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Comfort food and books for comfort

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Christina Stock Photo Lemon salsa chicken is a delicious alternative to the typical Easter ham.

A refreshing twist on chicken; who put the devil into deviled eggs and a murder story

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

Easter for Christians or Passover for those of Jewish faith is just around the corner, and what better than to celebrate it with something different this year: Chicken with a caramelized lemony salsa. So, forget the ham and lamb and try something new. As usual, this recipe is easy and fast, perfect for the busy family chef.

Ingredients: (for four people)

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 Tbsp. light olive oil for frying

1 purple onion, diced

3 bell peppers (red, yello and orange), diced

1 cup fresh pineapple pieces

Sauce ingredients:

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 grated horseradish (a traditional Jewish ingredient that adds depth to the dish)

1 tsp. salt

black pepper

2 tsp. potato starch, mixed with 2 Tbsp. of cold water

Preparation:

Dry the chicken breast with paper towels. Heat oil in a deep frying pan or pot — preferably non-stick. Fry the chicken on each side until golden brown and fully cooked inside. Set aside in a covered dish to keep warm. Sauté the diced vegetables until tender.

Simmer all sauce ingredients — except the potato starch and water mixture — in a small saucepan for 15 to 20 minutes.

Strain the sauce to remove the horseradish pieces and return to the fire. Mix in the potato starch and water mixture. Stir continuously for a few minutes until the sauce thickens. Add the sauce to the vegetables and stir until it slightly caramelizes. Taste to see if it needs salt, sugar or pepper, depending on your preference. If it is too tart, add more sugar.

Place the chicken on plates and spoon the caramelized salsa evenly over each chicken piece.

Serve with rice, couscous or a side dish of your choice.

One of the funnest memories of childhood is the annual Easter egg hunt. I remember sitting at the kitchen table days before and painting the freshly boiled eggs with special colors. My grandmother, Oma Else, would tell me stories how she would color the eggs when she lived on a farm in Slesia, Germany. They didn’t have fancy color, but used onion peel and red beet juice to color their eggs.

But, after Easter Sunday is over, what to do with all the boiled eggs. Deviled eggs is the usual answer — lots of calories, but oh so delicious.

However, I had never heard the wording “deviled” egg, so I was curious and researched the background. In German and French, we would only call them stuffed eggs. Who put the devil into the poor, innocent eggs?

The British did it, but the devil appeared in the food long before somebody came up with the egg version. According to the Oxford English dictionary, in 1786, to “devil” a food meant to cook it with a spicy seasoning or over very high heat. Now, that makes sense — after all, hell is supposed to be very hot with lots of flames.

Much later, the wording was used to describe any dish that was spiced or rich with an excess of mayonnaise. Those calorie bombs seem to be tempting like the devil. Once the first experiment combining egg yolk with mayonnaise and paprika became popular, the famous deviled egg was born.

Keeping with the egg-theme, I want to introduce you to a little known author from Albuquerque who — so far — has published three mystery/murder books: Patricia Smith Wood.

Smith Wood was an only child for most of her young years and entertained herself and others making up stories and putting on plays. Law enforcement is in her DNA. Her father served as a police officer and completed a distinguished career as Deputy Assistant Director for Domestic Intelligence with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Smith Wood even became an FBI employee for 18 months. Her first book came out in 2013 and — while a fiction — it’s based on a real, unsolved murder.

“The Easter Egg Murder,” is loosely based on the real-life unsolved murder of Cricket Coogler in Las Cruces, New Mexico in 1949. In Smith Wood’s telling, the crime occurs in 1950 and the rest of the story takes place in the year 2000 when the murderer is finally revealed.

You can tell that the author has a law enforcement background. The book is well researched and written in an easy way, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the mystery. Her style reminds one of her author hero, Tony Hillerman, whom she met during a book signing. Smith Wood’s books, however, have a unique and sensitive approach to the murder.

The hero in the story is Harrie McKinsey. McKinsey and her best friend and business partner, Ginger Vaughn, discover that some secrets are best left buried when retired Sen. Philip Lawrence hires their editing firm to assist him with a book about the famous unsolved 1950 murder of a cocktail waitress that led to the end of illegal casinos in New Mexico. When the Albuquerque newspaper announces that Sen. Lawrence is writing the book, one person with a connection to the case is murdered and another narrowly escapes death. Despite the best efforts of Ginger’s husband and an FBI agent Harrie finds infuriatingly attractive, the energetic pair cannot resist trying to discover who is so anxious to destroy the book, the senator and his big secret. But will their proficiency and luck be up to the challenge when they land in a dark house with a cold, calculating killer who has nothing else to lose?

“The Easter Egg Murder,” is available at all book vendors in print and online as an ebook. For more information, visit patriciasmithwood.com.