Showing posts with label Sheila Connolly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sheila Connolly. Show all posts

Friday, March 16, 2018

Pea and Asparagus Soup

A few months ago I attended an event at the New England Mobile Bookfair in Newton Highlands (Massachusetts), where a good number of mystery writers and fans gathered to check out new books (and party). Three of the authors, Ryan Conroy and Todd and Jen Heberlein, hailed from Volante Farms in Needham, and arrived with copies of their new book, the Volante Farms Cookbook: A Century of Growing. The Volante family, immigrants from Italy, founded the farm in 1917 and now the fourth generation carries on the tradition of growing produce for local markets.

I didn’t get around to delving into the book until recently. As I write this, we in southern Massachusetts are in the midst of our third nor’easter in two weeks, despite the fact that the calendar says March, and I wanted something that announced “spring!”. Luckily the cookbook is arranged seasonally, and one of the first recipes is for Pea and Asparagus Soup. I wish I could tell you that I had found new peas and asparagus in our market, but it’s still a wee bit early for both—but I did have the asparagus. And there are some lovely and unexpected flavors that brighten the soup.

Our most recent snow (March 13th)



2 shallots, chopped
1 pounds peas (fresh if you have them)
2 quarts chicken stock
2 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tblsp salted butter
2 lbs. asparagus trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup crème fraiche
1 Tblsp chopped tarragon (again, fresh if you have it)
1 tsp grated lemon zest


Shallots, chopped
Chop the shallots.

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute briefly until soft.

Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and add the asparagus, peas and a pinch of salt and pepper. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes, and remove from heat.

Puree the soup in the pot with an immersion blender (if you don’t have one, use a traditional blender or a food processor, if all the liquid will fit--if not, do it in a couple of batches). (Note: asparagus, even fresh and new, is a bit stringy, so you may have to clean your blades a time or two, whatever you use. The soup with never be a smooth puree, but the veggies add a little texture.) Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Combine the crème fraiche, tarragon and lemon zest. Pour the soup into individual bowls and top with a dollop of the crème mixture.

Serve with an interesting bread. And welcome to Spring!

I just realized that among all the books I'm in the midst of writing, they cover almost all the seasons. I just finished the next Relatively Dead book (still nameless), which takes place in November. Coming next is Murder in the Mansion, the start of a new series that is set in Maryland, and there it's early summer. There will be a new Orchard Mystery in the Fall, set in early spring when the annual apple cycle begins. A Christmas novella will of course be set around Christmas. 

Do you think it would be easier if I wrote these is some sort of calendar order? Sometimes it's hard to remember that a character should put on a coat before walking out the door, or that school is out for the summer.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Lavender Shortbread

I told you I was in love with Darina Allen's huge cookbook, so I’ll give you one more recipe before I move on in search of spring food.

Most of us think of lavender as something you put in your closet or drawers to make your clothes smell nice. Or in perfume or soap. But how often do you eat it?

But you may have noticed I love shortbread, so why not add some lavender to it and see how it tastes? Darina Allen provided the perfect recipe—simple and easy to make. And I have a small bag of lavender, a Christmas gift from my baker daughter.



12 oz. (by weight) plain white flour
pinch of baking powder
4 oz. white sugar
2.5 oz. ground rice (rice flour)
pinch of salt
2-3 Tblsp dried lavender
2-1/4 sticks cold butter (yes, it's a lot of butter!)


Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, then add the rest of the dry ingredients and the lavender.

I love my large vintage sifter!
Dried lavender blossoms

All the dry ingredients
Cut the butter into cubes and rub into the dry ingredients until the mixture holds together (or just use a food processor!).

Spread evenly in a 10x15” baking sheet with a rim, and smooth it until it’s flat (I actually used a broad putty knife to smooth it--it worked just fine).

Bake for 1 to 1-1/2 hours in the pre-heated oven (or for less time in a hotter oven—it’s pretty forgiving). It should be golden but cooked through.

