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A bowlful of vanilla lemon rice pudding.

I wish I had a nickel for every time the words "comfort food" have been used in the United States since March 2020. With the money, I'd launch a campaign to deliver a cup of Vanilla Lemon Rice Pudding to the doorstep of every American, thereby redefining comfort food in our culture.

This recipe is gently sweet, creamy but not cloying. It is alive with lemon zest, and ethereal with a whole vanilla been (or vanilla extract.) Vanilla Lemon Rice Pudding is far more exciting than any other rice pudding I've ever had. Yet as comforting as your favorite cashmere sweater.

A platterful of cups of creamy vanilla lemon rice pudding.

The Paris Connection

I learned of this bit of deliciousness from Katherine Burns of Rue Dauphine Paris. Katherine's Rue Dauphine Paris Instagram feed is full of glorious photos of her visits to historic gardens, churches, shops, and arrondissements in Paris, some lovely French recipes, and a glimpse of how she brings the Parisian lifestyle into her own Seattle home. Another bit of fun-- she and May of Noisettes 1420 (also a fabulous peek into Paris) host a Francophile book club, which I promise myself to participate in some soon day.

Needless to say, discovering Rue Dauphine Paris has brought me a bit of joy in these travel-less days, and has me wishing Katherine would be my guide to Paris one day.

A platter of 5 cups of vanilla lemon rice pudding.

Making Vanilla Lemon Rice Pudding

Katherine graciously allowed me to share her vanilla rice pudding recipe with you. I've renamed it to bring justice to the magic the lemon brings. I've made a slight change to the dairy component, swapping her 4 cups of whole milk + 1 1/4 cups heavy cream for 1 quart of half-and-half and 1 1/4 cups milk), otherwise this is completely hers. This change retains the silky creaminess of her version, but leaves me with no wasted partial carton of whipping cream. She is right in that the sweet aroma of lemon and vanilla this offers when bubbling on the stovetop is most pleasant.

You should definitely use Meyer Lemons when they are in season for this. The floral mandarin/lemon flavor is fantastic. I think orange zest would also be wonderful, like a creamsicle. However, standard Eureka or Lisbon (everyday grocery store0 lemons will still take you over the moon.

Katherine serves hers in flowery china cups, a touch of French charm, with a drizzle of caramel sauce. I like serving the rice pudding with a wedge of the zested lemon. A squeeze over the top brings a little acidic component as a balance to its sweet creaminess.

When I started dreaming of Vanilla Lemon Rice Pudding in the middle of the night, I knew I had to share it with you. It has become my new favorite sweet treat. Maybe it will become yours, too, as you dream of far away places.

Five everyday ingredients, so much deliciousness.

Another Delicious and Easy Dessert

Nutty Chocolate Port Ice Cream Sundae: Get the recipe here.

A cup of vanilla lemon rice pudding with a spoon

Vanilla Lemon Rice Pudding

Course: Breakfast + Brunch, Dessert
Cuisine: French
Season: All Season
Dietary: Gluten-Free
Preparation: One Pot/One Pan
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 6 - 8
It's hard to believe five ingredients can make a treat as delicious and comforting as this vanilla lemon rice pudding.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 cups half-and-half*
  • cups milk
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • 2 lemons zested, lemons reserved for garnish
  • 1 cup Arborio rice

Instructions

  • Combine milk, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla seeds and bean pod, and lemon zest in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium low heat.
  • Stir in rice, bring back to a strong simmer, cover with a lid. Reduce heat to the lowest possible setting and simmer 60 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until rice is tender and a puddinglike texture. Spoon into serving dishes, garnish with a wedge of zested lemon to squeeze over the top, and serve warm. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to store up to three days.

Notes

*Katherine Burns' original recipe calls for 4 cups of whole milk and 1¼ cups whipping cream. I changed this in order to use up an entire quart of half-and-half, and I typically have milk on hand. This provides less waste (3/4 cup of cream) in my kitchen since I use cream infrequently. Choose what's best for you, as the results are nearly indistinguishable. 
A plate of valentines cookies, a book of poetry, and a photo of young lovers

Making food for people, especially these Valentine Shortbread Heart Cookies with Blood Orange filling, is an act of love. Mr. Fred Rogers, my truest childhood hero, said, "Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

Love is showing up, on repeat, day after day. It's the things you never knew you'd do. Like spending nights in the NICU next to your newborn's incubator. Or forgiving the hurt of a friend over and over again until you don't remember it anymore, which you hope is soon. Sometimes you are the target of your own love when you allow yourself to let go of guilt, grief, or fear.

"I know the secret of life: If you want to have loving feelings, do loving things."

Anne Lamott
Valentine Shortbread Heart Cookies on a plate with poetry book.

Messing Up is OK

The wonderous thing about love, is that you will mess it up. That's just part of it.

Just like the verb cooking, loving calls for a lot doing. Trial, practice, mistake-making, and what can feel like wasted time and resources. But your flops are exactly how you learn to love better. The trick is to not give up. Keep practicing. Your acts refine as you practice them. Your acts become who you are. With a little tenacity your love eventually looks more like the soufflé you'd hoped for and less like the dog's breakfast.

Remember all this when you make these pretty little Valentine heart shortbread cookies for your beloveds. Each time you press your pinky into the dough, you imprint the part of yourself that is set on loving. The soft, unchilled dough gives way to make adorable little heart shaped vessels that hold a tad of sweet blood orange goodness you also have made.

Unfilled Valentine Shortbread Heart Cookies on baking tray, before baking.

As you form the little Valentine hearts, they will remind you of your beloveds. Some, like a crotchety uncle, hide their tenderness in crooked wrinkles. Some, like an emotional 8th grader, absolutely cannot contain their contents. Others are the picture of every-hair-in-place perfection. The likeness of each heart says they belong together on the plate. Their uniquenesses make the plateful interesting. Just like you and your beloveds.

Other Sweet Treats Your Valentines May Enjoy

Strawberry Sorbet and Strawberry Dairy-Free Ice Cream: Get the recipe here.
Chewy Hazelnut Meringue Cookies: Get the recipe here.
Flourless Walnut Cake, with plain, spice, and coffee-flavored versions. Get the recipe here.

Finished Valentine Shortbread Heart Cookies grouped together on a platter.

