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

Friday, November 10, 2017

Smoked Chicken Carbonara

My supermarket seems to have undergone a personality transplant over the past year or two. First it was in the exotic vegetables and fruits, and you’ve seen some recipes for those here at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen.

Then the imported foods and spices began to creep across their shelves until they’d doubled in number. Lots of interesting stuff there! I spend a lot of time in that section just reading the labels.

Now the store moved on to expanding its meat selection. I was minding my own business (actually I was looking for duck breasts, but there are seldom many of those), and somehow I stumbled upon smoked chicken parts. I never knew they existed commercially, so of course I grabbed a package and went recipe-hunting. There were plenty, but they ranged all over the place in ingredients and complexity, and I wanted something simple to showcase the flavor of the smoked chicken. So I kind of improvised a carbonara.

No doubt you’ve seen carbonara (that’s Italian and it sort of refers to a charcoal pit). It’s a quick and easy recipe that generally combines spaghetti, cheese, various meats and eggs. Here’s my smoked chicken version.

The chicken as packaged was already cooked, so all I had to do was shred it.

Smoked Chicken Carbonara


1 Tblsp olive oil
2 oz. pancetta (if your store doesn’t happen to have pancetta, you can use two strips of bacon, as long as it’s not too salty)
1 Tblsp minced garlic
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley (Italian if you have it), chopped
3/4 lb. spaghetti
2 cups shredded smoked chicken (two breasts made enough)
Salt and pepper


Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta (or bacon) and garlic and cook until they are brown and slightly crisp.

In a bowl, whisk together the cream, cheese, egg yolks and herbs.

Make your spaghetti as you usually would.

Add the smoked chicken to the pan with the pancetta and garlic and stir to cover the chicken pieces. Then add the spaghetti and mix. 

Finally, add the cream mixture and toss over low heat until the chicken is heated through and the sauce coats the spaghetti (just a few minutes). Taste the sauce and season if necessary.

And there you have it! 

(By the way, our cat Dexter decided he likes smoked chicken.)

On shelves now! (In case I didn't mention it often enough.) A Late Frost--the eleventh Orchard Mystery!

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and lots of bookstores (I hope)!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Scallops with Ginger and Lemon Sauce

I may have mentioned that our town has acquired a new restaurant, The Charred Oak Tavern, in the large space that used to be a cooperative antiques center. It’s smack in the middle of town—where the town sorely needed a new restaurant.

We’ve actually eaten there more than once since it opened in July, with and without guests, because it’s a restaurant that’s pitched exactly right for its customers. It has a large and well-stocked bar (no, that’s not the most important thing) and a menu that is not too fancy for walk-ins, even those with children, but the recipes are carefully chosen and well-prepared. A hamburger there is not just a hamburger—it’s one you will remember and come back for again.

That’s where I ran into this dish. I have to point out that we’re not that far from the ocean here, and fresh scallops are easy to get. What impressed me, though, was that the sauce was not too heavy-handed. If you put citrus and fresh ginger in a dish like this, they can easily overwhelm the delicate flavors of seafood. Not in this case: everything worked together in harmony.

So of course I had to try it. And maybe I’ll have to go back to the restaurant to make sure I got it right, don’t you think? I want to make sure they stick around!

Scallops with Ginger and Lemon Sauce


1 pound large sea scallops
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp peanut oil
2 small shallots, chopped
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1/4 cup white wine
2 Tblsp lemon juice
2 Tblsp soy sauce
pinch of crushed red pepper
1 tsp water
1 tsp cornstarch


Pat the scallops dry with paper towels (otherwise they will not brown) and salt lightly. 

Chop the shallots and mince (or grate) the fresh ginger.

Heat the sesame oil and peanut oil in a cast-iron or similar heavy skillet over high heat. Saute the scallops quickly in the hot oil for 1-2 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and keep warm.

Before . . .

and after

Add the chopped shallots to the pan and saute briefly until soft. Then add the ginger, wine, lemon juice and soy sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about three minutes. Taste and add the red pepper if you like and adjust for salt.

Combine the water and the cornstarch, then stir into the sauce. Cook just until the sauce begins to thicken. Add the scallops to the pan and toss to coat with the sauce.

Serve with rice or rice noodles.

Note: I’ve seen several recipes for this dish that used orange juice rather than lemon juice. I find the orange flavor kind of overwhelming. The lemon juice is tart, but the scallops are a bit sweet, so they balance each other nicely.

In case I haven’t yelled it often enough, next Tuesday is the release day for the eleventh Orchard Mystery, A Late Frost. In honor of that I’m offering a copy of the book to one lucky person who comments—and tells me whether you like scallops.

In A Late Frost, 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. She’s 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 complicated explanation to the older woman’s sudden demise. 

Heirloom apples from my own
trees (and yes, they're supposed
to look blotchy like that!)
Find it at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Halloween Shortbread

And here I thought I knew shortbread. Ha! Last summer I was rambling through the weekly Skibbereen Farmers Market and happened upon a booth I hadn’t seen there before. Its banner said “Susan’s Sweet Factory” but let me tell you, I could smell the butter long before I saw the sign. It’s fairly new—founded by two women last year. Of course I made a beeline for it, and bought some shamrock shortbread cookies to take home to the cottage.

