Plodding along, tamales and Ding Dongs

Yes, I’ve been plodding along, so much so I hadn’t realized two weeks had gone by since I posted.  Gizmo came through his surgery okay.  Somewhere along the way he cracked a back tooth vertically, which led to the root issue.  They removed it, drained the abscess and shot him up with an antibiotic that will stay in his system for two weeks.  Considering it was the same price as the oral liquid antibiotic he had been getting, I was a bit perturbed they hadn’t given it to him that way in the first place!  Sure saved a lot of drama trying to get it down him twice a day like before.  His sinus issue, however, has not resolved.  And going by the description of what the treatment for that is, he’ll either resolve it on his own or continue to snore/snort/make noises.  Opening up the sinus/skull is not an option in my book.  For the first week or so I would hold his food dish up for him so he could sit upright and eat, knowing how the pressure builds when one tries to bend over with congested sinuses.  The last couple of days he hasn’t been quite as blocked up and has been eating in a normal position, albeit canned food instead of dry.  He actually went outside yesterday and spent about 15 minutes chasing a lizard through the leaves, pouncing on it and then letting it go so he could play with it some more, so obviously he’s feeling better.

I have the Christmas decorations about three quarters of the way up.  The tree is up and half  decorated, and we finished putting up the lighted bear, tree and snowman out front along with some icicle lights.  Still want to wrap a couple of the tree trunks with lights, and need to add some pine garland inside the house before we can call it done.  The good thing is, it finally turned cold!  I was beginning to wonder if we were going to be wearing shorts for Christmas, but a nice cold front blew in last night.  Tonight where we’re at is supposed to get down to 25, tomorrow night 27, so I’ll have a toasty fire going in the fireplace to keep us warm.  Already wrapped the pipes, brought in the  plants, and will cover the tomatoes that are still producing in the garden with the hope that I can get them through the freeze and we’ll have fresh tomatoes for the Christmas dishes.

Another thing I found out?  I can make tamales!  Not just tamales, but GOOD tamales.   Tamales are available year-round at the store, but you find them served down here mainly around the holidays.  I like tamales, but a lot of times they’re kind of greasy, and they’re a little stingy when it comes to the meat filling versus the amount of masa.  We went to a Christmas party last week and they served tamales that they picked up from a “special” Mexican store, ones that supposedly won a taste contest.  I helped unwrap the packages to put them in the steamer, and the foil they were wrapped in was covered in grease, the tamales were skinny and I couldn’t tell you what the meat was, what little was there, that represented the filling.  And if these things won a taste contest, I’d hate to see what the competition was.

I grew up in San Antonio, and the only people who made tamales from scratch were little Mexican grandmas who would gather up all the female relatives and spend an entire day making tamales.  It’s a grand production, not a “I think I’ll make tamales from scratch for supper” kind of thing.  Their tamales were awesome.  These things that are in the store don’t come close.  Not to mention I can’t figure out where the orange grease on the store-bought ones come from–it’s like the grease from chorizo.  Ugh.

I’m a white girl.  I’ve never tried to make tamales.  I’ve given enchiladas a shot and mine are okay, but nothing to write home about.  I make good corn tortillas from scratch, but have never been able to make decent Spanish/Mexican rice.  I can make tacos, but that’s not too difficult.  In short, my Mexican culinary skills are next to nil.  But after that party and those dismal tamales, I started thinking about the tamales I sampled when I was a little girl and wondered how hard could it be to recreate those.  I should have known better.

The best thing I did was research recipes, and you can tell when the recipe is from a non-Hispanic.  Trust me, even I know there shouldn’t be sour cream in the masa!  What was even more laughable was the cooking time some posted for the meat–two hours isn’t going to cut it for pork or beef for tamales, not to be able to shred it easily with two forks.  I remember those grandmas cooked the meat darned near all day long before they even started the prep work for assembly.  So I looked and looked, and looked some more before I finally found a recipe handed down from grandma to mom to daughter.  It sounded like what I remember seeing when I was little and it was a two-day process–cooking the meat the first day and then doing assembly/steaming all day long the next day (recipe made approximately 10 dozen tamales).  If you’re going to go through the trouble of making them, you might as well make a lot because they freeze great and it doesn’t take long to re-steam them and have them piping hot on a plate ready to eat.

