Monday, March 12, 2012

Staying Healthy and Fuelled with Kale

So I'm still going to try and do a quick Daring Cooks Challenge post here in the next couple of days, but we'll see how that turns out seeing as I'm also working full time the next 2 days :p So no promises, but I'll do my best! In case I don't make it, I wanted to do some kind of quick post to reassure everyone that I AM still alive, if just baring hanging on to life :)

A brief update on why I've been so terribly absent: This past month, yes the competition is OVER so my "free time" should technically have increased, but what really happened is it just got swallowed up by homework, college classes, and college PLANNING. And when I say college planning I mean applying to colleges, talking to advisers, talking to teachers, talking to recruiters, attending fairs and meetings, looking up scholarships, making visits, signing up for classes, dropping classes, writing resumes, getting letters of recommendation, sending emails, reading emails, submitting the FAFSA, ALLLLLL that good stuff. UGHHHH. yeah. So that's been my life recently...on top of THE REST of my life. SO, with all that weighing down on me, what is one of the big things my mom has been stressing? "STAY HEALTHY!" One of her greatest fears right now is that I'll suddenly becoming severely ill due to my hectic schedule and lack of sleep and then my progress with come to a halt and my whole plan will fall to pieces. THE END. And not that I blame her as it is a pretty legit fear with how unhealthy all of this stuff is for my mental and physical stability. Still, it's not like I can just let it all go either.

So what do I do in attempt to keep my body and brain chugging along this crazy path? Several things. I make sure to give myself breaks, even small ones, to do things that calm down my brain. I cook, I go for a walk, I read a chapter of a good book, I play my violin, or I listen to my favorite songs while I write 2 billion essays. A few things here and there just helps me keep it together. My evening devotions, daily prayers, and journaling is also a HUGE contributor in this area.

In addition I try to walk as much as possible to de-stress and keep my body strong. I'm a long way from being in shape for soccer season, but I do what I can in the winter :p Finally, another major factor in taking good care of myself is, of course, eating well! Keeping my mental and physical functions going at hyper-speed for looooong days and weeks requires the right fuel, just like a car. Eating food that I love relaxes me, but it is even more important to eat things that my body will love. Sugar, caffeine, and simple carbs may give me short bursts of energy and feelings of happiness, but all too soon that high will drop and leave me even more emotionally and physically drained. Instead, I aim to consume foods that give me energy from vitamins and minerals. This means lots of fruits and veggies of every shape and color to boost my immune system and whole grains and legumes for sustained energy. Nuts and seeds are also great sources of complex energy and protein. In addition, about 95% of my liquids are purified water or herbal tea which are essential to keeping my body running smoothly. Of course, I don't meet all of these goals all of the time and sometimes you just need to eat some simple carbs and sugar, but these practices have served me well so far as I'm months away from graduating high school and stepping into the stages of my life and I can take all this craziness and no just die because I'm trying to take care of my mind and body. :)

Now, as much as I love experimenting with healthy recipes and playing in the kitchen, I rarely have time for that, and usually just need a tasty, healthy meal FAST. Thus, most of my everyday meals are not what I would consider food-blog worthy, but every now and then I try out a new recipe that just really wows me! I'm going to share just a couple of those today. I've recently been having a lot of fun with coconut milk, but I'm not quite done experimenting with those recipes. However, another great ingredient for high-quality energy that I think a lot of people avoid is...kale! Kale is kindof like taking spinach and bumping it up a couple of levels on the health-o-meter. Unfortunately, though, where most people can handle spinach because it is milk in flavor and texture, kale takes more getting used to because it is so fibrous and has a much stronger flavor that is slightly bitter and rather broccoli-like. It has taken me quite a few attempts at various recipes to get myself to like kale, and I'm not a picky eater, so I understand how people could not be big fans of the stuff. 

My first success at appreciating kale was quite some time ago when I finally pushed myself to try making kale "chips". Everyone in the food blog world was raving about them so I finallly just gave in and gave it a go. OH my goodness, what took me so long?! My view on kale changed forever! Who knew that those dark leaves with a little olive oil and seasoning, baked in the oven for a few minutes could come out so thin and crispy and delicious? I think I ate like 2 whole bunches of kale in 2 days all by myself...hehe. I hope this convinces all of you to give these suckers a try if you haven't already. They are seriously easy, make a great snack, and use up a whole lot of kale really quickly!

