Cooking the Books: Here Comes the Body by Maria DiRico
By Doreen SheridanMarch 18, 2020
I knew that I was in for a treat when award-winning author Ellen Byron debuted a brand new culinary cozy mystery series under the pen name Maria DiRico. I was so pleased when Here Comes the Body proceeded to exceed my every expectation—even given how much I already enjoy her Cajun Country Mystery novels! This book is the first in the Catering Hall Mystery series and was just so much endearing, intelligent fun from first page to last.
Newly single Mia Carina has moved back to New York from Florida to live with her Nonna Lizabetta who’s worrying at the underhanded tricks pulled by a real-estate agent trying to persuade the aging denizens of their Queens neighborhood to sell up and move to retirement homes. Mia, meanwhile, is trying to help her Mafia-connected father, Ravello, go straight by making a success of Belle View Banquet Manor, a party venue handed over to him by a gambler who couldn’t make good on his debts. Ravello is tired of mobster life, and his capo, Donny Boldano, has given his blessing for Ravello to pursue legitimate work.
Business is actually looking pretty good until a cake that’s supposed to contain a stripper for a bachelor party they’re hosting winds up containing a fresh corpse instead. Worse still, lying next to the dead woman is a big fat check signed by Ravello, immediately placing him under suspicion for murder. Mia knows that crime is the last thing her dad wants to get involved in—especially if it hasn’t been signed off on by Donny—so she sets about clearing his name, knowing she has an uphill battle given his (justified) reputation. But she’ll pull out all the stops—unless a killer puts a stop to her first.
Fast-paced and hilarious, the book trades in twists that undermine stereotypical expectations, impressing me again and again with how fresh and modern this novel feels in a typically traditional subgenre. Her brother Posi, especially, and his obsession with becoming an Internet sensation made me laugh out loud more than once. I also loved how Mia ends up recruiting antagonists for her cause, building a really solid supporting cast for future novels (that I can’t wait to read!).
There were also party planning tips included in this volume, as well as four delicious recipes. I decided to try the one for a cake that Mia and the sous chef at her catering hall discuss.
Greek Farina Cake
Ingredients for the Cake
1 cup flour
¼ tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. double-acting baking powder
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
¾ cup regular, uncooked farina
Ingredients for the Syrup
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. orange zest
¼ cup honey
Crushed pistachio nuts
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
Cream the butter with an electric mixer. Slowly add the sugar, then add the eggs one at a time at slow speed, making sure to beat well after adding each egg. While running the mixer on medium speed, slowly add the flour mixture, and then the farina. Mix well until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
Pour batter into an 8″x8″ baking pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted to test it comes out clean.
While the cake is baking, combine the water, sugar, vanilla, orange zest, and honey in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. You can simmer it for the duration of the cake’s baking time. If you turn the heat off, make sure to heat up the syrup again before using to finish the cake.
While the cake is hot, poke about a dozen holes in it. Ladle the hot sauce onto the cake, waiting for one ladle of syrup to absorb before adding another. (You can use all the syrup or half of it, saving the other half for future use.)
When the cake has cooled completely, cut it into sixteen squares. As an option, you can add a spoonful of whipped cream to each piece, and sprinkle with the pistachio nuts.
This is a very traditional sweet treat that was maybe just a bit too much for my own palate to handle. My family and my lovely assistant Karin all enjoyed it, though. I actually wound up enjoying my portion of cake with slices from the orange we zested to make the syrup, as the acid from the citrus cut through the sweetness for me and helped me enjoy it better. Definitely the kind of dessert you want to make for people with a pronounced sweet tooth.
Note: While it is sweet, it’s not that tooth-hurting kind of sweet that comes from too much sugar. The honey and orange zest help make it go down more easily.
Next week, we head abroad to make a delightful cold vegetable dish while solving a dastardly case of murder. Do join me!