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

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.

Friday, May 26, 2017

It's Asparagus Season!

I like asparagus. I like it steamed, with butter (oh, all right--I like almost anything with butter). I don’t like it drowned in sauce—hollandaise is good stuff but it kind of overpowers the delicate taste of fresh asparagus. But there are some things that it goes nicely with, and I found a new recipe!

Chicken with Asparagus and Leeks

2 medium leeks (white and green parts 
only, not the whole thing), sliced into 1/3” rounds

1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp salt
a few grinds of black pepper

chicken breasts or thighs (a note: chicken breasts vary widely in size these days, from normal to ridiculously large, so saying use two or four really doesn’t help you much. I prefer white meat so I’m using two monster breasts, which together weigh maybe three to four pounds. This should be enough for two adults with healthy appetites with some left over for lunch the next day.)

1/2 cup dry white wine
1-1/2 cups chicken broth

3/4 lb medium asparagus with the tough ends trimmed off, cut on an angle into 2-3 pieces per stalk

1 Tblsp finely grated lemon zest
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
3 Tblsp fresh dill, chopped


Rinse the leeks to get rid of any grit.

Heat 2 Tblsp of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot (but not smoking). Add the leeks and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook, turning occasionally, until they are just turning golden (about 15-18 minutes). Remove them from the skillet.

Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. In another skillet add the rest of the oil and saute the chicken pieces (f you’re using bone-in breasts or thighs, cook the skin side first), about 12-16 minutes depending on the thickness of the pieces (the chicken will finish cooking in the next step). Pour the fat out of the pan and discard.

Add the wine to the pan, bring to a simmer, and cook, scraping up the bits on the bottom (about 1 minute). Add the broth to the pan, then return the chicken pieces (skin side up). Lower the heat to medium-low and cover, cooking until the chicken is cooked through (maybe another 15 minutes—as I said, it depends on the chicken).

In the first skillet you used, cook the asparagus pieces in 2 Tblsp of water, covered, over medium heat, for about 5 minutes (don’t let the asparagus get mushy!). Remove the skillet from the heat and add 1/2 tsp of lemon zest, a bit of salt and a pinch of pepper. Stir gently.

To serve, place a chicken piece in each plate, then add the asparagus and the reserved leeks, Reheat the broth, add the lemon juice, then ladle the liquid over the chicken in the bowls. Sprinkle the top with chopped dill and some more lemon zest. You can serve this with rice or pasta.

Goodness! I'm in the middle of editing two books right now, but nothing new is coming until November! Don't forget me!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Mocha Cream Pie

Thinking of my mother, in honor of Mother’s Day just past, I turned to the recipes of hers that I remember best: pies. It must have been a labor of love, making these for her family, because she never liked desserts. But she did like chocolate.

I realized I had written about her chocolate cream pie for MLK several years ago, and we don’t usually repeat recipes here. So I decided to look for a new twist. In addition to chocolate, my mother loved coffee—regular, espresso, whatever. And thus the idea was born: mocha cream pie! My mother’s go-to cookbook was The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, aka Fannie Farmer, but (gasp) they had only the chocolate version and an all-coffee version. So I improvised and married the two.

Crumb pie shell:

Note: the recipes called for chocolate wafer crumbs. I wandered up and down the fifty feet of the cookie/cracker aisle in my local market: no chocolate wafers. The best I could do was a box of chocolate animal crackers. They tasted good, but I felt a bit ghoulish crushing all those cute little animals!

1-1/2 cups chocolate cookie crumbs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter

Roll the crumbs fine (or grind in a food processor). Add the sugar and the butter. 

Press smoothly into a 9" pie plate. Chill. (BTW, the Pyrex pie plate was my mother’s.) Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Let cool.

Mocha Cream Filling:
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
2 Tblsp Dutch cocoa (not Nestle’s)
pinch of salt
1 cup scalded whole milk
1 cup strong coffee (hot)
2 eggs

Mix the dry ingredients.

Scalded milk
All in (keep stirring!)
Add the milk-coffee mixture gradually to the dry ingredients, stirring. Cook for 15 minutes in a double boiler (yes, that was my mother’s too), stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Beat the eggs lightly, then add to the mixture and cook for another 3 minutes.

Seriously dark!

Pour into the crust and chill until serving. Garnish with whipped cream if you like.

