Sunday, June 1, 2008

Tortillas! Homemade!

A few posts ago, we wrote about food and one of the things mentioned was a Mexican restaurant that we visited in Oakland with Brandy. Of course Max had bought the cook book previously and was already making plans to visit their rather exclusive restaurant (different from the one we were at) chefed by Dona and Tomas, a place that you apparently need reservations several months in advance. I'm not so excited about eating at a place that you need to plan that far in advance but Max is determined, so I'm sure we will do it sometime. One of the things we noticed at this less famous, almost fast food place version, was the guy making tortillas in their wide open kitchen. He was taking blobs of corn flour dough and squishing them by hand with a tortilla maker. The one he was using was wood, but Max was able to find a metal version at a kitchen store in Napa. Who would have thought that she might find a place selling kitchen stuff in wine country?? So below is our new "appliance" that we obviously needed since we didn't have one. I love kitchen toys! It adds interest- and in fact sometimes defines what direction my meandering approach to cooking. After all- I have to find uses for these myriad of kitchen gadgets- can't just let them take up space. But back to the tortillas- all the books said that homemade tortillas made a BIG difference- and with a little practice.....

The plan was to make our own tortillas for homemade fish tacos. Now we usually buy corn tortillas at the grocery and just use those, but home made tortillas compared to store bought are kind of like comparing Wonder Bread to home made bread. So we bought masa harina (corn flour) and Max mixed up the dough balls. Masa harina is ground corn- into flour- not corn meal that is used for corn bread- and then the corn flour is soaked in lime (not the lemon- lime fruit variety but rather lime- as in quarry)- before it becomes masa harina. Don should feel lucky that I tired out before I could finish the instructions for the masa harina- grinding corn and then soaking it in lime water- Don't think I'm ready for that.

They were squished using the "tortilla flatteners". The recipe is easy- two cups of masa and then one cup of water+more as needed. Not hard- but next time I'll use a bit more water- the dough was too stiff and wouldn't press out thin enough.

My job was to cook them on the grill according to a specific protocol (30 seconds, flip, 2 minutes, flip, 30 more seconds, done)
Max kept the supply coming, so I was trying to remember which ones were on the first 30 seconds vs the 2 minutes vs the second 30 seconds. I had two timers going, but really needed three and another set of hands. It was hysterical watching Don "cook" the tortillas- a timer was always going off- and he was always trying to figure out which tortilla needed to be turned. But they all did get cooked. By the way, just to the right of the grill in the above picture is a second "essential" kitchen thing, a "tortilla keep warmer". Once again, we didn't have one, so of course we needed one. I believe that Don will always be grateful he has such a well equipped kitchen! What do you all think?

To compliment our meal we needed color. Max believes that food that consists only in various shades of brown just isn't healthy. Don loves brown! He thinks that the perfect Mexican dinner would be beef enchiladas, re fried beans and rice- All various shades of brown. (Of course his absolute favorite meal is bacon, eggs, fried potatoes and biscuits- All browns and beige and white.) So we added health with cantolope spiced with jalapeno and mint- from our window garden- thanks to Don- and lime- lime juice- not the salt! And of course fish tacos need a slaw to finish them off. Our colorful slaw was purple cabbage, more cilantro, more jalapeno, and some jicama (I know, jicama is white, but isn't that a color?), and scallions- that I always thought were green onions until I started reading so many recipes- but to me they'll always be green onions.

The other problem was that our tortillas were a little too thick (we now know why- the recipe need more water- and next time I'll just use a fork rather than my counter mixer- even though I try to use my appliances as often as possible- but sometimes a fork just works better!) and consequently a little too stiff. So what could be better than open face tacos. We just stacked things up with a tortilla, some tilapia sauteed with jalapenos and onions (green of course and lime juice), a little slaw and then another tortilla with the process repeated. The result was pretty good and looked good too. Mexican food is pretty straight forward- cilantro- with its fresh taste, jalapenos- the heat- and lime juice (and salt and pepper).

I do need to add that Don had make a pitcher of Sangria while I was at work- And that is my new favorite drink with Mexican cuisine. So the evening was a grand success!


Lucas said...

Can I just come an live in a pantry or something? I'll be super quiet, you won't even know that I'm there. At the end of every meal, you can just throw the leftovers at me in my hidden pantry and I'll be as happy as a little clam. Mmmmmmmm. Clams!

Anonymous said...

The food looks great. I would have said I didn't like corn tortillas until we went to mini Dona-Tomas; I'm sure your homemade tortillas were just as good. love,b

Anonymous said...


PS I will have to tell you of my newest crazy idea!