Cooking The Books – Ebony McKenna

Chef with cookbookIt’s time for a bit of mayhem and delicious silliness. My guest this week is the effervescent Ebony McKenna, author of the fabulous Ondine novels. I don’t normally read YA but who could resist a boy who turns into a ferret, an exotic eastern European principality gloriously cobbled together from the worst excesses of Eurovision and footnotes! Here’s Ebony.

If it wasn’t for his love of sausages, Shambles the ferret wouldn’t be half as cheeky, or get in to half as much trouble in my Ondine novels.ebony_mckenna_portrait_imgP3993_435x606

When readers (and Ondine) first meet him in The Summer of Shambles, he’s face down in Brugelwürst sausage. Later, when he should be behaving himself in a huge crowd, he follows his nose to the delicious aroma of fried sausages and gets caught up in an assassination attempt.

The love of sausages fit Shambles’s personality so well, it drove his actions and shaped the plot. Which sounds marvellously planned out … if only it was! When I began writing the novel, I knew little about a ferret’s diet. I soon found out they can’t eat any carbohydrates or vegetable proteins, as it brings on mega-diabetes.

aufschnittWith a ferret as a romantic lead, I had the ultimate salad dodger on my hands and the fun never stopped. He made me smile every time he appeared on the page because he was always hungry and persuading people to feed him. I smiled even more when his horrid curse lifted for a wee bit and he could be handsomely Hamish again.

Food is always in my writing. In the 1980s, my mother and step-father took the crazy leap of running their own restaurant. (They were young, and didn’t do much research. If they’d known how much work it was going to be, they might not have done it.) So I grew up in a restaurant, trying lots of fun things and playing with my food.

And eating. Oh lordy did I eat. Living in a restaurant, we had the best produce available and the finest cuts of everything. So it stands to reason my favourite meal was fish and chips bought from the chippy across the street.cheese_balls

It wasn’t a huge leap of imagination on my part to put Ondine’s family in a pub–it was what I knew and loved, so it felt natural to me.

In book two, The Autumn Palace, we see how mean Duchess Kerala is, as evidenced by the way she limits the food servings. And she makes everyone take a dose of worming medicine because she’s convinced they eat too much.

In book three, The Winter of Magic, which will be released in December, food again plays a strong supporting role. Magic burns more calories than running a marathon, therefore witches using lots of magic are virtual eating machines. There is also a reference to fried cheese balls as a firm favourite in Brugel. They are a magnificent way to stay warm when you’re outside in the snow.

As I plot book four, The Spring Revolution, I can guarantee plenty of food. I might even find a way so sneak my all time favourite, the curried beef pie, into a scene.

ondine2_autumn_palace_UK_cover_250x384Ebony McKenna is the author of the Ondine series.ondine_uk_cover_250x384

Book 1 The Summer of Shambles and Book 2, The Autumn Palace, are available from

Here’s the link

Ebony McKenna

twitter –!/EbonyMcKenna

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Cooking The Books – Natalie Charles

Chef with cookbookMy guest this week is Harlequin Romantic Suspense author Natalie Charles. I’m pretty envious of Natalie actually, because in 2011 she won that holy grail of category publishing, the Harlequin New Voices competition. So she only beat like a bazillion other hopefuls. No mean feat. Natalie’s debut release, The Seven-Day Target is out now and she’s generously giving away a copy to one lucky commenter. Welcome, Natalie!

Thank you so much for having me here today!

Natalie Charles

Opinions will always vary as to what makes a man attractive. Some readers like cowboys, others like billionaires, and if you’re anything like me, you have a soft spot for rugged men in law enforcement. But it takes more than a uniform and a sense of authority to make me weak in the knees. Give me a man who knows his way around the kitchen, and I’m practically drooling before he takes out the first pan. There’s something downright sexy about a man who can cook.

In my debut for Harlequin Romantic Suspense, The Seven-Day Target, my heroine, Libby Andrews, is a prosecutor who craves control over all aspects of her life—food included. She has experimented with everything from veganism to a gluten-free lifestyle, and when the book opens, she’s trying to relax a little more. Her ex-fiance, FBI agent Nick Foster, has always considered Libby’s diets weird, to say the least. He’s a no-nonsense man who loves burgers, fries, and strong coffee, but taking care of Libby is paramount:

Nick eyed her drawn skin and gaunt cheekbones. Her fingers had assumed the knobbiness that he knew came from working too many late nights and skipping too many meals. He’d be a lousy host if he didn’t at least make an effort to get her to eat. Figuring out how to prepare soybean patties smothered in soy paste and truffle oil and resting on a bed of tempeh was preferable to watching her go hungry.

TSDT CoverWhen Libby’s life is put in jeopardy, Nick vows to protect her, no matter how awkward their personal history. Both of them are hurting from the past and scared about the future, and so when Nick wakes after that first night guarding her, he surprises Libby with some old-fashioned comfort food: coffee, bacon, and pancakes.

I imagine Nick serving Libby a heaping stack of warm, fluffy pancakes with butter and pure maple syrup. He may even load them with blueberries or slice some strawberries on the side…you know, to make Libby feel less guilty about the indulgence. Simple and delicious — even Libby can’t pass up such a sweet gesture 🙂

 Nick Foster’s Pancakes

 1 ½ C. all-purpose flour

3 ½ tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1 Tb. white sugar

1 ¼ C. milk

1 egg

3 Tb. butter, melted

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Forming a well in the center, add the milk, egg and melted butter and mix until smooth.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle over medium heat. Spoon batter onto the griddle and heat both sides until lightly browned.



Natalie Charles is living her dream as a writer for Harlequin Romantic Suspense after winning Mills & Boon’s 2011 New Voices Competition. By day, she is a practicing attorney whose writing is more effective for treating insomnia than most sleeping pills. This may explain why her after hours writing involves the incomparable combination of romance and suspense—the literary equivalent of chocolate and peanut butter. The happy sufferer of a life-long addiction to mystery novels, Natalie has, sadly, yet to out-sleuth a detective. She lives in New England with a husband who makes her believe in Happily Ever After and a daughter who makes her believe in miracles.

Natalie loves hearing from readers! You can contact her through her website,

You can connect with Natalie around the web:

Website           Facebook                    Twitter    Goodreads

Book Title: The Seven-Day Target
Publisher: Harlequin Romantic Suspense
Author: Natalie Charles
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Kindle link:
B&N link:
Smashwords link:
Author’s website OR blog URL:

Brief summary:

He never meant to speak to her again. Back in Arbor Falls for a funeral, Special Agent Nick Foster has moved on. He has no plans to stay in his tiny hometown-or to reunite with the beautiful Libby Andrews. His onetime fiancée broke his heart, and what’s past should stay buried.

Libby doesn’t want his help. Her childhood sweetheart can never know the real reason she ended their engagement three years before. But when a serial killer targets her, she must team up with the rugged agent for her own safety. Something in her past has put her in danger, and the passion they’ve reignited puts their future in deadly jeopardy.


Nick took another step. “You can’t tell me you don’t feel it, Libby.”

“Feel what?”

“The heat that always burned between us. The attraction we’ve always felt for each other, even when we were pretending we didn’t.”

She rolled her eyes. “That’s ridiculous. I thought I made it clear how I felt for you.”

“You can’t hide it.” He straightened. “I see it written across your body.”

He advanced, moving with deliberate footsteps and a gaze that made her heart thunder. She instinctively retreated but stopped as her back pressed against the wall. This elicited a rakish smile and a chuckle from the back of his throat.

“We’re through,” she stammered as he came still closer, bracing himself against the wall with one hand. Blocking her escape.

“Through?” His warm breath fell on her cheeks as he leaned down. “You really think so?”

Now his lips grazed her ear, sending a shiver straight through her center. She felt his light breath on her skin, felt the animal heat of his strong arm as it fenced her in. Nick curved his body to bring his free hand to rest lightly on her hip.

“Yes. It’s over,” she said. “I feel nothing for you.” Her voice came out no more than a whisper, thick with desire.

Another chuckle, this one from deep within his chest. She stood helplessly still as he began to tease her shirt upward, exposing the sensitive skin on her belly. “So, I suppose this doesn’t do anything for you, then?” He trailed his fingertips along her waistline, eliciting a soft moan.

“No,” she gasped. “I don’t feel a thing.” Her skin was on fire, and an ache began at the juncture of her thighs.

He frowned playfully. “That’s surprising. I could have sworn I felt a reaction.”


As she spoke, he brought his hand fully under her shirt and round her bare back, pressing her closer to him. She felt the length of his hardness against her heat and sighed, allowing her head to fall back against the wall. His hot mouth was still beside her ear, but he brought his lips to the base of her throat as she arched her body toward him.

“Nothing at all?” He spoke the words against her throat, and she trembled as a current of fire and ice coursed through her.

She moaned. “Nothing.”

“This is troubling.”

For your chance to win, please leave a comment. If the lucky winner is in the US, she’ll receive a signed print copy. Outside US will be an e-copy.

Cooking The Books – Carla Caruso

Chef with cookbookNow here’s a tantalising proposition. Imagine waking up one day with wrinkle free skin, a wiser head and the ability to make at least 10% of your decisions using more than your libido. Okay, so that’s my fantasy. Today’s guest, Carla Caruso, has written a gorgeously funny story about revisiting the past and it’s been receiving rave reviews everywhere.

Carla has dropped in to tell us about Second Chance and she’s giving away a Kindle copy to one lucky commenter!

Carla Caruso - author picFood fads today seem to whir by faster than Zara putting out new collections. From “dude food” (think burgers, buffalo wings and other American junk food) to street van food and trendy Mexican, it can be hard for us civilians – and our taste buds – to keep up.

You don’t want to be the one suggesting a degustation dinner for a double date (so last year) or a low-carb bite with a mate (now carbs are apparently healthy again). Whew! Did I mention it was difficult to keep up? I blame all those reality cooking shows for making dining out so fraught with fashion faux pas.

One era when food trends seemed to move at a blissfully slower pace? The nineties! My latest release from Destiny Romance, Second Chance, is about a feisty heroine, Flora, who accidentally time-travels back to the summer of ’98 when her phone malfunctions. Along with hoping to reunite with a former love, she also finds she’s quickly back to a ‘90s-esque diet of focaccias and cappuccinos.

Focaccias… remember them?

Herald Sun cheekily dubbed the Italian baked sandwiches “a leaden carb-laden doorstop, beaten into submission by an overworked sandwich press, that was served up in city centres around the land as the height of ‘90s urban sophistication. Filled with some chargrilled vegetables and washed down with a choc-dusted cappuccino and you have the let’s-catch-up lunch of the café set, circa 1992.”

Second ChanceMy heroine, Flora, refers to the café worker, who serves her focaccia, as the bread equivalent of the “Soup Nazi” in ‘90s sitcom Seinfeld

Personally, I remember spending many a weekend with my older sister, chowing down on a chicken and avocado focaccia at Scoozi Café on hip Rundle Street. Could there be a better combo than chicken and avocado? I think not! And, hey, we have the focaccia to thank for being a launching pad for things like Turkish bread, ciabatta and sourdough locally.

Salivating yet? Well, in doing a quick internet search, I actually discovered a Melbourne eatery, Fugazza, that has, in fact, brought the focaccia back. Using artisan sourdough bread, these are baked, not pressed, creating a beautifully light, crisp crust, and filled with yummy ingredients such as taleggio and stracchino cheeses, porcini mushrooms and traditionally prepared small goods. Divine!

Of course, Melbournites probably know about this hotspot already and think I’m so 2011. But being from Adelaide, I’m half-tempted to jump on a plane and follow the tantalising scent of baking to this nostalgia-inducing eatery. Meet you there (wink)!

Find out more about Carla at

Carla Caruso was born in Adelaide, grew up amid a boisterous extended Italian family – yet somehow managed to become a bookworm…
Carla always wanted to be a novelist, annoying the kindergarten teachers by dictating long, detailed stories to them. It just took her a while to realise her childhood dream – journalism seemed a more practical course. Her media career has included stints as a newspaper and magazine journalist, government PR and fashion stylist. These days, she works as a freelance journalist and copywriter. She began seriously writing fiction three years ago when she went freelance full-time.
The romance genre appeals as she is a sucker for rom-coms (especially if Channing Tatum is in the mix) and likes to think her Italian ancestry means she lives with passion. Hobbies include watching trashy TV shows, fashion (her mum named her after Carla Zampatti!), astrology and running. She lives in Adelaide.

Website       Author Page          Twitter

You can also purchase SECOND CHANCE at:



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Cooking The Books – Dana Mitchell

Chef with cookbookTHIS week we’re back in Italy and it’s my great pleasure to welcome Dana Mitchell. Not only is Dana one of my two treasured critique partners but she’s a wonderful friend. And now that we’re both published by Destiny Romance, the icing is on the cake. While I was writing Her Italian Aristocrat, Dana was working on A Venetian Affair. It was alpha heroes at three paces and a lot of fun. But now it’s over to Dana!

It’s such a pleasure to be on your blog, Louise, thanks for having me here!0000007130

Ahhh, Venice…it conjures up romance, the curling steam from an espresso, pistachio ice-cream, lingering looks from lovers amongst the briny, fresh breeze and gondoliers serenading them as they float the canals.

Helen meets Gabriel in ‘A Venetian Affair’, they’re not really thinking about food, but more about their mutual, exploding attraction.

When Helen runs after that most passionate night, she never dreams she will meet Gabriel back home in Sydney. The Helen in Venice is the complete opposite of the Helen in Sydney. Hounded by the press and the daughter of a notorious criminal family, Helen doesn’t have much of a life. Without giving too much away, Helen spends night after night in Gabriel’s suite, where they share dinner together. Sydney is famous for its food and the Four Seasons Hotel is no exception.

9781743481189Here is an excerpt from one of their dinners…

 ‘We were all wearing masks. Didn’t you notice the other performers?’ Helen asked with a frown.

‘No, mio tesoro, I noticed only you.’

Oh. Helen swallowed.

A discreet knock at the door suspended their conversation, but Gabriel gave her a look that promised he would continue. Room service entered, and the delicious aroma of the food being served had Helen temporarily forgetting the tension. She hadn’t realised how hungry she was.

‘Arguing with me has increased your appetite.

‘Can’t talk, too busy eating,’ she retorted and hid a smile when he chuckled. A feeling not unlike exhilaration filled her but it was tinged with foreboding and sadness. The ever-present threat of him leaving was now just a matter of time. In Venice, courage had helped her to take a piece of happiness, just for herself. Could she find it within herself to step up again? Even though he would be the one leaving, this time for good, and taking her heart with him?

‘So the meal is to your liking?’

Oh, yes. Two fat, spicy pumpkin-filled ravioli parcels, topped with just the right amount of creamy sauce, were very nearly finished. ‘Yes, thank you.’

‘No dessert?’ he asked, finishing up his own meal.

‘No, just —’

‘— a coffee,’ he finished, giving her a warm smile.

No, just you, she thought dazedly, fighting the attraction that blazed between them. And then, safely ensconced back in their comfortable chairs in front of the large window, they began again.

‘So you liked singing in Venice?’

‘Yes,’ Helen said, adding, ‘So why were you in Venice?’

Now it was his turn to veil his eyes and hesitate before answering. ‘I was meeting one of my employees, a cousin of mine.’

‘And how did you find me down that alley with those two criminals?

‘I was watching you, of course,’ Gabriel answered immediately, giving her a steady look, ‘You and the other two performers were in the Sala Delle Stagioni, and I waited until you left. I saw the two men follow you and I realised they were up to no good.’

‘I’m very lucky you did, and I’m still very grateful. One of them, I think, would have been a lot crueller if you hadn’t come. I got off pretty lightly.’ Helen shuddered. A small silence ensued, broken only by a discreet knock on the door, signalling the arrival of their coffee. Then they were alone again.

‘Why did you make love to me in Venice?’

Sipping her coffee, Helen carefully put down her suddenly wobbly cup. What sort of question was that? ‘Why did you make love to me? An unknown woman, wearing a mask?’ Helen asked, going on the attack.

‘Because the attraction between us was something I’d never experienced before.’

Stunned, she could only look at him, wondering if he were telling the truth.

Helen doesn’t have a sweet tooth at all, and in a later scene, Gabriel tries his best to have her eat his favourite dessert—tiramisu. The one thing they both have in common?—a love of sharing a coffee after a meal. To find out what else they have in common you have to read the book!

‘A Venetian Affair’ can be found here:

Amazon and Amazon UK


Apple (iTunes Store)

Destiny Romance

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