Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cookies With The Deities

Back in the day, when I lived for a while at Machu Picchu and communed nightly with the Incan deities who still haunt the ancient city, I used to keep my blood sugar afloat through mass consumption of...

Oh fine. I never lived there, never even visited - but, oh, how I wish I could write that line above! I've had the WORST travel lust of late. I constantly find myself thinking of trips I'd like to take, re-living trips I've already taken, or pseudo-planning trips I'm about to embark on any second. Lately, the news is so utterly depressing that I think this harsh reality lends itself nicely to fantasizing about travel, no?

I was recently perusing possible European trips again, but the exchange rate can suck it at the moment. I just ADORE Amsterdam and want so badly to take Tony there, since he's never been, but...sigh...I don't think it's in the cards right now. So, I started looking south...

Recently I was researching Machu Picchu once again (as I have a bajillion times), and have been lusting after South America ever since. Since Buenos Aires is known as the "Paris of South America", I'm positively salivating to visit - and really, the exchange rate is quite decent. Even so, after I calculate the price of a trip for 2, I end up slapping myself in the face for my wanderlust. So, I've been armchair-traveling via my laptop to South America - trying to escape the unending horrendous news regarding our economy.

During my pseudo travels, I came across multiple mentions of a South American cookie delight called Alfajores. Apparently, you haven't quite lived until you've had this cookie; apparently, some folks know what they're talking about. The discovery of this little darling of a cookie makes my faux travels totally worthwhile.

So, before I get on with the recipe for these doll-babies, where are some of your favorite places to travel? Where would you like to go someday?


It was the pictures of these that first did me in - are they not adorable? They reminded me a bit of Parisian Macarons, but perhaps easier to actually accomplish than their appearance-cousin. Well, they were. They were a delight to make and delicious to put in my belly. The texture is incredible - I don't even know quite how to describe it; perhaps it's because of the cornstarch, but the cookie is soft and giving - which is perfect when you have a soft filling such as dulce de leche. The taste of the cookie is light, tangy, slightly buttery - like a soft, light shortbread, which again, compliments the filling perfectly. Confession: we liked these so much, that we couldn't bring ourselves to bring them into work for sharing! Selfish creatures indeed. So, they do cause hoarding, apparently.

5.3 oz. unsalted butter, softened
3.5 oz. powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
5.3 oz. cornstarch
5.3 oz. AP flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
4 egg yolks
can of dulce de leche (Int'l section of grocery store) -or-

Dulce de Leche: take 1 can Sweetened Condensed Milk and remove the label. Without opening the can, poke a few holes in top of can using a can opener or a nail and hammer. Place the can in a saucepan and fill with water so that 2/3 of the can is covered. Boil for 3-4 hours, checking OFTEN that water is at an appropriate level. After 3-4 hours, carefully remove lid and pour into a bowl; stir until smooth. Allow to cool; then chill until consistency thickens.

Using an electric mixer, cream butter and powdered sugar in a medium bowl. Add yolks, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each egg. Add vanilla and combine.

In another bowl, mix cornstarch, flour, baking powder and then add to butter mixture. Process only until dough is formed. Form dough into round disc and wrap with plastic; chill for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350F. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to just less then 1/4-inch thick. Cut out 1 1/2 inch rounds and place on lined cookie sheet, about 1 inch apart. Bake for about 10 minutes, or just until the cookies begin to change color on their underside. Remove from oven, remove cookies from pan and place on cooling rack.

Pipe or spread about 1 tsp. room-temperature dulce de leche on a cookie, place another cookie on top and press until filling shows at the edges of cookies. Many times, the edges of Alfajores are then rolled in coconut, but because we don't like coconut flakes, I rolled mine in sugar. ENJOY!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

7 Random Factoids

I thought I wasn't a liar. Turns out I lied. I said I wasn't going to do anymore tags, however, I was tagged by the lovely and charming Diva of The Sugar Bar - so how could I resist? Also? Fair warning: my dogs were also recently tagged - and please - as if I'd ever muzzle them. So, they shall be guest blogging in the not too distant future. When they heard about it, they were so excited they peed on the floor; of course, this act is no different than on any other day, I suppose.

But do not fear, dear food pornists! Last weekend I baked a naughty scrumptiousness from South America - and I will try to post about the deliciousness this weekend. It involves dulce de leche. Uh huh. Yeah. I KNOW. Like the centerfold of foods, that stuff.

Anyway, the tag merely requires that I share 7 random facts about myself, so here goes:

1} If I find a bug in my house, I make my husband set it free outside.
2} I have recurring nightmares of falling into water, car crashes, and hanging in high places by my hands.
3} I love the smell of my dogs' ears when they're just a little bit stinky.
4} I feel uncomfortable when people bow to me and say "namaste".
5} When I was little, I would sneak out of Sunday sermon to the church lobby so I could read the Readers Digest instead, which made more sense to me than the sermon.
6} I don't particularly like blue ink.
7} I think my left brain hates my right brain and vice versa. Which sucks for me; obviously, I'm in the middle - a veritable midbrain glob of goo.

So, there you have it; why on earth did I choose those 7 facts? What a pile of bleck. Whatever "bleck" is, that is. Per usual, I won't tag anyone outright - but if you like, consider your very bad self tagged and join the randomness.

And you? What is YOUR random factoid, DARE I ask?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Man

Cool. President Elect Barack Obama.

Listen, I have nothing against the white male - I married one, folks - but I don't have words to describe the excitement I feel about having as our future President, finally, someone other than a white male. Though for me this election was in no way about race, I cannot help but feel pride that this qualified leader has also given birth to a poignant, historical moment in our country. No matter where our political beliefs reside, can we not embrace and share the long overdue grace of just that moment?

"I leave you, hoping that the lamp of liberty will burn in your bosoms until there shall no longer be a doubt that all men are created free and equal." - Abraham Lincoln, 1858

"I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

My 6th Sense & A Herniated Burrito

I have a 6th sense. They say that kids who suffer trauma cope by developing hyper-awareness to undercurrents, body language, people's energy, mixed signals etcetera -- because being able to read people and predict behavior keeps them safe. For better or worse, I have that thingy - and it can be entertaining, at times.

We were at Chipotle (a burrito place) yesterday and ordering to my right was a guy around our age. Since I was standing about a foot away from him while we were both customizing our forearm-size burritos, his energy hit me full-on. For whatever reason, it felt like a bug splattered on my windshield. He annoyed me - uptight, tense, pretentious, really self-aware, snappish (though he said nothing, this is only what I felt). I know, dumb right? For me to feel that about a stranger? But I'm telling you, my radar blips with that kind of crap.

So, the gal starts rolling up this dude's burrito and at the very end of the carnal act, the bulging, gluttonous burrito splits about a 1/2 inch to relieve itself. The gal looks up at the dude and is all, "is that all-right? or do you want a new one?" -- oh hello, it's ON. At this point, the fellas in my head who run my 6th-sense radar are cracking beers, putting their feet up, and taking bets.

I can literally feel the dude's blood pressure sky rocket to about 200/120, the pulse in his carotid artery nearly punched me in the face, and I swear he almost chewed his own molars if only so he could use his mouth as a weapon of mass destruction toward the gal, his jagged teeth as the bullets (which I'm sure would be bleached and damn free of tartar). After a full 5-second pause - our contained explosion, through his clenched jaw, hissed "no, it's fine" - most likely because there were other customers of his peer group present, and after a quick, careful, internal pro-con pie chart calculation - he figured it would be less painful to accept the imperfect, herniated burrito than to blow his cool (and his teeth) in front of the INCREDIBLY cool and chic people to his left.

In the parking lot, I watched him walk away and I was thinking to myself "I bet he's parked really far away" -- and sure enough, he kept walking and walking and walking. I wanted to ask him if he needed a ride to his ride, for the love of beans. Come ON! As we were pulling away, I finally saw him arrive at his car - parked so completely by itself, so far from potentially interacting with any other entity - that he nearly worked off that burrito's calories just in the to/fro. Yep, he's that guy who parks his car that way.

I turned to Tony and said, "Thanks for not being the kind of guy who has his panties so far up his ass about A CAR that he has to park it in another county. And by the way, thanks for not driving a mid-life crisis car, for not looking like you spend more time on your hair than me, for not having an overly-worked gym body, for not wearing the same jeans you did in high school, and for not being an uptight bug. I think you deserve something REALLY special today."

A suggestive grin spreads across his face.

"I'm going to give you a....

....choice of what I shall bake today."

Suggestive grin fades significantly.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Tartlets

I know! ANOTHER chocolate peanut butter thingy! Well, this is what we all get when I ask Tony what he wants me to bake: it's either chocolate with chocolate or chocolate with peanut butter. Once, he did say cheesecake - and I started backing-up and looking around for an alien pod in which I might find his real body, I was so taken aback by the request. Anyway, these tartlets? If there is a god, then god help us all. These are INSANE. The peanut butter filling is the best I've ever had - it will almost make you tip right over the edge of the cliff; seriously, it's the best peanut butter filling I've made to date - period. If you think you can handle it, make these - otherwise - save yourself, while there's still time.

1 c. AP flour
1/8 t. salt
1/4 c. sugar
2 T. cocoa powder
1/2 c. unsalted butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
1-2 T. ice cold water

1/2 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. cream cheese, softened
2 T. unsalted butter, softened
1/4 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 c. whipping cream

In medium bowl, combine flour, salt, sugar, and cocoa. To this mixture, cut in the cubed butter until it resembles a damp sand. Combine the egg with 1 T. of the ice water and pour over the mixture, stirring only until mixture becomes moistened; if mixture is too dry, add up to 1 T. of ice water. The dough should hold the form of a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425F and place cookie sheet in oven.

Now, here's where you have choices: this recipe can make (8) 4-inch tartlets -or- around 24 mini-tartlets, which is what I made above. If making 4-inch tartlets, roll out the dough and cut out 5-inch rounds; press them into the tartlet pan, with removable bottoms. If making mini-tartlets: depending on the size of your tin, use a tsp. or tbsp. size ball of dough and press it into the tin.

Place tartlet pans on cookie sheet and bake blind (using pie weights or beans) for 5 minutes; take out of oven and remove weights. Lower the temperature to 350F and bake for up to 5 minutes more, until crust has darkened. Transfer to wire rack to cool.

Cream peanut butter, cream cheese, and butter with an electric mixer on high speed. Add sugar and beat until fluffy; add vanilla and combine. Fill tart shells generously and chill for 2 hours. After chilling, heat whipping cream in small saucepan to boiling; pour cream over the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and stir until smooth. Cool slightly (until ganache has cooled, but is still liquid enough for decorating purposes). Drizzle over tartlets and chill for at least 30 minutes. ENJOY!!

Come to Mama, baby. Get thee in my pie-hole.