Showing posts with label Jessica Conant-Park. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jessica Conant-Park. Show all posts

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Flat-Out Delicious

Kitchen-dwellers, I am delighted to introduce today's guest blogger, Jessica Park.  If you are not friends with Jessica on Facebook, do yourself a favor and start stalking her.  Honestly, reading Jessica's status updates is often the highlight of my (admittedly dull) days.  She's also a fantastic writer (see below) and an enthusiastic foodie.  So join me in welcoming Jessica to the kitchen!


Hello, Mystery Lover’s Kitchen! I love coming here to visit and was so happy to get an invite from Wendy. Now that I’m not writing culinary mysteries, it’s hard to have an excuse to beg for a chance to guest blog, so Wendy saved me the humiliation! But, I’m still as food-obsessed as ever, and getting back into fall cooking after months of fresh summer salads and grilling. This is a dish that is now on the menu once a week, and I really can’t get enough of it. Obviously anything with bacon is always good, but the combination of bacon against the artichoke hearts, capers, and lemon is really awesome. Yes, I know. This dish sounds really strange, but I assure you that it’s delicious.

Fast, Easy, One-Pot, Scrumptious, Perfect-for-Weeknight-Suppers Shrimp Reminiscent of Scampi But Amped Up and Better

Serves two. Or so. I don’t really know. Depends how much you eat.

3 slices of bacon, chopped into ½” strips
1/3 cup good quality olive oil
2 T. butter
One big handful of cabbage, sliced into thin strips
1 ½ cups chicken broth
¼ cup canned tomato puree or a good handful of chopped fresh tomato
5 canned artichoke hearts, cut into quarters
2 T. capers
One big squeeze of lemon juice
2 springs of fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried thyme
12 fresh or frozen shrimp, deveined and tails off (Do not skimp on the shrimp. Frozen can be absolutely fabulous, but avoid cheap brands where the shrimp are covered in frost. You get what you pay for.)
Salt and pepper to taste

Sautee the bacon over medium-high heat until just browned. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the shrimp, and cook at a medium simmer, stirring occasionally until the cabbage is wilted and tender without being soggy (about 15-20 minutes).  There should be a very nice amount of broth, so add more stock if you need it. Add in the shrimp and season, and then cook for a few minutes until the shrimp are no longer translucent, about 3-4 minutes. If you’ve used fresh thyme, pull the springs because no one needs to chew on little twigs.

Note: Good quality shrimp will release a wonderful flavor into this and limit how much you need to doctor the dish. If you need an extra kick, you can add a splash of white wine and/or a good sprinkle of Cajun seasoning.

Serve over polenta cakes:

If you feel like hanging out stirring a pot of polenta for ages, be my guest, but there is nothing wrong with these delicious rolls. Cylinders. Whatever they are. 

Slice into ½” thick patties (about 4 per person), dust with flour, and fry in a little olive oil over medium-low/medium heat until lightly brown and crispy on both sides. These take longer than you’d think, so plan on at least six minutes per side.

This dish would also be perfect over rice or pasta, of course, but I’m a polenta nut.

Seriously awesome book!
My latest book, Flat-Out Love has nothing to do with food. Although the family in this novel does enjoy regular takeout…. But I hope that you food lovers will consider checking it out nonetheless. It’s a young adult book in many ways because the main characters are college students, but there is a much broader story about the complex family structure that truly makes this book accessible to readers of all ages. By some miracle, Flat-Out Love has spent the past five weeks as the #1 Top-Rated Romance on Amazon’s Kindle, and I’ve been amazed at what lovely reviews the book has been getting. It’s available for most e-readers and also in paperback from Amazon.

Flat-Out Love is a warm and witty novel of family love and dysfunction, deep heartache and raw vulnerability, with a bit of mystery and one whopping, knock-you-to-your-knees romance.

It's not what you know--or when you see--that matters. It's about a journey.

Something is seriously off in the Watkins home. And Julie Seagle, college freshman, small-town Ohio transplant, and the newest resident of this Boston house, is determined to get to the bottom of it. When Julie's off-campus housing falls through, her mother's old college roommate, Erin Watkins, invites her to move in. The parents, Erin and Roger, are welcoming, but emotionally distant and academically driven to eccentric extremes. The middle child, Matt, is an MIT tech geek with a sweet side ... and the social skills of a spool of USB cable. The youngest, Celeste, is a frighteningly bright but freakishly fastidious 13-year-old who hauls around a life-sized cardboard cutout of her oldest brother almost everywhere she goes.

