Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Mexican flour tortillas (Not a challenge recipe)

We recently visited Boquillas del Carmen in Mexico; a very secluded little town located by the Rio Grande, just across the river from Texas. 

Boquillas survives on the income derived from a river crossing which is accessed via Big Bend National Park. The crossing of the river is undertaken in a small rowboat, which is followed by a trip to town in the form of a walk, a drive or a gentle ride on a burro (donkey). Of course we rode burros! 

We were looked after by a lovely young man by the name of Abraham, who walked us around the town and told us a bit about its people and its history. Allowing a guide to look after you while visiting is one of the ways the town is supported, with guides earning tips from the "tour" they provide. Spending some time with Abraham was a wonderful aspect of our day and we were thrilled that he joined us for lunch at the wonderful Boquillas restaurant. 

We ate many tortillas whilst in America, but none were a patch on the ones served to us at Boquillas Restaurant. Their version had the most unbelievably flaky texture and almost melted in your mouth. Not a simple feat for a dough based item! I have simply never eaten anything like them and while I would like to say that the ones I made were as good, I am afraid they were not. Don't get me wrong, I was thrilled with how these came out but I am ranking them firmly behind the only truly Mexican tortillas I am ever likely to experience. 

Of course I lugged my new tortilla press home from Boquillas (because is there anything better than a tortilla press all the way from Mexico?) and it was instrumental in helping me to make my very first quesadillas for dinner last night. 

I found multiple "authentic" recipes on the internet and of course I slightly tweaked what I found and came up with the following. I also saw many a blog post on the useless nature of a tortilla press (compared to using a rolling pin) and I couldn't disagree more with their assertion. I have made somewhere in the vicinity of 1,000 flatbreads in my time (possibly a slight exaggeration) and have always flattened them using a rolling pin. After making this batch of tortillas, my view is that not only does the press create beautiful round and elegantly thin tortillas (important for quesadillas!), it is also incredibly fast to use and meant that I was not running between the stove and the table (where I usually roll) as I cooked. For somebody who usually despises useless kitchen gadgets, I am 100% convinced that this purchase was sound.  

For anybody looking to make their own tortillas, here is my version. I do, however, reserve the right to make amendments to this as time goes on! 

Tortilla recipe (makes 16)
2.5 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 tsp bi-carb
1/4 cup lard
1.3 tsp lemon juice
1 cup very warm water

1. Combine flour, salt & bi-carb in a bowl. Stir well. 

2. Add lard (I used duck fat saved from a roast duck dinner) and rub through with your fingers until it has disappeared into the flour.

3. Add lemon juice and the water (slowly) all the time mixing with a butter knife. There may not be a need to add all of the water - you just need enough until the dough has come together but is not sticky. 

4. Gently knead into a ball and then shape into 16 smaller balls, each one a little bigger than a golf ball.

5. Leave to rest under a tea towel for one hour. 

6. Set yourself up with a small frypan. The small pan will allow the heat to be trapped in a "bubble" to cook within, whereas a larger pan will make the edges of the tortilla too cold and the lovely puffy bubbles you will be seeking will not appear. Heat the pan to a little over medium and allow the pan to become very warm before inserting your first tortilla.

7. Set the tortilla press up on the bench, very close to the frying pan. Place a ball in the very centre of your press (I covered mine with baking paper top and bottom) and press down very hard. Hold for a few seconds and then gently remove the raw tortilla and place it straight into the pan. If you have rested your dough for long enough it should hold its size and not spring back on itself. 

8. As the first tortilla is cooking, flatten a second tortilla in the press, holding it flat for at least a good few seconds. 

9. Cook the first tortilla until puffy bubbles have formed and when you take a peek underneath, none of the dough looks raw. Flip it over and fry until just cooked. 

10. Remove tortilla and keep warm inside a clean tea towel or a cloth bag designed to store ham (my preference!)

11. Repeat and enjoy.

My first batch of tortillas were made into mouth watering chicken, cheese, capsicum and onion quesadillas, but of course the tortilla options are endless.

On the Texan side of the river, looking over to Mexico

Monday, January 29, 2018

589/1038 - Glaze for a baked ham

We are now in month seventy nine of this challenge (yes, really!) and of course I am keen to continue my unblemished record of posting at least one recipe in each calendar month. 

I knew I would be overseas for two thirds of January (and then jet lagged for the remainder) and so please forgive me for posting a recipe I prepared before we headed offshore. 

This beautiful ham was actually cooked for a client, but thankfully they only ordered half a leg and so there was plenty left over for my family to enjoy. Smoked and wonderfully flavoured before I did anything, this mustard and honey glaze simply enhanced an already fabulous product. We ate it with home made baked beans which again, was a client order that I simply doubled as I put it together. My family are very used to eating meals which are based on client orders of the day.  

As evidence that I WAS away and have not completely lost focus for this challenge, I am sharing below what was my synopsis of our road trip in the south west of America.


10 things I learned while road tripping in the US

1) America is probably the only place I will be told I have a cool accent. I was also asked repeatedly if I was from England, which I can only assume is because Americans think we all sound like Steve Irwin. Crikey.

