Tag Archives: picky eaters

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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Smoothie Recipes and Tips: Drinking Your Lunch

Gentle Readers, it’s confession time. I like to chew my food. Having grown up in an era of diet plans that included SlimFast, I have never understood how people lose weight like that. If I drink calories, I’m still hungry. So I can not in good faith recommend a drinkable only diet.

My preferred means of cold yogurt consumption! (And current addiction--I love toppings.)

My preferred means of cold yogurt consumption! (And current addiction–I love toppings.)

However, when it comes to feeding growing kids who have loose teeth and/or braces something nutritious in a short time, I’m willing to go outside my own personal set of rules. Smoothies are very calorie dense, and when that’s important, they are a great option for portable snacks, breakfast on the go, and infinitely variable lunch additions.

Here are some of my findings.

The Practical Cook’s Smoothie Recipes and Tips:

1. Use frozen fruit instead of ice to achieve good smoothie texture. No one likes a watered down smoothie. My favorite trick, throw that last banana that’s almost too ripe in the freezer, in its own wrapper.

2. However, let the frozen fruit come up to temperature a bit, or pop in the microwave to speed the blending process. Remember that banana? Thirty seconds in the microwave and you can peel it and blend.

Start with the liquids before adding the fruit to avoid the dreaded blender jam.

Start with the liquids before adding the fruit to avoid the dreaded blender jam.

3. Put the liquids and yogurt in first. This will absolutely aid the blending process. I’ve blended a lot of food in my time, in commercial and home settings. Trust me on this. No matter how much you paid for your Blend-O-Matic, this rule holds true.

4. Try orange juice or another whole fruit juice as your liquid/sweetener. If that’s not enough, add a dash of honey!

Mango Raspberry Smoothies--Pretty Snacks!

Mango Raspberry Smoothies–Pretty Snacks!

5. Mix your fruits. This goes without saying, the blends usually work better. The house favorite right now is plain low-fat yogurt, OJ, mango, raspberries, and a dash of honey. My personal favorite? The Elvis: plain low-fat yogurt, peanut butter, a frozen banana, a little milk, and honey.

The best way to transport? We’re saving the drinkable yogurt bottles for re-use with homemade concoctions. It’s a great hit of protein and calcium that can be consumed very quickly while talking during a short school lunch period.

So drink up, and share your favorite combinations! Post a comment or tweet in my direction. I can hear you out there.

Send your frozen fruit, lucrative ideas, and travel cups 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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Adaptable Pumpkin Pancake Recipe (Halloween Is Everyday)

Gentle Readers, seasonal eating is great, but rulebreaking also tastes delicious. Why store food or have pantry-safe items if not to violate the rules of the season? Enter Pumpkin Pancakes. Having developed a serious taste for the Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancake mix, and lacking any spare boxes, it was time to take action.

Adaptable Pumpkin Pancakes with a side of bacon and walnuts. Winning!

Adaptable Pumpkin Pancakes with a side of bacon and walnuts. Winning!

For those out there who are Halloween fanatics, rolling in pumpkin lattes and beers, this post is for you. Usually, I would tell you to avert your eyes, because I will not touch either of those beverages. Pumpkin, in my humble opinion, belongs in pies, custards, and pancakes. Especially pancakes.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix is both festive and mildly generic looking.

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix is both festive and mildly generic looking.

I don’t drink pumpkin, as delightful as Harry Potter makes it seem. Maybe I’m Vitamin A deficient this week, but wow, these rocked. I ate the leftovers cold.

Adaptable Pumpkin Pancake Recipe

For the sake of testing, I used Trader Joe’s Pancake and Waffle Mix. Any pancake mix should work, or make your own and adapt from there.

Use the pumpkin puree, get orange pancakes!

Use the pumpkin puree, get orange pancakes!

To pumpkinize, make 12- 14 pancakes according to recipe (using about 2 cups of the pancake mix), adding 1/2 can pumpkin puree (NOT PUMPKIN PIE FILLING, the plain stuff), 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (assuming  a plain mix), and 2 Tablespoons sugar (I used vanilla sugar, because I can). You can omit oil in the recipe if you’d like, but I added a smidge for texture.

Vanilla Bean Buried in a Jar of Sugar, Voila, Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla Bean Buried in a Jar of Sugar, Voila, Vanilla Sugar

For those of you that insist on chocolate chips, you can add a handful of those too. I do not care for them in my pancakes.

The pumpkin pancake batter will be thick--you can thin with a bit of extra milk as desired.

The pumpkin pancake batter will be thick–you can thin with a bit of extra milk as desired.

We served with toasted walnuts and maple syrup, side of bacon. They were spicy (not overly, even with that much seasoning, but if your pumpkin pie spice is fresh, back it off a bit and smell the batter first), warm, and wonderfully orange. They aren’t as crispy as some pancakes, but they were fluffy and filling.

Beware, these pancakes are addictive, reasonably nutritious, and available year-round. What’s your favorite pancake adaptation?

Send your pumpkins, questions, and food 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! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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Cereal in Review: Chocolate Almond Granola from Trader Joe’s

Gentle Readers, it is time to meet your new addiction. Perhaps you think you’ve outgrown the sugary cereals of yore (great recap of dead cereals here). Maybe you only watch cartoons streaming now. It’s time to think outside the bowl. Meet Chocolate Almond Granola from Trader Joe’s.

My current cereal addiction: Chocolate Almond Granola from Trader Joe's

My current cereal addiction: Chocolate Almond Granola from Trader Joe’s

If you can’t find it, assume I bought all of the boxes in your location.

It’s both that delicious and extremely multipurpose. Dry, it’s like the best crumbled up dark chocolate oat granola bar you could imagine.

Bananas plus Maraschino cherries and walnuts? I say yes.

Bananas plus Maraschino cherries and walnuts? I say yes.

Paired with fruit (I’ve tried strawberries, cherries, and bananas) and plain yogurt, Chocolate Almond Granola is the pair of snakeskin shoes to the favorite black t-shirt and jeans. It just adds that something something.

Sliced strawberries with yogurt and a sprinkle of chocolate granola? Afternoon just got a whole lot more interesting.

Sliced strawberries with yogurt and a sprinkle of chocolate granola? Afternoon just got a whole lot more interesting.

It’s not overly sweet, relying more on cocoa powder than sugar, and the balance of crunch and almond, with enough fat to hold it together, it’s just amazing. As a cereal with milk, TPCs Junior favor a blend. This one features Oatmeal Squares.

Trader Joe's Chocolate Almond Granola plus Oatmeal Squares, a morning blend.

Trader Joe’s Chocolate Almond Granola plus Oatmeal Squares, a morning blend.

Cocoa Krispies and Cocoa Puffs hang their heads in shame near this venerable box. Yes, the milk still turns chocolatey, but you don’t get the mouth film effect. And it’s granola, it has to be healthy, right?

A Pyramid of Sugar Cereals

A Pyramid of Sugar Cereals

This is a multiple box buy situation. I’ll wait for your ingenuity in terms of application. You’re welcome. (Feel free to post your best combos in the comments section or on Twitter!)

Send milk, cartoons, and extra Saturday mornings 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: Summer Summer Summertime!

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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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Can This Supper Be Saved? Waffle Ingredient Substitution

Gentle Readers, how sweet it is to be in the kitchen again. A near-normal week has meant actual cooking! Of course, as is the hazard when one has been away, some ingredients were past their prime, and in one case, missing altogether!

Prepping Waffles for the Freezer

Prepping Waffles for the Freezer

Breakfast for dinner was on the meal plan, and waffles were to be the centerpiece. They are relatively easy to make in bulk, and they use up a lot of milk, which was nearing expiration time. However, I was missing wheat germ.

Blueberries atop Whole Wheat Waffles

Blueberries atop Whole Wheat Waffles

Let’s hear it for cereal. You know the kind in a box? It’s made from wheat when it’s not something like Cinnamon Toast Crunch (not a cereal, they lost the name). I took two of my heartier cereals, put them in the food processor, and let it blend. I added roughly the equivalent to the batter, and let it sit a little extra time to absorb the liquid.

Pulverized Cereal

Pulverized Cereal

It worked. We could taste a little bit of the cereal (Cracklin Oat  Bran was the key component, and left a slight cinnamon taste), and a little of the texture (similar to pecan waffles), but they were good. Far better to take the chance when the batter was almost ready to go than to stop and try to change the meal.

Breakfast for Dinner: I almost forgot, I bought more grits too.

Breakfast for Dinner: Featuring grits!

Admittedly, I should have checked the pantry for a back-up on that one before starting the recipe. However, even the most Practical Cook can overlook the obvious sometimes. The key lesson here: keep going. Food doesn’t have to be that hard. Just keep cooking.

Lightly Browned Waffles

Lightly Browned Waffles

What’s the strangest substitution you’ve ever done? Post a comment below, or Tweet away!

Questions, meal plans, cereal? Email them 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 Menu Time!

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Spinach Crostini: A Recipe of Sorts

Gentle Readers, the best vegetable is the one that is eaten without complaint. Though I’m very fortunate to be raising a couple of foodies who don’t run screaming from green things, crostini is a secret weapon in the war for nutrition and good taste.

Spinach Crostini: Sauteed spinach, goat cheese, toast.

Spinach Crostini: Sauteed spinach, goat cheese, toast.

Bread (toasted), cheese (goat, in this case), and garlicky sauteed spinach. Done. It’s an appetizer, it’s a vegetable, it’s a miracle. You can mix this up at will. I served these the other night, and we consumed an entire bag of baby spinach between the three of us. It was unbelievably delicious, and we all ate it not just without complaint, but with joy.

Try cream cheese and roasted red peppers, or sauteed broccolini with goat cheese. Change the bread from loaf to baguette. Use what’s at hand, stack it, and cut into manageable pieces.

Crostini with Broccolini

Crostini with Broccolini

This is the perfect lead-in to a pasta meal, or to soup. It stretches what’s being served, and it is so very easy. Spinach on bread, Popeye would be proud.

What’s your favorite green vegetable? Post a comment below! It is easy AND fun.

Send deep thoughts, kitchen confessions, 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 on Friday: Bachi Burger, I Think I Love You.

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