Category Archives: Cheese

Free-for-All Friday: Blue-Cheese Crusted Steak with Crispy Smashed Potatoes

It’s rare that I crave meat, but lately, a really good steak with blue cheese has been on my mind — creeping into my thoughts, ruining my productivity. I can only take so much tofu before I need something with built-in flavor.

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And the notion that you need to go out to devour a decadent piece of beef is absurd. You can make it in your kitchen in about half an hour. Promise.

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Vegans and vegetarians, don’t look away just yet! There’s a side-dish recipe buried in this post just for you!

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Happy cooking, friends. Liven up your weekend with this dish. Indulge. Eat and be merry.

Blue Cheese-Crusted Steak

Serves 1, but easily doubled

Ingredients

  • Your favorite cut of steak (I went for the ribeye)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste (or your favorite steak seasoning)
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 2-oz blue cheese, crumbled and at room temp
  • 1 Tbsp. bread crumbs or panko
  • 1 tsp. chopped parsley
  • Leaves from 2 stems of fresh thyme

The How-To

  1. Set the oven to broil.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the blue cheese, bread crumbs, parsley and thyme. Set aside for later.IMG_6845
  3. In a cast-iron skillet, melt the butter over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes, or until pan is hot.
  4. Meanwhile, season the steak (and make sure the chill is off the meat. Take it out of the fridge 20 minutes or so before you want to cook it).
  5. Once the pan is hot (sprinkle some water on it if you’re not sure. The water should sizzle), add the steak and cook on one side for two minutes, or until nicely browned. Flip the steak and add the blue cheese crumble mixture on top, slightly pressing down.IMG_6852
  6. Transfer the skillet to the broiler, allowing the cheese on top to get brown and bubbly. This will help finish the steak to a nice medium doneness. It should take about 5 minutes under the broiler.
  7. Let it rest before digging in. It’s hard, I know, but it’s also worth it.IMG_6857

Crispy Smashed Roasted Potatoes

Serves 4 as a side dish

Ingredients

  • 12-15 red, yellow or purple potatoes (about 1-inch in length). Fingerlings work well.
  • 2 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup EVOO

The How-To

  1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Put the potatoes in a large saucepan (preferable in one layer) and cover with at least one inch of water. Add 2 teaspoons salt to the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook the taters until they are tender, about 30 minutes. Test for doneness with a sharp knife or skewer. They should be cooked through, but not overdone.
  3. While potatoes are cooking, set up a double layer of clean dishtowels on the countertop. As the potatoes finish, remove them individually from the water and let them drain for a minute on the dishtowels.
  4. Fold another dishtowel into quarters and, using it as a cover, gently press down on one potato with the palm of your hand to flatten it to a thickness of about 1/2 an inch. Repeat with all the potatoes. Don’t worry if some break apart a bit; you can still use them.IMG_6841
  5. Cover a large, rimmed baking sheet with foil and line with a sheet of parchment paper. Transfer the flattened potatoes carefully to the baking sheet and let them cool completely at room temperature.
  6. Sprinkle the potatoes with 3/4 teaspoon salt and drizzle the olive oil over all of them. Lift the potatoes gently to make sure some of the oil goes underneath them and that they are well-coated on both sides.
  7. Roast potatoes until crispy and deep brown around the edges, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with freshly-chopped parsley. Serve hot and alongside your steak.IMG_6846

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Meatless Monday: Sun-dried Tomato, Spinach and Goat Cheese Mini Frittatas

For some reason, things are just cuter when they’re smaller: children, bills, bugs.

Oh, and frittatas.IMG_6828

It’s strange, but whenever I make frittatas in my favorite cast-iron skillet (like this other meatless one), they never get finished. So I decided my hand out mini-versions, because we seem more inclined to go back for seconds (and thirds, and fourths) when the item is smaller. And l get offended at leftovers.

These mini frittatas — or crustless quiches — are satisfying for lunch, dinner or pre-curser to a large meal. With frittatas, you can add anything in and they’d be delicious. I paired goat cheese with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes, sautéing the spinach with some garlic first to enhance the umami of the dish. Simple ingredients that don’t require much preparation.

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Disclaimer: I made 12 of these with the recipe provided below, but after careful consideration, I think you can make 24 by filling the muffin tins half full instead of two-thirds. Either way, you’re going to end up with something deliciously satisfying.

