Archive for the ‘Easy!’ Category

Rhubarb dessert

Making two wedding cakes in less than a year has involved many, many practice cakes. Almost every weekend since early September, I’ve tested at least one recipe to see if it was worthy of inclusion in one of these two celebration cakes. And though I do have a crowd of chipper undergrads more than happy to polish off any test cakes I bring to the office, you’d think I’d avoid baking so soon after completing the wedding cake was done, right?

False.

False, at least, if I have a gift of gorgeous pink rhubarb falls in your lap.

Pretty red stalks

One major perk of wedding cake-baking for a wedding in Madison, Wisconsin was the opportunity to stay with my aunt and uncle, who aside from allowing me to take over their kitchen for several days also have a beautiful stand of rhubarb. On my last morning in town, my uncle was kind enough to cut me a couple pounds of the prettiest, pinkest rhubarb I’ve ever seen.

But how to use this precious windfall? I’ve baked with rhubarb a few times before, as part of a cookie, in a fruity appetizer, and as a co-star in a classic pie, but I really wanted to try something where the rhubarb played the lead. Something simple but essential.

Rhubarb Crisp, anyone?

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Homemade popcorn

With another wedding cake baked and spring semester in my rear-view mirror, I finally feel like summer has begun. No, summer isn‘t quite the same as it used to be; the three-month vistas of free time I enjoyed from age 5-22 no longer lie ahead. I’ve been nostalgic for those childhood summers lately: sleeping in, spending the day flitting about town with mom, attempting badminton on the lawn with my sister, eating dinner off the grill in the cool Colorado evenings. Bliss!

After the sun set, summer nights in our house usually involved a movie. And where there are movies, there sure as Sam was gonna be some popcorn.

Popcorn!

Admittedly, most of the popcorn I remember eating at home was microwave popcorn, though there was also brief stint where Kelli and I found an air popper almost as entertaining to watch as whatever movie was selected for the night. I do remember, quite vividly, one attempt to pop corn on the stove and the ensuing clouds of smoke that followed when it cooked too fast and burned to a crisp. Perhaps scarred by this event, up until recently I had mentally relegated popcorn popping to the arts of yesteryear, one that I was unlikely to ever master. But then, after seeing some friends pop corn at a party — quite casually and deliciously and with no clouds of smoke, I might add — I bravely bought a bag of cheap yellow kernels and decided to give it a shot.

OMG.

Revelation. Perfection. Obsession. Sublime happiness.

It turns out making popcorn is really easy. And really fast. I’m really not sure now what happened that fateful night as a child when I developed a fear of popcorn-making, but I am now here to say that if any of you have similar fears, give them up! Tonight! You can make freshly-popped popcorn with just a few kitchen tools that you already have.

Here’s how:

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Veggie flatbread

After a lengthy winter (for usually balmy Durham), the recent arrival of warm weather has caused a SURGE of greens in my garden. I was a bit over-zealous in March when I planted spring crops (er twelve Romaine plants and six spinach), and now, I can frequently be seen toting bags of freshly-picked lettuce to work and bequeathing it to friends willing to eat a lot of salad. Combined with the arrival of everything fresh at the farmers market, I have to exercise a lot of control to make sure I’m using up these greens before they go to waste. I tire of salads quickly, so I thought I’d try a different take.

Springtime for pizza

In a move that surprised me, the staunch supporter of cheese pizza with as few toppings as possible, this flatbread pizza has almost nothing on it except vegetables. I coupled a large wad of my most recent harvest of spinach leaves with some young onions and green garlic, two ingredients I rarely work with but was curious to explore.

Fresh and green

And because I couldn’t quite bring myself to omit cheese entirely, just a bit of asiago, which is ever the friend of garlic-y, onion-y things.

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Strawberry Ice

The last three days, I think I’ve been on my first faux-cation. That’s right. A vacation that’s not real. It’s not like I’m actually even on vacation but just not going anywhere, which is a staycation. I’m not on one of those. I just emerged from one of the more intense periods of work I’ve ever experienced, culminating in a hugely successful film festival. It was fun in that mind-bending, 17-hour work day sort of way, ya know? Rewarding, exhilarating, but exhausting. And since we wrapped up late on Sunday night, it has been nearly impossible to force myself to do ANY activity that remotely resembles work: putting dishes in the dishwasher, cooking at all (seriously, I feel like I’m at the beach, we’ve been eating at restaurants with patios to take advantage of the nice weather), grocery shopping, nothing. Each time I’ve tried to get something done, I drift into daydreams of real beach vacations, lazy days in the sun, and the slower pace that simply MUST be coming soon.

But I miss you guys. I miss testing recipes, playing with food, editing photos, and writing to you. So I finally got myself back on track, though admittedly, the “recipe” that follows is vacation-inspired, and possible even in a stress-triggered faux-cation.

I made some dang strawberry ice.

Strawberry Iced Lemonade

Why? Because summer is coming, which brings lemonade. And strawberry lemonade is the best lemonade, and hiding strawberries in ice cubes seemed like fun! It’s an easy, splashy way to step up your beverage game at summer cookouts and spring brunches. And all you need to make it is ice, sugar, water, and your favorite ice cube tray.

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Fancy breakfast

There are some foods that have always been magic to me. Tortillas, croissants, tortellini, cream puffs… those dreamy little bites that all seem borderline impossible for a person in a home kitchen to make. Incidentally, jam also mystified me. Perhaps it was really the canning part that seemed so out of reach, for until a couple years ago, I never canned my own.

