Category Archives: Cozy Mysteries

Eggs, etc.

Laura Child’s latest series,* Cackleberry Club Mysteries  (Did you know cackleberry is slang for egg?  I didn’t.) has three middle-aged women opening a breakfast/lunch restaurant that morphs into an afternoon tearoom and also sells books and knitting supplies on the side.  I guess this makes sense as I can’t imagine that as stand-alone shops any one of these ventures would succeed in a small Midwestern town.  These three friends have definitely cornered the niche market; all they need to do is do is add a small boutique or jewelry shop to appeal to all the women in town.

So far, I have read the first two books in the series, Eggs in Purgatory and Eggs Benedict Arnold.  As mysteries, they are average.  The stories ramble on with lots of suspects, but then seem to hurriedly come to a conclusion and especially in the second book, the murderer seems to come out of left field, but all the recipes sound delicious.  I haven’t yet made anything from Eggs in Purgatory, but I want to try several including Cherry Pie Muffins, Chicken and Wild Rice Soup, and Easy Sour Cream Biscuits.  I’ve tried two recipes from Eggs Benedict Arnold: Chicken Croquettes and Frozen Lemonade Pie.  I would consider the Chicken Croquettes to be more like crab cakes than croquettes.  Any croquettes I have ever eaten have had either a white sauce or mashed potatoes as a base with meat or vegetables mixed in, then were rolled in bread crumbs and deep fried.  These had no white sauce or mashed potatoes, had the bread crumbs mixed in and were pan fried.  But name quibble aside, they were quite tasty and the family all agreed they were worth making again.  Next time though I’d add more cheese and use a heavier hand with the seasonings.  The Frozen Lemonade Pie was very easy to make with just four ingredients, but was a little too sweet for my taste.  (I don’t like things as sweet as most people.  When I bake, I generally cut the sugar by 1/3.)  If I make it again, I’d probably cut back on the sweetened condensed milk.  The next recipe I want to try from the second book is Blueberry Breakfast Squares, which is a simple cake with a blueberry filling.

The verdict: average mysteries but worth reading, mainly for the recipes.

*Her earlier series are Tea Shop Mysteries and Scrapbook Mysteries.

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2012 Cozy Theme Reading Challenge–Finished!

Well, it took until the very last day, but I finished the Goodreads Cozy Theme Reading Challenge and I was able to complete my personal challenge of reading cozies that contained recipes as well.

Here’s what I read:

#1 British – English – Books that take place in the United Kingdom countries of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

I read Aunt Dimity and the Duke for this, but I also read an Aunt Dimity book for the paranormal category and it felt a little like cheating to read two books from the same series, so I kept looking.  It took until the day before the challenge ended to find another book that was not only set in Britain, but also had a recipe.  Sweet Revenge by Andrea Penrose actually has 25 chocolate recipes—one at the beginning of each chapter. Most of the recipes contain either liquor or coffee, neither of which I drink, so won’t be trying them, but there were a few recipes I might try: Salted Chocolate Caramels, Cacao Shortbread, Chocolate Angel Food Cake and Spiced Hot Chocolate.  Sweet Revenge could also have worked for the historical category as it is set in 1813.  Lady Arianna Hadley sneaks back to London years after her father escaped to the Caribbean. She is determined to revenge her father’s banishment and death.  When reaching her goal gets her tangled up with the poisoning of the Prince Regent, she joins forces with government agent, Lord Saybrook to help solve both their mysteries.  The story had mystery, adventure, romance, history, and humor (some of it on the bawdy side) as well as chocolate history and recipes.

#2 Historical/Period – Any book that takes place prior to 1940.

The Tale of Hill Top Farm by Susan Witting Albert which I talked about in a previous post.

#3 Animals – Any book with an animal as a main character, subject of the book, book takes place in a pet shop, stable, etc.

Actually, I read four books in the Jane Stuart and Winky (Jane’s cat) series by Evan Marshal for this one so I could could count the fourth one, Icing Ivy for the challenge.  Why four?  I wanted a cozy with a recipe and I like to read series in order and it took till number four to get a recipe for Trinidadian Curried Cascadoo (a fish).

Though the series is billed as Jane Stuart and Winky, the cat really was a minor character who would just happen to sit on the one clue Jane needed.  Really?  I should have used this for the professions category as there were a lot of details about Jane’s job as a literary agent.

#4 Culinary/Cooking – Food themed mysteries.

