Monthly Archives: May 2012

Garlic and Spinach and Mushrooms, Oh My

Garlicky Mushroom & Spinach Pizza

Another meatless Monday has come and gone (successfully I might add). Inspired by a Lean Cuisine Pizza I enjoyed a couple weeks ago and our recent grocery shopping trip, I went to work creating a pizza powered by the flavor of garlic and topped with caramelized onions, mushrooms, spinach, and cheese. The idea for this dinner formed when we found garlic naan at our local Target store. Bryce suggested the flavored Indian flatbread would make perfect pizzas especially when paired with the button mushrooms which also found their way into our cart. Once home I discovered spinach in the very back of the freezer after rearranging things to fit all our frozen food purchases. Soon the creative cooking wheels in my head really started turning and continued throughout work the next day. I planned exactly how I would transform the naan, mushrooms, and spinach into a delicious meatless dinner – it was Monday, after all. As soon as I got home, I excitedly went to work concocting the recipe I formed in my head – full of garlic and spinach and mushrooms (oh my). The resulting Garlicky Mushroom and Spinach Pizza certainly won over our taste buds.

  • 2 garlic naan
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced and separated
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus a little extra for drizzling)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 Tablespoons cream cheese
  • 1/2 white onion, sliced or diced
  • 1 package sliced button mushrooms (8 oz.)
  • 1 cup frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • Salt and fresh-cracked pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet (large enough to hold the two pieces of naan) with parchment paper or a silicon baking pad. Drizzle one side of each naan with a little olive oil and brush to coat entire crust with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and place oiled/seasoned side down on lined baking sheet.

In a large skillet, heat 2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and butter over medium heat until the butter melts. Add the onion, season with a pinch of salt, and saute for roughly 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the onion is translucent but not brown, add one clove of minced garlic, the rosemary, and crushed red pepper flakes. Stir and cook for two minutes before pouring in the mushrooms. Season with another pinch of salt and a few twists of cracked black pepper. Saute the mushrooms with the onions until the mushrooms brown, approximately 5 additional minutes. Stir in the drained spinach and cook mixture just enough to heat the spinach through. Remove from heat and set aside.

Stir together the cream cheese, parmesan cheese, one minced garlic clove, a drizzle of olive oil, a dash of salt, and a twist or three of cracked black pepper. Heat in a small skillet over medium heat just long enough to soften the cream cheese, about 2 minutes. Spread the flavored cream cheese on the two naan as you would a pizza sauce. Top each naan equally with the heated mushroom/spinach mixture and cover in the shredded mozzarella. Bake in the oven for twelve minutes or until the cheese is melted. I like to broil the pizza for a minute or two at the end to make the cheese all melty and brown. Enjoy!



Holy Guacamole!

Sorry for the horrible pun/cliche – I couldn’t resist. Fitting, I suppose, as I also have a relatively new lack of resistance to a bowl of freshly made guacamole sitting before me. This has not always been the case. Not too long ago I used to loathe avocados – something about their bland taste and thick texture turned me off. Honestly they reminded me of another of my least favorite foods in both taste and texture – hard boiled eggs. So much so, in fact, I often contemplate experimenting with recipes that utilize eggs (like ice cream, for instance) and replacing them with avocados. Hmmm, I think I need to add that to the to-do list…

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Pinpointing when my feelings for avocados changed is near impossible, but I know guacamole stands at that pivotal moment. Prior to that time, avocados bored me because I found them to be fairly tasteless, even when transformed into guacamole. Somewhere in my food journey, however, I discovered a guacamole bursting with flavor. Holy guacamole! How could that pasty, uninspired avocado morph into something so dang delicious? Suddenly justifying my hatred toward avocados became downright difficult. I realized all they really needed was a little help from their friends, and I set out to perfect homemade guacamole. Pulling inspiration from several different Food Network stars and my personal proclivity for Mexican flavors, I built guacamole after guacamole until I stumbled upon my ultimate favorite combination of ingredients and seasonings. Now, I can get behind avocados, though I struggle with not consuming an entire bowl of guacamole. (And on a related note, I’ve also learned how to enjoy a hard boiled egg – deviled eggs solved that problem! I wonder about deviled avocados…)


