Hamburger Enchilada Crepes

Another card I pulled out of my “antique” recipe box during these pandemic times is the recipe for Hamburger Enchilada Crepes. Gosh, I love these! I used to make them a lot, but somehow they have slipped my mind . . . for years!

I am a fan of crepes. This blog’s recipe index includes at least seven crepes recipes. I have my own way of making crepes: a spin in the blender for the batter, an hour rest and then another spin just before pouring a 1/3 cup portion into my old, cheapish crepe pan, and a flip to cook both sides of the crepe. Not traditional, perhaps, but it has worked for me for ages.

Back before I retired, I did a lot of my cooking for the upcoming work week on Sundays. This Hamburger Enchilada Crepes recipe lends itself well to that practice, as the crepes and filling can be made ahead of time and kept either in the refrigerator and probably (I think) in the freezer. The cheese sauce can be made while the stuffed crepes bake.

On a hunch, I checked my personal digital recipe document for Hamburger Enchilada Crepes. Aha! It’s there! I noted: “I just have to get this on disc before I lose the index card! I’ve been making these for years and would hate to lose the recipe.” So. My opinions of this great dish have not changed!

And now, I’ll share it with you. Happy pandemic cooking!

Hamburger Enchilada Crepes

Crepes

  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup flour

Put the milk, eggs, oil, and salt in a blender. Blend until smooth. Add the cornmeal and flour and blend 60 seconds.

When you are ready to make the crepes, heat a skillet or crepe pan on medium high. (My crepe pan is 8-inches in diameter.) Get the pan hot enough that when you hold your hand an inch above the surface, you can feel a lot of heat. Do not get the pan so hot that it smokes. Re-blend the crepe mixture just before you begin cooking the crepes. (In fact, you have to keep blending between making each crepe because the cornmeal settles.)

Spray some oil on the hot pan, and immediately pour in about 1/3 cup of the crepe mixture and tip the pan to cover the entire surface with batter. In about 20-30 seconds, it will be ready to flip. Cook the second side briefly, then remove the crepe from the pan and start another one cooking. This recipe makes about 6-8 crepes.

Filling

  • 1 pound hamburger
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 16 ounce can of refried beans
  • 1/2 cup taco sauce (or any type of salsa that you have on hand)

Cook the hamburger with the onion. Drain off any fat and add the refried beans and taco sauce. Stir to combine; remove from the stove.

I often use a can of plain pinto beans instead of refried beans. To the plain beans I add some cumin, chile powder, granulated garlic, cilantro, and salt to taste.

Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon margarine or butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup sliced olives

Melt the butter (or margarine) in a saucepan. Stir in the flour, chile powder, and paprika. Stir and cook this roux until the ingredients are well mixed. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly. Cook until the sauce is smooth and thick and bubbly. Stir in the cheese and olives.

Assembly and Cooking

Lay a crepe on the breadboard, add some of the filling, and roll it up. Continue until all the crepes and filling are gone. Place the filled crepes in a shallow casserole or glass baking pan. Pour the sauce over the crepes (this can be done after the crepes have cooked awhile; see the *note below).

Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.

*Note: I often make and fill the crepes and refrigerate or freeze them in the pan (without the sauce). Since the crepes may be partially frozen, or very cold, when I first put them in the oven, I bake them without sauce for awhile and add freshly made sauce sometime near the end of the cooking.

The original recipe says to serve with guacamole sauce topping, below. I rarely did, as these crepes are rich without it. You can see in my photo at the top of this post that I put the topping over some lettuce and served it with the crepes.

(Optional) Topping

  • 1 avocado
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons taco sauce


Cheese Potatoes

Weekends in my youth were often spent with our grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. Everyone would bring a dish to share, and we would gather around a cozy table and laugh and talk and enjoy the food. The kind of event we just cannot do today in pandemic times. But I have my memories.

Much of the food was fifties-style casseroles. Canned soups and sour cream were very popular ingredients in these casseroles, as in this one for Cheese Potatoes. It’s on another one of the seven recipe cards I pulled out of my old recipe box a few weeks ago.

Next to the recipe title is “Werdie” in parentheses. That’s my Aunt Werdie. She was the youngest of my father’s three sisters, and the one I knew best, the one I called “my favorite aunt”. Werdie’s given name was Werdna, which is Andrew spelled backwards – Andrew was my grandfather’s name. She lived to her late nineties and kept her mind and her pluck to the end!

So today I’ll make these memory-filled, comfort-food Cheese Potatoes. And enjoy every rich bite!

Cheese Potatoes

  • 10 medium potatoes, boiled and chopped into 1/4-1/2 inch chunks
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 1/2 pound sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cube butter (4 tablespoons)
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onion
  • 1 pint sour cream

Melt butter, add cheese and soup. Add to the potatoes along with the onions. Fold in sour cream. Bake at 350˚ 45 minutes.

Note: For the two of us, I made one-third of a recipe and baked it in an 6×6-inch pan. I had leftovers – no problem!


