Thursday, August 30, 2012


Last night I made some of my dad’s famous country fried steaks he made back in the day at our family restaurant. The scent of worchestire sauce made my mouth water while flipping them over the final time. My hands shook with anticipation as I cut into my first piece. The fork inches from my mouth, I shut my eyes and closed my mouth around the meat, and chewed. My eyes popped open. The overwhelming taste of salt buzzed my tongue. I swallowed hard and instantly grabbed the glass of milk in front of me. Downing half of it in three gulps.

Too much of something can ruin a good thing, as you can see I have a pesky habit of over-writing. If I would have paid more attention while seasoning the streak would have been fine, but I got carried away. In my writing, I do the same. I have to tell myself keep it simple then after I tasted it, or re-read it, I can add more if needed. Although it is much easier to go back and review the story before anyone else can see it. Cooking is a little trickier, but like writing it takes practice.


Lee’s Country Fried Steak

Cubed steak
1 Egg
1 can evaporated milk
Your choice of steak seasonings
Melted butter (about 4 sticks)
Worchestire sauce
1 can of beer *OPTIONAL*

Mix flower with pepper in a cake pan. Whisk egg, milk, and beer together in brownie size pan. Pool about 2tbsp melted butter on hot grill.

Dip cubed steak in milk mixture then flour. Place battered steak in pooled butter. When blood raises to surface of meat, season, drizzle worchestire, and butter over top. Turn over and repeat until steak is cooked through center. *season to taste* *drizzle butter before you flip meat over each time.*

When done, top with gravy of choice and enjoy!


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On Familiarity, Within Reason

With food, as with writing, a little familiarity serves you well—you want some recognition to make the eater or the reader feel safe. Yet at the same time, it can't be too predictable or you risk being boring. In my current WIP, I am struggling a lot to work within the conventions of a thriller, but trying to offer an unusual premise and story. The jury is still out on how it's coming together. On the culinary side, however, I can promise you a winner. I made this recipe the other night, which was a nice riff on traditional ratatouille, with smoked paprika and anchovies bringing lots of depth and intensity of flavor. I'm a big fan of Barton Seaver's cookbook For Cod & Country, which has lots of great ideas for sustainable fish cooking and had my eye on this one for a while. Turns out, it's pretty easy to pull together, it's healthy, and it's accessible yet stylish. (Tip: Have some crusty bread nearby.)

Eggplant Stuffed with Smoky Tomato-Anchovy Ratatouille
1 cup bread crumbs
2 jumbo eggplants
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, grated on a Microplane or very finely minced
16 oil-packed anchovy fillets
1 tablespoon sweet smoked paprika
2 medium zucchini, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
4 Roma tomatoes, diced in 1/2-inch pieces
In a dry pan over medium heat, toast the bread crumbs, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Heat a heavy sauté pan over high heat, then add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and sear the cut sides of the eggplant halves until well browned. Transfer them to a baking sheet and place in the oven for 12 minutes. Remove eggplant from oven and let cool, leaving the oven on.
While the eggplant is baking, add the onion, garlic, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the pan and sauté over high heat until the onion begins to soften. Add the anchovies and paprika and cook for 30 seconds to flavor the oil. Add the zucchini and cook for about 4 minutes, without stirring. Add the tomatoes and cook until they break down, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and season to taste with salt. Place the tomato mixture in a medium bowl with the bread crumbs.
When the eggplants are cool enough to handle, scoop out the insides, chop them, and add to the bowl. When scraping the eggplant halves, make sure to leave enough flesh on the inside so that the outer skin does not collapse. Season the eggplant hulls with salt. Stir the vegetable mixture well and use it to stuff the eggplants. Return the eggplants to the oven for 10 minutes to warm the stuffing through. Then increase the heat to broil and cook about 4 inches from the heat source until the tops are brown and beginning to char, about 3 minutes.
Drizzle the eggplant halves with the remaining tablespoon olive oil. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 as a main course

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.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Chili Cures Congestion!

First, thanks to all the Pots & Penheads who’ve stuck with us this last year. We’re sorry about the brief hiatus, but we’re back now, and we’re really excited about all the new recipes, interviews, and writing insights to come!

All that, of course, leads us to the topic of congestion. We all get congested, literally or symbolically. Whether it’s traffic, emotional stress, or too many tasks going on at once, it’s easy to get bogged down.

Lately, I’ve had an overabundance of writing and editing projects trudging inside my head and on my computer. While there are certainly worse problems, this has led to a slowdown of output and an uptick in frustration. Ironically, too many creative ideas at once can stifle creative expression.

To clear out the congestion, I’ve been working at prioritizing, evaluating, and scheduling, with reality in mind, to get myself back on track. Some things can wait. Others can’t. Some get me closer to big-picture goals, and some are just fun sidetracks—certainly enjoyable, but perhaps at a later time.

And speaking of congestion, I’m recovering from an all-night work session and a nasty cold, so I thought a dish with a little pep would be the perfect choice to get the week back on track. Presenting good-old-fashioned, ordinary, wonderful chili. (Okay, yes, there is whiskey involved.)
10 c. water
4 beef bouillon cubes (or replace 4 c. water with beef broth)
1/3 c. whiskey (optional)
4 c. onion
4 cloves garlic
1/4 c. garlic chives (optional)
6 c. tomato
1 tsp. crushed rosemary
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1½ lb. ground beef
1/2 T. black pepper
1 T. sea salt
1 T. chili powder
1 T. cumin
4 c. red beans or pintos
2 c. kidney beans
1 T. brown sugar

Get out your large soup pot and fill with 10 cups water. Heat on medium high until hot. Add bouillon and whiskey (if desired).

Dice onions, mince garlic, and chop garlic chives (optional). Add to pot. Cut tomatoes into large chunks, and add to pot, along with rosemary, thyme, and cayenne. Mix pepper, salt, chili powder, and cumin in small dish.

Cook ground beef in a separate pan, seasoning as it cooks with 1½ tablespoons of spice mix. When beef is nearly browned, add it to chili pot. Drain kidney beans and add to pot, along with chili beans (red beans) or pintos. Mix in brown sugar.

Stirring occasionally, cook covered on medium heat for at least 30 minutes. If you have time, for fuller flavor, cook on medium low heat for an hour or more. Serve straight or with a sprinkling of cheddar cheese on top.