Sunday, December 4, 2022

It Happened One Christmas Eve! by Jenn McKinlay

JENN McKINLAY: Two days, people! Two days until the e-novella IT HAPPENED ONE CHRISTMAS EVE is available. That would be on Dec 6th!!! Just in time to get you in the mood for the holidays or to help you hide from them with some laughs on the side. 

 


BUY LINKS (because I don't like promoting at just one place):


So, where did the idea for this novella come from? Honestly, I had Covid (boo, hiss) last January and I didn't have the energy to do anything other than watch old romcoms. 

I used Rotten Tomatoes list of the top 100 to guide me. Well, the number 1 is It Happened One Night with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. I'd seen it a million years ago and decided it was time to revisit it. There are outdated stereotypes that were problematic for me among other things but that's another blog post. Suffice to say, I loved the forced proximity of the heroine and the hero and decided I wanted to write my own holiday modern version of a madcap romantic escapade. So I did.

Here's the storyClaire Macintosh is about to get engaged to a man she doesn't love at the holiday gala she is hosting as director of the Museum of Literature. Her mother, Hildy Macintosh, has made it clear that if the museum is to continue to receive the enormous donations from the family trust that Hildy has approved all these years then Claire will marry the man Hildy has chosen for her and start to produce some grandbabies. At forty and single, Claire feels she has no choice. But when the horse and carriage arrive at the gala with the driver dressed as Santa to deliver Claire's engagement ring, she just can't go through with it. She hijacks the horse and carriage with Santa still on board and escapes!

Reporter Sam Carpenter thought he was being so clever convincing his friend to let him step in as Santa so he could get up close and personal to the subject of his upcoming magazine expose. He is completely unprepared for the events that unfold and finds himself dashing through Central Park with a runaway would be fiancé. Now the only way to save his story is to broker a deal with Claire Macintosh. In exchange for his help in getting her to her cottage in Maine by Christmas Eve, she'll grant him an exclusive interview. As their journey takes a series of unexpected twists, turns, and misadventures, both Claire and Sam realize that there's more than their careers on the line. And it's going to take a Christmas miracle to find their happily ever after.


Woo hoo!!!


This is the third and final romcom novella of my series set in a fictional place in NYC called the Museum of Literature. It has been an absolute hoot to write these and I am really enjoying the shorter format (100p/30K wds). FUN!




Now, how about you Reds and Readers? Are you a fan of the old madcap romcom movie? Or do you prefer the angsty dramatic love stories? 

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Ugly Holiday Sweaters by Jenn McKinlay

 Jenn McKinlay: Show of hands, who owns one or more of these  delightfully over the top gems? 



This pic is actually from a jigsaw puzzle and I think those are cookies, which is probably the best way to display such holiday hoopla as then you can eat it and destroy the evidence instead of having it live in your closet forever.

Why am I mentioning holiday sweaters? Well, because someone got the great idea to have an ugly holiday sweater party at her friend's book signing. (Yeah, it was me.) Who is the unfortunate friend? Paige Shelton as we celebrate her latest release Winter's End. And, of course, we had to drag in Kate Carlisle as well. 


So, if you want to see our horrific sweaters, we'll be at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore at 2 PM MST today (Saturday, the 3rd) where we are giving prizes to randomly chosen sweater wearers or you can catch the live stream where we are also giving prizes to randomly chosen viewers who post a pic of their sweater in the comments: 


FUN FACT: Ugly holiday sweaters began in the fifties and were called "Jingle Bells Sweaters". I love that! Here's more history if you're interested: https://www.cnn.com/style/article/ugly-christmas-jumpers/index.html

Now confess, Reds and Readers, who owns one? Are you a lover or a hater?


Friday, December 2, 2022

Sticky Toffee Pudding by Jenn McKinlay

 Jenn McKinlay: Originally, I was going to write a lovely post about my recent trip to Ireland full of sheep and green hills, rainbows and ancient buildings. But no. I was lucky enough to have a foodie in my crew and the eating was SPECTACULAR on this trip, which is not what one normally thinks of when thinking of the Emerald Isle. Guinness, sure, but food? Not so much.

Y'all, we need to do a rethink. I had some of the best food whilst tripping along the Wild Atlantic Way and I just want to share a few highlights with you. In no particular order, here are my three favorites and it was hard to choose, let me tell you!

All right, who here has watched Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix? My SIL showed the Dublin episode (my first) the night before Mom and I headed out to Ireland and, let me just say, Phil nailed it. His is a food and travel show that is full of heart and warmth and gentle humor. I've become a fan and have mentioned the show to everyone I know who loves food or travel or both. You may know Phil Rosenthal as the writer for Everybody Loves Raymond. 

On the Dublin episode, Phil stops by a place called Gallagher's Boxty House in Temple Bar (if you click the link to their website, there's a visit from Paul Hollywood that's delightful). Our first night in Dublin and we headed out to eat and just stumbled upon it. Felt like fate, so we ate there and it was amazing. Their specialty is the potato pancake (the boxty) reimagined and I have to say it was delicious! My favorite was the boxty chips (french fries made out of boxties with an arugula garlic mayo - OMG!) as an appetizer and then the Gaelic Boxty, finely sliced, perfectly seasoned beef on a boxty. Fabulous. The showstopper for me was their sticky toffee pudding - I still think about it. My friend Annette and I are on a quest to find the recipe. 







Next up was a castle dinner family style at Bunratty Castle. It was glorious! The only utensil they gave you was a knife. You were to eat with your hands! I expected the food to be dashed out as it seemed the draw would be the actors in medieval dress who put on a delightful show (which has been running since 1963). Yeah, no. The food was terrific. My fave being the fresh soda bread and the spare ribs.



And then it was on to Dingle where we happened to luck out and get a table at one of the most popular restaurants in town - The Fish Box.
Family owned and operated, brother Patrick catches the fish on the family trawler and Mom and Dad, Deirdre and Michael, cook it. It was by far the best fish and chips I've ever had. Deirdre is a chef and her batter recipe is a secret - an amazing one, clearly.





So, those are my top three but there were so many more delicious stops along the way - Milano in Temple Bar had amazing dough balls, Gatto Rosso in Galway had incredible spaghetti carbonara and a tiramisu to die for, and for real down home pub grub and trad music, I loved The Celt Pub in Dublin with their Guinness beef stew, ham toastie and mash, bangers and mash, and Granny's bacon and cabbage. Yes, we went hardcore Irish for our last night and it was glorious!



And the really wonderful thing was that the food was not outrageously expensive. Meals were cheaper in Ireland than in the States by far. So, if you're thinking of hitting the Emerald Isle, bring your appetite!

Reds and Readers, what food stops have surprised you in your travels - good, bad, other? Share!




Thursday, December 1, 2022

To Tradition or not to Tradition by Paige Shelton

Jenn McKinlay: It's always a great day when we get to chat with our friend Paige who has a new Alaska Wild mystery coming out on Dec 6th! 

This is the fourth in the Mary Higgins Clark Award nominated series and it sounds thrilling! 

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The fourth installment in the gripping, atmospheric Alaska Wild series, Paige Shelton's Winter's End.

It’s springtime in Benedict, Alaska, and with the warmer weather comes an unseasonably somber local tradition...the annual Death Walk. At the end of each brutal winter, citizens gather downtown and then break into groups to search the community for those who might have somehow gotten stuck at home. Beth Rivers sets off with her friend Orin and dog Gus, toward the cabin of an elderly resident, intending to check on him.

When they reach the cabin, the old man is alive, but not in the best shape. Beth stays with him while Orin hurries to town for help, but it’s not Orin who returns. Gril comes back with shocking news, and it soon becomes clear that Orin has also vanished. When they discover that their friend has been doing some top-secret research, they start to worry he’s been exposed, or worse.

Meanwhile, Beth continues on her own search, for her father, who allegedly is alive in Mexico, but won't return her calls. Still, she's making progress in healing from her own trauma, though can't quite shake the feeling she's being followed...

Paige: Happy Holidays to everyone! Thanks to Jenn and all the Jungle Reds for letting me stop by today. 

About ten years ago I was talking to a friend about the holiday traditions of my childhood. All those (long ago) events centered around my grandparents; my family, aunts, uncles, and cousins meeting at my grandparents’ small Missouri home, where my grandmother would make sure we all ate delicious food, even if it meant we had to eat in shifts because the kitchen was so small. I loved those days. After my grandparents passed, we all floundered for what to do and where to go for holiday celebrations. No one’s house or cooking, or anything really, was close to the same type of down home hospitality my grandparents offered. Mostly, the rest of us ended up not doing much of anything for a lot of years. My friend, the one I was talking to about ten years ago, said, “That’s the problem with traditions. They can’t go on forever, because nothing goes on forever. You should work to make different memories with each new trip around the sun or you’ll just be stuck in that melancholy mode of missing what used to be.” 

