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.

Pasta
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

Spinach Walnut Pesto (and the Christmas Detox)

Between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I’m pretty sure I ate:

12 bites of french toast
11 chocolate-dipped pretzels
10 shrimp with cocktail sauce
9 iced sugar cookies
8 cups of coffee
7 stuffed mushrooms
6 pieces of bread
5 meeeeattttt-ballllllls
4 pieces of fudge
3 whole potatoes
2 (cups) of struffoli honey balls
and a monster piece of chicken marsala

Oof.

All delicious, of course. Christmas is the time of year where I revel in every little nuance surrounding holiday treats, from the long-standing family traditions behind them to sharing them with friends and family near and far. I also treat myself in a non-edible way and throw my typical routine out the window.  I traded my standard half-hour on the elliptical for walking 1 1/2 miles to the store just to pour over eyeshadow palettes. I stayed in my PJs until early afternoon (both days), and felt no guilt about tearing through reality TV series on Netflix like it’s Y2K all over again and there’s mass panic all our electronics will sizzle.

But they say all good things must come to an end, and I guess they’re right in this case. Turning a 180 from the daily go-go-go of work/errands/exercise wouldn’t seem so luxurious if it was blub-city all the time around here. December 26th I woke up a little earlier, said hello again to the elliptical, and stopped with the reality TV knocked some items off my to-do list. But I also treated myself to a delicious dinner made with simple, nutritious ingredients (a dinner of which I ate a normal-sized portion at a normal time of night, so there’s that).

Spinach Walnut Pesto
The walnut oil was a total impulse buy at the supermarket this week, and I may want to put it on everything. Between the walnuts and the walnut oil, which are full of healthy fats, and the spinach leaves, which are packed with just about every vitamin under the sun, you’re getting a SUPER easy, richly-flavored sauce with some serious nutritional value. In this instance, I used it as a sauce for pasta and thinned it out using some of the boiling pasta water so that it coated everything and wasn’t too thick. Feel free to add less water or omit it entirely and use it as a spread for sandwiches, etc.

Spinach Walnut Pesto
Yields enough sauce for 1 lb of pasta

2 cups baby spinach leaves, packed
1/2 cup walnut oil
3 cloves garlic, more or less to taste
1/4 cup shelled walnuts
1/2 cup hot water

1.Peel garlic. Add spinach leaves, walnut oil, garlic, and walnuts to the bowl of a food processor. Blend for about 30 seconds.

Pesto without water

2. If making pasta, do your pasta thing and bring pot of water to a boil, salt it, and throw in your pasta (I used penne). When pasta is just about done, scoop out 1/2 cup of pasta water and pour into food processor with the pesto mixture. Pulse to combine.

Pesto with water

3. Toss pesto sauce with pasta and serve.

Grilled Pizza

You know when you love something and think it couldn’t possibly get any better? But then it does? That’s been happening a lot around here lately. Not that I’m complaining. That bold yet silky smooth cup of coffee got kicked up a notch with frothed milk and a healthy shake of cinnamon. Hard apple cider turned into a slightly spicy drink perfect for fall with a drizzle of cinnamon whiskey. And now, pizza.

Grilled Pizza

I’ll always crave my mom’s traditional pizza (made in the oven). But thrown on the grill, that same crust produces an entirely different effect altogether. Those crispy, nearly-charred-but-not-quite spots are TO. DIE. FOR. Same recipe, just prepared a new way. They say variety is the spice of life, don’t they?

And I know, I know, November isn’t quite prime-time grilling season. Totally not throwing it in anyone’s faces that Southern California weather grants us the luxury of year-round grilling – we’ve been known to don our winter coats and face the cold for the sake of a grilled burger when we lived on the East Coast.

One last thing – the first time I made this, I had it in my head that it would be a snap placing the dough on the grill and retaining a perfectly circular crust. If your experience is anything like mine, that probably won’t happen. The dough stretches as you lift it up, the grill is hot and you can’t really adjust it once it’s down, etc. If this happens, just add the word “rustic” to the name – your pizzas just went from being strange looking to sounding gourmet and intentionally imperfect.

Grilled Pizza

Crust
10 oz warm water
1 pkg yeast
1 tbsp olive oil
3 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp sugar
Olive oil, for brushing

Toppings
Sauce
Cheese
Basil, meat, veggies, hot pepper flakes, etc.

1. If using a bread machineCombine flour and salt. In bowl of bread machine, add water, olive oil, flour/salt mixture, sugar, and yeast. Select setting for dough (uncooked).

If not using a bread machine Mix together water and yeast. Whisk together, and let sit for five minutes until frothy. Meanwhile, in a large bowl dusted with flour, pour flour and make a well in the center. In well, add water/yeast mixture, olive oil, salt, and sugar. Mix well and knead until dough is pliable (about five minutes). Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours in a warm place.

2. Grease a pan with olive oil or cooking spray. Place dough in pan and knead out to edges to make a flat crust. Cover with plastic wrap again and let rise for about 1 hour.

*Important announcement – If it’s actual fall-bordering-on-winter where you live (and not this la-la-land perpetual summer) and you’re contemplating never reading my blog again because I had the audacity to suggest you stand outside and grill in the cold, dark night, fear not. If you already have the dough kneaded out in a greased pan, post-rise, you can also just add your sauce and toppings at that point and bake in the oven at 400ºF for 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and edges are golden. Phew.

3. Preheat grill to medium heat (approx. 350ºF). You know your grill best – what you don’t want to happen here is to cook over too high heat and not have the crust cook evenly all the way through, so adjust heat accordingly.  Separate out dough into four pieces (for individual dinner portions), or really as many as you’d like (I’m already envisioning appetizer pizzas for summer dinner parties…) Knead each section into flat crust (the thinner the better).

4. Brush one side of each crust with olive oil, and place oiled-side down over direct heat on grill. Let bottom side cook, checking the bottom occasionally for your desired crispness. While the first side is cooking, brush olive oil on side facing up. Once bottom is to your desired doneness, flip to the other side.

Grilled pizza crust

5. As soon as you flip it, spread pizza sauce onto side facing up. Add whatever toppings you’d like. Cook until cheese is melted (if using) and bottom side is cooked.

Yields 4 dinner-sized portions