Sunday, December 27, 2009

Welcome Guest Blogger Keith Raffel

Writer and Cook? Not Really.

by Keith Raffel

KR, sunglasses, full JPG cropped


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.

Hanukkah 2009 003(2) 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

Ingredients:salmon 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

Parsley (optional)


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!


cover_smasher_med 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

Keith, thanks for the delicious recipe and for joining us at the Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen today!


  1. Welcome to the Kitchen, Keith! I bet Teri really appreciated your pulling such a huge dinner together. That's what's so great about Costco, isn't it? 2 dozen people...whew! The salmon sounds delicious. Now you're going to be on the hook as the host in the future, you know!


  2. What a wonderful story. It says alot about the holiday spirit and how families can pull together. The salmon looks delicious.

  3. Hey Keith! Thanks so much for joining us here. I love your story about how dinner came to be. So much fun. The salmon sounds marvelous, too. I knew you were a man of many talents, but I'm totally impressed to know one of your dinner parties was written up... that's big time! It was great seeing you at Bouchercon! Congrats on the new book.


  4. Keith, I'm not surprised that a man like yourself with so many talents can cook, too. If the salmon came out half as good as your books have, your guests had quite a treat.

    What day/time would you like my family over next year? We'll bring the dreidels.

  5. Love your wonderful holiday story. About the salmon, butter and olive oil? I love this recipe already.

  6. Keith, thanks so much for sharing your touching story. Let's hear it for family! And the salmon looks great.

  7. Keith, the Salmon looks wonderful. Thanks for the guest post... I love the idea of guest posting!

    And ladies of the kitchen, collectively I am passing an award on to you all... check todays post for the details...

  8. Thanks for joining us, Keith! Terrific story about your Hanukkah celebration. The salmon sounds great, and what a lovely daughter to pitch in with so much enthusiasm.

    ~ Krista

  9. Elizabeth/Riley, Julie, Alan, Krista, Year, Avery, Vannie, and Mason, It was fun blogging here. Can't wait to show your comments to my family. Maybe it will help convince them that I have a future as a cook. Sure, everyone, stop on by next year on any of the eight nights.

  10. Wow, Keith--that salmon looks gorgeous! Bittman is one of my go-to guys, too, but I would never have the courage to do fish for company. I always undercook it or overcook it. Great post, and great recipe. Thanks for sharing!

  11. That salmon sounds delish, Keith! Way to go, stepping up to the challenge. Though I'm not surprised given your myriad abilities.

  12. Definitely going to give this a try the next time hubby comes home from Costco with salmon. It's finally cooled off enough so cooking seems like a good idea; I made spicy glazed almonds (because I didn't have pecans) and am making some turkey broth from our Thanksgiving carcass, which has been patiently waiting in the freezer for a second go-round at torture.

  13. Oh, I love salmon. Thanks for the recipe.
    Way to step up to the challenge, Keith!

  14. Soooooooo yummy sounding. Can I get my husband to do that?


  15. I am not surprised at all that your Hanukkah dinner was a raving success. Cooking with love is a mitzvah! (Otherwise it's just fire-treated organic matter on a plate.) And, of course, a recipe from the minimalist never hurts!

    Thanks for hanging with us Mystery Writing Cooks today, Keith, and especially the wonderfully told foodie fish tale.

    ~ Cleo

  16. Yum! I'll have to try this recipe. It's quick and easy enough for even me, and I adore salmon no matter how cooked.

    Great story, Keith!

  17. I wonder if you can help me with an oven mystery. I followed directions exactly for 'Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, allowing the bread dough
    to rest for 90 on parchment paper, placing paper and loaf in the oven on a heated pizza stone with the broiler pan for steam. It was baking nicely when I removed the loaf to the pizza stone 2/3 through. When I checked at the end of the baking time, my pizza stone had blown apart in pie shaped large shards. What went wrong? Those things are expensive! I can't afford to
    explode one every time I make this lovely bread.