First, can I just say that I love my engagement ring? I never thought I’d be that person, and really never thought I’d be excited about wearing a diamond, but this ring is beautiful, it’s Kyle’s great grandmother’s ring, and it’s so unique! I also love being engaged. In all reality, it’s not really that different, but it’s fun to think about the future with some degree of certainty (at least in one category)!

So pretty!

So pretty!

Ok, onto the real post 🙂 When I was a senior in college, I spent the fall semester traveling around the western US with 20 other Whitman students on a program called Semester In the West. I’ve previously written about this here. In addition to being incredibly instructive about life outside our small college bubble, it was also a great opportunity to learn how to cook! We were separated into 5 cook crews and took turns cooking dinner, lunch and breakfast every 5 days. Our food manager, (and my dear friend) Season, made a big effort to buy food from farmer’s markets, local butchers, and farmers whenever possible, so we were cooking with fresh, happy (our word for free range, grass fed, etc meat) food almost all the time. We made meals that could be easily produced in large numbers because, in addition to the 21 students and 3 staff, we often had visitors, instructors and family eating with us. Cooking and eating was very communal, and one of my favorite instances of this was making tamales. Because they’re so time consuming, we only made them on Thanksgiving, the day we had set aside entirely for cooking, but it was such a fun, family-style process that I remember it as one of the highlights of the time we spent cooking on SITW.

When I moved to Lee Vining, the tradition of making tamales continued. I had several friends (one who was vegetarian and one who was gluten and lactose intolerant, so tamales were the perfect solution!) who loved making them too. We’d set aside entire afternoons or evenings to making tamales, usually with beans, chiles, carrots and onions. Then we’d throw them in the freeze and have lunch for weeks!

This weekend I decided to embark on the tamales making adventure alone. I mentioned last week how I’m pretty busy these days and don’t have a lot of time to cook. Tamales seemed like the perfect solution to have delicious food on-the-go. So I went to the butcher and the local Mexican grocery and headed back to the house. I used this recipe which, overall, was pretty great. Also, I found these at the grocery store.

dried fish


Yes, I bought them – mostly because I forgot to bring my phone in and really wanted a picture, but also because I thought they’d be a fun treat for the dogs. Jewell was pretty grossed out at first, but when she Bailey devouring them she quickly hopped on board.

I started with 3 1/2 lbs of pork shoulder. Mine was tied with string, so I cut that before I threw it in a 5 qt sauce pan with 10 cups of water, a quartered onion and 5 cloves of minced garlic.

raw pork


After simmering on the stove for 2 1/2 hours, I pulled the pork out, strained the onions and garlic out, and set the broth outside to cool (it didn’t get above 15 degrees on Saturday). I pulled the pork apart with two forks and discarded the fat.

pulled pork


I made this chile sauce recipe with dried chiles from our garden last summer. Then, I added the pork to it and put this, covered, on the stove to simmer for 10 minutes. I was actually a little disappointed with the way the pork turned out. It didn’t have quite enough flavor for me. If I were to do this again, I’d add more garlic and more chiles (and I’m not one of those people that loves spicy foods, this just needed an extra kick).

I made up for that by sauteing carrots, onions and jalepeno slivers on the stove top for a few minutes to add to the mix. Before I started making the dough, I took a handfull (about 50) corn husks and soaked them in warm water.

Once the broth was cool, I was able to skim the fat off the top (there was A TON so I would definitely recommend that you do this!) Mix 6 cups of masa (corn flour), a couple teaspoons of salt and baking powder together and in a large bowl alternately add a little broth and a little masa mix, stirring as you go. Your final mixture should be a smooth paste.

assembly line

Finally, I set up my assembly line. The corn husks are unpictured, but everything else is in order. The masa mixture is at the top, then pork, then slivered carrots and jalepenos, then the steamer. Here’s one mid-contsruction.


Sorry the picture is a little blurry, but you get the idea. You want the dough wide enough to meet at it’s edges when you roll the corn husk over itself, and short enough that you can fold the bottom of the husk up before it goes in the steamer. You can see why this is a great family activity – either make an assembly line or let everyone add what they want and give them different colored yarn to tie the ends. Since I was only making one kind – with everything on it – I just folded the ends. Pile them in the steamer and steam for 40 minutes, adding water occasionally. This batch made three steamer-fulls, and ended up being about 50 tamales. I anticipate that I’ll eat 2 and Kyle will eat 3-4 for a meal. Should last a couple weeks for dinner during class! What do you think? Ever made tamales? Anyone have unique ingredient ideas?




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