Thursday, August 28, 2014

Murder Al Dente by Jennifer L. Hart Excerpt

Murder Al Dente by Jennifer L. Hart

Pretty please with spaghetti on top?

Andy Buckland has always dreamed of being a chef. But after a live studio audience is stricken with food poisoning during her debut cooking show, she finds herself blacklisted in the culinary community. The only job open to her is working in her family's southern pasta shop, and, to make matters worse, her first assignment is serving baked ziti to her former lover and his spoiled bride-to-be at their engagement party! But a broken heart and a bruised ego are the least of Andy's troubles when she discovers a dead body at the party with the words "welcome home" written in flour next to it. Is it a warning? A threat? Or a frame-up job? Andy is determined to find out. With the help of her over-the-top Italian family, Andy will prove that she has what it takes to not only cook the best dish in town but also catch a killer, too!

Recipes included!


"Five minutes, Ms. Buckland." Mimi, Chef Zoltan Farnsworth's assistant, poked her head into the closet I'd been given to use as a dressing room.
I grinned at her. "Thanks. He has you herding the entire studio, now, huh? Why do you put up with him, Mimi?" She was a talented pastry chef in her own right, but Zoltan Farnsworth treated her like dirt. Not that that was unusual for him. Farnsworth treated everyone like dirt. It was practically his brand.
"He is not so bad." She paused, seemed to consider, and said in her careful Asian accent, "Well, he is bad."
 "Hey, when I'm Flavor TV's next big thing, I'll hire you right out from under his mustache." I took a deep breath, checked my appearance one last time in the chipped mirror, and pasted on a smiled. "First I have to go out there and blow their doors off."
"You will do very well, I am sure." Mimi offered me a smile, dipped her head, and bustled off.
I made my way to Studio C where a live audience was already tasting samples of the culinary concoction I'd whipped up. Much to my relief, everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves. My cell buzzed, and I checked the display. A text from Donna Muller, my best friend since high school, and I grinned at her message.
 Knock 'em dead!
Donna knew better than pretty much anyone else how hard I'd worked for this moment. After being raised by my very Italian grandmother and great aunt who ran the small town's pasta shop, it was possible I had marinara instead of blood.
One of the techs signaled me, and I quickly stowed my phone, lifted my arms, and let him attach my microphone. We did a sound check, and I was good to go.
"All set?" The producer, Stacy DeAngelo scurried over, tablet in hand. She didn't wait for a response but gave me a light shove in the direction of the stage.
My nerves got the best of me when I saw what appeared to be a sea of faces, all of whom looked at me expectantly. Oh no. I'd told everyone I knew about this. My grandfather, Pops, was tuned in along with my great aunt Cecily. The entire population of Beaverton, N.C, all 21,086 of them, were probably watching the Atlanta based television station.
Kyle was watching. No, no he wasn't. The sheriff had more important things to do on a weekday afternoon than watch his ex-girlfriend make an idiot out of herself on live television.
Then, my canned music started and my feet unfroze. "Is it just me or does pasta get a bad rap?" I asked the audience. Mostly smiles, but a few nods. "Let me tell you, there is not a more versatile food in the world. It can be light or heavy, served as a side dish or the main course, or even dessert."
 I lowered my voice to a hush, which of course the microphone projected. "Just don't tell my great aunt Cecily I said that. She's a purist."
Several chuckles. My confidence grew, and I returned to my normal easygoing drawl. "Today, I'm going to show you linguini's true potential when served with fresh clams in a white wine sauce. So, here's what you'll need." I'd been over the spiel at least a thousand times in my head, and as I spoke, I moved around my "kitchen," which was really a set that had been made to look like a cozy country kitchen. Nothing too ostentatious. Flavor was a relatively new cable channel, and I was supposed to be a girl-next-door kind of cook. Al Dente, my brand spanking new cooking show, focused on the ins and outs of pasta, not high end appliances. But the new countertops practically sparkled, and I could see my face in the gleaming stainless steel refrigerator as I extracted the clams.
While the water came to a boil, I added a little background to my instructions. "In Italian, al dente means 'to the tooth.' The perfect al dente pasta will have a little resistance when you bite into it. Nothing ruins a meal like overcooked noodles. Cooking times will vary depending on the shape of pasta and thickness. For instance, vermicelli or angel hair will take less time to cook to al dente perfection than fettuccini or shells."
The first segment of the show seemed to fly by, and before I knew it, I was being signaled that it was time for our three minute intermission.
"You're doing great." Stacy looked up from her iPad, her expression approving. She'd gone to bat for me with the network execs when I'd pitched her the concept for the show. She said she'd seen something in me, and she'd fought hard to get me this chance. I wanted to prove her right. "By this time tomorrow you'll have a ton of sponsors."
I beamed. "I can't believe it, but at one point I actually forgot I was on camera."
"That's how it goes. We're back in ten seconds."
My return to the stage-slash-kitchen was much smoother this time, and I talked about pairing wines with different dishes. Before I knew it, the meal was assembled. "Smells great. Just the right combination of garlic and wine really brings the pasta and clams together in perfect harmony. Don't take my word for it though, what does our audience think?" ."
 Thunderous clapping accompanied by a few wolf whistles. Perfect.
"And we have a special treat for you. Chef Zoltan Farnsworth is here to join me for the tasting." It hadn't been my idea, but the network insisted a guest spot by their number one cooking show host would help boost my numbers.
From the sound of the audience clapping to greet the pastry chef, they were right.
Farnsworth strutted like a peacock and did a little faux air kiss thing in greeting. "It smells…pungent in here," he said with a smug smile.
Jeez, not exactly a compliment. He couldn't have gone for aromatic or fragrant? I made my tone light as I said, "Garlic will do that. One of my favorite scents in the world."
After dishing out a serving for Chef Farnsworth, I sat down to mock eat my own serving of pasta. "How is it?"
"Excellent," Farnsworth said, surprising me. Maybe he wasn't such a bad guy. "Though a bit more salt wouldn't hurt."
I didn't roll my eyes, but it was a struggle. "Well—" The sound of retching came from the audience, and my head whipped around so fast I bumped my microphone. Was I being heckled?
Then again, from another section. Definitely vomiting this time, and my heart stumbled in my chest. "What's going on?"
Frantic movement caught my attention, and I turned in my seat to see Stacy, her eyes huge, her face pale. She was mouthing something to me.
Something that looked like bad clams.
I was on my feet in an instant. "Don't eat it!" I shouted at the audience.
Some people looked startled, others angry.
My phone buzzed again, but I ignored it. Multiple people were bent over, obviously sick. Oh dear sweet Lord, I'd given my audience food poisoning on live television. Zoltan was on his feet, hands in the air, ranting about incompetent cooks. About me.
"Call 911," I said to Mimi, who was hovering by Stacy's side. "We need to get these people medical treatment, now."
"We'll take care of it." Stacy said, not unkindly. "You'd better go, Andy."
She shoved me again, this time in the direction of the exit. "Go."
I went, stunned by what had just happened.

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