Sunday, May 13, 2012


DEBORAH CROMBIE:  I'm at that stage of a book where the last thing in the world I want--or need--to do is cook. I've finished the two previous books in London, staying for three to four weeks in a flat by myself, eating my favorite take-aways--Indian from Masala Zone, Italian antipasti from Carluccio's--yummy things from local delis, or even carton soups and prepared meals (what the Brits call ready-meals, and they are generally much better than things you get in the US) from the supermarket. Or sometimes I'd take my notebook and walk up to my favorite Notting Hill pub, The Sun in Splendour, for fish and chips, or a pizza at Pizza Express.

But for this book, I'm home, and must feed not only myself but Dear Hubby, who DOES NOT COOK. If asked, "What can we do for dinner tonight, honey?" he will answer, "Wendy's or Taco Bell?"

One cannot live on Wendy's or Taco Bell.  Or at least I can't, although he seems to manage quite well when I'm away. So I thought I would solicit Recipes for Desperate Writers from my fellow REDS.


(Oh, and Happy Mother's Day to all you mums out there!!! I hope someone has fixed you dinner!)

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I know Hallie and Lucy will come up with some yummy recipes so I'm going to take the easier path - go to Trader Joe's! Their packaged balsamic chicken with rosemary is the best prepared food I've ever eaten. They also have very good frozen potstickers. Three minutes, a little soy sauce, nuke some frozen edamame and you're good to go.

LUCY BURDETTE:  Wendy's or Taco Bell? Oh save us from those horrible options, Debs! Here's a go-to meal that couldn't be easier: take one chicken, clean innards out of the cavity, plop in a roasting pan. Drizzle a little olive oil on top, spread it around, add salt and pepper and a little rosemary if you have it. (You can get fancy with seasonings, but we're focusing on EASY, right?) Deliver to oven and roast at 350 for about an hour and a half. You can stick two sweet potatoes in for about the same time--just scrub, prick with a knife in a few places, and set them on a piece of tin foil. Add a salad or a few spears of asparagus (we like them best roasted about ten minutes) and voila, you're done. And you have half a chicken left over to make soup or sandwiches...

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Pasta Primavera!  Get vegetables. Say--a zucchini and a yellow squash and a red pepper. Chop, toss with a bit of olive oil and basil, throw into the oven and roast for 10 mins. Or broil. Doesn't matter. Meanwhile, make pasta, drain. Here's the secret: put 3 tablespoons or so of olive oil in a bowl, add chopped garlic (you can use the kind in a jar) nuke in the microwave for 30 seconds, making infused olive oil. Dump the veggies into the pasta, dump the oil on top, mix, add Parmesan cheese and a few twists of pepper. Easy. Yum. And you can use any kind of vegetables! 

JAN BROGAN: This is even easier than Hank's, so easy that Spike, my 22-year old son, has made it a staple in his tiny Brooklyn apartment which has almost no kitchen utensils.  Buy and keep those 12-ounce boxes of frozen CHOPPED spinach in your freezer. Also make sure you have  ground Parmesan in your refrigerator.  Make a box of pasta, I like bow ties or the corkscrews, but any will do.  While it's cooking,  take the wrapping off the box of spinach, put the box on a plate and microwave it for six minutes. Drain the pasta, press the water out of box of spinach. Combine in the pot you cooked the pasta in.  (or course, you toss out the spinach box) Add a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter. A cup of Parmesan and VIOLA, dinner.

Or if you want to be virtuous, skip the butter and just add olive oil.   If you want to be fancy, you can add a small can of drained diced tomatoes, Italian spices or Oregano. Pepper. Herbs de Provence. Whatever.

RHYS BOWEN: I agree with so much of this. Roast chicken is a staple in our house--rubbed with Yoshida sauce, sitting on a bed of veggies. And with the leftovers we make chicken curry and then a thick veggie soup. For a really simple dinner I also love a big baked potato with cheese and broccoli on top.
And also a fan of Trader Joe's--Mandarin chicken, those same frozen potstickers,and a wonderful thin pizza called Tarte D'Alsace.

HALLIE EPHRON: Mmmm. Roast chicken. An hour and a half if it's small. If it's a "roasting size" (5-6 pounds), it'll need more like 2 hours. And I like to turn the heat way up to 450 when it first goes in and leave the temperature there for about 10 minutes to get the skin starting to crisp. Then turn it down to 350 for the rest of the cooking.

How about steak, tomato salad, and steamed asparagus? For the steak, quality counts. I pat fresh ground pepper into both sides of the raw meat a few minutes before cooking.

Pan seared steak: Heat a heavy pan (roomy enough for the steak) until water skips when you splash a few drops on it. Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with coarse salt. Smack the steak down in the hot salted pan and let it crust on the under side (about a minute and a half); turn it, and let it cook hot on the other side about 1 minute more. Turn the heat WAY down and cover the pan. Cook until the meat is as rare as you like it. Remove the steak. Swirl some red wine and butter in the pan and dump it and some chopped parsley and chives on the steak. What could be more delicious?

