Cold Sesame/Peanut Noodles

A delicious summer dinnertime staple that also became a topic of debate when some members of the family called it ‘pasta salad’. It’s okay, we had a long discussion about genre and qualia, and now they only call it that specifically to annoy me.

Serves 4-6

For the noodles and sauce
1 lb. noodles, usually lo mein or spaghetti, but you can use any other type if you like. While you’re doing everything else, you can cook them according to their package directions, drain, and cool them by rinsing them with cold water.
1/4 cup canola oil, or other neutral oil (you can use refined peanut or sesame oil for this part)
1/4 cup sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1-inch finger of fresh ginger, minced
1/4 cup each of creamy peanut butter and tahini or sesame paste, or 1/2 cup total of either, depending on how you’re feeling, and what you have on hand
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 TB rice vinegar or black vinegar if you have it
2 TB Asian-style toasted sesame oil
1 TB honey
2 tsp (or more) sriracha, sambal oelek, or other chili sauce

Toppings, &c.
This is just what I put in this time, but I do it differently depending on what I have around/feel like. You could add cabbage, chicken, chilies, even other things that don’t start with the letter ‘c’. Just be aware that if you have a lot of toppings you might need to make extra sauce.
2 carrots, julienned
1/2 a large cucumber, halved lengthwise then sliced thin
1/2 lb. snap pea pods, halved
4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
5 or so scallions, thinly sliced
large handful of cilantro, chopped
roasted peanuts and sesame seeds

1. Heat the oil and sesame seeds over medium heat in a saucepan. When the sesame seeds start to turn golden brown, add the garlic and ginger, stir, and remove from heat. Continue stirring occasionally until it stops sizzling.

2. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients, stir, and let cool a bit before mixing with the noodles. Adjust the seasonings until it tastes good to you.

3. Toss in all your toppings, reserving some for a garnish if you like. Serve room temp, or chilled, whichever you prefer.

Pierogi Ruskie

Due to a combination of bad luck and stubbornness I ended up making pierogi in an un-air-conditioned kitchen in the middle of July. Fortunately, the whole family pitched in to help, and that’s basically my best advice for making dumplings (or dumpling-adjacent foods like ravioli or tamales): get a bunch of people to help. It turns what might be a difficult and daunting task into a party!

The recipe I used is from Polska: New Polish Cooking by Zuza Zak

Makes about 24 pierogi*

For the dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 egg yolks
2 TB unsalted butter
large pinch of salt
approx. 1/2 cup warm water

For the filling:
2 onions
1 TB salted butter
5 oz. twaróg**
1 potato, peeled, cooked, and diced
salt and pepper

1. Make the dough by combining all the ingredients, using only enough water to bring the mixture together. Knead until smooth, cover, and let rest for 20 minutes.

2. Chop the onions finely, and fry them in butter. Combine half of the onions, cheese, and potato for the filling. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Roll the dough as thinly as possible on a lightly floured surface. There are a few ways to make pierogi, but what we did was to cut out rounds, fill them, fold them in half, and crimp with a fork. If you need to, you can use some water to seal the edges.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Gently lower the pierogi into the water, cooking in two batches. As soon as they start to float up to the top, cook them for 2-3 minutes more. Remove them with a slotted spoon to the pan with the onions.

5. Fry the pierogi for a minute or two, then serve.

*The recipe actually says ‘serves 2’, but unless those are two very hungry people, I think you can get away with more.

**The recipe recommends ricotta as a substitute, but any fresh or farmer’s cheese should be good. I used quark, which is kind of the same idea as twaróg as far as I can tell.

Pyzy Come, Pyzy Go

In addition to the Milk Bar(ish) cake, for my son’s birthday dinner we made pierogies, and one of my favorite cabbage recipes (and those recipes are forthcoming, I promise). We had also planned to make pyzy, which are a kind of dumpling with a potato dough and usually a meat filling. Unfortunately for us, they completely disintegrated in the hot water. Fortunately for us, the strained mashed potatoes with meat, mixed with the shallots fried in butter that were going to be the sauce for the pyzy, were honestly really good. So much so that, while I do intend to try making pyzy again with a different recipe, I’m also considering trying to make the failed pyzy again on purpose.

Alas, poor pyzy

My brother is a chef, and one time he had to fill in for the pastry chef while she went on leave. Macarons were on the menu, and he asked her for advice on how to make the finicky cookies all come out looking good. Her secret? “Buy a lot of extra almond flour.” Cooking can be unpredictable, and sometimes things just don’t turn out, even if you’ve got a lot of experience. If you’re lucky, you might create something new, or at least salvage dinner. If you’re not, and the only thing you made was a mess, then hopefully you learned a little, or have a funny story to tell on your blog. Look, if the popularity of BA’s Gourmet Makes teaches us anything, it’s that people love a good kitchen disaster, so I hope you enjoy mine.

Chicken Thigh Sandwich Number 1: Thai-Inspired

It all started when my husband brought home chicken thighs for dinner, and nothing else. He was planning on marinating and grilling them, but he only bought five thighs for our family of four (including two teenagers), and had no plans for sides, except ‘I think we have stuff for salad?’. We did have some leftover hamburger buns, so I suggested making sandwiches, and, honestly? It was a great idea, and we both ended up wondering why we hadn’t been making them all along. So, I don’t know if you’ve all been holding out on me, and secretly making chicken thigh sandwiches this whole time, or what, but I know like a thousand different ways to marinate chicken, and probably a million different toppings, so chicken thigh sandwiches done all different ways are the current weeknight dinner craze over here.

For the chicken:
The marinade I used was from Barbecued Chicken, Bangkok Style, found in True Thai by Victor Sodsook. The original recipe makes enough marinade for two 3-lb. chickens, so you can halve it, depending on how much chicken you’re making.

1 can (14 oz.) unsweetened coconut milk
2 TB yellow curry paste, or 1 TB curry powder
2 TB fish sauce
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup loosely packed cilantro, including stems, chopped
2 1/2 TB light brown sugar, or palm sugar
1/2 TB ground white pepper

1. Throw everything in a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. Coat your boneless, skinless chicken thighs in the marinade (I mean, just get as many thighs as you want to eat, which is probably more than five), cover, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or up to 24.

2. Prepare a grill with low coals/heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade, and cook slowly on one side with the cover off for a few minutes, and then covered for another few. Flip, and do the same thing, for a total of about 20 minutes, or until they’re done/the internal temperature reaches 165° F.

For the sauce:
AKA, your secret weapon, Sweet-and-Spicy Dipping Sauce, also from True Thai

Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 TB Chinese-style chili-garlic sauce

In a small saucepan, bring vinegar and 1/2 cup sugar to a low boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to medium and stir in the rest of the sugar. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until it comes back to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the salt. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the chili-garlic sauce and remove from heat. Let cool and serve at room temperature. Go ahead and pour this stuff on anything, it’s the best.

For the peanut slaw:
I kind of just stirred together shredded cabbage and carrot, store-bought peanut sauce, lime juice, and salt, until I liked how it tasted. Then I added chopped up peanuts and cilantro. I didn’t have any scallions, but they’d probably be good, too.

For the cucumber relish/Ajaat:
There are lots of different recipes for Ajaat. This time I tried the one from Pok Pok by Andy Ricker, and it was good. It’s a little on the sweet side, though. Also, I couldn’t find any Thai chilies, or Serranos, which is what I usually substitute, so mine was made with Fresno chilies.

Makes about 2 1/4 cups
8 oz. medium, crisp, thin-skinned cucumbers, quartered lengthwise and sliced into triangles (about 1 1/2 cups)
3 oz. shallots, also quartered and sliced (abour 3/4 cup)
6 grams fresh red Thai chilies (about 4), thinly sliced
6 TB white vinegar
6 TB sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp kosher salt
Generous 1/4 cup cilantro leaves

Combine the cucumbers, shallots, and chilies. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, water, and salt, until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Pour enough to cover over the cucumbers, and stir well. You can eat it after just a few minutes, or cover and refrigerate for up to a day. Just before serving, sprinkle with the cilantro leaves.

For the sandwiches:
Use whatever kind of sandwich roll/bun you like (we had brioche). Split and top with a chicken thigh. Drizzle with the sauce, then top with slaw and relish. You could probably toast the buns if you like, but they were fine without.

I know it’s like four different things, but they’re all very easy, and some of them you can make ahead of time if you like. And they are so good, you guys! I promise you will be glad you got on the chicken thigh sandwich bandwagon before it was cool.