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" 'Tex-Mex' first entered the language as a nickname for the Texas and Mexican Railway, which was chartered in 1875. Newspaper railroad schedules used the abbreviation 'Tex. Mex.' for the rail line which ran from Laredo to Corpus Christi." from "The Tex-Mex Cookbook" by Robb Walsh

Roasted Tomato and Jalapeno Bread

February 4, 2015

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What is “Southwestern Cuisine”?  Some food history enthusiasts see it as a particular culinary movement influenced by Native American, Mexican, Spanish, and cowboy food  that began during the 1980’s. Other may view “Southwestern” food as the fusion of the food of these cultures that has been developing into regional traditions throughout states like Texas,  New Mexico, Colorado, California for at least a couple of centuries.  Either way, the food is characterized by bold, rustic flavors with  chiles, corn, tomato, beans, and of course meat and poultry faring prominently.  Trying to define “Southwestern”  food  has had me looking down a wormhole that I’m not ready to go down yet.  Is Tex-Mex considered Southwestern food?  This bread, though not traditional,  includes  jalapenos,  tomatoes, and  cornmeal in addition to  wheat flour.

The reason for this bread really is to celebrate the One Year Anniversary of “Fiesta Friday” ,  a virtual potluck of foods hosted by Angie of “The Novice Gardener”.  This brilliant idea of a virtual weekly event has brought together many food bloggers together to share their labor of loves.  The passion and creativity behind the food is always truly inspiring.   There are usually  vegan and vegetarian options as well,  so there is something for everybody.   I bring this bread to acknowledge Angie’s  tremendous hard work and commitment it takes keep this weekly event going.  I’ve seen that it has added much fun and joy to blogging for so many.  This simple bread is not a tour de force appetizer, entrée,  or dessert you’ll regularly see at Fiesta Friday,  but I think it’ll make a decent accompaniment.

I have to admit though that this recipe needs tweaking.  The crumb was tighter than I would have preferred and that was no doubt caused by the use of cornmeal and whole wheat flour.   Leaving out the cornmeal I think would give it a more airy and tender crumb.  The cornmeal didn’t add much flavor either.  I think I would prefer a simpler flavored dough to let the roasted tomato and jalapeno flavor come out more.  This bread deserves an updated and revised recipe.  I may include the new improved version at this post.

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For 2 large or 3 medium size loaves.

Pate fermente:

3 cups bread flour

1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups water

Cornmeal soaker:

1/4 cup cornmeal

1/4 cup water

Slow roasted tomatoes:

3 # ripe tomatoes or 3 pints cherry tomatoes

Olive oil to drizzle

Fire roasted jalapenos:

1 to 2 medium size jalapenos depending on how spicy you want the bread

Final dough:

All of pate fermente

All of cornmeal soaker

2 cups bread flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1 3/4 teaspoon yeast

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

All of the roasted tomatoes

The fire roasted jalapeno pepper

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To make the pate fermente mix the bread flour,  yeast, and salt together in your mixing bowl.  Add the water and stir to form a loose shaggy dough.  Mix on the recommended speed for your mixer until it is smooth and elastic,  about 5 to 7 minutes.  Shape into a ball and place in an oiled bowl.  Move the dough around so that all sides get oiled.  Cover with plastic and let it sit to ferment until it is about 1 1/2 times larger in volume.  Carefully degass the dough to reduce it to the original size.  Cover it again with plastic and store overnight in the refrigerator.

For the cornmeal soaker mix well together the cornmeal and water in a small container. Cover with plastic and let it sit at room temperature overnight.  This helps soften the cornmeal and develops a little flavor.

To roast the tomatoes,  slice them in half,  place them cut side up on an oiled baking tray, and drizzle lightly with oil.  Put them in an oven preheated to 225 degrees and roast for 5 to 6 hours.  Cherry tomatoes will take less time,  maybe 3-4 hours,  so watch them carefully.  Sometimes I prick the tomatoes with a fork from time to time to help evaporate the liquid.  The tomatoes should shrink, lose most of their moisture,  and develop a more intense flavor.  You can do this the night before and then store in the refrigerator.

To fire roast the jalapenos,  place them above a flame on your stove top and char them slightly.  If you don’t have gas flame,  you can also roast them in your oven.

