This weekend I got out a nice-sized hunk of marinated skirt steak, heated up the grill, and sliced up some fajita veggies before I realized we were out of tortillas.
Not to be deterred, I figured I’d just make some. I’d done it before, with ok results, and I knew I could do better. I also happened to be alone in the house and it helped my resolve knowing that I could at least have an hour or so to experiment in peace. The experiment, I’m very happy to say, was a resounding success.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried, but it’s hard to make great tortillas using 100% whole wheat flour. The flour tends to make the tortillas dense and stiff, lacking that nice pliability you want in a tortilla. To help remedy this, I used whole wheat pastry flour, which tends to give baked goods a lighter texture. Also, I decided to just go whole hog (ha) and use lard as my fat.
People tend to get grossed out by the idea of lard, but it’s actually healthier than butter and has a cleaner taste. There’s nothing like it for adding tenderness to pastries and similar baked items. Also, if you render your own, you don’t end up with any trans fats AND you get cracklins as a by-product. As by-products go, you can do far worse.
Anyway, I happened to have rendered some a while back and recently defrosted a jar, which was sitting in my fridge waiting for such an occasion. The resulting tortillas were exactly what I was hoping for: sturdy but soft and pliable, full of whole-grain goodness and able to hold a whole mess of fajita beef, veggies, and fixins. Nom nom nom indeed.
- 2.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
- 1/2 cup lard
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup water
Combine flour, lard, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Mix with a whisk until the lard is blended in and the dough has the consistency of small pebbles. With the mixer going, slowly add in the water and beat until everything is well-combined and you have a ball of dough.
Divide the dough into 12 balls. If the dough is sticky, refrigerate the balls for an hour or so to let them firm up. Don’t try to roll out the sticky dough – you’ll just get mad and end up yelling at it. Ask me how I know.
Heat a dry skillet over medium-high heat. On a heavily floured surface, roll out each ball into a thin circle, about 7-8 inches across. You want the tortillas about as thin as you can get them and still pull them up from the surface in one piece.
Place one tortilla at a time in the hot skillet. Let it bubble up (45 seconds – 1 minute), then flip over for another 30 seconds or so, till the surface is blistered. Repeat with each rolled-out tortilla. Store extras in the fridge.
I’ve missed blogging. Between the holidays, my job, and having two kids, I had to put Steph Cooks on the back burner for a while. We’ve been busy over here! I’ve been doing tons of bread baking (I hope to be able to write more about that soon), made it through Christmas, (when I took the longest vacation I’ve taken in several years), Henry’s first birthday, and now, today, his first haircut.
We’ve been looking at this for a few weeks now.
It was time for a trim. We headed over to the kids haircut place near us. We haven’t taken Ryan there in several years (he gets his hair cut by Mason’s barber), but I do like it for really young kids – they cut quickly and know how to keep them distracted long enough to get the job done.
We set Henry up in a truck-shaped chair.
He wasn’t a huge fan of the process, but bubbles helped.
After about 10 minutes, we had a little man!
He was obviously not as excited about this as I was.
And yes, I saved a few locks of his hair for his baby book because I have become that person. We are moving quickly toward toddlerhood – I’m waiting until he walks before I declare babyhood gone forever.
I may not be the most active member of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance, but I try not be a complete dud. I participated in this year’s food swap with the Boston food blogger association, where we swap local goodies with each other to show off local fare. Who doesn’t love getting packages in the mail?
At the risk of getting sappy, I want to mention another reason I’m glad I participated in this. The one time I visited Boston I had a fantastic time, but a few days after I got home, this happened. So, while I enjoyed my trip, I will probably always associate Boston with a little sadness. While nothing’s going to change that, it was nice to get some new, good things to associate with the city.
Anyway, enough Debbie Downer stuff. I had a ton of fun putting together my package for my swap buddy, Aileen of 300 Threads. We had a $30 limit and I worked it right up to the last dollar. We shipped out our packages Monday, and mine arrived Wednesday. It took all of my restraint not to just house all the goodies at once, but I made Mason and Ryan back off long enough so I could take some pictures. They were none too pleased.
