Friday, April 18, 2014

The UnStuck App: A Writer's Review

I came across a free app in the App Store recently called UnStuck. It's a clever little tool you might want to check out.

I wrote about it over at Lit Central O.C.

You can read it here: http://www.litcentraloc.com.

Monday, April 14, 2014

What You Missed at the L.A. Times Festival of Books 2014




I joined the tens of thousands of people who attended the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this weekend and wrote about it for Lit Central O.C.

You can find the scintillating tale here:

http://litcentraloc.com/2014/04/14/what-you-missed/



Monday, April 7, 2014

I've Been Distracted Lately...

Yes, I've been a very bad blogger. I'm sure you don't care about the excuses, so I won't bore you with them. But if you are here because you're wondering what I've been doing lately, I'm happy to tell you I have not been idle....

First, I've been unable to find a good writing group fit for myself for the longest time (mostly because of my limited free time) so I created one. It's called O.C. Writers, and it now includes more than 140+ members on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/groups/ocwriters), 130+ members on Meetup.com (http://www.meetup.com/OC-Writers) and about 75 subscribers on our official homepage at www.OCWriters.org.

Second, I have secretly envied the robust writing communities in neighboring San Diego and Los Angeles, so earlier this year I launched LitCentralOC.com, an online magazine written by local writers for local writers, in an effort to bridge the divide between the various O.C. writing organizations and showcase the work of all O.C. authors, regardless of genre.

Oh, yeah, I've been writing too! I have a contemporary romance novella finished and a tie-in novel in the works. Both center on a fictional SoCal belly dance studio and the love lives of the smart, sexy women who run it. Intrigued? Great! I'll be able to share more details on those very soon...

Until then,

Have a happy April!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Haggis for beginners

I like haggis, but serving it to company can be tricky. It doesn't matter how much I talk about how similar it is to traditional sausage, most people -- even Scots -- can get a little squeamish. So I've been exploring alternative ways to serve Scotland's national dish that might be more palatable, especially to haggis virgins.

On haggis-maker MacSween's website (www.macsween.co.uk), the Mini Three Bird Haggis Wellingtons recipe caught my eye. I made a batch of the filling using a can of vegetarian haggis I had in the pantry, and found the versatile filling could be used in a number of ways.

I wanted more stuffing in each appetizer than the original recipe called for, so I made a couple sizes of mini tartlets instead of the balls, as well as several red potato cups. There was enough filling to make three dozen appetizers, plus more than half of the haggis that could be used for another preparation.

Another change I made was to the ratio of mushrooms and shallots in the filling because I love these flavors and thought they would complement the haggis. Feel free to adjust to your taste.

The ingredients
MY MCSWEEN'S MINI THREE BIRD HAGGIS WELLINGTON-INSPIRED APPETIZERS
Yields about 20 tartlets, and 16 stuffed red potatoes

1 tbls. extra-virgin olive oil
2 oz. shallots, diced
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, diced
2 oz. baby spinach, fresh
15 oz. can haggis (I used Stahly's Vegetarian Haggis)
1 roll ready-rolled puff pastry
1 egg yolk
8 red potatoes, medium size
Salt and pepper, to taste
Flour for dusting the cutting board
Sour cream and chives for garnish

Pre-heat oven 400 degrees. Saute the shallots in the extra-virgin olive oil over low heat until softened, roughly three minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until the liquid releases from the mushrooms and most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the baby spinach and cook until wilted and most of the liquid has evaporated. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let the mixture drain in a sieve for a few minutes, or until cool enough to fill the pastry shells.

The mushroom and shallot mixture
Cut the potatoes in half, pierce a couple times with a fork, and cook in the microwave under a paper towel for 3 minutes, or until softened through.

Meanwhile, roll unroll the puff pastry on the flour-dusted cutting board. Cut out the desired shapes. I cut out nine 2 1/2-inch round circles and a dozen squares from the remaining dough. Put the circles on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Put a teaspoon of haggis in the center and top with a teaspoon of the mushroom mixture. Bring the sides up till they meet in an "X" formation and pinch closed. Dab with the egg yolk and sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until sufficiently browned on top. (The pastry purses will open to look like mini-tarts.

Spray a mini-muffin pan with spray oil and fit each pastry square into the bottom of a muffin form. Top with a teaspoon of haggis and a teaspoon of the mushroom mixture. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until edges of the pastry are golden brown.

Cut a sliver of skin off the bottom of each potato half so that it will stand. Remove the center of the potato with a melon baller or small teaspoon to create a potato cup. Sprinkle lightly with salt, then fill the cup with a teaspoon of haggis and a teaspoon of the mushroom mixture. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the edges are browned. Remove and when cool, top with sour cream and chives.

Place the tarts and potato cups on a platter, and serve warm.




Enjoy!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Move Over, Baileys -- We've Got Homemade Scottish Cream

I'm a big fan of Bailey's Irish Cream, but there's always been a part of me that has wished for a more Scottish alternative. While surfing the Internet recently, I found the perfect -- and easy! -- answer on Food.com: a homemade version of Irish Cream that uses scotch instead of Irish whiskey. Voila! Scottish Cream.

This weekend, I gathered the ingredients and fixed up a batch. It was creamy and tasty -- perfect over a few ice cubes or added to coffee.

To give my plain brown bottle a little more personality, I also downloaded a template and created our very own "Cameron Rampant Lion Scottish Cream" label in Photoshop. 

I think it's going to be a fun aperitif to have around for the holidays. I hope you'll think so, too.

HOMEMADE SCOTTISH CREAM
Yield 4 cups

1 c. light cream                                  
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 2/3 c. single malt Scotch whisky
1 t. instant coffee
2 T chocolate syrup
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. almond extract

Put all the ingredients in a blender and mix on high for 30 seconds. Pour the mixture in a tightly sealed container and keep in the refrigerator. The Scottish Cream will keep for up to two months in the fridge. Shake the bottle well before serving.

COOK'S NOTE: I used half and half instead of light cream, but whole milk can also be used. I also used a blended scotch whisky instead of a single malt because I didn't want to waste the good stuff, in case the recipe didn't work out.





Friday, August 9, 2013

A Scotch Pie Story That Finally Has A Happy Ending

Finally, our family has discovered a way to make our much-loved Scotch pies at home.

It hasn't been easy. I've searched every corner of the Internet for a recipe I could manage, but every one I tried came up short. The filling has never been the problem. It's the pastry. I found it impossible to get that perfect tuna-can shape, even the time I used a tuna can as a mold. (It was very well washed so there was no stinky residue, but it was still a horrible failure.)

So, I was beside myself when I came across the DIY Scotch Pie Company (http://www.diyscotchpie.co.uk/home). I had come across online pie shell sellers before, but they were always in the United Kingdom and they never offered delivery to the United States. But when I checked, I discovered this one did. You can't imagine my joy. I placed my order then and there.

Unfortunately, that order had to be cancelled because the seller discovered the bureaucracy involved in shipping food products into the U.S. was trickier than he thought. I received a very kind letter of apology, along with a pledge that he would contact me as soon as the matter was resolved and shipping could be managed.

I never expected to hear from that kind man again, but a few months later, I did! Just a short note to let me know the shipping problem has been resolved. I immediately ordered the 6 standard & 12 small shell kit. It was £8.99 for the kit, plus £11.60 for shipping. Converted into dollars, it was $32.85.

Nine days later, I received the shells. I was a bit concerned when I saw they weren't packed with freezer packs, but I forged ahead, trusting that the DIY Scotch Pie folks knew their stuff.

They do! I cooked up a batch of Scotch Pies the next day using the filling recipe and seasoning packet included with the shells, as well as the recipe for DIY lids (the shells do not come with lids).

The pies were a resounding success. Terrific for dinner, lunch and anytime we have a craving for a savory Scotch pie. I think it's safe to say, from now on, our freezer will always have a stash of ready-to-heat Scotch pies, thanks to the kind and determined people at the DIY Scotch Pie Company.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Not-So-Traditional Toad in the Hole

Every year our family looks forward to attending the Southern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and one of the things I look forward to most is my annual toad-in-the-hole.

At the fair, a toad-in-the-hole is a pastry with a savory pork sausage filling. Although I've never had a toad anywhere but the fair, I've known it's a dish with a long history. This week I wanted to create this dish at home, so I set out to find a traditional recipe.

It turns out, the dish was originally a peasant dish that made use of leftover bits of meat. I'm sure it has deeper roots, but the oldest version I could find came from the Victorians, in The Book of Household Management, by Isabella Mary Beeton, published in London in 1861. Mrs. Beeton offers two versions of the recipe, which she calls "homely, but savory."  One calls for a rump steak and kidney, and another for leftover bits of mutton and kidney. Both versions are cooked and served in the same pan, and the meat is partially covered with a batter made of 3 eggs, 1 pint of milk, 4 to 6 tablespoons of flour, and a half teaspoon of salt.

I'm not a big fan of kidney or mutton -- and I doubt I could persuade my family to give it a try -- so I kept searching for a recipe that used sausage. I found a terrific one in the "Traditional Scottish Recipes" archive at the Rampant Scotland website (http://www.rampantscotland.com/recipes/blrecipe_toad.htm). 

In the spirit of keeping this a utilitarian dish, I adapted mine to use ingredients I already had on hand. The results were delicious,  and I while I have nothing but respect for Mrs. Beeton as a pioneer of cookbookery, I must disagree with her "homely" assessment. With a little effort, toad-in-the-hole can look quite pleasing. I fanned out the sausages and added a few sliced cherry tomatoes. Herbs, thinly sliced onions or mushroom would also make attractive garnishes.

 
NOT-SO-TRADITIONAL
TOAD IN THE HOLE
Yields eight servings

1/2 pound link sausages*
3/4 cup flour
10 fluid ounces milk
2 large eggs
4 ounces shredded cheese*
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
pinch salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)
Spray cooking oil
 
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly spray a skillet and cook the sausage links over medium heat until browned on two sides, about five minutes each side. Set aside.
 
Meanwhile, sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl, then stir in the cheese. In a small bowl, beat together the milk, eggs and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Add half the mixture to the flour and cheese and stir until smooth. Let stand 5 minutes, and then stir in the remaining milk mixture.
 
Arrange the links in a lightly sprayed 9-inch pie pan and pour the batter over them. Arrange the tomatoes, if using, or another garnish.
 
Lower the oven heat to 400 degrees and bake until the batter is puffed up and brown. About 30 minutes.
 
*I used Sabatino's Smoked Mozzarella with Artichokes and Garlic Chicken Sausages and Mexican-style shredded cheese.