J.R. Tate

J.R. Tate

Homemade Tomato Soup & Mozzarella Basil Grilled Cheese

To continue with the rainy weekend (see previous blog post about the pumpkin spiced lattes), I made homemade tomato soup in the crock pot, along with mozzarella, basil, and pesto grilled cheese sandwiches.

I found it to be a pretty simple recipe, though it didn't yield quite as much soup as I had hoped for. I like to make extra to take to work for lunches, and unfortunately, with two of us eating it, there wasn't quite enough to save for leftovers. That isn't a deal breaker. You could always double the recipe with no problem, as it's very easy with step by step instructions.

Prep starts the night before you plan to make the soup, with coring and deseeding of roman or plum tomatoes, cut them in half, and cut up two cloves of garlic to combine with them. As it sits, the tomatoes really absorb that flavor. I'll post the full recipe at the end of the post.

The next morning, you combine the tomatoes and garlic with a can of vegetable broth and basil in your crock pot. I cooked it on low for 8 hours, but you can also cook it on high for 6.

Here is the starting product. 

I also found that the tomatoes softened and cooked quicker, and you don't necessarily have to go the full 8 hours if you're getting hungrier early in the day. The amazing aroma of the soup tormented me all day. The basil gave it a nice Italian feel, and I was ready to eat this by 3pm! 

This is right before the tomatoes were ready to be put in the blender to smooth. 

The tomatoes blended with the basil and garlic. It was chunkier than store bought tomato soup, but had a great texture. 

Next, I prepped the sandwiches to go along with the soup.

I spread jarred pesto on whole wheat bread, along with mozzarella slices, tomato, and basil leaves. The recipe said to do it on a panini press, but I just put them in a grill pan and it worked just as well.

When all is said and done, this is what your meal will look like. It was very flavorful, and the basil gave it just the right kick to add some great taste. Next time I might add more garlic, but the recipe is great as is. It also didn't make much, so next time I might double the recipe. It was very hearty and filling, not to mention healthy. 

Here is the full recipe:

3 lbs plum tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 can (14.5 oz) reduced sodium vegetable broth
¼ cup basil leaves, plus 15 large leaves for sandwiches
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
10 slices of whole grain bread
1 tbsp jarred basil pesto
8 oz fresh mozzarella
1 large tomato

-The night before cooking, core, halve and seed tomatoes. Thinly slice garlic and combine in a resalable bag with tomatoes. Refrigerate overnight.
-in the morning, combine tomatoes and garlic with broth and ¼ cup of the basil leaves in a slow cooker. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook on high for 6 hours or low for 8 hours.
-Once soup is almost done, heat Panini press. Place 5 slices of the bread on work surface. Spread ½ tsp pesto on each slice. Cut mozzarella and tomatoes into 10 thin slices each. Place 2 slices of the mozzarella on bread. Add 3 basil leaves to each sandwich and top each with 2 slices tomato. Top with 5 remaining bread slices and coat both sides of sandwiches with nonstick cooking spray. Cook sandwiches in Panini press for 3 minutes until browned and cheese is melted.
-While sandwiches cook, ladle half of the tomato mixture into a blender. Blend until smooth. Add remaining tomato mixture to blender if there is space. Blend until smooth. Divide among 5 bowls. Serve with a sandwich. 

Crock Pot Pumpkin Spiced Latte

It  has been quite the rainy weekend here where I am, and with the cooler and cloudy weather, I've been perusing some recipes. The first one I tried this morning is Crock Pot Pumpkin Spiced Lattes.

I've always been a fan of Starbuck's version, but with the cost, it tends to turn people away. This recipe cost me about $10 total to make, and it made well over 4 servings. (I halved the recipe. The full recipe could easily serve 8, depending on the size mug you'll use.)

The recipe is very simple. You need strong coffee and milk. I will post the full recipe at the end of this post. Here are some pictures of the process:

This was the very beginning process before the crock pot heated up. 