On baking day,  remove the pate fermente from the refrigerator about an to 1 to 1 1/2 hours before you begin to allow to get to room temperature.   Rough chop the tomatoes and allow to reach ambient temperature.  Finely chop the jalapenos as well.  Include most or all the seeds depending on how spicy you want the bread to be.

When the dough is ready,  cut it into about 10-12 pieces with a knife or pastry cutter.  Put the pieces in your mixing bowl along with the bread flour,  yeast,  salt, and cornmeal soaker.  Mix everything together well with a spatula to form a loose dough.   If the dough seems too dry, add some water it get it manageable enough to knead.  Now mix with the paddle attachment for 3 to 4 minutes.  Begin adding the chopped tomatoes and jalapeno.  Depending on how moist they are,  the dough may get wetter.  Add bread flour as necessary as you continue adding the rest of the tomatoes. Continue mixing until the dough is smooth and elastic. This should take abut 5 more minutes.

Remove the dough from your mixer,  form it into a ball, and place it in an oiled bowl.  Roll the dough around to get it oiled on all sides. Cover with plastic and let it ferment until it doubles in size.

Remove the dough from the bowl,  lightly degass it,  and divide it into 2 or 3 portions.  Form them into a  round shape.  Put each on parchment paper (if using a baking stone),  lightly oil them with spray oil,  and cover with plastic.  If not using a baking stone,  put them on an oiled baking tray. Let them proof until just about twice in volume.  While they are proofing,  pre-heat the oven to 475 degrees.  Be sure to put your baking stone in place if you have one. The parchment paper makes it easy to transfer the dough from your counter to oven.

When the dough is ready,  lightly top with cornmeal, and slash them as desired.  Place them in the oven.  Spritz with a water mister to simulate steam.  Do this 2 more times,  within 10 mintutes and lower the oven to 400 degrees.  Bake until they reach an internal temperature of 200 degrees,  about 20 to 25 minutes.  Put them on a rack to cool completely before slicing.

Notes:  The trickiest part about mixing the dough is keeping it from getting too wet while adding the tomatoes.  If you didn’t fully roast them,  they will release much of their juice,  requiring an addition of flour.

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Baby lima bean soup w/chipotle pepper

January 12, 2015

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This soup falls under the category of “Soups made several times the past 2 weeks”.  What makes it for me is the great natural pairing of  the creamy “sweet”  baby lima beans with the smoky spicy flavor of the chipotle pepper.   I keep the ingredients for this soup to a minimum to let the two main components shine.   I didn’t know this,  but lima beans are native to Peru.   I always associated lima beans with southern U.S. cooking so I never made the connection of the name to the country of origin.   They are nowhere to be seen in Tex-Mex cuisine and I couldn’t tell you how pervasive they are in Mexico.  What’s confusing are the various names it is called in Spanish.   I’ve come across a couple of Mexican soup recipes using “habas”,  which they translate into “favas”.  Yet a bag of “Baby Lima Beans” I bought  also had “Habas Pequenas” in the title.  Fava beans I’m familiar with are a different shape,  have a much “meatier” flavor to them,  and sometimes require removing the skin.  Among other names,  lima beans are known as Judias Blancas,  frijol blanco,  and frijol de media luna.

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1 # dry baby lima beans

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium size carrot peeled

1 medium size celery stalk

1/2 medium size yellow onion

3 cloves garlic

8 cups vegetable stock or water (or a combination of both)

1 bay leaf

1/8 heaping teaspoon dried thyme

1 tsp. salt

1 to 3 seeded chipotle peppers in adobo (to taste)

 

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Wash and sort through the beans.   Dice the carrot,  celery,  and onion into medium dice pieces.  Mince the garlic cloves.  Get your soup pot hot over medium high heat and add the olive oil.   Saute the vegetables for a minute or so to sweat.  Add the vegetable stock and/or water along with the baby lima beans.  Bring to a boil,  lower to a good simmer and cover the pot.   Cook until done.  This will take at least 2 hours but check from time to time to see how they are coming along.  They should be just tender.  Add more stock if necessary during the cooking.

When the beans are done,  remove the bay leaf.  With a hand immersion blender,  puree the beans until the soup is smooth.  A food processer will also work.  Add the 1 or 2 seeded chipotle pepper with some of the adobo sauce and puree.  You may choose to remove some of the beans during the pureeing and return them to the puree to give some texture to the finished soup.  Adjust with stock  if necessary to reach your desired thickness.  You may also wish to blend in more of the chipotle pepper.  Season with more salt to taste.

Notes: Because I didn’t give the beans an overnight soak, or a quick soak,  they took a while to cook. Just be sure to adjust your cooking time if you soak the beans.

For more smoky flavor, I remove the seeds of the chipotle so that I can add more of the chiles.  If you are unfamiliar with chipotle peppers en adobo, you can find them canned in many supermarkets nowadays.  The above photo shows the chipotle pepper along with a fresh jalapeno pepper,  its raw counterpart.

Using all vegetable stock gave the soup a richer taste, while using water allowed for the flavor of the beans to come out more.  I also liked using 4 cups of each.  Flavoring with vegetable bouillon is another option.

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This bowl was garnished with fried tortilla strips,  epazote,  and pan roasted and ground dry chipotle pepper.  The added dry chipotle gave a little more heat but also a more intense smoky flavor.  The gorditas (at left) made a great accompaniment.  Of course,  gorditas are normally stuffed with various ingredients but these simple plain ones went just fine with the soup. Stay tuned for an upcoming recipe.

 

 

 

 

Chochoyotes (Masa Dumplings)

December 28, 2014

These dumplings will add a tasty, rustic, Mexican flair to your soup or stew.   I’ve been reading that there are many regional variations, mostly in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico.  Achiote, onions,  cheese, jalapeno or cilantro are just a few possibilities.   It seems they are used in many types of soups and I myself have found that because of  their versatility they can compliment soups not related to Mexican cuisine.

This recipe uses dried masa harina which can be found in the baking aisle in many supermarkets nowadays.  If you can get your hands on fresh masa, so much the better, though some slight adjustments to the recipe will have to be made.  Lard is a traditional ingredient used in chochoyotes, but I’m replacing it with vegetable shortening here.  Olive oil, I understand,  can also be used as a substitute.  This easy 4 ingredient recipe below is the most basic version.

 

For about 16 to 20 dumplings

1 cup masa harina

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

3/4 cup warm water

 

For 1 batch I added 1/4 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro, for a second batch I added 1 teaspoon each of ground toasted chipotle pepper and ground toasted Ancho pepper.  You can make your own interpretations though.  Let me know if you make some!

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Mix the masa harina and salt together. Include optional ingredients if using. Add the vegetable shortening and incorporate it until well dispersed.  Add all the water except a couple of tablespoons or so and incorporate well.  Let the dough rest for about 15 minutes.  This will allow the water to be full absorbed. The dough will be pliable,  not too dry and not too moist.  Add a little more water if necessary. Form a portion into about a 1 inch ball.  With your index finger, make a dimple or indentation.  This shape helps the dumplings cook evenly.  Continue with the rest of masa.  Gently add them to your slow simmering soup which has reached or very nearly reached the end of cooking.  As you place them in the pot, try to keep them separate so that they do not stick together.  Continue on a simmer for about 10-12 minutes. The dumplings should turn out soft but with a nice substantial bite, something like a flour dumpling.

 

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The dumpling can even hold a little bit of the soup.

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This “vegetable stew with no name” was made with ingredients I had on hand at the time.  Garbanzos (chickpeas), gandules (pigeon peas), eggplant, tomatoes, carrots, celery, onions, garlic,  thyme, oregano,  a bay leaf and vegetable stock melded nicely for a simple but hearty and tasty meal.  Adding the chochoyotes gave it a welcomed serious Mexican twist.  I then splashed a bit of bottled hot sauce for a little extra kick.  Great anytime of year but very nice for those cold rainy winter days.  I also made a puree of baby lima bean soup with chochoyotes which worked out well.

Review of a chapter from “Cooked-A Natural History of Transformation” Pt.2

November 17, 2014

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As Michael Pollan takes us through his sourdough bread odyssey in the third chapter of his book “Cooked”,  he intersperses his descriptions with historical information and a layman’s explanation of what is happening on the microbiological level.  It is a very reader friendly account of the process.  Those of us who have felt the apprehension of making our first loaf of sourdough bread can relate to his getting “mentally prepared” for the work.  For most, it is an endeavor that is anticipated to yield mediocre results at best and utter failure at worst.   He is certainly not expecting to come up with a prize winning loaf of bread the first time around.  For those who are interested,  the role of wild yeast (and bacteria) in creating a sourdough culture is explained in a way that doesn’t remind one of a science textbook.   Much of what exactly goes on in the starter and in dough is still a mystery to the scientists.  But if you ever wondered about what makes homegrown yeast special compared to the commercially made variety,  or how the mixture of four disparate bread ingredients transforms into a  smooth elastic aromatic dough and eventually into the extraordinary final product,  then here is a nice and easy readable place to find out.  For example,  he cites a 1971 study by the USDA entitled “Microorganisms of the San Francisco Sour Dough French Bread Process”.   The team found that no single yeast type was responsible for the success of the sourdough culture.  Instead it is a complex collaboration between a yeast and a bacteria which forms a kind of micro ecosystem  where the microorganisms benefit from the other’s coexistence.  To date, about 20 different yeasts and 50 different bacteria have been found in sourdough cultures around the world.  Commercially made yeast on the other hand doesn’t do well in a sourdough type of environment, so complex relationships aren’t allowed to flourish.  Its predictability anywhere in the world makes it well suited for mass production of products though it will never extract the depth of flavor and quality that is inherent in wheat.  After reading the section on sourdough starters,  I gained a better appreciation of the fact that the way bakers take care of their sourdough culture affects the quality and characteristics of the final result.  Ambient temperature,  food,  amount of water, and feeding schedule all determine the environment of the “micro universe” of the starter.   Though the author gets into some biological detail he always seems to be primarily concerned with sharing information that helps the reader understand the bread making process.

What is also appealing and useful about the writing style is that as Pollan takes us through the method,  he fully explains the purpose of each of the techniques.  He also describes the visual cues the baker should be looking for,  what the material should feel like, and what aromas should be detected.   Very few books on bread making that I have seen are as thorough in their presentation.  After the sourdough starter,  he continues with the making and development of the levain,  which is the small mix of starter,  fresh flour, and water that will be used to inoculate the final dough.  He then takes us through the mixing and development of the dough itself.   Along the way he devotes four very informative pages on gluten.  He is constantly fleshing out the entire process with interesting historical or practical information for us to consider.  When the dough has finally been baked he describes some signs on the loaf that are symptoms of particular qualities.  I won’t spoil your reading by describing the result of his first bread.  Get the book to find out!

True to the baking experience,  Pollan makes it clear that the baker must develop his own sense of timing for the particular situation.  He is merely giving some guidelines for the baker to use in crafting a bread that is being aimed for.

After making his first loaf using Chad Robertson’s recipe from “Tartine”,  Pollan decides to go for quality control by visiting the baker himself.    To be continued.

See previous post for Pt.1.

 

 

Review of a chapter from “Cooked-A Natural History of Transformation” Pt. 1

November 11, 2014

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“One way to think about bread-and there are so many:  as food or Food,  matter and Spirit,  commonplace,  communion,  metaphor,  and medium (of exchange,  transformation,  sociality,  etc.)-is simply this:  as an ingenious technology for improving the flavor,  digestibility,  and nutritional value of grass.  True,  the technology doesn’t work for all grasses,  mainly just wheat,  and it really only works for the seeds of that particular grass,  not the leaves or stems.  So it’s not quite as ingenious as the ruminant’s system for processing grass.  The cow carries around a whole other stomach for the sole purpose of fermenting all parts of all kinds of grass into usable food energy.  Our single stomach can do no such thing,  but when,  about six thousand ears ago,  we learned how to leaven bread,  we joined the grass eaters of the world in earnest,  much to the benefit of our species (not to mention the grasses).”

So begins the chapter “Air-The Education of An Amateur Baker” from Michael Pollan’s “Cooked-A Natural History of Transformation”.  I’m not familiar with a lot of his writing,  but I’ve read enough to know that the short little intro to this chapter packs a lot of potential for what may come to inform and entertain the reader.  In case you are not familiar with Pollan,  he writes very observantly about food and the processes taking it from nature, farm, or field to table.  He covers the full spectrum from  cultural,  political, and ecological concerns to health issues.  Whatever your lifestyle may be,  he will usually offer a new angle, or fresh perspective for you. Some of his other works include “In Defense of Food”,  “The Botany of Desire”,  and “Food Rules”.   Ironically,  he says that he has always had only a mild interest or passion for cooking itself.  Eventually however, he discovered that the answer to personal,  political,  and philosophical questions were found right in his kitchen.   “Cooked” concerns his education in learning how to cook well.  What an education he has!  He divides the book into four chapters, “Fire-Creatures of the Flame”,  “Water-A recipe in seven steps”,  “Air-The Education of an Amateur Baker”,  and “Earth-Fermentation’s Cold Fire”.   For each element, he apprentices under an appropriate master chef.  For this chapter, none other than master bread maker Chad Robertson of  “Tartine” fame serves as his teacher.  I was very excited to read this chapter because I have used and adapted Robertson’s method to many breads I have made.  Lucky you Pollan,  you get to work with the master.  Pollan has more than earned his way to time and tutelage under Robertson.  I’m very interested in Pollen’s experiences and observations as he works with the dough.  I’m also interested in his interaction with his teacher.  What will be Robertson’s teaching style for him.  A lot would depend on how much time Pollen was intending to work with him.  I suspect Robertson would feel it to be more of a crash course.  He’ll probably show him the basics with a good foundation so that Pollen can develop on his own.  In order to give Pollan more to consider,   I imagine Robertson will elaborate on the nuances that affect the bread making process.  Will the author develop further interest after the project?

I’m not a reviewer by any means,   this “review” is more of a “play by play” in real time as I read the chapter and try to understand the author’s side of the experience. I’ll present it in a series of parts so as to keep the posts short and sweet.

The first section is titled “A Great White Loaf”.   He begins with a general history of the evolution of bread making.  With his summation he put baking in a fresh historical perspective for me.  He has made me ask myself—In the grand scheme of bread making,  what are modern day bakers doing to push the envelope?  How are they,  in his words,  “… improving the flavor, digestibility, and nutritional value of grass”.   Pollan writes that Paleolithic hunters made use of grasses as part of their energy consumption and eventually these grasses became a bigger part of their diet when they discovered the beginnings of agriculture.  A relationship developed between man and the grasses he cultivated.  The grasses evolved to be more efficient for man and we developed enzymes to more easily digest the starch in the seeds.   The seeds still had to be “processed” in order for the precious nutrients to be unlocked and absorbed.  Initially this was done by toasting on a fire or ground between rocks before boiling to a mash.  It was discovered that this mush tasted better when it was left on a hot stone to cook,  thus creating the first “flatbread”.  Then about 6000 years ago in Egypt,  it was noticed that some of this mush,  perhaps left alone for a couple of days miraculously seemed to come alive expanding in volume.  When this porridge was put in an oven,  it grew even more,  producing an airy but solid edible mass.  The flavor and texture was much more interesting than the mush they had been eating. From then on,  bread making has been a history of improvement whether by design or accident.

Reading about the important junctures in that very short summation of the history of bread reminds me of the times when I was surprised at the vigorous activity of yeast in a sourdough starter.  Once a partially closed container popped open from gas pressure that had built up.  During the fermentation of a couple of poolishes,  bubbles would form at the surface and burst every few seconds.   In one of my early attempts of making bread I couldn’t believe the dramatic oven spring that resulted in one particular loaf.   There is a big part of bread making that still connects us to the ancient days.  Those who have grown and milled their wheat and constructed their own stone ovens are even much more connected to the tradition.

I think Pollan has hinted at one approach he’ll take in his endeavor to get a feel for bread baking.  The techniques he’ll learn will be ways to help him extract maximum flavor and best crumb structure for his loaves.  As the title of the section suggests,  he’ll very likely focus on using flour, water, salt, and natural yeast, the bare minimum of ingredients.

Before I end this part, I must mention that I disagree with his associating each of the cooking methods with a distinct element,  in this case,  air with bread baking.  In my humble opinion,  bread making involves an interaction of all 4 elements–fire,  water,  air,  and earth.  Perhaps he means to highlight the element that comes most into play with each cooking method.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Writing Process Tour

October 27, 2014

 

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It’s a little hard to believe my last post was on June 30th, it really seems like only several weeks ago.  At that point we were having 100 plus degree weather in Austin and I had planned to come up with some chilled soups,  paletas,  and maybe a liquado or two to combat the heat.  But here we are  with fall in the air and Dia de Los Muertos and Halloween less than a week away.  Remember when you were a kid on the last day of school ready to jump into the summer which was like an eternity when you could play all day every day to your heart’s content?  You r’member! Not having experienced any kind of adult responsibilities, we couldn’t fully appreciate it.  But we didn’t have to,  we were totally in the moment of enjoying life as only a kid knows how.  As adults, our calendars are full of days marked with deadlines,  appointments, and must do’s.  Depending on what kind of job you have, you have mini-deadlines created for you within the day.   Having worked in kitchens for many years, I can attest a cook is constantly working against or with the clock, depending on how you see it.  The kitchen may seem relaxed at the beginning of the day with the clock on the wall and that second hand moving so slow.  Yes let’s enjoy our coffee a couple of minutes  before we start prepping up the soup de jours.  What’s the rush?   (That’s a very tiny bit of the kid in the summer feeling being relived there.) Then the deadline for the misce en place and/or the presentation of the extensive buffet approaches.   As we get closer to zero hour,  that clock on the wall doesn’t seem to be moving so slowly anymore.   That’s especially true the last half hour or so when most foods are being cooked for maximum freshness and appeal.  If you’re working with an a la carte menu, a different sort of manipulation of time is an essential skill to develop.  “Time in the Kitchen” sounds like a good title for a post , doesn’t it? Here I go again, making plans too way ahead again.  My point is that time has flown by lately for me.  In any case, it feels good to be back and wipe the dust off my blog.  I hope to get back to more regular posting.  No deadlines though.

Now to the important stuff.  I must first thank Ginger from Ginger and Bread for nominating me for the “Writing Process Tour.”  It’s so nice to get the support and encouragement!  I’m not very big on blogger awards because I always feel awkward  nominating others. I accepted (so many weeks ago!) this non-award because it would give me a chance to think about where my blog was going.  It also gives me an opportunity to acknowledge a few fellow very inspiring bloggers.  I have always enjoyed reading Ginger’s very well written and visually beautiful blog and learning about foods from her native southern Germany.  She also introduced to me many other foods during her world soccer tour of countries. She is quite adept at making delicious looking loaves of bread from her tradition and beyond.  She knows what she is doing.   Being a bread enthusiast myself,  it’s educating and fun reading about her breads and methods of baking.  In her Schwarzbrot  post,  she writes about her adaptation of  a recipe from a 1951  cookbook that’s a an updated version of the original 1912 publication.  I love that she included photos of the second hand book and a few of its pages with all its stains and hand written annotations.  She also has a photo of a typical “Abendbrot” with her bread.  She relates she is aiming for a certain flavor or sourness in her loaf,  so she continues with a 2nd version of Schwarzbrot,  honing in on what she is going for in the bread.  Even though I don’t come from a sourdough bread tradition, I can relate to that.  I always have a certain flavor and sourness I work towards in the sourdough bread I make.   So she has wonderful photos,  recipes from her German tradition,  and explanations of her baking or cooking processes.  What more do you want?  Well, she also writes about her trips around England and her native Germany.   Her post about a cottage and garden in Dungeness, Kent conveys the surreal nature of its locality.  Thank you again Ginger!  I apologize for taking so long to follow up on the “Writing Process Tour.”

 

The rules for the Writing Process Tour are the following:

1. Acknowledge the person who nominated you.

2. Answer the tour’s 4 questions.

3. Select three others to participate.

 

1. I could go on about Ginger and her blog.  Do visit her site.

2.  What am I working on?  Trying to improve my baking.   In general,  I continue baking breads and making tortillas as often as is practical.   At work I bake bread as regularly as time allows.  That gives me a chance to try different styles and get immediate feedback.  At home, I usually have homemade bread ready or in the freezer.  I also enjoy making tortillas as often as I can.  Pre-dawn hours on weekends are my favorite time to make them.  It’s quiet, I have my freshly made French roast by my side,  and two whole work-free days are ahead of me.  I can never get enough practice.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?  In terms of the approach, it’s not much different from other blogs.  I sense there is a lot of experimentation going on in food blogs like there is in mine.  That’s part of the fun and challenge.  Also,  everyone brings their unique perspective to their subject matter.  My perspective on bread baking is from a 2nd generation Chicano (Mexican-American) background.  I must also mention that this a vegetarian friendly blog with “Jalapeno and Cheddar Cheese Sourdough” being my last non-vegan recipe.  From here on out I plan to write only vegan-friendly entries.

 Why do I write what I do?  I write to express my cultural background as it relates to my cooking.  I’ll include traditional recipes from time to time, especially those I grew up with.  They will often inspire a variation.  But I’m also very interested in making new recipes,  foods with flavors that might make sense alongside a typical Tex-Mex or Mexican meal.  I will try my best to explain the background or story of a recipe so that the reader knows exactly what it’s about.  In these times when much of the culinary world is getting eclectic and fusion orientated,  I think it’s important to know the origins so that a sense of where the recipe stands in relation to a tradition(s) is not lost.

 How does your writing process work?  Much of my inspiration is from family cooking,  foods I grew up with.  Many times I take  typical Mexican or Tex-Mex ingredients and think of a way to incorporate them into a bread, tortilla or other food.  Local ingredients, though not necessarily associated with Mexican food are also fair game.   For record’s sake,  I always write down notes for potential recipes in a notebook. In fact, I keep 3 notebooks,  one with recipes for breads, one for tortillas, and one for ideas. I’ll look back through the notes and have a very hard time remembering I even did some of recipes!  It sure helps going over and reviewing mistakes or suggestions I noted.  Sometimes I’ll return to an idea I had months ago and try it. My latest entry is a for a 3-seed sourdough.  Sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame seeds are obvious choices.  How can I make it unique and personal? If I decide to go for it, the process might take a couple of weekends or more to get it to my satisfaction.   I usually describe in the post what adjustments I made.  I also find myself finding ideas, inspiration,  and reference material from cookbooks which I mention in my posts.

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3. I’m choosing Marcella Rousseau at For Your Good Health as someone to participate in the Writing Process Tour.  She writes very informatively about different aspects of well being and does so from personal experience.  Diet,  exercising, and health promoting activities are just some of the topics she explores. She can also point you to good resources for you to investigate.   I usually find myself smiling while reading her posts which are written with an understated and heart-felt humor.   She’ll be the first to tell you that smiling is good for you.  Thank you Marcella!

Another person I’m choosing is Marwinna with her delicious looking loaves at Bread & Philosophy.  There was no way I was not going to follow her blog when I came across it. Her niche of bread baking of course got my attention.  Cooking and baking is much more than just following recipes as all us fellow food bloggers can attest.  So it’s interesting to see her perspective on the experience as she is very observant in her experiments. Baker’s books don’t show us how they arrived at a certain result. How a recipe was tweaked is just as interesting as the final recipe itself.  Nuances and details I haven’t encountered in my baking come to light in her writing. I know I’ll learn much from reading her blog.

One more person I’d like to nominate is Hilda with Along the Grapevine.  I am so impressed with all the wild and foraged plants she continues to feature with tasty creative recipes.  You have to respect someone who has educated themselves so much about naturally found food.  That’s what I call being in touch with nature.  I also like her conscientious and cautious attitude in her approach to foraging.  My neighborhood, which has a wide variety of wild plant life, or the nearby natural park where I walk my dogs probably have a large number of perfectly edible snacks which I’m not aware of.  She has at least raised my awareness of foraging, even though I can’t identify very many wild plants.

 

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A chipotle “flatbread” with black beans (pre-vegan photo).

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The iconic ceramic rooster always reminds me of our family kitchen.

 

Thank you very much for reading!  It’s what makes it worth it.

 

 

 

 

Huaraches

June 30, 2014

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I cannot recall whether ever I’ve seen these in my Central Texas area of Austin and San Antonio.  They are more likely to be found in a small family owned restaurant with close ties to Mexico. They are a popular snack or meal in Mexico where they can be found in restaurants or as street food.  The base for these is nothing more than corn tortilla dough pressed and shaped like a huarache (sandal) and then cooked very much like a tortilla.  They are thicker and so a little more substantial than the flexible tortilla. You can top them with whatever you desire. Taco, mollete, or chalupa fillings are several points of departure.  I’m opting for refried black beans, pan roasted nopal (cactus), and a homemade salsa.  Epazote,  which I used in the beans and as garnish worked well with the other flavors.  Recipes will follow.

Huaraches are more of a street or rustic, almost messy affair in its presentation.  You usually won’t see much of a garnish on the plate.  It’s hard to translate that in my kitchen with  foods sometimes.  I didn’t even try to recreate that feel.  But this is how I would probably serve them for guests or friends in my home.  It’s one thing for a street vendor or restaurant to have all the ingredients on hand at all times,  putting together plate after plate of food.  It’s another for a home cook to make this as a special meal for family and friends.

Another version of huaraches is one where black refried beans are stuffed in a egg-shaped portion of dough. It is then pressed into the oblong shape like this simpler version. I don’t know which style came first.

very highly recommend using fresh prepared masa from your local tortilleria, or international supermarket. If you must, use masa harina  which comes dry and requires the addition of water.  Two brands are “Quaker” and “Maseca”.  The huaraches taste much better if made from prepared masa.  No matter how much I tweaked the dry counterpart , it never could measure up to those made with the fresh masa.  When done cooking,  the huaraches have a thin crispy exterior and a softer interior. At least that is how I prefer them.  It is a wonderful texture and in fact I enjoy eating without the toppings and adding perhaps a drizzle of fresh salsa or olive oil.

If buying fresh masa from your tortilleria, 2 pounds will be plenty.  A supermarket may sell it in 5 pound sizes.

You can make them any size you wish.  I remember seeing them large enough to fill an entire plate.  Small ones make great appetizers.  Let your culinary imagination go wild.

Have your toppings all ready before you start making the huaraches.  It can be as simple as guacamole or refried beans with pico de gallo or as elaborate as you wish.  Once again I’m going vegetarian and vegan.  Have you noticed I haven’t mentioned cheese until now?

 

If using fresh masa,  determine if it is moist enough.  The masas will differ slightly in moisture depending on the tortilleria.  You will very likely need to add water to soften it up.  Take a small portion in your hand and flatten it or use a press if you have one.  The edges should remain smooth. Mix in water as is necessary to get it to this texture. A tiny bit of cracking at the extreme edges should be okay. Once again, experience is the best teacher here.  Don’t forget to season it with salt before you start mixing the water in.  For 1 pound of masa, I estimated I added about 1 teaspoon.

If using masa harina, follow the directions for making tortillas as recommended.  You will probably have to add more water to get it to the right consistency.  Add a little salt for seasoning, about a heaping 1/2 teaspoon per 2 cups.  Cover and let sit for about an hour so that the water properly absorbs into the harina.  Hopefully you will not have to make some final adjustments.

 

Let’s start making the huaraches!

If forming the huaraches by hand, you will need two pieces of plastic wrap.  If using a tortilla press, use plastic wrap or preferably parchment paper.

It’s important to keep your masa covered at all times to prevent it from drying.

Heat up your cast iron pan or comal to medium. Dab a little bit of vegetable shortening to evenly coat.

By hand: Take a portion of dough and form it into a cylinder.  My 2 ounce portions were 4 inches by 1/2 inch in size.  Place it on a piece of plastic wrap.  Cover it with the other piece and press it into an oblong sandal shape with your fingers.  They don’t have to be perfect.  Just try to get them about 1/4 ” thick.  Carefully remove the top plastic. With the bottom plastic still clinging, pick up the dough, flip it over onto your free hand, and carefully remove the second piece of plastic. Place the dough on your hot pan. It should sizzle as it makes contact.  Leave it undisturbed for about 3 minutes, then flip it over.  There should be some nice golden spots.  You might not avoid a few darker spots. If the huaraches seem like they are browning too quickly, lower the heat. Cook the other side another 3 or so minutes.  Flip it again and go another minute or so.  It is ready to be topped with your favorite ingredients. If it seems dry throughout, either the dough was not properly moistened or it cooked too long.

With a tortilla press: Form a portion into a cylinder as above, and place it on a tortilla press that has been lined with parchment paper.  Cover the dough with another piece of parchment and press to a 1/4 inch thickness.  Proceed as above,  carefully removing the dough from the parchment paper.

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With this tortilla press I had to rotate the dough 180 degrees after a first press, then pressed again to get it to an even thickness.

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Huaraches are best eaten right away when still hot.  I don’t understand why they are not more popular here since they are easier to make than corn tortillas.  Corn tortillas are rarely home made nowadays.  It’s convenient to pick them up at the store or tortilla factory.  Huaraches are not available pre-made.  Maybe that’s why they haven’t caught on. They haven’t been seen that much this side of the border.

I’m kind of excited about this post. I hope my friends are just as excited.  I’ll share this with my blogger friends at The Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday.

 

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