And there's that oldest brother, Finn: funny, gorgeous, smart, sensitive, almost emotionally available. Geographically? Definitely unavailable. That's because Finn is traveling the world and surfacing only for random Facebook chats, e-mails, and status updates. Before long, through late-night exchanges of disembodied text, he begins to stir something tender and silly and maybe even a little bit sexy in Julie's suddenly lonesome soul.

To Julie, the emotionally scrambled members of the Watkins family add up to something that ... well ... doesn't quite add up. Not until she forces a buried secret to the surface, eliciting a dramatic confrontation that threatens to tear the fragile Watkins family apart, does she get her answer.

Flat-Out Love comes complete with emails, Facebook status updates, and instant messages.

Jessica Park
Facebook: jumby24
Twitter: JessicaPark24

Friday, February 26, 2010

Wine and Whine: I like 'Em Both by Guest Blogger Jessica Conant-Park

Please give a warm welcome to our very special Iron Chef Wine Week guest, mystery author Jessica Conant-Park, co-author of the Gourmet Girl mysteries.
Jessica is a wonderfully witty and talented writer: She pens books with her amazing mom (mystery author Susan Conant) and is married to a pro chef, which gives her sweet insider knowledge on writing about restaurants, professional kitchens, and all things culinary.
Her newest release in her delectable culinary mystery series, COOK THE BOOKS, is coming to book stores on March 2nd. Here's a little taste...

If you can’t stand the heat…

While in her second year of social work school, Chloe Carter gets herself in a pickle by overindulging her beloved godson. To pay her bills, Chloe needs a part-time job. Still smarting over the break-up with her boyfriend, Josh, who took a job as a personal chef in Hawaii, Chloe knows that assisting a cookbook writer may stir up painful memories. But the Gourmet Girl is desperate!

While compiling a book of recipes from Boston’s top chefs, Chloe must deal with a lot of Josh’s friends, including the loud-mouthed, but lovable, Digger. Still, she stays cool until she arrives at Digger’s apartment only to find the building thoroughly charred—and Digger with it.

Chloe knows that Digger was too expert a chef to let a grease fire kill him. His death was murder. Putting her feelings on the back burner, the Gourmet Girl sifts through suspects. But as an executive chef with thorny love life, Digger had enemies by the dozen on his plate. Finding a killer when everyone has a motive is hard enough. Matters will get even stickier if the tragedy brings Josh back to Boston—and back into Chloe’s life.

You can find out more about Jessica and her Gourmet Girl Mysteries (and see more of her wonderful recipes and food thoughts) by visiting her author website by clicking here. And now here's Jessica! ~Cleo

You know what I’m really good at? Whining. Seriously, I love it. I’m great at complaining and pitching dramatic fits. You may think it’s very uncool of me to admit this, but I‘m a grown up now (supposedly) and you should take my admission as an indicator of my being terribly self-aware and comfortable in my own skin.
What I’m particularly good at whining about is the writing process. Every author has a different approach to writing, and while I picture other authors easily coming up with storylines, characters, and scintillating plot elements in a deep, thoughtful, and polite manner, I’m the complete opposite. My proces involves lots of wailing, storming around the house, complaining that I’m miserable and useless and will never get an idea to translate from my messed up brain into any understandable Word document.
I like to think that this makes me the proverbial tortured writer and is a sign of my being a true artist. Ha! I suppose I’m just a high-maintenance drama queen. Whatever. I’ve convinced myself that while words flow easily for every other author (those evil people who write twenty pages a day without blinking), I am the exception to the rule. I whine and struggle and flop myself onto the bed in desperation. Writing is work. Yes, some days are really fun and I barely get up from the computer to acknowledge the real world. But there are a lot of days that are rough.
I like to write cleanly as I go because the editing process is already enough work without adding to it with sloppy sentences and useless dialogue. So that might slow me down some. But it gives me another excuse to whine. “I can’t do this! This book sucks! I’m a failure and will never amount to anything! I don’t wanna do this! This is boring and I hate this stupid scene!”
Now, you may think whining is unproductive and childish, but it actually serves a purpose! If I’m whining about a scene that I don’t want to write, that tells me something. The best piece of advice my mother ever gave me was that if I didn’t want to write it, nobody would want to read it. She’s right.
Sometimes my resistance to writing a particular scene or chapter can show me that I should just take it out because it’s not adding to the story. Other times, when I know a scene is necessary and important, I use my whining as inspiration to make that scene different, maybe adding a quirky theme or funny twist that I hadn’t planned on. If I can entertain myself, then maybe I can entertain the reader. But let’s face, that’s still work. So I’m going to try another approach. I’ll curl up in bed with my laptop and leisurely sip a nice Pinot Grigio while I pen the most brilliant book ever written. Doesn’t that sound romantic? The kid is in bed, the chef is at work, and I will work on a bestseller. Here I go:

8:45 p.m.: Ah, this Pinot is perfectly crisp and full-bodied. I shall now work on a touching scene filled with raw emotion and powerful dialogue that will engage the reader.

