Welcome back to Granford, Massachusetts, where apple orchard owner Meg Corey—now Chapin after her marriage to Seth—is settling into the post-Christmas doldrums by trying to find a replacement for her orchard manager who has just accepted a prestigious internship in Australia. Her friend Christopher recommends one of the grad students he teaches at the college nearby, but Meg is initially put off by Larry’s dire lack of social skills. Despite her reservations, she decides to take him on and quickly finds herself growing protective of the young man.
Meanwhile, Seth is busy in his role of town selectman helping to organize the WinterFare, a small, day-long festival to encourage tourism. WinterFare is the brainchild of new transplant Monica Whitman, who is eager to use her abundant energy to help promote the town. Her death by food poisoning shortly after the close of the festivities shocks Granford deeply. Meg is happy to fully cooperate with the authorities who want to test the apples she had for sale at WinterFare. But when suspicion falls on Larry, her nascent maternal instincts come to the fore, and she finds herself investigating almost in spite of herself.
This 11th installment of the Orchard Mystery series is as laidback as its predecessors, with as much focus on the investigation as on the daily struggles of apple farming and small-town life. I really enjoy the character studies Sheila Connolly displays for us—particularly of the one farming couple who grew to be at complete odds with one another—even if I’m still appalled that Meg and Seth never talked about whether or not they wanted children before they got married. Fortunately, that was the only incomprehensible thing I found in all the otherwise sharp-eyed but gentle-voiced characterization. The ending is especially moving when the truth of Monica’s death is revealed.
A Late Frost includes three recipes, and I’ll admit that I was a little nervous after my spectacular failure with the recipe I attempted for its immediate predecessor, Seeds of Deception. This recipe sounded like it would be hard for me to ruin, though:
Sauteed Chicken French Style
4 chicken breasts (note: you can use either boneless, skinless ones, which cook quickly, or bone-in ones, which some people believe add more flavor—just make sure they're cooked through)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp butter
½ cup minced shallots
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 Tbsp minced garlic (about 4 cloves, depending on size)
1 Tbsp flour
¾ cup dry white wine
½ cup chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream
½ tsp fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper
3 Tbsp fresh parsley
In a large skillet heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Sautee the chicken until lightly browned, turning once. Set aside.
Reduce the heat, add the butter and let it melt. Add the shallots, thyme, and a half teaspoon of salt, and cook over medium-low heat until the shallots are soft.
Add the garlic and flour and cook for about a minute.
Add the wine, scrape the pan to gather up all those tasty bits that stuck to it, and whisk it until there are no lumps. Cook for about a minute longer, until the sauce thickens. Add the broth and stir.
Return the chicken and any juices from it to the pan, dunk both sides in the sauce, cover, and cook until the chicken is done. Remove the chicken to a serving platter and keep warm while you finish the sauce.
Add the cream to the sauce in the skillet, turn the heat up to medium high, and cook until the sauce thickens. Remove from the great and add the lemon juice. Taste and add salt and pepper if you like. Stir in the parsley.
Pour the sauce over the chicken pieces and serve with rice.
I think I’ve been spoiled recently with recipes that have been very clear on what to do, when to do it, and in how much measure. This one tended to be a little vague, particularly in timing, so I wouldn’t suggest it to novice cooks. If you’re comfortable estimating cook times, though, then I would highly recommend this delicious chicken dish.
That sauce is out of this world! It’s the perfect balance of cream and acid, and the parsley actually adds more than just looks here. If it helps the novice who wants to try making this anyway, I initially sautéed the chicken for six minutes on each side and the shallots and others for two minutes. I did, however, use chicken thighs because I prefer dark meat, and that came out really nicely.
Next week, we travel south to try a delicious down-home cake! Do join me!
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.