Judy Alter is the author of three mystery series: the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, the Blue Plate Café Mysteries, and the new Oak Grove Mysteries, beginning with The Perfect Coed, a mystery set on a university campus. For twenty years, she was director of TCU Press, the book publishing program of Texas Christian University. The author of many books for both children and adults, primarily on women of the American West, she retired in 2010 and turned her attention to writing contemporary cozy mysteries. Learn more about Judy at her website and blog.
Green Noodles for Non-cooks
If writing is my vocation, cooking is my avocation. On weekends I love to relax by spending most of the day in the kitchen and entertaining in the evening. Sometimes I make really elaborate meals, other times, old family favorites. Given this background, though, it’s strange that in three mystery series, I created one cook. Kate Chambers runs a down-home café during the day and delights in both fixing and dining on upscale meals in the evening. But Kelly O’Connell of the series by her name and Susan Hogan, of the Oak Grove Mysteries, represented by the newly published The Perfect Coed, are non-cooks. The men in their lives are the cooks.
Kelly used to feed her kids take-out pizza and frozen dinners until Mike Shandy came along. He has Kelly’s girls eating grilled squash and eggplant and loving it. Kelly begins slowly learning to cook, and Chicken Tetrazzini is one of her triumphs. Susan Hogan usually gets relegated to making the salad while Jake Phillips grills steaks or makes Chicken Piccata and other treats. Susan’s Aunt Jenny also outdoes her with pot roast, roast chicken, and meatloaf—good, old-fashioned Sunday dinners.
I have a recipe that both Kelly and Susan could make for their men that would blow away the meat-and-potatoes idea and yet taste like a gourmet meal. Remember Sam I am of the Dr. Seuss book who refused to eat green eggs and ham? How about green noodles? This was a family favorite in my house when the kids were growing up, and I still serve it often. The recipe has a history.
My former sister-in-law, Barbara, claimed she invented it one night when my brother was coming for dinner, and she had no money for groceries. She used what she had on hand, melting butter in the skillet, adding cooked spaghetti and lots of lemon juice. I “improved” on the idea by using spinach noodles and adding scallions and mushrooms. Now I also add chopped artichoke hearts and sometimes a frozen “ice cube” of homemade pesto or a healthy squirt of anchovy paste or capers.
1 16-0z. pkg. spinach egg noodles
1 stick butter (start with less if you’re really fat conscious)—if you want more sauce, add a little olive oil
8 oz. mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and sliced (I always buy whole and slice them myself)
4 scallions, chopped
1 can quartered artichoke hearts
Optional: 1 ice-cube size piece of pesto, thawed—or, 1 Tbsp. capers, drained—or, a tsp of anchovy paste
Juice of one lemon (more to taste)
Grated fresh Parmesan
Cook and drain noodles. Melt butter in the skillet. (My oldest daughter, weight-conscious in high school, used to insist that was too much butter, and it may be.) Sauté the mushrooms and scallions in the butter. Add lemon juice to taste—I like lots; the mushrooms soak up the lemon and are delicious. Add noodles, artichoke hearts, pesto, capers or anchovy if using, and toss to coat. Simmer until thoroughly heated through. Top with Parmesan.
Serve immediately and pass the Parmesan. Then share the recipe with all the cooks you know.
The Perfect Coed, an Oak Grove Mystery
Susan Hogan is smart, pretty—and prickly. There was no other word for it. She is prickly with Jake Phillips and her Aunt Jenny, the two people who love her most in the world. And she is prickly and impatient with some of her academic colleagues and the petty jealousies in the English department at Oak Grove University. When a coed’s body is found in her car and she is suspected of murder, Susan gets even more defensive.
But when someone begins to stalk and threaten her—trying to run her down, killing the plants on her deck, causing a moped wreck that breaks her ankle—prickly mixes with fear. Susan decides she has to find the killer to save her reputation—and her life. What she suspects she’s found on a quiet campus in Texas is so bizarre Jake doesn’t believe her. Until she’s almost killed. The death of one coed unravels a tale of greed, lust, and obsession.