Sesame Almond Butter Noodles (with a Zing)

When I lived on my own, I worked a job where for a good part of the year, I’d be eating take-out and sitting at my desk for dinner. This was pretty exciting for the first few days, because HEY! Dinner is free! It’s delivered to your cubicle! And how did they know I wanted to try out that new sandwich shop anyway?!

Day Four rolls around and you are so. over. take-out containers and plastic utensils. Any and all requests to healthify your order have been swiftly denied – “no cheese” and “sauce on the side” always seemed to fall on deaf ears. One time I ordered a grilled veggie sandwich on a whole-wheat bun with small amount of marinara sauce. My coworkers were asking me how I could have the willpower to order something healthy. As I was responding – NO JOKE – I unwrapped my sandwich to find it COVERED in bacon. As in the bacon was wrapped in circles around the entire sandwich. I was flabbergasted, and talk about losing your credibility! I would have understood mistakenly adding bacon inside the sandwich, as in between the pieces of bread, but hog-tying the thing? To this day I have no words.

Inevitably whatever impending doom deadline there was would pass, and I would have a few glorious weeks of preparing dinner for myself. What’s funny is that after so many weeks of lusting after something, anything homemade, I usually didn’t get home until past 7:30 PM, at which time I was a total hangry grump and just wanted to shove the closest thing resembling a meal into my mouth ASAP. PB&Js (or AB&Js) nightly until I ran out of bread. A box of four frozen veggie burgers would be gone in…four days. A container of hummus and a bag of pita chips didn’t even stand a chance.

Now, though, is a different story. I work elsewhere and I don’t live on my own, so I’m in the house at a reasonable time in the evening and I can’t quite get away with a snack attack in place of dinner. After boiling some pasta one night recently and combining a little of this and a little of that in a bowl for the sauce, I realized that this recipe would have been perfect for those late nights getting home after work.

Spicy Almond Butter Noodles
Odds are that if you’ve made an Asian-inspired recipe before, you probably have a bunch of the specialty ingredients already on hand (such as the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, sriracha, five-spice powder, and sesame seeds). The five-spice powder adds such a unique flavor that when combined with the sriracha, delivers a milder, sweet heat that sticks around throughout the meal without interfering with your enjoyment of the almond butter and the other components. Scallions are optional for serving, so if you’ve been workworkworking and your produce drawer looks like a wilted mess, just omit.

One of the great things about this dish is that it can be served hot, room temperature, or cold. On this particular night, I ate the noodles hot, right after I drained them and mixed them with the sauce (okay…and after I took a few pictures). B ate dinner later on, so he had the noodles at room temperature. And to be an equal opportunist, I took some leftovers to work the next day for lunch and ate them cold from the refrigerator. Tasty and satisfying in each form.

Sesame Almond Butter Noodles (with a Zing)
Yields 4-5 dinner-sized servings

1 lb pasta (I used Fettuccine Rigate, but any type of long noodle will do)
1 tbsp salt
1 bunch scallions, chopped, to garnish (optional)
4 tbsp sesame seeds, to garnish (optional)

Sesame Almond Butter Sauce:
4 tbsp creamy almond butter
2 1/2 tbsp hoisin sauce
4 tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp sriracha, more or less to taste
1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
1 tbsp honey

1. Fill a large pot about three-fourths full with water. Cover, and set pot on stove over high heat to boil.
2. Meanwhile, add all of the sauce ingredients to a large bowl and mix using a hand mixer until there are no clumps. Chop scallions, if using, and set aside for serving.
3. When water begins to boil, add approximately 1 tbsp of salt to the pot and place pasta in the water. Stir the pasta frequently as it cooks so the noodles don’t stick together.
4. Test pasta after approximately 7-8 minutes, but cook to your preferred doneness. If using a different pasta shape, be sure to adjust cooking time accordingly.
5. When pasta is done cooking, drain and pour noodles into the large bowl with your sauce. Toss to combine.
6. When serving, plate out servings and add chopped scallions and sesame seeds (though both optional).

Spicy Sesame Almond Butter Noodles

Life on Wednesdays – 1/13/14

Life on Wednesdays is a weekly post of odds and ends from my life – food-focused for sure, but everything else? Wingin’ it. See this page for posts from prior weeks.

I forgot to mention in last week’s post that despite the perpetual Wednesday post date, I promise not to subject you to any quips involving the phrase ‘hump day’ and a certain verbose camel. Or a guy named Mike. I’m sure you get enough of that elsewhere.

IMG_1186 (640x589) (2)
I have a tendency to be a very cautious over-thinker. There’s great merit in “measuring twice and cutting once” for sure, but presented with a quandary I go a little beyond that. I’d probably mull it over for a few days, feed some teasers to my trusted board of advisers (B and my parents) to feel out their initial thoughts, Google it incessantly and eventually go with my gut, which is tough because most of the time all my gut’s telling me to do is to keep researching.

All that, and I’m probably trying to decide which gold spray paint I should buy or something equally trivial.

These characteristics most certainly carry over into shopping, where more often than not I’ll go to the mall and only come out with a nice cappuccino. Recently though, I’ll be browsing around, see something I like and can use…and I buy it. Right there. On the spot. No comparing prices, no polling the crowd, nada. This is BIG.

Either there’s some fundamental shift in my inner psyche going on, or I’ve run into some pretty great stuff lately. In case it’s the latter, I better tell you about it.

1. Torani Sugar-Free Belgian Cookie Speculoos Syrup

IMG_1594 (399x640)
OMG. Not much more needs to be said here. If you’re not aware, speculoos/cookie butter has been blowing up the blogosphere. It’s a spread made of ground up cookies (you can buy it at Trader Joe’s). Sweet and slightly spiced, it’s fab as an ingredient – or eaten straight up with a spoon. Not like that’s happened or anything.

B and I were gifted an espresso machine for Christmas, and we stopped by World Market to look for flavored syrups to make lattes. Is anyone else impressed by the breadth of World Market’s specialty grocery department? Anyway, we hit the wall of Torani syrups and within a few seconds this one had jumped in our basket and begged us to take it home. That’s how quickly I made up my mind.

Two lattes on a Sunday night does not an easy sleep make, but when you just bought a syrup that’s full of sugar and spice and everything nice (minus the actual sugar – it’s sweetened with Splenda), a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

2. Coated Charlie Super Skinny Jeans from Lucky Brand

Coated Charlie Super Skinnies

This purchase was the tipping point where I knew something was up:

A) I bought them online, without having tried on the Charlie Super Skinnies before.

B) Had I been in the store, I most definitely would not have tried them on, because any jean touting their super skinniness probably wouldn’t be a jean that my calves would get along with.

C) I was in bed, in my sweatpants, after a delicious Christmas dinner. Not exactly feeling super skinny.

Against my better judgment, free shipping and a nice sale coddled me along the check-out process. I bought two sizes, fully expecting neither of them to fit. I got them, tried on the smaller of the two sizes first (I’m a dreamer here), and they fit – PERFECTLY. The thighs fit without there being too much room in the waist. My calves didn’t hate me. They stretch, and my feet can fit through the “super skinny” leg opening…albeit not with much room to spare, but they do. Holy comfortable! They’re a little low on sizes at the moment (online, at least), but I’m hopeful they restock because my closet needs more of these, pronto.

3. Three Songs on iTunes.
…iTunes was having a sale. $0.69 each! Even now at full price, it’s well worth the extra $0.60 for these talented artists. (Sequined factoid #2 – I love, love country music).

Friday Night by Eric Paslay

Could It Be by Charlie Worsham

Follow Your Arrow by Kacey Musgraves

Anyone else have a three-day weekend ahead? Woot woot! See ya Friday with a quick and easy Asian-inspired dinner that’s perfect for those weeknights after work!

Black and White Cookie Donuts (Baked!)

Food nostalgia is hitting pretty hard around here, lately.

Black and White donuts
Having lived my whole life in New Jersey (except for college in Pennsylvania – yeah, I went really far), I had no clue what to expect when I moved cross-country to San Diego in 2012. I knew I could probably ditch my winter coat and had prepared myself for Dunkin Donuts-withdrawal, but as far as the small stuff? I figured it couldn’t be that different. I mean, it was the same country after all.

But beyond the obvious lack-of-snow and lack-of-DD, over time I’ve realized there are a lot of little things I took for granted living in the NYC-metro area. Diners! Jersey bagels! Italian bakeries! Autumn leaves! Feeling a chill in the air! Of course I’d be foolish to ignore the wonderful attributes that Southern California has to offer – I wore a t-shirt and flip flops yesterday – but sometimes you just yearn for a taste of “home”, in the regional sense.

Einstein Bagels are good, Jersey bagels are in-freakin’-credible. Crisp outsides, super soft and chewy centers. Especially the cinnamon raisin ones. Typing this out just made me crave them BIG TIME. Bagels from Long Island (NY) also rank highly in the upper echelon of bagels as far as I’m concerned.

