Dinner at Home

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Guest at the Table: Andrea Speed, author of the Infected Series, with Vegetarian Puttanesca

Thanks for having me today, Rick. Food doesn’t play a huge part in the Infected universe, but then again, it sort of does. Roan has to eat lots of food after shifts, since it sends his metabolism haywire, and while he’s a meat eater, Dylan, his significant other, is very much a vegetarian, and also the better cook of the two. There isn’t much conflict over this, because Dylan doesn’t care if Roan eats meat, and Roan doesn’t care that Dylan is trying to make him eat more vegetarian fare. They’ve worked it out. (And, if left to his own devices, Roan would eat nothing but takeout.) 

Here is where today’s recipe is from, in Infected: Freefall  -

Excerpt from Infected: Freefall
From the stairs he glanced down at his television and saw that Dylan was watching Doctor Who as he cooked. Roan was nearly at the base of the stairs when Dylan finally noticed him. “Hey, should you be out of bed?”

“I was shot in the hand. I’m not an invalid. If I play my cards right, I won’t even have a limp.”

Dylan gave him a warning frown, tearing a sheet of aluminum foil off the roll. “You must feel better. You’re back to being a smart-ass.”

“Hard to keep a good smart-ass down.” As he entered the kitchen and went to the fridge, he saw a couple of pans on the stove, steaming away. He’d almost forgotten he had pans like that. “Smells great. What is it?”

“Penne alla puttanesca.”

“Wow, I love puttanesca sauce.”

“I know, that’s why I made it. It’s ready if you’re hungry.”

Roan pulled an old Gatorade bottle from the back of the shelf and gulped it down. It was disgusting, but he had to admit he felt a little less logy afterwards. And as disgusting as it was, he drank it all. He had to get his fluid levels back up; he probably hadn’t lost that much blood, but he was bleeding pretty good there for a while. “Yeah, I guess I am, thanks.” He paused for a moment. “Doesn’t puttanesca sauce have anchovies in it?”

“Mine doesn’t.”

“That’s what I thought.”

Roan got a plate down from the cupboard—at least he remembered where they were—and helped himself to a ladle full of pasta (whole wheat, of course, and probably organic; he was dating a hippie) and sauce, which were in separate pans. The sauce smelled really good, anchovies be damned.


This is a variation on the recipe I found here: http://easylifecooking.com/vegetarian-penne-alla-puttanesca.html  I'm big on modifying recipes to suit your own taste, and I've done that here by adding a bell pepper, mushrooms, and thyme,  giving a small boost to the red pepper flakes, and omitting orange juice (not sure why that was in the original recipe). I've also included the textured protein variation, where you add some meat substitute. Not everyone's a fan of that, so it's just included as an option.

Dylan’s Vegetarian Penne alla Puttanesca

2 Tbs.  olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced and peeled
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 bell pepper (I prefer red, but it's up to you - green or yellow might give you more of a color variation)
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. thyme
1/3 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup white wine (you could also use red - I won't tell)
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (I like brown cremini, but you can add any kind you like)
One 28-oz. can whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped, juice reserved
1/3 cup pitted olives, quartered (I prefer black, but you could use green, or even use a mix of green and black)
2 Tbs. capers, rinsed
8 oz.  penne pasta (or whatever pasta you like - this is good with angel hair, spaghetti, macaroni, you name it)
1/2 cup grated  Romano cheese (Or Parmasean - it's totally up to your preference)
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or basil
Salt & black pepper (at least a dash of each)

If you'd like, you could also add soy protein meat substitute meatballs or sausage, chopped (Morningstar Farms makes some, but so do others, such as Tofurky - again, all a matter of personal preference). Make according to their package directions, and add at the end, when assembling the dish.

Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onion, bell pepper, mushroom, oregano, and pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender (5 to 6 minutes). Add the wine and simmer until it has almost evaporated, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and their juice, olives, thyme, and capers. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer, and cook until the sauce has thickened, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta per package directions. (I don't need to tell you how to make pasta, do I?) Everybody has a favorite way to do it, so do that.

Pour the pasta into the pan or a separate bowl and toss with the sauce. Serve as you will, and sprinkle with cheese and parsley (or basil).

