Showing posts with label Around the Kitchen Table. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Around the Kitchen Table. Show all posts

Monday, August 7, 2017

AROUND THE KITCHEN TABLE: CHAOS IN THE KITCHEN #GIVEAWAY


Welcome to Around the Kitchen Table, our monthly chinwag!  We look forward to the conversation with you today (and always).  Be sure to leave a comment today and you may win this terrific Mystery Lovers Kitchen tote bag.  Be lucky and have fun!

VICTORIA ABBOTT aka Mary Jane Maffini: My husband mentioned recently (in the kindest possible way) that when I cook, it's as though there's been an explosion in the kitchen. I would have taken great offense if a) it wasn't true some of the time and b) he didn't always volunteer to do the clean up.  He added, "It's mostly when you bake."




The evidence was clear.

I do my best to be neat, line up the ingredients in the order of use and put each one away when it's been added.  But all it takes it a few extra visiting dogs or hot and cold running relatives or (shudder) CNN blaring in the background and all is lost.  Until the clean-up crew, that is.  Except for the time there was tea on the ceiling.

For some reason, my hubby and my brother are both creative but neat cooks.  Me, not so much.

Of course, we're almost always happy with the results and the kitchen does recover whether I do it or he does.  Still, I dream of a neater future.

So what about you? Or you precise and disciplined? Or more like these exploding stars? Do you pick some dishes because they don't make a mess?  Pull up a chair and share your tips and your foibles. That's what we do around the kitchen table.

Leave  a comment and you may be the winner of TOO HOT TO HANDLE: a Fiona Silk mystery in which there's lots of chaos in the kitchen.  Be very afraid! 



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From DarylMy kitchen is often a mess when I cook.  I do my best to keep it tidy but I simply can't. I stack things
The BEFORE picture!  HA!
up. I set them in the right order. And still I feel crowded. I've got the cutting board here, the mixing bowl there. I recall a lovely disaster at Thanksgiving--our first year in our new house in Los Angeles--and I wasn't comfortable with the oven and stove and the layout. It takes time to do the dance, you know?  Anyway, my stepdaughter wanted to learn to make mashed potatoes. With all 14 of the family hovering in the kitchen!!!  I got distracted. The pot of boiling milk and potatoes boiled over. What a mess! Plus I dropped a tray of stuffing on the floor. My nephew laughed his head off!  Rarely do they see me flustered, but that night - oy!



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Linda here:
 I like to think of myself as being neat, tidy and well-organized. Okay, I like to think a lot of things about myself but a lot of it isn't true--sexy, svelte, super smart...you get the picture. So, this question that Victoria poses is very disturbing. I have to 'fess up and come clean, because it's a sure thing my kitchen counters won't be after a cooking session. And don't get me started on baking because that's when the flour settles like that fine coating of dust when drywall is being erected. I actually start out on the right track. I try to pre-measure or slice and dice everything possible so those dishes can be stacked out of sight in the sink or maybe even washed and dried. It's when the nitty-gritty starts and the clock is ticking that my cleaning karma disappears. I like to believe that my problem is not enough counter space but that's not going to change, so I better change me. Start with all un-essentials cleared away; stick to the allotted space; do only one thing at a time (a biggy for me to change); and, then proceed in an orderly progression through the directions. Easy, right? So what goes wrong?




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From SheilaI'm just back from Ireland, where my kitchen is about the same size as the one I had in my first apartment a very long time ago. A stove (or cooker) and a shiny new stainless steel sink eat up about half the counter space, and a microwave claimed the corner. So I have to think very strategically about what needs to be chopped and ready to go into a dish, and I definitely have to clean up as I work, and put things away (in the teeny-tiny refrigerator). The stovetop has flat electric burners, so I have to be careful about putting anything down on them because you can't tell if they're still hot. And I still haven't figured out how recycling works over there. Yes, there is recycling--that's the good news--but in which categories? And I swear my handyman said something about tossing the biological (food) by-products out into the back yard for the local animals. I'm not sure whether he was kidding. I did make an effort to hang up as many cooking items as possible, but it's still a challenge.



