Tamales: Still a Work in Progress.

I'll admit that I really wasn't looking forward to making these this year. Not only do I tend to be messy in the kitchen sometimes, but this is tedious cooking. You can't obsessively check the iPod for email every five minutes or run after a 3 year old that decides to stick his tiny fingers into an oversized bell Christmas ornament only to get it stuck. I did the bulk of the work yesterday, so today I just had to assemble. I'm proud to say that I now have about 30 tamales, and that my kitchen is not a complete disaster area. I maintained a clean work space!

I used a Rick Bayless recipe for the filling. Basically, a sauce of Guajillo chiles, garlic and a few spices, pureed, strained and added with water to cubed pork shoulder. Rick has you simmer the open pot for about an hour, and then you are supposed to shred the meat with forks. Since I could not be bothered with that, I (*gasp*) employed my immersion blender. I actually did this last year on a whim after I was making a complete mess of things, and it worked so well I intentionally did it yesterday. It leaves you with a nice texture and uniformity that forks can not duplicate. If you are looking for a more rustic tamal, I wouldn't try it though.

My work area, above, is as clean at the start as at the end of my endeavor. It helped that I completely cleared my counter of flours and the KitchenAid. I appreciate minimalism, but it just is something I can not employ myself - especially in my kitchen.

The tamales were wrapped and in the steamer by 10:30! I was feeling so accomplished, but then I realized that the last times I've made tamales alone I made more than twice as many, was not as organized and was rushed by attending to a much younger Boy-O. Relatively speaking, this was a snap!

They did steam ALL day. This is one thing that I don't understand, Mr. Bayless. Every single tamal recipe I've ever seen says to steam them for about an hour to an hour and a half. At 4 p.m. today, I finally shut off the burner and called it a day. My house was a sauna, the heat hadn't run all day - even with the door cracked in the kitchen - and the little guys still felt a little soft in the centers. From past experiences, I find if I just cease and pop the whole steamer into the fridge overnight and start again the next day, it is just fine. Sometimes they even seem to firm up in the cold and don't have to steam as long.

Since so much of the day was monitoring, I was able to complete the Sparkling Cranberries that I started yesterday when I was talking to my Mom on the phone. I didn't think I'd get time to try this recipe from 101 Cookbooks before Christmas hit, but I'm glad I had a few extra minutes to do it. It really is simple, just soak 2 cups of cranberries in a simple syrup of 2 c. sugar to 2 c. water overnight, and then toss with coarse and granulated sugar.

The only thing that I would add, is to save the drained simple syrup! One of my most favorite things is to shake the juice of half a lime, a 1/16 of of t. of stevia powder, ice to fill and water to top off in my little "serves one" cocktail shaker to make Limeade. The pretty pink syrup stood in nicely for the more virtuous stevia today, and imbued my drink the loveliest shade of pink. The cranberries themselves are completely addicting as well. They are tart and sweet and pop and crunch upon contact with your teeth.

After a day spent steaming and working on that Rancho Gordo soup, I'm ready to go. But now I fear an impending snowstorm and a dreaded Winter Weather Advisory is going to prevent us from going 3 hours into the west to the home of my Parents on Wednesday afternoon. I never encountered this phenomenon of not making it home for Christmas until 3 years ago, when it was a sad surprise that we were snowboundedly staying put. I am ever thankful for my boys, but was so upset. That year, we couldn't all get together again until February.

There is this little pang in the pit of my heart even now that these Weatherpeople are actually telling the truth and I will yet again not make it home for Christmas. If this is indeed the case, I'm going to have to invite someones for supper on Christmas Eve! I'm still hopeful that it will all be in error, and that our Big Mexican Dinner will be enjoyed Christmas Eve as usual. Otherwise I may not have to cook until the New Year.