Well. I was quiet for a long moment as I worked through her words. I had to get past a few moments of “what’s wrong with her?” and “how dare she?” I realized quickly, of course, that she meant no disrespect to my memories. And much to my dismay, I finally concluded that she might be on to something. At least partly. 

I am grateful for those childhood traditions, but after my grandparents were gone, they would have wanted the rest of us to find new ways to enjoy ourselves without them, not just be sad they weren’t there. Even if it was something as simple as going to a movie one year, going for a hike the next. Mix it up. Make new memories that would only complement the old traditional activities. 

Since that conversation, I’ve tried to do exactly that – make sure new things, even small things, are a part of any of my family get togethers. It’s given me a sense of purpose, and I think everyone has had a good time. It has given us all a chance to partition the years as well – they don’t all mix into one similar picture. There was that year we all visited the observatory, then the one with the zoo. That year we watched a parade, or the one where we had Italian food instead of turkey. 

This year for Thanksgiving, my son, daughter-in-law, and brand-new grandbaby boy visited us in Arizona. I am so fortunate to have these wonderful people in my life. I’ll never be as amazing as my grandmother, but I can cook okay enough. We ate good food and, activities being dictated by the almost brand new human, spent lots of time inside cuddling the baby. Next year, we’ll do some of the same things, but I’ll work to come up with something different for new memories. Grandbaby’s age will probably dictate things for a while, and I love that, feel fortunate for it. 

Before they arrived, I’d cleaned and rearranged some pictures. I found a tiny photobooth picture of my grandparents and my mother when she was a brand new baby. I set the small picture on a shelf, leaning against another framed picture. As I was cleaning up after son, DIL, and baby left to go back to Omaha, I closed a sliding door near the shelf. That sepia-toned picture fluttered up and landed on the floor at my feet, face up. Of course, it was probably just the wind from the closing door, but I’ve decided that I’m going to think of it as a lovely hug and an approving fist bump from the people I still miss and love to this day. Tradition or not, we all need a little magic during the holidays, right? 





What about you, Readers, do you have traditions that you've kept or ones that you've had to let go of?

Speaking of new traditions – this coming Saturday, December 3, at 2:00 PM, Arizona time (currently the same as Pacific Time) Jenn McKinlay, Kate Carlisle, and I will be at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale to kick off my new book, the fourth in the Alaska Wild Series: Winter’s End. We’ll be in ugly Christmas sweaters, and we encourage others to join in, either live, or via the links below. We’ll be awarding a prize to our favorites.

Links to the event:



Paige Shelton is the New York Times Bestselling author of the Farmers' Market, Country Cooking School, Dangerous Type, and Scottish Bookshop mysteries. She's lived lots of places but currently resides in Arizona. Find out more at www.paigeshelton.com

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Boyfriend Sweater by Jenn McKinlay

 JENN MCKINLAY: It was 1989 in New Haven, CT. I was at university and doing the typical on again off again with the rugby playing college boyfriend. We both had apartments with friends, but my stuff mingled with his and vice versa. Neither of us minded as it was an unspoken way to leave the door open for the next session of "let's get back together" after we inevitably broke up again. This lasted until senior year when we went through our final unentanglement-disengagement-whatever-you-want-to-call-it in those glorious pre-Internet days when saying good-bye actually meant "I'm never speaking to this person again". 


Love in the 80's was complicated!

Several relationships, five moves, one marriage (still going strong) and two children later, and I decided this empty nest needed a powerful decluttering. So long beloved broken action figures, preschool artwork (I took pictures), and essays written on the SparkNotes versions of books the Hooligans should have read but likely didn't :) 

While doing this excavation, what should I find in an old box that had been carted through every move and never opened? You guessed it! The boyfriend sweater--which in my case was/is a rag wool sweater that I wore during every winter in my drafty dorm rooms and freezing first apartments where the steam radiator was situated directly under the shoddy single pane window, causing my windows to fog up every time the heat came on from the months of November through February. I loved that sweater, potentially a bit more than the on again off again boyfriend from whom I filched it during our freshman year. I hadn't seen the beloved cardigan in years, and it felt like meeting an old friend while on vacation in an exotic foreign land.

