Showing posts with label Gourmet Girl Mystery Series. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gourmet Girl Mystery Series. Show all posts

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Guest Blogger: Jessica Conant-Park on "Leftover Failure"

Please welcome our guest blogger for today, mystery author Jessica Conant-Park. (That's Jessica in the photo below with her adorable son, Nicholas.)
Jessica is not just a great cook and foodie, she's married to a professional chef and co-authors the fantastic series of culinary-themed Gourmet Girl mysteries.

Lucky for us, the paperback edition of her latest Gourmet Girl adventure, FED UP, hits stores shelves this week! Huzzah! And her new hardcover, COOK THE BOOKS, is coming in March. And now, here's the Goumet Girl herself,
Jessica Conant-Park!


~ Cleo Coyle


The Leftovers. Blech, right? Visions of overcooked pasta, dried out casseroles, soggy salad, and congealed fish dancing in your head? Yeah, me, too. Usually. Unless it’s a hearty soup that has doubled its flavor overnight (as many good soups do!), then I usually dread leftovers. But, aside from soup, I have two exceptions to this attitude: Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Both days we go to my parents’ house and my mother puts together a fantastic meal with the things I’ve demanded be served. (I’m a brat.) My favorites are the main meat dish (usually a crown roast of pork or a decadent prime rib), a cheese and cream laden scalloped potato dish, her absolutely perfect green salad, a cheese course, and finally her ultra-rich chocolate sauce on vanilla ice cream. And each holiday I gorge myself silly. But even before the actual meal I am already anticipating what leftovers I’ll be bringing home. Look, there’s only so much even I can eat in one sitting, but give me a few days and I can really pack it in.

So the meat dish, the potatoes, and the expensive sampling of cheeses are all perfectly delicious treats for the few days after the holiday. I just don’t run around paying a small fortune for delicacies throughout the year and so, believe me, I take advantage of free food when I can get it. The joys of being an only (gluttonous) child.

I will admit in the privacy of this blog that I had a particularly selfish moment this season when it was unclear if three of our guests would be joining us at Christmas dinner… and my first thought was, More leftovers! That’s awful. I know that. I’m a terrible person and I’ll work on being less vile in 2010.

But as apparent punishment for my greedy thoughts, my anxiety about remembering to take my fair share of leftovers seemed to have depleted some of my brain cells, because I screwed up at Thanksgiving. And at Christmas. Big time.

I spent the day after Thanksgiving salivating at the thought of reheating the pork roast and the gooey potatoes for dinner. The way the cheesy potatoes’ sauce would run across the plate and coat the meat…. Ahhhh, it would be bliss! But as I began rooting through the fridge, I could not find the meat. I found side dishes, and chocolate sauce, and the potatoes…. But no meat. I swear that I had heart palpitations as I called my husband at work, hoping beyond hope that he’d stashed the leftovers in some secure part of the fridge. I must be blind with hunger and not seeing what was surely right in front of me, right? No luck. I called my mother who located MY pork in HER fridge. Seriously, people, my emotional upset at this error was no laughing matter. What the heck was I supposed to have with my potatoes now? I could practically taste what I was missing, but even my hallucinating skills were not vaguely satisfying.

Okay, I resolved, this hideous leftover failure on my part will NOT happen at Christmas. But, yeah. It did. Mom had assembled a particularly noteworthy cheese selection this year. Epoisse (which is one of the smelliest, gooiest, richest cheeses out there), St. Andre (to die for!), Explorateur (another triple-cream delight), a smooth, spreadable blue, a firm goat’s milk, and a few others that I’ve blocked out because the memory is too painful. But by the time we got to the cheese course at the end of the meal, I was stuffed and didn’t eat nearly my share. No worries: there would be plenty of leftovers. I never pay that kind of money for a multitude of cheeses just to keep around my house, so this would be a treat. God, the next few days were sure to be lovely.

And you know what I did? I helped clean up the table, divided up all the goods, wrapped up little packages, and promptly forgot the cheese! All of it. Not one little hint of Epoisse for me. Again, the emotional trauma that ensued the next day was not pretty. There were the usual frantic calls to my husband and mother. And the usual tragic result.



I’ve been craving cheese since December 27th and so used New Year’s Eve as an excuse to spend an ungodly sum of money at the supermarket and throw together a meat and cheese plate. I was in a huge rush on the 31st and basically ran through the supermarket at top speed, haphazardly throwing things into my basket. I won’t tell you what I spent, but I’m not proud of myself. And the kicker is that the supermarket selection pales in comparison to what one could find at a specialty shop. Again, a rather ordinary selection was probably appropriate punishment for my selfish approach to leftovers. But our gourmet-ish plate of munchies was still lovely, although not viable competition for my mother’s.

So my New Year’s resolution for 2010 is to never again forget valuable leftovers. Never!

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As I mentioned before, I’m not a fan of leftover salad. My mother, God love her, will eat a soggy nightmare the next day. But I won’t. I want fresh, crisp, perfect. I have one beautiful hand-carved salad bowl but really wanted more, so for I asked for a few for Christmas. I got two gorgeous ones: A medium sized dark one from Crate and Barrel, and a very large one from the Vermont Bowl Company.
I guarantee both are already being put to good use. (Side note: My mother-in-law wrapped the bowl she gave me just in wrapping paper, revealing it’s shape and obviously not disguising the gift. My son Nicholas thought it was very un-Christmas like of me when, on Christmas morning, I kept shouting, “I wanna open my salad bowl!”)

Here is the salad that my mother makes on a regular basis. It’s very simple but sometimes a light, uncluttered bowl is heaven. You won’t need all the dressing here, but it will keep for ages. Feel free to play around with ingredient amounts… I happen to like a really spicy dressing so I sometimes add more mustard, and I’m a mint fanatic so I also use a ton of that. But adjust as you like!

Dressing:
1 cup olive oil (a light/medium blend)
1 Tablespoon good quality Dijon mustard
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 good squeeze fresh lemon juice (don’t you dare try and use that junk that comes out of a plastic lemon!)
Salt and pepper, to taste (Be generous. An under-seasoned salad is a waste.)

Mix all together and let stand at least ½ hour before using. Refrigerate leftovers.

Salad:
1-2 heads Boston/Baby Bibb lettuce, thoroughly washed (unless you enjoy grit.)
¼ thinly sliced red onion
½ cup fresh tomatoes (in the winter I like grape tomatoes, cut in half)
1/3 cup good feta (Trader Joe’s carries a delicious kind that comes in a white and blue container… I forget the name, but it is wonderful.)
1 small handful chopped fresh mint
1 small handful Calamata olives

That’s it! Toss with the dressing and you’re set!

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In book news, the fourth Gourmet Girl mystery, FED UP, is out in paperback on January 4th. I love this book because there is both a baby shower and wedding in it, and who doesn’t love those scenes, right? I also throw out a juicy cliffhanger at the end… But don’t worry, COOK THE BOOKS comes out in March and I promise I take care of it then.

I’m also blogging with my pal Michele Scott at Adventuresnwriting. Or rather, I occasionally blog there when I think of it. Mostly I write about stupid things like Levi Johnston’s photo shoot, Lady Gaga’s outfits, or inform the public about very insightful things my kid has said. (BTW, his most recent eye-rolling statement was that the parents from Cheaper By the Dozen “must have had a lot of sex!”) So I suppose I should resolve to blog more. I’ll work on it. And Michele is generally better behaved than I am, so we balance each other out. She and I also have a Food Fiction newsletter that we send out every few months with recipes, book news, contests, and wonderful guests. We’d love to have you sign up, so stop by our site and enter your email address in the form!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Welcome Guest Blogger - Jessica Conant-Park!

Guest Blogger Jessica Conant-Park, author of the Gourmet Girl Mystery series

What an honor to be asked to come hang out with the lovely women of Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen! Since I co-write the Gourmet Girl mystery series (with my mother, author Susan Conant), I feel a major kinship with this group. And, well, being here is a good excuse to write about food. My series is set in the Boston restaurant scene and follows Chloe Carter, a twenty-something half-hearted social work student who would much rather be frequenting local restaurants or browsing gourmet food shops than studying somatoform disorders and marching at the State House. Chloe’s love life and academic life are a constant challenge, but she does hook up with a hot young chef, Josh, and gets an inside look at the tumultuous and chaotic world of professional restaurants. The books are a blend of cozy mystery, chick lit, humor (well, at least, I think so… I suppose it depends on how weird your sense of humor is), romance, and food, and there are tons of recipes at the end of the book so that you can cook up some of the delicacies that you’ve read about. The fifth in the series, COOK THE BOOKS, will be out next February/March.

I also do a Food Fiction newsletter with Michele Scott (of the Wine Lover’s mystery series) and we dole out food news, recipes, guest author spots, and lots of great contests. Stop by our site http://foodfiction.weebly.com/ and sign up for the newsletter and our August giveaway!

Now, on to food! Summer is a glorious season for cooking and I find it so much easier to whip up something absolutely delicious and full of flavor in a fraction of the time it takes in winter. Relying on fresh produce and herbs means you need very little else to doctor up a dish. I’ve been glaring rather sharply at my tomato plants recently, begging them to hurry up and produce perfect tomatoes, because if I eat one more vile, pink tomato this year, I’m going to scream. Even those supposedly “vine ripe” tomatoes that cost a fortune at the grocery store have been flavorless… I’ve had it and refuse to buy another. My way around this? Grape tomatoes. These little guys are working out just fine and are proving to be a pretty good substitute (for now) for the coveted Beefsteak tomatoes I’m craving.

My other garden favorite is arugula. Yes, I’ll admit right off the bat that there is one giant drawback to growing your own: washing it. You must wash the leaves over and over again in a salad spinner. Then wash them a few more times. I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly care for little spiders and grains of dirt in my food… So, suffer through the washing and you’ll be rewarded with a spicy, crispy, bitter-in-a-good-way treat. The store bought variety is also perfectly good, but I still recommend a thorough washing, too. My father spent years lamenting what he considered to be the severe neglect and under appreciation of the potato. Hah! Everyone knows about the boring old potato. If you ask me, arugula is much more neglected. I think we should be tossing it into practically everything. Stir a bunch into hot pasta and tomato sauce and you will have a much improved winter meal; mix with your favorite dressing as a salad; or add a few leaves to an otherwise mundane sandwich.


I’ve been making a lot of pasta salad this year, and one of my favorites makes use of both arugula and grape tomatoes. Simply cook cheese-filled tortellini and drain it well. (Never rinse pasta under water, as you need the starch from the pasta to make salads work well.)Toss it with a good glug of olive oil, and add in a generous handful of fresh arugula (the heat will wilt it nicely), grape tomatoes sliced in half, more fresh basil, and salt and pepper. If you like some heat, a sprinkle of hot pepper flakes or freshly minced cayenne would be fantastic. Toss in some parmesan cheese. I highly recommend that you pay a little extra for a fresh wedge of parm that you run over a grater. Well worth the cost. That’s it! Let your salad rest so it comes down to room temperature and the flavors a chance to come out.

So until those fat and fabulous tomatoes start showing up on my plants and in the farmer’s markets, I’ll be doing what I can with the littlest tomato out there, and washing and re-washing my arugula.
Jessica Conant-Park

Wonderful idea. Delicious and easy! Thanks for joining us at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen, Jessica!

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