Saturday, October 29, 2011

Austin, Homemade Tamales and a Refreshing Tequila Cocktail

Last week Mr. H and I celebrated a monumental anniversary. We have now been together almost half of our lives. I must admit that when we got married we rationalized the whole thing by telling ourselves that if this marriage thing didn’t work out, we could always get divorced. I know that sounds harsh but for two confirmed singles as my husband I, we couldn’t make any kind of committment without seeing a back exit somewhere. I actually think that this rationalization has been the secret to our success all these years. We both know that if we aren’t thoughtful and loving to each other, the whole thing could be easily called off and that would be a tragedy of epic proportions.

Leading up to our big anniversary we both started throwing out ideas about how and where we could celebrate. We talked about replaying our honeymoon but we heard that Acapulco is now occupied by drug lords and thugs so that was out. Since we are still actively parenting, the idea of leaving our 16 year old son home alone wasn’t even a consideration (we’d rather take our chances with the drug lords and thugs). Then we thought about just having a nice dinner out and calling that good enough. Well, it wasn’t good enough, so we compromised and decided on a romantic trip for three to Austin.

Austin holds a special place in all of our hearts.  Not only was our son born there, when my husband and I first met this is where we escaped when we needed to get away from the small town we were living in at the time and have a little fun. Austin has a fun, funky, off beat feel to it as evidenced by their unofficial motto “Keep Austin Weird”. I mean seriously, what is not to love about that?

On this particular trip we had plans to turn our son over to our beautiful and hip niece, her handsome boyfriend, and our super cool, suave and good looking nephew on a fun night out and enjoy an elegant highbrow supper somewhere in this gorgeous foodie city by ourselves.

Well long story short, we landed up hanging out with them drinking Shiner Bock and eating nachos for so long that the old folks couldn’t even consider putting on a tie and high heels to go and eat a steak. Instead we tagged along with them in search of a good bowl of queso and a taco for our son.  An hour or so later, as we sat outside on a picnic table under a beautiful starry Texas sky lit by the neon light of the Torchy’s Tacos sign, we both realized how lucky we were to be right there eating tacos with such a wonderful group of young people who really wanted to be with us. Now that is something to celebrate.

After only two nights and three action packed days, we sadly boarded our plane and headed back home to Denver leaving behind cold Texas beer, great Tex-Mex food, unbelievable barbeque and loved ones that we miss every day. So thanks Austin for helping us celebrate our anniversary.  There is just no place I would have rather been.

Usually after we return home from a really fun trip I try to keep the memories alive by preparing foods that we discovered while we were gone. When we got home this time I decided to work on a recipe that I have been threatening to prepare for a longe time now, homemade tamales. Over the years I have heard horror stories about groups of women working on tamales around the clock before finishing. I never could understand what took so long but I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to find out. Well, I finally bought all the ingredients and jumped in. It did take me six hours from start to finish but I got four dozen of the best tamales that I have ever eaten and they were a lot cheaper than the $18.00 a dozen ones that they sell at our local farmers’ market.

 Shredded Pork Tamales

I admit that this is a bit involved but it is really easy once you get the hang of it.  I've tried to explain it as best I can but if you get confused for any reason, please just e-mail me.  I am happy to answer any questions if I can.

The most time consuming step in the whole process is spreading the masa mixture on the corn shuck. There is a learning curve here, but once you get the hang of it it starts to go a bit faster. I made one dozen green chili and cheese as an experiment and three dozen shredded pork. I really can’t tell you which one was better, they were both great. Next time I think I’m going to try some chicken and green chili. As you can tell, the filling possibilities are limited only by your own imagination so use this as your basic recipe and get creative with your favorite ingredients.

