January 20, 2020

Sesame Noodles with Roasted Duck, Sugar Snap Peas and Cabbage


for the sauce:
1/4 cup Chinese "pure" sesame paste*
1/4-1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoons chile-garlic sauce
1/2 tablespoon hot sesame oil

everything else:

12 oz  wide egg "lo mein" noodles
1 1/2 cups sliced cold, roasted duck
10 oz sugar snap peas (raw or lightly steamed)
3 scallions, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1/4 small cabbage, thinly sliced
sesame seeds


for the sauce: (can be made a few hours ahead of time)

Place all ingredients in a blender, blend until a smooth, pourable sauce forms, adding additional water if needed.

for the noodles:

Cook according to package instructions, add a couple drops of hot sesame oil to keep them from sticking and allow to cool.

for the salad: (minutes before serving)

In a large bowl, toss together the noodles, cabbage, scallions, and sauce. Top with sliced duck, snap peas and sesame seeds.

*It's made from roasted whole white sesame seeds. Purchase at Chinese grocery stores or online. Tahini isn't quite the same (it is made from unhulled, raw sesame seeds and has a different flavor profile) but can be used with tasty, if not quite as intended results. If using tahini, I suggest adding a drizzle of toasted sesame oil to the sauce as you mix it.

My thoughts:
It's been ages since I've made sesame noodles. I'll admit, I posted a fairly similar recipe a couple of summers ago so you aren't imagining things if this looks familiar to you but I made it again and tweaked it to be more winter-appropriate. Sugar snap peas are available year-round now (I think the ones I bought were grown in a greenhouse?) and add a lot crunch and an appreciated respite from winter squash. I love cabbage so I tossed it in raw for even more crunch. I also went with wider, dried noodles this time. I enjoy fresh noodles a lot but these are much easier to find (all of my local supermarkets carry them) and since they are shelf-stable, I don't have to plan ahead so much to make this dish. 

Having leftover duck is a luxury, I know! I actually heated up a frozen half duck portion (look for these in more high-end supermarkets) vs roasting a whole duck myself because it was our lunch for our New Year's Eve game theme (duck is game meat!) and I didn't have the time or energy. It makes the perfect amount for two people to have hearty portions. If you don't have duck, leftover roasted or rotisserie chicken would be great or even tofu or steamed shrimp. 

The leftovers (or plan for this) are great for packing for cold lunches too. Even though it's cold out, it's okay to eat some cold food. 

It's a really satisfying meal and every time I make it, I wonder why I don't make it more often and how easy it is. 

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January 13, 2020

Modernized Spinach Dip


16 oz fresh baby spinach
1 small carrot
1/4 small red onion
1/2 stalk celery
16 oz sour cream
2 tablespoons mayo
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
3 tablespoons finely diced Italian parsley
freshly ground black pepper


Heat a small amount of water to large skillet. Add the spinach in batches until wilted. Thoroughly squeeze dry.  Coarsely chop. Place in a medium bowl.

In a small food processor (I used this mini manual chopper) or if you have the patience to chop vegetables very finely, finely chop the carrot, red onion, celery.  Add to the bowl with the spinach.

Stir in the remaining ingredients until well distributed. Refrigerate at least one hour and up to overnight before serving.

My thoughts:

Our theme for NYE this year was games so of course, I had to make dip! What better game night food is there? If you are actually serving it on game night, I suggest crackers because they are sturdy (this is a hardy dip!) and won't leave your hands greasy. It's also really good with cucumber spears, pretzels and thicker chips. 

My inspiration for the dip was those old school dried vegetable soup mix spinach dips that were everywhere from around the 1960s on. Does anyone really make soup from that mix? Even the packet photo is of spinach dip! 

This version is just as easy but so much more flavorful. The little dehydrated vegetables never got 100% soft so I just finely chopped them here vs sauteing them so they retained a little bite and didn't add any butter or oil to the dip which can make a dip greasy. I opted for fresh baby spinach becuase I find the flavor and texture is so much better than frozen which can have a lot of stems. This makes for a more velvety dip. 

This really was delicious! I kept coming back for more. If you've missed this old fashioned dip now is the time to make it again. 

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January 08, 2020

Coconut & Lime Bundt Cake (vegan)


3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 3/4 cups sweetened, flaked coconut
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cups canola oil
14 oz (canned) full-fat coconut milk (not light!)
1/4 cup lime juice
zest of 2 limes
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch salt

for the glaze:

2 tablespoons lime juice
1 cup confectioners sugar
zest of one lime


Preheat oven 350. Grease and flour a Bundt pan. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and coconut. Set aside.

In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together sugar, oil, coconut milk, lime juice, zest, and vanilla. Slowly stream in the dry ingredients and beat until well combined. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake 1 hour or until a cake tester or thin knife comes out with just one or two dry crumbs. Allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, invert on the rack and cool completely.

