“Open _____.” (fill in the blank)

sBefore we get to today’s puzzler and food focus, here’s a hint about Andy’s newest post: he’s contemplating retsina wine, Zorba the Greek, and happiness.  It’s multi-faceted.  And in Food for Thought I share details about my new favorite plant.  But I may just have to love it from afar.

Now – the puzzler: what do these three pictures have in common?

Of course!  You knew it, didn’t you?  But I’ll bet you didn’t know that Sesamum indicum, from which we get our sesame seeds, grows to about 3-6′ tall, is planted annually, loves high heat, and is one of the most drought tolerant plants in the world. But for those doing the farming, it’s labor intensive because the harvesting must be done manually, and the capsules want to shatter (unless they’ve been bred to be shatter-resistant) before the crop has been harvested; 1/3 of the crop can easily be lost.

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The capsules are 1-3″ long and there are about 50-80 seeds per capsule.  And it takes about 1000 seeds to get one ounce, so it took at least 100 capsules of sesamum indicum to fill the 8 oz jar of seeds that’s in our cupboard.  I don’t think I’ll be growing the plant any time soon.

Even though sesamum is not the crop for our backyard garden, I have a bit of an addiction to the seeds.  In addition to the recipes posted here, which include a favorite cookie, I love Italian Biscotti Regina with their sesame coating; I crave Dan Dan noodles, which makes use of both sesame seeds and sesame oil, and we’re headed for Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2018 to taste their moles, which often include sesame seeds.

When I taught Social Studies at Scotlandville Magnet High School in Baton Rouge, LA, I had the privilege of connecting with amazing kids from lots of different cultures and backgrounds.  It was an eye-opening experience for someone who had grown up in the very white Fort Collins of the 1950’s (known then as the city with wide streets and narrow minds!).   In my World Geography classes I was way more excited to teach about the food of an area than about climate, landforms or capital cities, and we had fun with in-class samplings of food from some of the countries we studied.

We recently had a little dinner party at our house, and the featured course was Korean Sesame Noodles with Zucchini and Ground Beef.  Since a version of that recipe appears in our daughter’s first cookbook, Asian Vegetables, published 16 years ago, you might think that she developed the recipe.  But no.  Food bloggers are instructed to give credit where credit is due, so I must report that Sara got the recipe from me, and I got the inspiration for it from a recipe given to me at SMHS by a Korean-born student.  And Andy and I consider it our comfort food – we love it that much.  Its unique flavor comes from the 3 tablespoons of ground sesame seeds which are added to the ground beef.

A few weeks ago my Glen Ellen neighbor and friend, Deb, who is an excellent and precise cook – and a vegetarian – brought me some of her favorite recipes and one of them is Sesame Noodles with Asparagus Tips.  It’s our 3rd Best of the Besties recipe and provides a different but equally delicious approach to Sesame Noodles.

Korean Seseme Noodles

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Another recipe provided by a student from my Scotlandville days is a hand-written note on a scratch pad – printed, BTW, not cursive (she was ahead of her time 🙂 – for Humus [sic] Me Tahini.  I quote:

“Tahini is ground sesame seeds made into paste – Cheapest @ Oriental grocery.  I don’t like the taste when using peanut butter.”  

I’m guessing I didn’t have a clue what tahini was before receiving that note; and I certainly didn’t know that peanut butter could be a substitute for it.  Live and learn.

And my student is right; though you can substitute peanut butter in the fabulous Tahini Dressing, it’s just not the same.  Try the tahini dressing on roasted or steamed vegetables, on green salads, as a dip.  And it’s easy to make it more Asian-oriented by using some sesame oil (MORE sesame!!! YUM :), rather than all olive oil, and soy sauce, rather than salt.  Remember the recipe for Dukkah I gave you a while ago?  If you made it, toss some of it on top of the veggies and tahini dressing, and you’ll be so-gourmet, so-simply!  If you’re wondering what brand of tahini to buy, here’s what Saveur has to say.

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Special Edition: MFF

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A quick follow-up to yesterday’s MF Chicken post.  With the 4th of July tomorrow, we thought you might need inspiration for a get-together.  So here’s More For the Fourth!

