Friday, May 31, 2013

Meal Rotation System: Casserole Day

This is Day 8 of the Meal Rotation System: a pattern of meal planning where you go down a list of meal groups each month, picking one from the group for each day, and rotate through the list when you're finished. Read more about how the Meal Rotation System works.

"Casserole" is one of the most versatile food types. It doesn't matter what you put in it, as long as it includes just about every food group and you bake it in a dish. Here are three of my favorites.

Zesty Chicken and Rice
Taken from Great American Cookbook

2/3 cup uncooked rice
2.8 oz French fried onions
½ tsp Italian seasoning
2 chicken boullion cubes
2 large chicken breasts cut in cubes
1/3 cup Italian salad dressing
16 oz frozen vegetable mix

  1. Preheat oven 400 degrees. In 9x13 inch baking dish, combine rice, half a can of onions, and Italian seasoning. Prepare boullion and pour it over mixture.
  2. Place breasts on top. Pour on Italian salad dressing
  3. Arrange vegetables on top.
  4. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes (until rice is done)
  5. Top with remaining onions, cook uncovered for 5 minutes.

Hearty Chicken Bake
Taken from Great American Cookbook

3 cups mashed potatoes
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 can French Fried onions
1 ½ cup cubed chicken
10 oz frozen mixed vegetables
10 oz can cream of chicken soup
¼ cup milk
½ tsp ground mustard
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. In bowl, combine potatoes, ½ cup of cheese, and ½ cup onions
  3. Spread potatoes into casserole dish to make a crust
  4. Combine chicken, mixed vegetables, soup, milk, and seasoning. Pour into potato shell.
  5. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes
  6. Top with cheese, and onions, bake five minutes
Lazy Day Casserole

Click here for this recipe. It involves sausages, potatoes, carrots, bell peppers, and onions cooked in a balsamic vinegar sauce. Yummy!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Meal Rotation System: Taco Soup

This is Day 7 of the Meal Rotation System: a pattern of meal planning where you go down a list of meal groups each month, picking one from the group for each day, and rotate through the list when you're finished. Read more about how the Meal Rotation System works.

Taco Soup is similar to chili, except it's soupier, it has taco seasoning so the flavor is different (and better, in my opinion), it uses corn, and you eat it with tortilla chips. 

I wish all my meals are as easy to make as taco soup! After cooking the ground beef and chopping up an onion, you just throw a bunch of stuff in a crock pot, stir, and turn it on. If you're short on time you can cook it in a big pot instead; you just have to keep checking on it as it simmers.

Taco Soup

1 pound lean ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
1 ounce package taco seasoning mix
15 ounce salsa
15 ounce frozen corn
1 15 ounce can of kidney beans, drained
1 15 ounce can of black beans, drained
10 cups scoop-shaped tortilla chips
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
Sour cream

  1. In a skillet over medium heat, cook beef and onion until beef is browned; drain. Place beef mixture in slow cooker with remaining ingredients.
  2. Cover, and cook on Low 2 hours. Serve with cheese, sour cream, and tortilla chips.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Meal Rotation System: Pasta Day

This is Day 6 of the Meal Rotation System: a pattern of meal planning where you go down a list of meal groups each month, picking one from the group for each day, and rotate through the list when you're finished. Read more about how the Meal Rotation System works.

This day is dedicated to pasta recipes that don't involve marinara sauce. When I was in college, I practically lived off of those little powder packets you get at the grocery store. They cost 97 cents and all I had to do was add milk or oil, chicken, and pasta. Super easy!

When I want something a little fancier, I often make stroganoff or a delicious Fettuccine with Sweet Pepper Cayenne Sauce pasta. There are about as many ways to make stroganoff as there are to skin a cat, but here's how I like to do it:


1 lb beef roast
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
¼ cup butter
1 onion
2 TB flour
½ cup beef broth
½ tsp mustard
2/3 cup mushrooms
1/3 cup sour cream
3 oz cream cheese

  1. In large skillet, melt butter and cook the beef and onion.
  2. Stir in the flour, add broth.
  3. Bring to boil
  4. Lower heat, stir in mustard, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Stir in mushrooms, sour cream, cream cheese, and salt and pepper as needed.
Do you have any pasta recipes you'd like to share? I'd love to see them in the comments!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Meal Rotation System: Crescent Braids

This is Day 5 of the Meal Rotation System: a pattern of meal planning where you go down a list of meal groups each month, picking one from the group for each day, and rotate through the list when you're finished. Read more about how the Meal Rotation System works.

