Crunchy Almond Butter Cookies -- an easy GF, DF Marvel for Lunar New Year (LNY)
Year of the Rabbit vs Cat | NY 3-H Strategy | LNY Menu ideas | Me in Food News this week
Whether or not you’ve recovered from the holidays and solar new year, let loose to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which kicks off this Sunday, January 22. We’ll be ushering in a new cycle — the Year of the Rabbit if you’re choosing Chinese style or the Year of the Cat if you favor Vietnamese-style Tết Nguyên Đán (Tết is our shorthand for this most important Vietnamese holiday).
Why the animal difference? There are twelve animals in the Chinese tradition and three of the animals are different in the Vietnamese system.
Ox (Chinese) => Water Buffalo (Vietnamese)
Sheep (Chinese) => Goat (Vietnamese)
Rabbit (Chinese) => Cat (Vietnamese)
The first two are reasonable animal exchanges because on the surface, they are somewhat related. But Rabbit and Cat? We just finished the Year of the Tiger so why are we following it with another feline focus?
The culture of Vietnam is heavily influenced by that of China — its northern neighbor and frequent aggressor over the ages. For centuries, Vietnamese language was expressed as a form of Chinese characters. It became Romanized in the 17th century, after the arrival of Jesuit missionaries who likely saw the need to more easily convert people.
So for the Vietnamese, 2023 is the Year of the Cat, expressed as Tết Nguyên Đán Quý Mão. We call cats mèo. With that in mind, read this explanation, sourced from the Chinese Fortune Calendar website:
Scratching your head? I am. The Vietnamese have often been feisty in their relationship with the Chinese, so they may have purposely departed from Chinese culture. Or, Viet peoplemade a mistake and it stuck. In the realm of Vietnamese food terms, their spellings and terminologies are among the issues that perennially vex me. Regardless, know that it’s a Cat > Rabbit situation for Tết!
3 Hs for the New Year
Aside from readying food to eat on and around Tet, we get ready for the holiday through housecleaning. Thus far, I’ve attacked the exhaust, stove, and countertops with a trio of favorite cleaning products (I combine two or all three of those products and if possible, let them sit for a minute before wiping with a dryish microfiber cloth). The dishwasher does a fabulous job on the removable parts of the exhaust fan.
Got any kitchen cleaning tips? How do you clean your oven? (I need tips!)
The second H is about neatening up my hair. Because my haircut appointment isn’t until next week, I restored (colored) my hair to its natural hue. ;-)
Finally, I check my horoscope. A solid year of good fortune would be great but I’ll be good with a calm year! As someone who hedges, I combine my lunar (Monkey/Rooster; I was born on the cusp) and solar (Aquarius) calendars. I recently saw a tweet of Chinese astrology with letter grades (like in school) for each animal. It seemed so much about winners and losers, so harsh for the animal that got Fs. That’s not what Lunar Calendar astrology is about. Geeze.
Looking around the web, I found a 2023 astrological forecast at Reader’s Digest that was well informed and balanced for all twelve animals in this coming year. Check out what the Year of the Rabbit/Cat has in store for you and remember that like weather forecasts, it can be right and wrong. What’s your animal sign?
LNY Menu Ideas: Savories
Now the food! What to serve for Lunar New Year? You may go all out and do a Viet menu of easy recipes or plan a party of Chinese dumplings. If you’re gluten free, make my easy GF dumpling recipe that uses a flour blend (photo below).
I’m preparing Viet dishes that include my family’s ribs in caramel sauce (photo above), which can be made days ahead and reheated.
The New Year is about low-effort and great fun so don’t slave in the kitchen. Be busy beforehand so you may relax with family and friends. It’s the relationships that matter most!
LNY Sweets: Candies and Cookies
Whatever you serve or do to celebrate the Year of the Rabbit/Cat, end on a glorious sweet note. Francis Lam of the Splendid Table and I recently joked about how terrible the store-bought sweets are this time of year. Still I purchased two containers of sweetmeats from Vietnam — soursop and candied young coconut. During Tet, there are artisans who fashion all kinds of candies and sweetmeats for people to set out for guests and to gift. I had to try.
