Showing posts with label Linda Wiken. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Linda Wiken. Show all posts

Monday, January 1, 2018

Around the Kitchen Table and Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Sometimes a new year brings changes and that's the case for Mystery Lovers' Kitchen. We're waving a teary farewell to Victoria Abbott. We hope she'll still drop by once in a while to tell us what she's doing. On a happier note, today we're welcoming Denise Swanson to the kitchen. Many of you know Denise from her beloved Scumble River Mysteries. She has a tasty new series coming, too. But we'll let her tell you all about that!

Today on Around the Kitchen Table, we're chatting about our "possibilities" for the upcoming year and maybe give you a few insights into what is coming up in the publishing world.

One commenter will win this cute Around the Kitchen with MLK authors tote bag. See giveaway below.

From Daryl:  Well, the publishing world turned a bit topsy-turvy this past year. I lost two contracts, but I gained two new ones. So as I  keep a positive mental attitude about what the future may hold, I continue to write and drum up new characters. I love living with my characters. They bring me joy. They help me problem solve. I find wonderful resolution solving cases and serving up justice to the "bad guy." What's coming for me this year?  The 6th Cookbook Nook Mystery, PRESSING THE ISSUE, will come out in February. Because this is through a new publisher, it will have a different look and the paper version will only be available on Amazon, through print on demand. I hope that won't put you off. It's still the same gang of characters and set in Crystal Cove. The Renaissance Fair  has come to town and Bailey is planning her wedding at a vineyard, hence the title using the word: pressing (grapes).  I don't have the cover yet, but it will be available SOON. In June, the paperback version of the first French Bistro Mystery, A DEADLY ÉCLAIR, comes out. In July, you'll see the release of the 2nd French Bistro Mystery, SOUFFLÉ OF SUSPICION. Better get my PR dancing shoes ready!


From Krista:  Those of you who aren't involved in the publishing business might not know that one publisher decided to cut back on cozy mysteries, and another cut them altogether. We have lived through some turbulent times! I'm pleased to say that I have a new series, the Pen and Ink Mysteries. By day, Florrie Fox manages a bookstore and by night, she's creates adult coloring books. She's a doodler, too, and doodles the clues she's thinking about. You can find them on the cover of the book, which can be colored! COLOR ME MURDER will be released on February 27th.

The Domestic Divas have moved to a new publisher and will be back on May 29th in THE DIVA COOKS UP A STORM. Sophie and friends are back (including Natasha). When a neighbor dies under odd circumstances, everything points toward his wife as the killer. Sophie is the only one who can't believe this woman killed her husband. But is she right?

I am also happy to announce that the ink is drying on a new contract for two more Wagtail books!


From Sheila: Once upon a time, in a universe far, far away, the publishing world was simple. It was made up of a handful of long-established and well-respected publishers, and any new writer's dream was to be accepted by one of them. But then the Internet was invented and things changed. And even those of us who were published by the Big Six (and then the Big Five) were sometimes orphaned. It happened to a lot of talented people. Publishing is a business, and decisions were based on sales numbers, not whether we were talented, hardworking writers.

But the good news is, we at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen have survived, and we've found new publishing homes, or in some cases created our own. We write because we love to write, so we're still writing. I will miss some of the characters from series that did not go on, but I can have some of them drop into new series, or I can go ahead and publish more books in a series myself. There are a lot of opportunities these days.

The County Cork Mysteries have been picked up by Crooked Lane Books, and the newest one, Many a Twist, will come out this month. I've got a new series coming from St. Martin's Press: the Victorian Village Mysteries, starting with Murder at the Mansion, which will appear in June--and that's where some of the characters from the Museum Mysteries will appear now and then. I'm planning to continue the Orchard Mysteries with Beyond the Page Publishing in the fall, and the Relatively Dead series as well.

Our characters become our friends, and a part of our lives. We can't just let them disappear, so we find new ways to get their stories into our readers' hands. We hope you'll continue to enjoy their company.


