Showing posts with label Dead End Street. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dead End Street. Show all posts

Friday, June 3, 2016

Cheesecake in a Bowl

In honor of the imminent release of Dead End Street next week, I thought I’d revisit Philadelphia food. I wrote a post about it when the Museum Mystery series debuted, back in 2010. If you take a look at that, I gave a basic primer on the food most often associated with that city. Let me add a few that I missed last time: Philadelphia spawned Cheez Whiz, Good & Plenty, Herr’s (potato chips—my daughter’s suburban school actually took a field trip to their plant), Tastykake, and Fleer Chewing Gum (home of Double Bubble, my childhood favorite--my commuter train used to go by the factory).

But whenever I'm in Philadelphia I keep coming back to the Reading Terminal Market—and I send Nell Pratt there every chance I get. The place has a long history (which I will shorten here for you): it occupies the space under what was once the Reading Railroad Terminal in Center City, close to City Hall. The Terminal opened in 1893, and the market beneath has been there ever since (even though trains no longer run into the terminal: it’s the Pennsylvania Convention Center now, but the market survives, and didn’t even close during the construction of the convention center above it).

The market has just about everything: meat, fish, fruits and vegetables. Ice cream and candy (including some really weird chocolates). Cookware and cookbooks. Great places to grab a lunch, which many nearby workers do. I try to visit every time I’m in Philadelphia, and I come home with whatever I can carry (note: some items do not fare well in a suitcase!). There are Asian and Amish and Italian vendors, and just about anything else. It is one of the great treasures of the city, and it’s always full of people.

Ah, food. What have I bought and enjoyed? Mushrooms (which I’ve also written about for MLK). Meat from the Amish butchers. Chocolate Liberty Bells. Great lunches at the Down Home Diner (yes, I’ve even eaten a cheese steak there). It’s a great space to stroll through, and even if you aren’t hungry when you walk it, you will be after a few minutes.

Recipe? What better than a cheesecake made with the Original Philadelphia brand cream cheese? According to their website, the name "Philadelphia" was adopted in 1880, because the city “was considered at the time to be the home of top quality food.” And it came in foil wrappers even then. (Oddly enough, the parent company resides in the UK.) There have been a few changes in ownership since 1880, not to mention a variety of new! trendier! products, but the Philadelphia name is still on the package. And I firmly believe it is the best cream cheese to use for cheesecakes.

You would not believe how many cheesecake recipes the company offers (twelve pages worth), but I wanted to use something fairly classic, and also take advantage of the ripe strawberries available now. So I tinkered with a few recipes, and here’s the result!

Cheesecake in a Bowl

1-1/2 cup crumbs (cookie, graham cracker, whatever—I used Sandies)
3/4 stick (3 oz.) butter, melted

1/2 pound block cream cheese, softened
4 oz. white chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
1-1/2 Tblsp granulated sugar
1 tsp gelatin, dissolved in 1-1/2 Tblsp boiling water (stir quickly to dissolve!)

2 cups strawberries, pureed (you can put them through a sieve if the seeds annoy you)—or you could just mash them up
2 Tblsp confectioner’s sugar

A few fresh strawberries, sliced or quartered, for garnish


Crumbs and butter, mixed
For the crust layer: combine the crumbs and the butter, then press into the bottom of serving glasses. [A note: you can divide this into as many portions as you like. I happen to have four glass bowls that actually match, so I went with those. Splitting this among six bowls would still be an ample serving size.] Chill.

For the filling: Melt the cream cheese and the white chocolate in a bowl over simmering water, or in a double boiler [you could probably do it in a microwave, but I wasn’t sure of the timing or temperature]. Mix and let it cool for 10 minutes.

Whip together the cream and sugar until stiff. Add the dissolved gelatin to the cream cheese mixture, then fold in the cream.

Taste the pureed strawberries and add confectioner’s sugar if necessary.

First layer
Second layer

Spoon half the cream cheese mixture over the crumb layer in the glasses or bowls, then top with half the strawberry puree. Repeat. Take a knife and gently swirl the layers together just a bit.

Chill for two hours or until set. When you’re ready to serve, garnish with the fresh strawberries.

Dead End Street will be released next Tuesday, June 7th. The cover shows you the part of Philadelphia you don't want to visit. But it's a wonderful city, with great history, amazing museums, and good people working to make it a better place. Definitely worth seeing!

