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

Friday, April 21, 2017

Patriots' Day Blondies

Because it was pouring buckets and spitting snow on our regular marketing day, we stayed inside. There’s always some sort of meal we can throw together from what’s in the fridge and pantry. But! there was nothing for dessert, a crisis of epic proportions. So I had to bake.

But I was kind of low on butter, and I didn’t feel like messing with anything fancy, so I went looking for a bar cookies. Lo and behold, the model for this recipe was the first page in the cookie section of my bursting binder of recipes—something I found online in 2008, but had never made.

One small problem: it called for dried cranberries, and I had none. But I did have dried blueberries and dried cherries, and then I realized that with the white chocolate chips (that I did have), I was making red, white and blue bars. I figured I could call it an homage to Patriots’ Day here in Massachusetts.

Daniel Chester French's
Minuteman Statue, near
the bridge where the battle
took place
In case you are completely ignorant of Patriots’ Day (no surprise, because few states celebrate it), it commemorates the battle of Lexington and Concord, which took place on April 19, 1775 (you could argue it started on the 18th, which is when Paul Revere’s famous ride took place, but the fighting started on the next day). Nowadays it’s held on the third Monday in April. (Yes, I had an ancestor or three there, and there was that other one, celebrated in family lore, who said “sorry, I need to get this field plowed,” and missed the whole thing.)

Patriots’ Day Bars

3/4 cup butter, cubed
1-1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 eggs (room temperature)
3/4 tsp vanilla
2-1/4 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup dried fruit, coarsely chopped if needed
(blueberries didn’t, cherries did)

Dried blueberries

Dried cherries

One important note: dried fruit works better in a bar cookie or bread (like Irish soda bread, which is where I learned this trick) if you soak it in boiling water for a couple of minutes first. Make sure to drain the fruit well before adding to the batter.

6 oz white chocolate bits (or chunks, chopped)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13x2 inch pan.

Melt the butter in a bowl. Stir in the brown sugar.

Transfer to a larger bowl (if you're using a stand mixer, the bowl for that will do) and let cool. Beat in the eggs and vanilla.

Sift together the dry ingredients, and add gradually to the butter mixture.

Stir in the fruit and the chocolate bits. (The batter will be stiff.)

Spread in the greased baking pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clear (do not overbake!). Cool in the pan on a rack.

And enjoy!

My next book will be A Late Frost, the 11th book in the Orchard Mystery series, coming from Berkley in November (yes, a long time to wait!). 

It takes place in February--you know, that month where everybody in Massachusetts is ready for spring but they know that won't happen for a couple of months yet. So the town of Granford decides to start a new tradition: the WinterFare. 

Which turns out really well--until one of the organizers dies.

I'll be telling you more about it over the next few months.

And be sure to enjoy my newly polished website!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Apple Crumble Shortbread Bars

I bet you thought there was no such thing as a “new” apple recipe. Just take a look at the backlist of apple recipes we’ve collected on Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen! But I’m always watching for a new twist. This recipe was inspired by a cookie/bar I discovered at the Moon Dog Café in Chester, Vermont this month. (If you’re in the neighborhood, try the café’s meat-loaf sandwich—it’s amazing, and enough for two meals.) I decided to try to reproduce it, and this is the result. It combines elements from a variety of other of my recipes, with a dash of common sense in combining them.

The Crust:

1/2 lb butter (1 cup/2 sticks) at room temperature
1/4 cup soft brown sugar
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

In a stand mixer, mix the first three ingredients.

Roll the dough into a ball, wrap, and refrigerate for 15 minutes (this makes it easier to handle).

Press the dough into the bottom of a baking pan (I used a 9” pan with a removable bottom—you do need something with sides to contain the filling, but the overall dimensions aren’t critical).

Bake in the middle of the oven for 15-20 minutes (this will be cooked, but don’t let it brown). Let cool partially.

The Apple Layer:

Peel, core and thinly slice two or three cooking apples (depending on size). I used locally-grown Empires, which weren’t very large, so it took four apples to cover the crust.

Arrange the apples on the crust in a single layer (some overlap is okay, but it shouldn’t be a thick layer). Taste the apples, and if you think they need it sprinkle with a little sugar, and some cinnamon.

The Topping:
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder

Raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Mix the  ingredients together to make coarse crumbs and sprinkle over the apple layer.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until the apples are soft and the topping begins to brown.

As you might guess, the apples will make these bars a bit soggy after a short while—so enjoy them quickly!

Here's the Cafe's version
Here's my version. Pretty close!

Seeds of Deception (Orchard Mystery #10) was #10 among Barnes and Noble's Mass Market Paperbacks in its first week! Thank you all (and for those of you who haven't bought it yet, what are you waiting for?).

Find it at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Meet the Benny

Do you know what a benny is? I mean, the kind you eat? I didn’t until a few weeks ago, when I met my first one and fell in love.

In doing in-depth research for this post (that is, I googled it), I found that “benny” can mean (1) a tablet of benzedrine, (2) a rude, flashy tourist at the Jersey Shore, (3) a hundred-dollar bill (Benjamin Franklin, see), or (4) a sudden period of uncontrolled anger. No food version of benny made the first page.

