Basil Lime Cookies

I’m an equal opportunity cookie eater. Classics or cuckoo, I’ll give it a shot. But I’ll be honest: I have a real sweet spot for the cuckoo. Throw in some herbs, funky spices, potato chips, beer… and I’ll just have to give it a try. 

These Basil Lime Cookies are the perfect cuckoo cookies. I had no idea how these would turn out, and they ended up being one of my favorite recipes I’ve made in a while. It’s an unusual flavor combo for cookies, and it works beautifully. Imagine a soft, pillowy sugar cookie, with herbaceous and zesty notes. You get a sense of the basil when you first bite in, and an aftertaste of refreshing lime zest. Hard to imagine before you try it—so you’ll just need to try it!

These are perfect for a holiday cookie swap because they’re really stand out on the cookie table. They’re also perfect for summer, since it’s such a refreshing flavor combo. Or, you know, make them whenever you want. Cookies are always a good idea.

Basil Lime Cookies

Original recipe: Betsy Life

Yield: ~20 cookies

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: ~An hour

Cook Time: 8-12 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • Zest from one lime
  • 3 tbsp basil, very finely chopped. Don’t get lazy here—it’s better to have small specks of basil in your cookies, rather than big chunks!
  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Instructions 

  1.  Preheat your oven to 375F
  2. Use your mixer to cream the butter and granulated sugar, until it’s light and fluffy.
  3. Mix in your egg, vanilla, lime zest and basil. Ingredients should be fully combined before you move onto the next step.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix your flour, baking soda and salt.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to your wet ingredients, and mix until it’s fully combined.
  6. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or a Silpat, then scoop your dough into 2-inch balls. Place the balls about an inch apart so they have room to puff up in the oven.
  7. Bake about 8-12 minutes. Mine took 10 minutes to bake through.
  8. Cool on a cooling rack for a bit, then transfer to an airtight container. They’ll keep for a few days at room temp, and freeze well too!

 

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Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

I’ve got to say it: I don’t like Pumpkin Spice, the flavor. Doesn’t matter if it’s in a latte, a candy bar, ice cream… I tend to stay away.

But pumpkin, spiced? Now that’s a flavor. It all comes down to ingredients, and where the “spice” is coming from. When you take actual pumpkin and punch it up with spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, you get magic. When you dilute it all down to some Pumpkin Spice syrup, you really just get the sugar.

The Pumpkin Spice Cupcake recipe I’m sharing today adds buttermilk into the mix for even more flavor. It’s a smart move, giving the cake more depth than pumpkin could contribute on its own.

IMG_0387You’ll top these cupcakes with a simple-but-awesome Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting. You could omit the cinnamon if you want something simpler, but I highly recommend keeping it in there. It’s the perfect complement to the spiced cupcakes and makes for an all around awesome treat.

This recipe means serious spice business, so make sure you have everything on hand before you start. It’s a good amount of measuring small bits of spices, but I promise it’s worth it! I turned a bundt cake recipe into cupcakes since I don’t own a bundt pan. If you’re interested in other sizes, check out the reader comments on Cozycakes Cottage.

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

Original recipe: Cozycakes Cottage. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary.

Yield: ~26 cupcakes

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: ~2 hours

Cook Time: ~18 minutes

Ingredients

For your cake

  • 2 and 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tps baking soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 3/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 and 1/3 cups canned pumpkin (you’ll need one 15 oz can)
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (I used dried buttermilk. If you do the same, follow the instructions on your can!)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs

For your frosting 

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk

Instructions

Make your cake batter 

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Mix your flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and salt in a large mixing bowl, then set it aside. If you’re using dried buttermilk, mix that in too.
  3. Mix your pumpkin, buttermilk and vanilla in another bowl. If you’re using dried buttermilk, make sure to add water at this step!
  4. Use your mixer to beat the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until they’re fluffy. It’ll take a few minutes.
  5. Add your eggs, and beat until they’re totally incorporated.
  6. Turn the mixer speed down to low. Add your flour and pumpkin mixtures in there, alternating between the two until you’re out of both. Make sure everything is mixed together before moving on—sometime dry ingredients hide in clumps at the bottom of batter!
  7. Line your cupcake tin, and fill each tin about 2/3 of the way full.
  8. Bake 18-21 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Mine took exactly 18 minutes.
  9. Let the cupcakes cool in their tins for about 10 minutes, then remove and cool all the way on a wire rack. Make sure they’re completely cooled before you frost them!

Frost your cupcakes

  1. Use your mixer to beat the butter and cream cheese until they’re fluffy. It’ll take a couple minutes on medium speed.
  2. Add your vanilla and cinnamon, and beat again.
  3. Lower the speed, and gradually add your powdered sugar. Mix until it’s smooth and fully combined.
  4. Add the milk, and mix again.
  5. Frost your cupcakes, and enjoy!

 

Apricot White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sometimes I go a little crazy and stock up on WAY too many baking supplies. It’s usually because things are on sale…or because I’m trying to hit a free shipping minimum.

It’s not a huge deal, because I bake a lot. But sometimes I go extra overboard and run out of pantry space.* Right now, I’ve got extra caramels, semolina, M&Ms, rye flour…it’s quite the diverse list of impulse baking buys, and I’m on a mission to use it all up!

IMG_0290First on my list: These Apricot White Chocolate Chip Cookies. My leftover apricots met leftover white chocolate chips in a perfectly spiced, chewy cookie. Oatmeal and fruit cookies are some of my favorites but they’re often overlooked in favor of flashier flavors. Don’t underestimate the power of a good spice combo, and fruit. These star cinnamon, nutmeg and dark brown sugar for the perfect flavor combo.

Of course, the whole reason I made these was to use up leftover white chocolate chips. But honestly, I don’t think they even needed the white chocolate chips at all. Next time, I might add in a second kind of fruit instead, or swap in some dried peaches for the apricots and call it a day.

Apricot White Chocolate Cookies

Original recipe: The Redhead Baker. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary.

Yield: ~3 dozen cookies

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: ~An hour

Cook Time: ~12 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 2/3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp sinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 cup dried apricots, diced
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips (if you want them!)
  • 1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Use your mixer to cream the butter, sugar and brown sugar until it’s light and fluffy
  3. Add your egg and vanilla, then beat until the mixture is well-blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl before you move on
  4. In a separate bowl, stir your flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, baking powder and nutmeg until it’s mixed together
  5. Add in your dried apricot pieces, and toss with the flour mixture. This keeps the apricots from clumping together in the dough
  6. Add the dry ingredients to your mixer bowl. Mix until combined
  7. Stir in the chocolate chips and rolled oats by hand. You just want to get them distributed throughout the dough—don’t overmix the dough
  8. Line baking sheets with parchment, and place balls of dough about two inches apart. Dampen your hands with water, and press down on each dough ball before you throw the sheet into the oven
  9.  Bake your cookies 9-12 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when the edges begin to turn dark brown
  10. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes on their pans, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely

The cookies keep well and freeze well, but be careful transporting them because they can get a little crumbly!

Smoked Cheese Cookies

If you hear “cookie,” your brain probably goes to sweets. But savory cookies are a thing. And they’re a very, very good thing, at that. I found this gem in the Dorie’s Cookies cookbook, which I highly recommend. It’s a great mix of savory and sweet recipes, covering all types of cookies. From biscotti to brownie drops, Dorie’s got you covered.

IMG_4745This is the first recipe I made from Dorie’s book, and what a winner it is. These cookies live up to every bit of their name: smoky, cheesy and buttery too. I started telling people they were like “biscuit tops.” I mean…if muffin tops can be a thing, why not biscuit tops, too?

These go great with wine, with more cheese, or even with a square of chocolate. They’re the perfect thing to bring to your next dinner party, or wine and cheese night. I put them out at a party and then walked away…forgetting that people would be surprised to bite in and find cheese, rather than a sweeter flavor. I didn’t hear any complaints though—these were nibbled up in no time!

Smoked Cheese Cocktail Cookies

Original recipe: Dorie’s Cookies, by Dorie Greenspan. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary.

Yield: ~45 cookies

Suggested equipment: Food processor

Total Time: ~2 hours

Cook Time: 18-20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cups flour
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 4 oz cubed, smoked Gouda (mine was about 3/4 a cup in the end)
  • ¾ tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 oz shredded, sharp cheddar cheese (mine was about 3/4 a cup in the end, though the original recipe says it will be 1/2 cup lightly packed)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into ½ inch pieces

Instructions

Make your dough

  1. Put your butter, Gouda, cheddar, cayenne, salt and pepper in your food processor. Pulse until the butter is coarsely chopped, and the mixture forms into small clumps.
  2. Add the flour, then pulse again until larger clumps form.
  3. Line a work surface, then turn your dough out on it. Knead the dough until it comes together into a big piece.
  4. Split your dough in half, and form each half into disks.
  5. Roll each disk out between two sheets of wax paper until the disks are about 1/4 inch thick. Freeze for at least an hour, or until the dough is very firm.

