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.

grilled blue cheese with honey and walnut pesto

have i told you that i'm, like, *kind of* a pescatarian these days?? not 100%. maybe 90%. (i'll always eat the brisket that you cook for me.) but this summer, with all of our happy vegetables and eggs, a new ful-fueled fascination with beans, and after my trip to cheese school and a first-ever branzino cooking experience, i have been having so much fun diving deep into meals that don't have a big hunk of meat at the center. i like putting the focus on vegetables, nuts, and other things that won't make me look outside and see our macaroni and feel mommy guilt. it's a great challenge and i feel like i'm eating more vegetables for it. maybe it's just in my head. i also like not feeling obsessive about cleaning all of the cooties off of every surface of my body and kitchen when i cook meat, and between the garden and our eggs i can get away with going to the grocery store way less now. 

(side note: we have two chicken breasts in our refrigerator because i'm a dirty hypocrite but i'm having trouble figuring out what to add to next week's ful burritos that will make them better than just burritos filled with mushy beans. do you have any suggestions??) 

so! i don't know where i'm going with this, i think i just wanted to tell you since friends update friends on those kinds of things. not--i repeat not!!!--that i want you to change your menu for when you have me over for dinner next. but when you come to my house we'll probably have lentils. or if we're grilling, how about a fancy grilled cheese!  

let's discuss grilled cheese! i like grilled cheeses where the inside of the bread is first toasted. it allows the cheese to get a little jump start melting, and then there is more textural excitement all up in the middle with nary a soggy bite in sight. a few months ago at cheese school, we tasted various cheese pairings and the one that blew my mind the most was honey with castello's double creme blue cheese. it was like salty/sweet but on steroids because of blue's awesome funkiness and this particular blue's uber creaminess. i knew right then and there that this combination would make one luxurious grilled cheese. so i came right home and did just that. i paired it with a second blue cheese, a quick little walnut pesto too for some oomph and bulkiness, and boom! it's the grown-up grilled cheese of my/your/our dreamz. oh and it needs wine because that's the rule about eating a grown-up version of a kid thing, so this is getting paired with the bright and rich napa cellars' zinfandel. yum. the grilled cheeses pictured here are miniature, fit for a party, but if you're making a meal out of it, go the magnum route

grilled blue cheese with honey and walnut pesto

makes 4 mini or 2 large grilled cheeses


walnut pesto:

1/2 c toasted walnuts

1/4 c olive oil

1 clove garlic

a squeeze of lemon

crushed red pepper

kosher salt and black pepper

grilled cheese:

8 mini slices bread (pictured) or 4 slices sandwich bread

2 ounces castello double creme blue cheese

2 ounces castello traditional danish blue cheese



to make the pesto, blend all ingredients in a food processor and season to taste. be careful not to add too much salt since the blue cheese is salty!

to make the grilled cheeses, toast one side of each of your slices of bread, flip them over, and then top half of them with a layer of walnut pesto, both types of blue cheese, and a drizzle of honey. top with remaining slices of bread and grill until the cheese is melty. 

serve with a pickle and zinfandel and enjoy!


thank you, castello and trinchero family estates, for sponsoring this post!

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! 


everything bagel cheez-its

when i arrived in tampa for cousin mia's bat mitzvah utterly famished and then was able to immediately pacman seven soft homemade chocolate chip cookies all by myself in my hotel room, i knew that it would be a good weekend. that mia totally nailed her welcome basket. and i was right, her bat mitzvah was indeed the greatest bat mitzvah ever (not just because i snuck into the kids' side of the party and got a t-shirt airbrushed with a chihuahua (?)). mia's welcome basket, in all its chocolate chip cookie and florida oranges glory, totally inspired eggboy and me to want to give our out-of-town wedding guests the same warm sweet welcome when they got to town.

in a perfect world, we would have picked up all of our out-of-town friends at the airport with a homemade lunchable and plenty of warm cookies in tow, but we were busy frosting cakes and stressing out about where to put the tractor that was taking up our entire dance floor, so mum and i did the next best thing and made up cute hotel welcome baskets that (we hope) said prepare for a weekend of fun, cheese, and sprinkles. i loved putting those baskets together! they were actually welcome sacks because they were in fabric flour sacks from the mill that processes eggboy's wheat, but if every task for our wedding was as fun as putting together welcome sacks, by golly, i would get married to eggboy a million times.

our welcome sacks consisted of:

everything bagel cheez-its (recipe below!)

sprinkle biscotti

za'atar popcorn

ring pops

blood orange hard candy


apples and oranges

little bottles of wine

my eyeballs just about popped out of my head when i saw that everything bagel cheddar exists. it is so good. i am such a fan of this movement to apply everything bagel seasoning to more things than just bagels. i basically want to sub everything bagel cheese anytime a recipe calls for cheese: everything bagel cheeseburgers, everything bagel pizza, everything bagel grilled cheese. everything sounds so good with everything bagel in front of it. so i'm starting small, with a nice cheesy cracker that highlights the flavors of this tasty cheese. it's based on my sriracha cheez-it recipe, and if you can't find everything bagel cheddar at your grocery store, you can certainly use plain cheddar and add a few teaspoons of everything bagel seasoning to the mix. 

everything bagel cheez-its

makes about 4 servings


8 oz everything bagel cheddar, shredded*

1 c flour

a good pinch of kosher salt

a few turns of black pepper

4 tb unsalted butter, cold and cubed

2-4 tb cold water

*i hate shredding cheese so much. almost as much as i hate using the can opener. i've definitely made this recipe before by ripping the cheese up into chunks, adding it to the food processor with the flour, salt, and pepper, and processing the heck out of it before adding the butter.


preheat oven to 350. line two baking sheets with parchment and set aside.

place cheese, flour, salt, and pepper in a food processor and pulse until combined. add butter and pulse until the mixture turns to small pea-sized pieces. continue pulsing and add the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture resembles couscous and sticks together when you squeeze a small amount in your hand. turn it onto a lightly floured surface and use your hands to work the mixture together into a ball of dough. roll it out to 1/4-inch thickness and then cut out 1 1/2-inch squares. place them 1 1/2 inches apart on your baking sheets, sprinkle with a bit more salt if you'd like, and bake for about 20 minutes, until they're lightly browned.