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

Clues

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. 


-yeh!

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.

Bernie's Nursery!

She’s got a nursery!!! I am soooo excited about Bernie’s nursery reveal today and if I’m interpreting “Oo Goo Ehh!!” correctly, Bernie is too. So is Mr. Hippo, he loves the camera. 

Having an official nursery for Bernie feels way overdue because between my complete lack of interior design skills, the fact that Bernie’s been sleeping in our room, and the Jewish superstition that decorating a nursery before a baby is born could bring bad luck, Bernie’s room had been pretty bare bones. I did a tiny bit of zhooshing when I was 36 weeks pregnant and in major nesting mode, but the room remained a kinda boring half crib corner/half guest room and honestly the most it got used was when my mom came to visit the weekend Bernie was born.

So when Crate and Kids offered to wave their magic wand over the room we threw imaginary confetti in the air because it meant that Bernie would finally have a space of her own to grow with and love. Crate’s Scandinavian-inspired style is so beautiful and, ahem, perfect for our Scandinavian baby. Also, I grew up down the street from Crate’s headquarters outside of Chicago, so this project was a total nostalgia trip for me. 

This room in our house has been many things: Eggboy’s aunts grew up in it, Eggboy slept here when he had weekends at Grandma’s, it was the hair and makeup room for Girl Meets Farm, and it was the room that we slept in for a week when a tree outside of our bedroom was looking a little gnarly and like it could fall. If these walls could talk, I imagine they’d be patient, grandmotherly, and warm. And maybe a little high from the Girl Meets Farm hairspray fumes?! JKJKJK! From the beginning, even at times when it had very little decor at all, this room has had such good, homey energy.

In designing Bernie’s new space, Eggboy and I wanted her to feel that cozy warmth and be surrounded by her animal friends. We also wanted the history of the room to come through and for it to really feel like it was part of a farm house while also feeling fresh. Functionally, since this is the only bedroom in our house other than ours, I wanted there to still be a bed for Grandma visits and for when Bernie grows out of her crib, but for there to also be a space to sit and hang out. 

I love how Crate’s design team ran with this. They wove their vintage-inspired pieces, like their midcentury crib and brass shelving, in with the existing old paneled wall and peppered in our special personal items, like the rainbow from Lily, Alana, and Michelle, the hippo from Great Aunt Judy and Cousins, the needle pointed alphabet wall hanging that we found in the basement, Bernie’s favorite animal mobile, and the little wooden egg family from our shower. And they swapped out our big old ugly guest bed for a twin-sized daybed with a trundle (Bernie’s going to have the best sleepovers!) so it totally feels like we have a big comfy couch in here now. The muted rainbow colors, cozy layered textures, and warm lighting are so soothing. This room truly has an amazing balance of exciting and calm, modern and vintage. And just being in here feels like a hug! 

For now, the room is filled with bunnies galore because Bernie loves bunnies! The crib sheets, the pillows, the changing table cover, the wall decor, and, my personal favorite, the removable wallpaper (!!) all have bunnies. But what’s great about the large furniture pieces is that they’re sturdy, timeless, and safe enough to be able to grow with Bernie. So when she’s older and potentially over bunnies but into, I don’t know, astronomy? martial arts? the trombone? these pieces will be able to be dressed up to reflect those loves.

Ooh and the closet is a whole other wonderland! Bernie officially has the most organized closet in the house. It’s filled with bins upon bins because I find that bins are the easiest way of organizing all of the necessary baby stuff, especially stuff that requires quick access during, like, emergency wardrobe changes and sudden diaper explosions. It’s also packed with imagination-fueled toys that she can play with now (like her soft eggs and bacon set!) and when she gets older (like the prettiest wooden blocks I’ve ever seen). 

Now whenever I’m in this room, I can envision all of the blanket forts and make-believe games in Bernie’s future. It makes me so verklempt! Yes, I am soaking up all of the moments right now while she is tiny enough to cuddle up on my chest, but at the same time it fills me with so much joy to think about watching her grow in this beautiful Bernie space. 

cookie salad ice cream

Here is a complete list of all of the most insane food ideas that Eggboy has ever had, in order of best to worst.