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the compost pile last night after soup-making

LUCY BURDETTE: Hmmm, I bet my hub would disagree on this, as he's usually the clean-up batter--but I try to be neat! But cooking can be a lot of work, right? Especially if you're using a food processor and a chopping board and more than one pan at a time, which is usually the case. And tasting and photographing...good heavens, that's what sous-chefs are for, isn't it MJ?



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PEG COCHRAN:  I find that my mess tends to expand depending on the space available to me. In my first house, the kitchen was small and the counter space limited. But then we moved and I had a much bigger kitchen and more counter space and my mess expanded like my stomach after Thanksgiving dinner. Speaking of Thanksgiving dinner...that one meal creates more mess than anything else I cook all year. Pots, pots, pots absolutely everywhere. Every single serving dish soaking in the sink, every kitchen utensil spread around the counter. It makes me shudder just to think about it!



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LESLIE BUDEWITZ: I'm definitely a clean-as-you-go cook. Fortunately, so is Mr. Right, since we often cook together in a small kitchen with one sink. No doubt my tendency toward kitchen tidiness came from my mother, a woman with a strong innate desire for order! Since I've been part of MLK, photographing recipes as I cook, I've returned to her habit of getting out all the ingredients before any chopping or mixing. And with the exception of the lovely farmhouse I lived in for 8 years, remodeling as I went along, I've always had a small kitchen. 

But I will admit one foible that leads to extra dishes: When a salad, a vegetable dish, or a casserole involves a lot of ingredients to be mixed together, I consistently fail to properly estimate the size of bowl needed. I might switch bowls, or pots, twice to get the right one. Happily, we share the dishwashing, too!




CLEO COYLE: We have a New York City kitchen (yep, tiny!) but we love to cook, so Marc and I learned the hard way to clean as we go. Not that a mountain of mess isn't possible on a busy day, it just leaves us with zero counter space and pots and pans piled high as the Empire State building. 


Coffeehouse Mystery #1
Click here to learn more.
Truth is, our situation inspired us to write a similar one for our characters in our first Coffeehouse Mystery, On What Grounds. Our amateur sleuth, Clare, also has a compact New York kitchen. When she attempts to fix a special dinner for her young adult daughter and the girl's new boyfriend, her ex-husband insists on "helping." The result is a little crazy and a little comical. But you have to have a sense of humor when you measure counter space by inches instead of feet. Happy cooking, everyone. May your servings be big and your mess be small! Love, Cleo




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KRISTA DAVIS: I'm so glad that I'm not the only one. But Mary Jane, I truly can't recall anything landing on the ceiling! I have a bad habit of forgetting about rice, which means it boils over. It's not so much that I forget, but I walk away to write and my mind is elsewhere. I now keep a timer on my desk to remind me that I need to check on it.

You never know who might be in the kitchen sink!
I try to be organized but somehow everything spreads. And countless other items land on my kitchen island adding to the clutter. All the vitamins and jars of dog cookies, for instance. Right now there are seven giant yellow squashes taking up a lot of real estate on the counter.

Unless it's something that needs to be rolled out (let's not even mention huge quantities of Christmas cookies—oy!), I'm least messy when baking. I learned a long time ago to put out an old dinner plate, a large spoon and a knife. That gives me a place for the paper that wraps the butter, eggshells, and all kinds of utensils that need to be washed, and keeps me from running around the kitchen for every little thing.

One of my very favorite cakes is Dobostorte. It's seven layers and a labor of love, so I don't bake it often. But those seven layers require a lot of room!


Don't forget to leave  a comment! You may be the winner of TOO HOT TO HANDLE: a Fiona Silk mystery in which there's lots of chaos in the kitchen.  Be very afraid!  
(PS remember to leave your email address so we can contact you if you win.)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Around the Kitchen Table: Family Food Traditions and #Book #Giveaway

We're sitting around our kitchen table with cups of coffee and a delicious coffee cake. Pull up a chair and join us!

Do you have food traditions in your family? 


