Cooking the Books: Murder in the Tea Leaves by Laura Childs

Tea shop proprietor Theodosia Browning has been hired for her most glamorous gig yet: providing craft services to the set of a Hollywood movie filming near her shop in Charleston, South Carolina. The film crew has rented out the haunted Brittlebank Manor for the shoot, and Theo wouldn’t be her usual incurably nosy self if she wasn’t at least a little interested in poking around the building to see if there’s any truth to the rumors of a ghost haunting the top floor.

She’s somewhat taken aback, then, when director Josh Morro decides to cast her in the movie itself as a tea-leaf-reading fortune teller due to her intimate knowledge of tea and her general presentability. Despite her protests, she’s hustled into hair and makeup and is soon ready for her closeup. Alas that a huge power surge electrocutes Morro before he can proceed to immortalize her on film.

It quickly becomes clear that his death was no accident. Theo is willing to leave the investigating to the professionals, but her friend Delaine Dish has other plans. Delaine is a fixture on the Charleston Film Board and originally tapped Theo for the catering job. Now, she needs Theo’s help in turn. Delaine had been dating Josh until they’d had a spectacular and very public falling out while at a trendy restaurant. Afraid that the police will think that she killed Josh, she begs Theo for help in finding the real killer before her own reputation is in ruins.

Theo has always had a hard time saying no to Delaine, but when it quickly becomes clear that the murderer is on to her, she has no idea how to back out of the investigation either. Finding another dead body only raises the stakes. Will Theo and her friends manage to overcome the threats to their lives and successfully set their own trap for a ruthless killer?

Full of loving descriptions of both tea and the city of Charleston, this cozy also continues the series’ tradition of action-packed set pieces. It’s a wonder that Theo is able to host the delightfully themed tea services that she does some days considering the cinematic spills she undergoes! I also very much feel for the wardrobe of her dapper tea sommelier, Drayton Conneley, as it takes a continuous beating in the pursuit of justice.

There were 12 recipes included in this volume, along with teatime tips and suggestions. I had a hard time deciding which recipe to try out, as all of them were so delectably described in the novel itself! I finally settled on a meal for the whole family.

Lemon Chicken

Ingredients

1 frying chicken (2 ½ to 3 lbs.), cut into pieces

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

½ tsp. grated onion

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. thyme

Sprinkle of garlic powder

Butter

Chopped parsley and paprika for garnish

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Blend together olive oil, lemon juice, onion, salt, and thyme.

Arrange chicken pieces in a buttered casserole dish. Brush chicken thoroughly with lemon-oil mixture. Sprinkle lightly with garlic powder. Cover and bake for 50 to 60 minutes until tender, basting occasionally. Take cover off casserole for the last 20 minutes to allow chicken to brown. Garnish with parsley and paprika and serve with rice or a vegetable.

Yields 4 servings.

I first want to register my appreciation for how clear cut these instructions are and how they demystify the whole process of roasting chicken. I cheated a bit and used bottled lemon juice, onion powder, and parsley from a jar, but the result was already so amazing that I can barely even imagine how this would taste with fresh versions of those ingredients. The sauce came out so deliciously that I spooned up the extra like soup when I was done packing away leftovers.

I served this with mashed potatoes and (overcooked, alas) asparagus for a complete and balanced meal. My picky kids even ate a bunch of the chicken! This was a surprisingly fuss-free recipe that produced a truly excellent entree and is one I’ll be happy to make again and again.

Next week, we celebrate March by traveling all over the world to solve three different mysteries, while whipping up a sweet Irish-inspired treat. Do join me!

See also: Cooking the Books: Ill-Fated Fortune by Jennifer J. Chow

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