Thursday, May 16, 2013

Recipe for Life ~ Guest Writer Amy Leigh Simpson

One of the best perks of being an author is the opportunity to meet and encourage folks new to this (arduous, wacky) wonderful publishing journey--what a joy to share the excitement of an aspiring author! Today's guest is a great example of someone tackling this adventure. Wife, mom to two darling little boys, and a blogger, she writes Romantic Suspense and is respresented by (I quote her) "the great and mighty" literary agent, Chip MacGregor. Plus, she is a passionate foodie, and perhaps the only person to  trump me with Facebook dinner posts. Okay--all together now-- let's  wave our wooden spoons in a hearty welcome for our multi-talented guest:

Recipe for life

The thing I love most about cooking is the freedom to create. We writers tend to be mildly creative creatures so I suppose whipping up a meal has a shared creative element to mixing up the ingredients of a story.

As the mother of two rambunctious toddler boys, time is a luxury (and sleep is a distant memory... but that’s a whole other sermon!) It can be difficult to have the energy and creativity to come up with an exciting and healthy meal after a long day.

Most families have a stock pile of familiar recipes that go though a monthly, if not weekly rotation. Spaghetti, chili, burger, meatloaf, or leftover night, sound familiar?

So, in favor of boring my taste buds with the same old rhyme of processed, convenient, or redundant foods, my hubby and I decided that we’d take strides to clean up our diet and keep things as fresh as possible.

Food, like life, is what we make it. I have never been one of those demure women who politely tap their napkin to their lips and decline dessert. I love to eat. And sweets, don’t even get me started. Since very few things in life come with an ingredient list and step by step instructions, throw out the recipe book and explore what lies beyond the page. Let’s dig in and get our hands messy.

So, for your prologue…

It’s always a good idea to keep your fridge full of fresh ingredients you enjoy. When you are plotting out your story for dinner, put all your players on the counter and start pounding out that first draft. Experiment with a new idea, throw in a dash of a new spice or a zest of lemon. You’ll never know what you’re missing if you never take the time to explore the outer limits of your palate.

Lately I have had this thing for stuffed acorn squash. Each time I make this dish I pull different ingredients from the fridge and create something new. So if there are items in my dish that you don’t care for, take ‘em out, swap it with something else.

Use this as a guideline to inspire your imagination in the kitchen and create something fresh and unique. Explore what works for your taste with this healthy, beautiful and uber-flavorful meal or side dish! I promise. This is not as scary as it looks. Be bold! Mix it up!

To make this exactly as I have made it (and yes, I see the irony here) you will need:

2 acorn squash
2 zucchini
1-2 cups chopped mushrooms
1 cup grape tomatoes
2 stalks green onion
1 handful of spinach leaves
1 mini red pepper
1 mini orange pepper
1 cup quinoa or brown rice (your preference)
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth (I use water and soup base)
1 packet Good Seasons All Natural Italian seasoning
Feta and pine nuts to top
Salt, pepper, and fresh parsley to taste.
Secret Ingredient: Green Olive Tapenade (Trader Joes is excellent!)

Now, if you’ve never had acorn squash don’t be intimidated by the lumpy green and orange pumpkins. Their flavor is mild, the texture a little shreddy like a sweet potato. In fact, it has that same earthy tint of sweetness to it. Quite delicious!

To start out on your adventure preheat your oven to 350. Wash, half, and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds of the acorn squash. (1 squash serves two. The recipe today serves four.)

Using your knife, gently score the inside flesh of the squash and put a dab of butter (I use Earth Balance Buttery Spread) in each squash half. Using a glass Pyrex 9x9 casserole dish works well, fill with about an inch of water to keep the squash from drying out in the oven. Pop those babies in for 40-60 minutes until the inner flesh is soft enough to poke with a fork.

While those are baking up, get your quinoa started cooking in the broth of your choice for added flavor. Follow the instructions on the package. It basically cooks itself. (*Note* If you’re cooking for four, make the quinoa recipe for two. If cooking for two cut the smallest recipe amount in half. A little goes a long way!)

Then get slicing and dicing. Lots to cut up here. I like to reserve the tomatoes, spinach, and parsley for the last few minutes so they don’t get soggy, but otherwise, go to town. Skin off slivers of the zucchini skin and dice everything into bite sized pieces.

Sauté in a hearty drizzle of olive oil and the sprinkle over the packet of Italian Seasoning.

When the quinoa is ready, mix it in and add those final fresh ingredients. (Tomatoes, spinach, and fresh parsley.)

And then I add a heaping tablespoon of the secret ingredient. A salty little zest of Green Olive Tapenade. Kalamata olives work well too.

Keep warm until the squash is finished. Then get to stuffing.

Top with feta cheese, pine nuts, and salt and pepper.


NOTE: This recipe is vegetarian. (Though I often add chicken.) It can also easily be made vegan if you x-nay the cheese.

Another variation had chicken and chickpeas instead of quinoa. It looked like this.