I’ve learned, however, that jam is actually quite simple to make, and it doesn’t necessarily require large batches and canning. It seems you can boil together almost any fruit and have jam in a matter of minutes, ready to serve warm or to store in the fridge for many days.

This treat is a celebration of quick jam, a blend of two early harbingers of spring: strawberry and rhubarb.

Pretty little berries

While bundled stalks of rhubarb have graced the tables of the farmers market since early February, strawberries have only recently returned to the scene. Last week, a few pints of these precious red fruits have appeared between towers of broccoli and leafy greens, and just like every year, I could hardly wait to get my hands on some.

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Empty

It’s been a little bit nuts around here. A thrilling combination of crunch time at work, a few too many personal commitments, and many of my previous daylight-hours devoted to recipes that didn’t turn out to be blog-worthy has created a bit of a lull here in 30 Pounds land. It’s amazing how days can slither into weeks when you’re busy.

In times like this, I work really hard to avoid the temptation of picking up take-out on the way home from work every night. I make a plan for every meal I want to cook that week and buy all the groceries required. Many of these meals are combinations that have never made the site: a simply cooked pork chop, wild rice, and sauteed vegetables, for instance. But to really defeat the take-out temptation, I’ve been resorting lately to my FAVORITES.

Since starting this blog, I’ve discovered some truly magical meals that taste, every time, just as miraculous as the first bite. Here are a few of the meals I come back to, again and again, because I know them well enough to whip them up without a fuss and I know they will trump the take-out.

Serve with a tasty green salad

Penne alla Vodka. Chopping shallots, garlic, and parsley is the only labor intensive element to this delightful meal. It’s been one of our favorites for years, a dish that I not only make during busy moments like this but also as a centerpiece at dinner parties and group meals. There are few pastas that I enjoy so much as this one.

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Pizza for dinner

Brad and I sometimes grapple a bit when it comes to ordering pizza. Brad likes lots of toppings: meats, mushrooms, onions, veggies, goat cheese, herbs… and I actually like those, too. But if I ever have a choice, if I’m ever ordering pizza just for me, I get cheese. Beautiful, glorious, unadulterated cheese pizza.

But the shocking truth is that until last week, I’ve never made a cheese pizza at home. I know. I know. I can’t explain myself. I’ve been making pizza regularly now for a couple of years, but I’ve always dressed it up. It was high time I build my own perfect cheese pizza from scratch.

Making crust

This pizza started with my go-to pizza crust recipe. I have another crust that I really love, but I only make it when I have excess whey from a batch of homemade mozzarella. This recipe, on the other hand, is super-easy to whip up when you need dinner in less than an hour. It’s a no-fuss crust that requires little resting time and rolls out easily.

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Spinach, Scallion and Feta Frittata

I have a really bad habit of planning my weekends too much. I always make a list full of more than I can possibly do, gradually shifting things to later in the week as the impossibility of my plans becomes clear.

But every once in a while, one of the items on those lists turns into a relaxing, inspiring, reflective endeavor with delicious results. As with this frittata.

Breakfast!

My initial impulse to make this crowd-worthy breakfast came from a delightful alliance of ingredients currently in season. “Egg season” (yes, there is one) has begun here in the Carolinas, and every week I see more and more vendors with teetering piles of egg crates on the corners of their tables.

Eggs!

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Best Ever French Fries

Every once in a while, I come across a recipe for a homemade version of a dish that I’ve previously classified as “will-never-be-made-as-well-at-home” that blows my mind. It’s the culinary equivalent of an explorer uncovering an ancient temple, a researcher finding stunning results, an eager learner having their first philosophical epiphany. I’ve felt this on a number of things I’ve shared with you here: yogurt, fresh mozzarella, handmade pasta, beef jerky… all products that, a few years ago, I never would have considered being possible.

Such was my opinion with french fries. I always heard other people talk about making them, but I was firmly convinced that they couldn’t possibly be as good as fries I could get from my local burger joint. I’d learned that the best fries are cooked twice: once to actually cook the potato so the inside of the fry is light and smooth, and again to give that light-and-smoothness a crisp outer shell. There was no way I could be bothered to hand-cut my own fries, purchase large quantities of oil, possibly a deep-frier, and then cook TWICE a side dish that I could have exactly perfect in 10 minutes from a dozen restaurants near by.

Folks, I have never been so wrong.

Potatoes and oil

This method, which I’ve repeated already and plan to again, is SO easy and SO satisfying. No special equipment is required beyond what I’ll wager you already have in your kitchen. The ingredients are simple and few. And let me repeat: it is breathtakingly easy.

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Breakfast of leftovers
I don’t really recall eating much rice before I was thirteen. It was then that I had my first delicious bites of Chinese takeout (strangely, in Disneyworld). My sister and I were hooked, so suddenly, stir fry became a regular meal in our household. My dad would bust out a giant wok, a pound of chicken breast, and a smattering of stir fry vegetables, and within minutes the house would fill with the sounds and smells of the quickly cooking meal.

Rice, too, was always part of these week-night stir fries. And it was the rice that yielded the best leftovers, because the following morning, dad would make rice cakes.

Tasty breakfast of rice

Rice cakes, as I grew up with them, are not comparable to the puffy, crunchy discs of rice you can buy at the store. These rice cakes are rather more like pancakes, cooked in a frying pan and slathered with butter and maple syrup to make a scrumptious breakfast.

Whether you make your rice for stir fry, curry, or something like this, make a little extra and you can set yourself up for a week’s worth of awesome breakfasts.

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