Cooking is one of my passions. How many other activities give us a chance to make life a little bit more enjoyable every day? Few things give me such simple, deep pleasure as cooking a meal for my family; and when we entertain, good food seems to be about the best way of helping people relax and open up. The latke recipe is the only one thatâ€™s actually appeared in one of my stories, but Iâ€™ve often mentioned food, with favorite recipes in mind. Here are some I think you might enjoy.
Cathyâ€™s Spud Balls
In â€œThe Last Blue Glassâ€ (Hitchcockâ€™s, April 2016), Boston insurance salesman Frank Morrell impulsively decides to ditch his day job and buy a bar in semi-rural Virginia. His wife, Cathy, always eager to do anything she can to make Frank happy, creates a signature bar snack to draw in customers. She comes up with Spud Balls. Itâ€™s a labor-intensive recipe, reflecting Cathyâ€™s devotion to Frankâ€”a devotion so fierce it could lead to trouble. (Iâ€™ve made these potatoes often, and in my opinion, theyâ€™re worth the work. Cathyâ€™s recipe is based on the classic French dish known as Noisette Potatoesâ€”a pretty classy origin for something called Spud Balls.)
6 Russet potatoes
Â¼ cup melted butter
freshly ground black pepper
tarragon, paprika, other spices as desired
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Peel and wash the potatoes. Use the smaller end of a melon baller to scoop out potato balls. Keep them in cold water until ready to cook, then dry thoroughly with a dishtowel. (You can chop up the scooped-out potatoes to use in a hash or other dish.)
- Melt butter in ovenproof pan over medium heat. Saute potato balls in butter over medium heat for 5â€”10 minutes, stirring often, until theyâ€™re nicely browned.
- Transfer pan to preheated oven and bake for 20â€”25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until potato balls are tender and golden. Season with salt, pepper, tarragon, paprika, or any spices you prefer.
- 4â€”6 servings.
Aunt Gwenâ€™s French Silk Chocolate Pie
Food plays a prominent role in â€œA Joy Foreverâ€ (Hitchcockâ€™s, March 2015; also included in Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crimeâ€”Wildside Press, 2016; Agatha and Macavity finalist). Every day, Gwen Mallinger toils for hours in the kitchen, cooking up rich, delicious dishes her husband canâ€™t resist. Clearly, pleasing him is Gwenâ€™s most cherished goalâ€”or is it? One of her husbandâ€™s favorite desserts is French Silk Chocolate Pie; the narrator describes it as â€œricher and thicker than any pie Iâ€™d tasted before.â€ A friend gave me the recipe over three decades ago. Itâ€™s so calorie-laden that I donâ€™t make it more than once or twice a year. Every time I taste it, though, I wonder why I ever eat anything else.
1 stick butter, softened
Â¾ cup sugar
2 squares unsweetened bakerâ€™s chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
graham cracker crust or baked pie shell
- Cream butter and sugar.
- Blend in chocolate and vanilla.
- Add 1 egg and beat 5 minutes with an electric mixture.
- Add other egg and beat another 5 minutes.
- Pour into graham cracker crust or baked pie shell.
- Top with whipped cream:
- Â Â Â Â Put beaters and deep bowl in freezer for at least an hour to get them very cold.
- Â Â Â Â Beat 1 cup heavy whipping cream until it looks like Cool Whip.
- Â Â Â Â Add Â¼ cup sifted confectionerâ€™s sugar, getting as much air in as possible.
Â This recipe appeared in â€œDeath on the Listâ€ (Hitchcockâ€™s, January 1999). Latkes are a traditional Hanukkah treatâ€”a simple dish, but it can easily go wrong. If you use a food processor to grate the potatoes, the latkes can be mushy. If you donâ€™t rinse and soak the grated potatoes and then apply some muscle to squeeze them out thoroughly, the latkes can be heavy and starchy. And if you donâ€™t add a little lemon juice to the batter, it can turn gray unless you fry the latkes up immediately. But if you take the little bit of extra trouble involved in doing things right, your latkes will be light, golden, and deliciousâ€”just like Leahâ€™s.
5 medium potatoes
2 large eggs
6 green onions, chopped fine (light green part only)*
3 tablespoons matzo meal (or flour, but itâ€™s not as good)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Grate potatoes by hand, rinse in cold water, soak in bowl of cold water, rinse again, and squeeze all the water out. The grated potatoes should be snowy white. If thereâ€™s even a trace of pink, rinse, soak, and squeeze again.
- Beat eggs well; add matzo meal, salt, pepper, and lemon juice; mix well.
- Add potatoes and onions and mix again.Â (Will keep in a sealed container for an hour or so without becoming discolored.)
- Drop batter by tablespoonfuls into hot vegetable oil, making latkes about 3â€ in diameter. Fry until underside is browned; turn to brown again.
- Drain on paper towels.
- Serves six. Many people like to serve latkes with applesauce, sour cream, or both.
*Most people use white onions and grate them, and thatâ€™s good, too. But I like the little bit of crunch you get with green onions.
Janeâ€™s One-Bowl Spice Cake
In Interpretation of Murder, Jane Ciardiâ€™s roommate, Abby, has many talents. Cooking, unfortunately, is not one of them. So when Abby invites her boyfriend over for dinner, she asks Jane to take charge of the cooking. Jane obliges with a roast chicken dinner complete with glazed carrots, miniature potato kugels, and apple-and-pear Waldorf salad. For dessert, Jane bakes a spice cake. Iâ€™ve made this cake many timesâ€”itâ€™s a family favorite. The recipe couldnâ€™t be simpler, and the cake is light and fragrant, with a rich, delicate blend of spices.
