Sesame Pretzels with Za’atar Mozzarella Sauce

We’ve done it, we’ve achieved peak coziness: Bernie and I live in our matching fuzzy fleeces, soothing whispery folk tunes play on repeat, and in between nap times we pick squash and apples from the garden. I never thought I could love the fall more, but of course now it’s one thousand million times better with a giggling Bern strapped on to me. I try not to think about the fact that in a few short years, this time of year will mean that it’s time for her to start school, but what I do love thinking about is all of the school supplies and the after school snacks that we’re going to enjoy. (I know, I’ve just made my first batch of baby food and I’m already thinking about after school snacks?! Listen, I already know her full Bat Mitzvah menu, ok? Just let me have this.) I’m just so excited because the snack time that I engaged in regularly after school growing up was probably my favorite meal of the day. I mean, I loved my little breakfast sandwiches that I would eat on the ride to school, and lunches in my frog lunchbox were always great especially when they involved baloney sandwiches, but nothing ever compared to sitting at the kitchen counter, feasting on snacks with a big glass of milk, and hanging out with my mom while D.W. got sassy at Arthur on the TV in the background. After school snack food was always the best food: dumplings, pizza pockets, miniature bagel dogs, cheese on toast, and the crown jewel, hot pretzels. I’d have the frozen kind that came with a packet of extra coarse salt and I’d microwave them with a slice of cheese that got bubbly around the edges. I was never patient enough to allow them to cool so that they wouldn’t burn my mouth, but they were delicious all the same (and nothing that a sip of cold milk wouldn’t fix). It was the best tastiest little break between school and marimba practice and I can’t wait to have that break with Bern.

So today I’ve got a new and improved version of my old fave, one that I’ll make as soon as Bernie starts school, and one that I make these days just to have around for noshing. It uses a kitchen hack that I love which is that you can make pretzels from pretty much any fluffy bread dough, store-bought or homemade. In a world where I am an octopus and can hold Bernie with one set of arms while kneading dough with the other set of arms, I would use challah with this. Challah pretzels forever. But these days I’ve been using store-bought bread dough which works like a charm. In a nod to Jerusalem bagels, these are oval shaped and covered in enough sesame seeds to make any basic dough a little bit more interesting. You can make a big batch of pretzels and keep them in the freezer and reheat them so that they’re hot and ready at a moments notice. And they get dipped in a creamy, rich, and surprisingly easy to make cheese sauce that’s topped with earthy za’atar and includes protein thanks to the real milk and cheese within. It’s soo good and filled with nutrients that will keep Bernie going through her after school orchestra rehearsal/dance class/hockey practice/horticulture club (?) etc. It’s just a simple milk-based sauce that comes together in a snap and then melts with mozzarella. I love mild mozzarella with a pop of za’atar but, yes, you can use any melty cheese that’s in your fridge!

Sesame Pretzels with Za’atar Mozzarella Sauce

Makes 8 pretzels 

Pretzel Ingredients

1 c (230g) baking soda

2 (11 oz) cans store bought french bread dough (or a batch of homemade yeasted bread dough, might I suggest challah dough!)

2 c (472g) water

Egg wash: 1 large egg beaten with a splash of water

Sesame seeds and flaky salt, for topping

Mozzarella Sauce Ingredients

2 tb unsalted butter

2 tb all-purpose flour

1 c (240g) whole milk

1 c (125g) shredded mozzarella

Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Crushed red pepper or hot sauce, optional

2 tsp za’atar


First, bake the baking soda. Preheat the oven to 250ºf, spread the baking soda out in an 8” x 8” baking dish and bake for 1 hour. Let it cool and set it aside. This can be prepped ahead and stored in an airtight container for several weeks. (Even though the baked baking soda isn't as strong as lye, which is traditionally used for making pretzels, it could still potentially irritate your skin, so avoid touching it with bare hands once it's out of the oven.)

To form the pretzels, line two baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350ºf. Divide the dough into 8 pieces and then roll into snakes, about 3/4-1” thick. Smoosh the ends together to form big ovals and transfer to the baking sheets, one inch apart. 

(If using homemade dough, complete the recipe through the first rising, shape into ovals as described above, place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, and then give them their second rise.)

