Writer and Cook? Not Really.
by Keith Raffel
I’m not sure what I’m doing here, but I can claim to be a mystery lover and, if aspiration counts, I can try to pass myself off as a cook, too.
Within 20 minutes of telling my wife back in 2007 that I wanted to quit my day job and write crime fiction full-time, she was looking for a job for herself. After 18 years of devoted duty as household CEO and our children’s CRO (Chief Raising Officer), Teri took on an additional position in the admissions office of a local private school.
When Hanukkah started this month, she was still working, the kids were still in school, and I was still book-touring. We did go to friends’ houses to light candles, eat latkes, and celebrate, but Teri observed we weren’t doing much at home ourselves beyond exchanging presents. She sighed and told me she missed the get-togethers of her childhood.
I recklessly sprang into action. I sent out emails to three family friends and my brother after Hanukkah had already begun. I was hoping that at least one could join us on Friday, the last night of the holiday,. Uh-oh. They all said yes. Two dozen then for dinner. Teri was busy at work, #1 wasn’t coming home from college till Thursday, #2 was busy with her college apps, #3 had soccer and homework, and #4, well, I didn’t have high hopes for help from my 11-year old son. I was on my own.
At one time in my youth, when I was single, I was known for entertaining. The old Washington Star once wrote up a dinner party I threw for fellow Senate staffers, and I used to have a Kentucky Derby party every year with mint juleps and all. Those party-giving muscles though had not been really used for more than two decades.
Thursday, the day before, I picked up #1 from the airport and then dashed over to Costco to pick up 20 pounds of potatoes, 10 of onions, and a quart of olive oil. I spent the evening frying latkes, the traditional potato pancakes of the holiday.
#1 inherited the cooking and baking genes from her great-grandmothers and grandmother. “Dad, I cooked a dinner for 70 at school this semester,” she told me with a certain disdain. I assigned her responsibility for desserts, and she effortlessly whipped up an apple brown butter cake, Mexican wedding cookies, and pecan shortbread. Guests were assigned responsibility for salad, vegetables, and wine.
That left the entrée with me (in addition to the aforementioned latkes). Teri was even more frightened of the potential results than I was. Embarrassment in front of her peer group was a real possibility. She told me I had to make a roasted salmon dish I’d adapted from a Mark Bittman recipe with some success once before. Voila.
Salmon with Almonds
2½ pound side of salmon (either with or without skin)
1 cup blanched, slivered almonds (no skin)
1½ tbsp butter
2½ tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Melt 1½ tablespoons of butter in a saucepan at low medium heat. Once melted, add 1½ tablespoons of oil. Stir in the almonds and cook just till they begin to brown.
Spread 1 tablespoon of oil on the bottom of roasting pan, put pan in the oven, and preheat to 450F.
Place the fish in the pan, skin side down (or the side where the skin was). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spoon the almonds on top.
Cook for 8-12 minutes. (Check doneness with fork.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. (Throw some parsley on as a garnish if you’re in the mood; I wasn’t.)
So how did things go on Friday night? Of course, lighting the menorahs put everyone in a holiday mood. The meal? The reheated latkes were only so-so, but the salmon saved the day and Teri from embarrassment. My sister-in-law couldn’t believe I’d cooked the salmon myself. She kept exclaiming all through dinner how good it was. She was right. Remember what Dr. Johnson said about a dog walking on his hind legs: “It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”
May your new year be filled with delicious food and scrumptious reading!
In addition to cooking potato pancakes and salmon, Keith Raffel writes mysteries and thrillers. His latest book, the bestselling Smasher: A Silicon Valley Thriller, was called “compelling” by Publishers Weekly and a “taut roller coaster ride” by Cara Black, author of the Aimée Leduc series. Check the latest news at www.keithraffel.com.
Keith, thanks for the delicious recipe and for joining us at the Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen today!