From Peg: You know the saying, when one door closes, another opens. As those posting before me have already said, the publishing world is changing...again. Nothing is a constant in today's world. But I'm pleased to say that a lot of new opportunities have opened up as well!  I'll be continuing my Cranberry Cove series with Beyond the Page--like Daryl and Sheila with two of their series. I'm also debuting a brand new historical mystery series, Murder, She Reported, with the Alibi imprint of Random House. It will be ebook only. It's a new profit model for writers, and I'm excited to see how things turn out! The series is set in 1938 NYC and my protagonist, Elizabeth"Biz" Adams, is a debutante turned crime photographer for the Daily Trumpet. The first book comes out on July 31.  I will also continue my Lucille Series for at least one more book--when Lucille and family and friends go to Italy and have fun with gondolas in Venice, motorbikes in Rome and a close encounter with Michelangelo's David in Florence!  Wishing you lots of exciting possibilities in the year to come!


LESLIE: Like my blog sisters, I too was affected last year by the post-merger decision of Penguin Random House, home to Berkley Books, where we all started our mystery careers, to significantly cut paperback original fiction. (Not just cozies and not just mystery; it was a business model change, not a reflection on sales or on readers' tastes or buying habits.) As a lawyer, I can understand those changes; as a creator, I know how they can mess with the mind. Fortunately, I can cook and soothe my sore head and twisted tummy with tasty food! My Food Lovers' Village Mysteries moved to Midnight Ink, and the 5th, As the Christmas Cookie Crumbles, will be out in June 2018. I've got a lot of proverbial irons in the proverbial fire---and I'm looking forward to a smokin' New Year!


LINDA: Okay, you've heard it all before, the news about the topsy-turvy publishing world. I look around at the demise of series written by friends, series I was hooked on, and think, what's going on! Obviously, I wasn't consulted. Nor was I consulted about my own series. The third book in the Dinner Club Mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime, MARINATING IN MURDER, comes out in March, 2018 but I'm sad to report, that series  has not as yet been renewed, and I don't expect it to be. I'm happy to report though, that I'm writing a new series for a new publisher, Crooked Lane, where a number of us has happily landed. It's called the Castle Bookstore Mysteries and the first one (working title is The Body at the Blye) appears in Nov., 2018 and along with the new everything, I'm a new person, too. Hope you'll make note of the name Essie Lang, that's me, and that's who's now immersed in the life of bookstore co-owner, Malin Stahr, and the day to day business of bookselling, and murder, in spectacular Blye Castle, on Blye Island in the Thousand Islands. Here's to great reading adventures for us all in the New Year!


LUCY: I too have found a new home with Crooked Lane, this for two more books in the Key West food critic mystery series. DEATH ON THE MENU will be out on August 7, and I'm busy writing #9. After that, who knows? I have two other projects in the works that are not cozy mysteries. Hopefully I can get them in readable shape and find homes for both. I look forward to many more books from my friends at MLK--and we are so grateful for you, our readers and friends!

CLEO: Marc and I have been writing professionally for decades and non-professionally (as a vocation) since we were children. What we know for sure about this sort of life is that nothing is sure. When we entered the publishing business, it was described as a volatile landscape, full of seismic changes—that was more than thirty years ago. And so it goes. With few exceptions, the artist’s life has more in common with a roller coaster than a carousel (which explains why you sometimes see authors throwing up hands and screaming). Our philosophy: never lose your love of storytelling; make friends with risk (there are virtues in it); try not to take yourself too seriously; and always be game for a wild ride. For now, our ride is continuing with our longtime publisher, and we sincerely thank our readers (along with so many kind booksellers and librarians) for the priceless treasure of their support. If you are among them, we hope you will continue to enjoy our upcoming works. Our 17th Coffeehouse Mystery will be published in April, read more about it here. Our 18th is now underway and scheduled for release next year; and our 6th Haunted Bookshop Mystery finally has a firm pub date of October 2, 2018 (and will be available for pre-order soon). If you'd like to keep in touch, subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss updates to our writing life. Whether you read our works or that of our co-bloggers, we thank ALL READERS for supporting your favorite authors. You can give us no better gift. We wish you all a happy, healthy, and industrious New Year!