I've found this tastes even better after a day or two, or maybe that's just my perception. You may not have that many leftovers. As I said, this sauce is good on any pasta, and if you really like heat,  feel free to double the red pepper flakes, or add a bit of cayenne. Cooking is no fun if you can't modify the recipes to suit your own tastes. Have fun, experiment; remember recipes are really just guidelines, not hard and fast rules.

Blurb for Infected: Freefall

In a world where a werecat virus has changed society, Roan McKichan, a born infected and ex-cop, works as a private detective trying to solve crimes involving other infecteds.

Conceived bearing the lion strain of the virus, Roan is the only fully functioning virus child in the country—maybe in the world. But that doesn’t mean he’s okay. He’s still struggling with the death of his husband and the guilt of finding new love; his old enemy, the Church of the Divine Transformation, is becoming increasingly hostile; and he’s taken on a tragic cold case involving a long-missing boy.

As Roan fights to control the lion inside him, his world explodes with all kinds of trouble. The leader of the church is ramping up the violence against him, calling Roan out as a traitor to his kind. There’s a loose Infected terrorizing the city. And Holden, male prostitute and Roan’s unofficial assistant, brings him a case involving the suspicious death of one of Holden’s clients, which puts Roan far too close to a murderer for his state of mind....


Andrea Speed Bio
Andrea Speed was born looking for trouble in some hot month without an R in it. While succeeding in finding Trouble, she has also been found by its twin brother, Clean Up, and is now on the run, wanted for the murder of a mop and a really cute, innocent bucket that was only one day away from retirement. (I was framed, I tell you – framed!)

In her spare time, she arms lemurs in preparation for the upcoming war against the Mole Men. Viva la revolution!

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Guest at the Table: H. Lewis-Foster, author of Burning Ashes, with Venison and Parsnip Mash

In my recently released novel Burning Ashes, England cricketer Scott Alverley loves to cook. The first meal he cooks for his Australian lover Nat Seddon is a venison dish. It certainly impresses Nat, and I hope you enjoy my own recipe for venison with parsnip mash.

10 oz diced venison
8 shallots, sliced
8 oz chestnut mushrooms, sliced
½ pint vegetable stock
1 glass red wine
3 parsnips
3 carrots
1 tsp olive oil
½  oz butter
Salt and pepper
Serves 2

1. Sauté the shallots and mushrooms in the olive oil until golden. Remove to a casserole dish.
2. Brown the venison in the same pan for a couple of minutes. Add the wine and vegetable stock, and bring to a simmer.
3. Add the venison and stock to the casserole dish and cook in the oven at 300 F/150 C/Gas mark 2 for 1 hour 15 minutes.
4. Peel and cube the parsnips and carrots. Steam for 7-10 minutes until tender.
5. Cream the parsnips and carrots with a hand-blender, along with the butter. Add seasoning and nutmeg to taste.
6. Serve the venison, mushrooms and shallots with the mash and a little of the stock poured over.
7. Enjoy with a glass of wine and, if possible, in the company of a gorgeous Australian sportsman.

Burning Ashes by H. Lewis-Foster

Intelligent and confident, Australian cricketer Nat Seddon is one of the world's best bowlers. He's openly gay, but keeps his private life to himself, with everything under control. But on the last day of his team’s Ashes tour of England, he meets Scott Alverley, England’s promising new batsman. Nat tries not to be attracted to Scott, but he can’t help finding the privileged young man handsome and endearing. Nat is tempted by a little end of tour fun, but finds himself playing agony uncle to a virgin. Instead of going home to bask on a beach, he spends a wet week in the north of England with Scott. Try as he might to resist, he can’t help falling hopelessly in love.

The hectic sporting calendar is a persistent obstacle to their growing romance; Nat and Scott are rarely even on the same continent. They make the most of the time when they can be together, but the months apart take a toll on Scott, professionally and personally. The possible solutions are nearly unthinkable, but if they are willing to make sacrifices that will change their lives forever, they might hold on to the love they found in the Ashes.

As soon as the door was safely closed, Nat spluttered into laughter.

“That was Mrs. B? Is there a Mr. B?”

“Of course. He runs the tattoo parlor in town.” Scott nodded toward the old-fashioned fridge. “Come on. Let’s see what rations she’s left us.”

