Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Another Reason to Love Saturday!

I have posted on Ree Drummond's cookbook and blog before. Now, she has her own show! It is on Food Network at 11:30 (10:30 Central).

Not only does the show include yummy recipes that Ree cooks up for her rancher husband, cowboy helpers, and four kids; it also highlights the family's beautiful Oklahoma ranch. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Grassroots Locavores - A Group, Not A Dish

Charlie and Mom and I went to a Grassroots Locavore pitch-in last night. Quite a few of us on this blog are Locavores, as explained at the Locavore website. Locavore means you try to eat as much as possible food that is produced locally, organically, and sustainably.

That means eating foods in season or that you've grown and frozen or canned or dried yourself or that has been produced or processed locally by people you can meet on facilities you can tour.

Run-off from chemical pesticides and fertilizers and from concentrated animal facilities' manure production give new meaning to the term Fatal Foodies. Long-distance transport of food and warehouse storage of produce use energy and contribute to greenhouse gasses. Greenhouse to grow food=good. Greenhouse planet melting the ice caps=bad.

Eating locally mitigates those problems. Short trips from farm/garden to market to home means lower energy costs, fresh food, and varieties bred for flavor rather than for ability to stand up to mass transport and long storage.

Fresh food in season is yummy, and psychologically valuable. We ONLY have tomatoes in the summer, so we have a built-in source of joy in our lives: Summer! Tomatoes!!! Much better and much cheaper than iPads. :) ...Of course, to be fair, you can't check your email on a tomato. You can, however, play Angry Birds.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Watermelon Pudding

I am always experimenting with recipes. I do it mostly because I'm looking for something good to put in my books, but partly because I love that kind of thing. Last Wednesday, I saw a recipe in my local newspaper for a watermelon pie, and I just had to try it. I'm here today to report the results.

The newspaper recipe calls for a graham cracker crust, which would be delicious, I think. But my husband can't eat graham flour, so I just made the filling--basically a watermelon pudding. It was amazingly easy. The hardest parts were cutting and chunking the watermelon and cleaning up the mess. Otherwise, it took about twenty minutes to make. Here is the recipe as I did it:

2 1/2 cups watermelon flesh
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 eggs
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
whipped cream

Puree the watermelon in a blender until completely smooth. (about 2 cups of juice) Strain the juice through a fine-mesh strainer into a saucepan and add the lemon juice. Bring the juice to a simmer over medium-high heat.

In a heat-safe bowl, whisk together eggs, cornstarch, and sugar until smooth. Slowly pour the hot juice into the egg mixture, whisking all the while. Then pour the mixture back into the saucepan and continue to cook, whisking until thickened. Pour the watermelon pudding into a pie pan (or even better, graham cracker pie crust), press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pudding and refrigerate until cold. Serve with whipped cream.

The verdict: I don't care how odd it looks, it's delicious!

Friday, August 26, 2011

You're Cordially Invited

In celebration of the release of the latest embroidery mystery book (book 3) on September 6, you're cordially invited to the Thread Reckoning virtual release party on:
August 31, 2011
from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. eastern time
There will be prizes (free books, gift certificates, Seven-Year Itch magnets)....
Feel free to invite a guest or two or three....
This chat takes the place of the Facebook virtual release party I usually have to launch new books because it is my understanding that Facebook no longer allows contests on their site.
Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Who Said Never Work with Children or Animals?

I have often heard actors never want to work with children or animals. Last week, when my publisher wanted to shoot a quick video at her office, I found out a cute kids will always steal the show! The cute kid is my kid, so I may be a little biased.
Check out this link to see the video:

If you live in my area and are a fan of the Cutie Pies Chronicles, enter my Baker's Dozen Contest:

The winner will receive:
1) Their name used for a character in my upcoming book.
2) A set of the Cutie Pies Chronicles.
3) A Baker's Dozen Party for them and twelve of their friends. The party will include: a reading, a book signing, refreshments (pies and tea)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Run Through The Jungle

Last Wednesday, I went on a road trip to Cincinnati, Ohio (The Queen City of the West). Yes, I know Cincinnati is fairly far east, but it used to be west, before American settlement spread beyond it.

ANYWAY, one of the places we went was to Jungle Jim's International Market. After the tour, I hit the Asian section pretty hard. One of the things I wanted to get was miso. Miso is fermented soybean paste. (Hush, Mom--I can hear you going "Ewwwww!" all the way from your house. Did you have fried chicken embryos for supper last night?)

