Friday, May 31, 2013

Summer Family Dinner Ideas from Delish and Martha Stewart

Delish is offering sixteen summer family dinner recipes from Martha Stewart on its site. There's bound to be something here to please your family. Dishes include Rosemary Fried Chicken, Grilled Pork Chops with Onions, Seared Steaks with Tomato Salad and Creamy Spinach, Crispy Coconut Shrimp, and Brown-Sugar Barbecue Chicken Drumettes.

What are your favorite summer dishes?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Summer Reading Programs

Summer has arrived! One way to keep kids interested in reading during these lazy, hot days is to get them signed up for a summer reading program at the local library.
Around here, the programs are usually free. They also feature interesting speakers, fun activities and small prizes ( book marks, coloring pages, ect.).
If you are a writer, summer reading programs may provide you with a way to get kids excited about writing. When I present at these programs, I bring books to sales. One dollar fom each book sold goes back to the library.
I usually set up my appearances by emailing local libraries. Larger libraries usually have someone in charge of Youth Sevices. If you like working with kids, I encourage you to try it!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

First Fruits

Oh, the happiness of me! Charlie went out the other day, and just look what he brought in!

A friend gave him loads and loads of ever-bearing strawberry plants, and they've begun to bear! Not even I am optimistic enough to believe that "ever-bearing" means ever-bearing. We won't have strawberries in the ice and snow. We will, I am told, have them all spring, summer, and fall, though, and that's good enough for me.

In fact, it's good enough for me that we have some now.

So, if you'll excuse me, there's a strawberry in the kitchen calling my name and I must answer.


Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Monday, May 27, 2013

Birthday Strawberry Shortcake on a Deadline! by Joyce Lavene

Birthday Food on a Deadline!
By Joyce Lavene

I admit that I'm not the greatest cook even when I have a lot of time. I worked as a short-order cook for about three months once in my youth and it seems to have scarred me for life.

Even when it's a dish that is supposed to take a while, I look for shortcuts (cheats as the gamers call them).

So when I'm on a deadline (oh boy, am I on a deadline right now), I do the fastest, easiest things I can find.

Then it happens: BIRTHDAY PARTY! I need a birthday cake.

Lucky for me that my loved ones know me well so I can whip up something like you see here and get away with it!

Not that this Strawberry Jumble (my name) isn't delicious. It's even sugar-free for my diabetic family members. I don't think that's too bad.

Anyway, all you need is a box of sugar-free, yellow Pillsbury Cake mix. Make it according to the directions (egg, oil, water) as I am at this very minute.

Wash, cut off heads and slice three quarts of strawberries. It helps to do this in the spring when it's strawberry season.

You'll also need three containers of Cool Whip, defrosted.

Mix the cake and bake it. When it cools, break it into small chunks in a large bowl. Add the strawberries and whipped cream. Stir until mixed well (but not mushy) and add a birthday candle!

Voila! It's delicious and some people may even think you put thought into it.

I hate to leave you but I have an uncooperative book due by Friday. I'm getting my hands around the characters throats. I don't dare let go.

Joyce Lavene writes award-winning, best-selling mystery fiction with her husband, Jim, as themselves, J.J. Cook and Ellie Grant. They have written and published more than 60 novels for Harlequin, Berkley, Amazon and Gallery Books along with hundreds of non-fiction articles for national and regional publications. They live in rural North Carolina with their family. Visit them at

Friday, May 24, 2013

Ballpark Inspirations

Take me out to the ballpark! I'm so excited to see my son's team playing again.

On that note, I found ballpark-inspired recipes from Delish. There are Chicago-Style Hot Dogs, Illinois Caramel Corn, Texas Corn Dogs, Beer-Battered Onion Rings, Pigs in a Blanket, and eleven other recipes! Check them out!

I found out last year that chocolate-covered protein bars that have been in your purse make for messy ballpark meals...and make you look like a large three-year-old. (Note to self--never forget hand wipes!) What's your favorite ballpark snack?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Best Deal of the Week!

McDonald's new blueberry pomegranate smoothie is only $1 (for a small) until May 23! Hurry and get yours. My girls and I got some last night, and they were good! Great for breakfast, snack, or dessert.   

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

How To Make Iced Tea

Or ice tea. Or, as we pronounce it around here, ass tea. I'm sorry, but we do. Sometimes we have a slass of paa with it. Blueberry paa is nass.

Everybody thinks they know how to make iced tea, but they differ in their methods, and they can't all be right, now can they?

No. Only I am right.

So you bring four cups of water and 1/4 cup of sugar to a boil. YES, THAT MAKES IT SWEET TEA! I SAID IT WAS TEA, DIDN'T I? Okay, take it off the heat and put in 3-5 regular tea bags. If you want it flavory, put in some herbs or herbal tea, too (mint, raspberry, orange).

Let it steep for 3-5 minutes. Take the teabags out. DON'T PRESS THEM TO GET ALL THE "GOOD" OUT OF THEM. I think that makes the tea bitter. On the other hand, if you like bitter tea, press away.

Put some ice cubes in the tea to cool it down. Pour it into a 2-quart pitcher and top it up with ice and cold water. Put it in the refrigerator to get nice and cold. Serve it over ice.

If you don't like sweet tea, don't come to my house don't put the sugar in.

The end.

Oh, p.s. I'm still doing the Story A Day in May. The Wednesday stories have food in them.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Monday, May 20, 2013

Growing your own tea by Joyce Lavene

Growing your own tea
by Joyce Lavene
From the Peggy Lee Garden Mysteries 

People around the world have enjoyed tea for thousands of years. The aroma, color and taste have been hotly debated (excuse the pun) and have been the cause of more than one duel!

Tea is made from the leaves of camellia sinensis. This is an evergreen that is cousin to our camellia japonica which produces such beautiful, showy flowers and shiny green leaves.  Camellia sinensis doesn’t have great flowers, but it has something much better.

Legends say that Chinese Emperor Shen Nung made a fire below a tree to heat water one day. Some leaves from the tree fell into his pot. The drink was both bitter and refreshing.  He realized that he had discovered a wonderful new herb  which he called “ch’a” which is the Chinese word for ‘check or investigate’.

Tea plant

Tea became known as the drink that could bring peace and equilibrium to mankind. It became prized throughout the world, demanding fortunes for some blends, until it was imported to Europe where everyone could partake.

Camellia sinensis is still a nice plant with small but pretty flowers. The best part is that you can cut your own tea leaves - green, oolong or black – and create your own special blends.

By Joyce Lavene

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Clean out the Fridge! Raid the Freezer! Empty the Cupboards!

Our family vacation is soon approaching. A couple of years ago, I adopted a practice that I enact before going out of town. This practice saves money, time and keeps me from having to pull unidentifiable items out of the fridge when we return from vacation.
Two or three weeks before leaving, I minimize the amount of new food I bring into the house by using up what I already have. This process forces me to use what is good, throw out what is bad and create new recipes.
With summer vacations coming up, you may want to do this too!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Memories Are Made of Wood

Not a Monty Python reference. Well, okay, yeah, obviously it is a Monty Python reference, but I didn't mean for it to be.

I'm talking about toothpicks.

Shut up! It is not a boring subject!

Actually, it is a boring subject, but I don't care, I'm going to talk about toothpicks anyway. But just a little bit.

My husband and I went to a restaurant the other day, and saw this box of toothpicks, and it gave me such a nostalgia rush, I thought a tornado had come through.

When I was little, I thought mint-flavored toothpicks were the greatest thing ever. Even a bad meal out (and I was a picky eater, so most meals were bad meals) was redeemed by a mint toothpick.

Now, although I grant you that I lead a dead boring life, a mint toothpick doesn't ring any chimes for me in and of itself. But I was tickled to discover how big a kick I got out of remembering how big a kick Little Marian used to get out of pointy bits of wood treated with mint oil.

If you want to spread the delight, you can buy a box of 1000 individually wrapped mint-flavored toothpicks for $1.99, and cheap at the price. Or, if you have more free time than you know what to do with, you can buy plain toothpicks and flavor them yourself.

You're welcome.

p.s. I'm still doing the Story A Day May challenge. Almost half-way there, and I've done a story a day so far. Pop in and read a few, if you're so inclined. So far, none of them are about toothpicks. But I could probably be persuaded, if you ask me nicely.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Monday, May 13, 2013

Cherry rhubarb pie

From A Thyme to Die
Book #6 in the Peggy Lee Garden Mysteries
Available now for Kindle

Rhubarb is an interesting herbaceous perennial. When I was a kid in Illinois, a farmer across the road from us grew huge crops of it in the rich, black dirt every summer. I'd go out and eat it like celery, right in the field, all the dirt still attached. I loved the beautiful red color and big fancy leaves. Even though it had a terrible, bitter taste - I didn't care.

I hadn't eaten rhubarb again for a long time when a friend of mine, Susan, recently made cherry rhubarb pie one night for dessert. Even with the cherries, the rhubarb taste had a tangy quality to it that took me right back there again. Trust me, pie is a much better way to eat rhubarb!

Rhubarb has been used, first in China, for thousands of years as a strong laxative. I can't recall if it had that effect on me when I was a kid. You know how kids are - I might not have noticed. The plant migrated along the Silk Road to Europe and Russia where it grows wild today.

Is it a fruit or a veggie? In 1947, a judge in New York decided it was definitely a fruit. In other places, it is still a veggie. Kind of like a tomato, I suppose.

I got my friend's recipe for her cherry rhubarb pie. I had never tasted rhubarb with cherries before - only strawberries. Try it and see what you think.

You need about four cups of rhubarb for the filling. I found some frozen and used that since rhubarb is out of season right now. To that I added two cups pitted, drained red cherries, 1 1/2 cups of sugar (or sweetener equivalent), 1/4 cup quick cook tapioca. Mix well with a spoon.

I didn't make my own crust, but you can certainly do so. I know they are better, but I was on deadline so I went around that step. (Sorry, Susan). I filled one bottom nine-inch crust with the filling and put a second crust on top, closing the edges and dotting the crust with butter.

This pie has to cook in a hot oven (400 degrees) for about 40 minutes. Susan warned me to make sure I didn't cut it until it had cooled at least an hour because of the steam that builds up inside. Let's just say, she was right. Don't cut the pie for at least an hour.

Joyce Lavene 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Busy Day Chicken Recipe from Rachael Ray

Here's a recipe I snagged from Rachael Ray. It's one of her 30-minute meals, and it (the chicken, at least) looks delicious.

Baked Chicken with Herb-and-Cheese Breadcrumbs

4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-1 1/4 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (a fat handful)
  • 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon thyme, chopped
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Olive oil, for drizzling
  • Salt and pepper
  • About 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

  • Preparation:

    Pre-heat the oven to 400°F.
    Melt the butter over medium heat in a small skillet; swirl with the garlic for 2 minutes. Pour the butter and garlic over the breadcrumbs and cool. Toss with the cheese and fresh herbs.
    Drizzle the chicken with EVOO and season both sides with salt and pepper. Slather each piece of chicken with mustard and press that side into the breadcrumb-and-cheese mixture. Arrange the chicken on a nonstick or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until the juices run clear and the breadcrumbs are deeply golden.

    Wednesday, May 8, 2013

    Caramel Apples, Bubble Gum and Popcorn!

    Am I about to slide off into a junk food binge? No, but my daughter might. Calli got her braces off this morning!
    All those forbidden sticky and/or hard foods can come back into her life. Have you ever been forbidden from certain foods, and later got to have them again?

    Tuesday, May 7, 2013


    Is everybody else singing "Hakuna Frittata" now? I know I am.

    A frittata starts out like an omelet, and then it doesn't. Like this:

    Frittata and Omelet
    • egg
    • milk
    • salt, pepper, spices, herbs, whatever
    • green onion, sliced
    • asparagus, broken into pieces
    • mushrooms, sliced
    • grated cheese
    • bit of butter or margarine
    Add a bit of milk to egg and beat till mixed. Meanwhile, melt butter in a skillet.

    And that's where the two roads diverge.

    For an omelet, you pour the egg/milk mixture into the pan and cook until the bottom is set and the top is soft-cooked. Meanwhile, saute the veg until as done as you like. Spread veg and cheese over half the omelet and fold other half over. Slide it out of the pan.

    For frittata, cook the veg first, then stir that and the cheese into the egg/milk mixture and put it all into the hot buttered pan at once. Cook slowly until set. I slide it out and flip it back into the pan so it browns on both sides.

    You can put more stuff into frittata without people looking at you weird. You can even put leftover pasta in.

    This was very, very delicious, by the way, being made with fresh asparagus and onion from our garden, and with fresh egg from our #2 daughter's hens.

    I'm participating in Story A Day May for the first time this year over at my daily blog. Hop over and see what I've been writing!

    Marian Allen
    Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

    Friday, May 3, 2013

    Greeneville, TN Woman to Compete in IDDBA Challenge

    I had to share this, given that Greeneville, TN is fairly local to me (and to Lisa Hall). I was reading American Cake Decorating's newsletter Slice and learned that Rebecca Lougheed, who works at Food City in Greeneville, TN, was one of three contestants chosen to participate in the IDDBA (International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association) Cake Decorating Challenge in Orlando, FL June 2-4, 2013.

    The contest is open to all in-store cake decorators. Sixty-eight contestants applied from 31 supermarket chains. Lougheed began decorating cakes in 2006 and went to work for Food City in 2007. In 2011, she won her company's first annual cake challenge.

    The other two contestants chosen were Kelli Coleman of Dillons in Lawrence, KS, and Dawnette Costa of Giant Eagle in Erie, PA. According to the Bakery Network, the contest will begin on June 2, and each of the contestants must decorate enough cakes to fill a multi-tiered, eight-foot bakery case. On June 3, each contestant will decorate a wedding cake. June 4 rounds out the competition with a "Decorator's Choice" themed event.

    Wednesday, May 1, 2013

    Derby Food

    I you have ever watched the Kentucky Derby, you know that the actual race is over in the bat an eyelash.The Derby is as much about the pre-parties, big hats, and back-stories about the horses and the people who get the horses to the Derby as it is about the race.

    By birth I am a Kentucky Girl and I love it all! Here are some recipes to inspire a grand Derby Day: