The True Tortilla

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With the completion of a circumnavigation of the rectangular Province of Saskatchewan by foot, he had reached the bottom of his Bucket of Lists and thought, Oh, my goodness.  I have no more reasons to live.  But then, he noticed a thin slip of damp paper stuck to the side about half way up.  Using the tip of a cracked fingernail, he peeled the paper off the side of the bucket and read a note he’d made so many years before– a time when his commitment to Southwestern cuisine was at the forefront of his compulsiveness.  “Make Homemade Tortillas,” read the simple ambition. 

Why this?  He figured that store bought tortillas– resembling cardboard cutout Frisbees– couldn’t really be what tortillas were all about.  No.  There had to be more to them than serving the role as a neutral non-entity platform for fillings. 

Now with a reason to live, he forged ahead to perform a task which gave a whole new complex level of meaning to a life desperate for accomplishments.

Homemade Tortillas

(Adapted from allrecipes.com)

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons lard or shortening or even margarine

1 1/2 cups water

Combine the salt and the flour with the baking powder in a bowl.  Mix the lard or shortening or even margarine into the bowl and work it with your fingers until you get an even consistency similar to cornmeal.  Combine with the water and create a dough.  Knead the dough for 10 minutes, adding water if too dry or more flour if too sticky.

Under the cover of a dishcloth, let it sit for 10 minutes.  Divide into equally sized balls.  I made six with this recipe and rolled them out to be as large as possible.  You could make them half the size if that’s your preference.

Fry in a pan with oil until they bubble on the surface then flip.  Keep them warm in the oven while you cook the others.  With the amazing flavour of these tortillas, you can go fully minimalist on the fillings and still have a satisfying gastronomic experience. 

When you’re done, you can make a great big checkmark next to “Make Homemade Tortillas,” on your Bucket List and be assured that your life has a much greater depth of meaning.

Mona Lisa Revisionist

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So, you’ve got a copy of the Mona Lisa hanging in your living room.  Don’t ask why.  You just do.  Then, after living with the picture for a few weeks, you finally start to let go of the notion that the painting if perfect in everyone’s eyes.  In other words, you begin to think about ways of improving the Mona Lisa.  She needs more bling you decide.  You begin by painting in a few decorative rings on the fingers.  Then a necklace.  Lipstick and eye shadow.  Is this sacrilege?  Is this totally wrong?  After all, you’re the one who has to live with the painting.

When I made a recipe from Yotem Ottolenghi’s cookbook Jerusalem.  I had received a jar of za’atar and was itching to use it. The recipe I chose was “Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onion with Tahini and Za’atar.”  I made it, and it was great.  But then, I began to think . . .

Is it sacrilege to change a recipe developed by Yotem Ottolenghi?  Probably.  I would defer to him on any food matters.  Except, I’ve got this thing about wanting to feel free to change recipes– to tinker with them, so that they fit my own tastes, inadequacies, or limited supply of exotic ingredients.  So, after making “Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onion with Tahini and Za’atar,” I’ll have to rename it the next time I make it. 

Next time, I will ditch the onions.  (This was a group decision by those of us eating it, although I think there may have been an unfair anti-onion /pro-squash bias, meaning that the onions didn’t stand a chance.)  I’ll also replace the pine nuts with walnuts just because I don’t want to have to remortgage the house every time I make it.  I’ll make a few other changes, too, but I don’t feel like letting them get out on the internet because, to many people, they would be cringeworthy in a culinary sense.

And so, the next time I make this wonderful dish, I’ll do it differently.  Yes, I realize it’s like altering Munsch’s “The Scream” to become, “The Yodel,” or Monet’s “Waterlilies” to become, “Waterlilies with Man Doing Backstroke.”  But ultimately, it comes down to the fact that I’m the one eating, “Roasted Butternut Squash & No Red Onion with Tahini If You Have Any and Za’atar on a Tight Budget.” 

Eating Profanity

dsc_0024Better Than Washing Your Mouth Out With Soap

So, what happens when someone dumps ten pounds of plums on your doorstep?  You say, “Oh, chutney!  What the heck am I going to do with these?”

That basket full of pears is starting to turn brown. “Oh, chutney!  All these pears going brown so fast?”

The same could be said of any sudden, unexpected and superfluous arrival of unwelcome fruits which guilt compels you not to throw away.  “Chutney!”

Chutney is a profanity, and a solution.  You can’t go wrong with a 1:1 ratio of fruit to sugar. Throw in a few spices to clove things up.  Get random and chuck in a few raisins and maybe some mustard seed.  Vinegar does everything: window cleaner, weed killer, so why not pour in a couple of cups along with a dash or three of salt.  And, of course, you can give it some jump with a dusting of cayenne pepper.  Boil it up, seal it in jars, and give it away for Christmas presents. 

