Sesame Balls

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I made these sweet Sesame Balls filled with Red Bean Paste to ring in the Chinese New Year.

The paste is two ingredients and the sesame balls are another two. Yep, that’s it. Both were pretty fool-proof. They were amazingly simple however also a bit tedious (hence the long instructions below). Make sure you leave plenty of time and have some good background music or enlist a few helpers.

Red Bean Paste
6 ounces small red beans
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1-2 teaspoons grapeseed oil

Wash the beans, cover with cold water, and soak overnight. Drain and place beans in a medium saucepan and cover completely with fresh water. Bring the water to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 1-1/2 hours or until beans are very soft. Check every so often to ensure there is still plenty of liquid covering the beans, add more if necessary. When tender, strain beans.

Place the beans and sugar in a food processor until smooth. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the beans and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring to incorporate the oil. Beans are done when they are fairly dry. Set aside.

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Sesame Balls
1 cup water
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3 cups glutinous rice flour
oil for frying (grapeseed and vegetable oil)
1 cup sesame seeds

In a small saucepan, dissolve sugar in water over medium heat.

Create a well with the rice flour in a medium bowl. Slowly add the hot liquid and stir until completely smooth. Knead a couple of times in the bowl to pick up any dry flour. The dough should be play-dough consistency and easy to work with. Divide the dough into four parts. As you use each part, cover the remaining pieces with a damp cloth.

Heat a wok or a deep skillet over medium-high heat and add enough oil to make about 4 inches deep. Heat the oil to 350. And work with the heat to keep it at 350 the whole time.

Roll one part into a snake, about 1 inch in diameter. Pinch off about 1 inch pieces and roll each into a ball (you’ll have about 6-8). Have a small bowl of water nearby as the dough can get slightly dry.

Form the balls into a cup in your hand and fill with about 1 teaspoon of red bean paste. They will not explode if you over or under fill them! Pinch all sides of the cup around the paste back together and roll into a ball. Use water as necessary to make sure there are no cracks. Repeat with all pieces from this snake (do this to all 6-8 pieces before the next step).

Place wax paper on the counter and pour about 1/3-1/2 cup of the sesame seeds. Dip one ball at a time into the bowl of water and then roll in sesame seeds. Repeat with all 6-8 pieces you have rolled so far. When the oil reaches 350, add this round of balls to the oil and cook for 2 minutes. Stir and flip them around and cook for another 2-3 minutes. If you opt to make larger sesame balls, they will need 6-8 minutes.

While the first round is cooking, move on to the next snake and repeat above steps. It took exactly the amount of time to roll 6-8 balls as it did for the prior round to cook. So there was no waiting around between batches. As the balls are done, remove them to a baking sheet lined with 2-3 layers of paper towels. Then add the next batch ready to go. Repeat.

These are best right out of the wok but can wait at room temperature for several hours.

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Pancetta, Manchego and Caramelized Onion Biscuits

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I’ve been working on a buckwheat biscuit recipe for quite some time now. I’ve had some successes and many, many fails. I thought I would have it all figured out by now but it’s still a toss up whether the next batch will work or not.

I had a Meat and Scone Brunch to attend but rather than hedging my bets with a new creation, I set aside my buckwheat flour and pulled out Blackbird Bakery’s Gluten Free Flour Mix. I keep a couple of her mixes on hand for “just in case moments” such as these. I opted to use her bread and pizza blend and create something a little different. Using a pre-made flour mix (use only those you know and love!) means baking like the days of yore. It means I’m not measuring flours but I’m still creating something from scratch which was exactly what I wanted and had time for. This recipe is loosely based on a Sausage Bialy Biscuit by Silvana’s Kitchen

Pancetta, Manchego, Caramelized Onion Biscuits
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 cups Blackbird Bakery GF flour mix
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus some
pepper
6 Tablespoons butter (earth balance), cold
3-4 slices pancetta, diced
1/4 cup chopped manchego cheese (or more)
3/4 cup almond milk, plus 2 Tablespoons for brushing

Preheat the oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a skillet, saute the pancetta until just crisp over medium heat. Remove the pancetta (leave the oil) and add the onion. Stir until translucent and soft. Set aside.

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and a dash of pepper. Add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix with your fingers until the dough is uniformly crumbly. Add the pancetta, onions, and cheese and mix. Stir in the milk and mix until completely absorbed (with a fork or your hands).

