Sauces and Condiments

Almond Cilantro Pesto and Yogurt Dip

Sometimes I am a good meal planner.  I look through the fridge, freezer and pantry to see what we have, what needs to be used, etc. and plan our week of meals out that way.  Other times I find myself on Tuesday mornings after I drop the kids at school (this is when I like to grocery shop since I only have one child to accompany me) with no idea what we have in the fridge and pantry which leaves me searching for recipes on pinterest and making a grocery list while in the parking lot of HEB.

Thanks to my inabilty to plan, I sometimes come home and discover we already had 8 cans of tomatoes, or goat cheese, or couscous, or a dozen chicken breasts I could’ve thawed out, etc.  Herbs are tricky.  Often all you need is a few tablespoons for a recipe.  Thankfully I’ve managed to keep rosemary and thyme alive in the back yard, but parsley and cilantro are another story and so I have to buy them.  They’re not expensive, but when you don’t need much they often get forgotten in the bottom of the produce drawer.  I bought cilantro for a recipe because I thought rather confidently “I know that I have parsley at home, but no cilantro.”  Not the case!  I had two almost completely full bundles of cilantro at home already, so when I unloaded groceries I now had three bundles.

What am I going to do with all of this cilantro?!  A while back I made a peanut and cilantro pesto, so that’s what I thought of first.  I didn’t have any peanuts.  But I did have almonds…


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At this point I had no plan for the pesto I’d just made, but I knew that I could save it.  Freezing pesto in tablespoons to have on hand for later is a trick I am so glad I learned.  Having something on hand in the kitchen is nice, but having pesto on hand is especially nice because you can incorporate some fresh herby-ness to a meal even when you don’t have fresh herbs or if they’re out of season.

The best way I’ve found to freeze pesto (this also works well for tomato paste) is to line a baking sheet with parchment, use a cookie scoop or tablespoon to divide up the pesto, and then pop the pan in the freezer.  Once frozen solid you can put all the pesto balls into a freezer bag (I learned that labeling your bag is very helpful!) and take one or more out as you need them.  They thaw out pretty quickly.

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Of course I wanted to try some of the pesto right away.  I ate some on a chip and it was good, but strong (like most pesto) and needed to be cut if I was going to eat it as a dip.  Plain Greek yogurt seemed like the perfect choice.

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I played around a little with the ratio but found a 2:1 yogurt to pesto was pretty good.  Of course you could start there and add more yogurt or more pesto depending on your tastes.

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The same thing could be done with mayo to make a nice sandwich spread.  You could also spread the pesto on chicken breasts before baking, stir in to hot pasta, use as a dipping sauce for grilled meats or serve with grilled vegetables.  Excited to try some of those out as summer and grilling season get underway!

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Almond Cilantro Pesto


  • 2 cups packed cilantro leaves, rinsed and dried
  • 1 cup almonds, raw, skin on, toasted if desired
  • 2-3 large garlic cloves
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (up to 1/2 cup if desired)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, more to taste
  • ground pepper to taste


  1. Combine cilantro, almonds and garlic in a food processor and puree until smooth.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  2. Add the Parmesan and salt and pulse a few times to combine.
  3. With processor running, drizzle in the oil and process until smooth.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cilantro Pesto Yogurt Dip

How much of the ingredients you need depends on your taste and how much dip you want to make.  Below are the amounts I used to make dip for 2-4 people as an appetizer serving.  Increase or decrease as desired.


  • 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) cilantro almond pesto
  • 8-10 tablespoons (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) plain Greek yogurt (full fat or 2%)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Tortilla chips, pita chips, grilled bread


  1. Combine both in a bowl and mix well to combine.
  2. Serve immediately or chill until 5-10 minutes before serving, it gets thick when chilled so let it warm up at room temperature for a bit before serving.

A Busy Life and Lots of Farmhouse Recipes: Spinach Basil Pesto, Quinoa Mac and Cheese Casserole, Mediterranean Eggplant and Quinoa Salad

The last month has been a crazy one, and the next two aren’t going to be any different.  We are moving from our sweet little rent house into a lovely suburban home with 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a nice big kitchen with garbage disposal, and enough counter space not to have to balance pans on top of the coffee maker.  Yes.  I have done this.  Life will be so good.  And about 5 weeks after we move in we will have a new baby on our hands, and so life will be a totally different kind of crazy.  Can that be an acceptable excuse for why I haven’t blogged in a month?

I have been cooking, but haven’t been taking pictures of any of it or recording it anywhere.  This is a big time bummer.  One of my favorite things about having this blog is being able to search for a recipe I’ve made in the past and be reminded of what I did to change it that made it better, or the things I didn’t like that I’d change the next time around.  When I don’t update the blog, I don’t have those recipes…unless I managed to write notes on them and put them somewhere safe…which is a rare event.  So today I am playing catch-up.

One of the things I’ve had the luxury of participating in this summer is the Farmhouse Delivery here in Houston.  When the bushel of local fruits and veg arrive on my doorstep carried by a shaggy headed hipster jamming out to whatever cool music is playing through his earbuds, I get positively giddy. Some of the items we receive are no-brainers.  Peaches and blackberries are perfect in my morning yogurt and granola.  Cucumbers, sweet peppers and the sweetest cherry tomatoes known to man get sliced and tossed into salads.  Potatoes, onions, corn and slicing tomatoes have also been part of our meals.  But then we get stuff like patty pan squash and eggplant.  What am I going to do with this?  I haven’t figured out the patty pan yet, but did find a use for the eggplant.  So Farmhouse Delivery, thank you for helping me to explore more in my kitchen.  And thanks, Sarah, for the recipe!  I feel more of an obligation to use the produce fully since, well, we paid for it, AND it’s fresh and local and delicious.  If I forget about a grocery store peach in the back corner of the fridge drawer I toss it out.  If I were to forget a farmhouse peach I would probably cry a few tears and have a little memorial service for the sweet and forgotten little guy. On to the recipes…

Spinach, Basil & Walnut Pesto

A big bag of fresh basil came one weekend, and so I made 2 batches of this pesto.  We ate it on pizza with mozzarella and farmhouse tomatoes.  Another night I mixed it in with penne pasta and chopped cherry tomatoes topped with grated Parmesan.  The leftovers from that meal got mixed with lots of mozzarella cheese, more pesto, more tomatoes and then baked in a casserole topped with Parmesan bread crumbs.  So many easy and delicious dinners out of one batch of pesto.


  • 4 cups baby spinach
  • 2 cups basil
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste


  1. Rinse and pat dry spinach and basil.
  2. Put greens in the bowl of a food processor, pour walnuts over, sprinkle with salt and begin to pulse.  While pulsing, add olive oil in a stream until desired consistency is reached.  Taste and add more salt if needed.
  3. Transfer to a lidded container and store covered in the fridge or freeze for later use.

Quinoa Mac and Cheese Casserole

I’ve made this twice now.  It is sure to become a regular on our dinner menu.  The great thing is that you can change the vegetables, spices and cheese to make it fit your tastes or what you have available.  I used an onion from Farmhouse in this recipe, but other than that it’s a grocery store produce meal.  Don’t worry, I’m not getting all snooty about my produce…at least not forever.

Adapted from Eat, Live, Run


  • 1 1/2 cups dry quinoa
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 6 ounce bag fresh spinach
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups grated white cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Heat a drizzle of oil over medium heat in a large, deep saucepan.  Add the onion, bell peppers, scallions and saute for about four minutes, just until bell pepper has started to soften.   Add the mushrooms and spinach and cook until spinach is wilted.  Add the garlic and continue sauteing for another 30 seconds.
  3. Add quinoa to the pot, followed by the chicken broth, salt, dry mustard and pepper.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until all liquid has been absorbed, stirring just a couple times.
  4. Add 1 1/2 cups of the grated cheese and milk.  Stir to combine then pour into a greased 9 x 13″ casserole dish.
  5. In a small bowl, combine the Panko and the remaining cheese.  Sprinkle on top of casserole and bake for about 30 minutes until golden.

Mediterranean Eggplant and Quinoa Salad

Eggplant, onion, zucchini and tomatoes from Farmhouse and then a great punch from the lemon dressing and an herby freshness from the parsley and mint make this my kind of summer meal.  My sweet sister helped me find a recipe to use up my eggplant without feeling like I was eating eggplant.  I used her suggestions of using quinoa instead of barley, and adding in a can of chickpeas and crumbled feta.  This has made a terrific lunch the past couple days.

From Sarah, Adapted from Smitten Kitchen


  • 2 small to medium eggplants, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2-3 zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 onion, halved then sliced
  • 10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup chopped scallion (from 1 bunch)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 cups reduced sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 lb cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/3 cup Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, pitted and halved
  • 1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 4-6 ounces crumbled feta


  1. Roast eggplant and zucchini: Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 425°F.  Toss eggplant and zucchini and onion with 5 tablespoons oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl, then spread in 2 oiled large shallow (1-inch-deep) baking pans. Roast vegetables in oven, stirring occasionally and switching position of pans halfway through baking, until vegetables are golden brown and tender, 20 to 25 minutes total. Combine vegetables in 1 pan and cool.
  2. Cook Quinoa: Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook scallion, cumin and coriander, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add quinoa and cook, stirring until well coated with oil, 2 minutes more.  Add broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until all of liquid is absorbed and barley is tender, 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Transfer to reserved shallow baking pan and spread to quickly cool, uncovered, to room temperature, about 20 minutes.
  3. Make dressing and assemble salad: Whisk together lemon juice, sugar, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 2-3 tablespoons oil in a large bowl.  Add quinoa, roasted vegetables, and remaining ingredients to bowl with dressing and toss until combined well.

Vietnamese Turkey Meatball Bún

While in Austin a few weeks ago my sister took me to Elizabeth Street Cafe.  Eat here if you ever get the chance.  It’s a French-Vietnamese cafe, which may sound strange to you (it has to a couple people I’ve told about my meal) but the marriage translates into delicious bánh mì, bún and pho as well as sweet eclairs and delicate macarons.  We didn’t actually have dessert here since we’d already made plans to have ice cream at Lick.  Go there too.

This was one of the yummiest meals I’ve had in a while.  Vietnamese cuisine has a way of leaving you totally satisfied but not stuffed.  I think it’s the abundance of fresh veggies and herbs, differences in textures and the heat and intense flavor of the sauces.  We shared the pork belly steamed buns, pork  bánh mì on house-made baguette, and the keffir lime fried chicken bún.  All delicious.

This meal inspired me to make my own Vietnamese noodle bowl at home.  I decided on a Vietnamese turkey meatball instead of fried chicken.  Thanks to my Farmhouse delivery last weekend I had fresh carrots and cucumbers to use in the bowl.  I made the dressing for the bún, nuoc cham.  It’s a basic Vietnamese dipping sauce of lime juice, fish sauce, peppers, garlic, a touch of sugar and water.  I think this a really great summer dinner.  Fresh crisp veggies and herbs with warm meatballs and a spicy cool heat from the sauce.

I baked the meatballs instead of pan frying.  I think there was too much liquid in the meat mixture because the baked meatballs were sitting in a pool of meatball juice (you know what I’m talking about, and it ain’t pretty) so I had to drain them.  They tasted delicious and with some tweaking they could definitely be something I’d make again.  Although, these meatballs I know are good and could easily be used here.  The recipe below makes about 35 meatballs.  I wanted to have enough to make bánh mì later in the week, which we did (2 nights in a row, in fact).  Cut the meatball recipe in half if you’re only planning to use the meatballs for one meal with some leftover.

The meatballs do take some time to prep with all the chopping you have to do, and the chopping and slicing doesn’t end there.  The bún is full of shredded lettuce (I used iceberg but you could use romaine) julienned carrots, cucumber slices, chopped cilantro and mint.  So get your best knife and cutting board ready!  I made the meatball mixture, dressing and chopped everything during nap time.  This made dinner time pretty easy.  All I had to do was scoop and bake the meatballs, and cook the rice noodles.

In looking at different recipe for bún I saw other vegetables used like bean sprouts, daikon and red radish.  Traditionally beef is used as the protein as in this recipe from Leite’s Culinaria that looks dleicious.  But pork can also be used, like in this recipe from Fine Cooking which is making me crave grilled pork at 9 in the morning.

Vietnamese Turkey Meatball Bún



(Makes about 35, you may want to cut this recipe in half)

  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 5 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
  • 3 small shallots, finely chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger root
  • 2 stalks of fresh lemongrass, tender white inner bulb only, minced
  • 4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Nuoc Cham (Dressing)

  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ginger, minced
  • 1 red or green Asian chile, or serrano chile, sliced into thin rounds


  • 1/2 head iceberg lettuce, shredded (or you can use romaine)
  • 6-8 ounces of rice noodles (this depends on how many people you’re serving and how much you like noodles. We used 5 ounces and it made 5 servings.)
  • 1 cucumber, sliced into half moons or halves
  • 6-8 carrots, peeled and julienned
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • chopped cilantro
  • chopped mint
  • chopped basil
  • chopped peanuts
  • sriracha (if you need more heat!)



  1. If baking right away, preheat the oven to 400°F.  Position a rack in the top third of the oven.
  2. Combine the turkey, fish sauce, shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, herbs, egg, salt and pepper and mix with your hands until well combined but without overworking the mixture.  At this point you can either refrigerate the mixture in the bowl, form into balls and cover and refrigerate on the pan, or form into balls and bake right away.
  3. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Using slightly moistened hands, roll the mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls. Transfer the meatballs to the prepared baking sheet and bake them for 15-20 minutes, until they are lightly browned and cooked through.

Nuoc Cham (Dressing)

  1. Combine warm water and sugar and stir to dissolve sugar.
  2. Stir in the remaining ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.


  1. Cook rice noodles by bringing a pot of water to a boil.  Add the noodles and remove from the heat.  Let sit for about 5 minutes.  Drain and rinse the noodles in cool water.
  2. Layer in deep, wide bowls: lettuce, noodles and meatballs.  Arrange vegetables and herbs around the sides.  Sprinkle with peanuts and green onion and drizzle with nuoc cham.  Toss everything together and enjoy using fancy chopsticks (or a nice reliable fork!).

You Can Make Your Own: Whole Grain Mustard

It may be too early for me to say this, but I think I am going to really like working on this project.  It gives me an excuse to make something that I wouldn’t otherwise, and I have a job!  Ok, so task is maybe a better term since it doesn’t pay anything and it doesn’t provide me with health or dental coverage.  But it’s something to complete, something that I have to work on and research and something that has tangible results.  If you are a stay at home mom or wife, you may feel like your days are a little monotonous.  Don’t get me wrong, being a mom is wonderful and rewarding.  But day in and day out doing laundry, washing dishes, grocery shopping, fixing meals, changing dirty diapers etc. sometimes starts to feel a little ho-hum.  Anyone with me?  I know those women who don’t need to do anything else but be at home, but I think a part of me needs a little something that is not baby or house related.  I know this is still technically a household task, and so I am a bit of a 50’s housewife cliche, but my place is in the kitchen and I’m OK with that.

I chose to make whole grain mustard.  I found a few recipes, all using the same basic ingredients and process.  There are some differences here and there and if I run out of this batch and feel like making some more I will think about maybe trying something a little different to see how it changes the results.

The recipe I ended up using was from The Feed, an America’s Test Kitchen blog, that I just came across and am now subscribed to.  America’s Test Kitchen is great.  I have about 3 years worth (2004-2007) of Cooks Illustrated that I go back to when I want some detailed and informative recipes complete with illustrated step-by-steps.  I would like to spend a day or two (or maybe a full week) with those people.  Testing recipes, kitchen gadgets, pots, pans, knives and food products.  What a life!  I wonder, does it even feel like a job?

This recipe uses yellow and brown mustard seed.  I found yellow at the grocery store, but had to order the brown seeds from My Spice Sage.  4 ounces of the mustard seed only set me back $3, which made me wish I’d bought my yellow seed there also.  I still have half the bag of brown seed left.  Each little jar of yellow seed cost me $2.50, so order all your seed in bulk if you have the time.  This site also has free shipping, but only if you spend $10, so buy some cinnamon and fancy salt!  My shipment came pretty quickly, which was really nice.

The other ingredients are probably things you have in your kitchen all the time; apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, salt and beer.  The beer is optional, you can use water instead.  I used Shiner Bock, and while the mustard doesn’t taste like beer, I think it does add a nice flavor.  I let my seeds sit in the vinegar and beer for 24 hours on the counter.  I tasted the mustard right out of the food processor and it tasted spicy enough, so I put it right in the fridge.  The only thing I might do is to go back and process my mustard again as it is quite coarse.  The seeds might have softened more if I’d soaked them longer, so try to exercise some patience and let it sit for 2 days.

If you are almost out of whole grain mustard, don’t go buy a new jar, try this recipe.  A nice, 8 or 9-ounce jar of whole grain mustard can cost you $5.  I doubled the recipe and it made two 10-ounce jars.  I spent roughly $9 on ingredients. More mustard for a little less money, and you can say that you made your own mustard.  The recipe below is one batch, so double (or triple) if you want some to give away to friends and family.

Whole Grain Mustard

From America’s Test Kitchen


  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup yellow mustard seed (exactly one jar of the McCormick seeds)
  • 1/4 cup brown mustard seed
  • 1/4 cup beer or water
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar (or more to taste)
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Combine vinegar, mustard seeds and beer or water in a bowl, stir, cover in plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8-48 hours.
  2. Process soaked mustard seeds with sugar and salt in food processor until coarsely ground and thickened, about 1 minute, scraping down bowl as necessary.
  3. Transfer mustard to container and let stand at room temperature until it achieves desired spiciness, then refrigerate for up to 2 months.