Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Guest Post: A Mystery Ingredient is Often the Key . . . Or Why I Should Never Bake by Violetta Armour

My Munds Park writing group is the best of the very many writing groups I have been part of over the years. And how lucky I am to count Vy Armour among one of its members. Last summer we worked on Vy's remarkable debut novel, I'll Always Be With You. This summer we are having fun with her new romantic suspense. Two very different novels, but each rich and engaging. You will find her post today laugh-out-loud funny!

Case in point:  my recent attempt at zucchini bread.  I mean WHO  could mess that up? Moi! 

Those of you who have followed by baking disasters are probably laughing already. Recalling twice-baked, once-dropped potatoes, Mexican wedding cookies that looked like a fire took place at that wedding…flat instead of round and edges burned to a crisp. (But I discovered that butter is good even when burned. I’m sure Paula Deen would agree.)

Here’s my sad saga.  It started quite innocently with a beautiful large zucchini from my friend’s garden here at Munds Park, AZ. (altitude 7000 feet-which plays into the story) I prepared all the wet ingredients as the recipe called for….except I didn’t have lemon juice so I used a little buttermilk. Besides, at high altitude you’re supposed to add a little more liquid and a little more flour. Not sure about the liquid but I remembered reading that somewhere. And I needed to get the quart of buttermilk out of my frig with company coming and lots of other goodies in there.

Now the dry ingredients:  3 ½ cups flour—well, I only had about 3 cups and you’re supposed to have a little more at high altitude rather than less, but I found half a yellow cake mix in the pantry (don’t even ask why I have ½ a cake mix). And I thought that was a good substitute for the flour because I was also 2 cups short on sugar (wow-who would have thought 3 cups sugar in a healthy veggie bread?) Now at Munds Park, we borrow from each other like crazy cause Safeway is 15 miles away unless you want to get a mortgage for a staple at the corner convenience store. But it was too early to start knocking on doors. I was baking early cause had a 9:30 tee time and wanted the bread to be done before I left the house.   (I digress).

One other variation:  The recipe called for one cup oil.  I only had garlic flavored olive oil (I know you’re surprised that I didn’t use this), so I melted one cup of coconut oil paste to a liquid and used that. A healthy touch.

Pans:  Called for 2 loaf pans. Of course, I didn’t have them so used a bundt pan. I baked for the hour. Outside was done nicely. Inside raw as cake batter. I put back in-(after I had flipped it,)  so put it back with the serving dish. No, it did not melt…oven proof.
After 10 minutes the middle was still kinda gooey but didn’t want the outside to bake any more…so voila. Done.

Not the prettiest creation but very tasty. A little butter or cream cheese.  Perfect.
Well, not exactly.

Perhaps I can blame my cooking disasters on my Mother. Isn’t everything we struggle with in life ultimately our mother’s fault?  Fortunately I can also give her credit for my any success I have had in the kitchen.  When it comes to savory, she was the best –without recipes of course. She came from Bulgaria to America in 1927 and married my father in 1934 with a brief honeymoon at the Chicago World’s Fair.

That’s not the only thing that was brief. They knew each other one week before they exchanged vows.  First recorded speed dating? Their marriage was arranged by two aunts in Pennsylvania who knew they were both looking for a life partner.  It only lasted 47 years till he passed). She told me she had no cooking experience when first married,  but by the time I was enjoying her culinary masterpieces some ten years later she had evidently mastered the art of fine Eastern European cuisine.  I never once saw a recipe card in her kitchen, but I saw her stirring, chopping, frying and throwing ingredients together like a seasoned pro. A little of this, a pinch of that.

My mouth waters as I write this to recall the taste of her stuffed peppers, stuffed cabbage, stuffed cucumbers (yes, with a lovely lemon sauce), banitsa (phyllo dough with feta cheese), lamb kabobs, and chomlek, a delicious beef, onion and garlic stew.
So it was no wonder that my mother and her recipes surfaced in my debut novel, I’ll Always Be With You, through the character of Baba, a grandmother who consoles her family with food as they struggle through a tragedy.

Grandson, Teddy, age 16, was getting a driving lesson with Dad when a drunk driver slams into them. Dad is killed. Teddy lives but with tremendous survival guilt although he was not to blame. When the family moves from the home of that fatal intersection to Dad’s hometown across the country, Teddy faces the challenge of starting over in a new school. Living in Grandma’s house, she not only provides comfort food but old-age wisdom that guides Teddy through this difficult time.  Meanwhile Teddy’s mother, Mary, discovers a few secrets about the Dad that cause her to question the “perfect” life they had together.  As she puts the clues together about Dad’s past, she must make a choice—does she choose happiness or regret?
As Teddy and Mary struggle with life choices, Baba, her kitchen and her laden table remain a constant source of nourishment in many ways.  Some of her recipes are included at the end of the book.

