Showing posts with label County Cork Mysteries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label County Cork Mysteries. Show all posts

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Good Things Cafe

In case you missed all the shouting, I'm in Ireland right now--I arrived over a week ago, and I'll be back next week (please, can I stay longer?). The purpose of this trip was (a) to get the cottage into shape, with paint and curtains and the like (and to confer with my very ambitious handyman), plus (b) do research for the County Cork Mysteries, which involves talking with my police friend and my bookseller friend and anybody else who'll hold still long enough.

But of course there's food. I think I've said in the past that I plan any trip to Ireland to include a visit to the Skibbereen farmers market, which is amazing (and one of the best in the country), and also visits to local restaurants. When I first came to Ireland nearly twenty years ago, the food was as bad as you'd always heard. Now it's terrific.


On the corner on the right
The Good Things Cafe, in the center of Skibbereen, is one of the latest additions, and it's really amazing (check out the website at www.thegoodthingscafe.com). They serve food in a delightful corner restaurant that is both nicely designed and also welcomes all kinds of people--when I had lunch there, I saw a young mother with a small child, three middle-aged ladies lunching together, and a couple of guys from down the street. Normal people enjoying good food. 

The place is the brainchild of chef Carmel Somers, who's worked in restaurants before, in a different part of the country (starting with a small cafe next to her parents' pub). She created this restaurant from a blank canvas: she was responsible for the kitchen (of course), setting up a sunny space that makes room for as many as six cooks working at once, and also creating a set-up for cooking classes; she designed the layout of the ground floor space, and even selected the glassware and china. But her most important contribution was her philosophy of food--absolutely fresh and local, combined in ways that are interesting without being trendy or silly. Just good cooking, and she oversees every part of the process.

And she gave me the opportunity to do something I've wanted to do for years: to observe a working restaurant kitchen. I squeezed into a corner and just watched.




Yes I did eat: a lamb-burger with eggplant and more than one spicy sauce with a middle-eastern leaning, accompanied by a quinoa salad with fresh herbs and some mixed leaves (lot that term!). Upstairs in the kitchen (yes, the young staff does a lot of running up and down to deliver food) I watched one of the chefs making one of the sauces that decorated my lunch, and it took him close to half an hour, adding one ingredient at a time and tasting, tasting, tasting. The place is not big: one gorgeous six-burner gas stove (those are expensive!), a large stand mixer, and a walk-in fridge the size of my bedroom at home (well, almost). And of course work space on stainless steel islands, that Carmel designed for the space.





Carmel and the saucemaker
And beyond the food (as if that weren't enough) I had the chance to talk with Carmel about how you put together the kitchen you want, how you staff it (a lot of young kids, who work around their school hours and during the summers), how you design a menu. This wasn't just idle curiosity: I want Rose in the County Cork series to really find her calling in cooking, and Carmel reinforced what I've been thinking. Any young chef has to really care about making good food, and serving it well. And that's how Rose feels.








Do you have to wonder why I love Ireland? Beautiful views, clean air and water, and great food. I will definitely be going back to the Good Things Cafe.





Don't forget our giveaway, which ends next week! Click on the cheerleaders for the details.

Promo? How about a peek at the cover for Many a Twist, the next County Cork Mystery, coming in January 2018?


Friday, May 26, 2017

It's Asparagus Season!

I like asparagus. I like it steamed, with butter (oh, all right--I like almost anything with butter). I don’t like it drowned in sauce—hollandaise is good stuff but it kind of overpowers the delicate taste of fresh asparagus. But there are some things that it goes nicely with, and I found a new recipe!

Chicken with Asparagus and Leeks

Ingredients:
2 medium leeks (white and green parts 
only, not the whole thing), sliced into 1/3” rounds

1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp salt
a few grinds of black pepper

chicken breasts or thighs (a note: chicken breasts vary widely in size these days, from normal to ridiculously large, so saying use two or four really doesn’t help you much. I prefer white meat so I’m using two monster breasts, which together weigh maybe three to four pounds. This should be enough for two adults with healthy appetites with some left over for lunch the next day.)

