Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Slow Cooking Season is Here

Last spring my fifteen-year-old Crock Pot started smelling wretched whenever it was plugged in for over an hour. Seriously, it was like some toxic chemical had suddenly permeated the glaze. The odor was so strong it overpowered all the good cooking smells. Obviously, something was wrong, perhaps even dangerous. So I dumped it in the garbage, not even donating it. Recipes I normally would have stewed up in the slow cooker went into a cast iron Dutch oven and cooked in a low oven for the afternoon. 

But now fall is here, and time has been at a premium lately. A free standing slow cooker takes less energy than an oven even at 200 degrees F. So I broke down and got a brand new Crock Pot, all stainless steel and black. It's digital, programmable, has a warming feature, and rated high with America's Test Kitchen.

It's been going great guns ever since I got it. First I dumped in a pile of tomatoes along with some minced onion, chopped garlic, a sprig of thyme and a bay leaf and let the mix melt down all day while I'm writing. Then I ran the result through an old fashioned food mill (five minutes), returned the herbed tomato broth to the pot and added zucchini, carrots, leeks, some spicy Italian sausage from Jodar farm, a can of garbanzo beans and a handful of macaroni, and dinner was fresh garden minestrone. 

As was lunch for two for the next three days.

Right now the house is fragrant with the scent of chicken stock. Yesterday morning I tossed a frozen bag of chicken feet (yes, feet -- I took a picture but frankly, those feet are just too weird looking to post), into the oven with a bag of frozen stock vegetables I'd gradually saved -- tough or limp carrots, celery trimmings, a few onion skins and the dark green part of a some leeks. 

Then I went out and walked four miles, sifting the day's writing through my brain. By the time I got back the chicken and veg bits were sufficiently roasted, and I transferred it all into Ye Olde Crock Pot, covered with water, took a shower and settled into work. The stock has been cooking down for twenty-four hours, now a golden dark yellow, infused with intense flavor, and ready to cool into gelatinous chickeny goodness in mason jars. 

I see chicken noodle soup on the docket for my cousin who is visiting tomorrow. Yum. That's all. Just Yum.

It may take a long time, but my actual work time is practically nil. I feel like I'm taking care of myself and my loved ones with good food while not having to spend much time doing it.

And speaking of America's Test Kitchen, they have a book called Slow Cooker Revolution that I love. So many slow cooker recipes are either gloppy messes, often made with canned soup, or so complicated that the whole idea behind using a slow cooker for convenience is utterly lost. Not so with this cookbook. They have tips and tricks for infusing flavor ("blooming" aromatics in the microwave, adding soy sauce to deepen meat flavors, mixing ground meat with other ingredients to keep it moist during long cooking time, lots of stuff) and still keep things easy and simple. Everything I've made from that cookbook has turned out well. 

I'm just getting started, though. Life's too full to spend too much time in the kitchen, and life's too precious not to eat well. So coming up: cider braised red cabbage, Irish oatmeal, meatloaf, and baby back ribs. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

On the Cusp

Temperatures are teetering on the edge of winter, and will take the plunge tonight. The promise/threat of a hard freeze and snow meant a quick garden harvest. With a looming deadline I haven't had time to can or pickle this fall, but the freezer is groaning with beans, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, chard, ratatouille, roasted poblanos, and corn on the cob. Of course, I always have a deadline "looming" but this was moved up two months from my original schedule so ... life's busy.

Carrots, parsnips, and leeks will sweeten and crisp with the cold, so I left them in the ground. In came all the tomatoes -- red, green and in between. They are stacked in bowls, on plates, and piled on the window seat to ripen.

Rosemary, thyme, flat-leaf parsley and sage hang in bundles to dry in the kitchen. The last of the basil -- both green and purple -- went into the food processor for a quick chop before freezing into cubes.

Same with the curly parsley. It's nice to add the fresh taste of garden herbs to a soup or sauce in the middle of winter. Right now a chicken is slow-roasting in the oven on a bed of onions, garlic, sprigs of thyme and a splash of juniper mead. Smells kind of amazing...

