February 25, 2011

Dishin' Mocha Creole Spice Cake

Mocha Creole Spice Cake

For the Cake:

2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, unbeaten
1/3 cup molasses
3/4 cup milk

  • Sift flour once. Measure. Add baking powder, salt and spices, and sift together 3 times. 
  • Cream shortening thoroughly; add sugar gradually and cream together until fluffy. 
  • Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each one. 
  • Add molasses and blend. 
  • Add flour alternately with milk, a small amount at a time, beating after each addition until smooth. 
  •  Bake in 2 greased 9-inch layer pans at 375 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes, or until done.
 Frost with Mocha Creole Frosting:

1/3 cup butter
4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (use real vanilla, not vanilla flavoring)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 square unsweetened chocolate
1/3 cup strong coffee

  • Cream butter well; 
  • Add 1 cup of the sifted confectioners' sugar gradually, blending after each addition. 
  • Add vanilla extract, salt and melted unsweetened chocolate. Mix well. 
  • Add remaining 3 cups confectioners' sugar alternately with about 1/3 cup strong coffee, until frosting is of right consistency to spread.

Enjoy! 

February 22, 2011

Dishin' from the Kitchen: Crock-pot Enchiladas

This is a great recipe for those busy nights when nobody really has time to cook. Brown the hamburger before you leave for work, or even the night before and assemble in the morning. This quickly became a family favorite around my house.

Crock-pot Enchiladas

1 1/2 lbs. ground beef (You can use 1 1/2 pounds if desired, but I use just one,) 
1 small onion diced
3/4 lb. grated cheddar cheese 
1 10 oz can enchilada sauce (I use mild) 
1 can ranch-style beans 
1 can whole kernel corn 
1 small can sliced olives 
6 corn tortillas 
salt and pepper 

Saute ground beef and onion together until beef is browned and onions are translucent. Drain. Season with salt and pepper. 

Wipe crock pot with oil or spray with non-stick spray. 

Place 3 tortillas in bottom of slow cooker. Cover with half the meat, the sauce, and half the cheese, 

Top with rest of tortillas, beans, corn, olives and rest of cheese.

Cook on low heat 5 to 7 hours. Serve with diced tomatoes and sour cream.

Enjoy!

February 17, 2011

Dishin' on the Internet

If you haven't found this Facebook page already, hop over to The Crime Scene for a chance to interact with other mystery lovers and some of your favorite mystery authors. I'm just getting started there myself, but it looks like a great site!

Another fun group is Mystery Most Cozy. This group has been around for several years, first on Yahoo! Groups and now on Facebook. The group is made up of readers and writers.

The Cozy Chicks blog is a great place to keep up with a talented and interesting group of mystery writers, as is Killer Hobbies and Poe's Deadly Daughters and Jungle Red Writers.

Cozydiscussion on Yahoo! Groups is another great discussion group. and no discussion of mystery talk would be complete without DOROTHYL

There are dozens more great blogs and forums out there for mystery readers and writers and I could spend all day, every day clicking around the internet instead of writing. It's dangerous to go searching for new networking opportunities -- and yet. . . .

What are some of your favorite blogs and social networking sites?

February 15, 2011

Dishin' from the Kitchen: Chicken Salad

I got this recipe years ago from my friend, Colette. Since then, I've made this salad for countless baby showers, wedding showers, and pot-luck parties. It's a family favorite, and as my daughters and my nieces started hosting showers of their own, the recipe made its way into their kitchens as well. Easy to make and delicious to eat! Just make sure to think in advance when you want to make it since it needs to sit overnight for best results. 

