Category Archives: Food In Fiction

Thursday Recipe Exchange: A Plateful of Burgers

Photo by JeffreyW who has so many photos of burgers I had a hard time choosing.

Friends and I were out shopping last week and decided it was lunch time. We drove by a place with an intriguing name and decided to try it. To our surprise, we were their first-ever customers. They were having a soft launch and we were the first through the door. I had my reservations, but we were feeling adventurous and the experience was a success. If we’re in that neighborhood, I believe we would lunch there again.

The menu was full of tasty things, including African Ghost Spice Fries, which were perfectly spiced. I’m sorry I didn’t ask them to elaborate on what the heck “African Ghost Spice” was, because it was not something I could identify but would love to use myself. Several items had it as a feature, most tantalizing was the African Spiced Grilled Chicken. The other item on the menu that caught my eye was bison. Almost all their beef items offered a bison option instead. I was tempted, because I like bison meat, but I felt we were already in unknown territory and bison is tricky to cook properly. We all settled on various beef burgers, each very good – moist and well flavored, served on ciabatta bread.

That brought me to my idea for a two-part recipe exchange. I have a variety of burgers I make because by mid-summer grilling the same burger recipe, while tasty, lacks challenge. I thought I’d start with four tonight and conclude with several more next week.

First up: My basic burger recipe that has never failed to produce moist, flavorful burgers. I sprung it on my parents at the age of 10 and my family has used it ever since. Recipe here.

Next up: Black Bean Cheddar Burgers (recipe here) which I love, but find the frozen ones often lack, well, everything – flavor, texture, freshness. So I went hunting for a decent recipe.

Tonight’s featured recipes are Bleu Cheese Burgers and Bison Burgers.

Are you burger fan? What’s your favorite way to prepare them? If you’re vegetarian, do you have a favorite substitute? I’m always looking for something beyond black bean burgers for meatless nights. Next week there will be flavors from around the globe to continue the theme.

Bison Burgers

You can substitute bison in almost any burger recipe, but it’s very lean, so you may want to add ground beef to it, or cheeses or additional olive oil, in order to cook a moist burger.  This recipe uses tomato sauce to keep the burgers moist.

  • 4 oz tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup bread crumbs or 1 slice fresh bread, crust removed
  • ¼ cup finely chopped onion
  • ¼ tsp ea: thyme, rosemary, marjoram
  • 1 to 1-1/2 lbs ground bison
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp oil

large deep skillet w/lid

Mix all ingredients, except oil, until well combined. Divide into 4 patties.

Heat oil in skillet, add patties. Sear for 2 minutes, each side, then reduce heat and cover. Cook for 10 minutes. Bison is a very lean meat, so you want to cook it slowly and avoid over cooking it. You can grill them, but you’ll want to do in on a very low heat on a well oiled surface and you might want to go 50/50 with lean hamburger.

Bleu Cheese Burgers

  • 1 to 1-1/2 lbs lean ground beef
  • 1 tbsp hot wing sauce
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 4 oz blue cheese, divided into 1 oz crumbles

bowl

In bowl, combine all ingredients, except bleu cheese and mix well. Form into 8 thin patties, place 1 oz of cheese between two burgers, seal edges and gently flatten, so burger surrounds cheese. Grill or broil until cooked through, about 8 to 10 minutes. Serve on onion rolls or focaccia bread.

Burger week continues…

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Growing Up Trixie

Originally published 9/13/09

My first strong female literary character was Trixie Belden. She rocked. You have to be a woman, and probably a woman of a certain age, to be a hardcore Trixie fan. A friend’s sister gave me my first Trixie Belden book when I was in the hospital for surgery. By the end of the first chapter, I was hooked.

It is fitting then, that I begin the series on Food in Fiction with Trixie Belden and one of the first recipes I tried on my own, cooking for my parents, adapting  and experimenting, even then.

Perfect Hamburgers

  • 1 slice bread, crusts removed
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • salt & pepper to taste

Soak bread with milk for 5 minutes, mix all ingredients together completely. Form into 4 patties and grill or fry to desired doneness.

This works especially well with extra lean ground beef, keeping it moist and flavorful, even if you like them cooked to medium-well.

Burger week begins right here…

Food In Fiction: Wait, It’s Not Broccoli?