I’ve decided—whether writing or cooking—often throwing in the unsuspecting and mystery ingredient can add a unique flavor.   Just don’t try it in baking.

Violetta Armour is a first-generation American who cherishes her Bulgarian heritage. In her debut fiction novel, I’ll Always Be with You, she captures the spirit of her ancestors and their love for America. She is currently writing a romantic suspense.

She lives in Phoenix, Arizona, where she owned an Ahwatukee neighborhood bookstore in the early 90’s, Pages. She has written for Highlights for Children and Chicken Soup for the Soul.  You can find many more recipes as well as her monthly book reviews on her blog at http://serendipity-reflections.blogspot.com/

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Guest Post: "All Good (and Bad) Things Must Come to an End" by Charles Salzberg

Not only is Charles Salzberg an engaging Thanksgiving dinner partner, but he writes darn good mysteries, too! I am pleased he agreed to guest post here so you can get the behind-the-scenes scoop on his books. Welcome, Charles!

They say all good things (and bad ones, too, we hope) will come to an end. But it’s not always easy to know when the end is. Sometimes even the beginning comes as a surprise.

That was the case with the first detective novel I wrote, Swann’s Last Song.  The truth is, it wasn’t even supposed to be a detective novel or a novel about crime. The original idea was to take a well-worn genre and turn it upside down and inside out. I began with a down-and-out skip tracer, Henry Swann, who on the surface at least fit the description of the typical American detective: an outsider, a man living on the margins of society, a man who will do almost anything for money. A beautiful babe comes into his office and convinces him to find her missing husband. The convincing comes in the form of offering him a lot of money. He takes the dough, a daily stipend, and begins the search only to find out that the missing spouse is really a corpse. Case over. But wait, not so fast. The cops think the murder was simply a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but wifey doesn’t think so and she hires Swann to find the killer.

That’s the set-up. But from there things don’t quite fit the typical detective novel because in following the clues to find the killer Swann finds out something even more interesting, namely that the dead spouse, Harry Janus, might not be Harry Janus at all, that in fact he was several other people during his breathing days.

Thus the novel became being about who we are and who we might be and Swann, who believes the world is an orderly place, where everything ultimately makes perfect sense, which is what every detective must believe, i.e., that he or she is there to put the messy world back into place, winds up spent and disillusioned. This is especially so when he finds that following all the clues essentially leads him nowhere, because the crime was, in fact, totally random and all the clues he’s followed, which take him half-way around the world, are for naught.

Trouble was, no one would publish that version, so I after more than two decades I had to rethink the ending and, giving into the same incentive that got Swann on the case in the first place, I changed the ending and took the cash (don’t get the wrong idea, it wasn’t much cash and it was a check, but it was enough).

Case closed. Or so I thought.

As luck would have it the damn novel was nominated for a Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel. I lost, but dammit I’m the competitive type and so I decided to keep writing the damn things until I did win something.
And so a one-time project, trying to write a detective novel, turned into a lifetime calling. Next, came Swann Dives In, and after it, Swann’s Lake of Despair.

But as it turned out writing them was fun. I began my writing career thinking of myself as a literary writer. I liked all the right authors: Vladimir Nabokov, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Norman Mailer. Now I was a crime writer. But wait! Who said you can’t use literary techniques and be a crime writer at the same time? No one. And so these Swann novels became about something and that something wasn’t necessarily murder. In fact, I decided to shun such violent crimes and instead focus on other crimes, crimes nearer and dearer to us. Fraud, treachery, theft, broken hearts. Weren’t these crimes and couldn’t they be just as lethal, especially if they happened to you?

I thought so and maybe did a few others, since my last Swann novel, Swann’s Lake of Despair, did manage to make it to the finals of a couple other literary award contests.

And so I embarked on a fourth Henry Swann, Swann’s Way Out, in part because people seemed to like the character, as did I. But about halfway through this tome a thought came to me. At first it was just a feeling, I guess. Did I really have to write this character and his amusing cronies and allies for the rest of my life? I mean Swann has grown through the three novels. He’s gotten older and, I hope, wiser. His world has expanded. I began to wonder, have I taken this character as far as he can go? But even more important, what about me? Maybe I was getting a little tired of Henry Swann and his world. Maybe I had said all I had to say about him. Maybe we were a little tired of each other.

Maybe I was the one looking for a way out.

In the interim, I had written another novel, a stand-alone, Devil in the Hole, based on a true crime. Much to my surprise, it was named one of the Best Crime Novels of 2013 by Suspense magazine. Maybe I should write another stand-alone. Or maybe even make it the beginning of another series, where I could examine other worlds, other people.

By the time I finished Swann’s Way Out I had convinced myself that this one might really be Swann’s last song. Don’t worry I didn’t do anything drastic, like kill him off. Maybe I’m just going to put him out to pasture for a bit while I plow other fields. Or maybe he’s just gone. After all, think about real life. We know someone pretty well and then they move on and we move on and we don’t know what they’re doing with their lives and they don’t know what we’re doing with our lives. I mean, we’re both still alive, but we might as well be dead and gone because we don’t keep in touch anymore.
But one day, who knows, I might get a call and that call might be from Henry Swann. He says he’s in town and he’d like to see me and catch up. And he might have another story or two to tell me.