And from our newest writer, Denise Swanson: Happy 2018! It's wonderful to begin the new year with a new project and joining Mystery Lovers' Kitchen has got to be one of the most fun. Like many of my fellow cozy mystery writers, 2017 brought a LOT of changes for me. After 17 years and 25 books, I left Penguin Random House. And in September my new publisher, Sourcesbooks, debuted a reboot of my long-running Scumble River series, dubbing it Welcome Back to Scumble River. While the titles are no longer Murder of a.... and the covers are markedly different, the characters and setting are exactly the same. In my most recent book, Dead in the Water, Skye experiences a tornado, a kidnapping, and she gives birth!

April of 2018 will bring about my new culinary mystery series, Chef-to-Go. In the first book, Tart of Darkness, you'll meet Dani Sloan a former HR consultant and the brand new owner of the Chef-to-Go culinary business. She and her three boarders, college girls from the nearby university, immediately get elbow deep in a murder.

My third series, the Dime Store mysteries are on hiatus for a year. I may bring them to another publisher or I may publish them myself, but Dev and the gang will continue to solve mysteries in Shadow Bend, MO.


Victoria Abbott Well, it's good-bye from me and alter ego Mary Jane Maffini. We are still hoping to have more book collector mysteries following all the turbulence in the industry. MJ is finishing the seventh in her Canadian Camilla MacPhee series and we have several projects in the planning stages. Sign up for our newsletter if you want to stay in the loop. Just click here

We have loved being part of Mystery Lovers Kitchen and the fabulous group of friends and readers here and we'll be popping to get recipes and the news. You will really enjoy having Denise Swanson here 'in the kitchen'. I know you'll welcome her with open arms.


Leave a comment and tell us what are you looking forward to this coming year. 
Remember to include your email so we can contact you if you win the tote bag.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Swedish Coffee Bread, a Christmas Tradition #recipe from Linda Wiken, author

It's Christmas Week on Mystery Lovers' Kitchen and, Christmas Baking Week at my house and that means just one thing, Swedish Coffee Bread. And, I mean one thing. That's all I bake. I admit it, I'm not into desserts (although I can be persuaded to eat the odd chocolatey mousse or Yule Log). But it wouldn't be Christmas without the aroma and taste of this delicious Swedish Coffee bread.

My Mom made it every year that I can remember and my Dad would wake me Christmas morning when it was still dark out, bringing me a cup of freshly-brewed coffee and a slice of coffee bread. I loved it and didn't even mind the early hour. In fact, it was exciting, eating my treat in bed then getting washed and dressed, to drive the empty streets to our church for the early morning service. It would start with candles and by the time the service was over, it would be light outside. Magical.

I slid into the role of official Sundman Swedish Coffee Bread baker and have upheld the tradition for many years, some more memorable and tasty than others. The memory and the taste are all rolled into one. I wear her Christmas apron when I'm baking. And I know she's there with me as I'm kneading and rolling the dough, sometimes pinching her lips, often smiling. That's Christmas to me.

This year, I did try a somewhat different recipe than the standard one, mainly because it doesn't call for milk, which is something I need to avoid. I don't know if it's because of that but although the bread takes delicious, it's not quite the same. And, something else that's different, I added some almond slices to part of one loaf, because my brother-in-law likes it that way. You could also added dried fruit as an extra treat.

Next year, I'm back to the basics but this year, we'll all enjoy this tradition with a new twist!

What you'll need:

6 c. all-purpose flour, sifted
2 packages active dry yeast
1 tsp. crushed cardamom seed
1 large eggs, room temperature
2. c. warm water
1/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter (or margarine) softened
1 tbsp milk (I used almond milk)
sugar for sprinkling on top

What to do:
 Pre-measure all ingredients and have at the ready. Sprinkle yeast into 2 c. warm water in a large mixing bowl and let stand for about 5 minutes until the yeast starts to bloom. Stir.

