Last spring, at Malice Domestic, I was on an author panel entitled: Murder on the Menu. I shared the floor with three other cozy writers who had a food theme in their mystery series. They were all smart and funny and professional and I was honored to be included.
One of the questions we were asked is how we obtain the recipes for our books. The answers were varied. One woman had attended culinary school. Another had recently moved to Texas and was embracing the local hot and spicy cuisine. For me, good food had always been my path to nurturing those I love. And the recipes in my books are versions of oldies but goodies.
A few months before my final edits were due for Death at the Day Lily Cafe, I traveled to New York with my daughter and her four-month-old son by train to help her gain inventory for her start up boutique. She was on a buying mission at the Javits Center.
After disembarking and finally finding our very small hotel, tired and chilled from our journey and the rain that had permeated our outerwear, we were thrilled to find a small restaurant with steam on the windows to rest our weary bones and snuggle her son.
Most often my best ideas come from restaurant fare with my added spin. That day, we settled into a booth, ordered a glass of hearty wine, and perused the menu. I stomped the water from my pumps and rubbed my arms. And there it was. That day’s special. Tomato cream soup with caramelized onion grilled cheese. My head shot up. “Did you see that?” I said to my daughter who was nursing her son. She had wrapped him in a fashionable infinity scarf to keep him warm.
“Shut. Up.” she said.
When I was finalizing my edits for Death at the Day Lily Café, I knew I needed my own version of the delicious fare I devoured that afternoon. Their dish included bacon. Of course it did. We all know EVERYTHING tastes better with bacon. But when both my children decided to become vegetarian once the youngest was fourteen, I had learned to make dishes better than bacon. And the challenge was on.
The first decision was the bread. In Murder at Barclay Meadow, Rosalie Hart discovers the yellowed recipe card of her Aunt Charlotte’s homemade seven grain bread. Rosalie and her aunt used to make it together when she was a child when she spent weeks on end at her farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
Caramelized onions. Julia Child taught me the merits of slow cooking onions to bring out their sweetness. We’re not talking twenty minutes on the stove top. We’re talking over an hour of reduced heat and caramelized crispness.
Next was the cheese. Without bacon a smoky cheese was required. Perhaps two types. Maybe Swiss?
Wrapped and ready for delivery. Another new recipe based on an outing I will never forget.
My passion is nurturing the people you care for with unforgettable food. Food triggers all of our senses and when you enjoy it with those you love, in a peaceful, calm atmosphere, dimmed lights, cloth napkins in your lap, eyes glistening from the candle light, the world is a better place.
Why food? Because food is the pathway to fostering health and good will.
It may sound a little dramatic but I know you know what it’s like to sit down to a special meal. No TV. At the table. Practicing the waning art of listening. The most important skill we possess. You know what happens. By listening we learn more than we could ever glean from our own musings.
Caramelized Onion Grilled Cheese
For one sandwich:
Crusty roll or 2 slices of deli bread
4 slices organic Baby Swiss cheese
4 slices organic aged white cheddar cheese
Chipotle mayonnaise (available in most grocery stores)
6 Tablespoons caramelized onion or more if you have room on the bread (see recipe below)
Butter for the bread
Slather the mayo over the inside of both slices of bread. Spoon onions over the bottom slice. Top with both types of cheese. Cover with second slice of bread. Butter outside of sandwich and grill in a panini maker until cheese is melted and bread is toasted. Slice in half diagonally and eat with the soup. I particularly enjoy dipping the edge of the sandwich into the soup before taking a bite. This sandwich can also be grilled on a stove top.
4 - 5 yellow onions, sliced
1 large shallot, sliced
3 Tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Melt the butter in a large sauté pan. Add onions and shallot and cook on medium heat, stirring frequently. Cook until onions are soft, about 20 minutes. Stir in sugar and salt and increase heat to medium high. Cook onions until caramelized, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Store in refrigerator until ready to make the grilled cheese. Warm to room temperature before making the sandwich. Leftovers are perfect for a bowl of French onion soup.