Seeing Red

IMG_1959It’s a beautiful fall day, and I’m seeing red leaves and red birds, and in this case, the red cranberries in this recipe called “Cranberry Marzipan Bars.” I’d been meaning to try this for quite awhile, and today finally saw fresh cranberries for sale at the local grocery store. Marzipan is made of almonds crushed to a paste and mixed with sugar–it’s a luxury item and quite expensive. So you may be glad to know that there is no actual marzipan in these bars–it only tastes like it! It’s also incredibly easy–you make it in a saucepan–and delicious and buttery. It cuts beautifully and needs no frosting, except for a sprinkle of powdered sugar. I will be mentally bookmarking this recipe for the holidays–it’s a gem. It would be nice served with pistachio ice cream for Christmas.

(Have you ever heard of a recipe that is too good? Well, this is it. I have packed up the bars and sent them off with Jim to the art studio where he is a member. Artists are always hungry, and I  know that I would be in serious danger if left alone with them!)

Cranberry Marzipan Bars

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup chopped fresh cranberries
Confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Then add the sugar, beaten eggs, vanilla extract, almond extract, flour and baking powder.  Stir in the chopped cranberries. Pour into a greased 9 x 13″ pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown on top. Let cool and sift confectioners sugar on top. Cut into squares to serve.

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Golden brown and fresh from the oven.

Baking notes: Preparing the fresh cranberries is the most time-consuming part of this recipe. I washed about a cup of whole cranberries in a colander and shook the colander well to shake off excess water. Then I took a fresh kitchen towel and used it to scoop up the cranberries to dry them. Then chop coarsely. The result will be about a cup of chopped cranberries.

I lined the pan with parchment paper. When you do this, first lightly grease the pan. Then line with the paper, smoothing it down. Then lightly grease the paper. This sounds involved, but it only takes a few moments, and it guarantees that the bars will cut beautifully, and not stick to the pan.

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A vivid red cardinal visited the feeder this morning.IMG_1949 IMG_1952 IMG_1953 IMG_1954 IMG_1955

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The lovely female cardinal.

On the way home from the grocery store this morning I picked up some leaves to press. When they are dry, in about two weeks, I can frame them.

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Continuing in the red vein . .

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Peace to you. Fran

Fall Day

Photographing a bird brings me into the bird’s world–I find myself wondering what they are experiencing or thinking. I don’t know what this little house finch is thinking, but I do see the spirit of life in her eyes.

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Seeing the smallness and fragility of birds has done more to make me care about our environment than any statistic. We are all in this beautiful world together.

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Two friends. Well, maybe not friends, exactly, but they are coexisting peacefully!

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Not sure how to segue from birds to chocolate cake, but here goes . . .

Fall means apples to me, and I guess it means chocolate, as well, because yesterday I found myself baking a Chocolate Applesauce Cake, from an Italian cookbook called The Golden Book of Chocolate, first published in Florence, Italy. Books like this can be treacherous, because stuff can get lost in translation. But in this case, the cake was molto delizioso! It’s moist and fine textured with a mild chocolate flavor. And, it’s easy to make with just a spoon and a bowl, and calls for ingredients you may already have on hand. And, sprinkling it with almonds and chocolate chips finishes it off nicely, with no need for frosting.

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Chocolate Applesauce Cake

IMG_18891 cup flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup semisweet pieces
1/2 cup sliced almonds, walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8″ square pan, and then line with parchment paper. Mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Beat the softened butter, sugar and vanilla in another bowl until creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Gradually beat in the dry ingredients, alternating with the applesauce. Soon the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with the chocolate chips and nuts. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cake completely in the pan before cutting.

Baking notes: This cake really is easy and good. If I had one quibble, it’s that for a chocolate fiend like myself, the chocolate flavor could use amping up. I will add another tablespoon of cocoa powder the next time. Or, you could keep the cocoa quantity the same, and add a half teaspoon of cinnamon.

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I have been taking photos of fallen leaves . . .  kind of amazed at how profligate nature is. Peace to you. Fran

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Shortbread Fans and a Ball of Fluff

IMG_1858From a January 1969 issue of Gourmet comes this wonderful recipe for Shortbread Fans. They are easy to make, have buttery shortbread flavor, and are a bit of a conversation piece! They would be wonderful for a tea party. Here is the recipe . . .

Shortbread Fans

In a bowl sift together 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar, and a pinch of salt. Add one stick or 1/2 cup of soft butter, broken into pieces, and work the mixture with the fingertips until it is mealy. Continue to work the dough until it forms a ball. Wrap it in waxed paper and chill it for about one hour.

Roll out the dough about 1/4 inch thick on a lightly floured board and cut out circles about 3-1/2 inches in diameter. With a sharp knife cut each circle into quarters and score each quarter with the back of a knife in several places to resemble the ribs of a fan. Place the cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 12 to 14 minutes, or until they are lightly browned. While the cookies are still hot sprinkle them with sugar.

