Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Quick Cook Makes Cookies

Alli and Gina have to be quick cooks to make their personal chef business a success. A huge secret of this Quick Cook is making it look harder than it is. And that comes down to preparation. Alli and Gina know that. And anyone who knows me well, knows that I make lists of the lists I need to make! My sons call me OCD, but I think that’s a bit harsh!

Being planful means that when we throw a big soiree I can enjoy the party and not be stuck in the kitchen. Being planful means it looks as if it took more time to do than it did. Being planful means I don’t run out of my hubby’s favorite cookies. EVER!

One of the ways I am planful is to prep mixes in advance so assembling the dish when needed is much faster. It takes almost no extra time to pre-measure 2 zipper bags of David’s favorite cookie dry ingredients while I am making the recipe in a bowl. Then, when the cookie jar is emptying, I can cream butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla and dump in the dry stuff faster than if I got out all the dry ingredients for measuring each time.

QC Tip #4
Keep basic mixes in the cupboard for quick cooking.

Here’s how it works. His cookie recipe makes about 7 dozen small cookies (he hates big ones). I measure out dry ingredients in my bowl. As I measure the bowl ingredients, I measure two extra zipper bags of dry ingredients (sans sugars, cranberries, and nuts) and put them in the pantry.

I mix, then bake the first batch. Freeze them. I make dough balls for the second batch to bake later. Freeze them. Then I bake the remainder to put into the cookie jar.

When the cookie jar is almost empty, I thaw the baked cookies. When those are almost gone, I bake the dough balls. When those are gone, that’s my signal to get a cookie mix bag from the pantry and begin to mix, bake, and store the cookies in different forms again.

Measure once, bake many times. It is so fast, and that’s why the boxed cookie mixes are so popular. But read the ingredients list! That is not natural stuff. Make your own cookie mixes.

I published David’s Cran-Pecan Oatmeal Cookies recipe here before, but it was a long time ago. This recipe is one that is often requested after people eat a cookie, so I am printing it again.

David’s Cran-Pecan Oatmeal Cookies (about 7 dozen small cookies)

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, softened                          
¾ cup packed brown sugar                                   
½ cup granulated sugar                                   
2 large eggs                                                     
3 teaspoon vanilla extract                                            
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¾ cups flour
2 ½ cups oats
¾ cup dried cranberries
1 cup pecans, chopped

Heat oven to 375°.

Beat butter and sugars in a bowl with mixer on med speed until fluffy.

Beat in eggs, vanilla, baking soda, and salt until blended.

With mixer on low speed, beat in flour to blend. Stir in oats.

When well-blended, add in cranberries and nuts.

Drop heaping tablespoons (or use small cookie dough scooper) 1” apart on ungreased baking sheets.

Bake 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet, then put on cookie rack.

NOTE: When using the mix as above, I cream butter and sugar and add eggs and vanilla. Then I add the cookie mix dry ingredients in quarters. After blended well, I add cranberries and pecans.

Want to support a poor, starving novelist (well, t be honest, not really starving)? Get a copy in paper of e-book of Mission Impastable. It’s packed with recipes intertwined with the tasty mystery. On Amazon at 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Meet "The Other Maria"

Mother loved my culinary mystery, Mission Impastable, and was curious about the one to follow, the one still not done, the one that should be in the editing process. Sigh.

Okay, you’re saying. Of course your mother loved your book. She even liked your erotic romance, Streetwalker (pen name Angelica French). That’s what mother’s do. They like the stuff their kids do.

Okay, I’ll give you that.

But what was really funny was how she didn’t see that I had modeled Maria, Gina’s mother (and Alli’s surrogate mother),  in part, after her. Like my mother, Maria was opinionated, bossy, nosy, and wanted to protect her children from any and all harm. She was happiest when they let her run things. Aren’t we all?

She thought Maria was a swell mom. And she is! Here are pictures of the two of them. Mother is on the right, but for Maria, scroll down on Pinterest until you see what I imagine Maria looked like. http://www.pinterest.com/authorsam/mission-impastable-story-board/

What Mother didn’t pick up on at all was Maria’s speech-mangling communication style. My mother used to take “Ibufferin” when she got too “flusterated”. She loved watching “Bobby Filet” on the food network. How could I not use that in a book?

