Thursday, November 29, 2012


When I want to take a break from writing, I often head for the kitchen. I’ve made this wonderful cranberry sauce before, and I finally made myself write down the recipe as I worked.  It’s great on turkey, ham or lamb.  I also love putting it on my breakfast cottage cheese.

Cranberry Orange Sauce
Makes 4 cups

2 12-oz bags of fresh cranberries
1 navel orange
4 cups water
2 ½ cups Splenda

1.Wash and pick over cranberries. Transfer to a large saucepan or small Dutch oven, and set aside.

2. Cut stem and navel end off of orange, and cut into eighths.  Place in a food processor, and process until chopped.  Transfer orange to pot with cranberries.

3.  Add water and Splenda.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat so that cranberry-orange mixture simmers.  Simmer for 30 minutes.

4. Bring mixture to a boil, and cook at a low boil, stirring frequently, for ten minutes until sauce has been reduced by about one third.  Be careful to keep sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cool and transfer to refrigerator or freezer containers.  Cranberry sauce will keep for up to a month in the refrigerator and up to six months in the freezer.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

The Cookie Queen Has Done It Again

To say that my cookbook author friend Nancy Baggett has an enduring passion for cookies may be an understatement.  Cookie crazy even crosses my mind, so I start the conversation with my long-time writer colleague and occasional cookbook collaborator by asking her if this label is apt.

“I don’t know about crazy,” the youthful-looking grandmother of two responds with a laugh. “But I have been an avid cookie baker since I was about six and have been professionally creating cookie recipes and writing about them for more than thirty-five years.” No doubt those decades of experience help explain why noted food editor Nancy Wall Hopkins of Better Homes and Gardens refers to   Baggett as the “cookie queen,” calls her recipes “flawless,” and says they’re ones Americans “will want to bake again and again.”

The cookie queen’s years of experience and reputation for meticulous recipe testing are also likely why so many other culinary professionals consider her the nation’s top cookie expert. Over the years, she’s developed recipes and written articles for a large share of their publications, including Bon Appetit, Woman’s Day, House Beautiful, Family Circle, Cooking Light, Eating Well, Fine Cooking, Country Gardens Magazine, The Washington Post,  and The Los Angeles Times to name only a few. And, oh yes, they know her from her popular and critically acclaimed cookie books. The ink is just dry on her third huge, well-photographed, full color work on the subject, this one titled Simply Sensational Cookies.

As we head towards the family room, I notice the aroma of vanilla, butter, and chocolate in the air. In her pleasant, well-appointed kitchen I see a long granite island covered with tidy racks of hot pink, yellow, and burgundy-iced flower-shaped sugar cookies and what appear to be several hundred almond-studded chocolate biscotti laid out on more racks over by the stove. Two corner walls are decorated with large pegboards holding dozens of cookie cutters.  Ahead on the den mantelpiece I spy two charming little cookie houses on display.  When I comment on them she tells me her granddaughter decorated the Valentine’s Day-themed cottage all by herself.  “She was sooo proud,” she notes.

 “Cookies, cookies everywhere, and not a one to eat!” She waves toward the countertop and paraphrases the famous Coleridge “Ancient Mariner” line as we walk past. “Those are all going with me to a food conference,” she says, “so I can only give you a couple to sample.” She explains that the “painted daisies” cookies are featured in her Simply Sensational Cookies book, and emphasizes that they are iced with “all natural colors.” When I look skeptical she adds that the bright shades come mostly from readily available fruit juices. “NO petrochemical food dyes involved, and NO mashed beets or boiled purple cabbage either!” she says, clearly pleased with that line.

“I had to come up with some easy ways to create naturally beautiful cookies because I enjoy crafting and decorating with my grandkids, but absolutely don’t want them eating sprinkles and icings loaded with Red # 40, and Yellow #5 and #6 and the other usual food color suspects,” she explains. She adds that a few years back she developed a severe allergy to the very similar red and yellow petrochemical-based “azo” dyes found in lipsticks, so also prefers to avoid eating food dyes herself. “I’ve included all the traditional decorating recipes in the book, but felt it was really important to offer healthier alternatives to those who want or need them,” she explains.  She then mentions that with more and more commercially prepared foods containing artificial colorants and other unnecessary additives these days, “many home bakers and cooks are worrying and want to take control and banish the iffy products from what they make.”

I’d planned to ask Baggett how, after two highly-regarded and very comprehensive cookie tomes already on her resume (one was an IACP and James Beard cookbook award winner), she could possibly offer anything new in her Simply Sensational Cookies. But now instead, I reformulate and ask whether the emphasis on natural ingredients is what’s novel in this latest title. “Partly, but it’s different in more fundamental ways,” she says. “In the other two, I delved deeply into culinary history and mostly celebrated the cookies people traditionally bake around America and the world.”  She says that in contrast, her latest book focuses more on the “contemporary cookies people are baking now, or soon will be,” though she has included streamlined and updated versions of classic, too. “We tend to have fewer hours to devote to baking today, and we like bolder flavors and more decadence even in the old favorites,” she notes.

She says that the word “simple” in the book title reflects an emphasis on easy throughout, and this also sets the new book apart.  “Many of today’s most avid cookie bakers barely know how far to drop a drop cookie,” she observes, “and even if they do, they’re only home long enough to dash in, throw together a quick batch and rush off again.” So, she says that all the recipes are streamlined as much as possible, and notes that the book devotes several chapters to semi-homemade cookies (featuring doctored logs of store-bought dough), no-bake cookies, and “extra-easy” ones calling for pared-down ingredients and steps.

 Plus, she says that the large majority of the recipes in the book are new. “The introduction of chocolate morsels has completely altered and is still changing the American cookie baking repertoire—even now ‘modernized’ and novel offerings are appearing almost daily,” she states.  She cites the ongoing “chocolification,” phenomenon—the habit of  jazzing up  and revamping all sorts of formerly “plain” peanut butter, oatmeal, butter cookies and shortbreads with chocolate chunks or bits or various other flavored baking morsels. Some additional current trends she says she capitalized on in developing the Simply Sensational recipes: The taste for complex flavor combos simultaneously featuring  hot, salty, spicy, and even smoky all at once. The creative use of fresh herbs like lavender, sage and rosemary, edible flowers, green tea and exotic spices.  And the growing popularity of “really fun ‘crossover’ and semi-savory cocktail cookies” that combine the characteristic of crackers and cookies. “In one chapter I’ve taken the ideas behind good old grahams, animal crackers and cheese straws and run with them—think thin, crisp chocolate chip wafers, grissini-like Cajun hot sticks, and buttery tarragon-chevre nuggets,” she says.

All this talk of cookies has made me very hungry, so I’m primed when she suggests we wind up and enjoy a cup of tea and some samples. Truthfully, I’ve eaten many of Nancy’s cookies before, so I’m already predisposed to enjoy them. But the chocolate-almond biscotti are even more chocolatey and nutty, not to mention more munchable, than I expect.  “Three sources of almond—paste, extract and toasted slivers—and two sources of chocolate flavor—cocoa powder and chocolate morsels,” she explains.

 The painted daisy sugar cookies are even more of a revelation, because the glossy, eye-catching icings on top add zing and fruity flavor instead of just the bland layer of super-sweetness  normally contributed by artificially colored decorations. “These are not only pretty, but taste wonderful,” I say. All hail to the cookie queen; she’s done it again!

If you’re interested in knowing more about Nancy’s book, or would like to see some of her recipes or photography, visit her blog at You can follow her on Twitter at nancybaggett; or on Facebook at NancyBaggettBakes;

Monday, June 18, 2012


I was shopping in Ellicott City a couple of weeks ago. I should go down there more often just because it’s a good place to soak up charm. It’s a 250-year-old town about fifteen minutes from where I live in Maryland. The kind of place where you drive right out of the modern world and into the past. I’m lucky it’s so close by, and I’ve used it in several of my books, including HER BABY’S FATHER, my Harlequin Intrigue coming out in September. 

Strolling the narrow streets and driving up into the steep hills above Main Street give me inspiration for books. It’s kind of like going to an ancient European town. Main Street is deep in a river valley, lined with stone buildings that have been converted to shops and restaurants.  There are antique dealers and quirky boutiques you won’t find anywhere else. And there’s a railroad museum, converted from the first terminus of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which came to Ellicott City from Baltimore.  In 1830 a horse raced a train speeding along the tracks, and the horse won.

One shop I love is the Forget-Me-Not Factory.  
It’s got all kinds of weird and wonderful stuff--from dragon and wolf ornaments to costumes I might want to wear at the RT Booklovers Convention. On my last visit, I found a deck of cards with three howling wolves on the back, I snatched them up. They’re perfect for me. I love wolves, especially werewolves, of course. 
Writers get their inspiration from anything and everything around them.  Over the years, the charming streets of Ellicott City have given me a lot of  food for thought, starting way back when I wrote for Dell Ecstasy. Remember that line? If you do, you’re admitting that you were reading romances in the early 80’s—when I started writing them.

Before I became a novelist, I began my writing career as a newspaper reporter, and one of the papers I wrote for was the Howard County Times, which was published in Ellicott City.  Back before they got the flood control straightened out, the town would be inundated with water during bad storms like Hurricane Agnes in 1967. That storm made an impression that stuck with me, and in RELUCTANT MERGER (published in 1983), I had my reporter heroine trapped in the newspaper plant during a flood—which I moved down by the river to make the setting more dangerous.  The water was rising, and the newspaper owner hero came charging to the rescue. They had to save each other from drowning and ended up making love, of course. 

The hero of my novella “Remington and Juliet” has an estate outside of Ellicott City.

Several of the werewolf heroes in my Moon series live in Ellicott City. They don’t care much about the charm of the old town, but they do like the surrounding wooded areas where they can change from human to wolf form and go for a nice run where nobody’s around. 

I love traveling, and I get lots of ideas for my books from far-flung locations. But I’m lucky that I don’t have to travel far to soak up some of the best atmosphere around.

Do you have an area near your home that’s oozing with charm?

Comment or tell me what you think of the cover of HER BABY'S FATHER for a chance to win a copy of my Harlequin Intrigue, SUDDEN INSIGHT.

Friday, March 02, 2012

The Roots of Paranormal Romantic Suspense

      I write paranormal romantic suspense, but several years ago, when I was preparing a talk on the horror genre, I realized that the roots of my books reach all the way back to the dawn of time.  One of the ways the shaman of an ancient tribe maintained power over his people was to protect them from the scary creatures who roamed the night.  In those ancient monsters are the ancestors of today’s literary vampires, werewolves, demons, ghosts, and all the other beasts who fill the paranormal universe.  

      Today they’ve morphed into the heroes of paranormal romance.  In my Moon series, for example, I’m writing about a family of very sexy alpha males–who happen to be werewolves.  My first werewolf was Ross Marshal in KILLING MOON, and only the right woman could help him make peace with the wolf side of his being.

       In my latest book, DARK MOON, which is also part of my Decorah Security series, Cole Marshall and another Decorah Security agent, Emma Richards, are sent to rescue a young woman who’s been kidnapped by a business rival of her father.  The man’s holding her on a cruise ship that’s been converted to a pleasure palace for the rich and kinky, and Cole has the job because his werewolf talents are going to be invaluable.  He’s got to “sniff out” where to find the kidnap victim.  At the same time, he and Emma are coping with their attraction for each other in the sexually charged atmosphere of the ship.

        In the past, shape-shifters, vampires and demons were almost always the enemy.  It was like a cowboy movie where we knew that bad guys had black hats and the good guys had white hats. But modern paranormal heroes have blurred these lines.  My werewolves may be the heroes of my books, but you never know when their savage side will emerge.  The only way Cole can save himself, on his own trying to get information is to rip out the throat of a security guard.  Then he’s got to dispose of the body, come back to Emma and pretend nothing happened.  
      Is that edge of danger and unpredictability part of the appeal of the shape-shifter?  The realization that you never know what’s going to happen.  And the knowledge that these are guys who live outside the bounds of civilization.  Often they can blend into society, but you never know when they’re going to tear off that clothing and expose the animal side of their nature.  And when they do–watch out.  Because anything can happen.

Do you read paranormal romance?  If so, what’s the attraction for you?

One commenter will win one of my fave Harlequin Intrigues.  If you want to win, please include your e-mail address, so I can contact you.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Romantic Suspense Heroes

I got the idea for this blog topic from the February Intrigue Authors Newsletter.  All the authors said what they were looking for in the hero of a romantic suspense novel.

This was my answer:

For me, he’s got to be tough on the outside but tender at his core.  A take-charge kind of guy who has his own inner strength and a strong sense of right and wrong–which might not dovetail with the conventional wisdom.  I mean, he might bend the law, if he thinks the ends justify the means.  And in a fight, he probably won’t stick to Marquess of Queensberry rules.

