Category Archives: food

oklahoma, bologna and mac & cheese…

So I just returned from Oklahoma where last week I helped celebrate National Bologna Day in the town of Drumright. It’s a long story on how all that came about. Suffice it to say I like to use real locations and real food in my books whenever possible. It helps gives the fictional novels ‘flavor’, figuratively speaking. Joseph’s Fine Foods in Drumright, OK, and their Signature Fried Bologna Sandwich played a role in the plot of my One Night with a Cowboy (Oklahoma Nights), which is what led to me being part of the celebrations last week. You can read more about all of that HERE.

But sometimes I write about home cooking in my novels, and when I do, more often than not, it’s a dish I prepare myself at home. That is true of the Mac & Cheese that the heroine makes for my hero in Midnight Ride (Midnight Cowboys). Here is that recipe and an excerpt from the book. Enjoy! Cat 

Enjoy the Mac & Cheese Excerpt from MIDNIGHT RIDE then scroll down for the recipe

Midnight Ride SALEFinally, she sat and Tyler lifted the fork full of food he’d been dying to try. Flavor assaulted his senses as the rich sharp cheddar filled his mouth. His eyes drifted closed and a low rumble of appreciation came from his throat.

He opened his eyes again to see Janie watching and smiling. “I guess you like it.”

“Oh, my God. This is the best I’ve ever eaten.”

She rolled her eyes. “Thanks, but you don’t have to flatter me, Tyler. I would have invited you to eat anyway. It’s the least I can do in exchange for all you’ve done for me.”

“Janie, there’s one thing you should know about me.” He set his fork down and leaned forward, his forearms braced on the table. “I never mess around when it comes to food. I’m not flattering you. This is amazing.”

“Thanks.” Her cheeks turned pink and he couldn’t help but smile.

“You’re welcome.” Satisfied she believed he was sincere, he picked up the fork again and dug in for another bite. “What’s the spice? It’s not jalapeno.”

“No.” She shook her head. “It’s a pinch of cayenne. I bought a cookbook the year I got married and I’ve been using the old recipes in it ever since. I know a lot of places use other spices and other cheeses, but I just do the same thing as I always did. Plain old sharp cheddar. Oh, and a little bit of mustard, too.”

“That’s what that other flavor is. Don’t change a thing, whatever you do. I don’t care what else other places are putting in their mac and cheese, you leave yours just as it is.”

She laughed. “Okay. Since you feel that strongly about it, I promise.”

Midnight Ride Recipe: JANIE’S HOMEMADE MAC & CHEESE

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon mustard powder

Pinch cayenne pepper, salt, fresh ground black pepper to taste

9 ounces cooked macaroni (elbows or shells—whatever shape you want)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

To make the cheese sauce, melt butter in saucepan. Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly as it bubbles but does not brown (about 2 minutes). Add milk, stirring as it comes to a boil and thickens. Add salt, pepper, cayenne, and mustard. Lower heat and stir in shredded cheddar cheese until melted (about 2 minutes). Set aside.

To make the casserole, in a 1 ½ quart oven-proof casserole dish, put the cooked macaroni. Pour the cheese sauce over the top. Mix gently with a fork. Bake uncovered until top is golden and the sauce is bubbling (about 30 minutes).

Serves four.

Women and Food Quote

 

outlander: highland inspiration

I’ve been watching the new OUTLANDER series on the Starz network. It’s based on the books written by Diana Gabaldon, which I’m old enough to have read (and loved) when they first released fourteen years ago.

The music, the costumes, the spoken Gaelic, the sweeping landscapes and the food and drink in the show are making me remember my own trip to Scotland (which was about 20 years ago. Eep! Time flies.)

I partook of the typical Scottish fare– haggis and local beer. I loved the cheese and my first taste of a ‘scotch egg’. But I also had rabbit, pheasant, venison, and all sorts of other game while there because, for those of you who remember, this was during the “mad cow” scare and eating beef abroad was a bit frightening that year.

Battle of Culloden

Like the show’s heroine, I traveled to Inverness. I crawled through castle ruins. I visited the battlefield and memorial stones of Culloden. I even walked within a few stone circles while in the UK, but they apparently weren’t magical because aside from a tour guide no sexy highlanders appeared to whisk me away to the 1740s. The stone circle pictured in the 1996 paper snapshot below is Castlerigg Stone Circle (circa 2000 B.C.) located not in the Highlands, but in the Lake District off A66 Keswick. It contains 38 stones.

