One of the great things about being a fiction author is that you get to make stuff up, or as Lawrence Block put it, “you get to lie for a living.” We create worlds, or recreate existing worlds, sculpt characters and provide them situations. We’re limited only by our imagination.
As authors we’re told to “write what you know” but I write mysteries without having murdered anyone, or even been near a murderer. I doubt that those writing about knights fighting dragons have experienced their words either. We make stuff up.
But occasionally this comes back to bite an author. Sometimes readers believe that we “write what we know.” And such was the case when my brother and his wife Kathie came to visit (see here for some coverage of that event). They had both read Her Book of Shadows which made their visit particularly fun. The setting for my mystery series is Quebec City so as we wandered the town, seeing the sights, I could point out the various scene locations of the book.
Then it happened. We were walking along my river, the St. Charles River and the topic of cooking came up. Kathie said, “I need to get your recipe for broccoli chicken.” Because I’m old and have a hard time remembering my birthday, it took me a few beats to figure out what she was talking about. Then the light went on. She was referring to this passage from Her Book of Shadows.
From Chapter Seventeen: I chopped the broccoli into small bits, using only the tops of the flower heads. I threw them into a bowl, grated Parmesan into it, added bread crumbs, lemon juice and some olive oil, creating a broccoli paste. I poured myself a glass of wine and added some to my mixture, adding more bread crumbs to maintain the paste consistency.
I sliced into one side of each chicken breast and filled the slot with broccoli paste, closing up the slot and holding it together with a couple toothpicks. I basted the exteriors with a bit of olive oil, sprinkling them with tarragon and a bit of pepper and I set the oven at 350F.
My protagonist, Scott Riker is making dinner for his family and one of the minor themes of the book is that he’s a decent cook. The problem here is that this “recipe” was a figment of my imagination. It wasn’t following that advice to “write what you know.” I was “making stuff up.” And so I was a bit embarrassed to admit that I’d never made stuffed broccoli chicken, though I was inwardly thrilled that it had seemed so believable.
But I like Kathie a lot. She likes broccoli and so do I. So, here’s how to make Riker’s famous Broccoli-stuffed Chicken. And while I never measure anything when I cook, I did so in this case to provide some quantities:
chicken breasts (3-4)
broccoli (1 cup of broccoli buds)
parmesan cheese (2 tablespoons)
bread crumbs (1 tablespoon)
lemon juice (1 tablespoon)
olive oil (enough to turn the rest into a loose paste)
* I also mixed bread crumbs, parmesan and tarragon for use in coating the exterior of the chicken
I mixed the broccoli paste in a small bowl. It doesn’t become a tight paste because of the broccoli but this result can be spooned into chicken breasts that have had a pocket sliced into them. I apologize that my kitchen isn’t set up for high-quality photography but here’s a photo of the paste to give you an idea of its consistency.
I spooned the paste into the pockets and basted the chicken breasts with olive oil. I sprinkled the bread crumb coating* on top. The chicken was transferred to a lined baking sheet that I’d painted with olive oil so they wouldn’t stick. This is how they looked as I stuffed them into a 375F oven.
About 45-minutes later, this is what they looked like. Within half an hour they had disappeared and my family was all smiles.
I admit that I do cook, so maybe when I’m making stuff up about Scott Riker cooking, I’m also “writing what I know.”