Monthly Archives: May 2007

Homemade Tortilla Chips

corn tortillas

Crunch. You’ve sat there dipping your store bought chips into salsa, guacamole, even bean dip. These things are salty! Do these taste a little stale? Processed, even? How come these chips don’t taste, or even look like the ones you get when you sit down in Mexican restaurants? How do they make those?

It’s easier than you think… Bake or fry, you can make your own tortilla chips at home. I promise that not only will it be cheaper than buying bags from the stores, but it is also healthier, and even fun.

Corn tortillas are useful for so many things. Enchiladas, soft tacos, even well… chips! Each brand of tortillas carries it’s own set of flavor. When making your chips, be sure to choose the brand you like. I like Guerrero.

To fry: Slice the tortillas into pie-like slices. About three corn tortillas will make one serving of chips. Heat oil (vegetable or canola) in a pan (or wok) to about 360* F (180* C). Layer cut tortilla into oil, making sure to keep each piece separate. Fry until crisp and lightly browned. Remember, that chips will cook slightly even after removing from hot oil.

cooked chips, layed out to drain

Add salt (and other seasoning) if desired. This is the best part, as you have absolute control over the salt content of your chips. Repeat procedure with your remaining tortilla pieces.

In Mexican restaurants, chips are served best when warm. This is achieved either by serving them to guests right after they’ve been fried (or baked), or by keeping them under a heat lamp. I prefer to serve my homemade chips right after they’ve been fried.

To bake: Lightly brush whole tortillas with vegetable (or canola) oil. Cut into pie-like pieces, and spread into single layer on greased baking sheet. Add salt as desired. Bake at 400* F (205* C) for 10-12 minutes, making sure to turn chips halfway through the baking time. Keep an eye on them, as ovens cook differently. They should be crisp and light-golden brown. Transfer to paper towels to cool.

Usually the chips disappear as fast as the homemade guacamole, or salsa. But if you do have leftovers, be sure to keep them in an airtight container. After all, the reason you made these it to avoid that store bought stale taste, right?

chips, ready to store

After this, you’ll make sure you always have corn tortillas in your kitchen. Can you do this with flour tortillas? Sure, why not (cooking times will be faster). But why?

Golden Saffron Buns

Saffron bun--warm and about to be eaten

Saffron buns. How could something so ordinary sound so decadent? Buns can be a staple food–but the saffron gives this “ordinary bun” such a unique and special twist–resulting in a golden sunlight color that can only come from saffron’s ability to color things up to 150,000 times its weight unmistakably yellow.

Not to mention saffron’s unique flavor stemming from its Eastern Mediterranean roots. It’s hard to describe saffron’s flavor–it is an ingredient that has NO substitute (there is not one single ingredient known to us that can be used as a substitute for saffron–not safflowers, not turmeric)…some say it’s bitter, or say it tastes kind of like the sea, others describe a bitter, honey-like taste. All a testament to its unique position in the culinary diaspora.

It takes 150,000 crocus flowers (saffron are the dried stigmas of a crocus flower) to produce one kilogram of saffron. The effort required to produce saffron is a huge testimony to its value–so how could I resist making a bun with saffron in it?

saffron buns in progress

I love saffron (not to be confused with safflowers, which have nothing to do with the “Real Thing”). I myself discovered it and made it a staple in my kitchen only a handful of years ago, after making paella and committing myself to a little (expensive) box of saffron threads. What was this thing? It was beautiful. I now use saffron in rice (coloring it a beautiful yellow and giving the rice a beautiful taste and aroma), and potatoes…mostly because I scored a big bulk stash of saffron from the Made in France Warehouse Sale late last year).

So I took out my Kitchenaid mixer, and my stash of saffron, and made headway.

after first rising

I love the chemistry and process of breadmaking–the beauty of the transformation makes me check my impatience with ease. It is an amazing thing to watch the ingredients combine in a liquid mess, and then become an elastic, glutinous creature after minutes of dutiful kneading (whether by hand or by mixer). And it doesn’t stop there–the dough becomes something else entirely after being left to rise in a warm spot above the gas range for a couple hours, until it becomes a soft bubble of air and dough.

How beautiful are the flecks of dark red orange saffron in the dough, doubled in bulk after its first rising? I felt a little sad about punching it down–just a little sad. Not enough to prevent me from punching it down, a breadmaking step I always find strangely delightful. Kaboom.

saffron buns ready for 2nd rising

The next step was to form the buns and allow them to rise again–a tedious step but one that is so very valuable (my favorite Cheese Board brioche recipe has a second rising too, one that leaves me salivating for the finish line). But by this point, I’m screaming silently, “A SECOND TIME?!” Even though I know it’s completely worth it.

saffron buns go in the oven!

But in a short time, the buns double in bulk. Time to glaze with egg whites, sprinkle with sugar…and then in the oven they go!

hot saffron buns!

And in about twenty minutes, they come out, transformed and steaming after what seems like an eternity of tempting heavenly smells.

In our house, we devoured several of them instantly, letting the plugra butter (I can only imagine how WONDERFUL this would taste with devon cream) melt into the steaming bread before popping the bites into our mouths. Today was a cloudy day, but these buns brought a little bit of sunshine into our household, and made things a little more special.

Warm saffron bun with plugra butter

Recipe follows after the jump…

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A quick sprig of tea

mint and anise hyssop tea

Tea, I have realized (and sadly) only in recent months, does not have to be spooned, in dry flecks, out of a tin can. It does not have to make that subtle swishing sound as dry leaves scrape against the metal walls and hits the side of your teapot.

No. Tea can be made from fresh sprigs of mint and anise hyssop and other herbs you can find in your garden.

Today I made a tea out of mint leaves and anise hyssop leaves. I rinsed them, put them in a teapot, and then poured hot water over them, infusing the water with a great, enriching scent and flavor.

In no time at all, I had a mug of mint and anise hyssop tea, straight from the garden.

Try it.

Still Life

Lara, over at her blog Still Life With… has a post up, detailing some of the lessons learned in a food styling class. Additionally, the entire blog has a plethora of beautiful touches you can put into food; for instance, suggestions on flowers, herbs and other garnishes in food styling to bring a unique flair to your dishes, and also food photographs. Or a post on food props–something a little more beyond a white plate on a wood table.

And there’s more, I’m just busy reading the other posts. I’m so inspired.

Read it, view it, and drool.  The pictures are, needless to say, beautiful.

Right now, I’m thinking about making “figure 8’s” in future food photography subjects. What’s a “figure 8?” Read and find out.

Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day: thumbs up

lavender dishwashing soap

Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day dishwashing soap is not edible, but smells like wonderful floral foods and lives in close proximity to food. And, after all, Mrs. Meyer’s had a presence at the Fancy Food Show (even though it was not officially a “food”). So why not mention them here on Muffin Top?

I thought the products were worth a mention on this food blog. Though I must have passed by the products at the local Whole Foods many many times, I never thought to try them out until I scored a few samples from the Fancy Food Show:

schwag from the fancy food show

I scored dish soap, surface wipes, and laundry detergent, all available in 3 scents: lemon verbena, lavender, and geranium (which smells a lot like roses). The samples lingered in a little basket in my utility room, collecting dust for some months. I didn’t have the heart to throw them away, and like all samples, I found the packaging cute and the thought of “needing a squeeze of dishwashing soap on a rainy day” too immediate in my mind to consider anything else but saving them.

Did I use them? No. But they must have served as beacons of advertising and branding, sitting there by my side door.

Because when we did run out of dishwashing liquid, and I found myself at Whole Foods where I could not buy the usual bottle of Palmolive, my eyes travelled towards the bottles of Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day dish soap.


Geranium, lemon verbena, or lavender? Quick choice: lavender.

Mrs. Meyer's dish soap samples

The minute I popped open the bottle of dishwashing soap, I felt like I was about to take a bubble bath, not submerge myself into the drudgery of washing dishes. I love the smell of lavender–and afterwards, my hands smelled wonderful–as I typed on my laptop, I smelled like summer in Provence. (Okay, I have never BEEN to Provence, but this is how I would imagine Provence to smell like).

Man, I love a household product that makes me smell pretty, and has a scent that rings true.

I immediately went to my other samples, and popped them open to check out their scents. Equally delicious and intoxicating. Like the real thing.

Oh, and the soap cleans well, too.  It works well, and is biodegradable, phosphate-free, and made with those wonderful natural essential oils that make you feel good (as well as smell good).

Safeway vs. The Farmers’ Market

Sam over at Becks & Posh has conducted an inquiry: How does shopping at the Farmers’ Market compare with Safeway, in terms of financial cost?

The results are surprising and dramatic.

Malted Milk Ice Cream

malted milk ice cream

Spring is winding its way to summer these days–and evidence is in the blooming flowers, pollen sprinkled like powder sugar on parked automobiles, in the increasing daylight hours, and increasing ambient temperatures. I am not a huge fan of summer and its heat, despite the season’s beauty, but there are always a handful of things that make this season a time of year I still enjoy greatly. Watermelons being one of them. And ice cream, too.

