What We Spent and What We Ate: My New Favorite (Old World) Kitchen Gadget

The $12.99 tortilla press I got at Ranch Market has changed my life.  My neighbor, Martha, showed me how to use it.  She can turn a bag of masa into a pile of hot tortillas in under 20 minutes.  I’m still working on it.  But my house smells wonderful and I’ve stepped up my Mexican cooking several notches.  She’s going to teach me how to make the masa, next, so I’m going to keep practicing my tortilla cooking skills.

You’ll need a non-stick surface to line the press.  Martha just folds a produce bag into a cone and cuts it, making two circles just slightly bigger than the press.

You can buy masa para tortillas at any Mexican or Latino market.  Take a piece of masa a little bigger than a golf ball.  It should be quite moist–if it’s a little dry, you need to sprinkle some water on your hands and work it in.

Put a sheet of plastic on the press, then the ball of masa, then the other sheet of plastic.

Martha pressed the masa two or three times, making sure it was even–this was probably because my press isn’t as sturdy as hers (hers is the one shown).

Lift off the tortilla, pull off the top sheet and flip the tortilla onto your other palm.  There’s a trick to sliding it onto the pan.  You gently swipe your hand over the pan, keeping your palm flat.  I had trouble with this.  And that’s how I learned that if you mess it up and the tortilla folds in half, don’t touch it.  Just bend down and blow on it and it will unfold.  Real Mexican magic.

Let’s talk about the pan:  you can use a skillet, but I bought this pan at Ranch Market because it’s the same as Martha’s.  I thought it would improve my odds.  It should be dry and hot–we heated ours over medium high heat.

Once you slide the tortilla on the pan, let it sit until it can be easily lifted–30 seconds to a minute.  It should be starting to brown on the bottom.  Lift the edge with your fingers and flip it.  Cook on the other side for up to another minute–the bottom should be nicely browned.

Then flip it over to the first side again to finish cooking.  This only takes 10-30 seconds.

Wrap them in a towel as soon as you lift them off so they’ll stay warm.  You can also put them in a plastic bag on the counter.

What with all this touching of hot pans, you can expect to burn your fingers.  As soon as Martha left, I stuck my hand in a bag of ice.  But see how it’s worth it:


What We Ate:

Saturday: We went to the annual REACH Halloween party for our oldest son’s school.  Basically it’s a bunch of highly gifted kids running around in ironic costumes, playing clever games and eating whimsically decorated desserts.  A lot of fun, really.  I made the boys swear they’d eat something healthy first, and they did–which shocked me.  They ate quite a variety, too–California rolls, baked salmon, hummus, olives, fruit salad and other odds and ends.  The hosts had an incredible view of Camelback Mountain from their back yard, so I grabbed a beer, sat down and enjoyed.  We left a little early, but found out the next day that he’d won “most creative costume”  for his Greek god of war costume.  I swear you’d have thought he’d won an Oscar.  I think he used the term, “overjoyed.”


Sunday: pumpkin soup and pumpkin crustless quiche

I baked two pie pumpkins with every intention of making pie, but when it became clear that the pie was not meant to be and I had nothing for dinner, I brought out the giant tub of pumpkin puree and set to work.  Dinner was surprisingly not too pumpkinny–just really orange.

To cook the pumpkins, just cut them in half and scoop out the goo (yes, I roasted the seeds–with olive oil, chili powder and salt!).  Then turn them upside down on a cookie sheet an put it in the oven.  Pour in about 1/2 inch of water and cook until they’re soft.  It took about 40 minutes, but it can take up to an hour.

An alternative I’ve yet to try is to cut the tops off as you would a jack-o-lantern, scoop everything out and just put it in the oven.

For the quiche, I just mixed the pumpkin, 6 eggs, some Swiss cheese, cream and salt and pepper, poured it in a greased pie pan and baked it about 1/2 hour at 400 degrees.  It should be firm throughout, with a teeny tiny bit of jiggle in the middle.  You’ll know when it’s lightly browned and fluffy.

Check out a recent Here and Now story on using fresh pumpkin–lots of great ideas including pumpkin seed and bacon brittle.

Pumpkin Soup


tablespoons finely chopped onion

 teaspoon ground cumin

teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon or so of Middle Eastern 7 Spice 1 tsp

½ tsp turemeric

teaspoon salt

tablespoons butter

3 cups pumpkin

1 box organic free-range chicken broth

tablespoon packed dark brown sugar

cup cream

Salvadorean crema and cilantro to garnish

Salvadorean and Mexican cream are more flavorful and smooth than sour cream–Ranch Market carries several varieties of each. Just read the ingredients, try a few and pick a favorite. Trust me–you’ll have one.

I guess the Arabs had to out do the Chinese. Their spice has SEVEN ingredients: all spice, cardamom, ginger, fennel, black pepper, and cloves. You can get it at Baez and other Middle Eastern groceries in Phoenix.

Saute onions and spices in butter, add pumpkin, stir, and whisk in broth–you may need more or less depending on how watery the squash is.    Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer on for ten minutes or so–I just left it simmer while I did a few chores.  Stir in the brown sugar and the cream, tasting as you go.  Bring soup just to boil and serve immediately.  I was going to garnish it with the pumpkin seeds, but we ate them all.


Monday: green posole and corn tortillas

We’ve been wanting to make posole for a long time.  Often when something is one of my favorite things, I’m afraid to make it.  I guess I don’t want to ruin something I love.

I expected it to be hard to make–so I made it really hard to make.  I’d heard somewhere that you had to pluck the little tops off each kernel of hominy (corn).  I literally sat there for hours doing this.  The hard little seeds wedged so far under my thumbnails, I still haven’t gotten them out.

When I told Martha, my neighbor and the best cook I know, she laughed at me.  A lot.  She said I should have asked her.  She also said she’d show me how to make it right next time.

Really, it’s very simple–you can throw it in the crock pot and go about your day.  Your whole house will smell good and you’ll have enough leftovers for at least one more meal.

You’ll need a bag of fresh nixtamal (corn) from Ranch Market.  Check the date and get the freshest you can.  While you don’t need to pick at each individual kernel, you do need to rinse it really, really well, and pick out any discolored or mushy pieces.

Then you simmer the nixtamal in a very large pot of water for about two hours.

While the corn is simmering, you can brown your pork pieces (you can use pretty much any cut) and add them to the pot.  We used a tenderloin, which I would normally never do, but my mom gave us one and it just seemed right.  Saute some minced garlic and diced jalapenos in some olive oil and add them to the pot.  Sweat some chopped onions and add those.  Then blacken 4-8 green chiles under the broiler, peel and dice them and add those to the pot.  Cover with broth and cook on low.

When the hominy is done, add that to the crock pot too.  Reserve the cooking liquid in case you need to add it to the stew (you probably will).  I turned up the heat on the crock pot at this point.

Pat seasoned it with cumin, oregano, salt and pepper.

Cook another 4-8 hours.  Serve with hot corn tortillas.

This worked really well, but we learned about the corn the hard way.  We didn’t cook it for the two hours first and it was a little chewy.  It was still delicious, but now I know that you have to cook the nixtamal a really long time.  It will blossom when it’s done–very pretty.

I want to try it this way, with tomatillos and ground pumpkin seeds, next.


Tuesday: eggplant casserole–the usual


Wednesday: wild boar, black bean and sweet potato and cornbread

We needed a crock pot dinner for Halloween–and Pat had bought some ground wild boar from Sprouts that I had no idea what to with.  He was on to something, though.  He browned the meat and sautéed the onions, garlic and spices (cumin, chili powder and oregano) and put them in the crock pot with the beans (which I had remembered to soak the night before).  He covered it with water and leftover broth and cooked about 4 hours.  Then he added cubed sweet potato and cooked another two or three hours.  We added a lot of salt and pepper to sort of balance the sweet.  Some of us topped it with shredded cheddar cheese.  It was a perfect pre-trick-or-treating meal.


Thursday: leftover posole, fresh tortillas


Friday: nachos

Nachos is a good desperation meal.  We always have cheese.  For nachos, it doesn’t even have to be good cheese.  The chips, however, have to be good.  Get a bag of the fresh chips by the pound at Pros Ranch Market.  They’re the best for nachos (and pretty much everything else).  Sometimes we add rinsed and drained canned beans or some browned meat before we put them in the oven, but usually it’s just cheese.

When they’re out of the oven we usually top them with we have–diced tomatoes, cucumber, avocados, peppers, onions, black olives, pickled jalapenos and carrots, sour cream, guacamole. . . .
What We Spent:

We only spent $48.12 at the farmers’ market (Maya’s and One Windmill) this week.  Like last week, we couldn’t go to the Wednesday market, so we had to adjust.  We spent about $65 at Sprouts (pat lost the receipts) and $78.00 at Ranch Market (the trip below plus one for nixtamal, chiles and cilantro).  My mom gave me a pork loin, so we got to have lots of meat this week (yay!).  Thanks Mom! Estimated Total: $191.00



5 Comments on “What We Spent and What We Ate: My New Favorite (Old World) Kitchen Gadget”

  1. df says:

    That tortilla lesson was awesome; we don’t have access to some of the very Mexican ingredients that you talk about here, but a good stack of tortillas can be used in many ways, and I’d love to be able to make my own. I’m going to try your pumpkin soup, it sounds delicious, and the wild boar stew looked pretty amazing too. I’ve never seen wild boar where we live, but assume I could substitute another meat! (We can get very nice elk locally.) Congratulations to your son on his award! 🙂

  2. There are few food items I enjoy more than a warm, freshly made tortilla. We always keep corn and flour tortillas in the fridge (not home made) because they are so versatile. All your meals this week looked beautiful and so fall like, cozy and hearty. Maybe I will put a tortilla press on my wish list along with the food mill ;).

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