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Welcome to the CHOW Recipe Lab

We love the idea of collaborative recipe testing. It's something you do all the time on this board, and we do it too in our test kitchen. So here's the idea for the CHOW Recipe Lab: combine forces. We will show you our recipe works-in-progress, and solicit your tips and ideas on how to make them better. Together we'll come up with a recipe we can all be proud of.

How we think this will work: This is the first one so we'll see how it goes and adjust along the way. We'll post a draft of the recipe and open it up to you to test it, taste it, and give us your feedback right here. We want real-world feedback (i.e. you’ve ideally cooked it and have specific info for hiccups you encountered along the way). After a week of everyone’s responses, we’ll go back in the kitchen, edit, and repost the next draft. Repeat, maybe two or three rounds. The final product will be a recipe we’ve all created and we’ll sum up what worked, what didn’t, and recap the comments that brought us to the final version. All you have to do is be willing to cook up the recipe, and give us your constructive criticism.

The first recipe in this project is sweet tamales -- here's our draft: http://www.chow.com/recipes/18744 We’ve tested them a couple of times. We want it to be delicious and a good introduction to tamales, something that non-expert cooks can make and feel good about. How do you do it? We're open to any and all feedback, but here are some specific questions: 1) how did the formation of the tamales go? 2) how long did they take to cook for you? 3) do you like how sweet they are or do you want more flavor? 4) try them with another fat (ie vegetable shortening) and let us know how they turned out.

Timeline: please try the recipe and post comments in this thread by March 30. And have fun!

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    1. re: c oliver

      Do we get a cut of the cookbook profits or the sales of the mags/shows on which the recipe appears?

    2. This is not a dish that I'm interested in making, but I very much like the Recipe Lab concept and look forward to participating on a different recipe.

      1 Reply
      1. re: greygarious

        Same for me...I'm low-carbing it for the rest of the month, so there's no room for 35 tamales...But LOVE the concept and can't wait for the next one...

      2. I love the idea as well. Tamales is not something I would ever make, I may try them at a restaurant but wouldn't make at home. But I love the recipe idea board and will take part.

        1. I agree. Tamales don't interest me but the concept most certainly does.
          Keep us posted please.

          2 Replies
          1. I've made savory tamales, but I'm with the rest of the posters -- not interested in sweet.
            I do like the recipe lab concept in theory.

            Edit: In the recipe you call for slacked corn meal. Do you mean slaked?

            1 Reply
            1. re: nemo

              hi, nemo. that is indeed a typo. thanks!

            2. We can call it "Throwdown with aidam" :-)

              1. for the sprit of "testing" I can go ahead and make 1/3 of the recipe. There are only 2 of us..

                it looks like the raisons, nuts and sugar are all mixed in~ i think i might be better if we have a filing of some kind. I think i'll throw in a spoon of brown sugar in the middle for fun...

                this is a great idea! keep them coming!

                1. I LOVE this idea! Test kitchen for recipes, crowd-sourced to perfection!

                  As with the other posts, however, I'm not really interested in making these. I've made savory tamales (from scratch, including rendering the lard! They were wonderful.... http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...), and even forming and rolling them up and steaming takes a fair bit of time and a lot of hands. The effort is worth it for a long social event where everyone helps, or you're willing to devote several hours for tamales you can freeze for later.

                  FWIW, I would be VERY happy to find a good recipe for fresh-corn tamales - made with fresh corn, and composed of almost nothing but corn, steamed in a corn husk. Perfect in summer, they will seriously make you think you've died and gone to heaven, they're slip-under-the-table-moaning-good.

                  1. I'd love to be involved when the recipe is less American-centric.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: purple goddess

                      If you're on a "Chowhounds" list, you're probably fairly adventurous, and have done your time in a kitchen.

                      Why not make authentic tamales? The Black Mole ones I made (see above) were a ton of work, but with store-bought lard and/or butter variations, and a simple pork chile verde sauce for filling...or even just cheese... they could be amazing!

                      Tamales are phenomenal creations, but they have a rich cultural history that dictated how they're made, and with what ingredients. An authentic (though modified for ease of use) recipe would be a perfect introduction to a cuisine. I think Chowhounds could take it!

