Cover Reveal…Followed by First Tuesday Recipes for September!

It’s here! First my street team saw it, then my newsletter subscribers, and now it’s time to show the rest of the world. The cover of The Worst Noel is here and I love it! Are you ready?

The Worst Noel is available to pre-order as an ebook through all the major online retailers and, through some glitch that is no doubt my fault, as a paperback from Amazon. Other retailers will have the paperback in November.

Want to order a paperback copy? Click here.

Want to order an ebook from Amazon? Click here.

Want to order an ebook from another retailer? Click here.

If you’ve already ordered, THANK YOU! As we get closer to the ebook release date, I’ll be posting more about The Worst Noel, so stay tuned. And feel free to use the share buttons below!

And now for The First Tuesday Recipes for September. If you get my newsletter, you already have the recipe for Muddy Buddies. Here on the blog this month we’ve got a summery salsa, a dessert, and a fabulous side dish that’ll go with almost anything.

First, thanks to Maggie King for submitting her recipe:

Cucumber and Avocado Salsa

1/4 c. diced and seeded cucumber

1 lg. avocado, peeled, seeded, and chopped

1 sm. Roma tomato, diced

1 1/2 T. red onion, minced

2 t. Serrano chile, minced

1 t. fresh cilantro, minced

3/4 t. salt

2 T. fresh lime juice

Carefully fold all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl, guacamole-style. If doubling, don’t double the lime juice.

Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

Thanks to my mother for this side dish recipe:

German Potato Salad

6 medium potatoes

6 slices bacon

1/2 c. chopped onion

2 T. flour

2 T. sugar

1 t. salt

1 t. celery seed

dash pepper

1 c. water

1/2 c. (you may like a little less) white vinegar

2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced

Cook potatoes until tender, then drain well, peel, and slice. Cook bacon until crisp; drain, reserving 1/4 c. drippings. Crumble the bacon and set aside. Cook the onion in the reserved drippings until tender (and a little browned). Stir in flour, sugar, salt, celery seed, and pepper. Add water and vinegar; cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 1-2 minutes more. Stir in bacon and potato slices. Heat through, tossing lightly. Add egg slices; toss gently just to mix.

And last, but certainly not least, thanks to Sharon Aguanno for contributing this dessert recipe she found here on allrecipes.com:

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Foil Packets

1 1/2 T. brown sugar

1 T unsalted butter

1 pineapple ring

1 maraschino cherry

1 shortcake dessert shell

Vanilla ice cream for serving (optional, but why wouldn’t you include it??)

Preheat grill to medium-high or an oven to 450 degrees.

Tear off a 12′ x 12′ square of aluminum foil.

Mound the brown sugar and butter in the center, then top them with the pineapple slice and the cherry.

Top with the dessert shell, flat side up.

Fold in the sides of the foil and seal to form the packet. Grill each packet for 12-13 minutes.

To serve, flip the cakes over. Top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired.

 

Thanks to everyone who contributed! And thanks for being part of my cover reveal for The Worst Noel. If you haven’t subscribed to my mostly-once-a-month newsletter, click this link.

Until next time,

Amy

A Tradition is Born

What I’m about to share with you, combined with last week’s post about a chocolate tasting, is going to give you the impression that I indulge my food fantasies every weekend.

But let me assure you of two things:

First, date nights are pretty rare around here; and

second, when my husband and I do have a date night, you’re far more likely to find us at Home Depot or cleaning the garage than at any restaurant.

But two Friday nights ago was an exception. We attended an annual Holiday Wine dinner featuring Dueling Sommeliers–it was so much fun that I wanted to share it with all of you (I will spare you the account of our most recent trip to Home Depot). It was the first such wine dinner we’ve attended, and I certainly hope it won’t be the last. As the title suggests, I hope we can do this every Christmas from now on.

The premise of the evening was simple: the restaurant (The Mad Batter in Cape May, New Jersey) provided a five-course menu to each of two sommeliers. They didn’t taste the food–they only saw the menu. Based on the descriptions of the dishes to be served, each sommelier decided on a wine for each course. Each of the guests was then provided with two glasses of wine with every course.