The Boyfriend Sweater!

Now I live in Arizona and have for thirty years. I don't have much use for an overly large rag wool sweater. And yet, I could not toss it into the trash or the Goodwill bag. This sweater had been worn to scores of keg parties, midnight diner runs, girl's nights out when I didn't want to be pestered (it was clearly a boyfriend sweater, acting as an off-the-market protective shield), and it had comforted me through our many breakups.

So, what did I do with it? I washed it and blocked it (a knitting thing), returning it to its former shape. Then I put it on and felt like I was nineteen again. I suppose I should mail it back to the ex-boyfriend. He lives in Colorado and could use it more than me. Yes, we are in touch (thanks, Facebook) and friends again. It's actually really nice to know that we've both found happiness. Maybe I will send it if he sees this post and asks for it back, but I'm rather attached to it as a reminder of the Jenn back then :) 

So, Reds and Readers, have you ever had a "boyfriend sweater"? What artifacts from former relationships have popped up in your life? Would you return them or keep them--asking for a friend? Okay, yes, it's me. It's always me.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Dashing Through the . . . Snowbirds? by Donna Andrews

Jenn McKinlay: One of my very favorite mystery writers, who also specializes in holiday shenanigans, is the ever hilarious and delightful Donna Andrews and here she is to tell us all about her latest escapade Dashing Through the Snowbirds!


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Donna Andrews: It’s that time of year again. The holiday season! Stores are playing Christmas carols--actually, some of them have been doing that since before Halloween, but by now most of us are ready to unstop our ears and listen. People are decorating! Putting up trees! Buying presents!  Writing letters to Santa! Creating menus for holiday dinners!

I’m planning a murder.

A fictional murder, of course, and it can’t be a particularly violent or gory one. All of my books featuring ornamental blacksmith Meg Langslow fall toward the cozier end of the mystery spectrum. So the murders tend to happen off-stage, without too much bloodshed, and if the reader needs to know any details from the autopsy, Meg’s dad, the medical examiner, will blurt them out at the dinner table before being sternly repressed. It’s always a balancing act--and for a Christmas mystery, mixing murder and holiday mirth is a particularly challenging feat. 

But evidently readers love Christmas mysteries. So does my editor, partly because he knows they’re good for sales and partly because he just loves Christmas. I’ve told him that when I’m working on one of my Christmas books, I always imagine him standing over my shoulder, cheering me on. “More tinsel! More snow! More holly! More evergreens! More snow! More presents! And more snow. A lot more snow!”

About that snow.

Did you know that the National Weather Service has an official definition of a white Christmas? If you have an inch or more of snow on the ground at 7 a.m. on December 25, you have officially experienced a white Christmas. My editor lives somewhere within commuting distance of New York City, which means his odds of having a white Christmas are at least 50% and maybe as high as 75%. Down here in Virginia--where I live, and where I’ve set my fictional town of Caerphilly-- our odds are less than 10%. So if I were aiming for verisimilitude, I should only have snow in one, maybe two of the nine holiday mysteries I’ve written so far.

But it’s fiction, right? And I want to keep my editor--and my readers--happy. So if I’m writing a Christmas book, there will be snow. Sometimes my characters are already snowbound by the time the book starts, turning the book into something like a locked room mystery. Sometimes the snow is coming, and everyone is rushing around to do things--including solving the murder--before it arrives and brings everything to a halt. Sometimes my characters spend the whole book pining for a white Christmas . . . so I relent and start sifting down snowflakes on them sometime before I type “the end.” I have embraced the snow. I’ve hidden weapons in the snow. Baffled Meg with snowy footprints, and had them melt too soon.  Had at least one killer try to use the snow--and the cold that comes with it--as a weapon.

In Dashing Through the Snowbirds, my latest Christmas mystery, I also use ice. As a surprise for the family, Meg’s father installs a portable skating rink in the field behind their house. (In this case, portable means that when winter’s over, a large work crew can eventually disassemble it and turn the field back into a pasture.) Meg hopes skating will help ease the homesickness of her guests--a dozen Canadian software developers whose horrible boss has dragged them to Caerphilly for a work project when they’d rather be spending December with their friends and families. But when the horrible boss--

Wait! That would be telling! No spoilers. There’s ice and skating, and at least one murder. Let’s leave it there.

And snow. Whenever I feel guilty about inflicting a completely unrealistic amount of snow on my fictional Virginia town of Caerphilly, I remind myself that they also experience a completely unrealistic number of homicides. At least one per book, and I’m on book 32. So maybe I should stop worrying about the snow.

How about it Reds and Readers, how do you feel about snow--in real life or fictionally? 


Donna Andrews is an American mystery fiction writer of two award-winning amateur sleuth series. Her first book, Murder with Peacocks (1999), introduced Meg Langslow, a blacksmith from Yorktown, Virginia. It won the St. Martin's Minotaur Best First Traditional Mystery contest, the Agatha, Anthony, Barry, and Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice awards for best first novel, and the Lefty award for funniest mystery of 1999. The first novel in the Turing Hopper series (You've Got Murder, 2002) debuted a highly unusual sleuth—an Artificial Intelligence (AI) personality who becomes sentient—and won the Agatha Award for best mystery that year.



Monday, November 28, 2022

Back to Conferences: A Red Round Up!

JENN McKINLAY: It’s time for conference round up! Okay, yes, I just made that up. Still, I just registered for Left Coast Crime - it’s in Tucson, AZ next year - and Bouchercon, which is in San Diego! These will be my first conferences since I got sent home from Left Coast Crime in March of 2020 when the state of California was about to enter lockdown. That was one surreal couple of days, let me tell you. I am still on the fence about attending Malice Domestic as Bethesda is super tricky to get to from Phoenix, so we’ll see. So, chime in Reds, what conferences are you planning on attending next year if any? 



LUCY BURDETTE: Oh fingers crossed this all works as we hope it does! I too am registered for Bouchercon in San Diego–with any luck we’ll have a big Jungle Reds contingent and a game show! (I think my last ones were in Dallas, St Petersburg, and Toronto–all fantastic!) But I know I’ll also be headed to Crimebake, both because I miss my New England pals, and DEBORAH CROMBIE will be the guest of honor. Hooray! 



HALLIE EPHRON: I went to my first ‘live’ conference a few weeks ago in Vancouver - the fabulous Surrey International Writers Conference - and lived to tell about it! It was so lovely to give a talk and tell from the audience reaction whether I was connecting. And hang out in the bar. And catch up with so many old friends. Sigh. Heaven. Not to mention hear the writing of some superbly talented as-yet-unpublished writers. And a few weeks ago I was at The New England Crime Bake where I got to actually hug Hank. Of COURSE I *plan* to go to Boucheron in San Diego – fingers crossed that we’ll all be there and gaming it! – and cheer on our own Deborah Crombie. 


RHYS BOWEN: this year I attended Left Coast Crime, Malice Domestic and the Edgars. No masks. Holding my breath all the time. But now, having had Covid, I’ll be more relaxed next year 
(unless the variant from hell emerges). I’ll be going to Left Coast in Tucson Malice and Bouchercon. Taking daughter Clare with me to introduce her further to the community I love my peeps! 


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Well, of COURSE I’m going to Malice–I’m the Guest of Honor. Whoo hoo and I am already nervous. And Ann Cleeves is international GOH, and I am SUCH a fan! Jenn, fly to DC! I always do. And Rhys, we will all swoop Clare up and make her an auxiliary Red! Bouchercon, yes, how can I resist. Another Reds-o-rama. :-) ! 
And CrimeBake with queen Debs will be wonderful. (I was GOH for its first mid-post--Covid event. I was floating with the honor…who’d have EVER thought? It was so amazing to see everyone, and so fraught and fabulous at the same time.) In this crazy-wonderful year, I was GOH at Killer Nashville, too. It was incredible, I have to say. SO welcoming! And I’d adore to go back. I have never been to Left Coast Crime, hmmm. I HAVE to write!!


DEBORAH CROMBIE: I haven't been to a conference since Bouchercon in Dallas in 2019, so 2023 is going to be very exciting. In March, I'm GOH for Murderous March, the virtual conference organized by the Upper Hudson Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Then in June, I'm GOH (along with the fabulous Rachel Howzell Hall) at the California Crime Writers conference in LA. I am registering for Bouchercon in San Diego as well (tackle that to-do list!) And then the icing on the cake, I'll be GOH at Crime Bake in November in Boston. It will be my first Crime Bake and I'm so excited! I hope we'll have a great REDs contingent there. I would dearly love to go to Malice (it's been much too long) but as Hank says, I have to write...

