Monday, December 22, 2014

Hazelnut Cookies

This Christmas cookie recipe is one that my mother made every year when I was growing up.  In German, they're called Spritzgebäck. You might know them as Spritz Cookies.

They aren't difficult to make but you do need to have a large star tip and a pastry bag or a cookie press. They're most commonly seen in S-shapes or crescents. This recipe also includes finely ground hazelnuts, which is why you need the large star tip. Even if the nuts are very fine, they could clog anything smaller. While the original recipe does mention grinding them with a mortar and pestle, I find my handy dandy food processor or blender much faster and easier.

The chocolate dip isn't required at all. I dip about half of them because I like the chocolate. I think the chocolate also makes for a nice presentation. The original chocolate for dipping was made with cocoa powder and was a bit of a mess. I prefer simply melting chocolate chips. It's easier and tastes great!

Hazelnut Cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter (8 ounces), softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 cup hazelnuts, finely ground

2/3 - 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Cover baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cream the butter with the sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time, beating in between. Add the hazelnuts and beat.

Attach a large star tip to a cookie press or pastry bag. Load with the dough and press into crescents or S-shapes about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake 12 to 14 minutes or until the cookies are light golden brown.

Move to a cooling rack immediately.  When cool, microwave the chocolate chips in 40 second bursts, stirring in between. Dip half the cookie in the chocolate. Dry on a rack with plastic wrap, aluminum foil or wax paper underneath to catch drips.

Grind the hazelnuts.

The dough will be a little stiff.

Cool on a rack.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of our readers! May your holiday be full of joy, special moments, and the warmth and love of family and friends.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Welcome our guest, author Juliet Blackwell w/book #giveaway

Juliet Blackwell is the New York Times bestselling author of the Witchcraft Mystery series, featuring a powerful witch with a vintage clothes store in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury.  She also writes the Haunted Home Renovation Mystery series, about a failed anthropologist who reluctantly takes over her father’s high-end construction company…and finds ghosts behind the walls.  As Hailey Lind, Blackwell wrote the Agatha-nominated Art Lover’s Mystery series, in which an ex-art forger attempts to go straight as a faux finisher. She is currently working on a novel about a woman who takes over her uncle’s locksmith shop in Paris, entitled The Paris Key. A former anthropologist and social worker, Juliet has worked in Mexico, Spain, Cuba, Italy, the Philippines, and France.

Juliet’s latest book is Keeper of the Castle, fifth in her Haunted Home Renovation series featuring Mel Turner, head of Turner Construction, and reluctant ghost whisperer.  Read an excerpt HERE.

Special book giveaway...see below!

Take it away, Juliet! 

* * *

Thank you so much for having me on Mystery Lovers Kitchen. I love to cook -- with a glass of wine in hand, especially :-)-- and find it a relaxing way to wrap up the day with friends and family.

I was going to write up one of my (ex) mother-in-law's Mexican recipes, or one of my mother's Cajun family secrets...but those are best learned by trailing someone around a kitchen as they say "A little pinch of this, a little pinch of that."  Such recipes don't translate well to the page, I find.

Besides, lately my schedule is chock-full of book deadlines -- currently I'm writing the Witchcraft mystery series and the Haunted Home Renovation mystery series, as well as a standalone called The Paris Key -- so I don't have the time and energy to harass my relatives for their recipes, much less the energy to create intricate dishes. Instead, I like to wander my local farmer's market, see what's fresh and in season, and go from there.

This week I made this easy-peesy soup, from from fresh organic, easy-to-find ingredients. It's soooo good. And it makes the whole house smell like the holidays.


* * *

Carrot-Squash Soup

1 leek
1 bunch sweet carrots
1 butternut squash
1 small sweet potato
Chicken or vegetable stock
Spices, salt to taste
Cream or half-and-half (optional)

Chop up leek into small pieces and sauté in a little butter or olive oil.  While it is cooking, chop the carrots, squash, and potato into small chunks and add them to the sauté.  Stir frequently -- be careful not to let it burn! 

