Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My Life. One Story at a Time. is being featured on Author Brenda Youngerman's blog

What an honor to be featured on an author's website. Brenda Youngerman is spotlighting My Life. One Story at a Time. on her blog today. I hope you'll stop by!

Brenda Youngerman: Tuesday's Spotlight - My Life. One Story at a Time
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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Nielsen-Massey Madagasgar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste




            I can’t tell you how long I have had my eye on Vanilla Bean Paste. That’s why when I came across an advertisement from Nielsen-Massey looking for someone to try the product and review it, I was on it like sticky on candy. And, I knew I had to call in my favorite cousin, Kelly, to help in the taste testing. I love to bake, but I normally stick to the basics. Kelly, on the other hand, is a gourmet cook. Together, I felt we could we could give this bottle of vanilla bean paste a run it would not soon forget.
Vanilla Beans (a good sign)

You can see how thick the vanilla paste is in this picture.
            Being a baker and a firm believer of making everything from scratch, I have been making my own vanilla extract for years (have I ever mentioned the standing joke around my house – If you eat my desserts, we’ll call you a cab.) What Kelly and I did was put the two to a taste test, and that began with an old fashion “stick your finger and lick it” test. The Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste (check out the picture) is very thick, almost like molasses, and true to its claim, has a lot of vanilla beans. It also has an extraordinary flavor that had it not been for Kelly, I would have stood there all day and continued to “dip and lick”. That sounds sort of dirty, but this vanilla paste is sinfully good – all-by-itself.

First, you need "pretty" spoon for measuring.
             Did I mention Hubby wanted to get in on the act? Before Kelly and I could gather the ingredients needed to make our pate’ a choux, Hubby was already stirring in a pot. Hubby is famous for his Southern Pecan Pralines and Peanut Butter Fudge. He decided that his taste tasting would involve Coconut Pralines and he was determined to use the vanilla paste first. There was definitely a little competition going on in that kitchen!


First steps of making pralines

Bringing the mixture to a boil

Measuring the vanilla

Adding the vanilla

Cooking the mixture



            This is the recipe for Hubby’s Pralines.

Southern Pralines (The best in all the world)

5 cups sugar
1 can condensed milk
1 can (large) pet milk
1 stick butter (the real thing)
3 cups chopped pecans (or coconut)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (NOT imitation extract)
Directions:
Will take approximately one hour of stirring and makes approximately 60 pralines (if you don’t taste test before they’re done)

Start with a high fire, then lower to a med/low flame. Stir constantly. Melt butter and add sugar, condensed milk and pet milk.

Pralines on wax paper & newspaper

Pralines lift off of silpat

We also dropped some on silpat

Looking good

After approximately one hour, mixture will begin to thicken and turn to a caramel color. Once it forms a ball with a slightly crusty coating in a bowl of cool water, mixture is ready for the pecans and vanilla (or substitute same amount of grated coconut in place of pecans). Add these, stirring constantly. Cook a short time longer.
Drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper that has been placed on top of newspaper. Stir every so often to keep mixture from hardening as you are dropping it onto the wax paper.

Finished product. Coconut Pralines

 The following recipe is the one we used for the profiteroles and cream filling. We made a simple ganache’ of cream and melted chocolate for the topping.
Vanilla pastry cream recipe
Prep Time: --- | Cook Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes | 
Servings: Fills 1 standard pastry recipe | 
Ingredients:
·        1 ¼ cups whole milk
·        3 egg yolks
·        ¼ cup granulated sugar
·        1/8 cup all-purpose flour
·        2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
·        1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Directions:
In a small saucepan, warm the milk over low heat until it is just hot enough to steam. While the milk is warming, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, flour, and cornstarch until the mixture is completely smooth.
Once the milk is steaming, add half of it, whisking constantly, to the egg mixture. Add the milk and eggs back into the hot milk, continue stirring, and heat it for 1-2 minutes, until the custard reaches 170F on a digital thermometer and is very thick. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract, and chill before filling pastry.


 Pate a Choux basic recipe ( puff pastry )

Notice the beans - good sign  (vanilla creme)

Melting butter & water

Ingredients:
·        1 cup water
·        1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
·        1 cup flour
·        1 cup eggs (4 large eggs)
Directions:
1. Bring the water and butter to a simmer over high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium, add the flour and stir rapidly.  The flour will absorb the water quickly and a dough will form and pull away from the sides. Keep stirring to continue cooking the flour and cook off some of the water, another minute or two.  Transfer the paste to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or to a bowl if you're using a hand mixer.  (If you want to mix the eggs directly into the dough in the pot, let it cool slightly, 4 or 5 minutes,
or cool off the pan itself by running cold water over its base if you
will be mixing the eggs in that pot.  You don’t want to cook the eggs
too quickly.)

2. Add the eggs one at a time mixing rapidly until each is combined into the paste.  The paste will go from shiny to furry, slippery to sticky as the egg is incorporated.  The p√Ęte a choux can be cooked immediately at this point or refrigerated for up to a day until ready to use.

Coming together in the pan

Adding eggs

Ready to bake. I used an ice cream scoop to make it uniform.


Pipe or spoon choux paste into hot oil for doughnuts and cook for 5 minutes or until done.  Spoon or pipe it  onto a baking sheet (see above, remember to press the peaks down with a moistened finger, they can burn) and bake in a hot oven (425 for 10 minutes, 350 for another half hour or so, is ideal) for cream puffs, profiteroles and gougeres.  Or pipe into simmering water for parisienne gnocchi (remove when they float, then saute in brown butter with additional garnish of your choice, excellent recipes in Bouchon for all of these preparations).
Source: http://ruhlman.com/2009/01/pate-a-choux/

Fresh from the oven

Aren't they pretty?

Light and fluffy insides

With vanilla cream
             Now, I am the chocoholic in the family, so this is what my profiteroles looked like (and I enjoyed every bit of them.) To stem the objections to my “globs of chocolate”, I also “drizzled” the chocolate on top of some of the profiteroles. 
Making the ganache

Lots of ganache!
Cream filled profiterole

Someone had to taste it!

Perfection!

Along with a sweet profiterole, we also made a savory one. We added the most wonderful Irish White Cheddar and grated Parmesan cheese to the dough and baked. We then filled them with homemade chicken salad. The result - scrumptous!

Adding shredded cheese

Swiss Cheddar

Perfection!


I’ve started thinking as of late, that I may want to be permanently laid to rest in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I’ve heard the air quality is sublime and the aroma simply cannot be matched anywhere else in the world. I think that would be a happy resting place for a chocoholic such as myself.
            In conclusion, I have to highly recommend hunting down Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste. It has a rich intense flavor that cannot be duplicated with an extract. It has a heavy dose of vanilla pods within the dark syrup that will add a richness to any dish you use it in. It is worth whatever it costs and the trouble it takes to find it. It is THAT good.

The mess

Fruits of our labor
            You can play the Rafflecopter for a chance to win a bottle!

Disclaimer / Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book with no obligation for a positive review. No compensation - monetary or in kind - has been obtained for this post. Cover art and book description courtesy of the author, publisher, or PR firm. 









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Friday, January 27, 2012

If Wishes Were Husbands by Elizabeth Kyne


If Wishes Were Husbands

Title: If Wishes Were Husbands
Author: Elizabeth Kyne
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Publisher: Elly Books
Released: November 2011

Book Blurb:

Rachel re-invents herself when she moves back to her home town of Aylesbury; with a new job, a new house and a new haircut. But people’s eyes glaze over when she tells them about her life as a forty-something singleton who works in accounts. So why not spice things up a bit? Why not tell her new hairdresser and her new friends about her fantastic husband? Everyone wants to hear about Darren, the man who cooks her amazing meals, cleans the house and takes her to bed for orgasmic sex three times a night! What a shame he doesn't exist…

…Until she comes home one night and finds Darren sitting in her lounge. And everything she said becomes true: from his sensuous food to his skill in bed. So real, that she believes it. 

Not as if living with a perfect is man is… well, perfect… 

She can’t find anything because every time she puts something down, he tidies it away. Then there’s the shock of the credit card bill from buying all that gourmet food. Not to mention the sex! Three times a night is great at first, but sometimes all she wants at the end of the day is a sandwich and some sleep.

Then Rachel decides that Darren has to go - and that’s when her troubles really begin.