During our recent family holiday in Lake Tahoe (full, full lake, gorgeous blue colors, snow-packed peaks, crowded public spaces, teeny beaches, funky rustic cabin/house, funny tween and teens), this chocolate cake recipe, which I’ve made for years, won the Most Frequently Finished-Off award – or was it the Most Fabulous Food award? – from our very foodie family.   Who can resist butter and chocolate and walnuts with some rolled oats thrown in for good health 🙂  Plus, it’s actually on the not-too-terribly-sweet side.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake

  • Servings: 12-15
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Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 c boiling water
  • 1 c uncooked oatmeal (old-fashioned, rolled kind is best, but I think “quick” works too)
  • 1 c lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 stick (1/2 c) butter, cut into 6-8 chunks
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp soda
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 T unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 12-oz package semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 c chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 9″x13″ cake pan.

Put the oatmeal in a medium to large bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Let stand for 10 minutes.  Add the brown and white sugar and butter to the oatmeal.   Stir until the butter melts.  Add the lightly beaten eggs and mix well.

Whisk together the flour, soda, salt and cocoa until well mixed.  Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and stir together until it’s all incorporated, but don’t beat.  Stir in about half of the package of chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the cake pan; sprinkle the chopped walnuts over all of the top and then sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips over that.  Bake for about 40 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

This d-lish cake will keep – tightly covered and unrefrigerated – for 3-4 days.  And, of course, it freezes beautifully too, if you don’t eat it up the first day.  Recipe brought to you by Big Little Meals and Andy and Ann.

MF Chicken

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We looked and looked for “higher welfare chicken” for this blog recipe.  Oh, how we love the Brits and their expressions!  And, after finishing a few test recipes, Andy was busily scrubbing the dirty roasting pan when lights flashed.  Scrubbies!  Read Andy’s Corner for more.  And Annatto seeds are a pain to find and grind up to use in a Mexican rub.  But you don’t need to do that.  Use achiote paste; delicious, easy, and available.

It all began about 5 years ago. Our SF Familia, Joe & Sara, were talking about their love of El Pollo Loco, back in its good old early days, the 1980s. Andy and I recalled the mandatory visits we’d make to the one in Chino, CA every time we visited Andy’s folks. We’d pick up a spit-roasted chicken, delicious pinto beans, and slaw, bring it back to the house and 3 generations were all well-fed and content.

So we couldn’t have been more pleased to hear that Joe & Sara were thinking of doing an updated version of that concept in SF. But we were perplexed by the name they chose: MF Chicken. I assumed “Mexican Fighting Chicken,” thus tying the name into their Mexican-themed restaurant, Tacolicious. We do, after all, have a family history of fighting chickens (see the photo below of Andy’s dad, circa 1935, Norco, CA). I even went so far as to buy 2 lovely little wire Mexican-made fighting chickens – one for J&S and one for us – to commemorate the name (see photo above).
Gus with rooster

Andy, who always sees things in a happier light than I do,  thought MF Chicken meant “Mom’s Finest Chicken.” Or maybe “My Favorite Chicken.”

Long story short: MF Chicken, whatever that means, is finally coming to fruition, but as a delivery-based option for you lucky SF-ers, not a restaurant.MFChickenBag

Because the recipe for MF Chicken is known only to a few special souls, plus includes brining, a dry rub, and a rotisserie, I decided to make my own version of a Mexican achiote-based roasted chicken, since there’s no spit-roaster in our house – and probably not in yours either.  And I wanted it to be really really simple. Continue reading

Toasted

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I like bread and butter; I like toast and jam”

Turn up your speakers really loud, click on those lyrics, and you’ll be in the mood for this blog.  And be sure to check out “Andy’s Corner” a new page where Andy has free rein (reign??).  And does a NYTimes opinion piece espousing the evilness of expanses of lawns tie into BigLittleMeals?  Of course it does. 🙂  Find it in “Food for Thought.”  Finally, here’s a Father’s Day toast to all of our dads!

Did your mom – or dad – ever make you chipped beef on toast?  Or perhaps  you remember it by the very graphic army mess hall term.  Or maybe as a child you had creamed tuna on toast?  My mom fixed both, and I haven’t tried to replicate either recipe! 🙂  But we’ve found that toast can easily become the basis for the perfect quick little lunch or dinner.  Toast for breakfast goes without saying.

Stay with me while I describe the other night around here.  We really aren’t big sports fans.  Really we aren’t.  But when a team we’re vaguely familiar with, usually because of a dynamic player on a team that’s near us – think John Elway and the Broncos; or Shaquille O’Neill when he was at LSU, or now Stephen Curry and the Warriors – gets to the playoffs, we often get interested.  SO, to make a long story short, we needed a quick, portable dinner, so we could watch the Warriors/Cavaliers Round 2 Playoff game the other night.  I didn’t have anything frozen, but I did have a partial loaf of Della Fattoria Pumpkin Seed Bread, a favorite out of Petaluma, CA,  and some Oscar Wilde Irish Cheddar Cheese.  And 10 minutes later we were eating our open-faced cheese sandwiches and cheering for Curry.   And for Klay Thompson.  And we were happy and full.  And the Warriors won.  And WON.

The key here is to find an artisan, rustic-style, unsliced, loaf of bread – we tend to always go for seeded breads – and have it on hand – either in the freezer or the breadbox (yes, we have one).  And to have a nice cheddar cheese always in the fridge.  AND, IMHO, to slice the cheese very, very thin.

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But toast for dinner doesn’t need to end there.  The British apparently find beans and toast a most satisfying meal.  Though they traditionally just open a can of Heinz Baked Beans, we can easily concoct a U.S. version, which is vastly superior to the taste of the Heinz Baked Beans.  Since Jamie Oliver, the British chef, is sort of the equivalent of a football or basketball star for those of us who are into cooking, I looked at his recipes in creating my baked-beans-on-toast recipe.

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In about a month our Early Girl tomatoes (and maybe our Ace, Better Boy, Black Krim, and Celebrity) tomatoes will be ripening, and we’ll be chowing-down on our all-time summer favorite: open-faced Bacon and Home-grown Tomato Sandwiches (on toast).FutureEarlyGirls

And for a last delicious toast suggestion:  be totally au courant and fix yourself avocado and toast.  A lightly mashed avocado, a little salt, a little lemon or lime, maybe a pinch of Dukkah; I just discovered this Turkish seed mix and it’s delish.  Don’t over-toast the bread for this.  You want the center of the bread to be warm but nice and squishy soft.

Toast with Avocado and Dukah

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4 Ingredients 4 Dessert

Shortbread&StrawberriesA special edition!  We’ll be posting a new blog next Sunday.  But we had to share this recipe TODAY.  It’s that simple and delicious.

We’re in the midst of a little kitchen re-do and have been frantically figuring out how to live for a couple of weeks with little access to life’s essentials (i.e., food).  Plus, we’ve had a few good friends who are bucking the system (we have lots of “Bucks” in our lives, including the real buck who tried eating plants in our front yard at 5 this morning) – and they have suggested that even our simple recipes at biglittlemeals.com are not simple enough.

Well, here you go: the simplest, most d-lish sweet we’ve fixed in a long time.  Instead of clearing out our kitchen drawers this morning, prior to the contractor coming tomorrow a.m., I opted to make this shortbread.  It took me all of 5 minutes to get it made and in the oven!  And strawberries are in season (at least in California).  Nothing could be a more perfect match.  The shortbread is addictive; what more can I say.

All the credit goes to Melissa Clark from the NYTimes.  She’s one of our absolute favs in regards to recipes.

And go Warriors.  And have a great week.

Super Simple Shortbread

  • Servings: 24
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 c flour
  • 2/3 c sugar
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 sticks butter (1 cup), cut into 1″ chunks

Heat oven to 325 degrees.  In a food processor blend the flour, sugar, and salt.  Add the chunks of butter and pulse until the mixture just barely starts to come together.  It will be crumbly.  Be careful not to over-process.

Press the dough into an ungreased 8″x 8″ pan or 9″ pie pan and then prick it all over with a fork.  Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until the edges are golden but the rest is still pale.  Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack.  Cut into squares while the shortbread is still warm.

See the NY Times article by Clark for lots of fun additions/changes you can make.

Recipe brought to you by Andy and Ann and Big Little Meals
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