September 2011

un talmal, dos tamales

Now that my sweet lover works weekends at the fine Amoeba Music, I’ve found myself inspired to attempt cooking projects of epic proportions. Generally this is how it goes …

1. I am struck with a crazy cooking idea
2. There is no one around (namely, Jordan) to tell me that this idea is actually a little nuts therefore there is no discouraging the aforementioned crazy project
3. I purchase the necessary supplies to make the crazy idea a reality, often carrying way too many heavy groceries on my lonesome and cursing my ambition
4. I spend my entire Sunday in my tiny kitchen cooking up a storm while listening to Harry Potter audiobooks
5. I feed anyone and everyone who stops by my house

Well, the weekend was par for my new course and I decided to make tamales.  I’d made tamales once while I lived in D.C., but honestly, didn’t really remember how I’d done it. I did a little internet research (which, sadly, was less than fruitful) and decided to just give it a whirl. I know how to braise meats, know generally what ingredients are in tamales, and just made up the rest. I popped down to the Mission to purchase the necessary tamal supplies, then stopped off at the Whole Foods for some meat, cheese and veggies, and I was ready to go!

Let me put this out there right up front: Tamales are absolutely a cooking adventure of epic proportions. It takes all day, makes a ton of dishes dirty, and is no wonder why tamale-making is often reserved for holidays and is a whole family affair. Tamales are serious business.

But, I took them seriously and they turned out amazing! (If the photo above doesn’t say serious, I don’t know what would). I made two types: pork and goat cheese. Both were absolutely delicious! We enjoyed them with friends the day that I made them and still have a freezer full of tamales just waiting to be steamed.

The general cooking progression went like this: soak husks, braise pork, make salsas, make goat cheese filling, make pork filling, make masa, assemble tamales, steam. Now here we go!

White Girl Tamales, makes about 80 tamales

Begin by soaking the corn husks in a large bowl filled with water. The longer the better. This makes the corn husks easier to fold later.

For the pork filling 
4 lbs pork shoulder
2 quarts vegetable stock
1 onion, sliced
1 orange, zest and juice
6 – 10 whole dried chilis (I used California and chipotle chilis)
4 cloves garlic
olive oil, salt, pepper
1 cup sour cream

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Cut the pork shoulder into 3 inch cubes. I cut it into these smaller chunks so that it would cook more quickly. Salt and pepper all sides of the pork cubes. In a dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Brown all sides of the meat. Remove from the pot. Add the sliced onions and sauté until translucent. Put the pork back in and cover with vegetable stock. Add the orange juice, zest, chilis and garlic. Cover and braise in the oven for 3 – 4 hours, until the meat is fork tender. Meanwhile, make your salsas and cheese filling.

Once the pork has finished braising, remove the meat from the juices and set in a large bowl. Using two forks, shred the meat. Add 1 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup of braising liquid and then season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

For the goat cheese filling
1/2 lb goat cheddar cheese
1/2 lb goat monterey jack cheese
1 onion, diced fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup sour cream
salt and pepper

Grate the cheese. Mix cheese, onion, garlic and sour cream together in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

For the masa
1 cup manteca (It is labeled “butter”, but is actually lard. You could also use vegetable shortening, but you know how we love all things pork.)
3 cups masa flour (I used Maseca brand. Corn meal is not a substitute for masa flour. The texture of Maseca is considerably finer and it is also treated with lime.)
2 cups braising liquid or broth
1/2 T cumin
1 t chili powder
1 t chipotle powder
1 1/2 t salt

Instant masa requires liquid to be mixed with the corn meal. The instructions on the package suggested either chicken broth or water. I decided to make use of the wonderful, porky liquid leftover from braising the pork shoulder. These seemed like the authentic, Mexican grandma thing to do and boy was it a good idea. The masa was super flavorful and not at all dry. It was so good, we could have eaten it on its own.

Remove the chilis from the braising liquid and puree until smooth. Season with salt. In a stand mixer, beat the manteca until light and fluffy. In another bowl, mix the dry masa flour and spices. Alternate adding the masa flour and pork liquid. Mix until the dough just comes together. It should have the texture of a sugar cookie dough, but be slightly less sticky. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary. You want the masa to be flavorful so it compliments the filling, instead of dulling the whole dish.

I ended up making three batches of masa to use up all the fillings I prepared. The recipe above is for one batch of masa, enough for 20 – 25 small tamales.

