Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Dream 24 Years in the Making - Pub Date for How to Eat a Lobster, my first book!


Photo by Steve Rogers Photography 

It's finally here! The release of my very first book, How to Eat a Lobster and Other Culinary Enigmas Explained, is TODAY!! I feel inspired to tell you the tale of how I got here. If you order my book, please review it on Amazon <3 And, take a selfie with your copy and tag @forking_up and #howtoeatalobster and you'll be entered to win a sweet tote bag!

In 1994, I was six years old. I'd just learned to read, and was devouring books as quickly as I could. I hadn't yet thought about writing any, since my handwriting was pretty crap and we'd only gotten through the early stages of how to spell actual words.

Jane Yolen, a nationally acclaimed author who has been called "The Hans Christian Anderson of the New World," lived in our little town of 3000. Each year, she'd hold a writing contest and pick a few winners per grade. I was in first grade, and I won a prize: An autographed book by a real, live, famous author. My book was called "My Garden and the Humongous Flower" a fantasy tale about the community garden plot my family had just rented.

A more recent Jane Yolen Writing Contest group of writers

Clearly, this meant I was the best writer in the entire class. Grade. Nay, the entire WORLD!--It is a great and powerful thing when you tell a child they're good at something.

I immediately got a journal for 200 tickets at the local arcade and started writing down poorly-spelled story ideas. Mostly sequels to my favorite books, or stories about unicorns or cannibalistic witches (I had a weird fascination with cannibalism as a child and I have no idea why) and soon started recording my daily life as well. After all, if I was going to be a famous author, people would want to read about my life.

Jane Yolen (in the middle) and her daughter, author Heidi Stemple, at the Writing Contest they invited me to a few years back

I didn't win a prize again until 6th grade, but that didn't stop me. While I told everyone I wanted to be an artist when I grew up, deep down I knew I wanted to write books. I don't think I even knew writing was something you could make money off of until I was in middle school.

In high school, thanks to two English teachers--one who never hid how much he loved and supported my writing, and another who kept his support more secret and challenged me because he knew it would make me better, both absolutely instrumental in making me a better writer--convinced me that writing was the career I should pursue. I graduated, and was awarded the Jane Yolen Scholarship, and set out to pursue a BFA degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College.

My first day at Emerson College, meeting my Freshman year roommate

Emerson was amazing. I was surrounded by creative young people and I learned how to write in all different styles. I also learned how to be an editor, and decided working behind the scenes was probably a better career path than being the one in the spotlight. I thought graduation would bring me to a publishing house in Boston or New York City, but I found myself back home, hoping the journey would continue with a hometown boyfriend instead. I ended up taking a job in Marketing, since Western Massachusetts didn't have many publishing opportunities.

In the meantime, I began to blog. Somewhere along the line I'd developed a love of recipes and all things food, and I needed a place to keep it all. When The Lisa Ekus Group unveiled their Twitter Contest, Sign Me Sal, a March Madness-esque bracket contest where each round eliminated half of the entrants. You basically were tweeting them a book proposal, which I'd learned to do during my studies to be an editor.

My agent, Sally and me at a chili cookoff!

I made it through the first round. Then the second. Then the third. Then I was in the final two. And finally, I won. My dream was coming true! Jane Yolen even invited me to that same contest, to talk about my writing journey. I wrote about that amazing experience over at my old blog.

What followed was two years of my agent, Sally Ekus, working tirelessly to get me signed. A new author with just a handful of clips and a modest blog following is no easy sell. But she didn't give up. Eventually, Quirk Books approached her with a concept, and she introduced us.

The rest, is history. What followed was an amazingly collaborative effort with my editor and myself, that resulted in the beautiful book you see today. On shelves. In real bookstores. TODAY. Not to mention the incredible PR team that's already giving my little book a bunch of great press.

Today is book 1. I hope it leads to book 2, but I think that little girl with stars in her eyes crossing the stage to receive the first accolades for her writing would be proud of me either way.

