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

Florets

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).

www.sheilaconnolly.com


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





Friday, August 11, 2017

An Irish Pasty?

Okay, I'm almost out of new Irish recipes (from this trip), but this one sneaked up on me.

I will happily cede the title of Pasty Queen to Rhys for her Cornish version. I'm not sure I've ever seen an official pasty in Ireland, and the ones shown online seem to lean toward beef stew in a crust. 

But I was having a nice lunch at The Coffee Shop in Union Hall (I love their house-baked pastries! see their Facebook page), and I ordered what was described on the menu as a chicken and Camembert panini with pesto. It arrived, and I was so intent on eating it that I didn't notice that it didn't quite fit the definition of a panini, which usually calls for something between two pieces of bread, pressed to cook, leaving a nice grilling pattern. 

What I got was delicious, but I actually observed it being made: no press involved. However, it did have a wonderful short crust, which I envied. And the filling was flavorful and interesting, so I decided to recreate it (as best I could). Call it whatever you like--it tastes good.

An Irish Pastypannini a la The Coffee Shop

Ingredients

(note: this recipe serves two, but you can expand it or make a second batch later--I had plenty of chicken and cheese left over))

1 recipe pie crust (I shamelessly borrowed Lucy Burdette's version of the Moosewood crust, which actually held together!) It is the simplest version I have ever seen.




Filling:




one chicken breast, skinned and deboned, lightly cooked 



a small amount of pesto, to rub into the chicken

a small Camembert cheese

1 egg, beaten (this is the glue that holds things together)

Instructions:

Make the pesto, to your taste. I used fresh basil, pine nuts, olive oil, salt and pepper (no garlic, but add it if you like). Mash them together and massage the chicken with it and let it sit for a while to absorb the flavor.

Saute the chicken lightly in a bit more olive oil. Don't worry if it's not cooked through, because this is going into the oven once the thing is assembled. Let cool, then slice about 1/4-inch thick.




Slice the Camembert to about the same thickness.




Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F and grease a baking sheet.

Make your pie dough (I used a food processor). Combine the flour, butter and salt and process until it looks like sand. Then add ice water, one tablespoon at a time, until it holds together. Turn it out on a wooden board and form two balls.




I considered adding something like mayonnaise to the inside, but the contents are fairly delicate in flavor, so I decided against it. The crust is very buttery, so the results won't be dry.




Roll out the first ball of dough into a rough circle. Lay three or four pieces of the cooked chicken on one half, then the same number of slices of cheese on top. Don't overfill, or it will never hold together!

Beat the egg lightly, and brush some around the edge of the crust. Fold carefully and crimp the edges together--you want to seal this. Repeat with the second one. Brush the tops of both lightly with some more egg.




Place on the prepared cookie sheet and slide into the middle of the preheated oven. Set the timer for ten minutes, then check to see that the crust has begun to brown. Then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes. The chicken should be nicely cooked, and the cheese with be gooey. (And they didn't leak!)




Slice in half to serve. These can be served warm or at room temperature.




You can vary your ingredients however you like, but this is a nice combination. If you have some leftover chicken, you're home free. You can swap in a packaged pie crust if you want (easier still!), but I've never seen a simpler pie crust recipe, and I've tried at least a dozen.



Many a Twist, the next County Cork Mystery, coming next January. Maura actually gets to eat in a variety of restaurants. I'll make a foodie out of her yet!
www.sheilaconnolly.com



The real Coffee Shop in Union Hall










Monday, August 7, 2017

AROUND THE KITCHEN TABLE: CHAOS IN THE KITCHEN #GIVEAWAY


Welcome to Around the Kitchen Table, our monthly chinwag!  We look forward to the conversation with you today (and always).  Be sure to leave a comment today and you may win this terrific Mystery Lovers Kitchen tote bag.  Be lucky and have fun!

VICTORIA ABBOTT aka Mary Jane Maffini: My husband mentioned recently (in the kindest possible way) that when I cook, it's as though there's been an explosion in the kitchen. I would have taken great offense if a) it wasn't true some of the time and b) he didn't always volunteer to do the clean up.  He added, "It's mostly when you bake."




The evidence was clear.

I do my best to be neat, line up the ingredients in the order of use and put each one away when it's been added.  But all it takes it a few extra visiting dogs or hot and cold running relatives or (shudder) CNN blaring in the background and all is lost.  Until the clean-up crew, that is.  Except for the time there was tea on the ceiling.

For some reason, my hubby and my brother are both creative but neat cooks.  Me, not so much.