Colettes Chicken Salad
Yields: 20 servings
  • 6-8 chicken breasts - browned and diced. (You can use canned chicken also, but I like it best when the chicken has a slight crust from browning.)
  • 6 Tablespoons butter (You can use margarine, but the flavor is best if you use real butter) 
  • 3 packages Chicken flavored Rice-A-Roni
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract (use real almond extract, not almond flavoring) 
  • 1 cup celery finely diced
  • 1 bunch green onions diced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup mayonnaise diluted w/lemon juice and milk, mix till smooth
  •  Rolls to serve 20.
Cook Rice-A-Roni according to package directions using real butter and almond extract. Add remaining ingredients and refrigerate overnight,

Serve with dinner rolls, crusty rolls, or croissants. It's also great off the spoon, but don't tell anyone I said that :) 

February 14, 2011

An Ode to Brainstorming

I love how brainstorming works. I love sitting in a room with other writers and tossing ideas into the hat. I love the way ideas build on each other in that situation and how invested we all become in each other’s stories. I have three long-time critique partners whose input and opinions I value almost more than words can express. 

Years ago, we used to meet once a month to critique and brainstorm. As life changed and morphed and the demands on our time changed, we started meeting a few times a year, usually for a long weekend at someone’s house or a hotel.

Now that I’ve moved across country, we haven’t been able to get together in person for almost two years, but I know that when we do manage a face-to-face meeting it will feel as if no time has passed at all. I look forward to the next time the four of us can indulge ourselves that way. 

But I also love brainstorming in other, less formal situations. My deadline for Cake on a Hot Tin Roof is coming up way too fast, and I’ve been stuck at a point in the book, unable to move forward. I knew that something was wrong, but I also felt pretty sure that it was something relatively minor. I was convinced that once I could figure out what it was, I’d be just fine.

Unfortunately, the flu made its rounds through my house and my daughter’s for several weeks, I was teaching an online writing class and also had an article due for a writers’ trade magazine so I couldn’t find the focus necessary to figure out what my problem was. The workshop ended at the end of January and I got the article off on Thursday, so I promised myself that Friday I’d lock myself in my office and concentrate until I figured out what was stopping me.

Friday morning, my daughter asked me to spend the day with her and the grandkids. That’s not something I get to do as often as I would like, and I wrestled with the desire to say yes and the very real need to buckle down and get to work on the manuscript. When I told my daughter what was stopping me, she tossed an incentive into the mix. “What if,” she said in her best negotiating voice, “we talk about the book while we’re shopping?” 

My ears perked up and my nose twitched at the possibility. Brainstorming? On the go with two kids under the age of five? At the mall? Could it possibly work? 

I decided to take a chance. My daughter and the kids picked me up bright and early, and off we went. The great thing about both of my daughters is that we all have the ability to pick up a conversation without missing a beat, even if it’s been several days since we last discussed a topic. So carrying our conversation from Ross to the Mall, to the jewelry kiosk, to the food court, and then finally to Walmart as difficult as you might think. 

One of the great things about being a writer is that you get to have conversations that sound this:
“I don’t know. I just don’t see it. I mean, why would anyone be stupid enough to pick up a murder weapon? Put that down, baby. Give the toy back to your sister, okay?”
“Maybe he’s shocked. Here, sweetheart, let Ooma wipe your nose. He walks into the room and sees the body lying there and—Oh, honey, be careful. Let’s put that down.”
“Nope. I just don’t believe it. Everybody knows better than to pick up a gun they find lying next to a body. What baby? Potty? You need Ooma to take you potty?”
It was a crazy day and the brainstorming took place in short snippets and half-sentences punctuated by sibling rivalry and phone calls from friends and other family, but it actually worked. Something my daughter said at some point in our crazy-quilt conversation unlocked a possibility I’d overlooked on my own. That possibility helped me realize what was wrong with what I’d written so far. I came home physically exhausted but mentally energized and ready to move forward. 

I just love how brainstorming works!

February 10, 2011

Dishin' DVDs: Teacher's Pet

As I'm sure you can tell from the titles of my books, I love old movies. Not all old movies. There are as many lousy old movies as there are lousy new movies. But some old movies are pure gold, and I made it a point to share those golden oldies with my kids as they grew up. My family is bit on roots, so there's not much that makes me sadder than to see people who have no real knowledge of the world in which their parents and grandparents lived.