Golden Cinnamon Loaf

golden cinnamon loaf

I have been reading old letters the last few days. Why? Pandemic times have tied me to this house ever so much more than pre-epidemic. Boredom finally led me to the task of sorting some dated items stuffed in boxes. I must get rid of all this clutter! But instead I get lost in my mother’s letters, my sister’s letters, a rare letter from my brother, some from my mother-in-law, my children’s yearly birthday cards, children’s Mother’s Day cards to me, my university transcripts, an old key to my parents’ home, magazine articles on old (once new) cars. Reading and remembering leave me untied from the present day. And that can be pleasant.

I pick up a card with kitties on the front and am taken back to when Mother was in her kitchen in California, writing to me in Colorado. She commented on photos I had sent: my daughter standing up for the first time, my son such a “good looking little boy”, the puppy who is now two dogs back. Mother would have been in her seventies when she wrote this letter.

And now I am in my seventies too.

So when later in the day I pull down my own old recipe box, I realize that it is just about an antique. I leaf through these old recipe cards. Some I recognize, some I don’t. Even though they are all written by my own hand. Even though I cooked them enough times and liked them enough to write the recipe on the card. What happened to that young me, was she a different person? How can I forget something so carefully written down?

Ah, time. What to do? I pull out seven cards that perk my interest. Some I remember, some I do not. But on the spot, I decide to make each of these recipes. Since I am tied to my house, my kitchen . . . might as well take a cooking tangent. Enjoy a blast from my past.

First I choose “Golden Cinnamon Loaf” – a yeast bread with lots of butter and sugar and cinnamon and golden raisins. All things I like! I probably stopped making it because I was always counting calories.

The recipe says to bake the loaf in a 2 quart casserole. My 8×8-inch glass pan says “2 quarts” on the bottom, and that is what I used to bake this bread. So, the “loaf” is double wide. One could probably bake it in two standard loaf pans instead, but I simply cut the loaf down the middle and then cut across the other way to make toastable bread slices. It is wonderful as cinnamon toast!

Golden Cinnamon Loaf

Soften 2 tablespoons yeast in 1/2 cup water.

Combine 1/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup butter, and 1 teaspoon salt in 2/3 cups boiling water; allow to cool.

Transfer the yeast mixture and the sugar-butter-water mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer. Blend in:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups all purpose flour

Add enough of the all purpose flour to make a soft dough. You do not need to knead this yeast bread, just beat it long enough and add enough flour to make the dough soft and well mixed.

Let the dough rise until light. Mine took maybe 45 minutes. While waiting for the dough to rise, butter an 8×8-inch glass pan, and combine:

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

When the dough is light, stir it down. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the sugar-cinnamon mixture in the bottom of the buttered 8×8 pan. Add 1/3 of the dough and spread it out, then sprinkle it with 3 tablespoons of the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Add another 1/3 of the dough, spread it out, and sprinkle with the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Add the final 1/3 of the dough, but do not sprinkle it with sugar-cinnamon (the last of the sugar cinnamon mixture goes on top after the bread is cooked).

Let the dough rest about 1/2 hour. Heat the oven to 350˚.

Bake the loaf for 45-55 minutes, until golden brown. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with the remaining sugar-cinnamon mixture.




July 4 Amid the Pandemic

John and I spend most of our days in our home six miles from Lyons, just the two of rattling around in our big house and yard. That’s why we got really excited when our daughter and her husband and two young children told us they were coming out for a CoVID-style visit on the Fourth of July. For a few hours, our social status will be raised from “isolation” to “distancing”.

The six of us enjoyed the outdoors: on the deck, in the pool, in spaced chairs under the trees. We cooked hot dogs and had chips and cold beers and sodas. We had a grand old time!

For the kids (and the adults!) I made cookies and parceled them out in pre-wrapped small bags. These were not everyday cookies, no, they were colorful red-white-and-blue Fourth of July cookies!

These cookies begin with a really good buttery-sugar dough. Then you divide it into three parts and mix red food coloring into one and blue to another. I had a fun swirling in the colors! I used a lot of food coloring to get the colors dark.

Red, White and Blue Pinwheel Icebox Cookies
adapted from the recipe on the Just a Taste website

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt (use less if you use salted butter)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • red and blue food coloring

Mix together the butter and sugar in an electric mixer. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well, then add the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Divide dough into three portions. Leave one without food color, and add red and blue to the other portions, respectively. Use as much food coloring as it takes to get the colors you like, and I added a lot! I used the mixer to beat in the food coloring, and cleaned the mixer in between.

Press each of the three colors into a 4 x 4 inch square and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Rolling:

Take a 4-inch dough square and cut it in half, producing 2 rectangles. Do this with each color (blue, red, plain), so you have 6 rectangles.

Create 12 pieces of wax paper, each about 8 x 12 inches. Take rectangle of dough and put it between two pieces of wax paper, then roll the rectangle to about 6 x 10 inches (aim for ⅛ inch thick). The dough is such that you can move it around to make a true rectangle. You will have 6 rectangles between wax paper: 2 white, 2 blue, 2 red.

Take a red rectangle, still in the wax paper. Carefully pull the top layer of wax paper off. Peel the wax paper off one side of the white dough and lay it on top. Remove the wax paper.

Grab a blue rectangle and put it on top in the same way.

