Loaded Baked Potato Salad

loaded baked potato saladPotato salad scares me! No, really… the thought of having to boil the potatoes to perfection so they don’t fall apart in the salad but aren’t still raw in the center is terrifying to someone who is used to getting picked on for that one time she managed to boil the pot of water dry and STILL managing to only soft boil eggs. It’s a rare talent. But now, I have to learn things like this because the hubby was recently diagnosed as diabetic and I’ve read (and been told by the dietician) that potato salad is better than hot potatoes for him. And since he has to curb his bacon consumption, finding a good loaded baked potato recipe seemed like a good option.

Loaded Baked Potato Salad

  • 3 pounds potatoes
  • 1/2 pound of bacon, crumbled
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped fine
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped fine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup mayo
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese

Directions:

  1. Peel and cube potatoes into potato salad size chunks. (Seriously, I’m not even going to guess what dimensions, just make them a healthy bite size) Boil for 15 minutes, or until just fork tender. To make life easy, I then put the potatoes in a chilled bowl and let them cool so they’d stiffen up a bit and not crumble.
  2. Fold in all indredients EXCEPT shredded cheese until potatoes are coated
  3. Fold in shredded cheese last so it doesn’t turn into a big clump
  4. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving

Little tip: I’ve become a HUGE fan of baking bacon! I use the broiler tray so all of the grease drips into the lower pan and I’m not left with soggy, greasy bacon. To do this, lay bacon in a single layer on the pan and put into a cold oven. Turn the oven to 400 degrees and bake until crispy. Don’t ask me why you don’t preheat the oven this time. It’s a tip someone gave me a while ago and it works very well!

Stepping Back in Time

wlcThis excerpt is from With Love, Charlie, set to be released on November 11, 2014. As this is still in the process of revisions and editing, it is subject to change.

Cautiously, I step into the room, taking in the differences between the beauty standing before me and the weary woman who walked out of my bedroom an hour ago. “Grandma, are you ready to go?”

She turns around and stares at me for a moment. “Oh, Evie, I’m so sorry, but we’re going to have to reschedule for tonight. Charlie borrowed his father’s car, and he’s taking me down to Madison. I hate to do this to you, but you know he’s going to be leaving soon.” The desperation in my grandmother’s eyes is heart-wrenching, but it’s the fact she calls me by her late sister’s name that crushes my soul.

It doesn’t matter how much I’ve read about dementia since deciding to move here and take care of her, I feel unprepared for this moment. The curious part of me wants to play along, because I have no clue who Charlie is or why she thinks he’s coming to pick her up. But I can’t. Everything I’ve read says you shouldn’t foster the episode that way.

“Grandma, it’s me, Paige,” I say softly, not wanting to make any sudden movements that might scare her. “We’re heading into town for supper, remember?” My voice catches as I question my ability to handle the situation.

“Evie, stop. I know we were supposed to spend time together tonight, but we’ll have plenty of time after Charlie’s gone. Can’t you be happy for me and give me this?” she pleads, staring me down. I won’t argue with her; that will only make matters worse, so I feel as if I’m back at square one.

“Grandma, what if we wait for a while, and then, if Charlie doesn’t come, we’ll go to the diner.” Hopefully, I’m not doing more harm than good, but it’s the only thing I can think of to say. Charlie, whoever he is, isn’t going to take her to Madison tonight, but I can tell by the stubborn set of her shoulders that she’s not going to give in otherwise. “You head down to the sitting room, and I’ll be there in a minute, okay?”

 

With Love, Charlie


Homemade Sourdough Starter: Tastier Than Sea Monkeys

homemade sourdough starter day oneActually, I couldn’t tell you for certain that my homemade sourdough bread tastes better than sea monkeys because I never could get those little suckers to sprout or hatch or whatever the hell they should have done. Yes, I admit it: I am a sea monkey failure. The good news is, I can’t see them getting big enough to make a meal out of, so we’re all good. If not for technology, I probably wouldn’t be able to make this sourdough starter from scratch because I have a hard enough time remembering to feed myself and my kids and they’re much more vocal than a jar of bubbly goo.