Now, if everybody's through interrupting me, may I continue? Thank you.

Once I found the miso, I was faced with a dilemma: there was a whole array of choices! Red, white, yellow, brown, black--what to pick? I settled on a mid-size and mid-price packet of a paste that seemed fairly solid and was a mild yellow. I seem to have chosen well.

A lovely site called The Kitchn (from which site I'm linking the illustration for this post) laid it all out for me, and I see that the yellow-colored miso is a good all-purpose kind. I made egg-drop soup with it; I liked it, but Charlie didn't. Still, he said he'd try it again and see if he liked it better now that the flavor would be familiar. I think I erred in making the soup too simple; I think more complexity would make the miso flavor more interesting.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Now THAT's a flower

No recipe today, because I just wanted to let you know what's growing in the farmer's field next to my property. A picture does say a thousand words.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Wine and Mystery with Ellen Crosby

Wednesday night I toodled up to the iconic Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ, to see mystery writer Ellen Crosby, who is touring with her sixth Lucie Montgomery wine mystery, The Sauvignon Secret. I was not familiar with Ellen’s work before this week, but my editor, who also happens to be the owner of the Poisoned Pen, suggested that I’d like her.

Ellen was a freelance journalist in the US and London, Moscow, and Geneva, Switzerland, and most recently a freelance regional feature writer for The Washington Post. She now lives northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. and writes mysteries set on a 500 acre farm and vineyard located at the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains which has belonged to Lucie Montgomery's family since colonial days.

As I listened to Ellen and Barbara Peters talk about the incredible world of wine, I was overcome with a burning desire to take a trip to Sonoma and the Napa Valley, to fly to Budapest and sample rare Hungarian Tokay wines, or Australia,Chile, South Africa... Never mind France! I also learned from Ellen that every state in the union now produces local vintages--a practice that has taken off in the past few years due to the locavore movement. (Skeptical, I looked up wineries in Oklahoma. Sure enough!)

I bought one of Ellen’s books and tore right into it.

Now go have a glass of Pinot and watch Sideways.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Talk about your fatal foodies!

Is this young man a real life "Edward" a la Twilight? He seems to think so. According to Reuters, "The arrest of a man accused of breaking into a woman's house and trying to suck her blood has sparked discussion about the impact of vampire books and movies on youth culture.

Whether pop culture played a role in Saturday's attack remains to be seen, as 19-year-old Lyle Monroe Bensley awaits a psychiatric evaluation in jail on burglary charges in Galveston, Texas.

Galveston police say the man forced his way into the apartment of a woman he did not know and made growling and hissing noises while biting and hitting the victim in her bed.

Found in a parking lot and wearing only boxer shorts, the pierced and tattooed Bensley claimed he was a 500-year-old vampire who needed to "feed," Galveston Police Capt. Jeff Heyse said."

Read the story in its entirety at the above link. Then weigh in on the issue of blame: pop-culture? evil? stupidity? psychoses? all of the above?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Am I Detecting a Trend?

Donuts took a hard hit during the height of the low-carb craze. In my area, donut shops closed left and right. I never went low-carb, or stopped liking donuts; so this downward donut spiral was a sad one for me.

It appears people are wanting their carbs back, and are ready to let donuts re-enter their lives like long-lost friends. Lately, I have noticed some Krispy Kreme, and Dunkin Donut stores coming back to town.
The picture above is of a stand at the Johnson City, TN Farmer's Market. This family makes fresh donuts that have people waiting in long lines. I have not tried them, but everyone I know who has raves about these donuts.
Another thing I have been hearing about lately is made-to-order, custom donuts. Here is a site for Duck Donuts in the Outer Banks area of the Carolinas:

The menu lets you choose your glaze and toppings. Yum!!!!

If you want to make your own donuts at home, canned biscuits make it easy:

1) shape each canned biscuit into a donut shape (use your thumb to make the hole)

2) fry in vegetable oil or shortening

3) shake in powdered sugar, cinnamon and sugar, frost with your favorite cake icing, or make a thin glaze with powdered sugar and water

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mother Russia, An Invention of Mine Own

My new sf/cop/farce, FORCE OF HABIT, has just been released on Smashwords. Atypically for me, food doesn't figure largely in it. It does, however, contain a powerful cocktail called Mother Russia.

Mother Russia is knocked together by Bel and Tetra, the book's desperate heroines, and consists of equal parts vodka and milk.

