Showing posts with label healthy meals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label healthy meals. Show all posts

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Staying healthy and happy all winter with easy, brightly colored veggies and a secret weapon!

This post is brought to you by Victoria Abbott (Victoria Maffini and Mary Jane Maffini).

What a winter! After a busy holiday season we were sandbagged by some brutal weather. The temptation is to eat comfort food (lots of starch and sugar), but when we give in to that we feel sluggish and miserable (after we've eaten it all). 

Plus when we are rushing around we often short-change ourselves, forgetting to eat enough vegetables and other healthy food, such as lemon -  the secret ingredient that adds tang and zip so many recipes without adding calories. 

We are busy on the edits of The Wolfe Wido, our third collector mystery and still busy talking up  The Sayers Swindle.  We need to make sure we stay healthy and energetic, but we're surrounded by take-out food opportunities and other pitfalls. So here's a quick and tasty recipe that helps us stay on top of the season.

This quick veggie side started out as dinner party food for us when we first found the recipe, but it has migrated to a busy day dinner. It's savory and delicious and takes a couple of minutes to chop and then ten minutes to cook. It reheats well too, if there's any left over. 

You can saute a chicken breast or put on a piece of fish to bake just as you start to chop the veggies and it will all come out at the same time,

We love the bright colors - Christmas red and green and the gold of yellow peppers for glamor.

All you need is:

2 zucchini
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
2 cloves garlic (or 2 tsp prepared garlic)
2 tbsp olive oil (give or take)
Juice of half a lemon (or more)
S & P

Cut the zucchini into thin strips

Cut the peppers into thin strips

Heat the oil in a large skillet

Saute the garlic and the pepper on medium heat for about five minutes

 Add the zucchini - and cook for another five minutes.
Stir every now and then.
Add two tablespoons of lemon and you're good to go. 

 If you are the person who has kidnapped the picture of our finished dish, please return it and we'll pay the ransom. If not, trust us, it looked good.

This is great with baked chicken or sauteed shrimp.  We served it with baked salmon and a green salad.  Dinner in less than twenty minutes!

If you need carbs, you could cook up some arborio rice while everything else is getting ready.

Here's a little bit more about Victoria Abbott, author of the book collector mysteries. 

Victoria is an artist and photographer and MJ is the author of 13 books in three other series, as Mary Jane Maffini. They love their book collector mysteries and are happily at work on The Wolfe Widow, third in the series.   They're very excited about the The Sayers Swindle which is still fresh and new.

The Sayers Swindle, the second in the book collector mysteries hit the shelves and e-readers on December 3!

You can click here to order The Sayers Swindle!

Or here for the Kindle version!

Or order through your favorite bookstore - in person or online.

And don't forget to ....

Watch the trailer for The Sayers Swindle!


The Christie Curse, the first book collector mystery, launched in March 2013 to great reviews.

The Christie Curse is also available in Large Print! Tell your local librarian!

 Walter, the pug in the series is a dead ringer for Peachy, Victoria's new best friend. 

 Come over and friend Victoria on Facebook

Tell  her  you love the pug!

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.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Cleo Coyle’s (Healthier) Shrimp Scampi with Angel Hair

You will not find a recipe for "shrimp scampi" among the 1200+ pages of The Professional Chef, the cookbook of the CIA. (No, not the guys with black helicopters, the Culinary Institute of America.)

You will not find "shrimp scampi" in a cookbook of authentic Italian dishes, either. For one thing, "scampi" in Italian refers to Dublin Bay Prawns (the singular is scampo. So essentially the loose translation of "shrimp scampi" would be shrimp shrimp, which sounds even sillier than the oxymoron jumbo shrimp).

Like me, shrimp scampi was born in America; and on United States restaurant menus, ordering this dish usually means you'll be getting a gratin of large shrimp that have been split, brushed with plenty of butter & garlic and then broiled. Some restaurants like to serve it over pasta or rice. A famous chain of American seafood restaurants has long been known for its scampi. (You can even get Red Lobster's copycat scampi recipe by clicking here.)

My recipe below is not "authentic" shrimp scampi from any particular menu, it's simply my improvised, lighter version. The meal is satisfying yet healthy. Garlic, olive oil, fresh parsley, and seafood--all good stuff. You can make it even healthier by using a spinach, whole wheat, or low glycemic index pasta. When I make it, my husband inhales bowls of it, and I hope you enjoy it, too...

Cleo Coyle's (Healthier)
Shrimp Scampi with Angel Hair

Servings: about 4

20-24 Large Shrimp (fresh or frozen)
16 ounces pasta (1 box is usually 16 oz or 1 pound)
5 tablespoons olive oil
6-8 cloves garlic (roughly chopped)
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (or 1/4 cup dried, but fresh tastes better!)
1/4 cup Italian Seasoned breadcrumbs (I use Progresso or 4C brand)
1/2 teaspoon oregano (dried is ok here)

(Optional finishers) Freshly ground pepper; a quick squeeze of fresh lemon wedge (or a bit of lemon zest grated over the top); sea salt; or freshly grated Pecorino Romano. Directions:

(1) First clean and peel your shrimp. (If using frozen, defrost first.) Then make your pasta according to the package directions. I like angel hair but any pasta will work. (To make this dish even more healthy, try spinach, whole wheat, or a specialty pasta with a low glycemic index.) Drain well and set aside.
(2) Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Throw in the chopped garlic cloves and saute for a minute or two. Toss in
your shrimp. When the little fellas begin to turn pink (3 to 5 minutes, do not overcook or shrimp will be tough and rubbery), stop the cooking. Leave the oil in the pan but take out the shrimp and the garlic and set aside.

(3) Add the butter to the pan. When the butter melts, add your drained pasta to the pan, rolling around to coat well with the oil and butter. Toss in the Italian seasoned breadcrumbs, parsley, and oregano, and put your shrimp back into the pan to warm again.

(4) There is no need to add the chunks of garlic back in because the garlic has already imparted its flavor to the oil. However, if you really like garlic (as we do), then throw it back in there, baby! Toss all ingredients together and serve! Finish: Although there is much debate about whether to serve seafood pasta dishes with cheese, I do enjoy grating some nice, salty Pecorino Romano over the top. Freshly ground pepper is also nice on this dish and/or a squeeze of lemon.

Eat with joy!

To get more of my recipes or to learn
about the books in my
Coffeehouse Mystery series,
visit my official Web site:

Till next time,
~ Cleo Coyle

author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Comments welcome!