I'm a bit of a homebody lately.
I've been spending lots of time reading about food. But when it comes to actually cooking ... well, let's say I'm taking a break. Just ask my better half.
I like to blame the scorching heat. Give me my house and air conditioning, an occasional day at the pool, a light-hearted book that includes a dead body and a slew of clip-worthy recipes, and I'm a happy camper.
In my down time after foot surgery a decade ago, I became entertained by culinary whodunit books. They're perfect reading for a brain that spirals around real life too much.
Described as a cross between Angela Lansbury and Betty Crocker, these books feature amateur sleuths solving murders within stories where food is a major ingredient.
A dark and stormy night. Glass breaking. A thud.
A figure flees the party, leaving behind a plate of fatally flaky frosted cookies, a body and worse - a shattered bottle of 2002 Dom Perignon Rosť. Not to worry. The chef/caterer/gourmet is on the scene, solving the crime, reciting a recipe for the cookie frosting and finding a new source for the Champagne.
These mysteries often feature quaint or exotic settings.
"Snowballs and Scotch Mist," set in Castle Rumdrummond in Scotland, is the third installment in the cocktail mystery series by Andrea Frazer. I picked up the first one awhile back and enjoyed it enough to go on and read the second, and now the third.
The methods of murder - poisoning at a church's baked-bean supper or dropping a stuffed moose head from a restaurant wall onto a mean-spirited diner - are bloodless and tidy when compared to those of Patricia Cornwell or James Patterson.
These "gentle" or "cozy" murders are more about solving the puzzle of identity of the murderer and recording the daily life of the sleuth, hence the recipes.
There are plenty of others to whet your appetite - or butter your biscuits. A wide pool of food-themed authors include Diane Mott Davidson, Joanne Fluke, Nancy Fairbanks, Virginia Rich and Tamar Myers.
The titles of their books are extremely witty. I think the authors come up with the names, then create the stories around them.
Some of my favorites are: "Fried by Jury," "Shades of Earl Grey," "Just Plain Pickled to Death" and "Dial M for Meat Loaf."
The placement of recipes in these books varies from author to author. Some include a recipe just after the dish is mentioned in the story, while others wait and compile the recipes, cookbook style, at the end. During these dog days of summer, maybe a light-hearted read is the perfect ingredient for an afternoon's relaxation. Who knows? The menu for supper very well might be in the back of the book.
Everyone loves cornbread. Same with blueberries, right? Here's a cornbread recipe adapted from "The Cornbread Killer" by Lou Jane Temple. Your family won't leave one bit of evidence behind on their plates.
Lynn Kessel is a freelance food columnist and blogger. For more of her recipes, visit southshore.tbo.com and enter the search words Lynn Kessel or look for her blog at www.lynnkessel.blogspot.com.
10-inch, cast-iron skillet
1 egg2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 cups stone-ground yellow or white cornmeal
1/2 cup coarse ground yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Optional: 1 cup blueberries or 3 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
Spray the skillet with a nonstick baking spray. Place in a preheated 400-degree oven to heat while you make the cornbread batter. Combine the dry ingredients, then add the egg, buttermilk and melted butter. Mix, then gently add optional blueberries or bacon.
Pour batter in the hot skillet and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. For a more soulful version, replace the butter with bacon fat and add crumbled bacon.
Source: Adapted from "The Cornbread Killer" by Lou Jane Temple.