Baking notes: When you are rubbing the butter into the flour/sugar mixture, you may wonder if it will come together, but proceed! Kneading it a bit right at the end will bring it all together. Rolling the dough to 1/4″ will result in a slightly soft cookie; rolling to 1/8″ will yield a crisper cookie.

Make this cookie your own: These are small cookies; use a larger cutter for bigger fans. Using lightly tinted pale rose sugar could be beautiful. Mix one tablespoon of sugar with a tiny bit of red food coloring until the sugar is a pale pink. If you have a rose geranium plant, bury a leaf in a jar of sugar for a week or so, and use the scented sugar for sprinkling. Or you could use edible glitter. Or, you could dip the curved edge of the cookie in melted chocolate. Or, make the cookie bigger, and when its done baking, poke a hole near the handle of the fan. Thread with silk ribbon and hang it on the Christmas tree. Also, a couple of these would be perfect to adorn a scoop of ice-cream for dessert. Or (!), dip the edge of the cookie in melted white chocolate and then into sanding sugar (a coarse, sparkling sugar). Oh, yum! Just thought of something else–sandwich two fans together with lemon curd or melted chocolate.

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Butter cut into chunks before rubbing in.

Below–You really don’t need lots of fancy utensils to bake. I am using a recycled beer bottle here to roll out the dough. This is not such a crazy idea–it works perfectly. (I have left the label on here just to show where it came from–you should remove the label before rolling.) In the old days there were porcelain rolling pins that could be filled with cold water to help keep the dough cool as it was rolled out. You could do the same with this bottle, using a cork as a stopper. If you don’t have a 3-1/2″ round cutter, a tuna fish can works well. This one was 3-1/4″–close enough!
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Use the dull side of a dinner knife blade to score dough. Score as deeply as you can without actually cutting through the cookie.

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This little ball of fluff is a young sparrow. Couldn’t be sweeter!

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IMG_1791IMG_1789 IMG_1790Peace to you! Fran

Pear Custard Bars and Bird Stuff

I usually like to have a bird photo up on my computer monitor at work, and this is the one I’ve been enjoying for the past few days. There’s something about this sparrow’s calm, sweet expression that I really enjoy. Birds can put things back into perspective for you!

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I always try to share recipes worthy of an A+, but the following recipe for Pear Custard Bars merits an A++, and this is from someone who is not all that crazy about either pears or custard. What’s up with it? Well, there is the way the crunchy, nutty, buttery crust plays off of the cool creamy custard, and then there is the light fruity taste of the pears. The “custard” is actually cream cheese, but through some sort of recipe alchemy it tastes like you spent an hour hovering over a saucepan of cream, eggs yolks and sugar, nurturing it into a pale golden custard. The even better thing about this recipe is that I subbed low fat (Neufchatel) cream cheese for the full fat cream cheese called for in the recipe, and it still tastes fabulous. And I used pears packed in juice instead of sugar syrup, and, still, fabulous. This is something a little bit different, and really good!

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Pear Custard Bars

Crust
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup chopped macadamia nuts (see Baking Notes)

Filling/Topping
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 can (15-1/4 oz.) pear halves, drained
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Crust: In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Stir in the flour and vanilla, and then the nuts. Press into a greased 8″ square baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Increase heat to 375 degrees. In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar, egg and vanilla; mix until combined. Pour over crust. Cut drained pears into 1/8″ slices; arrange in a single layer over the filling. Combine sugar and vanilla; sprinkle evenly over pears. Bake at 375 degrees for 28-30 minutes (center will be soft set and will become firmer upon cooling). Cool, and than cover and refrigerate for two hours before cutting. Store in the refrigerator.

Baking Notes: As mentioned, I used the low fat cream cheese and pears in juice. You certainly could use full fat cream cheese and pears in syrup for over-the-top richness. In place of the macadamia nuts I used sliced almonds, chopping them up. Macadamia nuts are expensive, and the sliced almonds tasted great. When sprinkling the cinnamon sugar over the cream cheese, try to cover everything–the  plain cream cheese is white even after baking, and looks more appetizing with the sugary coating. This recipe is from a Taste of Home feature on pears.

While I have been having a surprising amount of fun photographing sparrows, this grackle was too much fun to miss!

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Lastly, the fall colors are really spectacular! Peace to you. Fran

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Sparrows and an Oogle Bird

I have spent time recently lurking near some forsythia bushes behind our house, not for any nefarious purpose, but to snap pictures of the sparrows who congregate there. Sparrows have surprised me with their beauty and personalities–hope you enjoy them, too.

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When I first looked through the viewfinder and saw this little creature, I couldn’t imagine what it was. But it reminded me of the oogle birds in the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons (not everyone will remember these!). Oogle birds were very shy, and had feathery plumes sprouting from the top of their heads. Ok, so maybe this isn’t an oogle bird! I’m pretty sure it’s a young female cardinal with her adult feathers coming in!

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A rabbit’s eye view of life . . .

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Can’t resist posting a few more pictures of our new cat Moose. He is settling in nicely, and enjoys sitting with me while watching Agatha Christie on Masterpiece Theatre.

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Lastly, the leaves are turning . . . the summer has gone by so quickly. Peace to You. Fran

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Apple-Cheddar Muffins and Little Sparrows

IMG_1706Somehow it’s muffin weather, and I have already consigned my sandals to the back of the closet (sob). So I was thinking muffins and when Jim brought back a bag of the first new apples of the season, started thinking of apple muffins. I found an interesting recipe for Apple-Cheddar Muffins in a Williams-Sonoma cookbook called Muffins & Quick Breads, and went for it. Oh, joy, they were really nice, with a fine, moist texture, little nubbins of apple and the indefinable, glowing, buttery flavor of the cheddar–you only catch interesting little hints of actual cheese. This muffin instantly won a permanent berth in my baking repertoire–they would be as at home on the Thanksgiving table as in a lunch bag or for a morning snack.

IMG_1684Apple Cheddar Muffins

12 muffins

IMG_17071 large, crisp apple
1-1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup uncooked oatmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
2 eggs
1/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup finely grated Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place paper cupcake liners in pan.

Peel, halve and core the apple. Cut it into 1/8-inch dice; set aside.

In a large bowl, toss together the flour, oatmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a medium bowl whisk together the milk, eggs and melted butter until smooth. Stir in the apple and cheese. Add to the dry ingredients and stir just until blended.

Spoon into the muffin tin, using all the batter in the 12 liners–it won’t overflow when baked. Bake for about 20 minutes; cool in tin for 3 minutes, then remove.

Baking notes: When I chopped up the apple, it came to 1 cup, and that worked. But I don’t think it’s a problem if you have a little more or a little less. Also, I didn’t peel the apple.

The garden is winding down, but I keep seeing interesting little creatures, like this dragonfly. I’m calling him Old Blue Eyes!

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I must have birds on the brain, because this cloud looks like its flying.

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The hostas are in bloom . . .

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and the sparrows are as sweet as ever.

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Here’s a young sparrow. Love him!

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and, here is the newest addition to our household–we haven’t decided on his name. Jim opts for Moose (he’s a big cat), but I like Teddy (he’s big and cuddly). So we’ll see which one sticks! We found him at the Anderson Animal Shelter, and it was love at first sight. He had been abandoned, so much of his fur was matted and they had shaved it off–so he looks a bit moth eaten. Also, he doesn’t have all his teeth and is 8 years old. But he’s ours! He’s been busy exploring the house.

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Turns out he is a natural food stylist! Here he is adjusting/eating some leaves.

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Peace to you. Fran

 

 

 

Cinnamon Toast Cake and Milkweed Pods

IMG_1551I have a stack of old Pillsbury Bake Off recipe books, and really enjoy looking through them, especially from the older contests. (The Bake Off started in 1947.) It’s in the older books that you find family heirlooms and gems, like this recipe for a Cinnamon Toast Cake. The moment I saw the recipe, I knew I had to try it. My Mom made cinnamon toast for us when I was a kid. She toasted bread, slathered it with butter, and sprinkled it with sugar and cinnamon. Then she cut it into fingers. It was a real treat. This recipe is made with a thin layer of cake that is topped with melted butter, sugar and cinnamon. This is comfort food, and I am sending Jim off with it to work or else I will eat too much of it myself! Unlike cinnamon toast, this is best cut and eaten when completely cooled.

Cinnamon Toast Cake

Grease a 15 x 10″ jelly roll pan and lightly flour the bottom. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

IMG_15472 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup raisins, if desired

Sift together the dry ingredients. Blend together the milk, melted butter, and vanilla. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix just until blended. Turn into the prepared pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

While the cake is in the oven, melt 1/2 cup butter and combine 1/2 cup sugar with 2 teaspoons cinnamon.

When the cake comes out of the oven (don’t turn the oven off), pour the melted butter all over it, smoothing it with a spoon. It will seem like a lot of butter, but keep pouring. Then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over all, trying to sprinkle it evenly. Put back into the  oven and bake for 10 more minutes. It will come out golden brown.

Baking notes: When you are spreading the batter in the pan, it will only by about 1/2″ high. Also, the original recipe called for raisins, which I’m not usually crazy about, but I think they would be a plus here. I did add some freshly grated nutmeg to add another flavor note, and it was nice.

I really like this recipe–it’s easy and chances are you’ll have all the ingredients on hand. It would be a nice treat for Christmas morning.

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I’m still caught in the surprisingly strong grips of goldfinches, try as I might to be indifferent. They may be a common bird, but they are so sweet! I took these photos an hour ago.

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Fall has appeared here on our doorstep quite suddenly, rattling us with gusts of cold wind. I found these milkweed pods in the act of launching their silky seed parachutes off to the universe.

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Peace to you. Fran