30 August, 2010

A delicious way to get rid of that extra zucchini

Next week I'll be back to making and freezing gallons of tomato soup for this winter, but today I'm taking a  to deal with the bonanza crop of zucchini.  I love zucchini, but I've never had any success freezing it.  I've heard that you can pre-grate it and freeze, but mine turns to mush.  So, I use it up quickly, before they have time to grow into baseball bats - you know what I mean if you have a garden.

Here's one of my favourite zucchini recipes - a vegetarian meal everyone will enjoy.

Dill Zucchini Pie

1 Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust 
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese 
1 cup grated horseradish Cheddar cheese
3    small zucchini (6-8 oz each) or 2 medium, cut into1/4 inch thick rounds  
1/4 cup  cup chopped fresh dill
2 Tbsp  chopped fresh Italian parsley  
2-3 ripe tomatoes, sliced
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil  

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Roll the dough slightly to fit a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom (or you can use a pie plate). Pat into place, and trim off excess dough.
 Prick bottom of crust with the tines of a fork and line crust with aluminum foil. Fill with pie weights or dried beans (do not attempt to cook the beans afterwards - save them for the next pie).
Bake uncovered for 10 minutes. Then carefully remove beans and foil, baking another 12 minutes. Allow crust to cool slightly. Leave oven on.
While dough is chilling, sauté zucchini in olive oil over medium heat until lightly browned on both sides, 5 minutes. You will probably have to do this in more than one batch.
Drain on paper towels.
Spread both cheeses over the bottom of pie shell. Arrange zucchini over in overlapping circular pattern, covering the surface. Then sprinkle the dill and parsley.
Arrange tomato slices in an overlapping circular pattern over the zucchini. Drizzle with olive oil.
Bake pie for 40 minutes. Let it rest 10 minutes (to let cheese set).
Serve with a tossed green salad and a nice, chilled white wine.

26 August, 2010

The Name Game

Shirley, Shirley bo Birley Bonana fanna fo Firley Fee fy mo Mirley, Shirley!

Can a name make or break your mystery?  Certainly the title can have a huge impact on sales, but what about the actual names of the characters? 

Sure we read a book for the plot, the personalities, the tone, the language,  but let's be honest, we are influenced by things like setting, era and yes, names.

For better or for worse, certain "types" are associated with certain names, whether through association with someone we know personally, or someone we've read/heard about.  I doubt that anyone would christen their handsome, swashbuckling hero with the name Leroy or Arnold, or their ravishingly beautiful heroine, Brunhilda because of the mental images those names evoke for most readers.  Names also date characters.  Tiffany, Destiny and Troy are modern; Mildred, Clotilda and Cedric are dated. The era is which your story is set may, to some degree, dictate the names available for your characters.  It's hard to imagine a Regency bodice-ripper with a duchess named Fantasia.

Ethic or regional origin can be shown (not told) with a name: Paddy Paderewski, Sean O'Flaherty; Gina Abbruzzi, Billy Bob and Melinda Sue Hawkins.

Authors are faced with a dilemma when naming their characters.  You want a distinctive name, preferably one that isn't associate with another writer's protagonist, but the name has to be appropriate and evoke the correct mental image.  Not as easy as it sounds.  Even minor characters should be names carefully, for much the same reason.  And where do we find the names.  I find myself using backs of envelopes and stray pieces of paper to jot down names from television credits, newspaper articles.  Friends tell me they've been know to pick a telephone directory page at random or check out an on-line baby/surname site ( www.babynames.com or www.names.mongbay.com ).  One writer relies on rosters from sporting events such as the Olympics or World Cup.

Sometimes I just mix and match first and last names of people I know. I recently wrote a short story, with a mild-aged "nebbish" at the center.  I called him Morty Latimer.  His shrewish wife was Shirley.  The Morty came from the TV show The Nanny, Shirley from a neighbour.  Obviously, I went with the stereotypical names.

You want the names to be memorable but not hard to remember.  Depending on your own experience or background, some names are easier to remember than others.  With characters called Foo See Luan, Foo Ah Lan, and Cheng Yuan Chun, or Giorurkas Seitaridis, Stelios Malezas and Christo Patsatzoglou, I'd need a cheat sheet just to keep them straight.

Sometimes the plot may dictate the names.  A character is obsessed with someone -- say Albert Einstein -- so she names her new-born daughter Alberta.  Or the plot requires three names often associated with each other, such as Emily, Anne and Charlotte (the Brontes, if you hadn't guessed).

For my current WIP, I wanted a name that meant something to me, was neutral in terms of association with others, and was neither modern nor old-fashioned.  I wanted my protagonist to have the same ethic background as I do.   My grandmother's maiden name was Kensing, which I decided would make a good first name, paired with a couple of obvious middle monikers.  Hence my auburn haired, freckled sleuth: Kensing Shannon Kelly Delaney.  And her cop love interest, Finnbar (Finn) O'Malley.  Can you picture them?

How do you choose your names?  Do they change from first draft to final?  How successful are authors at christening their character?

Try your skill at matching the following mystery characters to their non-sleuthing jobs:

  1. Magdalena Yoder         k. wife/mother
  2. Charlotte McNally        d.  home renovator
  3. Jacobia Tiptree             h. web designer
  4. Paula Holliday              g.  English professor
  5. Victoria Sinclair           c. caterer/minister's wife
  6. Hope Fairchild             j.  media exec/gardener
  7. Andrea Kendricks        l. advertising exec
  8. Cora Felton                 f. Investigative reporter
  9. Karen Pelletier            b,  librarian
  10. Avery Baker               e.  crossword puzzle guru
  11. Sarah Kelling              a. Money manager
  12. Agatha Raisin             i. Mennonite innkeeper

Answers: 1-i; 2-f; 3-a; 4-j; 5-b; 6-c; 7-h; 8-e; 9-g; 10-d; 11-k; 12 - l

23 August, 2010

Drowning in tomatoes

It's that time of year again -- Tomato Overload.  You can't give them away because everyone else is suffering from the same problem.  Even the vendors at the Farmers' Market are sneaking free ones into your bag.  I don't care how beautiful they are, too many are too many.  Unless, of course, you like Puttanesca sauce.  And I love it.

There are several theories on how this sauce originated, but its name -- which translates as "whore's sauce" -- suggests it was a favourite of "working girls" who could throw all the ingredients in the pot, let it simmer while they plied their wares, and then sit down to a delicious meal.

No matter how it came about, it's delicious.  And it freezes beautifully, so now's the time to make a couple of batches and stash them in the freezer to enjoy when the supermarket has nothing but cardboard-tasting wannabes.

Try it in January, with a big green salad and a glass of red wine.  You'll thank me!

Puttanesca Sauce

4 Tbsp EVOO
2 cloves garlic, shaved on a Microplane (or finely chopped
1 ½ fresh red chilies,or Jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped (add more or less to your taste)
2-3 Tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped
3 oz flat anchovies, drained and roughly chopped (1 can)
3 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cups pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
3 Tbsp capers, drained (preferably small ones)
3 lbs tomatoes, skinned, mostly seeded, and chopped
additional basil and Parmesan cheese for serving

  1. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the garlic, chilies,anchovies, and basil and cook briefly, stirring, until the garlic turns golden . No not allow to burn.  Move the mixture to one side of the pot, add the tomato paste and allow to caramelize for a couple of minutes.  Mix all together.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and a little pepper. NO SALT. Reduce heat to low, and allow mixture to simmer very gently, uncovered, for 45 to 60 minutes until it reduces and thickens.
  3. Serve over linguine or your favourite pasta with plenty of fresh. chopped basil and additional grated cheese.
A word to the wise - if you've never worked with hot peppers, the heat is in the seeds and the ribs, so remove them if you don't like it too spicy.  And DON"T rub your eyes after working with peppers -- Capisain is the chemical that makes them hot, and it will also burn your eyes.

    05 August, 2010

    Wanted: One Sister

    Watching the news this morning, I finally figured out the deep dark secret behind all my sorrows, insecurities, and failures: I don't have a sister. Obviously, my parents were short-sighted during their child-bearing days, or I might be President today.

    New research shows that having a sister, whether younger or older  – even one who tattles, but also shares secrets and cookies – makes you a kinder, more giving person, an spur you to higher success, and generally make you happier.

    According to the study,  adolescents with sisters feel less lonely, unloved, guilty, self-conscious and fearful
    Regardless of whether she is older or younger, a sister has a far stronger influence than parents on a person's mental well-being, and therefore on her success is life.

    Brothers -- of which I have two -- do not, according to the report, have the same effect; it has to be a sister.   Neither, apparently, do eight years of successive boarding school roommates.  I have to question that one; we certainly fought, shared, and giggled like sisters.  In fact, my best friend today is someone I met at school 47 years ago.  Of course, she's an only child, so she has other issues...

    Growing up, I never longed for a sister.  My brothers teased me mercilessly, broke my toys, and were generally, well, older brothers.  But they also watched over me, guided me, and covered for me when I got into scrapes.   I wouldn't trade my brothers for anything, but maybe I should have lobbied for a sister as well.

    So here I am, not only the youngest child, but also the only girl.  I wonder if there's any hope for me... and all the other sister-less women out there.  Maybe Match.com could set up a special site to link us up?

    Do you have a sister?  If not, would you like one?

    02 August, 2010

    Distraction is not a good ingredient

    I'm never at my best when I'm preoccupied, which happens a lot when I'm focusing more on the plot twists in my mystery than on the ingredients in my recipe.

    Yesterday evening, I was faced with the dilemma of sitting down and getting a really great idea down on paper, or making dinner.  Hungry mouths tipped the scales.  Not having shopped in several days, I raided the fridge and found left over chicken and a box of shitake mushrooms.  Perfect, chicken crepes it is! 

    After a short whirr in the blender, the batter went into the fridge to rest while I prepped everything else and made the Mornay sauce, all the while wondering how my antagonist (a young woman) learned to cut the brakelines on a truck.

    Eventually it was time to make the crepes.  I grabbed the revered family crepe pan -- the one with the special dimples and blue lining my mother hand-carried home from Paris some 50 years ago and set it to heat.  A quick brushing of butter and I was ready to ladle in the luscious batter, carefully swirling at around the pan.   I watched as it bubbled (?), hissed (?), and bubbled some more.  I'd never seen batter do that before.  I poked at the edges which refused to brown and crinkle. Poking with a spatula created a gloppy mass.  Had I finally lost my culinary touch?  It was then that my eye caught the bowl on the back of the stove - the batter.  I'd been trying to made a crepe out of Mornay sauce.  Colour me embarrassed.

    Now you know (one of) my most embarrassing kitchen moments.  Care to share one of yours?