Tag Archives: easy

Italian Sausage and Rice Soup

If I told you that this soup takes a mere 10 minutes to simmer for the taste of a soup labored over for a day (or two), would you brand me an infomercial?  Because it’s true – every word of it.  And it doesn’t come at the hands of any crazy Ron Popeil device, although you do pretty much “set it and forget it.”  This baby is simmered to perfection in a pressure cooker, and for that great savings of time and effort and the steaming up of the household, I am eternally grateful. Continue reading Italian Sausage and Rice Soup

Lemon Curd Muffins

These suckers are stupid easy to make, which is up my alley as you know that I am no baker.  One of my greatest failures in the kitchen, and a dish that lives on in infamy, were the Wolfgang Puck Lemon Bars I attempted to make many years ago.  My grandmother had brought us a bounty of grapefruit-sized lemons from her garden, and I knew I had to do something other than a million citron pressés with the mess of citrus.  Why not lemon bars?  Wolfgang Puck is kinda awesome – this must be a good recipe.  Ugh, they were so bad – too tart, not entirely set, just awful.  I don’t blame Wolfgang so much as myself for not being able to pull things off.  Worst of all, I kept on making my sister eat them so that we could get rid of them.  To this day, she is terrified of the words “lemon bar” – I take the blame.

Fast forward to this Christmas and I myself was stuck with a bumper crop of lemons from my tree in the back yard.  I found a recipe for Lemon Shortbread Bars on Chow that featured an ever so easy lemon curd with no precooking or tempering of the eggs and lemon.  Just mix, bake and go.  I planned to tackle the recipe with my sister, but after a marathon of baking and decorating gingerbread, it was time to keep things simple.  Using sugar cookie dough out of the Pillsbury tube, I pressed out mini tarts into a muffin pan and topped them with the lemon curd.  A short bake later, and we were all treated to chewy, lemony goodness with a snowy topping of powdered sugar.  I didn’t even have to get my sister to eat them – she just went to town on a truly good thing.  Here’s to the little victories in life, to include my ability to actually bake something awesome.


Recipe for

Lemon Curd Muffins

1 tube of pillsbury sugar cookie dough
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 6 lemons)
3 tbs. of flour
pinch of salt
powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a muffin tin with large cups (mine has 6) with cooking spray, preferably the kind for baking with flour mixed in.  Cut the sugar cookie dough into 6 chunks and press each chunk in the bottom of the muffin tins, slightly raising the sides to form a mini tart. Place tarts in the stove and bake dough for 12 minutes.

In a mixer or a large bowl with an egg beater, beat together the sugar, eggs, lemon juice, flour and salt.  Take the dough out of the oven and prick with a fork to release the air from the dough.  Pour the lemon curd over the dough and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes in the oven.  Let the muffins rest for a few minutes and then remove to a plate.  Using a sifter, sprinkle powdered sugar over the muffins.  Serve warm or cold.

Caramel Apple Punch

I’m not sure how my sister Lexi and I came up with this punch recipe, but it’s just ridiculously good.  Despite the strong alcohol trifecta in play with this one, it tastes just like a smooth, delicious caramel apple.  Plus, the Goldschlager, usually the troublemaker at the party, plays nice here with the perfect flavor of cinnamon.  A little Martinelli’s on top for sparkle and a good quality fresh apple cider for body and you are in business.

We serve this cold, but you can absolutely have it warm as well – just make sure to add the alcohol after you’ve warmed the cider.  This recipe also doubles and triples well into a punch for a bunch, so don’t be afraid to break it out at your next Halloween or Christmas party.
Caramel Apple Punch

Caramel Apple Punch

1 1/2 oz. Butterscotch Schnapps
1 oz. Goldschlager
1 oz. Sour Apple Pucker
Apple Cider
Sparkling Cider

Fill a highball glass with ice and add the Apple Pucker, Goldschlager and Schnapps in that order.  Fill the glass just about up to the top with apple cider and then top with a splash of the sparkling cider.  Garnish with a slender apple wedge.

To make as a punch, combine 1 part Goldschlager, 1 part Sour Apple Pucker and 2 parts Butterscotch Schnapps.  Add 4 parts fresh apple cider and 1 part sparkling cider on top right before serving.  Serve in a punch bowl with thin slices of apple rings and the ice on the side.