He’s got good instincts about people, a good sense of humor, a strong streak of personal loyalty.  He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and he confronts problems head-on, which is good because danger has a way of catching up with him, sooner rather than later.

He’s a complicated guy, with something in his background that makes him wary of relationships.  A woman who’s going to win his love must get past the protective wall he’s built around his emotions.

But he enjoys sex, and he’s an excellent lover, sensitive to his partner’s needs.  And if he has something extra–say the ability to change into a wolf, like Cole Marshall, the hero of my Decorah Security novel, DARK MOON, that’s a definite plus.

And one more thing.  He looks a lot like my husband.  Only younger, thinner and taller.  If I describe him as anything besides dark-haired and dark-eyed, with a five o’clock shadow, I’m lying.

These are the kind of alpha males I write about.

What do you want in the hero of a romantic suspense novel?  Comment for a chance to win two of my favorite Harlequin Intrigues--autographed.  If you want a chance to win, please include an e-mail address in your comment.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Special Valentine Treat by Nancy Baggett

I wanted to give you a special Valentine treat, and I knew the perfect place to get one.  From my friend Nancy Baggett, the author of many wonderful baking books including THE ALL AMERICAN DESSERT BOOK.

Here’s a recipe of hers that looks perfect for Valentine’s Day.
Molten Lava Chocolate-Raspberry Mini-Cakes

Use any ramekins or small, shallow baking dishes that hold about 3/4-cup each for these mini-cakes. Just be sure that the dishes are shallow, as the cakes are tricky to remove from the traditional, 4-inch deep custard cups.

Tip: Though the look is less dramatic, it’s possible to bake and serve the cakes in classic crème brûlée dishes for an easier, fuss-free presentation. In this case, just drizzle some melted raspberry jam back and forth over each cake, then add a little dollop of whipped cream to the center.

12 ounces bittersweet (60 to 70 percent cacao) or semisweet chocolate, broken up or coarsely chopped
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
3 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam, plus 2 tablespoons, melted, for garnish
5 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon raspberry extract or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
Lightly sweetened whipped cream or powdered sugar for garnish, optional

Generously butter six or seven 3/4-cup soufflé dishes, ramekins, or shallow custard cups. In a microwave-safe medium bowl, combine the chocolate and butter. Microwave on high power for 1 minute, then stop and stir. Continue microwaving on medium power, stopping and stirring at 30-second intervals, until the chocolate and butter are barely melted, stirring occasionally; let the residual heat finish the job. (Alternatively, in a heavy medium saucepan, warm the chocolate and butter over lowest heat, stirring frequently, until partially melted; be very careful not to burn. Immediately remove from the heat.) Stir in 3 tablespoons jam until it melts and the chocolate mixture cools to warm.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until blended. Add the granulated sugar, extract, and salt, whisking until evenly incorporated. Whisk in the chocolate mixture. Sift the flour, powdered sugar, and cocoa powder over the batter and whisk until smoothly incorporated. If the batter seems very stiff and dry, stir in up to 2 tablespoons warm water. Divide the batter among the prepared dishes; they should be fairly full. The unbaked cakes will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Place the dishes on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes (a little longer if the batter has been refrigerated), or until the tops are browner at the edges and rise above the dish rims. The center tops should be soft to the touch and look underdone, and the consistency pudding-like when a toothpick is inserted in the center. Run a paring knife around the dishes and under the bottoms of the cakes until completely loosened. Let cool on a wire rack for 6 to 7 minutes to cool slightly and firm up.To plate, center a dessert plate directly over a cake top. Using oven mitts and holding the two tightly against each other, invert the cake onto the plate. Repeat with the remaining cakes. Garnish the plates with drizzled melted raspberry jam, as shown, if desired. (I pipe it using a pastry bag or through a sturdy plastic baggie with a tiny hole snipped in one corner.) Serve immediately, garnished with lightly sweetened whipped cream (or with sifted powdered sugar over top) if desired.

Alternative do-ahead unmolding option: The warm cakes can be unmolded and placed all together on an ovenproof platter, covered, and set aside for a few hours. Reheat in a 325 degree F oven just until warmed through but not hot before serving. Transfer to individual dessert plates using a wide spatula.

The cakes will keep, airtight and refrigerated, for up to a week. Reheat, as directed above, before serving.

Makes 6 or 7 mini-cakes.

And here are links to two more of her fabulous recipes, a couple of very tempting variations on the brownie theme:

      Better-for-You Brownies

      Lowney's 1907 Heirloom Brownies

What's your favorite Valentine treat?  


Wednesday, February 01, 2012

DECORAH SECURITY, A New Paranormal Romantic Suspense Series

I’ve always thought that one of the best ways to connect with my readers is through related stories.  I’ve done that with my long-running 43 Light Street series for Harlequin Intrigue and my Moon books for Berkley.  And I wanted to use a similar format with the Decorah Security series, which I launched in December with three titles.

The usual thriller or detective series has one main protagonist who comes back book after book.  Romantic thrillers are a little different because it’s not just about the peril.  The focus is on the developing relationship between the hero and heroine as well as on the action plot.  It’s also the story of a man and a woman falling in love against a background of suspense and danger, and it isn’t until after they’ve dispatched the bad guys that the reader is sure they’re going to work out their complex relationship.

That’s a challenge for the writer.  But also fun.  You’re always weaving the two plots together so that if you pulled out either one, the story would fall apart.  And with the Decorah Security series, there’s another element as well.  All of the agents have paranormal powers–or they’re dealing with a paranormal case.

Bringing the first three Decorah Security stories to publication was a year-long project for me.  And though DARK MOON is the third book in the series, it’s the one I wrote first because I thought of it as a transition between my Berkley Moon books and the new series.


DARK MOON features the main Decorah Security players, Frank Decorah and the in-house staff who have secondary roles in all the stories.  We also meet a guy who’s going to be the hero of a future Decorah novel, even though he’s playing the part of a bad guy in this story.

The spotlight is on agents Cole Marshall and Emma Richards, who are sent on a desperate mission to rescue Karen Hopewell, a young woman kidnapped by a business rival of her father.  But Bruno Del Conte is no ordinary businessman.  He lives on a cruise ship that’s been converted into a sexual playground for the rich and kinky.

Going under cover, Cole and Emma must play the role of lovers while they search for Karen.  On the ship, they’re threatened by a mutiny in progress and also by Del Conte’s security chief who digs into their backgrounds to find out who they really are and why they’re on board.  At the same time, they struggle with the intensity of the personal relationship neither of them thought they wanted.

And, oh yeah, just to complicate matters, Cole’s a werewolf who fears Emma will discover his secret in the worst possible manner.

I finished DARK MOON, let it sit, and went through my three or four edits.  But I was nervous about the story.  After more than 130 books with major publishers, this was my first indie project, and I didn’t want anyone to say, “It’s not up to her usual standards.”  It helped me to send it to a beta reader who came back and said she loved it.  But I wasn’t ready to loose the book on the world quite yet.  I hired a professional editor, who made some suggestions and line edited.  And of course, my faithful proofreader, my husband, made sure nobody would see my dyslexic spelling and typing errors.

Meanwhile, I was working on CHAINED.  Originally it was a stand-alone novella until I realized it fit perfectly into the Decorah Security universe.


It’s the story of Isabella Flores, a woman on the run from thugs who want to kill her.  When she hides out at a ranch her father owns, she hooks up with Matt Houseman, the ghost of the Decorah agent she loved and lost.  Both are surprised that their relationship turns sensual.  And when the bad guys find Isabella, Matt helps save her life.  But is he really a phantom?  And can Isabella turn the tables and bring him back to life?

Continuing with the series in reverse order, I edited CHAINED, then wrote AMBUSHED.  


Since it’s a short story, I made it the introduction to the series.  Decorah operative Jordan Stone is guarding Elizabeth Bannerman, the only witness against an alleged terrorist.  When Jordan and Elizabeth are ambushed, they hide from armed men out to assassinate her.  And when it looks like they may not survive, they both acknowledge the sexual attraction that’s been simmering between them.  Jordan is determined to save Elizabeth’s life, but can he cope with his strong feelings for her?

But now it’s launch time for Decorah Security, and I’m excited to see how this new venture works out.  How do you like series; and if you do, what kind?

If you comment on my post, you may win a small stuffed wolf and one of my favorite Harlequin Intrigues.