The third book in the Deep Fried Mystery series has us back in the Berkshires, as our heroine Talia Marby is about to enter a cooking contest! Sponsored by Steeltop Foods to help launch its newest kitchen gadget, the Flavor Dial, the grand prize is $25,000—a welcome windfall to all six wannabe winners. But things seem off from the very start, as the owner of Steeltop Foods, Wesley Thurman, seems both weirdly preoccupied and weirdly put off by several of the locals, including the eventual winner, Norma Ferguson.
While Talia is disappointed to lose, she is determined to enjoy the rest of her town’s summer festival, which the competition was set up to coincide with. But then Norma is found dead, and one of Talia’s own employees is assaulted and left in critical condition, presumably by Norma’s killer. To make matters worse, the police arrest Crystal Galardi, another contestant and co-owner of the Fork And Dish, a culinary supplies store located right across from Talia’s own deep-fried restaurant, Fry Me A Sliver.
Talia’s friend Detective Patti Prescott urges her to stay out of it, but Talia can’t resist investigating, especially since she’s convinced that the police have the wrong person in custody. As she delves deeper into the mystery, she uncovers secrets long thought buried that will change the lives of dear friends—and jeopardize her own.
I was actually quite surprised by whodunnit, in a good way. I’d rather been hoping it was someone else, as that would have made a tidier life for everyone involved, but real life doesn’t work that way either. Speaking of realism, it was really nice to be introduced to Talia and her friends, who feel like genuine people, flaws and all.
But above all, it was really, really nice to read all these delectable descriptions of fried food! Fried food often gets a bad rap for being unhealthy, but honestly, who cares when it tastes so good! Everything in moderation, of course (says the woman who made 36 cupcakes for last week’s recipe), so this time I tried out this intriguing dessert, of the two recipes on offer:
Talia’s Miniature Deep-Fried Apple Pies
2 cups flour, plus a little extra for coating
½ cup vegetable oil, plus additional oil for frying
¼ cup milk
4 Cortland apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup white sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon vanilla
Prepare the dough:
Blend the flour, vegetable oil, and milk with a fork, then turn into two separate balls.
Coat each dough ball with flour. Roll out the first one onto a floured cutting board until it's ⅛ inch thick. Cut out rounds that are 4 inches in diameter. Repeat with the second dough ball. Set aside the rounds.
Prepare the filling:
In a large frying pan, combine the apples, butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Cook gently over medium heat until apples are soft, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.
Place a heaping tablespoon of the core apples in each dough round.
Moisten the edges of the dough with cold water and fold in half over the apple mixture. Press the edges with a fork to crimp and seal. Repeat with the remaining rounds. Place pies on a tray or cookie sheet that's been lightly sprinkled with flour, then chill for 15 minutes.
In a deep fryer or heavy-bottomed pan, heat vegetable oil to 350 degrees F, using just enough oil to cover the pies. A candy/deep-fry thermometer will help gauge the oil temperature. Lower the pies into the hot oil with a slotted spoon, frying only a few at a time. Fry about 2 minutes on each side, or until both sides are golden. Remove and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm.
I could not for the life of me find Cortland apples, so I substituted a mix of Golden Delicious and McIntosh. I think I should have stuck with just the McIntosh, though, as the texture of the Golden Delicious—while terrific in other apple dishes—was too firm here. I also had trouble fitting a “heaping tablespoon” of the filling into each dough round. So while the miniature pie “crusts” came out tasting delicious, I couldn’t help but feel that the filling wasn’t quite as juicy as it might have been. But this might also have been a by-product of using the firmer Golden Delicious, which took up more space than the McIntosh, which broke down far more easily.
Granted, my relationship with pastry wrapping isn’t the greatest, so my own inexperience might have played a large part in the outcome. It was a tasty deep-fried treat, though, even without the powdered sugar that I totally forgot about when serving the dessert. In all honesty, I don’t think it was missed.
Next week, we take an Atlantic cruise, and I try my hand at one of my favorite dishes to order in a fancy restaurant (complete with more pastry shenanigans!). Do join me!
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.