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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Homestyle French Onion Soup

It's Too Yummy Tuesday!

On select Tuesdays I share delicious recipes either inspired by my books or that are just plain delicious!


We've been on a real soup kick at our house lately, no doubt owing to comings and goings of wintry weather and the sniffly, sneezy cold symptoms that go with it.


While it's not something I make often, French onion soup brings back warm, fuzzy memories of childhood, when my folks took me to the wonderful restaurant that introduced me to it. The salty broth, gooey cheese, and soft bread underneath makes this soup as fun to eat as it is tasty. This version is one I can whip up at home quite easily, though it's a rare indulgence now that cheese has largely gone by the wayside in my diet.

One thing--don't rush the step where you carmelize the onions. This should take a good 20 minutes or so if done properly. If you try to cheat by dialing up the heat, the onions may well burn and impart a bitter taste throughout. (Yes, I'm speaking from experience.) Go slow and be patient, and you will be rewarded with delicious onions that will infuse the broth with magical happiness and unicorns. Or at least a heavenly flavor.

Homestyle French Onion Soup


Ingredients

1 Tbsp butter
Tbsp olive oil
3 onions, sliced thin sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups beef broth (chicken stock will work, but it isn't as hearty)
1 cup water
1/3 cup red wine (I substitute grape or apple juice)
Tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 slices french bread, day old is best
1/2 cup Swiss cheese, shredded

Directions

Heat butter and olive oil in saucepan over medium high heat. Add onions and salt/pepper, then turn heat to a fairly low setting to carmelize the onions. Once carmelized, stir in wine/juice, vinegar, broth, and water. Bring to a boil and taste. Adjust seasoning as desired. Simmer gently, uncovered, for 15 minutes to develop the flavor. 

Prepare 4 oven-safe soup bowls or other single serving bakeware (ramekins, mini casserole dishes, etc) as follows: set bowls together on a small baking sheet. Lay a piece of bread inside the bottoms and spoon soup over (make sure to get a fair portion of onions in each serving). Sprinkle liberally with Swiss cheese. Stick these under your broiler for a few minutes until cheese is melted/bubbly and a bit browned on top.

Serves 4. Enjoy!

~~~

J. Rose Allister is the author of more than twenty-five books, primarily romance and erotic romance. A former editor and submissions director, she now works as a mild-mannered hospital secretary by day, naughty writer by night. Connect with her on Twitter or Goodreads. She loves talking to people!

Monday, January 26, 2015

How to Get Back in a Writing Habit After a Break

Those of you who follow my blog know I made a decision last year to take an official break from writing, something that had been an unofficial choice for quite a while longer. As hard as it was to put that pen down, getting back into the writing groove after being “afk” was an even bigger challenge.

How does a writer get back in the swing when they’ve been in Not-Writing mode for an extended time? After some false starts, I came up with a list of steps that got the ink flowing again. I hope it will help you as well!

How to Get Back in a Writing Habit After a Break

1. Set Aside Writing Time.

One truth most writers have become aware of at one time or another is that there are far more reasons not to write than there are to put pen to paper. “I would write, but I’ve been busy with _______ .” Busy lives and lack of solidly scheduled writing time can be the death of a manuscript. Sit down with a calendar (or calendar program on your computer/device) and set up a defined schedule for writing. I wrote a blog series on how to create a writing schedule to maximize output and minimize burnout. Check it out here.

2. Out With the Old, In With the New (Project).

If you stopped writing mid-plot, you’ve got a story that’s sat around neglected and collecting dust. You *could* pick it up and keep going, but I’ve found that after a hiatus of any real length, going back to a half-done story can derail progress before it’s even begun. For one thing, you likely have to reread at least some of the manuscript to recapture the flow and tone of the piece, not to mention remind yourself where in the plot you left off. While rereading, your internal editor will inevitably kick in and put you in critique mode rather than writing mode. Next thing you know, your writing hour/day has come and gone with nothing new on the page.

For a truly fresh start, write something completely new. Pull up that slush file full of ideas that were banging around in your brain and pluck one at random. Play around with an automatic plot generator until something jumps out. But go easy—this may not be the time to start that ambitious War and Peace saga you planned someday. Start with something simple—even a short story will do. (More on this in step 5.)

3. Try New Writing Tools

You’ve got a new resolve and a new project. What goes better with that than a shiny new writing tool? Decide to try something different with your plotting and writing. Buy a shiny new journal for notes. If you plot using index cards on a cork board, take photos instead (or search the Internet). If you use Word to write manuscripts, try a writing software like yWriter or WriteItNow. I personally love Scrivener, which I previously used as plotting software but this year have decided to also write manuscripts (and blog posts) with it. Scrivener has a split screen view that lets me pull up photos or plot notes alongside the scene I’m working on. Very handy.

You can also change things up by altering the time of day or week that you write, or start a new tradition by making a cup of tea, donning a favorite hat, or playing mood music when you sit down to write. I'm not saying you have to toss out everything about your old writing routine--tried and true favorites are welcome in the new order. You'll just want something to pump fresh blood into stale routine.

4. Ready, Set…STOP and Plan

Don’t wait for the writing time scheduled in #1 to start looking at the new strategies and tools mentioned in #2 and 3. You should also schedule time for plotting and preparation each week, starting prior to your first writing session. Use that prep time to do a quick and dirty plot outline, fiddle around with new techniques/software, etc. so you are familiar with them. Then when you finally sit down to write, you’ll be ready to rock.

5. Go! But Go Easy

When you set out to establish a new writing routine, it can be tempting to jump in with lofty goals and mandatory word counts. However, I’ve found that after a break it’s much more effective for me to ease in gradually rather than expect the same amount of work I pumped out at the height of my groove. Many writers use word count as a gauge for a writing schedule, and while you can use this approach, that may not be the ideal way to start right out the gate. Establish a new writing habit by setting yourself up for small, manageable victories rather than a string of disappointments. Aim for less than you know you can achieve. Start with one scene, just an opening, or even a few sentences if that’s how rusty you honestly feel. Or set the timer for 30 minutes and just do a freewrite session. As success comes, give yourself a mental high five and raise the goal a bit higher next time. (Just not too far too fast, or you might get discouraged.)

6. Repeat, Review, and Redo

Studies suggest it takes a few weeks for the brain to turn a behavior into a habit. After you’ve been using your new routine for about a month, that’s a good time to stop and assess how things are going. Are you reaching your goals or exceeding them consistently? Keep pushing ahead and increase your counts/time as able. If you’ve been skipping writing sessions or not reaching your goals, don’t give up. Decide whether you need to try another time slot for writing, change to a different “new” technique, or adjust your expectations of how much writing you will do. Then put it into practice without delay and review again in another month (sooner if things are going really rough). Keep trying until you get there!

By dedicating the right amount of time, new and familiar ideas, and planning well for success, a new and productive writing habit can be yours before long. What tried and true tips do you use to help you plan for writing and meet your goals?

~~~
On select Mondays, I like to gab about writing or whatever's going on with me. For more gab, please join me on Twitter or Facebook. I love talking to people!

J. Rose Allister is the author of more than twenty-five books, primarily romance and erotic romance. A former editor and submissions director, she now works as a mild-mannered hospital secretary by day, naughty writer by night.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Moist and Marvelous Zucchini Brownies

It's Too Yummy Tuesday!

On select Tuesdays I share delicious recipes either inspired by my books or that are just plain delicious!


Brownies! Just the word gives me warm, fuzzy feelings and stirs happy memories of childhood, sitting with a plate of brownies with a big glass of milk. These days, brownies don't come into our house very often, and when they do I'm often trying out flour-and-sugar-free alternatives. But sometimes, you just gotta. And this recipe is one that is guaranteed to be moist and delicious.  The zucchini doesn't flavor the mix, but rather melts away to impart a wonderful moistness.

