I shouldn't speak ill of the (fictional) dead, but Shawna Lee Quinn is the worst. It's not that she's constantly flirting with Detective Mike Kingston, one of Hannah Swensen’s boyfriends—it takes two to tango, after all, and I've long been of the view that Hannah should dump Mike anyway. But when Shawna Lee’s sister Vanessa comes into an inheritance, Shawna Lee persuades her to use it to open a loss-leading bakery that seriously undercuts business at Hannah's cafe, the Cookie Jar.
It doesn't help that nearly all of Hannah's regular clientele have defected to Shawna Lee's bakery, ostensibly temporarily in order to check out the competition and report back to her. Hannah certainly doesn't need quite that many people to tell her that Shawna Lee's products, including the titular peach cobbler, are tasty but inferior.
Hannah puts her business woes on the back burner, however, in light of her business partner’s Valentine's Day wedding. The ceremony goes off without a hitch, and Hannah is happy to wave Lisa off for an admittedly local honeymoon—until Hannah stumbles across Shawna Lee’s corpse while trying to be a good neighbor. Now, she's a murder suspect who needs all the help she can get to clear her own name.
I really liked how Joanne Fluke turned her attention to the use of a timeline in order to narrow down the list of suspects. The last few of her novels we've cooked through each seem to be examining a certain trope of the detective genre in turn—much as Boris Akunin has been more explicitly doing in his Fandorin series—and I've really been enjoying her takes on those.
Peach Cobbler Murder also includes 14 recipes, and I chose two—starting off with this delicious soup:
Trudi’s Shrimp Bisque
Note: You can also make this bisque with crab meat, or with a combination of shrimp and crab.
10 ¾ oz. can condensed tomato soup (I used Campbell’s)
11 ¼ oz. can condensed green pea soup (I used Campbell's)
3 cups whole milk (or light cream, if you want it richer)
2-pound package salad shrimp, roughly chopped
½ cup sherry (optional)
Mix the tomato soup and the green pea soup together. (It has to be green pea—don’t use split pea.) The green pea soup is lumpy, so use a blender if you have one. Add the milk or light cream.
Heat the soups and the milk in a saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, while you thaw and chop the shrimp. When the mixture is warm, add the chopped shrimp and stir it in.
When the soup is heated thoroughly, add the sherry and serve.
Yield: Makes approximately 6 servings.
I would never have thought to use green pea soup in this and was actually shocked by how well this combination worked. This recipe is so weirdly close in flavor to a traditional shrimp bisque that I would never have guessed it didn’t have any actual seafood stock in it. Also, if you’re in the mid-Atlantic area and having trouble finding “salad shrimp,” look in frozen foods for “shrimp meat,” which is apparently what we call it in these parts.
I also could not pass up the opportunity to make one of my favorite sweet treats:
Aunt Kitty's Jamaican Rum Balls
Do not preheat oven—these don't require baking!
4 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers (a 12-ounce box is about 2 ½ cups crushed—measure after crushing)
1 cup chopped nuts (measure after chopping—I use pecans, but that's because I really like them—I've also used macadamia nuts, walnuts, and cashews)
½ cup Karo syrup (the clear white kind)
½ cup excellent rum (or excellent whiskey, or excellent whatever)
2 Tablespoons Nestle’s sweet dry cocoa (I'm going to use Ghirardelli's sweet cocoa with ground chocolate the next time I make them)
1 Tablespoon strong coffee (brewed—liquid)
Powdered (confectioner's) sugar
Crush the vanilla wafers in a food processor, or put them in a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin. Measure them and pour them into a mixing bowl.
Chop the nuts finely with a food processor, or with your knife. Measure them and add those.
Mix in the Karo syrup, rum (or substitute), sweet dry cocoa, and strong coffee. Stir until thoroughly blended.
Rub your hands with powdered sugar. Make small balls, large enough to fit into a paper bonbon cup. Dip the balls in cocoa, or powdered sugar, or chocolate sprinkles to coat them. Do some of each and arrange them on a plate—very pretty.
Refrigerate these until you serve them. They should last for at least a month in the refrigerator.
Yield: At least 5 dozen, depending on how large you roll the balls.
In my case, the yield was two dozen. I guess I’m just used to the rum balls you can get at the bakery, which are half the size of my fist. I couldn’t find any sweet cocoa, so I used unsweetened.
I also decided to use some excellent Armagnac instead of rum. I’m pretty sure that was a mistake, though. The Armagnac was super strong in this recipe, nearly overpowering all the other flavors. Refrigerating the balls helped cut that down a little, but they were still a little difficult to eat in any large quantity. Next time, I’ll try them with rum to see if that tastes better.
We’re going to pause here in the series to look at several new releases over the next few weeks, starting with the continuation of a magical series that I totally squealed upon receiving. So next week, we’ll be baking cookies in climes much warmer than Minnesota. Do join me!
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
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.