I realized through the process of trying to take photos for this post that I absolutely suck at product shots. I mean, check out the top photo (which I did Instagram, but still). Holy blurry, Batman. Then I thought I could camouflage some of the suckage by making little collages in Photoshop Elements. This one isn’t too bad:
But then there’s this one.
Me and PSE were fighting. Fighting. And it won. So, I’ll spare you my lacking photography/editing skills and just tell you about my New England goodies. They were all simply delicious.
First, we have Fat Toad Farm goat’s milk caramel. Oh my. This should be drizzled over ice cream or pound cake or banana bread, but as I had none of those things, I may or may not have just dipped a saltine in the jar and went to town. Heaven in a jar, I tell you. It’s rich and perfectly creamy. If I’m ever in Vermont I’m hitting up this place.
Then, there’s red pepper jelly from Bonnie’s Jams in Cambridge. I love a good spicy-sweet treat, and this jelly was just what I was hoping it would be – just the perfect blend of sweet and spicy flavors. It would be best with a good stinky cheese, but I already had those saltines out, so….yeah. I think I have some shopping to do tomorrow.
Aileen also sent over these amazing salted rosemary shortbread cookies from Lark Fine Foods. Wow. A completely unusual treat – just salty enough, just sweet enough, with just the right amount of herbal flavor from the rosemary. They’re so buttery that they crumble when you pick them up, which is a plus in my book. I got these on Wednesday and the bag is just about gone. I think these are my favorite of all the things she sent.
Finally, I got Flaming Cashews from Q’s Nuts. Being a native Texan, I appreciate a spicy treat and these did not disappoint. Between Mason and I, there are about five nuts left in that bag. Yum.
So, there you have it – a successful swap! What a great way to try some new food and make a new friend. If any other AFBA food bloggers out there haven’t participated in this yet, I really encourage you to get on board next year. In the next few days, I’ll post about what I sent to Boston.
The lack of posts this week doesn’t mean we’ve been eating out every night. In fact, we haven’t eaten out on a weeknight in quite a while – go us! But Henry got a cold, which turned into a sinus-infection, which resisted his antibiotics, which turned into an ear infection, which led us to bring out the big-gun antibiotics, which he is currently taking. The illness gave him an impressive cough, which of course wakes him up around 4 am and keeps us up for at least an hour. Oh, I also caught his cold.
So all of that, on top of working, on top of Mason being gone most evenings because of tennis, means I’ve been kind of wiped. I’ve still been cooking though! My house may be a sty (you should see the pile of laundry on my couch), but by God we’ve eaten well.
I didn’t get pics of everything, but I’m still going to post a round-up of what I’ve made in the last week because it’s all good stuff. Above, you can see bbq chicken quesadillas. I shredded some chicken from a rotisserie and put it on top of a BonSavor wrap-sized whole wheat tortilla. I was out of shredded cheese, so I tore up some colby jack and put that on top of the chicken, and drizzled the whole thing with bbq sauce.
Folded the top and cooked for a few minutes on each side in a skillet coated with cooking spray, and voila. Quick, easy dinner. Fat-free refried beans made a great side. I really liked the BonSavor tortilla here – it cooked up nice and crisp, and it wasn’t mealy, like some whole wheat tortillas I’ve tried.
This meal made me think about a recipe for slow-cooker bbq beef quesadillas with mango I’d come across recently, so that is what I made the next night. And it was divine. You should check out the rest of the blog I just linked to, Can You Stay For Dinner?, especially her sidebar links about weight loss. She lost 135 lbs and has kept it off for several years, and her writing about weight and maintenance is beautiful.
We also had blackened catfish. Catfish was on sale again, so I wanted to do something different than the oven-fried version from the other night. I made a quick remoulade for dipping (the recipe is included in the link above) – this is a mayo-based Cajun sauce that I really love. Which is saying something, as you know how much I hate mayo. If you aren’t used to generous Cajun spices, you’ll want to at least halve the pepper in this recipe. If you’re one of those folks who thinks ketchup is spicy, cut it down more than that. I made grits in the rice cooker as a side.
