Tag Archives: eat with your eyes

Mango and Blackberry Parfait

Gentle Readers, in good faith, The Practical Cook can’t call the following a recipe. But The Practical Cooks Junior were enamored enough of the combination that it warranted a mention. The Eldest said I needed to let you know about it.

Denuded Lime, Blackberries, Trader Joe's Blackberry Juice

Denuded Lime, Blackberries, Trader Joe's Blackberry Juice

And as we eat our weight in apples and citrus in these winter months, it is nice to have a change of pace, a treat from a different climate. So this was our snack the other day, a Mango and Blackberry Parfait. Mango and blackberry pair beautifully, they are gorgeous to look at, and they go with almonds, pecans, or walnuts.

Mango and Blackberry Parfait (not quite a recipe, but lovely nonetheless)

Mango and Blackberry Parfait (not quite a recipe, but lovely nonetheless)

A scoop of granola (Trader Joe’s Mango Passionfruit is an obvious choice) and a dash of maple syrup over the top, plain lowfat yogurt underneath. Done. Winter gloom is banished for a little summer paradise.

What are your favorite fruit combinations? Post a comment below!

Send your fruit combos, questions, and Practical Challenges 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, Weekly Menus, or Wow, It Is Cold Outside.

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Kitchen Tool Talk: Three (More of) My Favorite Things

Going through a friend’s kitchen (sometimes when she was standing there, other times when her back was turned) this past week, the Practical Cook had a realization: she has a lot of kitchen gear. These are items collected during a lifetime in the kitchen, sometimes impulsive, sometimes calculated, and sometimes temporary.

With a good knife, a few good pots and pans, and a baking sheet, you can cook plenty of things. If you have space and are in a place in your kitchen life to add in some extras, here are 3 Kitchen Tools to consider (practical or not)!

1. Microplane Zester
Why: Because it zests, grates, and cleans up perfectly. My go to for Parmesan at the table, nutmeg, chocolate, and all citrus-work.

More chocolate, courtesy of my faithful Microplane.

More chocolate, courtesy of my faithful Microplane.

2. Special Dishes
Why: Because they make you and the person you’re serving happy. Full confession, I own a lot of dishes. Plain white, blue, 2 sets of inherited China, pieces I’ve collected. It is excessive, and there are several I could easily cull, but there are a few special pieces that make eating Chinese take-out a true pleasure, serving peas an act of indulgence, and drinking milk not about calcium intake.

Noodle Bowls from Anthropologie

Noodle Bowls from Anthropologie

The Manageable Milk Mug (also from Anthropologie)

The Manageable Milk Mug (also from Anthropologie)

If you have dishes you love but never use, take the chance and get them out. For me, dishes are both living art and a connection to my past.  If you’re starting your kitchen from scratch, don’t be afraid to add an odd piece or two, from a yard sale, thrift shop, or kitchen specialty shop. Lastly, if you have a dish problem, like I clearly do, do not go into Anthropologie without a chaperon.

3. Spatzle Maker
Why: Clearly, the Practical Cook has spatzle on the brain. It’s a simple dumpling that makes for a great side dish, and I fell in love with them years ago as a side for pork chops. As mentioned yesterday, a blog post brought all of that back, and I’m dusting off the spatzle maker this week. It was $7 at TJ Maxx over 10 years ago, and I’ve moved it around with me. Odd, perhaps, but I like it. Generally I’m not in favor of one-use tools, but if there’s one that’s right for you, get it, use it, and enjoy it!

The One-Hit Wonder Spatzle Maker

The One-Hit Wonder Spatzle Maker

Bonus, if you have odd things in your kitchen, people ask you about them, and they double as good conversation pieces.

Up next, Sticky Popcorn, found at the happy crossroads of Rice Krispie Treats and Cracker Jacks.

Post your 3 favorite kitchen tools  in the comments section, or share your story: practical cook at gmail dot com

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Can this supper be saved? Tuna Fish Edition

Into every family or dinner, a little bit of finickiness must fall. Gentle Readers, the Practical Cook has been gifted with some talented eaters for children, but fish is a showstopper for one member. Sunday night tends to be fish night, and the fish-hater took one look, curled her lip, and said, “is that salmon?” No, it’s tuna, and I’m not going to be able to sell the tuna casserole, am I?  Drat.