Hubby volunteered to be my taste-testing guinea pig, with the understanding I’d dump them in the trash if they didn’t come out edible and we wouldn’t speak of it again.  *grin*  Making the components isn’t hard–the meat cooks slow all day long, which makes a very flavorful broth to be used with both the meat and masa, the masa is just masa harina, lard, salt, chili powder and a little broth, and you use dried corn husks you’ve soaked overnight in water to wrap everything up.  It’s the spreading of the masa (1/8th of an inch thick) inside the corn husk , filling with the shredded/chopped  seasoned meat and rolling it up like a cigar that takes time, especially when you’re looking at 8 to 10 dozen of those suckers.  I made sure to leave a couple of inches of corn husk free on the bottom so I could fold it under after rolling before stacking them in the steamer (many comments on many recipes from people who didn’t do this and ended up with the bottom half of their tamales dropping out during steaming).  I followed the recipe exactly step by step then steamed them.  They smelled oh-so-good cooking, but I still wasn’t sure how they were going to taste.  Hubby had the first one, and ended up eating a half dozen over the course of the day.  I tasted the finished product and couldn’t believe it actually tasted like a tamale, and a good one at that!  It wasn’t greasy, either, even though I had used real lard when making the masa.  In  fact, the masa itself was light, not dense in consistency.  I liked them.  Hubby liked them.  The munchkin ate three of them in one sitting and proclaimed them the best she had ever had.

Okay, that’s all fine and good from the family, but the real taste test would come from those of Hispanic ethnicity who grew up with the real thing.  I steamed up a dozen, wrapped the bunch in heavy duty aluminum foil to keep them hot, and sent “white girl tamales” to work with hubby along with the message I needed constructive criticism on how they could be improved.  The tamales were a huge hit, and no one had any criticism to offer–in fact, they said not to change a thing.  Hubby was even asked if he was sure I didn’t have a little Mexican somewhere in my genetic makeup, lol!  Nope, I just followed an authentic recipe and got pretty darned lucky.

Lastly, on to the subject of Ding Dongs.  I posted the recipes I found for homemade Twinkies and Ding Dongs, but haven’t gotten a chance to try them out yet.  In fact, I was going to make Twinkies for hubby’s birthday, but ended up ordering bread pudding with whiskey sauce at the restaurant instead since we were getting ready for Thanksgiving, dealing with Gizmo, etc.  Anyway, I was at the store picking up stuff for the munchkin’s lunch and wandered down the former Twinkie/Ding Dong aisle.  Lo and behold, they had something filling the previous empty spot.  The brand is Tastykake, (which you might be familiar with but is a new offering down here) and they had Kandy Bar Kakes.  The one that caught my eye is the York peppermint creme filled cakes.  If you go to their website you can peruse all their different goodies.  I grabbed a box of the peppermint ones since there was a coupon attached for free milk.  I had to get milk anyway, so it was a win-win situation.  I decided to try one when I got home.  OH…MY…GOD!!!  If you remember foil-wrapped Ding Dongs, picture one in the shape of a rectangle with peppermint cream.  THAT is what you get with the Tastykake ones!  No waxy ickiness, no dried out cake of recent Ding Dong fame, but true chocolate, moist cake goodness from days gone by.  I went back and picked up a box of the ones filled with Reese’s peanut butter cream, which currently is the munchkin’s favorite.  They have over a dozen different products, and even offer shopping online with currently free shipping on the website.  Yes, I’m that excited over them–it’s been 35 years since I’ve had a perfect Ding Dong, and now I have them in peppermint!

I’m still going to try the recipes from scratch, but for now I’m absolutely giddy to find a substitute for what I have come to call Vintage Hostess products.  If you have Tastykake in your area, give them a try.

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