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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cooking hints (with a little guilt) for writers

Please welcome guest blogger Marilyn Larew, a writer who knows about running out of time, guilt,and shortcuts.

You’ve all heard of writer’s block. How many of you have heard of writer’s guilt? Writing is a long lonely road with few rewards unless you hit the New York Times best seller list, but we write not really because we want to. In some strange way, we write because we have to.

The guilt comes when you try to find the time to do it. All writers have chores that have to be done – cleaning the house, doing the dishes and laundry, fixing the car or the plumbing, spending time with your family and friends – and somewhere in there you have to find time to write. If you’re a writer who has a job outside the home and/or children, you have it particularly hard, because by the time you finish dinner, you can barely focus your eyes, much less write.

So you choose your poison. You can write one day or several days and do the housework for a while and write for a week. You can write for a while and do the other stuff for a week. The first leaves both jobs incomplete, and the second means you may have to read the last two chapters of your book to get started again.

In either case, you have to cook. Writing or cleaning, you can grab something out of the freezer, or you can wing it. I have a couple of recipes that I use when I’m too tired to think. Bear in mind that I’m a “put a handful of onion in and stir” kind of cook.

Quick and Dirty Spaghetti

Take a pound of ground beef or enough frozen meat balls (guilt) to feed your family; there are two of us, so I use ten meatballs, or a pound of sweet Italian sausage, or chicken legs and thighs. Sauté whatever it is. Add about a third of a large onion and a clove of garlic, if you like garlic. Keep cooking until the onion becomes translucent. Add a jar of pasta sauce (more guilt). All of this can probably be done in the time it takes to heat a couple of quarts of water and cook the spaghetti. Serve with a green salad, Italian bread, and a dusting of Parmesan cheese.

Four-Day Roasted Chicken

This takes longer, but the result is worth it. Take one roasting chicken, about five pounds, or a whole fryer, which will be about two-and-a-half to three pounds. If you use a fryer, it won’t be Four-Day Chicken. Wash it and put it in a roasting pan. Pour a cup or so of white wine over it. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, garlic powder if you like, and mesquite powder or tarragon or any other herb or spice that you like, and put it in a preheated 350° oven for an hour and a half or so. You can put potatoes, carrots, onions, and cabbage in around it if you like and you will have pot-roasted chicken.

Remove the chicken to a platter and make gravy with flour or corn starch and serve.

A five-pound chicken will last us four days. The first, obviously, straight out of the oven. Day two, cold, sliced chicken.  Day three, chicken and something—noodles, rice, over mashed potatoes (store-bought, more guilt).  Day four is soup with the carcass. My daughter’s mother-in-law once threw away a perfectly good turkey carcass, and Marie was shocked. Anyway, simmer the carcass for maybe ten minutes to soften the meat still on the bones, take the bones from the broth, cool until you can handle them, and take the meat off. Add the meat, any leftover chicken, some chicken bouillon or leftover chicken gravy, and whatever—mixed vegetables (frozen, guilt), noodles, rice, barley. Cook until whatever you have added is done, and check for seasoning. It may need more salt. Serve with a green salad and Italian or French bread.

If you have a small chicken or a large family, the chicken will not last as long, of course, but it will get you well down the week. If you get sick of chicken before you use it up, remove the meat from the bones and freeze the meat and the bones in separate packages. You’ll have a quick dinner on days when you don’t want to think very hard

If you get really desperate, there’s the old standby. Send your husband out of pizza or Chinese. If you’re lucky enough live in range, call out.

This, of course, places a larger burden of guilt on you. No pain, no gain.

In the meantime, you have been thinking of what you are going to write next, and you will leave the housework behind and sink into your chair with a sigh relief and no guilt.

Good eating and good writing.
Marilynn Larew grew up on the move, going to fourteen schools, two of them in foreign countries, before she graduated from high school. She collected three more schools before earning a Ph.D. After teaching history in the University of Maryland system, she settled down in southern Pennsylvania with her husband and cat to write thrillers that take place in foreign climes. She really does cook from recipes and collects cookbooks from around the world. She is especially fond of Asian and Mediterranean cuisines.

"Missing in Morocco"
CIA analyst Lee Carruthers resists an order to go to Morocco to find Alicia Harmon, who monitors human trafficking in Fez for the agency, until a shocking revelation turns Lee’s life upside down and makes it vital for her to find Alicia. In Fez, Lee discovers that Alicia has been asking quite openly if slave trade revenue is financing an Al Qaeda affiliate in the desert south of Morocco.
Lee follows Alicia's trail to the Moroccan-Algerian border and, pursuing a lead, visits the camel races at Merzouga, where she’s kidnapped and dumped  in the desert. Men carrying AK-47s save her from dying of thirst only to propel her into a different kind of jeopardy.

"Missing in Morocco" is a work in progress. Visit to read an excerpt.

Monday, June 25, 2012

An Easy Cool Summer Meal for Hot Days When You Want to Just Read

Please welcome guest blogger Suzanne Lily

It’s been over 100 degrees here this week, and yesterday we topped out at 106 degrees! It’s too hot to cook anything in that kind of weather. Instead of cooking, we stayed in our cool house watching movies and reading books. If that’s the kind of day you’re having, you might want to try this salad. Even my meat loving husband said I could make it again any time.
Chilled Spinach Tortellini Salad

·         1 cucumber, seeded, but not peeled

·         1 zucchini

·         1 yellow summer squash

·         1 red or orange bell pepper (Green will do, but I love the flavor of the red and orange ones.)

·         1 bunch of fresh basil

·         1 cup of cherry tomatoes

·         1 small can of sliced black olives

·         Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

·         1 bag of frozen cheese tortellini

·         3 cups of fresh baby spinach

·         ¼ to ½ cup of your favorite Italian dressing (Choose zesty dressing if you like spice.)


Boil water for the tortellini and cook it according to the package directions. When it’s done cooking, rinse it with cold water, three or four times until the tortellini is cold. Place it in a large bowl.

While the tortellini cooks, chop the cucumber, zucchini, squash, bell pepper, and basil into small pieces. Place in the same bowl with the chilled tortellini.

Pour the salad dressing over the vegetables and tortellini. Add the spinach and tomatoes and toss the salad. Sprinkle some Parmesan cheese over the top.

Serve this with tall glasses of your favorite iced drink.

Optional: If you really, really, want meat, in this salad, you can add some chopped cold chicken breast, or some chopped cold ham. Both will complement the flavors of the dish.
About Suzanne Lilly

Suzanne Lilly is a writer at night and a teacher by day, which is why she’s known online as the TeacherWriter. Her articles and stories have appeared in numerous places online and in print. She writes light romance, young adult, and middle grade novels. When not busy with words, she enjoys swimming, hiking, reading, fine arts, and cooking. She lives in California with her family and furry friends and has yet to feel an earthquake. You can follow her on Twitter as @suzannelilly, visit her TeacherWriter blog, at her Suzanne Lilly Author website, or friend her on Goodreads, and on Facebook.

 Her debut novel, Shades of the Future, published by Turquoise Morning Press, is available July 2012. What would you do if you could see your future? What you think is “the gift” may actually be a curse.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Summertime, and the eatin' is light

My idea of a great summer lunch!
In summer, I love salads--no, not tossed green salads, though I like those too--but tuna, chicken and ham salad. I have pretty much a standard recipe, with variations depending on the meat. Here's what I do:
Tuna salad: I used canned albacore that I order from the Pisces fishing company. A husband-and-wife team catch their own tuna, without nets so that dolphins swim alongside the boat. Then the tuna is canned--cooked once, in the can, instead of the usual twice, no preservatives. The result is a wonderful, mild chunk tuna. I whirl it in my counter-top blender to shred it, add the juice of one good-sized lemon--if you don't have a juicer like this, get one. You'll be amazed at how much juice it extracts
Then add two or three chopped scallions, including part of the green tops, and a generous squeeze of anchovy paste. (Don't tell you you don't like anchovies--you won't taste them directly, but it gives it  a great zing). Finish with just enough mayo to bind--better to be cautious at first and then add more if you want. What you don't want is soupy tuna salad. The picture above is tuna on a half avocado, with grape tomatoes and lightly sauteed asparagus.
Ham salad: I buy a slice of ham at the deli counter, between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick. Ham comes in pretty good-sized slices, so 1/2" gives you a lot of ham salad. I prefer a milder, boiled ham for this rather than a salty one. Again, whirl in the blender, add two or three chopped scallions and some chopped celery. Add plain old salad mustard to taste (I don't like too much) and enough mayo to bind.
Chicken salad: You can us poached, oven roasted, grilled, whatever. The other night I used a half breast that I had grilled with a white marinade--mayo, vinegar, etc. (Not sure I'd like bbq chicken with traditional bbq sauce in this.) Dice fairly small, add the juice of  half a lemon, scallions and celery, mayo to bind--and then blend in crumbled blue cheese. Delicious!