Lost and Fondue by Avery Aames is the second book in the Cheese Shop Mysteries. Besides the expected recipes for fondue and quiche there is one for Porcupine Meatballs.  (Aames’ recipe can be found here: http://www.mysteryloverskitchen.com/2011/05/kid-friendly-porcupines.html)  I haven’t made her version, but I do have fond memories of eating porcupines as a child.  Sadly, when I made them for my own family, they were not impressed.

#5 Paranormal – Anything centered around the occult, witches, vampires, werewolves, Psychics, ghosts, etc.

Aunt Dimity’s Death by Nancy Atherton also mentioned in a previous post.

#6 Vacation Mysteries/Exotic Locations – Any book that takes place outside the United States and/or outside the country in which you live.

This one took me a while.  I knew I could use a book from Nancy Fairbank’s Carolyn Blue series, but I was hoping to find a new series, but when I couldn’t I ran to the library in the next town (My home library does not have very many books in this series which is why I put it to the side in the first place.  I am too impatient to wait for interlibrary loans.) and borrowed Mozzarella Most Murderous.  It meant reading out of order because the next one on the list that I hadn’t read was set in the U.S., but I didn’t have time to read up to it.

In this title, Carolyn accompanies her husband to a conference in Italy and her sightseeing companion of the day before ends up at the bottom of the swimming pool.  On her way to solving the murder, Carolyn eats lots of delicious Italian food including Insalata Caprese, Lemon Torte and Stuffed Peaches with Mascarpone Cheese.  I have already tried Fairbanks’ Campania-Style Hamburger, which is a breaded burger, covered with mozzarella cheese, tomato and pesto and served on garlic toast.  (The recipe said to drizzle garlic olive oil on toast, but I shortcutted by using some frozen Texas Toast that I fried, grilled cheese-style.)  Though it is supposed to be slow food, my husband gobbled it up very fast.  He really liked it; the kids not so much.  He voted to make it again.

#7 Holidays – Any holiday themed mystery.

Christmas was the theme of the holiday cozy, Gingerbread Bump-Off by Livia J. Washburn.  The chairwomen of the town’s holiday house parade is killed with a blow to the head from a ceramic gingerbread man grabbed from Phyllis’s front porch.  The recipes are seasonally appropriate, including one for Chocolate Mint Coffee Spoons (gifts?), Slow-Bake Gingerbread Ornaments (decorating?), Winter Cranberry Cider (entertaining?) and of course, Gingerbread Boys with Cream Cheese Frosting.

#8 Hobbies – Any mystery that centers around a hobby, craft, sport, etc.

Needled to Death by Maggie Sefton is the second book in the Knitting Mystery series that centers around a knitting shop and the knitters who gather there.  Kelly Flynn, who came home to Colorado from Washington, D.C. to deal with her aunt’s death is now telecommuting to her job, settling in and making friends.  She and another knitting shop friend volunteer to take some out-of-town knitters to a local alpaca ranch only to discover the owner dead when they get there.  The book includes two simple knitting patterns and a recipe for blueberry pie.

#9 Professions/Careers/Jobs/Occupations – Any mystery that centers on or highlights a particular job. Doesn’t matter if the job is that of the person murdered, or that of the amateur sleuth.

Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen is a baker. Yum. (So this series could also fit into the food category.)  Cinnamon Roll Murder, the latest addition to this series has Hannah finding another dead body. (How can one small town have so many murders?) But really, it’s the recipes we care about.  Most are for baked goods, but Fluke will offer up an occasional “hot dish” (what Minnesotans call a casserole), salad or side. This time around the reader gets 22 recipes, including Lemon Cake, Peaches and Cream Cookies and something called Piggy Chicken.

#10 Senior Sleuths – Read a mystery where the sleuth is 50 or older.

I could have used another Fresh-Baked mystery by Washburn as her sleuth is a retired school teacher, but like my Aunt Dimity dilemma, I wanted to use a different series.  I found Biggie and the Poisoned Politician by Nancy Bell.  Biggie’s story is told from the point-of-view- of her 12-year-old grandson who nicknamed her Biggie when he was a toddler. Now everybody in the small Texas town calls Fiona Weatherford Biggie.  When the mayor drops dead in his dessert, Biggie starts poking around with the help of her grandson, her voodoo practicing maid, Willie Mae and Willie Mae’s husband, Rosebud.  Included is a recipe for gumbo.

Overall, what did I think?  I enjoyed the challenge, especially with my extra personal challenge as it got me to seek out new series.  I found some tasty recipes, which is always a bonus.  Next time though, I’ll be sure to start at the beginning, not two months late so I have more time to enjoy the reading and the recipes.

