Dinner at Home

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Comfort Comes in Many Forms

Note: This post originally appeared at  Joyfully M/M Romance Reviews and More.

If you’ve read any of my romance books, you know that I like to take my characters from heartache to a happy-ever-after. There’s something so satisfying about that—how we can disappear into a book and live for a bit in world where everything eventually comes out all right.

The recipe below, included in an early chapter of Dinner at Home, is all about the heartache portion of the story. My main character, Ollie D’Angelo, has lost his boyfriend, his home, and his job, practically in one fell swoop. Comfortably Curried Carrots and Lentils is what he makes for himself his first night in his new—and lonely—apartment. Try the recipe when you’re in need of a little comfort.

Hey, it worked for Ollie.

Comfortably Curried Carrots and Lentils 
(Serves 4)

2 cups green lentils

2 carrots, peeled and diced

3.5 cups chicken stock
2 T grated ginger
1 small red onion, chopped
2 T curry powder
3 T tomato paste
1 cup coconut milk
1 t salt
1 t cumin
½ t coriander
½ t cinnamon
2 cups baby spinach
Garnishes: Greek yogurt, chopped parsley, sliced jalapenos

Use a 4-qt. slow cooker.  Rinse lentils and pick through for any stones. Combine all ingredients, except for baby spinach, and set cooker to low for six hours or until lentils are tender. Add baby spinach at the very end, replace cover and let wilt. Serve with optional garnishes. Can also serve over rice or couscous.

Here’s an excerpt that shows where Ollie was at the beginning of the book. And, as you can see, things are not all bad as Ollie gets ready to prepare his carrots and lentils.

EXCERPT
In spite of the goodies he had purchased, Ollie felt the exhaustion peculiar to emotional shock set in on him as he entered his new apartment. Calling it home was out of the question, at least in these early days. The place was depressing and the fact that it was empty made it even moreso. He dared not even talk to himself, because his voice would echo pathetically.

After setting down his purchases on the kitchen counter, he walked back to the main living area and pulled the blinds up. He looked down at 10th Avenue, which, a bit farther south, morphed into Broadway, the main drag through the gay ghetto of Capitol Hill, wondering if he would ever feel a sense of home again. It didn’t help that, while he was making his way there, the cloud cover had become complete, blocking out the sun and shrouding the day in somber tones of gray. A light drizzle, more of a mist, had begun to fall.

Everything outside looked dirty and drab. If Ollie had taken a photograph, it would have shown up in black and white.

Ollie wondered why he wasn’t brought to his knees on the floor with grief and wondered why he wasn’t crying. Wouldn’t these be normal reactions to one’s world falling apart? Why wasn’t he on the phone with his mom in Chicago, pouring out his almost laughable tale of woe?

Ollie did sit down on the floor then, and smiled. He didn’t smile because he felt particularly happy, but because he realized he wasn’t sad.

Sure, he had lost almost everything in one fell swoop and was now faced with the prospect of starting over with almost nothing. But it didn’t take long for him to emerge from the cloud of shock and confusion and realize the reason he didn’t feel despair.

He was free.

Starting over did not represent a troubling, exhausting climb back to where he had been, but a chance to begin anew. And that prospect was liberating, exciting even.

How many of us have a chance to start over, really start over? Ollie realized that his experiences with Walker and his job had taught him things, things that would need to be examined more closely, but on the surface he knew that he now had the chance to learn from what he had been through, and come out on the other side a better person.

He could do anything.

BLURB
It only takes a few days for Ollie D'Angelo to lose his boyfriend, his job, and his home. Instead of mourning what he doesn’t have, Ollie celebrates what he does: the freedom to pursue his real passion—cooking. He begins Dinner at Home, a home-catering business, and it takes off.

Late one night, Ollie catches Hank Mellinger, a streetwise hood down on his luck, about to rob his car. Ollie soon discovers that appearances aren’t necessarily what they seem. Hank isn’t a criminal caught red-handed, but a hungry young man trying to make a life for himself and the four-year-old niece he’s trying desperately to take care of.

Instead of calling the cops, Ollie offers Hank a job and a way to pull himself up by his bootstraps. Together, they discover they can really cook... and that their shared passion for food just might lead to a passion for each other.

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Friday, June 13, 2014

How Feeding Homeless Teens Helped Inspire Dinner at Home

If, or hopefully when, you read my newest book, Dinner at Home, you’ll encounter Hank Mellinger, a homeless twenty-something who, when we first meet him, is staying at a Charity called Haven, where he gets room, board, and training in how to be a professional cook. Two similar charities exist in Seattle, where the book is set, Fare Start, which teaches cooking skills to the homeless, and YouthCare, which provides shelter, food, clothing, and vocational training for homeless youth, an astoundingly (or maybe not) large number of whom identify as LGBT.

