Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Book Tour Stops Here: 'The Branson Beauty' by Claire Booth, Served with Vegan 'Pecan Delights' Candies

Today's TLC Book Tour stop takes us to Branson, Missouri for The Branson Beauty by Claire Booth, the debut of a new mystery series. Accompanying my review is a recipe for a vegan version of Pecan Delights--a Russell Stover chocolate treat, popular in the region and a favorite of Sheriff Hank Worth, the main character of the book. 

Publisher's Blurb:

The Branson Beauty, an old showboat, has crashed in the waters of an Ozark mountain lake just outside the popular tourist destination of Branson, Missouri. More than one hundred people are trapped aboard. Hank Worth is still settling into his new role as county sheriff, and when he responds to the emergency call, he knows he’s in for a long winter’s day of helping elderly people into rafts and bringing them ashore. He anticipates a lot of anxiety, many arguments, and extra costs for emergency equipment that will stretch the county’s already thin budget to the breaking point. But those are the least of his worries after he discovers high school track star Mandy Bryson’s body locked inside the Captain’s private dining room.
In her captivating debut novel, Claire Booth has created a broad cast of wonderfully compelling characters, and writes with a style that perfectly blends humor with the emotional drama and heartache of a murder investigation.

Series: Sheriff Hank Worth Mysteries (Book 1)
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books (July 19, 2016)

My Review:

I am always a fan of a good mystery ranging from the more gentle cozy mysteries to the pulse-pounding dark psychological thrillers. The Branson Beauty leans to the lighter side of the scale. There's a murder but it's not particularly graphic and there are plenty of small town-style, Missouri Ozarks characters to get to know. The main character is a recently-transplanted  sheriff, so it falls a bit into the police procedural arena too. It's a quick read with a likable protagonist in Hank--who isn't just a sheriff but a dedicated family man who recently moved his ER Doctor wife and two kids to Branson where they are settling in, along with his widowed father-in-law who is acting as a stay-at-home grandpa. I liked Hank's intelligence, balanced with a sense of humor as he settles into life in the touristy Branson and tries to do his job as an outsider to the community--and with a whole lot of coffee. We just get a brief glimpse of his deputy team in this book, but I enjoyed the interplay between them all, so I look forward to seeing more in future books. The mystery complexity was appropriate for the length of the story--I had parts of it figured out before the ending, but there were a couple surprises which is always a plus. For me it was a strong series (and author) debut and I will definitely be on the look out for the next chapter in Hank's story.

Author Notes: Claire Booth spent more than a decade as a daily newspaper reporter, much of it covering crimes so convoluted and strange they seemed more like fiction than reality. Eventually, she had enough of the real world and decided to write novels instead. Her Sheriff Hank Worth mystery series takes place in Branson, Missouri, where small-town Ozark politics and big-city country music tourism clash in, yes, strange and convoluted ways. 

For more about Claire, her books, and some of the true crimes she’s covered, please visit


Food Inspiration:

With a murder to solve, there was not much time for a lot of food in the book. There was mention of rubbery salmon on a dinner cruise, several meals Hank's father-in-law cooks for lunch and dinner dinner like chicken stew, grilled cheese, meatloaf and green beans, and assorted casseroles. There were also Cherrios and Fruit Loops for breakfasts, stale potato chips, the local Steak 'n Shake, hot cocoa with marshmallows, candy bars, a peanut butter sandwich, and milk, coffee, tea and sweet tea to drink.

Sheriff Hank drank a lot of coffee (mostly bad) and seemed to have a fondness for Pecan Delights (essentially a 'turtle' variation of milk chocolate-covered caramel and pecans) from the Russell Stover outlet in Ozark. I decided to make Pecan Delights my book-inspired recipe, but I *needed* to hit the kitchen and turn them into a healthier treat

According to the Russell Stover website:  "Ingredients Consist of Milk Chocolate {Sugar, Whole Milk, Cocoa Butter, Chocolate, Soy Lecithin/an Emulsifier, Vanillin/an Artificial Flavor}, Pecans, Corn Syrup Dairy Cream, Sugar, Condensed Milk Partially Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil, Invert Sugar, Brown Sugar, Salt, Natural Flavors, and Soy Lecithin/an Emulsifier".  

There's a lot of things on that list that don't fit into my eating plan. Don't get me wrong--if someone walked up and gave me a Pecan Delight, I'd eat it (well, if I knew them, I'd eat it--otherwise that would be candy from strangers--never a good idea!), but to make a small batch version and have them around the house, not so much.

I decided to use a more solid variation of this Vanilla Date Caramel that I had used for a dipping sauce and I paired a dairy-free dark chocolate with my pecans to make a vegan version, with fewer and better ingredients than the original. 

Vegan Pecan Delights
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 8-10 Pieces

about 1 1/2 cups fresh medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped (about 10-12 whole dates--depending on size)
1 tsp vanilla 
1 pinch sea salt
hot water, drizzled as needed (to make the paste)
about 3/4 cup halved pecans
2 oz chopped of good quality dark chocolate, 70-80% cacao (vegan/dairy-free, natural ingredients preferred)

Making the Date Caramel:
Place the chopped, fresh dates in the bowl of a food processor. (Note: if not using fresh dates, soak in hot water for 20 minutes, then drain before using). Add vanilla and sea salt and process on low until a chunky paste forms--scraping down the bowl as needed. 

While food processor is running, carefully drizzle in warm water in tiny amounts as needed (stopping to scrape down the sides of the food processor as needed) just until a smooth paste occurs. Be cautious here--too much water and the caramel will be too runny! (I used about 1 1/2 Tbsp total.)

Once your date caramel is made, remove it from the food processor and chill for 30 minutes or so to firm it up and make it easier to work with. 

Forming the Pecan Delights:  
Separate out about 18 of the pecan halves and set aside. Crush remaining pecan halves into small pieces and place in a small shallow bowl. Prepare a small pan with parchment paper. 

Remove the chilled date caramel from the refrigerator. Take a table spoon-sized scoop of the date caramel and carefully form a small ball. (You can slightly dampen hands with water or olive oil to reduce stickiness.) Gently press ball into a small flat disk. Once formed, press one side of the disk into the crushed pecans and set it on the prepared baking sheet. Press 2 pecan halves onto the top of the disk. Repeat until all of the caramel is used and place the finished disks into the freezer to chill.

While disks are chilling, melt chocolate in the microwave, in 25-30 second bursts, stirring in between until chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.  (Note: You can also use a double boiler and melt chocolate on the stove top, if desired.)
When chocolate has cooled for about 10 minutes or so, remove disks from freezer and using a small spoon, drizzle chocolate on top of each candy. Once all candies are drizzled with chocolate, place pan in refrigerator and allow to set for about 20 minutes before serving.  Enjoy! 

Note: As these Vegan Pecan Delights have no preservatives and both the chocolate and caramel will soften easily in heat, these are best kept stored tightly covered in the fridge for up to one week and taken out right before serving.

Notes/Results: These are a tasty little treat--rich and decadent without being too sweet. There's is still plenty enough sugar to satisfy any craving but at least the bulk of it comes from dried fruit. The date caramel is softer than regular caramel which is why I dipped the bottoms of the caramel disks into the crushed pecans--it gives them a little base to rest on. Date caramel does not taste exactly like caramel but it is pretty darn close--especially when paired with nuts and chocolate and you can't beat the no-cooking part. ;-) These vegan pecan delights are best kept cold before serving--in the fridge or you could pop them in the freezer too. You could also dip the entire piece in chocolate but to me, this amount is plenty and the dark chocolate plays well against the sweetness of the dates. I think they are a great swap for the original and one or two make a perfect snack or dessert with a cup of dark coffee. I will happily make them again.

I'm linking up this review and recipe to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

Note: A review copy of "The Branson Beauty" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.



  1. Those Pecan Delights sound absolutely delicious. I wish I had some right now!

    I'm exciting to see this series continue after such a strong start. Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  2. A good book & an ooey pecan chocolate treat, what more could you want? I haven't heard of this series but it sounds like a good read. You write great book reviews because I can picture all that goes on without you giving spoilers.

  3. I love Pecan Delights or Turtles or any basic combination of pecans, caramel, and chocolate! I haven't heard of this series but I need to find out more about it. This book in particular definitely has me wanting to read it!

  4. I got lost in the pecan caramel things and almost forgot to read the book review! I like the setting of the mysteries and glad it was good debut. But those pecan treats!!!!!!

  5. Your Pecan Delights look and sound delicious. They also sound like they are fun to make. Your review of Branson Beauty is very good. I'm also on the tour, but I'm only into the second chapter. So far, it's good. Thanks for going the extra mile of pairing a food item with the book review.

  6. Oh my, those turtles look so good! I'm a great turtle fan but sadly we don't really have them in Australia (possibly a good thing I guess. These look great. How clever of you to make vegan alternatives. My teenage son is vegan at the moment- he'd go crazy for these!

  7. I should have joined the tour for this book, I think I'd like it.
    Those Vegan Pecan Delights look yummy. My son and his family are vegan so I'm sharing this recipe with them.

  8. Hi "Deb in Hawaii" -- this week I'm "Mae in Hawaii" as I'm enjoying the beautiful island of Kauai. I've already found some local produce and alternative sun and rain. Meanwhile, you write about Missouri which is where I came from long ago (St.Louis, though, not the Ozarks). The USA is a big country with lots of interesting food and books, isn't it! I wonder if there are any mysteries set in Kauai.

    best... mae at

  9. What delectable little treats you've concocted. I think I could easily scarf down a number of them. And that book debut sounds like a winner as well.


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