Flour Tortillas Without the Wait? (Updated)

I’m thinking about making flour tortillas and went back to look at the recipe with a critical eye, thinking there was a wait time involved. Sure enough, it was 3:00 when I started looking it up, and from kneaded it calls for at least 3 hours on the counter before forming into balls, rolling and cooking. I thought I might do it anyway, being at a loss for what to make if not burritos, but decided to look up other recipes to see if the wait is a universal.

It’s not.

I found this great video, which if nothing else shows good rolling technique:

For a moment I thought she was going to say put the little balls in the fridge, or let them sit out, but nope… immediate gratification.

What is fascinating about this video and at least one written recipe I saw is that they call for baking powder. Our recipe does not. I have to wonder if that makes the difference.

Maybe, but what it definitely does is make the tortillas in the video puff up like balloons, shades of what a pita recipe is supposed to do in a high temperature oven and with a thicker form of flatbread. (Flatbread variants fascinate me, and it’s logical that they were invented in various overlapping forms in various cultures and regions.)

At any rate, great, fast video, different technique than you’ve seen here in our traditional recipe and method. My burrito plans would appear to be saved. It’s at least worth a try, to see how they come out. Perhaps I’ll update later with results.


They were easy to make and it worked basically as advertised.  It was convenient, doing them so quickly.  It made about 16 smallish tortillas and only 2 remain.  However…. They don’t taste nearly as good as the recipe that leaves out the baking powder but has a 3 hour rest time.  I’d love to come up with a happy medium, where they are faster and easy to work with – these seemed to roll out better, though weather conditions favored it – while also being as tasty.

Culinary in the Desert

I’d like to make note of a favorite food blog of mine

, albeit not one focused on frugality. It is Culinary in the Desert and there’s always something droolfully amazing there.

I haven’t fixed this place to have a blogroll yet

, but they will be on it. What’s odd is I never developed much of a food blog or related sites blogroll/link list over there. I’d like to do better in this place.

As such, I am open to suggestions…

Accidental Chinese-Style Chicken Fingers

Last night I had some newly bought boneless chicken breasts from a $1.99/lb sale at Hannaford , wanted to use them, make it fast, be different and please the kids, and wanted to stretch them as far as possible. I sometimes make fried chicken with a dry coating based on flour and/or oatmeal, but for some reason – perhaps recent talk of making allergy-free pancakes sometime (after I get syrup for them) – I thought of making fried chicken strips in a batter coating. Hadn’t done that before.

I searched and found this recipe for eggless Chinese shrimp batter, which seemed like just the thing to adapt for chicken.

It looked like too little, so I doubled it. I also used soy milk instead of water, initially, then mainly water to thin it. It was way too thick. We’re talking a lot of extra liquid, perhaps almost a cup on a recipe that when doubled called for half a cup. I cut up two boneless breasts into thin strips, picturing relatively short chicken fingers. Dipped them in the batter and fried them in oil deep enough to cook one side, flip them and the other side. Deep fryer would presumably be better.

They came out nearly perfect, except I seasoned the batter and it came out a bit odd. To me. The kids loved them. It may have come out odd because I grabbed the poultry seasoning and poured some in, then found the poultry seasoning toward the back of the cabinet and realized I’d used the nearly identical container of ginger. At that point I’d have been better off leaving it the ginger, salt, pepper, garlic powder and pinch of red pepper, not adding poultry seasoning and rosemary. Oh well.

The other problem? No dipping sauce! I love dipping my Chinese chicken fingers, which they looked identical to, in duck/plum sauce. Kids didn’t care, but I decided to try whipping up something fast. Used a little red plum jam, less grape (would have used more plum and no grape but that is a closeout item and a favorite of the kids we may not find again any time soon), some water, lemon juice, soy sauce, brown sugar and ginger, heated briefly in the microwave and stirred into a thinner liquid than I might have preferred. It worked, except for being too strong on the grape flavor. If I plan these ahead sometime, I’ll make or buy something better.

The batter made me think I could do something similar to make fritters. I could also see adding oatmeal for a crunchy fried chicken batter, taking it away from the Chinese style.

Stay tuned for further experiments, and perhaps pictures, which are still on the camera.