Susan's shamrocks (they didn't last long!)
I didn’t eat any until I got back, but one bite and I was in love. They were light and sweet and you could taste the good Irish butter. They also held together surprisingly well, considering how light they were, even when packaged in bags. I went back to that booth the following week and bought more.

No, I didn’t beg for a recipe, but I found an important clue reading their website ( the shortbread cookies had cornstarch in them. I’d never heard of that, but when I started looking online for recipes for Irish shortbread, cornstarch was used regularly. As usual, between the Internet and my collection of Irish cookbooks I found plenty of recipes—but no two were the same. 

Which is ridiculous since there are usually only four ingredients in the shortbread: flour, sugar, butter and cornstarch. It was the proportions that varied among the recipes. So of course I had to try at least one, and I went with the simplest version. If that’s a bust, I’ll just have to try again (poor me!).

Irish Shortbread


2 sticks (1 cup) salted butter, softened 
(I use Kerrygold for almost everything these days)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Cream together the butter and the sugar.

Sift together the flour and cornstarch.

Mix together the ingredients until they hold together (if they seem too dry, add a bit more soft butter). Form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap (or use a plastic bag) and refrigerate for half an hour or more.

Roll out about 1/4 inch thick on a lightly floured surface and cut into shapes. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake for 20 minutes. Do not allow to brown around the edges—they should be a pale gold.

You might have noticed that my cookies are colored orange and green. I divided my dough into two batches and colored each before chilling. [I discovered that it’s kind of hard to distribute liquid food coloring in dry ingredients. I subsequently discovered that after letting what little dough was left over sit overnight, the color dispersed quite nicely. I’m going to have to think about that.)

They didn’t turn out quite as light as Susan’s version, but I’ll be happy to keep trying.

And those of you who are serious gardeners—okay, the leaves don’t look like pumpkin leaves. At least I didn’t use the oak-leaf cutter. If you must, pretend they’re weeds that sneaked into the pumpkin patch.

Oh yes, the book. A Late Frost (Orchard Mystery #11) takes place in February, just about the dullest month of the year in rural Granford, Massachusetts. So of course there's an unexpected death for Meg and Seth to investigate.

Find it for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble (it won't be released in print until November 7th). As of this writing it seems to be on sale at both places, so check it out on Friday.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Butter Tarts from Canada

This past weekend I attended the Bouchercon mystery writers conference in Toronto, Canada. I was told that this year the conference attracted 1,700-plus writers, readers and fans, and we were all kept very busy with panels and parties and meetings and just plain talking.

View from my hotel window
I had never been to Canada before, and I confess I did no research about Toronto, other than figuring out where it was in the country. I had no idea what the city had to offer (and not a lot of time to explore it). But one thing I hadn’t expected was to find so much great food!

Yes, I had to try poutine (I had a variety with lobster, but I’m not a convert to poutine yet), and I had an amazing dish with octopus (unexpected!), but most important, I found a new dessert: butter tarts. Apparently this is one of Canada’s favorites desserts, but I’d never heard of it. Still, how can you go wrong with a dessert that has butter in its name?

I looked up recipes. Lots of recipes. They’re all different. But it boils down to a small pie crust shell filled with gooey sweet stuff, both made with lots of butter. Apparently there is some controversy over whether the gooey middle should be firm or runny. My version came out runny, but you can dunk the crust into it. If you’re pie-crust challenged (as I am), I give you permission to buy frozen mini-tart shells if you can find them—making the filling is easy.

Canadian Butter Tarts


2-1/2 cups pastry flour
1 Tblsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening (cold and cut in cubes)
1/2 cup butter (cold and cut in cubes)
ice water as needed to hold dough together

In a food processor pulse the butter and shortening with the flour, sugar and salt, until pieces are pea-sized.

Add the ice water a tablespoon at a time and pulse between, until the dough just holds together. (Do not overmix).

Shape into two rounds, about 1" thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.

Roll out the dough and cut into 4-inch rounds. Fit into 3-inch muffin cups (no greasing necessary), and put the muffin tins back in the refrigerator to chill while you make the filling. 

This amount of dough should make enough to fill 12 standard muffin cups. The crust will be about 1/4-inch thick and rise just a bit over the top edge.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F while you make the filling.


1/2 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup melted butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
optional: 1/2 cup raisins or currants, nuts, or chocolate chips

Combine all the ingredients and mix well. 

Fill the lined cups about 2/3 full.

Ready to bake

Bake in the preheated oven for 15-18 minutes, or until the edges of the crust begin to brown and the filling has puffed up a bit (it will sink back again as it cools).


Cool on a wire rack before removing from the muffin tins.

