Thursday, February 4, 2010

Chinese Almond cookies - celebrate the New Year

Get ready to celebrate the start of the Year of the Tiger with some crispy Chinese Almond cookies. They're delicate and perfect to nibble with cup of tea - or coffee or a glass of cold white wine.

I just made a batch of 6 dozen of these - the entire house is filled with the perfume of almonds.
Almond cookies symbolize coins and will be sure to bring you good fortune. Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Chinese Almond Cookies Recipe

makes about 6 dozen cookies

Ingredients - US measures used
1 1/3 cups of almond flour (ground almonds)
1 cup of unsalted butter, cut into cubes
Pinch of kosher salt - I use Flor de Sel (you should, too!!)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon of almond extract
1 3/4 cups of plain flour
1 cup + 2 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
Slivered almonds

Equipment -
Mixer with paddle blade attachment (other mixers can be used with care or a heavy wooden spoon)
2 flat baking sheets (cookie trays)
1 pastry brush (you really, really MUST have at least one of these in your kitchen. Please buy one if needed!)
     - a small wood-handled pastry brush should cost about a dollar or two
Parchment or baking paper

Method - with comments
1 Place the almond flour, salt, and butter into an electric mixer with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for three minutes. The mixture will become course and chunky looking. (I just have a little crappy hand mixer, I used that on the lowest speed - careful not to burn out the motor, you could also use a large wooden sppon and a strong elbow. Scrape down the bowl often with a spatula and poke the mixer beaters clear if you are not using a high end mixer) Note that this step is fast even if done by hand.

2 Add one of the eggs, reserving the other for later, and the almond extract. Mix on low speed until just incorporated.

3 In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, and baking soda then add to the butter mixture at low speed. Mix until just combined.

4 Take the dough and flatten it into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Place it in the refrigerator for two hours to chill.

5 Preheat the oven to 325F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the other egg into a bowl and beat it.

6 Take pieces of dough and roll them into balls about 3/4 inch wide. Place them on the sheet about an inch apart and then press them down slightly with your palm to make a coin shape. There should be enough space for exactly 12 cookies on a standard baking sheet.

7 Place a slivered almond onto each cookie and lightly press it into place, then paint the surface of the cookie with some of the beaten egg using a pastry brush or your finger (this will give the cookie a lacquered appearance once it bakes).

8 Bake for 10 minutes or until the edges just begin to tan. Cool on the sheet for 2 minutes and then slide onto a wire rack. Be careful, these can start to go brown very fast at the end, you want them just golden.

Makes 5 - 6 dozen.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Pasta with tomato cream sauce

I'm a combination of happy, relieved and proud that I finally can present this recipe. Why? Because I have been working on it off and on for several years now (I don't make it all that often). The big thing I'm concentrating on here is the sauce. I normally serve this with angel hair pasta and some nice shrimp as it is a fairly delicate combination of flavers.

Here's what I did:

I took a pint of grape tomatoes. I like grape and cherry tomatoes because they have a lot of flavor and a brightness to the flavor that is difficult to get from large tomatoes. Larger tomatoes, if they're cheap, tend to be mealy. If you can buy the pricey ones on the stem, they're quite nice. Best, of course, is growing your own- which I plan on doing this year (gotta use that balcony for something- it's a sin to just ignore). Anyway, this recipe makes enough for dinner for two and then lunch for the next day. Take the pint of grape tomatoes and slice them lengthwise and dump them into a saucepan. I should say that you do not, in fact, have to slice them, but it speeds up the process a little. What are we doing and why are we doing it? You are to heat the tomatoes under a medium heat- do NOT get impatient and stick it on high, or you will severelly risk burning the tomatoes. You are heating it on medium to do two things. One is to cook the tomatoes. The second is to remove the water. And this is the trick. I spent years trying different kinds of tomatoes, washing or not washing, removing the jelly or leaving in, patting every single piece of tomato dry with a paper towel- the list goes on. Why did I do all of this? Because once I made the sauce, the sauce would be watery to greater or lesser amounts. Oh, most people would not have been able to tell, I know. But I could- the flavor and texture were off and I knew why. And I knew where the water came from, clearly- the tomatoes. This time, I unlocked the secret. You need to cook the tomatoes under a medium heat until the consistency becomes a somewhat thick paste- yes, this will take a long time and a lot of stirring. Say 20 minutes at the very least. As you cook, I would reccomend that you get a potato masher and smush them as they cook- as I said, to work it into a thick paste.

Okay, paste done. In another saucepan, you're going to make a basic roux. I use one stick of butter and roughly a heaping tablespoon of flour. Melt the butter, then whisk in the flour. Lot it cook for a minute, though not too hot. Now at this point you have some choices, though I know where I go. You will want to add milk or cream. Yes, milk will work just fine. However, I personally like a much richer sauce- I use heavy cream. Slowly add two cups of cream in small amounts, keeping the roux homogenous. Having done so, let the sauce heat to a simmer (careful! milk will boil over in a split second if you don't keep a careful eye on it). Now add the tomato paste. Whisk it in. You'll have a very dark, red sauce. Taste it. Now, I wanted a nice tomato flavor, but not too strong, so I ended up adding roughly another cup of heavy cream. To this, I added about a pinch of black pepper and salt.

I made two pounds of angel hair pasta and two pounds of shrimp with this. This was vastly too much- I'd reccomend one pound of pasta and one pound of shrimp- I shoudl say, one pound after being deshelled. So yea.

Here's a tip. If you want the sauce to have a shrimp flavor, peel your shrimp and put just the shells into a small amount of water- just enough to almost but not quite cover the shells. Heat to a boil and let it go for a little while. Most people don't know, but the majority of the flavor in shrimp actually comes form the shell and not from the meat. After I've heated, I strain the shell with cheesecloth, then heat the water more. Once it goes down enough, add to the cream sauce. However, since this is water, you will end up, of course, watering the sauce. However, this is a useful tip for using shrimp in other meals and sauces.

Edit 3/5/12 Another tip: You can use canned tomato paste. However, and this is incredibly important- do NOT use the ultra cheap stuff. The price difference is negligable, since you only need to use one of the tiny cans. You MUST check the ingredients. There should be one and only one ingredient: tomatoes. If it says anything else, particularly if it says Citric Acid, DO NOT BUY IT. The acid will either react badly with the cream, or it will make the sauce taste sour. A cheap brand I reccommend is Contadina. I've seen it in stores for a whopping $1.25 for a tiny can. You can get it even cheaper in a large pack at Costco's. But whatever you buy, spend the extra fifty cents and buy the good stuff, even if it isn't organic or some other nonsense (you hippy).