Showing posts with label A Turn for the Bad. Show all posts
Showing posts with label A Turn for the Bad. Show all posts

Friday, June 17, 2016

Spicy Carrots

I love traveling. Or more specifically, I love being somewhere else—in this case, Ireland. Not the getting there (where’s that transporter when you need it?). 

Even when you’re there and having a wonderful time, after a while it gets very tempting to forget about cooking (much less going out and wandering the dark lanes trying to find a town with a restaurant) and settle for a dinner of bread and cheese (assuming it’s one of those countries that produces both good bread and good cheese, which Ireland does).

So what say you make one dish fresh? This is another one based on that lovely pub cookbook, intended as a side dish. There are always carrots, everywhere, right? They seem to keep forever. Well, here’s a way to dress them up, when you’re scraping the bottom of the vegetable keeper.

Note: Of course I have to use West Cork Irish Whiskey. The West Cork Distillers in Skibbereen is fairly new, but the three relatively young guys who run it are doing a great job. I should know, because I checked out the place and sampled a few of their products (which are now available in the U.S.). Research, of course—I do write about an Irish pub, where whiskey is served. 

And then I included the guys as characters in A Turn for the Bad.

Glazed Carrots with Whiskey and Ginger

1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
Pinch of sea salt
1/4 cup peanut oil
3 Tblsp salted butter
4 large carrots (about 1 pound), sliced into half-inch thick circles (if you want to get fancy you can slice them at an angle)
1-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced into matchsticks
2 Tblsp Irish whiskey
½ cup chicken stock


Mix together the sugar, pepper and salt and set aside.

Heat the oil and half the butter in a large skillet. Add the sliced carrots in a single layer and sprinkle with the sugar mixture. Cook over medium-high heat for 3 minutes, then turn the slices (carefully, because you want to sort of caramelize both sides) and lower the heat if they seem to be cooking too fast. When the carrots are slightly browned on both sides (maybe even starting to blacken at the edges) remove them from the pan onto a plate.

Clean out the skillet with paper towels (do not wash!). Add the ginger and cook over medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes, until golden (but not burnt!). Add the ginger to the carrots on the plate.

Add the remaining butter, the whiskey, and the stock to the pan. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 3 minutes or until the liquid thickens and becomes syrupy. 

Return the carrots and ginger to the skillet and swirl for 1 minute. Serve immediately.

There you go: quick, easy and colorful. And tasty!

If you want to find out what my friend the whiskey-maker does to help save the day, check out A Turn for the Bad (County Cork Mysteries #4, from February 2016).

Available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and lots of other places (I hope!).

Friday, April 1, 2016

Floating Islands

I woke up a couple of days ago thinking about the dessert Floating Islands. I really don’t know why. While there are few ingredients, It’s kind of a pain to make, because there are finicky parts to the recipe. It’s definitely kind of old fashioned. But for me it brings back memories.

I have no doubt told you before that my grandmother didn’t cook, except for fudge and meatloaf (why just those? I have no idea.). My mother produced tasty, healthy meals, but I don’t know how much pleasure she took in the whole process. But for some unknown reason I have a very clear memory of the two of them working together, in the kitchen of a house we rented for only a few years, to make this dish. It wasn’t a holiday meal or anything. Maybe they had some spare time or wanted to distract themselves from other things. I think my grandmother had her own memories of the dish, and while she might not have been able to make it herself, she certainly felt free to offer opinions and instructions. Me (age 11 or so), I just kept out of their way and watched.

But what made it memorable for me was that it’s kind of a playful dish: meringue islands floating in a yellow sea of custard. (Maybe that makes it appropriate for April Fools’ Day?)

Fanny Farmer said only, make custard, spoon beaten egg whites or whipped cream on top. Uh, no. These days we kind of prefer to cook our eggs. So I turned to The Joy of Cooking, where the recipe made much more sense.

Floating Island (or Snowy Eggs)

For the Islands:

3 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups [whole] milk

Separate the egg whites and yolks. Set aside the yolks.

Whip the egg whites until stiff, then beat in the sugar gradually.

