Butter Tortillas.

I'm sure you've heard we are once again living in the golden age of butter.  Butter makes everything better, and I can't tell you how liberating it is to just use it without the guilt of the low-fat '90's plaguing me.  My whole outlook on fat has obviously changed for the better over the past several  years, and strangely I not gained a single pound in the process (well, not counting the gains and loss of baby weight...).  While eating more fat, I have also never purchased less prepared food in my life: in part due to our economic status, but even more because whenever I read a label, I lose my appetite.

There are quite a few "convenience" foods that I haven't bought it ages and canned beans and tortillas top the list.  For years, I quietly made my own corn tortillas using Maseca and an aluminum tortilla press that someone gave me years ago.  I never made flour tortillas; my Mom always made them without a recipe, and hers were untouchable good.  Then two things happened.  My aluminum press broke, and Deena posted about some whole wheat flour tortillas that I tried and loved.  They were made with a ratio, not by feel and I could handle that.

I used her post as my only recipe for a long time, probably exclusively for about a year after my tortilla press bit the dust.  Then by chance, I was leafing through Peter Reinhart's Crust and Crumb - still one of my favorite bread books ever.  How had I never seen there was a tortilla recipe there?  How could a tortilla made with softened butter be bad?  I had to experiment.


Not only are these consistently good, I found that I could use virtually any flour and have them turn out wonderfully.  I've used all whole wheat and part whole wheat, high-protein bread flour, or spelt, or whatever I've had ground and needing to be used up.  I remember to take out some butter early in the day and by the time I'm ready to mix up the dough it's soft and ready to go.

Before being forced to master the flour tortilla, I never let my cast iron heat up long enough.  Awhile back, my Mom bought me a double burner cast iron comal when we were shopping at our favorite "junk shop".  It was like new, and took very little reseasoning to get it conditioned.  This allows me to make tortillas twice as fast.  A batch of 8 can be done in about 20 minutes if I let the iron heat for about 10 minutes before I'm ready to start griddling them.  And 20 minutes standing over my stove tending to the rest of the meal simultaneously makes me feel like the best kind of multitasker. 

I like to mix up the tortilla dough several hours before using it.  It seems to hydrate the dough - and somehow makes the whole process feel like less work.  Many times, I'll cook the tortillas before I even start the rest of the dinner - nestling them in blankets of tea towels to keep them warm and pliable.  I used to try to roll them too thin, now I aim for a slightly more substantial feel.  I'm also lucky to have a Roul'Pat for my counter, which lets me use less flour when rolling too.  I use that for all of my breadmaking as well, so I'd recommend it as a good investment if you do a lot of baking, or as a gift for someone you know who does.

I form the dough into balls, and then let them sit up to several hours until I'm ready to griddle them.

I find this makes the perfect amount for one meal with perhaps a few leftover depending on our appetites.  Double the recipe easily if you'd like more. They do hold well for a few days in the refrigerator, but then I like to steam them in some sort of creative stovetop contraption before serving them.  If toasted, they become nicely brittle: make them into homemade chips or tostada shells easily by baking them for 10 minutes or so at 350.

Flour Tortillas made with Butter (Peter Reinhart's ratio)
8 tortillas
  • 8 oz. (1 3/4 c.) bread flour (I like half whole wheat and half AP flour most of the time)
  • big pinch of salt
  • 2 oz. (half a stick or 1/4 c.) room temperature butter
  • 4 oz. (1/2 c.) warm water
Combine flour, salt, and butter in a large bowl and use your fingers to rub the butter into the flour until it is evenly coated and no large pieces of butter remain.  (I usually taste the dough to see if the salt is to my liking.)  Pour the warm water over and use your hand or a wooden spoon to form a rough dough.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead a few times to form into a smooth round ball.  (Because I like to let the dough sit for so long, I don't spend too much time kneading it as time is my ally in hydrating and developing the gluten.  If you are going to use the dough soon after making, knead for 2-3 minutes to form a better dough.)

Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces, and roll each piece into a tight round.  Cover with a bowl (the same one used for mixing works) or plastic wrap to keep them from drying out.  Heat iron skillet over medium to medium-high for 10 minutes before cooking them (a drop of water should sizzle and evaporate quickly - you'll need to reduce the heat then because the cast iron retains heat so well).  Roll out each ball of dough to about an 8 inch circle using a bit of flour.  Try not to have an excess of flour as you transfer them to the pan or they can burn on the griddle.  Cook on the first side until large bubbles start to form, then flip and cook the on the opposite side.  Once browned, flip over if needed to finish cooking on the first side.  Meanwhile, you can roll your next tortilla and have it ready to go by the time the first one is finished cooking.

Stack the just cooked tortillas in a stack of tea towels to keep them warm.


So just why haven't I bought another tortilla press yet?  In part because flour tortillas are just so good.  I also really do not want to waste money on another cheaply made aluminum press.  I have my eye on this $75 beauty, but better I want to have my brother make one for me.  With wooden plates more than an inch thick, it won't warp and will always press a tortilla perfectly flat... not to mention it will be something I'll have forever.  I'm actually glad I don't have one yet because in the time frame since I've been missing it, Mexico went corn-GMO free - so the Maseca of the future will be better for all of us.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and in my case, the mother of mastery since I no longer am phobic of making sub-par flour tortillas.  They still aren't my Mom's, but they are very good and I can make them almost as fast as corn tortillas.  I generally make something involving the tortilla once a week, so this past year I might have made as many as 30 dozen tortillas, and I am now completely sold on them made with butter. 

Just this week I saw that America's Test Kitchen released a tortilla making video, not using butter but also using warm water.  Give it a look for some science behind that - and for another recipe to try.

Born in the '50's. (Sourdough Tortillas and Mock Empanadas.)

I sometimes feel like I was born in the 50's. (Cue the Police.)

That was always one of my favorite tracks on Outlandos d'Amour, which I had (and who am I kidding, still have) on cassette. About the time that was in constant replay (about 15 years after it's 1978 release), I remember thinking how it could be possible that Sting was roughly the same age as my parents. C'mon, he was my age, right?

When I look back on my formative years, I do feel like it was a different era... and I suppose I get to thinking about this the most when Sundays roll around. We were a family who ate together every night, except for Sunday nights. Every weekday, there was one thing we could count on: that around 6:30 we would all be sitting around the dining room table. I didn't really know too many other people who did that, and it is probably true that I still don't. Even in my own 3 person family unit, only 2 of us are often eating meals together, since my Husband works strange hours (and has a strange appetite).

On most of my childhood Sundays, we would usually eat a later lunch. One that was often set on time-bake in the oven, to be ready approximately 30 minutes to an hour after we got home from church. Sunday nights were different, since we didn't usually have a planned dinner. We would pick at leftovers or make sandwiches, usually as a family. It may seem idyllic that my family life was like a postcard of the 50's, but it's true to some extent, and I wouldn't be half the person I am today if it wasn't.

My Sundays now are quite different than the ones I knew growing up. After church, we come home and I have no idea what I'm going to make for lunch. Usually it's just the Boy-O and I (especially during football season), and something always emerges from the kitchen in relative short-order fashion. Today, however, I planned ahead.

About a week ago I started feeding my starter more "adequately", half it's weight in flour and water every day. Not only does this give me tons of extra starter, it is so active it's frightening. I had to move to a larger container, since it regularly doubles it's volume. And, today I had to ditch some for the first time in a long time. With huge amounts of starter (and English muffin perfection behind me), I got it into my head yesterday that I had to try making sourdough tortillas.

They require planning ahead, about 12 hours, and are made entirely with wheat flour. I didn't really know what to expect flavor-wise, and was pleasantly surprised - especially when I thought of folding them over into makeshift empanadas. The bitterness of wheat flour disappears completely as it cultures. I had leftover "beans and meat", which is now the only animal protein my son will eat. About a month ago, I made tacos with ground meat (my Husband's favorite). After much coercion, my son had a single bite of meat and his eyes widened: "I can't believe I never tried this before! I love it!" were his remarks and now he asks for this food nearly every day. We had "beans and meat" tacos last night and leftovers for today. I still have leftovers, so I may pop them into the freezer for quick dinners when our weather finally breaks for good.

The recipe is from GNOWFGLINS. I thought since they were tortillas, I could roll them out with flour like ordinary tortillas - but actually the dough fell apart and stuck miserably when I tried rolling in my traditional way on a wooden board. Oiling the rolling pin and using the slick surface of the counter top worked much better, but there was still a learning curve for the feel of the dough. The pictures on the GNOWFGLINS site show a very thin tortilla, and I was not able to roll that thin. I'm betting that with a bit of practice they will be easier to roll.

About halfway through the griddling, I got the idea to sandwich my filling, creating a mock empanada. I actually preferred it better than eating them as tortillas. Tortillas are specific to me, and these were good, but tasted a bit too bread-like for my personal classification of "tortilla". That said, they are a great all-purpose flat bread that I'm looking forward to making again.

Mock empanada.

I made a half recipe of the amounts listed below and my yield was a dozen, plus 4 empanadas. (However, I did roll them a bit thicker.) I also mixed the dough up by hand with no trouble. I just kneaded the dough by hand in the bowl for several minutes until it was smooth.

Sourdough Tortillas with Mock Empanada variation (dough recipe from GNOWFGLINS)
  • 6 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups pure water
  • 1 1/2 cups fed starter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • butter or oil for the griddle
Begin 12 hours or more before you want to eat tortillas.

Combine water, starter, salt and oil, and mix well with a wooden spoon.

Keep mixing, and add flour 1/2 cup at a time until dough is not too sticky to handle by hand. Knead gently by hand for several minutes until dough is not too sticky and forms a cohesive ball.

Place dough in an oiled bowl, and rotate the dough around so all sides get coated with the oil.

Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap (I use the lid from a large pot).

When ready to make tortillas, heat a cast iron skillet to medium heat. Roll dough into balls, about golf ball size and put back into the bowl, covering them so they don't dry out. Pour a little olive oil on a smooth-surface counter (non-wood), and also oil the rolling pin.

When pan is hot, place a rolled out tortilla in the pan. Let it cook until there are several bubbles in the tortilla. Flip the tortilla with a spatula and cook the other side until the bubbles are browned.

Remove tortilla from pan and place between towels to stay warm and moist. Then, roll out the next tortilla. Repeat until all of the balls have been rolled out and cooked. Add oil to pan and/or rolling pin as needed, and oil (I used a touch of butter) the griddle to prevent sticking as needed. Store in a zipper seal freezer bag in refrigerator or freezer.

To make mock empanadas, roll out tortilla, and place a small amount of desired filling on half of the circle. Fold dough over (it is very moist, and will seal itself up without issue - you don't need to crimp the edges, unless you want to for aesthetics.) Carefully transfer to the skillet, and cover the pan with a lid to trap in some of the heat. Keep an eye on them, and flip after side one is nice and brown, about 4 minutes. Cook the second side for about the same time, monitoring heat levels to prevent burning.

I ate them with addicting cilantro-raisin chutney and candied jalapenos.

The mystique of my childhood and my confusion over the actual era is something I love thinking about as I get older. When I'm out of range of my favorite radio station, I can be found flipping around to find an "oldies" station, which sadly is becoming less 50's and 60's music and more 70's all the time. My 70's era is when I was more in my 20's... funny how I'm always about 30 years behind.

Today in Milwaukee, it was an unseasonable mid-80 degrees, so we spent most of the afternoon and evening outside soaking it into our Winter weary bodies. When we got back in the house about 5:30, I suddenly realized I was starving. I heated up that same trusty skillet I cooked the tortillas on earlier and seared some peppers and onions in a touch of coconut oil and a sprinkling of the spice mix I keep on hand thanks to Rick Bayless (1 t. Mexican oregano, 1/2 t. black pepper, 1/4 t. cumin, 1/8 t. cloves, 1 t. sugar and salt to taste, I mix enough to last me several occasions).

I laid a sourdough tortilla on top of the peppers to warm, and when eaten with more candied jalapenos, a slice of feta cheese (for lack of proper queso) and a smidge of cultured heavy cream I had to say that I was indeed satisfied. Later this evening, I popped the remaining two empanadas in the toaster oven, cloaked in foil, to heat up for my Husband who also liked them, doused in red Valentina sauce, confirming that I will make other versions in the future.

I am so thankful I was raised as I was, in a kinder, gentler era that I mistake for America's heartland in the 1950's. Maybe it was the watching of Back to the Future far too many times to count at my cousin's house, or my Dad's old records and 8 tracks convincing me that the Beatles and the Turtles were actually current music. (That changed with Madonna's True Blue, the first cassette I owned personally - it came with my first cassette player as a Christmas gift in 1986.) At any rate, those are days I love thinking about, especially on Sundays. I actually told someone today that I'll turn 35 this year, and while that is still a half year away I felt shocked at myself. Maybe that's why I'm all nostalgic this evening, I well remember my Parents specifically at 35. There you go: I've turned into my Parents. That, friends, is a very good thing.

Low Country Sweet Potato Salad

I sometimes enjoy reading and trying reader recipes, and most definitely knew I would like Low Country Sweet Potato Salad submitted to a Cook's Illustrated magazine, Cook's Country, by Veronica Callaghan. I love sweet potatoes, and any time I find recipes for them - especially when they are roasted - I try them. And this recipe has bacon. What more can I say?

The first time I tried this, I used it as a side dish. It made so much that I added the leftovers to tacos, with nice results. This time I made it knowing how much it made, anticipating the tacos that would be made from the leftovers. I had these particular leftovers last night with my friend Elisa, visiting from Boston, in pinto bean tortillas, with scrambled eggs, tomatillo salsa and mango salsa. Queso Fresco would have been a natural fit, but none in the icebox, so thin slices of mozzarella were acceptable. My dimly lit room doesn't do much for showing how good this actually was... We each ate 2 and were full and satisfied.

leftovers, remade.

These tortillas are good freezer staples. I know now that I am good at cooking many things, but nothing in this world will allow me to make tortillas like my Mother. So instead of disappointment to myself, I adopted the art of the corn tortilla. After two years of only corn tortillas, freshly made to order, I got this recipe that R1's Mom gave her for flour based tortillas with beans which are not only healthful, but easy to make, and hard to over work. I also like that I can use any type of bean, and frequently use leftover refried beans or whatever type I happen to have going. I'm going to post the recipe here since I misplaced it recently, and didn't trust my memory so I had to call around the people I knew that had it until I got it again from R1.

(A Note: 15 oz. cans of beans contain only about 9 oz. of actual beans. I know because I bought a can and drained them and weighed them. Since I make my own beans from dried, I usually use about 10-12 oz. for this recipe, with fine results. The important thing is that the "feel" is right to you. Either alter the amount of water or flour depending on your likes, and cook Confidently! I also like to add other spices when adding the flour: coriander, cumin, chile powder, Mexican oregano... whatever you think you would like.)


(Makes at least 20, depending on your size. Leftovers freeze well for a month or so.)

1 15 oz. can drained black beans (or pintos, kidney, white, etc. see note above)

3 cups all purpose flour

2/3 cup water (more or less)

scant 1/3 cup oil (I usually use about a half of a 1/3 c. measure with fine results.)

salt, 2 or more pinches

In food pro, processes beans until semi-smooth. If you use leftover mashed beans, just whizz them around to break them apart a bit.

Add oil, whizz some more, then add flour and salt. With machine running, add water through the top until the dough looks like dough, taking the top off to check the stickiness if needed. I usually use the whole 2/3 c. of water, and sometimes more depending on the humidity. Try not to over process.

When dough is cohesive enough to handle, turn out onto a board using a bit of flour if needed and lightly knead into a ball. Cover in plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes - 1 hour. Then pinch off ping pong ball sizes of dough, roll out on a floured board, and cook on a medium hot cast iron pan.

You may lose a few the first time you try, but persevere. I find that I like to add a little extra flour when I form the balls and roll them out, so I don't like to leave the dough too dry before it rests.

As for the potatoes...


(serves 6-8)

2 3/4 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces

1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces

1/2 c. olive oil (you can use a bit less if you like, like I do)

4 slices bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 large shallot, minced (or 1 white onion, chopped to your liking)

1 t. cayenne pepper

salt and pepper

1 T. lemon juice (I just use half a lemon)

1 t. hot sauce of your choosing

2 T. toasted sesame seeds

2 T. or more chopped parsley (or cilantro if you like it better)

Adjust oven racks to upper middle and lower middle positions, and heat to 375. I like to line 2 sheet pans with foil for easy cleanup, or you can spray or oil 2 sheet pans.

Toss potatoes with 1/4 cup of olive oil, bacon, shallot or onion, cayenne, pinch(es) salt and pepper. Divide between the two pans and roast 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so. Switch position of the pans at the half way point. Cool potatoes for 20 minutes.

Whisk together lemon juice, hot sauce, and remaining olive oil in small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Transfer potatoes to a large serving bowl, and add dressing. Mix in chopped parsley or cilantro, and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve cold or room temp.

When I scrambled the eggs for the tacos last night, I first heated up the pan and refried the potatoes first. Then I added my eggs right to the skillet and scrambled them in with the potatoes. I would venture to say that there is not a bad way to reheat these potatoes, and though I haven't tried it, I think they may caramelize a bit more if you roasted them initially at 400 or even 425 or 450 if you are brave. Next time, my friends. And I'll be sure to let you know.