Posts tagged with: recipes

C is for Cookie, That’s Good Enough for Me….To Eat!


I LOVE Cookies.  I love them in all shapes and sizes and varieties.

I love short cookies (not so sweet, more cake-y) and gooey cookies (the gumdrop cookies I put in the recipe book I’ll mention in a minute), and soft cookies (ginger molasses and chocolate and chocolate chip) and crisp cookies (sugar and gingersnaps and pecan sandies).

I love shaped cookies like gingerbread people and sugar cookie stars and hearts and christmas trees.  I love blob cookies (AKA “drop cookies”) that you slide off the spoon and onto the cookie sheet and hope they end up in some kind of vague cookie shape.


I’m good with your basic oatmeal cookie, your peanut butter cookie, and le basic Toll House chocolate chip.  They are the standards.  The “go to” cookie of any season.  They are the blue-chip-stock of cookies.  You cannot go wrong with those basic cookie types, no matter what the occasion.

But when it comes to the Holidays, beginning with Halloween in our household, it’s ALLLLLLLL about the Molasses Ginger Cookies, the soft Chocolate Sugar Cookies, the 7 layer Cookie Bars, the gingerbread and oooohhhhhhh! The cut out sugar cookies.

So when Tawny asked me if I wanted to be a stop on her Cookies and Kisses Author Hop, to celebrate the Holiday Cookie Season, I was all over it.  Grins.  There’s even a Cookies & Kisses cookbook!  Go to Tawny’s website and you’ll find the link! (that’s where my gumdrop cookie recipe can be found!)

Looking up that gumdrop recipe really took me back in time.  You see, when I was little, the Cookie Season began when Mama got out her recipe book – a heavy, black, leather journal-type book – and made cookie dough.

She loved to bake.  Baking was her glory.  Pies were her first love and like our Joan, she entered the Fair and won her “Fair Share” – hahah – of ribbons.  I even have a picture of her with a prize winning pie.

But her cookies were the highlight of my childhood.

So how do Cookies relate to Kisses?  In my Christmas story BEHIND ENEMY LINES in the Anthology, A JEWEL IN TIME, which I wrote with my pals Bestselling Author Barbara Devlin and debut author Caitlenn Ainnsley, there aren’t any cookies, alas, but there are LOTS of kisses!

Behind Enemy Lines is set in the chaos preceding WWII.  I was actually talking to my sons about my Mom and Dad both having been alive during WWII – my dad served in the Army with Patton’s divisions in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.  So was telling my Eldest, now 14, about this time-honored connection of cookie dough, recipes, and cut-out-cookie baking with my Mom and her notes in the margins, many of which were written during the War Years.

Did he feel the connection via these yummy cookies, to his elders, to his Grandmother Pickering whom he never met?

“Ummmm, kinda,” he said, munching on the last of the molasses ginger cookies I made last weekend.  “This was her recipe, right?  The one you won’t share?”

IMG_3162“Yes,” I replied, pleased that he remembered.  “The one she wrote by hand, in fountain pen.”  (You can see an example there below, of her hand written, fountain-pen elegance in recipe writing)

“You said she started that during the War, right?  By the way, what’s a fountain pen?  And are we making cookies this weekend?  You got the jam, right?”

I beamed.  He remembered. (BTW, the jam is for Apricot Jam Tarts.  Grins.  Slurpy Good.)

photoAlthough my sons never met my mother, they knew my stories about her writing notes in her own private recipe book – notes about how to get by without rationed sugar or without shortening or hard-to-get-in-the-city brown sugar.  Its funny, I can tell if a recipe is from the WWII era when it calls for “heavy cream skimmed off the top of the milk” or “lard” or it says “fresh eggs best, esp. from the Reds”  (Mother raised Rhode Island Red chickens as a girl.  Grins.)  So, despite never having met her, my sons and even my husband kind-of “know” my Mom.

I hope, when they’re older, they’ll read BEHIND ENEMY LINES and know a little about that history-shaping time of  World War II.  So to go with your coffee and cookies this fine December day, here’s a short excerpt:

Grace conned enough German to know she was being held until Adolf Hitler himself arrived to talk to her. Somehow he’d learned about her antique jeweled brooch, and the legend around it, and around her family’s ancient Templar origins. Her lip curled in a silent snarl. It wasn’t like anyone had kept the legend secret, exactly. Each generation’s eldest daughter, if there was one, received the brooch. The previous generation’s eldest daughter passed it on to her daughter, or to the niece or cousin she felt should be the recipient. Grace’s Aunt, also named Grace, had passed it to her namesake on the day Grace turned eighteen. Aunt Grace’s brood was large, but they were all boys.