Monday, April 3, 2017

#EasterWeek Win a $200 gift card! - Mini Croque Madames


Welcome to day 1 of #EasterWeek hosted by Bernadette from Rants From My Crazy Kitchen
This week we are celebrating Easter and Bernadette’s blogging anniversary with all kinds of delicious recipes and a giveaway! From appetizers to ham recipes, we have everything you need for a great Easter dinner or brunch, and one lucky winner will receive a $200 Amazon gift card. 

So, what are two food items you think of when you think of Easter?

Ham, and eggs, right? Probably chocolate, but we'll get to that later in the week. For our first day of Easter Week, I thought I'd make the queen of breakfast sandwiches: the Croque Madame. It's an upgrade to the Croque Monsieur because it includes a fried egg, which really amps up the flavors of the rest of the sandwich.

Since Easter is a family holiday, I thought these mini croques would be perfect for an Easter Brunch. This way, you get all the flavor of a delicious heavy sandwich, in two little bites, so your plate has room for more items and your belly has room for chocolate later!

Before we get to the recipe, check out the other Easter Week contributors below!

Today's Deliciously Perfect Recipes for Easter:
Main Dishes:
Slow Cooker Honey Ham from Rants From My Crazy Kitchen
Peppered Parmesan Asparagus Quinoa Quiche Muffins from It's Yummi 
Banana Crumb Waffles from Cindy's Recipes and Writings 
Side Dish:
Wild Violet Butter from Farm Fresh Feasts 
Blueberry Grunt from Making Miracles

Mini Croque Madames

  • 1 loaf French bread, sliced
  • 2 cups shredded gruyere cheese
  • 1/2 lb Black Forrest Ham, cut into strips
  • 1 cup caramelized onion (about 2 small onions, cooked over low heat with a tablespoon of butter and a bit of salt, stirred occasionally until caramel in color)
  • Dijon mustard (enough to spread on each sandwich)
  • 6 small eggs (or, enough to top each sandwich)
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
For the bechamel sauce
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 2 cups cream
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese (I used a blend of parm, cheddar, and gruyere) 
  • 1 tsp parsley
-Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

-Prepare the sauce: Melt the butter over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over the melted butter, and whisk until a thick paste forms. Slowly pour in the cream, and whisk until thick. Add the cheese and parsley, and set aside.

-Brush one side of each French bread slice with melted butter. Arrange half the slices on a cookie sheet, butter side down. Top each with onions, ham, and cheese.

-With the remaining slices, spread a bit of Dijon mustard on the non-butter side, and place on top of each assembled sandwich, Dijon-side down.

-Bake for 10 minutes, flipping halfway through and topping with a bit more gruyere. The sandwiches are done when the bread is golden brown.

-Generously oil a 6-well muffin tin. Crack an egg into each well. Bake until the whites have set, 8-10 minutes, checking halfway through.

-To assemble the sandwiches: top each with cooked egg, a drizzle of bechamel sauce, and the egg.

ENTER TO WIN! Giveaway open April 3- April 17, 2017 to residents of the continental U. S. age 18 and older. This giveaway is sponsored by Bernadette Martin of Rants From My Crazy Kitchen. No affiliation with the cookbook authors is implied. Winners will be announced on April 18 and will have 48 hours to respond. Prizes will be shipped no later than May 1, 2017. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Loaded Potato Waffle Fries


 Spring is here! The weather is finally getting warm (or, warmER, it has hardly been "cold" here in Austin!) and I couldn't be happier. I cannot wait to break out the sun dresses and frolic on the daily.

The Austin bats are back! This picture is from mom's visit last weekend. They aren't at full capacity yet--by late summer there are nearly 2 million bats under the South Congress bridge--but it's still pretty amazing to watch.

More outside time with Lily, my amazing little pooch.

 Big Boobie Bingo has returned to Maria's patio at Maria's Taco Express, and it remains my favorite local event. This was the night Lauren and I actually BOTH won prizes!

Finally, my hair needed a bit of a springy change, so I bought a highlighting kit and went to town. I LOVE the way it came out, and it was only $6 for Revlon Frost & Glow! I highly recommend it if you want to lighten up your color a bit but don't have the money for a salon.

