Sunday, February 28, 2010

Prime Time - Dinner Time

Let’s welcome our Sunday guest!

Award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is on the air at Boston's NBC affiliate. Her work has resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in restitution. Along with her 26 EMMYs, Hank’s won dozens of other journalism honors. She's been a radio reporter, a legislative aide in the United States Senate and an editorial assistant at Rolling Stone Magazine working with Hunter S. Thompson.Her first mystery, the best-selling PRIME TIME, won the Agatha for Best First Novel. It was also was a double RITA nominee for Best First Book and Best Romantic Suspense Novel, and a Reviewers' Choice Award Winner. FACE TIME and AIR TIME are IMBA bestsellers, and AIR TIME was just nominated for the AGATHA Award for Best Novel of 2009. (Of AIR TIME, Sue Grafton says: "This is first-class entertainment.") DRIVE TIME, February 2010 from MIRA Books, just earned a starred review from Library Journal.

Hank's short story "On The House" is now an AGATHA nominee for Best Short Story of 2009. Hank is on the national board of Mystery Writers of America. Her website is Hank Phillippi Ryan.

For fun, Hank would like to offer copies of her books to three commenters today! Wahoo!!!! [They’re great, by the way.] She said you get to pick the TIME book of your choice. So comment to your heart's content!

Take it away, Hank!


What did you have for dinner when you were a little girl? Did your mother cook? I have a vague memory of--pot roast? And little tiny peas from a can. Big standing rib roasts on holidays. Stringy turkey. (Sorry, Mom.)

And oh--yes, of course, fried chicken made in an incredibly heavy cast iron pan where the top was just like the bottom, and the kitchen smelled like chicken and oil (which is not that bad!) for days. Thinking back--we had a big greasy deep fryer thing, that you plugged in. My little sister and I had the idea to make batter dipped onion rings, which was truly the messiest thing ever. There were batter splatters in the kitchen for--months. And you can imagine how indelible the batter dots were, once they dried.

We used to make pizzas from a box, and we thought it was delicious. Put water in a bowl of floury mix, mix until it was sticky, and roll it out onto a pan. Dump on that canned tomato sauce and a packet of cheese. And sometimes fried hamburger. We thought it was a huge treat! It must have been before there was carry-out pizza. (Who else remembers that?)
I don’t think I’d cook any of that now. Too greasy, too fried, too pre-fab. Although I’ve been known to sneak an onion ring or two from my husband’s plate in restaurants. (Do you sneak bites of your companion’s food? We'll talk about that another day.)

Cooking now is so different from my mom’s day. It's all about doing it fast--in my world, at least. I have a full time job as a reporter, and ANOTHER full time job as a mystery author. And another full time job as a wife. So something’s gotta give.

I will confess, cooking was one of the first things I had to cut back. Used to be? I’d come home from working at Boston’s NBC affiliate, and unless there had been big breaking news or an especially tough story, cooking dinner was one of the few things that would really relax me. It’s fun, it’s rewarding—but you do have to concentrate, and the craziness of a day in disguise or going undercover with a hidden camera or scouring through court records would fade away as I calculated what to make for dinner. I came up with some fantastic sauces, great toppings for grilled fish, and exotic new pasta combinations.

And dinner parties? Back in the day I used to go all out. Elaborate, experimental, no holds barred.Soufflés, beef Wellington, pommes Anna, poached fresh pears with wine and cinnamon. No recipe was too complicated, no prep too difficult. I loved it.

Today? Forget about it.

Now, let’s just say it’s lucky that my dear husband is patient. There’s a lot of pizza. And brown-rice sushi. And carry-out grilled salmon.

But there’s got to be a way, I thought, to make it fast but still healthy and delicious.

One way--is to add fresh ingredients to prepared items. Does your grocery carry-out counter have orzo salad? It's orzo, and red onions, and black olives—you’ve seen it.
Perfectly good, but unquestionably pre-fab. But here's how to make it fresh and wonderful...just add fresh crumbled feta cheese and chopped up fresh basil. Suddenly, the flavors pop. It also looks beautiful.

If you want to get even fancier: pop two ears of corn, still in the husk! into the microwave.
Heat on high for about two minutes. The corn will steam itself! Carefully, carefully peel off the husks. (It’s okay to wait until it’s cool enough to do without harming yourself.) Then--brush a little oil on the corn on the cob, and put it under the broiler until about half the kernels get toasty. Cut the corn off the cob, and mix it into the orzo salad. Don’t worry if some of the kernels stick together, it’s prettier that way.
Suddenly, you have a fantastic fresh salad. And you boosted the delicious level in about 4 minutes. And it’s totally company-worthy.

Now, like my main character (and alter ego?) reporter Charlotte McNally, I’m figuring out ways to make food tasty and beautiful—but also, well, fast. And when friends stop by for drinks and chat—we sit out by the pool and watch the summer sunset and, as we say, “soak up the niceness.” And for that, you need appetizers. Here are three that are elegant, delicious, and of course, fast. And then, a never-fail dinner recipe that you can do with whatever you have in the fridge. Because—who has time to plan?

Charlotte NcNally’s Three Super-fast Appetizers—and one Dinner on a Deadline!

Built-in BLT’s

16 cherry tomatoes (sniff in the store to make sure they smell like tomato, not cardboard), halved
1-2 leaves romaine lettuce, torn into small pieces
2-3 slices bacon, crisply cooked and broken into small pieces
Fresh parsley or basil

Scoop out most of the inside of each tomato half. Place a dollop of mayonnaise in each half. Stick a torn piece of lettuce into each. Pop in a shard of bacon. (These will look beautiful.) Arrange on a serving tray and garnish with sprigs of fresh parsley or basil.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Quick Caprese

Note: This is easy finger food, but if you want to provide little forks, it’s delicious for guests to dip each tomato into a pool of extra high quality balsamic vinegar. Splurge on the vinegar!

Fresh mozzarella cheese, in cherry tomato-size balls
Fresh basil pesto (may be store-bought, who’ll know?)
16 cherry tomatoes (sniff in the store to make sure they smell like tomato, not cardboard), halved
Fresh parsley or tarragon
Fresh basil, finely chopped

Slice each mozzarella ball into three pieces. Put a dollop of pesto on each tomato. Top with a slice of mozzarella. Arrange on tray with parsley sprigs, or stalks of tarragon and tomato halves for garnish. Sprinkle basil on top of the cheese. Done!

Yield: 6-8 servings

Quicktime Taste of Tuscany

Note: Consumer reporter alert - be sure to wash the outsides of the melons before you cut them to prevent salmonella!

1 cup bite-size chunks of fresh cantaloupe
1 cup bite-size chunks of fresh honeydew melon
30 strips prosciutto
Fresh herbs
Fresh basil, finely chopped

Wrap each melon chunk with prosciutto, and secure with toothpick. Arrange on tray with herbs from your garden (or the grocery). Sprinkle basil across the top to garnish.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Here’s one more secret--and it’s such a fast delicious dinner that Charlie McNally makes it all the time. Or--she would, if I didn’t do it for her.

Fast Pasta Primavera for two

Pasta for two
Vegetables—see below
1/3 or more cup olive oil
Garlic-infused oil if you have it
Garlic (crushed from a jar or fresh)
Red pepper flakes
Grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh ground pepper
Fresh basil, chopped

Boil water for pasta
See what vegetables you have—maybe a lonely leftover zucchini or yellow squash? If so chop in chunks, add some olive oil and broil.
If you have spinach or broccoli, or broccoli rabe? Wash and chop.
Check the pasta water. Is it boiling yet?
In a cereal size type boil, dump in about 1/3 cup high quality olive oil, a dash of garlic-infused oil or basil-infused oil. Add a chopped up garlic clove. Or half a teaspoon of crushed garlic from a jar.
Shake in a couple of shakes of red pepper flakes. Put it in the microwave. But don’t turn it on!
Is the pasta water ready?
Dump in the pasta.
When the pasta is one minute from being done, dump the raw broccoli or broccoli rabe or spinach into the simmering pasta water.
Start the microwave! Heat the oil mixture on high for one minute.
Meanwhile, the pasta will cook for that final minute along with the vegetables.
When the pasta is done and the veggies are still bright green, drain in a colander.
Slide the pasta and vegetables back into the pasta pan.
(If you’ve broiled the zucchini, mix that into the pasta now.)
Pour in the hot oil, and stir.
Now you’ve got a delicious mix of pasta and vegetables.
Top with lots of Parmesan cheese and fresh pepper—add some fresh chopped basil if you have it.
Quick—and delicious!


Thanks, Hank! You've given us a feast. You're the best.


We have a NEW CONTEST. Win a set of
COOKIE CUTTERS from Wilton. To enter the contest, all you have to do is leave a comment!

Check back on March 2, when the cookie cutter winner will be announced -- oh heck, check back every day! There's always something fun going on ;-) But that's when Jenn McKinlay will launch her new book Sprinkle with Murder, as well as a new CONTEST. One you won't want to miss!

Also, don't forget to enter Jenn’s
Name the Cupcake Contest. Go to her website to enter. You and your cupcake might be the lucky ones to be written into BUTTERCREAM BUMP OFF.


  1. Those are quick and simple recipes. I especially like the recipe for Taste of Tuscany, sounds delicious. Can't wait to try these out. Thanks. The series sound intriguing. Can't bet a female reporter who's also a great sleuth.

