Homemade Tortillas: Making the Best of Our Tortilla Fail

We began our Cinco prep on Thursday, Quatro de Mayo (May 4th) as a way to teach Kaia about the meaning of Cinco de Mayo… and also make some amazing homemade tortillas for Carnitas Tacos, because Kaia is usually a really good tortilla chef. Cinco, in general, has become another good time holiday, but we wanted to honor Mexican traditions.

We have made flour tortillas before, and they were AMAZING! This time we wanted to explore corn tortillas. The main ingredient, Masa Harina, can be purchased in the your local supermarket. The package specifically instructs that you use tortilla press. The tortilla press flattens the dough into a very thin layer of corn tortilla delicious-ness. Sometimes, when the instructions specify a tool, we follow our Daddy Daughter Cooking mantra of working with what we’ve got, and sometimes you should just follow the actual instructions.

We recently got rid of our butcher-block table, which was large enough to roll out our doughs (pasta and others) when we cook together. In this case it would be have been a great replacement for the tortilla press. Instead we used a small butcher-block cutting board placed on the counter and one of our Calphalon soup pots. The soup pot is about 6 inches wide, and with some applied pressure becomes a great press… or so we thought.

Kaia was standing on her stool so she was able to apply more downward pressure. Physics in the kitchen, who knew?! This action was necessary to flatten the mix to a very thin layer. This is the same thing that a tortilla press would do. Only in our case, the tortilla mix stuck to both the pot and the cutting-board.

I became very frustrated, we must have tried 15 of them. After failing 15 times, we started oiling the bottom of the pan and wrapped the cutting board with parchment paper. We thought this would do the trick, but I was still pulling my hair out, and Kaia thinks its funny!

The use of the paper and oiled pan only worked about every other time. Still frustrated, we used every other tortilla.

At this point, I’m reaching my maximum frustration level. I’m standing in the kitchen wondering if anyone in the world has ever been through something as ridiculously silly as this…  I mean, I am literally about to scream and my loving daughter is just giggling.

So what do you do in this situation? You go into the bedroom, and curse the shit out of a big fluffy pillow. Friendly reminder, while jumping around in this fit of joy, make sure the bedroom door is closed. I don’t need my kiddo to see me lose my cool – it would really affect how awesome she thinks I am. Especially not over something as ridiculous as not being able to get tortillas right!

As a single Dad, I do not retreat into the bedroom as often as I should to hide my frustrations. In that moment, I also realized that today’s issues were not just about the tortillas. Life deals us some tough stuff to handle, and today was just “one of those days.” I find cooking with my daughter is one of my greatest getaways, my own personal in-home therapy, if you will.

I returned from my adult temper tantrum, flushed and slightly embarrassed. Kaia stood in the kitchen, in all of her innocence, lightly oiling one of our sauté pans and somewhat smugly said “Dad, these are very delicate, be careful!” I think in total we had about 5 tortillas that actually held together long enough to feel like we had made tortillas, but all-in-all they were pretty much unusable. I wanted to throw in the towel, clean up the kitchen and head to bed early. Instead, we brainstormed how we could use our delicious unfoldable tortillas and the carnitas that we prepped for Cinco the next day.

On the morning of Cinco de Mayo, Kaia and I successfully made some of the best chilaquiles we’ve ever had. When your tortillas don’t fold, you make chilaquiles! ; )

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A couple days later, Kaia actually referenced us making lemonade out of lemons. I have to believe that this came from making the best of our tortilla fail.

Daddy Daughter Cooking is not always successful in our endeavors. The point is that we can try. And in trying, we learned. In this case, we learned what not to do, and how not to do it… Despite my frustrations, we had fun and learned together.

Later in the day Daddy did make some tacos with some street corn and grilled jalapeno. And thanks to my pillow therapy, I managed to make 2 of the tortillas fold enough for said tacos…  Lemonade from lemons!

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Thanks again for following us, we really enjoy sharing our journey with you. Have any of your tried to make tortillas from scratch? Did you fail or succeed? We would love any tips and tricks as we will definitely try tortillas again.