Find it at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Ginger Biscuits

Here at MLK we offer you all kinds of recipes: treasured family favorites, crazy things we’ve stumbled over in our travels, quick and easy ones, innovative ones. Everything you will ever need! Which means we’re always looking for another recipe.

Recently at Malice Domestic I stopped at the vintage-bookseller’s table. They always put it right next to the entrance (how cruel!). I should know by now to shut my eyes and march past, but I don’t.

This year’s prize is The Complete Illustrated Cookery Book, with no apparent author, edited by “CHEF.” It contains “Over two thousand recipes” plus hints on just about everything else related to food and kitchens. There are pictures, some in color (all of which the editor promises were made from recipes included in the book). It was published in England in 1934.

The world has changed a wee bit since then. The thing weighs several pounds and is 2-1/2 inches thick, with small print. I sat myself down with it to skim through it, and ended up laughing hysterically. You’ll see why when I give you only a few examples of suggested recipes:

Baked Eels: to skin an eel, hold it with a cloth. The head should be cut off, the skin turned back at the top all round the neck, then drawn downwards. Draw the head one way and the skin the other. Open the fish and remove the inside. Cut off the back bristles. [Needless to say, I will not be cooking eel any time soon.]

To Dry Haddock at Home [another “I don’t think so” recipe]: Remove the eyes, the gills and the inside, and cleanse the blood from the backbone… Now fill the body and eye sockets with salt.”

Liver Crepinettes: One can buy pig’s caul from the butcher. [Not in this town!] …rinse it well and cut it in pieces with a pair of scissors to any size desired. [How do I know what size pieces of pig’s caul I want?]

But wait! There’s more!

Calves Brains en Matelotte: The brains should be washed in cold water with a little salt. Take away the loose skin and any clots of blood…

Is it just me or is this beginning to sound like a CSI episode?

Here’s a good one: Stewed Tendons of Veal [Yes, you read that right—the tendons, aka the gristles—do something else with those nice tender veal breasts they were attached to.]: Put them [the tendons] in a stewpan…put the pan over the fire, then simmer for 4 hours. [To serve] arrange the tendons in a circle round a dish with a fried crouton between each and fill the centre with a puree of green peas. [Are you hungry yet?]

And it goes on. There is a recipe for Larks a la Bourgeoise (doesn’t say where to get the larks); for a Pupton of Pigeons (which in addition to pigeons includes 1 sweetbread, ½ pound of bacon, and 1 ox palate (???). Later there is a recipe for a Turkey Stuffed with Truffles [really?], and instructions for How to Truss Blackcock [excuse me, I wouldn’t know a blackcock if I met one—apparently it’s a kind of black grouse]. The instructions include “scald the feet, peel off the skin, and cut off the toes.” And if you leave the head on, you must remember to tuck it under one wing. And finally, there’s Rook Pie (you must be sure to remove the backbone, else it will be bitter). [Would a crow do?]

Oddly enough (by MLK standards, at least), there is much more emphasis on meat and poultry than on desserts or sweets. But it may be revealing that a former owner marked very few pages—and the one for Rich Bride Cake was one of them. There is (hard to believe) only one recipe for Cookies in the book, with the notation “(An American Recipe).” It involves boiling them in lard. No thanks.

What? You want a recipe? I will gladly offer you Ginger Biscuits.

Ginger Biscuits


1/2 lb flour
Pinch of salt
1 tsp ground ginger (you can use more)
4 oz butter
4 oz castor (white) sugar
2 eggs

I don't know what I did before I
had a kitchen scale! (BTW, it also
works for postage.)


Mix together the flour and salt with the ginger in a basin. Beat the butter and sugar to a cream. Add the eggs one by one, beating each in well, then gradually stir in the flour. Should the mixture be too dry, add a very little milk.

About a tablespoon?

Drop spoonfuls of the mixture on greased paper on a greased tin a very short distance apart. Put them into a rather slow oven [I guessed 325 degrees, and I found 20 minutes worked well at that temperature] and bake a pale brown for 15 to 20 minutes. Note, Ginger Biscuits do not become crisp until they are cold.

