Guest Post: Instant Pantry Miracle Workers

Guest Blogger: Carla Laureano

When you think of great cooking, you probably assume it means elaborate preparations and complicated technique. But as a food enthusiast, I believe the most enjoyable meal is comprised of quality ingredients treated simply—which should come as a great relief to beginning home cooks. Making great food at home is as easy as honing basic techniques and choosing good ingredients. And leveling up your cooking merely takes a few swaps. Once you make these changes, you’ll be wondering how you ever managed without them.

  1. Salt

It’s perhaps the most basic seasoning in all cooking, and once so precious that part of a Roman soldier’s pay was a salt allowance (hence the word salary). And it’s still the easiest way to make food taste good—it makes sugar sweeter and it brings out the flavors of other spices. But if you’re sticking with fine iodized table salt, you’re missing out. I keep no fewer than four jars of different salts in my spice drawer and another several in my pantry . . . and regular table salt isn’t among them.

Kosher salt – The coarser granules are easier to handle while seasoning and hold moisture better than finer crystals, leaving meat moister and juicier. If you’ve thought chicken breast is dry by nature, it could very well be your choice of salts! This is the number one choice of chefs for salting food before or during cooking. My favorite brand is Diamond Crystal for its coarse but uniform granules.

Himalayan salt – You’ll see this sometimes misnamed as “pink sea salt”—it actually comes from the Himalayan mountain range, usually from Afghanistan. Himalayan salt gets its pink color from the minerals found in the mountains and contains essential trace elements that are often missing from a modern diet. You can find it in a range from fine to coarse. I like to use this in food that’s to be seasoned raw or cooked gently since it has a softer salt flavor that is often lost during cooking or beneath heavy sauces.

Sea salt – Like Himalayan salt, sea salt contains various minerals based on its place of harvest and can have a range of flavors depending on its original environment. I buy fine sea salt in bulk and use it in place of iodized salt for baking and salting cooking water. Larger flake salt (such as fleur de sel or Maldon) can be used as a finishing touch on top of any dish from meat to bread to chocolate. The crystal structure of flake salt dissolves slowly on the tongue and gives a hit of saltiness that’s surprising but not overpowering.

  1. Whole Peppercorns

Like any other spice, pepper loses its punch almost immediately after being ground. The difference between ground pepper sold in the jar at the grocery store and peppercorns ground fresh is like night and day: one has a vaguely peppery taste (and the tendency to make you sneeze); the other has a sharp, spicy flavor that makes it easy to understand why it’s called pepper in the first place. In fact, when I don’t want to use a hot pepper, freshly ground black pepper makes a good substitute. When cooking meat, I only use a good salt and freshly ground pepper, but my guests always comment on how flavorful the dish is. Magic.

  1. Whole-grain mustard

This is another swap that barely resembles the highly processed version at the local hot dog stand. It’s true that yellow table mustard has a mellow, inoffensive flavor, but is inoffensive really our highest goal as cooks? Whole-grain mustard, on the other hand, is robust and a little spicy, giving a punch of flavor to whatever it’s used in. Whether spread on a sandwich, used to make a pan sauce or rub, or whisked into a vinaigrette, it’s a serious upgrade to the pale yellow stuff most of us are used to.

  1. Balsamic vinegar

For the longest time, I thought vinegar only came in large plastic bottles and was used in the laundry. Then I discovered the world of vinegars. Like salt, I have no less than half a dozen in my pantry, each with its own unique flavor profile. However, if you can only have one, choose balsamic. Real balsamic vinegar of Modena is made from whole pressed grapes and then aged in a successive series of barrels, each made from different types of wood. The process is similar to that of aging brandy or sweet wine, giving a complex, mellow flavor that distinguishes it from the sharpness of distilled vinegar. It’s best used at the end of cooking, as it doesn’t hold up to heat well, though it can be simmered to gently reduce it to a syrup. Try it drizzled over rich meat or a fresh caprese salad. It also pairs well with berries: bruschetta topped with ricotta and fresh strawberries and sprinkled with balsamic vinegar can’t be missed.

  1. Real maple syrup

Once, my only experience with maple syrup was the artificially flavored stuff used over pancakes; when I tried the real thing, it was a game-changer. I use this sugar substitute more than any other in my kitchen: to bring out the natural sweetness of veggies in sauces or soups, to flavor oatmeal, or in a quick vinaigrette (the fact it incorporates more easily than honey with oil and vinegar is a big point in its favor). And yes, swap out the Aunt Jemima’s for the real thing. Your French toast and pancakes will never be the same.