I ate dinner out almost every night this past week, so I decided on Friday and Sunday this weekend I would cook a good dinner just for me (I so often have Sunday night company), and I'd fix new recipes. On Friday night, I tried scallop and asparagus kebobs on the indoor grill--I think the outdoor grill would just have made it worse. I had bought slim, tender asparagus rather than the thick stalks--every time I tried to put a skewer through one, it split; I ended sauteeing them in a bit of olive oil with light salt; following instructions, I brushed the scallops with "herb-infused" olive oil--that means I put some basil and thyme in a bit of olive oil and let it sit all afternoon. I used medium sea scallops and threaded them evenly, but they kept sliding around on the skewers to I never got good char marks on any part. Yet it was plain they were cooked--you can tell by feel--and if I didn't take them off, they'd get rubbery. Good, but next time I'll stick to my tried and true method of sauteeing and get a little brown crust on them.
Tonight's experiment was better. I poached a piece of salmon (bigger than I wanted) in water and wine with basil, peppercorns and a bit of salt. I'm discovering this is my favorite way to cook salmon--never comes out overdone or dry. Then I chilled it. Tonight I added juice of a lemon, 1 Tbsp. olive oil, chopped cherry tomatoes, just a bit of cilantro, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne. Mixed it all up and let it chill for an hour. Good but not the best I've ever eaten. The finished product needed more salt. Maybe the best part of the meal was the half zucchini I grilled on the indoor grill. That may become one of my favorite foods this summer.
Happy summer cooking.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cooking magazines, weird food, and a great dinner

I devour cooking magazines. It's a bright day for me when one arrives in the mailbox, and I can put everything else aside to go through it. The first time through I put a checkmark on recipes I think I want to try; second time through I rip those pages out and check to be sure I haven't missed a gem or two. Then the magazine sits on my desk for a week or two, until I'm sure I'm through--maybe one more quick flip through--and into the trash. I used to save them but I ended with huge stacks all over the house and no way to find any recipe I wanted. I purged--my one regret is that somewhere along the way I lost an issueof Bon Appetit devoted to Scotland.
A magazine I won't name came the other day--let's just say it wasn't Southern Living--and I was struck by how weird some of the food was. Really, who wants a salad of bacon, onion, and peaches? There's so much praise of innovative young chefs these days that I think some of them reach too far trying to be "on the edge." Onions with a burned-onion puree (it really was black)--I have burned onions on occasion, and it isn't pretty--why do it deliberately? Tuna canned with jalpeno? Why? Can the tuna, and add jalopeno later if you want. Roast prawn soup with algae? A sub with grilled asparaagus and smoky French dressing? Come now, that's not what a sub was meant to be. It was a relief to come across Bobby Flay's recipe for asparagus salad.
By comparison, I cooked a mundane meal tonight but it sure was good. I grilled chicken (a grillmeister I'm not, and this was a huge experiment that turned out fine). I don't particularly like chicken grilled with traditional bbq sauce, but this had a white sauce of mayo, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic powder, pepper, and smoked paprika. Look for the recipe from Kraft Foods. Not sure what difference the marinade made but the chicken was moist, tender, and good. I had half a zucchini, so I split it, brushed it with olive oil, added salt and pepper and grilled it. Delicious. Served with sliced tomatoes and a lemony potato salad that is terrific.
Here's the potato salad, thanks to friend Sue Winter who brought it to a potluck supper once.

6 medium red potatoes
1 small onion, diced (I used several scallions--made it so colorful!)
1/2 c. celery, diced
1/4 to 1/2 c. finely chopped parsley
small jar of diced pimiento - color be darned, I left this out
2 tsp. lemon peel, fresh (hardest part of the whole thing except maybe dicing hot potatoes)
3-4 Tbsp. lemon juice, fresh
3-4 Tbsp. salad oil (for once I didn't use olive oil, and I think it was a good decision)
1 Tbsp. salt (don't skimp!)
1/4 tsp. pepper

Boil potatoes until tender. drain, peel and dice while warm. Add onions. Pour sauce over warm potatoes and onions to coat well. Add celery, pimiento & parsley. Chill. Serves 8.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Good food