Yes, that’s ten glasses of wine. Not huge glasses, but much more than a taste. And yes, my husband drove. That means he didn’t drink all his wine.

And yes, it means that I finished what he didn’t drink.

So here’s what the menu looked like:

The first course was oysters. I looked at my husband and said, “Oysters? Eww. And beets? What are they thinking?”

But fried oysters? Hmm. I figured I could manage a teeny bite of those because…fried.

And they were so good. I got thinking, “If they can make oysters this good, I wonder how those beets taste.”

Let me explain something about beets. I am the person who, as a child, cried at the prospect of eating beets, insisting to anyone who would listen that I would throw up if made to eat them. But grated beets with horseradish? I don’t know if it was the heady atmosphere in the restaurant, or the two glasses of wine I was enjoying while I ate them, or simply that I have grown up, but those were the best darn beets in the world. I would eat beets all the time if they always tasted like that.

And what of the wines? I’m not going to describe them in detail here because I have a wines section on my website where I discuss my favorite wines (and I haven’t updated it since before this dinner), but I will tell you that, though I liked both, the Relax Bubbles were the clear winner in my opinion.

The second course was a truffled wild mushroom soup that was life-changing in a good way. I don’t like to throw around phrases like “life-changing,” but this soups fits the bill (FYI, the last time I said a food was life-changing, I was referring to Brown Cow whole milk maple yogurt and chocolate yogurt). The soup wasn’t entirely creamy–there was a little bit of texture and you can see the larger pieces of mushroom on the top.  It was earthy and salty-smoky, and just perfect for a snowy evening in Cape May.

The wine: I preferred the wine from Sardegna, though both were good. Also, I love to say the word “Sardegna.”

For the third course, we enjoyed a salad. And when I say “enjoyed,” what I really mean is that I’m pretty sure I heard angels singing while I ate it. It was absolutely delicious, and as a result of eating that salad I have requested that everything I eat from now on be wrapped in pancetta. And bonus: my husband hates bleu cheese, so I got his (hence the obscene amount of bleu cheese in the photo).

Wines: I actually couldn’t choose. They were both wonderful. I love pinot gris and I also love rose, so I didn’t force myself to pick a winner for the salad course.

The fourth course, the entree, was rabbit. I have had rabbit once before and it was delicious. Normally I am not a rabbit-eater (I got home and my daughter asked, “You ate Thumper??”). The couple next to me were vegetarians and they got salmon. Had I known salmon was an option, I would have chosen that. The rabbit was disappointing. It was tough and overcooked and one lady at my table couldn’t eat hers (my theory is this: I paid for it; I’m eating it whether I like it or not).  The saving grace of this course was the amazing fennel-celery puree on which the rabbit sat. If you had asked me three weeks ago if I wanted a fennel-celery puree or beets, I would have chosen to starve to death. But, like I said, I paid for it and I was going to eat it. And I’m so glad I did. The carrots were good, too. And who doesn’t love eating purple carrots?

Of the two wines, I preferred the one from Bordeaux. As a rule, I am not a Merlot drinker (I find it too heavy).

And finally, dessert. It was French toast (apparently, it’s not just for breakfast anymore). And though I had no earthly idea what “strawsling” was, I was game for anything at that point in the dinner. Turns out it’s a strawberry-infused Riesling. Makes sense when you look at the word “strawsling,” doesn’t it? But I have to be honest, not a lot was making sense to me by that time. I had enjoyed a lot of wine. The dessert was good, though if I had the opportunity to order it in the same restaurant again, I wouldn’t. I like my desserts to consist of some kind of chocolate.

And the wines were both delicious, though I preferred the German wine because it was sweeter. I’m not even going to attempt to say the name because I’ll butcher it, but if I ever see it in a wine store, you can bet I’ll get a bottle. Or two. Or four–whatever.