You can nudge the dough around a bit to get the sides of the colors to match. You may want to lightly roll the doughs to press together.

Start at the longer end of the rectangle and roll up. You will have 2 rolls. Refrigerate about 4 hours, then take them out and roll on the counter so they are round and not square.

Refrigerate again until you bake the cookies.

Slice the roll into ¼ inch thick cookies. Bake 10 minutes on parchment at 350˚.





Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen

Clockwise: agave nectar, oregano leaves, brown tepary beans, white tepary beans, juniper berries, and dried New Mexico chile.

The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman with Beth Dooly, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, London, 2017. This book Tcame to me as a gift from my daughter. For a year it’s lain on the table by my reading chair, and I’ve spent hours flipping through its pages, admiring the photos, learning about the relationship of the land and indigenous peoples, and enjoying the stories of living with the bounty of our beautiful surroundings. But cook from the recipes? Well, I did make something with dandelion greens, but that is as far as I got. It’s not easy finding all the ingredients to make the recipes, and I gave up.

That changed when I came upon an article in a November issue of the New York Times: Sean Sherman’s 10 Essential Native American Recipes. Now I’m off and running to make “Tepary Beans with Chile-Agave Glaze”. I am re-inspired!

My first step is to gather my ingredients. Kind of like, turning on the oven. A start. It would be great if I could find the ingredients on our three acres of Colorado land, but the grasses and dandelions are brown with winter, we have no cedar branches, no wild grains, no fish, and I am not about to kill one of our bunny rabbits.

So I take my search instead to local and online stores. For Tepary Beans with Chile-Agave Glaze, I am searching for brown tepary beans, white tepary beans, agave nectar, and juniper berries. I also need chestnuts for a stuffing recipe, so I add these to my search list, as they are another of the foods discussed in the Sioux Chef.

Tepary Beans

First, the beans. The Sioux Chef tells me that beans are the “backbone of Native cuisine . . . add body to soups, stews, and salads . . . pureed, they become a dough for fritters, burgers, and croquettes”. And so many native beans they have! On pages 40-41, Sherman lists 22 kinds. A few I recognize: anazazi, black turtle (black beans), great northern, lima, navy, pinto, rice (wild rice), and southern peas (black-eyed peas). I learn that tepary beans are native to the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Mexico. Their flavor is “earthy and pronounced”.

I turn to the internet for a source of tepary beans. Helpfully, the article in the NY Times gives me a link to Ramona Farms. On that site, I learn that tepary beans, or bafv, are among the world’s most drought-resistant edible beans. Ramona Farms is on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Arizona. Its proprietors are Ramona Button and her husband Terry. They work to preserve indigenous species of plants, including teparies, which had become almost extinct by the late 1970s. Luckily, the couple discovered that Ramona’s father had left “a few seeds of the white and brown tepary beans in glass jars in a trunk in the old adobe house that [Ramona] grew up in”. From this source, they are now able to offer them for sale to the local population and luckily, to interested foodies like me.

I add both brown and white tepary beans to my online cart at Ramona Farms. Then I add some “parched pima cornmeal”, just to try it. It is touted as “Hand harvested, hand parched, hand processed and packed to order! Great in cornbread. You will be surprised at the flavor the roasting adds to your cornbread. Get creative and make your own masa!” This parched cornmeal sounds interesting – I look forward to using it in cornbread. (P.S. A few days after I checked-out my Ramona Farms online cart, I get a personally written shipment confirmation. Nice touch.)

Agave

Agave nectar is the next ingredient on my search list. I learn from the Sioux Chef that indigenous peoples employed tree sap, honey, agave, and fruit as sweeteners. “Our ancestors relied on sweet foods for energy; they played an important role in a healthy diet and were not considered indulgences.” Generally, sweets were eaten throughout the day, for energy, as opposed to the European convention of having sweets after a big meal.

Agave “nectar” is more accurately called a “syrup”, as it is cooked down from the core of agave plants. Agave are big leafy plants of the species agave americana or agave tequilana (blue agave); they are also known as the century plant or American aloe. And yes, agave juice is fermented and distilled to make mescal. Tequila!

I kind of figure I can find agave nectar at Whole Foods, and I am correct. I have the choice of different brands and different types: light agave, blue agave, raw agave, or amber nectar. I decided to choose an agave nectar as close as possible to what the indigenous populations might have used, so I put a bottle of the dark, unfiltered agave nectar in my basket. Later, I find online that unfiltered agave nectar has more minerals than the other types. I also learn that light agave nectar has a mild flavor, amber nectar bit more caramel-like flavor, and dark or raw agave strong caramel notes and a distinctive flavor. If it is labeled “blue agave”, it is specifically made from that species of agave. The main sugar in agave nectars is fructose. Fructose is about one and a half times sweeter than sucrose, the main sugar in cane sugar (suggesting you would need less of it to sweeten a dish) and agave nectar has a relatively low glycemic index. This article on Healthline.com explains current nutritional thoughts on agave (2019).