The young coconut was tender chewy and surprisingly full of coconut flavor. The soursop was bland, however. One of out two isn’t bad. The containers are adorable and I’ll reuse them for homemade goodies! Check Asian markets for these kinds of fun sweets to try. Yes. that’s food coloring on the coconut. Asian holiday cheer!
Can’t get to the store? No problem. I had some Cara Cara oranges around and the peels were such a vibrant orange that I candied them for a Tet treat. I used my candied orange peel recipe, which I’ve used for years.
I let them sit overnight to dry and today melted a handful of chocolate baking wafers (I used Guittard bittersweet) to decorate them. Coating the entire peel was hard (put yours on wax or parchment paper, not on a rack like I did). In the end, I drizzled the chocolate over the peels for cat-like stripes! (P.S. The microwave or toaster oven work well for melting chocolate. Microwave via short 30-second blasts, stirring the chocolate between. Or, use 325F heat in the toaster oven.)
Crunchy Almond Butter Cookies — A Low-Effort Marvel
In addition to the candied peels this year, I’m adding Crunchy Almond Butter Cookies to my list of must-haves and must-shares. This cookie, which I’ve adapted and tweaked from a Food & Wine recipe, is stunningly delicious — like a cross between a Chinese almond cookie and Italian amaretti! I couldn’t believe how sophisticated it tasted given that it took so little time to make.
This recipe is a marvel because it (1) requires only a handful of ingredients that you stir together, (2) employs 1 egg or so (great for the current egg shortage and convenient any time), (3) you can decorate with chocolate, nuts or keep it plain and it will taste good, and (4) keeps well for 1 good week. The result is fancy, impressive enough that I’d serve it to Susan Spungen, the cookie queen and publisher of the Susanility newsletter. (She’s a PTFS subscriber too!)
The Crunchy Almond Butter Cookie recipe is below my signature for you to play with. I hope you like it!
Oh, because it’s LNY season, you may catch me talking or see one of my recipes mentioned at The One Recipe, Splendid Table (this weekend), Bon Appetit, and the New York Times. Yes, I’ve been busy but it’s been fun, as always!
Crunchy Almond Butter Cookies
These cookies bake up the most airy without the chocolate pressed into the dough. Use the almonds if you like, or just bake them as is and they’ll be ethereal. If you’re vegan, I think you can use an egg substitute because the leavening is done with baking soda. Try it and report back to us all! [January 28 update — I successfully tweaked this recipe to make Peanut-Sesame Cookies and used an egg substitute.]
Makes 36 cookies
1 cup (7 oz) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
Brimming 1 cup (9 oz) creamy almond butter
1 extra large egg, beaten, or 4 tablespoons beaten egg
Brimming 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/3 cup chopped lightly toasted sliced almonds (optional)
36 dark or bittersweet chocolate baking wafers (such as Guittard), or about 1/4 cup chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350F with racks placed in the lower and upper third positions. Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a bowl, combine the sugar, baking soda, and salt, stirring with a spatula. Add the almond butter, egg, and almond extract. Mix well to create a soft dough. Let it sit for a few minutes to firm up before rolling the dough into 1-inch balls. If using the almonds, roll the dough ball in the chopped nuts, gently pressing so the nuts adhere, and then place on the baking sheet. Press the dough ball down slightly, if you want, though it didn’t seem to make a huge difference. If using the chocolate, place the dough ball on the prepared baking sheet then gently press a baking wafer or three chips on top (you’ll flatten the dough ball slightly). Or, just leave the dough balls as is. Whatever you do, leave about 2 inches of space between the dough balls because the cookies spread as they bake. You may need to start a third baking sheet.
Bake the cookies for 18 to 20 minutes, switching the baking sheet positions midway from front to back and top to bottom. The cookies are done when they are very lightly browned and set (touch the side of one to test). Cool the baking sheets atop wire racks before eating or storing in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
I’m making these to serve with clementines for dessert tomorrow night -- can’t wait!
chúc mừng năm mới!
I am making these for sure, perfect for both the “glutards” and Scandinavians ( parietal to all things almond) in my life. Also your spiced nuts were a hit, thanks for the easy recipe!