Tag Archives: quick meals

Road Salad: A How-To-Survive Guide for Eating While Traveling

Gentle Readers, it’s a good thing I love my job and the travel that goes with it, because business travel is not for the faint of heart. Yes, it’s a great opportunity to see the inside of conference halls across the globe. Yes, I adore seeing colleagues I work with constantly and remotely. Yes, I even get to eat meals sometimes. But for all of you who travel as part of your job, or as part of your life, you know that cocktail nibbles do not a healthy diet make.

This Tower of Bacon was featured in a recent party I threw for work. Though there is parsley present, it is not a salad.

This Tower of Bacon was featured in a recent party I threw for work. Though there is parsley present, it is not a salad.

When I can, I bring my running shoes. When I can’t, I throw towels down on the floor and do yoga. There’s always a way to bring a little zen into the schedule. I have a friend who only stays in hotels with pools so he can swim. Make it work for you. Eat fruit and veg when you can, and salads are a great way to do that.

Fried Squash Blossoms on a bed of shaved zucchini. Totally counts as a salad.

Fried Squash Blossoms on a bed of shaved zucchini. Totally counts as a salad.

Road Salad:

1. Take control of your salad destiny in both portion size and toppings. You can order salad almost anywhere, it’s what happens next that can destroy the mission. If you only like one type of salad and it’s way high-cal, order the smaller one. If you’re crazy for greens, go big and limit the toppings. Make it work for you. Small and dense salads can be perfect in a grab and go situation on the road. Just limit the dressing and save the calories for something you want to eat.

Small but mighty, this salad features halloumi cheese and veggie kebabs (with a side of masala chai for kick). From Samovar Tea House, San Francisco.

Small but mighty, this salad features halloumi cheese and veggie kebabs (with a side of masala chai for kick). From Samovar Tea House, San Francisco.

2. If you’re tired of leafy greens, try the beet salad, or the caprese, or even fruit! Expand your mind to include a broader range. Another great choice is a main that is served over a bed of greens. May not be in the salad column, but totally counts.

Greek yogurt with dates, honey, fruit, and basil and mint, plus walnuts. I dream of this sometimes. Also from Samovar Tea House in San Francisco.

Greek yogurt with dates, honey, fruit, and basil and mint, plus walnuts. I dream of this sometimes. Also from Samovar Tea House in San Francisco.

3. Don’t fear the protein. Be it egg, fish, meal, or fowl, or legumes or nuts for that matter, add some lasting energy to your salad. If you are doing fruit salad, get yogurt or cheese. Balance in the force. You’ll stay full longer. This is not about starvation, this is about nutrition with some enjoyment.

Lunch salad from Chevy's Mexican with avocado and steak. Yes please.

Lunch salad from Chevy’s Mexican with avocado and steak. Yes please.

My favorite trick: a Peppermint Patty as a conclusion. I’m not a huge mint person, but mint makes me think of brushing my teeth, which signals that it’s time to stop eating. And chocolate = winning. Feel virtuous about your salad and have a sweet to conclude. You’ll feel satisfied and ready to face the canape again, I promise.

Rare tuna on a bed of greens. Perfect light entree.

Rare tuna on a bed of greens. Perfect light entree.

Send your green leafies, good ideas, 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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Coming up Sunday: Weekly Menus, Busy Family Edition

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Weekly Menus: Fast Food Edition

Gentle Readers, sometimes one must concede to gravity, time, or other immutable forces. This is one such week. I’m at the crossroads at one of the largest events I work every year, with one of the most important ones. That would be my company’s tech conference and The Youngest Practical Cook’s Birthday Party. Yes, there were two parties, it happens sometimes.

Fast Food: Toast, Egg Over Medium, Bacon, Sprinkle of Frank's Hot Sauce. Side of Watermelon.

Fast Food: Toast, Egg Over Medium, Bacon, Sprinkle of Frank’s Hot Sauce. Side of Watermelon.

I can now make a carrot cake in my sleep (and almost did after midnight last night). The larger point being–I still have to pull a Weasley Car act and shove more into one bag than should fit. At least I’m generally packed for this business trip, but I still have miles to go and need some sleep.

Carrot Cake, Stark Naked. Renamed WTFCake due to the state of the week. Smells like magic and sunshine.

Carrot Cake, Stark Naked. Renamed WTFCake due to the state of the week. Smells like magic and sunshine.

