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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Keeping an Amateur Sleuth Fed



Every amateur sleuth needs a trusty sidekick to help in the sleuthing, and Anastasia Pollack of my eponymous Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, is no exception. Her sidekick is Cloris McWerther, food editor at American Woman, the magazine where Anastasia works as crafts editor. Along with acting as a sounding board for Anastasia to bounce off investigative ideas, Cloris provides another valuable service—she keeps my meal-skipping, sweets-addicted sleuth supplied with baked goods. As her slightly overweight, pear-shaped figure will attest, Anastasia has never met a cupcake, muffin, or donut she didn’t devour.

 Today I’d like to share with you Cloris’s Apple Bundt Cake recipe.

 
Apple Bundt Cake

 Ingredients:

5 cooking apples

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2-1/4 cups sugar

1 cup butter

3 cups flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup orange juice

4 eggs

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon almond extract

Confectioner’s sugar
 

Peel and slice apples. Place in bowl. Add cinnamon and 1/4 cup sugar. Mix to coat apples. Set aside. Cream the butter and remaining 2 cups of sugar. Mix all other dry ingredients together. Slowly add dry ingredients to butter/sugar mixture. Combine eggs, juice, vanilla, and almond extract. Slowly add to other ingredients as you continue to mix. Batter will be thick.

 
Grease and flour Bundt pan. Place small amount of batter in bottom of pan. Add a layer of apples. Continue layering batter and apples, with batter as last layer.
 

Bake at 350 degrees for 1-1/2 hours. Cool on wire rack 15-20 minutes. Remove cake from Bundt pan. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

 
About the Author

Award-winning author Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series featuring magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Kirkus Reviews dubbed it, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” Other books in the series includes Death By Killer Mop Doll, Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, Decoupage Can Be Deadly and the ebook only mini-mysteries Crewel Intentions and Mosaic Mayhem.

Lois is also published in women’s fiction, romance, romantic suspense, and non-fiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. In addition, she’s an award-winning craft and needlework designer. She
often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.

 Visit Lois at www.loiswinston.com, visit Emma at www.emmacarlyle.com, and visit Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. Follow everyone on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Anasleuth.

 
Decoupage Can Be Deadly

In her fourth full-length adventure, Anastasia and her fellow American Woman editors are steaming mad when minutes before the opening of a consumer show, they discover half their booth usurped by Bling! their publisher’s newest magazine. CEO Alfred Gruenwald is sporting new arm candy—rapper-turned-entrepreneur and Bling! executive editor, the first-name-only Philomena. During the consumer show, Gruenwald’s wife serves Philomena with an alienation of affection lawsuit, but Philomena doesn’t live long enough to make an appearance in court. She’s found dead days later, stuffed in the shipping case that held Anastasia’s decoupage crafts. When Gruenwald makes cash-strapped Anastasia an offer she can’t refuse, she wonders, does he really want to find Philomena’s killer or is he harboring a hidden agenda?

 
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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Dresdner Christstollen—A Holiday Gift from Far Away


Please welcome my guest, Heidi Noroozy, with a special German treat from her childhood.
 
When I was a child growing up in a German-Swiss family, Christmas at our house had a different feel than in the other homes in our small Vermont town. Less boldly cheery and more sedate, but every bit as fun. For one thing, we opened our presents on Christmas Eve and saved only the nut- and candy-filled stockings for Christmas Day. For another, our tree was light on tinsel and heavy on hand-painted wooden and glass ornaments sent by relatives in Germany.

As a child with a major sweet tooth, the arrival of a special package from East Germany (GDR) was always cause for great anticipation. I’d check the mailbox daily for weeks in advance. My mother’s family lived in the GDR, and between our infrequent visits, we had little contact with them. Except at Christmas, when Tante Grete mailed us a Christmas stollen (Christstollen)—a yeast cake filled with raisins, nuts, and candied fruit and covered with a lovely crust of vanilla-scented sugar. The most authentic ones are said to be made in the city of Dresden, which is where she lived.

