Dating Ryan Alback, a Slow Cooker Mole and more Pinot Noir

33632459.jpgOne of my favorite tropes in romance is the “Notting Hill” story, when a celebrity meets a civilian and falls in love. They are not always done well, but when they are, well it just gives me massive amounts of joy.  J.E. Birk whose previous novel The Worst Bad Thing, I really loved, has written Dating Ryan Alback which delivers on the Cinderella story and then some. I loved the characters and their journey, but I was also impressed by how the author achieved balance in giving us a pretty sweet love story, while introducing some pretty serious topics.

With this book I have dinner AND wine! For the meal I made a delicious and easy Slow Cooker Mole. Mole is a tradition Mexican dish which usually requires days of cooking and preparation, this quicker version is packed with flavor and very simple to make. I chose this recipe inspired by one of the heroes in our story. It is sooo good you will be glad there are leftovers. You can eat this over white rice, in a tortilla or use in burritos. I am serious this recipe is a KEEPER. The wine I paired it with is a Pinot Noir from The Pinot Project by Skurnik Wine in Sonoma California, it is lovely and light wine, perfect for spicy food and it goes for about $12. A steal! Honestly if you plan well before your next trip to the store, you could be having an amazing night in your own home very soon!

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About the book…Ryan Black is one of those celebrities who does not enjoy the limelight, he loves his career and that he gets to act for a living, but he despises the tabloids and all the attention that comes from being on television. He has been burned before and he is not about to play the fool again.  He is working on a show which is set in New York City public school and he loves it, feels like he is doing work that means something. Romance is not a priority. And yet, despite his better judgement he agrees to go on a reality dating show…

Jason Santos, is a public school teacher in Denver and has been out of the dating game way too long (according to his friends and family). He’s had his heart broken, but he really should get out there again, even if romance is not a priority. He has a project he is working on to support kids of parents who have been deported, and that just feel like a much more important thing to be focusing. And yet, he agrees to go on a reality dating show…

Ryan and Jason are not too sure about this date they are sent on, but they go with it. They get along great, it really seems like there might be some potential there. Jason is genuinely impressed by how seriously Ryan takes his role and how much he wants the show to be an accurate portrayal of what life is like for a public school educator. Ryan loves the fact that Jason does not seem fazed by his fame, it’s going very well…until Ryan let’s his past relationship baggage get the best of him and ruins the whole damn thing.

Jason, is not having any of Ryan’s drama. He feels like a fool for even thinking he could make things work with a melodramatic celebrity, yet he can’t get over how great their time together was. He wonders what could have been different if Ryan would not have made the assumptions he did? On his end Ryan is a ball of regrets, he knows he overreacted, and he can’t help but think that he might have ruined a very real chance at happiness. After some Grade A friend and family meddling, Ryan gets his head out of his ass, and makes a move to get Jason back. Jason is too much of a good guy for Ryan to lose him without a fight.

This novel is a nice and easy read, with really great heroes, and a very fun cast of characters. The friends and family added a lot to the novel specially the parents and best friends on both sides. I also really appreciated the author’s bravery in putting an issue like the tragedy of what is happening to families of undocumented immigrants front and center. This is the kind of novel that keeps romance readers like me, coming back to the genre. A love story with characters you feel invested in from the start that leaves you feeling hopeful about the world.

Highly recommend it.

You can buy Dating Ryan Alback, HERE.

You can read more about J.E. Birk and her other work HERE.

Now the MOLE!

Slow Cooker Mole

*This recipe is adapted from the “America’s Test Kitchen Soups, Stews and Chilies” recipe book

1 Finely Chopped Onion

2 TB of vegetable oil

2 TB Chili Powder

2 TB unsweetened cocoa powder

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 ts ground cinnamon

1/8 ts ground cloves

2 cups of chicken broth

1 (14.5 ounce) can of diced tomatoes (I used Fire Roasted)

1/4 cup peanut butter

3 TB instant tapioca

2 ts minced chile in adobo sauce (This amounts give a decent amount of heat, if you want a milder heat cut in half)

11/2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2 scallions sliced

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Directions

Combine onions, oil, chili powder, cocoa, garlic, cinnamon, and cloves in a bowl and microwave, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened, about 5 minutes, transfer to slow cooker.

Stir broth, tomatoes and their juice, raisins, peanut butter, tapioca and chipotle into slow cooker. Season chicken with salt and pepper, and nestle into slow cooker. Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 4 to 6 hours on low.

Transfer chicken to cutting board and let cook slightly. Using forks shred chicken into bite size pieces Let sauce settle for 5 minutes.

Stir in shredded chicken and let sit for another 5 minutes in low setting. Stir in scallions, with salt and pepper to taste. Serve on white rice, topped with sesame seeds and some avocado slices and warm flour tortillas on the side.