Rarely am I stumped or surprised when I’m reading and a food item comes up during a meal scene. But that happened the other day. I was reading the second book in the Lomax and Biggs series by Marshall Karp, when lo and behold, our hero is having dinner with his girlfriend and she serves him an authentic Italian meal befitting her heritage (nice Jewish girl who married a nice Italian man with a scary Italian mother) – oh, don’t worry, our hero and his girlfriend are both widowed now, so it is not an illicit dinner.   On the menu is broccoli rabe, and I was stumped. I had no idea what it was or how it was prepared.  So I did a little research and the first thing I find out is it is NOT broccoli, not even related, more like mustard greens:

The leaves, stems, and flower heads are cooked (broil, stir-fry, braise, saute, or steam) and eaten just like greens and have a flavor similar to broccoli but much more pungent. It is quite tasty with a nutty flavor and has a slightly bitter taste. Some say it is aggressively pungent and bitter. In spite of its uniqueness, broccoli raab/rabe is considered an acquired taste – but once acquired, it’s addictive! Preparing it is very easy.

I’m intrigued enough to go looking for some.  Here are two recipes I’m going to give a try:

Broccoli Rabe and Hot Italian Sausage Pasta

  • 16 ounce  farfalle (bow tie) pasta
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 pound Italian sausage
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe, cleaned and trimmed
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the Italian sausage until crumbly and no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and continue cooking until the sausage begins to brown, about 5 minutes more. Pour off the excess grease, then pour in the chicken broth and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil over high heat, then add the broccoli rabe, and cover. Cook until the broccoli rabe is tender, about 4 minutes.

When the broccoli rabe is done, stir in the butter, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper until the meat sauce has thickened. Toss with the farfalle and serve.  Serves 6-8 generously.

Lemon and Garlic Broccoli Rabe

  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe, cleaned, stems trimmed, coarsely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced

Bring 1-inch of water to a boil in a deep skillet. Add rabe, season with salt, and cover pan. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 10 minutes. Drain well.

Saute garlic and red pepper flakes in oil over moderate heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Add rabe, coat and cook for 2 minutes and remove from heat.

Squeeze the juice of lemon over the pan and sprinkle in zest. Toss rabe and serve immediately.  Serves 4 – 6

To Kill A Mockingbird: Crackling Bread

Today is the 5oth anniversary of To Kill A Mockingbird, so I thought I would repost the Food In Fiction recipes from last year.

Originally posted October 21, 2009

Crackling Bread

The book that had the greatest influence over me as a child was To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. I read it for the first time when I was 12 and have read it every year or two since. My Gram Rullo gave me a hardbound copy that is probably my favorite gift ever - except for the two special rings my brothers won at the county fair when they are little and gave to me. Those I keep in a ring case in my jewelry box.

To Kill a Mockingbird is filled with food, good southern food, that as a child I’d never heard of before. It was an exotic world filled with scuppernongs and Lane cakes and of course, Bo Radley. I’ll start with Crackling Bread:

Perhaps Calpurnia sensed that my day had been a grim one: she let me watch her fix supper. “Shut your eyes and open your mouth and I’ll give you a surprise,” she said. It was not often that she made crackling bread, she said she never had time, but with both of us at school the day had been an easy one for her. She knew I loved crackling bread. “I missed you today,” she said.

Crackling Bread

  • 1 1/2 c. cracklings or crisp bacon, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups white cornmeal
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven ot 450° and grease a heavy oven-proof skillet (cast iron works great). Or preheat to 350° and grease 12 count muffin tin, but do not preheat the tin.

Sift together dry ingredients and then mix in cracklings. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add buttermilk and egg. If batter seems to thick, you can add a bit of water.  Pour into a hot, greased skillet. Bake in 450 degree oven (or 375 degrees for muffins) for about 25 minutes or until light brown.

Food In Fiction: To Kill A Mockingbird – Lane Cake

I actually did make this cake and posted a recipe for it in November 2009, here.

Originally posted: October 28, 2009

Photograph by Neil Ravenna

For the Lane Cake, I won’t be posting a recipe, but instead, because of the wonder of the internet can offer the history of how it came to be. In all the years I’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, I really didn’t have a clear idea of what a Lane Cake was, except I knew it had liquor in it, as described when Atticus’ sister came to stay and help with Scout and Jem:

Maycomb welcomed her. Miss Maudie Atkinson baked a Lane Cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight….

Before that, Miss Maudie baked a Lane Cake as a thank you to one of the men who helped fight the fire that burned her house to the ground:

“Mr. Avery will be in bed for a week – he’s right stove up. He’s too old to do things like that and I told him so. Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford’s not looking, I’ll make him a Lane Cake. That Stephanie’s been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I’ll give it to her just because I’m staying with her she’s got another think coming.”

I reflected that if Miss Maudie broke down and gave it to her, Miss Stephanie couldn’t follow it anyway. Miss Maudie had once let me see it: among other things, the recipe called for one large cup of sugar.

From the Encyclopedia of Alabama:

The Lane cake, one of Alabama’s more famous culinary specialties, was created by Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Barbour County. It is a type of white sponge cake made with egg whites and consists of four layers that are filled with a mixture of the egg yolks, butter, sugar, raisins, and whiskey. The cake is frosted with a boiled, fluffy white confection of water, sugar, and whipped egg whites. The cake is typically served in the South at birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and other special occasions. The recipe was first printed in Lane’s cookbook Some Good Things to Eat, which she self-published in 1898.

According to chef and culinary scholar Neil Ravenna, Lane first brought her cake recipe to public attention at a county fair in Columbus, Georgia, when she entered her cake in a baking competition there and took first prize. She originally named the cake the Prize cake, but an acquaintance convinced her to lend her own name to the dessert.

The Recipe

Lane’s recipe states that the cake should be baked in medium pie tins lined on the bottom with ungreased brown paper, rather than in cake pans. She specified “one wine-glass of good whiskey or brandy” for the filling and that the raisins be “seeded and finely clipped.” She also insisted that the icing be tested with a clean spoon. In Lane’s time, the cake would have been baked in a wood stove. Lane also suggested that the cake is best if made a day or so in advance of serving, presumably to allow the flavors to meld. Lane used the cake recipe as the basis for other cakes in her book, some frosted with orange or lemon cream.

The Lane cake has been subjected to countless modifications and twists over the years. Coconut, dried fruit, and nuts are common additions to the filling described in the original recipe. Home bakers who wish to avoid the whiskey or brandy in the original recipe have substituted grape juice, especially for children’s birthdays. Another common variation is to ice the entire cake with the filling mixture. The Lane cake is often confused with the Lady Baltimore cake, another fruit-filled, liquor-laced dessert with a different pedigree.

In Alabama, and throughout the South, the presentation of an elegant, scratch-made, laborious Lane cake is a sign that a noteworthy life event is about to be celebrated. In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, by Alabama native Harper Lee, character Maudie Atkinson bakes a Lane cake to welcome Aunt Alexandra when she comes to live with the Finch family. Noting the cake’s alcoholic kick, the character Scout remarks, “Miss Maudie baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight.” Shinny is a slang term for liquor.

Food In Fiction: To Kill a Mockingbird, Pickled Pig Knuckles and Ambrosia

Originally published on November 3, 2009

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Mary Badham as Scout

The last entry in the To Kill a Mockingbird recipes is one you probably won’t try and one I’m making up as I go along.  I wanted to include Pickled Pig Knuckles for one reason only, because the section of the book where this shows up is so touching, it brings tears to my eyes whenever I read it.  Atticus has lost his case and Tom Robinson is on his way to prison.  The next morning, as the children struggle with what has gone on, Atticus sits down to breakfast, only to be greeted by an incredible plate of food like he has never seen before.  Confused, he lets Calpurnia lead him into the kitchen, which is filled to overflowing with gifts from everyone who appreciated all he did for Tom Robinson:

The kitchen table was loaded with enough food to bury the family: hunks of salt pork, tomatoes, beans, even scuppernongs.  Atticus grinned when he found a jar of pickled pigs’ knuckles.  “Reckon Aunty’ll let me eat these in the diningroom?”

Calpurnia said,”This was all ’round the back steps when I got here this morning Mr. Finch.  They – they aren’t oversteppin’ themselves, are they?”

Atticus’ eyes filled with tears.  He did not speak for a moment.  “Tell them I’m very grateful,” he said.  “Tell them – tell them they must never do this again.  Times are too hard.”