Baked and golden

While it’s still hot, cut into squares. If you like, sprinkle with sugar. Let it cool in the pan.

You'll be glad to know that the lavender flavor is subtle, not overwhelming. And the rice flour adds just a bit of crunch.

The first Victorian Village book, Murder at the Mansion, coming June 2018. I'll bet there's an herb garden out behind the old stable and there might even be lavender. . .

Monday, March 5, 2018

Around the Kitchen Table: What do our characters eat? w/tote bag #giveaway

We have another MLK Around the Kitchen Table 
tote bag to give to one commenter. See below...

SHEILA:  Sometimes I wonder how much ordinary detail we as writers are suppose to put in our books. We know we need some backstory, some description for our cast of characters, a glimpse of where the protagonist and her crew lives, sometimes even details about the heroine’s wardrobe. What about the weather? Or the pet trying to drag her out of bed each day?

But there’s one really important thread in our cozies: what do our characters eat? Can they cook? What’s in their pantry? Or do they forget to eat entirely? (I wouldn’t trust anyone like that.) I have more than one protagonist who doesn’t do much more than boil water, and they don’t all particularly enjoy cooking (although most do enjoy eating). But to make up for some of those lapses, in one of the Orchard Mysteries (Red Delicious Death), I invented an entire new restaurant in the town of Granford, which uses only locally-sourced foods (and the farmers are partners in the restaurant). I had a lot of fun doing the research for that, learning all sorts of facts about table turnover, pricing, kitchen equipment—and of course, recipes.

Here's a picture from the Good Things Cafe,
with Chef Carmel Somers, that you'll meet
in the next (still nameless) County Cork
Mystery, coming January 2019

What about your characters? With all those diverse locations in our books, many known for the local cuisine, tell us what your characters choose from the menu!


LESLIE: What don't they eat? My protagonists are omnivores, and I wish I had their metabolism! But then, as Pepper from my Spice Shop series says, running in circles and jumping to conclusions is great exercise. Pepper works in Seattle's Pike Place Market and lives nearby, so her eating and cooking are inspired by the Market itself. She likes to see what's in season and how she can spice it up -- she's only owned the shop a short while, so she's still learning spicery herself. In the WIP ("work in progress"), she's working on next season's spice blends, so she's scouting for possibilities. (Which means we're taste-testing at home, too.) Her good friend Laurel owns a deli and catering company, so the food and drink at their Tuesday Night Flick Chicks gathering usually upstages the movie!

Erin, the star of my Food Lovers' Village Mysteries, is all about local foods. Not so easy in Montana, but she has an eye and palate that go well beyond huckleberries and wheat. She's also got a big Italian family that gets together often, giving me a lucky chance to play with Italian food! Every book features a festival, and what's a festival without food? Popcorn seasonings for the food lovers' film festival, steak recipes for the annual grill-off, and coming soon, cookies for Christmas!

Ah, the research! Ah, my waistband...


DENISE In my three mystery series, my sleuths range from Dev, who does not cook at all, to Skye, who has learned to cook throughout the series, Dani who is a chef. But despite their various level of competency in the kitchen, the all love to eat and their curvy figures prove it. Dev and Skye enjoy the home cooking of their grandmother and mother, while Dani likes fancier fare. She loves to try new dishes and, of course, she has to taste as she cooks.   


DARYL: All of my series feature food. Charlotte in the Cheese Shop Mysteries ate cheese, of course. And lots of it. But she believed everything in moderation.
Chocolate and Cheese Platter
I can't tell you how many cheese-y dishes I created so SHE could eat them.  LOL In the Cookbook Nook Mysteries, Jenna doesn't cook (at first; now she does) but she was always a foodie. Because the Cookbook Nook abuts the Nook Café, Jenna is often visiting her chef and pal Katie for a snack, and Katie often brings treats to the shop for customers to enjoy.  In the latest book, PRESSING THE ISSUE, all the treats were Renaissance-themed foods. I had a blast having Jenna taste meat on a stick, Scotch eggs, and sin-in-a-cup desserts.
Sin in a Cup frozen dessert
In the French Bistro Mysteries, Mimi was a chef but now she owns the bistro and the neighboring inn. She taste-tests the food the kitchen is putting out. She sets the menus. My cooking game has had to step up a notch to keep up with Mimi's tastes. I'm not trained in French food, but over the past year, I've learned oodles about the five mother sauces of France.


