Cook’s Treat

Cooks TreatI LOVE TO COOK! I also love to eat. I think the two go hand in hand. If I hadn’t chosen to be an attorney and writer, I think I would have loved to be a chef. As it is, and when time allows which lately is not often, I can spend hours making a meal.

I’ve imagined the ideal situation where I could combine all those talents — like running a bed and breakfast that caters to writers. I’d teach classes during the day and prepare awesome food for breakfast and dinner (sorry — you’d be on your own for lunch!)

For those of you who like to cook as well, here are some recipes that are tried and true. I hope you will try one of them and if you do, let me know what you think!

Recipes from Caridad and Friends and Family

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#Foodie Eats in #Midtown #NYC

I love food and I love to cook food. I guess I should also say that I love to eat food. LOL!

I’m a foodie without a doubt. When I can, I try to shop locally which is not always easy with my schedule. Luckily, there is a green market on Wednesdays in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza and my office is right across the street from the Grand Central Market.
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Before the revitalization of this area, the place where the Market is now located was nothing but a dark, dreary, dirty and dangerous-looking service alley.

Now it’s a beautiful market where you can pick up all kinds of things if you need to prepare a meal, grab a snack or lunch, or just meander to see what’s interesting.

This morning I picked up a danish at Zaro’s, but there’s also Zabar’s right nearby.
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Zaro’s is across from Ceriello’s and I’ve got some wonderful red peppers and mushrooms at home, so I bought a lovely cheese and parsley sausage ring to grill and have with the veggies. Here’s what the Ceriello’s meat counter looks like!
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If I needed some mozzarella, or maybe a burrata, to go with that sausage and peppers, I’d pop over to Murray’s. Cheese is one of my downfalls!

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There are lots of other fabulous locations in the market and if you’re in the area, definitely drop by and see it as well as the other sights in another for my fav places, Grand Central Terminal.

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#FoodieFriday Creamy Cheese Grits

Being a Southern girl (Cuba is pretty far South you know), I love grits in all forms. Whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner, if grits are on the menu, you can be sure I’ll ask for them.

Now, I know many of you either don’t like or haven’t tried grits, but seriously try this recipe! You’ll love it and you can change it up by changing up the amount of milk/half-and-half/water and the kind of cheese you’re using.

So here goes with today’s #FoodieFriday Recipe.

Creamy Cheese Grits

4 cups whole milk (you can change this up to be 2 cups milk, 2 cups water; 2 cups half-and-half, 2 cups water, etc.)
1 cup coarse ground grits (not instant)
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter
4 oz grated cheddar cheese (for some spiciness use Montery Pepper Jack cheese)

Warm the milk and add the grits, salt and butter. Gradually bring to a low boil, stirring all the time. Stir until smooth and creamy and the grits are soft – about 20-30 minutes. Add the cheese and stir again until the cheese is incorporated and creamy.

That’s it! Pretty simple and you can serve it with eggs for breakfast. If you cool it and place it in a baking dish, you can slice and grill it to serve as a side dish to dinner.
yellow corn grits

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#FoodieFriday Dulce de Leche

You see Dulce de Leche everywhere now from ice creams to other desserts. Even a limited edition Dulce de Leche Pop Tart. You know you’ve made it when you’re immortalized in a Pop Tart! LOL!

But for Latins, Dulce de Leche has been around forever. My mom and grandma used to make it all the time for us as kids.

What exactly is Dulce de Leche? Literally translated it means “milk candy” and it is basically a caramel kind of spread made by heating sweetened milk until it changes color and flavor. Technically, that process is known as a Maillard reaction, but forget that! All you need to know is that it’s really tasty.

Also, just to confuse things, Cubans have another dessert called dulce de leche which is made with curdled milk that is then sweetened, but that’s not what we’re going to make today.

Actually, for those who are kitchen-challenged, Dulce de Leche is much easier to find today in the ethnic food section. La Lechera has an assortment of Dulce de Leche products, including one in a squeeze bottle for drizzling onto desserts or straight into your mouth.

How do you make it? Well, it’s both simple and DANGEROUS. I have to repeat DANGEROUS, but that hasn’t stopped Latinos from making it this way for a very long time.

It all starts with . . . Can you guess? It’s that go to in Latin kitchens: Sweetened Condensed Milk.

Why a go to? Well, we weren’t well off and when you needed something sweet, a spoonful of dulce de leche or a cup filled with crumbled soda crackers and topped with condensed milk did the trick.

Plus, it’s a basic ingredient in flan, tres leches, bread pudding, you name it.

But back to making Dulce de Leche and the DANGER of it. The easiest, but DANGEROUS way is to full a large pot with water and drop in an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk.

Bring to boil and boil for about two to three hours. NEVER LET THE POT RUN DRY. If you do, the pressure will build inside the unopened can and it will EXPLODE.

Just ask my poor sister-in-law who ended up cleaning dulce de leche from her ceiling.

So that’s it. Drop and boil and then chill in the fridge. For a thicker darker dulce de leche, boil the can even longer. It will be as thick and dark as peanut butter, but oh so tasty!

Let me know if you try it and if you do, how you like it!

DulcedeLeche

Speaking of sweet, don’t forget these sweet deals going on right now!
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Just One Night Erotic Military Romance

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#FoodieFriday Italian Easter Egg Bread, Freebie E-book & #Giveaways

Whew, we have a lot going on today. First, a recipe for a traditional Italian Easter Egg Bread. We never had these as kids, but learned about them from my hubby’s Italian family. His grandma used to make these every Easter and I’ve made them on several Easters. You can either make a big braided version to use as a centerpiece before eating or make individual ones to place at your guest’s place settings!

Ingredients

Sweet Dough

2 large eggs
2 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter in 1-inch pieces (room temperature)
1/2 tablespoon melted unsalted butter
2/3 cup whole milk
5 tablespoons sugar
1 packet dry yeast
Dyed Easter Eggs

Glaze

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon milk
colored sprinkles

Directions

Warm the milk, transfer to a bowl and add a tablespoon of the sugar and then the yeast. The milk should be just warm and not too hot or it will kill the yeast. When the yeast is foamy, whisk in the eggs.

Place the rest of the sugar salt and flour in a stand mixer. Add the milk and mix. Then add the pieces of butter one at a time about a minute apart until incorporated into the dough. Then need the dough for another 4 or 5 minutes until it is nice and silky.

Grease another bowl and place the dough there to rise. Lightly grease the top of the dough and cover with plastic. Let rise until doubled.

Then knead the dough and cut into three equal strips. Braid the dough and join the ends to form a circle. Once you have that, nestle the hard boiled eggs into the braids.

Place on a greased baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Make the glaze and drizzle it over the bread once cool. Add the sprinkles to the bread and voila! You’ve got a beautiful Italian Easter Egg bread!

You can see some pictures of Easter Egg Breads by clicking here!

Freebie E-book!

I’ve got a free download of Now and Always for you at Kobo!

If you need the book for your Kindle, please e-mail Amazon and ask them to match the price!

Giveaways!

Wow, I’ve got giveaways galore going on for you at Facebook. I know some of you don’t do Facebook, so here’s what we’ll do. If you leave a comment on this blog post and leave the name of the hero and heroine in Vampire Reborn, I’ll include you in the list of people that entered when I choose winners using random.org.

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#FoodieFriday Lower Fat/Carb Mac & Cheese

Who doesn’t love mac and cheese? It’s the kind of comfort food that warms the belly and calms the soul, but oh man, talk about fat and carbs.

There is a way to cut back on both and still have a hardy and rewarding meal with a little less guilt or worry. This is my version of a lower fat/lower carb Mac and cheese. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

Ingredients

4 cups Cauliflower
1/2 pound pasta
3 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped ham
1 chopped onion
3 cups 1% milk
2 cups cheddar cheese
Panko bread crumbs

Directions

Cut the cauliflower into one inch pieces. I was able to find an orange cauliflower at a local farm stand for only $2.00! Yes, I love being frugal also! Steam the cauliflower until just a little tough to a poke with a fork. It will cook some more when you bake it. After steaming, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking while you assemble the rest of the ingredients.
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Cook the 1/2 pound of pasta until al dente. I used cavatappi since they hold the sauce and add a little fun to the mix. After draining the water, rinse the pasta with cold water to stop the cooking while you assemble the rest of the ingredients.
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Chop the ham and cook in the olive oil to get rid of that extra moisture. Then add the onion and cook until just translucent. Turn down the heat a little and add the flour. Mix it all up until it’s a little on the dry side. If you’re using some kind of cast iron stove to oven pan, this will happen quickly from the pan retaining the heat, so really turn it down until you add the milk.
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Add the milk to the ham, onion, and flour mix. Stir until sauce is thick enough to coat the spoon. Add the cheese and stir. Then add the cauliflower and pasta and mix well.

If you haven’t used a stove to oven baking pan/dish, place the mixture in a greased baking dish. Top with the Panko and if you’d like, some additional cheese. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes and then broil for about 2-4 to brown the top! Voila, you are done!

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#FoodieFriday My Pinterest Recipe Board

You guys know that I love to cook! I also got hooked on Pinterest because it let me round up lots of recipes to try out. Today I’m sharing my Pinterest recipe board and I hope you guys can find something fun there to cook! Maybe even over this long Labor Day weekend.

Follow Caridad’s board Recipes on Pinterest.

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#FoodieFriday Orange Roasted Chicken

I have chefs in both THE PERFECT MIX and TORI GOT LUCKY and even TO CATCH HER MAN, my upcoming release in the Dangerous Dozen Boxed Set. Come to think of it, there have been quite a number of stories with chefs, like FURY CALLS and MORE THAN A MISSION.

Why so many chefs? Well, food is so sensual. The smell, feel and taste of it. The sharing of it! Plus foods hold so many memories and also our culture. If you think about it, as long as you keep your foods, you keep your culture. I know I’ve had more than one time where I’ve told stories to my daughter about our family and our traditions as we cooked together.

Today’s Foodie Friday recipe is almost too simple to call a recipe. Really, I’m serious. Plus, it’s a comfort food for me. My mom used to make this dish all the time and it always came out tasty.

So here goes with my mom’s recipe for Roasted Orange Chicken.

Ingredients

One chicken (or cornish hens if you wish). Chicken can be either a frying chicken or oven stuffer.
3 cups orange juice. Fresh or frozen.
1 small onion cut in four
1 larger onion sliced
1 cup carrots sliced
10 or so small potatoes
1 tsp oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Clean your chicken and place it breast side up in a baking greased dish. Place the carrots, potatoes and sliced onions all around it. Stuff it with the small quartered onion.

Pour the orange juice over the chicken. Salt, pepper and oregano.

Place in a 350 degree oven until cooked. You should baste the bird with the orange juice every half an hour or so.

Voila! That’s it? Could it get any easier> For a bit of brightness as you serve, you may want to drizzle a bit of balsamic vinegar glaze over it and the veggies. Just a little.

Make sure you have a nice loaf of bread or rice for all that luscious orange-flavored sauce you’ll have!

I hope you all have a fabulous weekend! See you on Monday!
Chicken and potatoes

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#FoodieFriday Shrimp Stir Fry

Last week was a clean the fridge out kind of dinner and I had a craving for something Chinese. So I came up with this combination of veggies and shrimp for a quick meal. I always keep pre-cooked frozen shrimp in the freezer since it’s so easy to whip up a meal with them!

Ingredients

2 tbsp peanut oil
1 cup thinly sliced baby carrots
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 cup diced onion
3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
3 cups cooked and sliced string beans
1/2 cup cashews
2 cups pre-cooked frozen shrimp – thawed, tails removed
1 tsp corn starch
1 tbsp sesame oil
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
1/4 cup low salt soy sauce

Directions

In a wok or big saute pan, heat the oil and start cooking the sliced carrots.

After about 3-5 minutes, add the mushrooms. Keep it on high heat to dry off the moisture the mushrooms emit, otherwise everything will be soggy.

Once most of the mushroom liquid is gone, add the string beans, garlic, sesame oil and cashews. Toss it up and cook for about 5 minutes.

Add the teriyaki and soy sauce. Cook for another few minutes and then add the shrimp to warm it up. Do not overcook at this point. Just 2 to 3 minutes on high heat.

You should have some moisture still in the pan from the shrimp, etc. Mix the corn starch with about 2 tbsp of water in a separate dish. Once the corn starch is dissolved, add that to your shrimp and veggies and stir. Within a minute or so you’ll see the whole mix get a nice glaze to it and the liquid left in the pot should tighten up and not be so runny.

That’s it! Time to eat. You can serve this over white or brown rice, but I’m watching my carbs so I ate it just as it is! This recipe is about 2 hearty servings. You can change it up by adding bean sprouts, water chestnuts, baby corn, etc. or using cooked beef or pork.

Hope you all have a fabulous weekend! See you on Monday (and Tuesday) for our big Seductive Supernatural Release party! We’ll have prizes and more for you!

Also check out our contest at Fresh Fiction which has over $250 in prizes! Woo hoo!
shrimp_Stir_Fry

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#FoodieFriday Tres Leches Cake – Super Easy Style

If you’ve been to a Latin restaurant lately, you know that Tres Leches Cake has become a staple on many dessert menus. It’s sinfully sweet and tasty. Coupled with a nice cup of espresso, your meal is complete.

Of course, you can treat yourself by making this cake at home. For those who are expert bakers and love making a cake from scratch, please go right ahead.

For those of us who are a little more challenged, store bought yellow cake mix is the foundation of this super easy Tres Leches cake! For a little Spanish lesson, “tres leches” means “three milks” and it is three different milks that form the sweet soaking mixture in this recipe.

Ingredients

Yellow Cake Mix

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 can sweetened condensed milk (Not evaporated milk!! I like La Lechera, Magnolia or Eagle Brand)

1 cup whole milk

1 cup whipping cream

Directions

Follow the boxed cake mix directions, but add the 2 teaspoons of vanilla to the cake mix. Bake in a 13×9 inch pan following the cake mix instructions.

Once baked, cool the cake.

Combine the condensed milk (not evaporated), whole milk and whipping cream together until smooth.

With a fork, poke some holes into the top of the cooled cake in the pan. Do not remove the cake from the pan.

Slowly pour the three milk mixture over the cake, letting it soak in. You may have to repeat this step several times until the cake is soaked in.

Cover the cake and let sit overnight to really let it soak in. Before serving, top with whipped cream and cherries!

That’s it? Easy right? I hope you try it and out enjoy this super easy Tres Leches cake recipe.

Want to be daring and mix things up a little? Try adding Frangelico (hazelnut flavor), Amaretto (Almond) or an orange liqueur to the milk mixture for a little but of pop!

Have a great weekend!

tresleches

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#Healthy Eating: The Cons of Fruits & Veggies & Dealing with Them

fruitsveggiesYou are probably wondering how there could be any “Cons” in healthy eating, but the reality of it is that trying to eat all the right things comes with a number of hidden negatives.

First, there is the cost of all those fresh fruits and vegetables that will improve your diet and provide the nutrients and fiber that you require for staying healthy.

When it comes to the cost, there are some ways to keep the costs down. First, buy seasonal. Second, buy local. Fruits and vegetables that are both seasonal and local will be much cheaper than those which are being shipped in from overseas. In addition, because they’ve had a shorter trip to the shelves, they will be fresher. That will help them stay fresh longer once you buy them. Plus, you’ll be helping the local economy.

Of course, there is my issue: I buy at the big box store and it’s hard to eat that many berries, pears or lettuce in a week. Or at least it is for me and it’s upsetting to see them go bad and have to be thrown out.

Next, there is the risk of contamination in fruits and vegetables. According to the Wall Street Journal eating leafy vegetables accounts for 23% of food borne illnesses and eating fruits and nuts sicken more people than tainted meat products.

Despite that, there are things you can do to protect yourself. First of all, do a thorough cleaning of yourself and your fruits and vegetables. You can click here for some FDA guidelines.

You can also understand which are the best and worst in terms of contamination.

You can click here to see a list of the dirties fruits and vegetables. Sadly, most of my favorites are on this list.

You can click here to check out a list of the least contaminated fruits and veggies.

One thing that may help with both the costs, spoilage and contamination is actually a quite simple practice: Use one part vinegar (either white or apple) to ten parts water mix in your clean sink. Dump in your assorted fruits and veggies. The vinegar will help wash off any coatings and kill mold spores and other bacteria on the surface of the fruits and veggies.

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful today! Of course, what do you do with all those fruits and veggies? You can click here to check out my Pinterest board of recipes or visit the Cook’s Treat section of the website for more!

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#Oatmeal #Smoothie #Recipe

I love oatmeal and oats are great for you! They are high in fiber and protein, may help lower bad blood cholesterol, help regulate sugar levels, may reduce the risk of cancer, reduce high blood pressure . . .

I could go on, but enough said about the wonders of oats and oatmeal! But with the hot weather, it’s tough to think about a steaming bowl of HOT oatmeal.

So today, we’re talking about an Oatmeal Smoothie, but I cannot take credit for these recipes. Please take a moment to visit TheYummyLife.com for an assortment of Make-Ahead Oatmeal Smoothie recipes.

I used the Apricot Orange mix, but substituted strawberries and mango/orange juice. I think I needed to up the juice and/or strawberry factor, but even with that, I had a smooth, thick delicious smoothie. I doubled the recipe and had enough for two mornings worth of cool smoothies to take to work.

Take a moment to check out the recipes and play around and create your own for a healthy snack. FYI – If you’re wondering where to get the chia seeds, Costco had a big bag (when aren’t they big) and most health food stores should have them.

You can also just sprinkle the chia seeds in salads for extra fiber and omega 3 fatty acids!

smoothie

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#Rum Runner Punch from GHOST OF A CHANCE

GHOST OF A CHANCEWhen I was creating the backstories for the vampires and angel in my vampire Christmas novella, WHEN HERALD ANGELS SING, it seemed only natural that someone who chose a pirate’s life in the 1800s might decide to become a rum runner during Prohibition.

It was so much fun exploring that period of time, that when the opportunity presented itself to write a novella, GHOST OF A CHANCE, I decided to do some more research and created a story with a mystery that had occurred along the Jersey Shore during the height of Prohibition.

Those were exciting and dangerous times along the shore then. Bootleggers ran rum from the Caribbean and whiskey from Canada in various forms and a great deal of the liquor that was sent throughout the country made its way through Newark at one time.

Anyway, I thought it would therefore be appropriate this morning to offer up a recipe for a Rum Runner’s punch for you! If you don’t drink alcohol, feel free to leave out the rum or substitute some rum flavoring in the recipe.

Rum Runner’s Punch

2 cups rum (light or dark. Dark is sweeter)
1 bottle sparkling apple cider (about 25 ounces)
2 cups orange juice
2 cups pineapple juice
1 quart fruit punch (feel free to use a sugar free product)
Shot of grenadine for color
Ice

Mix all of the above in a punch bowl or large container. Slice up some oranges, pineapples and maraschino cherries as a garnish. Serve over ice.

You can also substitute a sparkling wine or ginger ale for the sparkling apple cider. Also feel free to go with a spiced or coconut-flavored rum for some variety.

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#SlowCooker Chorizo & Pork Red Bean Chili

I’m learning lots about cooking in a crock pot. Apparently it seems that the order of things matters. Also, you can’t just dump raw beans into your pot the way you would if you were cooking it on the stove.

This weekend I had lots of running around to do and so I decided to use the crock pot to make some chili since I didn’t want to have to keep an eye on something on the stove. I also decided to take some step-by-step photos for you!

Chorizo & Pork Red Bean Chile

Ingredients:

1 lb red beans
2 lbs pork loin chopped
2 small chorizos chopped
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped leeks
3 chopped garlic cloves
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 can Rotel tomato and chile
3 tablespoon chile powder
1 tablespoon cumin
3 bay leaves

Directions:

You’ll add the ingredients to the crock pot in the order shown above.

Wash and check red beans for stones and debris. Place in small cooking pot with enough water to cover them and a pinch of salt. Boil to soften. I started these when I began prep for the rest, so they cooked for about 30 minutes before I added them to the crock pot. Add water as necessary, but not too much. You’ll want to put the beans and their water into the crock pot once they are softer.

Place a little oil in a non-stick pan and add the chopped chorizo. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add the chopped pork loin. Why chopped pork loin again? Well, Cubans and pork go together like peanut butter and jelly. Also, it was on sale and I’m counting pennies. Finally, it’s lean and has a lot less fat than a chuck roast, so I could use those calories for the tastier chorizo.

Brown the meat and transfer to a plate. Leave some of the oil from the pan in there to cook the onions and leeks.

Saute the onions, garlic, and leeks until just browning. You want the brown on both the meat and veggies since these are the sugars caramelizing on them and will add flavor to your chili. Why leeks? I love them and I had some in the fridge that I had to use. Feel free to also clean out your fridge and add carrots, celery, etc. during this step.

Now it’s time to put everything into the crock pot in the order listed above. When it’s all in there, add the cumin, chili powder and bay leaves and set your crock pot to cook. I did mine for 6 hours on high.

We ate it with some chopped fresh tomatoes, onions and grated cheddar cheese. A hearty and warming meal for a chilly day.

I hope you enjoyed today’s recipe!

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#SlowCooker Tex-Mex Roast Pork Loin

It’s getting chilly and we’ve all got lots of work so that may make it hard to have a nice hot and hearty meal waiting for us when we get home. I mentioned weeks earlier that I’d finally purchased a slow cooker and our first attempt at a pot roast was fabulous!

Last night I started up a pork loin for today’s meal and I hope it’s as tasty. Here’s the recipe, but again I haven’t tried it yet myself. But considering the ingredients, I’m hopeful I’ll have a tasty meal waiting for me tonight.

Slow Cooker Tex-Mex Roast Pork Loin

1 cup Chopped Onions
1 cup Chopped Red Peppers
1/8 cup chopped celery (this will add natural salt taste)
2 lb pork loin
1 can Rotel Tomatoes & Chiles ( I LOVE THIS STUFF!!)
Pepper to taste

Saute the red peppers. When soft, add the chopped onions and celery and saute until translucent.

Brown the pork loin roast on all sides.

De-glaze the cooking pan with the Rotel Tomatoes and Chiles and then put the mix of celery, onions, peppers, Rotel and pork loin into your crockpot.

Set it on low of 6 hours.

