01 April 2023

Two Culinary Cozy Mysteries (Weekend Cooking)

Today I'm writing about two culinary cozy mysteries I've recently read. One strays a bit from the genre's usual formula, and the other one is as cozy and familiar as it gets. I enjoyed them both.

The cover shows a light brown woman with tight braids and wearing an apron.Against the Currant by Olivia Matthews (2023, St. Martins Press) is a fun first installment in a new cozy mystery series set in the Little Caribbean neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Lyndsay Murray worked hard to realize her lifelong dream of opening a West Indian bakery-cafe in partnership with her Grenadian family--Mom, Dad, brother Devon, and Granny. On opening day, friends, neighbors, and relatives line up to buy Spice Island Bakery's sweet and savory treats. All is going smoothly until a rival bakery owner shows up and begins to publicly bully Lyndsay into shuttering her shop. When the baker is later found murdered, Lyndsay becomes the prime suspect.

There is much to love about this cozy. First, it's unique in avoiding many of the usual cozy tropes. Lyndsay is smart, knows how to defend herself (she's a kickboxer), and always puts her family and business first. She, of course, does conduct her own investigation of the murder, but the story always comes back to her business, for example, we see the family baking and Lyndsay doing the book work and closing up the cafe at the end of the day. We don't see Lyndsay going down into a dark basement all by herself, and when she senses danger, she exits or calls for help.

The secondary characters are always important in a cozy, and this one is no different. Here, we get to know Lyndsay's close-knit family, learning their backstories and current life situations. We also meet Lyndsay's cousin and some neighbors and friends.

Lyndsay's character is well done: she's determined and smart but is also insecure. She worries about letting down her family and wants to protect them from harm. The bakery and the Little Caribbean streets and locals also play big roles in the story. I can't wait to revisit the clan and neighborhood in future books.

Note too, that this culinary cozy ends with two recipes from Spice Island Bakery: Currant Rolls and Coconut Bread. I like that I can bring some West Indian sweets into my kitchen.

The audiobook was beautifully read by Janina Edwards, who particularly excelled at the many needed accents. See my review of the audiobook at AudioFile Magazine.

Book cover showing a stack of round cheeses set up at an outdoor weddingCurds of Prey by Korina Moss (2003, St. Martin's Press), the third installment of the Cheese Shop Mystery series, has all the elements fans are looking for in a good culinary cozy.

Set in the Sonoma Valley, the series centers around Willa and her cheese shop. As background to the series and to the murder, we learn about Willa, her friends and co-workers, and the townsfolk. In this outing, Willa and other local caterers are setting up for an outdoor bridal shower on the grounds of a wealthy estate. Trouble brews before the party gets started and by day's end, there's been a murder.

Because Willa found the body, she's curious about the case. And when the town's mayor asks her to unofficially investigate, Willa can't resist. Of course, she's not in this alone and can rely on help from her closest friends. The plot has a good mix of town happenings and various red herrings. Willa and her friends cooperate with the police, who seem to know what they're doing. Throughout, we see Willa cooking up a number of yummy-sounding cheesy dishes for herself and others.

I enjoyed the escape to California and getting to know Willa. I didn't guess the killer, but once the villain was revealed, I could see that it made sense. As with all good culinary mysteries, the book ends with a couple of recipes for dishes mentioned in the story.

Note that although I haven't read the first two books in the series, I never felt lost or that I was missing out. I'm looking forward to reading more adventures with Willa and the gang.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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18 March 2023

On the Curry Trail by Raghavan Iyer (Weekend Cooking)

bright orange book cover with colorful drawings of vegetablesIf you've ever looked for a curry recipe, then you're sure to have come across the name Raghavan Iyer. He's definitely a member of curry royalty, and I'm grateful to Workman Publishers for sending me a copy of his latest book, On the Curry Trail.

In this cookbook, Iyer introduces us to the many dishes from all around the world that are at heart curries, influenced by the flavors that traveled with Indians through their diaspora and by British colonials and others as they traveled from and, in some cases, permanently left the Indian subcontinent. Indeed, as Iyer tells us, curries are found (or have been found) on every continent of the globe. Yes, even Antarctica. I learned this and so much more from the introduction of On the Curry Trail.

