Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Cheers to the holidays -- and a double #bookgiveaway


My holiday gift to you: One lucky reader will win two signed copies of GUILTY AS CINNAMON---one to keep, and one to give away. Comment below for a chance to win.  

I like to joke that research for my books means eating. And that's kinda true. But when I was writing GUILTY AS CINNAMON, I knew I needed to understand more about the business of being a chef. So I devoured chef lit—memoirs and nonfiction about kitchen life. One fun discovery was BLOOD, BONES & BUTTER: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton, founder and chef of Prune in New York. I learned a lot about cooking and the business of running a restaurant, but also how freedom and weirdness are key ingredients. Chef Hamilton described a scam that worked its way into CINNAMON, after I finally figured it out!

And she made me crave the Negroni, a cocktail made with gin and Campari. Have I said, I don’t like gin? And Campari is too bitter for me. But this drink—wow.

Then we went to Seattle, for research. I-90 in central Washington was clogged with construction and we got to our hotel in the Pike-Pine corridor late, hungry, and thirsty. We walked a couple of blogs to the Odd Fellows Café in the old Odd Fellows Hall, two doors down from the great Elliott Bay Book Company, and two blocks from my alma mater, Seattle University.

Where I drank a Negroni sbaglatio, made with sparkling wine instead of gin. Wow. Plus you can drink two and still walk home.

(When we took these pictures, we hadn’t found the little tool for cutting the perfect orange peel. You don’t technically need it. But you know you want it.)

My version of the Negroni comes from Gary Regan, author of the Joy of Mixology, which Mr. Right found in said Elliott Bay Bookstore. Sandra’s spiced nuts are my variation of a recipe found in Vij’s Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine, by Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala, the husband-and-wife team who run Vij’s in Vancouver, B.C. Road trip!

Garam masala is an Indian spice blend that’s as individual as the cook. GUILTY AS CINNAMON includes the Seattle Spice Shop’s version, created by Sandra, the shop's master mixologist. Make your own, or use a commercial version, as I did for this batch. My house is redolent with cloves and cardamom. And the sweetness the mango adds is a nice complement to the cayenne.

The perfect pairing for your holiday entertaining, for a party of twenty or one. Just save some for me.

The Negroni 

For each drink:

1½ ounces Campari
1½ ounces sweet vermouth
1½ ounces gin
1 orange twist (a strip of peel, about 1/2 inch wide and 3 to 4 inches long, twisted to release the oils)

Pour the liquor into an ice-filled rocks glass, and add the peel.

Best drunk outdoors on a deck overlooking a freshly mowed meadow or water. Or anywhere, actually.

For a Negroni Sbagliato, substitute champagne or sparkling wine for the gin. Drink lore says a bartender created it by grabbing the wrong bottle; sbagliato means “mistaken” in Italian. An inexpensive sparkling wine, on the dry side, like Freixenet (pronounced “fresh-eh-net”) Brut from Spain or Yellow Tail from Australia, will do nicely. Plus the wine will add a touch of international flair! No need to worry about opening the bottle. Just uncrimp the wire cage and remove it, place one hand over the cork, and turn the bottle, not the cork, until you hear that satisfying pop.

Sandra’s Spiced Nuts

1 pound raw almonds or cashews, or a mix
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt or another crystal variety
1½ teaspoons amchur, or mango powder
1 tablespoon garam masala
1½ teaspoons ground cayenne

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir together the nuts, oil, salt, and spices.

Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and roast about 10 minutes, stirring once to cook the nuts evenly. (If the edges of the nuts start to brown, pull them out to avoid burning.) Place the baking sheet on a rack; the nuts will continue to brown slightly as they cool.

Remember what Pepper says about spice blends: They take a few hours to marry and mellow, so these are best made ahead. They’ll keep several weeks if stored in a tightly sealed container.

Makes 1 pound.

Recipes from GUILTY AS CINNAMON (Berkley Prime Crime, December 2015)

Do you have a favorite holiday libation? 

Leave a comment, with your email address, to be entered for a chance to win two signed copies of GUILTY AS CINNAMON, the second installment in my Seattle Spice Shop mysteries---one for yourself and one to give a friend! Contest ends at midnight, Wednesday, December 16. 

Leslie Budewitz is the author of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries and the Spice Shop Mysteries—and the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction. The president of Sisters in Crime, she lives in northwest Montana with her husband, a musician and doctor of natural medicine, and their cat Ruff, a cover model and avid bird-watcher.

Connect with her on her website or on Facebook.