Monday, January 24, 2011

Setting Food on Fire with Sheila Connolly

I've been a fan of Sheila's Meg Corey apple Orchard series since it began two years ago and just learned about her other two series. I'm so glad she could join us for the Warm Up with Flaming Foods event this month in between writing her many excellent books!-AA

I was raised by cooks who made bland food. That was what they'd grown up with, and what they knew. My mother excelled at meat-starch-veg. To be fair, the meat was not cooked to death, and the vegetables were usually fresh. My father (who didn't really cook) followed the duPont dietBwhich to me sounds like the predecessor of the Atkins dietBfor years, with heavy emphasis on meat, broiled. I keep wondering how I emerged from that environment with any interest in cooking at all. But I did.

The protagonists of my two current series, Meg Corey (the Orchard Mysteries) and Nell Pratt (the Museum Mysteries), both enjoy food, but they aren't really into cooking (too busy solving crimes, among other things). However, Berkley Prime Crime wants recipes, so I include recipes, at least in the Orchard seriesBwith no fire (but lots of apples!). And I did write one book (Red Delicious Death) in which I created an entire restaurant!

But! My first series (written under the name Sarah Atwell) was set in Tucson, Arizona, and there's no way to write about Arizona without exploring spicier food. On the minus side, my protagonist Em Dowell hates to cook. On the plus side, I had to come up with some pretty simple recipes for her, and that includes Em's Foolproof Slow Cooker Chicken Chili.

Since when I started I knew little about spicy cooking, I had to do my homework on chile peppers, and I acquainted myself with dried chile peppers, courtesy of Penzey's Spices catalog. I assume you fans of "hot" already know about the heat ratings. I'll confess that I'm cautious, so I've stuck mostly to Ancho peppers, with an occasional Chipotle thrown in. The advantage of this recipe is that you can make it as hot (or not) as you like, depending on which chile you choose to use. The flavor is great, whatever you use.


Note: Many local supermarkets don't carry a variety of fresh chiles, but dried peppers work well, as long as you soak them long enough to allow you to remove the seeds and veins.

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 large white onion, chopped

3 Ancho chiles with seeds and veins removed, cut into strips or pieces

2 tsp. oregano

2 large cloves garlic (you may leave them whole or chop them)

4 cups chicken broth

salt and black pepper to taste

1 15-oz. can beans (you may use black, white, or whatever you have)

fresh cilantro, chopped

In a slow-cooker, put the chicken, the chopped onion, the chiles, the garlic, and the oregano, salt and pepper. Pour in the chicken stock to cover. Cook at low heat for four hours (more or less).

Remove the chicken breasts, shred them (when they're cool enough to handle), and return them to the cooker. Add the beans and continue cooking for another hour (more or less).

Just before serving, add the cilantro and stir.

Serve over cooked rice. Serves four.

The beauty of this dish is its flexibility. You can use pork instead of chicken, or increase the proportion of meat or beans. If you want more heat, add more dried chiles, or a different kind of chile, or throw in a dash of Tabasco sauce. You can stir in heavy cream or sour cream at the end.

It's very hard to mess up.

Sheila Connolly lives in a Victorian home in Massachusetts, not far from Cape Cod. She is married with one daughter and three cats. Over the course of her life, she has lived in seven states, nineteen towns, and two foreign countries.  Her Meg Corey Orchard series garnered her an Agatha Nomination in 2009. The newest title in that series is A KILLER CROP, Berkley Prime Crime, December 2010. Her FUNDRAISING THE DEAD title out in October 2010 also from Berkley Prime Crime, started her new Nell Pratt Museum Mystery series. She also writes a glassblowing mystery series under the pen name of Sarah Atwell.  You can also find her blogging with other writers at

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