Friday, October 25, 2013

Cooking While Writing With Abandonment - NaNoMealMo

**Photos to be added** Hopefully in focus

Well, here we are.  Halloween is upon us, which means that October is on its way out, and November is about to whip in and out of our lives in a flash!  That is, if you are participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  Thirty days of writing non-stop until you hit 50,000 words.  No editing, no rules, no outside world interfering with your inside world (if you're really lucky), and also, no good meals (if you are unlucky).

NaNoWriMo is officially one week away!  One week before the ordinary humdrum days fall away to the endless depths of your imagination.  One week before you write with complete abandonment.  One week before all established routines are shoved to the side.  One week before you start your new diet of coffee, candy, and nachos!  That is, if you remember to eat anything at all.

Now don't get me wrong, you will definitely need coffee and some chocolate to go on this quest and complete your journey, so stock up now.  But NaNoWriMo tends to be all consuming and it is a fantastic and rewarding experience!  However, in order to make it through, we really do have to remember to eat decently.  This time of year it is all too convenient for us to pick up giant bags of left-over candy at 11pm on Halloween because it is on super sale and a convenient snack.  And OMG so tasty and irresistible.  But you will burn out on NaNo quickly if you don't take care of yourself - at least a little bit.

I know, I know, you are thinking, "But when am I going to find time to cook?" and "It is so much easier to get something to go, or have pizza delivered."  Believe me, I know the feeling, and yes, sometimes it is easier, and those things are okay to do a few times next month.  But trust me, if you do that every day for 30 days, you are going to pay for it, I promise you.

"Okay, Jen, what can we cook that will be relatively quick and easy, last for several days, plus be better for us than 30 days of Gummy Bears and cheezy bread?"

Well, I'm glad you asked!  Look, I've done NaNoWriMo five times now, and I have decided to come up with some food stuffs that will get us through it without sacrificing our health.  (It's also flu season you know?  You have to keep your immune system up!)  Now, I'm not saying these are super healthy or diet kind of meals, I'm not a heath fanatic, (as you may have guessed by my cookbooks) but I know what good food is, and I know what keeps me feeling creative, alert, imaginative, and well.  I am merely sharing my plan of action for NaNoWriMo.  Feel free to come up with your own ideas and creations, but whatever you do, make sure you eat nice, full, and relatively good-for-you meals, okay?  Keep in mind that these recipes are intended to last for several days (or several meals).  That is why I chose them.  The less I have to cook during the month of November, the better.

Okay, the first thing you need to do is some grocery shopping in advance.  This is important, considering you may be overwhelmed the first week, or be looking for the perfect excuse as to why you can't write this week, "There's hunting and gathering to do," is not a valid excuse.  I'm buying a large beef roast and cutting it in half.  The first half will be used to make a roast beef meal with lots of veggies, and the other half can be frozen and used the 2nd or 3rd week for crock-pot beef n' noodles (see below).

*I purposely did not add exact measurements of the seasonings for these recipes, because most of it is to taste.  I have never measured these seasonings, I just sprinkle them on until they look and taste right.  Just do the same and you will be fine.  Remember, if you aren't sure, it is better to under season and add more as you taste and go, than to dump a bunch in right off the bat.  Hehe, I said bat.  It's almost Halloween.  Here, have a cat-bat.

Roast Beef with Veggies

1 Rump Roast, Chuck Roast, or any kind of beef cut you want to use (remember to buy large and cut it in half)
1- 32 oz. box of low-sodium beef broth
2 beef bullion cubes
2 ribs of celery (chopped)
1 small yellow onion (thinly sliced)
2 garlic cloves (peeled and crushed)
1 yam/sweet potato (peeled and cubed)
4 medium russet potatoes (peeled and cubed)
2 large carrots (sliced - don't peel) - you can also substitute for a couple of handfuls of baby carrots
Yellow summer squash (sliced into discs- don't peel)
Seasoned Salt
Cracked Pepper
Dried Parsley
Celery Salt
2 or 3 Tbls. of cornstarch (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place the roast in the center of a large roasting pan.  Place the bullion cubes, one on each end of the roast.  Next, put in the yam, carrots, celery, garlic and onion.  Pour in the beef broth.  Season the roast with the seasoned salt, pepper, parsley, and celery salt to taste.  You can always add more before the next stage begins, so don't worry about under seasoning here too much, it's fine.  Put on the lid and bake for 4 hours - flipping the roast once every hour.

I know, you're thinking, "Four hours??  I thought you were supposed to be saving me time?"  I am, trust me.  Make this once and it will last you for days.  You can make this meal the day before, or wait until Saturday morning, and start it then.  While it's cooking, go write something, then come back for stage 2.

Ok, stage 2.  Just before the time is up, go ahead and prepare the potatoes and squash.  After the 4 hours are up, pull the pan out and remove the lid.  Smells good, doesn't it?  Ok, just add in the potatoes and squash.  Give the broth a little taste.  This is where you will add more seasoning if it needs it.  I also sometimes add some water here if the broth cooks down too much, but it depends on my mood, so go with whatever you feel.  Just make sure there's enough liquid to cover the new additions of veggies.  Put the cover back on and bake for another hour.  Want some rolls with that?  Cool, bake some after you pull the roast out, but you can also save yourself some time and get a fresh loaf from the grocery. Most larger grocery stores (with a bakery) bake hot, fresh loaves of French bread each day, so pick up one of those if you can.

After the last hour is up, pull out the pan.  Now, you certainly don't have to do this next part.  Your meal is ready to eat now, but I really like this.  Lift the roast out and put it on a plate.  Then get a large bowl and a slotted spoon and scoop out all the veggies into the bowl.  Turn the stove burner on high and sit the roaster pan directly on the burner.  Let the broth that is left boil.  Get a cup and put a couple of tablespoons of corn starch in it, and add some cold water.  Stir the corn starch and water together until blended (no lumps).  When the broth is boiling, stir in the cornstarch mixture.  The broth should thicken up into a nice broth gravy.  Add more corn starch and water if you want it thicker.

I put a ladle of veggies on my plate, shred some roast beef on it, then top it off with some of the gravy. But feel free to load your plate how you want.  Now, this is a dish that really doesn't require much supervision, so you can really just throw it all together and go write.  Don't forget to set a timer each hour though so you don't forget to flip it.  This meal will feed a family of 4 a couple of times, maybe, but if it's just you or one other person, it can last for about 3, 4 or even 5 suppers and lunches.  It reheats well in the microwave and you are getting your veggies and protein.  No more cooking or worrying about what you are going to eat for a few days, so you can concentrate on writing.

I don't know about you, but after I eat beef for that many days in a row, I want something completely different, like chicken or fish.  This also might be the time you decide to order that pizza and maybe eat some PB&J sandwiches for a couple of days.  And don't forget about these guys -


Seriously, if you want something to snack on, try reaching for some of these treats instead of what you got for trick-or-treat.  An apple with peanut butter is very tasty, filling and can pep up your brain function.

Up next, one of my fav staples - Chicken Quesadillas.  I've posted recipes for this before, but it has undergone several transformations since the first time, and I've made it simpler to flip because instead of sandwiching everything between 2 tortillas and trying to flip it, I just stuff it all into one tortilla and fold it ;)

Chicken Quesadillas

3-4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (cut into chunks)
Olive oil
1 can of Rotel or Red Gold tomatoes and green chilies
1/2 of a red bell pepper (chopped)
1/2 of a green bell pepper (chopped)
Fejita seasoning
Juice of 1 lime
Taco seasoning
Black pepper
Fresh Cilantro
Flour tortillas
Olive oil cooking spray
Colby jack cheese (shredded)
Pepper jack cheese (shredded or thinly sliced for quick melting)
Cheddar (or cheddar jack) cheese (shredded)

Heat about a Tbls. or two of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add in the chicken, then lime juice, black pepper, paprika, a dusting of taco seasoning, and then sprinkle with a generous amount of fejita seasoning.  Flip chicken a couple of times and cook until golden on the outside and no longer pink in the middle.  Remove the chicken and set to the side.