Anyway, enough of my Springtime love, onto the recipe.

These waffle things are all over Pinterest. I know.

But they were too good NOT to try myself. And the pictures came out decent, so on the off chance someone hasn't tried these yet and needs some MORE convincing, here. Let me try to convince you.

Tiny, crispy potato waffles, with melted cheese, sour cream, bacon, and chives. Delicious. The perfect party app.

Then I got cocky--If I could do this with regular potatos, IMAGINE what sweet potatoes would be like! I started fantasizing about the paleo-friendly treats I would soon create.

...Sweet potatoes = messy waffle iron, and burnt mush. Oh well. Can't win them all.

Loaded Potato Waffle Bites

  • 1 cup leftover mashed potatoes (or 1-2 cooked, mashed potatoes with added milk, butter, and salt and pepper)
  • 2 tsp smashed garlic
  • 1 egg
  • 1 handful cheese
  • 2 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
  • 3 tbs sour cream

-Preheat oven to 350, and warm up your waffle iron to high.

-In a small dish, mis together the mashed potatoes, garlic, and egg until well combined.

-Drop by the over-flowing spoonful (ideally, a couple tablespoons) into the waffle iron.

-Cook on high until browned on both sides.

-Place on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with cheese and bacon. Bake for 5 minutes, or until cheese is melty.

-Top with sour cream and chives, serve.

Note: While I was inspired by a Pinterest post I cannot find at the moment, I threw together this recipe from my own brain. Any resemblance to another recipe is totally accidental.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Poached Salmon with Brown Butter Sauce - Wheatsville Spring Seafood!

Disclaimer: I received a $50 gift card to Wheatsville Coop for purposes of this post.

I'm excited to bring you another collaboration with Wheatsville! If you're not from Austin, Texas, you probably don't know about this awesome market. Wheatsville Food Coop is a full service, natural foods cooperative grocery store, which has been serving the central Austin community since 1976. This month, I was challenged to welcome in Spring with a seafood recipe.

When I think of Spring, I think of the house I lived in when I was 8 years old, with the pond in the backyard. Every spring, the town would hold a fishing derby in that pond--it actually was on town land, but I considered it my back yard--and for the few years we lived there I'd rush down on that weekend in the spring to fish with my dad.

I rarely caught anything, but fishing is a fond memory I have with my dad, who passed away in 2007. Although we would catch trout or pike in that pond (and we'd never eat them, they always tasted too much like pond water), my dad would cook salmon for us often. It was one of the few things he could actually cook well, as he was a pretty terrible cook in all other cuisine.

In short, spring reminds me of fish, and reminds me of my dad, so I am so happy to make this recipe for you all. My dad used a cream sauce on his dishes, but for this I used browned butter to cut down on the heaviness. After all, the days are getting longer and the need for thick and creamy dishes is more of a winter thing.

I paired this fresh spring dinner with crispy roasted brussels sprouts and some boiled new potatoes with butter and chives. It would also go lovely with some fresh grilled asparagus if you don't want to turn on the oven. And feel free to drizzle the sauce over everything, it's delicious!

Poached Salmon with Brown Butter Sauce

  • 1 salmon fillet
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 boullion cube
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped*
  • 1 lemon, half juiced, half sliced

-In a deep skillet, bring the water, wine, vinegar, and boullion cube to a boil. Make sure there is enough liquid in the pan to cover the fillet.

-Reduce to a simmer, then gently drop in the fillet, flesh-side up. Simmer for 5 minutes, or until firm and opaque. Set aside in foil to keep warm.

-In a small saucepan, brown the butter: over medium heat melt the butter and heat until foam has bubbled up and then subsided, swirling every couple of seconds. The butter will be light brown and have a nutty aroma.

-Remove the butter from the heat and stir in the dijon, dill, and lemon juice.

-Serve the salmon fillet topped with lemon slices and drizzled with the browned butter sauce.

*I forgot I bought fresh dill from Wheatsville for this recipe, and ended up using dried. It'll taste even better with fresh!

