Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Salsa Verde: Recipe

After Sunday night's meal, I had some leftover chicken, just enough to make chicken tacos. But no chicken taco (or lots of other food) is complete without some salsa verde (green salsa). So I decided to whip up a batch.

Salsa Verde
salsa verde ingredients

2 lbs tomatillos
3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup cilantro
1/2 cup onion
4 serrano peppers
1/8 cup lime juice

First, tomatillos are not the same thing as green tomatoes. So be sure that you are buying tomatillos. Usually you can tell that they are tomatillos and not tomatoes because they are wrapped in a husk and are usually smaller, especially this time of the season.


This recipe calls for the ingredients to be broiled (roasted), so turn on the oven to broil while you're preparing the ingredients. Now it's time to work on the tomatillos. The first step is to take the husks off of the tomatillos and rinse the tomatillo well with water. They will be sticky and may even have dirt on them, so be sure to rinse them well. Then cut the tops off and cut them in half (if they're larger size).

peeling the tomatillo
Next separate and cut into pieces 3 cloves of garlic; halve the 4 serrano peppers (deseeding some if desired); and cut into pieces the 1/2 cup of onion. Then arrange them all on a foil-lined cookie sheet.

ready to roast
Place the cookie sheet under the broiler (or in the oven) and broil until the tomatillos are charred, soft, and clear juice is running from them. The other ingredients will char, too, but will have a good roasted flavor to them. Depending on the size of your tomatillos, this can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 15 minutes. But I would advise that you remain vigilant to get the charring you want and not burn it all.

ingredients in blender

From this point, the salsa is almost made. Place all the tomatillos, onion, garlic, and cilantro into a blender. Add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Add three halves of the serrano peppers and blend well. Add the lime juice and then add more serrano peppers to desired potency. Blend well. When it is all blended, pour into a refrigerator safe bowl to allow to cool. 
salsa ready to be cooled.

For this batch of salsa: I deseeded three halves of the serranos I had, because I wanted their roasted flavor without the heat. So in the end, I used all but one half of the serrano pepper, which was still seeded. When you first taste the salsa I made, you taste the lime but by the end of the bite you have the wallop of the serranos.

As I said, I had leftover chicken so I put my salsa verde on chicken tacos, complete with avocado, cilantro, and queso fresco. It can be used on a variety of dishes, including huevos (eggs) and chilaquiles or migas or just as a stand-alone to eat with chips. The salsa will keep for up to about a week in the refrigerator but does lose its potency the older it gets. A quick side note, although this may look like the sauce that is used in green enchiladas, it is not quite the same recipe.

chicken tacos with salsa verde

¡Hasta la proxíma vez!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Kick-Start

The week's gone by much faster than expected, and it caught up with me this morning when it occurred to me that I forgot to pull the roast out of the freezer yesterday so that I could cook it today. Now I will have to improvise the dinner meal. . . . 

This sort of thing never happened to my grandmother. She woke when the rooster crowed in the morning. I'm serious, although I don't know if it was her chickens that woke her. I do think that when I was older that it was the neighbor's chickens that woke me when we'd visit. 

But she just got up and got going and got breakfast started. And most of the time a pot of beans for lunch (and dinner) was already on the stove while she was making breakfast. I don't know how she did that day in and day out. Albeit, probably less so when I was older and her children were all out of the house.

Even so, I've got five less children than she did and I can't remember to pull the roast from the freezer for one meal, let alone get up early enough to have breakfast ready for the hubby and children before they're off to work and school. Let alone have something started for lunch by the time the clean up for breakfast is all done.

Oh and she cooked all three meals, too, every day. I've said it before and I'll say it again . . . I am better fitted for life now than for life then. Truthfully, she didn't know another way; no one did because there wasn't another way.

Maybe it was simpler then, easier, in a way. I mean it was a long way from the dirt floors she used to sweep as a child. Still I sometimes wonder what she'd think of my life and how much things have changed. For example, how the carne picada I made this week wasn't the full cut of meat minced with a machete like she used to make or how I managed to forget to defrost the meat I'd planned to feed my family this evening. And how I most definitely do not wake up at the crack of dawn and just get started like she used to.

She wasn't all work; I remember going to her house for lunch and Days of Our Lives was on the TV at the noon hour or how she'd sit and watch Dallas on Friday nights. She'd visit over the fence line with her neighbor and get the neighborhood gossip or how she'd always have "napoleon" ice cream in her deep freezer by the window, which I was sure was just for me.