Castlerigg Stone Circle

I found a really cool blog that contains modern takes on historical recipes–the kind which might be featured in the Outlander series. Check out the Outlander Kitchen and make some dishes of your own.

 

true blood

If you’re a fan of the True Blood HBO series, I know what you were doing last night–watching the season premiere. And I also know you can’t wait for the next episode. But maybe there is something to hold you over…how about a True Blood cookbook? Check out what’s on the market.
True Blood: Eats, Drinks, and Bites from Bon Temps

True Blood Drinks and Bites

food porn

So now that I got a few thousand page views because I used the “P” word in this blog post title, let me get to the actual post…

I have a pretty cool life, like how I get invited to fun events (restaurant openings and previews, etc) because my best girlfriend’s husband is an executive chef. Of course that can go either way, like when he’s catering an event and runs short on waitstaff and she and I have to run out and buy white shirts and go pass trays of food or pour drinks for a few hours. That’s happening less now since his kids are getting old enough to don the black-and-whites so we old folks don’t have to.

Anyway, this week his new restaurant, Mediteranneo, inside the Zero Degrees Hotel, also new, opened officially and I was invited to dine there. It’s along the banks of the Norwalk River in Connecticut and the windows (which are actually operational and open!) overlook a waterfall that provided both a beautiful view and a lovely backdrop of ambient sound for diners.

I won’t get into the food too much here since you’d be better served by reading this ARTICLE written by an actual food writer who attended the night before I did. Suffice it to say I had the Black sea bass crudo with citrus, sesame seaweed, and Dauno Gargano EVOO for my appetizer (a new dish for me) and the Parmesan crusted West Coast halibut with tomato chive buerre blanc and sautéed spinach (my all time fave of my friend’s creations) for my main course. That was followed by a dessert of another of my old standby favorites, a molton chocolate cake that we love so much we’ve been known to call Chef Al at the restaurant and ask him to bring a few home for us.

I also grabbed a piece of the wood oven pizza we ordered for the table, which was fabulous, and I tried my friend’s rhubarb dessert, also incredible.

So if you’re in driving distance of Norwalk, CT, stop by the restaurant and treat yourself to a culinary experience. Do what I do and go with a bunch of friends so you can each order something different, send the plates around the table, and try even more!

Mediterraneo  353 Main Ave., Norwalk, CT Phone:  (203) 229-0000

Cat

sweet tea

Cat Johnson's Sweet TeaThere are a lot of things I love about summer. Open windows and fresh breezes. Flowers. Sunshine. Warm summer rainstorms. And sitting on the front porch drinking iced tea. Strange, but I don’t drink it inside, only outside. Nor do I drink it in the winter. Only once the weather turns warm. I guess it’s all part of the ritual.

I used to be a typical northerner and make iced tea from that fake powder stuff. Boy have things changed. I can only blame it on the influence of the guy who is my military, and also my southern (aka redneck) consultant. He taught me the difference between the fake stuff I was raised on and the real stuff they make in the south, sweet tea, which will only be pronounced in my head with a long ‘a’ sound as ‘swate tay’.

So now I boil water, and use actual teabags, and only kind of wash the container between batches because he said to never use soap on the plastic pitcher or it will ruin the flavor. And I put the sugar in while it’s hot, before it goes in the fridge, because as any good southerner knows, you never ever sweeten tea after it’s cooled.

Now I do break tradition and add some vanilla stevia drops to mine, or sometimes peppermint stevia drops. He doesn’t approve of that at all but what can I say, I was born and raised above the Mason-Dixon line so I figure I can break some rules and I do serve it in a mason jar, so that makes up for it.

bologna, hushpuppies and smoke sauce, oh my

I’ve traveled enough, you’d think I’d cease to be amazed at how vastly different the culinary offerings are within my own country. Without going very far from home, twenty minutes or less, I can get Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Portuguese, Italian, Mexican, German, Greek and French cuisine, even Texas barbecue.

What I don’t know where to find in my little corner of New York are hush puppies, or grits, or fried okra, or collard greens, or a fried bologna sandwich.