Photo: Today's special
Chicken piccata, pesto butterfly pasta, green beans, fresh spinach and tomato.
This was my lunch Thursday--chicken piccata, bowtie pasta, green beans, and a wonderful melange of sauteed spinach and cherry tomatoes in a cup of purple cabbage. All this at Z's Cafe 2 in the hospital district of Fort Worth. Owners Janet Z. Capua and her son, Carlo, specialize in fresh, pure, healthy food and do a lot of cooking for Cuisine for Healing which provides health meals to cancer patients.  They also have an active catering business (see , but you can still find Janet in the kitchen. This day she said she wouldn't touch a paper I showed her because she had olive oil on her hands, but she told me the secret of the spinach--olive oil, garlic, scallions. I tried "spinach a la Janet" the next night but mine wasn't quite as good. If you're in Fort Worth, watch for my book signing there June 29. Come get yourself a delicious lunch--the chicken salad is classic--and also get your signed copy of the latest Kelly O'Connell mystery, No Neighborhood for Old Women.
That night Betty and I had supper at the Cat City Grill--we had a coupon, so for an amazing $20 we each had 8 oz. of chicken-fried lobster bites, a cat stack salad (like a wedge only sliced), and a glass of wine. Wonderful dinner--lobster bites came with a remolaude sauce with just the right amount of zing.
My Thursday orgy wasn't over. Tuesday night I'd gone to the Old Neighborhood Grill for meatloaf--Tuesday night is always meatloaf night and it's also when several of my neighbors gather for supper. But tragedy--they didn't get the meatloaf made that night.So Thursday night, on the way home from Cat City, I stopped to pick up a piece of meatloaf.
Had great meals Friday--half the chicken piccata for lunch and half the meatloaf for supper; Saturday, half the meatloaf for lunch and dinner at the Grill with Jacob tonight.
And then there was Wednesday--steak tartare at Sapristi's. I usually like it a lot but this was too spicy for me, maybe even too many capers. Anyway I had to have chocolate mousse to soften the taste in my mouth--a necessity, you understand.
I'm afraid to look at my checkbook or step on the scale after this week of indulgence, but I highly recommend Z's Cafe 2 (the first is in the Community Arts Center), Cat City Grill, Sapristi's, and, of course, the Old Neighborhood Grill. I"ll forgive them for one night without meatloaf but if it happens again....

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Quick and good appetizers

Faced with a potluck supper the other night, I leafed through a pile of recipes I wanted to try and came to this simple idea: spread hummus on a plate (use on small container, about 8 oz.) and cover with diced plum tomato, red onion, cuke (seeded), and feta cheese. I'm not a fan of flavored hummus--I prefer Cedar's Original, won't use the garlic--too garlicky, and avoid the artichoke-olive like the plague. I don't eat olives. Cental Market was out of original in the size I wanted, so I tried tomato-basil. Really good. I put it in a star-shaped small plate, so it was showy--and had very little to bring home.
Zucchini oven chips are a bit more trouble but worth it--mix 1/4 c. dry breadcrumbs, 1/4 c grated Parmesan (fresh, not the stuff in a green cardboard tube), a pinch each of salt, garlic powder, and fresh ground black pepper. Slice two zucchini, dip in milk, and then in the cheese/crumb mixture. Spray an ovenproof rack and put it over a cooksheet; lay zucchini slices on the rack and bake at 425 for 30 minutes. Keep a close eye for the last few minutes--they turn brown and crisp and can go from brown to black quickly. Look for this at,,10000001087041,00.html.
And finally, from Pinterest, here's the quickest salsa ever: Put all this in a blender and whirl away:
2 c. coarsely choped, rinsed, husked tomatillos (no, you don't have to cook them)
1 jalopeno (or 1 can chopped--my preference, because I'm a wimp about peppers)
2 large avocados, peeled, halved, pitted, and diced
One large slice white onion or to taste
1/2 c. chopped cilantro
3 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

Supper at my house tonight was zucchini chips (above), tomato cheddar pie, deviled eggs, and a make-ahead salad. I thought the idea of a tomato/cheddar pie sounded great, but when I read the instructions I realized I'd better make it yesterday, which I did. It was delicious but so rich that I couldn't eat much--and it was a lot of work. A biscuit-like crust that was hard to work with, a filling that alternated layers of tomato, a mayo-based sauce, and cheddar with just a bit of parmesan. My guests loved it, and the husband went home with a huge piece that he said he'd eat tomorrow. I still like the idea but think I'll look for other recipes. I have one in my file that calls for a ready-made crust. I'm not very good at pie crusts, but I can do an ordinary one. This biscuit-like one had the stickiest dough ever--next time I'd freeze it or chill a lot longer, and I'd dust it with flour before rolling it between sheets of waxed paper. No wonder the recipe said peel off carefully--half the dough went with the paper.  And I think that buttermilk based dough was one thing that made the pie so rich.  So it was a nicely conceived summer menu, my guests liked it, but I wasn't quite satisfied. Will try again.