I know it's not always that simple, the differences between her world and mine, and that she had good days and bad days like I do. . . . And mostly, I think, I'm just thankful that there's not a rooster around to kick-start my days.

¡Hasta la proxíma vez!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wordless Wednesday

Changing my MO for Wordless Wednesday and adding words. I know, it really defeats the wordless aspect of the whole thing, and truly I'm kicking myself for it but I just can't stop.

These are jarritos . . . different than last week's jarritos but related all the same. These are made of clay (guanaclay) and are considered mini-decor items (see the holes in the platos [plates], you can run a string or ribbon through and hang all the pieces as decor). 

However, as a child I used to put agua (water) in them and play "restaurant" or pretend to cook and serve my siblings. And now that is what my children do with them, although they have not gotten to the point where they put agua in them yet. It will come to them, I'm sure.

And these jarritos, which literally translates to "little jugs," are related to the carbonated beverage Jarrito (from last week's truly Wordless Wednesday) because the soft drink was named Jarrito in reference to the tradition of drinking agua and aguas frescas (fruit-flavored water) from clay pots to keep them cooler longer. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Picadillo (Carne picada con papas): Receta

This is a fairly easy recipe and is good to eat, too. Around here you can even buy it in a burrito from many of the local quick-stop burrito places. Because this was only for a lunch meal and just for two people, I did not make a lot, so bear mind you may have to double the recipe.

Picadillo (Carne picada con papas)
ingredients for picadillo
1 pound ground sirloin
1 medium potato
1/2 medium salad tomato
1/2 medium bell pepper
1/8 cup onion
1/8 cup cilantro
1/3 can tomato sauce
1 1/2 tsp Mixed Spice
1 clove of garlic

Begin by add mixed spice, clove of garlic, and enough water to get spices wet in your molcajete and grinding it down, until it looks something like this:
ground spices
Then cut up the half of the tomato and bell pepper and the little bit of onion and cilantro:

vegetables (note: cilantro not pictured)

Next, peel the potato and cut it up. For years I would cut it into pieces the way the tomato and bell pepper are done. However, after a discussion with my mother I remembered that she used to do it in slices, so I thought I'd give that a go this time. I much prefer it this way because as the potato cooks it breaks into pieces.

potato, sliced

It is time to start cooking. Place ground sirloin in a 10- or 12-inch skillet and brown it, cooking it thoroughly on medium heat. 
ground sirloin, cooked
I usually cook it down until most of the liquid (water, grease) is gone and it's almost dry. Now, add tomato, bell pepper, onion, and cilantro to the ground beef and stir, letting it cook for just a minute.

Top, add vegetables; bottom, vegetables mixed in
Add the ground spices by tilting molcajete over the pan, and pouring 1 cup of water over them so that they slide into the pan. Stir spices in, adding about 1 teaspoon of salt (or to taste) as well. Then place the potatoes on top of the mixture and add another 1/2 to 1 cup of water. The water does not have to cover the potatoes, just enough that it covers the meat. And if you have tomato sauce on hand, use about a 1/3 of a small can to give it some more color.

potatoes on top
When it starts to boil, turn down the heat to low and cover with a lid. Cook it down for 30 minutes; stirring occasionally (this is when the potato slices will break into pieces). When you are done, your picadillo will look something like this:

picadillo, done

This picture was taken immediately after I took the lid off after 30 minutes; you can continue to cook it down for a few more minutes until more of the liquid is gone. I actually let me sit covered for about 30 minutes before I served it and much more of the liquid had been absorbed. 

As a note my mother says that you're not supposed to serve picadillo with rice because it already has potatoes in it; however, I love to mix it with rice all the same. So I usually fix a small batch of rice to go with it. It is served with refried beans and we usually have flour tortillas with it; however, my mother has now said that corn tortillas with every dish is how she grew up. But I distinctly remember her serving us flour tortillas with this dish, and so that is how I serve it.

Let me know if you try this recipe out and how it works for you or if you have any variations on it (like peas or carrots in the picadillo).

¡Hasta la proxíma vez!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Throwback Thursday: A Nighttime Ritual

Wordless Wednesday: Jarritos, a brand of Mexican soft drinks that I remember asking for as a child, usually when I was at my grandparents' house. I've introduced the kiddos to them, but they prefer Tutti Fruiti (Fruit Punch) to the Strawberry.

