What’s Cooking? Chicken Espagnole (Hanging By A Moment)

Various herbs and spices on black stone plate

By her own admission, Quinn Russell isn’t much of a cook–or at least she’s not very interested in the kitchen. (Will that change in Days of You and Me? Hmmm . . . stay tuned . . .) But her friend and college roommate Zelda Porter does love to cook and is something of an amateur chef. In this scene from Hanging By A MomentQuinn catches her friend making a special occasion meal . . .

“What’re you doing?” I closed the dryer and started it up, stepping away from it so I could hear Zelda.
“Uh, I’m cooking.” Her voice held a faint tinge of . . . I couldn’t read it. Embarrassment?
“Cooking? For you and Gia? Well, aren’t you a good roommate?” I flopped onto the sofa. “You never cooked for me.”
“No, doll, I’m not cooking for Gia. I have a . . . date. I guess. Sort of.”
If she had told me that she was a spy who was cooking for the head of the CIA, I wouldn’t have been more surprised. Zelda was predictable only in her cynicism about romance and relationships. She had regular sex with an abundance of men, and she liked men, but she didn’t trust them.
“Uh . . . okay. Can I ask the name of this date?”
“You can ask, but I’m not going to tell. This is way outside my comfort zone, Quinn. It’s probably not going to amount to anything. If I’m wrong and it does . . . then you and I can talk. I’ll tell you all the down and dirties. But until then—if there is a then—I’m going to play it close to my chest.”
When I didn’t respond right away, she hurried to continue. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, Quinn. I just don’t trust me. I’m going out on a limb here, and I’m actually scared shitless.”
“Zelda.” I crossed my legs at the knee and kicked one foot in the air. “I’m not insulted that you want to be, um, discreet. It’s your business. But don’t be scared, okay? You are the most incredible woman I know. You’re beautiful, you’re funny and you’re smart. Any guy would be lucky to date you. So don’t mess this up just because you think you’re not the relationship type, okay?”
Something sizzled on Zelda’s side of the phone. “I appreciate everything you said, Quinn. I don’t necessarily agree with you, but still, I’m grateful. I can only promise to do my best.”
“Good. Have fun, and don’t think I’m going to forget this. When I get home next month, you are so cooking for me.”
She laughed. “You got it, doll. We’ll be in our new apartment with a real kitchen, not this lame ass kitchenette. So I’ll make you something special to celebrate moving in, okay?”
“It’s a date.” I giggled at my own joke.

So who was Zelda cooking for, and what did she make? Well, no spoilers here–though you may have guessed the who–but I can tell you that for her mystery date, the enigmatic Ms. Porter prepared Chicken Espagnole, a dish that tastes fabulous and looks elegant but is actually fairly simple to prepare. This recipe was adapted from one served at The Gumbo Shop in New Orleans, where I’ve enjoyed all their food on multiple occasions.

If you want to know more about Zelda’s secret lover, preorder Days of You and Me–and then get ready for her spin-off standalone book, Wildest Dreams, coming in 2017.

Zelda’s Chicken Espagnole

2 small chickens, backs removed, cut in half

CHICKEN SEASONING:

3 tsp Italian seasoning

2 tsp cayenne pepper

4 tsp black pepper

4 tsp white pepper

5 tsp onion powder

5 tsp garlic powder

2 Tbs paprika

4 Tbs salt

***

3/4 cup butter

3/4 flour

VEGGIES:

2 medium  onions, roughly cut

2 ribs of celery, chopped

1 medium green pepper, chopped

SAUCE SEASONING:

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp Italian seasoning

1/2 tsp sage

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp white pepper

1 tsp salt

***

4 cups chicken stock

6-7 baby bella mushrooms, sliced

5 green onions, diced

Directions:

Place chicken halves in roasting pan with sides at least 3 inches. Sprinkle CHICKEN SEASONING over chicken and roast in 400 degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove and set aside.

While chicken roasts, in a large pot melt butter and add flour to make a medium roux. Add VEGGIES and stir until coated. Cook about 20 minutes, then add SAUCE SEASONING. Cook until combined, then add chicken stock slowly, stirring well. Bring to a boil and cook on low for about 20 minutes. Add mushrooms and green onions, mix well and remove from heat.

Spoon sauce over chicken in roasting pans and return to the oven, roasting at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes or until chicken is tender. Serve over rice.

Two weeks until football–let’s talk parties and food!

