Penne alla Vodka

Hello again! I hope you’ll pardon my brief hiatus from posting…  I’ve spent the majority of the last ten days in cars, on planes, and briefly enjoying the company of friends and family I rarely get to see, traveling almost 4,500 miles and catching ten states along the way. But I’ve now returned to my humid North Carolina abode, so it is time to crack open the fridge and the laptop to share a recipe with you!

I’ve previously discussed my affinity for pasta, but just in case there was any doubt: I love pasta. I’ll eat it pretty much any time, any way, any day. Love. Pasta. Lately, I’ve been looking for new ways to prepare this versatile and scrumptious food, and this has quickly become one of my favorites.

I first had penne alla vodka at a dinner party after a successful campaign I worked on at my first job out of college. Both creamy and tomato-y, I was amazed I could like pasta sauce so much. Foolishly, I didn’t ask for the recipe. Never be ashamed to ask for a recipe that you like, it’s not worth missing out on later when you want to make it yourself. Anyway, I’ve tried a few different recipes for vodka sauce, and this one is just the right balance of savory, tangy, and smooth.


Carrot Cupcakes

I’m not exactly sure when I made the transition from thinking I hated carrot cake to eyeballing it with lust at bakeries. It seems to be one of those desserts with distinct factions: the lovers, the haters, and the folks who are mostly there for the cream cheese icing. I was somewhere in between those last two.

But whatever triggered this change in taste has permanently embedded carrot cake on my list of desserts to make whenever carrots find their way into my fridge.

For some reason I’ve always strongly associated carrots with fall harvests, not spring ones. Perhaps it’s because they are orange and fit oh so nicely into the autumn palette. I’ll be honest, there are lots of “when food grows” ideas that I’ve had to re-address after moving here. We arrived last August, and I kept waiting… and waiting… and waiting for carrots, storage onions, and potatoes to appear. A couple of vendors had carrots for about two weeks in early November, but that was it.

Recently, however, tables at the market have buckled under the weight of carrots so fresh the dirt still clings to them.

There are SO many recipes for carrot cake out there. Some with pineapple, some have apple sauce, some with a wide range of semi-exotic spices. I decided to try a family favorite from one of my dad’s cousins. It’s simple, but according to my mom it’s “soooooooo good!” Direct quote.


Cream Biscuits

As a recent transplant to the South, I have some culinary confessions:

I’ve never eaten grits.

I don’t care for sweet tea. Not to be confused with sweetened tea, I’ve learned.

To be honest I don’t care for sweetened tea, either.

But I do love biscuits.

Biscuits are sort of a huge deal here. There are entire restaurant chains dedicated to the biscuit, whole shelves of biscuit flour at grocery stores. Breakfast biscuits, dinner  biscuits, biscuit sandwiches and biscuits slathered in butter. There’s one drive-thru biscuit place a few miles down the road where cars line up for blocks to get breakfast on Saturday mornings.

This particular recipe is really, and I mean really easy. I found it one morning when I woke up craving biscuits but not craving salad for the rest of the day. To be sure, they’re not sticks of celery, but they’re also not sticks of butter. This is a win in my book. I had never heard of “cream biscuits” but am sure glad I did. Wow.


Strawberry Jam Winners


After using a highly sophisticated technique of randomness (er, slips of paper with names drawn from a glass bowl), the winners of a jar of jam are:

Lauren W!
Natasha B!
Sara H!

I’ve e-mailed all of you as well in case you don’t get to the site in the next day or two… take a look through the flavors on this post and let me know which one you’d like to try!

Thanks to everyone for your feedback and input!

Last Day to Win Strawberry Jam!


Don’t forget to enter to win a free jar of freshly made strawberry jam! Straight from my kitchen to your breakfast. You have until midnight!

How to Enter
1. Leave a comment on this post answering this question: Which recipes or types of food would you like to see on 30 Pounds of Apples?
2. Like-a-dee-like 30 Pounds of Apples on Facebook.
3. Do both, and enter twice!

Enter before midnight on Friday, May 20, or you’ll turn into a pumpkin and you’ll have no jam. Winners will be announced on Saturday, May 21.


More recipes to come this weekend… the glory of a weekend with hardly any shifts at work!

Late Spring Stir Fry

So, I actually feel a little silly about the recipe I’m about to give, mostly because I rarely measure ANY of the ingredients when I make it myself. I also change the ingredients based on what’s in season and what I have. A lot.

But I’m sharing anyway because, quite simply, I love stir fry. I make it all the time. I mean, what an awesome go-to meal! It’s warm. It’s savory. It’s quick. It makes great leftovers. And it’s chock full of whatever vegetables are in season.

This is my first spring living in North Carolina, and I must say, I am impressed by the bounty of produce that is already available at the farmers market. Maybe this is all old hat for life-long North Carolinians, but to see this many vegetables fresh from the fields in early May is astonishing to me.

Now, I definitely could have gone with just these and had almost completely local stir fry. But I must confess, a few of my favorite stir fry add-ins are definitely not from around here. These three in particular lend a crunchiness that I find delectable against softened vegetables and chewy rice.

