Tuesday, March 27, 2012
I'm feeling my way through the process, relying in part on an outline for plot construction, but mostly on very good books that have used similar devices. Though there's a trap in that, since I usually fall headlong into these books even when trying to regard them as resources.
While some would consider moving into new and more complicated ground as grown for a writer, I just sit here clattering away at the keyboard thinking over and over "look at me, being all fancy." But the truth is that, by the time I started writing, I'd thought about these devices enough that I had a handle on them. And, honestly, they weren't that foreign.
I feel much the same way when I first look at a new recipe, or anything that requires steps other than chopping, stirring, ladling, repeat. Food that looks different than what I've assembled before is intimidating. It looks difficult not because it is, but because I've never before held it in my hands and gone through the motions of assembling it. But it doesn't have to be difficult. Take cabbage rolls for instance. It's familiar ingredients:
1 large head green cabbage
1.5 pounds ground turkey
1/4 C. bread crumbs
1/2 red onion, diced
1 bunch Italian parsley, finely chopped (discard stems)
5 sage leaves, finely chopped
1 t. salt
2 t. black pepper
2 cups of your favorite tomato sauce (if thick, add 2 T water)
1/2 C. dry white wine
Nothing too exotic there, right? Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 T. salt. So doable!
Remove 12 whole leaves from the cabbage. Drop them into the boiling water (you may have to encourage them to stay down) and boil until soft enough to fold, about 4-5 minutes. Work in batches if the pot is too small. Drain and rinse with cool water and lay on clean towel to cool.
Meanwhile, in mixing bowl, place the turkey, bread crumbs, onion, eggs, parsley, sage, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Place 1/2 cup of mixture in each cabbage leaf, at the bottom. Fold sides in, then roll up until it forms a closed pocket. (Use less filling if leaves are small)
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Sometimes, the writing life really interferes with kitchen life. Last week, my debut book, Pretty Crooked, was released into the world. As I should have predicted, my entire routine went to crap. I spent many hours online, doing social networking, talking up contests and answering email, obsessing about various book-related details, writing up blog posts and preparing for my launch party. In the meantime, I could not go to the gym. I could not get anything practical or household-y done. Worst of all, as far as I'm concerned, I could not cook.
When this week started, I was determined to get back on track and restore some sense of normalcy in my household. I craved home-cooked nourishment. I needed routine and simple food. And yet, I was still pretty fatigued, both emotionally and physically, from the release experience.
Preheat oven to 450°F. Pat chicken dry. Stir together spices, salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons oil and rub evenly all over chicken.
Heat remaining tablespoon oil in an ovenproof heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown chicken on both sides, about 5 minutes.
Transfer skillet to middle of oven and roast chicken, skin side up, until just cooked through, 16 to 18 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate. Add water to pan and deglaze over high heat, scraping up brown bits.
Pour pan juices over chicken.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
For this recipe you need exactly three ingredients:
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
- 4 tablespoons unrefined coconut oil (melted)
- 1/4 cup agave or Katie suggests you can also use NuNatural vanilla stevia drops (she uses 10 drops. Triple or quadruple that amount if you don’t like extra-bitter chocolate.)
- optional: extracts, cocoa nibs, or other add-ins
- Combine coconut oil with agave or stevia drops.
- Stir, then add cocoa powder (and add 3-4 T water or nondairy milk if using stevia.).
- Stir until it gets thick.
- Pour into any flat container (or candy molds or smush between layers of wax paper or in ziploc bags).
- Fridge or freeze until solid.
Friday, March 16, 2012
And so I give you a roasted pork recipe that, although spends some serious time in the oven, is worth every minute when you enjoy it as part of your meal.
Happy Writing and EATING!**
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Why wouldn’t we want to be the best? With perfection as the goal, low standards disappear, rough edges are smoothed, and grand results take shape. When we aim beyond our understanding, our knowledge and abilities can be fundamentally changed for the better.
Perfection, of course, is a dangerous goal as well. Mirages are unattainable. There’s always a flavor to adjust, a sentence that’s good but not great, an A- that could be an A+, and, of course, those dust specks in the air that settle right back down until those clean surfaces. I hate those specks!
There’s always more to do. But that last step is elusive. For example, the writer of a scene that makes 80 percent of readers cry longs to learn how to pull tears from the stone hearts of the other 20 percent. Perfection is the ultimate tease. It can break your heart, erode your confidence, and taunt you like an intangible gingerbread man: “Catch me if you can!”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s worth trying for, but only if you can appreciate where it leads you more than where it hasn’t.
Since I received some lovely springform pans for Christmas, I’ve known that cheesecake has been in my future. Recently, however, I’ve become obsessed with making the perfect Twix cheesecake. And I don’t just mean a cheesecake incorporating Twix. No, no. I want a cheesecake with the full essence of Twix: the crispy cookie, the mellow caramel, and the chocolate draping over it all.
The problem, as you might have guessed from today’s lecture, is that I had no idea what I was doing. The Twix desserts I found online all sounded tasty but missed the mark of that perfect dessert of my dreams. After much thinking, I decided on a shortbread crust, a vanilla/Twix bar middle, creamy caramel, and a chocolate ganache topping. In execution, it's a very sweet, delicious dessert, though not exactly my idealized version.
Still, it is good. And perfection can wait for me to chase it another day.
1 1/4 c. flour
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. finely crushed shortbread cookies
1 tsp. orange peel
8 tbsp. softened butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400°. Lightly grease a 9-inch springform pan. Stir the dry ingredients together. Mash or cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add egg and vanilla, and mix just until the dough forms a ball.
Spread a bit more than 1/3 of the dough over the bottom of the pan. Prick dough all over with a fork. Bake until crust is lightly golden brown, about 10 to 14 minutes. Cool completely on rack. Press remaining dough around the sides of the pan, attaching dough to the bottom crust.
Cream Cheese Mixture
24 oz. cream cheese
1 c. sugar
5 large eggs
3 tbsp. flour
1 1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
12 oz. sour cream
1/4 c. heavy cream
12 fun-size Twix bars
All ingredients should be near room temperature before you begin. Cut up Twix bars into thin slices and set aside.
Beat the cream cheese on a low setting until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar, beating until creamy. Add one egg at a time and beat after each egg. Mix in flour, almond extract, and lemon juice. Add the sour cream and heavy cream and beat well. Stir in Twix pieces. Pour mixture into the springform pan.
30 caramel candies
2 tbsp. milk
Preheat oven to 325°. Melt caramel with milk, being careful not to overcook. Pour over cheesecake. (Mine sank a little into the cheesecake and made a swirl layer. You could also refrigerate the cheesecake before adding caramel for more of a coated look.)
Place in the middle of the top rack of oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. When time is up, turn oven off, slightly prop open oven door, and leave in oven for 1 more hour. Remove to a rack and cool for at least an hour before adding ganache.
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
3/4 tsp. butter, room temperature
Place chopped chocolate in a glass or stainless steel bowl. In small saucepan, heat cream and butter over medium heat just until boiling. Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for a few minutes. Stir until smooth. Cool slightly and then pour over cheesecake. Evenly spread the ganache over the top of the cheesecake. Cover and return to the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Serve and enjoy. :)
Monday, March 12, 2012
Once, when her young daughters snuck into bed to snuggle, Laura guiltily asked them, “How can I be a better mommy to you?”
The oldest looked at her and said, “Oh Mommy, just never leave me again [at grandma’s] when I’m sick.” Laura then turned to her youngest daughter, who, without hesitation looked up and said, “MORE BEEF.” Predictably, that chapter includes a recipe for scrumptious and “beefy” meatballs. With each struggle or bizarre incident, Laura brings us further into her world with a witty tone and positive yet slightly twisted outlook on life. Her insights will ring true to anyone who has ever questioned her own actions, sacrificed for love, or taken a stand to get what she wants. The book contains 24 recipes with full color photos and true stories that will make you laugh, cry and then cook."
Friday, March 9, 2012
Jasmine, I love the idea of you living in a renovated mill. I bet it could help give someone great writing ideas. Others (like myself) enjoy nibbling on something while working. What is your A+, number 1 writing snack?
On a good day it is hummus and pitta bread and on a bad day it is sweets, especially chewy cola bottles! Chewing helps me think!
I agree, gummy treats are awesome. Real quick, give us one cheesy “writing is like cooking” thought.
Writing is like cooking because sometimes the best dish is the one you didn’t know you were going to cook.
Speaking of writing, your book just came out. Share with us what inspired The Book of Wonders and what "ingredients" do you hope make it a tasty treat for readers?
As a young reader, I loved these stories. I loved that Scheherazade was such a good storyteller and that she always made sure that she was at the most exciting bit of the story when the sun rose so that she would get to live for another day.
However, the 9 year old me was enraged by the idea that the sultan got a happy ending after killing lots of innocent young women! Even back then I wanted to create a new story, where the sultan was challenged and maybe even defeated.
With The Book of Wonders I have created an alternative version of events which I hope will keep readers guessing!
Can you share a bit about your next project?
At this very moment, I am writing the second part of Zardi’s and Rhidan’s adventure. It is provisionally called the Spell Scrolls but I still need to agree that title with my editor! In this second novel we get to learn more about Rhidan’s home, The Black Isle, and Zardi’s and Rhidan’s relationship is put under massive strain. I’m having an absolute blast writing it.
Sounds like you are busy writing away then. What’s your go-to meal when you need to serve something quick and easy?
Chilli Prawn linguine – it is so easy and so tasty.
If Pots ‘N Pens could grant you the wish that you could only live with one book and one food, what would it be?
I would choose Sophie’s Worldby Jostein Gaarder. This book had a huge influence on my understanding of the world and people when I was a teenager. I almost did a philosophy degree because of it! I love this story for its clarity yet complexity and urge you to have a read – you won’t see the world in the same way afterwards, I promise. I think if I could have only one book this one would keep me entertained.
Looks like we are out of time. It was a pleasure chatting with you. Congratulations on your book release.
Thanks so much for having me on your blog. If you would like to find out more about my book, read an excerpt or see the book trailer, please visit jasminerichards.com.
Monday, March 5, 2012
Similarly, your writing begins with an idea. Your "flavor" so to speak, such as your pacing or description, are the herbs. They don't just happen incidentally. You learn how to use them. You learn how to produce them with effective results. You have to nurture your talent over time. It might start out small, but it can eventually pack a big punch with the proper care. Just like the herbs in your dish need sunlight, air, water, and food to become plants which you then enjoy in your food, your writing will grow with time, dedication, criticism, and revision.
So here's a fun project you can do for under ten dollars. With a little patience and care, you'll have a neat little herb garden that you can use in your recipes.
Supplies: Mason jars (most of us have some lying around and if you don't, you can grab a few at the market in the canning section), potting soil, and seed packets for your favorite herbs.
1. Clean out Mason jars.
2. Fill Mason jars most of the way with potting soil.
3. Sprinkle in your herb seeds.
4. Top with a light layer of potting soil.
5. Add water.
6. Place in a sunny location.
I picked parsley (to feed our family's pair of guinea pigs), rosemary, sweet basil, cilantro, and chives. We also have some oregano and thyme growing in different pots. Then I put the Mason jars on my kitchen island which gets really nice afternoon sun. Because I don't have the time to make cute labels on my jars, I cut off the front of the seed packets and glued them onto the glass jars with this great stuff called ModPodge which you can find at pretty much any craft store.
Before long, you'll have some little sprouts. These were planted just last week, and look at how much basil is already popping up.
Eventually, you'll thin the seedlings to heartiest plants and continue to care for them with sun, water, and air. If you want, you can get some plant food to give your seedlings an extra boost.
Friday, March 2, 2012
For literally years, I've been trying to find a buttercream frosting recipe that tastes like the frosting used at my corner bakery. For years I've fallen short. And I have cupcakes to make, people. CUPCAKES!
So I'm asking you, dear readers, for help.
If you have a buttercream frosting recipe that is bakery worthy, please fill out the entry form below. You'll be automatically entered into a random drawing to win a $10 Starbucks gift card. (And don't bother sending in the Magnolia Bakery recipe. I've made it and no dice.)
After the contest closes, I will then make all the different frostings and, if I find one that is close to my beloved bakery's, I will be offer up a grandprize of a query letter critique by myself and another Pots 'n Pens contributor.