Stuff and Nonsense: March 2014


Your Wicked Ways

Helene had a shrewd feeling that she would be besieged with morning callers. No staid matron could chop off all her hair, put on a flagrantly outrageous gown, and disappear from a ballroom with the Earl of Mayne, without every single female acquaintance she had in the world -- and several whom she did not -- developing a burning ambition to take tea at her house.

Your Wicked Ways is the fourth book in Eloisa James's Duchess Quartet. I haven't read the other three, but Your Wicked Ways seemed to stand well enough on its own. James provided just enough background for Helene's besties (heroines of prior novels) for me to understand why they're all friends, but not so much as to make me feel she was padding out Your Wicked Ways by rehashing prior novels (this can be a problem in series).

I know I was very grumpy about historical romances a few months ago and said I would stop reading them, but ... I changed my mind after James mentioned this novel during the "Steamy Stories -- Bestselling Romance and Erotica Authors" at the Big Book Getaway. A funny but sexy novel about a woman so in want of a child that she would move in with her husband and his mistress to get one? Yes, please!

And I was not disappointed. Your Wicked Ways was, apparently, the tasty romantic candyfloss I'd been secretly yearning for and (aside from the outdoor sexytimes which, briefly, made me what to put the novel aside because sexytimes do not belong outdoors) I gobbled it up in ninety minutes. Seriously. That's one and a half lunch breaks. And I was eating while I read it.

I think Your Wicked Ways is the first historical romance I've read where the male romantic lead is terrible at sex (even his mistress mocks him). Obviously, like real human beings, he gets better with practice and is pretty hot stuff by the end of the novel. And that was quite refreshing, you know, because Romantic Heroes are always Masters of the Sexyverse and the heroine's first time with the hero is always Totes Awesome.

Your Wicked Ways by Eloisa James (Avon, 2004)


Comfort Me With (Slow Cooker) Chicken Soup

We were supposed to have sushi tonight, but work drama and an incipient cold had me hankering for soup. Happily, there were frozen chicken breasts and mixed vegetables in the freezer, so soup was go. (Seriously, is there any food more comforting than a big bowl of soup? Oatmeal on a bitter grey January morning comes close, I guess? Or that first scrambled egg and toast after days of gippy tummy?)

There's really no proper recipe for this soup -- I put three frozen boneless chicken breasts into the slow cooker insert with some chopped celery ribs, carrots, onion, garlic, and tomato. Added low-sodium fat-free chicken broth until everything was just covered. Topped it all off with Bell's salt-free poultry season and a bay leaf and let it cook on low for 6 hours.

Slow Cooker Chicken Soup

Then I shredded the chicken with two forks, added a 12-oz packaged of frozen mixed vegetables, chopped parsley, some hilopetes (pinky-nail-sized square Greek egg noodles) I'd picked up at the Polish grocery, and enough broth to almost fill the insert. I cranked the slow cooker up to high and let it cook for another hour. Then I removed the bay leaf, tasted, and adjusted the seasonings as needed.

Slow Cooker Chicken Soup

Not only was the soup pretty darn tasty and comforting, it made the whole house smell like home. Each time I stepped back into the house between appointments and errands, I took a great lungful in and felt ridiculously contented by the aroma. Soup, it's Feliway for humans.

A Cousinly Connexion

At eighteen Jane Ash fell in love with Edward Wincanton, an ensign in the Royal Navy. The youngest son of a local squire, Wincanton did not seem to Jane's father a suitable match for his only daughter. After some thought, for he was inclined to indulge her, Mr. Ash refused his consent to the match. Jane wept. Ensign Wincanton, his leave up, returned to his ship. Life went on.

Unlike several of her favourite heroines, Jane did not go into a decline, or join the Navy in the guise of a cabin boy, or sit mindless in a ruined tower twining jonquils into her tangled locks. As she was a sensible girl and fond of her father and brothers, she very soon entered again into their ordinary country pursuits. If she occasionally sighed without apparent cause or read the naval news with more eagerness than might have been expected in a female of tender years, her family were careful to take no notice.

A Cousinly Connexion was leant to me by a coworker who enjoys Georgette Heyer's Regency romances ever more than I do. She said it was a charming, thoroughly old-school Regency and she was right. A Cousinly Connexion is a sweet and rather delightful read. The novel begins with a nod to Persuasion and goes on to nicely subvert a few common Regency romance tropes in the form of The Absent Father, The Tulip, etc.

Simonson has a good grasp of Regency culture and history and I felt fully immersed in the time and the place. The characters, too, seemed born to the age -- a nice change from the many historical romance novels I've read where it seems the author thought it was good enough to put thoroughly contemporary people in period dress and let them fling themselves at each other. It never is (unless you've written something like Austenland, but that's a very different kind of romance).

