Taco Time with Portobello Mushrooms

I was first introduced to Portobello mushrooms eons ago while dining at a lakeside restaurant in Lake George, New York. I had never encountered “Portobello Mushroom Burger” on a menu before, and almost every member of my family ordered it. Toasted bun, beefsteak tomatoes, crisp lettuce, and a surprisingly succulent, “meaty” mushroom. We’ve been hooked ever since.

Over the years, I have tested out different recipes to “mix it up” with Portobello mushrooms. (Roasted over a bed of shaved Brussels sprouts topped with a poached egg is my recent favorite). Most of my culinary inspiration comes from the need to use up fresh produce in the fridge…which is just what happened last night. I realized I had all the fixings for tacos…but not meat…just Portobello mushrooms. “Well,” I thought to myself, “that is one combination I haven’t tried before.” Taco time.

Two of the things I love most about this recipe–besides flavor of course–is the color and texture. Purple, red, white, yellow, brown–I hit almost all of the major color groups except green and orange. The cabbage adds a nice crunch (and so does the corn tortilla if you warm it to the point of slightly crunchy). I toned down the amount of Sriracha for the yogurt topping so as not to overwhelm the dish, but if you like a good kick, by all means, add more than a 1/4 teaspoon.

vegetarian tacos with tomatoes, mushrooms, and cabbage

This recipe is perfect for 2 people, or 1…if you are really hungry.

portobello mushroom slies

purple cabbage

mushrooms under the broiler

Greek yogurt and Sriracha

corn tortillas

portobello mushrooms with lemon

mushroom tacos

Taco Time with Portobello Mushrooms
Serves 2 (about 5-6 tacos)

8 ounces fresh Portobello mushrooms (about 3 large mushroom), sliced lengthwise
1 cup shredded purple cabbage
1 medium tomato, chopped
At least 6 yellow corn tortillas
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt, pepper, onion flakes, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, to taste
2-3 tablespoons fresh shredded Parmesan
Cooking spray (such as Smart Balance)
1/4 cup non-fat Greek Yogurt
1/4 teaspoon Sriracha

1. Set the oven to Broil. Move the oven rack up to the highest position just below the broiler.
2. Wash and slice the Portobello mushrooms. Arrange on a baking sheet lightly coated with cooking spray. Spray the mushrooms with the same spray (preferable Smart Balance or a spray with olive oil). Salt and pepper the mushrooms, then give the onion flake, garlic powder, and red pepper bottles a “few shakes” over the mushrooms.
3. Broil the mushrooms for 10-12 minutes, until slightly shriveled and softened.
4. Remove mushrooms from oven and immediately scoop them into a bowl. Squeeze 1/2 a lemon over the mushrooms then add the Parmesan. Toss and set aside.
5. Whisk together the Greek yogurt and Sriracha in a small bowl.
6. Chop the tomato and purple cabbage. Salt the tomato chunks lightly with kosher salt.
7. Heat the corn tortillas in a pan on medium-heat until warm. Move to a plate, cover with an aluminum foil tent, and set aside.
8. You are ready to assemble the tacos! Suggested order: Tortilla, mushrooms, cabbage, tomatoes, yogurt dressing.

mushroom tacos

Posted in Sauces, Tex-Mex, Uncategorized, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Warm-You-Up Thai Panang Curry

I do not consider myself a picky eater…unless we are talking about curry. Call me Goldilocks because my curry has to taste “juussstttt right.” Tangy, but not spicy. Silky smooth, but not creamy. Flavorful, but not overbearing. I encountered the perfect bowl of curry just before the holidays at my company’s holiday Progressive Potluck. What is a Progressive Potluck, you ask? Each group in my business unit hosted a different segment of the lunch on a different floor of the building. One group hosted appetizers, the other entrees, the last dessert. Employees “progressed” through the building and through the different stages of lunch in the span of an hour and a half. (It was quite glorious). During the entree segment, I encountered a crock pot of the best Panang Curry I have ever tasted–light, fragrant, and with a unique balance of flavors.

Several of us dished about the curry, wondering who on earth made the Crock Pot of Magic. The Mystery Curry Maker revealed herself (enough people heard us asking that they directed her our way) and graciously shared her recipe…which was not quite what I expected. “2-3 tablespoons Panang curry paste, to taste”; “2-3 tablespoons fish sauce, to taste”; “3 tablespoons sugar, more or less to taste.” I had never cooked with Panang curry paste before, so my “to taste” was yet to be discovered. Let the experimentation (and the fun) begin. I like a good kitchen challenge.

After a batch of too spicy curry, I finally got my “to taste” right and found a balance between the curry paste, fish sauce, and sugar that didn’t overpower my taste buds. I made a few other modifications to the original recipe: No full-fat coconut milk for this girl (I’m walking down the aisle in 8 months after all) or frying the chicken in oil. I found a can of light coconut milk at Whole Foods and pan sautéed the chicken in Smart Balance spray. I also filled the curry pot with vegetables–snow peas, bamboo shoots, and water chestnuts for additional nutrition and texture. Today was cold and dreary in D.C., a perfect day for a bowl of the final result of my experiment…Warm-You-Up Thai Panang Curry.

panang curry

Kaffir lime leaves, garlic cloves, and Thai basil leaves

I love the smell of Kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil leaves, such a unique combination.

panang curry paste   Panang curry being mixed into coconut milk
Apologies for the lack of process pictures in this post. It turns out chicken breasts are not that photogenic…at least in my opinion.

panang curryBon appetit!

2 lbs lean chicken breasts
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 egg white
6 ounces snow peas
5 ounces bamboo shoots, drained
5 ounces water chestnuts, drained
4 Kaffir lime leaves
6-10 Thai basil leaves
2 cups light coconut milk
2 tablespoons Maseri Panang curry paste
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar

1. Trim any excess fat off the chicken breasts. Slice into 1″ pieces and set in a medium size bowl.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg white and cornstarch. Massage the mix into the chicken and let marinate for 30 minutes.
3. Heat a pan sprayed with cooking spray (such as Smart Balance) on medium, and layer the chicken around the pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes, then flip the chicken over for an additional 3-4 minutes. Continue cooking until cooked through.
4. Heat a wok or large 3″ deep pan over medium-heat. Add the coconut milk and warm until it simmers slightly.
5. Add the Panang curry paste to the coconut milk and stir until blended. Simmer for 3-5 minutes then add the minced garlic, sugar, and fish sauce. Simmer additional 2-3 minutes.
6. Stir in the chicken and vegetables. Cover and simmer on medium for 10 minutes until sauce thickens and snap peas soften. Halfway through, add the lime leaves.
7. Prior to serving (either by itself or over a bed of jasmine rice), toss in the Thai basil leaves.

Posted in Asian Influence, Comfort Food, Poultry | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Greek Tzatziki

Tzatziki is one of my favorite things in the entire world. That may sound hyperbolic, but it’s true. I can’t get enough of it, and I partially blame my upbringing. I spent the first few years of my life on an Air Base in Crete; instead of chicken nuggets and ketchup, souvlaki and tzatziki were my early childhood staples. I have returned to Greece twice in the last five years and literally ate tzatziki each day. There is just something about a pile of creamy Greek yogurt infused with cool cucumber and zesty garlic that makes me want to eat the entire bowl. No crudité or crusty bread necessary–I eat it straight up.

My dad has been making tzatziki for years, it’s one of his trademark recipes (in addition to potato pancakes and steak and eggs). The key to an authentic tasting tzatziki is patience and time. After grating the cucumber, it’s best to let it drain on a paper towel for a few hours to eliminate as much liquid as possible. The only thing worse than a runny tzatziki is a flavorless tzatziki, which is why it tastes best after sitting overnight–or two.

Greek Tzatziki and bread

grated cucumber and Greek yogurt

fresh grated cucumbervinegar and garlic Tzatziki mixtureGreek Tzatziki

Greek Tzatziki and bread

Greek Tzatziki

16 ounces non-fat Greek Yogurt
1 English cucumber with skin, grated and drained
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Grate a full English cucumber; lay the cucumber shreds on a paper towel over a colander and let drain for several hours (at least 3-4).
2. In a bowl, combine the yogurt, olive oil, vinegar, crushed garlic, and salt and pepper. Whisk together, then add the cucumber. Mix well.
3. Refrigerate tzatziki in an air tight container overnight. Serve with toasted French bread, gluten-free bread, or veggies.

Greek Tzatziki and bread

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Shrimp Pile On

Shrimp Pile On is one of my all-time favorite dinners. I was recently spotlighted in my company’s Foodie Newsletter, and one of the questions asked was the obligatory “death row” question. What would I want as my final meal? My answer–Shrimp Pile On.

Shrimp Pile On is a heaping pile of magic. Or, in plain speak, herbed risotto topped with sautéed shrimp, dollops of Greek yogurt, sprinkled skim cheddar, and finished with a stack of tomatoes, green onions, black olives, and avocado. It is so filling and full of flavor that we serve it with nothing on the side–not even salad. Just a pile of Shrimp Pile On.

A Chef-Mom on another Air Base introduced my family to this dish a few years ago, and it’s a special dinner request each time my sisters and I travel home. It feeds at least 6 people, with leftovers. My mom has served this at many gatherings with family and friends, and I have literally watched people scrape the bowl clean. It’s just that good.


The avocado is my favorite part of the whole dish.

veggie toppings

I find it easier to chop and prepare all the toppings in a bowl before starting the other cooking; that way, it’s all ready to go when the shrimp and rice are done.

sauteeing shrimp

The bigger the shrimp, the better.

pile it all on

Be sure to find a big enough platter to pile it all on!

christmas eve meal

Perfect for a party…Happy New Year!

Shrimp Pile On
Yield: Serves 6


Arborio rice (aka risotto)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups Arborio rice
1 bunch green onions, chopped
6 small cloves garlic, crushed
4 cups chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons gluten-free soy sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste

1 and 1/2 lbs large, raw shrimp (thawed and de-shelled, tail on)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons gluten-free soy sauce
Juice of 1/2 lemon

3 (on-the-vine) tomatoes, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1/4 cup grated skim cheddar cheese
1/2 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
2 avocados, chopped
6 ounce can black olives, sliced
Lemon slices, for serving

1. Combine the tomatoes, avocado, green onions, and olives in a large bowl. Set aside.
2. Heat olive oil in a pan on high heat, then add the Arborio rice. Stir constantly until the rice is well coated and starts to pops.
3. Toss in the green onions and garlic, stir 30 seconds.
4. Decrease heat to low, then add the broth, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, soy sauce, thyme, salt/pepper.
5. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally. Check every 10 minutes until the rice is cooked through.
6. In a separate pan, melt the butter. Toss in the shrimp and cook over medium heat. When the shrimp turns bright pink, add the soy sauce, lemon juice, and saute 4 minutes.
7. On a large platter, pile the ingredients in this order: Arborio rice, shrimp, 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (dolloped around the platter), 1/4 cup cheese, and vegetable toppings.

Posted in Comfort Food, Seafood | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Christmas Caramel

Caramel has been a holiday staple in my family for the past 14 years. Yes, that’s right. My mom has been making caramel every Christmas since 1998. (We lived next to an awesome Chef-Mom on an Air Base in Japan). The candy making started off a bit rocky. A too chewy batch here, a too hard batch there, and many batches that had to be thrown away. The recipe has since been mastered, and nothing but perfection gift wrapped for the past few years. My mom will tell you that the key to “just right” caramel is a good candy thermometer, full fat sweetened condensed milk, and patience.

Yes, this recipe is not one of the healthiest I’ve published on Steph’s Apron. However, part of living a healthy lifestyle is not to deprive oneself. Moderation is key. That means eating Christmas caramel–which only appears but once a year. Just not by the fistful.

butter the dish

A nifty trick for greasing a pan! Thanks, Mom.

 melting butter add brown sugar

First, melt the butter, then add the brown sugar and mix until blended.

add corn syrup add evaporated milk carmels6 bubbling caramel

Next, add the corn syrup and condensed milk. Mix thoroughly and slowly bring to a boil, stirring constantly the entire time. Be sure to watch the candy thermometer carefully; as soon as it reaches 245 degrees F, remove the pot from the heat and add vanilla. (P.S. We only used two thermometers to test out the new one we just bought).