Baked Kale Chips

§  Kale
§  Olive oil
§  Salt and pepper
§  Other desired seasonings (have fun with it!)
§  (optional) shredded or grated cheese

1.       Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2.      Wash and dry the kale then remove the stems by cutting on both sides of the stem in a quick, slicing motion. (the stems can be reserved and steamed or sauteed if desired). Roughly chop the de-stemmed kale into large bite-sized pieces. Place these in a bowl.
3.      Drizzle the kale lightly with olive, just enough to coat as if dressing a salad.
4.      Season with salt and pepper, and other seasonings and even cheese if you want. Plenty of recipes for these can be found online if you want to get crazy with it, but salt and pepper are tasty just on their own!
5.      Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, foil, or silpat and place the kale on the sheet in an even layer. It can be touching, but you don’t want it too crowded.
6.      Bake the kale 10-12 minutes until nice and crispy, but not too brown. Let cool for a minute or two and then enjoy!
Note: After 12-24 hours, depending on the humidity in your house, these chips take on a strange, chewy texture, even when sealed in an air-tight container. This may not bother some people, but I try not to have any chips left-over because I prefer them crispy.

Unbaked kale, with no oil or seasoning

Baked kale, with no oil or seasoning.
(The kale will still get nice and crispy without the
oil and seasoning, but it will also be drier in the
mouth and the flavor will not be as good)

Round 2, it may take a couple of batches to
get it just the way you like it.

Snack time!

You just KNOW that's way better than a potato chip! :)

Now, my 2nd kale recipe I'll be sharing is one I discovered just this week. I had some kale in the fridge and had been meaning to use it up, but I really wanted to work on my goal of enjoying kale raw, since so often I bake it or saute it. I'd try a few kale salads before and tried kale in my green monster smoothies, but it just wasn't enjoyable to me yet. Then I came across a concept that was new to me: massaged kale salad. Sounds pretty weird, right? Well, sorry that's what it's called! And really, it's a pretty accurate name. The basic idea here is that you take your raw, de-stemmed kale and some sort of dressing and you literally massage the kale with the dressing for a few minutes. By doing this, you are not only breaking down the kale's tough fibers with your hand motions, but you are also getting the flavor of the dressing deeper into the kale so you don't have so much of that bitterness of raw kale. Intrigued? I sure was! Now, this should work with just about any dressing you choose, but the recipe I chose and experimented with was sortof a pseudo-dressing created by mashing fresh avocado into the kale and flavoring it. Can i just say, this was a GENIUS idea of mine :) So quick, so easy, SO delicious! Check it! I'm now in desperate need of more kale and avocadoes!!

Raw Massaged Kale Salad with Avocado and Sesame

§  1 bunch of kale
§  2 ripe avocadoes
§  Juice from 1 lemon 

§  2-3 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
§  1 Tbsp of more sesame oil
§  Optional: sesame seeds (toasted if desired) to garnish
§  Optional: sliced avocado to garnish

1.       Wash, dry, de-stem (the stems can be reserved and steamed or sauteed if desired), and chop the kale into bite-sized pieces and place it in a large bowl.
2.      Scoop the avocado flesh into the kale then pour the lemon juice over the top.
3.      “Massage” the avocado and lemon juice into the kale, simultaneously tenderizing the kale and mashing the avocado, for about 5 min. The kale should change slightly in color and become much less fibrous. Taste a piece and see what or think.
4.      Add the soy sauce or tamari and the sesame oil and massage that in for another minute, then taste and adjust flavors as needed.
5.      Serve salad at room temp or chill first and then garnish with sesame seeds and avocado slices or whatever you want :) The possibilities are endless!
Note: I’m not sure how this salad will keep with other dressings, but the avocado develops an undesirable flavor after a day or 2 so I don’t advise making a big batch for left-overs like I did :/

Ready to become a masseuse? :)

The acid in the lemon adds great flavor and
helps in breaking down the kale without
killing any of the nutrients like heat would in
cooking! If you use a vinaigrette, the vinegar
should serve the same purpose.

5 min later, the avocado and lemon are thoroughly
massaged in, the kale it tender and slightly greener
in color.

Another 5 min later and my lunch is ready to go!
Healthy fats from the avocado, some protein in
the sesame seeds, tons of vitamins in the kale
and lemon and it's all RAW so allll the good stuff
is there and it tastes GREAT! Who needs red bull
to boost your energy when you've got this stuff?

