Turkey Day Cooking Tips

It's almost Thanksgiving so I figured I should, at least, post a blog with some cooking tips. I mean, I did graduate from culinary school before I started this whole author thing. Might as well spread the love, right? Need help with your turkey? Gravy? Can't ever seem to get smooth mashed potatoes? Deviled eggs a bit bland? Blasse rolls? Read on!

But first, the author update stuff. I'm gonna be honest, folks. It took me six years to write the first two books, even though I released them only a year and a half apart. I still haven't finished writing the last book for the Hope Trilogy. I'm working on it, albeit slowly since my computer time is pretty limited. I'm still working overtime every week, as I'll continue to do for years to come, I'm sure.

I'm also a housewife and a research freak. Don't seem like they'd go hand-in-hand, right? But they do since I have to make all of our major decisions like furniture/appliance purchases and where we're going to move. Oh, yeah, we also have to move at the end of August--just a week before Show Me Your Books KC and about a month after my return from ThrillerFest. My in-laws are coming to visit for six months and we need more space. I get the fun job of finding a neighborhood we can afford in an area we can agree on since our jobs are an hour apart on opposite sides of the heart of the city. Yay!

With the bigger place, we'll also need some new furniture, though that's a whole other rabbit hole to get sucked down. I read reviews, I search for better prices. It took me weeks to pick out our last couch. I really wish I could sleep less, but my doctor already says I don't sleep enough. 

But now...

On to the food!

Turkey tips

First things first. If you use a frozen turkey, make sure you thaw it for at least three days. On the second day, I'll usually rinse out the cavity to get rid of ice chunks, then stick it back in the fridge. Once it is thawed, I soak it in brine for a day. To make sure it is fully immersed, I use a roasting bag inside of my largest stockpot. It keeps my pot from getting a crusty, slimy, raw turkey/salt film, and makes sure there is no evaporation to leave the skin exposed. This also leaves me more space in the fridge so it's not fully occupied by a huge roasting pan.

Before I cook my turkey, I mix smoked paprika with softened butter and rub it under the skin. I loosely stuff the cavity with quartered fruit and herbs. This year I'm using oranges and rosemary. Last year I used apples, sage, and thyme. For the skin, I keep it simple with some freshly ground pepper and sea salt.

I don't cook my turkey in the oven because then I have no room for sides. I use a countertop turkey roaster. Combine that with another roasting bag to eliminate the need to baste, the butter rubbed under the skin, and a full day of soaking in brine and I get a super juicy bird. Of course, the turkey isn't the only thing that goes in the bag. I've also got to throw in some new potatoes--I like red, blue, and gold--and some carrots. This year, I'm trying the rainbow carrots. To add some flavor to the broth that will be created, I also throw in an onion cut into wedges and a few sticks of celery. After it's all in there, I carefully situate the bag on the rack so that it doesn't touch the sides. I learned the hard way that if the bag touches the side of the roaster, it melts and all the juices leak out into the pan. That totally defeats the self-basting and easy clean-up that should come along with using a bag.

I cook my turkey using math. You should, too. After it's spent its recommended time cooking, I open up the bag and check temps using my digital probe thermometer. 170 in the breast. 180 in the thigh. If it is close, or there, I fold back the bag to let the skin brown for another 20-30 minutes. I also use this time to fish out the potatoes and carrots. They go into a pre-warmed Corningware dish and get to sit in the warming drawer until everything else is ready.

Once the turkey is finished, it needs to rest for 20 minutes before cutting into it, so it's time for gravy.

Good Gravy!

I remove all of the broth because I don't cook my gravy right in the roaster. I move to the stovetop. I also use my grandma's old fat separator to keep the gravy from being too greasy. My exact recipe is kind of a secret, but I'll tell you a few tricks. If the gravy is too thin, add more slurry. Oh, right... A slurry is your thickener of choice mixed with water so that it doesn't clump when added to the broth. I use flour, but some people use cornstarch or arrowroot for gluten-free. If your gravy is too thick, add more broth, water, juice, or whiskey. If the gravy is too salty, cut up a small potato and mix it into the gravy. After 15 minutes, pick out the potato that has absorbed the extra salt.

Tater time!

Do you boil your spuds to make your mashed potatoes? I don't. I bake 'em. Then I gut them, mix in my special blend of ingredients, and use an electric beater to mix it all together. My 5-cheese twice baked potatoes are always a hit, but my methods work for simpler mashed potatoes, too, by just adding butter, sour cream, milk, salt, and pepper. I've just found that baking them tends to ensure they're fully cooked, whereas boiled potatoes can still have some hard centers that leave lumps. I prefer the lumps in my taters to be chopped up turkey bacon.

