Thursday, February 24, 2011

Alfajores - The South American Cookie

Alfajores [Al•fa•kho•res] is a South American sandwich cookie with a dulce de leche filling. My half Argentine mother would make these crumbly cookies on big occasions like New Years Eve and family birthday parties and needless to say, they were always a hit. Something about the sugarless cookie combined with the smooth, extra sweet dulce de leche filling partnered with a crunch of coconut shredding always got the crowd asking for more. And of course, get the kids (my elder brother and I) nagging for her to hide the rest of the cookies to have all to ourselves *cue evil laughter*

Many would ask for the recipe but it's my mother's well-kept secret which was passed on from my pure Argentine great grandmother. She would have my head if I shared it myself so, I'm sorry that I can't reveal this one!

The cookies don't spread at all while they bake, they just rise ever-so-slightly and look a little more golden

I've always watched mom bake Alfajores but only dared to help her out when it came to spreading the dulce de leche and sandwiching the cookies together. This time, the tables have turned. I'm becoming a lot more comfortable in the kitchen so I decided to try it out myself while mom kept a non-judgmental eye on me.

I can never get enough of Dulce De Leche

This time, mom did the helping out and the hand modeling :)

Victory is when I'm told that my Alfajores reminded my mom of her grandmother's who was very dear to my mother's heart. That, by far, is one of the kindest compliments I've ever gotten regarding anything I baked. Thank you mom, I love you.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mango Tree in Souk Al Bahar

I often like to be adventurous when it comes to food, it's usually a big YES that comes out of me when it has to do with a different combination of flavors. So to my delight, a couple of us foodie bloggers from Famished in Arabia were invited by the lovely PR folks from Taste of Dubai to go try out the new lunch menu in Mango Tree at Souk Al Bahar! (Red Panda enjoys being treated, and who doesn't?!)

The new lunch menu has been developed by Head Chef Paul Kennedy who was very welcoming and enthusiastic about serving up a storm for all the hungry foodies at the table. We all had our game faces on from the start so we were ready for what was to come.

First up were our Starters to get our taste buds going:

Right: Salmon Phla (Fresh salmon salad with lemongrass, red onion, chili & lime dressing)
Left: Som Tom Tod (Deep fried crispy green papaya salad)

The Salmon Phla was my personal favorite out of the entire menu. I'm a big fan of salmon, especially when it's served in a non-fussy way with a beautiful marinade to help bring out its flavor more. Delicious, it was! And yes, the salad on the right IS deep fried. Nope, I didn't think that was possible either.

Soup was also part of the starters but for some reason, I can't find the snap I took of it. The soup was called Tom Sap Gai (Thai style hot & spicy chicken soup with vegetables). I will say it out loud and clear: I took the tiniest sip of that soup and the spiciness touched my tongue and continued to hit the back of my throat which then proceeded to send signals to my brain that just screamed, "FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING GOOD, DON'T DO IT!" So, like a good little girl, I smiled politely and set it aside. I'm a wimp when it comes to super spicy food, yes I am.

Next up were the Mains to fill up our tummies:

Khow Phad Pak (Vegetable egg fried rice)

Nua Nam Man Hoi (Wok fried USA rib eye beef with kale, ginger and spicy soy sauce)

Bok Choi (Steamed bok choi in light soy sauce)

Tom Yum Pla Kra Pong (Tom yum steamed sea bass served with spicy lime sauce)

The Steamed Sea Bass and Rib Eye Beef were my favorites. They were both cooked to perfection with the sea bass being soft and melting right in your mouth while the rib eye beef was cooked my favorite way: Medium.

Last, but most definitely never least, is the Dessert:

Home-made Chocolate Mousse with Mango Compote

Chocolate mousse. I can never say no to chocolate mousse. I'll be honest though, the chocoholic within really wished this mousse had a stronger chocolate flavor in it. It was more of a creamy mousse than anything else really. It was partnered with the mango compote which wasn't an overpowering element and a great compliment to the mousse.

Don't forget to check out Taste of Dubai for more about their upcoming festival on March 3-5. I'll be there, armed with my camera and hungry palette!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Never Say No To Panda

Alright, alright.. This isn't a baking post. Although I couldn't help but share one of my favorite ads about cheese (it's still food related!)

