Showing posts with label Book collector mystery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book collector mystery. Show all posts

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Light your torches - we're on!

By Victoria Abbott

Life is one long adventure and never more so than in the kitchen in strawberry season.  Here’s a quick and easy dessert that is perfect for the time when local strawberries are at their peak.  Don’t tell anyone, but it’s also good with the off-season imports.  And it doesn’t get much easier – once you have the right equipment.

We love crème brulée and we really loved the idea of  this strawberry yogurt crème brulée. The only problem was that neither one of us had a crème brulée torch.  No problem, MJ said, and tried to burn the sugar under her gas broiler. It made a lovely caramel topping that was not without its charms, but couldn’t be called brulée. We would need a torch. But it seemed like such an extravagance.  But … we couldn’t resist. Finally after reading up on it, we learned that a plumber’s blowtorch will do the same job, is less expensive and has more applications. 


So now we own one. Between us.

Here’s Easy Strawberry-Yogurt Brulée

Combine two cups of plain, whole milk Greek yogurt  

with 1 cup chopped strawberries 


 Stir in one tablespoon of sugar and mix gently.

Transfer to 3 or 4 heatproof ramekins. Decorate with slices of strawberries

Sprinkle two tablespoons sugar over each and pass the flame of a torch over the sugar for about thirty seconds until it’s melted and browned.  Don’t sprinkle the sugar until you are ready to fire the torch – it may melt into the mixture. You may notice we took this outside the first time to avoid setting the house on fire, but it was without incident.
That’s one of those things we learned the hard way. We think that with practice, we’ll be able to do this with one tablespoon of sugar. 

Stay tuned for updates.  If you’ve had experiences with torches, we sure hope you’ll comment.

In the meantime, enjoy!

By way of celebrating our success, we sliced strawberries and dropped them into frosty glasses of sparkling wine. This is a nice festive touch with sparkling water too. Please join us in a toast!
Too bad strawberry season doesn’t last forever.

Victoria Abbott is a collaboration between Victoria Maffini and her mother,  Mary Jane Maffini (she of the diet).. The Christie Curse, their first book collector mystery, launched in March 2013 and  The Sayers Swindle, the second in the series will be out in December. Please let them know how you like it!

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Two chocolate recipes for you on Valentine's Week

Super congratulations to Krista and Sheila on their Agatha nominations!  We are so proud of you both!


By Victoria Abbott

Valentine's Day is right around the corner and, to us, that just screams chocolate.  For today, MJ wanted to do a Chocolate Grand Marnier Souffle. She thought that would be romantic on the 14th, perhaps with flickering candlelight and all that good stuff.  Perfect for two, since this particular souffle is quite good left over too. Why shouldn't February 15th have its share of chocolate romance? 

MJ is especially keen this year since her friend Rita visited recently from Connecticut and brought a package of Penzey's cocoa. Holy moly!

Victoria on the other hand reminded her that there's a family party scheduled for Sunday and that means children and  chocolate cookies for dessert.  These Chewy Brownie Cookies would be just the ticket. And better yet, they could be taste tested in advance.

What to do?

Why get hung up on it, we decided. Let's think of this as Valentine's Week and we can have it all, even some of those excellent chocolate macaroons that Sheila posted yesterday,

MJ loves making souffles - and they're straightforward and fun if you can whip egg whites, which you can. They are easier than people think.

Chocolate Grand Marnier Souffle


For Chocolate Grand Marnier Souffle all you need is:

1 cup milk
3/8 cup cocoa (we used Penzey's and zowie! but have made it with various cocoa - all good)
2/3 cup sugar
4 tbsp butter
3/8 cup sifted flour
6 egg yolks, beaten
6 tbsp Grand Marnier (or your favorite liqueur)
Dash salt
1 tsp vanilla
7 egg whiles

Combine the milk, cocoa and sugar in the top of a double boiler. (Truth in advertising: at this point, MJ realized she no longer owned a double boiler.  An oven proof glass bowl set into a pot of simmering water did the trick.)

Cook twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

In another saucepan, melt the butter, stir in the flour until smooth. Add the cocoa mixture, stirring until smooth.

Remove from heat and cool 10 minutes.

Gradually add the egg yolks, blending well.

Add the Grand Marnier, salt and vanilla. Stir.

Preheat the oven to 375.

Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. They looked a bit more dramatic 'in person'.

Fold them into the cocoa mixture carefully. Do not beat! Or you'll have a chocolate pancake.

Pour into an ungreased 2-quart souffle dish (or casserole as MJ did). Souffle dish hasn't surfaced since our move. Must check the garage. 

Bake 30 minutes. 

Serve at once.

