Showing posts with label Buried in a Bog. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Buried in a Bog. Show all posts

Friday, October 28, 2016

Buried in a Bog Cheesecake for #Halloween

Ah, that lovely season when the dead rise again! You probably know of my fondness for graveyards, not to mention my obsession with my dear departed ancestors (“You have how many names in your family tree?” Actually, as of this week it’s 13,165, not including the Irish side.)

But sometimes it’s hard to find appropriate recipes for Halloween. In the past I’ve offered you black pasta (hand-imported from Italy!) and black garlic, and even spider cookies crawling out of a pumpkin one year. This year I realized I had overlooked one very obvious choice: the bog dead!

A few years ago my daughter gave me a set of skull baking molds (she knows me well). But I seldom feel the urge to make skull muffins or cupcakes. What else could I do . . .  And then I had this idea for skulls emerging from a pool of peat (aka a bog). Don’t worry: the skulls are shortbread, and the peat is dark chocolate cheesecake.

(If you’re faint of heart, you could make pumpkin cookies instead and scatter them over the nice field of cheesecake earth.)

The Skulls:

I used the basic shortbread recipe from my post last week and pressed the dough into the molds, filling them only part way (you could also use sugar-cookie dough). Then I baked them. It’s all right if they brown a little—a skull marinating in peat for a few centuries should be a bit discolored.

The Crust:

This will not show, but you will need it if you plan to eat this concoction (silly question) This recipe fits a 9-inch pan, but I doubled it for a 9x13” pan (I wanted to fit more skulls in).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray your pan with cooking spray.

9 oz. chocolate wafer cookies (crunchy ones, not chewy ones)
2 Tblsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick butter, melted

In a food processor, grind the cookies to fine crumbs, then blend in the sugar and salt. Add the melted butter and blend. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake until set (about 10 minutes), then cool.

The Cheesecake:

I searched through recipes and picked the deepest, darkest one I could find.

12 oz. (2 bags) bittersweet chocolate (if bars, chop)
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
4 8-oz. packages cream cheese, at room temperature
4 eggs

Melt the chocolate (microwave works well, or in a double boiler—slowly!), stirring steadily until the chocolate is melted. Let cool to lukewarm.

In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar and cocoa powder together (no lumps!). In a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes), then add the sugar/cocoa powder mixture. Beat well, scraping down the bowl. Blend in the eggs, one at a time. Finally mix in the lukewarm chocolate and stir.

Let me tell you, this stuff is delicious! I was tempted to eat it straight from the bowl.

Building your Bog:

Take your pan with the cookie layer and arrange the skulls on that—you can use as many as you want, and distribute them in whatever pattern pleases you—all lined up or randomly.

Pour in the filling carefully around the skulls. Actually, I had to use a pastry bag—the batter was a bit too thick to pour. But this is supposed to be peat, so it doesn’t have to be tidy. The layer doesn’t have to be too deep—you want the skulls to look like they’re emerging from the murk, ever so slowly. If you’re feeling creative, you can sprinkle some left-over crumbs around the skull to make the bog look more authentic.

This is a very large peat bog in Shannonbridge,
Ireland. It provides fuel for a nearby electric
generating station.  I had to stop and check it out.

Bake until the center is just set (that is, still a little wiggly), rotating the pan in the oven once during cooking. The exact timing will depend on how large your pan is and how deep the cheesecake layer is. Start checking after 30-40 minutes. It’s  not the end of the world if it’s baked a bit too long—the cheesecake will be more brownie-like in texture rather than creamy, but it will still taste good.

If you’re really into it, go wild with more decorations—maybe black sprinkles or some hints of green (bogs are growing things, you know). I did draw the line at adding a few (clean) chicken wing bones for effect, though. Maybe it would look good if you served it in the light of flickering candles.

Refrigerate your bog cheesecake overnight before you try to cut it (if you can wait that long!).
Savor it after the manic sugar-fueled trick-or-treaters have retreated for the night.

Oh, and a giveaway bonus: a pumpkin that will last more than a couple of weeks (It's cloth.)

And if you've never read Buried in a Bog (the first book of my County Cork Mystery Series), I'll throw that in too.

Here's a picture of the bog it's based on:

My great-great-grandfather's bog down the hill
from Knockskagh in West Cork. The peat is
under the brown grass.
Just leave a spooky comment and I'll draw one name for the pumpkin (hmm, I could draw a name out of a pumpkin . . .)