From the Author:

IF ONLY I DIDN’T HAVE A LOVE AFFAIR WITH SLEEP
Author Elizabeth Kyne dreams about what life might have been like
if she’d been blessed with more hours in the day

One night a couple of years ago, I was just getting ready for bed when the phone rang. “Who the hell’s calling at this hour?” was the general reaction in the house. It turned out to be Ian. The conversation went something like this:

“Oh hi Ian, I was just going to bed.”

“Bed? But it’s ten o’clock. Why are you going to bed now?”

“Because it’s bed time.”

He had no concept of a person wanting to go to bed at ten o’clock. To him, it was the middle of the evening and there were four hours until his bedtime.

I wish I were like Ian.

To clarify, I’m actually glad I am not like Ian in many ways (I’m not sure how I’d cope with being a teacher in Scotland, for example), but in the sleep department, I envy him. On the day he’d rung me, he’d spent eight hours at work, earned some lovely money, then come home, had some dinner and relaxed for a bit, and was just settling down to work on a script for a play he was writing and wanted to chat to me about it.
As for me, I’d spent all day writing and doing assorted things, earned very little money, had dinner, spent a precious hour relaxing in front of the telly and was about done for the day. If only I’d been able to stay up until two in the morning doing stuff, then I could have achieved so much more.

There is a piece of advice dished out to writers which, in many ways, is excellent advice. It goes something like this: Set your alarm for an hour earlier, get up and write for an hour, then go to work. Pretty soon, you will have written the first draft of a novel and – what’s more – you haven’t had to sacrifice any salaried time to do it. Which, if you want to eat and have a roof over your head, is a pretty good idea.

I’ve tried this. Really, I’ve tried it. Maybe it worked on the Monday, maybe I even managed to struggle out of bed on the Tuesday, but by Wednesday I was just beat. The other problem was – and this is the biggest problem, to my mind – is that by the time you get into work, you’re too tired to put your all energies into your job. That’s the job which is paying for life’s little essentials like food and housing. To put it at risk by coming in exhausted every day is probably not the best plan for continued employment.

Add to that the additional complication of the day job I foolishly decided to take on. My background is in radio journalism and, in radio, the most important time of the day is breakfast time. So, often my shift would start at 5am. I was already getting up at 4.30am. The prospect of getting up at 3.30am to write… well, let’s just say that wasn’t going to happen.

One advantage of shifts like this, you might think, is because you start early, you finish early too. Although this is the case, my ability to function in the afternoon when I’ve been up at 4.30am and worked the equivalent of a full day, is vastly reduced. Exhaustion is total. I’ve tried using this time to write or to exercise and it’s generally been a failure. It’s hard enough just staying awake in the afternoon to make sure that when I go to bed at night I actually sleep.

I’m such a wimp at sleep, that after a week doing shifts like that, my stamina for going out at the weekend was very low indeed. So much so that I got a bit of a reputation for going to bed early at parties. There was one party I remember in which I was so sleepy by the time I got there at 8pm that I decided to nip upstairs for a quick lay down on the spare bed. I had fully intended to get back up and do some partying, but fell asleep instead and only emerged some twelve hours later to find a handful of people downstairs nursing their hangovers. Yep, I’d slept through the whole party.

If only I wasn’t a slave to sleep. If only I had the stamina to write at either end of the day and still earn a crust at a regular job. But that’s just not me. In the end, I’ve had to accept that if I want to write, I have to sacrifice a regular salary. For me, that has meant going part time at my radio job so I work weekends and write during the week. It still means I can’t go to parties without going to bed early, but at least I’m writing.
I have great admiration for the authors of this world who get up and write before going to work, or burn the midnight oil to get that manuscript finished. They are amazing people. Some of them even manage it with a young family or a baby in the house. They are truly heroic; I wish I were more like them.

My point is, I guess, that we all have limitations to what we can do. For me, it’s sleep; for others it maybe family or business commitments. But, in our heart of hearts, if we want to write, then we will find a way. Because a writer who doesn’t write is no writer at all.

*****

Rachel re-invents herself when she moves back to her home town of Aylesbury; with a new job, a new house and a new haircut. But people’s eyes glaze over when she tells them about her life as a forty-something singleton who works in accounts. So why not spice things up a bit? Why not tell her new hairdresser and her new friends about her fantastic husband? Everyone wants to hear about Darren, the man who cooks her amazing meals, cleans the house and takes her to bed for orgasmic sex three times a night! What a shame he doesn't exist…

…Until she comes home one night and finds Darren sitting in her lounge. And everything she said becomes true: from his sensuous food to his skill in bed. So real, that she believes it.
Not as if living with a perfect is man is… well, perfect…

She can’t find anything because every time she puts something down, he tidies it away. Then there’s the shock of the credit card bill from buying all that gourmet food. Not to mention the sex! Three times a night is great at first, but sometimes all she wants at the end of the day is a sandwich and some sleep.

Then Rachel decides that Darren has to go - and that’s when her troubles really begin.

Elizabeth Kyne takes the absurdities of the modern woman's quest for love and turns them into an enjoyable romp. She finds the comic in everyday situations, from buying a dress to experimenting with hair dye at home. While, underneath, she comments on the pressure to find the perfect husband and how that quest is doomed for us all.

PAPERBACK

EBOOK

Elizabeth Kyne trained to be a radio journalist and spent her early working years reading news bulletins and writing for magazines. Later, after learning the meaning of “mortgage” and “gas bill”, she decided to do the sensible thing and drop the freelance lifestyle to get a proper job. The job, however, all went horribly wrong and she returned to her first love of writing, and worked on several novels before finding success with “If Wishes Were Husbands”.


Book Quotes:

And, looking at myself in the changing room mirror, I started to doubt if even one of my old posh frocks would fit anymore. The sagginess of time had started to pull on my body. Breasts gradually making their way to rendezvous with my navel, belly like a deflated rugby ball and thighs like tree trunks with wrinkled bark that tapered ever so slightly down to the water retention at my knees.

How the Victorians would have disapproved of the display of underwear on show: rows and rows of bras and knickers on individual hangers as far as the eye could see in all colours from somber browns to sexy reds and purples. Lace, wire and enhanced cleavage nuzzled next to practical, unadorned boob holders.

My Review:

If we could have the perfect husband we’ve always wanted, what would we wish for? Rachel made that wish and then began to weave a fairytale. All she really wanted to do was fit in. She was tired of being labeled as a 40 something year old single female who was married to her job. Little did she realize that when she returned home that night, her fairytale would have come to life. Maybe perfect isn’t what we’re dreaming of, that is, until it fads before our very eyes.

Rachel is out with friends one night and conjures up the perfect man. Her friends are all envious of her wonderful life. She returns home to find the fairytale has come to life and as the days go by, she begins to realize perfect isn’t always perfect. She begins to resent this perfect man who is there to satisfy her every whim. The book is quite funny and I enjoyed the fast-paced story line.

The author did an excellent job in showing Darren’s confusion when Rachel becomes irritated with him when all he wants to do is please her. After all, Rachel conjured him up. It was a fun book.

I am giving this book a excellent rating because I thought the writing was good. The book had an original concept. I did not come across any grammatical errors or misspellings as I was reading (doesn’t necessarily mean there weren’t any, but I’m good at spotting them and I saw none.) I think if you are looking for a fun, light read, this book hits the mark.

Elizabeth's book can be purchased from Amazon here:


Disclaimer / Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book with no obligation for a positive review. No compensation - monetary or in kind - has been obtained for this post. Cover art and book description courtesy of the author, publisher, or PR firm. 

You can also win a copy of the book by playing the Rafflecopter!

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Crazy in Paradise by Deborah Brown



Crazy in Paradise

Ebook By Deborah Brown
Published: July 07, 2011 
Category: Fiction » Mystery & Detective » Women Sleuths

About the Book:

Welcome to Tarpon Cove. Madison Westin inherits her aunt’s beachfront motel along with a variety of colorful tenant’s - drunks, ex-cons and fugitives. Only one problem: First she has to wrestle control from her lawyer and conniving motel manager. She enlists the help of her new best friend who’s motto is never leave home without your Glock. Only in South Florida, land of hot tan lines, drugs on demand – not to mention blackmail and murder. 

About the Author:

Image of Deborah Brown

            My debut novel Crazy in Paradise is full of fun and surprises. I've been writing, in one way or another for as long as I can remember; writing poetry, short stories, a romance novel secretly stashed under the bed and sappy love letters. Fiction should be fun. I wanted to create the perfect beach book, to make the reader laugh, cry and cheer... and then run out and tell their friends about it. My love of reading began when I was seven, the day I opened the cover of my first Mrs. Piggle Wiggle book. Mrs. P gave lessons to other children in how to behave and to me I learned to love the written word. I live in South Florida, with my ungrateful animals, where Mother Nature takes out her bad attitude in the form of hurricanes.

From the Author:

My Worst Job Ever

            I was fresh out of college, and needed immediate income and time to interview for my dream job, which was in advertising, so cocktail waitressing at a country western bar seemed like the perfect fit.  I knew nothing about country western music and never waitressed but the hours were 9pm until 3am.

            The owner saw something in me, desperation perhaps and he hired me on the spot.  He informed me after the interview if I wanted to make any money, I should go buy myself some boobs.  Back then, I was super thin and flat chested.  I went straight to the store and purchased myself a pair of 36 B’s, which made my body look like it had been taken over by a pair of boobs.  My new gigantic bra complimented the rest of the uniform, red short shorts, a tight white t-shirt, and low heels.  I remember debuting that outfit to my sister and she laughed until she choked.  We both laughed that when you poked me in the chest there was spring back action.

            The bar patrons were nice and so were my co-workers but I was a fish out of water.  A lot like Dorothy when she realized she wasn’t in Kansas anymore.  I looked and acted like the unsophisticated girl that I was.  I met a couple of guys while I worked there, one in particular but I was too embarrassed to say yes to a date. 
           
            The hours turned out to be the only perk of the job leaving me time to job hunt when I wasn’t completely exhausted.  I’d get home at 4am, wired and unable to go to sleep, smelling like the bottom of an ashtray and the inside of a beer bottle from head to toe.

            Four weeks later, I was hired as a receptionist in advertising.  I was happy to quit my night job and even happier that my boss didn’t want any notice.  We had an amicable breakup.

Book Quotes:

“To new beginnings here in South Florida.”

“Elizabeth was a woman you wanted in your back up arsenal, she never said no to helping me. I wish I’d gotten to talk to her one last time.”

“You didn’t have very much. What happened to all of your possessions? Tell me Dickhead didn’t get everything in the divorce.”

“Look, you do have something in common,” Mother said. “Divorce. That’s nice. Does your family refer to your ex as Dickhead, Zach?”

“I need a favor.”  “Are you using an IOU?”

“I hit him over the head with a vase. I didn’t know what else to do.”…”What if he wakes up?” “I can’t continue to hit him over the head.”

“I try to use my martial art skills more than a gun, but I never leave home without my Glock and a couple of her friends.”

He looked at me, a serious look on his face. “I don’t think I can get my hand inside your dress if we sit on the concrete.” “How would you like it if I stuck my hand up your pants?”

“All I know is he’s an ex-con, no friends, and no one is willing to step up and claim his dead ass.”

My Review:

            Crazy in Paradise was a book full of strange, crazy characters, each collecting their own set of “I owe you’s.” From the first page of the book to the last, the action was non-stop. The story began with recently divorced Madison Westin inheriting her recently deceased aunt’s beachfront house and properties. Not only does she inherit an old motel, she also inherits an old motel full of eccentric people.

            From the insane funeral that will leave you in tears, to the scheming attorneys, mad ex-cons, a centerfold private investigator who is just as adept at making trouble as he is in solving mysteries (and he’s also quite the charmer.) Then, there are the dates that Madison’s mother tries to fix her up with that will leave you rolling your eyes.

            Trouble seems to follow Madison around as she tries to legitimize her aunt’s business and she finds herself in the midst of a shootout. The book was not a serious book by any means and would be a great book to sit out on the beach to read. You’ll find yourself looking for the hunky P.I. and seeing shady characters lurking by old motels. The story is humorous and you’ll find yourself chuckling along the way. Crazy in Paradise is just that, crazy (and a fun read.)


Deborah’s book can be purchased on Amazon

You can also enter to win a copy of Crazy in Paradise by
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Disclaimer / Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book with no obligation for a positive review. No compensation - monetary or in kind - has been obtained for this post. Cover art and book description courtesy of the author, publisher, or PR firm. 

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