So I’m breaking format with some thoughts about how I eat and feed TPCs Jr during crunch time, something I often tag on Instagram as #fastfood. My friend @ConvertibleLife had a great picture the other day of a pita pizza topped with produce-box offerings.

Peanut Butter Toast: Seriously Fast Food. Side of Cherries.

Peanut Butter Toast: Seriously Fast Food. Side of Cherries.

My version of #fastfood is a commitment to keeping the house stocked with things we can eat quickly that provide more nutritional firepower than the commercial Fast Food. We are not making quiches and roasts here, I ate quesadillas for lunch most days last week, under 10 minutes prep including bringing a cast iron skillet up to proper heat.

Another spinach quesadilla, but with Pepadew Havarti and Cowboy Caviar. Fast Food.

Another spinach quesadilla, but with Pepadew Havarti and Cowboy Caviar. Fast Food.

We keep a lot of fruit on hand at this time of year–cherries, apples, bananas, watermelon, strawberries– and one day I fueled up almost exclusively on watermelon and granola bars. This is not ideal, I’ll fully admit, but it’s still better for me than the alternatives. I don’t want to rely on frozen heat-up meals. I don’t want to eat powerbars or drink my lunch. I like to chew.

I can’t afford the physical crash that follows a typical burgers and fries fast food meal. Believe you me, I heart junk food, it’s just not sustainable when I need to stay alert and energized. For me, plain yogurt with fruit, nuts, and a sprinkle of muesli or granola is a much better option. More importantly, it’s faster than driving through.

Spinach salad with walnuts, cherries, and goat cheese. Balsamic and olive oil drizzle. Fast Food.

Spinach salad with walnuts, cherries, and goat cheese. Balsamic and olive oil drizzle. Fast Food.

I made this salad in 5 minutes, the key was having the ingredients on hand. Obviously I have my breaking point when it comes to time, as this not-weekly menus post proves. I’m traveling on business next week, and I need to push pause here and focus. I’ll pick back up next Sunday. In the meantime, I encourage you to find new ways to eat and feed your family when time is the most precious commodity. Try cheese, crackers, fruit, and carrots.

Summer happiness = watermelon

Summer happiness = watermelon

And forgive yourself the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches too. One day I’ll cook complex and interesting meals again, just not this week. See you soon–would love to hear your comments and see your #fastfood.

Send your SPF, watermelon, 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! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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Coming up Next Sunday: Back on Track, Weekly Menus Resume!

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Polenta: Mexican Style! (Recipe of Sorts)

Gentle Readers, The Practical Cook listens to the crowd in planning menus. And TPCs Junior have spoken–polenta for the people! Apparently, if a casual counting of likes, reactions, and genial nods are indicators, you, the viewing public, also like polenta recipes.

Mexican Style Polenta (vegetarian!)

Mexican Style Polenta (vegetarian!)

Here’s this week’s offering, Polenta: Mexican Style!

1 shelf-stable package of Trader Joe’s polenta (feel free to make your own, or sub your favorite brand), cut into 1/2 inch thick rounds
1 Tablespoon butter/olive oil combo, in any ratio
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 can diced no-salt tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon cumin
a pinch of oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 package Trader Joe’s soy chorizo (or the real stuff, or another kind of soy chorizo)
1 avocado, diced
shredded cheese for topping
sour cream for topping

1. Heat the butter/oil in a large skillet over a strong medium heat. When hot, add the polenta and fry both sides well, at least 8 minutes per.

2. Meanwhile, open, drain, and rinse the black beans. In a small saucepan, heat a dash of olive oil over a low medium heat and saute the onions until soft. Add the garlic and saute until you smell it, about 30 seconds, then add cumin and oregano. Add black beans and tomatoes, stir. Lower the heat and simmer until flavors meld, which I find happens right when the polenta is done because I’m hungry.

Soy Chorizo from Trader Joe's: Not bad actually, but on the spicy side.

Soy Chorizo from Trader Joe’s: Not bad actually, but on the spicy side.

3. Meanwhile, yes, there’s a lot of meanwhiling going on, saute the chorizo (remove the casing!) over medium heat in a dash of olive oil.

Saute the chorizo (soy chorizo in this case, don't be afraid).

Saute the chorizo (soy chorizo in this case, don’t be afraid).

4. Assemble by placing at least 2 rounds of polenta, a dollop of beans, chorizo, cheese, and sour cream on the plate. Dig in.