1/2 cup dry white wine
1-1/2 cups chicken broth

3/4 lb medium asparagus with the tough ends trimmed off, cut on an angle into 2-3 pieces per stalk



1 Tblsp finely grated lemon zest
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
3 Tblsp fresh dill, chopped


Instructions:

Rinse the leeks to get rid of any grit.



Heat 2 Tblsp of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot (but not smoking). Add the leeks and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook, turning occasionally, until they are just turning golden (about 15-18 minutes). Remove them from the skillet.



Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. In another skillet add the rest of the oil and saute the chicken pieces (f you’re using bone-in breasts or thighs, cook the skin side first), about 12-16 minutes depending on the thickness of the pieces (the chicken will finish cooking in the next step). Pour the fat out of the pan and discard.



Add the wine to the pan, bring to a simmer, and cook, scraping up the bits on the bottom (about 1 minute). Add the broth to the pan, then return the chicken pieces (skin side up). Lower the heat to medium-low and cover, cooking until the chicken is cooked through (maybe another 15 minutes—as I said, it depends on the chicken).

In the first skillet you used, cook the asparagus pieces in 2 Tblsp of water, covered, over medium heat, for about 5 minutes (don’t let the asparagus get mushy!). Remove the skillet from the heat and add 1/2 tsp of lemon zest, a bit of salt and a pinch of pepper. Stir gently.



To serve, place a chicken piece in each plate, then add the asparagus and the reserved leeks, Reheat the broth, add the lemon juice, then ladle the liquid over the chicken in the bowls. Sprinkle the top with chopped dill and some more lemon zest. You can serve this with rice or pasta.



Goodness! I'm in the middle of editing two books right now, but nothing new is coming until November! Don't forget me!

www.sheilaconnolly.com





Friday, May 12, 2017

Ham Slices with Irish Whiskey Cream Sauce

Tidy little single-serving ham slices are easy to find these days, and quick to cook after a busy day, so I often have a couple in the fridge. Of course you can simply saute them and serve with a side or two, but if you’re in the mood for a sauce, this one is simple and fast.

The recipe was inspired by one in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and has long been a favorite of mine. But I can’t remember if I’ve ever had a bottle of Madeira handy, and I was out of cooking sherry, which I usually substituted. Then I had a brainstorm: Irish whiskey! It’s got a slightly sweet flavor (less sweet than madeira, though) and a bit of kick, and I figured it should go well with ham.

HAM SLICES WITH IRISH WHISKEY SAUCE

As usual, this recipe serves four, but I cut it in half for the two of us, and it’s the two-person version that you’ll see in the pictures.

Ingredients:

4 individual ham slices (about 2 pounds
   altogether)    or you can use a single    ham steak and cut it into serving        pieces when cooked 
2 Tblsp butter
1 Tblsp oil
3 Tblsp flour
2 Tblsp minced shallots or scallions
1 cup beef stock
1/2 cup Irish whiskey
1 Tblsp tomato paste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1-1/2 cups heavy cream


Instructions:

Dry the ham slices on paper towels. Melt the butter in a skillet with the oil and brown the ham pieces lightly. Set them aside but keep them warm.


Pour all but about 2 Tblsp of the fat from the skillet. Cook the shallots or scallions for a few minutes over medium heat. Then stir in the flour and whisk. Cook slowly for 2-3 minutes over medium-low heat, to give the flour time to cook.


In a small saucepan, heat the stock to a simmer, then add the whiskey. Let the mixture simmer briefly to evaporate the alcohol, then whisk the liquid into the flour mixture in the skillet. Add the tomato paste and the pepper, whisk some more, and bring the sauce to a simmer. 



Add the cream and let the sauce thicken for about 5 minutes over low heat. Taste and add salt if you think it needs it (remember that the ham will be salty.)



Place the ham slices on plates and pour the sauce over them. If you're in an Irish mood, you can serve the ham with boiled potatoes. I used rice, and noodles would work too.



You know Cruel Winter, the fifth in the County Cork series,
was released in March. The next book in the series will
be released next January. It has no cover yet, but I think
we have a name: Many a Twist

Here's just a hint of what's to come in Many a Twist:
Why is rich, successful American entrepreneur John Byrne
found dead behind the most elegant hotel in
Skibbereen--that his company has just bought?
Yes, you can expect many twists in this story!

www.sheilaconnolly.com




Friday, April 28, 2017

Ginger Lemonade

Recently I was at a bookstore with a nice café for a signing. Since I was supposed to read something and I was thirsty, I ordered a cold drink. I was in a daring mood and asked for a ginger lemonade, which I’d never tried. And I really liked it!


