by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of another fun food mystery, Cheddar Off Dead by Julia Buckley, along with a food related guest post from Julia which includes a recipe. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Cheddar Off Dead. We also have a link to order it from Amazon, and from an indie bookstore where a portion goes to help support KRL.
Cheddar Off Dead: n Undercover Dish Mystery by Julia Buckley
Review by Cynthia Chow
The holiday season is one of the favorite and busiest times of the year for Chicago’s new caterer Lilah Drake. Who could have expected that there were so many Pine Haven residents willing to pay Lilah to prepare meals while they take all the credit? On Lilah’s secret client list is her friend Jenny Braidwell, an elementary school teacher, whose students believe that she is a fantastic baker and cook. In fact, it was a mac and cheese delivery to JFK Grade School for a class party that has Lilah engaging in small talk with the hired Santa, who gives her some wise advice on Christmas wish lists of her own. Unfortunately, it’s the last gift he will ever grant, as moments later Lilah witnesses Santa being gunned down in the school parking lot.
Almost as bad as once again being the witness to a murder is being forced to engage with Detective Jay Parker. Their budding romance was stopped in its tracks by his rigid code of honestly and feeling of betrayal by Lilah’s culinary lies. Their first conversations are awkward, but that doesn’t compare to when they learn that Lilah requires a constant Pine Haven Police bodyguard.
Actor and part-time Santa Brad Whitfield had a surprisingly large number of friends among the school faculty, but he also had his share of shady acquaintances. Lilah inadvertently meets one of those while hiding out with her brother and his girlfriend, although it also has the benefit of Lilah receiving a fantastic makeover. A television appearance on her ex-boyfriend’s new cooking show boosts not just the business of Lilah’s above-board catering business, but the jealousy level of one Jay Parker. Between being followed by a number of terrifying stalkers, ducking bullets, and dodging break-ins, it’s a miracle that Lilah still has time to bake the casseroles and cookies that are making her a success.
This is a mystery that can be enjoyed at any time of the year, although it may have readers salivating for Christmas cookies, fudge, and other delectable party foods. Lilah has become even more engaging and intelligent as a lead character, and not until the conclusion does she get herself in a truly dire situation. Lilah’s relationship with Jay plays a large role in this novel, but what is refreshing is that stumbling blocks arise not from trivial miscommunications or plot devices, but from genuine moral and philosophical differences. The challenge for this couple will be if their attraction is enough for them to forgive past—and undoubtedly future—disagreements. The humor is witty and constant, and the characters are themselves delightful without being too over the top or unrealistic. Moments with Lilah’s loyal Labrador Mick are the shining star of this entertaining culinary mystery.
Expensive Recipes, Cake Failures, and The Art of Food Writing
By Julia Buckley
In my new Undercover Dish Mystery, Cheddar Off Dead, Lilah Drake’s saga continues. During the day, she works for the best caterer in town, Haven of Pine Haven, and in her off hours, she pursues her own secret business of making food for those who want to claim they made it. It’s a complicated schedule that keeps Lilah busy, but her life is further complicated when she witnesses a murder. It’s very close to Christmas, and Lilah wants to enjoy the season and plan her New Year’s Resolutions; instead she must work with the police to determine who might have wanted to kill the poor deceased man, who was dressed as Santa Claus when he died.
As in the first book, this mystery comes complete with recipes. People often ask me if I love cooking, or have a nice big kitchen, or if I concoct my own recipes, as Lilah does. I am forced to disappoint them. While I enjoy making food when I have time, ingredients, and a clean workspace, I am often too busy to really have fun with cooking. My husband cooks many of our meals, but I do manage one or two dinners during the week and the occasional specialty for birthdays and holidays.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t love food preparation or reading recipes. When I was first married, I persuaded my husband to let me spend some of our money on a recipe club. For some initial low price of 5.99 or so, they sent you a giant plastic organizer and some category divider cards like Main Dishes, Vegetables, Desserts, Appetizers, Holiday Food, Cakes, etc. Then, for a MONTHLY FEE, they sent you a pack of cards that you could put behind your dividers. It’s like someone in an office somewhere said, “Hey, people like cookbooks, but we can’t charge hundreds of dollars for one. I’ve got it! Send the book in little sections and make them pay each time!”
And I did pay. But oh, I loved that club, and I looked forward to those cards every month with joyful anticipation (This was long before the Internet and home computers and Pinterest and such). But here’s the thing: I NEVER MADE THE RECIPES. I just loved LOOKING at those pictures, and I would sit for the longest time, sorting and imagining, but not actually engaging. The cards were more like little fantasy starters, and I loved them the way that kids love Pokemon cards or Baseball cards. The one exception I can recall is that I fell in love with one of the birthday cakes, an elaborate and colorful carousel which involved dyed frosting and creatures made out of sculpted candy. I decided that I would create that cake for my son’s birthday. So I made the attempt, and not only did my cake not look like a carousel, but it looked like a weird red melted lump—sort of like a cake that had been consumed by lava. I cried, and we bought my son a Batman cake at the Jewel, and I decided that looking at my recipe cards was generally the way to go.
Maybe that recipe box (which I eventually filled, but which I gave away years ago) was a sort of foreshadowing of the joy I would feel when I WROTE about food. In this world, I can live vicariously through my character Lilah, who not only knows a lot about food preparation, but who has a special gift, an inexplicable something, that makes her food delicious and much in demand. Lilah is wish fulfillment for any would-be chef or entertainer: she can throw together an elegant meal on a moment’s notice; she can make appealing food for any age (and I have included her recipe for chocolate chip cookies that she makes just for her honorary nephew, Henry); she can make covered dishes and casseroles for hungry people, but she also has some knowledge about food and wine pairings that help in her catering job; and when Lilah decides to make something special—it looks special when it is finished.
Making food is an art, but writing about food is an art, too, and I can claim a certain affinity for the second one, but not so much the first.
Still, it’s good to know that when I write about food, people sometimes are inspired to go to their own kitchens and make something good.
Lilah’s Henry-Bear Chocolate Chip Cookies
Made Exclusively for Henry of Weston
This particular recipe is sure to please any cookie-grubbing small people in your environment. Since children have surprisingly large hands when it comes to taking cookies, you might consider doubling the recipe so that you have plenty to share.
3/4 cup granulated sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
½ teaspoon cinnamon sugar
2 ¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
Chopped walnuts to taste (for those with a nut allergy, these can be omitted or replaced with a candy substitute. Check candy bag to make sure it is nut-free).
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine sugars, vanilla and eggs (use a blender for a smooth dough)
(If a tiny child is present, he will try to eat the dough at this early stage—watch for tiny fingers)
Capture dough between two teaspoons and flick balls onto greased baking sheets. (Alternatively, you can buy cookie patterns in various child-friendly shapes. Henry is fond of the knight patterns).
Bake for 12-15 minutes or to desired crunchiness.
This recipe is also excellent aromatherapy, as it fills your house with the smell of chocolate and sweet cake.
Take cookies off the pan (they might continue baking slightly) and put on wire racks to cool. Seal cooled cookies into airtight containers.
Freeze half the batch so that you can have them fresh and ready when company comes.
Henry’s rating: Five Batmans (the highest amount possible).
To enter to win a copy of Cheddar Off Dead, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “cheddar,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 24, 2016. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
Use this link to purchase the book & a portion goes to help support KRL & indie bookstore Mysterious Galaxy:
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