Zucchini Fritters

I partially answered my own squash question, finding a ton of zucchini recipes online.

So when I turned off the computer in deference to thunderstorms yesterday afternoon, I started experimenting ahead of when I would otherwise have started making supper. I decided to try making zucchini fritters, using two of the five at the linked page.

I didn’t use any of these recipes, but I was intrigued by the pancakes, faux crab cakes, and Lucky Olive’s Zucchini ideas there. I don’t have any Old Bay seasoning, nor having I smelled or tasted it to my knowledge, so I’d have to wing it, combining the seasonings that are, in some proportion, a part of Old Bay. Which already sounds like something I’d come up with, except I seldom use the dry mustard in anything but Laurie’s Spicy Chicken (which I may as well repost here, if Google is going to have such an insanely hard time locating the post).

I also thought zucchini enchiladas sounded intriguing, though it intrigued me as much that it didn’t call for canned enchilada sauce, and could presumably be adapted to chicken, or a mix of chicken and veggie.

Anyway, I was mainly focused on the 4th fritter recipe, but I was intrigued by the 2nd one, as anything that calls for mint is so rare in my experience.

Here is the first recipe I used, as written, with points of concern in red:

3 cups of coarsely grated zucchini
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons of milk
2 teaspoons of all purpose flour
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh mint or
1 teaspoon of dried mint leaves

Place zucchini in colander; let drain 1 hour. In a large bowl, with a wire whisk, beat the eggs until they’re frothy. Add remaining ingredients; whisk until blended. Stir in the zucchini, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper. Preheat oven to 200ºF. In large skillet, over medium to high heat, heat 2 tablespoons salad oil. Spoon in fritters batter, using 1 tablespoon butter for each fritter, adding more oil as necessary. Cook 1 minute on each side, until golden brown. Keep warm, covered with aluminum foil, on platter in oven until ready to serve. Makes 6 servings.

First annotation, the flour; this seems to be too little. My proportions were off because I used one cup of zucchini but used a whole rather large egg, but if you compare to the later recipe, the minimalist amount of flour makes little sense. They came out almost custardy, with kind of a soggy texture. The mint flavor went poorly. It would be better simply to steam, boil, even roast or bake zucchini with mint.

I grated one zucchini, resulting in 3 1/3 cups to use. As noted, I decided to use a cup for the mint variant, interpreting 2+ cups as about right for the garlic, oregano and parm variant. Though in reality what I grated was little more than a medium zucchini, so you could interpret the second recipe as saying to use five or six cups.

The grated zucchini went into a colander that nested into a bowl so it could shed liquid, and I mixed in a fair amount of salt to aid that process, letting it sit quite a while.

Anyway, I beat an egg, added and beat in maybe a tablespoon of milk, a teaspoon of flour, a couple dashes of black pepper, and near half a teaspoon of dried mint. Flour by the teaspoon? Still sounds weird to me. Then I mixed in the zucchini thoroughly.

I used olive oil for frying; not very deep. One lesson is they could have used more oil. That second annotation I realized, after momentary confusion, that it was a typo of batter. It’s not saying to add a tablespoon of butter for each fritter.

The modified recipe made four, nice and neat. They were thinner and runnier than the later ones, and I was surprised while they were still cooking as they seemed hesitant to get crispy. Getting Deb to eat zucchini is mainly about texture. That they came out like custard was no help, given that she disliked custard due to its texture.

You could eat them and live, but they were weird. I snacked down about one and a half, including a small piece I gave Sadie that sadly made her uninterested in trying the other kind later. She made a face and discarded it.

Not recommended. But I’d still love some ideas on what to make using mint, since I have a jar of it on the spice rack.

Here’s the recipe as written for the other fritter variety I tried:

2 medium zucchini, unpeeled & shredded
1 cup of flour
2 beaten eggs
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1 teaspoon of oregano
1 clove minced garlic
1/4 cup of water
1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese

Combine and mix all ingredients. Mixture will be the consistency of pancake batter. Drop by tablespoonfuls into hot oil and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

I had two cups and a fraction of shredded zucchini, as mentioned, and I decided to treat that as the quantity correct for the recipe. Who’s to say what “medium” means, after all.
, except it was Parmesan and Romano, rather than straight parm, and I used a little extra, and the clove of garlic was fairly large. I also added a dribble of extra water when I couldn’t even mix the batter, it was so thick. I scoffed at the “consistency of pancake batter” part, but it was, for relatively thick values of pancake batter. The moisture in the zucchini saw to that.

I made the oil deeper for these, and they tended to be thicker. Used slightly higher heat and made sure they were cooked as crisp as could be expected.

Deb liked it.

Valerie ate three of the twelve the recipe made. Sadie didn’t try them.

I thought they were tasty, maybe a bit strong on the garlic, but strong as it was, the oregano flavor shone through too.

We ate all twelve before and during dinner, despite having chicken, rice, summer squash and lima beans too.

I cooked the chicken in the same oil, figuring the flavor infused from the fritters would be a good base. I added a touch of garlic powder, red pepper, generous paprika, dash of ginger, celery salt, pinch of oregano, and some Italian seasoning. It was one of the tastiest batches of random chicken I’ve ever made.

I keep forgetting; I have pictures.

Plate of food for one of the kids, including part of a fritter:

Shredded zucchini, ready for its closeup:

Mint zucchini fritters:

Garlic oregano parmesan zucchini fritters:

Hummus Blog

Somehow in the course of finding the reference recipe there for hummus that I used in my experiment, I neglected to note that the source was in fact a blog; The Hummus Blog. It’s a cool source of info on hummus, chick peas, tahini and falafel. It’s also quite critical of American takes on hummus, and recipes that call for canned chick peas. That explains why that recipe actually called for dried ones, which were what I had.

Pita Pocket Bread and Hummus Experiments

So I experimented making two related foods: pita bread and hummus. The recipes linked are what I followed most closely, though I tend to do a survey of various recipes for a given item and get a feel for what they involve and have in common, and what might make good variants. It is worth noting that Triticale has an interesting hummus recipe that goes into the many possible variations.

Pictures are at the end of the post.

Pita is basically just one of the many forms of flatbread that seem common in wide swaths of the world. You start to see what the differences and commonalities are, but whether it’s made with lard and salt water, milk and yeast, water and yeast, in the oven or on a pan, coated with egg yolk, clarified butter, oil, or nothing, it all starts with some form of flour and results in a more or less flat result that can be used to wrap or pick up food. Pita pocket bread is different in that it’s commonly encouraged to puff up so there is a pocket when you’re done. Perhaps it will work that way for me next time.

The result tasted awesome. We learned it does not keep long out in a zipper bag in the kitchen in summer. Next time

, we refrigerate, as you do with flour tortillas.

We had them with the hummus, but more so with butter, peanut butter, or honey. I even tried a little straight tahini on a pita chip. Tahini is essentially natural “peanut butter” made out of sesame seeds; sesame butter, if you will. It has a nutty flavor, and will make your mouth stick together worse than any peanut butter I ever tried. I’m convinced it mainly needs to be used in other foods, or with something else; perhaps tahini plus honey on a cracker or bread, for instance.

The dough turned out way too sticky. To work with the stuff at all, the rolled out dough was thick with flour on the outside. They were baked that way and it looked funny. This recipe called oil in the bowl in which the dough rises, such that the whole thing has a coating. Other recipes called for brushing a little oil on the rolled out pita before it baked. Afghanistan’s variant of flat bread is essentially the same as pita bread, but you score it and brush it with egg yolk before baking.

So, next time the dough gets more flour or less water in it to keep it from being so sticky, and I’d be inclined to brush them with olive oil before baking.

Also, the oven needs to have more time than I gave it to warm up, and the higher the temperature, the better. The recipe says 500. I ended up at 550, and it’s apparently traditional to do them in ovens that can be more like 700. The first batch was cooked, but just.

I did get some puffing. Any degree to which I was able or bothered to turn any of the result into pockets required a knife to insist that they open.

They were just plain tasty. The kids loved them. They also made pretty good chips. I cut one into little triangles and used top brown in the toaster oven to crisp them. That worked perfectly.

They were kind of a pain in some ways, but overall pretty easy.