The finished product, 2 hours after combining ingredients. The pumpkin, cinnamon, milk, and coffee blended well together. 

It was a very good mixture, and tasted better than Starbucks. Next time I do it, I will probably add a tad bit more coffee and pumpkin, and a little less cinnamon. 

Here is the complete recipe - I halved it and it still made quite a bit, but the full recipe might be a good amount for parties and larger crowds:

6 cups of milk 
4-6 cups of strongly brewed coffee
1/2 cup of pumpkin puree
1/2 cup of vanilla extract
1/2 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
3 cinnamon sticks
In your crock pot, combine the milk and coffee.
Whip together the pumpkin, vanilla, sugar and cinnamon and pour into the crockpot.
Mix together well.
Toss in 3-4 cinnamon sticks.
Cover the crockpot, and cook on high for 2 hours.

Keywords - A Science

Hello readers! Long time, no blogging! I hope this finds you all well!

Since we spoke (typed, read) last, I have been trying to think up ways to get my books more exposed. New covers, new descriptions, new advertising.... the (boring) list goes on and on....

Tonight I got to thinking about keywords. Keywords meaning phrases and search terms people type in at the top of the Amazon.com page to find the exact type of book they are wanting to read. As a writer, you'd think that this would come easy. Sure, think up 7 phrases that you MIGHT think a reader would put.... well, that's simple.... as a reader, what would I put? If you haven't already learned this about me, I'm not like the average person.... I usually like things that most people don't. If a critic likes a movie, I hate it... and vice versa. So, that tactic of thinking like other readers did not work.

Amazon gives you the option to put seven keywords when updating/uploading your books. Seven seems like a lot, seven seems like not much at all - it's all in the eye of the beholder. So, what do readers often search when looking for a book? Are they broad terms that will bring up tens of thousands of results? (Kindle books, romantic books, ebooks... These are more genre specific that would have tons of options falling under that umbrella.) Then you think of more specific terms. (Firefighter romantic suspense, drug addiction fiction, organized crime romance.) Being more specific is good, but also bad. How many people are going to search that exact term? The reason I ask is this - those more specific terms are geared toward the books that I have already published. The Firefighter Heroes Trilogy, Murphy's War, and Reformed are the three specifically tied to those keywords... The broader terms are also geared toward them, but how many other books will pop up as well?

I'm slowly learning that keywords are a science. What might work this week might not work next week. They change just like people change. It's a new challenge, but I'm actually having fun with it. Right now I have some specific keywords listed under my books -

-Firefighter Romance Ebooks
-Firefighter Romantic Suspense
-Drug Addiction Fiction
-Organized Crime Romance
-Crime Drama Romance

Of course, I get 7 keywords per book, so this isn't all of them, but it gives an example of some of the things I've put to try out. If they don't work, I'll try something new. That's all I can do!

 I know as readers, most don't care, but next time you go to Amazon in search of a book, keep in mind that keywords can and are a big deal to writers. It's not the sole way to get a book exposed, but lately, it's a way to get it on the first or second page of the search result after you type in your phrase. Next time I'm looking for a specific book, I'll think about this as well.

--Happy Reading!

Bad Games - 5 out of 5 Stars

I've been thinking about things to blog about and dang it, I'm gonna practice what I preach. I've said many times, word of mouth is one of the BEST ways to help an author out. If you enjoyed a book that you've read, talk about it! Tell other readers about it! Leave a review. If the author leaves contact information, contact them! We love to hear from readers and writers.... even if you didn't enjoy what you had read. We want to improve, so constructive feedback is always useful too!

Anyway, to get to the point - I'm going to start blogging about books that I've read and enjoyed. I kick off the first entry with Bad Games by Jeff Menapace. 

Click here to go to the book in the Amazon Store

I gave it 5 stars out of 5 - it really was quite a thrilling read. I'll post my review from Amazon on here:

This was definitely a dark psychological thriller, as the title says. The Lambert family goes on a quick getaway to Crescent Lake to escape their hectic city life. After ample warnings, they decide to chalk it up to circumstance and stay there. They don't want two men ruining their plans. Little do they know, they're about to take part in a game where they have to participate.

Bad Games was very thrilling. I did get frustrated at the main characters for not taking note to all of the warnings - the creepy guy at the grocery store, the creepy man who talked Penn State to them and took their daughter's doll. If Patrick would have listened to Amy, they would've high tailed it out of there the first day and been home safe, but then again, if that would've happened, I guess there wouldn't have been an entertaining book to read.

There were a few spots that were somewhat drawn out, but I still feel this book deserves 5 stars. I'm definitely a fan of psychology, and this book displayed good knowledge of the evil in this world. Without giving too much away, **spoiler alert** -----

I loved the scene when Patrick and Amy go to Arty's hospital room at the end of the book and put him through his own torture, even if it isn't physical. Mentioning how he was likely adopted and how he also fit the "crazy mold" really played well against him and gave them good revenge on a man whose intention was to kill both of them.

I recommend this read. It is rough and gritty, but for thriller lovers!


Just a word of caution - Some language was harsh at times.... if you have a tender heart or get offended easily, tread lightly. It generally doesn't bug me if it goes with the story, and in this case, it did. There is also quite a bit of violence, so if this is not your thing, go on to the next book.

I on the other hand, enjoyed it very much! I like a good, thrilling. psychological read. If you're like me, you won't be disappointed in this one! 

(Another) Revamp!

Long time no see, readers! Here's a small update in the world of J.R. I was talking with another writing friend and we were trying to brainstorm some ideas on why I can't get my Troubled Heroes Series to sell. I've changed descriptions, prices, and covers several times. My friend was gracious enough to do some experimenting on her own, and she came up with 3 fantastic covers that I have changed those books over to. Here they are:

So my next concern was, how would I let people know that these books were about a firefighter? More brainstorming commenced, and we came up with a name change to the series. So, what was once known as The Troubled Heroes Series is now know as the Firefighter Heroes Trilogy.

I'm really loving these new covers - I'm trying hard to get eyes on this series and I'm hoping that they catch someone's eye. Again, special thanks to M.P. McDonald, fellow author and friend, for her ideas and wisdom on this!

As always, if you enjoyed one of my books, please spread the word! Word of mouth is one of the best promotional tools we can have! Happy reading!


J.R.'s Books - Now Available For Nook and Apple!

It occurred to me this evening that I have not officially announced that my books are now available on Barnes & Noble and in the Apple store. About a week ago I took all of my books about of Kindle Select so I could make them more available for those who might not have a Kindle. So, here in this blog post you can find the links needed to get the books for your Nook or iPad!

I've had several ask why they weren't available before - I tried out KDP Select because of the ability to make my books free at any time, as well as allowing Kindle readers to "borrow" the books too. Well, I gave it a try - needless to say, it wasn't a successful marketing plan so I'm going to move on to trying something else and expanding the availability for other people.

To make a long story short, here are the links for those who are interested in purchasing them from Apple and Barnes & Noble, or for those who want to pass the word along to others! Word of mouth is the best way to help tell others about books you have enjoyed!

                                     Click Here for Dance With the Devil on Barnes & Noble

Happy Reading!

Murphy's War - Now Available!

Murphy's war went live last weekend, but here is an update for those who might have missed the announcement!

Sean Murphy knows all about the dark side of growing up in a violent Irish family deep into gang activity. What he doesn't know about is love, but he wants to learn when he meets Gracie. She's the light to his darkness, but how can he have her when violence threatens his every action? Can he risk dragging the only woman he ever cared for into the middle of his dangerous life? He longs to leave the gang, but his only option out is in a body bag. Will his love for Gracie trump his allegiance to his family? As an all out war with a rival Italian gang rages, he is thrust into the thick of the battle, unable to see an escape from the way of life he's come to loathe.

