Homemade Tortillas

 

Everyone loves Mexican food. Well, everyone in America. In Europe it hasn’t quite taken off yet but I believe it will with time. Growing up I’ve always had a decent selection of Mexican joints around to whet my appetite, but to be honest even cheap Tex Mex a la Chevy’s has its appeal. The fact that Taco Bell has a cult following 513mEyfJGBL._SX385_BO1,204,203,200_and that you can find tomatoes canned with diced chilies in Iowa just speaks to the US’s love of “South of the Border” flavors. Despite all of this I believe that most of us have never really had true Mexican food. I’m talking fresh masa tortillas, cotija, hoja santa leaves, and more. As much as I could go on about these ingredients and this cuisine there is no way I could top Alex Stupak’s passion for this cuisine. (I’ll save my soapboxing for Greek food.) My local library has a used book store and I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advanced copy of his new book TacosNow I had staged (culinary term for working a shift) in his West Village restaurant Empellon for a day so I was well aware of the passion. I snatched that tome up so fast you wouldn’t believe. And I’m so glad I did. There is such an emphatic voice for this food contained within that I was immediately moved to run out and buy masa harina, a corn flour, and make my own corn tortillas. I was also lucky enough to have received a tortilla press for Christmas. Not 100% essential as abuelitas have been making them by hand for centuries but it sure makes quick work of the process.

Making tortillas is actually quite easy. It’s a mere two ingredients, three if you add salt like I do. The hardest part of it is getting a rhythm. The dough has to stay moist, the finished tortillas have to stay warm, and they each cook for about 55 seconds. That being said once you’re ready to rock and roll you can knock out a dozen in less than 15 minutes. Well worth it if you ask me. The tortillas we did not use I sliced into strips and fried for tortilla soup, though you could use them as tortilla chips too. They are so hearty that they maintained their crunch all through out the duration of the soup.

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I’m starting a cleanse and these babies are going to be the only “bread” (or as I call them “vehicles”) allowed. Doctor boyfriend whole heartedly supports this line of thinking.

Makes a dozen small corn tortillas:

1 1/2 cups masa harin

1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon kosher/sea salt (omitted in Stupak’s recipe but added for my personal preference).

1. Place two skillets on the stove. One on medium heat and one on high. Mix together all the ingredients. It should be soft and supple but never sticky. If you’re too sticky than add another tablespoon of masa until it is no longer sticking. Cover with a moistened tea towel.

2. Prep your tortilla press by covering with the cut sections of a plastic freezer bag. Roll a ball of masa in your hands about the size of a golf ball. Place it down on the bottom of the tortilla press. Push down gently with two fingers to flatten it slightly. If the sides crack your dough is too dry, add another tablespoon of water and remix.

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3. Make sure your plastic pieces are not wrinkled and gently but firmly close the tortilla press. Beware that they have a tendency to flatten one side more than the other. Peak in the side while you press if needed to get a feel for it.

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4. Place the tortilla in the medium heat pan for 10 second. Flip onto the high heat pan for 15 seconds. Flip again and cook for 30 seconds. Stash your disks of golden corny goodness in a warm spot or wrapped in a dish towel or tortilla holding bag. (Yeah, I have one of those.)

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5. Repeat until done.

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*NOTES* To keep the tortillas warm consider purchasing a small tortilla bag. It’s a lined fabric pouch often times super colorful. Ignore the classic plastic tortilla containers. They do nothing to keep the heat in and instead often cause condensation. Mine cost about $8 off Amazon. My tortillas now stay warm for about 1.5 hours. DO NOT REHEAT CORN TORTILLAS. Reheating doesn’t activate some hidden poison or anything but it renders your tortillas brittle and flavorless, which defeats the purpose of making fresh ones at all.

 

 

Whiskey Marshmallows and Cajun Maple Pecans

Whiskey, making marshmallows feel all grown up.

Whiskey, making marshmallows feel all grown up.

Marshmallows are one of my favourite foods. That’s going to turn some people off I realize but I don’t care. I love them plain, toasted, made into ice cream, or especially in some bar treat (think rice krispie) form. But even if you are a marshmallow hater you might find yourself changing your tune after trying this boozy variety. And if you think you hate marshmallows but have never had a homemade one before then my money says its not these sweet little confections you hate but the crap that comes in a bag at the store. I make mine from scratch at least once a year and whenever I’m going camping. My boyfriend never liked marshmallows, finding them to be “pointless” and “too sweet.” He went so far as trying to ban me from making them anymore. That is until I put a healthy bit of bourbon into a batch. They are light as air, sweet, and have all of the depth of flavor of whichever alcohol you use. My go to’s are bourbon, whiskey, or rum. The alcohol cuts the sweetness and now these are “the only marshmallows I ever want to see in this house, ever.” You can guess where that quote comes from.

Maple, smoked chili, salt, and pepper give these pecans a kick.

Maple, smoked chili, salt, and pepper give these pecans a kick.

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Horchata: Pumpkin Spice Edition

Pumpkin Spice Horchata: greater than the sum of its parts.

