Tag Archive for: cooking

How to Cook Dinner and Start a Book–T. K. Thorne


Writer, humanist,
          dog-mom, horse servant and cat-slave,
       Lover of solitude
          and the company of good friends,
        new places, new ideas
           and old wisdom.



My husband recently had shoulder surgery for a torn rotator cuff.  He is the chef in the house; I, the consumer. In fact, I’m not normally even allowed in the kitchen (a survival thing, so I don’t burn down the house or poison him). But he would be out of action for a while, so I . . . panicked.

My anxiety centered not around the actual cooking, but  coming up with something to fix for dinner for several weeks. I think that can correlate to worrying about writing a book. The task seems enormous, requiring a large amount of creative energy.  Where do you start?  How do you make all those decisions?  I needed a plan for at least a week with a list of ingredients and grocery shopping (which husband has been doing since 2020).

I freaked out and employed my best strategy, finely honed over the years—Procrastination.

People who would like to write a book, but are overwhelmed with the idea sometimes ask me  —“Where/how do you start?”

My honest reply is “with the first word.”  

I have started a book based on an image, a phrase that popped into my mind, a vague sense of who my character is, a statement from a character, or a random idea. Sometimes, I know where I want to end up, especially if it is already a story, like the biblical tales that loosely formed the basis for Noah’s Wife or Angels at the Gate (Lot’s wife). With the nonfiction book, Last Chance for Justice (about the 1963 16th Street Church bombing case), I knew I would end up with the trials and convictions of the Ku Klux Klan members who planted the bomb.  

It is very handy to know where you will end up (like having meals in mind when grocery shopping.) But even if I do, I have no idea how to get there. I need to create and feel out the characters, make sure they are interesting enough to intrigue me and make me want to live with them for the many months or years we will be working together. I say working together, because it is a partnership. Once a character is conceived, it’s my job to figure out what to throw at her and her job to react as appropriate to who she is.

I’m sure many other authors feel this way, as if their characters are alive in some intangible but real way. At some point, I daydream as far ahead as I can and work toward that, but sometimes everything comes to a halt and I don’t have a clue what’s next.  

At that point, I pull out my well-honed strategy and go clean the kitchen, read a book, or talk to a friend.  Eventually, my character subtilely tickles my fancy, politely knocks on the door of my mind, or hits me over the head with an idea and I a back to it.

The End

Postscript: My fears were ill-founded. Husband knew what was in the freezer and what he wanted, so he just ordered dinner menu and then stood over me, “guiding” every step.  Piece of cake. 

T.K.Thorne is a retired police captain who writes Books, which, like this blog, go wherever her curiosity and imagination take her.  More at TKThorne.com

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Watch Out – the Frying Pan is Armed!
by Debra H. Goldstein

We all know that I’m not Suzy Homemaker, but this time even
I don’t know what I did. I hope some of you out there can tell me how I blew up
my favorite frying pan.


As you recall, during the pandemic, I’ve cooked more in the
past year than in the previous thirty-seven years of my marriage. So far, I’ve
learned that if I see an F3 or an F8 in the digital portion of my stove, the
oven is either on fire or I’ve blown the contraption’s brain. This time,
because the stove didn’t send me a digital message that I can google, I’m at a
complete loss.


Lately, to make my life a little easier, and because it is
easy for me to follow simple directions that come with pictures, I’ve been
having two to three dinners a week delivered from Home Chef. They have proven
relatively easy to make and what they send seems to be of good quality and more
than enough for two bulk eaters. The only thing is that rather than broiling or
baking, many times they have you use a non-stick frying pan and a drop of oil
to make parts of the meal.


Okay, picture this. I’m frying two boneless chicken breasts
in a drop of oil in a non-stick pan for 5-7 minutes per side on medium heat.
Suddenly, I hear a bang like a gun being shot. I have the sensation that
something flew upward, but I can’t really say I saw it. I did notice the gas stove’s
flame leap up a drop, but nothing alarming. With the exhaust fan turned up a
notch, I continued cooking. The same thing happened again, rattling me. I
couldn’t see anything that seemed out of place.


I plated the meal – brussel sprouts made in another pan and
the two wonton breaded chicken breasts and we began to eat. Suddenly, I noticed
something silver on my plate. Definitely not the color of a brussel sprout or
chicken – and it was metal. Could it be a flattened bullet? I pushed it aside, checked
for any more metallic items on my plate, and finding none continued eating.
After the meal, I looked in the frying pan and saw a twin metal button. I
examined the frying pan and realized they were the caps from inside the pan
that covered the screws. They’d blown off (and probably up).


I’ve used this frying pan for months without being attacked
or sabotaged by it. What do you think happened and is it safe to continue using
the pan?

