Cooking the Books: Cherry Cheesecake Murder by Joanne Fluke

When we last left our intrepid heroine, Hannah Swensen had just been proposed to by both her suitors: dentist Norman Rhodes and police detective Mike Kingston. Since then, seven days have passed during which Hannah has agonized over which of them to accept—or whether to accept anyone at all. The pressure is getting to everyone in their small town of Lake Eden, so when Hannah finally makes a decision, it comes as a relief to the whole town.

Her decision, of course, is that she's not ready to be married, and any resulting tempest in a teapot that this might have provoked is soon quelled by more exciting news: Hollywood is coming to Lake Eden! Hannah's youngest sister, Michelle, has successfully pitched the town as the perfect setting for an upcoming independent movie directed by the hotshot auteur Dean Lawrence.

Hannah is delighted to discover that her neighbors from college, Lynne and Ross, are part of the cast and crew, even if they’re no longer the couple they were back then. Ross, who's producing, is eager to cast as many locals as possible. This earns him the goodwill of nearly the entire town, who are naturally excited to be part of the movie. It comes as a horrific surprise then when Dean fires what's supposed to be an unloaded gun on-set while coaching an actor and blows his own brains out in front of dozens of onlookers.

Since Mike himself had checked the gun before the scene started filming, it quickly becomes clear that this was not an accident. And while Dean’s womanizing ways could have provided plenty of people with the motive to do him in, it's unclear whether he or the actor he was coaching was the real target. Hannah is determined to figure out the truth, despite the complicated romantic entanglements that begin to rear up and ensnare her and those she loves the most.

This was another winning installment of the bestselling series, even if I, as a stalwart partisan for #TeamNorman, can clearly read the writing on the wall here. If you can't decide between two guys, you probably don't really want either of them. The mystery is solid without being particularly tricky, though I did have an uncomfortable moment or two where I wondered if Mike might somehow be responsible for the murder.

And the recipes, of course, were wonderful! I had trouble narrowing down my options from the 14 included, but finally settled on this savory appetizer for the column:

Cream Cheese Puffs

Hannah's Note:  If you're not going to serve these right away, you can mix up the cream cheese part and refrigerate it until it's time to spread it on the crackers.

Ingredients

8-ounce package cream cheese (the firm kind, not the whipped)

2 Tablespoons (⅛ cup) mayonnaise

3 Tablespoons minced green onion

OR 3 Tablespoons minced dried onion

OR 3 Tablespoons minced shallots

1 beaten egg

Instructions

A box of salted crackers (We used Ritz Crackers and they were great!)

Unwrap the cream cheese and put it in a microwave-safe bowl. Nuke it in HIGH for 30 seconds, or until it begins to soften.

Mix in the mayonnaise and stir until the mixture is smooth.

Mix in the onion. (If you use green onion instead of shallots or dried onion, you can use up to one inch of the stem.)

Mix in the beaten egg.

Lay out the crackers on a broiler pan, salt side up. (We used a disposable broiler pan so we could trash it at Granny's Attic and we wouldn't have to carry it back to The Cookie Jar.)

Spread the cream cheese mixture on top of the cracker in a circle that reaches the edges. Mound it slightly in the center. Use about two teaspoons of cheese mixture per cracker.

Position the rack approximately three inches below the coil of the broiler and turn it in HIGH. Broil the crackers (with the oven door open to the first latch so the broiler doesn't kick on and off) until the cream cheese puffs up and is just starting to turn golden. This should take about 90 seconds if the reach is correctly positioned.

Let cool for a minute or two, so your guests won't burn their tongues. Transfer the Cream Cheese Puffs to a platter and serve.

Yield: Approximately 2 dozen hot and yummy hors d'oeuvres.

This was incredibly easy and delicious! I was a little confused by the note about using (only?) up to one inch of the stem on the green onion, so I tossed the entire thing in there, to no obvious detriment. I'll also admit that I've never used the broiler function on my oven before, so I was pleased by how well my first foray into that cooking technique fared. Some of the puffs came out a little browner than others, as you can see, but they all tasted great. I served these at a holiday party and earned rave reviews.

I also decided to try out the stuffed French toast recipe for another party and that was lovely, as well. The end product was almost more of a delightfully fruity bread pudding, with the fresh blackberries and strawberries I'd chosen to stuff them with providing a lovely counterpoint to the sugar and cream. The recipe was too long to include in this column, but I do so love how Joanne Fluke crams her books with so many quality dishes.

Next week, we stay in Lake Eden, and I try out a variation on one of my personal favorites. Do join me!

See also: Cooking the Books: Dial M for Mousse by Laura Bradford

 

To learn more or order a copy, visit:

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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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