Monday, November 24, 2014

Apples Should Be Red Egg Salad Sandwiches

Apples Should Be Red by Penny Watson is a book I read months ago, a recommendation based on my love for Victoria Dahl's older couple novella, Fanning the Flames. I saved it for a Thanksgiving post though because the story takes place in the few days before the holiday. Plus it's a short, sweet, comedic read that would be a perfect little break from cooking and cleaning and entertaining the guests all of us Americans will have over the next few days.

The book features Beverly Anderson, recently widowed by her philandering, unappreciative husband and Tom Jenkins, a grumpy widower who has become quite insular and surly since the death of his wife. Beverly and Tom are actually in-laws whose children are married. Beverly is staying with Tom over the holiday as her home is fumigated for termites and their children, Karen and John, get a leaking pipe repaired.

The couple are in their late 50s/early 60s, both with life experience, lots of personal history and no end of quirks. Beverly, a twin-set and pearls type, wants to prove that nothing has changed in the wake of her husband's death and that she is just as perfect and put-together as always. Tom is a curmudgeonly, rough around the edges guy who constantly swears up a storm and delights in getting under Beverly's skin. A few days in close proximity to one another turn them from two polar opposites thrown together by family and circumstance into friends, lovers and eventually someday, maybe more.

I just loved this little novella. Over the course of the book, Beverly lets go of the pain her husband caused her and her expectations of Thanksgiving perfection, becoming the woman she didn't even know she could wish to be. And tough yet tender and considerate Tom will please any lover of gruff and sexy alphas. Oh, and it's laugh out loud funny the whole way through, with lots of wit, heart and tons of sexual tension.

Apples Should be Red is a perfect little plate of Thanksgiving deliciousness and if you haven't read it, or haven't read it in a while, I recommend it heartily. And since it has all the hallmarks of a book that will improve with age, I think it might just become one of my holiday traditions.

I love it when romance writers use food as metaphors and Apples Should Be Red has a wonderful example. Beverly begrudgingly agrees to prepare lunch for Tom early in the novel, but what she offers isn't precisely to his very unfussy taste. Though the egg salad she describes doesn't ever get made, I'm with Beverly on this one. I like all kinds of crap in my egg salad, unlike Tom.

The most important thing about egg salad sandwiches is starting with good bread. I have a personal preference for challah when it comes to lunchtime sandwiches, but of course you can use anything you like. I figure pretty much everyone knows how to make egg salad, but I've included a recipe here for how to boil eggs and assemble it anyway since that's what I do. Besides, my version is particularly trashed up, almost like deviled eggs on bread.

There are endless ways to make egg salad, of course. You could use green onions or yellow onions in place of the red onion here. Or even chives if you have them handy. Beverly likes dill or parsley in hers and I know lots of people put sweet pickle relish in theirs. For the record, I am adamantly anti-pickle relish so please don't tell me if you add it to yours. Gross! I also on occasion add bacon to this if I happen to have some left over from other projects.

Finally, in a week when we're all probably doing more cooking than normal, I wanted to post something easy, light and filling. If you make up a batch today or tomorrow, you'll have lunch on hand while you're toiling away. I know I always forget to eat when I'm deep in the Thanksgiving kitchen groove so hopefully having something simple and quick in the fridge will serve as a reminder!

Oh, and serve these sandwiches with sliced RED apples, of course.

Egg Salad Sandwiches

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes (Hands on: 10 minutes)

8 eggs
3 tablespoons red onion, minced (about 1/4 of a medium onion)
3 tablespoons of celery, minced (about 1 celery rib)
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 generous pinch smoked paprika
8 slice of bread (something sweet and soft like challah preferred)
4 lettuce leaves (Bibb or Boston preferred)

1. Add eggs to a large pot and cover with 1 inch of cold water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When water is boiling, remove from heat and cover for 18 minutes. Drain and run eggs under cold water until cool.

2. While eggs cook, add onion, celery, mayo, mustard, salt, pepper and paprika to a medium bowl and stir to combine.

3. Peel and chop the eggs, about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch dice. Add to the bowl with the mayo and mix thoroughly.

4. Add a lettuce leaf and about 1/2 cup of egg salad to 4 slices of bread. Top with remaining bread.

Disclosure: Penny Watson and I follow each other on Twitter.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thanksgiving, a barely tangentially romance-related musing

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Weird, right? Most kids will say Christmas or maybe Halloween if they're still high on candy. Adults of my acquaintance will cite Easter or Christmas or Fourth of July. But Thanksgiving, with its focus on gratitude and food and hanging with friends and family is mine.

