Friday, October 15, 2010

Peach Pie

In The Merlot Murders, Lucie Montgomery goes out to lunch with her best friend, and they have peach pie for dessert.

Peaches are just in season here, fresh and local. As a bonus, I also have an excellent pie crust recipe to pass along, as well.

Pie Crust

I got this delicious, flaky pie crust recipe from Colleen Hammond. It really is the best recipe I've ever tried, and, believe me, I've failed at many a pie crust! For years, I would only use those frozen pre-rolled crusts, that's how traumatized I was from bad crust. Something told me to give this one a shot, and I couldn't be happier. Even my Head Taste Tester, who does not usually like pie crust, liked this one. I used a pastry blender to combine the shortening with the flour mixture, and I mixed the liquids in by hand. It was very simple to do. It makes enough for four single crusts (9" pies). I wrapped the rest in the freezer for pies or even to top pot pies.

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 ¾ cups shortening
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 each egg
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • ½ cup water, very cold
Beat egg, vinegar and water. Set aside.

Combine flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles small coarse crumbs.

Add liquids and mix with a fork until it just forms into a ball. Chill for 15 minutes or so. Roll out as needed.

Peach Pie

  • 10 fresh peaches, pitted and sliced
  • cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 each 9" double crust pie recipe
1. Mix flour, sugar and butter into crumb stage.

2. Place one crust in the bottom of a 9 inch pie plate. Line the shell with some sliced peaches. Sprinkle some of the butter mixture on top of the peaches, then put more peaches on top of the the crumb mixture. Continue layering until both the peaches and crumbs are gone.

3. Top with lattice strips of pie crust.

4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 45 minutes, or until crust is golden. Allow pie to cool in the oven for several hours before slicing.

Friday, July 9, 2010


I baked my first scone just a few years ago, and I am sorry I waited so long! They are moist and delicious, as Dr. Kingston knows. He gets his, however, on the outside. I prefer the convenience, savings and flavor from home baked. Besides, the bakeries here don't sell them!

"Shortly thereafter, the meeting was adjourned and Kingston served tea in china cups accompanied by scones from a local patisserie."

I adapted my basic scone recipe from one I found at I omitted the currants in their recipe and made these plain. They are delicious that way, with jam if you like. You may also add in 1/2 to 1 cup of your favorite mix-in. I once made these as Chocolate Cherry Scones by adding equal amounts of chocolate chips and dried cherries.

  • 2 cups flour
  • cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, to sprinkle on top before baking


Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter with a pastry knife until mixture resembles coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk sour cream and egg until smooth.

Using a fork, stir sour cream mixture into flour mixture until large dough clumps form. Use your hands to press the dough against the bowl into a ball.

Place on a lightly floured surface and pat into a 7- to 8-inch circle about 3/4-inch thick. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tsp. of sugar. Use a sharp knife to cut into 8 triangles; place on a cookie sheet (preferably lined with parchment paper), about 1 inch apart. Bake until golden, about 15 to 17 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Book Review: The Trail of the Wild Rose

Retired botany professor Dr. Lawrence Kingston is called upon by a colleague to lend his expertise to Thames Valley police investigating a vehicular assault which seems related to a recent overseas plant-hunting expedition. This is author Anthony Eglin's fourth novel in the English Garden Mysteries series. It was my first time reading this series.

I found the story to go rather slowly. We hear quite a lot about botany, and the history of roses over the centuries. The action unwinds over weeks to the point that I lost all track of how much time had passed in the tale. Dr. Kingston often does things he knows better not to do, but seems to not be able to help himself. Some of the dialogue seemed stiff, to me. And there seemed to be an unusually high percentage of people he comes across who are house-sitting, or having their houses minded. Is it that common in the 21st-century UK? I wondered.

Overall, this was a light read, enjoyable if you love gardens or descriptions of the English countryside.

Memorable Morsels:

Eglin doesn't disappoint in the culinary realm.

