Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Diva Goes Overboard by Krista Davis, a Review

 
As I’ve gotten older I’ve largely moved away from cozy mystery series to those more hardboiled and gritty, perhaps because, with age, I’ve become a bit hardboiled and gritty myself. But there are exceptions to every rule and, for me, the delightful “Diva” series by Krista Davis is that exception. Her latest, The Diva Goes Overboard, scheduled for publication in May, is the seventeenth in the series, but no less delightful than any that precede.

In this book we find our heroine, Sophie Winston, in shock as she’s found that she has inherited the successful antiques shop that once belonged to bombastic antiques dealer Orson Chatsworth, the late fiancé of rival Natasha Smith’s mother, the free-spirited Wanda, poisoned during his and Wanda’s engagement party.

As is the case in all “Diva” books, food plays a major role with charcuterie boards of all types as well as butter boards taking center stage. Was one of these colorful and delicious boards the murder weapon? Leave it to Sophie to find out.

In addition to being a good mystery this series is beautifully atmospheric. The detailed and colorful descriptions of Old Town Alexandria make me feel as though I am there, right alongside Sophie, fellow sleuth and neighbor, Nina, as well as ex-husband Mars and the rest of the gang. As is the case with all of the books in this series, recipes for dishes mentioned throughout are included at the end, in this case, a baker’s dozen (13). Clearly, Davis has done it again with yet another well-crafted mystery in this popular series. 
 
Recommended.

Preorder your copy
here.

Disclaimer: Many thanks to the publisher, Kensington Cozies, as well as NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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Monday, February 26, 2024

Cajun Shrimp Alfredo

 
I had occasion to go out to lunch with a number of friends last week. We went to a favorite restaurant, one that I have been patronizing since I was in college; the overall experience was a bit of a disappointment. It was shocking how much the prices had gone up over the years, the portions smaller, and the food not quite as good as it used to be. As much as we all enjoyed the time together, we agreed that it’s doubtful that we'll return to this restaurant that we enjoyed so much over the years. That’s a shame.

I got to thinking about the whole dining out experience, and how I tend to enjoy the sociability more than I do the food. It’s gotten to the point where I can make restaurant quality food at home, fresher, with quality ingredients, for a fraction of the price, and I know how that food’s been prepared. Generally, I tend to order Cajun shrimp pasta out, but decided it was time to make it at home. This is an easy recipe that can be on the table in under an hour. Give some thought to how you want to spend your money. I certainly have, and that’s why I’ll be doing more restaurant-style cooking at home.

Cajun Shrimp Alfredo

Serves 2

8 oz. penne rigate pasta

2 T. butter

1 T. extra-virgin olive oil

1 Melissa’s shallot, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ c. diced Melissa’s fire roasted red bell peppers

1 c. sliced crimini mushrooms

½ lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 c. Alfredo sauce, jarred* or homemade

¼ c. grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 c. heavy cream

½ t. Cajun seasoning, more or less, to taste

Pinch cayenne pepper, more or less, to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste

Chopped parsley, for garnish

 Cook pasta according to package direction. While pasta is cooking, melt butter together with olive oil in a 10" skillet over medium heat. Stir in onion, and saute until translucent, about 4 minutes.

Stir in garlic, red peppers, and mushrooms; cook over medium-high heat until mushrooms have softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in shrimp and cook until firm and pink (3 minutes) and then add the Alfredo saucer, Parmesan, and cream. Simmer, stirring constantly, for about 4-5 minutes until thickened.

Stir in Cajun seasoning, cayenne, and salt and pepper, to taste. Stir drained pasta into sauce and serve immediately. Sprinkle with parsley, for garnish, if desired.

*I used Rao’s.


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Friday, February 23, 2024

My Homemade Gin

  

As I mentioned last week, I made gin. Let me tell you, this is a short process. It only takes a couple of days, and I couldn’t be happier with the results. While experimentation is encouraged, three recipes are included to guide you along the way. I chose the “traditional” version, adding cardamom pods, orange peel, and licorice to the infusion of vodka and crushed juniper berries. Because I was feeling a bit whimsical, I also added a pinch of hibiscus flower as well. Here is the result.

