Sunday, July 21, 2024

Lucy Burdette's Kitchen Publishes This Week!

LUCY BURDETTE: Long before I imagined I’d write a foodie mystery, I fell in love with Diane Mott Davidson’s series featuring caterer Goldie Schultz. Davidson didn't just dump descriptions onto her pages, food and cooking were woven into the pages to become part of her story. I always finished a book wishing I could have been friends with caterer Goldy, sitting in her kitchen, tasting her food. She and her detective husband Tom believed that serving good food demonstrated comfort and love. Plus, a lot of good detective work occurred while they cooked and ate.

 With fourteen books so far in my Key West series, each with recipes at the back of the book, I've had to do a lot of cooking to keep up with Hayley. I loved the idea of pulling them all together along with snippets from each book. Luckily for me, Crooked Lane Books agreed and LUCY BURDETTE'S KITCHEN will be out this week! To celebrate, I thought I would share the first recipe with you today: Key lime pie.

Key lime pie is the official dessert of the City of Key West, so naturally it makes frequent appearances in these mysteries. In the first book in the series, An Appetite for Murder, food critic Hayley Snow doesn’t actually make this pie but she becomes a suspect when her boss is murdered by key lime pie. She attempts to prove she couldn’t be the culprit. There are traces of pie found on the knife near the murder victim: She would never bake a bilious green colored confection like that.

The celebrated pie also looms large in the 10th book, The Key Lime Crime, when murder strikes down a pastry chef in a pie-baking contest. The trouble begins at the contest:

Off to the left of the stage, I saw a flash of movement. Before my brain could fully register what was coming, Claudette Parker marched to the display table and picked up the pie from the Key Lime Pie Company, the one that had been touted as extra-creamy, with whipped cream piped joyfully around the edges. She slammed it into David Sloan’s face. The pie tin slid off his nose and chin and clattered on the floor in a puddle of filling. Sloan’s eyes blinked like windshield wipers in heavy snow, working holes in the whipped cream. 

The pie pictured above came from the Old Town Bakery, made with whipped cream rather than meringue. Below is my recipe using meringue, but you can switch that out!

Ingredients for the crust

10 sheets of graham crackers, should measure 1 1/4 cups

5 tablespoons butter, melted

1/4 cup sugar

Whir the graham crackers in a food processor until they make fine crumbs. Mix in the sugar and the butter. Press the mixture using the back of a spoon into your nine or 10 inch pie plate. Nine is probably better as my pie was a little low. Bake the crust at 350 for 10 minutes until it starts to brown. Remove it from the oven and reduce the heat to 325.

Ingredients for the filling

1/2 cup key lime or lime juice, freshly squeezed

Four egg yolks

1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

2 teaspoons grated lime zest

Squeeze the limes until you have 1/2 cup of juice. (4-5 regular limes, more key limes.) Make sure to strain out the seeds. 

Whisk the egg yolks, then whisk in the sweetened condensed milk, lime juice, and lime zest.  

Add the filling to the pie crust and bake for six minutes. Remove from the oven and set this aside while you make your meringue.

Ingredients for the meringue

Four egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 cup sugar

One half teaspoon vanilla

Using a clean bowl and mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until they hold soft peaks. Gradually beat in the sugar until the egg whites hold stiff peaks and appear shiny but not dry. Beat in the vanilla. 

Attach the meringue to the hot pie, beginning by adding globs all around the edge of the crust and smoothing them into a circle. (That's the  technical culinary term--add globs.) 

Then add remaining meringue to the center and smooth or shape into peaks as desired. Bake the pie for another 20 minutes. Cool on a rack. Refrigerate until serving.

And now serve yourself a nice piece of pie and start reading...

Lucy Burdette's Kitchen will be out in ebook format on Tuesday (July 23), and December in large print hardcover. I'm still working on convincing them we need the paperback! To celebrate, I'm giving away a dish towel printed with Lucy Burdette's roasted shrimp recipe. Leave a comment to be entered in the drawing!

Reds, have you ever made a recipe from the back of a novel? Which one?

Saturday, July 20, 2024

My First Love by VM Burns

LUCY BURDETTE: I’m really excited to introduce my pal VM (aka Valerie) Burns to the Jungle Red family today! If you follow Mystery Lovers Kitchen, you will recognize her name. She cooks amazing southern food, and loves dogs, and has been getting all kinds of recognition for her multiple mystery series. You will love her blog today about what got her started in the world of mysteries. Welcome Valerie!

VM BURNS: I can trace my obsession with mysteries back to one author and one book. I grew up three blocks from my branch library and it became my home away from home. My best friend and I visited that small library at least twice every week. It’s there that I discovered my first Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Akroyd. That book blew my mind. When I got to the end, I can honestly say, “I didn’t see that coming.” The next day, I rushed back to the library and looked for another book by the same author. My librarian gave me, And, Then There Were None. I read the back cover, and I wasn’t sure this book would be as thrilling. I mean, ten people are on an island and they are each murdered. Obviously, the last one left standing would be the killer, right? Oh well, I had the book and decided to give it a try. HOLY COW! SPOILER ALERT, she kills them all!!! I should have known from the title, “And, Then There Were None,” but that little detail escaped me. Who was this woman with the diabolical mind who had twisted my twelve-year-old brain? The next day I went back to the library and grabbed every Agatha Christie book I could find. Thus, started my love of mysteries and my obsession/fascination with the Queen of Crime Fiction.

Agatha Christie is the bestselling author of sixty-six crime fiction books and 14 short stories. Her play, The Mousetrap, set a record for the longest-running play in London, running from November 25, 1952, until the theatre was closed due to the pandemic on March 16, 2020.

Christie’s style of manor house mysteries featuring nosy old spinsters or finicky Belgian private detectives may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Twenty-first-century readers may struggle not only with her sleuths but also with her prose. However, her plots are IMO brilliant. I re-read these books regularly. Each time, I see a clue or a red herring I missed previously. A Cup of Flour, A Pinch of Death is my twenty-first mystery. They say you never forget your first love, and that’s especially true in my case.

Do you remember the book/author that got you hooked on mysteries?

Valerie (V. M.) Burns is an Agatha, Anthony, and Edgar Award-nominated author. She is the author of the Mystery Bookshop, Dog Club, RJ Franklin, and Baker Street Mystery series. As Kallie E. Benjamin, Valerie writes the Bailey the Bloodhound Mystery series. She is an adjunct professor in the Writing Popular Fiction Program at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA. Born and raised in northwestern Indiana, Valerie now lives in Northern Georgia. Connect with Valerie at

Friday, July 19, 2024

The Most Unusual Meal

LUCY BURDETTE:  Years ago when a friend heard that John and I were going to France, she insisted we dine in Vezelay, a town outside Paris, famous for its Benedictine Abbey. The meal was eye-poppingly expensive with many courses. Our waiter spoke with a strong Italian accent that we had trouble understanding. He brought us an amuse-bouche a.k.a. appetizer and offered an explanation. The only thing we caught was “close your mouth“ aka “fermez la bouche.“ John bit into his square and learned why: it was full of piping hot liquid fois gras that squirted out over his tie, his dress shirt, and his jacket. This has always been our favorite bizarre restaurant story.

But in Stockholm recently, we may have eaten a meal that was equally memorable. The waitress told us “we work from themes, sometimes literature, sometimes music, space,  and so on. Tonight’s menu theme is based on E4, the highway that runs from the north to the south of Sweden.” A menu based on a highway? With each tiny course, the waiter recited an elaborate story related to this road. I should have written the descriptions down, but we were busy tasting. (The only thing we didn’t try was Reindeer Danger, aka reindeer tartar.)

How about you Reds? What is your most odd or memorable meal? (Can be from a restaurant or home-cooked.)

RHYS BOWEN: I’ve had my share of odd and memorable meals. I’ve dined at Michelin starred places where one course was one oyster with some kind of foam on top and truffle (?) shavings on top of that and caviar pearls on top etc. into a tower.  all I could think of was whether I’d get in trouble if I tipped the stuff off and just ate the oyster which I adore.

But home cooked? When I was a student in Germany my landlady invited me for a meal. It was a vol au vent. Absolutely delicious. “This is wonderful,” I said. “What’s in it?”

“Calf brains,” she replied

Suddenly it didn’t taste so good but I had to finish it. 

John will tell you his strangest was pig’s colon in Hong Kong. No. sorry . Never!

JENN McKINLAY: When I first moved to Arizona, I went on a road trip up to Sedona. My friend and I stopped at a roadside diner where they served rattlesnake. Tastes like chicken!

JULIA: Jenn, my favorite part of THE MATRIX is when they explain the AI didn’t bother to flavor less-popular meats, which is why everything “tastes like chicken.”

HALLIE EPHRON: I once ordered “cervelle de veau” … veal, right? Turned out to be calve’s brains. Jerry finished his main course AND mine. (We went to Vezelay… there’s a church there that dates back to 1100 that has fantastic relief carvings. That overshadowed whatever we ate.)

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: The most unusual meal I ever had was at The Three Chimneys on the Isle of Skye. Ross and I went to the Highlands for our honeymoon in August ‘87, and mostly stayed at B&Bs These were the days when you’d drive to your location, check the local accommodations office, ring up your potential hosts and strike the deal. Travel was a lot more seat-of-the-pants back then!

We wound up staying with a local sheep farmer, who suggested the new restaurant that had just opened two summers ago. It was close enough to walk, so we strolled over around seven - I don’t recall if Ross used the farmer’s phone to make a reservation - and were treated to one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Salmon (Ross) and lamb (me) to die for, exquisite gourmet versions of neep and tatties, something exotic with edible seaweed, and, since we had to try it, haggis as a starter. (Pro tip: if you like sausage, you’ll like haggis.)

We stayed late enough that the sun had set by the time we walked back to the farm, pleasantly buzzed on wonderful wine and a whiskey nightcap. No lights along the narrow road, just the farmhouse a half mile ahead and the stars in the sky. It remains the most cherished memories of our honeymoon, and I was delighted to discover, decades later, that The Three Chimneys, noticeably larger than it was in 1987, has become one of the world’s top destination restaurants.   

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Oh, what a great question! I’ll never forget a meal we had in Florence, at Enoteca Pinchiorri.  It’s a MIchelin three-star restaurant (!) and  supposedly it is one of the most expensive restaurants on the planet, I forgot how much it cost, but let’s say hundreds of dollars a person each. For lunch. And we went for dinner. 

Anyway, that’s not the point. So the place is actually absolutely gorgeous, as elegant as you can imagine – – all pale yellow walls and crisp white linens,  bright red plates, and glittering crystal,  and subtle burnished brass, and I don’t even know what. Incredible.

The menu, which I actually have somewhere that I could never find, was authentically, gorgeously, Italian gourmet. I don’t even remember. I do have a memory of a tiny appetizer of  lemon  infused pasta with caviar, so there you have it.  

But here’s the point. (I know, finally)

So we are sitting at  our table with our two friends, basking. And then walked  a family: father, mother, and two sullen teenage girls. SO “American.”  Very blonde, very ponytailed. Very petulant.  

The waiter comes to take their order, and the girls proceed to instruct the waiter about how they want their turbot.. I remember one of them, asking for it with no bones, with the sauce on the side, and no herbs, and no potatoes,  only green beans, and extra shrimp. You get the picture. Very very  demandingly specific. The other was the same. Except differently specific. 

The waiter nodded, listening, incredibly polite, and wrote everything down. 

Five minutes later, he came back to the table and said in perfect English with an Italian accent “My apologies, but the chef says he cannot cook for you, his food will arrive the way his food will arrive. But he says, not for you. And he asks you to please leave.“ (Can you imagine?) And they left. They were kicked out! Everyone in the restaurant (quietly) cheered.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I have eaten frog’s legs and snails in France, haggis in Scotland, calf brains and sweetbreads made by my mom–all memorable, some I liked better than others. (I actually love sweetbreads, but no one else will eat them and I don’t even know where I would get them these days.) But for the most memorable meal I’ll go all veggie: the set dinner at Bubala in Soho in London. This little restaurant was my daughter’s top pick of places to eat on our first post-pandemic trip to London, and it was astounding. Who would think you would drool over hummus with burnt butter or grilled cauliflower or skewered oyster mushrooms? I still think about that dinner longingly on a regular basis.

Reds, tell us about your most unusual meal ever!

If you're interested in reading more about the Scandinavian adventure, my hub John Brady wrote a wonderful post on his Topretirements blog.