Friday, September 5, 2014

Book Club Week: Grilled Chicken

by Sheila Connolly

Warning: this is not a chocolate recipe (gasp!). But I thought you might like an easy, tasty recipe to make ahead and pop on the grill (or into the oven) when you get home from your book club meeting. More time to talk about books!

It’s been almost a year since our last Book Club Week, and that means that Meg Corey is harvesting apples again in the Orchard Mystery series (Picked to Die, coming October 7th). She’s had a busy year, what with a drought that could have proved devastating to her apple orchard, and a forest fire that could have been disastrous personally—oh, and a crime to solve.

As I’ve no doubt said before, people have to eat—even fictional ones. And people pay attention to the food in books. For example, in one of my books there’s a glitch: a character starts eating a sandwich before it’s served (my editor, my copy editor and I all failed to notice this, despite multiple readings). I have received more reader emails about this mysterious multiplying sandwich than anything else I can think of. Even my husband noticed.

I know that in a story, meals can interrupt the flow, especially if you’re on the trail of a killer, or when under threat from one. But (fictional) meals can provide a welcome break. If your character is alone, she has some time to reflect on her most recent discoveries while she eats; if she’s sharing a meal with others, they can toss ideas around and pool their information. Besides, I don’t trust people who don’t eat, either in the real world or on the page.

In Picked to Die, Meg and her picking crew are short-handed, so she’s pitching in alongside everyone else. It’s hard work, but at the same time she comes to realize that she doesn’t know a lot about her employees personally, so she decides to hold a backyard barbecue to get to know them.

But before I give you an easy grilled chicken recipe from the book, here are some questions for your group:

·      == Meg is drawn into investigating a crime this time because it involves one of the pickers who has worked for her. How important do you think secondary characters like this are to a story? Do they deserve a larger role? How many can a writer fit in before the reader loses track of who is who? Once you’ve introduced a character into a typical small-town setting, does he or she have to come back in later books?

·    == If you enjoy seeing them return, how much backstory do you think is necessary for those readers who don’t remember them or have never read the earlier book(s)?

== The pickers who work for Meg are Jamaican (which is true of those in the real area where this series is set). That fact raises issues that would not come up if her pickers were, say, local college students. Do social issues have a place in cozy mysteries?

·      == A Boy Scout appears in the story. Does the boy’s association with the Boy Scouts bring with it some assumptions about him? Good? Bad? Is it appropriate to use this as kind of a short-cut for defining a character?

·      == I’ve referred to some construction techniques in the story that are probably unfamiliar to most people (in fact, I first learned about them when the “real” town was considering using them). I try to describe them accurately, as well as explain why they make sense in the setting, but is it too much of a distraction from the story?

·       == Meg and Seth shared a significant event in the last Orchard Mystery (I won't give it away, for those of you who haven't read it), Golden Malicious, one that brought them closer. But in the new book the forward progress of their relationship seems to have stalled. They’ve known each other for going on two years now. How fast should any relationship move forward? Or doesn’t it have to?

Now back to the important stuff: the food! I’ve given you plenty of apple recipes in the past (and I’m always looking for new ones), but this is a dish that Meg’s orchard manager Bree puts together for the cookout with the picking crew.

The chicken, served with couscous

Grilled Chicken, Indian Style

This recipe makes enough for one whole chicken (you can cut it up yourself), or three to four pounds of parts if you purchase your chicken that way. Of course you can multiply the amounts to serve as many as you want.

1 whole chicken, or equivalent number of parts
     (about 4 pounds)
1/2 cup unflavored Greek yoghurt
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 Tblsp ground cumin
1 Tblsp ground coriander
Pinch cayenne
1 tsp coarse salt
2 Tblsp minced garlic
1 Tblsp minced ginger

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix.  Add the chicken pieces and coat them with the marinade.  Let the chicken sit in the marinade until you are ready to grill (if you’re doing this well in advance, refrigerate the container, covered, until you’re ready to cook the chicken).

Set up your grill (charcoal or gas) and place your chicken on the grate, skin side down. Turn once during cooking, and baste with any of the leftover marinade.

I know, you've all seen coals before--but aren't these gorgeous?

Note: if your grill permits, cover the chicken during the first half of the cooking, to ensure that the meat is cooked through. You can leave the cover open after you turn the pieces.  If you don’t have a covered grill, spread out your coals so that the heat is not too intense, so that the chicken cooks completely.


  1. Yes, I noticed the slip in Razing, but it wasn't important. The minor characters are important because they give the setting a kind of reality. I may not remember their names, but it remember them. They don't have to have a large part, but I want them to appear. Boy Scouts have the assumption of goodness, but we all know what assumptions do. Social issues are fine as long as they don't take over the book. I read to escape and enjoy. Romances can carry on too long. I'm reading one series that has a triangle still going for the thirteenth book. Diana Mott Davidson let hers get married and it did not hurt the series at all. This was fairly early. I'm not sure about the construction techniques. I'll have to read it to see.

  2. I'll be right over to eat this! Maybe we can get some of your cohorts to bring their yummy desserts to go with the chicken.

  3. A clever and quick way to make Indian chicken, brava, and I really like your balance of spices. Nice that you can make this is the oven, too, as firing up the grill is not always an option. Thanks for sharing the recipe and the book notes, Sheila, have a delicious weekend...

    ~ Cleo

  4. All I can say is YUM - a tasty meal to go with a tasty book :)

  5. I have a similar recipe and it makes a spicy sauce to go over rice or as you did couscous. Top of stove! I do it in the winter.

  6. I love Indian food but the recipes are often intimidating. This is a great way to get flavor without so much effort. Yum!

  7. Added bonus: if you have any of the marinade left over (NOT the stuff that the chicken has been soaking in, please!) it makes a pretty nice salad dressing for a later meal.

  8. Lovely, Sheila, and I'm with you. I don't trust people who don't eat in books AND real life! LOL

    Daryl / Avery