Sunday, August 2, 2009

Our First Guest Blogger - Sheila Connolly

Today we would like to welcome our first guest blogger, Sheila Connolly. Sheila has taught art history, structured and marketed municipal bonds for major cities, worked as a staff member on two statewide political campaigns, and served as a fundraiser for several non-profit organizations. She also managed her own consulting company providing genealogical research services. Now a full-time writer, she thinks writing mysteries is a lot more fun than any of her previous occupations. Currently she writes two mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. Her Through a Glass, Deadly (March 2008, under the name Sarah Atwell) was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel; Pane of Death followed in November 2008, and Snake in the Glass in September 2009. Under her own name, her Orchard Mystery Series debuted in 2008 with One Bad Apple. The sequel, Rotten to the Core, came out in July 2009.

For today’s blog, we posed a few fun questions to Sheila.

Name three things in your refrigerator right now.

Butter (three kinds), cream (a quart), and duck fat.

Do you cook or are you a take-out queen?

I love to cook and to try new recipes. Besides, there's no place in this town that I live in with decent take-out (even the Chinese is terrible).

What three living people would you invite to a dinner party?

Meryl Streep, Hilary Clinton, and Nevada Barr.

What three mystery characters would you invite to a dinner party?

Harriet Vane, Kinsey Milhone, and Miss Marple.

What's a typical weeknight dinner at your house?

There is no typical–my daughter, who is currently living with us, doesn't get home from work until eight some nights, so the schedule is kind of erratic. My husband and I have usually alternated nights cooking. He prefers a short list of dependable dishes, I experiment a lot. Also, he's a scientist and wants specific measurement, while I taste and fiddle with recipes as I go.

You’re adding a restaurant into your Apple Orchard series. Why?

The series is based on a real house in a real town in western Massachusetts, where I spend a lot of time (in fact, it inspired the book). However, there is nowhere to eat there! So I decided to make them a gift of a local-food restaurant, started by a pair of starry-eyed young cooks from Boston, who of course run into problems–like a body.

What is the appeal of food in a book about an orchard owner?

My heroine Meg Corey is so busy trying to learn how to manage an orchard (not to mention solving murders) that she has little time to cook. But she's producing a food crop, so she has to think about how it's going to be used, and how to market her apples. Besides, there are hundreds of wonderful apple recipes, both old and new, and it's fun to share them.

Is your heroine a good cook or is she going to look around town for someone to feed her curiosity?

She knows good food when she tastes it. She helps work out the business side of opening the new restaurant, because she's really looking forward to having someplace to eat in town.

You’ve come up with a wonderful cupcake recipe, I hear. Tell us about your journey to finding this recipe?

When I decided to create this fictional restaurant, and to give it a local-food orientation, of course I had to talk to chefs and taste a lot of dishes. The executive chef at Trattoria Tomasso near here was kind enough to spend time with me and explain how he obtains his supplies and plans his menus. He also gave me a tour of the kitchen, showing me how things really work behind the scenes in a restaurant. The last time I ate there I had a wonderful cheesecake tart made with local goat cheese, and I wanted to replicate it. Actually it's very simple to make (although his is a bit more elegant).


1/2 cup crumbled sugar cookies (homemade or store-bought)
1/4 cup finely-chopped hazelnuts
1 Tblsp plus 1 tsp sugar
3 Tblsp unsalted butter
1 8-oz package cream cheese at room temperature
8 oz. goat cheese of your choice (as bland or as tangy as you like)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.

Combine cookie crumbs, hazelnuts and sugar, then stir in melted butter. Press one tablespoon of the crumb mixture firmly in the bottom of each lined cup (the bottom of a glass works well for this). Bake until set, about 7 minutes.

Lower temperature to 275 degrees. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat cream cheese and goat cheese until smooth. Gradually add sugar, followed by vanilla. Beat until well combined, about 3 minutes. Drizzle in eggs, slowly, stopping often to scrape down sides of bowl. Beat in sour cream and salt.

Pour batter into lined cups, filling almost to very top. Bake for 20-22 minutes (rotate in oven once). Cool completely on wire racks. Refrigerate in tins at least 4 hours, or overnight. Makes one dozen.

At the restaurant the chef drizzled a little honey over the top, which adds some sweetness. A dash of seedless raspberry jam or syrup would add color and have the same effect.
Best to all!

Thank you, Sheila, for sharing a wonderful recipe and great answers.

And to all our fans, don't forget to enter to win our weekly Mystery Lovers' Kitchen contest. The first week contest ended last night at midnight. Week TWO starts today. The winner for week ONE will be announced...(cue suspenseful music)...tomorrow! Hope you'll all check it out. The prize is a $25 gift certificate to the Williams-Sonoma kitchenware and gourmet food store. Just sign in to this blog and leave a comment or send an "Enter me!" e-mail with your first name and state to


  1. Sheila, I love your adaptation of the chef's goat cheese tart. The hazelnuts in the crust are right up my alley. Thanks for taking the time to drop by and tell us about your mysteries, too!

    ~Cleo Coyle
    "Where coffee and crime are always brewing..."

  2. Sheila! Wonderful to have you here. Thanks so much for guest-blogging. Your cupcake recipe sounds easy and delicious and I'll give it a try the next time I'm entertaining. I have a feeling I'll be asked for the recipe and I'll send everyone here to "meet" you.

    Meg is a great character... I'm looking forward to her next adventure :-)


  3. Sheila, thanks for being our guest. I love both of your series!

  4. Yum! I can't wait to try it. I like the hazelnuts, too.

    And I agree about Meg. She's a fun character... I'm in the middle of Rotten to the Core right now.

  5. I love both your series, too, and today I'm reading Rotten to the Core. Can't figure out Bree just yet. You are so good at setting up conflicts, folks who might have a good reason to do in the victim. And the first book made me want to try every kind of apple, even though apples in such a wide range of varieties are not very available here. We do have many kinds of stone fruit, though!

  6. This is great, thanks for the opportunity!

  7. Nice to see you here, Sheila! And, I'll look forward to reading about the restaurant in the next book. And, if anyone hasn't tried Sheila's books, you're missing out.

    Lesa -

  8. Hey, Sheila! The goat cheese/cheesecake tarts sound divine -- I think that for those of us who love to cook and eat adding food to our books is unavoidable. (I, too, have duck fat in my refrigerator.)

    Oy! I have a somewhat rude word verification -- proarse -- tee hee!

  9. Welcome Shelia! Thanks so much for stopping by.

    I was a little curious about the duck fat in the it leaner to cook with?