PEG:  Our family had holiday food traditions but other “food traditions” as well.  Saturday was ALWAYS steak night.  We never had steak any other night and even now, as an adult, I often don’t think to grill a steak on any day but Saturday. 

Sundays we either had chicken (usually roasted) or, if we went to my grandmother’s, we had pasta with her fabulous pasta sauce.  Since we were Catholic, and this was before the rules changed, we had fish or a non-meat dish on Friday nights.  If my father wasn’t home for dinner, it was often tuna salad. 

I used to spend one week every summer staying with my (other) grandmother.  My first night there she always made my favorite meal—potato soup and what we called “German pancakes.”  The German pancakes were actually crepes filled with cottage cheese sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. 

My husband and I have a few traditions other than just the steak-on-Saturday one.  Friday night is for “fun food” – like tacos, pizza, take-out Chinese, sushi, etc.  And Sunday night is usually for “comfort” food like shepherd’s pie or roast pork with mashed potatoes.   


GIVEAWAY!!

Sowed to Death comes out tomorrow!  I am giving away one copy to someone who comments below! Let us know what food traditions (if any) you follow in your family.



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LESLIE: If we messed with the menu for our annual Holiday Brunch, I suspect half our friends wouldn't come! But beyond holiday menus, we've got just a few customs. Sunday morning breakfast is nearly always baked bacon, eggs, and muffins or scones. Sometimes I bake, sometimes I defrost -- Erin's Sunday Morning Scones (from Butter Off Dead, my second Food Lovers' Village Mystery) and Krista's Blueberry Sour Cream Coffee Cake both freeze exceptionally well! The eggs might be scrambled, an omelet, or Omelet Muffins. Pizza night isn't as predictable as it was when Mr. Right worked in another town twice a week and got home too late on Thursday to help in the kitchen. (Now that he works at home full time, his Thursday night tradition is staying up late to watch martial arts movies with the cat. Who knew cats admire both Bruce Lee and Jet Li?)

But while we might not repeat a lot of the same foods, we do traditionally cook together. Who takes the lead depends on the recipe---he handles meats and I handle baking, although he often makes his own huckleberry birthday pie! We both took the knife skills class at the community college culinary arts school, so we can share chopping duty. And we both take direction well, thank goodness!


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SHEILA: My mother was a competent cook but not a very imaginative one. Our meals were usually meat/starch/veg, with nothing as exotic as a sauce (although there was always plenty of butter!). I don't think she tried to make a homemade pasta sauce until I was in high school, and shrimp wiggle was a staple: frozen shrimp plus Campbell's frozen cream of shrimp soup, heated together and served over rice. Sunday dinners with the grandparents were always a standing rib roast with potatoes. Would you believe I've never attempted to make one myself? Of course, now you need a second mortgage to buy one.

But it wasn't that she wasn't interested in food, because she did love restaurants. Since my grandmother lived in Manhattan, those restaurants were often rather nice (which was wasted on me since until college I was a very picky eater, but at least I knew such places existed). When we were young, lunch (while shopping at the big name department stores) was often at The Women's Exchange on Fifth Avenue, a rather odd place that served such things as corned been hash patties, and had a sale room upstairs for hand-made crafts made by impoverished but genteel ladies, which accounts for the many embroidered pincushions I still have. Dinner in the city was usually at Trader Vic's, where we always had the Pu-Pu Platter. I'm not sure what heinous acts my mother thought my sister and I would commit in a nice restaurant, but I know that as an adult I took my own daughter to all and any restaurants (including a couple in Paris), and she never made a scene.



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LUCY: I think I said this before, but I believe my mother and Sheila's mother were separated at birth! The one every-week menu at our house occurred on Sunday nights, when we would eat cheese toast, baked beans from a can, and homemade potato salad on TV trays in front of the television. We loved it! And I served it to my husband, and our kids as they were growing up. 

