An Unnatural Vice by KJ Charles w Chicken Potato Leek Pie & Riesling

32161804 (1)This book is the second installment in the Sins of The Cities  Series. Our heroes are Nathaniel Roy a barrister turned journalist with a chip on his shoulder the size of Gibraltar, and Justin Lazarus an incredibly shady and clever medium whose goal in life seems to drive Nathaniel out of his mind. He has EVERY kind of trick up his sleeve, and and he has the Medium game down to a science. These two are hot and cold, and then hot and hotter.

The setting as always is top notch, this time we get a London covered in a thick fog that shrouds the city in darkness for days. The perfect time for sinister goings on to happen.  The universe and cast of characters from the first book in the series are all here and it continues to grow. Once again, KJ made Victorian London her playground and her characters brought the city and its secrets to life all while delivering a very satisfying love story.

Before I go further into the book, let’s talk food! I decided to go with a savory pie, with some British flavors. I must confess that a  couple of months ago I fell down the Netflix rabbit hole and watched all three seasons of the Great British Baking Show. Since then I’ve been itching to make a “proper” savory pie. This book features a few meat pie cameos, and Justin seemed to love them, and I love Justin,  so I took my chance! I’ve made a chicken, leek and potato pie, which honestly came out DELICIOUS, my judges (read very opinionated 8 yr old girl, 38 yr old man who will eat anything as long as he doesn’t have to cook it) approved and declared that it should enter the family dinner rotation. I paired it with a lovely Dry Riesling I from German winemaker Bex. This bottle was not sweet at all, but had a very prominent fruit profile, some stone fruit a little pineapple. It was lovely with the pie and the bottle was on sale for $8.99. Total win.

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Back to the story…Nathaniel has a problem and his name is Justin. He can’t stand the man. He just knows he is up to no good. Granted for the first time since he lost his lover five years ago, he is feeling anything other than utter apathy, he is not sure what to do with that, but he knows who is to blame, Justin Lazarus. Justin, who he is convinced is a hack and conning people out of their hard earned money by telling them he can give them a connection with their dead loved ones. The man is despicable, he can’t stand the little cheat, and is determined to show the world he is a fraud. The only issue is, that every time he encounters Justin the man gets deeper and deeper under his skin. There is something broken and fragile about him calls to something in Nathaniel. He too smart for his own good, he is beautiful and Nathaniel can’t seem to stay away.

In  an unexpected twist of fate, Nathaniel and Justin end up needing each other to get out of a potentially deadly mess.  Nathaniel’s friend Clem is at risk of losing everything if his nephew, and heir to the family’s fortune can’t be found. Justin just so happens to be able to get to the people that know where he might be, the only trouble is these people are not above killing them both to get their hands on the money. What ensues is a pretty fast paced adventure, where there are twists and turns literally to the last page. And while we escape to the countryside  and back with these two we get quite a romance.

I think Justin is one of the best characters KJ has written, and that is saying quite a lot, since some of her characters feature very prominently in my favorites list. What makes Justin so intriguing to me is that he refuses to apologize for what he must do to earn his livelihood, even if it make him despicable in the eyes of others. He was given a rotten lot in life and he turned that into something he could use to provide himself and his family security. He is a trickster and he is a fraud, so what? At least he is not walking around feeling like he is better than anyone, or sitting down reaping the benefits from the work off someone else’s back. Especially not a sanctimonious arsehole like Nathaniel Roy who was not idea what it’s like to be so hungry you’d sell your soul for a meal.  Justin takes care of his own and is completely unfazed by anyone’s opinion of how he does it.

Nathaniel is judgmental, he has been too comfortable his whole life to grasp the reality that some people literally have had to crawl up from the gutter to stay alive. He sees Justin is too fixated on his views on right and wrong. But when he finally gets over himself and can see Justin for who he really is,  Justin humbles and entrances him. They have so much to give each other once Nathaniel lets go of high handed bullshit, and Justin opens himself up a little bit and let down his guard…Neither are easy things to do for these two, but the pull is too strong between them.

The romance here is solid, the intrigue and drama quite delicious, and the chemistry between Justin and Nathaniel is phenomenal. Thankfully there is one more book in the series which I cannot wait to read. Another great romance by KJ Charles.

Now the recipe

Chicken, Leek and Potato Pie

1 tablespoon of margarine

2 slices of turkey bacon sliced

2 Cups of small read potatoes diced

1 carrot diced

1 chicken breasts cut into cubes

3 leek stalks sliced thin

2 cups of chicken broth

1/4 cup white wine

2 tablespoons of flour

1 pie pre-made pie crust just for top

1 egg white

1 tablespoon milk

Directions

Preheat oven to 450°. Cook bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until almost crisp, stirring frequently. Increase heat to medium-high. Add potato and carrot to pan; sauté 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chicken; sauté 3 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Stir in flour and next 3 ingredients (through pepper); sauté 1 minute, stirring frequently.

