Cooking the Books: Death at the Day Lily Cafe by Wendy Sand Eckel

What a delightfully thoughtful cozy mystery! 

Our heroine, Rosalie Hart, has just achieved her lifelong dream of opening an organic, locally sourced cafe that uses produce grown on her nearby farm, Barclay Meadow. Staffed by herself, her best friend Glenn, herbal remedy enthusiast Crystal, and bad-boy cook Custer, the Day Lily Cafe is getting itself up and running, when a desperate neighbor begs for Rosalie’s help. Doris Bird’s brother-in-law was murdered with a shotgun, and the town sheriff is only too happy to clap Doris’s sister in jail for it. Even though she’s incredibly busy with the cafe, Rosalie can’t say no to her friend.

A look into the life of Doris’s sister unearths shocking revelations, even as Rosalie’s own family life becomes more complicated, with her daughter getting involved with Custer and her ex-husband making his own accusations regarding her parenting. A new farm employee also causes friction, as Rosalie begins to doubt the bond she has with her business partner, the very attractive Tyler. All this has Rosalie contemplating her own past relationships, especially with her father.

And, fortunately for us mystery lovers, our heroine brings that thoughtfulness to bear on a really great confrontation with the killer at the end. A lot of times in cozy (or otherwise!) mysteries, our erstwhile investigator rushes into that conflict in a way that creates dramatic tension due to sheer foolhardiness: here, Rosalie knowingly and intelligently takes a calculated risk to bring a murderer to justice. 

Death At The Day Lily Cafe is a well-considered mystery with a generous view of the human condition, particularly in relation to small town life. Rosalie isn’t perfect—I wasn’t sure if she even realized how borderline condescending she was being when talking to the new farm employee—but her heart and mind are definitely in the right place.

The thoughtfulness that suffuses the fictional part of the book also extends to the recipe section. Leaning heavily on organic ingredients, the recipes are aspirationally complex. While I really wanted to try out the aromatic salt recipes, I knew that there was no way I could successfully leave out trays of salt in my kitchen for two days—not with three rambunctious young children under the age of six to contend with. Instead, I tried out this grown-up version of an American childhood staple:
 

Caramelized Onion Grilled Cheese and Ten-Minute Tomato Soup
 

For one sandwich

Ingredients

Crusty roll or 2 slices of deli bread

4 slices organic Baby Swiss cheese

4 slices aged white cheddar cheese

Chipotle mayonnaise (available in most grocery stores)

6 tablespoons caramelized onion or more if you have room on the bread (see recipe below)

Instructions

Butter for the bread

Slather the mayo over the inside of both slices of bread. Spoon onions over the bottom slice. Top with both types of cheese. Cover with second slice of bread. Butter outside of sandwich and grill in a panini maker until cheese is melted and bread is toasted. Slice in half diagonally and eat with the soup. The sandwich can also be grilled on a stove top.

Caramelized onions

Ingredients

4 to 5 yellow onions, sliced

1 large shallot, sliced

3 tablespoons butter

½ teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Instructions

Melt the butter in a large saute pan. Add onions and shallot and cook on medium heat, stirring frequently. Cook until onions are soft, about 20 minutes. Stir in sugar and salt and increase heat to medium high. Cook onions until caramelized, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Store in refrigerator until ready to make the grilled cheese. Warm to room temperature before making the sandwich. Leftovers are perfect for a bowl of French onion soup.

Ten Minute Tomato Soup

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter

1 shallot, diced

2 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press

1 28-ounce can whole Italian tomatoes

2 cups broth or stock

½ teaspoon Rosalie’s aromatic salt

1 tablespoon tomato paste (Buy it in a tube and nothing goes to waste.)

2 small sprigs of each: basil, oregano, and thyme tied together with a clean string

½ to 1 cup heavy cream of half and half

Instructions

Saute the shallot and garlic in melted butter on medium heat until aromatic. Add the tomatoes and their juices, the stock or broth, tomato paste, and salt. Stir together and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low. Using an immersion blender, puree ingredients until the soup is smooth and creamy. Drop in herbs and simmer 5 minutes or longer. Remove herbs and swirl in the cream.

I love that Wendy Sand Eckel included her recipe for caramelizing onions here. Aside from creating something delicious, it was really nice to not have to look elsewhere to figure out how to make such an integral part of the dish. 

Funnily enough, I did have to look up a recipe for chipotle mayo, as it was not readily available in my local grocery store here in the wilds of the suburbs of Washington, DC.

I just threw all the ingredients in the photo (clockwise from left: ½ a cup of mayo, the juice of one lime, a tablespoon of the adobo sauce that came with the two chipotle peppers in a can, and a clove of garlic) into a blender for a delicious spread. 

The lime, as eagle-eyed readers may note, was left over from a previous Cooking The Books dessert detailed here that used only the zest.

A note regarding the tools and ingredients used: 

While Ms. Eckel recommends the use of a garlic press, I do not believe in single-use kitchen tools, and I much prefer using a knife for garlic anyway. That said, I did buy an immersion blender for this project, and am deeply in love with it already. Not owning a panini maker, I grilled the sandwich the way I usually do its less fancy brethren, on the stovetop, to no detriment in taste whatsoever. I also used a regular seasoned salt instead of Rosalie’s aromatic salt, as I hadn’t the time to make any of the latter, for reasons detailed above.

As to the end result: a decidedly sophisticated, delicious and not-too-difficult take on the traditional grilled cheese and tomato soup combo. The chipotle mayo and caramelized onion combo was amazing, though the consensus in my household was that the amount of cheese I wound up using (I eyeballed what I had against the recommended 8 slices of cheese total and feel like I erred on the side of less cheese) was still way too much. The soup was good but perhaps a little bland without the aromatic salt. I’m hoping one day to be able to find out for myself otherwise!

 

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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.

Comments

  1. Barbara Sterling

    8 slices seems like a lot to me too for one sandwich. Instead of butter if you use mayonaise on the outside of grilled sandwiches they brown better.

  2. Doreen Sheridan

    Ooh, that’s a great tip regarding the mayo, thank you! I’m constantly surprised by the ways I can use it instead of butter: this is another handy idea.

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