When cool, whisk together the glaze ingredients. Drizzle over the cake. The cake can be made a day before serving but don't apply the glaze until ready to serve.

My thoughts:
I took inspiration for this cake from the Depression and wartime era "wacky" or "crazy" cakes that were made without eggs or butter as a cost and resource cutting measure. They rely on acidic ingredients and baking soda to make the cakes rise. They are also incidentally vegan. My sister-in-law recently became vegan so I took that as an opportunity to experiment with some vegan baking! She isn't a huge chocolate person but everyone in my family likes coconut so it makes sense to make a coconut cake. Lime juice not only adds flavor but it is the acid ingredient the cake needed to rise.

I was a little nervous making this cake since it was for a holiday and it's been ages since I've done any vegan baking but it came out great! I greased the pan and then used this wand to evenly distribute the flour to keep it from sticking. Since I've started using that I haven't had a single cake stick! I really wanted to make a cake where I wasn't using any ingredients that I normally wouldn't have on hand. I don't drink or use alternative kinds of milk like soy or almond, I don't use margarine (ahem, "plant butter") or want to bother with egg replacements. I wanted to buy enough ingredients for two cakes just in case so I didn't want to end up with ingredients I wouldn't use in something else. So coconut milk, canola oil and the mix of acid and baking soda make sense to me. The added bonus is that using coconut milk really ramps up the coconut flavor and adds a lot of body that can be missed due to the lack of eggs.

Luckily, it came out wonderfully! I hate to say that you'd never know it was vegan (because vegan food is very good on its own and it shouldn't be a surprise) but it really did come out like any other moist, super coconut-y bundt cake I've ever made. The zest added a ton of bright flavor in the glaze and every bite was full of coconut. It would be a great addition to any meal, vegan or not.

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January 06, 2020

Bookmaker Salad


for the dressing:

3 tablespoons finely grated parmesan
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
tiny pinch salt
freshly ground black pepper

for the salad:

2 heads romaine lettuce, chopped
1-pint cherry tomatoes, halved (I used an heirloom mix)
1/3 cup large Spanish pimento-stuffed olives
1/4 cup kalamata olives
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 lb thickly sliced sweet soppressata, cut into 1/2 inch strips
1/4 lb thickly sliced Genoa salami. cut into 1/2 inch strips
1/4 lb (imported, aged) thick-sliced provolone, cut into 1/2 inch strips
4 hard-boiled eggs, cut into wedges
4 pepperoncini


In a jar with a tightly fitted lid, shake together the salad dressing ingredients to mix thoroughly. Set aside.

For the salads: Evely divide the romaine among 4 plates, top with an assortment of the remaining ingredients.  Serve the dressing on the side so everyone can dress their own salad.

My thoughts:
This is my homemade version of possibly the most famous salad in Baltimore. It is from an old school Italian restaurant here called Sabatino's in Baltimore's historic Little Italy neighborhood. Going there is like taking a trip back in time and the menu is full of classic Italian-American dishes like lasagna and manicotti. However if you mention Sabatino's to a native Baltimorean, the first thing out of their mouth is either a mention of the bookmaker salad or the Sabatino's signature salad dressing. You can upgrade your side salad to be a bookmaker salad or get the signature dressing. It's serious business there! It's basically a chef's salad but with Italian meat or cheese or what I've seen called an antipasto salad. What sets it apart is the thick, parmesan-loaded vinegarette they serve on it. People love this salad! 

It's been one of my most requested recipes for years but I've never made it. I'm really not much of a green salad person. This year, following our New Year's Eve (and Day!) tradition of themed movies, games and food I finally made it. Our theme this year was "games" and while I had some duck (game meat), chess pie and Cornish Game Hens on the menu, we were really lacking on vegetables. Then inspiration struck and I remembered the bookmaker salad. Bookmakers (aka bookies) place bets on games! It was good enough for me. It has been years since I've had this salad at Sabatino's (I went there after my college graduation and then just a few times after that) judging from the pictures I found in reviews online nothing's changed. I wouldn't expect it to! I think you could time travel from 1961, go to Sabatino's and have it be unchanged. You get the salad as a meal with shrimp on it which sounds good but honestly, it's pretty filling without it! When I went there, it was popular to get a half salad as your vegetable (without the shrimp) with a heartier entree.  

The original just has Genoa salami and domestic provolone and that's fine but we have a great Italian grocery in our neighborhood* so I upgraded the salad to a mix of Genoa salami, aged, imported provolone and a personal favorite of mine, sweet (as in not hot, not sweet-sweet) soppressata which, while also a salami, has a different flavor profile than the Genoa and added a ton of depth to the salad. When there are these few ingredients, every single one counts. I also went for the pricier imported white wine vinegar and olive oil and of course excellent quality parmesan. 