Where I’m just starting this project (again) I can’t show you what it’ll look like when it’s done. But I will update this post along the way so you can see what’s happening.

homemade sourdough starter day oneDay One: Combine 1 cup whole wheat flour with 1 cup of cool, non-chlorinated water. I haven’t dug into why you want non-chlorinated, but almost every sourdough starter recipe that has worked for me has this stipulation, so I don’t question it.
Use whole wheat flour (or rye) for this step because it has more of the yummy goodness that your starter needs to come to life. Mix thoroughly (meaning there aren’t clumps of dry flour) and cover loosely with saran wrap.

At this point, your new pet sourdough starter is boring as hell. It’s just the brown glob that’s not doing much of anything. But that’s okay because it’s like the quiet kid in the corner who everyone thought was sleeping through class– right up until he started dancing in the aisles.

Day Two: Measure out 1/2 cup of your starter (about half) and throw it away. Don’t cry, there’s a good reason for this. You’re going to keep feeding the starter, and it’ll take over your house like kudzu if you’re not careful. (If you’re not from the south or haven’t been there, look it up. It’s not a good thing.) There are recipes using sourdough waste (which most people more politely refer to as “discards” but this is me…) but I prefer waiting before doing anything with the mix.

Add 1 cup of all-purpose unbleached flour and 1 cup of water. Mix well, cover and walk away. Let it rest for 24 hours. Don’t try to get it to do tricks, it won’t. Seriously, sourdough starter is about as much fun as waiting for sea monkeys to hatch at this point.

Days Three through Seven: This is where we go from sea monkeys to Audrey 2 from Little Shop of Horrors… HSS (yes, the starter and I have gotten close enough to go by initials at this point) is no longer happy with being fed once a day. Seriously, between this goo and my kids, I’m going to go insane pretty soon! You have to up the feedings to twice a day, but it’ll be worth it in the end. I typically do breakfast and after dinner so the feedings are spaced out.

  1. Measure out 1/2 cup of starter (I never level this off, heaping is good) and discard the rest of the starter.
  2. Add 1 cup (this one, I go short a bit on, NEVER heaping) of unbleached flour and 1 cup of water.
  3. Stir well, cover and let sit for 12 hours.

By the end of the seventh day, you should be good to go! Once my sourdough starter is ready, I will post some of our family’s favorite recipes!

Lost and Found

hbConfession time: I’m not happy and I haven’t been for a while now.

I’m not telling you this so you’ll feel sorry for me or anything like that, just putting it out to the world. You see, when you have any sort of job where you have to interact with people, you’re forced to become an actor. You have to find a way to turn off all of the negative thoughts and plaster a smile on your face, no matter how much you’d prefer to cry into a pillow or jam your fist through a wall. It wasn’t until I talked to a friend today that I figured out the problem…

I’ve lost myself. Again.

Time and time again, I go into this frenzy, a time when I’m certain I know what needs to be done and how to do it. But during those times, I wind up trying to cram every little bit of myself into some pre-assembled box that doesn’t remotely fit. It’s similar to having an oddly-shaped birthday gift that won’t fit into any sort of gift packaging. In the end, to for the gift to look like a gift, you twist and turn, shoving as much of the contents inside as you can.

When I can’t fit the gift into the bag, I throw my hands in the air, sometimes scream, and refuse to go to the party at all. It’s not mature, but it’s better than having an anxiety attack because it’s not perfect. Yes, I’m one of those imperfect people who needs everything to be a certain way and sometimes avoids doing things because I won’t get it right. It’s kind of like a hoarder who has to have a filing system to their chaos.