PEG: I love to cook and I love to eat, and I've been fortunate in that I've been able to sublimate some of my food cravings into my writing in order to spare my waistline! Gigi Fitzgerald from my Gourmet De-Lite series makes low calorie gourmet food for a number of clients and is a very good cook.  Monica Albertson from my Cranberry Cove Series is an accomplished baker making all things cranberry--scones, muffins, cookies and breads. Her cooking is a little more pedestrian--her go-to meal is a steak on the grill and a salad.  Shelby McDonald from my Farmer's Daughter series not only cooks, she grows her own produce and cans it, too!  And then there's Lucille Mazzarella from my Lucille Series who doesn't think a dish is worth eating unless it's covered in tomato sauce and loaded with cheese.


LINDA:  My Dinner Club Mysteries are devoted to the foodies of the Culinary Capers Dinner Club. As the newest member, J.J. Tanner, my event planning amateur sleuth, is a newbie when it comes to cooking. But she's well-practiced in the art of perusing cookbooks, especially those with color photos. Her cooking skills develop over the three books of the series, and in MARINATING IN MURDER, the newest book which releases tomorrow (YAY!) she's gained a lot of confidence and even some daring. In each book, the foodies choose a real cookbook from which they put together their meal. Their latest adventure is an early fall picnic and they're using Summer Days & Balmy Nights. Did I mention, they love eating?


Krista:  Obviously, the divas in the Domestic Diva Mysteries cook. I always say that everyone is a little bit of a domestic diva because we all want to live in lovely homes and eat good food. The divas represent a spectrum. Nina Reid Norwood doesn't cook at all. She has been known to order food and dump it into her pots to make it appear that she cooked a meal. In spite of that, Nina loves to eat and is always at Sophie's house noshing on something yummy.

Sophie cooks a lot. In the summer she has a garden in her backyard where she grows tomatoes and fresh veggies. She tries to keep it simple, but there's no sparing the bacon, cream or butter. Her friends gather around her kitchen table (by the fire in the winter) to enjoy great meals in good company. Sophie often finds herself wedging into trousers with elastic waistbands.

No one gathers at Natasha's house. She cooks the latest trends, mixing curious ingredients, often outrageously spicy, that don't always work out. She considers herself the best cook of all, but she doesn't eat.

Over in Wagtail, at the Sugar Maple Inn, Holly doesn't do much cooking. But living in an inn has its perks and one of them is the food. Five mornings a week, hot tea, chocolate croissants, a dog biscuit and a kitty treat are delivered to her quarters before she even rises. Then she ambles downstairs and has her choice of gourmet inn breakfasts that often feature local berries and farm fresh eggs. Leftovers are distributed to needy locals, but a good bit also ends up in the "magic" refrigerator located in the private kitchen.

And lastly, Florrie Fox in the Pen & Ink Mysteries loves to bake. She shops at the local farmer's market and often bakes coffee cake or muffins to take to the bookstore with her. Happily for Florrie, her boyfriend, Sergeant Eric Jonquille, is the son of a restaurateur who runs a farm to table restaurant. Growing up, Eric learned to cook and is a wiz at whipping up a delicious breakfast to go along with Florrie's baked goods.



We have another MLK Around the Kitchen table totebag to give to one commenter. 
Tell us, what things have you learned about our characters by what they eat or don't eat?

Friday, March 2, 2018

My Idol Darina Allen and Her Spicy Vegetable Stew

I’ve been looking forward to writing this post since I got back from Ireland last December. You see, I bought Darina Allen’s latest book, Grow, Cook, Nourish at the Skibbereen farmers’ market, where she was selling copies from a card table set up in the middle. I had to have a copy, even though it weighs five pounds (I checked) and is three inches thick and I had to carry it back on the plane with me. It contains 500 recipes, each one richly illustrated with multiple color photographs, and is rich with recipes from multiple countries using wonderful spices, not to mention the history of the food in question and where you can find it. Yes, I’ve read through it—it’s not just a pretty coffee-table book. And Darina herself writes that it “may just be the most important book I ever wrote.” It’s all about “the entire process of sowing plants and seeds, nurturing them, harvesting, cooking and nourishing yourself and others.”

Yes, she signed it for me!
According to her bio, she founded the first farmers’ markets in Ireland (and actually still shops at them—I’ve run into her more than once), is one of the leaders of the Slow Food movement there, and has been running the Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork since 1983. One of these days I’m going to find a way to take a class there.

The Skibbereen Farmers' Market
Oh, right, we need a recipe. I skipped over a few in the book because I’d never heard of the primary ingredient and I was pretty sure I’d never find it in my local supermarket (medlars? Purslane? Borage? Cardoons?). But still left a few hundred to choose from. I landed upon “Spicy Vegetable Stew with Yogurt” mainly because I actually had all the ingredients, including all the spices.

Spicy Vegetable Stew

(Note, as usual I made a half recipe)

2 lbs potatoes (you may notice these are purple, but that's what I had)
1 lb turnips, cut into cubes
1/2 lb carrots

1/2 tsp sugar
2 oz. butter
2-1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3-inch cinnamon stick
1 tsp cardamom seeds
8 cloves
1/2 pound onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1-1/2 oz fresh ginger, peeled and crushed
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
24 oz. tomatoes (fresh or canned)
6 (liquid) oz. yogurt
1/2 cup whole milk
sea salt
1-2 Tblsp chopped coriander or parsley


Boil the (unpeeled) potatoes, then peel off the skins and cut into half-inch slices.

Cook the turnips in boiling salted water for 30-40 minutes (until tender).

Scrub the carrots and trim off ends. Cut into half-inch slices. Cook in a covered saucepan with a little boiling water with a dash of salt and sugar and a blob of butter.

Grind all the spices together to a powder, with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

Yes, I actually have a spice grinder
Melt the butter in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the onions and cook on low for about 10 minutes, until the onions are soft and golden. Stir in the garlic, ginger and ground spices and nutmeg, turmeric, and 1/2 tsp sugar. Cook for a minute or so, then add the chopped tomatoes and yogurt.

Put the sliced potatoes, turnip, and carrots into the mix and stir gently (to keep the potatoes intact). Cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes until all the vegetables are tender. Take off the lid and add the milk and cook to reduce (as thick or thin as you like). Season with the sea salt to taste. Stir in the chopped coriander or parsley and serve.

The result? A lovely, well-balanced blend of spices and flavors. But I will comment that this recipe could come only from a cook who has an entire cooking school staff (that is, dishwashers!) to clean up. Just count the number of pans used! But I think at home you could reduce the number without losing any of the flavor.

Did you know that the Skibbereen market has no organization to oversee it? People with something to sell (vegetables, old clothes, lots of breads, antiques--just about anything) show up Saturday morning, stake out a place, and set up shop. There's a small fee for each day, which I think is about five dollars. I plan entire trips to make sure I can go at least once, and I always come away with something unexpected. And it runs all year.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Irish Cheesecake

Well, I sort of promised you an Irish cheesecake, after I made a hazelnut one recently. I also mentioned that almost every recipe I found included Bailey’s Irish Cream, which I’ve never been a big fan of (it has a bit of chocolate syrup in it, and I find myself wishing they’d just stuck to the Irish whiskey flavor), but it seems to proclaim “Irish!” to the world.

The nice twist to this recipe is that it uses crumbled Irish shortbread cookies (which I posted here last October) for the crust, so you get a double hit of Irish.

Irish Cheesecake with Shortbread Crust


3 cups Irish shortbread crumbs
3 Tblsp melted unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan (especially the sides, so the cake won't stick).

Mix the crumbs and melted butter, than press the mixture into the pan. Bake for about five minutes or until the crust just begins to brown. Remove from oven, let cool, then chill.


3 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream

Beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, and vanilla. Beat the mixture well, for about four minutes. Add the Irish Cream.

Pour the filling mixture into the chilled crust and bake for about 80 minutes. The center should still be a bit jiggly.

Turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake inside to cool slowly (helps to prevent cracking).

And there you have it! A handy recipe for Saint Patrick’s Day.

And here's the source for all that butter
and cream cheese in the recipe--part of
the dairy herd at a farm where I stayed a
a couple of years ago. I loved to watch
the whole milking process from my window.
I find myself in a weird position about coming books. I expect to publish three more (plus a novella, I think) before the end of 2018, and the next County Cork book will be out in January 2019. But the only one of all of those that has both a a title and a cover is Murder at the Mansion, the first of my new Victorian Village series, coming from St. Martin's in June. Here's what it will look like:

Don't worry--I'll tell you more about it as the date gets closer.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Dulse Chowder a la Sam Sifton

I am a big fan of writer Sam Sifton’s recipes, which appear regularly in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. I’ve even added a few of them to my favorites.

But this past weekend I found a happy surprise in the magazine section: I’d beaten him to the punch with my use of dulse! (That's seaweed, remember?) Oh, I’m sure he’s known about it and been cooking with it for years, but I shared the stuff with you first!

His recipe was for a seafood chowder, and if you think about it, combining seafood and seaweed makes perfect sense. But I had some reservations about using some of his choices. For one thing, he called for clams, and I have never had a clam dish that did not include some sand. My teeth don’t like sand.

He also used bacon. Now, I love bacon, but I think it might overwhelm the delicate flavors here, so I swapped in salt pork. And he added fish. I like fish, but not quite as much as he wanted. So I decided to cut back on the fish (I used fresh cod), and doubled the amount of scallops (also fresh and local), which are suitably delicate in flavor and texture.

Dulse Chowder


2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup salt pork, diced
2 tablespoons dulse flakes (soak them first)
1 medium onion, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and halved, then sliced
2 parsnips, peeled and halved, then sliced
2 medium-size all-purpose potatoes, cubed
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups clam or fish broth
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 cups heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 pound firm white fish fillets, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound sea scallops, sliced into rounds if very large
1/4 cup chopped parsley


In a large pot, put 1 tablespoon of the butter, and turn the heat to medium-low. Add the salt pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat has rendered and the pork has started to brown, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pork bits from the fat, and set aside.

Add the dulse and the onion to the fat, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. 

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, then stir in the carrots, parsnips, potatoes and wine, and continue cooking until the wine has evaporated and the vegetables have just started to soften, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. 

Add enough broth to just cover them. Add the thyme sprigs and the bay leaves.

Partly cover the pot, and simmer gently until the vegetables are tender, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

When the vegetables are tender, add the cream, and stir in the reserved pork bits. Add black pepper to taste. Let come to a simmer. (Do not let chowder come to a full boil or it will curdle.) Remove the thyme and the bay leaves and discard.

When you’re ready to serve, slip the fish pieces and scallops into the liquid allow them all to cook into translucence in the heat, approximately 5-7 minutes. 

Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve, garnished with the chopped parsley.

The dulse gives the chowder a slightly sweet flavor which pairs well with the scallops (which should be barely cooked and very tender). The hardest part of making this dish (apart from finding dulse) is all that chopping, but it’s worth it.

Many a Twist (Crooked Lane Books), available now!

This is a dish that should be on the Crann Mor menu! It's earthy and exotic at the same time.