Spinach and Mushroom Quiche Served up With Mystery

 I've just finished another of the marvelous Peculiar Crimes Unit novels by Christopher Fowler, The Memory of Blood.  Books like this one are what keep me reading!  Wit, comic relief, craziness, wit, entertaining, outstanding characters, mysteries, wit, you get the idea.  Very well written and yes, witty, original writing.  Plus, the murderer gets caught.  Not too long ago I reviewed another of their adventures, The Water Room.

Arthur Bryant and John May, a partnership of elderly detectives, along with their quirky, team of investigators, form what is known as the Peculiar Crimes Unit, an off-shoot of the Metropolitan Police, of which the affix 'peculiar' originally was meant in the sense of 'particular', in order to handle politically sensitive cases, or those with the possibility of causing panics or general public malaise.

Here, the cast party for a shocking new play ends with an even more shocking murder.  As the daughter of a prominent government official is involved, the case gets referred to the PCU.

The book begins with a prologue of the close-of-play party, (theater folks do enjoy parties) which is completed at the very end, revealing the solve.  And, since food is involved, I'll share with you the opening paragraph:
"Arthur Bryant stood there pretending not to shiver.  He was tightly wrapped in a 1951 Festival of Britain scarf, with a Bloody Mary in one hand and a ketchup-crusted cocktail sausage in the other.  Above his head, a withered yellow corpse hung inside a rusting gibbet iron.
     'Well,' he said, 'this is nice, isn't it?'"
I like this bit as well, which gives you an idea of Bryant's unique persona:
"Arthur Bryant couldn't handle cases that required an understanding of human relationships, and would take off into lunatic new directions if left unchecked.  Someone had to keep an eye on him.
     May peered around the door of his partner's office and watched Bryant knocking the contents of his pipe into the brain-pan of the Tibetan skull on his desk.  Half of the bookcase had been emptied, and two immense stacks towered on either side of the desk, framing the old man with playscripts, manuals, comics, art books, histories, encyclopedias, miscellanies and a number of surprisingly sleazy pulp thrillers.
     'I knew it,' May said with a sigh,  'You've been thinking again.'
     Bryant widened his watery blue eyes in surprise.  'Ah, there you are,' he said.  'Now that you've finished holding your little chats, (referring to the suspect interviews) we can talk.  Do come in, and shut the door behind you.'"

Early in the novel, the partners meet at a tea shop that had just opened downstairs from the Unit, The Ladykillers Cafe.  On offer were: Battenburg cake, quiche Lorraine, Bath and Banbury buns under glass.  So, having just made a Pacific spinach and mushroom quiche, I thought to serve it up here.  Based on an Elizabeth David recipe, it called for heavy cream and egg yolks.  Quite good, though next time, I think I'll lighten it up a bit by using at least half kefir and maybe whole eggs.

Pacific spinach is a perennial tropical green I've been growing for awhile, without knowing exactly what it was.  So, a Google search just revealed the true name for what I'd been mistakenly referring to as Malabar spinach or New Zealand spinach, or??  Doesn't look like either one of those. With our survival project going on, I'm trying to propagate more food perennials happy in the climate conditions we have going.  Since this Pacific spinach is very nutritious, I've got those (above) cuttings to plant some more.

Spinach and Mushroom Quiche
     loosely adapted from the Leek and Cream Pie in At Elizabeth David's Table

1 8" pastry crust
2 cups spinach, thick stems removed
2 tablespoons vinegar
3 or 4 mushrooms, sliced
3 medium shallots, peeled and sliced
2 oz. lean ham or prosciutto, diced (optional)
1 - 2 tablespoons butter (depending on how many mushrooms)
3 eggs
1 cup cream (or use 1/2 buttermilk or kefir)
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 375F

Line an 8-inch pie tin with pastry (your own favorite or a prepared crust).  Wash, then remove any thick stems from the spinach.  Drop for a moment into boiling salted water, to which the vinegar has been added, just enough to wilt.  Remove and let cool before squeezing out excess water, and chopping up.

Melt the butter and saute the shallots til soft, then add the mushrooms and saute briefly.  Add in the spinach and ham or prosciutto and stir.  Spread mixture over the pie crust.

Beat eggs  and cream; season with nutmeg, salt and pepper; then pour over the spinach mushroom mixture.

Bake for 30-40 minutes  --  Serves 4 - So I had a piece for lunch next day.  Lovely.

We ate most before I remembered to take a picture of the whole pie.  This post will be shared over at Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event.  You can visit and also add your own link if you like, on what you're eating or cooking up.


Very Bad Food, Very Funny Book

Stephanie Plum, in this latest novel, Turbo Twenty-Three, by Janet Evanovich, is not eating any better than usual.  She is in fact, the Queen of Fast Foods, an often inept bounty hunter for her cousin Vinnie in Trenton, N.J., and occasional undercover for a security company.  When she does eat good it's her mother's or boyfriend's mother's cooking, or sometimes tasty neighborhood deli take-out, like cannoli and a Jersey hot dog.

Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels are pretty much all hysterically funny.  The plots, the scrapes she gets into, her goofy sidekick, friends,  family members, co-workers, hot boyfriends, and other assorted characters are so over-the-top, I just laugh my way through the books.  This one is no exception.  Love it, though perhaps you may need a rude, crude and sexy warning.  Keep in mind though that laughter is good medicine. :)

Turbo Twenty-Three involves murder at the local ice cream plant, requiring Stephanie to go undercover on the factory line, on the loading dock and in an ice cream truck.  Among other things.  There is a comment at one point, by her partner: "It's sad to see a broken-down ice cream truck full of bullet holes," Lula said, "What's this country coming to?"  And, on top of all the humor, they actually catch bad guys and help solve mysteries.

One of Stephanie and Lula's favorite stops on the job is their local Cluck-in-a-Bucket, where Plum might get a Hot and Crunchy Clucky Meal and Lula a Supersized Bucket of Cluck with the Works, which includes mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits, coleslaw, fried okra and an apple turnover.  After ordering, Lula remarked, looking back up at the menu, "I might need some ice cream as a palate cleanser."

Some nights Stephanie's fiance, Joe, will do BBQ.  So, in honor of the grill, I've served up some grilled steak and mash, which I mentioned in an earlier post.  I love that mixed mash and am adding some cassava root to the parsnips, celery root and sweet potato for this batch.  So, despite the post title, this is not bad food.  That is in the book.

You all know how to grill steaks, nothing new here.  I used only a bit of marinade on them, a few tablespoons of shoyu, garlic, a dash of vinegar and a tablespoon of olive oil.

Will share with Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event and with the Foodies Read Challenge.


Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb for The Girl in the Glass

The Girl in the Glass, which I've just finished, is the first book by Susan Meissner I've yet read.  But not the last.  I certainly enjoyed her blending of past and present, some history of 16th century Florence and the fabulous art of that city with the lives of her central characters.  Meg has been devastated by the divorce of her parents, and when her beloved grandmother, dies, even more so.  She had been promised a trip to Florence, first by her nonna, whose home city it is, and then by her father. She  kept putting off going by herself, expecting him to take her, always trusting that eventually he would, despite his history of being unreliable.

Meg does finally get there, though not according to plan, to find her dream city all she had expected and more.  Meg is an editor for a publishing house and is able to combine work with the thrill of finally visiting Florence.  She meets a woman, she had corresponded with through the publishing company, who is writing a memoir type travel book, and who hears messages from a long dead Medici princess. Romance is involved as well as some mystery and ultimately, Meg's discovery that what we can imagine is real. 


2017 Library Love Challenge

The goal here is to support our local libraries and I do love libraries, having used them all my life, most especially our State Library system, here in Hawaii.  Hosted by Bea's Book Nook and Angel's Guilty Pleasures, the participants will read a minimum of 12 library (audio or print) books in the year.  Pick your own challenge level.  Library Card on Fire: read 50+ books is my challenge selection.   Though, truth be told, not a tough one.  There should be a category, Book Addicted.  I read way more than 50 in any given year.

 However, not keeping any sort of records, my New Year's resolution was to actually write down all the books read. This is one way of doing it, and I'll be adding to the list here.  I do check out a lot, but don't read them all.  If a book doesn't grab me, there's no need to finish, it goes back in the bag for return.  Which is one of the great things about reading library books.  You only need to read what you enjoy, without feeling guilty about wasting money.

Sometimes I post a recipe inspired by the book, or have a little more in depth review, and will add a link, in that event.  If you're interested in joining the challenge, click here or on the sidebar link to sign up.

January Reading
1.  Angel Landing, by Alice Hoffman.  Not my favorite of her books, but an enjoyable and absorbing read all the same.  Unique, sympathetic characters, though the motivation of Finn, a major protagonist, was unclear.  I kept wanting someone to ask him, "why did you do it?" We were never told, so just assumed it was a radical reaction to his upbringing.

2.  The Girl in the Glass, by Susan Meissner.  A beautiful story, set partially in 16th century Florence with a Medici princess, but mostly in the present with a young woman who has longed all her life to visit Florence, and how one life impacts the other through another woman she meets there.  I loved the converging stories of  three women,  romance found and the realization that we can be what we imagine.  The importance of imagination balanced by reality.  More posted here.

