Cooking the Books: Dressed to Confess by Diane Vallere

The latest Costume Shop Mystery has our heroine, the charming Margo Tamblyn, busy assisting her adoptive mother figure, Ebony Welles, with the organization of Proper City’s annual Sagebrush Festival. Ebony is the town’s premier event organizer, so she’s used to dealing with all sorts of parties, big or small. But even she has her hands full with this year’s celebration. The family-friendly Sagebrush Festival is one of the town’s biggest events, running for two weeks around Walpurgisnacht and attracting tourists from all over. This year’s theme is board games, and Proper City’s mayor, Wharton Young, is pushing Ebony hard to maximize revenue.

While this is a departure from the festival’s usual non-profit status, Ebony takes it in stride. However, the addition of the Domino Divas, a singing and dancing group of entertainers now well into their 60s, complicates things with their demands. Once notorious for their suspected involvement in a bank robbery that led to the theft of the founder of Proper City’s gold, the divas have regrouped but are having a hard time keeping it civil amongst themselves. Since Margo and her family costume shop, Disguise DeLimit, have been hired to dress the Domino Divas, Ebony has no problem foisting the management of the squabbling group onto the younger woman while she puts out fires elsewhere.

Thus, Margo is not only privy to the group’s disastrous rehearsals but is also the unlucky person who discovers the corpse of the Domino Divas’ star when she’s sent to retrieve Ronnie Cass from her trailer. Ronnie was the driving force behind the Domino Divas’ reunion, and her death not only ends their involvement with the festival but also brings back past ugliness when Margo’s dad’s best friend, Don, is accused of her murder.

Up till then, Don and Margo’s dad had been having a grand old time running their strategy board game booth and printing out their conspiracy newsletter, The Spicy Acorn. When Ronnie’s death resurrects the old rumor that Don had robbed the bank with Ronnie’s help, Margo sets out to clear his name.

I really feel that Diane Vallere is starting to hit her stride with Margo and Proper City’s quirky inhabitants (so much so that I’ve lined up the first in the series to review soon in order to get the full picture; not in sequence, I know, but such are the hazards of the job). I especially loved Margo’s interactions with her dad, who was missing from a good part of the second novel. Their conversations were so natural and compelling and had a shared sense of humor that was very appealing. I also enjoyed the slow burn of Margo’s relationship with her love interest, Tak, as well as the various obstacles thrown in their path. I really hope true love prevails!

Dressed to Confess includes two recipes that riff off of the Spicy Acorn theme (and oh man, my weakness for silly word puzzles was on full display when I laughed and laughed as it was first brought up in the book). I decided against the salsa in favor of making candy instead:

Spicy Acorn Treats


Wilton Chocolate Candy Melts

Chili powder

Unwrapped Hershey Kisses

Mini Nutter Butters

Mini semi-sweet chocolate chips


Put about 10-20 Wilton Chocolate Candy Melts in a microwaveable dish.

Microwave on 50 percent power for 30 seconds.

Stir and repeat until discs are smooth consistency.

Add 3 tsp. chili powder to melted chocolate, mix.

Using chili powder/chocolate mixture as a paste, coat flat end of Hershey Kiss and attach to a mini Nutter Butter cookie.

Swipe a small amount of chili powder/chocolate mixture on the flat end of a mini semi-sweet chocolate chip.

Press the mini semi-sweet chocolate chip into the side of the Nutter Butter that is not connected to the Hershey Kiss.

Set on tray.

When you've made as many spicy acorns as you want, refrigerate for 10 minutes and then enjoy!

I continue to use Baker’s Dipping Chocolate primarily because it’s readily available at my local supermarket, and the microwaveable container is extremely convenient. I was a little surprised by how much chili powder was recommended for this, so I admit to putting in smaller amounts before getting to the ratio listed in the recipe, which I concur was the perfect blend of spicy and sweet. My lovely assistant Karin definitely preferred it less spicy, but we both agreed that the mixture made for a nice subtle heat that went well with the chocolate and peanut butter.

As you can see from the photos, these treats came out perfectly adorable. They were also fairly easy to put together and are great for parties, though the Nutter Butters will go stale if not eaten up the same day or preserved in an airtight container.

Next week, we travel east to Illinois to bake a coffee cake and find out who had it in for the cranky scion of a large family. Do join me!

See also: Cooking the Books: Muffin to Fear by Victoria Hamilton


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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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