Lucy Burdette (aka Roberta Isleib) is the author of thirteen mysteries, including Death With All the Trimmings, the fifth book in the Key West series featuring food critic Hayley Snow. Lucy’s books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She's a past president of Sisters in Crime. Learn more about her and her books at her website and two blog: Mystery Lovers Kitchen and Jungle Red Writers.
On Writing Culinary Cozies—and Making Fudge!
First things first: Thanks for inviting me to post on your wonderful blog!
It’s taken me three mystery series to develop a character who cooks and who loves food and eating as much as I do! Although Hayley Snow, the food critic character in my Key West books, is young and a little bit impulsive, she cares deeply about her family and friends, and she shows her feelings with home cooking. In contrast, my first mystery character (written as Roberta Isleib) was a neurotic aspiring golf pro whose only recipe was Hot Dog Casserole. (Hey, she’s just reminded me that she makes an appearance in Death With All the Trimmings, as does her famous casserole.) Rebecca Butterman, the psychologist/advice columnist in the advice column mysteries, was a good home cook—but she didn’t spend time thinking about the meaning of food the way Hayley Snow does. (She reminds me that she was too busy puzzling through people’s problems, sorting through clues, and eking confessions out of bad guys to really focus on food.)
Anyway, it’s both a joy and challenge to write a culinary mystery series. The food part can’t just be a sideshow, or readers get bored. My editor gets antsy too: How is this moving the story ahead, she might ask. Hayley’s work as a food critic and the scenes involving her cooking on her Key West houseboat have to contribute more than a rumbling stomach to the story. In Death With All the Trimmings, Hayley has been assigned to cover the opening of a new restaurant from a New York chef/owner with extreme ambition. When things start going wrong in her kitchen, she calls on Hayley to help watch for sabotage. I especially enjoyed having Hayley run into the food critic for the New York Times on opening night. I had no idea this would happen when I started the book—and naturally, their conversation provides a clue to the mystery.
This is the kind of cozy paperback that would slide perfectly into a Christmas stocking. Or provide an unusual hostess gift for a foodie or mystery lover—maybe paired with a plate of Hayley’s amazing hazelnut fudge. I had first planned to make chocolate Nutella fudge—until I read the list of ingredients on the back of the jar. At that point, thinking there must be something with fewer weird ingredients, I searched for a substitute and found an organic chocolate-hazelnut spread that is really quite incredible. Hayley definitely approved!
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (make these good quality, as it will show)
1 cup Nocciolato (organic chocolate-hazelnut spread--I used the whole 9.5 oz jar)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or pink salt
Line an 8” x 8” inch pan with two layers of parchment paper, overlapping on the sides.
In a stainless steel bowl, stir together sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, chocolate chips, hazelnut spread, and butter.
Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water. (The pan should not touch the water.) Stir until the chocolate chips are melted and the mixture is smooth, 5-7 minutes.
Scrape the mixture into the papered pan, smooth the top, and sprinkle with sea salt. (I would have used some of Krista’s pink sea salt if I’d had it on hand--so pretty!)
Refrigerate until the fudge is firm, at least 2 hours.
Lift the fudge out of the pan using the parchment paper. Cut the fudge into bite-sized pieces and arrange on a pretty plate. Store leftovers (if there are any) in an airtight container in the fridge. This can also be made ahead and frozen.
Death With All the Trimmings
It may be Christmastime, but thoughts of peace on earth, good will toward men, don’t seem to extend to the restaurant business. Food critic Hayley Snow has been assigned to interview Edel Waugh, chef/owner of Key West’s hottest new restaurant. But off the record, Edel reveals that there’s been sabotage in the kitchen and asks Hayley to investigate. Things heat up fast when the restaurant is set on fire—and a body is discovered in the charred wreckage. Is someone out to destroy the chef’s business—or actually kill her? Amid holiday festivities like the lighted boat parade, and visiting relatives who stir up mixed emotions, Hayley needs to smoke out an arsonist and a killer before they turn up the heat again…on her!