The recipe chapters divide the curry world into geographical areas: Asia, Africa and the Mideast, Europe and Oceania, and the Americas. The dishes range from the very familiar (butter chicken) to the more exotic (sour teff crepes) and from vegan (tofu with red curry paste) to omnivore (lamb stew in bread bowls).

One thing to love about On the Curry Trail is that the vast majority of recipes call for ingredients found in a well-stocked supermarket. Better yet, the dishes are fairly easy to make and the results (at least in my experience) are fantastic. Iyer is well aware that some ingredients and techniques may be new to his readers, so the cookbook is full of tips, variations, definitions, serving ideas, and a bit of background. I especially liked learning how to make my own spice blends and sauces.

Photo of a pan on the stove containing fried rice, vegetables, and chickenOne of the recipes in On the Curry Trail made me laugh. It comes from Germany and is, in fact, a dish I ordered when I was there a few years back. That dish is currywurst. When I ordered it at a small pub, I was sure it was going to be some dazzling dish of German bratwust in a warming, yellow curry sauce. I did indeed get bratwurst, but they were served with a curry-spiced ketchup! Delicious, yes, but my friends and I had a good laugh when we realized I had basically ordered hot dogs and ketchup while on vacation in Europe! The recipe Iyer gives looks much tastier than the one I was served.

So far, I've made three dishes from On the Curry Trail. The Pork Meatballs in a Cream Curry Sauce (Boller i karri from Denmark) were delicious and comforting on a late winter evening. The Wok-Seared Curried Fried Rice was probably the best fried rice I've ever made (see photo). I substituted bok choy for the called-for cabbage because I had some to use up. Also, the original recipe is vegan, but I added some leftover grilled chicken breast. I didn't worry about my changes because, as Iyer says, "in a food culture like China's nothing is wasted." My changes were in the right spirit.

Overhead photo of a bowl of chickpeas and vegetables topped with a green relishThe third dish was slow-cooked chickpeas with saffron (Hommos zafaran from the Mideast). This too was delicious and had just the right heat level. I'm so glad I made the suggested scallion-mint relish; as Mr. BFR said, it really made the dish special (see the photo). I have many more recipes marked to try, like the Coronation Curried Chicken Salad with Apricots, Red Lentils with Ginger, and Curry Noodles with Shrimp.

Recommendation: If you like curry in all its many forms, Raghavan Iyer's On the Curry Trail is for you. Note that no matter what your diet--gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, or meat eater--you'll find plenty of recipes to try.

I wasn't sure which recipe to share because each one is accompanied by additional helpful information, like history, tips, and/or variations. Instead, I'm sharing a spread from the book (click to enlarge) that includes a recipe for Berbere, a spice mix from several countries in Africa. The spread also shows you one of the bright, cheery drawings you'll find throughout the cookbook.

Two book pages showing a recipe and a simplified drawing of bowls of spices against a pink background

Note: The scan is used in the context of a review; all rights remain with the original copyright holders. The photos are my own.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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04 March 2023

2 Tried-and-True Recipes (Weekend Cooking)

Don't you just love it when you find recipes that you're happy to make many times over? Today I'm sharing two such recipes. The first is from a cookbook and the other is from a website.

Cover of the cookbook showing a plate of two breaded drumsticks with some corn on the cobI can't believe that I've never written about the cookbook Skinnytaste Air Fryer Dinners by Gina Homolka (Clarkson Potter, 2021). I have much confidence in Skinnytaste, I bought this cookbook sight unseen. My instincts were right--Skinnytaste Air Fryer Dinners has become a much-used cookbook in my house.

Instead of writing a full review, I'll just quickly note some of the features I always like about Homolka's cookbooks: each recipe is marked for special diets (like dairy free, gluten free, and vegan) and comes with nutritional information. Homolka also includes serving suggestions, tips on buying ingredients, and full-color photos.

Here are some of the recipes we've made more than once: from Skinnytaste Air Fryer Dinners: Hawaiian BBQ-Inspired Drumsticks, Beef and Broccoli, Cajun Shrimp Dinner, and Un-Fried Falafel. In our opinion, though, the true winner of of the cookbook is the recipe for My Signature Wings (see recipe below). We make this at least once a month and have yet to get tired of it. The recipe in the book is very similar to Homolka's Skinny Buffalo Wings on her website, but there are subtle differences. I recommend the one I'm sharing here.