I’m trying to find alternatives to caffeinated drinks—I confess that I love coffee and tea and various forms of iced tea, but that can add up to a lot of caffeine. But I haven’t been impressed by the non-caffeine commercial varieties of drinks. This, however, fit the bill nicely.

So I went looking for recipes for ginger lemonade. (I admit that you can always go the easy route: buy a gallon plastic jug of supermarket lemonade and a bottle of ginger syrup (if you can find or order one), mix and pour over ice. Done.) But where’s the fun of that? And how many preservatives come along for the ride? Ginger lemonade is pretty simple to make.

I was surprised to find a range of possible recipes online, and no two were the same. although they all boil down (a pun!) to making some sort of ginger/lemon syrup.

Variations include: how to deal with the ginger (slice or grate), what ratio of lemon juice to water to use, whether or not to include lemon peel, and what kind of sweetener to use and how much. But no matter how you make it, it makes a great drink for a hot day. Me, I opted for simple (I hate to grate anything—I’m always sure I’ll grate my fingers).


Ginger Lemonade

Ingredients:

That thing in the middle is my lemon squeezer
6 cups water
1-1/4 cup sugar
2 ounces of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced 
     (you should have about 1/3 cup of slices)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (three large lemons)

Sliced ginger


Instructions:

Steeped ginger and sugar
Combine one cup of water, the sugar and the sliced ginger in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and let cool (the longer it sits, the more intense the ginger flavor).

Juice from three lemons
Strain the mixture through a sieve into a pitcher. Add the remaining 5 cups of water and the lemon juice and stir. Serve over ice.



I was happy with the results. It might taste a bit sweet to some people at first, but if you add ice it will get diluted. I thought the juice:water ratio was just right. Feel free to experiment, especially on hot summer days!


One interesting point: I have a lot of vintage cookbooks, so I went looking in them to see if there was a ginger lemonade recipe from the past. I couldn’t find one. There are plenty of gingerbread or ginger cookie recipes, going back centuries, but nothing using fresh ginger. And then it hit me: it probably wasn’t available. Powdered ginger is easy to make and ship, but most ginger grows in exotic and distance places, and the fresh kind wouldn’t last over a long ocean voyage. So oddly enough, ginger lemonade seems to be a relatively modern recipe.

A note to my readers: I will be attending the Malice Domestic mystery conference in Maryland for a few days, along with many of my writer friends. If I don't respond to your comments immediately, that's my excuse! But I will read them when I return, I promise!

And if you're looking for summer reading and it's hot, try my County Cork series--the weather is pleasantly cool there all summer. The most recent book, Cruel Winter, takes place during a snowstorm!





www.sheilaconnolly.com

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Kalpudding or Not Your Mother's Meatloaf

Okay, here’s another weird one. Kalpudding, eh? Yet there it was, front and center in the New York Times magazine. I’ve tried Sam Sifton’s recipes before—some I’ve loved and adopted, others left me puzzled.

Since I’d never heard of this dish, I did some research online. Oh, look, there are lots of recipes for it! It’s Swedish. The word “kal” is supposed to have one of those little circle things over the “a”, so it’s pronounced “coal.” That means cabbage. But the rest of the name—the “pudding” part—is misleading, because it’s really a meat loaf with cabbage on top.

And you must keep an open mind, because the first thing you do is cook the cabbage in butter and molasses. Yes, molasses. Never would have thought of that.

Swedish Kalpudding (inspired by Sam Sifton)

2 Tblsp plus 1 tsp unsalted butter

1 head green cabbage (abt 3 lbs), cored and shredded
3 Tblsp molasses
salt and pepper, to taste

3/4 lb ground beef
3/4 lb ground pork
1 small yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup heavy cream
4 Tblsp bread crumbs

1/3 cup chicken or beef stock

Instructions:


Heat the oven to 350 degrees.