You have options here: roll about 1-2 tablespoons of the dough into a ball, place them on the baking sheet and leave them as is or flatten them with the palm of your hand for a uniform biscuit. Or my preferred look and feel: scoop the dough with an ice cream scoop, place on the baking sheet, and gently press with the tips of your fingers- this turns out a more rustic biscuit.

Brush all of the biscuits with the remaining almond milk and sprinkle with course salt. Bake for about 22-24 minutes (this will vary depending on how flat you pressed them), until they are golden brown in some spots.

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Lemony Broccoli Soup (and garlicky too)

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Best. Broccoli. Soup. Ever. I dropped by Springdale Farm on my way to work the other day and saw some beautiful broccoli I needed to have. That’s odd for one reason: I don’t particularly care for broccoli. But it looked so tempting. I came home and immediately made soup for the week. And then I ate it in two sittings. I will make this all season.

To serve this soup you can top with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream (as pictured), a little olive oil and coarse salt, or grate parmesan or another salty and hard cheese right on top. Serve with a crusty bread or just straight piping hot in a mug on the go. Don’t worry about being precise with this recipe- it can take a little flexibility.

Lemony-Garlicky Broccoli Soup
1 small onion, chopped
2 celery stocks, chopped (leaves on)
1 carrot
3 cloves garlic, bruised and separated
1 pound broccoli florets and some stock, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 lemon and zest
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
3-4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable)
salt and pepper to taste
optional garnishes:
parmesan, yogurt, chives, parsley

In a large skillet, sauté the onion, celery, carrot, and 2 cloves of the garlic until just soft and onions are starting to become translucent. Add the broccoli, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes over low heat. Stir in lemon zest, parsley and 1 clove garlic (chopped). Pour in 3 cups of the stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to low and simmer the soup partially covered for about 15 minutes. If the broccoli is not completely tender continue to cook for 10 more minutes and add more broth so the liquid continues to reach about 1/2 or 3/4 up the vegetables.

When the broccoli is tender, puree the soup. Add 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice and stir. Taste for salt, pepper, and more lemon. Add more broth if you want it thinner.

Serve hot (or cold) with any number of the garnish options.

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Roasted Butternut Squash and Cauliflower with Walnuts, Pomegranate, and Tahina

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It’s been awhile. Quite awhile. I have a long list of recipes on post-its around the house but this one tops the list and is timely for this winter season. The proportion of vegetables can be varied according to your taste. Make extra Tahina sauce and store in a jar for the next time (or to eat with a spoon).

My parents brought me a bottle of tahina from Israel and it’s sort of unfair how delicious it is. Go with your favorite brand and adjust the amount of liquid according to its thickness. My favorite available at most grocery stores here in the US is Al Wadi. Speaking of my parents, here’s a handy way to get pomegranate seeds easily and stain free (thanks mom).


Roasted Butternut Squash and Cauliflower with Walnuts and Lemony Tahina

1 butternut squash (about 1.5 pounds), cut into 1-inch slices
1 medium head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small red onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices
4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Tahina
1.5 Tablespoons lemon juice
1-2 Tablespoons water
1 small clove garlic, crushed
3-5 Tablespoons walnuts, toasted and chopped
3 Tablespoons pomegranate seeds
flake salt
2-3 teaspoons Za’atar*, optional

Preheat the oven to 425. Layer a large baking sheet with tin foil. Toss the vegetables with 2-3 Tablespoons of the olive oil and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Spread on the baking sheet- vegetables should not be overlapping, but touching is okay. Use two sheet pans if you need. Roast for 30 minutes, toss and roast for another 10-20 minutes. The vegetables are done when a fork easily pierces the skin and some pieces are browned.

While the vegetables are roasting, make the sauce. Combine the tahina, lemon juice, garlic, a pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon of the water. Whisk until it resembles a creamy peanut butter. Add more water as necessary. Taste for lemon and salt. Set aside.

When the vegetables are done, place them on your serving dish, top with the walnuts, pomegranates, and the tahina. If you decide to use za’atar- try toasting it in 1 Tablespoon olive oil and the walnuts. Top with a good sprinkle of flake salt.

