Sunday, August 24, 2014

Spice Up Your Cooking the Quick Cook Way

We eat pretty well. I am always trying out new ways, spices, and food combos. DH would eat--literally--the SAME thing every day. Thank goodness I came into his life decades ago or he’d be a frozen potpie by now.

So, sure, I can oven-roast or grill a chicken thigh. But, when I put one of my rubs on the thighs, they are elevated to company-quality. And I don’t even have to have company. I can treat my husband a meal that tastes like I spent forever cooking. But I didn’t. I am a quick cook.

One thing about spices is, unlike honey, they don’t last thousands of years. Do they go “bad”? No, but they do lose potency. Your cupboard is probably like most of American kitchens: lots of little spice bottles and cans that you used for one recipe. Or specialty spices like “pumpkin pie” or “taco seasoning”. But here’s a Quick Cook Tip: Don’t do that anymore.

You can save money--by combining the spices and not throwing them away.

Right now. Take all your spices out and line them up alphabetically. Identify which spices you have that you can use in these recipes. If you don’t have some, fine. Omit them. It will still be tasty.

Then mix up the combos, store in labeled airtight containers, and use them up finally! You’ll have a lot more cupboard room. Next time I’ll give some recipes for using your new mixtures. Below are ideas for Pumpkin Pie Spice (PPS).

QC Tip:
Always keep some basic seasoning mixes in the cupboard for quick cooking.

Poultry Seasoning (makes about ¾ cup)
You’ll never use that sage or marjoram again, so give them new life here:

2 tablespoons parsley
1 tablespoon sage
1 tablespoon rosemary, crushed
1 tablespoon marjoram
1 tablespoon thyme
1 teaspoon celery seed
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon onion powder

Taco Seasoning (makes over ½ cup); avoid the sugar & thickener of commercial taco seasoning.

2 tablespoons chili powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, crushed
½ teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
3 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper

Chinese Five-Spice Blend (makes about ¼ cup)
2 whole star anise
2 teaspoons peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 cinnamon stick, broken in fourths

Toast the anise, peppercorns, and fennel in small skillet over medium heat until fragrant. Toss in seeds and cinnamon stick. Cool. Grind to a fine powder.

Pumpkin Pie Spice--PPS (makes about ½ cup)
2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp ground cloves

Use your PPS in:
Rub 2 tablespoons mixed with olive oil to make a paste onto 4 chicken or pork pieces and grill as usual.

Add to your favorite pumpkin soup or pumpkin pie recipe.

Cut up two Honeycrisp or other tart apple. Toss apple slices with 1 tablespoon PPS and fry in 1 tablespoon of butter as a side to pork or chicken.

Mix 1 tablespoon PPS with 2 cups confectioner’s sugar, 1 package cream cheese, ¼ cup honey or vanilla Greek yogurt, 1¼ cup pumpkin puree. Serve with pear and/or apple slices and crackers or graham crackers.

1T PPS + 1 yellow cake mix + 1 can pumpkin puree; bake at 350°; glaze with confectioner’s sugar, milk, apple cider mix, 1 t PPS

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Quick Cook Shares Some Recipes

I am a cooker. I love food--read about it, look at pix, write about it, watch Food Network shows, and create it. My Dear Husband (DH) says he’s always impressed with how fast I can put a meal on the table. He calls me The Quick Cook.

I am going to use some of these posts to share tips and recipes with you. I may love to cook, but I’m not going to be stuck cooking all day for an ordinary dinner.

Some of you may have figured out that my protagonist Alli, in my culinary mystery series, shares some traits with me. One of those traits is impatience. Neither Alli nor I are tied to cooking rules, and that includes rigid measuring of ingredients. A little more, a little less. What’s the difference? Except in baking. I am pretty good about keeping good measurement with baking. That’s chemistry.

So let me share some Quick Cook Tips with you so you know how Alli and I can serve meals so quickly.

QC Tip:
Always keep some basic mixes in the fridge for quick cooking.

Two mixes are always in my fridge, ready to use and to take an ordinary meal to beyond itself. Trust me. Anything made with either will make people think you worked harder than you did.

Savory Butter
1 cup butter
½ bell pepper, diced (one color, or a mix--red and green is nice for Christmas)
2 green onions, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced

Pulse the butter, peppers, onion, and garlic in a mini food processor until finely
chopped. After use, cover and refrigerate.

Using Savory Butter:
Use as a spread on grilled bread.

Spread over the gills of a Portobello mushroom and grill. Make a sandwich or cut into pieces for an appetizer.

Put a tablespoon on your cooked pork or steak before serving.

Savory Butter can also be used to sauté veggies or mushrooms to be a side dish or appetizer. Let folks put a schmear on crackers.

Cream Cheese Spread
8 ounces cream cheese (low fat okay)
3 tablespoons prepared horseradish (not creamy)

Soften cream cheese at room temperature. Vigorously stir in horseradish. After use, cover and refrigerate.

Using Cream Cheese Spread:
Make wraps by spreading Cream Cheese Spread on a flour tortilla. Layer on baby spinach and thinly sliced meat. Place a string cheese stick on an edge and roll. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Eat like a wrap sandwich or slice for appetizers.

Cut slivers of veggies and fruits to dip into Cream Cheese Spread. This will surprise people! The sweeter the fruit, the more contrast there is.

Mix with cooked, hot hamburger and serve with crackers for an appetizer.

Mix with mushrooms and sauté in a skillet for a side to meat or as an appetizer.

I hope you enjoy these little spreads that I keep on hand. With them I can make fast appetizers when folks drop by, whip up a dinner side, or perk up the meat. Now that’s quick cooking!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Desserts for When the Livin' is Easy

Alli and Gina have to feature recipes in one of their upcoming culinary mysteries! Now which book? Maybe the recipes could be in Ancient Grease. Or maybe I could feature desserts in Doughmestic Dispute or I Scream Murder.

I can see where Berried Alive has possibilities, but I don’t want only fruit recipes. Hmm! I think I’ve got it! Devil’s Food Wake (a witch story with the murder of a coven member) would be a good book for dessert recipes. Glad that’s settled!

Now who doesn’t like dessert? DH is mad for chocolate. Even more than my women friends, so I make lots of chocolate desserts. Given how hot it is in Phoenix these days, I especially appreciate desserts that don’t heat up the kitchen. Here are three for you! The first uses avocados as the base for pudding. Weird? Maybe, but it is tasty! The second is a one-minute microwave cake that is too easy! And the third is even healthful!

Imagine what else you could put in to modify the basic recipe. I’m going to use Greek Honey Yogurt next time instead of the cocoa powder. I’ll leave off the caramel and sea salt but add chopped pistachios (since it will be greenish). It will serve more people and should be yummy with fresh fruit on top or served on pound cake.

Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Avocado Pudding (4-6 servings)
3 ripe avocados, in food processor
1/2 cup honey
6 tablespoons dark chocolate cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon caramel syrup per serving
Sea salt to taste

Beat until smooth. Refrigerate in mixing bowl or individual dishes for an hour.

Put into serving dishes (if not already), top with caramel and sprinkle with sea salt.

You know me, I’m not much on pre-packaged food stuffs, but I have made an exception for this too-easy microwave cake recipe for when I need a dessert in a minute. I also do sometimes make my own cake mixes for microwave cake, just so you know.

For my own mix, I use Ethan Adeland’s recipe that I published here a few years ago ( You can follow him @EthanAdeland or at

But for quicker and easier, try:

One-Minute Chocolate Microwave Cake
1 box Angel Food Cake Mix
1 box chocolate cake mix

Thoroughly combine the two cake mixes and store in a gallon zipper plastic bag.

To make a single serving:
3 tablespoons cake mixture
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon mini-chocolate chips
1 teaspoon finely chopped nuts

In a 12-ounce mug, thoroughly mix cake mixture with water. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.

Microwave on high for one minute. Let sit for five minutes.

Serve as is or top with more mini-chocolate chips, ice cream, whipped cream, or fresh berries.

You've seen this third one floating around the Internet recipe sites, I'm sure. No real recipe so just make sure you have the ingredients on hand.

Frozen Chocolate-Nut Bananas (serves 2)
1 very ripe banana
Mini-chocolate chips (maybe 1/2 cup)
Finely chopped nuts (maybe 1/2 cup)

Cut banana into four equal sections cross-wise. Roll banana in nuts, pressing into the banana flesh all around and on ends. Roll in mini-chocolate chips, pressing into banana flesh all around and into ends. Wrap in foil and freeze for a few hours until solid. Serve as a finger-food dessert. (To make it easier or less messy to eat, before freezing, cut each of the four sections into bite-sized chunks and serve with toothpicks after frozen.)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Food Quotations--Part II

Did you enjoy the post in June on food quotations? ( I hope so because there are more today. You may wonder why I collect food quotes. Maybe because I need something else to do? Nah! That ain’t it!

I sprinkle food quotes into my Twitter feed periodically. People like quotes and often retweet them, thus giving me higher visibility. That’s good for an author!

Food quotes can be very funny or, conversely, profound. In quotes, I often see layers of meaning like tiramisu, with soft spongy stuff interspersed with gooeyness and then solid chunks to chew on. For example, Charlie Brown said,:
       “Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love.”
Now that’s a simile everyone can relate to!

Or how about:
“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at
all.”  ~Harriet Van Horne

Imagine the implications of this quote. What does “with abandon” really mean? Would you ever, truly jump into love without considering consequences? And what might be the consequences?

Thus, you can see how food quotes create situations and suggest characters that can enrich your writing. I can see a scene, quite comedic, based on the Jay Leno quote: 
"I went into McDonald's yesterday and said, 'I'd like some fries.' 
The girl at the counter said, 'Would you like some fries with that?' "

Or perhaps you can see a rushed sex scene based on this quote from James Beard:
“A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch.”

For sure I can see a plot line from Ernestine Ulmer’s saying. Someone grabs at life and experiences it all. Screw delayed gratification!
“Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.”

Enjoy these and imagine how one or more might play out in your manuscript!

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. ~Virginia Woolf

Food without wine is a corpse; wine without food is a ghost; united and well matched they are as body and soul, living partners.  ~Andre Simon

They go together like chocolate and peanut butter.  ~Paul Sagawa

A plentitude of peanut butter and a dearth of hot mustard. ~Patrick Dean

Food Quote: Peanut butter is the pâté of childhood.  ~Florence Fabricant

Food Quote: Do you want to make a tamale with peanut butter and jelly? Go ahead! Somebody will eat it. ~Bobby Flay

What is food to one man may be fierce poison to others. ~Lucretius

The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook. ~Julia Child

Sex is good, but not as good as fresh, sweet corn.  ~Garrison Keillor

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.  ~M. F. K. Fisher

Fish, to taste right, must swim three times – in water, in butter and in wine. ~Polish proverb

Do vegetarians eat animal crackers?  ~Author Unknown

It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate – you know someone’s fingers have been all over it.    ~Julia Child

I don’t even butter my bread; I consider that cooking.  ~Katherine Cebrian

What are some food quotes that tickle your fancy or inspire a story line or give you a life insight you didn’t have before? Please share in the comments below. I’m always on the lookout for new quotes!