I hope you’ve enjoyed date night, though vicariously. One of the nice things about the evening was that the sommeliers chose wines that weren’t too expensive. They weren’t Two-Buck-Chuck (I’ve heard it’s now Three-Buck-Chuck), but they weren’t over-the-top, either. Any of them would be a great host or hostess gift, particularly at this time of year.

And speaking of this time of year, I will try to post next Tuesday, but no promises! I wish all of you health, happiness, and, if you celebrate, a merry Christmas!

Until next time,

Amy

The 12 Slays of Christmas is Here!

Today’s the day–The 12 Slays of Christmas is live!

Thanks to everyone who has preordered the set and to everyone who plans to order it. We’re very excited to be donating all the proceeds from the sale of the set to pets displaced by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. If you haven’t ordered a copy yet, you can click this link and it’ll take you to our website, where you can click to order the set for 99¢ on your ereader of choice.

Anyone who gets my newsletter will find this post redundant–I’m too tired at this point to come up with something sparkly and new!

I’ll be back here next Tuesday with a recap of a chocolate tasting I attended last weekend, so stay tuned!

Until next time,

Amy

We Are the World Blogfest #WATWB (Yesterday’s was a blooper–sorry)

It’s the last Friday of the month–time again for some good news to take you into October with a smile. You’ll love this one, about making the holiday season more fun for some special people. I chose it because there are only 88 days until Christmas!

Here’s how #WATWB works: On the last Friday of each month a number of bloggers participate in a blog hop in which each blogger highlights a story that spreads good news, happiness, and hope.

Click here to read the story.

These are the cohosts for this month: Michelle WallaceShilpa Garg,  Andrea Michaels, Peter Nena, and Emerald Barnes  Click on the name of the cohost to visit his or her blog.

Want to join? Click this link to sign up and help spread some happiness!

The Holidays are Upon Us…

…so what better way to celebrate than talking about FOOD?

It doesn’t matter whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or some other holiday at this time of year. We happen to celebrate Christmas at our house, but it doesn’t matter what you celebrate or where in the world you live. Part of what makes the holidays special is the food that we eat during our celebrations. I love learning about the ways different cultures celebrate, and a big part of a culture is its food.

Cooking is a passion of mine, and I especially like to cook during the holidays. Each year I have a repertoire of recipes that I haul out, and each year I try to add a few new things. This year, in an attempt to bring more of an international flavor to our holiday season, I made a batch of cookies called “Austrian Chocolate Balls.” Now, I don’t know how chocolate balls came about or what’s Austrian about them, but I’ll tell you this: they were a big hit and now I want to go to Austria even more than I did before I made the cookies.

Anyone else eat stollen at Christmastime? My mom’s side of the family is German, and stollen is a German sweet bread filled with dried fruits. My aunt makes it every year. I think it’s actually called “Christmas stollen” or “Christstollen,” but we take the simple route and just call it stollen. I like it best when it’s toasted and slathered with butter.

I also make Russian tea cakes. There are about a million other names for the same recipe (including “Spanish Wedding Cookies,” “Mexican Wedding Cakes,” “Snowballs,” “Ponda Polvas,” etc.), but I find “Russian tea cakes” to be the most exotic and exciting. Fortunately or not, I am the only one in my household that really likes them (everyone says they’re too dry…um, hello? That’s why we have eggnog), so I usually eat more than my fair share of them during the holidays. I could just stop making them, but why?

In a nod to the country of France, every Christmas Eve I melt a round of brie and top it with raspberry preserves, apricot preserves, or other sweet mixture. I don’t know how French the toppings are, but I feel beaucoup francais when eating my brie on December 24th. Do I even have to note that it’s wrapped in puff pastry? I think not.

There are so many foods out there that the rest of the world associates with Christmas, Hanuakkah, and Kwanzaa, and I’d love to learn more about them. I recently took out a library book called Holidays of the World: Cookbook for Students. It’s an overwhelming list of foods and recipes that are prepared for countless holidays, all over the world, all year ’round. I have enjoyed looking through it, though I am finding it almost too exhaustive.