Slowly add broth and wine to pan, stirring constantly; as you mix in the liquid should start to thicken. Cook 2 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring occasionally. Spoon mixture into a deep pie dish. Top with dough, folding under and pressing down on edges to seal. Poke some holes on the crust with a fork.

Combine milk and egg white; brush mixture over top of dough. Bake at 450° for 20 minutes or until crust is golden. Let stand 10 minutes.

Serve immediately with a mixed green salad.

Thanks so much for stopping by, I hope you read this awesome story and maybe bake this delicious pie!

You can buy An Unnatural Vice HERE.

You can learn more about KJ Charles and her work HERE.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

 

 

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A Gathering Storm by Joanna Chambers with Savory Scones

34093599I don’t have the skills to impress upon the page the level of joy I felt when I saw that Joanna Chambers was back with a historical romance, all I can say is that the joy was substantial.  Joanna’s Enlightenment Series is one of my absolute favorites. Her writing just works for me. Her novels are exquisitely set, they always have pointed commentary on the issues of the time, and most importantly her love stories are gorgeous to read.

“A Gathering Storm” is exactly the kind of novel I have come to expect from JC, smart, well researched, and with a solid and lovely romance. But, before I get to the review, I’ll share the recipe!

What could I make for this story? A historical sent in Britain…Scones, of course! I love me a good scone and I don’t think I’ve read a novel by Joanna that does not feature a delicious scone at some point, so I thought it would be fitting. So, I made savory Wild Ramps (wild ramps are a wild spring onion that grows here in the Northeast, it is also know as wild leek in some places) and Gruyere scones to go with this book, and I know I am biased, but they are to die for.  Delicious, crumbly and the subtle garlic/onion taste of the ramps with the Gruyere is just YUM. I made a double batch and it they did not last through the day…

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Now the book…As I said before I think Joanna Chambers is one of the best historical romance writers out there. What I loved about this story, in particular,  is that she gives us two heroes with a lot of insecurities and a bit of callousness, but who  are so genuine in their search for ways to be good to each other. I love a story where people are just people, you know? Most of us would like to think that in the face of certain circumstances, true love or adversity, we will be our better selves, but the reality is that most times, we are just our human selves. That does not mean we are not truly questing to be the best we can be for the one we love.

So Ward and Nick…Ward is fixated on finding a way to gain some connection to his dead brother, even when it comes at the cost of his own reputation. He is adrift without his brother and losing the one person who made him feel known. Nick has never belonged anywhere, his mother, the only person who he had a real connection to is now gone, an he is also adrift.  Finding each other gives both Nick and Ward a place to be anchored.  And yet, they are so different, their birth and stations in life are so distant from each other.

One of the things I love about this novel, is that is does not sugarcoat the disparity between Nick and Ward. They were born to very different circumstances, and this has shaped their worldview.  Nick is guarded and cautious, because he knows a man like him is at the mercy of the will of those who have a higher station than him. Ward expects the world to bend to his will.  Yet, they can still fill the empty spaces in each other. What made this novel so good for me, was how true the emotions felt. It was almost like that supernatural plane that Ward was so preoccupied with was always there for him to find, he just had to fall in love.

Lots to love here, the happy ending is locked tight, the erotica is solid and the book will read again very nicely I reckon…So, get the book and make some scones!

For the recipe:

Wild Ramps and Gruyere Scones (Adapted from Not Derby Pie Blog)

1 3/4 cup flour, plus some extra for rolling
1 tablespoon & 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup Shredded Gruyere
1/4 cup chopped ramps (or very finely chopped chives)
3/4 cup heavy cream, plus 2 tablespoons for brushing scones
1/4 cup buttermilk

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Add the butter. Put bowl in freezer for 5 minutes to chill the flour. Then beat the mixture on low speed if using a mixer) until the butter is broken up into pebble-sized pieces, about 3 minutes.

Add the cheese and ramps. Then pour heavy cream and buttermilk into the bowl and mix just until dough comes together. Scone dough can be very sticky, so make sure you have a well floured surface to knead. Don’t knead too long, just enough to get the dough into a ball. Mold the dough into one or two disks, and refrigerate about 2 hours or stick in the freezer for 15 minutes.
IMG_0170Preheat oven to 375. Roll out disk on lightly floured surface to form one 7-inch round or two 3-4-inch rounds. Cut 12 slices from the large round or 6 wedges from each of the smaller rounds, and arrange on a baking sheet (no need to leave much room between the scones). Brush with cream (this will aid the browning process).