When it’s done, you should be able to shred the meat together with all the other ingredients. Serve over rice or in tortillas (either corn or flour). Top with cheese and any other ingredients you love for a Tex-Mex kind of meal.

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#TeaserTuesday The Perfect Mix & Tamale #Recipe

THE PERFECT MIX Contemporary RomanceIt’s Teaser Tuesday I’ve got a little tease from The Perfect Mix and a tamale recipe!

Teaser

The denim jeans and shirt molded to his muscles were wet with sweat. Dirty from the labor he had done. As if sensing her presence, he turned and grinned at her, the dimple in his cheek deepening. His gaze as hot as the summer day as he skimmed it over her.

His grin kicked up her heartbeat a notch and awakened other parts of her anatomy.
He laid down his hammer and walked toward her, the swagger in his hips all too enticing and accentuated by the leather tool belt which rode low on those hips, like a gunfighter’s belt. Rey stopped when he was only a few inches before her and pulled off his heavy work gloves.

This close, his very male smell reached her nostrils as did the heat pouring off his skin. He cradled her cheek and she leaned into his caress, loving the rough feel of his palm. Reaching up, she grasped his hand and brought it to her lips, kissing the hard earned callouses there. Biting at the fleshy pad at the base of his thumb and drawing a sigh from his lips.

“Bianca,” he said as he took a breath and moved a step closer until the leather of his belt was rubbing against the bare skin of her midriff.

She smiled at him, laid her hand on the smooth, satiny expanse of his muscled chest. Her hand was pale against the darker, pale caramel color of his skin. Skin warm from the summer heat and his exertions. Slightly, damp, slick and salty, she thought as she leaned forward and licked her tongue across the center of his chest.

Tamale Recipe

I absolutely won’t take any credit for these recipes that I’m listing here. The truth of it is, there is no easy way to make a tamale! I’ve tried various ways and have even made them totally from scratch, starting with taking the corn off the cob. It took an entire day which is why I rarely make them :( and end up always ordering them when they are on a menu. So here are some tamale recipes you might want to try:

Allrecipes Tamale
Beef Tamales
What’s Cooking America Tamale Recipe
Alton Brown Hot Tamale Recipe

My mom used to make a variation on tamales called tamal en cazuela. This is a loose corn meal and pork mix that taste a lot like tamales. I love tamal en cazuela, :) , but I haven’t made it in ages. I promised my daughter I would make it one weekend and I think this will be the weekend! Here is a recipe for it at the Babalu Blog!

Contest

Speaking of The Perfect Mix, in addition to being available as a standalone e-book and in print, it’s also a part of the Lucky 7 Bad Boys Contemporary Romance Box Set.

This set is available for pre-order now, but will be officially released on March 3. We’re having a big release party on March 5 at our Facebook page and a contest where you can win a number of different items. Just check out the Rafflecopter below to find out how to earn points!

You can also get extra points by capturing the bad boy keyword(s) (hint: find the hot bad boy pic) in our Lucky 7 Videos. You can find them here:

Lucky 7 Video #1
Lucky 7 Video #2

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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A Cuba Libre

Bacardi Ad from 1950sCuba has been on my mind lately, maybe because of the Chicas. Maybe because one of my Cuban writing friends e-mailed me a week or so ago to say that the lines from Miami to NJ were buzzing about Castro’s death. (FYI — NJ has the second largest population of Cubans in the U.S.)

Unfortunately, Castro’s death wasn’t confirmed by anyone, but the thought of a Cuba finally free of the old dictator has lingered in my brain. A free Cuba — Cuba Libre.

Cuba Libre is also the name of a drink that has been around since the Spanish-American War when American soldiers took Coca-Cola with them to Cuba. The “Cuba Libre” was created and consisted of Coca-Cola, BACARDI rum, and a lime wedge. (Info and 1950s Bacardi ad courtesy of www.cuban-exile.com) Many Cubans refer to this drink as a mentirita which means “a small lie”. Libre means free, and of course, Cuba isn’t “free”.

Now I know I always have the Chicas drinking mojitos, but for Cubans, it is also quite common to have a Cuba Libre.

Here’s the recipe for the menterita otherwise known as a Cuba Libre:
drink.jpg
1 shot rum
Juice of 1/2 a lime
Ice
Coca-Cola or Pepsi-Cola

Put all of the above in a highball glass. Rub the rim of the glass with a wedge of lime and toss the lime wedge into the glass.

What kind of rum you wonder? Well, many people will say only Havana Club will do, but you can’t get Havana Club in the U.S.

Any gold Bacardi rum is good because gold rums are sweeter than the white. If you want to really treat yourself, consider Bacardi Black. It’s a 4 year-old rum with lots of fruitiness and sweetness. DON Q from Puerto Rico is also rumored to be good for this drink, but I’ve never tried it myself.

Another thing you can do — make the Cuba Libre with Diet Coke. Not as sweet, but still tasty. I haven’t tried making the drink with Coke Zero, but if you have, let me know!

Have you noticed one thing yet about Cuban cocktails, or at least the ones that I like? They are all sweet! What else would you expect from the land of sugar.

Speaking of sugar, I’m eagerly awaiting the debut of CANE with Jimmy Smits and Nestor Carbonell. I never thought Smits was attractive until I saw him on Broadway and he took my breath away. He was powerful and elegant. Wow! was all I could say when the show finished.

Nestor Carbonell is a Cubanito and a handsome one at that. Maybe we’ll do more on him and Jimmy one of these Guilty Pleasures Mondays.

Anyway, CANE is about a Cuban-American family who runs a sugar and rum business. It also has Hector Elizondo and Rita Moreno, so the cast is filled with talent. Let’s hope the story line will have us addicted and needing a weekly sugar fix.

CANE premieres on Tuesday, September 25, 10pm et/pt on CBS.

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A new look, the REBORN series plus a Manicotti recipe!

The REBORN Vampire Novels

Working on a new look for THE CALLING vampire novels as you can hopefully see above. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve gone to contract with Entangled Publishing to relaunch the series as THE REBORN vampire novels starting in early 2013. I’m already hard at work on the first Diana and Ryder book and having a blast with this series of my heart.

Look for updates at THE CALLING/BE REBORN site over the next few months. Also look for some free reads as we catch up with Diana and Ryder as well as the rest of the Scooby Gang as we approach the release of the last two books in THE CALLING and the launch of the new REBORN series!

The overhaul of the site as well as work have been keeping me busy, but this weekend I somehow found time to make an old favorite – manicotti! I just love those delicate little pasta crepes filled with ricotta and baked to delicious goodness.

They are relatively easy. The clue is to have a nicely seasoned 6″ cast iron skillet, a small ladle, spatula and just the right mix for the crepes. You don’t want them to be too thick or pancakey so getting them right is the key. If the batter seems too thick, thin with more water. So here goes!


Manicotti

Manicotti Crepes:

1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup water
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups flour
2 eggs

Beat the eggs in a bowl, add the remaining ingredients and mix until smooth. The mix should be like a runny pancake batter.

Oil the cast iron skillet with just a little oil smeared around the skillet with a paper towel. Non-stick works well, but to keep the crepes a uniform size, make sure there is an edge to the pan. In other words, not an omelet pan so much.

Heat the skillet until a drop of water dances on the surface. Then kick it down a notch and ladle in the batter. Give the skillet a twirl until the bottom is coated with the batter. It should be about 1/4 inch thick and not much more. I use two small ladle-fulls of batter, but make sure you use the same amount of batter for each crepe to keep them uniform.

Lay the cooked crepes on a paper plate. It’s okay to stack them up until you are done. The oil in the batter keeps them from sticking to the skillet and to each other.

You will get about 12 crepes from the above mix.

Ricotta Filling for the Manicotti

2 eggs
2 pounds Ricotta (Drain it for a few hours to get rid of the excess liquid)
1 pound shredded mozzarella cheese
Chopped fresh parsley if you have it, if not a little dried (but it’s not an essential)
1/4 to 1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Beat the eggs and then add everything else (but leave a handful or two of mozzarella for a topping). Mix it all up and put about 1.5 to 2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture toward one end of the crepe. Roll the crepe to cover the cheese mixture. Lay the crepe with the rolled edge down on a greased pan with a little bit of red sauce.

Roll all the crepes and lay them side by side. A 9×13 pan should allow for all twelve crepes to go there side by side. Cover with a little red sauce and top with mozzarella. Bake at 350 for about 35-40 minutes and then serve!

For a change of pace, cook up some spinach, squeeze out the extra liquid, chop and mix it into the cheese mixture. It’s quite tasty that way also.

This is a good recipe if you need a Thanksgiving side dish for those who don’t like turkey. Me, I love all the traditional Thanksgiving foods and can’t wait to be with family for the holiday!

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Barley & Leek Risotto #Recipe

In my family, we ate rice almost every night in one way or another. Whether as a side dish, combined with beans, in chicken and rice, or in a comfort food of fried eggs over rice, it was there every day.

In my husband’s Italian family, it was pasta every day. Even their family dog ate it every day.

Which makes adopting a low carb diet quite a challenge. But I will say this: I’ve lost nearly 23 pounds in about two months, so it’s definitely working!

One challenge has been having a side dish that’s got the mouth feel and taste of rice, but is healthier. I’ve mentioned quinoa and you could probably substitute that in this recipe. But why not try another healthy whole grain: Barley?

Barley’s dietary fiber gives your intestinal health a boost and can also help to lower cholesterol. Plus it’s a good source of niacin, a B vitamin and has been known to help people with Type 2 Diabetes with their glucose and insulin responses. For more information on all this, you can click here.

Today I’m giving you a recipe I’ve adapted after watching Mary Ann Esposito and her Ciao Italia show. Did you know that Mary Ann has been on the air for 23 years, making her show the longest running cooking series in America?

Thanks, Mary Ann! I love your recipes and advice on great Italian food.

But for now, here is my version of a barley and leek risotto.

Barley and Leek Risotto

1 cup barley (be sure to rinse it first; you can also soak it for an hour to reduce cooking time)
2 cups vegetable and/or chicken broth (keep this heated)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup diced mushrooms
1 cup sliced leeks (Be sure to thoroughly rinse. Leeks can have lots of dirt between the leaves)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/8 cup fresh parsley minced

Put 1 tablespoon olive oil in a stockpot and heat on high. Add the mushrooms and brown them. Then add the leeks and sweat them down for about a minute. Add another tablespoon of the olive oil and once it’s hot, add the barley and toast it a bit. Coating the grains in oil will help keep them from clumping.

Add the hot broth, a cup at a time. Stir until the broth is almost absorbed, then add the second cup of broth and cook down at a low simmer. Keep stirring and checking to see if the barley is al dente.

Once the barley is al dente, add the tablespoon of butter and cook it a bit more. Finally, stir in the parmesan cheese and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste here. I say hold up on the salt since the broth and/or parmesan have enough, but that’s up to you.

Serve as soon as you can. You don’t want to let it clump as it sits.

Also have additional parmesan on the table to add to the top of the barley! Voila. A simple and tasty risotto dish.

If you don’t have leeks, you can substitute shallots, scallions and/or regular onions. It’s just that leeks have a milder, almost asparagus taste. They’re actually known as the “poor man’s asparagus.”

Also, keep those heavier, bigger leek greens. Next time you’re making a soup, clean them, tie them together with butcher’s twine and toss them in. They impart wonderful flavor to any broth!

Hope you enjoyed today’s recipe!

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Barley Summer Salad

As you know, being healthier has been on my mind a lot as has losing weight. Because of that, I’ve been eliminated some things in my diet, like certain carbs. I’m missing my rice, though. In my house as a kid, we ate rice every night, so it’s a tough habit to break.

I’ve tried quinoa and it’s okay, but the one thing I’ve discovered that satisfies the rice craving and cooks up suprisingly similar is barley. Plus, while you may pay $5 or $6 for a bag of quinoa, you can head to the dried beans aisle and pick up a bag of barley for under $2.

So what is barley? Barley is a healthy high fiber, high protein whole grain whose soluble fibers can help reduce the risk of heart disease. It can also help lower your cholesterol levels and its insoluble fibers can assist with Type 2 diabetes. Also, high fiber can also help lower the risk of colon cancer. Barley is also low in fat. One cup of barley has about 200 calories, but it’s packed with 6 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein!

Today’s recipe is inspired by a classic tabouleh salad and it’s what I call a refrigerator cleaner. Besides those veggies I’ve included in this recipe, add any others you may have around, like carrots and celery. I added some cooked asparagus to the basic recipe and it was delicious.

Barley Summer Salad

    2 cups cooked barley*
    2 Roma tomatoes
    1 medium red onion
    1 medium cucumber (regular or 1/2 English cucumber)
    1/4 cup pecans
    1/4 Craisins
    1 tablespoon capers
    1/2 chopped pimentos
    2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 tablespoon fresh basil
    1 tablespoon fresh parsley
    Salt and pepper to taste

*To cook the barley, use 1 cup of dry barley, rinsed. Boil with 2 cups of water and/or broth. It’ll take about 35 to 40 minutes to cook. If you pre-soak the barley for an hour, it’ll take about 15 minutes to cook.

Put oil and vinegar in a large bowl. Chop all other ingredients into small pieces. Add to bowl and mix. Add barley to bowl and mix.

Done. It’s that simple and it’s a tasty side dish to burgers or any other summer meal!
Barley Summer Salad

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Beer Steamed Mussels

mussel.jpgMy daughter has been watching THE DEADLIEST CATCH and since we’d never really tried King Crab Legs, I decided to pick up some at Costco. Since they had some great-looking mussels which we all love, I picked up a bag of those as well.

What’s the best way of cooking mussels, clams, crabs, lobster, etc.? Well, I’m a big fan of steaming since it keeps them moist, is quick and relatively easy. My favorite way to steam them is with beer and here’s the recipe for you to try out!

First of all, you’ll need a pot big enough to hold the steaming liquid and your shellfish. I end up needing one that’s at least 12 quarts or more. Before you steam, make sure everything is clean with a quick scrub with a plastic brush. If you’re doing clams, put them in salted ice water for about 15-20 minutes so they spit out any sand. Same with the mussels. A lot of mussels are farm-raised now, so they are relatively clean and beardless so there’s little to clean.

If there’s any clams/mussels that don’t close up after being in the iced salt water, toss them. They’re dead. Likewise, if they don’t open up after steaming, toss them. They’re dead!

Steaming Liquid:

1 or 2 beers
Handful of chopped fresh parsley
3 to 4 garlic cloves chopped
1 small onion chopped
Some pepper
1 or 2 bay leaves

If you want to add a little zing to the liquid, slice up a small lemon and put that in there as well.

Put the liquid in the bottom of your pan and place a steamer insert above it (one of those little collapsible ones you find in the dollar stores). Layer your shellfish with the bigger pieces at the bottom, like the crab legs, whole crabs or lobsters. Then put the mussels, clams, etc. If you want to do some corn and potatoes, put them right above the bigger pieces and below the mussels, etc.

Yep, we’re talking mini-clambake here. Well, almost. Cover the pot, crank up the heat on high and once it’s steaming, it shouldn’t take more than about 8 to 10 minutes to cook all your shellfish. If you’ve got big lobsters down on the bottom, you may need to do 15 minutes or more depending on the size of the lobster.

Anyhow, make sure you’re melting some butter while the shellfish is steaming!

Once you take the pot off the stove, place the shellfish in a big bowl and ladle just a bit of the steaming liquid over them. Also, put a little bit of steaming liquid in a small bowl or cup and also put some butter in a second small bowl or cup. This way you can dip your shellfish in the steaming liquid and then the butter.

Yum! Way tasty! Hope you check this out and enjoy a shellfish summer steam!

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Blueberry Walnut Pancakes #FoodieFriday & a Guest Blog

It’s Friday! Let’s get the party started with two two two things today!

First, please take a moment to visit with me at Houston Havens blog where I’m going to have a little something for you about my latest release, Just One Night.

Please take a moment to leave a comment there about whether or not you like military heroes like Jase.

Speaking of Jase, today’s #FoodieFriday is in his honor. At the end of Just One Night, Jase, Nickie and their families are having a goodbye breakfast for Jase. Since it’s a special meal, Jase gets his favorite for breakfast – Blueberry Walnut Pancakes.

Now, I have to confess: When it comes to pancakes, it’s a boxed mix for me and then I just improvise by adding other ingredients. In this case, about a cup of blueberries and half a cup of chopped walnuts.

If you want to be adventurous and totally make them from scratch, check out all these recipes at Yummly!
BlueberryWalnutPancakes

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Cannellini & Pasta

pastaSunday was one of those lazy days and neither hubby nor I wanted to cook. Plus, I had done some food shopping and there were some things we had to use so they would stay fresh. Hubby recalled a recipe he had seen on TV and did a little improvisation. You can as well and end up with a healthy, hearty and economical meal!

So today’s Tuesday tip is a recipe for Cannellini & Pasta! Now the fun thing about this is that if you some protein in the meal, you can use either ham, chicken, sausage or even shrimp.

  • Bob’s Cannellini & Pasta:
  • Ingredients:
    2 cloves Garlic
    1 tsp red pepper flakes
    1/4 cup Olive Oil
    28 oz can Crushed Tomatoes
    1 16 oz can cannellini beans
    2 handfuls fresh spinach (baby if possible, if not, please chop)
    1/2 pound pasta (preferably a rigatoni, penne, etc. This is for 2 people. Make it a pound for more than 2 people)
    Optional: 1/2 pound protein (ham, chicken, sausage, shrimp)

    Directions:
    Saute garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil until garlic is soft.
    Add canellini beans and also, the liquid from the can. Saute for a few minutes and then add crushed tomatoes. Reduce sauce until it begins to thicken. Add chopped spinach. Allow spinach to wilt. Spinach has a lot of natural water, so you will need to reduce the sauce a little more.

    If you are going to add the ham, chicken or sausage, cook this first with the garlic and red pepper flakes. If you’re using shrimp, you don’t want to overcook them and should add them with the spinach.

    Hope you enjoyed this Tuesday’s Tip. Also, don’t forget about the Brenda Novak auction and some fun news for you – we’re having a guest blogger tomorrow – Kathye Quick. Kathye is a dear friend and the author of several books. Tomorrow she’ll be blogging about her latest CYNTHIA AND CONSTANTINE. Here’s a little blurb about it! Also, if you drop by and leave a comment, you will be eligible to win a CALLING T-shirt!

    Lady Cynthia of Abertaine is trapped. Not only has her fiancé. Sir William Leyborne, not been back to the castle for over ten years, but she’s also not a titled Lady. Lord Simon of Cowell, a renegade warlord aligned with Mordred against Arthur and his Knights, has declared himself sovereign over Leyborne Castle and everything that once belonged to Sir William – including Cynthia. Sir Constantine, Knight of the Round Table, has come to the shire to give Cynthia the news that her fiancé has fallen in battle. With him is William’s oral will giving all he owns to Cynthia as though they had been wed. But when he finds Cynthia and discovers that the shire under the control of an evil warlord, he knows he cannot leave without first driving Simon and his soldiers from the land. Drawn together by an attraction older than time, Cynthia and Constantine soon discover that though a vow made by a knight’s honor has brought them together, it may just also cost them their lives.

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    Caramel Oatmeal Chewies by Patrick Sanchez

    patrick1.jpg I had the pleasure of meeting Patrick Sanchez at last year’s Chica Lit festival in Miami. Here’s a picture of me with Patrick and my friends and fellow authors, Lara Rios and Berta Platas.

    Patrick recently provided me with a double treat — he let me review his latest novel, ONCE UPON A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN and to thank me for the review, sent along some wonderfully tasty goodies.

    They were so good, that I asked Patrick if he would let me have the recipe and here it is!

    ONCE UPON A NERVOUS BREAKDOWNCaramel Oatmeal Chewies

    1 3/4 cups quick oats
    1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
    3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    3/4 cup melted butter
    14 oz bag of vanilla caramels
    1/4 cup water
    1 6oz package of semi-sweet chocolate pieces

    Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 13X9-inch baking pan. Combine oats, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add butter, mixing until crumbly. Reserve 1 cup oats mixture for topping. Press remaining mixture onto bottom of prepared pan. Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven.

    Meanwhile, combine caramels and water in medium saucepan. Melt over low heat, stirring until caramels are melted and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat. Sprinkle chocolate pieces over partially baked base. Drizzle caramel mixture over chocolate pieces to within 1/4 inch of pan edges. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Continue baking 15-18 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool completely. Chill until chocolate is set. Cut in bars.

    Another double treat is coming up on Thursday, July 12! NY Times Bestselling author Jane Green will be dropping by the blog to discuss writing and her new release, SECOND CHANCE. In honor of her visit, anyone who leaves a comment on the blog will have a chance to win an autographed ARC of my September release, SOUTH BEACH CHICAS CATCH THEIR MAN from Downtown Press and SECRET AGENT REUNION, my August release from Silhouette Romantic Suspense.

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    Caridad’s Cranberry Maple Muffins

    Thanksgiving is almost here and I’m going to share a family favorite.  No, not plantains or roast pork.  The Pineiro family follows American traditions to the max for American holidays.  Roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry molds, you name it!  I can’t take total credit for the following muffin recipe.  It came from a magazine some time ago, but as anyone who loves to cook knows, you can’t just leave anything alone.  Or at least I can’t, so I’ve amended it over the years, including doubling the recipe because a dozen muffins won’t cut it at my family’s Thanksgiving table.

    My sister, Carmen, does the bulk of the Thanksgiving meal since Christmas Eve is my meal to make.  Anyway, these cranberry maple muffins are a favorite and I hope you will try them and love them as well.

    This recipe makes about 24 large muffins.

    To start, grease and flour the muffin pans or use cupcake cups.  Preheat the oven to 375.

    Ingredients:

    • 3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
    • 1 cup chopped walnuts
    • 4 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 pound cranberries
    • 1 cup white sugar
    • 1 cup brown sugar
    • 4 eggs
    • 1 stick butter, soft at room temperature
    • 1 cup buttermilk
    • 4 teaspoons maple syrup

    Steps to do in the food processor:

    1.  Mix flour, walnuts, salt and baking powder.  With the steel knife, pulse a few times until you have a coarse meal.

    2.  Using a medium slicer, slice the cranberries.  If you want to use the steel knife, just pulse small portions at one time until you have a coarse chop.  You want to have big enough pieces to see in the batter.

    Steps to finish are done with a mixer (I have a big Kitchen Aid mixer which is large enough to hold all the ingredients).

