Thursday, February 28, 2013

Easy Peasy Capellini

I don't know if you guys have noticed, but I'm a HUGE fan of easy cooking. Things that don't require a lot of work or a lot of ingredients, but that are big time flavorful and family friendly.

It isn't that I don't enjoy cooking, because I do, but when it's a weekday (when I'm not traveling for #dayjob), time's super limited, and you have a lot to get done, I'm in favor of all things that will give me more time to bond with the kiddies, hang with the Hubs, and get in some time to write too!

Here's a recent addition to the easy peasy recipes for a quick and yummy weeknight dinner.

1 lb package of capellini pasta (angel hair or thin spaghetti)
6 Roma tomatoes - chopped
1 pckg fresh Basil - thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic - minced (more if you like more garlic)
salt to taste
pepper to taste
olive oil

1. Cook the pasta per directions and drain.

2. Heat olive oil in a pan. Toss in minced garlic, lower heat to medium, cook for a minute.

3. Add tomatoes to pan, saute for about 5 minutes.

4. Add basil, salt, pepper to pan, stir to combine, turn off heat.

5. Toss pasta into pan and combine.

6. Serve. (We had Italian sausage on the side this day... but that's optional)

Oh, and you can also make the sauce beforehand and freeze as well, reheat and toss in cooked pasta to serve.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Easy Fudge

The past few weeks have got away from me. Time seemed to be going at warp speed around me but I was standing still. One day my kids brought a reminder note home that I needed to send a baked treat for them to share, tomorrow. Only, my child didn’t give me said note until bedtime the night before. For the love!


Thankfully, I’m a chocolate hound and stash bags of chocolate chips in my pantry. (When I say stash, I mean like four or five bags tucked under the rolled oats inside a sealed plastic container in the back of the pantry… You never know when the craving will hit…) Anyway, I knew how to fix this. I have a simple quick recipe for fudge that tastes like a chocolate bar, and what child doesn’t like a candy bar?


You will need:

1 can of sweet and condensed milk

2 bags of milk chocolate chips

Dash of salt (I seriously do two pinches)

1 tsp of vanilla

Nut or Toffee (optional)


Melt s&c milk, salt, and chocolate chips together on low to medium heat.

Once melted to a creamy consistency remove from heat.

Add Vanilla (and optional nuts or toffee).

Stir well.

Pour into lined pan and chill until set. Dump out and cut into squares.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dianna Graveman Interview & Pasta Salad Recipe

Happy Valentine's Day! And welcome to Dianna Graveman, a former corporate training designer, teacher, and staff editor. She has taught both graduate and undergraduate writing students at several area colleges and universities. Her publishing portfolio includes over 160 writing credits, 22 awards, and coauthorship of four regional histories. Dianna is a graduate of the University of Missouri-St. Louis and earned an MFA from Lindenwood University, where she also taught in the program. She is the founder, writer, editor, and designer at 2 Rivers Communications & Design and a partner at Treehouse Publishing Group. 

If you were marooned on an island, and Pots & Pens granted your wish for only one book and one food, what would you choose? Does wine count as food? If not, then I guess I’d go with any kind of fresh fruit. The book is a tough one, because I rarely read a book twice. But if I could only choose one, I suppose I might choose Terry Tempest Williams’ Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert, because it’s not so much about the stories as it is about the natural world and our reactions to it – about humans and their relationships to the wilderness and to each other.

It’s stretching your boundaries time. Is there a food you’d love to learn how to cook or a different genre or type of book you’d love to try to write? Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I may as well admit that sometimes I think I’d like to write a steamy, hot romance … really let my imagination run wild and have fun with it. First I’d adopt a pen name, though. Hmm…Dana Gray? Deana Grace?

And I’d love to learn to cook some truly delicious, vegan dishes. I’m not a vegan--not even a vegetarian--although I’m trying to eat a lot less meat. I’d like to really take the time to develop healthier cooking and eating habits, but I still love the smell of a juicy steak or burger. I need to learn to make some veggie dishes that are just as tempting, but a lot more heart-healthy.

What is your A+, number 1 writing/editing/query-reading snack? I love raw almonds--or at least the ones I can buy at the store that claim they are raw. (Apparently, truly raw almonds are hard to come by because almond producers are now required to pasteurize the almonds.) But unsalted, unroasted nuts are still my favorite snack--healthy and easy to eat while tapping away at the keyboard. No chance for spills!

Please share one cheesy “writing is like cooking” thought. Okay, this really is cheesy, but here goes: Writing is like a slow-cooker recipe. It’s not done until you walk away for awhile and let it simmer. Then you can come back to taste it and find out what’s missing.

