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Station Eleven

by: Emily St. John Mandel

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Memories of Home

Yesterday I didn't post but did do cooking in the kitchen. The reason I didn't post is because what I created took a good chunk of the day and evening. I was then distracted by my neighbor stopping by for a chat and the next thing I knew it was 2 am and I was shooing her home to bed (she had to work today) and I was stumbling to bed where my wonderful husband had been since about 9:30 due to a headache.

So Saturday after work I came home and pulled out the George Foreman grill and plopped some hot dogs on the grill because it was 75 degrees outside. While enjoying the grill my Mexican neighbors were celebrating their daughter's 6 birthday with a party including two pinatas to bust open.

This combined with a phone call to my mom had me hankering for some home made refried beans, home made flour tortillas and Spanish rice.

The first milestone in making this ambitiously yummy dinner was to sort the beans
(you're looking for any rocks that may be in with the beans
or any nasty looking beans you don't want to eat...)

Place them into a slow-cooker in the morning on low. One of the things my mom does with the beans in the slow-cooker is add 2-3 strips of bacon to help flavor the beans.

Refried Beans
1 lb bag of pinto beans, sorted
4-6 strips of bacon
4-5 slices of Kraft American Cheese
dash of salt

Soak beans and half the bacon in slow-cooker for 8 hours on low (or follow stove top directions on package). Take other half of bacon and snip into small strips with kitchen shears. Heat in a deep pan until bacon has render some liquid and is cooked well. Add beans and a bit of the liquid it cooked in to the pan and use a potato masher to crush up the beans. Add more liquid as needed to keep beans moist but not runny. Once mashed to your liking add torn up pieces of sliced cheese and mix into the beans. Add a dash of salt. Let cheese melt completely and serve hot. Save left over liquid from slow-cooker and add to whatever beans are left over to keep them from drying out in the fridge.

So as those cooked slowly I turned to my second project...Home made flour tortillas. These recipes were made so many times by my mom growing up and we all helped.

Tortillas are interesting because they are made out of four ingredients: flour, lard, water, and salt. It's a neat thing to see the dough come together. The trick my mom said with making th dough is to let it sit for 2 hours after you form them into balls because it helps the dough become more elastic and in turn will roll out thinner.

I always double the batch of tortillas because they go so fast. (because they are so good and I can just have one at a time.) So after that was done I chopped tomatoes, olives, and grated cheese.

Finally the two hours passed and I could start rolling and flipping the tortillas then browning them. I had 44 for make with the double batch of dough. This is a picture of me flipping the dough back and forth in my ands, my mom is so good at this and does it so fast. I remember being young and never understanding how she did it so well. Mom always said, "I've had lots of years of practice."

Here is the assembly line in my small kitchen. First i pat it with some flour then roll it out with the rolling pin, then pick it up and flip it between my hands to thin it out a bit more then place it on a hot griddle to brown up on either side. After it's done browning I place it in a waiting pocket of a tea towel around aluminum foil.

Here's a picture of the tortilla on the griddle with my third recipe on the stove behind it.

Flour Tortillas
4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 to 2 cups tepid water

Combined flour and salt, cut in shortening until well blended. Add water slowly, maybe 1/2 cup at a time until dough pulls away from the edge of a bowl. Using hands, form a dough ball and knead out on a well floured surface for 8 to 10 minutes. Take dough ball and make two halves. Take one half and pinch off golf ball sized pieces of dough, roll into a ball and coat with shortening on your hands so the ball is well "greased" Continue with dough until all the halves are into balls. Cover with Cling Wrap and let set for 2 hours. Then take a well floured surface, dip the ball in a bit of flour on either side and roll out to a basic size of what you want. Then pick up the dough and flip back and forth between your hand to thin out the tortilla more. Place tortilla on heated griddle (medium to medium-high heat). When dough bubbles flip with a spatula and brown second size. Place in a sheet of aluminum foil that has been set inside a tea towel to keep them warm. Continue until done cooking. When storing left over tortillas place tea towel and foil wrapped tortillas inside a large zip lock bag and seal. Refrigerate.

Thirdly was Spanish Rice. This rice turns out so good with flavor and is relatively easy to make. (Rice is the one thing I have a hard time cooking.)

Spanish Rice
1 cup long grain rice, uncooked
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 of a white onion diced (you can use up to the whole onion if desired)
1 can Mexican Stewed tomatoes, drained and cut into bite size pieces.
1 tbsp of oil
wax paper

Take oil onions and rice and heat over medium heat in a medium sized pot. Once onions are starting to brown add in chicken stock and stewed tomatoes. Bring to a boil then turn down to where it is barely boiling/simmering place wax paper over the top of the pot and cover. Simmer for 20 minutes (or until the liquid has disappeared) Discard wax paper and fluff rice with fork.

My poor husband was so hungry he got a headache waiting for this scrumptious meal. I was dumb and start the tortillas at 4 pm so I could start cooking them until 630 or so. So we were finally eating around 845pm. I'm so glad to have a husband who would suffer for my cooking. He had three burritos then put himself to bed to sleep off the headache.

I served these tortillas with some pan fried chicken pieces, some of my father-in-law's salsa and something to drink. You could also do a variation on scrambled eggs and beans that I will have to do a blog on soon with tortillas in the house.

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