Alfajores – Dulce de Leche Sandwich Cookies


The first time I had an alfajor cookie was at our local tacqueria. Two thin shortbread cookies with that mellow caramel, dulce de leche, in between, rolled in powdered sugar (as if it weren’t already sweet enough). It was soooo decadent and delicious. As is my usual, I thought, “I can make these”. But, finding a recipe was difficult. And, seemingly, there are several different varieties of alfajores depending on the country of origin.

There are cookies that are more crumbly, others that are more crisp. There are those that are flat, others that are domed. Alfajores can also be rolled in shredded coconut on the edges, instead of powdered sugar. I’ve seen recipes for the cookies to be dipped in dark chocolate. One can use dulce de leche made from cow’s milk, or the kind made from goat’s milk (cajeta). Many recipes use a lot of cornstarch, and little flour – perhaps because corn is such a staple of South America. Then there is also a Spanish variety that is not a cookie at all, but a candy made of almonds, sugar and spices. I received some Spanish alfajores as a gift last year when I was in recuperation mode.


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Experimental Entertaining

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Generally, when we have friends for dinner, I make something that I’ve made before. I don’t like to treat my guests as guinea pigs. Sometimes, you make dud dinners and I usually don’t like to risk it. Last Wednesday night, however, we decided to have dinner at our house at the last minute (5-4-Dinner) and decided to use completely new recipes.

I neither poisoned our friends nor did I put a strain on our relationships. Yea. In fact, we bonded over Cambodian Summer Rolls , as an appetizer, and Pan Fried Trout with Fresh Herb Salad and Roasted Cauliflower. For dessert, fresh berries with World Peace Cookies (o.k., I’ve made those before).

All three of the recipe links above are, in my opinion, close to flawless.

The first two come from Cooking Light magazine. I know. Light? Generally, I do cook healthy, but I don’t cook “light”. But, in the summer magazine clean-up, I ripped out a few recipes from issues of this magazine. Why did I have any issues of Cooking Light? Well, it all stems from the school fundraiser. Magazine sales. I hate those types of fundraisers and have decided to try to avoid letting our kids sell to friends or family. Instead, I buy myself magazines and send them to people as gifts. I thought I’d give Cooking Light a try, for the sake of the school.

Shrimp RollShrimp Roll PlatterShrimp Roll Prep

First, the Cambodian Summer Rolls. I am a big fan of Vietnamese Shrimp/Pork Salad Rolls and these looked very similar. The recipe includes Shrimp, Rice Noodles, Basil, Mint and Red Leaf Lettuce, wrapped, burrito style, in rice paper (that has been smeared with a smidge of Hoisin Sauce). Then, this roll is dipped in a sauce of low sodium soy sauce, water, lime juice, sugar, garlic, ginger, cilantro and chili paste.
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Frenzy and Family

apples
I have some leftovers and lots of great memories of a wonderful weekend with S’s family. Given that we live closest (by more than 800 miles) to Grandma, we were the locus of the activities for this past weekend’s celebration of her 80th birthday.

Family started to arrive last Monday (scrambled eggs for dinner day) and dinners at our house began with Wednesday’s meatball feast.

Thursday was a pretty calm dinner of chicken picatta – my sister-in-law, JM, showed me how to make the sauce after I cooked up the chicken breasts. It was a little of this and a little of that while I watched. I’ll have to polish the proportions (or find her base recipe) before I can post. I didn’t have time for pictures – that is for sure!

Friday brought more family in town from opposite corners of the country. We ordered pizza for delivery before our dessert open house. Something had to give!

cookie-platter

The dessert crowd started to arrive at about 7:30. We had fresh strawberries, butterscotch brownies, orange pecan biscotti, chocolate chip cookies (which got a little overcooked because I was helping L and my twin nieces make togas for a little show that they performed), and Grandma’s Jewish Apple Cake, plus plenty of wine and coffee.

The final guests left, very well fed, at about 11:00 – and they were on East Coast time!

pancakes

Saturday brought the final planning for the big party, so my sisters-in-law made a big pancake breakfast for the kids while I got the errands done. J photographed her “whipped cream with pancakes”. How much calcium is in whipped cream?

The party was a big success, at a local french restaurant, with great food and atmosphere. But it was truly great because Grandma was so happy to have her friends and family around. The kids all performed poems and songs. Family and friends made warm and funny toasts. JM orchestrated the production of a great “this is your life” slideshow – a treasure of wonderful photos and memories that all the siblings had a hand in amassing.

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Biscotti for Dunking

orange-pecan-biscotti
Some biscotti are good for just plain gobbling, like a regular cookie. Some are good for dunking and savoring. They seem much more proper and refined.

Yesterday, I made a biscotti that falls in the second category.

As I mentioned, I’m gearing up for a big family visit and I want to have treats in the house. Plus, we are hosting a dessert/coffee and, therefore, need desserts. For just a simple nibble, I thought I’d make a good, dunking cookie. Not too decadent, but one that makes you feel like you have had a special something and haven’t been completely denied (for those of us that would like to lose a few lbs. before bathing suit season starts).

I took a look through the old stacks of magazines and came across one that I bought around holiday-time last year. I’m a total sucker for magazines that are best-of compilations and purchased “The Best of fine Cooking: Cookies”. There are some gorgeous looking cookies of all varieties in this edition. Triple Orange Pecan Biscotti caught my eye.

The last time that I made biscotti, they were less the dunking sort and more the rich, chocolate dipped, big cookie variety. Based on the photograph in the magazine, I wasn’t sure how big these would be when they were completed.

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Quinoa, Yes. Fennel, No. Matzo Toffee, Oh, Yes!

Chicken with Roasted Vegetables
Well, having the kids taste everything has paid off.

Last night, quinoa got the thumbs up! Shocking and satisfying. I was sure that when I said, “Come on, just one bite,” I’d get the pinched up face, the rolling eyes. But, instead, I got the nodding head. From both girls, no less. One more food in the plus column. Hooray!

Beets are still in the minus column. And, tonight’s fennel is in the minus column as well. Boooo!

Note to self: quinoa tastes better with a little dressing made of 2 parts olive oil to 1 part lemon juice, plus a little salt and pepper. I had the leftover quinoa and vegetables for lunch today – cold, with the beets and cauliflower, some gorgonzola, and the dressing. It would have been really good if I’d had leftover beet greens, but those were polished off last night. Fresh arugula or spinach would have been nice, too.

Tonight’s dinner was a classic: roast chicken (lately, I’ve been using the method from Zuni Cafe – without the 24 hour salting and herbs under the skin); roasted fingerling potatoes, carrots, onions and fennel; and, the piece-de-resistance, artichokes.

Matzo Toffee Crunch

No, that is wrong. While the artichokes were wonderful (at 4 for $5, how could I resist), dessert was everyone’s favorite part of dinner. I made David Leibovitz’s riff on one of my favorite treats: Matzo Toffee Crunch. [Here’s the link to the one that I’ve been making for years the original Caramel Matzo Crunch ]. I made it this afternoon to send to my college sophomore niece, who is studying for finals. I wasn’t sure if brownies would get to her (or if she could finish them) before Passover. We poison tested the toffee for dessert, just to make sure that it wouldn’t kill her. It was selfless of us, really.

Our people sure know how to cook.

Why was this night different from all other nights? We got to eat matzo covered with buttery toffee and chocolate, that is why. Makes you wish it were Passover more often.

Secret Family Ice Cream Cake

L wants THE ice cream cake for her birthday dinner. I’m positive that I won’t make it as well as my mom does. I’m not even sure that I know the recipe. I’m improvising a little and adding more of my favorite parts (ice cream soaked macaroons). The recipe (or, really, the technique) for the cake will remain a secret.

Mom uses Heath “bits-o-brickle”, but she maintains (and I agree) that the quality is not as good as it used to be. And, the Skor bar version of the same is hard to find. I haven’t seen it for a long time. I looked for regular Heath bars at the market and was shut out.

So, I made my own almond toffee, using this recipe by David Lebovitz. I didn’t want it quite so nut filled, and I only had slivered almonds in the pantry, so I used about 1 cup of toasted almonds. I also topped the toffee with a combination of milk & dark chocolate, and nuts, of course.

toffee

The other key ingredient is macaroons. Very easy to make. Mom always makes hers.

macaroons

The ice cream cake has been prepared, is in the freezer and ready for candles.

On with the Show!

pan-of-browniesIn spite of crutches and new, blue cast, L participated (of course!) in her Tuesday drama club performance. She was in two skits and all of the performers figured out how to work around her new, wider, less mobile self. We had to be there at 6:45 for the 7:00 performance that lasted about 1 1/2 hours. Parents were asked to bring treats for the little gathering afterward. I brought brownies – the good kind. They were gone in a flash. When L “poison tested” them, she declared, “Whoa. I see what you mean about the difference, Mommy. These are waaayyyy better.”
brownies-ready-to-serve1
J has been a pretty good sport about all the attention her sister has been receiving. And, she has been very helpful, too. So, I made her favorite dinner – Pasta Carbonara. But, we were rushed and I didn’t take any pictures. Next time, I’ll get a good shot.

Pasta Carbonara
1 lb. dried spaghetti
8 oz. bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 large eggs
1/2 cup half & half
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving
pinch nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
large serving bowl that will hold all of the pasta

1) Set a large pot of salted water to boil for pasta.
2) Cook bacon, stirring occasionally, over med-high heat until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate. Pour off most of the bacon grease from pan.
3) Add butter to pan, then add the onions and saute over medium heat until softened. Add garlic and continue to cook until the onions start to color. Add bacon back to pan and turn off the heat.
4) While the onions are cooking, put unbroken eggs in a bowl of hot tap water to warm them. Heat half and half (microwave for 45 seconds on high) until very hot – about a simmer.
5) Crack the now warmed eggs into the large serving bowl. Whisk until beaten. Slowly add the hot cream to the eggs. Add the 3/4 cup parmesan, the pinch of nutmeg, salt and pepper. Whisk well.
6) Add pasta to now boiling water. Cook according to package directions.
7) When pasta is cooked, drain quickly (leaving it a bit wet) and immediately dump the very hot pasta into the bowl with the egg/cream/cheese mixture. Toss until all of the pasta is coated – the pasta cooks the eggs. Add the bacon and onion, and toss again until well combined.
8 ) Serve immediately with additional parmesan and black pepper.