That’s the recipe as given. I love the way older cookbooks assume you know what you’re doing in the kitchen and can fill in the blanks! You will note a few rather vague points, like the temperature of the oven, and the size of the spoon. I beefed up the ginger and the butter, and everything worked fine. I will say I approve of the greased baking sheet plus the greased parchment paper—the cookies slid right off.

Actually the cookies or biscuits were rather nice—not too sweet, not too spicy, and easy to make. I might just keep this recipe handy.

Hey, less than two weeks before Dead End Street hits bookstore shelves everywhere! 

No recipes, but I did send Nell back to the Reading Terminal Market again in the book. I can't stay out of that place! Maybe next week I'll give you a Philadelphia recipe? (Not scrapple, I promise--the less you know about that, the better.)

Dead End Street is available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Pickled Ferns

Maybe spring has finally arrived? (I won’t mention that it snowed in Maine this week.) One harbinger is the fleeting appearance of fiddlehead ferns in our local market. There weren’t many, and I took them all.
These are the ones that grow in
my garden--you can see why
they call them fiddleheads

I gave a fiddlehead fern recipe once before here on MLK. I had to look it up—and it was four years ago! There aren’t a whole lot of things you can do with them, and I joked back then that maybe I’d find a recipe for pickling the things. Here it is!

I don’t do a lot of pickling (although my jelly-making skills are improving), so I don’t have a row of cookbooks to tell me what to do. So I went looking online.

I found it funny that the recipes I found were pretty much along classic pickling lines—you know, sterilize your mason jars, seal them right, et cetera. (You can skip that part and just keep them refrigerated—but not for too long—if you plan to use them soon.) If you go through the traditional process, they’ll keep for up to a year, in case you get a craving for a taste of spring next winter. One more point: let the pickled ferns, sealed or refrigerated, mellow for, variously, a week, two weeks, or up to six weeks before you eat them. Whenever you do open the jar, keep it refrigerated after.



1/2 pound fiddlehead ferns (just the tips)
Kosher salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp dill seeds
1/4 tsp black peppercorns
2 allspice berries
1 garlic clove, smashed

This was one version. Other versions called for a sprig of thyme or a piece of lemon peel. Yet another version wanted a whole lot of sugar. I’ve never been a fan of sweet pickles, but your tastes may differ. You can decide what sounds good to you.


[If you’re going to be a purist, prepare your jars. I have no clue how that works.]

In a small saucepan, combine the water, 1/2 tsp salt, garlic, and whatever herbs and spices you are using, and bring it to a boil. Take it off the heat, add the vinegar, and let it steep for an hour.

Put your ferns into a large bowl of cold water and wash them well. Trim off any brown parts, and cut off the woody ends. Drain them in a colander.

They're still green!
Fill a large saucepan with water, add salt (2 tsp/quart) and bring to a boil. Add the fiddlehead ferns and let them boil of 5 minutes (you want them to stay a bit crisp). Drain them and dunk them in a bowl of water with ice cubes added, to stop the cooking. Once they’re cool, drain them well—otherwise they’ll dilute the liquid with all the flavor (that’s next!).

When you’re ready to “jar,” pack the fiddleheads into a pint jar (I didn’t have a pint jar, so I used two half-pint jars), with a bit of room left at the top. Reheat the pickling liquid to boiling, then pour it over the fiddleheads. Screw on the top, and let cool. 

Serve them as a complement to meat or chicken—maybe the first time to use the barbecue this year? Add them to your first salad greens? Or use them when you want a brief taste of spring.

Yes, the book is coming! I'm beginning to call Dead End Street (Museum Mystery #7) my uncozy cozy. Yes, there's violence and bloodshed, but there's also a determined amateur heroine and an ending in which a lot of Philadelphia's problems are solved, with her help and help from some of her friends. 

It will be released on June 7th. You can find it for preorder on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Orzo Primavera

A couple of weeks ago a number of us Mystery Lovers attended the annual mystery conference Malice Domestic in Maryland. We have a wonderful time, spending days (and nights) talking to old friends, making new ones, attending panels, applauding tributes to some of our favorite authors, and more. Every now and then we were invited to a party of some sort outside the conference hotel—and believe me, we needed the walk and the fresh air!

Me, Linda Wiken/Erika Chase, and MJ Maffini
(half of Victoria Abbott)
A couple of those took us past a charming specialty food shop, Secolari, which specializes in an amazing array of olive oils and vinegars and flavored pastas. You can even taste the olive oils, dunking with a small cube of country bread. Of course we went in, and of course we bought things. Lots of things. (Would you believe I now have a bar of blood orange olive oil soap? It smells amazing!)

Some of us went home with olive oil. I was flying and my suitcase was pretty full (hmm…books or olive oil? The books won.), so I opted for pasta: three kinds of orzo (hey, it was three for the price of two). I like orzo because it’s easy to cook, and because it’s kind of an inside joke because it looks like rice but it isn’t. It goes with just about anything.

Of course we asked the nice young man behind the counter if he had recipes. He did. We asked if we could borrow a few for our blog? No problem. This was the one that I grabbed, mostly because it’s pretty. 

Orzo Primavera

Ingredients: (Note: as usual, I cut this recipe in half when I made it, because it’s just the two of us eating. As given here it should serve four.)

1 lb. Pappardelle Rainbow Pasta
2 Tblsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 Tblsp garlic, minced or pressed (if you’re garlic-phobic, you can reduce this)
3/4 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock, heated
2 Tblsp butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups prepared vegetables (whatever you have on hand)


Par-cook the orzo in a pot of lightly-salted boiling water for 6-8 minutes (it will not be fully cooked yet!). Drain, rinse with cold water, drain again, and set aside.

This stuff expands more than you think when cooked!

In a skillet, sauté the onions in olive oil over medium heat until they are translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds.

Add the white wine and reduce the liquid until it is all but dry, stirring constantly. Add 1 cup of the chicken stock and continue stirring until the liquid is reduced by half. 

Add the partly-cooked orzo and mix. Then add the rest of the chicken stock, a little at a time. Keep stirring! (Kind of the same principle as risotto.)

Blanch whatever vegetables you’re using (I went with peppers, because the colors are so lovely, but you could substitute carrots, peas, asparagus, broccoli, and so on. Blanch means cook them briefly so they’re partially cooked but still crunchy). 

When the orzo is creamy and al dente (cooked through—keep testing), add the vegetables to the mixture and cook for one minute. Toss with the butter. Taste for seasoning and add salt if you think it’s needed (remember, the cheese will be salty).

Place the orzo mixture in a serving dish or individual bowls. Sprinkle with the grated cheese and serve immediately.

Thank you, Secolari and Pappardelle. Hmm, Malice will be at the same hotel next year—I’ll have to leave some room in my suitcase.

Dead End Street (Museum Mystery #7), coming in three weeks and four days--but who's counting?

Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society President Nell Pratt puts her life on the line to help save the city that she loves--not what she expected when she took the job!

Look for Dead End Street for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Quick Thai Curry

It has to be spring somewhere, doesn’t it? Things were a lot greener in Maryland, where I spent the past weekend with some of my Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen buddies at the mystery conference Malice Domestic. We had a wonderful time, but to be fair, the weather was kind of lousy, with rain and mist and fog. Then I came home—to more rain and mist and fog. (At least all my flights were on time!)

So I wanted something quick and easy and a little spicy, and I decided on Thai curry. I’ll admit I first met this kind of recipe on the back of a curry jar (with a nudge from my daughter, as I recall), although since then I’ve found a couple of great Thai restaurants not far from my home.

This is a very flexible recipe: I’m giving you the basics, but you can add whatever you have on hand or that sounds appealing to you. We’ve learned to keep a lot of the basic ingredients around, which is easy because they’re usually either found in a can or in a form you need to refrigerate.

One note: in a supermarket, you will most likely find two kinds of paste curry: red and green. I’ll confess I don’t know the subtle differences between them, but you can swap between them. I happened to have the red kind, so that’s what I used.

Quick Thai Curry

Oops--ignore the tomatoes. I was thinking
of an Indian curry recipe, then changed
my mind

1 Tblsp vegetable oil
3/4 cup sliced shallots (you could substitute the same amount of onions, but shallots have a milder flavor)
2 tsp Thai curry paste (or more!)
1 14-oz can of unsweetened coconut milk
2 tsp fish sauce
1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into strips
Optional garnishes: fresh basil, fresh lime juice


Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and the curry paste and stir until the shallots soften (about 2 minutes).

Add the coconut milk (note: when you open the can it may look kind of like spackle. Just mix it up to combine the solids and liquids) and the fish sauce. 

Add the chicken and stir the mixture until the chicken is just cooked through. (Another note: I’ve often made this recipe with left-over chicken, which works fine. But the uncooked chicken stayed nice and tender.)

Taste and add salt and pepper as needed, plus any spices that suit your fancy.

You can serve this on its own, or over rice or rice noodles. I felt the need for some green/vegetable addition, and we happened to have some fresh pea shoots on hand, so I sprinkled them over the curry. That worked just fine—they added an earthy note and a hint of crunch.

As I said, feel free to improvise. The result is warm and creamy and as spicy as you want to make it—perfect for a cold damp day!

Coming next month! I can't recall if I ever ate Thai food in Philadelphia, but there are Asian vendors at the Reading Terminal Market in Center City, if you're hunting for ingredients (I send my heroine Nell Pratt there whenever possible, including in this book).  They have everything there, including chocolate noses. Just in case you need a few.

You will find Dead End Street available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Pickled Herring Casserole

Last week I regaled you with tales of the local Herring Run Festival (where the guests of honor—the herring—failed to show up).

In case you’re wondering (ha!), local herring (or alewife) are flatish fish between 10-15 inches long, that migrate by the millions each year, gathering offshore to begin their difficult trek up coastal streams and rivers to their traditional spawning grounds. There’s one in my town (and I’ve seen the herring running there), and also one in Plymouth, in the stream that runs behind the gristmill there that was managed by one of my ancestors. Local agencies in Plymouth have worked together to improve the herrings’ passage at that spot, on a “notched weir-pond fishway.” Whatever that is.

Oh, all right, back to food. I decided I wanted to try cooking herring, because it’s herring season. Which turned out to be complicated. It’s difficult and in some cases illegal to harvest the herring during their run upstream. I asked my helpful fish-vendor at my local supermarket if herring was available and she looked at me like I was crazy. Which left me with only one option: pickled herring.

I do like pickled herring, courtesy of those same Swedish step-grandparents I mentioned earlier. But most of the recipes I found were either for how to pickle your own (assuming you find herring), or how to use the finished product in a salad. I am not ready to face salads—it’s still cold out there. I finally found one recipe, originated by Emeril Lagasse (who included the recipe for pickling your own, which he borrowed from a Massachusetts source), later repeated by Martha Stewart. I bought a jar of pickled herring in white wine.

Pickled Herring Casserole


1 Tblsp butter

1 cup fine dried bread crumbs (I used panko)
1 Tblsp finely chopped fresh parsley
2 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
1 pound potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 cups thinly sliced onions
2 Tblsp four
Pickled herring (the recipe called for six whole ones, but mine were already cut up—I used one jar)
1-1/2 cups whole milk (or cream)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a glass or ceramic baking dish with butter.

If like me you are using pre-made pickled herring, rinse it in water and drain.

In a small bowl, combine the crumbs, parsley and cheese, and season with the salt and pepper. Mix well.

Season the potatoes and onions with salt and pepper. Place a layer of potatoes on the bottom of the casserole, and add a layer of onions on top. Sprinkle 1 Tblsp of flour over the onions.

Place half the herring on top of the onions. Repeat, making a second layer of potatoes/onions/herring. 

Pour the milk slowly over the contents of the casserole. Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the top, and dot with any butter you have left.

Cover the top with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until the crumb topping is nicely browned. Test with a sharp knife to see if the potatoes are cooked through.

My assessment? Not bad. The herring adds a nice tang to the dish. I think next time I’d increase the cream to milk ratio to create a bit more sauce. Actually you could make this with almost any preserved fish (smoked salmon, for example), and it’s quick and simple. 

Happy Herring Season!

Getting closer all the time...

I grew up outside of Philadelphia. My father worked in North Philadelphia, and his company (Philadelphia Gear Corporation) was among the first to flee the city in favor of the suburbs, in 1958. So in a way, I witnessed the decline of the city.

But I worked in the city too (and I worked for the City), years later, and I believe in the city and its citizens. So does my protagonist Nell Pratt--and with some help from her friends, she comes up with some creative ideas to try to turn the tide of urban decline.

Coming June 7th. Available now for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.