Amanda Usen knows two things for certain: chocolate cheesecake is good for breakfast, and a hot chef can steal your heart. Her husband stole hers the first day of class at the Culinary Institute of America. She married him after graduation in a lovely French
Quarter restaurant in New Orleans, and they spent a few years enjoying the food and the fun in the Big Easy. Now they live in Western New York with their three children, one hamster, two guinea pigs, a tortoise, and a new-to-them beagle. Amanda spends her days teaching pastry arts classes and her nights writing romance. If she isn’t baking or writing, she can usually be found chasing the kids around the yard with her very own hot chef husband.
Author Website: http://amandausen.wordpress.com/
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Title: Into the Fire
Author: Amanda Usen
Length: 201 pages
Release Date: June 10, 2013
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-62266-135-0
Jackson Calabrese has a lot of nerve. He beat Lila Grant in the Culinary Academy competition using her recipes. Now, he’s opening a restaurant and wants her help? Fine, she'll fix his menu, but it's going to cost him.
Heir to the Calabrese restaurant empire, Jackson can buy anything he wants, except creativity, so he buys Lila's instead. He can craft perfect paella, but to take New York by storm he needs her innovative spark.
Skillets aren't the only things hot in the kitchen, and an uneasy truce ignites into passion. They’re great in bed, but Jackson doesn't trust her, and Lila is contemplating revenge. The restaurant opening approaches, the menu is completed, and the tables are set for one final act of betrayal. How can love bloom in the midst of such a hot mess?
Sometimes characters in my books make things my husband and I cook all the time – like Lila’s favorite flourless chocolate cake and her chimichurri sauce. However, once in a while I dream up something that sounds good to me at the moment, something sumptuous and seasonal, a little dish that will really hit the spot…and then I’m stuck when it comes time to share it with readers.
Chicken Alighieri is one of those recipes. I was hungry for comfort food when I was writing. I closed my eyes and fantasized about a roasted chicken with crispy, herb-y, salty skin… Mmm. Lila is pretending she can improve Jack’s already perfect dish, so she takes his sauce and adds a little pumpkin and chiles in adobo sauce. She adds roasted corn to the plate and husks for garnish. Why did she do this? Because I love spicy and rich sauces, and I had a craving for corn on the cob! I still do, in fact, so I really wanted to bring this dish to life.
Here’s how it happened in INTO THE FIRE:
“Lila returned with a stalk of corn, which she soaked with water then tossed on the grill. Then she disappeared into the storeroom for a minute and returned with a can of pumpkin. As soon as she got back to the sauté station, she reached underneath and grabbed chilies in adobo sauce. Silently, she went to work on the dish.
Five minutes later, she put it in the window, transformed.”
No pressure, right? Now, I know some of you have this image of chefs as being all glamorous and gadget-y, eschewing canned food and only using the most organic of produce. Spoiler alert! If you want to keep your glam bubble intact, you should stop reading…but I hope you won’t. Because if you want a real life peek into the world of a chef, I’m about to give it to you. Real life cheffing is about getting it done and making it work with what you have. There may or may not be cans involved, depending on your budget, but my practicality streak gets wider every year!
Cheffing is exhausting, sweaty work. It is not a high-paid profession. Many times it is about making do with what you have, in order to keep the food cost low. At least, glamour and new gadgets are scarce in the life of this pastry chef, married to a chef, with three kids, four jobs, and five pets! Our poor stove has two working burners at the moment, and we had to disconnect the broiler when it went rogue a few months ago. There isn’t much we can’t accomplish with a paring knife or French knife.
Here’s the skinny: Most of the chefs I’ve known like to drink. I fall into that category. I needed to work up a Strawberry Rhubarb Mojito recipe for a little later in my blog tour, so I called a buddy to keep me company and started mixing up some cocktails while the sauce was cooking. Recipe multi-tasking is essential in the kitchen, and most chefs like to share good food and drink with friends! ;-) I multi-tasked so hard, I had to take a picture of a chicken thigh for the Chicken Alighieri shot when a breast would have been more picturesque. See, I put my husband in charge of roasting the chicken and potatoes while I focused on blanching the asparagus, drinking my mojito, and searing the corn. I know Lila grills the corn in INTO THE FIRE, but we ran out of propane last week (glamour!), so I got a sauté pan smoking hot, put a teaspoon of oil in there, cut the corn off the cob, and tossed it around in the pan. It worked! While I was doing that, my husband cut up the chicken into kid-sized chunks. He’s really fast. Hence the thigh. He left that alone because I like to eat the thighs, and I can cut my own food.
