Well, the holiday season got the best of me, and I'm way behind on my blogging. However, I wanted to belatedly write about a very fun cookie swap that I had with some of my neighbors about a week ago. I was really excited when one of my neighbors suggested the gathering, as I was very sad to have missed the Austin food bloggers' cookie swap while we were in Lubbock. Hooray for second chances!
Five families participated in the swap, and we were to bring six (!!) dozen cookies each. Let's just say there were a LOT of cookies. We also assembled a little potluck meal, the highlight of which was a huge stash of absolutely wonderful tamales from Elsi's Restaurant on Burnet Road. The tamale selection included some very interesting tamales filled with coconut, as well as a variety of Salvadorean tamales. I'd never had Salvadorean tamales before, but I loved them - they are much larger than Mexican tamales, wrapped in banana leaves rather than corn husks, and use white corn masa rather than yellow corn masa, which is smoother and creamier than the yellow.
Really poor photo of a Salvadorean tamale, but I wanted to give you an idea of what they look like.
Then, of course, there were the cookies. We had chocolate crinkle cookies, thumbprint cookies, snickerdoodles, walnut acorns, and my contribution, a candy (I cheated) that I'm renaming "Chinese" needles in a haystack.
My sweet neighbor Owen, doing some taste testing.
My candies were made using a recipe from Austin Epicurean, who brought these little morsels to the food bloggers' swap. Austin Epicurean calls them Chinese New Year candy, but I've also seen them called haystack candy in various places online, including here and here. I harbor an innate snobbery against anything that calls itself Chinese but most definitely is not, as well as anything made with those awful things that pass as chow mein noodles in the La Choy world, but I had seen lots of food bloggers Tweeting and blogging about how much they liked these, including one Asian person, so I decided having an open mind should prevail over my snobbery. Plus, I'll admit it - I was pressed for time, and I liked the fact that these didn't need to be baked.
Although I didn't modify Austin Epicurean's recipe at all, I'm reposting it here because I live in fear that someday a recipe I've linked to will disappear and I won't be able to find it again.
"Chinese" Needles in a Haystack
* 24 oz. Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips (I think bittersweet would also be great)
* 24 oz. Butterscotch Chips (I used two 11 oz bags, and they turned out fine)
* 12 oz. Chow Mein ‘Noodles’ (usually come in 24 oz. bag)
* 12 oz. Salted Peanuts (not dry roasted). Costco carries large tins of Virginia peanuts that are super fresh and wonderfully crunchy - I used those for my candies. If you go this route, 12 oz of peanuts is roughly equivalent to 3 cups.
Melt the chocolate and butterscotch chips together over a double broiler or in the microwave.
Once melted, mix in the peanuts and chow mein noodles.
Spoon onto parchment or wax paper and allow to cool for a few hours.
Chill in the refrigerator prior to serving. I actually recommend storing any leftovers in the refrigerator, too, as they are fairly prone to melting.
Mine were the size of heaping tablespoons, and one batch made about six dozen candies.
Other add-ins that I think could be interesting: marshmallows, mini pretzels, raisins, dried cranberries...really, anything that tastes good covered in chocolate (i.e., everything).
Quick, easy, and tasty...even if they aren't really Chinese.