The night before her wedding, author Diane Mott Davidson tried to call things off. "We can't get married," she told her husband-to-be, "because I can't cook." It is a claim the writer of the 17th in the series of Goldy Schulz culinary mysteries, "The Whole Enchilada," can no longer make.
The series, about cooking and crime, is set in the fictional town of Aspen Meadow. The locale is strikingly similar to Evergreen, where the author and her husband have lived since 1976.
Readers first met Goldy in "Catering to Nobody," published in 1990. While escaping an abusive marriage, Goldy founded Goldilocks Catering. When she becomes a suspect in the murder of her former father-in-law, her career as a caterer is nearly ended but that of a sleuth is launched.
Each novel includes 10 recipes, drawn from the dishes Goldy serves over the course of the story.
"The main thing I look for in a recipe is taste, which is different from caterers and restaurants, who first ask 'How does it look?'" said Davidson in an interview from her Evergreen home. She works with ingredients that, as much as possible, are available at local grocery stores.
"Beginning cooks will find plenty of entry-level recipes in the books. I generally don't do labor-intensive ultra-gourmet recipes. (These) are a cue to me that the chef has a team of helpers, which someone coming home after a long day of work most definitely does not have," she said.
Her recipes often are inspired by something she has tried at a restaurant and wants to eat at home. Menu descriptions give her a starting point, arriving at the final recipe is the art.
"Menu writers aren't always honest," she said. "I was trying to make a caprese salad from a gourmet restaurant in Denver. I tried with the ingredients they said (using olive oil). I finally dragged a friend along, had her order the caprese and tell me what was in it. Not olive oil, it was basil oil."
The Macho Salad from the Cherry Creek Grill in Denver is the inspiration for Goldy's Chef Salad in the current novel. Davidson describes her recipe as "a close approximation." While recipes for this salad are available online, Davidson has made enough changes for the salad belong to Goldy and to make it approachable to beginners.
Davidson learned to cook from the Sunset magazine cookbooks (she used to call their test kitchens near Stanford when she was a student there), and by watching Julia Child on "The French Chef."
"Child made everything seem so possible and doable. I got confidence from that," Davidson said.
She studied "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and "The French Chef Cookbook," and said what she most admires "about Julia Child's recipes is that she succeeds at making French cooking accessible. I hope all my recipes are both accessible and that they taste good."
She was a fan of Child's, and Child was a fan of hers. It was "amazingly wonderful for me when Julia Child wrote me a fan letter ... several years before her death, thanking me for mentioning her in my books."
The plots and recipes tend to develop in parallel. She visited a bakery in Charlottesville, Va., and fell in love with their oatmeal cookie. "I asked for the recipe and they said no. So we took some cookies home," she said. Experimentation led to the recipe that was included in "The Cereal Murders."
"I have failures," she admitted. "I had this idea for a blue cheese pizza. It was too blue cheesy (for me); I took it to the neighbors, and they loved it."
The hardest thing, though, isn't the recipes that fail. "When I make a recipe for the first time and it's fabulous, I know I'm in trouble because I don't know exactly what I did and I can't replicate it. The recipes in the books have to come out the same the 10th and 20th time, I have to be able to replicate the taste and the texture," she said.
Next project: A cookbook
Goldy's life is good (but for the occasional murder; Aspen Meadow is no Cabot Cove). All that is missing is a cookbook, and Davidson said one is on its way: "The next contract is a cookbook. You need a critical mass of at least 100 recipes, and we have enough recipes over the course of 17 books. I'll add some — people are asking for low-carb recipes."
She's not sure when the finished product will be published; the manuscript is due in February. She's doing it as a holiday book, written in her voice with anecdotes about her road to becoming a cook and a writer. It will include recipes from Goldy and her assistant, Julian, with maybe one or two from Goldy's husband, Tom, thrown in.
Robin Vidimos is a freelance writer who lives in Centennial.
Online: Go behind the scenes at the photo shoot in Diane's kitchen with food editor Kristen Browning-Blas, blogs.denverpost.com/food
These enchiladas appear on the first page of Diane Mott Davidson's new book, "The Whole Enchilada." She developed the recipe at her Evergreen home. Makes 12 in a 9-by-13-inch pan.
2 cups heavy whipping cream
¼ cup active-culture buttermilk
ENCHILADAS AND FILLING
12 corn tortillas
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken, dark and light meat, skin and bones removed
2¼ cups crema (homemade sour cream, also known as crème fraîche, recipe follows) or commercial sour cream
2 cups grated mild or medium cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
2 tablespoons minced garlic
14½ ounces diced Italian-style (with garlic, basil, and oregano) tomatoes (Check contents of can. You may need more than one can.)
