Friday, March 24, 2017

This Year it is called Renaissance Festival

This April marks the 5th Annual Fundraiser event to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Aberdeen. In past years it was called Winefest Renaissance, but this year due to some technical difficulties, it is called Renaissance Festival. However, "a rose by any other name" and all that; it is the same event. 

This year, I got started on the menu first, due to the lateness of the first meeting. Usually, I select the wines that interest me, then build an appetizer that fits the flavor profile of the wine. In the past years I have created wine and food pairing sheets for just this reason, and have been adding to them each year. I search the internet diligently to find the wine varietal and it's flavor characteristics. These are helpful when pairing a food, as they help point the way. Then I search for any suggested food pairings for that particular varietal. One site in particular has been invaluable: Wine Folly. It is a blog, or an informational site, and when one searches for food pairing with a certain varietal, such as Petite Sirah, this site pops up more times than not. Check it out here:

This is not the only site I search, so between all the places I can find suggestions to pair a wine, I amass all the suggestions and compile a list. 

Sweet Potato Bourbon Tamales with Country Ham and Cheese and Fig Apricot Preserve
Sweet Potato Bourbon Tamales with Country Ham and Cheese and Fig Apricot Preserve
Anyway, I started doing things in reverse this year and came up with some proposed foods to make, hoping I could find proper wine pairings from the list, yet to be provided at the time. I did research on the foods I planned, trying to match the wine that had the most hits in the food pairing column. Two foods in particular were so much a match for particular wine varietals that I prayed these might be on the wine list. One of the foods was my recipe for Lamb Burgers with Feta and Tapenade. I planned to make the burgers into mini size, and add the Feta, grated, into the burger rather than try to grill it and keep it atop the little slider. I have already made these and frozen them. I will reheat them before heading to the venue. I made the tapenade also, which just absolutely makes these burgers pop. When searching my lists, Petite Sirah was the only wine that held all the flavors involved: lamb, strong cheese, oregano, mint, olives.
Image result for bob's red mill corn flour for tortillas
I looked through the wine list when it finally arrived and hurrah! there was one, and only one, Petite Sirah. I pray it is available for me.

Then the other food I planned to try was a version of Tamales. My version bears little resemblance to the flavors of a Mexican Tamal, but I am using corn tamale flour (masa harina) as a base ingredient, and the corn husks to wrap them! I used Bob's Red Mill brand of corn flour for one batch, and Maseca brand for another batch. The corn flour has to be the kind that has been treated with limewater and ground, not cornmeal. 

Outside of that is where the other non-traditional flavors come in. I am calling them "Sweet Potato Bourbon Tamales with Country Ham and Cheese and Fig Apricot Preserve." Long name for these tiny, two-bite tamales, but then they are truly long on flavor. I researched all the possible wines that might fit this flavor profile and two were standouts: Chenin Blanc and Viognier. And guess what? There was one wine on the list - and it contained BOTH these varietals! It is a Terra d'Oro Chenin Blanc/Viognier. I actually found this wine in our local grocery, so since I had already gone ahead and made half the tamales, I thawed 2 for my husband and me to try with the wine. When I opened the wine, the bouquet was immediate and definite. Aromas mainly of fruit, tropical fruit, maybe flowers. It smelled so very inviting. I knew it would taste wonderful. And it did. Then I worried that it might not fit the flavors of the tamales. But after taking a bite, savoring the amazing flavors (if I do say so myself!), then sipping the wine again - well, it could not have been a more perfect match.
Sweet Potato Bourbon Tamales with Country Ham and Cheese
Tamales just steamed and unwrapped

The goal I strive for in these wine and food pairings is that the wine taste good (or even better) with the food, and also the reverse. It is imperative that the food be enhanced when tasting the wine with it. In this case, it was both and amazing.

My learning curve on making the tamales was a little steep. I had never made Mexican style tamales before, and not even the Guatemalan ones that are quite similar but called Chuchitos. Getting used to the varying ideas and ways of making these little antojitos (AHN-toe-HEE-toes), or "little cravings," took a little bit of study, but once I got going, they went easily enough. They do take quite some time to make, but with the flavors that come out, they are well worth the effort.  

Sweet Potato Bourbon Tamales with Country Ham and Cheese and Fig Apricot Preserve

Makes 62 mini tamales

MASA (batter):
2 cups corn masa flour for tamales (I used both Bob's Red Mill for one batch and Maseca brand for another)
2 cups hot water, plus more if needed
10 ounces lard
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons bourbon whiskey 
1 tablespoon maple syrup
12 ounces baked, cooled, peeled, smashed sweet potato
Dried Corn Husks

5 ounces country ham, minced (or substitute Prosciutto or Serrano ham)
5 ounces Chevre or Montrachet soft goat cheese
4 ounces smoked Fontina, or regular Fontina

Earlier in the day, combine the Masa Flour with the hot water and stir to make sure all the flour is wet. If it is so dry that stirring comes to a screeching halt, add more hot water, until the mixture is somewhat stiff, but not dry. More water can be added later if needed. Cover and set the masa aside to fully hydrate, about 2 or 3 hours.

Meanwhile, bake the sweet potato and have it ready. Prepare the filling by setting the minced ham into a bowl. Crumble the chevre and grate the Fontina on a large holed grater. Stir the cheeses together with the ham and set aside. 

When ready to mix the masa, place it into the bowl of a stand mixer. It should be perfectly cooled (not cold). Add the lard and salt and beat to combine, then beat on medium high speed for about 2 - 3 minutes. Add in the baking soda, bourbon, maple syrup and sweet potato. Beat on medium high for another 3 or more minutes. If the mixture is not the consistency of hummus, adjust by adding more masa flour (if they are too wet) or more water (if they are too dry).

Place the dried corn husks in a large bowl and pour boiling water over them. They will soften within a couple of minutes. You will need corn husks that are between 6 and 8-inches wide at their wider end. Many will be wider than this, in which case, just rip off any excess. You will also need narrow, ¼-inch wide strips torn from those leftover pieces to use for tying the husks closed for steaming.

measure out masa, spread, place filling inside, bring edges together
measure out masa       |         spread           |     place filling inside      |   bring edges together

Filling the husks is easiest with two level 1-teaspoon scoops; regardless, use two teaspoons of the masa set about ⅓ of the way up from the wider end of the husk. Spread it to about ¼-inch deep, making a roughly square blob about 3x3-inches. Down the length of the masa, place about 1 teaspoon of the filling. Start lifting both edges of the husk to encase the filling in the masa, then tuck the edge of the husk around the masa and roll to fully encase
roll the packet, fold end upwards, leave space when tying, set upright in pot
roll the packet    |    fold end upwards    |    leave space when tying    |    set upright in pot

Now, lift the little roll and fold the narrow end upwards, pushing the masa towards the wider end and letting the pointed end meet the open end. Using one of the narrow strips of corn husk, tie a loose band around the middle of the packet, to prevent the husk from unfolding and spilling all your work right back out. There should be adequate space in the opening for the tamal to "grow" while steaming. There may be some overflow, but hopefully not too much.

Set the little tamale packets standing upright into a large pot with a rack in the bottom (or two - I set two of them, criss-crossing each other). This is to prevent the tamales from actually setting in water. Continue standing, or just slightly leaning the tamales against each other as you roll and tie them shut. Once finished, or the pot is full, put water in the bottom, just to the very bottom of the tamales. Do not have them standing in water. Cover the pot and bring the water to boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and steam the tamales for 30 minutes. Keep an eye on the water level, that it does not burn dry!
Finished batch of tamales cooling
Finished batch of tamales cooling

Once they are steamed, use tongs to remove them to a surface to cool. Store them in a zip-top bag in the refrigerator, or freeze for up to a month. To reheat, either set them on a rack in a lidded pan to steam for 10 to 15 minutes (half-hour if frozen), or set them onto a pan with foil to cover tightly and reheat slowly at 250 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes. If they were frozen, they will take a bit longer, up to 30 minutes. 

The Fig Apricot Preserve is not a total necessity - these little two-bite tamales are amazing on their own. The fruit compote just adds a flavor dimension, so if you want, here is the recipe:

Fig Apricot Preserve

Makes about 4½ to 5 cups

1½ cups dried figs, chopped
1¾ cups dried apricots, chopped
zest of one orange
juice of one orange
3 cups water, divided 
⅓ cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Bourbon, or Port, optional

Place the figs, apricots, zest and juice with cups of the water, the balsamic vinegar and ancho powder. Bring to boil, lower heat and cook gently, covered for about 20 minutes, until the fruit is well softened.

Set aside to cool slightly, then pour into a food processor with the remaining water, salt and Bourbon, if using. Puree until very smooth. Return to the pot and cover. Bring back to simmer, then remove from the heat to stir, return to heat, and repeat. The mixture is thick, so as it boils, it will splash very hot blobs. Be very careful. Let the mixture simmer for about 5 to 7 minutes, to meld flavors. Once cooled, store in glass jars in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.