In a large pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. When it starts to foam, add the cabbage and molasses, lower the heat to medium, and sprinkle with salt. Cook slowly, stirring often, until the liquid that the cabbage produces has evaporated and the cabbage is caramelized (20-25 minutes). It should be uniformly brown (but not burnt!)

Pork and beef combined
plus dry ingredients
plus all the rest of the ingredients

 While the cabbage is cooking, mix the meats in a large bowl (do not overmix), then add the onion, cream and bread crumbs and combine loosely. Again, don’t overdo the mixing part, or you’ll end up with a brick.



When the cabbage is done, add about one-third of it to the meat mixture and mix. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and transfer the meat mixture into it, smoothing the surface. Spread the rest of the cabbage of the top, pour the stock over it, place it in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the cabbage is very caramelized.

It came out of the pan!

Let sit for 10 minutes before serving. None of the recipes tells you whether to scoop it out or try to slice it. I sliced, but a lot of online pictures show it scooped out with a spoon. This is not a fancy dish!



Some people include rice in the mix. Others throw in spices like chili flakes (really? it’s Swedish!). Garlic is optional. Various sites suggested a traditional Swedish sauce using lingonberries, but I wasn’t ready to face molasses and lingonberries in the same dish (even though I like lingonberries). Serve it with boiled potatoes.

Do you know, I liked it. The sweetness from the molasses doesn’t hit you in the face, and it kind of rounds off the flavor of the two meats. It’s not very fussy to make, as long as you don’t mind stirring a pan of cabbage for a while. It reheats well. I might actually make it again.






Friday, March 31, 2017

Apple Caramel Cake

Trolling for new recipes (always!) I came upon a lovely one in an Irish cookbook I’ve had for a while. One thing that appealed to me was that you start with a nice thick layer of caramel on the bottom, rather than a crust, and you pour batter over it and top with sliced fruit before baking.

The original recipe called for pears, but I had apples on hand so I used those. Butter, sugar, apples and cinnamon—yum! What could go wrong?

Plenty, as it turned out. What I ended up with was a runny heap of brown goo. Tasted great—as a topping for ice cream, maybe. But it was not a cake! It was a mess.


The Disaster Version

But I am both stubborn and curious. Where had I gone wrong? Several places, as it turned out.

-- I failed to caramelize the butter and sugar sufficiently, so there was no real base and everything leaked all over the oven (always put a pan under whatever you bake!).

-- The recipe just said four pears  but said nothing about their size. I think Irish pears must be smaller than apples, so when the recipe called for grating one apple and adding it to the batter, I put in a lot of very juicy apple. One more strike against the poor cake, lying in a sad puddle.

But I persevered! Self, I said, make sure you get the caramel right, cut back on the amount of apple (and use a kind more appropriate for cooking—not all apples are), and bake it as long as you need to (the original instructions were a little vague about that too). When it comes time to unmold it, pray to the kitchen gods.

It worked!



APPLE CARAMEL CAKE
Adapted from The New Irish Table by Margaret Johnson (2003)


Ingredients:

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

4 apples, peeled and cored

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs
2/3 cup vegetable oil


Instructions:


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Wrap a 10-inch round springform pan with two layers of foil, to prevent leaking. (Only time I’ve seen this recommendation, but it’s a good one)

In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar and butter over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, until the butter and sugar caramelize. Pour the caramel into the springform pan and set aside. (It makes a layer about 1/2-inch thick. Yes, you may lick the pan--after it cools!)




Coarsely grate one of the apples (I left the skin on—you’d never know it). Slice the remaining apples.


Grated apple
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and oil together. Stir in the shredded apple, Then stir the dry ingredients into the egg mixture. 




Pour the mixture over the caramel base and arrange the sliced apples on top (in circles or rows).




Bake for 1 hour or longer (mine baked for about an hour and a half), until the base bubbles and the apples are soft and lightly browned. (Use a toothpick or wooden skewer to make sure the batter is cooked inside.)

Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. Then (carefully!) remove the sides of the pan.


Eureka!

Cruel Winter (County Cork Mystery #5), available everywhere!


BTW, I've mentioned before that this book is loosely based on a real crime that took place in 1996. That crime lives on: the primary suspect (never arrested) is now suing the Irish police for framing him and concealing information--it was in the Irish news just this week. The Irish take crime seriously!

www.sheilaconnolly.com