                      1. re: evergreengirl

                        except I live in Australia and 1/2 the ingredients are impossible to get out here. The masa meal, for instance. In particular Mexican foods and Mexican ingredients, unless you're talkin "Ol' El Paso" is pretty much non-existent.

                        Happy and only-too-willing to play. Just need a recipe that I can cook off as written and then improve.

                        1. re: purple goddess

                          Colombia is farther away from Mexico food-wise than is Oz. I'd participate, but won't squander any of my precious hand carried masa harina and corn husks on a sweet tamale. We should suggest a flash sauteed wichiti grub on a bed of micro-greens and drizzled with a reduced Koonawara & ginger & garlic sauce and topped with a bit of caramalized onions, Oz truffles, and sprinkle of steamed barramundi eyeballs.

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            HA! You're such a showoff... (just expressing my apprecation!)

                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              Oh, I am new today to Chow but am I interested. Your description made my mouth water! Thank you Sam.
                              I learned to make tamales years ago from my Mexican sister-in-laws. I am particularly fond of the fresh corn tamales served with Mexican sour cream.

                              I run a goat dairy in Idaho and when I have the time am learning to make cheese, any recipe that might incorporate some of my inventions will be greatly welcomed.

                              I look forward to trying new recipes!!!

                          1. re: greedygirl

                            GG, e-mail me at ckgrover2006@comcast.net. We can talk about getting you some masa and corn shucks.


                            1. re: Candy

                              I think you probably can get masa here in London, but no corn shucks until the summer I wouldn't have thought. :-)

                              1. re: greedygirl

                                When my family lived in Japan, my mother being an native of Arizona, got really hungry for tamales. She bought fresh corn still on the cob and in husks. She rinsed the husks and had our house boy pin them to the clothesline to dry. When she discovered they had bugs all over them she had him throw them away. Ono must have thought she was one crazy American. She used foil. There is a "green corn" tamale in Arizona. I crave them. You need starchy fresh (green) corn. That corn is stripped from the cob and then ground into a thick paste. It is often filled with green chilis and cheese and then wrapped and steamed. If you would like some dried husks they are readily available here and weigh next to nothing. I'd be glad to send some to you. Just send an address to my e-mail and I'll take care of it.

                        2. So cool! I'm going to skip the tamales but I'll definitely check back in for future recipes. When friends ask me for recipes I always wind up giving them all kinds of notes along with the "straight-ahead" recipe - that way they can do it like I did, make their own changes, try it the way the write intended it, etc. as they choose.

                          1. Love the idea.... generally don't do sweet. Will watch for next month's recipe.

                            1. I think the protocol here should include the following:

                              - Test recipe should have a small yield so it is feasible for single or 2-person households, while able to be doubled or tripled for larger ones.

                              - Participants making the dish for the first time should follow the recipe AS WRITTEN, noting any changes they'd like to see..

                              - Participants who change the ingredients or preparation details on subsequent executions of the dish should share their input on the thread.

                              9 Replies
                                1. re: greygarious

                                  I agree.. we're only two people and I wouldn't want to make a large batch of something totally new.

                                  Sweet tamales don't seem like something I would enjoy... so I'll wait for the next recipe idea.

                                  1. re: greygarious

                                    I really agree with prepare as written. Reviewers on epicurious can make so many changes, it barely resembles the original and how do you judge THAT? I too won't make this sweet recipe as I don't make really any sweets but look forward to the next one.

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      HAHAHA! Those people annoy me, "I give this recipe a one star," then you read on and realize that they made so many changes, how can they possibly judge? Sadly, I appear to have turned into one of these people based on my COTM experiences!

                                      I too love this collaborative testing concept and I even like the idea of sweet tamales. But, I despise raisins, so, I'm going to have to skip this one. But, I do agree with whoever suggested above that the recipes be scaled down if possible.


                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        I don't mind people tinkering and then rating recipes. Because I figure our taste buds are different anyway so a three star rating doesn't really have a set meaning. And I get a lot out of what people say about how their changes worked out. : )

                                        1. re: karykat

                                          Actually, I think you're right, karykat. The key is to be clear about what modifications you made and, if something goes awry, to realize it might be your modifications, not the recipe itself. Or, vice versa! I love all the comments on epicurious!


                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                            In my case I'd have to pledge not to tinker with the original recipe till after I made the original as written. There's the rub. Or marinade as the case may be.

                                            1. re: Gio

                                              HA! Gio, you made me laugh out loud - I love having smart, witty CH friends ; )

                                    2. re: greygarious

                                      greygarious, great ground rules and I hope to participate on a different recipe next round! Sounds fun!

                                    3. Is it possible to offer a couple recipes per month for us to test. I have realized tonight that yes, not every ingredient isn't always available world wide. I knew that - but it never really sank even though I was aware of it, we always don't think of it. So, I agree that some recipes are very selective (culture and region wise) and not a lot of CHOWS can try them. Is Is possible to try a couple different recipes that involve different cultures and regions with a variety of ingredients each month so everyone can be involved. Just a thought guys. But I think the board and idea is awesome. You have many great people, cooks and ideas here, take advantage of everyone. Even someone who is familar with Thai may have great ideas for Mexican, you know what I mean.

                                      1. I too love the idea, but am going to skip the sweet tamales. It's not something that would interest my family. I am looking forward to the next recipe.

                                        1. Great idea, I'd definitely be interested though, as some have mentioned, I think that a recipe making 35 sweet tamales is too large a recipe for the initial Chow Recipe Lab. I'd like to try it, but will have to adjust it for just the two of us. Actually, now that I think of it, my husband, who is Mexican, doesn't care for sweet tamales. I wonder if they freeze well?

                                          1. Very interesting, but like many of the other posters, I might be more inclined to try a different recipe since I don't find this particularly appealing. Also, I feel that the amount this recipe produces is far too large for a regular recipe. A party recipe, maybe, but not an everyday amount for me.

                                            1. I will cook along. I am going to skip the sweet tamales. I associate tamales with cool or cold weather food and steaming up the kitchen. More of a Christmas activity. i know that sweet tamales are as traditional as savory but right now on a balmy sunny day my mind is just not going there.

                                              1. As everyone has said, won't try this sweet tamales recipe (don't think I've ever had a savory tamale either!), but will enjoy seeing what else gets thrown against the kitchen wall for testing!

                                                1. NEWS FLASH! Hounds all in unanimous agreement for the first time - in rejecting sweet tamales and accepting Chow recipe lab!!

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                    Can I get a hallelujah and an amen to that?! :)

                                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                      Mark the calendar! We will have a one year anniversary party in a year's time!

                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                          I guess we're not following Robert's Rules...
                                                          So I'll reject sweet and accept lab.

                                                        2. Love the idea of the Lab, but won't be doing the tamale recipe.
                                                          Thanks tho.

                                                          1. I'm jumping on the bandwagon, too. Love the idea; not so crazy about the recipe.

                                                            1. I am probably in a minority here, as my lack of interest in making tamales is not for want of a sweet tooth. My dislike for anise and anything licorice-like is boundless.

                                                              Aida, how did this come to be the first recipe chosen for the Chow Lab? Its crucial ingredients are not readily available for many people, and it's got a huge yield. The draft recipe says 35 tamales but does not indicate how many servings that is supposed to be. Is this a recipe destined for some future cookbook on tapas, catering, or recipes for group entertaining? If so, and we CH cooks are being enlisted to aid in developing recipes from which someone is going to profit financially, it would be nice to know that in advance.

                                                              ChowLab needs its own avatar/logo. After all: "hound"..."Lab"...you should run a Labrador Retriever photo competition! Especially appropriate since the breed is known for being voracious and food-obsessed. Most of them are kegs on legs. Hey, I resemble that remark!

                                                              4 Replies
                                                              1. re: greygarious

                                                                We love it that you're into this idea, which by no means is a profit-making venture, but simply a fun way to get more collaboration on our recipes.

                                                                So let's nix the sweet tamales. We thought it would be good project, something you could get your hands dirty with, and we wanted to get some insight from tamale-making pros. The original intention was for a tamale-making party, thus the high yield. But we were wrong, we move on -- that’s the beauty of this idea, it’s fluid and we are flexible.

                                                                The next recipe we'll try out, soon, will be more of a weeknight dinner- -- easy to make, easy to buy ingredients for, and not too many servings. We completely agree with your protocol, greygarious and if there are any other guidelines anyone else can think of that would facilitate this process we would love to hear your suggestions. So please stay tuned we look forward to your feedback.

                                                                -Kate, reporting from the test kitchen

                                                                1. re: kramos

                                                                  Perhaps it might be a good idea to sift through the current thread titled, "So What's the Average Chowhound's Age" to determine what audience you want to hit.
                                                                  Just sayin'......

                                                                  1. re: kramos

                                                                    Not too easy, not too simple! This isn't Food Network after all. I don't need another recipe for boneless skinless chicken breasts

                                                                    1. re: kramos

                                                                      I LOVE that idea. I was not going to do the tamales, but have to cook weeknight dinner at least 3x week.

                                                                  2. My first reaction was no I didn't think I'd care to make the sweet tamales. After rereading the recipe, the masa mixture sounds pretty darn good, I love golden raisins and that you actually take the time to plump them up, nice. But the recipe to me is confusing, I don't see an actual filling, it sounds as though you mix it all together and then wrap the dough. Was there a filling?
                                                                    And another question I was concerned about the corn husks flavor with the sweet and how that works? I make tamales and with savory tamales the corn husk flavor is wonderful.
                                                                    OOPS! Sorry you had to scratch this test, just read your note Kate. And I agree, not too simple, I am up for the challenge, just that sweet tamales are not available to all of us. Yes can you believe it in this day and age! 35 tamales isn't really a big deal, I make at least 50 at a time. Might as well.

                                                                    5 Replies
                                                                    1. re: chef chicklet

                                                                      I could be selectively blocking some memories, but I can't recall ever having a filled sweet tamale. But maybe a little row of miniature marshmallows, crushed peanuts and a few chocolate chips down the middle would be interesting? Hey! Let's call it "Sniggers de Mexico"!

                                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                                        The only sweet tamales I've had years years ago, were made by my boys Dad's employee, from Ecquador. It was Christmas and he gifted us with several -like 15 or so sweet tamales. I don't recall a filling either. That's why the recipe instruction sounded strange. But I do like the way you think Caroline! Dang, yes mini marshmallows, crushed salty peanuts, and dark chocolate... wait we need caramel... don't we?

                                                                        1. re: chef chicklet

                                                                          Sounds good to me. We can run Mars and Hershey out of business. Neither of those suckers ever thought of adding masa to their stuff! We've got the market cornered! '-)

                                                                        2. re: Caroline1

                                                                          One of my ESL students is from Puebla, Mexico, and she brings me her homemade tamales, both savory and sweet, from time to time. The sweet ones have raisins in them, and are very tasty.

                                                                          1. re: pikawicca

                                                                            Yes, but if they were the "standard" Mexican tamales dulce, then there was no central filling as there is in savory tamales. Raisins, pineapple, pine nuts, dried papaya or mango and lots of other things are mixed in with the masa, along with cinnamon (common) and/or other spices and sugar. I asked my housekeeper (from Chile) if she has ever had filled sweet tamales, and she says they don't even make sweet tamales in Chile, but she has a girlfriend from Guatamala who makes them, but she doesn't know if they are ever filled.

                                                                            I think one could make a pretty interesting sweet tamale similar to the savory tamales of Oajaca or the Yucatan that are cooked in leaves instead of corn husks that could be filled with fruit or something.... Maybe I can talk someone else into giving it a shot? I HATE making tamales...!!! Hours to make, a minute to eat, then it's all just a memory!

                                                                      2. I love this idea :-)

                                                                        However, I will be passing on this first round. Ingredients are no problem here in Toronto and the local Mexican eateries suck, but sweet tamales do not appeal and the quantity is a bit over the top for our family of two.

                                                                        1. Great idea. Will participate when the recipe piques my appetite. But when it doesn't, I won't, and I won't whine about how "americancentric" or "large" or "sweet" it is.

                                                                          1. This is what makes ChowHound so great! Count me in.

                                                                            1. Well, now that the majority of the replies so far have nixed the tamales, might I ask the Lab's help in refining and/or perfecting a bread recipe I am working on?
                                                                              I don't know enough about baking to tweak it properly, although I am getting close.

                                                                              It is a recipe for Golden Semolina Grits Bread.
                                                                              If we're still discussing the tamales, I'll wait my turn...


                                                                              1. Haven't made it but had a couple thoughts... you could give the option of using these ingredients that may boost the taste:

                                                                                -piloncillo (sugar)
                                                                                ... or palm sugar

                                                                                -coconut oil or palm oil