Once all the veggies have been sautéed, cover with stock and let simmer 20-25 minutes until tender. Add dashes of nutmeg, ginger, cumin, cloves (or mixed pumpkin spices), and white pepper and salt to taste.

I mush up about half, then puree the other half before mixing them back together.  But if you want a creamier soup puree the whole thing.

Upon serving, add a little spiral of cream or half and half, and top with chopped parsley -- or just eat as is! 

 It’s soooo good–and good for you, too! (Also, it makes the house smell yummy J)


Today, I am giving away a copy of KEEPER OF THE CASTLE to one commenter. Remember to leave your email so I can contact you if you win. And tell me, do you have any haunted home renovation stories to share?

Visit JULIE at
Join her on Facebook and on Twitter 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Yule Time Feast of Witches

A very warm welcome to Joyce and Jim Lavene!Cozy covers are usually wonderful. But I have to admit that this cover grabbed my attention as soon as I saw it. I can't believe the wonderful detail. And I think the theme is such fun – retired witches! What a great idea! The first in the Retired Witches Mystery series, SPELL BOOKED, was released this month. Here's Joyce Lavene to tell us more about it.

The Yule was celebrated before the birth of Christ, usually between the 20th and 23rd of December, as part of the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. It is said to be the time when the dark part of the year gives way to the light. On Solstice Night, the longest night of the year, witches, pagans and Wiccans celebrate the birth of the Oak or Sun King with merriment and feasting.
Bonfires are lit, and toasts of spiced cider are passed. Apples and oranges spiked with cloves are laid in baskets of evergreen and wheat to symbolize sun, light, and life. Holly and ivy decorate the inside and outside of the house as an invitation for bright blessings to come.
From these traditions comes the Yule log which may never be bought – only given or harvested from your land. Once dragged into the house, it is decorated in greenery and dusted with flour, doused with cider before being lit by a piece of the last year’s Yule log. The log should burn through the night and the embers should smolder for the next 12 days.
Herbs for the Yule celebrations include bayberry, evergreen, holly, laurel, mistletoe, pine, oak, sage and cedar.
Some foods for the Yule celebration include pork, turkey, fruits, nuts, cookies and caraway cakes. Eggnog, cider, wassail, and ginger tea are the drinks that wash down the feast.
Sound familiar?
Christmas isn’t so very different. Good food. Good friends. Family, gathered around us as we celebrate the season. Many witches find the Christmas season too commercial, but so do many Christians!
Today, I’m making caraway cakes for my Yule celebration, just as the three witches in our new Retired Witches Mystery, would be. Caraway has a sharp aroma which is frequently confused with fennel. The seeds are commonly used in rye bread. Raw caraway seed aids in digestion and has been used as a healing herb for thousands of years. Caraway cakes are tender and slightly sweet.


Caraway Cakes

1½ cups flour (plain or self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder (leave out if you use self-rising flour)
1 cup granulated sugar (or sweetener) PLUS 2 tablespoons for the top
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
¼ cup cold butter
¾ cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. This cake is good made in a loaf pan or Bundt pan for easy slicing. 
Be sure to grease it well.
--> Mix dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Add caraway seeds. 
Mix in cold butter with a fork or pastry blender
In a separate bowl, combine the milk, vanilla and egg. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquids. Mix until the ingredients are moistened and add to the baking pan.
Sprinkle the two tablespoons of granulated sugar (or sweetener) over the top and bake about 30 minutes. Cool and enjoy!
My Yule log is ready, and the house is scented with the aromas of pine and herbs. I imagine our witches – Molly, Elsie, and Dorothy – are getting ready for the celebration too. Happy Yule!

Joyce and Jim Lavene write award-winning, best-selling mystery fiction. Their current mystery is Spell Booked, where the ‘Golden Girls’ of mystery meet ‘Bewitched’ as three witches of a certain age search for their friend’s killer, and their stolen spell book.

Joyce and Jim are giving away a copy of SPELL BOOKED to one lucky winner today. To enter, leave a comment, preferably with your e-address so they can contact you. Good luck! 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mincemeat Tarts

by Sheila Connolly

Mincemeat pie has long been associated with Christmas—think Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, where a mince pie awaits at the end of the final meal. (BTW, Tori Avey, who write about food and culture for PBS, called Dickens “a true Victorian foodie, a man who took serious pleasure in eating and drinking.”

Long, long ago, when I first heard the term “mincemeat,” all I could think of was the “meat” part. I was pretty sure I didn’t want meat in my dessert. Luckily nobody offered me any mincemeat.

But then one summer many years ago I had a job in a department store in London (Simpson’s Piccadilly—I had a great time!), where if we worked the late opening days, we were entitled to “tea” in the basement cafeteria, around five. Tea might include tea, of course (black or white), plus kippers and buns and—mincemeat tarts. I quickly became a convert.

This past week I was strolling through my supermarket and was halted by a display of teeny, tiny boxes of mincemeat, in a package smaller than a kid’s juice box. Surely you jest! That little box will make a whole pie? But the maker was serious: it’s dried mincemeat, that you have to restore by adding water and boiling for a minute. This I had to see to believe, so I brought one box home as an experiment.
Okay, it looks like dog food,
but it does get better!

But I don’t like the stuff well enough to eat a whole pie’s worth, so I decided to recreate the tiny tarts instead. If you want to dress them up for the holiday, use a decorative cutter instead of a plain round one for the top crust.

Mincemeat Tarts


1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 Tblsp grated fresh grated 
     orange peel
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted 
     butter, cut into 1/2” cubes
1 large egg yolk
2 Tblsp orange juice (more if needed)


3/4 cup purchased mincemeat
3 Tblsp minced crystallized ginger
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Glaze: 1 egg, beaten

Mix together the flour, 6 Tblsp powdered sugar, 2-1/2 tsp orange peel and salt in a food processor. Add the butter and process in spurts until the mixture resembles coarse meal. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and 2 Tblsp orange juice.  Add the liquid to the processor and blend until moist clumps form (add more juice by teaspoons-ful if needed). Gather the dough into a ball and flatten. Chill for 30 minutes. (By the way, this made a very nice crust: it’s light and flavorful, and also easy to roll and handle.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Generously butter or grease 18 1-3/4 inch mini muffin pans. Mix together the mincemeat, ginger, cinnamon, and the rest of the powdered sugar and orange peel. (A note on muffin tins. I have lots, many of them vintage. I tried my two smallest ones, and while the baby size made nice two-bite tartlets, it was easier to shape and remove them from the slightly larger tin.)

Roll out the dough on a floured surface to make a 17” round. 

I had to include this--it was a gift from my sister-
in-law and it's just gorgeous!

Using a 2-1/2” round cookie cutter, cut out 18 dough rounds. Press a round onto the bottom and up the sides of each muffin cup. (A note on forming the bottoms: try not to tear the sides while pressing them into the molds, because then the filling leaks out and the whole thing sticks to the pan. I found the rounded top of a champagne cork worked quite well. If you don't have one, go out and buy a bottle of champagne--now!)

Fill the lined muffin cups with 1 heaping teaspoon filling (do not overfill). Now, you can go one of two ways with this next step: (a) seal the top with a smaller circle, or (b) say the heck with it and use whatever little decorative shape you want. (The second is easier!) For (a), using a slightly smaller (1-3/4”) cookie cutter, cut out 18 more rounds (reroll the dough if you need to). Brush the edges of the smaller rounds with some of the egg glaze. Place one of the smaller rounds atop the filling in each cup, glazed side down, and press the edges to seal. Cut a small X in each top crust. For (b) just have fun!

Glazed and ready to bake
Brush the pies with the remaining egg glaze. Bake until the top crusts are golden, about 20 minutes. With a small knife, cut around each tart to loosen, then turn out onto a rack to cool. Don’t try to remove them while they’re hot, because then they’ll crumble.

And have a lovely holiday!  

Here are a couple of pictures of Dublin just before Christmas:

I do wish I'd bought the sign in the middle:
Life is What you Bake it

In case you can't guess, An Early Wake, the third book in the County Cork Mysteries, will be out in February.