I haven't been home for Thanksgiving since my first year in college. I tried a few times, but between the airport crowds, the short visit and the early blizzards that ground flights all over the Midwest, getting from Virginia to California just got to be too much of a pain. So we tend to collect stray folks for a few weeks before the holiday--both people who can't get home and people who can't deal with home. I think I'm feeding eight or nine this year, which doesn't sound like very many unless you've seen our condo. It's...not large. But it doesn't matter. We're coming together for food and friendship and drunken Cards Against Humanity into the wee hours.

It probably won't surprise anyone that I'm a little tiny bit obsessive about my Thanksgiving menu, ordering my turkey a month in advance, starting my shopping two weeks before and maintaining a year-round Pinterest board of new takes on Thanksgiving favorites. So in preparation for my review of Apples Should Be Red, Penny Watson's lovely Thanksgiving-set romance novella between a older man and woman, I'll just say that my approach is very much more like the heroine at the beginning of the story than the end of the story. Someday I might grow out of it, but...I doubt it.

Oh, and here's the Thanksgiving Pinterest board with everything I'm actually cooking this year.

I also thought I'd take this opportunity to say thank you today to all the wonderful people I've met through my renewed love of romance over the six months since I started blogging. Thank you for reading, thank you for writing, thank you for your encouragement and thank you for talking me off the occasional (figurative) ledge. You are all wonderful, amazing, talented people and I hope I get to meet many of you in person in the upcoming year.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Beyond Possession Whiskey-Pecan Cake

Beyond Possession is the latest novella in Kit Rocha's apocalyptic, dystopian erotic romance series about the bootlegging O'Kane gang. If you haven't read any of the series, I can't recommend that you start with this one, although I'd argue that it's the easiest book thus far in a series that pushes boundaries in nearly every direction. I wrote about that a bit last week. While each book features a complete romantic arc for a couple (or triad in the case of one of the earlier novels), the overarching political scene in the Sectors surrounding complacent, hypocritical Eden has become my favorite aspect of the series.

In Beyond Possession, novella #5.5, we get a more complete picture of the marketplace in Sector 4, home of the O'Kanes and the district where illegal spirits are distilled and bottled for the rest of the region. Throughout the series, Dallas O'Kane and his queen, Lex, have been slowly consolidating power and growing their influence. But now some problems have come home to roost: a challenger to Dallas' authority in the form of a political rival for the control of Sector 4; and the daughters of the former leader of the Sector, one of whom is heroine Tatiana Stone, who makes high-end soap and other homemade personal care products in the marketplace.

Hero Zan is the usual bouncer for the Broken Circle, the bar and club run by the O'Kanes. We get to know Zan better when he is injured attempting to stop the kidnapping of Trix, the heroine of a previous novel. Unlike some of the other O'Kane heroes, Zan is not a complex guy. He likes his job, he likes his position, he's loyal and strong. He considers himself "a good solider". He's never asked for anything for himself before, but after a couple of years of running Dallas' errands around the marketplace, the one thing he wants when he gets back to full health is Tatiana Stone.

But Dallas, Dallas' political rival and Tatiana's sister would all love to use Tatiana as a pawn in their political games. Tatiana just wants to be left alone to make her soap, grow her business and hopefully get her sister out of the clutches of a guy she thinks is bad news. If she can also have Zan to fool around with, that might be nice, but having ready access to a guy is nowhere near priority one for Tatiana.

Beyond Possession is unique in the Beyond series for several reasons. First, Zan isn't really a gang insider. He lacks the Machiavellian instinct to play at Dallas' level. He's also a pretty private guy, preferring to do his job and relax with a couple cold ones and a single woman than take part in the O'Kane's orgiastic parties. Then there's Tatiana. She has trust issues like most of the Beyond heroines, but as they say, it's not paranoia if they really are out to get you. And she's fought tooth and nail her whole life not get pulled into power struggles. The way this one ends is interesting too, with the women taking the lead role in a violent mission and Zan and Tatiana finding a way to be together without jeopardizing Tatiana's independence.

All I can say is that if this is the way the series keeps going, I'm going to be very sad when it ends after the next couple of books. Beyond Possession maintains the same gritty feel as the previous novels, but relaxes the sexual intensity a bit and provides more context for the way forward. The novellas have been a must-not-miss and Beyond Possession is no exception.