Before she died, my grandmother talked for hours to my children about things they'll never experience for themselves: the first time my grandmother ever saw a car, for example. I've talked to them about the world before integration and women's rights. And I've also shared the cultural past with them, in books, movies, music, and anything else I can find.

One of my favorite old movies is Teacher's Pet, starring Clark Gable and Doris Day. Gable plays a hard-nosed newspaperman who believes in learning from the school of hard knocks. For reasons I can't remember at the moment, he is forced to take a journalism class from Day's character--the daughter of an award-winning reporter who believes in the value of education.

Gable has no use for education when it comes to writing a good story, but he is interested in his teacher. He assumes a false identity so she won't figure out that he's the grumpy old editor she despises.

It's a lot of fun, although I'm sure it also contains some pretty dated references. But, hey! if you can overlook crude humor and foul language to get through a movie produced today, surely you can overlook a little old-fashioned humor to enjoy a great comedy romp with two of Hollywood's greats.

February 08, 2011

Dishin' from the Kitchen: Hot Spinach-Artichoke Dip

Got caught up in the copy edits for A Sheetcake Named Desire last week. I thought I'd catch up with the world today, but two grand-kids with the flu have left me feeling a little under the weather today. So for your culinary pleasure, I'm going to share a favorite recipe. This one comes from my daughter's kitchen and it's a hit whenever she takes it to a party. 

Hot Spinach-Artichoke Dip

1 Bottle diced artichoke hearts (get the non-marinated variety for best results) 
1/2 Cup chopped spinach (you can use frozen or fresh but never canned) 
8 ounces cream cheese
1 Cup grated Parmesan Cheese (divided in half) 
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (more or less to taste) 
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
dash of ground black pepper

On the side: chips, crackers, or toasted bread  

Put the artichoke hearts and spinach in a microwave safe bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Cut a small slit in the plastic to let the steam out, then microwave on high for 4 minutes. Stir and zap it again for another 2-3 minutes or until the artichoke hearts are tender.

Heat the cream cheese in a small bowl in the microwave set on high for 1 minute (or until soft). Add the spinach and artichoke hearts to the cream cheese and stir well.

Add the remaining ingredients (using half of the Parmesan) to the cream cheese and combine. Put in an oven safe bowl and top with other half of Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, or until bubbly.

Serve warm with the crackers, chips or toasted bread for dipping and enjoy!

February 01, 2011

King Cake

In the interest of research, I had my first ever taste of King Cake the other day. It's not something I remember seeing in many places in my old life, but where I live now . . . well, King Cakes seem to be everywhere now that it's Carnival Season.


My daughter and I were strolling through a store the other day when we came across a huge display of King Cakes. Okay, we were not in a bakery, and I'm sure there are King Cakes out there that would have given me a smoother bite for my first try, but Hey! We were there. And so was the cake. And as an author writing about a baker who is inundated by order for King Cake, I felt duty bound to try one.

So we took our cake home and commenced the taste test. I have to say that, having read so many recipes and blog posts and discussions about King Cake on online forums, the texture was pretty much what I expected. Kind of flaky, kind of coffee cake-y, not what I could call traditional cake. But I'm sure you all knew that.

The taste was another thing entirely. I expected cinnamon. After all, it's a key ingredient in the King Cake. The cake we bought was, I believe, made using a traditional recipe, which means no filling. But I wasn't prepared for a hint of anise--at least that's what it tasted like to me. In all my research, I don't think I've come across a recipe that calls for anise, so I'm guessing there wasn't actually anise in the cake we bought. But something gave it a unique flavor unlike anything I've ever tasted before.

Maybe it was nutmeg.

Obviously, my research on this subject isn't finished yet.

So, you King Cake enthusiasts, give me your opinions. Where do you find the best King Cake in New Orleans, and what makes it so special?