 

Football

Is there anything that goes better with football than food? The perfect Sunday afternoon party has to include dishes that are delicious, fun and easy to eat. Each dish is the perfect opportunity to score big for the home team!

The top five must-serve football foods for the 2016 season are:

  • Beermosa Let’s face it: mimosas aren’t really football drinks. In those prissy little flutes, they don’t hold up to yelling at theIMG_2732 refs or chest bumps when your team scores. But a beermosa, served in a sturdy mason jar, is just what you need for a Sunday late morning or early afternoon gathering . . . or basically any time.  My recipe is simple: two fingers of orange juice, then fill the jar with my favorite beer. I used Bud Light with Lime, to add a little more citrus kick.
  • Buffalo Chicken Pinwheels Wings are a football party staple, but they’re a mess to make and to eat. These pinwheels give you a taste of buffalo and bleu cheese together without all the napkins! They’re quick and easy to make, and they go a long way. There are many variations, but this is one I like.
  • Roasted Garlic Cheese Dip Football party dips have to possess enough ooomph to knock down a linebacker. This one seems delicate enough, but it packs a punch. The cheese is rich, FullSizeRender 22but it’s the roasted garlic that makes this dish soar like the pigskin through the uprights. Serve this dip with toasted croutons, and you can’t go wrong.  Find the recipe here.
  • Tot Skewers Plain old French fries are so 2014. And even if you dress them up with cheese and bacon, they tend to become soggy–and hard to eat. But these tot skewers are a step up: they stay crispy, and they’re super-yummy, too. The ranch seasoning is the secret here–get the whole story!
  • Bread Bowl Chili Having a football celebration without chili is a definite flag on the play. But serving it up in a way that’s new and fun is the real challenge. That’s why these adorable bread bowls are perfect. They contain just enough chili to satisfy–and these crusty sea salt and rosemary rolls are just the thing to add both flavor and a brand-new way to enjoy it. Pipe a little sour cream over top to form the football stitching and add FullSizeRender 20some creaminess.  Use your own favorite chili recipe, scoop out the rolls and dish it up.

I’ll be serving all these dishes on September 27th, when we celebrate the release of DAYS OF YOU AND ME. I think Leo would approve of this menu!

Running Wild

Last week, I told you about a book I’d just finished, called Big Girls Do It Running by Jasinda Wilder. I’m going to chronicle my journey to get more fit and healthier over the next eight weeks right here, every Wednesday. Wilder Way Wednesday!

In BGDIR, Jasinda challenges us to sign up for a 5K. I laughed a little, because it reminded me of my first ‘real’ running experience.

Running pic 1In 2008, we had been in Florida for about a year. I had gotten involved a little bit with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, as a way to raise money to fight the disease that had killed my parents. At the end of that summer, I was contacted by Team In Training, a part of LLS that organizes teams to participate in races around the country and raise money to benefit LLS. They were putting together a team for the Disney Marathon Weekend, and they wondered if I’d be interested in being part of the half-marathon team.

Now, I wasn’t athletic. Never had been. (I’m STILL not.) I love to WATCH football, baseball, soccer . . . and I’m a decent softball player (my high school friends are probably skeptical, but it’s true!). I grew up a dancer, and I still love to dance. But run? Oh, I think not. My mother had always told me that running wasn’t good for women. She said it shook up our insides and caused problems. I listened and believed.

But now . . . after my parents died, I’d purposed to do something new and challenging every year. InRunning pic 2 2008, I’d snorkeled in the ocean in Maui for the first time ever. 2009 seemed like a good time to try a half-marathon, right? After all, I had almost six months to train. Easy-peasy.

Except I really didn’t train. Oh, I half-heartedly did a few short runs. I walked a lot. But I was busy writing my first novel and homeschooling my kids and dealing with life. Time marched on, and before I knew it, January was upon us. Suddenly, I was terrified: what had I been THINKING? I couldn’t run. I didn’t run. I was going to be the lonely, pathetic person at the end of the race, dragging her heels before the dreaded sweeper bus picked me up. I had nightmares about running pic 3running the race in my heels.

I would love to say I kicked ass in that race. Honestly? I finished it in under 3 hours, and I called that a win. I wasn’t the last by any means, and I even RAN much of it. Not all, but some. There was something about being among runners that made me want to do it, too!