Scald the milk (anybody remember how to do that? I do it in the microwave, in stages. You know it’s scalded when a thin skin forms on top. Discard the skin before using!). 

You can just see the skin
Place in on the heat but turn it down as low as it will go. Drop tablespoons of the egg white mixture onto the top of the milk and poach gently (for about four minutes), turning once. DO NOT LET THE MILK COME TO A BOIL!

Lift out the poached meringues carefully (there’s an understatement!) with a skimmer and lay them gently on a paper towels to drain.

The sea (all right, the custard)

You will still have the yolks left over from the eggs above, right? You’ll need another quarter-cup of sugar now.

In a double boiler (you do have one of those? I have my mother’s and my grandmother’s, both now definitely vintage) put the milk you’ve already scalded (still warm) in the top pan. Slowly stir in the slightly-beaten egg yolks, whisking steadily, plus 1/4 cup of sugar and a pinch of salt.

The heirloom double boilers
Put the top pan with the egg-milk mixture over lightly boiling water in the bottom half (do not let the bottom of the top pot come into contact with the water or you’ll get scrambled eggs). Stir the mixture constantly until it begins to thicken, which may take a while, then remove from the heat and let cool. Beat it occasionally to keep in smooth.

If you want, you can add vanilla, rum, or grated lemon rind for flavor now. Then pour the custard into a pretty serving dish (this will be a thin layer), cover loosely and place it in the refrigerator and chill thoroughly.

Assembling the dish

When the custard is cool, gently slip the meringue “islands” on top and return the dish to the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve it.

It’s kind of an odd dish, I must say. It’s very light, and mostly liquid, but it tastes pleasant. BTW, this recipe as given made enough for four small servings—not a lot given the effort to make it. 

There's floating involved here, right? A Turn for the Bad (County Cork Mystery #4) is still floating along happily at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Spring Fever Pasta

Spring! I finally saw my first crocus! The lilacs have buds! I am positively giddy, and I may have gone a little crazy in the supermarket this past weekend. I’ll blame it on spring fever.

I promised you a recipe that wasn’t fish or cookies (or even Irish!). I was mulling over options when I found myself in the vegetable section of our local market and saw one of those bags of tiny peppers, in vivid yellow, orange and red. Ooh, pretty! (Hey, it’s been a long, dull, brown winter in New England.) Then I turned around and there was a basket of tiny tomatoes in the same colors. Light bulb moment!

And if that wasn’t enough, I had some humongous carrots waiting at home (they label them Rainbow Carrots, and they come in shades of orange, yellow and red). That clinched it. I wanted bright! Sunny! Cheerful!

I grabbed a package of fresh chives for color contrast and headed home to throw together a quick and easy pasta dish. This one’s simple, once you get done cutting up your vegetables.

Spring Fever Pasta

1 bag mini sweet peppers (in assorted colors)
1 package tiny tomatoes (likewise)
1 giant carrot (or a couple of smaller ones)
A bunch of fresh chives (use plenty, because 
they give a bit of onion flavor to the dish,
   as well as color)
Olive oil for cooking

Pasta of your choice (I used fettucine, but the kind doesn’t make much difference. This amount of sauce was about right for 12 ounces of pasta (not quite a full supermarket box), or two servings for hungry adults.)

Salt and pepper to taste


Rinse your peppers and tomatoes. For the peppers, cut off the stems and remove the seeds and any thick membranes. Cut into julienne strips. For the tomatoes, halve or quarter them (depending on size) and remove the seeds.

Teeny tiny cutters
Now here’s another crazy part. I love buying the colored carrots. They all taste about the same, but the colored ones are pretty. For some reason, recently the ones in our market have been immense (although reasonably tender), and I had a few left. I grabbed the pale yellow one.

I also had a set of miniature cutters, which I think was one of my flea market finds. It turned out they were all of tiny birds and animals. I looked at my giant carrot, and I looked at my cutters—and I decided to make birds and bunnies. (I could have made cows, but that made less sense to me.) So, peel your carrot(s), slice thinly, and cut out whatever shapes you feel like (that will fit inside a carrot slice). Or if you’re a normal sensible person, just julienne them like the rest of the vegetables.