Just what does agave taste like? I open my bottle of raw agave nectar and gently put a clean fingertip in . . . taste it . . . YUM! It’s less viscous than honey, and is very sweet with a pleasant flavor all its own. Not honey, not maple syrup, not brown sugary, just gently agave.

Juniper berries

Juniper berries are next. Decades ago, we actually had juniper plants in our planters, but (understandably) I did not save any seeds. Probably I will have to go to the Savory Spice Shop in Boulder for these, but I decide anyway to check while at Whole Foods. Voila! I find them in the spice section, near the bulk foods. A spice jar of dried juniper berries for less than 5 dollars.

According to the Sioux Chef on juniper: “We rely on the peppery astringent notes of juniper to do the work of pepper in our food . . . Fresh or dried, it’s best crushed before adding; note the the flavor is quite strong. Substitute with pepper.” This description in the first pages of the book illustrates how helpful the author is in helping his readers know how to use unusual ingredients, and how to substitute if necessary. On page 181, he states of the juniper: its “dusty blue berries are peppery and give foods a ginny edge”. The book includes includes photos and descriptions of juniper and also bergamot, sage, cedar, mint, staghorn sumac, mustard, and rose hips.

Chestnuts

Chestnuts are the final search item on my list. I check the index and flip to page 141 of the Sioux Chef. “Until the early 1900s, American chestnut trees filled our forests from Georgia to Canada, stretching west through Ohio to southern Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa.” Around the turn of the twentieth century, “plant hobbyists introduced Asian chestnut trees and inadvertently imported a fungus”. Turns out, this fungus invaded American chestnut trees and decimated the population. Today’s American chestnuts are a hybrid variety.

I am a girl of the western US, California and Colorado, and have never seen chestnuts on a tree nor had them as a tradition in family meals. Never had “chestnuts roasting on an open fire”. Have no idea what they taste like. When I run across a Thanksgiving stuffing casserole recipe with chestnuts, I decide to make it. I find chestnuts at Whole Foods, a large jar of them, peeled and in some sort of liquid. Fifteen dollars! I get them anyway.

On to cooking!

As I finish writing the above sections, I get a notice from the post office that the tepary beans from Ramona Farms are at the post office. I will pick them up today, and I am pretty excited, just to think, they are heritage beans, grown by indigenous food devotees in Arizona. I am able to help support them as well as taste a bit of what the folks who used to live on our continent ate before us Europeans came and built supermarkets. So, to the post office I go! Then, home to cook.

Tepary Beans with Chile-Agave Glaze, adapted from Sean Sherman’s recipe in the New York Times

I studied Sherman’s recipe in the NY Times, then just plunged in. I did not measure exact ingredients, I treated it as a no-recipe recipe (ala Sam Sifton, NY Times). I used the vegetable oil I had around (the recipe suggests sunflower oil), and I used generic salt (the recipe calls for sea salt, which I learn from the Sioux Chef was a traded commodity, used often as currency). For the chili powder, I used pulverized dried New Mexico chilis. These were quite hot, so you may have to adjust the chile powder you use or the amount (I used about half a tablespoon). The juniper berries are my own addition to the recipe, and totally optional.

ingredients

  • tepary beans
  • agave nectar, preferrably unfiltered
  • salt (sea salt if you have it)
  • chile powder (use dried, pulverized New Mexico chiles or use jarred commercial chile powder)
  • onions
  • vegetable oil (calls for sunflower oil; I used a blend of canola and other oils)
  • oregano (dried, fresh, Mexican or European)
  • optional: a couple juniper berries, crushed

instructions

Begin the night before by soaking the tepary beans. I used 1/2 cup white and 1/2 cup brown tepary beans. First, pick over the beans, then put them in water to cover by a couple inches. (I actually soaked them two nights, the second night in the refrigerator.) After the soak, drain them and pick over again.

Put the tepary beans in a pot and cover with several inches of water. Add a teaspoon or so of salt. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about two hours, checking a few times for done-ness.

As an alternative cooking method in the future, I might try:

  • a slow cooker: First on high for an hour, then on low for 6-8 hours.
  • a pressure cooker: Soak a cup of tepary beans overnight, drain, then place in a pressure cooker with 2 cups water and some salt. Set the cooker to high pressure, 40 minutes, then allow the pressure to release naturally for 5 minutes before a quick pressure release. (This is an educated guess based on my studies of my electric pressure cooker a year ago.)

When the beans are tender, drain them. I ended up with 3-4 cups. Try to remember to save 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid (you sort of need it later).

Measure out as many tepary beans as you like for the meal at hand. I used one cup cooked beans and saved the rest for a chili or the like.

Saute about 1/4 cup onion in a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil until the onion is soft. Add the cooked, drained tepary beans and stir a few minutes. Taste for salt and adjust as to your liking. Add a tablespoon of agave nectar, half a tablespoon of chile powder, and about a half cup of the reserved bean-cooking liquid (or plain water, if you forgot); cook down until the water has evaporated and the beans are nicely glazed. Add a crushed juniper berry (if you have it, otherwise use some black pepper) and a scant teaspoon of dried oregano (Mexican oregano if you have it). Taste, and adjust seasonings. I ended up adding more agave nectar – my chiles were quite hot so I added no more of those. I served with a few fresh oregano leaves.

I liked these a lot. The tepary beans are earthy, and small and firm. The agave glaze makes them just wonderful.

Dynamic Duo Delights

How can you go wrong? These cookies are made with M&M’s®, peanut butter, cocoa, cream cheese, butter, brown sugar . . . these are so good they are sinful.

How did I come to make these on a warm summer day? Well, we were going up to the mountains to spend a few days with our kids and their young families. I get to be “Grandma”, and that means I get to make some cookies to bring. Yay! I perused my old cookie recipes and came upon these “Dynamic Duo Delights”. Hadn’t made them in decades. Now’s the time.

Dynamic Duo Delights

  • 3/4 cup butter plus 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar plus 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (I used the crunchy style)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa
  • 2 cups plain M&M’s

Beat together the 3/4 cup butter, 1 cup each brown and white sugars, cream cheese, and peanut butter, then add the vanilla and eggs. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt.

Divide the dough in half and place each half in a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons butter, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and the cocoa to one bowl of dough. Add 1 cup of M&M’s to each bowl of dough.

For each Dynamic Duo cookie, take a bit of the dough with cocoa and a bit of the dough without cocoa. Push together to form one rounded teaspoonful of cookie dough, then drop onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Continue with all of the cookies.

Bake the cookies at 350˚ for about 12 minutes, just until they are nicely browned.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Enjoy!


*The photo above is my first food-blog photo taken with my new camera, a Sony alpha 7II. Sadly, my old Sony alpha died suddenly on our trip to the Alps this summer. Good bye old-friend Sony camera. Welcome to the fold, my new full-frame Sony.

ginger

I like fresh ginger in my cooking. Problem is, I cook for two, and I only use ginger once a week or so. So I don’t go through a lot. And all too often I have to toss a rancid piece of ginger buried in the vegetable tray.

A few weeks ago I was (somewhere) online and ran across a solution. What you do is peel the ginger and cut it into chunks. Then freeze it in a baggie or small container.

Next time you want some ginger for that stir fry or this wonderful Baked Cod With Crunchy Miso-Butter Bread Crumbs on the NY Times website, grab that frozen ginger. Grate up a bit while it’s still frozen, and you have it! I find that grating it while still frozen makes the ginger finer than it turns out if you grate it fresh and unfrozen.


Tamales, my style

Tamales are great, but kind of a pain to make. At least, that’s my usual feeling about them. Since I’ve entered my retirement phase of life, though, I have more time to cook, so I’ve been exploring different types of potentially lengthy recipes. Tamales are my current project.

A couple years ago I entered a tamale recipe in my “Main Dishes” document. Not sure I’ve explained my “recipe documents” before. Perhaps I should take a second to describe these? It’s like this. Back in the 1990s I began entering my recipes in a word-processor document using, of course, Macs. It began as one document in Word. Then I split into categories and put them in Framemaker. After Adobe stopped making an Apple version of Frame, I moved them all to Apple’s Pages. I sometimes treat my recipe documents like a diary – I talk to myself in them. My tamales entry is a great example of this trend of mine, and it’s also the recipe that is the focus of this blog entry.

So here we go, my tamale recipe in my Main Dishes document:

“Can’t believe I’ve never written down a recipe for tamales! Guess I always use the recipe on the back of the masa harina or the tamale kits I used to buy (Melinda’s?).”

[Actually, it was Melissa’s. On their site: “Melissa’s Tamale Kits take all the pain out of preparing a delicious, impressive meal”. The kit includes clean corn husks, masa, and a recipe. I used to find these kits at Safeway.]

“Anyway. I bought some masa marina from Bob’s Mills. No recipe on the package. I could find nothing in my notes, so I checked Cooks Illustrated. They included fresh corn! (and baking powder). I compared with a recipe in the Mexican cookbook that I got from Mother. I drew up a recipe mid-way between the two on amount of lard, and yes, I used lard. I steamed them in my stove top bamboo steamer. These were great.”

“The filling can be anything almost. I used some (wet) pork green chile and a few sliced whole olives and a little cheese mixed in. I would have liked queso fresco. John likes a sauce on top, but not a fresh salsa. Try some enchilada sauce on his. I am happy with no or very little sauce, but even my preference can be swayed by how wet the filling is. The cooked masa stands out better if the filling isn’t too wet.”

Below is the recipe I wrote down then (a couple years ago) and it is the recipe I used exactly last week. I know when a recipe is perfect in my recipe documents by the fact that when I make it, I make no new changes. That is this one!


Note: This recipe is supposed to make 10 tamales, the folded style. I only make 6 because this is the way I like them! The top is open or only lightly covered by the husks. This is how they made them at the Zolo Grill in Boulder, back a few years. It allows the tamales to be fluffy and full of filling, rather than a smashed paste of filling between thick layers of masa.

Tamales, my style
makes 6 large, serves maybe 3

  • 1 cup masa
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 40 grams lard (about 3 tablespoons; you could substitute vegetable shortening)
  • water
  • filling of your choice (suggestions below)

Soak 6 corn husks in boiling water (clean them if necessary). They take about an hour to become nice and pliable.