Photos by my extremely talented fiancé. If you'd like to hire him for any photo, logo, or other graphic needs, check out his website! Corysorel.com.

Do you live in Austin, Texas? Do you want to win a $30 Wheatsville gift card? Leave a comment and let me know you live in the ATX and I'll randomly pick one winner!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Madonna of Food - Cauliflower Risotto


Meat, vegetable, starch. That's how all my meals have started from the beginning of time. So now that I'm trying to reduce my carbs, that 1/3 of my plate is somewhat hard to get around. And now that I'm #SweatingfortheWedding I'm more conscious than ever of what's on my plate and in my belly, as I try to shed off a dress size.

Thankfully, cauliflower has positioned itself as the Madonna of the food world--always reinventing itself. When you're eating a plant-heavy, low-carb diet (which I keep trying and failing to do, tbh) it's nearly magical. Cauliflower can be mashed potatoes. It can be pizza crust. It can be rice.

It can even be risotto.

Now, it'll never actually taste like fluffy potatoes or starchy, delicious rice, but it'll come close. I love trying to recreate my favorite starchy foods with this crazy chameleon of a veggie. This risotto came out pretty great. It pairs well with grilled chicken or steak, or some marinated portobello mushroom slices.

Let me know what you eat it with!

Also... It is two weeks from my launch date for my book, How to Eat a Lobster and Other Culinary Enigmas Explained. I am BEYOND excited! Quirk was kind enough to send me a box of my books, and I'm running an Instagram giveaway to give a lucky reader a copy. Check it out and enter! And, if you leave a comment here, I'll add an extra entry into the hat for you :)

And now, onto the recipe!

Cauliflower Risotto
  • 1 head cauliflower, riced/shredded (or one bag riced cauliflower)
  • 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream OR coconut cream
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used Trader Joe's 3 cheese blend)
  • 1 tbsp corn starch + 1 tbsp water slurry (if needed)
  • 1 tbsp parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp pesto
  • 3 tbsp white wine
  • 1 tbsp oil of choice (I used coconut)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

-In a large wok or skillet, heat the oil until shiny. Add the onions and garlic and cook until transluscent and fragrant. Add the wine and let reduce by 2/3.

-Add the cauliflower and mix well. Pour in the stock and cook until cauliflower is just soft. Add the heavy cream and mix to combine. If the mixture is too loose and liquidy, add the corn starch mixture and combine well.

-Fold in the remaining ingredients. Serve hot.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

2017 Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide - Austin's Best Tapas


You know what's weird? These are literally the ONLY Tapas places in Austin.* Get with it, Tapas restaurateurs! We need more of these delicious Spanish small plates in our fine city! And you'll definitely be in good company with these restaurants.

*Correct me if I'm wrong in the comments!

Bullfight - Bullfight has a solid happy hour - half off liquor and snacks - but the rest of the menu is solid, too. The duck meatballs are a clear star, and I found the calamari was fresh and perfectly crisp. The bacon wrapped stuffed dates were also incredible. If you want delicious small plates, an extensive drink menu, and an authentic Spanish Tapas experience, check out Bullfight.
4807 Airport Boulevard, Austin, TX

Photo via Foodie is the New Forty

Winebelly - Come for the wine, but fill up your belly while you're there! The Spanish-Mediterranean style food is delicious, fresh, and pairs wonderfully with the extensive wine menu. Try the duck bruscetta, a delicious take on the Italian classic.
519 W Oltorf St, Austin, TX 

Image via A Time to Kale

Barlata - Barlata will always hold a special place in my heart, because it is the first place I learned about squid ink pasta. It's also the place I learned that coca cola and red wine actually taste fantastic together. Their traditional Spanish tapas are the closest to authentic that I've found in the city, and each one is packed full of flavor. Bring friends, and try as many dishes as you can. Trust me.