Friday, April 19, 2013

Lemon Treacle Slice

by Sheila Connolly

There are times when I think Gordon Ramsay has taken over television, maybe with a little help from Anthony Bourdain (who now appears to be CNN's new international political commentator). Gordon (may I call you Gordon? I feel that I know you well enough) currently appears in, at last count, Kitchen Nightmares, Hell's Kitchen, MasterChef, The F Word, Hotel Hell, and a few others, and, yes, I watch all of them.  It's not just to listen to the bleeps (if you don't know it, he swears a lot). I admire the way Gordon cooks:  good fresh food prepared simply and presently attractively. I also keep watching because I'm still waiting for him to run out of energy, but he hasn't yet.

One show of his that I didn't know about until one dire evening when there was no network show I wanted to watch, and I didn't feel like committing to an entire movie—i.e., staying awake that long—is Gordon Behind Bars, a short series of four episodes made last year in Brixton Prison in London, and available on BBC America.  Gordon goes into the Victorian prison to try to teach a small group of inmates not only to cook but to make something marketable on the outside (and, since he's Gordon Ramsay, he succeeds).  Together they created Bad Boys' Bakery, and their signature product is the Lemon Treacle Slice, available commercially through at least one café chain.

British (and Irish) cooking is always challenging because many of the ingredients are unfamiliar and/or unavailable in the US, and units are given in grams or milliliters.  I solved Problem #1 by locating online suppliers for such things as golden syrup and treacle (yes, there is a difference), and Problem #2 by buying an adorable kitchen scale with any number of units of measurement.  I am ready! (Except I'm definitely going to buy European measuring cups when I'm in Dublin in June!)

So I was curious to see what this treacle slice was all about and what it tastes like. [Note:  this recipe is widely available on different Internet sites.] Warning:  whatever you call it, treacle is sticky! It's far thicker than our molasses or honey, but it has its own flavor.

US measurements in red

300g digestive biscuits  an 8-oz package is about right
150g butter 1 1/2 sticks
Okay, right up front we've got an issue:  what the heck is a digestive biscuit?  No, it's not a graham cracker, but close:  a whole-grain cracker, but with no sugar.  McVitie's seems to be the major producer, not available in my market but I found a decent substitute.

Place the biscuits in a food processor and blend until they are reduced to fine crumbs.

Melt the butter, then stir into the biscuits. Press the biscuit mixture firmly into the base of a 20cm 9-inch square tin which has been lined with baking parchment.

Chill for at least a half an hour (you'll see why below).

1 Tblsp lemon curd (you may have to hunt for this at the store)
675g golden syrup 
2 tins
90g butter 3 ounces
100ml double cream  
1/2 cup heavy cream
225g white breadcrumbs 
this came out to 4 cups loosely packed when I weighed it, but they could have been squished down to less
5 egg yolks
Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Pre heat the oven to 160c.  This came out to about 325 degrees F, but not much cooking was going on at that temperature, so I bumped it up to 350

Place the golden syrup into a saucepan along with the butter and allow to melt GENTLY. You do not want this to boil.

Once the butter has melted take the pan off the heat and stir in the cream, breadcrumbs, egg yolks, lemon zest and juice. Stir well.
Once the base has chilled, spread the lemon curd onto the base (with a spatula or a brush—this is why you've chilled the base). Pour the breadcrumb filling over the biscuit base and then place into the oven to cook for 25-30 minutes or until firm to the touch (not browned). Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before cutting.


A little icing sugar  confectioner's/powdered sugar
A little lemon juice

Mix together the sugar and lemon juice until you have a thick paste. Place it into a piping bag and pipe over the top of your slices. Or just drizzle the stuff with a spoon.

Gordon, if you'd like a guest slot on Mystery Lovers' Kitchen, we'd love to have you.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Irish Brown Bread

by Sheila Connolly

I've been racking my brain for any memories of Easter family dinners, but so far all I've come up with is chocolate.  Lots of chocolate.  I suppose my sister and I were too stuffed with bunny ears and foil-wrapped eggs and jelly beans and the like to eat much at the table.  I do, however, have a fond memory of my engineer father trying to drill holes in eggs with his electric drill so we could empty them, with mixed results.

Brown bread, or arán donn in Irish, is a staple of Irish meals, everywhere in the country. It appears from breakfast to dinner, usually accompanied by butter. It does not contain yeast, and any rising comes from the chemical interaction of buttermilk and baking soda.  It's quick to make, and it should be eaten the same day as it's baked.

I have been trying to make it on my own—and I've been having little luck.  I've collected, at last count, thirteen recipes, from Irish cookbooks (both high-end and pub food, and including one from the famous Ballymaloe cooking school in County Cork), friends, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the back of the Irish wholemeal flour package.  Guess what:  they're all different. No two alike. (And I'm not even counting the one from my former Irish teacher, an lovely older woman from Connemara, who doesn't even measure her ingredients.)

How can there be so much confusion about something that in its simplest form contains all of five ingredients?  The basic recipe has:  wholemeal flour (preferably coarse and stone-ground—Odlum's is the favored Irish brand, available by mail order), white flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk.  You combine the dry ingredients, make a puddle of buttermilk in the middle, and mix with your hands (but not too much or it gets tough).  Shape it into a round loaf, cut a cross in the top, and bake in a hot oven.  That's it.

In a perfect universe, maybe.  Me, I've ended up with a lot of chewy, doughy lumps. Great exercise for the jaw.

Then many sources start adding things to the basic recipe:  oat bran, oatmeal (both rolled oats and steel-cut), sugar, brown sugar, eggs, butter, honey or molasses.  Suggested cooking temperatures range from 375 to 450, in one stage or two.  And the proportions of wholemeal flour (which really does make a difference—using regular brown flour is definitely not the same) to white flour are all over the map too:  ratios range from  1:2 to 3:1 brown to white. The average ratio is just under 2:1 brown to white flour, but given the consistency of the Odlum's wholemeal flour, I'd tip it toward 1 1/2 to 1 (and the Odlum's package agrees; Ballymaloe pushes it even closer to half and half).

Irish Brown Bread (1 large loaf)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

3 cups wholemeal flour
2 1/2 cups white flour
1/4 tsp of salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups (full fat) buttermilk (plus more if needed)

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Make a well in the middle and pour in the buttermilk.  Mix quickly with your hands just until blended (overwork it and it will get gluey), adding more buttermilk if needed.  The dough should not be too sticky.

Make the dough into a ball and place it on a an ungreased baking sheet. Flatten it until it is about 2" thick.  With a sharp knife make a cross in the top (do not cut through).  Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 400 degrees and continue baking until done (you'll know it's done when it sounds hollow when you tap it). 

Cool on a rack.  Serve with lots of butter! (It's good with blackberry jam too.)

I wish I could tell you that this is the perfect recipe, but it's still not quite there (not gummy this time, but rather crunchy).  If anyone out there has a treasured recipe for Irish soda bread, I'll be happy to add it to my collection!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Spaghetti with Blue Cheese

by Sheila Connolly

In case you haven't noticed, I love to cook (and eat), and there are occasions when I really enjoy making something complicated or time-consuming, both real luxuries in our busy lives.

But there are also times when inspiration deserts me, and I want something easy and fast.  And I don't want something from the local fast-food place.  Don't get me wrong—I enjoy a pizza now and then, or the occasional stop at Burger King, but I really do like to know what ingredients I'm putting in my mouth, and to limit the number of chemicals I can't pronounce.

Enter this dish.  I won't try to tell you that this is low calorie or low fat, although you could use margarine (is it called non-dairy spread these days?) or change the sour cream for the low-fat variety (but I don't think swapping yogurt in would work).  But it tastes good, if you're a fan of blue cheese.  This is a modified version of a recipe I found in a pasta cookbook that I think I received many years ago as a thank-you for contributing to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The publication date is 1996, which puts it in those halcyon days before we learned of the evils of cholesterol—and it shows. I've referred to the cookbook now and then over the years in the quest for the perfect Mac and Cheese recipe (still haven't found it, but at least there are several alternatives in this book).

Spaghetti with Sour Cream and Blue Cheese

½ cup butter
8-10 green onions, chopped
4 oz. blue cheese (Roquefort or Gorgonzola)
8 oz. sour cream
Salt and pepper
1 lb. spaghetti

Crumble the blue cheese. Melt the butter in a large skillet.  Add the green onions and cook slowly, stirring, until they are soft. Sprinkle the crumbled blue cheese over the onion mixture and stir over medium heat until the cheese is melted.  Remove from the heat, and stir in the sour cream.

Add the pepper, then taste before adding the salt—how much you need will depend on how salty your cheese is.

Boil the spaghetti in salted water (add a little vegetable oil to the water to keep the pieces from clumping).  Drain well, then stir the noodles into the sauce.  Don't add it all at once—you can decide what spaghetti-to-sauce ratio you prefer. And remember, the pasta will soak up the sauce as it cools.