Hummus is basically cooked, ground up chick peas, also called garbanzo beans, with some other stuff, most notably tahini. Most of the time you are using lemon juice, and I wish I’d had fresh. They also call for garlic. All the recipes I’ve seen call for canned beans, and I can see where that would be convenient. I just happened to have dry beans.

I used have the 16 oz package, quick soaking them as I would pinto beans. That is, put them in a pan of water, bring it to a boil, then immediately turn it off, let them soak and hour or more, then drain, add fresh water, and cook.

I used two cloves of chopped garlic. That was too much, without having used more lemon juice or something else to balance it.

When the beans are ready, you’re basically running them through a blender or food processor to turn them and the other ingredients into dip-like paste. I used the cooking water from the beans as needed when it was too thick.

I departed from the recipe by adding a little red pepper and cumin from the spice cabinet. I also goofed and forgot to add the olive oil, which I should have remembered after looking at a variety of hummus recipes. It does work as an addition when serving, but the hummus would have been better with it added. Finally, I see it says to grind the chick peas, cool them, then add the rest. Oops. I was only half paying attention to the recipe.

Frankly, I am more interested in making pita bread again than in making hummus again, but Deb enjoyed it enough that it might be worth an experiment… with real lemon and more of it this time, and some other adjustments. The pita bread is just a nice variant to have for sandwich-like usage, it doesn’t need the hummus as an excuse. Plus the kids loved the bread and hated the hummus, and there’s pretty much nothing they don’t eat.

Okay, here are the pictures. First, the beans cooking:

Hummus in the blender. I started with the food processor but it was both too small to hold it all at once, and surprisingly ineffective at complete and consistent choppage:

Hummus as served in a bowl, with a little olive oil and red pepper added:

Now the pitas, starting with the dough, still there despite having risen:

The dough after splitting it up. I made 13 of these, but might have been better to make no more than 10 and roll them a bit thicker:

Uncooked pita dough, rolled and ready for the oven:

Pitas on the cookie sheet:

Stack of cooked pitas:

Pita chips:

Chili and Refried Beans

Sharon has what sounds like a tasty and easy chili recipe, complete with actual measurements. I notice it doesn’t call for chili powder, but you’ll note that it includes all the components of chili powder: cumin, cayenne pepper, garlic and oregano. I also love cornbread with chili. Her post and the cold weather inspired me to make some last night, even if it is nontraditional with pasta and red sauce. The kids just love it, until they get full and merely turn it into tiny crumbs.

I made my version of chili the other day and meant to write about it, so I thought it was funny we were doing unplanned chili synchronization between households.

First a bit about history.

Once upon a time, I used to make what I call faux chili based on cheap cans of Campbell’s Pork & Beans. Which isn’t so odd, in that they are pinto beans in a tomato-based sauce, and chili seems to be made normally with pinto and/or kidney beans. I considered it both tasty and part of eating cheap, which will be the topic of another post Real Soon Now. Let’s just say I didn’t know from eating cheap, and didn’t know at the time that cans of those beans on sale 3 or 4 to a dollar was not that cheap.

Back then, I’d cook up some pepper and onion if I had it, ground beef, toss in beans, season it mainly with chili powder, add some ketchup and a squirt of yellow mustard, add sugar or brown sugar as needed, and serve it to myself for 2 or 3 big meals. It was quite good. I believe I also used tomato paste at least sometimes.

Lately I’ve discovered the joys of dry beans, taking it back closer to scratch and being really cheap. When I knew I was spending my last cash for probably a couple weeks on stocking up groceries last week (except a little reserved for milk and a few other run-outs), knowing the rate we’d been using them and comparing the unit price, I bought a 64 oz. bag of pinto beans instead of the customary one or two 16 oz bags.

Dry beans require planning. You can’t get to 5:00 or 6:00 and say “hey, let’s have beans!” We put them in a pot of water, bring it to a boil, then turn them off and let the gassiness soak out of the beans for an hour or more before draining them and adding fresh water for the actual cooking.

At that point you have beans on their way to ready for whatever you mean to make. Heck, you could serve just beans with some butter, salt and pepper on them, the way my father loves shell beans. When I set out to make chili, I wasn’t sure if it would be truly ready on time, and even if so, we would also want refried beans around in the next couple days for burritos.

