Brad Nierenberg Gets a Lesson in Tamale Making

Brad Nierenberg Gets a Lesson in Tamale Making

What a treat! A dear friend from Honduras called and invited me to come over for the day to make Tamales with her and her mom who was visiting from Honduras. I jumped at the chance and man oh man am I happy I did!

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I think most people are familiar with Mexican Tamales. But according to my friend most Spanish-speaking countries have their own version of the savory treat. In Honduras they are typically prepared for Christmas. That’s probably because they really do take an entire day to make.

Rather than listing all the ingredients and then instructions, it will be easier for you to follow along if I break the steps up into sections. I apologize in advance for not listing specific measurements. My friend and her mom did not have a written recipe, nor did we measure anything. After generations of Tamale-making, it’s just one of those recipes they know by “feel” and “taste.”

Step One – Preparing the Pork
Start with a 3-5 pound piece of pork. We used a boneless tenderloin, but a bone-in piece is fine. Cut the meat into chunks about 2”x2”. Brown the pieces of pork in some chopped onion, crushed garlic, and oil.

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Puree 4 roma tomatoes, 1 onion, 1 green pepper, 4 cloves of garlic, adobo seasoning, cumin, Worcestershire sauce, and cilantro in a blender or food processor. Pour over meat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add a small can of tomato paste and continue to simmer until tender. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Sidenote: I was super surprised they used Worcestershire sauce in their cooking. My friends actually referred to it as sauce of the English. Ha, ha!

Step Two – Brown the Rice and Potatoes
Peel and cube 1-2 potatoes into 1” sized pieces or smaller. (Not too tiny or they will fall apart in the Tamale.) In a frying pan brown 1-1/2 cups rice and the potato cubes together in butter, oil, or a bit of each until the potatoes are softened.

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Step Three – Cook the Cornmeal
Pour a small bag (or half of a larger bag) of cornmeal into a large pot. In the blender, puree 4 roma tomatoes, 1 onion, 1 green pepper, 4 cloves garlic, adobo seasoning, cumin, and Worcestershire sauce. Pour it into the pot of cornmeal. Add all the juice from one jar Spanish olives and all the juice from one jar of capers. Add about 1 cup of water and 1 cup oil. Add 1-2 packets of achiote (also called annatto) powder for color. Mix by hand. Keep adding small amounts of water until it mixes more easily, but is not too soupy or runny. You may want to add another 1/2 to 1 cup of oil. This will keep it from lumping while cooking.

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Taste for seasoning and adjust. It should be flavorful and not too bland.

Cook on medium heat while constantly stirring until thickened and with a slight sheen.

Step Four – Cut the Banana Leaves
Unravel a package of banana leaves and rinse them well in clean water. Pat dry with paper towels. Cut each leaf into 6-8” sections. Tear pieces of aluminum foil into 8-9” sections. Stack the leaves and foil together so that each piece of banana leaf rests on a sheet of foil. Make sure the shiny side of the leaf is against the foil.

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Step Five – Line up the Filling
Pour into separate bowls a jar of olives, a jar of capers, a cup of green peas, and a cup of raisins. You’ll also need your pan of rice and potatoes as well as the pot of meat and the cornmeal mixture.

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Step Six – Assemble the Tamales
Lay one banana leaf segment on its foil in front of you. Spoon about 1/2 cup of cornmeal into the center of the leaf and flatten it slightly with a spoon (or fingers). Place a small chunk of pork and some of the sauce onto the cornmeal. Add a spoonful of the rice/potato mixture, 2 olives, a few raisins, and a few capers and peas. Starting from one corner, roll the Tamale into a tight cylinder. The foil should keep it closed.

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Sidenote: In Honduras they don’t use the layer of foil. There is another part of the banana plant used as string to tie the rolled banana leaves up into a tight little packet. I guess you could also use string, but the foil worked great.

Step Seven – Cook the Foil Packets
Tightly pack the foil packets vertically into the bottom of a large pot. Pour boiling water into the pot. It should come up to the top of the foil ends. Bring the pot up to a boil, lower heat and cook covered for about one hour. After an hour, open and test the inside of one Tamale for doneness. The rice should be cooked. Hopefully you will end up with so many Tamales, you’ll need to cook them up in 2-3 batches! That’s what we did.

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Step Eight – The Best Step – Eating Tamales!
You can either serve your hot Tamales right away, or save them for later. I reheated mine by placing several in a baking dish and baking at 350 degrees for about 20-30 minutes (or until hot). They are better the next day after all the flavors have had a chance to love on one another!

We made about 40 Tamales.

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My friend was right….making Tamales took us all day! But as a group activity it was a blast. We used the boiling time to eat lunch and we laughed and talked the entire time. I don’t speak a word of Spanish, but since cooking is an international language, her mom and I had no trouble communicating!

I hope you give Honduran Tamales a try. If you make a different version, feel free to share your recipe below!

Next on my bucket list is to meet up with a few friends from El Salvador and learn how to prepare pupusas!

All the best!
Brad

Fresh Tomato Sauce Using My Food Mill

Fresh Tomato Sauce Using My Food Mill

I love the taste of pasta tossed with fresh tomato sauce. It’s one of those guilty pleasures in life worth the time and effort. Even though it’s not exactly fresh tomato season, you may want to save this article for a day this summer when you are wondering what to do with that bushel of ripening tomatoes. The beauty of tomato sauce is you can use bruised and even slightly over ripened tomatoes.

If you use several varieties of tomatoes your sauce will have a richer flavor. Another way to add flavor depth is to roast some or all of your tomatoes first. I sometimes opt to roast cherry tomatoes before adding them. They take far less time to roast.

One question I get asked a lot is whether I go to the trouble of peeling all the tomatoes before I cook with them. The answer is no. That’s because I use a food mill which removes all the peelings for me!

Ingredients

10-15 pounds fresh tomatoes
fresh basil
salt
pepper
crushed red pepper (optional)
sugar (optional, helps cut the acid)

Directions

Chop tomatoes into large chunks and add to large stock pot.

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Cook down on medium heat for 45-60 minutes. This time will vary depending upon how much water is in your tomatoes and how thick you like your sauce.

In batches, run cooked tomatoes through a food mill to remove all skins and seeds.

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Add seasoning (whatever you prefer) and simmer 10-15 minutes longer.

 

fresh tomato sauce with basilCook pasta in salted water to desired doneness. I prefer some bite to my pasta.

Toss hot pasta with sauce. Taste and season as needed. Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

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Less is more when it comes to fresh tomato sauce. But that’s just my opinion! If you’ve never used a food mill, they work great for sauces and soups. And, if you are ambidextrous, it counts as an arm workout too!

What’s your favorite way to prepare tomato sauce?

Pork Chop Casserole – A Comfort Food Favorite

Pork Chop Casserole – A Comfort Food Favorite

I love pork chops. They are inexpensive and delicious as long as you don’t cook the dickens out of them.

We grew up eating pork chops fairly often because of the low cost. My favorite way was with stuffing and applesauce on the side. I stumbled across a recipe from one of my most tattered cookbooks the other day that put the stuffing, apples, and pork chops all together for a very easy to prepare (and tasty) casserole of sorts.

I made a few alterations of my own which I explain below. For the original Betty Crocker recipe (which is hard to improve upon) you can visit their website which is probably a bit easier than borrowing my cookbook!

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Ingredients
1 Tbs butter
3 Granny Smith apples, sliced
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
salt, pepper, garlic, sage, paprika, thyme, all spice
4-6 pork chops

Your own recipe for stuffing or use mine: 
4-6 cups cubed stale bread (I prefer sour dough)
1 pound bulk breakfast sausage with sage browned and drained
celery and onion diced and sautéed in 3-4 Tbs. butter until soft
1-3 cups chicken stock (enough to moisten)
1/4-1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries
1 egg, beaten
salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, sage, fresh parsley

Mix these ingredients together until moist (not mushy) and keep tasting for right amount of seasoning.

Directions

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Brush 1/2 teaspoon butter in bottom of 13×9-inch baking dish. Spread apple slices in dish. Sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon over apples.

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Season the pork chops with whatever spices you prefer and lay on top of apples. I used a combination of salt, pepper, garlic, sage, paprika, thyme, and all spice.

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Cover pork shops with stuffing.

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Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes. Uncover and bake 10-15 minutes longer until you get a nice browning on the stuffing.

See how easy that is! Enjoy!

Roasted Squash and Pancetta Risotto Perfect Combination of Sweet and Salty

Roasted Squash and Pancetta Risotto Perfect Combination of Sweet and Salty

I’ve shared my method for making risotto in an earlier post. I love that risotto is a blank canvas for whatever flavors you want to add. All you need is time, patience, and arborio rice!

This time I decided to pair two of my favorite flavors, squash and pancetta. Butternut, acorn, delicata, or whatever variety you prefer will work just fine in risotto. I chose butternut this time.

Ingredients
1 butternut squash
Nutmeg
1 package diced pancetta
Fresh sage, chopped
Butter
Olive oil
Arborio rice
White wine
Chicken stock
Chicken boullion
Onion or shallot, finely chopped
Heavy cream
Parmesan cheese

Directions

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Peel and cube squash into bite-sized pieces. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a hint of fresh grated nutmeg on a baking sheet. Roast in 400 degree oven until golden, or to desired doneness. This takes about 20-30 minutes.

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While squash is roasting, render out the diced pancetta on the stovetop until crispy. I tossed in a small handful of fresh chopped sage too. Drain off fat and save for later.

Pour stock into pan and warm it up.

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In a separate pan sauté diced shallot or onion in some olive oil and butter. Add rice and toast slightly.

Slowly add stock one ladle at a time, stirring often and allowing each ladle to absorb before adding the next.

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After the rice starts to puff up and look creamy, taste a few kernels for doneness. It should have a slight bite in the center. If it is still too raw, keep adding stock until it reaches desired doneness. Do not overcook it, unless of course you prefer mushy risotto!

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Once the rice is done, fold in the roasted squash, pancetta, a splash of heavy cream (this is optional), and a tablespoon of butter (also optional). Season with freshly ground pepper and salt to taste.

Grate some parmesan cheese over the top and serve immediately.

Roasted Tomato and Bacon Pasta

Roasted Tomato and Bacon Pasta

I learned a few things about pasta when in Italy. First, the pasta is the star so don’t drown it. Second, never overcook it. Third, salt the water well. Fourth, finish it off in the pan with your toppings. Fifth, you can make a pasta dish out of just about anything. I even had penne tossed with fresh strawberries, olive oil, and parmesan cheese served to me once. For the record, it was delicious!

When faced with a crap load of fresh tomatoes, I’ve had to find multiple ways to use them up. One can only slice and eat so many tomato sandwiches! Since I love BLTs, I decided to try something similar as a pasta dish. Like I said, you can mix just about anything with pasta! Sorry there are no measurements. This is one of those thrown together deals!

Ingredients
Fresh tomatoes, sliced
Garlic cloves, sliced
Olive oil
Salt
Fresh ground pepper
Fresh basil, chiffonade cut
Pasta, I used cavatappi, but any shape would work. FYI: My favorite brand of pasta is DeCecco!
Bacon

Directions
Preheat oven to 425 degrees

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Layer sliced tomatoes and garlic on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast to desired doneness. I roasted this batch for about an hour. The longer they roast, the sweeter they get.

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Cook bacon until crispy and drain well. Crumble.

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Prepare your pasta. Cut the fresh basil into thin slices (chiffonade).
Toss hot pasta, more olive oil, salt, pepper, roasted tomatoes, and bacon together. Serve warm with parmesan cheese. And of course, hot pasta is always delicious with warm home baked bread!

Buon appetito!

Chicken Thighs: Budget-friendly and Delicious

Chicken Thighs: Budget-friendly and Delicious

I happened upon this video from Epicurious last week and then gave it a try using items already in my fridge and pantry. It’s brilliant…simple, delicious, and looks like I spent hours. I’ll be trying more combinations over the coming weeks. This will be the best 2 1/2 minutes you’ve ever spent! Watch it!

Lemon Rosemary Chicken Thighs with White Beans

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Ingredients
8-12 chicken thighs
1 fresh lemon, thinly sliced
4-5 cloves fresh garlic, slivered
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
Salt, pepper
2 cans white beans or 2-3 cups dried beans you’ve soaked and cooked

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Directions
Please rack in top third of oven and preheat to 400 degrees.

Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Arrange in 9×13 baking dish. Brush top of each piece with a small amount of olive oil.

Spoon beans around chicken. Space out the slivered garlic. Tuck in the lemon slices. Pour liquid so that it comes about halfway up the chicken. Leave tops exposed. Lay rosemary sprigs around dish.

Bake in top half of oven until chicken browns, about 30-45 minutes.

It was really that simple!

For a more exotic way to prepare chicken, try spicing things up with chipotle and ancho chili!

Tomato Jam Goes with EVERYTHING!

Tomato Jam Goes with EVERYTHING!

If you have homegrown (or farmer’s market) tomatoes coming out of your ears, today is your lucky day! This recipe for tomato jam is so delicious, you’ll be spreading it on everything. Heck, I help myself to a spoonful every time I pass the fridge! Scrambled eggs, hot dogs, burgers, cheese & crackers, bruschetta … use your own imagination (or Pinterest) to figure it out. But beware, tomato jam goes down easy and when eaten in large quantities, results in a slight, albeit “so worth it,” sugar headache. I speak from experience.

I modified Mark Bittman’s recipe as listed in the NYTimes just a tad. He’s a brilliant cook so I have not changed his recipe to improve upon it. To be perfectly honest, the first time I made it, I did not have enough limes, so I improvised by adding balsamic vinegar for more acid. And I like a little more spice, as you’ll see.  Finally, I more than doubled the recipe because those tomatoes cook down so much, you’ll be sorry if you start with too few tomatoes.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 pounds ripe tomatoes, any variety, or a mixture. 
  • cups sugar, or less if you don’t want it as sweet.
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • tablespoons fresh grated ginger or 1 – 1 1/2 tablespoons powdered
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon Thai chili paste

Directions

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Core and chop all the tomatoes. You could even do a course chop in your food processor to save time. I used my Miracle Kitchen Plus which worked great!

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Toss the chopped tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients in a heavy pan and bring mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for several hours.

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You should be able to pull your spoon across the bottom of the pot and see the bottom. It will be thick like jam.

Cool and store in the refrigerator or freezer. I spoon it into small mason jars while it is still warm and screw the lid on tightly. As it cools, it sucks the lid in a bit for a tighter seal. This is not the same as canning (which you could totally do) so each jar lasts only a week or so in the fridge.

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It makes a great gift for friends and neighbors if you are the sharing type!

One amazing way to use tomato jam is on a grilled cheese sandwich with fresh mozzarella and a slice or two of fresh tomato. Talk about delicious!

If you have a recipe for tomato jam or a great way to use it, please share below!