3 – 3 -1/2 pound pork roast

1 bay leaf

2 cups water

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons mild chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 small bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped

48 – 50 corn shucks

3/4 cup lard or vegetable shortening

6 cups masa harina

1 - 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

4 – 6 cups chicken broth

Place pork roast, bay leaf, water, onion, garlic, salt and pepper in a covered slow cooker; set on low and allow to cook for approximately 6 – 8 hours or until it is fall apart tender.  I did this the night before just before I went to bed and it was ready and waiting for me the next morning.  Alternatively, place the ingredients in a covered baking dish in a moderate oven or in a covered pan over a low heat on top of the stove and cook for approximately 2 – 2-1/2 hours or until it is tender.

Remove the meat from the cooker (reserving juices) and cool completely before shredding with two forks. Sprinkle meat with the chili powder, cumin and the chopped cilantro; toss to mix well. Add additional salt and pepper if desired. Set aside.

Place the corn shucks in a large bowl filled with warm water and soak until ready to use (at least 30 minutes).

In a very large bowl, whip the lard or shortening on medium for 1 minute until it is fluffy; set aside.

Mix together the masa harina and baking powder in a separate large bowl.

Strain the meat drippings into a large pitcher. Add enough of the chicken broth to measure 6 cups.

Add the masa mixture and broth to the lard in alternating batches until all the ingredients are completely combined. This will make a thick(ish) but smooth mixture. Add salt to taste.

To assemble the tamales, remove a corn shuck from the water and shake to dry. Each shuck should be approximately 8” long by 6” wide. If the shucks are too wide, tear off excess. If they are too small overlap a couple of them. Spread approximately 2 tablespoons of masa in the middle of the shuck (on the smooth side of the shuck) and spread evenly from the middle to measure about 4” wide by about 6" long. Spread masa to the edge at the top (wider part of the shuck) Spread approximately 1 tablespoon of the meat mixture down the middle of the masa in a strip lengthwise. Fold over to encase the meat, pinching the masa together gently at the bottom, then roll to close. Fold excess shuck from the bottom up towards the tamale. Repeat with the remaining masa and meat.

I find it easy to stack the tamales in bunches of 12 and tie them snugly at the top and the bottom with pieces of cotton string. I think this stabilizes them and keeps them standing during steaming.

Place a steamer basket in the bottom of a large Dutch oven. Pour enough water in the Dutch oven to come within about 1/2 - 1” of touching the steamer bottom.

Stand tamales upright on the steamer basket with the folded edges toward the bottom (do not pack too tightly). Place the pot over medium heat, bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a nice vigorous simmer; cover and steam tamales for approximately 45 - 60  minutes, checking steamer water occasionally and adding more if needed.  The fun part is checking the tamales for doneness.  I like to take one from the middle and if the masa is firm and easily pulls away from the shuck, the are done. Now, eat that one and remove the pot from the heat and carefully remove tamales.

Eat tamales immediately or place in freezer bags and freeze for later. Reheat tamales in the shucks.

My friend and tamale expert Andrea says to freeze uncooked tamales and steam them as you need them.  She says they are delicious.  I will try that next time.

Makes approximately 48 tamales.

Since this is a story of celebration, I thought I’d also add a cocktail based on one that I discovered in one of those on board airplane magazines. Developed by Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top fame and Pura Vida Gold tequila distiller Stewart Skloss, “The Gibbons” sounded intriguing to me so I thought I’d give it a try. Their original recipe is a blend of Mexican sparkling mineral water, reposado tequila (“rested” tequila which is stored in oak barrels for 2 + months and has a smoother flavor than younger tequilas), fresh lemon and lime juices and jalapeno slices.

Personally, I prefer a slightly sweeter cocktail so my version which I'm calling "The Savoury Gibbons" contains some added simple syrup and just a touch of muddled fresh cilantro to add some herbal notes. This drink turned out to be a wonderfully refreshing accompaniment to a big plate of my fresh tamales.

The Savoury Gibbons

1 small bunch fresh cilantro

1 – 1/2 ounces simple syrup (recipe follows)

1 – 1/2 ounces tequila (your favorite of course)

Juice of 1/2 of a freshly squeezed lemon

Juice of 1/2 of a freshly squeezed lime

1 – 2 slices of jalapeno or Serrano pepper


Splash of sparkling water

Place cilantro in the bottom of a highball glass. Muddle the cilantro until the aroma is released. Pour in the simple syrup, tequila, lemon and lime juice and pepper slices; stir well. Add the ice and a splash of sparkling water.  Serve.

Makes 1 drink

Simple Syrup:

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup water

Place sugar and water in a small sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently until all of the sugar is dissolved. Cool. Store unused portion in the refrigerator.

Looking for other great cocktails?  Join Barb @Creative Culinary for her happy hour Friday cocktails.  There's always something great in her blender!


Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

Now I am SO craving a good tamale but not in the mood to hightale it across town in search of one. Really craving one!

I've never been to Austin but I trust you...guess it has to be added to my bucket list huh?

Don't forget to add your cocktail to my Happy Hour Friday...every Friday a new cocktail or appetizer and the ability to link one of those you've made...would love to have this in my 'library.'

Kristina @ spabettie said...

I love Torchy's Tacos! We feel the same way about Austin as you - we have many friends there and like to visit for fun and... to blow off steam!

Living in Portland, Austin feels very much the same, and we love it there.

Nothing beats a homemade tamale - yours look great!

Kirsten@My German the Rockies said...

Congratulations again Karen. What a wonderful time you must have had to celebrate your anniversary, with the young ones. I love that.
Homemade tamales are the best. Are there any left??

Lea Ann said...

You did NOT just make homemade tamales?!?! I've been wanting to do that for years and like you have heard stories of it being a two day event. I can easily handle 6 hours. Can we please please please get together and do that sometime?

Happy Anniversary! Love that neon Torchy Taco Sign. Love it.

Karen Harris said...

Let's plan a day Lea Ann and you too can get your tamale on. It would be much more fun making them with a friend.

DaniD said...

What a great recap of your anniversary :) I am a lot like you and your husband commitment-wise. Maybe that will change with age...

Those tamales look INCREDIBLE. I would love to try them. But even if I don't attempt them anytime soon, those tequila cocktails will definitely be a favorite :)

Boulder Locavore said...

Congratulations Karen and what a fun way to celebrate! I have not been to Austin but have wanted to goimagining it to be a kindred spirit to Boulder, Portland,etc. I know I'd love the food, both Mexican and BBQ as I've had in other Texas towns.

I have always wanted to make tamales but have not ever gotten there. Bought corn husks when in Santa Fe but now in reading this I'll really need to make it happen. Hope the magic of the celebration and vacation has not quite worn off for you!

Vickie said...

I'm so excited for your triumph over tamale-making. Being a Texas gal, I miss them terribly. Every office I worked in included a "tamale woman" that would bring a paper grocery bag of warm tamales on Friday afternoons and sell them cheaper than I could make them. I'm so doing this for New Year's this year. (a Texas tradition).

As for your date . . .
I think eating nachos and a cold Shiner Bock in Austin sounds like a perfectly wonderful date! To spend it with teenagers that love your company makes it that much better. Austin and San Antonio have always been in the top five places I'd love to live.

Lastly, that cocktail sounds fabulous! Muddled cilantro is such a great idea - I will also give this a try when I make the tamales. Happy Anniversary!

Angela said...

I have made tamales a few times and I agree there is a learning curve, and it gets faster. I now tend to buy them from Las Americas (a tortilleria in Longmont), where they are cheap and ah-may-zing! Sounds like it was a great anniversary--who needs a fancy dinner?

Andrea @ said...

Felicidades on your anniversary! Austin was home for me for several years and I miss it. More than the tamales, I miss the breakfast tacos and Town Lake. The tamales look great.

My dad makes the masa from his own ground corn - called nixtamal. It makes a huge difference, but makes the tamalada a longer process.

Yvette - Muy Bueno said...

YAY for you making tamales. They are quite the challenging project and are definitely more fun with a group of gals. We should plan a tamalada some time!
Happy belated anniversary!