I searched for Pickled Pigs Knuckles recipes, this one for Pickled Pigs Feet seemed like the best one, so  thought I’d link to it, since I’m not likely to recipe test it anytime soon.  I think you could easily substitute knuckles without any ill effects.

Pickled Pigs Feet:

Nowadays the commercial products are just so expensive that it’s more economical to make your own. Besides, homemade pickled pigs feet taste far better than what you can get from the jar. I prefer to make my own as opposed to spending about 1 dollar and 25 cent for each piece of pigs feet.

Pickled Pigs Feet Recipe

6 – fresh pigs feet, split in half lengthwise
2 – red chile peppers, fresh
1 – medium onion, chopped
2 – bay leaves
2 – tablespoons salt
1 – teaspoon peppercorns
1/2 – tablespoon mustard seed
1/2 – tablespoon coriander seed
1/4 – teaspoon cloves
sliced ginger
white vinegar
water

to read more, go here

The Ambrosia appears earlier in the story, at a disastrous Christmas celebration, where the only redeeming feature is the food.

….Aunt Alexandra didn’t understand girls.

But her cooking made up for everything: three kinds of meat; summer vegetables from her pantry shelves; peach pickles; two kinds of cake and ambrosia constituted a modes Christmas dinner.

Ambrosia is pretty simple, but a fresh ambrosia salad in 1930′s Alabama in December, I wasn’t sure what would be used.  I decided that peaches, grapes, banana, whipping cream, pecans, little bit of sugar and mixing it together could work.  For a more modern touch, substitute ginger ale for the sugar and sprinkle with coconut.  Neither may be authentic, but they are tasty all the same.

For more fun, check out the nasty bits posts.

Food In Fiction: Pot Roast

Our book: One For The Money, by Janet Evanovich.  Our hapless heroine:  Stephanie Plum. I’m kind of going out of order in the book because of the Pineapple Upside -Down Cake.  The pot roast comes much earlier in chapter one, when Stephanie must break the news to her parents that she has been unemployed for 6 months.  This is when her father suggests she work for her cousin Vinny, not as a bounty hunter but as his file clerk:

Just the career move I’d been hoping for – filing for Vinnie.  Of all my relatives, Vinnie was my least favorite.  Vinnie was a worm, a sexual lunatic, a dog turd. “What does he pay?” I asked.

As for the pot roast, Stephanie explains the importance of pot roast in the burg:

Food is important in the burg. The moon revolves around the earth, the earth revolves around the sun, and the burg revolves around pot roast.  For as long as I can remember, my parents’ lives have been controlled by five-pound pieces of rolled rump, done to perfection at six o’clock.

Since this blog is all about good food easy, this pot roast recipe is for the slow-cooker.  Put it together in the morning, turn it on and come home to a complete meal.  And if your daughter, husband, wife or crazy grandmother is late, no worries, this one won’t dry out.

Slowcooker Pot Roast

  • 2-3 lbs chuck roast
  • ¼ to ½ cup water or beef broth
  • splash of red wine
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 bay leaves (remove before serving)
  • ½ tsp salt & pepper
  • 1 large onion, quartered
  • 6 medium potatoes, quartered
  • 1 lb bag baby carrots

slowcooker

Optional: coat roast in1 tbsp flour and brown on all sides in 2 tbsp oil in skillet before adding to slowcooker. Nice, but not necessary for great flavor.

Add roast and liquid to slowcooker. Sprinkle rosemary, garlic, bay leaves, salt & pepper on top of roast. Add in order: onion, potatoes and carrots (this keeps carrots from over cooking). Cover & cook according to your slowcooker directions (they vary considerably) usually 8 to 10 hours on low.

Food In Fiction: Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Happy birthday Vern!  This is the first of two cakes I have to make in short order for various birthdays.  Luckily it also coincides with my next Food In Fiction novel.

One for the Money is the first in the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich.  Stephanie lives in Trenton, NJ and is probably the worst bounty hunter ever.  Not her fault really, unemployment and financial ruin forced her hand and it was the only job she could find.