Remember, these are just some sample recipes and that with these basic techniques you can do ALL kinds of fun flavor combos with kale and you DO NOT have to just eat it to get the vitamins and minerals! If you're not a big kale person or you're afraid to give it a go, these are great starter recipes! And if they can fit into MY crazy schedule, they can squeeze into yours too! Enjoy! Any questions or additional comments appreciated! :)


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Daring Cooks Challenge #9: Flipping Frying Patties!!!

Ah! I had a FANTASTIC weekend last week at competition, for anyone who was wondering after my last post. I DO plan to do a whole post devoted to the recipes and the experience, but THAT is going to take a while! However, I've got some fun stuff to share in the meantime! :)

Even though I "slaved" in the kitchen at work on Sunday, today I was in there all day for competition team "fun day", and I'll be working 22 more hours this week, I knew I just HAD to get this project done for the Daring Cooks (not only is it due, but I just really wanted to!)
I admit, when I first read that this month's challenge, hosted by Audax, was "patties", I wasn't too excited, but the more I looked into what that entailed, the more excited I became. SO MANY POSSIBILITIES!!! Besides the obvious burger, there's also croquettes, rissoles, fritters, rostis, and much more! Then there's choosing all types of meats or NONmeats, and cooking options varying from pan-searing, to grilling, to baking. Pretty cool, right?

Okay so now, you're probably expecting something totally creative and out there, buuut I actually decided to go with something that I've been needing to work on for a long time: veggie burgers. When I was a full-out vegetarian a few years ago and I was pretty awful at cooking, I tried making my own veggie burgers a couple of times with results that pretty much scared me away from attempting ever again. Since then I have enjoyed frozen store-bought veggie patties. While these burgers are sturdy enough to be quickly grilled or microwaved and are lowing in fat and cholesterol than meat burgers, they are loaded with artificial flavorings and additives that I'm not a fan of. Thus, I'm pretty ashamed that it has taken me this long to give myself another go at creating my own non-meat patties.

Even with this conviction, once I decided to make veggie burgers for my challenge, I was still hesitant with the fear that I wouldn't be able to find a really good recipe that would help me prove myself. I looked through dozens of pictures, recipes, and blogposts, before I found the one that called my name. It was just meant to be. :) This recipe comes from a favorite blogger of mine, the wonderful Angela, of Oh She Glows. This is one awesome girl, people, check out her blog! I have a great trust in Angela's recipes and this one just sounded WAY too good to pass up!

Not only is this recipe completed vegetarian AND vegan, it also is loaded with healthy-licious ingredients that are usually on hand and are quick to throw together - which is literally what I did! On top of all that, these were promised to have great flavor, great texture, and the ability to hold together whether they be pan-seared, baked, or grilled. How much better does it get?

Okay okay so now you are all wondering how it went so I'll skip to the chase. These burgers were DEFINITELY super easy and quick to make, which I was a big fan of. They formed beautiful patties, though next time I think I'll cut my ingredients JUST a bit finer for a slightly tighter hold. As for taste, the flavor was good, but not bold enough to stand up to my condiments, so next time i'll increase the seasoning and tamari. The texture on the outside was good, but since I went with pan-searing, my slightly-thick patties were too mushy on the inside for me. Next time I'll either try thinner patties or I'll partially cook them in the oven to fix that. Otherwise, definitely a keeper!! Here you go:

Just Right  Vegan Veggie Burgers

§  1/2 cup onion, diced
§  2 large garlic cloves, minced
§  Flax/chia eggs: 2.5 tbsp ground flax or whole chia seeds+ 1/2 cup warm water, mixed in bowl
§  1 cup oats, processed into flour
§  1.5 cups bread crumbs (I processed 3 pieces of Ezekiel bread until fine crumb)*
§  1 cup grated carrots
§  1 cup cooked black beans, rinsed and roughly pureed or mashed
§  Heaping 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley (or fresh herb of choice)
§  1/3 cup almonds or walnuts, chopped (toasted if preferred)
§  1/2 cup sunflower seeds, (toasted if preferred)
§  1 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
§  2-3 tbsp Tamari (soy sauce)
§  1 Tbsp chili powder
§  2 tsp. cumin
§  2 tsp. oregano
§  Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

1.       In a large skillet, sauté onions and garlic in some olive oil. Mix your flax egg together in a small bowl and set aside for at least 10 mins while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
2.      Place all ingredients (except spices and salt) into a large mixing bowl and stir very well (hands work great! And it’s the most fun :D). Then, add seasonings and salt to taste.
3.      With slightly wet hands, shape dough into patties. Pack dough tightly as possible, flattening it out for even cooking, but leaving it thick. I made 8 medium patties.
4.      Cooking methods: You can fry the burgers in a bit of oil on a skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes on each side. If baking in the oven, bake for 25-30 mins (15-17 minutes on each side) at 350 F, until golden and crisp. For the BBQ, pre-bake the burgers for about 15 minutes in oven before placing on a pre-heated grill until golden and crisp on each side.
5.      Serve with all your favorite classic burger toppings, or as an open-faced sandwich, or in a wrap as I did – mix it up, see how great these burgers are with different flavor profiles :)

The original recipe called for 2 flax eggs
(ground flax mixed with boiling water to mimic
the binding effects of an egg) but I have had
much greater success with chia eggs (the same as
a flax egg, but using whole chia seeds)

This bread isn't vegan, but it sure is tasty, and
still loaded with good stuff (I <3 whole grain bread!)
However, if you need to switch out vegan or gluten-free
bread that should work fine too!

My sunflower seeds were already toasted and
salted so I didn't have to do anything there,
but it wouldn't have taken much. They sure
added a nice flavor and texture component!

Ready? I'm about to make oat flour...

WOAH! Ima beast!! :D be sure to use GF oats
or even switch out flours if making gluten-free

This was the consistency of my mashed beans.
Just a few good pulses in the ole food processor.

Ah, the best part - gettin' my hands dirty!
Feel free to try to use a spoon, but you'll find
a "handier" tool for this job on the ends
 of your arms :)

I didn't weigh or measure my patties for consistency,
I really just formed them into what I thought a
basic burger looked like and the amount was just
about perfect for 8 nicely-sized burgers

As I mentioned above, I chose the pan-seared
cooking method for my burgers and found they
were just about right, but I either needed to add more
oil to get in there and really cook the insides, of
I should have just finished them in the oven,
which is what I plan to do next time, if I
don't get a chance to grill them that is :)

I decided not to go the conventional style with these
burgers because it IS still winter after all, and they
were pan-fried, not grilled, so I just couldn't bring
myself to go there. Instead, I served them in sun-dried
tomato and basil wraps with garlic hummus and fresh
salsa and some nice romaine leaves. Super easy, quick,
tasty and QUITE filling. I was one satisfied girl...
and my cow buddy was happy :) Win-win!

Makes 8 regular-sized burgers

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

So I guess I'm Competitive...Thai-Korean Fusion Fried Rice

So this is a pretty big week for me in my culinary career: competition week! You may recall my post last year about a competition I was in (check out the post!)? Wellllll I'm at it again! With an awesome team this time! I can't wait to share allllll about it, but that's going to take a while and since the competition is THIS WEEKEND and we'll be meeting for practice all week...I may not have the time and energy to give it a good posting. Plus it will be more fun to talk about it afterwards when I can relay the whole story! So stay tuned!
Now you're wondering "What IS this post all about? Just a teaser?" Well actually, there is aNOTHER competition I've just entered that I AM going to tell you about! (Who knew I was such a competitive person???) This competition is through the American Culinary Federation (
learn more), which I am a member of through my school. This is the "What's in Your Wok? Fried Rice Competition". The challenge was to submit a signature fried rice recipe with these rules:
1) Must create four entree servings using either white, brown, or minute rice

2) The rice must represent NO LESS than 50% of the recipe
3) Limit of 15 ingredients
4) Must take no more than 20 minutes to cook.
5) The only permitted cooking vessel is a Browne Foodservice 12" Stainless Triply Induction Wok with natural finish

Doesn't sound too hard, right? Well here's where this gets interesting...First of all, I didn't find out about this competition until about a week before the recipes were due, so I had to work fast not only to write down my recipe and fill out the forms, but also to COME UP with a signature recipe and take pictures and all that jazz. Did I mention I'd never made fried rice before? what did I do? I stalked around my favorite inspiration sites and wrote down all of the components and plating designs that I liked best so I could see what I wanted MY signature dish to be. I wrote down all kinds of ingredient ideas from mangoes to fish sauce, but in the end, my favorite came from two popular versions of fried rice: Korean and Thai.
My next step was to design my own recipe, something I've only done a few times. I wrote down how many servings it needed to make, how large I wanted each serving to be, and then broke down the ingredients into what seemed like reasonable portions. The next step was simply to get the ingredients, take an afternoon to cook and experiment and photograph, and then cross my fingers that SOMETHING would come out, because by then I only had one day to get my submission in!