My friends worried that I would offend her, but honestly, she never got it!

I think that is so funny because I am SUCH a word-guy! But not Mother. She simply didn’t hear language right. As a former reading teacher, I suspect her lack of auditory discrimination would have made it hard for her to learn to read using phonics. Fortunately, I had many other reading strategies in my arsenal for kids I taught who were like my mother. Phonics didn’t work. Other stuff did. I used whatever worked.

But back to Maria and Mother, I do think this brings up the issue of using real life folks as the inspiration for our book characters. It is inevitable that we are going to have archetypes and character tropes in our lives and that they show up on our pages. How we portray them, or they are perceived as portrayed, could affect our relationships.

Should be consciously strip our characters of traits in friends and family to avoid the risk of offending them? Is that even possible? I know that the real emotions and memories I have that are built around real-life relationships helps me bring an authenticity to the relationships of my characters.

So, no. I won’t try to sanitize characters to avoid the potential discomfort of my family and friends. Will I dissemble, however? You betcha! If confronted, I can always say, “Hey, you didn’t really think I was a prostitute, did you? So what makes you think that jerk is you? I know lots of jerks.”

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Food Grieving

I bought bologna at the store yesterday and hid it under some other foods so DH wouldn’t find it. I’ve even trained him to agree to my aversion of processed meats.

I fried some this morning and laid the pieces between two slices of bread with mayo spread thick. Thank goodness, I could only eat half. But I did eat half. It was awful. Not at all like my memories.

I made us fried egg sandwiches for lunch a couple of days ago, laid on top of mayo-ed bread.

It occurred to me today what was going on. I wish I had realized it yesterday and not bought the bologna. It has been decades--truly, decades--since I last bought bologna.

These are foods from my childhood. Things Mother served us. Cheap. Filling. And the fat caused us to crave more fats. Missing her in my life, I am trying to fill it with memories of her. Being a foodie, that means food memories.

I misspoke when I said these were my childhood foods. We couldn’t afford mayonnaise. Mother used “salad dressing”, a mayo-esque food product you could buy by the gallon. We called it “goo”.

I know we all grieve in our own ways and own time. I am allowing myself that luxury. But this food grieving has been interesting.

I'm hoping I don’t crave "goo sandwiches" next. That was a childhood fave. Goo between two slices of bread. Yummers!


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Everything I Know about Cooking Started with My Mother: R.I.P., Mother

As I have written before, my very earliest cooking memory, indeed maybe my earliest memory of any sort, is standing on a wooden kitchen chair stirring scrambled eggs in a cast iron skillet, the only kind of skillet we owned. Given where we were living (we had to move a lot), I’d guess I was about four. Whether I asked to do it or whether she was super busy with my two younger siblings, I’ll never know. She had no memory of this momentous occasion. Memories are tied to emotion, affect. Clearly, because I remembered it, the event meant more to me than to her.

Another cooking memory is when I was about 12. For Christmas, my favorite aunt gave me one of those twelve-bottle-spice-racks. The spices Mother used were: pepper, cinnamon, and chili powder. I was thrilled with the gift. There was something called Basil. Another was labeled Oregano. Wow! I remember so clearly Mother turning to Aunt Wanda, saying, “What have you done?”

Still, despite her trepidations (and some food discarded as inedible), she encouraged me to figure out what these bottles could do to food. But she was like that in all of our interests. Curious about something? Let’s look it up. Want to try something new? Why not? All three of us were pretty active in high school because she supported us in being in plays, joining clubs, running for class office, or being on sports teams.

But from an early age, I knew cooking was my passion, not just what you did to feed the family. Mother was as adventurous with her cooking as budget and imagination allowed. We were very poor for a good bit of my childhood. Food availability was sometimes an issue. Still, at one point, we had gardens and half a pig and cow each year when we lived on someone else’s farm and took care of his animals. No pay, but we had free rent and access to food that Mother canned like crazy.

She had food curiosity, too, so that’s probably where I got it. We were the first in our family to try fried shrimp. We made pizza, back when pizza was just hitting the Ohio farm country consciousness. And boy did those early pizza yeast doughs stink up the house!  Interestingly we had to coax other family members to try these foods we were immediately hooked on.