Available at these links:

Murphy's War Teaser

Murphy's War is in the final stages of being edited with a release date coming very soon! Here is a small preview of what is to come in the book! 

          "If the cops catch you, you know nothing."
          It was a common phrase heard in the Murphy household growing up. Uncles, cousins, siblings - they were all too aware of it and of course, what was implied within it. You know nothing, which translated to, "If you rat on anyone or what you were doing, you're in for a beating." It didn't matter that you were family. It didn't matter that you shared the Murphy last name with everyone else. It meant you were a rat, never to be trusted again. No chance of redeeming yourself. Pushed to the curb and dead to everyone. That was if you were lucky. So many before had been killed or disappeared, never to be found again. And this was with family. Hard to imagine what they were capable of doing to those who didn't share the same blood.
          Sean Murphy walked down the street, hugging his leather coat around his midsection. The package he was carrying wasn't obvious to just anyone, but the feel of the weight in his pocket made him all too aware that he was carrying something that could possibly put him in prison for life. Police presence in the city seemed to always pick up when he was on a job. Nodding toward one of the men in uniform, he continued at normal pace, so used to the situation that he could do it while sleep walking. He recognized their faces, just as he assumed they knew who he was. It was no mystery that he was part of the Irish gang in the neighborhood. They were like celebrities in the area, and unfortunately for Sean, a mark of notoriety that he wished he could scrub off in the shower. He didn't like the lifestyle. He wanted out. Until he found a way, he had to play along and continue working for his uncle. It was the only way to ensure that he stayed alive.
          After a few blocks, he ducked into a bar that the locals knew as Pat's. To him it meant unloading the pound of cocaine he had strapped on his body. Only a pound, but it was like a ton of bricks lifted off of his shoulders as he scooted it across the table in the back office, making direct eye contact with the man in the chair.
          "You Murphy's work quick. I just requested a pound this morning."
          Sean nodded, but didn't speak. He had learned in his thirty six years to say a lot with body language and leave the talking to the ones who died young.
          "Every time you come here, you hardly say two words. You a mute?"
          He shook his head and swallowed, glancing around at the other men who served as body guards. "No. Just nothing to say."
          "You know who I am, right?"
          Cyril Sullivan, a cousin to the Murphy's and one of the dealers hired on to distribute product. "Yes, I know who you are."
          "We're cousins, yet you act like I'm some stranger. Have a seat. We got some good Irish whiskey. Might as well enjoy some of this product you helped bring over."
          Sean sat down, looking at each of the men, hesitating. "I need to get back soon with the money. Jack will be waiting."
          "Jack Murphy, our notorious uncle. God bless that man. He can wait thirty damn minutes, yes? You're a trusted guy. You've been doing this since you were biting ankles. It's established you're not gonna run off with this stuff."
          Sean watched as one of the men poured the amber liquid in a tumbler next to him, sliding it to his reach. The last thing Sean wanted to do was get drunk with them, but it would tarnish his reputation even more if he bailed on an invite to sip down some of the alcohol. It was smooth - a normal drink among everyone and something he had developed a great tolerance to. A few drinks wouldn't hurt too much. Savoring the burn, he tapped the rim of the glass, requesting more.
          "How is it?" Cyril asked.
          "It's good."
          "Still a man of few words." Cyril laughed, downing his third glass full. "Picked it up in Ireland last time I was there." He threw a band of money on the desk. "Better get that back to Jack."

          Sean finished his drink and grabbed the money. "Pleasure doing business with you." Shoving through the door, he avoided all eye contact with the bar tenders and patrons. Looking down, he was caught off guard when he ran right into one of the cops he had seen before dropping off the package. His heart skipped a beat, but he tried to keep his face neutral. This wouldn't be his first run-in with them, nor his last.

Check my Facebook author page here for updates. I will post there first when it is available. You can also follow me on Twitter @JTateAuthor! Happy reading!