Monday, April 24, 2017

The Fifth Season - The Easiest Chicken and Chorizo Tamales

Like the late John Hurt's numberless War Doctor, Tax Season is not included on the cardinal list which governs the ebb and flow of human activity.  You've got your winter, spring, summer and fall.  Even in a seasonless place like Florida, our schools start shortly before the leaves start turning brown in upstate New York, and end just before spring turns into summer in the Garden State.  Never mind that all we Florida-dwellers really have is the summer season.  Okay, we have winter; it lasts for about 2 weeks at the end of January. Don't hate me because I haven't had to worry about snow since 1991.

But if you happen to be a spouse or spawn of a Public Accountant, you know good and well that Tax is The Fifth Season, and the normal regimen and routine of family life is thrown completely out of whack. I suppose I should be used to it after 30 something years, but I'm not. Too many strangers traipsing through the front door, too many reasons for the dogs to bark their furry little heads off, too much stress sneaking from the office into the living quarters.  Too many notes.

The Fifth Season totally controls our cruising schedule, which maybe isn't such a bad idea.  We recognize how important those cruises are to our well being, which is why we like to sail just before Tax Season starts, and then shortly after it ends.  Having survived yet another Fifth Season, we are set to sail on our current favorite, the Carnival Sunshine, early May. Stay tuned.    

Speaking of The Doctor, I've now watched the first 2 episodes of the new series (BBC-speak for season) and I am reasonably assured that my favorite, the Twelfth (not Thirteenth) Doctor is going finish up his term amidst much better storylines and much-improved writing.    

Saturday night we got to see Alton Brown and his new show "Eat Your Science" at the Dr. Phillips Center in downtown Orlando. Wonderful! And in addition to the food science, the jokes, and the music, he turns out to be a dyed-in-the-wool geek. Quite the multi-tasking genius. In fact, he was quite excited that his show was trending first on Twitter, despite there being a new episode of Doctor Who on at the same time.


It is Alton I am thinking about during these very moments as I begin to construct the tamales. Having previously prepared the various elements, this morning I set up my mise en place, organizing everything I needed to stuff, wrap, and tie up the bundles without having to run across the kitchen each time I needed something. Thanks to Alton though, I now have an ear worm, composed of him singing a rather uncomplimentary song he calls "Mise En Place", sung to the tune of "Edelweiss" from the Sound of Music. Thanks, Alton.


And now today's recipe!
Easiest Tamales Ever: Chicken and Chorizo Tamales


The inspiration for this version came from Alice Guadalupe Tapp's second tamale book, to which I applied my technique for short cutting from my Midnight Tamales recipe.  It is really important that you read through the entire recipe before starting!  I also highly recommend starting this at least one day before you plan to serve them.  I found some reheating directions on the net, and added them below.

I want to be real honest about the authenticity of these tamales - there isn't any, or not much at all. But they are so very tasty, and I saved myself so much time during which I would have had to stand on my feet.  I've tasted real tamales at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill, and I've even made real tamales from scratch, so I know the difference, but nevertheless I am quite happy with these.

Filling:
oil for cooking
1 white onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
4 links Ole' Mexican brand chorizo sausage (100% pork)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1-8 oz. bag Tyson Grilled & Ready Fajita Chicken Breast Strips, larger pieces cut into cubes
1 Roma tomato, seeded and chopped
1 - 15 oz. can Old El Paso mild red enchilada sauce
1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
Fresh mozzarella slices, Galbani brand, cut in half
Grated cotija cheese, to taste (optional)

"Masa":
1-18 oz. tube San Gennaro brand precooked basil and garlic polenta

24 dried corn husks (you probably won't use all of them, but just in case any rip during soaking)
24 pieces kitchen twine, 12 inches each (you may need to cut more)
No-stick spray

You need to soak the dried corn husks for a couple of hours at least.  Place them in your largest pot and fill the pot 3/4 full of water.  Weight down the husks with a heat-proof plate, cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Immediately shut off the heat, leave the pot covered and the husks to soften, preferably overnight.


