Monday, June 18, 2012

Polvorones (Mexican Wedding Cookies)

These past two months have been busy.  I knew that something had to give in my booked life.  I knew that something could not be my running schedule or my yoga classes, so this blog became what I let go.  And such a reminder to let something go, that not everything had to be attended to, was sweet indeed.  However, I have missed writing about food here, even if my readership is small (but mighty! just like my stature), and I have missed sitting down to think about the role food plays in my life in specific but all of our lives in general.

These past two months I have been focusing on my dad, who has been sick, and thinking a lot about my family, as strange as that fabulous little grouping of people may be.  I flew back to the heartland to spend a couple of days with Dad as he was recovering from surgery, and I am happy that next week he is flying out here for a much-needed vacation and chance to recuperate.  This spring has been a lot about gathering people together to celebrate, support, and in some instances, send them back to their own families.  One such instance was the end of the year potluck for school. There, surrounded by the good food made by my incredibly talented (both intellectually and culinarily) colleagues, we rounded out the year and set forth on our summers.   One of my dear friends is heading to Guam soon, where she will be reunited with her partner.  While I will miss this dear friend, I am terribly excited for her to be back with her own family.  Such reconnections are where my own sentimental heart has been lately.

So in preparation for the little soiree I pulled out yet another cookbook that is making its debut on this blog, David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert. This cookbook is an update of two of Lebovitz' previous books, Room for Dessert and Ripe for Dessert, and boy is it beautiful.  Not surprisingly, I am a fan of Lebovitz, who counts one of his culinary inspirations as Lindsey Shere, the founding pastry chef at Chez Panisse.  Himself a pastry chef at that delightful little Berkeley bastion, Lebovitz departed for Paris and now has his own entertaining and simply lovely  blog, here.  Page 210 in the cookbook features Polvorones, or Mexican Wedding Cookies, and that seemed like a perfectly reasonable dessert to bring to a goodbye party.

These cookies are Mexico's answer to the shortbread question.  And what a sweet answer it is.  I love the imperfection of this cookie, the lumps, the nooks, the crannies, all of which invite more powdered sugar in the end.  These are sweet, nutty, and oh so buttery, and thankfully, at the end of the party, I sent a good half dozen home with a friend, thus leaving myself with only two left to take home myself. Those, I ate with a cup of tea.  And that was a perfect way to begin summer and to look forward to seeing my dad in a few short days.

And a wonderful way to return to the blog.

Polvorones (Mexican Wedding Cookies)
Adapted from  Ready for Dessert

Makes 50 1-inch cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon water
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
Powdered sugar

1.   Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Using a hand mixer (or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment) beat together the butter, granulated sugar and vanilla until smooth.  Add half the flour and the salt. Beat until mixed. Then add the water.

3.  Mix (by hand) the remaining flour and the chopped pecans.

4.  Using your hands, shape dough into 1-inch balls.  Place the balls about 1 inch apart on the baking sheet.

5.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Let cool.

6.  Roll the cooled cookies in the powdered sugar in a bowl until the cookies are covered with sugar.

Lemon Quinoa with Currants, Dill, Zucchini and Feta

In addition to the Baba Ghanouj that I made for the book club meeting, I made this little quinoa dish.  Life has been insane (as I will detail in an upcoming post), but two months ago I not only made this dish, but it also comes from a cookbook that I have not used here before. 

I received this lovely book as a Christmas present--and the great news is, this recipe isn't even on page 210, so you know you will be seeing this cookbook here again!--and I am delighted by it and its premise.  Maria Speck, the cookbook's author, is a food journalist and culinary school instructor in addition to writer of this fabulous book.  Greek and German by upbringing, she provides a Mediterranean flair to a Northern European focus on whole grains. And in our current climate of whole-grain-and-sometimes-gluten-free cooking, this cookbook is a nice addition to the culinary bookshelf.

An ancient Andean crop, quinoa is actually a seed not a grain, but it cooks up like a grain does, so it often just gets lumped in with the plethora of other grains out there.  Further, quinoa is pretty high in protein--that's a bonus for our vegetarian friends out there, but you already knew that--and it's high in calcium.  But here's my favorite part about quinoa--next year (2013) is the Year of Quinoa, as declared by the United Nations.  Isn't that kind of awesome?  According to the resolution adopted in December of 2011 (agenda item 25 of the 66th session!), such a resolution recognizes "the Andean indigenous peoples [who], through their traditional knowledge and practices of living well, in harmony with nature, have maintained, controlled, protected and preserved quinoa in its natural state, including its many varieties and landraces"  and supports the need to "focus world attention on the role that quinoa biodiversity can play, owing to the nutritional value of quinoa, in providing food security and nutrition and in the eradication of poverty."  Sweet business.  That's a lot of pressure on a seed treated like a grain.

But I think quinoa can handle it.

In this little recipe, which is only one of a multitude of ways to cook quinoa, here are a couple of little tips. 
  • Ensure that you rinse the quinoa well before you cook it.  While most commercially processed quinoa has had the bitter (and toxic to birds, thus protecting the seeds from those pesky little beaks) coating removed, it doesn't hurt to give the seeds another good washing to cut back on the bitterness.  
  • Also quinoa can be a little hard to digest if you don't already have a diet of whole grains, so pace yourself.

  • Finally, I added feta to this recipe, which was not included in its original.  I like the strong bite of the feta next to the dill and the zucchini.  I also found that I adjusted here and there for the dill and the lemon.  I like my quinoa a bit zesty.  But you know your palate.  And this recipe invites you to tweak to accommodate for it's not super fancy or precise.  
So play away, and enjoy your ancient grain (even if it's not the year of quinoa just yet) made in a modern way.

Lemon Quinoa with Currants, Dill, Zucchini and Feta

Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup copped green onions
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 cups water or chicken broth
1/2 cup dried currants
1 lemon
2 cups shredded zucchini
4 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
4 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/4-1/2 cup feta
Fresh pepper

1.  Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then add the green onion and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.  Stir frequently, until the green parts of the onions dark green but do not brown.  Add the quinoa and cook until the gran begins to crackle and tun brown (about three minutes).  Add water (or broth), currants,, and remaining salt, and bring to a boil.  Decrease the heat, cover, and cook until the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

2.  Finely grate the zest of the lemon and squeeze the lemon until you have 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.

3.  When the quinoa is finished, remove from the heat.  Stir in the lemon juice, zucchini, sesame seeds,  dill, feta, and pepper.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Cover and let sit for 3 minutes.  Garnish with additional lemon zest, sesame seeds, or dill, and serve.