  2. Thanks for coming by the Mystery Lovers' Kitchen, Hank!

    I love your time-saving tips...and ways to spruce up convenience food by adding fresh ingredients to them! I'm always fighting a battle against time at my house and I'll be using these recipes. Thank you!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. I like those recipes, so simple and easy.

  4. Hank, so glad you could join us today. Thanks for yummy memories as well as yummy and easy recipes. You're contest is going to make fans very happy!


  5. Thanks for sharing all these great ideas today.

  6. Hi all! I'm on the road in North Carolina with your own fabulous Julie Hyzy and the wonderful Karen Olson--shephered by the force of nature Molly Weston! And we're having a great time.
    We were chatting about our favorite foods as kids--and whether it would still be as delicious as it was when were were six.
    Beefaroni? Turkey frozen dinners? What did you love as a kid?
    I'll check in from the airport later...
    Thank you so much for inviting me!

  7. Thanks for joining us, Hank! (Hi, Julie!)

    Great tip to smell the tomatoes. The same goes for cantaloupe and pineapple. If the stem end doesn't smell like cantaloupe or pineapple, the fruit won't taste like much.

    Have fun with Julie and Karen!

    ~ Krista

  8. Yes, I remember pizza from a box! Thirty plus years ago when I was a first year teacher, that was a Friday night treat for me and three friends. And when I was growing up as the oldest of five, I fried chicken so often I knew when to turn it by the sound!
    Hank, your books are going on the top of my TBR pile.

  9. Hi Hank, Yes, I loved that pizza from the box. I wonder if they still sell it. I also remember a big treat for my siblings and me, were on nights when my parents were going out for the evening. Prior to the babysitter arriving while my mom was getting ready, we would have Banquet Fried Chicken "TV dinners." Of course these frozen dinners were heated in the oven as microwaves didn't exist. Those dinners were such a treat!

  10. I'm still loving my crusty cast irons, passed down all seasoned from my grandma! It's the only way to go for fried chicken or taquitos. Although I have to admit to using my nonsticks (which stick!) more often because they are lighter and need less oil.

    The recipes are to die for! I'm doing some minor renovations on my home (everything except the kitchen, which is too costly) and when I'm done, I'm going to treat my parents and sons to dinner with the little BLTs, Taste of Tuscany and Pasta Primavera -- for five :-)

  11. Something my mom made a lot beside pizza in a box - she was a working mom in the late 60s a rare thing but she said it saved her sanity - was cottage cheese with canned peaches on top and a side of toast. With this was a common lunch meal when mom was desperate. I will still eat it but with fresh peaches or "preserved by me" instead of canned. My girls hate cottage cheese so it's a non starter in my house. Funny - when I do decide to eat this, it takes me back to being a little girl, sitting in the kitchen fighting with my brothers. I guess that's why they call it comfort food.

  12. My mother never fried anything because it was too messy! We had a lot of broiled meat--lamb chops, pork chops, steak, chicken. And she often served canned corn...cold. It was actually quite good that way! I love to cook but I, too, have moved from more complicated recipes like Julia Child to things I can put together in a shorter period of time.

  13. Because my mother worked and my parents divorced, I became the cook in our house. My sisters and I loved those patties that were frozen that we could fry up in a pan with a pat of butter. And Noodle Roni with extra melted cheese. Easy to fix, easy to eat, easy to clean up. Stick to your ribs! Ah, carefree memories!

  14. I remember the boxed pizza too! It was a huge deal when my dad would bring a pizza home from the pizzeria in town.

    Your recipes sound delicious! We're having real BLT sandwiches for dinner tonight :)

  15. Getting ready to go to the airport-- what a wonderful day at Quail Ridge Books and the new charming and beautiful new Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill! Photos later..but it's hilarious and nolstalgic to read your food about tomato soup with ritz crackers? Or with grilled cheese? (Did your mom make it with milk or water?)

    see you when I get home...xoxo

  16. Hi Hank (and Julie),

    Hope you're having a blast! Love the recipes and your books. Favorite kid food -- Fluffernutter (peanutbutter and marshmallow fluff in one jar -- haven't seen it in years).

  17. Hank, too funny, but I'm doing a grilled cheese day tomorrow. Travel safely.

  18. Fluffernutter! Such about peanut butter and banana sandwiches? Peanut butter and bacon and banana.

    At gate 14 in Raleigh--exhausted and delighted. Happily there won't be any food on this plane--airplane food! There's a blog for another day.

  19. Hi all! Safely a glass of wine and some CHEESE! (Anyone around here know about cheese?)

    love love love

  20. I love all the cheese recipes. Cheese is one of my favorite foods.

    Helen Kiker