Prepare the filling - over medium heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet.  Add the chopped onion and garlic, season with kosher salt, a pinch of sugar, and Emeril's Essence, and cook for 10 minutes.  Add the chorizo and cook for an additional 10 minutes.  Add the chicken, tomatoes, cumin, oregano, thyme and black pepper, and stir.  Add about half a can of the enchilada sauce and half of the chopped cilantro. Simmer for not more than 5 minutes, and remove from the heat.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Add as much more of the cilantro as you like.


Set aside and allow the filling to cool to room temperature, or even better, refrigerate  overnight. Before constructing the tamales, remove some but not all of any excess fat, then stir the filling to incorporate the remaining fat (which is mostly from the chorizo and is full of flavor.)


Remove the polenta from the tube and slice into 1/4 inch slices. An electric knife works really well here.

Create the tamales: I work two at a time, on a cutting pad which I line with some paper towels to absorb excess moisture from the husks. Lay out two of the corn husks, smooth side up.  Hit them with a shot of no-stick spray across the top half of the husk. Place two slices of polenta, shingle fashion, on the husk.


Next, put two small scoops of the filling on the polenta and flatten slightly. Drizzle a small amount of the remaining enchilada sauce down the middle of the filling.  Sprinkle with as much cotija cheese as you like. Place one piece of the mozzarella over the filling pulling apart the cheese with your fingers for more length.

Wrap and tie each tamale using the twine. Sounds easy, but it isn't - you want to bring the sides up and over the filling and then turn up the bottom. Depending on the size of the corn husk, this may end up feeling like you are practicing a juggling act, but do not despair.  Patience and practice succeeds every time. If it turns out the husk isn't wide enough, you can try adding another small husk. One piece of twine may be enough, but feel free to use two pieces to avoid leakage.

I can't tell you exactly how many tamales you will get, but it is somewhere between 12 and 24.  Towards the end, after I had wrapped about 18 tamales, I found myself with 5 more, fairly small husks. For each one I used one slice of polenta, one scoop of filling, and one slice of mozzarella, along with the cotija and enchilada sauce.  When I was all done, I had used up all the ingredients except for a few small pieces of mozzarella (lunch!) and about a quarter cup of the enchilada sauce.


Place the finished tamales, open end up, in a steamer.  I don't own a fancy steamer, so  I placed the tamales in an old fashioned metal colander, tucking the smaller ones in the middle so they wouldn't overcook.  I put on inch or so of water in the bottom of my deepest pot and then placed the filled colander in the pot.  My colander has handles, so it was suspended from the top of the pot, rather than standing on the colander's legs.


Spoon some of the remaining enchilada sauce over the top of each tamale.  Place the pot on the stove, and cover with aluminum foil.  Bring the water to a boil; put the lid on top of the foil, lower the heat to simmer, and steam the tamales for 50 to 55 minutes. The interior temperature should be around 165 degrees.



Serve with my Guacamole-Corn Salsa:

1/2 cup Herdez brand Guacamole Salsa (medium heat)
1 ripe Hass avocado, halved, cut into squares and then scooped from the shell with a spoon
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 Roma tomato, seeded and chopped
1/2-3/4 cup dairy sour cream
cumin, to taste
granulated garlic, to taste
1 cup frozen corn kernels

Combine the guacamole salsa and avocado in a bowl.  Stir to mix well, then with a potato masher, mash the avocado to your preferred texture (or leave it chunky). Stir in the remaining ingredients, excluding the corn.


Put the corn in a rimmed baking dish, and spray with some butter no-stick spray.  Season with freshly ground salt, pepper, and 2 pinches of sugar. Place the pan under the broiler to char the corn.  Watch it carefully, and stir the corn around to promote even charring.  Not all of the kernels will char, so be careful to pull the pan before the corn dries out. Cool completely at room temperature or in the refrigerator, and then add the corn to the avocado mixture.  Refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to mellow.


The Herdez salsa is rather spicy, and even with the avocado, tomatoes, and 1/2 cup sour cream added, it was still a bit too spicy for me. I added about 2 more tablespoons of sour cream, which worked rather well.



Reheating:

Fill a pot with a couple inches of water and set the steamer insert in it. Bring the water to a boil.  Stand the tamales in the steamer rack, open end up. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer.

Steam refrigerated tamales for 10 to 15 minutes or until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

Steam frozen tamales 15 to 20 minutes, or until they reach an internal temperature of 165 F.

You can reheat tamales in your microwave, but it produces a drier texture. Cover the tamale with a damp paper towel and microwave it on high for 15 to 20 seconds. Turn the tamale over, replace the paper towel with a new damp one, and microwave for another 15 to 20 seconds.






Saturday, April 22, 2017

Just Another Day

Somedays it feels like getting up and out of bed is a highly overrated activity.  Yesterday was one of those days, and darn it, so is today. Without going into painful detail, for days such as these, I have come to rely on a small cornucopia of medications on my night table, within reach so that I can take what I need.

Yes, it is true that I have to take a caffeine tablet to wake up sufficiently to walk to the Keurig and to make my first cup of coffee.  Yesterday it was all about trying to sort laundry and pick up after the dogs without screaming. Even the medications were not really helping, and I ended up doing what can only be described as a half-assed job.  My feelings on the matter are that a half-ass is better than no-ass-at-all.

Today is barely better, despite reaping the benefits of last night's tai chi class. I was supposed to go out to see one of my nieces today, and unfortunately that isn't going to happen. If I had a nickel for every time I had to turn down or back out of a social event, well ... I would have a lot of nickels. Throw in the number of times I've had to leave early and there you have it. Lots of nickels. I don't get nickels.  They are too big, too heavy, and too clumsy to carry around in a wallet. I always try to use them up at fast-food drive-throughs, but when I least suspect it, they find their way back into my wallet. My purse is heavy enough as is.  Who wants to shlep around a handful of nickels?  Not me, my friends, not me.

So here I am, limping through the world of unfolded laundry and messy floors and all the usual household stuff I usually don't mind attending to (at least since I retired), knowing full well and good that my nerve endings will begin punishing me even before my tasks are done.

There will be no cooking today, as my fridge is full.  There will be no recipes today, as I have neither the time nor fortitude to type one up, and besides, it occurred to me that most of you would not appreciate my recipe for Chicken Paw Fricassee.



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Back in the Saddle - Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus

I don't know if I mentioned this before, but I am in the process of copying all of the recipes from this blog to an offline location. It's been a revelation to not only discover dishes I had completely forgotten about, despite having developed them myself, but to read what I wrote about my struggles with fibromyalgia. Sometimes I surprise myself; I hadn't remembered being that open, and angry, and sometimes even funny. I wrote like a madwoman because it helped to put it all down in black-and-white. I cooked like a madwoman as well, because it also helped, until the time came I did not have the strength to do either on a regular basis.

So, if anyone tells you that fibromyalgia is not a progressive disease, you have my permission to spit in their face tell them to go to hell correct them firmly but politely.

I still cook, less frequently, and I still type, a lot less frequently.  The latter is a real blog-buster, as you may imagine.  I do scribble down notes about the recipes I am working on, and I even take pictures, but then find I am too tired and too restless to sit down and type them out. And I really think I needed time to recover a bit from the election.  For a while, all of my spare energy went to sharing anti-Trump posts on Facebook. I am (mostly) past that now, although I admit to planning a list of different foods to snack on during the impeachment proceedings. My guilty pleasure.

So I would like to try to get back in the saddle that is this blog, and share some more of my culinary travesties travels. Just not as frequently, nor energetically, and certainly not as dramatically. Unless our current administration succeeds in provoking North Korea into a nuclear war, in which case all bets are off.  

Before we get to that, I want to share some photos from the April 3rd cattle drive. You know the one that started a block from my front door. Only in Kissimmee:


This is a cow.  Or a steer, this one has horns. Nothing unusual about cows in Florida.


This is a multiplicity of cattle, and is that the Historic Old Osceola County Courthouse I see in the background?


The Clydesdales chose a more modern backdrop.


Round 'em up, move 'em out ...


Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus 

1 pound asparagus, woody ends cut off
1 pkg. thinly sliced prosciutto, (about 8 slices), cut in half vertically
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup grated Parmesan 
Fresh chives, chopped
Finely ground pepper
Olive oil for brushing 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


Combine the mayonnaise, Parmesan, and chives. Place a piece of prosciutto on a flat surface, and top with 3 or 4 asparagus stalks. Cover the middle of the stalks with some of the mayonnaise mixture and use the back of a spoon to spread it just to where the prosciutto will cover it when rolled.


Roll up each asparagus bundle and place seam side down on a rimmed baking pan. Brush each bundle, especially the exposed asparagus very lightly with olive oil, and season with pepper. I also used a very small amount of a new spicy seasoning blend (mango habanero) but it is not necessary to this recipe.


Place in the oven and bake 10-15 minutes until the prosciutto is a bit browned and the asparagus is tender. Do not overdo the baking or the asparagus will shrivel unattractively and the prosciutto will be tough. If any of the mayonnaise mixture is visible, it should look a little puffy and lightly browned.



With a metal spatula carefully remove the bundles to a wire rack set over paper towels so that any excess grease can drip off. Serve these as an appetizer or side dish. This recipe makes about 16 bundles.

Monday, April 3, 2017

A Trying Day: Emeril's Slow and Low Pork Candy Ribs

How about I spend the day not writing about my disappointment in the current White House occupant and his administration? I can already sense the sigh of relief emanating from certain parts of my cyber universe. Besides, the Lidocaine patches are actually working today, so I'm going to take full advantage of that tiny little miracle and go to work on a recipe from Emeril called Slow and Low Pork Candy Ribs.



I wish I could spend more time here, cooking and writing, but fibromyalgia blah blah blah. You know the story, I've certainly complained enough about it. I have, however, been spending a good deal of time here behind the blog, having committed myself to a major project which does not involve any heavy lifting.

I've been blogging about cooking, some times on a daily basis, since February of 2011, and there are in excess of 500 recipes just sitting out there in Google's cloud, or wherever such things are stored. For a while now - probably since I realized that I was getting an unusually high number of visits from Russia and the Ukraine - I have been worried that the whole bloody electronic system was going to go down and take a good part of my life's work with it.  Admittedly, this had something to do with memories of a show I used to watch, called Dark Angel, which was broadcast just after the Turn of the Century Y2K Scare that fortunately never materialized, intruding on the reality of 2016 and forward contemporaneous reports of major computer hacking.


From Wikipedia:
In 2009 a genetically enhanced nine-year-old female supersoldier designated as X5-452 (Geneva Locke) escapes along with eleven others from a secret U.S. government institution codenamed Manticore where they were born, raised, and trained to be soldiers and assassins. On June 1, 2009, months after X5-452's escape terrorists detonate an electromagnetic pulse weapon in the atmosphere over the U.S. which destroys the vast majority of computer and communication systems, throwing the country into chaos.
Ten years later in 2019 the now 19-year-old X5-452 (Jessica Alba), who calls herself Max Guevara, struggles to search for her Manticore brothers and sisters. In a recovering United States which is now barely more than a Third World nation she tries to live a relatively normal life and evade capture by Manticore, who wish to recover their lost asset. 

(Don't tell me life doesn't imitate art, folks. Especially if you've ever owned, in your pre-smartphone days, a cell phone which flipped open like a Star Trek communicator.)
So, having lots of time on my hands, I've been transferring copies of all my online original recipes to a safe place from which they can be printed and slipped into plastic sleeves alongside the rest of my personal recipe collection.  And hey, already 138 down, only 400+ to go.



I don't do much recipe development these days, relying more on old favorites and bursts of whimsy, neither of which I record for posterity anymore.  Cooking without a recipe is enormously liberating. You'd like the recipe for this pasta salad? There is no recipe, just basic guidelines. Pasta, fresh vegetables, canned beans, canned vegetables, salami-type meats, firm cheese, and a vinaigrette-type dressing, homemade or store bought. Salt, pepper, dried herbs. Voila!


Cooking from a recipe created by Emeril Lagasse is just plain fun.  This particular recipe is from his latest book, Essential Emeril.  Unfortunately the recipe isn't available online, but based on the wonderful way my kitchen is smelling as those ribs slow-roast in my oven, it is well worth the price of the book. Copyright laws notwithstanding, I can show you a picture of the finished product.



Arrrgh! These were so impossibly tender and delicious that they brought a tear to my eye ... or maybe it was the fibromyalgia. Lidocaine can only do so much, and those damn patches don't stick to skin all that good.

There's a cattle drive through downtown Kissimmee on Monday, April 3, 2017.  I'll be taking pictures from my front porch.