Lucky the DH likes to cook, so he'll do Valentine's dinner!

Now let's get those cookies going.

Chewy chocolate brownie cookies

Gather up your ingredients. Don't worry about the pooch. The dachshund is a salt shaker.

3 cups flour
(extra for rolling out)
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (we used rest of the Penzey's)
3/4 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350.

Mix the flour, cocoa, salt and baking powder in a bowl.  Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time. Mix in vanilla and almond.  Add dry ingredients gradually and mix well.

Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes to an hour.

Roll out dough on floured board or counter until about 1/4 inch thick (nice and even). Cut into shapes - we picked hearts (and some stars).  We also popped a white chocolate chip in the center of some of those lucky stars.

Line two cookie trays with parchment paper (you'll be glad you did) and bake cookies for 11 minutes. They should still be soft in the middle, but puffed.

Cool on a rack.  This recipe makes somewhere between 42 and 64 cookies depending on the size of your cookie cutters.

We find these cookies freeze well in Ziploc bags and are even more brownie-like when defrosted.
You can save a few that way too.

Serve - carefully. They go fast.  So now we'd like to ask: what's your favorite Valentine treat?  

If you manage to save a few, they'd be very tasty to nibble on as you lounge in an easy chair with a copy of our book  The Christie Curse, coming on March 5th! We think it's a tasty treat too! It's available for pre-order now.

The Christie Curse: a book collector mystery, by Victoria Abbott
First in a new series!
Victoria Abbott is Mary Jane Maffini & Victoria Maffini

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Cheap and cheerful: Carmelized onion, pancetta and zucchini pasta

From Victoria Abbott/Mary Jane Maffini

The other night, we had a very disappointing experience with a recipe from a well-known (no names) chef. Yuck. We could not eat it! MJ was convinced that it was the process, not the ingredients. Today is a grey and snowy winter day and of course, post holidays we’re inclined toward cheap and cheerful.  We decided to experiment with what we had in the fridge and cupboard to see if we could do better.  


We could indeed.
Here's what we came up with using what we had in the house.

Here's all we needed:
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
1/3 lb pancetta (Pancetta is a type of Italian bacon, so cured, but not cooked) cubed. I used the President’s Choice, already cubed (ha!).  You can substitute bacon if that suits.
2 small zucchini sliced (or whatever you have – I think peppers would be nice)
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
Enough of your favorite pasta for two (we used tri-color rotini because we had a lot of it).
Good extra virgin olive oil (enough to cover your frying or sauté pan). Our best pan is 13 inches, but smaller is fine.
All you need to do is:

Heat oil, sauté the onions for about ten minutes, until they soften. You can use the time to slice the zucchini, which if you’re like me you have forgotten to do. Or you can take pictures of your favorite oven mitts for fun to kill time.  

Slowly carmelizing onions while you do something else is one of the great cooking secrets. The taste changes amazingly and really, it’s so easy. 

When onions are translucent, add pancetta and sliced zucchini. Cook on low to medium heat. Adjust so they cook slowly, but just enough to brown the zukes.

Keep cooking until pasta is ready, which reminds me: Meanwhile cook your favorite pasta until al dente or more cooked if you prefer.  Ten – twelve minutes. Your choice.
Drain pasta. Add to pan if it’s big enough to hold the pasta.  We like the bigger pan because we can do that. Otherwise add onions, pancetta and zucchini (and pan juices) to the pasta.   Top with grated Parmesan cheese (if you’re cheap and cheerful) or with fresh Parmegiano-Reggiano if you’re feeling fancier or more authentic.  Of course, you can use whatever cheese you have, which is what we often do.
Serve from pan or platter. Do not do as MJ did and pop a vintage platter (a one dollar garage sale find) into the microwave without noticing that there was still faded gold trim on the edges. Yikes!  Microwave is still working, but the phrase ‘too soon old too late’ smart comes to mind.

Serve.  You can add pepper,  but  you may not need salt because the pancetta is salty.  Test first.

Truth in advertising: the rotini tasted great, but wasn't that photogenic. So we tried it another time with fettuccine.  Perhaps no beauty either, but it delivered the taste.

We were very happy with this result and thought it was good enough for company. Pasta and veggies are great for keeping up energy and we need it as we come down the home stretch on the second in the book collector mystery series, The Sayers Swindle.

What about you? What's your favorite cheap and cheerful meal? 

Victoria Abbott is Mary Jane Maffini and Victoria Maffini (seen above trying not to look too wicked. Maybe that needs work).  
Their first collaborative effort The Christie Curse: a book collector mystery comes out March 5, 2013
Visit them at www.victoria-abbott-com

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