Easy Pumpkin Ravioli

I got your memo.  The one about wanting to have more time for your various hobbies (costume-making for squirrels, jetskiing in ascots and sweet dance moves) all the while still being able to dine like a king.  Well, how about artisan tasting ravioli on a trailer park budget and minimal cooking knowledge.  I’m talking basic – like let your kids take care of this one.  Come to think of it, it’d be even better to use that cheap labor and get back to the garden gnome sculpting with full force.  But I digress…

This recipe leverages a few key ingredients to simplify the whole process and keep the taste profile elite.  Wonton wrappers take the place of hand-rolled pasta, and canned pumpkin replaces freshly roasted (and time-consuming) roasted butternut squash.  Topped with the simplest of sauces of butter, sage and cracked pepper, you’ve got some exemplary eating with absolutely no work.  You can even elevate the level of class with a cheap ravioli cutter (a modest $3-5) for crimped edges that make the pasta look as if they were purchased from the Italian grocer.

Once you have this filling down (which should take you all of 5 seconds) consider stirring in caramelized shallots, crisped pancetta or even gorgonzola into the mix.  Have fun, experiment and enjoy all the extra time you’ll have for the wining portion of the wining and dining.

Recipe for

Easy Pumpkin Ravioli

15 oz. of whole milk ricotta
1 egg
1/8 tsp. of black pepper
1/4 tsp. of white pepper
1 tbs. of olive oil
4 tbs. of puréed pumpkin
1/3 c. of parmesan cheese
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt
wonton wrappers
1 egg beaten with 1 tbs. of water

1 stick of butter
1 bunch of sage

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil.  In a small bowl, mix the ricotta, 1 egg, pepper, olive oil, cheese, pumpkin, nutmeg and salt.  Create a work station with a space to assemble the ravioli next to a lightly floured cookie sheet.  Take a wonton wrapper and brush the edges with egg beaten with water.  Heap a tablespoon of filling in the middle of the wrapper and then top with another wonton wrapper.  Gently press the edges together to adhere and then trim the edges with a ravioli cutter to flute the edges.  Set aside on the cookie sheet and repeat until all filling is used.

In a skillet, melt the butter until it starts to foam and turns a deep golden.  Add the sage leaves and gently cook until crisp.  Keep warm as you cook the ravioli.

Cook the ravioli in the boiling water for a quick 1-2 minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon and immediately add to the melted butter to slick them down with the sauce.  Continue to cook the ravioli in small batches and add to the sauce.  Serve warm.

Sesame Cucumbers

I love this recipe for a multitude of reasons – in true Shakespearean style, let me count the ways…

  1. In an almost atavistic longing for my childhood, you remind me of the Pickled Broccoli Stems that I could eat in heaps and heaps at the now closed Chinese restaurant, Hsiang Foong, or as we called it, “The Foong”.  You were later replaced with El Pollo Rico, another love of mine, but I digress.
  2. PF Changs sells you for way too much money, but with a bit of change and a few minutes, I can make a far superior version of you in every way.
  3. You are so friggin’ easy to make.

Make this as a side dish for a dumpling feast, or as an appetizer for your next FU to Chinese takeout, whereby you prepare a fresh meal without all the MSG, overcooked veggies, oversauced meat and stale fortune cookies (fortune and all).  Your tummy will thank you.

Recipe for

Sesame Cucumbers

1 english cucumber (called seedless or hothouse)
2 tbs. of sesame oil
4 tbs. of rice wine vinegar
4 tbs. of water
1 tsp. of salt
2 tsp. of sugar
1 tsp. black sesame seeds
1 tsp. white sesame seeds
dash of chili oil (optional)

Slice your cucumber into thin, 1/4 in. rounds and place in a bowl.  Add all other ingredients and stir gently.  Let sit in the fridge for 15-20 minutes and then serve.

Pork with Bamboo Shoots

In Virginia, not too far from where I grew up, there is this great gem of a Chinese restaurant that has been a favorite in town for ages.  The Peking Gourmet Inn is the definition of old school – red leather banquettes, rich mahogany and waiters and waitresses in tuxes, carving paper-thin slices of peking duck tableside.  The restaurant is beloved by just about every US President and dignitary that you could possibly imagine, and the walls of the place are adorned with photos of each and every one of them.  It’s a real treat to go there, but unfortunately, just about everyone in the DC Metro area feels the same way.

I often find myself jonesing for their Garlic Shoots, the mildly-flavored, inner sprout of the garlic clove specially grown on their farm and then sauteed with the protein of your choice.  Or the Stuffed Eggplant with Springtime Vegetables – only served there around Chinese New Year and so very addictive with its savory shrimp filling and tender japanese eggplant flash-fried and served in a delicate sauce.  But its when these incredibly seasonal dishes are sold out or not on the menu that I turn to my tried and true – Pork with Bamboo Shoots.  The Peking Gourmet Inn knows the joys of simplicity – thin strips of pork and bamboo shoots comprise this dish, all within a ginger-enriched sauce and nothing else.  There’s something to be said about not mucking with success and letting individual ingredients shine.

