Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Capirotada for Dessert and The 27 Ingredient Chili Con Carne Murders

Capirotada is Mexican Bread Pudding and traditionally eaten during the Lenten season but I learned about it in The 27 Ingredient Chili Con Carne Murders. While it officially was written by mystery writer Nancy Pickard, the book was based on the notes of Virginia Rich who passed away after writing three of my favorite mystery books.

Virginia Rich's sleuth was Mrs. Potter, Genia to her friends, and Genia was older than me when I first began reading the culinary mysteries in 1982, The Cooking School Murders, and now I am older than she was in the books. That's how long I've been reading these culinary mysteries!

Rich, a chef and newspaper food writer, is credited with writing the first mystery book in the culinary genre unless we count Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe back in the early 1930s. When she passed away her family found folders of notes for future books, including for The 27 Ingredient Chili Con Carne Murders. Nancy Pickard was asked to continue this one and went on to write two more Mrs. Potter mysteries. 

I tried the recipe for chili but honestly like my own better. This has been such a cold winter that chili has been almost a weekly staple here.

But for the night I tried this fabulous bread pudding recipe I made my vegetarian tortilla soup.


That's basically where I chop onion, bell pepper, red bell pepper and garlic and saute before stirring in Rancho Gordo chili powder (absolutely fabulous chili powder), cumin, paprika (also Rancho Gordo and so pungent), and oregano (you guessed it, their Mexican oregano, excellent since I used all of the truly superb oregano from Crete that Poppy sent me). I add a box of low sodium vegetable stock, fill it again with water and add, canned tomatoes, some Bob's Red Mill pearl barley, rice, and frozen organic corn and green beans, and sliced frozen okra (that adds such a great consistency to vegetable soups), jar of Trader Joe's Salsa Verde, and as little salt as I can get by with, plus freshly ground pepper, naturally. 

Top with chopped cilantro, scallions, jalapeños, and lime juice. I don't even miss the meat but RH prefers meat in his so when I make chili I put plenty of beef or chicken in it.

I made this meal in January while our Christmas trees were still up. I didn't quite make it to February 2nd this year but took the trees down on January 25th. 

And of course the poinsettia was fitting with the dessert of Mexican Bread Pudding where I used my two favorite plates for Mexican food of any kind.


I've had this small tablecloth for decades and remembered to pull it out of my tablecloth closet--yes, I have one where they all hang.

And here is the scrumptious Mexican Bread Pudding that was in the book, where people seemed to eat it even as an entree.

I found other recipes for Capirotada online but the one in this book was the only one I found that used a loaf of raisin bread in the recipe. 

I'll type out Nancy Pickard/Virginia Rich's recipe as it is in the book. I'll be making this again and by the way, the book that takes place in Arizona near the border on Mrs. Potter's cattle ranch is full of interesting characters and I felt that Pickard did a nice job of carrying on Mrs. Potter even though I'm partial to Rich's first three, Nantucket Diet Murders being my favorite.

If you have a favorite culinary mystery author please tell me her or his name!


To one quart boiling water add 2 cups brown sugar, 1 whole clove, 1 stick of cinnamon, and 1/4 cup butter. Simmer until a light syrup forms, then remove the clove and cinnamon.  Cut one loaf of raisin bread into cubes and dry in 250 F. oven until crusty. Rinse one cup of raisins in hot water, then drain. In a large buttered baking dish, continuously layer the bread cubes, raisins, 1 cup chopped walnuts, 1/4 pound grated Monterey Jack cheese and 1/4 cup grated longhorn cheese until all ingredients are used. Spoon the hot syrup evenly over the bread mixture. Bake in a preheated 350 F. for 30 minutes. Serve either hot or cold.

From The 27 Ingredient Chili Con Carne Murders by Nancy Pickard:

Juanita's capirotada could pass for either a dessert or a full meal, depending on one's appetite. Made with half a pound of cheese (a quarter pound each of longhorn and Jack), one whole loaf of raisin bread and a full cup of chopped walnuts, it boasted everything from calcium to fiber, especially when made with multigrain raisin bread instead of ordinary raisin bread. Some people ate it straight, Ricardo liked it with real whipped cream, Lew Porter had preferred ice cream, but Mrs. Potter was always happy to slosh it around in plain old milk.

The recipes in Virginia Rich's Mrs. Potter mystery books always work and I make some from each of them often. I still want to try another one from this book, the Chili Rellenos, because it calls for using a can of condensed milk. I'm trying to picture how that would taste.

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Did You Know About the Secret Lives of Cardinals?


February, the month of love, brought us a few surprises this year, one of which was a new visitor to our bird feeder.

This pale female cardinal has graced us with her presence daily and RH has caught her in his phone lens many times, rarely catching her completely still.

 And never with a good closeup of her eyes, the telling attribute to determine whether she is an Albino cardinal or a Leucistic cardinal, Albino having pink eyes or Leucistic with black eyes. 

However, when I look at the videos of both kinds of cardinals her coloring looks like the Albino cardinal. 

Here's her mate, or at least we think so...


I had always been told that cardinals mate for life and I remember crying the time I saw a handsome male cardinal fly into the window and fall to the ground with a broken neck. Something like that always breaks my heart, doesn't it yours? Because I also hurt for the bird who has lost their mate. 

I mean, I have been known to bawl when reading an old recipe for how to cook swans! How could anyone?

This month I've googled Albino and Leucistic cardinals, of course, here, and here for whether cardinals do truly mate for life. 

Turns out I probably shouldn't have worried so much about female cardinals. First of all, it is the female who chooses her mate, based on two things mind you, his bright red color and his ability to give her lots of baby birds. 

Yes, cardinals do basically mate for life...but young females have been known to ditch a mate who fails to give her a full nest and they very quickly choose another mate when widowed.

AND the little stinkers have been know to cheat on the males. 

Who knew??

All this reminds me of the old tear-jerker movie with Meryl Streep/Jack Nicholson, Heartburn, where she goes home to her father and crying, tells him her husband is in love with another woman. What is she going to do, she asks him.

"You want monagamy, marry a swan," he tells her.

And that classic Nora Ephron line brings back another memory, visiting in the home of a school friend while growing up and her mother, when we told her of exciting news in our young lives, would look amazed and say, "Well, I'll swan!"

Now, how do I end a weird post? 

Did you have pancakes yesterday morning for Shrove Tuesday breakfast? We enjoyed ours with the first vase of daffodils from the wild garden behind the barn.

 I'm a winter girl and still hold out hope for a true gorgeous deep snowfall for Middle Tennessee but I have to admit that I'm appreciating the signs of Spring around me. We're even supposed to have record-breaking high temperatures this week that will bring on more buds and blooms. And that also means that our one lilac will get freezer burn again this year. 

And all around us soon will be the whimsical sight of male birds courting females. If they only knew!