Sunday, 9 October 2011

National Taco Day and National Frappe Day, In Celebration of

Alongside maintaining this blog, there's one other publication that I maintain on a regular (weekly) basis: "Diversity @Denison." This online newsletter is a central hub for information regarding diversity efforts on campus, as well as a medium for conveying issues regarding diversity in its varied identities and cultures. This year, I added a special section on food and cultures; just as there exists national holidays to celebrate specific cultures, so too do there exist ones to celebrate the gastronomic world. One resource I turn to each week is the online food magazine about specialty foods, The Nibble. If you navigate via the attached link and get to October, you can see that this past Tuesday and Friday were National Taco Day and National Frappe Day, respectively. Both of these were on my list to celebrate this year, and we (my colleagues and I) did just that.

My particular interest in celebration National Taco Day evolved from one student employee's (consistent) suggestion that I make chicken tacos. Without question a simple way to inexpensively feed many (or an extremely hungry few), tacos in my opinion rely on two things: the tortilla and the fillings. Of course there are shortcuts (such as buying pre-made tortillas and shredding already cooked chicken from the grocery) but if you haven't noticed already, simplicity is not my immediate focus. Rather, I turn to establishing 1) homemade and from scratch doesn't need to be difficult; 2) there is a different flavour and meaning to eating food of which you have learned some of its history and/or have spent some time working with; and 3) a return to community-building from start to finish, particularly vis-à-vis working from scratch when possible. I began to accomplish these aims on Friday with a large pot of seasoned (i.e., with salt), boiling water. When the water rapidly boils, lower the heat and add one large white onion cut into 6 wedges.

As I had aimed to feed at least 12, I worked with about 5 lbs of chicken thighs; as it turns out, this is probably a good amount for about eight. 1.5 lbs of the thighs had bones to help flavour the broth (now sitting in my refrigerator). On medium heat and lid slightly off, add a few more pinches of salt and boil the chicken for at least half an hour, or until the meat is fully cooked and easily shreds. Reduce the heat to low and set aside until you're ready to eat.

Meanwhile, prepare your tortilla dough for your guests to make their own tortillas. On this blog, I have made flour tortillas once (with butter), but also make reference to my milk-based tortillas (which I made exactly one year ago) in that same post. This time around I edited the recipe to include baking powder after reading many recipes which included it, including this one. Combine 1.5 tsp baking powder with 2 c all-purpose flour, and 1 tsp salt. To this, use a fork to stir in 2 tsp olive/canola/vegetable oil; don't expect a smooth consistency by any means but rather clumps of flour. Warm up (okay, shortcut: microwave for about 25-30 seconds) 3/4 milk and then slowly add this to the flour-oil mixture. Continue using a fork to mix these five ingredients together until they start to form a solid mass; add a touch more milk or flour to achieve the consistency of uncooked pizza dough if need be. While many recipes say to allow the dough to rest for about 20 minutes, I find you can immediately start to work with the dough so long as it is pliable. When the dough is ready, you can pass it off to your guests to shape, press, and roll out their own tortillas. If you don't have a tortilla press (which I don't), use a rolling pin (or even an impromptu one, such as with a wine bottle) to roll out the dough to as paper thin as possible. In a dry pan on med-hi heat, cook the tortillas; in the photo above, you can see tortillas at three different stages. As is the case with the one on the right, the tortilla is ready to flip when you see air bubbles forming. In the one up stage, you can see some light browning on the side that had first been cooked. When the underside has cooked and you notice a few more air bubbles, flip for a third time (as is the case in the tortilla on the left) and cook until you get the browning and texture you so desire. Depending on the heat of your pan, this entire process can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes (at most). This being said, keep an eye on your pan; too long and you risk either burning the tortilla or making crackers.

While tortillas are being made, go ahead and prep the fillings. Included in this dinner were canned black beans cooked with a few teaspoons of hot sauce, "taco cheese" (here, a three-cheese blend with taco seasoning), diced tomatoes, sliced avocados (wait until the last minute to cut these, or squeeze some lemon to hold off on the avocados browning), sour cream, hand-cut lettuce, corn tortilla chips, medium heat salsa, and of course chicken (broken apart into smaller chunks, as opposed to shredded).

As mentioned above, the tortilla and the fillings are the components for this otherwise simple meal, and if nothing else, the tortilla should be seen as a vehicle for the fillings. This being said, these tortillas have enough to it that you can eat them on their own or use them to sop up sauces, while the fillings are good enough to turn the meal into a taco salad.

Following our tacos, we made milkshakes (ratio of ice cream and milk to your desired consistency) which are known in New England as frappes. For this who are particularly picky when it comes to milkshakes, chocolate lovers can celebrate theirs every September 12th, while the vanilla milkshakes are celebrated on June 21st.

...And even after we've had our fill, there's the strange set-up on the dinner table that looks as if we've barely touched our food. For this post's album in its entirety, click here.

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