To Angie, nothing tastes more like summer than her Nona's fried green tomatoes. Eager to add the recipe to the menu at the County Seat, she's found the perfect produce supplier-her sous chef Estebe's cousin, Javier. Just one problem: ladies' man Javier's current hot tomato, Heather, has turned up dead, and he's the prime suspect. Somehow, between managing her restaurant and navigating a romantic triangle between Estebe and Ian, the owner/manager of the farmer's market, Angie needs to produce evidence to clear Javier-before this green tomato farmer gets fried . . .
Praise for Lynn Cahoon's Tourist Trap Mysteries
"Murder, dirty politics, pirate lore, and a hot police detective: Guidebook to Murder has it all! A cozy lover's dream come true."
-Susan McBride, author of The Debutante Dropout Mysteries
"Lynn Cahoon has created an absorbing, good fun mystery in Mission to Murder."
About the Author
Susan Boyce is the award-winning narrator of over 140 audiobooks. A veteran variety theater performer, she is also one half of the song-and-dance team of Jones & Boyce. Susan can be heard in phone trees, in computer games, and as the voice of the pink "Care Bear." She lives in St. Augustine, Florida.
Read an Excerpt
A good sauce is like a strong family. Mixing all the elements together in a hot pot, letting it steep and boil, gives you the deeper flavors. Flavors that make each ingredient more than what it was alone. And that family bonding stays with you forever. Even when the actual people are gone, random memories can hit at any time. Memories about settings, or laughter, or even food. Bits and pieces can be almost in our grasp, then float away as quickly as a puff of smoke. Today was one of those days.
The aromas of three different sauces filled the kitchen of the County Seat and mixed together into a pleasant cacophony of the sweet, tangy, and tart. Angie Turner, head chef and co-owner, and the rest of her kitchen staff experimented with what might be Angie's favorite summertime treat ever, fried green tomatoes. A dish she planned on elevating to be able to put the appetizer on the menu, just as soon as they found the right recipe. They'd been working on their recipes all morning, and it was almost time for the taste testing. Angie knew she was trying to create a memory from when her Nona had fried up tomatoes straight from the garden. But just because it was a vague and distant food memory didn't mean it wasn't worth pursuing.
Angie grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and glanced at her team. They'd only been together about a month, but the chemistry was working. Nancy and Matt worked together on one dish, with Nancy clearly taking the lead and Matt following her directions like they were cooking for the White House. Angie wondered if there was a romance brewing between the two, and if so, if it would mess up her kitchen if it got serious or imploded.
On the other side of the kitchen, Estebe Blackstone, her sous chef and second in command, walked Hope through the knife cuts. Hope was actually their dishwasher, but she was attending culinary school, so she jumped at any chance she got to actually cook. Angie watched as Hope practiced the chop she'd just been shown, then looked up at Estebe for guidance. This was the kind of kitchen she'd dreamed of running. One where people were engaged and willing to help each other. She'd worked in a few places where the competition took main stage and the food was more of a sideline. She like this environment much better.
"Wrap it up, people. We've got a taste testing to serve." Angie started plating her own dish. The taste test would be the first order of business at the staff meeting that Felicia had already started with her servers and the bartender. The kitchen staff was expected in less than ten minutes. "And remember, no lobbying for votes. This is about the food, not about who cooked it."
"Yeah, but we are so going to kick butt in this." Matt high-fived Nancy.
His partner shook her head at his exuberance. She glanced over at Angie. "Sorry, he's a little bit wired on coffee this morning."
"I'd say he's delusional." Estebe set the family-style plate of tomatoes on the expediting station. "Especially since it's clear that the recipe Hope and I developed is clearly superior."
Angie laughed as she finished her own plating and took the dish forward. "You all forget, the boss always wins."
"Not when it's a blind taste test." Hope joined in the banter. Her face beamed from the heat of the kitchen and the joy she always seemed to radiate. "I love cooking with you guys. It almost feels like I'm a part of the team."
"You are a part of the team." Nancy hugged her. "Now, let's get cleaned up and go join the front of the house. I've got a date tonight with a bathtub and a bottle of wine. Man, my upper body takes a beating at the grocery store."
Nancy worked a second job on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. With her shifts at the County Seat, Nancy was working every day of the week. Angie knew her prep cook/pastry chef needed the money, but she couldn't move the team to a more full-time schedule until fall, although they were getting closer to running that as bookings were filling up quickly.
They left the dishes under the warming lights and went into the dining room where Felicia and her crew were just wrapping up their weekly meeting. At Felicia's nod, two of the servers stood and headed back to the kitchen to bring out the food.
"Welcome to the party. We just finished going over this month's menu and any changes in the service. Anything you want to add?" Felicia poured a glass of water as she sat at one end of the table. They called their meetings family meals, and as a tradition, Felicia, as head of the front of house, sat at one end of the table. Angie took the opposite end. Angie liked the family feel. For too many years after her parents had died, it had been just her and Nona at the table. She'd never had the big, gather-around-the-table kind of meals, so she'd made her own family. Her work family.
