Only 10 more shopping days until Christmas, but our heroine Hannah Swensen has already bought all her presents and is focusing on her business interests. Providing the snacks sold at the seasonal Crazy Elf Christmas Tree Lot—which is more mini-carnival than your typical tree-selling enterprise—is putting a little extra money in her bakery’s coffers. When her mother, Delores, claims that she doesn’t want to go alone to a business class she’s enrolled in at the local community college, Hannah quickly realizes that accompanying her mother will be an opportunity to sharpen her own skills as well.
Unfortunately, her business class experience starts poorly when she runs into an old flame while walking through campus. The class itself is pretty awesome—until Hannah finds uncomfortable parallels between the ethically dubious business practices it highlights and her own dealings with the Crazy Elf Christmas Tree Lot.
Hannah decides to discuss this with the lot’s owner, Larry Jaeger, and he’s quick to promise amends. Unfortunately, when Hannah and her sometimes-boyfriend Norman Rhodes stop by Larry’s trailer to pick up the check he owes her, they find more than they bargained for in Larry’s shot-dead corpse.
In addition to solving Larry’s murder, Hannah and Norman also have to team up to figure out why Norman’s mother is suddenly shirking all her usual social activities. As always, the two of them make a terrific team.
Every so often, her other sometimes-boyfriend, Deputy Sheriff Mike Kingston, makes an appearance to mooch food off of Hannah and lecture her about leaving the investigating to the professionals. Hannah finally, finally realizes that Mike really isn’t marriage material—though this doesn’t seem to move her to break things off with him, sigh. Well, we have several more books yet.
Oh! And the old flame appears in more than one scene, leading to a bit of a cliffhanger ending. I’m very eager to find out what happens next! It’s really gotten to the point in the series where I care about Hannah almost as much as I would a real person, even as her choices sometimes drive me nuts.
Plum Pudding Murder includes the usual wealth of recipes, 28 in total, from the usual cookies to an entire Christmas feast. Since I’ve done sweets two weeks in a row, I really wanted to try something savory and was quick to decide on this:
Shrimp Louie Spread
Hannah’s Note: This is best served well chilled with a basket of crackers on the side.
8 ounces softened cream cheese
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup chili sauce (I used Heinz)
1 Tablespoon horseradish (I used Silver Springs)
⅛ teaspoon pepper
6 green onions
2 cups finely chopped cooked salad shrimp (measure AFTER chopping)
Salt to taste
Mix the cream cheese with the mayonnaise. Add the chili sauce, horseradish, and pepper. Mix it up into a smooth sauce.
Clean the green onions and cut off the bottoms. Use all of the white part and up to an inch of the green part. Throw the tops away.
Mince the onions as finely as you can and add them to the sauce. Stir them in well.
Chop the salad shrimp into fine bits. You can do this with a sharp knife, or in the food processor using the sleet blade and an on-and-off motion.
Mix in the shrimp and check to see how salty the spread is. Add salt if needed.
Chill the spread in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. You can make it in the morning if you plan to serve it that night.
Yield: Makes approximately 3 cups.
This was an exceptionally tasty dip and very easy to assemble too! As always, I used far more of the green onion than recommended and kept the tops for a tasty garnish. I’d originally thought that this would also be quite good on a croissant with lettuce and tomato, but I soon saw why Joanne Fluke recommended serving this with crackers. The dip is quite soft—even with me chopping up the shrimp perhaps less finely than recommended—and it definitely benefits from a more crisply textured accompaniment. I could definitely see this going well on a baguette; as it was, I quite enjoyed it both on crackers and in a crisp lettuce wrap.
Next week, we stay in Lake Eden to try out a chocolatey treat that promises to be as addictive as its name. 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.