A must-have in my kitchen is Pillsbury Crescent dough. It's an easy, delicious, and versatile ingredient in many dishes.

Two meals I make involve rolling out the crescent dough into a square, putting a hearty filling in the middle, cutting the sides into strips, and braiding the strips together. You end up with a loaf of bubbly crispy goodness.

What you put inside your crescent braids is up to you, but here are the links to the two recipes I use:

Chicken and Broccoli Braid

I'm not going to lie to you; this recipe looks and sounds odd. I'm not sure what possessed my to try it in the first place: it's chicken, broccoli, bell pepper, mayonnaise, dill weed, cheddar cheese, and almonds. Yet somehow, the flavors mix together perfectly to make a delicious concoction that both my husband and I get excited about. You can find the recipe at here.

Buffalo Chicken Braid

If you love buffalo chicken wings (frankly, who doesn't?), you're really going to love this braid. The blogger who wrote this recipe uses pizza dough instead of crescent dough and she rolls it instead of braids it, but either way, the result is delicious. 

Do you have any crescent dough recipes you'd like to share? I'd love to see them in the comments!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Meal Rotation System: Pulled BBQ Sandwiches

This is Day 4 of the Meal Rotation System: a pattern of meal planning where you go down a list of meal groups each month, picking one from the group for each day, and rotate through the list when you're finished. Read more about how the Meal Rotation System works.

I have several crockpot recipes on my rotation, and the two I use for pulled BBQ sandwiches are without a doubt the easiest to make. You can make these with any vegetable on the side, but green beans and potato salad are my faves.

Pulled Pork

You can find this recipe by clicking here. I get this recipe from, so I don't have the copyrights and can't repost it on my blog. Basically, all you do is cook the meat in the crock pot with beef broth, shred the meat on a cutting board, and bake with BBQ sauce in the over 30 minutes. Only three ingredients... easy!

Zesty Pulled Chicken

This is another recipe, so you can find it by clicking here. It's similar to the recipe above, only you add Italian salad dressing and you cook all the ingredients together so you don't have to bake it afterwards. The recipe has almost three thousand positive reviews!

Do you have any barbeque recipes you'd like to share? I'd love to see them in the comments!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Giveaway of The Honey Thief and Interview with the Authors

Today, I'm hosting a giveaway of The Honey Thief, a series of Afghani stories. It's a fascinating look at a culture with which I'm mostly unfamiliar. If you'd like to learn more, I've posted an interview below with the authors Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman.

To win a copy, just post your email in the comments and at the end of the day, I'll select someone randomly.


In “The Behsudi Dowry,” the character of Hameed is thought to be foolish and absentminded for his love of books. His parents can see no value in reading fiction. How was reading literature for pleasure viewed in your household and community growing up?

Najaf:  In Afghanistan , only a few very educated people read books other than the holy books. If my brothers or my father or my mother had seen me reading a novel, they would have thought I was insane and would have called a doctor or a mullah to fix me.

How did you become interested in the narrative of the refugee?

Robert:  At the time I first met Najaf, the Muslim refugees who were arriving in Australia on ramshackle boats were being characterised as criminals and terrorists in the press. This demonisation suited the politics of Australia just after 9/11 (or “11/9” as it is known here). It struck me that something vile was happening in my country—something that I might look back on in years to come and think, “Why didn’t you say something?” I wrote Najaf’s story as a way of saying something. The friendship we formed led to Najaf telling me more and more about the culture of the Hazara. The stories in The Honey Thief are, in a way, the backstory of Najaf’s life told in The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif.

The themes discussed throughout The Honey Thief—the importance of love, work, hope—are universal, crossing all kinds of boundaries of culture, faith, geography, and socioeconomic status. What is your hope for this book? More broadly, what role do you believe literature can play in uniting people across borders?

Najaf & Robert: Stories like those in The Honey Thief make a small difference here and there to the sympathy for people who are struggling through life. Literature cannot change people’s hearts completely. Just a little. A little is okay. We must remember that if stories that honour courage and enjoyment of life could suddenly change everything, then another book that teaches distrust and hatred might also change everything back. People don’t read stories like those inThe Honey Thief in order to have their eyes opened. They read them for enjoyment; for pleasure. If it happens that some readers feel that they have gained more than enjoyment, that’s a good thing. We hope that readers will enjoy this book in the same way that they enjoy fresh food cooked by someone who loves good food. We hope that people will smile as they finish each story and say, “Well, that was wonderful!”

Meal Rotation System: Chowder Day

This is Day 3 of the Meal Rotation System: a pattern of meal planning where you go down a list of meal groups each month, picking one from the group for each day, and rotate through the list when you're finished. Read more about how the Meal Rotation System works.

Today is dedicated to rich, creamy soups. I have three that I make: Clam Chowder, Chicken and Dumplings, and Ham and Cauliflower Soup. They're good with bread or cornbread on the side. All of these soups make a lot, but you can easily freeze leftovers.

Clam Chowder

6 or 7 potatoes
5 or 6 planks of celery
1 onion
3 6 ½ oz can clams
1 bottle clam juice
½ tsp sugar
1 ½ tsp salt

¾ cup butter
¾ cup flour
1 qt. half & half

White pepper
Black pepper

  1. Cut up potatoes and celery.
  2. Drain clam juice into veggie mix. Set clams aside for later.
  3. Add the sugar and salt to mix and enough water to just cover the veggies (too much water will make your soup runny).
  4. Bring to boil then simmer until veggies are soft. Do not overcook or your soup will taste like potato.
  5. To make the rue, melt butter in a pan then add the flour. Stir constantly to prevent burning and heat for a minute or less. Don't let it turn brown.
  6. Add half and half, stirring constantly, and bring to a boil.
  7. Add white sauce to the veggie mix. If the soup is too runny, add more flour until it thickens up.
  8. Add clams, simmer until clams are nice and hot.
  9. Salt and pepper to taste
Cauliflower and Ham Chowder
  1 cup thinly sliced celery
  2 cups sliced fresh or frozen cauliflower
  1 can (14-1/2 oz.) chicken broth
  1 cup half-and-half or evaporated milk
  1 can (10-3/4 oz.) cream of potato soup, undiluted 
  1/4 cup water
  2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  1/8 tsp. white pepper
  2 cups diced cooked ham
  1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  1. In a large covered saucepan, cook celery and cauliflower in chicken broth until almost tender, about 10 minutes; do not drain.  Set aside.  
  2. Place potato soup in a bowl; gradually stir in half-and-half. 
  3. Blend water, cornstarch and pepper.  Stir into soup mixture; add to cauliflower.  Stir in ham.  Simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.  
  4. Just before serving, stir in cheese.
Chicken and Dumplings

4 chicken thighs, with bone and skin
1 can Pilsbury biscuits

  1. Place chicken thighs in large pot, cover with water. (They can be frozen or thawed.) Sprinkle with salt and bring to a boil.
  2. When chicken thighs are thawed and the skin is cooked, remove from pan. Remove skin and cut meat into chunks. Place meat back in water and boil until meat is finished cooking. 
  3. Cut biscuits into chunks, add to water. Boil biscuits until they are chewy and no longer doughy.
Do you have any chowder recipes you'd like to share? I'd love to see them in the comments!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Meal Rotation System: Baked Potato Day

This is Day 2 of the Meal Rotation System: a pattern of meal planning where you go down a list of meal groups each month, picking one from the group for each day, and rotate through the list when you're finished. Read more about how the Meal Rotation System works.

Potatoes (with the peel) are very nutritious and versatile. Probably the easiest meal I have on my whole rotation system is baked potatoes. They're good as a side dish, of course, but if you add a lot of goodies on top, they're also a great main course.

