Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tex-Mex Dinner with Sue and Tom

One of the couples I cannot get enough of is my sister Sue and her husband Tom. As I've written before Tom is a sincere appreciator of my cooking and like Sue always up for a good time. They love to participate in the cooking process especially if we are entering uncharted territory - we are pioneers! They love to have fun, food and family. Sue and Tom recently did a beautiful redo of their kitchen. It is gorgeous with beautiful cabinets and floors, lighting and upscale appliances. It is wonderful to cook there. An island with chairs assures seating for people who just want to watch the action.

My kitchen in comparison is much more pedestrian. It has several special features - there is a futon for the three dogs, a separate pantry in the laundry room because I couldn't store everything in the cabinets and a big cabinet in the garage to store all of the appliances and baking equipment that doesn't fit into the kitchen. The piece de resistance is a bookcase devoted to my never ending stash of cookbooks. This kitchen will never be on a cooking show but we can create some pretty good chow. (I am lobbying for a cork floor and new countertops. We'll see.)

Many years ago as a new employee of the state social services I attended a two week orientation in Columbus. My colleagues and I were eating on the cheap and we tried some out of the way ethnic places. My fave was a little taqueira. We ate there 4 times over two weeks and I loved their crispy tacos. As a curious cook I talked to the owner about the taco process and those particular crispy tacos. The secret was a metal spring utensil that shaped the corn tortilla into a V-shape while it was deep fried. When I went home I made crispy tacos. I searched our small Ohio town for masa harina the corn flour used to make the tortillas. Luckily the town was a temporary home to the migrant workers who came every summer to harvest the local crops. So 40 years ago I began my relationship with homemade tortillas.

Sue always plans a great meal and I wanted to treat her and Tom to something fun and casual. We are dogsitting so we had 4 dogs for the night so no formality allowed. I adore Tex-Mex and Lee is a committed Texan so... I planned guacamole, cheese enchiladas with chili gravy and queso fresco. fruit plate, carne guisada, puffy tacos and Texas sheet cake. Carne guisado is cubes of beef stewed with tomatoes, chiles, spices and Mexican beer - Negro Moledo. After 5 hours of simmering the meat is tender and is spooned into the puffy tacos. Puffy tacos are a Tex-Mex tradition and are part of San Antonio cuisine where they are fabled to start. Other towns argue about the Texas gnsis of puffy tacos but I think San Antonio wins. Of course Austin - the sit of all things Texas cool thinks they were first but that is Austin for you. We had Mexican beer and Sue made some white sangria. My only complaint about the evening was that we weren't sharing the meal and the fun with Mimi, Bobo, Rebecca, David, Cammy, Jon, Josh, Jen, Eli, Gabe, Becky, Matt and Halle and anticipating a game of cornhole and Slip A$%. Oh and the rest of the people we love.

There are two ways to make puffy tacos. They can be fried and shaped into a V or they can be fried flat and after frying, drained and a slit cut into the puff to stuff with filling and topped with traditional toppings of lettuce, salsa, onion, tomato and cheese. Awesome. It was so fun to make the puffy tacos because I am the proud owner of a tortilla press and we had such fun rolling the dough into balls and pressing each ball into a fresh tortilla with the press. Tom being an engineer quickly got the hang of it. Sue fried the tacos and I supervised. Lee observed and laughed at our antics.

Puffy Tacos

The tacos need to be served fresh and hot. Have the filling prepared and ready to serve along with the toppings before you make the tacos. This is the very last thing to do before you serve.

2 C masa harina
1 1/4 - 1 1/2 C water
1/4 T. salt

Start with a cup of water and add water to the masa and salt to make a ball that comes together and stays easily. If it is dry add more water until it can be formed into a ball. You can make it ahead and refrigerate it in a plastic bag until you are ready to make the tacos just before serving. Heat 2 inches of oil to hot in a deep pan. Have the oven on warm to keep the tacos at the correct temperature until they are filled and served.

Divide the dough into 12 balls. Take a heavy plastic baggie and trim the sides off but not the bottom. Place a ball in the middle of the plastic and press it with a tortilla press or roll it into a thin disc. Take the disc and place it in the hot oil. Spoon oil over the top to encourage the puff process. You can leave it flat and fry until golden or you can take the end of a spatula and make an indentation across the disc and fold to make a V. Fry on both sides until golden. Drain the taco shell on paper towels and place on a plate in the oven until you finish cooking the tacos. Stuff if a V-shape or make a slit in the top of the flat disc and fill. Serve allowing happy eaters to adorn the puffy tacos.


  1. you are indeed the princess of puffiness! sounds like a good time was had by all. just make sure you get as many recipes as possible before texas secedes!

  2. Hummm, this sounds like a winner! Perhaps this menu is my choice for the summer visit. I'll help!!!!

  3. Ann, I love your scrumptious descriptions of food. And even more--I love to participate in your culinary delights.