Showing posts with label Orchard Mysteries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Orchard Mysteries. Show all posts

Friday, August 18, 2017

What's Up with Cauliflower?

This is a really dumb question, I know, but why have the big frozen vegetable manufacturers started mashing cauliflower? And other vegetables too, but cauliflower seems to be leading the pack. Is it trying to take over the world, and this is a subtle way to try to eradicate it before it succeeds? Or were the giant vegetable companies running out of new ideas and thought consumers would buy anything that says "NEW!" on the package?

Do you have any idea what I'm talking about?

A couple of months ago, I noticed some television commercials--happy mom cooking dinner, happy child watching with admiration--which were celebrating a new dish: mashed cauliflower. They kept appearing, and then I noticed the packages in the freezer section of my local supermarket from more than one maker. And they kept multiplying.

Cauliflower doesn't make a pretty presentation in a commercial. It kind of sits there on the plate and looks like mashed potatoes. (Although I suppose it could be done with yellow cauliflower or purple, which are fun to eat.) 

I like cauliflower. I like it semi-crisp, steamed rather than boiled to death. With some butter and a bit of salt. It has a nice flavor of its own. What's wrong with it?

I will admit that I was reminded of a time many, many years ago when I was traveling in France, and sat down to one of those prix fixe dinners for $3 that you could get back in the last millennium. Three courses plus a glass of wine--those were the days! Anyway, I've forgotten what the main course was, but it came with a side dish of green mush. Ah, mashed peas, I assumed, and tasted it. Nope, not peas. But I couldn't identify it. I finally had to ask the waiter, and it turned out to be pureed string beans. Really? Something about changing their shape also changed their flavor. 

Cauliflower doesn't seem to work that way. It still tastes like cauliflower. Which probably explains why the manufacturers keep adding things to their blah white mashed cauliflower. Like sour cream and chives. Or cheddar and bacon. Maybe the cauliflower has potato envy?

If you're really into it, mashed cauliflower is really pretty easy to make. Take a head of cauliflower and divide into florets. Steam until tender, or boil if you must. (Make sure the florets are soft.) Mash or puree with whatever your favorite tool is--food processor, potato masher, food mill, even a fork will work. Add some butter and milk or cream, and taste for seasoning, adding salt if you think it's needed. 


Puree in food processor
Done. Wasn't that easy?

After that you can go wild. I added diced chives simply because I have some growing outside my kitchen door, but there are plenty of other choices. Experiment!

But as I said, it's really quick and easy to make, so why have the frozen food giants jumped upon this product? Beats me. But there are the same people who make powdered mashed potatoes. I think it's a marketing ploy, and one I don't respect.

The family heirloom ricer

Oh, and then there's "riced" cauliflower. My family has always riced their potatoes (and I have inherited the family ricer and use it), because it gives the mashed potatoes a little more texture than just pureeing them, but the result is smoother than taking a standard potato masher to them. Well, lucky us, we can now buy bags of frozen riced cauliflower, and even one with both cauliflower and broccoli, which is a pretty pale green. Or peas and carrots.

I still like plain old cauliflower, though. In a time when farmers markets are thriving, and people are eating fresh, chemically clean vegetables, why are manufacturers producing glop? (And it's not cheap--a bag of mashed vegetables costs over $4). Or is there a silent war going on, trying to suppress the cauliflower invasion? Any ideas?

In the next Orchard Mystery, A Late Frost (coming November 2017), Seth Chapin helps organize Granford's first WinterFare, a community fair that is intended to brighten up the dull month of February.

Things don't work out quite as planned.  But the apples are fresh (many varieties hold well in cold--not frozen--storage).

Here's a sample from my own crop this year!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Dinner by Color

Often I choose what I buy at the market and what I decide to make for dinner based on a flavor I'm craving, or because I found something new and unexpected in the market, or there's a fruit or vegetable that has a very short season and I'd better grab it immediately. This meal was based on color.

We eat fish once a week on average, and that means a lot of salmon, which is a wonderful color. But then I saw some beautiful variegated sweet peppers (new to our market) and realized how nicely they went with the salmon. But I needed a recipe that highlighted the peppers--if I just added them to the salmon, their impact would be lost.

Then I stumbled upon something I'd never seen before: black bean pasta. I did a double-take. Yes, it's pasta, made solely from beans. What's more, it's black. It's made in Italy. So of course I had to try it--and then I realized that it would be the perfect background for those pretty peppers.

Voila! A meal is born!

I borrowed a recipe for the salmon from the market where all these ingredients came together--Hannaford. They have a carousel of fish recipes, many of which I've used (no other recipes on site, though--wonder why). I tweaked it a bit, and I cut it in half to serve just the two of us, but it's quick and easy and tasty.