Bake about 20 minutes, until golden on top and browned on the bottom. Serve warm with some butter, I also had a bit of ramp pesto at hand and it was delicious.

Enjoy the book and the scones! Come back and let me know how they turned out!

You can buy “A Gathering Storm” HERE.

You can read about, and buy Joanne Chambers back list HERE.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

Bonfires by Amy Lane and Double Chocolate Banana Bread

34389595You know what I love? That what counts for light romance from long time fave Amy Lane, takes on the absurdity of public education bureaucracy, involves a dead body, and provides us with an epic, righteous monologue that literally made me cheer out loud…Light and fluffy from Ms. Lane. 🙂 SO! Amy does light and sweet mid-life romance, her way. In Bonfires Amy lane gives us Larx and Aaron’s love story, two men in their late forties, entering a chapter of life when kids are almost done growing, careers are settled, and life is feeling like it can bear a new beginning. I enjoyed this book a lot, it really was quite easy reading and the romance was utterly sweet.

So, for something as wholesome as Larx, Aaron and their pack of kiddos I had to bake! To go with this lovely story I made a Double Chocolate Banana Loaf that will literally will make you weep, it’s so good. It is a one bowl, throw everything in type of deal, perfect to whip up when you have a house full of ravenous teenagers needing breakfast. The photo (below) I have for this was literally from breakfast this morning. Today is rainy and gloomy here in the NYC ‘burbs, and I cannot tell you how much comfort re-reading the last few chapters of this book, while sipping my coffee, with a few bites of this cake brought me.

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So the book…Larx and Aaron have known each other for a long while now. Aaron is a local Deputy Sheriff, a widower who raised his three kids on his own after his wife passed ten years before. Larx is the high school principal, who moved to town with his two kids after what was rumored to be a VERY messy divorce. They’d been friendly, until one day Aaron notices that Larx is someone he wants to learn a WHOLE lot about, and he is not shy about getting that message to the feisty principal.

Larx on his end, is not upset about all the attention he is getting from the handsome deputy and well, things get going. Except, life is complicated, one of them is in law enforcement, the other a public educator, jobs that LGBTQ people lose everyday if they are brave enough to live openly. Also they’ve got like five kids and half a petting zoo between the two of them! Yet coming together seems to be a lot simpler than they thought it would be, it’s almost like life was just waiting for them to figure this shit out and go for it.

The outside world of course had other plans, and pretty soon they are both neck deep in a town fiasco that is threatening to crucify two boys brave enough to be themselves, just so their little town could continue to live with blinders on, and not have to accept that fact that gay people exist. What ensues is a really candid look at the hypocrisy with which so many communities operate. How people seem to be fine using children as scapegoats children in their need to maintain their comfort zones. The bravery it takes to confront that, and the heroism of public educators and others who fight for kids who have no one else to stand up for them.

As always the cast of characters had some fantastic personalities, and a lot of that peppery back and forth that Amy Lane is known for. What more can I say? This is classic Amy, an intense love story, characters who are not afraid to do what’s right and demand that others step and do the same, a strong sense of place, and the open possibility for a future visit.

Highly recommend it.

You can but Bonfires HERE.

You can find out more about Amy Lane and her enormous back list HERE.

Now the recipe!

Double Chocolate and Banana Loaf

*Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3 medium-to-large very ripe bananas
1/2 cup coconut oil melted (original recipe calls for melted butter, so that is also an option!)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 cup (about 6 ounces or 170 grams) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips

Heat your oven to 350°F. Butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan, or spray it with a nonstick baking spray.

Mash bananas in the bottom of a large bowl. (You’ll have a little over 1 cup mashed banana total.) Whisk in melted butter, then brown sugar, egg, and vanilla. Place baking soda, salt, cinnamon (if using), flour and cocoa powder in a sifter or fine-mesh strainer and sift over wet ingredients. (My cocoa is almost always lumpy, so this is essential for me.) Stir dry and wet ingredients with a spoon until just combined. Stir in chocolate chunks or chips.

Pour into prepared pan and bake 55 to 65 minutes, until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out batter-free. (A melted chocolate chip smear is expected, however.) Cool in pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and invert it out onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The banana bread will keep for up to 4 days at room temperature. Although in my case the bread was half gone 20 minutes after it came after the oven, and the rest was gone by morning.  It is chocolatey, moist and decadent.

I hope you enjoy the book and give the recipe a try! If you do, let me know!

Cheers and happy reading!

Laura

Wanted, A Gentleman by KJ Charles and British Ginger Molasses Cake

Hi there book people! It’s been a couple of weeks since I got on here. I’ve been busy fretting about the impending demise of civilization at large, starting a a second Master’s degree, and gearing up to travel to Washington DC, and march with the other millions of women around the world who wanted to make a point to the new president of the United States.