Now my secret is out: I’m mostly a good cook because I use good ingredients. Try these simple swaps for yourself and see if they don’t work miracles in your kitchen!

About the Book:

Denver chef Rachel Bishop has accomplished everything she’s dreamed and some things she never dared hope, like winning a James Beard Award and heading up her own fine-dining restaurant. But when a targeted smear campaign causes her to be pushed out of the business by her partners, she vows to do whatever it takes to get her life back . . . even if that means joining forces with the man who inadvertently set the disaster in motion.

Essayist Alex Kanin never imagined his pointed editorial would go viral. Ironically, his attempt to highlight the pitfalls of online criticism has the opposite effect: it revives his own flagging career by destroying that of a perfect stranger. Plagued by guilt-fueled writer’s block, Alex vows to do whatever he can to repair the damage. He just doesn’t expect his interest in the beautiful chef to turn personal.

Alex agrees to help rebuild Rachel’s tarnished image by offering his connections and his home to host an exclusive pop-up dinner party targeted to Denver’s most influential citizens: the Saturday Night Supper Club. As they work together to make the project a success, Rachel begins to realize Alex is not the unfeeling opportunist she once thought he was, and that perhaps there’s life—and love—outside the pressure-cooker of her chosen career. But can she give up her lifelong goals without losing her identity as well?

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About the Author:


Carla Laureano is the RITA® Award-winning author of contemporary inspirational romance and Celtic fantasy (as C.E. Laureano). A graduate of Pepperdine University, she worked as a sales and marketing executive for nearly a decade before leaving corporate life behind to write fiction full-time. She currently lives in Denver with her husband and two sons, where she writes during the day and cooks things at night.

Connect with Carla on her website , Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.



Spotlight: The Melody of the Soul by Liz Tolsma

About the Story:

By 1943, Anna Zadok, a Jewish Christian living in Prague, has lost everything, including her career as a concert violinist and almost her entire family. The only person she has left is her beloved grandmother, and she’s determined to keep her safe. But protecting Grandmother won’t be easy–not with a Nazi officer billeted below them.

Anna must keep a low profile. There’s one thing she refuses to give up, though. Despite instruments being declared illegal, Anna defiantly continues to practice her violin. She has to believe that the war will end someday and her career will be waiting. Fortunately for Anna, the officer, Horst Engel, enjoys her soothing music. It distracts him from his dissatisfaction with Nazi ideology and reminds him that beauty still exists in an increasingly ugly world.

When his neighbors face deportation, Horst is moved to risk everything to hide them. Anna finds herself falling in love with the handsome officer and his brave heart. But what he reveals to her might break her trust and stop the music forever. . . .

About the Author:

Liz Tolsma’s specialty is historical fiction―from WWII to prairie romance. Her debut novel was a finalist for the 2014 Selah and Carol Award. She prides herself in excellent storytelling, presenting accurate historical details, and creating persevering characters.

Liz is also a popular speaker on topics such as writing, marriage, living with courage, and adoption. She and her husband have adopted all their children internationally. Liz resides in semi-rural Wisconsin with her husband and two daughters; her son currently serves as a U.S. Marine. Liz is a breast cancer survivor and lives her life to the fullest. In her free time, she enjoys reading, working in her large perennial garden, kayaking, and camping with her family.

Connect with Liz through her Website, FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

The Saturday Night Supper Club (Supper Club #1) by Carla Laureano

Genre: Romance
Publisher: Tyndale
Publication Date: February 2018

Rachel Bishop lives a chef’s dream life. She has won the James Beard Award and co-owns and runs a fine-dining restaurant. But when the media twists her words and they go viral, her reputation crumbles, her business partners push her out of the very restaurant she created, and the industry shuns her. Determined to get back on her feet and prove everyone wrong, she’ll do anything, including work with the very man who unintentionally destroyed her career.

When Alex Kanin wrote an editorial denouncing online criticism, he never dreamed that it would backfire. While it flamed his dwindling career, it shattered a stranger’s. Afflicted with guilt-induced writer’s block, he sets out to right the wrong and hopefully recapture his inspiration.

Utilizing Alex’s influential contacts and Rachel’s cooking skills, the pair form the Saturday Night Supper Club — an exclusive pop-up dinner. It soon becomes evident that more than just their reputations and careers hang on the line. Neither one counted on what getting to know the person behind their preconceived notions would do to their hearts.

Carla Laureano serves a decadent tale of love, hope, and second chances. Simmered to perfection, The Saturday Night Supper Club enchants the taste buds while challenging the reader to explore all flavors of life. As we learn through Rachel, sometimes closed opportunities are God’s way of ushering us into something much better.

Flawed, hurting, and resilient characters who search for identity and meaning resemble people you might know in real life or even the reflection in your mirror. At times, I questioned whether the lessons Rachel encountered were meant for her, or me. Of course, Laureano doesn’t disappoint in the romance department either. I gladly stepped into Rachel’s shoes and let Alex gaze into my eyes and steal a kiss or two.

The author deftly brings the setting to life, placing the reader smack-dab in the middle of Denver and its beckoning streets and landscapes. By the end of the novel, Melody and Ana, Rachel’s best friends, will have become yours too.

Whether you are a loyal fan of Laureano’s or new to the author, but love romances, the first installment of the Supper Club series is bound to satisfy your sweet tooth. However, be warned! Prepare to fight the urge to eat your way through the book.

**Originally posted on Radiant Lit.

Free Friday: The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White

The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White

Brook Eden has never known where she truly belongs. Though raised in the palace of Monaco, she’s British by birth and was brought to the Grimaldis under suspicious circumstances as a babe. When Brook’s friend Justin uncovers the fact that Brook is likely a missing heiress from Yorkshire, Brook leaves the sun of the Mediterranean to travel to the moors of the North Sea to the estate of her supposed family.

The mystery of her mother’s death haunts her, and though her father is quick to accept her, the rest of the family and the servants of Whitby Park are not. Only when Brook’s life is threatened do they draw close–but their loyalty may come too late to save Brook from the same threat that led to tragedy for her mother.

As heir to a dukedom, Justin is no stranger to balancing responsibilities. When the matters of his estate force him far from Brook, the distance between them reveals that what began as friendship has grown into something much more. But how can their very different loyalties and responsibilities ever come together?

And then, for a second time, the heiress of Whitby Park is stolen away because of
the very rare treasure in her possession–and this time only the servants of Whitby can save her.

**Disclaimer: Unfortunately, time doesn’t allow me to read every book I share on Free Friday, so I can’t guarantee they’ll all be good. But I’ll do my best to find authors/books I know, know of, or sound good. If I have read it, I’ll make sure to include the link to my review as well.

A Matter of Trust (Montana Rescue #3) by Susan May Warren

Genre: Romance
Publisher: Revell
Publication Date: July 2017

Professional snowboarder Gage Watson fled the limelight after a tragic accident cost a fan his life. Now working as a ski patrol and serving on the PEAK rescue team, Gage can’t seem to shake the ghosts that landed him there or forget the woman he once loved — the same one who betrayed him.

As a young senator, Ella Blair spends most of her time in the public eye. But she struggles to move forward knowing she holds the secret that shattered Gage’s career. If Ella could find a way to put his career back on the right path maybe she could stop feeling so guilty.

With a snowstorm barreling toward the Glacier National Park, Ella’s brother vanishes while snowboarding on one of the most dangerous peaks. When Ella turns to PEAK Rescue, Gage is reticent to help the woman who destroyed his life, especially when she insists on joining the search party. As sparks fly amidst the dropping temperatures, not even they can deny the kindling feelings still beneath the surface, but Ella’s secret threatens to extinguish their tentative truce.

Grab your coats for this one as you’ll feel the chill all the way to your bones. A Matter of Trust delivers a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat tale as Gage and Ella race against nature to save her brother. Susan May Warren brings an icy world to life that has the reader feeling cold and frostbite right alongside the characters.

A story about mistakes and forgiveness, I loved how the characters learned that we are rescued because we need help, not because we deserve it. Such a real, yet often overlooked, concept of what God did for us.

I greatly enjoyed the way the setting popped off the pages, the valuable lessons learned, and the nail-biting quest to find the missing snowboarder. However, the romances — both the main one between Gage and Ella, and the secondary one between Ty and Brette — weren’t my favorites. They happened too fast to feel believable and I question the legitimacy of Ella’s feelings toward Gage considering her actions.

Whether you are a fan of Warren or suspenseful rescue missions, A Matter of Trust is the adventure for you. Though the novel can mostly stand alone, Ian Shaw’s search for his missing niece has arched throughout the entire Montana Rescue series to date. We’ll finally get his and Sierra’s story in the next book. To say I’m doing a happy dance for that one would be an understatement. I’ve been eagerly awaiting Ian and Sierra’s tale since the series started.

Review copy provided by publisher. Thanks!