I also made a version of this recipe for ground turkey with potatoes and spring peas, with several variations, and it was REALLY good. Absolutely a crowd-pleaser. I mean, it’s hard to go wrong with meat and potatoes. I used lean ground beef and diced red pepper instead of peas, and parsley instead of cilantro. Served the whole thing over quinoa for a bowl of starchy goodness. I actually made this two nights in a row. It was that good.
Finally, tonight we had Hebrew National 97% fat-free hot dogs with turkey chili and cheese, with baked chips on the side. I know low-fat hot dogs are anathema to hot-dog lovers, but I am not one of those people. I like hot dogs if they’re grilled, not boiled, but see them mainly as a vehicle for the chili and cheese.
This gets us all caught up on weeknight dinners. Here’s hoping Henry gets better and we all get more sleep in the coming nights.
Another slow cooker meal tonight – carnitas. This is one of my go-to meals. The meat requires three ingredients (or two, if you forget the OJ like I did), cooks while you’re at work, and requires less than 30 minutes of prep once you get home. You don’t even have to shred the pork – it falls apart as it’s cooking on the stove when you start stirring it. Chop up some cilantro and serve on tortillas with salsa verde with some fat free refried beans on the side, and you have yourself one tasty weeknight dinner.
Since I still had a bunch of BonSavor flatbreads to try out, I decided to serve these on their Wheat Flour Soft Taco tortillas. They were about on par with Mission tortillas in terms of flavor, but I’d put them slightly above in terms of functionality, as I find Mission ones tend to get crumbly on me and allow filling to fall through. Neither brand holds a candle to the housemade ones you can get at HEB, or the delicious, doughy ones from Taco Cabana.
However, I wanted to point out a few things about BonSavor labeling. Which is closely tied to how they market their tortillas. Take a look at the link above – the tacos marked as “plain” all say “Wheat Flour” prominently above the world “tortillas.” It’s easy to glance at this and think you’re eating something that has whole wheat flour as its first ingredient, which I’m sure is exactly what the marketers over at BonSavor want you to think.
Alas, that is not the case. A glance at the ingredient label reveals the first ingredient as “enriched wheat flour,” which is basically just all-purpose flour. See, all-purpose flour is made from wheat, so it’s not inaccurate to say these are made from wheat flour – but it’s not the same thing as whole wheat flour. They do make whole wheat flour tortillas (which I have and haven’t tried yet), and they do prominently place “whole wheat” above “tortillas” in their labeling.
One more thing I noticed when I was reading the ingredient label was the use of partially hydrogenated soybean oil. This sent up a red flag, as “partially hydrogenated” is code for trans fat. But I was sure I’d seen something on the label saying there were 0 grams of trans fat in these tortillas. Turns out that the label says “0 grams of trans fat per serving.”
Ah. So this means that there are trans fats in the tortillas, but you’re probably looking at just a trace amount. The American Heart Association recommends that trans fats make up less than 1% of your total daily calories, and I’m sure these guys aren’t going to tip you over your limit, but the fat is still there – which is probably not what you think when you first see that “0 grams” on the label.
The whole point of all of this is that you have to learn to look past the marketing when reading food labels if you really want to know what goes into the food you’re eating. Many, if not the majority, of food in the supermarket is labeled like these tortillas, so I don’t mean to say that BonSavor is the only company out there doing this. Their stuff is just what I had on hand today to make an example of.
This probably goes without saying, but an easy way to avoid having to learn to be a food label expert is to make your own food, or buy really fresh stuff – things made locally that you might find at the farmer’s market. This food often doesn’t require as many preservatives, since small local companies’ products aren’t usually made to last for years on the shelf, and they often don’t have to go to great lengths to market their food to you, since you can meet the owners in person and talk to them about their products. Often, you can try out the food you get at the market, so that helps too.
I have probably gone on long enough, so I’ll leave it at that for now. Happy Wednesday!
I’ve been a little under the weather this week, thanks to the kids bringing home daycare germs. Luckily, this was also the week that the nice folks at BonSavor sent over a giant box of their flatbreads for us to try out. I decided to go with the low-carb tortillas tonight for soft tacos, which is just the kind of fast meal I want when I don’t feel like standing on my feet all evening, cooking.
