Monday, December 8, 2008

Una Fiesta Mexicana

For the Feasts of St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe, my children and I are pulling out a few of our favorite Mexican and Mexican-inspired recipes to share with you today. One of the most delightful things about this particular selection of Mexican fare is this: Not only are these recipes supremely easy and delicious, they are nearly all exceptionally kid-friendly to prepare!

First, a simple tortilla recipe:

Flour Tortillas
  • 3 c unbleached flour (or whole wheat, or regular all-purpose, if that’s what you’ve got)
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt
  • ¼ c (plus a little (1-2 T) extra – no need to measure exactly) vegetable shortening
  • 1 to 1 ¼ c warm water
Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl. Add the shortening, and let the children squeeze and mix them together with their (sterilized, I’m sure) fingers, as if lightly playing in the sand, until the shortening is evenly incorporated.

Next, add the warm water a little at a time, tossing together (still with your hands, if you like!), until the mixture forms a soft dough that is not sticky. Go ahead and knead it a few times, adding a sprinkling of flour if needed, to make it smooth.

Now divide the dough into 12 evenly-sized balls, and let rest for 10-15 minutes, while you straighten up and set up your work area for rolling out!

Here’s how we do it: Each “roller” gets a piece of parchment or “press-and-seal” (sticky side down) sprinkled with a little flour. One dough ball is lightly flattened in the center of the paper, then sprinkled with a little more flour. On top of this, a piece of plastic wrap is carefully laid across. Then the child rolls out a circle – starting each roll in the center. It helps if the first few rolls are done somewhat lightly, until a reasonably circular shape is achieved – though, of course, perfection is unnecessary. Roll them fairly thin, or to about 8-10” in diameter. (Also, it is easier for kids to roll these out if they pick up the whole paper/tortilla package and quarter-turn it, rather than trying to readjust the rolling angle each time.)

We then flip the two layers of paper with the tortilla in between upside down, and carefully peel off the parchment for re-use; the unbaked tortilla is then placed, plastic-wrap side down, in a pile with each of the other tortillas as they are rolled. If desired, a moist paper towel can be placed lightly on top of the pile to keep the top tortilla from drying out. (If you find that the tortillas are sticking to either paper, just use a little more flour when rolling out.)

Once the rolling is well-underway, heat a 12-15” dry frying pan over medium to medium-high heat. It should be well-heated and ready by the time the last tortilla is rolled.

The next part is best handled by an adult: Each tortilla is then peeled off the plastic wrap, and placed in the hot, ungreased pan to be cooked on each side. The tortilla may bubble slightly and appear slightly dry as it bakes, and will have brown speckles on the underside when it is ready to flip/remove. It will take less than a minute on each side, so watch them carefully!

Place the tortillas atop each other inside a warm, clean kitchen towel until all are baked. They are best served immediately, but can be stored in the refrigerator in a ziplock bag (and can be reheated in the microwave before filling).

Homemade Tortilla Chips

Warning: These are so tasty, you may never want to go back to those pre-packaged imposters again!

For every 16 chip-serving, you’ll need one (preferably homemade, but prefab work well, too) 8-10” flour tortilla.

Using a pizza cutter, slice each tortilla into 16 (8, for larger chips) wedges. Fill a large frying pan with about ½” of vegetable oil, and heat to medium-high (lower heat immediately if it begins to smoke!) Place a small scrap of tortilla in the oil as a “test;” when bubbles begin to sizzle around it, the oil is ready.

Again, this part is best done by an adult: Place 6-8 wedges into the oil (don’t let them touch) using a pair of tongs, and watch them carefully; they cook very quickly! The chips will form bubbles and appear slightly dry around the edges when they are ready to turn. If they begin to brown, they are overdone! Flip them, and remove as soon as they appear firm.

Drain on a paper towel-lined tray, and sprinkle with salt. Allow to cool somewhat before eating. Continue to cook in small batches until all the chips are done. Enjoy with your favorite jarred or homemade salsa – or with this next yummy dip!

Tortilla Chip Dip

  • 1 (8 oz) container of Bison-brand French Onion Dip (you can try a different brand if you can’t get Bison in your area; but since it’s the best French Onion Dip ever made, bar none, you may want to consider moving.) :)
  • 1 (8 oz) bar of cream cheese
  • 1 package of Taco Seasoning Mix (or one recipe of seasoning mix, to follow)
  • Shredded lettuce, cheddar cheese, chopped tomatoes (optional)
Soften the cream cheese in a medium-sized mixing bowl with beaters or a fork, until light and fluffy; mix in remaining ingredients until thoroughly combined. Serve as is, or topped with shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes and/or shredded cheddar. Serve tastefully surrounded with freshly-made tortilla chips.

Homemade Taco Seasoning Mix

This is easy and delicious, and a great help if you are all ready to make tacos and suddenly realize you have no mix on hand! Since it’s made from common kitchen spices, you may never need to make an emergency taco-spice run to the convenience store again! You can vary any of the spices to taste, to make your own custom blend. One recipe equals one package of mix (suitable for seasoning 1 lb of meat for tacos).
  • 1 T flour
  • 1 t chili powder
  • 1 t paprik
  • ¾ t salt
  • ½ t onion powder
  • ½ t cumin
  • ¼ t cayenne pepper
  • ¼ t garlic powder
  • 1/8 t oregano, crushed
  • ¼ t sugar (optional)

Mix all together in a small bowl, and use in any recipe calling for one package of taco seasoning. If not used immediately, store alongside other spices, in a small sealed container.

(To make taco filling, brown 1 lb of ground beef in a large skillet; drain fat. Add seasoning mix, and 2/3 c water; mix thoroughly. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Makes enough for about 12 tacos.)

Finally, no Christmas Season in our home would be complete without one of our all-time favorite cookies:

Mexican Wedding Cakes

  • ½ c confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter (not! Margarine), softened
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 2 ¼ c all-purpose flour
  • ¼ t salt
  • ¾ c very finely-chopped pecans
  • More confectioners’ sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Mix thoroughly sifted sugar, butter and vanilla. Sift in flour and salt; work into creamed mixture with nuts until dough holds together.

Shape into 1” (about thumb’s width) balls. Place on ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheet; bake 10-12 minutes or until set, but not brown.

While still warm, roll in confectioners’ sugar. Cool completely, then roll in sugar again. (Don't skip either rolling -- this is what makes these cookies melt in your mouth!)

Makes about 4 dozen.

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  1. This sounds absolutely delicious, thanks Eileen!

  2. Thanks! I can`t wait to try the taco seasoning and homeade tortillas! My girlfriend is from Mexico and says I should definately use lard instead of veg shortening says its how they are made by real Mexicans, lol. But, I am very afraid so I`ll just use my trans fat tree shortening ;)

  3. Great recipes - we'll be doing a Mexican meal here tonight as well - enchiladas I think.

  4. Yum! Not that I ever need an excuse to make (or eat) Mexican food . . . we love it! It'd be a great reason to pull out my great-grandmother's recipe for tortillas - she recommends using either bacon grease or lard! :)

    Thank you also for the taco seasoning recipe!