*Za’atar is a delicious Middle Eastern spice available at most spice shops and ethnic markets. You can also make it at home from oregano, sumac, cumin, sesame seeds and black pepper.

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Green Pea Pesto

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I sort of fell in love with this pesto. I found fresh English peas and needed to have them.
I had tomatoes, cucumber, basil, and mint in the garden and I had recently found Bufala Mozzarella (the easiest for those of us lactose intolerants). This pesto tied it all together. After I topped my salad with this pesto a half dozen times, I added oil to make it a dressing, added parmesan to top pasta, ate it plain with Greek Yogurt, and served it as a spread with crackers and goat cheese.

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Green Pea Pesto

1 cup fresh English Peas, shelled
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 teaspoons mint
1/2 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
pepper to taste
Maldon Sea Salt (or other flake salt) for finishing

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Throw the peas in for one minute. Immediately strain (reserve some of the liquid) and blanch in ice cold water to stop the cooking process. These should still be crisp.

Combine all, except the oil, in a food processor. Pour in the oil in a steady stream. Taste for salt and pepper. If you’d like it a little thinner, add 1 teaspoon at a time of the reserved water until you have reached your desired consistency.

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Chestnut Cake

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Hello chestnut cake. Who knew? Why don’t I see this everywhere, all the time? Talk about a lovely and naturally gluten free flour.

My mother frequents a tiny, hole-in-the-wall, amazing Italian import store in Los Angeles called Guidi Marcello. Sometime ago she discovered several naturally gluten free items like corn pasta, flours, and the usual meats and cheeses.

One such treat was chestnut flour. I have been experimenting now with a variety of recipes. This favorite is a cake adapted from Gourmet, 2004. Top with whipped cream or greek yogurt as I did or chestnut spread.

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Chestnut Cake
3/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped*
1/2 cup olive oil
3 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup chestnut flour + some for dusting
1/4 cup almond flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease and flour (using chestnut flour) a 9-inch springform pan.

Toast hazelnuts until slightly browned. Rub nuts in a kitchen towel to remove any loose skins (some skins may not come off). Chop hazelnuts.

Beat together egg yolks, oil, honey, and 2 tablespoons sugar until thick and pale- several minutes. Sift together the chestnut flour, almond flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Fold in nuts. Add flour mixture to wet mixture and beat until just combined.

Beat egg whites, cream of tartar and a pinch of salt at medium-high speed until they form soft peaks. Add remaining sugar a little at a time, while beating the whites. Mix on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form.

Fold egg whites into the batter one third at a time. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake 30 minutes, then loosely cover with foil and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 10 to 15 minutes more.

Cool 30 minutes, then remove side of pan and cool completely.

*The structure of the cake will not alter if you do not use the hazelnuts. One version I opted to keep the hazelnuts out and use them as a topping instead.

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Creamy Green Gazpacho with Queso Fresco and Toasted Pepitos

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When I was 13 my mother took my sister to visit colleges. That was also the week of Spanish class presentations at my high school. With my mother and sister away from home, I came home with a “recipe” from a friend for gazpacho. I had always loved cold soup, but this one was spectacular. She told me the recipe: 1 tomato, 1 onion, 1 cucumber. Blend. So I did. My father kindly slurped the onion water down while my brother refused and poured himself a bowl of cereal. The next day I approached my friend and asked her about the recipe. Oh yeah, my mom made it. I don’t really know what was in it. I’m sorry Pa. I will never make that gazpacho again.

It’s been some years since the “gazpacho incident” and I’ve made dozens of variations over the years. This is one of my favorites. It’s incredibly creamy because of the avocado while still refreshing and light.

Creamy Green Gazpacho
1 1/2 pounds tomatillo
2 small avocados
2 small cucumbers (persian or other low-seed cucumber)
2 small cloves garlic
1/2 small yellow onion
1 hatch chili, optional (seeded)
2 Tablespoons lime juice
1 cup vegetable broth
1/2-1 cup water
hefty handful of cilantro
garnish with queso fresco, olive oil, toasted pepitos, and salt

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Boil the tomatillos whole for 2-3 minutes. Remove and place under cold water to stop the cooking.

Place all ingredients in a blender (start with 1/2 cup of water). Blend until completely smooth, adding more water and salt if needed.

Chill for at least 1 hour. Place garnish atop each bowl of gazpacho.

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