, Muskogee, OK

December 10, 2013

Leave the mysteries to this book, but not this meal

Melony Carey
Food by the Book

— In the ordinary time leading up to the holidays, we may be asking ourselves how we will possibly get all the shopping, cooking, wrapping and social obligations completed by December 25. But, what is in the Christmas pudding, ah, that is the question in Otto Penzler’s “The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries,” a charming and sometimes frightening collection of yuletide whodunits compiled by the proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City.

Penzler conceived of a Christmas mystery writing contest 17 years ago when he challenged crime writers to a pen a mystery set at Christmastime that would be included in his holiday newsletter. In 2010 Penzler published “Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop,” a collection of those commissioned short stories. This year’s anthology includes such notable authors as Agatha Christie, Robert Louis Stevenson. Thomas Hardy, G.K. Chesterton, Ngaio Marsh, and Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Christmas mysteries bring to light the classic investigations into human greed and corruption.

More modern authors included in the volume are Mary Higgins Clark and Sarah Paretsky, who is credited with having transformed the image of the female detective with her private eye series based on the character V.I. Warshawski. Also included is Isaac Asimov’s “The Thirteenth Day of Christmas,” first published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1977.

If you can steal a few minutes for yourself in the next two weeks, “The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries” is an easy read for fans of the great crime writers. Settle in with the following menu and a good red for some delicious holiday mayhem.

Simple Broiled Steak

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon A1 Steak Sauce

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon chili sauce

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 1 inch thick KC strip or petit sirloin steaks

Mix sauces together. Season steaks with salt and pepper. Brush steaks with sauce and marinate 2-4 hours. Prepare broiler and set rack about 3 inches from heat. Place steaks on foil lined broiler pan and cook approximately 5 minutes per side for medium rare. Do not overcook, as meat will toughen and dry out.

Roasted Broccoli and Orzo Salad

It would be a crime not to try this delicious pasta salad.

2 (12 ounce) sacks frozen broccoli florets

5 tablespoons olive oil

2 red bell peppers, halved and seeded

2 cans chicken broth

1 16 ounce package orzo pasta

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

1 cup toasted pine nuts

1 container Alouette crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup chopped oregano

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil. In a large bowl combine broccoli and 3 tablespoons olive oil, tossing to coat. Spread broccoli on baking sheet. Place bell pepper halves cut side down on baking sheet with broccoli. Bake for 25 minutes until red pepper is blistered and broccoli is lightly browned. Place peppers in resealable plastic bag and let sit about 10 minutes. Peel skin from peppers and chop. Bring chicken broth to a boil over medium heat and add orzo. Cook about 9 minutes until tender. Drain. In a large bowl, combine orzo, broccoli, red pepper, vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Combine well. Add pine nuts, feta and oregano. Toss. Serve at room temperature or cold.