"No matter how terrified you may be, own your fear and take that leap anyway because whether you land on your feet or on your butt, the journey is well worth it."
-- Laurie Laliberte
"If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough."
-- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."
-- Anais Nin

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Holy Guacamole

I've been torn about this week's post. On the one hand, there's a post I've wanted to write for weeks that I keep putting off. Lately it seems all I've posted is recipes and recipe reviews, so I really didn't want to do that either. But it only makes sense that since Wednesday was all about avocado, I should just finish off the wave by blogging my guacamole recipe.

This one came about because after testing the two recipes I talked about earlier this week, I still had two avocados left over and I needed to use them before I had to throw them out. So I hit my favorite source for recipes (yes, I mean Pinterest) assuming I'd find a recipe for guacamole that would appeal to me. Nothing really caught my eye so I made up my own. You're welcome.

Simple, Basic Guacamole

2 avocados
1 T lime juice
½ t dry cilantro
1/8 t salt
1/8 t chili powder
dash pepper (to taste)
1 small tomato (optional)

Mash avocados
Stir in remaining ingredients
Return pit to dish (helps retard blackening of avocado)
Serve chilled

I intentionally went with chili powder instead of of cayenne because I wanted a bit of smoky flavor without any heat. If you have a good, smoky paprika, you can always use that instead. This guacamole is more smoky/sweet; it's not intended to be spicy.

Also, I threw in the tomato because I had one left in the fridge that needed to be used, but I decided I really don't love tomato in my guacamole.

Happy (not) Cooking!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Two Avocados and a Chicken

Okay, I completely cheated on these two because I didn't actually follow either recipe to the letter. However, I was in the ballpark in each case.

Here goes . . .

One of my favorite foods in the world is chicken salad, but I'm allergic to soy. Anyone in the know understands that means no mayonnaise. Now, a little mayo, once in a while, won't kill me. Heck, it won't even affect me, but more often will give me a rash, and regular use . . . let's just say it isn't pretty. So, when I saw the recommendation that I could replace the mayonnaise in my beloved chicken salad with avocado, I was all over it.

By the time I reached the produce section at WalMart, I was exhausted and my cart was so full, I couldn't fit anything else into it. (For the record, I bought way more than just groceries that night and the produce section was my last stop.) I just wanted to get out of there and go home. Nearly two weeks later, my fridge, freezer, and pantry are still packed full. I may not need to buy groceries until Valentine's Day.

Anyhow, since I doubted I would use green onions in anything else, and I already had a bag of white onions intended for other recipes, I decided to skip those green onions. By the time I got to making the chicken salad, I had decided to skip the onion completely.  Here's what happened:

I poached the chicken in chicken broth (my favorite way to poach chicken--the flavor is amazing). After I let it cool and ran it through the food processor, I mixed it with the mashed avocado and about a tablespoon of lime juice. Then I gave it a quick taste.

That, my friends, was when I decided to abandon the recipe. You see, I'm not a huge fan of onion in my chicken salad, so I decided to just make it the way I love it: some chopped celery, salt, pepper, and chopped garlic. Normally I'd use garlic powder, but I hadn't yet found the garlic powder I packed. (Yeah, I know it seems strange that I brought garlic powder all the way from Boston, but it was crazy cheap, so I bought a big container of it right before I moved because I use so much of the stuff.)

The verdict: I've read that avocado can be used as a substitute in many recipes. Now I'm willing to try it just about anywhere. Oh, and pretty soon, I'll be posting my own recipe for guacamole.
I totally stole this photo from Becoming Betty's blog

In all honesty, the reason I pinned this one was for the vinaigrette recipe, and I was less than impressed. Too much oil. I'm not a fan of oily dressing. Next time I try it, I'll replace a tablespoon of the oil with an extra tablespoon of mustard. When I threw the salad together, I did just that: I simply threw together whatever raw veggies I had in the fridge, plus some poached chicken breast that I cooked when I made the chicken salad and, of course, some avocado.

Still, the combination in the original recipe looks yummy, so it'll find it's way onto my plate at some point.

Happy Cooking!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Next Big Thing

So we all know I'm not a huge fan of these chain blog things, but my pal Toni Dwiggins rarely asks me for anything, so when she does, there's a 99.999% chance that I'm going to say yes.

