Friday, May 25, 2012

Alternative Tamale Success!

In the past week, I have made tamales for the first time, and I was very happy with how they turned out. I used chicken breast, and made them flavorful but mild. I am a total spice-heat wimp. I also experimented with a vegetarian version, using Spectrum palm-oil shortening instead of lard, and a black bean-sweet potato filling. That also turned out well.

Now for the most recent challenge variant: How to make tamales for a daughter who cannot have any corn? The essential elements that define a tamale are the filling, on a base of masa (cornmeal) paste, wrapped in a corn husk. Filling. Corn. Corn.

I planned to use up the rest of the tamale ingredients for dinner tonight, and decided to improvise on a corn-free inspiration I'd had. Corn Free Daughter is back at college, and therefore unable to participate in the experiment, but I wanted to see how my idea would work.

Someone told me a while back, when I first set out on my tamale quest, that one can also use parchment paper to package tamales, instead of the traditional corn husks. Element one: solved.

I pondered the nature of the masa base.

Masa harina.'s really the same corn meal that my mom used to make hot cereal when we were wee girls.

So.......could another, corn-free, hot cereal work as well?

Why not?

I decided to try Cream of Wheat.

Cream of Wheat is also known as Wheat Farina.

Masa harina. Wheat farina.

Gotta love a food solution that not only works, but also rhymes!!! :D

I followed the same directions as for preparing the masa: Beat the shortening in the mixer with salt and baking powder; combine the dry wheat farina with warm liquid (I used chicken stock that I had on hand. Water works equally well, making a vegetarian version very easy); added the dampened wheat farina to the beaten shortening in several batches, beating all the while. It worked admirably!

I cut parchment pieces of approximately the same dimensions as the average tamale corn husk, spread on my wheat paste base, and topped it with my seasoned shredded chicken breast. You can use either kitchen string or strips of corn husk to tie the bundles shut. Since I had the pile of prepared husks, I used them. Also, my string is missing. :)

I put my corn-free tamales on to steam, and went about my other evening business.

They turned out well! The first couple/few bites seemed very different, but I quickly started to like the new version.

So, not only a successful experiment, but  tasty Friday evening dinner also! We had the chicken/corn tamales, and the chicken/wheat tamales, with a bean side dish that was also an experiment.

Beans- some Anasazi beans I had previously soaked and cooked from their dry state, then drained and stored in the fridge. Tonight, I added a carefully chosen, carefully cleaned serrano pepper, blended with cumin, oregano, sea salt and chicken stock. I added this seasoning concoction to the beans, along with kale cut small and more chicken stock. It turned out okay. I think it needed more flavor. There was enough of the pepper, but I could have used more cumin and oregano. Overall, though, it was good, and a good companion to the tamales.

I am rather pleased with the success of my experiment, and eager to share it with No-Corn Daughter!

p.s. fun note: one= tamal, more than one= tamales  :)

O, en Espanol, Un= tamal, pero moltos = tamales.   ;D   ....At least, I think that's right. :)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sleepy Eyes, Sweet Potatoes, Stinky Hands and Sticker Feet

Wow! I hadn't realized it had been so long since I wrote a new post! Well, now I shall make amends. :)

I find myself extremely tired today. I have been putting in exceedingly long, full, busy days of late, and it really caught up to me this morning. After the busy beginning to my day, I took a solid nap! I rarely do that, but I seemed to be in desperate need of rest. I also rarely have a day that is not thick with commitments, so this was a rare coincidence of need and opportunity! I felt so much better when I got up again.

What was the busy start of my day, you ask? Well, maybe you didn't, but I will tell you anyway. :)

First thing this morning, at about 6:20 am, I drove clean laundry across town to our hardworking son. He's using a bicycle as transport just now, to save on gas money and because his pickup is having serious issues. It's pretty challenging to carry a full laundry basket on a bike, so he wasn't able to take it home yesterday. By the time I got home last night, I was pretty sure he was already asleep. When I called this morning and offered to bring his clean clothes over, he was so thankful. It's nice to do things for someone so thoroughly grateful and appreciative. :)

After I got back from my Errand of Laundry Mercy, I leashed up Mandy the Dog and we went for a mile-and-a-half walk. I do love how fresh and cool it is early in the morning. Today it was just a little too cool and a bit too fresh for comfort, but still a wonderful way to start the day. Singing meadowlarks are a great incentive to get me out the door for a walk!

After returning from our walk, I hand-watered outside. It is far too breezy today for the running of sprinklers, so hand-watering was the only way to go. I have some wee seedlings bravely pushing out of the ground, from seeds I planted a while back. I also have some new plants I've set out in the past week. Some were from a plant catalog I like- Annie's Annuals. It's such a fun catalog; whimsical and colorful. The plant selection they carry is unique- focusing on California wildflowers, and hard-to-find things like heirloom flower varieties. They like the original form of plants- the sort that still have actual fragrance. I love that! I'm excited to see the new plants from Annie's flourish and bloom.

The other plants are from Bloomer's nursery here in town. Yesterday afternoon, before our Dear Eldest Daughter headed back to college after a nice weekend at home, she and I made a pilgrimage to the nursery. We had so much fun, ambling through the greenhouses and seeing all the expansions and displays. Most of what I chose was for outside pots, but I did buy one small begonia for inside. I have wanted a begonia for so long, and I'm excited to finally have one. :)  After returning home with our treasure trove of plantly possibilities, we dug out pots and a bag of potting soil and got to work.

Unfortunately, the bags of planting medium I'd bought, on the advice of a guy at the store that sells it, was not what I should have bought! I had read that Potting Soil and Planting Mix are distinctly different, so I asked for Planting Mix. He told me this would work. If I'd actually read the bag, I would have known better. Sigh. Yet another live-and-learn. This mix was not for potted plants. It specifically says "for in-the-ground planting".  It is a mix of shredded wood product and steer manure and some other stuff. I've forgotten the other stuff, because the first two ingredients annoyed me enough to wipe the rest from my mind.

I think they must get their "steer manure" from a dairy! This is not the clean and healthy fragrance of a country field. This stuff has the acrid, penetrating odor of dairy slurry! And, us being us and in a hurry, we did not wear gloves! *regret!!!*  We scrubbed and scrubbed our hands, trying to get rid of the odor, but it took several hours for it to dissipate! Dear Daughter tried a strongly-scented hand lotion in her attempts, but that only made it worse. Then she had hands that smelled like fruity-flowery dairy slurry! Oh, how I wished I had stopped to think before we dug into our project!

The shredded wood annoyance didn't last nearly as long as the nasty steer odor, but it was plenty annoying all the same. Somehow, I got two tiiiiny little splinters of wood stuck in the tender arch of my foot! So tiny. So insignificant. And soooo annoying! They were far too small to find and remove, but every time I took a step (in that busy busy afternoon!) I got tiny little stabs in my poor soft foot. Sometimes it is the petty little things that bug me the most!

And last, but not least, I love when my food experiments succeed! I needed to make a vegetarian/gluten-free/dairy-free dish for a potluck last night, to meet the dietary needs of visiting band members (great concert!), so I made Sweet Potato Black Bean Tamales. Actually, they're not sweet potatoes, but what I call yams- the purple skinned deep-orange fleshed variety. Sweet Potato just sounds more appetizing in a recipe title than Yam. I mean, Yam Bean Tamales does not sound nearly as nice, now does it? ;)   I had some non-hydrogenated vegetable-based shortening (Spectrum brand) that worked beautifully in place of lard for the masa paste (the cornmeal tamale base). I used the Sweet Potato Black Bean taco filling idea that I tried recently, for the tamale filling. It all came together beautifully. I had the last few for my breakfast today, and they were delicious!

The nap and quiet day have helped. The steer manure smell finally went away. The tamales were wonderful, but now they're gone. The stickery bits of wood finally came out of my poor foot.

One concern remains. Just how bad of an idea was it to use a planting mix with a strong dairy slurry manure odor......for a houseplant?