Grace didn’t really believe in the legend. How could dreaming of your “destined love” be helpful in any way? And really.AJewelinTimefinal
Different dreams? Compelling futures?

Balderdash. But she loved the jewel, and kept the tradition of wearing it, always. And because she did that bit, she kept the jewel-journal with her at all times, as well.

Grace looked at her watch as she heard the creaking of the great stairs down the hall from her room. There was a perfunctory knock and the grate of a key in the old fashioned lock.

The same pattern had been repeated for three days now. She’d been here a week, but within the last few days, three more generals had arrived. She’d been introduced, but then sequestered in her room.

“Fräulein Corvedale, your dinner.”  A woman, the lodge’s housekeeper, bustled in. Her name was Frau Shemper and she spoke superb English. “Come, come, I will set it up here, yes?”

She motioned the servant following her to put the tray down on the table near where Grace sat.  As he set down the tray, the man watched her. Harsh white scars ran like claw marks under a black eye patch. His stooped posture and distinct limp should have made him look menacing.  Instead, there was a knowing look in his good eye, an assessing look. It was as if he wanted–needed–to talk to her, but dared not.

“It won’t be long now,” Frau Shemper chirped chattily, pulling the curtains, shutting out the winter landscape. “Tomorrow night our special guests will be here,” the woman said, her smile twinkling, inviting Grace to enjoy the idea of that.

“Danke, Frau Shemper.”

The manservant had tended the fire, and now stood at the door, a hulking, dark-haired reminder that she was a prisoner.  His presence sent a shiver down her back, which she disguised by rising from her seat, moving to the newly awakened fire. There was something about him…something compelling.

Under her shirt, the jeweled pendant shifted against her skin. It was a warm and reassuring weight. Somehow, she’d get out of here.  Grace had been well trained as a spy, and her self-defense skills were superb. Unfortunately, even if she could take out both Frau Shemper and the manservant, there was a guard in the hall, and another patrolling the lower floor. Yet another guard walked a beat in the garden, with one at the gate, and at least one at the end of the drive, which she could see from her windows.

“Come, now, Fräulein. You must be hungry, yes?”

“Yes, of course. Thank you, Frau Shemper, for bringing dinner up yourself. You must be very busy with such important guests to tend.”

She and the man left, and Grace returned to the stew and her questions.  What could Hitler want with her? With the jewel? She didn’t want to think about the diary. She prayed it was still in the lodge, that she could find it. Though not as ancient as the brooch, it told only the stories of the women in her family who’d possessed the jewel through the centuries.

It was a story book, but a precious one. Those stories, magical or not, were her history, her people. Still. They were stories. Fables.  If it were only that, well, it wouldn’t be so dangerous. Unfortunately, she’d used the book to create a code system. She stored her notes in it, and had given her father the key to the code should she die.

“Lovely thoughts, Grace,” she chided herself as she sat brooding by the fire. The heavy tread in the hallway and subsequent scrape of the key in the lock startled her. She rose, expecting Frau Shemper.

The manservant was alone. He left the door open and Grace assessed her chances.

“I wouldn’t try it, Lady Corvedale,” the man said, his voice low and controlled. He spoke English! An American!

“What did you say?” As she watched, he transformed, standing taller, looking leaner and less bulky as he stood straight. His shoulders, already broad, were even bigger when he stood up to his full height, his posture exact and erect.

“Don’t try to jump me and I won’t have to hurt you.”


Squidge and CoffeeAnd there you have it, Banditas and Buddies!  A little taste treat for the day!

Do you like your cookies with Coffee?  

(There’s my daily dose with Squidge.  Squidge appears courtesy of the darling JADE LEE! I love my Squidge!)

Do you like your cookies with tea?

With hot chocolate?

With Milk?

Do you leave milk and cookies for Santa – or did you as a child, or with your children if you had/have them?

What’s your favorite store-bought cookie? Pepperidge Farm Orange Milanos?  Oreos?  Keebler Fudge Stripes?

Do you dunk?  That is, do you dunk your cookies in milk/coffee/tea/chocolate or just eat them as an accompaniment? 


One lucky poster today will get a copy of A JEWEL IN TIME, and a copy of ENTER THE BRETHREN from Barbara Devlin.  (Her story in A Jewel in Time is a prequel to her Brethren of the Coast series, so you’ll get a great start to the series!!)  I’ll also put a copy of my Thanksgiving Themed novella, Deadly Delivery in today’s prize bundle!  (KINDLE ONLY!)



