Sunday, August 18, 2013

Authentic Corn Tortillas

I always thought I liked flour tortillas and disliked corn tortillas.  I recently discovered that I LOVE corn tortillas, I'd just never had good ones until I made them at home.  If you buy them in a stack of fifty at the store, you're not getting good ones.

The ingredients are dead simple, but there is one special piece of equipment: the tortilla press.  You need one.  If you like Mexican food, you need one of these.  Seriously, just buy that one.  Cast aluminum, easy cleanup, works great, 12 bucks with free shipping.  Plus, if you buy that one, I get a kickback from Amazon.

You'll need two pans:  non-stick or (best option) cast iron.  It sounds like a lot of work, but after you do a couple you'll get the hang of it.  It's far easier, it helps keep a steady pattern, and if you do it right the tortillas will puff up beautifully on the right-hand pan.  After pressing a tortilla, put it on the left-hand pan, cook for 30 seconds, flip, cook for 30 seconds, move to right pan, cook for 30 seconds, flip, cook for 30 seconds, move to tortilla warmer (or plate covered with a towel).  So an ideal workflow is (moving from left to right) dough => press => low pan => high pan => warmer.  Like I said, it sounds complicated but it'll make sense once you try it.  It really does work well.  You can see my two pans (and lots of unwashed dishes) in the background, behind this child model we brought in for the photo shoot.

So easy a child can do it.
Finally, you'll need masa flour.  We're pretty big on not buying single-purpose ingredients: we make most meals from scratch and almost everything we buy is a "stock" ingredient with multiple purposes.  But to make corn tortillas you need corn flour. I buy Maseca masa harina at WalMart.  It works fine and will last you forever.

Enough talk, now to the cooking.

Ingredients: Makes 8 6-inch tortillas.  Feel free to double or triple.

  • 1 C masa flour 
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 C liquid (water, corn stock, whey, etc)


  1. Measure out your dry ingredients into a mixing bowl.  Add your wet ingredients.  Mix.
  2. You'll end up with something the consistency of a very firm play-dough, or maybe high-quality plastic explosive.  Put this in the fridge for 15-30 minutes.  I should clarify for any NSA readers that I've never personally used C-4, I just watch people use it on Burn Notice.
  3. When you pull the dough out, you should be able to break off a piece of it in your hand.  Break off a golf-ball sized piece and roll into a ball.  Put dough-ball on a plate and repeat step 3 until there's no more dough.  If you did it right, you should have about 8 equally-sized pieces of dough.
  4. Get a quart ziplock bag and cut out the edges.  This will give you two 6x6 pieces of plastic.  Use these to keep your dough from sticking to your dough press.  Put 1 ball of dough between two sheets, put in press, and close press 95% of the way.  Open press, rotate tortilla 90%, and press the rest of the way.  You don't have to do it this way, but I find it gives me a slightly better shape and thickness than when I use a single press.  See the picture for the press, finished tortilla, and dough ready to press.
  5. Cook your tortillas as described above.  Press, 30 seconds, flip, 30 seconds, transfer, 30 seconds, flip, 30 seconds, and under the towel.  I don't use utensils for the flipping:  you should be able to do everything with bare hands.  You're only touching the tortilla, not the pan.
That's it.  I dare you to tell me that's not the best corn tortilla you've ever had.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Classic Omelette

Until about a year and a half ago, I'd never successfully made an omelette.  I could fry an egg, but the light and fluffy omelette seemed forever outside my reach.  Thanks to Alton Brown, however, this situation has reversed itself.  Let me tell you what I did wrong, then I'll walk you through the classic 2-egg omelette.
  1. You need to butter the pan.  So it's a beautiful, brand-new Teflon non-stick pan?  Doesn't matter.  Butter it.
  2. You need to use warm eggs.  The difference in temperature between the top and bottom of the omelette was ruining them.  Get eggs to room temperature before cooking.  You can do this by letting them sit out, or by putting them in a bowl with hot water for a couple of minutes.
  3. Don't whisk the eggs.  Whisking adds air to the mixture, which is (in this case) a bad thing.  Air is an insulator, and it gets you in trouble with that temperature differential again.  Mix with a fork using a round-and-round motion, but don't add extra air.
  • Bonus tip:  not from Mr Brown, but cool:  Never use salt when cooking eggs.  Creole seasoning is 90% salt, and adds a little bit of extra taste.
  • Bonus tip:  Get yourself a silicone spatula. It makes this (and many other cooking activities) SO MUCH easier.  They're not expensive.  Get one. Get rid of all other spatulas.  There's nothing a rubber spatula can do better than a silicone one.


