Cook a Flour Tortilla to Perfection

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I have a love affair with southwest cuisine.  The flavors.  The textures.  The aromas.  This is comfort food at its best.  For me, one item is the first to come to mind when I am ready to tuck into a perfectly prepared southwestern plate of food.  It is the humble tortilla.

Over the years, tortillas are becoming more common in grocery stores across the country.  Sure… they are convenient, but since the majority of them are already cooked, the sublime flavor of a fresh tortilla will not be discovered on a supermarket shelf.

Now whether you want to make your own or have access to fresh tortillas, they are at their peak of flavor when freshly cooked.   They are warm, pliable, and tasty.  They become the perfect vehicle for simple fajitas, burritos, and enchiladas.  This simple bread is even great with slathering of warmed butter.

If you want to enjoy this experience, you have two options.  1) Make your own from scratch.  2) Find a vendor that sells uncooked tortillas.

Over the years, friends have asked how to cook tortillas.  It just wasn’t in their wheelhouse.  Did they need to add oil to a pan?  Are they toasted?  Fried?  Baked?  How long are they cooked?  This pictorial post will answer those questions.

How to Cook a Tortilla to Perfection

  • Place uncooked tortilla in a hot skillet.  Oil or butter is not necessary.
dry, hot skillet

dry, hot skillet

uncooked flour tortilla on the skillet

uncooked flour tortilla on the skillet

  • Note: skillet is placed over a medium heat.
  • Steam bubbles will begin to form in tortilla.
steam forming bubbles in tortilla

steam forming bubbles in tortilla

  • Do not flip tortilla yet.  Let bubbles get larger and the edges of the tortilla cook until they no longer look wet or raw.
large bubbles have formed

large bubbles have formed

  • Flip the tortilla over with a spatula.  Notice the golden brown color scattered about the tortilla.
tortilla will puff after flipping

tortilla will puff after flipping

  • Allow tortilla to cook for approximately 10 – 15 seconds after flipping.  Remove tortilla from skillet.
perfectly cooked tortilla

perfectly cooked tortilla

The key is to start with a skillet that is hot.  Do not place the tortilla on a cold skillet.  The tortilla will become dry before it is fully cooked and the resulting texture is stiff  rather than nice and pliable.  With a hot skillet, total cook time is approximately 30 – 45 seconds.  If you are uncertain how long to cook or if you lost track of time, simply let the appearance of the tortilla be your guide.  Peak at the underside.  Are the gold brown spots there?  Remember… you are looking for spots, not a uniform golden brown crust across the entire surface.

So friends, go ahead and cook tortillas right before the meal.  It doesn’t matter if you make your own or purchase them raw.  With a little practice, you too, can cook a tortilla to perfection.

Make Your Own Canning Jar Fermenter

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Make Your Own Canning Jar Fermenter

Fermenting is a method of food preservation.  All it takes is a good brine, fresh produce, and time.  After that voila!  Fermented goodness.  But these days, how many people have traditional fermenting crocks?  Sure, there may some folks who inherited crocks that have been lovingly passed down through the family over many generations.  Or perhaps folks picked up crockery at flea markets or antique shops or just went ahead and bought new crockery from a specialty shop or online vendor?

That is great, but what if those crocks are too large for your needs?  Small vintage crocks are generally in the one and a half or two gallon range, but more common sizes are three and five gallon size.  At that point, regardless if it is the perfect sour pickle or your grandmother’s sauerkraut… that is a lot of fermented goodness.   That brings up questions like:  1) is there enough room in the refrigerator after the produce has fermented for an appropriate length of time? 2) will you get tired of eating that much of a single ferment? 3) is it hard to move a crock that is full?

There are some companies that have created smaller vessels for fermenting.  Popular ones are composed of a canning jar with a gasket and airlock in the lid while others are glass jars with a wire bail.  Both are nice solutions for a smaller fermenting container.  However, as a frugal homesteader, I was unwilling to pay $20 for the quart canning jar with accompanying lid, gasket and airlock.  Surely I could make something for less and reuse a few items that I already had on hand.

With some time spent online doing research as well as visiting the local home-brew store, I understood what would be needed to create my own fermenting setup that I could fit to any canning jar that I already had.  And as a self-professed canner, I have an ample supply ranging from half pints up to half-gallon jars.