I've searched in vain for a real-life drink that consists of only these two ingredients, but have found none, probably because vodka, though kicky, has no intrinsic flavor other than the smack of alcohol.

The closest drink to it, which I've had and to which I give my hearty approbation, is a White Russian.

White Russian
Fill glass with ice. Pour in 1 1/2 oz vodka. Pour in 1 1/2 oz coffee liqueur. Gently add milk or half-and-half or cream to fill glass, leaving dark layer of vodka/coffee liqueur undisturbed. Garnish, if desired, with maraschino cherry.

By the way:

Black Russian
Use cola instead of dairy product.

I found a drink that combines these two, using vodka, coffee liqueur, milk/cream AND cola, called a Colorado Bulldog on one site and a Vodka Paralyzer on another. It sounds like something Laverne would drink.

No, this is not me.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Green Corn Tamale

Emphasizing food in one’s mystery novel adds an element of tremendous interest, at least to me. It really gives human depth to any story when the reader has a meal with a character. Besides, I write about a farm wife living in Oklahoma during the early 20th Century, so it wouldn’t be realistic if she weren’t continually thinking about what to fix for dinner.

When I read about a meal that an author has described in intimate detail, I often want to know what it tastes like. This is why I always include some of the recipes for the dishes I describe in my books. The only problem for any author who does this is that she actually has to know how to cook the dish in order to reproduce the recipe for it. Not so hard, you think? When the dish is being served by a 1910’s farm wife, I guarantee it’s not so easy, because believe me, she had no shortcuts, conveniences, or out-of-season or many out-of-region ingredients to work with. She was the original Slow Cooking chef.

The new Alafair novel I’m working on takes her out of her native place in Oklahoma and all the way to Arizona, where the style of cooking, especially in that day and age, was very different than she was used to. Different than I’m used to, as well, so right now I’m learning some old-fashioned Southwestern cooking techniques that are quite a revelation.

Yesterday I made a green corn tamale dish. It took me all day long, between buying the ingredients, shucking the corn, soaking the husks, slicing the kernels from a dozen ears, blending them (this was a cheat. The 1910s Arizona cook would have pressed them through a sieve or mashed them in a metate.) Mixing, arranging, cooking...

I hope that if one makes tamales more often than once in her life, she becomes more competent at it than I was. The dish was delicious, but I was wiped out, and I made one big tamale dish. I can’t imagine making dozens of individual tamales and steaming them for hours in batches!
Here’s to you, Latin cooks. You’re better women than I am.

For brave people who’d like to try it, here’s the ‘easy’ version of a green corn tamale.

9 large ears of fresh corn
2 tsp salt
3-4 tsp melted butter
1 to 1 1/2 cups of yellow cornmeal
4 to 6 oz of sharp cheddar cheese, sliced into @1/4 inch-thick slices.
2 small cans of green chiles or 3-4 fresh steamed or roasted and peeled green chiles.
1 1/2 Tbsp chili powder

Shuck the corn, saving the husks, and slice the corn kernels off the cobs from top to bottom with a sharp knife. Grind the corn in blender until mushy (about 3 cups). Transfer mush to a large bowl and add salt, butter, and enough cornmeal to make a thick spreading consistency. Mix in the chili powder. Rinse and drain the corn husks and spread them flat. Then line the bottom and sides of a greased 2 quart casserole dish with the husks. Place a thin layer of mush in the dish and press it down to hold the husks in place. Then top the mush with a layer of cheese and layer of chile strips. Cover with the remaining mush, spreading to the edge of the pan. Fold husks over the top of the tamale and press gently into the mush. Cover the top of the dish with aluminum foil and back at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serve with pico de gallo, or a nice green enchilada sauce, or a creamy cheese sauce. Beans are excellent with this dish.

Friday, August 12, 2011

I did it!

[Cue theme from "Rocky"--the boxing movie, not the flying squirrel that hung out with Bullwinkle theme...although, in all honesty, that might be more appropriate.]

Sunday p.m. - I arm myself with coupons and a list. I'm going to do it--the once-a-month cooking thing!

Monday a.m. - I jump out of bed [okay, stumble] with a plan. Today, I will shop. I check my mail and procrastinate a little while. I go to Wal-Mart. By the time I arrive at the store, it's approximately 9:30 a.m. I look at the clock while I'm in the check-out line, and it is a quarter til twelve.

I go home, carry the groceries into the house, and start putting them away. I've planned to save cooking for the next day. But, alas, I don't have enough cabinet- or counter-space to do that. I must cook today.