Simsonson wrote five Regency romances and, while they're hard to find in print (my library system owns a paltry two), they are all available as ebooks from Uncial Press. Huzzah.

A Cousinly Connexion by Sheila Simonson (Amazon Digital Services, Kindle Edition)


Delicious Leftovers

Using Up Leftover Ingredients

I had some ingredients leftover from this month's Improv Challenge and decided to make a lazy sausage parmigiana. First, I cooked the sausage patties in a skillet with a double handful of sliced mushrooms. Then I removed the sausage to a broiler-safe pan, topped them with thick slices of fresh mozzarella, and broiled them until the cheese was all melty and gorgeous.

Meanwhile, I added some leftover bruschetta to the still-hot skillet and stirred it 'round until everything was heated through. Plated the sausage, topped it with the mushroom and bruschetta mixture, and garnished it with fresh basil. Served it with a little penne in tomato sauce and it was pretty darn good (and pretty!) for something that took less than 20 minutes to prepare!

Wordless Wednesday: Crocus/Crocuses/Croci

First spring blooms! Pretty no matter how they're pluralized.


Top 10 Tuesday: Bookish Bucket List

This week, for Top Ten Tuesday, we're talking about our bookish bucket list. I had a little trouble with this list, so I cheated and looked at some other participant's lists before composing my own and, I think the problem might be that I'm a little spoiled by my own life ...
  1. I've worked at a used bookstore (where the staff were outnumbered by cats).
  2. I am a librarian.
  3. I have a home library walled with proper bookshelves.
  4. I have a sunny window seat flanked by bookshelves.
  5. I feel I am am okay with the number of touristy literary sites I have already visited (tho' I wouldn't mind visiting Wharton's "The Mount" ... only 90 minutes away).
  6. I have already read a ridiculous number of books and will, no doubt, read many more.
  7. I have already read and/or purchased (too many) books in foreign countries.
  8. I have no desire to write or publish a book/ebook/whathaveyou.
Hmm. What's left?
  1. Go to more book signings/author talks. (Big Book Getaway was great fun, after all).
  2. Show my bookish colors by owning (and wearing) the literature-influenced shoes, jewelry, and Modcloth dresses I keep admiring.
  3. Meet (some of) my author crushes. (Not only is this something I really want, it's also something I'm terrified will actually happen as I'm bound to come off as either a gibbering idiot or a frighteningly enthusiastic fangirl).
  4. Throw myself a book-themed birthday party.
  5. Attend Worldcon/Dragon Con/New York Comic Con/PAX East/National Book Festival.
  6. Stop feeling guilty about all the books I'm not reading.
  7. Take a reading vacation (a cabin, a lake, a dribble of Internet, and a suitcase full of books).


Cheesy Spinach Scramble

I had some bruschetta topping leftover from this month's Improv Challenge and, oh my god, I've discovered it's good on pretty much everything -- pasta, burgers, sandwiches, scrambled eggs, etc.


To make these yummy and mostly-good-for-you eggs:

Sauté baby spinach in a little olive oil until tender. Add two eggs beaten with a little milk. Cook over medium low heat, stirring gently, until curds start to form and the eggs are still wet but not runny. Top with a little light cheddar (Cabot, obviously) and pop the pan under the broiler until the cheese is all melty and doubly delicious. Top with a little leftover bruschetta (salsa would also be tasty) and eat!


Improv Challenge: Sausage & Mushrooms

When I saw that March's Improv Challenge ingredients were mushrooms and sausage, I immediately thought of sausage-stuffed mushrooms. However, I knew I didn't want to make something fiddly or that wouldn't serve as a meal so I set about to create a meal-sized non-fiddly stuffed mushroom. Portobello mushrooms were the obvious choice and sausage had to be in the filling so ... why not use a sausage burger? Et voilà, these elegant-looking (and pretty darn tasty!) sausage and mushroom stacks were born!

Sausage & Portobello Stacks

I topped my stacks with fresh mozzarella and a commercially-prepared bruschetta, but you could easily use sliced provolone and chunky tomato sauce. Or make your own bruschetta. (Or sausage patties, for that matter).

I've not included any amounts in this "recipe," because it depends on how many people you're feeding and how much sauce or cheese you want. I cook for two, so used two caps and patties. We like cheese, so I was generous with the cheese. Didn't want to drown the stacks, so used about two tablespoons bruschetta per stack.


Remove stems from mushroom caps. Gently clean caps with a damp paper towel. Place, gills down, on a large broiler-safe pan. Place sausage patties next to mushrooms. Broil for 5 minutes.


Flip and broil for 5 minutes more.


Meanwhile, slice some fresh mozzarella.


And chiffonade some basil.


Your mushroom caps may have fluid pooling on top. Gently tilt to drain onto the pan. Top caps with sausage patties and fresh mozzarella.


