You can officially call me “tomatillo lady.” At least that’s what my favorite stand at the farmers market has started calling me due to the frequency and quantity of my tomatillo purchases. I was elated to find tomatillos at my farmers market a few months ago during the summer (can you believe it’s technically fall…
This past week was my last week of school.
The end of the school year always surprises me. Dates that I’ve been tossing around all year spring up and suddenly finals are upon us. Once final exams are over, there’s one last mad dash to grade everything and then… the last day of school arrives!
There’s always confusion about dress code on the last day of school; ties and belts and shoes are the wrong colors or missing altogether. Students shuffle in, anxious to get their last final exam out of the way, and there’s an excited buzz in the cafeteria that morning.
Once the final exam block ends, our school has an award ceremony. Student growth and achievement are celebrated, and it is during this time that we give out our biggest award of the year. I love seeing how excited students get about their awards. After the ceremony, we have a carnival for the entire high school outside! Students get to soak teachers in the dunk tank; eat cotton candy; shaved ice and burgers; jump in the bouncy house; dance with their friends. Then, all of sudden, they are dismissed.
Most students rush out the door, but there’s always a few who linger to wish teachers well or to inquire if their finals have been graded. Once final hugs and goodbyes are had, only the teachers remain. And just like that, summer begins!
This summer will be my second “teacher summer,” and I’ve been inspired to live it fully by a veteran teacher who I heard speak last summer at a history seminar. She shared that, in the summer, she lives by her alter ego and does all of the the things that her school year self cannot. She says “yes” to all of the events that she is invited to, something that she cannot afford to do during the school year, and she goes out of her way to pursue adventure. I love this outlook! And I am planning on fully embracing it for myself.
One way that I am pursuing adventure this summer is by trying and learning about new foods. Today I made a layered cake, caramel sauce, and frosting from scratch (for the first time!). In addition to taking on more baking adventures, I also want to try making more foods that I love from scratch, like pasta and xiaolongbao. This week, I am living into this outlook is by participating in #paletaweek!
Two weeks ago, I bought a stalk of rhubarb at the farmer’s market because seeing all of the rhubarb pies on my instagram feed was making me crazy. I had never tried rhubarb before and I intended to change that. But these past two weeks were the final days of the school year, and they were crazy busy.
So this week when I got home from work, after a long afternoon of packing up in our hot AC-less school building, I had time to think about that sole rhubarb stalk sitting in the dark recesses of my fridge. I found that it was only a little sad looking, so I unceremoniously cut it up and sautéed it with butter and sugar. I was immediately charmed by its tart flavor! Because popsicles were on my mind and it was a balmy day, I thought to combine it with yogurt and freeze it for some quick popsicles. The next day, I had my yogurt rhubarb paleta for breakfast, and one bite in, determined that the recipe was a keeper!
This recipe is a combination of something very familiar to me, paletas, Mexican popsicles, and something entirely new to me- rhubarb! The first time I made these popsicles, I used regular plain ol’ yogurt and milk and they turned out just as delicious as the recipe I am sharing below. This time around I wanted to make them vegan, so I used coconut and almond dairy instead. The paletas turned out creamy but also light! Although the recipe calls for coconut yogurt and almond milk, you can very easily substitute those ingredients for non-vegan dairy if you so desire.
Notes: I reserved some rhubarb pieces to decorate the paletas on the top and bottom and I also processed some of the rhubarb compote into a rhubarb sauce with a thin, jam like, consistency, to create the darker layer you see in the middle of these paletas. The recipe below includes steps on how to replicate the layers if you are interested. If you do not want to replicate the layers, simply blend all of the rhubarb compote with the yogurt and milk. Also, I had a hard time distinguishing between the two rhubarb “sauces” in the recipe below. Therefore, I’ve named the darker, jam-like layer the “rhubarb sauce,” and the lighter, yogurt layer the “rhubarb-yogurt” sauce. Enjoy!
Yields: 36 oz, or 12 popsicles
Total Time: ~3 hours
Prep Time: 10 minutes
- 1 lb of rhubarb (for me about 5 thick stalks)
- ⅓ cup white sugar
- ¼ cup brown sugar, packed
- ½ cup of water
- 2 cups of yogurt
- 1 cup of milk
- 12 popsicle sticks
- 12 plastic cups, 3 oz
- Rhubarb Compote: Wash and cut rhubarb into small pieces. In a medium size pan, cook rhubarb on medium heat with ½ cup of water and sugars for 3-4 mins or until bubbling. Try the rhubarb and adjust sugar to taste.
- Rhubarb Sauce: Reserve ½ cup of rhubarb compote and process into a uniform rhubarb sauce in blender or food processor. Set smooth rhubarb sauce aside for the darker mid popsicle layer.
- Popsicles: Add remaining rhubarb compote, yogurt and milk to blender and process until smooth.Taste and add more sugar if desired.
- Assembly: Fill bottom half of cup with lighter rhubarb-yogurt sauce. Freeze the first layer for 30 minutes.
