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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Best Meal of the Day

I have always loved breakfast. When people tell me they don't really eat it, I'm baffled. How can they pass up the chance at fare like pecan waffles, blueberry pancakes, Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts? Not to mention the savory stuff--oh, sweet fancy Moses, how I miss New York bagels with lox and cream cheese! Even something as simple as cream of wheat with brown sugar or steel-cut Irish oatmeal with golden raisins and bananas can be wonderful. I could never pick a favorite breakfast food, but there's one advantage eggs have over every other choice--Stinger makes them.

Stinger is the undisputed King of the Egg at our house. And he worked hard to earn that title. He doesn't just scramble the eggs--he delicately whisks them with butter, salt, and pepper over very low heat until they form soft, silky curds. You need a spoon to eat them. He spent hours watching and rewatching Julia Child's show on omelettes, perfecting his technique. Now, we have perfect French omelettes, beautiful, thin envelopes of barely cooked egg around fillings like sauteed spinach and mushrooms with scallions or diced ham and gruyere. Even fried eggs, that specialty of short-order cooks everywhere, gets the royal treatment in our kitchen. Stinger consulted Fernand Point and now his process for preparing eggs sunnyside up involves gently cooking the egg on one side until the white is just opaque, then pouring hot melted butter over the top to set it. And I'm here to tell you, old Fernand knew what he was talking about--the results are like no diner egg you've ever had. We like to serve them on buttered toast; in the pic above, it's this fabulous seed bread a friend of ours baked. Yum!

So what's your favorite breakfast dish, and who in your family is the master of it?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Gourmet's Top Ten, April '09 - We have a winner!

Jess broke the tie, making the Lemon-Glazed Butter Cake our official winner! I'll be making that one...first. Yes, April's selections are too delectable to resist. I bought the makings for the French Meatloaf and Garlic Almond Pasta this morning, along with about two dozen lemons. So, since I love you all so much, you're getting bonus posts this month! Because I cannot resist the combination of meat with prunes (weird, but true!) or the opportunity to use the darling curly pasta my mother-in-law stuck in my stocking this Christmas.

I'm excited to make the lemon cake. One of those bonding things between me and several of my friends is the fact that if we're given a menu with a lemon-flavored offering, we can't pass it up. I don't care if there's molten chocolate cake with salt caramel and some kind of hazelnut praline--I'll take the wacky meyer lemon cheesecake every time. This butter cake only has a lemon glaze; my only fear is that it won't be lemony enough. Almost nothing is lemony enough to suit me. We'll just have to see if my cake turns out as cute as Gourmet's, even if I sneak some extra juice and zest into the glaze...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Gourmet's Top Ten, April '09

It's that time of the month again! When all of you get to play armchair chef and order me around in the kitchen. The new issue of Gourmet is out, and I'm itching to get my hands dirty. Also, to get a bite of that strawberry tart that's on the cover. Does that not look yum? When, oh when, will spring actually SPRING??

Here are the editors' top ten favorites (with comments by *me*):
Golden Potatoes with Caper Brown-Butter Crumbs
*Looks like haute hash browns.*
Ham and Rice Croquettes
*Let's have a cajun cocktail party!*
Spice-Rubbed Cornish Hens with Haroseth Stuffing and Sherry Jus
*Just so you know, I can get frozen Cornish hens at my local market sometimes.*
Strawberry Mascarpone Tart with Port Glaze
*Oh, come to Mama!*
Rustic French Meatloaf
*Would give me a chance to use my gorgeous little Le Creuset pate loaf pan--always a plus.*
Sweet-and-Sour Celery
*I'm thinking this one doesn't stand a chance in the polls. At least, I kind of hope. Ugh.*
Lemon Glazed Butter Cake
*Two of my favorite flavors united in one cake? Sign me up!*
Spinach and Red-Pepper Calzones
*Cute little packages, aren't they?*
Herb-Roasted Pork Loin
*Could this recipe possibly beat my favorite Pork Tenderloin with Apples and Onions?*
Pasta in Garlic Almond Sauce
*Tempting, especially since I have a bag of that darling curly pasta just waiting in my pantry.*

So what tickles your taste buds? Which recipe calls out to you and makes you curious? Vote for one, and I'll make it, documenting every step with my little honey of a camera. Customized, personalized food porn!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Save the Contemporary, Save the World!

Those crazy kids, Sarah and Jane, of Smart Bitches and Dear Author fame, are running a super cool contest right now on their genius site, Save the Contemporary. Check it out!

I admit to bias and ulterior motives, for sure. Also to a little bit of eek! that contemporary romances need saving. Contemporary romance was my first love, all the way back to the Harlequins I stole out of my grandma's suitcase whenever she came to visit. And even though I don't write category, I know I was influenced by those stories set in the real world (if the real world were full of tycoons and desert princes and secret mistresses--which it TOTALLY is, I'm sure. In some parts of the world. Shut up.) and featuring heroines who were secretaries or school teachers, rather than superheroines who can, like, breathe underwater or have laser eyes or something. Not that I don't love a good paranormal--I absolutely do! But still, I can't help but feel that contemporaries give us romance in its purest form.

So to help keep this once thriving subgenre alive, forward the Save the Contemporary contest to all your friends! Blog about it! And above all, buy and read Lisa Kleypas's fabulous new book. You might surprise yourself by not even missing the bloodsucking and shapeshifting...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Excerpt Monday

I'm struggling a little with my photo downloads, so no more on the Jackson/Austin trip for a bit. Instead, I'm hitching up with fellow Romance Divas Bria and Mel to offer you a short teaser from my book, Can't Stand the Heat, out in September of this year. If you like what you read, Can't Stand the Heat is already available for pre-order from Amazon.

“What’s your name?” Adam asked her.

She tossed her head again, the motion making her sway a little. He looked more closely. Her pupils were blown wide and dark, and her cheeks were flushed in a lovely contrast to her fair complexion.

“Miranda Wake, Délicieux magazine,” she said defiantly, as if expecting him to take issue with it.
Ah ha, he thought, somehow unsurprised, even though he’d always pictured the New York food scene’s most notorious critic as being considerably older and more dried-up looking than this fiery little piece.

Miranda Wake. You are blitzed out of your mind, on cocktails I designed, mixed with liquor I steeped with my own hands.

There was something weirdly erotic about it, and Adam covered the momentary oddness by stepping down and coming around the bar to shake her hand. The speech portion of the evening seemed well and truly over, now that the food was getting out.

“Adam Temple,” he said, taking her limp, warm hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Are you?” she asked, confused again, and Adam smirked. Her fingers were impossibly slender, making him notice the fine bones of her knuckles, the turn of her wrist. He wanted to force feed her something rich and decadent.

“Absolutely,” he assured her.

“Well,” she said, frowning. “Well, I’m not pleased to meet you. I didn’t even want to come here tonight. Restaurants that espouse a cause are trite and pretentious, and your food is bound to be atrocious.” She slurred over the twin shus sounds and wrinkled her nose, working her mouth as if stretching the muscles around it would help get it back under her control. “I’ve reviewed lots of ‘local produce’ restaurants, and it’s never been anything more than a stupid gimmick to cover the fact that the chef has no imagination.”

“Is that right?” Adam said, irritated beyond belief. Why did she have to be so gorgeous and snotty? “Damn. If there’s one thing I hate to be accused of, it’s lack of imagination.” Incredibly, she blushed at that. Fantastic.

“You know,” he said, “I don’t think I like the way you talk about my food without ever having tried it. What makes you the authority?”

Her cheeks pinked again, this time probably more due to annoyance than booze. “I’ll have you know I’m the top critic at Délicieux. I get more fan mail than any other columnist.”

“Yeah, but I bet half of it’s hate mail,” he baited her.

“Some,” she admitted with the careful dignity of the drunk. “I have exacting standards which few restaurants can meet.”

“Don’t your standards usually require you to at least taste the food before passing judgment on it, sweetheart?”

“I…” she paused, disconcerted. “Yes, of course. But it’s not my fault I haven’t had any of yours yet. And don’t call me ‘sweetheart’.”

“Sure thing, doll,” he retorted. “And you could’ve been sampling the wares for the last five minutes if you weren’t so focused on giving me a hard time. But I understand,” he went on. “The hands-on approach isn’t really your thing. You spend most of your time hunched over a computer in a cramped little office, right? All alone in your ivory tower, while the rest of the world struggles to meet your ‘exacting standards.’”

“I…I…” Her eyes were wide and shocked, and her chest heaved, giving tantalizing glimpses of the shadowy valley between her breasts as she strained the fabric of her dress.

He sneered. “You wouldn’t last a day in the real world. You wouldn’t last ten minutes in my kitchen.”

That soft, round chin shot up, and she took a step closer. Her eyes flashed with something, but at this point, Adam was too ticked to decipher it.

“Oh, wouldn’t I?”

He stepped in, too, until they were toe to toe. “Not a chance,” he declared. “In fact, I dare you. Spend one day in the kitchen at Market, work with me and my crew. See what it’s like from the other side. After that, review my restaurant, rip my cooking to shreds, I’ll take it like a man. Until then, sweetheart?” He leaned down close enough to see just how long and thick her eyelashes were. She smelled like raspberries and sugar, and something deeper, more complex.

“Keep your opinions to yourself.”

Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy to Be Home

I had the best time out west, bumming around Jackson Hole with one of my closest friends and her family, then checking out the rockin' SXSW festival in Austin with Stinger and my family! The new camera came in very handy, as I got fairly trigger-happy.

In Wyoming, we took a sleigh ride up a mountain, ate fabulous nouveau cowboy cuisine, snowmobiled into Yellowstone to see Old Faithful in the snow, and drank wine by the slopes while watching all the snowboarders fall down. It was awesome! If there's anything more fun that watching other people work hard, I don't know what it is. Since Stinger wasn't there to make me ski, I reveled in observing the travails of others. Petty, but true. We saw some gorgeous vistas, for example:We actually did manage to write some, since this was at least nominally a writing retreat. Not as much as I needed to, though, so I'm glad to be home, in my own office, where my two dogs are keeping me company as I go through the mountain of stuff that accumulated in my absense. More on Austin tomorrow!

Thursday, March 19, 2009


I know you're all waiting breathlessly for pics from my latest travels, but this has to take precedence. St. Martin's gave me the go ahead to post the cover art for Can't Stand the Heat! My debut romantic comedy featuring a hotshot Manhattan chef who falls for a snarky restaurant reviewer will be out this September--and I think you can see from the cover how SMP is planning to market it! My only hope is that the hotness of the sex scenes in the actual book live up to the art. A completely unbiased beta reader (my mother) assures me that they do.

Anyway, here it is. Gasp, swoon, enjoy! I've been doing all three on a regular rotating basis since I first saw it...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cleveland Never Looked So Good

I'm in the Houston airport, waiting for my flight which was delayed due to fog, of all things. Isn't Texas supposed to be relentlessly sunny? Apparently we'll only be a little delayed, which is great because I can't wait to be home! I absolutely love to travel and see new things and experience new places and takes lots of pictures which will be uploaded to my blog soon and visit people I love--but after about a week of it, I'm DONE. Is anyone else like this?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Black Bean Soup

Last week I made the most fabulous black bean soup out of Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It was a more traditional American preparation than the currently common southwestern variety--meaning, it had a dollop of sherry and cream rather than chili peppers. I loved it! Very simple and different, and extremely healthy. Beans are the magical fruit, after all.

Here's my mise en place (French for chopped and measured ingredients all in one place so I don't forget anything):
I started the vegetables (carrots, onion, and green bell pepper) and spices (chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves) off in the bottom of my favorite Le Creuset pot, softening them in butter. Then I smushed in some tomato paste for color and depth of flavor. Don't you just love tomato paste in a tube?I'd soaked the beans the night before, so they were all ready to add here, along with some water. The whole thing had to come to the boil and then simmer gently, partially covered, until the beans were soft, about two hours. Might have been less if I hadn't drained the beans too soon and allowed them to dry back out a little by accident.Once everything was good and mushy, I dumped two thirds of the soup into the food processor and gave it a whirl. Then I added it back to the pot, so there were some chunky vegetables and whole beans for texture in with the puree, and swirled in the dry sherry and the dairy. The recipe calls for cream or milk, and I used 2% as part of my ongoing quest to not always invariably eat the fattiest, naughtiest way possible. And honestly, in this case it's hard to imagine how heavy cream could make this soup any thicker or richer. It was divine with the lowfat milk, and the sherry gave it a sophisticated, boozy quality I really enjoyed. It was a fairly strong component of the flavor, actually, and Nick liked it less than I did. Some people might prefer to revise down the amount of sherry. But for me, it was superb! Garnish with a bit of minced Italian parsley for color, and there you go.
Perfect winter meal!

Friday, March 6, 2009

New Hair plus Diva Pimp

Here's my new hair. I'm not so sure about it, but wispy bangs are hardly the most drastic, dramatic change. For reference, the pic in my sidebar was take about three weeks ago. What do we think? Grow it out? Hack it all off? Give it a few more days?
Now from the side. Please ignore my I-want-to-eat-your-brains expression. It's fiendishly difficult to take a photo of yourself when your arms are as short as mine.Thoughts? Opinions? Be brutally honest. As certain people can attest, I have a decision-making disorder, so it's very helpful for me to have frank, blunt friends who can make up my mind for me. Plus, it's really just easier than deciding things for myself.