Now my menus are all over the place, but the one thing that cannot be altered is the chocolate cake that most people want for their birthdays. Honestly, two things have changed my cooking a lot over the last few years–joining Mystery lovers kitchen (because we have to come up with new recipes all the time), and the necessity for me to eat a low-sodium diet. So nothing is set in stone these days, which is probably good for the old brain, right?


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DARYL: I can't remember any "traditions" other than Christmas, and that was steadfast: roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, stringed beans with butter. I added to the tradition when I grew up by making sure we always had a yule log for dessert. However...it's summer, so let me share one of our summer traditions. We would go to Lake Tahoe for two weeks and my mother always served peaches with milk and sugar for breakfast. We adored mornings! We always had scrambled eggs. And for lunch, it was always tomato soup and grilled cheese or cracker and cheese. We barbecued at night. Always barbecued. It could be anything from ribs to burgers to steak, but we always barbecued and sat out by the barbecue having beverages and snacks and just lapping up the beautiful smells and sounds of Tahoe at night. These are some of my all-time favorite memories!



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VICTORIA aka MJ: I love hearing about everyone's traditions and am not above stealing ideas. Peaches with milk and sugar? Mmmm. If there's a family get together in winter, there will almost always be lasagna (which my mother-in-law always made and now my daughter and granddaughter also make as do we) but this is summertime, so it's a grilling tradition in the warm months. Although there's an out of town wedding this year, four generations usually gather at MJ's house for Canada Day. We use our big green egg, which is a type of smoker and everyone thinks that's fun. The tradition, aside from 'boys' around the grill, is that everyone brings a salad. The family favorites are bean salad, lentil salad and potato salad. I can't imagine a get together without them. Now, coming in my next post, there will be an awesome new broccoli salad, from Victoria's sister. 

Despite the fact that it has rained throughout the last four gatherings, we stubbornly continue to grill, peering at the rain through the windows. Like in Roberta's family, there is an expectation of chocolate cake, which we make with mocha buttercream icing or whipping cream with Kahlua. Sometimes it's layer cake and sometimes babycakes. Same one-bowl recipe though. We swear by buttermilk and cocoa.


Have a fabulous 4th of July and a great summer! We hope you all enjoy your family favorites. Come by and share what they are.

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CLEO: I grew up in a big Italian family with so many food traditions I'd quickly run out of space listing them here, so I'll limit today's memories to this season! And summer was all about my dad's garden...

During the Depression, my father's father kept his large family fed by working a small farm from which they sold produce. Every spring, my dad helped plant 2,000 tomato plants for his family, so he had no problem tending the 100 tomato plants that he sowed for our own little family. Fresh spaghetti sauce was always part of that yield, and for those of you who've made sauce from fresh tomatoes, you know the very smell of the sauce cooking is like nothing else on earth--and the taste has an amazing vibrancy that you simply cannot get from canned tomatoes or jarred sauces. Sadly, I lost my dad four years ago this week. He went into the hospital right after Father's Day and never came out again. Now every summer, I make this delicious Meatless Italian Spaghetti Sauce from Fresh Tomatoes. The heavenly smell that fills my house always brings back those sweet memories of my father, his garden, and my childhood home.


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KRISTA: Wow, Cleo! I can't imagine 100 tomato plants, much less 2000!

In my family, we always have a traditional Christmas goose with German potato dumplings and a yule log for dessert. The yule log was often requested as a birthday cake, so my mom called it a Lincoln Log, which made it appropriate any time of year.

When I lived in Northern Virginia, just across the river from Washington, DC, it was a tradition to watch the 4th of July fireworks from the Virginia side of the Potomac river near the Pentagon. People bring radios and everyone tunes in to the broadcast that is synchronized with the fireworks. It's always wonderful! (For anyone planning to go, be sure to park your car headed in the direction you need to go when you leave. Saves a lot of time getting out of there.) Everyone goes early to claim a great spot so we always brought a picnic dinner. It became a tradition for me to bring Barley Corn Salad. For some reason, it's very popular with men and I actually got annual requests for it. There was also the year I made my own salsa and burned my hands in the process. Ouch! Wear gloves when handling hot peppers. 

