Ropa Vieja : adapted from Norman Van Aken’s recipe

img_2455Ages ago I attended a wine dinner cooked by noted Miami restaurateur Norman Van Aken. The main course was his version of the traditional Cuban/Spanish dish Ropa Vieja – and it was a memorable experience. His vision was to upscale the comfort and to make new beloved favorites.

Ropa Vieja literally means old clothes. The idea is that the shreds and tatters of beef resemble shredded clothing. I only attempt this dish in the summer when corn is fresh and sweet. It works well for a dinner party of four to eight. The toughest part is getting the hash perfectly cooked with browned edges. I parboiled cubed sweet potatoes and then air dried them. Then I roasted them in a hot oven for about twenty minutes adding the corn at the last of the cooking. I also added a tiny dice of red bell pepper to add color. You could alternately add a finely chopped piquillo pepper or some roasted red peppers.

The beef itself can be made a day ahead. You reheat the sauce and then add the cold beef to warm it through. It develops even deeper flavor as it sits longer. The poached eggs as well can be done ahead and dropped into an ice bath and then refrigerated.

Last night I attempted this version of Van Aken’s Ropa Vieja recipe from New World Kitchen. The NWK version is simpler but lacks some of the nuances to make more layers of flavor. A construct of slowly roasted beef shredded into a sauce and served over a hash of fresh corn and sweet potatoes then topped with a poached egg.
To get the poached egg right I used Alton Brown’s skillet method.

A Mini Book Review: The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter by Rod Duncan

The Bullet Catcher's Daughter by Rod Duncan

The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter (Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire duology Book 1)The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter by Rod Duncan
Review by JM White
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


***Spoiler Alert***

Ever read a book and can’t remember whether you finished it? This is that book. I was drawn into the interesting gas-lit world. I didn’t quite buy into the twin cross-dressing idea – but heck, the world was interesting.

In the long haul, the writer lost me in the details. I was confused by the underlying plot and none of the other characters (save for maybe the agent) were memorable. I liked the idea of the living on the boat but it was hard to buy once the story set up and more of the world was revealed. Elizabeth Barnabas tries to be badass but the story falls short of making me feel like she really is.


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Mini Book Review: The Falconer by Elizabeth May

The Falconer by Elizabeth May

The Falconer (The Falconer, #1)The Falconer by Elizabeth May
review by J. Morgyn White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2 1/2 stars is what I would like to give Ms. May’s The Falconer. I wanted very much to enjoy this book. I adore the cover. The set up is very attractive – Victorian Scotland upper-class girl with a secret. The horrible death of her mother she wishes to avenge sets her on a path that is her heritage. The faery love interest is attractive, the romantic conflict is interesting – and our heroine has engineering prowess.

That brings me to my love-hate relationship with the book that resulted in me throwing it at the wall. I loved the premise and the setup. I loved Lady Aileana Kameron and the antagonist love interest. What I hated was the constant check-your-brains at the door and the wild outrageous plot swings. At times, I was overwrought with the ridiculousness of a scene. Too many times I was annoyed at the lack of consideration for what would have actually happened if the heroine was truly in the scene with all of the action. A perfect example of where fantasy can break rules – but not all rules. To make fantasy work there has to be credibility and too many scenes in The Falconer lack credibility.

I think that Ms. May has storytelling talent and creates interesting characters. This book might become excellent with some introspection and rewriting and I’d be pleased to try reading another of her books.

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Mini Book Review: The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

The Ghost Bride

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
Review by J. Morgyn White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars



I loved the idea of this story. The set up of the creepy ghost wanting her as bride kept me going. I slogged through many scenes that I wouldn’t have, to get to the next resolution, The writing itself is smooth and easy to follow. The long drawn out scenes in the other-world were boggy in my opinion. I know it was essential to cause a crisis for the rescue and the new love interest, but I really hoped for more development of what had initially caught my attention – marrying the ghost – before the big plot reveal near the end. I’d be happy to read the “new” story. I found the new love interest to be intriguing but I would have been much happier if he was either introduced earlier or there was more “ghost bride” in the ghost bride. What I did love was that the Ms. Choo had a personal connection with the world she chose to write in.

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In the Writer’s Toolbox – Programs and Apps


With the New Year freshly turned, I’m looking for ways to increase productivity and organization in 2016. It’s not a new goal, but because of technology, every year there are more choices, and with more options it becomes harder to find things.

I’ve started a list of apps and programs to help, support and assist writers that I’m exploring or already using.


For Desktop: The hammer, screwdriver, and saw of writing.

Scrivener – – This is the program that I mainly write in. It’s cross platform and works very well with my need for visual organization. There are many things to love about Scrivener.

Grammarly – I’m a new convert, and while I’ve taken it out for a test drive, I think what I like best about it, is that it brings focus to potential problems. I don’t always agree, and that’s okay.

Hemingway – The best way to highlight your overuse of things. Less intensive than Grammarly and because of that more friendly, IMHO.

Slick Write – Stats. Did I mention I love stats? Have fun, but carve out at least an hour to play.

Aeon Timeline – I have yet to sit down and use this, but I keep hoping to backtrack and plug all my notes and paper data into it.


For Mobile: The goal on mobile is to keep track of word counts on the go and set daily goals across projects. What I dream of is an app that stacks sprint counts, but I’m still searching for one.

Writeometer (Android only) – Jury is out. Wish it was on iOS.

5000 words per hour – I downloaded it today so we’ll see if I use it.

Ink on – seems like it could be useful, but the interface is clunky. I’m hoping that I’ll get used to it.