pouring caramel into the dish

Let the caramel sit uncovered at room temperature for at least 4 hours.

 slicing caramels  wrapping caramels

Slice the caramel with a sturdy spatula and wrap in wax paper like a present.

 wrapping caramels wrapping caramels

Caramel will keep in a ziplock bag as they are waiting to be placed on cookie trays (hence the ziplock bag in the picture…)

Christmas Caramel
Yield: About 100 bite size pieces

1 cup butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
15 ounce can sweetened condensed milk (not fat-free)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Situate a candy thermometer on the side of a large pot; make sure that the thermometer is not touching the bottom of the pot.
2. Generously grease a 9×13 dish (nifty trick depicted above).
3. On medium low heat, melt the butter. Stir in the brown sugar until well blended, then stir in the corn syrup.
4. Gradually add the condensed milk and stir until the candy thermometer reads 245 degrees F. The caramel will be rapidly bubbling at this point. The caramel heats gradually, so the constant stirring will take about 20 minutes. Be patient–it is worth it!
5. As soon as the thermometer reaches 245 degrees F, remove pot from heat and stir in vanilla extract.
6. Pour caramel into the 9×13 pan. Be careful, the mixture is very, very hot. Let the pan sit at room temperature uncovered for at least four hours.
7. Slice and wrap pieces in wax paper.

Posted in Holiday, Sweet Treats | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Not Your Grandma’s Fruitcake

I am intrigued by fruitcake. Fruitcake was not part of my family’s holiday baked good repertoire growing up, so to me, it has a certain “mystique.” (I’m sure I’m giving it too much credit here, but humor me).  All I know about fruitcake is that it’s often the butt of many a yuletide joke and resembles an odd, jelly-like brick. I guess you can say I’m “mystified” why anyone would willingly eat a slice–fruitcake doesn’t offer much by way of presentation. Or, perhaps I’ve seen one too many ugly fruitcakes on sale at “Giant.”

Pinterest gave me the urge to demystify fruitcake. I came across a Christmas Fruitcake recipe on Fun and Food Cafe, and the fruitcake captured in the blog’s pictures certainly didn’t look like any fruitcake I had seen before (namely, the supermarket). The blog inspired me to give fruitcake a try, although, with several modifications….

fruit cake muffins1. What on earth is Golden Syrup? (Is that a British thing?) I hope honey is a suitable replacement.
2. I couldn’t find candied cherries or lemon peel anywhere, but I did find candied ginger. I also increased the quantity of fruit and juice. (I’m assuming I like my fruitcake fruity.)
3. Of course, I substituted the all-purpose flour with my go-to gluten-free baking mixture.
4. Clean Eating strikes again. No white sugar or light corn syrup. Just more honey.

Now, the end result is not a traditional fruit cake, but I’m okay with that. I got the idea, and I’m sure you will as well.

P.S. The candied ginger is my favorite part.

dried fruit in a bowl with christmas tree and lights

adding soy milk to the batter

fruit cake batterfruit cake batter

adding fruit to the batter
a very fruity batter

fruit cake and muffins

fruit cake and muffins

Not Your Grandma’s Fruitcake
Yield: Two dozen muffins and one loaf

2 cups golden raisins
2 cups dried cranberries
1 cup candied ginger, coarsely chopped (preferably not crystalized; I found a bag at Trader Joe’s in the trail mix section)
1 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped
2 cups apple cider (or apple juice if cider is not available)

1/4 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup honey
1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons rum extract
1 teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
3 3/4 cups gluten-free flour mix**
1 cup soy milk

**Carol Fenster’s Sorghum Blend Mix (Yield: 4 cups)
Combine and store the following in an air-tight container for up to 3 months:
1 1/2 cups sorghum flour
1 1/2 cups potato starch or cornstarch
1 cup tapioca flour

