Author Judy Alter returns today with a new recipe and a new book in her Blue Plate Murder Mystery series. The series is set in a small East Texas town with the setting modeled after a restaurant that was one of her family’s favorites for years. Learn more about Judy and her books at her website and her Judy’s Stew and Potluck with Judy blogs.
Murder at the Tremont House, the sequel to Murder at the Blue Plate Café, features a love triangle, a cooking school, a kidnapping, a broken marriage, and a lot of adventure before the threads of this mystery are untangled, and Wheeler can go back to being a peaceful small town. If it ever does. But food is always an important part of life in Wheeler, and particularly in the life of Kate Chambers, proprietor of the Blue Plate Café.
The Blue Plate Café is a typical small-town café—you can find them in East Texas, West Texas, the Midwest, and such western states as New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. They are casual restaurants, usually with a counter and some tables, where farmers, ranchers, and townfolk come in blue jeans to eat down-home cooking—hamburgers, fried chicken, chicken-fried steak, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, turnip greens—all the things you mostly associate with country ways and food.
When Kate Chambers inherits the café on the sudden death of her grandmother, Johnny Chambers or Gram, she continues the menu, including Gram’s wonderful sticky buns, which usually had a waiting list by the time they were ready in the morning. She serves humongous breakfasts with eggs, steak, potatoes and biscuits, and she carries on Gram’s tradition. But gradually she works in some offerings that Gram didn’t serve—chicken and tuna salads, for instance. And she begins to make her own potato salad instead of buying pre-made in quantity. She cultivates fresh greens for dinner salads, and makes her own dressings.
Much as Kate loves the café and cooking the foods she learned as a child from Gram, there’s another culinary side to her. She appreciates fine food, so a trip to a high-end restaurant in Dallas is a treat as is a homemade dish, such as veal piccata.
When twin sister Donna, who runs The Tremont House B&B, decides to offer gourmet meals, Kate sees trouble ahead. She stops by Donna’s one morning to find her in a tizzy, her kitchen a mess, with every pot and pan dirty. Donna is trying to make Coquilles St. Jacques. In French, the dish is simply scallops, but in this country it denotes poached scallops and mushrooms, covered with a rich sauce made from the poaching liquid, and served with mashed potatoes, preferably piped around a special shell-shaped dish. It’s not a recipe for the faint-hearted, but Kate rescues Donna’s disaster and announces she has a fine dish to serve her husband that night. Donna says, “He doesn’t eat seafood.” Kate takes the dish home and serves it to one of her beaux.
Inevitably Donna coerces Kate into conducting a cooking school at the B&B, and Gram, from beyond, urges Kate to help her sister. Kate decides the challenge is to fix dishes the women of the town can master and the men will eat. She chooses Beef Wellington made easy, Chicken piccata (veal being hard to get in a small town), chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce, shepherd’s pie, and quail and dirty rice. Below is her recipe for quail—she figured ever woman in town knew how to stuff a jalapeño in a quail, wrap it with bacon, and grill. She’d give them something different for those quail the hunters brought home. And she stressed the hunters had to clean the birds, including getting the birdshot out of them.
Quail with Green Grapes
one or two birds per person—use your best judgment.
salt and pepper
Salt and pepper each bird inside and out. Then stuff cavity with green grapes and 1 Tbsp. butter. Wrap each with a slice of bacon and secure with toothpicks. Put in baking dish and pour white wine over all. Cover and bake 1-1/2 hours at 325o. Uncover and brown. Garnish and serve on warm platter with dirty rice.
(Serves 4. Can be doubled.)
1/2 cup long grain rice
2 cup chickens broth
1/2 cup ground pork
1/2 cup ground pork
1 cup chicken livers (optional)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
three slices bacon, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped (optional)
Salt and pepper
Cook rice in 2 cups water and 1 cup chicken broth; remove from heat and let sit 5 minutes. While rice is cooking, mash and finely chop chicken livers—or pureé quickly in food processor. Put 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in large skillet, add pork and bacon and cook until bacon is crisp.
Put another tablespoon oil in skillet and add onion, celery, and optional jalapeño. Add minced liver and cook until pink disappears. Add 1 cup chicken broth and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add 1 tablespoon (or to taste) of Cajun seasoning. Add salt and pepper as needed. Boil until most of broth disappears. Add cooked rice and toss. Garnish with green onions.
Murder at The Tremont House
When free-lance journalist Sara Jo Cavanaugh arrives in Wheeler to do an in-depth study of Kate’s town for a feature on small-town America, Kate senses she will be trouble. Sara Jo stays at her sister Donna’s B&B, The Tremont House, and unwittingly drives a further wedge into Donna’s marriage to Wheeler’s mayor Tom Bryson. And soon she’s spending way too much time interviewing high school students, one young athlete in particular. Police chief Rick Samuels ignores Kate’s instinct, but lawyer David Clinkscales, her former boss from Dallas, takes it more seriously.
Sara Jo arouses animosity in Wheeler with the personal, intrusive questions she asks, and when she is found murdered, the list of suspects is long. But Kate heads the list, and she must clear her name, with the help of David and Rick. A second murder confirms that someone is desperate, and now Rick is convinced Kate is in danger.