The Amazing Tortilla Press

We had a great time with Julie’s friend Captain Danny when he came to visit us at Thanksgiving. He was only here a few days, but we shared stories and jokes over many a pint of homebrew, and he even fixed Julie’s broken iBook. I also made a few batches of tortillas, using the wooden tortilla press Kate borrowed from Roque’s, and every time I used it I complained that I’d have to give it back soon, as they were asking for it back. Dan assured me it would be easy to make one of my own, I just needed to get the wood and some bits of hardware to hold it all together. I added it to my “someday/maybe” list, where it joined so many other unfinished projects, and a couple weeks ago Kate brought the press back to Roque’s.

A few days ago we got an unexpected package from Danny, and inside we found a beautiful tortilla press he had made, fashioned of dark wood and polished brass, routed details on the sides and big brass hinges and fasteners. It truly is a work of art and craftsmanship, and looks like it would be right at home on a 19th century sailing ship. I can only imagine how many hours went into this beauty!

It makes perfect tortillas, of course, and is truly a pleasure to use. I look forward to making many, many tortillas with it.

Thanks so much, Captain Danny, and please come back to see us soon, and enjoy homemade tortillas in huevos rancheros and enchilada suizas!

  • tortilla press
  • tortilla press
  • tortilla press
  • tortilla press
  • tortilla press
  • tortilla press
  • tortilla press
  • tortilla press

Schooner Stephen Taber

Robin and I just got back from a four day wine tasting cruise on the Stephen Taber, an 18th century schooner out of Rockland, Maine. It was great being back on the Taber again with Captain Noah and his top-notch crew; last fall I sailed on the Taber with Julie and loved it so much I vowed then and there to come back with Robin for their wine cruise.

The evening before we headed out we got to spend a little time with Julie in the galley of the J&E Riggin where she works as galley hand and deck hand. It was great to see Jules in her element, and only wish we could have had more time together. We’ll just have to go back to see her soon 😉

Each day on the Taber started with hot coffee on deck, with breakfast served at 8:30. Hannah treated us to hearty breakfasts of French Toast, eggs and sausage, grits, and even some delicious scones.

After breakfast, we would raise sails and anchor, and Captain Noah would take us to someplace new. Since there are 4,000 islands or so off the Rockland coast, there is no shortage of destinations! One day we sailed to Deer Isle where we walked around in the town of Stonington (famous for its granite quarries) and shopped for gifts. Another day we explored the lighthouse at Owl’s Head, a small town south of Rockland. There were lots of sights and sounds, from beautiful island homes to various lighthouses, islands (inhabited and not), other schooners, seals sunning themselves on warm rocks, and even a few porpoises!

Every evening we dropped anchor in a different harbor, and Jane led the wine tasting. Each night she introduced us to different selection of wines, starting with some that were light and sparkling, followed by some tasty whites (my favorite), and finishing with to some delicious, mouth-filling reds. One night she ended with a port and a madeira to round things out.

Noah and Jane compare notes during the wine tasting

After the wine tasting Hannah served up dinner on deck. On the night Jane served wines from Italy we had osso buco; another night we had a classic Maine lobster bake.

Thee food on the Taber is first rate. Cook Hannah, assisted by Cara and Sarah, all worked tirelessly in the galley preparing one tasty meal after another. Amazingly enough, all cooking is done on an old fashioned wood stove.

The weather was exceptionally fine, adding to the perfect sail. First Mate Phil let me help out with the jibs when the ship came about, and showed us how to do a “long splice,” where he seamlessly joined two shorter lines into longer one. Deck hands Super Dave and the sprite-like Sarah had brass-polishing competitions in between hoisting sails and anchors and keeping things running smoothly. The amazing Cara (a dear friend of Julie’s) helped Hannah in the galley, where they churned out one delicious meal after another. These kids did an amazing job, and it was inspiring to watch them and learn from them.

Our fellow passengers were delightful, a fun-loving bunch that enjoyed wine, fine food, and sailing just as much as we did. We bonded over stories and laughter, food and wine, and the incredible shared experience of sailing on the beautiful ship that is the Taber.

Each evening, after the wine tasting and dinner, the captain and crew brought out their instruments and entertained us with a wide variety of music, from the captain’s blues and Phil’s touching rendition of the Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers” to Cara and Sarah’s “Amazing Grace” duet, and Cara’s playing Swedish and Norwegian folk songs on her fiddle. The perfect ending to each perfect day.

The hospitality of the captain and crew really made us feel welcome and pampered, and their skill and professionalism made us feel safe and at home.

Smoked Chicken Enchiladas

I’ve gone beyond smoked-food-for-its-own-sake and am now preping smoked food to use as ingredients in other dishes. This is partly because some family members are tired of smoked food (a daughter I won’t name can proudly enumerate everything I’ve made on the smoker since I got it), and partly just to do something different.

Yesterday I smoked a couple chickens and used one to make a huge batch of enchilada suizas (double the recipe below). “These are awesome!” said Kate.

Enchilada Suizas

1/2 chicken, or a whole chicken breast
1 small onion
1 TBL fresh cilantro (packed)
2 seven-ounce cans of tomatillos
1 large clove of garlic
some finely chopped hot pepper (to taste)
1 cup of chicken broth
12 corn tortillas
vegetable oil
8 oz jack cheese, shredded
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the chicken by smoking OR boiling (please don’t do both!)
Smoker: Smoke for 4 hours at 225°, turning once after 2 hours
Stovetop: Boil for 45 minutes in a large saucepan, with a quartered onion, bay leaf, salt and 6 peppercorns

Let the chicken cool, while you make the salsa verde. Quarter the onion, and combine with cilantro, tomatillos, and garlic in a food processor. Pour into a sauce pan and add the broth, bring to a boil, then let sit for a bit.

