I apologize for the lateness of this post. Because the past two weeks have been quite the gauntlet of family illness and day job transitions for me, this writing has taken some time to pull together. Last weekend, I received a package of spices and kitchen equipment courtesy of IMUSA and McCormick as part of its Cinco de Mayo Campaign. The suite of spices included a 4-ounce can of McCormick black pepper, a packet of McCormick Tinga de Pollo seasoning mix, a 2-ounce bottle of McCormick ground cumin, a 2.5 bottle of McCormick chili powder, a 0.55-ounce bottle of whole Mexican oregano, and a 0.5-ounce bottle of cilantro leaves. IMUSA sent me a tortilla warmer, a handheld IMUSA lime squeezer, and an IMUSA 8-inch aluminum tortilla press. My only instructions were to utilize some or all of these to create something in the spirit of Cinco de Mayo, and to post about it.
Because the box of goods, like this post, arrived a bit late, and sick toddlers must take priority over my food blogging, I selected the latter of two options presented to me: either post something about how I intended to celebrate for upcoming Cinco de Mayo, or a post-holiday article about what I did.
The tortilla press, warmer, lime squeezer (available at Amazon.com), and spices came accompanied by recipes for a couple of Mexican dishes, along with a simple one for tortillas that utilized just corn tortilla flour or masa harina de maiz, boiling water, and a little vegetable oil. Because I’m already familiar with how to make marinated pork fajitas and black bean enchiladas, I chose to try my hand at the Chicken Tinga recipe that came with the goods. In so doing, I learned a few things:
1. IMUSA’s tortilla warmer performs well and cleans easily. Available at Target, it kept my freshly-pressed creations warm for the length of the meal that followed them. It’s safe for dishwasher-cleaning as well as microwave warming, either of which is always a bonus.
2. When pressing tortillas, success rests on finesse over function. Knowing when to stop applying pressure relent is key. It took me a couple of tries to fashion a decent disc using the tortilla press, though that is owed more to my unfamiliarity with such a device than to any defect of the press itself. Upon placing a ball of dough in the center of the press, one needn’t depress the handle as far as it can possibly go (like I did my first few times.) A gentle pressing that stops sort of the maximum force one can apply will result in tortillas that hold together, because they aren’t crushed so thin that they tear as you try to move them from press to skillet. Once I stopped bullying the dough, the press rewarded me with flat rounds of even thickness. Included instructions advised one to cut two large circles of grocery bag, and press the dough between these so it doesn’t stick to the press, though I found that two halves of a gallon-size food storage bag perform ably as well.
3. Prepared spice mixes have their merits, and McCormick is better at Mexican flavor blends than I expected. I admit I’m not generally a “just open pouch and add chicken” type of cook. I tend to enjoy selecting and blending fresh flavor components when preparing a meal. But I understand too, that often there simply isn’t enough time in an evening to luxuriate in the act of cooking; on nights like that, an easy-to-add, pre-arranged spice palate can be welcome. The Tinga de Pollo spice mix surprised me not only with how layered its flavors are, but how quickly I was able to complete the dish. Besides browned, shredded chicken, the only other ingredients it called for were 2 cups of thinly sliced onions, a cup of tomato sauce, and a bit of water. The entire affair took less than thirty minutes to go from stove to table, and requiring just one to two minutes per side in a hot skillet, it took me less time to cook the tortillas than it did to mix the dough.
4. Having a tortilla press in one’s kitchen invites all manner of creativity. Since first experimenting with the tortilla press (available at Macy’s), I am bursting with new ideas for savory and sweet dishes into which to incorporate fresh homemade tortillas, as well as untested herb and spice combinations to mix into the dough. My first foray saw the inclusion of minced onion and a little coarse corn meal for added texture. Now I really want to attempt a sweetened variety to top with fruit, ice cream, or some other dessert option. Or another savory version topped with breakfast staples. Every single article of food in the Flavorful World kitchen is now fair game for being born again as tortilla topping. Or folded into a tortilla. Or rolled in a freshly made tortilla and deep fried. It’s a brand new day. And isn’t that really what Cinco de Mayo is all about?