    • Blend eggs and sugar until you have a smooth mix.  Scrape down sides of bowl.
    • Add soft butter and blend until smooth, about one minute.
    • Keep the mixer going and add the buttermilk and maple syrup.
    • Add flour/nut mixture and blend until smooth, but do not overwork the mixture.
    • Remove bowl from mixer and hand fold in the cranberries.

    Fill muffin cups about 2/3 full.  Cook until light brown and toothpick inserted in the middle of cupcake comes out clean.  Cooking time should be about 30 minutes.

    These are great warm, whether right out of the oven or reheated.  They keep for quite a few days without getting stale.

    Share them with family and friends and may you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    Caridad

    P.S. — for those of you who are carb conscious, you can:

    • Substitute Splenda brown sugar according to their substitution instructions
    • Substitute 1/2 of the wheat flour with oat bran flour
    • Substitute 1/2 stick of the butter with Smart Balance (a great butter replacement.  Look for the one with Flax oil for additional anti-oxidant benefits)
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    Caridad’s Tex-Mex Dip

    It’s holiday time and if you’re having a party or going to one and need something fun and tasty to make, this is the dip for you!

    The recipe for the Tex-Mex dip was first given to me by the wife of one of my husband’s professors at Columbia.  Since then I’ve played with it, made some changes and it is a favorite with all my friends and neighbors.  I always make a double batch because I know that it will go very quickly.  Serve the Tex-Mex dip with tortilla chips for dipping.  I love it on top of my hamburger – it makes it a great Tex-Mex burger!

    Sour Cream Topping
    (This is enough for a double batch.  Use only half for a single batch and put the excess into a bowl for people to use as dip)
    1 pint sour cream
    ½ cup Mayonnaise
    1 envelope taco seasoning mix

    Mix all of the above and let sit for at least half an hour.

    You will need the following ingredients.  After chopping and grating, you will layer them as noted below.  A flat dish is best so that your guests will be able to dip more easily.  If you like guacamole, you can add it as another layer right after the bean layer.

    Ingredients:

    2 medium tomatoes – finely chopped. Let them drain in a sieve to get rid of their juice.  It will keep the dip from getting watery.
    1 8 oz. Can of pimentos – finely chopped
    2 scallions – finely chopped
    1 16 oz can of refried beans – Try to use the fat free and if you like it spicy, use the spicy refried beans from Old El Paso
    1 16 oz. Can black pitted olives – finely chopped
    4  oz sharp cheddar cheese – grated
    4 oz Monterey jack cheese with jalapenos – grated

    How to layer:

    Place refried beans on the flat dish – spread them out to form the base.
    Pimentos
    Scallions
    Place half of the sour cream topping if you are doing a single batch
    Tomatoes
    Black olives
    Combine grated cheddar and montery jack – spread all around to hide what is underneath this layer.  If you have a gadget known as a Supershooter, place chunks of both cheeses in the feed tube and just grate it right onto the black olives.

    If you like things spicier:  Add a few drops of tabasco sauce in the sour cream topping.  Substitute monterey pepper jack cheese for the regular monterey jack cheese.   Also add some jalapenos in the same layer as the pimentos

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    Carmen’s Corn Casserole

    I love the combo of sweet and spicy. Don’t know whether it’s a Cuban thing or not, although Cubans have a tendency to have a lot of sweet/spicy or sweet/salty kinds of combos. The easiest one to do and a staple in my house — pasta de guayaba (which is guava paste) with queso blanco (white cheese which is kind of like a salty more set Farmer’s Cheese). Aged cheddar is always a good substitute.

    One of my favoritest combos of sweet/spicy is a pairing of my sister Carmen’s Corn Casserole with chili/taco meat. YUM!!! Actually, the corn casserole is fabulous in and of itself and I could eat a huge bowl of it all by myself. The casserole is a cross between cornbread and Virginia spoonbread and again, YUM!!!

    Carmen’s Corn Casserole is much easier to make than the spoonbread. So easy you’ll say, I can make this all the time. My sis serves it topped with monterey jack cheese and we often pair it with chili or taco meat for a tasty lunch/dinner. If you like this basic recipe, you can experiment by chopping and adding red peppers, jalapenos, cheddar cheese or even some finely diced onions to the mix for a change of pace.

    So here is today’s Tuesday Tip and Cook’s Treat addition -
    Carmen’s Corn CasseroleSis and Me in our version of a Myspace photo!

    One 15 ounce can cream corn
    One 15 ounce can kernel corn drained
    One pint low fat sour cream
    One stick melted butter
    One package Jiffy corn muffin mix
    One cup shredded monterey jack cheese (optional)

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    Combine first 5 ingredients. Grease casserole or brownie pan with butter. Pour ingredients into pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes until firm. Sprinkle cheese over top and let melt 5 minutes. Remove from oven and let casserole sit for another 10 minutes. Enjoy!

    Hoep you liked this Cook’s Treat and Tuesday Tip!

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    Chicken & Rice #Recipe #Giveaway & #TeaserTuesday

    Whew, as you can tell from the title, it’s a busy day! LOL!

    Join me and the other Dangerous Dozen Romance Authors on March 11th (as in TODAY) from 10am – 10pm EST to celebrate the pre-release of the Dangerous Dozen Boxed Set at our Facebook Event. This is a day that you don’t want to miss! Each author will be taking over the event for one hour, bringing their own guests along to help celebrate, and, of course, there will be prizes galore! Additionally, there will be two Grand Prizes that include a $100 eGC to Amazon.com and a digital book bundle that includes one book from each boxed set author. Please note: Books in the prize bundle are not those in the Dangerous Dozen Romantic Suspense Boxed Set. We hope to see you there!

    I’ll be on from 12 to 1 pm EST and I’ll have some fabulous friends: Cynthia Eden, Cathy Perkins and Annie Seaton! They’ll be sharing tidbits from their latest releases and have some giveaways. I’ll have some giveaways as well!

    Since it’s Teaser Tuesday, here’s a little something from my contribution to the Lucky 7 Bad Boys Contemporary Romance Boxed Set.

    Teaser from The Perfect Mix – Lucky 7 Bad Boys Boxed Set

    The hot sting of the spray beat against Rey’s shoulders, pounding away the soreness from the six straight hours of hard labor he had put in after overseeing all the jobs he had in progress and the meeting with Bianca and Eduardo.

    He leaned his hands against the tiled wall and let the massaging stream pulsate against the muscles of his chest. Slowly the heat soaked in and relieved the tension he had been feeling since that afternoon and Bianca.

    He had done as he promised and dropped off the blueprints at the local copy center. Luckily they had been relatively quiet and had been able to sneak in the job right on the spot. Normally, he would have tackled the bid immediately, but in the back of his mind was the disturbing thought that he should forget about this project. He was worried it would bring nothing but trouble.

    But as he stood there, the steaming water sluicing over his body and easing an assortment of aches and pains, he admitted that it was Bianca and not the project that had him concerned.

    The project itself was actually a dream. The building had immense potential and its location was really prime. How many places sat on palisades overlooking one of the best and most coveted views in the world?

    From the restaurant, the Manhattan skyline was visible as far as you could see and as he knew from the view from his own home, it was magical at night. He still worried, however, that the location and the chance to work on a really exciting project just wasn’t enough to make up for having to deal with Bianca.

    She was just too damn distracting and annoying.

    Not that he hadn’t worked for an attractive woman before. He had on dozens of occasions. He could even deal with the fact that she found him attractive. That flare of interest on her end had been impossible to ignore. He had learned to deal with that kind of reaction from women since he had looked in a mirror lately. Not that he usually gave much thought to his physical attributes. He’d done nothing to earn those. They were just a case of genetics.

    He’d rather that people judged him by what he had accomplished on his own, like building a successful contracting business.

    Plus, he prided himself on being interested in a woman based on more than just her looks. When he got involved with a woman, he wanted someone who appealed to him on a number of levels. Things like a reasonable amount of intelligence, a sense of humor, and a whole bunch of other things he couldn’t name at the moment.

    Which was why he needed to stay far far away from Bianca.

    To say she was attractive was an understatement. She was of average height, but that was where the use of the word average stopped. Her face was stunning, an exotic blend of seduction and innocence. Today she had been the seductress with her red lipstick and smoky eye makeup. Her rich caramel brown hair had been loose and tousled, almost begging for a man’s hands to tunnel through it and smooth it out. But he could picture Bianca looking all innocent, her face free of makeup with that irresistible girl next door thing going on. Her dark mane of hair up in a ponytail, swinging against the elegant length of her neck. Her green eyes wide and inviting.
    Her looks were not the only enigma she presented.

    He had called her “princess” for a number of reasons that morning. With her regal bearing, jewelry, and the expensive clothes, she wore her class as well as any royal. But he couldn’t imagine that most princesses liked to get their hands dirty. Still, he knew she used those hands every day as a chef. The one time he had touched her today to shake her hand, the slight roughness of her palm had proven to him she wasn’t above manual labor.

    Since it was too easy to imagine that hand touching him again, running all along his body, making him crazy hard and needy, he drove that idea out of his head by blasting on the cold water until he was shivering and all thoughts of Bianca had been cleansed from his mind and body.

    Then and only then did he exit the shower and dress, hoping to make it an early night.

    Chicken and Rice Recipe

    I hope you enjoyed that little teaser! As I’ve mentioned, the heroine in The Perfect Mix is a chef probably because I love to cook as well. Plus, food is a very sensual thing so it’s perfect for getting Rey and Bianca together.

    This is my recipe for Chicken and Rice, a must have in any Latin kitchen. I’ve found that the easiest way to make it is in the oven, although you start it on the stove. If you have Corningware, Le Crueset or some other stove to oven cookware, even better. Who wants to spend time cleaning pots!

    Ingredients

    One fryer chicken, cut into pieces
    Olive oil
    2 small cans tomato sauce
    1 cup chopped red & green peppers
    1 cup chopped onions
    2 cloves garlic minced
    2 cups white rice
    2 cups water
    1 cup white wine
    1 tsp BIJOL (this is a coloring agent you can find in the Latin cooking section of your market)
    1 chorizo (also in the Latin section)
    2 bay leaves
    1 tsp oregano
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Directions

    Preheat oven to 350.

    In your pot, put in a little olive oil and brown the chicken. Remove and set to the side.

    In the same pot, add the red and green peppers and saute for about 5 minutes. Then add the chorizo and the onions. Saute for another 5 and add the garlic for just a minute. Then add the tomato sauce, bay leaves, oregano and wine.

    Simmer for about 15 minutes to get rid of the raw tomato taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Then add the 2 cups water and also, the Bijol. Give it a stir and add the rice. Stir again to mix and then add the chicken pieces. Arrange the chicken pieces so they are spread throughout the pot.

    If you don’t have stove to oven cookware, make it in a regular pan and then move it a large enough rectangular aluminum foil pan.

    Place the mixture in the oven and cover tightly. Cook for about 30 to 45 minutes until all the water is absorbed.

    To serve, fluff the rice and also add canned peas and some sliced roasted red peppers.

    If you can’t imagine eating peas straight out of the can, you can add frozen peas to the mixture in the oven during the last ten minutes of cooking.

    Hope you enjoy this recipe!
    chickenandrice

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    Chicken in Sour Cream – The Way to a Girl’s Heart

    THE PRINCE'S GAMBLE Romantic SuspenseFirst of all, many thanks to everyone who has taken the time to leave a review of THE PRINCE’S GAMBLE. It really means a lot to me that you did that and I thank you. Reviews really help authors to get the word out about their books. Here is one I just got from Fresh Fiction! Thanks, Annette.

    Those of you who have read THE PRINCE’S GAMBLE know that there are a number of Russian foods mentioned in the story. In one scene, Prince Alexander decides to show Kathleen just how wrong she has him by making her a Russian-style meal. Prince Alexander serves up chicken with sour cream and butter with a side of a pilaf chock full of an eclectic mix of ingredients as he tries to work his way into Kathleen’s heart.

    This morning I’m sharing with you the recipe for Prince Alexander’s Chicken in Sour Cream. This is a really easy recipe that can be adapted in a number of ways. For example, if you’re not a mushroom fan, just leave them out. You can also add some paprika (about 2 tablespoons of sweet paprika) to the sour cream to make Chicken Paprikash. It’s that simple.

    Hope you enjoy today’s recipe from THE PRINCE’S GAMBLE.

    Chicken in Sour Cream

    Ingredients

    2 skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
    1/2 cup onions, thinly sliced
    1 tablespoon butter
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 cup sour cream
    1 cup sliced mushrooms
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Directions

    Heat the butter and oil in a saute pan. Pat dry your sliced chicken breasts and brown them in the butter/oil. Remove from the pan and set aside.

    Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until just getting brown. Mushrooms have a lot of water so you always want to cook them by themselves and you want to steam away all that water before adding the other ingredients, otherwise you’ll just be steaming the food.

    Add the onions to the mushrooms and cook until the onions are soft and beginning to get golden.

    Turn down the heat, add the sour cream to the pan and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes. You can use low-fat sour cream to cut down on the calories. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan to get up all those brown bits. Those are the sugars from the food that have caramelized on the pan and have all the tasty goodness! The acid from the sour cream will also help to deglaze the pan. If you wish, you could also put a touch of white wine to deglaze the brown bits and add a little more flavor to the sauce. A small amount of chicken broth will likewise work.

    Once the sour cream is warm, add the chicken breast back to the pan and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. I asked you to thinly slice the breasts to make sure they would cook thoroughly. If you’re using a thicker breast, check for doneness before serving.

    You can serve the above dish with white rice, pilaf (next week’s recipe), buttered noodles or even an un-Russian item like spaetzle.

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    Choriburger Recipe on Tip Tuesday & Blog Tour #Giveaway

    Thanks for those who suggested it was time for some more recipes. I love to cook and try to experiment whenever I get a chance. Today I have for you a recipe inspired by some amazing sliders from Cubacan in Asbury Park.

    But first, please take a moment to visit with me on my KISSED BY A VAMPIRE blog tour as I stop by the wonderful United by Books blog! Follow the instructions there for a chance to win an autographed copy of THE CLAIMED along with some SWAG.

    And now back to recipe time! This “choriburger” is a mix of regular ground beef and either fresh or dried chorizo sausage. Personally I prefer the dried sausage because it gives a little more flavor to the burgers, but it’s up to you on how much chorizo flavor you like and also, availability of either the dry or fresh chorizos.

    Just one word of warning, make sure you’re not buying hot chorizo sausages unless you really want something very very spicy.

    This mix also makes some delicious sliders or if you’re watching carbs, serve it over shredded lettuce and/or Napa cabbage with a salsa-based sour cream sauce (recipe also included below!).

    Choriburgers

    1 pound ground beef (either 80% lean or 85% lean).
    If using the dried chorizo, go for the 80% lean to give you some extra moisture.

    1/2 pound fresh chorizo sausage, casings removed.
    If you are using dried chorizo, about 1/4 pound either ground or finely chopped. For a stronger chorizo flavor, use half a pound.

    2 tsp sweet paprika

    Mix the ground beef and chorizo together and sprinkle with the sweet paprika. Don’t work the meat too much or compact it too tightly. That’ll just make for a hard, dry burger. Same goes for when you go to shape the patties.

    Set the mixture aside for at least half an hour in the fridge before shaping the patties to let the flavors meld.

    Cook to your liking, but remember that the paprika you added and the paprika in the chorizo will impart color to the meat so it may look rarer than it really is. One little hint to keep moisture in the burger, when you put the patties on the grill, make an indent with your thumb in the middle of the pattie to create a little well. That will keep some of the juices in the burger rather than running off onto the grill.

    Serve on buns or even better, some nice Portuguese bread rolls. If you want to top it with cheese, keep with the theme and use a nice slice or two of Manchego cheese.

    For a special sauce to use on the burgers and/or your lettuce, try this: Mix half a pint of sour cream with your favorite green salsa. The green salsas are milder and their flavor works fabulously with these choriburgers!

    Enjoy!

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    Cinnamon Honey Bananas #Recipe

    Now today’s recipe comes with warnings! LOL! First, definitely use something non-stick, but even then, prepare for stickiness.

    Second, watch out for the hot honey/sugar/caramel that will develop. There is nothing worse than a sugar burn because of how hot it gets.

    So having limited my liability, here’s today’s Cook’s Treat! Cinnamon Honey Bananas.

    I know we’ve talked about the benefits of both cinnamon and honey in other blogs. You can’t go wrong with having both in your diet on a regular basis since they are miracle foods. As for bananas, they are another great addition to your diet. They are low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and a good source of various vitamins and dietary fiber.

    They come with their own packaging for ease of transport (LOL!) and you can use them in various ways, including substituting them for butter in baking recipes.

    Today’s recipe is about them all alone, whether as a side dish to a meal if you like the sweet on your plate or as a dessert.

    Directions

    Pre-heat a non-stick skillet and add a tablespoon of butter.
    Slice two bananas in half and place in the skillet.
    Drizzle honey over the bananas.
    Sprinkle cinnamon over the honey.
    Cook for about 3 or 4 minutes (depends on how hot the pan is) and then flip.
    Repeat on the honey and cinnamon.

    You should have a nice sugary glaze on the bananas from the honey and the caramelization as they cook. If not, flip again, but don’t add more honey or cinnamon. The sugars will caramelize from the heat of the pan.

    Serve alone or over ice cream/yogurt.

    Voila! Hope you enjoyed today’s recipe!

    cinnamonhoneybananas

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    Citrus-Marinated Roast Pork

    During my recent visit to the wonderful blog of my friend and fellow author Kelly Moran, I was asked about my signature dish for Christmas. Now in my house, Christmas Eve is a mix of Italian, Cuban and American foods, but the signature dish has to be the Cuban-style citrus-marinated roast pork.

    We, because it is a family affair to cook this dish, start preparing it the night before after a trip to Union City, New Jersey to pick up some Cuban staples and the pork leg.

    I’m normally feeding anywhere from 15 to 25 people on Christmas Eve, so I need a really really big pork leg (pork shoulder/picnic ham/pernil). I normally get a piece of pork that weighs around 25 pounds, but you can buy a much smaller piece and adjust the cooking times (more on that later).

    Ingredients:

      10-15 navel oranges
      10 lemons
      10 limes
      6-8 Seville (aka Sour) Oranges
      6 pink grapefruit
      10-20 gloves of finely chopped garlic
      Ground cumin
      bay leaves
      Pork leg/shoulder/picnic ham

    Directions:

    Juice all the above citrus into a large pot. We use one of those large buckets in which your grocery store deli get its potato salad, etc. Drop by and ask them for one! Ours is only used for the Christmas Eve pork.

    The citrus mix should be sour, but with a strong hit of sweet (the navel oranges and grapefruit really help with that). You should have enough citrus juice to fully cover your piece of pork. Once you’ve tasted the sweet/sour mix, then add 3 to 4 bay leaves, about a half cup of garlic (less for a smaller piece of pork) and about 1/4 cup of cumin. Mix this all up.

    Take your piece of pork and make multiple slits in it so that the marinade can penetrate into the meat. Place the pork leg in the citrus juice, cover and refrigerate. You’re probably wondering how I keep that big a bucket cold? Put the bucket in one of those big party tubs, place it in your garage (which should be slightly colder anyway) and fill the tub with ice. It should be icy cold in the morning unless you are in a really hot environment in which case you will need to keep on adding ice to keep the meat cold.

    In the morning (around 6 a.m. or so) pre-heat the oven to 425. Remove the pork from the citrus and place it in a large roasting dish. Keep some of the citrus juice, bay leaves and garlic for use as a marinade. Discard the rest. Ladle about 1 to 2 cups over the pork and then stick the pork into the oven for one hour at 425. For a small piece of pork, cut down this initial high temp roast accordingly. For ten pounds make it around 30 minutes, anything smaller than that no more than about 15 minutes.

    Do not baste the pork during this high heat roast.

    When the high heat roast time is up, baste the pork and lower the oven temp to 325. Then cook until the meat pulls away from the bone in the leg and is starting to fall off. Marinate every half an hour during the cooking process. For a 25 pound pork leg, I will cook it for about 8 to 9 hours. The pork will turn this beautiful mahogany brown and just melt in your mouth.

    For smaller pieces of pork, adjust the cooking times. A 10 pound picnic ham may take only about 4 or so hours. The key is to keep on basting and cooking at a low temp to keep the meat juicy.

    If the pork begins to brown too much, just cover with aluminum and keep on cooking until the meat is fork tender.

    Hope you enjoyed today’s Tuesday Tip. Here’s a shot of family and friends sitting around the Christmas Eve table, waiting to start the big meal!

    Friends and family at Christmas Eve

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    Confessions of a Carboholic

    Back on one of the Tuesday Tips I mentioned that I was battling the bulge again and some of you asked for me to let you know how I was doing.

    Well, I am doing great! I’ve lost 6.5 pounds in about a month. I feel better and my clothes are starting to get loose. I’m counting the minutes until I can drop a size.

    But to accomplish that I had to do some soul searching and realize something very troubling – I am a carboholic. Worse yet, that being a carboholic was so not good for my system. All that bloating and big belly started to go away as soon as I curtailed my carbs.

    I did that in part with that wonderful book my daughter gave me — Eat This, Not That. I have the supermarket edition which is great because it lays out in no nonsense fashion what to buy and what not to buy and the reasons for those choices (although there is one with which I do not agree and more on that later).

    First I cut back on my carbs and the carbs that I eat are lower in fat and sugar and higher in dietary fiber. Fiber is wonderful because it fills you up and keeps you from having that empty sensation.

    How did I do that? Thomas’ Light Multi-grain English Muffins. At 100 calories per muffin, they have only 1 gram of fat and 8 grams of dietary fiber. In the mornings I will have it with a smear of one of those Laughing Cow Light Cheeses – also great! Only 35 calories per little wedge, but packed with flavor.

    For Sunday pasta meals, we switched to Barilla Whole Grain Pasta (suprisingly on the Not That list, but I don’t agree). With 200 calories per serving, it has only 1.5 grams of fat and 6 grams of dietary fiber. Plus, it’s tasty unlike some other whole grain pastas.

    At lunch I make sure to have veggies of some kind, whether alone or with grilled chicken, or a sandwich made with a muffin, low fat cheese and low fat ham (not a big turkey fan which would help, I know) or chicken.

    For snacks – nuts, nuts, nuts. A handful of almonds (approximately 12), cashews or walnuts are a great snack at around 3 pm.