Together with the book and the wine, this Mole is an absolute WINNER. If you do try the recipe come back and let me know how you liked it!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Home the Hard Way by ZAM Maxfield w an Oregonian Pinot Noir and Sweet & Sour Stir Fry

home the hard wayEvery time I start a review for a ZA Maxfield book I feel like I need to disclaim my intense LOVE for her stories. So, just for the sake of tradition, I will state that ZAM has not ever written anything I haven’t loved. This book is no exception. Actually this one might be in my opinion some of her best writing. My stomach was in knots the whole time. The tone in this story is dark and dreary, with a mystery that kept my stomach in knots from beginning to end. The characters were a mixed bag of personalities that ranged from ethereal, to strange, to deeply twisted. The tone, the setting and the humans in this book all flowed though. It was bleak, but it was also very easy to connect with the heroes. Dare and Finn are a mess, so much baggage yet all I wanted for them was to be able to have at least a chance, just a chance for some happiness.

For this book I selected a wine from Oregon wine country, the Rascal Pinot Noir is a pretty light red wine. Not too full, but still flavorful, definitely a red that can be enjoyed even in the warm summer weather. It goes for about $10 a bottle which is a pretty nice deal. For food I decided to make a quick and easy meal. I figure neither of these two guys have much interest in the kitchen, so I went with something easy and flavorful. I made a Sweet & Sour Stir Fry that you can make with pretty much any kind of protein or even just veggies. Served on top of rice it’s a fast and filling meal.

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You can never go home…Dare only wishes that were true. Dare was a guy who lost his anchor after the inexplicable suicide of his father, and from then on he just drifted. Sometimes he let his dick mess things up for him, sometimes he let his drinking do it. The kid who had it all together growing up in Palladian, Oregon was not the man that came back to the little town  after essentially destroying his career as a homicide detective in Seattle. He’s to come home in shame to Palladian to take a job he only got as a favor to his father memory at the local police department. Dare has failed everything and everyone in his life. Especially Finn Fowler.

Finn the little kid Dare rescued from a bully back from elementary school and protected fiercely for the next four years. Finn who he walked away form without a single word for the next fifteen. Finn the only thing in Palladian that had even a hint of home. Finn he’s always been a yearning in Dare. The things he feels for Finn, he’s never felt for anyone else. He wants to protect Finn, to save him. But he failed his friend when he left him without a second glance, and the Finn that he’s found is not the Finn that he left. This man is harder and darker and has secrets. SO MANY secrets. He’s also had a lot harder life than he deserved. Finn has gone through so much, it’s made him cynical it seems and so shut off. The only thing he seems to care about is his aunt who is in the last stages of cancer.  Dare wants to help, he needs to step up, but he is such a mess himself. It seems like everything in his life went off the rails the day his father took his own life and it never got back on track. Maybe if he finds out once and for all what really happened to his father than the dark cloud over his life could dispel. Just seems the more he uncovers the less he understands.

I think this book is some of ZAM’s best writing. One thing I enjoy more and more with everyone of her books is that her stories and her men are not subscribed to any sort of formula. So even though I recognize her brand, the stories feel new. When ZAM does a darker story, her men are flawed yes, but they are also incredibly easy to empathize with. Because they are broken  in ways we can all relate to. Dare and Finn were easy to love and even easier to root for. Palladian was also an incredibly rich setting, there is a saying in Spanish “Pueblo Chico, Infierno Grande…Small Town, Big Hell” and that in a few words was Palladian. A town that thrived on secrets, lies, gossip and pettiness to a level of gluttony where it was literally eating it’s young. What a place. I hope we get to visit Palladian again, because the drama in that town definitely captured my interest. It was like a blend between Wisteria Lane and Twin Peaks. Very intriguing place Palladian was.

This book was solid. A hefty mystery which kept me guessing, very interesting characters, a love story that although was not high on the romance it had plenty of depth to make my heart ache at the right moments. The writing itself was pretty wonderful too.

Totally recommend.

Home the Hard Way is out today from Riptide Publishing and is available for purchase here.

Sweet and Sour Stir Fry Recipe

1 cup of rice (cook according to intructions)

2 cups of chopped veggies (I used onions, baby corn, brocoli, carrots, bell peppers and mushrooms)

1 cup of shrimp (you can use any other protein you want like chicken or beef)

1 clove of garlic minced

olive oil

For the sauce:

1 tablespoon of sesame seed oil

1/4 cup chicken broth

2 Tbsp soy sauce

2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 Tbsp agave nectar/brown sugar

1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes

3 teaspoons of cornstarch

Directions:

Combine all the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl stir until the are well blended and set aside. In a large hot skillet saute the garlic for a  minute, add the protein and stir until it is cooked. Remove the protein and set aside, in the same pan  add a bit of sesame seed oil and saute the veggies for about two minutes.

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Add the sauce to the skillet and stir for a minute. When the sauce starts to thicken add the protein and simmer on low for a couple minutes. Serve over white rice and enjoy with your glass of wine!

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Hope you enjoy the book, the meal and the wine!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura