Night #3 with Chef’s Plate

Last night was our third meal of the week with Chef’s Plate. It was Seared Steak & Italian Peperonata Sauce, with roasted peppers and garlic pepper hasselback potatoes. I didn’t take a picture of the ingredients (I forgot) but here’s Mr. Math’s dinner:
Seared Steak from Chef's Table cooked by Deborah Cooke

This meal was our favorite of the three. There were comparatively a lot of potatoes and not so much green veg, but there was a lot of onion and pepper garnish. We didn’t add a salad on this night, but we did modify the instructions. Mr. Math is a firm believer that if you’re going to have a steak, it should be barbequed. The instructions called for it to be seared in a frying pan then cooked in the oven. He recoiled in horror, then told me he’d barbeque. So, I did the potatoes and brussel sprouts in the oven, as instructed, and the peperonata sauce in the skillet while he grilled the meat. I also looked up the cut of beef because I didn’t know it (a flat iron steak, which is evidently a new thing) and we decided to marinate it a bit first, which wasn’t in the instructions.

It was delicious, a real Friday night meal but on a Thursday. This menu was the most similar to what we usually cook. So, ironically, we tried this service to get new ideas yet our favorite meal was the one most like our usual cooking. On the other hand, I’ve never “hasselbacked” potatoes before and I didn’t think brussel sprouts would cook so quickly or so well in the oven. We both really liked the peperonata sauce, so we’ll definitely do this again, perhaps with steaks. Again, we nicked a piece of beef for the New Girl and didn’t miss it, so the portions were generous. We did the 2/3 – 1/3 split and everyone was happy. (Even the New Girl.)

So, where do we stand after our three nights of Chef’s Plate? I did enjoy it. It was nice to not be thinking about dinner, doing menu planning or making lists for the grocery store. (Mr. Math is such a foodie that he asks me at breakfast what’s for lunch and for dinner.) I liked not having to think about dinner until 5, then just opening the bag and following the instructions. The only grocery shopping we did this week was for basics—salad ingredients, milk and bread. Lunches and breakfasts. I did learn a few new things and we tried some new recipes, which was great. We also had no desire to go out for lunch or dinner.

On the other side of things, I do have that sense that I’ve eaten out a lot this week, even though I haven’t. I suspect it’s the salt. We cook with very little salt, so always notice it when we eat out. The Spicy Pork Sausage Ragu, for example, had a whopping 1880 mg of sodium per serving. (Health Canada advises that adults eat 1000 to 1500 mg of salt per day and not exceed 2300 mg per day.) Tonight’s meal had 590 mg of sodium. Although the calorie count is on the website as well as the ingredients, the other nutritional information is only included on the recipe card. Since it’s not on the website when you choose your menu, you don’t know until your food arrives what the sodium (or carbohydrate or whatever else) count will be. This is less than ideal, especially if you are on a diet of some kind, whether it be low-sodium, Weight-Watchers, or whatever. On a similar note, these services are not geared to people with allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances.

I also feel a lack of vegetables in my life. We eat a lot of vegetables, probably more than the recommended 5 – 10 per day, and while I ate salad at lunch each day, I’m ready to have more vegetables again. These recipes tended to the carbs (potatoes, pasta, and rice) and we tend to the green vegetables. That’s a personal preference and I can’t expect them to skew to that. Tonight, for example, there were 8 fingerling potatoes included and six brussel sprouts. Even though they were big sprouts, at 3 sprouts and 4 potatoes each, if I’d been planning the servings myself, the count would have been at least the other way around. (I am known to cook 7 -8 brussel sprouts per person. They’re good for you.)

I’m also looking forward to cooking something from scratch today.

As far as Chef’s Plate itself goes, the recipes were clear and easy to follow. The order was delivered promptly and the meat was very fresh. I thought the vegetables were less than ideal (we had celery and parsley for the first night, and sugar snap peas for the second), but it is Canada in December and celery has been very disappointing of late. There is a lot of packaging with such a service, but it can be recycled. And there is less food waste—if I buy a whole bunch of disappointing celery and end up chucking half of it, Mr. Math accuses me of buying compost. So, there’s something good about having just what you need.

I didn’t order for next week, because I was concerned about the sodium. (I sent them a message asking them to add that information to their website.) We’ll be trying a different service during Christmas week called Goodfood. They’re out of Montreal and another Canadian option. I like that they list all the nutritional information on the website, so I can see the sodium etc. before I order. If you want family options, they seem to have more of them so are a good site to check out. I’ll let you know what we think.

And tonight, I’m making a quiche with a great big salad. 🙂

If you’d like to give Chef’s Plate a try, use this referral link to get three plates free in your first week. If it doesn’t work, enter #3platesFromDebC at checkout for the discount.

Night #2 with Chef’s Plate

The experiment continues with our menu delivery service. This week, we’re trying Chef’s Plate. Yesterday, I posted about our first meal, Spicy Pork Ragu, and today I’ll be talking about meal #2, Saffron Chicken Paella.

First off, several people yesterday wanted to know what was in the bag. Here’s a picture of what was included and how it was packaged—this is after I took it out of the big box with the cooler packs:
Chef's Table, ingredients

So, there was the recipe card (far right) along with all of the ingredients. The recipe card has illustrated instructions on the back:
recipe card, back

Once again, I thought this meal called for a salad. The interesting thing is that I think most meals call for a salad, but when I’m planning the main dish, I don’t get around to making the salad. Using a service like this means that I DO make the salad. Yesterday, I bought a box of mixed greens and while the paella was simmering, I made two salads. Mr. Math even got some red onion, which he loves.
Salads

Then there was the paella. This was a very good meal. There was a lot of chicken. (I actually nicked a piece of chicken for the New Girl when it was browned, as she gets a bit of lean protein on her dinner.) I did cut the chicken filets into smaller pieces and I did remove the tendons from them. As always, I was worried about there being enough for Mr. Math (Viking and snow shoveller) but I split the two servings so that he had 2/3 and I had 1/3—we both were happy. (I don’t think I could have eaten another bite.)

Here’s his dinner:
Spanish Paella from Chef's Table made by Deborah Cooke

As a bonus, he told me about his visit to Spain while we ate, which happened before we met (all those years ago). It’s interesting—I always thought arborio rice (which is the rice used in risotto) took ages to cook and had to be cooked very slowly, but this was cooked in just 15 minutes.  Another bonus of this is that we’re learning new cooking skills and a little bit more about food!

I have next week booked. I like the idea of knowing what’s for dinner on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and that it’ll take less than an hour to prepare. (Most of the recipes take 20 to 30 minutes.) Chef’s Plate isn’t delivering the week of Christmas, so I’m going to try another service that week. Although we will have the turkey leftovers, I’m thinking we’ll also be glad of a break from them.

If you’d like to give Chef’s Plate a try, use this referral link to get three plates free in your first week. If it doesn’t work, enter #3platesFromDebC at checkout for the discount.

First Night with Chef’s Plate

Recently, I decided to try Chef’s Plate, a service that delivers groceries and recipes. Essentially, these are dinners that you make yourself. I find I get a bit bored with the things we usually make, even though Mr. Math and I both cook. We end up going out for lunch or dinner once a week, and often are underwhelmed. This seemed like a good alternative. At about $66 CA per week for three dinners, it’s pretty comparable to going out once a week for a meal with wine.

There are a number of these services, but I chose Chef’s Plate because they’re located in the GTA, because they had more food options than other services, and because their meals looked more like dinners to me.

This is our first week. We joined for three dinners for two per week, and the box of ingredients arrived yesterday – in a blizzard! It came by FedEx. I was a bit concerned about the raw meat, but the box was insulated and there were freezer packs around the meat. They were still frozen, even though the box shipped Monday, and actually took all day to thaw in the sink after the box arrived.

