Sunday, September 6, 2009

Judy Alter Cooks Her Way Through Life

A very warm welcome to author Judy Alter. The recipient of numerous awards for her westerns and juvenile fiction, Judy has accomplished the impossible by having a cookbook published!

Thanks so much for joining us today, Judy.

1. Congratulations on having a cookbook published! I thought only TV cooking stars and celebrity chefs were able to publish cookbooks. Tell us how it happened for you!

A friend was writing a book with recipes in it, and her agent said to ditch the recipes. I said recipes were really big in books right now, so she said, "Okay, we'll write a cookbook together." I went home and began to write, realizing that my life fell into four distinct cooking periods: a childhood in a very meat-and-potatoes household in Chicago, with a Canadian father who preferred pot roast, no fish, and nothing you picked up in your hands but a mother who was an excellent cook and taught me well. Then I married a Jewish man and moved to Texas--two new cultures, and though the husband is long gone, I love Jewish food. Then there were the years I raised four children as a single parent--the casserole years. And in this final cooking phase, I live alone, entertain often, always experiment on guests and find that cooking is a great relaxation for me. Meanwhile my friend confessed that her mother never cooked and when I asked how she fed her children, she said, "I took them out." Needless to say, it became my book. State House Press, loosely related to McMurry University, told me they could only publish things with a historical aspect, but I assured them I am old enough that some of my recipes are historic.

2. What's a typical weeknight dinner at your house?

Depends. If I eat alone these days, it's a meat and a steamed vegetable, because I am on Weight Watchers. If I have company, I may experiment on anything from a casserole to what I call the $8,000 leg of lamb (someone once jokingly offered me that much for the recipe). Last night for my daughter and her husband it was Hebrew National hot dogs, German potato salad, and tossed salad with blue cheese dressing.

3. Name three things you always have in the refrigerator.

Cottage cheese (my breakfast), white wine, Paul Newman's Own Vinaigrette. (Actually these days I pretty much make my own dressings, but my youngest daughter used to list those three as the things we could live on when she and I were living alone).

4. Do you have a secret indulgence that you sneak on occasion?

Chocolate.I recently discovered a chocolate bar with chopped peanuts and jalapeno in it. Unfortunately, it's not the dark chocolate that I love and is so good for you.

5. What is your most memorable meal and where was it?

Oh, gosh--I've had lots of wonderful meals in some fairly posh restaurants but I think my most memorable meals are when my family is gathered around me and usually then it's tacos or fajitas or a family favorite called Doris' casserole. I have four children, all happily married to people I adore, and seven grandchildren.

6. You've written quite a few westerns. What made you decide to
switch to mysteries?

I've always been an avid mystery reader, and I just wanted to prove to myself I could do it. I've written one that my mentor from grad school (who taught genre lit) says is good but so far haven't placed it. A sequel awaits revision. Besides the market for the kind of westerns I wrote has fallen away. I wrote mostly fictional biographies of well known women, like Libby Custer.

7. Will your mysteries include recipes?

Strangely enough, the protagonist is not a good cook, but she's getting better, especially when a policeman who can cook comes into her life.

8. Would you mind sharing a recipe with us?

Here's Doris' Casserole.

Doris' Casserole

First layer:

1 lb. ground beef
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
2 cloves garlic, crushed in garlic press
2 tsp each sugar and salt (I cut back on those but sugar is important in tomato-based sauces-my mom taught me years ago it sort of rounds it off.)
Pepper to taste

Brown ground beef in skillet. Drain grease and return to skillet. Add tomatoes and tomato sauce, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer 20 minutes, until it thickens a little.

Spread in a 9 x 13 pan.

For noodle layer:

5 oz. (approximately-they don't come in this size pkg.) egg noodles
3 oz. pkg. cream cheese
1 c. sour cream
6 green onions chopped, with some of the tops included

1-1/2 c. grated cheddar

Cook egg noodles and drain. While the noodles are hot, stir in cream cheese, sour cream, and green onions. Spread over meat mixture. (I gave this recipe to one friend who insisted that it was backward and the noodles should go first-I finally convinced her, and her family loved it too.) Top with grated cheddar, bake 35 minutes at 350 or until bubbly and cheese is slightly browned.
Supposed to serve 8, but you'll be lucky if you can feed six with it. Freezes well.

Thanks again for joining us at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen, Judy!

Visit Judy at her website.

and her blog, Judy's Stew.


  1. Great questions - and I enjoyed reading the answers .. and wondering what I would have answered!

  2. Great interview, Krista and Judy! And the recipe might be cooked tonight...I've got all the ingredients. Yum!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. Judy, what a delight. Great interview. Loved hearing about what you served your family! The casserole sounds like something I make but I've never added the cream cheese. Interesting for someone like me. Always looking for new ways to use cheese.


  4. Hi Judy, thanks for hanging out with us today. The way you describe your cookbook is genius. Food is such an important part of our lives and our changing lives. Kudos to you on the publication. (LOVE the cover, too, really brings a smile - and we can all use a smile these days!)

    "Where coffee and crime are always brewing..."

    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  5. Thanks for joining us, Judy. Your recipe sounds almost like something my mom used to make that I've been trying to recreate. I'll have to give your version a try!

    Congrats on the cookbook!

  6. I enjoyed your interview, Judy! As a fussy eater I tend to judge recipes by their ingredients. Your casserole has everything that I like, and sounds delectable!

  7. Thanks for the comments. What a high to get comments from writers whose mysteries I devour!

  8. Judy-

    Thanks for joining us. Great interview! Doris' casserole has everything I love and I didn't know about the sugar with tomato based sauce rule. Good to know!


  9. Sounds delicious. My family loves this type of dish.
    Have you substitutes low fat cream cheese, sour cream, and cheddar? I don't think it would make much of a difference.

  10. I made Doris's Casserole today with 1 1/2 tsp salt and it was way too salty. Next time I'll try using just 1 tsp salt.