Back to that practicality streak, you can put Alighieri Sauce on anything – chicken, pork, beef, grilled veggies – why not? It’s summertime, so you could make this ahead of time and have it on hand to jazz up meat coming off the grill. I never get sick of barbecue sauce, but once in a while I like to mix it up. Since chefs are into total utilization, the rest of the can of chiles will last in the fridge for quite a while. We’re roasting a pig for the neighborhood block party this weekend, so I’m going to use the rest of mine in a barbeque sauce. I’ll either make muffins or Olivia’s pumpkin crème brulee from my book LUSCIOUS with the rest of the pumpkin.
1 ½ teaspoons oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon flour
1 14.5 ounce can low-sodium chicken stock
2 chipotle chiles from a can of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, discard seeds, chop chiles
½ cup pure pumpkin puree
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup Half and Half
Put oil in a medium saucepot and heat over medium-high heat until oil just begins to smoke. Add onion and let it sit, undisturbed, until it begins to get brown around the edges. Stir. Turn heat down to medium-low. Continue to stir every few minutes until onion begins to caramelize. It will get limp and brown, sweet and delicious. If it starts to stick or get too brown, here’s the chef cheat: add a little bit of water and stir until it calms down and begins to behave.
When your onion is well-caramelized, add the flour and stir until combined. Then slowly begin to add the stock. It will thicken and bubble. If it doesn’t, turn your heat up. You want to bring it to a simmer. Whisk it if you need to. As far as I can remember, I used a wooden spoon…but I have mojito memory.
Stir in chopped chiles, pumpkin, and salt. Simmer for a minute or so…
Then add the Half and Half. I try to keep things healthy around here, but I just couldn’t resist. You could even use more, if you wanted…or use cream…
Done! I put the sauce on the plate first. It looked rich and gorgeous, flecked with caramelized onions and dark red chiles. Then I rescued my chicken thigh from the family platter and plopped it in the middle of the plate, scattered roasted potatoes, asparagus tips, and seared corn around it, snapped a couple of pics and devoured it on the spot. There was a heck of a mess in the kitchen, and I remarked that my husband would never hire me since I’m such a slob. Darn, mojitos! Real kitchen have dishwashers who get paid by the hour to make the chefs look good. I tiptoed out of the kitchen to check rankings on INTO THE FIRE, and when I came back, Ben was doing the dishes. That’s why I dedicated my first two books to him. He can bring home the chicken, roast it up in the pan, AND wash the dishes…among other inspirational things you can probably infer from certain rather spicy scenes in my books. *giggle* Don’t worry, I make those parts up. I’ll share my recipes with readers, but I plan on keeping the husband who does dishes to myself!
Aislynn, thanks so much for having me here today! I love visiting with you and your readers. If anyone has any questions about romance, writing, recipes, or whatever, I’ll be checking in here today and throughout my INTO THE FIRE blog tour. I hope you’ll enter my giveaway and leave me a comment, so we can chat! And if you make Alighieri Sauce somewhere down the line, give me a shout to let me know how you like it.
Amanda Usen is offering winners a chance to at some wonderful prizes during the Into the Fire Blog Tour.
Grand prize: $25 gift card (Amazon, B&N, or The Book Depository) and gets to name Betsy’s hero in Book 3 of the Hot Nights series & give him 1 author-approved trait".
Runner Up: $15 gift card (Amazon, B&N, or The Book Depository) and the chance to pick a dish to go into book three of the Hot Night series (Amanda will also share the recipe on her website).
Consolation Prizes: 5 random winners will get Amanda’s favorite kitchen tool: a mini offset spatula
Simply fill out the rafflecopter form provided below for your chance to be entered.