Sunday, August 22, 2010

Do try these at home

Chef Paco Cardenas at
the San Miguel market
Back in May, I was standing in a cooking school kitchen in San Miguel de Allende, thinking how lucky I was not only to be on a great vacation but also to be among a small group of travelers who signed up for a market tour and cooking demonstration by Paco Cardenas, owner of SMA's esteemed Petit Four bakery.

I watched with delight as he tranformed items just purchased from the local market into savory nibbles. While matching the market's aromatic abundace would be difficult at home, Paco encouragingly told us the recipes all would be reasonably easy to recreate.

I have tried a few of his recipes since we returned home; in fact, I've made his delicious (and shockingly simple) salsa verde several times, including this weekend. The thing I most wanted to try, but kept putting off, was homemade tortillas.
The tortillas he made for class were nothing short of a revelation. Light and toasty, warm and tender, they made even the best store brand taste like paste. To be honest, we had delicious fresh tortillas in many places during our trip, and each time we were amazed. Paco warned, however, that shortcuts, like using instant masa, would deliver disappointing results.

He was right, of course. The handmade tortillas I made tonight -- from instant masa, but the brand specifically recommended by no less an authority than Diana Kennedy -- were memorable only because I finally did it. They were too small and a bit too much like flatbread. I scorched my comal, meaning I'll have to scrub and reseason it. Despite all this, it was fun, and I'm fairly certain I will be more successful next time.

I'm hopeful for advice from the source and am eager for any tips I gain elsewhere. The dough was too wet and I think I added too much dry to balance. Using my new tortillas press was simple, but peeling the thin dough from the plastic wrap and quickly laying it onto the comal is tricker than it looks. And they cook very quickly.

In a way, it's like using a wok: You really need to have everything organized and ready to rock because it's all over and done with in a flash. I got so carried away tortilla-ing that I completely forgot about the avocado, cilantro and lime I intended to put on the table.

We used these charmingly odd little tortillas to wrap beef fajitas -- no particular recipe as I make them a little differently every time. I keep the veggies on the side -- this time, grilled nopales (catcus paddles), red bell pepper and red onion -- because Graham prefers his without.

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