    At night we try to keep it simple. Grilled steak, chicken or eggs with veggies and a salad. Actually, we’ve been eating a lot more eggs. They are not as bad for you as people think and if you buy some Eggland’s Best or another high quality egg, they are packed with vitamins and have lower cholesterol than regular eggs. I always look for a sale on them and stock up.

    For a late night (around 8 pm) snack, I’ve been making our own desserts – like a low fat fruit-packed ambrosia — or having a small handful of Brookside Dark Chocolate Covered Pomegrantes. I get a 2 lb bag at Costco and they are absolutely delicious. 22 pieces are about 200 calories, but I stick to about half that amount because they are so decadent and dark chocolate and pomegrante are packed with anti-oxidants.

    Adding all those fruits, nuts and veggies has gone a long way in helping as well. They keep me feeling fuller and I’m not having those horrible hunger pangs that wreck most diets. In fact, I’m not even thinking about this as a diet anymore, but as a lifestyle change because I can see myself eating like this for the rest of my life.

    So, that’s my confession about being a carboholic and how I’ve changed some of my habits. I’ve also been going to the gym regularly and that’s been a big help. Any increase in activity is good for you, including a brisk walk!

    Hope today’s Thursday Thoughts might be of help to you. :smile:

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    Corn Salsa

    cornI got tired of the same old same old that we’d been eating and decided to try something different last Saturday — Pulled Pork. I have a dry rub recipe that I use on my ribs and brisket and slathered that on some pork loins, slipped them into the oven to cook for some time and then pulled apart that tender pork and added some more rub and KC Masterpiece BBQ Sauce (the tastiest so far in my book).

    The problem was, what to eat with the pulled pork sandwiches? I decided on a simple corn salsa. In the summer I’d probably roast fresh corn on the BBQ, but this time I had to rely on some frozen corn and the other ingredients in my fridge and pantry. So here goes my recipe for a simple corn salsa, a bright side dish to any spicy or sweet meal.

    CORN SALSA

    4 cups cooked corn
    1 cup finely chopped onions (red make a nice color variation if you have them)
    1/2 cup chopped pimentos
    2 cup chopped tomatoes
    1 16 oz can black beans
    fresh parsley or cilantro if you have (if not dried will work)
    Salt and pepper to taste
    Oil and pepper to taste.

    Just mix all of the above in a bowl and let it marinate for about an your. Like your salsa spicier? Add a shot or two of Tabasco or Cholula sauce or even better, some chopped jalapenos. For more color variation, chop avocado and add it to the mix.

    Hope you enjoyed this Tuesday’s Tip!

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    Crazy Cinnamon

    abuela.jpgWhenever I had a cold, my grandma, abuelita Nieves (that’s me with my grandma and who I am also named after in part as my whole first name is Caridad de las Nieves) used to make me a special drink that always managed to make me feel better. She would scald some milk with stick cinnamon and afterward, add honey. Once I drank it down, I’d feel it chasing that cold away and fall fast asleep. To this day, that is my most effective cold remedy.

    Grandma Nieves also put cinnamon in an assortment of yummy puddings — chocolate, rice and bread — one more delicious than the next.

    What did Abuelita Nieves know that I didn’t? Well, today’s Tuesday Tip is all about the wonders of cinnamon because I’ve found that a little cinnamon in my coffee, warm milk or even my tea does a world of good for me and has helped me curb the occasional hunger pang (the total of pounds lost is now 29 for those of you in the Sisterhood of the Shrinking Pants!)

    Did you know that:

  • Smelling cinnamon boosts mental function and memory (which explains the success of Cinnabon in all those malls!).
  • Cinnamon is a great source of manganese, fiber, iron, and calcium.
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon per day can lower LDL cholesterol. (Check out this video at the USDA!)
  • Some studies indicate that cinnmon may help regulate blood sugar, making it beneficial for people with Type 2 diabetes.
  • Studies also show that cinnamon can stop medication-resistant yeast infections.
  • Cinnamon may reduce the proliferation of certain cancer cells.
  • Cinnamon can have an anti-clotting effect on blood.li>
  • In a Danish study, a daily half teaspoon of cinnamon and half teaspoon of honey can help with arthritis pain.
  • Cinnamon can act as a natural food preservative, inhibiting spoilage and bacterial growth.
  • Now, cinnamon sticks are the best when you can steep them in your coffee, pudding, milk, etc. Pre-ground cinnamon is great for a quick fix. I bought one of those cinnamon grinders at the store when it was on sale — should have read the fine print which says “grind it directly . . . to experience the intense, but delicate aroma.”

    That is all you get with those grinders — aroma (unless you grind and steep with the liquid.) It also manages to seem like little bits of wood floating around your treat, so you’re better off with the powdered stuff. Use the grinders to maybe make yourself a little simmering potpourri of cinnamon (although the sticks are probably cheaper).

    Hope this little Tuesday Tip brings some spice into your life!

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    Cuban Black Beans

    beans.jpgSorry for not giving you a hot sexy man on Monday, but I was battling a cold and the only thing that looked hot and sexy to me was the cup of chicken soup my hubby brought me.

    Which got me thinking about today and things that are comforting when the weather is starting to get chill. Actually, I love beans and eat them every chance I get. They are packed with fiber and potassium and when combined with rice form a complete protein, making that a great meal!

    This is recipe for my family’s Cuban Black Beans which you can eat as a soup or really thicken to put over your rice. Also, it’s the same basic recipe if you want to make red beans or lentils, although I usually add a ham bone or some other ham/pork product to those for additional substance.

    Without further ado — Caridad’s Cuban Black Beans!

    Ingredients

  • To start:
      1 lb. dried black beans
      1 lg. onion, cut into eighths
      1 red pepper, cut into eighths
      3 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
      2 bay leaves
      1 tsp cumin powder
      1/8 cup olive oil
      1 cup red wine (not salty cooking wine — real red wine)
      salt and pepper to taste
      5 cup water
  • To finish the beans:
      1 medium onion, chopped
      1/2 a red pepper, chopped
      2 to 3 cloves, minced
      1/8 cup olive oil
      1/2 cup sherry
  • Cooking the beans:

    There are those you believe in soaking the beans overnight. My family never did this, but it will speed up the cooking time. The one thing to remember is — DO NOT THROW OUT THE SOAKING WATER! It has a lot of the flavor from the beans and you will lose all that flavor if you toss it. Also, don’t soak the beans too long or they will begin to ferment.

    If you don’t soak, it will mean simmering the beans for a longer amount of time, but on a cold day, the smell and heat are a welcome thing.

    So, before you soak (or not), rinse the beans to get rid of any field dirt and also, pick through them for any bad beans or small stones.

    Once the beans are clean, place them in a stockpot, dutch oven or heavy cast iron kettle. Add the water, wine, bay leaves, onion, pepper, and cumin, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Make sure to stir it a few times to make sure the beans are not sticking to the bottom.

    Once the water is boiling, turn it down so that it is a slow simmer. Simmer with the cover on for at least 3 to 4 hours. The water should start to thicken from the beans. You can test to see if the beans are done by tasting one. It should not be hard.

    To finish the beans, fry up the onion, red pepper and garlic and add it to the cooked beans along with the sherry. Adjust the taste with salt to your liking.

    You can serve the beans over white rice. Cubans call this moros y cristianos. You can also eat this alone as a soup. If you do this, garnish it with raw onions, cheddar cheese, avocados or chopped ham.

    Hope you like today’s Cook’s Treat.

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    Cuban Flan

    So why is the first entry in this Cook’s Treat blog a Cuban flan?

    Well, first, because I’m Cuban-American.  Second, I have the world’s worst sweet tooth.  I think meals should begin with dessert and only then proceed to anything else.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to convince others of that.

    I learned to make flan from my grandmother and my sister learned from my mom.  We both use different methods for making the caramel that is essential to a sweet flan.  My mom and sis start with just sugar and melt the sugar sans water which has a tendency to produce a darker and slightly bitter tasting caramel.  My grandma would dissolve the sugar in water first and then boil it down, kind of like making candy.  The caramel this way is sweeter and lighter in color — actually clearless if you don’t want to push the cooking.

    So here goes and for a little bit of family history — pictures of my abuelita (that’s Spanish for grandma) and mami (my mom!):

    Basic Ingredients:

    For the baking process:  Large baking pan.  1 1/2 to 2 quart ovenproof baking dish (I use the same pan to make the caramel and then put the custard.  Why wash two dishes?  Corningware is da bomb for this.)  Hot water to fill large baking pan halfway up the sides.

    For the caramel:  1 cup plain white sugar

    For the custard:

    • 6 whole eggs
    • 6 egg yolks
    • 1 cup whole milk
    • 1 can Condensed Milk (Not evaporated, but Sweetened Condensed Milk.  Magnolia or Eagle Brand are favorites!)
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    Step 1:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place a large baking pan in the oven with hot, but not boiling water about half way up the side of the pan.  This will make what is called a Bain Marie.  The Bain Marie will help keep the flan from drying out and will allow it to cook evenly.

     Step 2:  Make the Caramel:

    Mami’s Caramel!

    Caridad's Mom as a teen

    Start with 1 cup of sugar.  Set it over medium heat in a heavy medium/small saucepan or preferably, an ovenproof 1 1/2 to 2 quart dish.  Use a wooden spoon to stir until the sugar is is melted and begins to turn golden.  Keep on going until it is a dark dark brown. (Be very careful!! Cooked sugar is very hot and can burn the skin if it spatters.)

     

     

    Abuelita’s Caramel (and guess who that is with grandma in the picture!) 

    Caridad and her abuelita in Cuba!

    Start with 1/2 cup of sugar and dissolve it in 1/2 cup to 1 cup water.  Make sure the sugar is fully dissolved before you begin to heat it (if you have any sugar left, it will form crystals and be gritty).  Once the sugar is dissolved, set the pan with the sugar over medium heat in a heavy medium/small saucepan or preferably, an ovenproof dish.  Use a wooden spoon to stir until the sugar water is reduced (it should get thicker as it cooks).  Grandma liked it light, but you can let it get golden and keep on going until it is a dark brown. (Again, be very careful!! Cooked sugar is very hot and can burn the skin if it spatters.) 

    NEXT STEP regardless of how you made the caramel:

    If you did not use an ovenproof pan/dish, quickly pour the hot caramel syrup into a baking dish (DO NOT GREASE THE PAN). 

    If you did use the ovenproof pan/dish — MAKE SURE TO PUT ON OVEN MITTS before proceeding! 

    Swirl the pan until the sugar coats the bottom and sides of the pan/dish. The caramel will start to harden at this point.  When you cook the flan in the oven, the caramel will melt and make a delicious syrup that the flan will swim in.  AGAIN be very careful.  A sugar burn is quite painful!

    Gently mix together the eggs and egg yolks.  Do not create too much froth or bubbles as these will linger and ruin the texture of the flan.  Add the condensed milk and gently mix a little more.  Then finally add the rest of the regular whole milk (for ease and to get all the condensed milk, put the whole milk into the can and use it to wash out all of what lingers in the can from the thick condensed milk).  Again, gently mix until the mixture is smooth.

    Add the vanilla.

    Pour this egg/milk custard mixture into the baking dish (make sure the caramel has set against the sides and bottom of the pan).

    Set this baking dish into the larger baking pan with the hot water.  Bake until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes or so. If it’s a little soft (but not runny), that’s okay as it will continue to cook for a bit.  Be careful with the hot water in the bain marie (baking pan with water), but then let the flan cool in the water.  After half an hour or so, remove the flan from the bain marie and refrigerate for at least an hour or more.

    It’s actually preferable to make the flan and let it sit overnight so the caramel soaks into the outermost layer.  Yum!

    Before serving, run a sharp knife around the edge of the flan to release it from the baking dish. Place a larger serving plate (preferably with a small lip to keep the caramel liquid from spilling) over the baking dish and, invert the flan onto the serving platter.

    Keep refrigerated until it’s time to serve.

    For simple variations, you can add a little amaretto or grand marnier to both the caramel and the custard mix.  For more complex variations, try a chocolate flan (which I’ve never made in my life!)

    One thing that is delicious is to increase the number of egg yolks and eliminate the egg whites entirely.  This will make a very thick rich egg custard called Toscinillo del Cielo.

    Cuban Flan, made by my sister Carmen, is a staple at our Christmas Eve celebration.  Why don’t you try it out as well!

    Feliz Navidades,

    Caridad

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    Cuban Mashed Plantain #Recipe Fu Fu

    In FOR LOVE OR VENGEANCE the Cuban FBI Agent hero, Miguel Sanchez, takes his partner and love interest, Helene, to eat at a Cuban-Chinese restaurant. Yes, Cuban-Chinese. A unique mix, but many Chinese immigrated to Cuba to work the sugar plantations and their take on Cuban food is delicious.

    Miguel and Helene might have ordered a dish like today’s recipe – Fu Fu. Now, there are lots of variations on Fu Fu and others make similar dishes, like Mofongo. The difference is a combination of the kind of plantain used and what’s added to the mashed plantains.

    This is my family’s variation on it. We always used green plantains which are not as sweet and therefore give you a dish that’s more like mashed potatoes than variations made with ripe and semi-ripe plantains. If you like sweet, let the plantains turn yellow or go to black and try your own mashed variation.

    A caution about plantains. Although Latins will often call them bananas, they are very much a vegetable and cannot be eaten raw. They must be cooked and Latins have all kinds of dishes, like plantain chips, ripe plantains (maduros), squashed flat plantains (tostones), etc. They are a staple much like potatoes and rice.

    Cuban Mashed Plantains

    4 green plantains
    1 chopped onion
    2 gloves garlic
    4 chopped slices bacon

    Cut the plantains into one inch chunks. Cut a slit or two across the skin (from end to end and not along the circumference) until you reach the flesh of the plantain. This will help you peel them once they are boiled. The skin will split away from the plantain beneath while boiling.

    Boil until fork tender. Make sure to put some salt in the boiling water.

    Cool and peel as soon as possible.

    Cook the chopped bacon until almost crispy. Remove some of the bacon grease and add the chopped onion. Cook until almost caramelized and then add the garlic. Cook for a few more minutes.

    While you are waiting for the final cook of the bacon/onion/garlic mix, mash the plantains. Do not mash them too much. You do want some texture and different sizes and you don’t want it to get gluey. This is especially true if you are using a ripe one.

    Once mashed, top with the cooked bacon/onion/garlic mix. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top and serve.

    Yummy, trust me. I mean, it’s got bacon. What doesn’t taste good with bacon? LOL!
    plantain

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    Detox Water #Recipes

    I have to confess: I’m a horrible water drinker. I just hate the taste of plain old water. Put I also understand that it’s important to stay hydrated in order to stay healthy.

    Water is necessary for detoxification of your body and here’s one easy way to do it: Have a glass of water with lemon/lemon juice.

    Some say drink it warm as soon as you wake up for the best effects. I usually have it after my morning coffee and breakfast.

    There are quite a number of other detoxifying waters you can try and here are some places where you can find more water detox recipes:

    Detox Water

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    Deviled Ham Sandwich #Recipe

    I really don’t know how the deviled ham sandwich, also known as a bocadito, got started in Cuba. All I know is that it was a staple of every party we ever had and it is always a favorite. The best thing: It’s EASY to make.

    So here goes!

    Deviled Ham Sandwiches

    2 (two) 4 oz cans deviled ham spread (I use Underwood)
    1/4 cup milk
    1/4 cup ketchup
    1 8 oz bar cream cheese
    Your choice of sandwich rolls or bread

    Soften the cream cheese with the milk and ketchup. Blend until smooth and then add the deviled ham. Mix.

    That’s it! There are variations that add mayo and/or chopped pimentos. I love pimentos so I may add them the next time to half of the mix for a little variety.

    I like to refrigerate the mix for a couple of hours so it’s not so runny. Once it’s a little firmer, spread on the rolls and/or bread.

    We love it on potato bread and we always cut off the crusts.

    Hope you liked today’s nice and simple recipe!

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    Easter Goodies

    Easter is a toss-up holiday in my family and where we spend it depends on who asks us first! If we go to my sister’s, we have a baked ham and other goodies as well as an Easter Egg hunt, even if the kids are all in their teens. They still love it. Sometimes the neighborhood kids will join in as well and it’s a blast. We give the little ones a head start so they can grab the eggs off the lawn.

    If we go to my husband’s family, it’s Italian fare with an assortment of traditional goodies, like a delicious egg bread that has colored whole eggs baked into it.

    What kinds of things do you do for Easter?

    Here’s a recipe for one of the traditional Italian things that I’ve made when I go to my in-laws for Easter. Speaking of in-laws, here’s a picture of the Scordato and Yervasi crew at my sister-in-law’s wedding (doesn’t she look great?). That handsome devil all the way to the right and in front is my hubby.

    wedding.jpg

    PIZZA RUSTICA

  • Pastry for 2-crust 9-inch pie
    1 lb. Italian sausage, casing removed
    1-1/2 cups Ricotta Cheese
    1 cup (4 oz.) Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
    4 eggs, beaten
    1/2 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
    3 oz. prosciutto, chopped
    2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • PREHEAT oven to 375°F. Roll 1/2 of the pastry to 11-inch circle on lightly floured surface. Line 9-inch pie plate with pastry allowing 1/2-inch overhang. Pierce pastry shell with fork.
    BROWN sausage; drain. Mix ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, eggs and Parmesan cheese in large bowl. Stir in sausage, prosciutto and parsley. Spoon into crust. Roll remaining pastry to 12-inch circle. Place over filling; seal and flute edge. Cut several slits to permit steam to escape.
    BAKE 1 hour or until center is set and crust is browned. Let stand 15 min. before serving. Serve hot or cold.

    I can’t take credit for the above recipe, though. It’s from kraftfoods.com. If you haven’t visited this site, please do so. The site has got great recipes, a healthy living section and you can sign up to receive coupons and a great quarterly magazine that’s packed with recipes and other tips.

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    Famous Fudge by Irene Peterson

    It’s been a long time since I gave you any kind of recipe, maybe because I’ve been trying to stick to this diet and failing miserably. Especially with Valentine’s Day and chocolate abounding everywhere!

    Anyway, this is my friend Irene Peterson‘s Famous Fudge. Really easy to make and even easier to eat! Irene has a new release coming up with Kisses to Go. It’s a story about a chef (always good) and art historian, stuffy British royalty and it has some paranormal happenings as well. Is it a good book? RT gave it 4 stars!

    So here’s Irene’s Famous Fudge recipe (And yes, I hear you all. I’ll go back on the diet soon!):

    Ingredients:Irene Peterson's Kisses to Go
    Two bags chocolate chips of any kind
    One can sweetened condensed milk
    One tablespoon margarine.

    Directions:
    Combine all three ingredients and heat by minute increments in the microwave, stirring well after each minute.

    When completely melted, remove from bowl and add any other ingredients such as nuts, marshmallows.

    Pour into flat 8×10 pan or similar size, refrigerate for 2 hours until fudge is hard. Cut into squares and enjoy.

    I told you it was easy! Bon Apetit :)

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    Fish/Seafood Cake #Recipe

    This morning we’re doing a very versatile recipe for fish/seafood cakes that I hope you’ll enjoy and play with when you have time.  I’ve been eating a lot more fish and between that, diet and exercise, I was able to lower my cholesterol to the point that I avoided taking medications!  Very exciting.

    But first, please take a moment to visit these blogs and earn some points toward the TO CATCH A PRINCESS blog tour and giveaway!

    August 20, 2013
    FLY HIGH! 
    Just One More Chapter 
     
     

    As I was saying, eating more fish is healthy for you and while you could just have it broiled or baked, sometimes you need a little variety. Plus, this is a recipe that will work well with salmon or tuna out of the can! Actually, we’ll use canned salmon today, but you can vary this recipe by substituting chopped cooked shrimp, lobster, cod or crab if you have it.

    Fish/Seafood Cakes

    1 6 oz can tuna/salmon
    1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs**
    1/8 cup chopped scallions
    1/8 cup diced carrots
    1/8 cup diced red pepper
    2 tablespoons diced celery
    Couple of shots hot sauce (Cholula or Tabasco work well)
    2 tablespoons light mayonnaise
    3 tablespoons chopped parsley
    2 tablespoons lemon juice
    1 large egg

    **Make the fresh bread crumbs. Use potato rolls or a rich brioche and grind it up in your blender or food processor. Why fresh bread crumbs? The dry bread crumbs pull all the moisture out of the fish/seafood. Remember this when making meatloaf as well for a moister meatloaf.

    With a little olive oil (or sweet butter if you’re not watching calories or cholesterol), sweat the celery, pepper and carrots until just cooked. Do not brown.

    Beat the egg and add the salmon, 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs, lemon juice, hot sauce, scallions, parsley and the veggies you just cooked.

    Mix and form into balls. Try not to work them too much. Place the remaining bread crumbs in a plate and then press the balls into the bread crumbs to make a patty. Flip and coat the other side.

    Place on a baking sheet and put in the fridge for 10 to 15 minutes to firm up. Then fry them in olive oil/butter until golden!

    fishcakes

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    Free Recipe Book – Special Thursday Treat

    Last week I promised you a collection of recipes and here it is! There are recipes which are mentioned and/or connected to my various novels while there are others that are just family favorites.

    I hope you will enjoy both making some of these recipes as well as eating them.

    If you cannot see the screen below, you can click here to read it. Please note that there is also a download capability with this PDF version.

    Recipes for the Romantic Soul

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    Fridge Cleaning #Recipes

    Everyone has that moment. They have no clue what to make. The fridge is either filled with stuff or half-empty and the brain just isn’t putting together any kind of items for that day’s meal.

    Here are some sites that I hope will help you in one of those challenging moments. We call them Fridge Cleaning moments in our house ’cause we just want to empty whatever is in there and make it before it goes bad.

    These sites let you plug in your ingredients and provide a list of recipes for things you can make with those ingredients.

    If you prefer hard copy versions of recipes, here are some recipe books that I would highly recommend be keepers in your cooking library to help you with your daily meals.

    Hope this helps you solve your meal planning dilemma!
    fridge

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    Garlic Basil Aioli

    Aioli is a sauce that’s usually made with garlic, lemon juice, oil and egg yolks, much like a homemade mayonnaise. Some people even put dry mustard in it.

    The usual way to make aioli is to crush the garlic, add the lemon juice, mix in the egg yolks and then while whisking, add the olive oil until you get a rich paste. Lots of work, so today I’m giving a cheat method for a delicious garlic basil aioli.

    We were making simple burgers the other day and I wanted to dress them up and played around with this recipe. The results were delicious. You can also use this aioli on grilled chicken sandwiches for a bit of flavor and richness.

    Garlic Basil Aioli

    In a small mortar, add about 1/8 teaspoon salt. It’s not really for flavoring, but to assist with crushing the garlic.

    Two cloves of garlic, chopped. Add to mortar and crush with the salt until you have almost a paste.

    Add 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil. Crush together with garlic to make a paste.

    Mince two or three leaves of basil. You can also add a few sprigs of parsley leaves if you want.

    Add minced basil leaves to the garlic/salt/oil mixture. Crush some more.

    Add 3 tablespoons mayonnaise. You can use light mayo here to cut down on calories.

    Mix some more and voila!

    You’ve got a tasty spread for your burgers, chicken or any other kind of sandwich you’d like to make. Even use it over some broiled fish or with potatoes.

    aioli

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    General Tso’s Chicken Low Fat & Radio Show #Giveaway

    My daughter and I picked another healthy version recipe from our Pinterest boards: General Tso’s chicken. I actually cut back even more on the calories by eliminating the oil in the sauce and just relying on reducing it with a slow boil. Just one word of warning, use less red pepper if you do it this way unless you like spicy! Also, make sure to only add the red pepper toward the end of the sauce reduction to avoid the spiciness. Also, I didn’t have apricot jam, but had some orange marmalade to use. Worked out great with that and not too sweet.

    The “breading” comes out fabulously crispy and tasty. I set some aside some of the chicken for my daughter to eat as nuggets during the week.

    You can find the recipe for this fabulous dish by clicking here!

    Maybe make some tonight and pull up a chair and join me at my upcoming radio show with the fabulous Bab from Bab’s Book Bistro! Join me there at 7:30 EST as we chat about the sexy royals from THE PRINCE’S GAMBLE, my exploits along the Jersey Shore, and lots of other fun things. I’ll also be giving away five collectible print copies of my paranormal novella, GHOST OF A CHANCE. Listen in to find out how you can win one of these!

    To come and hear the show, chat with us, etc., you can click here or use this link:

    http://www.blogtalkradio.com/broadcast-from-the-bistro/2013/01/30/entangled-suspense-author-caridad-pieiro

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    Ghosts in the Graveyard

    ghost1.jpgHalloween is almost here and you may need something special to make for the little ones or maybe for your ghoulish soul!

    I came across the Ghosts in the Graveyard treat at Kraft Foods. It reminded me of some wonderfully fun desserts that my wonderful sister-in-law had made one time — one confection called “Dirt” and another named “Sand”. They were cakes with puddings decorated with gummy creatures and served in appropriate servingware, namely, plastic beach pails.

    So, you can get this recipe and see a video on how to make Ghosts in the Graveyard at the Kraft Foods website.

    I think I’ve told you about the Kraft Foods site before. It is absolutely amazing in so many ways. Tons of recipes, a Healthy Living section that has lower fat recipes, meal planner and fitness plans, food and exercise journals as well as lots of other goodies.

    If you’re tempted to make this scary dessert, click here for the recipe and if you’re still on a diet like me (37 pounds and still working on it), here’s what can you do to make this lighter.

    The basic ingredients are:

      Crushed OREOs
      milk
      JELL-O Chocolate Flavor Instant Pudding & Pie Filling
      COOL WHIP

    The easiest way to lighten the calorie count — substitute OREOS, pudding and Cool Whip which are either lower in fat or fat free. Just make sure to check the calorie count! Some low/fat free products add more sugar to compensate for taste and mouth feel. You can also try using those crushed 100 Calorie Pack Oreos which are quite chocolately good. Finally, use 1% or 2% milk rather than whole.

    That should make this recipe a little lighter and allow you to have a serving or two to satisfy those cravings for something fun and sweet.

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    Grandma’s Bread Pudding

    Image released into the public domain by Jason Perlow at WikipediaMy abuelita Nieves was a fabulous cook! She could take any combination of ingredients and make them taste great. Even something as simple as fried eggs and rice (one of my favorite quick meals).

    One of her best dishes was an amazing bread pudding. I always loved it and try to make it whenever I can. The basic dish is simple to make and once you get the hang of it, you can try a number of variations, such as substituting brioche for the regular bread or cinnamon-raisin bread for a super cinnamony/raisiny version.

    So here’s my Grandma Nieves’s recipe for Bread Pudding! I hope you enjoy it!

    Basic Ingredients:

    For the baking process: Large loaf baking pan or round quart and a half dish. Corningware is great since you can make the caramel in it and then add the pudding ingredients thereby using only one pan! You’ll also need a large baking dish to use for the bain marie and enough hot water to fill large baking pan halfway up the sides.

    For the caramel: 1 cup plain white sugar

    For the bread pudding:

    3 whole eggs
    3 cups whole milk
    1 can Condensed Milk (Not evaporated, but Sweetened Condensed Milk. Magnolia or Eagle Brand are favorites!)
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    Raisins (about a 1/4 cup soaked in water or an alcohol like rum for a kick)
    A loaf of stale Italian bread (no seeds)

    Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place a large baking pan in the oven with hot, but not boiling water about half way up the side of the pan. This will make what is called a Bain Marie. The Bain Marie will help keep the bread pudding from drying out and will allow it to cook evenly.

    Me and my grandma!Step 2:Make a caramel much like you did for the Cuban Flan.
    Start with 1/2 cup of sugar and dissolve it in 1/2 cup to 1 cup water. Make sure the sugar is fully dissolved before you begin to heat it (if you have any sugar left, it will form crystals and be gritty). Once the sugar is dissolved, set the pan with the sugar over medium heat in a heavy medium/small saucepan or preferably, an ovenproof dish. Use a wooden spoon to stir until the sugar water is reduced (it should get thicker as it cooks). Grandma liked it light, but you can let it get golden and keep on going until it is a dark brown. (Again, be very careful!! Cooked sugar is very hot and can burn the skin if it spatters.)

    Step 3: Beat eggs lightly in large bowl. Mix in condensed milk, regular milk, vanilla and cinnamon. Break Italian bread into chunks and place in bowl to soak. Let soak for at least half and hour and then mix with hands to make sure there are no dry spots in the bread pieces. It’s okay if the bread pieces get really really small or even disappear. This bread pudding version doesn’t have large chunks of bread. Once it’s mixed, add the raisins and give one final mix.

    Step 4: Place bread pudding mixture into the caramelized pan. Place the pan in the hot boiling water (bain marie) and bake at 350 degrees for about 35 to 45 minutes or until the pudding is set and a knife placed in the center comes out clean.

    Cool the bread pudding on the counter for about half an hour before placing into the fridge to chill.

    I always loved eating the bread pudding with a drizzle of condensed milk over the top (have you guessed that Cubans love condensed milk yet?)

    Hope you try this out!

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    Grandma’s Chicken Soup #Recipe Kind of . . .

    Before I begin with this tribute to grandma and her fabulous cooking, a question for you. I’ve been thinking about compiling all the recipes into a cookbook that I would make available for sale. Any thoughts on that? I’d love to hear what you think about it.

    And now, for a little bit about my grandma. Her name was Nieves which is now my middle name. Her father was a blacksmith so that meant her family was a little better off than those in her little village in Galicia in Spain.

    Nieves was a very determined lady. She followed the love of her life to Cuba to find a better way of life and then took care of her daughter’s two little girls (my sister and me) for nearly two years as we tried to make our way out of Cuba and to the United States.

    She was loving and cared for us daily since my mom worked. We were very lucky to have her and granddad living with us. He was a kind, loving and gifted man who could make or fix anything with his hands. They both sacrificed a lot for us and for my mom and for that I am eternally grateful.

    My grandma could cook something truly delicious with what she had at home. Nothing went to waste. Nothing. So today’s recipe is my grandma’s recipe for soup, but with some changes. First, however, a picture of my grandparents and my mom!

    grandma_dad_mom

    Grandma’s Chicken Soup . . . Kind of

    Ingredients

    2 chicken breasts
    chicken parts if you have them (necks, wings and backs)
    1/2 cup finely chopped carrots
    1/4 cup finely chopped celery greens (the inside part of the hearts)
    1/2 cup finely chopped onions
    32 oz chicken broth
    32 oz water
    1 leek, sliced
    2 or 3 sprigs of fresh parsley
    1 cup sliced carrots (on a bias for a little nicer look)
    4 small corn cobs (or 2 large ones snapped in half)
    egg noodles (as many as you like! I like my soup really noodlely)

    Directions

    Saute chicken breasts in a large stockpot until just starting to brown.

    Add chopped carrots, celery and onions and sweat until onions are translucent. Do not brown.

    Add broth, water, leek, parsley and bring to a slow boil. Do not make it too hard a boil as it will cloud the broth.

    Let simmer for at least one hour. If you used chicken parts also, now is the time to remove them, take off any chicken meat and return just the meat to the pot.

    Add carrots and corn and cook for another hour. Taste for salt and add if necessary. Remove parsley sprigs.

    Add noodles when you are just ready to eat. Too far ahead and they will be soggy and soak up all the broth. One trick to consider is to boil the noodles in some chicken broth on their own and add to the plates as you serve. This will let you keep the rest of the soup for longer and also adjust noodlelyness (LOL!) to each person’s likes.

    For an added zip of taste, serve with lemon slices and squeeze a little juice into the soup.

    For another added zip, dice up some ripe avocado and spoon about 1/3 cup into the soup bowls. Yummy!

    You can also substitute cheese tortellini for the noodles for a change of pace.

    Hope you enjoyed today’s recipe.

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    Green Bean Casserole

    Courtesy Campbell's Kitchen Used under Fair Use ProvisionsWith the holidays here, this is one of my favorite dishes to put on the table! Yep, it’s the classic green bean casserole. My sister gave me an alternate recipe to use this Thanksgiving which was really tasty, but I also like this creamier traditional recipe, but with a little kick of course!

    For the Campbell’s Traditional Green Bean Casserole recipe, you can click here. But why not try this variation on the classic!

    Ingredients:

      1 medium onion chopped
      2 cloves garlic minced
      4 tablespoons butter
      4 cups cooked green beans (frozen or fresh work best)
      1 can Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup
      1/2 cup milk (or for an even creamier taste substitute half and half)
      1 to 2 cups French’s Cheddar Cheese Fried Onions
      1 cup parmesan cheese grated
      1 cup grated cheddar cheese

    Directions:

    • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    • If using fresh green beans, wash and cut into 2 inch pieces.
    • Steam/Microwave green beans until just tender. Set aside to cool in a large mixing bowl.
    • Saute onion and garlic in the butter over low heat until they are caramelized.
    • Add 1/2 cup milk/half & half and scrape all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan (this is much easier to do if you are using a non-stick pan.)
    • Add mushroom soup mix and stir until creamy.
    • Add onion/mushroom soup mixture to the green beans and toss. Then add 3/4 cups of both the parmesan and cheddar cheeses and toss. Also add about 1/2 cup of the French’s Fried Onions and toss.
    • Lightly grease 2 quart casserole dish. Place green bean mixture into casserole and top with the remaining French’s Fried Onions, parmesan and cheddar cheeses.
    • Bake in 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until bubbly.

    For another variation, fry up some chopped red peppers and add to the mixture!

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    Honey Cinnamon Roasted Chick Peas #Recipe #Healthy

    Before we get to today’s recipe, please take a moment to visit with me at my Smartgirls SciFi interview and a spotlight at Books a la Mode!

    Now for the recipe, kind of. My friends and I were chatting about diets in general and to be honest, it’s more about a lifestyle change and not just a diet. You go off diets and then you have that rebound that I’ve done more times than I care to think about.

    So this time I am committing to a change that will be more permanent. I’ve almost eliminated soda from my life. I limit myself to one a day. I’m drinking more water and watching my carbs. I went off a bit this weekend and all I could think about on Monday were bagels, muffins, donuts and all those things that I know do not sit well with me.

    I’m also trying to deal with cholesterol that’s a little too high and that prompted a discussion of honey and cinnamon. Apparently this combination has been touted as a cleanse, but apparently the two can also help lower your cholesterol.

    So I’ve been having both in my coffee and oatmeal, but I thought I’d search out a fun way to combine these two! Lucky for you I found an interesting recipe for Honey Cinnamon Roasted Chick Peas!

    Thanks to The Pastry Affair for the recipe. I can’t wait to try it out this weekend since I think I’ve got a can of chick peas sitting around. I usually use them to make hummus, but this sounds far tastier!

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    Jose Cuervo Smoothies

    SmoothieI was in Costco last weekend and came across Jose Cuervo Strawberry Margarita mix. Yum. The only thing tastier is a mango margarita, but I’m not sure that flavor is popular enough to merit a mix.

    But, I love strawberry margaritas and even better – It’s delicious as just a smoothie! Add a banana or some other fresh fruit or even some fruit sorbet to kick your smoothie up a notch.

    I haven’t tried adding a low fat yogurt or ice cream for a creamy smoothie, but I think I’ll give that a shot this weekend when I have some friends over.

    For more great Jose Cuervo products and recipes, you can visit www.cuervo.com.

    **Disclaimer: In my other life, Jose Cuervo is a client, but I’m offering you this Tuesday Tip because it’s an awfully good mix!

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    Kabobs the easy way!

    I love the taste of kabobs whether they have lamb, beef, chicken or shellfish. But the last thing I want to do at night after a long day at work is to come home and have to worry about skewering everything. Of course, I could do it the night before, but again, it’s too much effort on a weeknight.

    So what can you do if you love that melding of veggies, but don’t want all the work of kabobbing them?

    You can make your kabobs in the skillet sans skewering!

    Ingredients

    • Protein of your choice (or no protein for that matter)
    • One Red Pepper
    • One Onion
    • One small zucchini aka green squash
    • One small yellow squash
    • 8 or so small to medium mushrooms
    • One large tomato
    • 1/8 cup sherry/balsamic vinegar
    • 1/4 cup tomato sauce/juice/ketchup

    Directions

    Place a little olive oil in your skillet, preferably a large cast iron one. It’ll hold the heat better and will also give you some dietary iron for your system.

    Put the skillet on high heat and get it nice and warm. While you are doing that, wash and slice the mushrooms. Place them in the skillet to cook first on high heat. Mushrooms have a lot of water and you want to evaporate all that water and get the mushrooms starting to brown before you add any other veggies, otherwise you will just be steaming them and not pan broiling them.

    Next, cut the red pepper into inch cubes. Add to mushrooms once all the water is gone. Set the heat to medium-high.

    Cut the onions into one inch cubes. Once the red peppers are starting to sweat a little, add the onions. Give everything a good stir every now and then.

    Prep a second pan with a little oil for your protein or if you have a grill handy, get that warming up.

    On a different cutting board, slice your beef/lamb/pork/chicken into thin slices for faster cooking. If you’re using shrimp or scallops there is no need to do anything with them other than cook them.

    Chop the yellow and green squash in half and then slice into uniform slices. About 1/4 inch thick since we want it to cook fairly fast. Once the onions are starting to look translucent, toss in the squash.

    In the second pan, place your slices of meat or shellfish. Leave them on one side until they are starting to brown and then turn. Keep an eye on the veggies and give them a stir or two.

    While the meat/fish is cooking, slice the tomato into eighths and then cut those eighths in half. You want to toss the tomato in at that very last minute. You can also substitute grape or cherry tomatoes, but not very big ones.

    Once all the meat is cooked, place it on a plate and let it rest for a second. You are going to slice it into strips and then mix it in with the veggies. Once it is all mixed, add the sherry/balsamic vinegar (not apple vinegar as it is too strong) to the veggie/meat mix and stir. Then add the tomato sauce/juice/ketchup. Not too much. Give it a stir and cook for just a few minutes.

    That’s it. Skillet kabobs! Serve them over rice, couscous or rice pilaf.

    Hope you enjoyed this Tuesday’s Tip!

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    Low Fat Ambrosia

    pants.jpgThis is a Tuesday Tip for those of us in the Sisterhood of the Shrinking Pants! After the holidays (the food/the lack of time/the cold that wouldn’t go away) I’ve been back to eating better and working out regularly. The scale is moving downward slowly, but the inches are coming off nicely. Those pants that used to be tight are totally loose so I’ve moved down a size into a 10 for encouragement.

    They fit, muffin-top notwithstanding! I’ve been doing the same thing as before — lots of lean meats, vegetables and dark leafy greens. I’ve added the Quaker Weight Control Oatmeal (big yum) to my morning as breakfast and I’ve been trying to eat more fruit which I hadn’t been doing regularly. How have I done that — fresh fruit for sure, but also by concocting a lower fat and lower sugar version of my mom’s ambrosia.

    Picture of my mom, Carmen, as a little kidMy mom (and that’s a picture of her as a little kid) used to make the ambrosia with full fat sour cream, sugar, vanilla and fruit cocktail from a can. She also used to put coconut and cashews in hers, but I prefer my ambrosia without those.

    Actually, this version still uses fruit cocktail, but leaves out a lot of the fat and sugar. The Dole fruit cocktail I’m using is packed in passion fruit nectar, making it lighter, and it’s also got pineapple and red and yellow papaya chunks. It’s a great alternative to regular fruit cocktail, but you can substitute that. Just use the fruit cocktail packed in light syrup.

    Hope you enjoy this Tuesday Tip!

    Caridad’s Ambrosia

    Ingredients:

    Directions:

    In a big bowl (I make it right in the storage container where I am going to put it into the fridge), place the yogurt and marshmallows.

    Drain the juice from only one of the cans of fruit cocktail. You want to reserve the juice from the second fruit cocktail can in a cup for now.

    Add fruit to the yogurt and marshmallows and mix. It should be a little loose and that’s okay. Add about 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of the reserved liquid from the fruit cocktail into this fruit/yogurt mixture. It should be relatively loose, but don’t worry. The marshmallow is going to bind all the wet ingredients together.

    Cover your bowl and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours. Then enjoy!

    This is a great cool recipe for a hot summer night. Plus, your getting your servings of dairy and fruit all in one. Because you’ve used the juice from the fruit cocktail and low fat and low sugar yogurt, you’ve really cut out a lot of the original calories in the dish.

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    Lower Fat Chicken Parmigiana

    Photo Courtesy of Microsoft Online Clip ArtThere are some tried and true Italian dishes that satisfy no matter what and you can find at every typical Italian restaurant (like Luigi’s from THE CALLING vampire novels).

    Chicken parmigiana is one of those dishes, but when you’re trying to eat healthy, this kind of dish can be a problem. It’s breaded and fried. There’s the cheese with its animal fats and you generally serve it over/next to pasta, a problem if you’re watching carbs.

    So what can you do to enjoy this dish? Well, here’s some alternatives that will help you make a tasty chicken parmigiana that even your most difficult critic (like my Italian hubby) will enjoy! Try one or all of the alternatives.

    Lower Fat Chicken Parmigiana

    Step One: “Breading” the cutlets. This accounts for the step where you can lose the most calories!

  • First Alternative: Most Chicken Parmigiana is breaded and fried. If you don’t want to lose the breading, lose some of the fat by using either an egg white wash or just plain water to get the bread crumbs to adhere to the chicken breast. Lose the dredging the chicken in flour as well. Some will say it helps the bread crumbs stick better. I’ve always found that it just makes the bread crumbs fall off faster and adds extra carbs you don’t need. As for the frying part of this, try baking the chicken! Use a cooking oil spray and lightly grease a baking dish. Place the breaded chicken breasts in there and give the tops of the breasts a spritz with the cooking oil spray. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or so (or until the bread crumbs begin to brown).
  • Second Alternative: Again use an egg white wash or water, but this time, dredge the chicken breasts with a good freshly-grated parmesan cheese. In a frying pan spritzed with cooking oil spray, toast both sides of the chicken breasts. The cheese will create a coating on the chicken breasts.
  • Third Alternative: Lose the “breading” entirely to cut out the fat and carbs. Just brown the chicken breasts in a frying pan spritzed with cooking oil spray.
  • Step Two: Using either your own sauce or a bottled spaghetti sauce, spread a thin layer of sauce in a baking dish. Place the “breaded” chicken breasts on the sauce.

    Step Three: Place some sauce on the chicken and then a slice or two of a low-fat or fat-free mozzarella cheese on the chicken. For variety, you can also add a slice of prosciutto, grilled eggplant or zucchini or roasted red pepper on top of the chicken before you add the mozzarella. The addition of the lower fat vegetables really helps to make this a complete meal.

    Step Four: A little bit more sauce on top of the cheese/chicken (but not enough to hide all the cheese since you want it to get nice and toasty in the oven) and a fresh grate of some parmesan! Cook the dish at 350 for at least 30 minutes or so, until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese has browned a bit. You may want to even broil it for a few minutes to toast the cheese, but make sure you have a pan that can be used to broil.

    Last but not least, serve with a whole grain pasta or Barilla’s Plus pasta that has lower carbs.

    Hope you like this variation on an Italian Classic!

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    Meatloaf and Shephard Pie a la Carmen

    We woke up with a winter chill this morning. Brrr. What better time for warm comfort food to chase away that chill. This recipe is from my sister Carmen who is a fabulous cook! It’s got all the perfect mixings for a meal to warm your innards on a cold winter day. I hope you enjoy!

    Meatloaf and Shephard Pie a la Carmen

    2 pounds ground round beef
    1 Martin’s round potato roll broken into small pieces
    2 eggs
    1 ½ packages of Knorr brown gravy mix
    ½ cup ketchup
    ½ cup whole milk
    1 tsp salt
    Pillsbury Pie Crust (for pie)

    Preheat oven to 375º

    Mix all the ingredients except the ground beef in large bowl breaking up the bread (I use a whisk). Add the beef and gently incorporate – do not overmix.

    Place in loaf pan and spread out. Drizzle ketchup on top.

    Bake for 45-50 minutes and let sit for 15 minutes before serving.

    Serve with mashed potatoes and caramelized onions (onions that have been sautéed in butter, olive oil and salt until brown.

    Enjoy the meatloaf and if you’ve got some leftovers, it’s time for the Shephard’s Pie!

    Shepard’s Pie

    Using store bought pie crust place crust in pie pan. Cover with non-stick foil and bake with dry beans (I use the same ones over and over to keep the crust from lifting) at 375º for 20 minutes. Remove beans and foil and bake an additional 5 -10 minutes until golden brown.

    Spread caramelized onions on the bottom. Break up the left over meatloaf and place in pan. Spread leftover mashed potatoes over the meatloaf.

    Bake 20 minutes or until heated through.

    ***

    Here is a picture of me and my sis during one of our cooking moments!

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    Mexican Christmas Cookies

    Mexican Christmas CookiesWe didn’t do a lot of baking in our house. Mostly breads, occasionally cakes, but hardly ever cookies.

    My friend Kathy makes these wonderful walnut cookies at Christmas and a few years ago we discovered that they’re Mexican Wedding/Christmas cookies, although you can probably find similar cookies in many other cultures.

    Anyway, we all love these buttery nutty cookies! The hardest part of making them is shaping the cookies into a crescent shape, but more on that later. For now, here’s the recipe.

  • Ingredients:
    • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter at room temperature
      2 cups confectioner’s sugar
      1 teaspoon vanilla extract
      1/4 teaspoon almond extract
      2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
      1/4 teaspoon salt
      1 cup finely chopped walnuts (you can substitute pecans, hazalnuts, almonds or even pistachios!)

  • Instructions:
  • Preheat your oven to 325°F.

    Cream together the butter and 1 cup of the confectioner’s sugar with a mixer. Once the butter and sugar are smoothe, stir in the vanilla and almond extracts.

    Add one cup of flour little by little and finish by adding the salt. By now the mixture will be a little stiffer, so add the second cup of flour and the chopped walnuts and mix with a wooden spoon.

    Some people roll the dough into balls, but my friend Kathy makes them into little crescents. You do this by making a long rod with the dough and then pinching off a bit at t time. Place that bit on a non-greased cookie sheet and then pinch and curve into a half-moon shape.

    Keep the balls/crescents about one inch apart.

    Bake at 325°F until light golden brown (about 15 to 20 minutes).

    Let the cookies cool a bit, but not entirely.

    Place the remaining confectioner’s sugar in a flat dish. Once the cookies have cooled a bit, roll the cookies in the confectioner’s sugar in order to coat them completely. These are delicate cookies, so don’t rush the cooling/coating (unless you want to have a few cook’s treats to try!)

    If you make crescents, this recipe should yield about 18 cookies. If you make the balls (about 1 teaspoon of dough for each), it should yield about 3 dozen cookies.

    Make sure you have plenty of milk to eat these with! They are delicious.

    As for the holidays, here’s some of the special treats coming up this month!

  • December 5: Guest Blogger and Debut Author Rayna Vause will be here with excerpts from her new novel, Only in her dreams and a prize and I’ll be visiting the Romance Bandits!
  • December 12 to 24: Check out the Twelve Days of Chicas Tour! I’ll post more info on that shortly.
  • December 12: La Connie Taylor-Jones will be here to share information about her latest release, When I’m With You. Leave a comment on the blog for a chance to win a copy of SECRET AGENT REUNION, my August release.
  • December 19: Sydney Molare will be here to talk about her latest release, Devil’s Orchestra.
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    Mexican Recipes from SINS OF THE FLESH

    Mexican FlagI’ve had the pleasure of visiting Mexico on several occasions for business and totally enjoyed the time I spent there. The people are warm and gracious, the margaritas are refreshing and the food . . . Well, the food is divine. I could probably eat Mexican food every day and not complain!

    My experience with Mexican culture and the many Mexican-Americans in the Jersey Shore area is what led me to make the hero of SINS OF THE FLESH, Mick Carrera, a Mexican-American. As for the heroine, she is Mexican-Irish, a nod to my editor at Grand Central Publishing as well as to two cultures rich in the arts.

    There are a number of scenes in SINS OF THE FLESH where the characters are enjoying Mexican food prepared by Mick’s mother at his family’s Mexican restaurant. I’ve shared some Mexican/Tex-Mex recipes with you in the past.

    There was my ever popular party food – the layered Tex-Mex dip. You can get the recipe for that Tex-Mex dip, by clicking here.

    Or you can try some wonderful nutty and buttery Mexican Christmas Cookies by clicking here.

    My friends at Cuervo, who are celebrating their 250th anniversary, have a mess of great margarita recipes at their site. You can check out the Cuervo Margarita recipes by clicking on this link.

    But now, another recipe for one of the foods that you’ll see in SINS OF THE FLESH and it’s a simple one. While I love enchiladas and tamales, they are a lot of work. This is an easy recipe and one which you can use for your next party or as a side dish to your tacos, burritos or even as a topping on your hamburger.

    Guacamole

    • Ingredients
      • 2 ripe Florida Avocados (or 4 ripe Hass Avocados)
        Juice of two limes (about 1/4 cup)
        1 teaspoon ground cumin
        2-4 shots Cholula or Tabasco hot sauce (to your taste or omit if you do not like spicy)
        2 tablespoons olive oil
        1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
        1/2 cup medium onion finely chopped
        1 clove garlic finely minced
        Optional:
        2 ripe Roma Tomatoes, chopped
        1/2 cup queso fresco, crumbled
    • Directions
      • Slice the avocados in half and remove the seed. Scoop out the insides of 3/4 of the avocados. Leave 1/4 to the side for now.
        Mash the avocados with a fork and add the lime juice and remaining ingredients. Mix together.
        Chop the remaining 1/4 avocado into small pieces and add to your mixture. If you’ve chosen to add the tomatoes and queso fresco, add the tomatoes now and 1/4 cup of the queso fresco.
        Mix all the ingredients lightly. Garnish with the remaining queso fresco.

    I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s Tuesday Tip. Just to make it all clear and legal, Cuervo is one of my clients, but I’m recommending their products because they make a wonderful tequila! FYI – If you ever have a chance to visit the city of Tequila in Mexico, see if you can spend some time at Mundo Cuervo, a cultural center established by Jose Cuervo and dedicated to Mexico and the history of tequila. I’ve been there and it is absolutely amazing!

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    MOJITO #Recipe from The Perfect Mix #TuesdayTip

    badboysadfront200THE PERFECT MIX will be available in mid-February, but you can also pre-order the Lucky 7 Bad Boys Contemporary Romance Boxed set which contains my book as well as six other fabulous novels by my friends Sophia Knightly, Tawny Weber, Nina Bruhns, Susan Hatler, Virna DePaul, and Kristin Miller!

    As I’ve mentioned, the heroine in my book, Bianca, is a chef who is renovating a restaurant with her two best friends. The restaurant will have a Cuban theme and you can’t have a Cuban place without mojitos!

    Mojitos are your typical Cuban cocktail and quite tasty. Plus, you can vary the taste by making them with flavored rums. It’s a light and refreshing cocktail and a little dangerous because it’s easy to forget that it’s got alcohol in it! Now the typical mojito is made with muddled mint leaves, but I HATE mint, so I usually leave it out. But for now, here’s the recipe for a mojito.

    Mojito #Recipe

    mojitoMaking a symple syrup

    2 parts sugar
    1 part water

    Boil for about five minutes until the sugar is dissolved.
    Cool and store in the fridge.

    The Mojito Cocktail

    2 oz simple syrup
    2 oz white rum
    1 oz fresh lime juice
    4 oz club soda
    Mint leaves
    Lime for garnish

    Place the mint leaves in a glass together with the simple syrup. Muddle the two together. That means, mush the mint leaves with something. Add the rum and lime juice. Put a cocktail shaker up top and shake! Pour into a tall glass and add the club soda and ice. Garnish with the lime and a fresh sprig of mint.

    As I mentioned, you can change out the white rum with a mango rum, coconut rum or any other flavored rum that you’d like to try.

    Have a great one!

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    Mouth-watering Meatloaf

    meatloaf1.jpgThe weather is dreary here in the Northeast which brings wishes for all kinds of comfort foods. One of my favorites was always meatloaf and my grandma’s was a tasty treat covered with a tomato sauce and stuffed with two hard boiled eggs.

    However, I must say my sister has totally redefined meatloaf for me! She has come up with this easy recipe and it’s totally delicious. Here goes:

  • Ingredients
      2 (two) pounds lean ground meat
      1 soft potato roll (or other soft bread/roll)
      1 cup milk
      1 cup ketchup
      2 eggs
      1 package Knorr brown gravy mix
      salt and pepper to taste
  • How to Make:
  • Preheat oven to 325.
    Soak soft roll in the milk.
    Beat eggs.
    Add eggs and ketchup to roll/milk combo and mix together.
    Add brown gravy mix and stir.
    Finally, add meat, mix with your hands and finish with salt and pepper to taste.
    Lightly grease a loaf pan and add meat mixture.
    Cook at 325 for about one and a half hours.

    I have to tell you that this meatloaf is totally yummy. Never dry and the flavor is rich. We never even use any gravy on it, although that would be good. Especially if you were having it next to some creamy mashed potatoes and buttery green peas.

    Comfort food. Delicious. I haven’t tried this with ground turkey for those of us who are trying to lose weight, but just be mindful that some of that ground turkey has as much fat as a really lean ground beef.

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    Multi-Grain French Toast in the Oven #Recipe

    My favorite meal of the day is breakfast! I could eat eggs, pancakes, french toast, bacon, etc. at any time of the day. In fact, when hubby and I hit one of our local Jersey diners, I almost always get a breakfast kind of meal for dinner.

    But as you know, I’ve been trying to eat healthier and change my lifestyle. That doesn’t necessarily mean losing some favorites, just making them healthier.

    This recipe is not only healthier, but easier than regular french toast. Why? Well, it’s all assembled in the fridge the night before, so no hurried make each toast and hope it soaks enough, etc.

    I use this recipe when I have company staying over, like my writing buddies for a weekend. It lets me still get some writing done in the morning and lets them get some sleep until the aromas of the french toast make them too hungry to stay asleep! LOL!

    Multi-Grain French Toast in the Oven

    You will need the following ingredients:

    1 loaf slightly stale multi-grain bread (you can also use challah or raisin cinnamon bread)
    8 eggs
    2 cups 2% milk
    1/2 cup low fat half & half
    1/2 cup flour
    1/2 brown sugar
    2/3 cup honey
    1 stick butter (softened)
    2 tbsp vanilla
    2 tsp cinnamon

    Directions:

    Lightly grease a 9×13 baking dish. Break bread into chunks and place in the baking dish.

    Mix the eggs, milk, half & half, vanilla, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1/3 cup honey together. Pour over the bread. Cover and place in the refrigerator.

    In the morning, preheat the oven to 350. Mix the softened butter, 1/3 cup honey, 1 tsp cinnamon and brown sugar. When that’s mixed, add the flower. Remove your baking dish with the bread from the fridge. Cover with the butter/sugar mixture.

    Bake for 45 minutes to an hour (depending on how set you like your french toast!).

    Serve with maple syrup and/or honey and/or powdered sugar. Some turkey bacon on the side to watch the calories and fat again!

    Hope you enjoyed today’s recipe.
    FrenchToast

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    Nutty Granola Bar #Recipe

    Sometimes at the end of the work day, I need a quick pick-me-up on the train ride home and to tide me over during my workout. I try to keep things healthy and not grab something bad at the local deli and lately I’ve taken to keeping some kind of granola bar in my knapsack for that quick bite.

    Of course, those quick bites can be chock full of calories also, so I try to be careful about what I grab. Because of that, the thought of making my own bars with my favorite things popped into my head and after scouring the Net, I’ve come up with this Nutty Granola Bar recipe.

    Nutty Granola Bar

    1/2 cup melted Almond Butter (you can substitute peanut butter)
    1/4 cup fat free condensed milk (not evaporate – condensed! The really thick sweet stuff)
    4 cups rolled oats
    1/4 cup honey (or agave syrup **warning** agave is way sweeter!)
    1/2 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts/almonds/peanuts)
    1/4 dried cranberries (or raisins)

    You can also mix into the above:

      Flaxseed
      Chia Seeds
      Chocolate Chips
      Butterscotch Chips
      Cinnamon

    Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a 9×13 pan.

    Mix all of the above in a bowl. If the mixture is too dry, add a little more almond butter and/or condensed milk. Press the mixture into the 9×13 pan. Cook for about 25 minutes.

    Take it out of the oven and let it cool a little bit. Cut out your squares or bars while it’s still hot. It’ll make it easier to get them out of there when they are cool. This will make about a dozen bars for you.

    If you are lactose intolerant and can’t handle the condensed milk, substitute more almond butter and/or peanut butter for the milk. Also, if you find it’s too sweet, also substitute the nut butter for the condensed milk.
    granolabars

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    Peach Amaretto Cake #Recipe

    It’s summer and that means lots of peaches and nectarines ready to eat in all kinds of ways. Take a bite, cut them up into fruit salad, regular salad, sangria, pies, tarts and cakes.

    I’ve never made a peach cake, but I was inspired by this week’s America’s Test Kitchen which had some tips on how to avoid a soggy peach cake. Apparently peaches have less pectin than other fruits which makes them release liquid that isn’t bound up with the pectin.

    The solution: Roasting the peaches for 20 to 25 minutes and tossing them with crushed panko crumbs before you mix them in with the cake batter.

    I wish I could say that I’d make the cake from scratch, but unfortunately, time does not allow that in my life, so I am substituting a pound cake mix for the batter and since I love nectarines more than peaches, I’ll be using those in my cake.

    Ingredients

    2 1/2 pounds of peaches (or nectarines) cut into wedges.
    4 teaspoons Lemon Juice
    4 tablespoons amaretto (you can substitute peach schnapps or rum here also)
    4 tablespoons sugar
    1/3 cup panko crumbs

    For topping: 3 tablespoons sugar with 1 teaspoon of almond extract

    For the Cake: Cake Mix of your choice, but choose a slightly denser cake mix, like pound cake or a mix for an upside down cake. 1 teaspoon of almost extract.

    Directions

    Place cut peaches into the lemon juice, rum and sugar. Let it macerate for at least 20 to 30 minutes.

    Remove about 2 dozen of the peach wedges and set aside. Cut the remaining peach wedges into thirds and place on a greased foil-covered baking sheet Bake at 425 for about 20 to 25 minutes. Set aside to cool and reduce oven temperature to that recommended for your cake mix.

    Grease a 9 inch springform pan. If you wanted to really boost the almond taste, you could finely grind almonds and use them to “flour” the inside of the springform pan.

    Make your cake mix, adding 1 teaspoon of almond extract.

    Once peach wedges are cooled, toss with crushed panko and gently fold into cake mix.

    Pour cake mix into springform pan and place the reserved peach wedges on top as a nice design. Sprinkle the almond-sugar mixture over the top. Bake until center of the cake is set and a toothpick comes out clean. Probably around 40 to 50 minutes.

    Remove from oven and cool. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

    PeachAmarettoCake

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    Pecan Pie An American Tradition

    One of the things my mother stressed when we were kids was that we should honor the culture and traditions of the Nation that had gifted us with Liberty and a wealth of opportunities we would not have had in our native land. Because of that, when it came time to celebrate American holidays, my mom went all out to bring to our family and friends those things that she thought were truly American.

    Pecan pie was one of those things and my sister continues with this tradition every Thanksgiving. Sis is the one who does this fantastic American holiday while I do Christmas Eve with a meld of American, Cuban and Italian flavors.

    So why is pecan pie so American? For starters, pecans come from a hickory tree that is native to South-Central North America. While that means there are some pecan trees in areas of Mexico, the pecan tree is really prevalent in most of the southern United States.

    Did you know “pecan” was an Algonquian meaning that the nut required a stone to be cracked open?

    As for the origins of the pie itself, there is some dispute about that. Some say it was first made in New Orleans when the French learned about the nut from the Native Americans. But recipes for the pie itself do not begin to appear in more well-known cookbooks until the 1940s. That could be because Karo Syrup made the dish popular in the 1930s.

    My sister follows the Karo syrup recipe which you can find by clicking here. But the trick to make this really nutty and hearty is to at least double the number of pecans suggested in the recipe.

    So instead of six ounces, use at least twelve or maybe even an entire pound bag of pecans. You will have to adjust the size of the pie plate to allow for the greater volume, but you will get a delicious, sweet, chewy, nutty pie with this variation.

    You can also add some bourbon and/or chocolate to the recipe. Substitute 2 tablespoons of bourbon for the vanilla or add 3 ounces of semi-sweet chopped chocolate to the mix (or make it a combo of bourbon and chocolate!).

    Pecan pie is wonderful served warm with a topping of either whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

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    Pesto and Some Tips for Losing Weight

    I really was struggling with what to give you as a Tuesday Tip, torn as I am between sharing a wonderful recipe and some tips for losing weight. So I decided to do a little bit of both!

    Today’s recipe uses basil from the bumper crop that is growing in my garden (and which the gopher that has taken up residence there clearly doesn’t like).

    Today’s recipe is also one that can be varied in many ways, including one that is lower-in-fat and tasty. It’s also one that Dani and Mitch from SECRET AGENT REUNION might have shared in Rome. In fact, in the delightful Spirito di Vino restaurant that is mentioned in the book, we had a wonderful variation made with almonds and cream (so totally not diet friendly!)

    So, here goes with my recipe for pesto and some suggestions for making it lower in fat, but not lacking in taste.

    Image from Wikipedia and courtesy of Paul GoyetteGenoese-style Pesto

  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves
  • approx. 1 cup extra virgin olive oil (Costco sells its own brand for about $12 dollars and it is amazingly fruity and tasty)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 6 large cloves garlic (You may add more to really keep away the vampires, but at some point, the garlic will overpower everything else)
  • fresh ground pepper and salt to taste
  • In a skillet (cast iron or non-stick) over medium heat, toast the pine nuts for 10–15 minutes, checking often to avoid excessive browning or burning. Set aside a handful of the nuts to place whole over the pasta.

    Combine about 1/2 the oil with the basil, garlic, cheese and the remaining pine nuts in a food processor or blender and chop finely. While the processor is still running, slowly add the remaining oil to reach a paste-like consistency.

    You can use the pesto immediately or cover it with a thin layer of olive oil and refrigerate in an airtight container for up to one week. You can also freeze the pesto for several months.

    Now, I know you are thinking nuts, cheese and oil? Low-fat? You are right about that, so what can you do to lower the calories and the fat content?

    Reduce the amount of oil to 1/2 cup. That will make the pesto much thicker and so it will require a bit of thinning when it is to be mixed with the pasta. How do you thin it without losing taste?

    When you boil the pasta and are ready to get rid of the water, keep about 1 cup of the pasta water. Use this pasta water, which has flavor and nutrients from the pasta, to thin the pesto once you have mixed it into the pasta.

    Also, since we’re talking tips for losing weight and healthier eating, use a whole grain pasta. I must confess to not finding anything appealing about whole wheat pasta, but Barilla has a great lower carb pasta that contains other grains and has protein as well. Just make sure to carefully watch it, as unlike other Barilla pasta, it can get mushy.

    What else can you do with the above basic recipe?

    Try an even lower fat and more antioxidant rich Sicilian-style pesto. Chop up about 3 cups of plum tomatoes, making sure to catch all the rich juices as you do so. Mix the tomatoes in with about a cup of the pesto. Serve this mixture at room temperature over pasta. It’s a great light summer meal. You can also cool the pasta and mix it with this tomato pesto for a summer salad. Top with low-fat mozzarella for an added twist or with some grilled shrimp, chicken or tuna.

    One other thing — pine nuts can be pricey, I know. Also hard to find in some areas. So what can you do? I substitute 1/2 cup walnuts or almonds which are far less expensive and give an even richer and nuttier taste. Also, nuts are packed with nutrients and healthy non-animal fats.

    How else can you vary this recipe? Add some grilled or roasted eggplant (which I must battle the gopher for as well!). Roasted peppers make a nice addition and can also be blended into the basic recipe for some sweetness or just use mostly roasted red peppers instead. Finally, for a little kick, mince a jalapeno pepper and toss it into the mix.

    I hope you’ve liked this recipe and the tips for making it healthier and different.

    Speaking of healthier, my friend Carole Carson has tons of great advice on health and weight loss at her website, from FROMFAT2FIT.COM. Also check out Carole’s blog!

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    Pound of Feathers or Lead? Serving Sizes Matter

    As some of you may know from my Twitter and Facebook Posts, my goal for the New Year is to get healthier and lose weight. I’ve always stuck to an exercise regimen, but found that losing weight was just not happening in the past couple of years.

    One thing that I had not done, as I had in the past, was limit my carbs. That was step one and wow, what a difference. Cutting back and substituting whole grain carbs has made a HUGE difference. It’s been just two weeks and I’ve lost 11 pounds.

    The other thing I’m doing is being more conscious of serving sizes. Let’s face it, it’s tough to know what is a cup of anything and the last thing I want to do is to turn cooking dinner into a chemistry lab where I am busily measuring everything.

    But serving sizes do matter and with that in mind, I laid out a tablespoon on the kitchen counter and took my plastic measuring cups to my office, where most of my mot egregious eating happens at lunch hour with my friends. The goal: make sure that the size of my portions was in keeping with the serving size so that I would know just how many calories I was eating!

    But measuring cups and spoons are not always available, so how do you know when it’s one serving or more?

    I’ve tracked down this excellent visual comparison from the people at the Food Network! Just click here to see how you can gauge just how many servings are in your portion!

    My hardest one to judge is always meats. Now I know that of beef/chicken/pork looks like a deck of cards or my palm without my fingers (another good way to gauge). So how many ounces is in a meat serving? 3 ounces. If you’re eating fish, three ounces looks like the size of a checkbook.

    If you’re going to have a larger portion (8 ounces) of meat, a serving is about the size of a thin paperback novel.

    I hope this helps out if like me, you’re trying to implement a healthier lifestyle for the New Year.

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    Raspberry Expresso Cake by Lois Winston

    LOVE, LIES AND A DOUBLE SHOT OF DECEPTIONTime for a tasty treat this Tuesday. This wonderful recipe comes courtesy of my friend and fellow author, Lois Winston, whose latest release is LOVE, LIES AND A DOUBLE SHOT OF DECEPTION. Besides being an award-winning writer – did I mention her latest book is nominated for a Golden Leaf award?– Lois is an amazing artist who went to art school and has had a fairly successful career as a writer and designer in the consumer crafts industry, designing craft and needlework projects for kit manufacturers as well as magazine and book publishers.