The pastry came packaged in an oblong metal tin with a pretty winter scene painted on the side. The tin was sealed so tight, opening it required a bit of ingenuity—and my father’s toolbox. Because of the odd shape, a can opener didn’t work. So my mother would set the tin down on one end and pry the lid off with a hammer and chisel. The oval cake—a sweetbread, really—would slide out onto a cutting board, dribbling a trail of powdered sugar like a light dusting of snow.

Years later, when I moved to East Germany to study at Leipzig University (or Karl-Marz-Universit├Ąt, as it was called at the time), I would scour the shops in mid-December in search of a real Dresdner Christstollen. I found many lesser cakes during the Christmas holidays but none in the familiar tin box with the winter scene painted on the side. The explanations varied.

Mangelware,” one friend said, claiming that the ingredients were in short supply, due to the GDR’s perennial deficit of hard currency for imports. I had no trouble believing this explanation, having witnessed butter rationing and empty store shelves with my own eyes.

Another acquaintance told me that specialty products such as authentic Dresdner Stollen went straight to the export market, bypassing East German shops altogether. This, too, I knew was common practice.

Recently, I published a short story inspired by my years in the GDR. “Trading Places” features a disillusioned East German policeman on the trail of a graffiti artist whose cryptic political messages threaten to spark public unrest. Lieutenant Maibeck is an outsider in his world, a former aristocrat who’s tried hard to overcome the liability of his noble birth to fit into East Germany’s Communist society. In his single-minded pursuit of this goal, he’s alienated most of the people he loves. Christmas will be a lonely affair for poor Maibeck, but I like to think that he’ll slice up a sugar-crusted Christstollen to go with his morning coffee on Christmas Day.

You can read the story online in the October 2013 issue of Nautilus Magazine.

And here is a recipe I found in an old family cookbook. I can’t say whether it comes from the German or Swiss side, but it hardly matters. The Germans, Austrians and Swiss enjoy this festive cake in equal measure.

German Christstollen

Ingredients:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 package dry yeast

¾ cup milk

1/3 cup sugar

Grated zest of ½ lemon

1 ½ sticks butter, softened (3/4 cup)

¼ teaspoon ground saffron (optional)

½ cup black raisins

½ cup golden raisins

½ cup chopped almonds

½ cup chopped hazelnuts

For the topping:

1–2 tablespoons melted butter

1 cup powdered sugar*

Heat the milk then cool it to lukewarm. Add the dry yeast, lemon zest, saffron and sugar, and stir to dissolve. Add 1 cup of the flour and mix to form a sponge. Cover with a towel and let rise for ½ hour.

Mix the rest of the flour with raisins and nuts. Add to the wet ingredients along with the softened butter, and work into a dough, kneading until it's smooth. This can also be done in a mixer or food processor with a dough blade. Form the dough into a ball, and let rise until doubled, about 1 to 1 ½ hours.

Punch down the dough, and roll out into an oval. Fold one side of the dough over the other, leaving about 1/2 inch of the long edge of the bottom layer extending beyond the top fold. (This gives the stollen its distinctive, lopsided shape). Tuck the short ends underneath the loaf. Cover and let rise for another 45 minutes.

Place the loaf on a cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for about an hour.

While the stollen is still warm, brush the top with melted butter and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Dribble a bit more melted butter on top of the sugar, and then sprinkle on another layer of sugar.

* This topping is especially tasty with vanilla-scented sugar. You can make your own by sticking a whole vanilla bean into a jar of powdered sugar and letting it stand for about a week. Or mix a packet of vanilla sugar in with the powdered sugar before topping the stollen.

 ****

 Heidi Noroozy is a translator, blogger, and writer of multicultural fiction. Her short stories appeared in German crime anthologies and have been translated into five languages. Her most recent story, “Trading Places,” was published in the “Secret Codes” issue of Nautilus Magazine in October 2013. She lived in the GDR in the 1980s and holds a degree in German language and literature from Leipzig University. Heidi lives in Northern California with her Iranian-born husband and is currently writing a novel set in present-day Iran.

 

 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Holiday Cupcakes--and a dash of romance


 

Please welcome my guest, author Cheryl Norman, who responded to my call for holiday recipes, with a cupcake delight.

