Posted on October 20, 2014 - by Lucy
by Edel Waugh from Lucy Burdette‘s Key West food critic mystery, Death with All the Trimmings
You’ll hear the whole story in December, but let me say that starting a new restaurant is a killer proposition. So far, Key West feels even harder than New York City, if you can believe that. Here’s my theory: Established eateries don’t welcome newcomers who can cook circles around them. People don’t like it when someone else is in the limelight. A chef who can cook both new dishes and old standbys better than anyone else on the island is considered a threat. And when people feel threatened, they lash out.
|Photo by Jay DeFehr|
You know what’s been the hardest? Finding good help. Maybe you’ve heard what they say about this southernmost island: Turn the state of Florida on its end and and shake it hard. All the loose nuts fall down to Key West.
I did manage to bring down some of my people from New York City, because I know I can rely on them. Even so, bad things are happening in my kitchen. And no, I can’t take it to the police. I can’t afford one sentence of lousy publicity. That old saw “any publicity is good publicity”doesn’t work for a restaurant. One hint of cockroaches or spoiled fish or food poisoning, and the amateur food critics will be all over the Internet dissing the Bistro on the Bight.
The best I can do is try to cultivate my employees’ loyalty, and make them see that if I succeed, they succeed. And the only way I know to do that is by example–cooking like I’m on fire. Tonight I’m trying to win them over by serving my grandmother’s recipe for Bolognese sauce at the family meal. Do you think that will help?
If that doesn’t work, I may call that food critic, Hayley Snow…people say she’s good at nosing out a mystery…
Posted on October 15, 2014 - by Lucy
In the early days of my marriage to John (when most things were still mysterious,) one of the biggest mysteries about my husband was this: What in the world he could possibly be discussing with his buddies over a 4 to 5 hour golf round several times a week?
So I asked him. What do you talk about?
Even a new wife couldn’t argue with that!
And that’s what I’m writing about now in the sixth Key West food critic mystery, which will be called FATAL RESERVATIONS, and will come out next July. Hooray! Did I forget to mention that I signed a contract for two more books in the series?
Anyway, back in the third book, TOPPED CHEF, I thought I had figured out the relationships in Hayley Snow’s life. But it turned out, I wasn’t feeling the zing between her new detective boyfriend and her. So I looked around to see who else might come into the picture. And I’ve been heading in that direction ever since.
Until I got a fan email from Sue P. last week that made me question, well, everything…
I recently found this series and love it. I do have a complaint though. I was just getting interested to see how the romance would work out between Hayley and her detective. And you bring back his ex and she gets dumped! I was not a happy camper at this development. I still would like to see where this would go, more so than with her boss, which is where you seem to be leading. I think she needs a challenge and this is not her boss. Bring him back!! Just my opinion. Thanks.
So like I said, I’m puzzling over relationships…here’s a snippet from FATAL RESERVATIONS:
Fifteen minutes later, I climbed the very steep steps to the Old City Hall building, an imposing red brick structure with ornate black railings and a bell tower. For a hundred years, the city commission had been meeting here on Greene Street, a half block from Sloppy Joe’s bar and the chaos of Duval Street. I doubted that visitors had any idea how much city business was conducted while they swilled beer and shouted choruses of Buffet’s Margaritaville and Kenny Chesney’s Key West theme song No shirt, no shoes, no problems.
The hall was cavernous, handsome, and clearly set out to differentiate the commissioners and city staff from any interested onlookers. A text from Wally buzzed in, reminding me to turn off the ringer on my cell phone.
Let me know outcome tomorrow? Mom’s chemo was brutal today. I’m going to watch a marathon of Breaking Bad and then crash. See you a.m.at staff meeting.
As my relationship with Wally took a turn for the better over the last couple of months, his mother’s health had taken a turn for the worse. In that sense, our new half-owner Palamina Wells had been a godsend. She was smart enough to step right in and run the day to day nitty-gritty details of Key Zest while Wally took care of his mom. She was also smart enough to recognize the attraction between me and Wally, and to remove me from reporting directly to him, so we could see where this love train might take us.
All I can say is, stay tuned to see where this is going. And thanks Sue!
Posted on October 10, 2014 - by Lucy
|Capital Reef National Park|
LUCY BURDETTE: Earlier this summer, my husband and I attended a family wedding outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. We decided we should take a few extra days to cruise through Utah and see a couple of the wonderful national parks in that state. I, of course, was in charge of where to eat.
