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Posts tagged ‘recipes’

Mexican wedding cookies

When my brother and his new wife were married at our home this summer, our Mom brought Mexican wedding cookies. Every year they also appear at Christmas. They’re a lovely, buttery little cookie, tasting of toasty walnuts and covered with a dusting of white. They look like a snowball rolled downhill to me and seem so right on a plate of holiday cookies. But, somebody named them first, so Mexican wedding cookies they are.

We’ve had a busy four or five days. We’d feasted on Thanksgiving with fifteen around our table. Friday we finished cleaning up after the feast and then briefly braved the crowds. Saturday, after pulling boxes and boxes from the attic, our Christmas tree was lit and dressed with ornaments collected over years. Sunday, we had family for breakfast before they headed out of town. With no precise plan for the rest of the day, a little slow and easy pre-holiday baking sounded more restful than a nap.

I’d made this snowy little confection recently as part of a cookie platter we took to a party. I do remember pulling the recipe card from its sleeve inside a large binder, but its space was now vacant. I looked in files I keep near by desk, files filled with ideas to sample and recipes I intend to post. Not there. I looked in my cookbooks, thinking maybe I’d used the recipe card as a bookmark.  (Truth is: I looked in each of those places several times, disbelieving my eyesight the times before.) I looked in all kinds of unlikely places too, places I’m a bit embarrassed to confess. (Might I have left it in the laundry room on one of my many trips there? You never know.) But gradually it became clear: Mom’s recipe had gone missing.

Plan B: I’d seen a recipe for the same cookie in a special baking issue of Cook’s Illustrated and I’d wanted to sample it anyway. Thought I’d try it side-by-side my mom’s. The side-by-side would have to wait.

We’ve loved this cookie of mom’s. Trying to prepare myself for the possibility, I thought: No matter which recipe I end up using in the future, I’ll always associate this cookie with mom and the holidays. It will always be her cookie. Until yesterday, I had two unanswered questions: Can we improve upon perfection? and Why should we even try? I’ve explained the why part. Let me speak to improving upon perfection:

The Cook’s Illustrated  cookie is not overly sweet, but neither was my mom’s. And it has a wonderful texture. (Some I’ve tried are a bit dry and with no particular taste.  Again, not my mom’s.)  But where this version shone is in its walnut-ier taste and its supreme tenderness. (The secret: half of the two cups of these healthful nuts are ground, lending their good oil to the mix – and the other half are chopped, providing their softly nutty bite.)  Conclusion:

This cookie is one tender, melt-in-the-mouth, dribble-a little-powdery-sugar-on-your-sweater bite of deliciousness!

And yes, every once in a long while, we may need to update our notion of perfection.

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While enjoying  a cookie or two with a cup of tea, I combed through some cookbooks that had come down through my mom’s family, some of them from as far back as the early 1900’s. Some of the ingredients, wow! At least a couple dozen updates to “perfection” have to have taken place since then!

Mexican Wedding Cookies

(Makes about 4 dozen)

  • 2 cups (8 ounces) walnuts (or pecans)
  • 2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon table salt
  • 2 sticks (16 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup (2.5 ounces) superfine sugar (see NOTE on how to make your own)
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups (6 ounces) confectioners’ sugar (approximate) – for dusting

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle-and lower-middle positions. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or use silicon mats.

Using a food processor, grind 1 cup of walnuts to coarse cornmeal texture (10 to 15 seconds.) Transfer to medium bowl. Using either the food processor or chopping by hand, coarsely chop the remaining cup of nuts. (5 seconds in food processor.) Transfer to the same bowl and add the flour and salt.

In a large bowl, either using hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the butter and superfine sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract. With mixer on low, slowly add the flour-nut mixture until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape the bowl and beaters, then continue to beat on low speed until the dough is cohesive. (About 7 seconds.)

Working with one tablespoon at a time, press and roll dough together into balls and lay on prepared sheets, about 1 inch apart.