 
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'll be tagging along and applauding my friends at Malice, Bouchercon and Crime Bake next year. It's always fun when B'con is in a city I like visiting, and I plan to take full advantage of being in San Diego! 
 
I'll also be at the Maine Crime Wave in Portland next June and the Novelists, Inc. conference in St. Petersburg in September. That last is entirely for published authors, and I found the first one I attended, this past fall, to be so full of useful information, I definitely want to go back. Thrillerfest 2023? Maybe? I love the excuse to go the New York City, and I'd really like to teach a masterclass there one year, so that's a strong impetus to go.

What about you, Readers? What conferences will you be attending next year? Or are you not ready yet?

 

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Chocolate -Orange Candies for You or Your Friends

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: It's another fabulous recipe/ history/ cooking lesson with our own Celia Wakefield! This time, she's showing you how to make a confection treat perfect for a hostess gift, a special dinner, or, let's face it, for yourself.

 

I first had this Chocolate-Orange treat as a tart - very rich and so delicious. I was glad when Celia suggested a non-pastry version, because, I have to admit, I'm not great with pastries. Don't let the weight measurements or the fact it's candy scare you off - the only step that took any work at all was grating the orange zest, and once all the ingredients were assembled, it came together in ten minutes flat.


 

My grateful thanks to Julia, who keeps my nose down on her grindstone where the posts are concerned, for giving me the continued opportunity to work my writing skills and give you something delicious.

 

I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving without too much kitchen crisis and with gratitude for all we have. The Sunday after Thanksgiving says it’s that time again, and whether you took part in Black Friday or not or however your family celebrates at this solstice time, I am sure that you recognize ‘The’ season is upon us. 

 

 

I am most grateful for my Jungle Reds community. While I don’t post often I read JRW each morning and enjoy seeing the comments. So kudos to Julia for inviting me to share some memories and recipes so many months ago. We all have our own ways of managing this season whether we put up a tree at Thanksgiving or observe the tradition of the twelve days of Christmas or perhaps no tree, but another symbol to celebrate passing the Shortest Day

 

 

I must admit that most of the celebrating done with my family isn’t based on childhood memories. However, the Christmas that we returned from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to England does stick in my memory; the family gathering at my grandparents’ house outside London with my mother’s siblings and my cousins. There were always lots of Christmas treats to eat. Picture a large dining room with space for my grandparents, three adult children and spouses plus six grandchildren gathered around the table with plenty of room.

 

However, it was the sideboard that drew my attention away from wearing my first pair of nylons (30 denier, I was 12), the cool feel on my legs, pinch of the suspender belt plus my fear that I would ladder them.  Laid out on the mirrored sideboard was a whole Stilton cheese. It was understood that no one was to touch the cheese except with express directions from my grandfather. It was his cheese! In addition, there was an oval bamboo box  with a picture on the lid of a desert oasis with a camel and rider plus the date palm: a box of dates, still on their branch and so sweet. I was almost as fascinated by the photo as I was to eat a date. Dates were only seen at Christmas. Then there was a box of Turkish delight cosily bathed in icing sugar, which got all over my velvet dress and was a clue to what I might have been eating out of turn. The spread was completed with a ham set up to be carved, accompanied by a bottle of Maderia and a Wedgwood Biscuit Barrel full of wholemeal digestive biscuits - the best to eat with the Stilton. Such deliciousness.

 

Once Victor and I were settled in the USA and Olivia had joined the family I started to build our own Christmas traditions and loved sharing with friends. I would cook a ham and pease pudding on Christmas Eve before Midnight service. On Christmas Day in the absence of a sideboard, I would greet friends with a table full of delicious nibbles before the big meal; a ham, chicken liver pate and of course smoked trout pate plus cheeses and some fruit. Then the traditional dinner, which rang the changes over the years finished with Christmas pudding, mince pies and hard sauce. Stockings had to have chocolate as well as oranges or apples and sometimes both in them, the preference was a Terrys Chocolate Orange.

 

 

Last year Victor handed me a recipe from The Guardian Weekly which intrigued me. Rachel Roddy is a food writer based in Rome.  The Dark Chocolate and Orange Tart caught Victor’s eye and he was keen for me to make it. Well, this had been the chocolate of choice for our stockings for many years so why wouldn’t I make it for him? With just the two of us in the house it did seem a lot of work, but a family celebration for Olivia and my joint birthdays gave me the push to take the leap, even though all the measurements were metric and I needed to make the tart case gluten free. 