Deconstructed Mexican-Style Polenta, or Polenta Face (courtesy of the Eldest)

Deconstructed Mexican-Style Polenta, or Polenta Face (courtesy of the Eldest)

I suppose that was actually a recipe. Enjoy, it was my favorite iteration to date. Not quite the masa cakes of Brooklyn Star, but I’ll get there yet. I suspect I need to find a way to make my own polenta cakes, or masa cakes, but the shelf-stable one is so very easy and in demand.

Have you tried polenta yet? What’s your flavor? Post a comment below, the crickets will thank you.

Send your corn meal, witty rejoinders, and favorite cereals 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, it’s Weekly Menus or Wait, Where’s November?

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Weekly Menus: Week of 9/9/2012

Gentle Readers, where does the time go? Old people used to say that, so I suppose I’m now in their camp. It’s September, time for stews and soups and school projects. Nothing is more life-affirming than making dinner while The Practical Cooks Junior attend to homework at the kitchen table. It’s hard not to openly weep or just stare in happy awe.

The Eldest reading at the kitchen table, using the kitchen timer to clock the minutes.

The Eldest reading at the kitchen table, using the kitchen timer to clock the minutes.

The Youngest assinging herself homework, works in her workbook.

The Youngest assinging herself homework, works in her workbook.

So dinner is about talking them through homework problems, or answering questions, or lively discussions about the day. (If you want a factual report, ask The Eldest. If you want to know how everyone felt about it, ask The Youngest.) We are still eating fairly simply, and focusing on the time together. This week is no different.

This week’s weekly menus are as follows:

Weekly Menus: 9/9/2012

Weekly Menus: 9/9/2012

And the Four-Square Grocery Shopping List:

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 9/9/2012

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 9/9/2012

Which translates into:

Sunday: Tortellini Soup
I’m going to try this with some veggie stock that I have. The Eldest has held firm to her convictions. Which is challenging as a cook, but awesome as a human being. Special thanks to the food professional in her life (you know who you are) who high-fived her for living her beliefs. That meant a lot.

Monday: Veggie Burgers and Sweet Potato Fries
Because they are awesome. That’s really the only reason. Vegetarian junk food, except for the fries, which I make from scratch.

Tuesday: Pizza and Salad
Because it’s delicious and easy.

Wednesday: Pancake Meal
We’re having a dinner guest, and trying out our 3-course savory pancake meal. It will start with a cornmeal pancake topped with black beans and sour cream, then a savory crepe with mushrooms, parsley, and Parmesan, finished with a sweet pancake dessert course. Potentially ricotta and fruit filled. That sounds pretty good now that I type it out.

Thursday: This will be crockpot surprise or leftovers, depending

Friday: Mexican
Spinach quesadillas for the win! Just add avocado and beans on the side.

Saturday: Dine Out!
I feel an adventure coming on here.

What are you cooking these days? Any school snack ideas? We took dry cereal and applesauce in one case, and Clementines in another. I’m always looking for non-Goldfish suggestions. Post a comment below! It’s wide open and waiting!

Send your strokes of brilliance, your challenges, and legitimate 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!)

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Coming up Wednesday: My Favorite Cereal Bowls.

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Weekly Menus: Week of 9/2/2012

Gentle Readers, The Practical Cook is barely able to recognize her own kitchen. It seems like I haven’t seen it all summer. But school is in, time for school lunch prep, class snack, and quick dinners.

Don't overlook the afterschool snack!

Don’t overlook the afterschool snack!

One quick note. Don’t overlook the power of the post-school snack. I remember well my Granny leaving out a snack every day when I came home from school. It’s a time to unwind, relax, reconnect. Take the time to put something out, or use that time to finish what didn’t get eaten in the lunchbox.

And now, Weekly Menus for this week:

Weekly Menus: 9/2/2012

Weekly Menus: 9/2/2012

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List:

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 9/2/2012

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 9/2/2012

Which translates into:

Sunday: Indian Food
We shall see what this is. Probably a simple dal and rice. Potentially some bread or a green.

Monday: Salmon and Greens
Not sure if the Eldest will eat fish, but the Youngest is a fan. Working through how to serve this as a single meal without becoming a short-order cook.

Tuesday: Soup and Salad
Lots of small leftovers. I can make soup for lunchboxes too!

