Showing posts with label cozy culinary mystery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cozy culinary mystery. Show all posts

Monday, June 5, 2017

Around Our Kitchen Table: What Do Our Characters Eat?

Summer is all but upon us, and these days that often means farmers' markets are opening up. (Most of you are probably way ahead of us in chilly Massachusetts.) It's been a delight to watch people rediscover fresh local food.

But some of us grew up with a different food focus: the joys of frozen food, mass-produced bread, TV dinners, and so on. All things designed to save time for the working mother. How can we object to that? Sadly, mothers back then sacrificed flavor and nutrition for speed.

So you can say that we have come full circle, from wholesome local food to commercially prepared fast food for the microwave, and back again.

Last month we discussed here why and how we use food in our books. I think we all agreed that eating together brings us closer to friends and family. But how do we choose those foods for our characters? Based on modern trends? Or based on what we grew up with and remember, consciously or subconsciously? What do our characters eat, and what does it tell the reader about them?

Does your protagonist like to cook? Or just can't be bothered? (Too busy solving crimes, of course.) When she cooks, is it comfort food? Is she trying to impress someone? Does she like to experiment, and fly without a parachute (er, recipe)? Or does she stick to safe familiar dishes? Or would she rather just find a restaurant? We all eat, but what we eat can help us tell a story.

SHEILA: This subject came to mind because I was editing my next book (shameless plug: A Late Frost, Orchard Mystery #11, coming in November), and my main characters have been so busy (getting married and taking a honeymoon) that they haven't had time to cook or even shop, and they're scraping the bottom of the freezer to feed themselves and whoever else drops in to talk about murder. (They do, however, drink a lot of coffee!) At one point Meg threatened to feed new husband Seth a meal made up of frozen ham, cherries and peanut butter, because that was all she could find in the house.

Early on in the series I did create an alternative: I added a local foods restaurant in my fictional town of Granford, so there's always somewhere to go if Meg and Seth need a good and creative meal. My other series characters? They're just not interested in cooking. (Now, why did I do that?) But they do enjoy eating!

LESLIE: My characters all seem to be obsessed with food, although in a future Spice Shop Mystery, we'll discover that one of the Flick Chicks is a secret crackers-and-cheese-for-dinner type. 

My Food Lovers' Village Mysteries each involve a festival, and the recipes let the readers recreate the festival food at home. Treble at the Jam Fest, #4, officially releases this week, and it's set at a jazz festival. There's a gala in the Merc's courtyard and a picnic before an outdoor concert, each featuring food I love. Erin's family gathers every Sunday at the Orchard, the family homestead, for brunch or dinner, and I've tucked in a couple of those recipes as well. Like all amateur sleuths, Erin has a busy life, and I admit, she eats a lot of festival and family leftovers! But in each book, I try to let her cook a good meal at home. In this one, it's enchiladas, a recipe I shared last week.   

And she pops into Le Panier, the French bakery, a little more often than is probably good for her, but the croissants and gossip are too tasty a combination to resist. Some of my local readers have given me heat for inventing a bakery our town doesn't actually have, but you know, I think it's a blessing, because there are no calories on the page!

LUCY: My Key West series character Hayley Snow loves her job as a food critic for the style magazine, Key Zest. She loves tasting all the flavors of the restaurants in the city, and loves telling people her opinions so they can spend their hard-earned dollars well. Here's what she says about this in DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS: 

“The part of my job that feeds my soul is writing about food. Teasing out what makes one meal good, but another magical. Discovering a new chef or a new dish and describing my find to the world—or at least to other food-addled diners who’d go out of their way for something special. For me, the cooking itself was not so much the miracle. It was all about the eating. And then choosing the words that brought that food to life on the page.”

But is she also a fabulous cook, which she learned from her mother, Janet. And by book 8, which I'm working on now, Janet has developed a catering business in Key West--meaning Hayley is often pressed into service. This new book (due out sometime in the summer 2018) takes place at a Cuban–American conference in town. I'm having so much fun deciding what they will serve. Mini Cuban sandwiches? Top secret recipe for flan? Traditional beef stew or ropas Viejas? You'll be seeing all of these recipes over the next several months, as Hayley and Janet make them!