  • 3 large, ripe Hass avocados
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, diced*
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 5 dashes hot sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the avocados in half. Remove the pits by using a sharp knife to hack into the pit. Once the knife is securely fastened within the pit, turn the pit using the handle of the knife and pop the pit out. (To help slow the process of browning, save one of the pits and return it to the finished guacamole.) Scoop the meat of the avocado out with a spoon into a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the juice of one lime and mix with a fork, making sure to mash up the avocado as you stir. The lime juice not only enhances the flavor of the guacamole but also helps to slow oxidation. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. I like my guacamole on the salty side and never measure, but I would estimate I typically add 1-2 teaspoons of kosher salt, maybe a bit more. I recommend salting a little at a time and tasting your guacamole at each step – more salt can always be added if needed, but if you over salt, there’s little to be done to correct that situation. Return the pit to the mixture, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and allow the guacamole to sit at room temperature for 2-3 hours so the flavors get the chance to mingle about a little better. Serve with your favorite brand of tortilla chips and enjoy! Just try not to eat the whole bowl.

* Depending on your desired level of spice, include some or all of the jalapeno ribs and seeds when dicing. Usually I cut the jalapeno into four, leaving the ribs and seeds in only one of the quarters.



Lately, when I drive to work, I pass a food truck here in Harrisonburg, Virginia that sells fresh made donuts. For weeks I kept telling myself I should stop by and check out the goods. So yesterday, finally, I stopped by Strite’s Donuts stand and purchased a half dozen of their hot, fresh donuts – glazed, cinnamon & sugar, and blueberry, some with the glaze still dripping from the doughy goodness. (If there were any chocolate donuts left, you can be sure I would have added those to my take-home box, too.) A sucker for glazed donuts, I found Strite’s offerings delicious – both the original and the blueberry. How can you go wrong with fried dough coated in a sugary glaze? The blueberry donuts feature a nice, clean tang to the donut – a flavor combination I may not have put together but works splendidly. For any friends who live here in Harrisonburg or those who may be passing through, give Strite’s a try – you won’t be disappointed! Visit them on facebook!


It’s Sweet! It’s Salty! It’s (Another) Ice Cream!

I know, I know. Another post about ice cream. Don’t worry, they won’t all be ice cream-centric, but if you read my first ice cream related blog, The Ice Cream Blogs Are Made Of, you probably pieced together quickly that I like ice cream. A lot. Really, who doesn’t? A dish or cone of ice cream satisfies my sweet tooth afternoon, evening, or night all year long – even in the dead cold of winter. I’ve tasted many different types of ice cream from scoop shops, fast food joints, and grocery store freezers. My all-time favorites include Haagen Dazs’ Pralines & Cream, Ben & Jerry’s Coconut Seven Layer Bar, Grand Ole Creamery’s Heath Bar, and Coldstone Creamery’s Cookie Doughn’t You Want Some. Frankly I’m surprised I’m not 400 pounds. Inspired by my ice cream shop favorites, I aimed to recreate some flavors at home. As already blogged, I recently produced my own interpretation of Heath Bar Ice Cream to great success. Before Heath Bar, though, there was Salted Caramel Ice Cream – one of the greatest treats featuring that amazing combination of sweet mixed with salty.

I encountered my first salted caramel ice cream at one of Sebastian Joe’s Ice Cream parlors in Minneapolis. The flavor hit me square in the mouth, surprising me in the best possible way. Immediately hooked on this new taste sensation, I got home and searched online for recipes and stumbled upon quite a few. I decided to give Andrea Albin’s highly-rated one at a whirl even though the directions appeared somewhat above my amateur ice cream making skills. Turning granulated sugar into caramel? I wasn’t too sure about making that happen, but realized I needed to be game in order to replicate salted caramel ice cream. Tempering eggs, too? That I couldn’t bring myself to attempt. At least not quite yet. I soldiered on without the eggs, hoping the omission would not compromise the flavor and to my delight the recipe alteration worked. Rather splendidly, I might add.