Items Needed for Canning Jar Fermenter

  • airlock
  • 1/2″ silicon grommet with 3/8″ inner diameter
  • silicon gasket
  • white storage lid
  • canning jar (size is your choice, but mouth of jar must fit to the lid size)
airlock grommet & gasket

airlock grommet & gasket

For two of the items listed above, it is important that you determine the type of canning jar you will use.  Will you go wide mouth or standard?  There is no right or wrong answer.  Just select one size and go with it.  Fort instance, the silicon gaskets will create a seal between the lid and the jar.  So the gasket size you choose, must align with the size jar… which also equates to the canning lid.  A standard size gasket will not fit a wide mouth lid.  Remember standard size gasket = standard size canning lid and wide mouth gasket = wide mouth lid.

For my fermenting needs, I chose to go with wide mouth simply because I fin the jars easier to fill and to clean.

Once you have gathered the necessary items, a few tools are needed a drill with a 1/2″ drill bit and clamps.  (The drill bit size is determined by the size of the grommet you purchase.)

The first step in the process is to practice.  Since my final product would consist of the white storage lids (not meant for pressure or water bath canning), I opted to practice using metal canning lids because it costs less and I also have a lot of them on hand.

The next step is to set up a drill press with a 1/2″ drill bit.  Center the metal lid under the drill bit.  Once in position, clamp the lid into place.  This reduces the chance of the lid moving once the drill is in operation.  Based on experience, have the drill operating at a normal speed, but slowly lower the bit.  If the bit was lowered too quickly, it increased the chance of ripping or cracking lid, rendering it useless.

practice with metal canning lid

practice with metal canning lid

There… breathe a sigh of relief.  That was the hardest part of the process.   Once you feel comfortable in drilling through a lid and can do it cleanly, swap out for a storage lid.  For best results, flip the white lid over so the screw band points up.  The photo below shows how to position the lid.

drilling white screw on lid

drilling white screw on lid

Once lids have been drilled, it is time to move onto the next step.  Clean and sanitize airlocks, grommets, gaskets, drilled lids, and canning jars.  Home-brew stores carry a sanitizing product such as Star San.  Follow package instructions to sanitize.

Next, insert a grommet into the hole of a lid.  Through some trial and error, pinching the grommet and sliding just one section at a time.  Pinch and slide.  Pinch and slide.  NOTE: it may take a few minutes to get the hang of it, but trust me, a 1/2″ grommet will fit into a 1/2″ hole.

squeeze grommet & work into 1/2" hole

squeeze grommet & work into 1/2″ hole

After the grommet is in place, insert an airlock into the grommet.  Push the airlock in far enough that the bottom of the airlock extends under the lid.

Fit a silicon gasket into the storage lid.  It will take a little maneuvering to get into place.  Once it is in position, screw the lid onto a canning jar.

insert gasket into jar lid

insert gasket into jar lid

Congratulations!  You have just assembled your own canning jar fermenter.  Now you are ready to ferment in small batches.  No heavy crockery is required.  As long as you have a canning jar that has the same mouth opening as the lid, you are in business.  Imagine lacto-fermentation in half-pints just to try out a new (to you) fruit or vegetable… or condiment for that matter.

If you have the DIY (do-it-yourself) bug, you can create your own fermenter.  Most of us have canning jars.  With a little online shopping, you can readily find the silicon grommets and gaskets.  Airlocks are common at home-brew stores, but are also available online.  So go ahead and purchase the items you don’t have on hand.  With a little time and effort, you will be rewarded with your very own fermenter.

completed canning jar fermenter

completed canning jar fermenter

 

 

 

Cord Wood: Know the Differences

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Firewood is part of winter living on many homesteads, farms, and ranches.  Some folks have a ready source of timber on their land while others seek an outside source to keep them warm.  Examples of sources would include US Forest Service Land (with appropriate wood cutting permits), lumber yards that sell cord wood, as well as lumber mills that cut wood on site.

If you don’t know what a cord is in reference to wood, it is a standard unit of measure for firewood.  Specifically, a cord is 4′ high  x 4′ wide  x 8′ long.  But you can also purchase a half cord, otherwise known as a face cord.  Its measurements are 4′ high x 2′ wide x 8′ long.  You can also buy smaller increments if you desire.  Some folks may buy in odd increments, such as what will fit in the back of their pickup or trailer.   Regardless of the dimensions, all firewood is sold based upon dimension rather than weight.

seasoned cord wood

seasoned cord wood

Factors that Affect Pricing:

  • Pick up versus delivery
  • Seasoned versus green firewood
  • Proximity of mill to wood source(s)
  • Quantity purchased
  • Tree species of firewood
  • Availability of scrap wood
  • Forest fire wood

  Pick Up Versus Delivery

It takes time, heavy equipment, and manpower to load, deliver, and unload a cord of wood.  Some companies may quote the same price per cord for pick up and delivery, but then charge a delivery fee in addition to the cost of the firewood.  Sure, you can pick up the wood yourself, but keep in mind the manpower (you) and the time it will take to load up, drive home, and then unload.  Do you place a dollar amount on your time?  There is no right or wrong answer here.  Go with the option that works best for you.

Seasoned Versus Green Firewood

You may ask yourself, “Does this matter”?  The answer is yes!  Seasoned firewood will burn more readily compared to green (the wood still has a very high moisture content).  In fact, green firewood is almost impossible to burn.  Seasoned firewood is pretty easy to identify.  The ends of the wood have begun to crack (or check) from the drying process.  The bark also tends to loosen on seasoned wood.  And it is not uncommon for the bark to fall off when you pick it up.  Seasoned firewood is also lighter in weight compared to green wood of the same species due to the water content.  It is worth noting that hardwoods take longer to season given that they are denser than softwoods.  So this means that a hardwood may take a couple of years to adequately season which may result in a higher price compared to green as well as softwoods since the vendor has more time invested in it compared to softwoods).  Softwoods season sooner and they are easier to light (which makes it a great option for kindling).

seasoned firewood

seasoned firewood

If you think that you can just cut down a tree (not a snag) then split it into to firewood to use as firewood for use later that week or month… forget it.  This is the perfect example of green wood.  Attempts to light the wood will be met with frustration, perhaps some smoke, but no flames.  Trust me, go with seasoned.

 Proximity of Mill to Wood Source(s)

This is a matter of logistics.  If the vendor is close to a forest (and has a cutting permit), cords sold to the consumer tend to cost less compared to a vendor who may be 500 miles away (or more) from a wood source.  It comes down to shipping costs.  The greater the distance, the higher the costs.  And those costs get passed onto the consumer.

Quantity Purchased

If you are going to buy a couple of cords, most vendors will not provide a discount on pricing.  That means that you will pay the full retail cord price for each cord.  But if you are going to purchase enough cord wood to fill a semi trailer, discounts are typically available.  If not, find another source for your firewood.

Tree Species

Hardwood firewood is often more expensive than softwood because of several factors.  The primary reason is that hardwoods burn longer versus softwoods.  This is especially important if you plan on heating your home with firewood overnight.  With hardwoods burning longer due to them being denser than softwoods, they tend to have coals leftover in the morning.  And as anyone who has started a fire knows, it is easier to restart a fire if you have a bed of coals compared to just ash in the combustion chamber of a wood stove or fireplace.

Examples of hardwoods: oak, maple, ash, elm

Examples of softwoods: cottonwood, pine, cedar, fir

Scrap Wood

This wood is typically the odds and ends leftover from the lumber milling process.  It may also be odd pieces from splitting cord wood, remnants of wood posts, wood pallets, or other scrap wood suitable for burning.  This type of wood is often sold for less than the cost of standard, seasoned firewood.  Be aware that some scrap wood may contain nails if it was originally fabricated into fencing or pallets.

Forest Fire Wood

As the name implies, the wood comes from trees that were damaged/killed in forest fires.  But let me ask you this, did you know that just because a forest fire destroyed trees, it does not mean that it necessarily burned them all to the ground?  In the even of a fast-moving fire, the flames may skip across the tree canopies as the winds whip them along, leaving the trees in tact.  Generally, the outer bark has been burned, but the fire may not have penetrated into the wood itself.  It is this type of wood that wood mills seek when they go in for salvage logging.  Once back at the mill, this wood is cut into firewood lengths and then split.  This type of wood is generally sold at a discount when compared to standard, seasoned firewood.

standard firewood vs forest fire wood

standard firewood vs forest fire wood

As you can see, not all cord wood is the same.   And since it is not all the same, pricing is not the same.  Get to know your vendors.  Pay them a visit.  Find out what they have on hand.  Ask if it is possible to get different species (if they carry only softwoods and you really want hardwoods, find out if they order it as well as how much it would cost).  Determine what your needs are.  Heating the house overnight?  Or would you like an easy to start fire in the backyard firepit?  Armed with all of this knowledge, you can select cord wood to suit your needs.