And you know something, I’m a curious guy and I’d probably make that date, you know, just to find out what’s happening.

Charles Salzberg is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in New York magazine, GQ, The New York Times and other periodicals. He is the author of the Shamus Award Nominated “Swann’s Last Song” and the sequels, “Swann Dives In” and "Swann's Lake of Despair". He teaches writing in New York City, at the Writer’s Voice and the New York Writers Workshop, where he is a Founding Member.


Click here to order my new novel - Swann's Lake of Despair - on Amazon

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Finish What You Start

Mission Impastable came out in 2014. I am completing books two and three in the culinary mysteries series, “Dinner is Served”, this summer. But ALWAYS when I am in the throes of writing a novel and near the end, my mind drifts to bright and shiny things that ARE NOT the current project. And that would be book four. Ever happen to you? You know what I’m sayin’, right?

Book two, Prime Rib and Punishment, has my personal chefs, Alli and Gina, teaching at a cooking school. The head chef hates them and all home cooks since they are not professionally, classically trained. Too bad he dies. Even too badder is that they are the prime suspects. Recipes are largely meat-based entrees.

In Potluck, a double entendre title, Alli is driven to use marijuana in recipes for medical purposes, to help people who cannot get medical benefits from smoking grass and must ingest it. She seeks the help of a brilliant agronomist who is a grower-distributor for most of the medical marijuana dispensaries in Arizona. Gina is not on board with this direction for their company. Recipes are for neighborhood potlucks as well as ones to add marijuana to at the prescribed dosage.

So with two great books winding up, why is my attention drawn from them to book four? I can’t wait to begin Ancient Grease, and I must fight myself constantly to keep from jotting down scenes and snippets of dialogue. If I get drawn into that book prematurely, I will never get books two and three done. That is precisely why I am now finishing two books this summer, both at past the mid-point. And the newer, fresher one is more appealing than the stale (in my mind) books two and three.

If I throw book four into the mix, none of them will ever get completed and published!

Writing Ancient Grease appeals to me on so many levels. I get to include Mediterranean/Aegean Sea recipes. I get to replay scenes from my travels in Turkey, Greece, and Macedonia. And the format is different. Rather than a novel, Ancient Grease is a series of linked short stories that take place when Gina and Alli are demonstration cooks on a cruise ship. There’s murder and burglary and mistaken identities. Wowie! It’s going to be a great book!

Doesn’t that sound more appealing than finishing up two other books and then doing the inevitable and everlasting edits?

Sigh. Delayed gratification has never been my strong suit. But, fortunately, with a critique group prodding me, I will finish what’s on my plate so I can get to dessert.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Guest Post: "Slivers of Glass" by Janet Lynn and Will Zeilinger

I am fascinated with well-done noir mysteries and admire people who can write them. To that end, today I am featuring Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger who partnered up on Slivers of Glass. When you read the interview, I'll bet you'd like to sit down with them. I know I would. As a special treat, at the end of this post, they provided a classic recipe of the era.

Southern California 1955:  the summer Disneyland opened, but even the happiest place on earth couldn't hide the smell of dirty cops, corruption and murder.

The body of a women thought to be killed three years earlier is found behind a theater in Hollywood. Movie Stuntman Skylark Drake, former LAPD detective, is dragged into the investigation. He can make no sense of the crime until he discovers a dirty underworld and unearths deep-seated...greed.

Genre: noir murder mystery

How much of your characters/plot are drawn from your life?
J-I think a lot of my plots and characters are drawn from people I know and things that happened to them and my family.  Then I asked myself, what is the worst thing that could happen to my family and friends that would impact me greatly
W- In my mysteries, very little is autobiographical. Mostly from people watching and eavesdropping
What is best to write from, real settings or fictional settings?
J-Fictional by all means, with a real situation playing a major role in the story. Nothing beats real life situations, and they say, sometimes life imitates fiction.
W- For me an actual setting that has been altered to fit the story. Creating a whole new world can take a lot of time and involve a lot of tracking and organization.

What was the most awkward situation you experienced when discussing your book?
J- My sister, 8 year old niece and I were enjoying a day at the beach. We ran into some friends I hadn't seen for years. We talked for a while and I told them about my new book, Slivers of Glass and how I write murder mysteries. The next day, my niece went to school, and during sharing time about families she stated, "My Auntie and Uncle are famous, they kill people." My sister got a call from the teacher that day. 
W- We were at a wedding in Santa Rosa when the subject of our murder mystery book research came to light. We asked about places in the area that could be the site of a body dump. You wouldn't believe the number of suggestions we got!  One woman said to her friend, "Those two seem so normal."

