Chicken

Homemade Tamales-South Texas Style

I've eaten tamales all my life but hadn't mastered the "art" of tamale making. In Spanish, a tamalera is a an expert and this year I decided if no one else called me a tamalera, I wanted to at least give myself the title. So my mom and I put together a plan to spend a weekend making the best tamales in the neighborhood. We drew on the experiences of friends and relatives and I'm ready to share a great recipe!! This recipe makes 9-10 dozen chicken tamales. If  you choose, you can substitute pork or beef.

Ingredients:

5 lbs masa ( You can purchase this at a grocery store that services Hispanics.)

2 lbs lard ( I've heard you can use shortening instead of lard but we used the real deal.)

2  chickens, uncooked

black pepper

ground cumin

1 full pod garlic

6 oz. chile ancho (These are dried and 6 oz.=about 6-7 pods)

1 pkg corn husks

 

Do Ahead- Step One

Boil and debone chickens ( I encourage you to season your chickens with your favorite seasoning as they boil). Mince finely with a butcher knife or place in a food processor and  add 1 t black pepper, 1 t cumin and 3-5 cloves garlic. (I'm way heavy handed with the garlic.) Set chicken aside. In fact, this step can be done days or a couple of weeks in advance. I got my chicken ready a week before, seasoned it, and then placed it in the freezer until the big day.

Do Ahead -Step Two

This part of the recipe can also be done in advance and then kept in the refrigerator.

First, place chilies in a saucepan and add enough water to cover them. Soak  for 20-30 minutes until they're soft and pliable. Remove chilies from water and reserve the water. Remove stems and seeds by opening them up and rinsing repeatedly to ensure that no seeds remain. Add 2-4 cloves of garlic, salt and 1 tsp of cumin to the water. Place chilies back in the water and cook on medium until they're cooked and completely soft. Cool then  blend to make a thick paste. (This paste is the foundation of my enchilada sauce which I'll be posting in the future. Keep your eyes peeled for it.)

 

The Night Before

You'll need one large package of corn husks and, in order to work with them, they need to be soft and pliable. They need to soak at least two hours, but we placed ours in a large pot, covered with water, and then weighted them down with something heavy overnight.

 

You're Ready to Start

On the day of tamale making, you'll first prep the masa. The ultimate goal is for cooked tamales to roll out of the husk. For this to happen, you need to make sure the masa isn't too dry. Add 1-11/2 lbs of lard to the masa. Knead it well so that the lard is evenly distributed. Then  add about 1 c of the chili paste, 1 heaping T. black pepper,1 heaping T. cumin and salt to taste. Yes, I said taste. When all is mixed well, pinch the masa and give it a little taste.

If you're able to purchase seasoned masa, you can do that and skip making the chili paste altogether.

As you prepare to assemble, a team approach is best, especially if you're a novice. We laid a vinyl tablecloth on the kitchen table then divided up the duties. Some of us spread the masa on the corn husk and others filled them with chicken and rolled them up. If you're a novice spreader, you'll make a mess, like me!

 

The actual spreading of the masa can be tricky.  Rather than write a lengthy description, I'm including a quick video of  the process.Click here for video.

Once you've got them all rolled up, it's time to cook!!

1. Create a bed of corn husks in the bottom of your cooking pot. Cover a metal measuring cup or a small coffee mug with foil and place it in the center to provide stability for stacking.

2. Stack tamales, open side up, somewhat vertically. They should look like a teepee inside the cooking pot. This is the time you add water to the bottom of the pot, about 1/2"-3/4 " deep.

3. Cover with  a foil tent to keep the moisture in.

4. Place a dishtowel over the foil as the final step before cooking. (To be honest, no one we asked could identify the purpose of the dishtowel but everyone said,"That's the way my mother did it!"

How long do they take to cook?

Turn the stove on high until you know the water's boiling. When it boils, turn the temperature to medium and let them steam for 45 min. to 1 hr. This worked well for us when we cooked 3-4 dozen at a time. (We weren't very successful when we cooked about six dozen. They seemed to take forever and the ones on the inside cooked while the ones on the outside didn't.)

After about 45 min., pull one out and give it a taste test. The masa should be firm and cooked thoroughly. Allow them to cool, then wrap in foil by the dozen,  label and freeze for your next family gathering or party.

 

See Our Finished Product

At the end of our weekend, I felt successful because I'd always looked at tamale making as a feat that was beyond my capabilities and I proved myself wrong. However, the best part of  the entire process was the time I spent with my mom. Hours of planning on the phone for three weeks, the entire day of spreading and rolling, and then serving freshly made tamales to family members that evening and waiting for their approval.

Many life lessons can be learned  when the pot is boiling and ideas can be exchanged over a cutting board. A kitchen is an easy place to leave your Fingerprint on someone's life, letting them know their value and what they mean to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking Out Loud.

This morning I sat in church and my pastor said "Husbands, if I asked you what your wife's dreams are, would you know?" Now not being a husband myself, I simply thought, "Hmm, do I know what my own dreams are?" It's quite the loaded question. As women, I think we insist on piling our plates sky high because we can handle it. There is the natural resistance to put a burden on anyone else that we can take on ourselves. Or maybe I'm just speaking for myself. However, in the midst of all of the doing, I find myself thinking out loud. A lot. Thinking out loud began as a non-chalant quirk. I found myself walking through the grocery store, "Milk, check. Bread, check. Oh, go to the bank, and get gas, can't forget those." Yes, I probably sound like a nut half the time, but I find talking to myself, er, thinking out loud, legitmately helps. My head is clear because it's all out in the air. I remind myself of what needs to be done, and on especially crazy days, I remind myself of what I'm doing presently. This all to say that as I run around like a chicken with my head cut off some days, on the leisurely days, I find myself thinking out loud about more whimsical things. I would like to travel more, I want to be a better wife, and even a better shopper. Yes, I want to be responsible when I spend. I don't just want to throw money at organizations that run sweat shops and employ labor overseas because it's more cost effective and less regulated.

Okay, so enough thinking, more doing.

I've found a brand I love. Threads 4 Thought is not only cute and comfy, but environmentally responsible and cognizant of employee's working conditions. They work with charities, such as the International Rescue Commitee, which helps crises in the most dire places in the world. Threads 4 Thought also use organic cotton, and strive to maintain care for the Earth and its materials. This dedication is proven through its continued work with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Not only does the brand donate 10% to humanitarian causes when you shop, it offers classic styles. To see more from the brand, check out their website at http://www.threadsforthought.com/go-shopping.  They can also be found at select Whole Foods locations.

So, next time you find yourself thinking out loud, or just talking to yourself, or just thinking about what your dreams might be, just remember, it's never too much to do a little good for someone. When you're browsing online, browse responsibly! Look for places that care about more than a bottom line. If the environment is your thing, shop organic fabrics. If humanitarian causes mean a lot to you, look for shops that those causes matter to as well. If you know of some shops or boutiques that have found their niche in caring about more than the profit, share them! I would love to hear what causes you care about and how you support them.

Cheddar Chicken

This is a great child friendly recipe that is also sure to impress the adults at the table.  Seriously who doesn't love cheese & crackers?  

Prep Time is about 30 minutes so it's great for busy Moms, cook time is 35 minutes and it serves 3 adults comfortably.  I recommend serving with your favorite vegetables and cous cous.

Ingredients:

1 package of chicken (3 breasts)

2 gallon sized freezer bags

1 1/2 teaspoons Braggs Amino Acids OR 1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 teaspoons Pinot Grigio Vinegar

1 egg

30 Ritz crackers

1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

3 tablespoons butter

 

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Trim your chicken and cuts the breasts in half (not filleted) and put them in a gallon sized freezer bag.

3. Add Braggs, vinegar and egg.  Seal the bag and make sure you've squeezed the air out.

4. Squish the marinade thoroughly in the bag.  Using a kitchen mallet, flatten the breasts so that they are about 3/4 of an inch thick and place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

5. While the chicken marinades, fill the other plastic zippered bag with Ritz crackers.  Use a rolling pin to turn the crackers into crumbs.  Pour onto a plate, add cheese and toss with fork.

6. Dip each chicken breast into the cracker and cheese mixture and place onto a lightly sprayed pan.  The bottom doesn't need to be thickly coated, just the top.  Sprinkle remaining mixture onto the breasts.

7. Sprinkle minced garlic and pour melted butter across the breasts.

8. Bake for 35 minutes.

Serves 3

On a side note, I usually skip the butter and just spray with a little olive oil to make the crust stick but last night I treated the family to a little extra fat and boy did it go over well.  I believe my husbands response was, "Dang Baby, this is awesome!  What did you do different?"  While there are ways to "health" this recipe up, it sure is fun AS IS!

Brown Rice, Mexican Style

Anywhere there's Mexican food, you'll find rice. Enchiladas and rice, tacos and rice, beans and rice. My mother, grandmother and mother-in-law each prepared rice with their own twist and now I've added mine. I hope you'll try this easy, yummy recipe which takes brown rice, full of nutrients, and packs it with flavor that will fill your kitchen with a heavenly aroma.

Mexican Brown Rice

Ingredients

1 c. brown rice

2t. canola oil   

1 T. chicken boullion

2 c. water

½ t. ground cumin

2 cloves minced garlic

1/3 c chopped onion

3/4 c diced or crushed tomatoes

1c chopped vegetables –combination of any of the following: mushrooms, cooked garbanzos, chopped carrots, celery, bell pepper, frozen peas)

Cilantro (optional)

 

Pour brown rice  and canola oil into 2 qt. saucepan, stirring continually until toasty. ( This will make cooking time shorter and rice will have a wonderfully  firm texture.) When rice has browned sufficiently, add water, cumin, tomatoes and garlic. Bring to a boil then lower temperature to a simmer.  Add vegetables and cilantro after rice has been cooking for 20-25 minutes.Cook an additional 15-20 minutes until all liquid has been absorbed and rice is al dente.

Makes 4 c or 8-1/2 c. servings

Tomatillo: Do It Your Way

Tomatillo is commonly known as a green tomato ( in spanish, tomate verde). It is small and covered by an inedible  paper- textured husk and it's flavor is wonderfully tart. My non-Hispanic friends, like Jennifer and Sheri frequently order Enchiladas Verdes ( enchiladas with a green sauce)  when we eat dine at Mexican restaurants so I thought I would just figure out how to make them myself. I've created a recipe for tomatillo salsa which can be eaten with chips or used as the base for the salsa verde in my rendition of  enchiladas verdes.

Don't blink your eyes or you'll miss the  one and only direction for ...

Simply, Tomatillo Salsa

Ingredients

18-20 roasted tomatillos

2 roasted Serrano peppers (seeded)

2 cloves garlic

½ t. sugar

1 t salt

½ c cilantro

2T scallions

Put all ingredients in the food processor and puree. The tomatillo has a muted color and the specks of cilantro are bright. This salsa is great looking because of the contrast.

* You can prepare the sauce on the weekend and keep refrigerated until you're ready to make the enchiladas.

Serve it with chips and watch it disappear or keep on going and treat your family to:

Enchiladas Verdes Esquisitos

(Exquisite Green Enchiladas)

Ingredients

1 doz. corn tortillas

21/2 c  cubed cooked chicken

1/2 c white wine or water

8 oz sour cream

1 T cornstarch

salt

2 c  grated white cheese of your choice (Mozarella, Monterrey Jack, pre-packaged Pizza or Italian Blend)

Reserve 1/2 c cheese

 

Heat tortillas on a hot griddle to make them soft and pliable. Fill each tortilla with 2 T chicken and 1 heaping T of cheese. Roll and line them up in a  9x13 baking dish. Cover and place in oven @ 325 while you prepare the sauce.

                                  

Sauce

Heat tomatillo sauce and add ½ c. white wine or water. When sauce is heated through, add  1 t salt. Place ¼ c  sauce into a small bowl and add 1 T cornstarch. Mix through.  Return to stove and add to saucepan  allowing  sauce to thicken and bubble. Add 8 oz. sour cream and stir until sauce is creamy. Remove from heat when it begins to bubble. Pull enchiladas out of the oven and pour sauce over them. Sprinkle remaining ½ c of cheese and serve immediately.

My family thinks these are dreamy!!

Plate Design

What to eat?  With so many responsibilities and a “To Do” list that keeps getting longer, it can be frustrating trying to plan a healthy meal. The thought of having to add one more thing to our list is overwhelming.  The week before returning to work from maternity leave with my second child, I vividly remember having the realization of all the new responsibilities and tasks that were about to be added to my plate.  My daughter was also entering a new phase starting kindergarten, which meant we all would have to get up and out the door much earlier than the year before. Working, packing school lunches, keeping up with school work, supplies and all of those extra curricular activities like soccer and karate, along with the schedule of a new baby began to feel over whelming.

 I had desires to keep myself and my family fit and healthy and knew there would have to be a few changes. Something would have to come off of my plate if I wanted to stay healthy physically and mentally.

 At the end of the day, my priority has always been to have quality family time and provide a healthy meal.  However, I knew, at this stage of my life, an elaborate meal that took too much time in the kitchen would not happen, at least Monday –Friday. Every busy woman has different ideas, responsibilities or tasks that may need to be removed when something new is added. For me, it was the idea that a healthy meal required a lot of labor and time each night to eat healthy.

 To make things simple, when things can get hectic in the fall of the year, there a few tricks of the trade to design a quick healthy meal. 

 1. Plate Design

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, fifty percent of your plate should consist of fruits and vegetables, twenty-five percent proteins and twenty five percent healthy grains. Quit worrying about what you can’t eat and focus on what to add to your meal. By planning to fill half our plate with fruits and vegetables, the process and preparation can be cut in half (and healthier too).

 2. Look at your schedule

Planning is the key to eating healthy with a busy schedule, however, make sure the plan is according to your personal schedule. Before picking elaborate recipes, are you aware of what your time constraints are for the week?  Nothing is more frustrating than to realize, at the last minute, we do not have the time we had hoped to spend preparing a nice meal. Are there certain days that make more sense to cook in the crock pot? Could you double a recipe one night to have leftovers on a night you can not cook?

 3. Keep it Easy

Because our schedule can be so hectic in the evening, I chose only one item that may take a little extra work.  For example, if making a chicken dish that takes extra ingredients and time, my salad or vegetables will be steamed or simply baked.  If my sides need a little extra time, chicken or fish will be marinated to quickly throw on the grill.

 To stay consistent with healthy eating and exercise, your personal lifestyle, likes and dislikes have to be a part of your design. We each have a unique style and have to find what works for us.

I love to cook and spend time in the kitchen, but at this season of my life, my time is limited so I have to figure out what healthy design works for me right now. 

 “What’s working for you in your design”?      

 

Basil-Cilantro Pesto

It's quick! It's easy! It's healthy and more than anything, it's DELICIOUS! Pesto is a sauce that can be added to pasta, used as a topping on pizza  and today it's featured in Pesto Chicken Salad. Traditional pesto ingredients include basil, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. We're shaking it up a little and melding the sweet taste of basil with the fragrant mix of  parsley and citrus found in cilantro.

 

 

Ingredients:

1 c. fresh basil

1 c. cilantro (no stems)

1/3 c. walnuts

1 large clove garlic

1/3 c. Romano or Parmesan cheese (Romano is a little stronger)

1/4-1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil

pinch of kosher salt

 

 

First of all, run the walnuts through your processor.

 

 

Next, add the basil, cilantro, minced garlic, cheese, salt, and drizzle a little oil in the processor. Pulse and add oil. Repeat until it takes the form of a thick paste.

 

 

Chop 2 c. of chicken (what you see above is the last of a rotisserie chicken) and add some chopped black olives and the pesto. Because I like texture, I added some minced celery as an afterthought. Blanched almonds would also work. They would add texture, taste and visually change the look of the salad.

 

 

 

This Chicken Pesto Salad is whipped up in about 15 min. and served on a toasted baguette or crackers.

 

 

Tick, Tick, Tick...

In the spirit of transparency let me begin by saying this blog is late. Yes, for those of you who follow the calendar, this blog was supposed to be published yesterday. And while I had weeks to think about what to write, to sit and stare at my blank screen, waiting for the words to come, it has taken this long for me to actually do it. Saturday night I stood at the computer at work brainstorming, wondering what wonderful ideas I could share with my Created Woman network. Hours passed and still my brain was blank. So now, one day late, here I am. I am here without words of wisdom or crafty ideas, rather a few ideas for how to avoid being where I am.School started for me last week and with work and wedding planning I haven't been as inundated with work as I have been lazy. It's like the overwhelmed feeling has been overtaken by just apathy. So I suggest that before it gets to this point for you, take a breath. Step outside of your busy bee realm and remember what you're doing. Lately I have just been running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Jumping from idea to idea and e-mail to e-mail but I haven't successfully finished a single project. As contradictory as this may sound I have found making lists to be the most helpful tool to avoid scrambling--as I have this past week. Now I've made a list for the catering, a list for the music, a list of bakeries for the cake, and so on. By the way if anyone has any delicious recommendations for wedding cakes I would love to hear them. Anyway, I am at a point in the planning process where I don't have any fresh ideas, it is coming down to the numbers. I am counting responses as they come in, planning on how many mouths to feed, how many welcome bags to prepare, how many sparklers to buy, and so on. For those of you in this stage I totally recommend using the guest list on theknot.com. You can divide guests into two sections which is perfect if you're expecting a substantial amount of out-of-towners. I had a passing idea to write about things I love this week but perhaps I can catch up to myself in time to write about that next week. Until then, hang in there, keep keeping on, and please share any good wedding ideas you have with me! I'm running low!

Sweet Potato Quesadillas

Sweet potatoes can be found year round, but November and December is peak season for them. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) ranked the sweet potato number one in nutrition of all vegetables. This quick and easy recipe is yummy and packed with Vitamins A & C, beta carotene and fiber. To top it all off, one medium sweet potato only has about 130-160 calories! Ingredients

4 servings

2c. baked sweet potatoes, mashed ( about 2 small potatoes)

2 T. canola oil

1/2 c. chopped red bell pepper

1/3 c. chopped cilantro

3T. canned enchilada sauce ( any brand will do)

fresh shredded Parmesan cheese

8 flour tortillas

Heat oil in medium size pan. Saute red pepper 3-5 min. until tender. Add cilantro and enchilada sauce and heat through.  Add sweet potato and maintain on low-medium heat until mixture is heated. Spread mixture onto a tortilla, then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese to taste. Place another tortilla on top and heat on a griddle until toasted.

Use a pizza cutter and cut them in halves, fourths or in eighths to be used as an appetizer.

The great thing about these quesadillas is that they can be served immediately, sit out for a while and eaten at room temp or as a midnight snack right out of the frig!!

I served them as a late night snack to overnight guests. Everyone loved them and my nephew said,"Tia, as a meat lover, have you ever thought of throwing in a little chicken?"

Sooooooo, next week I'm going throw a little smoked chicken (that means rotisserie chicken from the grocery store) in the mix and see what happens.

Chicken Tacos

Coming from El Paso, Texas, I have a special love for Mexican food.  Known for it's varied dishes, spices and flavors, Mexican cuisine is without a doubt my favorite. Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 onions minced
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced into 1/2-inch chunks
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 Serrano pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Tex-Joy* seasoning - to taste
  • ¼ cup tomato sauce
  • ½ cup water

* Tex-Joy is one of my favorite seasonings and can be used in a myriad ways.  I cook with the salt-free variety which allows my family and guests to add salt at the table, if they prefer.

Method:

  • Heat a medium to large saute pan over medium heat and pour in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
  • Add the garlic and onions and cook until soft and nicely caramelized, about 10 to 12 minutes.
  • In the meantime, season the chicken with Tex-Joy and pepper.
  • Sprinkle the flour over the chicken and toss to coat.
  • Heat another medium to large saute pan over medium-high heat and add 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
  • Cook the chicken until it is lightly browned, about 6 to 8 minutes.
  • Once the onion mixture is caramelized and softened, add the serranos, paprika and Tex-Joy.
  • When the chicken is done, transfer it to the pan with the onions. Pour in water and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce cooks down and  is thick and delicious, approximately 20 minutes.
  • Adjust seasoning with Tex-Joy and pepper.
  • To serve the tacos: Place the toppings and chicken filling in bowls and allow guests to build their own tacos.

Toppings:

  • Chopped romaine lettuce
  • Diced red or yellow onions
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Grated cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Salsa
  • Avocado slices or Guacamole
  • 1 to 2 packages corn or flour tortillas

Serve chicken tacos with a salad or go all out by adding rice and beans and your family/friends will sing your praises for days!

It's muy sabroso . . . enjoy!