Last night was our first dinner. It was Spicy Pork Sausage Ragu.

Fennel and Orange Salad made by Deborah Cooke

I was worried about the portion size. Mr. Math has a fast metabolism (even though he’s very lean) and he was out shovelling snow yesterday. I also thought this looked like a meal that needed a salad. We tend to eat a lot of vegetables so I have no issues augmenting the meal with a salad. I had a fennel in the fridge and an orange – this is the easiest salad in the world. You shred the fennel – a mandoline is great but I was too lazy to clean one, so just chopped the fennel fine – and put the cut orange on top. The juice is the dressing. It works equally well with a grapefruit, although Mr. Math is less of a fan of the grapefruit option.

The sauce was easy to make and the fresh pasta cooked very quickly. The spice in the sauce was perfectly complemented by the salad – a little zing and a little cool! – so I made a good choice. It was a wonderful meal!

I split the portions closer to 60/40 which worked out well for us.

Here’s Mr. Math’s dinner. He ate every bite.

Chef's Plate Spicy Pork Sausage Ragu made by Deborah Cooke

Afterward, he said to me that it was as if we had gone out to eat, but hadn’t. I knew exactly what he meant. The ragu was something I wouldn’t have made and the spice was different from what we usually do. It was delicious. In the novelty of a new taste sensation, it was like eating out – or eating someone else’s cooking. It was eating in, though, because I prepped it in our kitchen and we sat by the fire at home while we ate. I’m very pleased and have ordered for next week – even though we have two more dinners waiting to be prepared.

If you’d like to give Chef’s Plate a try, use this referral link to get three plates free in your first week. If it doesn’t work, enter #3platesFromDebC at checkout for the discount.

More Kindle Unlimited

My experiment with Kindle Unlimited is going pretty well, so I’ll be moving more titles into that program on or around January 1. I’ll have to start republishing them at the end of this week at other portals, so if you shop at other portals, this is last call.

The Bride Quest – all six books and two bundles:
The Princess, book #1 of the Bride Quest series of medieval romances by Claire Delacroix• The Princess
• The Damsel
• The Heiress
• The Bride Quest I Boxed Set
• The Countess
• The Beauty
• The Temptress
• The Bride Quest II Boxed Set

 

Romance Ever After

There’s a new multi-author boxed set available this week. Grab your copy today!

Romance Ever After, a boxed setof historical romancesA bundle of novels like nothing else you’ve ever seen before – eight bestselling authors, seven top-rated novels, and one brand-new story by a NYT Bestselling author. Welcome to ROMANCE EVER AFTER!

In this collection, you’ll be swept away on the warm breezes of Time, from the romance and chivalry of Medieval & Elizabethan England, to the raw sex appeal of the Scottish Highlands, to the pageantry of the Regency era, and finally to the beautiful yet wild lands of the American West. Every hero has a heart, every heroine a fiery spirit, and every story a soul that bleeds passion. Indulge in this limited-edition collection with some of the top authors in their genre.

This bundle includes:

My Girl by Debra Holland – (NEW STORY) When a logging accident kills his friend and Felicity Woodbury’s fiancé, Lars Aagaard steps in to lend his support. To keep Felicity’s suitors at bay during her mourning period, the two act as if Lars is wooing her. But, already smitten, Lars hopes to turn the pretend courtship to real love.

The Iron Knight by Kathryn Le Veque – When hardened knight Lucien de Russe saves the life of widow Sophina de Gournay, their wonderful chance meeting starts a chain of events that could destroy them both.

The Rogue by Claire Delacroix – Ysabella knows better than to trust her charming husband—even when he insists he is being hunted. When Merlyn is killed, Ysabella is again Lady of Ravensmuir, where the truth must be hidden. Is Merlyn dead? If so, who loves her so sweetly in the night? If not, what is that wicked rogue’s scheme?