    She’s always got the best promo items, usually handcrafted by Lois herself which makes them particularly special. In addition, Lois also offers up craft ideas and wonderful foods in her various novels. Lois has kindly offered to share this recipe for a cake that appeared in her first book, TALK GERTIE TO ME. The cake includes one of my favorites — espresso! You can never go wrong with some cafe con leche.

    lwexpresso.jpg

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    Ricotta & Parmesan Tomatoes #Recipe #healthy

    I’ve got some tomatoes already set on my plants (yeah!) and can’t wait for them to ripen so I can have some tomatoes right off the vine. In the meantime, I’ll use the store bought ones to make something really tasty and healthy!

    This recipe was inspired by one from Fitness Magazine for Parmesan Tomatoes. I know my recipe adds some calories due to the reduced fat ricotta (about 30 calories per serving), but this will make a nice side dish.

    Ricotta & Parmesan Tomatoes

    4 Roma Tomatoes, cut in half and cored
    1/2 cup reduced fat ricotta cheese
    1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
    1/8 cup chopped fresh basil (or if using dried, 1 tablespoon)
    Olive Oil (a few teaspoons to oil the pan)

    Place a paper towel in a strainer and let ricotta sit there for about half an hour. This will help draw out the moisture and keep the insides from being so runny.

    Preheat oven to 450. Oil baking sheet with olive oil.

    Cut Roma tomatoes in half (either way although if you go the short way you may need to take a bit off the bottom for them to stand upright). Oil the tomato bottoms and place on baking sheet.

    Mix basil and ricotta. Spoon 1/8 cup into each tomato half. Pepper to taste. I don’t use salt since the parmesan has a ton of it, but you may wish to also salt at this point.

    Sprinkle ricotta with parmesan cheese.

    Bake at 450 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes or until tomatoes are soft and parmesan is toasty. You may even wish to give it a little broil for that extra caramelization.

    For a variation on this theme, try the recipe with some zucchini halves or eggplant. Just one caution on the eggplant, you may have to cook it a little before so that it’s fully cooked.

    tomatoricotta

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    Ripe Plantains and Behind the Scenes of SINS OF THE FLESH

    Mexican Food RecipeWhen I was researching SINS OF THE FLESH, I wanted to make sure that I gave readers a taste of the characters in a variety of ways, including in the foods that they would eat. Since my research revealed a large Mexican population down the shore as well as in towns like Freehold, it seemed that my mercenary and ex-Army Ranger hero, Mick Carrera, would be Mexican.

    And since I love books with foods/chefs (THE PERFECT MIX, SEX AND THE SOUTH BEACH CHICAS and MORE THAN A MISSION), it only seemed right that after Mick’s family had legally immigrated to the United States, they would succeed in their American Dream by opening a Mexican restaurant in one of the shore towns.

    But Mexican food is more than tacos and burritos or the Tex-Mex dip recipe I gave you so long ago. I’ve been lucky to visit Mexico City, Tequila and Guadalajara on various occasions and sample the amazing dishes available in those cities (as well as the margaritas!).

    But today’s Tuesday Tip comes courtesy of a visit that my daughter paid to a local Mexican restaurant in Philadelphia. She made the dish for us and it was delicious. Plus, it’s simple and incredibly tasty. What could be better? So here is today’s Tuesday Tip Recipe:

    Ingredients:

    • ripe plantains (2) or 2 packages of Goya Frozen Ripe Plantains
    • sour cream
    • queso fresco
    • chopped chives

    Directions:

    • 1. Most stores carry plantains, but they must be ripe for this recipe. That means they should have a deep yellow/spotted black outer skin so they will be sweet. Getting them perfectly ripe can be hard, which is why I cheat and rely on the Goya Frozen Ripe Plantains. Always ripe, no peeling and lots of sweet.
    • 2. If you’re using fresh plantains, peel them. Cut diagonally into ovalish slices. Alternative – open the Goya box.
    • 3. Fry up the plantains, either in vegetable oil or butter. This is one time not to use virgin olive oil because it will overpower the sweetness factor. Cook until golden and caramelized.
    • 4. Place the fried plantains on a slightly greased serving dish (They are so sugary, they will stick!).
    • 5. Garnish with sour cream, some crumbled queso fresco (available in the dairy section) and the chopped chives.
    • 6. Serve. This recipe will comfortably provide a side dish or appetizer for 4 to 5 people.

    Hope you enjoyed today’s Behind the Scenes look and Tuesday Tip recipe!

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    Roasted Brussel Sprouts & #Giveaway

    I know brussel sprouts are a love-em or hate-em kind of vegetable. In our family, it’s a love-em relationship with these little green sprouts! One of the reasons is because of how versatile they are.

    Today’s recipe is downright easy. If you want to dress up the brussel sprouts once they’re roasted, trying adding some bacon, dried cranberries or walnuts. Maybe even a balsamic glaze. Whatever you do, don’t add fresh cranberries. We did that one year and ruined a wonderful batch of brussel sprouts.

    Roasted Brussel Sprouts

    1 pound brussel sprouts, washed and sliced in half
    1/4 extra virgin olive oil
    3 cloves garlic, chopped
    1 tsp salt

    Directions

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a baking dish or large cookie sheet. You want to have only one layer of brussel sprouts on the dish.

    Place oil in a bowl together with the salt and garlic. Use a fork and mash the garlic a little to release the oils. Add brussel sprouts and toss to coat them with the oil. If they look too dry, add a little more oil, but you don’t want them swimming in oil, just coated.

    Spread brussel sprouts across the baking dish and cook for 15 minutes. Turn the brussel sprouts and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes or until the brussel sprouts are getting a little caramelized.

    And that’s it! Easy, right?

    Don’t forget to visit with me on today’s blog tour stops!

    Tuesday, December 10, 2013
    Loralee Lillibridge – Blogging Across the Back Fence {Spotlight}
    Paranormal Dimensions {Spotlight}
     

    brusselsprouts

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    Roasted Pepper #Recipe & #Giveaway

    Before we get to today’s Tuesday Tip, please visit with me at My Not So Vacant Shelf Blogspot later today for a chance to win a copy of THE PRINCE’S GAMBLE e-book!

    And now, on to roasted peppers. Today’s tips are really more about how to make them! I know you can buy them in the store, but nothing tastes better than a freshly roasted pepper. Plus, you mostly find red roasted pepper in the stores, but once you master how to make them, you can roast up all kinds of peppers. Cubanelles, anchos, jalapenos, you name it. You’ll be thankful for it since with this knowledge you’ll be able to make all kinds of recipes, like:

    You can mix in any kind of pepper in the recipes above or a favorite recipe. For example, how about a Roasted Pepper Alfredo? In fact, use this recipe I’m about to give you, thin it out with a little milk, heat and pour over pasta. YUMMY!! Trust me.

    But first: How do you roast a pepper?

    I do mine on the gas grill, but you can also do them in the broiler or like my grandma used to do, on the electric range element. That takes asbestos hands and you’ll likely set off your smoke alarm, so better to stick to the grill or broiler.

    Wash the peppers and either place them on the grill or on a lightly oiled baking pan. If using the broiler, get it cranking and use a small ball of aluminum foil to prop open the door to keep the broiler going.

    Place the peppers on the top rack directly below the broiler. If you’re using the gas grill, put them right on the lightly oiled grill racks.

    Now, wait until the skin on the one side is black and charred, then flip to the next side. Keep on doing this until all the sides are blackened, but don’t overdo. The peppers will keep on cooking even after you take them off the rack/broiler.

    Place the charred peppers in a plastic storage container and seal it. Let the peppers cool to room temperature. They will steam and finish cooking in the container and the steam will make taking the charred skin off that much easier.

    When cool enough to handle, remove the skin by hand and toss. DO NOT WASH the peppers. They will lose a lot of their taste. Also, don’t throw away that nice brown liquid that’s in the plastic container. Mix that in to whatever you are making for a blast of smokey taste!

    That’s it. If you want to be a purist, a little salt, olive oil and finely minced garlic over the peppers and you’re ready to eat with a hearty bread to soak up the oil and juices.

    Red Pepper and Scallion Cream Cheese

    1 large roasted pepper
    Juice from the steaming
    1 bar cream cheese
    Chopped scallions

    You can either mash the peppers by hand or using a food processor. Once mashed, add the liquid and the cream cheese and mix. To finish, hand blend the chopped scallions. Spread on a nicely toasted bagel, muffin or toast or add milk to thin and heat. Mix in some cooked pasta and you’ve got an easy Alfredo!

    peppers

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    Ropa Vieja from THE PERFECT MIX Lucky 7 Bad Boys Boxed Set

    badboysadfront200THE PERFECT MIX will be available in mid-February, but you can also pre-order the Lucky 7 Bad Boys Contemporary Romance Boxed set which contains my book as well as six other fabulous novels by my friends Sophia Knightly, Tawny Weber, Nina Bruhns, Susan Hatler, Virna DePaul, and Kristin Miller!

    Why am I mentioning THE PERFECT MIX and the awesome Lucky 7 Bad Boys? Well, in my story the heroine, Bianca, is a chef. Perfect since I love to cook as you know. Rey, the sexy bad boy, is a contractor who is renovating a restaurant for Bianca and her friends. It’s going to be a Cuban restaurant and one of the dishes on the menu is Ropa Vieja, a shredded beef in tomato sauce dish.

    Now a word of warning before I begin this recipe. First, if you go into a Cuban restaurant and they don’t have some variation on this dish – RUN! This is a classic dish and I’ve only gone to one place that didn’t have it. Of course, that place also didn’t have any plantains on the menu and the bartender didn’t know how to make a mojito. It turned out to be a big mistake.

    Also, this dish takes time, but it does triple duty as you’ll see from the recipe.

    Fun Fact: Ropa vieja means “old clothes” in Spanish. When you think about old clothes being thread-bare and shredded, it kind of makes sense since this is a shredded beef dish.

    Ingredients

    Preparing the beef for shredding

    2 lbs lean brisket (or flank steak) cut into quarters against the grain
    2 coarsely chopped onion
    2 celery stalks cut in half
    2 large carrots – cut in quarters
    2 garlic cloves chopped
    2 bay leaves
    black pepper to taste
    Enough water to cover the meat and other ingredients in your pot

    Boil the brisket until fork tender. Do not do a hard boil as it will cloud the water, but a soft rolling boil. When fork tender, take the meat out and let it cool. Take out the celery and carrots. Toss the celery *yuk I hate celery*, but save the carrots. They make a nice cold carrot salad.

    Preparing the tomato sauce for the beef

    1 cup chopped red pepper
    1 cup chopped green pepper
    2 cups chopped onions
    2 garlic cloves
    1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes and one small can tomato sauce
    2 bay leaves
    1 tablespoon oregano
    Salt & pepper to taste
    Olive oil

    Start by sauteing the red and green peppers in the olive oil until they begin to soften. Then add the onions and cook until translucent. Do not brown.

    Add the garlic and cook it for just a little bit.

    Then add the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, bay leaves and oregano. Simmer for at least half an hour.

    While this is simmering, shred the beef. Brisket and/or flank steak have a very pronounced grain and you can just pull and it will come apart into shreds. Keep them small. No longer than about 2 inches and not very thick either. You want the meat to absorb some of the tomato goodness.

    When the beef is shredded, add it to the cooked tomato sauce and then simmer this again for about an hour or so to allow the tomato and beef to marry.

    That’s it! I usually serve this dish over white rice with a side of ripe plantains.

    Now why did I say this dish does triple duty?

    Well, you’ve got that beef broth for starter. In my house I reduce it, add caramelized onions and make onion soup.

    Also, I always make extra beef so that I can make another Cuban dish, vaca frita (fried cow).

    I hope you’ll try this out one day!

    Thanks to Marc Averette for releasing his ropa vieja photo into the public domain.

    ropavieja

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    Sangria – Sweet and Sexy

    sangriaI don’t know why, but toward the end of the summer I developed a taste for sangria again. Maybe because it was a delightful way to cool off on those hot summer days and nights. I’ve been playing with the recipe and have created this refreshing variation on the traditional mix!

    I hope you enjoy it.

    Caridad’s Sweet and Sexy Sangria

    Ingredients

      1 bottle red wine (a Malbec, Rioja, Cabernet or Pinot Noir will do. Maipe Malbec is great and sub $10 at Costco)
      1/2 bottle Chilled Martinelli’s Sparkling Apple Cider (or any other sparkling cider)
      2 oranges
      1 cup frozen strawberries
      1/2 cup grapes

    Directions

    • Peel oranges. Cut into eighths and then cut the eighths in half. Cut grapes in half. Cut frozen strawberries in half.
    • Place fruit into a pitcher and add wine. Let fruit and wine macerate for at least 10 minutes in the refridgerator. If you can wait longer, the flavors will be better.
    • Add chilled sparkling cider to fruit and wine mixture.
    • Remove some fruit from this mix and place in individual glasses. Pour wine/cider mixture into the glass and serve.

    What I like about this mix is that you get the extra fruitiness and sweetness with the addition of the cider and don’t have to add sugar to get that.

    Some recipes call for lemon in the mix and also don’t ask you to peel the citrus, but I find that the lemon and the peels make the mix too acidic. For a change of pace, cube some apples and toss them in or go even more tropical with some pineapple and changing to a white wine.

    Hope you enjoyed today’s Tuesday Tip.

    Don’t forget to drop by Julia Amante’s blog for a chance to win a copy of SINS OF THE FLESH and a T-shirt. You can click here to visit Julia Amante’s blog.

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    Scottish Shortbreads from Irene Peterson

    KISSES TO GO - Available NowThis Tuesday Tip – a recipe for Scottish Shortbreads- is from my friend Irene Peterson whose latest release – KISSES TO GO - is on the shelves right now!

    From Irene:
    When first married, I lived across the street from three ladies from Scotland. Trying to impress them, I made some shortbread, only I didn’t have butter, so I used margarine. They said the cookies were lovely, but what were they?

    INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup softened unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (use the real stuff)
  • pinch of salt
  • PREPARATION:Mix together the flour and salt in a bowl. In separate bowl, cream together butter, vanilla and sugar until light and fluffy. Add dry ingredients a small amount at a time, kneading into creamed mixture. You might want to use your hands for this.

    Turn dough onto floured surface and pat or roll out to 1/4″ thickness. Cut into squares (the traditional shape is a triangle or pie shaped from a round) and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Prick lightly with fork. Bake at 325° for approximately 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on racks and store in airtight containers.
    Scottish piper
    If you make some, send me a few! I love shortbreads, although it’s kind of like applying the fat directly to the hips.

    Scotland is one of those places high on my list of places to go. Must be the Celt in me that feels something for the Scots, although I refuse to try the haggis!

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    Sex by Chocolate for Two Ice Cream by Lois Winston

    With the weather finally getting warmer, I thought Lois Winston‘s recipe was the perfect Tuesday Tip for today!

    Lois Winston's Sex by Chocolate

    thanks.gifThanks for this wonderful recipe, Lois!

    Lois’s latest novel – Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception – is available now! Here’s some info on it:

    Christina Skye
    New York Times Bestselling
    Author of Code Name: Blondie

    “Smart, witty fun from an author on the rise!”
    A WHOLE LATTE LOVIN’
    Logan Crawford is gorgeous, charming, and his kisses make Emma feel like she’s the only woman in the world. Oh, plus he’s a billionaire. Not that Emma needs the money. As Philadelphia’s most beloved heiress, she has it all: the grand estate, flashy sports car, high-society connections. But the haunted widow also has dark secrets, and someone out there doesn’t want to let Emma forget her past quite so easily. Trouble is brewing darker than a double espresso for Emma and her newfound love. Now if only she can keep from getting burned…

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    Shredded Chicken #Recipe for Tacos & Enchiladas & More!

    We’re all pressed for time so finding a recipe that almost cooks itself is always fabulous. Plus, you can use the shredded chicken that you make in an assortment of dishes or vary it a little to create something new.

    This recipe slow cooks the chicken in either a slow cooker or rice cooker, but I’ve also made it with a pan on the stovetop using a slow simmer. It’s just easier in the slow/rice cooker since you don’t have to mind it as much.

    Shredded Chicken

    2 to 4 chicken breasts (one per person)
    1 16 oz bottle salsa
    1 can ROTEL tomatoes & chiles

    Slice chicken breasts in half length-wise. Place 16oz bottle of salsa in slow/rice cooker or pot. Add chicken and mix. Simmer/cook for two hours.

    Remove chicken from salsa and using two forks, shred the chicken. Reduce the sauce in the slow/rice cooker or pot in half. Drain the can of ROTEL tomatoes and chiles and add to sauce. Return chicken to salsa/Rotel mixture and cook a little more.

    You can use the shredded chicken to fill your hard or soft tacos or flour tortillas. Use on top of salad for a taco salad variation.

    Change up the recipe by substituting your favorite BBQ sauce (mine is Sweet Baby Ray’s) for the salsa. You can make a pulled chicken sandwich by making that change!

    Hope you liked today’s Cook’s Treat!

    shreddedchicken

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    Spaghetti Squash Bake

    This recipe will take a little bit of time to make but it is definitely worth the effort, especially if you are trying to watch bad carbs and need the taste of some comfort food along the lines of mac and cheese.

    The first thing you need to do is to prep the squash.

    Directions for the squash:

    • Cut the squash lengthwise
    • Scoop out the seeds
    • Lightly grease a baking dish and lay the squash open/flat side down on the dish.
    • Bake at 375 for approximately 35-40 minutes (until you can pierce the rind and the flesh beneath is soft)
      Cool a bit until you can handle.

    Directions for the cream sauce:

    I will never again make a cream sauce doing it the hard way with a roux and milk. Nope, this is much easier, creamier and less fattening.

    • Use half a bar (4 oz) of low-fat/fat free cream cheese. Soften with about a half cup of milk.
    • Mix in about a cup of low fat cheddar cheese. Keep a half cup of cheddar cheese as a topping (You can also use swiss or any other kind of cheese you like, but I love cheddar!)

    Directions for the bake:

    • Lightly grease a 2 quart baking dish. Preheat the oven to 350.
    • Pick up the squash and with a fork, shred the inside into a mixing bowl (you can even do it directly into the bowl with the cream and cheddar mixture.) The inside should come out in strands that look like spaghetti hence the name of the squash. Use only half the squash. You can keep the other half to be eaten with garlic and oil or even tomato sauce.
    • Mix the squash, cream cheese and cheddar mixture. Transfer to the baking dish and cover with the remaining cheddar cheese. Bake at 350 for approximately 35-45 minutes until bubbling hot.

    This squash bake makes a great side dish to any meal and will have you enjoying a creamy cheesy mix that is lower in fat than traditional mac and cheese and will help you get a dose of vegetables as well.

    Hope you enjoyed today’s recipe! Next week I’m going to be offering up an entire collection of recipes in one book titled Recipes for the Romantic Soul. It’ll be a freebie that you can download and I hope you’ll enjoy that as well.

    Photo Credit: Forest & Kim Starr@en.wikipedia.com

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    Spicing up your life!

    beans.jpgThere are just some herbs and spices that I always keep around the house. Basil. Parsley. Oregano. Chili. Cinnamon. Garlic (is that a spice?)

    Lifetime TV has a list of spices for you to use to spice up your life! Just click here or cut and paste this link into your browser: http://www.mylifetime.com/lifestyle/health/diet-nutrition/best-bites-nice-spice-3?cmpid=Email-Healthy%20Living-2009-03-31.

    Some of Lifetime’s recommendations are cayenne, my favorite cinnamon, cloves (blech!), fennel (double blech!) and my most popular garlic!

    I use cinnamon a lot in my coffee, hot chocolate and my grandma’s secret cold recipe (not so secret since I told you about it last year). Garlic is great on food, but also by itself when it’s roasted and you can spread it on bread.

    What are some of your favorite spices?

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    Spring & #Strawberry #Recipes

    Even though it’s still in the twenties today, Spring is definitely here! This morning as I walked through Bryant Park, the ice skating pond was gone and the lawn was back in place. Lovely flowers were in bloom in various spots.

    I love the Spring flowers and I also love one other thing about Spring: STRAWBERRIES!

    They are so luscious and of course, healthy for you. They have a good deal of sugar, but have a low glycemic load which means they won’t make your blood sugars shoot up and then crash. A cup of strawberries has 150% of your daily requirement of Vitamin C. They also contain manganese and antioxidants.

    So, today I’m going to take you to a list of 60 – SIXTY – fabulous strawberry recipes. Just click here to see them!

    Also, don’t forget this is Day 2 of the Double Trouble Blog Tour! Come visit with me at the All the Fun Starts After Dark blog today and follow the rules for a chance to win some fun prizes!

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    Strawberry Vanilla Cake #Recipe & #Giveaway

    Neither my hubby nor I are big fans of buttercream and we had no doubt that for our big day we wanted one of our favorite desserts as a wedding cake, namely strawberry shortcake. Of course, that troubled the chef prepping our wedding reception meal because you can’t really make a strawberry shortcake ahead of time. All worked out well eventually and hubby and I had our strawberries and whipped cream with a delicious vanilla cake instead of the traditional shortcake.

    I’m sure Diana and Ryder would love to have something similar on their special day! So here’s a simple recipe for you, but you can also substitute a vanilla cake mix if you’d like.

    Come back tomorrow for Diana and Ryder’s video wedding album! Remember, leave comments on the blog this week for a chance to win a backlist copy of one of the books in THE CALLING/REBORN Vampire Novels.

    Strawberry Vanilla Cake

    Ingredients for the cake

    2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    2 cups sugar
    1 cup milk
    3/4 cup vegetable oil
    4 eggs
    2-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
    1 teaspoon vanilla

    Directions

    Preheat oven to 350. Beat sugar and eggs in a bowl until slightly thick. Add the remaining ingredients and beat on medium for about two minutes. Pour into floured and greased cake pans. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cake pans rest for about 5 minutes then turn out onto racks to cool. Once cool, brush off any excess flour.

    Strawberry Filling

    1 pint strawberries, washed and sliced

    Place 3 tablespoons sugar in the bottom of a bowl. Add about 1/2 cup of the strawberries and mash them together with the sugar. Add the rest of the strawberries, add another tablespoon of sugar and let the mix sit in the fridge for 30 to 40 minutes. If you’d like, you can add a little rum, amaretto, Grand Marnier or some other sweet liquor.

    Place one cake layer on a plate. Cover with the strawberry filling. Add the second cake layer and cover with whipped cream.