For the assembly 

I took pictures of this process because I thought that they would provide a better explanation. Robin was my wonderful hand model and also helped me fold all 80 tamales. She was amazing!

And then tie a little strand of corn husk around the tamal to secure it and repeat! And repeat! And repeat! 

Ta-da! You now have tamales! Steam them for 20 minutes (or 30 minutes if they are frozen). I served them with a tomatillo salsa, a pico de gallo salsa and also sour cream.

-Emily

pico de gallo salsa

This was the fresh tomato salsa that I served with my tamales. It was wonderful, mostly because of the quality of the tomatoes. Pico de gallo is absolutely a summer salsa, and not advisable with flavorless hot-house tomatoes in the winter. Get it while you still can!

Pico de Gallo
4 – 6 large tomatoes, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 jalepeno or serrano chili, seeds removed and diced
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 limes, juiced
salt

Dice the tomatoes and onions to about the same size pieces and put in a medium bowl. Finely chop the garlic and chili, taking care to not touch your eyes or face while handling the chili. Add to the tomato mixture. Add the cilantro and lime juice. Season with salt. You can make this salsa ahead and it will keep for several days.

Fresh and easy!

-Emily

bourbon ice cream with chocolate coated cornflake mix-ins

This recipe was inspired by the “Secret Breakfast” flavor at a local creamery Humphry Slocombe. While I am not quite sure what is in their Secret Breakfast—they don’t call it secret for no reason—this is a close approximation. Accuracy of replication aside, this ice cream is amazing. I only made a half batch because I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out and boy was I sorry. We ate it in two days, and that was stretching it. I recommend you make the full recipe. It is surprisingly good.

The bourbon ice cream is balanced and satisfying. The bourbon flavor comes through but there is no alcohol burn because of the cream. Bourbon and vanilla are just a great combination. Bottom line: this ice cream unadorned is fabulous. I’m also imagining it topped with peaches and caramel and that sounds like heaven. It was also wonderful with the chocolate corn flake mix-ins. The crunch of the corn flakes is delightful. The cornflakes don’t get soggy because of the coating of chocolate that envelopes them. Plus, bourbon and chocolate is also a good idea.

Bourbon Ice Cream with Chocolate Coated Cornflake Mix-Ins, adapted from Lottie + Doof and Humphry Slocombe

For the ice cream
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 cups half and half
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk powder
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 t kosher salt
7 T bourbon
1 T vanilla extract

Bring first 3 ingredients to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until milk powder dissolves completely. Remove from heat.

Combine egg yolks, sugar, brown sugar, and coarse salt in large bowl; whisk until thick and blended. Gradually whisk hot cream mixture into yolk mixture. Return mixture to same saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until custard thickens and the temperature registers 175°F to 178°F. Remove from heat.

Mix in bourbon and vanilla extract. Refrigerate custard uncovered until cold, stirring occasionally, at least 3 hours.  Custard can be made 1 day ahead.  Note: I didn’t have this much time to refrigerate my custard and the ice cream turned out just fine, but three hours is what the big shots like David Lebovitz recommend.

Pour the custard into your ice cream maker and churn until the consistency of thick frozen yogurt. This is when you’d want to add in your mix-ins. Continue churning until quite thick. Pour into a freezer safe container and freeze for a few more hours. Or, if you’re like me, spoon into dishes and enjoy right then.

Chocolate Coated Corn Flakes
1/2 cup corn flakes
1 cup chocolate chips
coarse salt

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate over just barely simmering water. Once the chocolate has melted, stir in the cornflakes. Coat both sides of the cornflakes and then spread them in a single layer on the baking dish. Put in the freezer to harden the chocolate. Break apart the cornflakes into small bits. These are your mix-ins. They also make a really tasty snack if you happen to make extra.

Honestly, I am obsessed with this ice cream. It was so good. I’ve been dreaming of other desserts to incorporate it into or serve it alongside. There are so many possibilities!

-Emily

fried green tomatoes

Despite the fact that it is rather late in the season for green tomatoes, on our last visit to her house my Nonnie gave me a few that had fallen off her plants. And, what else is there to do with green tomatoes but fry them?

