Showing posts with label Dublin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dublin. Show all posts

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mincemeat Tarts

by Sheila Connolly

Mincemeat pie has long been associated with Christmas—think Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, where a mince pie awaits at the end of the final meal. (BTW, Tori Avey, who write about food and culture for PBS, called Dickens “a true Victorian foodie, a man who took serious pleasure in eating and drinking.”

Long, long ago, when I first heard the term “mincemeat,” all I could think of was the “meat” part. I was pretty sure I didn’t want meat in my dessert. Luckily nobody offered me any mincemeat.

But then one summer many years ago I had a job in a department store in London (Simpson’s Piccadilly—I had a great time!), where if we worked the late opening days, we were entitled to “tea” in the basement cafeteria, around five. Tea might include tea, of course (black or white), plus kippers and buns and—mincemeat tarts. I quickly became a convert.

This past week I was strolling through my supermarket and was halted by a display of teeny, tiny boxes of mincemeat, in a package smaller than a kid’s juice box. Surely you jest! That little box will make a whole pie? But the maker was serious: it’s dried mincemeat, that you have to restore by adding water and boiling for a minute. This I had to see to believe, so I brought one box home as an experiment.
Okay, it looks like dog food,
but it does get better!

But I don’t like the stuff well enough to eat a whole pie’s worth, so I decided to recreate the tiny tarts instead. If you want to dress them up for the holiday, use a decorative cutter instead of a plain round one for the top crust.

Mincemeat Tarts


1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 Tblsp grated fresh grated 
     orange peel
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted 
     butter, cut into 1/2” cubes
1 large egg yolk
2 Tblsp orange juice (more if needed)


3/4 cup purchased mincemeat
3 Tblsp minced crystallized ginger
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Glaze: 1 egg, beaten

Mix together the flour, 6 Tblsp powdered sugar, 2-1/2 tsp orange peel and salt in a food processor. Add the butter and process in spurts until the mixture resembles coarse meal. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and 2 Tblsp orange juice.  Add the liquid to the processor and blend until moist clumps form (add more juice by teaspoons-ful if needed). Gather the dough into a ball and flatten. Chill for 30 minutes. (By the way, this made a very nice crust: it’s light and flavorful, and also easy to roll and handle.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Generously butter or grease 18 1-3/4 inch mini muffin pans. Mix together the mincemeat, ginger, cinnamon, and the rest of the powdered sugar and orange peel. (A note on muffin tins. I have lots, many of them vintage. I tried my two smallest ones, and while the baby size made nice two-bite tartlets, it was easier to shape and remove them from the slightly larger tin.)

Roll out the dough on a floured surface to make a 17” round. 

I had to include this--it was a gift from my sister-
in-law and it's just gorgeous!

Using a 2-1/2” round cookie cutter, cut out 18 dough rounds. Press a round onto the bottom and up the sides of each muffin cup. (A note on forming the bottoms: try not to tear the sides while pressing them into the molds, because then the filling leaks out and the whole thing sticks to the pan. I found the rounded top of a champagne cork worked quite well. If you don't have one, go out and buy a bottle of champagne--now!)

Fill the lined muffin cups with 1 heaping teaspoon filling (do not overfill). Now, you can go one of two ways with this next step: (a) seal the top with a smaller circle, or (b) say the heck with it and use whatever little decorative shape you want. (The second is easier!) For (a), using a slightly smaller (1-3/4”) cookie cutter, cut out 18 more rounds (reroll the dough if you need to). Brush the edges of the smaller rounds with some of the egg glaze. Place one of the smaller rounds atop the filling in each cup, glazed side down, and press the edges to seal. Cut a small X in each top crust. For (b) just have fun!

Glazed and ready to bake
Brush the pies with the remaining egg glaze. Bake until the top crusts are golden, about 20 minutes. With a small knife, cut around each tart to loosen, then turn out onto a rack to cool. Don’t try to remove them while they’re hot, because then they’ll crumble.

And have a lovely holiday!  

Here are a couple of pictures of Dublin just before Christmas:

I do wish I'd bought the sign in the middle:
Life is What you Bake it

In case you can't guess, An Early Wake, the third book in the County Cork Mysteries, will be out in February.

You can pre-order it at Amazon or Barnes and Noble

And you can get a taste of Ireland for free with my e-story, Under the Hill (Amazon and Barnes and Noble)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Irish Summer Salad

by Sheila Connolly

I'm almost done with the tales of my travels (unless you beg for more).  I am content to enjoy Italian cooking when someone else makes it, but I don't plan to change my own style (although there are a few more recipes…).

