Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I'm working on a new novel that includes several constructs that I've only previously used in limited quantities, if at all. Tie-in flashbacks. An epilogue. A plot thread that will slide over itself while still moving forward, like some sort of literary snake. Hell, there's an actual mystery in this puppy.

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
3 eggs
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)

Pour half the tomato sauce and the wine in the bottom of a casserole dish. Mix together. Lay cabbage rolls on top. Spoon remaining sauce over top and bake for 1 hour. Serve hot. How simple is that?

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

When Writing Interferes with Cooking

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.

Last night, as the dinner hour drew near, I made a deal with myself: If I only agreed to cook, I was allowed to use the easiest recipes in my arsenal. So I broke out an old favorite from Epicurious, Spiced Roast Chicken Breasts. This little number takes little forethought, no knife skills and can be thrown together in minutes. Even better, the technique guarantees an excellent result every time. I served it with some asparagus and mashed squash and I was good to go. I could even envision a time when I might tackle something a bit more challenging. But for now: baby steps.

Spiced Roast Chicken Breasts
From Epicurious.com
Serves 2

2 chicken breast halves
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons water

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

Chocolate and Writing....and Chocolate :D

When life gets hectic and projects beckon, sometimes a writer can use a little pick me up. And what could be better than chocolate? :) However, we've been trying to be a little more healthy at my house lately, so there is nary a piece of chocolate to be found. So I looked around (hey, a writer trying to push through the last half of a tough revision NEEDS her chocolate!) and found Chocolate-Covered Katie and her healthy dessert blog who had a wonderful recipe for...wait for it....healthy chocolate! Well, at least sugar-free chocolate :D

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.
And enjoy :)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Savory Garlic studded Pork Roast

As I write this post at the last minute, I'm reminded at the importance of taking one's time to craft something exquisite.  So while I know this blog post isn't going to be genius, the recipe I've added comes close.  But it takes some time.  With this recipe I'm reminding myself that the writing life is not a hurry-up process, that it takes time to gain skills at the craft and time to create a novel and time for readers to follow.  Time is one of those commodities we can't make more of, we are just a part of it and must learn how to use it as efficiently as we can for those things in life that we most enjoy.

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!**

Pork Loin with Brown Sugar and Garlic

3-4 lb pork loin roast (the one that's usually held together with cotton twine)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt
5 cloves of garlic sliced into little sticks
1/2 cup of white wine

Mix the brown sugar and salt together.  You may choose to add Rosemary or other herb to the rub but I'm okay with the plain-jane version.

After rinsing off the pork loin, pat the rub all over the roast and place it in an oven safe dish. 
Preheat the oven to 450 (it won't stay there, this is just for starters)

While the oven is heating, get out a small thin knife, the smaller the better. And poke a small hole in your meat and stuff in a small sliver of garlic.  Continue this around the entire roast.  I place garlic every 1/2 inch. YUM.  It's okay if the garlic sticks out a little bit, but make sure to press it down into the meat.

When the oven reaches 450, place the roast in the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, pour 1/2 cup of white wine over the roast and reduce the temperature to 325 and cook for about 1 1/4 hours. You may continue to add wine over the top of it if the roast looks dry, but I have never had to, it's up to you.

Nothing beats the taste of the garlic and the salty sweetness of the crust on the meat.

This recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, which I feel everyone should own. Genius home cooking.

 **Regarding the royalty free photo- I'm pretty sure that's beef.  For the life of me I couldn't find a photo of a pork roast.  This one just looked good with the rosemary sticking out and the fire in the background.  YUM.  I could have taken a photo of my leftover roast in the fridge, but I'm pretty sure you wouldn't get the same effect. ;)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Twix Cheesecake and Aiming for Perfection

Aiming for perfection—we’ve all done it. Whether in cooking, writing, parenting, or dusting, its a noble pursuit.

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.

Twix Cheesecake

Shortbread Crust
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.

Caramel Layer
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

Interview: Laura Ray & Shrimp Lingurian a la Lou

Today I'm pleased to welcome Laura Roodman Edwards Roodman Edwards Ray (she married and divorced the same man with the same problems twice, hence the very long name). We got to talking about books recently at 6 North Cafe in Ballwin, Mo., and I knew her book, BRAIN DEAD IN THE BURBS, was perfect for this fun-loving group of foodies!

Laura lives in a St. Louis suburb with her two daughters, her loving husband, and a stepson close by. She is a full-time mom, law firm sales representative, and first-time author. She is currently finishing the second volume of her “memoir” and plans on making it an annual occurrence if anyone would like to continue reading the strange stories of her life and pick up great recipes at the same time. She welcomes anyone from the “Smoking Gun” or any other “truthful literary agency” to try to prove that her memoir is made up at all. That would be a lot less embarrassing to her, as well as to her family.

About her book: 
"She shares hilarious stories about her first husband (“the same man with the same problems whom I married twice”), job, girlfriends, dating, and spoils readers with recipes that will make you a hit at any party.
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."

BRAIN DEAD IN THE BURBS is available at Amazon & at most of the independent book stores and gift shops in St. Louis: Left Bank Books, Puddin’Head, Webster Groves,  etc.

If you were marooned on an island, and Pots & Pens granted your wish for only one book and one food, what would you choose? To Kill a Mockingbird and a steamed artichoke with 4 different condiments (I’m the condiment Queen and I would have melted butter, Green Goddess, honey mustard, and a Bernaise)…that way, all of my taste buds would be satisfied!) 

If you were serving one of your characters his or her ideal meal, what would it be and why? Sven (Who really is my husband Tom); I’d make him the Shrimp Lingurian (a recipe that I stole from Balaban’s before they closed….they wouldn’t give it to me, so I just made it up and actually my version (because I add more stuff!) is better, The Strawberry, Candied Pecan salad and warm blueberry bars right out of the oven with Vanilla Bean ice cream.

Let’s say a couple of your characters are raiding your fridge right now, what are they most likely to eat? Are they disappointed or excited about what they find? Every condiment you can imagine and left over Grouper sandwiches from 569-Dine.  Hopefully, they won’t be disappointed, and realize that even the best of cooks (especially the full time working mom ones) have to order take out some time.

What is your A+, number 1 writing/editing/query-reading snack? Drunken Brie with an assortment of crudités and gourmet crackers….to die for!!!!!!
Tell about a time when food inspired your writing or a book inspired your cooking. When my daughter and I were cooking three huge beef briskets for her swimming banquet at 7am in the morning (they take forever to cook) and my husband sleepily stumbled into the kitchen trying to make the first pot of perfect coffee and saw all of the beef, he stopped  and said, “Oh hell….Who died?”

Shrimp Lingurian a la Lou

1 Pound of Thawed, Cooked, Peeled & Deveined Jumbo Shrimp
½  Cup of Olive Oil
½ Cup (1 Stick) Butter
½ Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper
½ Teaspoon Minced Garlic
¾ Cup of quartered Walnuts
½ Cup of Rinsed Julienne Cut Sun Dried Tomatoes (found in a jar in the Produce Dept. near the Tomatoes)
Salt and Pepper
¾ Cup of Crumbled Feta Cheese
1 lb. Of Spinach Fettucinni
1 lb. Of Fettuccini
In Large Pot, Boil Water with ½ tsp. of salt and 1 tsp. of Olive Oil.
Cook both types of Fettuccini until al dente, stir so that the two pastas are mixed together.
When done (hopefully at the same time as the Shrimp Saute), drain and put in a Large Pretty Pasta Bowl.
At the same time, take large sauce pan, and under medium heat melt the butter and add olive oil.  Add Crushed Red Pepper,Minced Garlic, Walnuts, and Sun Dried Tomatoes. Salt and Pepper, and then add the all ready cooked Shrimp.
Saute all ingredients until hot.  At last minute, crumble the Feta Cheese, stir in lightly so that it is slighty warm.
Pour all ingredients over the pasta and serve immediately.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Interview with Jasmine Richards

Today we have a guest all the way from England! I'm so excited to introduce you to this amazing and very beautiful Jasmine Richards. Now a little background about her. She was born in London, grew up in a library, and was the first in her family to go to university. After graduating from Oxford, and following a brief stint at New Scotland Yard, Jasmine chose a career in publishing over being the next Sherlock Holmes. Today she's a senior editor at a leading British publishing house. She now lives in Oxfordshire with her husband in an old wool mill. The Book of Wonders is her first novel and she would love to know what you think about it. Her website is JasmineRichards.com

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?
The Book of Wonders draws on the tales of 1001 Nights also known as Arabian Nights. Many of the stories in 1001 Nights are well known and include Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor. For those of you who haven’t read Arabian Nights they begin with a young woman called Scheherazade who tells tales to a cold-hearted sultan for 1001 nights in order to escape execution [the sultan has a nasty habit of executing his new wives!]. Through her stories, she manages to melt the sultan’s heart and they end up living happily ever after.

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!
In terms of the ingredients that make my novel a tasty read I would say magic, friendship and adventure. That is what I like writing about and I hope that is what readers will get from my book. I also hope that reading The Book of Wonders might inspire them to read some of the tales in Arabian Nights. That would make me very happy indeed!

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.
Here is a link to this amazing dish!

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.
In terms of food it would be my Grandma’s soup. This is a good old fashioned Caribbean soup which I have whenever I feel low or am feeling run down. I do a pretty good version of it but it is never as good as my Gram’s! It has pumpkin, chicken, carrots and dumplings in it. Yum, yum, yum.

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

Word Garden

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to how writing a novel is an organic process. If you look at the novel as a finished dish and your herbs and seasoning as all the ingredients that go into your writing, you'll realize that you can't just whip it together in a hurry. Everything had to be grown. Everything has to be cultivated.

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

A contest: The search for bakery worthy buttercream frosting is on!

Pots 'n Pens needs your help!

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.