Broil for about 3 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.


Plate. Top with bruschetta and basil. Serve immediately.

Sausage & Portobello Stacks


Beery-Good Irish Bacon

I wasn't planning on cooking anything special for Saint Patrick's Day, but then I saw "Guinness Glazed Irish Bacon" over at The Runaway Spoon and, ohhhh, I was just smitten. And, conveniently, I had all the ingredients on hand. (Who doesn't keep a spare package of back bacon in their freezer?).

Glazed Bacon Ingredients

This recipe goes together very easily -- the most difficult part was patiently waiting for the glaze to reduce when all I really wanted to do was stuff my belly with glazed bacon as quickly as possible. I used Guinness 250 Anniversary Stout, which is a bit maltier and milder than regular ol' Guinness. I also broiled my bacon, simply because I couldn't fit all the bacon in a skillet and was feeling too lazy to cook it in batches.

Guinness Glazed Irish Bacon

Anyway, I thought the glazed bacon was fabulous -- a perfect blend of sweet, salty, and smoky. I served the bacon with roasted Brussels sprouts I'd tossed with a little bit of the extra glaze and lots of cracked black pepper. Yum!


(Almost) Spring Lamb

Spring officially starts on Thursday and, although I know Mother Nature doesn't keep the same calendar, the few recent 40-ish blue-sky days have got me in the mood for daffodils, asparagus, and lamb. While it's a bit too early for daffs and the price of asparagus makes me say inappropriate things, there was a nice piece of butterflied lamb in my freezer so ...

Sunday Supper

Lemony Greek Butterflied Lamb

1½ lb butterflied leg of lamb
Olive oil, as desired
Penzeys Greek Seasoning blend, as desired
1 lemon, halved

Pat meat dry with paper towels and score fatty side in a criss-cross pattern. Rub thoroughly with olive oil. Rub generously with Greek seasoning. Squeeze lemon over lamb and let sit at room temperature for about an hour.

Butterflied Lamb

Preheat oven to 425F° degrees. Place meat, fatty side up, on a baking sheet. Roast for about 20 minutes (medium rare) or until desired level of doneness is reached.

Remove from oven, cover with foil, and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Sunday Lamb

I served the lamb with celery-mashed potatoes and buttery parslied carrots and it was good. I'm guessing it would, in a few months times, also be really good on the grill.


Wordless Wednesday: Window Cat

Cat on Window Ledge
Shelving reference materials is a lot more fun
with a fuzzy neighbor to look at across the alley.


Top 10 Tuesday: All Time Favorite Funny Romances

All-time favorite funny romances to read when it's March and everything is either frozen, grey, and horrible or wet, grey, and horrible and you're SO COLD all the time and simply tired of EVERYTHING. And then one of your "helpful" coworkers fills your ear about a new storm front (possibly) headed your way and this is exactly how you feel:

  • Angus, Thongs & Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
  • Austenland by Shannon Hale
  • The Bargain Bride by Barbara Metzger
  • Bridge Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding
  • Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner
  • Jemima J by Jane Green
  • Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  • Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes
  • Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie

Southwestern(ish) Shrimp Salad

Shrimp Salad

I made this Southwestern(ish) shrimp salad last week when, in fit of madness, I decided to ignore how cold I always am at work and decided not to pack a hot lunch. It was a delicious salad, but even though I immediately followed it with two cups of scaldingly hot tea, I spent the rest of the night shivering away at my desk.

Ingredients: romaine, cucumber, red onion, grape tomatoes, black beans, lime juice, shrimp tossed with Penzeys Arizona Dreaming seasoning blend, and guacamole.

When I make this salad again (in, say, May), I'll add some cilantro and Trader Joe's Corn & Chile Salsa.


Slow Cooker Chicken Italiano, Yum

So I ran a little mad buying chicken at the market during last week's sale and my freezer is now impossibly full. So full, indeed, that some of the sale chicken won't fit. We've eaten chicken for three meals running now and, while chicken is delicious, I'm looking forward to tomorrow's ahi tuna.

Chicken Italiano

Tonight, I made Pillsbury's "Chicken Italiano" using skinned bone-in thighs and rosemary-and-lemon infused Kalamata olives. I cooked the dish for 8½ hours on Low and then left it on warm for about 1½ hours and it came out really well. Succulent, full of bright flavors, and beautifully colored ... I'd be pretty happy eating this chicken dish every month. And, since it uses kitchen staples, I certainly could. Yum.


Hello, Leftovers: Shredded Beef Taco Salad

I'd intended to make quesadillas with the leftover slow cooker shredded beef, but then realized taco salad was an even better idea. I do love me some taco salad, after all, and the temperature was supposed to rise up to 49°F today suggesting Salad Season was on its way, so ...

