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book review, recipe

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing + Apple Turnovers

I’m a huge fan of John Green and I heard a lot of amazingness about his brother’s first novel, and that’s basically why I picked up An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. Hank did a really good job. He put together a fast-paced, entertaining novel that I couldn’t put down.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

April May is like any other twenty-something in New York City until she literally stumbles into something that will change her life — and the world — forever. It’s a giant sculpture standing outside a Chipotle. She calls her friend Andy to come check it out, they make a jokey video where April dubs it Carl, Andy posts the video to YouTube, and April becomes inexplicably tied to the Carls’ fate forever.

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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

Artemis + Double Ginger Ice Cream

I absolutely loved Andy Weir’s The Martian. When I read it, I recommended it to anyone and everyone, and now that I blog, I’ve even included it on a few bookish lists (here and here). So, I was more than a little hesitant to pick up his second novel – hello, high expectations! – and managed to avoid it for about six months. That is, until Artemis was selected as our next read for one of my book clubs. I had no choice but to take the leap.

Artemis Book Cover, Andy Weir

In Artemis, which is the only city on the moon in the 2080s, our main character Jasmine, or “Jazz,” is a porter who smuggles on the side to make extra income. When a regular client brings her an offer with a payday too good to pass up, Jazz’s life takes a dangerous turn.

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of interest

Top Ten Tuesday – Bookish Worlds I Don’t Want to Live In

Happy Tuesday, everyone! It’s time for another edition of Top Ten Tuesday, a literary list with a new bookish topic every week. Before I jump in, though, I wanted to announce some exciting news – I’ve been nominated for the Unique Blogger Award over at Ginger Mom Reads! If you regularly visit my blog, you’ll know that I combine my passions for reading and cooking in a very unique way, pairing every book I review with a recipe it inspires. A lot of time and effort goes into each and every post, and I would really appreciate your vote! (Voting is open until Friday, June 1.)

Now, onto this week’s topic: Bookish Worlds I’d Never Want to Live In. I loved brainstorming for this week’s list. There are lots of bookish worlds that are warm and inviting (I’m looking at you, Hogwarts and Green Gables) but there are maybe even more that are a bit off-putting and terrifying. It was an interesting exercise to dive into those a little more deeply.

I tend to enjoy dystopias and this topic lends itself nicely to those fictional worlds, weighing the pros and the cons. You’ll see many of them on my list, and those that aren’t tend to come from within the science fiction genre. I think all of these worlds give us something to think about – and in the case of many dystopias, things to watch out for before they become reality in our own world. One thing I’m sure most of us can agree on: they’re all pretty uninviting. Continue Reading

book review, recipe

Annihilation + Mussels with White Wine and Pesto

I first heard of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation when it was featured in a list of books that would be becoming movies in 2018. The title promised a scary intensity, something I normally steer clear of, but the description piqued my interest. While it was sitting in my stack of library books, I saw the movie preview (which recently came out and stars Natalie Portman) for the first time and it freaked me out so much, I considered returning it to the library without even reading it. But, I put my big girl pants on and ventured into Area X after all.

Annihilation takes readers along on the twelfth expedition into Area X, an unruly and mysterious landscape cut off from the rest of the world. The female-only expedition includes an anthropologist, a surveyor, their leader the psychologist, and our narrator the biologist. The fifth member, a linguist, didn’t even make it through the entry point. VanderMeer creates a world that is both eerie and unknown. It is slightly creepy – in the way that the popular TV show LOST was creepy – but I was never terrified. In fact, I couldn’t put the book down; I finished it in a day.

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book review, recipe

Dark Matter + Spanish Bean Stew with Chorizo

Usually when I finish a novel that I really enjoyed and think Scott would like it, I recommend he read it too. He tends to be more of a non-fiction reader, so I choose pretty carefully. Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter is one of those rare novels that Scott read first and then recommended to me.

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I love science fiction that grabs you from the start and has you rooting for something bigger (and usually stranger) than you ever imagined. This novel certainly fits the bill, and it’s one that everyone can relate to because, at its heart, it’s all about going home. After Jason Dessen is abducted, he finds himself in a situation he never would’ve imagined – one that calls into question all of the choices he has ever made.  

Since it’s a book that’s all about the plot, it’s hard to say too much without giving it away, so I won’t. It starts out simple but quickly gets complicated, pulling Jason into a twisty universe that will have you anxious to get to the end. If you loved The Martian (and I absolutely did!), you’ll love this.

Throughout Dark Matter, Jason is a bit untethered, guided only by his desperation to reunite with his family. His wife, Daniela, makes him a traditional Spanish dish once or twice a year that serves as a reminder of everything he’s missing. I didn’t have much to go on outside of “a bean stew made with an assortment of native legumes and meats. Chorizo, pancetta, black sausage.” So, I did some googling and found this recipe for a Hearty Spanish Bean Stew with Chorizo.

With some minor tweaks (but still no black/blood sausage, thank you very much), Scott and I were ready to enjoy some of Daniela’s stew. First, I heated some olive oil in a medium pot and add the chopped pancetta, cooking until just crisp. Then I added the onion and minced garlic, cooking for a few more minutes until lightly browned.

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I stirred in the spices before adding the browned andouille chunks, white beans with their liquid and chicken broth. The whole stew got a few generous stirs and then I let it come up to a simmer.

IMG_2732

Once it simmered for about 25 minutes, I added the browned (slightly crispy) chorizo and cooked the stew for another 5 minutes or so. I didn’t need any additional salt and pepper, but check here and season as needed. I served it as The Dessens prefer it, with grated cheddar, chopped cilantro and a generous dollop of sour cream. A nice glass of Spanish red wine completed the meal.

IMG_2730

Hearty Spanish Bean Stew with Chorizo

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Print


Adapted From: Whole Foods

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ pound pancetta, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon paprika, preferably Spanish
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1½ andouille sausage links, cut into chunks and then browned
  • 3 16-oz cans white beans, with their liquid
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4-5 oz. ground chorizo, cooked through until browned
  • Grated sharp cheddar, sour cream, cilantro (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat oil and pancetta in a medium pot over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until pancetta is just crisp. Add garlic and onions and cook until lightly browned.
  2. Stir in paprika, thyme, salt and pepper, then add andouille, beans/liquid and chicken broth. Simmer gently for 20 to 25 minutes.
  3. Add chorizo and cook for 5 minutes more.
  4. Season with salt and pepper and serve with desired toppings. Grated cheddar cheese, sour cream and cilantro recommended.

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book review, recipe

Sleeping Giants + Mini Cinnamon Rolls

Sleeping Giants was the first book I received as part of Book of the Month. I joined the club towards the end of June, primarily because I like books but also because I love getting mail and they were doing a summer promotion, which meant discounted books plus sunglasses plus a must-have tote bag. (Score!)

Anyway, I picked Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel, which was selected as an option for July by Liberty Hardy of Book Riot. It was supposed to be The Martian (which I loved) meets World War Z, and Liberty’s description touted “action, science, adventure, romance, and intrigue,” so naturally I was excited to receive my copy.

FullSizeRender

It was as page-turning as promised. Jumping from interview to interview, Neuvel weaves together a story of very dedicated (if not flawed) characters as they uncover and retrieve giant robot body parts across the globe. Together, the top secret team must decipher an unknown language and superior technology to determine how it works.

With every breakthrough, a new obstacle arises and questions remain. What is the robot’s purpose? Who left it here (and when)? Why are we finding it now? What should be done with it?

Neuvel’s interview style leaves very little room for much description beyond the immediate action of the story, and so food is barely mentioned in Sleeping Giants. In one instance, however, it makes an appearance; surprisingly, cinnamon rolls show up in a pivotal scene, with the potential to change one of the character’s outcomes.

While BOTM opted for cocktails when looking for a perfect food pairing – and to be fair, alcohol plays a more prominent role throughout the story – I went with the cinnamon rolls. Le Creme de la Crumb’s Mini Cinnamon Rolls may not seem like an obvious choice, but I disagree. Eating mini versions of regular food always has a way of making me feel just the littlest bit like a giant. (And now you can too!)

The best part about this recipe is that it’s easy and quick, especially for cinnamon rolls. (Most take at least twice as long in my experience.)

To get started, I let the yeast do it’s thing while I assembled the rest of my ingredients. After it was bubbling (a little over 5 minutes), I began incorporating the flour and salt, wishing I had a standing mixer but thankful at least for my new (and improved) hand mixer. Those dough hooks worked their magic and I ended up with a lovely little ball of dough.

dough

It hung out for about 10 more minutes, while I greased my muffin pans and whisked up the cinnamon mixture. Once I rolled it out, there was more than enough dough, which I dutifully cut into a 9 x 15 rectangle and covered in butter and cinnamon-sugar goodness.

cinnamon roll topping

Then came some rolling and cutting (and a little re-rolling) until I formed these 24 little beauties.

unbaked cinnamon rolls

They baked. I whipped up the frosting. When the oven timer went off, I pulled a few out of the pans right away and drizzled on the frosting. I was hungry, and these looked delicious!

iced cinnamon rolls

Mini Cinnamon Rolls

Course Breakfast
Cuisine American
Total Time 1 hour
Servings 24 mini rolls

Ingredients

Dough

  • 1⅓ cups warm water
  • 1 TBS active dry yeast
  • 2 TBS honey
  • cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt

Filling

  • 4 TBS butter completely softened
  • cup sugar
  • cup brown sugar
  • 1 TBS cinnamon

Frosting

  • 2 TBS butter softened
  • 2 ounces cream cheese softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • milk

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 and lightly grease a muffin pan. Add water, yeast, and honey to the bowl of a stand mixer fitting with a dough hook and stir to combine. Allow to rest for 5 minutes (mixture will rise and foam).
  2. Add flour and salt to bowl. Turn the mixer on low and allow to mix until ingredients come together, then increase mixing speed to medium-low for 5 minutes. Remove dough from bowl and allow to rise for 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface.
  3. While dough is rising, prepare the filling by whisking together sugars in a bowl.
  4. Use a floured rolling pin to roll dough into a 9x15 inch rectangle. Use a pizza cutter to trim off the sides if it isn't perfectly rectangular. Spread softened butter over the surface of the dough. Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mixture over the butter.
  5. Tightly roll one 15-inch side (the long side) of the dough toward the other 15-inch side to create a long log. Pinch the seam so it closes off the log. Use a very sharp knife or a pizza cutter to cut the ends off and then to cut the log into 24 equal parts. Place each cinnamon roll in the greased muffin tins. Bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown.
  6. While cinnamon rolls are baking, prepare the frosting. Cream together butter and cream cheese. Mix in the vanilla. Gradually add powdered sugar and mix until combined. Add milk 1 tablespoon at a time [I ended up using 6 tablespoons] until frosting reaches a spreadable consistency. When cinnamon rolls are finished baking, drizzle or spread frosting over rolls and serve.

Recipe Notes

From: Creme de la Crumb [Annotations from me]

This recipe made a considerable amount of frosting - at least double the amount you need to cover the cinnamon rolls. I would recommend cutting this portion of the recipe in half, or planning something else delicious to use it for!

___________

Sleeping Giants is the first novel in a series called Themis Files, and even though Neuvel does a good job of wrapping it up so you don’t have to read further if you don’t want to, his unexpected prologue left me wanting more. (The follow-up won’t release until 2017.)

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.