Here are a couple of pictures of the amazing scenery that we saw the first is a photo of Capital Reef National Park, while the second is Bryce Canyon.
|Hell’s Backbone Grill|
In between our two days of driving and gawking, we stopped for a night in Boulder, Utah, to eat at the legendary Hell’s Backbone Grill. I made reservations months in advance for dinner. They serve exactly the kind of food I like, delicious but not fussy. I ordered a spicy meatloaf and John had a chicken quesadilla casserole that was hot, cheesy, and addictive.
Of course we had to have breakfast there the next morning. I chose blue cornmeal pancakes, which they served with cinnamon butter and syrup. The pancakes were sprinkled with little purple flowers.
As you can see, the recipe has lingered in the back of my mind until I finally had to make it for you. Oh, and we ordered a box lunch to take with us the next day too. Three meals in less than 20 hours – that’s a great restaurant.
1 1/3 cups cornmeal
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or milk with 1 Tbsp vinegar added)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
4 tablespoons melted butter, plus more for greasing griddle
2 cups blueberries
For the cinnamon butter, this is more than enough for 2 people, increase as needed: 2 tablespoons softened butter, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp sugar. Mix well.
Stir together cornmeal, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, and 4 tablespoons melted butter. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until mostly combined.
Heat the pan or griddle and melt some butter to cover. Add the wet batter to the pan and drop blueberries into each pancake. Cook over medium heat until bubbles pop, then flip the pancakes over and cook the other side, 1 to 2 minutes.
Keep the finished pancakes in a warm (200) oven until all the batter is cooked. Serve with a small scoop of cinnamon butter plus real maple syrup.
Cook’s note: Bob’s Red Mill blue cornmeal was the only brand of blue cornmeal I found, and it was quite coarse. If you prefer pancakes that aren’t quite as grainy, I would increase the amount of flour to 1 cup, and decrease the cornmeal to 1 cup.
PS, they freeze well if you have too many. Then pop them in the microwave or the toaster as you need them!
MURDER WITH GANACHE, the fourth Key West mystery, is in stores now. DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS will be out in December.
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Posted on October 4, 2014 - by Lucy
|Schnootie with her family|
by Schnootie the Schnauzer and Evinrude the cat from Lucy Burdette’s Key West food critic mysteries
Schnootie: “Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof, bacon, woof, woof. Woof, woof, Evinrude. Woof, woof, woof, Santa, woof woof! Damn cat!”
Evinrude: “That dumb dog can’t even speak English. And she gets riled up in the flick of a cat’s tail. I think she’s trying to tell you that she has a big part in the next book. I’ll show you–big deal.”
|Evinrude looking fierce|
From DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS, coming December 2:
Schnootie began to bark furiously and flung herself to the end of her leash. She choked and sputtered and started to bark again.
Mr. Renhart, who had been sleeping in a hammock on their boat, struggled to sit up, finally tipping out of the sling and slamming onto the deck. “Shut up, damn dog!” he yelped.
Mrs. Renhart rushed out to check on the commotion.
“What’s the problem, silver beastie?” she asked as she scooped up the dog and buried her nose in her fur. “Did Daddy scare you?”
Mr. Renhart struggled to his feet, scowling, and stomped back indoors. Schnootie tried to wiggle out of her arms, still barking. Mrs. Renhart looked over at us.
“Schnootie,” she said, “it’s only Santa’s elves. Were you a good doggie this year? Mommy’s going to take you to the drag bar later to have your picture taken with Santa and those great big pretty ladies.” She cracked a huge smile. “That’s going to be our Christmas card photo this year.”
Miss Gloria burst out laughing. I bit my lip to keep from joining her, not wanting to hurt our neighbor’s feelings. But Schnootie posing with drag queens? I started to giggle.
“Anyway, so sorry about all the ruckus,” Mrs. Renhart said. “Schnootie didn’t recognize you in those outfits. She must have thought you were men. She doesn’t even like Mr. R., especially since he’s started growing that silly beard.”
She ducked her chin at the door through which her outraged husband had retreated.
Schnootie wasn’t the only one with mixed feelings about Mr. Renhart.
Still chuckling, Miss Gloria and I both removed our hats and the dog quieted immediately. Mrs. Renhart motioned good-bye with Schnootie’s paw and returned to her houseboat’s cabin.