Enter inspiration and hot weather. It was hot yesterday, 70 degrees or so in March. Not really casserole weather. The Practical Cook loves a good dinner salad, and thought about a riff on Niçoise Salad. But that can be a bit piquant for young palates, and there were some ingredients in the fridge that were in need of a home. Here’s the result.

Salad Trinity

Salad Trinity

The Great Tuna Salad Experiment Recipe

No Mayo, no cans involved. Serves a family of 4 with two young eaters. If you have big eaters, double the recipe.

.75 to 1 lb tuna medallions (they are much cheaper, and you’re going to slice them anyway)
healthy dose of mixed salad greens
1 or 2 avocados cut into small dice
1 sweet yellow pepper, sliced thin
2 cups diced pickled (or plain cooked) beets
something crunchy for sprinkling on top, options include toasted sliced almonds, chow mein noodles, seeds, fried onions

Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing:
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
pinch of salt
juice of 1 clementine (feel free to sub another citrus)
zest of 1 clementine

1. Wash tuna, pat dry, sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a medium frying pan, heat a dash of oil (I used peanut) over medium-high heat. Sear tuna on both sides, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Turn off heat, cover with a lid, and let residual heat finish tuna to your desired temp. Keep a close eye on it.  **The Practical Cook likes her tuna on the verge of swimming. For those who prefer it less rare, leave it on a bit longer.

Rare Pan-Seared Tuna Medallions

Rare Pan-Seared Tuna Medallions

2. When tuna is cooked, slice it thinly against the grain.

3. Prepare the dressing by whisking olive oil, vinegar, and salt. Add the juice and zest and whisk again.

Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette

Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette

4. Compose salad. First the greens, then the peppers, then the avocado and beets, topping with tuna. Whisk the dressing and gently coat each salad. Complete with the crunchy topping (we used Trader Joe’s Fried Onions, leftover from the grean been casserole experiment).

The Great Tuna Salad Experiment

The Great Tuna Salad Experiment

Note for picky eaters: Since I was feeding kids, I let them choose the amount of certain ingredients they wanted. None was not an option, but a little vs. a lot was. The youngest opted out of peppers, and the fish-hating eldest opted to not have much tuna. At first. Then she tasted it. And the tuna disappeared. Lots of crunchy onions were used in the making of these salads.

Supper was saved! For some inspiring salad ideas, hunt down a copy of the out-of print gem, Lettuce in Your Kitchen. The title alone makes it worthwhile.

That’s it for today. Coming up tomorrow, an inspiring story of Spring Cleaning from a long-time reader. Tune in to see how she tamed the freezer and put a plan in place to solve the inventory challenge.

Keep those questions and challenges coming: practicalcook at gmail dot com

Twitter: practicalcook

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For the Love of Grapefruit (Or Making Changes Stick)

For today, the Practical Cook will emerge from the cloak of recipes, and address the philosophy behind them.  If I were a poet, I might offer this up as a recipe for life, as they do in the self-print church cookbooks I adore and collect. However, I am neither a poet nor printing casserole recipes on demand, so this is more likely to turn out as a bulleted list. It all starts with the Practical Cook’s love of grapefruit.

The Grapefruit

The Grapefruit

What is so special about the humble grapefruit? Aside from the fact that I love them, eat them ice cold, and survived on them through a very rocky pregnancy, they are incompatible with statins.

For those of you who read the blog closely (hi Mom), you may remember that along with a love of food and cooking, I got smacked with a genetic cholesterol stick.  So I had to choose—change my life or go on meds and give up grapefruit.

I changed. Oh the irony of this post following the ode to bacon. So when I talk about bringing the whole wheat along with the flavor, or portion control, that’s where I’m coming from. I love food way too much to give any item up forever.