    Whipped Cream Icing

    1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
    3 tablespoons sugar
    1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    Beat the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla until you get soft peaks with the cream. About 1 to 2 minutes.

    Spread the whipped cream over the sides and top of the strawberry filled cake.

    svc

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    Super Bowl Sandwiches

    Super Bowl Sandwich ideas from CaridadWe were always sports fanatics. I grew up watching everything and anything sports-related. Naturally, watching led to participating.

    My mami, all 5 foot one inches of her, had played tennis and basketball (!!) in Cuba. Mami is the one wearing those mod sixties sunglasses in the picture.

    Papi played volleyball on a club team in Cuba that was exceptionally good. Papi is the tall slender one at the right in the photo.

    My brother was a great football player. He’s the one hamming it up at the top of the bench.

    My sister, Carmen, and I played everything in high school — field hockey (soccer was not a “sport” back then), volleyball, some basketball (I’m vertically challenged), volleyball and softball. Carmen is standing next to my mom and I’m standing next to my dad. Accurate since my sis is a twin to my mom, while I took after my dad — except height-wise. My sis and her family ended up with all the height.

    Anyway, being sports fanatics and becoming totally emerged in American culture, one of the biggest sports events was the Super Bowl. Being Cuban, that also meant a ton of food would be available for friends and family who were coming to watch the game.

    Here’s one of our favorites for you to try out for your Super Bowl spread!

    Cuban Sandwiches and Medianoches
    You see Cuban sandwiches appearing more and more everyday, especially with the panini craze that’s happening in a lot of places, basically because a Cuban sandwich is very similar to a panini in how it’s made.

    What’s the difference between a Cuban sandwich and a Medianoche? A Medianoche is made with a light egg bread/roll rather than Cuban bread. The medianoche or “midnight” sandwich, was named that because the lighter version of the sandwich became popular as a midnight after-Club snack in the 1940s and 50s.

    Cuban bread is rather unique — light and airy since it’s made with lard, but it does have a “crust” of sorts. If you’re going to try making a Cuban sandwich, you’re better off with an inexpensive store Italian bread with a lighter crust rather than a good bread with a nice hard crust. Why? Like a panini, you grill and flatten a Cuban sandwich, so a light crust is better since it allows for a flatter sandwich.

    In Cuba (and Miami), getting a Cuban sandwich for lunch or as a snack was kind of like going to McDonalds. You could get one anywhere. When I’d go to South Beach, I’d head to David’s Cafeteria on the corner of 11th and Collins for a sandwich sometimes. I hit David’s every morning though for a few Cuban coffees — cafe con leche!

    In SEX AND THE SOUTH BEACH CHICAS and SOUTH BEACH CHICAS CATCH THEIR MAN, the chicas (girls) stop for coffee and sandwiches at a shop that was loosely based on David’s.

    What you’ll need to make a Cuban Sandwich:
    Somewhere to grill the sandwich — George Foreman grill, panini maker, sandwich press (plancha) or what I do — flat baking tray with a larger cast iron griddle.
    Caridad's Cuban Sandwich
    Ingredients:
    Cuban Bread or Italian Bread with light crust or egg bread roll
    butter
    roast pork (follow my family recipe on the Cook’s Treat page or check your local deli counter)
    Virginia ham/Honey ham
    Swiss Cheese

    (Please note that the traditional recipe calls for you to also put mustard and pickles on the sandwich. YUK!)

    So here goes on the assembly:

    Slice the bread lengthwise.
    Layer a few slices each of ham, pork and swiss cheese on the bread.
    Butter the outside of the bread.

    Place the bread on the ungreased baking tray. Place a layer of foil above the sandwiches and then place the heavy griddle above (or heavy cast iron pans/sandwich press).

    If you are using a panini maker or George Foreman grill, just put the sandwich right on them.

    Bake/Grill the sandwich (at about 375 degrees), pressing down on the top griddle/press occassionally in order to flatter the sandwich. In the oven, it takes about twenty minutes or so to get a nice toast on the bread, melt the cheese and reheat the ham and pork.

    Cut into hero-size lengths — about six inches. Cut on a diagonal (the traditional way the Cuban Sandwich is served).

    If you’re not a pork lover, you can substitute a good roast turkey for the pork and the sandwich will still be as tasty!

    Have fun watching the game and hopefully having a Cuban sandwich!

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    Sweet and Sassy Salad

    Courtesy Microsoft Word Clip ArtThis Tuesday Tip is a recipe for a very flexible, sweet and sassy salad!

    Yes, you read that right — Salad. I know I’ve avowed my aversion to the stuff in various posts, but this is one salad recipe that I love and will actually eat without much complaint. For those of you in the New York area, you may have seen something similar in Cosi, one of the chain sandwich shops. Nordstrom’s also makes a similar salad in their store cafe.

    Why is it so tasty? Well, it’s got the sweet thing going, but also, you can mix and match any of a number of ingredients to make it just the way you want it. So, I’ll give you some of the variations and let you decide how to personalize.

    Sweet and Sassy Salad

    2 to 3 cups of greens (you can use romaine, red leaf lettuce, mesclun greens, arugula, spinach. I like it best with the mesclun greens. Definitely avoid the iceberg lettuce route)

    1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese (you can also substitute blue cheese which is my favorite yum)

    1/2 of a Ripe pear cubed (a nice crisp apple will also work)(if you like it sweet, use the whole fruit!)

    1/2 of a tomato, cubed

    Handful of dried cranberries (or raisins or currants)

    Handful of pecans, chopped (or walnuts)

    Handful of chopped scallions (but not onions unless you’re doing a mild Vidalia or Maui onion)

    Put all of the above in a bowl and toss with a low fat balsamic vinegarette or another mild salad dressing. You don’t want to use a strongly flavored salad dressing because that will interfere/clash with the more delicate flavors of the fruits and cheeses. This salad is so flavorful, you may want to try it with just a hint of vinegar sans oil or even a citrus vinegarette.

    A tip for chopping the nuts without having them go flying all around the counter — stick them in a sandwich bag, put them on the chopping board and with the back of your knife, just give them a few whacks. I guess you’re actually crushing them, but the nuts will break into the pieces and then you just empty the bag onto your salad!

    Voila! A sweet and sassy salad that has a combo of things that are sure to keep you satisfied for a while, namely, some proteins, fats and carbs. One big dieting mistake is to just have plain ol’ salad with dressing and while the volume of the salad will fill you up, without any proteins/fats/carbs to sustain your energy levels, you are just asking for a major energy crash that will make you have hunger pangs.

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    The 100 Calorie Crave

    dietfork.jpgOne of the things I’ve found during my last two weight loss campaigns is that it was easier to lose weight if I ate more times during the day, but watched what I was eating.

    Why is that? Well, skipping meals may slow your metabolism as will crash diets (anything less than 1500 calories per day). Your body will sense that you aren’t providing it with enough fuel and slow down to retain the stored energy it has (in other words — the fat you want to lose).

    The other problem with skipping meals and eating less is that when you do deplete the energy you’ve taken in, you will crash and experience major hunger. That may lead to poor food choices.

    What’s the answer and this Tuesday’s Tip? Those ubiquitous 100 calorie packs that are now available everywhere. The problem is finding the ones that are actually satisfying since there’s nothing worse than opening one of those bags and finding that there’s not enough there to satisfy a craving.

    Which ones have I tried and found to be fairly good? Here’s a list of some of the better ones I’ve tried:

    Is there anything bad about the 100 calorie packs? Price for starters. You’re going to pay more for the convenience. Also, as you can tell from my list, the snacks on my list aren’t all that nutritious — they are for satisfying your sweet tooth.

    That also means they are probably high in carbs and may only provide a temporary sugar rush.

    The good part about them, besides the taste, is the portion control. You know exactly how many calories you’re taking in without having to count or measure.

    What other 100 calorie (or less) things can you eat that are probably better for you? Well here’s some of the things I also munch down on:

    Cabot’s Reduced Fat Cheddars (which also come in pre-packaged slices)
    Polly-O Skim Mozzarella and String Cheese
    Apple
    Orange
    Low Fat/Fat Free Sugar Free Yogurt
    Strawberries (10 large)
    Blueberries (1 cup)
    Hard-boiled Egg
    Jello Sugar-Free (one serving is only 10 calories!)

    Not sure of the calories? Click here to use an easy Food Analyzer from Kraft. com.

    Hope this Tuesday tip was helpful!

    Copyright 2008 Caridad Pineiro Scordato www.caridad.com

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    The Prince’s Apricot and Almond Rice Pilaf and a #FreeRead

    There is a scene in THE PRINCE’S GAMBLE where Prince Alexander decides to show FBI Agent Kathleen Martinez just how liberated a man he can be by making her dinner. I guess he hoped to woo his way into her heart by way of her stomach!

    I shared the prince’s sour cream chicken recipe a couple of Tuesdays ago and now I’m going to share the recipe for the apricot and almost rice pilaf he made!

    Apricot and Almond Rice Pilaf

    Ingredients:

    2 cups rice (you can use brown rice. I also wash the rice several times but that is a matter of choice)

    4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)

    1-2 onions (medium to small. You can substitute shallots here!)

    1/2 cup diced apricots

    1/3 toasted slivered almonds

    1 tablespoon olive oil

    1 tablespoon unsalted butter

    Directions:

    Heat the butter and olive oil in a pot. Add onions and saute until onions are translucent, but not brown. Add the rice and cook until just turning golden. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Once it’s boiling, reduce to a low simmer and add the diced apricots. Once all the liquid is absorbed, fluff with a fork and add the toasted almonds. You don’t want to add them too early because they will get mushy!

    Serve with the sour cream chicken or any kind of chicken. You can also use brown rice or quinoa in the recipe. Possibly even check out using couscous.

    As for the free read . . .

    Rum running, white slavery, money laundering, ghosts, murder and mysteries along the Jersey Shore! Now you get a free read of A GHOST OF A CHANCE when you purchase THE PRINCE’S GAMBLE. Plus, you’re helping out a good cause since my share of the proceeds from the sales from now until March 1 are being donated to the Hurricane Sandy NJ Relief fund. Help rebuild and restore the Jersey Shore and get some fun Jersey Shore reads while you do! THE PRINCE’S GAMBLE is now available for sale at Amazon (http://amzn.to/WGsxKy), B&N (http://bit.ly/WxipEv) and Kobo (ht.ly/fBKN0) as well as a number of other online retailers.

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    Trifle with Berries and Sour Cream

    cookiesThe other day I needed to clean out fridge and freezer in anticipation of the space that I would need for all the Christmas Eve food prep! But what does one do with frozen berries and sour cream (they had a sale so I went a little overboard!).

    Then there was the box of vanilla wafers just sitting on the shelf and I thought, why not a variation on a simple trifle. It took just a little prep, some sitting in the fridge and even my hubby, who is not a dessert person, loved it.

    So, next time you want something quick, semi-healthy and light, try this Trifle with Berries and Sour Cream!

    Ingredients

      1 lb frozen blueberries
      2 lb frozen strawberries
      1 pint sour cream
      1 cup mini marshmallows
      1 capful vanilla extract
      4 packets of Splenda
      1 box of vanilla wafers

    Directions

    • Empty frozen strawberries and blueberries into a bowl. Let them thaw and cut strawberries in half. In the summer months you can use real berries, but you’ll need to put a little sugar on them to generate the juice you get from the frozen berries. Set this bowl aside.
    • Dump sour cream into another bowl. Add capful of vanilla, Splenda and marshmallows. Mix well and place in fridge to set a bit. About an hour.
    • Use a quart and half clear glass bowl (it looks nice to see the layers of cookies, berries and sour cream!). Line the bottom and one row up with the vanilla wafers. Spoon some of the berries onto this layer, but try to leave the liquid behind for now. It’ll make it’s way to the bottom anyway.
    • Cover with about a cup of the sour cream mixture, spreading it out all over the berries.
    • Add another layer and row of vanilla wafers above the sour cream mixture.
    • Cover this vanilla wafer layer with more berries and again, another layer of sour cream.
    • Place some of the vanilla wafers in a plastic sandwich bag and crush them until they are a little coarser than bread crumbs. It’s okay if you’ve got a few pieces that are chunkier, but not too big. Sprinkle these pieces on top of the sour cream layer.
    • Refridgerate for several hours.

    Easy, right? Now there are several variations you can do to this recipe. For starters, use light or fat free sour cream to reduce the calories. If you don’t like Splenda, substitute confectioner’s sugar. Real sugar will be too coarse in the sour cream mixture. Want to make it a little more adult? Add a touch of alcohol to berry mixture. Amaretto, Frangelica or Navan vanilla brandy would all be delightful. If you want to do strawberries only, try adding Godiva Chocolate Liqueur.

    You can also add frozen or fresh raspberries to the mix. Just keep the ratio of 3 pounds to the one pint.

    If you find as you’re doing the layers that you’ve got left over berries/sour cream, just keep on layering. You can also puree some of the berries for a sauce that you can drizzle over the trifle once it’s served.

    Hope you enjoy this little treat!

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    Tuesday Tips for Weight Loss

    As some of you may have noticed, I’m back to trying to lose weight and get healthier. Stress and other things made my weight balloon upwards to its own area code. So shortly after the New Year, I began a campaign to change my lifestyle by becoming more active and eating healthier foods. As of this morning, I’ve lost 30 pounds.

    Yep, thirty (30) pounds and I’m very excited about that. I’m also excited by the fact that the way I am eating and working out now seems sustainable, which is the key to keeping off the weight. After all, it’s not about a diet, it’s about a lifestyle that you can keep up.

    You’re probably asking what I’ve been doing? For starters I try to be more active every day. I’ve started wearing a pedometer and strive to reach 10,000 paces each day, not including my workout regimen.

    That means walking to and from my office and getting up once an hour to move about. With the weather getting nicer, sis and I have even started taking a short walk at lunch hour.

    I try to work out 5 to 7 times a week for about half an hour a session. I mix up doing cardio with weight training. The weights are important because they help strengthen your muscles and muscles have a higher metabolism than fat which means that you are regularly burning more calories to sustain that higher muscle mass.

    Plus who doesn’t like sleek toned arms and legs? Here are some simple exercises you can even do at home to tone your arms!

    What have I changed in my diet? Well my favorite food group – bread, rice and pasta (LOL!) is virtually gone. I try to limit those to once or twice a week. When I do have either bread or pasta, I make sure it’s whole grain bread or pasta. As for rice, I’ve substituted quinoa. I’ve even made a tasty Chinese fried rice by substituting the pre-cooked quinoa for the rice. Have also made something similar to a tabouleh salad with this grain. You can check out more recipes here.

    We still eat beef, pork and chicken, but in smaller portions and I’ve also started eating a lot more shrimp and eggs. Both are high in protein and low in calories (but watch the cholesterol if you have problems with that).

    As sides to all our meals – a big salad and more vegetables. Lots more. The key is to have lots of high volume foods with low calories. Greens of all kinds make wonderful side dishes or even a once a week vegetarian meal. Cook up some collard greens or kale with onions and mushrooms, add some chicken broth and cannellini beans, top with some chopped tomatoes and you’ve got a very filling and low calorie soup. You can even add some cheese to the mix for added protein. There are lots of nice lower fat cheeses out there now and we regularly put cheese in our salads as well.

    As for dessert, we’re eating a lot more fruit and snacking on cashews and chocolate covered raisins.

    Where do I go from here? Well, I’m going to keep on eating healthier and working out. My goal is to lose another 10 pounds by the RWA National Conference at the end of June. I try to set those goals in reasonable amounts because there is nothing worse than setting yourself up for failure by being unrealistic.

    If you’re in the same boat as I am, I hope these tips help you! If you’ve found some good things to get healthier, please share them with us by leaving them in the comment area.

    Finally, our Danger Women Writing Contest and Guest Blog continues with a visit from the RomCon folks and a giveaway of tickets to this year’s convention. Drop by the blog later and leave a comment for a chance to win!

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    Two Ingredient Cookies!

    I cannot take credit for this recipe! It comes from The Burlap Bag blog and I discovered it on Pinterest.

    Actually, I’ve discovered lots of fun things on Pinterest, especially quite a few low carb, low calorie recipes. You can click here to check out my collection!

    So what’s so awesome about these cookies? Well, just two ingredients for a start. Their tasty and you can customize them with your own mix-ins. Last, but not least, fiber from the oatmeal and the bananas! Both good for you.

    Here goes with the recipe!

    Two Ingredient Cookies

    1 cup oats (I eat lots of oatmeal anyway!)
    2 bananas

    Step 1: Preheat your oven to 350.
    Step 2: Grease a cookie sheet. It’s very important to grease it because there are lots of sugars in the bananas which will STICK to the pan.
    Step 3. Dump the oats in a mixing bowl.
    Step 4. Peel the bananas and add them to the oats.
    Step 5. Mash the bananas and oats together until the bind. There will be some chunks of bananas, but don’t leave too many big chunks.
    Step 6. Using a tablespoon, measure out the banana/oat mix onto the cookie sheet. These cookies will not spread, so an inch between them is fine. You can flatten them a bit with the tablespoon.

    Bake at 350 for fifteen minutes.

    I found the above mix made about a dozen cookies.

    Now for the fun part. Choose something to mix in before you bake! We’ve added some peanut butter. Nutella. Chopped walnuts and craisins. Raisins. Also some butterscotch morsels. Of course, you can also add chocolate chips.

    I think a good rule of thumb is about two tablespoons of mix-ins and nothing way too wet, otherwise the banana/oat mixture will not hold together.

    Hope you enjoy today’s recipe!

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    Yuca with Mojo

    Raw unpeeled yucaOne of the dishes that we serve on Christmas Eve is yuca with mojo. Yuca is a type of tuber that is the Cuban equivalent of the potato. Yuca is known as cassava in English and besides boiling it, you can also make fries or chips with it. However, yuca is toxic when eaten raw so make sure it’s always cooked when you try it!

    Yuca with Mojo is actually a pretty easy recipe. Once you’ve made the yuca, you can also fry up any leftover yuca and it’s really really tasty with some remoulade, chimichurri or some other garlicky dip. We usually serve up the fries with a traditional mojo criollo (which also makes a great marinade for steak, chicken or pork). Whenever you can, try to use fresh squeezed citrus in the recipes.

    Yuca with Mojo

  • Ingredients:
    • 2 pounds yuca (the frozen kind is great and can be found in most freezer sections)(Why 2 pounds? So you can make fries with the leftovers! LOL!)
      2 large onions
      1 cup extra virgin olive oil
      2 cups Sour Orange (Seville Orange) Juice — if you cannot get sour oranges (which are hard to find in many areas), substitute 1/2 cup lime juice mixed with 1/2 cup regular orange juice.
      Salt to taste.

  • Instructions
    • Bring a pot of boiling water to boil (a 4 or 5 quart pan should do it). Add salt once the water is boiling. Add the yuca and boil until tender — about 10 to 15 minutes.

      While the water and yuca are cooking, slice the onions into fairly thin rings. Saute them in the olive oil until translucent. Add the orange/lime juice to decaramelize the pan and a touch of pepper. Set aside.

      When the yuca is tender, drain off all the water and place the yuca in a serving dish. Cover the yuca with the onion/olive oil/citrus mix and toss lightly.

      That’s it! You’re done.

    If you don’t finish all the yuca the first time, refridgerate it. When you’re ready for the yuca fries, cut the pieces of yuca into sticks. Fry until golden brown and then serve with some kind of dip. Here’s the recipe for that mojo criollo that I mentioned earlier.

    Mojo Criollo

      1 cup Seville/Sour Orange juice (or substitite 1/4 cup lime juice, 1/4 cup orange juice)
      1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
      Fresh parsley minced, about 2 tablespoons
      3 to 6 garlic cloves, pressed and minced (depends on how garlicky you like it)
      salt and petter to taste

      If you want to use this as a dip, process in a food blender for a very fine sauce.

    There’s another variation on the Mojo that’s great on steaks as a topping and here it is:

    Caridad’s Steak Mojo
    1 cup lemon juice
    1 big onion finely diced
    2 to 3 tablespoons of parsley – finely chopped
    1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Let the parsley, lemon and onions soak together for at least an hour. That really smoothes the sharpness of the onion.

    My daughter loves to eat this mojo on top of white rice! It’s one of her favorite foods.

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    Zucchini Pancakes

    Zucchini FlowersMany many years ago, I ran across a recipe in Gourmet magazine when I was trying to find something different to do with some excess zucchini from my garden (at the bottom of the blog there’s some quick pictures of how this year’s garden is doing). Since I loved potato pancakes and my husband’s grandma’s zucchini flower fritters, a recipe for zucchini pancakes caught me eye since try as I might, I always missed picking the zucchini flowers when I should!

    Over the years I adapted the recipe to make it easier and I’ve added a little variation to increase the number of veggies I’m getting in the mix and to add some color.

    Zucchini Pancakes

    4 cups grated zucchini (this is about 2 or 3 large zucchini)
    1/2 cup diced onions (you can substitute scallions here for a little zip or leeks for an earthier taste)
    1/4 cup diced red peppers (can be omitted)
    1/4 cup diced carrots (can be omitted)

    Pancake Batter to bind everything (You can also use store-bought pancake mix):
    2 c. sifted all-purpose flour
    3 tsp. baking powder
    1 tsp. salt
    2 tbsp. sugar
    1 egg
    1 1/2 c. milk
    3 tbsp. oil

    Grate zucchini on the largest holes of a grater into a colander and combine well with salt. Let zucchini drain 30 minutes.

    Using hands, squeeze as much liquid from zucchini as possible (DO NOT COOK THE ZUCCHINI).

    Saute the onions, carrots and peppers until soft. (Again, you can omit the carrots and peppers)

    Mix together the pancake batter ingredients until you get a nice rich consistency (adjust accordingly). Add the zucchini/vegetables to the batter.

    For some variation, you can add a 1/2 cup to 1 cup of cheese to the mix. Best choices on the cheese are swiss, gruyere, cheddar or fontina. Keep to nutty mild flavors so they don’t overpower the zucchini.

    Lightly grease a non-stick skillet and cook pancakes 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until golden and cooked through. Keep pancakes warm in oven while making more pancakes.

    Serve as a side with some nice grilled chicken or other meat.

    Want to make it healthier? Make your own pancake batter using a whole grain flour.

    [kml_flashembed movie="http://home.att.net/~sam.jellybean/garden.swf" height="400" width="500" /]

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