Scott opened the door to reveal shelves filled with meat and fish, fruit and veg, tubs of cream, and bottles of wine. Nat peered inside and pulled out an unpromising beige blob.

“What’s in haggis, exactly?”

Scott took the meaty delicacy from Nat and returned it to the fridge. “You really don’t want to know. But it tastes good.”

Nat wasn’t convinced and turned his attention to a large foil container. He grinned at Scott as he read from the label. “Sticky toffee pudding. That sounds very bad.”

Scott grinned back in reply. “It’s positively wicked.”

Nat’s body tingled hopefully as he saw the mischievous glint in Scott’s eyes. But before Nat could act on his impulses, Scott shut the fridge door and led him on a whirlwind tour of the house. They scampered from room to room like a pair of naughty school kids. From well-loved teddy bears on antique brass beds to mismatched, overflowing bookshelves, Nat found the house totally charming and like nothing he’d seen before.


Lounging by the Aga later that evening, Scott turned a wine-warmed smile on Nat, who was washing up in the Belfast sink. “Are you sure you don’t want a hand?”

“You cooked dinner, so I get the arduous task of washing the dishes.” Nat rinsed a wine glass under the tap. “That venison was delicious, by the way. Where did you learn to cook like that?”

Scott gazed hazily across at Nat. “Well, you know, when our personal chef was allowed a day off, I simply had to fend for myself.”

Nat gave Scott a disbelieving look, as he placed the gleaming glass on the drainer.

Scott laughed. “Don’t worry, we didn’t have a chef, but I did have a terrific food-tec teacher.” Scott smiled to himself as he remembered Mrs. Wade, one of his favorite teachers at school. With her close-cropped hair and sparkling green eyes, he’d honestly tried to have a crush on her. He’d include her in his fantasies, but at the crucial moment she’d disappear, to be replaced by Mr. Dawson, the burly young sports master with his shock of red hair. Scott was wondering what had become of his old tutors, when Nat noisily yanked the plug from the sink.

As Nat looked across at him, Scott suddenly felt uneasy. They’d had a lovely evening and Nat had seemed to appreciate his cooking, as well as his father’s collection of wine. But it was getting on for midnight and they couldn’t put off the awkward moment much longer. Scott got up from his chair and summoned as much composure as he could.

“I suppose it must be time for bed.”  

Buy Links
Dreamspinner Press

Author Bio
H. Lewis-Foster has worked with books, in one form or another, since leaving university. As a keen reader of gay fiction, she decided to try writing herself, and is now the proud author of several short stories and a debut novel.

H. has lived in various parts of the UK and has recently moved to the north of England, where she’s enjoying city life, especially the theatres and cinemas. She tries not to watch too much television, but is a big fan of Downton Abbey, and while she’s writing, she loves listening to Test Match Special (where they spend far more time talking about cakes than cricket!)

Connect with H. Lewis-Foster

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Chicken Soup with an Italian Kick

I grew up with an Italian mom (Sicilian, actually), so I can't resist trying to morph regular recipes into Italian ones. This chicken soup is a good example. It's hearty and rich with garlic and spices like oregano and thyme. Pair it with a nice Pinot Grigio and a loaf of crusty bread and it's the perfect meal for a chilly day. 

Rick’s Italian Chicken Soup

1 T olive oil
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 carrot, sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1 T dried basil
1 t dried thyme
salt and pepper
pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
salt and pepper
32-oz. chicken stock
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 can cannellini or other white bean, drained and rinsed under cold water
2 cups baby spinach, kale, escarole or greens of your choice (run your knife through the greens; they should not be finely chopped)
1 cup orzo or other tiny pasta

Heat olive oil over medium high heat, add in onion, carrot, celery and garlic and sauté until soft. Season with salt, pepper, and the dried herbs. Stir a lot. They veggies should be fragrant, but shouldn’t brown.

Add in cubed chicken and cook until translucent. Add stock and stir to combine. Add in grated cheese (if you’re like me, you freeze the rinds from your parmesan and keep them on hand. If you do, throw a rind into the soup at this point). Add beans.

Bring to boil, reduce to simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes.  Add your greens, stir. Add in orzo and cook for recommended time on package. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust to your liking.