First place (tie): cookie salad ice cream and shakshuka couscous 

Here by default: chicken pot babka

He is officially 2 for 3 on hard wins versus horrible nightmares. Although I do feel like chicken pot pie babka could ultimately work with some heavy tweaking, but that’s not for today. Today is for cookie salad ice cream, which I knew was brilliant from the moment Eggboy blurted it out, completely unprompted. We love cookie salad, we love ice cream, there’s no reason the two shouldn’t combine into one magical cone of quirky Midwestern glee. And it’s not that complicated to make either! Time consuming, yes, but the concept of a tangy buttermilk ice cream with crushed fudge stripe cookies and mandarin oranges is straightforward and exactly what you’d expect the most summery version of the best vegetableless salad to taste like. Sweet, sour, creamy, citrusy, and filled with buttery cookies!!

Developing this recipe did have some bumps in the road because I learned the hard way that dumping a bunch of room temperature cookies and mandarins into freshly churned ice cream will melt it and ruin it. But it has an easy fix, just freeze em! So don’t skip this step, take your time, and get started now so that it will be ready for fourth of July!

I’ve used Our Family mandarins here, perfect for our first family fourth of July :)! 


Cookie Salad Ice Cream

Makes 3 pints

Buttermilk ice cream:

6 large egg yolks

2 c (480g) heavy whipping cream

3/4 c (150g) sugar

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 tb vanilla extract

1 tsp almond extract

3/4 c (180g) buttermilk

Assembly:

18 fudge stripe cookies (1/2 batch of the recipe for homemade cookies below (preferred!), or store-bought)

1 (15 oz) can Our Family mandarins, drained

sprinkles, optional

Directions

Day 1 (or early in the day if making this all in one day):

Whisk together the egg yolks in a medium heat-safe bowl or measuring cup and set aside. In a large pot, whisk together the heavy cream, sugar, salt, vanilla, and almond extract and heat over medium high heat until steaming, whisking often (don’t let it boil, reduce the heat if it starts to). Reduce the heat to medium and gradually ladle 4-5 ladlefuls of the hot cream into the egg yolks while whisking vigorously and constantly and then gradually pour the egg mixture into the pot while whisking constantly. Continue to whisk until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Transfer to a container and whisk in the buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate for about 4 hours or overnight, until cold. 

Make the cookies if using homemade. Finely chop 15 of the cookies, leaving a few nice larger pieces, and reserve the remaining 3 whole cookies for the topping. Scatter all over a plate or sheet pan and stick in the freezer for about an hour or overnight.

Scatter the mandarin oranges all over a plate or sheet pan and stick in the freezer for about an hour or overnight.

Day 2 (or once the buttermilk custard is cold):

Coarsely chop the mandarins, reserving a few whole pieces for the top, and stick them back in the freezer. 

Churn the ice cream according to manufacturer’s directions. When it’s almost done churning, add about half of the frozen cookies and frozen mandarins (or as many that will fit in your ice cream maker). When finished churning, transfer to a large freezer safe container or 3 pint containers, sprinkling in the remaining cookies and mandarins as you go. Top with reserved cookies, mandarins, and sprinkles, if using, and freeze for 2 more hours before serving. 


Homemade Fudge Stripe Cookies

Makes 36

Ingredients

1 c (130g) all-purpose flour, more for dusting

1/2 c (60g) powdered sugar

1/2 tsp kosher salt 

1 tsp vanilla extract 

1/2 tsp almond extract 

1/2 c (113g) Our Family unsalted butter, cold and cubed 

5 oz (about 3/4 c) chopped semisweet chocolate

Directions

Combine the flour, powdered sugar, and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. With the mixer running on low, add the vanilla and almond extracts and then gradually add the butter. Mix until the mixture comes together into a dough, slowly increasing the speed once you're confident that doing so won't result in flour flying everywhere. Divide the dough in half, press into discs, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight. (If you're impatient, fine, skip this step.)

Preheat the oven to 350ºf. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 1/8”-1/4” thick. Cut out 2” circles with a biscuit cutter and then use a big piping tip to cut out 1/2” holes from the center. Re-roll scraps as needed. Place the cookies on baking sheets 1” apart. Bake until they're just starting to brown around the edges; start checking for doneness at 12 minutes. Let cool on the pans.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in a microwave in 30-second increments, stirring after each. Let it cool slightly and then pour into a piping bag. Snip off the tip and then pipe 4 thick chocolate stripes on each cookie. Let the chocolate harden at room temp or in the fridge. 

These will keep for several days in an airtight container at room temp or in the fridge.


-yeh!

photos by chantell and brett quernemoen

this recipe was created in partnership with our family!

mozzarella pesto mac and cheese

I prepped my Mother’s Day brunch months in advance, I prepped my birthday cake months in advance (coming next week!), so obviously I also prepped my birthday dinner months in advance. I promise this isn’t a statement about my faith in Eggboy’s cooking skills so much as it is an example of my obsession with meal prep. I don’t know if it was obvious but I started planning my baby meal prep the moment the little pee stick flashed the word “pregnant” on it. Sorry, I’ll never talk about pee in a recipe post again. So back in like August when I was planning all of this, I thought what will I want to eat on my birthday in May? It was so far in the future but macaroni and cheese always has and always will be my number one favorite food, so I figured that was the most reliable choice.

So here is a version of mac and cheese that I have been really loving these days. It’s not as cheesy as the casseroles that I grew up eating on every special occasion, it’s more saucy and milky, and pretty mild, flavor-wise. I knew I’d be prepping giant batches of it to have on hand for my whole maternity leave, so I went with something that was on the lighter end of the spectrum, at least for mac and cheese. It’s got a pretty green dollop of springy pesto (I used store-bought but would have used homemade if I had basil back in March!), and these individual servings make it really easy to heat quickly. They’re perfect to pair with salad or, my go-to sides as a 7-year-old, apple slices and cold baby carrots. 

If you’ve never made mac and cheese before or are looking to create your own version of mac and cheese with all of your favorite cheeses and mix-ins, this is a great basic recipe to start with. It’s pretty barebones, which means that it lends itself nicely to switching up or adding more cheeses (any cheese should work! less melty ones, like feta, won’t yield a smooth sauce but they’ll still be tasty), adding different flavors (paprika, nutmeg, sriracha, harissa, a little mustard, etc.), veggies (peas! onions! broccoli!) or meats (hot dogsssss!!!!). You can really go wild here. 

And of course, you don’t have to make individual servings or make this to freeze ahead. Bake this in a big casserole dish! Immediately! Or do what I do and just stand over the pot and take a million test bites, just to make sure it’s good, before it gets dumped in the casserole and browned in the oven for other people to eat since you’ve just filled up on “test bites.”

I’ve used Our Family cheese and noodles here, which I always have on hand in case of mac and cheese emergencies! 


Mozzarella Pesto Mac and Cheese (Freezer Friendly)

makes 10 servings

Ingredients

1 lb (16oz) Our Family mini shells or macaroni noodles

1/2 c (113g) unsalted butter

1/2 c (65g) all-purpose flour

6 c (1.44kg) 2% or whole milk

1 1/2 c (6oz) shredded Our Family mozzarella

1 c (4oz) shredded Our Family swiss

3/4 c (3oz) shredded Our Family parmesan, divided

Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

5 tb prepared pesto

10 tb (32g) panko breadcrumbs 

Directions

If baking immediately, preheat the oven to 375ºf. If prepping for the freezer, see directions below.

Cook the noodles to al dente per the directions on the box. Drain and set aside.

In a large pot, melt the butter over medium high heat. Stir in the flour and cook for about a minute. Add the milk, one cup at a time, whisking or stirring with a wooden spoon after each until thickened. Add the mozzarella, swiss, and 1/2 cup of the parmesan and stir until melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add this point if you want to add fun mix-ins like cut up hot dogs or crispy bacon or peas or hot sauce, now’s the time to do so. Stir in the noodles. It may seem overly saucy at this point but once it bakes up, it’ll be perfect!

To bake immediately, pour into a 9” x 13” casserole dish, dollop all over with the pesto and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and remaining 1/4 cup of parmesan and bake for 25 minutes, or until browned and bubbly. Enjoy!

To prepare for the freezer, divide into 10 individual containers (I like these because they are safe for the oven, microwave, and freezer). Add a heaping teaspoon of pesto to the tops of each and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and remaining 1/4 cup of parmesan. Let cool slightly, wrap well in plastic wrap, label, and freeze for up to 3 months. Reheat in the oven at 375º for 25 minutes covered with foil plus 20 minutes uncovered, or until browned and heated through. Or reheat in the microwave by heating for 4 minutes, stirring halfway through. Enjoy!


-yeh!

photos by chantell and brett quernemoen

this recipe was created in partnership with our family!

Here is a PDF of the freezer labels that I made! They are for Avery labels #6570.