  • Proper English breakfast: bacon, eggs, sausage, grilled tomatoes, toast, marmalade, tea
  • Roast Aylesbury duckling
  • Truffles, duck confit and foie gras
  • Tea and scones
  • Sorrel soup, roast guinea fowl with port gravy and celeraic, chilled gooseberry fool
  • Melton Mowbray pork pie
  • Scottish salmon fillet, confit of fennel, new potatoes and lemon butter
  • Breakfast of kippers, toast with marmalade and a pot of Earl Grey tea.
  • Salad Nicoise, medium-rare entrecĂ´te, strawberries with Jersey cream
  • Steak and ale pie
  • Veal, ham and egg pie, and a jar of pickled onions
Links to Investigate Further:

Buy the book: The Trail of the Wild Rose: An English Garden Mystery (English Garden Mysteries)

The Final Analysis:

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Book Review: A Test of Wills

When I read and reviewed The Red Door, I mentioned that I wanted to go back and start the Inspector Ian Rutledge series at the beginning. And I could barely wait to do it! I was drawn to the way the author, Charles Todd, has written these period mysteries in the style of the best of the real Golden Age authors.

This first installment did not disappoint. We go back to the beginning, back to Inspector Ian Rutledge's first days returned to Scotland Yard after the Great War. A case comes in, a case which no one would want. A great war hero is circumstantially implicated, and the Palace will be looking for a scapegoat. A certain person at the Yard seems to have it in for Rutledge, and sends him off, omitting to acquaint him with some of the pertinent details of the case.

We accompany him, and witness his tenacious determination to solve this case. Rutledge is a tortured soul, suffering from post-traumatic stress. All of the psychological and physical ugliness is laid bare for us through him, as it never was done by any of the contemporary Golden Age authors. Dorothy L. Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey sometimes gave us an inkling, but the overall treatment of the Great War by writers of the post-war period was to avoid any mention of horrors. It was all God, country, and the old regiment, hurrah!

Todd does us a service in reminding us that war is hell, and those coming home from it were in a particular hell of their own.

Memorable Morsels:

There's a bit more for a foodie to sink his teeth into in this installment.
  • Wild strawberry jam (9)
  • Roast mutton (90)
  • Caramel flan (92)
  • Thick beef sandwiches, coffee, sponge cake (222)
Links to Investigate Further:

Buy the book: A Test of Wills (Inspector Ian Rutledge Mysteries)
Authors' Page on Wikipedia
Authors' Website
Authors' Page on LibraryThing

Final Analysis:

Friday, June 25, 2010

Book Review: The Merlot Murders

I am privileged to reside in wine country. Rolling vineyards dot the fields above and below the ridge, vines vibrant with new leaves and growing grapes. Wineries proliferate, offering daily tastings and tours just a stone's throw from my townhouse.

And I don't live in California. So I shouldn't have expected The Merlot Murders (Wine Country Mysteries, Book 1) to take place in Napa, but I did!

The setting is, instead, the wine country of Virginia, which, I will admit with chagrin, I had not realize existed until now. Our heroine, Lucie Montgomery, returns home to her family's vineyard near the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her homecoming is tinged with sadness, for her father has died, and she finds their once-thriving vineyard and home in a shambles. To top it off, there is a new manager, hired by her late father, with a brusk attitude and dubious background.

When someone else dies under suspicious circumstances, Lucie finds herself embroiled in a drama which threatens her family, vineyard and her life!

The plot moves along nicely in Ellen Crosby's debut novel of the series. Lucie is likeable, and the other characters are drawn believably. Crosby investigates the inevitable issues surrounding a homecoming, and the setting and hints at Civil War history help make the scene come alive. There's even maps, and I just love maps!

Memorable Morsels:
  • Pig roast 
  • Sugar cookies 
  • Double chocolate died-and-gone-to-heaven cheesecake
  • Buttermilk fried chicken
  • Reuben, "vegetarian on croissant," iced tea
  • Cheesecake
  • Peach pie
  • Latte (with hazelnut or chocolate)
  • Gooseberry jam
  • Grilled lamb with fresh berry sauce
  • Salsa, goat cheese and tuna omelet(!)
Links to Investigate Further:

Buy the Book: The Merlot Murders
Author's Page on LibraryThing 
Book's Page on LibraryThing

The Final Analysis:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tuna and Sweetcorn Baguette

This deliciously cool sandwich is inspired by the one Ted served to Jude at the pub in Fethering, in Simon Brett's The Body on the Beach. Being from the American side of the pond, I'd never heard of putting corn in tuna salad before. I poked around a little online and found this recipe at The Fair Trade Cook Book. I modified it a bit, and converted the measurements to US.

I liked it. It was very cool and fresh. I'm used to dill relish in my tuna salad, which I left out in this case, in faithfulness to the recipe. I will admit that I missed it's tangy-ness. The next time I'll put the relish in with the corn as well.

The recipe below contains my modifications. A note about the mayonnaise: the original recipe called for 100 ml, which I converted to about three ounces, or 1/3 cup. It was too much. For the recipe below I modified it down to 1/4 cup, but the photos were all taken with the batch using the bigger 1/3 cup of mayo. Use your judgment, depending on how moist or dry you like it.

  • 1 loaf baguette
  • 10 ounces tuna, canned, drained
  • 1 cup corn, frozen
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
Slice the baguette lengthwise. Then, slice into four sections. Toast if desired, and set aside.

Put the frozen sweetcorn ina bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to stand for 2 - 3 minutes, until thawed. Drain. The corn will be thawed but cool, not hot.

Into the corn, add the tuna and mayonnaise. Mix together and season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

When ready to serve, divide the tuna mixture between the four bottoms of baguette. Top and enjoy.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Book Review: The Body on the Beach

The Body on the Beach by Simon Brett (Berkley, 2000) is the first installment of the Fethering Mysteries featuring retired government worker Carole Seddon and her new bohemian next-door neighbor, Jude.

Carole has carved out for herself the perfect retirement in the right neighborhood of the most respectable seaside community of Fethering. Her day is regimented. Friends never call without a day or two's notice. She is a stickler for exactitude in matters of truth. Then one day, two things occur to turn her carefully crafted world topsy-turvy. She finds a body on the beach while taking her dog for his dawn walk. And Jude moves in next door.

Brett's story is interesting and moves along at a good pace. The characters of the locals in Carole's world are well drawn, and you can detect him setting the framework for future stories involving them. The story is told from both Carole and Jude's points of view, which helps to develop both characters and their relationship. The very minimal involvement of law enforcement seemed a bit far-fetched, and I hope to see a better relationship with the local inspector develop as the series moves forward.

Memorable Morsels:
Links to Investigate Further:

Buy the book: The Body on the Beach: The Fethering Mysteries
Author's Page on Wikipedia
Author's Website
Author's Page on LibraryThing
Book's Page on LibraryThing

The Final Analysis:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book Review: The Red Door

A wife paints her farmhouse door bright red to welcome home her returning-soldier husband at the end of the Great War. But he never comes.

An upstanding family man disappears in London, and then reappears with apparent amnesia.

A woman with the same surname is found dead in another part of the country.

These are the threads which Charles Todd weaves into the murder mystery The Red Door (William Morrow, 2010). This is the twelvth installment of the Inspector Rutledge Mysteries. I usually like to start a series at the beginning but this is my first introduction to Ian Rutledge and the post-war trauma that fills his every waking - and sleeping - hour. I've already marked this series down to read more.

The structure and prose of this story are very well done. The dialogue was authentic and realistic. The descriptions and the manner in moving the story forward were reminiscent of the best of the true Golden Age detective fiction.

Rutledge is a sympathetic character, internally tormented by the voice of a dead Scottish soldier who served under him at the Somme. His immediate superior doesn't like him, the girl he likes will barely give him the time of day, and he is being pressured to reunite with his godfather, also Scotch, for the first time since the end of the war. He is intelligent and brave, a good brother to his sister, Frances, and he carries out his duties at the Yard to his best ability, despite the wrath of his boss.

Memorable Morsels
  • Dundee Cake
Links to Investigate Further:

Buy the Book: The Red Door: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery

Authors' Page on Wikipedia
Authors' Website
Authors' Page on LibraryThing
Book's Page on LibraryThing

The Final Analysis:

Full Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program. This did not influence my review.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Molasses Candy

I've finally had a moment's peace to try out a recipe for molasses candy inspired by the book The Ninth Daughter. The fictional Abigail Adams has had a trying morning, but must stop at the market to procure the family dinner.

"[Abigail] borrowed a market basket from one of the farm wives ... and filled it with squash and corn and beans, pears and the best of the available remaining pumpkins, two chickens, and a lobster. She also paid a farthing for molasses candy..."

I chose a recipe which appeared in a magazine called Arthur's Home Magazine, Volume 43, published in 1875, and mercifully required no pulling.

The final product was somewhat soft and sticky. Like a very soft caramel or taffy. The addition of vinegar was a definite asset, and the overall flavor was rich without being sickly sweet. My notes are in italics.

  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
Butter a 15 x 10 jelly roll pan and set aside.

Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer and stir until very thick. This took about 20 minutes, and a candy thermometer measured 250˚. Turn out into jelly roll pan.

Cool and cut into squares.  This turned out too soft to cut into squares. Instead, when cool, I scored the candy lengthwise, then cut into strips. Roll the strips up and place on a plate. Foil candy wrappers would be excellent here.

This candy did not do well at room temperature. I stored it in the fridge. Let it warm up a bit before eating, or you can microwave it for 15 seconds to soften it quickly.

As you enjoy a gooey piece of molasses candy, imagine being a child in colonial America, where treats were rare.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Book Review: The Ninth Daughter

The Ninth Daughter by Barbara Hamilton (Berkley, 2009) is the first in a new series of mysteries featuring real-life Patriot Abigail Adams. The setting for this installment is Boston, in the weeks leading up to the Boston Tea Party. With this historical event as a backdrop, Hamilton weaves a fictional tale of murder and conspiracy. Some real-life Patriots take on supporting roles: there is, of course, Abigail's own husband John, the future President. Little Johnny will grow up to be President as well. Sam Adams, Paul Revere and Dr. Warren all put in appearances in relatively minor parts. The other main characters, as well as the crimes themselves, are fictional.

My ambivalence to real-life persons being fictionalized into something they weren't, wasn't assuaged by this tale. The tale could have been told had the heroine not been the future First Lady. There is something, well, assuming about placing thoughts into the heads and actions into the lives of the long-deceased. But, it is what it is.

The story opens with the discovery of the corpse. The length, breadth and detail of the description of the crime and the scene left me a bit queasy. It calls into question whether this tale could be categorized as a "cozy" mystery at all. Cozies are supposed to be absent any extraneous gorey details. I always references Dame Agatha herself in all matters relating to proper taste in such matters.  What would she think of it?

Once past the unpleasant beginnings the tale moves along with interest. Hamilton has done a fine job of describing the realities of occupied Boston. There is much tension between the British and the Loyalists who support the King, and the Patriots who disagree with His Majesty on matters of governance and taxation. Slavery also finds a theme in this tale, as Abigail interacts with three different African slaves while unraveling this mystery.

Some of Abigail's actions are improbable, but serve to make the story enjoyable and the plot moving along. I've taken them with a grain of salt, in the spirit that the heroine must really do something in a tale like this. Whether a woman in Abigail's position in colonial Boston would actually be able to take some of the actions she did is another matter.

There were many food references, starting in Chapter Six, to make one's mouth water. Since the setting was late November, much of the fare is autumn food. I have gleaned some interesting recipes and ideas from the pages of The Ninth Daughter, but many will not make their appearance here until they are in season. Who wants mulled cider in spring, after all?

Memorable Morsels:
  • Molasses Candy
  • Roasted Chicken
  • Boiled Lobster
  • Pumpkin Cooked with Apples and Corn
  • Dumplings
  • Green Goose Pie
  • Veal Fritters
  • Indian Pudding
  • Stewed Chicken
  • Bread
  • Churned Butter
  • Cheese
  • Oatmeal

Links to Investigate Further:

Buy the Book: The Ninth Daughter (An Abigail Adams Mystery)
Author's Page on LibraryThing
Book's Page on LibraryThing

The Final Analysis