Homemade Tortillas

One of the goals I have when preparing meals for my family is to use fresh, whole ingredients. I like to know what I am eating. I don't know when it became the norm for store-bought products to have long lists of ingredients that are unpronounceable, but we are trying to avoid those things. Sometimes this is an easy switch, like finding a different brand, but other times I have found that my goals make that certain product undesirable and therefore don't find their way into my grocery cart. This is usually when I decide to try my hand at making it myself. Most of the time it's cheaper anyway, so I usually tell myself the only thing I've lost is a little time and effort if I don't end up liking it. Truth be told, I have yet to find something that has not only been completely worth my effort, but also way better tasting than the store bought junk we were eating before. You win some, and you win some more! Today I am going to share with you one of my favorite recipes from my King Arthur Flour Cookbook: Whole Grain Baking. On a side note, I highly recommend this cookbook if you love baking! We are going to be fashioning ourselves some easy, albeit slightly wonky looking, tortillas. Warning: There are lots of pictures! I always find when I am baking bread, or crackers, or tortillas, knowing what textures and consistencies the dough is supposed to be makes it a whole lot easier the first time around.

The ingredients are SO SIMPLE. White whole wheat flour, salt, oil, and water. Compare that to any tortilla in the store. I challenge you! The cookbook recommends using white whole wheat flour as the authors found that it produces the best, hearty, and complex flavor. Feel free to try with other types of flours, just be cautious when adding the water. Different flours will absorb more or less.

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You first mix 2 cups or 8 ounces of flour and a half teaspoon of salt together. I usually weigh my flour because that is much more accurate, but if you don't have a scale feel free to measure with a measuring cup. Be sure to spoon the flour into the measuring cup and level with a knife. Don't just scoop with your measuring cup. That will add as much as I think 20% more flour. Did I make you quiver in your boots yet? Measure the right way people! :) Then add 3 tablespoons of oil. I usually use olive oil.

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Mix the oil into the flour mixture. Give this a stir with a spoon at first, then get your fingers dirty and mix it with your hands. You will end up getting a crumbly mixture.

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Next you add about 2/3 cup of warm water. I don't measure the temperature or anything, I just make sure I am using nice and warm water from the tap. I pour the water in slowly, little bits at a time, while stirring. Make sure not to add too much water. The amount of water will vary between flours, between days, between freshness, so make sure to start little. Then stir it up with a spoon or your hands. This will only take a minute or two until you get kind of a shaggy looking lump. I usually knead it once or twice to get it all into one chunk. At this point, cover the bowl with a towel and let it sit for 20 minutes. This is crucial to allow the flour to absorb up all the water. See my tiny helper hand there? I couldn't crop those adorable fingers out!

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Now we have this guy. See how he is kind of crumbly, and not smooth?

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We knead him until he is nice and smooth. You may need to put a little flour on your countertop so it doesn't stick, but most of the time I can do this without it. This doesn't take long, just a few quick kneads, and he is whipped right into shape. Isn't he a beauty? I always find baking fascinating. You go from the above picture to this by mashing a piece of dough with your hands? Who knew to do this?tortilla6

Now you cut your beauteous creation. I typically cut mine in half the long (hotdog) way. Then I cut each half into about 5 little triangles. I found that cutting triangles allowed me to have better consistency of the size of my tortillas instead of having some little ones and some big ones. I usually get around 10 depending on how large I want my tortillas. Shape each triangle into a ball. Then cover those babies up and let them take a nap for about 20 minutes.

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Now you are ready to shape and roll your tortillas. Keep these covered while you are working so they don't dry out. Flour your surface about moderately well. I like enough flour that I can roll easily but not so much that it doesn't stick. The stickiness allows it to stick to the countertop in some spots making it easier to roll super thin. Flatten your ball into a disk. I usually flour both sides at the start. I use my rolling pin by starting in the middle of the disk and rolling outward. Do this until you get a round oval ish (or wonky shape in about 100% of my tortillas) shape. I usually go in about six directions around the disk. You may need to flip it once or twice.  Roll it so thin that it lifts up at the edges but doesn't split (see the last picture.)