Here are a few of my guiding principals:

  • Do not rush. When and if you decide to change your eating habits, be ready to do it forever.
  • Be kind to yourself. There’s a great article on the subject of how much more effective it is than some torture program.
  • Break old habits. I spent two weeks eating really healthy, a detox program of sorts. After that, I only let things back into the house that I could manage to consume responsibly. There are only a couple of things on the hit list, and I save those things for restaurants or special occasions. (Hello brownies!)
  • Buy higher quality, eat less of it. Multiple studies (and the entirety of France) indicate that the better something tastes, the more likely you are to eat reasonable amounts of it. As if we keep eating the mediocre in hopes of the next bite tasting better. Higher quality often means more expensive (mmm, cheese, another weakness), and for me that means choosing and eating wisely to not break the bank.
  • Lead with vegetables and fruits. Your mom was right. Mine was, too. My brother and I can’t leave a table without eating something green to this day. Joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) can really help with this.
  • Don’t ban foods. Nothing is better than forbidden fruit, but rarely is fruit on the forbidden list. Peanut butter is one of my great loves, but banning it would get me nowhere but hungry and with a fistful of Reese’s. I buy the natural stuff now (love the Whole Food’s 365 brand for this, just peanuts and salt, preferably crunchy), and pair it with apples.
  • Cook more and differently. Improve your techniques and you’ll find your food tastes better without the crutches of some of the prepared stuff. This has been a personal challenge since a family member is allergic to MSG. Try cooking a Southern holiday dish that doesn’t involve a can of something that’s laden with it. I’ve had to up my game, because I’m very fond of my relatives.
  • Celebrate. I eat a grapefruit most days when they’re in season. A tart and delicious reminder of what I’m doing and why. It’s my ingrediente secreto.

Ironically, all of the cookbook authors I know (and I know several) are very fit people. It’s inspiring to see that food can be at the center of one’s life, and not endanger it.

Tomorrow, in preparation for Birthday Month 2011, and as proof that healthy doesn’t have to be a drag, Cake Decoration: 101.

Have you made changes to how you eat and cook? Send me a line: practicalcook at gmail dot com

Twitter: practicalcook

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Food Presentation: Going Vertical

Today we are going to go into one of the key aspects of cooking—presentation. Do a quick search for “eat with your eyes” and you’ll find the Practical Cook is not a lone voice shouting in the dark on this one. The food can be very simple, but good presentation can be the difference between acceptance and compost. Color and neatness count, of course, but the easiest trick—go vertical.

Recall the last time you went to a nice dinner. Very likely at least one of your dishes was “composed” in some way. Observe, a very simple salad, but tall. It’s a wedge of iceberg lettuce, sprinkled with diced avocado, facon, and a little ranch dressing. (Sidenote: The Practical Cook read a review that said Kraft Ranch was the ranchiest ranch, and purchased some. My kids agree. I’m not a ranch fan, preferring oil-based dressings as a rule, and greatly preferring to make my own, but some battles are not worth waging at this time.)

Wedge Salad Update

Wedge Salad Update

Serving carrot and celery sticks with ranch or hummus? Stick them in a glass, a ramekin, etc., and call them fries.

Carrots and Celery Gone Vertical

Carrots and Celery Gone Vertical

The tallest food the Practical Cook presents goes simply by the name of parfait. Butter—Parfait. (C’mon, you were thinking it.)

Parfait

Parfait

The basic ingredients are plain low-fat yogurt, fruit, something crunchy, something sweet. Layer and present in a nice glass. The one seen here is yogurt, blackberries and strawberries, crushed up Trader Joe’s vanilla wafers (I specify, because those things put the “Nilla” variety I grew up with in the shade), and a drizzle of honey.

Parfait Guidelines (because I can’t in good faith call this one a recipe)

The Base: plain low-fat yogurt, plain Greek yogurt (Seriously, read the label on the flavored yogurts. For that much sugar, I’ll take a Krispy Kreme Original Glazed, Hot Now please.)

The Fruit: berries of all kinds, fresh or frozen; bananas; mango; peaches (in season, in the freezer, in a can, it all works); jam, jelly, preserves including apple butter (simply omit the sweet part)

The Crunchy: Grape-Nuts; granola; crunched up gingersnaps, vanilla wafers, graham crackers; other cereal you have small bits left of; chopped toasted nuts

The Sweet: dash of honey, maple syrup, cinnamon

Have your helper help you compose this. They can taste the components as they go. This is the #1 requested snack based on a bath-time poll taken this evening with a random sampling of my children and a margin of error of two. And honestly, the Practical Cook openly admits to making a spare for herself. Parfaits taste good.

Tune in tomorrow for Vegetable Marketing 101. If only cauliflower came with a free prize inside!

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