Today is the 106th anniversary of the day when the Titanic hit an iceberg. When I started researching S'more Murders, my Titanic-themed culinary mystery, I was surprised to find dozens of nonfiction titles about the disaster at my local library, a small subset of the books on the subject. A Google search of Titanic brings up 28 million hits. A rare copy of a menu from the first meal served aboard the Titanic is slated for auction later this month, expected to sell for 100,000 British pounds (140,000 U.S. dollars).
What explains this fascination with a disaster that claimed 1500+ victims more than a century ago? Comment with your thoughts for a chance to win an Advanced Reader Edition of S'more Murders. Note: The contest ended May 1, and the winner is K.G. from Arkansas.
To comment, click on the word "Comments" in the column to the left of this post.
Edgar Allan Poe’s spirit hovers over the Mid-Atlantic. If you fly over the region at night, you can see a string of lights connecting places where Poe lived and worked: Richmond, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York. Each has a Poe museum. Looking forward to the publication of my Poe-themed mystery, The Tell-Tale Tarte, I visited the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond last weekend. What a treasure trove!
"Don't give me any turkey leftovers. All I want is some of your mother's vegetable salad." I hear similar requests after every holiday dinner. Alas, the vegetable salad recipe has more than five ingredients, so it doesn't belong on this page. You'll find the recipe in The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, edited by Kate White.
By Cook or by Crook, the first of my Five-Ingredient Mysteries, includes eight recipes, two of them perfect for a Thanksgiving dinner: Just Small Potatoes and Easier-than-Pie Apple Crisp. Here are those two recipes and an easy herb stuffing recipe.
Do you have a favorite holiday recipe? Please mention it in a comment.
Just Small Potatoes
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
6 medium to large potatoes
¼ cup flour
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons melted butter
Pour the melted butter into a glass baking pan (13 x 9 x 2 inches). Combine the flour, cheese, and salt in a plastic bag. Peel the spuds and cut each into eight pieces. Dip ‘em in cold water, throw ‘em into the plastic bag a few at a time, and shake. When the pieces are coated, plunk those babies in the pan, flat side down, nestled in a single layer. Bake for an hour, turning them after half an hour to brown another side.
You can serve them in the baking pan and add parsley sprigs for garnish.
Easier-Than-Pie Apple Crisp
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
5 cups thinly sliced, peeled apples (about 5 medium or 3 large apples)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/2 cup softened (not melted) butter
[Optional: cinnamon sprinkles]
Put the sliced apples in a shallow, square baking pan (8 or 9 inches) and, if desired, sprinkle generously with cinnamon. Cover the pan with foil and bake the apples for 20 minutes.
Mix together the flour, sugar, and nuts. Mash the softened butter into the mixture with a fork if you’re finicky, and with your fingers if you’re not. When the apples have baked for 20 minutes, cover them with the crumb mixture.
Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until the topping is golden brown.
Cool the apple crisp for at least 30 minutes. Serve it warm or cold, by itself or with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
As the designated holiday dinner makers in our family for the last 25 years, we've experimented with different types of stuffing, starting from scratch or using various stuffing mixes. We've settled on a 5-ingredient one as the favorite, a modified version of the recipe on the Pepperidge Farm® Herb Seasoned Classic Stuffing package.
1 stick of butter
2 cups of chopped onions (approximately 2 large onions)
2 cups chopped celery (4-6 celery stalks)
2 cups boiling water (or low-salt chicken broth)
1 14-ounce package of Pepperidge Farm® Herb Seasoned Classic Stuffing
Melt half the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onions for five minutes or until tender. Add the celery and cook for another 3 minutes. Melt the remaining butter in the skillet with the vegetables. Stir in the stuffing mix. Add hot water or broth slowly, mixing it with the stuffing until moist, using less liquid if you prefer stuffing on the dry side.
Stove-top stuffing: Cover the skillet, remove it from the heat, and let it stand five minutes. Fluff the stuffing with a fork and serve.
Casserole stuffing: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spoon the stuffing into a 2-quart casserole. Bake 30 minutes or until hot.
For in-bird stuffing: Loosely spoon the mixture into the turkey or chicken cavity before putting the bird in the oven. Don't overfill the cavity. A stuffed bird takes longer to cook than an unstuffed one. Put any remaining stuffing in a casserole dish and bake it for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
Scam Chowder (Five-Ingredient Mystery #2) is out. Here is a preview of the opening chapter from Val, the sleuth in the series.
Cook and run—those were Granddad’s instructions to me this evening. I was supposed to make the chowder for his dinner guests from the retirement village and get out of the kitchen. Then he would add the final ingredients and claim credit for the whole meal. This ruse was part of his campaign to win the heart of Lillian, the Village’s most attractive widow, whose husband had made her gourmet meals. To convince Lillian of his cooking skills, Granddad has no qualms about passing off my recipes and my dinners as his own creations. By eavesdropping, I discovered that more than a romance was at stake tonight. Granddad, egged on by Lillian, planned to confront a dinner guest who’d scammed retirees out of their savings. But someone beat him to it, making tonight’s chowder the last thing the scammer would eat.
Val makes two types of chowder for her grandfather's guests. When writing the book, I found a helpful video on cooking chowder: How to make three kinds of clam chowder, with Providence chef Michael Cimarusti. The 5-ingredient clear chowder meets Granddad's standards for a recipe.
Which type do you prefer: clear chowder, red chowder, or creamy chowder?
Thrilled to have a recipe in the Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, I am hosting a giveaway, courtesy of Quirk Books. Between the handsome covers of this book, you'll find recipes and anecdotes by today's crime writers. You'll also find essays on food in the writings of Poe, Conan Doyle, Christie and other giants of the mystery genre.
The vegetable salad recipe I contributed is a family favorite for holiday dinners. “Take Your Pick” in the recipe title means you can substitute different vegetables depending on the time of year and your own tastes. The best feature of this recipe is that the veggies marinate for a day, giving you one less dish to prepare at the last minute. What dish is a favorite when you get together with family and friends?
To enter the drawing for a free book, leave a reply to this post. For another chance at winning, sign up for my infrequent newsletter. If you've already subscribed, say so in a comment, and I'll add another entry for you. The contest runs from March 19 to midnight on April 18 eastern time. It is open to U.S. and Canada residents. Check back the last week of April for the winner's name. Good luck!
Finally, if you're a mystery fan, try the trivia quiz on this site, which involves matching a recipe from the book to the writer who submitted it. You'll find clues in the recipe titles.
Now that I’m writing the Five-Ingredient Mysteries, friends give me cookbooks to plump out my collection of low-ingredient recipes. Here are three favorite books you might consider as gifts this season for yourself or someone else.
If you have a favorite cookbook with recipes requiring few ingredients, please leave a comment and share your find. Here's why I like these three books.
"What could a book club discuss about your mystery?" The question came up at my launch party for By Cook or by Crook. Afterwards, someone suggested I post book club discussion questions on my website. You can download and print a copy of the questions on the Book Club page or read them here.
Can you come up with other questions for a book club's discussion of a mystery?
Book #2 in the Five-Ingredient Mystery series has a mouth-watering cover . . . with a missing ingredient.
The first book in the series had a cover image that set the style for future covers: the five ingredients needed for a dish in the forefront. This book's title made it clear what dish's ingredients would have to appear on the cover.
When my editor asked me to suggest images for the cover, I proposed the tureen with the series name on it and the bay view. I also listed five chowder ingredients to depict. For whatever reason, possibly aesthetic, one of the ingredients doesn't appear on the cover.
Any chowder cooks reading this? What other ingredient would you put in your chowder that's not shown here?
This post is part of the Sisters in Crime Blog Hop. The best part of the writing process takes place for me while I sleep. Until I wrote fiction, I had no idea how much creative work goes on while the body sleeps. Sometimes I go to bed with a lingering writing problem. Maybe I can’t figure out how to liven up a conversation between two characters. Or I wonder how to transition from the scene I’ve just written to the one that’s coming up. Or I don’t know how to insert a clue so that it’s not too obvious. The next morning I wake up with a solution to the problem.
During the night while my conscious brain was sleeping, my subconscious took over and came up with answers that eluded me the day before. If I don’t have a particular issue that stemmed from the day’s writing, my subconscious tackles a problem I didn’t even know I had, for example, it tells me about a clue I should have inserted fifty pages earlier.
Because sleep is essential to the creative process, I’ve worked hard to conquer my difficulties falling and staying asleep. A consultation with a sleep specialist helped me immensely. In an earlier blog, I shared the tips the sleep doctor gave me. One of those tips is related to this post: Keep a notebook on your night table to jot down any inspirations that come to you in the middle of the night. Knowing that you won’t forget your brilliant idea by morning makes it easier to fall asleep.
Unfortunately, sleeping doesn’t help me get the words on the page, the most challenging part of the writing process. In order to finish a 75,000-word book on deadline, I have to sit at a keyboard and write the number of words I’ve set as a daily goal. Some days I reach my goal by mid-afternoon, other days, not until nine at night.
Writing, like so many other things in life, requires both inspiration and perspiration.
For other blog posts that are part of the Sisters in Crime blog hop, visit Carolyn Mulford's blog. Carolyn tagged me and I tagged Shari Randall. Her blog will appear Monday, September 29 on the Writers Who Kill blog.
Enter to win an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of By Cook or By Crook on Goodreads.
Over the weekend I poked around Goodreads to see what it was like before becoming a member. A social media procrastinator, I signed up Facebook only a few months ago, fifteen years after the rest of the world, and waited until Goodreads had 20 million members before exploring it. To my surprise, I discovered my forthcoming book joined Goodreads before I did.
Kensington, has made 25 copies of the book available for a Goodreads giveaway. Enter to win one before September 30th on the By Cook or By Crook Goodreads page.
The first book in the Five-Ingredient Mystery series, By Cook or by Crook contains eight delicious five-ingredient recipes. Learn more about the book.
I used to spend hours awake in bed at night. My visit to a sleep specialist changed that.
In addition to the usual good advice to cut down on caffeine after noon and on alcohol at night, he offered five suggestions that I hadn't heard before and that really helped me break the habit of sleeplessness.
My brother's reaction to my book cover image, "Will they produce an edible version of it?" made me laugh. But it's not a bad idea. When the book comes out in November, I promise to serve an edible version at my book launch party.
My brother correctly guessed what the ingredients on the book cover would make. Do you know a recipe that uses the ingredients depicted? Can you name other books with covers that look good enough to eat? Or books that made you hungry as you read them? If so, please leave a comment.
By Cook or by Crook comes out November 4, 2014, from Kensington Publishing.
"Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably." --C.S. Lewis
The culinary mystery, a popular form of the traditional whodunit, combines murder, food, and humor. Cooking and eating are comforting routines that make murder more palatable, at least on the page. My forthcoming mystery, By Cook or by Crook, like many culinary mysteries, includes recipes for the dishes the sleuth makes while solving crimes. Those dishes make murder even more palatable.
When I tell people I write culinary mysteries, a fair number of them say, "Oh, I love reading those kinds of books." Others say, "I've never heard of a culinary mystery. Did you come up with that idea yourself?" Old though I am, the culinary mystery predates me. Rex Stout, who created gourmet detective Nero Wolfe, is a pioneer in the genre. His 1938 publicity tour for the fifth Nero Wolfe mystery, Too Many Cooks, included giveaways of book-shaped boxes containing recipes for 35 dishes mentioned in the mystery.
The current Buy-It-Now price on eBay for a recipe "book" signed by Rex Stout is $600. He signed the page containing this description:
Wherein vagrant tastes and fugitive flavors are sniffed to their hideouts, fingerprinted and imprisoned in savory dishes—by that celebrated Nemesis of crooks and envy of cooks, NERO WOLFE, private investigator.
This blog, like the books and stories I write, combines mysteries, food, trivia, and a bit of humor to leaven the grim subject of crime. Sometimes random subjects intrude here .