On another topic (I know, just when we were talking about my favorite subject, too!) here's a little Romance Diva pimpage:

Joshua’s Muse by Fae Sutherland

College student Alex is entirely out of his element, thrust from his safe circle of tightly knit family and friends into a world where he feels out of place and alone, until he meets the beautiful artist Joshua, who develops a swift and overwhelming obsession for Alex.

Still learning to deal with his own sexuality, Alex is confused but intrigued by the bold man who calls Alex his muse and finds himself falling under Joshua’s spell and into his arms. Alex wants true love without the sacrifice. Joshua wants his muse and everything else Alex has to offer. Can they find their balance and a lasting happiness?

On Sale Now at Ellora’s Cave!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Dear Author

Today, for me, has been all about Jane's most recent Dear Author post. If you enjoy snark, sarcasm, richly-deserved mockery, and excerpts from unbelievably revolting porn masquerading as erotica, words can hardly convey the delights contained in today's review of Jamaica Layne's Knight Moves.

Disclaimer: If you're holding anything fragile, put it down. If you have liquid and/or food in your mouth, swallow it. If you think you might need to pee soon, or if you have an excitable bladder, head to the bathroom before reading. If you have an easily triggered gag reflex? Avoid the excerpts from the actual book.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Confession is Good for the Soul

Okay. I admit it. I've been looking at shoe porn for the last hour. It started with handbags, because I honestly and truly need a new one, and I found one onsale at Neiman's online, but then I had a question about whether I could return a sale item, because purses are impossible to really get a handle on (ha!) from one photo of one angle of the outside and no interior shots, so I started a live chat with a service person (very quick response, too, I was impressed) and then I was hooked. Neiman Marcus strikes again! I've surfed through the whole Sale category, and then moved on to the not-on-sale shoes, because I'm just masochistic like that.

So many pretty things! For instance, these red boots. Part of me yearns to be the sort of woman who wears boots like this. Maybe when I complete my Goddess Transformation and lose enough weight to actually wear skinny jeans I could tuck into the tops of the boots?

Or these. These are the shoes I would buy if I were completely fearless and cool. I love these shoes more than I can say. More than I know what to do with. Which is the problem--I have literally nothing to wear these shoes with, and nowhere to wear that fabulous ensemble even if it did exist. FOR NOW. But someday I might! Should I buy the shoes now as a gesture of faith in the future fabulousness of my life? Or should I bow to practicality and look at the flats. Nothing there blew my hair back, except for these, which certainly made me do a double take.
No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you. That shoe has a face, and it's a mouse face. Oh, Marc Jacobs. Why?

So I didn't end up buying anything (other than the bag, because, dude, it was like 50% off! I couldn't afford NOT to buy it. That's my story and I'm sticking with it) but I had a good time looking and fantasizing. What's your favorite pair of fantasy shoes--the ones you'd buy if you had exciting events to go to and all the money and confidence in the world?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Deep in the Heart of Texas

One of the most annoying things about having parents who fell in love in Texas, and always longed to return there after they transplanted to Virginia, was the inevitable end to every conversation about how good something was. Example:

Me: "I love the Virginia State Fair!"
Mama: "This is good--but not as good as the State Fair of Texas."


Me: "I love Mexican food!"
Daddy: (contemptuous) "This is okay, I guess. But not as good as the Mexican food in Texas."

And so on like that. In my father's defense, he was absolutely right. The Mexican food I grew up on in Lynchburg, VA, bears very little relation to the complex, varied cuisine to be found in real Tex-Mex places in Austin. From dark, cacao-infused mole poblano to salsa cruda bursting with ripe tomatoes, plenty of cilantro, and crunchy raw onions, Austin is a latinophile's paradise. I usually insist on a liberal dose of tacos al pastor and chiles rellenos made with real poblano peppers, but we just didn't have time on this trip. I managed to sneak in a couple of fabulous breakfast tacos, though. Chorizo and egg, chorizo and potato, and the unexpected dark horse favorite, chorizo and beans. The richness of the refried beans was a perfect foil for the bright, fiery bite of the sausage.Clearly, we are fans of chorizo in my family. How highly we rate it is in direct relation to the proportion of spices. My favorite chorizo spice is cinnamon--I love the hint of sweetness in the smoky spice. I believe the base flavoring of chorizo is chile peppers and garlic, but it's the spices that make each chorizo unique. I've toyed with making my own, since there's not an abundance of wonderful carnicerias in northern Ohio, but I'm a little leery of trying it without an actual meat grinder. Maybe I'll ask for that attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer this Christmas...

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