Cooking the Books: Curried Away by Gail Oust

The 4th book in the Spice Shop Mystery series finds our heroine, Piper Prescott, about to host a cooking demonstration at her specialty store, Spice It Up! It’s taken a while to coax Doug Winters, the guy she’s been dating, to share his “Spicy Chicken Curry” recipe with a rapt audience of her regular customers. He’s been pretty busy lately bonding with his teenage daughter, who’s just moved to the small town of Brandywine Creek, Georgia and seems determined to keep her father all to herself. But things look to be going well—both in the cooking demonstration and in Piper’s romantic life—when the presentation is abruptly interrupted by news of murder.

The director of the local amateur production of Steel Magnolias has been found dead in the opera house, and suspicion quickly falls on Reba Mae Johnson—Piper’s best friend—who said some rash things in front of the town gossip after being fired from a plum role. Piper races to clear her friend’s name as Thanksgiving rapidly approaches, bringing with it unexpected heartache but also, perhaps, better prospects for the future.

I really enjoyed how Curried Away depicted small-town life in Georgia, especially when Piper and Reba Mae wryly compare Brandywine Creek to the Cabot Cove setting of long-running TV series Murder, She Wrote. The different family scenes, whether with Piper’s children or her ex-husband over the tricky planning required of Thanksgiving, were also handled with heart.

But honestly, the star of this book was this amazing chicken curry recipe:

Spicy Chicken Curry


3 tablespoons olive oil

16 boneless chicken tenderloins (2.5-3 oz each) cut into 1-inch pieces

Salt and pepper to taste

2 sweet onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and diced

12-14 baby carrots, halved, or 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and in 1-to-2-inch pieces

½ cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup diced tomatoes, well drained

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 ½ tablespoons curry

⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper or one small red chili pepper, diced

½ teaspoon cardamom

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon fennel

¼ teaspoon dry mustard

1-2 teaspoons sugar

2 cans coconut milk (shake well)

1 teaspoon cornstarch blended with 3 tablespoons of water, if needed


Heat oil on medium in heavy-bottomed pan. Add chicken, season with salt and pepper, and partially brown. Add the onions and cook until tender. Stir in garlic and ginger and cook for several minutes longer. Next add carrots or sweet potatoes, broth, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, lemon juice, spices, and sugar. Combine well and allow mixture to come to a boil. Lower heat to simmer and stir in coconut milk a little at a time. Continue to simmer for 45-60 minutes. If necessary, thicken with cornstarch blended with 3 tablespoons of water. Serve with rice or couscous.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Having been raised in Asia, I’m usually pretty skeptical of curry recipes originating from outside the continent. All that exposure, however, can allow me to safely say that this was the best curry I have ever prepared. I chose carrots instead of sweet potatoes and used curry powder processed from an Indian supplier, but the average grocery story (or spice shop!) will likely carry a perfectly acceptable curry blend.

I also opted to use a can of coconut cream instead of the two cans of coconut milk recommended, due to my not exactly understanding what the difference was while in the store (whoops!). I have since learned that one really shouldn’t use a one-for-one substitution, as the cream is much richer.

The liquid that came out of the frozen tenderloins I used (that I also neglected to cut into 1-inch pieces; fortunately, it didn’t seem to matter at all) ensured that the curry wasn’t too rich. I also did not bother with cornstarch, given that I used coconut cream and served the curry with rice and a nice side of arugula.

I really can’t get over how good this curry was. It’s definitely the kind of recipe a spice shop would recommend, as you do need a whole bunch of different spices for it, but they each lend nuance to the dish that makes it one of the most delicious, elegant curries I’ve ever had in a life filled with all sorts of Asian food. It’s a lot of ingredients, but each one is an integral part of this excellent dish.

There were also two other recipes included with Curried Away, and if they’re anywhere near as good as this curry, then this book is a must-buy. Next week, however, I dive back into sweets and Magical Baking with a shortbread recipe—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.

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