It’s slowly coming together. What? Why, THE MOSSBACK INN COOKBOOK! What is it? Well, what I’ve tried to do is create a 1980s look in a cookbook, based on a fictional eatery that figures largely in my Traces of Treasure novel series. Hey, I collect cookbooks I know what it’s supposed to look like. […]
If we were having coffee today, I’d have to talk about the cookbook.
Well, it’s this way: I saw somebody else had a cookbook based on their book series. I was downright gobsmacked. I’m a cookbook collector, I’ve created a couple of cookbooks before, my novel series Traces of Treasure has a small country cafe as a central locale, and I’m just slapping myself in the forehead for not thinking of this before.
Sure, I’m being derivative. So, who isn’t? As a collector I have to tell you, everybody and their dog has put out a cookbook. Everybody is being derivative.
So, I’m cobbling one together. I actually have the concept pretty well nailed down, I’ve got the recipes copied and (mostly) formatted. Formatting, that’s the key. Takes time. And I need to find some more royalty free art to sort of jazz it up. I’ve got a little, just need a little more. Then finalize things and it will be ready to go.
If you’re interested, I suggest you sign up to my mailing list. You can find a link for that on my web page. That will be part of the promotional part of this, to get the mailing list moving along. Anyway, I think it is an awesome cookbook. Since the novels are set in West Texas there are lots of Southwestern recipes and just a little bit of fun too. It’s written as if the fictional proprietress of the little cafe has put it together. She’s a lot of fun.
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. You can find out more information about his books and subscribe to his mailing list at:
If we were having coffee I’d no doubt mention the upcoming holiday. I really like Thanksgiving, which is really surprising because it generally turns out to be an ordeal.
For one thing, I do all the cooking. Every bit of it. It gives me a chance to dig in my heels and let fly. That sounds better than it is. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the food is almost always awesome. But it isn’t that hard. We’ve gone with a fairly set menu for years. I sort of inherited this legacy when I got married.
When I was single, I usually went home for the holidays. I grew up in Texas — Houston, to be specific, and for a number of years lived in Austin. That’s less than three hours away. When I got married, it seemed logical enough to just start our own traditions with my new family. My darling bride’s family had a number of old favorites … a well-established tradition. Her mother died not too long before we got married so I just sort of fell into what she had started. She was a tiny woman but left some big shoes to fill. Man, I wish I had been able to spend some time in the kitchen with her.
Growing up, we always had a spread at home … but we didn’t have anything really specific as in “THIS IS WHAT WE ALWAYS HAVE.” Not that I remember, anyway. My mom always concentrated mostly on the dressing, but it seems to me that she just sort of threw it together and would even dry out french bread slices in the oven. I’ve done that but don’t see anything wrong with commercially prepared bread crumbs. My wife’s family was different in that respect. There were several dishes that had been on their holiday table for years and years. Kinda fun, actually. Any of them could be made at any time, sure, but they weren’t.
My wife’s family was different in that respect. There were several dishes that had been on their holiday table for years and years. Kinda fun, actually. Any of them could be made at any time, sure, but they weren’t.
Over the years I’ve added a couple including a couple I mined from an old collection of recipes I found at my mom’s house on a visit. These hadn’t seen the light of day for dozens of years … they had just been shoved in a closet and forgotten. I’ve incorporated them into my mix … figuring that they’d skipped a generation but now had come home to roost.
So here’s the menu, of sorts. Turkey and dressing, of course. I don’t have a special recipe … just sort of throw the dressing together with veg and giblets and broth made from the giblets. Shhhh, don’t tell the family. But for me that’s what gives it that special “stuffing/dressing” texture and taste. I don’t stuff the turkey, but do drape six or seven slices of bacon over it. That sort of bastes it … then the bacon gets really crispy and has a turkey-flavored kick. I always think I should find some “t-day” use for it but it’s so good my daughter and I end up eating it. One last word … the gravy made from the drippings is sublime. You need a gravy separator because there is so much bacon grease but there is nothing like it in this world.
Then we have Mamah Salad. It’s an aspic. Sounds horrid, tomato soup, cream cheese, veggies, and of all things, peas. It was a depression “holiday” dish from my late father-in-law’s family. The matriarch, “Mamah” cobbled it together out of what they had available. It comes out a sort of pastel peachy color … so it makes an interesting addition to the table. It really grows on you until it becomes something I almost crave during the holidays.
Swiss Green Beans is another holiday dish that has been made in my wife’s family so long no one remembers where it came from. I collect cookbooks and actually found a really close variation of it … from a Gladys Tabor cookbook. Don’t know Gladys? She was one of the premier food writers in the thirties and forties. When you taste these green beans you are forever spoiled … what people have come to consider “traditional” green bean casserole pales in comparison and just doesn’t sit right on your palate anymore. And it is just as simple … and has a lot of similarities. The binder is a sour cream bechamel and it is topped with Swiss cheese and a coating of … no, not fried onions or bread crumbs but crushed and buttered corn flakes. Trust me. It’s good.
I’ve added a corn/cornbread casserole … another simple dish mixing butter, sour cream, creamed corn, and whole kernel corn … binding together with jiffy cornbread baking mix. Also a sweet potato pudding recipe … swimming in butter and brown sugar and marshmallows. Two recipes I rescued from my family’s closet were other gelatin salads … a cranberry-orange-pecan salad that ranks right up there with Mama Salad in “THIS IS WHAT IT IS ALL ABOUT.”
Another one is another orange salad that combines cheese and orange jello and whipped cream. Not just any cheese. It calls for good old-fashioned American Cheese. I’ve tried it with other cheeses … just doesn’t cut it. Also not processed cheese food product (someone should document the descent of civilization that took us from American Cheese to Cheese Food to Cheese Food Product). You have to go to the deli and order a big hunk of real American Cheese. It’s awesome. Sometimes I opt the orange salad to Christmas. There’s another recipe for a Strawberry-banana-pineapple gelatin salad we used to always make but it’s huge and never keeps very well and although we really like it we end up with a lot left over so I sometimes let that one slide. Or make it at Christmas.
If I have time and room in the kitchen, I’ll make rolls … another hand-me-down recipe from Mamah. Also, depending on space issues and the number of guests, I’ll make another dish or two for the grandkids …
Desserts? Who the heck has room for dessert? Pumpkin Pie, naturally. I love pumpkin pie. But everybody likes my Buttermilk Pie. Gotta make Buttermilk Pie. It was a recipe my wife saw on TV on some show she doesn’t remember, probably on PBS because this predates the food network. All she managed to scratch down was the ingredient list. Funny, I lost that once. I was helping manage a recipe site on the early internet and asked for other recipes. I bet I gained ten pounds testing recipes … some were close but none were exactly right. Then one day I found the tattered envelope that had the recipe list … tucked away into a cookbook. You can find that one on food.com … it’s recipe #56. If you search buttermilk pie it is one of the first things that pops up. Note: that’s recipe #56 out of hundreds of thousands. The guy who originally started the database that ended up on food.com polled us on the recipe newsgroup for additions to help get started. Pretty cool, really.
So my guiding forces are similarities and convenience. Most of the dishes can be made the day before, including the green beans. I first realized that when I was making the gelatine salads … they HAVE to be made the day before. But everything can go in the oven, in stages, based upon cooking time. I do the turky first, then as THE TIME approaches I schedule everything else into the oven. Rolls last … right before serving time.
Man, I’m hungry now. Everyone, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving this Thursday! I better start cleaning the house now.
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. His latest novel, A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP was just published. More info at http://thefensk.com
If we were having coffee, it being National Donut Day weekend, I’d be inclined to read you a passage from The Fever, about a legendary Austin donut shop:
“The aggravation of Austin’s rush hour traffic spurred Sam to make a side trip on the way to work. Mrs. Johnson’s was a doughnut shop that had carved a niche in the collective appetite of Austin. If he drove past the shop late at night when the hot doughnuts were being freshly glazed, the aroma would permeate the air with a sweet and luscious fragrance that was impossible to ignore without stopping.
“My car starts shaking and then automatically pulls in,” he would joke to friends.
Despite its reputation, the store itself was not impressive. It was a low-slung frame building with peeling paint and a parking lot that resembled the lunar surface.
“A dozen glazed,” was his order. The clerk sauntered over to the production line and pulled his order from the warm doughnuts that were resting after being glazed. As he carried his prize back to the car, he savored the irresistible aroma and could feel a gentle warmth radiating from the box.”
More information on The Fever: http://www.thefensk.com
Wow, how about a cup of coffee? If we were having coffee, it might be time for me to tell you a little about my time as a barista. It seems only fitting because, depending on where we were having coffee, the subject would come up sooner or later.
Throughout the nineties, I was an old-school barista at a gourmet food store in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I admit it, I was a coffee snob back then. Ah, but we got a discount, plus … we ground beans fresh every day for the coffee bar, so whatever dabs of coffee were left for the day were free for the taking. I drank high-quality beans every day for YEARS.
Okay, it’s our turn … you know what I’d order? A coffee.
Internally I’ll smirk if you ordered anything else. Although I don’t insist on pricey gourmet beans anymore at home, I’m still a little bit of a coffee snob out at a coffee bar. Especially at that Ess-place. Sure, if I’m dragging and need a cup of coffee and it’s the only place around I’ll pop in there but to me they’ve both popularized coffee and ruined coffee at the same time.
I worked in a simple, traditional coffee bar environment. We had a full range of coffee drinks but nothing fanciful or made up. We served drinks in real glasses and cups with real spoons. It was thought that you’d sit down and enjoy your expertly made coffee drink so you could appreciate the skill and care that went into it.
I’m going to tell you a secret that most of the current crop of baristas don’t know. That latte that you pay $$ for in a paper cup? You’ve just bought a shot of espresso and a lot of milk in a paper cup.
Here’s the secret: a latte is a visual drink, meant to be served in a tall glass … meaning one actually made out of glass. A cappuccino? The same … It is also a visual drink, although it is a bit more subtle than a latte, it should be made in a large cup with a saucer.