Stir in 1 egg, 1/3 c. sugar, salt, cardamom, butter and about 1/2 the flour.  Use an electric mixer or stir by hand until mixed then add the remaining flour. Continue to stir until the dough is soft and can form a large ball.

Place the dough in a greased large bowl, then turn over to grease the other side. Cover and place in a warm spot for 1 hour. It should then be doubled in size.

Punch down then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead for at least 5 minutes. It should be smooth and free from all bubbles.

Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces and shape into ropes that are approx. 1 inch wide. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Use 3 at a time to form two braids. Cover with a cloth and place in a warm spot for 30 minutes.

Mix the remaining egg, lightly beaten, with the milk and brush onto the braids. Sprinkle with sugar. Now's the time to add any other festive toppings you'd like. Place in a pre-heated 375 F oven for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned and thoroughly baked. Remove and cool on a rack before slicing.


 Coming March, 2018
Marinating in Murder, book #3

ROUX THE DAY, A Dinner Club Mystery is now available in paper and as an e-book. 
Recipes included!

TOASTING UP TROUBLE, the first in the Dinner Club Mysteries is available at your favorite bookstore and on-line, as a paperback and as an e-book.  
Recipes included!

Writing as Erika Chase -- the Ashton Corners Book Club Mystery series are available on-line or at your favorite bookstore.

Visit Linda at
Love to hear from you at my Facebook author page and
on Twitter  @LWiken  
Also appearing at

Visit Erika at 
 at my Facebook author page
and on Twitter  @erika_chase. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Around the Kitchen + holiday book #giveaway

⛄⛄⛄⛄⛄  Happy Holidays!   ⛄⛄⛄⛄⛄

We have a terrific holiday 
book giveaway for you! 

But first...

What kitchen utensil can’t you live without?

From Daryl:

I use lots of pots and pans, and I love my mini sauté pan, and I adore my 9x9 square pans - I use them all the time - but the one tool I couldn't live without is my food processor. I have a basic Black & Decker (not the fancy Cuisinart kind). It has been with me for a good 20 years. I love how it chops zucchini and carrots for all my hearty gluten-free breads. I've used it to mince nuts and onions for stews and soups. I use it to whirr together flour and butter mixtures for my pastries. It made a huge difference regarding the consistency in some of my cookies and such. It's noisy as all get-out, but I would be lost without it.   😭😰💔


From: Sheila: If you saw my kitchen area you'd know I have a serious addiction to kitchen gadgets, a lot of them vintage. I agree with Daryl--a food processor is essential, and I burned out the motor of my first one after twenty years and immediately replaced it. But if I were stuck on a desert island (with a food supply, of course), the most important thing I'd want is a really good knife. Too many people slog through life with dull knives that are too big or too small and simply can't be sharpened. Then they wonder why they hate cooking, because it's so hard to slice and dice all that stuff. A good knife needs to be long enough to slice meat or bread, but not so long that you can't peel and apple or a potato. It has to feel right to you, and you have to be able to sharpen it. I bought my first "real" knife in Paris during college (a carbon steel Sabatier with an eight-inch blade) and it served me well for years--with it I cooked that dorm Thanksgiving dinner I mentioned in an earlier post. (P.S. I have a lot more knives now!)


LESLIE: I'm guessing we all share a love of kitchen gadgets, along with our fondness for food, cooking, and writing cozy mysteries. Mr. Right came to our marriage with a 2-cup Cuisinart chopper; it's no substitute for the big workhorse, but it's great for making pesto, chopping walnuts for muffins, and other quick kitchen tasks. And it's become our go-to wedding gift. A former boyfriend gave me a set of Henckel knives that have served me well for decades. But I am seriously addicted to spatulas and turners. My favorite was a simple Rubbermaid with a curved edge on both sides; it split, and tossing it was painful. I haven't found an exact copy, though I do love the several silicone replacements that have made their way to our kitchen drawers! (A few favorites are pictured, and yes, I do love red!)

