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

Monday, October 2, 2017

Around the Kitchen Table -- Comfort Food


LESLIE BUDEWITZ:  The seasons are changing, and with it, what we eat. No more fresh peaches or berries. Up here in the north, the pots of herbs are coming inside, there's a colander filled with the last tomatoes on the counter, and the deer and bears have left a few apples on our ancient Red Delicious tree. It's the season for comfort food.

A few years ago, a friend went into rapture, fantasizing about a fresh ragu -- an herby tomato sauce -- simmering on her stove, and called it the ultimate comfort food. I laughed -- to me, the ultimate comfort food is mac 'n cheese, smooth, creamy, maybe with a few herbs and toasted breadcrumbs for crunch, but none of the spicy bursts of flavor of a rich tomato sauce. I gave that conversation to my girl Erin in the Food Lovers' Village Mysteries, but she plays the part of the surprised Italian girl who goes to college and discovers that to others, comfort food was grilled cheese, custard, or bread pudding. Pumpkin muffins. Breakfast for dinner. (I swear, I was probably 40 when it occurred to me that my mother made pancakes and sausage for dinner occasionally not as a treat for the kids, but because she needed a little mothering herself!)

What says comfort food to you, dear readers? Include your email address in your comment for a chance to win a terrific Mystery Lovers' Kitchen tote bag! (US and Canada addresses only, please.)



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Daryl: I've made it very clear, Leslie, in post after post that grilled cheese and mac and cheese say comfort to me.  I love adding all sorts of goodies to both. To grilled cheese? Avocado, bacon, shrimp. To mac and cheese, bacon. When is bacon not a comfort food?  I adore meatloaf packed with herbs and onions. This simply reminds me of my mother. She made a dynamite meatloaf, and her recipe (tweaked) is still what I use. My husband loved my meatloaf. And last but not least, ice cream! Any time of the day and night. I don't care how cold it is outside. I love ice cream. Which is probably why I like to make it. I love the sound of the churn. I love the aroma of vanilla and whatever else I add to the ice cream. And I like the way ice cream "chills" my stomach. It's like a
natural "anti-inflammatory."  LOL  Ah, comfort food. Do we need autumn and winter to enjoy it? Nope. Year-round comfort food is definitely a necessity.


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Sheila: When I started thinking about my go-to comfort foods, I realized I had a few semi-scientific pieces of evidence. I've been collecting recipes and cookbooks for a long time, and the first clue is to look at my well-used cookbooks and find the pages with the most grease stains. My first copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking has quite a few pages like that, mainly for beef and chicken dishes. (I could use the same test on the cookbooks I inherited from my mother: the recipe for chocolate sauce in her 1948 edition of Fanny Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cook Book may lead the pack.)

But a more important clue is how often I've made a particular dish over the years, no matter what the source. For that one, I think Apple Goody stands out. It's a recipe that comes from the mother of one of my long-ago roommates, back in the 1970s. I knew her mother for years, and I still get together regularly with my friend. The recipe is simple: apples, cinnamon, flour, sugar (brown and white) and butter. Bake and enjoy. I can't begin to count the number of times I've made that, both for guests or to take to a pot-luck, or just to eat myself. I even included it in one of my Orchard Mysteries.

So while the collected works of Julia Child are dear to my heart, Apple Goody is the all-time winner.


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Linda:  When I think of something comforting, I think of my Mom. I may have mentioned that she wasn't a great cook but what she made was all we needed, or thought we needed, at the time. So I'd say my comfort food is applesauce. She'd make it from scratch and I can still remember the wonderful aroma that filled the kitchen. She'd team it up with pork chops or baked beans. Often, when I wasn't feeling well, it would be an entire meal in itself. On toast, was also a good choice.
 It makes me think of being tucked up in a soft bed under a warm comforter or sitting on the couch while a storm rages outside. Of course, I'm always eating in these thoughts -- applesauce, it would seem.

I have to admit, I've never made applesauce but obviously, with such good memories attached, I should make the effort real soon. Maybe you can supply me with a tasty recipe, Sheila! 



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Krista: Linda, I remember my mom grating apples as a home remedy when I was a kid. She made applesauce, too, but it's the raw grated apples that I recall because I never could figure out why they were supposed cure anything.

Mac and cheese is a favorite comfort food for me. We never had it growing up. Never!  I don't often make it now, but I do love that creaminess.