2) The interpretation of speed limits depends on your location. If you are driving in Texas, feel free to drive 5 miles over the speed limit and the police won’t bother you. I like Texas. I especially liked Texas when I was hooning down the highway doing 85 (136km) in our Canyonero.* 

Conversely, according to the California road rules, not only can you be pulled over for exceeding the speed limit, but you can actually be charged for driving at ANY speed if the officer deems your speed to be inappropriate for the weather, the traffic conditions or his/her current mood. You read these rules, observe the limits religiously, and then realise everybody is actually driving at least 10 over and decide it would just be plain rude not to keep up with the locals.

Phoenix drivers do not appear to follow any speed limits. More on scary Phoenix drivers in the next section. 

3) Driving styles vary across the country. Wildly. 
Texas – Fast but friendly. Indicate and you shall be let in. 
LA - Fast. Not friendly. Change lanes if you are brave (or if you have a Canyonero). Pretty much the same as Melbourne but with bigger roads and more cars. 
Palm Springs – Slow speed limits and everybody complies. If you drive a canyonero you will be stared at and occasionally pointed at. Texas trucks stand out in this world of more tastefully sized cars. 
San Francisco – Frantic. Not friendly. Plenty of honking. Just like Melbourne but with REALLY steep roads. 
El Paso - Fast, no matter how packed the roads are. Drive well, stay in your lane and you will survive. 
Arizona – Like driving with a zillion P-platers all late for the same party. Apparently driving ten over while crossing four lanes to exit a highway is a thing here. Saw four accidents in less than an hour. Slightly terrifying. 

4) American road rules make sense. Being allowed to turn right on red (equivalent of left on red here) is hands down the best thing about driving in America. No more light going green and then stuck waiting for pedestrians. We NEED this rule here! 

Four way intersections (and roundabouts) which work on a first come, first served basis are the bomb. Even at the busy ones, the traffic flowed beautifully - North and South go, then East and West. Repeat. The only strange thing about this method is the weirdo Australian who felt the need to grin and wave every time she had her turn. Even though it’s the law, it still feels as if people are letting you through because they are lovely. 

5) Travel guides don’t speak for me. As a family, we definitely enjoy the road less travelled. While we loved San Francisco (the only place on our trip which is consistently rated as a top destination in the US), the highlights of our holiday occurred in the smaller towns and of course in our Mexico crossing. We loved the friendliness and hospitality of the smaller towns as well as the discovery of people, places and landmarks we had not already seen or heard of a million times before. 

6) Southern hospitality really is a thing. From opening doors to drivers actually moving out of the way when other cars indicated or merged, we just loved Southern hospitality. The people of Fort Stockton were perfect examples of this. We caught a couple of nasty rocks on our windscreen and the lovely men in the windscreen repair place fixed the two, rather significant, cracks for free. Also, there are Starbucks EVERYWHERE in the states and the staff do not work for tips (because you don’t tip for take-away) but only in the South will Starbucks employees say hello to everybody as they walk through the door. Just so lovely. 

7) No matter where you are in America, there are many people who agree that Trump is a twit. While in the US, we tried very hard not to offend those around us. We didn’t take the Lord’s name in vain, refrained from saying the word “toilet” in public and largely kept our political commentary to ourselves. Even so, it was not difficult to find others snickering about the possibility of building a wall through a national park or laughing at his incorrect singing of the national anthem. Restored our faith in human nature. 

8) Coffee can be obtained and enjoyed. It is actually not too hard to find a decent coffee, with lattes being offered quite regularly at cafes and even stores which specialised in other things such as ice-cream or pie (although Starbucks is an adequate fallback if your search for a latte fails). The coffee we had at Cedar Coffee Supply in Alpine was better than most you can find in Melbourne. Thanks be to Yelp (and Sue, our Yelper) for finding this one. If you do get stuck with regular brewed coffee, beware the creamer! Half and half is not too bad but the French vanilla variety is blow your head off sweet. I made the mistake of adding two to my first coffee and thought my eyeballs were going to pop out of my head. Also, one brewed coffee is not enough to knock out the inevitable coffee headache so be sure to double up. 

9) My propensity for being accident prone knows no geography. A trip and fall in a carpark, headbutted by my youngest as we slid into our seats at lunch and that special moment when I dropped my keys just as my eldest swung our heaviest suitcase from the Canyonero. Somehow I did not need to utilise our travel insurance but we wouldn’t have dared leave the country without it. 

10) Don’t judge a book by its cover. Of course this is something I already knew, but a particular incident made me realise I am not as good at practising this as I thought! Completing my transaction at the lovely XOX truffles, I glanced up as an ultra cool young man walked into the store. I chatted to SO many strangers on this trip (asking for directions etc) but this was definitely not somebody I would have approached for assistance; he simply looked way too cool to engage. As the truffle man handed me my receipt, he informed me that a receipt had also been e-mailed to me. He saw my shocked expression and explained that my e-mail address was already in the system (I had provided it to a BBQ place in Austin). My response was something like, “Oh that is very efficient…and just a little creepy!” I heard some giggling behind me and turned to find the cool guy giggling and repeating, “Just a little creepy!” Judgement busted. I still smile every time this runs through my mind. I am sure there is more but this will do. 

I loved America, its people and its road rules (and my Canyonero) Will be back for sure x

*Oversized Texan SUV, designed to lug around one month's worth of clothes for a family of four plus many, many purchases.