Oh, and every New Year's Eve, I make cheese and beef fondue for my friends. It's the perfect leisurely meal to linger over while catching up.




LINDA:   I like your New Year's tradition, Krista! My foodie memories from childhood aren't too exciting for the everyday fare. My Mom did the basics and although it was good, there was no flare. Except at Christmas! She went all out with traditional Swedish dishes, some I've tried to re-create (not as successfully) and others, I just long for. 

Christmas Eve always, always featured Lutefisk, the infamous white fish that's been re-hydrated in lye. Yes, lye. I remember the weeks-long process. That was served with a white sauce, perhaps to mask the taste, boiled potatoes and a veggie, also boiled. It took many years before I actually started looking forward to the Lutefisk. My sister still shudders at the thought. 

And, of course, there was tons of baking -- pepperkakka (ginger cookies), sugar cookies shaped as an 'S' (for years I thought it was because that was what our last name started with -- turns out, not so), cookies with jelly centers, and my favorite, Swedish Coffee Bread. That's the one I faithfully try to make every year. Sometimes, it doesn't turn out so well, but all times, it brings back those wonderful memories.


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Do you have food traditions in your family? 
Share with us in the comments below!


Monday, April 3, 2017

Around the kitchen table with the authors at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen



LINDA: We're back at the kitchen table and you know, we're having a lot of fun doing this monthly joint blog. From your responses, it seems that most of you are enjoying it also. We certainly hope that's the case.Today, our topic is one that is especially dear to my heart, what do you cook when you don't feel like cooking?

If I'm in that no-cooking frame of mind and ravenous, I opt for cheese (I usually have several varieties on hand at any given time), bread or crackers, and some wine. Ideal, tasty, easy and fast. But if I can hold off several minutes, I'll do a grilled cheese sandwich using my panini maker. As I mentioned, I always have some cheese on hand and these days, following a tip from fellow MLK Mary Jane Maffini, I slice a green apple to add to the grilled cheese. It adds a satisfying crispness and acidity to this old standby.

I will admit that it's easier to opt not to cook for those who don't have to worry about any other mouths to feed. I sometimes take it one step further, and like Lynn Johnston, the creator of that wonderful cartoon strip For Better or Worse, admits to doing now that she's on her own -- I eat, standing up at the kitchen counter. How freeing is that. And healthy, too, the standing up part.
The key phrase is: no cooking, no clean-up. Now, that's easy.


LESLIE: You mean, besides order pizza? Back when when one of the local restaurants had a take-out fridge, I picked up ribs for Mr. Right and crab cakes for me one evening, and mentioned to the chef-owner that I just didn't feel like cooking. He replied that he never felt that way -- which clearly means he had the right job!

On those nights, our go-to is usually spaghetti and meatballs. A couple of times a year, Mr. Right makes a good-sized batch of meatballs, using ground sirloin, Parmesan, Panko breadcrumbs, and red pepper flakes. He wraps them in plastic, 4-6 in a package, and tosses them all in a Zip-loc in the freezer. Heat the meatballs in the microwave, boil up some pasta, open a jar of marinara sauce and a bottle of red wine, and voila -- dinner!

But I do miss Chef Neil's crab cakes!

LUCY: Oh how I love grilled cheese--I've started adding sliced avocados, and the last time I made this, used both Swiss cheese and some fresh mozzarella. I make these in a frying pan with a little butter and olive oil--delicious! And we love crab cakes too, Leslie! And are fortunate to have a wonderful fish market in Key West that makes them to die for.

But if it's summertime, and the tomatoes are in season, my go-to no-cook recipe is chunks of tomatoes marinated with fresh mozzarella chunks, strips of fresh basil, red pepper flakes, and good olive oil. When it's time for dinner, cook the best pasta (I order from Eataly), sprinkle with parmesan, and dump on the tomatoes. Heaven, and so easy! (If you aren't worried about sodium, a few kalamata olives are a good addition too.)