DARYL:  Well, my two current protagonists are studies in contrasts! In my new French Bistro Mystery series, (set in Napa Valley) of course Mimi Rousseau cooks. She fell in love with food when she discovered the five mother sauces of France. In high school, she made her friends taste test everything. At 18, rather than go to college, she moved to San Francisco and became a sous-chef, then a full-fledged chef. She adores food and knows how to create simple as well as difficult dishes. Her favorite foods? Steak au poivre and créme brûlée. She also enjoys a delicious glass of chardonnay or cabernet. 

In my Cookbook Nook Mysteries, however, Jenna Hart, a former advertising executive, never really learned to cook. Her mother did it all. When Jenna moves to Crystal Cove to help her eccentric aunt open a culinary bookshop and cafe, she's game...mostly because she is a foodie. She adores food. She's been to almost every Bobby Flay restaurant. She enjoys a good barbecue. She relishes putting the "idea of a meal" together. In the first book, she starts to learn to cook (with the help of friends) by trying out five-ingredient recipes. By the third book, she graduates to ten-ingredient recipes. If she's honest, she adores fudge and cookies--in particular, wedding cookies. [That recipe is in the first book in the series.]

KRISTA: I was amused when some of the first reviews for my Domestic Diva Mysteries called Sophie Winston a caterer. While Sophie does like to cook and entertain family and friends, she's a professional event planner who hires caterers. Her clients usually tell her what they want to serve or work it out with the caterer. 

Of course, there's another diva in town—Natasha. And Natasha doesn't try to keep up with the trends, she tries to stay ahead of them! That can be problematic for me, but I subscribe to a number of trendy online newsletters about food so I can keep up with Natasha. Her ideas (hot chili pepper brownies) aren't always well received by friends and family, which irritates her no end. Everyone wants to gather around the table in Sophie's homey kitchen for comfort food like mashed potatoes and ribs. Their friend Bernie sometimes brings a special cake or appetizer from his restaurant.

In my real life, I was once an assistant manager of a huge convention hotel and the biggest perk of the job was the food. I was thoroughly spoiled. And that's how it is at the Sugar Maple Inn for Holly Miller. She does very little cooking or baking because the private kitchen has a magic refrigerator. Part of the day's leftovers go into it, so whenever she's hungry, the magic refrigerator holds special surprises, no cooking necessary. One of the other perks of her job is a chocolate croissant, hot tea, and dog and cat treats in bed first thing in the morning five days a week. On the two days when Mr. Huckle is off, she has to go all the way downstairs for her first meal of the day, usually something decadent like Eggs Benedict or pancakes with freshly picked local blackberries. It's a ruff life.

I have a new series coming out called the Pen & Ink Mysteries. By day, Florrie Fox manages Color Me Read bookstore in Georgetown, Washington D.C. By night, she creates her own intricately detailed coloring books for adults, filling the pages with objects that catch her eye. But she also loves to bake. In the first book she bakes muffins, quick bread, and a strawberry cream torte. Luckily for her, there's a romance brewing and the fellow who has his eye on her is the son of a chef. I have a feeling she'll be eating pretty well!

LINDAMy Dinner Club Mysteries are just that -- the Culinary Capers Dinner Club meets monthly, rotating houses and hosts. The host chooses the cookbook (real ones that you can pick up at your local bookstore if you like the sound of their dishes) and the main course, then the others choose a side dish from that book. My protagonist, J.J. Tanner, is the newbie to the group, having joined within the past year. Her good friend persuaded, despite the fact that J.J.'s total involvement with cooking has been enjoying the photos in the many, many cookbooks she buys. What can I's a relatively inexpensive vice.
       Now that the stakes, or steaks, are raised, she has to up her game. She's getting more daring about her choices with each book but she sticks fairly close to the recipe. What she's loving is that the others are actually enjoying what she cooks! She also loves eating and experimenting with new dishes and flavors. Eating out is also high on her list of good things in life.
       I find she challenges me to get more interested in and creative about my own cooking, so that's a very big plus in my life. I guess you could say that J.J. eats with her eyes first.

Click to learn more.
CLEO: When my husband and I created the Coffeehouse Mystery series, back in 2002, we agreed that our amateur sleuth (Clare Cosi) should reflect our own backgrounds, including our love of food. Like Clare, Marc and I grew up in Western Pennsylvania in families that were big on love but short on money. We were thrifty, but we loved to cook and eat! Also like Clare, we moved from our little towns to New York City. 