Never content to stick to the status quo, I yearned to try my hand at other recipes I could find. As a fan of Food Network’s ‘Barefoot Contessa,’ I found a salted caramel ice cream recipe by Ina Garten and knew I needed to attempt her version. Since I mastered tempering eggs by the time I found her recipe, I enthusiastically went to work creating Ina’s salted caramel ice cream. (I guess ‘mastered’ may be a bit strong – perhaps the best way to describe my egg tempering ability was competent.) Anyhoo, I expected the outcome to be just as good or better than the earlier effort. I mean, the recipe is Ina Garten’s after all! Sadly I experienced no such luck. I either read her recipe and instructions wrong or the sum of the parts just failed to add up to their whole. Many of the procedures were identical to Albin’s recipe; however, Ina’s recipe called for nearly twice as much sugar. This produced an ice cream that while tasted sweet and salty never quite froze completely. The consistency more closely resembled a thick, syrupy goop. Not the best ice cream. I realize the blame fell on the increased sugar content and not the egg yolks, but because the earlier success altering Albin’s recipe skipped eggs, I returned to that recipe. After tinkering with the successful recipe a little, I arrived at the recipe I now use. Perhaps in the future I will be inspired to try adding eggs again, perhaps not. Why mess with an ice cream that tastes SO good! It’s sweet! It’s salty! It’s Salted Caramel Ice Cream!

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1  1/4 cups sugar
  • 1  1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt (like Maldon), though kosher salt works, too
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a heavy-bottom skillet (I use a 12″ stainless steel skillet), heat 1 cup of sugar over medium heat. Stir with a fork so the sugar heats evenly. As soon as melting begins, stop stirring with the fork. Using the handle of the pan, swirl the caramel occasionally to ensure the sugar continues to melt evenly. When the caramelized sugar turns a dark amber color, carefully pour in 2 cups of heavy cream and stir with a wire whisk. Adding the cream will cause the sugar to bubble, splatter, and seize up. The first time I made I made this ice cream, I thought I had done something wrong because the recipe from explained nothing in regards to the seizing of the caramel. Just continue to whisk until the hardened caramel dissolves. See images below for visualization of this process.

Once the liquid is homogeneous, remove from heat and pour into a heat-proof bowl. Stir in the sea salt and vanilla extract. Set aside. Meanwhile, combine the whole milk and the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Allow caramel to cool 5-10 minutes before mixing in the whole milk/sugar. I then transfer the ice cream base to another bowl, pouring the mixture through a fine mesh sifter to remove any hard chunks of caramel that simply refused to dissolve. Place in the refrigerator over night to cool completely before freezing.

The next day, pour the ice cream base into your maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you prefer ice cream with soft-serve consistency, enjoy immediately upon completion of churning process. If you like a firmer consistency, store in the freezer for a few hours or overnight. Trust me, the final product is worth the wait.


Swirl the melting sugar in the skillet until it turns dark amber in color.
When you add the heavy cream to the melted sugar, the caramel will seize up.
Whisk the caramel and cream together – the cream will bubble and splatter.
Continue whisking the caramel/cream mixture until the hardened caramel (that’s stuck to the whisk) dissolves completely.

A Tale of Two Leftover Tacos

Quick – name one of your favorite foods. Did you hesitate? I didn’t. One of my favorite foods are tacos, of course! (Popcorn is another one, but that’ll be a whole different post.) I love them in any form or variation – homemade, fast food, Tex-Mex restaurant, authentic Mexican, international fusion – the possibilities truly endless. When you really think about it, tacos are practically perfect in every way – a winning combination of slightly spicy meat, creamy cheese, and fresh veggies all wrapped in a crispy (or soft) tortilla. Me, I prefer tacos crunchy – particularly when pieced together right from the stovetop. I first layer in some shredded cheese at the bottom of the shell before adding the hot taco meat to ensure the cheese gets all melty and gooey. Then I top them off with diced onions and tomatoes along with shredded lettuce for that bite of freshness all great Mexican food seems to have. Basic, I know. What can I say? I’m a traditionalist when it comes to my Tex-Mex tacos. Sometimes I do experiment with different toppings like cilantro, salsa, guacamole, taco sauce, jalapenos, rice, and chili con queso, but I always come back to my favorite yet simple build-a-taco.

