Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wednesday's Recipe--Chocolate Truffles

I'm looking forward to a get-together with several writer friends on Saturday, and thought I'd share the recipes for my chocolate contribution. These fabulous truffles were a huge hit at a book group meeting this past January. They're fairly simple, but require at least an hour of refrigeration before shaping and another hour after they're done to become firm. Indulge yourself!

Milk Chocolate Truffles

3 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups milk chocolate chips
1 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
assorted coatings: ground walnuts or pecans, finely chopped almonds, unsweetened cocoa, graham cracker crumbs, shortbread cookie crumbs, confectioner sugar

Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler. Stir in cream cheese, water, and extract until well blended. Refrigerate at least one hour or until easy to handle.

Shape teaspoonfuls into balls. Roll in your choice of coatings. Place on waxed paper in a container and refrigerate at least one hour before servings.

Makes about 3 dozen. Store in refrigerator.

Chocolate Truffles

1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
8 ounces (2 packages) German sweet chocolate squares
assorted coatings: ground walnuts or pecans, finely chopped almonds, unsweetened cocoa, graham cracker crumbs, shortbread cookie crumbs, confectioner sugar

Combine cream, butter, and sugar in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil. Remove from heat. Add extract and chocolate. Stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Refrigerate at least one hour or until firm enough to handle.

Shape into 1-inch balls and roll in your choice of coatings. Place on waxed paper in a container and refrigerate at least one hour before servings.

Makes about 2 dozen. Store in refrigerator.

I don't think I have to "enjoy!"

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With a Kick!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Wednesday's Recipe--Zucchini Bread

Yes, I know I'm a couple days late. The morphing subplot has taken over my life--not necessarily a bad thing. This story seems to be writing itself, so who am I to argue?

Zucchini season is long gone in my garden between the heat, the lack of rain, and critters attacking the roots of the plants. However, I love fresh zucchini bread. I also freeze several loaves when I make it. If you don't have any zucchini in your garden, pick up a couple at the grocery store. And prepare to experiment!

Zucchini Bread

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil (for lower fat, substitute applesauce)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups grated zucchini
Optional mix/match additions: 1 cup raisins or dried cranberries, 1 cup ground walnuts or pecans, 1 cup coconut, 1 cup chocolate chips

Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add liquids and stir. Add zucchini and remaining optional ingredients. Mix well. Pour into greased and floured bread pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pans.

*Hint: Don't substitute cooking spray for shortening and flour to prepare pans. Chocolate chips tend to stick to the pan.

Makes three 9"X4" loaves.

Enjoy the last of the warm days of September!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With a Kick!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Morphing Subplots

Have you ever had a story you couldn't set aside for even one day? Are you writing a story that wipes you out emotionally?

I've been working on a manuscript that answers a resounding YES to both questions. What started out as a subplot for a WIP has morphed into a full-blown story begging to be told. It's first love, true love, heartbreak, love nearly lost, and love rediscovered. The emotions run high and the hurts cut deep. The characters expose their feelings on every page. I can't wait to finish the story so they can live happily ever after. Even if this one never gets published, I'll read it and cry for my hero and heroine. They truly belong together.

Put your heart into a book :) I am.

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With a Kick!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wednesday's Recipe--Veggie (or Spinach) Lasagna

This week's recipe is one of my favorite dishes. In case you haven't noticed, I tend to like easy substitutions to make a variation. I use this same basic recipe for Spinach Lasagna as well as Veggie Lasagna. Check the notes at the end! Plan for about 20-25 minutes prep time and an hour for baking and stand time.

Veggie Lasagna

15 oz. low-fat ricotta cheese
dash of black pepper
couple dashes of nutmeg
2 tablespoons wheat germ
1 1/2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup grated carrot
uncooked lasagna noodles
32 oz. of your favorite spaghetti sauce
3 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Combine ricotta cheese, pepper, nutmeg, wheat germ, zucchini, and carrots in a mixing bowl. Mix well.