A single plant gave me twenty-two(!) spaghetti squash and another ten butternut squash. Crazy. I gave some away, and the others are piled in the cool basement pantry, with a few slightly green ones still ripening on the kitchen counter. I don't know how successful that will be, but I read somewhere that you can use green squash in pie. Supposed to taste kind of like apple pie, so I might try it.

The coleus in the shade garden by the back porch is gorgeous but huge. Rather than try and transplant them I took a few cuttings and called it good.

Back to the business of writing a book now...

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Shotgun Moon Released! (And a Giveaway)

Shotgun Moon Cover

Well, release day finally came for Shotgun Moon on September 1. Yep, the Sunday before Labor Day, and a week earlier than I had originally been told, but it’s out and I’m happy, happy, happy. As of this writing, Amazon is already out of the trade paperback version (THANK YOU to everyone who pre-ordered!), but they will be restocked very soon and copies are still available at Barnes and Noble and lots of Indie bookstores such as Powell’s, Seattle Mystery Bookshop and Old Firehouse Books, just to name a few. And of course there are Nook, Kindle, and Kobo ebook versions, too.

Speaking of Old Firehouse Books, mark your calendar because the official book launch will be held there on Saturday, September 14 at 2:00 p.m. until whenever. I’d love to see you.

Shotgun has already received some nice reviews:

“In a departure from her lighthearted crafting mysteries (Deadly Row To Hoe, 2012, etc.) McRae pens a darker story filled with repressed anger and sexual tension.” – Kirkus

“McRae constructs a satisfying mystery, in the process affectionately portraying rural Montana.” -- Booklist

And finally, you might have noticed in the header above there is a Goodreads Giveaway in progress for three copies of the book. Just click on the Enter to Win button if you’re interested!

I do love writing both of my cozy mystery series, but it sure was fun diving into something a little grittier this time around…

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Travel Food: Pressed Sammie

Lots of coming and going this time of year, and I thought I'd share one of my favorite travel foods. I just made this one to take camping (well, yurting, really) with some of my extended family who live in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. We'll be largely cooking and eating outside, which somehow makes food taste better no matter what.

For the first lunch I made a pressed picnic sandwich. I love these things because they have what I think is the proper bread to filling ratio (meaning at least as much filling as bread, if not more). Plus they are extremely portable, taste even better if made ahead of time, and the combinations are endless.

This one is made on ciabatta bread, sliced lengthwise and then part of the interior scooped out of the top. It's a thin bread to start with. If I were using Italian bread I'd scoop out more of the crumb. 

Then you have to slather on something gooey. Today I used chive and onion cream cheese, but I've used basil mayonnaise, guacamole, pesto, mustard -- you get the idea. Just as long as it's not wet, just gooey. Butter would be classic. 

Next come the fillings. I started with a layer of chopped (and drained) sundried tomatoes, then a layer of overlapped salami slices, followed by colby jack cheese (between the meat layers so the veg wouldn't make it soggy overnight) then peppered turkey, a bit of leftover pepperoni from pizza makings and finally the veg: marinated roasted red peppers, black olives, and a bit of cucumber from the garden. I only used the outside of the cucumber because the seedy inside was quite wet. An alternative would have been to wilt the slices with salt for a while, but I didn't have time or inclination. You can see how I began piling more filling in the center to fill the slightly scooped out top of the ciabatta loaf.

Pop on the top, press firmly, trim anything sticking out the sides, slice into two or three inch pieces for serving, then wrap the whole shebang quite tightly in plastic wrap to sit in the fridge overnight. 

Tomorrow I'll toss this in the cooler and we'll unpack it for lunch with slices of watermelon and who knows what else. Believe me, we three will not starve over the next few days.

And after that? K and I might go boating next week -- which this sandwich would be perfect for. And then a day long road trip -- another sandwich opportunity.

