Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I Scream for Ice Cream

Somewhere, somehow in one of my culinary mysteries I’m going to have to do ice cream/gelato/frozen yogurt as stand-alone recipes across books or as a recipe strand in one book.

Each book in my Oak Tree Press culinary mystery series, “Dinner is Served”, will have a recipe strand. Other recipes will be included, but most will fit the strand. Mission Impastable is pretty clear--lots of pasta recipes. Prime Rib and Punishment? Meats, of course. Peas Porridge Pot? That one will focus on veggies and medical marijuana recipes. Cooks in the Can has Alli and Gina cooking with lots of canned goods at the country jail. You get the idea.

So where could I tuck in frozen confections? Of course, I could include some in several different books. Or I could write a mystery meant to include ice cream and related desserts. I could call the mystery Cold Case or maybe I Scream. What do you think? Why don’t you name it in the comments section below? If yours is selected, I’ll acknowledge you when that book is written.

But why wait? Here are a couple of family favorites I make. When the weather turns warm like this, it’s time to break out the ice cream maker.

Caramel Chocolate Chip Nut (makes a little more than a quart)

½ cup milk
1 can dulce de leche condensed milk
sprinkle of salt
2 cups heavy whipping cream
¼ cup chopped nuts
¼ cup mini-chocolate chips

Whisk milk and dulce de leche until smooth. Add salt and cream. Whisk until incorporated.

Pour into ice cream maker and process for 20-30 minutes until ice cream is soft frozen. Add nuts and chocolate chips slowly until blended. Turn off ice cream maker and put into container and freeze for several hours.

Soft-Serve Chocolate Ice Cream Shake (makes a bit more than a quart--serve immediately)

4 cups thick chocolate milk
1 can condensed sweetened milk

Whisk together. Process in ice cream maker until it reaches soft-serve stage. Pour into glasses and serve with a straw and spoon.

I have so many more. London loves my strawberry gelato. Both Chicago and Brooklyn devour my Ben and Jerry’s Heath Bar Crunch ice cream. DH loves the fruited gelatos and frozen yogurts. Yeah, I have to include some of these in my culinary mystery books.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Four-Letter Word on a Food Blog: Diet

I am so pleased to welcome fellow author, J.L. Greger, from Oak Tree Press to my blog today. I know you will enjoy her post on that unspeakable word: diet! So glad to have you here, Janet!

Don't panic. I'll use the offensive word no more than necessary.

Why am I writing on dieting?  
You might guess I'm Scrooge and trying to ruin your fun at a blog featuring delicious recipes.

Wrong! It’s because my new murder mystery is called Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight. Linda Almquist (the heroine) is investigating two "diet doctors" for recklessly endangering the lives of their obese research subjects. They are convinced they’ve found an easy way for obese subjects to lose weight - just alter their gut flora. Then Linda finds one of them dead.

Does the research sound strange? You’ll be a believer after you read “The microbes made me eat it” (Science, volume 328, pages 179-80 in 2010).

Oh, did I forget to mention, Linda is trying to lose weight as she searches for the murderer.

Dieting advice that Linda uses
1. Decrease portion sizes. Super-sizing is your enemy. In restaurants, order children’s portions or a half sandwich with a cup of clear soup.

Toppings are meant to add a dash of flavor. That means a teaspoon (not a tablespoon) of butter on bread and a tablespoon (not a ¼ to a ½ cup) of dressing or guacamole on your salad or sandwich.

2. Don’t buy snack foods, except carrots and other raw vegetables. You can’t eat what you don’t have.

2. Decrease fat, sugar, and alcohol intake in beverages. Most standard servings of sweet iced teas, lattes, fruit juices, and regular sodas contain 130-190 calories. Many fruits smoothies and cocktails provide >200 calories, while the unsweetened tea, black coffee, and diet sodas contain no calories. These calories add up when you drink several servings daily.

3. Broil, bake, or grill meats and fish, don’t fry. For example, the typical over-breaded and greasy chicken breast contains at least 300 calories. The same chicken breast, if the skin is removed and the meat broiled, provides 121 calories.

4. Follow this advice everyday for months. It may be easier to stick to your diet if you chew gum between meals or drink at least one glass of water before each meal. For flavor, top meat, potatoes, and other vegetables with a tablespoon of a non-fat, fresh salsa.

Did you learn anything new?
Probably not. You know the basics of dieting, but you can’t stick to it for long. You're not alone. Did you ever notice how many physicians, nurses, and dietitians are overweight or obese?

That’s why so many researchers study obesity. Meet several of them when you read Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight. You may decide dieting isn’t so hard after all. 

Please comment
If you leave a comment to this blog along with a way for me to contact you, you will be entered in a drawing on October 1. The winner gets his/her name used in one of my upcoming novels.

Bio: As a biologist and professor emerita of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I enjoy putting tidbits of science into myr mystery/suspense novels. So far that’s Coming Flu and Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight. A third is on the way. To learn more, visit www.jlgreger.com or http://jlgregerblog.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Million-Way Muffins

We love muffins at our house--savory and sweet, and there’s always a kind or two in the freezer for when someone drops by. So when I read Mark Bittman’s post on modifying a basic recipe to make many kinds of muffins, I knew I had to do a post on this myself.