The last few days have been hotter than normal. I have been going most of the day without turning on the air conditioner, but before the children get out of school I crank it on. Yes, I do it to avoid their cries of, "it's so hot!"

And most of the time when I turn on the air conditioner, I actually think about my grandmother and how she went all of her life, except for part of her last year, with no air conditioning. And yes, she lived in Texas, south Texas. Some times I think I couldn't survive like that (and so I am obviously "fitted" for this time in history and not before). But then I am reminded of the summer days I spent at her house and how I did "survive."

My grandparents' house sat about a block from the neighborhood Catholic Church and a mere three houses down from railroad tracks that trains used ALL the time, day and night. If you hit the street at the wrong time, you could be waiting a long time to get to the other side because of a train crossing.

But it was those summer nights that I recall most vividly. All the windows would be open to let in the slightest breeze that might be stirring and cicadas chirped out their love song to each other in what seemed to be a defeaning roar as I struggled to get cool enough to fall asleep. And as I laid there, a train would thunder past, shaking the windows and the house itself. I would lay there for what seemed hours, waiting for a gentle breeze to cool me down. Eventually, I would hear the leaves start to rustle, drowning out the cicadas, and making the curtains dance in the moonlight before my eyes. If I focused on the sound of the leaves long enough, I would soon realize that the one sheet I covered up with at night wasn't as oppressive as it had been only a few moments before. And then within what seemed only a few moments, I was cold enough to need the sheet to keep me warm.

Every summer we visited I looked forward to that nightly ritual, amazed at how I fell asleep and slept so soundly.

Now when the house is open and the breeze makes the curtains dance, and there's even a train, although not as close as at my grandparents' house, I am reminded of those summer nights. I long to sleep by the window, feel the breeze, and find the peace I found all those years ago on those hot summer days.
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¡Hasta la proxima vez!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Sopa de Fideo (Receta)

After covering some basics, I believe we're ready for a recipe. I start with this recipe because when I made it, I was not feeling well; acute pharyngitis to be exact. That's doctor-speak for throat infection and because it was viral, there was no medicine the doctor could give me to help. So I turned to a soup for some relief, and it was a godsend.

Sopa de fideo (Noodle soup)
  • 1 1/2 pounds pork chop, center cut
  • 2 boxes of Q & Q brand fideo
    main ingredients of fideo
  • 2 roma tomatoes
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup onion
  • 1/8 cup cilantro
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons Fiesta Brand Mixed Spice
  • 1, 8-ounce can of tomato sauce
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes or 2 small cans of chicken broth
  • oil (vegetable, canola)

This recipe makes 4 quarts (16 cups), give or take, and takes about an hour from start to finish. I say give or take because even though the entire family had second servings, we still had enough for another meal the next night (see Leftovers). It is commonly served with corn tortillas and refried beans.

garlic and mixed spice
First, add the Mixed Spice, 2 cloves of garlic, and a little bit of water (enough to wet the mixture) to the molcajete. Then grind the spices until they are fine.
garlic and mixed spice, ground

Next, take the time and cut the pork chop into cubes (for faster cooking), cut up the tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, and cilantro. I suggest that all this chopping is done beforehand so that you're not trying to cook, watch what you're cooking, and cut up what is needed next. Furthermore, because this is a soup and most of ingredients are added one right after the other or at the same time, it's easier to have them ready to go.

chopped pork chop, bell pepper, onion, tomato, and cilantro for fideo

Now, you're ready to getting started cooking. Cover the bottom of a 4-quart (or larger) pot with oil, heating it on low until it is hot. Add the pork chop, dashing with salt, and cooking on medium heat. Cook the pork chop thoroughly until it is browned. When it is all cooked through, spoon it out of the skillet and into a bowl (you can line the bowl with paper towels to absorb excess oil, if you want). 

cooked pork chop
In the same pot that you cooked the pork, add a little more oil, just enough to cover the bottom, and heat over medium-low heat. Then add the fideo one box at a time to the pot. Let the fideo start to fry a little and then begin stirring it. The goal is to fry the fideo in the oil until it turns brown. Not all of the fideo will darken to the same brown color and that is OK. Continue stirring until a good portion of the fideo is browned.