Since I am the mother of a teenaged boy who doesn't drive yet, I must either first go to the gym or get the I'm-not-gonna-say-anything-but-you-ruined-my-day stare for the next 24 hours. I ride a stationary bike [not to be confused with a stationery bike (which is what I almost typed) where I could've caught up on some correspondence--sorry, I'm feeling punchy], and then did a few exercises on the machines [as few as possible and only because the boy was watching] while I waited for him to finish up so we could go home where I would make enough meals to last us for a month...or, at least, a day or two.

While preparing meals, I had the passing thought, "Now, if I die, Tim and the kids will have a few good meals in the freezer." This was immediately followed by the thought, "When did I become my grandmother?!"

By the time Tim got home, I'd made two lasagnas, two pans of meatballs, two meatloafs [meatloaves?], two chicken casseroles, two beef casseroles, and a pan of brownies. I was so exhausted I considered asking him to go get take-out; but I thought that would have really defeated my purpose, so we ate one of the beef casseroles. It was good.

Will that food last for a month? Noooo. We've done had a meatloaf and another casserole. However, was it wonderful to have dinner in the freezer waiting to be thawed or simply stuck into the oven over the past few days? Yeah. Will I do it again? Maybe. :)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

It Aint't All About the Cookin'

As promised, I am reviewing Paula Deen's memoir, It Ain't All About the Cookin'. This book gives an honest and inspiring account of Paula Deen's triumphs and troubles on her road to becoming a hugely successful restaurant owner, cookbook author and Food Network mega-star.

What strikes me most about this book is Paula's honesty. She makes no effort to polish over mistakes that she has made in her life. Some of her revelations are shocking, but Paula bravely owns her bad decisions.

The thing I enjoyed most about Paula's book is that her story is motivating. When the odds were stacked against her, Deen scraped what little money and resources she had together to build a food empire. If anyone had reasons not to believe that things might not work out, she did. In spite of her circumstances Paula kept working tirelessly and pushing on.

The book also includes lots of family photos and recipes. If you are a fan of Paula Deen, or just love a really inspiring story, this is a must-read!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Nearest Book

The status of many of my Facebook friends has been this:

It's National Book Week. The rules are: Grab the closest book to you. Go to page 56. Copy the 5th sentence as your status. Don't mention the book. Post these rules as part of your status.

I reached behind me and grabbed the nearest book. It turned out to be Waverley Root's FOOD, which is really no surprise. I used the book extensively back when I wrote the Culinary Chronicles column for WorldWide Recipes, a job now done much better than I ever did by Karlis Streips.

The sentence I had to copy was, "Its preparation and handling are painstaking, which means costly."

What is that about? Caviar. Caviar--true caviar, the roe (eggs) of the sturgeon--is rare and becoming more so all the time. Apparently, the Sturgeon, which has been around since prehistory, is flunking Evolution 101 and can't tolerate modern pollution, even if it hadn't been overfished.

Nowadays, you often get substitute caviar. Depending on the laws of the country, you have to read the fine print to see what kind of fish eggs you're eating, assuming you're a person who eats fish eggs. Could be salmon, could be cod, could be paddlefish.

I'm sure there's a murder mystery in there somewhere. Maybe a paddlefish roe harvester who catches somebody poaching his eggs....

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Summer cookin'

Vicki here on Sunday. One of the best things about summer is how easy it is to make meals. No advance planning required. I find that around four or five o'clock I can shake my self off from a swim, look up from the book on my lap, and think, "Hum, wonder what I can make for dinner."

Last night it was chicken thighs on the bbq. Just splash on a little bottled marinate (I'd make marinade if I was having company) and toss on the coals. Then boil a couple of fingerling or new potatoes and make a quick salad with a spoonful of mayonaise, a couple of spring onions and whatever herbs are ready in the garden. (The potato salad is better if allowed to cool in the fridge for a couple of hours) Serve with thickly sliced heirloom tomaotes sprinked with sea salt. Dinner is served.

Yum yum.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tea Syrup

This weather has me thinking about cold drinks. I grew up in the South (Southern Ozarks, actually, but south enough), where iced tea is the drink of choice winter, spring, fall, and certainly summer. In fact, during my childhood, drinking anything besides sweet iced tea with a meal in the summer would have been sacrilege. And when I say sweet iced tea, I mean set-your-teeth-on-edge-sweet. If there isn’t a half-inch sludge of undissolved sugar at the bottom of the glass, it isn’t sweet enough.

