Showing posts with label Cruel Winter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cruel Winter. Show all posts

Friday, December 15, 2017

Christmas Salad

Christmas salad? Really? Isn't this the wrong season? Well, it is red and green and white, and I have an excuse—a new toy. Meet my spiralizer.



It all started in Skibbereen a couple of weeks ago, when we had lunch at the café attached to the West Cork Arts Center. Those nice people were responsible for the amazing red (beet and carrot) soup I wrote about here a while back. They make good food there, including desserts, which of course we had to investigate thoroughly.

They had a beet salad on the menu. Have I mentioned before that I don’t like beets? Well, I’ll have to edit that opinion: I don’t like the gummy sweet kind my mother used to serve. But the simple raw version is growing on me, so I tried the salad.

What was intriguing was that the beets formed a kind of spaghetti-like cluster on top of the greens. You’d think by now I’d have every kitchen gadget known to humankind, but somehow I’d missed the spiralizer. So now I have one (a rather rudimentary version, I will admit—I will have to investigate further options).

Before I tackled the beet recipe I had to experiment with the little critter. Carrots bombed—too tough. Turnips worked once I peeled them. So did potatoes. The zucchini was a pleasant surprise--it worked very well. Apples were a disaster—they fell apart. But the raw beets, once peeled, came out fine. (Note: I now have a stash of vegetable strings in the fridge. Not all would I want to eat raw, so I parboiled the tougher ones for a couple of minutes before refrigerating them. Haven’t gotten to all of them yet, but I fried up the potato strings and they cooked up nice and crisp.)

Turnip


Zucchini

Potato

I tracked down whichever salad green has the red stems (the packages weren’t much help—mostly they say something like “Leafy Medley. The Irish call them “mixed leaves” on menus) which was what the café used, and which fit the holiday color theme. Putting the salad together is simple:



--wash your leaves if necessary and spin dry. Array on individual medium-size plates.

--shred the beets.

--make a nest of your shredded beets (or whatever other vegetables you’re using) on top of the leaves.

--sprinkle with sunflower seeds (the white note)—toasting them briefly gives them a slightly mellower flavor, if you have the time and space in your oven.

--drizzle with your favorite vinaigrette (or any non-creamy dressing)

--Serve!



In hindsight I think marinating the shredded beets in the dressing would have been a good idea, but not for too long or they’d get soggy and limp.



The result? A pretty, easy-to-make dish to add to your holiday table.



And a giveaway! While the next County Cork Mystery, Many a Twist, will be out next month, I thought it would be more appropriate for the season to give away a hardcover copy of Cruel Winter, which takes place during a blizzard and involves cooking for a group of stranded strangers who are snowed in at the pub--and one of them might be a murderer.

Leave a comment by the end of Sunday and I'll pick a winner!




Friday, November 17, 2017

Irish Food

If all goes as planned, by the time you see this I’ll be back in West Cork, admiring the “improvements” to the cottage, including the very large rock, and collecting food supplies.

My husband hasn’t been there in a year, and my daughter, who will be joining us, hasn’t visited Ireland since 1999. Back then I remember a lot of terrible watery stews, all apparently based on the same recipe: Irish bacon (more or less like our ham), cabbage and potatoes. Place in a large pot, cover with water, and boil for a week or two. You could find it about anywhere in the country. (I will concede that the soda bread and local butter were always good.)

My, how things have changed! I was listing for my husband the places I wanted to revisit or visit for the first time on this trip, and far more than half turned out to be either restaurants or food vendors. At least my daughter has grown up to be a foodie, and is now a professional baker, when she isn’t acting with small theater troupes, and I want to show off to her what the Irish chefs have achieved since she was there last.

I’m torn between going to restaurants, large and small, versus buying fresh ingredients and cooking in my own tiny kitchen. When I acquired the cottage, the first thing I bought was a water-color from a local artist. After that I went straight to equipping the kitchen, before I bought more than a couple of pieces of essential furniture (a bed is handy, when the floor is concrete!). I’m getting by with the original appliances (although I am so coveting a Neff Slide-and-Hide stove, as seen on the Great British Baking Show—I think there’s room for it), but I’ve acquired decent cookware from a variety of second-hand dealers. And of course a hot-pot and French press for coffee, and a microwave.


Skibbereen Farmers' Market
I’ve raved about the Skibbereen Farmers’ Market before. Seafood, two tables of local cheeses (I’m partial to the gubbeen), locally smoked salmon, the lovely cookie and sweets baker I just discovered this past summer, bread in shapes I can’t even describe, vegetables that were picked that morning, plus assorted "tat."