It’s a scary time right now for so many reasons, which makes me doubly grateful for romance novels, and particularly glad for authors like KJ Charles who picks up her pen with purpose and clear eyes. She does not shy away from the things that are shameful in our history, and I respect her for that. The construct of race has always been something that I’ve strived to understand. As a woman of color, a feminist, someone born in a small island that was colonized on one side by the Spanish, and on the other by the French, the weaponization of skin color by  those who lack it to oppress those of us who do, has always been a source of repulsed wonder for me.

So, when I see that a romance writer wants to dip her toe into that mess and come up with a love story, I can’t helped but feel charmed and amazed. KJ Charles once again navigated the complicated waters of interracial romance, and has given us a delightful story in Wanted, A Gentleman. But before I talk more about the book, let’s talk about food! For this one I baked, if you read the book you’ll find the description of the the gooey Yorkshire Parkin to tempting not to try it! Parkin is a traiditional English pudding that has molasses, lots of ginger and oats. It is quite moist and lovely, perfect with a cup of tea on a cold winter day.

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Now the story…Theodore Swann is an enterprising man of his times. He maintains and owns a lonely hearts paper, “The Matrimonial Advertiser”, and he writes sweeping romances under the pen name Dorothea Swann. He is also in a bit of a bind. The issue arises when Mr. Martin St. Vincent, free man and entrepreneur, shows up at Theodore’s place of business demanding answers regarding a certain series of ads in “The Matrimonial Advertiser”. The ads may involve a very wealthy, very underage young woman Mr. St Vincent deeply cares for, and he will do what it takes to save the lady from disgracing herself.

Things precipitate and before we know it, we have embarked with Mr. Swann and Mr. St. Vincent in a furious chase across England to save the young lady from impending doom. It is a bumpy ride, literally and figuratively, and like every other story at the hands of the marvelous KJ, the wit crackles as intensely as the tension between our heroes.

This story like others by this author doesn’t shy away from portraying the hero/es as deeply flawed, and explores the injustices of class, gender and race of the times. Martin St. Vincent was enslaved by the family of the girl he is trying to rescue. He cares for her, and is still conflicted in his relationship to his past masters. They freed him yes, they even helped him once he was free, however can that atone for the atrocity of owning a man like property? These are things that both Martin and Theodore explore and struggle with throughout the story.

I appreciate KJ’s boldness in not trying to sugarcoat the monstrosity that was slavery and or and not trying to suggest that freeing someone you felt you had the right to own just because his skin color was black is not in any way redeeming. We also get some incredibly witty and thoughtful musings on the burden of the woman, and the disadvantages that come with being born female.

As romances go, I think the love story was believable and effective. I do think that KJ holds back a bit with her characters of color, I felt it as well in her previous interracial story Rag & Bone. I don’t imply it in a negative way at all, I think it comes from awareness and respect towards the character. As a person of color, I appreciate her restraint and highly prefer it to the carelessness with which so many authors write characters of color in their stories. This of course does not mean this was not a lovely and entertaining story, it was. It IS, and like with every other story by KJ, we not only get the romance and the erotica, we get amazing humanity.

I completely recommend this book, and can’t wait for her upcoming trilogy Sins of the Cities coming out in February.

Yorkshire Parkin Pudding

adapted from britishfood.abot.com

  • 8 oz/ soft butter
  • ½ cup  soft, dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 1cup golden corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1 cup self raising flour (or 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 1/2 tsp of baking powder, 1 tsp salt)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of cinammon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 pinch of ground clove
  • pinch of ground allspice
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoon milk

Directions:

Heat the oven to 275F

  • Grease a 8″ x 8″square cake tin.
  • In a large heavy-based saucepan melt together the butter, sugar, molasses, golden syrup over a gentle heat. Do not allow the mixture to boil, you simply need to melt these together.fullsizerender-1
  • In a large, spacious, baking bowl stir together all the dry ingredients. Gradually add the melted butter mixture stirring to coat all the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  • Gradually, beat in the eggs a few tablespoons at a time. Finally add the milk and again stir well.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and cook for 1½ hours until firm and set and a dark golden brown.
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  • Remove the Parkin from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. Once cool store the Parkin in an airtight tin for a minimum of 3 days if you can resist eating it, you can even leave it up to a week before eating and the flavours really develop and the mixture softens even further and become moist and sticky. The Parkin will keep up to two weeks in an airtight container. I suggest serving it with some vanilla ice cream. SO GOOD!

Hope you enjoy the book and the cake, stay warm, and stay fired up!

Cheers and Happy Reading.

Laura