Sesame Tahini Noodles

I'm having a bit of an obsession with tahini at the moment.  I want to put it in and on everything. Of course, it always goes into our hummus, right?  But if your jar of tahini sits in your fridge languishing between hummus feedings, then I'd say it's time to up your tahini game.

As I've been reading up on tahini recently, I've learned that all tahini pastes are not created equal. The very best are imported from the Middle East and are often carried in specialty stores or can be ordered online.

 I really like Trader Joe's tahini, but mainly what you're looking for is a smooth, velvety, loose texture.  You don't want something thick and pasty.  That pretty much means it's not so fresh. You're gonna want to pass on that. 

 Tahini makes an awesome dip (add a little lemon juice, salt and pepper) or salad dressing (here are a couple of awesome recipes for that).  You can even use it to make cookies (think peanut butter cookies without the peanut butter).  I use it as a dressing in this scrumptious farro dish and I love to stir it into brown rice with a little squirt of lemon and harissa (that's also good as a crudite dip).

Oh, but these noodles...

... so very good. You can completely customize them and add whatever and however many veggies you would like to include, or leave them out entirely.  Your call.  Shrimp or chicken would also be a nice addition.  It's really all about the tahini, so here's the recipe...

Sesame Tahini Noodles

Click here for a printable recipe

I didn't make too many changes to this scrumptious recipe other than to switch up the veggies a bit.  I blanched some green beans, red peppers, broccoli and baby zucchini, which made this basically a one-pan meal.  I also swapped out the Sriracha for Harissa which I'm putting on just about everything these days. You can leave out the veggies entirely or add shrimp or chicken if you like.  This is a totally versatile dish that highlights the particular deliciousness of tahini.

Recipe Adapted from Food 52

Serves 4-6

Dressing:
1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup tahini
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced (I used 2 cloves)
3 tablespoons agave syrup
1/4 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1-2 teaspoons Sriracha (I used Harissa)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Noodles and toppings: (see headnote)
1 pound dried spaghetti
2 carrots, peeled and grated (I didn't add these)
2 cups fresh green beans, blanched in salted water, chopped
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced (I left this out)

And I added...
Toasted sesame seeds and a couple of sliced scallions for topping

Directions:

Boil a large pot of salted water and cook the pasta in it until desired toothsomeness is achieved, about 10 minutes.

While the pasta cooks, combine dressing ingredients in a blender or processor and pulse until creamy.

Add the dressing to the warm, drained pasta and veggies and top with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds and sliced scallions.

Twice-Baked Potatoes Mexican-Style

This is what happens when you can’t think of a thing to cook for dinner, don’t really feel like tackling anything fussy or complicated, time is short, and hunger is closing in.  Earlier on the day in question, I had it in my mind to make like this Mexican hash with chorizo and all kinds of fun and interesting ingredients.  But, alas, I was inexplicably unable to gather the required ambition to get it done.  I got out the potatoes and that’s about as far as I got.  

A while later I walked back into the kitchen, saw those potatoes sitting on the counter and decided that baked potatoes sounded like a perfectly lovely dinner.  But wouldn’t a twice-baked potato stuffed with cheese be even better?  But wait, wouldn’t a Mexican stuffed potato be EVEN better??  The answer, my friends, was and still is a resounding YES!  

I don’t know if these were like the best thing we’ve eaten in a while because serendipity sort of took over our meal planning, or because they’re just basically one of the best things we’ve eaten in a while.  Yes, that last one.  

And they couldn’t be easier to put together (or they wouldn’t have happened on the night in question).  You’ll need 1 or 2 potatoes per person, depending on the size of your potatoes and the appetites of your persons.  Also you will need a little ground meat, some onion and sour cream, some black beans, some sliced olives, cheese, and some Mexican seasonings (I used our homemade taco seasoning).  After baking the potatoes, I scooped them out, mashed the potatoes and stirred in all the aforementioned items. Then that all went back into the skins and topped with more cheese.  Those were baked until hot and bubbly and melty.

(There really were 4 halves, but only 3 made it into the photo.  I can't remember why.)

To finish them I spooned some salsa over the melted cheese, sliced some avocados and green onions and then mixed some sour cream and sriracha, thinned with a little milk, and drizzled that over the very top.  Is this what they mean by follow your bliss?

One last thing… There are two ways to go about eating your stuffed potato.  You can cut nice little bites, combining skin and stuffing with each bite, which is sort of OK and a very common approach to eating a twice-baked potato.  Except in my world.  The preferred method is to first scoop out and eat the stuffing and then when that’s gone, pick up the skin and munch away.  There will still be little bits of stuffing in there, and the skin will be a little crispy on the outside because you slathered it with olive oil and salt before baking them.  This is most assuredly the preferred method, but if you want to pick up the whole thing and eat it out of hand, stuffing and all, no one here’s going to judge.  Here’s the recipe…

Mexican Twice-Baked Potatoes

Click here for a printable recipe

You will end up with more stuffing than you can fit into the potatoes, but it's super delicious reheated for lunch, or you can top the leftovers with a fried egg or two and some hot sauce for another easy weeknight meal.  If you have Mexican crema handy, use that to make the sriracha crema instead of the the milk and sour cream.

