Cooking from Scratch or Not by Debra H. Goldstein

We’d like to welcome FOW (Friend of the Wickeds) Debra Goldstein back to the blog. Two Bites Too Many, the second book in her Sarah Blair Mystery series released on September 24.

Take it away, Debra!

When I look at the beautiful made-from-scratch salads, pies, and other dishes posted on Facebook by Wickeds’ Edith Maxwell, I salivate. Unfortunately, Alabama is a bit too far away for me to invite myself over for a quick bite. Faced with the same situation, most people would simply ask Edith for her recipes, but cooking from scratch frightens me. Consequently, I do anything to avoid a kitchen.

I attribute my kitchen phobia to an elementary school cooking class. We were divided into groups and tasked with making a rhubarb crisp. Our teacher, who seemed ancient but was probably around fifty years old, explained the recipe and warned us to be careful because part of the rhubarb plant is poisonous. Sadly, by the time we went to make our dish, we realized no one in our group could remember if it was the stalks or leaves that would kill us.

We went ahead with our cooking, petrified at taking the required bite of the final product. The four of us shuddered at the thought of dying in school, while wondering if the teacher would be upset. Our first solution, burning our rhubarb crisp, failed to get us an “A” or out of tasting our food. What could we do with the teacher hovering over everyone in the classroom to make sure we each sampled our rhubarb crisp? Perhaps it was foreshadowing of my career to come, but I devised the plan to save us from certain death. Our group each stabbed a forkful of rhubarb crisp under our teacher’s watchful eye, but when she glanced at another group of students, we tossed our tastes under the metal prep tables where we sat.

It worked, but from that day on cooking from scratch terrified me. Consequently, when I began writing Kensington’s Sarah Blair series, I imparted my fear of the kitchen to Sarah. I also gave her some of the workarounds I use to feed my family and friends. In One Taste Too Many, the first book in the series, two of Sarah’s recipes are Jell-O in a Can and Spinach Pie made with Stouffers Spinach Souffle. The book published this week, Two Bites Too Many, features Sarah’s Sweet Potato Puffs the Convenient Way and a Howellian Catnip Wine Spritzer. Thanks to the pre-made ingredients in each of these recipes, I know I’m not offering anyone anything to eat or drink that will kill them. At least, I think I’m not.

The proof of this has been, as they say, in the pudding. During the past few months, when I’ve talked to groups about the Sarah Blair series, the snacks served come from my recipes. Even though none of my featured dishes are made from scratch like Edith’s, I think you’ll agree some, like the pictured Jell-O in a Can, look almost as good as hers.

Readers: Do you have any easy recipes or cooking tips you’d like to share with Sarah (which means me)?

About the book

Things are finally looking up for Sarah Blair following her unsavory divorce.  Settled into a cozy carriage house with her Siamese cat, RahRah, she has somehow managed to hang on to her law firm receptionist job and – if befriending flea-bitten strays at the local animal shelter counts – lead a thriving social life. For once, Sarah almost has it together more than her enterprising twin, Emily, a professional chef whose efforts to open a gourmet restaurant have hit a real dead end…   When the president of the town bank is murdered after icing Emily’s business plans, all eyes are on the one person who left the scene with blood on her hands – the twins’ sharp-tongued mother, Maybelle.  Determined to get her mom off the hook ASAP, Sarah must collect the ingredients of a deadly crime to bring the true culprit to justice. But as neighbors turn against her family, can she pare down the suspects before another victim lands on the chopping block.

28 Thoughts

  1. Aww, Debra, I wish you could pop by for a meal or a slice of warm homemade bread! I’m honored for the shoutout. That story about the rhubarb is hilarious (it’s the leaves you want to avoid…).

    My lazy chocolate chip cookie method: make the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip package, but instead for forming dozens of individual cookies, just press it all into a big rimmed baking sheet, bake, and cut into squares while it’s still warm! I have your new book on my coffee table and it’s up next. I can’t wait to read Sarah’s new adventures.

    1. Ah, you’ve discovered my mother’s “secret” recipe: chocolate chip squares. Which are even more delicious when cut warm with chocolate oozing out and topped with ice cream: chocolate, coffee, or vanilla. (The order of my taste preference,) And thank you, again, for picking me for the Christmas Cocoa Murders.

    2. Love it… and I might steal the recipe. Congrats on your new novella, new book, continued series.. and appreciation for your advice and guidance the past few years. I should be jealous of you 18/19 books plus short stories while I have a paltry 5 books plus short stories, but I enjoy your accomplishments too much.… for those in the know, we left work the same week to follow our passion…..

  2. I love to cook but hate to clean up. However, I’ve found the easiest way to “cheat” with making something “homemade” is to simply add an ingredient to a store-bought product. Saute onion and maybe sliced zucchini, then throw in a jar of bought spaghetti sauce. Voila! Even more basic, dump a can of tomato soup in a pot and add some frozen peas or mixed vegetables. They’ll cook sufficiently as you heat the soup. You can add your favorite shredded cheese on top if you wish. Or toss in some store-bought croutons. Yum.