Soup is ready to serve. Add a drizzle of olive oil and pass more grated cheese at the table.

Mangia bene, vivi felice! (Eat well; live happy)

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Perfect Antidote to Winter: Chili Con Carne

When people ask me what's the best thing I make, I always think of my chili. It's a tried and true recipe and is as much a pleasure to make for my husband and me on a weeknight in and good enough to make for company on the weekend. I recommend pairing this with a pan of cornbread and a nice red wine.

Rick's Chili Con Carne

2 T olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 Poblano pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 stalks of celery, sliced
1-1/2 lbs. ground chicken or turkey (you can use ground beef, but I think it makes too much grease. With the seasonings in this dish, the poultry works just fine)
2 15-oz. can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-oz. can kidney or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 T chili powder
1 T oregano
1 T cumin
1T instant coffee (yes, coffee. That might seem strange, but it adds depth of flavor and I promise you won't taste coffee)
1 t cinnamon (same as with the coffee)
1 t ground coriander
1 bay leaf
1/2 to 1 cup dry red wine
salt and pepper to taste
pinch or more of cayenne, depending on how hot you like your chili

Warm olive oil in Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add onions, pepper, garlic and celery and cook, stirring, until fragrant and soft (about 5 minutes). Add chicken and break up with a wooden spoon, stir and toss until it loses its pink color. Add in tomatoes and beans, stirring. Add in all the spices and bay leaf, stir, and bring to boil (if it isn't boiling already). Reduce to simmer and let it simmer for about 40 minutes. Taste and see if you need any additional salt and pepper. Note: this tastes much better if you make it a day ahead, refrigerate, and re-heat.

Top with sour cream or Greek yogurt, sliced green onions, avocado, cilantro, and shredded cheese...or whatever you like. It's all good.

Let me know if you tried my recipe, how you liked it, and if you got creative and made changes or additions. Both corn and mushrooms make great additions to the above.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Guest at the Table: Jay Northcote, author of The Little Things, Makes Lamb Balti

I often seem to end up writing about food in my stories, probably because I love to cook. Most of my books have fairly domestic settings so the characters often spend time cooking and eating together.

In The Little Things, Joel is a single parent of a three-year-old. It’s sometimes hard for him to get a babysitter, so for his second date with Liam, Joel invites Liam over for dinner at his flat. He cooks for him so they can eat together once Evie—Joel’s daughter—is in bed.  Joel cooks lamb curry and dahl. I’m a UK author and we Brits love our curries. The recipes below are an anglicized version rather than being authentically Indian, but they taste pretty good. If you’re a vegetarian you can leave out the lamb and use quorn instead, or chunks of butternut squash as a meat substitute.

Lamb Balti
This serves 8+
Approx 1kg of lean lamb steaks cut into chunks
2 tbsp olive oil
one large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or chopped
4 cardamom pods
a stick of cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
2-3 tbsp of balti curry paste (I use Pataks, but if you can’t get balti paste any medium curry paste will do)
1 x 400g can of chopped tomatoes
1 x 400g can of chick peas (drained)
1 stock cube (I use lamb but veggie or chicken would do)
250ml of water
fresh coriander (cilantro) to garnish

Pre heat the oven to gas mark 3/160 C/325 F.
In a large flameproof casserole, fry the onion and cardamom pods in the olive oil until the onion is soft.
Add the lamb and stir fry on a high heat until it’s brown rather than pink, then stir in the curry paste, garlic, and cumin and cook for another few minutes.
Add the chick peas, canned tomatoes, water and cinnamon stick and bring to a simmer.
Chop/crumble the stock cube in and stir till it’s dissolved.
Put a lid on the casserole and put it in the oven for about an hour, or until the meat is tender.
Serve sprinkled with the coriander, with basmati rice and dahl (see below)

1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp vegetable bouillon/stock powder
350g red lentils
800ml boiling water (approx)

Heat the oil with the cumin seeds for a couple of minutes, then add the onion and garlic.
Fry for a few minutes until the onion is soft and golden.
Add the spices and fry for a couple more minutes.
Add the lentils, boiling water and bouillon powder. Bring to a simmer then cover.
Simmer for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally until the mixture thickens. Add more water if required to stop it sticking.

