Friday, March 29, 2013

Happy Easter!!!!

It's Good Friday, and I hope that--like me--you're enjoying spending some time with people you love.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My Wish is to Love Fish!

I am haunted by a terrible childhood memory!  At the age of five, I developed a curiosity about oysters. My kindergarten teacher had talked about eating them, and I had to give oysters a try.
At that time, the area where we live was much less developed. Fresh seafood was not widely available to us.
In order to indulge my oyster curiosity, my mom took me to a fast food seafood chain. I anxiously pulled a fried oyster out my little cardboard box, anticipating something scrumptious. Instead, I bit into what seemed like a ball of tar.
Until that time, I had loved eating flounder. Afterwards, I stopped eating seafood altogether for a few years.
Gradually, I have added shrimp and some crab dishes into my diet. Fish still makes me cringe a little.
I see that my fish phobia is depriving me and my family of the nutritients and variety that fish can bring to our diets.
A few  years ago, I tried some blackened catfish my brother made. I thought it tasted good in a spicy, non-fishy way.  I should have continued eating fish after that, but my general disdain still kept me from making fish a regular part of my diet. 
Tonight, I am making blackened catfish. Hopefully this dish will forever change how I feel about fish.
Here's the recipe:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I Do Ladoo Part 2

I got this recipe from a lovely site called Mad Cooking Fusions, all about vegetarian Indian cooking. Here is her recipe:


Ingredients -
  • Walnuts – 1 cup
  • Almonds – 1/2 cup
  • Castor Sugar – 1/2 cup
  • Cardamom powder – 1 teaspoon

Method -
Grind both walnuts and almonds together in the mixer grinder till they are smooth. Take them out in a plate and add castor sugar and cardamom powder to the walnut almond mixture and mix well.
Now form small lemon size ladoos from the mixture. Trust me they are the fastest ladoos I have ever tried making. No cooking required in this.

Naturally, I did it wrong. I mixed it all up together instead of mixing the sugar in later. Maybe that's why mine came out all nasty and mishy. Ugh! So I put the mishy balls on a baking tray and baked them at 350 or so for ten minutes or so, and they dried out. In fact, they turned into delicious little morsels that you have to pop into your mouth whole, because one bite reduces them to heavenly puffs of spicy powder.

If I make these again, I may try making the correctly, or I may make them incorrectly again and roll them in crushed nuts before baking them.

By all means, DO visit Mad Cooking Fusions, especially MAD Tricks & Picks. You're welcome!

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Monday, March 25, 2013

Hot Peppers and Chocolate, by J.J. Cook

Hot Peppers and Chocolate
By J.J. Cook
From The Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mysteries
That Old Flame of Mine

The Mayans drank hot chocolate with ground chili peppers in it. I suppose it was just a matter of time before someone thought about putting the chocolate on the outside of a pepper.

I am working on food for a launch party for That Old Flame of Mine next week. Chocolate sauce with peppers sounded good. I think the contrast will be awesome with vanilla ice cream!

It did strike me that you could look at this from two different perspectives. You could buy some chocolate syrup and add peppers to it or you could make your own chocolate syrup.

I decided to go with making chocolate syrup and I'm glad I did. My syrup is much thicker and richer. I also wanted to have dark chocolate syrup. Here is my recipe:

Add 1/2 cup of heavy cream to 1/2 cup sugar (or sugar free substitute). Stir together over low heat until thoroughly blended. Add one hot pepper (I'll let you make a decision on this according to how hot you want it). I used the Tennessee Teardrop pepper. Cut the pepper in half. Add the pepper to the mixture along with 16 ounces of dark Baker's Chocolate. All this to simmer, stirring occasionally. Add a teaspoon of vanilla as you are simmering and stirring.

When the chocolate and sugar has melted and mixed, remove the hot pepper and discard (or eat - your choice). Refrigerate until you're ready to use it. You may need to microwave for a few seconds to make it liquid.
Bear in mind that you won't want to give this to young children or anyone with a sensitive palate!


Read more about That Old Flame of Mine 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Easter Baskets for Adults

Easter baskets aren't just for kids, you know. Like me, some of you might have kids that are way past the egg finding stage but not out of the gift-getting stage (do any of us EVER outgrow the fun of an Easter basket?). Here are some suggestions for Easter baskets for your spouse or teenage (or older) children:

Suggestions from eHow:
(See the link for specifics)

A Pampering Basket
A Movie Lover's Basket
A Chef''s Basket
A Tea/Coffee-Lover's Basket

To the above, I'd like to add:

A Reader's Basket: a book or two in the reader's favorite genre, a gift card to a local bookseller, a bookmark, chocolates, and coffee or tea.

A Gardener's Basket: gardening gloves, seeds or plants, hand cream, and gardening tools.

A Needlecrafter's/Knitter's Basket: Yarn or embroidery floss, needles, and pattern books.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

As per the Birthday Girl's Request....

My Calli turns 9 today. I might spend the day asking "Where did time go?" Or, I might be too busy fixing her favorite food to think any sad thoughts.

Here is our menu for today (all as per Calli's request).

chocolate chip scones

Lunch: Her sister and I will eat lunch with Calli at school and bring:
pizza rolls
carrots and ranch dip
lemon cookies

beef tips
baked potato
garlic bread
orange cupcakes

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I Do Ladoo

I went on a road trip with some friends, one of whom is gluten intolerant, so I wanted to make something fun and gluten-free. I had been introduced to ladoo at another friend's house -- YES, I HAVE MORE THAN ONE FRIEND -- so I thought I'd try making some.

There are a lot of recipes on-line. All of them ask for chickpea flour, which I was able to find. Some of them also require semolina, which is wheat, so those were no-go. Some wanted me to use ghee, which I wasn't about to do. Ghee is made from butter; since I thought my vegan daughter might like some, I couldn't use that.

Okay, so I took a couple of different recipes and came up with this:

Cashew Ladoo
  • 1/2 cup margarine (or ghee or sunflower oil)
  • 1 cup chickpea flour
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • bit of nutmeg
  • 2 Tablespoons dried coconut
  • 1 cup extra-fine sugar
  • chopped cashews and chopped dried apricots
Melt margarine. Stir in chickpea flour, coconut, and spices and heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add sugar and continue to stir for another 5 minutes, until well mixed and fragrant. Add cashews and apricots and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Let cool enough to handle. Form into balls about the size of golf balls. If desired, roll in coconut or powdered sugar or toasted sesame seeds. If too dry to handle, add a bit of water.

Now, my ladoo look good, but they didn't work quite right. Too dry. I did add water, but the ones I didn't add much water to were dry and crumbly, and the ones I added more water to were mishy. Charlie wasn't crazy about the cardamom, so I probably won't try making these again. Alas!

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Monday, March 18, 2013

Ghost Pepper? By J.J. Cook

In keeping with my new mystery series, the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mysteries, I thought we'd talk about the hottest pepper in the world.

It's called the Ghost Pepper of Bhut Jokolia. Guiness Book of World Records recognized this pepper as the hottest in 2007. It was measured at more than one million on the Scoville heat index. This is four-hundred times hotter than Tabasco sauce!

It's at least twice as hot as any other pepper you can imagine. Some people say it feels like you put the sun in your mouth! It has a warning on it to proceed with caution!

Usually the pepper is mixed with other foods to try and mitigate some of that heat. My favorite pepper producing shop is Tennessee Gourmet. They use Merlot peppers for color that they mix with the ghost pepper to make their infamous jelly. 

"This jelly is for people who like a fire on their tongue!" Tennessee Gourmet says. "This will definitely fire up your foods!"

The jelly is used to enhance ham, chicken, lamb and as a vegetable glaze. You can use it with cream cheese and crackers, but beware!

The term ghost pepper doesn't come from how hot the pepper is (and it could make you a ghost) but rather from the Naga warriors who are known as being ghost warriors. The pepper comes from the same region.

Of course, that was 2007. 

In 2011, another pepper came to take the prize as being the world's hottest pepper - Trinidad Moruga Scorpion.

Why would growers keep making peppers hotter?

One reason is for the prestige of saying you have the hottest pepper. The other is because peppers really are used in making pepper spray - the hotter the better.

Just remember - if you eat a pepper that's too hot for you, reach for the milk or ice cream, not soda or water. The milk will cool down the heat. Soda or water makes it worse.

Not something you'd like to have after eating the ghost pepper!

Want more about hot peppers?

Read That Old Flame of Mine
Book one in the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mysteries. 