You should use whatever vegetables you want. My dream stir fry is probably not the same as your dream stir fry, and in fact, you may think I’m a bit odd for having a “dream stir fry” at all. Really, who says that?


Strawberry Jam, Part III: Recipes & Results

The berries have been picked, sliced, sugared, and cooked. Each jar has announced with a satisfying little pop! of the lid that it is sealed and ready to be stored until it is opened, its contents slathered onto someone’s breakfast. Maybe mine, maybe yours.

The final step in my eight-flavor experiment in strawberry jam (who knew there was so much variety?) was definitely the most relaxing: the tasting! Sampling each variety was hugely important, you see. I mean, how else could I tell you which ones worked and which ones didn’t? Trust me, there was no other reason to open so many jars of jam at one time.

I made a date of it. Made some biscuits, sat on the balcony, even grabbed a notepad to record my initial reactions to each jar. It was fancy. I may or may not have pretended I was a snooty judge on a Food Network show.


Strawberry Jam, Part II: Preserving

Soooooo, twenty-0ne pounds of strawberries. Now what?

I wish you could have seen the faces of other customers entering the strawberry field as I was attempting to tote these boxes out. Most of them looked at me with a bizarre look of pity. Like I’d gone off the deep end. And/or had a serious strawberry addiction.

In case you’re just now tuning in, I spent the early hours of sunshine last Saturday picking strawberries to transform into jam, and after arriving home with my loot, it was time to start preserving.

Freezing Fresh Berries

While most would agree that berries are best when eaten fresh & ripe, they also freeze really well. In my stubborn attempt to avoid purchasing produce when it is incredibly out of season, freezing berries opens up many possibilities to enjoy fruit when it’s snowy (or, in my current location, semi-cold and gray). Berries can be frozen in a syrup or juice, but I prefer to freeze them whole.

What You Need

cookie sheets (make sure they fit in your freezer… trust me on this one and test the space with an empty sheet before you start)
parchment paper
berries (if you don’t have those, you’re doing the wrooooong project)

It’s pretty straight forward. Sort through your berries and find the beauty queens. Freezing berries with soft spots isn’t the best idea, so find the nicest, firmest, most beautiful berries in the bunch. Wash them, pop off their tops and if you can, pop out the hull (the white firm spot right beneath the green leaves). Arrange them on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper so that they aren’t touching. Then freeze ’em!

I froze one sheet for about three hours and another tray for twenty-four, so I’ll keep you posted about any difference between them when I actually use them on some dreary winter day in the future. Why did I not just freeze them in their container and skip the teetering tray of berries step? This way, I will be able to pull out exactly the number of berries I want rather than one giant clump of them fused together. Just planning ahead. For smoothies. Who needs ice when you have frozen strawberries?

Anyway. Moving on.


Strawberry Jam, Part I: Pick-Your-Own

Strawberry jam: the first recipe in food preservation cookbooks, the poster child for all things homemade, and glistening ruby red in quilted glass jars and wrapped with a ribbon of twine.

And you can make it with tools you probably have in your kitchen already.

Now, baskets of still-earthy vegetables from the farmer’s market seem to provide the standard imagery for the local food movement, but my goal is to eat as locally as possible all year long, which involves learning how to preserve food when it is plentiful to get through months when it is not. And while jam is not the most necessary of foods, it is a great starting point if you want to learn to can. Which I do.

I’m sure you can tell where this is going: I made some jam! Okay; I made a lot of jam. So let’s rewind from this spoonful of crimson goodness, and I’ll tell you all about it.

Pick-Your-Own Strawberries

A key ingredient of strawberry jam, as you might imagine, is a hefty amount of fresh strawberries. You can go about procuring these berries however you want, but I chose to find a local farm where I could pick them myself.

The premise of a pick-your-own farm, or a “u-pick”, as they are commonly called, is simple: a grower plants their crop, then instead of harvesting it and selling it in turquoise paper baskets, they invite customers to the farm to pick it themselves at a much lower price. While most pick-your-owns also offer some pre-picked goods for sale at the farm stand, the labor burden is significantly reduced since the majority of harvesting is done by the customers themselves. They get free labor, you get a good price on berries, it’s a pretty sweet deal.



I find the phrase “holy guacamole” somewhat misleading. Holy things are revered. They are viewed from afar. They are stored in stone cathedrals and world museums.

They are never scooped onto chips, dolloped onto quesadillas, or spooned directly out of the bowl.

By these guidelines, this is decidedly unholy guacamole.

Cinco de Mayo was as good of an excuse as any to buy avocados and make my favorite electric-green dip. I generally try to limit my produce purchases to those grown locally, but the convergence of both a holiday AND a dinner invitation were enough to merit an exception.

The cilantro on the porch, however, was ready to harvest! After researching HOW to harvest cilantro without killing the plant and preventing future growth, I went to the balcony armed with scissors and a bowl and voila! Really fresh cilantro!

Guacamole is one of those things that can be prepared “perfectly” in a million different ways. Some guacs are smooth and creamy, some are chunky and spicy, some have tomatoes, some don’t. Personally, I’m in the no tomato camp. If I want tomatoes, I’ll eat salsa from the other dip bowl, thank you very much.