Put on your pasta water to boil. Read the label, because cooking time for pasta is all over the map. Mine happened to need 11 minutes cooking time, which I figured was about right for putting together the sauce. Once the water came to a boil, I added the pasta and then turned to the sauce.

See? Fish and birds
In a sauté pan, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom over medium heat. Put in the carrots (they will take the longest to cook) and cook a couple of minutes until they’re softened. Add the peppers and continue to cook for a few more minutes. Add the tomatoes and let them release their juices for a couple of minutes. Toss in the chives last. Add salt and pepper as needed.

Drain the pasta and place a serving in individual bowls. Spoon the vegetables over the top. Add a sprinkle of parmesan cheese if you like, or just enjoy the flavor of the vegetables on their own. And take a moment to enjoy the colors!

A Turn for the Bad is still sailing along.

Find it at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


And coming in June: Dead End Street, the next book in the Museum Mystery series.

The New York Times bestselling author of Privy to the Dead returns to Philadelphia for more history—and a chilling mystery . . .
When the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society discovers it owns some unique real estate, a deadly plot unfolds . . .
Society president Nell Pratt believes life is finally going her way. Everything’s running smoothly at work, and her love life is thriving. Then some unexpected news rocks her foundation. Two members of a local neighborhood rescue program, Tyrone Blakeney and Cherisse Chapman, inform Nell that her society owns an abandoned row house in a rundown area of Philadelphia and they insist on taking her to see the property before its date with the wrecking ball.
But soon after they arrive at the house, Cherisse is fatally shot and Tyrone is badly injured. The police believe it’s just random violence in a bad neighborhood, but Nell thinks there’s more to it and is determined to find answers before someone else becomes history . . .

Available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Friday, March 11, 2016

Saint Patrick's Day Pork Chops

I had written a nice post about pretty spring food and then I remembered: Saint Patrick’s Day is next Thursday, and I won’t be posting until the day after. Sure, you could make it a very long weekend, but I didn't want to miss the day, plus I found a new and tasty Irish dish (that doesn’t involve fish! Or cookies!).

Do you know, I’ve never been in Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day? So I can’t say whether the towns actually celebrate it (apart from Dublin, where the tourists are), or if it’s just another day, and it’s only the exiles who have made a big thing of it, with parades and turning a river green and the like. I'll be checking in with "my" pub to see how they handle things.

Cows in an Irish meadow (they're everywhere)
You might notice there’s a lot of cream and butter in this recipe. That shouldn’t be a surprise, since the dairy business is big in Ireland, particularly in West Cork (over 4,000 herds of cattle), and Kerrygold is one of the country’s largest exporters. I will not comment upon the rate of heart disease in Ireland. Why spoil the fun?

The pork? Well, back when people there were just scraping by with their small dairy herd and their potato hills, they kept a pig to sell for cash, which was hard to come by. There’s now a large piggery up the hill from where my grandfather was born (and a lot of empty houses around it, because a piggery is rather aromatic).

Saint Patrick's Day Pork Chops with Honey Whiskey Green Peppercorn Sauce(Inspired by The New Irish Table by Margaret Johnson)

[Note: This recipe serves four. Since there are only two of us at home, I cut it in half, which is what you see in the pictures.]


4 pork chops (abt 1/2 lb each)
Forgive the mess: I'm doing a bit of
spring cleaning in my pantry closet
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for cooking


3/4 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into
small pieces
1 Tblsp green peppercorns (preserved in liquid)
1/2 cup Irish whiskey
1/2 cup honey

Pat the pork chops dry, and season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet and saute the chops. Remove them while they=re still a bit springy (they will continue to cook from their own heat). Place on a plate and cover, then keep warm while you prepare the sauce.

[Note: a lot of recipes call for cooking liquid to reduce it by some percentage. I can=t just eyeball that, and every pan is different anyway. The bottom line is, cook until the liquid thickens a bit. Use the time estimate if you want.]

Wine in the pan (if this was French, it would
be called deglazing)
In the same pan, cook the wine over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, or until reduced by half.

Add the chicken stock and cook for another 4-5 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by one-third.