I was SO shocked and pleased!! Not only did my first batch come out GREAT, I only had to make 1 small change to my recipe and I had a winner! Even my mom, who is a wonderful food critic of mine, said she would order it at restaurant (and there were ingredients in there that she doesn't even like!) I personally was also very satisfied with how it came out tasting and looking. Not too crazy, not ordinary, balanced, simple method, complex flavors. :) Totally Skylar. 
Now that my recipe is in, it's a waiting game of sorts. Only 4 competitors from my region will be selected to prepare their recipes at the ACF Regional Convention in New York this April, from which the winner will receive $250 and the change to compete again in July at the National Convention in July, taking place in Orlando to compete for $1,000! Woah how cool would that be?! Pretty AWESOME! Not that I'm expecting to win or anything (did I mention both the CIA (New York) AND Johnson and Wales (Providence) are within my region of competitors?? - these are two of America's greatest cooking schools FYI) But that's okay with me, I just have satisfaction in submitting something I'm proud of :) Besides, if I DID get selected, I don't know what I'd so since I've already put down $50 to go on a retreat with friends that same weekend as the competition would be....that just goes to show how little faith I have in my chances of being selected  :p haha
But even if I am not chosen, and I don't get to win this time, I think you guys will like the recipe and I hope some of you give it a try (including the kimchi! I got my kimchi-prejudiced mom to love this stuff, remember?). Hope everyone has a fannntastic week, I'll be in the kitchen, cooking, practicing, cleaning, preparing, and thoroughly wearing myself out, but that's what the passion's all about, right? Hope to talk to ya soon, POST-competition! :D

Thai-Korean Fusion Fried Rice

§  4 large eggs
§  2 Tablespoons and 2 teaspoons sesame oil, separated
§  1 Tablespoon peanut oil*
§  ½ cup minced shallot or onion
§  1 Tablespoon minced garlic
§  2 teaspoons fresh ginger paste
§  2 cups cooked long-grain brown rice, at least one day old*
§  2 Tablespoons tamari or soy sauce*
§  1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
§  1 cup roughly chopped kimchi*
§  ½ cup shelled, cooked edamame*
§  ¾ cup small-diced fresh pineapple
§  ½ tsp fresh lime zest (to garnish)
§  ½ tsp dried red pepper flakes (to garnish)
§  4 half slices of fresh lime (to garnish)

1)      In a wok, heat 1-2 Tbsp of sesame oil over medium-low heat (see Notes below). Gently drop the eggs into the hot oil and fry eggs sunny-side up until the whites are cooked through, leaving the yolk liquid.
2)     Gently remove the eggs from the wok and place on a separate plate. Set aside.
3)     Add the peanut oil and the remaining sesame oil to the wok and bring to medium-high heat. Add the shallots, garlic, and ginger, and sauté until the shallots are translucent and soft.
4)     Add the rice and fry it for a minute or two, stirring constantly. Add the tamari and lime juice and continue stirring to coat as the liquid cooks into the rice. Add the kimchi and stir to combine as the liquid cooks into the rice. Turn off the heat, add the edamame and pineapple and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
5)      To plate: Fill an 8oz measuring cup with the fried rice, pressing to compress it and hold it together. Quickly, with some force, turn the measuring cup over onto serving plate and remove so that a mound of rice is formed. Top the rice with a fried egg and pierce the yolk so that it pours down over the rice. Sprinkle a few red pepper flakes and a bit of lime zest over the top to garnish and place a slice of lime on the side for squeezing.  

Serves 4

- YOU'RE RICE MUST BE OLD. If there is one thing fried-rice experts DO agree on, it would be this statement. In order to make even decent fried rice, the rice needs to have at least a day to sick and get kindof dry and hard so that it actually fries and doesn't turn into a big mushy MESS. This is annoying as it means you can't have this as a last minute quick meal ANY time, but it is also an awesome way to use up left-over rice that is dry and blaaaah otherwise. More than one-day old is fine, I've done 3 days, and tomorrow my rice will be like week old and I've got no worries. So make big batches of rice and you can make fried rice to your hearts desire!
- I used a non-stick frying pan to make my rice, I only put "wok" in the recipe to fulfill the requirements. I don't even OWN a wok, so feel free to use whatever pan you think will work best!
- Kimchi, an extremely important food in Korea, is a strong-flavored, usually spicy, fermented cabbage condiment that takes some getting used to, but isn't too scared when eaten in combination with other foods as done here. It comes in glass jars usually and can be found in most grocery stores with good international sections.
- You can buy peanut oil or do what I did and just use the layer that has formed on your homemade natural peanut butter that's been sitting on the shelf, unloved for far too long.
- Tamarigluten-free and usually lower in sodium.
- Edamame are fresh soy beans, which are green and resemble lima beans. You can usually find them shelled in the frozen section or sometimes fresh and unshelled in the produce area. The shells are indigestible so only eat the beans.

Mmmmm so good! I hope to recreate this tomorrow using different ingredients since I have run out of some and want to try throwing in some other fun stuff :)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Daring Cooks Challenge #8: Tamales!

Wow!'s been a long time. I mean a reeeeally long time. Anybody miss me in the blogging world? I know I've missed connecting with everybody :( I know being busy is no excuse because ALL bloggers are crazy busy and I was busy before! It has been really hard for me to get back into posting in the last few months was strange. I'd start a new post, get about half-way through and come to a block. My writing sounded dull and confusing and not at all like what I wanted my friends to have to read. I feel even guiltier thinking of all the fun cooking adventures that I've had in my absence that I have SO wanted to share and I think you all would have enjoyed, even if my writing skills are blah. I really am going to try to do better, but these next few months are going to be some of the craziest EVER (not exaggerating) so bear with me, send me messages of encouragement, and enjoy the pictures, since I'm better at keeping up with those! :)

Okay! Enough of the past, we're moving right along here. I'm determined to finish this post! I saw a few too many DC challenges slip through my fingers recently, but maybe it when I saw the January challenge was tamales, I knew I COULD NOT allow it to pass me by! I'd never made tamales before, and only eating them once, so I was eager to try my hand at making some. Ironically enough, when I went to the store and got all my ingredients and I excitedly walked to the place where I had seen bags of corn husks being sold and had many times longed to find a use for them, now that I was actually going to buy some...they were gone! Wouldn't you know? The only choice I had was to buy a tamale kit, which I wasn't too pleased about, but I decided it would just have to be part of the fun and the challenge.

I used the recipe given by our host, Maranda from Jolts & Jollies, and, as usually, added a few touches of my own. They really were quite fun to make. Even though I did a horrible job of mentally-scanning the extra tips and directions at The Daring Kitchen, it was a peaceful afternoon and I had the house (and kitchen!) all to myself and I just put on some music and got to work, tasting, feeling, smelling, taking it all in. It had been far too long since I had cooked. REALLY cooked (as in, besides my usual salad, smoothies, and veggies). The tamales really were quite simple and easy to make, but they would have been a whole lot easier if I'd read the folding instructions thoroughly instead of just guessing and assuming I could figure it out. I got through them, but my less-than perfect corn husk origami did hold up very well in the steamer and I only ended up getting one or two nice looking tamales from the batch of 12. All the same, they tasted mmmm so yummy and it was a successful first attempt :) My other mistake was forgetting to buy avocados for guacamole and chilies for a spicy sauce which would have MADE this dish, but like I said, next time :)

Just a few notes before I give you the recipe so that you hopefully won't have as many challenges as me! :p
  • DO NOT FORGET that the corn husks need to soak for 3hrs-overnight or else they won't be flexible enough for you to easily work with! I totally forgot this step, but luckily my tamale kit had pre-soaked husks (imagine that!).
  • If you cannot find/do not have enough corn husks, the other authentic option is banana/plantain leaves, buuuut those are often even harder to find, SO, you can ALSO use parchment paper or plastic wrap (I personally haven't tried any of these though).
  • Don't let your steamer boil dry - not good. If you don't have a steamer, I've also seen these grilled...give it a whack!
  • You can use cut strips of corn husk to tie your folded tamales, but you need them to be fairly long so if you only have small husks, just use sting. It will hold better and be much less of a pain.
  • I'm usually use cooking in the kitchen as my time of peace and aloneness, but if you're more the party type, this is a great activity to do with friends, kids, neighbors, etc. You can talk and laugh and get the work done quickly all at once! :) (just make sure you have a large enough steamer to hold all the tamales that you plan to feed your helpful guests!)
  • If you anticipate being busy (ha, like we're not ALWAYS busy :p) you can help yourself out by making the filling a day or two ahead and just letting it keep in the fridge (or freezer depending on the type of filling)
  • Did you know tamales can also be for dessert?? Chocolate, banana, caramel fillings...oh yeah. Tamales for dinner AND dessert - DELICIOUSNESS!
  • Depending on how much/little you fill your husks, you may have extra masa dough or tamale filling. The solution? Make it into soup and eat it, like me, ooorrr make tamale pie. I'm totally doing that!
Spicy Black Bean Tomato Tamales

§  1 bag dried corn husks (at least 13 for this recipe) or see notes for other options
For the masa dough:
§  4 c masa harina (corn tortilla mix, not the same as cornmeal or polenta)
§  ½ c olive oil
§  1 tsp salt (season to taste, use less or none if your stock contains salt)
§  2 ½ c vegetable stock
For the filling:
§  1 15.5 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
§  1 14oz can diced spicy red pepper tomatoes (or fire-roasted or other), drained well
§  1 10oz can diced green chilies, drained well
§  3 chopped scallions or ¼ c minced onion
§  3 cloves garlic, minced
§  1 tsp salt (taste to season)
§  1 tsp cumin
§  ½ tsp chili powder
§  A few dashes of hot sauce (if desired)

1.       Before you start cooking: soak your corn husks for at least 3 hrs or overnight. You can also make your filling ahead if you want to have it out of the way. You can also set up your steamer at this time.
2.      To make the masa dough: Whisk together the masa harina, olive oil, and optional salt in a bowl (or use mixer if desired) until smooth. Gradually whisk in the vegetable stock. You can add more stock or water if your dough seems dry. It should be somewhere between cornbread batter and cookie dough, if that helps. Let the dough sit for a few minutes to thicken-up.
3.      Meanwhile, in another bowl, combine all of the filling ingredients and gently mix. (You don’t want it to be wet and runny, so drain excess juices as needed)
4.      To form the tamales: take one of the longest corn husks and cut it into strips about ¼ - ½ inch in length or cut lengths of string for tying the tamales. Take a soaked corn husk (or parchment paper or banana leaf) and cover it with the masa dough, about ¼ - ½ inch thick, leaving about an inch or so of border (I don’t know the exact amount of dough used, but you can do more or less to taste and you’ll start to get a feel for it after you do a few). Spread a thick strip of fillings in the center of your dough and then gently fold the sides of the husk towards each other so that the masa dough folds over the filling. Keep the tamale in the folded cylinder shape and then take the thin, open bottom and fold it upwards. Secure this end with a strip of corn husk or string and leave the top open.
5.      Repeat this process until you run out of husks for dough or filling and then place the finished tamales in a tall steamer, open ends facing up so that they are all standing and nestled in with each other. If you need to fill in spaces, you can used crumpled foil.)
6.      Keep covered with a lid and let steam for 40-50 min, until the dough as deepened and color and easily pulls away from the husk (my tamale kit instructions said 1 hour. I think I went about 50 and they were fine.)
7.      Serve the tamales hot or warm or store them for later, they reheat quite nicely. There is no one condiment to go with tamales as they are eaten all over the world and made with all kinds of ingredients, so you can do some research and pick a country you want to represent, or just go with your favs like I did: fresh tomatoes, cilantro, plain yogurt, hot sauce. Mmmm :)

Not my ideal choice, but still a fun experiment

Using veggie stock over water, was def a good choice.
HUGE flavor enhancer!

This is a corn case you didn't know...

This is the amount of dough/filling
I used for mine and it worked well.
Like I said, you get the feel for what
works and what you like.

Unfortunately....I didn't pay very close attention
to how to fold these correctly. I tried to seal them
up like burritos, but really, the top should be open.
This will make your like SO much easier.

It's not that burritos aren't cute, buut
this was the only one that really worked out,
plus it's just a pain in the butt to fold a corn
husk more than you need to.

I don't know how steaming masa dough turns it
into this cool cooked substance that is really yummy,
but whoever thought of it was pretty genius.

It's like Christmas all over again! Did I
mention my brother ate like 4 or 5 of these in
one sitting? - my brother who just got back
from Costa Rica and ate tamales made my
locals?? He said these were gooooood.
He could have been lying. Or just hungry
like most army boys, but for messing
around with these and not doing them
quite right I'll take what I can get :)

Thanks for reading, it's good to be back :) happee cooking!