Browsing Tag

lunch

book review, recipe

Good Morning, Midnight + Kale Sausage Soup with Tomatoes and Chickpeas

Good Morning, Midnight is a low-key post-apocalyptic novel. Augie is an aging but brilliant astronomer who ends up stranded in the Arctic, choosing to stay when everyone else flees because of “war rumors.” He never hears from them again. In space, Sully is the communications specialist aboard the Aether, which is heading back from a mission to Jupiter. As they get closer to home, it becomes worrisome that they’re unable to re-establish communication with Earth.

Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

I didn’t love this book as much as I expected to, but it certainly had gorgeous elements. Lily Brooks-Dalton’s writing was vivid and imaginative. I could picture Sully’s living quarters and appreciated the description of life in space. I could feel the cold as Augie explored the frozen world around him.

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book review, recipe

The Clockmaker’s Daughter + Fish and Chips

I have never read a Kate Morton novel, but I have heard amazing things — and a lot of buzz about her latest novel, The Clockmaker’s Daughter. So, I was naturally quite excited when I was granted my NetGalley request to read it early. It’s the story of an English love affair and a mysterious murder that begins in the 1860s and ripples into the present.

The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton

It all starts when Elodie, a modern archivist, stumbles upon a satchel with a notebook and old photograph inside. Elodie diligently researches their past, whisking us across time as the story develops. Chapters are told from multiple points-of-view, and it’s not always immediately clear at the outset whose we’re seeing or where we are in time and place. It’s a method that works well, getting us to the end without giving all the twists and turns away beforehand.

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book review, of interest

The Dream Daughter + Copycat Mexican Pizza

The description for Diane Chamberlain’s “genre-spanning” novel The Dream Daughter promises it will be “irresistible.” In that, it was 100% correct.

The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain

Twenty-six-year-old Caroline Sears is pregnant when she finds out her baby has a fatal heart defect. In 1970, there’s nothing that can be done, and the news is devastating. Carly’s brother-in-law Hunter is a physicist, who came into their lives quite mysteriously a few years before. When he tells her he has a way to help her baby, she’s skeptical.

The book description doesn’t give too much away, beyond the fact that, what Hunter is proposing is inconceivable. To save her baby, Carly needs to be courageous in the face of the unknown. I’ll expand just a little bit more to say that how Hunter saves Carly is by helping her time travel into the future, a time when medicine has caught up to her baby’s needs.

I won’t give anything else away, but if I had known this was book involved “realistic time travel” — one of my absolute favorite sub-genres (think The Time Traveler’s Wife and the movie About Time) — I would have rushed to pick it up even sooner. After a few chapters in, when I figured out what was going on, I was hooked. I couldn’t put it down, and I stayed up until 1am one night to finish it (if you know me, that’s a huge deal; I typically go to bed around 10).

Oh my gosh, I can’t say enough good things about this novel. It was unexpected and clever. It definitely played with my emotions a little bit, but I didn’t even care. I was all in, and I loved every minute of it!

When Carly goes forward from 1970, a lot of things are unfamiliar. The technology, yes, but also the food. In one of the most amusing scenes, Carly’s host brings home some Taco Bell for dinner. Not only has Carly never heard of Taco Bell, she doesn’t even know what Mexican food is. She specifically calls out the taco, burrito and enchirito, but also mentions that there were a few other items on the table that were “alien” to her.

I like to think one of those was the Mexican Pizza, my absolute favorite thing at Taco Bell. I’ve been eating them since I was a young kid, and I like to think of myself as a Mexican Pizza aficionado. Regardless of what they ate for dinner they night, they ate Taco Bell, and this is my excuse to make a copycat version of the best food on their menu.    

For those of you who don’t know, a Mexican Pizza is definitely a loose interpretation of the word pizza, but it’s delicious, and that’s what matters. It has meat and beans sandwiched between two crispy tortillas; the top tortilla is covered in red sauce, cheese and tomatoes. (There also used to be green onions, back when I was little, so I brought those back into this homemade version.)

I found a recipe from Genius Kitchen to use as a guide, though having eaten an embarrassing number of these throughout my life, I probably could’ve figured it out myself. I did tweak it a bit to be closer to the Taco Bell version. Good news: Like the book, it turned out even better than I imagined!