Add the cream and cook for another 4-5 minutes, or until reduced again by one-third.

All liquids in the pan
Slightly mash up the green peppercorns with the back of a spoon, then stir into the sauce.

Whisk in the butter, one piece at a time, and cook for 2-3 minutes or until thickened.

Stir in 2 Tblsp of the whiskey and 2 Tblsp of the honey, and cook for 3-5 minutes until smooth. Taste it and add more of either or both if you want. Ditto with the salt and pepper.

The finished sauce
Place a generous spoonful of sauce on each warm plate and set a pork chop on it. Surround with boiled new potatoes. Serve with the remaining sauce on the side.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh

Yes, that's Ireland--Glandore Harbour in West Cork. No, it's not March in this picture. (Nor in the book coming next year. Hmm, maybe the one after that?)

Find it at Barnes and Noble or Amazon

Friday, March 4, 2016

Fish Cakes

One more fish recipe. That’s all, I promise. 

I live in New England, where spring is late to arrive. I haven’t seen anything green yet, nor any swelling buds, even on my apple trees. Pity those poor early settlers, who had basically run out of everything by this time of year. Imagine salt cod, sprouting potatoes and mushy apples—and little else. 

I’m lucky to have discovered the series of diaries written by the woman of the Massachusetts house I write about in the Orchard Mysteries. Her name was Olive Barton Warner, and we’re distantly related. She kept a day to day journal about the household activities for herself and her daughters (her husband Eugene gets a mention now and then, but he’s usually outside dealing with the farm). She’s surprisingly literate, with a nice hand, although her punctuation is a little unpredictable. Here’s one typical entry:

“I fried a batch of raised doughnuts made a loaf of gingerbread and 6 pies (my first rhubarb made two). Eugene went up and got Ruth after dinner–we cut L's dress earlier. The girls picked our first greens this P.M.”
The date was April 29th, 1880. So you can see we’re not quite close to harvesting any fresh vegetables around here (I don’t do rhubarb!).

But there was still fish. Here’s a recipe adapted from one in the New York Times recently, for a New England staple, fish cakes.

New England Fish Cakes


6 peppercorns

1 bay leaf
1 lemon slice
1 pound flaky white-fish fillets
2 Tblsp unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced or pressed
1 heaping Tblsp mayonnaise
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 eggs
1-1/2 tsp kosher salt
Several grinds black pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1 heaping cup panko
1/2 bunch of parsley
Oil for cooking (I keep finding recipes that call for “neutral” oil like canola oil. I assume they mean anything that is not olive oil)

This is one pound of fish
First you poach your fish. Fill a shallow pan with high sides with an inch of water. Set it over high heat and add the peppercorns, bay leaf, and lemon. When it comes to the simmer, place the fish in the pan and cook at a low simmer until the flesh is just white all the way through (this took literally about two minutes—do not overcook!). Remove the fish pieces with a wide spatula and set aside to cool.

Empty the pan. Place it over medium heat and add the butter and let it melt, then add the onions and garlic and sauté until they soften, then set them aside in a large bowl.

In another bowl, mix the mayonnaise, mustard, eggs, salt, pepper (and red pepper flakes, if you’re using them). Add to the bowl with the onions and garlic. Add the panko crumbs and stir. Add the parsley and stir again.

Flake the cooled fish into the mixture carefully (you don’t want to mush up the flakes!). Make the mixture into patties (this should make 4-6). Place them on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (which is the only way they won’t fall apart when you try to cook them).

Set a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add enough oil to cover the bottom. When the oil is shimmering, remove the fish cakes from the refrigerator (you don’t need to let them warm up) and carefully slide them into the cooking out, then sauté them until they are golden brown on each side (4-5 minutes per side). (Praying during the flipping operation is advised.)

Serve with a green vegetable (no doubt imported from Mexico or South America).

Believe it or not, the fish stays moist during its cooking.

There's a boat on the cover of A Turn for the Bad. Guess what: it's not used for fishing!

My favorite fish shop in Union Hall, on Glandore
Harbour in West Cork

You can find A Turn for the Bad on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Or in Skibbereen!