What city would you visit over and over again? 
J-New Orleans, it is such an amazing place! There is great history, scrumptious food,  beauty scenery everywhere you look, and friendly people. I was inspired during a walk through Jackson Square to write an entire murder mystery set in New Orleans. I already included New Orleans in my third book, EAST OF THE PIER.

W- I agree with Janet - New Orleans is number one. because of the rich history and of course the food!

Why do you write fictional murder mysteries?
J- Who says they're fictional!?! Many of my subplots and characters come from real life over the years. Mind you not necessarily my life!
W- Most true crime stories have been covered and I like to be creative with my characters and give them their own stories.

Where and how do you write?
J-I write anywhere I can: backs of forms, napkins, scratch paper, etc. And depending on where I am: doctors or dentist office,  standing line in the grocery store, stuck in traffic, name it. When inspiration hits, I write. Then I transfer my chicken scratches to my computer and elaborate on it.
W- Usually I am at my computer. I prefer to type in my story rather than write it with pen or pencil. I guess I like to commit to it in that way.  I do crossword puzzles in ink as well.

Where do you get most of your creative thoughts for your book?
J- I get most inspired in the shower, at the beach, swimming underwater. Since I swim 3-4 times a week at a public pool, I always come home with something. Especially when I'm stuck on a scene. Water tends to make my brain think best.
W- I never know when inspiration will strike. Many times when I'm sitting in a boring meeting, the urge to kill surfaces. Sometimes in a checkout line or waiting at the post office my mind will wander off to the dark side.

Excerpt from Slivers of Glass

There were a dozen other things I could’ve been doing besides standing in line at the drug store listening to Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” piped in overhead.  Though, it was a treat to watch the cashier move behind the counter in her form-fitting white smock. I shook my head and plopped a tube of Pepsodent and a couple of toothbrushes on the pharmacy counter.

She looked up and said, “That will be seventy-five cents, Mr. Drake.”

I dug in my pocket and dropped three quarters in her hand, “Thank you, Miss Abernathy.” She placed my items in a small white paper bag and folded over the top. “Here you are, and quit calling me that.  My name is Emily. Anyway, this should keep you smiling brightly. I only wish I could see yours sometime.”

In all the times I’ve walked to this drug store, I couldn’t remember a day she didn’t smile at me. Too bad there was a ‘y’ at the end of Emily’s name. Women with names like Sandy, Cathy or Abby were bad luck. Those ‘y’  women were always trouble and it would be dangerous to get mixed up with another one now.

“Thanks,” I tipped my hat, "When I have something to smile about, I might just show you.” I knew Emily pretty well since this place was only a couple of blocks from my apartment, an apartment I lived in because a fire took my home along with my beautiful wife Claire and Ellen my little girl.

As I turned to leave, I winked at the two little old ladies behind me.  They stepped back and stared as if I’d just sneezed in their faces. I turned and waved goodbye to Emily only to see her pointing behind me in horror. I followed her gaze and saw a dark green car hurtling toward us - right through the huge windows at the front of the store! The gigantic crash at my back sent shelves, boxes and cans hurtling in our direction. I turned around as glass, smoke and debris seemed to explode in a cloud around us. At that moment my training from the Marine Corps took over. I instinctively swept up the two ladies and Emily and pushed them to the back of the store. The other customers ran screaming out the huge opening where the storefront windows used to be. I shielded the women against the back wall with my body all the while knowing that my weight could suffocate them, but what else could I do? The ceiling could come down on us at any moment. I held them against the wall while listening to my heart pound.  Slowly the tinkle of glass subsided and I released them. Tiny slivers of glass and wood had embedded themselves in my sweater and trousers. “You’d better be careful,” One of the little old women chirped, “Your backside looks like a pin cushion.  Best not to sit down for a while.”

Website and/or blog links



A very popular dessert in the 1950’s, served at the famous Coconut Grove Night Club in Los Angeles. The “Grove” was known for its great cuisine. The Coconut Grove is featured in one of the scenes in Slivers of Glass, a Noir murder Mystery.

2 oranges or tangerines 

2 bananas

Shredded coconut, unsweetened
Peel the oranges or tangerines, pull the pieces apart; cut the pieces across the middle. Peel the bananas and cut them into thin slices.

Cover the bottom of the bowl with orange pieces. Sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons of sugar over the oranges (depending on the sweetness of the oranges/tangerines). Put some banana slices on oranges, and then sprinkle a little coconut over bananas.

Do the same thing for the next layer, first the oranges, sugar, bananas and coconut. Make more layers, using all the fruit.

Sprinkle coconut on top. Cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate for 1 hour. Serves 3-4

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Quick Cook: Chopped and Served

This is part of my continuing series on the Quick CookTips that I write about once a month in The Pinewood News, a small town paper in Munds Park, Arizona. An earlier version of this post appeared there. The series, on some of those tips, let’s you see how it might play out in your kitchen.