Make the baking soda bath: Add the water to the dish with the baking soda and whisk gently to dissolve the baking soda (it likely won’t all dissolve, a few baking soda chunks are totally ok as long as you remove any that stick to the dough). Using gloved hands, tongs, or a slotted spoon, and working in batches, immerse the pretzels into the mixture for 2-3 minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate or pan lined with a paper towel and pat them dry and then place them back on the baking sheet. Brush with the egg wash, sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds and a few pinches of flaky salt, and bake until deep golden brown; begin checking at 16 minutes. Let cool slightly and then enjoy warm with cheese sauce! 

These freeze well! Let them cool fully and store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to a few months. Reheat in the microwave or thaw at room temp.

For the za’atar mozzarella sauce: In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for another minute. Add half of the milk and whisk until thickened and then add the other half, continuing to whisk until thickened. Add the mozzarella and whisk until melted. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and spicy stuff, if using. Transfer to a serving bowl, top with za’atar and serve. 

Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge and then reheated in a saucepan or microwave. Stir in an extra splash of milk, if desired, to thin it out. 


I’m so pleased to have partnered with milk life, on this recipe! Dairy milk always played a starring role in my favorite back to school moments! Bernie and I already obviously have a special bond when it comes to food (we just started introducing solids and she loves watching me cook!) – and I know as she gets older and goes to school, the role that food plays in how we connect together will only continue to grow.

photos by chantell and brett quernemoen.

sweet potato curly fries with yogurt, sriracha, and cilantro

we're installing our new dishwasher today!!!! well, errrm, eggboy's installing it. i'm sitting on the couch eating a breakfast panzanella and waiting until the kitchen is cleared of all of the dishwasher-installing tools so that i can work on dirtying some dishes to christen the thing. i've got lots to make today! tomorrow my friends and i are serving a giant hummus feast in fargo, so there are chickpeas to soak, labnehs to drain, zhougs to blend, etc. etc. etc. what are you up to this weekend?? are your gardens planted? are you reading anything good? tell me tell me, just don't. mention. how. much. you. hate. the. new. instagram. logo. we're better than that. 

i have fries for you! they are inspired by a roasted squash dish from plenty more that i made for a dinner party when it was still slightly cold out. you basically roast squash in cinnamon and then cover it with yogurt, sriracha, and a bright cilantro garlic sauce that dashes all of your beliefs that a cinnamon-y squash should be exclusive to the fall. that's why i like it, its flavors are vaguely seasonally ambiguous and they work together like a well-oiled machine.

so because it's my birthday month* i've lowered the brow and adapted this experience to sweet potato fries. and they're curly, à la ali! they're crispy, salty, unexpectedly refreshing, and as flavorful as they are colorful. and fun/messy to eat, so b.y.o. wet wipes. 

*why is this month different from all other months? in this month we eat french fries with abandon!!!

for a lazier option: put these toppings on sweet potato chips.

for a baked option: put these toppings on sweet potato oven fries.

sweet potato curly fries with yogurt, sriracha, and cilantro

makes 4 servings (but it's fries so what are serving sizes really?)


cilantro sauce:

25 sprigs fresh cilantro (stems and leaves), roughly chopped, plus additional leaves for serving

1 clove garlic

1/4 c olive oil

kosher salt and black pepper


oil, for frying

2 large sweet potatoes (about 2 lbs), spiralized on blade c

kosher salt



plain greek yogurt



to make the cilantro sauce, combine the cilantro, garlic, and olive oil in a food processor and blend to combine. season to taste with salt and pepper.

to make the fries, heat about 2 inches of oil in a heavy pot to 360ºf. fry the potatoes in batches until lightly browned and crispy. transfer to paper towel or rack. sprinkle with a big pinch of salt and a small pinch of cinnamon. 

to assemble, drizzle with the cilantro sauce and yogurt. dot with sriracha and sprinkle with fresh cilantro leaves. serve immediately and enjoy! 


ful medames with hummus

ever since eggboy read an article about how people in blue zones eat a lot of beans, we’ve been trying to eat more beans! well, he doesn’t actually need to try because a typical snack for him is literally just a can of beans drained and sprinkled with sesame seeds. but i need to put some effort into my bean intake. i need lots of added flavors, like garlic and lemon and spicy stuff, and it all needs to be accompanied by that bean song, 

beans beans the musical fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot!

or maybe you’re more used to this version:

beans beans they’re good for the heart, the more you eat, the more you fart!