Set in Sweet Pepper, Tennessee where they grow the hottest, sweetest pepper in the world, Fire Chief Stella Griffin tackles the bad guys with help from the ghost of the former fire chief.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

There's a Critter in my Coffee!

I saw these porcelain mugs in a magazine. Yes, those are little critters affixed to the bottom.
While clever and whimsical, I am not sure how I feel about drinking from these mugs. I think I would constantly be afraid that the critter would come undone and choke me.

In all seriousness, I do think these would be something cute and different to give someone who loves tea or coffee. I realize most peole would not have my weird fear of choking on the critter.
 Here is the link, if you wish to purchase:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My Friend Carol's Kitchen Affair

Sounds pretty juicy, eh? WELL GET YOUR MIND OUT OF THE GUTTER! It's a book!

Ha, ha! Gotcha! A KITCHEN AFFAIR is a romance by my mystery writer friend Carol Preflatish. Here's the blurb:

When culinary student Jenny Marshall struggles to pay her tuition, she decides to become a Personal Chef to make ends meet. The most eligible bachelor in town, Derek James, who also happens to be a millionaire, has a crisis. Two days before his Thanksgiving dinner party, his cook has to quit due to a family emergency. Desperate, he hires Jenny to cook for his party and there's chemistry from the start. He likes her, she likes him, but Colleen Michaels, a manager at his company, has set her sights on Derek also and she does everything she can to sabotage his relationship with Jenny. Everyone thinks Colleen is the perfect match for Derek; everyone that is, except Derek. He desperately wants Jenny in his life. However, Colleen has other plans to keep that from happening. What lengths will she go to in order to keep Derek and Jenny apart?

I generally don't read romances, but OF COURSE I love anything with a foodie theme, and Carol also wrote one of my favorite cookbooks,  MASTERS AND DISASTERS OF COOKING. So I expect I'll be downloading A KITCHEN AFFAIR to my jolly old eReader one of these fine days.

Meanwhile, here's a bit about Carol. It doesn't say that we've been friends for years, but we have. :)


Carol Preflatish knew at an early age that she loved to write. In high school and college, her favorite classes were composition and creative writing. It wasn't until after she married and then became a parent that she decided to pursue it seriously. Always loving a good mystery, she's constantly thinking up ideas for future books.

Carol lives in southern Indiana, sharing her log cabin in the woods with her husband and their cat and dog. When not writing, she loves to read, watch football, and go camping with her husband.

You can find out more information about her and her work at:

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Friday, March 8, 2013

Bake Your Babka!

In every issue of Martha Stewart Living, Ms. Stewart's calendar is featured. It's to give readers hints, reminders, and suggestions of things to do throughout the month; such as, remove, wash, and store storm windows; organize your garden shed; and host a cozy brunch. This month on Martha's to-do list was "bake a babka." I immediately texted my best friend to tell her that Martha suggested we bake a babka. I followed up with, "What's a babka?" She didn't know, so I looked it up. It is a coffee cake, often made to eat on Easter Sunday to celebrate the rising of Christ.

Here is Martha's babka recipe:

Martha's Babka


  • 2 cups milk, scalded
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2/3 of a 2-ounce yeast cake
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Grated rind of 2 oranges
  • Grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
  • 8 to 9 cups sifted unbleached flour
  • 1 cup slivered almonds, chopped
  • 1 cup muscat raisins
  • 1 cup golden raisins


  1. Heat the milk; stir in the butter until melted; cool to lukewarm. Proof the yeast in the warm water.
  2. Beat the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar until thick. Add the salt, grated rinds, vanilla, and Grand Marnier. Add the milk-butter mixture to the egg mixture. Stir in the yeast.
  3. Add the flour, a cupful at a time, mixing with a wooden spoon. The dough should not be dry, but it should not be sticky. Too much flour will make a dry, crumbly cake. Add the almonds and raisins.
  4. Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead for about 5 minutes, until dough comes away from your hand. Butter a very large bowl and put dough in bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk. Punch down and let rise a second time until almost doubled.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the pans generously. (You can sprinkle pans with a tablespoon of sugar if you wish.) Divide the dough into 3 portions. Arrange evenly on the pans and cover loosely. Let rise to top of pans.
  6. Bake cakes in oven for 30 to 45 minutes, until golden brown. There should be a hollow sound when you tap the top with your knuckles. Cool for 5 minutes in the pans, then turn out onto racks to cool.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

I Love Foot Traffic!

When planning a book signing, foot traffic may be an author's best friend. The best advice I can give is to ask the owner/manager of the venue when they have the most foot traffic. It is also helpful to schedule a book signing around sales, holidays, promotions, open houses and other special events.
As an example, I am doing a signing at a book warehouse this weekend. When asking about foot traffic, the venue owner mentioned a big event that the business next door is having.
The book warehouse is connected to a large hardware store. Three times a year, the hardware store holds a huge sidewalk sale. To optimize my visibility, the book warehouse owner is placing my table outside, to catch shoppers. Hopefully, I get ladies and kids who want to browse while men shop for tools.
Thankfully, the weather is supposed to be a lovely 65 degrees! Come see me if you are local.
I will be at Book Lover's Warehouse in Johnson City, TN from 11-3 this Saturday.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Best. Skillets. EVER!

I know -- I sound like a commercial Lady:

Are you tired of your "non-stick" skillets sticking ... chipping ... peeling? Are you tired of having to either spend a fortune or replace skillets every six months -- or both? Are you tired of not being able to cook above medium heat, for fear of releasing toxic fumes? 

ME: Hella yeah!

So I broke down and bought three different sizes of Green Pan. They're coated with ceramic rather than Teflon or whatever other sad trash the pans I've been getting are sprayed with.

I brought them home, pretty sure I'd get buyer's remorse the first time I used one.

But you know what? THEY REALLY WORK!

Even heating -- check!
Gorgeous browning -- check!
No sticking -- check!
Easy cleaning -- check!
No chipping or peeling -- check!

My husband even said -- and, as God is my witness, this is a direct quote, "Cooking is a pleasure with these pans."

Mr. and Mrs. Commercial Couple! ~cue the Twilight Zone music~

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Monday, March 4, 2013

Carrot Stew!

Carrot Stew!

Carrot stew, carrot stew! It's our favorite thing to do. Nothing makes our tummies so full and keeps us happy too, 
As a great big pot or a little bitty bowl!
Or a spoonful of carrot stew. 

Remember that song?

I had a lovely, small carrot growing in my greenhouse this week. There wasn't enough of it to do more than eat raw. The tiny carrot was delicious!

Photo: Baby carrot from the greenhouse!

It made me start thinking about carrot stew. Was that even something you could eat?

I looked up a recipe in my old cookbook and here it was. I love carrots so I thought I'd give it a try.

Carrot Stew

You need one large bag of baby carrots (or two small ones), one quart of vegetable broth, one medium onion, minced, 1 clove of garlic, chopped, Salt and pepper.

Saute onion and garlic in a pan with oil, butter or cooking spray. When onions and garlic are clear, add to a stock pot with carrots and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil then simmer until carrots are tender.

A friend of mine says she purees the carrots before adding to the broth to give the soup more substance and to her kids don't know it has carrots in it.

I tried it both ways - I have to agree that I like the carrots pureed too, but either recipe was delicious. It was so sunny and warm that it made me feel good all over to eat it!


Joyce Lavene

Coming in April:
That Old Flame of Mine
By J.J. Cook
Book #1 in the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mysteries.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sneaky March!

Did March sneak up on you guys the way it snuck up on me? Here I am plodding along through February, and then the month abruptly ended! The stuff I usually do at the end of the month hasn't been done. The stuff I need to do at the first of the month hasn't been done. The laundry needs to be tackled. Groceries need to be bought. Plus, tonight is the opening night of my daughter's play. Part of me wants to go back to bed and hide.

My plan of action for the day is 1) do blog posts for the month of March (ten in all), 2) do laundry in between blog posts, 3) run to the grocery store (with a list), 4) do computer backup, 5) go by Subway to pick up dinner. And that's how I make this particular blog post come back around to food.

Have you tried Subway's chopped salads? The preparer takes all your salad-y stuff (I prefer ham, turkey breast, lettuce, spinach, onion, cheese, and tomato) and chops it up. I love it and wonder why I never thought about it before. I typically end up picking the "good stuff" out of my salads and leaving the biggest part of it behind. This way, every bite you take has the "good stuff" along with the "not-so-great-but-good-for-you stuff" so nothing goes to waste.

Try one. Tell them I sent you. Maybe Subway will make me their chopped salad spokesperson and pay me the big bucks...or in chopped salads. :)