But I had met one, face to face. And then in New Orleans for Bouchercon I met a second, different one, so I knew something was up in the food world.

A few weeks ago we had relatives visiting Cape Cod, so we joined them for lunch. They recommended a small, local restaurant down the road a mile or so: the Keltic Kitchen. Please forgive the place for their kitschy name, because the food is definitely Irish. Their menu is massive, but they had one page with multiple Bennys (Bennies?).

I ordered the most elaborate one, the Potato Cake Salmon Benny. And it was spectacular.

As near as I can figure, an edible benny is a creative adaptation of the old stand-by Eggs Benedict. The only consistent characteristic is the presence of a poached egg and hollandaise sauce on top. Underneath that, anything goes.

So here’s my homage to the Keltic Kitchen Potato Cake Salmon Benny.

Potato pancakes (two for each serving)
Thinly sliced smoked salmon
Thinly sliced red onion
A poached egg (it should be runny)
Hollandaise sauce*
A sprinkling of capers

*A note re hollandaise sauce: The traditional version is complicated to make, but I remembered that Julie Child had provided the simpler version called Blender Hollandaise in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Three ingredients: egg yolks, lemon juice and butter (plus a bit of salt and pepper). You make it in a blender (you remember those, right? The one I used was a wedding gift in harvest gold). 

I’m sure somebody has updated the recipe for a food processor or immersion blender. But I give you permission to buy the stuff if you can find it, or (gasp) just use mayonnaise.

For the potato pancakes, shred the potatoes, make patties about a half-inch thick, and cook them on an oiled grill until they’re golden brown and crunchy. These are what hold the whole thing together.

Place one potato pancake on a plate, then layer on the smoked salmon and the onions (if you like onions—the red ones are mild).

Gently poach an egg (you can do this ahead) and lay it on top. (Sound of hysterical laughter. I own an egg poacher, inherited from my mother. Can I find it, the one time in this millennium that I decided to poach eggs? No, of course not. Back to Julia Child, who makes it simple–along the lines of “slip a raw egg into simmering water, wait, remove from water and place in cold water.”)

Add a nice dollop of hollandaise sauce on the poached egg, then sprinkle with the capers. Place the second potato pancake on top. Serve hot!

And that’s it! If you’ve got the timing right, when you break into the egg, it melds with the hollandaise sauce and runs over and into the yummy stuff beneath. And the combination is amazing--crunchy, tart, tangy, salty.

A note: this is a large sandwich and makes a hearty lunch. And you can’t even think about picking it up—it takes a fork. But it’s worth the effort.

The next time I’m in that Cape Cod neighborhood (just east of Hyannis), I’m going back. If you’re ever vacationing on the Cape, stop in for a meal. And the manager happens to be from West Cork—I asked. Hmm—I know a great place for smoked salmon in West Cork . . .

A final note: having now made this dish, I think having a kitchen staff working with you (and cleaning up) is a good idea--it takes lot of pots and pans!

Seeds of Deception is out!

Find it at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and plenty of bookstores (I hope!).

Friday, October 7, 2016

Crab Cakes with Remoulade Sauce

This is a recipe that wears two hats: first, it’s a tribute to my recent time in New Orleans, where I had some amazing crab cake sliders; second, my sister is visiting, and she’s a big fan of crab even though she lives in a land-locked state, so how could I say no to her?

I’m no expert on Louisiana cooking, although I do remember eating boiled shrimp with remoulade sauce there a long time ago. I have a sneaking feeling that the sauce varies according to whoever makes it, but the basic nature of it is tart and tangy and creamy. I searched through a variety of cookbooks from various places, and I came up with a blended version here.

Finding crab was a bigger challenge, but thank goodness for packaged fresh crabmeat. Our local store had only one variety: Jonah Crab Meat. It seems to be a crab the flourishes along the Atlantic seacoast. I bought one crab claw, just so you could see what it looks like (Halloween colors!), and two packages of the meat, already removed from the shell (BTW, that claw had one seriously thick shell!).

Crab Cakes


8-12 oz. fresh lump crab meat (A note on crab meat: makes sure you check carefully for shell fragments. Plus this recipe called for “lump” crab meat, but what you get from a Jonah crab is more like “shred” crab meat. Tastes fine either way.)

1 egg
2 Tblsp mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely chopped onion (or if you think that might be too strong, you can use shallot)
1 Tblsp minced parsley
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 dash Louisiana hot sauce (optional!)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 Tblsp fresh lemon juice
Bread crumbs for dredging the cakes
Vegetable oil for frying

Combine all the ingredients except the last two (bread crumbs and oil). Mix until evenly blended, but you don’t have to overwork it. Shape into evenly sized cakes (mine were a heaping ¼ cup) and roll in bread crumbs. Place on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2 hours (to let the flavors blend, and so they’ll hold together while you cook them).

Lightly coat a large skillet or stovetop grill with the oil. Over medium heat, cook the crab cakes for 3-5 minutes per side, or until they’re golden brown, turning once. You can serve them immediately, or put them on a baking sheet and keep warm in a low oven for 10-15 minutes.

Remoulade Sauce


While the crab cakes are “resting” in the fridge, make the sauce.

1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 Tblsp lemon juice
1 Tblsp prepared white horseradish
2 Tblsp minced fresh parsley
1-1/2 minced gherkins (pickles)
1-1/2 tsp drained capers, chopped
½ tsp minced or pressed garlic
½ tsp anchovy paste
1 Tblsp sweet paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Hot pepper sauce to taste

In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, oil, lemon juice and horseradish, and blend well. Stir in the parsley, gherkins, capers, garlic, anchovy and paprika. Season to taste with salt, pepper and pepper sauce.

Place in a covered container and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving (you can make this ahead—it keeps well for a couple of days).

To serve as sliders (not required—you can eat the crab cakes plain), find some small buns, add a leaf of butter lettuce, place a crab cake on the lettuce, and garnish with a dollop of the sauce.

And let the good times roll!

Seeds of Deception is out! In bookstores! Online! Everywhere! (I hope.)

Find it at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Pupton of Apples

This past Monday was Johnny Appleseed’s birthday. The most recent book in my Orchard Mystery series, Seeds of Deception, is coming out next week. A nice alignment of the stars, especially since Johnny (an exceedingly distant cousin of mine) got his start in Massachusetts!

A part of Jefferson's orchard
In the new book, the 10th of the series, Meg and Seth, now finally married, kind of improvise a honeymoon, with the goal of visiting Jefferson’s Monticello (Jefferson’s orchards for Meg, an amazing house for Seth). Jefferson installed his orchard before he even began building his house, so clearly apples were important to him. 

There are cookbooks from Monticello. In fact, Thomas Jefferson himself left some handwritten recipes, which have been published. I don’t have that cookbook (although I may need to get it!), and I wouldn’t presume to borrow such recipes without attribution. However, I do have a copy of The Williamsburg Art of Cookery that my grandmother purchased in 1951, which draws upon a range of 18th and early 19th century recipes, as originally written, so I present you with one of those recipes, A Pupton of Apples, originally written by Mrs. Martha Bradley. Apparently she was an important figure in 18th-century cookery. I thought I’d try it, in honor of Johnny and Meg and Seth.

A Pupton of Apples


These are Cortlands, if you're curious

18 apples, peeled, cored and quartered
Okay, how big was an apple in 1800? Eighteen apples is a lot. I used nine.

3 Tblsp water
5 oz. sugar (by weight)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Hello? You mind telling me how much? A tablespoon? A pound?

1/4 lb (1 stick) butter, softened
6 egg yolks

Put the apple quarters in a saucepan and add the water and sugar. Set over low heat and cook, stirring occasionally. When they are tender, add the cinnamon. Transfer to a large bowl and cool—the mixture will thicken. Um, are these supposed to be reduced to mush or still lumpy? Do I mash them or just go with the way they are? Please explain! 

Take some grated breadcrumbs. As I said above: HOW MUCH??? I decided that two cups seemed reasonable. I made my own breadcrumbs from some artisanal (white) bread. Nobody mentioned whether they should be fresh or dry.

Beat the six egg yolks and blend with the butter. Add the breadcrumbs.

Combine this mixture with the cooled apples. And you get (tada!) a pile of lumpy mush.

Put the mixture into a baking dish. Will someone please explain what an 1800 baking dish is? China or metal? Deep or shallow? How well filled should it be?

Preheat the oven to “slow”. I would guess 350 degrees. Bake for half an hour.

When it is done, turn it out onto a dish and serve hot. Uh, about that “turn out” part—yes, it came out of my (metal) baking dish. Or at least, most of it did. It sort of held together, so maybe I guessed right on the breadcrumbs. But it’s still lumpy.

Mrs. Bradley suggested serving with fresh parsley. I think I’ll pass on that. 

My first reaction was to whip up a lot of cream and smother the pupton with it, to hide its, uh, irregularities. Of course, dining rooms were rather dark back in those days, so maybe nobody would notice the cake is lopsided and lumpy. Right. Serve your guests plenty of wine before dessert.


But being of a persevering nature, I decided to hunt for an alternate recipe (interesting what comes up when you google “pupton”), and found one from Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, which dates from 1774. Guess what? It’s even more vague. It starts out with “pare some apples”. Okay, how many is “some”? And farther on, “stir in a handful of bread.” What’s a handful? (I’m going to guess one cup or so.)

Whatever. I decided to give it one more try. Despite changing the proportions of the dish, it still came out like a lumpy mess. I’m going to guess that 18th-century baking dishes were made of smooth pottery. And whipped cream was good camouflage.

This much I will state with assurance: Serve the pupton with a good cup of coffee, which history tells us was one of Thomas Jefferson’s favorite beverages. See the Monticello website

Oh, that's right: the book is coming out next Tuesday! 

I've included some small inside jokes. For example, the cover is based on a house I lived in when I was five. And in the book, Meg's home town is based on the one where I grew up in New Jersey (which has changed surprisingly little, except for the home prices). She takes Seth on a tour of the place, and finds . . . a clue to the inevitable murder!

Find it at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.