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.

CornTortillas-1-5a

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.

CornTortillas-1a

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.

CornTortillas-1-2a

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.)

CornTortillas-1-3a

5. Repeat until done.

CornTortillas-1-4a

 

*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.

 

 

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.