I leave the asparagus and tomatoes to your imagination. As with everything in the kitchen, the quality of the ingredients is what counts.

DEBS: You all are fab!  Unfortunately, we don't have Trader Joe's here.  But we do have CostCo, and I buy easy things like organic spinach and cheese ravioli, frozen shrimp, and jars and jars of CostCo brand marinara sauce, which is all lovely ingredients and is really cheap!

At least once a week we have whole wheat spaghetti with the marinara sauce, fresh grated Romano (CostCo again) and a salad.

I do love roast chicken in all the permutations, and you've inspired me to make my favorite this week: plop (Lucy's word:-)) a whole chicken in Le Creuset casserole, rub all over with good olive oil and chopped fresh rosemary, squeeze over juice of a lemon and add fresh ground salt and pepper; stuff cavity with another cut up lemon and rosemary sprigs.  Cook. Serve with brown rice and steamed asparagus (yes, that's a big one in our house, too) and I eat mine with preserved lemon.

And thank goodness it's grilling season.  We have a good gas grill, which makes for really easy dinners.  We have a local organic meat market (so local that the owners actually own the ranch with the cows) so we've had burgers more often lately.  There is absolutely no comparison between their meat and what you buy in the supermarket.  I think now, however, I'm going to have to splurge and try Hallie's pan-seared steak....

Or I may just pack up and move in with Hallie until the book is finished...

PS: Any suggestions from our lovely readers would be appreciated, too! And now it's back to work on the book.

PSS: The second cartoon is by one of my favorite writers, Russell T. Davies, creator of Dr. Who. Now that's inspiring.


  1. Buy one of those big ugly pork roasts with the bone inside. Salt and pepper generously. Roast in the oven on 300 until the house smells like carnitas, say four or five hours. Drain some grease, chop the roast into eight or ten chunks, and then roast for another hour at 350. Tortillas (corn or flour) with chopped fresh onion and cilantro make a very tasty man-wrap for the crispy pork. We used to called them burritos.

  2. Oh boy, that sounds delicious Jack! what time should we come?

    Yeah for Debs who made it through her JRW week while still tapping away at her manuscript...I started NECESSARY AS BLOOD last night and stayed up way past bedtime...

  3. I've serving black eyed peas, corn bread muffins, and sliced avocado with the leftovers today. Say around 5-ish?

  4. There are lots of great recipes that require very little time and energy. Here are two of my favorites:

    BBQ Beef Sandwiches (southern style):

    Cook 1 pd ground beef, drain fat if necessary. Add 1 cup bbq sauce, cook till heated through, about 4 mins. Place one scoop beef mixture on a hamburger bun or crunchy bread, add coleslaw on top, and top with second slice of bread or bun top.

    Italian Sausage with Pasta:

    Take 1 package Italian mild sausage and place in a crock pot (uncooked). Top with a jar of favorite marinara sauce (I make my own with lots of garlic!). Cook 4-6 hours according to your crock pot. When sausage is done, make pasta - penne or rigatoni, you could even use spaghetti. Add some parmesan cheese and serve! Makes great leftovers the next day too, you could even toss a sausage on a crusty roll for an Italian sandwich.


  5. Lately my go-to meal when I get home from work and it's 6pm and I'm starving and I can't think and I'm on the verge of just hoovering through the entire pantry... wait, where was I?
    Oh yeah. Bird's Eye SteamFresh Veggie & Rice blends with protein and sauce of choice. I'll dice up some turkey sausage or chicken or pork tenderloin, saute it in a little olive oil, dump in the bag of Brown & Wild Rice with Broccoli and Carrots (or whichever one trips your trigger that day), cook for a few minutes until the rice is tender and add some low sodium teriyaki sauce. Less than 10 minutes from start to finish, including fishing the stuff out of the freezer.

  6. Jack, that sounds FABULOUS! How about with a little barbecue sauce and served in a bun?

    Or sprinkle with oil and vinegar and a bit of Greek yogurt and serve in some super fresh pita bread?

  7. Jack, you've got me on that one. I'll be over five-ish... For anyone who even easier pork tacos, here's one from my daughter: Put a pork tenderloin in a crockpot, whole. Add some chopped or sliced onion, ditto garlic. A splash of good stock or broth. Seasoning of choice--I did fresh ground salt, pepper, a friend's non-msg-bloody-mary seasoning, cumin and paprika. Turn on low and cook until it falls apart with a fork. Serve with warm flour or corn tortillas, slaw, and anything else that suits your fancy.

  8. Jack, I'm definitely there!

    Debs, your daughter's sounds wonderful, too...

  9. Andrea...I love the idea of coleslaw on top..yummy!

    And JAn, we do that pasta thing too..cook the pasta, and when there's a minute or so left, add chopped fresh broccoli or spinach or chopped asparagus to the boiling water and pasta..the veggies cook instantly. Dump the water, add the infused garlic/olive oil..yum. Toss with parmesan..and if you like, breadcrumbs and bacon bits.

  10. Stir fry is one of my go-to quick meals, using whatever veggies and meats (including left-over) that might be on hand . . .

  11. Deborah, I'm happy of all the help you get with recipes when you're working for your deadline because I just finished reading No Mark Upon Her. I read a first book from you last december and had to read every other one since then. Enjoyed them all and will wait for the next one eagerly.

    I'm not a big meat's fan. So, when in a hurry, I like vegetables sauteed (easily made with frozen veggies if you have no time to wash and cut). I sometime add shrimps or serve with fish's filet.
    10 to 15 minutes max and you eat.

    Happy Mother's Day to every JRW

  12. One of my go-to meals when I'm writing, though, is get a paper hot cup, spray the interior with non-stick, drop in an egg, stir it up, throw in some broccoli/rainbow slaw from a bag, stir that in and nuke it for about a minute twenty ( a minute w/o the slaw).

    If you want a sandwich, that little scrambled egg is the right shape for a custom "(Mc)Muffin."

    Another is oatmeal loaded with fruit and nuts. I get cut fruit from the store or berries. Those big box shopping clubs have nice fruit. I'm also not above buying party platters and eating off those. A few extra cuts of the fruit and you've got smoothie makings.

    Still, I got caught after my recent surgery living on drive-thru from Wendy's and curbside take-away. The only thing that kept me out of trouble was that I had little appetite, so SuperSizing and/or Meal Deals didn't appeal to me. Thank goodness that only lasted for a week.

  13. Really, there is nothing faster than a pan seared fish filet or easier than a baked potato and steamed veggies. Since it's the clean-up part that's time consuming I like this option, since there's not much to clean up afterward.

    When I'm really in need of cooking help I send someone to the deli at Whole Foods, or even our local Safeway. No kidding. Our Safeway has great prepared foods and fresh soups and salads.

    The men in my family don't like going to Whole Foods. They think it's un-guy like. I don't get that, but I'm not aiming at looking like whatever it is they are. I think it has more to to do with football and beer, but I can't quite pin it down.

    That brings me to yesterday. I asked Scout to get something from deli. Didn't care what. Just make sure it had veggies in it. He brought me a bacon cheeseburger with fries and a shake. "I went to the deli at Wendy's. Look there are potatoes and that barbecue sauce. Two veggies. And strawberries in the shake.Two veggies PLUS a fruit!"

  14. Okay, now I'm starving! Some good ideas for me since I have to watch what I eat. I'm not really sure about Wendy's two vegetables, though ;)

  15. Debs, try these.

    Quick Quesadillas

    Layer cooked chicken of shrimp on one flour tortilla. Sprinkle cheese to cover thickly. Add chopped jalapeños from a jar or fresh, if you like. Cover with another tortilla.

    Spray a cast-iron placa or skillet bottom lightly with nonstick spray. Heat and set one side of quesadilla on hot surface. cook till edges bubble up slightly. Turn to other side and cook the same (won't take as long).

    Cut into triangles on plate and serve with salsa. Serve packaged salad with it or steamed vegetables.

    Easy Pozole.

    Into the slow cooker, put a big pork steak (it will become fork-tender).

    Add diced jalapeños from a jar (lots if you like or just the equivalent of one or two whole peppers if you don't),
    1/4 cup fresh or frozen diced onion,
    minced garlic (fresh or from a jar, again more if you really like it, less if you don't),
    1 tsp. oregano,
    1/2 tsp. cumin,
    1-4 Tbsp. really fresh, strong chili powder,
    1/2 cup salsa,
    2 cans of hominy, drained (or frozen, if you can find it),
    and 1-2 quarts of chicken broth (depending on size of your cooker).

    Cook on low heat for 6-8 hours.

    Serve with chopped fresh cilantro, lime wedges, and warmed corn tortillas.

    You'll have several delicious meals. It's even better heated up the next day.

  16. Sorry you do not have a Trader Joe's . Their frozen Paneer Tikka Masala with Spinach Basmati Rice is one of our favorites. The only Indian choice I didn't like was the Banghan Batha - which I love inthe restaurants. Dee

  17. Target now carries fresh food items and they have several fresh stuffed chicken items that are a no brainer to pop in the over. My current fav is stuffed with prosciutto, swiss cheese, spinach and red peppers. 40 minutes in the over while you simmer some Zatarain's yellow rice with 1/2 bag of frozen baby peas and you have one tasty meal.
    Diane Russom Harrison

  18. Target has started carrying fresh food items. One of our favs is the various fresh stuffed chicken breasts which cook in 40 minutes and are a delicious no-brainer. We had the chicken breast stuffed with prosciutto, swiss cheese, spinach and red pepper the other night. Yummy. I prepared a box of Zaterain's yellow rice according to the directions but added 1/2 bag of frozen peas at the beginning of the 20 minute cooking time. No fuss, no muss, good meal!
    Diane Russom Harrison