Friday, February 23, 2018

Homemade Corn Tortillas – Seconds to Learn, Years to Master

Even though they only require a few of ingredients, and the technique to make them only takes a few seconds to learn, homemade corn tortillas do take a fair amount of experience to master, because of all the variables. But, don’t let that stop you from trying, since the results, even as produced by a novice, are vastly superior to ones from the grocery store. They’re also significantly cheaper, but the “vastly superior” part is more than enough reason.

That’s because a bag of Maseca, which is the most commonly found brand of masa flour in U.S. grocery stores, and the one I used, is very inexpensive, and will make hundreds of tortillas. So, the instant corn masa flour isn’t a variable, but pretty much everything else is. From the amount of water, to how much salt, to how hot a pan to use, to how long to cook them; everyone seems to have a little bit different system.

When it comes to the water, you’ll know you have the right amount, if your tortillas press out to a nice round, relatively smooth-edged shape. If the outside edge of the tortilla has cracks once pressed, then you need more water. On the other hand, if the tortilla sticks to your fingers, or breaks apart getting it off the plastic, then it was too wet. Adjust accordingly. And like I said, give yourself a few years to experiment.

As far as the pan, I go with a cast-iron skillet, which I get nice and hot over high heat, and then I’ll back it down to about medium while I cook my tortillas. I also tend to cook mine a little longer in the pan than is traditional, but I enjoy that nice, lightly-toasted corn flavor you get when a little bit of browning occurs. A few extra seconds in the pan is fine, as long as they are stacked, and wrapped in the towel, which is probably the most important step in the entire operation.

In fact, eat one of these right from the pan, and then compare it to one that you’ve let steam together with the rest of the tortillas in the towel. You’ll be truly amazed at the difference. So, if you enjoy store-bought corn tortillas, but always wondered what the real stuff was like, I hope you give these a try soon. Enjoy!


Ingredients for about 10 Corn Tortillas:
1 cup instant corn masa flour (aka masa harina)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup hot water (about 130 F.)
- adjust with more water or masa flour as needed

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Green Chicken Chili – Sorry, Red and White, But There’s a New Color in Town

If I had to pick a favorite color chili, it would have to be green. And, if I had to pick a favorite kind of green chili, it would be this chicken and white bean green chili, which, notwithstanding a very minor pumpkin seed issue, really came out amazing.

A true “chili verde” is made by roasting and pureeing fresh tomatillos, which is kind of labor intensive, if you can even find fresh tomatillos, so we’re going with a ready-to-use green salsa from the market. You should be able to chose from several varieties, but just be sure to read the labels carefully. Tomatillos must be the first ingredient, followed by onion, and chilies.

If you never had tomatillo before, I’d describe it as having a less sweet, slightly more acidic, but fruitier, tomato-like flavor. It’s very bright, and refreshing, and makes a chili prepared with it especially excellent for pairing with things like cornbread, or homemade corn tortillas. 

Once you find some tomatillo salsa, there’s not a lot that can go wrong, as we’re simply going to simmer everything until tender, assuming you’re using the recommended thighs. If you decided to use chicken breast, you’ll only need to simmer it until it’s cooked through, otherwise, unlike the thigh, it’ll get dry. No matter what you use, I really do hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!


Ingredients for 4 to 6 portions of Green Chicken Chili:
3 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, seasoned with salt
1 bottle (24-oz) tomatillo-based salsa verde, about 3 cups
1/2 cup fire-roasted hatch chilies, or other roasted green chili
3 garlic cloves
1 large jalapeno, sliced
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground chipotle
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
2 cans white kidney beans (cannellini beans), drained, rinsed
sour cream and avocado to garnish

Friday, February 16, 2018

Chinese Scallion Pancakes – Happy New Year, Dog!

Happy Chinese New Year! It’s the Year of the Dog (and not the Manatee), and to celebrate I thought I’d show you my take on Chinese scallion pancakes. These fun-to-make flatbreads are a common fixture on menus around here, and while they all feature the same few ingredients, they come in a variety of thicknesses, which really affects the texture.

The thinner you make these, the crispier they’ll be, but you won’t get that nice, layered, oniony inside. On the other hand, if you make them too thick, they can be a little doughy inside, so I try to shoot for something in between. Speaking of inside, feel free to add pepper flakes or other appropriate embellishments before you roll these up.

Ideally, you leave the dough overnight before using, but I’ve always had great results with just a couple hours rest on the counter. If you do leave overnight, you’ll probably get a better flavor, and maybe texture, but the dough will be more elastic, and slightly more difficult to work with.

As far as the dipping sauce goes, I like to mix equal parts seasoned rice vinegar, and soy sauce, flavored with a shot of hot sauce, and maybe grating of fresh ginger. Toss in a few sliced green onions, and you’ll have yourself a very basic, but perfect condiment for these savory pancakes. Regardless of how you serve them, I really hope you give these a try soon. Enjoy, and gung hay fat choy!


Ingredients for 2 Chinese Scallion Pancakes:
one bunch green onions, mostly green parts, sliced thinly
For the dough:
2 cups bread or all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup hot water
- adjust with more flour or water to form a smooth, but sticky dough
For the oil mixture:
3 tablespoon veg oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon flour

- serve with dipping sauce, as described in the blog post

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Flaming Greek Cheese (Saganaki) – Burning For You

I usually try to squeeze in one more sexy dessert video before Valentine’s Day, but instead I opted for this show-stopping, and super-savory saganaki. What it lacks in chocolate, it more than makes up in being on fire. I know what you’re probably thinking… what about a flaming chocolate dessert? Maybe next year.

In case you’re wondering, the original saganaki was not flambĂ©ed. This flaming cheese ritual was started by restaurateurs in Chicago, who were hoping a little bit of showmanship would help increase cheese appetizer sales, which it certainly did. They also made the experience interactive by encouraging customers to yell, “Opa!” as the plate was being ignited. If there’s one thing people love even more that flaming fried cheese, it’s yelling.

I really love kasseri cheese for this, since it holds its shape, crusts up nicely, and melts beautifully. I’ve also done this with a cheese called haloumi, which is tasty, but doesn’t melt at all, and for me that’s the best part. Beside those two, you can also use graviera, kefalograviera, kefalotyri, or even a firm feta cheese. No matter which cheese you use, I really do hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!


Ingredients for 2 large portions:
4 ounce slab of kasseri cheese (about 3/8 inch thick), or other cheeses listed above
water and flour as needed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons brandy, room temp
1/2 lemon to squeeze over, or to taste
1 tablespoon freshly chopped Italian parsley
sliced fresh or grilled bread to serve alongside