior asked for this one. Will keep the Youngest satisfied by including a carb: pancakes, waffles, grits.

Wednesday: Spinach Quesadillas
My go-to Punt! I like them, and we’ve started adding the avocado slices inside. Hello delicious.

Thursday: Rustic Tart
Not making promises, but I think this will be sweet potato, bacon, spinach, and goat cheese. I woke up from a sweet potato bacon dream the other day, and have been pondering how to make it a reality ever since.

Friday: Dine Out!
We interrupt our typical pattern for some holiday festivities. Including a Holiday Brunch. Oh, there will be time in the test kitchen for that one.

Saturday: Tapas!
Yes, after years of cooking everything ever, the troops voted for tapas for Christmas Eve. As in pigs in a blanket. I’ve got more tapas up my sleeve, but the pigs (beef and veggie) are the stars. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

What’s on your list this week? And from sheer self-interest, if you’ve got a rocking brunch recipe/idea, send it my way! Post in the comments below, email me, Tweet at me, etc. I’m here listening, and dreaming of sugar plums (with bacon apparently).

Send coal or presents 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, One Ingredient, Three Ways: Tomato Paste Edition.

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Salad Bar Secrets: Don’t Hate the Leafy Green

Gentle Readers, The Practical Cook loves a good salad bar, sneeze guards and all. First, there are the myriad veggies all prepared and waiting, and second, endless combinations. This one goes out to the salad haters (eyes on you CaptCranky). You know, the people who swear they’d rather croak than eat a salad every day, because it’s too hard, too expensive, too boring, too girly, etc. Bring.It.On.

Composed salad from work with berries, nuts, and goat cheese.

Composed salad from work with berries, nuts, and goat cheese.

The Practical Cook’s Guide to Winning Salad

1. Rebrand  it. Are you salad-phobic or salad-curious? How about if your lunch or dinner was something something on a bed of greens? There, all better now.

The Great Tuna Salad Experiment

The Great Tuna Salad Experiment

2. Dressing is the enemy. Yeah, I said it. Most of the dressings you’ll find are gloppy and narsty. And they weigh a lot, thus costing you more, too. Use sparingly, dilute with vinegar or lemon juice, and focus on other items. I’m a fan of chopped egg with a healthy splash of olive oil and balsamic. Avocados are good for this too. Healthy fatty goodness.

The Practical Salad

The Practical Salad

3. Top it with meat. Normally I’m an all-veg salad girl (though past my salad days, Wonder Woman), but sometimes I crave protein. I heart the Whole Foods salad bar, and just across from it is the smoked meat bar. Yes, that’s a slab of brisket on the top. Take that. Think outside the bowl, people. (Also note the grapefruit to counterbalance and remind me why I don’t want to be on statins.)

Brisket on a bed of greens.

Brisket on a bed of greens.

4. Tomatoes are heavy. Simple rule, you will pay an arm and a leg for tomatoes and their like. Get one or two, not a half dozen. If you need a box of tomatoes, you’ll find them in produce.

Wedge Salad Update

Wedge Salad Update

5. Salads aren’t all green. There are lovely fruit salads, potato salads, etc. Consider a salad plate or meal composed of multiples. Beets, grapefruits, etc. are all out there, waiting to be your lunch.

Beet and citrus, potato, and Caesar salad from Foster's

Beet and citrus, potato, and Caesar salad from Foster's

Where do you stand in the great salad debate? Make your opinion known, or I’ll simply post a comment and attribute it to you. 🙂 Or Tweet.

Weigh in on salad ideas at 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, Kitchen Tool Talk: Three More of My Favorite Things.

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Weekly Menus: Week of 6/19/2011

Oh Sunday, with your logistics challenges and shopping. Today I’m feeling inspired after a week away from kitchen, sweet kitchen. Time to use up the stored goods, so shopping is very light. There’s a surplus of eggplant, waiting to be roasted, grilled, or baked crunchy, and some green tomatoes that won’t be green forever.

As today is Father’s Day, I’d like to pause to thank my dad for teaching me to taste food thoughtfully, to consider how it is constructed, and for the gallons of Hawaiian Punch that were in various stages of experimentation in my youth. And of course for the recipe for Fruit Bake, which is wonderful applied to any cobbler. Thanks, Dad, for treating the food I produced as a kid as something special, and encouraging me to keep cooking. I love you!

And now Gentle Readers, here’s what’s on the Weekly Menus board:

Weekly Menus: Week of 6/19/2011

Weekly Menus: Week of 6/19/2011

Four-Square Grocery List (very small in the summer!):

Four-Square Grocery List: 6/19/2011

Four-Square Grocery List: 6/19/2011

The CSA from Brinkley Farms:

1 pack bacon
1 lb red tomatoes
1 lb roma beans
2 pablano peppers

Which, when you add it all up, means:

Sunday: Fish!
Probably Rainbow Trout with a buttery, nutty sauce and some Yukon Gold potatoes, finished with something green.

Monday: Eggplant Surprise!
Lots of exclamation points this week as I head back into the test kitchen. For the sake of time and convenience, this will probably mean a Turkish prep, serving as a base for a kebab, or baba ghanoush. If I have more time/energy, maybe eggplant parm or rollatini.

Tuesday: Breakfast for Dinner
Sausage and Waffles, side of fruit, maybe banana bread.

Wednesday: Chicken (braised)
Depending on my mood and the available flavorings and spices, I’m going to make a simple braised chicken dish, stovetop, so that I don’t heat the house up.

Thursday: Steak and Potatoes
Very simple, very easy. Probably with a mushroom sauce to top.

Friday: Leftovers
Burritos with a filling of one of the previous meals!

Saturday: Dine Out(side)!
Let the summer weather roll.

What are you eating this week? Just found a cucumber and cantaloupe salad recipe in a fave food mag, so I predict there will be some experimentation as the week progresses. Stay tuned. Happy Father’s Day!

Send blog suggestions and food pictures 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, Fruit Bake Recipe!

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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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