Cinco de Mayo: Tacos y Tortillas

Cinco de Mayo is a fun day to be living in LA. A lot of people go out to celebrate, making the bar and restaurant scene really crazy. I sometimes think that Cinco in LA is similar to being in Boston for St. Patrick’s Day. Unfortunately, this Mexican holiday has also turned into a just another day to go out drinking, and few people know what the holiday actually means.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone refer to Cinco de Mayo as a celebration of Mexican Independence, which is just silly! When Kaia and I set out to make dinner celebrating Cinco, I wanted to make sure she knew why we would celebrate. The day is a celebration of the Mexico winning the Franco/Mexican Battle at Puebla. The biggest celebrations occur in Puebla Mexico (where the battle took place). It is NOT to celebrate Mexican Independence – Mexico had already won their independence from Spain.

Kaia and I have plans to travel – we want to further explore the relationships between family and food in other parts of the world. I want to share other food experiences with Kaia and let begin to understand how other cultures pair family and food. Unless someone out there wants to start sending us on new journeys, we will have to do it from afar and stick to our local  adventures.

Okay, let’s get down to cooking. I don’t want to brag (I’m going to anyhow), but Kaia is an amazing tortilla maker! Sure, we could buy tortillas already made at the store, but I thought it would be really fun if we could make them together and talk about what Cinco really means.

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We don’t have a tortilla press, but that’s okay! One of our mantras is to use what we have and see if we can make it work, and work it did! To replace the tortillas press, Kaia used the bottom of one of our Calphalon pans.

Because the battle happened in Puebla and now the biggest celebrations in Mexico happen in Puebla, we wanted to make something that was relative to the food you might eat in Puebla.

Puebla-style food traditionally uses a lot of mole sauces. Mole, when made correctly, is really labor intensive and the process has a lot of steps. I love enchiladas with mole, but Kaia and I didn’t have the time to make a traditional mole. Plus Kaia has recently developed this weird complex about enchiladas. This is the only time I have ever questioned whether or not she is my child. And what’s more, there’s absolutely no reason she doesn’t like them… She just doesn’t. And so enchiladas were out.

Mexico, with its rich history, may very well be the first place that street food was offered. The pre-Colombian era in Mexico saw food vendors outside of the pyramids serving up some tacos. I love street food, from anywhere in the world, but there is something really special and absolutely delicious about street tacos. And Kaia doesn’t currently have a weird complex about street tacos so we decided to make homemade tortillas and carnitas tacos!

I scooped Kaia from school yesterday and we headed over to Ralphs Grocery Store. Here is what we picked up:

  • 5lbs. Bone-in Pork shoulder – This was on sale at 50% off – $11.08
  • 2 Jalapeno’s – 1 of these was quartered and added to the meat for a little zip, the other is for some added zip to the salsa – $0.32
  • 3lb. bag of Maza Harina – This was also on sale for $2.99
  • 6 Tomatillo Chiles – To be used for a traditional green salsa – $1.67
  • 1 White onion – For the salsa – $2.15

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I haven’t made homemade tortillas in a long time so it’s was kind of a crapshoot how they would turn out. I’m trying to teach Kaia that the more we try new things, the better we will get (if not the first time we try something, we can only stand to improve on that experience, right?). I realize that’s a DUH sort of statement, but it couldn’t be more true. Spending this time teaching, working and learning with my daughter is the best thing I think I can do with my time.

We strive to share these moments with you. Our hope is that you take and share similar experiences with your loved ones.

When we got home, we each had some work to do. Kaia had her actual homework and I got to work on breaking down the protein. I also had her do some additional homework to learn more about Cinco de Mayo. It’s really important to me that she continue to be hungry for information and continues to educated herself.

I’m trying to show her that fact checking is important. Not everything you are told or read is wrong, but being sure that it’s right is always a good idea. You don’t want to be the person that has to backtrack on something you said. Just ask anyone that knows me, I’ve never been wrong. ; )

I know this blog is going to post on Cinco, but today is actually the 4th (Cuatro) de Mayo and we are prepping our food for tomorrow. You will be reading this on the 5th…Oh boy, now I’m confused! Let’s just go with it. You try to keep up and so will I.

While Kaia studied, I removed the bone from the pork shoulder (if you ever hear it called pork butt, it is the same thing. “Pork Butt” from the proper name “Boston Butt” is cut from the shoulder). I was technically butchering, but this word usually scares people off. It’s not scary at all, it only took about 30 seconds to get the bone out. Then I cut the meat into roughly 2-inch cubes.

