Rachael Ray and her show 30-Minute Meals was my jumping-off point to learning how to cook: she just made it look so easy, especially for someone like me who would proudly make herself mac-n’-cheese out of a box, throw in some microwaved spinach, and call it a …
We were on vacation in the Outer Banks this summer when we ducked into Upside, a restaurant in Corolla, which, although clearly not the place whose employees ordinarily might jump up with glee and clap when a family with three small kids comes waltzing in, smiled and made room for us all the same. They had a special on the menu that night, a sesame noodle salad with some sort of scallops on top, and ever since we came back home in July I’ve been trying to recreate them (just the noodles–I could never recreate those scallops).Here’s the problem, though. These noodles–any sesame noodles, I think, because I’ve been trying them all–are, while incredible, not for everyone. My darling husband (you know him as David), holds a bit of an icy place in his heart when it comes to cold noodles. He just doesn’t appreciate–nay, understand!–the concept. And when I, the primary cook of our family, sets a plate of this stuff down in front of him at 6 p.m. on a Wednesday night–a sweltering, humid, miserable kind of hot evening when you can actually feel the heat inside the house despite the air conditioning blasting–the beauty of the dish is just not appreciated the way it should.
And yet. I am not upset that I will be the only one eating all the leftovers this week.I wanted to share this recipe with you (there’s another one I tried from the New York Times that I might post one day soon, but I think I might like this one better. It’s more…peanuty. Even though peanuty isn’t really a word and I totally made it one) because it’s the kind of meal I think you can adapt for the meat-eaters of the family as well as the vegetarians, so long as they don’t mind pasta that’s served lukewarm to cold, unlike my darling misguided husband (though he wants you to know that he didn’t say one negative word. He also wants you to know that he swears he didn’t make a secret run to the local BBQ shop later on while running errands after the kids’ bedtime.). I cooked some shrimp in sesame oil and a splash of soy sauce for the family dinner, but since I have settled quite happily back in vegetarian land myself, topped mine with some seasoned tofu I’d picked up at the grocery store. The noodles don’t mind. They’re just happy to be on your plate.
- 3/4 lb. (1 box) dried rice noodles (found in the Thai/international section of grocery store)
- 2 Tbs. toasted sesame oil, plus a splash
- 2 Tbs. tahini (in my grocery store, it’s found with the nut butters in the natural section)
- 1 Tbs. creamy unsalted peanut butter
- 3 1/2 Tbs. soy sauce
- 2 Tbs. rice vinegar
- 1 Tbs. honey
- 1 Tbs. finely grated ginger
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Sriracha (optional)
- 2 small cucumbers, thinly sliced
- 1/2 c. salted peanuts, chopped
- 1/4 c. chopped herbs, like cilantro and basil, for garnish
- sesame seeds (toasted or black), for garnish
Cook the noodles according to the package directions, then rinse well with cold water. Drain, then drizzle with a splash of sesame oil to keep them from sticking.
Meanwhile, whisk the tahini and peanut butter in the bottom of a small bowl, then whisk in soy sauce, rice vinegar, remaining 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, honey, ginger, garlic and Sriracha (if using) until smooth.
Toss the sauce with the cold noodles.
Place a nest of dressed noodles on a plate, then top with cucumbers, peanuts, herbs and sesame seeds to taste.*
If you want to add a protein: seafood eaters can add cooked shrimp that have been cooled (I sautéed ours in 2 Tbs. of sesame oil on medium-high heat until pink, then added 2-3 Tbs. of soy sauce along with pepper). Vegetarians might like cubes of seasoned tofu on top (I used sesame ginger for mine).
*I highly recommend throwing in more veggies if you like: I’ve used sliced peppers, snow peas (cook them first by boiling for 2 minutes, then soaking in an ice bath), and green onion in addition to the cucumber.
I make food all the time, right? And, exactly the way I am with books, I have a bad habit of finding a really great recipe, making that great recipe, having it turn out really, really well, and then promptly forgetting where I found said recipe …
These bananas–or at least, the idea of them–is what began my foray into a life of cooking for others (and enjoying it, for the most part).
Picture this: David and I as newlyweds, sitting around our overpriced loft in Baltimore, watching TV because we were young and not in school and had no kids nor money (see: overpriced loft. Also, teacher’s and beginning sales rep’s salaries. Also, student loans. Also, a bad habit of eating sushi too many times a week instead of saving said lack of money or moving to a smaller, better-priced apartment. Finally, also see: young and dumb). When I was single, a big night of cooking for me was, say, making boxed mac-‘n’-cheese with some microwaved spinach thrown in (I still love this. I know, you can never trust my cooking recommendations ever again), or quick tacos made with fake ground beef, eaten all by myself at the cute bar of the smaller, still overpriced Baltimore loft I rented before I married that tall handsome guy you see when you come over to visit. So when David came along, and with an appetite to boot, it actually became fun for us to start making meals together. It also might help that we got into a temporary end-of-the-work-day dirty martini habit while we were cooking, but nevermind that. You try converting the minds of surly teenagers from the suburbs of Annapolis and Baltimore to the joys of symbolism in The Canterbury Tales and tell me you don’t want a drink at the end of your day, too.
It was on one of these nights, while sitting around on the one piece of furniture we owned in our too-big apartment, watching House Hunters, I remembered I’d thrown a bunch of bananas that had been starting to collect fruit flies into our freezer. Aha! I thought, that’s what I’ll do! I’ll make a spontaneous dessert for my new groom! I’ll make some chocolate-covered bananas!
(Keep in mind that chocolate-covered bananas need to set. And freeze. This was 10 o’clock at night. As I said, young. Dumb.)
So into the kitchen I charged, gung-ho and full-tilt as usual while David made the usual commentary on what falling-down house the Canadian couple on HGTV should buy. Out of the freezer came the bananas. Out of the drawer came the knife.
And then deep into the flesh of my hand, smack between my thumb and pointer finger, sank that knife. Because you’re supposed to peel the bananas before you freeze them for this kind of thing.
Blood was everywhere. I was gasping, clutching at my gaping wound with one hand while staggering into our overly large, overpriced living room with all the dramatics of an extra on a zombie movie. David, with all the earnestness of a young newlywed, leaped from his spot on our single, pre-owned sofa and rushed to my aid. To the hospital! he cried. You must be seen! he said. You need stitches! he insisted.
No way, I told him, as blood dripped onto the carpet. It’s 10:30 p.m. I had to drive 45 minutes the next morning to be at school by 6:30 and didn’t want to spend the rest of my night being stuck in a city ER. It’s fine, I said, right before fainting from blood loss. Where do we keep the Band-Aids?
That was my last attempt at chocolate-covered frozen anything for many, many years. I think I just stuck to the martinis for a little while longer, there. But now we have children, and a daily glass of vodka isn’t the most recommended of food groups for young families (or is it?). And while we have children who refuse to eat bananas, they really like dessert, and really love chocolate, so you know what? The chocolate-covered bananas are back. Just watch how you handle that knife. I’ve heard they can be dangerous.
- 4 very ripe bananas
- 12-oz. bag dark chocolate chips
- 1 tsp. vegetable oil
Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Cut 4 bamboo sticks and bananas (in their peels) in half. In a large microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup, heat the chocolate chips with the oil on High for 1 minute. Stir, then heat for another 30 seconds. Repeat until chocolate is just melted and smooth. Peel one banana half, then dip an end into the chocolate. Slide the blunt end of the bamboo stick into the chocolate-covered end, then dip the remaining banana until entirely covered with chocolate. Place the banana on the cookie sheet. Repeat until all 8 are finished. Slide the cookie sheet into the freezer and freeze until fully set, at least 4 hours. I did this after lunch, and they were ready for dessert after that night’s dinner.
If there’s any melted chocolate left, a great idea is to slice up that lone, forgotten apple that’s sitting in the bottom of your crisper drawer, and dip as many of the slices as you can. Throw them onto the sheet with the bananas and freeze. Your kids will thank you.
Note: Make sure to supervise young children when eating these. No kid likes a bamboo skewer stuck in the roof of his mouth, even if the deliciousness of these things are almost worth any accidental pain.
A few minor events happened today. For one, I caught the girls’ horrendous summer cold, which rendered me face down on the dining table this morning during breakfast, trying my best to answer my daughters’ usual rapid-fire questioning by mumbling through the tablecloth. Also, …