Erin speaks for me in this exchange from Treble at the Jam Fest, when she drops in to the music shop in search of clues:
"“’Course, a music guy can never have too many guitars,” Rocco added. “Like Adam and his skis and kayaks.”
Every obsession has its equivalent. Woe to anyone who counted my spatulas."



Well, there's nothing unique about me, obviously!  I, too, cherish my Cuisinart and, like Sheila, burned out the motor on the first one (first wedding present) and got a new one as a second wedding present!  I also cherish my Sabatier knife with its carbon steel blade like Sheila.  And, like Leslie, I have a mini Cuisinart for chopping herbs and smaller amounts of ingredients.

One truly strange thing that I suppose I could live without but which I use virtually every day is meant for scraping pastry off the counter but I don't think I've ever used it for that.  I use it to scoop up chopped onions, garlic, carrots or whatever item I've chopped to transfer them from the cutting board to the pot on the stove.  It was a first wedding present which means it's now a whopping (hang on while I do the math...) 43 years old!! 


LUCY: Count me in as a fan of the food processor too. Last year I had my blade recalled--they had discovered the possibility that shards of metal could fly off into the batter or onions or whatever. Quelle catastrophe! I knew it would be a while before I'd receive a replacement, but what to do in the meanwhile? Hand chop everything or risk a few shards? Not telling my answer...

Other than that, the utensil we use all the time is this little grater. It makes beautiful shreds of Parmesan, but also does zesting in an instant. Perfect stocking stuffer!


KRISTA: I'm so predictable. For me, it would be my handy dandy KitchenAid mixer. It's a bright red, which is fun. But the best part is the power for batters, doughs, and frostings. I use it to make mashed potatoes, too!

Next would be my Thermapen. I went through cooking thermometer after cooking thermometer. Seriously, some of them died after one use! I was wasting $20 to $30 a pop on them, and they never lived longer than a few months. The Thermapen isn't cheap at $99 (look for it on sale), but I use it constantly and it's still alive after five or six years. Plus, it has made a huge difference in the meat I cook. I can be spot on now. No more guessing whether it's cooked to the right temperature. I always use it for steaks. It's dead on. It's useful for candies and frostings, too. Love that thing!

And lastly, I use a cookie spatula a lot. It's softer than other spatulas, almost flexible. The end is super thin to get under delicate items without tearing them. Don't try it on a heavy casserole or you'll end up with a mess, but I love it for delicate eggs (no breaking soft yolks) and cookies.


LINDA: I love, love, love my hand blender...sometimes called a stick blender, a wand blender or an immersion blender depending on who you're talking to. Whatever, it's my trusty kitchen aid for so many things. I love smoothies, especially for breakfast on the mornings when I'm going to a fitness
class. I just toss the fruit and almond milk into a container, and the blender does all the work. It's also great for my Christmas morning specialty, Norwegian pancakes, which may not be an accurate name but it's stuck after all these years. They're very crepe-like and the blender handles that with panache. I also like that it's red. Krista, I agree, splashes of color are so much fun in the kitchen.

CLEO: Given what we write, Marc and I are often asked what kind of coffee maker we use. Today we can tell you because it's also the gadget we couldn't live without (so to speak)!

We have three coffee makers in our kitchen. The first is our stovetop (Moka Express) espresso maker. The other two are drip coffee makers, which we chose for two reasons. Both are good value for money. And both have a cone-shaped filter (a better choice, for many reasons, than a flat-bottom filter). The larger of our two drip coffee makers is a Cuisinart with a fun retro design. The smaller is the budget-friendly Black & Decker Brew 'n Go, which brews just two cups directly into a thermal mug. We constantly use both of them, and they've held up well to our heavy use. We're not pod users because we're always sampling different beans and blends and prefer to grind the coffee fresh, right before brewing, which truly does give you the best-tasting cuppa Joe!
Cleo's Coffee-Marinated Steak 
For the recipe, click here.
So there you have it, our favorite gadgets, along with a recipe that makes great use of their byproduct: Coffee-Marinated Steak. May you...

Drink and eat with joy!

~ Cleo



For this December "Around the Kitchen" fun we're giving away to one winner an MLK TOTE BAG plus a BOOK FROM EACH OF US.

Jingle, jingle, JOY! 

Leave a comment about what you're stuffing your stockings with this year, 
and remember to leave your email so we can contact you if you win.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Around the Kitchen Table: Our Holiday Disasters and a #Giveaway!

With the season of feasting coming up fast, we crime-writing cooks are employing our monthly chin-wag to laugh (and cry!) about the mistakes we’ve made or the foul-ups we’ve fumbled through during the holiday season. We invite you to join our circle and share your own stories.

Leave a comment for us (with a way to contact you) and you will be entered in our random drawing to win a special prize…learn more at the end of the post. This contest is now over. See the winner announced at the end of this post. And now, let's talk Holiday Disasters!

🍸 🎄  🎅  🎃  🎠  ⛄ 🎇

Cleo's disaster inspired the
last scene in Holiday Buzz.
Click to learn more.

CLEO COYLE: I was in my early twenties, on my own in New York City, and I'd been looking forward to seeing my family for Thanksgiving, but I just missed making my train. The moment was so awful, I can still see those taillights pulling away from me as I ran down the platform, dragging my luggage, ready to cry. It was Thanksgiving morning. There were no other trains that day to Western PA, and I was strapped. I couldn't afford to say "Oh, well," and buy a plane or even a bus ticket. I thought I was doomed to eating fast food alone. Thankfully, a girlfriend took pity on me and invited me to her sister's house. To this day, I feel terrible that I’d disappointed my mom and dad. But I did make the next morning’s train (after exchanging my ticket). There were plenty of Thanksgiving leftovers waiting for me in Mom’s kitchen. And, years later, that very disaster at New York's Penn Station helped inspire an important final scene in HOLIDAY BUZZ, our 12th Coffeehouse Mystery.

Years before he met me, my husband (and partner in culinary crime-writing) had his own holiday disaster. It was his first Thanksgiving in New York, and he wanted to make a feast for his friends. Marc proudly stuffed his turkey and popped it into the oven. All done! (Not quite.) Marc had failed to clean the gizzards out of the neck flap, and they were sealed in plastic. The bird looked great, but it tasted like hot, wet Styrofoam. That Thanksgiving, Marc and his friends enjoyed dinner at the local Nathan’s fast food joint, where the hot dogs were delicious. 

Click here for our doggone tasty
holiday appetizer recipe.
Which goes to show you. No matter what you're eating for dinner, if you're sharing it with people you care about, Thanksgiving can turn out to be a doggone beautiful meal. And on that note, Marc and I sincerely wish all of you a disaster-free holiday feasting season!

We're also pleased to share a fun, delicious (and insanely easy) party appetizer. Click here to get it and may you and your loved ones eat with holiday joy!


LESLIE BUDEWITZ: Mr. Right and I are classic trailers -- his siblings are 7 and 11 years older, mine 9-1/2. As a result, we have never been allowed to host a family holiday dinner! My two sisters-in-law are absolutely lovely, but they are also older, strong-minded women who know exactly how holiday dinners are supposed to go in their houses. One has probably never forgiven me for the year my cranberry almond bundt cake (yes, I took a cake!) was more popular than her Costco pumpkin pie at Christmas dinner. My other SIL has a hard time sitting still, so she packs up the leftovers for everyone. Which is great, except for the time she packed up the mashed potatoes before I got any. And since we're usually traveling, the leftovers don't do us a lot of good. Talk about disaster!

So Mr. Right and I have created our own tradition. We join the family and have a great time. Then, sometime during the week after Christmas, we make a turkey dinner with all the mashed potatoes we want. And no one sweeps up my half-full cup of coffee when I turn my back. On the other hand, there's no one to help us with the dishes ... The only real disaster, in my book, is not finding a way to celebrate that makes you happy.


PEG COCHRAN:  My holiday disaster is still fresh in my mind! Every Christmas I make a buche de Noel.  How elaborate it is varies--sometimes I do the meringue mushrooms, sometimes there's no time for that. Last Christmas I was working with a new oven. My old oven ran hot--unbeknownst to me, this one runs cool.  I made my cake and when I tried to turn it out of the pan to roll it, it stuck and disintegrated.  (Hubby ate it anyway.) I tried a second time.  This time I got it out of the pan (a lot of sweating was involved) but when I went to roll it, it fell apart.

So...I went with plan B.  I got out my large crystal bowl, layered the broken up cake with whipped cream and other goodies, and proudly declared it...a trifle! 

So in the end, not a tragedy at all.  


DARYL WOOD GERBER:  I will never forget the first Thanksgiving I was in my current home. Though I was quite used to the space on my own, moving around a lot of other people was a challenge. Well, my stepdaughter wanted to learn how to make mashed potatoes that night. Okay, fine. Not hard. But when the milk started to boil and three people converged to lower the heat or move the pot off the heat, the milk bubbled over the top, down the stove, and into the drawers below. As if that weren't enough, as I was trying to set the stuffing into the lower oven, the lip of the pan caught on the oven door, and the stuffing spilled all over the floor. Everyone was laughing except me. I like things to be perfect at holidays, but this was a major disaster. We had a lovely meal, but the clean-up was atrocious. It wasn't until the next day that I realized WHY it has been so difficult. It's narrow between the island and the stove/oven area. And there were three or four people trying to navigate the aisle. Like I said, if I'd been on my own, it would have been fine. The following Thanksgiving, I told everyone to sit at the island and have a glass of wine. Guess what? No disasters. I guess I'm like a ship in a sea lane. I want clear passage and no obstacles in my way. LOL


My disaster came a couple of years ago when we hosted a giant family Thanksgiving dinner. Along with the turkey and gravy I made pumpkin and chocolate cream pies. Chocolate cream pie on Thanksgiving, you say? But my husband's family loves anything chocolate. And I was happy to show off, even buying designer chocolate instead of the usual Baker's. I've made this pie a dozen times--using a recipe right out of the JOY OF COOKING. The graham cracker crust was lovely, but the chocolate pudding part looked grainy. And though I refrigerated it overnight, it never set. We served it in bowls and I was humbled. Though the mounds of whipped cream did help...(These pix are the actual offending pie--If you look closely at the full pie, you'll see the grainy texture. Why you might ask, did she stop to take a picture? Because a Mystery Lovers Kitchen blogger knows everything come in handy one day!)


SHEILA CONNOLLY: Where to begin... I can well remember my mother and grandmother arguing over the Thanksgiving turkey every year: is it done? is it overdone? It was always one or the other, never just right. I've had better luck with turkeys than they did--I even managed to cook one in my dorm (with a tiny kitchen) and fed the other people who couldn't go home for the Thanksgiving holiday. 

But there was one Christmas that my sister and I were both at our mother's, along with my daughter Julie, and we volunteered to cook dinner among us. Unfortunately my mother was not a scrupulous housekeeper, and there was a bit of extra grease in the burner liners on the stove, so we created a small fire on top of the stove. We didn't panic. I said, "I will find a cover to deprive the fire of oxygen" and my daughter said, "I will get the baking soda," and we calmly extinguished it. Except then we had to do it again, because we didn't quite get rid of all the grease. (BTW, the dinner turned out fine.)

But I am very fond of what I have always called "the cake mess," Julie and I created together (I had to look long and hard for the picture). I still have no idea what went wrong with the poor thing, but somehow since Julie has has turned into a professional baker. Go figure.


LINDA WIKEN:  I'm almost embarrassed to admit I don't have any stories about monumental disasters to share, probably because I've never been too into cooking so never tried anything too daring. Even though that part has changed -- yes, I do enjoy cooking now and in particular, tasting and trying new recipes -- I still have nothing major to report except for underdone turkey on one occasion or another. 