In the Coffeehouse Mysteries, Clare does her best to juggle the demands of running a busy coffee shop while mothering a quirky young staff of baristas. (It's no wonder she cooks for comfort!) Clare's time in the kitchen also brings back fond memories of her beloved grandmother who taught her to cook--and I can relate to that, having learned from my mom and Aunt Mary, who were born in Italy. 

I'll just add that Marc and I get a big kick out of making food part of our mystery plotting. In our recent release, Dead Cold Brew, Clare’s Cannoli Cream Cupcakes and Mason Jar Cold Brew Coffee each played a part in the murder mystery storyline. Clare even re-creates a dish she inhales at New York's famous 21 Club, where she goes to pursue a lead--no, "The Donald" was not there that night, but we enjoyed taking our readers to that legendary restaurant, including the historic secret room inside it. There are many more foods and drinks featured throughout Dead Cold Brew, which you can see in the recipe guide here

Coffeehouse Mysteries #15 and #16
Food also played an important role in our previous Coffeehouse Mystery, Dead to the Last Drop. At one point in the book, Clare worked with her daughter, Joy, a culinary school graduate, to overhaul an entire menu at the new Washington, D.C., branch of their business. And those recipes reflect some of our favorites, including an easy "cake pan" cheesecake, adapted from a recipe that continually sold out when it was served at a New York graduate school. (Learn more in the recipe guide here.) Like our culinary sleuth, Marc and I truly enjoy researching, cooking, and (especially) eating the foods and drinks we feature in our mysteries, including our new Coffeehouse Mystery (#17), coming next year!

PEG: In my very first series, Gourmet De-Lite, Gigi Fitzgerald has a business providing gourmet diet meals to a select group of clients.  Her theory is that food can be delicious and low calorie at the same time!  She cooks the same way for herself although her culinary world is turned upside down in Iced to Death when her sister Pia, with her penchant for Twinkies and take-out pizza, arrives in town for a visit .

In my Cranberry Cove series, Monica Albertson is helping her brother on his cranberry farm by baking lots of cranberry goodies for the farm store.  She's a whiz at making light-as-a-feather muffins, delectable scones and decadent cookies.  Her cooking tends to be basic--well grilled steaks, homemade soups and roasts.

In my Farmer's Daughter series, Shelby McDonald runs a small boutique farm.  She serves fresh produce grown on the farm in the summer and her own canned and preserved items in the winter.  She's a good cook who can take a basic dish, add a distinct twist to it and take it to a new level.  

I love to cook, too, and I love that I get to write food and recipes into my books! 

We hope you enjoy the food in our books. If you've tried one of our characters' recipes, tell us about it in the comments!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Around Our Kitchen Table: Food and Mysteries #giveaway

LUCY: I was reading the first book in Daryl's new series, A DEADLY ECLAIR, (yes, I got lucky and snagged an early copy!), and I started thinking it would be interesting to talk about how and why we use food in our mysteries. Writing the Key West food critic series has really tweaked my interest in food and cooking because I have to think the way that my character, food critic Hayley Snow, thinks. She uses food as a way to connect with people, and to calm herself down, and to seduce the folks she’s trying to get information from that may solve the mysteries.

I like what Hayley wrote for the magazine she works for, Key Zest, at the end of DEATH IN FOUR COURSES: “I’d summed up by saying how important it was to remember that while food did mean life and death in its most elemental form, most often we in the food writing industry were talking about food as the pleasure of connections. When we wrote about simmering a stew or a sauce for hours or days, we were really talking about how much we owed to the folks who came before us and the importance of cherishing their memory. And how much we yearned to give to the people in our present who’d be gathered around our table. We were writing about food as family history, and love, and hope, and sometimes a little splash of guilt.

MLK ladies, I'd love to hear about the role food plays in your books!

SHEILA: I was a big fan of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books from the beginning of my mystery-collecting career. The idea of a sleuth who sat eating wonderful food while solving mysteries in his own mind was very appealing. I even have a copy of The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, and I've used several favorite recipes many times.

In a way the Orchard Mysteries are the polar opposite. My protagonist Meg Corey moves to an unfamiliar town and finds a body in her back yard--not the best way to meet your new neighbors! But a major theme of the series is community, and that means bringing people together over food. Meg even helps friends launch a restaurant in her town! And since she grows apples, I've used quite a few of the apple recipes I've collected over the years in the books. 

Clearly food matters. It's something we share, especially when we are celebrating important events or holidays. Eating together with friends and family is one of the joys of life.

LESLIE: It really is all about community, isn’t it? My main characters are retailers who love to cook. Food is their business, and their passion. In the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, Erin is committed to raising awareness about local food. Food anchors gatherings with her extended family, and the festivals that are a village mainstay. In the Spice Shop Mysteries, we explore one of the great public markets—Pike Place in Seattle—with Pepper, and learn a lot about herbs and spices. Both women love putting good food in customers’ hands, to enhance their knowledge and pleasure. As sleuths, their occupations give them an entree to the investigation. Erin finds a clue in an old recipe. Pepper uses a delivery as an opportunity to confront a reluctant witness. The amateur sleuth has access to conversations and secrets that law enforcement doesn’t have—and nothing opens those doors like huckleberry jam or a fragrant box of spice tea. 

I’ve said this before, but I believe the role of the amateur sleuth is to restore the social order after the disruption that murder or other crime creates. What does that better than food?

LINDA:  My series features the Culinary Capers Dinner Club, so food is at the core of both the series and their monthly dinners. The group uses real cookbooks anyone can find in bookstores, so I must be sure not to have anyone poisoned! 

Besides bringing them together in a ritual of friendship, it has allowed my protagonist, J.J. Tanner, who is an event planner, to quickly find a place in her new town. She readily admits she's not a seasoned cook however, she has a great passion for cookbooks, with color photos. And she tries hard to improve her skills both in the kitchen, and when scouring the clues for a murderer. And the Culinary Capers gang is more than willing to help on both fronts.

CLEO: Marc and I live in the borough of Queens, New York, one of the most ethnically diverse plots of land on the planet. We may not speak the same languages as our neighbors, or wear the same kinds of clothing, but we absolutely enjoy each other’s foods—from Salvadoran pupusas served out of a family-run truck to the colorful chiffon cakes of a Filipino bakery and the savory kebabs of a Bosnian diner. 

In our Coffeehouse Mystery Holiday Grind, our amateur sleuth Clare expressed our philosophy this way: “A diversity of cultures meant a diversity of foods. Eat with tolerance, I say!” 

Like Clare, we believe food can serve as the most basic first step toward cultural understanding. It's one reason we enjoy putting a diversity of foods in our mysteries: from the bright purple Filipino ube cake (and our favorite carnita recipe) in A Brew to a Kill to the Bosnian burger (pljeskavica) and “poor man’s caviar” in Once Upon a Grind

We loved writing about coffee hunter Matt’s Ugandan chicken stew in Billionaire Blend as much as culinary student Joy’s mini tarte Tatin’s in Dead to the Last Drop—not to mention her mother's cannoli cream cupcakes in Dead Cold Brew“Food is our common ground, a universal experience,” said James Beard. Marc and I agree. We also love to eat, of course, and now we have an excuse. Research! May you, too, eat with curiosity, wonder, and joy!

KRISTA: That's a lovely quote, Lucy. For those who aren't writers, I'll explain that when you start out, all kinds of people spout writing rules at you. I remember someone telling me never to set a scene at a table when people were eating. Now I love to tell new writers to learn the rules and break them appropriately!

The gang in the Domestic Diva Mysteries often discuss murder over food. In my personal life, a lot of the most interesting discussions with friends and family (though happily not about murder) take place around the table, so why wouldn't that happen in mysteries? Do the sleuths always have to be on the run? Of course not. 

Plus, food always shows up at the celebrations of life. Whether it's a birthday or graduation, holiday or job promotion, we celebrate with food. It only stands to reason that our characters would do the same.

And like Lucy, I love it when my sleuths can use food as a bribe. What better way to interrogate, er, meet the new neighbors?

DARYL:  Krista, I remember hearing those same rules. 'No discussions over food and tables!' So I was avid about creating scenes which included food to be about the preparation of food. Moving about the kitchen. Slicing, dicing. Handling hot objects. Not sitting. But people in foodie mysteries seem to gravitate to the table or to the counter or the food stand.  I will say that when I was writing the Cheese Shop Mysteries, I had to learn so much about cheese, that I was often keeping my characters at the cheese counter to taste, share, and discuss. I had to learn to move them about the shop and out of the shop into town and "real life." It was a challenge. Now that I'm writing the French Bistro Mysteries, I have to remind myself to move the characters out of the bistro kitchen. It's a challenge—I love a kitchen!—but I love a challenge.

