St. Valentine's Day will be here tomorrow, and it calls for heart-shaped goodies to express your passion. Alfajores are melt-in-your-mouth sandwich cookies from South America, where they are especially popular in Argentina. They should be very tender, which is accomplished by a good amount of cornstarch in the dough. These cookies are always stuffed with dulce de leche, the thick, caramel-like sauce found at Latino markets, specialty shops, and many grocery stores. The interesting thing about dulce de leche is that it is not caramelized with high heat, but gets its dark beige color from long and slow cooking and the Maillard reaction that turns the proteins in meat brown. Well, forget the science lesson, and make these cookies for an extra couple of kisses from your sweetie.
If my friend Kristine Kidd cooks it, I'll eat it. Her name is probably familiar to many of you. For over twenty years, she was the guiding light/food editor of Bon Appétit magazine. She's now her own boss, and has written a marvelous book for Williams-Sonoma, Weeknight Fresh and Fast. (You can find the book at the various W-S locations throughout the country, and will be on sale at amazon.com on March 1.) This Cauliflower and Greens Risotto shows Kristine at the top of her game, creating unfussy, pitch-perfect food inspired by the seasons.
Marcons--crisp but tender, sturdy but ethereal, bursting with color and flavor--have become the benchmark of a fine pastry chef. It wasn't too long ago that you could only get them in Paris, preferably at one of the Ladurée bakeries that dot the city. They are purportedly very temperamental to make. But, my pal Irina Kogan, proprietor of www.pastrypal.com, and former pastry staff member at Gotham Bar and Grill (among other stellar New York eateries), has gathered her no-nonsense tips in a wonderful free tutorial.
I was raised in the suburbs of Oakland, California. Growing up, the East Bay had a bit of an inferiority complex, especially when it came to comparisons with the gourmet Mecca across the bay, San Francisco. Even though we had a working farm across the street from my high school that grew such seasonal delicacies as strawberries and asparagus, the farm-to-table movement was a given then, and the luster of Fisherman's Wharf's restaurants made us feel like hicks. (Shucks, all we have is fresh artichokes and peas, and they have Steak Diane!) Now when I go home to Oakland, the dining scene is so vital that I hardly venture into "The City" (the local's nickname for San Francisco--it is NEVER called "Frisco") at all.
One of my first stops when I go home is the Merritt Bakery, right on Lake Merritt, the body of water that is surrounded by Oakland proper. It is basically an old-school bakery featuring miles of glass display cases filled with towering pastries with thick swirls of whipped topping. But the equally retro restaurant section is the compelling reason for my visit. I had many a post-movie hamburger here on high school dates, back when I could down the french fries and an accompanying vanilla shake without guilt. Now, I replace these with an equally sinful indulgence--waffles with fried chicken. Here's my version from Breakfast Comforts.
Feather-light pancakes dripping with maple syrup; cinnamon-scented pastry warm from the oven; savory eggs paired with crisp bacon, and served with flaky biscuits and homemade jam… These mouthwatering icons of the breakfast table carry with them warm memories of relaxed, slow-paced mornings shared with loved ones. Details? Read on...