Cooking the Books: Grilling the Subject by Daryl Wood Gerber

Jenna Hart—owner of the darling Cookbook Nook, a cookbook and notions store in gorgeous Crystal Cove, California—is ready and revved up for the Wild West Extravaganza that’s set to take over town. She’s stocked up on western-themed books and tools, and she’s looking forward to enjoying the festivities with boyfriend Rhett as well as with friends and family.

So when her father is accused of the murder of a contentious neighbor early into the celebration, all Jenna’s plans come to a screeching halt as she ignores the pleas of his protégée, town sheriff Cinnamon Pritchett, and hurriedly investigates in order to clear his name. Along the way, she discovers more than she bargained for about a former co-worker who went from pudgy to player as well as a glamorous film star and several Cookbook Nook regulars. But perhaps the most astonishing thing of all is the complete opposite of a murder: a shocking return from the dead!

Despite this being the fifth in the series, it was my first visit to Crystal Cove, and I very much enjoyed how accessible it was as a novel—even if I wouldn’t recommend it as a jumping-on point for new readers. Daryl Wood Garber’s descriptions of the area paint a beautiful scene, and I really loved her attention to detail with the Cookbook Nook itself, from the clever decorations to the plethora of recommended cookbook titles.

There was also a smorgasbord of recipe options to choose from at the end, with thirteen entries. Of them, I decided to try out the following:

Barbecue Muffins

(makes 10 muffins)

Ingredients for the muffins:

2 ½ cups gluten-free flour

1 ½ tablespoons baking powder

½ teaspoon xanthan gum

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon coarse sea salt

6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

¾ cup milk

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Ingredients for the filling:

1 pound ground beef

½ cup ketchup

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

½ teaspoon chili powder

1 cup (4 ounces) cheddar cheese, shredded


First, make the muffin dough. (Or use Pillsbury refrigerated dough; see below).

In a pastry blender, mix the gluten-free flour, baking powder, xanthan gum, baking soda, and sea salt. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks the size of peas. Now add the milk and cider vinegar. The mixture will quickly form a dough.

Remove the dough and divide into 10 equal portions. Set out a piece of parchment paper and, using a rolling pin, flatter each dough portion into a 5-inch circle. Note: I like to fold the parchment over the dough so it won’t stick to the rolling pin.

[If you are using Pillsbury refrigerated biscuits, pull them apart into 10 portions.]

Press each portion into a greased muffin cup, pressing down on the bottom and up the sides to form a “cup.” Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Now make the filling. In a skillet, cook the ground beef over medium heat until it is no longer pink, stirring it and breaking it up into little chunks as it cooks. When done, drain and pat it with paper towels to remove the excess fat.

In a small bowl, combine the ketchup, brown sugar, cider vinegar, and chili powder. Add the mixture to the cooked beef and mix well.

Using a ¼-cup measuring cup, divide the meat mixture among the dough-lined muffin cups. Sprinkle with 1 to 2 tablespoons shredded cheese.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown and the cheese lightly browned.

One thing I’ve enjoyed of Ms. Gerber’s work to date is her inclusion of gluten-free recipes (as well as gluten-filled options for lazy people like me. You all know that I love me a store-bought crust, or biscuit in this case). It’s a thoughtful gesture to a subset of her readership who might not be able to enjoy her delicious recipes otherwise. Granted, I’ve never actually tried making the gluten-free options myself, but I’d definitely like to hear your experiences if you do!

As for my own experience with these muffins, I actually wound up dividing my ingredients into eleven portions instead of ten, but that worked out really well. The muffins came out perfectly, and two of them alone made for a filling meal. I cannot compliment that barbecue sauce enough! This was a unique and tasty (and also surprisingly portable) dish, and I’ll definitely be making it again, though I might experiment with different kinds of biscuit dough. The flaky Pillsbury that I used was delicious, but I’m wondering if I could find something even lighter.

Next week, I finally get to make a sweet as we travel to my home state for some chocolatey fun and felony. Do join me!

See also: Cooking the Books: A Just Clause by Lorna Barrett


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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