Sunday, August 28, 2011

Memories of tortillas and cooking

One of the things I had the fortune of growing up with is fresh flour tortillas.  Any time we had a meal where they were needed, Mom would whip up a fresh batch.  Occasionally, I'd even get to help out with the cooking of them.

Tortillas had an interesting set of traditions in my family on my Mom's side.  In Latino families, it isn't unusual for them to be made at home fresh, but sometimes, if you worked in the local tortilla factories as some of my Mom's family did, they'd bring home "fresh from the factory".  Another interesting aspect was for how they got cooked at home.  The traditional way to make them involves cooking on a round cast-iron griddle called a Comal.  Nowadays when you search for "Comal" you end up finding all the typical round griddles that people buy for all sorts of things.  Back then, however, with wood stoves not being quite as antique, it wasn't uncommon for the cast-iron stove covers to be repurposed to be used as a comal on a more modern stove.  We have one in my family that my Mom still keeps and uses from time to time.

As with most home-grown recipes, while it is all well and good to attempt to write them down, it is inevitable that there are things that don't get quantified.  It is difficult when you've made something your whole life without a recipe to suddenly remember and get it all down accurately so that someone who's never made it before can do it.  That was me when trying to reproduce my Mom's tortilla recipe.  She had it down for me, but no matter how many times I tried it, the dough never came out quite right.  Ultimately I know that there is some little piece of love that I'm missing to make it come together.  That or a little extra flour or water or something. ;-)

Recently, I stumbled on a recipe I really like.  While hopping around YouTube, I found a video of a woman that makes them, and she has an instructional video as well.

 The dough is really supple, and as you work it, all the sticky dough from your fingers incorporates in until you're left with a really nice ball.

The 45 degree rotating method while rolling is a really nice trick to get them round.  I always rotated 90 degrees which is a great trick to get them to look weird and lumpy.   :-)   I also use vegetable oil instead of shortning (I will have to try them sometime with lard just to know how much better they can be), and they still turn out pretty good.

One last thing I do, out of laziness more than anything else is I just divide my dough by halves to get the count I want.  I start with the big ball and divide it in half.  Then each half into half.. and onwards until I get what I need.  If I want large wrap-style tortillas, I divide it down to eight balls (though on my comal, they roll out almost too big.  I'm considering trying to divide the big ball into thirds and then working my way in halves down).  If I want more modest rounds, I divide down to 16 balls.

One of the other things not mentioned in the video, but having manned the comal for many years you learn is that it is a roll and flip sort of thing.  You place down your most recent rolled tortilla and then start rolling out the next one.  Periodically you move to flip the one on the comal while you finish rolling out the next one.  Then as the fresh tortilla is ready to remove from the comal, you are ready to place the next one down.  And so on and so on until you're finished.    It is good to keep the hot ones wrapped in a cloth on a plate or in your serving basket.  Just remember to allow for ventilation wherever you keep them because if you don't allow for the steam to escape, they'll get soggie.

I'm sure some people think it is easier to hit up the local mega-mart and grab a pack of pre-mades.  But as easy and fast as these are to make, and as delicious as they turn out, why would you?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Product Review: Titan Peeler!

I'm always on the lookout for good solid kitchen tools which make my life easier, and perform well.  I generally stray from what AB would call uni-taskers when at all possible (I only have so much kitchen storage.  Don't have room for fluff), but for those few things where you really do need a dedicated tool, I like finding good products.

I had seen the hype for the Titan Peeler on TV and in magazines, and I remember thinking it was a really nice tool.  Peeling vegetables is one of those things where if you don't have a sharp peeler or you don't really know how to use one, it not only is dangerous, but it really becomes a chore to peel with.

I've always been a fan of a nice sharp pivoting hand held peeler like Mom used.  Never had a major problem with them, and they were nice and simple.  At least that's what I thought until I picked up my Titan the first time and set to work on some potatoes.    

Because of the nature of the design and the way the blade is mounted, you can peel in both directions without shifting your work.  It makes peeling extremely fast.  The blades are serrated and very sharp, and make light work of a pile of potatoes.  

I've peeled apples, carrots, cucumbers, and others.  I haven't yet attempted shaved chocolates or cheeses, but the Titan is made to do both, and the hand-feel leads me to believe it would be a snap to do it.