Holiday Recipe Share

Betty Lewis, 1950I always think of my mother, Betty Lewis, at this time of the year because she was such a traditional, old-fashioned cook, and I like using the recipes she handed down to me over the years.

One Christmas gift I cherish came from my sister-in-law who copied and framed one of my mom’s recipes in her own handwriting.  It’s a lovely idea and a special gift.

The holiday season is creeping up on us all too fast.  I’m not one of those who shops a little all year long, so at the last minute I have tons of crafts and gifts, decorations and food preparation.

One of the great treasures of this time of the year is sharing favorite recipes.  In remembrance of my mother and as a nod to my family, I’d like to share a few recipes from my files.

My husband’s mother was a meat-and-potatoes woman who overcooked everything, but no one could beat her in the homemade candy-making department.  Every Christmas she mailed us a package of her assorted candies:  fudge, divinity, caramels with nuts, and her famous penuche, Dr. Big’s favorite:


Butter an8x 8×2 inch pan.  Coarsely chop and set aside 3/4 cup pecans.  Mix together in a heavy  2 quart saucepan 3 cups firmly packed brown sugar, 1 cup plus 2 TB milk, 1/2 t. salt.

Stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved.  Increase heat and bring mixture to boiling, stirring frequently.  Put candy thermometer in place.  Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until mixture reaches 234 degrees F. (soft ball stage — remove from heat while testing).  During cooking, wash crystals from sides of pan.  Remove from heat.  Set aside until just cool enough to hold pan on hand.  Do not jar pan or stir.

When cool, add 3 TB butter, 1 1/2 t. vanilla.  Beat vigorously until mixture loses its gloss.  With a few strokes stir in the chopped nuts.  Quickly candy #1turn into the buttered pan without scraping bottom and sides of saucepan and spread evenly.  Set aside to cool.

Note:  I love how Mabel gives these little added tips which are helpful for new candy-makers!  Also, I like a richer candy, so I use half and half or evaporated milk instead of regular milk.  I don’t think 1 and 2 percent milk was available back in the day.




  • 1 pkg frozen hash browns, thawed
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 8-oz. carton sour cream
  • 1/2 c. chopped onion
  • 1 can cream of chicken souppotato casserole
  • 2 c. grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 c. corn flakes

Mix all ingredients together, except 1/2 stick butter and corn flakes.  Pour into 9 by 13 pan.  Melt 1/2 stick butter with corn flakes and sprinkle on potato mixture.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  Note:  This is a great side-dish and super easy to make ahead.

cookiesWhat are your favorite, go-to recipes for the holiday season?  Any ideas of what to make with the left-over turkey or ham?  I need some additions to my recipe file, so please share!


Secret Ingredients, Signature Dishes and Special Treats Quick Five!

Spaghe-Bolog_793727cSince everyone had fun doing the Reading Fun Quick Five, I thought I’d do another Quick Five today. This time, focusing on food!

There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of dishes using ground beef, or mince meat as we call it over here. (Yes, that’s been one of my Friday Facebook posts on Two Nations Divided!), but every country has their stock recipes which are filling and easy to cook. Dishes we learn from our parents, as students or from the first cook book. We all have our own variations on these dishes – that secret ingredient that makes our dish tastier than everyone else’s. In the UK, one such dish is spaghetti bolognese (ground meat and tomato sauce) or ‘spag bol’.

APD coverAs it happens, spaghetti bolognese is one of my signature dishes! The recipe is my own, that I’ve developed over the years from a basic recipe my mum taught me, and always gets rave reviews at the dinner table. In the Lair, I’m going to share my secret ingredients – I have three!

1. Allspice – I learned about this while backpacking in Greece. A pinch or two of ground Allspice brings out the flavour of the meat and sauce perfectly.

2. Turmeric – often used in Middle Eastern and South Asian cooking, turmeric rounds out the flavour of the sauce, whether it’s a curry or a stew. It’s perfect for spag bol – trust me!

A Perfect Trade final3. The final secret ingredient, I picked up from fabulous Italian chef Antonio Carluccio. I loved his series on Italian cooking. He makes everything sound easy to cook and his recipes are delicious. In this caase, he was talking about how spaghetti bolognese isn’t an Italian dish from Bologna at all, but an English invention. The closest dish he could find bears little resemblance to spag bol and uses … milk! Yes, milk! Figuring Carluccio hasn’t led me astray before, I tried his suggestion and added milk to my spaghetti bolognese recipe. And it worked. It made the whole dish richer and tastier. Who’d have thought?