There is quite a bit of discussion on the internet about what is the correct way to fry green tomatoes. While my method might not be as traditional, it sure was delicious. The tomatoes are very tart, the breading was crunchy and slightly spicy and sweet. My idea was to have cornbread wrapped tomatoes, and I almost got there, but not quite. I might try a bit more sugar and a finer cornmeal for my next batch. I’ve adjusted the recipe below to get closer to my ideal fried green tomato.

Fried Green Tomatoes
3 – 4 green tomatoes, sliced into 1/2 inch thick slices
1/2 cup finely ground corn meal
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 t salt
1/2 t paprika
1 cup buttermilk
peanut oil, safflower oil or other light oil for frying

Pour 1 inch of oil into a cast iron skillet. Heat over medium high heat. In the meantime, slice the tomatoes. Mix the corn meal, flour, sugar, salt and paprika together. Dunk them first in the buttermilk and then in the flour mixture to coat both sides.

Fry in small batches until golden brown on each side, about 4 minutes per side. Sprinkle with salt when you remove them from the oil and then drain on paper towels.

-Emily

savory tomato cobbler

When I came home from work last Thursday, I was greeted by Miss Willow and a GORGEOUS bowl of cherry tomatoes. They were so beautiful and there were so many of them! I was so excited! Jordan had picked up our CSA earlier in the day and the tomato bounty of late summer finally hit.

Earlier in the week, I had been making my food blog rounds and saw a recipe for a Tomato Cobbler on Honey and Jam. I also saw a similar recipe on Lottie + Doof. I guess it was a Martha Stewart recipe gone viral, fueled by the surplus of tomatoes at this time of year. Well, the photos on both blogs were so beautiful and the recipe so tempting that I knew instantly what to do with my big bowl of cherry tomatoes.

When most people think of cobbler, they think of stewed fruit with a crumbly topping. This is similar technique turned savory— stewed tomatoes and onions with a biscuit topping.

Despite my absolute love of raw cherry tomatoes, I am so glad I made this dish. It was the definition of comforting, but also still fresh and bright. The biscuit topping was buttery and balanced nicely by the acidity of the tomatoes. Plus, no one’s ever criticized the combination of thyme and tomatoes. Like Hannah from Honey and Jam observed, this dish is the perfect transition between summer and fall.

Tomato Cobbler
For the tomato filling
1 large onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 pounds cherry tomatoes
3 T flour
olive oil, salt, pepper, chili flake, thyme

In a cast iron skillet or dutch oven, saute the onion in olive oil over low heat for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, make the biscuit topping and preheat an oven to 375 degrees. Add the garlic and saute for another 3 minutes. Turn of the heat and add the tomatoes, flour, and a nice pinch of salt, pepper, chili flake and thyme.

For the biscuit topping 
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour (you can substitute APF if you don’t have cake flour)
1 T baking powder
1 T fresh thyme
1/2 t salt
1/2 cup butter, cold and cut into cubes
3/4 cup buttermilk

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the butter, rubbing it into the flour with your fingers until small clumps of dough form. Add the buttermilk, stirring until the dough is just combined. Divide it into 5 rough clumps and top the tomato mixture with the balls of dough. Bake for 45 minutes  – 1 hour, until the biscuits are golden brown and the tomato mixture molten. Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes before serving. Enjoy and be transported to a heavenly buttery, tomatoey land.

This dish was also wonderful the second and third days. I am most definitely making this one again. Hopefully before the season is out!

-Emily

polenta bread with roasted corn and peppers

This pizza-polenta hybrid was inspired by my friend Robin’s gushing description of a polenta bread served at a favorite restaurant of hers in Philly Mama Palma’s. We were out walking the dogs, she described this bread, I decided that I had to have it and soon.

This dish is fairly easy to make — some assembly is required— and quite substantial. I served it with a simple salad on the side. It could also make a pretty fabulous appetizer.