I will say that the dressing is a tiny bit "gritty" or chunky thanks to the copious amounts of grated cheese in it, which according to some reviews I saw online people don't always love, but it is very tasty, I assure you! It's no grittier than it would be if you had sprinkled parm on your pizza (or salad!)  but I think people are used to creamy parmesan dressings from the supermarket so it stands out. It's served on the side at Sabatino's so you can dress your salad yourself and I found that worked well at home too. It's an assertive dressing! It really accents the flavorful meats and brings the whole salad together.

To drive home this salad's popularity, when the maitre d' who invented the salad, and named it after his gambling friends, died, the salad made it into his obituary.  He led quite a colorful life! He says he created a salad as a "lighter" option for his old bookmaker friends to entice them into coming to dinner at Sabatino's. 

*I also saw a pack of Italian meats at Aldi (and Trader Joe's) that had Genoa salami and sweet soppressata in it for about $4-6 if you don't have an Italian deli locally.

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January 02, 2020

Lemon Sesame Tuna & Chickpea Orzo Salad


for the salad:

8 oz dried orzo, cooked to package instructions and drained
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 bunch green onions, diced
3 3-oz pouches Safe Catch Elite Wild Tuna
15-oz canned chickpeas, drained
3 oz crumbled feta
1/4 cup roughly chopped Italian parsley
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 (jarred, drained) fire-roasted red pepper, chopped
1/3 cup halved kalamata olives

for the dressing:

1 tablespoon tahini
juice on one lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
zest of one lemon
freshly ground black pepper


Toss together the salad ingredients in a large bowl, set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients until smooth. Drizzle over salad, toss to evenly distribute.

My thoughts:
I know I can't be the only one who really doesn't like winter. Sure snow is pretty for a few minutes but it doesn't distract me from everything being cold and dead. The new year in our hemisphere really should start in April when everything is coming alive again. 

Possibly the worst part of this time of the year is that pretty much nothing is in-season in the mid-Atlantic. We can get citrus from warmer climes which is nice but the vegetable assortment is downright dismal. It makes it difficult to get excited about making meals. To re-energize myself I try to give myself challenges. Can I use the few things that are reliably good in the winter and bunch of pantry-stable items to create lunches that I would actually be excited about eating?

The answer is, happily, yes. I always have tuna on hand but I try to be careful where it is sourced. Safe Catch Elite Wild Tuna pouches (in the interest of full disclosure, Safe Catch provided me with some samples to try but aren't paying me anything for this recipe) are just pure, wild, sustainably-caught tuna with low levels of mercury and don't need to be drained. Surely I'm not the only person who lacks the hand strength to drain tuna easily? I also like that I can stack them in my "pantry" aka the old wooden icebox I use for food storage and they take up a lot less space than the cans.

I love this tahini-based goddess dressing (and it's Aldi and Trader Joe's branded dupes) and often add it to tuna salad. Since I had actual tahini on hand, I took inspiration from the bottled dressing and made my own sesame kissed dressing to pour over the hearty salad. The tuna comes out of the pouch nicely broken up so it mixes well with orzo, which the chickpeas providing some texture in addition to extra protein. I added some feta for some tangy richness, salty olives, crisp celery and sharp red onions to round out the flavors and provide a lot of texture variety--key in any good cold pasta salad.

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December 26, 2019

Ham, Delicata Squash and Wild Rice Soup

1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 carrots, sliced into coins
1 delicata squash, cubed (you can leave the skin on!)
1 (loose) cup green beans (about 1/3 lb), cut into bite-sized pieces
3 green onions, chopped
2 cups ham, cubed
8 oz cooked wild rice*
64 oz chicken or ham stock
2 bay leaves
pinch salt
freshly ground black pepper


In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, saute the onion, garlic, carrots, squash and green beans until the onion is translucent. Add the ham and saute until slightly browned, if desired. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat and simmer until all is tender and cooked through.
Remove bay leaves.

Serve immediately.

Yield: about 5 servings

*You can make this yourself but I used a packet of microwaveable wild rice from Target (store brand) and added it to the pot directly from the package without heating it up.

My thoughts:
We don't always have ham on Christmas (this year my parents are making corned beef and cabbage?) but ham is always a great deal this time of year so I normally end up buying at least one small one. I bought a tiny boneless spiral sliced ham from Aldi that was tasty but it wasn't cut all the way through! Very odd. I ended up having to sort of cut around the middle to make small slices (I could have just completed the cuts but I really didn't need giant slices) and it left a big chunk of barely cut ham in the middle. Perfect for soup! 

