Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Homemade Corn and Flour Tortillas

America's Test Chicken consists of two separate chickens, each with her own take on this cooking thing. Check out Chicken One's related blog, A Travel for Taste where she shares travel stories and recipes collected whenever she ventures abroad. And give Chicken Two's new, also-related blog, Poop from the Coop a read. There you can find stories about her personal adventure re-experiencing the kitchen after many years away. Please join our Facebook group to share your own recipes, kitchen practices and know-how. We are also on Pinterest and Instagram.

The complete recipes appear at the end of this post.

From Chicken One:
Flour Tortillas
By the time Chicken Two made her corn tortillas, I'd already made them two or three times. Click here to see the detailed tutorial on my A Travel for Taste blog. It was a fun experiment using the ground corn, or masa harina, and tortilla press for the first time.

I especially loved using the tortilla press, but for this post I wanted to try my hand at flour tortillas since I'd never made them before. Not only was it the first time I made them from flour, it's the first time in forever that I used actual lard for an ingredient. I will try other fats in the future, but for the first attempt I always try to use the real deal recipe.

So I mixed up flour, lard, salt and water in the stand mixer per the instructions in one of my favorite cookbooks, Tacos by Alex Stupak.
Unfortunately you can't effectively use the press for flour tortillas, so I rolled them out with a rolling pin. It's interesting that I used my Indian belan (rolling pin) and chakla (rolling platform) for this. It's not the first time I've remarked on the similarity between Indian and Mexican cuisine procedures!

I've never worked much with lard, but I am here to tell you that the dough was so silky and smooth! I loved the feel and workability of it. It was like rolling out a heavenly mini-pizza.
Flour tortillas are cooked the same way as corn ones, i.e., on a hot griddle or cast iron pan. I used cast iron but have since tried it on the Indian tava (griddle), which worked equally well.
I also used the fabric warmer to keep them warm after cooking. Note that, unlike corn tortillas, leftover flour ones can be refrigerated or frozen and reheated later.

The same day I also tried homemade chorizo, and Chicken Two made beef tamale filling, both of which we used for taco filling.We'll post a future blog about those, so stay tuned.
I'm still looking for an authentic Mexican comal, and I'll make these again when I find one. Fortunately, Chicken Two and I found a wonderful Latin market in the same neighborhood as our favorite Indian market. It's called La Mexicana Latin, and it's truly authentic. There are so many spices, handmade ceramics, treats and worlds of unfamiliar things in there that I can't wait to explore more closely!

From Chicken Two:
Masa Harina (Corn) Tortillas 
Many years ago, (as in over 30..yikes) I lived in Denver and had a wonderful friend who was married to a handsome man of Mexican descent. I remember watching her make tortillas and other Mexican food and envying her culinary abilities. I've always wanted to make my own tortillas, so I'm very excited that we chickens are now venturing into Mexican cuisine.

Step 1: Get a good Mexican cookbook. I chose America's Test Kitchen's The Best Mexican Recipes.
Step 2: Get a good tortilla press and a warmer. We both chose the cast iron ones, though I'm sure the lighter ones are just as good.

Just follow the recipe below. I've added some pics of my process to give you a frame of reference. You will be amazed at how easy it is!

Be sure to use the plastic bag!

Isn't it pretty? I used a cast-iron pan, which worked really well.
This is where the warmer comes in handy! I plan on making these often...give it a try and let me know how you do!

Flour Tortilla Recipe
4 cups AP flour
1/2 cup lard
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water + more as needed

Combine flour, lard and salt in stand mixer or by hand until well incorporated and mealy.
Add 1 cup water and mix until dough just comes together.
Transfer dough to smooth, floured work surface and knead gently; do not overwork.
Cover dough with damp cloth and rest 10 minutes.
Make a small ball of dough about the size of a golf ball. Roll it out into a 6-inch disk.
Cook on a pre-heated griddle over medium-high heat, 2 minutes on each side. If resulting tortilla is too heavy and the edges cracked, the dough is too dry. Add 1 teaspoon water at a time to the dough until moist and malleable.
Divide rest of dough into 12 equal balls. Roll each ball out into a 6-inch disk and cook one at a time on the griddle 2 minutes on each side. Keep in a warmer until ready to serve or seal in an airtight container and refrigerate or freeze.

Corn Tortilla Recipe
2 cups (8 ounces) masa harina
2 tsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups warm tap water, plus extra as needed

Mix masa, 1 tsp oil, and salt together in a medium bowl, then fold water in with rubber spatula. Using your hands, knead mixture in bowl adding additional water 1 tbsp at a time, as needed, until dough is soft and tacky but not sticky, and has the texture of Play-Doh. Cover dough with damp dish towel and let sit for 5 minutes.

Cut sides of 1 quart zipper lock bag, leaving bottom seam intact. Line large plate with 2 damp dish towels (or use the warmer, like I did. Got it on Amazon!). Divide dough into 12 equal pieces: keep covered. Working with 1 piece at a time, roll into ball, place on 1 side of zipper lock bag, and fold other side over top. Press dough flat into 6 1/2 - inch wide tortilla (about 1/8 inch thick) using tortilla press. (you could use a pie plate if you don't have a press)
Leave tortilla between plastic until skillet is hot.

Heat remaining 1 tsp oil in 8 inch non stick skillet over medium high heat until shimmering. Using paper towel, wipe out skillet, leaving thin film of oil on bottom. Remove plastic on top of tortilla, flip tortilla onto your palm, then remove plastic on bottom and lay tortilla in skillet. Cook tortilla, without moving it, until it moves freely when pan is shaken and has shrunken slightly in size, about 45 seconds.

Flip tortilla over and cook until edges curl and bottom in spotty brown, about 1 minute. Flip tortilla back over and continue to cook until first side is spotty brown and puffs up in the center, 30 to 60 seconds. Lay toasted tortilla in warmer or between damp dish towels. Repeat with remaining dough. Tortillas can be refrigerated for up to 5 days, and rewarmed. 

Give it a try! It's pretty easy and a lot of fun! Just imagine the fillings you can make for it. Actually, next time, we'll talk about fillings so stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Crème Brûlée Two Ways

America's Test Chicken consists of two separate chickens, each with her own take on this cooking thing. Check out Chicken One's related blog, A Travel for Taste where she shares travel stories and recipes collected whenever she ventures abroad. And give Chicken Two's new, also-related blog, Poop from the Coop a read. There you can find stories about her personal adventure re-experiencing the kitchen after many years away. Please join our Facebook group to share your own recipes, kitchen practices and know-how. We are also on Pinterest and Instagram.
The complete recipes appear at the end of this post.

From Chicken One:
Crème Anglaise, er, Brûlée

I wouldn't exactly say that I had a SCAFU (Situation Chicken All Fowled Up) with this project, but maybe a Scaflette. Since I always strive to make the most authentic version of any recipe the first time, I went to what I thought was the source: Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

However, in the book, Julia rather imperiously informs the reader:
Although many people think of it as a French dessert, crème brûlée is actually Creole.
A later edition of the same book replaced that line with:
Crème brûlée originated in England, it appears, at Christ’s College in Cambridge. 
 Both are followed by the exact same directions:
Make the basic cream exactly like the preceding crème anglaise, but use half the amount of sugar, and whipping cream instead of milk. Chill in a serving dish.
I assumed that I should follow these modified instructions to the crème angalise recipe and end up with custardy crème brûlée.

Therefore, I less-than-simmered the egg/milk mixture til it coated the spoon:
...poured equal amounts into four ramekins:
...and put them in the refrigerator to chill. But, after a couple of hours, I still had liquidy crème anglaise.

So, the Two Chickens having put our heads together on the subject, I put the crème anglaise in the oven just like a normal crème brûlée recipe says to do.

You have to bake the dishes in what is called a bain marie, which is nothing more than a water bath. Use a deep baking dish with all the custard dishes placed inside. Once in the oven, you fill the baking dish with boiling water til it comes halfway up the sides of the custard dishes. The water helps even out the temperature for the custard and also creates steam that prevents a tough skin forming on top of each dish.

Only then did I end up with custardy crème brûlée at last! THEN I put them in the fridge to completely cool.

Almost anticlimactically, but not quite, I got to use my new kitchen torch to carmelize the sugar on top, which was kind of the whole point of the endeavor anyway!
So, save yourself some trouble and follow the recipe below - I've modified the original to the procedure I actually followed - and you'll be fine. 

It IS delicious!

From Chicken Two:
Coffee Crème Brûlée
I think of all the dishes on my cooking bucket list, this is the one that has haunted me for some time. Maybe I was afraid of setting the kitchen on fire! Who knows? But, honestly, it turned out to be so much simpler than I ever imagined.
Cream, milk, sugar and salt in one pan warmed (careful not to boil) until sugar is melted.
Whisk eggs and add the warm cream mixture slowly...
mixing gently, so as not to create foam.
I didn't have any brûlée dishes, something I later resolved, but 4-oz ramekins worked just fine. You have to use 6 instead of 4, but, hey, more to eat!
See the flame? Cool, huh! Not sure why I was so intimidated at the thought of this process, but I actually loved doing it. For all you coffee lovers, it's really yummy! 

Crème Brûlée 
(modified from crème anglaise per Julia Child)
Makes about 2 cups

Julia sez: This sauce is a blend of egg yolks, sugar, and milk stirred over heat until it thickens into a light cream. If it comes near the simmer, the yolks will scramble. Although it can be omitted, a very small amount of starch in the sauce acts as a safeguard just in case the heat becomes too much for the egg yolks. Some recipes direct that the sauce be cooked in a double boiler; this is slow work and quite unnecessary if you concentrate on what you are doing, and use a heavy-bottomed saucepan. A candy thermometer is a useful guide. Vanilla is the basic flavoring; others are added to the vanilla if you wish (see below).

1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 egg yolks
1 tsp cornstarch or potato starch, optional
1 ¾ cup barely boiling whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 300 F (150 C).

In a 3-quart mixing bowl, gradually beat the sugar into the egg yolks and continue beating for 2 to 3 minutes until the mixture is pale yellow and forms a silky ribbon.

Beat in the optional starch.

While beating the yolk mixture, very gradually pour on the boiling cream in a thin stream of droplets so that the yolks are slowly warmed. Too fast and you’ll have scrambled eggs.

Pour the mixture into a clean, heavy-bottomed enameled or stainless steel saucepan and set over moderate heat, stirring slowly and continuously with a wooden spatula or spoon, and reaching all over the bottom and sides of the pan, until the sauce thickens just enough to coat the spoon with a light, creamy layer. Do not let the custard come anywhere near the simmer. Maximum temperature is 165 degrees on the candy thermometer (170 if you have used starch). Then beat the sauce off heat for a minute or two to cool it. Strain it through a fine sieve, and beat in vanilla extract plus any optional flavorings:

1 Tablespoon rum, kirsch, cognac, orange liqueur or instant coffee OR,
2 or 3 ounces or squares of semisweet baking chocolate melted in the cream, and 1 tsp vanilla extract stirred into the finished sauce

Pour equal amounts into four oven-proof (ramekins or crème brûlée dishes). Place a large, high-sided baking dish on an oven rack. Put the custard dishes in the baking dish and make sure they all sit level. Pour boiling water into the baking dish so that the water comes halfway up the sides of the custard dishes. Gently slide into the oven and close the door.
 Coffee Crème Brûlée

1 1/3 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup whole or low-fat milk
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for caramelizing
Pinch of sea salt or kosher salt
4 large egg yolks
1 tbsp instant espresso or coffee powder
2 tsp Kahlua or other coffee-flavored liqueur

1. Preheat oven to 300F (150C)

2. Put four individual gratin dishes (or 6 ramekins) on a high-rimmed baking sheet or any pan with sides big enough to hold them. (I had to use 2)

3. In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the cream, milk, sugar and salt until the sugar is melted.

4. In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Gradually add the warm cream to the egg yolks in a steady stream, stirring until the cream is completely incorporated. Don't beat it, you don't want foam. Mix in the espresso  powder and strain the mixture into a large measuring cup (or something with a spout) and then stir in the Kahlua. 

5. Divide the mixture among the dishes. Put the baking sheet of custards on the oven rack and pour enough hot water on the sheet so that it reaches at least halfway up the sides of the dishes. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until they are just set. They should barely quiver when you jiggle the pan.  Remove and set them on a cooling rack. When cool, refrigerate until ready to serve.

6. To caramelize, sprinkle the tops with an even layer of sugar. It should cover the top but not too heavily - about 1 1/2 tsp should do it. Using a blowtorch, wave the flame over each custard, one at a time, until the sugar melts and browns. Serve immediately. Yum!