Wicked at Heart by Danelle Harmon – A Beauty-and-the-Beast tale of love and redemption between a dark and brooding marquess and the woman who is determined to heal his tortured heart.

Highland Hunger by Eliza Knight – Ceana can’t stand the arrogant Highlander she’s up against in the war games, and yet she can’t walk away. Macrath wants nothing more than to be rid of the troublesome need to protect the warrior lass. What starts out as a race to survive turns into passion to endure together.

Lady in Waiting by Denise Domning – Christopher Hollier will do anything to reclaim the title of Lord Graistan for his invalid brother. Maid-of-honor to the Virgin Queen, Anne Blanchemain hides a dangerous secret, one that sweeps them into events that might ultimately cost them their lives, and their love.

My Lady’s Treasure by Catherine Kean – Lady Faye Rivellaux is desperate to save a kidnapped child. Former crusading knight Brant Meslarches seeks redemption from his past. Forming an uneasy alliance, they search for lost riches and find treasure worth more than gold.

A Knight to Call My Own by Sherry Ewing – Lynet of Clan MacLaren knows how it feels to love someone and not have that love returned. Ian MacGillivray has returned to Berwyck in search of a bride. Who will claim the fair Lynet? The price will be high to ensure her safety and even higher to win her love.

The Seventh Son by Ashley York – The sixth son bears a curse as certain as the seventh bears a blessing. When Tadhg MacNaughton’s betrothed is ripped from his arms and married to another, he believes the legend is true. Is the warrior’s love for the Irish beauty already doomed or does fate have something else planned?

Add this bundle to your library to savor again and again!

Buy at Amazon.com Buy at Amazon.ca Buy at Amazon.co.uk Buy at Amazon.de

Jewels of Kinfairlie Bundle on Sale!

The Jewels of Kinfairlie Boxed Set has been discounted to $2.99 US or equivalent for the month of December. It’s usually $9.99 US. Here’s your chance to read the whole series at a special price!

The Jewels of Kinfairlie Boxed Set, a digital bundle including all four medieval Scottish romances in the Jewels of Kinfairlie series by Claire DelacroixBuy NowFour magical medieval romances from the “Queen of Medieval Romance”, Claire Delacroix. Meet the siblings in the mischievous and loving family at Kinfairlie and follow their adventures in pursuit of true love.

In The Beauty Bride, Madeline is appalled by her older brother’s determination to see her wed against her will. When he auctions her hand to an outlawed mercenary, she flees them both, certain that her fate cannot be worse. But Rhys FitzHenry is not a man to abandon what he holds dear, and Madeline’s proud beauty has captured his heart. Can a rough knight enchant her with stories and convince her to be his wife in truth, or will his enemies have their vengeance first?

In The Rose Red Bride, Vivienne is convinced that only destiny could bring such a wondrous secret lover to her chamber, but with morning’s light, her lover abducts her. Erik knows that justice can only be gained from the Lammergeier with force, especially as the fate of his young daughters hangs in the balance. Can Vivienne help this wounded highlander to regain his legacy, and win his heart for her own?

In The Snow White Bride, Eleanor seeks sanctuary at Kinfairlie on Christmas Eve. The Laird of Kinfairlie’s sisters decide that the beautiful widow will be the perfect match for their brother. Alexander’s heart is quickly lost, but as Eleanor’s secrets are revealed, he fears he has trusted too much too soon. Will Eleanor’s past jeopardize the future of this knight who has claimed her heart, or can she save him from the peril that follows her?

This digital boxed set includes all three medieval romances in the Jewels of Kinfairlie trilogy – The Beauty Bride, The Rose Red Bride, The Snow White Bride – as well as the linked short story, The Ballad of Rosamunde.