Top, fideo in the box; bottom left, fideo uncooked; bottom right, fideo browned
Before the fideo burns (which will happen), take 1 cup of water and pour over the molcajete with spices, tilting the molcajete so that the water pushes the spices into the pot. If spices are still left in the molcajete, take another cup of water and pour over the molcajete to get the last of the spices out. Then add the cooked pork, tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, and cilantro to the pot. Add another 2 cups of water to the pot with 1 cube of chicken bouillon (you can use chicken broth instead) and the can of tomato sauce. At this point, the pot will be about half full and colorful.

Fideo with all mix-ins

Cover and cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes. Then add another 2 to 4 cups of water and another bouillon cube (again you can use chicken broth instead). The fideo will start to thicken, absorbing the liquid. Cover and continue cooking on medium-low heat for 20 to 30 more minutes, until the vegetables are cooked down and the noodles are soft.

Then simply pour into a bowl, let it cool, and enjoy with some tortillas.

fideo, cooked and in my bowl

I know not all recipes call for pork or even any vegetables, and the sopa is a thick tomato sauce-like broth with noodles; I do not take anything away from those versions of fideo. This, however, is the recipe I grew up with and it's how I make it. You can also use ground beef or chicken instead of the pork. My mother did make it once for me with ground beef, but I didn't like it as much as I like the pork version.

My 4-quart pot held enough for two meals, even after we'd all had second servings. The next day, however, you will note that the fideo has absorbed even more of the liquid. To remedy this, first heat the fideo in a pot to see how  much liquid there is; this batch still had a decent amount but I added two cups of water and 1 chicken bouillon cube to keep it the "soupy" consistency my family likes. However, it can be eaten , even if it's more noodle than soup, as is on the second go round.

There you have it, the first "real" receta (recipe) of the blog. Let me know if you try it, have any questions, or if you make your fideo another way.

¡Hasta la proxíma vez!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Throwback Thursday

Years ago, when I went away to college, some 600 miles from home, I was one of the first ones to do so among a certain group of friends and family. Not only was it so far away, but it was also in a part of Texas largely foreign to any of us. To say it was a new experience is an understatement.

Although I went to my parents' house for Thanksgiving break that first year, there wasn't really time to see anyone else. That was not the case over Christmas break, which was almost a month long. So, one day my mother and I went to visit my padrinos (godparents). My madrina (godmother) has been my mother's best friend since their freshmen year in high school, and my mother met my padrino (godfather) during high school because of who he dated and married.

These two people have always been a part of my life in various ways. It was them who stood up and agreed to take me in should something ever happen to my parents, their daughters who are my oldest friends, and their extended family that always warmly welcome me to family birthdays, quinceañeras, and anything in between.

After visiting awhile, my madrina offered me something to eat; never one to turn down homemade Mexican food, I said yes. I don't recall what it was, but it did come with tortillas. After a few bites, I put down my fork, ripped off a piece of tortilla, and proceeded to scoop up my food with it. (This is how some Mexican foods are eaten best.)

My padrino teased me, "Oh thank goodness! I thought you forgot how to eat!"

I laughed; we all laughed. But underneath the laughter was a certain seriousness, how much of my culture and habits would I lose by being so far from home?

I guess that's truly the question for anyone. How much of our past, our culture, do we let fall away because we think it will always be there or there will be time to master the recipes or habits of our parents and grandparents? Admittedly, I think I've let too much slip away, and it's only been in the last few years that I've tried to make efforts to reclaim what I let go or what I didn't treasure enough to keep up with. And that's what this blog is . . . pieces of me, of my family, of recipes and times forgotten that I will try to recollect, share, and make record of, for me, for my kids, and for you.
- - - -

About yesterday's Wordless Wednesday picture, that is my favorite galleta (cookie), which for many years I could only get when I visited my patents' house or by traveling to Fort Worth.
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Another lost piece of me, I think of today especially, and every time I hear this Kenny Chesney song:

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Let me know if you have any thoughts on losing, or finding, pieces of you.

¡Hasta la proxima vez!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Basics: Colors

I know you may be thinking, what do colors have to do with Mexican food, and the truth is, quite a bit. If you've seen the Mexican flag you will note that it has three vertical bands of colors (green, white, and red) and in the center the Mexican "coat of arms" (i.e., eagle standing on cactus with a serpent in its mouth). It is these three bands of colors that are ever-present in Mexican food.