So now I'm easing my way back to the real world.  Sigh.  I may have mentioned that I bracketed my Italian journey with a couple of days in Dublin, theoretically for research, but mostly because I really like Dublin. 
On one end I stayed at the hotel I've been using since 2001—near the river, and close to Temple Bar.  But they were booked for the outgoing leg, so I tried a new place, the far side of St. Stephen's Green.  Very posh neighborhood, I must say.  I had a room that must have once been part of the servants' quarters, up on the fourth floor (and no elevator), with a tiny bathroom, but it had a view of the green. 

And it was close to my favorite cookware shop.  Yes, I planned my stay around visiting Stock, only a few blocks away.  I love that place.  I came away with a Pyrex cup with European measurements (I can never get the math right with my US cups), and some great new cookie-cutters, and a square 9" pan with removable bottom that I've been coveting for six months (the blessed thing weighs nearly three pounds, so it kind of skewed my suitcase weight).  And what's more, I had a lovely conversation with an Irish woman about my problems baking brown bread, and she recommended a cookbook by Tim Allen, who is married to Darina Allen, who runs the prestigious cooking school in Ballymaloe, which is in County Cork and which I really, really want to visit, and now I have the cookbook and I may know what I've been doing wrong… End of sentence.

Anyway, I had two nights in Dublin this month, thus two dinners, and they represented the extremes of Irish cooking.  The first night, after leaving Italy, all I wanted was a soft chair and a quiet place to sit and eat.  But Dublin was enjoying a string of incredibly nice weather so everyone was out and most places were full.  I ended up in a veddy posh (and expensive) hotel restaurant where the food looked like it came straight from Iron Chef.  I mean, the appetizer (cold-smoked hake) came in a glass bowl filled with smoke.  And for the main course, somebody whittled all the veggies down to miniatures about an inch tall.  I was beginning to feel like Alice through the looking glass.  It all tasted good, I will admit.

Can you see the smoke? (on the left)

The second night fell at the other end of the spectrum.  I went to a pub recommended by the hotel manager, and it kind of captured the worst of Irish cooking: I had a chicken breast stuffed with mashed potatoes and smoked salmon.  Now, I like all of these in their own right, but they just weren't working together.  Oh, and it was topped with gloppy white sauce with no particular flavor at all.  Not a great meal (but at least it was cheaper than the first one!).

But that got me thinking…  This past weekend I happened to be in Goshen CT, where they have an outstanding smokehouse store, Nodine's.  I came back with a bag full of smoked goodies, including smoked salmon.  And I happen to have a spare chicken breast all cooked and ready in the fridge.  So what if I deconstruct that bad Irish meal and get it right?  And make it a summer dish?  We've been having a heat wave, so how about a chicken and smoked salmon salad? And I'll call it Irish Salad, in honor of the source.

Irish Summer Salad

Smoked salmon
Cooked chicken breast
New potatoes (the waxy kind)
Greens of your choice
(Those of you who are fond of raw onions may add some chopped onion—red onions would be pretty)
Vinaigrette with chopped shallots (see, I fit the onion flavor in)

Shred or dice the salmon and chicken.

Make a simple vinaigrette.  Yes, you can buy it if you insist, but it really is easy:  olive oil or vegetable oil, vinegar and/or lemon juice, a dash of mustard, salt and pepper, and some chopped shallots.  Let it sit for a little while so the flavors come together and the shallots soften. I usually use the cruet I inherited from my mother, which conveniently has the lines for vinegar and oil marked on it.

Wash and dice your potatoes.  Since it was hot, I cooked
mine in the microwave with a little water.  It took all of five minutes on high, and I didn't have to boil anything.  (Don't let them overcook!) Drain them, then while still warm, toss them with some of the vinaigrette and let them marinate in that for a while.

Wash and dry your favorite summer greens—whatever's fresh from the garden.  Add the meats and the potatoes, then add the vinaigrette and toss lightly.  Sprinkle with capers.

The recipe reminds me of a salade niçoise, the kind made in southern France around Nice.  Maybe this is Dubliner Salad.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Irish Game Hen

by Sheila Connolly

The itinerary has me in Dublin today, assuming I survived the whirlwind tour of northern Italy.  If I were smart I would be sending you up-to-the-minute iPad shots of pubs and markets and the like, but getting a tablet has been on my to-do list for a while. Next trip! (And I reserve the right to post a slew of pictures of this fabulous cookware store I've found in Dublin after I get back.)