Of course you can put any classic flavor combination in here. Mayonnaise based salads like tuna or chicken don't work that well. Lettuce tends to wilt so I don't use it, and fresh tomatoes make the bread soggy. Imagine a vegetarian version with layers of grilled eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, peppers and onions with goat cheese between bread slathered with thick greek yogurt mixed with cumin, black pepper, a little salt, and fresh herbs. A vegan version might incorporate sliced baked tofu instead of meat or cheese. 

Good heavens. After writing this I'm ready to go make another one. But instead I'll pack the rest of my gear for an early start and get back to working on the fourth Bailey Cates Magical Bakery Mystery. No work, no play!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Introducing Shotgun Moon – and K.C. McRae

Okay – I’ve been hinting at this book for a while on the blog, and if you’re not familiar with my Facebook posts this might be news.

This is the cover for the new book I’ve written as K.C. McRae. I absolutely love it. Many thanks to Lisa Novak, cover designer extraordinaire at Midnight Ink. She caught the flavor of so many elements important to the book – western landscape, threats from nature as well as people, and a sense of freedom despite hardship. Oh, and mystery, of course. And murder. All of it.

Shotgun Moon Cover

Why another name? After all, I’m already writing the Magical Bakery Mysteries as Bailey Cates. Well, it’s only slightly different from Cricket McRae and I wanted to be clear that Shotgun Moon is a different kind of book than the Home Crafting Mysteries, which are cozies.

A cozy, or traditional mystery, is a rather gentle animal. It features an amateur sleuth, usually is set in a small town, and doesn’t feature sex, graphic violence or swearing. They are by definition light and entertaining.

True, I don’t exactly cling to those rules in the Home Crafting Mysteries – there’s definitely some language and a bit of violence (I’ve been asked to tone down a couple of scenes by editors), and I tread into some issues that some cozy writers carefully avoid. One author I approached for a blub said she couldn’t be associated with a book that had THAT in it! It doesn’t matter what THAT was, really. And thank heavens Midnight Ink is more interested in a good story than a bunch of rules.

But: Shotgun Moon is not a cozy. It’s a contemporary western mystery set in Montana … well, I’ll just share the nice endorsement Craig Johnson, author of the Walt Longmire Mysteries which are the basis for the hit A&E series Longmire gave the book. I’m grateful both for his endorsement and for the fact that he tends to call me kiddo. Funny how weirdly endearing that sounds now that I’m pushing fifty.

“Merry’s got a problem. Fresh from a Texas penitentiary, she returns to Montana to discover that her cousin is suspected of killing a man, trouble the spitfire McCoy knows something about – but you won’t have a problem with K.C. McRae’s western mystery. Shotgun Moon is easy on the ear and the eye – definitely an author and a character to watch out for.”

As it happens, Merry was in prison for killing her rapist. There’s sex and violence in this one, folks. Not a ton, but more than you’d ever find in a cozy.

So: Not so light. And “K.C.” is because I don’t want readers to pick the book up and expect it to be like other books of mine that they’ve read. Simple as that.

Shotgun Moon will be out in September, but it’s already available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

News Bits


First off, good thoughts to you and yours who have been affected by tropical storm Sandy. I’ve been glued to the news with a combination of horror and awe. Here’s hoping for power and safety for everyone, and soon.

--- Guest Posts ---

It’s been a busy time around the Hearth, what with deadlines coming up and two books releasing. The first is Deadly Row to Hoe which officially releases in trade paperback and ebook formats on November 8th but is already shipping from Amazon. So today Sophie Mae is a guest over at Killer Characters, talking about Love and a Full Larder.

And while my alter ego, Bailey Cates, doesn’t have a new book out until December, I/she was invited to guest post over at Sirens of Suspense. Stop by and learn how Halloween and witch costumes fit into the next Magical Bakery Mystery, Bewitched, Bothered and Biscotti.

