Sunday, December 23, 2007

Spice Cookies

Holiday cookies can be troublesome and time consuming. And frankly I am not sure if Santa even likes them. He probably picks the best, eats those select few and leaves your sad pathetic sugar cookies with the sack of coal he left for you. ( I obviously think Santa is quite the gourmand.) So, in order to get the gifts you deserve, entice him with some of these spice cookies. For these holiday cookies, the recipe was given to me and taught by my grandmother, and this year, my mother and I spent the night making these delicious, wafer spiced cookies. These cookies are based off of the Swedish ginger cookies called pepparkakor; they are very fragrant, spiced, with ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves recalling the scents and smells of the holiday season. They are wafer like and crispy and keep you wanting more. Yes, they are difficult, but I know you are up for the challenge and guess what, after you make them you can sip on a cup up of tea and enjoy the fruits of your labor, in this case the cookies of your labor. These cookies can make great holiday gifts because they hold up well. You can shape them into little men, even porcupines if you wish. And they are quite versatile: you could serve them with ice cream, put caramel between them and make sandwiches or decorate them with royal icing.

Spiced Cookies
Makes 8-10 dozen cookies

1 cup butter (softened)
1 cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 egg
½ cup cream
1/3 cup honey mixed with 2 ½ tablespoons of mollases
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. cloves
2 tsp. ginger
2 tsp. freshly ground cardamom seeds
1 tsp. baking soda
3 ½ cups flour

Preheat oven to 350
Sift dry ingredients, including flour, baking soda, and the spices and set aside.
Cream butter and sugars, both white and brown, till light and fluffy. Then add the egg and then the cream and then the honey/molasses mixing well after each addition.
Incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet and mix thoroughly. Cover bowl tightly and chill in refrigerator over night.
Take out small portions of dough and roll the ball out on a lightly floured surface. Roll dough out very thin and cut into desired shapes (I like ridged circles or plain circles).
Place on a lightly greased cookie sheets and bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes

Abby’s Suggestions and Tips:
Freshly ground cardamom is far superior for making the cookies spicier and fresh tasting.
In order to do this, buy whole cardamom pods, take a rolling pin and crush the pods. The pods will open, revealing the black seeds inside. Take the seeds and grind them either with a mortar and pestle or with a coffee grinder.
If this is too much work, no worries: simply purchase ground cardamom (I won’t judge and neither will the cookies)
Also I substituted the dark corn syrup my grandmother used for a healthier and more flavorful option, which is the honey/molasses combination. It adds a honey flavor and a deep rich flavor of molasses. But if you do not have these ingredients readily available and do have dark corn syrup, use ½ cup.
Make sure the dough is sufficiently chilled before rolling. This will avoid stickiness and make it more manageable. I recommend keeping it in the fridge while rolling out a section.
Rolling out the dough is the most challenging part. So BEWARE. Follow my 5 golden rolling rules and you will lead to cookie success.
1. They will be sticky so have flour on hand. But don’t use more than absolutely necessary, otherwise the cookies will taste floury.
2. Be gentle with the rolling pin, use gentle strokes. Trust me!
3. Use small amounts of dough when you are rolling it out, it will be more manageable.
4. Use a metal spatula to lift the cookies off the rolling surface and on to the cookie sheet.
5. Make sure to roll them out as thin as possible, these cookies were meant to be thin and crispy.

ENJOY and you will be rewarded both by Santa and your taste buds!

Friday, December 21, 2007

For the Love of Tacos...

TACOS TACOS!!! I LOVE TACOS, but my taco epiphany came last summer in Southern California at a Taco stand and restaurant called Taqueria de Anda. These bite size wonders (I call them wonders because they are considered one of my seven wonders of the world) are delectable, addictive and haunt my dreams. For every respected Californian, tacos are apart of our collective memory. We defend our favorite tacos vehemently and when we are away from our holy land of tacos, we remember better times, when tacos and mouths are reunited.
In attempts to fulfill some deep Californian need, to search, find and devour tacos in any location, I set out for taco hunting in New York. Searching for tacos takes a lot more work than in San Francisco, where you can find an abundance of tacos and variations. I was under the assumption that my yearning for excellent tacos would never be fulfilled in New York. In Manhattan, Mexican restaurants make claims to having “authentic” “San Franciscan” burritos. But the beans lack the luster of the lardy-spiced beans of San Francisco, the guacamole is watery and the tortillas are shameful. But, in venturing out of Manhattan, a surprise of wonderful tacos awaits. Brooklyn acts as host to a vibrant community of taco making people.
And today, after Ric’s ingenious discovery, I tried a truly exemplary taco. Off the L train on the Jefferson stop, between Wyckoff and Starr a tortilla factory called Los Hermanos is busy making hundreds of tortillas. The humid tortilla-fied air greets you as you enter. There is a stand inside the taco factory where you can order tacos made with the freshest of tortillas. There is no division between the tortilla factory and the stand for tacos. During your lunch, you can watch women busy at work making stacks of tortillas and piling them into boxes to be shipped. When I came, three men from a Mariachi band were sitting with their backs turned and their cowboy hats eating their lunch (see picture). Virgin Marys are plastered against the wall and kitschy statues of animal and their young sit at the counter. The lady at the counter, who also cooks everything, barely reaches the height of the corner. All you can see is the top of a head as you give her your order.
The chicken tacos are by far the best. The tortillas are nice and warm and slightly toasted. Expect these tortillas to be thicker and chewier than the flour tortillas found at your grocery store. This is a different breed of tortilla all together. They have a slight sweetness of corn and a grainy texture. And they make you realize the extreme importance tortillas have in creating a great taco. They are filled with pulled chicken which has a mild flavor, lettuce, cilantro, onions and a drizzle of sour cream. They serve them with limes and red or green sauce. The limes add some much needed acidity along with my favorite, the mild green sauce that gives a kick. Yet, if you are a spicy fan, it won’t even reach your fire-o-meter. The tacos are simple, uncomplicated and a soft flavor. They are not overwhelming nor an explosion in your mouth. If you are craving a more intense taco, I would suggest the chorizo taco, which is a vibrant red color mirroring its highly aromatic and spiced nature. In my opinion, the chorizo was too greasy, but hey some people like that kind of thing.
I tried as well a beef pacados, which is a fried tortilla with refried beans on top, than beef, then sour cream and queso fresco. I thought this was a little greasy, dull in flavor and you didn’t get the super fresh quality of the tortilla that makes this place so special. I highly recommend taking the L train and fetching yourself some tacos, some coca colas (à la Mexican = Real Cane Sugar) and oh don’t forget some tortillas for the road. And don’t worry, if you get lost, follow your nose; you can smell the tortillas from 2 blocks away.