I admit to an addiction. Addictions are compelling, you know. They grab onto you and force you to aberrant behaviors, behaviors you never thought YOU would be snared by. Yes, that’s right. I watch too much reality TV. I am addicted to the Food Network, and the show Chopped is especially addictive.

I was thrilled with the Iron Chef shows that had the mystery ingredient. What fun to watch these world-class chefs figure out what to do with lizard brains! But Chopped took it to another level. A whole basket with mystery ingredients. I loved imagining what I could do with them.

When I first watched Chopped, I was not so impressed, and on some level that is still the case. Shoot! A bunch of disparate ingredients to throw together in a few minutes? At my house, I call that dinner!

After all, isn’t that what happens at your house? [Opening refrigerator whilst simultaneously scouring pantry shelves] “Hmm. Dinner. What can I put together?” Seriously! They made a TV show out of every busy mom’s daily experience??? Who are they trying to kid?

Quick Cook Tip # 6: Develop a kitchen-awareness of foods on hand.

Okay, admittedly, unlike Chopped, I don’t typically have frog legs, kumquats, graham cracker crumbs, and mustard greens I have to combine in one dish in 30 minutes, but the principle is the same. Every mom I know looks at the food possibilities, puts them together, and calls it dinner. So take that, Chopped!

Recently, I had uncooked spaghetti, some cherry tomatoes on their way to becoming dried tomatoes the old-fashioned way, bits of some cheeses, some chopped veggies left from a salad (peppers, green onion), and some leftover roast chicken and chicken au jus.

I cooked the spaghetti and after draining added the au jus and chicken. I tossed in the veggies and added shaved cheeses. Dinner in ten minutes!

What’s sitting around in your refrigerator? If you play Chopped, it’s a lot more fun than moaning about the lack of your expected ingredients. Don’t get in a rut. Play Chopped a couple of times a week to use leftovers in unexpected ways.

Leftover meatloaf? Cut meatloaf into fork-size chunks. Add a can of chiles, black beans, Mexicorn, diced tomatoes, salsa, and Mexican cheese. Pop the casserole into the microwave for ten minutes. Warm up tortillas for bread. Dinner is served!

Two pork chops and four people for dinner? Thinly slice the pork chops and put half in the bottom of a casserole dish. Cut up two white and/or sweet potatoes (or use leftovers) and put half on top of the pork. Drizzle on some cream to make it gloopy and add cheese. Repeat layers. Cover and bake in 375 degree oven for 45 minutes (reduce time if potatoes are cooked). Uncover and bake for another 5-10 minutes to brown up the top.

See? How easy is that? Look at what you’ve got and throw it together. Odds are very good that you will create a memorable meal. And un-replicable since you will never have the same combo of ingredients again at the same time!

This is Alli’s kind of cooking. She would be a great contestant on Chopped, don’t you think? 

Has you gotten your copy yet of Mission Impastable? This book is the first in my culinary mystery series. With a tasty mystery AND recipes, what's not to like?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Quick Cook Makes Risotto

This is part of my continuing series on the Quick Cook Tips that I write about once a month in The Pinewood News, a small town paper in Munds Park, Arizona. The series, on some of those tips, let’s you see how it might play out in your kitchen. 

I’m The Quick Cook in the Munds Park, Arizona newspaper, The Pinewood News. I give cooking tips each month. I got my handle because I could put a meal on the table quickly and with little fuss or mess. Part of that is because of …

Quick Cook Tip #5: Use your kitchen gadgets and appliances.

Okay, no brainer, right? How can one cook without using gadgets and appliances? Fair enough. But do you use them in unexpected ways?

Today’s recipe is one example.

I love risotto, but I’d better not have much else going on if I’m making it because it is so labor intensive. So, much as I love risotto, in all its variations, The Quick Cook has only made it for some special occasion rather than weeknight dinners.

But, thank goodness that all changed when I saw a recipe for 30-Minute Risotto. I never would have thought to parboil Arborio rice, but it works. At the bottom is the link to the original recipe, if you’re interested. What follows is my version of this delicious, fast, and easy dish.

This risotto recipe saves me time in two ways:
The risotto is ready faster with less attention needed AND I don’t have to prepare a salad. I serve this risotto with grilled salmon and we are good to go on veggies!

You can make the recipe vegetarian by substituting vegetable broth for the chicken broth. You can serve four as a side dish or two as a main course. All the protein in it makes the risotto an acceptable “meatless” dish for the entrée.

Oh, and use a large covered dish. First time I made this, my casserole dish overflowed with boiling broth all over the microwave tray. A mess plus I lost liquid I needed.

TQC Risotto (serves 4-6 as a side; 2-3 as an entrée)

2 cups broth, divided
½ cup Arborio rice
3 tablespoons butter
½ onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
½ cup frozen lima beans, thawed
½ cup chopped mushrooms
1 large handful of fresh spinach
1 cup Asiago cheese, grated

Place 1½ cups broth in a large, covered bowl. Add rice and 1 tablespoon of butter. Cook for about 15 minutes (until most, but not all, liquid is absorbed).

About five minutes before the broth and rice are done in the microwave, sauté onion in 1 tablespoon of butter. When translucent, add garlic. Cook about 30 seconds more and remove from heat.

Add parboiled rice to the skillet along with ½ cup of broth. Heat on medium heat. When simmering, add peas, lima beans, and mushrooms. Stir thoroughly.

Remove from heat and add spinach. Mix in to wilt. Add cheese and serve immediately.

Original recipe for 30-Minute Risotto:

If you liked this recipe, I’ll bet you’d enjoy the recipes in my culinary mystery, MissionImpastable, too. Click on the title to go to Amazon for purchase.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Use D-I-YSpice Blends in New Ways

This is part of my continuing series on the Quick Cook Tips that I write about once a month in The Pinewood News, a small town paper in Munds Park, Arizona. The series, on some of those tips, let’s you see how it might play out in your kitchen.

Two weeks ago I gave some recipes so you could use up some of those spices lurking in the dark of your pantry by combining them into spice blends. That not only saves space by getting rid of some of those little jars, but it saves money by you not having to buy spice blends when the ingredients are already in your cupboard.

I have a couple of more recipes to share, and then ways to use all five of the blends. Again, I urge you to make your own blends and not pay those exorbitant prices in the store. Yours will be fresher and better because the blends have been sitting on those store shelves for a while.

Seasoned Salt (makes about 13 tablespoons)
When you see how easy this recipe is, you’ll wonder why you ever bought the Lawry’s Seasoned Salt for a bazillion dollars.

8 tablespoons salt
8 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Mix thoroughly and store in an airtight jar.

Italian Seasoning (makes about 12 tablespoons)
I like basil more than oregano. Many of the blends have equal amounts of those two herbs, but my blend is heavier on basil. Switch it out for your preference.

5 tablespoons basil
1 tablespoons oregano
3 tablespoons parsley
2 tablespoons rosemary
2 teaspoons thyme
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Mix thoroughly and store in an airtight jar.

QC Tip #3
Use seasoning blends in new ways.

You may now have six blends, if you made last month’s and this month’s recipes: Poultry, Taco, Chinese Five-Spice, and Pumpkin Pie along with today’s Seasoned Salt and Italian.

Don’t be afraid to play with them. Smell the aroma of each. Imagine the foods it could pair with. Mix a small amount of yogurt with a bit of the spice blend. Taste it. Hold that flavor in your memory. Imagine it spread on or cooked in something else.

Here are some ideas to get you started. I could go on forever!

Any poultry-based soup
Bean soup
As a rub on chicken or pork before grilling or roasting
Steamed or grilled veggies/potato wedges
Slow cooker beef roast
Spaghetti sauce
Mixed with yogurt for baked potato topping
Mac and cheese
Beef, poultry, pork before grilling or roasting
Chinese Five-Spice
Stir fry
Beef, poultry, pork before grilling or roasting
Mix with yogurt for baked potato topping
Mix with yogurt for a veggie dip
Mix with balsamic vinegar and olive oil for salad dressing
Broth-based soups
Steamed or grilled veggies/potato wedges
Pumpkin Pie
Homemade ice cream ingredient
Side dish applesauce
Mix with honey yogurt for a fruit dip
Steamed or grilled veggies/potato wedges
Beef, poultry, pork before grilling or roasting
Seasoned Salt
Steamed or grilled veggies/potato wedges
Beef, poultry, pork before grilling or roasting
Mac and cheese
Mixed with yogurt for baked potato topping
Mixed with yogurt for baked potato topping
Steamed or grilled veggies/potato wedges
Mix with balsamic vinegar and olive oil for salad dressing
Beef, poultry, pork before grilling or roasting
Mac and cheese

Sharon Arthur Moore writes culinary mysteries. Mission Impastable is the first in the series of novels that have both a mystery and recipes. Coming in 2015 is Prime Rib and Punishment, followed by Potluck.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Guest Post: "Mysteries are Harder to Write Than I Thought" by JoAnn Smith Ainsworth

What a delight to welcome JoAnn Smith Ainsworth, a fellow Oak Tree Press author, to share her experience in mystery writing. I think you will find this an engaging read, particularly if you are thinking of venturing into mystery writing, too! And don't her books sound like fun reads?

I'm a suspense writer. I like the quick pace, the easy-to-understand language. I like that the reader knows all that is going on in the heads of the point-of-view characters. I always include the villain as a POV character, along with the heroine and the hero.

A few years ago, I decided to try writing a mystery where I had to keep information back from you—the reader—and feed it in bit by tantalizing bit. Was I surprised! Mysteries are harder to write than I thought.

The reason the mystery was so difficult for me was because of that very point—I had to keep information back from you. I could only feed it in when it was critical for you to know. Too early and I would resolve the story’s mystery before arriving at the novel’s conclusion.

For a writer who likes to let you know every thought in the heads of the main characters, it was difficult for me to hold things back. My critique partners would throw their hands up and say to me, "JoAnn, you're bringing that in too soon. You’ll give away the ending."

Still—with the help of my friends and my critique partners, I finished writing the mystery, which is also a romance.

The Farmer and the Wood Nymph takes place in Wyoming in 1895 in a time of no fast foods. Everything eaten had to be grown, gathered, fished for or hunted. Meals took many hours to prepare.

The novel is the story of two totally opposite personalities who need to learn “unconditional” love to have any chance of a “happily ever after.”

The heroine was found wandering alone in the woods with no clues as to her family. She has a wedding ring and amnesia. The hero is a member of the posse which finds her. The mystery woven throughout the story is about finding out who she is and whether she is married or widowed. The resolution of the mystery is essential to the love story. They are both honorable people who live by their vows and the social dictates of society. Even after learning how to unconditionally accept each other’s different viewpoints and approaches to life and to try not to change one another, they still cannot plan a future—not until they know who she is and if she is a widow.

One of the tender moments of redemption in the novel takes place in the kitchen of a boarding house. Breakfast is being prepared on a wood-stoked stove and the process of new love and new understanding is woven in with slicing bread, bringing the butter from the pantry to the table and scrambling the eggs.

In those days, the dining room table was a place for conversations and debates. Hours were spent over meals or, afterward, during a board game among the residents. The novel reflects these leisurely activities.

On the other hand, my paranormal suspense, Expect Trouble, gallops along from crisis to crisis.
Every thought and action by the protagonists and the schemes in the mind of the villain are an open book for you, the reader.

In Expect Trouble, the U.S. government recruits psychics to find Nazi spies on the East Coast during WWII. All the past history, all the current action and all future plans are written out for your knowledge. All action is up-to-the-minute, present-day. It’s not a mystery. There is no need to hide facts.

What a relief that is for me as the author.

When writing a 90,000 word novel, there are enough elements to juggle and remember. Holding back on facts and feeding hints in sparsely—and even throwing in a few red herrings—adds immense difficulty for me. The Farmer and the Wood Nymph may be the only mystery I ever write.

My hat is off to those authors who can create book after book of well thought out and exciting mysteries.

My question to you is:  Have you met or heard of anyone skilled at cooking on a wood-burning kitchen stove?

When JoAnn Smith Ainsworth carried wood as a pre-teen so her Great Aunt Martha could stoke up the iron stove to prepare dinner, she wasn’t thinking, “I could use this in a novel someday.” Yet, the skills she learned from her horse-and-buggy ancestors translate into backdrops for her historical romance and paranormal suspense novels. Her debut medieval romantic suspense novels received 4 stars from RT Book Reviews.

Twitter @JoAnnAinsworth
Facebook’s JoAnn Smith Ainsworth Fan Page.
Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&query=joann+smith+ainsworth

Contact her at joannparanormal@gmail.com.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Spice Up Your Cooking the Quick Cook Way

Next week, JoAnn Smith Ainsworth, an Oak Tree Press author, guest posts for us. Stop in to see what she has to say about the difficulty of writing mysteries.

This is part of my continuing series on the Quick Cook Tips that I write about once a month in The Pinewood News, (page 7) a small town paper in Munds Park, Arizona. The series, on some of those tips, let’s you see how it might play out in your kitchen.

We eat pretty well. I am always trying out new ways, spices, and food combos. DH would eat--literally--the SAME thing every day. Thank goodness I came into his life decades ago or he’d be a frozen potpie by now.

So, sure, I can oven-roast or grill a chicken thigh. But, when I put one of my rubs on the thighs, they are elevated to company-quality. And I don’t even have to have company. I can treat my husband a meal that tastes like I spent forever cooking. But I didn’t. I am a quick cook.

One thing about spices is, unlike honey, they don’t last thousands of years. Do they go “bad”? No, but they do lose potency. Your cupboard is probably like most of American kitchens: lots of little spice bottles and cans that you used for one recipe. Or specialty spices like “pumpkin pie” or “taco seasoning”. But here’s a Quick Cook Tip: Don’t do that anymore.

You can save money--by combining the spices and not throwing them away. Don’t spend that money on spice combos you can easily create.

Right now. Take all your spices out and line them up alphabetically. Identify which spices you have that you can use in these recipes. If you don’t have some, fine. Omit them. It will still be tasty.

Then mix up the combos, store in labeled airtight containers, and use them up finally! You’ll have a lot more cupboard room. Next time I’ll give some recipes for using your new mixtures. Below are ideas for Pumpkin Pie Spice (PPS).

QC Tip #2
Always keep some basic seasoning mixes in the cupboard for quick cooking.

Poultry Seasoning (makes about ¾ cup)
You’ll never use that sage or marjoram again, so give them new life here:
2 tablespoons parsley
1 tablespoon sage
1 tablespoon rosemary, crushed
1 tablespoon marjoram
1 tablespoon thyme
1 teaspoon celery seed
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon onion powder

Taco Seasoning (makes over ½ cup); avoid the sugar & thickener of commercial taco seasoning.
2 tablespoons chili powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, crushed
½ teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
3 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper

Chinese Five-Spice Blend (makes about ¼ cup)
2 whole star anise
2 teaspoons peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 cinnamon stick, broken in fourths

Toast the anise, peppercorns, and fennel in small skillet over medium heat until fragrant. Toss in seeds and cinnamon stick. Cool. Grind to a fine powder.

Pumpkin Pie Spice--PPS (makes about ½ cup)
2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp ground cloves

Use your PPS in:
Rub 2 tablespoons mixed with olive oil to make a paste onto 4 chicken or pork pieces and grill as usual.

Add to your favorite pumpkin soup or pumpkin pie recipe.

Cut up two Honeycrisp or other tart apple. Toss apple slices with 1 tablespoon PPS and fry in 1 tablespoon of butter as a side to pork or chicken.

Mix 1 tablespoon PPS with 2 cups confectioner’s sugar, 1 package cream cheese, ¼ cup honey or vanilla Greek yogurt, 1¼ cup pumpkin puree. Serve with pear and/or apple slices and crackers or graham crackers.

2 tablespoons PPS + 1 yellow cake mix + 1 can pumpkin puree; bake at 350°; glaze with confectioner’s sugar, milk, and 2 teaspoons PPS

I will share more spice combos you can make and ways to use them in a later post. Be sure to check back!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Quick Cook Uses What's There--Once It's Found!

Last week I posted my Quick Cook Tips that I write about once a month in The Pinewood News, a small town paper in Munds Park, Arizona. I’ll be doing a series on some of those tips so you can see how it might play out in your kitchen.

Your Quick Cook Tip #7 is:
Organize your pantry

A few years ago, I was helping my mother organize her food pantry and other food storage areas. Ay yi yi yi yi! She had five boxes of cocoa and that was just the beginning. I asked her why she had so many of so many different products. And you know the answer. She couldn’t find cocoa powder so she bought more. There was fish in the freezer that was more than five years old. And so out it went.

I took everything out of her pantry, cupboards, refrigerators, and freezers and tossed old or duplicate products. Then I arranged foods in categories. She had a hard time with “like goes with like”. But it makes such sense to me to put spices only with spices and ingredients you use for baking together. Soups should all be together. Beans and other veggies together. Fruits together. I bought her organizers to help with that principle and to use space well.

I do not think I am anal retentive but for The Quick Cook to put a meal on the table fast, it means I cannot spend time hunting for foods. Grab and Go! Pick and Pour! Match and Mix!

The pantry principle also applies to your closet. Who hasn’t taken out everything and laid it around the room discarding/or repairing the torn, giving away the unworn, and keeping the clothes you know you wear. They say (Have you ever wondered who “they” are?) that we wear 10% of our clothes 90% of the time. That is probably true, as I look at my daily clothes choices.

I’ll bet the same is true, or close to it, for our foods. There’s that lovely pumpkin pie spice sitting there and used rarely. It sits next to pepper—used daily.

Like your clothes reorganization—you discover the shirt you ALWAYS wore with one pair of pants can be used with that skirt or those shorts—it is productive to see where else you can use some of those food products.

Now that you’ve got your kitchen all organized, let’s try mixing it up a little. Perhaps you are nervous about putting ingredients together that you never tried before. That’s natural. No one wants to waste food. So, an easy place to try your experimentation is with appetizers.

Generally we make smaller portions of a few dishes to serve as appetizers. If you don’t like something, just don’t make it again. But remember, someone else tasting your creation may think it is spectacular.

Here are six suggestions to start:
Pop a batch of microwave popcorn and toss the hot popcorn with chocolate chips and that package of leftover nuts. Or melt the chocolate chips and drizzle over the popcorn and nuts. I often toss popcorn with dried cranberries and nuts.

Soften cream cheese and mix with that half-jar of leftover pepper jelly and use as a spread for crackers. Or spread the mixture on a flour tortilla and layer on cheese slices and baby spinach leaves. Roll up tightly and slice into 6 pinwheels. Pulverize the can of black olives and mix with cream cheese for a different spread.

Mash up the leftover black beans and add in the dab of corn you have left. Blend in salsa and fill tortilla chip cups with the blend for bite-size appetizers. Or crumble corn chips and put in bottom of shot glasses. Layer black beans, corn, diced tomato, and diced green onion topped with more crumbled corn chips. Serve these salsa shots with a tiny spoon to eat.

Your turn. What’s in your refrigerator and pantry? Be adventuresome!