Book Review: Kaleidescope

kaleidescopeI have read so many of Kristen Ashley’s books it’s not even funny. She has several series and I just love so many of them. Kaleidoscope is part of Ashley’s Colorado Mountain series, which is one of my faves of hers. (It’s also a primary reason I have been so infatuated with moving to Colorado!)

In a nutshell:
Kaleidoscope follows the story of Jacob (Deck) Decker and Emmanuelle (Emme) Holmes. They were best friends, years ago. She was a bit frumpy in those days and he was dating, and went on to get engaged to her best friend. They connected back then on more than a physical level, but always respected the boundaries that were in place because he was taken. But he’s not anymore.

Fast forward many years and Emme is now the successful manager of her family’s construction business. Deck is…well, it’s hard to describe what Deck is. Law enforcement hires him for the cases they can’t break and he also works some on his own. Private investigator. Commando. Super sleuth. All of the above? Anyway, he’s working a case with the local police department that–unbeknownst to her–involves Emme and her boyfriend. Yeah, now she’s taken. Oh, and her frumpy days are long gone.

As Emme works to restore her dilapidated, historic home and Deck works to make sure she’s safe, they begin to realize what was between them all those years ago is stronger than ever.

Tara’s Take:
This is in my top ten of Ashley’s books. It’s not a traumatic, angst filled tale. The heart of the story is about two people reconnecting many years later and figuring out how they work. Yes, there’s some intrigue thrown in, but it’s more of an aside than the primary focal point.

I found this book to be refreshing. Who hasn’t had things in their past shape who they are today? Who hasn’t felt lonely and wished for more, even though they were afraid of what that might mean? The feelings expressed by the hero and heroine in this book were true to form and had me thinking, I can relate. Which only made this story that much more engrossing.

Side Note:
One of the many things I love about Ashley’s books is the fact that the characters aren’t 20. More often than not, her main characters are older 30′s to mid-40′s. Realizing I’m dating myself, it makes it that much easier for me to identify with them. We’ll just leave it at that. The male characters are strong and not ‘broken’ like so many mainstream love stories these days. It’s usually the female character that is working through some issues and the man is right there to support her and hold her up when she needs it. You gotta love that!

Recipe Roundup: Cheesy Honey Mustard Chicken

unnamedMy quest to find delicious non-dry boneless, skinless chicken breast recipes continues. And I finally found one that is good enough to share. Also, with all things in the recipe department–I changed a few things. Enjoy!

Cheesy Honey Mustard Chicken
From Plain Chicken

Ingredients:
4 boneless chicken breast*
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp paprika
lemon pepper to taste
4 Tbsp bacon, cooked and chopped (I used Oscar Meyer bacon bits in the yellow bag)**
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

(Tara’s Tips: *So I didn’t use regular chicken breasts, I used thin sliced. Everything still turned out yummy, but I think regular thick cut chicken breasts would absorb more of the marinade because it makes so much. **That note next to the bacon is NOT my note. I have no idea what a yellow bag of bacon bits is. I fried up 4 slices of bacon and then chopped them up.)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375.
  • Season chicken breasts with lemon pepper.  Place in 9×13 baking dish.
  • Combine honey, mustard, lemon juice and paprika.  Pour over chicken.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.
  • Top each chicken breast with 1 Tablespoon of bacon and 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese.  Continue to bake until cheese is starting to brown (about 10 minutes).

Book Review: Raw

rawRaw by Belle Aurora is one of those books that was following me. It was constantly turning up in my Goodreads search. It appeared, repeatedly, when I was on Google. I saw it on other book blogs. It was in my  Twitter feed. Seriously, the book was stalking me! Which is funny because…

In a nutshell:
Twitch is a sociopathic stalker. He’s been watching Alexa (Lexi), forever–and she knows it. He’s covered head to toe in tattoos, constantly wears a hoodie, and lurks in the shadows. Lexi, is a straight and narrow, upstanding social worker, helping underprivileged teenagers. Lexi soon learns that nothing is at is seems with Twitch–or is it? Aurora takes the reader through incredibly emotional twists and turns with this story–drug use, graphic sexual situations, and heart wrenching trauma. The story of Twitch and Lexi is complex and certainly not for the faint of heart.

Tara’s Take:
I admit that when I first started reading this book, it was a bit of a challenge for me. I almost gave up. Suffice to say, I persevered and finished–and I am sooooo glad I did! I cried. Literally, shed real tears. Be warned, this book is not an easy read. There are some very disturbing scenes. Often, Lexi wonders what the H*ll she’s thinking and doing and so does the reader. But it works. This is more than opposites attract or the good girl being drawn to the bad boy. There is a lot of depth to the main characters and to the supporting cast in the book.