Remove the skin and bones from the cooked chicken, then shred using two forks to pull apart the meat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

NOTE: Be careful with the hot oil and the hot tortillas below!

Heat 1/2 inch of oil in a cast-iron skillet on medium-high. Carefully place one of the tortillas in the hot oil for a couple seconds, then carefully turn over using tongs. Remove the tortilla from the oil using the tongs, letting the excess oil drip back into the skillet. Place the hot tortilla in a large pyrex casserole dish, then place a line of chicken across the center of it and roll it up. Repeat with the rest of the tortillas: soften it in the hot oil, fill it with chicken, then roll it and place it alongside the others.

Pour the tomatillo mixture over the tortillas, the sprinkle the cheese over the top. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Serves 3-4.

Pulled Pork

Jeezum, does pulled pork take a long time to cook! I put a 7 pound pork picnic in the smoker at 2 this afternoon, and it cooked until almost midnight. The smoker temperature varied wildly from the target temp of 250°, and got up to 350 for a while mainly because I was distracted by other things.

Still, it came out all moist and tender, pulled apart easily, and is delicious. After removing the bones and pulling the meat into bite-size chunks we’ve got 2-1/2 pounds of tasty pulled pork which we’ll be eating for the next few days. Yum!

Today's menu: smoked chicken. And wings.

Last night Kate and I picked up a roasting chicken and a bunch of wings (why are wings more expensive per pound than a whole chicken?). If I have time before I’ll try smoking some almonds as well.

Larry officially opened his new Bandit’s Wings restaurant yesterday (sorry, no link yet), and we’ve been getting wings there so often he probably thinks we’re stalking him. We’re officially hooked on the honey-garlic, and we keep going back for more. We’re hoping Larry can make it over for our smoked wings experiment tonite, because, well, he probably isn’t eating enough wings…

This morning I’m off with Calvin to pick up some more 2x4s for his treehouse. We’ll see how many we can fit in the Tracker.

**Update 4/20:** The wings and chicken came out great and despite my family’s protests of “we’re sick of smoked food” they ate it without further complaint. Larry never made it over, as Kate and I each thought the other was gonna call to invite him (turns out he had a family dinner that night anyway, but I still wish we’d invited him). Calvin and I brought over some of the smoked wings to his restaurant yesterday so he could try them.

We ended up getting eight 2x4s in the Tracker. Had to take the convertible top off to do it, but with the warm weather we’ve been having that was not a hardship. In fact, the top has been off since then.

Smoked Everything

We’ve had the smoker a week now, and I’m starting to get the hang of it. I scored some fallen apple tree branches this afternoon, a great addition to our little collection of smoke woods.

Today I smoked 9 pounds of ribs and 7 pounds of pork loin at the same time. This time I ran errands before starting the smoker, so I was able to keep the smoker running at 225° and both meats turned out great. The ribs were crisp on the outside and tender and juicy inside. The loin was most and tasty, and we now have enough smoked meat to feed a small army.

When the cooker finally cooled down I smoked 3 bricks of cheddar cheese, one for Barry, one for Tom, one for us. At first I had them in an aluminum foil pan which apparently diverted the smoke around the cheese and thus kept it from smoking (foiled by the, uh, foil). I took the cheese out of the pan and put it right on the grill, which seemed safe as the smoker had been running right at 80° and the grill was barely warm to the touch. Somehow in the next half hour the temp climbed up to 125° and when I took the cheese out it was in the process of melting into the grill.

Why did the smoker heat up again? Don’t know.

Is our smoke guys learning? Yes, but they still have a lot to learn…


We got a Weber smoker on Friday, and since then I’ve smoked: potatoes (my one failed experiment, didn’t get hot enuf to cook them), a chicken (delicious), twelve pounds of spare ribs (the large ones were juice and tasty, but the smaller ones cooked too long and were dry) and some cheese (wonderful, tho the smoker was a little too warm and they melted a bit).

The plan is to use it this summer to smoke more and grill less. It takes more time (hence more planning) to use the smoker, as it slow cooks over the course of hours rather than quick grilling at high temperatures. The taste is incredible, and it seems to be pretty forgiving while I’m learning. I seem to be making every mistake possible: letting the temperature get too low; cooking too long; using damp charcoal; visiting Tom and Pam across the street when I should be tending the fire; not latching the access door so that it falls off when I’m trying to keep the temperature low while I smoke cheese. Despite all that, the smoked food has been tasty and gotten rave reviews. Hopefully I’ll master it soon and have even greater success.

A great resource is the “Virtual Weber Bullet”:1 site, which offers advice and tips, recipes, recommendations for wood, and the inevitable hacks modifications.

Update 9pm: Tonight’s experiment: Smoked salmon, prepared with a dry rub made of brown sugar, garlic, and a variety of savory spices (including, uh, savory). I kept a better eye on the temperature this time, and kept it in the desired 225-250° range. Our salmon was a little thinner than what the recipe called for, so it was done 1/2 hour sooner than expected. It was moist and tasty, tho the rub made a bit sweet to my taste. Robin loved it (and said she’d be OK with eating that every day), Calvin went back for more, and even Kate (who doesn’t like salmon) liked it. Success!