Taco Salad

Shredded Beef Taco Salad

2 small flour tortillas
Olive oil, as needed
1 cup leftover shredded beef
red onion, chopped
cilantro, chopped
romaine, chopped
cheddar, shredded
[Cabot Seriously Sharp, of course]

Preheat oven to 425°F. (If you have a pizza stone, preheat it with the oven. Otherwise, get out a sheet pan).

Lightly brush tortillas with a little olive oil and place on preheated pizza stone (or place on sheet pan and put in oven). Bake for 4-5 minutes, depending on desired brownness.

Baked Tortillas

Remove tortillas from oven and plate. Microwave beef until heated through. Divide meat between tortillas. Garnish with cheddar, romaine, red onion, salsa, guacamole, and cilantro. Eat.


(My shredded beef already had corn and black beans mixed in so I didn't add any to my salad, but would certainly recommend it if yours doesn't).


Slow Cooker Shredded Beef Tacos

Ages ago I received a package of Campbell's Slow Cooker Mexican Red Chili Taco Sauce and, time and again, I've meant to use it ... only to change my mind as some shiny new recipe popped up on Pinterest (curse you, Pinterest). But beef roasts were on sale last week so I bought one specifically to make the slow cooker tacos.

Shredded Beef Taco

I prepared the beef as directed, using a piece of well-trimmed chuck. I did add in a small chopped red onion and about a quarter of a cup of Penzeys red and green bell pepper flakes for extra flavor. I was a little worried the peppers would absorb a lot of liquid while they rehydrated during the cooking process, but I needn't have as the beef was swimming in a sea of liquid when I checked it nine hours later. I took the beef out at that point and shredded it using two forks and then dumped it back into the slow cooker insert with a cup of black beans and a cup of thawed Trader Joe's fire-roasted corn.

We ate the shredded beef on warm flour tortillas with guacamole, salsa fresca, and cilantro. They were pretty good, but a bit messy from all the juices (I should have drained some off before returning the beef to the insert) and the flour tortillas would have been better toasted in a skillet rather than warmed in the oven.

Anyway, it was an easy and reasonably healthy weekday supper. Would I buy another Campbell's Slow Cooker Sauce? Probably not. Not because there was anything wrong with the product -- the finished dish was really quite tasty -- but because it just felt as if I could have done something very similar from scratch with tomato sauce and canned chipotle peppers in adobo, etc.

There's a ton of meat leftover, so we'll be having shredded beef quesadillas for supper on Friday and then ... I don't know. I might freeze what's left until I can come up with a decent idea. Could the meat be used as the base for a beef-barley soup? Hmmm.

Wordless Wednesday: Car vs Trash Bin

In the battle of car vs. trash bin, the bin won.


Top 10 Tuesday: Popular Authors I've Never Read

This week, for Top Ten Tuesday, we're talking about the top ten popular authors we've never read. To compile this list, I paged through Amazon's Author Rank and simply started writing down unread authors (there are lots of 'em!) until I hit 10. I have no grudge against any of the writers listed below ... just, for some reason, nothing they've written "speaks" to me. Well-intentioned friends and co-workers have recommended specific volumes of Macomber, Roberts, and Picoult but I could never get more than a chapter or two in. I figure that's okay, because surely I've recommended books to them that they couldn't get into, either!
  • David Baldacci
  • Lee Child
  • Michael Connelly
  • Debbie Macomber
  • James Patterson
  • Jodi Picoult
  • Nora Roberts/JD Robb
  • Brandon Sanderson
  • Nicholas Sparks
  • HM Ward


Turkey Every Day

I roasted a turkey last Sunday and, in a fit of optimism combined with weak math skills, estimated we would be out of turkey by Wednesday. We actually ran out of turkey on Saturday, after I fed the last six ounces to the cats because there was simply no way we could stomach any more turkey and I wasn't about to add it to the already stuffed freezer. (Anyway, the cats are crazed by the unending cold and ice and clearly needed a little extra something from the humans).

So I started with a roasted fourteen-pound turkey:

Roast Turkey
Rubbed well with olive oil, seasoned with sea salt, pepper, and Bell's Seasoning.

And that became Sunday supper:

Sunday Dinner
With gravy, tarted-up instant mashed potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, and parslied carrots.

And then pizza:

Turkey Pizza
Ready-made pizza crust, turkey, pizza sauce, red onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, seasonings, "pizza" cheese blend.

And soup:

Leftover Turkey Soup
Mafalda, turkey, broth, dill, salt, black pepper, bay, garlic, red onion, carrots, celery, corn, peas.

And salad:

Leftover Turkey Salad
Turkey, red onion, bell peppers, guacamole, romaine, lime juice, black pepper.

And another soup that I forgot to snap a photo of before we gobbled it all up and many, many sandwiches. And now we are positively done with roast turkey for quite a long time to come!