Having held a salaried position with E.E. Martin made me as appealing as a leper.  E. E. Martin had skimped on the palm greasing this winter and as a result its mob affiliations had been made know…..I was registered with every search firm in the greater Trenton area and I religiously read the want ads.  I wasn’t being all that choosy, drawing the line at telephone soliciting and kennel attendant…

Food is very important in the Burg where Stephanie grew up.  And her mother was not above using food as a bribe when she fixed Stephanie up on a blind date:

“Pineapple upside-down cake…you’ll miss dessert if you leave now.” My mother didn’t mind playing dirty if she thought the cause worthy.  She knew she had me locked in with the pineapple cake. A Plum would suffer a lot of abuse for a good dessert.

The Stephanie Plum series is one of my favorite summer reads.  There are 16 books in the series so far, but the first 9 are the best.  If you’re looking for a beach read, I recommend these.

Now here’s that cake that would make Stephanie suffer through a hopeless blind date, whose highlight was Stephanie’s grandmother shooting the roast chicken with a  .38 special.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

  • 8 oz can sliced pineapple, in pineapple juice
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1-1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt

8×8 glass baking dish and mixing bowl

Drain pineapple, reserve juice.  Melt 3 tbsp of butter and to baking dish with brown sugar and 1 tbsp of reserved pineapple juice.  Mix well.  Arrange pineapple slices over sugar and butter mixture.  In bowl, cream remaining butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla, beat until fluffy.  Sift together flour, baking powder and salt, add to creamed mixture.  Add water to remaining pineapple juice to make 1/2 cup and add to batter, mixing well and then pour over pineapple slices.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes.  Cool 5 minutes and then invert on a plate.

Food In Fiction: Agnes and The Hitman, Breakfast 2

As the book comes to its final showdown, Agnes’ crew has one last night together before everything goes to hell.  From Agnes and the Hitman:

An hour later, Agnes looked at the group crowded around her kitchen table…The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight. One cop, two hit men, two mobsters, a mob princess and a food columnist, plus an ancient bloodhound for a mascot….Right where I want to be, she thought…”Okay, here’s my last word: Nobody shoots anybody tonight. We’re a team now, one big happy family. We need each other. If everybody shows up here tomorrow breathing, I’ll make breakfast.”

Blueberry Sour Cream Pancakes

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup milk or buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) blueberries

Combine all ingredients except blueberries in large bowl. Mix well, but don’t over mix.  Heat griddle until drops of water sizzle. Ladle batter onto griddle, just as bubbles start to form, add blueberries, flip when bubbles have fully formed and finish cooking.

She serves it with ham, but I prefer bacon.

Here is the first breakfast from the book: Omelette for 2 and her rehearsal dinner cakes: Raspberry Chocolate Cupcakes

Chocolate-Raspberry Cupcakes

If you’re looking for something a bit elegant for Valentine’s day,  here is the recipe these wonderful cupcakes.  They’re pretty and tasty.  If you want to read the full Food in Fiction post, click here.

Chocolate-Raspberry Cupcakes

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Moist Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1/2 cup chopped raspberries

Dry ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup dry cocoa
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Grease and flour muffin tins. Cream together oil, butter and sugar. Mix in remaining moist ingredients, one at a time, until well mixed. Sift together dry ingredients. Mix dry mixture into creamy mixture and beat for 2 minutes at high-speed. Fill muffin tins 3/4 full and bake for 20-25 minutes, until they bounce back when pressed lightly.

Chocolate Ganache:

  • 6 oz dark chocolate
  • 6 oz heavy cream

Double boiler (I use a metal bowl over a saucepan with about an 1 inch of water)

Place chocolate and cream in top of boiler, bring water in bottom half to a boil, reduce heat to med-high and let chocolate melt, stirring occasionally. When completely melted, remove from heat and stir until cream and chocolate are completely mixed. Let cool and dollop over cooled cupcakes

Raspberry Sauce:

  • 2 cups raspberries
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

saucepan

Puree raspberries until smooth, add raspberries and sugar to saucepan and heat to a low boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute, reduce heat to medium and stir constantly until thickened, remove from heat and add lemon juice. Let cool and spoon over frosted cupcakes.

Note:  For a layer cake, take 1/2 of the ganache, let it cool, mix with 1 cup crushed raspberries and spread between layers.  Keep the other 1/2 of the ganache warm and pour over cake to make a beautiful and smooth coating.  Serve with warm raspberry sauce.

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