I volunteer for YouthCare, cooking lunches and dinners once or twice a month with a group of my friends—we call ourselves the “It Gets Better” group. There’s not many things I do that are as satisfying, rewarding, and inspirational as this service. It warms my heart to know that the food I made with my own hands is feeding kids who may not have anything else to eat the rest of the day. Their happiness at seeing what we made that day can bring tears to my eyes.

My experience with YouthCare is part of the reason I love my character Hank, in Dinner at Home so much. He’s like the kids I feed: streetwise, tough on the outside, but vulnerable too. They’re really barely more than children and they’ve been forced to grow up too fast and have seen too much. Hank is no different.

Here’s a little excerpt that shows you what Hank is all about—tough guy outside, but all heart on the inside:

“You really want to feed people this crap?” Hank Mellinger snapped at his new boss. Lined up in the kitchen of Haven, a charity that housed and fed the homeless of Seattle and provided chef training for some of its residents, were several industrial-sized boxes of generic mac and cheese mix. Alongside the boxes were sticks of no-name margarine and boxes of powdered milk.

His boss, E.J. Porter, an African-American woman with her hair braided tightly to her scalp and oval-rimmed frameless glasses, shook her head as she took in her latest charge.

“Hank. We have to face reality here. Now, as much as I would love to serve people mac and cheese with real cheddar, cream, and maybe roasted red peppers, we just can’t afford that kind of stuff on the measly funds we get from the state and what donors kick in. Hell, honey, we might as well do a b├ęchamel and throw some lobster in too.” She patted his shoulder. “It’s a nice dream, sweetie. Now you need to get cookin’. Lunch is only a couple hours away and I still need you to chop and prep the salad.” She pointed to the sorry pile of heads of iceberg lettuce in the sink.

Hank shook his head. “So because people are poor, they have to eat this fucking shit? Why can’t we get some fresh vegetables? Is it that pricey? This stuff gives ‘em nothin’. Artery-clogging crap that might fill up their bellies, but doesn’t do a thing to keep ‘em healthy. Fuck.”

E.J. moved in close to Hank, so close he could feel her breath and maybe even a bit of her spittle on his face. She spoke softly, but there was an intensity, perhaps even a fury to her words. “Look, Hank, you just got here. I have been trying to run this place for the last nine years. You have no idea what I go through just to get the food we have to work with. You have no idea how grateful some of these people are for this ‘shit’ as you call it. It tastes pretty good when the last meal you had came out of a dumpster, if you had anything at all. We work with what we get. Some days it’s healthier fare than others, but all of it’s food. For hungry people. And you might not think that’s something, but it is.

“Now, you are just starting here. We gave you a roof over your head, food to eat, and we’re trying to help you find a career path as a chef. Haven may not be Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, but we will get you ready to work in a kitchen. We’ll give you knife skills, teach you how to make simple sauces, stocks, and soups, we’ll make a real cook out of you. Maybe not a chef, but a cook.

“Now you need to watch your language, watch your attitude, and get to work.” E.J. stormed away.

BUY
from Dreamspinner Press in ebook or in paperback
Amazon Kindle

If you want to know more about YouthCare (and maybe even donate), here’s a little more information:

YouthCare History

For 40 years, YouthCare has been a leader in providing effective services to Seattle’s homeless youth.

In 1974, a group of concerned citizens started a three-bed shelter for homeless and runaway youth, the first in the Western United States.  Since then, we have grown to become a community-based agency with six sites serving the greater Seattle area. During that time, we have led the way in creating effective, innovative programs for homeless young people:


  • In 1989, YouthCare created one of the first transitional living programs in the Northwest. Straley House now houses Catalyst, one of the first low-barrier housing programs for homeless youth in the region.
  • In 1998, YouthCare opened ISIS House, the first transitional living program in Washington State to focus on the unique needs of homeless LGBTQ youth.
  • In 2003, YouthCare was one of the first agencies nationwide to contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement to house a shelter/case management program serving the specialized needs of refugee youth.
  • In May 2010, YouthCare partnered with the City of Seattle, the King County Prosecutor’s Office, and others to open the Bridge Program, the first residential recovery program in the Northwest for sexually exploited children. Today, the program operates as a full continuum of services for sexually exploited youth and  young adults, and includes dedicated beds in both emergency shelter and transitional living programs.


Contact

For general inquiries, including program information and donation options: info@youthcare.org or (206) 694-4500

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Note: This blog post originally appeared on The Novel Approach.

Food, Memories, and Love

It might just be me, but I believe one of the most powerful ways you can show someone you love them is through feeding them. Growing up, the maternal side of my family was Sicilian. And let me tell you, the Sicilians believe in three things: love, family, and food. You simply did not turn down food when you visited my relatives (and you always sat around the kitchen table when you visited, never the living room).