Keep Calm and Eat BolognaWhat the layman might not realize is that as a writer I have to remember these regional differences while writing stories set in other parts of thecountry. I must remember it’s pop, not soda. It’s a hero or a hoagie, not a wedge or a sub. It’s sweet tea, rather than iced tea. And I have to remember that when my characters stop for a quick lunch in Oklahoma, they’re not going to see the same menu with the same choices I’d see here in NY. And that is why I used for my research the menu of an actual restaurant in Oklahoma for my characters’ date in ONE NIGHT WITH A COWBOY.

That menu from Joseph’s Fine Foods in Drumright, Oklahoma was my first exposure to the existence of a fried bologna sandwich, jalapeno hush puppies and smoke sauce. I wrote it into my book, based a sex scene around it, and even included it in my marketing, because it seems smoked bologna is sexy!

Now, all I have to do is get there and get some!!

weathering the storm

Monday Hurricane Sandy hit New York State, and I said goodbye to my internet, and house phone, and cable television, and electricity and cell phone service until today, Thursday. How did we weather the storm? Pretty well, actually, although it was mega-stressful and I’m pretty sure I gained a few pounds. Running the generator a few hours here and there during the day kept the food in the fridge good, and our gas stove meant we could cook even when the generator wasn’t running.

PumpkincoffeeUsing up what we had in the house was kind of fun. We converted some beef leftovers and a can of beer we had here into a French Dip for lunch one day. And then turned the leftover juice from that into French Onion Soup, smothered in cheese with a hunk of bread. Chili leftovers became Chili Cheese Dogs with Sauerkraut another day. We picked up some corned beef and the remaining sauerkraut and cheese became a Reuben.

Leftover coffee from the morning became a tasty gourmet treat in the afternoon when I rimmed the mug with cinnamon and sugar, added Vanilla Stevia, Pumpkin Spice booze, lots of whipped cream and a cinnamon stick and I celebrated Halloween yesterday by drinking my own invented Pumpkin Spice Coffee.

Yes, the storm was stressful. We had some tree damage. The generator didn’t work perfectly. I had to drive to town once on Tuesday to work in the parking lot of the bank because I needed the WiFi. And again I had to get in the car and go in search of signal last night to download edits from my editor that I could see in my inbox but couldn’t work on through the iPad. But all in all, we weathered Sandy well, and ate pretty damn well too.

coffee!

dreamstimefree_148418I laughingly joked last week on Facebook that I should be able to deduct a new coffee maker as a business expense on my taxes because any writer knows caffiene is a tool of our trade. I was only half joking, and I definitely wasn’t in a good mood after yet another coffeemaker bit the dust.

So there I stood in my kitchen with one Grind-n-Brew which ground the beans just fine, but refused to drip, and a slightly older Grind-n-Brew which would drip fine but wouldn’t grind. Thank God my hoarder tendencies made me keep my half broken coffeemaker. Little did I know I’d need it for my counter-coffee-maker lineup. That’s when I decided I was done with both Cuisinart and with the combo machines.

So I took my coffee, once I finally got it made, and I googled and I found what I hope will be the Cadallac of coffeemakers and provide me with years of caffeinated bliss–I bought a Viking. They make great stoves so I figured why not?

I also ordered a separate burr grinder and so far, so good. Yes, we’ve had two mishaps. I’m so used to my Grind-n-Brew that I keep forgetting to actually take the grinds out of the grinder and transfer them to the filter basket in the coffeemaker. But I’ll get over that eventually.

What sold me? The Viking’s claim to fame was that it heats the water to what experts say is the optimal brewing temperature–195 degrees fahrenheit. The longevity of this machine as compared to the short-lived Cusinarts has yet to be proven but I have hope…and now, nice hot coffee…and a pretty new maker. And I’m going to need it too, since tomorrow is new release day for FLANKED, and as you know there’s no rest for the wicked.

Cat

My Summer Culinary Tour

Wow. It’s been a month since I’ve blogged here but I have an excuse, I swear! You see, over the month of August (and the tail-end of July) I spent about 7 days total at home, and the rest of the month was on the road (or in the air). I covered about half the country between work and vacations. Sleep was little, but regional delicacies were in abundance. Here’s a review…

My month of travel started in late July with the fresh caught clams from the salt pond in Rhode Island that my executive chef friend made into the best home-made New England Clam Chowder. So good! Even better because the clams were harvested fresh by family and friends the day before. The beach house was filled with people (17 at one point), good foods and lots of wine and beer.