Because of its popularity, taco night occurs at least twice a month in our home, and that does not include trips to the local Mexican restaurants for my current taco obsession – tacos de carnitas. (Side note – I need to learn how to make those at home. I foresee the coming of a new adventure!) While we often stick to the same procedures, we have tried and developed new traditions – from repurposing rotisserie chicken into outstanding taco meat to making corn tortillas from scratch. My family actually has a recipe for great homemade crispy shells that we borrowed (okay, stole) from some family friends back in the 1990s. They are labor intensive but well worth the work. I really need to cook some of those soon, but I digress. One of the best changes we instituted has been mixing together our own taco seasoning. I used to swear by the Ortega brand, but now with the surprisingly easy recipe Bryce found online, we will probably never go back. A certain sense of pride accompanies putting together your own spice mix even if you’re just mixing together spices from the cupboard. We also recently added Goya’s chicken flavored Mexican Rice to taco night. Now, rice is typically not a food I enjoy much, but Goya’s Mexican rice sure is tasty – especially when we substitute homemade chicken stock for the water while following the cooking instructions (hint, hint). I know what you’re thinking – can’t he make his own Mexican style rice? Truth be told, I certainly could; however, one of the greatest things about taco night happens to be its low-impact simplicity. Rice from a box therefore fits well into the overall philosophy of our biweekly taco nights. No shame in that.

Another great aspect of taco night is turning the leftovers into lunch. Like chili or marinara sauce, taco meat (usually ground beef in our home) tends to taste better the next day after spending the night marinating in spices. Over the years taco leftovers have taken many different forms, some successful and some not so much. Two of my favorite redux recipes are a taco burrito and taco pizza. While both would make perfectly great taco night creations, as I mentioned earlier, I prefer my tacos crunchy and built following strict procedures for initial consumption. All bets are off for leftovers, and that’s how the following tale of two leftover tacos came about.

Taco Burrito with Lettuce Salad

  • 1 – 8″ flour tortilla
  • 1 Tablespoon salsa con queso (we like the Tostitos brand) or your favorite salsa
  • 1/4 cup leftover taco meat
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese (I like low-moisture, part skim mozzarella, but any kind will work)
  • 1/4 cup leftover Mexican rice
  • Diced onions
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Salad dressing of your choice
  • Salt and pepper

In a microwave safe bowl, combine taco meat, shredded cheese, and rice. I like using a glass bowl covered with a wet paper towel, squeezing a little excess water from the paper towel into the leftovers to provide moisture and better heat retention. Heat covered for one minute to 90 seconds, depending on your microwave. Halfway through the reheating process, stir the meat, cheese, and rice. Notice how the mix is turning into gooey, cheesy goodness! Meanwhile, spread the salsa con queso evenly over the tortilla, and once the meat mixture is heated to your liking, place the tortilla into the microwave for 15 seconds. Remove tortilla from microwave, fill with the heated meat mixture, top with diced onions, and wrap into a burrito. For the salad, I just use the rest of the shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes on hand, dress the salad (with ranch in the picture), and sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper. Enjoy!

Taco Pizza

  • 1 – 8″ flour tortilla
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon salsa con queso or your favorite salsa/taco sauce
  • 1/2 cup leftover taco meat
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese (I like mozzarella, but use your favorite type of cheese – use more if you like)
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Diced onions
  • Diced tomatoes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush one side of the flour tortilla with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Place the tortilla onto a baking dish/stone with the oiled and seasoned side down. Spread the unseasoned/unoiled side of the tortilla evenly with the salsa con queso. Top next with taco meat and then with the shredded cheese. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes or until  the cheese is bubbly and the tortilla is starting to turn golden brown. Remove from the oven, transfer to a plate, and top the pizza with your leftover taco night fixings. Enjoy! 

And there you have the tale of two leftover tacos. I do realize these are leftovers. Please experiment with the recipes and alter them according to the ingredients you favor (and have available). Then share your results – I would love to hear what you turn your taco night leftovers into!