"I'm interested in any comments, good or bad, you may overhear from the guests. Just because they don't tell you up front they don't like something doesn't mean everything is all right. Look for unfinished plates or unhappy looks on their faces. If they don't like what they ordered, offer them something else to replace it. We want every guest to want to make the County Seat a regular in their dining-out schedule." Angie glanced over the other notes and decided to leave them for the next meeting. She didn't want her main message to be diluted. "We are playing with some interesting flavor combinations here in the kitchen. Not everyone is going to like what we serve. But we can find something on the menu they will like, or I'll make them something off menu that they will like. No one goes home hungry."
"You sound like a commercial," Jeorge, the bartender, joked.
Angie shrugged. "There's worse mottos for a restaurant. I want people to think of us first when they're making plans. Or a dish we had that they can't get out of their head."
"That's a tall order." One of the servers set a plate of fried green tomatoes in front of her and then took his seat. "But with my off-the-chart serving skills, I'm sure everyone will be coming back, just to sit in my section."
"Conceited much?" Nancy took the plate Angie offered her and put a slice on the tasting plate in front of her. Then she passed the platter on to Matt. "Servers come and go, but people come back to a restaurant because of the food."
"Not always true." Jeorge winked at Nancy as he poured himself a glass of water. "A lot of the time guests come back because of the people. Yes, you have to have good food, but you also have to have great people working. And Felicia and Angie have hired wisely. We're all amazing at our jobs."
"And I thought chefs were full of themselves." Hope glanced at Estebe. "Present company excepted, of course."
The people gathered around the table laughed at Hope's attempt to back out of the insult she'd just thrown her idol. Estebe either hadn't understood the jab or agreed with the description. Either way, Hope was in the clear.
As all three platters had been passed around the entire table, Angie held up a hand. "Let's get this started. I'm looking for a fried green tomato recipe that will fit in with our August menu. The kitchen staff and I have made three different dishes, each highlighting a different Southern twist on the basic idea. When we're done, we'll vote on which one wowed your taste buds."
The room grew quiet as the team dug into the three different appetizers. The sauce Estebe and Hope had made to go with their tomatoes made Angie think of a trip to New Orleans she'd made when she was still in culinary school. She hadn't met Felicia yet so she took the trip solo, mostly just to eat as much Cajun food as possible in a weekend. Nancy and Matt's offering brought back memories of a trip to the North Carolina shore where she'd eaten seafood every night for a week. And finally, her own offering tasted like home. Not quite the recipe Nona had made for her so many years ago, but close. Memories flooded through her as she finished the sampling.
When the vote tally was finally counted, all three dishes came in tied. Angie shook her head. Groans came from the kitchen staff. "You've got to be kidding me. I'm trying to make an informed decision here, and this is all I get?"
"The good news is any of them would be worthy of putting on the menu." Felicia went back to her agenda, and within a few minutes she'd gone through the rest of the items. "Anyone got anything before we break?"
Estebe stood. With a nod toward Felicia, he started. "You all know that I won't be here the last weekend of the month. I'm volunteering for the festival of San Ignazio held annually down at the Basque Cultural Center. I know you all can't come and enjoy the festivities since you'll be working, so I have two tickets for all of you to the volunteer breakfast next Thursday. It's our annual dry run with food, dancing, and a maybe a few adult beverages. Please come as my guest and I'll show you my heritage."
He handed out the tickets, then sat down.
Angie glanced at Felicia, who seemed as overwhelmed by the offer as she felt. "That was very nice of you, Estebe. I'm sure a lot of us will take advantage of your lovely offer."
"I can't, I'm working." Nancy held out her two tickets. "Someone want these? Someone who doesn't work twenty-four-seven like this crazy girl?"
Hope held up her hand. "I'll take them. That way I can take my mom, dad, and baby brother. This will be rad. Thanks, Estebe!"
Shock filled Estebe's face as Hope jumped up and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. Angie stood at the end of the table and excused the group. "I want to thank Estebe for his kind invitation. I'll see everyone Friday afternoon for prep. Let's make this a great week, everyone."
As the group dispersed, Estebe came over to her. "I have someone you need to meet."
"If you want to bring family members to the restaurant, just let Felicia know and we'll book the chef table for them." Angie made some notes in her staff notebook for next week's meeting. When she looked up, he was still standing, waiting for her to finish. She hadn't personally thanked him. That was probably what he was waiting for. The man had his traditions. "Oh, and thank you for the invitations to the festival. I'm sure the team will enjoy it."
Estebe's cheeks turned red and he waved away her words with his hands. "That's not what I'm talking about. Javier Easterly has a farm outside of River Vista. He's been the produce supplier for the festival for years, and I think you'd like his product. Can you come with me to visit him tomorrow?"
Angie liked her current supplier, but it never hurt to make more connections in the area. Especially with produce. You never knew what would happen, so she needed options. She glanced down at the calendar where she kept all of her appointments. "I'm free tomorrow morning. What time and where do you want to meet?"
They made arrangements for Estebe to meet her in front of the County Seat and they'd drive over together. When he left, Felicia came over and sat next to Angie, bringing two glasses of ice water to the table. The dining room had emptied out quickly once the meeting was over, and Estebe had been the last one to leave.
"So, what was that about? Are you going out on a date?" Felicia shook a finger at her. "You're such a loose woman. Ian's going to be heartbroken."
Angie looked up from her notebook. "What are you talking about?"
"Your conversation with Estebe. I overheard you talking about meeting him here tomorrow." Felicia sipped her water, her blue eyes dancing with humor and interest.
"You should have eavesdropped better. We're going out to meet a friend of his who runs a farm nearby. Estebe thought I might like his produce." Angie closed the notebook and picked up the glass, taking a sip before she spoke again. "I can't believe the tomato question is still up in the air. I wanted to get a start on August's menu."
"All three dishes were great. Choose any of them. You should be proud that the staff is so talented." Felicia leaned back in her chair. "You like my front staff, right?"
Angie sat her glass back down before answering. Felicia didn't like conflict, so this might be an indication that she was having trouble with one or more of her staff. "What's going on?"
A twitch of a grin teased over Felicia's lips as she looked back at Angie. "Oh, no. You aren't going to use my probing investigative questioning back on me. I just want your opinion on the staff, not just your half."
That seemed fair. Angie thought of the interactions she'd had with the crew over the last month. Mostly positive. She'd had to correct a couple, as they hadn't been following Felicia's protocol dish presentation as they delivered the food to the tables, but some of that was just a learning curve. Finally, not finding fault in any of them, Angie shrugged. "I guess they're fine. I mean, no one sticks out as a troublemaker, and they all seem to take correction well. What are you concerned about?"
"They seem too perfect. Like Stepford Wives perfect." Felicia pushed her hair behind her ears and sighed. "In California, I was hiring and firing a server every other month. Here, they seem to like their jobs."
"Don't sound so surprised. We pay a higher-than-average wage for the area. Tips might not be as big as they could get in Boise, but we keep the place and their stations filled with paying customers. They should be happy." In California, they hadn't even been close in payroll to any of the higher-end places in town. And they still paid out almost all their gross profit in wages. Idaho had a lower cost of living, and she could see them actually being profitable in one to two years, rather than the ten years el pescado, her first restaurant, had taken. "Relax. Things are going amazing."
Felicia side-eyed her as she stood. "I'm heading off to a yoga class down at the church. A group of stay-at-home moms meets every Wednesday at two. I've gotten over a dozen bookings from the group. You should come. They'd love to meet a real chef."
"No, thanks. I've got to get home and check on Dom. You go om your way to enlightenment and lighten up a little. We're doing great. Nothing is going to go wrong." Angie closed down her office, making a mental note to work on accounting tomorrow. The numbers were the only thing she really hated to do, but she felt she needed to understand what the business was doing before she hired an accountant to take over this part of her duties. She wouldn't be sad when she could actually give it up. Ten minutes later, she was home, and she had a visitor sitting on her porch.
"I'm so glad you came home. I've got a favor to ask you." Erica, Mrs. Potter's granddaughter who lived across the street, stood to greet Angie as she came up on the porch.
Angie unlocked the door into the kitchen. "Come in. How long have you been waiting out here?"
"Just a few minutes. Granny's taking a nap, so I wanted to catch you now, before she finds me gone. She'd tell me to not bother you with this." Erica followed her into the cool kitchen. The Potters had been her Nona's neighbors ever since the two women graduated from high school so many years ago. They'd both raised their families and lost their husbands since those promise-filled days. Even though Nona was gone, Angie felt compelled to continue the relationship. Mrs. Potter was more like family rather than just being a neighbor.
Angie leaned down to give Dom some attention as she talked to Erica. The baby St. Bernard wasn't much of a baby anymore. The dog was close to a hundred pounds as of his last vet appointment. She nodded to a chair at the table. "Sit down. I was going to warm up some tomato bisque for lunch. Maybe a ham sandwich to go with it? Have you eaten? You can tell me what's going on over a meal."
Erica shook her head. "I've been too upset to eat."
Angie stood and took Erica's arm, leading her to the chair. "Now you have to stay for lunch. What is wrong?"
Instead of answering her, Erica laid her head on the table between her arms and started sobbing.CHAPTER 2
It took a while, but Angie finally got Erica calmed down and eating the proper lunch set in front of her. Dom had added his comfort by laying his big head on Erica's lap and staring at her with his big brown eyes. Angie knew the power petting Dom's soft coat could have on lightening her own mood. She sat down at the table and picked up a spoon, took a sip, and sighed, hoping the action would cause Erica to follow suit. It did, and in a few minutes, Angie noticed some color coming back into the young woman's face. The power of food.
"So, what did you need to ask me?" Angie tried to make the question seem casual, hoping not to send Erica into waterworks again.
"I told you about my study group, right? They have a trip planned for next week to Cabo. I know, Mexico in the summer, not prime vacation time, but I've never been and it's really cheap." Erica looked at her with pleading in her eyes.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Killer Green Tomatoes"
Copyright © 2018 Lynn Cahoon.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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