Friday, December 14, 2012

Onion Soup, French or Otherwise

A few days ago I lied on Facebook, alas...or perhaps I should say I misled. I said making onion soup was easy. (I think I called it French onion soup – no idea why it’s called French, but that’s what it usually goes by on restaurant menus.) Anyway, French or not, making this soup is easy – but not the kind of easy where you toss a few ingredients together and a few minutes later, you’ve got it. It does require a bit of planning and a little time. 

First of all, make a hearty beef stock. Usually, I do it with some stewing beef – with or without bones, since the point here is to use plenty of meat to get lots of flavor. I do it the day or the week or whatever before – it freezes fine. Never, ever use bouillon cubes or canned stock. It’s just not the same.

Hearty Beef Stock:

1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 lb or so of beef, cut into chunks
Several cups of water - more than enough to cover the meat
Salt and pepper

You can brown the onions and beef a bit first, or not. Add the water and seasonings and simmer covered until the meat is done. Save the meat for some other purpose – such as to put in a meat pie or a casserole. Lots of casseroles habitually done with ground beef are as good or better with chunks. Freeze the stock or use it to make the onion soup right away or within the next couple of days. You can leave the onions in the stock or use them with the meat for your pie or casserole.

Onion Soup
2 to 3 cups of onions, thinly sliced
Butter, ghee or vegetable oil (but butter and ghee taste better). Use plenty.
6 cups (or more) beef stock
French bread, sliced (ah! – maybe that’s why it’s called French onion soup)
Grated cheese – usually something relatively sharp like Cheddar (not at all French) or Swiss (closer, but still not French), but you can use milder cheese if you prefer. Use more or less cheese according to taste.
Brown the onions slowly in the fat. Take your time. You want them good and browned, and if a few of them get a bit burned, it's all right. Usually I put them on low heat and just stir them from time to time. Then add the stock. If you don’t have six cups of stock, add some water. The proportion of liquid to onions is a matter of taste. I like my soup thick with onions, but if you prefer it with lots of broth, go for it and add even more water. Simmer the soup covered for 20 to 30 minutes. Season to taste, but be careful with the salt, because the cheese will add some saltiness.

Transfer the soup to a casserole (or individual ramekins, if you prefer). Cover with slices of bread and grated cheese.  Put under the broiler for a couple of minutes until the cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown.  

See, it is pretty easy – but you have to plan the stock ahead of time, and it does take a while to cook. It’s well worth the effort. YUM.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Today's My Day! Plus the Harlequin Open House...

Today's my day in the Harlequin Historical Holiday Giveaway. I'm giving away a $25 gift certificate and a download of one of my novellas...and everyone who enters also has a chance at winning the Grand Prize, a Kindle Fire HD.

To enter, go to my website ( and follow the directions.

And don't forget, there are eight more days after mine. Enter every day for great prizes and more chances at the Grand Prize. For a live calendar with links to all the author websites, go here.

Not only that, all week there's an open house at the Harlequin Community, and today the Harlequin Historical authors are holding a chat at 11 am. It's called Who Wants to be a Duchess? Join us to chat and answer some fun questions, and maybe you'll get to be Harlequin Historical Duchess for a day. There are great giveaways there, too.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Drinking Lamb's Wool for Christmas?

This beverage, made with beer and apples, really surprised me. It does look a bit like wool—perhaps that’s where the name comes from. Making lamb’s wool is a Christmas tradition on the estate of the hero in my holiday novella, A Lady’s Lesson in Seduction, and I couldn’t resist trying to make some for myself. It’s wonderful – and if you’re not a beer drinker, it doesn’t matter. It needn’t taste much like beer if you add enough apples and syrup. (My dh, who dislikes beer, loves this stuff and asked me to make it again. Oh, joy!)

I surfed for recipes, found several, and picked the first one I’d come across, mostly because the apples were cooked on the stove rather than baked in the oven. Just a matter of personal choice.

To make a long blog short, if you’re in Britain, just go here and follow the recipe ( from Nicholas Strangeway. If you live Elsewhere, you may have to make adjustments re ingredients and measurements. Regardless, print out the recipe first and then read on – I’m only discussing the minor changes I made.

I went way wrong the first time, because I used whichever apples I happened to have in the house. They were far too sweet for this recipe. I should have looked up Bramley apples and found out more about them before I started, but I’m an impatient cook.
Onward to the second time, which worked beautifully: I used Turbinado sugar instead of Demerara (as far as I know, they’re similar in flavour), Granny Smith apples, and O’Doul’s (because I drink only non-alcoholic beer, and O’Doul’s is my favorite). You’re on your own re any other kind of beer or ale, but please, please, start out with it at room temperature. I’m not saying this because I was brought up on room temp beer and like it that way (although this is true). I’m saying it because you’re going to warm the beer a little before putting the drink together, and the gentler and quicker the warming process, the better for the lamb’s wool.   

