Sugary, Crackly Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_4638After my brief foray into carrots in the last post, I find myself back where I feel most comfortable, in a warm, cozy kitchen making cookies. It’s not that we aren’t eating vegetables, but I feel lackluster and weak talking about them–my pulse drops, I lose interest in life. And then I found another recipe for one of the best chocolate chip cookies, ever. Yes, I’ve posted other “best” recipes for chocolate chip cookies, but I guess each is the best in its own way. This recipe, which I ran across on a package of Baker’s Corner Milk Chocolate Morsels, surprised me by yielding crackly cookies. In the next batch, I took it one step further and tried rolling each ball of cookie dough in  sugar. They came out sugary, glittery and crackly. Woo hoo! These would be great for a Christmas cookie platter–they are like chocolate chip cookies all dressed up for a party!

Sugary, Crackly Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_46322/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons hot water
11.5 oz. chocolate morsels
2-2/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

sugar, about 1/3 cup

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, and add the brown sugar. Set aside and allow to cool off as you mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Beat the eggs lightly. Add the eggs and hot water to the melted butter in the saucepan, and stir well. Stir in dry ingredients, and then mix in chocolate morsels. Set aside for about 5 to 10 minutes as you clean up, so the dough can firm up. Roll into teaspoonfuls, and then roll in sugar. Place on baking sheet. Bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Makes about two dozen cookies.

Baking notes: I used Baker’s Corner 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Premium Baking Cbips, but you could use any type of chocolate chips. Be sure to set the dough aside while you clean up. It will cool off and firm up. A small cookie scoop makes neat-looking cookies.

The pattern for the above tea towel is from Aunt Martha’s embroidery transfers. It’s called Baby Chicks Tea Towels #4014.

Here is a little sparrow I saw the other day, just sitting in the sun. Peace to you. Fran

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Sriracha Carrot Pickle


Jim wants to eat more vegetables in order to lose a few pounds, and to get healthy. The same goes for me, though while I like vegetables, and voluntarily eat Brussels sprouts, I have to admit that the average vegetable is a bit dull. So I am on a tear to cook more vegetables dishes, but only exciting ones! My first effort is the above Sriracha  Carrot Pickle. Sriracha sauce originated in Thailand, and is hot and spicy, sweet and garlicky. It’s trendy right now, and I can see why–it adds a big exclamation point to whatever you are eating, though it’s not super hot.

Note: The original recipe came from Honey & Co., The Cookbook, an excellent book of Middle Eastern cooking by Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer. Their recipe called for harissa, a spicy chili paste from North Africa. I have gotten dubious about running out and purchasing yet another exotic ingredient that I might never use up. I already had the Sriracha, so went with that and it worked perfectly. You could also try Chinese chili and garlic paste. A Tabasco-type hot sauce is thinner  and hotter than Sriracha–if you use Tabasco, proceed at your own risk!

Sriracha Carrot Pickle


Ingredients ready to go. The striped squash is just there for fun!

about 1 pound of carrots
2/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 bay leaves
4 cloves
1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce

Peel and slice the carrots thinly. Place them into a quart-sized glass jar. In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, mustard seeds, bay leaves and cloves and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and mix in the Sriracha. Pour the hot mixture over the carrots. Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator.

Notes: You can score peeled carrots lengthwise with the tip of a vegetable peeler, and then slice. The pieces look like little flowers. You can also use a sharp knife, but be careful. Make a long cut in the carrot, turn it a quarter inch away from you, and then make another long cut, aiming the knife away from you. This makes a little trough. Then slice. These carrots will taste just as good if they are left plain! Try to use the white wine vinegar, as it has a milder flavor than plain white vinegar. I used black mustard seeds–it add nice contrast and crunch. To my palate, these carrots are mildly spicy.


Ready to start peeling.



Carrot with incised edges.


Jar full of carrots, ready for the vinegar mixture.

Finished carrot pickle.

Finished carrot pickle.

A Nuthatch

Here are some photos of a nuthatch, looking at the world from his own perspective!

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Lastly, a sparrow, basking in the fall sunlight. Peace to you. Fran


A Stealthy Squirrel


Before we get to the stealthy squirrel, I would like to share an absolutely delicious recipe for Butter Pecan Cookies.  This recipe could become a mainstay throughout the year for lunches or bake sales, and if a stack is tied together with a red ribbon, would make a nice little Christmas gift. They melt in your mouth with a wonderful butterscotch-y flavor. And they are easy to make. All I ask is that you do toast the pecans. The toasted nut flavor really puts these cookies over the top. Keebler elves step aside!

Butter Pecan Cookies


This shows the dough before and after flattening.

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 package (3.4 oz.) instant butterscotch pudding mix
1-1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the chopped pecans on a baking sheet and toast for about 15 minutes. Set the toasted nuts aside in a bowl; brush off the baking sheet, and line it with parchment paper.

In a medium-size bowl, cream the softened butter with the pudding mix. Gradually stir in the flour. (It’s easiest to do this with your impeccably clean hands.) Then stir in the pecans. Dough will be a bit crumbly. Roll into 1-1/2 inch balls, or use a small cookie scoop, and place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Grease the bottom of a glass with shortening, and pour a small amount of sugar into a bowl. Press the coated glass into the sugar. Flatten the balls to 1/2 inch thickness with the greased and sugared glass. Bake for 10 to 11 minutes or until the bottoms are a golden brown. Makes about 2 dozen.


Baking notes: This recipe calls for instant butterscotch pudding–not sure what would happen if you use the cook & serve-type pudding. Butter should be softened enough to cream easily. Be sure to sugar the bottom of the greased glass. Without the sugar, the dough will stick.

Now, the stealthy squirrel. I love squirrels and their antics, and really don’t mind if they nibble at some bird seed. They are worth their weight in entertainment value!


A tail shake of excitement at the sight of thel bird feeder.


Beady eyes calculate.


Here we go.


Almost . . .




Peace to you. Fran

Hot Pepper Jelly


Years ago, there was a rage for an appetizer made by topping a cube of cream cheese with sweet hot jalapeño jelly. Served with crackers, it was something new and different, and soon appeared in every community cookbook. I recently ran across a recipe for the jelly in Chevys & Rio Bravo™ Fresh Mex Cookbook, and decided to make it for Jim’s birthday. The cookbook recommended serving the jelly with steak fajitas, so there are a bunch of ways to use it. Here is the recipe for the jelly. If you don’t want to go to the trouble, a  similar jelly may be available at your local supermarket–look for it with the jams and jellies. But this recipe works well, and I recommend it.

Hot Pepper Jelly

3/4 cup chopped red bell peppers
3/4 cup chopped green bell peppers
1/3 cup diced and seeded jalapeños
2-3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
6 tablespoons Certo liquid pectin (1 packet)

Combine the peppers, jalapeños, sugar, vinegar and lime juice in a large saucepan over medium heat. Heat until warm and the sugar is dissolved. Pour the mixture into a blender and blend at a low speed until the peppers are chopped finely. NOTE: Let the mixture cool off a bit before blending. Also, before you blend, fold a kitchen towel into a pad, and hold it firmly down on the top of the blender. When blended, hot liquids can shoot out of the blender if you are not careful! So go slowly and hold the blender top down firmly.

Return the blended mixture to the saucepan and bring to a boil. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface. (The foam is an orange color.) Decrease the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the pectin; increase the heat to medium high, and bring briefly to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Pour into a 24-ounce glass jar, screw on lid, and store in the refrigerator. The jelly will set as it cools down.

Notes: Be sure to use both the red and green sweet peppers–the jelly really looks best that way. This jelly, even to my timid palate, is only mildly hot, so you can add more jalapeño. I washed the storage jar in hot water and soap, and boiled the lid for a few minutes.

To make the above-pictured appetizer, use an 8-ounce package of cream cheese. I used Neufchatel cream cheese, which is lower fat, and it worked well. Unwrap the cheese and place on a plate. Stir the jelly and pour about a half cup over the cheese. If your jelly is firm, microwave for about one minute to liquify. I molded my cheese in a bowl lined with plastic wrap, just for appearance’s sake, but you don’t have to do this. Serve with Triscuits. That’s all there is to it!


I molded the cream cheese in a plastic wrap-lined bowl, and then upended it on the little round plate.

I am always happy to get back to birds. Here are some house finches, who may be a mother with a juvenile. Take care. Fran




Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice Cake


There is a tendency among some bakers to say that a favorite recipe is the most wonderful, gooey, mind-bending, life altering, almost supernatural recipe there is. This Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice cake, however, is just a crumb cake by another name and probably will not alter your life. However, it is moist with sour cream, spicy with cinnamon, and the sugary topping crunches with every bite. So it does all that is required of a crumb cake. It’s also a snap to throw together (takes 15 minutes), and you may have the ingredients on hand already. And today, with cool fall weather settling in, a slice (okay, two slices) of this was wonderful with a cup of hot coffee. I’m showing it above with what is probably the last rose of summer, at least the last in my garden, a tiny, perfect Fairy rose.


Sugar and Spice Cake

1-1/4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom and sides of a 9-inch round pan.

Mix flour, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Cut in shortening by crisscrossing two knives, until mixture is size of small peas; reserve 1/3 cup. Stir remaining ingredients into flour mixture with big spoon until well mixed. Pour into pan. Sprinkle reserved crumb mixture over batter.

Bake 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted at center comes out clear.

Baking notes: Don’t sweat the “crisscrossing two knives, until mixture is size of small peas” directive. All the crumbs won’t be the same size–some might even be the size of large peas–just do the best you can. If you want to unmold the cake, I recommend lining the pan with waxed paper, as well as greasing with shortening. Also, the spicing of this cake is mild. You could absolutely add another teaspoon of cinnamon, along with a sprinkling of ground cloves and nutmeg, if you want something more assertive.

The original recipe comes from Gold Medal “Easy Baking.”


Nuthatches seem to me to be upside down woodpeckers. I have read that by pecking upside down, they get all the bugs that woodpeckers miss by pecking right side up! As long as they know what they are doing!


IMG_1216I never get tired of goldfinches. Whether thoughtful and serene, or making funny faces, I love them! Take care. Fran



Ricotta and Chive Bread and Birds on a Bell

My favorite TV show is the Great British Baking Show (Channel 11, 6:00 local time, on Sunday). If you like to bake, this program is the most fun ever. Contestants are presented with one fiendish baking challenge after another. One of the judges is Paul Hollywood, a master baker. His name rang a bell, and I looked through my collection of bread cookbooks, and found 100 Great Breads by him. (Sometimes I really do feel I have every cookbook ever written.) Since a clump of chives is still fresh and green in my garden, I chose one of his recipes to bake called “Ricotta and Chive Bread.” I have made some tweaks, because a British recipe can have pitfalls for Americans. For instance, he uses fresh yeast, and I haven’t seen fresh yeast in a supermarket for a long time. So I subbed dry yeast. I also upped the water a bit. Otherwise, the recipe is his. It’s moist and fine-textured with a wonderful green note of chives.


Ricotta and Chive Loaf

4 cups white bread flour
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 package yeast (1/4 oz., not instant rise)
1/3 cup olive oil
1-1/2 cups very warm water
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons snipped chives

Put the flour, salt, yeast, olive oil, water and cheese into a large bowl, and stir until mixed into a shaggy mass. Knead for about 5 minutes. Dough should be a bit sticky, but kneadable. Let it rest as you snip the chives. Knead the chives into the dough thoroughly. The dough should feel smooth and satiny. Cover bowl with dough with a plastic bag (twist bag opening under the bowl, so the dough is in its own humid little bubble chamber) and let dough rise in a warm place until doubled, for about an hour. Exactly how long depends on your kitchen temp and humidity.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with flour. Punch down the dough, and form (roughly) into a torpedo shape. Place on baking sheet. Let rise for about 4o minutes in a warm spot. I cover the rising dough with a kitchen towel. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and bake for about 30 minutes, or until top is golden.

Baking notes: The ideal place to bake bread is in a steam bath, but lacking that, let the dough rise in the warmest spot in your house. I set my dough on a heating grate. Cool dough in a cool room may eventually rise, but it will be slow going. I specify using regular yeast, because instant yeast gives a fast rise, but no flavor. Preheat the oven for 15 minutes, so it really is 425 degrees, and place a pan of water on the lower oven shelf. It helps the rise. When you purchase ricotta cheese, you will be confronted with full fat ricotta, light, and skim. I chose the full fat. Let’s live!

How do you tell if a bread is done? This is a light bread that took about half an hour to bake. The key is that the bottom is golden brown, not just the top. If the top is golden, but the bottom light colored, cover the bread with foil and keep baking for about five to ten more minutes.

Haven’t tried it, but I think you could use finely chopped green onions for this, if you don’t have chives.


Use scissors to snip the chives.


Chives kneaded into the dough.

Woo hoo! The risen dough.

Woo hoo! The risen dough.

Dough shaped and ready for second rise.

Dough shaped and ready for second rise.

Uncut loaf.

Uncut loaf.

The birds got a lot of use out of a seed bell I recently hung with the feeders! Note to myself: Get more!




A pirate chickadee!


In mid peck.

IMG_1465 Here’s a recent cardinal pix.


And, it’s time to say goodbye to summer. Take care. Fran