Dinner at Home

Friday, February 28, 2014

A Guest at the Table: Lorna Collins, Author of Ghost Writer

I wrote the recipe below into my fantasy/mystery/romance novel, Ghost Writer. Read more about the book on our websiteAs a family tradition, I always cook down the turkey carcass from holiday meals and make this soup:
Mulligatawny Soup
1 med. onion in
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 med. carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 bell pepper (green, red, or yellow), seeded and diced
1 med. apple (I like Granny Smith or Fuji), pared, cored, and diced
1 cup diced or shredded chicken or turkey
Stir in gradually:
1/3 cup flour
1 tsp. curry powder
1/8 tsp. mace
2 whole cloves
1 sprig parsley, minced
2 cups stock (chicken or turkey)
1 cup cooked tomatoes (I use canned diced ones)
salt and pepper to taste
Simmer for half an hour or longer. Serve hot.
When unemployed computer programmer Nan Burton inherits a California beach cottage from her great-great-aunt, she’s delighted. But she’s in for a huge surprise: The house is haunted by the ghost of famous romance writer Max Murdoch (pen name Maxine DuBois) who insists Nan complete his last novel, threatening to keep her from sleeping until she agrees. The ensuing clash pits youth against the long-dead but still egotistical author with humorous and moving results.
“I’ll just have to teach you some of my favorite recipes for leftover turkey. Max always loved my Mulligatawny soup.” She got that far-away look she always had when she mentioned Max.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Just the most delicious soup you’ve ever eaten,” she replied.

“What’s in it?”

“That’s my secret—for now.” She smiled.

“Okay,” I groused. “But I’m going to have to know pretty soon so I can get the ingredients.”

“I’ll bring the recipe the day after Thanksgiving.”...
...“I remember some wonderful meals in this kitchen,” Max said. He sounded almost wistful. I didn’t know he had that tone of voice in his repertoire. “Helen always cooked a small chicken or turkey, and we ate right here at this table,” he added. “The next day, she cooked down the bones and made that delicious soup.”

“What’s so special about it?”

“She never revealed her secret and, of course, I never participated in the preparation. But it was hearty and savory and very different from anything else I’d ever eaten.”

“You think I’ll like it?” I asked.

“I doubt that you have a terribly sophisticated palate, but I suspect you will enjoy the flavor.”

“Great.” I was going to cook something I’d never tried. I wondered if I should practice making one of those happy faces in case I didn’t like it....
...“I brought the soup recipe with me,” she said as she pulled a slip of paper from her windbreaker pocket. She wore it over a sweater. I hoped she was warm enough, but she’d let me know from the beginning that she could take care of herself, so I didn’t pursue it.

“Steve won’t be coming today. Do we have everything?”

She smiled knowingly. “I added all the ingredients we’d need to my list for Thanksgiving.”
I looked at the recipe, and she was right. I had bought every item. A couple of them surprised me. “Are you sure this is good?”

She laughed heartily. Well, as heartily as an elderly woman with a serious heart condition can laugh. “I promise you’ll love it,” she replied.

She was right. We ate the soup for lunch with left-over rolls and dessert from the day before. Yummy!

“Helen, this is really good.”

“Perhaps you’ll trust me next time.”
About the Author:
Lorna Collins was raised in Alhambra, California and attended California State University at Los Angeles where she majored in English.

Between 1998 and 2001, she worked in Osaka, Japan on the Universal Studios theme park with her husband, Larry. Their memoir of that experience, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Parkwas a finalist for the 2006 nonfiction EPPIE award and named as one of Rebeccas Reads best nonfiction books of 2005. They have written two mysteries together: Murder… They Wrote, and Murder in Paradise, a finalist for the 2012 EPIC eBook Award. They are currently working on at least two more in this series.

Along with authors Sherry Derr-Wille, Luanna Rugh, Cheryl Gardarian and Christie Shary, Lorna has co-authored five romance anthologies:Snowflake Secrets--finalist for the Dream Realm and Eric Hoffer Awards, Seasons of LoveDirections of Love—winner of the 2011 EPIC eBook Award for best romance anthology, An Aspen Grove Christmas, and The Art of Love. The group is currently working on three more anthologies.

Today she and Larry are retired and reside in Dana Point, California. They have just completed The Memory Keeper, a historical novel set in San Juan Capistrano between 1820 and 1890, to be published soon.

Learn more about Lorna on her website: http://www.lornalarry.com. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Guest at the Table: L. J. LaBarthe, Author of The Wind-Up Forest

Hello! I'm L. J. LaBarthe. I'm from Australia, and we've just come out of the first heat wave of this summer—it was a very long week with astoundingly high temperatures, the worst day was 115F (46C). I'm glad it's over, and the weather has been lovely since, perfect weather for the following recipe!

The chicken and potatoes recipe below is a family tradition. My father was a cordon bleu chef in his younger years, and this was my favorite roast dinner of all the sorts of roasts that he made. I remember that when I was sick, recovering from a nasty flu or recovering from surgery, my dad would bring me these roast chicken and potatoes, heat them up in my oven, and then chuckle as I almost inhaled the lot. It may seem like a simple thing—a roast chicken and potatoes, but believe me, this is probably the most deliciously decadent roast you will ever eat. 

That's because of the amount of butter and garlic, and so it's probably best to save this for special 
occasions. Trust me, you won't regret it. If you do try this out, I hope you do enjoy it as much as 
I—and the guests I've cooked this for—do. 

In my novel, The Wind-Up Forest, Archangels Michael and Gabriel pay a visit to a computer genius/hacker named Max and his partner, Minnie, a witch. Minnie also loves to cook and asks Michael and Gabriel to stay for dinner; alas, things are such in the world of the book that they have to decline, but they promise to visit for a meal as soon as they are able to. 

Poulet rôti et pommes de terre paysanne
(Peasant style roast chicken and potatoes)

Part One - Potatoes
1kg baby potatoes, peeled. (OR small potatoes, peeled and cubed).
1 bunch curly leaf parsley.
125g unsalted butter.
Salt and pepper.
1/2 head garlic cloves, peeled and crushed.
Olive oil.

Par-boil your potatoes, then drain well and set aside to dry. You want them to still be warm, but not damp. When they're dry to touch, melt the butter in a deep fry pan, add 5 tablespoons olive oil and when the mix starts to pop, add the potatoes.

Toss well through the butter and oil mix. Add garlic, and cook until the potatoes brown and go crisp. Toss in the parsley which has been minced in a herb mill, salt and pepper to taste.

When everything is coated in butter, garlic, salt, pepper and parsley, remove from heat and set
aside for part three.

Part Two - Chicken
1 good quality chicken, skin on.
1 1/2 heads of garlic.
125g unsalted butter.
Salt and pepper.
1 lemon.
Olive oil.

Pat your chicken dry after washing out the cavity. Once it's clean and dry, stuff one full head of garlic into the cavity, taking off the outer skins of the garlic first. Cut the lemon in half and stuff one half into the cavity with the garlic. Make sure to remove the neck, if there's one there. Some butchers take that out, some don't. Tie the legs together with twine, if you have it, otherwise don't stress about that.

Pour some olive oil over the chicken and rub it over the bird thoroughly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Grease a baking/roasting dish with the butter (unmelted), and add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Squeeze the juice of the remaining lemon into the pan, and add the remainder of the garlic cloves, once they have been peeled and halved. Stir it all around to make sure that the whole bottom of the pan is covered. Add a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper, stir again. Chop up the remaining butter roughly, and place it into the pan.

Place the bird into the pan, then into a hot oven. Roast at 180oC/350oF. Cooking times depend on the weight of the bird, so this is a good guide:
20 minutes per 1 pound / 450g. So if you have a 2kg / 4.5 pound chicken, roast it for 1 1/
2 hours. OR until the juices run clear when the meat is pricked with a fork. You do NOT want to
undercook a chicken.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove from the oven and turn the heat right down. Move to part three.

Part Three - Putting it all together

Put your cooked potatoes into the pan with the chicken. Sprinkle in some more parsley, over the bird as well as the potatoes. Toss around through the pan juices as best you can, without burning yourself! Return to the warm oven with the heat on low for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes is up, remove from oven. Switch oven off. Snip the twine that's bound the legs and remove. Remove the garlic from the cavity and squeeze the cloves out of the skins and stir them into the pan juices. Allow bird and potatoes to stand for 15 minutes, then carve the bird and serve with the potatoes and pan juices spooned over the top.

The Wind-Up Forest by L. J. LaBarthe.
Book four in The Archangel Chronicles

Archangel Gabriel is hoping for a quiet period in his life to enjoy his relationship with Archangel Michael, but someone has other ideas.

New dangers arise when the Holy Grail is stolen. Gabriel, Michael, and the rest of the Brotherhood of Archangels and their allies must somehow thwart the twisted desires of the thief. Their search for the Grail takes them all over the world, calling on old friends like Uriel and Raziel, and forging powerful new alliances. Though they face a fresh set of perils in pursuit of the thief, the enduring comfort Gabriel needs so much, that of his beloved Michael, never abandons him.

“I reckon we need to keep every single angel on alert,” Gabriel said. “So, I want to put this job into the hands of someone just as capable who ain’t an angel.”


Gabriel grinned. “No Hands Minnie is a witch. Her partner, Max, who goes by the name Mobius on the Internet, is one of the world’s best hackers. If it’s in cyberspace, he’ll find it. And when he finds it, No Hands Minnie will use a spell to keep it safe until we see it.”

“Why is she called No Hands?” Michael asked. “Has she in truth no hands?”

Gabriel laughed. “No, she’s got hands. The nickname stuck—she used to be a thief. A damn good one, too. Max was hired to catch her, actually. One thing led to another, and now they’re together, living on the south coast of Australia, and shrouding their little technological paradise inside a natural paradise.”

“I see.” Michael hummed. “Will they help us, do you think?”

Gabriel nodded. “Aye, I reckon. Max is a good lad. And he likes solving mysteries, and this is a bloody huge mystery. Minnie’s just as curious as he is, so the two of ’em make a damn good pair. Plus, she cooks a great chicken roast, so we should get a nice lunch while we’re there.”

Michael chuckled. “Ah, I see. We go to visit them to eat their food and ask their help.”

“If we didn’t eat their food, she’d think she’d lost her touch with herbs and spices.” Gabriel grinned.
“All right, then we shall go and see them. I think you are right—it would be wise to keep angelkind on alert for things that only we can do. If these two humans—the witch and the hacker—can do what Sophiel and Brieus did with the Internet, then I feel this is a good solution.”

“Awesome.” Gabriel stopped walking and turned to face his lover. “Now, can I have a kiss?”

Michael smiled. “You may.”

“Even more awesome.” Gabriel closed the small distance between them and cupped Michael’s face in his hands and kissed him.

Kissing Michael like this, holding him close, with nothing to disturb the moment, was bliss. Gabriel sighed contentedly into the kiss, running his fingers up and down the length of Michael’s spine, humming as Michael’s fingers ghosted over his wing joints.

“We don’t have time for that,” Gabriel thought to his lover.

Michael moved his hands. “I know. We should go, then.”

“Aye.” Gabriel ended the kiss and rested his forehead against Michael’s. “We’ll be able to get some us time soon.”

“I hope so.” Michael huffed. “I wish to spend more time together.”

“So do I.” Gabriel kissed the tip of Michael’s nose and laughed as Michael wrinkled it in response. “Let’s go delegate responsibility, then go to Armenia.”

Michael stepped back and slipped his hand into Gabriel’s. “As you say.”

Earlier books in The Archangel Chronicles

If readers are interested, I talk about my books, food, movies and much more on my blog,
Facebook and Twitter, and my website has more details about my books. Those links are:
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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Greens and Beans with Sausage Soup

My favorite way to cook is to just see what's in the pantry and fridge and let my imagination take over. This soup is an example of that technique. Inspired by mom's Sicilian greens and beans, this hearty soup will take the chill off any cold night. You can also make a vegetarian version. Just swap out the chicken stock for vegetable stock and leave out the sausage and add in an extra can of beans.

Greens and Beans Soup with Sausage

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1-lb link Italian sausage, mild or spicy, your choice
4 cups chicken stock
1 15-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried basil
1-2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
2 cups baby spinach
1 15-oz. can cannellini beans or other white beans (garbanzo, navy)
½ cup orzo or other small pasta
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic, sauté for about 5 minutes. Remove. In hot pan, sear sausage links, turning to brown evenly (only a minute or so).

Put sausage and vegetables into a slow cooker. Add chicken stock, crushed tomatoes, herbs, crushed red pepper, bay leaf, and salt and pepper. Cook on low for eight hours.

At 7/12 hours, turn slow cooker up to high and add in spinach, beans, and orzo. Cook for ½ hour or until spinach has wilted and pasta is tender.

Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. All you need now is a nice crusty bread and some butter.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Guest at the Table: Christopher Hawthorne Moss and Dolmades

Seduction, Byzantine-style:
A Summer Interlude from BELOVED PILGRIM
by Christopher Hawthorne Moss


Place, the villa of Lord Andronikos in Constantinople.  Time, one sultry afternoon in 1101 VE

The servants came in with platters and bowls of what seemed as rich a variety of delicacies as the Basileus's great reception. Andronikos had them put the dishes on a low table in front of them. “Have some oysters,” the eunuch suggested.

Elias reached into the plate, picked out an oyster that simmered in a rich garlicky sauce, and popped it into his mouth. Andronikos did the same, looking into his face as he bit his oyster in half, ate the rest, and sensually licked the sauce from his lips.

“I thank you, your Excellency, for your generosity in providing me and my squire such a magnificent lodging.”

Andronikos proffered different bowls and platters and asked, “And you are being served well, my lord, by my own servants?”

Elias nodded vigorously. Around a mouthful of rice and fruit that had been cooked in a dark-green leaf, he said “Indeed, most satisfactory.”
“And the girl. She pleases you?”

Elias looked up sharply. Blushing, he said, “Maliha? Well enough, my lord. I have not had much for her to do. She is willing enough.”

The older man looked down, as if trying to think how to say something. “You do not take her to your bed?”

Elias reddened further. Telling himself it might be a proper question for a host in this part of the world, he counseled himself to calm. “M-my lord, no. It is not necessary. I have no need of that… her.”

A pleased smile spirited across the eunuch’s lips. “If there is anything at all you require, my lord, do not hesitate to ask.”

“I did ask the young woman to make her known and wait for invitation to enter the chamber. I should like all the servants to do the same,” he asserted.

“I shall make it known. Never fear. Now let us enjoy this modest fare so we can relax and… talk… after.”

The meal was pleasing but did not leave one overfull. Andronikos continued to press wine and the hookah on Elias. Though the air in the tent was not hot, it was warm and fragrant. Elias took his cup and leaned back on the cushions, feeling more than a little somnolent.

“My lord, may I call you Elias? I insist you call me by my given name,” the eunuch said softly.

“But of course, Andronikos,” he replied and toasted him with wine.

Andronikos smiled and gazed up at the roof of the tent. The sun was creeping behind a thick tree, muting the light within. “In Germany, in your home, did you have a betrothed?”
“I did. I left… ah, her behind.”

“Did you have anyone… special? Besides her, of course.”

Elias thought about his brother. “There was one… fellow, like a brother to me, really.”

“A brother?”

“Yes, very much like a brother. He is no longer with us.”

“You mean he left the pilgrimage?”

“No….” Elias’s voice trailed off. “He passed on. He died.”

Andronikos lifted himself on his elbow and leaned closer. “Oh, my dear, how sad. I grieve for his loss, for your loss.”

Elias smiled gratefully. “I miss him terribly. So does Albre… so does my squire.”

Andronikos’s eyebrows lifted. “So?”

Elias closed his eyes. A languor had stolen over him. He thought he might drift off but lacked the volition to fight it. He felt Andronikos shift on the cushions. All at once, the eunuch was lying lightly on him, his arms on the cushions on either side of Elias’s waist. Elias’s eyes shot open to find Andronikos’s face inches from his own. His eyes were so full of desire that it took his breath away.

“Andronikos!” he breathed when he could speak again. The languor, the sensuality of the food, the drink, the scented air, the muted light and soft pillows made him want to let Andronikos sink down into him.

“My sweet, do not fear. I know the truth, your secret. It is safe with me.” He lifted his hand and stroked Elias’s cheek. “So soft, so smooth.”

“You know? How can you know?”

Andronikos reached for his throat and caressed it, letting his finger slip under the collar of his tunic. “I sense it. If you know what to look for, it is easy to see.”


Ahem.  We will leave Elias to deal with the amorous Byzantine and turn to the delicious platters of food and drink.

