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Cinco de Mayo Tamales

Pat and Ann agreed to share their tamale knowledge with us a week ago. Perfect timing because it was almost Cinco de Mayo and that means tequila. Gail brought some hibiscus syrup from Mexico and made the best margarita I have had (except Kathy's jalapeño margarita with the best salt I have put in my mouth, Tajin ). Tamales are little package of meat or vegetables, masa and cheese and there are quite a few steps to make sure those precious packages taste good. I took one look at the recipe and knew two things— 1) Pat and Ann did a lot of work before they set foot in the kitchen that night and 2) good food takes time.

I had my first tamale at El Burrito Mercado in West St Paul. I was about 15 months pregnant with Jack, big as a house and a little testy. Ted and his dad, Frank, thought Mexican food might encourage Jack to relocate. It didn't work, Jack decided to hang out for another week but my mood improved with each bite of tamale. It was after another lunch a week later with Ted and Frank at Pasquals in Uptown, I ate a bunch of jalapeño poppers, that Jack decided to become the first-born Dougherty. Needless to say, I have a special spot in my heart for Mexican food.

My favorite part of the evening is when we sit down at the table— kids drifting in and out, dogs circling hopefully and laughter filling the room. I can't think of anywhere I would rather be than in the company of these amazing women.

Tamales with Pork and Chicken

6 - 8 pounds pork shoulder

Large fryer chicken (about 5 pounds)

Salt and pepper to taste

Corn husks

Soak corn husks in warm water for about two hours.

Cut pork roast into fist size chunks, place in a pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 2 1/2 hours or until very tender. Remove the meat from broth to cool. Once the meat is cool, shred it with your fingers and set aside. Save the broth, you will need it for the masa.

Cover the chicken with water in a large pot, Bring to a boil and then simmer for 2 hours or until the chicken is tender. Remove the chicken from the broth to cool. Remove and discard the skin, take the meat off the bones and shred into small pieces. Save the broth, you will need it for the masa.

1/2 cup corn oil

6 tbsp chili powder

3 tbsp garlic powder

1 tbsp black pepper

2 tbsp salt

Combine the pork and chicken in a large pan. Mix the oil and seasonings listed above in a small sauce pan and gently warm on stove top. Pour over meat and chicken and mix until thoroughly combined. At this point, the meat and broth can be refrigerated until ready to use.

2 pounds masa flour

3 tbsp paprika

3 tbsp salt

1 tbsp cumin seeds

3 tbsp chili powder

3 tbsp garlic powder

2 cups corn oil

Warm broth on stove top. Combine the masa, paprika, salt, cumin seeds, chili powder and garlic powder and then add the corn oil. Slowly begin to add 2 quarts of warm broth, about a cup at a time. Work with hands to make a dough with the consistency of thick peanut butter, add more masa or broth to achieve this consistency.

After the husks are soft, shake off excess water and lay on countertop on a damp towel. Pick up a husk, lay it across the palm of your hand with the small end towards your fingers. Scoop up about a 1/2 cup of masa with spatula and smear on husk. Cover the bottom and left 2/3 of corn husk with masa (this will make the folding easier). Add about 1 - 2 tbsp of meat on top of the masa. Starting from the left, roll tamale all the way to the right edge and then fold down the top of the husk. Tie a thin piece of corn husk around the tamale.

Bring a large pot of water with an insert set above the water line to boil. Stack tamales tightly on end, envelope end down, open end up in the insert. Cover pot and reduce heat to medium low and cook for at least two hours. Check water level often to make sure the pot does not boil dry. Let tamales set for 5 minutes, unwrap and eat. The tamales can be frozen after they have cooled.