In the Pantry: Sesame Oil

sesameoilI don’t consider myself a good cook, but I have spent some time around good cooks while they’re doing their thing, so I’ve picked up some really great tips over the years. One of the best things I’ve learned is to always have roasted sesame oil on hand. It can make some really ordinary foods really great and is helpful when you’re in a time crunch for dinner because so much of what you can do with it is quick and easy. I will give you examples!

First, baby bok choy. You just add a little sesame oil and a dash of soy sauce into a bowl of baby bok choy, toss, and put on a baking sheet to roast at 400F. Cook until the leaves are crispy and brown and you have a great, tasty side dish. You can also do this with broccoli.

Next, green beans. This is a two-step process because you need to blanch your green beans before sauteeing. Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil, add a pound of green beans (stem ends removed) and boil for about two minutes, or until bright green. Then drain and immediately put them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. While they’re cooling, add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and 1 teaspoon of minced garlic to large saute pan and heat over medium until it becomes fragrant and hot (about 3-4 minutes). Add the beans and cook for about five minutes, stirring frequently. Add a splash of soy sauce at the end (or salt).

Finally, noodles. Get some thin udon or thing rice noodles or spaghetti (1/2 or 1 pound) and prepare as directed. Drain and remove to a bowl. Add 1-2 tablespoons (depending on the amount of noodles) and toss to spread evenly. Season with gomasio (sesame salt) or kosher salt and toasted sesame seeds plus garlic powder (use sparingly). I like using the gomasio because it adds some interest to the noodles.

I’m not ashamed to say that I could make a meal off these three things together (and maybe some dumplings). You can find toasted sesame oil (and gomasio) in the Asian section of the grocery or at the international market. Be sure the bottle indicates it’s toasted (should have an amber color, not gold). Sesame seeds should also be toasted (save the untoasted for buns). Sesame oil also great as a salad dressing by itself or in a vinaigrette.

Posted in Recipes, Side Dishes | 4 Comments

Dream Kitchen (part one)

The entire time I’ve had this blog (seven years this month!), I’ve been cooking in a tiny galley kitchen that’s had about 10-12 square feet of usable workspace and seven meager cabinets to store all my stuff and my pantry items. It’s enough, really (I use my laundry room and a couple of other furniture pieces for additional space), but I’ve wanted more ever since the addition of a second and then a third person in the house.

A new kitchen wasn’t the top reason why we’ve wanted a new house, but it’s a nice bonus and I’ve very much looked forward to having a space that I can make my own. One that I can design in a way that works for me and allows my daughter to join me in the kitchen, too. I’ve decided to document our journey in remodeling here and I hope that you all enjoy it (all posts will be tagged “kitchen”). I also hope that I don’t have a nervous breakdown. Because gutting and renovating a kitchen is difficult (so many decisions!) and expensive.

So, here it is, the new kitchen as it is now (as in, before we remove all the cabinets and re-paint):
lesleyeatskitchenbefore1

lesleyeatskitchenbefore2

lesleyeatskitchenbefore3Isn’t it amazing? This house is absolutely nothing like what we wanted when we started the process, but after seeing some 30? 40? 1000? ranch houses, all from the late 60s or earlier, we were just about ready to get a 90s-era zero-lot-line house and call it a day. But then this happened. A 70s-era 2-story box with some contemporary and colonial elements to it. But this giant kitchen and breakfast area, a huge master suite, and a beautiful lot just captured our hearts. It had that wow factor that I think is just essential when buying a new home, particularly one that will need a lot of work. Because you really have to love something if you’re going to put all the money you have into it.

More than just the kitchen needs work, but it’s the first thing we’ll do (and the other work is generally cosmetic). Our plan is ambitious. First, as soon as the current owners move out (buying a home is a bit like a game of chess when people still live in all the homes in the chain), Mr. Eats and I and our contractor will tackle removing the old cabinetry, backsplash, and floor. This home is unusual for the area in that it’s on concrete, so our flooring options are limited (also limited because half the ground floor is parquet that we plan to keep). We are still trying to decided if we want to stain the concrete or install tile.

Then we get the new appliances (stainless; I still like it), cabinets, countertops (my plan is for quartz composite, but the color is still undecided), and hardware. We will start removing the old kitchen about 4-6 weeks from now and all I’ve determined so far is what cabinets I want. I’ve got a lot of work to do.

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Zesty Roasted Tomato Ranch Dip

Every year, in the aftermath of my defeat in the Tomato Art Festival recipe contest, I vow I will never enter again. And every year, I enter again.

This year, though, I couldn’t resist. The theme was “dips” (not salsa!), which is something I could easily bring along with me and keep in a cooler while enjoying the festival and not have to worry too much about with plating. But a dip with tomatoes? I don’t really make many dips and when I mentioned it to my husband, he said, “so you’re going to make Ro-Tel and call it a day, right?” Brilliant idea! Except Ro-Tel needs to be warm. Next.

I thought about favorite dips–mine and those of others and there were some recurring ingredients: cream cheese, sour cream, and ranch dressing mix. Those three alone are pretty good, but how to take them to the next level? And be sure that the dip features tomatoes?

I thought about previous years and how I thought I’d just toss in some pork belly just to win and I realized I didn’t have to do that; I could just get the flavor I wanted from roasting the tomatoes and adding smoked paprika. So that’s basically all this dip is. Those first three ranch dip ingredients with roasted tomatoes and paprika. But it’s damn good.

zestytomatoranchdip

I wanted to use fresh tomatoes in this recipe to keep the spirit of the contest, but truth be told, I think you could use a can of already fire-roasted diced tomatoes (Hunt’s and Muir Glen both make them) or even just a can of Ro-Tel and get a great dip that is even easier and quicker than this one is to make. Serve it with tortilla chips as a dip or use as a topping for nachos or enchiladas! But don’t skimp on the smoked paprika. I used a hot version for a great kick. If you don’t have any, add a tiny bit of Liquid Smoke instead (to taste).

Zesty Roasted Tomato Ranch Dip

Ingredients:
4 medium tomatoes (see note for substitution)
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
1 1-ounce package of Hidden Valley “Original Ranch” dip mix
Hot smoked paprika (see note for substitution)

Pre-heat the oven to 400F. Chop the tomatoes into one-inch cubes and place onto a lined baking dish or jelly roll pan. Roast until the juice has mostly dried and the tomatoes have some char, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Add the cream cheese, sour cream, and dip mix in a medium bowl and mix together until smooth. Add about a tablespoon of smoked paprika and stir until combined. Test and add more to taste. Stir in the cooled tomatoes and serve with tortilla chips.

Notes: for an easier and quicker dip, substitute one can (~15 ounces) of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, well-drained for the roasted fresh tomatoes. If you don’t have smoked paprika, you can substitute a small (one or two squirts) amount of Liquid Smoke and some chili powder.

By the way, I was once again a…let’s say, “non-winner.” But (also, once again) the competition was fierce from some folks who really brought in some unique flavor combinations and really interesting dips. It’s still a winner as far as Mr. Eats is concerned. :)

Posted in Recipes, Snacks | 15 Comments