Serves 2-3

2 large russet potatoes
1/2 pound ground beef or turkey
1/2 cup sliced black olives (or 1 small 4 oz can)

1/4 of a medium onion, diced small
1 (13.5 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 tablespoons taco seasoning (here’s my recipe)
2 cups cheddar cheese

Sriracha Crema:

1/3 cup sour cream
1 to 2 tablespoons of sriracha (depending on how spicy you'd like it)
2 tablespoons of milk (or enough to make it thin enough to drizzle)

To serve: salsa, avocado, thinly-sliced scallions, sriracha crema

Heat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Scrub the potatoes clean and prick all over with a fork. Rub them all over with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrange the potatoes on the baking sheet and bake for an hour.  Allow to cool enough to handle.

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the filling. Warm a little vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the diced onion and saute until soft, about 5-10 minutes.  Add the ground meat and taco seasoning and cook until it’s thoroughly browned, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the black beans, and cook until warmed through, another couple of minutes. Remove the pan from heat.

When the potatoes are cooked and have cooled just enough to handle, cut them in half and scoop out the insides, creating a hollowed-out shell about 1/4-inch thick. Arrange the shells in rows on the baking sheet.

Combine the potato insides and the sour cream in a large bowl. Mash until the sour cream is fully incorporated and the potatoes are creamy (add more sour cream for a richer filling). Fold in 1 cup of the cheese and the ground meat mixture.

Divide the mashed potato filling evenly between the potato shells (there will be more stuffing than you need).  Sprinkle the tops with the remaining cheese.

Return the potatoes to the oven and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the potatoes are soft and melty.  Cool briefly, then top with a little salsa, sliced scallions, sliced avocado and a drizzle of the sriracha crema. 

Cheesy Dill Pickle Bread

I don't think you actually have to love dill pickles to enjoy a slice of dill pickle bread.  As you can see, there's lots of cheddar cheese in there too which should make this enjoyable even for those of you who have season tickets for the dill pickle fence, or are actually quite clear in your disdain for them. Me?  Not even close to being on that fence.  I love dill pickles with all of my heart and keep a year 'round supply of homemade ones at the ready.  But I love any dill pickle.  Anytime.

The backstory on this bread began with a recipe I found on Delish.  It took me back to my childhood when I used to make cheddar cheese, mustard and dill pickle sandwiches.  (That could explain a lot, no?).  So of course I got it made up right away and it was OK.  It just didn't seem to have quite enough personality for me so I set about re-writing the recipe and in the end, found myself with a very charismatic loaf with plenty of personality, beginning with that craggly crust and just the right crumb to accommodate a surplus of chopped dill pickles.

So those are your ingredients up there.  If you approve, you'll want to move forward into the actual making part.  But maybe we need to have one more little chat about dill pickles, because if you're a bit reticent about them, I've created a little table which might help you decide how to proceed...

  • I sort of like dill pickles but am afraid of them in my bread  = 1 cup of dill pickles
  • I like dill pickles a lot and want to taste them! = 1 1/2 cups
  • I love dill pickles; I bathe in pickle brine and want a mouthful of pickles in every bite = 2 cups
  • I don't like dill pickles not one bit = 0 dill pickles, add more cheese and enjoy some yummy cheese bread

Now then, after you've made your bread and enjoyed as many slices as you can eat in one sitting, you're no doubt going to have a partial loaf to store until your next pickle bread craving.  And it turns out to be a perfect time for me to share with you one of my favorite kitchen accessories these days... bees wrap.  

Maybe you've seen it around and wondered 'what the heck?', but I'm here to tell you that if you make bread with any regularity, this stuff is the bomb.  It comes in all different sizes for different kinds of breads and you can find it on the King Arthur website and of course on Amazon.

 I've bought from both places and they're exactly the same although they look different.  But this stuff isn't just for bread, no sir.  It's the perfect way to wrap cheese and sandwiches and all kinds of things.  

It's sustainable, washable, reusable, efficient and a fantastic way to cut down on waste. And you can cut it to a size you prefer if the pre-cut sizes don't work for you.  I've been using it for several months now and it's the absolute most perfect way to keep bread fresh on the counter (or the fridge).

Alrighty then, my pickle-loving readers.  Make yourself some pickle bread and then some pickle bread sandwiches and then wrap it up in bees wrap.  Life is good.  Here's the recipe...