Cheryl grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where she wrote her first mystery at the age of 13.  She earned a BA in English at Georgia State University in Atlanta. After a career in the telecommunications industry, she returned to fiction writing and won the 2003 EPPIE award for her contemporary romance, Last Resort

Her debut with Medallion Press, Restore My Heart, led to a mention in Publisher's Weekly as one of ten new romance authors to watch. Running Scared, a romantic suspense set in Jacksonville, Florida, and Washington D.C., received a Perfect 10 from Romance Reviews Today. Reviewer Harriet Klausner calls her writing "Mindful of Linda Howard ... " Her latest romantic suspense novel for Medallion is Reclaim My Life, and Cheryl has two novellas in the anthology Romance on Route 66. Rebuild My World, the sequel to Reclaim My Life, will be published by Turquoise Morning Press.

In addition to writing, Cheryl works with breast cancer survivors to raise awareness about early detection and treatment of the disease. She also helps writers with grammar via her Grammar Cop blog, newsletter articles, and workshops. Visit Cheryl at her Web site: http://cherylnorman.com , Twitter: http://twitter.com/cherylnorman
and Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cherinorman

 Here, in Cheryl’s words, is the story behind her cupcakes.

 ****

I recently wrote my first inspirational romance for Highland Press’s Christian Christmas anthology, The Heart of Christmas. My story is “The Christmas Prayer.” Royce Hilliard is a widower with a twelve-year old daughter who bonds with Noelle Barker, who she meets at church. Noelle is alarmed when the girl announces that God has sent Noelle to be her dad’s new wife, but Royce thinks it might be true. Noelle sure seems the answer to his prayers! Unfortunately, Noelle isn’t enthusiastic about Christmas or motherhood. Will she let ghosts of her Christmas past sabotage her happiness?

As you begin your holiday baking, you might enjoy the following cupcake recipe. I’ve made it, and I’m not much of a baker, so it must be easy. In the story, Noelle organizes a cupcake-baking marathon with the preteen church group, and they make holiday cupcakes for the senior center residents. Cupcakes are growing in popularity because they’re easy to serve and equally portioned.

If you’d like to read the anthology (it makes a nice holiday gift, too!), go to amazon.com (http://tinyurl.com/pf2g5un) or your favorite book source.

Happy holidays!

Cheryl Norman
Holiday Cupcakes

Ingredients:

·         1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened

·         3 large eggs (room temperature)

·         2 ½ cups cake flour

·         2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

·         ½ teaspoon salt

·         1 ¾ cups sugar

·         1 ¼ cups milk

·         2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Directions:

1.      Preheat oven to 375°. Line muffin tins with paper liners while butter and eggs stand at room temperature.

2.      In a medium bowl, sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

3.      In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat butter on medium speed for one minute. Gradually add sugar (about ¼ cup at a time) until all sugar is creamed. Beat on medium speed, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl, for about two minutes total.

4.      Gradually add eggs, one at a time.

5.      Add vanilla extract.

6.      On low speed, add a third of the flour mixture then half the milk, alternately, until all flour and milk are incorporated. Do not overbeat.

7.      Using a scoop, add batter to each cup liner.

8.      Bake for 16 to 20 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in center of a cupcake comes out clean.

9.      Allow muffins to cool in tins for about 5 minutes.

10.  Carefully remove cupcakes and cool on a wire rack at least 30 minutes before frosting.


 


Fluffy Cupcake Frosting

Ingredients:

·         1 8-oz. package Neufchatel cheese, softened

·         1 stick unsalted butter, softened

·         2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

·         6 cups sifted powdered sugar

·         (optional) food coloring or sprinkles

Directions:

1.      With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter together until light and fluffy.

2.      Stir in vanilla extract.

3.      Gradually beat in powdered sugar, about a third at a time, on low speed until all sugar is incorporated and icing reaches spreading consistency.

4.      Add optional food color—carefully, a bit at a time until you get the color you want.

5.      Place frosting in a zippered food storage bag, seal, and then clip the bottom corner to form a piping bag. Decorate cupcakes and add sprinkles if desired.

Yields two dozen