For about a year, I did a bunch of races. I completed two more half-marathons, a couple of 10Ks and a 13K. I didn’t do too much training between times, though. I had a lot of excuses: Florida is hot. Outside training was HOT. I ran on a treadmill at a local gym for a while, but not with any real consistency.

About a year and a half after my first race, I was coming home from a long road trip one day when my knee began to hurt. Not just a passing ache, but a real and deep pain. I ended up at an orthopedist, who told me running was destroying my knees. I didn’t necessarily buy that, but my life was changing at that point, and races were becoming less appealing (and more expensive!). I did my last Disney race that fall and could barely walk afterwards–so I decided my short and illustrious running career was over.

Since then, after a long hiatus, I’ve slowly returned to running. I’ve done some 5Ks with my kids, and earlier this year, I did the Princess 5K with my girls and my sister-in-law and niece. It was fun to be back there, and I actually got my best time ever in a 5K. I don’t need to do half-marathons anymore; I’m perfectly happy to perfect the art of the 5K.

Next Sunday, I’m doing another 5K, and this one I’m counting as the Jasinda challenge race. And I can’t wait! (See the report next Wednesday, or follow me on Facebook and Instagram for more instant news.)

I’m going to be chronicling my journey over these next eight weeks right here, every Wednesday. We’ll call it Wilder Way Wednesday! I’d love to hear if you’re participating, too, and how you’re doing. We’re in this together, right? I’ll be there for you. And I’d love your encouragement!

I’m reading Big Girls Do It Running by Jasinda Wilder

I’ve been posting quite a bit lately about a book I’m reading. It’s called Big Girls Do It Running by Jasinda Wilder, and it’s created a pretty big buzz in the indie community. Jasinda has changed her lifestyle and possibly changed her family’s life.

The book is great, and I’ve enjoyed it. Jasinda tells her story honestly and openly, and she shares what has worked for her, for her family and for her beta team of the Wilder Way. There’s a story, an explanation, a plan and recipes. It’s well-laid out and easy to understand and follow!

But I have had a few people message me and say, “Uhhh . . . why are you reading this book? You’re not heavy. You don’t need to lose weight!” While I appreciate the sentiment, I think this misses the point.  And it’s made me think about my own journey.

(This is long. Sorry, but I’m a storyteller, and this is part of my story.)

Food has never been important to me. I was a picky eater as a kid, and it didn’t improve much as I got older. My mom, a true housewife of the 1970’s, had embraced the convenience food culture, and we rarely saw food that wasn’t pre-packaged or canned or frozen. If it could be made in the microwave, so much the better. I survived on peanut butter and Pop Tarts, mostly, until I went to college, at which point I began to expand my palate. A bit.

But before that happened, I had struggled with an eating disorder while I was in high school. I had never been heavy–okay, I was a chunky baby, and I had a little baby fat until I was four or five. But beyond that, I was pretty average. In high school, though, I had several experiences that caused me to feel out of control in my life, and that resulted in anorexia. I stopped eating, which wasn’t that big a sacrifice anyway. Controlling my weight was a way of controlling my life, or so it seemed.

Happily, I had parents who watched out for me and got me help. I met my husband during my senior year in high school, and he never made me feel anything less than beautiful, smart and fabulous! I eventually had four wonderful children, and even though I gained sixty pounds or more each time, I lost the weight right away. I was almost always on the underweight side of the charts.

To this day, weight is still not my issue. But health is.

I lost both of my parents within a year of each other when they were 63 years old. Both died of blood cancers, even though cancer didn’t run in our family. But it was a wake-up call to me that I needed to be prepared, to keep my body as healthy as possible so that if something happened, if cancer or some other disease struck, I’d be in the best shape to fight it.

We moved to Florida the month after my mother died. We made a whole new circle of friends, and among them were people who had this wild and wacky way of eating. They shared with us their research, their methodology and a way to make it work for us. We embraced whole foods, fruits, veggies . . . crazy things like kefir grains and komboucha. We bought a half a cow to have grass-fed beef. We found out we liked this way of living.

My family has changed its way of eating dramatically over the past eight years. We’ve studied and researched and experimented. We eat as much organic as we can. We prefer vegetables and grass-fed meat. We don’t do processed if we can help it.

We’ve cut back on sugar, replaced much of it with honey–but we haven’t cut it out entirely. And here is one place where Jasinda’s book was another nudge. We know it–but now we need to DO it.