Of course, we're almost always happy with the results and the kitchen does recover whether I do it or he does.  Still, I dream of a neater future.

So what about you? Or you precise and disciplined? Or more like these exploding stars? Do you pick some dishes because they don't make a mess?  Pull up a chair and share your tips and your foibles. That's what we do around the kitchen table.

Leave  a comment and you may be the winner of TOO HOT TO HANDLE: a Fiona Silk mystery in which there's lots of chaos in the kitchen.  Be very afraid! 



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From DarylMy kitchen is often a mess when I cook.  I do my best to keep it tidy but I simply can't. I stack things
The BEFORE picture!  HA!
up. I set them in the right order. And still I feel crowded. I've got the cutting board here, the mixing bowl there. I recall a lovely disaster at Thanksgiving--our first year in our new house in Los Angeles--and I wasn't comfortable with the oven and stove and the layout. It takes time to do the dance, you know?  Anyway, my stepdaughter wanted to learn to make mashed potatoes. With all 14 of the family hovering in the kitchen!!!  I got distracted. The pot of boiling milk and potatoes boiled over. What a mess! Plus I dropped a tray of stuffing on the floor. My nephew laughed his head off!  Rarely do they see me flustered, but that night - oy!



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Linda here:
 I like to think of myself as being neat, tidy and well-organized. Okay, I like to think a lot of things about myself but a lot of it isn't true--sexy, svelte, super smart...you get the picture. So, this question that Victoria poses is very disturbing. I have to 'fess up and come clean, because it's a sure thing my kitchen counters won't be after a cooking session. And don't get me started on baking because that's when the flour settles like that fine coating of dust when drywall is being erected. I actually start out on the right track. I try to pre-measure or slice and dice everything possible so those dishes can be stacked out of sight in the sink or maybe even washed and dried. It's when the nitty-gritty starts and the clock is ticking that my cleaning karma disappears. I like to believe that my problem is not enough counter space but that's not going to change, so I better change me. Start with all un-essentials cleared away; stick to the allotted space; do only one thing at a time (a biggy for me to change); and, then proceed in an orderly progression through the directions. Easy, right? So what goes wrong?




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From SheilaI'm just back from Ireland, where my kitchen is about the same size as the one I had in my first apartment a very long time ago. A stove (or cooker) and a shiny new stainless steel sink eat up about half the counter space, and a microwave claimed the corner. So I have to think very strategically about what needs to be chopped and ready to go into a dish, and I definitely have to clean up as I work, and put things away (in the teeny-tiny refrigerator). The stovetop has flat electric burners, so I have to be careful about putting anything down on them because you can't tell if they're still hot. And I still haven't figured out how recycling works over there. Yes, there is recycling--that's the good news--but in which categories? And I swear my handyman said something about tossing the biological (food) by-products out into the back yard for the local animals. I'm not sure whether he was kidding. I did make an effort to hang up as many cooking items as possible, but it's still a challenge.



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the compost pile last night after soup-making

LUCY BURDETTE: Hmmm, I bet my hub would disagree on this, as he's usually the clean-up batter--but I try to be neat! But cooking can be a lot of work, right? Especially if you're using a food processor and a chopping board and more than one pan at a time, which is usually the case. And tasting and photographing...good heavens, that's what sous-chefs are for, isn't it MJ?



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PEG COCHRAN:  I find that my mess tends to expand depending on the space available to me. In my first house, the kitchen was small and the counter space limited. But then we moved and I had a much bigger kitchen and more counter space and my mess expanded like my stomach after Thanksgiving dinner. Speaking of Thanksgiving dinner...that one meal creates more mess than anything else I cook all year. Pots, pots, pots absolutely everywhere. Every single serving dish soaking in the sink, every kitchen utensil spread around the counter. It makes me shudder just to think about it!



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LESLIE BUDEWITZ: I'm definitely a clean-as-you-go cook. Fortunately, so is Mr. Right, since we often cook together in a small kitchen with one sink. No doubt my tendency toward kitchen tidiness came from my mother, a woman with a strong innate desire for order! Since I've been part of MLK, photographing recipes as I cook, I've returned to her habit of getting out all the ingredients before any chopping or mixing. And with the exception of the lovely farmhouse I lived in for 8 years, remodeling as I went along, I've always had a small kitchen. 

But I will admit one foible that leads to extra dishes: When a salad, a vegetable dish, or a casserole involves a lot of ingredients to be mixed together, I consistently fail to properly estimate the size of bowl needed. I might switch bowls, or pots, twice to get the right one. Happily, we share the dishwashing, too!




CLEO COYLE: We have a New York City kitchen (yep, tiny!) but we love to cook, so Marc and I learned the hard way to clean as we go. Not that a mountain of mess isn't possible on a busy day, it just leaves us with zero counter space and pots and pans piled high as the Empire State building. 


Coffeehouse Mystery #1
Click here to learn more.
Truth is, our situation inspired us to write a similar one for our characters in our first Coffeehouse Mystery, On What Grounds. Our amateur sleuth, Clare, also has a compact New York kitchen. When she attempts to fix a special dinner for her young adult daughter and the girl's new boyfriend, her ex-husband insists on "helping." The result is a little crazy and a little comical. But you have to have a sense of humor when you measure counter space by inches instead of feet. Happy cooking, everyone. May your servings be big and your mess be small! Love, Cleo




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KRISTA DAVIS: I'm so glad that I'm not the only one. But Mary Jane, I truly can't recall anything landing on the ceiling! I have a bad habit of forgetting about rice, which means it boils over. It's not so much that I forget, but I walk away to write and my mind is elsewhere. I now keep a timer on my desk to remind me that I need to check on it.

You never know who might be in the kitchen sink!
I try to be organized but somehow everything spreads. And countless other items land on my kitchen island adding to the clutter. All the vitamins and jars of dog cookies, for instance. Right now there are seven giant yellow squashes taking up a lot of real estate on the counter.

Unless it's something that needs to be rolled out (let's not even mention huge quantities of Christmas cookies—oy!), I'm least messy when baking. I learned a long time ago to put out an old dinner plate, a large spoon and a knife. That gives me a place for the paper that wraps the butter, eggshells, and all kinds of utensils that need to be washed, and keeps me from running around the kitchen for every little thing.

One of my very favorite cakes is Dobostorte. It's seven layers and a labor of love, so I don't bake it often. But those seven layers require a lot of room!


Don't forget to leave  a comment! You may be the winner of TOO HOT TO HANDLE: a Fiona Silk mystery in which there's lots of chaos in the kitchen.  Be very afraid!  
(PS remember to leave your email address so we can contact you if you win.)

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

Ingredients:

2 pounds salmon filet

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

Instructions:

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.

www.sheilaconnolly.com

Friday, July 28, 2017

Warm Chicken Salad

This recipe was inspired by one I enjoyed in Ireland, but there's nothing particularly Irish about it. It's a lovely summer recipe, easy to make, and you can swap in any ingredients you want.

The source is The Harbour Bar in Leap, just a few doors down from Connolly's, er, Sullivan's Pub. When I first saw it, it was an ordinary pub, one of a cluster on the main road through the village. Then it changed hands a few years ago, and the new managers tore down the old building and completely remodeled it, and found a chef who created menus of local Irish food with an Asian twist. I've been going back ever since, and I've never been disappointed.

This recipe is simple: take whatever greens you like, add a tart creamy dressing, sautee a marinated chicken breast, slice the chicken thinly while warm, combine the lot, and toss in some croutons. It's best if you use local greens only minutes away from the garden, and make your own croutons, but you can buy a bag of lettuce and a box of croutons and you might never notice the different. The end product combines crunchy, creamy textures with savory flavors, and a nice contrast between warm and cold (okay, you could use left-over chicken, but if it's freshly cooked, it's both warm and soft).

Warm Chicken Salad (with a nod to the Harbour Bar)
(this recipe makes two servings, but it's flexible)

Ingredients:

one boneless chicken breast, marinated with olive oil, chopped shallots, salt, pepper and any herb you have on hand, fresh or dry

The US version


The Irish version

one package (or harvest your own) lettuce of your choice (the Irish call them
"mixed leaves" which always makes me giggle)



creamy yogurt dressing:


1/4 cup whole-milk yogurt
1 Tblsp olive oil
1 Tblsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tblsp minced shallot
1 Tblsp chopped fresh chives
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt

1 cup fresh croutons (I made my own from a brioche roll because I didn't have any packaged ones--just cut up whatever white bread you have handy into cubes and place in a low oven until they turn crispy but not brown)

Instructions:

If necessary, skin and bone your chicken breast. (A note: the ones they sell in markets here are huge. The ones they sell in Ireland are half the size. You can decide how much chicken you want, or cook yours and save some for later--or for your cat.) Whisk together the marinade and let the chicken steep in it for as long as you like.

Rinse your greens and let them dry. Make the croutons if you're going to.

When you're ready to cook, saute the chicken breast in a little olive oil. Important note: cook this over medium/low heat (until it's cooked through)--you don't need to sear it, you want it to remain tender and juicy. Keep an eye on it and turn it a few times so it cooks evenly.



While the chicken is cooking slowly, whisk together the yogurt dressing ingredients and dress your greens.

Dressed greens

When the chicken is cooked, place it on a cutting board and let it cool enough to handle. Then slice it thinly on the diagonal. It may sound odd, but you want the lettuce and the chicken slices to be similar in size and scale.

In individual bowls, place a bunch of your greens, then tuck in some chicken slices (do not overcrowd). Sprinkle with the croutons and serve immediately while the chicken is still warm.

The assembled salad
And there you have the perfect summer dish!

Doesn't it begin to sound as though I go to Ireland mainly to eat? I adore the Field's SuperValue market (I even have a frequent buyer card), I can't stay away from the weekly farmers market (every Saturday, with not only food but crafts and junk), and the burgeoning restaurants (you read about the newest one last week). Maybe next year I'll be able to go to the West Cork Food Festival.

Oh, right, I go to Ireland to do research for books--between meals. But young Rose in the County Cork mysteries is fast becoming a foodie. And that's only one of the unexpected turns in the next book, Many a Twist (coming January 2018).

Available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble

www.sheilaconnolly.com








Friday, July 21, 2017

The Good Things Cafe

In case you missed all the shouting, I'm in Ireland right now--I arrived over a week ago, and I'll be back next week (please, can I stay longer?). The purpose of this trip was (a) to get the cottage into shape, with paint and curtains and the like (and to confer with my very ambitious handyman), plus (b) do research for the County Cork Mysteries, which involves talking with my police friend and my bookseller friend and anybody else who'll hold still long enough.

But of course there's food. I think I've said in the past that I plan any trip to Ireland to include a visit to the Skibbereen farmers market, which is amazing (and one of the best in the country), and also visits to local restaurants. When I first came to Ireland nearly twenty years ago, the food was as bad as you'd always heard. Now it's terrific.


On the corner on the right
The Good Things Cafe, in the center of Skibbereen, is one of the latest additions, and it's really amazing (check out the website at www.thegoodthingscafe.com). They serve food in a delightful corner restaurant that is both nicely designed and also welcomes all kinds of people--when I had lunch there, I saw a young mother with a small child, three middle-aged ladies lunching together, and a couple of guys from down the street. Normal people enjoying good food. 

The place is the brainchild of chef Carmel Somers, who's worked in restaurants before, in a different part of the country (starting with a small cafe next to her parents' pub). She created this restaurant from a blank canvas: she was responsible for the kitchen (of course), setting up a sunny space that makes room for as many as six cooks working at once, and also creating a set-up for cooking classes; she designed the layout of the ground floor space, and even selected the glassware and china. But her most important contribution was her philosophy of food--absolutely fresh and local, combined in ways that are interesting without being trendy or silly. Just good cooking, and she oversees every part of the process.

And she gave me the opportunity to do something I've wanted to do for years: to observe a working restaurant kitchen. I squeezed into a corner and just watched.




Yes I did eat: a lamb-burger with eggplant and more than one spicy sauce with a middle-eastern leaning, accompanied by a quinoa salad with fresh herbs and some mixed leaves (lot that term!). Upstairs in the kitchen (yes, the young staff does a lot of running up and down to deliver food) I watched one of the chefs making one of the sauces that decorated my lunch, and it took him close to half an hour, adding one ingredient at a time and tasting, tasting, tasting. The place is not big: one gorgeous six-burner gas stove (those are expensive!), a large stand mixer, and a walk-in fridge the size of my bedroom at home (well, almost). And of course work space on stainless steel islands, that Carmel designed for the space.





Carmel and the saucemaker
And beyond the food (as if that weren't enough) I had the chance to talk with Carmel about how you put together the kitchen you want, how you staff it (a lot of young kids, who work around their school hours and during the summers), how you design a menu. This wasn't just idle curiosity: I want Rose in the County Cork series to really find her calling in cooking, and Carmel reinforced what I've been thinking. Any young chef has to really care about making good food, and serving it well. And that's how Rose feels.








Do you have to wonder why I love Ireland? Beautiful views, clean air and water, and great food. I will definitely be going back to the Good Things Cafe.





Don't forget our giveaway, which ends next week! Click on the cheerleaders for the details.

Promo? How about a peek at the cover for Many a Twist, the next County Cork Mystery, coming in January 2018?