That said, this Next Big Thing thing is actually kind of a fun idea. The deal is that I send you back to the blog of the person who tagged me (she's awesome, so read all about her book, the latest in her forensic geology series); then I answer a few questions about my latest book (I can do that); then I send you forward to a group of my friends.

Problem is, I was apparently not persuasive enough to get five of my writer buddies to participate. Oh well.

Here's the link to Toni's blog: http://tonidwiggins.com/page3.php

And here's my series of questions:

What is the title of your next book?
I actually don't yet have a "next book" in the works yet. I've floated ideas back and forth with a co-writer, but nothing strong enough to even talk about has materialized yet. Therefore I'll answer the remaining questions based on the one book I do have out there, Strange Kisses, which is a collection of shorts.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
A friend suggested I should write some erotica. So I did.

What genre does your book fall under?
Some people would call it erotica, some romance, I fondly refer to it as "straight-up porn."

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Heh, I have a feeling it would be a direct-to-video release. I never intended for my characters to be specific people, so they don't really have physical descriptions. The intention was to allow the reader to imagine whomever they wanted in each role.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
It's a quick, fun read designed to get your blood pumping, but there's a depth the average reader doesn't see.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I self-published it, more as a challenge to myself than anything else.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
The short story that sparked the whole thing hung around for years, but when I decided to pull together an anthology, start to finish, maybe about three months. Because I'm primarily an editor, my own writing tends to get stuck on a back burner while I'm busy working everyone else's writing. (But I'm not complaining. I love editing.)

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Surprisingly, my influences don't necessarily come from my genre. There's Safe With Me by Shaina Richmond, but our styles aren't that similar. My biggest influences come from the writers for whom I edit. William Vitka and Tony Healey both affected the way I string sentences these days and they both write sci-fi/horror/pulp.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Aaron Bloom gave me the nudge I needed. He sort of planted the seed that got me thinking I should just go ahead and do it.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It's absolutely filthy, like, Fifty Shades filthy, but the difference is that I know better than to release a book without having it properly edited first.

Now, visit a few of my buddies:

Joshua Unruh

Tony Healey (Yeah, Toni D. got to him first so this is a total cheat.)

William Vitka

If anyone else gets back to me, I'll update. Until then, pretend I can't count to five. I'm an editor, not a mathematician.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"I Totally Made Yogurt!"

Those were pretty much the first words out of my mouth when I woke up yesterday morning. I was so excited I nearly cried.

Okay, just for clarity, let me take you back to the beginning . . . It was only about two weeks ago that I tried plain yogurt for the first time. I had a couple of recipes that called for sour cream and decided to go with the plain, nonfat, Greek yogurt as a healthier substitute. I absolutely fell in love with the stuff. I knew I had pinned a yogurt recipe or two, so I put the ingredients for them on my shopping list and figured I'd test the recipe the next time I shopped for groceries.

The big secret ingredient? Milk. That's it. Cross my heart. You have to have a slow cooker and a couple of towels or a blanket. But pretty much all you need is milk. Oh, and half a cup of plain yogurt. Make sure it's the kind that has live cultures in it (I think they all do, but just in case). Then go here. Now follow all of Stephanie's instructions. I started around 4:00p.m. on Monday and let it go overnight.

I awoke Tuesday morning to the richest, creamiest, tastiest yogurt I've ever tried. I'm sure that's got to do with the fact that I used whole milk. You see, I was afraid I wouldn't get great results, so rather than take the chance of trying any alternatives, I went with Stephanie O'Dea's basic whole milk version. I'm no chicken in the kitchen, but this was just a completely foreign concept to me, so I played it safe.

However, I did buy almond milk specifically so I could try making a dairy-free version. I was very tempted to pick up rice milk and coconut milk as well, but, long story short, my cart was way too full by the time I hit the dairy section. I promise an update after the dairy-free experiment.

In the meantime, try your homemade yogurt as a substitute for the sour cream in this recipe. I sort of cheated because instead of grilling the chicken, I poached it in canned chicken broth (because I needed to poach some chicken for another recipe anyway) and I just wasn't up to pulling out the fry pan to saute it or sticking it under the broiler. (I don't have a grill.) Besides, it's not so much the chicken that's the star of this show, it's the fruit.