You can serve this with a simple green salad.

Add garlic when you're sautéing the green onions, if you want a stronger flavor.  You can also try different pastas.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pork Loin with Apples and Onions

by Sheila Connolly

No, it's not Irish, but it does have apples.  Actually I had a rather funny conversation with a group of women at an Irish luncheon event I attended last weekend.  The main dish was corned beef--incredible mounds of very grey corned beef (nobody could finish the serving).  That's what you think about when you talk about Saint Patrick's Day, right?  Wrong.  All the (Irish-born) women agreed that they much preferred a nice pork shoulder for the day. (But they did say they preferred the grey corned beef to the red.)  So maybe that's the inspiration for this dish.

1 boneless pork loin roast (2-3 pounds)
Salt, preferably kosher
1 tablespoon fresh or dried thyme

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 medium onions, cut end to end into wedges
3 garlic cloves, minced

2 large baking apples, peeled, cored, and cut into large chunks
2/3 cup sparkling dry hard cider or non-alcoholic cider

Set the oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, several grinds of pepper, and 2 teaspoons of thyme. Set the pork on a cutting board, pat dry with paper towels, tie into a neat cylinder with kitchen twine at 1 1/2-inch intervals, and rub all over with the salt mixture.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat until just beginning to smoke (hot!). Place the roast fat side down in the skillet and brown well on all sides.

Reduce the heat and add the onions and garlic to the pan. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Turn the vegetables to coat with the oil, put the skillet in the oven, and roast for about 20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and add the apples, 1/3 cup of the cider, and the remaining thyme. Toss the apples and onions to coat and turn the meat over; continue roasting until the center of the meat registers about 140 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 30-35 minutes longer (this will vary depending on the size and thickness of your pork).

Transfer the roast to a carving board, remove the twine, cover loosely with foil, and rest for 15 minutes. While the meat is resting, with a slotted spoon remove the onions and apples to a serving platter, cover loosely with foil, and keep warm.

Add the remaining 1/3 cup of cider to the skillet and reduce until the liquid is thickened. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper if necessary.

Cut the meat into 1/2-inch slices and arrange over the onions and apples on the serving platter. Pour the sauce over the meat and serve at once.

Fhéile Pádraig Shona duit

(Happy Saint Patrick's Day!)

Thank you to everyone who has helped make this a national bestseller!

Friday, March 1, 2013

The What If Apple Recipe

by Sheila Connolly

Mystery writers often ask themselves "what if I…" particularly when they're stuck on a plot point. What if I add an evil twin?  What if the gun is hidden in the flour bin? What if the victim is not really dead?

I'm always on the lookout for apple recipes, and I have been for years.  Some of them I never even tried—just filed them away for some future date.  Seems like the future has arrived, and I pulled out a recipe for what was called "Apple Dutch Baby."  The dish is basically sautéed apples with a batter poured over them, and then the whole thing is baked. I had to look up the history of the term "dutch baby" but my general impression was that it is kind of a giant pancake with stuff in it.

The recipe also reminded me of clafouti, a traditional French dessert, usually made when the first cherries of the new harvest (of course Julia Child pointed me to it).  It's very similar:  fruit-batter-bake.

But in both cases, the batter is moist and eggy.  That's not a bad thing, but it wasn't what I was looking for.  Then I remembered one of my favorite British/Irish pub dishes, Toad in the Hole.  This is savory: link sausages-batter-bake. We eat that a lot in my household, in part because the fat from the sausages makes it crunchy (if done right; otherwise it's eggy, see above).

What if I combined the two recipes?

Cortland apples
The first hurdle that I could see was that the apples, which are sautéed in butter first, might produce a lot of liquid.  It's important to (a) pick the right apples, that won't turn to watery mush when you cook them; and (b) cook them well with plenty of butter.  Hey, it's a dessert—indulge yourself!

The second hurdle was adjusting the batter so that it was less eggy, which meant reducing the number of eggs and increasing the flour.  I also wanted it to be a bit sweet and spicy, so I added some sugar and some ground cinnamon.

Toad in the Hole is traditionally made in a skillet or baking pan (it resembles Yorkshire pudding, which soaks up pan drippings so nothing from a roast is wasted).  I am a firm believer in using as few dishes as possible, since nobody in our family likes to wash dishes, so I opted for the skillet version—that's a cast-iron skillet, that heats up high and holds the heat, and can go straight from stovetop to oven.

