Feast 20 – Mexican Food

late post, my body needed sleep and i just slept for an unreasonably long time. still feeling hazy and half asleep but luckily, i authored the majority of the text of this post at work yesterday!

It shouldn’t surprise me but yet again, the dish that I spent the least time and effort on turns out to be the stand out dish. I would like to credit it to my culinary acumen but I don’t have that confidence. Instead, I think I would credit it to the fact that simple preparations with good ingredients make for the most enjoyable dishes. This is evident in the prep I do for Brussels sprouts. Tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper, roasted in a cast iron skillet and you are done. Easy. Simple. Delicious. No complicated prep, no delicate sauces, just good ingredients prepared in a way that accents the natural flavors. There is a lesson to be learned.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy complex dishes with deep flavor nuances. They are both fun to make, a bit challenging and very satisfying. But, it seems that the crowd pleasers are usually the simpler dishes. Makes me wonder if I am overthinking some of my dishes and that perhaps I should experiment with more Spartan cookery. Avoid gilding the lily so to speak. A bit of soul searching is in order I believe.

Ok, philosophical meanderings aside, this week, I made a wonderful selection of tex-mex sort of dishes. The centerpiece was the tamales. Tamales are a staple in our family for the winter holidays. Its fairly typical of Hispanic culture as I understand it and I have been lucky enough to marry into it. Due to my interest and the fact that I can be relied upon to actual go through the work, I have taken up the mantle of making the tamales for the extended family whenever we all get together. I usually make three or four dozen for those occasions but for today, serving two, I made a dozen, split between two types.

The first type of tamale I made, the bulk of the work for this meal, was a stewed pork tamale. This was a two day endeavor with the time it takes to properly slow cook the pork to the desired tenderness. I started with a three pound pork roast in the crock pot on top of three quartered onions. Add to this one bottle of beer, salt, pepper, oregano, 6 bay leaves and 8 cloves of chopped garlic. Meanwhile, soak 3 ounces of dried ancho chili peppers in hot water, held under with a small plate. Soak these for about 30 minutes or until they soften. Drain the chilis, reserving the soaking liquid. Stem them, remove as many of the seeds as you feel like taking the trouble with and toss them in the pot as well. Set aside one cup of the soaking liquid and pour the rest over the pork. Add 2 cups of chicken broth, a bit of brown sugar and a touch of balsamic vinegar. Cook on high in the crock pot for four hours and then switch to low for 10 more hours (overnight in my case). You want to turn the pork over a few times throughout the cooking. Your first indication that it is getting to a good point is when it starts to fall apart when you are turning it. The next morning, turn the crock pot back to high and cook for an additional three hours, stirring often to reduce the mixture a bit. It should look really dark brown and angry at this point. Drain and set the meat aside to cool, picking out the bay leaves.

pork roast in crock pot, ready to cook

pork roast in crock pot, ready to cook

The second type of tamales was the dish that I alluded to in the opening paragraphs. It started with just a notion, no real direction, just a thought of where I wanted to go. I wanted to capture a bit of the chili relleno flavor in tamale form. To this end, remove the stems and seeds from 6 anaheim peppers (yup, they don’t have poblanos here, be patient with me, I am trying. Chop a large onion and sweat down the onion and peppers in a pan with a bit of olive oil. Cook the hell out of them until they are nicely translucent and the onions have caramelized. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool. We will be adding some standard Mexican mixed cheese to these when we roll them. Yet again, no queso fresco here which would have been my choice for this dish.

For the tamale dough, mix 3 1/2 cups Masa Harina, 1.5 tablespoons Salt, 3 ½ cups Chicken broth and ¾ lb Lard or shortening. Combine well and using a hand or stand mixer, mix to make a very consistent dough. Set aside.

The assembly is always the most time consuming part of this dish, luckily I was only making a dozen, six of each type so it was relatively painless. You want to soak your corn husks in hot water for about an hour before starting to make them more pliable. This will ease the rolling process significantly. Working one at a time, spoon enough dough to cover your corn husk and spread a couple of tablespoons of mixture in a line in the center. Roll tightly and fold the end over . place these on a rack with the seal/fold facing down.

Again, I am working with limited resources here so I don’t have my steamer pot. I decided that I was going to work around this by using the oven and a bain marie to steam them. Simply put, this is a pan of water under your rack of tamales in a 325 oven for about 45 minutes. Worked like a charm by the way and I am likely to use this method for small batches even when I get back to the real world and all my stuff.

You could make a sauce for these but it would be extraneous in my opinion. They are tasty enough without.

Alongside this, I decided on a simple salad and some Mexican style rice. My rice is not traditional but it turned out really good so I am not going to argue with success. take 2 cups of rice and brown it in a bit of oil over medium heat until it starts to smell a little nutty. meanwhile, start a pot to boil with 2 1/2 cups chicken stock and the reserved one cup of pepper soaking liquid with a twist or two of salt. add the browned off rice, 1/2 a cup of frozen corn and a 3 oz can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. return the mixture to a boil. cover and reduce heat to low, cook until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. fluff and serve.

For the salad, I chopped an avocado, 3 tomatoes and 6 small cloves of garlic (which, incidentally, I grew in my backyard) . add to this a handful of chopped cilantro, a twist or two of salt the juice of one lime and 2 thinly sliced fresh jalapenos. Toss well to combine. Chill and serve.

Unusual for me but this particular meal would not have been right without a dessert. And no dessert other than flan could fit this meal. I will quote below the recipe that I use, adapted from one that was found in a book years ago that I don’t remember the name of unfortunately. Over the years, I have made this my signature holiday dish and am very proud of it. Its not terribly complicated and any one can make it, it make take an attempt or two to get the caramelization of the molds to work out just right. Don’t be discouraged, eating this dessert is the best thing you could ever do for yourself. Really. It’s that good.

sugar caramelizing for the molds

sugar caramelizing for the molds



3/4 cup Sugar

1/4 cup Sugar

1 1/2 cups Milk

1 14oz Can sweetened condensed milk

3 Large eggs

4 Large egg yolks

1 1/2 tsp Vanilla extract

Measure 3/4 cup sugar into small saucepan, dribble 1/3 cup water around and over sugar to moisten, and set over medium-high heat. let mixture come to a boil and reduce heat to medium. swirl pan over heat until syrup is a dark brown color but not quite burnt. pour syrup into bottom of round glass pan.

molds filled with caramalized sugar and ready for flan

molds filled with caramalized sugar and ready for flan

heat oven to 325 F

in a medium saucepan, combine sugar, milk, and condensed milk. Bring to simmer. in a bowl, whisk eggs and yolks until liquid. slowly whisk in warm milk mixture and add vanilla. pour into glass dish over syrup.

bake the custard in a pan of simmering water that some 2/3 of the way up the side of the custard dish. bake for 60 – 70 minutes until barely set in the middle. let custard cool in pan of water and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours. turn over onto a serving plate to serve.

you can also make it in a bunch of small containers instead of one large one.

The above cut and paste was from my recipe library at mealmatter.org an excellent recipe and shopping list management site. I recommend it without hesitation.

tamales, rice and salad ready to eat

tamales, rice and salad ready to eat

This meal was great, not only because everything turned out well but because it gave me the chance to introduce Eddie to both Tamales and Flan. The tamales turned out fabulous with a nice texture and flavorful fillings. He said that if he had ever had a tamale before that it was not memorable enough to make an impression, most likely drowned in a cheap sauce at a cut rate Mexican restaurant. These, homemade with care, showed him what the dish was supposed to be like and that was enough for me.

Ok, here is where a little conceit sets in. I served the flan with some coffee (French press of course) and didn’t even have to look at Eddie to check reactions. Flan is just that good and I have made it enough that just looking, I knew the texture and flavor would be right on. It was love at first bite and I guarantee that it will not be the last time he has flan.

flan on serving plate

flan on serving plate

That’s 20 down and 28 to go. I can’t say that its flying by but it is passing that indomitable force that is time. I am excited that soon we will be at meal 48, the nominal halfway point of this separation and project. More is coming and I can only hope that they turn out as well as this meal did.


3 Responses to Feast 20 – Mexican Food

  1. First off, among so many gems, this is my favorite post of yours so far. I know how much you dig Mexican food (esp. flan) and making tamales is a good test of any wannabe cook. Separates the hombres from the niños, as it were, and it’s obvious where you stand.

    I appreciate the respectful and joyful approach you take to the rich food heritage of Latin peoples. Along these lines I would love to see you tackle paella… to my mind, the ultimate test. I know it’s asking too much given your limited resources but I’d be fascinated to see what your ingenuity might yield.

    At any rate, bravo on an excellent entry and I look forward to you someday repeating this meal here.

    “I am excited that soon we will be at meal 48”

    Heh, you must be tired, I reckon you meant 24. Yep, almost halfway there, my friend. Hang in there.

  2. xtna says:

    I am sooo looking forward to the flan and tamales…and your cooking utensil resources will be limited here since you have taken off with half of our cookery. I am glad to see you were able to use the chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. And you laughed. Honey, you do me proud—not that I taught you these meals. Love ya.

  3. Juice says:

    Too bad I don’t eat pork but I know everybody loved the tamales. The rice was awesome.

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