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