So go forth, drink in the fullness of life. Create a delicious story on a plate. Taste it. Smell it. Savor it. Happy inventing!

Amy Leigh Simpson writes Romantic Suspense and loves to take readers on a spirited journey of finding grace and redemption through stories that are equally inspiring, nail-biting, and hilarious. And maybe a little saucy!

Here’s a tasty little snipped from her current WIP!

* * *

As if summoned up on a prayer, she rounded the corner. Unreasonably appealing in all that overstuffed terrycloth, hair teased in defiant little clumps, and fresh, dew-kissed skin straight from a Neutrogena commercial.
Dang it, Salivas, don’t be creepy!
He immediately stopped ogling her and continued prepping the eggs. “Morning, Brat. You sleep alright?”
“Fine, thank you.”
He could sense the shift in her position even without seeing her. When he turned around to grab the peppers, tomatoes and onions he’d just chopped, he found both his brother and Candice scavenging his ingredients.
“Hey, hey!” Swatting at both of their hands, he scooped up the veggies and tossed them into the scramble. “Patience, you little vultures. Breakfast in three minutes. Gabe, why don’t you get the OJ from the fridge. Brat, there’s fresh coffee in the pot, help yourself.”
Sal finished preparing the Mexican style sausage, egg, and cheese burritos, slid them onto the plates and carried all three to the table.
He knew Candice was a big eater, so he made her a four-egg burrito the same size as his and Gabe’s. Amazing how the woman stayed so small. He remembered at Archer and Sadie’s rehearsal dinner she ate three-quarters of a double-decker JJ Twigs pizza. Like six slices of Titanic sinkable pizza. Unbelievable. And totally hot.
“Wow, Dorian, this looks really good.” She eyed the boat-sized burrito and smiled, looking like King-Kong ready to pillage a banana stand. “But you didn’t have to make a special breakfast for me.”
Gabe was already halfway through his enormous burrito and spoke with a mouthful of eggs. “He didn’t. My bro’s an artist in the kitchen. Why else would I be up this early?”
Sal glared at his brother and issued a warning that earned him a stuffed cheeked grin from the little terror.
He turned back to Candice just in time to see her first bite. Her eyes slipped closed, and—
Did she just moan?
Ay caramba! He needed out of this kitchen!

* * *
Question for you??

When was the last time you experimented in your kitchen? How’d it turn out?

Amy would love to connect with you. Find her on Facebook or on her blog spots

The Writers Alley (group) or
The Break Room (personal)


chris said...

Wow, this looks amazing! I love cooking, some of the best weekend nights are spent in conversation with my sweetie, family or friends making something tasty in the kitchen. My last true "creation" that I dreamed up is called Scrambled Oatmeal. There's a goofy video, if you're interested...

Looking forward to your book Amy! Be Great!!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Proud to know another recipe rebel :) Thanks Chris! I'll definitely be checking that out. We are big into oatmeal around here.

Connie Brown said...

My last experiment was really safe but I hadn't tried it before. I used canned chicken to make a chicken salad but I used apple, onion,black olives,bread and butter pickles and artichoke hearts along with just enough miracle whip to tie it together. I usually make it the boring way with pickle relish but this one was fantastic. It didn't take long for that to go. I kept sneaking bites at different times. I'm the only one in my house so what usually lasts about a week went in three days. I love exploring new tastes. My mother taught me to follow the recipe the first time and then experiment to my hearts content.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Sounds good, Connie! I love chicken salad. So good for meal time or snacking. And you are right, it is much easier to branch out when you have a good place to start! :) Thanks for stopping by!

CandaceCalvert said...

I'm checking in, finally, after a day celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary--what a great destination, romantic setting; I'll be posting Facebook pics soon. Meanwhile, you guys are having fun in the cyber kitchen! Such a treat to have Amy here. I'm a fool for butternut squash, and now I'm HOOKED on her writing voice--can't wait to see that story in print, Amy! Connie and Chris, I'm so glad that you both enjoy kitchen adventures; you're among foodie friends here.
Thank you for stopping by to comment.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Thanks for having me, Candace! Hope we inspired some folks to go off script. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Amy. Both the recipe and your WIP look great. Adding both to my "Must" lists. I'm a big fan of butternut squash and romantic suspense, especially when it includes humor and men that cook. Looking forward to the finished work. Thanks.

Hi Candace, I really enjoy these wooden spoon moments. Congrats on 14 years. That is wonderful!

Lonzine Lee

CandaceCalvert said...

Hi Lonzine! So glad you stopped by. Butternut squash is one of my favorites, too. I make a Peanut Butter squash soup with a touch of fresh basil that is so yummy . . .
And, yes, doesn't Amy have it all going in this story: humor, romance, men that cook . . . I'm so there!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Thanks so much, Lonzine! I mean really, who doesn't swoon over a man in the kitchen ;) Especially if he cleans up!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

And forgive me... Hope you had a wonderful anniversary with your cowboy, Candace!