Polenta Bread with Roasted Corn and Peppers
1 ball pizza dough (Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods both have good pre-made ones)
olive oil
garlic

1 bell pepper (I used half red and half green from our CSA)
1 ear of corn
olive oil, salt, pepper, chili flake

1 cup polenta
1 cup milk
1 cup water
salt, pepper
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

basil pesto (from my freezer—store-bought would do just fine also—the pesto adds an important acidity to the dish)

I made each of the elements (pizza crust, roasted veggies, polenta, pesto) separately and then assembled them onto the cooked pizza crust just before serving. This was the easiest way I could figure out to make this dish and in total it took about an hour to make. The pesto and roasted veggies can easily be done ahead of time.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. While the oven is heating, roast your veggies. You could do this in the oven with some olive oil,  over the gas burners of your stove, or on a grill. I choose the stove method. After roasting, dice the peppers and cut the corn of the cob. Combine in a bowl with some olive oil, salt, pepper and chili flake. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat milk and water to a boil. While the milk mixture is heating, roll out your pizza crust. Brush the top with olive oil, prick the dough with a fork and slide it onto your hot pizza stone or onto a cookie sheet placed closest to the heat source in your oven. The crust will take about 15 minutes to become golden brown and bubbly. Once the crust is in the oven, whisk the polenta into the hot milk mixture. Whisk until smooth, reduce heat and stir frequently. The polenta will thicken quickly and should cook in 10 – 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. After the polenta is cooked, turn of the heat.

Remove the pizza crust from the oven. Rub carefully with a clove of garlic. Spread on a layer of polenta and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Sprinkle with the roasted veggie mixture and then top with a drizzle of pesto. Let it set up for a minute or two and then cut into that delicious carb-overload of a pizza pie!

-Emily

albondigas y arroz

When I lived in Argentina, I had dinner with my host family almost every night. It was at these dinners that I really learned how to speak Spanish, really fell in love with my host family and really learned to love meat (after 5 years of vegetarianism!). Like most moms, my host mom Josefina had a repertoire of dishes that we enjoyed on a regular basis. All of her food was good, but one of my favorites was her albondigas y arroz—meatballs and rice.

While I do enjoy spaghetti and meatballs (and may have claimed that they saved my life in the past), meatballs and rice have a really special place in my heart because of those many dinners with Josefina and my host brother Juan. Josefina—in true busy-working-mom form—would prepare the meal in advance and then heat it back up right before serving. She would reheat/saute the rice in plenty of delicious Argentine butter, ladle on tomato sauce and top that with beef meatballs. The dish was so satisfying, so comforting, so simple … perfection that transcended language barriers. This is my adaptation of her recipe.

Albondigas y Arroz
For the tomato sauce

1 onion, diced
3 to 5 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 T olive oil
2-16 oz cans of whole tomatoes
1/4 cup sugar
2 t red wine vinegar
salt, pepper, chili flake (a sizable pinch of each)

I think that tomato sauce pairs best with the meatiness of the meatballs if it is sweet and just slightly spicy. The kick from the chilis is not very Argentine, but sure is delicious.

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, saute the onion in olive oil over low heat, until translucent. Add the garlic. Saute for another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper and chili flake. Simmer uncovered for 20 – 30 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Puree until smooth with a blender or food processor taking care to not splash yourself with the molten liquid.

You can make this sauce in advance. It can also be frozen. This recipe makes a lot of sauce and a lot of meatballs, the idea being you can freeze half and whip that out for a quick meal when you’re feel nostalgic for albondigas y arroz. 

For the meatballs
3/4 pound ground beef
3/4 pound ground pork
1 large egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
salt, pepper, dried herbs of your choice

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine beef, pork, egg, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and herbs. Mix with your hands to combine. Shape into 1 inch diameter balls and place them about 1 inch apart on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, until firm to the touch.  Don’t worry too much about the doneness of the meatballs; they will cook for another 10 – 15 minutes in the sauce as you reheat it.

Put on a pot of rice. I used long grain white rice—1 1/2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice. Bring the water and a little butter to a boil, add the rice, simmer for 20 minutes and then turn of the heat until ready to serve. If you make the rice in advance, fluff it with a fork and then saute in some butter over low heat until warm. Meanwhile, reheat the tomato sauce and meatballs over low heat until warmed through. To serve, pile on the rice and top with the meatballs and sauce.

-Emily

honey ginger sandwich cookies with lemon cream

These cookies started out as ginger snaps. And then I realized that I didn’t have any ground ginger, remembered that I don’t actually like molasses, and worried that ginger snaps are often teeth-breakingly crunchy. Also, I wanted something lemony. So I improvised and ended up with these soft sandwich cookies. The fresh ginger is refreshing and pairs nicely with the lemon. The honey is mild, and much better than molasses. I might even suggest that it lends the soft texture to these cookies.

