In this third and latest installment of the Undercover Dish mystery series, Lilah Drake’s business of making casseroles and similar dishes for others to pass off as their own is booming. When her boyfriend’s mother, Ellie Parker, asks her for both a rice pudding and an escort to the birthday party of a curmudgeonly neighbor, Lilah is happy to oblige on both counts.
The thrice-divorced Marcus Cantwell has gathered his family and friends to celebrate but seems more interested in hiding away from the festivities than in socializing. While he certainly lives up to his reputation when interacting with Lilah, his family is far more welcoming, and they have nothing but compliments for her—or rather Ellie’s—rice pudding. The scent even manages to lure out Marcus, who says nice things about it … before falling face first into the rest of the dessert.
Fortunately, Maria Grimaldi is on the scene. The tall, elegant police officer—who is also partners with Lilah’s boyfriend, Jay—had stopped by to pick up her niece Lola, and after conferring with Lilah and Ellie, she quickly secures the area in case of foul play. And foul play there is—though it comes as a relief to Lilah that her rice pudding had no more role to play in Marcus’s demise than serving as an unfortunate landing pad.
One of the more litigious members of the Cantwell children doesn’t take well to Maria’s handling of their father’s death, however, and kicks up enough of a fuss to have her pulled off the case. Jay is assigned the murder instead, and since he and Lilah have established quite a good partnership when it comes to investigating murders, he’s happy to let her ask a few questions when she finds herself (mostly) inadvertently socializing with the Cantwell heirs.
In stark contrast to this sleuthing partnership is their romance. When a fan snaps a photo of Lilah with her ex—whose TV cooking show she regularly guests on—then submits it to the local newspaper, Jay’s jealous streak comes roaring out. Can Lilah and Jay overcome their personal problems in order to catch a killer together?
I did enjoy watching Lilah and Jay grow through the course of this book. Lilah tends to overreact (which she acknowledges quite hilariously), so it was nice to see how the couple worked out their differences even as they puzzled out the mystery. The only thing I didn’t really understand was Lilah’s penchant for leaving voicemails with pertinent information instead of sending faster, more convenient and discreet text messages. The mystery itself was pretty satisfying, even if I think Miss Moxie, a fictional fox incorporated into the narrative, makes a terrible spy.
The recipe section for Pudding Up with Murder contained four recipes. I was craving baked goods, so I decided on this dish instead of the equally tantalizing rice pudding or savories:
Lilah’s Raspberry-Almond Deep-Dish Coffee Cake
1 cup raspberry jam (and some fresh raspberries kept for serving)
½ cup light brown sugar
⅛ stick of butter, solid
1 cup flour
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ stick butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup sliced almonds
½ cup powdered sugar
1-2 teaspoons milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon raspberry extract
2 softened pats of butter
First, grease and flour a square glass casserole dish (or use a larger one, but double ingredients; I use a Pyrex 10×15 dish that my mother gave me, but then I double the recipe to feed more people).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix raspberry jam, brown sugar, ⅛ stick of butter, and a teaspoon of flour along with some of the raspberries in a bowl. Keep this handy for later in the recipe.
Next, find a larger bowl to combine all of the dry ingredients. Mix your melted butter with the eggs and add the teaspoon of vanilla.
Put half of the batter in your pan. Take your raspberry mixture and carefully spoon it, as evenly as possible, onto the batter. Then put the rest of the batter on top.
Find your sliced almonds and sprinkle these in a pleasing arrangement across the top of the batter.
Set your timer for somewhere between 35-40 minutes, but only remove from the oven when a fork inserted into the center of your cake comes out clean.
Combine glaze ingredients; if they become stiff, add tiny amounts of water or milk until the frosting is the desired consistency.
Drizzle the glaze over a warm (but not hot) cake.
Serve with fresh raspberries, whipped cream, a pot of tea or coffee, or all of the above.
First of all, raspberry extract is really hard to find in my neck of the woods! My lovely assistant Karin finally tracked some down in a darling baking notions store local to us, and we both believe it was totally worth it—the glaze was quite delicious! As for the rest of the cake, I must say that it came out less like cake and more like a titular pudding (though of the traditional English, not American, variety.)
I had been surprised at the 1:1 ratio of flour to jam, and the finished product certainly came out very sticky and dense. The jam mixture, by the way, was very excellent; after pouring it into the baking pan, I wiped the rest out of the bowl with bread to serve my children, and they loved it.
I served the pudding, as I like to think of it, with freshly whipped cream and raspberries, which I think balanced the sticky sweetness quite well. I wasn’t a huge fan of the almonds in the dish, but my kids, who came back for multiple helpings, didn’t seem to mind.
Next week, we head back to Nevada, and I break my streak of sweets with a fried rice dish that I’ve been dying to try out after constantly reading about it. 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.