Cooking the Books: Seven Deadly Zins by Nancy J. Parra

In the second book of the California Wine Country Mystery series, our heroine, Taylor O’Brien, has decided to do a favor for her friend Tim Slade. While Tim is independently wealthy, he’s starting to look for ways to expand the labor of love that is his winery. In order to help, Taylor puts his estate on the itinerary for a special tour she’s putting together for investors looking for business opportunities in Sonoma. The tour ends abruptly when Tim, demonstrating for the visitors how his vats of fermenting wine are turned by hand, fishes up a very dead body instead.

The deceased is quickly identified as Jeffrey Hoag, the realtor boss of Tim’s girlfriend, Mandy. As if this isn’t enough to scare away potential investors, Jeffrey had been colluding with a local senator to tighten FDA inspections on small wineries in the area, including Tim’s. This, plus a very public argument on the subject, seems to point the finger of blame for the murder on Tim himself. Tim protests his innocence, and his friends are all supportive, but things only get worse when he’s found shortly after standing over another fresh corpse—this time belonging to the new-age self-help guru whom Taylor caught kissing Mandy backstage after one of the guru’s lectures.

Sheriff Ron Hennessey is sure he’s caught his man, but Taylor knows that as acerbic as Tim can be, he’s no killer. When her investigations lead her too close to the truth, she finds that the lives of her nearest and dearest are put in deadly peril by a killer’s ruthless efforts to stop her from finding out who really killed those men.

It was fun following along as Taylor investigated the case, particularly with the help of her eccentric Aunt Jemma, the surprisingly staid psychic Sarah, and my favorite character here, the plucky investigative reporter Chelsea McGarland. There were lots of interesting plot twists and even more interesting people to encounter as Taylor strove to clear Tim’s name. I also enjoyed the subplots regarding Taylor’s business rival and the suspect practices of the new-age cult Mandy was involved with.

There were two recipes included with the novel, and while I really wanted to try the “Tandoori Chicken” recipe, I honestly didn’t have the bandwidth at the time to marinate the dish for 24 hours before grilling. Instead, I chose the faster option:

Fun and Easy Homemade Fudge

Ingredients

3 c. dark chocolate chips

1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk

¼ cup butter

1 jar caramel sauce

1 cup chopped pecan

Instructions

In a heavy saucepan, mix chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, and butter. Stir on medium heat until the chips and butter are melted, and the mixture is smooth.

Remove from heat and add pecans. Stir until well mixed.

Pour into a greased 8”x8”x2” cake pan. Smooth the top of the fudge. Use a spoon to make small indents at regular intervals. Spoon caramel sauce into the indents. Drizzle remaining sauce along the top. Refrigerate until set.

Cut into suitable sizes and enjoy!

This was definitely an easy dish to make, and it was fun for my small children to help with as well. I especially liked the caramel bits and how they were embedded in the rest of the fudge. This recipe makes quite a lot of delicious, rich fudge, and it’s good for gifting if you can stop your family from gobbling it all up first! I managed to section off a good half of it while it was still soft enough to cut to give to my neighbors, who enjoyed it as well.

Next week, we travel east to Washington, D.C., and Greece and Russia, among other places, to try a savory pie from that last destination while immersing ourselves in secret agent hijinks. Do join me!

See alsoCooking the Books: Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

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