Tag Archives: recipes

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.”


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


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

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.


September 2012 has been declared National Bourbon Heritage Month in Kentucky by the state governor. I read that little tidbit on the Bourbon Blog because, you know, I like to keep abreast of important happenings in the world. Now I don’t live in Kentucky but I’m never opposed to celebrating! Besides, I just happen to have developed a few bourbon recipes recently.


You see I was going to New Orleans, to Bourbon Street to be exact, and partaking in an author pub crawl at the Bourbon Cowboy for Authors After Dark to promote my cowboy series. Of course, that called for some Buckin’ Good Bourbon Drink Recipes, did it not? So I consulted my favorite liquor store, told the man what I was doing, and I loaded up my cart with ingredients I thought might make a good drink. Having tended bar for more years than I’d like to admit I knew flavors and brands pretty well for the liqueurs, but I needed some advice on the bourbon. He steered me to Evan Williams brand, saying it had a lighter flavor than some others and would mix better for my experiment. Then I went home, cracked open all the bottles, lined up a bunch of glasses and started to mix. This was about 2PM, keep in mind, so by the time the husband arrived home that evening from work, I was slumped in the bed but I was excited, because lined up on the table I had three drinks I was pretty sure were pretty damn good. And beneath each glass I had a note with what I’d put in them because by then I was a little loopy and was afraid I’d forget.


He agreed the drinks were tasty! Now I’m not saying no one has ever mixed these alcohols in this particular combo before. They probably have. I’m just saying these combos are personally tasted and found to be very drinkable by me, and I’m not a bourbon drinker generally so you know they must be good. So in honor of Bourbon Month and the release of my next cowboy book FLANKED in just over a week, I bring you my cowboy-inspired bourbon drinks.

Cat Johnson

1 part Bourbon
1 part Frangelico® Hazelnut Liqueur
Serve over ice
Variation: Add to hot coffee and cream for Nutty Cowboy Coffee

1 part Bourbon
1 part Kahlua® Coffee Liqueur
Serve over ice
Variation: Add hot coffee and cream for coffee with a kick


1 part Bourbon
1 part Dark Creme de Cocoa
Serve over ice
Variation: Add hot coffee and cream for a chocolately treat

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)


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.


my favorite things: stevia

Okay, I will freely admit that I hated Stevia the first time I tasted it. I’m not all that in love with its natural flavor now, to me it tastes like licorice and unless it’s alcoholic as in Sambuca, I don’t want licorice in my coffee. But I am slowly getting used to natural Stevia flavor the more I use it.

But the vanilla-flavored liquid Stevia I bought–OMG! What a difference some vanilla makes. I bought it as a non-calorie, all natural sweetener for hot coffee but I’ve ended up making the most delicious iced tea and iced coffee I’ve ever tasted in my life. And it’s healthy, and it’s not fattening. How can you go wrong? So now, instead of mixing powdered chemicals with water for my diet iced

tea, I boil a kettle of water, throw in a few teabags, sweeten with a squeeze of vanilla stevia and chill. It’s so tasty it’s like having a treat. And when I have leftover coffee in the pot, I put that in the fridge too, then add half and half and a squeeze of vanilla stevia and viola! My husband said it’s as good as the flavored iced coffee people pay a lot of money for at certain coffee shops we all know and love to hate. AND as I said before, no calories (except for that found in the half and half) and all natural (so my friend will stop yelling at me for using Splenda).

What is Stevia? My understanding is it’s a naturally growing plant but let’s turn to the all knowing Wikipedia for clarification.

220px-Stevia_rebaudiana_flowers Here’s a picture of the Stevia flower. Pretty, no? Now I like it even more! Here’s what Wiki says… “Stevia is in the sunflower family (Asteraceae), native to subtropical and tropical regions from western North America to South America. The species Stevia rebaudiana, commonly known as sweetleafsweet leafsugarleaf, or simply stevia, is widely grown for its sweet leaves. As a sweetener and sugar substitute, stevia’s taste has a slower onset and longer duration than that of sugar, although some of its extracts may have a bitter or licorice-like aftertaste at high concentrations.

With its steviol glycoside extracts having up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar, stevia has garnered attention with the rise in demand for low-carbohydrate, low-sugar food alternatives. Because stevia has a negligible effect on blood glucose, it is attractive as a natural sweetener to people on carbohydrate-controlled diets.”

I see it is also sold in chocolate flavor, which I’m very tempted to try for a Mocha Iced Coffee at home. There is also an Orange flavor which would probably be amazing added to sweeten whipped cream, though I guess the cream defeats the purpose of the low calorie sweetener. There’s also Root Beer, that I’m not so excited over but to each his own. I suppose it would be good in plain seltzer water for an all natural, low-calorie alternative to soda. Hmmm…..

So give it a try. It seems pricey but I paid under $10 for a bottle and I literally use only drops at a time. Perfect for summer, enjoy some Vanilla Iced Tea or Coffee without the guilt!

my favorite things: peppermint holiday coffee

It’s no secret I don’t like getting dressed in the morning. Hell, plenty of days I don’t get changed out of PJs at all. So all thoseCandyCanescommercials on TV that show the seasonal holiday coffee drinks with lots of whipped cream being enjoyed by happy people are pretty annoying because I’m not getting dressed and driving half an hour to the nearest Starbucks or McDonalds (who is apparently trying to compete with Starbucks for the gourmet coffee market).

Necessity is the mother of invention as they say. I wanted that tasty-looking peppermint coffee and I wanted it NOW! So I made one. I’d bought a box of candy canes a week or two ago to spruce up my kitchen Christmas decor and I happened to have a can of ready whip in the fridge. I had coffee, and the fixings I enjoy daily (Splenda and Cremora–I know, don’t judge, that’s how I like it). So I stuck a candy cane in my morning coffee, I shot it with a squirt of whipped cream (just for the visual of course…) and VIOLA! I was a happy girl sipping my peppermint coffee for no more money, and not many more calories than my usually morning brew cost me, and, this is key, I didn’t have to even go out in the cold to get it! My pajama-covered ass went no farther than my own kitchen with the heated tile floor so toasty on my happy feet.Peppermint Coffee

Since I have a new book release I’m promoting, another novel for my series I’m writing, and two other stories I’m plotting, coffee and not having to leave the house are both key components of my writer’s day, but I figure everyone can use this recipe. I’m picturing a holiday party, New Year’s Eve in particular, where the hostess can set up a large coffee urn, cups, sugar and cream, all as normal BUT add a bunch of candy canes, and a bunch of cinnamon sticks as stirrers, with some whipped cream guests can make their own special gourmet coffees.



occupy: starbucks

Yes I’m a New Yorker, but no, I’m not occupying Wall Street this week. Why not? Well for one, I have a deadline and neither the bank who holds my mortgage or the protestors are going to make up for income lost if I miss that. And second, I know the pen is mightier than the sword and if I want to enact change anywhere I can far better do it with words. But that is not the purpose of this post. Oh, no, far from it! I am encouraging you all to TAKE BACK YOUR COFFEEPOTS!!

Yes! You can do it. You don’t need to go to Starbucks and shell out $5 for a holiday seasonal latte. You don’t need to pack on ten extra pounds before you ever reach Aunt Ida’s turkey on the Thanksgiving table because you’ve been indulging in the new Gingerbread Grande with Extra Whipped Cream. How do I know? Because I have delved into the dark and scary recesses of my mind and come up with a coffee recipe that couldn’t be easier, has no extra calories, and is practically free.

Years ago I had a waitressing job at a shore club that catered weddings and such. The Long Island Sound and sand just feet from the windows meant they were a popular place (less so the year the hurricane hit and we were in the middle of a wedding in a heated tent outside on the sand in December. Yeah…But anyway…)

Well they had a signature coffee and though this was about 22 years ago, I still remember the ingredients and how good it tasted. There, we would throw a broken cinnamon stick, a spoon of sugar and a spoon of espresso grounds right in the coffee filter with the regular coffee grounds when making a pot. And just those few simple ingredients infused the pot of coffee with a subtle layer of warm flavor that everyone loved but not one guest every said, “Ew, is this flavored coffee?”

cinnamon_coffeeI recently was at the food store searching for the new Pumpkin Dunkin Donuts grounds and they didn’t have them. Since I’m on deadline, I’ve been drinking a lot of extra coffee and I was truly disappointed to not have what I was looking for available for me. I made a stop in the dairy aisle and picked up the Coffeemate Pumpkin Spice creamer, but one look at the label, and my ever-widening waistline, and I put it back down. Yes, before you all write in it’s only 30 calories a serving, go ahead and measure how much you put in your coffee cup. I estimated last year I was using 3 spoons per cup and I was up to 2 cups a day. My small frame can’t afford almost 200 extra calories daily, especially during the holiday seasons.

So, I went to the spice aisle and picked up a jar of cinnamon sticks–and put them down again because the price was INSANE and we were on our way to Sam’s Club anyway where I again visited the spice aisle and lo and behold, there I found a large jar of cinnamon sticks at a bargain price.