What’s cooking? Can you share a bit about your next project? I have a few book projects in the oven (pun intended), but I’m also working on some shorter projects right now. And I’m proud to be a cocreator with Dahlynn McKowen (Publishers Syndicate) of Not Your Mother’s Book...On Being a Mom, a collection of offbeat, mostly humorous stories about motherhood. The anthology is scheduled for release this summer.

Recipe Row: What favorite recipe do you have for us today? My pasta salad is always a favorite, even though it is super easy and quick to make:

1 16-oz. box rainbow rotini
1 16-oz. bag frozen California-style vegetables (broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower)
1 large can ripe olives, sliced
1 can quartered artichoke hearts
½ cup Parmesan cheese
1 envelope Good Seasons Italian dressing mix
White vinegar and your choice of cooking oil
1 small red onion (chopped), if desired

Note: Bottled Italian dressing may be substituted for the Good Seasons mixture

1.     Boil rotini until tender. Drain. Run cold water over pasta to cool.
2.     Place the frozen vegetables in a colander and run cold water over them to thaw.
3.     In a large serving bowl, add cooked rotini, thawed vegetables, olives, artichoke hearts, onion, and Parmesan. Gently toss.
4.     Mix the Good Seasons salad dressing according to package directions. You may choose to use the Good Seasons cruet for measurement, but it is not necessary.
5.     Just before serving, add the dressing and toss.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cleaning Up the Mess

Those of you who come here regularly know that Pots ’n Pens is all about the writing and the cooking. Today I’m going to take a little tangent from that to highlight one of the support players in both tasks: cleaning up the mess.
Dishes already accumulating two days after Mom left.

For the last week, we were fortunate to have a helper in our house keeping the dishes washed and the kitchen in order—thanks, Mom! But for most of us, most of the time, staying ahead of the mess in the kitchen, in the office, and in the manuscript is half the work. It’s also a task that’s easy to put off, much to our shame. Still, as any top cook will tell you, maintaining a clean workstation is essential to preparing top quality food. You want your kitchen to be sanitary and every dish to be washed right away so it’s available the next time you need it. Otherwise you’ll end up with one of those monster stacks of dirty dishes that threaten to swallow you whole.
My desk area at the moment. Yes, those are rodents!

The same thing can happen in an office space. It’s easy to add one more thing to the pile and then to start another pile, to shove a few papers to the side with the intent of dealing with it later. But we all know that “later” never comes. And soon it’s a struggle just to find the space for your laptop. Even at the end of one project, we jump in so excitedly to the next that cleanup never happens.

While it’s not my main focus here, manuscript messes can start out in similar ways. They can be the result of a finished project that leaves drippings all over your next work in progress: an old character’s voice you love so much that it infects your new characters or a manuscript that you never finished editing because it seemed too difficult/messy. Manuscript messes can be as simple as a logic problem on page 3 that you choose to ignore until page 200 even though you knew it was there. But by that point, so much of the plot has wrapped itself around the problem that fixing it requires rubber gloves and industrial strength cleaner.

Whatever your mess, here’s my suggestion: CLEAN IT UP! . . .  DO IT NOW! It’s not going to get easier later. As evidenced by the pictures above, I’m a master at making messes, so trust me on this. Your cooking, your writing, and your family will be a lot happier if you do.

And just to prove that I’m not a hardhearted wretch, I’m sharing a recipe for Valentine’s Day. It’s an old classic I loved in my childhood that’s also available in variations all over the internet. But in case some of you don’t already know about these sweet, simple treasures, I present some tartly treats.

Miniature Cheesecakes

1 box vanilla wafers
16 oz. cream cheese (I usually use reduced fat and they’re still delicious.)
¾ c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract (or almond)
1 large can cherry pie filling (or blueberries or chocolate chips, etc.)
18 cupcake liners

Preheat over to 375°. After softening the cream cheese (by leaving it out fully wrapped or microwaving for a few seconds), add sugar and beat together. Mix in eggs and vanilla until blended.

Place liners in muffin pan cups. Put one vanilla wafer in the bottom of each liner. Fill each cup one third to one half full of cream cheese mixture. (Fill all a third of the way, and then spoon in whatever is left.) Bake for approximately 12 minutes until set and slightly golden, being careful not to overcook them.

After the cheesecakes cool, spoon cherry pie filling (or topping of your choice) on each cake. (You may wish to have more than one can of cherries ready if you want yours to be extra fruity.) Serve or refrigerate until ready.
Jonathan Schkade is the author of six books for children, including Icky Sticky, Hairy Scary Bible Stories. He's also a  network co-representative for the Southern Ilinois region of SCBWI. To learn more about Jonathan, you can study his dirty dishes or visit his site:

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Garlic Chicken Stew, the Perfect Comfort Food

It's winter, and it's cold and the snow forecast for New England is looking to mess up my daughter's 7th birthday party. So I needed some comfort food last evening and I thought I'd share it with our loyal readers.

