Thursday, June 24, 2010

Green Things

It's not easy being green sometimes. I had such high hopes for this big pile of fresh fava beans that a friend from work gave me. I also had peas, lemons, white wine, and a little cream. And some pasta. Should have been all the makings for a perfect summer meal, right?

Well who are we kidding? Summer in the Bay area is all about bleak, grey skies. And bleak about sums up the end result after all my time spent tirelessly shucking the fava beans and slipping each little bugger from its skin. I just really don't know how to make a cream sauce, as it turns out. And I don't know how to fake it either.

As it happens, I guess I'm good at making grey goop, because after sauteing the favas & peas with a little garlic & olive oil, and adding some splashes of white wine, lemon juice and half & half, I decided it might be good to puree some of the mixture to make a sauce. Except it didn't make a sauce, it made something more like the consistency of... goop.

So I added some pasta water and kept on pureeing. And despite my efforts, it never really became sauce. But after all this work, I couldn't waste it. So onto the pasta it went. I wouldn't call it a BAD dinner, but I wouldn't exactly call it good either. Oh well, I guess they can't all be winners. Note to self: next time, follow a recipe.

There was a consolation prize however. I ventured out into the garden after dinner and noticed the kale plants are getting quite hardy, especially now that we've successfully beaten the slugs, with a little help from iron phosphate slug bait. Wish I'd discovered the stuff before the slimy jerks managed to eat half the garden, but better late than never. Just looking at this kale, I'm already feeling confident that tomorrow's dinner will be much better than tonight's. Some kinds of green are easy after all, and thank goodness for that.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Homemade Corn Tortillas

Why buy tortillas at the store when you can make your own??? If you thought you couldn't make your own, I'm going to beg to differ, cause I'm going to show you how. It's not that hard, I promise, you'll see! Now I'm sure you can find many places on the web to learn how to do this, but I've been making my own quite a bit lately, and several people have mentioned they'd like to see a tutorial of sorts, so here is my humble take on the matter.

I'm sure I still have a lot to learn , but I think at least for now, I've finally gotten to the point where I can make these babies with some amount of confidence that I'll slay my dinner guests when it's taco night. Ok, granted, usually the only ones eating them are just me and my honey, but I'm telling you, these tortillas slay the living crap out of us, so much so that we now look for ANY EXCUSE to have taco night!

And you know what else is cool? They're CHEAP! You can't beat delicious AND inexpensive!

You'll see from the pictures below that I use a tortilla press to flatten the little balls of masa into tortillas. You can buy one for about $10 - $20 at your local Mexican grocery store, and there are also many places they are available online, like here for instance. (And that big boy in the background is Bloom, who is very interested in taco night, as is Spider, who was busy working on her beauty sleep when this shot was taken.)

The next thing you'll need is some masa harina, which is very finely ground corn flour made from corn that has been dried, cooked, ground up and dried again. The cooking water always contains slaked lime, also known as “limewater,” which gives masa harina its distinctive taste. I use the Maseca brand, which you can also get at your local Mexican grocery store. However, your local store just might carry the fresh masa, in which case you won't have to mix the dough yourself. If you're working from the masa harina, here's how you do it. This recipe makes enough for 8 tortillas, but of course you can double or triple it as you see fit.

Measure out 1 cup of the masa harina, stir in 1/8 teaspoon salt, and slowly stir in 2/3 cup water. Stir it well until a dough forms.
If the dough seems too dry & cakey, slowly and in small increments, add a little more water.

I've found that it works best when the dough ends up being the consistency of Playdough - smooth, pliable and a little bit moist.

You want to be able to easily separate the dough into 8 pieces which you can roll into balls. Once you've done this part, cover the bowl with a damp towel in order to keep them moist.

Now you're ready to press the tortillas. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on either side of your tortilla press and place one of the balls in the middle of the bottom side of the press.

Now pull the arm down and press!

Open carefully, and gently remove the tortilla.

Place it into a pre-heated skillet over medium heat. I use a very well seasoned cast iron skillet, but you can also use a nonstick. The main point is that you don't want the tortillas to stick.

Cook them for a little less than one minute per side, and then you're done!

You can eat your tacos right away, with or without cheap wine from Trader Joe's. Load the tacos up with whatever suits your fancy, and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Pesky Pesticides

If you live in California, perhaps you saw the recent headline which read "State Poised to OK supertoxic pesticide"? You can read all about it here, but the basic gist of it is that the state of California has this crazy idea that it might be ok to allow the use of methyl iodide in our soil.

Among other things, methyl iodide is such a reliable cause of cancer that it's used in labs to induce cancer. Breathing methyl iodide fumes can cause lung, liver, kidney and central nervous system damage. It causes nausea, dizziness, coughing and vomiting. Prolonged contact with skin causes burns. Massive inhalation causes pulmonary edema. But astonishingly, those that govern our fine state think it's just a swell idea to dump this crap into our soil. I wonder how much money the pesticide lobbyists paid for this? I am outraged, but then, it's not terribly surprising considering that we live in a world where corporations regularly get away with destroying our environment, right, BP?

Although I have very little hope that it will make a difference, Governor Schwarzenegger is taking comments regarding the use of this poison until the end of this month. I made the call and I hope you will too, and I hope you'll also pass it on. You can reach the Gov. at 916-445-2841. You can also sign a petition to be submitted to the EPA here, and keep updated by visiting the Pesticide Action Network.

Meanwhile, our little garden here is plugging away, with lots of squash blossoms and tomatoes peaking out from tiny flowers, and the kale is growing like weeds. The basil seems to be getting devoured by slugs, but I'm not feeling a need to poison the soil with cancer causing chemicals! I was thinking I'd start with treating the little slimy creatures to a cup of beer or a sprinkling of salt. Cause beer and salt aren't only good in the kitchen!