Pinkyprint Valentine Shortbread Heart Cookies with Blood Orange Curd

Course: Dessert
Season: Mist (November - March)
Dietary: Nut-Free
Preparation: Baking
Prep Time: 50 minutes
Cook Time: 14 minutes
Chilling Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 4 minutes
Servings: 40 cookies
Author: Pam Spettel
A simple shortbread base, filled with love and pink blood orange curd. No need for perfection here-- just celebrate each cookie's unique heart, just as you do your beloveds.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Blood Orange Curd

  • 3 egg yolks, whites saved for another purpose
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup blood orange juice freshly squeezed
  • ¼ cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 Tbsp blood orange zest finely grated
  • 1 stick unsalted butter cut into small cubes

Vanilla Shortbread Dough

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • cups AP flour

Instructions

For the Blood Orange Curd

  • Make a double boiler by simmering 3" deep of water in a large saucepan. In a medium/large stainless steel bowl, whisk together eggs, yolks, and sugar until sugar just starts to dissolve.
  • Whisk in both juices and zest.
  • Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water. Cook curd, stirring with a rubber spatula almost constantly, until it begins to thicken. It should have the consistency of loosely whipped cream. Remove from heat.
  • Stir in butter cubes all at once, stirring until butter is completely melted and fully incorporated. Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove bits of zest and any solid egg proteins.
  • Chill at 2 hours before using in the cookies. This makes about 1 ¾ cups-- you will only use about ½ cup for the cookies. Store the rest for another purpose.

For the Vanilla Pinkprint Cookie Dough

  • Line two baking sheets with parchment or non-stick mats.
  • Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and salt on medium-high until light and fluffy, 2 - 3 minutes.
  • Beat in the egg and vanilla until fully incorporated and fluffy. On low speed, blend in the flour until just incorporated.
  • Using small scoop, scoop up a bit of dough and roll into a 1" ball with your palms. Place on the baking sheet. Using your pinky, press down near the top of the ball, making an indentation. Make another indentation right next to it. Make a third indentation centered in the hollow just below the first and second indentations to begin making a heart shape in the dough. Use your fingers to elongate the edge at bottom of the ball, and to make a dent in the edge of the top of the ball. Repeat, making fun little heart shapes, each with their own personality, using up the dough. You should have close to 20 hearts on each baking sheet.
  • Chill dough hearts until they are very firm, at least an hour. This part is critical, or you'll end up with a puddle in the end.

Putting the cookies all together:

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Bake one sheet for 7 minutes. Working quickly, once again use your pinky to depress the heart shape that has puffed up. It will be hot, so use caution. Using a very small spoon, like a baby or demitasse spoon, fill the depressions with cold blood orange curd. Don't over flow!
    Place the cookies back in the oven for another 5 - 7 minutes, keeping a close eye. You want them fully cooked and just barely beginning to go golden on the bottom, but not browning on the cookie itself.
    Allow to cook for two or three minutes on the baking sheet, to set up, them remove to a cooling rack to complete cooling. Store in an airtight container for up to a week, if they last that long.

Notes

Make It Your Own:
Use store- bought lemon, lime, or raspberry curd instead of making your own. Easier yet, fill them with any red or pink jam.
Save time by simply using your thumb to make an indent. No need to make a heart to make these cookies pretty and delish all year long.
two plates of egg foo young with chopsticks.

I had forgotten how much I adored egg foo young. The recipe, "Eggs, Edamame, Bean Sprouts" in Nigel Slater's 2020 book, Greenfeast: Autumn, Winter opened my aroma memory floodgates. I was taken back to very special meals in Chinese restaurants as a child.

That sent me searching the phenomenal "Omnivore's Cookbook," with its hundreds of classic and modern Chinese dishes by Maggie Zhu. Her traditional egg foo young versions include the brown sauce I remember. Approachable recipes and interesting family history fill her beautiful blog.

This recipe is a mash-up of tradition and change. Omnivore's Kitchen for tradition. Greenfeast for the addition of edamame. My own addition of making the brown sauce mushroomy.

Making Egg Foo Young at Home

Maggie Zhu's trick for getting the omelette, as she calls it, thick and puffy is to use a fair amount of vegetable oil in the pan. Her recipes say to use between 2 and 8 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Less oil will give you a flatter, less puffy, less traditionally Chinese omelette, she says, and she is right. I found that 6 Tablespoons in my 8" skillet is perfect for that tall, puffy egg foo young that I remember having in Chinese restaurants. The extra oil helps the Chinese omelette become well-browned, with the slightest crusty crispness that is more traditional.

two plates of egg foo young with brown sauce on plates, with chopsticks.

If mushrooms aren't your thing like they are mine, omit them. Instead of the water, substitute dark vegetable or chicken stock. Here's my recipe for a rich brown roasted vegetable stock.

The edamame is optional, or peas or finely chopped broccoli can be a substitute. Egg foo Young doesn't require animal protein, so leave that out if you'd like. Once you get the hang of it, you'll see that egg foo young is more of a method than a prescription. It can be filled with any number of things, just like a French-style omelette.

The resulting egg foo young is amazingly easy, restaurant take-out fast, and powerfully delicious. I hope you like it.

a plate of egg foo young with chopsticks

Egg Foo Young

Course: Breakfast + Brunch, Main Dish, Quick + Easy
Cuisine: Chinese
Season: All Season
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Vegetarian
Preparation: Fast + Easy
30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 6" egg patties
A Chinese take-out favorite made in a flash at home. Fill your egg foo young with any number of fillings to suit your mood or what you have on hand.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Easy Brown Sauce

  • ½ ounce dried shiitake or porcini mushrooms Pistol River Mushroom Farm is a good source.
  • cup hot water
  • 1 teaspoon ketchup
  • Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon rice flour or cornstarch

Eggs

  • 6 large eggs
  • cup bell pepper, any color, finely chopped
  • cup bean sprouts
  • cup edamame, peas, or finely chopped broccoli, optional
  • 3 green onions, two finely chopped and one thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 cup cooked shrimp, chicken, or ham, finely chopped, optional
  • salt and black or white pepper to taste
  • 6 Tablespoons vegetable oil*

Instructions

Cook the Sauce

  • In a small saucepan, use your fingers to break the dried mushrooms into small, irregular pieces and cover them with 1¼ cups hot water. Set aside for 15 minutes. Whisk all the remaining sauce ingredients into the saucepan with the mushrooms and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the sauce simmers and thickens, about 5-6 minutes. Keep warm.