Die Eier Von Satan

Okay, no. The eggs aren't really for Satan. But how can I resist making a TOOL reference? Deviled eggs are another much-requested holiday dish in my family. Most people keep it pretty boring. Mayo, yellow mustard, salt, pepper, paprika. Blah. I use olive oil mayo, dijon mustard, roasted garlic, chopped dill pickles, chopped turkey bacon, pink salt, white pepper, and I top it all with smoked paprika. Subtle changes, but they make a big impact on the flavor.

Roll with it now...

Is your bread boring? I got you. A few different ways, actually. Do you buy the canned biscuits or crescent rolls? Try an egg wash. Beat an egg with a splash of milk. If you're feeling frisky, you can even squeeze in a tablespoon of honey. Brush the tops of your rolls with the egg wash and avoid getting any of those unbeaten bits of egg white on there. Bake as directed.

Do you buy those brown and serve rolls instead? Want to jazz up that boring bread? Brush those bad boys with some simple syrup before you pop them in the oven. They'll brown to a crispy, sweet crust and taste freaking fantastic. Never heard of simple syrup? No problem! It's just equal parts sugar and water. Bring it to a boil without stirring, check that all of the sugar is dissolved, turn it off, and let it cool. I always have some on hand because I use it to sweeten my iced coffee. Those flavored syrups at the coffeehouse? Yeah...they're just simple syrup with flavor added.

BONUS!

Need a quick side dish that everyone will love? How about some Watergate salad? It's so freaking easy. Dump together and fold to blend in a large bowl: half a container of thawed Cool Whip, one package of pistachio pudding mix, one 20 oz can of crushed pineapple with its juice, one cup of miniature marshmallows, and one cup of chopped pecans. The recipe For Watergate salad on the Jell-O pudding box calls for less Cool Whip, but I find that leaves it a bit runny. I also toast my pecans before I chop them and I use the fruity miniature marshmallows for a little more zip.

 

What do you do to make your holiday dishes extra special? Any tips you love to share? Leave a comment below!

BOO!

I'm baaaaaack.

But no, actually, I'm not really back. I will continue my hiatus in my blogs at least until the end of the year because I must have my priorities. You all know I still work an hourly paycheck-and-insurance job; I'm up to over fifty hours a week there. I also have a household to maintain, a few novels to write, and drastic changes to my lifestyle that have had to be made. 

I found out I'm sick. Not just in the head, but inside my body, too. I don't really know everything yet, so I'm not comfortable revealing what little I do know so far. What is my doctor's biggest worry may turn out to be no big deal and what is my smallest concern could turn out to be my biggest problem. So, I'm not going to count my eggs before my chickens have collapsed. Or...well...you know what I mean.

I've gotten a few emails. Yes, my website was really down for over a week. No, it wasn't just your computer being weird. My domain name expired with GoDaddy and I had trouble getting it reinstated because I no longer have access to the email I used to register with them. Once I was able to get them to let me pay, I couldn't get it relinked with Squarespace. I wound up having no choice but to transfer my domain name to Squarespace, which cost me more time and money. But--obviously--my site is back up now. 

About the book reviews that I've promised... It will happen. Eventually. I have this terrible habit of wanting to do far more than I have time for and ending up in over my head. One book a week was more than I could handle. I'm gonna have to back it off to one review a month. And again, it will be next year before I even attempt to restart my blog. My computer time has been consumed by research and writing lately. But I'd rather make this book perfect than rush it and crank out a higher volume of content. So, please, have some patience with me. 

Halloween is in less than a week. I don't even have a costume yet. Everyone at work expects me to dress up because my hair is blue and purple. Obviously, I should love Halloween, right? Yep. It has always been my favorite holiday, and not just for the candy. But I haven't dressed up for Halloween since my grandmother's funeral was held on Halloween two years ago. That was actually the first blog I ever posted on this website. I'm going to try, though. I had my year of mourning. It should be enough, though it's not. I still miss them both often. But I'll try.

Do you have your Halloween costume yet? What are you going as for Halloween this year?

A Brief Hiatus and Great Things to Come

Due to technical difficulties--as well as my lack of knowledge and time to fix them--I will be taking a pause in my blogs. I can't get my Dropbox to work right. It uploads from my phone to the cloud, but it's not showing anything on my computer, even though I've reinstalled Dropbox five times. It sucks.

So, I'm giving up. I can't spend all of my time writing blogs and figuring out tech issues. I've got fucking books to write! I'd been so busy with editing and promoting my last book, I still haven't finished writing the third one. But I really must stop doing so much internet tomfoolery and get to actually writing "Our Eternal Hope." It should be in the editing queue with my publisher already if I want it out by September of 2018, but I'm not done with it yet. I've written most of the fourth book, and I've got dozens of other stories in the works--ranging from short stories to stand-alone novels to a series.

Oh, yes, my friends. A series is coming into play. It'll be several years before I release anything for it, but she has begun to take shape. Her personality is forming, and so are ideas for her adventures. And this won't be a mere accidental trilogy like Hope's books because the story was just too fucking long to fit into a single novel. No, no. This will be intentional. Plotted. Outlined. Researched. Amateur-hour is fucking done. I've been watching, listening, and learning. CraftFest and ThrillerFest these last two years have been invaluable. I've learned an immense amount about my craft there and it will be utilized. I'm so excited.

The Sunchi story will be posted eventually. I'm working on it when I feel driven to, but otherwise, I'm plodding away at "Our Eternal Hope." I'm averaging about 2K words a day since I don't get to write every day. At this rate, I figure I'll have it done in a month. Then a couple of weeks to read it another ten times to polish it. Then I'll hand it off to my publisher and wait for my turn. 

Once my book is turned in, I'll probably get back to regular blog posts and book reviews. I was going to write a post about the eclipse since I live in the path of totality. But, technical issues with my Dropbox have stopped me, which is what prompted this off-the-cuff blog as well as my decision to stop blogging for a while. If I'm writing ten to fifteen thousand words a week, I need them to be prose, not gushing and babbling.

And remember--if you've read my books and you like them, please leave me a review on Amazon, Goodreads, and/or Barnes & Noble. 

Traveling Home from ThrillerFest

Coming home from New York City started out easy enough. We got on the ferry at Ellis Island, rode back to Battery Park, got on the subway, and rode back to Grand Central. We walked past the shops that line the train station and went back into the Hyatt. We got our bags and made our way to the meeting spot for the shuttle. It was only a short block and a half away. We had no troubles getting our shuttle tickets and it arrived soon after we got there.

We got to the airport with an hour and a half to spare before our flight left. While checking our bags, we found out that our flight had been delayed by about 30 minutes. Okay. No big deal. Gives us plenty of time to get through security and grab something to eat. There was no line at security. It was well staffed and we were through pretty quick. We meandered around on our aching legs, got some pretzel bites, and found seats at our gate.

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Book Review: Matchup (part 1)

“Matchup” is an exciting new collection of short stories that was published in June by the International Thriller Writers. It’s an amazing organization full of remarkable authors. In this anthology, best-selling authors paired up their well-known characters to work together. It’s a crossing and intermingling of worlds. An enticing concept, right? It also happens to be a thrilling execution.

This collection is freaking intense.

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Tourist stuff after ThrillerFest XII

After ThrillerFest was over, I took the chance to stay in New York and do some tourist stuff. Last year, my husband and I only had part of Sunday to do things before we left. This time, I booked a flight for Monday night so that we had all of Sunday and most of Monday to see some sites. My niece hadn’t been to New York since she was fourteen. She said most of what she remembered was bus tours. Pssh! Nah, girl…I got this. We’re gonna see some shit on the inside.

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The Thrills of ThrillerFest with the ITW

ThrillerFest was a lot of fun. All day on both Friday and Saturday, it was panel after panel, interspersed with interviews and massive book signings. It is an event like no other and it is exactly what it says it is—a festival of thrills. Two full days with a grand total of forty-eight panels, eight book signing sessions, three cocktail parties, two major interviews, the Debut Authors Breakfast, and the Awards Banquet. It was a whirlwind of creativity and excitement. I was sad to see it end.

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Book Review: No Middle Name by Lee Child (part 1)

“No Middle Name” is a collection of Jack Reacher short stories. All of them, actually. It’s fucking awesome. I mean, what Reacher fan wouldn’t love this? Instead of taking an entire book to see how clever he is, we get short bursts of his brilliance. It’s a quick gratification from a character that I really dig.

You know those tiny little roller coasters you’ll see at traveling carnivals? They don’t really have room to set up a huge, full-size coaster like you’d see at Six Flags or Disney Parks. So they set up little dinky ones that are mostly just a few hills and maybe one upside-down loop on a track that’s more or less an oval if seen from above. They’re extra scary though because they’re so small. The turns are harder, the loop is more terrifying. You wonder—can there possibly be enough time to build up the required momentum for this trip upside down?

Oh, but there is. You feel squished into your seat as you take on a whole new perspective of the world for just a second. Then it’s gone.

That’s what these stories are.

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What I Learned at CraftFest with the ITW

Just like last year, CraftFest was fantastic. I met a lot of great people, learned a lot about my craft, and discovered numerous books that I want to read. The day before CraftFest actually started, I began to run into people with the conference

CraftFest is a day and a half of lectures and panels taught by professionals and experienced authors. Last year, I took Steve Berry’s classes; he had the same ones this year. I chose to attend Boyd Morrison’s lecture on pacing, of which I took two full pages of notes.

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SO MANY BOOKS!

I got more books in one week than I’ve ever gotten before. Due to the sheer volume of books I acquired at ThrillerFest, I’ve decided to double my blog. Instead of just posting once a week, I’ll up my game to twice. On Wednesdays, I’ll continue to post my series about ThrillerFest, then go back to life stories, short stories, and updates about upcoming works. But on Saturdays, I’ll post book reviews.As my first Saturday blog, I’m throwing out a request for requests. Do you see a book on my list that you’d like me to review? I’ll order my upcoming reviews if people ask for them.

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Traveling and Tourist Stuff Before ThrillerFest XII

Where else would I start but the beginning? My blog series about ThrillerFest can only begin with my traveling there and end with my plane ride home. Also, if I want to get this blog up when I promised I would, I must write about my travel. I acquired an immense amount of books and wound up shipping all of my books, notes, business cards, and bookmarks to avoid a heavy baggage fee. So now I’m without my notes to write about the actual conference for a few days.

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Book Review: Personal by Lee Child

“Personal” by Lee Child is a fantastic book. I love the voice and the feel of the narrative. He uses a bit of an unconventional writing style, but it is uniquely his own. If you, like me, have never read anything he’s written before, I highly recommend buying one of his books and giving it a shot. I mean, come on… He’s a best-selling author for a damn good reason. He writes gripping thrillers that are really driven and action-packed. I’m already looking forward to picking up some more of his books and devouring them.

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Book Review: Deadly Kiss by Bob Bickford

“Deadly Kiss” grabbed me right from the synopsis. Decades of deaths can all be blamed on a stolen kiss that happened out back of a country store in Georgia in 1946. Mike has to follow the trail of secrets if he’s ever going to solve the mystery of what was silently haunting his father ever since he was a young boy.

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Book Review: The Rising by Heather Graham and Jon Land

I decided to read this book because it was co-written by two wonderful, friendly people whom I had the pleasure of meeting last year at ThrillerFest. What do you get when two amazing bestselling authors put their heads together? A freaking fantastic book that grabs you and holds on right up until the very end.

"The Rising" by Heather Graham and Jon Land is a gripping thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat. It took me around a week to read it, but every time I put it down, I couldn’t wait until I had time to pick it up again and read some more. It’s full of questions and the mystery keeps driving the story forward. I just had to keep reading. I had to know what the hell this was all about.

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Book Review: Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

In "Dead Ever After," the thirteenth and final Sookie Stackhouse book, we see a lot of changes and get to revisit a lot of old friends, as well as a few old enemies. First, is the style change. To the best of my recollection, all of the other books were written exclusively from Sookie’s perspective. Entirely first person, and in a very casual form. It’s very colloquial, charming, and endearing. But in this book, we get a number of perspective shifts where we are witnessing an event from third person, well outside of Sookie’s knowledge, even after the end of the book. She had no way of knowing any of it. I actually liked this change. It gave us what we needed to know, without Sookie knowing, too.

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Book Review: A Front Page Affair by Radha Vatsal

The novel starts out at a lavish Independence Day Garden Party on Monday, July fifth, 1915. JP Morgan, Jr. was shot two days ago and people are buzzing with the gossip while Kitty Weeks mingles with the guests. Kitty is an aspiring reporter, who thus far has been relegated to writing fluff for the Ladies Pages. She watches a spectacular display of Japanese fireworks, which showers the guests with little paper cutouts of various shapes. After the hour-long show is over, a man is found shot dead in the stables. Kitty goes with some of the others to check it out, which sucks her into a sinister series of events where nothing is quite as it seems and no one should really be trusted.

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I'm off to NYC!

Today I’m leaving Kansas City, Missouri, to head for New York. I’ll be attending the annual conference for the International Thriller Writers—ThrillerFest. This year is their 12th, but it will only be my second. I hope to make this my yearly conference that I always go to, and to start peppering in others as the years pass. I’ll also be on my first panel this year.

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It's my book release day!

Are you curious about why Deema was so furious the first time he met Hope?

Want to know why the Hopi Reservation is in Colorado?

Dying to know just why the fuck the government is after them, anyway?

What the hell is the Void? What is an Immutable Blade? Can demons incarnate like the angels can?

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Book Review: The Game by Jack London

Genevieve meets Joe in the candy shop where she works. Both are instantly smitten with each other. After dancing around their shyness, they begin to “walk out” together, strolling in public parks and talking, or even just sitting in an amicable silence. They fall in love, plan to be married, and have a wonderful life together.

What she doesn’t know until after she’s fallen for him, is that he’s a famous boxer. The Game has him, and it doesn’t want to let him go.

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