If you’re in the US, like me, you’ll need a cooking scale to weigh some of the ingredients. Either that, or you can use my approximations, but really, the amount of sugar required is a combination of personal taste and the variety of apples you use. You can also adjust the flavour of the lamb’s wool by the kind of beer or ale you choose and by adding more or less syrup and apple puree… As usual, I can’t just come up with a simple recipe. Everything is approximate and adjustable in my cooking world.

For the sugar syrup, I used less than a cup of granulated sugar, a little more than ¾ cup of water, and ¾” of a cinnamon stick. The other ingredients don’t need measuring. Use all of them. It’s well worth buying allspice berries and fresh ginger, for example, even if they’re not household staples for you. The syrup is magnificent – so delicate and tasty that it’s heavenly just on its own. 

For the puree, I used a few large Granny Smith apples and less sugar than it called for. Somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 cup seemed good to me, but I didn’t want to make the drink overly sweet. The nutmeg and ginger were as called for in the recipe.
Try it! It’s a warm, wonderful winter drink. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Next Two Little Things

Sarah Mallory, whose blog you can find at 
invited me to take part in a blog event entitled THE NEXT BIG THING - a series of questions and answers about what's happening next in my writing life. Thanks, Sarah, and here goes!

What is the title of your book?

Um… I don't know. My next thing isn’t a big one, anyway – it’s two little ones. I’ll have two related novellas out in April and May 2013, but I don’t have titles for them yet. I’m really terrible at titles, so I leave that up to the editors at Harlequin.  

How did you come by the idea?

Um again… I’m not sure. It may be related to the King of the Fairies. (See below -- this is said king in the form of a white cat.) When I visited Germany several years ago, he fixed me with his ice-blue eyes and ordered me to write his story. I haven't done it yet, but I'm working up to it by learning about magic and folklore. As far as I remember, I was surfing the net and saw something that sparked my idea, but when I tried to find it again, it had (magically, of course) disappeared! 

Part of the idea, though, was writing two stories that take place in the same time period and location, but with different heroes and heroines. I thought it would be a fun challenge. It was exciting to set up the second story in the first, knowing that the second romance was going on in the background while the first romance took center stage.

What genre does your book fall under?

Regency historical romance, but with more than a touch of magic. So I guess you could say these novellas are historical light paranormal.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters if it were a movie?

Groan. No idea. I never, ever have actors in mind when I write. I’m a huge Johnny Depp fan, for example, but I’ve never imagined him in the role of one of my characters. I could see a young Liam Neeson working well as a hero, but again, I’ve never imagined him that way. As for heroines, I have even fewer ideas. Sorry! Just put your own favorite actors in the roles, and they'll do fine.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your books?

Gack. This is like an elevator pitch, right? I've never been any good at those. All I can say at this point is that they are centered around a rather racy folk custom to do with finding one’s true love on May Day morning.

Will your books be self-published or traditional?

Traditional – they are part of the Harlequin Undone line of sexy historical novellas.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

A month or so for each novella. I don’t really do first drafts – I revise as I go along.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Um… Well, there are several great Undones by Marguerite Kaye that have a paranormal element, but her subject matter is quite a bit different. Helen Scott-Taylor has written some super paranormal romances involving magic and folklore, but her take is different from mine. So…. I don't really know. 

My current release, A Lady’s Lesson in Seduction, is a Christmas story with some folklore in it, but only a hint of magic. I had so much fun writing that one that I wanted more magic. I guess these two new ones are one step further in the direction ordained by the Fairy King... 

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Hmm… Both stories involve one character who believes in magic and one who doesn’t, but for different reasons and in different ways. I had fun exploring the issues and consequences of believing or not, and how it affects a relationship.

And now I’m passing the baton to Mary Marvella, who will blog about her Next Big Thing on December 11th.

Mary Marvella 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Harlequin Historical Holiday Giveaway

It's time for my favorite contest of the year -- the Harlequin Historical Holiday Giveaway. It's also time for a bunch of other stuff, so I'm totally hyper right now. It's a good kind of hyper, though.

Here's the calendar -- 18 days of contests, a different author each day, and at the end, the Grand Prize of a Kindle Fire.

To get to a live calendar with links to all the author sites, click on the calendar or the link above. To read the rules, go here.

My day is December 11th, and I'll be giving away a $25 gift certificate to Amazon or Barnes & Noble, winner's choice, as well as a download of one of my e-novellas -- again, winner's choice. My contest will be open from the 11th to the 21st.

The more days you enter, the more chances you have to win prizes... Good luck, and have fun!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

It's time for another fabulous giveaway hop from Reading Romances. A bunch of Harlequin Historical authors (including me) are participating in this one.

To learn more about the Harlequin Historical prizes, go to the Harlequin Historical Authors blog, where Michelle Styles has spelled it all out and set up a rafflecopter for you to enter.

After that, go to Reading Romances and find out about all the other participating blogs and the prizes they're offering.

There are many ways to enter and many prizes to win, so once you've stuffed yourself with turkey and pumpkin pie, hop on over (even thinking about hopping after a turkey dinner makes me maybe roll on over...crawl on over...thank heavens it's all virtual) and enter.

And now I'm off to make Glorified Cabbage and Asparagus Casserole. Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving sweet! For those who couldn't get to the Harlequin recipe exchange, here's my grandmother's recipe for Cherry Slice, aka Cherry Squares. My mother always made this for Christmas, but it would make a great alternative to the usual pies at Thanksgiving. Not that I'm dissing pies, mind you -- but I love this special treat. 

1/2 cup soft butter
1 cup flour

Mix together and pack into the bottom of an 8" x 8" pan. Bake at 400 degrees F. for 15 to 20 minutes.

2 beaten eggs
1.5 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut (this recipe is plenty sweet already -- you don't need sweetened coconut)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 pound glace cherries, halved

Mix topping, spread carefully over the crust, and bake at 325 degrees F. for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool before cutting into squares. Yum! 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Twelve Harlequin Historical authors (including me) are participating in a spotlight in the Harlequin Community this week. There's a great discussion going. Ask questions of your favorite authors and join in -- it's fun. Just go to the Harlequin Historical Spotlight Discussion. Here's the URL spelled out if you need it:

Also, if you're looking for Christmas recipes, try the Harlequin Christmas Cookie Recipe Exchange. There are already a bunch of great recipes there. I posted my grandmother's recipe for Cherry Slice (aka Cherry Squares), one of my favorite Christmas treats. Here's the URL spelled out:

Hope to see you there!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Clearly, I'm not cut out to be a blogger, or even much of a social media-ist. (Not a real word, I guess.) Social media feels to me like a game of Whack-a-Mole. You think you've taken care of one thing, and another pops right up. Argh.

Anyway, here I am after a couple of months' absence. My new release, A Lady's Lesson in Seduction, which is a Regency Christmas story, has been out in the US for almost a month and will be out in the UK on November 1st.

Today I'm blogging at the Pink Fuzzy Slipper Writers about an entirely different subject -- my vacation in Italy -- but I'm giving away a free download of A Lady's Lesson in Seduction for either Nook or Kindle to one person who comments there.


Once a notorious rake, Camden Folk, Marquis of Warbury, is now consumed by desire for only one woman: beautiful young widow Frances Burdett. And the Yuletide festivities at his country estate present the perfect opportunity for seduction…

After her brief and unsatisfying marriage, Frances Burdett swore never to become tied to another man.  Then a passionate kiss under the mistletoe reawakens longings she thought buried forever. But can she give in to the pleasures of the body with a rogue like Cam—without losing her heart?


Frances should never have agreed to go to the orchard with the Marquis of Warbury—to gather mistletoe, of all things. She sent him a fierce, furious glare. “If you must have it, I don’t enjoy kissing.”

He eyed her from behind the apple tree. “Not at all?”

“No.” She pressed her lips together.

“Come now,” he teased. “Surely you’re exaggerating.”

Her voice was low, suffused with passion. “You can’t possibly judge how that—that invasion made me feel.”

“That bad, was it?” The marquis reached up and snipped with his shears. “You’re right, I can’t judge, but the general popularity of kissing tells me you were merely unlucky.” He came around the tree, a sprig of mistletoe in his hand.

What a fool she was; in spite of bitter experience, she wanted to kiss him, wanted kissing to be wonderful. How stupid! She was much better off—much safer—as she was.

He kissed the fingertips of his gloves and blew. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Frances huffed.

He picked a berry from the mistletoe and dropped it. “We’ll make it a very light kiss,” he said, coming closer. “Short and sweet.”

She didn’t trust him; she wanted yet didn’t want—

A flurry of snow tumbled from the branches above, distracting her. He swooped in, dropped a swift, cold kiss on her lips, and drew away—but not far. “Was that too unbearable?” Another mistletoe berry fell to the snow.

“No, of course not,” she said, “but—”

“Well, then.” He took her hand and pulled her behind the tree. “If you don’t want me to invade you—accidentally, needless to say—you’ll have to keep your mouth shut.”

“You mustn’t do this—”

“Of course I must. No talking.”

She gave up, shutting both her mouth and her eyes. It was her own fault for coming to the orchard this morning, but she’d enjoyed their time together in the middle of the night so very much. It was only a kiss.

Nothing happened. She opened her eyes again. He was contemplating her mouth from under his lashes. “You have lovely lips.”

Through her teeth, she said, “Get it over with.”

“I’ve never kissed a martyr before.” His lips curled in a lazy smile, and then he pressed his mouth coolly to hers and withdrew again. “It requires a more careful approach than we disgustingly hasty men are used to.” He flicked another berry off the sprig.

She couldn’t help but watch his mouth. What was he going to do, and when?

“Close your eyes, and whatever happens, keep your lips together.”

This time his mouth lingered on hers a few seconds, then pressed light kisses from one corner of her lips to the other. Kiss. “One.” Kiss. “Two.” Kiss. “Three.”