Amaaazing Alfajores!

alfa

Alfajores are soft, delicate cookies from South America made, surprisingly, with cornstarch. The cornstarch gives the dough a smooth, satiny texture that makes it a dream to work with and produces a tender, crumbly cookie. Creamy Dulce de Leche (homemade or store-bought) holds the cookies together. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can take these to the next level by rolling the edges of the finished cookies in flaked coconut or covering them in chocolate.

We made these as part of our Argentine Bento and the kids loved the bento and these cookies in particular.  They were also, needless to say, a super-duper hit at our Around the World Summer Camp this past summer break.

Special equipment: A plain or fluted 2-inch round cutter is needed to portion out the dough.

Alfajores

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon pisco or brandy
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup Dulce de Leche, at room temperature
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

Method

  1. Place the cornstarch, measured flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk briefly to combine; set aside.
  2. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl once with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is light in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolks, pisco or brandy, and vanilla and mix until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. On low speed, gradually add the reserved flour mixture and mix until just incorporated with no visible white pockets, about 30 seconds.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape it into a smooth disk, and wrap it tightly. Place in the refrigerator until firm, at least 1 hour.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Lightly flour the top of the dough. Roll to 1/4-inch thickness (the dough will crack but can be easily patched back together). Stamp out 24 rounds using a plain or fluted 2-inch round cutter, rerolling the dough as necessary until all of it is gone.
  6. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, 12 per sheet and at least 1/2 inch apart. Bake 1 sheet at a time until the cookies are firm and pale golden on the bottom, about 12 to 14 minutes. (The cookies will remain pale on top.) Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. Flip half of the cookies upside down and gently spread about 2 teaspoons of the dulce de leche on each. Place a second cookie on top and gently press to create a sandwich. Dust generously with powdered sugar before serving.

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World Bento Tour: Argentina

argentina-bento with name

This bento is one of my favorites so far – mostly because the little one came home and exclaimed – “Oh wow!  What a beautiful bento!”  This has all the classics from Argentina – empanadas, grilled chicken with chimichurri, alfajores made with home-made dulce de leche and a salad with hearts of palm.  Stacie and I had a super fun morning cooking together and whipped all of this up together in a few hours.  We will be sharing all the recipes in upcoming posts, and below are two to get you started.

Looking forward to our upcoming bento projects!

Chimichurri – from Simply Recipes

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Chimichurri is such a versatile and delicious condiment that it brightens up any simple grilled meat/fish.  It’s a great thing to have lying on the fridge on any given day, not just when you are dabbling in the cuisine of Argentina.  I particularly like this version, as it is super-easy to whip up and I like the chunkiness of it.  The variations on the chimichurri recipe are endless and as you make it more often, you can tweak it to suit your liking.  It also works beautifully as a marinade, though we have been (liberally) using it as a condiment.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup firmly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, trimmed of thick stems
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • 2 Tbsps fresh oregano leaves (can also use 2 teaspoons dried oregano)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp red or white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Method

1. Finely chop the parsley, fresh oregano, and garlic (or process in a food processor several pulses). Place in a small bowl.

2. Stir in the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Adjust seasonings.

Serve immediately or refrigerate. If chilled, return to room temperature before serving.

Hearts of Palm and Avocado Salad – from Recipe Girl

heartsofpalmsalad

This is a simple, but unique salad due to the addition of hearts of palm (available canned).  It is a vegetable harvested from the inner core and growing bud of certain palm trees and is a common component of Latin American dishes.

Ingredients

Salad

2 large heads red leaf lettuce (tear with hands into bite-size pieces)
2 grapefruit, peeled & segmented (cut segments in half if they’re big)
2 (14 ounce) cans hearts of palm, drained & cut into 1/2-inch slices
4 avocados, peeled & chopped (don’t chop until ready to serve)

Dressing

1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tablespoons white wine vinegar

Method

1. Prepare salad: Place lettuce, grapefruit and hearts of palm in a large salad bowl. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

2. Prepare dressing: Combine seasonings, oil and vinegar. Shake or stir thoroughly, and chill until ready to serve.

3. When ready to serve, cut avocados and add to the bowl. Drizzle desired amount of dressing over all and toss lightly.

World Bento Tour: Indonesia

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Given we have taught a couple of Indonesian Cooking Classes, it seems fitting that we showcase our Indonesian recipes as part of our World Bento series.  The great thing about Indonesian food is that you can easily adjust the chilli/spice level down in the recipes to suit the kiddos and the adults can compensate by eating large amounts of spicy condiments (like I do!).  In fact, sometimes, it feels like I am having some curry with my spicy sambal. 🙂

Our Indonesian bento consisted of some savory, delicious, creamy and super flavorful chicken curry with potatoes (kari ayam), stir fried string beans with fluffy and fragrant steamed jasmine rice and fruit for dessert.  The condiments of sambal, fried crispy shallots and Indonesian pickle (acar), just make the whole set-up “pop” in appearance and taste.