The artistry in my lattes was in using the glass itself as a canvas, ending up with three distinct layers of milk, espresso, and froth, with the espresso just beginning to cascade down into the milk like an ever-changing sunset of subtle hues and swirls until the unwitting customer drops a glob of sugar into it and swirls it into oblivion. Brownian motion, I guess. A cappuccino has a slight dome of froth that is ringed with a halo of thick crema. I would serve them and point out the beauty, proud of my work.
Sigh. A traditional barista lives in such moments, each instant replaced by a stir and then you move on to the next order. It reflects in the tip jar … I made a lot of tips, but not on to-go orders in paper cups.
What about all those fancy artistic flares places do these days, like drawing with the crema in the froth? I’d never make it because as a visual artist I am a total flop. I might be able to do a Bob Ross thing, you know, “maybe add a little log cabin over there,” but your drink would be stone cold by the time I finished.
At our bar we didn’t make up new drinks like frapa-whatever (a pet peeve because people would come in and order those and since it is a proprietary item we’d have to pretend we didn’t know what it was) or reinvent a drink with a traditional name, like macchiato, forcing us to ask you if you know what that really was, a specific drink that is totally NOT like at that other place.
There isn’t much else to espresso drinks. When you are training, you learn to froth, you learn to make shots. Good froth and good shots. There is a process to do it right. The rest is really just recipes using those building blocks along with things like flavorings. Don’t get me started on flavorings. But those are really all the tools you need.
I always almost laugh out loud when I see a thermometer on the frothing pitcher. Thermometer? You hold a stainless steel pitcher in your hand … you froth by feel, by smell, and by sound. If it gets too hot, it is too hot to hold. Really. You can smell it if it scalds. It happens. You throw it out. A froth that sounds bad is like fingers on a blackboard to me. Something is wrong. Try again. There is an artistry to it and it takes a while to master but like riding a bicycle, once you have it, you have it.
My advice to anyone who likes coffee drinks? Get what you like, as long as you understand you are paying for a glass of milk. Oh, and if there are several of you, count shots. If the place has two double spout espresso heads and you’re ordering five or six shots remember that they can only make four shots at a time and the time between means several drinks are sitting getting cold. There are four of you but only you are getting a double … everybody loses. And keep an eye on that barista. If they draw espresso first, then froth they are doing it wrong. The milk will stay hot longer than the espresso, so they should froth first, then pull.
Ah, our coffee is done, time to get on with the day. Thank heavens we didn’t have fajitas, Lord knows, I could go on and on about fajitas …
Writer Thomas Fenske is author of The Fever and A Curse That Bites Deep (due out in September) … read more about him at http://thefensk.com
I’m hosting a giveaway through Amazon for a copy of The Fever. Three copies are still up for grabs.
Trust me, it’s not just another “lost gold mine” story … find out for yourself.
This giveaway is to celebrate the Hilah Cooking video detailing a dish described in the novel, Huevos Rancheros Especial. Click below, and watch the video (it’s a short video) and maybe you’ll win a Kindle version of The Fever!
GIVEAWAY >>>->> https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/6b3d884ab12e291b
Don’t have a Kindle? The free Amazon Kindle reading app can run on your tablet, your phone, your computer … there is no excuse not to enter!
Catch THE FEVER!
From a few of the reviews on Amazon:
“What an enjoyable read! Nothing better than diving into an adventure story and being swept along as if you are actually there.”
“This is a good read, fast paced, good action descriptions. Hard to put down!”
“…one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.”
“Fun story, great characters! Looking forward to the sequel”
“How far would you go to feed your Fever?”
“Fun read! Easy to place yourself in the old VW clunker with their minimalist heating and defrosting.”
I’ve always secretly wished someone would name a sandwich after me.
That has long been my theoretical high-water mark of fame. I’ve just about given up on that one, but I’ve always subscribed to the notion that if the wind is just right, sometimes a wisp of fame might blow across one’s brow.
I feel a bit like that today because something exciting has happened: The popular YouTube cooking show, Hilah Cooking just released a new video featuring a dish inspired by my novel, The Fever.
I am very humbled by her effort. In the novel, the dish Huevos Rancheros Especial, was a specialty of a café that is not only mentioned, becomes a major locale in the book (as well as the upcoming sequel).
Okay, I confess, I’ve known Hilah for a quite a while and, since she is a friend, she read my novel. I am gratified that she said she really liked it. We kind of joked about her doing a video early on, but then I realized something … she was serious: she really wanted to recreate the dish.
Ah, but first I had actually make the dish I had described. Think “Proof of Concept” here.
I did, and I have to admit that it was delicious and although I had completely made it up for the book, it tasted exactly like I had imagined it would.
Like any great cook, Hilah took what I did and tweaked it to fit her style. And of course, she knew what to do to make it look great on screen too. She did an awesome job! Did I say I was humbled? I am downright gobsmacked!
So I urge you to go watch the video, and while you’re there check out some of Hilah’s other awesome videos. You will be there a while because there are a LOT.
Picture me blushing right now – I may not be famous but I am surely honored.
Interested in the book? Please buy it >>>> details on THE FEVER here!
(links to buy and more info on the novel itself)