In the excerpt below from The Little Things, Evie’s asleep in bed and the food is ready. Joel cooked it all in advance which is what I normally do with these dishes. The lamb tastes better if it sits awhile, and the dahl is easy to reheat in a microwave—perfect for when you’re entertaining and don’t want too much to do at the last minute.

The next few minutes were filled with the hustle and bustle of draining rice, reheating dahl, and dishing up two fragrant platefuls of curry. Liam refilled their wineglasses while Joel did the serving.
“Where are some matches for the candles?” he asked.
“Top cupboard, over the sink.” Joel set their plates down on the table. “I forgot about those. I haven’t had much call for candlelit dinners in my life so far.”
“Not with your ex?”
Joel shook his head as Liam sat down again, struck a match, and touched it to the wick of each candle in turn. “No, he wasn’t one for quiet nights in. He always preferred to go out if we could.”
“This smells amazing.” Liam leaned over his plate and inhaled blissfully.
“Dig in.” Joel lifted up his own fork. “The curry paste is from a jar, but I think it turned out pretty well. I hope you like it.”
The conversation slowed as they ate. The curry was damn good, and Liam seemed to enjoy it. He accepted a second helping, and Joel had a little extra too. By the time they’d finished, Joel was feeling happy and relaxed with a belly full of food and wine.
“Do you want some pudding? I bought some ice cream. It’s nothing fancy, I’m afraid.”
Liam shook his head and patted his stomach. “No thanks, I’m full.”
“More wine?” There was still a little left in the bottle that Liam had brought.
“No,” Liam replied. “I’d better not, because I have to drive home later.”
Joel started to clear their plates, and Liam got up to help him. Joel stacked them in the dishwasher, and when he straightened up and turned, Liam was standing and looking right at him. Joel felt a thrill of nerves and tension when he saw the intensity in Liam’s eyes.
“Do you want any coffee… or tea, or anything?” Joel could hear the nervousness in his own voice and tried to control it.
Liam shook his head and took a step closer. Joel moved toward him too, and Liam moved his hands up to cup Joel’s cheeks and slide into his hair as he leaned in. Joel’s fingers found Liam’s belt loops and he hooked them in and tugged him closer. “God, I’ve been thinking about doing this nonstop for the last few days.” Liam’s voice was a whisper over Joel’s lips, and then his words turned into kisses. Hot, searing kisses that swept aside Joel’s anxiety like wildfire, burning it away with need and passion and want. He whimpered into Liam’s mouth as he kissed him back. Their tongues were hot and slick and everything felt so overwhelmingly right—Liam’s arms around him, the scent and taste of him. Joel’s legs felt weak with desire and he pulled away, breathless, but he kept his hands tightly gripped on Liam’s waist where they rested.
“Shall we take this somewhere more comfortable? Because if you carry on kissing me like that, I’m not sure I can manage to stay upright.” He chuckled and Liam laughed too, nuzzling his stubble against Joel’s cheek as he pressed another kiss against Joel’s jaw.
“Being less upright sounds appealing. Lead the way.”
The Little Things is available at Dreamspinner Press

There are lots of things that brighten Joel’s life. His three-year-old daughter Evie is one. His close relationship with her mother, his best friend from university, is another. Joel’s boyfriend, Dan, adds spice to his child-free nights, and Joel is pretty happy with how things are.
Then one cold and rainy night, everything changes. Joel’s life is turned upside-down when he becomes a full-time dad to Evie, and his previously carefree relationship with Dan cracks under the strain.
Meeting Liam, who acts as if getting hurt isn’t a foregone conclusion, shakes Joel to the core. Their attraction is mutual, and Liam makes no secret of how serious he is about Joel. But Joel is wary. He tells himself he’s keeping Liam at a distance for Evie’s sake, when really he’s protecting his own heart. Taking a chance on this new relationship with Liam may seem a small step—a little thing—but is it one Joel can take after losing so much already?
Jay lives just outside Bristol in the West of England, with her amazing, occasionally ridiculous husband, two noisy-but-awesome children, and two cats.
She comes from a family of writers, but she always used to believe that the gene for fiction writing had passed her by. She spent years only ever writing emails, articles, or website content. One day, she decided to try and write a short story–just to see if she could–and found it rather addictive. She hasn’t stopped writing since.