Now, each morning I do this… I put one broken cinnamon stick in the filter basket THEN on top of that I put the paper filter. The coffee grounds go inside that. I’m lazy so I rarely remember to add the espresso grounds. And I’m worried about calories so I forego the spoon of sugar most days. But the coffee dripping over the cinnamon sticks gives it a lovely flavor. Then I add my usual everyday creamer and sweetener and I’m happily drinking a lovely spiced winter brew.

When I throw out the coffee filter to clean the maker, I save the cinnamon sticks to use the next day. They are clean because they were under the filter and didn’t touch the grounds. You can probably get a week out of one stick.

So there you go…lots of time and energy spent over a cup of coffee but what can I say, it makes me happy. I haven’t tried it yet, but I bet you could use nutmeg or cloves or some other spices and make your own concoction at home.



nature’s bounty~clams

There’s just something raw and animalistic and yes, sexy, about catching your own food. Some of my favorite memories are clamming with friends on a salt pond in Rhode Island.


The clams are barely an hour old when we’d bring them back to the house and throw them in the closed shells on a hot BBQ grill rack. They cook only until they open up, then you take them in hand, shoot just a dash of hot sauce and eat them, all hot and tasty good, right out of the shells. No utensils, no plates. Add an icy cold beer to cool the fire of the hot sauce and you’ve got all you need.

Of course, for the catching this year, since clamming began at low tide which was 8 in the morning, we indulged in Mimosas made right on the boat out of Prosecco and orange juice.


This year we did something a little different. Since we had a professional chef with us, he insisted we not use the bounty up for our little grilling/drinking party. Instead, he brought the clams back to our rental’s kitchen and turned them into incredible home made chowder on the first night, so light and tasty people went back for third helpings. Then on the next night, the rest were made into Linguini and Clam Sauce, with tons of garlic, good olive oil and fresh parsley.

Clams in a cooler

Another summer’s Rhode Island vacation has come and gone, but the memories will last forever and next year we’ll be back. Clams, look out!

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mastering the master

The Art of French Cooking

So I got Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child for Christmas. It’s 684 pages, not counting all the index pages in the back which are numbered with Roman numerals that I can’t decipher because I went to public school. This tome weighs a good ten pounds and though I far outweigh it, it is intimidating the hell out of me.

It’s my own fault, really. When my mother called from the bookstore weeks ago and asked if I would like it for Christmas I said yes. Why? Because I love a good story and the story that surrounds this book of late is a great one.

Julie Powell back in August of 2002 decided to not only cook her way through this book, all 536 recipes in 365 days while holding down a real job, but also to blog about it in what she named ‘The Julie/Julia Project”. But that isn’t the story that gets me, it’s what happens next. She turned that year-long blog into a book, and that book became the Meryl Streep, Amy Adams movie “Julie & Julia” that everyone is talking about. Being a writer, publication stories like that fascinate me. So much so I have googled my tushy off and found the original 2002 blog, and I am reading my way through it, day by day, and totally enjoying it.

Julie is normal. She screws up the recipes, and then tells us about how when that happens, she just adds more butter and cream to try and fix it. She drops the f-word liberally, as anyone would while taking on such a monumental challenge. She calls it like she sees it, wondering at the craziness around her, such as the raw food movement that hits during her cooking experiment, or that she couldn’t find swiss cheese in her regular food store in Brooklyn but she could buy imported Fontina.

I anticipate I will enjoy her real-life blog musings far more than what I am sure is a sanitized for mainstream publishing, edited version that hit the bookshelves. She already hinted at that in the comment that the book title (Julie & Julia) is boring, the result of an editorial battle lost. And don’t we authors know all about that–choose your battles.

No, I have no plans what so ever in this lifetime to repeat Julie’s project, but I do hope to challenge myself with a few of these recipes. Looking through the book, the first thing to cross my mind was how outdated it seemed to my modern cook’s eye. I learned to cook during the dawn of olive oil, and microwaves. Julia Child wrote this book in 1961, and it is more than obvious her two favorite ingredients are butter and heavy cream.

Yet a lot of what Julia Child writes makes sense, such as when she warns against the temptation to use the food processor to blend your potato leek soup. She’s right, that one appliance means the difference between what ends up being more like runny mashed potatoes rather than a hearty soup where the potatoes and leeks are still recognizable.

I suppose if I take away a few techniques and basics, it will only help me in everything I cook. If nothing else, it will be a lesson in humility. Let’s just hope I am strong enough to withstand such a lesson. I have to wonder about that as I ignore daily the container full of cookies that I screwed up but still refuse to throw away. Who I think is going to eat them is beyond me, they taste bad and look worse, but there they sit, waiting on the counter. Perhaps humility is what both Julie and Julia are meant to teach me.

I will keep you informed of both the failures and the successes.