PEG: My two most recent series--Cranberry Cove and Farmer's Daughter mysteries--represent food at its most elemental--growing it! And obviously growing it and cooking it go hand-in-hand so my characters also spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  Sharing a meal brings people together and it gives my characters an opportunity to gather a diverse group around their tables.

Readers: We'd love to hear--why do you read culinary mysteries? Leave us a comment with your email and you'll be entered in a drawing for Peg's absolutely, brand-new mystery, DEAD AND BERRIED!

Join us at the table!
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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Quinoa and veggies with turkey filet recipe from Linda Wiken, Author, @LWiken

This past weekend we celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving and this year, the turkey plus trimmings dinner was held at my sister’s house. The good thing, for me, was not having to cook the turkey plus trimmings thus having to deal with all the clean-up. :) The bad thing was, no leftover turkey to pick at. However, I was lucky enough to snag a care pack of leftovers for one meal.

So, wanting more turkey in my life, I decided to buy some filets. The next question was, do I go with mashed potatoes again? No. Time to switch this turkey up and my go to was a hot quinoa salad. Mixing the seasons, if you will. And, the result was a tasty idea for a lunch for two.

There are so many recipes and ideas available for quinoa salads since it's a really great ingredient to play with.  I've added the veggies to make it more of a meal. Have fun adding your own favorites..

And, because I always like things a bit on the hot and spicy scale, I decided to use Garam Masala as a rub for the turkey filet. Maybe because it's a spice I don't often use.  Here again, use what pleases your palate. These are suggestions but they're ones that pleased me.


1/2 c chopped green onions 
1 1/2 garlic cloves, chopped into tiny pieces but not minced
1 c. diced sweet red pepper
1/2 c chopped walnuts
1 small bunch of spinach, chopped  
pinch of Himalayan salt 
olive oil to saute veggies
1 1/2 c. quinoa 
1 3/4 c. chicken broth
2 turkey filets
Garam masala - enough to use as a rub (about 1 tsp.)
olive oil for basting turkey
Prepare veggies first by slicing and dicing. Set aside until quinoa is on the go.

Cook quinoa according to package instruction or if none, add 1 broth and bring to a boil. Add quinoa, cover and cook on low heat for 12-15 min.

Fire up the grill. Baste turkey filets with olive oil and use preferred amount of Garam Masala as a rub. This will add a tantalizing spicy complement to the quinoa.

When the grill reaches 400, add the filets for approx. 10 min. depending on thickness, turning them over half way.

Add olive oil to sauté pan when hot, then add garlic, green onions, red pepper, spinach and a pinch of salt.

When wilted, approx. 5 min., remove from heat.  Stir into the quinoa when it's ready.

Plate the quinoa and add the turkey filet.

A fresh green salad would go nicely with this dish or add more veggies as a side.

How do you like your turkey? Traditional or ???

The first in the Dinner Club Mysteries is now 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. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Blueberry Zucchini Bread #recipe @lucyburdette

LUCY BURDETTE: Stay tuned for next week when we kick off our annual book club extravaganza--in other words, we'll show you delicious things to make and serve your book group and make suggestions about books to discuss!

John has batting practice

Meanwhile, we've had a zucchini extravaganza in our garden. As my friend Gina says, tis the season where people lock their garage doors and car doors to prevent gardeners from leaving baseball bat-sized zukes on the premises...

But in case this happens to you, here's a yummy recipe for zucchini/blueberry bread.


3 large eggs
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
½ cup butter
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
½ cups granulated white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups shredded zucchini, squeezed with a paper towel
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp no sodium baking powder
1/2 tsp  no sodium baking soda
2 cups fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Oil two 8x4 inch loaf pans.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, applesauce, vanilla, sugar and zucchini.

In a food processor, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda. Cut in the butter.


Mix a tablespoon of the flour mixture into the blueberries.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir gently. Carefully stir in the floured blueberries.


Divide the batter between the two prepared pans. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for at least 20 minutes, then turn out bread onto wire racks until it has cooled completely.

Lucy Burdette writes the Key West food critic mysteries. Are you all caught up? This easy dinner will leave you plenty of time to read... and then for all the latest news, follow Lucy on: