Cooking the Books: Poisoned Pages by Lorna Barrett
By Doreen SheridanJuly 11, 2018
One of my favorite things about the Booktown Mystery series is the character development. Main characters grow and learn and never lose their capacity to surprise, even as the supporting cast rotates in and out of their lives in good ways and bad. Poisoned Pages is an especially strong entry in the series, showing how far Tricia and Angelica Miles have come since the beginning of their adventures together.
This is nowhere more evident than when Tricia throws a housewarming party for her newly renovated apartment and cooks all the food. She’s justifiably proud of both her hard-won culinary prowess as well as her ability to let go of her obsession with calories—until one of her guests keels over after eating one of her crab-stuffed mushrooms. Turns out the guest had a deadly allergy to poison sumac, though how that got into the mushroom is a mystery to both Tricia and the local police.
Yet another murder occurring around Tricia does nothing to dispel her reputation as the Village Jinx. Ordinarily, Tricia would shrug this off as an annoying yet inconsequential side effect of discovering so many corpses, but this time around, she worries that it might affect her chances of succeeding the super-capable Angelica as president of the Chamber of Commerce. Tricia is perfect for the job and plans to carry on her sister’s impressive legacy, so she’s shocked to discover that she not only has rivals for the position but that both men’s campaigns have every intention of leveraging her run of bad luck into improving their own attractiveness as candidates. Worse still, both men are running primarily to spite her and not out of any civic feeling.
Ordinarily, Tricia would turn to Angelica for emotional and moral support, but Angelica has problems of her own: a blackmailer is making horrible threats. Despite Tricia’s advice, Angelica not only refuses to go to the police but decides to cave in to the blackmailer’s demands as well. Add to this a spate of vandalism and Tricia has more on her hands than just finding out who would use her party food to poison a guest.
Poisoned Pages is definitely one of my favorites of the Booktown Mysteries so far. There were a few relationships in the previous novels that I always thought were a little weird, so it was pretty great to see them all come to a head in this one. I also didn’t realize how invested I’d become in Angelica and Tricia’s relationship until, like Tricia, I began to worry that they were losing their easy closeness. I actually teared up a few times reading this, which is very rare for me when reading a cozy.
One thing that is far less rare, especially in the case of Lorna Barrett’s books, is an excellent recipe section. This one had four tasty recipes. It was difficult to pick just one, as I know from experience that all Ms. Barrett’s recipes are both uncomplicated and exceedingly delicious. I finally settled on this one:
Mini Spinach Quiches
½ cup butter or margarine, softened
1 package (3 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 slices bacon
¼ cup chopped green onion
½ cup half-and-half cream
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 (10 ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed and well drained (use your hands to squeeze out the water)
In a small mixing bowl, cream the butter and cream cheese. Add the flour; beat until well blended. Shape into 24 balls. Press the balls into the bottom and the sides of greased mini muffin cups.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). In a skillet, cook the bacon until brown and very crisp; drain. Sauté the onions in the same skillet with the bacon drippings and cook for 5 minutes, or until tender, stirring constantly; drain. Place the onions in a medium bowl. Crumble the bacon into small pieces, and add in with the cooked green onion. Add the eggs to the bacon and onions; beat well. Stir in the cream, salt, nutmeg and Parmesan cheese. Add in the squeezed spinach; mix well to combine. Divide the mixture into the crust-lined cups (do not overfill).
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Cool in the pan on wire rack for 5 minutes. Serve warm or cool. Store the leftovers in the refrigerator.
Firstly, I didn’t realize that the recipe required a mini muffin tin instead of the standard muffin pan until baking day itself. I figured I could improvise with a larger tin if I left the quiches in the oven for a bit longer and kept an eye on them; as it was, I wound up baking my 12 not-quite-so-mini quiches for 35 minutes, and they come out perfectly. And by “perfectly,” I do mean perfectly. I knew to expect greatness from Ms. Barrett, but I was not prepared for how amazing these were.
I’ll freely admit that I totally side-eyed that crust recipe when I first read it. How could flour, butter, and cream cheese alone make a tasty crust? I still don’t know how, but they certainly do, providing the most delectable pastry to hold the rich spinach and bacon filling. Not unhealthily rich, however, as there is a generous amount of spinach in there, especially when weighed against the egg and bacon. Two or three of these quiches make for the perfect meal. I will definitely be baking these easy and delicious treats again.
Next week, we travel to the Midwest, and I learn that my personal cooking tweaks are not always for the better. Do join me!