Honey Ginger Sandwich Cookies with Lemon Buttercream

For the cookies
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 stick plus 2 T unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar, separated
1 egg
1/4 cup honey
2 T fresh ginger, diced

Preheat an oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small saucepan over low heat, dissolve 1/4 cup sugar with the ginger. Take care to  stir often and watch it closely. Once dissolved, take of the heat. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt. In a mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy. Cream in remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Add egg, honey and ginger-sugar mixture. Add flour and stir just to combine.

Place 1 T size dollops of cookie dough about 3 inches apart on a cookie sheet. These cookies will spread out and flatten quite a bit while cooking. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a rack before frosting.

For the buttercream
6 T unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 lemon, zest and juice

Beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the zest and lemon juice. Beat in the powdered sugar. Spread a large dollop of frosting on one cooled cookie and top with another.

Jordan and I both enjoyed these cookies. While they won’t become my go-to cookie, Jordan says he wants to give them another try. The cookie was overshadowed by my very lemony buttercream frosting. Jordan thought I was just crazy to try a new cookie and a new frosting in just one confection—maybe I’ll bake only the cookies next time.

-Emily

zucchini pancakes

If you’re like me, then you’re probably bursting at the seams with zucchini. We’ve got zucchini from our CSA, my mom brought us zucchini from her garden, they look really pretty at the farmers’ market and it’s hard for me to resist pretty things, but two people can only eat so much grilled zucchini and zucchini gratin. Zucchini bread was a viable option, but I was more in the mood for something savory on Sunday evening.

This recipe is another from Smitten Kitchen. I was sold at the first photo and the dish did not disappoint. Deb calls them fritters, but mine turned out more like pancakes. Regardless, they are wonderful! The scallion and zucchini are amazing together. They are crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside. Everything you want from a veggie, right? Plus, I’ll take any excuse I can get to eat sour cream.

Zucchini Pancakes, from Smitten Kitchen 
3 medium zucchini, grated
1 t coarse salt
2 scallions, sliced thin
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup flour
1/2 t baking powder
2 T olive oil
sour cream for serving

Grate the zucchini on your box grater or with the grater attachment of a food processor. Put it in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Pour the zucchini into a mesh strainer or cheesecloth and squeeze out the excess water. A lot of water will drain out. Those suckers are mostly water.  Taste for seasoning. You may need to add a bit more salt. Add the scallions.

Add the egg to the zucchini and mix. In a small bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Add the flour mixture to the zucchini mixture.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a cast iron skillet. Cast iron is where it’s at for this type of frying. Once the oil is hot and shimmery, drop in a 2 T scoop of the batter. Flatten the pancake slightly with a spatula. It should bubble and sizzle almost immediately. Add several more pancakes to the pan, being careful to not overcrowd the pan. I was able to fit about 5 in my skillet. You want to leave space for pancakes to brown. Flip them after about 4 – 5 minutes and cook the other side for 3 – 4 minutes more. Drain onto paper towels and keep in a warm oven until serving.  Serve with sour cream or lemon juice.

Don’t you just love taking a totally healthy vegetable and making it so fabulously and deliciously unhealthy! Oh yes!

-Emily

fresh strawberry milkshakes & other exciting news

First the milkshakes … we walked the dogs to the park on Saturday afternoon and after a brisk stroll on a sunny summer day, our friend-neighbor Nadr suggested strawberry milkshakes. (Side note: Can you believe that these three beasts all live on the same floor in tiny apartments and get along swimmingly?!?) Now, I’m not one to turn down a great idea like that and so we went back to my place and focused our efforts. I supplied the milk and food processor, Nadr supplied the strawberries and ice cream, Robin provided the charm (and Harry Potter audiobooks  – my new addiction).

Fresh Strawberry Milkshakes
1 pint fresh strawberries, stems removed
1 pint vanilla ice cream
2/3 cup milk

Combine strawberries, ice cream and milk in a blender or food processor. (A blender is probably a better choice, but none of us had a blender and milkshakes could not be denied so food processor it was). Give it a whirl, pour into glasses and enjoy! Tricky recipe, right? Fresh strawberries just make it!

And now for the exciting news … I am officially a published writer. It feels darn good! I wrote an article for GOOD Magazine about La Cocina and the wonderful work they do in San Francisco. You can read it and check out the photos here. I am so proud to see it “in print” and the piece has gotten a lot of social media buzz – great for La Cocina and great for me!

-Emily