The verdict on this one isn't as exciting. I would definitely make this for a crowd. The dressing is fabulous and it's a nice alternative to the typical berry coulis or vinaigrette, but I really prefer my fruit salad completely naked. Although, I would consider stirring the dressing into a cup of plain yogurt. Maybe that can be Wednesday's breakfast.

Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I Still Don't Own Cookware

I know. No, the irony is not lost on me. One of the things I did before I left Boston was place a WalMart order for many of the items I would need when I arrived. It was timed so that it would hit me within a day or two of my arrival. I figured I'd eat out the first night or two anyway, so I'd be able to settle in a bit before I had to actually cook for myself.

Well, I forgot I was traveling during the holiday season and maybe, just maybe, things might sell out before my order was picked. That's exactly what happened.

I cheaped out on certain items, like cookware and knives, because they're the most important tools to me and when I buy them for real, I intend to purchase top notch (as I always have). Meanwhile, I figured I'd live with the throw-away stuff for a few months. Hence, the order for housewares from WalMart rather than Macy's.

On the other hand, I decided to treat myself to a really good slow cooker because even the cheapest of the cheap last quite some time and it would just be a sin to buy a "disposable." No, I didn't get the Ninja, but I probably will if I decide to upsize from a tiny studio to a full-sized apartment with a bigger kitchen.

Anyhow, the knife and cookware sets I chose were out of stock when I ordered them. No big deal. I could pick up the same sets in-store when I did my grocery shopping, right? Weeeeellll ... I decided to just grab a three-piece knife set with only the basics. It cost me almost nothing and I figured I didn't need more than that for now.

But cookware ... All those years selling housewares turned me into the biggest cookware snob. When I actually looked at, and handled, the pans I had initially chosen, I was so happy I hadn't been able to buy it. It was way worse than junk. I picked out a different set that cost only a few dollars more, but after spending over four hours at WalMart (long story short, I shopped for a LOT of items that night, including groceries), I was in no mood to lug it home. I figured I'd make do with the crock pot, microwave, and toaster oven for a few days and simply order the cookware online (yay for free shipping). It's due to be delivered some time today.*

Of course, since I haven't been able to boil or saute, I've had to be resourceful. Thankfully, I was wise enough to ensure that I purchased ingredients for several slow cooker and oven recipes I wanted to try. In fact, only one or two of the recipes on my list required any sort of stove-top preparation, so I postponed them temporarily.

Anyhow, I have two recipes and one fabulous tip to share with you this week (links are in the titles):

This technique is supposed to produce excellent, crispy, golden brown fries. Meh. I didn't see any major difference between the way I normally make my own oven fries and following this procedure. I did follow it pretty much to the letter just so I'd be sure to come up with results based on the changes vs. my usual method. I found the cooking time needed to be much longer in order to get the potatoes to crisp. It also uses more oil than I normally would.

The verdict: I'll go back to the method I've used for years. It works for me. I will also post my own method soon, but not just yet, because I'm trying to work a way of seasoning the potatoes without using the processed crap (packaged onion soup mix) that I usually use while still getting that flavor.

I kept the meal itself simple. I just microwaved leftovers that I'd packed in the freezer and threw together a side salad. (BTW, for the dressing on that salad, I mixed a little Italian dressing with the honey mustard sauce from last week's post and, YUM!)

I swear if this chicken were a man, I'd marry it.

No, that's not really what this recipe is called, but it may as well be. It is unbelievable! I did not tweak it at all. The only change I might make is to double the amount of chicken OR serve it over rice to catch all of the amazing sauce it makes. Seriously, this sauce is so good, I could drink it. Actually, I think the recipe says to oil or grease your crock pot before you put the chicken in, but I didn't and I had zero problems with cleanup. I had to freeze the leftovers immediately because I didn't want to end up in a food coma.

I actually paired the chicken with baked sweet potatoes and a side salad. An excellent choice, I might add. There was so much sauce that I didn't want to waste, so I put it in a container in the fridge and had it a few days later with just a left-over sweet potato. When I say amazing, I mean A. May. Zing! This recipe alone is reason enough to buy a slow cooker. Make sure it's a 6-quart. As I already stated, you could easily double the amount of chicken (and bacon, of course) without needing to double the other ingredients and still prepare it in a 6-quart cooker. However, if you decide to upsize any more than that, go with an 8-quart.