These ads were made by an Egyptian company called Arab Dairy about the product Panda Cheese. 

Gotta love the theme song "True Love Ways" by Buddy Holly and Norman Petty

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Devil's Food Cake Topped with Chocolate Ganache

I realized that I still haven't posted something related to chocolate (that I've baked myself). This, in my world, is the closest thing to blasphemy. Anyone who's known me for at least a month has probably figured out one way or the other about my undying love for chocolate. I came pretty close to signing up for a chocolate facial at some point but decided that would be such a waste of chocolate. Chocolate's for shameless indulgence, not slathering onto your face only to wash it off later..

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, let's get on with the cake, shall we?

Chocolate cake.. One of the simplest desserts that you can come across. But for some reason, I had to go through dozens of recipes to find the one that really works for me. Mind you, though, I am still hunting for great chocolate cake recipes. For me, chocolate cake should be the right texture: it can't be extremely moist to the point where it feels watered down. And it can't feel and taste like cardboard either.

Last year I purchased The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook. I'm not a very big fan of their cupcakes, in fact I find them rather dry. But I do adore their whole cakes. For some reason, they are so much more moist than their cupcakes. I guess it might be the amount of time it takes to bake or maybe because the batter is denser? Whatever it is, I LIKE IT!

This cake was a special order for a farewell party so unfortunately, I couldn't get any pictures of what it looks like from inside. So we're all just going to have to marvel at the shiny ganache (mmm ganache....)

If you'd like to try out this recipe, here's the link for the cake (This link also has Magnolia's Seven-Minute Icing and Coconut recipe which is a good alternative to the chocolate ganache in case you aren't a die hard chocolate fan)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Vanilla Tart with Kiwi Topping

Kiwi has always been on the top of my list of favorite fruits. There's something about kiwis that scream happiness to me. Maybe it's the softness of the green flesh that I love to bite into when it's cold. Or maybe it's the tartness of the kiwi seeds that tingles on my tongue as I begin chewing on the fruit. Yes, that's probably it. Which is why one of my favorite toppings for tarts are kiwis. I feel that the sourness of the fruit complements the creamy and smooth texture of the tart, along with the crumbliness of the tart base.

The aroma of all these ingredients put together simply reminds me of summers in Syria when I used to visit my grandparents as a little girl. We would order mini tarts from a nearby bakery and I would patiently wait for my grandfather to come back with a box full of goodies. I watched the door handle like a hawk. The minute it would turn, I'd be up on my feet, jumping around with all the excitement in the world.

My mother and grandmother would set up the chairs and tables in our balcony and we would have tea with the tarts. My grandfather would tell us childhood stories of my mother, aunts and uncle, and grandma would smile. Those summers defined a huge chunk of my childhood; memories that I will cherish for years to come.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chunky Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've been baking a lot of classics lately, mainly because I get a lot of special requests from my family and friends. I must point out that nothing brings me more joy than to bake for others and to see the smiles that light up on their faces once they take the first bite. It makes all the hours in the kitchen SO worth it!

Back to main topic.. I like to play around a lot with cookie recipes. I never actually stick to one because it just never seems.. Good enough? Yeah, that's probably it.

To my delight, Nigella Lawson (yes, she is one of my all-time favorite chefs) has been on the hunt for the best chocolate chip cookie recipe, too. It seems like we both share the same agony of not being able to find the right chocolate chip cookie. Here's a quote from her cookbook Kitchen:

"'d think a plain cookie with a few chocolate chips folded into the mixture would be a simple matter. It's not. It's never difficult to make, just difficult to get right. I may be picky, but to my mind, or my mouth, a cookie that's too crisp feels dry and disappointing and a cookie that's too chewy tastes like dough. I want a bit of tender, fudgy chewiness but an edge of crisp bite, too."

I definitely couldn't have said it better myself. This woman is a genius. Pure genius.

I simply ADORE cookie dough. I can eat this entire thing raw. It's worth the tummy ache.

Milk and cookies, anyone? :)