Another note: this filling really didn’t want to firm up. I confess, I cheated—I stuck it in the freezer. Take it out shortly before you want to serve it, then slice it with a sharp knife. That worked fine.

The result has a rich dark color and a luscious chocolate-coffee flavor.

The next book to appear will be A Late Frost, the 11th book in the Orchard Mysteries--but it won't come out until November. Recently I've been going over the proof copy, trying to eliminate all those pesky typos, and was struck by how often my characters drink coffee. According to Word, it comes up 77 times in the text. Problem is, Meg and Seth so busy solving crimes that they seldom get around to grocery shopping. Meg has decided she's going to make some cakes and cookies to keep in the freezer--if she ever has any spare time--so she'll have something to offer guests, along with the coffee, when they show up at the back door to swap details of ongoing investigations.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Spring Greens

Some years ago I was lucky enough to discover that the mistress of the real house that I use in the Orchard Mysteries, Olive Barton Warner (a distant relation), kept a diary for many years. The annual books are all in the local historical society, but I had a chance to copy two of them, including the earliest, written in 1880.

It’s a simple record of what the family (husband Eugene and daughters Lula and Nettie) did each day on a farm (110 acres) in western Massachusetts. The entries are short and matter-of-fact, but they provide some wonderful insights into nineteenth century life (although husband Eugene usually gets only a line or two).

The earliest volume reports that on Thursday, April 29th, 1880, the girls picked the first greens of the season, and Olive made two rhubarb pies, as well as a batch of raised doughnuts and a loaf of gingerbread and four other pies (she did a lot of baking! But alas, no recipes).

I thought it would be nice to honor her at this time of year, when Massachusetts fruits and vegetables are just coming to market. But I had to look up exactly what Olive might have planted that would be ready to harvest in April and May. Luckily I found a useful listing of seasonal vegetables in Massachusetts online. Here they are: arugula, asparagus, chard, fiddlehead ferns (I did give a recipe here for those—they’re available only for a short time each year), lettuce, nettles, new potatoes, parsley, pea greens, radishes, rhubarb, scallions, spinach, and thyme.

I don’t know what the weather was like in western Massachusetts in May of 1880, but it’s too chilly around here at the moment to think about making salads, even with fresh lettuce and such. That leaves me with . . . rhubarb, which Olive mentioned. Would you believe I have never cooked with rhubarb? But I guess it’s time to try. I looked through my cookbooks and came up with few recipes (although a lot of apple recipes suggest swapping out the apples and using rhubarb instead), and most of the cookbooks were later than Olive’s era. Then I remembered I had come upon an online collection of recipes from precisely that period, compiled from a Connecticut newspaper, and there was a recipe for baked apple pudding (and no rhubarb recipes!). So here is an authentic period recipe but with a bit of tweaking.

This is for you, Olive.

Baked Rhubarb Pudding


3 cups of stewed rhubarb
1/4 pound (1 stick) of butter
sugar “to taste”
six eggs, well beaten
six crackers, pounded and sifted

To stew your rhubarb: Dice the rhubarb. 

Cook in a saucepan over low heat with 3/4 cup sugar until soft (you might need to add a little water in the beginning to get things started).

When the rhubarb is well stewed but still hot, stir in half the butter (1/2 stick). Taste for sweetness and add additional sugar if needed. Let the mixture cool.

Beat the eggs, and add to the cold rhubarb mixture. Beat well.

Pound and sift six crackers. (Note: I have no idea what crackers were available in 1881. Soda crackers? Saltines? Carr’s Table Water Biscuits? I bought three modern kinds and ground them up. The water biscuits (left) came the closest, I think.)

Butter a baking dish. Put in a layer of crackers, then a layer of rhubarb. Repeat until your dish is filled, ending with a cracker layer. Dot the top with bits of the remaining butter (yes, half a stick). Bake for half an hour.

The original recipe didn’t happen to mention a baking temperature, probably because nobody had a thermostat back then. I guessed 350 degrees, or a medium setting.

It seems to have worked, because the custard set up nicely and the top was lightly browned (with a lot of butter still on the surface). And I’ve discovered that rhubarb tastes better than I expected.

What about you? Do you cook with rhubarb? Do you have any favorite recipes for it?

A Late Frost, the 11th Orchard Mystery, will be released in November.

The story takes place just a bit too early for any new fruits or vegetables to have appeared in Massachusetts, but plenty of apple varieties keep well over the winter if you keep them cool, so they're available for pies.