Showing posts with label Sour Apples. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sour Apples. Show all posts

Friday, March 1, 2013

The What If Apple Recipe

by Sheila Connolly

Mystery writers often ask themselves "what if I…" particularly when they're stuck on a plot point. What if I add an evil twin?  What if the gun is hidden in the flour bin? What if the victim is not really dead?

I'm always on the lookout for apple recipes, and I have been for years.  Some of them I never even tried—just filed them away for some future date.  Seems like the future has arrived, and I pulled out a recipe for what was called "Apple Dutch Baby."  The dish is basically sautéed apples with a batter poured over them, and then the whole thing is baked. I had to look up the history of the term "dutch baby" but my general impression was that it is kind of a giant pancake with stuff in it.

The recipe also reminded me of clafouti, a traditional French dessert, usually made when the first cherries of the new harvest (of course Julia Child pointed me to it).  It's very similar:  fruit-batter-bake.

But in both cases, the batter is moist and eggy.  That's not a bad thing, but it wasn't what I was looking for.  Then I remembered one of my favorite British/Irish pub dishes, Toad in the Hole.  This is savory: link sausages-batter-bake. We eat that a lot in my household, in part because the fat from the sausages makes it crunchy (if done right; otherwise it's eggy, see above).

What if I combined the two recipes?

Cortland apples
The first hurdle that I could see was that the apples, which are sautéed in butter first, might produce a lot of liquid.  It's important to (a) pick the right apples, that won't turn to watery mush when you cook them; and (b) cook them well with plenty of butter.  Hey, it's a dessert—indulge yourself!

The second hurdle was adjusting the batter so that it was less eggy, which meant reducing the number of eggs and increasing the flour.  I also wanted it to be a bit sweet and spicy, so I added some sugar and some ground cinnamon.

Toad in the Hole is traditionally made in a skillet or baking pan (it resembles Yorkshire pudding, which soaks up pan drippings so nothing from a roast is wasted).  I am a firm believer in using as few dishes as possible, since nobody in our family likes to wash dishes, so I opted for the skillet version—that's a cast-iron skillet, that heats up high and holds the heat, and can go straight from stovetop to oven.

So here we go:  The What If Recipe

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.


1 cup whole milk
2 eggs
1 cup white flour
2 Tblsp sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
2 Tblsp vanilla extract
1 Tblsp melted butter

Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor, then blend for a minute (a full minute—this is important, so time it), right before you're ready to bake.


2 Tblsp salted butter
3 medium cooking apples (like Cortlands), peeled, cored, and sliced thickly
2 Tblsp sugar

Melt the butter in a 9" cast-iron skillet, then add the apples and sauté on medium-high heat until they begin to brown just a bit.  Sprinkle the sugar over them and continue cooking for a couple more minutes. (If the mixture looks soupy at this point, drain some of the liquid off.)

When the apples are just about ready, make the batter.  While the apples are still over the heat on the stove, pour the batter over them (the batter should sizzle around the edges) and immediately place the skillet into the preheated oven.  Bake for 30 minutes.

Ready for the oven

If the kitchen gods are smiling on you, the batter will puff up and turn golden and crisp.  This is a dish that should be served as quickly as possible, while it's still warm.  You can sprinkle it with powdered sugar if you want.

It worked!
I love it when a plot comes together!

 Buried in a Bog -- now in its second week on
the New York Times bestseller list!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Eggplant Pizza

by Sheila Connolly

I went to the Plymouth Farmers' Market (now being held weekly at Plimoth Plantation) this week, after a gap of several weeks (life kept getting in the way), and after coming home I was sorely tempted simply to show you lots of pretty pictures of fresh local vegetables and call it a day.  But I restrained myself.  So you'll get half pretty pictures and a recipe too.

I have also decided that, perversely, I like vegetables that are not whatever their standard color is.  Which is why I have red and yellow carrots, and purple and green tomatoes.  And a range of eggplant from near black to stripey, and some peppers that are yellow and orange striped.  Somehow I forgot to buy the purple long beans, but there will be other trips.

Now, if you go to all the trouble to go to a farmers' market and buy fresh local produce, you have a certain moral obligation to use said produce while it is still fresh.  I'll admit I have a tendency to buy a lot of pretty things that I have no idea what to do with, and often eggplant falls in that category.  I did not grow up eating eggplant.  I have been only intermittently successful cooking eggplant as an adult.  This time around I bought three kinds of eggplant.  Oh dear.

But I am resourceful!  I turned to (love that site!) and went hunting for eggplant recipes, and then I thought, I've got those gorgeous heirloom tomatoes that I'd better use before they turn to mush, so the search became "eggplant+tomato", and I found not one but two recipes for Eggplant and Tomato Pizza.  Except neither one was exactly what I wanted, so I made a mash-up:  I took the best bits of each and came up with something else.  And it worked!  So here's my locavore, vegetarian, eggplant pizza recipe.

Eggplant Pizza

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

1 pizza crust.  Okay, purists, you can make your own if you want, but I bought a package of ready-made dough from our market.  It was whole-wheat (they were out of the regular kind), but that turned out to be a plus, because the whole wheat added a slightly sweet, nutty flavor that went well with the rest of the ingredients.


2-3 Japanese eggplant (the long skinny kind)

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

Chopped tomatoes, draining

1 cup tomatoes, sliced (I used a single large gorgeous heirloom one)

2 garlic cloves, minced or crushed

Olive oil

Salt and pepper


1–1½ cups coarsely shredded cheese (I used a mix of fontina and mozzarella, with a sprinkling of Parmesan over the top to brown)

Since you are using fresh, slender eggplants, you don’t have to go through the salting/draining thing.  Slice your eggplants about half an inch thick.  Pour some olive oil (enough to coat the bottom lightly) into a pan and sauté the onions briefly, then the eggplant slices.  Reduce the heat and continue cooking until the vegetables are soft and slightly browned. Add a bit of salt and pepper. 

While the eggplant mix is cooking, slice your tomato and seed it.  Add your garlic, mix well, then set in a colander to drain (if you don't, your pizza will be soggy).

Lightly coat a baking sheet with olive oil.  Stretch out your dough (mine fights back).  It will be irregular, but who's worried?    Spread the eggplant-onion recipe in an even layer (leaving an inch or so at the edges), then strew the tomatoes over that.  Top with an even layer of cheese.

Assembling your pizza
Bake for about 15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and crisp.  Slice and enjoy quickly!


And the first apples of the season have arrived!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Cornish Game Hen

by Sheila Connolly
You do know that's just a fancy name for a chicken, right? And it's not even always a female chicken.  The USDA describes it as "a young immature chicken (less than five weeks of age), weighing not more than two pounds ready-to-cook weight." It is descended from the Cornish breed of chicken and some other unspecified breed (tell me the last time your supermarket included the breed of chicken on their label).  It grows fast.  And markets charge more for it than for its full-grown relatives which took longer to raise.  Go figure.  It's all in the marketing.


But there are those of us here who are empty-nesters, and cooking a whole chicken means eating chicken three times in a week (and it's never quite the same after you've frozen it).  Don't get me wrong—I love to cook chicken, and I love having the leftover meat handy because it's so versatile.  But sometimes you want small and simple, and obviously a two-pound birdie is going to cook quickly, which makes it a fast and easy meal for two. A two-pound game hen works well for two adults with normal appetites, even with a little help from the cats.

That's a two-pound bird
You can do anything with your tiny chicken that you can do with a bigger one—just faster.  It's interesting how many recipes for this critter call for lemon juice or vinegar, and often lemon peel.  Here's a slightly lemony version that includes tarragon.




One 2-pound Cornish Game Hen

½ stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter, softened (not melted)

2 Tblsp finely chopped shallot

1 Tblsp grated lemon zest

1 Tblsp chopped fresh tarragon (you can substitute dried)

½ tsp salt

Black pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees


Rinse the hen, split it, and remove the backbone with shears.


In a bowl, mix together the butter, shallot, lemon zest, tarragon, salt and pepper (I've found that wearing latex gloves helps—then you can just massage the mixture over your bird).


Rub the butter mixture on both sides of your hen pieces, and place in a shallow baking pan.  Sprinkle a little more salt and pepper over the top.


Roast in the middle of the preheated oven until the hen is cooked through and the skin is a golden brown—it should take about 30 minutes.


Feel free to experiment with other herbs and spices!

New York Times Paperback Bestseller!




Friday, August 17, 2012


My thanks to everyone who helped make my new book, Sour Apples, #25 on the New York Times Paperback Bestseller list in its first week.

The champagne is still flowing!

Sheila Connolly

Friday, August 10, 2012

Almond Macaroons

by Sheila Connolly

One morning recently I woke up with an odd thought in my head:  I have more early memories of food than I do of my sister, who was born when I was four. What does that say about my priorities? I do remember my mother boiling glass bottles for her formula (aren't we glad those days are gone?), and wearing a medical mask when she had a cold, but I don't remember my sister as a baby.  Go figure.

But I do remember food, and I realize that most of those food memories had to do with sweets (I'm sure there's some scientific reason for that, but I don't know what it is).  My absolute earliest memory, from when I was around three, was of our next-door neighbor handing me a homemade grape ice-cube pop, and I remember how intense the grape flavor was.  The second? My father feeding me pistachio ice cream.

I had a mild chocolate allergy when I was very young, which didn't stop me from tracking down those supposedly hidden chocolate bunnies at Easter and consuming them, bit by bit (yeah, like my mother wouldn't notice that the ears were missing).

I'm not going to fight it.  Sugar/flour/butter in all their lovely permutations are still my favorite foods, although I get along better with my sister now than I did when I was four, and I think she's forgiven me for liking cookies better than her. Anyway, cookies still top my list, and I have the cookie cookbooks to prove it.  I've mentioned Robert Day-Dean's ginger cookies before, but they also made wonderful almond macaroons that my grandmother would bring when she visited (she never learned to cook, but she knew where to find good food!). 

In this world there are two kinds of macaroons:  coconut and almond.  I have no patience with the coconut ones, and they don't deserve the name—just call them coconut cookies and be done with it.  But I love the almond ones, and they're ridiculously simple to make.


This recipe is about as basic as it gets, with all of four ingredients:  almond paste (do not confuse this with marzipan, which has more sugar added), sugar, egg white and almond extract.  Amazing what combining these things in the right way can do!

1 can (8 oz.) almond paste

1 cup sugar

2 egg whites (from large eggs)

½ tsp. almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Break up the almond paste into 1-inch chunks.  In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the almond paste and the sugar and blend on very slow speed until the mixture is reduced to coarse crumbs, at least three minutes.

Add the egg whites in three or four installments, beating well in between and scraping down the sides of the bowl.  Add the almond extract and mix until blended.

Transfer the mixture (it will be stiff) into a pastry bag with a ½" to ¾" opening. Pipe the macaroons onto the cookie sheets.  They should be about 1½ inch across, and spaced at least 2 inches apart (they will spread during baking).

Pat them down a bit.  I found one recipe that gives a very elaborate method of folding a linen towel and laying it gently upon the cookies, but really, you can use your fingers (clean, of course).  A spatula won't work because these are sticky.

Bake until the macaroons are puffed and golden.  It will take about 20 minutes, but check regularly for the last ten minutes to make sure they don't overcook.  Remove from the oven and let cool on the cookie sheets on a rack, then peel carefully from the parchment paper.  These are best if  eaten quickly, while the outside is still crisp and the inside chewy. If they don't all disappear immediately, store them in a sealed container.

Out of curiosity I looked up the origin of the name, which was not terribly satisfying.  According to the Online Etymology dictionary, in the 1610s it meant a "small sweet cake consisting largely of ground almonds," from Fr. macaron (16c.), from dialectal It. maccarone.  Doesn't explain much of anything, does it?  Wikipedia is more helpful: "This word is itself derived from ammaccare, meaning crush or beat, used here in reference to the almond paste which is the principal ingredient."


Friday, August 3, 2012

Tomato Cream Sauce

by Sheila Connolly

This past week I wended my way through some local farmers markets in the western part of Massachusetts, and confirmed the fact that I love pretty colors.  I have a tendency to buy vegetables that aren't the color they're supposed to be (as you will see below).  A couple of years ago this led to an orgy of eggplants, where I tried everything from pure white through lavender to the standard purple, with a few stripes throw in the middle. (For the record, when I was a child I dyed applesauce blue and ate it.) This year I was playing with peppers and carrots and tomatoes.

The heirloom tomatoes were too pretty to pass up, but then I was faced with doing something with them while they were fresh.  So I turned to one of my family's favorite tomato sauce recipes.

I want to say it's a simple sauce, but not quite.  It is simple in flavor and cooking.  But to be honest, it does require a bit of chopping up front, and then puréeing at the end.  You have choices:  one, you can chop up your tomatoes, cook, then run through a food mill; or two, you can peel your tomatoes, cook, and stick the sauce into a food processor and whirl away.  It's up to you, depending on where you want to put your effort.

In terms of the actual cooking, that is simple too—but not short.  But you can use that in your favor.  Assemble the ingredients in a pan, set the heat as low as possible, then walk away for an hour, stirring as the spirit moves you.  Come back and mill/puree, etc. at the end.

Anyway, it's a flavorful way to highlight your tomatoes, and it's a nice change from a traditional tomato sauce for pasta or, in this case, gnocchi, with a lovely color and texture.

Tomato Cream Sauce
½ stick salted butter
3 Tblsp finely chopped yellow onion
3 Tblsp finely chopped carrot
2 ½ cups tomatoes, chopped (you can use canned or fresh; if you use fresh, you may need to add a little extra liquid, depending on how juicy the tomatoes are)
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar
½ cup heavy cream

Put everything except the cream into a saucepan and cook at a bare simmer for an hour, uncovered.  Stir with a wooden spoon occasionally.

 Purée the contents of the pan through a food mill (or if the tomatoes are skinless, in a food processor or blender).  Return the mixture to the saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring.  Add the heavy cream and heat through.  Taste and correct for salt.  Serve immediately, over hot pasta or gnocchi.

BTW, packaged gnocchi are great to keep on hand--they cook in no time at all, and the go well with almost any sauce.


Friday, July 20, 2012

The Mystery Chef Cooks with Gas

by Sheila Connolly

Marion Cunningham passed away this month, at the age of 90.  For those of you who don't recognize the name, she was a well-known West Coast chef who revised the classic Fannie Farmer Cookbook in the late 1970s, and was also one of Alice Waters (of the iconic Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse) early supporters.

I'm sure I've discussed this cookbook before, since I own four copies of it:  my mother's, my grandmother's, an even older one I found at a flea market, and a paperback version that was the first cookbook I ever purchased for myself.  But what amused me was the way the obituary, which appeared in the New York Times, was phrased.  The header included "Home Cooking Advocate."  In the text, a colleague was quoted as saying that Cunningham "gave legitimacy to home cooking."

And that was where my jaw dropped.  We need to legitimize home cooking?  What the heck have we been doing since some inarticulate ancestor discovered how to capture fire, and realized that cooking meat made it easier to chew?  I know—more and more busy families with kids spend more or more time and money eating out, which no longer means at a nice restaurant with tablecloths but more likely a fast-food place where you can get dinner for a family in five minutes without taking out a second mortgage.  I get it, really, I do.

But whatever happened to home cooking?  I'm not going to regale you with Ms. Cunningham's recipes—I'm sure you can find them anywhere.  Instead, I'm going to share you another one of those antique pamphlets I love.  It's called "Be an artist at the gas range; Successful Recipes by the Mystery Chef."  Yup, mystery chef—that's us.  It's dated 1935 and was distributed free by your friendly local gas company.

The Mystery Chef says in the Foreword:  Remember that in the preparation of meals in your home you are doing more than cooking and serving food—you are building memories that in years to come will make men and women talk about those wonderful meals that Mother used to cook—those wonderful biscuits and pies that Mother used to bake—they'll never talk about those buys and biscuits that Mother used to buy, nor the cans that Mother used to open. That's what we call "home cooking."

The first couple of pages sing the praises of The Modern Gas Kitchen, and then the Mystery Chef launches into recipes (including four recipes for biscuits right up front).

Actually there are quite a few decent recipes in this small booklet, interspersed with helpful household hints for both cooking and cleaning.  There's even a chapter devoted to "Famous National Dishes," one from each of a number of countries (the Famous French dish is labeled "Uncle Victor's Ragout" and includes curry powder and Canadian bacon—I think I'll pass).

Many of the recipes are practical and probably familiar—distinguished here by the enthusiasm with which the "heat regulator" was mentioned.  No more guessing at temperatures, thanks to modern gas stoves!  Here is The Mystery Chef's Own Master Fish Recipe, from an innocent, pre-cholesterol time. (Would you be more impressed if I labeled it "Saumon poché au beurre brun"?)

For any and all fish

A one-pound filet of salmon

Wash the fish by running cold water over it, making sure all scales are washed off.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Place 4 Tblsp (half a stick) of butter in a baking pan.

Put the pan in the hot oven and allow the butter to turn a rich golden brown (not just melted). [Note:  the butter I use is one of those regional brands with a smiling child on the package.  It turns out to have a lot of milk solids.  Your butter may be different.]

The browned (and foamy) butter

 Sprinkle each side of the fish with salt and pepper. When the butter is browned (not burnt!) put the fish into the sizzling hot butter (if it has a tail, hold it by the tail and drop in quickly into the butter, then quickly turn over; otherwise just use tongs or a spatula to flip the pieces).

If you like onion flavor, cut a small onion into very thin slices and place a few slices on each piece of fish.

Return the pan to the oven and bake for about 10 minutes (the original recipe said 20, but I thought that was overkill), basting once with the butter in the pan. (You don't need to turn it.)

The fish, cooked

Remove the pan from the oven, and remove the fish from the pan and place on a platter.  Baste with the hot butter–the fish will absorb it.

The result, while not exactly low-fat, yields a tender, flavorful piece of fish—it's all but impossible to overcook it.

Now you're cooking with gas!

Orchard Mystery #6, coming August 7--
with recipes!