1. Combine the fruit in a shallow pie dish and pour apple cider over the fruit. Cover and let soak in the refrigerator overnight.
2. Pre-heat oven to 300 degree F. Lightly grease loaf pans and/or muffin tins with cooking spray.
3. In a stand mixer or large bowl, combine yogurt, butter, honey, xanthan gum, nutmeg, and salt. Add eggs one at a time, mixing between each egg.
4. Slowly add the flour mix, followed by the soy milk.
5. Gently fold in the fruit mixture (including the remaining juice) using a spatula.
6. If you are using a loaf pan, fill batter 3/4 to the top (the bread does not rise much). If using muffin tins, fill 1/2 to 3/4 way full.
7. Bake loaf pans for 60-65 minutes, and muffins for 30–a toothpick will come out clean when done. (Caution: The loaf/muffins do not get golden brown on top, even when cooked through).
7. Remove fruitcake from pans and cool on a wire rack. (These taste great still warm!)

fruit cake muffins

Posted in Breads and Baked Goods, Clean Eating, Holiday | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Cranberry-Orange Christmas Morning Muffins

Orange and cranberry is by far my favorite holiday flavor combination. (If it were a candle scent, I would have it lit non-stop throughout the month of December). I’ve been struggling to get into the holiday spirit the past few weeks–not even breaking open the annual Advent Calendar could get me into a festive mood. (I blame the 60+ degree temperature in D.C.). One holiday tip I learned from my mom is that a day spent baking Christmas treats in the kitchen is the most foolproof way of catching the holiday spirit. To kick-off my Sunday holiday baking spree, I turned to foolproof holiday flavors for inspiration: tart of the cranberry and citrusy burst of the orange.

I adapted this Christmas Morning Muffin recipe from a traditional Cranberry Orange Bread my mom and Nana make every year. As I was putting this recipe together, images of fluffy, airy, fresh-from-the-oven muffins served by my mom as my sisters and I stared down the pile of Santa’s presents under the Christmas tree danced in my head. See? I’m catching a waft of the holiday spirit already (and yes, I’m still very much in touch with my inner 5 year-old).

This recipe is also my first dive into Clean Eating. (I like a good challenge). Rather than use one cup of processed white sugar, I substituted raw honey–nature’s original sweetener. The trick to mastering dry to liquid sugar substitutions is to convert by weight, not volume. Thus, I only used 1/2 cup of honey to replace 1 cup of refined sugar. The result? A beautiful muffin perfect for breakfast. In other words, a semi-sweet muffin that did not make me question whether or not I should have saved it for dessert.

Lately, I have abandoned the straightforward Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour box mix, which I find yields mixed results. Carol Fenster’s “100 Best Gluten-Free Recipes” cookbook (which, I might add, I got as a Christmas present last year) provides a fantastic gluten-free flour baking blend, which I included at the end of the blog post. Instead of running around multiple grocery stores, I turned to the convenience of the web and ordered all three from Bob’s Red Mill, which showed up on my doorstep in a matter of days. I keep the flour blend in an air-tight container in the pantry and turn to it for all of my baking needs–and I have not once been disappointed.

The timer just went off…holiday spirit, here I come!

cranberries and orangeshoney in a bowlchopped cranberries muffin batter muffins in the ovencranberry orange muffinmuffin, sliced in half

Fresh from the oven…oh yes…I’m in the holiday spirit now!

Cranberry-Orange Christmas Morning Muffins
Yield: One dozen large muffins

**2 cups gluten-free flour mix
1 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest (about zest of 1 large orange)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degree F. Lightly grease muffin tin (one dozen) with cooking spray.
2. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
3. In a stand mixer or large bowl, combine beaten egg, orange juice, almond extract, olive oil, and honey.
4. Slowly add dry ingredients, blending at medium speed.
5. Fold cranberries into the batter and distribute evenly amongst the dozen cups in the muffin tin.
6. Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.
7. Let cool slightly, then move muffins to a wire rack to cool completely.

**Carol Fenster’s Sorghum Blend Mix (Yield: 4 cups)
1 1/2 cups sorghum flour
1 1/2 cups potato starch or cornstarch
1 cup tapioca flour
Combine and store in an air-tight container for up to 3 months.

muffins on wire rack

Posted in Breads and Baked Goods, Clean Eating, Holiday | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment