Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Quick Cook Makes Risotto

This is part of my continuing series on the Quick Cook Tips that I write about once a month in The Pinewood News, a small town paper in Munds Park, Arizona. The series, on some of those tips, let’s you see how it might play out in your kitchen. 

I’m The Quick Cook in the Munds Park, Arizona newspaper, The Pinewood News. I give cooking tips each month. I got my handle because I could put a meal on the table quickly and with little fuss or mess. Part of that is because of …

Quick Cook Tip #5: Use your kitchen gadgets and appliances.

Okay, no brainer, right? How can one cook without using gadgets and appliances? Fair enough. But do you use them in unexpected ways?

Today’s recipe is one example.

I love risotto, but I’d better not have much else going on if I’m making it because it is so labor intensive. So, much as I love risotto, in all its variations, The Quick Cook has only made it for some special occasion rather than weeknight dinners.

But, thank goodness that all changed when I saw a recipe for 30-Minute Risotto. I never would have thought to parboil Arborio rice, but it works. At the bottom is the link to the original recipe, if you’re interested. What follows is my version of this delicious, fast, and easy dish.

This risotto recipe saves me time in two ways:
The risotto is ready faster with less attention needed AND I don’t have to prepare a salad. I serve this risotto with grilled salmon and we are good to go on veggies!

You can make the recipe vegetarian by substituting vegetable broth for the chicken broth. You can serve four as a side dish or two as a main course. All the protein in it makes the risotto an acceptable “meatless” dish for the entrée.

Oh, and use a large covered dish. First time I made this, my casserole dish overflowed with boiling broth all over the microwave tray. A mess plus I lost liquid I needed.

TQC Risotto (serves 4-6 as a side; 2-3 as an entrée)

2 cups broth, divided
½ cup Arborio rice
3 tablespoons butter
½ onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
½ cup frozen lima beans, thawed
½ cup chopped mushrooms
1 large handful of fresh spinach
1 cup Asiago cheese, grated

Place 1½ cups broth in a large, covered bowl. Add rice and 1 tablespoon of butter. Cook for about 15 minutes (until most, but not all, liquid is absorbed).

About five minutes before the broth and rice are done in the microwave, sauté onion in 1 tablespoon of butter. When translucent, add garlic. Cook about 30 seconds more and remove from heat.

Add parboiled rice to the skillet along with ½ cup of broth. Heat on medium heat. When simmering, add peas, lima beans, and mushrooms. Stir thoroughly.

Remove from heat and add spinach. Mix in to wilt. Add cheese and serve immediately.

Original recipe for 30-Minute Risotto:

If you liked this recipe, I’ll bet you’d enjoy the recipes in my culinary mystery, MissionImpastable, too. Click on the title to go to Amazon for purchase.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Use D-I-YSpice Blends in New Ways

This is part of my continuing series on the Quick Cook Tips that I write about once a month in The Pinewood News, a small town paper in Munds Park, Arizona. The series, on some of those tips, let’s you see how it might play out in your kitchen.

Two weeks ago 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 by you not having to buy spice blends when the ingredients are already in your cupboard.

I have a couple of more recipes to share, and then ways to use all five of the blends. 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 month’s and this month’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 blend. 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. I could go on forever!

Any poultry-based soup
Bean soup
As a rub on chicken or pork before grilling or roasting
Steamed or grilled veggies/potato wedges
Slow cooker beef roast
Spaghetti sauce
Mixed with yogurt for baked potato topping
Mac and cheese
Beef, poultry, pork before grilling or roasting
Chinese Five-Spice
Stir fry
Beef, poultry, pork before grilling or roasting
Mix with yogurt for baked potato topping
Mix with yogurt for a veggie dip
Mix with balsamic vinegar and olive oil for salad dressing
Broth-based soups
Steamed or grilled veggies/potato wedges
Pumpkin Pie
Homemade ice cream ingredient
Side dish applesauce
Mix with honey yogurt for a fruit dip
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
Steamed or grilled veggies/potato wedges
Mix with balsamic vinegar and olive oil for salad dressing
Beef, poultry, pork before grilling or roasting
Mac and cheese

Sharon Arthur Moore writes culinary mysteries. Mission Impastable is the first in the series of novels that have both a mystery and recipes. Coming in 2015 is Prime Rib and Punishment, followed by Potluck.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Guest Post: "Mysteries are Harder to Write Than I Thought" by JoAnn Smith Ainsworth

What a delight to welcome JoAnn Smith Ainsworth, a fellow Oak Tree Press author, to share her experience in mystery writing. I think you will find this an engaging read, particularly if you are thinking of venturing into mystery writing, too! And don't her books sound like fun reads?

I'm a suspense writer. I like the quick pace, the easy-to-understand language. I like that the reader knows all that is going on in the heads of the point-of-view characters. I always include the villain as a POV character, along with the heroine and the hero.

A few years ago, I decided to try writing a mystery where I had to keep information back from you—the reader—and feed it in bit by tantalizing bit. Was I surprised! Mysteries are harder to write than I thought.

The reason the mystery was so difficult for me was because of that very point—I had to keep information back from you. I could only feed it in when it was critical for you to know. Too early and I would resolve the story’s mystery before arriving at the novel’s conclusion.

For a writer who likes to let you know every thought in the heads of the main characters, it was difficult for me to hold things back. My critique partners would throw their hands up and say to me, "JoAnn, you're bringing that in too soon. You’ll give away the ending."

Still—with the help of my friends and my critique partners, I finished writing the mystery, which is also a romance.

The Farmer and the Wood Nymph takes place in Wyoming in 1895 in a time of no fast foods. Everything eaten had to be grown, gathered, fished for or hunted. Meals took many hours to prepare.

The novel is the story of two totally opposite personalities who need to learn “unconditional” love to have any chance of a “happily ever after.”

The heroine was found wandering alone in the woods with no clues as to her family. She has a wedding ring and amnesia. The hero is a member of the posse which finds her. The mystery woven throughout the story is about finding out who she is and whether she is married or widowed. The resolution of the mystery is essential to the love story. They are both honorable people who live by their vows and the social dictates of society. Even after learning how to unconditionally accept each other’s different viewpoints and approaches to life and to try not to change one another, they still cannot plan a future—not until they know who she is and if she is a widow.

One of the tender moments of redemption in the novel takes place in the kitchen of a boarding house. Breakfast is being prepared on a wood-stoked stove and the process of new love and new understanding is woven in with slicing bread, bringing the butter from the pantry to the table and scrambling the eggs.

In those days, the dining room table was a place for conversations and debates. Hours were spent over meals or, afterward, during a board game among the residents. The novel reflects these leisurely activities.

On the other hand, my paranormal suspense, Expect Trouble, gallops along from crisis to crisis.
Every thought and action by the protagonists and the schemes in the mind of the villain are an open book for you, the reader.

In Expect Trouble, the U.S. government recruits psychics to find Nazi spies on the East Coast during WWII. All the past history, all the current action and all future plans are written out for your knowledge. All action is up-to-the-minute, present-day. It’s not a mystery. There is no need to hide facts.

What a relief that is for me as the author.

When writing a 90,000 word novel, there are enough elements to juggle and remember. Holding back on facts and feeding hints in sparsely—and even throwing in a few red herrings—adds immense difficulty for me. The Farmer and the Wood Nymph may be the only mystery I ever write.

My hat is off to those authors who can create book after book of well thought out and exciting mysteries.

My question to you is:  Have you met or heard of anyone skilled at cooking on a wood-burning kitchen stove?

When JoAnn Smith Ainsworth carried wood as a pre-teen so her Great Aunt Martha could stoke up the iron stove to prepare dinner, she wasn’t thinking, “I could use this in a novel someday.” Yet, the skills she learned from her horse-and-buggy ancestors translate into backdrops for her historical romance and paranormal suspense novels. Her debut medieval romantic suspense novels received 4 stars from RT Book Reviews.

Twitter @JoAnnAinsworth
Facebook’s JoAnn Smith Ainsworth Fan Page.

Contact her at

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Spice Up Your Cooking the Quick Cook Way

Next week, JoAnn Smith Ainsworth, an Oak Tree Press author, guest posts for us. Stop in to see what she has to say about the difficulty of writing mysteries.

This is part of my continuing series on the Quick Cook Tips that I write about once a month in The Pinewood News, (page 7) a small town paper in Munds Park, Arizona. The series, on some of those tips, let’s you see how it might play out in your kitchen.

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. Don’t spend that money on spice combos you can easily create.

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 #2
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.

2 tablespoons PPS + 1 yellow cake mix + 1 can pumpkin puree; bake at 350°; glaze with confectioner’s sugar, milk, and 2 teaspoons PPS

I will share more spice combos you can make and ways to use them in a later post. Be sure to check back!