Bake cookies until pale gold and the bottoms are just beginning to brown, about 18 minutes, switching and rotating baking sheets halfway through the baking.

Allow cookies to cool on the cooking sheet for 10 minutes, then move to cooling rack to cool completely, about 1 hour.

Using either a bowl or a paper bag filled with confectioners’ sugar, roll the cookies to coat. Just before serving, re-roll and gently shake off any excess.

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Feijoada – Spicy Beans Goan-Style – from India

Installment #4 in our continuing series on Rice & Beans. 

The idea behind this series of mostly vegetarian meals is that if we eat more frugally just once a week, with the money we save We Can Feed Another…(Read about the hunger problem in the November 1st post that introduced the series.)

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In Goa, the smallest of India’s states and a former colony of Portugal, the people enjoy a spicy bean dish called Feijoada.  It’s made with either black-eyed peas or kidney beans and is traditionally served over steamed rice. Even though Feijoada is sometimes made with the addition of sausage, India has a long tradition of vegetarianism and this dish holds up very well without it.  Black-eyed peas, if you’ve never had them, are much smaller in size, have a more delicate taste and a more pleasant texture than their large red cousin the kidney bean, and it’s the bean we’ll use here.

With all the spices that make up a fragrant curry, and coconut milk that softens and mellows, Feijoada is another hearty and especially delicious dish. 

I made my own curry powder for this – (only because I kind of like playing with spices – you might have noticed) – but you can certainly avoid that step and simply add a mild, good-quality curry you’ve purchased. I certainly would if I were looking to save time.

If you’d like to make your own curry powder –

Fragrant Curry Powder

(makes about ½ cup)

  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg pieces (nutmeg can be broken with kitchen knife or back of heavy pan)
  • seeds from 5 white cardamom pods (or 4 from green)
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • ½ teaspoon red peppercorns (optional)
  • 2 Tablespoons cumin seeds
  • ¼ cup coriander seeds (yes, ¼ cup)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 dried curry leaves, if you can find them (Indian grocers and some Asian markets would have them.)
  • 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek

Combine all the ingredients except the fenugreek in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook, shaking or stirring often, until the spices are lightly browned and their fragrance is rising. This will only take a few minutes. During the last minute of cooking, add the fenugreek powder and continue stirring.

Remove from heat and cool.  Using a spice or coffee grinder, process the spices until finely ground. Store in a small lidded jar for up to several months.

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I started with dried black-eyed peas. For one thing, dry beans cost pennies. For another, I like the taste of home-cooked beans better. But again, if you’re short of time, you can find them canned and frozen. I’d recommend the frozen if you have a choice between the two.

If you’re starting with dried beans, soak them in enough water to cover by several inches for at least a few hours. (You can begin the morning of if that’s most convenient.) Discard the soaking water, start with fresh to cook the the beans. Put them in a good size pot, covered by a couple inches of water, no salt, and bring water to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer while you prepare the rest of the stew.

Feijoada – Spicy Beans, Goan-Style

(serves at least 4)

  • ½ pound dried black-eyed peas, rinsed and picked over (or several cans – or – 1 or 1½ packages of frozen)
  • 2 large onion, peeled (cut into large pieces)
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 small dried red chile or 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • one 1-inch piece fresh ginger (about the thickness of a thumb) peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed, canola, corn or other neutral oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon Fragrant Curry Powder or any mild, good-quality curry powder
  • 2 large tomatoes, cored, seeded, and roughly chopped (or about 1½ cups of canned diced tomatoes)
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 Tablespoon tamarind paste (see NOTE)
  • Garnish:   Torn cilantro leaves, wedges of fresh lime, and finely chopped red onion

NOTE: Tamarind paste is found in Asian section of many markets, next to curry paste. If you can’t locate it, you can use fresh lime juice to taste, but the tamarind paste also imparts a nice rich color to the soup as well as its characteristic tart.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the onions, garlic, chile, and ginger and process until thoroughly combined and resembling a paste.

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