Like a good book that you reread over and over this is a recipe I cook up whenever I can't think of what to make for dinner or when it's cold out and we need something to warm us up. Comfort food at its best.

The amount of garlic, cabbage and onion in this recipe is probably extra good for you during the winter months. So enjoy!

I have fallen in love with my pressure cooker, a Fagor Rapida. I can take a frozen chunk of chicken, in this recipe, 4 thighs, and have chicken stew in under an hour. Falling-off-the-bone yumminess.
Garlic Chicken Stew with Dumplings

Garlic Chicken Stew

6 cups of water
4 chicken thighs (bone-in, with skin, but you can do any cut with or without bone)
2 ribs of celery cut
1 big handful of those mini carrots, or 2 large carrots sliced (large chunks are fine)
1 large sweet onion, white or red, diced
2 tsp dried thyme
1 head of garlic, peeled and sliced (don't chop, just slice)
1/4 head of cabbage chopped (in 1 inch squares)
Salt to taste (I use about 1 Tablespoon of kosher salt)

If you're not using a pressure cooker put everything in the pot and bring to a boil and simmer for an hour and a half then check the chicken to see if it's falling off the bone.

With a pressure cooker, put everything in the pot, bring up to pressure 15psi, and cook for 40 minutes, even if the chicken is frozen. I use the cold water release method where I put  the pot under cold running water until the pressure goes down. I don't like to wait. :)

Depending on how ambitious I am, I'll either take each piece of chicken out and take the meat off and return it to the pot, or serve it in bowls with one thigh in the bottom of each bowl.

I will sometimes add Bisquick Dumplings to the stew (I use half this recipe). This will also thicken the stew even further. YUM.

Ansha Kotyk is the upper middle grade author of GANGSTERLAND, a story about a boy, bully and magical comic book. She is a volunteer for New England SCBWI conferences (registration opened yesterday, come visit!) and is one of the hosts of #mglitchat.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Multi-Tasking: Cook While You Write Without Burning Anything

*waves* Hi there!

I know, it's been a while since I've been over here, but I'm super excited to be back! Things have just been crazy busy, and I think we all suffer a bit from being stretched too thin. What with kids, work, writing, pets, you name it!

For me, cooking is fun, if it doesn't become work. Especially if I can get oodles of other things done while I'm cooking. The easiest, least work, most multi-tasking enabler out there I've found is the slow cooker, aka crockpot.

I've made a lot of easy things in here before, pulled pork, bbq ribs, pot roast ... but when the family wanted something a bit "out of the box" for dinner the other night, and I had some serious writing goals to accomplish, I knew the crockpot was the way to go.

It was a cold wintry night and I wanted something with a little kick to keep us warm. Here's what I found to "make" all day, took me less than 30 minutes to prep, and left me with 8 hours to write, get the house cleaned up, and even sneak in an episode of Supernatural on Netflix:

Jambalaya: Slow-cooker Style

Into the pot you throw

1 box of chicken broth (you know, the tallish ones?)
1 tbls of Creole seasoning, more if you like extra spice, less if you don't
1 Kielbasa sausage, diced
3 cloves crushed garlic, more if you want
1 big green pepper, diced
1 big onion, diced
4-5 celery stalks, diced
1 can 10ish oz of diced tomatoes (my family likes extra tomatoes, so I use 2 cans)
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken, diced (I used chicken tenderloins, but breasts or thighs would work fine too)
1 cup of long grain rice*


You stir everything together, put the lid on, plug your crockpot in, and turn it to high for 8 hours.

Do some writing. Clean, if you're feeling extra motivated. I'm always pro-napping with the kidlets. Oh! And you can never go wrong with some quality time with Dean Winchester.

Then ten minutes before you serve....

Toss in 3/4 lb of peeled, deveined shrimp

Stir, replace lid, turn crockpot to Warm.

A few serving suggestions for you ... and especially involving the * above.

1) Serve in a bowl with some yummy French bread for dipping (we had a bunch of leftover crescent rolls, so I made those instead, still YUM!)
2) Serve over rice (helps with the spice for younger kids)+
*3) Add another cup of rice to the original recipe and serve up like a stew
+4) Serve with a dollop of sour cream on top also helps with spice for the kids (accidental discovery thanks to my 7yo)

I know it's not totally authentic, but my family loves it, and it gives me time to get tons of stuff done (i.e. word goals for the day!!) without having to worry about making dinner!

Hope you enjoy!