In the aftermath of your initial angst of dealing with volumes of unwanted produce, you’re left with the fire cracker of condiments.  It makes everything taste better– even those shoe-leather tough pork chops or those bargain sausages bulked up with sawdust.

Marilyn’s Pear Chutney

(Who is Marilyn?  Oh, chutney!  I’m not positive, but I have a pretty good idea.)

3 pounds of fresh pears (about 7 cups unpeeled and chopped)
1 pound of brown sugar.  (Okay, so I exaggerated.  It’s only 3:1)
2 cups cider vinegar  (and, no, there is no scientific proof that this stuff helps you lose weight.)
1 medium onion, chopped.
1 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup diced preserved ginger
1 clove of garlic
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
2 teaspoons mustard seed

Combine the brown sugar and vinegar in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.  Add the pears and everything else (omitting the kitchen sink).  Cook slowly, stirring from time to time, until the mixture is thick.  How thick?  Imagine it pooling on a pork chop.  It’ll take about an hour to thicken.  Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal.  It makes about 5 half pint jars.  The chutney may also be kept in the fridge for 3 to 4 weeks.

Pizza to Die From

I’d never eaten cardboard before. It wasn’t an ambition of mine.  It never really entered my mind to do such a thing.  But then came that summer evening when we ordered a thin crust pizza from Dominos.

As my teeth tore at the stubborn crust covered in what theoretically was at one time cheese and tomatoes, a horrible thought crossed my mind.  Had the bottom of the box inadvertently stuck to my slice of pizza?  In spite of my complete lack of experience in eating cardboard, my active imagination was able to project that what I was attempting to chew and swallow, was quite likely cardboard– toughness dissolving into a pulpy mush.

The outcome was a ‘good news/ bad news’ scenario.  The good news was that it wasn’t actually cardboard.  The bad news was that it was supposed to be pizza crust.

Inspired by this corrugated catastrophe, I decided to seek out a recipe for pizza dough made from scratch.  I even checked Youtube to learn how to throw the dough, using centrifugal force and a clenched fist to form the dough.  My advise to anyone wishing to learn this is, “Make sure your kitchen floor is swept and washed with disinfectant.”  Your dough will spend about half of its time hitting all corners of the kitchen floor.  Instead, I now use a rolling pin.  Learning to toss pizza dough may have to wait for my next life, provided I’m not reincarnated as a Dominos delivery boy.

Basic Pizza Dough

(Shamelessly borrowed from Mark Bittman’s The Minimalist Cooks Dinner)

3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon course kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

The By-hand Method:

1.  Combine flour, yeast and salt in large mixing bowl.

2.  Add 1 cup of cold water and olive oil.  Kneed into smooth ball that is slightly sticky to touch.  If dry, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water.  If sticky, add tablespoon of flour at a time. (I nearly always add water one teaspoon at a time.)

3.  Put dough in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise ideally 1 to 2 hours.  (Or, do what I do.  Let it rise about 10 minutes simply because you didn’t think ahead and you’re really hungry.)

4.  Press the dough into an oiled or non-stick baking sheet.  You can roll it out with a rolling pin and your hands.  You can also put it on parchment paper on a stone slab.  Whatever works for you.

With whatever toppings you choose, bake in a 500 F. oven for 6 to 12 minutes.  If your pizza crust tastes like cardboard using this recipe, you’ve done something seriously wrong.  It’s time to re-examine your life.

You’re Never Too Old to Do Goofy Stuff

Ward

There was more to Ward Cleaver than meets the eye.  Way more.

Even though he was the ultra-typical 1950’s American dad in the hit comedy television series “Leave it to Beaver,” he had a dark side.  The clue can be found in his last name.  In the show he was never seen to cook (except for that episode with the barbecue), behind the scenes, Ward Cleaver was very different. 

When not primped up for the television show looking like he does in the photo above, the real Ward Cleaver looked more like this:

Barbarian

Yes, Ward was a member of the barbaric Clan Cleaver known for their unrepentantly savage approach to culinary barbarism.  The meals Ward created were unrefined.  He cut with an axe, stirred with a severed pine bough and cooked over open flames that occasionally licked the ceiling.  Recipes never turned out the same way twice.  Sauces were sleazy, curries were courageous, and he always simmered on high.  He would intrude up the dreams of foodies, turning them into nightmares.  Although Ward Cleaver’s meals were wildly unorthodox, his family didn’t mind.  His wife, June, was just happy she didn’t have to cook.  And if Wally or the Beaver complained, Ward would simply raise a cleaver to signal his intolerance to criticism.

Why Ward’s escapades in the kitchen never came to light in the television show can be answered with one simple explanation– he was a man way ahead of his time.  Were he alive today, Ward Cleaver would have his own cooking show on the Food Network.  He would be performing live cooking demonstrations at county fairs right next to the guy selling car wax.  But, alas, Ward Cleaver is no longer with us.  Instead, we can attempt to follow his fine example, and live with the same spirit– the spirit of the barbarian in the kitchen.