The one minor issue with these books is that no one eats. Ever. Novella characters Ford and Mia have tacos, I think. And at one point a pissed off woman serves Dallas a burnt grilled cheese sandwich (he deserves it). But what the O'Kanes do have is whiskey. Lots and lots of whiskey. So this cake containing a full cup of the stuff would present no difficulties.

I came to think of this cake as "fruitcake light" in every way. First of all, it has all the lovely deliciousness of cake soaked in alcohol. Second, it has yummy nuts without all the gross candied fruit. Third, it takes three days to cure in whiskey-wrapped cloth rather than three weeks or three months of daily or weekly basting with alcohol. So even though three days might seem like a long time for a cake, it's a lot less effort and a lot better tasting than a standard fruitcake.

The other nice thing about a dessert like this, especially going into the holidays, is that the three-day lead time means you can get this baked and put away long before guests darken your door. In the chaos of the holiday season, I always figure anything I can make ahead is a win.

Finally, there is absolutely nothing tricky about this recipe. No complex techniques, no expensive ingredients, no weird equipment. Just a bundt cake pan, a large, clean dish towel and some aluminum foil.

Serve with lightly sweetened homemade whipped cream and you've got a boozy special occasion cake that won't take hours and hours out of your busy present-buying, family-visiting schedule. Or if you're an O'Kane, your busy tattoo-getting, rival-smashing schedule. You know, however you like to spend your holiday seasons.

Whiskey-Pecan Cake
Recipe lightly adapted from Whiskey in the Kitchen (out of print)
Makes: 16 servings
Time: 3 days, hands on: 40 minutes

2 cups finely chopped pecans
1 cup whiskey, divided
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
8 eggs, well beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
powdered sugar
whipped cream (optional for serving)

1. Butter and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan. Shakes out excess flour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Combine pecans and 1/2 cups whiskey in a small bowl. Let stand.

3. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and spices into a medium bowl.

4. In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add beaten eggs and mix very well until mixture is thick and fluffy. Add vanilla extract and mix.

5. Remove from mixer and fold in pecan-whiskey mixture.

6. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top with a spatula.

7. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean. Cool in pan for about 15 minutes. Turn out onto cooling rack and cool completely.

8. Soak a cloth in remaining 1/2 cup of whiskey. Wrap cake completely in this cloth and then in foil. Let stand in refrigerator for at least three days before using.

9. To serve, allow cake to come to room temperature for about 3 hours. Dust cake with powdered sugar. Cut approximately inch-thick slices and serve with whipped cream if desired.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Beyond Possession from the author for review purposes.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Beyond Feminism

This week Jackie Horne of Romance Novels for Feminists discussed feminism in Kit Rocha’s Beyond series and found it wanting. If you haven’t read the novels or the RNFF post or both, this post isn’t likely to make much sense and for that I’m sorry. It’s just that after reading all the full-length novels and the accompanying novellas, I have reached a very different conclusion about feminism in the Beyond series than RNFF did. I’ve enjoyed these books immensely and, in fact, I’m going to be doing a post about the latest one, Beyond Possession, fairly soon. 

I'll just wade straight into the deep end here. My one criticism of the series, which isn’t really a feminist critique except in the way that it intersects with current romance publishing reality: I have been increasingly annoyed at the "everyone has the same kink" sexual dynamic just because it seems unlikely and has gotten repetitive. There are slightly different shades of BDSM sex in each story, but with a bias toward male dominants and lots of group sex. And while there is a little bit of switching off dominant roles between women and men, the women generally come out on the submissive side in the end. The thing is, there may be a marketing reason for that. I happen to love femdom romance and time and again I’ve heard about its profitability problem stemming from the idea that femdom is not popular with readers. Whether that’s reality or just perception, the end result is the same. Femdom gets short shrift. But romances aren't manifestos: they need to make money. That said, there are several books left in the series and in fact the most recent novella, Beyond Possession, refers to the heroine as having had a previous relationship with a female dominant. As the women get more freedom and power in the series, which seems to be the case, it will be interesting to see if femdom is a dynamic Rocha feels freer to explore by book 7.

But back to the issue of feminism in the text. Starting the series (Beyond Shame) with Noelle, the repressed Eden woman, is telling, I think. Rocha could have started the series with Lex, an obvious choice given her relationship with Dallas, King of the O’Kanes. But instead we get a glimpse of privileged, hypocritical Eden and how damaging its sexual politics and expectations are through Noelle. The world we live in isn’t Sector 4. It’s Eden—in its repression of female sexuality, materialism and exploitive economic policies. Through Beyond Shame, we also get the lay of the land of Sector 4 before Lex and Dallas work out their power dynamics. Things start changing in Sector 4 after Beyond Control, making one series theme that of the evolution of feminine liberation.

As an example, RNFF made reference to the commitment ritual of collaring the women with their lovers’ name. If collaring is intended to serve the same purpose as that of a BDSM slave collar, it’s a symbol not only of obedience on the part of the collared, but protection and responsibility on the part of the owner. Plus my recollection is that most if not all the men take tattoos of their lovers’ names somewhere on their bodies. Those things aside though, after Lex accepts Dallas’ collar, the symbolism evolves. He acknowledges her as his Queen and relies upon her for seeing nuances he misses. Even though all the gang members are under Dallas’ dictatorial rule, she doesn’t give him blind obedience as King or committed partner. Or sometimes even any obedience at all. Lex takes as much responsibility for the protection and well-being of the O’Kanes as Dallas does. The collaring becomes a tradition more like our exchange of rings, but in a milieu that values ink over metal. The O’Kane women do not behave at all like slaves, of the BDSM sort or otherwise, outside the bedroom and I think it's a mistake to equate sexual submissiveness with personal and political submissiveness.

The Beyond world isn't intended to be a feminist utopia from the outset. The concept of a solar flare causing the collapse of society in the series is a relatively recent development: within the lifespan of some of the characters. One thing that happens in societies when resources are restricted is that freedoms that were previously commonplace become more attenuated. I will grant that the absence of any kind of STIs is a bit puzzling. But if we think of the world-building not in the sense of "scientifically-speaking, how could a solar flare cause so much damage?" or “what does the government of Eden look like”, but in the sense of the psychology, sociology, political theory and economics that develop out of an apocalyptic scenario in the Sectors, it’s more revealing. There are no protracted explanations here, but the structures are clear. In Sector 4, government is dictatorial rather than democratic, all work is valued equally (the men don’t receive greater compensation for making liquor runs or bouncing than the women do for dancing or tending bar), the social stigma against sex is lifted, particularly for women, and the most important relationships are ones of friendship and loyalty rather than family group or religious or political affiliation.

As for the restrictions on jobs offered to women the RNFF post mentions, I think it's both deliberate and short-lived. The series is asking what-if questions about how social dynamics might be different given different cultural assumptions, like any good SFF. Rocha set up a universe that's in some ways a mirror image of ours. Women have wrested a lot more freedom in what we can choose to do work-wise in our world, but slut-shaming, rape culture and double standards between the behavior expect of men and women are rampant. And whatever economic freedoms women have gained here, that privilege generally assumes both means and education. Women who don’t have means or education end up waiting tables, tending bar, coerced into sex work, working for maid services, in low-wage retail, etc. The work options for women in the early books of the Beyond series correspond rather neatly to those offered to women in our world. At least, if you take social class into account: those of relatively less social standing and education have fewer opportunities, making the question of work less a feminist question than a question of class. 

So without the stigma of using your body for gainful employment or the danger of being abused for it, what systems might develop? That’s one question being asked here. The women who bartend and wait tables do so under the protection of the O’Kanes. Our waitresses and bartenders make their living from tips, which are resented by some restaurant patrons and controlled by bosses who allocate shifts and tables, sometimes based on favoritism. And restaurants play all kinds of games with wages. The women (and incidentally, men) who dance/perform in the O’Kane club make good money in safety and they’re not being sold for sex by a pimp or rounded up and used for breeding like in the communes (and in a lot of other dystopian literature). This is sex work, but it’s not coerced.  I realize there’s feminist debate about whether that’s a possibility, of course, but the assumption Rocha seems to be working from is that it is possible and that there’s power associated with it: both personal and economic. In book 5, it’s clear that Trix even derives healing from her shows.

Plus, as the series progresses, new options for work open up. The line RNFF quotes about Noelle making herself useful as a bartender, maid or sucking dick (which refers not to prostitution, but to being Jasper’s kept woman) is from Dallas in book 1. Dallas gets a feminist education by Lex in book 2 and then continues being schooled in subsequent books. Noelle is shown taking a tech support/systems engineering role in the novellas. In Eden, she had the same knowledge, but was expected to deploy it in the manner of a posh 1940s housewife: by being a good conversationalist and hostess for her husband. In Sector 4, she's not only sexually liberated, she's useful, which is a revelation for her. By book 4.5, Dallas assigns the new woman Mia to his accountant, not for sex (which is what she was coercively trained for in Sector 2), but for administrative support. The most recent heroine, Tatiana, makes soap and keeps that work when she becomes an O'Kane. Plus from the very beginning, Nessa (a woman) is the distillery manager for the gang, making O’Kane whiskey, the product that has bought nearly every scrap of wealth the gang has, hardly a low status occupation. 