The “acar” recipe below is absolutely yummy.  “Acar” is the Indonesian word for pickle and it is a typical condiment served along many main dishes.  It is usually made from small chunks of cucumber, carrot, shallot, chilli and even pineapple or mango.  You can add lemongrass and ginger as well.  The marinating liquid is a sweet and sour solution of sugar and vinegar.  This pickle also works very well in almost any kind of sandwich and I am sure you will have no trouble coming up with other creative uses for this verydelicious condiment.

Acar – Indonesian Pickle

Achar

Ingredients

  • Shallots & carrots, diced — 1/2
  • Chile pepper, slit open down one side — 1
  • Sugar — 3 to 4 tablespoons
  • Salt — 1 teaspoon
  • Peppercorns — 2 or 3
  • White vinegar — 3/4 cup
  • Water — 1/4 cup
  • Cucumber, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds — 1

Method

  1. In a plastic/glass container, add cucumber, shallot, carrots, peppercorns and chilies. Sprinkle sugar and salt. Cover the lid, shake the container (don’t shake too hard) and leave it for 5 minutes. Then, open up the lid and add vinegar and water.
  2. Close the lid and store it the fridge.

Soy-Glazed Pumpkin with Sesame

Soy-Glazed Pumpkin with Sesame - Japan  | A Little Yumminess

Here’s the second recipe from our Japanese curry bento: salty-sweet-sticky glazed pumpkin with toasted sesame seeds. This is a super comforting side dish and a total snap to make, requiring only 3 ingredients in addition to the pumpkin itself. It’s quick braised in the glaze on the stove top which I think is a total genius move since I’m used to thinking that anytime I cook fresh pumpkin, I’m going to need to turn on the oven….. and wait.

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World Bento Tour: Japanese Curry and Soy-Glazed Pumpkin

After our sheer glee at our inaugural Scandinavian bento, with it’s meatballs and dreamy, creamy dill potatoes (Simran’s still talking about them!), we decided our next stop on our world bento tour should be Japan and a more traditional take. To me this is comfort food at its finest: a home-style chicken curry; sweet-salty-sticky soy-glazed pumpkin; a few crisp vegetables; sweet, juicy citrus; and a meltingly soft piece of pineapple mochi for dessert. It’s a like a big fat hug in bento form.

We’ll be sharing the recipes for the curry and the pumpkin very soon, so stay tuned, but in the meantime, we’d love your suggestions about where to go next. Argentina? Thailand? Italy? The possibilities are endless.

Pineapple Mochi

World Bento Tour: Scandinavia

We’ve fallen in love with the bento box and its friendly little compartments which has inspired a new theme for us: world bentos. There’s something about the format that just seems to invite your creativity — it also creates the perfect canvas for tasting and is just plain fun. Fill your bento with homemade goodies, store-bought or a mixture of both and you’re on your way!

Because starting with Japan would be too obvious, we headed to Scandinavia for our inaugural bento filled with Swedish meatballs, a refreshing cucumber salad and some heavenly creamed potatoes with dill. [Simran was dying over the awesome-ness of these potatoes, so I can assure you the recipe will be coming soon.] For dessert – our favorite homemade, whole grain hardtack crackers, Norwegian Jarlsberg cheese and berry jam.

Recipe for Hardtack – rest of the recipes coming soon

Ingredients

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1 ½ cup buttermilk
1 ½  cup whole wheat flour
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
3 cup finely ground oats (finely grind the oats in a food processor before you begin)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease the bottom of 2 11×17 inch cookie sheet (or whatever size you have)
  2. Melt butter in pan over medium heat. Set aside to cool briefly.
  3. In a large bowl, stir together the melted butter and buttermilk. Add remaining ingredients to make a stiff, sticky dough. Let stand for 10-15 minutes so that dough becomes less sticky.
  4. Divide into four parts and place one part each on greased bottom of two cookie sheets,
  5. Roll dough with rolling pin all the way to edges of cookie sheet. You want a very thin dough — less than ¼ inch. If it breaks, that is ok. Just press gently back together and smooth. Trim edges to make a neat rectangle. Pierce all over with a fork (all over!).  Score dough into 2”x4” rectangles, or the shape of your choice! Bake for 20-25 minutes until dark golden (but not brown) and crisp.
  6. Let cool for a few minutes, then break apart on score lines and let cool on cooling rack.
  7. Makes approximately 110 crackers. They will keep in tightly sealed container for about a week.