“Breakfast cafes” are nice, Jersey diners are better. Zero pretension, zero thought given to ambiance, zero qualms about ordering a turkey dinner with a cup of coffee for breakfast.

68°F in January is great, 27°F in January is…well, 68°F is just great, period. Moving on…

Italian bakeries. Cookies covered in chocolate chips that are as big as your head. Freshly-made cannoli shells (can we talk about how WordPress doesn’t think “cannoli” is a word?! For shame). Rainbow cookies (my ultimate, hands-down favorite). White cardboard boxes with red-and-white striped twine. Black-and-white cookies. Love.

For those in the know, you know why the list above is so special. Yes, everything is delicious, there’s no denying that. But looking back, I can remember that quintessential white bakery box in so many of my childhood memories. It was sitting beside me in the backseat of the car while we traveled to visit relatives on Christmas morning, it attended all of my birthday parties, it even received prime placement on our Thanksgiving table year after year. You know it has to be something special.

It’s been too long since I’ve had any of the above bakery treats, so I decided to satisfy my hankering for donuts by making a batch inspired by the black and white cookie. Like its namesake, these donuts have a pillowy-soft body with a crisp layer of icing – half black and half white. The cookies (and so, the donuts) taste ever-so-slightly of lemon, although the flavor is not an obvious lemon. No lip puckering here. And it’s January, and you know, resolutions… so they’re baked. While these didn’t come from a white box with red-and-white twine, they certainly taste like they would.

Donut recipe adapted from The Faux Martha, icing recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour.

Black and White Cookie Donuts (Baked)
Yields 6 donuts

1/3 cup milk*
1 tsp white vinegar*
3 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup bread flour
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp agave nectar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp lemon extract

Vanilla Icing:
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 tbsp simple syrup (or light corn syrup)**
2 tsp hot water
1/8 tsp almond extract

Chocolate Icing:
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 tbsp simple syrup (or light corn syrup)**
3/4 tbsp hot water
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted

1.Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine milk and vinegar in a small bowl and set aside for 5-10 minutes until milk curdles. *Alternatively, you can use 1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together curdled milk, melted butter, sugar, agave nectar, egg, vanilla extract, and lemon extract.

3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and mix until combined. Be careful not to overmix, as you don’t want the donuts to become tough.

4. Grease your donut pan. Spoon batter into a plastic bag (or piping bag if you have one). Push out all air from the bag and seal closed. Work batter inside the bag towards the bottom. Snip corner of plastic bag, and pipe batter evenly into six donut wells.

Batter with bag

5. Bake for 7-8 minutes, or until donuts have become golden brown around the edges. Let donuts sit for a few minutes in the pan, then remove and let cool on rack.

Baked donuts out of oven
6. To make the icing: use two separate bowls for vanilla and chocolate.

Vanilla Icing: Combine confectioners’ sugar, simple syrup**, hot water, and almond extract. Whisk until mixture is smooth and resembles an icing-like consistency. If it’s too runny for your taste, add more confectioners’ sugar. If it’s too thick, add a very small amount of water at a time. Be conservative here – you don’t want to swing the other way and have icing that’s too runny.

Chocolate Icing: Combine confectioners’ sugar and unsweetened cocoa powder in a small bowl. Melt chocolate chips in the microwave, stirring after every twenty second interval, until smooth. Pour melted chocolate into the confectioners’ sugar mixture, along with simple syrup** and water. Whisk until mixture is smooth. If it’s too runny in this case, add more confectioners’ sugar along with cocoa powder, if too thick add just a small amount of water.

**Traditionally, you’ll see light corn syrup used in icing recipes. However I was already elbows deep in making the donuts when I realized that we were out, so I improvised by making a homemade simple syrup. I simmered 1 part water to 3 parts granulated sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until bubbles formed, then reduced heat to low for about 15 minutes until mixture had boiled down and thickened. I was very happy with the results, but if you have light corn syrup, feel free to save a few steps and use it instead.

7. Spread chocolate icing on one half of each donut, and vanilla on the other half. Let icing harden before serving.

Homemade Apple Pie Gelato in a Sugar Cookie Crust

Whew, that title is a mouthful. I may or may not also happen to have a mouthful of this homemade, healthier apple pie gelato right now as I type. I’ll never tell.
Apple Pie Gelato in Sugar Cookie Crust

I love apple pie.
I love gelato.
I love apple pie with gelato.
And now I love apple pie made of gelato.