Photo via Sushi Girl ATX

MIA - MIA is one of the new restaurants in The Doman's trendy Rock Rose area, and was one of the first to open when the street began construction. These small, Italian-tapas plates pack tremendous flavor. The meatballs are perfectly cooked, in a delicious house-made sauce. Select tapas are 2-for-1 during Happy Hour, an excellent deal considering the quality. Start your night out on Rock Rose at MIA next time you head out for drinks.
11420 Rock Rose Ave, Ste 120, Austin TX

Vox Table - Finally, my favorite restaurant in Austin. I have never once had a bad meal here, it's all been excellent. The menu changes slightly with the seasons, so you won't always find the delicious Yorkshire Pudding with beef cheek, or the potato churros, but definitely order them if they're there. The Old Fashioned menu is just a bonus (their cocktails are SO GOOD), and their entire cocktail menu is so well made. Make sure you save room for dessert!
1100 S Lamar Blvd #2140, Austin, TX

Don't forget to check out the rest of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide for 2017!

2017 Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide - Austin's Best Old Fashioneds


There's a reason why Old Fashioneds are called Old Fashioneds. They've been around for a long time, and the recipe remains fairly simple: whiskey or bourbon, bitters, sugar, orange peel, and a cherry. Sometimes we get fancy on the cherries (Luxardo Gourmet Maraschino Cherries = you're doing it right) or put the ice in a perfect cube (typically this means I Can't Afford To Drink Here) or shake it up altogether and add in something crazy. It's my all-time favorite cocktail, and here are some of my faves!

Photo by Arianna Auber, American-Statesman.

Vox Table - A whole MENU of Old Fashioneds? I'm in heaven. This is literally my favorite restaurant in town, and all of their cocktails are so well made--I didn't know that there was a difference between cocktails made by an expert, and those sloshed together at a dive. Vox has shown me the light.
1100 S Lamar Blvd #2140, Austin, TX

Prohibition Creamery - The star of the menu is clearly their BOOZY ICE CREAM, but their cocktail menu is reasonably priced AND expertly crafted. $6 for a cocktail, and it doesn't even have to be happy hour? Sold.
1407 E 7th St, Austin, TX

Oasthouse - Get a stool at the bar during Happy Hour and take advantage of their $6 Granny's Old Fashioned. Subtle apple flavors and a sprinkling of spice make this a perfect winter cocktail (though it's tasty all year round!)
8300 N FM 620 e, Austin, TX 78726

Péché - Yes, Péché is Austin's premiere absinthe bar. However, they also have an incredible Old Fashioned on the menu. Their version of the cocktail uses Single Barrel Whiskey, Jerry Thomas bitters, lemon peel, and sugar. Classic, fresh, and always pleasing. Have a shot of absinthe if you must, but sip slowly on this.
208 W 4th St, Austin, TX 

drink.well - pair their delicious, classic old fashioned with a house-made Twinkie and you have yourself a deliciously classy start to your evening. Try to snag a spot at the bar and watch the bartenders work their magic.
207 E 53rd St, Austin, TX

Whisler's - There really is nothing better than sitting outside on Whisler's laid back East 6 patio and sipping on a perfectly crafted Old Fashioned during happy hour. Thai Kun is nearby, and the two go quite well together.
1816 E 6th St, Austin, TX

Porter Ale House and Gastropub - The Banana Nut Old Fashioned is probably the most unique Old Fashioned I've come across. The banana flavor is subtle, the whiskey is high quality, and there's a slight nut aftertaste. If you like sweeter old fashioneds with different fruit flavors, you'll love this.
3715 S 1st St A, Austin, TX

Butterfly Bar - Butterfly Bar calls their take on this classic drink a New Fashioned, using Makers Mark, brown sugar, bitters, and lemon. This quirky Manor Road bar has great indoor and outdoor seating. Grab a bite at Patrizi's and indulge in the craft cocktails at Butterfly.
2307 Manor Rd, Austin, TX

Crow Bar - For a place that looks like a sports bar, Crow Bar is sure to surprise you with an excellent cocktail menu. While the cherries are typical bright red variety, the cocktail itself is well blended and not overpriced. A great find in this area of South Congress!
3116 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX

Don't forget to check out the rest of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide for 2017!