Saturday, December 31, 2011

Good Luck for the New Year

I was born and raised in the American South, so of course I was taught to eat black eyed peas on New Years Day to ensure a happy and prosperous upcoming year. Is this the tradition you were raised with, Dear Reader, or is there some other food ritual you feel you must follow to start the year off right?

Many cultures bring in the year by eating fish. The Chinese eat a whole steamed fish, the Italians eat salt cod, the Polish have a picked herring at midnight. While the Poles are enjoying their herring, at midnight Spaniard eats 12 grapes, one for each month of the upcoming year. The Danes like their stewed kale with cinnamon, which will bring them prosperity, and the Austrians eat roast suckling pig for progress, as well as little pigs made of marzipan. The Japanese eat shrimp for long life.

In Scotland, the New Year celebration, or Hogmanay, is a bigger deal than Christmas.

In preparation for the big event, people spend several days beforehand redding the household, which involves cleaning the place from top to bottom. When the bells ring bells ring in the year at midnight, one greets the year on his feet, for good health, with a coin in his pocket, for wealth, and a glass of whiskey in his hand, for good times. After the bells have rung, the first person to cross your threshold will set your luck for the year. This is called first footing, and for good luck, you want to make sure that the first foot across your threshold belongs to a black-haired man, and not a blond, or, heaven forfend, a red haired woman! The first footer will bring a present of coal for the hearth, a black bun* or shortbread, and of course a drink of whiskey, and the householder will always have food for her guests.

In the morning comes the saining, or blessing of the house. A burning juniper branch is carried around so that its smoke can purify the house and all its inhabitants. Boughs of rowan are placed over the lintel for luck, and a sprig of holly to keep out the faeries.

A lot of drink is involved, and a lot of good cheer, and of course a toast to auld lang syne.

So here’s a hand my trusty fiere
And gie’s a hand o thine
And we’ll take a right guid willie waught*,
for auld lang syne.

Have a happy and prosperous 2012!

*A black bun is a pastry filled with raisins and currants, almonds and citrus peel, flour sugar allspice, ginger cinnamon, black pepper, baking powder, egg, brandy or whiskey, and milk. It looks like a tall pie, and is aged for several weeks, like a fruitcake.

*A willie waught is a good slug of spirits, always a good way to start the new year

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Whew, am I Ever Glad I didn't Marry a Rock Star!

I saw someone on a show talking about how much they liked Red, Sammy Hagar's autobiography. My husband is a fan of his music and is interested in how Hagar became so successful in all of his side businesses. With that in mind, I ordered the book for one of Todd's Christmas presents.

Last night, I picked up the book from Todd's night stand, and began skimming pages. For about an hour, I kept skimming.

The beginning of the book described how Hagar grew up in a poor and dysfunctional home. Early on, he showed promise with good grades and an unstoppable work ethic.

While he was still a struggling musician, Hagar met his first wife. Soon, she gave birth to a son.

Sammy's first wife was a sweet, innocent gal who proved too mentally fragile for handling the rock star life. Her husband was always gone. While he was away booze, drugs and women were readily available. Hagar indulged in all three.

I skipped around the book to find out that Hagar and his first wife divorced after many years of marriage. His first wife had become more mentally stable due to some good meds and Sammy had fallen madly in love with another woman. Also, since Hagar took a year off to be with his wife after a bad mental breakdown, he felt like he had paid his dues to her. Now Hagar and his second wife have two daughters who are probably younger that his grandkids from the first son he bore with his first wife.

Finally, I skipped to the end of the book. It does seem that Sammy Hagar is more devoted to his second wife and second family than he was the first time around. Guess that's a happy ending in the rock star world.

Now everytime Todd picks up that book, I'm asking "That lifestyle doesn't sound appealing to you? DOES IT?"

He always answers, "NO! It sounds awful!"

Good answer!

How might a Fatal Foodie find interest in this book? Hagar is friends with Emeril Lagasse. Turns out, two of Hagar's more tame interests are food and wine.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

MY Carrot Salad

Vicki Delaney -- naughty thing! -- did NOT bring a recipe for her daughter's "chunky carrot salad" home with her from Africa. It hardly compares, but here is a carrot salad recipe from the wilds of darkest southern Indiana.

  • carrots, grated
  • raisins
  • walnuts
  • mayonnaise (homemade preferred)
Mix to taste.

I've never had a chunky carrot salad, but I bet I'd like it. Next time I make this salad, I'm going to eschew the grating and cut the carrots in small chunks.

What's your favorite carrot salad recipe?

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, December 25, 2011


Vicki here. I'm back! Did you miss me?

Did you even notice I was gone?

I’ve been in Africa for a month. Had just a fabulous time. The purpose of the trip was to visit my daughter who is living in Juba, South Sudan. The world’s newest country. We then went on safari in Kenya.