In the same skillet, add a little more oil and saute the bell peppers until tender.  Add in the tomatoes and green chilies, cilantro, and a little taco seasoning (adjust this depending on how much heat you want).  If you have any lime juice left, feel free to add it in here.  If you don't, no biggie.  Stir until ingredients are well blended.  Add the chicken back into the pan.  Mix everything together and cook until heated through.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Get out a separate skillet, (the larger, the better) and set it on the burner you were just using - same temp.  Let the skillet warm up for a bit, then give the bottom of the skillet a nice dose of olive oil cooking spray.  Coat one side of a flour tortilla with the cooking spray, and lay (oiled side down) in the pan.  On half of the tortilla, layer the following: pepper jack, cheddar (or cheddar jack), chicken/pepper filling, Colby jack.  Using a metal or wooden spatula, flip the empty side of the tortilla onto the filling side to make a half circle shaped quesadilla.  Check the bottom of the quesadilla when the cheese starts to melt.  When the tortilla is golden in color, simply flip the quesadilla over and cook the other side.  When the tortilla is a bit crispy and cheeses are all melted, remove the quesadilla from the skillet onto a plate.  Cut into halves (or fourths depending on the size of tortilla you used).

Now I can usually fit 2 quesadillas in the large skillet at a time, but put however many in at a time that you are comfortable with (or that will fit).  This amount of ingredients will make several quesadillas.  What I do, is make about 3 or 4 then save whatever filling is left over to make more at a later time, or to make some fantastic nachos!  (Yes, I said nachos.  They aren't all bad, all the time.)  The filling can be refrigerated for about 4-5 days.  If you don't plan on using it by then, freeze it for later.  The quesadillas can be refrigerated, and reheated in the microwave, but they start getting a little too soggy for me after about 2 or 3 days, so figure out how many you can eat within that time period before you start cooking. Hmm, I probably should have mentioned that before the recipe :/

**You can slice up the other halves of the red and green peppers and save those to snack on.

Butternut Squash with Cheese Ravioli

This recipe was born from one of my Better Homes And Gardens cookbooks, with a few slight modifications.  It is a fantastic soup for the Autumn season.

2 lbs. of butternut squash
3 cups of vegetable broth
1/4 tsp. of red pepper flakes (or 1/8 tsp. of ground red pepper)
1 Tbls. of butter
Dash of celery salt
9 oz. pkg. of 3-cheese ravioli

Peel the squash and half it lengthwise.  Remove and discard the seeds and pulp.  Cut the squash into 3/4" pieces.  In a large saucepan, combine half a cup of water, squash, veggie broth, celery salt, and red pepper.  Cover and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes, or until the squash is tender.

Follow the boiling instructions on the ravioli.

Transfer 1/4 of the squash mixture to a blender.  Cover and blend/process until smooth.  Repeat with the remaining chunked portions, one at a time until all the mixture is blended and smooth. Return mixture to the pan and bring just to boiling.  Reduce heat.  Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes.  Add the butter and stir until melted. When ravioli is cooked and drained, put some into a bowl then ladle the butternut squash soup over the top.  You can sprinkle a bit of red pepper flakes on top for extra kick, if you'd like.

This is warm, tasty, and very filling.  Simply refrigerate the leftovers and reheat in the microwave when hungry.

EZ Crock-pot BBQ Pork Ribs with Cornbread & Green beans

This recipe is so simple, you are going to love it!  I like to use boneless pork ribs, but if you want to leave the bone in, that's super tasty too.

Pork Ribs (However much will fit nicely in your crock-pot --Don't overstuff it though, you want them to cook evenly)
18 oz. bottle of the BBQ sauce of your choice (or bigger if you have a lot of ribs)
Cornbread mix
Green beans

Boneless Ribs shown -
Plus my craptastic awesome plates!
Okay, seriously, this is easy peasy.  Open the ribs package and place them in a crock-pot.  Pour about 1/2 of the bottle of BBQ sauce over them.  Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours (or high for 4-5 hrs.).  Stir occasionally (once or twice).

During the last 15-20 minutes or so of the ribs being done, add the rest of the BBQ sauce.  Bake the cornbread according to package instructions.  I like frozen green beans because they have a very fresh flavor and a nice crisp texture after they are cooked/steamed, but if you prefer canned, that'll work too (or any veggie you would like). Cook the green beans while the cornbread is baking.  When everything is done, turn off the crock-pot, and load up your plate!

This next recipe is the only one that will most likely not yield left-overs.  If it's just for one person then you can probably get at least 2 meals out of it though.  I thought it was a good fit for this post because it is cheap and quick.  This entire meal can be prepped and cooked in about 20-25 minutes.  Make sure you prep the potatoes and start them to boiling first, so that your fish and sides will be done at the same time.

Herb Crusted Flounder with Cheese Potatoes

The fish dish

Flounder fillets
Juice of 1 lemon (optional)
Cracked pepper
Fresh dill (chopped)
Fresh basil (chopped)
Dried parsley
Dried thyme
Seasoned salt

I really need new plates :/
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Coat the bottom of a baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.  Lay the fish fillets in a single layer in the baking dish.  Dowse the fillets in the lemon juice.  Sprinkle on the rest of the ingredients.  Bake for 16 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

*For variation, consider coating the fish first in melted butter, then putting a coating of panko crumbs mixed with parmesan cheese on top.  Layer on the rest of the ingredients and bake the same way, for the same time, or until the panko crumbs are golden.  This gives the fish a more crunchy texture.(Shown in pic)

The potatoes

4 medium russet potatoes (peeled and cut into large cubes)
Celery salt
2 Tbls. of butter
Seasoned salt
Cracked pepper
Onion powder
Dried parsley
2 slices of American cheese
A few thin slices of pepper jack cheese
Shredded Colby jack
A couple of TBLS. of milk

Boil the potatoes in water seasoned with celery salt until done.  Turn down the burner to low - to medium low heat.  Drain the potatoes and add butter to the pan.  Return the potatoes to the pan and add the rest of the ingredients.  Cover and allow to the cheeses to melt.  Stir gently as to not mash them too much, but make sure it all gets mixed together well.

Don't forget your choice of veggie - this is VERY important and the most forgotten.

Crock-pot Beef n' Noodles

Okay, remember the roast, cut in half, that we started with?  This is what you do with the other half that you were saving.

The other half of the raw roast meat from before (cut into 1" chunks)
1/4 cup of quick-cooking tapioca
16 oz. pkg. of wide egg noodles
1-2 cups of frozen green beans (depending on how much room you have in your crock-pot)
32 oz. box of beef broth
2 garlic cloves (minced)
2 beef bullion cubes
Seasoned salt
Cracked pepper
Onion powder

Put all the ingredients, except the noodles and green beans, into the crock-pot.  Cover and cook for 8 hours on low (or 4 hours on high).  Add in the noodles and green beans the last 30-45 minutes.  After you add the noodles and green beans, make some mashed potatoes to ladle it over.  Yum!

<---(Hey LooK!  A picture!)

Okay, that should give you some options to feed your body and mind while you are creating new characters and amazing worlds!  I am going to post pictures on here - retroactively.  Also, I plan on adding snack ideas and casseroles for the next post, so keep checking back!

Good Luck!


  1. I'm mostly vegetarian, but I might just have to try your butternut squash and cheese ravioli dish! Thanks for making these & posting... and good luck on your novel!

  2. Hi Tessa~ You will love it! Also, you can make the quesadillas without the chicken. That's actually how I started making those - as cheese quesadillas. Just use the same seasonings, but put them all into the pan when you sauté the peppers. They are delicious! I usually serve them with some refried beans and tortilla chips on the side. I will try to include more vegetarian recipes in my next post. Thank you for commenting!

  3. Wow that's a lot of recipes in one post! They all look wonderful! Have you ever thought of adding a recipe index page?

  4. Thank you! And no, I didn't know I could do that! I'll have to check into it.