Tamale.

tamales!

In case you haven’t noticed, the holidays are upon us. Sure, we celebrate all sorts of holidays throughout the year, but these few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas? Those are the “real” holidays. These are the days where we all eat too many cookies, mounds of fudge, and every other goodie you could possibly imagine. Every day at work begins with something brought in, lunch ends with a sweet treat, and the few hours after lunch before you leave for the day? Man, those are the hours where we really, and I mean really, need some chocolate.

I have to admit here, that Chris and I aren’t full of holiday traditions. We haven’t had a Christmas tree in years; since we are never home on Christmas we’ve never felt the need. I have a box of decorations that I’ve collected over the years, and they remained in the back of the storage closet once again this year. I don’t have a tried and true cookie recipe, or a special offering that just always works at the holiday parties. Just tonight, I started burning a candle that smells exactly like Christmas, and it made me realize that we need to make some of our own traditions.

pulled pork

Of course, this is all starting next year. We head out east soon, and by the time we’re back, it’ll almost be New Years Eve. That means two more years have gone by without me finally doing Christmas cards. Whoops.

On the flip side, and without knowing it, I think we did start one tradition this year. I clipped a recipe for tamales years ago. I kept flipping past it, thinking it was just way too much work (the one in my stack that I keep flipping past now is a yeasted donut recipe. But I can’t give up yet!). I finally, after a couple of years, got rid of the tamale recipe, figuring I’d just eat store-bought tamales instead of slaving in the kitchen to make my own. But then I recently found another tamale recipe, and right around Christmastime, when folks seem to make tamales over big gatherings of family members.

masa-ancho dough

Chris and I had a recent lazy weekend, the type where well-intentioned hikes (which we’ve not done in months, it seems!) are ruined by rain, and suddenly Saturday night was right around the corner and we had nowhere to be – not even a Christmas party on a December weekend! We’d run a few errands, driven around in horrible downtown San Francisco traffic, and decided that we were most definitely staying in that night. Meanwhile, we neared a Mexican market that had every little ingredient I needed, so I decided it was meant to be. Much to Chris’ chagrin, it ended up being a project for the two of us, although I have to admit I really didn’t put him to work until it was actually time to make the tamales. After a few iterations, we finally had a good system down – he spread the masa onto the husk and portioned the pork on top, and I rolled the husks, folding the dough over the pork, and then tied the ends with strings of corn husk.

I’m not sure who got the shittiest end of that deal. The husk strings kept breaking, and sometimes the husks themselves weren’t the right size, but on Chris’ end he was dealing with my constant critique-ing of his portioning, and I’m not sure how many times I told him, but dang, he really wanted to LOAD those things down with pork, and there just wasn’t room! At the end of the night, literally around 9:30, we were able to taste our efforts, and I promise, it was worth it. We had leftovers for a couple more meals, and we froze the rest, knowing there are always nights when cooking just doesn’t happen. Tamales are perfect for that.

But most importantly, we (at least, I) really appreciated how and why this tamale-making festivity has become a yearly tradition in so many families around the holidays. It’s a lot of work, and a lot of time, but a lot of yield, and a few hours of spending quality time with the ones you love is the most special result of it all (even if the tamales are outta this world). It’s something to look forward to every year, and since 2013 is just around the corner, I’m already thinking about tamale night next December. Tamale night, a tree, some decorations, and maybe, just maybe, some Christmas cards.

Don’t hold your breath on that one.

tamale-makin'

 

Chipotle Pork Tamales w/ Cilantro-Lime Crema
adapted from Cooking Light, December 2012; serves 14 (2 tamales each)

time commitment: forever. just kidding. sorta. a good 5 hours total, but about 2-3 of active time (lots of pork-cooking and tamale-steaming).

printable version

ingredients
filling
1 T olive oil
1 (3-pound) Boston butt (pork shoulder roast), trimmed
1/2 t kosher salt
1 c chopped onion
9 crushed garlic cloves
1 t cumin seeds, toasted
6 chipotles chiles, canned in adobo sauce, chopped
1 c no-salt-added chicken stock
1 t grated orange rind
1 t unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 t ground espresso

crema
3 T chopped fresh cilantro
2 T no-salt-added chicken stock
1 T lime juice
1/4 t salt
1 (8-ounce) container light sour cream
1 large garlic clove, minced

masa
2 1/2 c no-salt-added chicken stock
2 ancho chiles
1 c corn kernels
4 c instant masa harina
1 1/4 t salt
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 c chilled lard

other
Dried corn husks

instructions
Preheat oven to 300 F.

To prepare filling, heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil, and swirl to coat. Sprinkle pork evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add pork to pan; sauté 10 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove pork from pan. Add onion and garlic to pan, and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cumin and chipotle chiles; sauté for 1 minute. Stir in 1 cup stock and the next 3 ingredients (through espresso); bring to a boil. Return pork to pan; cover. Bake at 300 F for 3 hours or until pork is fork-tender. Remove pork from pan, and let stand 10 minutes. Shred pork. Return pork to sauce.

Meanwhile, prepare crema by combining all crema ingredients; chill.

To prepare tamales, immerse corn husks in water; weight with a plate. Soak 30 minutes; drain.

To prepare masa, combine 2 1/2 cups stock and ancho chiles in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH for 2 minutes or until chiles are tender; cool slightly. Remove stems from chiles. Combine hot stock, chiles, and corn in a blender; process until smooth. Combine masa harina, 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, and baking powder, stirring well with a whisk. Cut in lard with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ancho mixture to masa mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead dough until smooth and pliable. (If dough is crumbly, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until moist.)

Working with one husk at a time (or overlap 2 small husks), place about 3 tablespoons masa mixture in the center of husk, about 1 inch from top of husk; press dough into a 4-inch-long by 3-inch-wide rectangle. Spoon about 1 heaping tablespoon pork mixture down one side of dough. Using the corn husk as your guide, fold husk over tamale, being sure to cover filling with dough. Use husk to seal masa around filling. Tear 3 or 4 corn husks lengthwise into strips; tie ends of tamale with strips.

Steam tamales according to whatever method works best for you. My smoke alarm goes off constantly if I turn the oven on too high, so this method in this recipe doesn’t work well for me. I put them tamales in a bamboo steamer on the stovetop, and steam for about 1 hour. It takes longer, but I don’t have to constantly open windows and wait for the fire truck to show up… [This recipe says: preheat the oven to 450 F, then place tamale, seam side down, on the rack of a broiler pan lined with a damp towel. Repeat procedure with remaining husks, masa mixture, and pork mixture. Cover tamales with a damp towel. Pour 2 cups hot water in the bottom of a broiler pan; top with rack. Steam tamales at 450° for 25 minutes. Remove and rewet top towel, and add 1 cup water to pan. Turn tamales over; top with cloth. Bake for 20 minutes or until set. Let tamales stand 10 minutes.]

Once ready, serve tamales with crema. You can also freeze them after steaming. Reheat by resteaming for a shorter time, or by heating in the microwave.

Chilaquiles.

I am such a sucker for a recipe with multiple iterations. A recipe that sticks around for a week or two, until you’ve finally become ready for a break. It’s probably why I’m such a big fan of the salad dressing/kale salad combo from last week. Probably. That and the fact that the dressing is awesome. Duh.

We had the original version of this recipe what I think was two weeks ago. I’ve had the remainder of the salsa in the fridge since. What can I say, I push the limits of leftovers, but it was totally fresh when I made it. Like farmers’ market fresh. So I’m sure it’s good.

And then I found some corn tortillas in the fridge. So today (well, not today, as in the day you’re reading this, but today as in Sunday afternoon), I made baked a few of them into tortilla chips, I poured some more salsa over them and some cheese I found in the bottom drawer (feta, this time), and I cracked an egg over it all and baked it all together.

Just as good as two weeks ago, that’s for sure.

That said, I’m not sure this kinda dish really warrants an actual recipe, but I’ll give you one, for the sauce if nothing else. I like my salsa (sauce? salsa? sauce? I dunno…) extra-spicy, and this one definitely is. After that, you basically take said sauce/salsa/whatever and dump it over tortilla chips coated in the cheese of your choice, and you finish it off with a fried egg or two.

Easy peasy.

You could make it for 1, for 2, for 4, you get the point. I’m not one to judge (ok, maybe I am, if you deserve it) but it’d be a crying shame if you left out the cilantro and lime to finish it all off.

And if you can handle it, a little extra sauce on top. A margarita by your side to tame it all down? Brilliant.

Chilaquiles with Fried Eggs
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2012; serves 4

time commitment: 45 minutes

this is such a super simple dish that’s jam-packed with flavor. if i were you, i’d make the salsa ahead of time, then you have a really quick weeknight meal in about 10 minutes flat. we had these for dinner two nights in a row, so i made the salsa and grated the cheese on the first night, then had them ready for the second night in no time. you’re welcome. also, we had plenty of salsa left over, so you could do all sorts of things with it, or just have chilaquiles all week long ;).

printable version

ingredients
red chile salsa
7 dried ancho chiles
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained
1 medium white onion, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 jalapeño, with seeds, chopped
1/4 t smoked paprika
2 T vegetable oil
2 t honey or agave nectar
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

everything else
36 large tortilla chips
1 c (4 ounces) crumbled queso fresco or mild feta
1 c (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack
4 large eggs
cilantro, freshly chopped
Lime wedges
1 avocado, sliced

instructions
red chile salsa
Place chiles in a medium bowl; cover with 2 cups boiling water. Let chiles soak until softened, about 15 minutes. Drain, reserving soaking liquid. Place chiles in a blender, discarding stems (you can also discard seeds if you want, but i just tossed the whole thing in). Add tomatoes, next 4 ingredients, and 1 cup reserved soaking liquid; purée until smooth.

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add purée and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes (add more reserved soaking liquid if too thick). Stir in honey and season to taste with salt and pepper. (You can  make this days in advance, if you’d like. Cover and chill until ready to use.)

putting it together
Preheat broiler. Toss chips and 1 cup sauce in a large bowl. Transfer half of chips to a large ovenproof platter or skillet. Scatter half of cheeses over chips. Top with remaining chips and cheeses, along with 1/2 cup more sauce. Broil until cheese is golden and melted, 4–5 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour oil into a nonstick skillet to lightly coat. Heat over medium heat. Add eggs and fry until whites are set but yolks are still runny, about 4 minutes.

Top chilaquiles with cilantro, lime wedges, and avocado. Top with fried eggs and serve with remaining sauce alongside.