In A Perfect Distraction, Maggie doesn’t like cooking, but her signature dish is Bendy Eggs. In A Perfect Trade, Jenny’s signature dessert is a version of Eton Mess using chocolate-covered strawberries. You can find recipes for both these dishes on my website in the For Readers section.

So tell me:
1.Is there a ground beef/mince meat dish that’s your family’s special dish?

2. Do you have a signature dish that everyone raves about and asks you to make?

3. Will you share one of your secret ingredients?

4. Do you have a favourite ‘go to’ dish you can whip up quickly, if necessary, for unexpected visitors or to take to a party? [mine is cupcakes – made from the Magnolia Bakery recipe]

5. What’s your favourite snack treat or comfort food? [mine is either chips and sour cream dip or hot, buttered popcorn]

The Ghost of Christmas Past…a

Ah, Christmas.  It’s a season heavy with tradition–the songs, the decorations, the food.  


Oh, yeah, the food.  

Now I’m a pretty traditional girl–it’s not Christmas for me without a big ol’ hunk of my mom’s Dutch apple pie.  It’s not the day after Christmas without a hunk of that same pie posing as breakfast, either.  

For my husband, it’s not Christmas without a giant pan of mac-and-cheese on the table.  (My mind boggles at the idea of mac-and-cheese for Christmas dinner, but whatever.  You marry a guy, you marry his traditions.)  

But on the very first high holiday we spent together as a couple, just the two of us, we went outside the box.  We made pasta.  


Yeah, pasta.  By hand.  

Don’t ask me what we were thinking.  We were giddy with love & having an adventure.  We had no idea we were even getting married someday, let alone hatching a life-long tradition.   We just happened to both be family free for the holiday & decided to do something crazy.

Like make pasta.

By hand.

So, fast forward about fifteen years.  Throw a kitchen aid mixer with the pasta attachments into the mix.  Throw in a couple of kids & a few in-laws.  Cover the whole thing in flour, & you’ve pretty much got the pasta adventure we staged last Christmas chez Sey.   The pictures really do say it all, but here’s the basic recipe & procedure: 


Basic Egg Pasta:

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon water

3 1⁄2 cups sifted all-purpose flour 

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

Place eggs, water, flour, and salt in mixer bowl.

Attach bowl and flat beater. Turn to Speed 2 and mix 30 seconds.

IMG_2777Exchange flat beater for dough hook. Turn to Speed 2 and knead 2 minutes. Remove dough from bowl and hand knead for 1 to 2 minutes. Let it rest for 20 minutes.

Divide dough into 4 pieces before processing with Pasta Sheet Roller attachment.

Okay, at this point, you’ll have four balls of dough.  When they say “process with the pasta sheet roller,” they mean to run it through the attachment on your mixer that essentially squeezes each ball between a couple of rollers that look like a mini-laundry mangle.  (Anybody old enough–or read enough historical fiction–to know what a mangle is?  I know I do!)


This will get to you the point you see in the first picture where I’m dealing with an incredibly long, flat sheet of pasta.  At this point, I flour a bunch of parchment paper & cut the sheet of dough into noodle-sized lengths–maybe a foot?  I let them sit between layers of floured parchment while I switch out my pasta roller for my pasta cutter.  I like the fettuccine one.  I feel like this width cooks nicely.

So then you run the sheets through the cutter (as seen in picture #2) & you end up with…fettuccine!  It truly is like magic.  (Picture #3 shows some of the sheets waiting to be run through the fettuccine cutter, & some that have already been through.)

Drop each little coil of fresh pasta into boiling water, cook for about 6-7 minutes, & voila!  You have actual, honest-to-goodness, edible pasta.  


It might look like a flour bomb went off in your kitchen, but you can deal with that after dinner.  

Just drain that gorgeous pasta, top with your favorite sauce–we went with pesto, though at least one of my girls went with just straight up olive oil & salt–and eat that deliciousness right up. 

And if you lick your plate, I’m not going to judge you.  

So how about you?  Have you ever done anything strange for the holidays, & had it turn into a tradition on you?  Share!

And to reward you for swinging by the Bandit’s 12 Day of Christmas, we’ll be gifting one lucky commenter with a copy of Susan’s last release TASTE FOR TROUBLE, kindle or paperback, winner’s choice!  (And you’ll want to read it soon as the follow up TALENT FOR TROUBLE is coming out in January!) You’ll also receive a fabulous Rooster ornament for whatever you choose to decorate this time of year!

