Sunday, September 4, 2016

When Food is Love: The Joy of Holiday Cooking

A warm welcome to Julia Buckley, who brings us the first Christmas recipe of the year. That must mean the holidays can't be too far behind!

Julia's latest book, CHEDDAR OFF DEAD, the second Lilah Drake Undercover Dish mystery, hits shelves on September 6 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon now.

Don't miss her giveaway. Leave a comment with your email address below so she can notify you if you win!

In my latest book, CHEDDAR OFF DEAD (the second in Berkley’s UNDERCOVER DISH mysteries), Lilah Drake continues her career as a secret chef while she also maintains two day jobs that involve cooking and baking. Lilah has a flair for creating food to suit her clientele, and the list of her customers is growing as the series progresses.

The book is set at Christmastime, and Lilah is working to make a variety of holiday foods, some of it for her own family.

In the excerpt below, Lilah Drake is staying at her brother’s house for protection, since a murderer may be looking for her. She is surrounded by her brother and his lovely Italian wife, Serafina, a police-appointed bodyguard named Wendy, and her sometime-boyfriend, Detective Jay Parker. (She also has the non-human support, as ever, of her loyal Labrador, Mick. In the photo below, the part of Mick is played by my own Labrador, Digby, wearing the Christmas garb that Mick must wear). This unlikely group is sharing one of Lilah’s breakfast concoctions:

“I focused on my casseroles. The key to a delicious gingerbread is getting the right molasses (I used Angelo’s Gourmet, which had earned a frown from Parker at the convenience store) and the perfect blend of spices. I did some careful measuring of cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, doubling up so that I could make two versions of this particular casserole. I preheated the oven and then dipped my bread into the gingerbread concoction, laying it into glass bake ware, then drizzling it with a sprinkling of nuts and melted butter.

By the time I slid them into the oven, Serafina finally appeared, looking rumpled and sexy in a little red robe. It was official: there was no occasion in which Serafina did not look attractive. “Lilah? You’re up so early!”

“Yes. I had to get started on some food deliveries, but I’ll have breakfast for you and Cam. Is he at work?”

“No—he’s in bed. We were up late, talking and talking.”

Now it was Serafina who didn’t make eye contact, but it was clear enough what she and my brother had been doing into the wee hours. “Oh. Well, hurry up and take your shower, and I’ll make you both some coffee.”

Forty minutes later they were all at the table and being regaled with Christmas songs from Serafina’s iPod. I watched as Parker, Cam, and Serafina dug in to the still-warm gingerbread casserole. Cam slathered his with additional syrup and butter, although I had already topped the dish with fresh whipped cream. They started to eat, and I held my breath until I heard the first “Ah,” which came from Parker. He certainly was a loyalist about my food.

“Lilah, this is delicious!” Serafina said. “Such a wonderful way to start the day—warm food to warm the heart.” Her words were highlighted by Perry Como, who was singing “Home for the Holidays” in his rich, reassuring voice.”

Despite the dangers Lilah finds herself in over the course of several mysteries, she always feels cheered by the food she makes, and by the appreciative responses from the people who eat it. Food warms the heart and the stomach, and for Lilah, food is a way to show love.

With her holiday gingerbread casserole, she does just that.

Lilah’s French Toast Casserole with Gingerbread Flavor(Adapted for Christmastime)


1 loaf of soft French bread (or soft rolls)
8 large eggs
2 cups half and half
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Salt to taste

Streusel Topping:
(This can vary, but here’s one option)

2 sticks (one pound) butter
¼ cup molasses
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cloves

Slice bread into 20 slices (or separate ten rolls) and lay out in buttered baking dish.

Blend all of the ingredients and pour them over the slices of bread, making sure that the wet mixture gets under and in between the slices, and that all of the bread is saturated.

Cover the mixture with tin foil and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, spread the Streusel mixture on top of the saturated, chilled bread, and bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

(Gingerbread tastes delicious topped with whipped cream).

Serve with pats of butter and maple syrup.

Be ready for a delicious surprise to share with friends or family! Toby’s five children love this recipe, but adults love it, too!

Julia Buckley is a Chicago writer. Her recent titles, A DARK AND STORMY MURDER (Berkley, July 6) and CHEDDAR OFF DEAD (Berkley, Sept 6) are available in stores and on Amazon. She lives in a busy house with her husband, two sons, four cats and a big Labrador. Her European mother raised her to believe that Food is Love, and she has followed that philosophy all her life.

I hope you enjoy the recipe, or the book, or both—and Merry Christmas in September. J I will choose a winner from among the comments under this post and send them a signed copy of CHEDDAR OFF DEAD, the sequel to THE BIG CHILI.