Cooking the Books: Mousse and Murder by Elizabeth Logan

Charlotte “Charlie” Cooke has been running the Bear Claw Diner in Elkview, Alaska, for over a year now after her mother, the diner’s original owner-operator, decided she wanted to retire and travel the world with her husband, Charlie’s dad. Now that Charlie’s settled into a good groove with both the diner and her cat—the delightfully named Eggs Benedict—she’s thinking of shaking things up a bit menu-wise. Unfortunately, her fastidious head chef, Oliver Whitestone, takes umbrage at the very idea, storming out after a very public argument.

When he doesn’t show up for his next shift, Charlie is concerned but not overly so. Oliver’s temperamental ways are well known in their small town. So it’s a shock when Alaskan State Trooper Cody Graham arrives bearing bad news: Oliver has been found outside town, shot to death and hastily covered in what appears to be a case of premeditated murder.

Once Charlie gets over both this and the idea that she could be a suspect, she quickly realizes that Trooper Graham is going to need all the help he can get if he’s going to bring Oliver’s killer to justice. In Alaska, law enforcement officers are few and far between, so she’s thrilled when local journalist Chris Doucette offers to team up with her to investigate. Trooper Graham, being no fool in a state that often relies on volunteers for much of its public services, swears them in as deputies under strict orders to never investigate alone and to report to him whenever they find anything important. But as Charlie and Chris dig deeper, they discover that Oliver was a man of many secrets—and that one of these could still prove fatal to them both.

This was a really good debut in a really great setting! One of the many things confirmed culinary cozy fans learn to suspend disbelief over is the necessity for amateurs to meddle in murder cases. This series, however, provides a perfect explanation for Charlie’s involvement. The budding romance between Charlie and Chris also managed to be both convincing and cute, as were the missteps and erosion in trust as the book progressed. I also found Charlie’s relationship with both her mom and her cat to be wholly aspirational. Overall, I was charmed.

Mousse and Murder also included two recipes, and since the moose meat required for the meatloaf recipe isn’t ready to hand in the lower 48, I decided to try out the other one.

Cherry Cheesecake Mousse

Ingredients

1 lb fresh pitted sweet cherries, fresh or frozen

1 ½ tsp unflavored gelatin

1 8-oz package cream cheese

½ C confectioners’ sugar

4 oz white chocolate baking squares, melted

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 C heavy whipping cream

Instructions

Chop cherries in food processor or blender.

Pour into saucepan; stir in gelatin. Let stand for 1 minute.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat.

Cook and stir for 1 minute or until gelatin is dissolved.

Pour into bowl. Refrigerate for 45 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken.

In separate bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in confectioners’ sugar, white chocolate, and vanilla until combined.

Fold in cherry mixture.

Beat whipping cream until soft peaks form.

Fold whipping cream into the cherry cream cheese mixture.

Pour into large dessert bowl or separate dessert dishes.

Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours or until set. Serves 8 to 10.

Is there a word for a trompe l’oeil but in taste form? My brain knows that this is a mousse, but it tastes so much like a cherry cheesecake—minus the graham cracker crust—that I had a hard time believing this wasn’t actually a cake. The most bizarre part of the entire exercise is that I don’t even like cheesecake but found this to be so ridiculously good! I used agar-agar instead of gelatin, which did give the cherry bit a firmer texture than gelatin might, but it was still fantastic. I can absolutely see why Oliver won contests with this dish, even if it isn’t the most photogenic dessert we’ve ever made.

Next week, we travel southeast to the Jersey Shore to catch up with a series I’ve enjoyed covering for this column in the past, cooking up some soup and solving a murder. Do join me!

See alsoCooking the Books: Pulp Friction by Julie Anne Lindsey

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