Right Now, Write Now…and Cook Dinner Too

I got an idea the other day, out of the blue. That’s the way they come. One minute you’re trying to get to your exit across three lanes of speeding traffic because that’s how New Jersey highway engineers thought it should be done, and the next, you know how your heroine will catch the killer.

When I got home, I was inspired. I had to, had to sit down and write. But it was my turn to cook dinner and I hadn't been to the store. I was saved because my husband, David, is a writer, too, and he said, sure go on, go write. And I did. But later, I began to think about what a writer does when she comes home inspired but has hungry kids waiting and no one to cook for them. Put off writing for a couple of hours? Or order a pizza stuffed with something only chemically related to real cheese?

I shared this thought with David while slurping down my second helping of his vegetable soup, made magically with whatever he'd found in the crisper and pantry. I asked whether it would be possible for a writer to cook a homemade meal that kids would eat and be out of the kitchen in, say, thirty minutes and headed for the computer? Here, my darlings, mommy cooked real food for you; now I’m taking a plate upstairs, so put on a movie and don’t bother me.

I said, “Not 30 minutes in TV-cooking-show time, where the prep staff cuts everything up while the host is getting hair and eyeliner. I mean 30 minutes in real-person time.”

He said, “Would this include actually reading the recipe first? And getting your equipment together?”

Right. Cooking-show and cookbook estimates never take that into account either.

I said, “What could you give me?”

He leaned over and wiped some soup off my chin. “Thirty-five, forty at the outside.”

And he did it. Twice.

The two recipes he adapted (and appear at the end of this blog) are hearty one-dish meals, with few utensils and simple instructions, and have ingredients relatively easy to find. Most of the ingredients also have a long shelf life and so could be easily on hand in pantry or freezer for the next inspiration emergency. Even the greens and the thyme can keep well for quite awhile in the refrigerator.

If your kids are ravenous teens, hand them a pint of cherry tomatoes and a loaf of bread, too. Tell them to wash the first and toast the second. Welcome to writer side dishes, kid!

Here's the farfalle. And no, I didn't take this picture. I took a picture of a picture. You learn fast how much work it is to make real food look as good as it tastes in a photo. This is from a Martha Stewart cookbook called Fresh Flavor Fast. Good book. But try saying that title three times fast.

The chorizo shot is also grabbed from its source, the February 2013 Bon Appetit. 

My husband, David F. Nighbert, has begun migrating his backlist to e-books on Kindle and Nook. The mysteries (starred Kirkus reviews) Strikezone, Squeezeplay & Shutout are up now. And two SF novels, Timelapse & Clouds of Magellan, will be available soon. I highly recommend all!

This picture of us was taken by friend photog Mariann Moery as guests were arriving for the launch party for Death in Her Face at Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattanlast fall. (If you look closely, you can spot Annamaria headed for the bar just beyond the man with the green bag strap on his shoulder to the left.)

We tried to create the recipes below as links to printable versions, but it's beyond the reliable skill of this blog tool (or maybe this blogger). But a simple cut and paste into Word will do the trick for you.  

Sheila York

Farfalle with Arugula and White Beans

Coarse (kosher) salt and freshly ground pepper
Dutch oven (with lid) big enough for at least 5 qts water
12 oz farfalle (bow-tie) pasta (about 6 cups dry)
Chef’s knife & cutting board
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1-Tbsp slices
4 small to medium garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Small skillet
1 pound baby arugula
Small plate to cool walnuts
1 can (15.5 oz) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Wooden cooking spoon
1/3 cup walnut pieces, toasted, for garnish
[Keep toasted walnut pieces on hand.
They’re nice additions to simple salads]
Measuring cup with pouring lip

Gather all your ingredients and utensils before starting your food prep.
Start bringing 5 quarts of water to a boil over high heat in large covered Dutch oven. (Pasta is happier if it has plenty of water to swim in.) This is what takes time, so put the pot on your strongest-heat burner and keep it covered till water boils.
While waiting, do your ingredient prep:
Peel and slice garlic; rinse and drain beans in colander; cut butter using the 1 Tbsp markers on the wrapping; chop walnuts into pieces if they didn’t come that way.
Toast walnuts. Heat a small heavy skillet over medium heat for a minute. Add walnut pieces. Shake the skillet occasionally to keep walnuts from burning. After 2-3 minutes, transfer walnuts to a plate to cool.
When water boils, add a generous amount of salt (about 4 Tbsp) and the pasta. Bring water back to a boil (cover the pot to make this happen faster). Cook pasta, pot uncovered, stirring occasionally to make sure pasta doesn’t stick together or to the bottom. Cook according to the timing on the package till it is al dente. (You’ll have about 10 mins here to get out your plates and flatware, and finish any ingredient prep)
When pasta is done, reserve ½ cup of the pasta water and set it aside.
Then drain pasta; leave in colander.
In the now-empty Dutch oven, heat 1 Tbsp of the butter over medium heat, then add the garlic. Cook, stirring, 1-2 mins. Do not brown the garlic.
Add the arugula, handfuls at a time, and stir/toss just till wilted, a couple of minutes.
Add beans, pasta and remaining 3 Tbsp of butter; season with salt and pepper.
Heat, tossing, till butter is melted and beans and pasta are warmed through, about 1 minute. While doing this, add enough of the pasta water slowly to create a thin sauce. You will not need all the water.
Check seasoning; adjust as necessary.
Serve in shallow bowls and garnish with the walnuts.

Adapted from Fresh Flavor Fast, copyright 2010 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia

Chorizo and White Bean Stew

2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
[‘divided’ means you won’t use it all at once]
Large Dutch oven
1 lb. chorizo (buy it precooked). You can use other spicy, precooked sausages (Italian, andouille, etc.) 
Wooden cooking spoon
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Tongs to turn sausage & remove thyme
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme. [How much is a ‘sprig’, you ask? The equivalent of three 3-inch leafy pieces works for us]
Chef’s knife & cutting board
2 cans (each 15.5 oz) cannellini beans, rinsed, drained
Small plate
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Measuring cup with pouring lip
5 oz baby spinach (about 10 cups).
Measuring spoons
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

Smoked paprika (optional)

Gather all your ingredients and utensils before starting your food prep.
Heat 1 Tbsp of oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add precooked sausage and brown, turning occasionally, 5-8 minutes.
While sausage browns, slice onion; chop garlic; rinse/drain beans in colander.
Transfer sausage to a plate. Leave fat from sausage-browning in the pan. Still over medium heat, add remaining 1 Tbsp oil to same Dutch oven (2 Tbsp might be necessary if the sausage did not leave much fat). When oil/fat is heated, add onion slices, garlic and thyme sprig. Cook, stirring occasionally, till onion is softened, about 5 minutes.
Add beans and broth, and cook 8-10 minutes, crushing a few of the beans with the back of a wooden spoon to slightly thicken the sauce. While this is cooking, slice the chorizo and collect plates and flatware.
Season stew with salt and pepper
Add spinach in handfuls and cook till just wilted, about 2 minutes.
Fold chorizo into the stew; Add a bit of water to thin, if desired.
Remove thyme sprig (if you can find it). Divide stew into bowls, sprinkle with the paprika if you choose, and serve

Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine, February 2013. The original recipe calls for fresh sausage, which would take longer to cook. We’ve been able to find spicy, precooked sausage at our regular grocery store.