Spread 1 cup spaghetti sauce in the bottom of 9"x 7" or 8"x 8" baking dish. Top with a single layer of uncooked lasagna noodles. Add half the ricotta/vegetable mixture and spread evenly. Pour 1 cup spaghetti sauce over and sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella cheese. Layer with more lasagna noodles, the remaining ricotta/vegetable mixture, 1 cup spaghetti sauce, and 1 cup mozzarella cheese. Top with a final layer of lasagna noodles, 1 cup spaghetti sauce, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, and the Parmesan cheese.

Several options:

1) Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

2) Cover and refrigerate for later. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

3) Cover and wrap in foil. Freeze. Defrost in refrigerator 6-8 hours. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.

*Note: For Spinach Lasagna--substitute 2 1/2 cups chopped fresh spinach for zucchini and carrots.

Makes 6-8 servings.

I like to serve homemade cinnamon bread with this recipe. Yummy!!!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With a Kick!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Now Departing My Comfort Zone

First, a little backstory: My daughter is a senior at Purdue and is taking a class called Leadership for Organizational Change. I've been homeschooling my Asperger's son since first grade. He's now a freshman in high school.

A couple weeks ago my daughter called me, and the conversation went something like this--

"Hi, Mom. I have something big I need to talk to you about."

Okay, so now every mother's list of worst nightmares is running through my head. "Yeah? What's going on?"

"Well, in my leadership class I have this project I have to do, and I was wondering if I could interview you for my class."

Huge relieved sigh. "Sure. What's the topic?"

"The phases of transition. You know, like how writing has affected your day-to-day life. Oh, and we're supposed to do the interview during class."

"Okay, so you ask questions about time management and that sort of thing."

"Yeah. Could you drive over on September tenth to do it?"

"That should work. I don't have anything else on the calendar for that day."

"Great! Oh, and I need money for..."

Fast forward to a few days ago. Another phone call. This time we discuss the questions and what she wants to cover during the interview. An outline via email follows shortly thereafter. Visualize an inflating balloon here...

Today. Up at 6am. On the road at 8:30 after shower, breakfast, getting dressed, doing the morning dog and cats routine, changing clothes, waking son, remembering to take outline and assorted other necessities (like a couple jars of homemade salsa, peaches and cream instant oatmeal, etc.). Arrive at 10:30. Walk to class. Introduction to professor. Class begins. Have I mentioned that I'm not comfortable with public speaking?

About now I'm wondering where my daughter and I will sit while we discuss the psychological phases of transition I've experienced since I started writing. Will everyone be able to hear me? Will my ineptitude cause her to get a poor grade?

"Okay, let's get started. Student #1 (name has been changed to protect the no-so-innocent) will be interviewing her mom, Mellanie. You can stand here at the front of the classroom." That was the professor speaking.

And did I tell you I get very nervous about this sort of thing?

So Student #1 asks me how long I've been writing and when I decided to try to get published, as well as how many years I've been homeschooling. This leads into a discussion (me, talking to the class) of the three psychological phases of transition--ending, losing, letting go; the neutral zone; new beginning. Yes, daughter asks the questions we discussed during phone call number 2. I know the answers! I also have a cheat sheet (the outline). We move on to the reflection topics and Student #1's concluding statements. Question/answer time. Yes, people asked questions about my writing! How many hours a day do I write? How long does it take to write a book? What was the pitch line I used for my editor/agent appointments at the RWA National Conference? Do I use a pseudonym? All stuff I could answer!

Thirty minutes on the nose. Clapping. Positive feedback from the professor. Nobody fell asleep or yawned. And I didn't faint, throw up, or say something incredibly stupid! Okay, so it wasn't horrible. I survived!
And I stepped outside my comfort zone. What have you done that's outside your comfort zone?

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With a Kick!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wednesday's Recipe--Salsa

It's tomato season!

I have only five tomato plants (two Roma, two Early Girl, one Sweet 100), but had more than enough tomatoes to make a double batch of salsa on Saturday. I use a mix of Roma and regular tomatoes to reduce the cooking time. If you like HOT salsa, substitute a jalapeno for one of the bell peppers.

Plan to spend all day on this project--three to four hours for picking, washing, and chopping vegetables; at least three to four hours of cooking time; at least two hours for the canning step. The effort is well worth the result!


6-7 lbs. tomatoes, cored and chopped
3 medium onions, chopped
6 sweet banana peppers, chopped
3 red, yellow, OR green bell peppers, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons salt
1/2 cup+2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin

Mix all ingredients in large pot. Cook over medium heat for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally, until desired thickness. Fill sterilized jars and seal. Makes 7-8 pints.
*Note* Do not cook over higher temperatures. Tomatoes scorch easily.

This is my double batch in a medium canning pan. Just enough room to stir!

Enjoy with tortilla chips, on tacos and burritos, or in my Black Bean Dip. Remember that recipe with two ingredients from several months ago? :)

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With a Kick!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cheetahs and Warthogs and Rhinos, Oh My!

Hubby, daughter, daughter's boyfriend, son, and I went to the Cincinnati Zoo this past Sunday. They've made some good changes--expanded parking, new areas for some of the animals, new exhibits--since our last visit three years ago.

One of the coolest new exhibits is the cheetah show. Using a fuzzy toy, the keepers lure the cheetah in a greyhound-like chase in the enclosure. These animals are amazing to see running at full speed in person.

We also saw an adorable warthog. He was incredibly smart!

And the Sumatran rhino enjoyed a mud bath, rolling and splashing while we were there.

I highly recommend a visit if you're in the area!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With a Kick!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wednesday's Recipe--Spaghetti Squash w/White Bean-Marsala Sauce and Portabellas

My garden has had a great year for squash. I counted 15 spaghetti squash, over two dozen butternut squash, plus an abundance of tomatoes. Necessity is the mother of invention, so I came up with this recipe. It even gets a mention in a WIP. And special thanks to Rebecca for her feedback : ) Yes, you can use the sauce and mushrooms over colored pasta, but I love the flavor when served with spaghetti squash. Please leave a comment—I'd love to know what you think of my invention!

Spaghetti Squash with White Bean-Marsala Sauce and Portabellas

2 medium spaghetti squash, halved and baked

12 Roma tomatoes, peeled and chopped

15.5 oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

2 clove garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)

1/2 teaspoon basil

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon sugar (more or less, to taste)

1 cup Marsala (I prefer Taylor New York)

6 oz. sliced portabella mushrooms

1 tablespoon olive oil

Freshly grated Parmesan

To prepare squash: Cut in half lengthwise and place cut side down on broiler pan. Add about 1/2 inch of water to the broiler drip pan. Bake at 425 degrees for 1 hour. Note—I prefer removing seeds after baking, but can be done before. Don't scrape too deeply or you'll dig into the strings that make it spaghetti squash! Scoop out of the shell to serve.

To peel tomatoes: Blanch in boiling water for 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon, plunging into a bowl of ice water. Let stand 2 minutes. Remove tomatoes from ice water. Skin should peel away easily.

Sauce: In a medium saucepan combine chopped tomatoes, garlic, basil, oregano, and sugar. Cook over medium heat for twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cannellini and Marsala. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer at least 30 minutes. Note: Sauce can be prepared ahead of time and reheated.

Sauteed Portabellas: Preheat 1 tablespoon olive oil in an iron skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Carefully lay mushroom slices flat in pan. Cook until lightly browned. Turn over to brown second side. Remove to warm plate.

Assemble: Place a bed of "spaghetti" strands on plate. Top with sauce, then mushrooms. Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan. Makes 3-4 servings.


Mellanie Szereto

Romance...With a Kick!