3.  Mrs. Jeffries & the Silent Knight, by Emily Brightwell.  I do enjoy her Victorian mystery series, of which this is #21. Lightweight, English cozies, but usually with a good plots and enjoyable characters.  The Inspector's housekeeper and staff conspire to help solve his cases, without his being aware of their sleuthing.

 4. Turbo Twenty-Three, by Janet Evanovich.  Another of her hysterically funny Stephanie Plum novels.  Plum is an often inept bounty hunter for her cousin Vinnie in Trenton, N.J.  The whole plot, the scrapes she gets into, her sidekicks, family, co-workers, boyfriends, and assorted other characters are so over-the-top, I just laugh my way through the books, and this is no exception.  Love it, though perhaps it needs a rude, crude and sexy warning.  Further review and food here.

5. The Dark Enquiry, by Deanna Raybourn is in her Lady Julia Grey series.  I keep hoping for Lady Julia to be a bit more pro-active and less dependent upon others for rescue.  After all she knows how to shoot, and has now had boxing lessons.  Let's have a little more initiative if you want to be an investigator with your husband.

6.  The Dark Vineyard, by Martin Walker in his Chief of Police Bruno series.  Another terrific mystery with so much added goodness in terms of the food Bruno prepares, and the wines sampled and described.   Complex characters, with a helping of romance.  I especially like that the hero, Bruno, is one I can admire, with his gardening, hunting, cooking, truffle raising and wine appreciation.

7. Not My Blood, by Barbara Cleverly in her mystery series starring Joe Sandilands, a Scotland Yard detective .  These novels are set in the 1930s, sometimes in England, India or France.  In this book Sandilands must get to the bottom of a number of disappearances in an English boys' boarding school.  Eugenics and euthanasia are issues involved here.

8.  The Thirty-Nine Steps, by John Buchan, is a classic mystery of the old English adventurous spy school, taking place just before the outbreak of WWI..  Our hero, unasked and unprepared, finds himself at the heart of international intrigue, trying to stave off a grave threat to Britain and France, whilst fleeing pursuit from London and through the wilds of the Scottish highlands.

The Memory of Blood, by Christopher Fowler, one of my very favorite authors.  Yes I do have favorites.  He is the author of a series of wacky mysteries, featuring The Peculiar Crimes Unit, an off-shoot of MI5, or something like it, in London.  Starring an eccentric lead duo, entertaining cast of characters, and as with this one, a confounding, seemingly impossible case, they need to be read for full appreciation.  Further review with food here.


Mahi Meuniere Style and The Savage Garden

The Savage Garden, by Mark Mills, was a pretty terrific novel, a mystery that turns out to be a double cold case involving a fifteenth century murder, cleverly memorialized in an elaborate Tuscan garden, as well as a more recent World War II murder on the same estate.  A young Cambridge student, Adam Strickland, is assigned a special summer project by his professor, with an introduction to the present owner, to research and prepare a thesis on her garden with its intriguing sculptures.  Adam is enchanted and drawn in as he proceeds to work at unraveling and exposing some well hidden truths, underlying the garden's unusual iconography.  Stir in a nice fillip of romance and well done Mr. Mills!

Though Adam rattled through France on the train to Italy and Signora Docci's villa in Tuscany, I thought this recipe, a simply prepared fish with a bit of complexity, might have been served in the dining car, albeit with a more Mediterranean variety of fish.  I've made this twice now, with mahimahi as well as with Monchong, a similar lightweight white-fleshed fish with good flavor, and loved it both times.  Basically a browned butter sauce with lemon and capers, quickly tossed together after sauteing the fish.

Mahimahi Meuniere Style

4 mahi fillets, 6 oz. each
salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 cup all purpose flour
4 tablespoons olive oil
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons capers
1 tablespoon parsley, or chives, minced

Season the fish generously on both sides with salt and pepper.  Allow to sit for 4 minutes.  Then dredge in flour.

Heat a large saucepan over high heat.  Add the olive oil and gently place the fillets in the pan.  When the oil begins to lightly smoke, turn the heat down to medium and saute the fillets on one side until they are golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.  Turn over and continue to cook on the other side until just cooked through and golden brown, another few minutes more.  Remove the fillets from the pan and set aside on a paper towels to drain before transferring to plate.

Pour off any excess oil from the pan and wipe with a paper towel.  Return the pan to medium high heat and add the butter, melting and simmering until butter begins to brown and takes on a nutty aromatic smell.  Remove pan from heat and carefully add the lemon juice, zest and capers, being careful as the liquid will react with the hot butter.  Stir together and add in the parsley or chives.  Spoon hot sauce over the fish and serve immediately.  I just added a green salad and my mixed rice for which I combine wild, brown and jasmine white.

This will be served up for the Weekend Cooking event, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.  Jump aboard with your own food related post, or drop by for some good cooking and books.


Cassoulet of Sausage, Butter Beans, Apples and Mushrooms

This latest novel, Black Diamond, (that I've read as yet) of Martin Walker's mystery series, "of the French Countryside", was another winner.  I really enjoyed all the information regarding truffles, that elusive and tempting fungi (especially for someone living in Hawaii).  His hero, Bruno, Chief of Police in a smallish town, also shares with me a delight in growing things for his kitchen.  Only a small village policeman would be able to keep chickens, a vegetable garden, truffle oaks, and go hunting with his friends.  He does all that, as well as butchering his catch, hanging up the herbs to dry and ham to cure, not to mention coaching rugby to the town kids and teaching tennis.  What a guy!

All of which add immensely to the plot, especially a particularly wonderful description of the wake dinner he prepares for a murdered friend, his truffle growing mentor and hunt club buddy.  The tradition is to fix food for a grand send-off, using meat that the friends have hunted together.  In this case, it was the venison, truffles and more. 

Chief Bruno's venison casserole, with sausage, mushrooms, shallots, wine, etc. is brought to a simmer, herbs are added, and then the pot is nestled into a hay box, topped with a thick bed of hay and left for the remainder of the day.  A perfectly splendid, rustic slow cooker, I'd say.  I did mine in my Le Creuset.

 He also prepares a soup with turnips, leeks and potatoes, stock, cream and herbs from the garden, all topped before serving with grated black diamond truffle.  For dessert he makes Crème brûlée, infused with black truffles.  There are full descriptions of all the preparations, mixed in with police action, conversations with other inspectors, a rugby game and his own musings on the crime's solution.


Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Garlic and Porcini for The Critic

This has to be the perfect book for mystery lovers and cold case fans, who are also interested in wines, the whole business from grapes to wine production, to tasting and beyond.  Quite fascinating background information is seamlessly merged with the action.  Peter May's The Critic has it all, as well as some good food mentions.

Of course, the overly-powerful (influence wise) wine critic gets murdered.  Not a "cozy" mystery here, more in the exciting thriller vein.  And, forensics expert, Enzo Macleod, from May's earlier debut novel in this series, Extraordinary People, gets to hunt the killer, as well as visit vineyards, and do a bit of wine tasting himself.  Thoughtful in parts too, about how people make assumptions, and draw conclusions based on misinterpretations, printed as fact in the newspapers and other media.  Similar to the present political divide, much of it stirred up by people with their own agendas, funding "protests" and paying the participants.  But I digress. On to the food!


Winter Salad with Sesame Tahini Dressing

 Just finished Picnic in Provence, another lovely food filled memoir by Elizabeth Bard, author of Lunch in Paris. Though I think I enjoyed her first book a bit more.  Still, lots of good recipes are included, as well as village characters, stories, and her insights on life in France.

Bard now has a young son, and together with her husband, Gwendal, they pick up stakes and move from Paris apartment living to a country house in the South of France.....Sigh.  I would do it in a heart beat.  Even through adjusting to new neighbors, new cultural traditions, a new business enterprise and attempting to get along with in-laws, she maintains a positive, can do attitude.  I don't think my own adjustment in a similar situation would be as good.  For one thing, Bard is a much more outgoing, social individual, which helps in making new friends.  I did wonder how much her mother-in-law would appreciate some of the honesty however.

My choice of recipe was based mostly on needing food to bring to a Christmas party.  I liked that she said of this dish, it's "the only thing I can think of that I'd want to eat before Thanksgiving dinner.  That said, it would also make a lovely salad served with dinner itself."  A winter salad, in reds and greens - perfect for a Christmas party.  She only dressed it with a bit of olive oil and some salt.  I did that, but for extra flavor, I decided to bring along a sesame tahini dressing, also from her book, with a few changes.  Though I didn't toss the salad with it, to keep from muddying  the colors.


Happy Thanksgiving, Liliko'i Butter Mochi!!

Some of you might wonder, why is she posting about Mochi on Thanksgiving?  Well, no special reason, it's just what I decided to make for dessert on this special day.  Luckily my daughter brought cheesecake, so there was  a choice. If you've (likely) never tried it before, mochi is more confection than cake.  Similar consistency to Applets and Cotlets, or nougat, and popular here in Hawaii.  I was going through my box of clipped recipes, which hardly ever gets looked at nowadays, since the computer recipe file I keep, and found this one.from the Executive chef at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, Ralf Bauer, clipped from a local airline magazine.