by Cynthia Chow
& Leslie Budewitz
Another week of fun food mysteries here at KRL! Not only do we have a review of the first in a new food mystery series by Leslie Budewitz and a fun food guest post including a recipe from Leslie, but in this same issue we have reviews & giveaways of 4 other food related mysteries Details on how to win a copy of Death al Dente at the end of this post.
Death al Dente: A Food Lovers’ Village Mystery By Leslie Budewitz
Review by Cynthia Chow
Leaving Seattle and a going-nowhere career to return home to Jewel Bay, Montana, for the first time to start a new career taking over her family’s specialty food shop would be difficult enough for Erin Murphy, even without her having to continue to work with her mother Francesca. Erin’s mother, whom now that they’re in business together must be referred to as “Fresca,” is the Merc’s chef with a blossoming product line of sauces and pasta, and proves to be extremely reluctant to hand over the reins to her daughter and follow her new marketing plan. Hoping to distinguish themselves from other markets Erin intends to specialize the Merc, formerly Glacier Mercantile, as a provider of locally grown, high-quality, sustainable, organic food. She plans to kick off this new direction by hosting the First Annual Jewel Bay Festa Di Pasta, where local businesses and vendors will set up booths promoting their products as a Food Lovers’ Village and tourist destination.
Things are already off to a rocky start when a neighboring bar owner shares the news that Fresca’s friend and former Merc manager, Claudette Randall, is spreading rumors that Fresca stole her recipes and then fired Claudette in order to make room for Erin. While Fresca refuses to even consider that her oldest friend would spread these lies, Erin is more determined to confront Claudette head on. When Erin does meet up with Claudette, she denies spreading the rumors but is more devastated by her own recent discovery that the Elvis tribute artist (never just an impersonator) she ran away with and intended to marry, has just returned to his wife. A confectionary creator of mediocre chocolates that both Fresca and Erin have refused to sell out of their store, Linda Vincent is already on their list of least likable residents of Jewel Bay and a continual thorn in their side who resents Erin’s control of the Festa.
Before she has time to uncover the truth about the rumors smudging her mother’s reputation, Erin discovers Claudette’s body hidden by garbage cans in the back of the Festa’s courtyard. The death was definitely not natural and soon even more gossip spreads that Fresca was the person with the most reasons for wanting Claudette dead. Not even the perfect pair of Ruby Red cowboy boots can boost Erin’s spirits, while Fresca seems to be intent on sticking her head in the sand, even as more evidence seems to be piling up and the Merc and Erin’s car are vandalized. Taking every attack personally, Erin justifiably attempts to find evidence of who is responsible for their spate of bad fortune. Claudette was running up her own large list of enemies, from former employers, a jealous rival chef, and the entire Vincent faintly.
I love the descriptions of not just the food but of the people, from Fresca’s Bakelite bracelets to Dean Vincent’s skintight spandex Elvis outfits. Kim Caldwell, Erin’s best friend from high school who also broke off their friendship at the time of Erin’s father’s death, is now the sheriff’s lead detective and her own background slowly unfolds in an intriguing and unforced manner. The desperate need to protect her new business and her mother, and believing that her former friend’s prejudices may be inhibiting the investigation, gives this new amateur detective the justification to attempt to solve the murder. Her first person narration gifts the novel with a relatable and very likable voice and her romantic options take a refreshingly second tier of importance when compared to the murder. The author provides a unique glimpse into sustainable food, with scrumptious recipes at the end and places her own unique twist on the culinary mystery.
A Taste of Summer—Perfect All Year Long
By Leslie Budwitz
A few weeks ago, Mr. Right and I attended a 75th birthday party for an old friend. Jack and Laura have been very successful financially and share their bounty generously, often inviting dozens of friends and family for summer parties at their home on Flathead Lake. The skies were picture-perfect that evening and sunlight danced on the water, as waves lapped the shore and sailboats slipped by. We sipped wine, visiting with old friends and meeting new ones. We wandered through the garden on stones shaped like giant turtles, smelling the roses and admiring the striking combinations of flowers and foliage, while a talented brass, woodwind player and bassist played jazz standards on the home’s back deck.
Idyllic—even before the food arrived. Laura once owned a much-missed restaurant in the village and hires her former staff to cater their parties. I wasn’t first in line when the appetizers appeared, but darned close. “Try this,” I urged Mr. Right, and snuck back over to the table to snare another crostini (a toasted slice of baguette) spread with cannellini, tomatoes, and tarragon. “Mmm,” he said a moment later as the combination hit his taste buds, eyes wide with approval, head nodding.
Like Erin Murphy, the protagonist in my new Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, I often try to recreate at home food I’ve enjoyed elsewhere. This time, though, it was the flavors that inspired me, rather than the specific dish. I’ve loved tarragon ever since first making Julia Child’s classic tarragon chicken. I keep a pot of it growing on the back porch all summer, moving it to the window sill and nurturing it as long as our cold Montana winters allow. The bright tang adds a touch of green surprise to chicken and tomatoes, or to a salad vinaigrette, and we’ve always got several varieties of canned beans on hand. Nothing beats dried beans, soaked and simmered with herbs and spices and stock, but canned are a great substitute for quick meals. So, the next night, we created this simple dish, a taste of sparkling summer you can enjoy all year round.
Tarragon Chicken with Cannellini and Tomatoes
1-15 oz can cannellini or white beans, not a seasoned variety
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, minced, or more to taste
salt and pepper
two chicken breasts
1/4 cup dry white wine
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Rinse and drain the beans and pour into a 3 quart baking dish with a cover. Stir in the tomatoes and tarragon. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper on both sides and lay on top of the bean mixture. Roast, covered, for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and add the wine; cover and let rest about ten minutes before serving.
(When we made this a few weeks later, we were short on fresh tomatoes and snipped in a few sundried tomatoes. Loved the extra tang they added—don’t hesitate to experiment!)
To enter to win a copy of Death al Dente, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Dente,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 31, 2013. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.