Have you ever used the website Food.com? I came across it just in the last year when looking for a chicken breast recipe that would use up some whipping cream I had left over from another dish. That's when I discovered Chicken Breasts in Lemon Cream Sauce. This is incredibly delicious made exactly according to the recipe. I've also followed the method provided in one of the comments for assembling the chicken ahead of time if you want to serve it to guests.

The original suggests serving over pasta. We like it over wide egg noodles, but I've also used brown rice (and GF flour) when serving this to gluten-free friends. Leftovers heat up okay the next day for lunch, but the chicken ends up a bit overdone, so you might want to think about that if you're serving fewer people. One trick I do is take two chicken breasts and cut them in half horizontally. That way we usually end up with only one small piece for lunch the next day.

I don't have a photo of the finished dish, and the ones submitted to Food.com don't really do it justice. You'll have to just believe me here.


We absolutely love the following chicken wing recipe. Here are some notes: (1) I mix the marinade in a plastic zipper-locking bag and then add the chicken. (2) I don't preheat my air fryer. (3) I cook the chicken 12 minutes, use tongs to turn each piece over, and then cook for 12 minutes more. The wings are perfect every time. We have a large air fryer basket and can fit 18-20 pieces in one layer. (4) The photo is mine.

My Signature Wings
Photo of cooked chicken wings in an air fryer basketFrom Skinnytaste Air Fryer Dinners
Serves 4

  • 20 pieces chicken wing portions (drumettes and wingettes; about 40 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2-1/2 tablespoons Frank's RedHot Original Sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon (1 packet) sazon seasoning with achiote
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon adobo seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

In a large bowl toss the chicken wings with the remaining ingredients. Marinate for at least 10 minutes or up to overnight in the refrigerator (the longer the better).

Remove the wings from the marinade and discard the marinade. Working in batches if needed, place the wings in the air fryer basket in a single layer. Cook at 400F until the skin is browned and the chicken is cooked through, 22 to 25 minutes, shaking the basket halfway through. (Note you can cook the wings in one batch if you prefer. Just add 10 to 15 minutes to the cooking time and shake the basket 3 to 4 times throughout cooking.) Serve immediately.

Note: The recipe is used in the context of a mini review; all rights remain with the original copyright holders.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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25 February 2023

A Tale of Two Kitchens (Documentary; Weekend Cooking)

Movie cover showing people seated at a restaurantI'm not quite sure how I missed this gem of a documentary, which--according to IMDb--came out in 2019.

A Tale of Two Kitchens, directed by Trisha Ziff, looks at two sister restaurants: Contramar in Mexico City and Cala in San Fransico. Chef-owner Gabriela Cámara's restaurants may share fundamentals, but those concepts are manifested in slightly different ways in Mexico and the US. Cámara's menus feature fresh seafood with the idea of transporting diners to the beach through their meals. The dishes feature fresh ingredients and Mexican flavors and are presented beautifully.

Though the restaurants and the food are important elements of the documentary, A Tale of Two Kitchens is really about the staff and a work culture of found family. In Contramar (Mexico City), the staff puts mutual help and support, both on and off the job, at the center. Workers are looking for a better life and a way to give that better life to their children.

Still photo showing a woman cooking seafoodIn Cala (San Francisco), there is very much a sense of second chances. Everyone is given the opportunity to make a fresh start, and the staff includes ex-convicts, immigrants, and recovering addicts. People are hired on their own merits, not on what they did in the past. In both restaurants, workers are given respect, friendship, and the possibility of a bright future.

In just 29 minutes, A Tale of Two Kitchens gives a unique perspective on how restaurants--and any business for that matter--can be run. Everyone deserves dignity and respect in the workplace. Chef Gabriela Cámara proves it can be done.

If you take a look at the trailer (below), you'll learn one of the sad truths of how many (most?) Americans think of their brethren south of the border. A Tale of Two Kitchens can be streamed on Netflix

Note: photo from Nextflix.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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18 February 2023

Mostly Veggies by Brittany Mullins (Weekend Cooking)

book cover showing a white woman holding a meal-prepped saladHi all. Look who's back! I have no excuses for why I'm on the struggle bus with blogging and with social media in general. *shrug* I'll get out of my slump one of these days.

Today I'm talking about a cookbook that has a lot of good information and solid recipes, especially for those of you who may be looking for help with meal planning, meal prepping, and vegetable-heavy dishes. Thanks to Voracious and the Voracious Ambassador program for sending me a review copy of Brittany Mullins's Mostly Veggies (publishing soon).

As you might expect, Mullin begins Mostly Veggies by sharing her thoughts on the meaning of "healthy eating" and why she's interested in vegetable-forward meals. The early chapters provide a four-step method for meal prepping and planning, including tips on batch cooking, descriptions of helpful tools and small appliances, lists of pantry items, and the all-important instructions for storing and reheating your food.

One super feature is the meal plan chapter. Mullins provides four week-long meal plans (one for each season) along with prep timelines and shopping lists for each one.

photo of 4 salads in rectangular meal-prep containersAs you page through Mostly Veggies, you'll be able to target the dishes that are right for you and your family because each recipe is accompanied by nutrition data and dietary data (gluten-, dairy-, and/or egg-free). Many cooks will be grateful that, when appropriate, Mullin highlights which ingredients can be prepped ahead. No more guessing.

The recipes in Mostly Veggies are grouped by both meal (such as breakfast and smoothies) and by technique or type of dish (for example sheet pan meals, one-pan dishes, and main-dish salads). The recipe directions are easy to follow and include storage, prep, serving, and reheating instructions as needed. For the most part, Mullins avoids vegetarian meat substitutes and uses commonly found ingredients. Her focus is on real, unprocessed foods, though she doesn't shy from canned beans, frozen cauliflower rice, and the like.

To give you an idea of what's in Mostly Veggies, here's one recipe from each chapter:

  • Veggie Quiche with Sweet Potato Crust (Breakfast)
  • Coffee Date Smoothie (Smoothies)
  • Lentil Taco Salad Bowls (Meal-Size Salads)
  • 20-Minute Veggie Lo Mein Bowl (Bowl Meals)
  • Lemony Fall Harvest Sheet Pan Meal (Sheet Pan Meals)
  • Italian-Style Stuffed Bell Peppers (One Pan Meals)
  • Tamari Roasted Almonds (Smacks + Treats)
  • Spinach Muffins (Meal Prep for Littles)
Mullins's recipes are sure to have wide appeal, making it easy to incorporate them into almost any household's meal rotation.

Platter with stuffed zucchinisRecommendation: Brittany Mullin's Mostly Veggies is geared to less-experienced cooks and those who are looking for help transitioning to the idea of meal planning and prepping. Mostly Veggies is also a good fit for anyone who is making the switch to a more plant-based diet that puts fresh vegetables and complex carbs at the forefront.

Note that experienced cooks and meal preppers will surely pick up a few tips and tricks and will likely add a recipe or two to their repertoire. However, if you're in this category, I suggest taking a look at the cookbook before buying.

While waiting out the few weeks until Mostly Veggies is available to buy, visit Brittany Mullins's website Eating Bird Food. There, you'll find a link for pre-ordering the cookbook and you also have a chance to learn more about Mullins and to try some of her recipes. Or you can give the following main-dish salad a try.

Greek Couscous Salad
Serving bowl with coucous saladServes 4
Dairy Free (with modification); Egg Free

  • 1 cup whole-wheat couscous
  • 2 cups baby arugula or spinach, chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup diced cucumber
  • 10 Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1/2 cup canned cannellini beans
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese or plant-based feta cheese
  • Cracked black pepper to taste (optional)
White Balsamic Dressing

  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

Cook the couscous according to package instructions. Fluff with a fork (or drain, if using pearl couscous) and transfer to a large bowl to cool.

While the couscous cools, make the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients in a small bowl or jar.

To the bowl with the couscous, add the arugula, sun-dried tomatoes, cucumber, olives, beans, and feta. Add the dressing and toss again. Taste and season with pepper, if desired

Serve immediately: Divide the salad into 4 bowls and enjoy, or chill before serving.

Meal Prep: Divide the salad into 4 meal prep containers and enjoy cold.

Store: in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Note: The recipe and scans are used in the context of a review; all rights remain with the original copyright holders.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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All content and photos (except where noted) copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads 2008-2020. All rights reserved.



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