So I went hunting for an Irish recipe anyway.  I've collected a range of Irish cookbooks by now, both high end and simple. Yes, there is a lot of cabbage and potatoes involved, but the food has improved by leaps and bounds over the past decade.  I was looking for something "nice" and I stumbled over a recipe for Pheasant with Mustard Sauce.

I'm a little short on pheasant.  I've never cooked one, although I have eaten it once or twice.  I once even saw a country pub in England where it was on the menu.  But I can improvise.  Pheasant is a game bird, so duck would be a good substitute.  But I've done duck here before, so I've defaulted to game hen (which has a more delicate flavor, so I've lightened up the sauce just a bit).  Chicken thighs and legs would do as well.

It really was the sauce I was interested in.  It consists of stock, red wine, port, whole-grain mustard, and cream. 

Cornish Game Hen with Mustard Sauce

Split two game hens.  A two-pound hen will serve two people easily, but if they're smaller you might want to plan on one hen per person.

Salt and pepper the pieces.  Saute the halves in a mixture of butter and oil over medium-high heat (I happened to have some duck fat, so I used that instead of butter), then reduce the heat, cover, and cook until done (and the thigh juices run clear).


1 cup chicken stock
1 cup red wine*
2 Tblsp dry sherry
2-4 Tblsp whole-grain mustard
1 cup light cream
Salt and pepper if needed (will depend on the 
   saltiness of the stock)

*Note:  choose a dry but full-bodied wine

Put the stock, wine and sherry in a saucepan and boil until reduced by half.  Stir in the mustard and the cream and continue to reduce until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed.

Shred a small head of Savoy cabbage (the crinkly kind) and boil until just cooked.  Drain and toss with butter.

Make a "nest" of the cabbage on each plate and lay the game hen portion on top.  Spoon some sauce over each piece.

Serve with boiled or mashed potatoes (hey, it's Irish!)

The fourth book in my Museum Mystery series was released earlier this week.

If you know Philadelphia at all, the large building is meant to be the Art Museum, with the Schuylkill River running by on the right.  What you don't see is the Water Works, down by the water, where I set an important chapter in the book. 

There happens to be a great restaurant in the Water Works (I had to do the research, didn't I?)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Highs and Lows for 2012

by Sheila Connolly

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…

So said Charles Dickens, in A Tale of Two Cities.  Substitute "food" for "times" and you have the key to this post. I thought it might be fun to take a quick look at the food highs and lows of this past year for the writer-chefs of Mystery Lovers' Kitchen—and you!

Pop quiz (no grades!):

A. What's the best thing you ate this past year? (Don't think too hard, just say what pops into your head first.) What one food or dish was completely unforgettable?

B. Or, if there are too many memorable examples to pick from, what food did you try for the first time in 2012?

C. What's the worst thing you ate this past year, the one thing you will never, ever try again and will warn all your friends and relatives to stay away from?

We at MLK would love to hear about your culinary experiences, both good and bad.

I'll start off.  Here are my examples:

A.  Yes, too many to count, so I'll skip ahead to

B.  Samphire.  Say what?  I'd never seen or heard of it until it showed up in a dish of steamed mussels I had in a pub in Dublin.  Samphire (also known as sea fennel) is an herb or vegetable that grows on muddy, sandy flats (marsh samphire) near the sea or on rocky seaside cliffs (rock samphire, which grows in such places as the White Cliffs of Dover, where Shakespeare mentioned it). It tastes a bit like asparagus but with a salty flavor, and it adds crunch to dishes.  (And I love the name.)

C. Durian.  This was something I'd heard of but never met face to face.  I came upon it at a trendy Thai restaurant called Pok Pok in Brooklyn.  It is a large thorny fruit that stinks, so why do people eat it?  Well, as one of my tablemates at the restaurant said, "it smells like **** but it tastes like heaven."  At Pok Pok it was served in a dessert, in the form of a custard on sweet sticky rice.  The **** odor was noticeable, at least at first taste; the "heaven" part might be a bit exaggerated, although it was pleasant enough, or at least, not awful.  Anyway, I'm not going back for more, but I'm happy to check durian on my bucket list.

Please share your Bests and Worsts from 2012.  Leave us a comment!