 

This is a very rich dessert and it turned out to be surprisingly easy to make with a couple of hacks. Having eaten a small slice of the tart, we came to the conclusion that the filling was really a candy, so I have adapted the recipe to turn the dark chocolate into a sweet for holiday giving. Julia and I will only make the chocolate orange part for you but I will include the pastry recipe for anyone who loves to bake tarts.

 

Now Rachel Roddy states that the key to the choco-orange mix is vigorous beating combined with cutting the chocolate finely. My first attempt had me gathering the dark chocolate from all over the kitchen including some blocks I had bought on sale in a weak moment. The blocks were almost impossible to cut up finely; I grated, shaved, put in a clean cloth and hit with my rolling pin as well as using my heaviest knife and was pretty much beat. But to make up the quantity needed I added chocolate chips and found that they melted straight into the mascarpone mixture as you can see in the video. So just buy the best dark chocolate chips.

 

There are two other important tools which will make success here much easier. A scale with grams as well as ounces, and an instant thermometer. So many recipes are being published with the metric measurement system now, and a scale is an inexpensive purchase if you enjoy baking. I offer 2 different measurements for each ingredient, including cups, where I can make that work. 

 

Chocolate orange treats

 

Ingredients: 

 

300g   Mascarpone = 1 1/3 cups approximately. I did transfer the weighed amount to a cup measure but of course one does get air bubbles so measure by weight if possible 

40g.   Superfine sugar = 3 Tbsp sugar(put the same amount of granulated in a small food processor and whirl to get fine sugar)

Grated zest of 2 oranges. Organic is preferred so that the skin is unwaxed or treated.

400g.   Dark chocolate = 2 1/2 cups, chopped finer if necessary but not when using chips

80g   Unsalted butter, diced = approximately 3/4 stick of butter. Buy the best butter you can! Kerrigold is good, as is Kates of Maine

100ml  whole milk = 4 oz. In my case, not having whole milk, I used 3oz 2% milk with 1+ oz heavy cream, making 4+ oz, giving me a little extra in case of need.

  

Equipment:

 

-   Scale is preferred for accurate measuring 

-   Fine grater if not using chocolate chips

-   Small food processor, if needed to make superfine sugar

-   Instant thermometer

Electric hand beater

Silicone spatula

Cupcake papers

Small spoon or ice cream scoop

 

Method:

 

In a saucepan warm the mascarpone with the sugar and orange zest and stir to incorporate until almost boiling 190F+ on the instant thermometer. This is the only tricky step as the mix needs to be warm enough to melt the chocolate and I found that an instant thermometer took my worries out.

(I used a larger pan than is probably needed as the chocolate and butter melt down)

Remove pan from heat, immediately add chocolate and diced butter, then BEAT VIGOROUSLY till smooth.

Add the milk to the pan and beat it in. If the mix seizes beat again while adding a LITTLE more milk.

Pour into your baked tart case or into tiny cupcake papers and chill.

 

Decorating tiny cupcakes is a challenge but if I were competing on the GBBS I would use gold leaf!

 

Tart case:

If you want to make this as a tart, and  it is a great holiday dessert, here is Rachel’s tart recipe.

Ingredients:

120g cold unsalted butter, diced

250g all purpose flour or Almond flour if GF is desired

100g confectioners sugar (different from superfine sugar)

Grated zest of 1 organic orange

2 egg yolks

Cold water if needed

 

Method:

Rub butter pieces into the flour to resemble breadcrumbs.

Mix in the sugar and orange zest.

Add egg yolks and gently gather the mixture together adding cold water if necessary to create the dough mix.

Wrap and chill for at least an hour.

 

Roll the pastry out between wax paper or parchment which makes it easier to move.

Spray a pant with a removable bottom with baking spray, then carefully either slide the pastry into the pan or put the pan on top of the pastry and invert, then press carefully into the sides. Rest for an hour.

 

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Remove from fridge and prick pastry all over, then line with wax paper, add beans or weights and bake for 15 minutes approximately. I like to remove the weights etc before it is completely baked to add a little color. Remove when golden brown and cool. 

 

Pour in the chocolate orange filling and decorate with thin strips of candied orange peel. 

Serve with whipped cream or fruit.