Bittman’s article is found at http://shine.yahoo.com/shine-food/mark-bittman-muffins-infinite-ways-180900902.html
I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. (I’m kind of a Bittman groupie. I read everything of his I come across.)

His recipe is here with some of his modifications. Then I include some of my own recipes adaptations. (In Mission Impastable (Oak Tree Press), I included a blueberry muffin recipe from a friend’s mother that has great sentimental value for me. I did an earlier post on that recipe.) Muffins and I go way back.

Muffins are an amazingly versatile and forgiving batter. Play with combos that sound interesting to you. Adding ½ to ¾ cup of nuts increases the protein. Adding fresh or dried fruits increases food value, too. I love spices, so I’ll play with cardamon and banana instead of cinnamon. Or go crazy and dump the spices you use for pumpkin pie (sans or with pumpkin) to make spice muffins. Lemon zest and rosemary? Mmm mmm good!

Cut down the sugar to make muffins more savory and add cheese and basil. Use olive oil instead of vegetable oil or butter. Tarragon is an amazing flavor for muffins. Put in onions instead of fruit. Do you like a green chilies and corn combo? Why not put in black beans for fun? Go for it.

Use his basic recipe for proportions not necessarily for ingredients. Think of the ingredients as categories to include.

Mark Bittman’s Muffins, Infinite Ways
Makes: 12 medium or 8 large muffins
Time: About 40 minutes
3 tablespoons melted butter or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, plus more for the muffin tin
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk, plus more if needed 

1. Heat the oven to 375°F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin and line it with paper or foil muffin cups if you like. 

2. Mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl. Beat together the egg, milk, and melted butter or oil in another bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into it. Using a large spoon or rubber spatula, combine the ingredients swiftly, stirring and folding rather than beating and stopping as soon as all the dry ingredients are moistened. The batter should be lumpy, not smooth, and thick but quite moist; add a little more milk or other liquid if necessary. 

3. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, filling them about two-thirds full and handling the batter as little as  possible. (If you prefer bigger muffins, fill 8 cups almost to the top; pour 1/4 cup water into the empty cups.) Bake for about 20 minutes (about 30 minutes for larger muffins) or until nicely browned and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before taking them out of the tin. Serve warm.

Sometimes Bittman suggests whole wheat flour or half-whole wheat/half white. You can substitute wheat bran or wheat flour (I food process quick oats). Substitute corn meal or graham cracker crumbs for part of the flour. Look through your shelves for things to toss in. I love chia seeds, for instance. Go for the unexpected in your muffins.

To his basic batter, you can substitute honey, molasses, maple syrup, or brown sugar instead of granulated sugar. I like to add Greek yogurt in place of milk to up the protein. Of course, we all know that ripe mashed banana can replace part of the oil to make muffins less fatty. Add in some cooked quinoa or rice in lieu of some of the flour. You can always adjust the batter stiffness with more milk or yogurt.

DO NOT BE AFRAID TO PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD! Muffin-making can be highly entertaining. But you might not be able to give the recipe to someone who really likes what you baked---at least that’s true if you cook like me. And if the muffins don’t work out, well, you can always become a writer! Culinary mysteries are fun!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dinner is Served

We open up our cabin in the cool pine country of Arizona in three stages. It’s a process to prepare for closing one house and opening the other for six months each year.

As temps soar here in the Valley of the Sun, the time has come. It’s always a big deal to pack up the first load, go north, unload, and then return to Phoenix. That makes dinner a problem.

Dinner is rarely a problem at our house. Partly because, bless his heart, DH WILL eat anything! Truly. Never a problem. No the problem on the moving days is we get back late and if I didn’t plan ahead, what do we eat?

It happened this week. Home after 6:30. We normally eat at 7 after playing a rousing game of cubes.  Okay, so I did a quick refrigerator inventory. What follows is the recipe. Seriously, don’t hold me to measurements here. We’re talking leftovers. I would love to be on that cooking show, Chopped. Give me a basket of mystery ingredients. Pshaw! That’s what I do most days! And these people win $10,000???

DH loves casseroles, fortunately, so when he looked at the serving dish, he asked, “What’s this?” Instead of my usual snarky, “Dinner,”I replied, “Your favorite. Casserole.”

He poked around in the bowl, and announced. “Yes, my favorite Peoria Casserole.” Thus, the following:

Peoria Casserole

Leftover angel hair pasta, maybe 1 ½ cups
1 pkg chicken Swanson “Flavor Boost”
2 big handfuls of fresh spinach
1 handful of fresh mushrooms
about 1 c leftover roast chicken and the drippings from cooking

Pam a casserole dish. Toss pasta with Flavor Booster. Mix in remaining ingredients. Cover. Microwave for 3 ½ minutes. Dinner is served.

Coincidentally, my new culinary mystery series is called “Dinner is Served”. The first book, Mission Impastable, will be out this summer from Oak Tree Press.