1 Â¼ cups flour, sifted
1 cup sugar
1 Â½ teaspoons baking powder
Â½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Â½ teaspoon nutmeg
Â¼ teaspoon cloves
Â¾ cup milk
1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
â€¢ Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 8-inch or 9-inch baking pan.
â€¢ Measure all ingredients into large bowl.
â€¢ Blend Â½ minute on low speed, scraping bowl constantly. Beat 3 minutes on high speed, scraping bowl occasionally.
â€¢ Pour batter into pan. Bake 35 or 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
â€¢ Cool; dust with confectionerâ€™s sugar or frost with butter cream frosting.
Meredith Ralston (â€œTrue Test,â€ Hitchcockâ€™s, May 2010) is a loathsome character. But she apparently makes good chili. My own chili recipe has evolved over the years. It started with a recipe in a Good Housekeeping cookbook I received as a wedding present. As time went by, I heard about other recipes and added ingredients that sounded right. My current recipe is something of a hodgepodge, but itâ€™s not as complicated as it may look, and trust meâ€”it tastes good.
2 pounds ground beef
2 onions, chopped
2 cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cans tomato soup
4 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons flour
6 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cumin
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 cans tomatoes, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
Â½ red pepper, chopped
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
chopped onion, grated cheddar cheese, and hot sauce (optional)
- Brown meat and onion. Using a nonstick pot is definitely a good idea; otherwise, you might end up with a crust of crud on the bottom of your pot.
- Add drained kidney beans and soup and cook 10 minutes.
- Make paste of chili powder, flour, water, salt, cumin, and brown sugar.Â Blend in.
- Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes.
- Add tomatoes, peppers, and crushed red pepper flakes; cook at least 30 minutes more, stirring frequently.
- Serve with chopped onions, grated cheese, and, if youâ€™re up to it, hot sauce.
- Serves about eight, depending on how hungry people are.
Professor Woodhouseâ€™s Onion and Olive Crepes
I think almost all of my stories about Iphigenia Woodhouse and Harriet Russo contain references toÂ olive-and-onion dishes concocted by Iphigeniaâ€™s mother, Professor Minerva Woodhouseâ€”olive-and-onion salad, olive-and-onion stuffed chicken, olive-and-onion croissants. Like the professorâ€™s bizarre art projects, her obsession with olive-and-onion recipes is an expression of her eccentricity. As I recall, I came up with the olive-and-onion combination because I canâ€™t stand olives and my daughters (at the time) couldnâ€™t stand onions; it was fun to dream up dishes none of us could stomach. Iâ€™ll confess that Iâ€™ve never actually tried most of the professorâ€™s recipes. But hereâ€™s a recipe for crepes thatâ€”according to the testimony of my husband, who likes both olives and onionsâ€”isnâ€™t bad at all. When I make them, I use chopped tomatoes in my own crepes, in place of the olives. You could also substitute mushroomsÂ or just about anything else you like. (I’ve written a series of stories about the Woodhouses and Harriet for Hitchocock’s; two of those stories are in Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime–Wildside Press, 2016.)
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon oil
Â¼ cup butter
Â¼ cup flour
Â½ teaspoon salt
Â½ teaspoon pepper
pinch dried tarragon
a little grated nutmeg
1 Â¾ cups milk
3 tablespoons sherry
1 cup grated cheeseâ€”cheddar, parmesan, Swiss, gruyere, or any
combination you like
2 cups cooked chicken
1 cup halved or chopped black olives (or tomatoes, or mushrooms,
or whatever you prefer)
chopped parsley and/or paprika (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In large saucepan, sautÃ© onion in oil for 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned; remove.
- In same saucepan, melt butter; add flour and cook for a minute or two; add salt and pepper, tarragon and nutmeg.
- Slowly add milk, whisking well, letting sauce thicken; then add sherry; then add Â¾ cup cheese, stirring until itâ€™s melted.
- Mix most of sauce with chicken and onions, reserving about Â¾ cup of sauce.
- Spread 2-3 tablespoons of sauce on each crepe; add olives/tomatoes/mushrooms.
- Roll up crepes and place in baking dish, seam side down.
- If you like mushy crepes, spread them with remaining sauce and then sprinkle with remaining cheese. Otherwise, reserve remaining sauce and just sprinkle the crepes with the remaining cheese. (Keep the remaining sauce warm, thinning it with more milk or sherry if necessary, and pass it at the table. Thatâ€™s what I do.)
- Bake crepes for 10-15 minutes or until heated through.
- If you want to get fancy, sprinkle chopped parsley and/or paprika on crepes. Pass remaining sauce if youâ€™ve reserved it.
- Serves four (2 crepes each)
* You can use frozen crepes or any crepe recipe you prefer. Since Iâ€™m lazy, I usually make my crepes with Bisquick (1 cup Bisquick, 2 eggs, Â¾ cups milk or a little more if you like thinner crepes). Brush a small skillet or crepe pan (I just splurged on one, and I love it) with a little oil, add a scant Â¼ cup of batter, swirl it around, wait about 30 seconds until the underside is browned and the top is bubbly, flip the crepe, and give it another 15 seconds or so. You can make the crepes in advance, and you really donâ€™t need to separate them with wax paper or parchment paper or anything else. You can also make the sauce in advance and reheat it, though you may need to thin it with a little milk or sherry. This is a good dish if youâ€™re having people over for brunch.