- Freeze: When rhubarb-yogurt sauce has set, remove from freezer. Add rhubarb sauce on top of first layer. Tap cups gently to spread sauce and ensure that you get a uniform layer of rhubarb sauce for a full layered across the paleta. Clean any smudges from sides of cups. Freeze for 10 minutes.
- Freeze: After ten minutes add yogurt rhubarb sauce on top of the rhubarb sauce layer. Then, freeze for one hour.
- Popsicle Sticks: After an hour, remove popsicles from freezer. Gently insert popsicle sticks into center of cup. Make sure that popsicle is frozen enough to hold the popsicle stick in place.
- Freeze: Freeze for at least three hours or until set!
I stumbled upon this cookie late on a weeknight last year. Although I love cookies and I’d been searching for a crisp and flat cookie that emulated the deliciousness of my favorite local bakery’s chocolate chip cookies, on this particular night I was simply hoping for a generic chocolate chip cookie.
I’d tried this foodnetwork recipe for thin and crispy cookies before, but the cookies hadn’t turned out that much flatter than your typical cookie. Since I was hosting a review session for my history students the next day, I wanted to provide snacks to encourage *cough* bribe *cough* students to attend.
As I set out my ingredients, I encountered a big problem: I only had one cup of brown sugar, while the recipe called for almost twice that amount. It was getting late, so I quickly decided to sub the brown sugar for white sugar and left the rest of the recipe intact. Eight minutes later, the flattest cookies I’d ever seen emerged from the oven. I was initially distraught. The cookies looked weird! They were flat, oblong, almost translucent and coated with a fine mist of butter when I picked one up from the tray.
However, once I bit into a cookie, I was immediately overjoyed. I had found the perfect cookie for me! If you’ve been around me for any amount of time, you’ll know that I LOVE crispy things but I especially love crispy cookies. These treats were my idea of the perfect cookie- subtly chewy on the inside with a crispy edge. I excitedly shared one with my husband who initially scoffed at their appearance but then remarked, “These are the best cookies I’ve ever had!” This was high praise from the man who begins dinner by giving me a critique on the the taste of our food every night. (“I like the cumin in here but you could definitely have used more salt.”)
Although I thought they were perfection in cookie form, I knew that my students would comment on the odd appearance of the cookies. I hoped that the taste would compensate for their looks, so I packed them up and went to sleep.
The next day, when I put the cookies out during our study session, my students remarked, “Ms.Cho! What’s wrong with these cookies?! Did you forget to add baking powder?” (10th grade baking logic). However, as soon as they tried them, they all remarked on how delicious the cookies were. One student even asked me if I could bake some for her birthday party!
My students still talk about the cookies at least once a week: “Ms.Cho, are you bringing cookies to the MLK potluck?” And I am in fact bringing some to our last review session of the year this week. Apart from being wildly popular with tenth graders, relatives and church friends have also received them with the same warm remarks and have asked for the recipe. After experimenting with the recipe probably a dozen times trying to recreate that randomly perfect first batch of cookies, I finally feel like the recipe is ready to share. Please look at the notes below since there are a few important steps to yielding the perfect cookie! Let me know how they turn out in the comments!
Although I’ve been advertising these cookies as crispy, they were described by a non-crispy- loving friend as “a good kind of crispy.” Meaning that there’s plenty of chewiness in the center of the cookie. If crispy is not your thing, feel free to keep the baking time closer to 7 minutes to keep the cookie chewier. I strongly recommend that you use a cookie scoop for these cookies since they can turn out oddly shaped otherwise. If possible, use chocolate wafers(flat chocolate chips) like these CHOCODROPS instead of normal chocolate chips since the regular chocolate chips tend to stay in the center while the rest of the cookie batter spreads out, and they stick up above the otherwise flat cookie- kind of weird. Also, you want to get chocolate chips that aren’t overly sweet, these cookies are pretty sweet so semi-sweet to bitter-sweet chips work well. Chilling the dough is essential. I used to skip this step when recipes called for it, but with these cookies in particular–due to the high butter content–it is very important to chill after making the dough and to keep it cool in between batches (I stick my dough in the freezer while the other cookies are baking to keep the dough nice and cool). Finally, knowing when the cookies are done can be a little tricky, so I’ve included some pictures below to show you when I pull mine out of the oven.
The BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yields: ~2 dozen cookies using small cookie scoop
Total Time: 1 hour and 12 minutes
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 7-9 minutes
- 1 stick butter, room temperature
- 1 egg
- ¾ cup all purpose flour
- ¾ cup white sugar
- ⅓ cup packed brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 2 teaspoons water
- 1 cup chocolate chips (semi sweet to dark chocolate work well)
- Parchment paper (trust me)
- Wet ingredients: Cream butter and sugars for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Add egg, water, and vanilla. Mix until combined.
- Dry ingredients: Add flour, salt, and baking soda. Mix until fully incorporated. Then stir in chocolate chips.
- Chill: Cool dough in the refrigerator for a minimum of one hour.
- Pre-heat: Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees once the dough has been chilled for an hour.
- Scoop: Using a small cookie scoop or a tablespoon, scoop dough onto cookie sheet covered with parchment paper leaving plenty of room for cookies to spread. You should scoop no more than six cookies per sheet (Refer to images above).