Reading on Amazon, the biggest complaint, humorously enough, is that the blades are TOO sharp.  People apparently don't know what to do with a peeler that actually works, and end up slicing themselves up.  I can see why this would happen. If you aren't paying attention, you can peel yourself!  

The julienne tool is also pretty nice.  I don't seem to use it as often, but it has worked fairly well the times I've tried it.  It doesn't glide quite as smoothly since in addition to the peeling-like-blade, there are vertical mini blades that divide the peel into nice uniform straws, but it works well.

I haven't put it up to any serious abuses yet.  Maybe this fall I'll try and peel an Acorn squash for fun.  That would be an interesting test.  But abuses aside, I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a nice upgrade from the run of the mill peeler.  My other previous favorites now sit in the drawer unused, and I'm inclined to think it will stay that way.

Friday, May 27, 2011

An Eggsellent Dinner

Photo from
One of the things I enjoy about getting a CSA box is that they often throw in things I wouldn't otherwise think to buy for myself.  This week, we got an Eggplant!  I can't say I've ever really learned to appreciate eggplant.  My mother seemed to enjoy them, but I don't recall her making it very often.  I know she had a love of Eggplant Manicotti, and I think she made that once that I recall.  I don't remember being all that impressed, but it was a long time ago.  I don't recall having tried it on my own since.

But with a beautifully purple fruit in my possession, I couldn't help but see what I could do.  I wasn't really thinking Manicotti, but Eggplant Parmigiana sounded like a good choice.

I dug through various recipes, and they mostly said the same things.  Bread the eggplant, fry it, layer it between homemade tomato sauce, slices of mozzarella, and basil leaves  up in 2-3 layers in a baking dish, and bake until it is melty and toasty.  

I started with a 28 oz can of peeled whole tomatoes which I emptied into a sauce pan on medium heat.  To that, I added half an onion (cut in half.. so two quarters) left intact, 5 tablespoons of butter, a shake or two of salt, one clove of garlic, minced, and about half a cup of red wine.

I left that to simmer down, occasionally smashing the tomato pulp against the pan with a spoon.

I sliced the eggplant into 1/4-1/2 inch slices and dipped them in flour, then egg, then seasoned bread-crumbs.  Then in about 1/2 inch of olive oil, I fried them until golden.

Back to the sauce, once it had cooked down, and the onion was translucent, I removed the onion, and used a potato masher to break down the remaining pulp.  I suppose I could have broke out the immersion blender, but I wanted to have it a little chunky.  I let it simmer a while longer until it thickened.

Once the sauce was ready, I broke out the small baking dish (if you use 2-3 eggplants, go for the 13x9 dish), and starting with the sauce, I layered it with the eggplant, slices of mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, and parmigiana reggianno, and managed 3 layers with about 12 slices from the one eggplant.  Sauce on top, more parm, and into the oven for about 20-25 minutes at 350 until it starts to brown and is all melty.

Not only is it vegetarian, but with this preparation, even a meat lover like me won't miss it.  I'm going to have to start hunting down my own eggplant now. :-)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

An Apple Muffin A Day...

I like to follow several food blogs and one I enjoy is Macheesmo, a cooking blog from a guy by the name of Nick who encourages cooking in instead of eating out, and learning the basics and building on them to build confidence and do interesting and creative things in the kitchen.

Recently, he posted a recipe for Triple Apple Muffins, and I decided I just couldn't pass them up.  You can find it here! - >

I knew we had apples coming in the CSA box, so I snagged one for use in the recipe.  I think that was the only thing I would change because the Braeburn I used was not the best for baking.  They seem better suited for just eating, which is fine for now.  Next time I'll come up with something better.

Nevertheless, I used it anyway, and they still turned out really good.  The apple flavor was off the charts, and the apple sauce specifically made the muffins moist and tender.  The recipe got great reviews from all those who tested them. :-)

And the most difficult part?  Peeling, coring, and chopping the one apple.  The rest was a snap!

I'd highly recommend them, and I'd also highly recommend Macheesmo!

Friday, May 13, 2011

I made it myself! How hard could it be?

I was sitting at work during a potluck listening to the jabber, and somebody joked that they made their lasagna from scratch.  Made the cheese, the pasta, the sauce, etc.  It was a joke, and everybody laughed, but I thought to myself... how tough would it be?

I mean realistically, it certainly would be more effort than assembling one from pre-made ingredients, but it is not as if those ingredients are really that difficult to pull together, particularly if you are already making them in bulk for other things.