Like Daryl, I'm a complete fool for ice cream, but mostly in the summer. As the weather cools, my consumption drops off until the special flavors come around for the holidays. Peppermint anyone?

But I'll go out on a limb here and suggest something that I have been known to whip up very late on cold nights-warm chocolate pudding. Pudding is fine when it's cold, but there's nothing quite as soothing as warm pudding, eaten straight from the pot.  


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Peg: Like Krista, we never had mac and cheese growing up! I don't really remember any comfort foods from my childhood--the association is really with things I make now like shepherd's pie and sauce bolognese and pretty much any kind of soup except tomato (which I don't care for!).  I could eat a whole bowl of mashed potatoes for dinner--that's comfort to me.  And pair them with roast chicken, and I'm in heaven!  

Lucy: I love love macaroni and cheese, but eating salty stuff is a no-no for me right now. On Sundays as a kid, we had cheese toast, baked beans, and potato salad on TV trays in front of whatever program was on--that's comfort food to me. All those carbs! These days, how about a nice peach or cherry cobbler, right out of the oven, with whipped cream?? Or a chicken pot pie?

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Victoria:  I find this whole discussion very comforting.  Food in general offers comfort to me, but there's something special about the smell of fresh bread or biscuits, warm from the oven and served up with butter. I love it when they area bit savory, like these with chives. There should be a pot of tea nearby and someone to chat with, over the warm biscuits.





Cleo: All of your comfort foods sound good to me! I'll add homemade cookies to that list...
Angel Wings (aka) Italian Bow Tie Cookies
For the recipe, click here.




As a little girl, I loved helping my Italian-born Aunt Mary make what she called "Italian Bow Tie" cookies. Some of you may remember them as "Angel Wings" or Chrusciki (the Polish version). In Hungary, they are called Csöröge. In France, Bugnes Lyonnaises. In the Ukraine, Verhuny. In any language, they are delicious and sweet comfort for those of us who remember eating them as children.

May you, too, eat with comfort and joy!






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What says comfort food to you, dear readers? 





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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...






Monday, March 6, 2017

Around the Kitchen Table with Mystery Lovers Kitchen Authors + book #giveaway!

Every few weeks, we're having a new Around the Kitchen Table discussion. We hope you'll like getting to know us as we have a little chat!

Today, we're talking about our love affair with reading, when it began, why we write.

BUT FIRST - new RELEASES plus two GIVEAWAYS below.  
Both Sheila and Linda have new releases!!  Congrats, ladies.


And now, let's chat!

From DARYL:

One set of my mystery bookshelves
I wasn't a reader until the 4th grade. I mean, sure, I COULD read, but I didn't like it. I was an active girl. I wanted to be outside, running, playing. I also enjoyed math and cooking. But reading? Yech. Then I got sick with the measles and I was bedridden for a week. My mother worked. My parents were divorced. Back then, latchkey was not a forbidden word. I was home alone until my mom came home at lunch to check on me. "I am so bored," I told her. So she gave me her set of Nancy Drew books (all 37 of them) and said she thought I might enjoy them. Honestly? (Ugh!) Luckily, I picked one up...and I read all 37 of them in a week. I was hooked. I tried my hand at writing one six months later. That never saw the light of day, but it was my first inspiration to become a writer. I'm so thankful!  (Sadly, I do not know what happened to that set. I would imagine they were sold along with all my comic books when my mom and sisters and I had to downsize. Sigh!)



From SHEILA:

I can't remember not being able to read (and wanting to!). The first book I remember reading on my own is Harold and the Purple Crayon, neck and neck with my battered copy of Read Me More Stories, an anthology which was given to me on my third birthday (it includes an early version of "The Runaway Bunny"). It has memorable black and white illustrations, and I added a few of my own. It wasn't long after that my mother got me a library card, and we would go pick out books every week or two. One small misunderstanding: I thought the books were mine to keep and stuck them under my bed. It took my mother a while to catch on. Clearly my passion for book-collecting started early!

From DARYL:

Sheila, I remember my first library card, too. I did love going to the library and picking out books. Wonder why it took me so long to fall in "love" with reading. Hmm.

From LESLIE:

I'm the youngest child by 9 years, so as a kid, it seemed to me like everyone else was always reading. Naturally, I wanted to read, too. The first books I devoured were The Happy Hollisters and The Bobbsey Twins. They went to the seashore! (No seashores in Montana!) They found clues in old mailboxes and decrepit buildings! Much as I loved those books, it was probably Harriet the Spy who made me want to be a writer -- I remember sitting in my bedroom with my notebook, looking out the window, hoping something would happen "out there" that I could write about. I'm eight in this photo -- could that be Nancy Drew in my hands?