Bake your cookies

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F, and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Work with one disk of dough at a time. Use a 1 1/2 inch cookie cutter or the rim of a glass to stamp circles out in your dough. Place the circles at least 1 inch apart on your baking sheets.
  3. Bake the cookies 18-20 minutes. Mine were perfect at 19! You know they’re done when they look lightly golden on top, and they’ve just firmed up a bit.
  4. Let the cookies cool on their baking sheets for 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store baked cookies for a couple days in a closed container, at room temp. You can freeze the dough for a couple weeks if you wrap it in plastic.

 

Cornflake Marshmallow Chocolate Chip Cookies

Back in 2010, I spent a whirlwind winter weekend in NYC. I don’t remember many details about that trip—but I do know it was the first time I went to Milk Bar.

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Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar is a NYC institution. Tosi is famous for her treats like Cornflake Cookies, Cereal Milk Soft Serve and naked Birthday Cakes. I’d heard rave reviews from friends who lived in NYC, and couldn’t wait to try it for myself. So we ordered a lot: some soft serve, a couple cookies and a truffle on the side. Everything was great, but the cookies stood out the most. Over the years, I tried more flavors whenever I happened to pass by a Milk Bar. And then I found this recipe, and decided to recreate the Milk Bar goodness for myself.
These Cornflake Marshmallow Chocolate Chip Cookies are truly something else. My
 tasters compared them to a caramelized Rice Krispie treat—but better! They’re salty but sweet, chewy but crunchy…and highly addicting.
I used an adapted recipe from Butter with a Side of Bread, and my cookies turned out great. Note that they spread a lot while baking, so make sure to allow space on your cookie sheet!

Cornflake Marshmallow Chocolate Chip Cookies

Original recipe: Butter with a Side of Bread I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: ~36 cookies

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: 3.5 hours, including chill time

Cook Time: ~15 minutes

Ingredients

Cornflake crunch

  • 5 cups cornflake cereal
  • 1/2 cup milk powder (I got mine from Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 9 tbsp butter, melted

Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups cornflake crunch
  • 1 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows

Instructions

Make your cornflake crunch

  1. Preheat your oven to 275F
  2. Pour your cornflakes into a medium bowl, then use a cup to crush them into bits
  3. Add the milk powder, sugar and salt
  4. Toss the whole mixture
  5. Add your melted butter, and toss the mixture again. As you mix, you’ll bind the ingredients together into little clusters
  6. Line a cookie sheet with parchment, and spread your cornflake clusters onto the pan
  7.  Bake for 15-20 minutes. Start checking around 15 to see how things look—you don’t want burnt clusters! When they’re ready, they’ll smell buttery and look toasted. They’ll get a bit chewier as they cool
  8. Let the crunch cool completely before you use it in your cookies. You can make the crunch ahead of time, too. It will stay fresh at room temp for about a week, and will last about a month if you put it in the freezer or fridge.

Make your dough

  1. Use a mixer to cream your butter, sugar and brown sugar. Use the medium-high setting for about 2-3 minutes
  2. Scrape your bowl, then add in the egg and vanilla. Beat again, 7-8 minutes
  3. Turn down your mixer to low. Add in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix only until it comes together as a dough—should be about a minute
  4. Stir in your cornflake crunch and mini chocolate chips by hand
  5. Portion your dough into 1/4 cup balls
  6. Flatten each dough ball, and place 2 mini marshmallows in the middle.
  7. Refrigerate your dough balls for at least an hour. This keeps the dough from spreading, so don’t skip this step!

Bake your cookies

  1. Preheat your oven to 365F
  2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper
  3. Place your dough balls at least 4 inches apart on the cookie sheet
  4. Bake your cookies 11-16 minutes. Mine took 13. You’ll know they’re done when the cookies are puffed, crackled and spread out
  5. Cool completely before serving. These will keep well for a few days in an airtight container

 

Travel Eats: San Diego

San Diego is one of my favorite places for a weekend getaway. It has a nice mix of beautiful scenery, interesting attractions and relaxing vibes. Plus—there’s tons of great food! 

EncinitasI got my first real taste of San Diego back in college. I spent a couple summers interning  in North County, and fell in love with the local community. It was my first time living somewhere with an actual, pedestrian-friendly main street.  There were cute local businesses. I could walk to the beach in 15 minutes. And I ate really, really well.

These days, I’m lucky to live a short plane ride away. I make my way to San Diego a few times a year, and try to hit up different neighborhoods every time. There’s a real variety of things to see, from lush gardens to classic art. When it comes to food, you’ve got your pick of cuisines, from Mexican to Italian to that “New American” label we see all over the place these days.

But where should you eat? Here are my favorite spots. Whether you’re looking for brunch ideas, dinner reservations or just a sweet treat, this list should help you out!

Breakfast and brunch

Isabel’s Cantina (Pacific Beach): This charming restaurant offers a really nice mix of decadent dishes and healthy options. There’s something for everyone—and it’s all delicious. I usually convince someone to share with me so we can get one sweet and one savory dish. My faves are the Very Berry Pancakes and the Avocado Scramble.

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Clayton’s

Clayton’s Coffee Shop (Coronado): Clayton’s looks like an old-timey diner, but its food is fresh, and there are lots of interesting things on the menu. There’s usually a wait, so try to get there on the early side. The service is great here—they refill my coffee so frequently, I lose track of how much caffeine I’ve had!!!!

Potato Shack (Encinitas): The pancakes here are so big, they’re called Manhole Covers! It’s not a gimmick, though: they’re also big in flavor. If you go here, make sure to try their “American fries,” too.

Papagayo (Leucadia): I’ve always loved the atmosphere at this North County spot. It’s laid-back, with lots of personality and great food. I usually get the Macadamia Nut Pancakes or Gran Marnier French Toast.

Little Italy Mercato: Head to Little Italy on Saturday morning for their lively farmer’s market. The market takes over several city blocks with fresh produce, food stalls and local crafts. You’re sure to find something delicious!

Lunch and dinner

Juanita’s Taco Shop (Encinitas): My favorite Mexican restaurant in San Diego! No frills, but huge on flavor. I usually get a combo plate here, and love the rice and beans that come with it. 

Ki’s Restaurant (Cardiff): All meals are great here, but lunch is my favorite. I especially love the butternut squash enchiladas. The dining room has ocean views, so go here during the day and pick your seat wisely!

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Lunch at Volcano Rabbit

Volcano Rabbit (Gaslamp): We wrote this place off as another generic Gaslamp bar…until it came up with super high reviews on Yelp. Ten points to Yelp, because we loved this place! I got short rib tacos, a mushroom taco and a margarita flight. Yes, you read that right: a margarita flight. Highly recommend. 

Cafe Sevilla (Gaslamp): Grab a group for this Spanish restaurant, so you can try all the things. My fave dishes are the Queso Fundido, grilled lamb and veggie paella. Their sangria is great, too. I’ve never been to the nightclub downstairs but… maybe next time?!

Barbusa (Little Italy): This Sicilian spot is a real scene, but the food speaks for itself. Definitely make a reservation before you head over here, because it gets real busy.  

Leroys

Pasta at Leroy’s

Leroy’s (Coronado): One of my more recent finds, Leroy’s has an ever-changing menu with lots of interesting options. My favorite dish so far was fettuccine with duck ragu and chili threads. Last time we had some pretty awesome quail, and sweet corn spaghetti. You can’t go wrong! 

Trattoria I Trulli (Encinitas): I don’t want to sound controlling but…if you go here, get the pesto. It’s impossibly good, and they mix pine nuts, string beans and potatoes in with the pasta.

Bakeries and desserts

Charlie’s Best Bread (Pacific Beach): My go-to spot for breads like chocolate cherry, challah and olive. You can also find Charlie’s at local farmer’s markets and grocery stores.

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Cravory cookies

The Cravory (Multiple locations): These cookies are SO good, and come in really interesting flavors. Think Rosemary Balsamic, Taro and Lemon Matcha. I’ve never actually made it to their shops, but you can find the cookies all over town, from the Little Italy farmer’s market to Balboa Park.

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Gelato at Bobboi

Filippi’s Pizza Grotto (Little Italy): I’ve never actually eaten a meal here...but I’ve come for cookies many, many times. They offer a huge selection of classic Italian cookies. My favorites are the sandwich cookies filled with jam or chocolate!

