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The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook – a review

When an email dropped into my box asking if I would be interested in reviewing a copy of the Mystery Writers of America Cookbook it is true to say that I was rather overly excited. As you’ll know if you read my blog I am a huge fan of crime fiction. As you may not know although it’s still true, I am also a lover of a good cookbook. Notice I don’t say a lover of cooking. Don’t get me wrong when I’ve got the time I really enjoy cooking and I try as often as I can to make something new out of the very large collection of cookbooks I already own. Yet it’s more than that. I like reading cookbooks just as much as fiction sometimes. I love it when I get a new book that isn’t just recipes (although these have their place) but is also more than that. I like those that include history of the people behind the books, the chef’s perspective and what the recipes mean to them.

Therefore it is quite possible that this is my most favourite book in the world (it’s only downside being I’m a vegetarian and the book is American so clearly there is a lot of meat. Luckily Mr F is very far from a vegetarian and is pretty handy in the kitchen himself so all recipes will get some use!)

The book combines some great sounding recipes with some interesting crime facts. Did you know for example that Miss Marple drank 143 cups of tea during her stories. All the recipes are provided by authors, including some of my favourites such as Harlen Coben (myron’s crabmeat dip) and Lee Child (a pot of coffee so not the trickiest of recipes but easy to get wrong) The book is split into sections making it easy to follow, and as well as appetisers and mains there is even a section of drinks at the back.

Obviously as this is an american book there are alot of bits that we don’t have over here, however that’s the joy of the internet. If you can’t find them in the supermarket you know you’ll be able to source an alternative. The recipes are all reasonably simple, and many have a short list of ingredients which makes them nice and easy to follow.

Of course the proof of a good cook book is in the eating. So i wanted to try some recipes before reviewing. My attempts started well with Scott Turow’s ‘Innocent Frittata’ which was very tasty, and Alan Orloff’s ‘Killer Tofu’ which went well with a stir fry. However things went downhill when I attempted Linda Stasi’s baked cheesecake. I was heading to some friends for Sunday dinner so thought I’d enlist their help in testing a recipe and the cheesecake seemed to fit the bill. Unfortunately I’d never made a baked cheesecake before, and I don’t think I’ll be trying again in a hurry. Admittedly part of the problem was that I burnt it, one minute it looked liked a souffle that was about to explode, the next it was like I was building a scale model of the grand canyon, all brown and sunken. My friends being the true friends they are, valiantly battled on, scraping the burnt bits off and trying not to crack their teeth on the base but the remaining was truly dreadful, more scrambled egg than cheesecake. It was that bad even the dogs turned their noses up at it. Yet one bad cheesecake does not a bad book make.

The book is a beautiful thing, with lots of pictures and quotes from authors which makes it a pleasure to read. I love the style of the book with each recipe being introduced by the author saying where the recipe comes from. The Harrogate crime festival even gets a mention under Joseph Finder’s apple crumble. I would highly recommend this book for all fans of crime fiction, whether cooks or not, the only problem being I’ve now got a load of new authors to add to my to read list.

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Breaking point

With less than a week to go until the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival its time to take stock of how the TOPCWFC2013 has gone.

Unfortunately however it looks like I’m definitely more Novak Djokovic than Andy Murray. Even for a reasonably fast reader like me there are just so many authors at the festival it’s impossible to read them all. By my calculations I counted 43 at the beginning of the challenge. That’s nearly a years’ reading at my normal one a week rate, and as much as I do love reading sometimes other distractions just get in the way (a visit to the Great Yorkshire Show this week for one) There has also been a big difference this year in that I have more blog followers, which in turn means I’ve actually been asked by people to review their books. This is not a complaint at all as it is still very exciting to be asked to read someone’s book, and I’ve discovered some very good authors that way. It does mean though that the challenge has come somewhat unstuck.

However when it comes to looking at the ‘TOPCWFC2013 Lite’ then things are a lot more rosy. There are 17 sessions not including the opening party, the quiz (at which we did rather well in last year, our team PTCK came third) or the dinner. Of these 17 I have read authors in all but two of the sessions.

Unusually for me the missing authors are actually two of this year’s ‘big hitters’. Someone recently accused me of sounding like a frog when in a bookshop ‘read it, read it, read it’ and so to admit that I have never read either William McIlvanney or Lee Child is rather embarrassing.

Crime itself is such a huge genre that it can be difficult sometimes to work out which authors to try. Often the easy option is to stay with the tried and trusted such as Val McDermid and Mark Billingham as you know you are going to be getting a great book, and straying away can be disappointing. It can also be a great experience though. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy doing this challenge, sometimes it may take over my life but its also addictive. The more I read the more I want to read and the festival provides such a plethora of new writers it is impossible not to want to try them. It is not even just about showcasing brand new writers such as those in the New Blood session, the festival is also about discovering writers that have been around but somehow slipped through my net, such as Lee Child.

Therefore with a week left to go, its down to the break point I’ve got a William McIlvanney book in my bag ready for a train journey this afternoon, and then I just need to fit in a quick Lee Child next week and its game set and match for the TOPCWFC2013 Lite.

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Coffee, tea or murder

Last weekend I was lucky enough to sample the delights of afternoon tea in Bettys in York. It was all very civilised. We bypassed the usual never ending queue into the main café, and were led straight to our table in the previously unseen upstairs. We then spent a very nice afternoon eating salmon sandwiches, scones, cakes and drinking tea. Well ok, as a coffee drinking vegetarian I’d already put my special request in so I had Betty’s posh coffee and very nice avocado sandwiches.

The first Betty’s cafe was opened in the home of the ‘Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival’ The lovely spa town of Harrogate back in 1919 and still remains its most popular café. Me and the Sister went in last year for coffee and cake and were surrounded by people excitedly discussing the festival and carrying goody bags. I’ve no doubt this year will be no exception.

The programme for the event has recently been released and once again it looks a fantastic few days. There are some great special guests, including Ruth Rendell being interviewed by Jeanette Winterson which I’m especially looking forward to. I’ve always been a big fan of Ruth Rendell. Although I’ve not read any of Jeanette Winterson’s books apart from ‘Oranges are not the only fruit’ which as a child I had to keep hidden under my bed as it would most definitely not have been classed as suitable reading.

I’ve not yet been through the entire programme in detail, or indeed planned my reading list for the next few months but at first glance it looks an excellent programme. Some of the speakers are old favourites from last year, whilst some are brand new such as William McIlvanney who I hadn’t even heard of until I saw he was being interviewed by Ian Rankin so will be looking out his novels.

This year’s TV tie in panel is Vera. Ann Cleaves (star of last year’s murder mystery themed dinner) is going to be joined by those who are responsible for bringing her novels to tv, including actor Brenda Blethyn. Another interesting sounding session features forensic anthropologist Professor Sue Black OBE. I’m always fascinated by how far fiction actually mirrors real life, and how much artistic license authors have to employ to keep the story moving.

One of the special guests this year is Lee Child, I have to confess that I’ve never actually read any of his books, so he will definitely be an author I put on the top of my list. He’s being interviewed by Comedian Sarah Millican so that should be an excellent session. Special guest on Saturday evening is York born Kate Atkinson, whose Jackson Brodie novels have recently been turned into a tv series. As a York dweller myself I’m always happy to hear from local people.

The one thing that really did stand out of the programme was that there was not one session I would want to miss. Last year me and the Sister did skip a couple, mainly to give us time for food and of course Betty’s cake. This time Betty’s will definitely have to wait until the show is over!

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