Deck the Halls, Hit the Deck, To Heck with it All…

posted by guest blogger, Kate Flora

Long before the turkey goes in the oven or the youngest son gets hauled to the kitchen to make his “signature” cranberry relish, before the squash-haters have finished whining and those who’ve had too much pie are moaning in the corner, our e-mail queues are already bursting with advice about how to simplify the holiday shopping and cooking.

Today, I’m going to be guilty of joining that crowd, but lucky you—this is a blog, so you can Aneducateddeath choose to visit or not, read it or not, and put the recipes to use or just take a quick drive to Trader Joes. And I’m not trying to sell you gift wrap, perfume, electronics or smelly perfume. (Although, in the interest of full disclosure—I would like you to buy my books.)

As promised, this week the mystery writer speaks not of subject-verb agreement, the raging problem of pronoun confusion, or the rampant instability of point of view in many mysteries, but about how to do a quick and dirty holiday cocktail party that will amuse and astound your friends. If you like the ideas give Thea Kozak the credit, please. My poor character has languished without recognition long enough.

I’ve always put cooking into my books because I’m trying to write real women characters, the kind who have complaining mothers, difficult siblings, empty refrigerators, dry cleaning in their trunks, and hungry significant others who get cranky when they’re not fed. In my fourth Thea Kozak mystery, An Educated Death, Thea is troubleshooting an emergency situation on a private school campus involving the mysterious death of a student. It’s Christmas, but there’s no time for the season. When the school secretary sighs and says she has 25 people coming for drinks at 7, and the crisis has kept her from preparing, Thea says, “Get a pen. I hope you don’t mind cream cheese, it’s the staff of life,” and then reels off the following menu:

“Get some smoked trout, about half a pound. You have a food processor?” She nodded. “Okay, you mix it with a package of cream cheese, horseradish and lemon juice. Thin it with half and half if it’s too thick. Great on crackers. It’s also wonderful on cucumber slices. Use the English kind, they don’t have big seeds. Next, a can of crab, another package of cream cheese, a little lemon juice, and a teaspoon or two of curry, mix it together in the food processor, put it in a dish and bake for about twenty-five minutes.” I waited while she scribbled frantically.

“Now, everyone is impressed by piles of food. Doesn’t have to be special, just has to be massive. So get a couple pounds of shrimp, pile ‘em on a platter on a bed of lettuce, use a green pepper filled with cocktail sauce in the middle and lots of lemon wedges. Do the same with a platter of raw veggies. Use sugar snap peas, red, yellow and orange peppers, those ready peeled baby carrots, cauliflower and broccoli. Hollow out a small red cabbage and a small green cabbage and fill one with ranch dressing and the other with honey mustard dressing. Belgian endive. Separate it into spears, filled the big end with herbed cheese, arrange on a platter like a flower and sprinkle with sprouts.”

“Stop,” she said, “this is great but you’re making me hungry. How do you know all this? You never entertain? You’re always at work. I know you are.”

Ikeasweedishmeatballs “I used to have a life once. And my mom is the world’s greatest cook. Don’t forget little smoky sausages and Swedish meatballs with a dish of mustard. Don’t forget toothpicks.”

She wrote it down. “So you’re what people are talking about when they say ‘get a life,’ is that right?”

And Thea, exhausted, suffering the miserable effects of a poisoning attempt and in the middle of a major fight with Andre, declares that her life is just fine.

Another quick dirty recipe Andre would love, even though it made him eat vegetables, is to quickly cook asparagus until just crisp tender, drain and chill, Then spread slices of roast beef with boursin cheese and wrap them around the asparagus.

Spiralham Not lavish enough yet? Get a prebaked, presliced ham. Heat it. Fill a basket with miniature rolls and put out a bowls of mustards. Heap those premade cheese cubes onto a platter. And voila. A holiday party.

Don’t forget the flowers. The candles. Don’t forget that in a crowded room, candles do best when they’re in holders that won’t let them drip onto your furniture.

Have a great holiday.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * An Educated Death is the fourth mystery in Kate Flora’s Thea Kozak series. The much delayed Stalking Death is supposed to be out in December.

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