Gooey! (And delicious)
Oh, that's right--there's another book of mine coming out in a few weeks (November 7th, to be precise): A Late Frost, the eleventh in the Orchard Mystery series. Maybe Meg and Seth thought winter would be peaceful--nothing that needed doing in Meg's orchard, and most people don't want to start house renovation project in the middle of winter, so Seth's business was quiet. 

But of course that didn't last: town newcomer Monica Whitman is found dead the evening after Granford's new winter festival that she helped to plan, and nobody knew her well enough to guess why. It should be no surprise that Meg ends up involved in trying to figure out what happened--she remembers what it was like to be the new kid in Granford.

Available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Almost No Apple

(Otherwise known as Haddock in Cider)

All right, enough with the curry and the apples. Except, well, I’m trying to wean myself from all things apple, in case I ever run out, and this is sort of a step in that direction. No, there are no apples in this recipe, but there is hard cider. One step at a time.

Haddock seems to be plentiful this year for some reason, so we’ve been eating a lot of it—fresh and local, never frozen. So I had haddock on hand, and, wonder of wonders, I also had cider (left over from a recent visit from relatives). The rest was easy! this is a quick and simple recipe that combines some interesting flavors.

Oh, and it’s adapted from an Irish cookbook. I’m getting palate in training for my next trip to West Cork, just over a month away.



2 Tblsp flour
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 haddock (or similar firm white fish) fillets

2 Tblsp minced shallots
Sprigs of fresh thyme

4 slices lemon
1-1/4 cups (hard) cider
1 Tblsp unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an ovenproof baking dish.

In a shallow bowl (or pie pan), combine the flour, salt and pepper. Dip the fish fillets in the mix and place in the buttered dish.

Sprinkle with the shallots and thyme. 

Place the lemon slices on top, then pour the cider over the fish and dot with butter.

Cover the pan with foil and bake for 20-25 minutes (depending on the thickness of your fillets), or until the fish is flaky.

Remove the pan from the oven and preheat the broiler. Remove the foil from the pan and place the dish under the broiler for 1-2 minutes, or until the fish is lightly browned. 

Serve with rice or noodles.

Just to change things up a little, here's an early sketch of what became the cover for A Late Frost. It's fun to see the process!

A Late Frost will be released on November 7th.

Available now for preorder from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

And if you happen to be at the mystery conference Boucheron in Toronto, grab me and say hello!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Chicken Apple Curry

I’m on a roll, now that I’ve discovered how simple it is to make curry powder. But my apples keep coming (I know, I shouldn’t complain), and I just made the lamb curry, so I thought, aha! Chicken Curry. But I needed a recipe that included apples, so I went a-hunting again.

My first discovery was that chicken curry recipes are much more diverse than lamb ones (I suppose a lot of people don’t like lamb, or can’t find it in their local stores). A quick scan of Epicurious produced Thai chicken, Malaysian chicken, Siamese chicken, Javanese chicken, and coconut chicken. Actually there are a couple of good Thai restaurants around where I live, and I do like Thai food, but I was trying to compare apples to . . . you know.

I did like the last curry mix, but it seemed almost timid. (I’m never been convinced that you can taste a quarter-teaspoon of any spice in a dish that serves four or six people—unless it’s cayenne pepper.) So I dialed up the ingredients just a bit, and since I figured that apples are just a bit sweet, I added cloves. Still, you’ll notice the similarities.

Curried Chicken with Apples


Note: This recipe serves four, but as usual I cut the recipe in half for the two of us, and that's what you see in the pictures.) 

1 Tblsp butter

2 Tblsp neutral oil
4 boneless chicken breasts, skinned (I happen to like the skin, but I did bone the chicken)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
curry powder:
1 Tblsp ground coriander
1 Tblsp ground cumin
1 Tblsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cloves 
salt and pepper

2 apples, diced (or one large apple: I used one Northern Spy from my tree, and it was a big one. Here’s a description of the variety:

Northern Spy apples are a very late season, large and stout apple with carmine red skin married with streaks of yellow and pale green. Its tender-crisp flesh is creamy yellow and juicy. It imparts a bit of a tartness in its bite, but more of a cider-quality flavor with hints of pear and sweetness. Originated in New York state around 1800.

It holds its shape well in cooking too.

1/2 cup golden raisins
2 cups chicken stock


Melt the butter with the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season the chicken lightly with salt and pepper.

Add the chicken pieces to the skillet and brown on both sides, then set aside.

Add the onion and garlic to the skillet and sautee until translucent (about 5 minutes).  Stir in the curry powder.

Add the apples and raisins to the skillet and toss to distribute the spices, then return the chicken to the skillet. Add enough chicken broth to cover.

Cover the skillet and simmer at low heat until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Place the chicken on a platter and keep warm, and simmer the liquid/fruit mixture until the fruit it soft and the liquid thickens. Test for seasoning and add salt if needed.

Serve on white rice, with the sauce spooned over the dish.

Coming November 7th! Available for pre-order!

One reason that I decided to use the Northern Spy variety for this dish is because it is late to ripen and keeps well--so Meg could have brought her own Northern Spys to the WinterFare event in A Late Frost.

Find it at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.