In the olden days, Children, the only way to make tea was with tea leaves and boiling water. Therefore, if you poured fresh tea over ice you’d end up with melted ice and diluted tea. What to do, what to do?

My mother-in-law’s solution was to make tea syrup. The idea behind tea syrup,which is an ultra-sweet tea concentrate, is that one can make iced tea without having to steep the leaves in boiling water and then cool it down every time she wants a glass, or even a pitcher. My m-i-l, and my sisters-in-law after her, always kept a quart jar of tea concentrate in the fridge, ready at a moment’s notice for cooling-off duty.

Here’s a recipe for tea syrup that I took from the back of my second Alafair Tucker Mystery, Hornswoggled. Bring 6 cups of water to a rolling boil, then add 1 cup of leoose tea leaves and remove from heat. Let it set for 15 minutes, then pour the hot tea through a strainer into a glass jar or pitcher containing 4 cups of sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. After the syrup cools, story the container in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to two weeks. Use one cup of the syrup to about one quart of cold water to make a pitcher of tea. Or to make a single glass, add syrup by the teaspoon-full to a glass and fill with water. You can add as many teaspoons of syrup as you like, depending on how strong you like your tea.

Another great trick is to freeze tea in the ice cube tray and add frozen tea cubes to your glass to keep your iced tea cold but undiluted.

Enjoy cooling off like a Southerner. Some day we’ll talk about sittin’ on the porch with a cold bottle of Co’Cola and a bag of salted peanuts.

Friday, August 5, 2011

ICES Convention in Charlotte, NC

The ICES (International Cake Exploration Societe) Convention is taking place in Charlotte this weekend. Actually, the convention kicked off on August 4 and will continue through August 7. Get all the details here. Wish I could be there!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I met Bubba!

Generally, when on a family vacation,
we are non-excursion people. We do not schedule any tours, plan shopping trips, or anything else that gets in the way of rest and relaxation.

That unwritten family rule was broken last week when we were in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina and woke up to pouring rain. Once we realized the rain was not going to quickly pass over, we planned a day trip to see Savannah and Tybee Island, Georgia. I have always had a curiosity about both places because of the area's history and because it is home to Paula Deen.
Now, I have posted about Paula so many times that it's embarrasing, but I just lover her to death! Might I also mention, I love her family. Paula's sons, brother, and other family members often appear on her show.
Driving into Tybee, my husband noticed a cool looking restaurant called Uncle Bubba's. Of course I knew that this was the restaurant of Paula's Deen's brother.
On our way back to go home, we decided to have a late lunch at Bubba's. Luck of all luck, Bubba was walking around meeting people! Since it was not a rushed time for the restaurant (about 2:00 in the afternoon) he had plenty of time to spend with each table.
Sometimes, meeting someone you idolize is a disappointment. This was not the case with Bubba. He was just as nice as could be. Bubba chatted with us, had a picuture made, and even talked a little SEC football. All that, and the food was good too!

My adoring posts about this family are not over. Next week, I will review Paula Deen's book because I bought an autographed copy in the gift shop!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Dill. It's Not Just For Pickles

Dill is native to southern Russia, western Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. It was well known as a seasoning in ancient Rome, and it's a favorite all over the world, from Scandinavia to India.

The plant is strangely lovely: The slender stalk can grow to five feet tall, with a flower head like a lacy umbrella of tiny yellow flowers. Each little flower produces seed. The foliage of the dill plant consists of feathery fronds that sprout from the stalk. Stalk, fronds, seeds and flowers are all aromatic. I got the accompanying picture, by the way, from a beautiful site called Insightful Nana.

Some people say the flavor of dill resembles anise, but I love dill and I'm not so hot on anise, so I don't think so. Some say it tastes like caraway, but I agree with the authors who maintain that the flavor of dill is uniquely its own--a little tangy, a little sweet.

It's easy to grow, but hard to get rid of. I planted it once, and it's come back on its own ever since. One of the mysteries of spring is seeing in what part of the garden the dill comes up this year.

Dill isn't just good for pickles--it's great with fish and with potatoes, beets, carrots, eggs--just about anything. I love to put dill weed in my salmon croquettes (well, I live in the Midwest, so we call them "salmon patties", but they're the same thing). I also love to put it in bread--dill bread is fantastic with orange marmalade. If you've never tried it, I highly recommend it.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes