The Humble Tortilla

I’m about to share with you something that was a big ole’ blinding flash of the obvious for me.  Because about a few million Mexican mamas all over the world know this.  It only took me five years of measuring, sifting, not sifting, using cold water, using warm water, no water, using AP flour, using self rising flour, butter, crisco, and tears to figure this out.

Pork.  More specifically pork fat.  Because really, isn’t that the answer to everything?  Oh, and a cast iron skillet.

I’ve been trying for about five years now to come up with a tortilla that I love.  They’ve been too thick, too tough, too much like Elmer’s paste… I’ve made hundreds of tortillas at this point and tonight I finally got it right.  Finally.  It’s like the weight of the tortilla world has been lifted from my stooped and hunched shoulders.  Of course now all of that tortilla world weight will be settling in happily on my ass, but that’s ok, I’m going to be eating tortillas like a mofo!

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit my father’s sisters in Florida.  Each is an excellent cook and they shared tips and tricks and recipes with me for several days.  It was awesome.  (They’re all big John La Carre fans…)

Well, one of those days my Aunt L taught me how to make chicken and dumplings.  They were so delicious, light, puffy, and tender.  I noticed though that while she was showing me how to make the dumplings the recipe was very similar to every single tortilla recipe I’ve ever tried – except instead of oil, butter, or some other fat we used bacon grease.

Nectar of the Gods

Yes, this little bottle of pig liquor is the magic secret to the glory of my tender, light, floury tortilla.

The Humble Tortilla

So let me tell you what it takes.

1 Cup AP Flour

1/2 Teaspoon Salt (I used Kosher)

2 Teaspoons Bacon Grease (Chilled Solid)

Enough Iced Water to make a smooth, dry dough

Yeah… that’s it.

I mixed the flour, salt, and bacon grease with a fork until the grease made little lumps of flour, then I used my fingers to blend it in a little better.  I added a few tablespoons of water and mixed until most of the dough came together.  I added another two or three tablespoons until the dough smoothed out and had a nice silky texture to it.

Next I kneaded it together for less than a minute to make sure all the crumbly bits stuck together.  I wrapped that in plastic cling film and let it sit in the fridge for about half an hour.

After the dough rested I cut it in half and then each half into thirds.  I rolled each little wedge into a ball about the size of a golf ball.

I turned on the flame to medium high and started heating the skillet.  While all that heat was going on I rolled out the tortillas.  I rolled and rolled those little balls on a light layer of flour until they were so thin you could see light through them.  They GLOWED!  Yeah, my tortillas glowed.  No big.

And do you want to know how I knew they were exactly right this time?  I’ll tell you.  The second they hit that hot skillet they DID NOT SHRINK!  Oh yeah.  Normally they look like shrinky dinks once they hit the heat, but all that delicious pork fat made the dough supple and they didn’t shrink an inch.

A few seconds on each side and they were perfection.

So I guess bacon fat was my two teaspoons of wishful thinking…

The Olive Tree

I love Lebanese food.  Actually I love most Middle Eastern food.  The spice combinations are exotic to me and the uses of grains and vegetables are so perfectly delectable!  Well, today I’m here to tell you about this amazing place here in little ole Milford, Connecticut.  Olive Tree has a pretty straightforward menu, but dishes are executed perfectly.  I’m not an afficionado but the falafel (fuh-law-full) is crispy on the outside and light, warm, rich and a little herbacious on the inside.  They offer it as a meal with hummus and pita and cucumber salad or as a pita roll up sandwich thing.  I’ve tried both and you can’t go wrong either way.  When they roll it up in the pita they layer it with fresh, crispy lettuce, sliced tomato, pickles and a house dressing of some sort that really brightens up all the flavors and pulls them together.

The kebbe (ki-bay) are delicious!  There’s this surprising richness of flavor that you will crave once you’ve tried it.  I’ve had kebbe at different restaurants and usually they are served in a bunch about the size of a cocktail meatball, but the kebbe at the Olive Tree are HUGE and you only get one.  I love the flavors though, and it was rich and juicy. 

I’d never had freekeh before and really didn’t know what to expect, so I tried it on my last visit.  If you are like me and have no idea what freekeh is, it’s sort of a warm whole-grain salad with peas, onions, almonds and pine nuts.  They served it with juicy roasted lamb, sliced pita, hummas and cucumber/yogurt salad.  The cucumbers and yogurt kept the whole dish from feeling so heavy and were refreshing.

So now that all the praise and hand waving is over here comes the rest.  It’s a little joint that looks a lot like a hole in the wall and could probably use a good scrubbing.  And the staff isn’t the friendliest group of folks in town.  Of course my idea of friendly and what passes for friendly up here are two VERY different things.

Anyhow, if you’re in the mood for really delicious Middle Eastern food, give Olive Tree a try, you won’t be sorry.  And pick me up a falafel.  And a kebbe.  And maybe some of that cucumber/yogurt stuff.  Yeah, definitely some of that.

Janice’s Delicious Grits Casserole

My wonderful cousin Janice is a little bit of a country girl and every now and then she will break out a great recipe that’s a little “down home”, and just looking at it makes your mouth water. This is one of those recipes. I haven’t made it yet, but it is on next weekend’s menu. I might take pictures if things go well. We’ll see.

Anyhow… on with the food!  (This is a cut and paste of Janice’s email of the recipe, my notes will be at the end.)

6 cups water
2 cups uncooked grits
1 dab of garlic, about 1/4 of a teaspoon
1 stick of butter or margarine
6 eggs
3 cups shredded fat free sharp cheddar cheese
1 pound low-fat pork sausage
3 slices of bacon cut into 1/2″ sections for lardons
1/2 cup milk
salt, pepper, Tony Cacheres, Pace Picante sauce

Can be cooked and refrigerated the night before:
– In a skillet over medium-high heat, cook the sausage until evenly browned and season to taste with Tony Cacheres if it isn’t already seasoned.
– Brown bacon lardons
I usually squeeze the fat from the lardons and sausage with paper towels because otherwise this recipe can become very greasy very fast.

Morning part:
– Beat the eggs and milk together and scramble in a separate skillet.
– Bring water to boil in a large saucepan, stir in grits. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 5 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed. Mix in the butter, the garlic, and 2 cups cheese until melted.
– Stir the sausage and scrambled eggs into the grits mixture. If the sausage is cold then microwave it first.
– Transfer to either a baking dish or Crock Pot and sprinkle the top with the lardons and a layer of cheese.

Baking dish: Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Forms a crust on top and is more like a true casserole.
Crock Pot: Warm on high until the cheese on top is melted.

I prefer the Crock Pot because while warm grits are delicious, nothing is worse than cold grits. Either way, it’s tasty for brunch and excellent for leftovers. Served with ham steak and fruit, it feeds an office, it’s easily more than a dozen servings.

Now I know everyone is going to make this recipe and be completely thrilled with the end result.  However, if you make any alterations or substitutions please let me know.  I love finding out how people adapt things for their families and you may come up with something a little different that I might love too!

Thanks for the recipe Janice, I can’t wait to give it a shot!

TREE HUGGER!!!!

So there’s this new place in Austin, Texas called In.gredients.  It’s a project in how we shop for our groceries.  Everything here is in bulk – and by bulk I do not mean 400 rolls of toilet paper at Sam’s – I mean large containers where you scoop out or dispense what you need (or someone does it for you).  One of the goals is to reduce wasted packaging materials down to nothing.  See, you bring your own containers from home, purchase only the amount you want to purchase, and then go pay.  Kinda nifty.  I can see where it would be a hassle in the beginning to completely retrain yourself in how you buy groceries but what a benefit it would be to not have all that garbage. 

I don’t know all of the details and I’m sure greater minds than mine have been thinking all of this through, but how stinkin’ cool!  Remember the hot dog/bun delima?  Yeah, now you just buy the number of dogs and buns you need, no sneaky leftover stuff because the hot dog maker and the bun maker couldn’t decide on a balanced number to sell.  (I fondly remember the scene in “Father of the Bride” with Steve Martin having a hot dog/bun meltdown in the supermarket.  Superfluous buns!)

I’m sure it’s not perfect, but what a fantastic step in the right direction.  Way to go, Austin, you rock!

Donuts and All the Deliciousness That One Little Word Implies

Please allow me to confess to you my dark little secret.  I love donuts.  I love soft, warm, crisp-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside, yeasty donuts.  Let me apologize here and now for this, but it has to be said – I DO NOT MEAN THOSE GAWD AWFUL DUNKIN DONUTS.  Whew… I feel better now.  Sorry for the shouting.

I’m a Houston girl and I adore Shipley Donuts.  Does anyone remember donut runs at 1 am because you cannot survive without that sugar rush?  I do.  And if you ever went to the one at the corner of Uvalde and went through the drive through you’ll remember seeing the fellas in there making donuts. 

Yup, that’s them. 

Well, New England doesn’t have Shipley.  It also doesn’t have decent barbecue, texmex, Mexican or Italian (ok, it’s got Italian but it’s kinda gross), but we are sticking to donuts today.  Sure, they actually have Dunkin Donuts, and according to Rachel Ray America Runs on Dunkin but Rachel Ray is a topic for another time.  And if America really does run on Dunkin it’s little mystery why they are all so pissy up here.  But that’s a topic for another blog altogether.  Let’s just say Dunkin is not my idea of donuts and let the dead bury the dead.

I know there is a large group that is loyal to Krispy Kreme, but I have to tell you, those things are instant heartburn for little ole me.  One bite and I’m ready to lay down and die.  Although they do come in quite handy when you’re driving home from Mohegan Sun at 2 am.  Fortunately I’m close enough to Mohegan that when the sugar crash strikes I’m usually brushing my teeth and ready for bed.

Well, I’ve been searching high and low here in southern Connecticut for a delicious donut and I have finally found something so delicious it makes my beloved Shipley pale.  There’s a little bakery in Orange called Julia’s, and Julia turns out this tender puff of dough called a kettle donut.  I have looked through all the dusty corners of the internet for a recipe and I am at a loss.  These donuts are soft pillows of fried dough that are lightly crisp on the outside and tender, rich and perfect on the inside.

I had planned to be a good blogger and have pictures of these beautiful creatures but… um… well… pardon me while I wipe the Courtney Love lipstick smear of sugar off my happy, smiling face.  Below is a picture of what I think is the dough, because no other pastry she offers has this same rich, golden color.  I think it might be the eggs but I may be wrong.

So if you find yourself on I95 around Exit 41 (and if you are on I95 at any time of day you are likely stuck in a ridiculous snarl of traffic FOR NO REASON AT ALLLLLLLL) do yourself a favor, take the exit, go to Julia’s, get the donut – and a chocolate milk.

Under Construction

My hope is to make this a fun place to learn about amazing restraunts, cookbooks that both instruct and delight (and seriously make you hungry), and show and share recipes.

I love good food and I’m kind of hoping you do too. So be patient and keep your fingers crossed, we might just need two teaspoons of wishful thinking to make it all work.