There are a few tricks to making a good baked potato: 

  1. Slather on a bunch of butter. It may sound unhealthy, but the peel is inedible otherwise, and it's the peel that has all the nutrients in it. 
  2. Wrap it in aluminum foil shiny side in. (My science-geek husband has a theory that wrapping them shiny-side out reflects heat and makes them take longer to cook.) Poke them with a fork.
  3. Put them in the oven at 350 degrees and cook them for two hours. They'll be done in one, but if you have time to cook them for two, they taste soooo much better.
  4. When they're tender, take them out and top them with goodies.
There's so much stuff you can put on a baked potato: butter, sour cream, ranch salad dressing, bleu cheese salad dressing, cheddar cheese, swiss cheese, mozzarella cheese, pepperjack cheese, chives, chicken, bbq pulled pork, roast beef, bacon bits, ham, turkey, broccoli, green onions, olives, chilli, jalapenos, onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes, just to name a few.

The Twice Baked Potato is a delicious twist on this meal. I've tried serving these with ham and vegetables, but my husband and I only ever eat the potatoes. There's a good recipe for it here, but basically all you do is cook the potatoes like you would if you were just baking them, cut them in half, scoop out the insides, mash the insides up, stir in whatever goodies you want, spoon the mixture back into the peel shells (I usually put it in a ziplock and cut a corner off so I can pipe it in; it's much cleaner), top with more goodies, and bake for another 15 minutes. That's it!

Do you have any baked potato tips or recipes you'd like to share? I'd love to see them in the comments!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

It's All in the Voice Bloghop: Excerpt of VOODOO QUEEN

I'm going to interrupt my Meal Rotation System series to participate in a fantastic bloghop/contest at Heather Webb's Between the Sheets. There's still time to sign up if you want to participate!

Contestants for this bloghop post the first 250 words of their manuscript and then go to the other participating blogs to critique. On May 18, everyone submits their final draft to hopefully win one of Heather's wonderful prizes.

This excerpt is from VOODOO QUEEN. It starts out with the birth of the infamous voodoo priestess of New Orleans: Marie Laveau. I hope you like it!

Marguerite writhed and groaned on the mahogany four-poster bed. Her teeth clenched and her copper-colored fingers gripped the sheets as a contraction took hold.

Catherine washed her hands in a porcelain bowl on the dresser, calm and determined as she was for her daughter’s other two births. Calm and determined… but not quite as excited. As much as Catherine wanted to greet this child into the world the same way she did with her other grandchildren, she couldn’t ignore the differences between those births and this one

“Shouldn’t I send someone for Henri?” Catherine asked for the third time. Marguerite’s white lover and the father of her other two children only lived a few blocks away. It would take no time at all to bring him to her.

Marguerite snorted. “I told you, he doesn’t want anything to do with this. I’m getting tired of tell you.”

Catherine wanted to shake her daughter. For Marguerite’s last two births Henri had paced in another room for hours, eagerly and nervously awaiting news of her progress. Of course, they had been his children. This child had no father. As much as Catherine prodded, Marguerite stubbornly refused to reveal her baby’s parentage. But this was not the first time Catherine was unhappy about Marguerite’s relationship with the rich white man who was twice her age. Marguerite had settled for this life and there was nothing Catherin could do to change it.

Henri could forgive Marguerite’s infidelity. He could not forgive the baby for its mysterious origins. Marguerite spent most of her pregnancy at her mother’s house, and when the pregnancy was over, Catherine would have to raise the child herself.

Thanks for reading, and thanks in advance for commenting!

Meal Rotation System: Asian Day

This is Day 1 of the Meal Rotation System: a pattern of meal planning where you go down a list of meal groups each month, picking one from the group for each day, and rotate through the list when you're finished. Read more about how the Meal Rotation System works.

My husband and I love Asian food so much, we have four meals we like to make all the time. Once to impress some guests, we made all the meals at once so they'd feel like they were in a restaurant. These dishes are so quick and easy, making all of them was no trouble at all.

NOTE: Use calrose rice. It's so delicious I can eat it plain, and it's the only rice I cook with.

Pork Bulgogi
20 min

To make this spicy dish, all you have to do is buy pork bulgogi marinade at an Asian market. The words will be in Korean, so you'll want to ask someone for help finding it. Pour the marinade over 1 pound of pork (you can buy the pork already cut up in chunks) and add half a sliced onion. Cook in skillet until pork is no longer pink on the inside. Serve over rice.

Beef Bulgogi
20 min

Unlike the pork bulgogi, this sauce is sweet and mild. Kids will prefer this recipe. You make it the same way: pour sauce over chunks of beef and slices of onion, cook in skillet until meat and onions are done, serve over rice.

Honey Walnut Shrimp
30 min

This is just like the honey walnut shrimp at PF Changs and Panda Express. Just thinking about it makes me drool. It's surprisingly easy to make, especially with practice. You can find the recipe here at

NOTE: You can use cornstarch instead of mochiko. I never candy the walnuts because the sauce makes them sweet enough. You can cut out the sweetened condensed milk if you want it to be less sweet.

15 min

Potstickers are a great side dish, but on days when I really don't want to bother with cooking, I'll serve them with rice as the main course. It takes about six or eight each and a bowl of rice to fill my husband and I up.

Most grocery stores sell potstickers in the freezer isle. Just coat a skillet in oil, fry the bottoms of the stickers until they're brown, pour in about a 1/4 inch of water, cover, let steam until the water is gone or the stickers are warm all the way through. It takes some practice to get them the consistency you prefer. Dip them in the sauce they come with, or use soy sauce.

Side Dish: Egg Drop Soup

This might sound fancy, but it only has four ingredients and takes maybe ten minutes to make. 

2 (14.5 ounce) cans chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
  1. In a medium stock pot, slowly heat chicken broth and cornstarch. Stir constantly until thickened.
  2. Pour beaten egg into soup and stir once around stock pot very gently, in order to break up egg.
  3. Remove soup from heat immediately, divide into four portions and garnish with green onions.
Do you have any Asian recipes you'd like to share? I'd love to see them in the comments!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My Perfect Meal Plan System

I've been a stay-at-home person for almost a year now, and one thing I've gotten really good at is meal planning. I've developed a system that works so well for me that (even though this has nothing to do with writing or history), I'm going to post a series about it for the next month. It'll end right before I leave for the HNS Conference, so I'll get right back to topics on writing and history as soon as this series is over.

Here's a quick summary of how it works:

Whenever I had to make a grocery list, I got overwhelmed trying to decide what meals to make. Nothing in my recipe book ever sounded good. It seemed like I made the same stuff over and over, and I often forgot about meals I really liked. Meal planning was stressful!

Then a friend told me about the Three Week Rotation system where you make the same thing every three weeks. You don't have to stress about what to buy or what to make because you just go down the list. You don't get into a funk of making the same thing all the time because you only eat a certain food once in the rotation.

Problem: I get sick of foods easily. There was no way I would enjoy repeating the same foods that often. Besides, I had more meals I liked than would fit in a three week rotation.

Solution: I grouped all the foods I make according to their type. For instance, I have a Casserole Day. On that day, I can choose between four different casseroles depending on the mood I'm in. That way I'm still going through a rotation, but there's a lot of variety, and one month might be very different from the next.

I've been much happier and relaxed since I started the rotation, and my husband says he's never had so much good food!

How to Get Started on the MEAL ROTATION SYSTEM:

  1. Write down every meal you make on a regular basis. Don't include special meals that you only make for guests or holidays. Include restaurants if you go there a lot (if your family eats pizza once a week, write that down). Include simple meals you eat too, even if it's peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or canned soup.
  2. Keep adding to the list as time goes by. Odds are you won't remember all the meals you make off the top of your head, so if you cook something for dinner that isn't on the list, write it down.
  3. Organize the foods into groups. Perhaps you have several pasta recipes and would like a Pasta Day, for instance. If you wouldn't want to eat two meals right next to each other because they're too similar, they probably belong in the same group. 
  4. Put all the recipes in one easy-to-find place (a Pinterest board, a Word document, or printed in a binder).
  5. Next time you go grocery shopping, buy at least five meals at the top of the list. Post the names of the meals on your refrigerator so you remember what you bought. Once you've made and eaten them all, buy the next five.
  6. Keep changing and adding to the list until it best fits your family.
Don't stress if your rotation seems small at first. I'm going to share all the meals on my rotation with you for the next month so you can build your menu. Also don't stress if this is overwhelming at first; it's a process, and it'll take some time to evolve until it perfectly fits your needs.

Benefits of Using the MEAL ROTATION SYSTEM:
  • It's easier to plan meals. All your recipes are in one place, and you don't need to think about what you're going to make next.
  • It's easier to cook meals. The more you make a dish, the better you get at it. Pretty soon you'll know the recipes in your head and cooking them will take half as long.
  • It's cheaper because it uses up everything I buy. I have only one recipe that calls for dill weed and if I only made it once, buying the dill weed would be a waste of money. Since I make that meal at least once every two months, I know eventually I'm going to use it up. That same recipe calls for broccoli and the leftover broccoli usually goes to waste, but with the system I can plan a meal right after it that includes the leftover broccoli.
  • It's cheaper because I don't eat out as much or buy already prepared food.
  • I cook less often. When I'm in a rush to throw together an easy meal, I don't usually plan for leftovers. With the rotation I always plan for enough leftovers to have for at least one other meal. That means I only cook three to four times a week and the rest of the week is leftovers.
  • It's healthier. Not only am I eating more home-cooked meals, but I can see on my list if   there are any food groups missing and if I need to make changes to my diet.
I hope this was helpful and I'm excited to share the details of my system with you for the next few weeks!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

All Day Q and A

I had a lot of fun answering reader's questions last month, so I'd like to do it again. Maybe I'll make it a monthly thing until people run out of questions to ask. 

At the very least, I want to do it once after my recent confession about my battle with depression. If you're at all curious about my story but were too nervous to bring it up, this is your opportunity. (You can also email me at teralynpilgrim at yahoo dot com if you would like your question to be private.)

You can also ask me about roller derby, my favorite Doctor Who episode, the last book I read, the Historical Novel Society Conference, and of course anything and everything related to writing.

Have a fabulous day!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Your Heart Lies Where Your Mind Wanders

Let's say you're driving in your car, doing dishes, waiting for the bus, or you're bored during class. Nothing much is happening, so your mind wanders. It seems like an innocent enough activity, but the things you think about when you daydream are an important part of your life. I would venture to say it determines your future more than anything else.

Why? Because your heart lies in the place your mind goes when it wanders. That's where all our attention and energy is directed, and that's where we are the most successful.

My life always takes the same direction as my daydreaming. For instance, I'm a much more productive writer when my spare moments are filled with thoughts of my book. At times like those, I sit down to write already knowing what to do because I've thought it over all day and night.

Lately when my mind wanders, it always goes to the same place: the baby. I spend very little time actually preparing for the baby -- since I'm only in my second trimester, there isn't much to do -- but I spend almost every second thinking about her. Then when I sit at the computer to write my book, I feel completely unprepared, like I went to class without doing my homework. When I write in my journal about my pregnancy and hopes for being a mother, on the other hand, the words come easily.

I believe when people fail at things, it's rarely because they didn't have the time, the intelligence, or the talent. More often, it's because their minds were on other things. Our brain space is limited; if we don't fill it with thoughts of our goals, we won't accomplish them.

Consider what would happen to a person who spent every minute thinking negative thoughts. If a person spent all his/her brain power dwelling on self-pity, jealousy, hurt feelings, or personal weaknesses, not only would that person waste valuable time that could have been productive, but those seemingly innocent thoughts will shape that person's life. Soon, everything will become negative.

I have a challenge for you (I did it myself once, and it was a real eye-opener): for the next day or two, try keeping a notebook nearby and writing down every thought you have. It might be about a television show, a book you're reading, puppies, responsibilities you're procrastinating, how you want to decorate the living room, whatever. As your list grows, you'll start to see what takes up most of your attention. Perhaps when it's over, you'll realize your life isn't headed in the direction you want it to go. 

Change the way you daydream, change your life.
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