So what would I do if I decided to tweak it? I'd throw chunks of onion in there. That sauce would be even more fabulous with a large vidalia or a couple of medium yellow onions.

Also, the cook time is perfect. My chicken was basically still frozen when I put it in and it cooked on low for about 7 hours. It came apart with a fork, just like the best pulled beef or pork does.

One of the reasons lettuce and tomato were on my grocery list this time around was that I haven't had a BLT in ages. I'm not kidding; it's literally been about 20 years. I figured if I was going to wrap chicken in bacon and end up with a few slices left over, I may as well make myself a sandwich. Well, duh! I didn't buy bread. I did cook up the rest of the bacon after basket weaving it per this tip. In fact, I broiled it, then I drained it thoroughly and froze it. I still ended up with a couple of stray slices, so I crumbled them and used them on a huge salad for lunch one afternoon. However, the woven slices look too good not to use in a BLT or club sandwich.

Happy Cooking!

*Remember, I pre-program my posts, so I haven't lived without stove-top cooking as long as it may appear.
**OMGWTFBBQ is the title of chapter 7 of my friend William Vitka's first novel, Infected.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Better Late Than Never?

Farewell, Boston
Those of you who follow me in places other than this blog already know I've been a bit overwhelmed lately. Unfortunately, that has affected my blog posts. For those of you who only see me here, I offer a (not so) quick update.

On November 28, at approximately 9:20 a.m., I boarded a plane in Boston and headed west. Destination: Oklahoma City. This move has been in the planning stages for about nine months. It began as a joke, an offhand remark that suddenly sprang to life as a Good Idea. You see, my dear online friends, (authors) Joshua Unruh and Courtney Cantrell both work for, and publish through, a nonprofit known as The Consortium. I don't want to go into too much detail, but I will be working with them which was the major reason for my packing up and moving half way across the country.

The move itself wasn't as difficult as it may sound. I didn't have a ton of stuff I really wanted or needed to keep. Basically, I packed seven boxes and three bags. Two days before my flight, I ran to the post office and shipped those seven boxes to Josh, then I ran away on my Grand Adventure.

We took off on time (9:40) and landed in Dallas/Fort Worth about thirty minutes early. If you know me and my travel history, you know this is crazy. I'm always the one who gets pulled out of line by the TSA. I'm the one who gets patted down, bags checked. And I'm the one you should blame when your flight is delayed. I have yet to complete a journey without incident. So I was floored, after purposely making sure I had a four-hour stopover in Dallas, to find that I didn't need to build in that extra time.

Of course, my flight from DFW to OKC was delayed by ten minutes. Had it been longer than that, I may have been really annoyed. Why? Total cruising time on that flight is only thirty minutes. It takes longer to take off and land than to actually fly from Dallas to Oklahoma City. So why did I bother? Because I couldn't find a nonstop flight from BOS to OKC and my other option was to fly through Chicago. (Heck no. Not at this time of year.)

Anyhow, Court and Josh, along with their kids and Josh's wife (aka his "Senior Partner"), met me at the Will Rogers airport and helped make that day my best birthday ever. (Thanks again, gang!)

The Boston good-bye was tearful, but I'm settling in pretty well here and finally beginning to find more of a routine. As grateful as I am to the friends with whom I've lived for the past three years, I needed this change. I really need to live alone again for at least a little while. And I'm already enjoying the change of scenery. Of course, I've been way too busy to really miss anyone or anything yet. It still feels as though I'm on a working vacation or something. That reminds me; I've got work to do.

So that's why you haven't seen my regular post for the past few weeks. As I settle in further, the blog will get back to normal. 

Meanwhile, I've begun a new blog feature: Wednesday morning Pinterest recipes.

Hello, Oklahoma City

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

New Home, New Kitchen, New ... Blog?

Okay, no, not really. Just a new blog feature. I've been toying with this idea for a while and my obsession with all things Pinterest has fueled my desire to cook. Not just cook, but to try new things.

I have about 1500 recipes pinned in my Pinterest boards. They are in desperate need of organization. But why organize when I haven't tried them? They will simply sit in their virtual cages collecting virtual dust until I decide I need to try them out.