  1. Get your tools setup: you’ll need a pan with a rack. (to make clean-up easier, line the pan with aluminum foil).
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  3. Season the meat generously with salt and pepper
  4. Cut a quarter of the white onion into long strips
  5. Quarter one of the jalapenos. If you want spicier, keep the seeds. Less spicy, cut the seeds out.
  6. Place the pork onto the rack and top with onion and jalapeno
  7. Add about a cup of water to the pan below the rack (if you have some liquid smoke I would add some as well. It is not necessary, but it adds a nice element to the meat.)
  8. Cover the whole pan with aluminum foil and place into the oven for 2 hours
  9. Remove the foil cover and take the rack out of the pan, leaving the meat by itself in its own juices with the onion and jalapeno
  10. Raise the temperature in the oven to 400 and place the pan back in there for an hour
  11. Once finished, pull the pork apart (it should just come apart) and put into a bowl to refrigerate until tomorrow… you can do this and eat the same day.

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Kaia packed her homemade tortillas and carnitas to take for lunch today. I plan to make mine for lunch right after I send out this blog post.

We hope you enjoy your Cinco celebration as much as we’ll be enjoying our carnitas tacos and homemade tortillas today!

Spring Means Sandwiches: French Dip Philly Cheesesteak

As the temperature gets warmer and the sun is shining longer, Kaia and I have been getting excited by this incredible spring (in Southern California it feels more like summer with temps in the high 70’s/low 80’s). With the warmer weather we have been on a sandwich kick, so last night we decided to explore a modified Philly Cheesesteak.

Our Philly Cheesesteak took a French dip turn for the best and we are so excited to share it with you!

Trust us when we say that this sandwich, or more aptly titled huge-wich, is not for the faint of heart. We typically try to eat healthy, but in this case we were just craving a gigantic, gut buster of a sandwich. In my professional life, I invested in a small chain of New York style deli’s, mostly because I LOVE DELI SANDWICHES… A lot of everything all wrapped up in one cored-out bread exterior.

I hadn’t had a sandwich like this in quite some time. Kaia said “I am just excited about the meat and cheese!” There was a devilish giggle that followed. In parenthood, we often have those “fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree” moments, and this was one of them. She is her father’s daughter, through and through. The bread didn’t matter to her, but it gave me an idea: we’d use the juices from the meat to create a type of Au Jus for the thick French loaf to soak up.

French Dip Philly Cheesesteak for 2 – This sandwich epitomizes GLUTTONY!

– 1 lb. thinly sliced chuck roast
- Buy the roast raw and we’ll tell you how to cook it below (it’s super easy!). Parents, use your sharpest kitchen knife to slice the raw chuck roast thin. This is generally a tougher meat, and you’ll want to handle this part. Have the kids put the meat into a bowl or on a plate to be seasoned – season with salt and pepper, set aside.

– 1 green bell pepper – Quarter the pepper, and then remove the white stuff holding the seeds and the seeds. Here’s a cautionary tale: I once sliced the tip of my middle finger off cutting bell peppers. Slicing bell peppers on the skin side is a bad idea. Once quartered, lay the pieces flat on your cutting board and slice them skin side down.

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– 1 white onion – Remove the outer layers and slice off the top and bottom. Cut the onion in half, then in half again. Do this from top to bottom. The goal is to get strips of onion, not rings. Use the quartered pieces and slice away. Once you are done slicing add them to pile of peppers.

– 1 loaf french bread
 – Cut down the center of the loaf to create a big mouth for the yummy ingredients, but keeping one side intact (like a hot dog bun). Have the kiddo’s pull out some of the bread from inside to help make a shell for those yummy ingredients.

– 1/4 lb. Provolone cheese
 – surprisingly getting the cheese sliced at the deli ends up being more bang for your buck. Comparatively speaking, the cheese that is pre-packaged tends to be more expensive and a lesser amount than getting it in the deli section. The deli section cheese is also fresher, and we think it tastes better. Wherever you get the provolone, it should be sliced.

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As promised, the cooking process is really simple and easy. Kaia and I started by turning on the oven to 425 degrees. Make sure there is a rack in the center of the oven. Have the kiddo grab a saucepan or a cast iron pan. The cast iron pan is one of our fav’s and the pan helps keep the most flavor in the meat and veggies. Other than some tongs you really don’t need any other tools to complete this gluttonous meal for 2 to 4 people.

Heat the pan to a medium temp. Add about 1 tbsp of olive oil or unsalted butter. Add the veggies (peppers and onions) and sprinkle them with a tiny bit of salt and pepper. Sautee these gems until the onions become a little translucent.

Add the thinly sliced meat to the same pan. Mix everything together and cover. You can play it by ear, but Kaia likes to turn the heat down slightly “so it doesn’t overcook, Daddy.” Sometimes she directs me in the kitchen and I oblige. We don’t always have the proper lid so we just use aluminum foil as a cover. Cook the meat, onion, and peppers between 6 and 8 minutes, mixing occasionally.

During that period of cook time lay the cheese on both sides of the bread loaf. Be sure to keep 2 or 3 slices set aside for topping on the meat for each sandwich. Put the cheese-covered loaf in the oven. Be sure to keep an eye on it, you only want to melt the cheese.

Kaia grabbed the tongs and cutting board. She used the tongs to grab the bread from the oven and slide it on the cutting board.

I pulled the lid off the meat and veggies and mixed one last time. I used the tongs to load up the bread loaf with the tasty delights from the pan. Kaia put the leftover cheese evenly over the meat and we slid it back in the oven for about 3 minutes. To create our Au Jus we strained the juices from the pan into ramekins (aka small cups) for your dipping pleasure.

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BOOM! Another gluttonous sandwich at our fingertips.

Enjoy! We sure did!

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The Cu-Banh-Mi: A Mash Up of Cuban and Vietnamese Food Culture

Kaia and I are slowly making our way into more culturally based cooking themes. In this case we chose to do a mash-up of 2 wildly different cultures: Cuban and Vietnamese.

Cuban food has influences from Spain, parts of Africa and the French. The French may be the only real food connection between Cuba and Vietnam. Vietnamese food is the second part of our mash-up. There are some French influences in Vietnamese food, but I’ve always found it interesting that Vietnamese food includes five types of nutrients: powder, water or liquid, mineral elements, protein, and fat. We love the history and cultural influences on both Cuban and Vietnamese cuisine… and also, who doesn’t love a great sammie?

So this week we created a mash-up of two famous sandwiches from each cuisine: the Cubano and the Pork Belly Banh Mi to create our Cu-Banh-Mi. (pronounced Cue-Bon-Mee)

The Cubano sandwich is traditionally made on Cuban bread with cooked ham (sliced), roasted pork (sliced), Swiss cheese (sliced), dill pickle planks, mustard and/or mayo. Sounds delicious, right?

The Banh-Mi is a sandwich made with a meat protein of your choice, pickled veggies, cilantro, pepper and sliced cucumbers on a French baguette. Banh means bread and Mi means wheat in Vietnamese. So the translation is Wheat Bread.

We are big on sandwiches (as you might remember from our beets and grilled post), and not just any sandwiches, but we’re BIG on BIG ol’ sandwiches. So we combined two of our favorites into one big monster sammich!

We shopped at our local Whole Foods this week on the way home from Kaia’s school.

Our shopping list included:

  • 2 lbs of Pork Belly – $5.99 an lb
  • 2 organic cucumbers – $1.49 each
  • 1 Jar of pickle planks – $3.99
  • 1 Diakon – $1.29 an lb
  • 1 Jalapeno – $0.21
  • 1 bag of baby carrots – $1.99
  • 1 Baguette – $2.49

We already had white wine vinegar, sugar, cilantro and seasonings at home for pickling. If you plan on pickling your veggies I would suggest grabbing these ingredients as well. This happens to be one of Kaia’s favorite pastimes… she loves her science and the first time we pickled something it was like a big kitchen science experiment to her. I love that she enjoys the kitchen as much as I do – I’m one lucky Papa! You might be surprised when your kids love this too. We are all about creating a bonding experience and hope that the tools to do so are in our writing.

With our ingredients ready, we are now ready to cook:

Kaia turned on the oven to a temp of 450 degrees to preheat. Then she got out the aluminum foil and lined one of our baking sheets (cookie sheet). I opened up the pork belly and rubbed it with some brown sugar, salt and pepper. The brown sugar sweetens and adds color to the belly in the oven. We had 2 pieces that we placed on the sheet, fat side up. We’ll cook it at 450 degrees for 25 minutes.

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Using this “high heat” (450 degrees for the first 25 minutes) approach will render the fat from the top portion of the pork, creating a crispy top layer to the belly. After the first 25 minutes, lower the temp of the oven to 375. Cook for another 35 to 40 minutes. If this is your first time with a pork belly, and you have any questions about whether or not it’s done the internal temp should read 165 degrees on your thermometer. Once done in the oven, remove the pork belly from the baking sheet and wrap in aluminum foil. Place in the fridge for an hour. Keep the oven on, you’ll use it again soon!

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For safety purposes I deal with the knife cuts. In this case it’s to cut the daikon, carrots and jalapeno (deseeded) into what we, cooks, refer to as julienned (2 inches long and 1/8 inch around). Julienned veggies should be similar in size to thick toothpicks. If you can’t get the cut that thin without slicing your fingertips off, do your best – the cutting skills only come with A LOT of practice over time (and I’ve had a lot of practice in the kitchen and a few slices to the index finger).

Have the kiddo’s make the pickling liquid, combine and mix: ½ cup of water, ¼ cup of sugar, 1 cup of white wine vinegar. Add the veggies and coat them in the pickling fluid. Place in the fridge next to the belly.

The kids can also have fun with the mayo/mustard mix. It’s as simple as it sounds – ½ cup of mayo and ¼ cup of mustard with about 1 tsp of red chile flake. Mix it well and put it in the fridge.

Slice your baguette length-wise from tip to tip. Spread the bread open and add some melted butter or olive oil. Place the bread in the oven face up and toast it. After removing the bread from the oven set it aside.

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Have the kiddo’s grab all the other ingredients from the fridge. Open up the pork belly and slice ¼ inch to ½ inch pieces (In lieu of using the traditional cubano cooked ham and roasted pork we are going with larger slices of the pork belly). Get a sauté pan and get it to medium heat with some oil or butter. There is really no difference between the oil or butter, this is simply to keep the unrendered fat on the belly from sticking to the pan. Lay flat the pork belly and heat in pan.

While I did this, Kaia was smearing the bread with our mayo/mustard mixture and placing the pickle planks on the bottom part of the bread.

You can then start placing the heated pork belly on top of the pickle planks. Followed by the pickled veggies, sliced cucumber and cilantro. Make sure your kidlets have put the mayo/mustard spread on the top of the bread as well. Silly kids sometimes need further coaching (wink wink).

Watch the video here.

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Once complete, we cut our monster Cu-Banh-Mi sandwiches, plated ‘em up, and enjoyed these tasty delights!

Healthy Campfire Cooking with Kaia

Hello everybody! It’s Kaia for the first time.

To me it is very difficult to eat healthy while camping, because lots of healthy foods need cooling. You can’t really bring ice in a cooler or it will melt and you also can’t really bring a mini fridge camping can you?! Another reason why it is hard to eat healthy while camping is because it is hard to find healthy snacks. Cooking and eating while camping are very hard. For instance, cooking big healthy meals can take a long time and you might not have all of the ingredients. You usually eat what you have and you might not have anything healthy to eat and the store is far away.

The reality of trying to eat healthy while camping is hard and probably won’t happen. When my dad and I went on a vegetarian diet for a week, it didn’t happen. We ate meat. What we eat while camping can be very bad for you because eating too much of anything is bad!

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My dad and I make a lot of food and come up with a lot of recipes. While camping I made a dessert recipe. I put a Twinkie inside of marshmallows and chocolate with crumbled graham crackers. Then I wrapped up all of it in a sweet dough and grilled it! This is not healthy, but it was delicious.

I know that many people can use more effort to eat healthy while camping. I’m sure in the future we can pack a lot of healthier things like potatoes, apples, and corn, instead of potato chips we can have kale chips.  

Kid Tip:

If you live with someone that does not eat that healthy and they like potato chips, you can open the bag of potato chips take the potato chips out. Next, put the kale chips in and reseal it (to make kale chips pop some kale in the oven and add salt).