But let me back up a bit. I have a lot of opinions about tortillas. Having eaten, oh, around a bajillion of them in my day (God bless Texas), I feel like I know a thing or two about what makes a good tortilla. It should be pillowy soft and smell wonderfully doughy, and of course, it tastes best warm.
However, real tortillas involve lard. Lard is actually slightly better for you than butter if you can find some without trans fats in it, but it’s still not something I can consume regularly and still have my pants fit. So there are times when I really just want a tortilla to be a vehicle for something else, and in those times, I often go with La Tortilla Factory’s low-carb tortillas. I figure, why waste the calories when I just want to taste the filling? The LTF ones are really the only low-carb tortillas I like, though. The other ones I’ve tried, like Mission, were super crumbly and tasted as good as the plastic bag they came in.
These guys were somewhere in between. The texture was certainly better than the Mission ones – they were soft and pliable, as long as they didn’t sit out of the bag for more than a few minutes before I filled them (then, they started to get brittle and crumbly). Taste-wise, they don’t taste like much, but I guess that’s ok as I really just wanted to taste the taco filling. They did have that plastic bag smell, though. Points off for that.
Overall, they were fine for free tortillas. I might buy them again the next time I’m in the market for a low-carb tortilla and I can’t find the La Tortilla Factory ones.
Anyway, about those tacos. I did a simple mix of beef and McCormick seasoning:
I was thinking that for a future vegetarian option I might try mixing this seasoning with chickpeas or lentils. Maybe? What do you think?
For toppings, we went simply with iceberg lettuce (I tell you, sometimes I just want that crunch) and tomatoes. That was all for Ryan’s taco, but Mason and I added a little Mexican blend cheese and salsa on ours.
Dinner was served at 6:30. Now I’m off to down some Benadryl and get some sleep.
Look how deliciously fluffy these are. Ryan loves pancakes and I didn’t do my usual weekly meal planning this weekend, so we just went with something simple tonight. This is my go-to pancake recipe, but I use half all-purpose and half whole wheat flour. Also, since Ryan can’t have dairy, tonight I tried these with vanilla almondmilk. It worked surprisingly well. When I’ve tried using non-dairy milks in pancake batter in the past, the batter is often really runny and doesn’t cook well, but these guys were perfect. Really, it was like I hadn’t changed a thing.
When I cook with recipes, I usually tape the recipe onto the cabinet, like so:
Keeps it off the counter and out of my way, but within sight. I’m sure there are fancy contraptions out there that serve the same function and look less ghetto, but I don’t have room on the counter for anything else, so this serves just fine.
Ryan asked to help cook, so he put on his dinosaur apron, climbed on his stepstool next to the counter, and did things like dump the flour in the bowl and ask to smell the vanilla.
He was intrigued by the new bacon-cooking method I tried tonight, involving the oven. I’ve heard great things about this method, and figured it would help me multitask, as it could cook undisturbed while I did the pancakes. I lined a baking sheet with foil, put my wire cooling rack on the foil, and put the bacon in a single layer on the pan. Then, just because I was feeling creative, I rubbed some maple syrup on each slice and cracked some pepper over them. It went in the oven at 400 for about 20-25 minutes.
All in all, it worked very, very well. I didn’t have to deal with splattering grease or flipping the bacon, and it cooked evenly all over. It probably could have gone another five minutes, but I was hungry and it was pretty crisp.
Dinner was on the table at 7:30, but probably would have been earlier if I hadn’t had “help.” But I wouldn’t have had much fun cooking, so I figure the tradeoff was ok.
Pot roast is a Sunday classic made weeknight-friendly by way of the slow cooker. Like I mentioned the other night, I don’t usually just toss stuff into the crock without some prep, though. For this lovely slab of meat, we seasoned well with Tony’s, then cut about 14 slits all over it. The slits were stuffed with garlic cloves. Then, we seared the meat on both sides in some oil in a hot cast-iron skillet. This ensures that you get a nice brown crust, which wouldn’t happen if you put it in raw.
After all that, it went into the crockpot, which was lined with one of these fantastic things (which are absolutely one of the best products ever if you regularly use the crock). Added 1/2 cup of water and let it go on high for 4-5 hours.
Normally I’d do the prep the night before, but I didn’t get a chance, and Mason was home in the morning so he did it then and got everything cooking. When I got home from work, I went on the hunt for some rice. Apparently I needed to give my pantry more than a cursory glance when prepping my grocery list, because I found all this:
So, brown rice went into the rice cooker. While that was going, the roast finished and I started on the gravy. I could have just used the drippings from the crockpot, but I wanted to fix it up a little. I skimmed off the grease and put the remaining drippings in a small pot, then added a little water mixed with cornstarch and a teaspoon or so of Penzey’s Beef Soup Base (which is another great product, far superior to bouillion but used in the same way) to add a little more flavor. Let it cook over high heat for 5 minutes or so, till the soup base dissolved and the mixture thickened up a bit. It boasts a rich, chocolate color at this point.
We ate around 6:30 – not bad for pot roast. TGIF!
Whenever catfish goes on sale, we snag a bunch and make this crispy dish. I won’t tell you it’s exactly like good ol’ fried catfish, because that is in a class by itself, but this pretty darn close, especially for a healthy version. Here’s the basic recipe.
Preheat oven to 400. Dump some cornmeal (about 2 cups) onto a plate, and mix in some Tony Chachere’s seasoning (a tablespoon or two, depending on how spicy you like it).
Tangent: Ever gotten tongue-tied trying to say “Chachere”? It’s pronounced “SAH-sher-ree”. The “sah” part rhymes with “wah”, like how a baby cries “wah wah”. I tell you, it was fun growing up with Cajun names all over the place. You know how to say the last name “Soileau”? Like “swallow”. I don’t know any France French, but I don’t think this is how they’d say it over there. As a young child, I stopped trying to sound out names and learned to memorize them by rote when I learned that “Hebert” is not “HEE-bert” but “A-bear”.
That is neither here nor there. Back to catfish-making.
Break two eggs into a bowl and lightly scramble them. Set up an assembly line with the following, in this order: eggs, cornmeal mixture, baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Dip each catfish filet into the cornmeal, then into the eggs, then back into the cornmeal. Shake off excess mixture and place the fish on the baking sheet.
Bake for 25 minutes to get perfectly crisp fish. For a side, I just steamed up a bag of mixed veggies – I love these steam-in-bag mixes.
Dinner was served at 7:30.
Like I said last week, things have been a little hectic around here lately. This means it’s prime time to put the crockpot to work, but I’m picky about my crockpot recipes. Too often you end up with a big mushy pile of meat and veggies, each bite indistinguishable from the next. The best use for a crock, in my humble opinion, is to make things that you would naturally slow cook anyway. Like this sauce – you do some prep work the night before, then it cooks all day to the perfect saucy consistency. If you wanted, you could just cook it on the stove for several hours and you’d get a pretty similar result.
A good example of something I don’t like cooked in the crock is a whole chicken. When you do it in the oven, the skin crisps up and the bird is nice and juicy. When you cook it in the crock, though, it basically just steams all day, so you end up with mushy skin. That’s a compromise I don’t like to make.
Anyway, this is the crockpot Bolognese sauce from Skinnytaste. If you haven’t already bookmarked Skinnytaste, just go ahead and do it. Gina posts healthy recipes several times a week, and I’ve never had a bad one from her site. This classic Italian gravy boasts a bit of pancetta, which is cured fatty ham, similar to bacon, but not smoked. Get it in the deli to save a little scratch – the prepackaged stuff can be pricey.
It also has some white wine to give even more flavor. I used to hate cooking with wine because the only options I saw were to buy a big bottle and just use a little, leaving me with a ton of wine to drink (which is not always a problem, mind you) or buy “cooking” wine, which is usually salted and gross. Then I realized I could just buy little four-packs of picnic wine. That way I’d get real wine (not the salty cooking stuff) without ending up with a huge bottle left over.
Cue “The more you know” music…
Anyway, we had this over fresh linguini, which I love for weeknights because it takes literally three minutes to cook. Whip up a side salad and you have dinner on the table by 6:30. Not too shabby.