Breakfast Recipe Exchange

Blog Widget

Let’s talk bonus content! I’m working on my website update for 2014. That is to say, I’m writing a lot of notes, which my fabulous webmaster will turn into an actual update. I’ve decided that I want to add a lot more bonus content for my readers, things like games and recipes and interactive book excerpt widgets, like this one for SECOND-CHANCE SEDUCTION, which will be out next month from Harlequin Desire.

I also thought it would be fun to include pictures of things from my books. I have a Pinterest board for each book (, so I’ve asked my webmaster to post a Pinterest widget on each book page, too, like this one. Isn’t this just the coolest thing?!


Thing is, I’m not a natural cook. I try, I really do, but I just don’t have the knack. Still, I think if you keep trying different combinations, eventually you’ll come up with something delicious. (After discarding lots of not-so-delicious combinations.) Which is just what happened when I threw together this Apple-Bacon French Toast Casserole. It turned out really delicious, even with the surprise ingredient I threw in! And it looks pretty, too. If you make it, please email me via my website to let me know what you thought.


Kate Carlisle’s Apple-Bacon French Toast Casserole

apple-bacon-french-toast-web1 baguette, torn into 1-inch chunks
2 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 apple, cut into ¼-inch chunks
4 oz Monterrey Jack cheese, cut into ¼-inch chunks
6 eggs
¼ C maple syrup
¼ C apple cider

Place the chunks of bread, apple, cheese, and bacon in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, syrup, and cider. Pour over the bread mixture. Stir to soak bread thoroughly. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan, add the egg mixture, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the casserole until cooked through, and bread on top is golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. Serve with bacon and additional syrup. ‘Cause you know, you can never have too much bacon or too much syrup!

Okay, it’s your turn! Share a favorite breakfast recipe. Oh, and please do let me know what kind of “extras” you enjoy seeing on authors’ websites.

Launch Party: A Cookbook Conspiracy by Kate Carlisle


A COOKBOOK CONSPIRACY is available today, and to celebrate, we’re having a big ol’ party in the Lair! A COOKBOOK CONSPIRACY is my latest Bibliophile Mystery. Publishers Weekly calls it “well plotted” and says “Carlisle keeps the suspense high as Brooklyn sleuths her way through a host of chefs and other suspects to a satisfying resolution.”

SvenPardon me while I happy-sigh. I love a good review quote! Today, I’m giving away an advanced review copy of A COOKBOOK CONSPIRACY. Check back at the end of the day to see if you won!

In A COOKBOOK CONSPIRACY, Brooklyn Wainwright is asked to restore a one-of-a-kind leather-bound cookbook and journal from the Revolutionary War days, and she discovers secret spy codes written in the margins. So… in honor of spycraft during the Revolutionary War, the cabana boys are wearing invisible clothes as they whip up a batch of my Deadly Delicious Dark Chocolate Fudge. You know every party ends up in the kitchen, anyway. Save room for dessert!

Kate Carlisle’s Deadly Delicious Dark Chocolate Fudge

2 10-oz bags dark chocolate chips

1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk

1 T instant coffee powder

½ t cayenne powder

2 t chocolate liqueur or vanilla extract

Sea salt for sprinkling

This is so easy, Brooklyn Wainwright could make it!

Line an 8-inch square pan with waxed paper and set aside. Put the dark chocolate chips, condensed milk, instant coffee, and cayenne in a heavy saucepan over very low heat. Stir constantly until chocolate is melted. Watch it closely so it doesn’t burn. You might need to remove the pan from the heat from time to time. As soon as the chocolate is melted, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the liqueur or the extract.

Spread the fudge into the prepared pan and sprinkle with sea salt. Refrigerate for two hours or more. Cut into one-inch squares.

Calories: Trust me, you don’t want to know.

To enter for a chance to win an ARC of A COOKBOOK CONSPIRACY, share a recipe for your favorite summer drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic)! Sven is having a Skip and Go Naked, of course – and yes, that’s a real drink!

It’s a Conspiracy, I Tell Ya!

I hesitate to tell you this in case “they” lurk around this blog. You know who I’m talking about. Them. The cookbook writers who are out to get me. For years now, I’ve been convinced that they conspire to make me feel inept. Although they look sweet and unassuming, mischievous intent lurks behind those fake, friendly smiles. They claim something is foolproof… but I fool them!

Smiling Cookbook AuthorOf course, as a mystery writer, I love a good conspiracy theory – and I simply had to find a way to use it in a book. The next Bibliophile Mystery is titled A COOKBOOK CONSPIRACY, and now you’re in on the private joke. It stems from my irrational fear of recipes, a fear shared by heroine Brooklyn Wainwright.