Cheesy Dill Pickle Bread

Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe inspired by Delish

This bread makes awesome sandwiches with egg or tuna salad.  I like it slightly toasted with a little sliced turkey, mustard and mayo, but it's also super delicious just plain.  Be sure to dry your pickles off really well before adding them to the dough.  I let them sit on a paper towel while I mix the rest of the ingredients.

3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 to 2 cups chopped dill pickles, according to your own preferences, excess moisture removed
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1-2 tablespoons pickle juice

1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 9"-x-5" loaf pan with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a standing mixer (or use a hand mixer), whisk together sour cream, buttermilk, vegetable oil, pickle juice and eggs until smooth. 

In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, chopped dill and salt and stir until combined. 

Using the paddle attachment to the mixer, combine the dry ingredients into the wet and then fold in chopped pickles and cheddar cheese. Do not over-mix the dough.

Scrape dough into a loaf pan (it should be fairly stiff).

Bake until the bread is golden and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean about 50 to 60 minutes (mine was perfect at 55).  Cool completely before slicing.

Click here to ask a question or leave a comment

Quinoa Salad with Grapes, Avocado and Feta Cheese

What you're looking at up there is what I've been eating for lunch just about every day for the past couple of weeks.  And I just made another batch.  Up until my discovery of this luscious little salad, lunchtime around here was really nothing to get worked up about... a slice of turkey, maybe a clementine or a piece of cheese.  Like I said, nothing very exciting.

All of that changed after I made this as a side dish for dinner and the leftovers beckoned at lunch the next day.  Let me say that before it transformed my lunches, it totally charmed us at dinner; the sweet of the grapes, the crunch of cucumber, the bright notes from lime and mint.  I added some feta cheese for a salty kick, and of course, a little avocado is always a good thing. 

If you haven't made quinoa very often (or ever), it couldn't be easier.  Just don't follow 90% of the recipes you'll read online.  I've mentioned this before, but as with rice, the 2-1 ratio of water to quinoa will 100% of the time result in mush.  Don't do it.  For 1 cup of quinoa, you'll want to use 1 1/2 cups of water and a little salt and you will be rewarded with fluffy deliciousness.  I'm pretty sure that people think they don't like quinoa because they're not cooking it right.  You'll find more specific instructions in the recipe below.

A recent discovery that I've been using quite a bit lately is that little container of True Lime up there.  I ordered it online and don't use it so much in place of lime, but to boost the lime flavors in certain dishes.  One of the best things about this salad was the hit of lime and rather than adding more juice which could have made the whole thing a bit soggy, I sprinkled in a little of this lime powder and it gave a little boost of brightness.  It's also awesome in guacamole and on fish or anywhere you're looking for a citrus-y punch.  (And no, I received no monetary reward for that endorsement).

It goes without saying that any barbecue, picnic or summer bash will be all the better if you add this to your menu.  Just make a little extra and give yourself an awesome lunch to look forward to. Here's the recipe...

Quinoa Salad with Grapes, Avocado and Feta Cheese

This was a delicious salad recipe as written, but I felt it needed just a couple of tweaks, the first being to move the avocado from the inside of the salad to the top where it retains its flavor and bite (it gets pretty mushy after a few hours if stirred into the quinoa).  The other tweak was to add some feta cheese which gave it a nice little salty kick.  There is no doubt that the key to this salad is the lime.  Don't skimp on the lime zest, and you could even replace some of the olive oil with a little more lime juice if you wanted. Trust me on this one.  Good stuff.

Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe adapted from Katie Lee

Zest and juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup of quinoa
2 cups grapes, halved
1 1/2 cups diced cucumbers
1/2 cup fresh mint, roughly chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
4 scallions, white and light green parts, sliced
2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
diced avocado for serving

Rinse the quinoa really well in a strainer set into a larger bowl.  Swish the quinoa around in the water and then drain.  Repeat this 2 or 3 times to remove the bitter coating on the quinoa.

Place the drained quinoa in a pan with 1 ½ cups water and ½ teaspoon salt.  Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Cover the pan and let it simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes before removing the lid and fluffing with a fork.  Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together lime zest, lime juice and olive oil. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Toss the cooled quinoa, grapes, cucumbers, mint, parsley, scallions and feta cheese together in the bowl with the dressing. Sprinkle with diced avocado.  Serve chilled.

Click here to ask a question or leave a comment

Pasta Primavera

Although we're rounding the corner from spring to summer, we're still in celebratory spring mode here.  Beginning around May 15th, our neck of the woods is mind-blowingly beautiful. Actually, celebrating spring is a fairly new phenomenon in my life.  And by fairly new I mean the last 8 to 10 years or so.  Did you know that the longer you live, the more the word "recent" changes meaning?  Yes, I'm actually old enough now to consider the last 8-10 years as recent.  Be that as it may, growing up in Southern California meant that spring was more of a date on the calendar than a real life experience.  Sometimes the change from winter to spring was almost imperceptible.  Not to say it wasn't a nice time of year, just not all that different from the "seasons" before and after, and not something we really noticed out loud.

But then about 10 years ago, with our move to the Midwest, spring took on a very real, very charismatic personality.  The sub arctic temps and brown/gray color scheme of winter suddenly exploded into overwhelming shades of spring green and an intense lushness that literally blew my mind and continues to do so.  But not literally.  That would be gross.

All that to say, spring is, indeed, a celebratory event in these parts.  And sometimes I like to mark the occasion by buying bushels of fresh, spring veggies and then scrambling to keep them from rotting in the fridge before I can get them used up.  So when I came across this recipe from Kenji Lopez-Alt over at Serious Eats, I knew I had found not only a perfect way to celebrate spring (it's PASTA!!) but also a way to use up the veggie overstock threatening imminent decomposition (which included asparagus, sugar snap peas, broccoli and zucchini).

The bad news is that it's a Kenji Lopez-Alt recipe.   Which means you must get out your inch-thick spectacles and set aside a couple of hours just to read the recipe.  I love how his mind works and the way he can truly test the heck out of 31 different methods and ingredients before settling on the most perfect version of a dish that he can come up with.  

And the good news is that it's a Kenji Lopez-Alt recipe.  Which means you can pretty much trust that it's going to work and deliver exactly what you're hoping for, as it did in this case.  What an absolutely beautiful bowl of pasta primavera.  It really was everything I had hoped it would be.  That didn't preclude my need to make a couple of changes or distill the recipe down to its essentials so that you would actually try it.  I did both of those things, and yet you will amazingly still arrive at the table with what I believe is everything that pasta primavera was meant to be... light, fresh, and still just a little bit indulgent.  In other words, perfect.  

The recipe really does make a lot.  I think it would easily feed 4 very hungry people and 6 who are on their best behavior.  We put a pretty good dent in it, but then got to enjoy the leftovers with some barbecued chicken (Circle B Kitchen-style).  Simply delish. Here's the recipe...

Pasta Primavera
(Springtime Pasta)

Click here for a printable recipe

This is a Kenji Lopez-Alt recipe, which if you're familiar with his work, then you know that his recipes can be, shall we say, wordy?  Complicated?  But no matter, as usual, it was delicious.  I have streamlined his scientific verbiage and made the recipe a little more user-friendly, I think, without sacrificing the flavors or the spirit of the original.  If you'd like to see the original recipe, just click on the link below.

Recipe Adapted from Serious Eats

4 cups of veggies (like asparagus, broccoli, broccolini, snap peas, fava beans, snow peas, English peas,              zucchini, etc)
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
2 whole cloves garlic, lightly smashed with the side of a knife
3 ounces pine nuts
l lb pasta (fresh or dried - I used cavatappi)
6 oz creme fraiche
2 oz soft goat cheese
2 teaspoons finely grated zest and 1 teaspoon fresh juice from 1 lemon
1/2 cup minced fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

1.  Cut the vegetables into 1 to 2-inch pieces.  If using asparagus and snap peas, cut them on the diagonal.  You can slice broccoli and broccolini into small florets and zucchini into half moons. 

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and prepare an ice bath.   Blanche the vegetables in the boiling water for 1 minute, and using a spider or other strainer, transfer to the ice bath to cool, then transfer to a paper towel–lined tray and pat dry.  Empty pot, refill it with fresh water, season generously with salt, and return to a boil.

3. Meanwhile, place the pine nuts in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium high heat.  Toast the pine nuts, stirring often until they are a deep golden brown.  Remove from the pan and reserve. 

4. In the same skillet, heat butter, olive oil, garlic, over low heat until gently sizzling. Cook, swirling pan constantly, until the garlic aroma is very strong. Do not let butter brown; remove it from heat occasionally if it starts to sizzle too rapidly. When the garlic has taken on a little color, discard it and add the blanched vegetables to pan and toss to combine. Remove from heat.

5. When water is boiling, add pasta and cook until just shy of al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. Transfer pasta to pan with vegetables and add the goat cheese and crème fraîche, lemon zest, lemon juice, basil, and parsley. Set over high heat and cook, stirring and tossing constantly and adjusting the consistency as necessary with a few splashes of the starchy pasta water, until liquid reduces to a creamy sauce. The sauce should coat the pasta and leave a creamy trail on the bottom of the pan when you drag a wooden spoon through it.

6. Off heat, stir in a generous shaving (or grating) of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, drizzling with olive oil and sprinkling with freshly ground black pepper and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table.

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