Saturday, April 6, 2013

The sweetest, hottest peppers in the world!

I try to keep up with new cozy mystery series. So when I saw this dramatic and eye-catching cover, I knew we had to invite the author to be a guest at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen. After all, firemen are known for their cooking skills and creativity in the kitchen. But who was this mysterious JJ Cook? No clue to the author's gender there. I got a mighty good laugh out of it when I tracked down the elusive author. It's our old friends Joyce and Jim Lavene. Gee, I can't imagine where the JJ came from! And now, here's Joyce, er JJ!

My new mystery series, the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mysteries, begins with That Old Flame of Mine - out now!

In the story, the tiny town of Sweet Pepper, Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains is crazy about everything pepper. They have a giant hot pepper on their water tower and a three-day hot pepper festival that showcases a recipe contest with various ways to eat peppers from chocolate-covered to pepper enhanced cakes and pies. Every food can be made with hot peppers - the wilder, the better.

Their pepper of choice is the Tennessee Teardrop. The pepper is about mid-way on the Scoville Scale which charts how hot a pepper is. This means if you like really hot food, this will seem mild to you. If you don’t like hot food, it will seem hot. Always taste a very small amount of pepper before committing to a mouthful!

The people of Sweet Pepper have been growing and eating hot peppers for more than a hundred years. For them, the Teardrop is perfect. Their slogan - we grow the hottest, sweetest peppers in the world!

When my heroine, Stella Griffin, comes to Sweet Pepper from Chicago, she’s a little put off by pepper-eating and the tiny town.

She’s used to having everything available 24/7, and that includes a fire department with professionals, not volunteers. But Stella learns fast about everything but grits, and she even enters a recipe in the Sweet Pepper Festival.

She’s a sweet-eater, so candied hot peppers appeal to her. She even volunteers to judge the coveted chocolate-covered pepper recipe contest!

Stella’s cardamom candied peppers

Slice some mild or medium hot peppers, width-wise. Be sure you know what type they are and that they are the right heat for you.

Make a syrup from one cup of water, one cup of sugar (or sugar alternative works too). Add two teaspoons of cardamom and stir. Put this in a double boiler on low heat for about twenty minutes.

When the syrup thickens, add the pepper ‘coins’ and let them stay in the syrup for about five minutes. Be sure they are coated on both sides.

Drain the syrup from the peppers and put them flat on a baking tray. Cook on low heat (about 200 degrees) for about twenty minutes, or until crispy.

The peppers will be very sweet with a ‘bite’ of heat as you taste them. They’re very good on vanilla ice cream as a garnish but I know people who use bits of them in cookies and brownies too. Get creative!

If you find that you’ve swallowed a pepper that’s too hot for you, drink milk or eat ice cream. It’s the best way to lose the burn. Don’t drink soda or water. It will make it worse!

Firefighters and food

Stella has been a firefighter for ten years. She has experienced all sorts of strange foods made by her fellow team members.

I always wanted to be a firefighter but when I was sixteen, I got the bad news – no women firefighters. I had many people in my family who served the City of Chicago and very nice memories of spending time at my grandfather’s station house there.

Now women can serve too and I’m sure the food has improved with that addition.

My great-grandfather, my grandfather, and my uncle always said the worst food they ever ate at the station house was stew because you never knew what might have gone into it!

About That Old Flame of Mine

Set in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, J. J. Cook’s thrilling new mystery series features Fire Chief Stella Griffin, who solves crime with the help of her predecessor, who just happens to be a ghost...

Joyce Lavene writes award-winning, bestselling mystery fiction with her husband/partner, Jim. They have written and published more than 60 novels for Harlequin, Berkley, Amazon and Gallery Books along with hundreds of non-fiction articles for national and regional publications. They live in rural North Carolina with their family. Visit them at


  1. Welcome, Joyce and Jim! Thanks for the nifty pepper recipe and congrats on another intriguing series.

    Victoria Abbott - aka Victoria and Mary Jane Maffini

  2. Welcome, JJ! I love this cover. Talk about drama!

    This recipe blows me away. I love peppers, and have a package of them in the fridge right now. I might have to try this -- on ice cream, you say?


    1. I LOVE this on ice cream! I know. Berkley does some great covers. Thanks for having me here today!

  3. What a fascinating recipe! I'm definitely going to try it. Although hubby is very sensitive to heat so I'll have to go with something pretty mild! The new series sounds like such fun, too.

    1. Just look for some mild peppers. There should be an index that will tell you how hot they are, Peg. I like them mild too.

  4. Congrats, JJ on your new series. What a "hot" new recipe and "hot" new series. Fun.

    Daryl / Avery (who knows all about having another persona.

  5. Thanks, Avery! We put the hot peppers together with the fire brigade to enhance the 'heat'!