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Heat an ungreased griddle to medium high heat. Toss on your tortilla. Cook for a couple minutes. You can see that it sort of gets bubbly, almost like a pancake.

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Flip and cook a couple more minutes. They should be browned on both sides.

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This part can be a little time consuming. It obviously goes quite a bit faster if you can do two pans at once, which I recommend. I roll the next tortilla while one is cooking. After they are cooked place them inside a kitchen towel to keep warm for dinner. This will keep it from crisping up too much.

Most of the time, I make these ahead of time. This makes dinner time a tad less crazy and disastrous. To do that cook them up and allow them to cool completely in a kitchen towel. I usually forget about them for an hour or two. Then place in a plastic bag or airtight container in the fridge until you want to use them. I make up enough for a whole week. When you want to serve, place a pile between two damp paper towels and microwave for about 30 seconds and serve.

Warning: If you make these, you may never buy regular tortillas again. They are so good! They are fresh, chewy, and have the perfect crunch. We enjoy them in quesadillas for a quick lunch for Penny and me, and any form of taco for dinner. They are easy to whip up for a quick quesadilla dinner out of random fridge ingredients (you know, the day before you go grocery shopping.)

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Hope you are feeling a little kitchen inspired by this. Have any recipes to share with me? Do you also make things "by hand" to avoid some of those unpronounceable ingredients? Are you hooked on something you've made from scratch and have never bought it again? Please share!

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March's Mouth-Watering Meals

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Click on the photos or here to see and print the recipes.

My family loves rice. All kinds of rice: wild, brown, basmati, risotto, arborio, jasmine... the list goes on. In fact, there are over 40,000 varieties of rice in this world. whoa. I love the ways I can use it in different cuisines. Mexican rice with cilantro and black beans. Sticky jasmine rice with flakes of coconut. Brown rice with broccoli sprinkled with grated parmesan. Wild rice in my Chicken soup. Hot rice cereal.

Now, there is one rice that I will not eat again if I can avoid it. Can you guess? Minute rice. Minute rice is pre-cooked and is equally an empty sugar carb like other white rice. I do love some nice sticky Jasmine rice with my stir frys... so what's the catch? The texture and taste. It's lacking to say the least! I'll never forget the time when I returned to the US after living in China for 10 months and someone offered me an American-Chinese dish served on Minute rice. I was thinking "Eh? Wha-? This isn't rice!" I was spoiled eating fresh cooked white rice for two meals a day along with drinking boiled rice water... I was hooked and forever changed. Go ahead and stick the label on my forehead - I'm a rice snob.

Now, I'm sure you can assume correctly that brown rice is more healthy than white rice but it can also take more time. Unfortunately, white rice is over processed which kills off the healthy parts, the germ and the bran. Brown rice on the other hand is packed with minerals, vitamins, it is high in fiber, and is naturally low in fat. The battle of quality vs. convenience.

This is where meal planning can be crucial. The bulk section at grocery stores offers some good affordable options. Prepping rice on the stovetop only takes a couple minutes. You add the water, salt, rice, and butter/oil. While the rice is simmering (from 30 minutes to an hour depending on rice) you can prepare the meat and vegetables of your meal and even cut up some fruit for dessert. Sounds great to me!

But what about the nights when you did not plan ahead, or something unexpected comes up, and you have only 30 minutes to cook dinner and eat it? argh! There is a solution to keep in your freezer for times such as these and it is far above Minute rice. I'm talking about Rice Expressions Brown Rice - it's 100% organic - and it takes 3 minutes to make! What? what?! Our grocery store was having a sale where if you bought two frozen bags of organic vegetables you received a box of Rice Expressions frozen organic rice for free. I was planning on getting the vegetables anyway so the sale reward was a plus! If you don't have Rice Expressions in your grocery freezer you may have a Trader Joe's nearby and they also have frozen rice varieties (with high reviews) that cook up in a jiffy.

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I was a bit skeptical (remember I am a rice snob) but the rice turned out just as good as if I had it bubbling in my dutch oven for the last 45 minutes. Now all you have to do is fry a couple of fish filets, steam vegetables, and you have dinner ready in 10 minutes. Yee haw! If you are at all concerned about cooking in the microwave you can still cook microwavable rice without the microwave. It will take 5 minutes on the stove top instead of three.

You do not have to sacrifice the quality of food for convenience of time.

I want to know: What quick but healthy meals are your favorite? Do share! 

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Do-it-yourself Lip Balm

A few months ago I started making my own soap. This mostly started because I absolutely love artisan soaps and would usually buy them at farmer's markets, craft sales, etc. At about six buckaroos a bar, my expensive taste was becoming, well, expensive. I decided I could make my own soap for at least cheaper than six dollars a bar. Admittedly, making soap for the first time was pretty nerve-wracking, but it turned out to be surprisingly easy. From that goggled and gloved mad-scientist moment , a cosmetic monster was born. I figure why spend money on all of these products if I can make them myself (especially with my ever growing soap stock supply). I can be the one in control of what is in my products instead of needing to look up whether or not it is considered safe. (For those of you curious, you can do that here.) Unfortunately in the United States, our cosmetics are not required to be tested, so there are a large amount of products with theoretically carcinogenic components. I realize that making all of your own cosmetics in not practical for most people, nor cost-effective in all cases, and if we are completely honest with ourselves, my mother, my father, and myself were all bathed with Johnson & Johnson, and we are still very much alive. You pick and choose the battles you want to fight. Fortunately for me, I enjoy chemistry experiments. :) So it's not so much a battle but a hobby now.

Today, we will pursue lip balm. It's like a whopping 5 degrees outside today. My big ol' lips cannot handle 5 degrees. I am that person that has lip skin hanging off on a regular basis. It's not unusual for my lips to bleed. Is that lipstick on your teeth? No, just blood. (Insert Twilight comment here.) We recently ran out of lip balm in our house. By run out, I mean the last stick went through the wash. I think that happens to every lip balm that ever enters our home. We like to buy the Burt's Bees kind, so that's like three bucks per load. Major bummer. Crunchy mama to the rescue!

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This lip balm is basically a mixture of beeswax and oils. You can totally make up whatever you want, which is what I did. A quick "googling" provided me with this and this, which I used as the bones for my recipe. I ordered empty tubes on Amazon, but you could reuse old containers you have too. I just prefer the ease of a stick to swipe.

The ingredients I used were beeswax pastilles, shea butter, avocado oil, almond oil, and lanolin. I had every intention of adding rosemary and vanilla essential oils but completely spaced and had them poured before I remembered. Next time. Like I said, this is totally versatile. The basic idea is to have twice as much oil as beeswax. You could use coconut oil or cocoa butter too, leave out the lanolin, etc. As far as cost, I didn't figure out the total cost per tube. I don't remember the price of some of the oils, got some others as gifts, etc. Most of the tutorials I saw estimated between ten to fifty cents per tube. This would be a one time larger cost though if you don't have the supplies on hand.

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All you have to do is measure all of your ingredients except the essential oils into a glass container. Helpful tip: Designate a container for just cosmetic use, then you don't have to worry about clean-up. I have a large mason jar and a small mason jar that I use, and don't even bother rinsing them out afterward. That makes it so much easier.

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Melt all of your ingredients slowly over medium/medium-low heat in a double boiler. I fill a saucepan with water, submerge a washcloth completely in the water, and place my jar on top. Then I don't have to worry about my jar scratching my pot. (Please note: I realize the picture below has a quite clear picture of my stove light, however I have absolutely no natural light in my kitchen in it's current state, so for now, I am sorry. When the kitchen reno happens we will get some sky light action up in there.)

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Add essential oil, and pour the melted concoction into your container of choice. Allow to cool for a bit.

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Pucker up! Your little smoochers are going to be as soft as a baby's bottom!

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What are you crafting up in the kitchen these days besides meals? Does your honey also cringe at the sight of your disintegrating lip flesh? Elaborate, please.

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