From LINDA: 

I hear you, Leslie. I had an older sister, 14 years older, so I grew up almost an only child. I had a wonderful fantasy life and reading fed it. We had a lot of books in the house but mainly in Swedish, so I dove into the popular kids books of the time - starting with the Golden Books, and then, The Bobbsey Twins, and Charlotte's Web. And I loved horses, so I read Black Beauty, Misty of Chincoteague, My Friend Flicka, and all of the Black Stallion books. Then, I decided to write a novel...about a young girl, oddly enough same age as me, who lived on a ranch, and had a horse. The only mystery is why I still have it in my drawer.



From LUCY

Oh don't throw that away Linda--it's precious history! I'm so sorry I can't find my first short story ever--something happens to a girl and she's unhappy and so runs to the top of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, soon followed by her dream boyfriend, Micky Dolenz. That's right, Micky Dolenz of The Monkees LOL. That could be worth a lot in blackmail, don't you think?

I have loved to read as long as I can remember, and the first book I remember owning was called THE SCARY THING by Laura Bannon. My older sister and I (11 months apart), would come home from school and go to our rooms and read until dinner. Certainly Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys (stolen from my younger brother) and yes, the black stallion books, and hundreds more. I thank my parents for the love of reading--they read to us every night and they themselves were always reading. The best gift ever!


From KRISTA

I can't remember not reading, either. I was a huge Nancy Drew fan. In fact, I remember my mom shooing me out of the house to play. I took Nancy with me and read sitting on the lawn. I also had an older sibling. When I had the chicken pox (there seem to be some themes here!) my brother was going out one night. My mom gave him some money and asked him to pick up a book for me to read. I must have been around seven or eight. He brought home a collection of short stories that a seventeen-year-old-boy would like. It included Edgar Allen Poe and, most memorably, The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As you might imagine, they were a bit grisly for a kid. I read every single one of them.

And PS to Lucy—after attending a performance of The Point, I rode home on the Tube seated just in front of Micky Dolenz.


From CLEO:

Mickey Dolenz! (Krista and Lucy: Marc and I are both unabashed fans of Mickey and The Monkees!) Okay, back to the subject. I loved reading all your memories of reading! I'll just add that my own connection with books began as a newborn. No, I couldn't read at the age of 0, but... My sister, Grace, was four years old and loved the story of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland so much that my parents decided to name me Alice (Cleo, of course, is my pen name). My next "chapter" on books came via my Dad. Our small Western Pennsylvania town had no library, but that didn't stop my father from driving me and my sister to the Big Green Bookmobile every Wednesday evening when it pulled into the Acme parking lot. Thank goodness (and it was literally goodness) for libraries and librarians. We didn't have the money to buy, but we sure had the will to borrow, which sparked a lifelong passion for stories and a fulfilling vocation in telling them. So here's to the librarians...and all those bookmobiles that rolled into kids' imaginations with hundreds of worlds on wheels.


 VICTORIA ABBOTT: 

Victoria here! One of the fun things about being a mother-daughter team is that we read together. I always loved reading with my mom..  We still love (and share with children)  the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel. Here's Frog and Toad all year, a charming and funny look at the two friends through the seasons. These books are easy to read to pre-schoolers and great fun for young readers.





 MJ: The tragedy of my early life was when our public library burned to the ground when I was seven, putting an end to my access to the 'fairy tale' books from many countries. I'd had enough time to get hooked though, and switched to MacLeod's bookstore and Hardy Boys books. Now and then, books were treasured gifts:




I still have my tattered copy of Anne of Avonlea, the follow-up to Anne of Green Gables, a gift from my fourth grade teacher. I read all Lucy Maud Montgomery's magical stories of life in PEI.

From DARYL:  MJ, I can't imagine the horror of losing a library to a fire! How horrible. But I'm jealous that you still have childhood books. I have The Jungle Book, Robinson Crusoe, Dr. Doolittle, and a few others, all of which were my grandmother's.  The bindings are very fragile! The artwork in a few is amazing!








So, delightful fans, how did your love of reading begin?

GIVEAWAY!


Linda and Sheila are each giving away one of their mysteries this week. 
Two commenters will win! 
So remember to leave your email so they can contact you by Friday. 






Monday, February 6, 2017

AROUND THE KITCHEN TABLE -- Our first cookbooks


LESLIE: Today, we're starting something new in the Mystery Lovers' Kitchen. On the first Monday of the month, we’ll gather around the Kitchen table to chat about something on our minds—food-related, because we’re all obsessed with cooking up recipes as well as crime! Today, we’re remembering our early cookbooks. We hope you’ll join the conversation in the comments.

As a teenager, I worked at Waldenbooks, and on September 8, 1978—I dated the bookplate—I used my employee discount on The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two. The author, Anna Thomas, traveled widely in Europe and beyond, then created vegetarian versions of favorite dishes. Opened up my little palate, I’ll guarantee you! We still adore the salad torcoloti, and I used her curry and garam masala blends as the starting point for my own, in the Spice Shop Mysteries.

A few months later, I picked up Laurel’s Kitchen, the first cookbook to delve into the science and nutrition of vegetarian cooking. I still consult the tables of cooking times for grains and beans, and make the vegetarian chili often. Now I wish I’d sprung for the hardcover, but at the time, the 3.95 paperback was all I could manage!

Actually, the first cookbook I ever bought was probably this copy of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, my mother’s Christmas wish. There’s no inscription or, oddly, a publication date, but I’m guessing 1976. It lives in my kitchen now, and while I don’t use it much, it isn’t going anywhere for a long time.


One small selection of my collection
DARYL:  I will never forget my first cookbook.  I still have it. The Gourmet Cookbook, volume 1. I started cooking way back when - I mean way back. I sold pies around my neighborhood when was 7. Chocolate pudding pies with whipped creamed topping. I made dinners. I designed menus. I played "restaurant" with my sisters. In high school I became more serious about learning to cook. Not just the dishes my mother or father made - yes, my dad loved to make Crepe Suzettes and Sunday omelets and barbecue anything - but I wanted to make things that were "gourmet." With sauces and exotic flavors. I ordered The Gourmet Magazine and challenged myself to make one new recipe every month. When I realized I could "do" it, I decided to save my allowance and purchase the cookbook. It wasn't cheap! It is still a go-to cookbook for me. For so many items: biscuits, beef stew, roast beef. The book is oil-marked and milk-marked and pie filling-marked.  I wasn't a neat cook. LOL But I don't think the book cares. It knows it has been well loved.  I will forever be grateful to this cookbook for inspiring me to think bigger when it came to the kitchen.

As for cookbooks in general - they are the reason I decided to write the Cookbook Nook Mysteries. When I stepped into a culinary bookstore and drank in the wondrous array of cookbooks at my fingertips, I fell in lust. That's the moment I knew I had to immerse myself in that world for one of my mysteries.


SHEILA:  My mother was a good plain cook--meat, starch and veg, plus dessert--so I grew up knowing the basics, like how to boil water. But my mother's idea of creative cooking was to add Vermouth to whatever meat dish she was making. Her cookbook collection was kind of pitiful: it might have filled one bookshelf. I still have the copy of The Joy of Cooking that she must have gotten when she married.

That was fine, because when I was a child, I was not a courageous eater. I had to separate each of the components of my dinner and consume each of them one at a time. I hated onions and mushrooms, and I never knew what garlic was (although I was fond of artichokes and asparagus, mostly because they were fun to eat). My grandmother, who lived in Manhattan, sometimes took me and my younger sister to lunch in what must have been some nice restaurants, but I have no memories of what I ate there.

It wasn't until I discovered Julia Child and Mastering the Art of French Cooking (whose co-author Simone Beck is often forgotten) that I realized what "real" cooking could be like. It was the first cookbook I bought, as a gift to myself when I graduated from college and moved into a small apartment with a kitchen that could fit in a closet. I still say, if you have only one cookbook, get this one. The recipes may have French names, but they work. Julia had a sense of humor and would insert comments like, "this may look curdled, but don't worry--it will smooth out later." Her ingredient proportions were generous, she used herbs liberally, and when she said a dish would serve four or six people, she was right--and they were for normal people with healthy appetites.

I still have that copy, and you can tell which are my favorite recipes by how greasy the pages are. When I married, my husband adopted some of the recipes as well, and still makes them. I even bought two copies (on sale) so I'd have back-up if the first one disintegrated into shreds. I don't know if I would have fallen in love with both cooking and eating if I hadn't found Julia Child.