Baked Glazed Salmon with Black Pasta


2 pounds salmon filet

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tblsp soy sauce
2 Tblsp fresh lime juice


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a baking dish large enough to hold your fish in a single layer.

To make the glaze, blend the ingredients in a bowl until the sugar dissolves.

Place the salmon, skin side down, in the baking dish. Pour the glaze over it and turn the fish to coat both sides (bake skin side up).

Bake for 15-20 minutes, basting with the glaze every few minutes. Do not overcook--the salmon should stay bright pink inside.

Before or while the salmon is cooking, julienne the peppers (leave the pieces large enough so you can see the color variations) and saute lightly in olive oil.

Prepare the pasta according to the package directions, then drain. Add the cooked peppers with their oil and toss to cover the pasta. 

Put the salmon portions and the plates and add a portion of the pasta. Spoon or pour any of the remaining glaze over all and serve. Enjoy!

Okay, I was getting a little punchy, and the pepper pieces were too pretty to throw away, so this is what I did:

Books! I'm writing or planning a lot of books (four over the next year, that I know of, and maybe a few short stories). But the next one to appear is A Late Frost (Orchard Mystery #11), making its debut in November.

Believe it or not, farmers do have some slack times in their schedule, which is why the town of Granford decided to hold a WinterFare in February, to chase away the blahs--unfortunately with fatal results.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Blancmange and Little Women

When I was in fourth grade I caught the measles. I spent several days in bed, during which time I read Louisa May Alcott's Little Women for the first time. I still have the copy.

There was one thing in the book that always mystified me: the reference to “blancmange.” On p. 61 in my edition, Jo stops by to visit neighbor Laurie, who is laid low with a cold, and tells him, “Meg wanted me to bring some of her blancmange; she makes it very nicely.” To which Laurie replies, “’That looks too pretty to eat,’ he said, smiling with pleasure.”

I had no idea what it was. My mother mentioned that she remembered eating it as a child, usually when she was sick in bed, but there the explanation ended. 

Fast forward to the present, when I found a useful book at a yard sale (I paid a dollar for it): Foods and Home Making, by Carlotta C. Greer, who identifies herself as “Head of the Department of Home Economics, John Hay High School, Cleveland.” It’s dated 1928. In her epic (the book is 635 pages long) she described just about everything a young girl might need to know about managing a household. She begins with a prologue “To the Pupil,” wherein she references Alice Freeman Palmer (president of Wellesley College), Mary Lyon (founder of Mount Holyoke College), and Jane Addams of Hull House, whose early experiences of service in their own homes apparently prepared them for “a life of large service to the world.” Descriptions of individual tasks, like dishwashing, go on for pages. There are quizzes at the end of each chapter.

And there is a recipe for blancmange, where it is defined as a “luncheon or supper dessert.” It turns out to be a simple custard thickened with cornstarch. Mystery solved! The author says “custards are . . . among the most wholesome desserts for young persons as well as for those who are not so young.”

The ingredients are ridiculously simple. The only downside is that you have to spend a lot of time cooking it slowly in a double boiler (it would burn quickly in a regular pan) and stirring steadily. (Oh, and waiting for it to set up, or you’ll never be able to unmold it in once piece.)

Blancmange (a la Carlotta Greer)
(In case you don't speak French, "blancmange" translates as "white eat." No, that doesn't make sense to me either.)


2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt


Scald the milk. (If you are unfamiliar with scalding, put it in a pan over medium-high heat, watch it like a hawk, and then when little bubbles start to form around the edge and that wiggly skin forms over the middle, remove it from the heat ASAP.)

In a bowl, mix the cornstarch and the sugar until well blended. Add the hot milk to the mixture, stirring as you pour in the milk. Pour the mixture to a double boiler (over boiling water) and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture begins to thicken, then continue cooking (Ms. Greer estimates around 30 minutes). Remove from the heat and add the flavoring and salt. Stir.

Note: I have no clue how thick it’s supposed to be. I followed the instructions and got a thick liquid, but it was nowhere near set up.

I just happened to have a nice vintage mold,
from a yard sale at the house where
I bought Mrs. Greer's book--a year ago.
Rinse out cups or molds with cold water, then pour the pudding in. Set aside to cool. (This is one of the vaguest instructions I have met. How cool is cool? I waited until it was at room temperature: nope, sloshy still. I waited until the next day, actually, before I dared try to unmold it.)

Ms. Greer wraps it up thus: “It is not ready to serve until the mixture is stiff.” Notice there is no mention of refrigeration, and no clue as to how long it will take to become stiff. Try to unmold it too soon and you will get a puddle on a plate.

Hallelujah! It worked!
When stiff, turn from the mold onto a plate or plates and garnish it with sugar and cream or fruit. Or, as Louisa May Alcott would have it, “surrounded by a garland of green leaves and the scarlet flowers of Amy’s pet geranium.”

Sorry, I didn't have any blooming
geraniums handy.
Supposedly it makes five medium servings. You can add other flavoring, such as chocolate.

So now I know what blancmange is. Would I make it again? Well . . . I’m not a big pudding fan, and custard is easier to make, but this does have a pleasant texture and flavor (and little fat!). But I have now paid tribute to literary history. (And if you happen to find yourself in Concord, Massachusetts, you can visit the Alcott house and see the kitchen where no doubt many blancmanges were created. The story told there is that Louisa used her first income from writing to buy her mother a kitchen sink, which is still in place.)

And of course I have to mention the Orchard Mystery Series, because the Alcott home is known locally as Orchard House.


Friday, June 23, 2017

Pork Tenderloin with Tarragon-Mustard Sauce

A few years ago my daughter introduced me to pulled pork, which quickly became a staple in our household. And we’ve always eaten pork chops, with or without bones. But somehow I missed the tenderloin phenomenon (despite a wealth of delicious recipes presented here on MLK)—which is kind of like the pork chop with all the outsides removed. It’s small, so it cooks quickly, and it’s a good size for two people.

I went hunting for recipes (I do that a lot), and as usual didn’t find one that was quite right. So I improvised—again. (My husband hates that. If he likes a dish, he wants a recipe, and he’s not happy when I tell him I made it up.) I did need a bit of guidance on timing, because overcooked pork tastes and chews kind of like an eraser. Don’t worry—you can cook pork to just past pink without worrying about trichinosis or whatever. If you’re worried, used a meat thermometer (but ignore the old cookbooks that tell you to cook it to 165 degrees, because by then it’s too late. The USDA recommends 145 degrees these days.)

Pork Tenderloin with Tarragon-Mustard Sauce
Ingredients: The Pork

one 1-1/2 pound pork tenderloin

1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup whole-grain mustard (brands differ—some are coarser than others, so use your favorite)
2 Tblsp olive oil

Dry the pork tenderloin and season with salt and pepper. Whisk together the mustard and olive oil. Using your hands (latex gloves in the kitchen are wonderful!) rub the mixture all over the pork. Let it sit until the pork reaches room temperature, about half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the pork on a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil. Place it in the oven for 15 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and cook for another 10 minutes (if you have a thermometer, test the internal temperature). Remove it from the oven, set it aside, and cover it loosely with aluminum foil.

Ingredients: The Sauce

4 Tblsp unsalted butter
3 Tblsp minced shallot
1/2 cup chicken broth
2-3 Tblsp Dijon mustard
1 cup heavy cream
2-3 Tblsp chopped fresh tarragon
   (or use dried if you can’t find fresh,
   but reduce the amount)

In a saute pan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the shallot and cook slowly until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the broth and continue to cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.

Whisk in the mustard and the cream and simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tarragon and taste for seasoning, adding salt and/or pepper as needed. 

To serve, slice the pork tenderloin into pieces (you can choose how thick you want it), place on a warm plate, and spoon the sauce over it. (Don’t feel guilty about all that heavy cream—the pork itself has very little fat.)

I'm between books right now. I'm working on four series (and one from each should appear in 2018), including one that's entirely new. I'm plotting/researching/writing all of them at once (it's sooo easy to get sidetracked on Google!), but you've all seen the only cover I have for any of them at the moment (A Late Frost, Orchard Mystery #11, coming November 2017).

So I'll give you a treat that I discovered while hunting for something else entirely. This is an image from a trade journal from 1889: it's my great-great-grandfather Silas A. Barton. (I have only one photograph of him, but I recognized him immediately when I opened the page.)

But there's more! My research on municipal electrification (for a coming book) revealed the interesting fact that the company for which Silas was treasurer and manager founded the gas and electric company in my current home town--and I've been writing checks to great-great-grandpa's company ever since I moved here. Small world, isn't it?

Have you readers found happy surprises when you weren't even looking? Writers, has a chance discovery changed the course of one of your books?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Salmon with Leeks and Phyllo Pastry

I’m finally purging my freezer of the ancient phyllo pastry, left by my daughter during her spanakopita phase several years ago. Note: old phyllo dough, even frozen, crumbles into tiny pieces if you breathe on it, so it’s not worth saving for long. I decided to start with fresh.

The recipe was born on one of those evenings when I was staring into space thinking “what’s in the fridge?” and “what do I feel like eating?” There was salmon—at staple in our household—and there was phyllo pastry. And leeks! I went hunting for a recipe that fit and found a variety online, but none was just right, so I sort of combined a couple.

The hardest part of this recipe is making a tidy packet when you try to wrap the salmon with the phyllo dough. Don’t beat yourself up if it looks messy—it’ll taste good anyway.

Salmon with Leeks and Phyllo Pastry

(as usual, this is a recipe for four, but I cut it in half)

8 Tblsp (1 stick) butter

2 cups small strips leeks (white and pale green parts only, washed to remove any grit)

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 tsp fresh dill, chopped (you can use dried, but it has less flavor)

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup sour cream

12 sheets fresh phyllo pastry, or the same amount of frozen pastry, thawed

6 5-oz. skinless salmon steaks [Note: you can make this recipe with fillets, but they’re hard to wrap neatly. Using cross-cut steaks of the same weight makes them neater.]


Melt two Tblsp butter in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat.

Add the leek and sautée until the leek is tender (about 5 minutes)

Add the wine to the skillet and simmer until the liquid evaporates (about 4 minutes).

Remove the skillet from the heat and let the vegetable mixture cool. Stir in the dill, sour cream and salt.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Melt the rest of the butter in a small saucepan. Take one sheet of the phyllo pastry and lay it flat (keep the other sheets covered with a damp paper towel—otherwise they will get brittle). Brush the sheet with some of the melted butter. Top with a second pastry sheet and brush that one with butter.

Place a salmon piece crosswise on the pastry sheet and top it with 1/4 cup of the vegetable mixture. Fold the phyllo pastry over the salmon, then fold in the sides and tuck the whole thing into a rectangular packet.

Transfer each packet to a heavy baking sheet, keeping the vegetable side up. Brush the packet on all sides with more melted butter. 

Repeat until you’ve used up the salmon fillets. (If you’re not baking them right away, cover with plastic film and refrigerate.)

Bake the salmon packets until the pastry is pale golden and the salmon is cooked through, about 25-30 minutes (depending on thickness).

So it's crunchy, tangy, and fun! And you get to wrap up your fish like a gift.

Oh, right, books. Next in line: A Late Frost (Orchard Mystery #11), coming in November.

The New York Times bestselling author of Seeds of Deception returns with a story of orchard owner Meg and the search for a poisoner.

The usually quiet town of Granford, Massachusetts, is even drowsier during the colder months. But this year it’s in for a jolt when Monica Whitman moves into town. She’s a dynamo who wants to make friends fast in her new home, and she throws herself into community activities. Meg Corey, now Chapin after her marriage to Seth Chapin, is intrigued by the new arrival, who has already sold the town board on a new, fun way to bring in visitors during the off-season: WinterFare, which will feature local foods (such as Meg’s apples) and crafts, as well as entertainment. 

Tragically, Monica falls ill and dies after the event in what looks like a case of food poisoning. When all the food served at WinterFare has been tested, including Meg’s apples, it becomes clear that there’s a more sinister explanation to the older woman’s sudden demise. 

Meg’s investigation uncovers a bushel of potential suspects, one of whom is rotten to the core.

Friday, June 2, 2017

All right, you say, what is a Goldenberry? Or Golden Berry? Or Cape Gooseberry, or amour en cage (if you’re in France), or uchuva or Peruvian ground cherry?

I dunno, but my local market had them this past week. It’s some kind of berry that originated in Peru, and apparently it’s the darling of the health food crowd. Its publicists claim it’s delicious and healthful, with a sweet and mildly tart flavor. We’ll ignore the disclaimer about the “protective sap” which is “a bit sticky to the touch--you can rinse it off if it bothers you. Lots of vitamins! Healthful antioxidants! Might even lower your cholesterol!

So I went hunting for a cookie recipe. Hey, these pretty little critters might even make cookies good for you! So see me plunge into the world of . . .

Goldenberry Oatmeal Bars


6 oz. (weight) Goldenberries

1 cup water
3 Tblsp maple syrup
1-1/2 cups quick oats
1 cup flour
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, melted


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Chop the goldenberries. Combine the water and maple syrup. Add the goldenberries and simmer until the water has evaporated (about 10 minutes)—in other words, you’re making a quick goldenberry jam as a filling. Do not let the mixture burn!

In a medium bowl, combine the oats, flour, sugar, baking soda and salt until well mixed.

Melt the butter and add to the oat mixture and mix well.

Press 2/3 of the oat mixture into a 8” or 9” square baking pan.

Spread the goldenberry mixture over it.

Sprinkle the rest of the oat mixture over the top of the berries and gently press down.

Bake for 20 minutes.

Let cool for 10-15 minutes, then cut into squares and serve.

The verdict? I think I like goldenberries. They don’t taste quite like any other fruit: they’re both sweet and tart at the same time, and there’s just a hint of perfume to the flavor. The flavor stood up well to the oatmeal mixture around it. I may just try them again!

A Late Frost (Orchard Mystery #11), coming November 2017.

I don't think Goldenberries grow in Massachusetts, but my apple trees have baby apples! Meg's will soon, I'm sure.