October 30, 2008


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Cooking up a mystery
Gourmet Girl combines recipes with detective work

By Linda A. Thompson-Odum food@hippopress.com

Need a new recipe? Skip the cookbook section of the bookstore and head to the mystery section. There you will find an amazing number of mystery series where the food is almost as important as the plot line. And most of the books include recipes.

Culinary mystery series are part of the cozy mystery genre known more for their characters and setting than for graphic murders. Besides food, there are series that feature pets, quilting, home repair, inn-keepers, artwork and antiques.

Manchester resident Jessica Conant-Park, who with her mother Susan Conant writes the Gourmet Girl mystery series.

“The cozy market is saturated now, and not only in the culinary series.,” she said. “Cozy mysteries are comforting to people, especially with the way things are in the world right now. There is no graphic sex or violence. They connect with people on a more personal level. You don’t always read a cozy mystery for the plot. You want to hang out with these people.”

Food-themed mysteries have been around since the late 1980s, but they took center stage with the popularity of Diane Mott Davidson’s bestselling series, which features caterer Goldy Schulz. The main characters of these books are involved with food in one way or another, either as chefs, caterers, shop owners, wine experts or foodies.

Conant-Park had never considered herself a writer, though her mother has been a mystery writer for a number of years (she creates the Dog-lovers and Cat-lovers mysteries). Then Conant-Park met her husband, Bill, who is a chef. “He opened up a whole new world to me,” she said. “He would come home with these crazy stories about what had happened in the kitchen. I told them to my mother, and she said, ‘You have to put them in a book.’”

Conant-Park had read other culinary mysteries, most of which have “older” heroines (in their 30s or older) and are set in small towns. She wanted her main character, Chloe Carter, to be younger (in her mid-20s) and the story set around a large city (Boston). She also wanted to feature more gourmet-style recipes. “The thing I noticed was the other books’ recipes were more traditional with lots of baked goods,” she said. “I wanted recipes a little more upscale and more like you would find in a restaurant, but that you can cook at home.”

At first, Conant-Park turned to her husband to develop the recipes that her characters enjoyed in the book. Then she began to ask chefs to contribute recipes for her stories. Most were happy to participate, though sometimes the results were not quite what she had in mind.

“Some would send me a recipe and it was just a list of ingredients. I would have to tell them that I needed the measurements and direction, too,”  she said.

The first Gourmet Girl mystery, Steamed, was released in 2006. Two more books followed (Simmer Down and Turn up the Heat), and a fourth, Fed Up, will be released in February.

Conant-Park has shared a seasonal recipe from Fed Up. Her husband now works for Legal Seafood’s corporate office in Boston. She’s happy that he doesn’t have to work the long hours of a restaurant chef, and the benefits are nice. But there is one drawback to his current job. She said, with a laugh, “I’m getting less inspiration from him than I used to. He doesn’t bring home the crazy stories anymore.”

Manchester resident Jessica Conant-Park writes the Gourmet Girl mystery series with her mother, Susan Conant. Jessica Conant-Park photo.

Pumpkin Stew in a Pumpkin
Created by Ann and Michele Devrient, of Semur-en-Auxois, France. From Fed Up: A Gourmet Girl Mystery by Jessica Conant-Park and Susan Conant, to be released in February, 2009

Serves 4 to 6
1 medium sugar pumpkin
1 large onion, diced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups fresh bread cubes, cut into 1-inch cubes from a French loaf
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups mixed fresh mushrooms (button, portabella, chanterelle, oyster) cleaned, stems removed, sliced 1/4-inch thick
3 cups Gruyère cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
4 strips cooked bacon, crumbled
1 container (7 to 8 oz.) crème fraîche or 1/2 pint heavy cream.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Cut the top off the pumpkin as you would if you were going to carve it for Halloween. Scrape out the seeds and loose pulp, being careful not to remove the pumpkin flesh itself, since pumpkin is the basic flavoring of this dish. Save the top of the pumpkin, which will be placed back on during cooking.

In a large skillet, sauté the onions and 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat for a few minutes, then add the fresh croutons and toss. Stir and cook the croutons for another few minutes and then add the garlic. Toss the mixture and cook until the croutons begin to brown. Add more butter as needed to keep the mixture from drying out. Set aside.

In a separate pan, sauté 1 tablespoon of butter with the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms have released their juices and begun to reabsorb them. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To assemble the pumpkin for cooking, put in layers of the onion, garlic, bread mixture followed by a dash of salt and pepper, then a layer of the grated cheese, a layer of mushrooms, a bit of the crumbled bacon, and a thin layer of crème fraîche or heavy cream. Keep layering until the pumpkin is filled. End with a layer of cheese.

Put the pumpkin lid back on. Set the filled pumpkin in a casserole dish that will support its sides. Fill a roasting pan with two inches of water, and place the pumpkin, in its casserole dish, in the water. Bake for about three hours, checking from time to time until the pumpkin pulp is getting soft enough to spoon up.

To serve, gently remove the pumpkin from the water bath and place on a large platter.

Scrape out some of the pumpkin flesh with a large, sturdy spoon as you dish out each bowl.

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10/9/2008 The flavor of Concord
10/2/2008 Indie donuts rising
9/25/2008 Buy a bowl, feed the hungry
9/18/2008 Oktoberfest — for a cause
9/11/2008 A slice ofGreece, Asia, France...
9/4/2008 Flavors of Manchester
8/28/2008 D.I.Y. sausage
8/21/2008 Summertime and the living is chilli
8/14/2008 Weekend of festivals
8/7/2008 Going for pizza gold
7/31/2008 Red and juicy, from vine to table
7/24/2008 Meet the Manch-vegans
7/17/2008 Meet the winemaker
7/10/2008 Pupusas, cervesa y batidos
7/03/2008 3C's Cafe opens in Highlander Inn
6/26/2008 Oh, tartar sauce!
6/19/2008 From farm to grill
6/12/2008 450 pounds of lamb
6/5/2008 Travel the culinary world at BVI
5/29/2008 Chocolate throwdown
5/22/2008 Hit the road for some Yum-Yum
5/15/2008 Local, gluten-free and ready made
5/8/2008 The return of brownies and pasta
5/1/2008 Have a fiesta
4/24/2008 Noshing and shopping
4/17/2008 Celebrating with Greek eats
4/10/2008 Drive-ins open for the season
4/3/2008 Noshing for a cause
3/20/2008 The Easter Bunny brings dinner
3/13/2008 The Irish Spirit
3/6/2008 The sweet season
2/28/2008 Cambodian (or Italian) made easy
2/21/2008 Fresh fish comes to Nashua
2/14/2008 Hearts and fibers
2/7/2008 A romantic dinner for two
1/31/2008 Celebrate Mardi Gras
1/24/2008 Morroccan in Milford
1/17/2008 The chef is inn
1/10/2008 Italian street food in NH
1/10/2008 The contorni approach
1/3/2008 Like Disneyland for foodies
12/27/2007 More food and wine events, a menu for the bar
12/20/2007 Lots of dough
12/13/2007 Gifts for gourmands
12/6/2007 Making spirits really bright
11/22/2007 Just don't ask them to cook
11/15/2007 Easy as pie
11/8/2007 Italian eats, bistro style
11/1/2007 Bringing Italia to New Hampshire
10/25/2007 Trick or treat, the grown-up version
10/18/2007 Shop where the pros go
10/11/2007 Enjoy apple season from orchard to plate
10/04/2007 Tradition on the menu
9/27/2007 Meet your pig
9/20/2007 In search of the right meat
9/20/2007 Vegan blogger branches out
9/13/2007 Get ready to eat
9/6/2007 Fifty years of fair
8/30/2007 The buzz about peach fuzz
8/23/2007 Enjoy the Caribbean, sans hurricanes
8/16/2007 Festival weekend
8/9/2007 Still time to scream
8/2/2007 Perfecting a pound of pasta
7/26/2007 Gourmet Concord?
7/19/2007 Tart treats of a New Hampshire summer
7/12/2007 Reintroducing ratatouille
7/5/2007 Time to hit the grill
6/28/2007 Peanutty dinner delight
6/21/2007 Spicy meat, grilled meat and saucy meat
6/14/2007 Holy Barbecue
6/07/2007 A wine for Red Sox
5/31/2007 Pinot noir romance
5/24/2007 Josh Logan eats (not before shows)
5/17/2007 Baklava, spanakopita and souvlaki ó a.k.a. dinner
5/10/2007 Cremeland celebrates 60 years of burgers and shakes
5/3/2007 New eats in bloom
4/26/2007 Pho sure
4/19/2007 Cakes, cow-free
4/12/2007 Serving up the first square
4/5/2007 More than just a chocolate bunny
3/29/2007 New 'nuches
3/22/2007 A taste of genuine sweetness
3/15/2007 From homemade to home business
3/8/2007 Shop the farmers' market year round
3/1/2007 Feeding Mama Kicks
2/22/2007 Keepers of the vino
2/15/2007 Noodly comfort food
2/8/2007 The luxury of osso bucco
2/1/2007 Super platters for the Super Bowl
1/25/2007 It's a wrap
1/18/2007 The writing foodie
1/11/2007 Where the beef is, piled high and hot
1/04/2007 The healthy foodie
12/28/2006 The return of pasta and fall of the diet: the year in eats
12/21/2006 Organic on the ice
12/14/2006 French but not fussy
12/07/2006 Southeast U.S. culture, in sandwich form
11/30/2006 Bites of comfort with chips of happiness
11/23/2006 Cityside adds class to conveniece
11/16/2006 Easier-to-enjoy Thanksgiving feasts
11/9/2006 The new classic
10/26/2006 Whip up a quiche
10/19/2006 A new way to crepe
10/12/2006 Comfort food for blokes and birds
10/05/2006 Smaller crop but still red and delicious
09/28/2006 The crunchier, lighter, healthier wrap
09/21/2006 City bagels in suburbia
09/14/2006 Cracking the custard code
09/07/2006 Eat your way down the block
08/31/2006 New flavors for an old summer dish
08/24/2006 Way down south in Hollis
08/17/2006 Frappe vs. milkshake
08/10/2006 Enjoy the bluest month
08/03/2006 Death of Toro
07/27/2006 Vacation on a plate
07/20/2006 Hitting barbecue big time
07/13/2006 Relishing the raspberry
07/06/2006 Are your edible souveneirs kosher?
06/29/2006 Fish, upscale
06/22/2006 Sweet rosey taste of summer
06/15/2006 When to pull out the EVOO
06/08/2006 What can you grill?
06/01/2006 Taste of downtown Nashua
05/25/2006 Deulge at farms
05/18/2006 Adorable and delicious
05/11/2006 Rub down
05/04/2006 Pinot to go
04/27/2006 A bit Italian, a bit egg foo young
04/20/2006 Meatier than breakfast...
04/13/2006 Let yourself eat cake
04/06/2006 Fear not the Risotto
03/30/2006 Making Friday a fishy delight
03/23/2006 The Thin Mints are here
03/16/2006 Divining your personality from pizza
03/09/2006 Cooking up a big bowl of comfort
03/02/2006 Dumplings demystified
02/23/2006 Carbs and comfort all the way
02/16/2006 She sells sushi by the sea shore
2/09/2006 Biting into the burger with bling
02/02/2006 Forget formal dining, head to the bar
01/26/2006 Goodbye rooster, hello year of the dog
01/19/2006 The secret lives of chefs
01/12/2006 Cooking up a pot of delayed gratification
01/05/2006 A sunny Italian side dish
A year of eats

All-you-can-read guide to breakfast
A bagel by any other l
A picnic ó itís romance with ants
A sweet burst of summer, in stages
Beef, It's What's For Dinner, Lunch, And Dessert
Be it ever so humble, the burger rules
Blockbuster snacks for your movie
Box Of Chocolates
C Is For Cookie And Christmas And Cool Combo
Celebrating A Holiday For The Rest Of Us
Celebrate Easter In A Sugar Coma
Chat And Chew

Chinese soup is magic
Chocolate cake makes everything better
Chocolate, Part II
Competition flows like chocolate
Corn Flake Chicken, Honeycomb Salad
Dining at the "Your House Bistro"
Don't Dread The Bread
Dress Up Your Next Meal
Drinking Out Of The Box
Eating Your Way Back To Health
Enter Soup
Experiments With Very Bad Brownies
Feeding A Crowd The Morning After
Follow the cider house rules
Fresh Herbs
Go ahead ó run silent, run deep
Goodbye corn syrup, hello organic oatmeal
Go Indian for Thanksgiving
Grilled Cheese Junkie

Halloween candy for grown-ups
Have a Happy Meal and a happier wallet
Holiday Cookies - The Easy Way
Holiday Potluck 101-Tips For The Kitchen Novice
Home-Based Date
How do you like them apples?
In-A-Pinch Love Feast
It's not easy to be cheesy
Itís not Christmas without tamales
Lest We Forget The Humble Squash
Keeping your cool while you eat
Living through your salad days

Looking Beyond The Hot Dog Stand
Lunching your way to a less toxic you
Meat's meat and a man's gotta eat

Moist and delicious chicken ó no, really
Oatmeal Cookies, The Miracle Cure
Oscar Night, When The Stars Come Out To Eat

Offering Up A Slice Of Teriyaki Pie
Pot Pies Are Darn Tasty
Pumpkin-Flavored Treats
Small Plates Are The Next Big Thing
Speedy 'za not pie in the sky
Steak: itís whatís for dinner, again
Summer coolers, just add sunlight
Summer Squash
Super Bowl Grub
Take A Walk On The Dark Side
Taste of Manchester Event
The Cosmopolitan
The joys of a simple oatmeal breakfast
The return of comfort food
The One-Note Cook Book
The New American Plate Cookbook
The Stickiest, Hottest & Sweetest Of Love's Labors
The taste of retro
The Unheralded Peanut Butter Cookies
The union of sweet and heat
The Weekly Dish (12-16-04)
The Weekly Dish (12-23-04)

The Weekly Dish [1-13-05]
There's a Barbecue Bonanza Next Door
Week Four: Adding Diet To The Mix
What Was Hot And Haute In 2004
When $$ trumps urge to dine out
When in doubt, go for the organic
When nothing else will cool, Slurp it
You Say Potato, She'll Say Potato,Too
You say tomato, writer says lunch