The 1st book in the Dinner Club Mystery series, Toasting Up Trouble, introduced us to Linda Wiken’s excellent palate. The follow up, Roux The Day, continues to serve up exquisite recipes, this time from a very thematically appropriate source.
Beth Brickner, one of the members of the Culinary Capers cookbook club to which our heroine J.J. Tanner belongs, has chosen The Mystery Writers Of America Cookbook for their monthly dinner. She also urges the members to read a novel by the author of their chosen recipe in addition to preparing their dishes.
The choice of cookbook becomes somewhat ironic when Beth discovers that one of her customers is stealing small items from her bakery cafe, Cups And Roses. She asks J.J. to come in daily and have lunch on the house in exchange for keeping an eye out for the thief. And then, of course, there’s the murder that happens towards the end of the cruise-ship casino night that J.J. has organized as part of her professional event planner duties.
Making matters worse, fellow Culinary Capers member and J.J.’s close platonic friend Connor Mac is suspected of the killing, especially when it turns out that the victim, glamorous TV personality Miranda Myers, was his ex-fiancé. Connor doesn’t help matters any by abruptly disappearing soon after, forcing J.J. to search high and low for him even as her investigative streak compels her to help clear his name and discover who the real murderer is.
Assisting—and occasionally obstructing—her is handsome private investigator Ty Devine, who has been hired by Miranda’s TV station to see whether her murder had anything to do with a rash of attacks on the station itself. He is J.J.’s guide through the often frustrating process of criminal investigation, as they gradually team up to track down leads that all too often turn into dead ends. Which makes the reveal of the killer all the more satisfying, surprising, and, quite frankly, realistic when it happens.
Ms. Wiken’s commitment to realism in this cozy mystery is commendable, but even more so is her taste in recipes! There were three from The Mystery Writers Of America Cookbook that were included here, and I chose to make the only main dish (even if Cathy Pickens’s “Fried Yellow Squash” recipe made my mouth water just reading its description):
By Sara Paretsky
Enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a skillet, plus 1 tablespoon
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 fryer chicken, cut into pieces
¼ cup Armagnac
1 cup Pinot Grigio (or other dry white wine)
6 Calimyrna figs, cut into quarters
Coat the bottom of a skillet with olive oil and heat for about 30 seconds. Add garlic and sauté until golden brown, stirring constantly. Remove garlic and reserve.
Add the additional 1 tablespoon olive oil to the skillet. Turn heat to high, quickly add chicken, and sear each piece on both sides.
Remove the skillet from the heat. Pour the Armagnac into the skillet and flame it with a match. (Light the Armagnac the instant you put it in the pan or it will not flame.) Return the pan to the heat.
Once the Armagnac has cooked off, add the Pinot Grigio and simmer the chicken, covered on low heat until tender, approximately 30 to 45 minutes.
Add the figs and sautéed garlic for the last 10 minutes of cooking.
Serve with a green salad and crisp, cold white wine.
YIELD: 4 SERVINGS
So, I’d never flambéed anything before attempting this recipe, and I felt a certain degree of “oh, God, I hope I don’t set the house on fire” when touching a birthday candle (I didn’t have any matches and couldn’t find my kitchen lighter) to the Armagnac while also juggling my camera. And wow, it was a really spectacular display of flames! I didn’t expect the flames to rise up again when I put the pan back on the heat, but it was all very entertaining and just the kind of thing you’d want to do for an audience should you decide to make this dish for a dinner party.
And you really should! The chicken came out deliciously tender and exquisitely flavored. I was a bit skeptical at how few ingredients this required—granted, sourcing Armagnac isn’t necessarily the easiest or least expensive task—but it came out so nicely! I actually decided to serve this with a Bordeaux Blanc instead of a Pinot Grigio to keep the alcohol from similar terroirs.
And, while I did follow the initial serving suggestion of a green salad, I found that the chicken also paired nicely with potatoes and cooked vegetables later on. I’ll definitely be making this again soon, especially since I now have a very large bottle of Armagnac to go through!
Next week, we travel south to Georgia, and I have a bit of a culinary disaster—my first for this column, oh no! Do join me!
See also: Cooking the Books: The Silence of the Flans by Laura Bradford
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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.