Right before we took off for the mountains, I took a demo cooking class with Terry Conlan from Lake Austin Spa. Didn't get a chance to write it up before I left, but it was definitely worth sharing. The class was called "Mas Masa with Mushrooms" and covered an impressive array of masa-related recipes. Here's what he made:
• homemade corn tortillas
• ensalada del calle (pineapple, carrot, avocados with pepitas)
• chicken & mushroom flautas ahogadas ("drowned" in salsa verde)
• grilled portobello tacos
• wild mushroom tamales with poblano, goat cheese, and grilled tomato salsa
• pork and mushroom chilaquiles with winter squash, red chile salsa and papaya relish
I've taken other classes from Conlan and so I knew I could count on big flavors even though his food is considered "spa cuisine." Lake Austin Spa is consistently rated one of the top destination spas in the country and his food has to be a large part of the reason. I love that his food is fresh and abundantly flavorful. You notice the abundance, not what's missing. I love learning from him how to cook such satisfying, but healthy food.
I have to admit that until recently, I've never been much of a tamale fan. But my friend, Matt, has been experimenting with tamale recipes recently and we've been the lucky recipients of some of his tasty treats. (Matt's smoked brisket-filled tamales with an avocado green sauce blew us away. I'll be sharing his recipes soon. But that's a whole other post.)
First, I'm going to share with you a few notes I made in Conlan's masa class...
• You can make fruit vinegar (for salad dressings) using almost any fruit. He made one using pineapple trimmings and white wine vinegar. He suggested doing the same with cranberries and honey for the holidays.
• Selecting tomatillos: look for deep, dark, bright green, smooth fruits
• He likes to use Cabot brand reduced-fat white cheddar to shred for tacos
• Instead of frying flautas, bake them without sauce and then plate on a pool of warmed sauce just before serving.
• He doesn't use canola oil because it's usually genetically-modified.
• To use cooking spray – don't spray the skillet, spray the food, then place it in the skillet.
• Masa for tamales is coarser but tortilla masa is fine too for tamales. He uses MaSeCa brand. Store it in the fridge. Keeps a long time.
• At home (not at the spa), he's rendered his own pork fat to use to make tamales.
• You can make a giant tamal instead of individual tamales and serve it in slices. Steam it for 1.5 - 2 hours.
• Roast poblanos over a direct flame "hard and fast" so that the chile keeps its strength but the the skin gets charred. A propane torch is also good for this. Then place it in a paper bag to steam the skin off for easier removal. (See him roasting a poblano in the photo above.)
• I asked him about flavoring his masa (as Matt did in one of his tamale recipes that we really liked) and he suggested achiote oil, bean purée, ancho purée or ground hominy for texture.
• For tortilla making, he suggests using a plastic produce bag as the plastic liner in the tortilla press. It's heavier gauge plastic and when cut into squares, makes 2 almost perfectly-sized squares.
• You want corn tortilla dough to be the texture of Play Doh. It should be sticky, but not wet.
Next up, I'll have the pineapple salad recipe and the mushroom tamale recipe so stay tuned.
Terry Conlan's next class is December 9th and will focus on cooking with bison. Check out the Central Market Cooking School for more info.