--- New Standalone Mystery! ---

I mentioned a new project in my last post, and here’s the deal – I’ve contracted with Midnight Ink for a (presumably) standalone western mystery called Shotgun Moon. It’s set in contemporary times in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana. This one’s NOT a cozy, folks, and so no one will confuse it with my other books, I’m planning to publish it under the name KC McRae. It features Merry McCoy, a thirtyish woman who is coming home to her ranch and small town after a four-year stint in a Texas prison. It’ll hit the shelves and e-readers sometime next fall.

--- Goodreads Giveaway ---

If you’re a Goodreads kind of person and want a chance to win a free copy of Deadly Row to Hoe, I’m running a giveaway until November 15th. Just click on the button in the header above to enter. There are five copies on offer.

---Comment Moderation ---

Well, it’s finally happened: the spammers have tracked me down. There have been a series of odd comments, marketing comments on old posts that most people wouldn’t see, and downright evil links that either Blogger or I have removed before most anyone sees. But I’m getting tired of watching for them so have decided to start moderating all comments. Sorry for the short delays that might cause, but it’s for your Internet safety and my peace of mind.

--- Cool Wallpapers ---

I try to change the wallpapers on both of my laptops every week to keep things fresh and interesting. Most of them I pick up from Vlad Studios for free. Check out the site – they have hundreds of fun, creepy, odd, and beautiful illustrations. The Cheshire cat above will be my wallpaper until after Halloween. And no, they’re not paying me to say nice things about them.

Okay, I think that covers the news for today. Have a great Halloween, everyone!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Last Farmers Market – Sort of

This morning I went to the last summer farmers market to stock up on winter goodies. There was a feeling of finality – fewer booths and fewer vegetables on offer. However, this is always the best time to pick up winter squash and pumpkins at a discount, and I had to make two trips back to the car.

My haul included a loaf of red onion-dill bread, a pound of crimini mushrooms, two white onions and two red ones, a big bunch of carrots, half a dozen crisp Granny Smith apples, two spaghetti squash, two butternut squash, a couple heads of garlic, a pound of fingerling potatoes, and seven assorted pumpkin-type squash.

102712 046

These last were not of the Jack-o-lantern variety – those are a particular kind of squash that grow large and are great for carving, but not so great for eating. So don’t even try cooking those homogenous big guys found in the bins outside your local megamart – the resulting puree will be dull and watery at best.

For eating you want sugar pumpkins, also known as pie pumpkins. They are smaller and sweeter, with a denser flesh. I bought three of those and three reddish “Rough vif D’Entampes”, also known as Cinderella pumpkin (because the resemble the pumpkin her fairy godmother turned into coach). This is also the variety that the pilgrims are said to have served at the first Thanksgiving, and they’re suitable for pies or any other winter squash recipe. Often you see them much larger than the ones above, which are only about ten inches in diameter. Of course I only paid 50 cents apiece.

Lastly, I got a small Kakai pumpkin. Isn’t it pretty, all orange with those dark green ribs? The man who grew these varieties (and more) told me the flesh of the Kakai isn’t great, and they are hard to peel since the shell is so hard. But get this: the seeds are hull-less! So once we’re done appreciating its beauty, I’ll crack it open, take out the seeds, soak them in brine and then roast them to salty, crunchy goodness.


Tonight we’ll have butternut squash soup made with leeks from the garden, bacon from our pork side, cream that was delivered to the front door, and homemade chicken stock. With that I’ll serve slabs of red onion-dill bread slathered with homemade butter and a simple salad of lettuce from the aquaponics place down the road along with arugula, tomatoes and carrots from the garden.

Yep, still managing to eat a few fresh things from the garden, despite snow yesterday. But soon that will be a thing of the past.

However, today was only the final summer farmers market, and in two weeks the winter market begins with many of the same vendors and a slew of new ones. Last year’s winter markets were so packed and so popular that they’ve added several more to the calendar. Yet another way to feel lucky and rich.

If you’re interested in more information about all those funky looking squash on offer this time of year, check out this site.

Now back to writing for me. The deadline for the third in the Magical Bakery Mysteries I write as Bailey Cates approaches, and beyond that another deadline for a book I’ll tell you more about in another post.

Hint: It’s not for either of my existing series…