By this most recent novella, Beyond Possession, the women go out on their own, trying to rescue one woman’s business (who isn’t officially an O’Kane yet) from being burned down by Dallas’ political rival. When Dallas chastises the women for putting themselves in danger, Lex stands up to him, insisting that their way of life is just as much under threat from the Sector power games as that of the men. Dallas can dictate all he wants, but in Beyond Possession, the women going out on their own solve not only their own problem, but that of the men by killing Dallas’ political rival. 

My point is that we get to see increased freedom develop over the course of the series based on feminist influence (Lex) on the government (Dallas). The Beyond books aren’t at any level designed to make readers feel happy and comfortable except in their HEAs for the featured couples. They’re gritty, difficult and ask uncomfortable questions about power structures, social class and morality in addition to questions of the capabilities, rights, and responsibilities of men and women. And while they don’t portray an ideal feminist society (or, with the extreme levels of violence, any kind of ideal society), under Dallas and Lex’s influence, it seems to be heading in the direction of full equality. 

Many thanks to Ana Coqui, who helped me clarify my thoughts for this post and contributed many of the specific details from the books that I’ve cited in support of my argument. She also recommended the series to me in the first place, for which I’m very grateful!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Saving the CEO Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

There are generally several common features to romances that star billionaire CEOs. Overwhelmingly, the CEO is the hero, not the heroine. There's also better than average chance that he's into BDSM (and he's the top, natch). He probably doesn't actually do all that much work over the course of the novel and, since it's a romance, he's brilliant, confident, gorgeous and fantastic in bed. Chances are the heroine of these novels will be young, naive and will probably eventually end up working for him in some capacity by the end of the book. So it pleases me when I find a CEO romance like Saving the CEO, which pokes playfully at a lot of these standard features.

Jenny Holiday is a new author whose debut Saving the CEO has much to recommend it. The CEO is still our hero, and he's still gorgeous and good in bed. Jack Winter also has dyscalculia, a learning difficulty similar to dyslexia, but involving numbers rather than letters. So while he's perfectly confident in his ability to close a deal, he's not as assured in his ability to identify discrepancies in his company's books when it looks like his best friend and business partner may be embezzeling.

Cassie James is the bartender at Jack's favorite restaurant, Edward's. But Cassie isn't only a bartender. She's also a college student, working her way slowly through a math degree while paying for her mother's drug rehab. And it's only a little far-fetched when after they've connected as friends and lovers, Jack asks for Cassie's help in checking his books and helping him secure a critical real estate deal in the absence of being able to trust his partner.

Despite some category-esque cheesy parts that seem to have been added in for the trope factor, Saving the CEO was unexpectedly delightful. Cassie the math genius was bright, independent and doesn't end up going to work for the hero at the end of the book. Jack is alpha enough that he makes some fairly brazen moves early in the book, but the two of them then make a game of trading off who's "in charge" in bed. There are plenty of scenes where the two of them actually do the work they're being paid for: both at Jack's company and at Cassie's bartending job. It gave the story an element of richness that is missing from a lot of romance.

This is, I think, Jenny Holiday's first book and she's definitely a writer to watch. I'll be especially interested to see what she can do with a single title romance, just because that's my particular preference. But even if she just continues writing for Entangled, I'll definitely be picking up her work again in the future.

I considered buying some preserved lemons for this post because I wanted to see if I could make the pork and preserved lemon thing that Cassie gets wrong in one of the first scenes of the book. Couldn't find them anywhere. Had employees at four separate grocery stores look at me like I had three heads. Presumably someone knows how to get them, but that's not me apparently.

That said, the actual recipe the chef at Edward's seems to have had in mind is delicious. Or, at least, my version of it was. This is just a basic pork tenderloin stuffed with goat cheese, sauteed spinach and dried cranberries. I used a boxed rice pilaf mix made by Near East and made my very favorite brussels sprouts to go with them since it is very far from being anywhere near asparagus season, which is in the spring. You might think you don't like brussels sprouts. You're probably wrong. These are drenched in bacon, onions and balsamic glaze and are pretty much my favorite food ever. I make them a lot. They even converted my husband to brussels sprout love.

As for the pork itself, I just slit it open, put some plastic wrap over the top and then pounded it to a uniform 1/2 inch thickness (or as close as I could get). Aside from waking up the dog and sending him into a barking frenzy, it worked out rather well. I suppose you could also use a real meat mallet or a rolling pin, but my empty beer bottle worked fine.

I tied the meat up kind of fancy, but you can just use three or four separate pieces of cooking twine or even toothpicks to hold it closed while it bakes.

Serve with a glass of your finest Scotch.

Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 45 minutes (15 minutes hands on)

12 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces goat cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 pork tenderloin
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon butter

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Heat a large skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add spinach and cook until it wilts, stirring occasionally. Remove to a medium bowl and let cool.

3. While the spinach is cooling, slice the pork tenderloin down the long side, but not all the way through. it should still be attached on one side. Cover the tenderloin with plastic wrap and pound until it's about a 1/2 thick with a meat mallet, rolling pin or empty bottle. Remove the plastic wrap Cut four lengths of cooking twine for securing the tenderloin closed once it's stuffed.

4. In the medium bowl, combine spinach, goat cheese, cranberries, salt and pepper. Mix until well combined. Spread the mixture over the entire opened tenderloin, then roll closed, using the cooking twice to secure it closed.

5. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat. Add the tenderloin and brown on each side, about 5 minutes total.

6. Oil a baking dish with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and remove the tenderloin to the baking dish. Cook in the oven for approximately 25 minutes or until a meat thermometer registers 160 degrees F, flipping the meat halfway through the baking time.

7. When done, remove from oven and allow to rest 5 minutes. Slice into approximately 3/4 inch thick slices and serve.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Saving the CEO from the author for review purposes. We follow one another on Twitter.

Friday, November 7, 2014

One Kiss with a Rock Star Foie Gras Burgers & Truffle Fries

Normally I put my disclosures at the bottom of the post, but the book I'm featuring today is a special case. This isn't a review. It's cover copy and a recipe and a heads up that One Kiss with a Rock Star by Shari Slade and Amber Lin went on sale yesterday. Having been a beta reader for the manuscript, I can't be anything like objective about it. But this blog is just me and I didn't want its release to pass uncelebrated. I thought the book was sexy, serious, sweet and funny. In a completely biased and wholly unprofessional way, I hope you'll consider reading it!

Also, I made a really slammin' burger based on a scene from the book.

Cover Copy
Half-Life bassist Krist Mellas is caught in a PR nightmare after his dirty sex video blew up online. His agent has the solution: a fake engagement with sultry pop princess Madeline Fox. Krist can’t think of anything worse than a charade with the bubblegum bombshell…except losing the band.

Madeline knows better than anyone what it means to live a lie in the spotlight. She’s determined to help Krist without ever letting him find out what it costs her—or about her girlhood crush on him. But after a smoking hot back alley encounter with him leaves her breathless, she can’t deny she wants the snarling bad-boy rocker.

In a world of glitter and diamonds where the kisses are fake but the climaxes are real, their facades start to crack. And the publicity storm may shatter them both.

WARNING: This book contains a scorching threesome, a dirty talking pop princess, and a surly rocker who hits all the right notes.

Near the end of One Kiss with a Rock Star, Krist winds up alone in a fancy restaurant wanting a burger and fries and a beer. The snotty waiter informs him that they have foie gras stuffed prime rib burgers with caviar, truffle fries and a list of microbrews to select from. The scene perfectly encapsulates how ill-fitting Krist's life has become and how yearning for more doesn't always mean, well, MORE. Plus it gives him a beer to cry into.

Here's the thing though. I may wish I were a rock star (or secretly believe myself to be one while singing at the top of my lungs at stoplights), but I'm really not. Nor do I have a rock star's budget. I rather expect few of my readers do either. After all, we're constantly buying books! So instead of stuffing these burgers full of foie gras and caviar, I topped them with just about an ounce of foie gras for each burger. And then I added some onions cooked until they carmelized with a little bit of smoked maple syrup and flambéed with bourbon. The sweetness of the onions pairs perfectly with the rich foie gras and earthy truffle fries.

This recipe is insanely decadent in a way I just love, with expensive ingredients turned into comfort food: my favorite kind of ridiculous indulgence. Like the smoked Gouda and bacon macaroni and cheese I make occasionally. That, incidentally, would go great with this. However, in the book it's truffle french fries so that's what I've done here. I used truffle oil here rather than actual truffles,which is pretty common in restaurants. Truffled mashed potatoes, for example, rarely have actual truffles in them.