SHEILA: My husband takes the easy way out: he makes Breakfast for Dinner, which is bacon, scrambled eggs, and toast or English muffins. My grandmother, who never learned to cook, settled for cereal and ice cream for supper (a real treat when my sister and I were kids!). Me, I have the most ridiculously well-stocked pantry I've ever seen, but there are days when I can't figure out what I want (well, maybe a French chef to drop in and throw together something, and of course clean up afterwards).


I'm fond of marinades and rubs, and things like fish which cook quickly, or spatchcocked chicken that I can just stick on a pan and bake for a while. But the most recent go-to meal is pasta. These days our market is carrying nice fresh ravioli and tortellini, which are easy (boil water, add pasta, drain--then fancy it up with whatever you have on hand) and taste really good.

LESLIE: Is there anyone who doesn't occasionally love breakfast for dinner? I was probably forty before I realized that when my mother made it for us as kids, it was usually because she felt a little in need of comforting herself!


 VICTORIA/AKA MJ

The old jokes goes like this:  'Question What's the best things she makes for dinner?  Answer: Reservations. Sometimes, that's fun, but more often I don't feel going out any more than I feel like cooking. That 'don't feel like cooking thing' comes on quickly.  My favorite rescue is a quick saute with garlic, parsley, lemon and raw peeled shrimp.  From freezer to ta table takes just a few minutes. This is so easy and it feels special.



But if it's confession time and it's just us friends here, then I'll admit that sometimes I heat up a can of mushroom soup and hide the evidence.  I may also be wearing pyjamas.  Shhh.

DARYL:

Lucy, I can never thank you enough for introducing me to Eataly. Whenever I go to NY, I have to stop in!  It's such a phenomenal store!  Linda, I, too, always have cheese around and gluten-free bread in the freezer. I love my panini grill!!! So that's definitely a good easy choice. I love cheese and wine and some sliced veggies or fruit as a meal. Simple. Slice it. Set the goodies on a napkin. Wash the knife. Done.  I'm all for taking whatever is in the fridge and making a smorgasbord, too.  Hardboiled egg, some lettuce with a drizzle of dressing, slices of cheese, and hopefully I have an avocado. When in doubt and out of everything in the refrigerator, scrambled eggs!  This [see picture] is a pretty pathetic looking empty refrigerator, isn't it? Guess what I ate last night?  LOL  FYI, I don't like to eat standing up. I still like a meal where I sit and listen to the news or go outside and listen to the birds or read a book. It depends on my mood.

KRISTA:
I confess that I'm a sandwich girl when I'm being lazy. Ham, or tuna, or peanut butter and jam are what I reach for when I want a quick and easy dinner. I have been known to make omelets or German pancakes, so I guess I do breakfast for dinner sometimes, too. Not very chic, but true.


CLEO: Marc and I are sandwich fans, too, Krista. We like to do Italian cold cuts with fresh lettuce, tomato, and banana peppers piled on crusty rolls. Or we'll put slices of salami on a plate with fresh mozzarella and drizzle it all with olive oil. Hot dogs are another quickie meal for us, and we have fun tarting them up with chopped onions and relish, or a bit of leftover chili or taco meat. Marc's Danger Dogs, on the stove or on the grill, are always guilty pleasures. Fast Tex-Mex is a quesadilla with whatever cheese is on hand with salsa and sour cream. And there's always good old peanut butter with honey, jam, or bananas for a no-fuss, no cook meal. Fun post and great ideas all!


PEG
I'm getting some great ideas from you guys! Sheila, spatchcocking a chicken and baking it is not "not cooking."  Just an FYI.  If I'm going to "sort of" cook I'll do pasta with clam sauce.  Saute garlic in olive oil, throw in two cans of chopped clams, heat and eat. If you want to get real fancy, add some chopped parsley.  But "not cooking" does not include washing and chopping parsley in my opinion.  I can't do pasta sauce in a jar--just can't. Unless it's Rao's but if I'm buying that I might as well buy a steak!  The price!  If I'm really not cooking and there aren't any leftovers in the freezer, I'll make us BLTs. 




How about you? 

What do you cook when you don't feel like cooking?

Let us know in the comments below...