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Friday, June 28, 2013

Guest Post with Author Amanda Usen and Giveaway

Today I would like to welcome author Amanda Usen to RFTC. Amanda is celebrating the recent release of her book Into the Fire and has stopped by to chat. Please give Amanda a warm welcome.

Amanda Usen knows two things for certain: chocolate cheesecake is good for breakfast, and a hot chef can steal your heart. Her husband stole hers the first day of class at the Culinary Institute of America. She married him after graduation in a lovely French Quarter restaurant in New Orleans, and they spent a few years enjoying the food and the fun in the Big Easy. Now they live in Western New York with their three children, one hamster, two guinea pigs, a tortoise, and a new-to-them beagle. Amanda spends her days teaching pastry arts classes and her nights writing romance. If she isn’t baking or writing, she can usually be found chasing the kids around the yard with her very own hot chef husband.

Want chimichurri, chocolate cake or Chicken Alighieri? Visit Amanda at, where you can find recipes for many of the yummy dishes in her books.

Places to find Amanda: 
| Site | Facebook | Twitter

Some folks might think I'm nuts for turning on the oven during the summer, but I love lasagna. Oooey, gooey, cheesy lasagna! After assembly, it requires very little supervision during cooking, so I can be outside doing summery things. If the house gets hot from the oven, we eat on the back porch. Sometimes we have happy hour with friends while the lasagna is baking and THEN eat on the porch?that's how we roll during the summertime!

I discovered this recipe while working as a nanny in Nashville, TN, in 1994, and I've been using it ever since. I was entering my vegetarian phase (cut short by a quail hunt in Georgia, my college graduation present), and I'd never had anything so good that didn't contain meat. It was a revelation of rich, smooshy deliciousness, hopped up by garlic and herbs! Fabulous! Some people might call me a cheater, since I use jar sauce, but I'm at peace with that since my husband, Farmer Ben, grows the carrots, zucchini, and squash in his garden. That makes it a push, right? I grate the veggies, cook them down, and mix them with mozzarella, ricotta, and parmesan until it becomes a cheesy mass of splendor. Then I layer it with sauce and noodles and bake it until it bubbles. We serve the lasagna with greens from the garden, my favorite balsamic vinaigrette (recipe here:, and bread (because we do love our carbs). To have the most fun with this recipe, use a food processor, fitted with a grater attachment, to grate the veggies. Now THAT is summer bliss!

Garden Lasagna
Baking temperature: 350
Baking time: About an hour and 15 minutes
Servings: 12

12 Lasagna Noodles
2 teaspoons olive oil
Grated vegetables to equal 7 cups. I used 2 zucchini, 1 yellow squash, and 5 carrots.
2 medium onions, small diced, about 1 generous cup
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil (fresh is nice, too!)
3 eggs
15 ounces ricotta cheese?or 2 pounds if you love cheese!
4 cups shredded mozzarella (or 2 cups mozzarella and the equivalent of 2 cups provolone for the top)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 jar of tomato sauce
  1. Cook lasagna noodles. Yes, you can use no boil noodles, but I'm partial to the old school ones.
  2. Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 13 X 9 pan with non-stick spray. Make sure you get the sides!
  3. Sweat the carrots, squashes, onions, garlic, and salt in the olive oil over low heat until they are nice and soft and the liquid evaporates.
  4. Reserve veggies in a mixing bowl. Add the oregano, basil, ricotta, the Parmesan and 2 cups of mozzarella. Then add the eggs.
  5. Layer the sauce, noodles and ricotta mixture in the pan. Start by putting one cup of sauce in the bottom. Then add an overlapping layer of noodles and 1/3-1/2 of the ricotta mixture, depending on how tall your pan is and how many layers you want to make. Continue the layers until the ricotta mixture is gone.
  6. For the top layer, use lasagna noodles, all of the remaining sauce (I usually swish about 1 cup of water around in the jar and pour that in, too) and the remaining 2 cups of mozzarella.
  7. Bake, covered, until bubbly, about an hour. Uncover and cook until cheese is melted, about 15 minutes.

Mmmmm! Thank you for stopping by to visit today. Do you have a favorite summer dish? Do tell! Farmer Ben and I are always looking for things to celebrate during the summertime!

Jackson Calabrese has a lot of nerve. He beat Lila Grant in the Culinary Academy competition using her recipes. Now, he’s opening a restaurant and wants her help? Fine, she'll fix his menu, but it's going to cost him.

Heir to the Calabrese restaurant empire, Jackson can buy anything he wants, except creativity, so he buys Lila's instead. He can craft perfect paella, but to take New York by storm he needs her innovative spark.

Skillets aren't the only things hot in the kitchen, and an uneasy truce ignites into passion. They’re great in bed, but Jackson doesn't trust her, and Lila is contemplating revenge. The restaurant opening approaches, the menu is completed, and the tables are set for one final act of betrayal. How can love bloom in the midst of such a hot mess?

Purchase: | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes |

Check out what's up for grabs.

Up For Grabs For Entire Tour:
  • 1 lucky person will win the following:
    • $25 Gift Card (Amazon, Barnes & Noble or The Book Depository)
    • Get to name the hero in Book 3 + give him a personality trait
  • lucky person will win the following:
    • $15 Gift Card (Amazon, Barnes & Noble or The Book Depository)
    • A chance to pick a dish to be featured in Book 3
  • lucky people will win Amanda's favorite kitchen tool: a mini offset spatula

To Enter: 
  • Please answer the question: Do you have a favorite summer dish?
  • Please fill out the Rafflecopter form.

Good Luck! 
a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Ooh! Food! Now that is temptation to buy the book on its own :)

    1. Jane, almost every review waxes poetic about the food! Sometimes I feel a little sorry for my hero and heroine (not really). They hold their own, and after all, they get to eat the fictional food, lol! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. My favorite summer dish is probably a good hamburger on the grill. That reminds me of summer.

    1. Yeah, baby! Can I admit I like mine with Ranch dressing and BBQ sauce?

  3. Thanks for the recipe. I've never made lasagna, but this one seems like something I could do. My favorite summer dish is a cold pasta salad with lots of fresh veggies and some mozzarella. We have it at least once a week & change it up by using different veggies, or adding different things like chicken, shrimp, or grilled sausage.

    1. If you make it, let me know how you like it. Also, shoot me an e-mail if you have any trouble! :-)

  4. Hmmmm... does ice cream count? :)

  5. I love grilled chicken. I use zest of a lime and lemon, add the juice, a little olive oil and some grill good!

  6. It's got to be a nice gazpacho... maybe it's the Spaniard in me coming out :)

  7. I'd have to say ice cream too. It really cools you off. The book sounds great! Thank you for the giveaway!

    Wanda Barefoot

    1. @May Yes, yes it does! Pretty sure I put ice cream in every book!

      @CMD I'm more of a salsa girl, but I've probably never had a good gazpacho. Recipe? :D

      @Flghtlss YUM! Thanks and you're welcome!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I'm a vegetarian, this recipe is perfect! Thanks much for sharing.

    I live in the tropics so no summer (hot all year round!) but we're in the middle of the mango season at the moment. It's my absolute fav food/fruit.

  9. We like to grill chicken and veggies on the grill followed by homemade ice cream or fresh sliced fruit! YUM!

  10. Besides the usual corn on the cob and grilled goodies, I have a chicken apple salad that is light and yummy. I don't like to eat anything too heavy in the hot, summer weather.

    1. @Linda The first mango I ever ate was in Panama. They were everywhere! I'm hooked, too! :-)

      @Texas Book Lover That sounds delicious!

      @Marcy Meyer Sigh - summer makes me hungry...and thirsty. ;-)

  11. My favorite is food in the summer in Chicken Alfredo. Or a good salad. Thanks for the recipe and the giveaway.

  12. I love grilled chicken and a great big salad loaded with all kinds of goodies.

    1. It's 7 am, and you guys are making me hungry!

      @EvaMillien, I love a good white sauce, especially if I have a loaf of crusty bread...

      @Ingeborg You can't go wrong with grilled Chicken. Ever! :-)

      Thanks for visiting!

  13. My favorite summer dish is anything I don't have to cook. Yummy.

  14. My favorite summer food is takeout.

    1. LOL @Nana Prah and @Mary Jo Burke have a great idea! Let's go!

  15. The lasagna looks fantastic! I'll try it and pray that my picky teen will eat it...either way, hubby and I will enjoy it!

    My favorite summer dish is beef stroganoff in the crockpot so I don't heat up my house. It's a family favorite and I LOVE that I can have a warm dinner ready by the end of the day with minimal preparation!


    1. @Sheri Vidal It is, I swear. I made a batch to take a picture. 2 out of 3 of my kids eat it...then I ate the rest!

      @books4me Can you believe I don't have a crock pot? Must remedy that!

  16. Thanks for the giveaway :) I love Mexican, esp cooking tacos

  17. I love lasagna! I just made some the other day :) I used quark instead of ricotta/cottage cheese and brown rice noodles - super tasty!

    I love salads - especially during the summer with all the fresh veggies from the garden and top it with some farm fresh boiled eggs. YUM!

    1. @Bobbye Booth I love Mexican, especially with guacamole...and cheese. I have a thing for cheese. Yum!

      Hey @Aislynn T! Super tasty AND healthy. Maybe I'll give it a shot Aislynn-style next time. :-)

  18. I love veggie lasagna. The book sounds really good.

  19. Key lime pie! i also love fresh picked strawberries and veggies from the garden. The recipe looks and sounds good as well.
    Thanks :-)

  20. @lorimeehan If you make the lasagna, let me know how it stacks up to others you've had, please! And thanks! Into The Fire was a ton of fun to write. :-)

    @Beautiful Disaster Key lime is my FIL's favorite! Mmm...we just picked and ate many pounds of strawberries. Heaven. Can't wait for blueberry season!

  21. My favorite summer dish is ice cream with orange juice poured over it! I use it as a treat every now and then.

  22. Looks good, will be adding to my tbr pile. Thanks.

  23. I'm going with ice cream, nothing can beat that right? :D

  24. My husband's grilled ribs are my favorite.

  25. Just so y'all know, all this ice cream talk forced me to eat a fudge ripple double chocolate ice cream sandwich. And as for ribs, my derelict husband went to happy hour instead of coming home to do something with the ribs in our fridge! *whistling*

  26. Sounds delish!!!!! I love mixing veggies into pasta dishes!!!! And I always bake in summer...but I do have central air ;) In summer I love all the cold salads- potato, macaroni, etc.... Its just not something I have in winter. :)

  27. My favorite summer recipe is BLT sandwiches.
    Theresa N