F8, F2, and no, they aren’t football commands by Debra H. Goldstein

F8, F2, and no, they aren’t football commands by Debra H.

I bet I know something you don’t know! It’s something I’m not
even sure the protagonist of the Sarah Blair series I write for Kensington
knows. For those of you who don’t recall, Sarah, as she demonstrated in One
Taste Too Many, the first book in the series, is more frightened of the kitchen
than she is of murder. Although her amateur sleuth skills improve in Two Bites
Too Many, Three Treats Too Many and the upcoming Four Cuts Too Many, the
reality is that she still doesn’t really know the difference between a walk-in
freezer and a regular one or between a butcher’s knife and one used for
de-boning. That’s why I’m certain she doesn’t know what it means when an oven
stove combination flashes F8 or F2.

Sadly, I do.

I say sadly because I learned about each of these flashes
the hard way. My story, and I’m sticking to it, is that a few years ago, I
decided to clean my oven. I locked the door, turned the buttons accordingly,
and waited. Nothing seemed to engage properly, so I flipped the knob to off and
tried to start again. Suddenly, there was a sizzling sound, a slight flash and
everything was silent. The only thing out of

place was the F8 where the time on
the clock had been. I’d blown the brain of my oven. That one took about three
weeks from diagnosis to receipt and installation of the parts.

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot more cooking. Because my
usual fare was getting boring, I decided to try a service that my daughter
uses. For the past five weeks, I’ve ordered 2-4 dinners that come complete…and
luckily the ingredients are labeled because I don’t recognize half of them. My
husband and I have been pleased with the results and actually amazed that most
of the dinners look exactly like the pictures they send as a model for plating.

This is where the F2 comes in. One of the meals was small steaks,
a vegetable, and an au gratin type potato. The instructions called for slicing
the potatoes into thin slices, putting them in a tablespoon of oil on the stovetop,
coating them a bit, and then putting the cast iron frying pan or whatever one
used into the oven to finish them off while the steaks cooked – all at 350
degrees. Well, I don’t have a frying pan that I wanted to put in the oven, so I
took a cookie sheet – put the steaks on one side and the coated potatoes now
topped with some butter on the left and put everything in to bake. There was no
question that the potatoes got done like they should, but the steaks weren’t
the way we were going to want to eat them. They needed more time to cook.

I took the potatoes out, leaving the residue of them on the
cookie sheet, and turned the dial from bake to broil. Only problem, I forgot
the rack was higher than it usually is for broiling. Sitting in my sunroom, I
looked up at the oven and didn’t even need to put on a light to see the flames
coming off the part of the cookie sheet where the potatoes had been. Needless
to say, I put the fire out. As I did, I noticed that where the time is usually
reflected on the stove, it now read F2 – the universal message for the oven is
on fire.

Need I say anymore? Sarah Blair comes by her skills
naturally. Oh, and the steaks – perfectly seared. My husband thought it was one
of the best meals I’d made.  

From the Keyboard to the Kitchen

by Shari Randall
I have to admit that my favorite cooking utensils are the take-out menu and the phone. I do occasionally enjoy baking and I can follow a recipe like nobody’s business. That’s why I’ve been surprised to discover that some folks have categorized my mystery series as a “culinary cozy.” 
Cue laughter from my husband and kids.
I write a series set at the Lazy Mermaid Lobster Shack in mythical Mystic Bay, Connecticut. The Mermaid is owned by Gina “Aunt Gully” Fontana, a woman who has finally achieved her dream of owning a lobster shack. Lobsters are her life and foodies travel miles to eat one of her award winning lobster rolls, which are served topped with Lobster Love sauce. This sauce is basically lobster bisque. Yes, Aunt Gully pours lobster plus butter and heavy cream on lobster.
In the name of research, I’ve visited many lobster shacks and enjoyed the delicious treats they prepare.
But I’ve never cooked a lobster myself. This past weekend I decided to change that and tackle not just cooking a lobster, but also creating the delicious Lobster Love sauce that lures lobster lovers to the Lazy Mermaid lobster shack.
Could writing a character who is an excellent cook help me in the kitchen? I decided to channel Aunt Gully’s expertise and cook a lobster.
(Full disclosure: All this cooking took a village, including my husband and fabulous sister-in-law, who is an even better cook than Aunt Gully.)
It started with steaming some lobsters, which we had to eat with clams casino, corn on the cob, and a lovely a bean salad my husband made because sometimes you have to make sacrifices for your art. 
If you’ve read the books, you know that Aunt Gully sings to her lobsters as they make the ultimate sacrifice, so I hummed her signature tune (“Get Happy” from Summer Stock) as I put the lobsters in the pot. 
Of course, the key to lobster bisque is the lobster flavor – and butter and heavy cream. Lots of butter and heavy cream.
How to get the lobster flavor? For my bisque recipe, we used the leftover lobster carcasses.
Preparing the carcasses is as much fun as it sounds – removing the “yucky stuff” (the intestinal tract and the sac behind the head), breaking up the shells, and sauteeing them in butter. This created a low-tide odor in the house that took two days to dissipate. Take my advice and always cook your lobsters outside on your grill.
From this…

To bisque!
We combined the carcasses with garlic, onion, carrots, tomatoes, herbs, and stock, simmered the resulting mixture, removed the shells, ran the mixture through a food processor, strained it, simmered it some more, added a lot of butter and cream, tasted the soup, added salt and pepper, and there it was. Aunt Gully’s Lobster Love sauce.
It took hours to prepare, but the end result was worth it. I not only gained a beautiful bowl of bisque, I gained a whole new appreciation for Aunt Gully.
Have you ever tried to channel one of your characters?  What are some of the things you’ve done in the name of research for your writing?
Shari Randall’s latest Lobster Shack Mystery, AGAINST THE CLAW, will be published by St. Martin’s Press on July 31.

My Husband is Living With a New Woman

My Husband is Living With A New Woman by Debra H. Goldstein

My husband thinks he’s living with a new woman.  He isn’t sure who I am. Suddenly, I’m doing things and talking about subjects that are absolutely foreign to what he associates with me.

The fact is that we’ve been married long enough that he thinks he can predict what I like or dislike. Ask him and he’ll tell you that I love him, our children, books, eating out and theater (although he’s not sure what order, at any given time, those things fall in) and that sporting events, exercise, and cooking top my “forget it” list. Lately though, he thinks his wife has been replaced by a “foodie.”

Not only does he keep finding the television tuned to the Food Network, but he’s noticed that I keep coming home with cookbooks and new food gadgets. Even weirder, I’ve been turning down the option of going out to dinner to try a number of new recipes out on him. Of course, not all of them have been successful. For example, I made chicken soup from scratch for our Passover Seder, but I didn’t realize that the wide noodles I added a few minutes before the service would soak up all the soup during our short service. You can imagine my face when I peered into the pot to ladle out portions and could actually see my soup evaporating. The good thing, as we all agreed, was that the matzah balls, noodles, and chicken ended up being very well seasoned.

At least those things sans soup were edible. Recently, I made a fish dish that not only looked beautiful in the picture in the cookbook, but also on our plates. The only problem was that I got distracted when I was measuring some of the ingredients. Take it from me, 2 tablespoons of black pepper make a dish a lot spicier than ¼ of a teaspoon. Thank goodness we had plenty of water with that meal.

Last night, I dragged my husband to a new type of dinner experience – Dinner Lab. Young chefs come into town and serve a meal in a pop-up restaurant. Although the diner knows the chef and menu in advance, the location isn’t revealed until the day before dinner. The dinner itself is more like a tasting menu in that each course provides a different eating sensation. I liked the warehouse used, thought the menu novel, and enjoyed each course. My husband had the same reaction he had when he saw The Blue Men Group – “that was different.”

The reality is I haven’t changed. I still prefer to eat out. What has changed is that my newest work in progress (about 51,000 words so far) is a cozy with recipes. Writing accurately and interestingly requires research. Whether it is the voice, setting, or characterization, accuracy counts. So, I’ve become addicted to food shows, cookbooks, and cooking (okay, make that attempted cooking) for the sake of my craft. Can you possibly think of a more fun way to get the story right – even if it means my husband is living with a new woman?

A pinch and a dash

by: Joelle Charbonneau

I love to cook. There is nothing more gratifying that chopping stuff up, throwing it in a pot and watching it become dinner. So few things in life bring that same kind of immediate gratification. Hard work = payoff. Cool! So while many people treat cooking like a chore, I look forward to the adventure and I’m always beyond delighted when people love the food I make.

Until someone asks for the recipe.

Recipe? What recipe?

I mean, I understand the concept and I use them when I’m baking, but in every day cooking I tend to be a bit more freeform. I look in the fridge, pull out a bunch of stuff and throw it together with a dash of this and a sprinkle of that. I can always tell you what went into the dish, but the exact amounts – um – I haven’t a clue.

Which probably shouldn’t be a surprise. I love making to-do lists, but very rarely do I actually follow them. And while I’ve tried to follow an outline when I write, I tend to go off track somewhere around page 70 and the outline becomes obsolete. I love the idea of being prepared, but there is something about improvisation that motivates and interests me. Which is kind of a problem when I’m writing. I mean, I write mysteries. In theory, I should know where I’m going when I start. I should know who the killer is so I can leave clues. But even when I think I know what ingredients I’m going to add to a story, I find myself adding a pinch more pepper and a lot more basil and suddenly my initial vision is completely changed. Hopefully, for the better.

For me, cooking and writing seem to require a flexibility to go with what works as opposed to what is outlined or expected. Just because a recipe says you are supposed to add a teaspoon of something doesn’t mean you have to. Just because a mystery typically contains certain ingredients doesn’t mean you can’t change things up.

At least this is what I’m trying to tell myself as I work on my new manuscript and plot dinner for tonight. So tell me Stiletto readers and writers – do you use always use a recipe when you cook? And if you are a writer and use a recipe – do you also find you are inclined to use an outline to get the story from the beginning to The End? Inquiring minds want to know.

Kids Rock

I announced this on The Naked Hero last week, but must give props again (’cause when props are due, they’re due). My kids ROCK. Here’s one reason why.

One of my sons has celiac disease and is sick and tired of the food he eats (rice, beans, tofu, and myriad combinations). My daughter loves to cook. We all love Jamie Oliver and his Food Revolution.

They were talking at dinner one night and all the sudden they dreamed up a challenge–cook, using Jamie Oliver’s recipes, and blog about it to encourage other kids to eat healthy, and to empower other kids with celiac disease. For 100 days… or 6 months… whichever comes first 😉

They’re well into their challenge and still fired up (it certainly helps that Jamie Oliver himself has Direct Messaged them onTwitter and is now following THEM! Yes, Chef Jamie Oliver is following my kids and their challenge and how cool is that?).

And let me tell you, Jared and Sophie are regular kids who float through life like the next kid. But they’re not floating this time. They’re motivated, loving the blog, are thrilled every time someone subscribes or follows the blog, and in their minds, are loving their 15 minutes of fame.

They’ve made some great things including Classic Tomato Spaghetti and Chocolate Pudding Bake (SO good!).

They totally think they’re going to meet Jamie Oliver… or at least they really want to! (They were actually invited to come to a Jamie Cooking Project in the UK. Small problem… we don’t live in the UK.)

We have no small dreams in this household!

This is their dream and they’re doing good for themselves, our family, and anybody who happens across their blog and is inspired by the fact that two kids are cooking healthy and gluten free. And if two kids can do it, surely you can, too.

I’m so proud of them! Please help them by spreading the word about Jared and Sophie and their Kid’s Cooking Challenge! And join the challenge!

I’m so proud of them! Please help them by spreading the word about Jared and Sophie and their Kid’s Cooking Challenge.

**You don’t have to eat gluten free! Jamie’s recipes aren’t, but we are adapting them, showing both ways.

The Art of Entertaining

The original Evelyn, bless her soul, hated to cook. Maybe a closer truth would be, cooking bored her. That’s not to say that we didn’t have a family dinner every night (six p.m. sharp). It always consisted of some kind of meat or chicken and two vegetables. The original time efficiency expert, my mother would heat two cans of vegetables in a pot of boiling water. Serve the veggies, toss the water. Done.

I was at least 18 before I discovered that meat came in any other color than grey. She overcooked everything, probably because she wasn’t paying attention. Chicken would bake in the oven for hours, seasoned only with paprika, to give it color. But there was always plenty of fresh fruit in the house, lots of store-bought sweets, and the height of her culinary experimentation was to mix two fruit juices together. My family believed she invented orange-pineapple juice — and maybe she did.

But despite the lack of any interest in preparing foods, my mother was actually a wonderful host. She was absolutely right when she insisted that it was the company that was important. She was gracious (she was Southern after all), generous, and inclusive. For my birthday parties, every child in my class would be invited, lest anyone feel left out. When I was in college and would come home for Passover, she would encourage me to invite roommates who might otherwise spend the Seders in the dorm. They were joyous occasions full of love and laughter…and she would order in the whole menu, soup to nuts.

My rebellion was, of course, to love to cook. For me, preparing a new recipe is like writing a mystery — full of the unknown, often some red herrings (figurative ones, though I do occasionally indulge in the fish) — and if put together correctly, a delight to enjoy.

Cleaning out my mother’s apartment after she died, I found no cookbooks or recipes scribbled on cards. I did discover a file of take-out numbers. But of course, she left me with the best recipe for how to entertain. Invite people you want to spend time with; worry less about the food and more about making sure that everyone is comfortable and cared for…and most of all, enjoy the moments when you are together.

It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday season hoopla. Have fun these next few weeks with those you love.

Evelyn David