The story is set in Australia, which I was looking forward to ‘seeing’ some of in the book. However, you don’t. It is really more of an in-depth emotional character development, which again, works. I’ve never been ‘Down Under’ so bringing some of the beauty I’ve heard about to life through words, would’ve been nice–but by no means was I disappointed.

One can only hope that there will be a sequel. Raw was released in Jan. 2014 as a stand alone and currently, Aurora hasn’t let the world know if there’s a sequel coming. But my fingers are crossed!

Recipe Roundup: Mashed Potatoes with Kale

kale mashed potatoesWelcome to March! Since it’s still cold here, very cold, and there’s still a lot of snow on the ground–thought I’d kick off the month with some comfort food. And what says yummy comfort better than mashed potatoes?

Giada DeLaurentiis is one of my most fave celebrity chefs–I even went to see her at a personal appearance and got my cookbook signed. Plus, I DVR her show every week. Which is where I discovered this recipe.

I love kale. But the way I have been taught to prepare it–while delicious–is also relatively unimaginative. But this way, this is just delish. And you get your starch and green veggie all in one dish. Enjoy!

Mashed Potatoes with Kale
From Giada DeLaurentiis show, Giada at Home, on The Food Network

Ingredients
Potatoes:
5 large russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces (about 4 pounds)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Kale:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
One 12-ounce bunch kale, stemmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

(Tara’s Tips: I used pre washed and precut kale from a 16oz. bag and just estimated out 12oz. Worked perfectly. I also used red onion because I just like red onion better. And I did not use low-sodium chicken broth, I used the regular stuff.)

Assembly:
1 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature (about 8 ounces)*
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning

(Tara’s Tips: *Ok, so I thought I had all the ingredients for this recipe and it turns out I didn’t. So instead of mascarpone, I used ricotta because that’s what I had in my frig. Was still yummy and I’d do it again! And it goes without saying that I shredded my own Parmesan cheese. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, see my prior recipe with the pre-shredded cheese rant. (Seriously, with all my substitutions, does this even count as Giada’s recipe anymore???))

Directions
For the potatoes: Combine the potatoes, garlic, salt and butter in a 5-quart saucepan with enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain in a colander and remove the garlic cloves. Return the potatoes to the pan and mash the potatoes until smooth using a potato masher.

For the kale: Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, salt and pepper. Cook until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the kale and chicken broth. Cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, 10 to 12 minutes.

To assemble: Add the kale mixture, mascarpone cheese, chicken broth, butter, Parmesan, salt and pepper to the potatoes. Stir over low heat until smooth and warmed through. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and serve.

Recipe Roundup: Sausage-Swiss Muffins

sausage swiss muffinsI’m someone who needs a quick breakfast during the weekdays. I mean really quick. Like, cereal isn’t fast enough–understand what I’m saying, now? So when I came across this savory and super fast breakfast, I had to give it a try. It’s like brunch in a muffin–yum!

This originated on Plain Chicken

Ingredients
1/2 lb sausage
1 3/4 cup Bisquick
1/2 cup shredded swiss cheese
3/4 tsp ground sage
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Brown sausage in a skillet over medium heat, stirring until it crumbles. Drain well.
  3. Combine sausage, Bisquick and next three ingredients in a bowl.
  4. Make a well in the center of the mixture.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine egg and milk.
  6. Add to dry ingredients (pouring into the well) stirring just until moistened.
  7. Spoon batter into greased muffin pans, filling two-thirds full.
  8. Bake for 22 minutes or until golden and serve warm.
  9. Store leftovers in the refrigerator and reheat in the microwave for 20-30 seconds, or let stand at room temperature.
Tara’s Tips: I put a paper towel in a colander to drain the sausage, nothing slipped through–it worked like a charm. I’ve stated before that I’m part mouse, so I used a cup of swiss cheese instead of half. And I always, always, ALWAYS shred my own cheese–I do NOT believe in pre-shredded cheese for any reason. And I used a whisk to combine my egg and milk, after all–it is a breakfast muffin.

Book Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

mindy kalingI was MIA last week because my day job has been insanely busy and I’m still figuring out this whole thing called balance–bear with me. But I’m here now!

So I admit, Mindy Kaling’s book was a filler for me. I was waiting for some of the books on my to read list to be released and I ‘needed’ a book in the interim. I was rewarded with a fun and quick read.

Mindy Kaling is really funny. I have never watched The Office–and no I do not live under a rock, I just haven’t seen it. I am however, tempted to watch Kaling’s own show, The Mindy Project. (Though adding another show to my repertoire at the moment is not in the cards–though tempting.) Back to the book.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) sort of reminded me of a Seinfeld episode. It’s about something and nothing in particular all at the same time. While it could certainly fall into the memoir category–I think I got it off the new release table in Barnes and Noble–it’s really more anecdotes and funny experiences from her childhood to the present. In addition to the humor and sarcasm throughout the book, Kaling also provides us with touches of seriousness–for instance, things that bring her to tears, hopes for her personal life, and observations of her immigrant parents settling in the U.S.

But at the opposite end of the spectrum she shares how her and her best friend wouldn’t stop quoting SNL’s The Church Lady’s “Isn’t that special?” until her mother lost it; about how she frequently uses her debit card to buy things that cost less than $3 (I can sooo relate to that), and how revenge is a dish best served hot… I’ll leave the book to explain that last one. There are also some fun pictures of friends and fellow actors–like the one where she’s explaining to Will Ferrell what comedy is. I think he understood.

Kaling is clearly very gifted, she writes, acts, directs, and produces–and this book is another extension of her talents. So if you’re looking for a quick pick me up on a snowy day (I’m on the east coast, all it does is snow here these days)–grab this book (pre nor’ easter) and settle in for some fun.

Recipe Roundup: Cream Cheese Hershey Bar Cookies

photo 2-2I saw this recipe about a month or so ago on Pinterest and have been meaning to make these cookies for about 2 weeks now. But then life happened… Tonight, after working late and realizing that I needed a recipe for Thursday, I flew into action and hoped for the best. Thankfully, the baking gods were on my side and these turned out yummy.  They’re lighter than a chocolate chip cookie, but similar in texture, and oh so creamy. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Cupookie

Ingredients
3 oz cream cheese
1 stick butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 3/4 cup flour
4 Hershey’s Bars, chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Cream butter, cream cheese, and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add egg and vanilla. Mix in flour and baking powder just until combined. Stir in chopped chocolate.
  4. Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes.
  5. Scoop out dough onto lined baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned.

Book Review: The Professional

The Professional part 1 The Professional part 2
The Professional part 3I have been obsessed with the mob for as long as I can remember. I can recite every line from The Godfather from start to finish. Goodfellas, Casino, you name it–I love it. (I know, the brutality of such movies is in stark contrast to the happily ever after romance novels I usually review here…I’m just full of contradictions…) That’s why when I heard about The Professional, I got very excited and for good reason. It’s a romance novel about a couple in the Russian mob–nice twist right? The author, Kresley Cole, released the book in 3 parts over a series of several weeks. The complete book will be published in May–but who could wait that long?!?!

The Professional, part 1:
In the first novella we meet Natalie. She’s a 24-year old, mid-western, hard working, graduate student who’s on a mission. While she loves her adoptive parents she yearns to know who her biological mother and father are and why they gave her up. Oh, and she’s a virgin. I know, I know…we’ve heard it all before, trust me, this time it’s different–honest. She gets the shock of her life when she’s essentially kidnapped–by Sevastyan–and transported via private jet to meet her Russian mobster father. And what a plane ride it is…

The Professional, part 2:
In part 2, the intensity between Natalie and Sevastyan–who by the way is Natalie’s father’s right hand man and top enforcer–heats up, a lot. But there’s also this guy Philip, who is vying for Natalie’s attention, though you have to wonder if his intentions are pure. Natalie gets to know her father, Kovalev, and learns about her mother. But being a Russian Mafia Princess sometimes isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

The Professional, part 3:
The conclusion keeps you on edge the entire time. Natalie and Sevastyan are on the run–and not because they’re two unrequited lovers who want to be together. They are learning more and more about each other and whether or not their ‘relationship’ can survive the world they’re immersed in.

Tara’s Take
I love this book, this story. Sevastyan was no joke–but then, as a mob enforcer, you kind of can’t be. He’s a Siberian mystery and at the same time he’s blunt, forthright, and has a take no prisoners attitude. Natalie is a lot of fun and she is no door mat. Her reactions to Sevastyan are actually quite normal. Attraction or not, if you try to kidnap someone the first reaction one might have is to, RUN! So she does.

Now that I’ve read each installment on its own, I’m planning to go back and read the book as one entity. While overall, I have nothing but praise for the book and no qualms about recommending it, I will say that Sevastyan in book 3 is a bit ‘over-the-top’ with his behavior towards the possibility of losing Natalie. Possessive, alpha male, enforcer–yeah, yeah, I get all that. However, his responses and actions may translate and flow a bit better when the book is read as 1 cohesive unit instead of individual pieces.

That said, Cole had me waiting on the edge of my seat waiting for each installment to be released. She did an awesome job of interweaving a complex story line with fun, sexiness, and danger. I’m in the process of turning my living room into a library and without a doubt, this will be one of the books on my shelves!

Recipe RoundUp: Spicy Mac & Cheese

spicy mac&cheeseIf I haven’t admitted to this before, I will now: I think I’m part mouse. I LOVE cheese. I think it should be a food group all by itself. So, when I come across an intriguing mac & cheese dish, and one that I would definitely make again, I simply must share. Plus, the recipe is from a site called, “Life as a Strawberry;” seriously, how fun is that?

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. of your favorite pasta
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 3 Tbsp. flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 cups cheddar cheese, shredded (reserve 1/3 cup of this for topping the macaroni before you bake it)
  • 1/2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, plus 1/8 tsp. for topping
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika, plus 1/8 tsp. for topping
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper

Instructions

  1. Cook pasta according to package or recipe directions (I use VERY salty water) until it is a few minutes (6 min. are usually good) less than al dente – the pasta will continue to cook in the oven, so having very al dente pasta when you put the pasta in to bake will ensure your macaroni isn’t mushy or overcooked!
  2. In a large saucepan, melt butter. Whisk in flour to make a roux and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Whisk the milk into the roux a little at a time, making sure to work out all the clumps so you have a smooth sauce. Cook over medium heat until milk has thickened, about 8 minutes.
  4. Remove sauce from heat. Stir in 2 and 2/3 cups of the cheddar cheese with a spoon or spatula. Stir until cheese is melted.
  5. Stir mustard powder, cayenne, paprika, and black pepper into sauce.
  6. Stir pasta into sauce. Take a bite. Pat yourself on the back.
  7. Pour pasta into a baking dish (I used a 9×9). Top with the extra 1/8 tsp. of cayenne and paprika and the extra 1/3 cup of shredded cheddar cheese.
  8. Bake at 350 for 15-25 minutes or until cheese has melted and edges are crispy.

Tara’s Tips: I used whole wheat elbow macaroni because I genuinely love whole wheat pasta. For all those going gluten-free, this ain’t the recipe for you–sorry. I also used 2 different kinds of cheese–yellow sharp and sharp white cheddar (and since I’m part mouse, I used more than the allotted amount to sprinkle on top). Lastly, I didn’t measure the 1/8 tsp., I just sprinkled until I felt enough was a enough. For those who don’t like spicy or aren’t experienced cooks–stick to the measurements. 

Book Review: Poughkeepsie

813b1o7toKL._SL1500_Welcome to my 1st book review of 2014! Things are rolling! Let’s dive right in…

My 1st review of the new year is Poughkeepsie, by Debra Anastasia. It’s one of those books I keep coming across on my Nook, iBooks, Goodreads… Since it’s been stalking me for a while, I thought I’d go ahead and read it.

I’ll be honest, I have mixed feelings. The basis of the book was a good one but then it tried to do entirely too much and I found it was just too long, at only 390 pages.

Livia (which is NOT short for Olivia, her name is just Livia) is a graduate student at a college in Manhattan and she falls for Blake–a homeless man she sees on the train platform every day. She’s working on an advanced degree in psychology, a good thing since Blake has some mental health challenges. Doesn’t that sound like a super interesting premise?

Blake, at the age of 25 has been on the streets since he aged out of the foster care system. He has 2 foster brothers–Cole, an aspiring Catholic priest, and Beckett, a high level thug. They look out for each other and have a strong bond and love for one another. They’re living very different lives, but yet they all intersect–primarily because of Livia and her sister Kyle–who is a free spirit, to say the least.

There is a lot of meat to this book and a lot that can be done with it. But I think it fails on some levels. For starters, Blake’s mental health issues are almost glossed over in some ways. I’m willing to suspend reality for the sake of a good story and I think I could’ve dealt with that part if the book didn’t have other short-comings, like the point of view. The story is not told from 1 or 2 POV, it’s told from about 7: Livia, Blake, Cole, Beckett, Kyle, Eve, and Chris. Speaking of Chris…

…He’s the primary villain in the story, and not a ‘good’ one. He’s incredibly transparent and childlike for someone who’s supposed to be a grown man. He’s Livia’s ex-boyfriend and he just can’t let go of her, not because he’s in love, but because he doesn’t want people to think he’s a loser because he lost his woman to a homeless man. Ummm…ok. His actions, mannerisms, and general character are so utterly ridiculous that he’s more annoying than anything else and should’ve essentially been eliminated–it would’ve allowed the author to focus on other areas.

Honestly, I hate to slam any book and this one has a lot of good points: the premise, the humor, the love stories, and the character’s back stories; it just went on too long and needed better editing; which I can usually overlook but in this case what could’ve been a great indy book, fell short. At the same time I can’t necessarily not recommend it. I was able to finish it, which is more than I can say about several books of late–just look at my Goodreads account. I cared about the characters. And it was just a little bit off the romance beaten path to be different.

The sequel, Return to Poughkeepsie was recently released. I am not itching to read it and that makes me sad because I really do care about the characters. But Poughkeepsie didn’t leave me anxious to find out what happens next. If anyone reads either or both books–or already has for that matter–please let me know what you think.