To start, I prepared my taco meat (ground beef with taco seasoning) and warmed my canned refried beans. I also combined a can of red enchilada sauce (I used medium, you can use whichever spice-level you like best) with a can of diced tomatoes with green chiles (drained) to make the pizza’s sauce.

Then, I prepared the tortillas. If you can find flat, roughly 8” corn tortillas, that would definitely make this experiences easier and quicker, but I couldn’t. I used the flour tortillas from the recipe. To get them crispy enough, you need to fry them in oil on the stove top — just until they’re golden brown and stiff.

They don’t need much time, about a minute or so will do it. You might need to flip and repeat on the other side (I did). Once all of your tortillas are ready to go, it’s time to assemble the pizzas.

Fried Tortilla

First, I spread a thin layer of the refried beans onto a tortilla and covered them with some of the ground meat.

Bottom Layer of Mexican Pizza

Then, I added another tortilla on top of that and carefully spread on some of the sauce and covered it with cheese.

Mexican Pizza

Then, I added my toppings — in this case, diced tomatoes and chopped green onions, but you could also add black olives (or anything else taco-y, I suppose). I wanted to keep it as close to what I’ve come to know-and-love at Taco Bell; plus, Scott doesn’t like olives.

Mexican Pizza with Toppings

Finally, I put the prepared pizzas under the broiler in the oven just to melt the cheese.

Mexican Pizza Taco Bell Copycat

They came out perfectly! If I’m being honest, even better than half the time I get them at Taco Bell (where the employees clearly don’t care if it looks as perfect as I’d like). It looked like something right off the menu.

I cut them in fours and served them up.

Mexican Pizza Cut

The best part? They tasted DELICIOUS. (And maybe even better than the Taco Bell version…)

Piece of Mexican Pizza

Taco Bell Copycat Mexican Pizzas

Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 1 8 1/2 ounce package 8-inch flour tortillas
  • 1 10 ounce can enchilada sauce
  • 1 10 ounce can diced tomatoes with mild green chilies drained
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 package taco seasoning
  • 1 15 ounce can refried beans
  • 1 8 ounce bag Mexican blend cheese
  • 2 stalks green onions chopped

Directions

  1. Prepare taco meat per package directions.
  2. Warm refried beans.
  3. In a small bowl, combine enchilada sauce with diced tomatoes and green chiles.
  4. Prepare a small amount of oil in pan to 375°F (do not put so much that it will cover the flour tortillas). Cook flour tortillas in oil for 30-45 seconds or until just golden brown, flipping once. Drain on paper towels.
  5. To assemble: top 4 tortillas with a thin layer of refried beans, followed by a layer of taco meat. Put another tortilla on top of the taco meat. Add red sauce on top of the tortilla, followed by the Mexican cheese blend and then top with diced tomatoes and green onions if desired.
  6. Put finished Mexican pizzas on cookie sheet and broil in oven until cheese is melted.
  7. Cut into fourths and serve.

Recipe Notes

Slightly adapted from: Genius Kitchen

I received a free digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This post contains affiliate links. This does not increase the price you pay, but I may receive a small commission for any products you choose to buy. Purchases made through affiliate links help to cover my blogging costs. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

The Book of Essie + Cuban Sandwiches

Meghan MacLean Weir’s debut novel The Book of Essie is about seventeen-year-old Esther Hicks, also known as Essie. Her father is an evangelical preacher and she grew up on a hit reality show, Six for Hicks. Not only do her parents have strict expectations for her, but her entire life is often under public scrutiny. When her mother finds out Essie is pregnant, an emergency meeting with the producers determines the best way to salvage the situation. 

The Book of Essie

While the producers and her mother plan out Essie’s life without her input, she is arranging a different future. She attaches herself to fellow student Roarke, and their to-good-to-be-true love story is sold to the media. Will Essie get the happy ending she desires, or will her parents and producers get their way?  

