Author Archives for Not Another Food Blog

About Not Another Food Blog

I'm a travel writer by day and a home cook with an egg allergy in the family all the time. I have an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction and hope someday my fiction will be popular. In the meantime, I'm cooking and writing at Not Another Food Blog.

Eggless Zucchini Cannelloni

When I was single and lived alone, I ate a lot of frozen dinners. They had names that included “Lean” (because low-fat was healthy) and “Healthy” (because healthy was healthy), so clearly this was the right thing to do. I remember running into someone at the grocery store with my cart full of low-fat frozen dinners, low-fat snacks and diet sodas and they commented, “Wow, you eat healthy!” and they weren’t even being sarcastic.

These days I don’t eat a lot of frozen dinners, but I was recently reminded of one I really liked back in the day.

I got a KitchenAid Vegetable Sheet Cutter attachment for Christmas and was searching for things I could make with zucchini that my son would eat. I ran across a photo of beef-filled cannelloni with a white sauce and immediately recalled that favorite frozen dinner, and became obsessed with trying to create a zucchini version of it. I think this comes pretty close. It is not low-fat ’cause I’m not into that anymore. It is eggless, so you could probably throw an egg into the filling and make it more firm if you’re not trying to feed a teenager who’s allergic to eggs and suspicious of vegetables. He ate it all, so I’m calling this one a win.

Zucchini Beef Cannelloni by Laurie Sterbens

Zucchini Beef Cannelloni with Bechemel Sauce

Cannelloni

1 pound large zucchini, sliced into sheets
1/2 cup minced onion
1/4 cup minced celery
1/4 cup minced carrot
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 cloves garlic, minced
16 ounces lean ground beef
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup beef broth
1 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
salt to taste
ground black pepper to taste
1 cup shredded mozzarella

Bechamel Sauce

1 1/2 cups low-fat milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 dash paprika
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Slice zucchini using Vegetable Sheet Cutter. Cut into 4- to 5-inch sheets and place on paper towels. Sprinkle with a little salt and set aside, then press with paper towels to remove excess moisture before filling.
3. Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet. Add onion, celery, and carrot, and cook over moderate heat until softened. Add the garlic, and cook 1 minute. Add beef. Cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is no longer pink. Add wine, and reduce for 1 minute. Stir in broth. Add herbs, bay leaf, and salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Uncover, and reduce until almost dry. Discard bay leaf. Set aside to cool.
4. Transfer the cooled meat mixture to a large bowl. Stir in mozzarella.
5. To make bechamel sauce: In a small saucepan, add milk. While whisking, slowly add in flour. When blended, add salt, pepper, nutmeg and cayenne; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and and stir in Parmesan.
6. Spoon 1/4 cup of the filling down the center of one zucchini slice, roll to enclose the filling and place in a buttered gratin dish. Repeat with the remaining zucchini slices and filling, arranging in single layer. Ladle the bechamel sauce over the cannelloni, and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle with a bit of paprika.
7. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until bubbling. Run under the broiler about 4 inches from the heat for 2 minutes, or until golden.

Adventures in Air Frying

I recently got a new air fryer and I love it. Loooove it. (It’s a Ninja.)

When I first got it, I uploaded some of the more appealing recipes from the product website into my meal planner and went looking on Amazon for a cookbook. There aren’t many—this is a fairly new gadget and air frying is apparently still kind of Wild West as far as recipe development and cookbook publishing.

Then I started looking around for things I already make that would be better in the air fryer. (At this point watch out; stand still for too long in my kitchen and I will air fry you.)

There have been more hits than misses, but here is what I’ve learned so far:

Holy salt shaker, Batman. Some of the recipes I tried from the cookbook I found had waaaay too much salt. Admittedly, I try not to use too much salt when cooking, but I also eat out a lot and I know the difference between well-seasoned and way overboard. My theory here is the early air-fryer adopters are people trying to reform unhealthy diets that probably included things like fast food and they’re used to a lot of sodium. Question the salt quantities in some of the recipes out there.

Everyone is right about the chicken wings. Some people don’t use this machine for much else and that’s understandable. You could keep yourself busy making all kinds of delicious chicken wings. The first time I made air-fried buffalo wings, my picky 14-year-old gobbled a whole plate of them and pronounced them better than his second-favorite wing purveyor. I guess that makes me tied for first, but since I’d never tried to make wings before, I was pretty happy. Skin-on chicken thighs are also amazing in the air fryer.

Fried fish is going to be a learning process. Or I may just respect the fish and throw it in the deep fryer, which I’ll have to drag out anyway for the hush puppies.

Vegetables can be strange. So far I’ve cooked two non-potato vegetables: Broccoli and brussels sprouts. Here’s the thing. I actually like these vegetables. Some people don’t, so for those people it could be an improvement to blast them to ashes, I don’t know. I found them … interesting as an appetizer, maybe, but I think I prefer my brussels sprouts roasted and my broccoli gently steamed or stir-fried. Maybe I should air-blast some beets. I hate beets.

The air fryer makes the best baked potatoes ever — crispy skin, fluffy inside, and they cook in under half an hour. We like the skins with olive oil and salt, but I found that with the air fryer the skin gets crisper if you do this after cooking them.

I also had great results with panko-crusted chicken breasts, which turned out nice and crispy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside.

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Air-Fryer Panko-Crusted Chicken Breasts

Cooking spray
1 1/2 cups whole wheat panko crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan (the powdery jar stuff)
2 teaspoons Penzey’s Northwoods seasoning
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Combine panko crumbs, Parmesan and Northwoods seasoning in a shallow bowl and stir well. Add olive oil to another bowl.
Preheat air fryer to 375 degrees on the Air Fry setting. When preheated, spray cooking tray and multi-layer rack with cooking spray. Cut chicken breasts in half, then dip each in olive oil and toss in panko mixture. Arrange half of chicken pieces on bottom of the air fryer, add the multi-layer rack and place remaining pieces on top. Cook for 10 minutes, pause and carefully turn pieces over with tongs, then cook another 8-10 minutes.

8 Questions with Award-Winning Mystery Author Micki Browning

Award-winning author Micki Browning worked in municipal law enforcement for more than two decades and is an FBI National Academy graduate. She retired as a division commander – wonderful fodder for her current career as a full-time writer.

Micki BrowningHer mystery, Adrift, set in the Florida Keys, won the 2015 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence and the Royal Palm Literary Award for best unpublished mystery and unpublished book of the year. It was published in January 2017 by Alibi- Random House.

Micki also writes short stories and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in dive magazines, anthologies, mystery magazines and textbooks.

Micki resides in Southern Florida with her partner in crime and a vast array of scuba equipment. At the time of this interview, she was working on Beached, the second in the Mer Cavallo Mysteries. Learn more at www.MickiBrowning.com

MB: Thank you Laurie, I’m so pleased to be your guest today!

LS: I loved the opening to this mystery. I don’t want to give anything away, but let’s just say it’s not your average dead-body-on-page-five first chapter.

MB: Thank you! I actually struggled a bit with this beginning because I knew I was bucking genre norms, but Adrift could not have started any other way.

LS: Are you a plotter or a pantser? How long did it take you to write Adrift, and what is your process?

Adrift by Micki BrowningMB: Adrift took about a year and a half to complete. I started out as a pantser—but mysteries require a bit of planning. That said, I hate outlining. I have yet to envision a story from start to finish before I’ve written half the book. I recently finished Beached, the second in the Mer Cavallo Mysteries. I knew what I needed in the end, but it wasn’t until I was writing the final confrontation that the details finally coalesced. Now I like to think of myself as a hybrid pantser/plotter. The milestones I need to visit along the way are clear, but the path I travel is often serendipitous.

LS: Florida is a fertile setting for mysteries and crime writing in general—Miami and Key West, in particular, offer lots of crazy for writers to work with. Key Largo, on the other hand, has a quiet, laid-back vibe. What challenges or advantages does this present as a mystery setting?

MB: I lived the life I wrote about in Adrift. After I retired from a twenty-two year career in law enforcement, my better half and I decided to leave Colorado and decompress in the Keys. The closest thing to snow in the Keys is a shaved ice and living there allowed us to dive almost any day we wanted. In the process, I became a professional divemaster and worked in one of the local dive shops. So as a setting, it was perfect. I know Key Largo. I know the dive industry. I’ve seen the crazy. The only drawback is that it’s a small community. That said, a LOT of people pass through. No telling what secrets they have.

LS: Your background is in law enforcement, yet you chose to make your main character a scientist. What inspired this choice?

MB: Most mystery writers would love to have my background, so it strikes them as odd that I chose to write about an amateur sleuth. But the fact is I had just retired, and I wanted a bit of distance from the profession. It seemed natural to write about someone who loved the ocean, loved her job, and was smart. I also wanted her to be a bit of a fish out of water. Adjusting to the laid-back life in the Keys was a difficult transition for Mer. As a newcomer to the area, I was able to capitalize on some of my own experiences learning about a new place.

LS: I love the subtle humor and snarky social commentary, such as when everyone on the boat is posting to YouTube, or my personal favorite, “It’s octopuses! Why can’t people get that?” It reminds me of Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, if Warshawski worked on a dive boat. Do you plan to bring up issues in each of your books, or do these things just pop out as you write?

MB: Oh, good question! It’s fun to write through the eyes of characters because nothing is off limits. But it has to come from the characters not the author. If it is true to the character, it’ll pop out!

LS: What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned in the process of writing and marketing your first published novel?

MB: Celebrate the little things! Writing isn’t easy (at least it isn’t for me), and nothing in the publishing industry moves fast. Once a book is released, marketing never really stops. It also helps to have friends who write. They understand that wine and chocolate are both celebratory and consolatory indulgences.

LS: What’s the most fun thing about being a published author? Least fun thing?

MB: I’ve wanted to write a book ever since I was a little girl, so Adrift is truly the realization of a dream. I still pinch myself. Querying, on the other hand, was not a fun process. The feedback was fabulous, but rejection is hard. Hence the wine and chocolate…

LS: Sooner or later, I always have to ask about food. Mer is unable to resist when her neighbor grills a juicy tri-tip. Do you have a favorite recipe for Santa Maria-style steaks or any tips?

MB: For the uninitiated, Santa Maria Valley is located along the Central Coast of California. The regional staple is Santa Maria-style barbecue—a beef tri-tip seasoned with salt, black pepper a bit of garlic and then grilled. And not just any grill, either. All around the valley—outside grocery stores, next to produce stands, behind restaurants—you’ll encounter behemoth iron grills that have wheel cranks to raise and lower massive grates over oak-wood fires. Stands will sell plates of sliced tri-tip along with beans, fresh salsa, tossed green salad and slabs of grilled French bread. It’s standard fare for weddings, retirement parties, and impromptu lunches. It’s fabulous. To this day, I can’t eat a steak without salsa. When I first landed in the Keys, no one carried tri-tip. Now that cut of beef is easily found in all the markets. Maybe Mer got the word out! As far as a recipe, it’s beyond simple: Grill tri-tip to medium rare. Add salsa (I recommend fresh and spicy). That’s it. Bon Appetit!

 


2 Great Recipes Using Cauliflower Rice

Laurie_Sterbens_Jambalaya_with_Cauliflower_Rice.jpg

Cauliflower rice works great in Jambalaya.

In my last post  I shared how I make cauliflower rice that’s more al dente and less cruciferous-crunchy than other recipes I’ve tried.

You: Why are you still talking about this? I hate cauliflower.

Don’t worry; I won’t keep trying to push cauliflower on you if you’re staunchly pro-starch. That would be dysfunctional. Besides, I’ll be busy trying to get my husband to like bacon so I can make this meatloaf. However, if you’re on the fence, haven’t tried cauliflower rice yet or just learned how to make it and aren’t sure what to do with it, here are some ideas.

Cauliflower rice is perfect with stir-fries, especially with a few healthy sprinkles of coconut aminos (or soy sauce, if you’re not avoiding soy and sodium). But try throwing it into a Cajun recipe and the cauliflower flavor takes a backseat to the spices. You may not scream, “You’re lying! This is rice!” but you’ll save a lot of calories and carbs without feeling like you’re choking down a bowl of vegetables.

Caul.chart

Nutritional information from http://www.calorieking.com.

You can also sub pureed cauliflower for the grits in your favorite Shrimp and Grits recipe. I like this recipe for Deep South Shrimp and Sausage from Cooking Light. Serve it over cauliflower pureed with a tablespoon of butter, an ounce of half and half and a half cup of shredded Parmesan cheese.

If cauliflower’s working for you and you want to step up your game, you can try cauliflower pizza crust or cauliflower tortillas. I’ve only tried the pizza crust once with modest success. You have to make sure to squeeze as much water out of the cauliflower as possible to make it work, and you need to let it cool first so you don’t burn your hands. I may have skipped that last part. Ouch.

And then there’ s cauliflower “steak.” Okay, here I have to draw the line. Not even the most imaginative application of umami-inducing seasonings is going to make me look at a slab of cauliflower and confuse it with sirloin. That said, roasted cauliflower can be a great thing. Clean Eating offers up its take on cauliflower steaks here.

Jambalaya with Cauliflower Rice

1 recipe Cauliflower Rice 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
2 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups chicken broth or stock
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 ounces andouille sausage, chopped
2 tablespoons sliced green onions

Prepare cauliflower rice and set aside.
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté 6 minutes or until lightly browned. Stir in bell peppers, paprika, salt, oregano, ground red pepper and black pepper; sauté 1 minute.
Stir in broth and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes. Add shrimp, sausage and cooked cauliflower rice; cover and cook 5 minutes. Sprinkle with green onions.

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry with Cauliflower Rice

This recipe (minus cauliflower rice) is from Paleo Grubs, where it’s called Simple Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry. It’s delicious and not difficult, but since it involves more than 5 ingredients and chopping and mincing, not including the cauliflower rice, I deleted “simple” from the title when I saved it to my recipe planner.

1.5 lbs. sirloin, thinly sliced
4 tbsp coconut aminos, divided
4 tbsp red wine vinegar, divided
3 tbsp chicken broth
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp arrowroot flour
1 tsp honey
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
4 carrots, diagonally sliced
3 tbsp coconut oil, divided

1 recipe Cauliflower Rice

Place the sirloin in a small bowl with one tablespoon each of red wine vinegar and coconut aminos and toss to coat. Let marinate for 15 minutes at room temperature.

Meanwhile, whisk together 3 tablespoons each red wine vinegar, coconut aminos, and chicken broth. Stir in the garlic, ginger, arrowroot, honey, and sesame oil. Prepare a separate small bowl with 1 tablespoon of water and set it next to the stove along with the garlic sauce.

Melt 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Place the steak in the skillet in a single layer. The meat should sizzle; otherwise the pan is not hot enough. Cook for 1-2 minutes per side to brown, and then transfer to a bowl.

Add the remaining tablespoon of coconut oil to the skillet. Stir in the broccoli and carrots, cooking for 2 minutes. Add the water to the skillet and cover with a lid. Let cook for 2-3 minutes, then remove the lid and cook until all of the water has evaporated.

Add the garlic mixture to the vegetables and stir to coat. Add the beef back into the pan and toss until the sauce thickens and everything is well coated. Serve immediately over cauliflower rice.

 

Kinder, Gentler Cauliflower Rice

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This recipe for Cashew Chicken is an excellent reason for cauliflower rice.

About a year ago, my husband and I did a 30-day Paleo challenge.

  • Pros: Lost some belly fat, found great new healthy recipes.
  • Cons: Lots of planning, prep and cooking, not super travel-friendly, not cheap. Also not supposed to have dairy or alcohol. More on that later.

For the uninitiated, the Paleo Diet is based on what humans ate before the Agricultural Age and way before our current era, the Additive Age. The theory is that the human body wasn’t meant to process agricultural products, especially now that the food production industry has turned even originally healthy foods like grains into bionic alien pseudo foods. You’re supposed to eat clean, grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish and organic produce and avoid processed foods, grains, legumes, dairy and refined sugar.

I eventually failed dairy because coffee and cheese, but I definitely felt better without grains. Now I just try to eat Paleo during the week with limited dairy. Also not sure which era was when we learned about fermented grapes, but I’m pretending that happened.

paleo_house_divided

A house divided: Not everyone was on board with the Paleo plan.

The first thing you’ll learn when you go Paleo is that there are a lot of recipes out there trying to make something good you used to eat, like pasta, out of a vegetable you’re not that attached to, like zucchini. That low-carb classic, faux mashed potatoes made with cauliflower, is still around. Rice is another Paleo problem, and people have turned to cauliflower to solve that, too.

At first I was not a fan. Rice is a starchy comfort food, so, ideally, it shouldn’t break your teeth. Most recipes say pulse it in the food processor until it’s the size of rice, then saute it in oil, but all I got was warmer, oilier, mostly raw cauliflower.

I found that partially steaming the cauliflower first results in a softer, more rice-like texture.  Here’s how I make it now:

Cauliflower Rice

1 head cauliflower, cored and chopped
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon coconut or olive oil
Salt and pepper

Place the chopped cauliflower in a microwave-safe dish with 2 tablespoons of water. Cover and microwave on high for 8 minutes. Remove immediately, uncover and allow to cool.

Place 1/2 of cooled cauliflower in a large food processor and pulse until it resembles rice. Repeat with remaining cauliflower. Heat coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add cauliflower to skillet. Saute 5 minutes or until desired tenderness. Add salt and pepper to taste.

(Note: When this post was first published, cauliflower rice was a new thing. Now you can find pre-riced cauliflower in the produce section, which takes you right back to the non-steamed, too-crunchy problem. However, now there are also bags of cauliflower rice in the frozen vegetable section, which you can just throw in the microwave, and they are a win. I like Green Giant. The bags are small, though, so I usually use two.)

 

Q&A with Malice Guest of Honor Victoria Thompson

Winner of the Career Achievement Award for Mystery from RT Book Reviews, Victoria Thompson is the bestselling author of the Edgar ® and Agatha Award Nominated Gaslight Mystery Series and will be the Guest of Honor at the 2016 Malice Domestic conference. Her latest Victoria Thompson photois  Murder on St. Nicholas Avenue. She has published 18 mysteries and 20 historical romances and contributed to the award-winning textbook Many Genres, One Craft. She currently teaches in the Master’s Degree program for writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University. Victoria is a founding member and past president of Novelists, Inc., and a co-founder and past-president of both PENNWRITERS and  New Jersey Romance Writers. She lives in Indiana with her husband and a very spoiled little dog.

Contact her at: victoriathompson.com or Facebook: Victoria Thompson.Author or Twitter:  @gaslightvt.

What/who inspired you to write your first novel?

My first published works were historical romances set in Texas.  My inspiration came from a collection of Louis L’Amour short stories that I picked up by chance.  Captivated with the Old West, I went on to read all of L’Amour’s books, and then devoured all the classics by Max Brand and Zane Gray and many others.  I was so immersed in the Old West, that I started dreaming about it, and one of those dreams became the seed for my first novel, Texas Treasure.

What did you find to be the most challenging part of getting your first book published?

Overcoming my own ignorance!  I thought I’d written a Western, so I sent it to 5 publishers of Westerns. They all rejected me, of course, because what I’d really written was an historical romance set in the Old West.  When I finally figured that out and sent it to the right publisher, it sold immediately.

After 20 romances, you began writing mysteries. What inspired you to switch to mysteries, and what was the most challenging aspect of the genre change?

What inspired me to change genres was when my romance publisher told me they were dumping me.  This was the mid-1990s, and publishers had flooded the historical romance field.  Sales of individual titles dropped, and many authors did not have their contracts renewed. I was one of them. Unable to sell any more historical romances, I was trying to write a contemporary thriller when my agent told me Berkley Prime Crime was looking for authors to write mystery series.  She knew I could write mystery because I’d been putting mystery subplots into my romances, so she encouraged me to write a proposal for a series.  The result was the Gaslight Mystery Series.

The most challenging aspect of the genre change was having created my two protagonists, Sarah Brandt and Frank Malloy, and knowing they were perfect for each other but having to keep them apart. In a romance, they would have gotten together by the end of the first book, but I managed to keep them apart for 15 books.  Frank finally proposes in #15 and they marry in #17.

What lessons from writing romance did you apply to writing mysteries?

My agent and my editor both warned me that mystery readers don’t like romance in their mysteries, but I did put in a hint of it in the first book. Readers were hooked and they sent me fanmail for 15 years begging me to get them together. So lesson #1 I brought with me:  People love a good romance.  The other lesson I brought was to create characters readers will love or will love to hate.  I managed to make even a corrupt and jaded police detective loveable, and his harridan mother is the one everyone loved to hate.

You wrote romance novels set in pioneer-era Texas, and your current series is set in turn-of-the-century New York. Is it an era or a setting that inspires you most?

I have to really love the setting, and that includes the time period.  I grew up watching Westerns on TV and in the movies, and the Cowboy is America’s mythic hero, so I was pre-programmed to love the Old West.  I’d visited New York many times and loved the energy and variety of the city. When I started the series, my daughter had just started at New York University, so we spent a lot of time visiting her and getting to know the city the way a native does. I am also very fond of the turn-of-the-century time period, when the modern era had just begun and life was changing every day.  What I love most about that time period and that place is that the social issues people were dealing with then are the same ones we’re still dealing with. The technology is different, but people are still very much the same, so I can show Frank and Sarah considering an issue that people understand completely because they’re thinking about it, too.

We talk about food a lot here. Amid all the births and murders and poverty and corruption, Sarah and Frank have to eat, and you can’t just have them hit a drive-thru. Old photos and news articles can give you an idea of the setting, but how do you go about finding the right foods?

Years ago, I moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania and I had to leave my critique group who had helped me tremendously through my early books.  As a going away gift, they gave me a book called Savory Suppers and Fashionable Feasts by Susan Williams.  It has menus and recipes and descriptions of how people ate in the Nineteenth Century, and I refer to it often, especially when Sarah’s nosy neighbor, Mrs. Ellsworth, is baking something. I’ve added more books about everyday life to my library since then, but this is my primary reference. I also own a lot of books that are collections of period photographs. Some of them show holiday celebrations, which shows what the table would have looked like and what people wore.  Nothing can replace a good recipe, though!

Back to births, murders, poverty and corruption, I’m seeing a lot of buzz among mystery writers lately about cozy classifications, particularly cozy noir and edgy cozies. As a historical, you’re safely outside the fray, but as a teacher in the genre I’m curious about your take on this. How far do you think a cozy can go before it’s not a cozy?

I’m happy to report that the term “cozy” is slowly being replaced by the word “traditional.”  This is because “cozy” just doesn’t cover all the variations of mystery found in that subgenre.  StNicholasAs a teacher, I will tell you that there are 3 main subgenres of mystery:  PI/Noir, (Police) Procedural, and Cozy.  The PI/Noir category used to be just jaded PI’s like Sam Spade, but now we have lots of mysteries with that same Noir feel who may not have a PI protagonist, so we have to expand that definition a bit.  Police Procedural originally just featured real cops doing what they do, but then we started seeing other professionals featured in mysteries who weren’t cops but who were still professionals whose job it was to solve crimes, like medical examiners, so now I just call them Procedurals and they feature a professional doing his/her job and show readers inside that secret world. Since my books aren’t PI/Noir or Procedural, they have to be Cozy.  They do fit the definition in that they don’t have sex or gratuitous violence, and they do feature one amateur sleuth, but I always got a lot of pushback when I told an educated audience of other writers or avid readers that they were cozies. I’d explain that Cozy is a Big Tent with room for lots of variations, but I am glad to see someone actually came up with a better descriptor, Traditional, that really says what all these books are.  So to answer your question, I think a cozy can go pretty far so long as it doesn’t gross out the reader or turn the lights on in the bedroom, but there is also plenty of room in the Noir subgenre for books that cross those lines.

You recently “retired” from your full-time day job as a fundraiser. I say “retired” because you’re still an author, which involves a lot of travel and work outside of the writing part, and adjunct professor and mentor in Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction program, which also involves travel and a lot of work. How on earth have you managed to turn out 38 novels? Any time management tips?

People would often ask me how I found time to write when I was still working a day job, and they actually still ask me that! The answer is that we always make time for the things we like to do best.  I didn’t watch a lot of TV or even read nearly as much as I would have liked in order to have the 2-3 hours every day I needed to write a novel. I also gave up a lot of weekends and holidays and spent them in front of a computer, even when I was on vacation.  I was willing to make those sacrifices because they didn’t feel like sacrifices at all.  I was doing what I loved, and that’s really what I preferred to do.

In Murder on St. Nicholas Avenue, your two main characters, Sarah and Frank, are on their honeymoon and it’s up to other characters to solve the murder. What inspired you to let the other characters take over in this story?

My publisher inspired me when they asked me to write a Christmas book featuring secondary characters from the series.  The timing was perfect because Frank and Sarah were getting married in the previous book, and with them in Europe, it was perfectly logical for the others to take center stage. I had a ball writing that book, because I really had an opportunity to get to know these people myself.

Any writing projects in the works aside from the next in the Gaslight series?

I’m currently finishing up the first novel in what I hope will be a new series. Now that I’m retired, I have time to write a second series, and this is an idea I’ve been nursing for about 5 years.  The heroine is a con artist and the hero is an honest attorney.  Berkley is considering it at the moment, so I hope to hear soon if they’ll publish it. If not, we’ll seek other outlets for it.

 

‘Puh-men-uh’ Cheese, Please

pimento_cheese_by_laurie_sterbensIt’s late at night and you’re snuggled up in bed with a good book, hoping to fall asleep after a few more pages, when the character goes into a restaurant and orders something delicious, or worse, goes to her kitchen and bakes. So then you’re laying there in bed, all comfy and cozy but thinking, mmm, cookies sound good. You try to keep reading, but before you know it you’re out of bed, ransacking the kitchen and WHO ATE ALL THE OREOS, DAMN IT?

Snack danger lurks in all types of fiction, but the cruelest genre by far is the culinary cozy, a sub-sub-genre of mystery fiction in which the amateur sleuth may be a caterer, a coffee shop owner, or owner of a bakery. Authors of culinary cozies don’t just tempt you with descriptions of delicious foods; they often include recipes. Not only do you have to get out of bed—they expect you to cook!

The most recent book that set me off chasing a craving was Fatal Reservations by Lucy Burdette. The main character, food critic Hayley Snow, orders pimento cheese as an appetizer in a Key West restaurant. Being from the South (located somehow thousands of miles north of Key West), I do know a little something about pimento cheese. As a  child I consumed gobs of the gelatinous orange store-bought concoction known as puh-men-uh-cheese, on Wonder Bread or similar. It seemed a fine thing at the time, but then I grew up, married a New Yorker who wouldn’t understand, and forgot all about puh-men-uh-cheese.

That is, until friend’s party a couple of years ago, where she served up a big bowl of what she referred to as pimento cheese. This was not the pimento cheese of my childhood. This was freshly shredded cheddar and jack cheeses, the tart bite of chopped pickles, held together with good mayonnaise, not that sweet salad dressing stuff. Served with celery sticks and/or crackers, it’s an easy appetizer to throw together in your food processor to serve at a party (or when your latest read demands a salty, cheesy snack). You can find that recipe, from NPR, here.

Lucy Burdette, aka bestselling mystery author Roberta Isleib, shared “Lucy Burdette’s Pimento Cheese Two Ways” on mysteryloverskitchen.com. She graciously answers a lot of questions here.

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