Thursday, February 9, 2017

Guest Post: Judy Alter author of Murder at Peacock Mansion

Living—or Writing—My Dream  by Judy Alter

I learned to cook well before I was ten. My mom was a terrific cook with an intuitive sense about flavors and textures and what works together and what doesn’t. She was also a nurturer, as eager to feed her maiden lady friend who didn’t eat properly as she was twenty of Dad’s colleagues.
At ten I was first assist in the kitchen for dinner parties, specializing in appetizers but always alert to what Mom was doing with a roast or mashed potatoes or whatever the menu called for. While my parents entertained guests, I cleaned the kitchen. By the time the guests departed, there was little left to done in the kitchen. Except the night it got to be eleven and the guests hadn’t left. “Well,” my dad said rising from his chair, “I guess I’ll vacuum the floor.”
My first specialty was a blue cheese dip that mixed the cheese with sour cream, cream cheese, and scallions seasoned with dry mustard, Worcestershire, and whatever else caught my fancy. Guests loved it, but one close friend of the family swore I didn’t give here the right recipe because it was a disaster when she tried it. Actually, there is no recipe—it was and is only in my head.
In creating Kate Chambers of the Blue Plate Café Mysteries, I called up these childhood memories. Kate inherits half her grandmother’s café in the small Texas town of Wheeler and buys out her twin sister’s half. Kate will leave her high-powered job and the unsatisfactory singles life in Dallas to return to her hometown and the café where she spent her early days watching Gram cook and beginning her own first ventures into food service. My mom was nothing like Gram, but they serve the same purpose in the young girls’ lives.
Kate inherits a café where chicken-fried steak and fried catfish are the staples, pies are store-bought, and the tuna salad comes straight from Sam’s. She works to upgrade the menu without driving off the locals who are loyal to Gram’s food. One recipe she introduces is Shepherd’s Pie, an English dish that combines hearty foods café patrons relish—ground beef, vegetables, cheese and potatoes.
In her personal life, Kate resigns herself to a lack of social life in Wheeler, and she is surprised when she finds not one but three men vying for her attention. To see who wins out,
you’ll have to read Murder at the Blue Plate Café. Kate cooks to win hearts, and her small-scale entertaining—one man at a time—gives her a chance to. fix the more elaborate dishes she’s come to love in Dallas, such as Scallops Saint Jacques. Unfortunately, this part of Kate’s life does no mirror my own.
Oh yes, Kate has mysteries to solve. Small towns are supposed to be idyllic and peaceful, but Kate soon learns Wheeler is not the comfortable place it was when she grew up. First there’s Gram’s sudden death, which leaves her suspicious, and then the death of her married sister’s lover. Kate must defend her sister against a murder charge, solve a food poisoning charge to keep her business open, and figure out where the café’s profits are going. Even Kate begins to wonder about the twin sister she has a love-hate relationship with. Gram guides Kate through it all, though Kate’s never quite sure she’s hearing Gram—and sometimes Gram’s advice is off the wall.
Shepherd’s pie
Mashed potatoes, made of about 1⅓ lbs. red potatoes. (Kate doesn’t skin them to mash anymore.) A good trick: put some garlic cloves in the water when you boil the potatoes. Another good one: as you add butter, salt, and pepper, substitute sour cream or cream cheese for the milk.
½ c. shredded sharp cheddar—stir into hot, freshly mashed potatoes and set aside
1 lb. lean ground beef
2 Tbsp. flour
4 c. frozen mixed vegetables (Kate prefers corn, green beans, and sweet peas.)
¾ c. beef broth
2 Tbsp. ketchup
¼ c. shredded sharp cheddar
Heat oven to 375°.
Brown meat in nonstick skillet (an iron skillet is always best). Stir in flour and cook briefly. Add remaining ingredients and cook, stirring, for five minutes.
Spoon into 8 in. square baking dish. Cover with mashed potatoes. Bake 20 minutes. Sprinkle remaining cheddar over the top and bake another 3-4 minutes, until cheese melts and casserole is bubbly. Serve six, but only if they’re not hearty eaters.

Author Bio
An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of several fictional biographies of women of the American West. In The Gilded Cage she has turned her attention to the late nineteenth century in her home town, Chicago, to tell the story of the lives of Potter and Cissy Palmer, a high society couple with differing views on philanthropy and workers’ right. She is also the author of six books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series. With the 2014 publication of The Perfect Coed, she introduced the Oak Grove Mysteries.

Her work has been recognized with awards from the Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. She has been honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA and inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and the WWA Hall of Fame.

Skype: juju1938

Buy link for Murder at Peacock Mansion:

Buy link for The Gilded Cage

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