But I can’t throw my hands in the air. No matter how much I’d like to, I can’t turn into a recluse and not talk to anyone. So, I’ve had to figure out what to do…

You might have noticed more posts creeping up on here that have nothing to do with books. If you don’t like that, I’m sorry, because it’s not going to stop. After spending a few hours this afternoon trying to think of a suitable blog name with a corresponding domain name available, I decided that I like this box just fine. I silenced the voices telling me that no “real author” would have her entire blogging life (personal and professional) wrapped up into one site. I stomped the self-doubt, telling me that no one will accept all of me, just the way I am.

The only way I can screw this up is if I insist on trying to be what this person or that person expects me to be.

This is me. I found myself today in the Walmart parking lot.

Best Brownie Recipe…Hands Down

I’m a sucker for a good brownie. Until recently, that meant I was the go-to girl to tell you which brownie mixes on the shelf would give you the tastiest result. Now, I’m working my way through recipes I find, tweaking them and coming up with my own brownie recipes. This recipe is an adaptation of Alton Brown’s Cocoa Brownies from Good Eats. Why mess with the culinary genius of AB? Because, unlike Alton Brown, I don’t always plan before I bake. It keeps things interesting in the house as I experiment with substitutions. Most of the time, I wind up with something edible! We’ve tried others, but keep going back to this recipe because it’s the best brownie recipe EVER. (not cocky, just convinced. LOL)

Ingredients

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 6 ounces butter, melted
  • 2 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate, melted
  • 1 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease 8×8 baking pan (go 9×9 for a slightly thinner but still amazing brownie)
  2. Beat eggs until fluffy.
  3. Add sugars and mix until incorporated and no lumps remain.
  4. Add all other ingredients and mix just until everything is blended.
  5. Pour into prepared baking pan and bake for 45 minutes or until done.

Want a cleaner cut from your brownies? Don’t cut them until they are mostly cooled. Yes, I know this is asking a lot, but you’ll thank me later!

The Truth About Romance Novels #tbt

This week’s re-post is from September 2012, while I was writing my first novel. The sentiment still holds true…
truth about romance novelsBefore spending money on romance novels (or any books, for that matter) I like to check out the reviews. I used to simply read whatever reviews were on the main page and then make my decision. Recently, I’ve started reading a few out of each rating level to see what I might be getting into. As a fledgling writer, I have to admit that one star ratings make me a bit nervous to put any of my own work out there for the world to see. I can’t imagine logging on and seeing them on a novel I’ve poured my heart and soul into. But then, I found a recurring theme in romance novel one-star reviews.

I knew how the book was going to end half-way through.

Now, there are plenty of books I read for the suspense of what’s going to happen next. If a murder mystery paints a picture giving you the identity of the killer and what happens to him in the first few pages, it’s not much of a mystery. But, by definition, one of the key points in distinguishing a romance novel from women’s literature is the existence of a happily ever after.

This means that, in the end, the boy and girl wind up together. Now, they don’t have to be married and having babies by the time the book ends, but the author’s job is to make sure the reader knows that the characters they’ve grown to love are happy together. They’ve gotten past the challenges their relationship has faced, often a lot of pain packed into a short period of time, and they’re happy.

Knowing this, the complaint that you knew how the book was going to end halfway through makes you seem just a bit silly. I know how every romance novel I read is going to end. And I know that, most times, it’s going to seem like they might not wind up that way until sometime in the last 20 pages. But I keep reading. I want to see how they get over the walls, how they handle the conflict.

Romance novels aren’t meant to be suspenseful. They’re meant to show the ebb and flow of a relationship. Almost always (because you never know if there are exceptions) ending with a happily ever after.

Want suspense? Pick up a mystery!

Somewhat Spicy and Sweet Corn Salad

sweet-and-spicy-corn-saladOne thing that I love in the summer is fresh sweet corn.  Unfortunately it is not always available which is why I was determined to find a way to make frozen sweet corn taste amazing.  That is also how I came up with this healthy and fabulous spicy and sweet corn salad recipe that will get your nose going crazy and your taste buds drooling.

 Ingredients

  • 2. bags of frozen yellow sweet corn
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 fresh zucchini squashes
  • 1 large sweet red bell pepper
  • 1 large orange or green sweet bell pepper
  • ½ large red onion
  • A bunch of chopped or minced garlic
  • Chili powder (I use McCormick’s chili powder)
  • Sea salt
  • Pepper

How to Make Spicy and Sweet Corn Salad

Take your olive oil and pour about 1/3 cup or less into a frying pan over medium to high heat.  Now take your red onion and dice it finely.  Take your diced onion and minced or chopped garlic and toss it into the olive oil.  (This is going to make your kitchen smell amazing!).

Now, hollow out your bell peppers and julienne or slice them long ways.  Take your zucchini squash and chop it into even circles about ¼ inch thick.  Once you have everything chopped,,,cover everything in chili powder and then sautee them into the garlic and onion olive oil.  You’ll also want to throw in a pinch of sea salt and black pepper.

Now, add sea salt into a pot of boiling water and toss in your bags of sweet corn.  While that is boiling, go back and toss in a couple tablespoons of chili powder over your vegetables and flip them over so they sauté evenly.  You’ll want to keep taking small tastes so that you can season it afterwards to taste.  I like to add more chili powder in because I like it spicy, but a lot of people don’t keep adding after the extra tablespoons.

Once everything is cooked, take a large glass serving bowl and layer the corn with the vegetables.  I start with corn, then vegetables, then corn then vegetables.  I also taste everything on every level to make sure it all tastes correct with the chili powder, garlic, onion, etc…  You can also mix this together if you’d like so it isn’t in even layers.  I end up mixing it before I serve it but like to have the layers for show on the table.

Optional flavors and dressing:

One thing I found that tastes amazing with this is balsamic vinegar and basil.  To make this dressing, reduce balsamic vinegar in a pan and then add in basil leaves.  You can also add whole or chopped basil leaves into the pan where you are sautéing your vegetables and then pour balsamic vinegar on top of them.  If you really want to take it up even further, add in a bit of miso paste and sake with the balsamic vinegar and you’re taste buds will be craving this forever.

 

About the author.
Adam is a blogger who loves everything from DIY recipes and fun aprons to helping parents find awesome deals on kids pajamas and even deals on travel.

What to do with Extra Zucchini

This is a repost from my former blog. No, we haven’t moved. No, I haven’t gotten around to planting a garden of my own, but it’s all good because the landlord plants like a mad man and deliver fresh veggies a few times each week!

One of the “perks” of moving to our new house is that our landlord has a huge garden. Next year, I hope to have one as well, but I can tell you one thing I won’t be planting. Zucchini. Our landlord brings us all of the large zucchini out of his garden, so we have more zucchini than we know what to do with. That’s left us trying to figure out how to be creative with our extra zucchini. (and for the record, I’m still trying to use up all of last year’s zucchini)

Today, when he brought five zucchinis to the door, I knew it was time to do something other than immediate baking with them. After all, if we ate enough zucchini bread and zucchini bars to use all of these monsters, it would completely negate any health benefits from eating vegetables.

Miss Mack got to work peeling the zucchini. To be honest, I don’t know if we would have had to peel them, but it seems like it’ll be better for baking without the skin on. Since I don’t yet have a food processor, I got to grate the zucchini by hand. When you’re dealing with huge zucchinis, that’s easier said than done.

My original plan was to put the grated zucchini into quart size freezer bags, but I was so prepared for this job that I had to choose from either gallon or snack size bags. If I filled the gallon size bags, there was no chance I would ever use the zucchini, so I opted for the snack size Ziploc bags. Good news! Each snack size bag fit exactly one cup of shredded zucchini! Why is that good news? Well, most recipes I’ve come across so far call for one cup of zucchini!

My roommate and I already have a long list going on the things we can make with shredded zucchini. What are some of your favorite zucchini recipes?

Fangirl Friday – The First Impression Rose

needing moore julie richmanIf life was a season of the Bachelorette and the people I meet were vying for roses, Julie A. Richman would have won the first impression rose one night in Vegas. For all of you who are thinking naughty thoughts, get your minds out of the gutter! Yes, we were alone in her hotel room and yes, she did take off her shoes, but that’s as far as it went.