So here we go:  The What If Recipe

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.


1 cup whole milk
2 eggs
1 cup white flour
2 Tblsp sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
2 Tblsp vanilla extract
1 Tblsp melted butter

Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor, then blend for a minute (a full minute—this is important, so time it), right before you're ready to bake.


2 Tblsp salted butter
3 medium cooking apples (like Cortlands), peeled, cored, and sliced thickly
2 Tblsp sugar

Melt the butter in a 9" cast-iron skillet, then add the apples and sauté on medium-high heat until they begin to brown just a bit.  Sprinkle the sugar over them and continue cooking for a couple more minutes. (If the mixture looks soupy at this point, drain some of the liquid off.)

When the apples are just about ready, make the batter.  While the apples are still over the heat on the stove, pour the batter over them (the batter should sizzle around the edges) and immediately place the skillet into the preheated oven.  Bake for 30 minutes.

Ready for the oven

If the kitchen gods are smiling on you, the batter will puff up and turn golden and crisp.  This is a dish that should be served as quickly as possible, while it's still warm.  You can sprinkle it with powdered sugar if you want.

It worked!
I love it when a plot comes together!

 Buried in a Bog -- now in its second week on
the New York Times bestseller list!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Aunt Lillie's Stew

by Sheila Connolly

My husband had a great-aunt who lived in the coal country of West Virginia.  Lillie Mae Williams Taylor was a lovely lady, widowed by the time I met her. Her husband had been a coal miner, and he died of black lung. She lived in a house they had built, not far from Bluefield, on a hill overlooking the tracks where coal trains rumbled by.

My husband and I visited a couple of times, both in summer and in winter, on our way to or from somewhere else.  It was a bit like stepping back in time. Part of her hospitality was making sure we ate well, and as I remember it, she always had a pot of something between a stew and a soup simmering on the back burner of her stove. Aunt Lillie kept a large vegetable garden, and a lot of what she cooked came from that garden.

The vegetable garden
I guess you'd have to say she was ahead of her time:  if you're talking about farm to table, the distance at Aunt Lillie's was about forty feet. She grew no-nonsense things like onions and potatoes, and she also grew a kind of bean that I'd never seen before.  If I remember correctly (sorry, I wasn't taking food pictures that early), it was kind of speckled, and she used them fresh, not dried, saving the seeds over the winter for the next season. (I subscribe to the Seed Savers Exchange catalog from Seed Savers Exchange, and it could be one of the beans there, or it could be something with no name that had been passed down for generations.) She didn't do fancy, just good, plain and very fresh food.

Aunt Lillie's kitchen
My husband and I were comparing our memories and we couldn't agree whether there was meat involved in that always-simmering soup pot.  I don't remember it, but it's easy to picture some ham or bacon going in.  I don't remember herbs or spices or even garlic—which is kind of a testament for fresh vegetables. This was a stew/soup that was all about the vegetables, slow-cooked together for a long time, waiting for the next guest to appear.

Aunt Lillie never used a recipe—she just added some of that and a bit of whatever was ripe from the garden. I'm not sure she knew what an herb or spice was. I can't claim that this is Aunt Lillie's recipe, but it's as close as I can come. It makes a good side dish with dinner, or a good soup with some bread or cornbread alongside.

Aunt Lillie's Vegetable Stew

1 pound fresh green beans, cut into 2" pieces
2 lbs potatoes (use russet/bakers, not the waxy kind. If they're large, peel and cut into 1" cubes; if they're small, skip the peeling.  I used Yukon Gold new potatoes.)
2 onions, coarsely diced
2 cups water or broth (vegetable or chicken)
Cooking oil
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large heavy pot, heat the oil and sauté the onions and potatoes and cook on medium-low for about ten minutes; add the green beans and cook for another five minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

Add the water or broth and simmer slowly, stirring occasionally.  When you're ready to serve, taste for seasoning, then mash a few of the potato pieces to thicken it.

And that's itsimple food that tastes good.  There's no reason you couldn't add some left-over veggies, or carrots (as I did), or maybe some cabbage. And herbs. A lot of recipes of this kind call for tomatoes, but that makes it a different soup.  Summer versions often suggest squash, but that would disintegrate if cooked for long.  But don't be shy about adding whatever you have on hand—as long as it's fresh!

And one more bit of good news:
Buried in a Bog is #18 on the New York Times Paperback Bestseller list in its second week.