03 September 2009

biscochos, family, memories, and Rick Bayless

Raise your hand if you have a family recipe that reminds you both of your heritage and people in your life you may not get to see often. For my family, this is one of those. Called biscochos, these are the real Mexican wedding cookies that you will see at wedding receptions, and if you're in my immediate family it's known as the Christmas cookie.

Shortly after Thanksgiving when all the work involved with it is finished, we welcome in the Christmas season with a day devoted to making a giant batch of biscochos. These are shared amongst friends and relatives with enough leftover to last us through Christmas and hopefully into the new year.

To my mom, who handles the packaging and shipping of said cookies, often finding the right containers and boxes in which to ship them tends to be more difficult than making the cookies themselves!

This baking session really bring out the nostalgia in my mom, which usually means the reading aloud of A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. Which really means Mom reads it, swearing it won't make her cry; then she cries, and I laugh. It's a wonderful Christmas memory.

Back to the cookies. These are the most uniquely spiced cookies on the face of the earth. With sweet red wine and freshly ground aniseed and cinnamon both in the cookie dough and in the sugar coating, these fall under the "better when aged" category. The spices have more of an opportunity to combine and infuse their way onto your taste buds upon first biting into a biscocho.

As with most recipes that are steeped in tradition, these are made in an assembly line fashion, starting out with the making of the dough, which is so thick you'll need to pass the mixing spoon to a fresh pair of arms, onward to the piping of the dough. Traditionally, you will find these to be patted out on a cookie sheet, then scored (before cooking) into diamond shapes, but an aunt found that a cookie press not only speeds up the process, one also doesn't have to worry about patting the dough out evenly. The ridges and nooks you'll get from the cookie press-shaped biscochos allows more of the surface to have the sugary spiced coating.

Immediately after the biscochos have finished baking, they get placed on a wax paper-covered surface and the rest of the helping hands make quick work (because they don't want to burn themselves) of carefully tossing the cookies in bags filled with spiced sugar. And I mean carefully, otherwise we will get yelled at by the Cookie Nazi. (Raise your hand if you can relate.)

Once cooled, the somewhat soft cookies transform into crispy, cutesy, flaky cookies that keep you going back for more. Pretty much whenever you walk past the cookie jar.

Along with recipes, people can also remind you of special times and special eats. One such person is Rick Bayless. My memory of him pretty much elevates him to the status of honorary family member, as I was moping around with chipmunk cheeks after having my wisdom removed in the form of molars. I consoled myself by watching food shows featuring a variety of edibles I currently could not eat, but my mood elevated when Rick Bayless' show came on PBS. His love for the Mexican cooking and the history behind it could have no other effect than to lift my spirits and wait eagerly for the first meal I could actually chew, being my mom's enchiladas with Spanish rice and refried beans.

That's a cute memory, yeah? That's also just the beginning.

Long since having become a Saturday morning staple to watch, Rick's (first name basis!) PBS show was our favorite not only because of the Mexican cuisine he featured, but also the places he traveled, and his obvious love for the people themselves. He makes us laugh, crave awesome spicy eats, and mostly think of loved ones not nearby. Oh yeah, he also teaches us a few tricks that make cooking things our way more creative and unique, like how to better roast chili pods in preparation for making red chili sauce - a sauce so sabrosa (flavorful) it should be on hand and served at breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and possibly even dessert as it's trendy - if there's a will, there's a way - ole!).

This and more is why my mom danced a jig upon realizing the tortilla chips she bought at the store were indeed the Frontera organic stone ground blue corn tortilla chips from Mr. Bayless' own company.

We've been to his stomping grounds, Chi-town, as Mom likes to call it while I stare stonily ahead, though we haven't quite made it to either of his restaurants. Instead, we do other things, like stalking him around St. Joseph, MI! We were there to enjoy a sunny day at the beach, which was overshadowed by the fact that we had forgotten it was the same day Rick Bayless was having a cooking demonstration. Not one to let things die quickly, despite our current state of grunge, Mom decided to make a last ditch effort to catch a glimpse of Mr. Bayless at the program's close. So yes, readers, my mom cruised the parking lot of the venue where he was cooking, only to find he was long gone. And why did we repeatedly circle the venue? Because we saw a limo, in which Mom insisted was Rick Bayless. So we circled, and circled like vultures over a carcass until we swooped down upon an innocent bystander who, still giddy from the demonstration, kindly gave us a recap, and we savored every word. Then, readers, she couldn't resist going by the hotel we were told that everybody who's anybody stays when they go to St. Joe., MI. But again, no glimpse. So she finally got a grip, and at 2300 or thereabouts, decided to make the final trek home.

Now you can understand why a simple bag of chips to you would to her end in a call to the company, which she did upon completion of her jig. At the close of a wonderful conversation with Sarah Rossa, Mom learned she would be sending her a bag of chips. Or so she thought.

Imagine her joy, and the jig, when an entire case was sent instead. In it was a variety of their organic stone ground tortilla chips - blue corn, yellow corn, and salt and pepper.

So forevermore, Mr. Bayless will be right up there with biscochos, family, and A Christmas Memory. And if he really passes the test, mom might even share our secret family recipe for biscochos with him upon personal request. *wink*

Disclaimer - We did not stalk. We simply traced his steps as part of our pilgrimage to great cooking.

And congratulations to Rick Bayless for winning the Top Chef Master award from Bravo.


  1. **raises both hands high**

    VERY enticing cookies!!

    Love the Rick product stash!! :-D

  2. I imagine probably the only reason you were not stalking Rick was because it wasn't him. You were just stalking someone else, but I would disclaim it as well. lol

  3. VeggieGirl ~ Stashes, I like that!

    Old Man ~ I imagine that's a pretty good theory you've worked out there. In today's day, disclaimers are second nature and I pretty much have one in response to everything I do. =P

  4. wow, look at all that loot! how fun :) i'm all about the nostalgia and family recipes! those cookies look great, i doubt i've had one like it!


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