Monday, June 29, 2015

Letting Kids Control Your Menu

Stuff Your Own Tortillas (photo by Andy Mills)
When I was growing up in Western Pennsylvania, I had almost no say in what the family ate for dinner.  My mother cooked it and served it, and my father, brother and I choked it down.  On Monday nights, if Dad was out at his Kiwanis dinner meeting, my brother Steve and I begged for Chef Boyardee Spaghetti.  It came in a can, and the noodles were as soft as pudding. 

I’m sure my mother obliged us because all she had to do was get out the can opener, dump the spaghetti into a pot and turn on the gas.  We lapped it up and begged for more.  It was the best-tasting dinner we were likely to have in any given week.

Flash forward to Sunday dinner...
when I regular feed my son Kevin and his family.  Kevin, my cookbook collaborator, grew up eating whatever I put on the table, so he’s usually an easy guest.  His wife Jody is a vegetarian.  Sometimes I cook vegetarian for everyone.  Sometimes I make a second entrĂ©e for her.  Then there are their three boys—also vegetarians but picky vegetarians.

After years of experimenting, I have finally built up a repertoire of dishes we will all eat.  They’re mostly vegetarian, although in some cases meat is served on the side.  Stuff-Your-Own Tortillas is our current favorite.  It’s an effective way to use up leftovers, and diners can eat what they want.  Everybody’s happy.
Stuff-Your-Own Tortillas – serves 4 
1 15-ounce can black beans
2 ripe avocados (optional)
2 cups cooked and shredded chicken, turkey, pork or beef
2 cups shredded lettuce
2 cups grated cheddar or jack cheese
Hummus (optional)
8 8-inch flour tortillas 
Drain and rinse the black beans and put them in a bowl.  
If using avocados, cut them in half, remove and discard the seed, peel and then cut into 1/2-slices. Put them in another bowl. 
Put the meat, lettuce, cheese, hummus (if using) and salsa in separate bowls.  When you’re ready to eat, set all the bowls on the table. 
Heat the tortillas.  I like to heat each one individually in a dry frying pan, with the heat on high, for about 15 seconds per side, or until each side puffs up a little.  Don’t overheat them, though, or they’ll snap in half when you fold them. 
If that’s too much trouble and prevents you from sitting down to eat with everyone else, here’s a quicker (although not quite as tasty) way.  Make 2 packages of 4 tortillas each, wrapped in foil, and heat in the oven at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until they are hot but not steaming. 
Ring the dinner bell.


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    Most people think you have to buy grocery-store tortillas for your meals and that it would take a Herculean effort to prepare your own home-made ones. However this is not true and once you make you own flour tortillas, you and your family won't feel like eating the ones from the store ever again. They are so easy.....just 5 chemical preservatives....totally fresh tasting....and altogether delectable!

    All you have to do is:

    1. Mix 1 3/4 c. whole wheat flour, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. baking powder.

    2. Add 3 T. oil and mix it well with the flour and then add 1/2 cup hot water.

    3. Gather it all together into a kind of lump in the bowl and then dump it onto the counter.

    4, With just a little kneading it will become a smooth ball of dough.

    5. Cut it equally into 8 pieces and roll each one into a ball.

    6. Cover them with a towel while you heat a heavy skillet that has a flat 8 or 9 inch bottom.

    7. Begin to roll out a ball of dough very very thin.

    8. Grill the tortilla in the ungreased skillet until it begins to get some bumps on top. Peek under it and see the dark brown spots forming.

    9. Turn over and do the other side.

    10. Welcome to "Tortilla Heaven"! Wonderful to eat warm with butter, excellent to serve room-temperature with added side-dishes (as in your terrific article and recipe above), or great re-heated with fillings, garnished with cheddar cheese, and served as chalupas, burritos, or chimichangas!

    Note : as you are making your own tortillas keep the cooked tortillas on a plate covered with a towel to keep them maximally moist and fresh. In not much time at all, all 8 of the tortillas will be finished. But now you may need to hide them because someone with the butterdish might get involved and you won't have enough for dinner!