(which one are you?)

and in a wild turn of events, we happen to be very on trend with this bean business since 2016 has been named the international year of pulses! yessss. (what is a pulse? pulses include lentils, beans, dry peas, and chickpeas!) so to kick off this glorious year, i’m making ful medames! 

ful medames is a popular dish in north africa and the middle east that consists of warm mashed fava beans and tons of garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice, it is so good you’ll sing. it’s often served for breakfast and topped with onion, parsley, and possibly an egg, but i like it at all times of day, especially plopped on hummus and sprinkled with cumin and red pepper or la boîte’s izak blend. unlike my firm beliefs that hummus must must must be made by soaking and boiling dried chickpeas, making ful with canned favas is totally acceptable. which is good because dried favas can be very hard to find. so next time you’re in the bean section, grab some favas and cook up this tasty thing!

ful medames with hummus

makes about 6 servings


2 (14-ounce) cans fava beans, drained
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for serving
4 large cloves garlic, smashed or very finely minced
1/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 batch hummus 
Chopped onions, for serving
Chopped fresh parsley, for serving
Hard boiled eggs, for serving
La Boîte’s izak blend or cumin and crushed red pepper, for sprinkling
Fresh pita, for serving


in a large skillet, combine the beans and olive oil and bring to a simmer over medium heat. simmer for 5-10 minutes, until soft, mash them up with a wooden spoon to your desired consistency, and then mix in the garlic, lemon juice, and salt. taste and make adjustments as desired. to serve, spread a plate or shallow bowl with hummus, top with a plop of ful, a sprinkle of chopped onions, fresh parsley, and a hard boiled egg or two. drizzle with a coating of olive oil and then sprinkle with cumin and crushed red pepper or izak. serve with warm fresh pita and enjoy!


this post was sponsored by usa pulses & pulse canada! hooray for 2016 being the international year of the pulse! pulses are good for the health as well as the environment, so all year long (and beyond!), eggboy and i will be challenging ourselves to eat pulses at least once a week and throughout the year i’ll be sharing recipes for all sorts of pulses. if you’d like to join in on the fun, head over to and take the pulse pledge with us!!

olive oil baharat sweet potato chips

greetings from deep fried foods week! i have been spending my days in ratty old painting clothes, frying up all of the recipes for my book and the upcoming hanukkah season over and over and over again, and listening to justin bieber.

(because i am a fan of justin bieber now. omg. i don't even call him justin bieber, it's just bieber and eggboy doesn't approve. but! i like his new album! and when i listen to it i feel similarly to how i felt in 2009 about owl city: fun, ready to dance, and maybe in the mood for some internet shopping because in 2009 i did all of my holiday shopping on 5th avenue with owl city fireflying in my t-mobile sidekick earbuds, or something... i've also been really really into that disclosure/lorde song that they ***nailed*** on snl last weekend.)

ok, so now you know the vibe of my kitchen these days. fry stuff, eat it, make every attempt to dance it all off, repeat. watch master of none. don't think about skinny jeans. i know it was a really dumb decision from a health standpoint to book all of my fried food into one week (i ate latkes and schnitzel yesterday, that's it), but from a cleanup perspective, all is going well up in here! 

i recently learned a really great new thing about frying. last month i took a trip to the california olive ranch (those are their olives being harvested in the photos!) and among my biggest takeaways from the trip, in addition to the v fun times spent with lindsey and grace, was that the smoke point of good fresh olive oil is actually high enough to allow deep frying. like 425º high. i've always thought that canola and vegetable oil were best for frying, but finally i got home and fried some cauliflower and potato chips in ca olive ranch's olive oil and it worked. no smoke at all. it was like magic, only then i googled it and by the looks of how many articles there are about it, i think i am one of the last people to learn this... whatever! i get to eat all of the chips by myself with less guilt now.

this chip recipe is the easiest recipe ever. it's just fried sweet potatoes dusted with baharat, which is a middle eastern spicy situation that's got a little bit of cumin and some mad fall flavors going on, like cinnamon and nutmeg. it's super wonderful and these chips are likely something i'll make again after thanksgiving with any leftover sweet potatoes that didn't make it into the casserole.

olive oil baharat sweet potato chips


good olive oil, for frying (like california olive ranch)

1 large sweet potato, thinly sliced with a mandoline

kosher salt

1 tsp baharat, or to taste

1/4 tsp sugar

garlic and onion yogurt sauce, for dipping


in a heavy pot fitted with a thermometer, heat about 2" olive oil to 360º. fry the potato slices in batches until browned and crispy, 1 1/2-2 minutes. transfer them to a paper towel. sprinkle with salt, baharat, and sugar, and enjoy!


thank you so much to the california olive ranch for sponsoring this post! their olive oil is some of the best olive oil i've ever had and i am so excited to be partnering with them on posts over the next year!