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Scottish Shortbread by Amy M. Reade

My favorite kind of research is first-person, up close and real (with the obvious exceptions of being murdered and riding in the back of a police cruiser). I’d rather walk the streets of a city or village than do online or book research; I’d rather eat the food of a particular region or culture than leaf through a cookbook; I’d rather go kayaking in the ocean than watch someone else do it.

In-person research brings a feel to a book that can’t be faked. What does it smell like inside an Irish pub? How does the humidity in South Carolina feel against your skin? What color is the St. Lawrence River on a cloudy day? You can imagine these things, sure, but if you’ve experienced them firsthand you can add layers of realism to your stories that pump up the richness of your words.

When I go on a trip one of my favorite things to do is sample the regional cuisine. If possible, I try to take a cooking class to learn more about local foods and meet area residents. One of my favorite vacation memories is a trip our family took to Ireland. My husband gave me a birthday gift of a cooking class in a Norman-style castle (bonus: he entertained the kids that night). I met a handful of locals and got the opportunity to talk to them for several hours. We talked about everything: food vocabulary in different parts of the world; where to get the freshest langoustines and mussels; and how ridiculously easy it is to make your own vanilla extract. We all cooked, then ate, a meal together. It was unforgettable (in a good way).

There was also a decidedly un-British meal in London that was unforgettable in a bad way, but I digress… Continue reading “Scottish Shortbread by Amy M. Reade”


The Secret Ingredient by Sharon Struth

“The name garlic is of Anglo-Saxon origin, derived from gar—a spear, and lac—a plant…”

We hung on Roberto’s words while inhaling in the universal aroma of good cooking. Our Sienese guide led us to a doorway in a blemished, white stucco building with aging-evergreen shutters. A sign read Trattoria. Long gold fabric cords hung from the top frame and danced with a breeze, but Roberto confidently pulled them aside and motioned us through with a wave of his hand.

Our day tour from Siena, Italy was filled with promises of the historical, natural, and culinary treasures awaiting us in Tuscany. Roberto delighted us at every turn with word origins, stops at old Etruscan tombs, and jaunts up narrow alleyways constructed in the dark ages.

And now it was time for lunch at his friend Marcello’s place.

The tiny trattoria had a seating capacity of no more than fifteen. Terracotta-colored walls showed the cracks of age, but managed to hold a few ceramic plates and yellowed photographs.

It wasn’t printed anywhere, yet I knew this was a place for the locals…

Traveling is my hobby. I can never get enough of moments like the one described above.

When I wrote The Sweet Life, I couldn’t stop thinking about my visit to Marcello’s restaurant, a mere dot on a map in the small town of Staggia, Italy. It might have been the best meal I’ve ever eaten.

Marcello served us Tuscan Bread Soup, Pappa al Pomodoro. Pungent garlic, flavorful basil leaves soaked in sweet tomato juices, all surrounding thick chunks of hearty bread. Next came a boar stew. Tender meat drenched in a flavorful broth of rich wine, rosemary, garlic and tart tomato presented on a bed of thick, flat pappardelle noodles. Simple. Nourishing. Unforgettable.

How does a meal evoke such strong memories six years later?

Maybe it was the endless glasses of Chianti. Or learning our chef and host loved to write poetry.

After we ate, he’d appeared with a sheet of paper in his hands, cleared his throat, and said, “Il Chianti.”

He read his poem. I didn’t understand a single word (although Roberto later translated). Yet the rhythm of the beautiful romance language sang in my ears, its flavor satisfying my heart much like the Tuscan soup had nourished my hunger.

Or perhaps I recall the meal so vividly due to the awe on my daughters’ faces while Marcello read aloud. Their attentive gazes drank in appreciation for the special moment; a stranger sharing his heartfelt love of Tuscany and his belief that visitors are always considered new friends.

Marcello gave us copies of his poem, signed and dated. His beautifully written words describe the splendor of Tuscany…the fields yielding their fine wines and olives, hilltops lined with cypress trees – reminiscent of an era gone by, a country table filled with delectable gifts for our taste buds.

It’s his last line, though, that resonates in my heart: Whilst the visitor – always a friend and never a stranger – drinks with joy this sincere wine.

Thinking about that meal, my soul fills with love for my family, a fresh understanding of the pleasure found in new friendships, and cherished taste bud recollections. All brought to me through a secret ingredient…the joy Chef Marcello spread to us through his love of cooking.

If you are salivating after reading this (like I am), here’s a recipe for Tuscan Bread Soup. Now start cooking…

Continue reading “The Secret Ingredient by Sharon Struth”

Tabitha Trumbull’s Vanilla Bread Pudding by Carol J. Perry

Tabitha Trumbull’s Vanilla Bread Pudding

(adapted by Aunt Ibby)

1 quart of milk
2 ½ cups firm bread cut into ½-inch pieces
½ cup of sugar, divided into two ¼ cups
4 eggs
½ teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups thinly sliced peeled apples
½ cup seedless raisins

Scald milk in medium saucepan, stir in bread and set aside. In mixing bowl beat two of the eggs plus two egg yolks, setting aside two whites. Stir in ¼ cup sugar and the salt. Slowly pour in the cooled milk mixture, stirring constantly. Add butter and vanilla extract. Stir in apples and raisins. Turn into 1 ½ quart buttered casserole and set it in a large baking pan. Pour hot water into the pan within an inch of the top of the casserole. Bake in 350-degree oven about one hour, 15 minutes and remove from oven. With clean bowl and beaters, beat reserved egg whites and remaining ¼ cup of sugar until soft peaks form. Spoon meringue over pudding, spreading well. Return to oven and bake until meringue is light brown—about 15 minutes.

Serves 6 to 8

Continue reading “Tabitha Trumbull’s Vanilla Bread Pudding by Carol J. Perry”

Comfort Food By Sally Goldenbaum

Are there frustrating days in your life when the only thing that brings relief is a generous helping of your favorite comfort food? Days that you would give up winning the lottery for a helping of your mother’s mac and cheese or Aunt Eunice’s mashed potatoes?

Nell Endicott feels this urge in Murder Wears Mittens when the seaside knitters are faced with a grisly death—a crime that pulls a young mother of two into its suffocating web.  To bring calm and focus while they ponder the perplexing murder of Dolores Cardozo, she arrives at Thursday night knitting with Izzy, Cass, and Birdie carrying her favorite comfort food.

 Q: Is Nell’s comfort food the same as yours? Can you identify it from this sprinkling of details?

  • A splash of red wine. . .
  • Sweet, caramelized onions. . .
  • Bacon and savory tomato sauce?

 It proves to be the perfect choice one Thursday in autumn in Murder Wears Mittens.

A: Nell’s wine, bacon, and caramelized onion meatloaf (Serves 6 to 8) Continue reading “Comfort Food By Sally Goldenbaum”

Happy Birthday Carrot Cake by Edith Maxwell

Edith Maxwell’s MULCH ADO ABOUT MURDER is the fifth Local Foods mystery. She recently threw a fifth birthday party for the series, and baked a (local organic) carrot cake for the celebration.

Happy Birthday Carrot Cake

Recipe adapted from the Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.


2 cups unbleached white flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cup safflower or canola oil (Option: use 2 sticks softened butter instead of oil)
4 local eggs
3 cups finely grated carrots (about five-seven medium) Continue reading “Happy Birthday Carrot Cake by Edith Maxwell”

Dark Moon Coffee and Murder Go Round

Carol Perry is visiting today to take us on a ride on a merry go round, for her latest in the Witch City cozy mysteries, Murder Go Round. With all of that spinning, Carol has treated us to a caffeinated beverage with a bit of a kick.  

Murder Go Round is the fourth book in the Witch City Mystery series (Kensington Publishers.) In this one Lee Barrett agrees to attend a storage locker auction with her librarian Aunt Ibby—even though she suspects the forgotten rooms will yield more junk than treasure. But the two, with one lucky bid, uncover a trove of wonderful curiosities, including a stunning carousel horse with gentle eyes and fading paint After Lee leaves the fairground relic at a local repair shop for some cosmetic work, another of the dusty treasures, a Russian silver samovar, awakens Lee’s psychic abilities and shows her visions of murder.

With her detective boyfriend Pete Mondello, and with the aid of her wise ginger cat O’Ryan, Lee follows a trail of deception and death as intricate as the antique nested matryoshka dolls she found in the storage locker. Mystery Scene magazine says “Murder Go Round is entertaining fare, replete with compelling characters and a unique plot.”

* * * *

When friends drop by, Lee and Pete like to make a big ice cold pitcher full of Dark Moons. Readers of the Witch City Mystery series know how much Lee and Pete love their coffee and a Dark Moon is a heavily caffeine-laced version of that old New England favorite, Rum and Coke! The recipe will serve eight. Continue reading “Dark Moon Coffee and Murder Go Round”

Lemon Ice Cream with Strawberries by Meera Lester

1 cup superfine sugar
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 cup whole milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh sliced strawberries
Combine the sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a large bowl.

Slowly pour the cream, milk, and salt into the lemon-sugar mixture and stir constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 2 minutes.

Pour the lemon-cream mixture into freezable individual molds or bowls or into an ice cube tray, and then cover with foil and freeze until the ice cream is completely firm, about 3 to 5 hours, depending on the type of mold used.

Unmold the ice cream, garnish each serving with the sliced strawberries, and serve at once.


Continue reading “Lemon Ice Cream with Strawberries by Meera Lester”

Luscious Lobster Mac & Cheese by Lee Hollis

1 16-ounce box pasta shells (or your
favorite pasta)
¼ cup flour
3 cups milk
1 cup shredded sharp white cheddar
1 cup shredded gruyere cheese
1 cup shredded fontina cheese
1 teaspoon each: salt, ground black
pepper, garlic powder
2 cups crushed Ritz crackers
Cook your pasta to almost al dente according to the directions on the box. Drain and set aside.

While your pasta is cooking, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a saucepan over
medium, heat.

Whisk until it begins to thicken a bit, add your cheeses, and keep stirring
until they are melted.

Remove from heat and add your salt, pepper, and garlic.

In a large bowl add your pasta, chopped lobster, and cheese sauce. Stir to combine, making sure all the pasta is evenly coated in the cheese sauce.

Pour into a greased 13×9 baking dish. Continue reading “Luscious Lobster Mac & Cheese by Lee Hollis”

Nell’s Wine, Bacon, and Caramelized Onion Meatloaf by Sally Goldenbaum

3 cups sliced yellow onions
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat leafed parsley
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup canned chicken stock or broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
21/2 pounds ground chuck
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs (Nell likes to use Panko crumbs)
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup ketchup
½ cup milk
1¼ red wine (Nell always uses wine she likes to drink, not cooking wine)
6 ounces thin sliced bacon
Good quality olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Continue reading “Nell’s Wine, Bacon, and Caramelized Onion Meatloaf by Sally Goldenbaum”

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