Posted on September 28, 2014 - by Lucy
LUCY BURDETTE: At least once a year, we have Book Club Week at one of my group blogs, Mystery Lovers Kitchen. I love book clubs–love belonging and love visiting. And I love recommending books for clubs to consider:). This time around I suggested MURDER WITH GANACHE, the fourth in the Key West food critic mystery series.
As you probably already know, MWG is a cozy mystery starring Hayley Snow, a food critic who lives on a houseboat in Key West. Her extended family is descending on the island like a category 3 hurricane for her best friend’s wedding. When her stepbrother disappears into the spring break party scene, she must put the baking of cupcakes and other wedding chores on hold in order to search for her brother. The book features Hemingway cats, and cupcakes, and wedding drama, but in the end it’s about finding and embracing family in whatever form they come.
If you are going to choose MURDER WITH GANACHE for one of your book club selections this year (and I hope you will–I love this book, and there are so many things to talk about), as the hostess, you must resign yourself to providing something chocolate.
You might choose hot fudge pie or chocolate cake, both swoon-worthy, but here is an easy alternative. This recipe began as Chocolate Nutella Fudge from the Tasty Kitchen–until I read the list of ingredients on the Nutella package. At that point, thinking there must be something better, I searched for a substitute, and found an organic chocolate-hazelnut spread that is really quite incredible.
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (make these good quality, as it will show)
1 cup Nocciolato (organic chocolate-hazelnut Spread–I used the whole 9.5 oz jar)
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
½ teaspoon sea salt or pink salt
To make the fudge:
Line an 8 by 8 inch pan with two layers of parchment paper, overlap on the sides.
Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water. (The pan should not touch the water.)
Scrape the mixture into the papered pan, smooth the top, and sprinkle with sea salt. (I would have used some of Krista’s pink sea salt if I’d had it on hand–so pretty!)
Refrigerate until the fudge is firm, at least 2 hours. Lift the fudge out of the pan using the parchment paper. Cut the fudge into bite-sized pieces and arrange on a pretty plate. Store leftovers (if there are any) in an airtight container in the fridge. This can also be made ahead and frozen.
As for what to discuss while enjoying the fudge, here are some questions to get things going:
1. Hayley’s mother says that “life develops around the kitchen table” and that “kids need to understand how food connects the people in their lives.” Hayley’s stepmom insists that life develops at work–who cares whether a mother uses a cake mix or serves macaroni from a box? Where would you stand in this argument?
2. Hayley’s parents have a disagreement about social justice on the way to the marina. How do you feel about the homeless people as presented in the book? Have you had any personal experience with homeless folks?
3. When Hayley’s brother Rory gets into trouble, the family struggles with how much to tell the police. They wonder whose side the cops are on. How do you think you might react in a similar situation? Would you trust the police to have your interests at heart?
4. Hayley says “Food meant comfort and love and even peace in my family.” If you had to sum it up, what would you say food meant to your family?
5. Hayley tells Rory “I’ve discovered that family has less to do with biology than it does with who cares enough to make the effort.” Does this statement ring true for you? Talk about a person who isn’t a blood relation in your life who feels like family.
6. When spirits are low, Hayley and her mom make comfort food for the extended family–spanakopita and Greek salad and strawberry whipped cream pie. What menu would you design to cheer up a troubled family member or friend?
If you’d like to read some of the reviews on MURDER WITH GANACHE, you can do that right here. I was completely delighted this spring, when Woman’s World magazine selected MURDER WITH GANACHE as a pick for a foodie book club. As you can see in the photo, they also recommended reading with a daiquiri in hand:). Sounds like a good idea, right? Recipe here.
And, if you think your book club might like signed postcards from the Key West mysteries, leave a comment today with your email.
Lucy Burdette is the author of the Key West food critic mystery series. DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS will be on bookshelves on December 2. You can preorder it now, from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your favorite independent bookstore.
Posted on September 24, 2014 - by Lucy
|Lucy with Chef Norman|
LUCY BURDETTE: Last winter at an artisan market at The Restaurant Store, where I was signing books, I met Chef Norman Van Aken. It was great timing, as I was writing about a chef for DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS, and he lent me some “telling” details about his career. As often happens at these events, he bought my book and I bought his–a new memoir called NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY. It went onto my TBR pile and only last week made its way to the top. He had quite a wild life, hurtling across the country to work furious stints at different restaurants, including many in Key West. Unlike many of today’s young chefs, he never went to culinary school. He learned from the chefs above him and he studied cookbooks to stretch his recipes and his techniques. The book was very entertaining reading, and would especially appeal to lovers of Key West or foodies or people who’ve wondered about what the cooking life might be like.
Reading Chef Norman’s memoir got me thinking about one of my early jobs. During and after college, I worked in a restaurant called the Alchemist and Barrister in Princeton, New Jersey. A bunch of us college kids waited on the tables in the front of the house, while two big black men from Trenton, named Moses and Joe, worked the stoves in the back. We waitresses were young and cute (or so we thought) and we learned that the tips were better if we wore stacked heels and clingy black dresses. In the kitchen, the cooks slaved at the stove and the grill, finishing fifths of hard liquor across the evening, pretty much toasting themselves by the end of each night.
|Lucy with Chef Joe|
There were three specialties of the house–a blue cheese burger with red relish, a prime rib, and seafood Newburg in a gloppy orange sauce. If we servers had to return a prime rib to the kitchen because it wasn’t done to the diner’s satisfaction, the chefs became enraged. I can remember Chef Joe (though we never called him anything but Joe) turning a rejected slab of too-rare meat over on the plate, dosing it with a scoop of au jus and yelling: “You’ve got to cook it at the table, baby, cook it at the table.”
The whole restaurant staff drank like proverbial fish, including the owners. One night, after a fight between the cooks and one of the bosses–I’m guessing it had to do with a raise–both the chefs walked out. Either we had to close the business, or someone else had to cook. It certainly never occurred to me (or probably any of the other waitstaff) that the cooks had a reasonable beef and we should back them up and walk out too. Instead, I volunteered to take over at the stove–we stuck with burgers and salads, none of the fancier dishes the restaurant was known for. I’ve never been so hot and tired in my life. And I wasn’t paid very well for the rescue either. And that unglamorous evening was the closest I came to professional cooking. But strangely enough, I write about it now…
Posted on September 20, 2014 - by Lucy
LUCY BURDETTE: We’ve had a big problem in our house this summer: way too many green beans.
Of course I put the problem out to my Facebook friends. And got some amazing recipe suggestions back, ranging from Asian style to good old-fashioned southern green beans cooked a long time with bacon (I think that might have been Kathy Reel,) and, I was reminded about how delicious pickled green beans are.
One of the best Bloody Marys I was ever served used green beans as the stirrer for the drink. (I like interesting items in my Bloody Marys, especially olives, pepperoncini, and pickled green beans or okra. The night I got one with a shrimp on a skewer, I thought maybe they had gone off the deep end.)
This recipe for pickled dilly green beans is an easy one, but the results need to be stored in the refrigerator. If you want to put some by for the winter months, you would need to cook the jars of beans in a boiling water bath. Don’t fool around with this, as I would hate to see friends done in by botulism!
4 1/2 cups of green beans
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
5 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons kosher salt
Four large heads of dill
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
Two cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes or two hot peppers
Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in a sauce pan and simmer until the ingredients are well combined. Nestle the dill sprigs, the peppercorns, the garlic cloves, and the red pepper into clean quart canning jars.
Wash the green beans, clip off the ends, and blanch them about three minutes in boiling water. When they are still green and firm, dump them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. When the beans are cool, arrange them in the canning jars. Divide the hot vinegar mixture between the two jars and seal the lids. Refrigerate.
Posted on September 15, 2014 - by Lucy
by Janet Snow, from Lucy Burdette’s Key West food critic mystery series
Did you happen to see the swimmer Diana Nyad splash ashore on Smathers Beach in Key West? She is one amazing lady–64 years old and this was the fifth time she tried to swim the 100-plus miles from Cuba to Key West. The first four times she had to turn back because of bad weather, poisonous jellyfish, and sharks. Two years ago her face was so swollen from jellyfish stings I bet her own mother wouldn’t recognize her. But she went back to try again and this time she made it. And here’s what she said when she staggered out of the water:
“I have three messages for you:
1. We should #NeverEverGiveUp
2. You’re #NeverTooOld to chase your dreams
3. It’s #NeverASolitarySport … it’s a team ”
If that didn’t get your juices revving, I’m not sure what would! I’m not as old as Diana, but I will be, and I don’t want to look back and think about all the things I didn’t try when I was younger.
My daughter Hayley is another role model for me–she’s pursuing her dream about working as a food critic in Key West. She’s finding her way and I’m so proud.But, here’s the problem. I met the top caterer on the island when we were down for Hayley’s dear friend Connie’s wedding (MURDER WITH GANACHE, published 2/2014.)
