Alfajores.

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For a number of years now, I’ve had this mental list of places I want to travel to. Italy again. New Zealand. Thailand. Africa. Morocco. Turkey. The list goes on and on and on. It’s hard to imagine ever getting to all of those places, what with the simple fact that we, you know, work and all. But I figure we can take it slow – knock off a big one every couple of years or so, presuming we have years and years and years to finish the list.

There are about 500 places in South America I want to visit, too. Argentina is at the top of that “mini-list”. Their food is pretty spectacular, their wines are great and getting better by the year, and the scenery is breathtaking. But since we aren’t getting to Argentina this year, cooking food from Argentina seemed like a good alternative.

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We do this cookie swap at work every Christmas. It makes our quarterly meetings a little more bearable because we all know that loads of sugar are the reward. Some people take them home to share, but I (ssshhh!!) actually leave mine at work with the same thought in mind – a cookie is a really nice reward for making it through a rough day, or maybe even just a really annoying patient. (Yes, there are annoying patients. I hope you aren’t one of them.)

So I made these Argentinian (Argentine? whatever.) sandwich cookies this past year. They involve a few steps, but the beauty of those steps is that they don’t have to all be done at once. I made the cookie dough one day. I baked the cookies a couple of days later. And the night before the swap, I filled and coated them. Easy peasy.

The best part? It made a TON of cookies. So instead of having a thousand more cookies at home, I took some to my work, gave Chris some to take to his work, and I froze the rest.

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Which brings me to the Argentinian feast I mentioned in the last food post. Yes, the one I wrote about 10,000 years ago.  I was trying to figure out what to make for dessert and had literally forgotten about the cookies I’d frozen not even 2 weeks before. I started googling South American dessert ideas and of course, alfajores was at the top of the search. Funny, I had some of those in the freezer. So the rest of these cookies came out for dessert that night, all consumed between champagne, moonshine cocktails (thanks, Judy, for trying to kill us but not succeeding), and – check this out – a little Rock Band. It was a good night indeed.

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Alfajores (chocolate-covered sandwich cookies with dulce de leche)
from Fine Cooking Cookies via Serious Eats; makes ~30 sandwich cookies

time commitment: ~2 hours + time to chill overnight (i.e., make these a day before you need them)

printable version

ingredients
12 oz (2 2/3 c) all-purpose flour; more for rolling
6 oz (1 1/3 c) whole-wheat flour
2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/2 lb unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
3/4 c granulated sugar
1 1/2 t finely grated orange zest
2 cans Nestlé dulce de leche (13.4 ounces each)
1 lb bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 pint heavy cream

instructions
Make the cookies: In a medium bowl, whisk both flours with the baking powder and salt. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the orange zest and vanilla. Scrape down the bowl and paddle with a rubber spatula.

With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. After adding the last of the flour but before it’s fully incorporated, add 1/4 to 1/3 cup cold water and mix just until a smooth dough forms, 1 to 2 minutes. Divide the dough, shape into two disks, and wrap each in plastic. Chill overnight (or for a couple of days if you need to!).

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment. Roll out the cold dough on a lightly floured surface until it’s 1/8 to 3/16 inch thick. With a 2-inch plain or fluted round cookie cutter, cut the dough into rounds—you can gather and reroll the scraps once.

Bake one sheet at a time until the edges are very lightly browned and the cookies puff up slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool on a rack and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month, until you’re ready to fill and coat them.

Fill the cookies: Lay out the cookies, flat side down. Put a heaping 1/2 tablespoon of the dulce de leche on half of the cookies. Cover each with a top cookie, flat side up.

Coat the cookies: Put the chocolate in a small, deep, heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream just to a boil. Pour over the chocolate and let sit for 10 minutes. Stir the mixture very gently, incorporating the cream steadily and without overworking, until glossy and completely mixed.

Line two cookie sheets or rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Pick up a sandwich cookie with a small offset spatula. Immerse in the chocolate mixture, flipping the cookie to coat completely. Pick up with the spatula and tap a couple of times on the side of the bowl to get rid of excess chocolate. With another spatula in the opposite hand, gently smooth out the top of the cookie and then run the spatula along the bottom. Transfer to the parchment-lined sheet. Repeat with the remaining cookies. Allow the coating to set at room temperature for a few hours and then serve.

Special, For Sure

So, I have a confession. It’s not something I’m proud of. It’s not something I’d want people to remember me by. But it’s something that you should know about me, regardless.

I sort of have a sort-of addiction to reality TV. But I’ve come a long way, really I have.

I used to watch The Apprentice, Dancing with the Stars, Real World,  The Amazing Race, Chopped, The Next Food Network Star, and pretty much anything on MTV and Food Network. Oh yeah, and The Bachelor/Bachelorette. Thanks for reminding me of that one, Caroline!

Now, I only watch Survivor and Top Chef. Well, and The Next Iron Chef. Duh. Yes, just three! Somehow, my ultra-long list of guilty pleasures was whittled down to just three lil’ ol’ shows. I consider myself fortunate, because I never got into the Real Housewives of Blank or the Extreme Makeovers or the Biggest Losers or the Kardashians or whoever the famous rich people shows are about these days. Heck, I only watched 1 little season of American Idol. And I could care less about The Voice because I don’t like any of the hosts. So….. maybe I’m not that addicted, after all?

Frankly, I could cut out Survivor, but Chris would just die. We’ve watched it for. so. long. that we just can’t stop now!, he says. And truthfully, there is always someone to laugh at, although this season I’m almost embarrassed to be a girl since these chicks can’t seem to get it together. But whatever.

But I can’t not watch Top Chef. Yes, sometimes it’s a train wreck. Yes, sometimes I wonder how certain people even make it to being on the show. And yes, I’d just love to see what happens when the cameras aren’t rolling on those judges because I swear they are three sheets to the wind every night. But I do look forward to it every week, and sadly the last season just wrapped up, so I’m Top Chef-less for a bit.

Ed Lee was one of my favorites this season. I think he made it to the final 5 before he got the boot, although I’d expected him to be in the top 3. I do think the final 2 were the ones who deserved to be there, but even so, Ed was always a favorite of mine and for good reason – he effortlessly combined Asian and Southern comfort food – my favorite cuisines. What’s not to love?

Anyway, Ed already gets plenty of media attention, because he’s awesome, so I’m sure that not winning Top Chef won’t hold him back in the slightest. A while back, he was featured in Food & Wine, and he shared a recipe for these corn griddle cakes that I could not stop thinking about. And since we aren’t usually up and cooking breakfast on the weekends, I didn’t want to wait until we had company to try them, so instead we just had them for dinner one night, and I froze the rest so I could have them on a special morning when we’re out of cereal and oatmeal.

The griddle cakes are so freakin’ tasty that I could probably eat them straight outta the freezer (well, with a little zapping…), but the orange-honey butter adds a perfect element of sweetness, reminding you that these aren’t just everyday breakfast cakes. They’re special, for sure.

Other cornmeal-containing lovelies:

Zucchini Cornbread (aka why my butt’s so big. go ahead, read the story..)
Hushpuppies (these didn’t help, either)
Cornmeal-Blueberry Cookies
Rhubarb-Cornmeal Tarts
Andouille & Sweet Potato Pie

Corn Griddle Cakes with Sausage and Orange-Honey Butter
adapted from Bon Appetit, February 2012; serves 8

time commitment: 1 hour

printable version

ingredients
orange-honey butter
6 T unsalted butter
1/2 c honey
1 1/2 T finely grated orange zest
salt and pepper

corn cakes
6 T (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cooking spray, or olive/grapeseed oil
3/4 c(about 7 ounces) breakfast sausage, casings removed
1 1/2 c fresh (or frozen, thawed) corn kernels
1 c yellow cornmeal
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 T sugar
1 t kosher salt
1 t freshly cracked black peppercorns
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 1/4 c buttermilk
2 large eggs
6 scallions, chopped

instructions
orange-honey butter
Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Whisk in honey and orange zest. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm.

corn cakes
Cook sausage in a 10-12″ cast-iron skillet or other large heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat, breaking up into small pieces with the back of a spoon, until browned and cooked through, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a small bowl. Add corn to same skillet and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until browned, 5–6 minutes. Transfer corn to bowl with sausage and let cool.

Whisk cornmeal and next 7 ingredients in a medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk and eggs in a large bowl; add dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Fold in sausage, corn, and scallions.

Heat 1 T butter (or oil or spray) in skillet; working in batches and adding butter as needed between batches, add batter to pan by tablespoonfuls. Cook until cakes are crisp and golden brown, 2–3 minutes. Turn cakes over and cook until browned, 1–2 minutes longer. Transfer cakes to paper towels to drain. Serve warm drizzled with orange-honey butter.