9:15 p.m.: Obviously need to top off this glass in order to properly capture characters. Back in a minute…. Okay, am ready. (I type furiously for ten minutes and finish the glass of wine.)

10:00 p.m.: Huh. It seems Word has gone crazy and put offensive red and green marks all over my screen. It’s not Christmas. Do not need colorful decorations adorning my masterpiece. Strongly suspect silly program does not know anything about spelling OR grammar. Will keep writing nonetheless, as I continue to appreciate fine vintage from California. (I look around the room hoping for sudden gift of creativity to strike.) Oh, look! There’s the Rick Springfield Cruise DVD set someone sent me! A quick watch of a few songs from the concert on the lido deck will totally help with smart writing! And this calls for another glass of wine because cruise would most definitely be providing beverages at concert and I must fit in with others.
11:12 p.m.: OMG, love Rick Springfield! Love his biceps! Want to be his guitar. Okay, back to work. Will leave delightful DVD on in background while I write. In fact, will stare at television as I type and let self be inspired by rock God….

11:24 p.m.: Uh-oh. Have done something odd. Fingers were clearly not properly aligned on keyboard as have inserted full paragraph of Webdings symbols. Also typed entire lyrics to “Don’t Talk to Strangers.” Will take this as indication that watching 80s musician takes priority.

8:23 a.m.: Have written three pages of complete garbage and have raging headache. New method of writing assistance has proven ineffective. Also, have sustained hip injury, possibly related to jumping off of bed in joyous “Jessie’s Girl” dance move. Have plenty to whine about today. Oh! Have come full circle!

Oh, well. It seems my whine and wine strategy didn’t pan out very well. But I’m not giving up either one of them. COOK THE BOOKS, the fifth Gourmet Girl mystery, comes out on Tuesday and I plan on celebrating release day with an extravagant parade and a full glass.

MY Recipe: I’m nuts about that hottie chef Jamie Oliver (pictured left) and regularly use recipes from his cookbooks. This is my knockoff of one of his dishes, and it’s a good excuse to open a nice bottle of white wine. Don’t use a three-dollar bottle, please. You’ll wreck the dish and have a vile hangover from drinking the rest.

WHINING CHICKEN (or whatever you choose to call it)

2 tablespoons flour 

Salt and pepper 

1 whole chicken, cut up 

1 onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 

6 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced 

1 1/2 cups white wine

4-6 anchovy fillets 

1/4 cup pitted calamata olives
¼ cup green olives
5 ripe plum tomatoes, halved, seeded and coarsely chopped, or 1 can of whole plum tomatoes with most of the liquid drained from the can.
2 big handfuls of arugula

Combine flour with salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken pieces and toss until evenly coated. Heat the olive oil in a large casserole dish over medium-high heat Add chicken pieces, and brown on one side, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken, and add the onions and garlic. Continue to fry until the onions soften and garlic is soft but not brown. Add the wine and when it comes to a boil, add the anchovies, olives, and tomatoes.

Partly cover the pan and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer until chicken is cooked and tender, and broth is reduced to a rich sauce, 15 to 20 minutes. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. Just before serving, remove the pot from the heat and toss in the arugula, letting it wilt in the sauce. That’s it!

Jessica, thank you again
for joining us today!

On Sale March 2nd!

Jessica's official author website here.


a set of COOKIE CUTTERS from Wilton!

Check back on March 2, when the cookie cutter winner
will be announced -- oh heck, check back every day!
There's always something fun going on!

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!


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!

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.

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!


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 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!

***Don't forget to enter to win our weekly Mystery Lovers' Kitchen contest. The prize is a $25 gift certificate to the Williams-Sonoma kitchenware and gourmet food store. Just sign in to this blog and leave a comment or send an "Enter me!" e-mail with your first name and state to We announce the winners right here every week.