What can I say other than we really hit it off? So I’ve been offered a dream job too. But do you think Hayley will kill me if I take the job? Just for the winter mind you…
Posted on September 10, 2014 - by Lucy
by Hayley Snow from Lucy Burdette’s Key West food critic mysteries
As many of you know, MURDER WITH GANACHE was published last February. Hooray! I was very proud of my part in this book. We made it through spring break, a family reunion, and a wedding, and hardly anyone died. I don’t mean to joke about that because murder is a very serious thing and not one bit funny at all.
It’s just that we characters get a little slap-happy sometimes, you know? My writer and I threw a big launch party and visited some book clubs and went all over the world online. And we got some very good publicity too!
Isn’t this the coolest thing ever? It was featured in Woman’s World, the March 10 issue. Of course they didn’t mention me or Evinrude or Miss Gloria, but if the ladies who buy the magazine read the book, they’ll find out soon enough who’s who.
So you might think that I could rest on my laurels for a while–eat some good meals and write up a few easy reviews. But no, that’s not how this mystery business works. We’re on to the fifth Key West adventure–in fact it’s due out in December.
And I found some notes on my writer’s desk that made me very, very nervous. Things like: What would make Hayley’s life more difficult? What would test her physically, emotionally, morally? What might expose her deeper side to the world?
Good gravy, can a character not get a rest? What do you think, how worried should I be?
You can find Lucy Burdette’s Hayley Snow Key West mysteries wherever books are sold. Find out more about the books on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.
Posted on September 7, 2014 - by Lucy
LUCY BURDETTE: I have often wondered whether the mystery series I wrote before the food critic mysteries might have gotten more traction if it had been published in the era of ebooks and social media. No way to tell, of course, but the happy news is that the first book in the series, DEADLY ADVICE (written as Roberta Isleib), is now available for Kindle.
The book stars Dr. Rebecca Butterman, a clinical psychologist and advice columnist living in Connecticut. She works out of an office in New Haven (in the same building where I had my private practice,) and she explores many of the places on the Connecticut shoreline that I’ve grown to know and love.
Although this series is a little edgier than the food critic mysteries, the books are close to my heart because they draw so much from my previous career as a psychologist. In a poignant coincidence, given the terrible news two weeks ago about Robin Williams, DEADLY ADVICE opens with the mysterious suicide of Dr. Butterman’s neighbor. She feels doubly troubled about this death, thinking she should have noticed something was wrong–both as a professional and as a neighbor.
In addition to my sleuth’s background, that opening scene is also rooted in my graduate school days. During my final year, newly separated, I lived in an anonymous apartment complex with only a nodding acquaintance of the other residents. Each morning, my taciturn next-door neighbor left for work at 7:30, returning by six. Some nights she’d cook one hamburger on the grill outside her door. Medium well, I’d think, considering the time it sat on the coals. How sad, I’d think. Is that me? I’d wonder next.
One evening, I came home from the library and noticed a small U-Haul parked in front of her apartment. An older couple was loading the contents of her place into the van. Over coffee the next morning, I skimmed the newspaper as usual, and noticed a small article near the bottom of an interior page. Based on this paragraph, I realized that my neighbor had shot herself several days earlier. Her body had lain in the apartment next to mine for over forty-eight hours before someone found her.
I felt shocked and sad. Isn’t this every single woman’s worst nightmare—dead two days and no one even notices you’re gone? As you can imagine, this incident has always haunted me.
Years later, that’s where DEADLY ADVICE began. When Dr. Rebecca Butterman returns home to find her neighbor an apparent suicide, she’s wracked with guilt. As a psychologist and advice columnist, she’s an expert! She should have been able to help the young woman. But the neighbor’s mother suspects foul play, and soon persuades Rebecca to investigate the possibility of murder.
When Rebecca Butterman is troubled, she cooks. Like Hayley Snow in the Key West mysteries, she loves to cook, to eat, and to share meals with her best women friends. But she doesn’t think so much about the meaning of food the way food critic Hayley does. She’s too busy puzzling over what makes people tick…
In honor of the launch of DEADLY ADVICE as e-book, I’m happy to share one of Dr. Butterman’s favorite recipes, beef carbonnade. She would tell you to start the dish the day before you plan to eat it so it can sit in the refrigerator overnight, allowing the flavors to blend. She would also tell you that serving this meal to sad people might make their world a tiny bit brighter.
We hope you enjoy the book and the stew!