So what's my solution? Simple: I'm going to begin testing them, one or more at a time, until I decide not to do it anymore. What do you think of that? So my plan is to try one or two new recipes each week and post the results here for all the world to see. Then, as I try each one, I will categorize the keepers and delete the rest.

"But," you ask, "what of the brilliant posts we rise early to read every Sunday morning? What shall we do without them?" Fear not, faithful readers; I will not abandon you. Although I have taken the past two Sundays off because I've been packing and moving half way across the country (more on that this weekend), I will continue with my usual fun Sunday morning treats including the occasional crochet pattern, original recipe, and shenanigans in the world that is independent publishing.

Enough set-up. Let's talk turkey. Specifically ground turkey. I literally just moved from Boston to Oklahoma City with three carry-on-sized bags. Any of my other possessions, I packed up and shipped via USPS to a pal here in OKC. I'm in a small, temporary, furnished location with a full, but small, kitchen for now. So I've had to purchase all brand new kitchen items. I still don't have dishes or cookware.

What I DO have is a crock pot, a (provided) microwave, and a toaster oven. So I CAN slow cook, nuke, and bake. PERFECT! Therefore, the two recipes I want to share with you this week are quite simple and take a minimum time investment.

Prep and Forget Turkey

First, is one that I talked about on the blog a few weeks back. It is truly my favorite slow cooker recipe (so far). I must give credit to my BFF for turning me on to it. As I've mentioned in the past, She's got a great nose for finding simple, great tasting recipes that take very little time.

I did tweak it just a bit, but the tweaking was completely unnecessary. You'll find the pin here. It's essentially Thanksgiving dinner in the crock pot, and easily one of my favorite comfort foods. Also, compared to most comfort foods, it's quite healthy, and a well-rounded meal.

So, what did I do to tweak it? Here's the list:

  • Instead of using the traditional veggie mix, I used a mix of frozen broccoli and cauliflower
  • I chunked the onion rather than chopping it fine
  • I chopped up and added a huge stalk of celery because I had it in the fridge
  • I used a tablespoon of barbecue sauce in place of the teaspoon of A-1 (I can't stand A-1)
  • Instead of turkey stuffing, I went with corn bread
  • I got off to a very late start, so I cooked it on high for 4 hours instead of low for 6-8
The verdict: I still love it. The next time I make it, I may substitute pearl onions for the chopped onion. I found the cornbread stuffing wasn't quite as good as the basic, everyday Stove Top, but it's better for me as I should be on a gluten-reduced (if not gluten-free) diet, so I will probably continue to use it even though I prefer the traditional. And, I will make sure that from now on I have a full eight hours for the cooking time. Everything was cooked satisfactorily, but the stuffing didn't pick up as much moisture from the steam in the pot as it does when cooked on low. The leftovers were much better than that first night.

What of those leftovers? I doubled the recipe, so there are TONS. So I packed most of them into individual containers and froze them for nights when I'm in no mood to cook.

A tip about the size of your slow cooker: If you're making a single shot of this (which easily serves six), use a four quart or smaller cooker. If you're doubling the recipe, use a six quart or larger.

This photo was totally stolen from the original blog post for this recipe click the pic to go there 

In spite of my love of chicken nuggets, tenders, and strips, I've never had Chick-fil-a and probably never will. I happen to love the Tyson Crispy Strips and will have them occasionally, but this sauce is definitely one that is great for chicken cooked any which way you want to serve it. (I'm thinking grilled strips to cut the bread and therefore, the gluten content.)

The tweaks were unintentional, but here they are:
  • I had no actual garlic powder, so I used onion powder instead
  • I also used chopped raw garlic, about half a clove to make up for the missed garlic flavor
  • I kept the salt to a minimum, just a pinch rather than really salt it up as most restaurants would
The verdict: YUM! This will be my go-to honey mustard dressing-type thing from now on. However, I will use a blender or food processor to mix it rather than just a spoon or fork. It came out too lumpy from the mayonnaise not wanting to mix well with the other ingredients.

I kept it simple, opting to serve the chicken with a huge salad rather than the oven fries I originally intended to make.

So there you have it. Are there any Pinterest recipes I MUST TRY? Give me a shout in the comments below.

Happy Pinning!

Added 2/23/13: I had dinner this evening at Chick-fil-A for the very first time and that copycat sauce is spot on!