From carne picada con papas (picadillo to some) and frijoles a la charra (borrachos to some) to arroz and huevos mexicanos, the colors are always there. In my family's cooking these colors--green, white, and red--are represented in the bell pepper, onion, and tomato:

The colors: bell pepper, onion, and tomato

Recipes I share will have these three colors. Yes, green--not red, orange, or yellow bell pepper. White or yellow onion is fine; I usually use Texas sweet yellow onion. Red, not green, tomatoes; although occasionally tomatillos (but those are recipe specific).

Additionally, my recipes, more often than not, will have another ingredient, which is also green, cilantro:

You can find these colors at any grocery story or in your own garden, should you choose to grow them yourself. I have already given my list of preferred items for this year's garden and as you can imagine these four were on the list. 

We're getting closer to being prepared for a recipe; I'm excited. I hope you are, too!

Let me know if you have any questions about the colors or anything else.

¡Hasta la proxíma vez!

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Basics: Spices

I did mention--in certain circles--that I would post a recipe on Tuesday; however, I've reconsidered and decided to cover some basics first. Not everyone's kitchen is stocked with some of the things that mine is; so I begin there.

I start with spices, and with what I refer to as the essential three:  ajo (garlic), pimienta (pepper) or grano de pimienta (peppercorn), and comino (cumin). 

{I do not claim or own copyright on these images; their source sites are noted in captions.}

You can buy these spices at most grocery stores or they can be ordered online if you can not find them locally. I use Bolner's Fiesta brand spices.

A word about the spices: When you shop you will see ground comino, ground garlic, garlic powder, and minced garlic. Even Fiesta brand has these incarnations; however, I do not recommend using these. First, you will not get the flavor with ground spices that you do with using the whole seed, peppercorn, or fresh garlic, and you lose control of the flavor of your dish. Second, in the recipes I will share, I use the whole spice and my measurements will be for them. I will not give equivalents for ground or minced spices simply because I do not know them. Third, when you used ground spices and minced garlic you lose the opportunity to use your molcajete, which, as you may recall from my last blog, is one of the secrets of truly good Mexican food.

What Fiesta also sells, and what I usually buy and recommend, is a bag of Mixed Spice. This bag already has comino and pimienta mixed together. This is what I will be using when I share my recipes. So unless you have a need for whole peppercorns and whole cumin seeds separately, simply get a bag of this.

Mixed spice (this one is my picture)

The other spice that I regularly use is sal (salt), but because I believe most people keep salt on hand, I didn't think it necessary to make mention of having it on hand as I do with these other spices. 

And yes, if you look in my pantry, you will find these spices on hand always. Garlic can be stored in the pantry, and if properly maintained in a dark, dry, decently circulated area can last for months. The bag of spices is a little trickier because without a proper way to keep the bag closed the spices will roll out all over the place. I keep mine in the bag with a clip on it and keep it in a sandwich container. Yes, the seeds and peppercorns are dried, but you will be amazed at how much drier they can get if the bag is not sealed or they are not placed in some other container with a lid.

my current stash of garlic and mixed spice

If you have any questions or differ with me about the essential three spices, let me know.

¡Hasta la proxíma vez!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Basics: A Molcajete

There are few things that are as indispensable to making Mexican food as the molcajete (mortar) and the tejolote (pestle). If you do not have a molcajete, you can buy one at most places that sell cookware, including Bed, Bath, and Beyond, Williams-Sonoma, and Crate and Barrel. They may not have them on hand, but they can order them for you. These stores will also have different kinds of mortars and pestles, such as ceramic and stainless steel.

I know some people just read that and screamed, Sacrilege! I only mention these locales because not everyone may be able to travel to Mexico, have access to a local merchant, or can travel a short ways to get to a mercado where merchants sell what is commonly known as the traditional molcajete. These molcajetes are made from lava rock, stand on three legs, and sometimes have an animal (e.g., pig) head carved on them. They are sold in a set with the tejolote and are coarse and gritty when brand new.

my molcajete, side view

If you have to purchase a molcajete brand new, you need to understand that you can not immediately use it. You'll have to "cure" it before use. The reason is that the grinding of the tejolote against the molcajete softens the surface, but in doing so, pieces of the lava come off. So if you use it before curing it, all the food you prepare will be gritty with ground pieces of the molcajete. I recommend curing it before use.

The molcajete I own I've had for more than a decade, and I don't recall how I cured it. Some molcajetes come with instructions for how to cure it, and if you do a search for molcajetes or curing molcajetes, you will find a variety of different ways (including power washing and wire brushes). I recommend simply using dry rice. 

my molcajete, top view

I won't lie, learning how to use the tejolote to grind and mash is an acquired art. You can not simply put something in the molcajete and start pounding away at it because you'll soon find yourself, your counters, and your floors covered in what is supposed to be in your molcajete. The best advice I can give you is to begin with grinding, not pummeling mercilessly, at the contents of your molcajete.

First rinse both the molcajete and tejolote with water. You will find that some grit may be removed, but there is more to do. The next step is the rice; grind about 1/4 cup of white rice in your new molcajete. You use the round, thick portion of the tejolote, not the skinny end. The rice will turn gray as pieces of the molcajete are ground off. Grind until the rice has become almost a "flour." Empty the molcajete and add another 1/4 cup of white rice, grinding the rice down until it is a flour; at this point the flour may still be gray but not as dark as before. Repeat adding rice and grinding down until the rice no longer turns gray and the rice flour is white. This process takes time, and if you decide to do it all in one day, your arms will be sore. But you will start to master the movement that goes with properly using your molcajete when it comes time to cook. This is something that no wire brush or power washer can teach you.

An important note about caring for your molcajete. Never, and I mean never, use soap on your molcajete. The lava rock is porous and so it will absorb anything that you put in it, including soap. Always rinse your molcajete with hot water after every use and let it air-dry. That is all the care it requires. Yes, finally a dish you don't have to wash! 

After repeated use, the flavors of the molcajete are much richer and deeper because of its porous nature. This is why I recommend using a traditional molcajete instead of a ceramic or stainless steel one, in which the flavors are washed away after every use. The molcajete is truly one of the secrets of good Mexican food.

If you're one of the lucky ones, your grandmother or mother gave you their well-seasoned molcajete so you don't have to go through this process. I think I've decided just today to buy my children their own molcajetes so that when they go off on their own as adults, their molcajetes will be ready for use, plus I could use some help in the kitchen.

If you have any questions or have a different way of curing molcajetes, let me know.

¡Hasta la proxíma vez!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Throwback Thursday

Before I begin with throwback Thursday, a disclaimer is in order. I know that most people use a picture for throwback Thursday; however, as I just used one for wordless Wednesday, it seems redundant. So my throwback Thursdays will more than likely be some recollection of mine from when I was growing up or a family story I've heard.

Today's recollection is one that I come to because I'm currently at the doctor, which apparently my grandmother did not believe in frequenting, even if the occasion called for it as she raised her brood of seven children (plus the occasional cousin or two).

As the abbreviated story goes, my mother and her brother were supposed to be napping when they both got up to get some water out of the refrigerator. They used to keep a gallon jug of water in the refrigerator. The jug slipped out of my mother's hands and hit the floor and broke. My grandmother ran in and told my mother "Don't move!" So my mother doesn't move, just puts her foot down on the floor . . . right on top a piece of glass. When it came time to tend to my mother's injury, grandma used what she had handy to staunch the blood flow: her hands, onion skins, and cobwebs.

My mother, of course, couldn't rightly walk and probably needed stitches but that's not how grandma did things. Instead of running off to the doctor or emergency department, she resorted to her tried-and-true home remedies.

My grandmother was not one to let a hurt foot stand in the way of her plans; so that night, the family went to the drive-in, even my mom with her cobweb-encased foot. She had to prop it up the whole time and listen to complaints from her siblings about how she was in the way of their movie experience.

They were some tough kids; I guess you had to be with a grandmother like mine. And yes, my mother's foot healed--miraculously I would say.

Do you recall any home remedies that your family used? Or still uses?

And before I forget, about  yesterday's Wordless Wednesday: Yes, I'm a stickler for the wordless aspect of it. What I posted yesterday were plastic mesh bags that I currently own and remind me of the ones that my grandmother used to carry groceries in. I'm sure she had many other uses for them, but I distinctly remember the green leafy portion of vegetables showing through.

Hasta la proxíma vez!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Forgotten No More: Tortillas de Maíz

I begin with tortillas de maíz (corn tortillas) because one of my fondest childhood memories is watching my mother press and cook them and thinking "I could do that!" And yet it was only last year before I ever made them. I could blame it on the convenience of store bought, but truthfully it was one of those skills--a piece of my heritage--that I let fall away . . . forgotten. Now, they are forgotten no more.

La Receta (The Recipe)
Corn masa

(I know, only three ingredients; how hard can this be?)

But there's also "hardware" that you will need: a tortilla press and a comal (griddle):
tortilla press
comal (griddle)

There are several steps before mixing masa ingredients. First, you must prepare the tortilla press. If you've just bought one, you may have to attach the handle and even oil it some. But once it is assembled (see above picture), you will want to get a plastic sandwich- or quart-sized bag. Cut off the top and cut along the sides and bottom of the bag. What you will be left with are two pieces of plastic (the sides of the bag); you can even cut the pieces round to slightly overlap the edges of the press. Using the plastic helps keep the press clean and is also easier to remove the pressed tortillas to place on the comal. I suggest the plastic bags because they are sturdier than plastic wrap and can be used repeatedly (once wiped clean).
plastic to cover the press
Next, heat the comal on a low heat for a couple of minutes. Then oil the comal. I put oil (vegetable, canola, whatever's on hand) on a paper towel and rub the paper towel over the comal. Keep this paper towel handy because you will use it to grease the comal every other cooked tortilla so that they do not stick.

oiling the comal
oiled comal

If you look at the back of the bag, there are directions for making the masa (dough) for the number of tortillas wanted (and in some cases, as in this bag of Maseca, how to make the tortillas). 

back of the bag
WARNING: If you follow the exact measurements for the water and salt, you will find that your tortillas are much too dry and not flavorful in the slightest. What the bag offers are guidelines.

Absolutely use the measurements for the masa itself; the water and salt you will have to adjust.

To start, use a big bowl to mix all the ingredients thoroughly. For example, the batch I made was for 16 tortillas, which means I started with 2 cups of masa.

Measure the suggested 1 1/3 cup of water, add half of it to the masa, then add 1/4 tsp of salt, and mix well. At this point, the masa will still be too dry and there will still be unmixed dry masa (see picture).

masa with half the water
Add the remaining 2/3 cups of water to the masa, add another 1/8 to 1/4 tsp of salt, and mix well. Even after adding the full 1 1/3 cups of water, the masa will still be too dry and will need more water.

Add water slowly to the masa and mix well. For example, I added another 1/4 cup of water to the masa a little bit at a time so that the dough maintained its consistency. WARNING: If you add too much water, the masa will be sticky; it will stick to the press and even to the comal. The entire batch will be unusable unless you add more masa and salt. So be careful with the water from the start.

Continue to mix water into the masa until it reaches a moist, not wet, consistency and will roll into a large ball of sorts. You can even make small balls of dough for each tortilla before you begin pressing. I have found that the 2 cups of masa makes more than 16 tortillas.
mixed masa
balls of masa

With the comal preheated and one plastic sheet on the bottom of the press, it is time to begin pressing tortillas and cooking them. Take a ball of masa, place it on the plastic on the press, press it with your hand so it is flat, and then place the second piece of plastic over it. The masa should be between the two pieces of plastic before the press is closed.
masa on plastic

flattened masa, ready to press

Close the lid on the press, then take the handle and and move it across the press, pushing down so that the tortilla is flattened. Move the handle back, open the top of the press, and you will have a flattened tortilla that is ready for the comal. Take the top plastic off of the tortilla, put the tortilla (masa side) on your hand and remove the bottom piece of plastic from the tortilla to get ready to place on the comal. If you have not been able to tell before if the masa is too sticky, you will be able to tell when you try to remove it from your hand because it will stick.

removing tortilla from plastic
pressed tortilla

Place the tortilla on the comal for about 30 seconds, and then flip. I use my hands, but if you're worried about burning yourself, you can use a spatula. Then cook the other side of the tortilla for about 30 to 45 seconds more. Then put the cooked tortillas in a tortilla warmer, if you have one, or put in foil (like I do) and keep it as closed up as much as possible so that the tortillas retain their warmth.
stack of cooked tortillas
cooked side of tortilla

And that's it. Enjoy the tortillas alongside a meal or by themselves.

However, I will warn you that once you bite into a homemade corn tortilla you and your family will accept no substitute; this means that if you're making enchiladas, be prepared to make all the tortillas as well.

Let me know if you try this and how it goes. I'm always here to answer questions.

Hasta la proxíma vez!