Seafood, including monkfish!


This is only half the cheeses they have.
Mind you, this market has been there for centuries, literally—it is not the brainchild of a marketer who decided to create a magnet for upscale blow-ins (those pesky furriners who buy up the local properties—I don’t count as one because my name’s Connolly, and I had “people” in the area). People of all ages and descriptions show up at the market on a Saturday, then sit and chat. There’s a antiques dealer I’ve gotten to know (in his spare time he’s an editor and writes mysteries), and various people who have odds and ends to sell (at a very good price!). At this time of year there may be a jumble sale at the church on one side of the market. This isn’t food shopping—this is an experience. Which is why I always plan to be in the area for at least two Saturdays. 

And I adore the local supermarket, Field's SuperValu, which has food and more. 


Field's vegetable section: "Golden Wonder" potatoes
The candy aisle is six feet high and twenty feet long.




The baked goods are wonderful.



And this time of year you can get fresh game!




Oops—no recipe here! But I’m plotting one for my post next Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Don’t yet know what it will be (turkey is unlikely—the Irish save that for Christmas--but maybe a pheasant?) but I’m hoping I can figure out how my 1950 cast-iron Rayburn cooker works and produce something edible.


My cooker (I've cleaned it up a
bit since). Fuel goes on the left,
and you bake on the right. I'm
still trying to figure out what some
of the other parts do!
Wish me luck! 

Oh, right, books. It's definitely a week for the County Cork Mysteries!


The trade paperback format for Cruel Winter will be released on December 12th (just in time for holiday giving!), and . . .















the next book in the series, Many a Twist, will be released in hardcover on January 9th! Read more about it here.

I won't give anything away, but a lot of old questions will be answered.


www.sheilaconnolly.com




Friday, August 11, 2017

An Irish Pasty?

Okay, I'm almost out of new Irish recipes (from this trip), but this one sneaked up on me.

I will happily cede the title of Pasty Queen to Rhys for her Cornish version. I'm not sure I've ever seen an official pasty in Ireland, and the ones shown online seem to lean toward beef stew in a crust. 

But I was having a nice lunch at The Coffee Shop in Union Hall (I love their house-baked pastries! see their Facebook page), and I ordered what was described on the menu as a chicken and Camembert panini with pesto. It arrived, and I was so intent on eating it that I didn't notice that it didn't quite fit the definition of a panini, which usually calls for something between two pieces of bread, pressed to cook, leaving a nice grilling pattern. 

What I got was delicious, but I actually observed it being made: no press involved. However, it did have a wonderful short crust, which I envied. And the filling was flavorful and interesting, so I decided to recreate it (as best I could). Call it whatever you like--it tastes good.

An Irish Pastypannini a la The Coffee Shop

Ingredients

(note: this recipe serves two, but you can expand it or make a second batch later--I had plenty of chicken and cheese left over))

1 recipe pie crust (I shamelessly borrowed Lucy Burdette's version of the Moosewood crust, which actually held together!) It is the simplest version I have ever seen.




Filling:




one chicken breast, skinned and deboned, lightly cooked 



a small amount of pesto, to rub into the chicken

a small Camembert cheese

1 egg, beaten (this is the glue that holds things together)

Instructions:

Make the pesto, to your taste. I used fresh basil, pine nuts, olive oil, salt and pepper (no garlic, but add it if you like). Mash them together and massage the chicken with it and let it sit for a while to absorb the flavor.

Saute the chicken lightly in a bit more olive oil. Don't worry if it's not cooked through, because this is going into the oven once the thing is assembled. Let cool, then slice about 1/4-inch thick.




Slice the Camembert to about the same thickness.




Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F and grease a baking sheet.

Make your pie dough (I used a food processor). Combine the flour, butter and salt and process until it looks like sand. Then add ice water, one tablespoon at a time, until it holds together. Turn it out on a wooden board and form two balls.




I considered adding something like mayonnaise to the inside, but the contents are fairly delicate in flavor, so I decided against it. The crust is very buttery, so the results won't be dry.




Roll out the first ball of dough into a rough circle. Lay three or four pieces of the cooked chicken on one half, then the same number of slices of cheese on top. Don't overfill, or it will never hold together!

Beat the egg lightly, and brush some around the edge of the crust. Fold carefully and crimp the edges together--you want to seal this. Repeat with the second one. Brush the tops of both lightly with some more egg.