A COOKBOOK CONSPIRACY will be out in hardcover and ebook in June – my hardcover debut! –but it’s available now for pre-order on Amazon and What’s equally thrilling to me is that the book’s blurb is posted on both sites, and I really love it! If I hadn’t written this book, I’d want to read it!

It’s a recipe for disaster when bookbinder Brooklyn Wainwright is asked to restore an antique cookbook…

Brooklyn has always been a little obsessed with food, but it was her sister Savannah who became a chef, graduating from the prestigious Cordon Bleu school in Paris. She and her classmates all went on to successful careers, but none of them achieved culinary superstardom like Savannah’s ex-boyfriend Baxter Cromwell.

When Baxter invites the old gang to participate in his new restaurant’s gala opening in San Francisco, Savannah looks forward to seeing her friends, and even asks Brooklyn to restore a tattered cookbook—an old gift from Baxter—as a present for him. But Brooklyn immediately recognizes that the book, which has strange notes and symbols scrawled in the margins, is at least two hundred years old. She thinks that it probably belongs in a museum, but Savannah insists on returning it to Baxter.

Antique cookbookShortly after receiving the gift, Baxter is found dead, with Savannah kneeling over him, bloody knife in hand, and the rare cookbook has disappeared. Brooklyn knows her sister didn’t kill him, and she suspects the missing cookbook might lead to the real villain. Now Brooklyn will have to turn up the heat on the investigation before Chef Savannah finds herself slinging hash in a prison cafeteria.


To celebrate the blurby awesomeness of my latest blurb, I share with you a recipe that is better than foolproof – it’s Kateproof. And it’s perfect for those holiday potlucks you’ll be attending over Christmas and New Year’s.

Kate’s Black Bean Party Dip

2 T olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 C of your favorite jarred salsa
8 oz. Monterrey Jack cheese, cut into chunks

Warm the olive oil in a pan, and sauté the diced onion for about a minute. Add the black beans and mash them up in the pan. Add the salsa and the chunks of cheese and warm it all up together until the cheese gets nice and melty. Serve warm with tortilla chips. (Fake-gourmet cooking tip: If you warm the store-bought tortilla chips in the oven – in a bowl, not in the plastic bag – your guests might think they’re homemade. It makes a big difference!)

And don’t forget, we’re nearing the end of our 12 Days of Bandita Christmas celebration! Be sure to comment to be eligible for our daily Bandita prize as well as our SUPER-DUPER GRAND prize giveaway Christmas Day. For today’s giveaway, I’m also including a signed copy of PERIL IN PAPERBACK and some cool Bibliophile swag!

Are you attending – or hosting – any holiday parties? What food do you like to bring to a potluck?

Christmas Don’ts

So many people have holiday traditions, things they do each and every year, and while we definitely have more than our fair share of Dos, today I’d like to talk about a few of my Don’ts.

I don’t:

Use tinsel. Not one sparkly strand. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-tinsel – as a matter of fact, growing up, we always had tinsel (or what we called “icicles”) on our tree. We’d grab the glittery stuff and toss it willy nilly all over that beautiful evergreen. It was so ingrained in me that during the first few years of marriage, my husband and kids and I repeated the tradition. Until I actually had to clean up all that shiny stuff – from the floors, the furniture, our clothes…so, yeah. No tinsel. Not even the garland kind. I’m now used to a less sparkly tree. *g* (I’ve also outlawed any and all Easter grass during Easter but that’s a whole ‘nother post) The tree pictured here is my mom’s, hence the sparkle.

Make or drink eggnog. I know it’s traditional and all and I love eggs as part of a meal but the idea of drinking them just gives me the heebie jeebies *shudder*. So…no eggnog even though Big Sis (older daughter) loves it. This year I’m making apple brandy. Hey, that can be traditional, right?

Watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas or The Year Without a Santa Claus. They (and a few others) freak out my children (who, I might add, are 21, 18 and 15 but still…) It’s the artwork for some reason *shrug* It’s such a deep-seated fear that the other night when I found The Year Without a Santa Claus on TV, Big Sis wouldn’t come into the living room until I’d turned the channel. I tried to talk her into watching the part where Heat Miser sings but she’d have none of it.

Send Christmas cards early. Ever. I always plan on having them done weeks ahead of time but it never happens. Some years I’ve barely made it On Time. Oh, and I always save my kids’ school pictures to include in the cards but I don’t always remember to actually put them in the envelopes.

Put ribbons or bows on wrapped presents. I used to. I used to spend hours wrapping presents, curling ribbons and making perfect bows (I even got a wooden bow-maker one year – you wrapped the ribbon around it somehow…wonder if I still have that?) and being creative with my wrapping. Now I’m lucky if I don’t run out of wrapping paper, tape and/or gift tags. Seriously. I’ve been known to use the Sunday comics for wrapping paper, stickers (yes, stickers) in place of tape and folded pieces of scrap paper for tags. It’s not pretty.

Let my kids step one foot into the living room on Christmas morning until my husband and I have coffee in hand, Bing playing on the CD player and the camera ready to snap a picture of their reactions at seeing all the presents Santa left. As I mentioned, two of them are now legally adults and yes, we still do this. And yes, Santa still leaves presents AFTER they’ve gone to bed Christmas Eve.

Hey, I can’t spend all that time wrapping presents. I have goodies to make! Here’s a super easy one that also happens to be my husband’s favorite:

Peanut Clusters

2 – 12 oz packages of white chips

1 – 12 oz package of milk chocolate chips

1 – 12 oz package of semi-sweet chocolate chips

5 cups Spanish peanuts.

Combine chips in a large bowl. Melt. (Can melt over low heat of a double boiler – I use a glass or metal bowl over a saucepan of an inch or so of simmering water) or in the microwave (med heat for 2 minutes, stir, then microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring after each, until melted and smooth).

Add Spanish peanuts, stir until coated. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto wax paper lined cookie sheets. Refrigerate until firm, about 45 minutes. (We love a salty/sweet treat so I sprinkle a bit of sea salt on top of half of these *g*)

What are some of your Christmas Don’ts? I’ll draw one name to win a set of The Diamond Dust trilogy which kicked off with A MARINE FOR CHRISTMAS!

And you DON’T want to miss out on the 12 Bandita Days of Christmas! From now until December 25th we’re celebrating the holidays with daily recipes and PRIZES! It’s all leading up to a HUGE Prize bundle of books and goodies on Christmas Day! Tomorrow’s guest, Jeannie Watt, is giving away THREE copies of her latest release for SuperRomance, CROSSING NEVADA!

Amanda Usen on True Love and Homegrown Tomatoes

Today I’m thrilled to welcome author and chef Amanda Usen to the lair! I met Amanda a few weeks ago when I gave a workshop in Buffalo, NY, and I knew right away you’d all find her as smart, witty and as much fun as I did *g* Here’s Amanda:

True Love and Homegrown Tomatoes

My husband is a fantastic gardener, and his favorite thing to grow is heirloom tomatoes. He grows different kinds every year. This year we are waiting on Orange Jubilee, the Charlie Chaplin, Chocolate Drop, Gooseberry and Brandywine. The names are almost as much fun as the tomatoes, and my husband can’t resist the more unusual varieties. Last year, he had a ball offering friends samples of his Cream Sausage and Black Seamen tomatoes. Seriously, who could resist? 😉

Each year we discover a new favorite, although Orange Jubilee and Brandywine always make it into the mix. I also love the Yellow Currant (so tiny and cute), Black Pearl (like a cherry tomato but darker, and sweet as candy) and Rainbow (as pretty as it sounds).

It’s an unspoken rule in the household that we don’t buy any tomatoes at the grocery store or even at the farmers’ market. We wait for our tomatoes…although I want them now! I can’t wait to sit on the back porch with a glass of wine and eat grilled bruschetta until I absolutely cannot hold another bite. It is our simplest summer pleasure, but it feeds my soul. I can taste the sunshine on the tomatoes and basil. The juicy tomato water soaks into the bread, adding flavor. The kiss of salt, pepper and grill char add mystery. Garlic gives it bite…and a little bit of risk. It’s best to know who you’re going to kiss when you’re eating bruschetta!

Since my husband and I are both chefs, I always use our recipes in my books. It makes the research easier, except when my husband is cooking and I say, “Wait! I want to measure all of your ingredients for my blog!” So far that has only happened while he was making chimichurri but I plan to nab his meatball recipe soon.

Since Luscious, my second culinary romance, is set in Italy, I put grilled bruschetta on my characters’ menu. It couldn’t be easier to make, but somehow it transcends the simplicity of its ingredients. Grilling the bread does something magical. No fancy-schmancy chef stuff in this recipe. If you can slice bread, tomatoes, basil and garlic and operate a grill, you can have your very own simple summer pleasure. Note: For a truly Luscious experience, enjoy the bruschetta with a glass of Arrowhead Spring Vineyards 2010 Chardonnay. I helped harvest and crush the grapes for that vintage while doing research for the book! Here’s the recipe:

Luscious Grilled Bruschetta

1 baguette

Enough tomatoes to make 2 Cups, seeded, diced

5 good leaves of fresh basil or 1 t pesto

¼ clove of garlic mashed with ¼ t salt

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

  1. Use a serrated knife to slice the bread into ¼ inch ovals, on the bias. That means set your knife up at a 90 degree angle to the bread, and then twist the knife about 30 degrees to the side and start sawing.
  2. Brush the bread with a little bit of olive oil, then sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Heat the grill.
  3. Next, make what we refer to in my house as “tomato glop.” Dice your tomatoes, leaving as many seeds as possible on the cutting board. Fold the basil leaves into a tiny package, and slice it across one way to make thin ribbons. Then slice across the other way to chop. Use a Chef’s knife to mince your garlic and smash it into a paste with the salt. Mix the tomatoes, basil and garlic in a small bowl.
  4. Grill the bread until each side is marked.
  5. Top each slice of bread with the tomato mixture. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Eat. Mmmmmmm! Summer lovin’!

I know, I know…it sounds too easy. It is. I hope you’ll try it and tell me if you like it as much as I do.

Thanks so much to the Romance Bandits for hosting me today! I love sharing books and recipes. For the chance to win a copy of Luscious, leave me a comment and tell me your simple summer pleasure. Margaritas on the deck? Ice cream on the porch? Water balloons in the yard? I’d love to hear from you!

 Amanda Usen knows two things for certain: chocolate cheesecake is good for breakfast and a hot chef can steal your heart. Her husband stole hers the first day of class at the Culinary Institute of America. She married him after graduation in a lovely French Quarter restaurant in New Orleans, and they spent a few years enjoying the food and the fun in the Big Easy. Now they live in Western New York with their three children, one hamster, two guinea pigs, a tortoise and a new-to-them beagle. Amanda spends her days teaching pastry arts classes and her nights writing romance. If she isn’t baking or writing, she can usually be found chasing the kids around the yard with her very own luscious husband. If you want to chat about romance, writing or recipes, please visit her blog Writer. Chef. Romantic. where you can find recipes for many of the yummy dishes in her books. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter!/AmandaUsen

Luscious Blurb

Eat, play, love

Plain old ice cream just isn’t going to cut it. To beat these blues, chef Olivia Marconi needs the good stuff: rich, creamy tiramisu gelato. And no place better to get it than Italy. But a fresh start is nearly impossible with Sean Kindred dogging her every move. She’s been burned by his too-hot-to-handle antics before. Though there’s no denying the man can still get her all fired up. Could a weeklong affair finally turn into something more lasting…or will it all go up in flames?

Happy Thanksgiving!!

By Kate

It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the USA and many of us are looking forward to celebrating the day by cooking, watching football, and eating too much.

Oh, and we also give thanks for that which we’ve been blessed. 😉

Now, as some of you may know, I am officially known as the worst cook in the world. No, really. I burn things. All the time. Our smoke alarm gets a real workout whenever I step into the kitchen.

And yet, for my family, I took a chance and cooked several side dishes for the holiday. So what do I have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving?

I didn’t burn anything! Hallelujah!!

Yeah, it was a shock for me, too. 🙂

Okay, now let’s talk about what I’m really thankful for this time of year. I’m especially thankful for my dear family and for so many wonderful friends here in the Lair and elsewhere. I’m thankful that I’m able to write books for a living and I’m doubly thankful for all the fabulous readers, booksellers and librarians I’ve met all over the country. Thank you!!

So now, just for fun … here’s a snack to enjoy at a holiday party or a small gathering with friends. It’s an old family recipe and so simple to make, even I can do it—without burning anything!

Be careful with these – they’re addictive! They only take 5 minutes to mix, then 20 minutes baking time.

Kate’s Crazy Mixed-Up Nuts

¼ cup butter
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp each: seasoned salt, celery salt and garlic powder
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp. each cayenne pepper and pepper
1 c. shelled walnuts
1 cup pecan halves
1 cup whole almonds, lightly toasted

Preheat oven to 325 F. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Add Worcestershire sauce and seasonings. Simmer over low heat for several minutes for flavors to blend. Stir in nuts and transfer to a shallow baking pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Makes 3 cups. (Great with cocktails. And they can also be tossed on salads.)

Wishing everyone in the States a very Happy Thanksgiving! And to our friends in other parts of the world, a very Happy Thursday!!

I’m enjoying a cool, sunny day here in Palm Desert, California. Where are you today? How’s the weather? And what are you thankful for today? For sharing with us on Thanksgiving, I’ve got a signed copy of THE LIES THAT BIND and some fun promo goodies for one random commenter!

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