My Three Favorite Book Club Recipes


I heard from a reader last week who is planning to discuss Secrets of Hallstead House at her November book group meeting. She was wondering where to find questions that her group might discuss after reading the book. My first thought, no joke, was “I wonder if they have snacks at their book group meetings.”

After I emailed the reader a list of questions, I got thinking about a couple things:

First, I’d love to have book club discussion questions at the end of each of my books. I can’t do that for Secrets of Hallstead House or The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, but I quickly contacted my editor and he thinks he can get some discussion questions into House of Hanging Jade before we get any farther in the production schedule. So thanks, Susan, for the idea!

Second, I started wondering what I would serve at a book club meeting. I am not in a book club, but I’ve been to plenty of book club meetings. There’s always food. I’ve been to meetings with cheesecake samplers, pizza bites, cookies, chips, pretzels (the kind covered with chocolate and dipped in nuts and sprinkles), sandwiches, and other foods too numerous to mention.

I decided to come up with my three favorite appetizer recipes and I’m going to share them with you here. Please note, at least two of these recipes are not for people who are trying to diet!


Jalapeno Popper Dip (I got this from “EveryDay with Rachael Ray”)

3 slices bacon, chopped

1 c. panko

3 cans (4 oz. each) diced jalapenos, drained

2 pkgs. (8 oz. each) cream cheese, room temperature

1 c. mayonnaise

1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese

1 small fresh jalapeno, seeded and chopped

1 T. grated Parmesan cheese

Tortilla chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large skillet cook bacon over medium heat until crispy, 6-8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Drain all but 2 T. of the bacon drippings; add the panko and stir to coat. Remove from heat.

In a bowl, mix half the bacon with the canned jalapenos, cream cheese, mayonnaise, and cheddar cheese. Transfer mixture to a 2-qt. baking dish. Sprinkle with the panko, remaining bacon, fresh jalapeno, and Parmesan cheese.

Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 25-30 minutes.

Serve with tortilla chips.


Tomato Sort-Of Bruschetta (I adapted this from “Food Network Magazine”)

2 lbs. tomatoes, cut into large chunks

3/4 t. Kosher salt

2 T. olive oil

1 T. red wine vinegar

1/4 c. chopped chives or basil

1 baguette, sliced

Toss tomatoes with the salt and set in a colander placed over a bowl: let drain for 15 minutes. Whisk the olive oil and the vinegar into the tomato juices. Toss tomatoes with chives or basil and serve with bread.


Fruit Dip

2 small boxes instant vanilla pudding

3 c. cold milk

8 oz. container whipped topping

almond extract to taste

cut-up fruit

Mix pudding and milk for about 2 minutes. Fold in whipped topping. Add almond extract to taste. Serve with cut-up fruit.


What would you serve at a book club meeting?

Until next week,


P.S. Wine is also a staple at many book club meetings! If you’re interested in my thoughts on wine, please check out the “Wines” section of my blog or go to my website ( and select the “Home” tab then select “Wines.”


And the Winner Is…

Every year around this time there’s this huge football game on television. Maybe you’re familiar with it. My kids love it because it gives them an excuse to have Doritos and potato chips for dinner and it gives me an excuse to gorge myself on dips that are very unhealthy. That being said, it’s not all about the food. We do actually watch the game (well, at least I did this year. I can’t say that I’ve watched it every year). And the ads.

Every year after the Superbowl, the USA Today Ad Meter ranks the Superbowl commercials according to popularity. But this year I’ve decided to put out my own list, because I disagree with Ad Meter for the most part.

The winners on my list receive nothing but bragging rights, and I’m not really sure how much they’re worth, but I had a lot of fun ranking my favorites.

Here goes:

5. The public service spot against domestic violence. If you didn’t see it, a woman calls 9-1-1 and pretends to order a pizza so that her abuser doesn’t know what she’s doing and the dispatcher knows something is wrong. Not too long ago when an identical incident was in the news, the woman’s bravery and the dispatcher’s willingness to see the call through and not dismiss it as a prank sent chills up my spine. Happened again during the ad. Want to see it?

4. A commercial for Jeep Renegade. If you didn’t see it, the soundtrack was “This Land is Your Land” and the ad featured photos and video from beautiful places all over the world. I have loved that song since I was little, so I think that’s why I chose the ad for my #4 slot. You can find it at

3. A commercial for Carnival Cruise Lines. If you missed it, it’s called “Come back to the sea” and includes tape of President John F. Kennedy talking about the beauty and majesty of the oceans and why they’re so important. Though the shots of Carnival cruise ships and ports around the world were beautiful, the narration was a very classy way to advertise the cruise line without actually talking about the ships. Incidentally, I’ve never been on a cruise and won’t go on one even after seeing this ad, but the ad was very good, nonetheless.

2. Like almost everyone else who saw the ad, I loved the Budweiser commercial where viewers are reunited with the second-cutest puppy in the world (give you one guess which dog I think is the cutest–mine) and his best-friend-Clydesdale. In this ad, the puppy gets lost, is alone and running out in the pouring rain, and has finally seen his farm again from a faraway hill when he hears the low growl of a wolf (or is it a coyote?) behind him. Miraculously, the horses in the barn hear his whines and bust out of their stalls, running to his aid and scaring the wolf away. Then the horses, led by the puppy, run back to the farm, where the puppy’s owner is thrilled to have his buddy back. This ad is accompanied by the song “I’m Gonna Be,” which I found a little slow, but otherwise matches the circumstances perfectly. If you’ve never heard the song by the original artists, The Proclaimers, I highly recommend it. It’s been on my iPod for years.

1. There was only one ad that made me laugh out loud, and in my opinion that’s the best meter for any ad. Did you see Liam Neeson in the commercial for Clash of Clans? Liam Neeson is standing in a bakery, waiting for his order, playing the video game Clash of Clans. When he loses, he adopts his superhero-like persona from the “Taken” movies, vowing revenge “with lots of barbarians and dragons” on “bigbuffetboy85.” He calls himself “angryneeson52.” An added bonus- the man behind the counter mispronounces “Liam” when his scone is ready. Very funny. The whole ad is just fantastic and I recommend it if you missed it.

Here are the other ads that round out my top ten.

6. Guy with empty seat next to him on plane does everything he can to discourage others from taking the seat. He clips his toenails, sneezes, you name it, until he sees this pretty blond woman in line looking for a seat. He indicates the seat next to him and only then do the people in front of her pass by and he notices that she has a baby with her.

7. Avocado goes to Mexico in the world’s first-ever draft. The polar bear really wanted Mexico. Incidentally, Australia got the kangaroo and Mauritius got the dodo bird. Want to see it?

8. Real girls show how to throw like a girl, run like a girl, etc. Great girl power ad, and especially timely as it comes after the death of Colleen McCullough, the author of The Thorn Birds. For those of you who are not aware, an Australian  obituary of Ms. McCullough focused, unbelievably, on her weight and looks in addition to her literary and humanitarian accomplishments. If you want to see the ad, do a Google search for “Always #likeagirl” and you should find it. It’s not working as a link from my blog, though.

9. Coke makes the internet a happier place. I really liked this ad…if only it could really happen.

10. Microsoft ad with Estella’s Brilliant Bus– a bus that brings tech to underserved kids. Check it out at

What did I think were the worst ads, you ask?

Well, here are a few things I didn’t want to see during the Superbowl: Kim Kardashian (I see enough of her standing in the checkout line at the grocery store and on Yahoo), an ad for toenail fungus, an ad featuring a boy who turned out to be dead (although I must admit that the ad was a powerful one), and anything at all from Godaddy, though I have to say that their choice for a “replacement” ad was much better than their original ad, a totally humorless parody of the Budweiser puppy ad. Interestingly, Godaddy departed from its normal Superbowl fare, which is typically an offensive ad featuring a half-clad woman (by the way, Godaddy’s normal Superbowl ads are the reason I don’t use Godaddy to power my website).

Before I finish this very long post, I’d like to share with you the ultimate winner of this year’s Superbowl: Rachael Ray’s Jalapeno Popper Dip. Here’s the recipe:

What were your favorite ads from the 2015 Superbowl?

Until next week,