My mom, who passed away from cancer in 2007, was a product of her Italian roots. Her best food was the simple Sicilian peasant fare she grew up and learned to cook from the aunts and grandmother who raised her. One of her best recipes, and the one she was known for, was her spaghetti sauce and meatballs. To this day, I make her all-day-simmer sauce on lazy Sundays. The smell of it brings her memory back to me more powerfully than any photograph and, yes, that aroma often brings a tear to my eye.

I could not write my “romance with recipes” Dinner at Home, without including that recipe. I share it with you below. I also would like to share a little excerpt from the book, in which my main character, Ollie, remembers making meatballs with his own Italian mom. The excerpt reminds me of the special times I shared with my mother, almost always in the kitchen.

Ollie and Meatballs (an excerpt from Dinner at Home)

“Go ahead, you do it.”

Ollie looks up at his mother, her warm smile, her dark hair and green eyes as she stares down at the five-year-old, expectantly. 

“Like this?” Ollie asks and he upends the jug of milk over a couple of slices of white bread his mother has placed in the sink.

“Rub it in. Get the bread all nice and wet,” his mother says.

“Like it’s getting a bath?” Ollie asks.

His mother laughs. “Like it’s getting a bath.”

Once the bread is thoroughly wet, Ollie picks it up and holds it, dripping, over a bowl of equal parts ground beef, veal, and pork. 

“Now grind it all up,” his mother says. And Ollie squeezes the bread, squeezing and twisting it until it drops in damp crumbs to the meat.

“Very good.” His mom pats his head. “What comes next?”

“The eggs?”

“That’s right.” His mom hands him the first egg and Ollie awkwardly cracks it against the side of the glass bowl. Some of the white runs down the outside of the bowl. “That’s okay,” his mom says when he looks up at her, lower lip out and eyes wide. “You’ll get it right with this one.” And she hands him another egg.

He does, cracking the egg and opening it over the meat and bread mixture so the yolk breaks when it hits. He looks down at the mixture, then back to Mom. “What’s next?”

“You know what’s next.”

“Garlic?”

“Lots of garlic.” She has already chopped the cloves fine and she gestures for him to cup his hands. When he does so, she delivers the pungent smelling stuff into his palms and tells him to scatter it around.
They add dried basil, oregano, onion powder, and salt and pepper. “Now get your hands in there and mix it all up.” She rubs his back as he combines everything, giggling at the wet mushiness of the mixture. She giggles too.

“Now the best part!” Ollie says. “Meatballs.”

His mother pulls a chair from the kitchen table and sets little Ollie on it so he can work more easily. She rolls up her sleeves and says, “Let’s get to work.”

Ollie awakened from the dream with a smile. One of his favorite childhood memories was helping his Sicilian mother make her spaghetti sauce and meatballs every Sunday. He did it throughout his life. He could now make her simmer-all-day-thick, rich, and delicious sauce with his eyes closed. Even though he used all the same ingredients in all the same proportions, it never tasted quite the same. Good, but just not quite the same. There was no substitute for a mother’s love.

Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce and Meatballs
(Serves 4-6)

1 29-oz. can tomato puree
1 12-oz. can tomato paste
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoon pepper
1-1/2 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon each oregano, basil, and onion powder
2 handfuls grated Romano or Parmesan cheese (half a cup?)
7 cups water or 1-2 cups red wine with the remainder water (I usually use wine)

Note: Most all of the above ingredients can just be eyeballed. Mix everything in a big pot, add meatballs and pork and simmer for at least four hours. Highly recommended: brown some pork (ribs, chops, whatever’s cheap, a little less than a pound in the pan you’re going to cook the sauce in. Just caramelize it. Once it’s done, pull out, deglaze with a splash of red wine, and begin making your sauce.)

Meatballs
1 lb. ground beef (or beef and pork, or turkey)
1 egg
1 slice bread
¼ cup milk
Salt, pepper, garlic powder, parsley, onion powder, basil, oregano (just eyeball all of this)

Take a slice of bread, wet with milk, crumble into meat, and add seasonings and egg. Mix with hands, form into balls, brown in hot fry pan on stove in a little olive oil, and drop into the sauce.

Read another excerpt

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from Dreamspinner Press in ebook or in paperback
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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Turkey Burgers

I used to think turkey burgers were bland, the ugly stepsister of the more robust hamburger.

Then I started tinkering around...

And now, I think I prefer the turkey burgers I make to the ones made from beef. Try these and see what you think.

Rick’s Turkey Burgers(Serves 4 or two hungry men)

Ingredients
1 lb. ground turkey
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, finely chopped
1-tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1-teaspoon stone ground mustard
1 egg
¼ cup bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste

Top with cheese, if desired (I like sharp Cheddar)

Directions
Combine all, form into 4 patties and fry or grill (I make thick patties so my burgers take 5-6 minutes per side). I like to serve with sliced avocado, tomato and more mustard.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit: Red Lentil Soup

Slow Cooker Red Lentil Soup

This is one of those recipes that I have to confess I came up with by throwing together pantry ingredients when I was looking for a quick and easy supper to make. I had some red lentils leftover from another recipe and thought, “What can I do with those?” A quick look around and I saw a can of diced tomatoes, chicken stock, herbs and the usual mirepoix (onion, celery, carrot) and thought they’d make a great hearty soup, especially in the slow-cooker, which really shines for cooking beans.

The soup (or stew—it’s thick) was amazing, if I do say so myself. Very flavorful and even better when reheat it a day or two later. I also had some Irish banger sausages in the freezer that I threw in, but you could substitute a different kind of sausage and still come up with a great main course soup. You could even go vegetarian—just leave out the meat and swap the chicken stock for vegetable.

Ingredients
½ onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced (or do what I do—use baby carrots already peeled and ready)
2 stalks celery, sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 quart chicken stock (homemade is best, but who has time for that?)
2 cups red lentils (I suppose another color would suffice too)
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon each garlic powder and onion powder
½ lb. sausage (I used bangers, but a good chicken sausage or Andouille, would also work well—just, for God’s sake—don’t use breakfast links)
Salt and pepper to taste (I am generous with my S&P); the best way to do salt and pepper is be conservative at the start of the recipe and taste and adjust just before serving.

Directions
Really, this couldn’t be easier. Simply dump all the above into a slow cooker, stir, cover and set to low for 8-9 hours. The great thing about dried lentils is they need no pre-soaking or prep (you might want to pick through quickly to make sure there are no stones mixed in).

At the end of cooking, remove sausage, halve lengthwise, then slice, and return to soup.
(Serves 4-6)

I served with grated cheese and more freshly ground black pepper. A loaf of crusty bread is almost a must-have with this.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Cover Reveal: Dinner at Home

BIG COVER REVEAL!

My "romance with recipes" just got a new face, courtesy of cover artist extraordinaire, Reese Dante. I'm just thrilled with it. Here's the blurb for the book, which comes out in May:

It only takes a few days for Ollie D'Angelo to lose his boyfriend, his job, and his home. Instead of mourning what he doesn’t have, Ollie celebrates what he does: the freedom to pursue his real passion—cooking. He begins Dinner at Home, a home-catering business, and it takes off.

Late one night, Ollie catches Hank Mellinger, a street-wise hood down on his luck, about to rob his car. Ollie soon discovers that appearances aren’t necessarily what they seem. Hank isn’t a criminal caught red-handed but a hungry young man trying to make a life for himself and the four-year-old niece he’s trying desperately to take care of. 

Instead of calling the cops, Ollie offers Hank a job and a way to pull himself up by his bootstraps. Together, they discover they can really cook... and that their shared passion for food just might lead to a passion for each other.

Dinner from Home will appear soon on Dreamspinner Press's Coming Soon page and you can pre-order. It will be widely available beginning in May.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Guest at the Table: Reader & Mom Kari Higa Makes Shares Her Recipe for Chocolate Waffles


Kari says: I love making chocolate covered treats for special occasions.  It's not an indulgence I allow myself often but these are so good.

Sometimes, I make way too many treats for one day.  I had leftover ganache and chocolate cover fruit.  So the next day, when trying to decide what to make for breakfast, I decided to make chocolate waffles. It turned out so much better than I'd hoped.

No need for syrup. Just sprinkle a bit of powdered sugar and top with chocolate covered fruit!


Chocolate Waffles 

Ingredients
4 tbsp chocolate ganache (see recipe below)
1 1/2 cups waffle mix (Bisquick or see recipe below)
1 large egg
Milk (about 3/4 cup)
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp sugar
Berries (I used chocolate covered strawberries and raspberries)

Directions
Preheat the waffle iron.  In a large microwaveable bowl, warm the ganache (mine was refrigerated). Add the waffle mix, sugar, egg, oil, and stir enough milk until the batter is cake-like batter consistency.

Fill the waffle iron with batter and cook until done.

Top with fruit and sprinkle powdered sugar.  Enjoy!

Makes 6 waffles

Chocolate Ganache

The ratio for ganache is 1 cup heavy cream to 8 oz. chocolate chips.  I like dark chocolate so I use Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips.

Warm the cream in the microwave for about a minute in the microwave.  Keep an eye so that it doesn't boil.  Add the chocolate chips and stir until shiny and the chocolate completely melt.

Waffle Mix

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
1tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder

This can be stored in an airtight container. I make a huge batch so I can use it during the week to cut down on preparation time.

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