- Chill: Keep remaining dough refrigerated in between batches in order to avoid overspreading.
- Bake: Bake the cookies for 4 minutes in the center rack of the oven, rotate the tray, and bake for another 3-4 minutes or until your cookies resemble the cookies in the photos above. Remove tray from oven.
- Cool: Take parchment paper and cookies off the tray and allow to cool for 2-3 minutes before eating.
I had always considered one thing and one thing alone a marker of true Mexican womanhood. Every real Mexican woman is able to flip tortillas on a comal with her bare fingers. My mother would do this expertly while using all four burners and running the blender, all at the same time. Years ago, when I would first try my hand at this technique, I would tentatively reach for the comal, only pull back my hand with a squeal. I was not a true Mexican woman yet. Defeated, I would flip the tortilla with a spatula, or to my mother’s chagrin, I would flip it with a metal fork.
I actually don’t even recall when I myself finally became a true Mexican woman. A few months ago, I found myself spacing out as I worked away, flipping tortillas with my fingers. Suddenly, I realized what I was doing! When did this coming-of-age take place? I have no idea. Now, I flip everything with my bare fingers: pancakes, toast, roasted vegetables–you name it. My husband just stands to the side, agape and amused.
Nowadays, my understanding of true womanhood is little more nuanced, though I still value that tortilla flipping panache. A few weeks ago, I took on a new Mexican rite of passage: making tamales from scratch! I love tamales. Because tamales are so labor intensive, we only eat them around the holidays. I associate them with Christmas and New Year’s, with the smell of ponche cooking in the backyard and tías gossiping in the kitchen. Primos and primas run around the house playing tag, sometimes earning passive scoldings or if especially unlucky, a zape. My mom, always a practical cook, never makes them at home. When I told my mom that I decided to make tamales for this blog, she wryly said, “good luck!”
As I’ve said, cooking tamales is not an easy endeavour; it’s usually a collective effort. The process is laborious. Making the tamal fillings is, in and of itself, an art form with limitless varieties by region and preference. The masa too can vary in taste, texture and even color. The wrappings at least are somewhat standard. Tamales are usually cooked in corn husks or banana leaves. Traditionally, one must use a tamalera, a big steamer that holds dozens of tamales at once; they can take one to three hours to cook depending on the number of tamales and the consistency of your masa.
Although my recipe only yields thirty tamales, if I did it again, I would double the recipe to make the investment of time more worthwhile. That being said, if you do decide to double your recipe, check that you will be able to cook all the tamales at once. My small, 6-quart pot only held two dozen tamales so I had to cook them in two batches (not ideal). Although tamales do take a lot of time to prep and cook, the taste of a fresh tamal is well worth it. Moist and tender, the subtle richness of tamal dough envelops a smokey, meat-filled interior for the perfect balance. If you have the time and motivation, give it try!
Tips for making tamales.
Preparing the masa:
- Beat your lard with a mixer until light and fluffy in order to yield light and porous tamales
- Add enough salt to your masa. Cook a bit of masa to see what your tamal will taste like after steaming. Then, adjust seasoning as desired.
- Make your masa a little wetter than you think it needs to be in order to prevent it from drying out while making tamales.
- Coat your husks with masa all at once and then place the filling on top. You don’t want to be coating and filling them individually, since this will take much longer. Think assembly line.
- If using a spoon to spread the masa, hold the husk in your hand to help move the masa onto the husk with your hand
- If you do not have a tamalera like me, elevate your steamer using ramekins in order to hold more water and spend less time refilling your pot.
- Have a kettle with boiling water on standby in order to avoid adding cold water to the pot and consequently lengthening the cooking time.
- Measure how many cups it takes to fill your pot to right below the steamer, and then time the first refill carefully so that you know how often you will need to replenish the water. For example, for me it was 6 cups of water, and I needed to refill every 45 minutes at medium heat.
- The traditional timing method: put a coin at the bottom of your pot. The roiling water in the pot will cause the coin to make noise. When the coin stops making noise, it’s time to fill up the pot again!
Beef and Chicken Tamales
Yields ~30 tamales
Prep time: 45 minutes (excluding prep time for filling)
Cooking Time: 1-3 hours
- 3 cups prepared masa*
- ¾ cup lard
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1.5 cups beef/chicken stock
- ~50 corn husks soaked in hot water for 3 hours
1. Masa for tamales: Beat lard, salt, and baking powder with mixer until light and fully (3-5 minutes). Add 3 cups masa and 1 cup stock to the lard, and continue beating with mixer to remove any lumps in dough. Dough is ready when it is easy to spread with a spoon.
2. Assembly: Pat corn husks dry. Line husks up and spread about 1-2 tablespoons masa per corn husk on the top part of the husk. Then place 1-2 tablespoons filling in center of each husk. Fold sides of husks over.
3. Steam: Load all tamales open side up in steamer. Cook for 1 to 3 hours. Tamales are ready when the dough comes off the husk.
*Masa: If you are not grinding your own corn, simply use masa harina like this one and follow the directions on the back. You can buy masa harina at most grocers and on Amazon.