Welcome to my Blogger page, thank you for visiting. This is where I will share my reviews of books, movies and other things I enjoy. If you would like to see my ramblings, fanfiction and other general posts, please visit my Livejournal: beren_writes. Visit my pages to learn about me and my books.
Top set of links above are external links, second set are pages local to the blog.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Recipe: Honey Sesame Chicken with Sesame Broccoli and Rice


Honey Sesame Chicken with Sesame Broccoli and Rice

It's the new year, so it's time to try new recipes. I started last night with this one. The base recipe comes from Two Peas and Their Pod, but it's done with a pressure cooker, so this is how I made it without one. I've also added UK measurements as well as US and reduced the original recipe which was to feed six.

N.B. This recipe can be gluten free if you use Tamari (Japanese soy sauce) rather than regular soy sauce, which usually contains gluten.

Given that chicken is basically a meat that takes on any flavour it is put with, I would guess this would be nice done with tofu or Quorn, for those of a vegetarian persuasion.

If you don't like broccoli, you could substitute snow peas, or something similar - but if you haven't tried sesame broccoli, give it a go - it was that which turned me onto the green menace after years of having hated it.

Feeds 2 (just scale up for more)


Ingredients


For the chicken
  • 2 large skinless chicken breasts, bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 tblspn oil (use whichever you like best)
  • 1/2 small (lemon sized) onion, finely chopped (I used red, the original recipe says white, so go with what you prefer)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup/60ml soy sauce (low salt)
  • 2 tbsp/30ml ketchup
  • 1/4 tsp mild chilli powder
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/4cup/60ml honey
  • 1 tbsp corn flour (cornstarch)
  • 1.5 tbsp cold water
For the broccoli
  • 1/2 head of broccoli in florets
  • 1/2 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 clove garlic minced
Sesame seeds to garnish, optional - (I toasted mine in a dry pan to bring out the flavour)
Rice to serve - I like Jasmine rice, but just use your favourite.

Instructions

  1. Put the oil in a frying pan or casserole (suitable for direct heat) that has a lid, heat gently on the hob and add the onion. Pop on the lid and allow to soften and go translucent.
  2. Add the garlic and cook for 1 min to allow the flavour to start coming out.
  3. Turn up the heat and add the diced chicken, sealing it all over.
  4. Lower the heat again, add the soy sauce, ketchup and chilli, put the lid on and cook gently until the chicken is cooked through and no longer pink inside. (Depending on your definition of bite sized, this can take between 10 & 15 mins usually - check by splitting a chunk in two). If you are waiting for someone to come home, this is the point where you can leave it until you know they are almost back - just keep the lid on and the heat really low once the chicken is done.
  5. While the chicken is cooking, get the rice going - follow the instructions on the packet.
  6. Blanch the broccoli by bring a pan of water to the boil, dropping in the florets and cooking for 3-4 mins (if you have small florets, go for 3, bigger, go for 4). Drain and leave to the side.
  7. Add the sesame oil and honey to the chicken and stir well to mix.
  8. Mix the corn flour and water in a small bowl, then add to the frying pan - stir in quickly and cook gently until the sauce thickens.
  9. Heat the oils for the broccoli in a small frying pan or wok and add the garlic (you could use a saucepan if you are using your only frying pan for the chicken :)).
  10. Add the blanched broccoli to the garlicy oil and stir fry for a minute.
  11. Serve in warmed bowls with sesame seeds sprinkled on the chicken and the broccoli (you can sprinkle them on the rice too if it makes you happy ;)).

Rob all but licked the bowl when he was finished, which I count as a success :).

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Problem of Endings #WriterlyWednesdays


The Problem of Endings


So we've slogged through creating the characters, the world, the plot and only one thing is left: the ending. I can hear the dramatic music in my head.

Now, I don't know about you, but the ending can make or break a story for me. A bad ending can strip away all the pleasure I've felt during the book/film/tv show and destroy it for me. This makes writing them somewhat stressful.

Endings are hard!

Hands up who has had something ruined by a terrible ending (and I don't mean just tragedies, which I understand some people love). I'm more talking about endings that don't make sense, or are simply flat.

This topic came to me today, because, yes, I am struggling with an ending. I have a novella entered into the Open Novella Contest over at Wattpad (Mina's Children: The Legacy of Dracula). There are three rounds to the contest:

  • Round 1 - write 2K words
  • Round 2 - add another 6K words to take the novella to 8K
  • Round 3 - complete the novella to 20K
At each round authors are eliminated, and yay, I'm into round three. Of course this means coming up with the ending.

We've all done it, writers, haven't we, plotted and schemed and come up with things we love and then ... the big question comes of how to finish it.

Last week I didn't have an ending at all, now I have two, possibly three, and I'm not sure which way to go.

I've heard it said by some that a surprising ending is the best, but I have to disagree. Too many times a show, book or film has come up with surprising ending that's just terrible. There are many things to take into account for a good ending, and these are some of the things I think about.
  • An ending needs a payoff - we've dragged our readers through trials and tribulations, through twists and turns and the ending is where they get their reward. It does not have to be the conclusion of everything, but we can't skimp on what we have promised. This is most important in series because there is a balance. We have to make sure there is enough for our readers to want to continue to the next part, but if we don't give them enough of a payoff in the current one they're going to be upset with us anyway.
  • An ending needs to be true to our characters - this is where the surprise ending sometimes fall flat. It's all well and good giving our audience a shock, but if that shock betrays the characterisation of our protagonists, they're unlikely to enjoy it. For example, having character A be the level headed and sensible one all the way through, with no hint of anything bubbling under the surface, and then having them doing something completely nuts right at the very end might be fun for the writer, but the observer will want to brain us. (The operative words above being 'no hint', because it's an entirely different matter if all the ground work is laid - a big finish like that where the audience goes - oh, wow, of course, should have seen that coming, can be the best).
  • Deus ex Machina is usually a really bad idea. Bringing in something or someone completely new to fix everything is likely to really annoy our audience. This is a classical term, so they have their place or they wouldn't have been around so long, but usually this is bandied about as detrimental these days. Of course it can be done, but there better be a really, really good reason for it.
  • An ending can't be too easy - I'm all for the happy ending, in fact I all but insist on it, but if getting to that happy ending is too easy, there is not satisfaction when it arrives. This probably boils down to us making sure our protagonist doesn't waltz to the finish line without taking some serious knocks over the last hurdle (be they physical or mental or abstract).
There are many different ways of writing a story, and many different tropes, setups and approaches, but the above ideas seem to apply in some form to most of them.

Personally, my perfect ending is good for the characters (Boromir dying and Han getting frozen in carbonite had big effects on me as a child, okay, I need happy endings - there is a reason Game of Thrones is so not my thing ;)), leaves some questions hanging, but not the big ones the particular story asked, and has a little bit of a twist as well.

What is your perfect ending like? Does it have to have certain elements?

So I am off to wrestle with the ending for Mina's Children now - wish me luck, and good luck to all those in a similar position. May your story have the ending it deserves.

~*~

Here are a set of stories I hope have satisfying endings :)
The Chronicles of Charlie Waterman are now available in Paperback.


Cat's Call

Cat's Creation

Cat's Confidence

Monday, 8 January 2018

Childhood Memories - Fairy Tales #MonsterMonday


Childhood Memories - Fairy Tales


Welcome to the new year and a slight change of topic for Mondays - from now on Monster Mondays are going to be Monsters, Myths and Magic Mondays - but we'll still call them Monster Mondays for short.

Growing up I was very fond of fairy tales, and I have some treasured memories of reading them and having them read to me. However, as is always the case with memory, lots of bits are missing. I thought it might be fun for us to share our favourite fairy tales from memory and then see how much of what we remember is right.

So, what I'm going to do is:
  • tell you everything I recall about the tale that has stuck in my head the most
  • then look it up online and tell you the details of the real thing.
Anyone who want to play along can comment using the same format, or even do a post of their own and drop me a link in the comments. I'll add any links to the main post so they are easy to find for other surfers.

My Favourite Fairy Tale

The first thing I have to admit - I have no idea what it is called. Couldn't name the story or the author for the life of me.

What I remember is this:
  • there is a princess and through a wish ( I can't remember whose) she ends up with fast growing hair
  • every time her hair is cut, it grows twice as fast - which becomes more than problematic
  • some bright spark has the idea that maybe if, rather than cutting her hair off, they were to cut her from her hair it would stop the problem
  • unfortunately this ends up with the princess growing really fast instead
  • eventually they use scales and cut her from her hair when they are exactly equal - this ends with happily ever after
Okay, back in a sec, going to look it up now.



Right, so the fairy tale is actually this one (click to see the full text):



It is a very good story - every one should read it. I seem to have remembered what I recalled correctly, but the details are much better:
  • The princess is cursed to be bald as a child because her parents did not have a christening party for fear of forgetting a fairy, but that annoyed them all.
  • When she is old enough her father gives her a wish his fairy godmother gave him.
  • Her mother whispers in her ear what to wish for, which is where the hair thing starts to go wrong.
  • The fairy godmother suggests advertising for a prince.
  • The only competent prince is the one who cuts her from her hair after asking her to marry him for his own merits, rather than as being a reward (I like this bit a lot).
  • At one point she grows so big she can pick up the island her kingdom is on, and she does great things while large, but it lonely.
  • Scales are the answer and do break the magic. Yay!
Okay, your go - tell me what you remember of your favourite fairy tale, then see if you remembered it correctly.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Manifesto of Meow - #FreeFictionFriday


Free Fiction Friday


Happy New Year and all that, in case this is your first visit to my blog this Jan. Hope 2018 is going well for everyone.

It's the first Friday of the month which means it's Free Fiction Friday over at Wittegen Press. January can be such a dismal month, what with all the rain and the holidays being over, so we've gone with some humour for this month's story. It also has cats, so it's a win/win :).

Free Fiction Friday is exclusively for subscribers of our newsletter, but anyone can join and it's really easy.

It is completely free to become a member and all you need is a valid email address. Fill in the form at the bottom of this page and you’re done. Don't worry if you join after the 1st Friday, the password for the month will be included in the welcome email after you subscribe.


What we WILL DO for our subscribers:

  • Send you an email on the 1st Friday of the month to remind you about the short story and give you the password for the month as soon as the story goes live.
  • Send you information about new books, competitions and events, so you don’t miss anything.
  • Give you two Free eBooks just for joining.

What we WON’T DO to our subscribers:

  • Spam you with loads of random advertising.
  • Reveal your email address to anyone else.

This Month's Short Story

by Natasha Duncan-Drake

Genre: humour, fantasy
Length: short story
Description:
We all secretly suspect that cats run everything. Turns out they do, and they have goals.

~*~

Don't forget - The Chronicles of Charlie Waterman are now available in Paperback too.


Cat's Call

Cat's Creation

Cat's Confidence


~*~

Newsletter Subscription Form

We'll send you details of book releases, competitions and other news from our authors, BUT we WON'T spam you, or pass your details on to anyone else.
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We will also give you 2 FREE ebooks just for signing up.

* indicates required

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Charlie Waterman Trilogy now in Paperback #WriterlyWednesdays


Charlie Waterman Trilogy now in Paperback

Hello and welcome to my blog in what I hope will be a wonderful new year. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season. I am starting the year off as I hope to go on with a book announcement. The Chronicles of Charlie Waterman are now available in paperback - finally! And since I've had to read them all so many times lately, I even have the beginnings of an idea for number 4!

Come on, most of us bibliophiles can agree, there's nothing like holding a real book in our hands, even if we love eBooks for their ease of access and speed of delivery. Of course with KDP paperbacks on Amazon Prime these days, we don't have to wait too long for them either! I may have gotten a little over excited when my copies arrived ... okay, so I've been showing them to everyone who doesn't run away fast enough ... but we're authors, we're allowed to be enthusiastic about books ;).

Are now all available to buy from Amazon as 6x9 paperbacks. All the links above are smart-links so they will take you to your local Amazon.

The reason it took me so long to get these to paperbacks is because I took a long hard look at Cat's Call and decided I really needed to rewrite at least the first third of the book. I still loved the story, but it was one of my first books, and, when I was completely honest with myself, the writing at the beginning was simply clunky.

I didn't even attempt to edit it, I just took each scene and rewrote it. Hence Cat's Call is now a second edition. If you already have it in eBook format, I deliberately didn't release it as a a new book, so you should all be able to download the new version.

If you don't have a copy yet, it's all shiny and new in paperback and eBook :)

A quick aside: Can anyone tell me why the 6x9 format seems to be the in thing these days? I was always used to books coming out as hardback, then 6x9 then (what I used to mentally refer to as) normal size, but we ordered some paperbacks for Rob's nephew before Christmas and they were all 6x9. They were not new titles, but books that have been out for years.


Amazon Kindle Create


Kindle now have something called Kindle Create, which is a really useful standalone tool for creating eBooks for Kindle. Unfortunately it doesn't do paperbacks, so it's still a matter of using one of Amazon's helpful templates and filling them in. These templates work really well, however, so I'm not complaining :).

I used the Word templates for doing the paperback and Kindle Create for the new versions of the eBooks (I took the opportunity to re-edit Cat's Creation and Cat's Confidence as well and to change the back-matter, but they only had a few minor changes, so no 2nd edition label for them :)).

There is also a Kindle Create add-in for MS Word, but only 2010 edition and above, so I have to upgrade before I can use it, so I don't know how well it works. However, because it's is a plugin for Word and not a standalone, it does give access to all the style options Kindle Create provides while we can still use one of the paperback templates.

Other Print on Demand Options

The really big drawback of Amazon KDP for paperbacks is that they don't offer proof or author copies - if you want your paperback you have to pay full price. The only option they offer is to tell you to put it down to the min price, buy it and then put the price back up again. The risk with this is other people will see it going cheap and buy it immediately and then the authors gets no royalties at all. Given that they say it can take 72 hours to make a change (it usually doesn't, but that's the longest it can be) - this could be a really big risk.

It's a really bad system and they have been promising author copies since the beginning of last year. Apparently some people have the option, but it's only in beta, so they haven't rolled it out to everyone. It is most frustrating!

Because of this I have been looking into using other sites to get volume numbers of copies to use at home for promotions etc.

CreateSpace

CreateSpace was the precursor to KDP paperback, but it is a problem for 2 reasons:

  • once a book is on KDP the same book with the same ISBN can't be on CreateSpace - if you are using Amazon or CS free ISBNs this is not an issue, but just make sure you check.
  • because they only print in the US, the postage to the rest of the world is expensive if you want anything but 31 days.
However, if you are in the US, their author copy prices are definitely worth the effort.

I'm still looking at them because their author copy prices are so good that the postage might be worth it. I'm running the numbers.


Blurb

I've added one book into Blurb so far and I love their BookWright software - once I read the tutorials, rather than just jumping in and trying to figure it out myself.

When we first hit create on Blurb it offers us BookWright or PDF - the problem is, once we download BookWright it doesn't immediately point us to the right place to get started. At least I didn't find it obvious.  It also has a few quirks, but once I got the hang of it, it was awesome. Not as intuitive as Kindle Create, but easier than just using a .doc template.

It took forever to upload, however, and it didn't tell me what was going to happen next while it was uploading. Once again I had to go and look at the online help files to know what would occur next, so I could find out if I could leave it to it. FYI - once it has finished uploading it opens the Blurb site for us so we can do the next bit, so going to bed (like I did) is fine!

The base price of the book for author copies is not as good as CreateSpace - at least from what I could tell when using the Member Order Calculator on CS and the postage is still high.


Lulu

I have only just started playing with Lulu. The templates are definitely less well defined than Amazon's and it has no fancy software like Blurb. From what I can tell at the moment, their base price is also not as good as CreateSpace.

~*~

It's all so very complicated when it comes to paperbacks and it's even more so if we want wide distribution to more than Amazon and ourselves.

Has anyone already been through the pain and would like to offer their advice?

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Merry Christmas One and All!


To all who celebrate Christmas, I wish you the blessings of the season.
To all those celebrating other festivals, may you have a joyous time.
To those who do not celebrate at all, I hope you enjoy those that do being a little nicer to each other and their fellow humans.
To those who are feeling pain at this time of year, for whatever reason, I wish you peace.

And to one and all a Happy and Hopeful New Year.

It's been something of a stressful year for my family, so we are looking forward to saying goodbye to 2017. I know I have neglected this blog, but I am hoping to be back at the beginning of January.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Merry Mid-Winter! by Natasha Duncan-Drake #FreeFictionFriday


Free Fiction Friday


And December is here - I'm so excited - this is my favourite month of the year. Most of the family are December babies, so we have a season of birthdays as well as Christmas to look forward to. However, before that, it's the first Friday of the month which means it's Free Fiction Friday over at Wittegen Press. This month we have a fantasy version of the wonderful "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens for our lovely readers, with fairies and fauns and magic.

These stories are exclusively for subscribers of our newsletter, but anyone can join and it's really easy.

It is completely free to become a member and all you need is a valid email address. Fill in the form at the bottom of this page and you’re done. Don't worry if you join after the 1st Friday, the password for the month will be included in the welcome email after you subscribe.

What we WILL DO for our subscribers:

  • Send you an email on the 1st Friday of the month to remind you about the short story and give you the password for the month as soon as the story goes live.
  • Send you information about new books, competitions and events, so you don’t miss anything.
  • Give you two Free eBooks just for joining.

What we WON’T DO to our subscribers:

  • Spam you with loads of random advertising.
  • Reveal your email adress to anyone else.

This Month's Short Story

Merry Mid-Winter!
by Natasha Duncan-Drake
Genre: paranormal, fantasy
Length: ~7.5K wds

Description:
Ebenzia is a fairy. She is supposed to see to the distribution of magic within her district of the magical forest of Lon, but she hoards it instead. This Mid-Winter Festival, forces beyond even her comprehension decide to intervene.

A fantasy version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

Newsletter Subscription Form

We'll send you details of book releases, competitions and other news from our authors, BUT we WON'T spam you, or pass your details on to anyone else.
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We will also give you 2 FREE ebooks just for signing up.

* indicates required

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Recipe - White Chocolate, Mascarpone and Puffed Wheat Cheesecake with Dark Chocolate Ganache


White Chocolate, Mascarpone and Puffed Wheat Cheesecake with Dark Chocolate Ganache

This is most definitely not a recipe for every day, it is delicious and very decadent! It is something of an amalgam of recipes because I went to a birthday party the other day and they had this wonderful birthday cheesecake. I asked about the recipe, as you do, but didn't get all the details, hence I used what I had gathered and looked at other recipes. I have reduced the amount of ganache in this recipe to that which I used when I made it, because there was a little too much of it.

This makes a cheesecake that will easily serve 12-15 people - it served 5 of us and we only got through a third.

Equipment


  • 1 heat proof bowl
  • 1 large mixing bowl
  • grease proof paper
  • 10.5'' / 27cm spring form tin (you could use a slightly smaller one, just make sure it's a deep one)
  • 1 shallow dish
  • 1 medium saucepan
  • spatulas and spoons

Ingredients

For the cheesecake
  • 280g / 1 1/4 cup / 10oz cream cheese
  • 250g / 1 1/8 cup / 9oz mascarpone
  • 300ml / 1 1/4 cup double (heavy) cream
  • 2x150g (10.6oz) white chocolate
  • 200g / 7oz rich tea fingers (closes US equiv is probably graham crackers)
  • 50g / 1.8oz puffed wheat
  • drizzle of honey
For the ganache
  • 200ml / 1 cup double (heavy) cream
  • 200g / 7oz dark chocolate
Anything you like to decorate.

Instructions

  1. Line the base of the spring form tin with the grease proof paper.
  2. Lay the biscuit fingers flat in the base of the tin, covering as much of it as possible. (Breaking the biscuits into bits can be used to fill in large holes).
  3. Lay the puffed wheat in the base of the shallow bowl and drizzle with honey. Then stir to coat. (You can use Honey Monster Puffs that are pre-coated, but the plain ones were much cheaper, hence this work around :)).
  4. Melt the chocolate in the heat proof bowl. (I microwave it on full for 30s at a time, but you can also gently heat it above a saucepan of hot water as well). Leave to cool.
  5. Whip the cream until it is beginning to thicken.
  6. Add the cream cheese and the mascarpone and whisk again until it begins to hold its shape (not too much or you will end up with cottage cheese).
  7. Pour in the white chocolate and mix vigorously with a spatula. (It might look grainy for a few moments, but don't worry, it is supposed to become much stiffer).
  8. Add the puffed wheat and mix through.
  9. Carefully add the cheesecake mixture over the layer of rich tea biscuits, smoothing out to the sides.
  10. Add another layer of rich tea biscuits on top and refrigerate.
  11. To make the ganache, break the chocolate into a heat proof bowl.
  12. Put the 200ml of cream into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Boil gently for 1 min watching carefully to make sure it does not bubble over.
  13. Pour the cream over the chocolate and mix to melt it all together to make a lovely shiny fluid.
  14. Remove the cheesecake from the fridge and pour over the ganache.
  15. Decorate as required and return to the fridge until needed.
The puffed wheat give this cheesecake the most wonderful texture. It was described to me like Kinder Chocolate with cereals, but I've never had one of those so I can't compare :). All I know was it was yummy.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Recipe - Delicious & Fun Lasagna Pockets


Delicious & Fun Lasagna Pockets

This recipe is based off a Twisted recipe and they have a great video to show how the pockets go together, but I changed the underlying recipe somewhat, so this is my version. I made this yesterday and my husband ate three of them, so I'm counting them as a win. They would be great for a dinner party or a lot of fun for children because there is always something more fun about having our own individual little parcel than just a chunk of a whole.

However, do not fool yourself, these are not easier than throwing together a big lasagna, in fact they are more of a faff :D.

Bechamel White Sauce

Buying the white sauce in a jar or box is fine, but I totally forgot it, so in case you are in the same situation, here's how to make it.


Ingredients

  • 60g (1/4 cup) butter
  • 60g (1/2 cup) plain (all purpose) flour
  • 600ml (2 1/2 cups) milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)

Equipment

  • 1 sauce pan
  • 1 measuring jug/cup measures
  • 1 small whisk
  • 1 small bowl (to measure the flour into)
  • Sieve

Instructions

  1. Melt the butter in the pan over a medium heat.
  2. Add the flour and whisk in to form a thick paste.
  3. Add a small amount of the milk and stir until smooth. Repeat this until all the milk is mixed in.
  4. Add the salt and pepper and bay leaf and cook gently, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens (about 7-8 mins).
  5. Sieve (I did this to get rid of the bay leaf, which had lost a few little bits into the mixture) into the measuring jug previously used for the milk and leave to cool.

Lasagna Pockets

First a word about the lasagna sheets, unfortunately not all lasagna sheets are made equal. I don't know what size your average lasagna noodle is in the US, but in the UK, most of the dried, boxed ones I've seen are simply not long enough. I used fresh lasagna sheets from Morrisons which are much bigger, and when split down the centre are perfect for one pocket.

This recipe would work fine in variations for meat eaters or vegetarians, but not vegans, sorry.

The original ingredients were supposed to make four, but with the extra I threw in, it will make at least five (I didn't have room on the baking tray so just made a small lasagna in a take away box which is now in the freezer :)).


Ingredients

  • 500g mince [beef, turkey, soya, quorn etc]
  • 2 small or 1 large carrot
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 red pepper [capsicum] (I use roasted, out of a jar because I hate pepper skin)
  • 1 small courgette (zucchini)
  • 2 cloves of garlic minced (I use squeezy garlic from a tube :))
  • pinch of salt (smoked salt gives great flavour)
  • pinch of pepper
  • 1 tsp chili paste/flakes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 stock cube [beef or vegetable]
  • 60 ml (1/4 cup) sweet sherry
  • splosh of seasoning sauce [Worcestershire or soy sauce]
  • 350ml (1 1/2 cup) passata
  • 350ml (1 1/2 cup) bechamel sauce
  • 250g (1 1/2 cup) grated mozzarella (I used a mozzarella/cheddar mix because I prefer more cheese flavour)
  • 25g (1/4 cup) grated hard Italian cheese [Parmesan or vegetarian equiv]
  • 4 large flat lasagna sheets split length ways to make 8, or 8 individual long ones
  • 2 tsp oil for frying or spray oil
  • fresh basil (optional)

Equipment

  • sharp knife
  • chopping board
  • large frying pan/skillet
  • large flat spatula
  • baking tray (lined with grease proof paper/baking parchment)
  • various bowls and spoons

Instructions

  1. Finely dice the onion, carrot and red pepper.
  2. Cut the courgette in half and slice it into thin strips lengthwise.
  3. Heat 1 tsp of oil in the frying pan and add the mince, tossing it in the oil until coated.
  4. Crumble in the stock cube and cook until the mince is browned.
  5. Remove into a bowl and drain off excess juices.
  6. Put the pan back on the heat and place the strips of courgette all across the bottom of it.
  7. Cook until tender and colouring, turning once in the middle of cooking.
  8. Place flat on a plate and leave for later.
  9. Add the other tsp of oil to the pan and place on a low heat. Add the chopped onion and sweat down until translucent.
  10. Add the garlic, diced carrots and diced pepper. Cook on low until the veggies are tender (this took 20 mins for me, but you can leave it with the lid on and do something else, just coming back every now and then to check and give it a stir).
  11. Stir in the tomato paste and cook through for about 1 min.
  12. Return the mince to the pan and stir so everything is combined.
  13. Add the pinch of salt, pepper and squeeze of chili paste and stir through.
  14. Splosh in the sherry and the seasoning sauce and cook for a minute or so until the sherry is reduced.
  15. Add the passata and bring to the edge of a boil, before turning down and simmering for about 10 mins.
  16. Allow to cool so that it solidifies up a bit - sloppy mince will make for very difficult assembly of the parcels :).
  17. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F
  18. Par-cook the lasgna sheets as instructed on the packet.
  19. If you want to see how the parcels go together - check out the video made by Twisted over at their version of the recipe. Here is my written version:
    1. Place one lasagna sheet vertically on a flat surface.
    2. Spread a thin layer of bechamel sauce in the centre of the strip.
    3. Place another sheet over the first to make a cross, using the bechamel to stick them together.
    4. Put another, slightly thicker layer of bechamel over the square where the two sheets overlap.
    5. Add a layer of the mince mixture on top of this (between 3 and 4 spoonfuls).
    6. Lay courgette strips from each corner over the mince (this will help stop things spilling out when making the parcel).
    7. Cover with grated mozzarella.
    8. Fold up the sides, top, left, bottom, right and tuck the corner of the right one under the top one to make a parcel (like closing a cardboard box).
  20. Transfer the parcels to the baking tray using a wide, flat, spatula.
  21. Cover the top of each parcel with bechamel sauce.
  22. Add grated mozzarella and some of the grated hard Italian cheese over the bechamel.
  23. Bake in the over for 20 mins until golden and bubbling.
  24. Garnish with fresh basil and serve.
These are so much fun and worth the effort just for something different. Thanks to Twisted for the original recipe - it's a brilliant idea.

Friday, 3 November 2017

A Matter of Will by Natasha Duncan-Drake #FreeFictionFriday


Free Fiction Friday


And November is here - soon it'll be Christmas and we won't know where the year went :). It's the first Friday of the month which means it's Free Fiction Friday over at Wittegen Press. This month we have a novelette for our lovely readers, with werewolves and vampires and magic.

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This Month's Short Story

A Matter of Will
by Natasha Duncan-Drake
Genre: paranormal, romance, vampire
Length: ~8.5K wds

Description:
Edwin and his pack have beaten the invading vampires, but they lost people doing it. One of those lost meant far more to Edwin than he would like to admit and his heart is breaking. The problem with vampires, though, is some of their kills come back.

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