Cook the corn for a few minutes in boiling water (on the stove top or in the microwave). Drain it. Process the corn in a small or large food processor or just chop it fine. Put this corn in a measuring cup and make the volume to 1/2 cup with water.

Put the masa, salt, and baking powder in a food processor and pulse a couple times. Add the lard in chunks and process briefly until the lard is in less than pea-sized lumps. Dump into a bowl. Add the corn/water mixture and mix the dough until it is wet. Add more water in small amounts, mixing after each addition, about a couple tablespoons total. You want the dough to hold together but do not work it too much.

Lay out 6 corn husks and divide the dough among them. Spread the dough to within an inch or so of the corn husk edges. Add filling on top. Tie the ends with string, like in my photo at the top of this page.

Steam about 30 minutes. I use a stove top bamboo steamer set inside a wok.

If you like, serve with a sauce like enchilada sauce.

Fillings

These are just suggestions! I do like cheese in chunks in my open tamales, as they melt into a nice gooey mess.

Chicken: Cook a boneless chicken breast in boiling water until done. Chop into pieces, or shred with a fork. Saute in a pan with onions and garlic, then add chiles and tomatoes (salsa, fresh, hot tomato sauce, or some other sort of mixture). I like sliced olives too. Add cumin and chili powder and cilantro and other seasonings as desired. Cook until flavors combine, then cool. Fold in chunks of jack cheese before laying the filling atop the tamale dough.

Pork or beef: Use you favorite homemade pork or green chili. Aim for up to a half-cup of filling per tamale.

Beyond that, use your imagination. Zolo’s makes wild mushroom tamales. I’ve seen sweet potato ones too. Or turkey, fish, duck with mole sauce, pumpkin . . . just use your imagination.

Cream Puff Shells

Cream puffs are little pillowy clouds of pastry that can be filled with wonderful things. Like strawberries and whipped cream! Way back when, I found a recipe for Strawberry Cream Puffs and liked the recipe so much that I hand-wrote it on a recipe card.

I got it in my mind to make cream puff shells this week – for Valentine’s Day dessert. Pretty red strawberries, very lightly sweetened, mixed with cool whip, inside puffy shells, perhaps with a little thin chocolate syrup drizzled on top . . . a dessert worthy of Valentine’s Day but, actually, light in carbohydrates. Why? Because cream puff shells are made from flour, butter, and eggs. There is only 1/2 cup of flour divided amongst 8 cream puffs, so about 50 flour calories per serving. Yes, there is a lot of butter, but . . . actually, only 1/2 tablespoon per serving, or another 50 calories. I can live with these values on the semi-low-carb diet that we are striving to pursue.

So, cream puffs. Where is my recipe? I search first in my recipe box. The recipe card is not there. I must have left it somewhere else, perhaps tucked in a cook book. I can’t find it in any books, though. Maybe I transferred the recipe to a document? I searched my “desserts” document – it is not entered there. I had almost given up, when I decided to do a wider search. Luckily I found my notes on and a recipe for cream puffs in my “appetizers” document. Below is what I wrote to myself a few years ago.


“The recipe in the Joy of Cooking (p. 597) was probably my old standby, and/or the Strawberry Cream Puffs recipe on the recipe card, until I tried the recipe below in 2010. The Joy of Cooking recipe is 1 C flour, 1 C water, 1/3 C butter plus 4-5 eggs.

“In 2010, I went to cooksillustrated.com and found their recipe, a recipe that exactly measures the eggs, and gives a temperature for the water/flour/butter mixture, and uses the Cuisinart. I tried it and liked how the cream puffs turned out. This recipe eliminates the long hand-beating of the eggs into the water/flour/butter mixture. What a relief to toss the hand-beating task! It also uses the half sheet pans and parchment that I just found out about in a recent CSR class [this dates to mid-2000s]. Although, be aware that this method makes a mess of the food processor bowl, so plan to put it in the dishwasher. I made one and a half sheet pans of the puffs, dropping by teaspoonfuls, rather than piping with a pastry bag. Never have got one of those! [Have one now!]”


Below is my new version of the Cooks Illustrated recipe. It is almost the same as the published one, but I eliminated the step that dries the cooked cream puffs in the oven. The puffs do not seem not wet inside so I skip that step.

Note: Cream puff pastry (actually, cream puff paste) is the same as Pate a Choux. (See From Julia Child’s Kitchen, pages 548-550.)

Cream Puffs, adapted from this recipe: cooksillustrated.com

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg white
  • 5 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 ounce whole milk (2 tablespoons)
  • 3 ounces water (6 tablespoons)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (use less if using salted butter)
  • 1/2 cup flour

Heat the oven to 425˚. You need it hot when you are ready to put the pan of puffs in the oven. Also prepare a half sheet pan by placing a piece of parchment paper on it.

Mix together the 2 eggs and the egg white in measuring cup. If it measures more than 1/2 cup, discard the excess. Set aside.

