Alfajores

Alfajor1_2

Chris
On our last trip to Argentina I was lucky enough to celebrate my
birthday surrounded by great company and excellent food. I ate myself
into oblivion, and upon returning to our hotel for a nightcap (god I
love that word!
) I discovered a little treat waiting for me from the
staff. It turned out that Christian, our charming server
extraordinaire, brought over a glass of champagne and a small treat set
on a gorgeous small white plate. It was a treat I had never seen before.

"This is from me to you and I wish you a very happy birthday! It’s an Alfajor, a treat I’ve loved since I was a little boy."

After
fighting back a few stray tears (I cry a lot when I’m happy, if you
haven’t figured that out), I picked up this weighty cookie, rotated it
and gave it a good inspection and realized I was holding two crisp
cookies that were sandwiched around a thick layer of dulce de leche.

Everyone
stood around waiting for me to take a bite, almost as if I was tied to
some stake in the town square and the only way I’d be set free would be
from my reaction to the cookie. Frown and I’d be immolated, or smile
and toss outs some "oohs" and "ahhhs" and I’d be the town hero.

I took a bite.

"Do you like it?" Christian asked.

"Do I like it? Do I like it? Are you crazy?" I responded.

And that is how I fell in love with Alfajores.

The
Alfajor, also known as a Caramel Sandwich Cookie, is a traditional
Latin American cookie although you’ll find a variation of it in Spain
that’s usually served during Christmas. Two round biscuits are spread
with dulce de leche and sprinkled with powdered sugar. The premise
changes a bit depending on the country, and some varieties are rolled
in coconut, chopped peanuts, or dipped in chocolate. There’s even a
luscious black and white Alfajor.

Just recently our friend
Francine sent us a jar of Dulce De Leche from Uruguay. After spending a
year in Montevideo she and her husband moved back to Southern
California and she found herself with an extra jar of
mymostfavoritethingontheentireplanet. She didn’t want it to go to waste
so she sent it to us, along with a few Alfajores from Uruguay.
(Francine, you’re crazy for parting with it but I wasn’t about to talk
you out of it, tú sabes….)
I took a bite of this softer variety,
looked at the jar, took another bite, looked at the jar again, and the
idea hit me: make alfajores! Or, have Adam make alfajores!

Never
one to ignore a challenge, Adam whipped up a batch of his orange
cookies, this time omitting the orange juice so that the flavor
wouldn’t complete with that caramelly, rich taste of the dulce de
leche. He scooped up some sticky dulce de leche into a piping bag,
carefully placed dollops onto the underside of the cookie, topped it
with another cookie and voila! An Alfajor was born. A little sprinkle
of cinnamon and powdered sugar sent them over the edge, and by the end
of the day all but 6 cookies were gone. In our defense we had people
over for lunch, but that’s not saying I wouldn’t have eaten them all by
myself anyway. Cuz I totally would have.

Alfajor2

Alfajores a la Adam

You’ll find alfajores made with a crispier
cookie, you’ll even find them made with cornmeal and molasses. However,
I like a soft cookie and I’m not afraid to say it, damnit. And
everything that bothered my self-critical Adam about his version– the
cookies were too soft, the tops were too sticky, the filling oozed out
too fast–were the things I went bonkers over, so it just goes to show
you…um, I don’t know what it goes to show you now that I think about
it. Let’s just eat cookies and call it a day.

Ingredients
1 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup shortening (Earth Balance makes a non-hydrogenated version, hot damn!)
2 unbeaten eggs
3 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method
Cream together the sugar,  shortening and the unbeaten
eggs. Add flour, salt and baking powder. Mix the milk and vanilla
extract and then add to the flour mixture. Drop by rounded tablespoon
onto a greased cookie sheet or a baking pan lined with parchment paper.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10-14 minutes, depending on oven. Keep an eye
on them, cook until the edges are light brown. The cookies will be
extremely soft and will need a few minutes to rest and firm.

To assemble the alfajores, place a dollop of dulce de leche on the
bottom of the cookie and top with another cookie. Sprinkle with
powdered sugar and enjoy until your tummy hurts.

Do Your Research!

Marielgraphic

A few weeks back I was contacted by the ever-so-delightful Mariel of Table Fuel, a new blog created for the purpose of thesis research. Mariel is looking for comments, discussions, and insight about food, cooking, and being in the kitchen. Being the passionate bunch we are I thought I’d write about her site and ask for a little blog love to be sent her way. I can’t wait to read more about her project once it’s complete and I truly look forward to discussing some throught provoking topics about food and being in the kitchen.

As for me, the kitchen was the center of the house and it’s still the gathering spot today. It’s where my earliest memories of food and family come from and it’s still the spot where people congregate today. I think Mariel said it best!

You can visit her blog here.

Happy Corn

Grilledcornsalad

Because of my need to organize just about everything in my life (OCD, anyone?), I’ve always mentally attached a personality or characteristic to colors, shapes and even food. I know I know, it sounds strange, but I’ve learned to accept that my brain short circuits on occasion and so far it has served me well.  When it comes to food, starchy winter root vegetables are the strong silent types, not necessarily the most exciting but always sturdy and dependable. Scotch Bonnets and anything higher up on the Scoville chart are loud, brassy and fine to have over once in a while but will go through your cabinets and put their feet up on the couch and leave reminders that they invaded if you’re not careful. Baby lettuces? So sweet and prim. Figs? Too cool and you’re lucky to hang out with them if they let you–they never stick around long enough.

And then there’s the happiest, friendliest of all vegetables: corn. Never one to complain, corn will stand in just about anywhere and everywhere, allowing herself to be enjoyed in almost any capacity we can think of. And believe me, we’ve done some pretty crazy things with her. And it’s safe to say that our relationship (because, yes, it is a relationship) goes back hundreds of years, and she’s given  civilizations power, fuel, oil, sweeteners, packaging and sustenance. We’ve helped her along the entire way and it’s safe to say we need her and she needs us.

I like that in a friend. And see? I told you I was strange.

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I recently found this recipe on O Olive Oils’ web site. I am rekindling my love with O after many years of being obsessed with Spanish oils…it’s that eat local thing, you know? Anyway, grill corn, cut it off the cob, drizzle it with Tahitian lime oil, and man oh man heaven is knocking at your doorstep. Seriously. And while late summer’s glorious corn bounty hasn’t arrived just yet you can still find some great ears out there.

Grill Corn & Feta Salad
This is much more of a serving suggestion than a recipe, but if you want quantities email me and I’ll measure which is my way of saying I’ll make this over and over again under the guise of helping someone out. Sneaky, eh?

Remove husks from fresh corn and grill all sides until charred and slightly smoky. Shave the corn kernels off the cob and toss with feta cheese, fresh chopped cilantro and kosher salt. Dress the entire salad with O Tahitian Lime Olive Oil. Enjoy.

Note: You don’t have to use O brand, but trust me, it adds another dimension to the salad that might be missing without that lime element. If you were born with that pesky genetic condition that makes cilantro taste like soap then 1) Call your parents and yell at them and 2) Substitute parsley or watercress in this salad.

Food Blogging NYC

Mattangelacollage

Is there any way to say THANK YOU loud enough for you to hear me? Probably not.

But I’ll try…

Thankyou

I sincerely want to thank those of you who made it to the class. I hope it was an informative experience but even more I want to let you know that I am not able to express the gratitude I have for each of you for braving a sweaty NYC afternoon to spend a few hours with me.

I’ve said this before about blogging but it bears repeating: this blogging business has been the best way to connect with so many people with such amazing stories and experiences, and it’s what really keeps me going.

It was an afternoon I’ll never forget, and I’m not sure if anyone could sense my nervousness from being in the presence of Adam Kuban, but trust me, I was awestruck. I’ve decided to just head up this man’s west coast fan club, I swear. Or just tattoo his face on my arm.

Thanks to Martha at Whole Foods for hosting such a wonderful afternoon.

I hope to see everyone again very soon!

P.S. The gorgeous gal in the photos above with the payaso is none other than my beautiful sister Angela. She also took the pictures, and I cherish every moment I get to spend with her. I love you, my big sis!

P.S. #2: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM!

East Vs West

Bryantpark

While I’m enjoying a few days in New York, meeting so many talented people (YOU!) and getting to do and see all sorts of great things, I wanted to share why I love visiting NYC so darn much:

  • My car keys? I don’t need my stinkin’ car keys.
  • Strangers actually talk to each other! Imagine that!
  • There’s always something to do, 24 hours a day.
  • I get the pleasure of spending an afternoon touring the offices of Gourmet Magazine at the Condé Nast building.

(I just realized you could actually end each one of these points with "try doing that in Los Angeles!" Not that I’m hating my own town or anything. Just making a point!)

 

MattArmendariz.com

Mattscreencapture_2

   

Mattphotographscom_3
Well it took me long enough to get it up and running, but I’m finally pleased to introduce the launch of my new photography site. And yea, I’m kinda excited about it, if only because I procrastinated for sooooooooo long about completing it. I have no problem designing for others– it’s when I do it for myself that I just drag my feet!

Of course none of the images could have been captured without the collaborative efforts of talented friends who really know how to make food shine.I am eternally grateful and looking back on past images I must say it’s an honor to work with you – you all know who you are :)

So go check it out. It’s online at mattphotographs.com, because, well, mattbites, get it? get it? Ok, I’ll stop. And if that’s too confusing you can always access my portfolio at www.mattarmendariz.com, although something tells me with a name like that not too many people will be remembering it :)

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In other news I am just giddy and excited about the first Food Blog class at Whole Foods Market in NYC this Sunday! To those who have signed up and registered I’m looking forward to meeting you and talking about food! And can you believe the class has sold out? I better prepare a very special song and dance complete with kazoos and knee-symbols just to show my appreciation to everyone. Ok, on second thought, let’s stick to blogging.

I’m not a nerd I’m not a nerd I’m not a nerd

I’m one of the 2 people on the planet who did not buy the iPhone. As I sat at the Apple offices in midtown Manhattan three weeks ago I told myself I’d wait since that’s what I always do when Apple issues a new product. Let them work out the kinks, you know. But if you’ll allow me to be perfectly honest, I’m upset, sad, bitter, jealous and frustrated that I wasn’t standing in line to get one.  My rational side prevailed and I decided against an iPhone at this point. Of course, we’ll see how long this lasts. I just can’t hear one more thing about that gorgeous little piece of gadgetry without salivating.

It got me thinking about all things Apple and how much they’ve been a part of my life. I remember the day my father brought home an Apple IIe in 1983 and how it was the coolest thing ever. Who cares if all I could do was make lines of text run and repeat? It was still really fun. Fast forward some 24 years later and I’m still surrounded by Mac gear, even if a certain phone is missing from the line up.

Applechartmattbites

I came across this Apple evolution chart and couldn’t believe my eyes. The number of Macs I’ve owned and used over the past 24 years really made me feel like a supergeek, not to mention an old supergeek. In case you want to know, I’ve highlighted those machines on the chart created by Edwin Tofslie. I still have a Performa and Powerbook 150 in my closet, too.

Oh iPhone, I don’t even own you and I love you.

So of course you know I’m going to ask:  Are you a Mac or PC kind of person?

You said it, Erma!

Irmaquote

I hope everyone had a wonderful 4th of July!  While there was no potato salad at our pad there were indeed hamburgers and watercress salad and tons of nice chilled wine. I spent the 4th relaxing with people that mean the world to me and sure hope yours was just as fantastic.