This soup is perfect for using up odds and ends so feel free to tweak it. I had delicata squash, which doesn't need to be peeled but butternut would work too if you peel it. Parsnips would be good in place of all or one of the carrots and I really wanted to use celery but mine went mysteriously moldy overnight. I've been trying to use green onions (scallions) more like vegetables lately so I cut them into about 1/2 inch pieces rather than finely. The packet of wild rice I mention in the note above is really a game-changer when it comes to wild rice. It isn't 100% as good as when I make it myself but it is super quick and honestly, I don't think most people could tell the difference. I just add it directly from the pouch to soups like this or I heat in a pan in a little water before adding it to other dishes. Wild rice adds such a savory, nutty flavor to dishes that I love and goes great with other strong flavors like smoky ham and squash.

December 22, 2019

Black Bottom Cupcakes


for the filling:

8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 beaten egg
6 oz. mini  semisweet chocolate chips

for the batter:

1 1/2 cups flour
1  cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
1  teaspoon baking soda
1 cup water
1/3 cup canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon vinegar


Preheat oven to 350. Line mini muffin pans (this year I bought this mini muffin tin that bakes 4 dozen at a time, normally I use this tin) and set them aside.

For the filling:

In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until well creamed. Beat in egg. Fold in chocolate chips. Set aside.

For the batter:

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer whisk flour, sugar, cocoa, and baking soda together. Add water, oil, vanilla, and vinegar. Beat VERY thoroughly.

Fill pans about halfway with chocolate batter. I use a gravy ladle to do this similar to this one (you can see it in this post on Instagram).  Drop approximately 1/2 teaspoon of the filling on top.

Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick stuck in the center of the center cupcake comes out clean. Cool briefly in the pans on a wire rack. Remove from pan to fully cool.

Repeat with the remaining batter. These freeze very well and keep at room temperature for about four days.

Yield: about 5 dozen (it sounds like a lot but they are tiny!) I actually made two batches in one morning this year. For best results, I don't recommend doubling the recipe, just make the recipe twice.
My Thoughts:
This is what my family traditionally made (in addition to sugar cookies) at Christmastime. We've been using the same recipe at least since the early eighties. I actually posted it way back in January 2005 but when I looked at the recipe recently, I realized one, I had tweaked it and had no idea why and that it was so long ago, I hadn't included any thoughts or info about the recipe at all! That truly was the early days of food blogging and I really was just keeping track of my recipes with easy links for sharing.

So, many years later, it seemed time to brush off the recipe and make it again*. My parents normally make them but my mom had a cancerous brain tumor removed in June and while she seems like herself, has her remarkable memory intact and is mobile, making these black bottoms is pretty time consuming and requires a lot of energy. I'd rather she save her energy for doctor's appointments, brain cancer treatment, and physical therapy so I made a double batch of these so I can give some to friends and a bunch to my parents to freeze. These cupcakes freeze really well! Normally I do not freeze baked goods because I feel like something is never quite right after they defrost but I truly can't tell the difference between fresh and previously frozen.

Black bottoms are another thing that I took for granted growing up (like train gardens at Christmas) and thought were popular everywhere but now I think are regional. I did see a flurry of black bottom recipes when David Lebovitz's The Great Book of Chocolate came out in 2007 but as I said, we've been making them since at least the early 1980s and I posted this recipe for them on this blog back in 2005(!) so they are definitely not something new(ish)!  It was one of the recipes my mom wrote down for me when I moved out (you can see the recipe card here). They are found in bakeries and some delis all over Baltimore but are curiously absent when I've gone to bakeries outside of the area. In exploring the origin story over the years I've never gotten a straight answer as to the source but many references getting the recipe from a family member in the Baltimore or Maryland area. If you know more, let me know!

We always call them black bottoms in my family but that is a bit of an awkward name to say out loud, especially to people who haven't had them before (which in my experience is a ton of people) so black bottom cupcakes it is! They are basically super moist, light (actually vegan!) chocolate cakes topped with a cheesecake-like filling instead of icing. Seriously one of my all-time favorite combinations. I like to make mini cupcakes, I've seen larger ones (mostly in sandwich shops) but the filling-chocolate ratio is best when they are in miniature. It's a little tedious if you only have one pan but totally doable and how I did it for decades growing up. They cool quickly and you can use a fork to help pop them out of the pan (without dumping them and possibly squishing the filling) and use the pan right away again. This year I splashed out and got this mini muffin tin that bakes 4 dozen at a time, normally I use this tin and it works just fine. I also recommend lining the pans with paper liners as the cake is very moist and will stick to the pan. Please use mini chips! The larger ones are just too big. They are way easier to find in 2019 than ever before.

*I have made a couple black bottom variations over the years: pumpkin black bottoms and Nutella black bottoms and black bottom brownies.

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