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

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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!

Spicy Chicken A La Diable Is A La Delicious

Spicy Chicken A La Diable Is A La Delicious

Le French Oven cookbook cover

Many thanks to a good friend who gifted me Hillary Davis’s “Le French Oven” cookbook for Christmas this year. The photos are gorgeous and I could not wait to dive in and try one of the recipes right away.

All I needed was a French oven (which I do) and a sous chef (that would be me). Most of the ingredients for this divine dish were already in my pantry and refrigerator.

Full disclosure: I know Hillary Davis’s version would be much better looking. But I intend to get better with practice!

Let me first say this chicken dish is divine. The flavors were so good I wanted to lick my plate. My dinner companions called it the most delicious chicken and biscuits they’d ever had.

Hillary Davis gets full credit for the recipe and the instructions. The photos are all mine!

Spicy Chicken A La Diable

Ingredients
1 whole chicken (organic preferred)
2 sprigs fresh tarragon
2 Tbsp olive oil
2-4 potatoes peeled and sliced into matchsticks (1/4 inch)
Salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbsp stone ground mustard
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (I only used 1/8 tsp.)
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs (I wish I had made my own rather than using store bought)
2 Tbsp minced shallot
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup dry white wine (I used Riesling)
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (I used homemade)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 medium tomato diced (I used 2 Romas)

Directions

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Pour 2 Tbsp olive oil into French oven. Toss in potatoes with salt and pepper. Place cleaned chicken onto potatoes. Rub with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Bake at 400 degrees 15 minutes per pound.

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While the chicken is cooking whisk together sone ground mustard, cayenne, honey, and thyme. (I misread the instructions and also whisked in the tarragon. It still turned out great.) Set mixture aside.

When chicken is ready, remove it from the oven and spread the mustard mixture all over it. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the mustard paste and pat them down.

Return the chicken to the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes longer. The thermometer should read 165 degrees F. My breadcrumbs were starting to get too brown, so I put the lid on for the last 5 minutes.

Move the chicken and potatoes to a large platter.

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Place the French oven on the stovetop. Add the shallot, vinegar, wine, half the tarragon and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Add the stock, garlic, 1/2 tsp. salt, Dijon mustard, 1/8 tsp. cayenne, and heavy cream. Simmer 10-15 minutes longer.

Just before serving stir in the remaining tarragon and the tomato (seeds and juices as well). Cook 2 minutes longer.

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To serve, ladle sauce on a plate and top with chicken and potatoes. I served it with roasted brussels sprouts and biscuits.

I hope to try many more of the great-tasting recipes in this new cookbook. I’ll keep you posted!

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.

Pasta with Cauliflower – Not Very Colorful – But Very Satisfying!

Pasta with Cauliflower – Not Very Colorful – But Very Satisfying!

My friends and family know how much I love to prepare pasta. I learned while in Italy that you can use nearly anything to flavor pasta so I frequently raid the fridge or pantry to come up with something new to me. My latest pasta adventure featured cauliflower.

Ingredients
1 head fresh cauliflower
1 pound pasta (any shape you like)
Olive oil
1 cube chicken boullion
3-5 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1-2 cups breadcrumbs
Salt, pepper
Grated parmesan cheese

Directions

Break up cauliflower into florets and blanch in boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Drain – but keep the cauliflower water and cook your pasta to al dente in it.

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In a large, flat pan over medium heat sauté garlic, chicken bouillon cube, and red pepper flakes in a splash of olive oil. Do not burn the garlic. Break the chicken cube up with your utensil.

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Toss drained cauliflower into pan with garlic and pepper mixture. You may need to add another small splash of olive oil.

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When the pasta is ready and the cauliflower is cooked, but still firm to the bite (5-6 minutes), toss the pasta in with the cauliflower. Add some of the pasta water to moisten. While pasta is finishing up, mix some olive oil into 1-2 cups of breadcrumbs and sauté until light golden in color.

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In a large serving bowl right before you are ready to serve, mix the toasted breadcrumbs in with the pasta/cauliflower combination. Top with parmesan cheese and season to taste.

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The cauliflower really works with the pasta. It is a little too white in color. I think next time I will try this with orange, green, or purple cauliflower to add some interest.

That’s all there is to it! Quick dinner, kind of healthy, and delicious!

If you have a favorite way to serve cauliflower, please let me know. This is the season it tastes best and I am always looking for new ways to serve it up.

Gnocchi and Sausage Soup Warms the Soul

Gnocchi and Sausage Soup Warms the Soul

The great thing about homemade soup is that it is such a forgiving meal. You can forage through your pantry, swag measurements, and make each pot your own creation. The downside is that I can never quite replicate the same pot twice!

That said, this pot of gnocchi and Italian sausage soup was delicious.

Gnocchi and Sausage Soup

Ingredients
1 lb. bulk Italian sausage (I used hot)
1 red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced onion
2 cloves crushed garlic
1-2 chopped fresh tomatoes (optional)
1/2-1 bag spinach
4-6 cups chicken stock (See recipe for homemade.)
1 package gnocchi
1/2-1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Brown sausage in the bottom of a stock pot and drain off grease. You could use turkey sausage or links. If you do, remove casings before browning.

hot sausage, onion, pepper

Add diced onion, chopped bell pepper, and crushed garlic. Sauté 3 minutes longer. I had a homegrown tomato in the windowsill and chopped it up and added to the pot. It was not an essential ingredient, but like I said before, it’s soup so be creative!

Tip: If using a milder sausage, add 1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper for some heat. If using your own chicken stock, add 1-2 chicken bullion cubes to intensify the flavor.

Add chicken stock and bring to gentle boil. Add gnocchi and cook 5 minutes or until gnocchi are cooked through. Add spinach and heavy cream. Stir until warmed through and spinach is wilted. Season with salt and pepper.

creamy italian sausage, gnocchi, spinach soup

Italian sausage is a great soup ingredient since it comes with its own built-in seasoning. I’ve also used kale instead of spinach. Of course kale needs to cook a bit longer so I add it during the sauté step. You could leave out the heavy cream or substitute with coconut milk and a tablespoon of red thai curry for a completely different outcome.

bowl of creamy hot sausage and gnocci soup

Serve with a warm slice of home baked French bread. Here’s my recipe!

Let me know how you like it.

Buon appetito!

The Simplest Most Delicious Cherry Cheesecake Recipe I’ve Ever Made

The Simplest Most Delicious Cherry Cheesecake Recipe I’ve Ever Made

I briefly touched upon this cheery cheesecake recipe in an earlier post highlighting my favorite Thanksgiving desserts, but thought if was worthy of its own mention since I recently made one for a friend. This no-bake version is my aunt’s recipe and it is always devoured. Friends cannot believe how easy it is to make considering how delicious it is. It is perfect for dinner parties since you quite literally whip it up the night before.

No-Bake Cherry Cheesecake

Ingredients
24 graham cracker squares
1/3 cup butter, melted
3 T sugar

8 ounces softened cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 pint heavy cream (also called whipping cream)
1 can cherry pie filling, chilled

Directions

graham cracker crust
Graham cracker crust (Combine 1 1/2 cups crushed graham crackers, 1/3 cup melted butter, 3 T sugar and press into pie plate. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool.)

whipped cheesecake filling

Beat softened cream cheese until smooth.
Add sugar and vanilla and beat some more.
Slowly pour in heavy heavy cream and beat until the mixture is thick and fluffy.

no bake cheesecake

Pour/scrape into cooled pie crust.

Chill 24 hours.

Brad Nierenberg's Cheesecake

Top with canned cherries.

This is a regular request for birthdays and special occasions. I know you are thinking that it can’t possibly be that good if it is so simple to make…but it is!

Buon appetito!
Brad