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2012 Cozy Themes Reading Challenge Update

Just a quick update on my progress in the Goodreads’ Cozy Reading Challenge:  I haven’t crossed too many off my list as I have also been reading outside the cozy genre lately.  (Read a really great tween/teen book called the False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen.   Highly recommend, especially to fantasy or historical fiction readers.)

What I have read so far for the challenge are

#2 Historical/Period – The Tale of Hill Top Farm by Susan Wittig Albert, which is first in the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter series.  This is a very gentle read with children’s book author Beatrix Potter as a main character.  The series is set in the Lake District of England, where Beatrix buys a home after the death of her fiancé.  The mysteries of a missing church register and the school roof fund are solved by Beatrix’s anthropomorphized pets and the local animals.

Several recipes are included including one for a strawberry rhubarb tart, which I need to try now that rhubarb is in season and some authentic for the time recipes, including one for sponge cake that includes flour in the weight of 6 eggs and sugar in the weight of 8 eggs.  (Not sure if I’m supposed to use all those eggs in the cake or just use them for measuring.  Glad recipes are more precise these days!)

#5 Paranormal – Aunt Dimity’s Death by Nancy Atherton, which is the first book in the Aunt Dimity Mystery series. (Have you noticed that I like to read series in order?) This is another gentle read that has Lori Shepard discovering that the bedtime stories her mother told her as a child were not just from her imagination, but were actually about a real person, who has left Lori an inheritance and a task to fulfill.  With help from her lawyer’s son, Lori sets off for England and Aunt Dimity’s cottage where strange things happen.  (Cue the spooky music.)  Includes a recipe for oatmeal cookies.

#4 Culinary/Cooking – Lost and Fondue by Avery Aames, the second in the Cheese Shop Mystery series (I read book one last year.) set in a touristy Ohio town where Charlotte Bessette and her cousin run a wine and cheese shop.  While catering a fundraiser at an old winery for her friend, Charlotte discovers a dead body and is on the hunt for the killer in order to clear her friend’s niece of suspicion.

The recipes include one for cherry scones, two fondues (a blue cheese and a goat cheese) and a Vidalia Onion and Bacon Quiche.  (Yum.  Anything with onions and bacon has got to be good.)

I’ve got books lined up for most of the other categories; I just need to get busy reading.  I’ll keep you posted.

Happy reading and happy eating.

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Bacon and Salad

Cooking up Murder by Miranda Bliss is the first in the Cooking Class Mystery Series which featured stereotypical characters: a pretty, dumb blond and her smart, but plain best friend who stumble upon a dying man in the parking lot after their first cooking class and get involved in trying to figure out “who done it.”  Stereotypes aside, I enjoyed the story and the recipes and have read all five books in the series.

I tried two recipes: a tasty artery clogger with bacon and cream cheese balanced by a nice, healthy salad.

Annie’s Bacon Pinwheels were far and away the favorite; everybody wanted the recipe.  Only four ingredients; very easy to make.  I thought the cream cheese would be spread pretty thick with only 8 slices of bread, but actually it worked out just right.  I prepared the recipe half-way the night before and just had to roll the bacon and grill the next day.  I did need to cut the bacon both vertically and horizontally to prevent a lot of overhang.  I took them out at the suggested time; I felt the bacon was not quite done, but I like my bacon crispy.  My husband thought they were perfect as they were.  After he ate several, I put the rest back in the oven to crisp up.  They went so quickly, I forgot to get a picture, which just gave me an excuse to make these little cholesterol bombs again!  The second time I made these my friends were all over them.  They burned their mouths on the second batch because they would not even wait for them too cool off.

Jim’s Mandarin Salad is a very simple salad composed of romaine, mandarin oranges and strawberries.  But a better name might have been Jim’s Strawberry Salad because there were definitely more strawberries than oranges.  A sixteen ounce carton of strawberries versus an 11 oz. can of oranges.  The recipe called for a sprinkling of glazed almonds, but I substituted pecans for almonds because I like pecans and I don’t like almonds.  The dressing gave an option of either apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar; I used balsamic.  Very tasty.

I admit I tend to douse my salads in a lot of ranch dressing, but with this salad a few dribbles of dressing was all that was needed.  Much healthier than all that ranch. Instead of tossing the salad with all the dressing, I let people dress their own salad.  And that way, I was able to save the leftovers for my lunch the next day.  That’s when I added some chicken strips and made it more of a main dish salad. Also very yummy.

Happy reading and happy eating!