I’ve also noticed that since I’ve become an author, my life is more sedentary. I used to be on my feet almost all the time. Now, I’m at the laptop at least 70% of my day. Exercise happens . . . on occasion. Not as frequently as it should, even though I know how great it makes me feel. I have all the excuses, but I also know the truth. Time to make it happen! (More on THAT next Wednesday!)

 

Monday starts the Wilder Way challenge, and I’m excited. I’ve finished the book, and my family is on board. Some of the changes won’t be that hard for us. Others will be. But we’re doing this as another step on our journey toward better health, taking control of our bodies and choosing a more active way of life.

I’m going to chronicle my journey over these next eight weeks right here, every Wednesday. We’ll call it Wilder Way Wednesday! I’d love to hear if you’re participating, too, and how you’re doing. We’re in this together, right? I’ll be there for you. And I’d love your encouragement!

 

#Thursday Thoughts: A Chat With Vincent

So this happened yesterday, while I was writing I CHOOSE YOU, the third (and what is supposed to be the FINAL) book in the Perfect Dish series. (Yes, it started out as the Perfect Dish Duo. Now it’s a trilogy. But hold onto your hats. . .)

file4541298808299If you read JUST DESSERTS, you might vaguely remember Vincent, Ava’s brother. He’s not the one who got married in that book; he’s the brother who was single. Since I CHOOSE YOU is written from Ava and Liam’s points of view and is mostly about their wedding, Vincent shows up there, too.

I was just minding my own business. . .writing away, like a good author. . .and in strolled Vincent. Our convo went like this:

Vincent: Yo.

Me: Hey, Vincent. (continues typing)

Vincent: So another book about my sister.

Me (glancing at him distractedly): Yes. This is about Ava and Liam’s wedding.

Vincent: Why do they get another book? I thought the last book was theirs.

Me: Well, it was. But then people wanted to read more about them. . .listen, I don’t have to explain myself to you. I’m busy.

Vincent: But if you’re keeping track, Julia got Jesse. Ava got Liam. Even Giff got Jeff. My brother Carl got Angela. What about me?

Me: Yeah, what about you, Vincent?

Vincent: Why’m I still flying solo?

Me: Because, Vincent, you’re a side character. You’re not the main focus. You’re just there because Ava needed another brother to balance things out.

Vincent: But I don’t want to be left out in the cold.

Me (sighing, rolling my eyes and finally turning from the computer screen): Okay, Vincent. You want me to hook you up in this book? Fine. You can meet a bridesmaid or someone and get together with her. There you go.

Vincent (shaking his head): Nope. I want my own book.

Me (throwing up my hands): Vincent! I have no time for another book in this series. Honestly. Do you know how many series I’m juggling? Ongoing ones? Four. Four! And then there’s the non-series books I committed to write next year. Remember the historical romance set in Gettysburg? Does that ring a bell? And the stand-alone New Adult, and the middle grade book, and the big apocalyptic book that the kids’ve been begging me to finally get around to writing for them. . .oh, and the anthology for the King Series people. They’ve been waiting a long time.

Vincent: You can fit me in. I have faith in you.

Me (grumbling): Sure you do. Come back and talk to me in 2018.

Vincent (crossing his arms over his broad chest): Nope. It’s gotta be sooner.

Me: Even if I could fit you in somewhere, I have no idea who’d you end up with. There aren’t any more unattached females in these books.

Vincent (nodding smugly): Yes, there is.

Me: Oh, yeah? Who?

Vincent (leaning closer): I’ll whisper it in your ear. (proceeds to do just that)

Me: Really? Really? Wow, I never thought. . .but what about. . .hmmmm. Hmmmmm. . .

Vincent: Is that a good hmmmm?

Me (as my head hits the keyboard): It means you’re getting your own book, you big doofus. Now go away and leave me alone so  I can finish your sister’s book, okay?

Vincent: Sure. But what’s the book going to be called?

Me: I have no idea.

Vincent: It should be something cooking-related since I’m a pastry chef. Hot and Sweet? Rolling Boil? Simmer This?

Me: You’re not very good at picking out titles. Just saying.

Vincent: Hey! I got it. Just Roll With It. Get it? Roll with it? Like a rolling pin?

Me: Hmmm. It’s got potential. I’ll think about it. Now please go away and let me finish this book.

Vincent: Okay, I’m going. But I’ll be back.

Me: I’ll just bet you will be.