Place on the prepared cookie sheet and slide into the middle of the preheated oven. Set the timer for ten minutes, then check to see that the crust has begun to brown. Then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes. The chicken should be nicely cooked, and the cheese with be gooey. (And they didn't leak!)




Slice in half to serve. These can be served warm or at room temperature.




You can vary your ingredients however you like, but this is a nice combination. If you have some leftover chicken, you're home free. You can swap in a packaged pie crust if you want (easier still!), but I've never seen a simpler pie crust recipe, and I've tried at least a dozen.



Many a Twist, the next County Cork Mystery, coming next January. Maura actually gets to eat in a variety of restaurants. I'll make a foodie out of her yet!
www.sheilaconnolly.com



The real Coffee Shop in Union Hall










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, 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




Friday, March 24, 2017

Lamb Fillet with Cabbage and Mushrooms

I know, it’s a week past St. Patrick’s Day, But it’s an Irish recipe! And I liked it!

I like lamb. My parents liked lamb. I grew up eating lamb chops about once a week, although we weren't much into leg of lamb or even lamb stew (which I now make regularly). I know there are people who don't like the taste of lamb, and it's hard to find in stores.

When I came across this very Irish recipe, it sounded good to me. Problem was, I have no idea what a lamb fillet is. However, my market has recently started carrying what they call a butterflied leg of lamb (no bone), which is about the right weight and size. It’s from Australia, don’t ask me why. But it’s a lovely piece to work with, nice and tender, and easy to cook.


Roast Fillet of Lamb with Cabbage and Mushrooms (suggested by Clare Connery in Irish Cooking, 1996)

Ingredients:

1 lamb fillet, about one pound, 

trimmed of most of its fat
vegetable oil for frying
1 small green cabbage, cored and finely shredded
4 oz butter
4 oz unsmoked bacon, diced (I used salt pork)
6 oz mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (while wild mushrooms would be nice, there are quite a few interesting domestic varieties available in markets now—pick a flavorful variety, not the white kind)
2 oz red wine
2 Tblsp port or sherry
salt and pepper

Instructions:


Season the lamb fillet with salt and pepper.




Heat a small amount of oil in a roasting pan and sautee the meat (briefly) on all sides to sear it.

Finish cooking the lamb in an oven preheated to 425 degrees (hot!). Keep an eye on it. According to the original recipe, it should take 10-12 minutes to achieve medium-rare. That seemed kind of long to me, but it proved to be accurate for rare meat (which I like).

Remove the meat from the oven and keep warm.




Shredded (thank you, Cuisinart!)

Cooked

Boil the shredded cabbage until it is tender (if you've removed the coarse bits and shredded it finely, this shouldn't take long). Drain it and toss in half the butter. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.






In another pan, melt the remaining butter and fry the diced bacon until lightly browned. Add the sliced mushrooms and continue to cook until they release their juices. Keep warm. (I hope you have a big kitchen, because by now you have three pans you're supposed to be keeping warm.)


Deglazing the pan
Retrieve the roasting pan with the lamb. Set the lamb on a plate (and keep it warm!) and pour off the excess fat from the pan. Set the pan over medium-high heat and add the wine and port. Bring to a boil, stirring to scrape up any bits on the bottom of the pan. Add this to the other pan with the mushrooms and bacon. Taste the mixture for seasoning.

When you're ready to serve, warm your plates and divide the cabbage between them, making a pile in the center of each plate. You may cut the fillet of lamb into single chunks, or slice thinly and array over the cabbage pile (which is what I did). Scatter the mushrooms and bacon over the meat and cabbage, and pour the wine sauce over it all.





Eat quickly, while it's still warm! I added boiled potatoes to the plate as well.



With potatoes

I was pleasantly surprised by the results. I had my doubts about using bacon and lamb in the same dish, but everything worked well together. There are a lot of mushrooms, not just a scattering, and that worked too. I think this is a keeper, as long as I can find the lamb.




Only a week old! Cruel Winter, the fifth book of the County Cork Mysteries.

The snow has melted in Cork, I'm told, but there was a major snowstorm in County Carlow this past week, south of Dublin. My grandmother was born in a very small townland in Carlow.

Find Cruel Winter at Amazon (my apologies that the pub date of the ebook seems to keep migrating around there, but the print version is on sale!) and Barnes & Noble (likewise on sale there). 

And take a look at my updated website www.sheilaconnolly.com, which now includes a blog where I will ramble on about my Irish cottage when the spirit moves me.