Cooking Club last month was themed Christmas in July and before I read the actual text of the evite I must admit I thought she was nuts. My first thoughts were “Maaaaannnn I don’t want to cook heavy winter food now. I want to make food with all the amazing produce in season.” Grudgingly, I read the evite and saw her awesome twist: we had to cook something that was served where Christmas happens in the summer! Think Australia, New Zealand, anywhere in the southern hemisphere. Ahhhh, I love a challenge.
I’ve always wanted to make tamales and they are traditionally made for holiday celebrations in Latin and Southern American countries. Perfect! I soon found out why tamales are made for special occasions, by groups of people. I also decided to make a “double” batch. The recipe I used came from Cooks Illustrated and was supposed to make 12. I really wanted to bring at least a dozen to CC and have some left over at home. So I doubled the recipe rather than make the tamale base two times. Bad idea! I almost burnt out my food processor. The dough gets very thick and sticky but steams into total deliciousness. I’m putting the recipe for a single batch below… and don’t worry, I think it makes more than 12. I made at least 20 and STILL had enough left over to throw it in a 7″ round casserole dish with some filling layered in the middle.
Hilary did a great job playing up the theme. She hung personally hand-knit mini stockings along her staircase. She hunted down some Sparkling Shiraz (yum!) and Christmas Crackers to make it feel more like an Australian Christmas.
Christmas Crackers are these cute little hard-candy-looking-things that you pull apart with a friend to reveal a corny joke and a prize. Inside my Cracker: a shoe horn (killer prize, right?!) and this joke: Why don’t ducks tell jokes while they are flying? Are you ready for it? Because they would quack up. I admit it, I laughed. Also, you must seek out sparkling shiraz and try it. I love red wine and I was nervous about adding bubbles to an already good thing but it was so fun and festive and good!
Also of note on our menu, salmon with a delicious green olive & herb topping, a tomato-ricotta pie, cute little mini quiche bites with red pepper capsicum & arugula rocket (these were addictive) and of course a pavlova & Christmas cookies!
The pavlova was insanely good. Light and airy and creamy and crispy and soft. Ohmigod. So good. Fresh whipped cream served as a delicate pillow pedestal for the blueberries. They were the perfect sweet-tart compliment to the whole thing. I’m still thinking about that dessert. Perhaps I’ll ask Hilary for the recipe and re-create just it for you (alright, really for me).
. . .
Tamale recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated
Fresh Corn Tamales
2 ears of sweet corn (Jersey Silver Queen if you’re lucky!)
2/3 cup quick grits (not instant)
3/4 cup masa harina (will say “para tamales” on the package – can be found in good supermarkets)
4 tbl butter, cut into small cubes and slightly softened
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tbl sugar
1½ tsp baking powder
Your favorite filling (recipe for the one I made is below)
Masa dough: Place grits in a medium sized bowl. Whisk in 1 1/4 cups boiling water. It’s okay if they are a little lumpy – that’ll get fixed later. Let it stand 10 minutes. Stir in masa harina; cover and cool to room temperature. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on fresh masa from a latin grocer, skip this whole section and just use 2 cups of the fresh stuff.
Tamales: Cut the top and bottom (just above the base) off each ear of corn. Carefully remove husks, being careful not to tear them. Shred two of the innermost small husks to make ties; cover with a damp towel and set aside. Remove and discard corn silk from corn. Save the cobs.
Slice kernels off cob and scrape each cob with back of knife to remove remaining bits of corn and juice. Place the corn, bits, and juice into a food processor; pulse to a medium-coarse puree. Add in the remaining ingredients (except the husks); pulse several times to combine and then process until the mixture is smooth, about 1 minute.
Time to set up your steaming apparatus. I used 2-tiered 9” bamboo steamer. Possibly better: use a collapsible veggie steamer (and the way suggested by CI) or a pasta pot with insert (how I’d do it next time). I didn’t have either of those and my set-up worked fine. If using a veggie steamer: add about 1 inch of water in a large saucepan. Set the collapsible veggie steamer into saucepan. If using the pasta pot or my method, add enough water so there is about 2” between the steamer and the water. Add in the corn cobs to boil and give extra flavor. Line steamer and pan sides with corn husks.
To form the tamales: lay a large, outer husk on your counter with the edges curling inward. Place the wider end (what was the bottom of the corn) closest to you. Add about ½ cup of the masa dough to the center of the husk. Wet your fingers with some water and spread the masa down the husk, leaving at least 1.5” at the bottom. Spread it to within ¾” of the sides of the husk. Add about 1 tablespoon of the filling of your choice (see mine below) and spread slightly vertically. Using the free edges of the husk on both sides, roll the masa gently together, sealing the filling in the middle. The masa should totally encase the filling. Next, fold the edges of the husk inward, letting them overlap. Fold the bottom free husk up and tie a strip of husk in a double knot around it to hold it in place. Your first tamal is complete! It gets easier as you make more. You can also fold down the top and tie that down too, if you’d like which is what I ended up doing.
As the tamales are made, stand them upright in the prepared steamer. Cover and steam, checking water level frequently and replenishing with boiling water as needed. The tamales are done when they separate easily from the husks, about 1¼ to 1½ hours. Serve with Tomatillo Salsa Verde (recipe below).
. . .
½ cup sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup queso fresco, broken into small pieces
¼ cup finely chopped pickled jalapeño
Any extra corn kernels not used for the masa dough
1 tsp black pepper
Mix all the ingredients together, taste for salt content and adjust if needed.
Other tamale fillings:
– Nothing, leave’em plain
– Just cheese, your favorite cheese, whatever it is
– Shredded chicken, pork, beef, pot roast, brisket, whatever you have left over just shred it up! Add some onion, cheese, and your favorite seasonings.
– Sweet stuff: cherries, chocolate, ricotta and peaches, go wild!
. . .
Quick Pineapple-Tomatillo Salsa Verde
1 10-12oz can tomatillos
¼ cup pineapple, diced (optional)
¼ cup onions, diced fine
1 clove garlic, diced fine
2 tbl pickled jalapeños
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Salt & Pepper to taste
Add all ingredients in a food processor. Process until smooth. Keep refrigerated in an air tight container for up to 2 weeks.