 
Honestly, I was surprised at how good it was. It tastes like gin. Actual gin. Like you would buy in the store. Gin! Amazing! The color is a bit odd, but according to the information contained in the kit, that’s because it hasn’t been distilled. I was disappointed that dried elderflower was not one of the options in the aromatics, because I really wanted to make elderflower gin, but I’m very happy with my choice. This is going to make a wonderful gin and tonic -- my summer drink of choice.

I had such good luck with this, that I am going to be making more in the future, and doing a bit more experimenting. If you know of anyone who likes gin, this Gin Making Kit would be an excellent gift. Father’s Day will be here before we know it, so keep this in mind for those gin-loving dads.

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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Shortbread Cookie Bites

 
It all started because I wanted a cup of tea. We had snow today -- the only real snow of this winter -- receiving about 4 inches. I got a fire going first thing in the morning, and by afternoon I was ready for tea. The trouble is, I didn’t have any cookies. In this house, you can’t have tea unless you have cookies. I had been curious about a Christmas shortbread cookie recipe, so decided to change it up for winter by swapping out the Christmas colored sprinkles for chocolate jimmies, and changing the method to make them simpler. They are quite tasty, alarmingly so. They can beckon you from across the room. Be strong!

 
Shortbread Cookie Bites

 1 c. cold unsalted butter

¾ c. powdered sugar

1 t. pure vanilla

1¾ c. flour

3-4 T. chocolate jimmies

 In the work bowl of an electric mixer beat together, butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract until creamy, scraping down the bowl as needed. With the mixer, set on low, add the flour, ¼ cup at a time, mixing until it forms a dough. Add the chocolate jimmies, and beat to combine. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or a Silpat; set aside.

Form into a ball with your hands, and transfer it to the prepared baking sheet. With a rolling pin (or your hands), roll (or pat) it into a 10” x 12” rectangle that is 3/8” – 1/4” thick. Place in refrigerator and chill for one hour.

 After one hour, remove dough from refrigerator, and preheat oven to 325° F. As oven is preheating, cut the dough into bite-size squares and separate on the baking sheet leaving a half-inch space between each. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes (or longer depending upon the size of your squares) until the bottoms just begin to brown. Allow cookies to cool for 10 minutes on the cookie sheet before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

 If desired, melt some chocolate chips in the microwave or over boiling water and drizzle on top of the cookies.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Creamy Taco Soup


Of all the days of the week, Sunday is the day that I spend the most time in the kitchen. I’m not sure why that is, but that seems to be the case. This past weekend, I whipped up a wide variety of things that should take me the rest of the week, with plenty to go into the freezer for weeks to come. One of my favorite dishes was this creamy taco soup. I adapted it from a number of recipes I found online, adding my own personal touch, and lots of tasty toppings. Hearty and robust, the flavors just don’t stop. The kids are going to love this one, it's like a taco in a bowl.

Creamy Taco Soup

 2 T. olive oil

½ c. diced green pepper

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 T. Melissa’s minced garlic

1 lb. ground chuck

2 T. taco seasoning

4 c. beef broth

1-2 Melissa’s pickled jalapeños*, minced

2 14.5-oz. cans fire-roasted tomatoes

1 15.5-oz. can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

1 12-oz. can corn, drained

8 oz. cream cheese, cubed and softened

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 In a large pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add bell pepper and onion, and cook until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.

Add ground chuck and cook until browned; stir in taco seasoning.

 Once meat has browned, add broth, jalapeños, tomatoes, pinto beans, corn, and chilies. Bring to a bowl, then reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in cream cheese until melted, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

 Top as you see fit.

 *Optional

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Monday, February 19, 2024

Puréed Broccoli Soup

 

I don’t know what you did over the weekend, but for me, it was a weekend of wild discovery. One of the things I discovered was that I own a blender. Seriously, I did not know. I happened to be rummaging around in a kitchen cabinet that I tend to avoid due to its chaotic nature, and found a blender container. I wondered why I had this container with a strange lid until I realized that it goes with my mini ninja chopper (that I have had for about 15 years). What a surprise!

This discovery was quite fortuitous because I also became acquainted with the absolutely delightful Kevin Lee Jacobs and his YouTube channel by the same name. From there, I discovered that Gordon Ramsay wasn’t quite the jerk that I thought he was, and, finally, from there I discovered the pure deliciousness of broccoli purée soup (which is where the blender came in).

I was looking for a new way to prepare broccoli, and that’s how I found Kevin. Kevin made a broccoli purée that he made look wonderful, attributing his find to Gordon Ramsay. I knew that I had to give this a go because it seemed like the perfect starter for a St. Patrick’s Day meal. Once I found that I did indeed own a blender, the rest is history.

There really isn’t much of a recipe for the soup, although I’ll try to write one up below. I tend to always use a bit of nutmeg when I’m working with any type of cruciferous vegetable (or spinach), so I added some here, making this recipe my own. Essentially, you just cook broccoli, blend it up with a little of the cooking water, season it, and serve. What could be simpler than that?Puréed Broccoli Soup

1 large head broccoli
6-7 c. cold water
1 T. sea salt
4 gratings
fresh nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper

In a medium stock pot, add salt to water, and bring to a rolling boil. While water is heating, cut florets off of the head of broccoli, rinse well, and drain. Once water has reached a boil, put all of the broccoli in at once, and set a timer for four minutes. When the four minutes are up, drain the broccoli, but reserve 2 cups of the broccoli water. Place drained broccoli into a blender, add the nutmeg and a half cup of the broccoli water, and purée. Add more water, as needed, to reach the desired texture. That’s it!

You can top it with a swirl of heavy cream or a little dollop of sour cream (as I did) and a few gratings of cracked pepper. Gordon Ramsay serves his with a slice of goat cheese at the bottom, so I suppose you could do that as well. Personally, I thought it was perfect as is.

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Friday, February 16, 2024

Bakery Style Double Chocolate Chip Muffin

  

Do you ever have one of those days when you’re really in the mood for chocolate cake, but you don’t want to trouble yourself to make chocolate cake? Yesterday that was me. Chocolate cake seemed like so much trouble because chocolate cake always begs for chocolate frosting, more specifically chocolate buttercream frosting, and I had neither the time nor inclination. As a consequence, I pulled out my file of chocolate recipes (Doesn’t everyone have a file of chocolate recipes?) and came upon this one. It sounded easy enough, it didn’t call for any special equipment, most importantly, I didn’t have to trouble myself to get out a stand or hand mixer.  I altered the recipe a tiny bit — in my opinion all chocolate recipes require espresso powder to really amp up that deep chocolate taste. I also like the slightly larger dark chocolate chips because, well, who doesn’t want more chocolate?

These are delicious! Be sure to make them using the tulip baking cups because that allows you to use a 12-well muffin tin, but get larger muffins. They’ll turn out perfectly, and look how pretty they are.

Bakery Style Double Chocolate Chip Muffin

Adapted from momlovesbaking.com

2 c. flour

1 c. sugar

½ t. salt

½ c. unsweetened cocoa powder

1 t. baking soda

1 t. espresso powder

 c. Nestle’s 53% cacao dark chocolate chips

2 large eggs, room temperature

¾ c. sour cream

½ c. vegetable oil

1 c. milk

1 t. pure vanilla extract

 Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a 12-count muffin pan with tulip style cupcake liners; set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together flour, sugar, salt, cocoa powder, baking soda, and espresso powder until thoroughly combined. Stir in 1 cup of the chocolate chips; set aside.

 In a medium bowl whisk together eggs, sour cream, oil, milk and vanilla until combined. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently stir until combined. Do not overmix.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan. Use the remaining ¼ cup of chocolate chips to add a few on top of each muffin before baking. Bake for 5 minutes at 425°F; reduce oven temperature to 350°F and continue to bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean. Allow to cool 10 minutes. Muffins taste best served fresh on the same day, but you can store them at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

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