Bring butter, milk, water, sugar, and salt to boil in saucepan over medium heat. Keep an eye on it, stirring occasionally until it reaches full boil (the butter should be fully melted). Immediately remove the pan from heat and stir in flour with a wooden spoon until combined and mixture clears sides of pan. This takes a little hard work, but only about a minute. Return the pan to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, using a smearing motion, for 3 minutes, until the mixture is “slightly shiny with wet-sand appearance and tiny beads of fat appear on bottom of saucepan”. If you have one, use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature of this dough – it should get to 175 to 180˚.

Immediately transfer the hot dough mixture to a food processor. Process for 10 seconds to cool slightly. With machine still running, gradually add the eggs in steady stream (takes less than a minute). When all eggs have been added, stop the machine and scrape down sides of bowl. Then, process for about 30 seconds until a smooth, thick, sticky paste forms.

These are ready to bake immediately. Drop the dough onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. For large puffs, I make 8; you can also make a dozen or so smaller puffs. You can used this same dough to make elongated puffs for eclairs.

The best way to form cream puffs is by using a pastry bag. I do own one of these now, but haven’t yet used it for puffs. Sounds like a lot of mess to clean the pastry bag after use! But I am sure the puffs or eclairs would be a lot prettier than my free-form ones.

Bake 15 minutes in the 425˚ oven (do not open oven door during this cooking time). After these 15 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 375˚. Continue to bake for another 8-10 minutes, until golden brown and firm (puffs should not be soft and squishy – you can open the oven at this time to check). Carefully transfer the puff to a wire rack to cool.

The original recipe says to cut a slit in the side of each puff, turn off the oven, prop open the oven door, and leave them for about 45 minutes, until crisp. Julia Child’s recipe also includes this step. I sure it is worth trying, but I am happy with my un-crisped cream puffs. The big free-form, un-dried puffs that I make for stuffing with strawberries and whipped cream are in the photo at top of this page. I find them perfectly acceptable!

You may have leftover puffs. From the original recipe: “Cooled puffs can be stored at room temperature for up to 24 hours or frozen in zipper-lock plastic bag for up to 1 month. Before serving, crisp room temperature puffs in 300-degree oven 5 to 8 minutes, or 8 to 10 minutes for frozen puffs.”

Tortillas

Homemade flour tortillas! Don’t they look delightful? And the tortillas in the above are my first try. My first try! I came across several recipes on the web and decided on a King Arthur Flour recipe. I’ve been using King Arthur flour and their web site for years. Turns out I was correct in choosing a recipe from this dependable site, as you can see from my photo!

The above tortillas are made with all-purpose flour and lard. After several trials with different fats and flours, I decide the recipe just below is my favorite go-to method. Below that, I go into the trials I did with different ingredients.

Flour tortillas – my “go-to” recipe

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 7/8 to 1 cup water, heated for 1 minute on high in the microwave

In a bowl, mix the flour with the salt. Add about a half-cup of the warmed water and all of the olive oil. Mix together with a spoon. Add more water only as necessary for the dough to hold together. I usually end up mixing the dough with my hands. You want the dough to be smooth and not-sticky.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured breadboard and knead a few times, until the dough forms a ball. Divide the dough into 8 equal sized pieces (by weight, if possible), form each portion into a ball, and let sit, covered with a cloth or bowl, for 2-3 hours at room temperature.

Place a heavy, flat pan or skillet on the stove top. If possible, use a cast iron griddle. Use a paper towel to wipe a bit of oil on the pan. Turn the heat to about medium and let it slowly heat for several minutes. The pan is ready when you feel good heat when your hand is about 3/4 inch above the pan. You do not want it smoking hot. I use a remote temperature sensor and try to get (and keep) the pan at about 400˚.

While you are waiting for the pan to heat, start rolling the balls of dough into 8-inch circles on a lightly floured board. I say “lightly floured” because if you use too much flour, the flour will stick to the tortillas through the cooking process. Start cooking (next paragraph) as soon as the pan is ready; I usually roll and cook a single tortilla, rolling the next one as the previous one cooks.

Put a tortilla on the pan and let it sit for about 20-30 seconds on the first side. It is ready to flip when light brown spots appear on the underside (peek!). Flip, and cook the other side of the tortilla the same way


Trials

For the ingredients, you can choose from several fats: lard (traditional), butter, shortening, or vegetable oil. I chose lard for my first try. It came from lard in a jar that I bought at Whole Foods over a year ago. The original recipe calls for 1 teaspoons baking powder, but I left it out for Try 1.

Try 1: Simple Tortillas (with lard and all-purpose flour)
Begin these tortillas several hours before you plan to cook them.

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup lard
  • 3/4-1 cup water

Mix the flour with the salt in a bowl. Divide the lard into chunks, then add it to the flour-salt mixture. With your fingers, carefully work the lard into the dough, until the lard is in small bits, each coated with flour. You could use a pastry blender or a food processor to do this, but I liked doing it “by hand”. From King Arthur flour: “Coating most of the flour with fat inhibits gluten formation, making the tortillas easier to roll out.”

Microwave 1 cup of water for one minute. Pour about 3/4 of it into the dough and immediately mix it in with a spoon or fork. Add more water only as necessary for the dough to hold together. Put the dough on a breadboard and knead a few times, until the dough forms a ball.