Throughout her life she collected recipes and we shared them with one another. We’d talk food on the phone each time we chatted. Sometimes when we were together, we’d try to cook some new recipe.

I’ll miss that.

Mother died peacefully Sunday, September 7, 2014, sitting in her chair having just made her famous Mexican Cornbread and with cherry pie fixings on the counter. I like to remember her like that. Cooking to the end. Hugs, Mother, at that big kitchen in the sky.

A related post is "Mothers and Daughters: R.I.P., Mother" is at 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Quick Cook Saves You Time and Money with Seasoning Blends

Alli and Gina, personal chefs in my culinary mystery, Mission Impastable, don’t have space to cart around a lot of little spice jars to create their culinary magic at a client’s home. They make their own combos because it is quicker to measure out two tablespoons of Italian Seasoning than to measure out teaspoons of basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and garlic powder. You can see that, I’m sure.

Last week I gave some recipes so you could use up some of those spices lurking in the dark of your pantry by combining them into spice blends. That not only saves space by getting rid of some of those little jars, but it saves money since you don’t buy spice blends when the ingredients are already in your cupboard. And, as mentioned above, it’s quicker to use the blends than to measure individual spices.

I have a couple of more recipes to share, and then to ways to the ones from last week and this week. Again, I urge you to make your own blends and not pay those exorbitant prices in the store. Yours will be fresher and better because the blends have been sitting on those store shelves for a while.

Seasoned Salt (makes about 13 tablespoons)
When you see how easy this recipe is, you’ll wonder why you ever bought the Lawry’s Seasoned Salt for a bazillion dollars.

8 tablespoons salt
8 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Mix thoroughly and store in an airtight jar.

Italian Seasoning (makes about 12 tablespoons)
I like basil more than oregano. Many of the blends have equal amounts of those two herbs, but my blend is heavier on basil. Switch it out for your preference.

5 tablespoons basil
1 tablespoons oregano
3 tablespoons parsley
2 tablespoons rosemary
2 teaspoons thyme
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Mix thoroughly and store in an airtight jar.

QC Tip #3
Use seasoning blends in new ways.

You may now have six blends, if you made last week’s and this week’s recipes: Poultry, Taco, Chinese Five-Spice, and Pumpkin Pie along with today’s Seasoned Salt and Italian.

Don’t be afraid to play with them. Smell the aroma of each. Imagine the foods it could pair with. Mix a small amount of yogurt with a bit of the spice. Taste it. Hold that flavor in your memory. Imagine it spread on or cooked in something else.

Here are some ideas to get you started using the seasoning mixes you made. Think of new ways! I could go on forever!

Any poultry-based soup
Bean soup
As a rub spread on chicken or pork before grilling
Steamed or grilled veggies/potato wedges
Slow cooker beef roast
Spaghetti sauce
Mix with yogurt for baked potato topping
Add to Mac and Cheese
Beef, poultry, pork before grilling or roasting
Chinese Five-Spice
Stir fry dishes
Toss rice or noodles with spice and olive oil
Mix with vanilla Greek yogurt for a veggie dip
Beef, poultry, pork, fish before grilling or roasting
Mixed with yogurt for baked potato topping
Broth-based soups
Steamed or grilled veggies/potato wedges
Pumpkin Pie
Homemade ice cream ingredient
Mix with honey Greek yogurt to make a dip for fruits
Flavor fried apple slices or applesauce
Steamed or grilled veggies/potato wedges
Beef, poultry, pork before grilling or roasting
Seasoned Salt
Steamed or grilled veggies/potato wedges
Beef, poultry, pork before grilling or roasting
Mac and cheese
Mixed with yogurt for baked potato topping
Mixed with yogurt for baked potato topping
Mix with yogurt for a veggies dip
Steamed or grilled veggies/potato wedges
Beef, poultry, pork before grilling or roasting
Mac and cheese

By the way, have you read Mission Impastable yet? If so, I would really appreciate you posting an honest review at Amazon. If not, think about picking up a copy at Amazon. Lots of recipes AND a mystery!