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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Does My Mystery Need Recipes?

Please welcome my guest, Norma Huss, who poses an interesting question about the recipes found in the back of many cozy mysteries, offers an alternative, and gives us a new twist on traditional fried green tomatoes. Norma is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Guppies chapter, and Pennwriters. She’s getting into Twitter and Facebook and really likes Goodreads where she can talk about everyone’s books. Her second book, Death of a Hot Chick is now out. So far it is available in trade paperback on Amazon and as an e-book on Barnes & Noble for Nook. She’s working on the Smashwords e-book and Amazon Kindle versions. Her first book, Yesterday’s Body will be out soon in a second edition. Norma’s website is:

Cozy mysteries have samples of their coziness, right? Recipes at the very least. Hints using the protagonist’s specialty. Perhaps quotes from her diary or instruction manual. Do readers demand all that and more?

Readers definitely demand a good read, an engrossing plot, a sympathetic but slightly flawed heroine, a worthwhile villain, a few helpful friends, some interfering bystanders, and several seemingly guilty but otherwise innocent suspects. Those recipes and hints are icing on the cake. I love them. I sprinkled my manuscripts with mention of meals, desserts, and hints. But, I didn’t include a one of them in the back of the book.

 Why not? There are two reasons, or maybe three if I think hard enough. Or four. Number one, those fancy desserts my protagonist’s sister serves make my mouth water, but....I don’t have the recipe. I have an idea, I love to innovate, and I’m sure I can create, for instance, date-filled cookies. In fact, I have made date-filled cookies that taste delicious. However, the recipe takes half a day and belongs to someone else. But, since I love to innovate. I’ll try a few ideas to come up with the same great taste but make it easier. Because, although my character might have the time, my readers may not.

 Therefore, reason number two. I have to experiment, create something new. I think I know how to do it, but I’ll have to try a few batches to be sure it comes out right.  I’m thinking date cookie-bars. But, my book was ready to go...couldn’t wait for me to experiment with that recipe and a few others.

Reason number three. Added value to my website. Keep my readers involved. After I create that recipe, I’ll include it on the recipe page on my website. I’ve done it with my first book. In that mystery, the protagonist does the cooking and tosses together meals from whatever she finds in the cupboard. One I created, with a lot of trial and error, that my husband usually appreciated was garlic chicken with peanut sauce, noodles and vegetables. It’s on my website together with a short excerpt from the book where the meal/recipe is mentioned.

And, there is a reason number four. I take pictures and add them to the website. A real show-and-tell advantage. Works for me!

 What do you think? Are those adequate reasons for a terrible procrastinator to skip the recipes and hints in the final pages of her book?

 Note: Reason number three was inspired by romance writer Susan Meier. She not only does recipes, she creates short stories based on characters in her novels, and gives lessons for the writers among her readers. (Her website is her name dot com.)

Here’s a recipe I introduced on my website.

Fried Green Tomatoes

What does one do with a tomato plant when frost threatens and there are so many little green tomatoes left on the withering vine? I didn't want them to go to waste, so I picked two green tomatoes and one red one, chopped them up with other veggies, and called it salsa. I served it on top of broiled fish. The ripe tomatoes were tasty, the green ones not so much so. Not a success – possibly since I'm not a big fan of peppers, especially HOT peppers.

Once more I visited my sad tomato plant with all those unripe tomatoes. I'd heard of fried green tomatoes. Everybody has. A friend said, "You're supposed to use cornmeal, but I use flour." So, of course, I harvested my entire crop of a dozen green tomatoes and used neither cornmeal nor flour.

2 Servings

Wash and slice a dozen green tomatoes. (They were small.)

Dip the slices into a mixture of one egg whipped with one tablespoon of water and a dash of salt.

Cover all surfaces of the eggy tomatoes with dry bread crumbs.

Fry the tomatoes in hot oil, turning to brown both sides.

To test the oil, sprinkle water into the pan. (I use a mixture of olive oil and canola or corn oil.) It will sizzle when ready.

Remove tomatoes with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate to drain excess oil.

Serve with ketchup.



  1. I'm working on a cozy--or what I think is a cozy--but I don't cook, I don't knit, I don't do anything remotely domestic, and neither does my main character. And we don't want to learn. But she thinks I'm a good writer, and I think she's a good character, so, despite our concern over recipes and such, we've been soldiering on. Having read your post, I can tell her we're to stop worrying. Thanks so much for your article (and ideas for a website; we'll figure out something); and thanks, Judy, for bringing Norma and her books to my attention.

  2. Kathie, we can think - Agatha Christie - who never included a recipe, and my long-time favoritie, Dorothy Gilman, who doesn't either. And neither of them add hints, right?

    (I looked at your website. Very nice!)

  3. Norma, you solved a dilemma for me too. I was rethinking not having included recipes in Skeleton for a Dead Space, but one of the points there is that Kelly, the protagonist, doesn't cook. Still I was going to include some of the few things she does make, like cheeseburger meatloaf. Now I'm glad I didn't. Thanks.

  4. Judy, did I say thanks for inviting me? Anyway, thanks again. I enjoy being here - and visiting your blog from time to time.

  5. Norma, the thanks come from my side--I'm delighted to have you as a guest bloggers.

  6. I enjoyed your post. In my first mystery the hero cooked, and I posted a recipe on the publisher's website (at their request). I had to get it from my son, who was working in an Italian restaurant at the time. I really like reading recipes and imagining better than I like cooking, but your fried green tomatoes sound interesting. I may break down and try them. Thanks for the nice post.

  7. Ellis, the problem is finding green tomatoes unless you grow your own! My husband declared them just as good as fried eggplant (one of his favorites).

  8. If I had to depend on my protagonist for a recipe, I'd starve. Why do you think the frozen food section of the grocery is so huge??????
    OTOH, interesting and different recipes can be just that and add to a story.
    Fried fillet of yak, Peking style was a hoot.
    If I ever get around to writing the blog, the secret ingredient in sweet potato pie might catch your fancy.

  9. Patg, I'll pass on the fillet of yak, but I have a son who loves sweet potato pie. I'd like to have that reipe on the blog sometime.

  10. Norma,

    Interesting post. I don't think the inclusion of recipes is necessary, but it can be an added feature of interest. I am writing a trilogy, the second of which has just been published. It's contemporary, not mystery, but I have added a recipe in each one, a cookie recipe, because the main character in Book 1 likes to bake cookies. In Book 2, she becomes a secondary character, but she now has a bakery. So it seemed a natural to include one of her recipes in each.
    Thanks for your fried tomato recipe. I'm looking forward to trying it.

  11. I've heard about sweet potato pie. Is it in the same category as fried green tomatoes? But fried yak? Ummm. Never tried that. How about buffalo?

  12. I like buffalo, like to cook with it, use it for burgers and meatloaf--you have to either find a buffalo recipe or adjust for the lack of fat. But it's tasty and good. Not so keen on the steaks. Years ago my ex and my brother cooked a buffalo haunch--sure used a lot of red wine. I don't remember much about the meat--maybe it was all that red wine!

  13. Linda, I bet you have a cookie recipe picked out for Book 3. And I bet some reader is waiting especially for that!