9 ounces (contents of two 4½-ounce cans) chopped fire-roasted mild chiles
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Additional crema or sour cream for topping
If you are making the optional crema, pour the cream into a glass container and stir in the buttermilk. Cover the container tightly with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until thick (usually 24 to 48 hours). Covered crema can be kept in the refrigerator for a week.
ENCHILADAS AND FILLING
When you are ready to make the enchiladas, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready a large plate and 13 absorbent paper towels. Fold the paper towels into quarters.
Overlap the tortillas in two large (9-by-13 inch or larger) pans so that as much of the surface of the tortillas is showing as possible. Drizzle the olive oil evenly over the tortillas in both pans. (You may have to use your hands or a pastry brush to spread oil evenly over the tortillas.) Place the pans in the oven and allow the tortillas to soften for about 5 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and check that the tortillas are softened by using tongs to lift up one of them. (You want them soft and pliable. If they are not yet soft, put the pans back in the oven for a couple of minutes. You do not want to cook the tortillas through, which will harden them.) When the tortillas are just cool enough to touch, place one of the folded towels on a plate. Using tongs, place one tortilla on the folded towel. Place another folded towel on top of the tortilla and press lightly to absorb excess oil. Continue with the remaining tortillas. Set aside.
Using a large bowl, make the filling by mixing the chicken, crema or sour cream, cheese and salt until blended. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add the onions and cook for a minute, stirring. Add the garlic and stir. Continue to cook and stir over low heat until the onion is translucent (about 10 minutes). Add the tomatoes, chiles and oregano. Simmer this mixture over low heat for 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly, and spoon into a 4-cup glass measuring cup. You should have 3 cups of sauce. If you do not have 3 full cups, add the extra tomato sauce to make 3 cups.
Butter a 9-by-3-inch glass pan.
To fill enchiladas, place each tortilla on a flat surface and scoop ¼-cup of filling into the center. Using your fingers or a spoon, shape the filling into a cylinder in the center of the tortilla. Roll up the tortilla and place it, seam side down, in the prepared pan. Continue until all the tortillas are rolled up.
Spoon the sauce over the tortillas and place the pan in the oven to bake until the center of the enchiladas is steaming hot, about 20 to 25 minutes. Serve with sour cream on the side, if desired.
Chocolate Snowcap Cookies
From "The Whole Enchilada" by Diane Mott Davidson. Tested at high altitude and sea level, this recipe works at both, and makes 3½ to 4 dozen cookies.
4 ounces extra-bittersweet or bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces (recommended brand: Lindt, be sure you are using a full 4 ounces, as package sizes differ)
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 large eggs
2 cups dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa (recommended brand: Hershey's Special Dark)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon chocolate extract (available at Sur La Table)
1 cup powdered sugar (for rolling)
Place the chocolate pieces and butter in the top of a double boiler and melt over simmering water. When the mixture is just melted, set aside to cool.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs until well combined and light yellow in color. Add the brown sugar and beat until very well combined.
Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
When the chocolate mixture is no more than lukewarm, stir it into the egg mixture. Using a wooden spoon, gently stir in the extracts and the dry ingredients.
Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and chill overnight. (The batter must be very well chilled.)
When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put silicone mats on two cookie sheets.
Place the powdered sugar in a large bowl. Remove the bowl of batter from the refrigerator. Using a 1-tablespoon scoop, measure out a dozen scoops of dough (level the scoops with a knife.) Put the plastic wrap back over the bowl of batter and return to the refrigerator, to keep the rest of the batter well chilled. (As the batter warms up, it becomes too sticky to work with.)
Roll the first dozen scoops into balls, then drop them one at a time into the bowl of sugar, rolling them around until they are white. Place the cookies in even rows on the first cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until the "cracks" in the dough no longer appear wet. Watch carefully, as you do not want the cookies to overbake and dry out.
When the first batch of cookies is done, remove it from the oven and allow the cookies to set up for 5 minutes on the sheet. Use a metal spatula to carefully move the cookies to cooling racks; let cool completely. Remove the bowl of dough from the refrigerator and repeat with the other cookie sheet. Repeat this process until all the dough is used up.
These cookies can be messy to serve, because of the powdered sugar. Serve them on plates.