I also admit to not being into baking. However, at Christmas, I take on the mantle of 'Swedish Coffee Bread maker'. It's my Mom's recipe and while it tastes similar enough to hers each year, I've had some crushing results with texture. It's almost as if the oven elves give up partway through the 'rising' part, leaving me with an unlight, unfluffy result. Those years that I do succeed, I savor (pictured here). But, I will not give up trying! In fact, I'm eyeing a new mixer that might help with the kneading portion, which might, just might bring me a step closer to perfection. Fingers crossed. 


I love this topic and all your tragic tales of disasters, but I hardly know where to begin!  Our disasters so often happen at Christmas, the focal point of the year for the Maffini girls. Take for instance the Christmas many years  ago when we had an ice storm. The fully stuffed 25 pound turkey was roasting away in the oven on Christmas Day when the electricity went off!  Much later it had not returned and my hubby and my brother were busily bailing out the basement. Brother is still complaining thirty years later.  Luckily Victoria's sister, Virginia, was newly married and had an apartment in a different part of town and she had power!  She was also willing to save the day.  Because NOTHING may ever interfere with Christmas turkey, I drove the turkey over to her, skidding over the icy roads to her so it could finish cooking. Later on (still without power at home) we all squeezed into her little flat to enjoy it at the end of an exhausting day.  It was not the first or the last time that Virginia saved the day and it was a grand Christmas dinner in the end.

The next year, Christmas was perfect, BUT as we approached our New Year's Day Open House the wall oven died and so did the microwave.  As the first guest sat down on the newly reupholstered sofa (inherited from MJ's mom), the back leg collapsed.  Ah, the best laid plans!  

I could go on, but I'll give you all a break.

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Like MJ, my most memorable disaster was losing electricity on Christmas. Fortunately, it was early enough in the day that nothing was in the oven yet. We just shoved the entire celebration to the following day.

Because I cook for my dogs, and I used to have four to feed, I have roasted a lot of turkeys. It's sort of a no-brainer for me. Last Thanksgiving, I calculated the times carefully and all was well until the guests arrived and I peeked at the turkey. It was raw! Oh no! As far as I can tell, I must have accidentally turned the oven off when I took the turkey out to flip it over. Sigh. It tasted wonderful, which prompted a conversation about whether turning the heat off in the middle of roasting might be the best way to roast a turkey!

But the worst of all was really more of a faux pas. It still makes me shudder today. I was invited to the home of my boyfriend's parents for passover seder. Between his mother and sisters, it was determined that I should bring two pies as my contribution. Being of the clan of the cake, it was slightly out of my comfort zone, but I very carefully made the pie crusts and prepared two pies for the dinner. We packed them up and joined his rather large and noisy family for a lovely dinner. I'd had plenty of Jewish friends, but hadn't given any thought to foods that might be forbidden . . .

As my boyfriend's father took a bite of my pie, complete with the whipped cream I had dutifully brought along, I saw him lean over to his wife and ask very quietly, "Is this real cream?" 

His wife said, equally quietly, "I think so." 

The father shrugged and kept eating. In fact, the pies and cream were snarfed up and no one ever said a word to me that wasn't complimentary, which just goes to show what lovely people they were. It was years before I realized that the cream was probably frowned upon as not appropriate because one doesn't serve dairy and meat in the same passover meal. Oy vey!

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Now it's your turn! Leave a comment on this post, telling us about your own holiday disaster or you can simply comment on ours, and you will be entered in our in our special giveaway of a Mystery Lovers' Kitchen tote bag...

You will also win these
wonderful new book
to fill it! 

 * Krista Davis' *
Not a Creature was Purring 

* Daryl Wood Gerber's *
A Deadly Eclair 

* Sheila Connolly's A Late Frost
and the new trade reprint of 



Tell us about your own
holiday disaster or
comment on ours...

Be sure to include an email
address where we can
contact you.

Good luck and may your 

upcoming holidays be disaster-free!

This contest is now over.
The winner is...


Congratulations, Nora!

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.)


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.


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.


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! 


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.  


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?


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?