Divide the dough into 8 equal-sized pieces: I used a scale. Set them out at room temperature, well-covered, for about 2 hours.

Cook the tortillas about 30 seconds per side.

Results for Try 1: The tortillas looked great, but either they didn’t have enough salt or the lard was too strong a taste. Although, in burritos, the taste was hardly noticeable.


Notes: I think the “trick” in this recipe is having the dough rest for a couple hours before rolling. While browsing the web, I found other flour tortilla recipes that called for a rest before rolling, from 15 minutes to 2 hours. I chose the 2 hours, as per my own experiences with breadmaking, especially no-knead doughs. Flour does something magical when mixed with water and allowed to sit.

Another trick is rubbing the flour with a solid fat before adding the water. This makes the gluten in the flour separated by bits of fat, and it rolls out easier. How will oil work? That will come in another try.

I left the baking powder in the KA Flour recipe out. Why? The first time I simply forgot it. Later, I read this on the Mexican Please website: “And regarding the baking powder … sometimes I use it and sometimes I don’t. It will make them a little bit thicker and fluffier. That works great if you want the tortillas to double as flatbread or pita. If you want a thinner, traditional tortilla then you can omit the baking powder.” I do like my tortillas “traditional”, but I will try baking powder in one of my sets of trials.


Tries 2 and 3: Simple Tortillas (with solid vegetable shortening, all-purpose or white whole wheat flour, increased salt)

  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose OR white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening (Crisco)
  • 3/8 to 1/2 cup water

Combine ingredients, form into balls, let rest, and cook as in Try 1.

Results: Both the all-purpose and the white whole wheat flour doughs were easier to roll into 8-inch circles than in Try 1, which was made with lard. The flavor was great in each. The whole wheat flour ones took a bit less water when mixing. They definitely have a whole wheat flavor and seem a bit heavy. I liked them better, hubby preferred the all-purpose flour ones

Notes: The pan heat: 400˚ is the target according to KA. I got the pan to 400˚ by heating on medium high for several minutes. I used the remote temperature thermometer that we use for pizzas. I found that the pan kept heating up at medium high. By the time I was on the 7th tortilla, I had the pan all the way down to 3. It was great to cook them at this temperature – no burning at all on the batch.


Tries 4 and 5: Simple Tortillas (all purpose flour with olive oil, increased salt – as in tries 2 and 3 – with and without baking powder and with salt)

  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder OR without
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/8 to 1/2 cup water

Mix the flour with the salt. Add baking powder to one try and leave it out of the other try. Add about half of the hot water to each try and then all of the olive oil and mix it all together. Add more water to each “trial”, but only as necessary for the dough to hold together. Put the dough on a breadboard and knead a few times, until the dough forms a ball. Divide each dough into 4 equal sized pieces, roll each into a ball, and let sit 2-3 hours at room temperature.

Results: In general, the olive oil trials needed less water. In fact, the tortillas were a bit smaller, and you might want to roll out only 3 from a small batch (1 1/4 cup flour size). Both the olive oil trials yielded tortillas that were more pliable than the lard or shortening trials. The tortillas made with baking powder really puffed up on cooking! After cooking, both types – with and without baking powder – were almost interchangeable.

Here is one of the baking powder tortillas after a few seconds of cooking:

The same one after a few more seconds. Note how high it has puffed!

Here is a comparison of a baking powder tortilla (left) verses one without baking powder (right). The sides we are seeing are the second sides cooked. Note that the non-baking powder tortilla has smaller brown spots.

Notes: The cast iron pan kept heating up as I cooked the 8 tortillas. I started with the burner at setting 6-7 to preheat to 400˚ on my remote temperature sensor. When I added the first tortilla, I turned the burner down to 6. As I continued the cooking additional tortillas, the temperature creeped up, and I turned it the burner down to 4 or 5. The pan temperature still creeped up, and was 570˚ after I cooked my last tortilla. They were not burning at 570˚, but do keep aware of temperature changes of the cast iron pan. Cooking 8 tortillas only took about 8 minutes.


Conclusions

From my tests and tastings, I like best the tortilla method that calls for olive oil, all-purpose flour, and no baking powder. This will be my go-to recipe. I’ll probably try different types of flour – cassava, barley flour, whole wheat pastry flour, perhaps others – and different mixtures of flours, like half all-purpose and half a different flour. I use more salt than in the original recipe.

The whole wheat versions are healthier, and quite acceptable, but the others are softer and my husband likes them better, so white flour tortillas are my go-to at the moment.


My modified recipe for flour tortillas

  • 2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 7/8 to 1 cup water

Mix the flour with the salt. Add about three-quarters of the hot water, all of the olive oil, and mix it all together with a spoon. Add more water only as necessary for the dough to hold together.

Put the dough on a breadboard and knead a few times, until the dough forms a ball. Divide each dough into 8 equal sized pieces (by weight, if possible), form each portion into a ball, and let sit 2-3 hours at room temperature.

Cook each side of the tortillas on a pre-heated flat pan pan. If possible, use a cast iron griddle. You do not need to oil the pan for these tortillas. If possible, monitor the temperature of the griddle with a remote sensor.