You can pre-order it at Amazon or Barnes and Noble

And you can get a taste of Ireland for free with my e-story, Under the Hill (Amazon and Barnes and Noble)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Holiday Rum Balls

This recipe comes from my late mother-in-law.  She made wonderful Christmas cookies every year, and we all gained at least five pounds enjoying them!   These require no baking and they improve with age.  I took them to a party the same night, and they must have been good because they were gone before I turned around--no time to age!

3 cups whole vanilla wafers (approximately 36), crushed (I use my food processor)
1 cup chopped nuts
3/4 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 cup rum (or whiskey)

Combine the above in a large bowl.  Roll into small balls (I found it helpful to wet my hands) and then roll in powdered sugar.  Refrigerate to firm up and serve at room temp.

Simple ingredients

Combine ingredients in a large bowl

Mix thoroughly

Roll into balls and place on parchment or wax paper covered cookie sheet 

Roll in powdered sugar

They look like snow balls!

If you are leaving some for Santa, don't leave too many! These are potent, and you don't want him to get a DUI while delivering the gifts! It's probably best if these are reserved for a grown-up treat!

 If you enjoy my Lucille series (Unholy Matrimony out now), Hit and Nun will be out the beginning of January!  I will keep you posted.

And, coming in August 2015, Berried Secrets, the first in my Cranberry Cove series.  It's available for pre-order now from Amazon!

Stop by my web site for more up-dates and join me on Facebook.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Breakfast Grilled Cheese with Waffles + book #giveaway from @AveryAames aka DarylWoodGerber

It's Christmas Week at MLK!!


From Daryl aka Avery:

I'm offering a book giveaway. Don't miss out! See details below.

With a Cheese Shop Mystery coming out in February, I'm already thinking cheese. Oh, who am I kidding? I'm always thinking about cheese. I like it for lunch, snacks, and dinner.

And I love it for breakfast. Especially when there's something easy I can make that turns out totally delicious and kid-friendly. We all need kid-friendly foods during the holidays, right? And if not kid-friendly, then adult-adored!  Yes, this recipe I stumbled a adult-adored. Yum! Do I sound like I'm gushing? Yes!

It's simple. Easy. Did I mention simple? Only a few ingredients (which really pleases one of my protagonists)!  And it involves cheese (which pleases my other protagonist)!

I would imagine you could switch up the cheese to a fine cheddar, a tasty mascarpone, an easily meltable Gruyere. Play with this recipe. It's fun!

But I have to admit making it with cream cheese was so easy. And who doesn't need easy during the holidays?



Food Network Magazine March 2014

1/3 cup whipped cream cheese
1/4 cup small-curd cottage cheese
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, plus more for topping
4 frozen waffles, untoasted
1 to 2 tablespoons jam, any flavor
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more if needed

Ground cinnamon for topping


Mix the cream cheese, cottage cheese and confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl. Sread 2 waffles with the jam, then top with the cream cheese mixture; cover with the remaining 2 waffles.

Note: I used gluten-free waffles for this recipe and they were delicious!!

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sandwiches and cook until golden and crips, about 3 minutes per side, adding more butter to the pan if needed. Adjust the heat oif the waffles are browning too quickly.

Let the sandwiches rest 1 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon.



To celebrate the upcoming release of AS GOUDA AS DEAD (February), I'm giving away a Cheese Shop Mystery. Your choice.

Leave your email so I can reach you if you win. If you don't feel like leaving an entire email, you can  go cryptic and I'll try to figure it out. I am a mystery writer, after all. I will not use your email for any other purpose other than to contact the winner. 

I'll pick a name tomorrow morning. The winner will have 48 hours to contact me or else I'll pick another winner.

Good luck!

Savor the mystery!


Friend Daryl on Facebook
Friend Avery on Facebook
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Follow Avery on Twitter
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Check out our website.

NEXT BOOK OUT: AS GOUDA AS DEAD, coming February, 2015
pre-order here

STIRRING THE PLOT is available for order: order here.

If you haven't done so, sign up for the mailing list 
so you can learn about upcoming events, releases, and contests! 


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