Bobboi Natural Gelato (La Jolla): Come here for cool flavors! Last time I got a rose/hazelnut/pistachio scoop. They have lots of dairy-free flavors, too. Plus, they’re right by the beach!

Things to see in San Diego

I know this post is called Travel Eats…but I have to give you some sightseeing tips, too. Note that San Diego’s top spots are scattered around a large metro area. You might want to rent a car, but you don’t actually need one. Between public transit and ridesharing apps, it’s totally possible to get around without your own set of wheels. These are just a few of my favorite things to do in SD!

Meditation Gardens (Encinitas): These beautiful, well-maintained gardens overlook the ocean. They’re run by a local spiritual group that also offers retreats and meditation. It’s free to go in the gardens, but you can make a donation to contribute to upkeep.

Balboa Park Museums: Balboa Park offers a crazy amount of sights. Make sure to visit the Timken Museum, which is full of masterpieces and free to enter. You should also check out smaller museums like the Centro de la Raza and the International Cottages.

North County fun: Don’t limit yourself to downtown San Diego! Head up north to get a different feel. You can start your day with breakfast at one of my fave Encinitas spots, then hit up Moonlight Beach for a bit. After that, head a bit south to the meditation gardens. Then, go to the Cedros Design District in Solana Beach. It’s full of small crafts stores and a great place to discover local artisans.

Let’s Talk About Tahini

Tahini is one of those miracle ingredients that makes tons of dishes better. It plays a starring role in the best hummuses around, lending nuttiness and depth. But it’s also great in cookie dough, on ice cream, on cauliflower–you name it. I’ve found so many ways to use tahini that I always keep a jar around my house.

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Tahini topped soft serve, with a side of sesame candy for good measure

What is tahini, exactly? It’s made up of ground, toasted sesame seeds. The flavor varies quite a bit by brand, so you might need to shop around for the brand you like. I’ve noticed that certain brands are smoother and more pleasant to eat with a spoon, but other brands can be a bit thick and bitter. I’ve had good luck with both Joya and Whole Foods 365.

Tahini has a slightly earthier flavor than peanuts, but most people really can’t tell the difference once it’s in baked goods. The flavor is more pronounced if you use it as a dressing or drizzle–like the amazing soft serve with tahini sauce that I tried at Seed + Mill last year.

Here’s a look at some of my favorite tahini dishes so far–and what I want to try next.

My favorite tahini recipes:

Tahini swirled brownies: This is a pretty simple way to dip your toe into the tahini dessert waters. Just make your favorite brownie recipe, and swirl a layer of tahini in the top before you throw the pan in the oven. I also topped mine with sesame seeds for extra texture. You could put a swirl in the middle too–just pour in half the batter, add a tahini swirl, and top with the rest of your batter.

Tahini Cupcakes with Chocolate Tahini Frosting: This was my first foray into baking with tahini. They taste sort of nutty, with a lovely texture.

Tahini Peanut Butter Chip Cookies: These use tahini in the base dough and peanut butter chips as a flavor accent. I’d omit the pumpkin seeds if I made them again–they just didn’t seem necessary!IMG_1448.jpg

Salted Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies:These are easy and pretty incredible. Sesame gives the dough a unique flavor, and you can’t go wrong with salted chocolate.

Tahini recipes I want to try: 

Tahini Dirty Blondies: I keep meaning to make these! They look delightfully chewy.

Zahav’s hummus: My favorite hummus so far was at Dizengoff in NYC. It’s so rich, pillowy and satisfying.  I’ve read that the trick is lots of high-quality tahini, and several prep steps that enhance each ingredient’s flavor.

Tahini French Toast: I first had tahini french toast at a place called Bar Bolonat in NYC. I immediately looked for recipes to try at home–but sadly, haven’t actually made it yet!

Carrot Tahini Muffins: I can’t quite imagine what these would taste like–which is usually my cue to try a recipe! They look scrumptious and satisfying in the photos, and I bet you it’s a unique flavor.

Carrot Lentil Cakes: I bake more than I cook, but these lentil cakes sure look good.

Roasted Butternut Squash: This recipe comes from Yotam Ottolenghi is the king of vegetables with tahini sauces. This one looks great, and I also tried  one of his cauliflower recipes recently at a friend’s house.

Black Tahini Morning Buns: Black sesame is richer than white sesame. I can’t stop thinking about a black sesame kougin aman that I tried a couple months ago, so this recipe is a must-try for me.