When I don’t feel like a 2 hour wait, or I’m not in town, I turn to this even more simplified version of their dish.  It’s not an exact replica, but so close in flavor profile that my cravings subside.  I even serve it with another rip from Peking Gourmet Inn – their Un-Fried Rice with Eggs and Peas.  A couple of bites in and I feel like I’m at home.

Recipe for

Pork with Bamboo Shoots

2 scallions, white part only
1 can of bamboo shoots
1 inch of ginger, peeled
1 lb. of fresh pork
3 tsp. of sugar
1 tbs. of sherry
1 1/2 tbs. of corn starch
1/4 tsp. of white pepper
1/2 tsp. of salt
1 tbs of soy

3 tbs. of oyster sauce
1/4 c. of vegetable oil
sesame oil

Slice the scallions into 2 in. long pieces and then julienne into matchsticks.  You should have thin slivers of scallion.  Drain the bamboo shoots and slice them lengthwise into matchsticks as well.  Slice the ginger into very, very thin matchsticks.  Set all three aside.

Starting with the pork – I like to use eye round chops or thin loin chops because they are lean and easy to slice well.  Trim pork of all visible fat.  If the chops are more than a 1/4 in. thick, halve them so that they are thinner.  Slice into narrow strips and place into a mixing bowl.  Add the sugar, sherry, corn starch, white pepper, salt and soy.  Mix thoroughly and set aside to marinate for 10-15 minutes.

In a wok or large pan, heat vegetable oil over very high heat until shimmering.  Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add pork and stir vigorously until almost cooked through.  Add scallions and oyster sauce and stir to combine until pork is completely cooked through.  Turn off heat and drizzle with sesame oil.  Serve with rice.

Savory Breakfast Strata

I’m a bacon and eggs girl all the way, and I believe in the savory goodness of a breakfast served 24 hours a day.  And given my proclivities to resurrecting leftovers with simple ingredients lying around, a strata is a glorious combination of toasted bread and eggy custard, studded with your favorite toppings.  Bacon, mushrooms, spinach, chard, cheese, tomatoes, peppers, you name it – if you can put it in an omlette, you can most likely include it in a strada.

Savory Mushroom Strada  © Spice or Die

I love this recipe for brunch guests for a couple of reasons.  It’s a great make ahead recipe that requires little to no babysitting.  Assemble leisurely and pop into the oven an hour before you want to eat.  Drink mimosas until it’s time.  Another thing I love is that this recipe rarely involves a trip to the grocery store – if you save your old bread when it gets too hard to eat, and just pluck some choice toppings from the fridge, you are in business.  Worst case scenario, you have to go to the store for eggs and cream.  Lastly, and most importantly, when this comes out of the oven, it looks incredibly impressive for being absolutely no work.  The best kind of recipe there is.

If you are watching your waistline, you can absolutely make this recipe with egg beaters in lieu of eggs and fat-free evaporated milk instead of the cream.  It is not as luxe, but it tastes damn good for having little to no fat.  You’ll just need to figure out what you want to do about the 2 c. of cheese and 1 c. of filling – if you use full fat cheese and say, bacon, don’t assume that it’s full fat.  Canadian bacon, good veggies, and a bit of sharp cheese (you need less because the taste is stronger) are good alternatives.  I don’t even want to talk about fat-free cheese – why waste the calories on tasteless drivel.  Lemme tell you how I really feel (ha!)

Ok, breakfast time!

Savory Breakfast Strata

3 c. of old bread, cubed (or fresh bread, cubed and toasted with a bit of olive oil)
4 eggs
1 1/4 c. of cream
1/8 tsp. of salt
1/8 tsp. of nutmeg
1/8 tsp. of white pepper
1/8 tsp. of black pepper
2 c. of grated cheese (sharp cheddar, swiss, provolone, mozzarella, fontina, etc. – definitely blend types)
1 c. of cooked meat and/or veggies (chopped bacon, ham or prosciutto, spinach, swiss chard, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, caramelized onions, etc.)

Preheat oven to 350°.  Grease a medium sized casserole or small ramekins with cooking spray or butter (I used some el cheapo parchement rounds from Sur La Table for the version in the photo above).  Sprinkle 1/2 c. of the cheese on the bottom of the ramekins or casserole.  Place on a cookie sheet and set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with the one cup of your choice of meat and veggies, and 1 c. of the cheese.  Dump into the casserole dish or split amongst the ramekins.  Using the same bowl, beat the eggs, cream, nutmeg, salt, black pepper and white pepper.  Pour the custard over the bread, pushing down on the cubes to make sure that they are all saturated with the liquid.  Let sit for about 5 minutes and then gently push the cubes down a second time.  Top with the remaining 1/2 c. of cheese and then put the pan in the oven.  Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the center is no longer jiggly and the strata has puffed up like a soufflé.

Serve hot, or wait a bit and eat at room temperature.

Tomato Bruschetta

I’m hoping that by posting this recipe, I’ll be making my sister Lexi really, really, really inspired to start making this for herself.  It’s her favorite – probably in the top five things that I make that she loves the most.  And accomplished chef and baker she may be, she always cons me into making it for her.  Maybe it’s like how I feel about a good grilled cheese – I can make it for myself, but it tastes so much better when someone else makes one for me.  Come to think of it, Lexi makes my favorite grilled cheese of all time – Tilamook cheddar, feta cheese and a tomato on slices from a pullman loaf.  Maybe we were meant to be sisters.

Tomato Bruschetta © Spice or Die

There are very few ingredients in this bruschetta, so you have to use the best ingredients possible.  Fresh ripe tomatoes, leafy basil and fruity olive oil make all the difference.  This topper is killer on toasted ciabatta, baguette rounds brushed with olive oil and baked, or even focaccia.  If carbs aren’t your thing, try it atop chicken paillard (or a simply grilled chicken cutlet) and a handful of arugula.  It’s a bistro meal without a ton of calories.  You can also toss this bruschetta with boiled, cooled potatoes and blanched string beans for my absolute favorite salad of all time (similar to my Potatoes Vinaigrette).

Tomato Bruschetta © Spice or Die

This bruschetta doubles and triples easily – make enough for friends, but not enough for leftovers.  It’s best eaten the same day before the tomatoes become soggy and too acidic.  It’s a carpe diem kind of recipe, so tuck in post haste.

Tomato Bruschetta

2 c. of chopped tomatoes
1 shallot, finely diced
3/4 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. of black pepper
5 tbs. of olive oil
2 tbs. of red wine vinegar
7 leaves of fresh basil, stacked, rolled and thinly sliced
toasted bread or crostini

Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, shallot and basil to a bowl.  Toss with olive oil and vinegar.  Taste for seasoning.  Top crusty slices of bread with a few tablespoons of bruschetta and serve with sprigs of basil for garnish.  Or put out the bread and bruschetta and let people assemble for themselves.  For non-vegans, you can serve bruschetta topped with slices of buffala mozzarella as an added treat.

Mixed Greens with Clementines and Pecans

Oh My Darlin’, Oh My Darlin’

I love this salad because it screams Springtime even though it’s made with ingredients that are delicious in the winter.  When you are feeling that your menus are lugubrious with heavy stews and dull, overcooked madness, you should give this a try.  From the crunch of pecans, tartness of juicy clementines, and a light rice wine vinegar dressing to wake it all up, you will swear that winter is long gone and warmer days are on the way.

Mixed Greens with Clementines and Pecans © Spice or Die

Use the greens that look the freshest at the market when you go shopping – I like frisee and arugula together, because the bitterness is well-contrasted with the sweet bits of clementine.  You can, though, use anything that you see that should be on your plate – mesclun, red leaf, radicchio and butter lettuce all work as well.

Mixed Greens with Clementines and Pecans

6 c. of arugula, loosely packed
2 c. of frisee, loosely packed
2 clementines, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/3 c. of chopped pecans
1/3 c. of crumbled ricotta salata

4 tbs. of olive oil
2 tbs. of rice wine vinegar
1 tbs. of dried tarragon
1/4 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. of black pepper
1 tbs. of shallots, finely chopped

Add greens, clementines, pecans and ricotta salata to a bowl.  In a jar (or a plastic chinese soup container, like I use), shake together the oil, vinegar, tarragon, salt, pepper and shallots.  Pour the dressing on the sides of the salad bowl (so as to not oversaturate the greens) and toss.  Serve salad to people longing for a little sunshine.

White Chocolate Walnut Brownies

A Blond Walks Into a Bar

As I’ve said before, I can’t be bothered to bake.  So a long time ago, when my best friend Kate told me that her mom only made brownies from scratch, I dismissed the recipe as way out of my league.  Years later, and a whole lot of convincing later, I was swayed into taking a peek at the recipe.  I have to say, kids, I’m eating my words as fast as I’m eating these brownies, because the recipe is so damn simple.

I’ve never been a choc-o-holic – I’ll take an extra piece of bread in lieu of a sugary treat. I have always had a slight weakness for white chocolate, however – the combo of sweet and slightly salty has always been a palette pleaser.  Because of the simplicity of Kate’s mom’s recipe, I thought why not try it with white chocolate.  Throw out all your preconceived notions of “brownies” – this one is a total winner.  The bars are dense and moist like a brownie, but also light and slightly crumbly like cake.  Best of all, the crunch from the walnuts and the slight saltiness of the treats make it a total winner.  My mom, after trying them for the first time, said that they reminded her of these coconut cakes they make in Brazil.  It goes to show you that you can take the girl out of Brazil, but you can’t take Brazil out of…you know the rest. Continue reading White Chocolate Walnut Brownies