In my “Cat in the Stacks” mysteries the amateur sleuth Charlie Harris is fortunate to have a housekeeper, Azalea Berry, who not only keeps his house in great shape but also cooks wonderful Southern food. Azalea intimidates Charlie a bit – she intimidates most people a bit, actually – and she doesn’t seem all that fond of Diesel, Charlie’s Maine Coon cat and constant companion. Despite this one defect, however, Charlie accords Azalea considerable respect.
The only downside to Azalea’s cooking, Charlie discovers, is the tendency for his waistline to expand. Old-fashioned Southern cooking isn’t precisely cholesterol-conscious or “lite” anything. If it were it wouldn’t taste so darn wonderful.
In the latest book in the series, Out of Circulation, Azalea plays a bigger role than she has in previous books. She’s a murder suspect, and that complicates everything, since it’s her own daughter, Kanesha Berry, who is the official homicide investigator in Athena, Mississippi, where the series is set. Once again Kanesha has to accept help from Charlie, because they both know Azalea wouldn’t have committed murder – no matter how much she despised the victim.
Azalea’s Can’t-Fail Country Fried Steak with Gravy
1 tenderized round steak (per person, or cut into smaller portions if desired)
2 beaten eggs
1/8 cup milk (2 tablespoons)
3 tablespoons flour
Season meat, cut into serving size. Place a cup or so of flour into one shallow bowl and mix in salt, garlic and pepper to taste. (Note: for a spicier taste, use a touch of cayenne). In a second bowl beat the 2 eggs and add milk. Mix them together. Dip meat in flour, then in egg mixture, then in flour a second time. Shake off any excess flour. Fry in cast iron pan with about 1/4 to 2 inch of heated oil. (Note: make sure the pan is hot enough to fry but not too hot to burn the oil.) Cook until meat is done and coating is a deep golden brown.
Next you make the milk gravy by using 3 tablespoons of the grease used to fry the steak and add 3 tablespoons of flour, mix well and add milk to the consistency of gravy you like.
Add some homemade biscuits, green beans and iced tea, and you have a great Southern meal.
Dean (aka Miranda) James is the New York Times Bestselling author of the "Cat in the Stacks" series. He is a medical librarian by day and kills people for fun and profit in his so-called "spare" time. He has two cats, way too many books, and wishes he could play bridge more often.