 

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Death by Rhubarb

Not everyone likes rhubarb, but I do and I look forward to it every year.  Around here, it is usually ready to pick around Mother’s Day, but this year with the crazy warm spring we’ve had it is already turning red.  There was enough ready today that I was able to pick some and will be serving  strawberry rhubarb gelatin with Easter dinner.

In honor of this tart, but delicious plant I offer Death by Rhubarb by Lou Jane Temple, the first of the Heaven Lee series.  Heaven is a sassy, street-smart restaurant owner/caterer who turns to sleuthing when a customer drops dead in her restaurant.  Anxious to clear her name and keep her restaurant in business, Heaven heads out to the streets of Kansas City to track down a murderer.

Sadly, no rhubarb recipes are included, but there are a number of others:

Blue Heaven Salad
Raspberry Dressing
Risotto with Mushrooms and Asparagus
Jicama Waldorf Salad
Heartland Grain Salad
Ginger Cheese Filled Won Ton Wrappers
Russian Cabbage Filled Won Ton Wrappers
Pumpkin Picadillo Filled Won Ton Wrappers
Pearl’s Gingerbread Upside-Down Cake
Artichoke Hummus
Tortilla Espanola

I haven’t tried any of these recipes, but am interested in trying both the Ginger Cheese Won Tons and the Gingerbread Cake.

Happy reading and happy eating!

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2012 Cozy Themes Reading Challenge

I have been a member of Goodreads (www.goodreads.com) for several years, but after an initial burst of activity, I let my participation fall away.  This year, I have resolved to become more active, to post my reads and participate in some discussions.  Therefore I have taken on a Cozy Mysteries reading challenge.  The goal is to read ten books by July 31.  Each book must fit a particular category/theme. The themes are

#1 British – English – Books that take place in the United Kingdom countries of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
#2 Historical/Period – Any book that takes place prior to 1940.
#3 Animals – Any book with an animal as a main character, subject of the book, book takes place in a pet shop, stable, etc.
#4 Culinary/Cooking – Food themed mysteries.
#5 Paranormal – Anything centered around the occult, witches, vampires, werewolves, Psychics, ghosts, etc.
#6 Vacation Mysteries/Exotic Locations – Any book that takes place outside the United States and/or outside the country in which you live.
#7 Holidays – Any holiday themed mystery.
#8 Hobbies – Any mystery that centers around a hobby, craft, sport, etc.
#9 Professions/Careers/Jobs/Occupations – Any mystery that centers on or highlights a particular job. Doesn’t matter if the job is that of the person murdered, or that of the amateur slueth.
#10 Senior Slueths – Read a mystery where the sleuth is 50 or older.

My personal challenge is to see how many books I can find that fit not only the challenge theme, but my personal theme of mysteries with recipes.  Some will be easy as I already am aware of a series that does both.  For example, Maggie Sefton’s knitting series covers the hobbies theme and includes a recipe.

Feel free to play along.

Happy reading and happy eating!

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Knit and Eat

Knit One, Kill Two
by Maggie Sefton
c. 2005

 I just finished Knit One, Kill Two, the first in a series of mysteries by Maggie Sefton. Enjoyable, but not the best written story I’ve ever read.  Several typos, but I don’t know if that is due to reading it as an eBook, or if the print copy has the same mistakes.  I felt that Kelly, an accountant who comes to Fort Collins, Colorado when her aunt is murdered became close friends (and took them into her confidence, sharing family secrets) with the knitters in the shop next door to her aunt’s home far too quickly.  And having the secretary put the call on speakerphone so Kelly just happens to overhear a crucial bit of information.  Really?  How likely is that to actually happen?

But overall, the homey setting and the calm of the knitting shop blended into an pleasant read.  If you are a knitter, you will enjoy the setting, all the talk of yarns and the directions for a sleeveless sweater.  I wasn’t expecting it, but there was even a recipe for cinnamon rolls with lemon cream cheese frosting on page 222 that I had to try right away.

I was worried about my old yeast and the fact that my experience with making yeast breads is limited to throwing all the ingredients in a bread maker, but the rolls turned out pretty good.  They weren’t hard to make and the directions were clear.  I got busy and let the first rising go on too long.  I don’t know if that was the reason, but the second rising didn’t seem as strong.  (Experienced bread bakers, do you know?)  My daughter did not like the lemon frosting and wanted to make sure I mentioned it–but she didn’t dislike it enough to stop eating.  I have to say, I agree.  Cream cheese frosting without the lemon would have been better.

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