Monday, June 30, 2008

Food and Books

While my book MURDER FOR HIRE is not a food mystery, per se, descriptions of food and drink permeate the pages. I write what I like to read and I like reading about food, no matter what the genre. GONE WITH THE WIND started it. I mean, sure GWTW has fascinating and complex characters, romance, war, death, and damn Yankees. But what hooked me as a young girl was all of the loving descriptions of Southern cuisine (and the clothes, of course) throughout the book. My favorite part Scarlett's marriage to Rhett is their honeymoon when she stuffs herself with oyster patties and eclairs.

Sigh. Oyster patties and eclairs... chocolate eclairs stuffed with cream...

My best friend Maureen and I spent a lot of time baking, reading, and eating. We loved the Betsy/Tacy books by Maud Hart-Lovelace partly because the characters spent a lot of their time baking, reading and eating. We'd cook up batches of homemade fudge (the kind where you have to drop a dollop in cold water to see if it's done) along with a saucepan full of hot cocoa (bitter cocoa powder, whole milk, sugar) topped with marshmallows, load up our plates and mugs, and retire to Maureen's room. where we'd eat ourselves into a sugary coma and read for hours. When we'd go see movies, a stop at See's Candy for boxes of butterscotch squares, bordeauxs, dark chocolate buttercreams and mint truffles was mandatory. We'd go to the local donut shop in University City, buy a box of donuts and eat four at a time each. With cocoa. We were basically walking, talking appetites with great metabolisms.

It's funny because there some mystery series I've read where the main character is constantly eating fattening, carbo-laden foods and my reaction has always been 'oh, this is SO unrealistic. She should be obese!' Then I'd think back to my teens and '20s and think, 'ah. Well, maybe not.' I have the pictures to prove it.

Maureen and I wrote together, started a theatrical mystery troupe and most of our creativity was fueled by mass quantities of chocolate in one form or another. We added wine (sugary white zinfandel to start) to the mix when we had especially short deadlines; we'd be all hopped up on sugar and booze till the wee hours of the morning, using my dad's old word processor (complete with dot matrix printer) and giggling. The results were mixed (no real surprise there), but we managed enough good writing to get some decent paying gigs. The not so good writing is hidden away in a suitcase; I pull it out whenever I need a good dose of humility.

These days my metabolism is not so forgiving, so I have to pick and choose my treats. I am still addicted to hot chocolate, but with a different recipe:

Two squares dark Belgian chocolate (at least 60 percent cocoa solids) to each cup of milk (fat free, whole milk, whatever suits your dietary desires). Simmer on low heat, stirring with whisk to prevent scorching. When it comes to a gentle boil, remove from the heat and whisk for a minute or two. Add whipped cream, the thicker the better. If you have cats, be warned the using whipped cream in a can will eventually result in feline whipped cream addition; one hiss of compressed air and they'll be all over you.

If you like mochas and have an espresso maker, you can also melt the chocolate with a little milk in the microwave and use the frother on the espresso machine to heat the rest of the milk instead, and add a shot or two of espresso. Whipped cream still recommended.

Can I hear an Oink Oink, brothers and sisters?

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Donis here. Glad to meet you all.
I have a new book coming out in January, and I’ve been testing the recipes that will go in the back of the book. I’ll be glad when this research phase is over, since 1910s American country cooking is heavy, rich, and fattening, and I tend to overindulge in my test products. I was raised on this kind of food, and this is the way that I was originally taught to cook, so it isn’t foreign to me. However, I’ll let you in on a little secret, Dear Reader. This is not at all the way I cook at home, when I cook at all. We are very health-foody. I’m all over the organic, local, meatless style of cooking.
In fact, the kind of cooking that my protagonist Alafair does is disappearing, I think, and that is one reason that I always put a special section of recipes and food lore in the back of each of the books. Just because I don’t generally eat like that any more doesn’t mean that I don’t have a certain nostalgia for it. So, when time comes to test and write about the recipes for the dishes that I mention in the books, I have to say that I really enjoy the heck out of myself.
Most of the time, I 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 practised, 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. A couple of weeks ago, I tried to make an apple cornmeal pudding for my new book, and ended up with something rather alarming. So, I’m going to attempt to figure out what went wrong, make some modifications, and try again. The sacrifices one makes for one’s art! The chess pie turned out pretty good, but only after I learned not to use salted butter.
For The Drop Edge of Yonder, I worked for days to recreate my mother’s okra pie (which is savory, and not really a pie, so you can wipe that look off your face). I used to make okra pie a lot in my youth, but it’s probably been 25 years since I tried, and I seemed to have forgotten the technique. I spent a lot of time e-mailing back and forth with my sister Carol, who remembered more than I did, and between the two of us, we finally managed to unlock the mystery of the okra-to-egg-to-cornmeal ratio. My first four or five efforts wouldn’t hold together, but they were delicious all the same.
For Hornswoggled, my sisters-in-law, Lorraine and Dolores, taught me the tea syrup technique. For the upcoming book, The Sky Took Him, my brother Chris sent me our mother’s chocolate pie recipe, which was stuck up on their refrigerator. The chocolate pie is another recipe that I used to make quite a lot, before I married a man who doesn’t like chocolate. I’m also including a recipe for a tenderloin of beef with little meatballs, but since I keep a meatless kitchen, it’s Carol to the rescue again. She agreed to test the dish for me, once she saves up enough money to buy a tenderloin.
Over the next few Saturdays, I'll post the recipes for the best results we came up with when we reconstructed these old-time recipes.

Friday, June 27, 2008

And They're Off!

Dana says the rest of us Food Fatales should get off our posteriors and post. Little does she know, nobody could move my posterior with a forklift.

Nevertheless, I can be motivated to move my fingers enough to type.

Yes, I'm channeling Nero Wolfe today. For those who don't know, Wolfe is the quarter-of-a-ton (sometimes third-of-a-ton) detective created by Rex Stout. Wolfe resides, during his detective career, in New York City, in a brownstone house, with his leg-man, Archie Goodwin, his orchid man, Theodore, and his chef, Fritz. Archie is the young, slim, handsome and wise-cracking action figure, and Wolfe is an armchair detective--a self-indulgent genius who loves orchids and gourmet cooking/eating, not necessarily in that order.

I have the Nero Wolfe Cookbook, which I read for pleasure, rather than for use. I think the only recipe in it I've used to any extent is the one for scrambled eggs. It taught me that scrambling eggs slowly keeps them from getting "weepy", which is when you take them out of the pan and they turn from delicious fluffy wonders into rubbery squidges sitting in a pool of water. Good to know.

Cracker Barrel's Double Fudge Coca-Cola Cake

I got my July/August issue of Mailbox News (a magazine for cake decorators) today, so my thoughts naturally turned to cakes. There are some gorgeous cakes in this issue--as always; and if anyone lives in or near Orlando, Florida, the 2008 ICES Show and Convention is coming up from July 17-20. Can you imagine how heavenly the smell alone would be when you step into one of the display rooms?

Anyway, my thoughts of cake turned to Cracker Barrel's Double Fudge Coca-Cola Cake. Have you ever tried this concoction? It's more like a warm, frosted brownie than it is cake. Since they serve it warm, they only serve it during the fall and winter months. Bummer!

I know, I know, most people look for lighter, cooler desserts during the summer months. But if you want to be the most beloved person at your family reunion this year, make this cake. Make it a Christmas-in-July type thingy. If you want to get fancy--or really cheeky--you can even add white chocolate snowflakes. :-) This is deceptively simple. Just print out a snowflake pattern, top it with waxed paper, and use melted chocolate in a pastry bag with a small round tip (or an itty-bitty hole) to trace over the pattern. Allow the pattern to cool--especially in a warm kitchen, it's best if you can place it in the freezer for a few minutes--then lift right off.

So, here's the recipe for the cake:

Cracker Barrel Double Fudge Coca Cola Cake
1 Cup Coca-cola
1/2 Cup oil
1 stick butter or margarine
3 tablespoons cocoa
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a sauce pan, bring Coca-Cola,
oil, butter, and cocoa to a boil.
Mix the sugar, flour and salt, pour
in the boiling liquid and beat well.
Add the eggs, buttermilk, soda, and
vanilla and beat well. Pour into a
greased and floured sheet cake pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.


1 stick butter or margarine
3 tablespoons cocoa
6 tablespoons cream or milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 to 1 cup pecans, chopped
1 pound confectioners sugar

In a saucepan, combine the butter, cocoa
and milk. Heat until the butter melts. Beat
in the remaining ingredients, and spread on
the hot cake. Cool before cutting.

Hope you enjoy it! And if you happen to go to ICES, could you write and tell me about it?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Guilty - I'm a Hell's Kitchen Addict!

Ok, I admit it. I watch some reality shows. But I'm picky at what ones I will spend time on. And since this is a food-related blog, I confess to being hooked on chef Gordon Ramsay of Hell's Kitchen.

Why, I wonder, is it funny to watch someone screaming obscenities at others? Behaviour I know I'd never tolerate. (I wouldn't last two minutes on the show).

I'm not a big cook, though I do make a great meatloaf and homemade pizza. I don't watch cooking shows, either. I guess it's the challenge of watching people "melt" under pressure.

For fun, Fox's website has a Hell's Kitchen game preview you can download for free. So I did and it's kind of fun. Actually it can be addicting. I began strong. The game seems to speed up as you try to take orders from increasing numbers of tables, "cook" the food, serve it, etc.

By the third "day," I was getting confused on what to cook first, and the chef's attitude, like on TV, was degrading. There's no swearing, but I got called a donkey, his other favorite moniker, a few times. Supposedly, the more you mess up, the more vile he gets. The game isn't bad; I used to play computer games more often and forgot how addicting they can be. My one gripe is they could have at least dressed the new restaurant patrons in different colors instead of having several tables of clones.

But it's not bad. It's only a trial so you only get 30 minutes worth, but you can order the full game and pay $19.95 to be mistreated. Cheap.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Close to Hedonism

Food and books are two of my greatest pleasures. The two of them together are so good that it is almost hedonistic!

While we're on the subject of food, I made a really good guacamole last night. My husband is a little put off by the appearance of green, gushy, mushy guacamole. To make it a little less like green goo, I diced 1 avacado into small chunks and mashed it just slightly with a fork, leaving most of the chunks intact. Then, I squeezed juice from about a quarter of a lemon over the avcacado to keep it from changing color. Next I added:

about 2 Tablespoons of salsa

about 2 teaspoons of minced garlic from a jar

pinch of kosher salt

about 1 teaspoons of dried cilantro (use 2 teaspoons if you have fresh)

juice from half a lime

I gently mixed this all with a fork. It was yummy, quick, and my husband ate it!

This would be great to have with some tortilla chips. a cool drink, and a juicy novel! Anyone know of a great book set in San Antonio or Mexico?

Lisa Hall

Author of the Coleman Series

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Poor Bubba!

I don't know who Bubba is, but I don't think she loves him anymore (see the photo above). Welcome to the Fatal Foodies blog site. The "fatal foodies" are authors who write food-related mysteries and/or enjoy food (baking, cooking, eating). We'll be using this spot to post recipes, book reviews and information, appearances, etc. From time to time, we'll be having contests and doing other fun things.

Thanks for joining us!