I cooked 16 oz. of beans, 2 cups dry, and when they were cooked enough, I took two cups or so wet out of the pan, and some of the water as needed, for refried beans.

For the refried beans, I actually used a medium sauce pan. I threw in a generous chunk of butter (probably 3 tablespoons), cooked a handful of chopped fresh garlic, onion and green pepper, all of which are optional or could be replaced with dry seasonings. All you really need is beans, if you want nothing more than their yummy flavor. What I missed is an effective masher, and I’d not cooked the beans to the point of mush before splitting them for refried and chili.

When the flavoring veggies were cooked right (translucent onions, for instance), I threw in the beans, did a lot of smooshing and stirring as best I could, adding liquid as needed to keep them from being too stiff and dry to work with or to cook without burning. I also added I forget what else, but mainly cumin, not a lot, and possibly some red pepper, cilantro or oregano. The beans came out tasting mostly like beans, to give some idea; more enhanced than flavored. They were absolutely fantastic and got raves. We did indeed have burritos that night and let the chili simmer longer. It was interesting making two suppers at once, but a huge treat not cooking the second day.

The stiff texture of the beans made me picture making sandwiches based on them. I figured mix a small amount of finely shredded meat in with them, maybe use meat broth to imbue them with meat flavor, and there you’d have a serious meat stretcher or substitute. Which means I just reinvented the idea of falafel, sort of.

Back to the chili…

My new favorite thing to do is make chili not with expensive ground beef, but with the cheapest on sale beef, like top round for London broil at $1.69 or whatever. By comparison, I recently bought 90% ground beef and by buying it in a 6.67 lb package at BJ’s got the remarkably low price of $2.29. Chili would be fine with the fattier ground beef, fortunately, but we normally buy and freeze one kind and use as needed, rather than running to the store specifically for a variant for a meal we decided to make.

I cut the beef into small chunks and add it to a frying pan with, optionally, stuff like chopped garlic, pepper and onion. I add spices to it, or to the butter before it goes in, including but not always celery flakes, cilantro, red pepper, black pepper, paprika, allspice, ginger, cumin, oregano, and chili powder. Without the real versions added, that would include garlic and onion. I basically stir regularly and cook until done, letting some of the juice cook off but keeping some.

If I ever remember, I will probably throw a small amount of vinegar in with the meat not long after it starts cooking.

In the meantime, I’ve thrown some chili powder and maybe other spices into the beans. Tomato-based stuff can go in before or after the meat. I normally use tomato paste, as small can, and ketchup, using more as needed later to adjust the flavor. Diced tomato, tomato soup, or whatever would work, depending what you have and what you like. The beauty of chili is it’s highly variable and a matter of taste.

A little vinegar can be good, giving it added tang, especially if you are not using ketchup, or have too little ketchup on hand. I keep forgetting until the chili is well underway, and then this time I added too much. The small dribble turned into a good sized glug. It didn’t ruin the chili, but it added more tang than I planned and needed to cook and soak in far longer to balance the flavor.

After everything is mixed together, it’s just cook, stir, taste, adjust as needed. I normally throw in a not insignificant amount of brown and/or white sugar. I normally add more chili powder at least once, and perhaps other spices depending how strong the flavor seems. If you get it too spicy, it remains too spicy, but at least sugar tends to ease the bite.

What amounts to no more than 3/4 of a 16 oz. bag of beans and no more than 2 lbs of beef makes us two good meals. It can be served with shredded cheese, a dab of sour cream, tortilla chips, bread and butter, or corn bread as mentioned earlier. It can be made thinner or thicker. It can be made in greater or lesser proportions of beef to beans. It can be made hotter or milder. Whatever I start with, mine tends to come out in a particular taste range, frankly almost identical to the taste I used to achieve starting with Campbell’s beans and owning a smaller variety of spices. I haven’t tried it on hot dogs yet…

I actually have pictures off the camera in time to use them in the actual post. Some orphan pictures should follow today in their own post. I had some fun with raw ingredient or cooking stage pictures this time around, just plain trying to get interesting pictures.

Partially cooked and then mostly done refried beans:

The chili, done or near the end: