Real Food for Real Life

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I love these darn things...

Tamales de puerco con salsa roja, frijoles negros y ensalada de maíz
Pork filled tamales with red sauce,black beans and corn salad

I love tamales and have fond memories of the sweet tamales (tamales dulces) I had in Mexico, some filled with a sweet corn mixture and some with pineapple.  I have never tried to make a sweet tamale at home, but will make savory, usually filled with pork.  As much as I love them, I don't usually make them more than once a year because them are time such, when I do make them it will usually be a double or triple batch (they freeze fairly well).

I was in the midst of a severe craving for tamales last week, and with leftover pulled pork in the fridge and masa harina in the pantry (a staple), tamales were going to be had.  I served these with a corn salad (or relish) and black beans made with  adobo and beer.  A note about tamales is  that as long as you have the basic technique for making them, you can put whatever you like in them...and the corn husks?  When I first started making tamales (quite a few years ago now) I used to have to seek out the husks, but now they are easily found in any large grocery store (or your local Aldi).  This recipe makes 12 to 15 tamales, but I advise soaking a few extra husks, because if you are anything like me, you will tear a few in the process.

adapted from Zaeela Martínez, found in In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs

 20 (or so) dried corn husks
2 1/3 cups masa harina
1 tsp. salt
2 cups warm water or chicken stock 
4 oz. shoetening
2+ cups of filling of choice 

Soaking the corn husks:  Place the corn husks in a large bowl and cover with boiling water.  Let soak at least 1/2 hour.

Making the masa:  Combine the masa harina and the warm water or stock in the bowl of a stand mixer, stir to combine well.  Place into the mixer and start beating while adding the shortening by spoonfuls.  Continue beating for 3 or 4 minutes (longer if beating by hand or with a hand mixer) until the mixture is very light and fluffy...this is important so that the finished tamales are not heavy and dense.  

Forming and filling the tamales:  Remove the corn husks from the water and gently squeeze out the excess, then pat dry with a kitchen or paper towel.  Place the corn husks on the counter with the rough side down and the narrow end pointing away from you.  Spread a scant 1/2 cup of the masa over the bottom 2/3 of the husk in a rectangle, leaving the narrow end uncovered.  Spoon a few tablespoons of your choosen filling into the center of the masa.  To enclose the filling, fold the sides of the husks together...the masa will come away from the husk and you can form it over the filling.  Fold the sides of the husk in, overlapping them tightly, then fold up the pointed end in, leaving the wide end open.

Steaming the tamales:  Arrange the tamales in a steamer with their open ends up, placing a ball of foil in the center to act as a prop.  Pour one inch of boiling water into the pan (or up to the bottom of your steaming basket) and lay a clean, damp kitchen towel over the tamales (this helps hold in the steam).  Cover tightly and bring to a boil; reduce the heat to maintain a gently bubbling and steam for 45 minutes to 1 hour, replenishing with boiling water if necessary.
When are they done?:  The tamales are ready when the masa is firm to the touch.  Remove from the steamer and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.  The tamales may be served in their husks, or unwrapped and placed on individual plates with sauce and sides.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Better without frying...

Roasted Eggplant Parmesan

I found eggplant on sale at a price that could not be passed up, so I snapped up four of these beauties without even knowing what I was going to do with them.  The cold weather meant something substantial and comforting, so thoughts drifted to Eggplant Parmesan.  But, I hate frying, so I thought I'd lighten things up a bit and roast the eggplant slices instead.  So, so glad I did.  This dish was elegant in its simplicity, and the taste was divine.  It tasted even better the next day (and the next, and the next)...yes, I had this for lunch for three days in a row, it was THAT good.  I didn't miss the pasta, but the boys stated that they would have liked some with the dish, but that will be up to you and yours.

Roasted Eggplant Parmesan

1 large onion, diced fairly fine
1 tbs. olive oil4 large clove garlic, minced
1 tbs. dried oregano, crushed
2 tsp. dried basil, crushed
1 heaping tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 28oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 cup dry red wine
4 large eggplants
olive oil
coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 and 1/2 lbs. mozzarella, divided use

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  In a fairly large pot, saute the onion in 1 tbs. olive over medium high heat oil until softened and just turning golden.  Add the garlic, oregano, basil, pepper flakes, salt and pepper; saute an additional minute until fragrant.  Stir in the tomatoes and wine and bring to a boil before reducing the heat and letting the sauce simmer while you prepare the eggplant.

Brush two baking sheets with olive oil.  Trim the ends and slice the eggplants into 1/2 inch slices and arrange on the oiled baking sheets.  Brush the top of each slice lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast for 30 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom after 15 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Spray a "lasagna" pan, or other large baking dish, with nonstick cooking spray.  Ladle 1/2 of the sauce into the bottom of the pan, spreading it evenly.  Layer in 1/2 of the roasted eggplant to completely cover the sauce.  Layer 1 pound of mozzarella slices or shreds over the eggplant...I used fresh here, but the bagged mozzarella "shreds" would work too.  Cover the cheese with the remaining eggplant, again arranging it to cover completely.  Ladle over the remaining sauce, cover the pan tightly with foil, and bake for 45 minutes.  Uncover the pan and layer on the remaining 1/2lb. of mozzarella...I did use the bagged shreds here...and bake uncovered an additional 15 minutes to melt and brown the top cheese layer.  Let the Eggplant Parm rest on the stove top at least 1/2 hour before cutting.  This made 8 large servings.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Christmas Tradition...

Poppy Seed filled Kolacky

We were away for Christmas this year, so Ben was not able to compete in the annual Kolacky baking contest.  Not wanting us to be without a Christmas Kolacky, his sister sent us one via second day UPS.  Undoubtedly, Becky would have won this year as this was the best one that we had ever had.  I posted a picture of the Kolacky in a Christmas album on Facebook where a friend saw it and wanted the recipe.  Since I was originally going to email it to her, but as I have been so remiss in posting, I decided to share it here.  As it turns out, I had already posted this last Christmas, so the recipe can be found here.  Ben uses Solo Poppy Seed filling and says that he uses about 3/4 can for each roll (and leftover filling is good eaten right from the spoon :)

While I didn't take a photo this year, another traditional (in the sense that we eat it at all holidays) holiday dish from Ben's family is Escalloped Pineapple.  One of my purposes for this blog was to create a recipe collection for my (and anyone else's) future use, but when I looked for the recipe here I found that this must have recipe was not included.  Out came the book of handwritten recipes and cooking commenced.  This recipe, like the Kolacky, is short on detailed instruction...I've played with it over the years, cutting the amounts of butter and sugar and subbing soft wheat bread for the white, cutting off the crust sometimes, keeping it others.  This year I used the whole amounts given for butter and sugar and used the white bread (with crusts).  It was just perfect.

Escalloped Pineapple

4 cups white bread cubes
3 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup margarine (I use butter)
1 can crushed pineapple (I use the large can)

Mix ingredients and bake 30 minutes at 35o degrees.

I find that I usually use more than 4 cups of bread cubes; I use stale bread and keeping cubing and mixing in until the mixture is not too soupy.  To get it nice and golden brown with crisp edges (my favorite part), I find that the baking time is usually closer to 40-45 minutes in a 9" x 13" glass baking dish.
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