This is the time of year that ice cream can really shine, and I’d like to share an ice cream with you! Last year, I made a remarkable buttermilk ice cream–and today, I made an incredible malted milk ice cream.

I spotted a recipe for David Lebovit’z malted milk ice cream out of his book, Perfect Scoop on Ruhlman’s blog. I found Lebovitz’s headnote entrancing–so entrancing that I immediately decided to make his favorite malted milk ice cream:

I froze lots and lots and lots of ice cream when writing this book. It was a treat having freshly-made ice cream every day, but space in my freezer soon became an issue and after more than one frozen ‘brick’ of ice cream slipped out, which I always seemed to just narrowly avoid crashing down on my foot, I eventually realized that it was impossible (and a little dangerous) to coexist with too many flavors all at once. Consequently, I passed off lots of ice cream to friends, neighbors, local shopkeepers, and occasionally, a startled delivery man. All were more than happy to take a quart off my hands. But this Malted Milk Ice Cream was the one that I refused to part with, and I guarded it secretively, saving it all for myself.

malt balls for malted milk ice cream chopped malt balls for malted milk ice cream

I am a big fan of malted milk and malted ice cream. BIG fan. And so how could I resist?

I threw out the idea to our household, to smiles and nods. “How about I make some malted milk ice cream this weekend?” We went right to the store to gather the ingredients, which include malt balls (I already had malt powder) and lots of good whipping cream. I also picked up another carton of humane eggs.

malted milk ice cream

This recipe includes a good amount of egg yolks, and the bulk of the cooking involves making the custard, as with most ice cream recipes. Because I love vanilla, and I like myself a softer ice cream, I doubled the amount of vanilla in the cream/malt powder/vanilla mix (for the record, I used Nielsen-Massey’s Tahitian vanilla, which reportedly fares best in chilled dishes).

(for the record, I use a Cuisinart ice cream maker–best bang for the buck–but don’t forget to put the container in the freezer the night before!)

The result? Delectable.

The malt flavor has a strong presence, and the malt balls add a delightful crunch and an added dimension to the malt flavor. There are several reasons I love to make ice cream at home: one of the reasons being that I have control over the ingredients and produce a fresher, more natural, more delicious product…and another being I can perhaps try out ice creams and flavors that aren’t sold in stores.

This is one of those ice creams.


malted milk ice cream

Recipe follows after the jump…

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A “Christine” food–one of my inventions

one of my

There are a bunch of foods that I eat alone, assuming the world is better off not knowing about these weird unusual concoctions. These “secret” dishes are borne out of desperation, unbounded inspiration, and more often than not, hybridization of cultural cuisines. In my case, there are a handful of dishes that are not QUITE Korean, and not QUITE American, but somewhere in between.

After I make them enough, they become part of my underground repertoire.

And in seclusion, sometimes shame, I indulge in these “hapa” dishes that I call my own, and only my own. I don’t offer them to my husband, assuming his distaste, and I never serve them up to friends. But of course, I find them outright tasty.

There is a traditional Korean dish called “bibimbap”, made of rice, topped with seasoned vegetables, beef (bulgogi), a fried egg, and hot sauce. You mix these ingredients up for a delicious meal. These days, it’s quite a delicacy, though its roots were quite humble; my mother said that it started out from servants making use of the household dinner leftovers. I love bibimbap–it is usually the dish I order at Korean BBQ restaurants.

And while I was growing up, my mother would make us quick lunches she called “bibimbap”–which did not resemble the more formal presentation in restaurants. Her bibimbap was comprised of any leftover in the house–kimchee or bean sprouts or tofu or tofu casserole, mixed with rice, sesame oil, and hot sauce (she left out the hot sauce if the ingredients included kimchi).

I noticed that she would decrease the amount of rice in my serving, and hand me (a chubby child) one bowl chock full of vegetables and other leaner ingredients. “Lots of fiber!” she would say in her pragmatic and cheerful way. It was…HEALTHY food. But the feeling of deprivation would not last for long, because rice or no rice, it was delicious–and I would dig right in.

one of my

Sometimes she would not have suitable Korean ingredients and so she would improvise. One dish that became a regular dish we shared (and only the two of us shared this dish) was the following:

  • rice
  • a can of tuna
  • a bunch of shredded iceberg lettuce (the more, the healthier)
  • italian dressing

She would mix the ingredients up into a hybrid “bibimbap” (which literally means “mixed rice”), remember to say, “Lots of fiber!” and we would dig right in.

These days, I add a bit of grated parmesan to the mix. Yah, it’s cheese, it’s fattening, it’s not fiber, and I think it’s tasty. This addition spawned from the fact that one day, I ended up using an Italian dressing that included parmesan cheese and falling in love with the extra ingredient that gave the dish so much “umami” (which translates from Japanese into English with some difficulty–it could mean “deliciousness” or “savory” or “pungent”).

It is my little guilty pleasure, though I suppose, with all that fiber, I ought to call it my “non-guilty pleasure.” And now I share it with you. Introducing: Weird Hybrid Bibimbap.

“Lots of fiber!’

Bon Appetit. 🙂

*sour* lemon sorrel soup part deux for LIVESTRONG Day

lemon sorrel soup prep

Today, I decided to make something that had A Taste of Yellow, to observe the food blog event organized by Winos and Foodies to celebrate the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s LIVESTRONG Day.

Instructions were as follows:

I’m asking all bloggers to participate in the blog event A TASTE OF YELLOW by making a dish containing some type of yellow food. This can be anything you like as long it features a yellow food. Some ideas to get you started are lemon, banana, saffron, corn, eggs, cheese.

(the roundup of LIVESTRONG foods is here)

I bounced ideas in my head–I could make some sort of lemon dessert, with curd. Or something savory with eggs or cheese–the possibilities were endless. But as I poked my head out the side door this morning, the garden sorrel caught my eye. And then I eyed the fresh meyer lemons in the garden.

I would make my adaptation of Tea and Cookies’ lemon sorrel soup. And not only does it contain lemons–it also contains egg yolks! How yellow!

lemon sorrel soup for lunch

Gathering the sorrel was an incredible pleasure–whereas last time I’d bought bunches of sorrel from the store, this time I walked out the side door and into my vegetable garden with a pair of shears. Snip, snip, snip. Within a few minutes, I had a good handful of sorrel leaves (I only wish I’d had more sorrel plants, farther along in growth, for more sorrel leaves).

This was the first meal based on my new vegetable garden’s production. Momentous. Just a few weeks ago, my meal was a seedling, carrying the weight of my culinary dreams. And before that, my meal was a seed. Now it was in my hand.

I walked back in the house, tapping the earth off my gardening shoes, sorrel leaves in hand, imagining a light but wholly satisfying lunch. I called our house guest and warned him, “This soup might be a bit sour!” I reassured him that there were other things to eat, should he find this soup too strong.

The sorrel leaves were a bit limp (after all, I hadn’t watered the garden yet today), so I put them in a mug of water while I zested and squeezed the lemons. And, of course, I had to take a picture of the still life.

In very short time, we had a lunch for two. I like to add rice to the broth, and I add a bit of hot water in addition to the chicken broth. Last time, I added swiss chard–this time, with no swiss chard at hand, the only greens in the soup were the rough chiffonade of sorrel leaves. Delish. Very hearty (with the rice) and bright (lemons are always good for providing a bit of brightness) on a foggy summer day in the Bay Area.

And how did my lunch companion find the soup? He took a cautious spoonful, then looked up. “It’s good!” he announced–and proceeded to finish his soup serving. After which, he got up to ladle a second bowl.

The proof–is in the soup.

lemon sorrel soup in progress

Recipe adapted from Tea and Cookies follows after the jump…

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fruit and roses

berry fruit salad

“Mrmmmm! What,” my guests often ask, “is in this salad?” They sniff the air, opening and closing their mouths in search of the taste. “I feel like–it’s roses! Am I eating roses?” They smile and forage through the fruit for a flower, a rose petal, any hint of its floral presence.

But they don’t find any petals. What they see is a beautiful and luscious pile of fruit, glistening with the dew of…

Wait. Dew?

Yes. The fruit is doused with rosewater.

It’s hard to think of flowers as edible–even though I savor myself candied violets and rose petals, and LOVE anything with lavender in it.

Eating flowers and their essences brings a certain unexpected life to a dish–sometimes in subtle fashion, other times in a very powerful debut. Certain cultures embrace flowers in cuisine; for instance, Indian cuisine has a dessert called gulab jamun with a pastry drowning in rosewater scented syrup. Heaven. And the Middle East claims flowered foods with its incredible rosewater sweets and desserts, like rosewater ice cream and a bastardized but oh so delicious rosewater cake. Yes, roses are not only ornamental, bringing visual pleasure–they can also tickle your tastebuds.

Consider similar uses with violets–used to make syrups and ice creams and candies. Don’t forget orange blossoms and nasturtiums. And of course lavender’s culinary prowess, with its use in cookies, cakes, herbes de provence, and even honey lavender ice cream.

So do you dare to eat a peach? Do you dare to eat a rose? Do you dare to eat a violet, an orange blossom, and lavender?