Constantinople, founded in 660 BCE and later renamed for the Emperor Constantine, had a ruling class of primarily Greek origin.  Its cuisine was therefore more Greek than Turkish or even Roman.  According to Rebecca and David Wendelken in an article quoted on Gode Cookery [link: http://www.godecookery.com/byznrec/byznrec.htm]:

"What did their food taste like? We have a number of earlier Greek cookbooks, such as Gastronomia by Archstratus (5th century BC), and we know what Greek cooking is like now. To tie them together we have the work of such scholars As Nicholas Tselementes, who traced back to earlier times such dishes as Keftedes (meatballs made with grain), Dolmades (grain and/or meat stuffed into vegetables or plant leaves and cooked), Moussake (a layered dish of meat, cheese and pasta or grain), Yuvarelakia (meat and/or grain dumplings cooked in broth), and Kakavia, the Greek version of Bouillabaise. He also traced back to the ancient Greeks the making of white sauce - using flour and fat to thicken a broth or milk mixture. Although some of these dishes are now known to the world by Turkish or European names (even the Greeks call white sauce "béchamel"), their origins are Greek. 

We know they ate three meals a day - breakfast, midday and supper. They had many fast days. While the lower classes made do with what they could get, the upper classes were served three courses at their midday and supper meals consisting of hors d'ouvres, a main course of fish or meat and a sweet course. They ate all kinds of fish and other seafood, meat including pork, and numerous types of fowl. There were many types of soups and stews and salads were popular. They liked a variety of cheeses and fruits were eaten both fresh and cooked. Fruits included apples, melons, dates, figs, grapes and pomegranates. Almonds, walnuts, and pistachios were used in many dishes as well as being eaten by themselves."

Let's look at a plausible recipe for Byzantine dolmades, the rice and fruit stuffed grape leaves Andronikos served to his seductee to help clear his palate after the aphrodisiacal oysters in garlic.  You will need olive oil, onions, uncooked rice, dill, pine nuts, salt, and your choice of Middle Eastern dried fruits, but apparently not testicles, judging by the prowess of the eunuch Andronikos.

Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; cook onions until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the rice; cook, stirring until rice begins to color. Cover; lower heat to low. Cook 5 minutes. Stir in the water, dill, pine nuts, salt and freshly ground pepper, grape leaves and juice of two lemons.  Place a heaping teaspoon of the filling in the center of each grape leaf with the shiny surface down. Fold the sides of the leaf over the filling; roll up loosely (the rice will swell when cooked). Place rolls in layers in a Dutch oven.  Sprinkle with lemon juice. Add remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil and 1 1/12 cups hot water. Place a heatproof plate over the rolls to prevent them from opening. Cover; simmer over low heat 1 hour. Let cool in the pan; refrigerate until ready to serve. **

The fruit is my addition, so use your own choice, chopped up and simmer with the filling.

Wine Pairing
What wine would Andronikos ply Elias with, along with the repast and whatever was in that hookah (Colorado and Washington State only)?  It's a young adult novel, but for the adults who enjoy reading all types of fiction, you might try an Eastern Mediterranean wine. According to the Constantinople article in Wikipedia "During the crusades and after, western Europeans valued costly Greek wines. The best known varieties were Cretan wines from muscat grapes, Romania or Rumney (exported from Methoni in the western Peloponnese), and Malvasia or Malmsey (likely exported from Monemvasia)."  You might choose to serve it with one of the currently trendy yet ancient in origin Cretan white wines, such as Silva-Daskalakis Psithiros White, an award-winning wine that is a blend of Malvazia and Moschato. It exhibits a distinctive richness of aromas and offers a balanced mouth feel and long finish.  *** Something tells me Andronikos is definitely after a good mouth feel.

And while you are at it, why not read a chapter from BELOVED PILGRIM to your proposed inamorata.  The adventures of a Bavarian knight who, though born in a woman's body, has always known his heart and mind were that of a man, and who finds challenges, disillusion and a woman's love. in the disastrous Crusade of 1101.  You can get the ebook and paperback at Harmony Ink Press.

* From a now out-of-print publication called Early Period, issue #5, written and published by Rebecca and David Wendelken, original date unknown (circa late 1970s - early 1980s).
** From Food Network UK. See this recipe for quantities.
*** From Meet and Eat in Crete

Christopher Hawthorne Moss wrote his first short story when he was seven and has spent some of the happiest hours of his life fully involved with his colorful, passionate and often humorous characters. Moss spent some time away from fiction, writing content for websites before his first book came out under the name Nan Hawthorne in 1991. He has since become a novelist and is a prolific and popular blogger, the historical fiction editor for the GLBT Bookshelf, where you can find his short stories and thoughtful and expert book reviews. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his husband of over thirty years and four doted-upon cats. He owns Shield-wall Productions at http://www.shield-wall.com. He welcomes comment from readers sent to christopherhmoss@gmail.

It’s the time of the earliest Crusades, and Elisabeth has always known that deep inside she is not the young noblewoman she appears to be. When her twin brother falls victim to a mortal fever, she has her chance to take his identity and live as a man, a knight. Now Elias, he is on his way to the Holy Land, to adventure, passion and death in a vividly drawn medieval time where honor is rarely found where you expect it. Can a transgendered person "pass" among knights and soldiers and survive furious battle, deadly privations, moral uncertainty and treachery and return to his new-found love in the magnificent city of Constantinople?

Buy Beloved Pilgrim here.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Slow-Cooker Posole

This is what's for dinner at home tonight. It's a perfect and comforting blend of warmth and spice. It's also featured, along with several other recipes in my upcoming novel, Dinner at Home (May 2014/Dreamspinner Press).

Slow-Cooker Posole

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 poblano pepper, diced
2 stalks celery sliced
4 tomatillos, peeled and quartered
1 pound boneless, skinless organic chicken thighs
2 cups chicken stock
14-1⁄2 ounce can hominy (I prefer gold, but white is fine too)
14-1⁄2 ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes (with chiles or other Mexican seasoning)
4 ounce can sliced jalapenos, with juice
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes or more to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

(Note: if you can find it, there is a specialty Mexican posole blend called Los Chileros Posole Spice Blend, sold in 1-oz packages in Mexican markets or grocery store international sections with the dried peppers (or on Amazon); it is excellent and really kicks up this recipe a notch. Just add the whole packet at the start of cooking.)

1. Combine all in slow cooker and cook on low for 7-8 hours (or high 4 hours).
2. At end of cooking time, pull out thighs and shred with two forks, return to pot.
3. Test seasonings, adding more salt and/or pepper if necessary.
4. Garnish with chopped cilantro, sliced radishes, cubed avocado, and lime juice. Tortillas or warm cornbread are also great on the side.

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Guest at the Table: LE Franks and her Jalapeño Caipirinha Cocktail!

When I invited myself onto Rick R. Reed’s new food blog, his only condition was that whatever I shared had to be potentially edible—and thematically relevant. It made me think about my own connection with food in my writing. It wasn’t until I met my current Beditor (beta is too casual a term for her advanced skill set) and she started leaving me global notes about how hungry my stories made her, I realized that one of the tools I use to inform a character or breath life into a scene is through the use of food. And apparently I do that a lot.

For my current story—6 Days to Valentine—I drew directly on an experience I had while attending the 2012 Gay Romance Literary Retreat that was held in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

That trip was magic for so many reasons I won’t go into here, but key among them was meeting one of their bartenders—a man who had apprenticed under a nationally recognized master mixologist.

The master had taken our bartender through every bottle of liquor on the shelves, one by one and they tasted them over time, and our bartender came to understand the nuances and flavor profiles of each one—and how they could be combined together in an infinite number of ways to make unexpected and magical concoctions.

He described the first original drink he ever made—inspired by his girlfriend—each ingredient reflected an element of their relationship or her personality. It included honey for her sweetness and fresh blackberries “for the darkness in every woman’s soul.” I’m sorry I wasn’t recording him in that moment, because his whole recipe read like an epic love poem.

He asked me what I wanted to drink, and I’m certain I rolled my eyes when he suggested rum. My palate runs to dry martini’s, straight distilled spirits without a lot of fillers. If I want sweet I head to the margarita end of the spectrum. Rum drinks make me shudder so I was a challenge for him—even he couldn’t make a rum drink I’d like. I recall he practically glowed and began weaving his magic as he pulled a tall, skinny green bottle off the shelf of cachaça—a white Brazilian rum.

I was fascinating as he narrated his steps. He muddled Serrano chilies and lime in the bottom of a pint glass, adding the cachaça and ice before shaking it. He strained it into a glass, dropped in fresh limes, and slid it across to me with a grin on his face. Before I even took a sip he knew he had me.

It was spicy and refreshing and tasted more like a highly elevated margarita than any rum drink I’d ever had. It was fantastic. And for the rest of the weekend he created new drinks for me, drawing on my personality and preferences he we went along.

When I returned home to the San Francisco Bay Area, I started writing 6 Days to Valentine, basing my character of Nick on my Albuquerque bartender, writing about a man, a mixologist too busy running a bar and socializing to have a life for himself. Though unlike the real-life bartender, Nick hasn’t found the perfect someone to invent his own drink for. In fact, I’m thinking he needs a man who will create one for him.

The following is a recipe from this class of cocktail—a close cousin to the actual drink he made me, shown in the photograph below. If you order it at a trendy bar by the name below you should get something very close to what I had in Albuquerque.

I hope you try this drink, and when the warmth slides across your tongue, you’ll think of a red desert at sunset and the heat of a kiss that only comes from true passion.

Jalapeño Caipirinha Cocktail

Serving Size: 1 cocktail
 1/2-3/4 lime, quartered
 1/2 fresh jalapeno, seeded
 1 tablespoon sugar
 3 ounces cachaça (sugarcane rum)

1. In a cocktail shaker or pint beer glass, muddle the jalapeño pepper with the sugar and lime. Removing the jalapeño ribs and seeds will reduce the heat some, but what would be the fun in that?
2. Fill the glass with ice, then fill the glass with cachaça and stir up from the bottom or shake to mix.

How to "muddle" ingredients for a cocktail:
If using the glass, wrap a towel around it, in case it breaks. Using a muddler or back of a wooden spoon, crush ingredients against the sides and bottom. Don’t be shy. Mix so all ingredients are well married. Proceed with step 2 of cocktail directions. The goal here is to release the oils from the lime and chili – which means flavor.

LE Franks writes gay romance with a twist. Her books include Prodigal Wolf, co-written with Sara York, Snow Globe, and coming this spring, Can This Be True. Her current book, 6 Days to Valentine, releases on January 29th from Wilde City Press.

In Nick's perfect world, Valentine’s Day would be struck from the calendar. Nick’s dreams of a Happily Ever After were shredded long ago and the last thing he and his customers need is a bunch of happy loving couples rubbing it in their faces.

Bouncer Fat Boy Newman is willing to bet he knows Nick's heart better than he does. He has just six days to change Nick’s mind about romance and the holiday and the perfect man to do it.

Too bad it’s not him.
Too bad Nick's not going down without a fight.
Too bad Nick cheats.

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Fish on Friday: Parmesan Crusted Tilapia and Arugula Salad

When I was a little Catholic boy growing up in the 1960s, fish on Friday was pretty much a given. For my mom, it was usually breaded cod, fried, a salad with oil and vinegar, and homemade mac and cheese. Hey, if we didn't eat this way, we'd go to Hell! I pity those poor fools burning down there now while the rest of us lapsed Catholics can munch away on meat on Friday with impunity.

When I cook, I often like to forge a connection to my past and these two recipes below do just that.

Parmesan Crusted Tilapia
2 tilapia (or other white fish) filets
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan (please grate it yourself! Parmigiano-Reggiano is a staple at my house)
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs (or make your own if you're inspired)
1 t red pepper flakes
1 t dried thyme
1 t dried basil
i t garlic power
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

Heat skillet over medium-high heat and add in a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Mix breadcrumbs and seasonings on a plate. Rinse filets, pat dry, and season with salt and pepper. Dip in egg then in seasoned panko crumbs, coating both sides. Immediately place in hot skillet (you should hear a sizzle). Cook for 3-4 minutes, flip, and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Arugula, Blueberry, and Beecher Salad
Note: This is more of a technique, but the dressing below is one of my go-to salad dressings. I rarely buy store-bought dressings; this dressing is one example of why not. It's simple, fresh, and takes about a minute to make.

Everyday Dressing
In the bottom of a salad bowl, drizzle about a quarter cup of good quality olive oil, drop in 2-3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, add in 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic (I use my mincer, but you can certainly mince with a knife, just make sure it's very fine). Whisk until the ingredients emulsify or come together with no separation.

Top the dressing with a couple big handfuls of baby arugula (or greens of your choice). I work with handfuls, but I am guessing about three cups for this amount of dressing. Sprinkle on a handful of fresh blueberries and about a quarter cup of your favorite cheese, coarsely grated or use a vegetable peeler. I like Seattle's own Beecher's Flagship with this.

Mix it all up with tongs and serve as a side with the fish. Up to you if you want to add a starch.

Yes, yes, I know this is going out on Monday. I'm just giving you time to shop and plan for it!