Mozzarella is one of the easiest cheeses to make, and ricotta can be made from the leftover whey from the Mozzarella.  The pasta noodles are extremely easy to make, and a good tomato sauce is also relatively a snap.  Make a little Italian sausage from some grass-fed meat, and you'd have what would be an amazing meal.

One of these days, when I get stuff together to make some cheese (had the pleasure of taking an in-home class on some basics but hadn't tried it out myself), I will have to plan ahead to pull the rest together.  And if I'm going to do it, I will do it in bulk so that I can freeze it all and have it set to go for dinners during the week.

Mmm.. Now I'm hungry. :-)

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Bundt In The Oven

A holiday favorite 'round my family when I was growing up was my Mom's Fresh Apple Cake.  A very simple bundt cake that was reasonably light, tasty, and well received.

I've in past generally reserved it for Fall and Winter holidays, but with Easter brunch approaching, I decided I had a craving.

While searching for comparable recipes, I noticed that it is a very popular and common dessert and there are lots of permutations (even with different fruit!) that allow for interesting options and flavors.

This recipe includes a glaze that my Mom didn't often include, but I've found that it adds an extra but subtle sweetness that compliments the otherwise mild flavored cake.

The Cake

2 cups of AP flour
1 1/4 cup oil
3 cups apples, thinly sliced (3-5 apples, granny smith, golden delicious, etc)
1 cup pecans
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice

Grease/butter the bundt pan thoroughly (use a brush if necessary) and flour.  I like to sprinkle in a little bit of extra cinnamon in with the flour to give the cake a nice crust.

Preheat oven to 325.

Mix sugar into the oil.  Beat the eggs and mix into oil/sugar mixture.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, soda, and spices.   Add the dry to the wet.  Fold in the pecans.  Fold in the apples.   Pour into pan and level it out.  Bake for 70 minutes (give or take.  Test with a toothpick at 70 minutes)

Allow to completely cool before trying to release from the pan.

The Glaze

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon of flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat in a double boiler (or an equivalent) until thick.

Drizzle over the top of a cool cake.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sustainability and 100-Mile eating

Boy, I've really been slacking on keeping up in here. :-)  Part of the issue is that I just haven't done anything particularly new and interesting in the kitchen lately, and unfortunately, I haven't thought to take time to put to proverbial paper some of my other thoughts on food and eating.  So perhaps I'll start with that for the moment while I work towards more delectable inspirations.

Having a bit of a survivalist mindset and a macabre love of post-apocalyptic fiction, one of the things that always rolls around upstairs with the marbles is how to manage food and cooking if supplies of things are cut off.

The recent tragedy in Japan is just another example of things that happen that are really in the more likely scope of problems that occur as opposed to more interesting doom-filled scenarios.  Changes in environment that can include natural disasters, but even just changes precipitated by the global political climate such as rising oil prices affecting the economy and food transportation.

While I am not the staunchest practitioner of sustainable eating, I will say that it definitely has come to mind both from a health perspective and from a preparedness standpoint.

For example, as I munch on my organic orange that came in my CSA box or drink my morning coffee, I realize that both of these products come from places that are not local to Washington State.  Coffee, in fact, is not local to any part of the United States.  Many fruits aren't local.   Chocolate?  Various food products aren't local.  Cooking oils including olive oil?  How much do we consume that is imported or otherwise not locally produced in the state?  How much do we pay not just in cash but in environmental cost for these things?

I find myself thankful we are coastal though.  We have various seafood options that are relatively local.  We also have a mixed climate state that provides for things like wheat, potatoes, grains, hops, grapes, and other various vegetables.

One-hundred mile eating, or as the book I found calls it, the 100 Mile Diet, refers to committing change to your diet for even as little as one meal a week to keep to only locally grown and raised food.  The idea is not only to take advantage of local food, but to also become aware of where your diet originates and to do the research to know where things you eat come from.  Not only is the diet better for the environment from a fossil fuel perspective, but to my way of thinking, it is better from a preparedness perspective in terms of knowing what your options are should lines of transportation become cut off or too expensive.

Another piece of that plays into my latest desire to get into a house includes a home garden, and the various things I'd like to grow, eat, and preserve.  At that point I'll get to decide on the various things I'd really like to grow and keep and even the idea that I'll have fresh herbs available makes me excited.

So how do you justify your diet?  What considerations do you have for what is and isn't local?