I have posted extensively about both places at my personal blog ( so won’t do so here. Except to discuss the food.

South Sudan is emerging from twenty or more years of civil war, struggling to create an effective government and a civil society. Meal planning was a bit of a challenge, there being no fresh meat or fish (that you’d want to buy) and limited vegetables – no lettuce or most other greens. My daughter has a two burner gas stove top and no oven. She had company one night and I prepared a chickpea curry with rice and a chunky carrot salad. Unfortunately I didn’t bring either recipe home with me.

We ate out a lot. One memorable meal was at the remote town of Yei (pronounced Yeah!). Dinner was a buffet. I didn’t quite know what I was eating. Here’s a pic.

In Juba, they really seem to like Indian and Thai food. I love Indian but by the end of the trip I was getting rather tired of it. Here’s a picture of one dinner out.

The food on our Kenyan safari was incredible. I’ve eaten at fine restaurants that didn’t have such a good cook. I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture of the chef flambĂ©ing crepes suzette one evening. This picture shows the table laid for lunch.

Merry Christmas to everyone and all the best for the New Year. Hope you get much eating and reading in your life!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Snowman Cake

This snowman cake is so simple and makes a great centerpiece for your holiday table. It is not just cute for Christmas, but all winter long!

-Add 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup of sugar to white cake mix. Then, make cake according to directions on box.

-Divide cake batter into three Pyrex bowls of graduated sizes.

-Bake cakes according to temperature listed on box of cake mix. You must check cakes during the baking because they will finish baking at different time.

-Once cakes have cooled, place largest cake on platter or cake stand. Frost with vanilla frosting. Stack next size on top of frosted layer. (Sticking a skewer through the middle of the cakes might help with stability).

-Frost middle layer. Then, stack top and frost it.

-You can decorate with whatever you have at home. This is what we used:

hat- a round cracker and marshamallow dipped in chocolate bark

eyes- M&M's

nose- candy corn

mouth- piece of Twizzler

scarf- fruit roll

arms-pretzel sticks

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Low Country, High Eatin'

Three of us from the Southern Indiana Writers Group just got back from Tybee Island. It was supposed to be a writing retreat, and we did write, but it more of a walk-the-beach, collect-shells and eat retreat. We kept looking at each other and chorusing, "It's research."

One of the things we ate was this "sampler platter", which was a Lowcountry Boil plus mussels, crawfish and two kinds of crab.

This was the platter for TWO, people! We asked them to hold the mussels and crawfish, and they substituted more corn and potatoes. The three of us couldn't quite finish all this. That corn, by the way, was the best I ever put in my mouth.

Okay, what is "Lowcountry"? That's the low-lying country along the coast of the Carolinas and Georgia.

And what is a Lowcountry Boil? It's a dish of red potatoes, corn on the cob, shrimp, and smoked or spicy sausage like kielbasa. Coastal Living magazine has a recipe here. I'm telling you what: I was not a vegetarian this week! I was a shrimp-and-crab-tarian and a kielbasa-tarian.

If you've never had Lowcountry Boil, I highly recommend it. I bet it would be good with just veg, in fact. Whole green beans. Baby carrots. Turnips. YES, TURNIPS!

Anyway, I'm still digesting this, and I ate it four days ago, so I'm crawling off to sit in front of the fire and dream of Tybee Island.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Saturday, December 17, 2011


One Christmas tradition in my family is that after presents (opened at five a.m. or earlier when we were young) breakfast always consisted of the bananas, tangerines, and walnuts that Santa left in our stockings, followed by a big old cup of hot cocoa. Some years marshmallows floated in the cocoa, some years it was capped by whipped cream. One memorable year we sucked our cocoa through a candy cane.

My mother's cocoa was usually from a mix - Swiss Miss, as a rule. But since I have become a health-conscious adult, I make my own from scratch. Nothing compares to the creamy deliciousness of a steaming cup of hot chocolate made with whole milk, but over the years I have also come to appreciate cocoa made with a base of some of the yummier non-dairy milk substitutes, like vanilla rice milk or oat milk. My very favorite non-dairy base is vanilla almond milk. And if you want to make it as easy as possible, you can even buy chocolate almond milk, heat it up on the stove, top it off with whipped cream, and stick in a peppermint stick. What could be more Christmas-y?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ted's Making Dinner!

For those of you following the adventures of Marcy Singer in Amanda Lee's embroidery mystery series, Ted has invited Marcy over for dinner. He's making chicken piccata. He tells Marcy his mother taught him how to make the dish before he left for college, but in reality, the recipe comes from The Pioneer Woman.

So below is Ree Drummond's recipe for Chicken Piccata:


  • 4 whole Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
  • Kosher Salt To Taste
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper, To Taste
  • 4 Tablespoons All-purpose Flour
  • 5 Tablespoons Butter
  • 4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 cup Dry White Wine
  • 3/4 cups Low Sodium Chicken Broth
  • 2 whole Lemons
  • 3/4 Cup Heavy Cream
  • Chopped Fresh Parsley
  • 1 pound Angel Hair Pasta

Preparation Instructions

This is how you make Chicken Piccata when you’re out of capers and you have a pathological fear of cooking anything without adding heavy cream.

Have a pot of water simmering for the pasta.

If chicken breasts are overly thick, pound until slightly flattened. Sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides, then dredge in flour.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry two of the chicken breasts at one time until golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes on each side; a little longer if breasts are thicker, a little shorter if breasts are thinner. Remove to a plate, then add the other 2 tablespoons each of butter and olive oil. Fry the other two breasts until golden, monitoring the oil/butter mixture to make sure it doesn't burn. Decrease heat as needed!

After removing the chicken, have the heat on medium to medium-low. Pour in wine and chicken broth, and squeeze in the juice of two lemons. Whisk the sauce, scraping the bottom of the pan. Allow sauce to cook and bubble and thicken until reduced by about half. Sprinkle in a little salt and pepper as it's cooking.

Reduce heat to low and pour in cream. Whisk together and allow to cook for a couple of minute until sauce thickens. Taste and adjust seasonings or other ingredients. Expect the sauce to have a real tang to it; counter it with a little more broth and cream if it's too strong! Sprinkle in some chopped parsley and stir.

Right at the end, cook angel hair until al dente---do not overcook!

With tongs, place a medium-sized mound of pasta on a plate. Place a cooked chicken breast beside it, then spoon sauce over the chicken and the pasta. The sauce is strong, so no need to drown it. Sprinkle a little minced parsley over the top.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Little Cooking Each Day Helps Keep Holiday Stress Away

I love to cook a BUNCH of stuff for the holidays. Cookies, fudge,cakes and lots of savory dishes roll out of my kitchen during this season. Many treats go out as gifts, others are served to guests at my home or are toted to friends' homes for holiday parties.

My trick to maintaining my sanity is to cook and freeze just a little each day, beginning the day after Thanksgiving. This might mean baking and freezing layers for a cake, or cooking and freezing a pound of ground beef that will later go into a crock pot of soup. This plan requires lots of freezer bags and having the needed grocery items on hand.

If you're like me, and cannot find a full day or two that you can devote solely to cooking, this may be the plan for you! The reward to this plan is that you will have a freezer full of food that will allow you to pull together a cookie tray, layer cake or delicious appetizer at a moment's notice.

Another good thing about this plan is that having goodies in the freezer instead of on the counter means less temptation to nibble all season.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hold Tight

Yeah, I'm talking about The Andrews Sisters' song about seafood. That's what I'm eating this week: fresh seafood.

The Southern Indiana Writers Group was granted a week's free stay at one of the Mermaid Cottages on Tybee Island, Georgia for a writers' retreat. We are there, now. I hope we don't create a crustacean shortage, but it is what it is.

It's like this:

Humans and human-types have been feasting on crustaceans since prehistoric times. Well, come to that, non-human types have, too. BUT THE POINT IS, prehistoric middens are filled with the shells and bones of sea creatures nommed with probable delight by our distant ancestors.

So picture, if you will, four writers fighting over who gets to be Patty, Maxine and Laverne and who has to clap out the rhythm as we sing and eat instead of writing the whole time.

Catch you on the flip side!

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tamale Time Again

It’s not Christmas in the Southwest without tamales. Tamales are such a labor intensive dish to make that it has become tradition to make them for very special occasions, like Easter, or Christmas. In Hispanic families, women often spend days making tamales before the holiday, and then give them as gifts. Tamales were here before the Europeans. There are records of the Aztecs serving tamales to the Spanish in the 1500s.

Every region has its own native style of tamales - all the Southwestern states (New Mexican tamales can rip roof of your mouth right off), all the Mexican states, all the Central American countries. The basic idea is to wrap a filling in masa (a type of corn flour), then a corn husk or banana leaf, and steam it - usually end-up - for half an hour or so. Now, the fun part is the filling. Usually, tamale filling is shredded pork, which can be flavored with a plethora of imaginative spices and ingredients. Chiles, of course, and cumin, garlic, and bitter chocolate.

But never think that a good cook will stop there. Out here in Arizona, as Christmas approaches, you can find tamales of every ilk imaginable - pumpkin, chocolate, pineapple and pork, bean with beef and rice, chicken, “green corn” tamales, stuffed with mild green chiles and cheese. Usually, tamales are served hot out of the steamer (don’t forget to remove the husk), so soft and juicy that adding a sauce is just gilding the lily.

I was not raised in the Latino tradition, so I was never an expert tamale-maker. I am simply lucky enough to live in a place where I can buy mine from those who are. There are many fabulous web sites where you can learn all about making tamales the old-fashioned way, but two that I particularly like are videos:

So if cooking is your thing, start a whole new holiday tradition in your family. And if tamales are your holiday tradition, let us know your favorite

Friday, December 9, 2011

Gluten-Free Goodies

I got this link in my email inbox from Spry magazine and immediately thought of my friend Penny who is allergic to gluten. The article by Katie D. Neal includes recipes for:

Gluten-Free Gingerbread Men

Cranberry Pistachio Muffins

Gluten-Free Biscotti

Gluten-Free Rolled Sugar Cookies

Cherry White Chocolate Scones

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake! I'll Take Fruit for my Birthday.

Johnson City, TN just got its first Edible Arrangements store. This is a great business that makes beautiful arrangements out of fruit. And the first order they filled was the Mickey Mouse bouquet that my sweet husband ordered for my birthday!

I loved it. As you can see, my kids did too. (That's Skylar's little hand reaching into the picture). I have included a link so that you can see what they do, or order arrangments for special people on you Christmas list.

Now, I'm going to go pick some fruit off my arrangement for breakfast!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Another Christmas Goodie

This makes me swoon. Okay, I swoon easy.

Ritz PB Thing

  • Ritz crackers
  • peanut butter
  • white chocolate bark

Make sammiches out of Ritzes and pb. Melt the chocolate. Dip the sammiches halfway in. Cool on waxed paper.

I purely LOVE these things.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sonoran Style

I finally finished the original draft of the sixth Alafair book (try saying that three times fast). For the next couple of weeks, I’ll be testing the recipes that will go in the back of the book. I’ll be glad when this research phase is over, since I tend to overindulge in my test products. This book is different from the first five in the series. It is not set in Oklahoma. It is set here in Arizona, where I now live, in the year 1916. So rather than test out the heavy, fattening Scotch-Irish country food I grew up with, this time I’ll be testing the heavy, fattening, Sonoran style cooking that a turn-of-the-20th Century Arizonan grew up with. So, when time comes to test and write about the recipes for the dishes that I mention in the new book, I have to say that I’m really going to enjoy the heck out of myself.

When it comes to the food of my childhood, I usually remember very well how to make the dish and can whip up the recipe in no time at all. Sometimes, though, I haven’t eaten whatever it is I’m writing about since I was a child, and recreating the dish is something of an adventure. When I was writing the first book, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, my mother was still alive, so it was easy for me to call her up and ask if I needed to have my memory refreshed about some ingredient. She was gone by the time I was writing Hornswoggled, and I was forced to begin expanding my resources. I had no trouble remembering most of the recipes in that book, except for two. I ate plenty of my grandma’s chess pie in my youth, but I never made one myself. I found a recipe for it that was written out by my aunt Alma Bourland in about 1989, which is what I used for the book. I did modify the language of my aunt’s recipe just a little, though I pondered long and hard before I did, because I so loved the way she wrote it. “Mix sugar and meal good,” she wrote. “Add beaten egg and butter and mix well. Add milk and vanilla. Pour into uncooked pie shell. Bake slowly until firm.”

Which brings up a problem I’ve discovered with old recipes. How slow is slowly? How hot is a moderate oven? “Use a hunk of butter about the size of an egg.” “Add about a teacup of milk.” “Two glugs of sorghum.” Huh? These recipes were written out by women who cooked by eyeball, who were so practiced, and so familiar with the chemistry of cooking that they knew exactly what kind of reaction so many teaspoons of baking soda would cause when added to so many cups of flour and milk and baked for just so long in an oven that felt exactly so hot when they stuck their hands in to test the temperature.

So, in order to make the recipe intelligible to today’s not-so-talented cooks, Yours Truly included, I am forced to test these recipes over and over until they are right. Sometimes my experiments fail miserably. For my fourth book, The Drop Edge of Yonder, I tried to make an apple cornmeal pudding and ended up with something rather alarming. So, I worked and worked to to figure out what went wrong, made some modifications, and tried again until I got it right. The sacrifices one makes for one’s art!

Friday, December 2, 2011

So easy, but so good!

Like Lisa, I know that sometimes you get caught thinking, "Yikes, what am I going to take to [insert event here]?" The easiest recipe I know is to take a 12 oz. bag of milk chocolate morsels and melt them over low heat with a can of sweetened condensed milk. Once the chocolate has melted, remove from heat and stir in a 12 oz. bag of either peanut butter chips, white chocolate chips, or mint chocolate chips. Spread into a foil-lined 13 x 9 baking pan. Pop the pan into the refrigerator for about an hour. To cut, invert the pan onto your serving tray, peel off the foil, and cut into 1" x 1" squares. In my experience, the candy can be a little hard to cut so you might want to use an electric knife. But this is a rich, chocolate candy very similar to fudge that most people love.

Happy baking! :)