Warm Hummus with Almonds and Chili Butter

Hummus, a tangy dip of crushed chickpeas and sesame paste, has become more and more popular. It’s enjoyed by both meat-eaters and vegetarians, and has become a staple at many gatherings. Served with bread and sliced carrots and celery, it’s good for lunch. Even Aldi now offers four or five different varieties of hummus. It’s become as American as pizza!

So when I ran across a recipe for baked hummus in “Mezze: Small Plates to Share,” by Ghillie Basan, I had to try it. The hummus was bubbling and smoking when I pulled it out of the oven, and Jim and I fell on as though we were starving. I had made pita bread (see my post Sacred Bread, March 7, 2016 for the recipe), and we tore it apart and scooped up the dip, tangy with lemon and garlic, and with the added heat of red pepper flakes. So good.

Warm Hummus with Almonds and Chilli Butter

2 15-oz. cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 garlic cloves,  crushed
4 tablespoons olive oil
freshly squeezed juice of two lemons
2 tablespoons tahini
2 cups whole milk yogurt
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
pita bread, to serve

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Oil an ovenproof dish with olive oil. (I used a 9-inch round earthenware dish, or an 8 x 8 inch square Pyrex dish could be used.)

Pour chickpeas, cumin seeds, crushed garlic, olive oil and lemon juice into a blender. Whizz until the mixture is a thick paste. You may have to stop and start the blending a number of times, scraping the mixture down into the blender, so the mixture forms a paste. Add the tahini, salt and pepper, and continue to blend. Add the yogurt and keep blending, (stopping and scraping down several times) until smooth. Tip the mixture into the oiled baking dish.

Toast the sliced almonds in a little frying pan until they begin to brown. Add the butter and stir until it melts. Stir in the red pepper flakes. Pour this mixture over the hummus. Place into the preheated oven and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the hummus puffs up a bit and the butter has been absorbed. Serve immediately with fresh pita bread.

Notes: This is good baked or unbaked! With the juice of two lemons and the crushed garlic, either way, the flavor pops. You might consider making this in a food processor. The blender worked, but I had to stop and start, scraping the mixing down, quite often. So the food processor might work better. The appearance of the baked hummus is like that of the surface of the planet Venus, interesting, but maybe not beautiful! Garnishing with a little sprig of mint or parsley helps.

Below, hummus ready for oven, toasting the almonds, adding the butter, the yogurt and the brand of tahini I used.

Drying Daffodils

One of my most popular posts has been about drying daffodils (April 20, 2011). And since daffodils are still blooming, I thought I would mention again how it’s done. Simply place the daffodil between the pages of a phone book, close the book, place other books on top to weigh it down, and about one month later, the daffodil is dried.

In my experience, daffodils are unique in being so easy to dry–roses, daylilies, peonies, irises–they all need special handling. The real difficulty of this method nowadays is finding the phone book!

Spring in the Garden

We’ve been having an extraordinarily beautiful spring! Birds are singing and everything is coming up fresh and green. Even this grackle looks gorgeous. Peace to you. Fran

fern with pulmonaria
celandine poppy
bleeding heart

Crackly Sugar Cookies and Spring Things

Does the world need another sugar cookie recipe? Well, given that all sugar cookies are useless things when compared to a stalk of broccoli, I guess not. But this one is so good I can’t resist offering it here. Anyway, we can exercise tonight. Crackly Sugar Cookies have a wonderfully old-fashioned flavor, buttery and rich, with a delicate crisp crust and a soft interior. So good with a cup of tea. It’s the sort of cookie that used to be called a tea cake. Something to enjoy on this beautiful spring day.

Crackly Sugar Cookies

1-1/4 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3 eggs yolks, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cream the softened butter with the sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs yolks and vanilla. (I advise doing these two steps with an electric mixer.) Sift the dry ingredients together then add to the batter in two parts. (This is easiest done with your impeccably clean hands.)

Form dough into balls the size of a walnut, or use a small ice cream scoop and place on prepared sheet about two inches apart. Do not flatten. Bake for approximately 11 to 12 minutes, or until edges are golden. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Photos below show that I forgot to lightly beat my egg yolks, but cookie turned out fine anyway! Second photo shows baked cookies.

For a blue bird sort of day!

A sure sign of spring–two red admiral butterflies fluttering around in the garden a few days ago. This one landed long enough for me to take a picture.

Then he landed on Saint Fiacre’s head.

The mother mourning dove I mentioned a few weeks ago seemed to have abandoned her nest.

The parent doves a few days ago.

At any rate, the mother dove is back on her nest today, so we’ll see what happens. Peace to you. Fran

Bleeding hearts this morning.


Easter Special

It almost looks like some giant robins laid these eggs in the garden, but actually I dyed them this morning. I love this color blue! Here’s how:

Hardboil some eggs. (Cover your eggs with water, bring to a boil, and set aside for 15 to 20 minutes.) In a separate small bowl, pour in about one cup of boiling water, a splash of vinegar, 10 drops of blue food coloring and one drop of green food coloring. Mix. Lower the hardboiled eggs into the dye, and gently stir them around to dye evenly. After about five minutes, remove with a spoon and set on paper toweling to dry. I used McCormick Assorted Food Colors & Egg Dye. Hope you enjoy!

Speaking of robins, two of them had a dust up in the garden yesterday. I think they’re being territorial! Peace to you, Fran

Frosted Brown Sugar Cookies and some Sparrows

I have the kitchen window open for the first time in months, and spring is blowing in. Bird song and warm breezes fill the air. Of course, last night we were wakened with hail rattling the windows, so I guess hail could come in, too! But that’s spring for you, along with the dark clouds, thunder and rain that have been rolling through the area all day.

As I enjoyed the breezes in the kitchen this morning, I baked Frosted Brown Sugar Cookies. These are admittedly very beige cookies, but once you have tasted one, they will be forgiven their beige-ness. The cookies themselves are soft and delicious, but their sole reason for existence is to be slathered with the buttery, caramel frosting. So good!

Frosted Brown Sugar Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup sour cream
1-3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Brown Sugar Frosting
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk or cream
1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl, and set aside.

In another bowl, cream the softened butter and brown sugar. Beat in the egg and sour cream thoroughly. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and mix just until combined.

Drop by tablespoonfuls (or a small ice cream scoop) onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until cookie bottoms are golden brown. Let cool.

To make frosting: Melt butter over low heat in a small saucepan. Add brown sugar and cook and stir for 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, and bring to a boil, stir constantly. (This will only take a few moments.) Remove from the heat and stir in powdered sugar. Use immediately to frost cooled cookies, as it will stiffen up if left to cool completely. Makes 26 cookies.

Baking notes: The cookies are done when the tops are still a little squishy when you touch them. Wish I knew a more technical term than this! Though whether you bake them for nine, ten, or eleven minutes, they will be good. You could also top each cookie with a roasted pecan or a chunk of chocolate. That would be good, too!

The golden-brown bottom of a baked cookie.
Frosted and ready to go.
The daffodils popped up over during the warm weekend. Also up are the hellebores and pulmonaria.

Last Friday, Jim and I went to Spring Bluff Fen Nature Preserve in South Elgin. Felt like we had the whole world to ourselves. And we saw warblers and this little song sparrow.

View at Spring Bluff Fen

I enjoy the sparrows in our own yard, too, like this little one.

Lastly, from Johnson’s Mound, some Spring Beauty.

I continue to read from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems. Rumi was a 13th century Persian poet who reached across cultural boundaries. It is said that his funeral was attended by Persians, Muslims, Jews, Christians and Greeks. So I am listening closely to what he had to say. Peace to you. Fran

Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings. Move within,
but don’t move the way fear makes you move.


Shortbread Chicks and a Robin

I was at the Kane County Flea Market this Saturday, and the moment I saw a little chicken cookie cutter for sale in a basket with other antique cookie cutters, I almost shouted “stop the presses,” because I immediately changed what I would post about today. I thought of a wonderful shortbread recipe I have, and how perfect it would be to make little shortbread chick cookies. Or are they hens? Whatever they are, I’m enjoying them.

I’ve used this shortbread recipe before, to make little glittering stars for Christmas. This recipe is truly wonderful–the dough is easy to mix and can be re-rolled. The cookie itself is buttery and melts in your mouth.

Shortbread Chicks

2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

one beaten egg for glazing
yellow granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, beat the softened butter until smooth, and then add the sugar and vanilla. Beat well until fluffy. (This can be done with a large spoon.) Mix the flour with the salt. Add to the butter mixture, and stir briefly, to start to bring it together. Then mix the dough together with your impeccably clean hands. It will be a bit crumbly.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough until it is about 1/4″ thick. (Divide the dough in half, and roll out one batch at a time.) Cut dough out with your  cookie cutter and set aside. Using a pastry brush, brush each cookie with the beaten egg, then sprinkle with yellow sugar. Place on prepared baking sheet, and repeat with the rest of the cookies.

Bake for about 13 to 15 minutes, or when the edges of the cookie turn golden brown. This makes approximately three dozen cookies, but it will depend on how large your cookie cutter is.

Baking notes: Be sure that the butter is softened. It shouldn’t be separated or oily, but it should be soft enough to beat with the spoon. You can make the colored sugar by mixing 1/4 cup granulated sugar with two drops of yellow food dye. Toss the sugar until evenly colored. You can use any cutter for this recipe–a bunny, an Easter egg . . . whatever you might enjoy. This recipe comes from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book.

Below are my flea market finds–the chicken cookie cutter, a little nutmeg jar, and a flow blue bone dish. I think the bone dish was part of a dinner set. Diners would daintily set any bones onto the dish when they were finished eating. The little pansies came from the flea market, as well. Couldn’t resist!

Below: Colored sugar mixed in a teacup, the butter and sugar mixture, the crumbly dough, cut out cookies, the markings on the cookies, made with the dull side of a dinner knife, and the finished cookies.


I saw this robin perched in a rose bush that is just leafing out. He (or she) is so sweet!

Lastly, I found another wonderful poem by the Persian poet Hafiz. Hope you enjoy! Peace. Fran

A Potted Plant

I pull a sun from my coin purse each day.

And at night I let my pet the moon
Run freely into the sky meadow.

If I whistled,
She would turn her head and look at me.

If I then waved my arms,
She would come back wagging a marvelous
Of stars.

There are always a few men like me
In this world.

Who are house-sitting for God.
We share His royal duties:

I water each day a favorite potted plant
Of His–
This earth.

Ask the Friend for love.
Ask Him again.

For I have learned that every heart will get
What it prays for


Pineapple Chocolate Squares and a Robin

I almost riffled right by this recipe for Pineapple Chocolate Squares, in a cookbook called “Enchanted Evenings,” by John Hadamuscin. I like pineapple okay, but there are other fruits I’m more a fan of. Still . . . here’s what John had to say about these bars: Pineapple and chocolate? Sounds strange, but it’s scrumptious, I assure you. Well, he had me at scrumptious, which is such a wonderful word. (I looked up “scrumptious” in the dictionary. No one know where it came from. It just is.)

As it turns out, these bars are scrumptious. They are super moist and chocolatey with little shreds of pineapple. Kind of amazing. And they cut beautifully, showing their two layers. Here is the recipe.

Pineapple Chocolate Squares

3/4 cup vegetable shortening
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or slivered almonds
2 1-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple, well drained
1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square pan, line with parchment paper, and lightly grease again.

In a large bowl, cream the shortening, sugar, and vanilla. Stir in the eggs, beating well until mixture is smooth. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add the dry mixture to the wet, and beat just until well blended.

Transfer half the batter into another bowl. Add the melted chocolate and nuts to one portion of batter and blend. Spread this mixture into the prepared pan. Add the drained pineapple to the remaining batter and blend. Carefully spread the pineapple batter over the chocolate layer. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool in the pan, and cut into squares. Makes about 25 bars.

Baking note: The original recipe called for an 8-3/4 ounce can of crushed pineapple, but the can size has shrunk over the years. The 8-ounce can worked fine. Just do your best to drain the pineapple as well as possible–it will be quite moist.

Below, the melted chocolate (chopped and melted in the microwave), the drained pineapple, and the bars fresh out of the oven.

The white flowers are stocks. They have a lovely, spicy fragrance.

On the Bird Front

I enjoyed seeing this robin–he was just about to burst into song. I love his skinny little legs!

The mother dove is still at her post, through rain and cold. I’ve read that it takes 14 days for mourning dove eggs to hatch, so she still has at least a week to go.

I have been reading a book called “Mala of the Heart,” which contains 108 sacred poems. Here is one of them, by a 14th-century Persian poet named Hafiz. Peace to you. Fran

all this time
the sun never says to the earth,

“You owe me.”
Look what happens
with a love like that —
it lights the whole


Apricot Pastry Squares and Mourning Doves

I’m offering this recipe for Apricot Pastry Squares mainly because they are so good, and so useful. The recipe comes from “Miss Grimble Presents Delicious Desserts,” by Sylvia Hirsch, and it’s a killer. First, there’s the incredibly tender, buttery crust, then there’s the caramel-y filling studded with luscious shards of moist apricot, and then, the drift of powdered sugar like snowflakes.

The beauty of these bars is that they could be taken on a picnic, or served with each square nestled in its own paper case on a beautiful holiday buffet. They would be perfect for Thanksgiving, Easter, or, for that matter, Ground Hog’s Day or Millard Fillmore’s birthday! You haven’t celebrated Millard Fillmore’s birthday? Why not? Here is the recipe:

Apricot Pastry Squares

1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

5 to 6 ounces dried apricots, chopped (1 cup)
2 eggs
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or almonds
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. You may use a 7 x 10″ pan, an 8″ square pan, or a 9″ tart pan with a removable bottom. Grease the pan, line with parchment paper, and lightly grease again. (If you use the tart pan, just grease it.)

Cream the butter with the sugar, then add the flour and the vanilla, blending well. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 20 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. The surface will crack a bit.

Simmer the chopped apricots for about 10 minutes in water barely to cover; drain and cool.

Combine the eggs with the brown sugar and beat with a large spoon for about two minutes, until the mixture is smooth and glossy.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt and add to the egg mixture. Add the drained apricots, nuts and vanilla. Blend mixture and spread evenly over crust. (The crust can be still warm.) Return to oven and bake about 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Photos shows the dried apricots I used, and how finely to chop them. This made one brimming cup of dried apricots, but you could use as little as 3/4 cup if you wish. Also shown, the crumb crust ready for the oven.

Baking notes: The original recipe called for only 3/4 cup chopped apricots, but using a brimming cupful worked well. If you press the crust crumbs down firmly, but not mercilessly, you will have a tender crust. I photographed the bars when they were still slightly warm, and so they look a bit ragged. If you slice them when cool, they will be perfect.

Mourning Doves

This morning I noticed a mourning dove in the garden with a bit of straw in his beak, and then saw him fly up to a gutter of our neighbor’s house. He and a female dove are nesting! Here are some photos.

Home, sweet home.
The father mourning dove. It looks like the tips of his claws have frozen off.

Peace to you. Fran

The Dutch irises are back!