Moist and Marvelous Zucchini Brownies


Ingredients

Brownies
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups grated zucchini (don't discard the liquid that rises once the shreds sit)

Frosting
6 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup butter or margarine
2 cups powdered (confectioner's) sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 baking pan.
In a large bowl, stir oil, sugar and the 2 tsp vanilla until well blended. In a separate bowl, combine flour, the 1/2 cup cocoa, baking soda and salt; stir into the sugar mixture. Fold in the zucchini. Spread evenly into pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until brownies spring back when gently touched. 

While baking, prepare frosting. Melt together the 6 tablespoons of cocoa and butter; set aside to cool. In a medium bowl, combine powdered sugar, milk and 1/2 tsp vanilla. Stir in the cocoa mixture. Allow brownies to cool before spreading over or it will melt. Cut into squares.

Enjoy!

~~~

J. Rose Allister is the author of more than twenty-five books, primarily romance and erotic romance. A former editor and submissions director, she now works as a mild-mannered hospital secretary by day, naughty writer by night. Connect with her on Twitter or Goodreads. She loves talking to people!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Thai Coconut Curry Soup-Tom Ka

It's Too Yummy Tuesday!

On select Tuesdays I share delicious recipes either inspired by my books or that are just plain delicious!


There's this divine little Thai place in my town that serves my absolute favorite soup of all time, their Tom Ka. It begins with chicken (although shrimp or tofu works too), straw mushrooms, and baby corn, all floating in a rich, heady broth that never fails to bring a smile to my lips. This is the soup my husband will kindly go out and get me when I'm feeling sniffly and under the weather. It has never failed to help clear the sinuses and rally my spirits.


I recently decided to try recreating that restaurant soup at home. After looking at different online recipes, I squeezed a few together and made some additions to come up with the version below. It was verrrry close to the restaurant soup, enough that I was quite pleased. This soup will warm you right through, and this recipe makes enough that I have extra leftover for a few lunches afterward.

Thai Coconut-Curry Soup-"Tom Ka"



Ingredients

48 oz chicken broth or homemade chicken stock, strained
2 inch piece whole ginger
2 whole stems lemongrass, cut in 1 inch pieces*
3 Keffir lime leaves, scored along the veins to release more flavor*
3/4-1 lb chicken, cut into small chunks
1-2 cans straw mushrooms
4 oz other mushrooms of your choice, sliced
1 can bamboo shoots
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar (I substitute organic honey)
3 Tbsp fish sauce
3 cans coconut milk (14 oz cans)
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped coarse
1 can baby corn
4 Tbsp lime juice
2 green onions, sliced
1 tomato, chopped
2 tsp red curry paste or to taste

Directions

Pour broth into stock pot, add ginger, lemongrass, and keffir leaves and heat to a gentle simmer. Add chicken, mushrooms, corn, bamboo shoots, salt, sugar/honey and fish sauce; cook on a low simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Your broth may or may not smell/taste amazing at this point. Don't panic--the magic is about to happen! Add remaining ingredients and stir frequently for a few minutes to heat through. Do not let the mixture boil or the coconut milk will separate. 
NOW it should smell and taste quite different--and amazing. Add additional curry, fish sauce, and lime juice to suit your own taste. Serve and delight your friends/family!

6-8 servings

*NOTE: If you cannot find keffir lime leaves or lemongrass, you can still make this. You'll use additional lime juice during the taste/adjust phase to bring up the "tang" of the broth. If you do have these available, however, I highly recommend using them. They add a certain depth of flavor that is well worth it!

~~~

J. Rose Allister is the author of more than twenty-five books, primarily romance and erotic romance. A former editor and submissions director, she now works as a mild-mannered hospital secretary by day, naughty writer by night. Connect with her on Twitter or Goodreads. She loves talking to people!