Wednesday: Eggy Pasta
We’ve been relying on pasta with some form of protein added in. The favorite is eggy pasta, a riff on carbonara. I know the purists will shoot me down for the lack of bacon, but so be it.

Thursday: Burritos
Sweet potatoes, black beans, and the inevitable bit of leftover rice.

Friday: Pork Chops, Pierogies, Greens
Theory here is the pierogies and greens (plus applesauce) will be enough of a meal without the pork chop for the Eldest. To be determined.

Saturday: Dine Out!

What’s your go-to weeknight meal? Any vegetarian favorites? Share your comments below!

Send your bacon, your wit, and your legitimate 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!)

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On Wednesday, The Art of Leftover Surprise.

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Fast Food at Home (Lunch and Dinner Edition)

Gentle Readers, sometimes life doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for food preparation. In my job, I have the good fortune of being able to work from wherever there’s wifi. My kitchen is the corporate kitchen most days of the week. However, before you submit your resumes to me to pass along, be prepared to eat lunch on camera and to prep it in 3 to 10 minutes.

Speedy Salad: Strawberries, rotisserie chicken, almonds, goat cheese, greens.

Speedy Salad: Strawberries, rotisserie chicken, almonds, goat cheese, greens.

Yes, that’s right, there were no zeros missing from the above statement. I attend a lot of conference calls. I’m committed to being present in the meeting, so I use my webcam. The meetings run 30 minutes to an hour, and they’re often back to back. Because I work West coast hours, that spans the traditional lunch time. So I know quite a bit about fast food.

Open-faced tomato sammie, or tapas!

Open-faced tomato sammie, or tapas!

Dinner is 30 minutes or less by necessity. So fast food in the commercial sense is not really an option for me. Talking about quick meals with a chef friend, I asked what he made for himself when he was tired and wanted something easy. His answer: a roasted chicken with roasted potatoes and turnips.

Free form Mexican Meal made with The Jrs. Squash, guacomole, beans and rice, chips.

Free form Mexican Meal made with The Jrs. Squash, guacomole, beans and rice, chips.

Um, yeah, that’s not something I can prepare when I’m exhausted and it’s late! He even excused it as “rustic.” My point here, you have to work within your skill level and expertise. I can’t whip out a souffle or bi bim bap, but I can rock some pancakes, a quesadilla, or some tapas.

Spinach quesadilla with avocado slices FTW!

Spinach quesadilla with avocado slices FTW!

The Practical Cook’s 5 Tips for Making Fast Food at Home

1. Shop smart. I’ve been over this before, but stocking your pantry with Punt! meals that you can make in your sleep is key. You can’t eat the leg of your desk. Things I’m never without currently: peanut butter, bananas, bread, tortillas, spinach, cheese, yogurt, walnuts. I can make salads, sandwiches, parfaits, and more in seconds with these.

2. Plan ahead. This is a laudable goal, and I admire greatly those who succeed at it. This week, I’m happy to remember to dress in the AM. From my friend Literacy Cook, boil eggs in advance! From Complicated Veggie, pack lunch the night before! Go team! This could also include leaving leftovers in a state of near-readiness (single serving bowls, lined up in the fridge, etc.).

3. Practice. You’ll never get faster if you don’t. It may be years before I consider roasting a chicken and root veggies fast food (Chef tips: turn the oven on immediately when you get home, high heat and spatchcock the bird), but the more often I am forced to perform this dance, the faster I get.

4. Recruit help. I am fortunate in that The Practical Cooks Junior make excellent sous chefs and wait staff. They can now set the table, read labels, open jars, pour water and milk, and so on. It slows things down a bit short-term, but think of the long-term rewards!

5. Remain open. This bit of advice is as open as it sounds. You know what makes things fast? Not binding yourself to the notion of meat and three. You need nutritious food, not to win Iron Chef. Yogurt parfaits are fantastic and infinitely variable, cereal can work in a pinch, leave the top off your sandwich and eat it as tapas, throw random leftovers into a bowl of lettuce and call it salad.

The Juniors and I have embraced summer with 6 arms this year. We set aside dinner formality to work together, play together, and eat together. I’m sure the structure of a new school year will return us to more traditional meals as well, but we’ve learned a lot about being creative in the kitchen. They’ve asked that I do a breakfast edition of this post, so look for that soon. What do you eat for fast food? Share your ideas below!

Send your speedy suggestions, good ideas, and mayhem 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 Friday, A Little Vegetarian.

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