After almost a week at the beach, I had 2 days at home before I flew off to the BigOur first meal in NOLA at Oceana
Easy for the Authors After Dark convention. Our hotel, and my room actually, was right on Bourbon Street, which I can tell you never sleeps. Oh, they roll the drunks and bums out between about 5 am and 6 am so the street cleaners can go through but otherwise, it’s a never ending party there. During the 6 days I was there I of course indulged in a Hurricane cocktail, as well as a local brewed beer, NOLA Blonde Ale. I ate Shrimp Creole, Crawfish Bisque, fresh Beignets, and Gumbo.

My fresh fruit breakfast cocktail

My fresh fruit breakfast cocktail

I flew home from New Orleans on a Sunday and was whisked away to Lake George by my friends the next day. I barely had time to do laundry and repack. The Adirondak lake house, filled with 5 adults and 5 children, meant there was a lot of cooking to be done. I took my turn two mornings and made a big frittata in a cast iron fry pan for the masses using whatever was in the fridge–the cheese leftover from cocktails the night before, the fried onions from the sausage and peppers the day before, etc. Throw in a pound of the Chipotle Smoked Bacon I brought from home and it was a big hit with all ages. My friend emptied her garden of everything ripe and we had dishes with fresh picked veggies all week, including her signature grilled vegetable sandwich. And my other friend has recently bought a juicer and when he was done grossing us out with his Kale/Hot Pepper/Tomato breakfast drink, we juiced some fresh peaches and mangos, threw in some champagne and viola! our breakfast drink was prepared. Note: vodka also worked nicely in the fresh juice when we ran out of Prosecco.

Then I was home for three days more and it was off again to the southern eastern seaboard where I had my first experience with Boiled Peanuts (wetter than I anticipated), ate much too much fried food (but really who can say no to a Hush Puppy?) and discovered for the first time in my not-so-sheltered life that some barbecue in the southeast is vinegar based. And here I thought all barbecue was either created from a dry rub or a tomato based sauce. Learn something new every day.

So now I am finally home. My suitcase has been out since the last week of July and the dog, after a brief look of panic seeing it in my hand again, is overwhelming relieved that I was carrying it to put it away for awhile. I only gained 3 pounds during my whirlwind month of culinary indulgence and over-imbibing. Pretty good, I think. Now I’m home and back to eating whatever is left-over in the fridge, or nothing at all because I am too lazy to cook, that vacation weight will come right back off–until the next trip, or holiday, or dinner with friends…

Cat

red hot & blue chicken salad

Red Hot & Blue Chicken Salad

A Red Hot & Blue Signature Recipe:

I’m no chef but I do pride myself on my creative uses of leftovers, which is how this dinner came about. Hot wing sauce and blue cheese dressing makes this a great way to use up leftover chicken with all the satisfaction of eating hot wings. You get all the good stuff you’d get in a bar if you ordered chicken wings–the blue cheese dressing, the carrot and celery for dipping, and of course the tasty hot chicken wings, all on top of lettuce so you can pretend you’re being healthy! AND as I’m sitting there deciding what to name my recipe, it hit me. Red Hot and Blue–just like the name of my book series. It’s not often I can be both a promo ho and a foodie at the same time… okay, maybe more often than you’d think. But in any case, try this with 4th of July leftover chicken. Quick, easy and you’ll never notice you’re eating leftovers!

1 cup leftover cooked chicken, sliced to bite sized pieces

1 Tb Butter

2 Tb Hot Sauce (such as Crystal or Frank’s Red Hot)

Lettuce

Carrots, chopped

Celery, chopped

Blue Cheese dressing

Buffalo Hot Wing ChickenIn saucepan melt butter and add hot sauce. When blended, add chicken and heat just until warm.

With the remaining ingredients, assemble your salad (in either individual serving bowls for each person or one large bowl for serving family style). Place warm chicken pieces on top and serve immediately.

Note: You can add other salad ingredients if you’d like. I usually like to keep it purely chicken-wing themed, but tonight I had a cut tomato I needed to use up so that’s in there too.

Cat