Barbara Ross is back to her best in this gripping tale that takes a good hard look at the lives of those involved with the commercial lobster catch in Maine. Summer is drawing to an end, and our heroine Julia Snowden must decide whether to return to her venture capitalist job in New York City or stay with her loved ones in Busman's Harbor.
The Snowden Family Clambake Company that she came home to save looks like it'll do just fine without her … until Peter Thwing, hotshot restaurateur, comes nosing around to open a rival company right by hers. Mostly, it's been her hot-headed brother-in-law Sonny who's had to deal with him—often publicly, loudly, and angrily. It's thus almost inevitable that Sonny becomes the prime suspect when Peter's corpse is fished out from under an abandoned lobster boat.
As strained as her relationship with Sonny can sometimes be, Julia knows he's not a murderer. But he's definitely lying about something, and as Julia investigates further—at the behest of her distraught, pregnant sister—she unwittingly and almost unwillingly uncovers secrets about many of the people she cares about. However, it's the truth about the murder that not only jeopardizes her life but also the lives of the men she loves the most.
The attention to detail in Musseled Out is superb. Terrific mystery aside, I greatly enjoyed the descriptions of catching and farming lobsters, and I really sympathized with the plight of the hard-working people involved, as well as their families. Ms. Ross is cognizant of the many difficulties faced by those struggling to eke out a livelihood in a small town, and she addresses these topics boldly but with sympathy.
There are eight recipes included in this volume, covering all the delicious dishes included in the main text. After reading so much about lobsters, I had to try out at least one of the lobster dishes featured:
Hot Lobster Dip
1 clove garlic
¼ cup snipped chives
8 ounces cream cheese
3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons lemon juice
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
½ pound cooked lobster meat, roughly chopped
2 Tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
With food processor running, drop garlic clove through feed tube and finely chop. Add chives and pulse about six times to finely chop. Add cream cheese, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, cayenne, salt, and black pepper. Process until fully combined. Scrape down sides of bowl and fold in the lobster meat. Process about thirty seconds to combine. Spoon into baking dish or pie plate and refrigerate for at least two hours. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bake dip for 20 to 25 minutes until bubbling. Garnish with scallions. Serve with crackers, chips, or slices of baguette.
Yes, I finally caved and bought a 10-cup food processor to supplement my trusty 3-cup chopper, and boy was it worth it! Making this dish was such a breeze. It did, however, take longer than 25 minutes to bubble—even in my toaster oven, which tends to cook things more quickly than expected.
While the dish was tasty, after a few bites it definitely tasted over-seasoned. I thought it might have been too much lemon juice, whereas my lovely assistant Karin thought it was too much Worcestershire sauce. It had just a bit too much tang for our palates, and I believe that cutting back on one or the other ingredient would make this dip perfect comfort food.
Speaking of comfort food, it has been far too long since I've done a sweet for this column, so I also decided to try the following (which is, if you were wondering, why the dip had to go in the toaster oven):
Vee’s Apple Pie
3 ½ cups flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ cups shortening, lard, or unsalted butter
1 egg, beaten lightly with a fork
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
¼-½ cups ice water, as needed
1 Tablespoon milk (to brush over finished pie before baking)
In food processor, using the metal blade, pulse flour and salt to combine. Add shortening and pulse until reaching the consistency of corn meal. Add egg, vinegar, and ¼ cup of ice water. Pulse, adding additional ice water, if necessary, until ingredients barely come together in a dough ball. Turn out onto cutting board and pat together evenly into a large oblong. Divide into four pieces. You will need two for the pie. (You can freeze the other two for a later pie.) Refrigerate. Remove from fridge ten minutes before using.
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 medium apples
¾ cup sugar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons salted butter
Roll out bottom crust of pie and put in pie plate. Add apples. Over the top sprinkle lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, and the butter in pats.
Roll out top crust and cover. Slit top. Brush with milk.
Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Then lower oven temperature to 350 and bake 25 to 35 minutes more, until top is brown and fruit is bubbling.
I'm pretty sure my idea of medium apples wholly differs from Ms. Ross’s, but that's okay—I wound up having enough apples and dough to make two pies at once! I am not very good at rolling out dough, so I did not even need to slit holes into the top crusts, as you can see. I was also a bit apprehensive at how little I was instructed to do for the fillings. I toyed with the idea of grating the apples—a technique I learned earlier in this column—but Karin convinced me that I should at least start with the more traditional slices.
It definitely took longer than 35 extra minutes for the pies to be done: more like 45 to 50 in the end. It was so worth it, though! The pie was not only delicious, but it increased in tastiness the day after—and then even more the day after that. If Mrs. Gus’s pies are even better than this, I eagerly anticipate the day Ms. Ross shares the recipes for those!
Alas, that won't be in the next book, where I take a break from lobster to try out a delicious meal Julia is served while untangling a series of complicated and possibly murderous relationships. We're also publishing on a special day to coincide with the Agathas, so there will be two columns this week and none the next. But I'll resume our regular schedule after. 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.