Sun-dried Tomato, Spinach and Goat Cheese Mini Frittatas

Makes 12

Gather These Up

  • 8 eggs
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 12 oz spinach
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. EVOO
  • 3 Tbsp. sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 3 oz goat cheese, divided
  • Baking spray, such as Pam
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Whisk Them Together

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spray a muffin tin generously with the baking spray of your choice.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Season generously with salt and pepper. Divide the mixture evenly among the muffin tin cups.
  4. In a large skillet, heat a heavy-bottomed pan over medium hear with the olive oil. Add the chopped garlic and cook for three minutes. Add the spinach and toss, cooking until wilted — about 6 minutes. Drain the spinach once it’s wilted, squeezing out any excess moisture.IMG_6811
  5. Divide the cooked spinach among the egg-filled muffin tin. You may have some leftover, which I encourage to snack on while these guys bake.
  6. Divide the chopped sun-dried tomatoes evenly among the cups.
  7. Divide the goat cheese in big crumbles among the cups. IMG_6815
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before cutting around the edges to help release the frittatas.
  9. Serve, savor, sigh.IMG_6839

Tips and Variations

  • As we fall into the new season, add mushrooms for an earthier, comforting flavor.
  • Make this on Tuesday and add crumbled, cooked bacon or sausage to the mix.
  • Add red or yellow raw bell peppers for added crunch and color.
  • Use fresh tomatoes instead of sun-dried.
  • Use feta cheese instead of goat and marinated artichoke hearts instead of spinach for a more Mediterranean flavor.
  • Use caramelized onion and blue cheese for a decadent appetizer.IMG_6835

Meatless Monday: Headquarters

I had a great recipe lined up for you guys, but I’ve been a little under the weather and couldn’t stomach food the past couple of days. So my delicious meal went uncooked.

But fear not. It will make a glorious appearance next week.

Instead of a recipe this Meatless Monday, I’m giving you hundreds of recipes.

Did you all know that Meatless Monday has its own dotcom? Mmhmm. It’s that important.

It has plenty of information on the Meatless Monday Movement, articles and enough recipes to keep you busy for a while.

I want to encourage y’all to go check it out and try a recipe from there tonight. If I had to pick one for you (you indecisive little minion), I’d go with the spinach tart, for obvious reasons.

found via meatlessmonday.com

And if those reasons aren’t so obvious, here they are:

  1. it’s ridiculously easy to make
  2. you probably have most if not all ingredients on hand
  3. there’s spinach in it
  4. saying you’re having a “tart” for dinner is just fun

Oh! And some shameless plugging here…my first article on George’s exec chef in La Jolla is up on Patch. Won’t you check it out?

Thanks guys. Happy Monday! May this week be your best.

Meatless Monday: Pastina Revisted

Did anyone lose sleep over yesterday’s missing Sneak Peek Sunday?

I didn’t think so.

I had a GREAT weekend filled with lots of friends, my SO and Lady Antebellum. I would post a video we took of the Lady A concert here, but it’s on SO’s phone. We had pit seats so we were up close and personal with the trio. It was fantastic.

And I missed a post yesterday because I was seeing Legally Blonde in downtown SD where the young girl I nannied for played a role. It was adorable and hilarious.

Anyway, we haven’t done our weekly shopping here yet, so my choices for Meatless Monday were limited. Until I read Young House Love and noticed pastina in their post. And you probably don’t remember, but I wrote a post about the beloved comfort food waaay back in 2009.

So it’s time to revisit it. Because it’s been rainy and chilly here in SoCal and pastina is one of those foods that gets you all warm and lazy.

Pastina is a tiny, star-shaped pasta. I used to only be able to find it at authentic Italian delis but now Vons sells it and has made me one happy shopper.

Isn’t it so cute?

While the final product may not look very appetizing (almost like porridge or cream of wheat) it’s so delicious. Better than chicken noodle soup. Or at least more comforting.

It’s also great because I always have the ingredients on hand. So when I’m lazy, sick or in need of something warm, this gets made.

Enjoy a taste of Italian comfort!

Classic Egg and Cheese Pastina (serves one)

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup pastina
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • Fresh ground pepper
  1. Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to boil in small saucepan.
  2. Add pastina and salt and cook until pastina is cooked, about 5 minutes.
  3. Turn off heat and stir in egg, letting it cook in the hot pasta

    Pour in the egg

    Stir to mix and "cook" egg

    Almost done

  4. Add butter, cheese and pepper.
  5. Savor bowl of comfort under a blanket, on the couch, with a good book.

Thanks for hanging in with me guys. I promise you an awesome recipe on Friday and next Monday!

Meatless Monday: Warm Goat Cheese Salad with Pears and Walnuts

Last week when I was at the grocery store picking up my mozzarella for my risotto balls, I happened to glance in Goat Cheese’s direction.

Cheese of the goat

It was just sitting there, calling out for me. Some might call it fate. And what do you do with fate?

You fry it.

Exception to the rule

Now, I know last week I said fried food wasn’t really my thang, but that doesn’t include cheese. Cheese is always the exception.

Goat cheese is a “love-or-hate-it” kinda food. I happen to love the creamy, tangy, grassy cheese. LOVE. And I was flipping through my big Bon Appetit cookbook and stumbled upon this recipe.

It’s the perfect, decadent meal for Monday, because when everything else is miserable, at least your plate of food isn’t! (I’ve got a bad case of the Mondays, can you tell?)

Feel free to play around with it. The recipe calls for endive, but I just used a mixed green salad. I love endive, though, and think it’s a wonderful addition. Use pecans instead of walnuts or apples instead of pears. Use EVOO instead of walnut oil. Use panko instead of bread crumbs (I did!).

And if you’re serving this for more than one person, well, put an extra fried goat cheese round on top of your plate. You deserve it.

Happy eating!

What You Need (Serves 4):

  • 1 1/4 cup fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried
  • 11 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, cut into 8 rounds
  • 1 egg, beaten to blend
  • 2 tablespoons plus 3/4 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons walnut oil
  • 8 cups mixed baby greens
  • 2 heads Belgian endive, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 large ripe pears, peeled, cored, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts

What You Do

  1. Mix breadcrumbs and thyme in glass pie dish. Season goat cheese with salt and pepper. Dip cheese into beaten egg, then into breadcrumbs, coating completely. cover and refrigerate until ready to use. (Can be prepared 4 hours ahead.)
  2. Whisk vinegar and mustard in small bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Combine mixed greens, Belgian endive and pears in large bowl.
  3. Heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add walnuts and sauté until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Transfer to plate using slotted spoon. Reduce heat to medium. Working in batches, add cheese rounds to skillet and cook until crisp and brown on outside and soft on inside, about 2 minutes per side.
  4. Toss salad with enough dressing to coat. Divide among 4 plates. Using metal spatula, place 2 cheese rounds in center of each salad. Sprinkle with walnuts.

Perfect Monday dinner

Free-for-All Friday: Cheez-Its

Today’s post was supposed to be about my adventures in pasta making, but that’s going to wait until next week (Virtual apology to Stacy Z. over in Sweden!)

The reason why pasta is being put on hold is because I experienced something this week. I think it’s called nirvana, but I can’t be sure since my dictionary is M.I.A. (missing in action, not the entertainer who loves flipping the bird).

Anyway, you know how thankful I am for Pinterest, right? Well, I came across a homemade Cheez-It pin, went to the original blog where it was posted and thought, “I can, like, totally do this!” My thoughts are all in Valley-girl dialect. I don’t make the rules.

My friend Kate volunteered to be taste-tester and fellow Cheez-It maker, so on Monday, we used her awesome kitchen (check out the granite counter tops below) and made Cheez-Its. From scratch. And they.were.nirvana.

Color Me Cheezy

Everyone loves Cheez-Its right? Everyone else here can finish off a box in one sitting? Everyone reading this also loves licking their fingers after eating the white cheddar ones? Ok, whew!

Here’s the blog where the recipe I used came from. It’s a guest post from this woman. I’d love it if you paid her a visit to find out how to make these tasty squares.

Kate and I both have an aggressive affinity for white cheddar cheez-its. Like, if there’s a box hidden in the room, we can sniff it out. And fight to the death à la Hunger Games for it. So we used aged white cheddar cheese with a bit of regular sharp cheddar thrown in.

After you combine all your ingredients, which are really just cheese, flour, butter and milk, you roll out the dough and cut some 1×1 inch squares.

Notice my lack of experience in rolling dough...

Trying to be precise

Starting to look like cheez-its

Kate punched cute little holes in the center with a skewer and then we baked them.

This is after we flipped them over

We flipped them, hoping to brown them a little on top.

The first batched looked beautiful. But they were more like a flaky, puffy biscuit than a crunchy cracker used for after-school snacks…

B-e-a-utiful

So we burned the next batch.

Still tasty

And it was an accidental triumph. You know when you reach in the Cheez-It box and happen to pull out a slightly browned Cheez-It and you eat it as quickly as humanly possible so the person you’re eating Cheez-Its with doesn’t see it and steal it? Well, it’s like we made a whole batch of those ones so everyone could get in on the action.

Are you guys swooning yet? The first one Kate tried, she tasted it, nodded her head with a smile and said “Cheez-It!”

Make a batch (no, make 4) this weekend. They’re super, super easy and twice as yummy. Plus, no preservatives.

Only downside is, there’s no cheese dust to lick off your fingers.

And for your weekend pleasure:

This is well-behaved Wayne, Kate's dog, who helped us make cheez-its. Isn't he delicious?!

Meatless Monday: Grilled Avocado Cheese Sandwiches with Tomato Gazpacho

On yesterday’s post, I noticed that I said I’d share a Bloody Mary with you. My apologies. Everyone deserves their own Bloody Mary. It’s only right.

No one took a guess on what I used Spicy Hot V8 for, but I’m sure you know now after reading the headline.

I made gazpacho, basically because it’s just a fun word to say. Gaz-pacho. Let’s see how many times I use the word in this post.

I was inspired by a vendor at the Coronado Farmers Market to make one and I was also given some beautiful avocados from the market manager. It was fate, staring me right into the eyes.

Gazpacho is basically a cold soup made with raw vegetables, no cooking involved. It’s especially delicious when the weather’s warm and here in SoCal, the weather’s been pretty beautiful. Of course, as I type this today it’s cold, wet and rainy.

The gazpacho was an experiment for me. I winged it and I think it came out pretty darn good. I do wish it was just a tad bit smoother, but it still went down nice. And it’s really good when you dip your hot and cheesy grilled sandwich in it. There’s a nice contrast of flavor, temperatures and textures.

Without further ado, here’s the recipe:

Tomato Gazpacho

  • 1 1/2 pound of tomatoes, roughly chopped and seeded (I used orange. I recommend orange heirlooms if you can find them, but any tomato will work)

    Too much time in the tanning booth...

  • 1/2 cucumber, seeded, plus thin slices for garnish

    Scoop out the seeds with a spoon

  • 1/2 can of spicy hot V8 tomato juice

    "I'm Spice-ay!"

  • 1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped (any color will work)
  • 1/2-1 lemon, juiced
  • 3 Tbsp. cilantro, roughly chopped, plus more for garnish
  • 1 shallot, chopped, plus more for garnish
  • 3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 3 tsp. Tabasco
  • 1 Tbsp. EVOO, plus more if needed for thinning or flavor
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Turn It Into Gazpacho

  1. Dump everything in the blender, including seasonings.

    Before it was called gazpacho...

  2. Whirl it around until smooth (I blend on high, then liquify on high.) If it seems too thick, add some more EVOO.

    ...while it's becoming gazpacho...

  3. Taste it and adjust seasonings as you see fit. Does it need salt? More acid? More spice? Tasting as you go is always the best way to cook. Adjust to your liking, then hit blend again.
  4. Chill for at least an hour in the fridge. The flavors really marry if you let it sit in the fridge overnight.
  5. Pour into shot glasses and enjoy aside a hot grilled cheese (see below). Garnish with cucumber, cilantro and shallots.

    Phase Gazpacho: Complete

    Gazpacho close-up

    Gazpacho cuteness

Avocado and Havarti Grilled Cheese

  1. Get two slices of your favorite bread and spread the inside with a grainy mustard on both slices.
  2. Layer one slice of havarti cheese on each side of the bread.
  3. In between the cheese slices, layer avocado slices and salt and pepper.

    Another reason California is awesome

  4. Close up the sandwich and spread MAYO (yes, Mayo. It browns so nicely!) on the outside of both pieces of bread and sprinkle with Parmesan or Pecorino.
  5. Cook over medium heat on a skillet, smooshing the sandwich down with a griddle pan or a lid.

    Totally professional

  6. Cut in triangles and service with the gazpacho, dunking the cheesy goodness in the cold, spicy soup!

    I'm not shy about avocado, as evidenced here

    The marriage of two beautiful things...le sigh

Final Gazpacho count: 13. My lucky number. Fate comes through again.

Psst: I was soo excited to use this entertaining set I was given last year for my birthday from my MIL! I heart it.

Meatless Monday: The Frittata

I sometimes feel like frittatas don’t get much love in the culinary world. They’re kind of like a hash, you just throw in whatever you have in your fridge and combine it all for a meal. It’s  a poor-man’s quiche (cause crust is just so expensive).

But that’s exactly why they’re so amazing. They’re versatile! You can put anything in them and they’re going to turn out tasty. I hadn’t done the weekly shopping trip yet and I needed a Meatless Monday recipe for you guys so I decided to use my resources.

I used a bellpepper we had sitting in the fridge, an onion, half a tomato, cheese that was almost gone. I would’ve used some spinach that’s about to be on its way out but it didn’t catch me eye until after the fact and the realization of it had me yelling out curse words that are a sure sign I need anger management.

Some frittatas are made with leftover pasta in them. So if you’ve got leftover fettucini or spaghetti, by all means, dump it in! This is an “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” kinda dish. If you happen to have leftover ham or bacon or sausage, throw that in this, too. Just do it on a Tuesday or something ;)

Frittata

  • 8 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp. Pecorino Romano, shredded (or Parmesan)
  • 1/3 cup chopped bellpepper
  • 1/3-1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tomato, chopped and de-seeded
  • 1-2 Tbsp. butter
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. In a bowl, beat the eggs with the cheese, salt and pepper.
  2. In an oven-proof skillet (I used a cast iron), melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and peppers and saute for about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes and stir.
  4. Add the egg and cheese mixture and stir again to evenly distribute the veggies.
  5. Let sit for about 5 minutes over the medium heat, or until the top is just about set and bubbling.

    Can you see the bubbles?

6. Stick the pan in the top third of the oven and broil until brown and cooked completely through, about 5 minutes.

Voila!

Slice it like a pie

And gobble it up

Tips and Variations

  • Use up whatever veggies you have in your fridge: mushrooms, asparagus, zucchini, spinach, olives.
  • Change up the cheese: try feta, Parmesan, cheddar, Gruyere, mozarella.
  • If you’re using a cast iron like I did, make sure it’s a well-seasoned one. The more you use a cast iron, the more non-stick it becomes. Even if you use plenty of butter in the pan, the egg will still stick to a cast-iron and it can be a b***h to get off. Consider yourself warned.
  • Mix in your leftover macaroni and cheese with this. I know it sounds strange, but it’s actually quite delicioso.
  • Make it meaty with cooked bacon (dump it in when you add the tomatoes) or ham (saute it up with the onions and bellpeppers). You could even add some crumbled turkey sausage for a heartier meal.
  • Don’t worry about measurements in this recipe. Eyeball all veggies. I ended up adding two more additional eggs than I had originally planned for. This is a dish made on purely instinct, so go with yours.

Meatless Monday: Spicy Penne with Two Cheeses and Olives

Baked pastas are one of my favorite things. They get a nice crusty, crunchy top and are all gooey and hot underneath. Of course, they have to be done right to really knock your socks off.

This Meatless Monday recipe comes from one of my Bon Appetit cookbooks. It’s absolutely delicious—perfect on a cold night with a salad. The Havarti cheese makes this pasta super creamy, almost like a vodka sauce. And the olives add a salty punch.

The homemade sauce would be great just tossed with some penne and Pecorino and crumbled hot turkey sausage on a night when you’re making a meaty dish.

Give yourself some ample time for cooking this dish and enjoy!

What You Need:
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onions
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 3 (28 ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes , drained
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups canned low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 lb penne
  • 2 1/2 cups packed grated havarti cheese
  • 1/3 cup Kalamata olives
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil

What You Do

  1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add onion and garlic and sauté for a few minutes until onion is translucent.
  3. Add tomatoes, basil and crushed red pepper.
  4. Crush tomatoes with a potato masher to break into smaller pieces.
  5. Add broth and bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce is reduced to 6 cups, stirring occasionally.
  7. This will take about an hour.
  8. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  9. When sauce is close to done, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until it is just tender but still a little bit firm to the bite.
  10. Drain pasta and toss with remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
  11. Stir in pasta mixing thoroughly.
  12. Mix in Havarti cheese until melted.
  13. Pour into 13×9-inch glass baking dish.
  14. Sprinkle top with olives and then the Parmesan cheese.
  15. Bake at 350° until heated thoroughly, about 30 minutes.
  16. Sprinkle with fresh basil before serving.

Free For All Friday: Guest Blog: Christmas Tamales

I asked my SO’s sister, Brynn, to write today’s blog post. She and her fiance’s mom and sister whipped up a couple (um…A LOT) of tamales last weekend for a traditional Mexican Christmas. I was jealous of the ordeal and never made it over to help out with the assembling, but I did manage to snatch up some of the tasty tamales.

This whole process is amazing and hopefully one day I’ll learn to make them myself. Here’s Brynn’s account of the tamale-making (she’s got way cool pictures). Enjoy and have a GREAT Christmas Eve:

This Christmas was the first time in five years that I was finally able to learn the art of tamale making from Kevin’s mother, who is now my future mother-in-law. As this is the last Christmas before I will marry into this family, I was basically obligated to learn how to make this traditional Christmas meal in order to ensure a healthy and happy marriage. And because Melissa requested that I be a mole (not to be confused with molé), I forced myself to focus and take notes.

When I arrived, Kevin’s mom, Michelle, had already begun preparing the hojas (corn husks) by soaking them in water and letting them air dry in a colander. While they were drying, Michelle and her friend Pat prepared the meat fillings.

Pat began to heat her chicken in molé sauce, while Michelle prepared the molé that she would use to flavor her shredded beef. They explained that there is no standard sauce for the meat, but each family has their own preference. For example, Michelle’s began with a two large cans of Las Palmas Red Chili Sauce, to which she added cayenne pepper, granulated garlic powder, salt and other spices. After the sauce was warmed and the seasonings incorporated, about five pounds of pre-cooked shredded beef were stirred in.

Traditionally, tamales can be filled with just about anything, ranging from meat like chicken, beef, or pork, to vegetarian options like potatoes, green chili and cheese, or even strawberries and sugar.

According to Kevin’s dad, one of his co-workers brought him sugar-filled, Jello-flavored tamales. Apparently, the guy was super proud of himself for mixing the green powder in with the masa.  What creativity, what genius! (Personally, I would stay away from this variety).

After the fillings were ready (pots of chicken and beef, cubes of pepper jack cheese, strips of green chilis, and a huge bowl of black olives), it was time to spread the “masa on the hojas”.  The masa is corn flour dough that surrounds the fillings and creates the little pouch of goodness. Basically, it is corn flour, salt and water, whipped until fluffy and spreadable. More traditionally, the masa also includes lard, or manteca. This gives the dough more flavor (as fat usually does….that sneaky little ingredient), but also makes it a lot more, well, fatty. Duh. The masa can be prepared at home, but when roughly 45 pounds of this dough is needed, you will be pleased to know that many Mexican markets and restaurants sell this dough for anywhere from 80 cents to $1.20 per pound. 

We took the hojas, found the “smooth side”, took a glob of the masa, and spread it on the wider half of the husk. The goal is to get a nice even coat, about a quarter to half of a centimeter thick. I think I pretty much nailed this part.

In an assembly-like fashion, the husks were filled with a spoonful of meat (plus an olive for a bite of saltiness!), a chili and slice of cheese, or chicken and cheese. Pat even added a spoonful of creamed corn to her chili and cheese tamales. Then the tamales were folded, and because the husks were of various sizes, sometimes a second husk was added for extra protection.

The final step was wrapping the tamales in food paper. Michelle explained that while this was not necessary, it prevented the tamales from dripping on each other while cooking.

The most mysterious part of the process to me was always how the tamales were cooked. Baked? Broiled? Fried? Seriously, I had no idea. Turns out these little puppies are steamed. Yes, steamed.

Ten to 15 tamales are layered in a large pot and steamed for about two hours. However, depending on the quantity of tamales being made, the majority are stored in bags and frozen raw. (Add another 30 minutes to an hour for steaming frozen tamales).

Overall, we made 20 dozen tamales.

That’s 240 tamales, people! And I was probably responsible for consuming at least ten in the course of just two days. And it would probably have been a lot more if it weren’t for the shreds of dignity and self-control that I was holding onto.

If you want to learn how to make tamales, my best advice would be to get engaged to a Mexican. Kidding! But honestly, you will only really learn by watching and helping a more experienced tamale-maker. Keep your eyes and ears open for any friends that make tamales and offer them a hand!  If they make anywhere near as many as Kev’s family, they will probably appreciate the help. :)

Clockwise from front left: Pat, Dana, Brynn, Michelle

Psst: Check out Brynn’s blog here, which is chock full of humor, math, travel and food; and thank you to the math master for guest blogging for me!

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