Sunday, February 12, 2023

New Project

I have a new project that's been brewing for a while now, but have finally put in motion. 

Many decades ago, there was a series of mystery books written by Lillian Jackson Braun called The Cat Who... series. It featured a reporter, James Qwilleran (Qwill to his friends), retired from the big city, who moves to the middle of nowhere, inherits a LOT of money, adopts two Siamese cats (in separate incidents), and gets involved in many mysterious developments. The way he is described -- brooding, but charming, with a luxuriant mustache -- I always imagine him looking like a more debonair Wilford Brimley:
Throughout the series, Qwill -- and his cats -- eat lots of delicious food, and a cookbook was eventually published.

My mother and I devoured the books in the late 80s, early 90s, and of course she purchased the cookbook. (Mrs. Cobb's Coconut Cake is a family favorite.) When the pandemic started, I returned to the series to re-read the ones I read so long ago and finish reading the later books in the series. Last spring, I decided I would cook up all the recipes in the book and makes TikToks about them. I have since reeled myself in a bit. No need to commit to doing ALL the recipes (IN ORDER!); just relax and do the recipes I want in whatever order I want whenever I feel like it! 

There are 29 books in all -- the 30th as yet unpublished since the death of the author in 2011. I'm up to book #28. The Cat Who... Cookbook covers through the 25th book, so I've added some recipes from the remaining books to try as well. There are almost 300 recipes in the cookbook, covering everything from main dishes and sides to beverages and desserts, so there's plenty to try, even if I don't make them all. 

Two weekends ago, I started my first one! I chose to make the Hot-Mild Barbecued Beef from the À La Carte section of the recipes for The Cat Who Sang for the Birds. Its mention from the books says,
"When Qwilleran entered Chet's [Bar & Barbecue] for the first time, all the tables were filled, and the atmosphere was hazy with smoke. (In the late 80s, early 90s, smoking in public places was still allowed.) [His friend] signaled him from the bar...

"An overworked waitress interrupted. "Pork, beef, or turkey? Sandwich or platter? Hot-mild, hot-hot, or call 911?" In a matter of seconds she was back with plastic plates piled high, while two fluffy white rolls teetered on the summit."
This recipe starts with a 3-4 pound round bottom roast. I have never made any kind of a roast before. I've roasted a turkey breast and done pork tenderloins in the crock pot, but this was an adventure for me! I'm so grateful to have Jacqueline; she's a whiz in the kitchen, just *knows* things, and does most of her cooking by intuition! Still, this first recipe threw us some curveballs. 

Our first bump on the road came when we couldn't find a round bottom roast. If it was me alone, I probably would have given up right then & there. But Jacqueline reassured me, the *top* round roast, while significantly larger than 3-4 pounds, could be used interchangeably, and the extra meat could be frozen and used for another meal later. I tried not to balk too much at the price.

Our second bump on the road? The instructions seemed to have left some things out:
"Bake roast, covered, in a pan filled 1/4 full of water, approximately 4 hours or until fork tender."
What kind of pan? What temperature? They didn't specify! Again, #blessed! Jacqueline did some googling, and we decided to use the glass 9x13" pan, and filled it about 1/3 full of water (cuz I measured poorly! 😭 Jacqueline reassured me again that it's not so precise and it'll be fine), then cook the roast at 275°F for 4 hours and then see if it's fork tender or needs more. We also decided, it needed some seasoning -- salt & pepper at a minimum -- so I added that, tightly covered it with foil and popped it in the oven.

Meanwhile, with no sides offered other than the rolls mentioned in the book, I decided to make Southern-style Sweet & Sour Green Beans to go with dinner. You can find the recipe I followed at ( Since I was using the No-Salt-Added canned green beans that we were given at Christmas, I did add extra salt, but made no other modifications. We also had instant mashed potatoes, but could have had bread & butter.

After four hours of patiently waiting, we checked the roast. It was not fork tender yet. So we turned it over, added more salt & pepper, loosely covered it (there was a lot of liquid now!), and put it back in the oven, which we turned up to 350°F for another hour.

At this point, I started working on the sauce: sautéed onions get mixed with a slew of spices, 16 oz of tomato paste (yes, paste!), a little ketchup, molasses, vinegar & Worcestershire sauce, then simmered for 20-30 minutes. This "sauce" was a lot more like paste, so I added some of the liquid from the beef to thin it out some so it could actually simmer instead of just...burning. After that, the beef was added and simmered for another 30 minutes! We were all going insane because it smelled so good, but we did do a little taste test and decided it *really* needed more salt and probably more *other* seasonings, because it was pretty plain tasting.

After the final simmer for 30 minutes, we created our "platters" of barbecued beef with the sweet & sour green beans and instant mashed potatoes. My verdict? This was diner food. Not bad, but not great either. Canned green beans aren't the most flavorful, and these could have used more vinegar in my opinion. Jacqueline thought they needed more salt. I also thought the barbecued beef needed more vinegar, and brown sugar, and cayenne & black pepper, and any other seasonings! Jacqueline added a little liquid smoke and Montreal Steak Seasoning to her portion and thought it was pretty good that way. 

We had a lot of leftovers that were made into sandwiches, burritos, and topped some mac & cheese. This would also have been good on top of baked potatoes! Next time though, we'll season it more to our liking.

P.S. You can see the TikTok I made at