Thursday, June 28, 2012

Simple and Sweet; Lemon Cake

At a family get together my cousin brought a cake. When we dished it up, we thought it was just a regular yellow sheet cake, but the first bite revealed we were wrong. It was lemon with homemade cream cheese icing and very delicious.

She whispered to me I’d never guess how easy it was to make it. After she told me I thought how this recipe could go along with what I’m experiencing with my revision. The base of the dish is lemon cake, nothing out of the ordinary. The frosting made from scratch adds a refreshing twist from the store bought can or in the literary world, cliché. In writing the base of the plot could be basic, but add your own new “flavor”, tone, or voice to the story and you have something that will stand out and be remembered.   

Yes, I know this post is short and sweet (see cliché), but its summer and we need to be outside moving around instead of looking at the computer screen all day. Well, I think I’d be fine doing such a thing but since I just said this to my kids, I’d better set the example. Enjoy your summer everyone!

Lemon Cake

  • 1 box of lemon cake mix
  • 1 small can of lemon pie filling
  • 4 eggs

     Combine ingredients together and mix in large bowl. Bake as directed on cake mix box. Cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 package (8oz) cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ c butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp lemon extract (optional. I add this if icing for lemon cake)
  • 4 to 4 ½ c powder sugar. (about 1lb)

     Beat cream cheese, butter, vanilla and lemon extract in bowl on medium speed. Add sugar gradually, beat until smooth. Spread on cooled cake.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Roasting Summer Days

It's summer!

This probably isn't news to the rest of you, but up here in The Last Frontier, we just had our first 70+ degree day.

Kids are pink-cheeked from outdoor exertion. Flowers are turning their open faces toward the sun. I'm blooming in my own way, with freckles and red highlights.

And, in the spirit of warmth and vibrancy and health, I'm setting aside the computer (and the e-reader, and the smart phone) and getting outdoors. Sometimes the healthiest thing you can do for yourself is to step away from all the obligations and ambitions. They will be there tomorrow. Heck, you might find yourself gravitating blissfully toward them after some time off. But take some time for what's happening right now that won't be happening next week or next season - or at least leave it on the table as an option.

Eating healthy is a year-round journey in Casa Jacques, but today I'm focused on eating the freshest of the fresh. Local produce and fish, mostly. Straight-from-the-dirt herbs in almost everything. Following is a recipe for roasted summer vegetables, which I suspect would also make fantastic kabobs, or fantastabobs if you're into efficient language.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Scallions

Veggies, Pre-Roast (Please note this is about 1/3 less than the recipe calls for)

1.5 lbs. cherry tomatoes
1 bunch scallions, cut in one-inch pieces, discarded top three inches of green
1 zucchini, cut diagonal in 1/4-inch thick pieces
4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
2 T olive oil
2 T fresh basil (1 t if using dried)
3/4 t salt

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the veggies with the oil and salt and basil (but only if using dried. If using fresh, reserve). Roast for 15 minutes, tossing twice, or until the tomatoes begin to burst. Remove from oven. If using fresh basil, stir in with vegetables while hot to release flavor.

Serve as a side dish, mixed with pasta or atop chicken or fish. We went the chicken and pasta route, adding grilled, sliced chicken and dusting with fresh parmesan cheese.

Dishes like this are simple and bursting with flavor. I was so astounded by the sweet complexity of the tomatoes that I'll likely spend the summer experimenting with roasted tomato marinara sauces. Hopefully you'll find something local that obsesses you catches your attention as well. Bon Appétit.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Working for It

For my one of my day job gigs, I write about food for the Philadelphia Inquirer. For an upcoming story, I had to test several recipes at home, most of which were pretty labor intensive (a rolled omelet and lamb chops with several sauces that got dotted around the plate, restaurant-style were among them). By Sunday night, I had one left to do. Fish en papillote*. In my mind, I thought it would be super-easy, so I saved it for last. Just throw everything in a packet and bake it. Meanwhile, my husband and I could enjoy a cocktail, lounge leisurely and soak in the Sunday vibe.

Yeah. Nothing is ever that easy, is it?

I mean, don't get me wrong. I got in my own way here a little bit. I went all the way to the market and drove the 15 minutes back to my house before I realized I forgot the, uh, fish. So that added an unnecessary ten miles' worth of exhaust to the planet. Once I started prepping, I noticed that one of the potatoes was half rotten and I realized I should have gotten one extra tomato. I spilled the herbs everywhere and undercooked the vegetables. By the time I was wrestling with the four giant pieces of parchment in my already-crowded kitchen, I was completely sweaty and grumpy and no longer interested in eating this thing.

But it did look pretty. I will give it that.

I'm not even going to spell out the metaphor here, except to say that it's always the things you think will be simple that turn out to be the most grueling. What, in food or in writing, has been your fish en papillote nightmare?

*I can't share the recipe since it hasn't run in the newspaper yet, but here's another fish en papillote recipe I like.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Last Day of Schoolitis

Today was my kids' last day of school. They are now home, all day, for the rest of the summer. Eep! I love having my kids home, but they tend to bicker with each other a lot and trying to write anything while they are running around and wanting my attention is almost impossible.

Which means I start pulling a lot of late nights and early mornings to get writing time in. Which also means my eating habits (such as they are) get a little out of whack.

I've started making a lot of fruit smoothies lately, both to give myself something healthy to snack on when I'm playing vampire all night, and to give my kids a yummy breakfast. For them, I make the smoothies really thick and call it ice cream. They love it :D

The recipe almost can't be called a recipe because it is ridiculously simple. But here you go :)

Breakfast Ice Cream


Your choice of fruit (I use frozen fruit so I don't need ice, but if you prefer fresh then add ice to the mix - my favorite = the tropical mix - peaches, mango, pineapple, and strawberry)
Enough milk to create your desired thickness
A splash of vanilla
A couple teaspoons of agave nectar to sweeten (to taste)
(I'll also toss in flax seeds, wheat germ, bran, etc for a little extra healthy kick) :)

Toss it all in a blender...

And enjoy!! A little dollop of whip cream makes it an extra fun treat!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Pastries and an Interview with Author Laura Pauling

Today I'd like to introduce Laura Pauling, author of A Spy Like Me. Laura can you tell us a bit about your story and how food can play such a big role in a spy novel?

Thanks for having me. A Spy Like Me is fast-paced spy romp through Paris, France.

As far as food goes, well, the story is in Paris and this city is famous for more than just French fries. I hear you have not really tasted a croissant or tart until you’ve had one from a bakery in Paris.

So, of course, Savvy loves these treats especially as a way to ignore the stuff going on in her life like a missing mom and busy dad...and people shooting at her.

Here's a bit about the book:

Stripping your date down to his underwear has never been so dangerous.
 Seventeen-year-old Savvy Bent expects magic on her first date with Malcolm - in Paris! Except over a picnic of sparkling cider and strawberry tarts, a sniper shoots at them. That’s only the beginning. From the top of the Eiffel Tower to the depths of the catacombs, Savvy must sneak, deceive, and spy to save her family and friends and figure out whether Malcolm is one of the bad guys before she completely falls for him. Or he tries to snuff her out.

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords

If you were marooned on an island, and Pots & Pens granted your wish for only one book and one food, what would you choose?

These kinds of questions are so tough. I’d have to say The Count of Monte Cristo because not only do I love stories of revenge, but it’s long. And I’d take an endless supply of different kinds of pizza, and maybe some chocolate chip cookies too.

If you were serving one of your characters his or her ideal meal, what would it be and why?

Easy. Instant burnt macaroni and cheese her dad makes because it’s prime bonding time for them. Okay, and a latte on the side. Her dad is busy getting his business, Spy Games, off the ground so he doesn’t have a lot of time.

Let’s say Savvy is raiding your fridge right now, what is she most likely to eat? 

Savvy would definitely be excited about the left over Belgian waffles with fresh fruit we had for dinner!

What is your A+, number 1 writing/editing snack?

I try not to snack when I work. If I’m starving I’ll snag a granola bar. I know. Totally lame.
Tell about a time when food inspired your writing or a book inspired your cooking.

It’s not usually food that inspires my writing or vice versa. My love for adventure and learning inspires me the most but that could cross over to food in that when I have time I like to try new recipes. But I’ll never say never.

Thanks Laura for being with us. I would recommend Savvy's story to anyone who likes their spy mysteries with a croissant and a latte on the side! 

Laura Pauling writes about spies, murder and mystery. A Spy Like Me, her YA debut novel released in April 2012. Her short story, The Almost Assassin, a prequel to A Spy Like Me is free on Smashwords and 99 cents on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Here is Laura's recipe for A Savvy Strawberry Tart
photo by aMichiganMom

1 - 3 oz. package cream cheese, softened
5 tsp sugar
1/4 C light whipping cream, whipped
2 C thinly sliced fresh strawberries (keep some separate to decorate the top)
1 graham cracker pie crust shell


1. Beat cream cheese until fluffy.
2. Beat in sugar.
3. Fold in whipped cream.
4. Fold in strawberries.
5. Spoon into pie shell, decorate top with strawberries, and refrigerate until serving.