  3. Debra, you should have been in the cooking class I endured. We made that Jello In Can! Unfortunately we failed to do some critical step and produce pineapple slices in jello soup! Thanks for preview of your latest.

    1. Elisabeth, my sympathy as to the Jello soup. I had that happen the first time I cooked for Joel and his kids (before we were married)…. I made a Jell-O that came out as chilled soup. Frustrated, I served it with soup spoons and told them it was a rare delicacy.

      1. Great reason to smile on a Friday! Thank goodness for literary creativity!

  4. Homemade doesn’t have to mean from scratch. Although I love to bake and do most of the times from scratch, I know many others don’t enjoy it like I do or don’t have the time to do it. You can always find recipes, often tried and true, that you “bake” but part or all the ingredients are box or can items. An example is what we called “dump” cake when I was a kid that my Mom made. Basically you dump each ingredient in the baking pan on top of the last item and then bake. The bottom layer was a can of pie filling (your choice) or can of pineapple. Then you dump on a box of cake mix. Dump on some nuts and drizzle with butter and bake. You made it so it’s homemade but you didn’t have to sweat in the kitchen for hours doing it.

    Can’t wait for the opportunity to read “Two Bites Too Many”.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    I can so relate to you experience in school other than mine was with sewing in home economics class. Now mind you I had just turned 13. I broke my hand on my 13th birthday so what does that tell you! Now imagine a cast on my left hand to my elbow with a metal splint on my middle finger (yep that one) sticking straight out past my finger. I was the brunt of many a joke and giggles for sure. Now try to sew with that thing on you hand/arm. I broke more than one needle and was extremely slow. Finally the teacher (who I also swear was ancient) allowed me to take my project home where my Mom could help me. However, evidently my excellent seamstress Mom didn’t use the same method to get to the end project meaning that I’d sew at night under Mom’s instructions only to have to rip it all out the next day to do it HER way. I did get it finally completed, but by the end I absolutely hated sewing and anything to do with it – still do to this day.

    1. I feel your pain. Besides being a failure in the cooking class, I had a similar experience in the sewing class. After breaking 3 needles, without benefit of having a broken hand, the teacher stepped in to sew the one seam. When I made a skirt in my first sewing class, I sewed it to the one I was wearing. I cut a hole in both. We had to wear our finish product to gym class — mine was the only one with bric brac because that was how my mother covered the hole. I’m so bad that one of my favorite blouses needs a button sewed back on — and it has been waiting for two months. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Welcome back Debra! Congratulations on book #2. I can’t wait to read it. And, I’ll confess, I think I have to try jello in a can.

  6. Debra, you know that pimento cheese is favored in our part of the country. I used to get Ruth’s and then add hand grated sharp cheddar and mayo (Hellman’s for me) until it tasted good. Not sure if that helps you with a recipe, but maybe an idea? Congratulations and best wishes on your continued success!

  7. I’ve got an almost fool proof cooking method. Open the freezer. Read the directions on the box. Put the TV dinner in the microwave and follow them. Problems solved.

  8. Oh I appreciate your humor, Debra! I’ve never heard of Jell-O in a Can, but it sounds like something my family would like to make (and eat). I do cook from scratch, but I also often use shortcuts to make it easier or faster, like mixing peas, jarred gravy, and leftover chicken into some prepared stuffing and baking it into a casserole. I also like to buy spinach artichoke dip from the freezer section or deli and filling mushrooms with it to make stuffed mushrooms for an appetizer or for dinner.

    1. I like the idea of using the spinach artichoke dip in the mushrooms. Now, if I can figure out how to make an indentation in the mushroom. Thanks for stopping by!

    1. During my wedding shower, someone gave me a recipe box with the suggestion that I use “reservations.” Shall we meet for dinner or “take-out” again in the near future?

  9. Whenever I use canned soup, I add some bagged spinach. Actually I add it to most leftovers as well as other vegetables. Although I try to cook and then have leftovers, I have frozen dinners in the freezer for when time is short.

    1. Leftovers is not something popular at my house. If you don’t want to eat it the first time, sadly, it doesn’t improve. Sounds like you have a better knack for making leftovers delightful.

  10. Your cooking class disaster is even worse than mine–but I did get out of tasting the product. Because of a lack of canisters, someone (probably the teacher)decided to put the flour and salt and sugar in jars–without labeling them.My partner and I made hot chocolate. The teacher took one taste and made us show her what we’d used. Yes, it was the salt instead of the sugar. She passed us and didn’t make us try the hot chocolate.
    Later, on parent’s night, my Mom told her that butter was better in cooking than margarine. I guess I’m lucky I passed the class. Merrily

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