Thursday, August 16, 2012

Guest author Jo Hiestand & Split Level cookie recipe

Today I'm very pleased to introduce mystery writer, Jo Hiestand, who I met through our publisher, L&L Dreamspell.  

A month-long trip to England during her college years introduced Jo to the joys of Things British.  Since then, she has been lured back nearly a dozen times, and lived there during her professional folksinging stint.  This intimate knowledge of Britain forms the backbone of both the Taylor & Graham mysteries and the McLaren cold case mystery series. 

Jo’s insistence for accuracy--from police methods and location layout to the general “feel” of the area--has driven her innumerable times to Derbyshire for research.  These explorations and conferences with police friends provide the detail filling the books.

In 1999 Jo returned to Webster University to major in English.  She graduated in 2001 with a BA degree and departmental honors.

Her three cats--Chaucer, Dickens and Tennyson--share her St. Louis home.
If you were marooned on an island, and Pots & Pens granted your wish for only one book and one food, what would you choose? What a fun question!  I should say the book would be one of my own, but I'll have to go with "The Reckoning," by Charles Nicholl.  He examines the death of Christopher Marlowe, taking the historically "accepted" version that's come down to us, investigating the main players who were in the room with Marlowe, then looking at motive for Marlowe's death and concluding he died by murder, not in a fight.  Fascinating!  For food...I'd choose b'stilla, a Moroccan main dish of layers of cooked chicken, toasted almonds, "scrambled" eggs, powdered sugar, and cinnamon -- all encased in phyllo dough.  Without a doubt, my favorite food.

What’s your favorite kitchen accessory or appliance? How about a favorite writing accessory or reference?  I didn't think I had a favorite kitchen accessory until you asked this question.  But now that I think about it, it's my dough whisk.  Zany looking tool, but it works with delicate batters as well as with substantial bread dough.  My favorite writing reference is the Oxford-Duden Pictorial English (British) Dictionary.  When I'm writing my British mysteries I don't always know the correct British name for some noun.  I can usually find it in the pictorial dictionary.  It's laid out like movie scenes or photographs, a slice of life where everything is named.  Invaluable tool for my British writing!

Hot out of the oven: What inspired your latest book, and what ingredients do you hope make it a tasty treat for readers?  "False Step" comes out in October.  It's the ninth book in my Taylor & Graham British mystery series.  The backbone of the plot revolves around rapper sword dancing.  I got the idea to use this custom when I first saw a rapper dance performed.  I was so intrigued by the intricate twists and turns that the dancers did without letting go of their swords.  I thought this would make a super background for the murder, which it did!  Then, when I began writing the novel, I thought it'd be fun to weave in a bit of a historical mystery, so I chose Charles I's royal jewels (Charles I of England).  They really did disappear, but I invented the treasure hunt and the mystery.  Add to this an escaped killer who's out to avenge himself on my main character, Detective-Sgt Brenna Taylor, and I think there's enough mystery and plots to interest most readers.

If you could invite a character to dinner, who would it be and what would you serve?  I'd like to invite Michael McLaren, my ex-cop character in the McLaren mystery series.  He quit his job over a great injustice and now works repairing dry stone walls.  He investigates cold cases on his own.   I love his integrity and intelligence, his sense of dedication and caring.  There's a rough side to him that stands no nonsense from anyone.  He doesn't suffer fools at all, never mind gladly!  He's the guy who, by indifferent means, gets it right for the victim and the family.  I like the sense of hope he brings, that fact that he won't let scruples stop him when he's after justice for the victim.  I think I'd serve him baked trout in a crispy oatmeal batter, a broccoli/carrot/water chestnut/peanuts stir fry, a tossed salad of strawberries, cubed Swiss cheese and cashews, lemon muffins, and chocolate mousse.

Recipe Row: What favorite recipe do you have for us today? It's hard to choose one, but I'd like to share Split Levels.  It's a bar cookie: a chocolate/cream cheese/nut filling sandwiched between an almond-flavored base and topping.  Kind of like fudge between two layers of cookie dough.

Split Levels -- 24 cookies
Chocolate filling:
1 cup (6 ounce package) semisweet chocolate chips
3 ounces cream cheese
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1/2  cup chopped walnuts
1/4 tsp almond extract

Crumb crust:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1/4 tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 375 F. To make filling: in a saucepan, combine
chocolate chips, cream cheese and milk. Melt over low heat,
stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in remaining filling
ingredients. Blend well and set aside.
To make crust: in a large bowl, combine all crust ingredients.
Blend well until particles are fine.

Press 2/3 of the crust mixture into a greased 11x7” pan. Spread
the filling over the crumb base. Drop the remaining crust mixture
in small bits over the filling.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool
and cut into 24 bars.

Thanks for joining us, today, Jo! Those cookies look amazing.


  1. It looks very nice on the photos! Well explained recipe.

  2. YUM on the cookies! I'll be trying these with pecans.

  3. Nice interview! The cookies and the books sound delicious, and I think I might have to order "Cider, Swords, and Straw" right away. It's exactly the kind of resource I love having on hand.

  4. Thanks to Chinese Restaurant Brisbane, Ansha, and Jonathan for the comments! I hope you like Split Levels as much as I do. The crust is good, but if you're a fudge lover, you probably won't be disappointed in the filling! ;-)