BTW, we named our daughter Julia. Okay, maybe not solely for The French Chef, but that first Julia was in the back of my mind. And now my daughter makes croissants for a chain of coffee shops, and is learning to bake bread in large quantities. So maybe it rubbed off.


MARY JANE MAFFINI/VICTORIA ABBOTTt  When I got married, I was able to make tuna fish sandwiches (white bread only, no crusts) and I could fry chicken, with some singeing.  My mother-in-law was a wonderful cook and so was my mother so the time had come to pull up my socks. Things did not go well with the sock pulling.


I quickly came to hate cooking but I did like to laugh and was good at that.  Eventually I turned to Peg Bracken's popular (at the time) I Hate to Cook Book, a small and hilarious volume published in 1960.  There were enough 'keepers' in those pages to save me from daily mortification. Bracken was like having a friend in the kitchen: she didn't mind a trick or two and she was always ready for a joke.   The I Hate to Cook Book is still going strong and was reissued for its 50th Anniversary: it even has a Facebook Page!

After nearly fifty years, I still have my original  I Hate to Cook and still make a few of the recipes. Unfortunately, in the process I began to like cooking and then was forced to invest in more ambitious and heavier cookbooks like Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I never did master the art of French cooking, but thanks to the wit of Peg Bracken I learned to find the fun in the kitchen.  I did not name my daughter Peg, but you will notice I am still hanging around with another Peg who can be very funny.

A few years back, I decided to include the battered little blue book in a box headed for Goodwill.  But at the last minute, I realized there would never be a good reason to get rid of it.  We keep our friends!


PEG: Looks like Sheila and I both learned to cook from Julia Child and Simone Beck! I got a cookbook for a wedding present (1974) called Make It Now, Bake It Later. One recipe was for a casserole that included white bread and tiny canned shrimp.  Enough said!


KRISTA: Mary Jane, that's such a cute story. I never heard of that cookbook! My first cookbooks were from a collection that my mom bought at the grocery store. They came out one at a time, and she bought one every month. She had all of Julia Child's books, but they didn't have many pictures, which was very important to me as a kid. I read cookbooks by photo, not by recipe. I looked for those old cookbooks in my mom's house the other day but I fear they're long gone so I don't even know who published them.


LINDA: I love to laugh when I cook, Mary Jane. Helps get me through some dicey situations, so to speak. My first cookbook was a gift from my sister when I got married. She knows me so well! It's Craig Claiborne's Kitchen Basics. Up to this point, I hadn't cooked often at home and my roommate, when I'd moved out, was so good, I gladly left it up to her. So, having married another good cook, I felt the challenge to up my game. Craig helped me through it all...and still does. I can never remember equivalents when it comes to measurements, so I let Craig Claiborne handle that. 


LUCY: Your stories are so much fun ladies! Sheila, my mother cooked like yours, only not well. She didn't like desserts either--her idea of a company dessert recipe was red grapes in sour cream! Cooking for 6 after working all day was a chore, and kids underfoot did not help. So I didn't learn much about cooking growing up. But I did inherit her copy of The Joy of Cooking, and I would still have it if a puppy hadn't eaten the cover off. And then some Florida roaches began to nibble the pages, and that book became history. I still love the cookbook, though, and use it as a starting point for lots of recipes. Thanks, Mom!


CLEO: Like some of you out there, I come from a tradition of a little bit of this, a pinch of that--and a whole lot of garlic! My mom and her sister (who lived with us) were born in Italy and learned to cook from the women in their family. They had 3 x 5 cards with their handwritten notes, clipped items from newspapers, and tried out recipes printed on food packaging, but there were no cookbooks that I can recall.

Dad grew his own vegetables and made his own wine. His parents were dirt poor and his mom (my grandmother) baked bread every morning for the family in an outdoor oven (again, no cookbooks). My own first memory of written recipes came from beautiful, glossy recipe cards that Mom received through the mail—probably a bonus with a magazine subscription. I remember my eyes growing wide at the incredibly beautiful cakes, cookies, pies, and other foods in that stack of cards. Somewhere in that moment, the seeds were sown to try my own hand at food photography and recipe writing. Written or unwritten, it's clear the wish for all our recipes remains the same—that we eat with joy!
 

🍰

And you, readers? 
Do you remember your first cookbook? 
Is it still in your collection?




Krista's book, Mission Impawsible, launches tomorrow. She's giving away a copy today! We hope everyone will join the conversation and leave comments. If you would like to enter the contest for Mission Impawsible, leave your email address in your comment, please.