There are other foods I make at Christmastime, of course, that are tradition and I have no idea where the recipes originate. One is my grandmother’s party mix. It has two pounds of butter in it.

Yes, you read that right. Here’s a picture:

party mix

Another is crab bisque, and caramel-fudge shortbread, and pumpkin roll, and mulled cider, and cutout cookies, and lots and lots of other delicious and heavy-on-the-saturated-fat foods that I associate with Christmas. And I know they’re not good for us–that’s why I don’t cook like this during the rest of the year.

And the best part of making all those things? Sharing them. Are there any special foods you associate with the holidays this time of year? I’d love to hear about them!

Until next week,

Amy

P.S. Here are examples of some of the recipes I’ve listed above:

http://germanfood.about.com/od/baking/r/weihstollen.htm

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/austrian-chocolate-balls/

http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/russian-tea-cakes/3af8664b-6c3e-4022-b686-cd961521e59b

http://www.hgtv.com/design/make-and-celebrate/entertaining/baked-brie-with-raspberry-preserves-recipe

Happy Thanksgiving

Last year at this time I made a list of the things I give thanks for all year ’round. I was going to make another list for this year when I re-read that old post and realized that nothing has changed, with one addition:

I am thankful for all the people who have read and enjoyed my first book, Secrets of Hallstead House, and for all those who have said they are excited to read my next book, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor. You people make me so happy, so thank you!!

So now that my list is updated for 2014, I’m going to share a different list with you.

Anyone who lives in my house knows that Christmas carols and Christmas movies are strictly forbidden until the day after Thanksgiving. This year has been a little different, though, since my daughters and I are singing at various local tree lighting ceremonies with a community choir group and the first one is before Thanksgiving. We have to practice, so I’m allowing an exception to the normal rules. We are allowed to listen to the practice cd.

But that’s it. No other Christmas music, no Christmas movies, period. Not until this Friday.

Once Friday comes, look out. I don’t want anything but Christmas playing until January 1st on any radio, any cd player, any electronic device, any television, any anything at my house. Having said that, here is the list of movies I’ll be watching starting November 28th. I’d list my favorite Christmas songs, too, but I only have so much time to write this post and the list is way too long.

1. The Bishop’s Wife. Please note that, while I have nothing against Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston, I will be watching the black-and-white version starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven. I was introduced to this movie many years ago by my aunt Jeanne and I watch it as often as I can during the holiday season.

2. White Christmas starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. The singing and dancing in this movie are enough to make any child want to grow up to perform in a lodge in Vermont.

3. Holiday Inn. Another Bing Crosby classic, he stars with Fred Astaire and Marjorie Reynolds in the story about an inn that only opens on holidays. There’s music, comedy, love, and snow. What more could anyone want from a Christmas movie?

4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. With apologies to Jim Carrey, I just stick with the original animated version. I like it better than the feature film because I have all the lines memorized and I sing along with Thurl Ravenscroft.

5. A Christmas Carol. I will watch any version of this movie, but my favorite, for reasons I haven’t figured out yet, is the 1938 version starring Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart, and Kathleen Lockhart. The acting can be a little over-the-top and corny, but I love it anyway.

6. It’s a Wonderful Life. There was a time when I refused to watch this movie because it was sooo depressing, but I’ve changed my mind and I watch it every year now. I’m glad my husband insisted on me watching it with him years ago, because it’s become an annual tradition.

7. Elf. Because it’s hilarious.

8-9. Home Alone and Home Alone II. You can never get enough Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. They make the two greatest bandits in the history of Christmas, with the exception of King Herod.

10. A Charlie Brown Christmas. I know there are a lot of people who don’t like the Charlie Brown movies, but I love the Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas ones. My two favorite parts are when Linus recounts the Christmas story on stage and when the Peanuts gang is singing together at the end, mouths open and little noses pointed straight up to the sky.

I wish you all a very happy and safe Thanksgiving and a beautiful start to the holiday season.

Until next week,

Amy