Cook the Egg Pancakes

  • In a medium mixing bowl, beat the eggs with a fork until well combined. Add the bell pepper, bean sprouts, chopped green onions, and shrimp, chicken or ham, if using. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Heat the oil* in a small skillet over medium to medium high heat. Scoop about ½ cup of the egg mixture into the skillet. Fry until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side. Repeat with the remaining egg mixture. This should make about four 6" patties.
  • Serve with steamed short-grained rice, spooning the mushroom sauce over the top. Garnish with sliced green onion.

Notes

This recipe is adapted from Maggie Zhu at Omnivore's Kitchen. I thank her for her delicious blog and the step-by-step guidance in learning to cook Chinese dishes. 
*Maggie's recipe for egg foo young says to use between 2 and 8 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Less oil will give you a flatter, less puffy traditional omelette, she says, and she is right. I found that 6 Tablespoons in my 8" kitchen is perfect for that tall, puffy egg that I remember having in Chinese restaurants. 
Wooden platter holding three wintry nutty chocolate port sundaes.

The holiday season is a wrap and the dust of 2021 has settled. Perhaps you are back to a work grind, or find yourself buried in winter snow. Or maybe you're sad that your family has left, or maybe elated that your family has left. As great as it was, maybe you are relieved to be past it all. Just because holiday treats are in the rear-view mirror doesn't mean you don't deserve a special little zero-effort dessert. Maybe you need a quiet post-holiday celebration. Maybe you need a nutty Chocolate Port Ice Cream Sundae.

If this Chocolate Port Ice Cream Sundae were an actor in a musical, it would make its quiet sultry entrance stage right, while the whole noisy chorus of holiday desserts shuffle-flapped off, stage left. The Sundae (let us call her Sundae) would glide across the stage to a stool waiting under a soft bath of light. Sundae, dressed in a slim black turtleneck and tailored trousers, would lightly park on the stool, one long leg outstretched. Slowly she would look up and raise the mic.

While the holiday dessert chorus is in the back peeling off sparkly garish costumes and wiping off melted greasepaint, Sundae begins her ballad. One part Louis Armstrong, one part Norah Jones, equal parts gravel and smoke, Sundae's song lifts the corner of your mouth and quiets your spirit.

The intimate moment with Sundae passes, but you are never the same. You'll think of this Sundae at the oddest times for years to come. So it is with this little winter dessert recipe.

wooden platter holding glasses of wintry nutty chocolate port ice cream sundaes.

Other Wintry Desserts You'll Love

Flourless Walnut Cake with Coffee or Spice flavored versions: Get the Recipe.

Douglas Fir Tip Sorbet: Get the Recipe.

Three Nutty Chocolate Port Sundaes on a wood platter

Wintry Nutty Chocolate Port Sundae

Course: Dessert
Season: Mist (November - March)
Preparation: Fast + Easy
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 1
Warm melted pure chocolate, a splash of nutty port, a handful of toasted nuts on vanilla ice cream, and a few drops of flavorful bitters. An adult dessert of the best kind.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Ingredients Per Person

  • 1.5 ounces high quality dark chocolate
  • ½ Tbsp. toasted nuts, crushed with the flat of a chef's knife almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, or walnuts, or a mix of what yu like
  • 2 scoops vanilla ice cream
  • 1 Tbsp. port, good sherry, or bourbon
  • 2-3 drops Angostura or black walnut bitters (optional)
  • 1 piece crystallized orange (optional) or a wedge of fresh orange
  • pinch Maldon or other finishing salt

Instructions

  • Finely chop the chocolate and put it in a small heatproof bowl over a small saucepan of barely simmering water.* Stir frequently until the chocolate is about 85% melted, about 3-4 minutes, and remove from the heat. Stir every minute or two to allow the residual heat to finish melting the chocolate. Be cautious about multi-tasking during this step to avoid overheating the chocolate and causing it to seize.
  • If they aren't already toasted, put the nuts in a small skillet over medium heat and stir frequently until they are aromatic and ever so slightly browned, stirring very frequently, about 3-4 minutes. Be cautious about multi-tasking during this step to avoid burning the nuts. Cool slightly and crush the nuts with the flat side of a chef's knife, or roughly chop.
  • Scoop the ice cream into a small bowl or cocktails glass. Spoon the warm chocolate over the top, followed by the liquor. Top with the crushed nuts and crystallized orange. Sprinkle with a few drops of bitters and a pinch of crunchy Maldon salt. Serve immediately. Sit back and swoon.

Notes

*Alternatively on a convection cooktop, melt the chocolate directly in a small saucepan on a very low setting.  On my convection cooktop, chocolate melts beautifully on 1.5.
Many kinds of nuts would be perfect here: Almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts. The very best might even be those from a can of fancy mixed nuts.
I'm famous for burning nuts! Don't let that happen to you! 
Experiment with the liquor and or bitters you chose. There are so many kinds available these days. 
This is a happy way to end a dinner party, especially if you've knocked yourself out before the dessert comes. It's the easiest show-stopping winter dessert I can imagine. 

I am always surprised at how many people don't enjoy winter vegetables and the glorious things you can make with them, like this simple deconstructed Borscht Bowl. Here is my theory why.

Overhead image of a bowlful of deconstructed borscht on table.
Deconstructed Borscht Bowl

Not all that long ago, people ate whatever the seasons offered. Storage vegetables sustained us into the cold winter. Parsnips, potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, turnips, cabbages, and beets were familiar and welcome.

Then the frozen food explosion of the early 1950s came. Supermarkets full of freezer cases exploded into cities and suburbs. We now have over three generations of people who have had the luxury of eating sweet peas in January as though it is natural. Consequently, we have lost our taste for hearty winter vegetables.

Frozen food technology is great, really. But to allow it to shake us lose from the joys of seasonal eating? To let go of a whole swath of foods designed to provide what we need in cold weather? What a shame. Let's fix that with some borscht-y goodness.

Rustic, Warming, Healing, and Delicious

Deconstructed Borscht Bowl in a bowl on the table.

Our deconstructed Borscht Bowl is inspired by Eastern European borscht made of beet, potato, cabbage, sour cream and dill. Here, we just arrange the components a little differently. It is the perfect thing to eat on a dark winter's evening, a chunk of caraway rye black bread and perhaps some browned sausages alongside.

I love the short-day season at the dinner table. Nearly every night we light candles and dim the overhead lights. The glow of candlelight on the face of my beloved dinner companion casts him in his one-and-only kind of charm. Dinner topics move from what happened outdoors today to what it happening in our souls today. These dinners help our roots sink deeper.

In the same way, one of my favorite things is to wrap my hands around a warm bowl of wintery food. Try filling your bowl with a fluffy, crusty baked potato. Ladle over rosy beets and broth. Pile on store-bought or homemade sauerkraut, full of beneficial immunity-boosting bacteria. Dollop on horseradish-laced sour cream. Embrace eating with the season.

Making the Deconstructed Borscht Bowl

Image of the ingredients you'll need: stock, sauerkraut, beets, horseradish, olive oil, fresh dill, sour cream, and potatoes.
Ingredients you will need.

The crackly-skinned, fluff-filled baked potato in the bottom of the bowl adds heft and makes a good excuse to warm your space with the oven. Best of all, it mops up the delicious bright pink broth.

The beets and their broth are made quickly on the stovetop or in a pressure-cooker while the potatoes are baking.

The cabbage in this bowl comes in the form of sauerkraut-- either homemade or store-bought. Fermented foods are so good for us! Pile it on and toast to your health!

Finally, we stir some horseradish, freshly grated or prepared, into some sour cream along with a lot of fresh dill to dollop over the Borscht Bowl, and give it a snowy dusting of dill over the top. Yes, please.

Other Wintery Ways to Dress a Baked Potato:

Use the rich mushroom gravy component of this recipe over a baked potato for another easy and wonderful winter dinner!

Deconstructed Borscht Bowl

Course: Main Dish, Soup + Stew
Season: Mist (November - March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Prep Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 4
Deconstructed Borscht Bowl is inspired by Eastern European borscht made of beet, potato, cabbage, sour cream and dill. Here, we just arrange the winter vegetable components into a bowl for a hearty warming winter meal.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 Russett potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 cups vegetable, beef, or chicken stock homemade, purchased, or made from bouillon
  • 1 ½ pounds beets, cooked and peeled
  • 2 cups sauerkraut, homemade or purchased
  • 8 ounces sour cream or cashew sour cream (recipe below) for dairy-free/vegan option
  • 2-3 teaspoons horseradish, freshly grated or prepared
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill, packed
  • salt + pepper to taste

Cashew Sour Cream

  • 1 cup raw cashew pieces (no need for the more expensive whole nuts here) Where available, Trader Joe's is a good source for most nuts, including cashews.
  • ½ cup water
  • Tbsp. lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, or a mix of both
  • ½ tsp. salt

Instructions

Deconstructed Borscht Bowl

  • Preheat oven to 400°. Rub the potatoes with olive oil and place them on a baking sheet. Sprinkle them with coarse salt, and with a sharp knife, cut a 2"-3" slit in the top of each potato. Roast until a knife inserted into the center offers no resistance and they give in to a little squeeze. Depending on your oven, this may take 40 minutes to an hour.
  • Bring the stock to a simmer in a large saucepan. Cut the beets into chunks and pulse them 12-15 times in a food processor to a fine irregular mince. Stir the minced beets into the simmering stock. Taste for salt and add more to the broth if needed, along with some freshly cracked black pepper. Squeeze most of the brine from the sauerkraut and gently warm it in a microwave oven or small saucepan. Stir together the sour cream or cashew sour cream, horseradish to taste, and most of the dill, reserving some dill for garnish.
  • Place each potato into its own wide bowl, and crack it open along its slit by pinching the potato together and toward the center like a Chinese fortune teller (cootie catcher.) Ladle the hot beets and broth over each potato. Place a big dollop of herbed sour cream on the potato. Pile on the sauerkraut, and garnish with the remaining dill. Serve piping hot.

Cashew Sour Cream

  • Cover cashews in boiling water and soak at least one hour up to overnight, and drain, OR (my favorite method) place the cashews and cover with water in an electric pressure cooker and cook on high for 8 minutes. Allow to cool, and drain.
  • Place the drained cashews the lemon juice and/or apple cider vinegar, and salt in a blender. Blend on high until it is completely smooth, scraping down the sides often. Taste for sourness, and add more lemon juice/apple cider vinegar to taste. Store in the refrigerator. Cashew sour cream will thicken as it chills. It will keep in your fridge about one week, and it can also be frozen. Stir well between uses. Makes about 14 ounces.
Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding in a casserole dish
Bread turns golden as it soaks up the pumpkin-based custard.

Pumpkin can't seem to get away from the use of sugar and cinnamon-y pumpkin pie spices that relegate it to the sweets table. This Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding-- with things like onions and herbs-- opens a whole new world of pumpkin possibilities.

Here, the dusky earthiness of pumpkin is the perfect match to lots of herbs, mushrooms, and two cheeses in the recipe. Think of it like a cheesy stuffing baked outside the bird, or like a strata.

Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding Brings People Together

woman serving savory pumpkin bread pudding from baking dish.

The people who gather at my table represent a wide range of dietary needs and preferences and, if you live in America in 2021, this is likely the case for you, too. This bread pudding is easily modified to meet the challenges of nourishing a dietarily diverse crowd. And the challenges of the cook organizing meals for them!

Having dishes on the table that respect everyone's needs can be a challenge that you likely know all too well. Above all, it is important to me that there be food that all my beloveds can share. I want no one to feel left out when the oohs and ahhs start happening!

This Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding serves as a hearty main course for non-meat-eaters, and a tasty side dish for meat-eaters. Tailor it to your crowd by trading plant milk for dairy milk, and non-dairy cheese for the Parmesan and Fontina. Gluten-free bread is an easy swap that everyone will enjoy. However, egg substitutes have not been tested in this recipe.

Savory Pumpkim Bread Pudding in a baking dish.

Making the Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Firstly, start with an artisan-style bread with lots of bubbles and holes in the crumb that create cozy spaces for the eggy pumpkin custard to rest. Day-old bread is even better, because it will soak up the custard best and bake up with a more firm sliceable texture.

After that, making pumpkin puree from scratch is really easy in an Instant Pot. Try making a batch or two to freeze and have on hand for all your pumpkin cooking and baking. The convenience of canned pumpkin is great, but there is a quality trade-off.

Click here for link to a Facebook Live video of me explaining the easy process of making pumpkin puree from scratch.

Ingredients needed for Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding.
Things you'll need to make a Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding of your own.

The make-ahead nature of Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding makes it a great addition to your Thanksgiving table, or any time. Assemble the bread pudding the day before you need it, then baked it off on serving day. I hope you enjoy having pumpin in this savory way!

Other Savory Pumpkin Recipes:

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

Pasta with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce and Toasted Hazelnuts

Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding in a casserole dish

Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Course: Main Dish, Side Dish
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest
Season: Bounty (August - October), Mist (November - March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Nut-Free
Preparation: Casserole
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Servings: 8
Maximize pumpkin's savory notes with a hearty bread pudding filled with aromatics, herbs, and mushrooms.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups pumpkin puree, made from scratch or canned See link for video tutorial on making your own in the Instant Pot.
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3 cups milk or your favorite non-dairy milk
  • 2 cups finely grated parmesan, divided (about 6 ounces) for dairy-free option, replace this with 2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
  • 1 pound artisan-style bread (the holes and bubbles capture the custard nicely, and stale bread is best) baguette, boule, pugliese, etc.
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (for dairy-free version) or butter
  • 2 medium onions, in about 1/4" dice
  • 2 cups celery stalk and leaves, sliced about 1/4" thick
  • 1 pound mushrooms, slices about 1/4" thick
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 small bunch lacinato kale, sliced about 1/4" thick, and roughly chopped through
  • 3 teaspoons fresh thyme, leaves removed from their stems or 1 teaspoon ground dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon fresh sage leaves, very finely minced or 1/2 teaspoon ground dried sage
  • 8 ounces fontina cheese, diced into about 1/4" cubes for dairy-free version, omit or replace with a firm dairy-free melting cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Oil a deep 9" x 13" baking dish or casserole. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  • Wash and dice the onion, celery, mushrooms, kale, and herbs. Dice the fontina and finely grate the Parmesan. Set aside.
  • Make a custard by first whisking the pumpkin puree and eggs together, then slowing whisking in the milk to combine. Add in about ¾ cup of the Parmesan, the nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Set aside.
  • In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, add half the olive oil or butter. Add the onions and celery and sauted, stirring frequently, until the onions become translucent and soft without browning, about 5-7 minutes. While the onions are softening, in your largest mixing bowl, use your fingers to tear the bread into bite-sized chunks. Remove the crust only if it is especially thick and tough, otherwise include it. Lightly salt the bread and toss it.
  • When the onions and celery are tender, add them to the bread. Heat the rest of the olive oil or butter in the skillet and sauted the mushrooms until they have released some of their moisture and are beginning to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Add in the garlic, kale and ½ teaspoon or so of salt and a generous amount of pepper and sauted another 2-3 minutes until the kale has softened a little and the mushrooms are well-browned. Add them to the bread and onion mixture in the large bowl. Add the diced fontina if using, and give the ingredients in the bowl a good toss.
  • Pour the reserved pumpkin custard mixture over the bread and vegetables and gently stir with a rubber spatula, scraping down the sides and bringing the ingredients up from the bottom to evenly coat them with the custard mixture. Tip it out into the prepared baking pan.
  • Cover the dish tightly with foil. Bake for 45 minutes, remove the dish from the oven and remove the foil. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan over the top, and bake for another 15 minutes until the cheese is browned and bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow to set for 10 minutes before serving. The pieces cut nicely into squares like lasagne, or can be spooned out with a large spoon.

Notes

Make It Your Own:
Add chunks of squash or pumpkin, use mustard greens or chard instead of the kale, try different cheeses and herbs. Follow your heart and use what you have!

Flourless walnut spice cake adorned with fall fruits and flowers.
Flourless Walnut Spice Cake with Fall Fruits and Flowers

Rustic Cake at Its Very Best

In my calculus, a rustic cake has a short list of ingredients, an interesting texture, and most importantly is adorned very plainly-- a straightforward glaze, scoop of ice cream or whipped cream, a smatter of nuts or seasonal fruit is all it takes. This Flourless Walnut Cake and its coffee or spice versions deliver on a promise of simplicity.

What a cake like this misses in complexity is made up with a certain honesty. It's like the fresh rosy-cheeked girl in a calico dress that smells of clothesline sunshine.

Flourless walnut cake on a cake platter.
Flourless Coffee-Walnut Cake with Coffee Glaze and Candied Walnuts

Or, our flourless walnut cake is like filtering your way through a crowded party, and meeting a gentle-souled person standing in the corner with whom to while the evening away.

Uncomplicated joy.

Multi-tiered, colorful swooped, swirled, and filagree-frosted cakes sometimes disappoint on the part that really matters-- flavor. With flourless walnut cake or its coffee or spice versions, what you see is what you get. The beauty is natural, not forced.

Making the Flourless Walnut Cake

Woman holding place with flourless walnut cake.
Flourless Coffee-Walnut Cake, fresh from the oven.

Starting with room temperature eggs, like with most baking, is imperative to the success of this recipe. Sugar simply cannot dissolve into cold yolks. Cold whites don't whip to their lofty heights. Here you spend a good deal of time building structure by dissolving sugar into yolks and stiffening the whites, so give yourself a guaranteed win by setting your eggs out in advance. (When I forget, I help the eggs warm up by placing them on a bowl of lukewarm water, changing it for more when it goes cold. Never try this with hot water or you make crack open a semi-cooked egg!)

Traditional recipes for this type of cake ask you to whip all of the whites into firm peaks at once. Here, I have you whip them to medium peaks at first, then add only a third of them to the yolk/sugar/nut mixture to lighten the batter. Then, you'll go back and whip the remaining two-thirds of the whites into firm stand-up-at-attention peaks before gently folding them into the batter. I have found this greatly increases the structure of the cake, resulting in a taller cake with less shrinkage when it comes out of the oven. Even though our dear little flourless walnut cakes are humble, they still like to make a good first impression.

If you chose, top either version with a pile of candied walnut halves, made the same way Sarah at Sustainable Cooks makes her pecans. The only difference is that I add 1 tablespoon water to the skillet along with the sugar. Make extra! Candied walnuts are great in salads or on a cheese platter, too.

Both versions-- coffee-walnut and walnut spice cakes together on a table.
Choose plain walnut, walnut spice or coffee-walnut variations with this one simple recipe.

More Rustic Cake Recipes

Sweet Corn Buttermilk Cake + Blueberry Compote (gluten-free)

Zingy Lemon Ginger Zucchini Cake

Flourless walnut cake on a cake platter.

Flourless Walnut Cake with Coffee + Spice Versions

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Season: Bounty (August - October), Evergreen (April - July), Mist (November - March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free
Preparation: Baking
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings: 12
Flourless Walnut cake is tender and delicious just as written, but the addition of coffee or baking spices takes it next level-- One recipe with three variations-- plain, Coffee, or Spice-- to suit your mood. Three primary ingredients, a few simple steps, and you'll have beautiful dessert cakes all winter.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups walnuts, ground (instructions below) 8 ounces
  • 7 large eggs room temperature
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Flavoring Options

Coffee Glaze, Optional

  • 3 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground coffee beans
  • 5 tablespoons warm or hot strong brewed coffee
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Instructions

Flourless Walnut Cake

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Generously butter and flour (or use very finely ground walnuts) a 9-inch springform pan. Wrap the bottom of the pan with foil to catch any butter that melts out in the oven.
  • In a food processor, finely grind the walnuts. This will likely take only 8 -10 pulses. Stop just as they begin to clump. (Any further and you'll make walnut batter, not quite what we are after). Set the ground walnuts aside.
  • Seperate the eggs, placing the yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment. Beat the yolks with the sugar and salt 6-8 minutes until the mixture is fluffy and pale yellow. (You'll be glad you let your eggs come to room temperature for this-- the sugar more readily dissolves in eggs that are not cold.)
  • If you are making a plain flourless walnut cake, move on to step five. If you are making either a walnut-spice cake or a coffee flavored cake, add the spice mix or the finely ground coffee beans now and mix in thoroughly.
  • Remove the mixing bowl from the stand mixer and with a silicone or rubber spatula, fold the ground walnuts into the yolk mixture.
  • In a separate clean bowl free of any oils or grease, whip the egg whites, cream of tartar, and vanilla to medium peaks. (The cream of tartar helps stabilize the whipped egg whites.) Gently fold about a third of the egg whites into the walnut mixture. Then, whip the remaining egg whites once again until they just reach firm peaks. Fold them gently into the walnut mixture in two batches, folding until no more white streaks remain.
  • Place the cake batter into the prepared pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the cake is puffed, set (not jiggly) in the middle, and a cake tester (I use a bamboo skewer for this) inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  • Allow the cake to cool in the pan about 20 minutes before removing the springform ring. The cake will have sunk in the center and formed charming cracks and crags, perfectly normal for this rustic meringue-style cake.
  • Decorate with seasonal fruits, a dusting a powdered sugar, or the coffee glaze below. Seve with whipped cream.

Coffee Glaze

  • Place the sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Add the vanilla and coffee, tablespoon at a time, and whisk until a glaze forms. It should cling to the whisk and drip off in thick long ribbons. Adjust by adding more powdered sugar or water to make it thicker or thinner. Drizzle the glaze from the whisk around the edges of the cake, allowing some to flow toward the center of the cake and some to drip off the edges. Allow the glaze to set for an hour before covering or serving.

Notes

To make the Coffee Glaze a Spice Glaze, replace the ground coffee with one teaspoon of the same spice blend you use in the cake, and replace the brewed coffee with warm or hot water.
Garnish the spice cake with fresh fig halves, lightly roasted (6 minutes at 350, just to soften) plum prunes, tiny grape clusters, and/or unsprayed organic food-safe flowers or flower petals.  
Top down shot of wood platter with black beluga lentils, grilled nectarine halves, and white burrata dressed in vinaigrette.
Beautiful Black Beluga Lentil, Grilled Nectarine + Burrata Salad

I've been experimenting with the design Rule of Threes in my cooking. Used in graphic design, interior design, and fashion-- really anywhere design concepts are applied-- the principle is that things arranged in groups of three are more appealing, evocative, and satisfying.

Long ago, it is said, Nordstrom sales associates were required to dress this way-- skirt, blouse, sweater; slacks, shirt, vest; dress, boots, scarf, etc. Accessories were the grace notes added to the rule of threes formula. I've begun to think this is true for the food on a plate as well.

Not only does this method of cooking work from a taste and visual point of view, but it is actually pretty easy to pull together a dynamic dish using this concept.

beluga lentil, grilled nectarine, and burrata salad arranged on an orange plate.

Beluga Lentil, Grilled Nectarine + Burrata Salad

In this 30-minute dish the triad of warm earthy lentils, smoky-sweet nectarines, and cool creamy burrata is more than the sum of its parts. Each of the parts requires very little or no preparation. The simple vinaigrette acts like the jewelry that ties the whole ensemble together.

The rule of threes concept worked perfectly in this recent red pepper, white bean, and feta recipe, too. The smoky bright red peppers, the earthy light white beans, and sharp tangy feta create a synergy that is tied together with a crown of herb sauce. Magnificent, yet simple.

Mise en place of ingredients for the beluga lentil, grilled nectarine, and burrata salad.

It only looks challenging! Make Beluga Lentil, Grilled Nectarine + Burrata Salad soon for an ever so delicious, beautiful, fancy-fast-easy brunch, lunch, or dinner. Make it vegan by omitting the burrata, and it is still delicious. Serve it alongside meat, or enjoy it as a vegetarian main course.

How can you use this Rule of Threes concept in your cooking and meal planning? I'd love to hear about your ideas and experiments!

Beluga Lentil, Grilled Nectarine + Burrata Salad

Course: Breakfast + Brunch, Main Dish, Quick + Easy, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest
Season: Bounty (August - October)
Dietary: Egg-Free, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free, Vegetarian
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 3
This triad of earthy lentils, smoky-sweet nectarines, and creamy burrata is more than the sum of its parts. Quick to make but ever so delicious and versatile, make this soon for a fancy-easy brunch, lunch, or dinner. Make it vegan by omitting the burrata, and it's still delicious.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

For the Vinaigrette

  • 1 medium shallot finely mined
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 5-6 fresh thyme branches enough to make about 2 tesaspoons leaves
  • salt + pepper about 1 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste
  • 3-4 Tablespoons vinegar white balsamic, peach, champagne, sherry, or rice vinegars all work here
  • 3-4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

For the Beluga Lentil, Grilled Nectarine + Burrata Dish

  • 1 cup black Beluga lentils
  • 1 bay leaf, fresh if possible
  • 3 ripe nectarines, halved and pitted
  • 1 stalk leafy celery, leaves finely slices, stalk finely diced
  • 4 ounces burrata, drained

Instructions

First Make the Vinaigrette

  • In a small jar with a tight-fitting lid, place the minced shallot and Dijon mustard. Stir gently. Add about half of the thyme leaves stripped from the stems, salt and pepper. Cover the shallot mixture with the vinegar of your choice. Eyeballing it, add enough olive oil to double the volume in the jar, or about the same in height to the shallots and vinegar. Shake until the salt is mostly dissolved and the mustard is thoroughly incorporated. Set aside.

Now Make the Beluga Lentil, Grilled Nectarines + Burrata

  • Light or preheat your grill for a hot, direct fire/heat.
  • In a medium saucepan, place the lentils, bay leaf, a pinch of salt, and 3 1/2 cups water. Bring lentils to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring every 5 minutes or so, for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are al dente, but not mushy and broken. Begin chcking their doneness at the 15 minute mark.
  • While the lentils are cooking, place the halved nectarines on a preheated grill over direct heat. Oil the grates first, and place the nectarine halves cut side down. Do not move them until the 3 minute mark, and check for rich grill marks. They may need another minute or so to become deeply marked. Flip them and grill another 3 minutes until the skins have grill marks, for a total of 6-7 minutes. Don't let the nectarines overcook-- you just want them warmed through and kissed with flavor from the grill.
  • When the lentils are done, drain off any remaining liquid. Sitr in the diced celery and leaves, reserving some of the leaves for garnish. Mound this onto plates or a serving platter.
  • Arrange the nectarines on to mounded lentils. You may chose to halve some of them.
  • Place the burrata on top of the lentils. Sprinkle the remaining thyme and celery leaves over the top and serve.

Notes

This recipe serves three people as a main course, or six people as a side dish.
This salad is especially luxurious served warm, but equally delightful served chilled, especially if you need to make the components ahead of time.
Peaches would be just as lovely in this dish as the nectarines. Use what you have or prefer.
Recipe star ratings are very welcome and appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to provide your feedback this way. 

Or how to say thank you for a huge bag of summer squash and mean it.

lemon ginger zucchini cake on a cake stand with a lemon next to it.

Why people grow so much zucchini is a perfectly legitimate question. As a species we just never catch on that just three zucchini seeds will feed the whole neighborhood. How do we possibly forget year after year? The jokes about the overabundance of zucchini and the lengths people go to get rid of it are only funny because they expose this human flaw.

Neighbors drop off squashes the size of baseball bats to your front porch, ring the bell and run so you can't refuse it. Little old ladies give away brown paper grocery bags of zucchini at every church function. And if you grow a garden, you're rolling in it by mid-summer.

Glazed lemon ginger zucchini cake on a cake stand.

Even using the grate-and-hide technique of sneaking zucchini into everything-- meatloaf, chili, soups and stews, and baked goods, there is only so much one can be expected to eat.

A top-down photo of lemon ginger zucchini cake, glazed and decorated with lemon twists.

I worked out this brightly-flavored zucchini cake as a way to draw down an enourmous supply I was gifted from a generous neighbor. It completely suits my hankering for unassuming cakes, and its sunny lemon-ginger burst is a good excuse for turning on the oven in the middle of August.

Now I get a little happy when I'm gifted a huge bag of summer squash, and my thanks are sincere.

Why is this Lemon Ginger Zucchini Cake Special?

All the ingredients that go into the leamon ginger cake.
Mise en place for Lemon Ginger zucchini Cake

In this cake, I swap the typical butter for olive oil. Olive oil adds phenomonal rich flavor that sings with the lemon. The technique remains similar to that of a butter cake, but here the olive oil is added to the whipped eggs and sugar, turning it into a creamy fluff you just know will be good.

I used to make this cake with all-purpose flour only, but have recently added finely-ground almond flour to add a soft airiness to cakes, and it works really well here.

The copius amount of ginger in this cake comes in two forms-- freshly grated and ground-- to amp the gingery quality. Lemon and ginger are a match made in heaven, so I use a lot of lemon zest zing along with the double-dose of ginger. This large cake can hold all this flavor. It is a flavor bomb, not a flavor whisper.

The crunchy glaze-- think glazed donut and you've got the idea-- is due to the addition of granulated sugar to the typical powdered sugar. Just make sure and paint it on while the cake is still somewhat warm for this magic to happen.

Tips for Success

In this cake and all others, start with room temperature eggs.

A stand or handheld mixer is best for the eggs/sugar/olive oil steps. It is also good for gently beginning to incorporate the flour mixture, but stop there and pick up your spatula. Folding in the zucchini, ginger, and lemon zest by hand will automatically involve the streaky bits of flour without toughening the glutens in the all-purpose flour. Your tender result will make you glad you did.

All kinds of summer squash work. I've even made this with peeled young spaghetti squash to great success. If you're using an older/larger zucchini, take out the watery seeds, and gently squeeze the grated squash over the sink to remove some of the moisture to avoid a heavy wet cake.

This turns out a large cake-- 2" tall and 9" across, making 12-15 generous slices. If you want to take it easy on cake, or are like me in a small household, this recipe fits neatly into three 6" round cakepans, with six slices each. This way we can have a little splurge, and stash two cakes in the freezer for on-the-fly entertaining or when the mood strikes again.

Use this method for releasing the cake from the pan without it breaking or crumbling.

Zippy Lemon Ginger Zucchini Cake

Course: Dessert
Season: Bounty (August - October)
Preparation: Baking
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 15
Made with olive oil, almond and AP flours, ginger in two forms, and loads of lemon zest, this bright rustic cake makes good use of excess garden zucchini. It's the perfect reason to use the oven on a hot summer day.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Lemon Ginger Zucchini Cake

  • 3 cups zucchini or other summer squash, finely grated if large, remove seeds before grating and gently squeezed some of its water off over the sink
  • 4 lemons, zested grated reserve juice for glaze
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • cups almond flour, finely ground
  • cups all-purpose four
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • cups granulated sugar
  • cups extra virgin olive oil

Cake Glaze

  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Instructions

For the Cake:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°. Generously butter a 9" springform pan, 9" x 2" round pan, or three 6" round pans. Dust the pan/s with flour and tap out any excess.
  • Grate the zucchini, lemon zest, and ginger and set aside.
  • Combine the flour baking powder, baking soda, ground ginger, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk together well. Set aside.
  • In a stand mixer with paddle attachement or with a handheld mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs until creamy and slightly fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • Again turn the mixer to medium speed and add the olive oil in a steady stream. Continue mixing in the olive oil until fully incorporated and quite fluffy, another 3 minutes. Again scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • With the mixer at low speed, quickly add the flour mixture one cup at a time, not waiting for it to fully incorporate. Turn the mixer off and remove the mixing bowl.
  • Add the grated zucchini, lemon zest, and ginger to the bowl, and gently stir with a rubber or silicone spatula, folding up from the bottom, until the grated ingredients are evenly mixed through the batter.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared cakepan/s and smooth the top and bake. For the 9" pans, bake for 50-60 minutes until the top springs bake when gently pushed and the edges are just beginning to pull away from the pan, and a bamboo skewer or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. for the 6" pans, bake 35-45 minutes. It is easy to underbake this cake, especially the larger pans, so take extra care to make sure they are done in the center.
  • Allow the cake to cool 15 minutes before inverting on a cooling rack. While the cake is cooling, make the glaze.

For the glaze:

  • In a small mixing bowl, whisk the granulated and powdered sugars to break up the powerded sugar clumps. Whisk in the lemon juice until smooth and no tiny bits of powdered sugar remain. Invert the cake onto the cooling rack and place a peice of parchment, wax paper, or a large plate directly under it to catch the glaze drips and make cleanup easier. While the cake is still warm, generously paint on the glaze with a pastry brush. Allow the cake to completely cool before slicing.

It is an odd little kid who prefers observing adults above hanging out with other kids, but that is how I was issued. With the focus of Jane Goodall and the sofa as my cover, I studied grown-ups and all forms of their behavior; language, cultural and social norms, and how curiously their developed biology drove their actions. Kids I found to be mostly mean, addled, and ridiculous.

Cold Buckwheat noodle salad with peanut sauce on platter

It will not surprise you, then, to know I hated peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The basic components were good, I thought. But jelly seeping through the bread, the gluey palate-sticking nature of the thing, and the whole sandwich mangled by the smacking of a thermos inside the lunchbox of a girl with a purposeful stride? Thank you, but no.

If Crunchy Cold Buckwheat Noodles in Peanut Sauce had been popular among suburban moms so long ago, it would have been my absolute lunchbox preference. A tangle of chewy buckwheat noodles and colorful crunchy vegetables draped in a velvet cloak of spicy, gingery peanut sauce is arguably the best use of peanut butter. It would have had me daydreaming about girls in Indonesian -- where peanut sauce originates-- wondering if they liked math any better than me, if their parents fought, and whether they moved a lot or got to live in one house their whole life. I would have wished the Weekly Reader to do a story on them so I could know.

This recipe is for my grandchildren should they want something other than jelly and bread with the peanut butter in their lunchboxes.

Cold Noodle Salad with peanut sauce on a platter

Crunchy Cold Buckwheat Noodle Salad + Peanut Sauce

Course: Main Dish, Salad, Side Dish
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Vegan
Preparation: Fast + Easy
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 6
Chewy soba noodles and crackly-fresh vegetables are draped in a velvety, gingery peanut sauce. Make it in less than 20 minutes for a speedy dinner, but be sure to make extra-- it holds well for tomorrow's lunches or picnics. Easily halved or doubled, this all-ages people pleaser will be a welcome addition to your meal rotation.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Peanut Sauce

  • ½ cup smooth peanut butter, well stirred if natural
  • 3 Tbsp. soy sauce or tamari
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lime juice or rice wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar, brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil also called dark sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. - 1 Tbsp. Sriracha or hot chili garlic sauce to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger and its juice
  • 1-2 grated garlic cloves

Noodle Salad

  • 10 oz. soba (buckwheat) noodles udon, ramen, or rice noodles or even spaghetti are also good choices. Use gluten free noodles if you'd like
  • 6 cups fresh crunchy raw vegetables (see list below to mix and match*) chopped , coarsely grated, or thinly sliced
  • 3-4 green onions, sliced
  • 1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup peanuts, coarsely chopped (optional)
  • Peanut Sauce (above)
  • 1 lime, cut in wedges for serving

Instructions

  • In a medium bowl that allows room for whisking, whisk peanut butter to loosen it. Add each ingredient one at a time, whisking thoroughly after each addition. (You are making an emulsion, and adding the liquids slowly in batches prevents a sloshy mess from forming. It will actually go faster this way, and will minimize cleanup.)
  • Whisk in warm water, one tablespoon at a time, until the sauce thickly drips from the whisk. You want the sauce to be thin enough to easily coat the nooks and crannies of the vegetables and noodles, but to retain some body. Depending on the thickness of your peanut butter and the room temperature, you will add between 1 Tablespoon and ¼ cup of water. Taste and make any adjustments of sweetener, lime juice, spicy heat, or perhaps salt. Set the peanut sauce aside.
  • Place a pot of salted water on to boil. Cook soba noodles according to package directions. When done, rinse in cold water until the noodles are completely cold.
  • While the water is heating and the noodles are cooking, prep your vegetables including the green onions. Aim for small dice, or thin matchstick pieces so that you can fork up a mix of vegetables and noodles in each bite. Place all the vegetables in a large bowl..
  • Coarsely chop the cilantro and peanuts. Keep a few tablespoons of each aside for garnish, and place the rest in the bowl. When the noodles are cooked, rinsed, and drained, add them to the bowl. Give everything a gentle toss.
  • Add about ½ cup of the peanut sauce to the bowl, and give everything a gentle but thorough toss, until all ingredients are evenly coated with peanut sauce. Add more sauce, tablespoon by tablespoon, until the salad is dressed to your liking.
  • Plate the salad individually or transfer it to a serving bowl or platter. Sprinkle cilantro, peanuts, and sesame seed on top. Serve with a lime wedge.
  • Refrigerate any leftovers in an airtight container. Will keep nicely for a day.

Notes

*Fresh crunchy vegetable options. Use what the garden or farmers market gives you, or what you have in your crisper:
  • cucumber*
  • green and/or purple cabbage
  • red or yellow bell pepper
  • snow or sugar-snap peas
  • carrot
  • radish
  • kohlrabi
  • white turnips
  • green or yellow summer squash* *Best added only if you'll consume the entire recipe right away, as they go soft and watery overnight. I don't mind this, but you might!

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Welcome!

Photo of 101-Mile Kitchen blog owner.

You’re in the right place!  I’m Pam Spettel, home cooking expert and guide, and I’m here to show you how to break up with cooking and hospitality anxiety, learn how to use recipes as guides rather than strict rules, and let your cooking intuition and confidence soar.

Superpower: Dreaming up recipes that work, serving them to my friends and family, and writing little stories about how cooking them well is the same as loving well.

Inspiration: Ingredients! The fresh, colorful, fragrant, local, seasonal ingredients found in the Pacific Northwest are my creative medium.

Heroes: Local food and wine producers– the people who keep me, my family, and our community nourished and happy.

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