Cooking the Books: Assault and Buttery by Kristi Abbott

Ugh, what is it with these crappy boyfriends? But I’m getting ahead of myself. Assault and Buttery, the third book in Kristi Abbott’s fun Popcorn Shop Mystery series, opens with our spunky heroine Rebecca Anderson being hauled into a jail cell for obstruction of justice. In the grand tradition of amateur sleuths everywhere, she’s perhaps crossed the line from investigating (in order to clear her own name, of course) to interfering with an official murder investigation—except that the reason she lands in jail is because she went to the victim’s wake, had too much to drink, and responsibly called her boyfriend Garrett to drive her home. Only, he took her straight to the sheriff instead.

Sheriff Dan, who is her brother-in-law in addition to allegedly being her best friend, promptly tosses her in jail for a very long weekend. With friends like these, who needs enemies? And don’t even get me started on how Garrett earlier insisted she stay to lunch at a restaurant where the owner straight up, non-stop insulted her while walking them from door to table. Unacceptable.

Anyway, Rebecca spends the long weekend in jail telling her story to Cathy, the former city comptroller who was caught embezzling funds and is now occupying the cell next to Rebecca’s. While rebuilding her cafe after the fire that nearly claimed her life in the previous novel, Rebecca was surprised to find an old diary hidden in the walls. Decoding the diary was a welcome distraction from her lack of business, but when a local curmudgeon was found poisoned after ingesting popcorn from her store, she felt compelled to put it on the back burner while she investigated.

Of course, this gets her into quite the predicament, especially when she realizes that the poisoning murder may have something to do with the secrets she’s been unearthing from the diary. With Cathy’s help, she begins to uncover a long-hidden mystery that someone in the present will kill to keep buried.

My issues with Rebecca’s relationships with Garrett and Dan aside, I really did like so much else of this book. Rebecca herself is smart and sassy and kind, and the situations she gets into are relentlessly entertaining. I really enjoyed how Ms. Abbott structured the story, and I was especially moved by the speech she wrote for the mayor near the beginning of the novel when he’s greeting the five candidates running for city council. I guess I can only hope that she’ll have Rebecca come to her senses and at the very least dump Garrett. Demoting Dan from best friend status would also be a plus.

Two unmitigated pluses were the recipes included here. I chose to try the savory popcorn recipe this week:

Popcorn with Shiitake Crisps

Ingredients

1 (8-ounce) package shiitake mushrooms

¼ cup olive oil

1 tablespoon kosher salt

4 cups popped popcorn

⅓ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary

Instructions

Remove and discard (or save for another use) the mushroom stems. Side the mushroom caps into thin slices. Toss the sliced caps with the olive oil and salt (add more salt if you're like me and would probably fight off a deer to get to a salt lick). Bake in a parchment paper-lined jelly roll pan for 15 to 20 minutes at 375 degrees or until they start to shrivel and turn black. Allow to cool. Combine with the popcorn, Parmesan and rosemary while the popcorn is still hot.

In the novel, the character who first tries this popcorn compares the shiitake crisps to potato chips, but I think there’s an even better comparison: bacon! I actually feel like the mushroom in this has an advantage over bacon in that it has an extra hint of earthy umami.

For this recipe, I used dried shiitake mushrooms that I rehydrated prior to baking, so it took a little more than the recommended 20 minutes in the oven to crisp up properly. I also wound up using perhaps too much salt in this, despite really enjoying saltiness myself. My lovely assistant Karin and I popped another batch of corn to mix into the first in order to cut down on the salt, and that wound up tasting much better. The combination of shiitake, parmesan, and rosemary made for an extremely tasty, healthy snack that I highly recommend.

Next week, we travel back east to a town beloved of people and pets alike to bake some breakfast treats that are as beautiful as they are delicious! Do join me!

See also: Cooking the Books: Potions and Pastries by Bailey Cates

 

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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.

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