A Kindle Bestseller

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New Options

One Knight Enchanted, book #1 of the Sayerne series of medieval romances by Claire DelacroixYou’ve probably noticed that I’ve started to make changes around here. Claire, for example, has a new website of her own and the detail pages for her books will be disappearing from this site by the end of the year. By then, the links in the end matter of my books will go to Claire’s new site. (BTW, if you have bookmarked any of Claire’s pages here, you might want to update the bookmark with the url of the new site. I’m going to guess that some of you will want to keep track of the Kindle Unlimited page, for example.)

There are a couple of reasons for this change. The first is that this site, while a useful and encyclopedic reference to all of my books, is becoming unwieldy. Those nested menus are a nightmare on a cellphone and they’ve gotten to the point that they’re even hard to navigate on a laptop. There are just too many books to display in one place. I think that a reader new to my work might not know where to start, which is fair enough, and also means that I want to streamline the presentation.

The second issue is that newsletter open rates drop as the subscriber list gets bigger. I noticed a real difference when my total number of subscribers went over 5,000 readers. It’s now more than twice that. The issue is that servers perceive batches of emails from the same source as spam and block them from delivery. Once a list gets over a certain threshold number of subscribers, there’s seems to be a critical mass of emails being delivered to any given server (gmail, yahoo, aol, etc.) So, the bigger the subscription base gets, the less effective the newsletter becomes as a means of reaching readers.

I’ve been gathering ideas for new strategies for a while and it’s time to start putting them into play. As much as I’d love to believe that every reader wants to read every book that I write, that’s just not the case. You probably have a favorite sub-genre or series. These changes will make it easier for you to keep track of new releases of your favorite type.

Wyvern's Outlaw, book #4 of the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah Cooke• I have multiple websites now and will have more in future. The idea is to give each series or subgenre its own virtual home. Claire has her own website now, and so do the Dragons of Incendium.

• on both this website and Claire’s new website, there is an updated booklist. The titles of the books that are the best place to start in any given series are in red and bold. When there are other points to enter that fictional world, the title of that book will be just in red. If you want to know where to start, go to the booklist and look for those red titles. Here’s the booklist on this site for Deborah Cooke books, and here’s the one for Claire’s books on the Delacroix site.

• On all three websites, the home page is called Next & New and displays the most recent release as well as the upcoming one. So, if you bookmark any of my sites and visit them at intervals, you’ll see what’s new.

• This site hosts my main blog, of course, but I’ve added a blog to both Claire’s website and to the Dragons of Incendium site. I’ll blog on those sites about new releases in those respective worlds or series as well as about upcoming releases, once I have covers and buy links. You can subscribe to either or both of those blogs and receive an email when I create a post. Of course, if you follow the blog on this site, you’ll see all of my posts made here. Scroll down to the bottom of the blog page for the Follow link. Here’s the blog on Claire’s site, and here’s the blog on the Dragons of Incendium site.

• When you sign up for my main newsletter, Knights, Dragons & Heroes, you can choose your news. Selecting either my contemporary romances, my paranormal romances, my historical romances or all of my books means that you’ll get a newsletter each month tailored to tell you what you most want to know. You can change these preferences any time by scrolling down to the very bottom of the newsletter and choosing Update My Preferences.

Some Guys Have All the Luck, #4 in the Flatiron Five series of contemporary romances by Deborah Cooke• In addition to my main newsletter, I also have series-specific newsletters. When you join these newsletters, you’ll receive a sequence of messages bringing you up to date on the series so far. After that, you’ll get a new message when there’s a new title up for pre-order and another when it publishes. These lists are maintained separately from my main newsletter list: you can belong to as many or as few as you like. The existing series-specific newsletters are:

Flatiron Five

The Dragons of Incendium

The Brides of Inverfyre
(This one hasn’t actually launched yet. The first message will go out when The Mercenary’s Bride comes out of the boxed set, The Nutcracker Reimagined, and is available for purchase on its own. You can sign up now if you don’t want to miss that.)

The Mercenary's Bride, book #1 of the Brides of Inverfyre series of medieval Scottish romances by Claire Delacroix• There’s also a Yahoo list which is a New Release Alert. When you sign up for this, you receive a single email when I publish a new title. It includes buy links for all the portals, as well as the cover copy and the cover itself.

I’m going to be adding some new options to my newsletter list soon, too, in order to ensure that you get the news you most want to know. There are some amazing new ways to tailor information to subscribers and I want to try them out. Stay tuned for more updates!

Building a Book Tree

Deborah Cooke's Book TreeA couple of years ago, I built a book tree for Christmas in our dining room and decorated it for the holidays. There were some questions about how to do it, so this year, I took pictures of the tree in progress.

You can read that old post right here.

That’s the tree from two years ago on the right. I built the new one in the same spot.

Book Tree Base, built by Deborah Cooke 2017

I started with eight books in a circle on the floor. Because book trees tend to be a little tippy near the top, you want the base to be as stable as possible. (A book tree might not be a good plan if you have acrobatic cats.) Choose books of similar or even the same thickness, and start with big books at the bottom.

I apologize for the picture quality. I started to build the book tree at night and the lighting in the dining room was…atmospheric.

We have a lot of coffee table books, and they found their way into the tree this year. These two cookbooks are exactly the same format as well as large, heavy books. The circle is about three and a half feet wide at the outside edges and I built it on a piece of carpeting. (The rug we used last year is now at a window where the New Girl keeps an eye on the world.) The red books are Sir Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders, which is a good foundation for many things. 🙂

The book tree built by Deborah Cooke 2017Then you start building. Angle the next layer over the gaps, so each book on round two rests halfway on one book in the first level and halfway on the adjacent one. Again, keep an eye on the book thickness and use hard covers for best results.

Here’s the tree after about four rounds. Inevitably, books end up being of differing thicknesses and sizes, so it all starts to get less mathematical. Angle the books over the gaps, stack books to make up the thickness of their neighbors—and when you do stack books, twist them at slightly different angles.

After four or five layers, it’s good to check that things are lining up. Get down on the floor so the base of the tree is at eye level. Check that things are lining up vertically. You don’t want to be drifting to one side or the other!

Book Tree built by Deborah Cooke 2017In this shot, you can see that the tree is rising vertically on each side and just starting to cant inward a little bit. This is a good point to start making the diameter of the tree smaller. You can also see where I’ve stacked three books to make up the height of a big fat one, the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. I also checked this from the other side to make sure those sides were rising vertically. If you don’t build yours against a wall like mine, walk around it. When I get about this far, and have books stacked all over the dining room table to sort them, Mr. Math usually shows up and starts reading. 🙂

Completed book tree built by Deborah Cooke 2017From this point, there’s just a lot of stacking to be done. Gradually, change to smaller books because that will make it easier to taper the tree to a point. I always top my tree with some small leatherbound editions of classics (Dickens is there) and a leatherbound copy of Grimms Fairy Tales at the summit. On top is the little tree my SIL made for my husband’s apartment many years ago.

Here’s my finished book tree for this year. Just a little picture because it’s not as sharp as would be ideal—plus you really want to see it tarted up. I think it’s about a foot taller than last year’s version.

To decorate it, I used two strands of Ikea LED snowflake lights again. The lights are easy to add: you just push the wire between two books to hold it in place. Round and round, from bottom to top. It works out perfectly each time.

Once the lights were in place, I added lot of ribbons, berries and flowers in red and gold. (My book tree has a palette. Ha.) Maybe you’re like me and have a box of shiny trinkets from Christmas packages or floral arrangements that are shiny and festive so you save them, but you aren’t quite sure what to do with them. (I even have three glittery pomegranates, although I’m not sure why.) The book tree is a great destination. Tuck those ribbons and berries into the gaps between the books. There’s some gold bead garland in my box of tricks, too, and it goes on this tree.

Here’s this year’s finished book tree:
Book Tree built by Deborah Cooke 2017It looks even more sparkly and festive in real life. I’m pleased with it. 🙂

Have you built a book tree yet? Are you going to?