  • 2 Warm Eggs
  • Pinch of Creole Seasoning (or salt, or some salty seasoning)
  • Butter
  1. Crack 2 eggs into a bowl and add a dash of salt, Creole seasoning, or similar.  Mix well.
  2. Add nonstick pan to stovetop on medium heat.  Add butter to pan and let melt.
  3. Pour eggs into buttered pan.  Use silicone spatula to scrape out bowl, then stir mixture until re-mixed. The time it takes to scrape the bowl is enough for the bottom layer of the eggs to start to firm up; re-mixing them ensures that everything will firm up about the same time. 
  4. Let it sit.  Don't do anything.  Seriously, don't touch it.  It'll cook bottom to top, don't touch it until it's cooked halfway up.
  5. Add what you're gonna add.  More on this later.
  6. Now, use your silicone spatula to loosen the edges of the omelette.  Work your way around, then underneath.  If you shake the pan, the omelette should move around.
  7. By this point, the eggs should be mostly firm.  Use the spatula to fold the right third of the omelette over towards the middle.  Shake the pan again to make sure everything is still moving well.  Get out a plate and hold it near the pan with your left hand.
  8. See what I did there?
  9. Pick up the omelette pan in your right and and tilt it so that the omelette starts to slide out onto the plate.  Once it gets halfway there, twist your right wrist to "fold" the omelette over onto itself.
  10. Triple-fold complete.
  11. Serve and eat.


  • Whatever you want.  I had feta cheese and this pineapple-habanero salsa and it was epic.  Once you nail the basic technique, adding whatever you want will be a piece of cake.  I have a wife and daughter who thrive on protein, so a variety of omelettes in the morning makes for a happy house.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Grilled Corn on the Cob

If there was ever a food that was bulletproof, it's grilled corn on the cob.  I challenge you to mess this up.  Now, I have no doubt you can make grilled CotC more complicated.  Lots of people semi-shuck the corn, take out the silk, re-cover, soak, and grill.  But these people are just making work for themselves. Corn is easy.


  • Corn on the cob.
  • Butter, salt, and pepper.


  1. Put water in a pot.  Put the corn in it.  Don't open it in any way.  Put it in the little produce bag at the supermarket, then bring it home and put it in the water.  If you're feeling fancy, put something on top of the corn to push it all the way under the water.
  2. Get a hot grill.
  3. Pull the corn out of the water and put it on the grill, right over the heat.
  4. Rotate every few minutes; cook until the corn husks are all brown.
  5. Put on a plate and let sit until it's cool enough to handle.
  6. Pull the husks open.  They should split pretty much down the middle, and the silk should (due to the steam) slide right off.
  7. Immediately spread butter over corn, and sprinkle salt and pepper.
  8. Eat and be filled with delicious corn.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Bulletproof Bites: An Introduction

A conversation with a good friend this past week reminded me of something I already knew:  I need to get into the habit of writing.  I self-censor way too much on my "real" blog, so I need to get in the habit of writing and publishing.  Thus:  a cooking blog.  I'm not a real foodie blogger:  I don't have crazy good photography skills or a cookbook deal.  But I occasionally make tasty things and don't have a good way to share the recipes, so the blog serves a dual purpose.  To start things off, here's some cooking I did for a college roommate reunion this past week:  8 adults and 7 kids.
I don't think it's possible to mess these recipes up.  If it was, I would have!  Try them out and let me know if anything's unclear.  Enjoy!

Overnight Eclair Pie

It feels like cheating to write about eclair pie, because you can find this recipe all over the internet. But I made it this week and it's bulletproof, so it goes on the blog.


  • 2 small containers (~3.4oz) of instant french vanilla pudding
  • 4 C cold milk, plus another couple tablespoons for topping
  • 1 8oz container of whipped topping
  • 1 box graham crackers
  • 1/2 container of fudge or dark chocolate cake frosting. If you buy milk chocolate cake frosting, you are what's wrong with America.

  1. In a large mixing bowl, add both containers of pudding mix and four cups of milk. Whisk like crazy until pudding thickens. Add whipped topping and gently whisk together. Over-mixing will take all the air out of the whipped topping, so don't go overboard.
  2. In a baking dish, add a layer of the graham crackers and a thin layer of pudding mix. Repeat until you run out of graham crackers or pudding mix.
  3. In a smaller mixing dish, mix the cake frosting with milk to make a pour-able frosting. Cover top layer with frosting, then refrigerate for at least 8 hours. This dish will easily refrigerate overnight.
Because you're using half a container of frosting, this recipe doubles really well. I made it in two disposable tin baking containers (like you'd use for freezer lasagna or something). That sounds like a lot of eclair pie, but you'll be shocked at how quickly it disappears.

Grilled Peach Brulee

Technically it's brûlée, but who has time to add all of those squiggles? And if you want to get really technical, a brulee is made using a blowtorch, so this is just grilled peaches topped with caramelized brown sugar. It's still awesome.

  • Peaches
  • Brown Sugar
  • Vanilla Ice Cream

  1. Cut peaches in half & remove stone.
  2. Add peaches, cut side down, to hot grill.  Close grill cover and wait.  Flip before the cut side becomes charred.  Cook time will depend on your grill's heat; you'll have to gauge this for yourself.  It shouldn't take long.
  3. Flip peach on grill so skin side is down.  Sprinkle brown sugar generously over cut side, then close grill.  Go get your bowls and ice cream.
  4. Once sugar is caramelized, move to bowl, cover with ice cream, and top with a light sprinkling of brown sugar.  You don't need more sweetness, but it's a tiny bit of extra work for a ton of presentation points.

This is one of those desserts that impresses far more than it deserves.  Very worth doing on a night where you've already got the grill hot.

Perfect Hummus

I love good hummus.  Prior to this recipe, I was never really content with my homemade stuff.  This recipe uses the same ingredients as every other recipe I ever tried.  So what's the difference between a grainy mess and creamy perfection?  The order you add the ingredients.  I kid you not.  I gained this piece of wisdom from Inspired Taste, and you should drop by over there to see their pictures, if nothing else.  My kitchen's too messy for photography.

Ingredients and Steps:

Add to a food processor or blender:
  • 1/2 C lemon juice
  • 1/2 C tahini

Blend until tahini is creamy.  Then add:

Blend until it looks blended.  Then add:
  • 2 rinsed and drained 15-ounce cans of chickpeas.   If you add the entire can with liquid, your hummus will be too wet.  You could go the colander route, but why get the colander dirty?  Do what I do:  pour off liquid into another container, fill can with water, shake the can, put the lid back on, and pour the water out into the sink.  Do this a couple of times.  If you see any skins, pull them out.  It will make the hummus smoother.  Don't stress too much, though.  Add one can of rinsed and drained beans, blend until smooth, then add second can.

Finally, add in the reserved bean juice, a little at a time, until the consistency is how you like it. You won't need it all. Remember that the blended beans will soak up a little bit of water over time, so it's ok to make it just slightly wet.  Don't go overboard, though.  Nobody will complain if the hummus is a little firm.  This is also a good time to add that extra dash of hot sauce or salt.

That's it!  Congrats, you've made perfect hummus.  Note that the flavors will meld well with a couple hours in the fridge, but it'll be just fine to go ahead and eat it.  Every hummus recipe in the world calls for the tahini to be in a colorful bowl, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with paprika.  I don't bother with that... spend your time chopping carrots or breaking open a bag of pretzels.

Kickin' Peanut Sauce

I got this peanut sauce recipe from The Chinese Takeout Cookbook, by Diana Kuan. Everything we've made so far has been fantastic, but the most useful recipe it's added to our repertoire is the peanut sauce. She uses it for "Cold Sesame Noodles" with spaghetti noodles, julienned carrot & cucumber, scallions, and sesame seeds. That's a great recipe, but the sauce works just fine on its own. I've had it on chicken, noodles, rice, or anything else that I could dip in it. We started out making the individual recipe contained in the book, but discovered that quadrupling it gives the perfect amount of sauce to fit in a Mason jar. It keeps very well in the fridge.

This jar was full five days ago.
All measurements are approximate.  Adjust heat by adding more chili sauce, Franks Hot Sauce, crushed red pepper, or whatever you want.  But don't add heat before trying it... it's pretty good as it is.

Ingredients for Single Batch:

Group 1:
  • 2 t minced garlic
  • 2 t grated fresh ginger
  • 1 T canola oil

Group 2:
  • 3 T tahini
  • 2 T peanut butter
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 1 T sesame oil (I used canola)
  • 2 T rice vinegar
  • 2 t chili sauce
  • 2 T sugar
  • 3 T water (as needed for proper consistency)

Ingredients for Quadruple Batch (Mason Jar):

Group 1:
  • 2 T, 2 t minced garlic
  • 2 T, 2 t grated fresh ginger
  • 3 T canola oil

Group 2:
  • 3/4 C tahini
  • 1/2 C peanut butter
  • 1/2 C soy sauce
  • 1/4 C sesame oil (I used canola)
  • 1/2 C rice vinegar
  • 2 T, 2 t chili sauce
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 3/4 C water (as needed for proper consistency)

  1. Add group 1 to saucepan and heat until fragrant (about a minute).  Remove from heat and let cool.
  2. Mix group 2 with a blender, food processor, or really excellent whisk.  Add water last.
  3. Add group 1 to group 2 and mix.
  4. Enjoy hot or cold as a marinade, sauce, or condiment.  Or eat it by itself... I'm not in a position to judge.