Pumpkin Spice Horchata: greater than the sum of its parts.

Pumpkin spice (known from here on out at “PS”) is a big deal. Sure the flavor has been grossly exploited and is found in everything from cat litter to chewing gum to Pringles. This disgusting excess does not make the idea behind PS any less delicious. At its most basic it’s a collection of spices (most heavily cinnamon and nutmeg) mixed with sugar and pumpkin. I can’t think of a bigger current American food trend, aside from bacon of course. It might surprise you to learn that cinnamon isn’t nearly as popular in desserts outside of North and Central America as it is right here at home. Cinnamon rolls are quintessential to our cuisine. And good ole’ PS is just the perfect concept of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. The containers of “pumpkin spice” have been around for ages, then people started to add pumpkin and sugar to it and threw the whole shebang into some coffee. If you hate all the PS that’s around these days I don’t blame you. The fact that most of what you find is sickeningly sweet and cloyingly heavy and artificial tasting aren’t PS’s fault. We just need to take a hand in our food’s preparation. Do so and you’ll find out why pumpkin spice is more popular than any of the presidential nominees. Few experiences sum up fall better than a warm drink with heady exotic spices enjoyed on a brisk day. Makes you wanna get all cozy with that special someone.

Delicious horchata takes no effort and keeps great in the fridge.

Delicious horchata takes no effort and keeps great in the fridge.

Now lets be honest, how many of you are going to wake up and make yourself a latte everyday? Yeah, thought so. But you’d probably make yourself some drip or instant coffee. So why not make your own pumpkin spice syrup and have easy rich creamy coffees with aromatic cinnamon and hearty pumpkin to help you face the fact that the days are getting shorter? The syrup serves as my sweetener and part of my milk in regular coffees.

Pumpkin Spice Syrup:

Weight Watchers points: 1 for 2 TBL

1 1/2 cup water

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup real cinnamon in chip form or 4 sticks

1/2 tsp ginger powder

2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

1 tsp cloves

2 big glopping TBL of sweetened condensed milk

1/3 cup canned pumpkin puree

  1. Combing the water and sugar in a medium pot and bring to a hard boil. Lower heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Simmer for another 5 minutes on medium heat.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Strain into a jar and add the sweetened condensed milk and pumpkin. Stir or shake well to combine. Keep in the refrigerator.
Horchata is as easy and blending and waiting.

Horchata is as easy and blending and waiting.

Horchata basic recipe:

1 cup raw long grain brown rice

5 cups warm water

pinch salt

1/2 cup milk (optional)

2 tablespoons simple syrup (optional)

fresh ground cinnamon to serve

  1. In a blender combine the rice, water, and salt. Blend for about 30-60 seconds depending on the strength of your blender. You want the rice ground up.
  2. Let this mixture sit at room temp for about 4 hours. Strain, add the milk and simple syrup if using, and chill in the refrigerator.
  3. Sweeten if desired, serve chilled or over ice sprinkled with cinnamon
This recipe moves quick.

This recipe moves quick.

Pumpkin Spice Horchata varation:

Add 1-2 tablespoons of PS syrup to taste to each cup of horchata. Stir well and enjoy chilled topped with cinnamon.

Like buttah(scotch.)

Butterscotch is my errything, and you can expect to see it’s delightfully burnt sienna self popping up from time to time as the mercury begins to dip. But what is butterscotch exactly? And what makes it different from caramel and toffee, you ask? According to Sweet Manufacture a British handbook and recipe collection printed back in the 30’s for professional candy companies butterscotch is a caramel with 3-5% of it’s weight being made up of butter. The same chapter also states however that “there is no definite dividing line between toffees and caramels, and in what may be termed borderline cases it is quite impossible to say which class a particular sample belongs.” I love that quote as I always read it in my head as being said by Monty Python’s Graham Chapman. It’s the most Britishly formally way of saying “ehh, no one knows for sure.”

Butterscotch and cashews are bff's, and there is no better time to celebrate this combination that the beginning of fall.

Butterscotch and cashews are bff’s, and there is no better time to celebrate this combination that the beginning of fall.

Nowadays butterscotch is known mainly as a sauce or in it’s chip form. It’s in the caramel family but it’s made with brown sugar instead of white which makes it sweeter than caramel while giving it greater depth of flavor. For me butterscotch creates memories of childhood and haystacks made with shoestring potatoes and peanuts. The flavor is American as Jell-O watergate salad and I unashamedly love it, even though every part of me knows I shouldn’t. If you don’t know what either of those “classic” recipes are, they’re the kind of things you usually have to grow up with to love, and even then they are as controversial as candy corn or licorice.

But I’m not here to rock the boat. I’ll not proselytize the wonders of licorice (and there are many) or sweet candy coated fried potato strips. I’m here today to give you the best possible introduction to this butter laden member of the caramel family: butterscotch cashew chews. The salted cashews round out the whole thing and provide the yang to the golden chip’s yin.

The world needs more butterscotch. Help make the world a better place.

The world needs more butterscotch. Help make the world a better place.

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You got bagel in my pretzel! You got pretzel in my bagel!

It's a pretzel-bagel/bagel-pretzel. Either way its delicious.

It’s a pretzel-bagel/bagel-pretzel. Either way it’s yum-tastic.

I jokingly call my boyfriend “the everything bagel bandit” because he leaves a trail of everything bagel toppings wherever he goes. Small piles of dried garlic and poppy seeds form in the rubber lining of the fridge door. They settle into the driver’s seat of his car and somehow find their way onto our couch’s throw pillows. I can’t blame him for his fondness. If I had the kind of metabolism that could support eating a half a loaf of bread’s worth of carbohydrates a day I would be all over that shit. Garlic, onion, salt, sesame and poppy seeds? Yes please. Never one to miss out I keep a jar of “everything bagel spice” on hand at all times. It’s a simple mix that takes a mere minute to throw together. It is amazing on popcorn (blend it up in a spice grinder first lest the pieces fall off), or on light toast with cream cheese, or as a topping on today’s project: bagel pretzels/pretzel bagels.

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Portion control. Wasn’t that a song by Prince?

I avoid making really serious breads because my KitchenAid is jacked at the moment. The metal on the mixing bowl is dented which means the bowl doesn’t lock in. I have to hold onto the bowl with both arms and my chest in a full body hug that makes it look as if the mixer and I are about to tandem base jump. In fact the only reason I attempted this was because my refrigerator was being threatened with a hostile takeover from the sourdough starter I grew this week. Since my man likes to have his “daily bagel” this is one of the best ways for me to use up the portions of starter dough that would normally meet their end in the trash. I HATE to waste anything, if you haven’t gathered that by now.

This recipe is heavier than a pretzel but lighter than a bagel. It’s full of wonderful flavors and has a healthy amount of chew. They’re also thankfully smaller than a deli bagel.

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Balcony Fresh Chocolate Truffles

Just like how they'd look if a pig sniffed 'em out of the earth, no?

Just like how they’d look if a pig sniffed ’em out of the earth, no?

Truffles, true rolled ganache tossed in cocoa powder truffles, are without a doubt one of the simplest sweets to make. Most people hear the word “truffle” and think of bon bons. The difference being that bon bons are either dipped or encased in a shell of chocolate. Bon bons are absolutely more difficult to make than truffles. You have to temper chocolate, dip or prepare molds, and prepare the filling. Its messier, more technically demanding, and just not something that I enjoy doing. Rolled truffles however are the kind of thing you could make while half watching a Cold Case Files marathon or FaceTiming your mother. I used to pretend that truffles took more effort to make than they actually do as I worried their impressive effect would be lost if people knew how simple it was to make them. But then I came upon this recipe and decided that the flavor is impressive enough on its own. I don’t need to trick people into thinking I spent an evening in the kitchen. All thats needed is planning. Simply allow time to steep the cream overnight, and then to bring your truffles fully to room temperature before serving. This gives them an unbelievably “how-are-these-not-melting-they’re-so-fricking-soft” texture.

These are seriously sexy food. So sexy that I made them for my anniversary as a way to end the night on a decadent but not heavy note. These are great for times when you want to indulge but don’t want to be weighed down, if you catch my drift. There is a reason that chocolate truffles are ubiquitous with Valentine’s Day.

Why do I call them “balcony fresh?” Because I made these guys lemon verbena flavored from some lemon verbena that I’ve been growing on my balcony. Clearly.

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If you’re gonna have pie, you gotta have ice cream

Ice cream, yo.

Ice cream, yo.

Did I mention I hate to let anything go to waste? Hate hate HATE it? So when I found out I could steep fresh peach pits in cream and make lightly peach scented ice cream I knew I had to do it. While my own homemade almond extract is not going to be ready until Christmas at the earliest I still have some store bought left over. There is nothing like the menage a trois of peaches, cream, and almond. It’s divine. Assuming you have an ice cream maker making ice cream at home is stupid easy. Its easier than making frozen custard, which is often mistaken for ice cream. Whats the difference you ask? Egg yolks, baby. Sweet, fatty, golden yellow, emulsifying egg yolks.

Seriously, save these guys.

Seriously, save these guys.

Ice cream can technically be made in one day, but I always give frozen custard overnight to chill. I do the same with any infused ice creams, like this one, so plan to make it the day before you want to eat it. It’s really really ridiculously easy to just steep some peach pits from your pie making at the same time you are making said pie. Let it sit overnight with your pie dough and then “spin” (the term used in professional kitchens for churning ice cream) your ice cream while you form your pie. You could spin your ice cream at the same time as your pie is baking but even with as awesome as the Cuisinart and KitchenAid ice cream makers are if the high heat of the oven makes your kitchen warm your ice cream will suffer. Avoid this issue by spinning your ice cream (a lovely hands off 20-30 minutes) while you are rolling pie dough, which also benefits from a cold kitchen.

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