The Inside Ring
By Mike Lawson
Joe DeMarco is a law school graduate working as a “fixer” for the Speaker of the House. At the Speaker’s request, DeMarco begins investigating an assassination attempt against the President. Did the man who admitted to the assassination attempt in a suicide note really do it? Or was the Secret Service hiding the truth? DeMarco seeks the answers while wadding through Washington politics and hidden agendas, risking his life to find the truth in a Georgia county run like a kingdom.
Review: The Inside Ring is the first book in the Joe DeMarco series and the first book I’ve read by Mike Lawson. While the plot was pretty good once the book got going, I would not read another book by Lawson. As a main character, I found DeMarco pretty unremarkable. He was neither likeable nor unlikeable. He didn’t seem all that intelligent, his “ah ha” moments coming largely when someone else was was hinting at what they had already deduced. It bothered me that DeMarco was supposed to be a “fixer” but he relied heavily on others to help him in his investigation.
In this book, DeMarco received the most assistance from a retired Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) agent named Emma. Lawson tells the reader, in a few pages, that DeMarco met Emma when he saved her life, thus beginning their relationship. In The Inside Ring, DeMarco partners with Emma (and an array of people that help her) to investigate the assassination attempt. This whole relationship baffled me. I can understand Emma repaying a favor, but Lawson indicates that Emma helps DeMarco on a fairly regular basis. Apart from absolute boredom and a bottomless fortune (which I did not get the impression that she had), I could not understand why Emma would bother spending the time and energy to help DeMarco.
Ultimately, the weak main characters and relationships are what proved to be the downfall of this book. It’s unfortunate because the plot was pretty interesting, and I enjoy finding new mystery authors that I enjoy.
Crab cakes are one of my favorite special occasions dinners. My family makes them most years for our meatless Christmas Eve dinner, and I made them for my husband one Valentines Day. When I was planning a bridal shower luncheon for my seafood-loving best friend, I knew immediately that these crab cakes would be on the menu. Not only are they delicious, but the creole meuniere sauce elevates them to another level.
Recipe Note: The below recipe for Creole Meuniere Sauce is half of the original recipe. I’ve even gone so far as to make half of the recipe listed below. The sauce is amazing but very rich, and a little bit goes a long way.
Crab Cakes with Creole Meuniere Sauce
Makes 10 crab cakes
Ingredients for the Crab Cakes:
- 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 c. diced yellow onions
- 1/2 c. diced celery
- 1/2 c. diced bell peppers
- 1 Tbs. minced garlic
- 1 lb. lump crab meat, drained and cleaned
- 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice (1 lemon)
- 2 Tbs. dijon mustard
- 1/2 c. mayonaisse
- 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce1/2 c. chopped scallions
- 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 1/2 c. plain breadcrumbs, divided
- 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 egg
- 1 Tbs. water
- 1/4 tsp. pepper
- vegetable oil for frying
- 3 tsp. Emeril’s creole seasoning (recipe below)
Ingredients for the Creole Meuniere Sauce:
- 1/2 c. Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 c. chopped yellow onions
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 lemon, peeled with pith discarded and quartered
- 1/4 c. + 2 Tbs. heavy cream
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into dice
- 1/4 tsp. Emeril’s creole seasoning (recipe below)
- scallions, chopped (for garnish)
Ingredients for Emeril’s Creole Seasoning:
- 2 1/2 Tbs. paprika
- 2 Tbs. kosher salt
- 2 Tbs. garlic powder
- 1 Tbs. black pepper
- 1 Tbs. onion powder
- 1 Tbs. cayenne pepper
- 1 Tbs. dried leaf oregano
- 1 Tbs. dried thyme
Make the Crab Cakes: Heat olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Add onions, celery and bell peppers, sauteing until softened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add garlic and saute for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
While vegetables are cooling, combine mustard, mayo, Tabasco, and Worstershire in a small bowl. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine crab meat and lemon juice. Fold in cooled vegetables, scallions, and parsley. Fold in mayo mixture as well as 1/2 c. bread crumbs and 1 tsp. creole seasoning.
Take 3 shallow bowls and prep the breading. In the first bowl, combine flour and 1 tsp. creole seasoning. In the second bowl, combine egg and water. In the final bowl, combine remaining 1 c. bread crumbs with 1 tsp. creole seasoning.
Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. Use a 1/3 cup measuring scoop, portion crab mixture into 10 equal portions, patting each to 1-inch thick cakes. Dip first in flour mixture, then in egg mixture, and finally in bread crumb mixture. Fry until golden brown, about 4 minutes on each side.
Allow to drain slightly on a paper towel-lined plate before serving with creole meuniere sauce. If preparing ahead of time, crab cakes can be warmed in an oven.
Make the Creole Meuniere Sauce: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine Worcestershire sauce, onion, bay leaves, and lemon. When mixture starts to warm, mash lemons with the back of a wooden spoon to release the juices. Bring to a boil
Reduce heat and simmer until thick. Whisk in cream. Then whisk in butter, a little bit at a time. Finally, stir in creole seasoning. Strain through a find mesh sieve. Garnish with scallions and serve over crab cakes.
Make the Creole Seasoning: Combine all ingredients in an airtight container. Shake well. Yields 1/2 cup.
I love appetizers – stuffed mushrooms, grilled shrimp, spanokopitas… I could easily make a meal out of just that. But when entertaining, sometimes I prefer something that’s quicker to prepare and a little less formal. I have two go-to options to meet this requirement. The first is a cheese and cracker tray. The second is nuts.
I like jazzing up some store-bought nuts with a little something special – rosemary cashews, spiced mixed nuts, and most recently, for Easter, this recipe for sugared nuts. It only took 5 minutes to put together and impressed everyone. They were sweet and additive – it’s hard to stop at just one handful!
Adapted from The Gingerbread Blog
- 16 oz. nuts (I used a mix of walnuts and almonds)
- 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
- 1/2 c. confectioners’ sugar
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
Turn the crock pot to high. Cover and allow to heat up for 15 minutes.
Reset crock pot to low heat and add nuts and melted butter. Stir so that nuts are completed coated. Add confectioners’ sugar and stir again. Leave lid off and cook for 3 hours, stirring every 30 minutes. Nuts should be coated in a glaze.
In a small bowl, combine cinnamon and ginger. Sprinkle over buttered nuts, stirring well. Transfer nuts to a serving bowl. Allow to cool completely before serving.
Storage: These nuts taste best the day they’re made, but will keep at room temperature in an airtight container for a few days.
This past Christmas, I received Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. I had seen recipes from the book on various blogs and was intrigued by the concept – fresh bread with only 5 minutes of active time per day. After unwinding from holiday travel, one of the first things I did was whip out the book to give this ciabatta recipe a shot (to accompany weeknight bolognese for New Years Eve, with leftovers toasted to accompany a brunch of herb baked eggs). We were not disappointed. Since then, I’ve made several batches of the bread (as well as the bagels) in the book. Artisan Bread has rapidly become one of my most used cookbooks.
I was a little daunted when I opened the book and started reading the intro and notes, but the bread was actually super easy to make. Here’s the highlights:
1. Prep the starter. Refrigerate starter until needed, up to 2 weeks. The bread will slightly change flavor the longer it sits in the fridge.
2. Baking day: shape and allow to sit at room temp while the oven heats up. Bake and enjoy.
Prep Note: If you make a full batch and use a stand mixer, you’ll want to use a 7-quart mixer. If you don’t have one and want to make a full batch, mix by hand with a wooden spoon. (If you make half a batch, a 4.5-quart mixer will work fine.)
Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (p. 26 and 37)
Makes 4 1-lb. loaves (each loaf serving 4-6)
- 3 c. lukewarm (100F) water*
- 1 1/2 Tbs. active dry yeast (2 packets)**
- 1 1/2 Tbs. kosher salt
- 6 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose white flour, plus some for the counter
*If water is cooler than 100F, dough will still rise, but probably in 3-4 hours, rather than the 2 hours stated below.
** The book notes that you can use whatever yeasty is available – the directions below won’t be impacted if you’re using instant, regular, or granulated yeast, although you may need to double the quantity of yeast if using cake yeast. This is because the longer storage time equalizes the yeast.
- 5-quart Tupperware with a lid
- 1/2-inch thick baking stone
- pizza peel or something else to slide dough from counter onto hot pizza stone (I used an Epicurean cutting board)
- broiler pan
Pour flour into a 7-quart stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment. Pour water mixture into center and mix on low speed (speed 2) until all flour has been incorporated into the dough. Dough with be wet and sticky.
Place dough back into Tupperware used to mix water/yeast/salt. Cover with a lid that is not airtight. (I used a traditional Tupperware, covered loosely with plastic wrap. I sealed 3 of the 4 corners, leaving one corner popped open). Allow to rise at room temperature for at least 2 hours, until top begins to flatten. Dough may take as long as 5 hours to rise, if the water was cooler than 100F 0r if the room is on the cooler side.
At this point, you can either refrigerate the dough as is, use it all, or use a portion and refrigerate the rest. Dough will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Just be aware that as the dough rests, the flavor develops and changes slightly. (I have only used refrigerated dough, which is a little less sticky than the fresh dough.)
Bread Baking Day!
This bread takes ~45 minutes to make the day of, including rest and baking time. The below timeline is I used to make fresh bread for dinner.
- unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 c. hot water
1 hour before dinner: Set one rack in the middle of the oven and another in the lower half. Preheat oven to 450F. Place baking stone on a rack in the middle of the oven and an empty broiler pan on a lower rack.
Remove dough from fridge and cut off a 1-lb. piece of dough (1/4 of the dough if using the full recipe above) for every loaf of bread you’re making. Using wet hands to keep from sticking, place on a clean, unfloured surface. Shape dough into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides. Flatten ball into a circle or oval, about 3/4 inch thick. (Thinner is ok, but thicker will result in a puffier bread.)
Lightly flour a pizza peel or cutting board. Place dough on board, lightly flour top, and allow to rest for 20 minutes.
30 minutes before dinner or whenever your 20-minutes rest is up: Slide dough from pizza peel/cutting board directly onto hot baking stone. Pour hot water into broiler tray and close oven door.
Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool on a rack before cutting or eating. I cooled the bread directly on baking stone – after 20 minutes, bread was still quite hot, but we ate it anyway. It was wonderful.
The past month has been jam packed with family visiting to meet our little Hazelnut. My mom has been a huge help, spending a couple of weeks with us, helping with the cooking and cleaning. My brothers, grandparents, and uncles have been in and out of the house, along with friends stopping by. I’ve loved having everyone around. Even with a 3-week old, I used the opportunity to try out some new recipes. I made homemade bread and bagels, beef wellington, cranberry white chocolate cookies… and this cocktail for me and Grandma. I’ve been looking forward to trying it for quite a while, and my mixed drink-loving grandma gave me the perfect opportunity.
The drink was delicious – it is pretty much a variation on a mudslide. Shaken with ice, it was thick with rich nutty and chocolaty flavors. While the original recipe (Nutella Shots) served this drink as a shot, I preferred to sip it as a chilled drink (or, if it was warmer outside, blended in a food processor or immersion mixer to create a frozen drink).
Adapted from So Delicious
Makes 1 drink
- 1/2 c. milk
- 1 shot Baileys liquor
- 1 shot vanilla vodka
- 2 Tbs. Nutella
In a jigger, combine ice, milk, Baileys, and vanilla vodka. In a small bowl, place Nutella. Microwave for ~20 seconds, until soft. Add to jigger and shake to combine.
(If you’d prefer to serve this frozen, throw all ingredients in a blender. Pulse until blended.)
Strain into a glass and serve immediately.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir
By Jenny Lawson
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is more like a series of short stories rather than a traditional novel. Blogger Jenny Lawson tells story after story of her life, from her childhood through adulthood. There’s no plot – just a bunch of random stories and a lot of humor.
Review/Recommendation: When a friend recommended this book to me, I thought I’d love it. I thought it would be similar to Bossypants, which my husband and I both enjoyed. I later read that this book would also appeal to fans of David Sedaris, who I’ve also read and enjoyed.
Unfortunately, I found Let’s Pretend This Never Happened to be very different than Bossypants and a Sedaris book. The best way I can describe the writing and style of the book is raw… it’s pretty much 300 pages of unfiltered stream of consciousness. It was filled with cursing, misspellings, and bizarre tangents…. it very much felt like a personal journal or diary, or the blog entries I imagine Lawson writes (I’ve never read her blog). While the stories were funny, this style made it difficult to become and stay engaged in the book. Instead of devouring chapter after chapter, I read only a chapter at a time, with another book or two finished before I returned to this one.
That being said, this book was very funny – I laughed out loud several times. In fact, I’ve told my science fiction-loving husband that he had to read it – I was truly amazed at the amount of mentions of a zombie apocalypse, considering the book was a memoir. I actually had a hard time believing that most of the stories were real. I kept
thinking hoping that there was far more exaggeration in the stories Lawson described than she actually owned up to, because she frequently came across as a complete lunatic (at least to someone who had never heard of her or followed her writings).
Would I recommend this book? Perhaps. It definitely has a certain appeal, but it’s certainly not for everyone.
When I was preparing for the arrival of our new little one, I knew that I’d have to line up some posts for you guys. I tried to prepare some in advance, but never quite got my act together. I did, however, line up a very special guest post for you – from Lynsey of Lynsey Lou’s. Lynsey and I met in person for the first time at Mixed, hit it off, and have been chatting ever since.
When I saw the posts Lynsey had worked up for me, I knew I was in trouble – my husband is going to take one look at the below and ask when I’m going to make it for him.
If you haven’t visited Lynsey Lou’s yet, be sure to check out it out. Her blog is full of fantastic recipes and amazing photos.
Thanks again to Lynsey for this post!
Hello all you Books and Cooks readers! I am so happy to be here today. I can’t tell you how happy I was when Liz asked me if I would be interested in posting over here for all of you! I debated for quite some time about what recipe to share with you. I debated between sweets; cookies, bars, cake? Or savory; soup, casserole, a side, etc? Finally after much debate, I decided on a savory dish to share with you.
Since Liz just welcomed a sweet, baby girl in the world (congratulations!), I decided to make something that is not only simple, but that’s delicious and makes quite a bit. Having a new baby in the house is not only a blessing but takes some adjustment, as well. Finding meals that can be assembled quickly and that can be stretched over a couple of days are essential for moms and busy families. I find that this recipe for cheesy jalapeno corn chowder does all of the above; provides a delicious and satisfying meal, assembles quickly, and makes a lot.
In the winter I am all about soups and stews. There is nothing better than cozying up with a big, hot bowl of something delicious on a cool, crisp winter day. It’s just comforting! There are a lot of recipes for soups that require quite a bit of simmering time before it can actually be enjoyed and if you were to dish it up before allowing it to simmer the minimum amount of time the flavor just wouldn’t be there. While I love these rich and flavorful soups and stews, sometimes I just can’t wait 2, 3, 4 hours or more. I’m hungry and I want that comfort food now! Well, this chowder delivers.
This chowder is rich and full of flavor, without the wait. The process from start to finish takes about 30-45 minutes, which for a soup isn’t bad at all, especially if it delivers big flavors in the end. The soup starts by sautéing onions in a mixture of bacon drippings and olive oil. After the onions have had time to simmer, flour is then added along with chicken stock to develop a rue. Once those ingredients are incorporated, the potatoes, corn and peppers are added and brought to a simmer to allow the potatoes to become tender. Then the good stuff is added; cheese and heavy cream! That’s it! After the cheese has melted, it’s time to dish it up, top with bacon and enjoy!
This soup is delicious and big on flavor. It’s a satisfying meal that can be assembled in no time. The flavors can be adjusted according to taste; if you’re a heat lover then add more jalapenos or leave a few seeds in the one that’s called for. This meal could also be made completely vegetarian by eliminating the bacon, and substituting the chicken stock for vegetable stock. It’s great for a cozy weekend meal, but is perfect for those busy weeknights too. Serve this with come crunchy garlic bread or homemade yeast rolls and you have the perfect meal!
Congratulations again, Liz. I know you are enjoying this special time with your newly extended family. Cherish every single moment, because it goes by way too fast.
Cheesy Jalapeno Corn Chowder
1 Pound bacon
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Medium onion, diced
2 Tbsp butter
2 Cloves garlic, minced
1/3 Cup flour
8 Cups chicken broth
3-4 Medium potatoes, cubed (with skin left on)
1 Small jalapeno (or more depending on heat preference), chopped
1 ½ Tsp salt
2 Tsp pepper
6 Cups frozen corn
2 Cups heavy cream
2 Cups sharp cheddar, shredded
1 Cup Monterey jack, shredded
½ Cup gouda, shredded (plus more for topping-optional)
Cut bacon into lardons (small strips). Drizzle olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Once oil is heated, place the bacon lardons in the pan and cook until crisp. Once the bacon is cooked through, remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel lined plate.
Add the butter and diced onion to the Dutch oven and allow onions to cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Once the onions are translucent; and fragrant, add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds longer. Add the flour, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Allow the mixture to cook for about 3 minutes.
Stirring continuously, slowly pour in the chicken broth to avoid clumps from forming. Add the potatoes and jalapenos and bring to a boil. Once the mixture reaches a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender.
Once the potatoes are tender, add the corn, heavy cream and cheeses and stir to combine. Allow the mixture to cook about 5 minutes, until the cheese has melted.
Spoon soup in bowls, top with more cheese, crumbled bacon and green onions.