As for the onions, I suppose you don't have to flambé them, but it's fun. Plus, don't rock stars love pyrotechnics? If you've never done it before, it isn't hard. You will want your long match and a fire extinguisher or baking soda handy though when you're ready to pour in the alcohol. I've never had a mishap, but any time you're working with open flame, it pays to be careful, ya know?

Other that that, this recipe is pretty easy, for all that's it's also pretty decadent. The only other tricky part is right at the end where the fries have to come out of the oil, the buns have to get toasted, the foie gras is searing and the burgers need flipping. I could have used a sous chef. It all worked out. But it's something to keep in mind if you have another handy kitchen helper around.

Or even two handy kitchen helpers.

Burgers with Foie Gras & Smoked Maple Syrup Bourbon Carmelized Onions and Truffle Fries
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 1 hour

Smoked Maple Syrup Bourbon Carmelized Onions
3 medium onions, sliced
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup (smoked maple syrup if you can find it)
1/4 cup bourbon

Truffle Fries
1/2 gallon canola or vegetable oil
4 medium Russet potatoes, sliced into thin strips.
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon truffle oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 to 2 pounds 80/20 ground beef, formed into patties
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
4 hamburger buns (I used brioche rolls)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Foie Gras
4 ounces foie gras, deveined and cut into four equal portions
1 tablespoon potato starch or Wondra flour

1. Heat olive oil and butter over medium-low heat until butter melts. Add onions, sugar and salt and cook slowly until onions begin to carmelize, about 15 minutes.

2. Raise heat to medium-high. Add maple syrup and cook until boiling, about 30 seconds. Pour in bourbon, heat for 10-15 seconds, then light with a long match. Shake pan until alcohol burns off and flames are extinguished. Remove onions to a bowl and set aside.

3. To prepare fries, heat the oil to 250 degrees F. When it's hot, fry the potatoes in batches, 4-5 minutes per batch until tender. They won't brown at this stage, but you do want them cooked through. Remove to a plate or tray prepared with paper towels to drain.

4. Raise the heat to 375 degrees F. Working in batches again, fry potatoes until golden, 2-3 minutes per batch. When all potatoes are browned, remove to plate or tray prepared with paper towels and add salt, shaking to coat. Sprinkle with truffle oil and again shake to coat. Start with a 1/4 teaspoon. You can always add more and it's a very distinct flavor so you don't want to add too much.

5. To prepare burgers, heat your grill or a skillet to medium-high heat. Add your burger patties, cooking 3-4 minutes each side depending on desired doneness.

6. To prepare buns, brush each cut side with melted butter. In a pan or under the broiler, toast until golden, about 1 minute.

7. To prepare foie gras, heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Dredge each piece in potato starch or Wondra flour. Add to skillet, cooking about 30 seconds each side until just seared. Don't leave it much longer than that or it will completely melt.

8. To serve, add one burger pattie to a bun, top with one foie gras slice and a tablespoon or two of the prepared onions. Serve with the truffle fries.

Disclosure: I received One Kiss With a Rock Star from the authors and I was a beta reader for the manuscript (in case you somehow missed that up top).

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

All You Can Eat Curried Chicken Fried Steak

Whining on Twitter is surprisingly fruitful. I highly recommend it. After reading Andi Marquette's post on Queer Romance Month about how there "isn't much interest in f/f" I was like, "But...I'm interested in f/f..." So I poked around on Amazon and GoodReads a little bit and queried Megan Mulry, who had mentioned the post on Twitter and who I hoped might have an inside line on recommendations for excellent f/f romance for me to read. But as one of the commenters on Andi's post said, I needed a map to the lesbians! And as it happened, Andi herself came to my rescue, particularly as regards the anthology I'm reviewing today, which she hesitantly suggested might be up my alley. Lemme just say, oh hell YES it was!

All You Can Eat: A Buffet of Lesbian Erotica and Romance, edited by Andi Marquette and R.G. Emanuelle, is an anthology that combines food-focused short stories with a recipe. It's like it was written just for me! Some recipes are literal, like the curried chicken fried steak I made using Karis Walsh's recipe from the book. Others are metaphorical and just for fun. It makes for a diverse selection of readings that's perfect for anyone just discovering lesbian romance. I'm just going to highlight a couple of my favorite stories, but the whole anthology is really well done.

The first story in the book by Ashley Bartlet is Fresh Fruit, a light-hearted first-person account of a guerrilla fruit collector and the woman she meets under awkward circumstances while casing an orange tree. See, in Southern California, a lot of people have fruit trees in their yards. And if the fruit is on public property or overhanging a public street, it's technically available to anyone. The premise is charming and the light-hearted interlude that follows completely delivers.

Burn by Rebekah Weatherspoon, on the other hand, has a completely different vibe. An established couple has hit a rocky patch as a result of unemployment, shame over a lack of financial equality and resentment. There's also the context of a sister who helps the well-intentioned, but kind of clueless protagonist navigate what has become an awkward, sad situation. It has a bittersweet beginning and happy ending and a recipe for spinach and chicken lasagna that looks really yummy.

Finally, Crème Brûlée by Sacchi Green, was the story of Rory and Raf, a pair of women who had met the summer before in the context of the restaurant where Rory works when Raf was still with a younger woman. Rory and Raf are more of an age and both of a more dominant temperament, but they shared a moment before and it becomes clear over the course of the story that Raf is now perhaps in the market for more a more balanced relationship than the one she had with her previous sub Juliana. The setting, the language, the description of Raf ("the biggest, baddest gray-fox butch around" who "gives all the baby-femmes wet dreams") and the descriptions of delectable restaurant food all really worked for me.

These three stories (and East Meets West by Karis Walsh, which I'll discuss further below) were among those that stood out to me personally, but the whole anthology was delicious. So if you're new to the world of f/f romance like I was, All You Can Eat as a great starting place. Or if you're not, it's still a nicely diverse collection of well-written stories with a common theme, but very much each with their own voice.

Okay, so I know what you're probably thinking. Chicken fried steak? Are you serious, Elisabeth? That's no Nutella Crème Brûlée or Roast Duck with Citrus Cherry Port Sauce. Except it totally is. The curried gravy with the crispy steak coating is so flavorful and fun and different.

Karis Walsh's story in this anthology, East Meets West, is based on a chance meeting between a Texas cowgirl and woman who has moved from India to the United States. She has found friends and a job she loves, but she's not connecting with the cuisine, which all seems heavy and bland. So when she's invited over for dinner and her date feeds her this dish, she is incredibly flattered. The interplay between Rena and Liz is lovely; a meeting of two people and two cultures that turns into something very sweet indeed.

As for the recipe, I've included just a few extra steps below for less experienced cooks since I promised certain people never to print "salt and pepper to taste" again. Y'all know who you are! I'd recommend measuring out ingredients beforehand on this one. It's not complicated, but it does come together rather quickly at the end.

I served it with rice and a simple sauteed spinach with olive oil and garlic. There's also a salad in the story that would be terrific, but you'll have to buy the book for that!

I can tell you this is the only way you could convince me to eat chicken fried steak.

Curried Chicken Fried Steak
lightly adapted from East Meets West by Karis Walsh in All You Can Eat
Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 4 servings

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chickpea (or garbanzo bean) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons curry powder
salt and pepper to taste (I recommend starting with 1 teaspoon salt & 1/2 teaspoon pepper)
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
4 cube steaks, pounded to 1/4-inch thickness
1/2 cup grapeseed oil (or other high heat oil, not olive oil)

1 tablespoon cumin seeds
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cups cilantro, minced
juice of one fresh lime

1. Heat grapeseed oil in a large pan over medium-high heat until it reaches 325 degrees F in a heavy pan. Set the oven to "low" or "warm".
2. Stir together flours, baking powder, baking soda, curry powder, salt and pepper.
3. In another bowl, beat eggs and buttermilk.
4. Dip the steaks in the flour mixture, then the egg mixture, then in the flour mixture again. Be sure to coat thoroughly.
5. Fry the steaks until brown, about five minutes per side. Remove them from the pan, drain on paper towels, and keep warm in a low oven while you prepare the gravy.
6. Combine the flour, garam masala, turmeric and ground coriander in a small bowl.
7. Pour off all but 5 tablespoons of oil from the pan (keep the browned bits on the bottom!) and add cumin seeds. Cook over medium heat until fragrant, and then sprinkle the flour and spice mixture over the oil. Whisk until pale brown. Add the broth and deglaze the pan by scraping the yummy browned bits off the bottom. Bring to a boil and cook until thickened, stirring often.
8. Add the yogurt and cilantro and whisk to combine.
9. Remove from heat and finish with fresh lime juice.
10. Serve steaks and gravy over basmati or jasmine rice.

Disclosure: I received All You Can Eat from the editor for review consideration.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...