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book review, recipe

The Cast + Summer Picnic Food

Amy Blumenfeld’s The Cast centers around a group of friends — Becca, Jordana, Seth, Holly and Lex — who are bonded and forever touched by Becca’s battle with cancer as a teenager. Though as adults they’re not the tight-knit group they once were, this intense bond brings them back together when life happens. Jordana organizes a 4th of July weekend getaway to celebrate Becca’s 25th year cancer-free, and that’s where we begin.

The Cast by Amy Blumenfeld

Life never goes as planned, and their get-together embodies that perfectly. Everyone is hiding something but trying to keep a brave face for the others. When that all breaks down, their friendship shines the brightest and it’s obvious why it has endured so long. It was an easy book to get through, but it wasn’t “light.”

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book review, recipe

Bird Box + Tuna and White Bean Pasta Salad

I don’t always read “happy” books, but I typically do avoid scary ones. My imagination is too active for me to be able to read them without freaking myself out. For Josh Malerman’s novel Bird Box, however, I made an exception. Why? Because a few good friends insisted it wasn’t scary-scary, but also it was so good I had to. When one of these friends let me borrow her copy, I wasted no time jumping in. It was now or never!

Bird Box Book Cover

Truthfully, Bird Box isn’t a horror novel. If anything, it’s more like a thriller/suspense dystopia. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t creepy, uncomfortable moments. In a world where something unknown is out there causing people to turn violent, creepy moments are bound to happen.

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book review, recipe

Crazy Rich Asians + Chicken Satay

Kevin Kwan’s novel Crazy Rich Asians has been buzzed about since its debut five years ago, and that buzz has only continued to grow now that it’s becoming a movie (out on August 15 this year). The title is pretty self-explanatory – the novel is about the wealthiest of the wealthy families in Singapore, including the Youngs. But, when Rachel Chu’s boyfriend, Nick Young, invites her to attend his best friend’s wedding back at home, she has no idea what’s in store.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwon (Book Cover)

Together in New York, they work regular jobs, go out to eat occasionally and live in an average apartment. Her first hint that Nick’s life may be different than he let on is on their extravagant first class journey to Asia. Rachel realizes it’s going to be even harder to impress his parents than she expected, once she learns he is a member of one of the wealthiest families in the country (and likely, the continent).

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book review, recipe

Life of Pi + Dhal Soup

I rarely re-read books, primarily because there are so many new ones I want to read. My TBR list never stops growing – and it’s only gotten worse since I started blogging. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking that I’d like to make it a point to re-read more of my favorites. Or, more specifically, books that I enjoyed so much I bought a copy (with the intention of reading them again or lending them out for others to read). Anyway, when the Book Challenge by Erin included a category of “books that take place on a mode of transportation,” the first book that came to mind was Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. The challenge only allows for one re-read, and this was one I owned – and remember liking, so I decided to give it another go.

For the majority of the story, 227 days worth of it to be exact, Pi survives on a lifeboat with fellow passenger Richard Parker, who happens to be a Bengal tiger. Pi and his family were traveling from India to Canada with a cargo ship full of zoo animals when it shipwrecked, stranding Pi with an unusual boatmate. Though the premise promises adventure, it took a little bit to get into – the narrator describes how he stumbled upon Pi and learned his story. Pi also goes through a bit of a spiritual exploration prior to their scheduled journey, which slows things down even while providing some humor.

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book review, recipe

Turtles All the Way Down + Spiral Mac ‘n’ Cheese

John Green has written many young adult novels, including one of my favorites, The Fault in Our Stars. He has a unique way of tackling both the everyday and the unexpected parts of the lives of teenagers. His latest novel, Turtles All the Way Down, is no exception. Like other teenagers, Aza tries her best in school, has an understanding best friend, and doesn’t know exactly what to do when she finds herself in a relationship. Aza also lives with obsessive-compulsive disorder and an often crippling level of anxiety, much of which was drawn from Green’s own experiences.

Because of that, Turtles tells an excellent, unique story. Admittedly, some of the scenes where Aza is having obsessive thoughts were hard to read. It almost felt like I was in her head, and in those moments, I read as if hiding behind split fingers – not wanting to go on but wanting to know what happened all the same. I admire Green’s willingness to not only discuss his own mental health issues but to write about them too, in a way that’s real.

Stories like these help to make mental health something that’s okay to talk about. The existence of a likeable character that readers can connect to and empathize with can help teenagers (and adults) realize that mental illness is not something to be embarrassed or ashamed of. In Green’s own words, “it’s important for people to hear from [those] who have good fulfilling lives and manage chronic mental illness as part of those good fulfilling lives.” And because of that, it is absolutely a book worth picking up – even if you aren’t familiar with John Green, even if you don’t usually read YA.

Honestly, the first thing I thought of when I looked at this book’s cover was spiral macaroni and cheese. I think they eat it once over the course of the story, but in the end, I couldn’t get it out of my head and no other foods really stood out to me. So, no surprise, that’s what I decided to make. I found an easy recipe from Famished Fish and set to work for a quick, easy dinner one night.

To start, I brought my water to a boil and cooked my noodles according to the package instructions. The original recipe called for rotini, but I also think cavatappi would work great here.

While the noodles cooked, I made the sauce. I melted butter in a pan and then added flour to create a roux. To that, I added the dried mustard and paprika, slowly stirring in 1 cup of milk, so that it could fully incorporate with the roux and remain thick.

Then, I added in the remaining 2 cups of milk slowly, along with the salt and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. I continued cooking the sauce, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes more or so, until it thickened. I stirred in three-quarters of the cheese so it melted and became incorporated.

I drained the finished noodles and poured the cheese sauce on top, stirring until the noodles were fully covered. To serve, I spooned the mac ‘n’ cheese into bowls and topped each with a sprinkling of shredded cheese.

It was delicious! And so easy that I’ll definitely be adding it to my repertoire.

Creamy Spiral Mac 'n' Cheese

  • Servings: 4-6
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Ingredients

  • 16 oz uncooked spiral noodles (rotini or cavatappi)
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ tsp mustard
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 cups milk, divided
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, divided

Directions

  1. Add uncooked pasta to a large pot of boiling water. Cook 9-11 minutes, according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. When butter has melted, stir in flour to create a roux.
  3. Slowly stir in 1 cup of milk along with the mustard and paprika. Stir and cook until the mixture thickens. Add the remaining 2 cups of milk and the salt and Worcestershire sauce. Cook and stir 5 minutes until has thickened.
  4. Stir in 1½ cups of the sharp cheddar cheese. Stir the sauce until the cheese has melted.
  5. Drain the pasta and return to large pot. Carefully pour the cheese sauce over the cooked pasta. Stir gently to combine the cheese sauce and pasta.
  6. Ladle the macaroni and cheese spirals into a large serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup of sharp cheddar cheese.
  7. Serve immediately.

Adapted from: Famished Fish

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book review, recipe

The Music Shop + French Onion Soup

If there are any music lovers out there, this book is for you. Rachel Joyce’s The Music Shop was similar in feel to The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, which I adored, except in place of a bookshop and bookworms you have a music shop and musicians (or at the very least, those who appreciate music). Though this book doesn’t hit shelves until January, I was lucky enough to get an early copy.

 

In a rundown neighborhood that smells of cheese and onion, in 1988, Frank is struggling to keep his music shop open. It is the age of the CD and though records are losing their appeal, Frank’s shop is something special. As a true connoisseur of music, he is able to recommend exactly the tracks his customers need, even if they didn’t know it was what they were looking for.

One day, a mysterious woman enters his shop, arousing the interest of the surrounding shop owners, who often congregate at Frank’s. He begins teaching her about music and everything begins to change. This novel has a wonderful, quirky set of characters and tells a heartwarming story. I only wish I was more into music, because I would have appreciated it that much more.

Though the book made the neighborhood’s pervasive smell of cheese and onion sound like a bad thing, I’ll admit it really just had me craving French onion soup. Full of caramelized onions and covered with melty cheese, nothing could be more delicious! I pulled out my trusty recipe from The Pioneer Woman, which I’ve been using for a few years now, and got to work creating my own cheesy, onion-y smells in the kitchen.

To start, I always slice my onions, since it takes a bit of time and I usually can’t finish slicing them all in the time it takes the butter to melt. I used 6 medium yellow onions, because that’s what I had on-hand, but if you’re buying them specifically for this recipe, you can substitute a few less large onions.

I melted a half stick of butter in my Dutch oven. (Ree uses a whole stick of butter, but over time I’ve adapted the recipe and use just half of that. Since we usually have leftovers, I’ve found that that much butter creates a pretty thick – and unappetizing – layer of solidified fat on top of the soup when it gets cold. It tastes just as good with half a stick, and is probably healthier too!)

To the melted butter, I added my sliced onions, which take up quite a lot of room in the Dutch oven – don’t worry! They’ll cook down considerably. I stir/toss the onions with a spoon to make sure they’re all pretty well coated in the butter and then I let them cook for about 20 minutes over medium-low heat while covered.

After they’ve cooked down a bit, it’s time to put them into a 400 degree oven, where they’ll cook for an hour minimum. I like to cook mine for closer to an hour and a half to really allow them to caramelize. My favorite thing about this recipe is that it’s perfect for lazy weekend days – it takes a while to make, but most of that time is hands-off. What you get in the end is a delicious, comforting soup.

Back on the stovetop, over medium heat, I used a wooden spoon to scrape off some of the brown bits, which are full of flavor. Carefully add a generous cup of dry white wine to the pot, all while scraping the flavor off the bottom and sides. (If you’re concerned about potential fire hazard, since alcohol is flammable, you can briefly turn off the heat, add the wine, and turn the heat back on. With such a large/deep pot, I don’t find that to be necessary.) I let that mixture cook down until the alcohol is mostly cooked off, about 5 minutes.

To the onions, I added the chicken and beef broths, minced garlic and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. I allowed the soup to simmer for between 30 and 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, with about 15 minutes left on the soup, I prepped the bread to use on top of the soup. I sliced about half of a baguette, making sure to keep them on the thicker side. (I like to freeze the other half of the baguette for the next time I make the soup, or for another recipe.) I put them under the broiler for a few minutes, until they began to brown and get crispy.

When the soup was finished, I ladled it into a bowl for each of us, set two pieces of bread on top and covered that generously with grated cheese. (I used a nutty Swiss from Trader Joe’s, since they were out of my usual shredded mix – see notes. If the mix is unavailable or you’re not near a TJs and budget is a factor, Swiss is a great substitute for Gruyere, which usually runs $10/lb or more.)

Since my bowls aren’t oven safe, I used my old trick of popping each bowl into the microwave for a minute or less – I suggest watching through the door – until the cheese is melted. You don’t get the nice browning that you get under the broiler, but the meltiness is really what I’m looking for in a French onion soup anyway. Hope you enjoy!

French Onion Soup

  • Servings: 6
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Ingredients

  • ½ stick butter
  • 4 large or 6 medium yellow onions, halved root to tip and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup (generous) dry white wine
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Several thick slices of baguette
  • 5 ounces weight (to 7 Ounces) Gruyere cheese, grated

Directions

  1. Melt butter in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place pot into the oven with the lid slightly ajar to ensure the onions will brown. Allow onions to cook in the oven for 1 to 1 ½ hours, stirring at least once during the cooking process so onions won’t stick and burn.
  3. Remove pot from oven and place back on stovetop over medium heat. Stir, scraping off all the brown, flavorful bits. Turn off heat and pour in wine. Turn heat back to medium. (If you do this carefully, you don’t need to turn off the heat.) Cook wine for 5 minutes, allowing it to reduce. 4. Add broths, Worcestershire sauce and minced garlic and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.
  4. Butter one side of the bread slices and broil over low heat, allowing bread to brown and become crispy.
  5. When soup is ready, ladle into bowl or ramekin. Place crispy bread on top, and then sprinkle generously with grated cheese. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly. (Alternatively, if you don’t have oven-safe bowls, you can place in microwave for 30 – 60 seconds, or until melted.)
  6. Serve immediately.

Adapted from: The Pioneer Woman

Notes: I prefer the Swiss/Gruyere shredded cheese mix from Trader Joe’s, if there is one near you. It’s more cost effective and saves you the trouble of grating. Additionally, you can substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth if you prefer. If you only have stocks on-hand, I’ve also used them in place of the broth(s), and the result is much the same – just check the taste and adjust seasoning as needed.


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.