Whoa baby.

In all honesty, you don’t need to put this gelato in a sugar cookie crust. Between its vanilla base and chunks of apples sauteed in brown sugar and cinnamon, believe me it can hold its own. And just like this Homemade Pumpkin Spice Gelato, there’s no heavy cream at all! A fab, indulgent-tasting dessert that won’t put you on your 2014 resolution naughty list.

Let’s say that’s all well and good, but you’re looking to make something with a little extra somethin’ somethin’. Let’s talk the sugar cookie crust. I quartered my go-to sugar cookie recipe (my Grandma’s!), cut out a circle that would adequately cover the bottom and sides of my ramekin (this one from World Market), pressed the dough inside, and baked along with the standard sized sugar cookies I cut out from the rest of the dough. I kept the ramekin in the oven for a few minutes longer than the cookies, and once done, I let it cool before beginning the gelato. However if you’re looking to spread out the steps, feel free to bake the cookie crust the day before. The important thing here is that you fill the crust with gelato and even out the top right when the gelato is finished in the ice cream maker. That way it’s still soft and easy to handle rather than frozen after spending some quality time in the freezer.

The gelato pie can be served immediately, or placed in the freezer for an hour or two if you’d prefer slices with a more crisp edge. I wouldn’t keep the pie in the freezer for too long though, a) because you don’t want the cookie crust to lose its freshly-baked taste, and b) after smelling the sugar cookies baking and the apples sauteing, you’re going to deprive yourself for much longer? I didn’t think so.

Apple pie gelato

Homemade Apple Pie Gelato in a Sugar Cookie Crust

Sugar Cookie Dough
yields approximately 15-18 standard-size cookies (or mini pie crust here and a few standard-size cookies…for, uhhh, quality-control)

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

1. Cream together butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla extract. Blend well.

2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, and cream of tartar.

3. Add flour mixture gradually to butter mixture until all combined.

4. Chill dough thoroughly.

Sugar cookie doughWrapped up and ready to chill.

5. Preheat oven to 425°F. Roll dough onto floured work surface to 1/4″ thickness. I freehanded a circular shape a little larger than the ramekin I was using to account for the dough needed to cover the sides. I also used a cookie cutter to cut shapes from the remaining dough. Grease ramekin and press circular shaped-dough against bottom and sides. *Tip – I wouldn’t let the dough extend as far beyond the edge of the ramekin as I did in the picture below. During baking, the edges fell and baked against it, making it nearly impossible to remove the finished slices without cutting that part of the crust away from the pie.

Sugar crust pre-bake
6. Place all on an ungreased cookie sheet – cookies and ramekin. Bake 6-8 minutes or until edges just begin to brown for regular cookie shapes, but pie crust may take longer. My pie crust was in for approximately 12 minutes.

Apple Pie Gelato

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
3 egg yolks
very small pinch salt
1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract, divided

2 apples, peeled and diced
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon, divided

Whipped cream, for garnish (optional)

To make the healthier gelato base, I followed steps #1-6 of my Homemade Pumpkin Spice Gelato Affogato recipe (milk through vanilla extract ingredients above). While your mixture is chilling, continue with steps below.

7. Peel apples, remove core and seeds, and dice them into small chunks.

Dicing apples
8. Saute apples over medium-low heat with butter, brown sugar, and 1 1/2 tsp of the cinnamon until apples have softened slightly and are coated throughout with the butter/brown sugar/cinnamon mixture.

Apples sauteing
9. Refrigerate sauteed apples until they are cold. Both the gelato base and apples should be chilled before continuing.

10. Remove gelato base and apples from the refrigerator. Pour gelato base into your ice cream maker and prepare according to your ice cream maker’s directions. Once you begin to see gelato base thickening around the edges of the ice cream maker, add remaining 1/2 tsp of cinnamon. Slowly add apples until all are integrated.

11. Once gelato is done, scoop enough out to fill sugar cookie pie crust and smooth out the top. Scoop excess gelato into an airtight container and freeze. You can serve the pie immediately, or cover in an airtight-container and freeze for an hour or so if you’d prefer a more solid, frozen gelato pie filling. If freezing, run a sharp knife under hot water, blot knife with cloth or paper towel to remove water drops, and proceed to cut into pie. Garnish with whipped cream and a dusting of cinnamon (optional), and enjoy.

Apple Pie Gelato with Sugar CrustSugar cookie pie crust with gelato right out of the ice cream maker.