The reason Julie won my heart that night is the unrestrained passion she has for her characters. As she told me about her characters, I watched her demeanor change from one of the happiest, perkiest women I’d met during that insane weekend to a woman torn to shreds. Not knowing anything about the story, I felt the pain of her characters. Now, as authors, I’d like to think that all of us become invested in our men and women, but I’ve never seen an author so completely shattered as she was that night.

And then, she went on to tell me about the research she does when writing a book. The way she will find out which route a character would likely drive or what’s near a location she’s putting into a scene. She doesn’t hope it’s good enough for the average reader, she gives the readers who might know the area such vivid details that they are living out the story.

I’m beyond blessed to call Julie a friend and can’t wait to see her again. In the meantime, I’m going to revisit Schooner, Mia and all of the supporting characters thanks to the Needing Moore box set. Seriously, you can’t beat 900 pages for less than a venti white chocolate mocha!

Power of the Written Word #tbt

As I try to organize my life, I’ve decided that I’m going to re-post some entries from my previous blogs here. It’s both a way for me to look back at where I’ve come from and keep track of my favorite blog posts. Today is one that will likely always be a favorite. It’s about the book that saved my life. Seriously. This post is from November 2012.

theory-of-relativity jacquelyn mitchardEleven years ago next month, my now husband and I moved from Wisconsin to Nebraska. I was recently divorced and looking for a change. Unfortunately, being young, I didn’t realize just how much I relied on knowing that my family was nearby. Don’t get me wrong, I love my in-laws, but before that move, I had never lived more than 40 minutes from my family. Combine that with not knowing anyone and I got homesick in a hurry.

Books became my sanctuary. In one apartment we lived in, there was a butter yellow sun room at the front of the apartment. The way the light reflected in that room combined with a “bed” that was made from 2×4′s and a long foam cushion made it my favorite place to read. Every day, I’d curl up on that bed when I got home from work and lose myself.

Wanting to hang on to anything I could get my hands on that had a tie to Wisconsin, I became a huge Jacquelyn Mitchard fan. At the time, I didn’t realize that she wasn’t just a Wisconsin author, she also lived in the same general area of the state as I had for most of my life.

I picked up A Theory of Relativity based on nothing other than the fact that she wrote it and it was one of the few books I hadn’t already read. As I worked my way through the pages, I formed a clear image in my mind of the neighborhoods the characters lived in, what stores they were shopping at, everything. I’m not talking some random cluster of houses, I’m talking I could drive you to the neighborhoods today and tell you that is where I imagined them living. They didn’t shop at a non-descript shopping mall, they were shopping at Westgate Mall on Whitney Way. It was that clear.

As I got to the end of the book, I was having a particularly rough time with being so far from my family. In the last chapter, I read the line, “Now, they live in Oregon. Not the state, the town!” I started laughing like a mad woman, hard enough that our roommate came in to ask me what was so funny. I tried to explain it but from the blank stare on her face, I knew it would only make sense to those in the know.

I grew up in Oregon. The same Oregon mentioned in chapter 22 of the book. And growing up in Oregon, Wisconsin, it sometimes seemed like “Oregon-the-town-not-the-state” was the name of my hometown. It’s a sleeper community just south of Madison that doesn’t have any huge claim to fame.

Reading those words, in print, brought me back to a more centered place. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that Oregon, the town, not the state, was over 700 miles east of me. A simple sentence in one book brought me a little closer to home.

As I’ve been working on my novel this month, which is set in Wisconsin, I admit that I have struggled. I don’t want to write about some generic small town in any one of the fifty states. I want to write about a Wisconsin town because I think our towns are pretty damned special. I have chosen which town serves as the setting. While 99% of people won’t know if I write about something that isn’t in that town, remembering this one example makes me more vigilant of what I write. What if there’s a chance that, some day, my words could have that type of impact on someone else’s life? Not with a profound pearl of wisdom, but just by having written something at all.