Fruit Salsas and a Little Bird

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Hello little bird! I was so happy to see this little white-breasted nuthatch yesterday. People have been complaining about the weather a lot lately–it’s like we’ve had two Januaries–but this little bird seems fine with it. He was flitting back and forth between our sugar maple tree and the horse chestnut.

Maybe it’s because of the dull weather, but I’ve been craving food that’s colorful and festive. So I was thinking salsas, but so many salsas call for nice, ripe tomatoes. This is just not going to happen in the beginning of March in the Midwest. But I did find a wonderful recipe for a banana salsa, and then for a strawberry salsa. As unlikely as they may sound, they are delicious–fresh and fruity, though not particularly sweet. So I went on a chopping rampage, and serve them up in my favorite footed bowls. These bowls were a gift, so I’m not sure where they came from, but they always make me smile. These salsas are nice additions to a meal that might be otherwise, well, dull. We will be having them tonight with baked pork chops and yellow rice and a deep red wine.

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Strawberry Salsa

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Four cups chopped strawberries.

1 quart (4 cups) chopped fresh strawberries
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup sliced green onions
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Taste for seasoning, especially for salt. The seasonings will depend a bit on the ripeness of the strawberries, so don’t hesitate to add more salt, lime juice or cilantro.

This recipe makes a fair amount of salsa, so you might want halve it first, just to try. It comes from Pillsbury Brunches & Desserts.

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Even the tops of the strawberries are beautiful!

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Never thought I would like a banana salsa, but this is so good. The original recipe comes from Mexican Flavors by Carpenter and Sandison–I have tweaked it for my kitchen. If you enjoy it, they note you can substitute mango, papaya, or pineapple. But the gentle fruitiness of the banana is so good, and bananas are available all year round.

Banana Salsa

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The bananas I used were about 7″ long. Here they are sliced into long strips before being chopped into little cubes.

2 firm bananas
1/2 red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded
1 green onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 serrano or jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Peal the bananas and cut lengthwise into long strips. Cut across into 1/2″ cubes. Mince the red bell pepper, green onion, cilantro, and jalapeño pepper. Combine with the bananas, and the rest of the ingredients. Mix thoroughly.

Cooking notes: The original recipe called for 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger, but I found it more convenient to use the powdered form. I know it’s not the same, but it was still good. Also, instead of the brown sugar, I grated a Mexican sugar called piloncillo, and used that–it has an interesting molasses flavor. Also, the original recipe called for an entire red bell pepper, but I found it overwhelmed the bananas, so I just used half. But it does depend on the size of your pepper.

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The nuthatch wasn’t the only bird I’ve seen recently. This little black-capped chickadee posed obligingly yesterday in the cold wind.

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Peace to you. Fran

 

 

 

Chocolate Snowdrops and a Virtual Spring Garden

IMG_2716IMG_7662There’s always a day in late winter when time seems to grind to a halt, and it looks like Spring will never come. Even the snowdrops are still fast asleep beneath the snow and ice. Okay, so if we can’t have real snowdrops, how about Chocolate Snowdrops? I seemed to remember a Chocolate Snowdrop cookie recipe, and after riffling through my chocolate cookie files a bit, found it. They are melt-in-the mouth chocolate butter cookies enrobed in a drift of snowy powdered sugar. They fall into that “too good” category! I nibbled one (okay, two) along with a cup of chamomile tea, and until the real snowdrops pop up, I have to say, the chocolate ones are a pretty good substitute!

Chocolate Snowdrop Cookies

makes about 5 dozen

I ground the nuts with my old-fashioned nut grinder.

I ground the nuts with my old-fashioned nut grinder.

3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
3 (1-0z.) squares unsweetened baking
chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 cup chopped nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
powdered sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine brown sugar and butter in a large bowl. Beat until creamy. Add melted chocolate and vanilla. Continue beating until well mixed. Add flour, nuts and salt, beating until well mixed. The dough will be firm and a bit crumbly.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart onto lined cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until set. They will swell up just slightly, and the surface will look dry.

Let stand for 5 minutes; carefully remove from cookie sheets with a spatula. Cool for 5 more minutes. Roll in powdered sugar while still warm and again when cool.

Baking notes: These really don’t take long to bake, and you may wonder if they are done after only 8 to 10 minutes–they will be. The nuts should be chopped pretty finely, but not to the point of being like flour. See the nuts in the nut grinder above.

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Here is a virtual spring garden to stroll through–until the real thing arrives!

A Delicious Herbal Cheese Spread

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Years ago I can remember when Boursin® cheese first appeared, and how it became immediately popular. Boursin® is a soft, spreadable herbal cheese from France, and it is so delicious. It is sold in a little crinkled foil cup, and can be used on anything, from a slice of baguette to steamed vegetables. It’s original motto was “Du pain, du vin, du Boursin,”–“Some bread, some wine, some Boursin,” meaning, that’s all you need for happiness, and I get their drift. I recently came across a recipe for “Herb Cheese Spread” in a community cookbook (Purple Sage and other Pleasures from the Junior League of Tucson, Arizona), and gave it a whirl. Much to my surprise, it’s wonderful, and almost indistinguishable from the original Boursin®. A little 5-ounce cup of Boursin® costs more than $7.00 at the store, but you can make a large quantity (about two cups) for almost the same cost. (You may not think you want/need a large quantity, but wait till you taste it! And it can be frozen like a flavored butter for future use.)

Here is the recipe:

Herb Cheese Spread

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Preparing radishes for the cheese platter.

(Note: all the herbs in this recipe are dried)

2 cloves garlic
8 ounces whipped butter, softened
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon dill
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon pepper

Press the garlic cloves through a garlic press into a large bowl, and add all remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Place in a crock and chill to let flavors blend.

Notes: Be sure to use whipped butter, and not soft butter blended with oil. Also, the herbal flavor depends on the particular blend of herbs here, and, I know, it’s quite a list. I think you could probably leave out the marjoram, but I wouldn’t tinker with the formula beyond that.

What can you do with our faux Boursin®? Slather on a slice of baguette, melt a pat on a baked or boiled potato, beat into some freshly cooked rice or noodles, stuff a chicken breast with it, slather on a whole chicken under the skin and then roast, serve at a get-together with crackers instead of a dip . . .

I packed some of the mixture into a little ceramic heart mold lined with cheese cloth, and unfolded it on the plate shown above. You could use any small bowl, can or other mold in a similar way, but it must be lined with cheese cloth or it won’t unmold.

Herb cheese mixture packed into a ceramic mold.

Herb cheese mixture packed into a ceramic mold.

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Here’s how to cut the radishes, as shown on the plate above. Start with a nice, plump radish.  The leaves are pretty mangy, but, hey, it’s February!

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Slice off the root and leaves.

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Slice around the equator of the radish with a small, sharp knife. Hold the knife at a 45 degree angle for the first cut, then reverse the angle for the second cut, piercing the radish to the center, to form a zig-zag cut.

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Pull the two halves apart–voila!

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These are so much fun you will have to restrain yourself from making too many. I sprinkled some little broccoli flowers over the radishes above just for pretty.

I mentioned that you can freeze this herb spread for convenience–just form into a roll on a piece of plastic wrap, and then wrap tightly in foil. Place in the freezer and slice some off as needed.

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Not many flowers this time of year, but my geranium is blooming.

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Went out bird hunting yesterday, and only found a half-asleep mourning dove! Peace to you. Fran

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A Red Bird and a Circle of Hearts

I went out with my camera the other day, and couldn’t find a single bird. Where were they? Birds can be mysterious, and I had no idea. Then all of a sudden I heard a cardinal’s distinctive call–twirp-twirp-twirp–at least, that’s as best as I can transcribe it. He sat perched in the tangle of a lilac bush, and was there for quite a while as I took his portrait.

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Here is my take on making a valentine. Take a piece of copy paper and trace around a small plate–I used a tea cup saucer (about 5-1/2″ across). Cut out the circle, and fold the circle in half four times to make a pie shape. Draw a heart on the outer rim of the pie shape, connecting it at the sides. Cut out. Write a valentine motto around the heart circle. Then, bake the heart circle in a 400 degree oven for about 25 minutes, or until it looks old and antique.

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Here are some valentine sentiments that I thought were pretty (All from “Anon” except the last):

Many are the starrs I see,
but in my eye no starr like thee.

A hundred hearts would be too few,
to carry all my love for you.

I’ve fallen in love many times: always with you.

So long as I can breathe or I can see,
so long lives your love which gives life to me.
William Shakespeare

I was thinking of Valentine’s Day, and then of cookies, and then of the new fancy Italian cookie press I had just purchased, and had the idea of making little vanilla hearts. This seemed like a good idea, but before I knew it I was in a baking quagmire. The recipe I chose was unfamiliar–sometimes this is a good thing and you can find gems. In this case, the recipe was DOA, and I had to tinker with it to make it work. Then there was the Italian cookie press. It had rachets and plungers and I was sweating as I finally got it to press any cookies. Then I discovered to never use parchment paper when using a cookie press–use a greased, cool baking sheet. What I’m saying is that I wouldn’t pass on this recipe, or the cookie press, for that matter, to my worst baking enemy.

So if you want vanilla hearts, use the recipe in Fannie Farmer (called Butter Cookies, Spritz, and Cookie Press Cookies) and the cookie press you already have–not a fancy Italian one with rachets. I had to lie down and take a nap after making these, though to my consternation, they were very good. Just not makable by any rational human being.

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Fig Bran Muffins and Winter Roses

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We were at the grocery store, and into the basket–plunk, plunk, plunk–went the yogurt, the baguettes for Jim’s lunches, a dozen eggs, and then, another essential, a bouquet of roses. Come late January, roses are essential as eggs–I need the color, the green leaves, the freshness. Back home, I arranged them in an old ironware jug, and made up a batch of bran muffins. Bran muffins are the culinary opposite of excitement, but the muffins made from my old (eleventh ed.) copy of Fannie Farmer have saved me from eating many an unwise sugary snack. Today I perched a big black fig on top of each muffin, along with a handful of golden raisins, just for fun.

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Maybe more essential than eggs.

Fannie Farmer Bran Muffins with Figs

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11-12 muffins

Sift into a mixing bowl:

1 cup flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix in another bowl:

1 egg, slightly beaten
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup bran

black mission figs
golden raisins

Let the bran mixture stand for 10 minutes. Add the flour mixture. Stir just long enough to dampen the flour. Add a handful (about 1/3 cup) of golden raisins. Using a 1/4-cup ice cream scooper, apportion the batter into a muffin tin. Top each muffin with a fig. I use a nonstick tin from Wilton, but you can also line a tin with paper muffin cups. Bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes.

Baking notes: I melted the butter in a ceramic bowl, and added the egg, milk and bran. It saved melting it in a separate bowl. It’s the little things! You can also avoid melting the butter by just adding several glugs of vegetable oil. Plain bran can be purchased at health food stores–note that this is not the same as bran breakfast cereal. You will get 11 muffins if you use the ice cream scooper, but can eke out 12 if you use a spoon.

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I’ve just re-filled the suet feeder–it brings almost more birds than the black sunflower seed feeder, and it’s fun to watch the birds’ intricate maneuvers as they peck at the suet.

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Can’t resist showing off the French bread I made the other day. I would like to feature the recipe in a future post, but this bread is tricky–it’s all in the dough texture and handling–not something that can be easily transmitted online. But I will work on it.

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This picture was taken last May–it’s hard to remember that the garden was ever this green! Peace. Fran

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Crunch Time

IMG_2594Sometimes I’m up for something different, cookie-wise, and Biscuit au Maïs are just that. The recipe is from The Breads of France by Bernard Clayton, Jr., and it seesaws on the edge of not quite being a cookie, and not quite a cracker. They are too good, and it’s hard to eat just one. They are buttery and a bit sweet, and each bite ends with a satisfying crunch. They are also quite elegant, looking like little golden full moons. Clayton recommended serving them with strawberries, and it is a wonderful combination–juicy, sweet, crunchy, buttery.

Biscuits au Maïs

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Lid of spice jar used as cookie cutter.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 cups flour

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Take out eggs to warm.

Cream the butter until soft and light. Slowly add the sugar and blend together. Add the cornmeal and salt. Add the eggs and beat with a spoon until the mixture is light. Add the flour, and stir just until mixed in. Set the dough aside in a cool place while you tidy up. This gives the dough a chance to firm up.

On a floured surface, roll out a third of the dough to a thickness of about 1/4″. Cut out with a 1-1/2″ round cookie cutter. Place rounds on prepared cookie sheet, about one inch apart. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until bottoms and edges are browned. Repeat with remaining dough.

Baking notes: I didn’t have a 1-1/2″ round cookie cutter, so I used the lid of a spice jar (see picture). It worked perfectly! The recipe recommended a baking time of 22 minutes, but my cookies were done way before that. See what happens in your oven!

Be sure to add the entire teaspoon of salt. It might seem like a bit much, but there is a sweet/salty thing going on in these cookies, and they would be bland without the salt.

Also, the original recipe said to add 1/4 cup more flour if the dough seemed too soft, but setting aside the dough in a cool place for about fifteen minutes firmed it up without having to add the flour. Try to roll the dough out to a scant 1/4″. Any thicker, and they start puffing up.

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Fresh out of the oven.

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The bottom should be golden brown.

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I was playing peek-a-boo with this little sparrow hiding in the forsythia bushes!

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Lastly, here is Mt. Moose–our imposing-looking cat. Peace to you. Fran

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Yellow Fellows

IMG_2561Here is a fun recipe for an old-fashioned dessert called Yellow Fellow Pie from a cookbook called Soup Bowl West by Mitchell and Sedgwick. A cross between a delicate lemon sponge cake and a lemon custard pie, if your inner pie baker has been slumbering for a long time, it might be time to wake her/him/it up. Pie crusts scare people–maybe not the way an actual zombie might, but the thought of a rolled out crust crumbling as you try to transfer it to the pie plate can cause many of us to break out in a sweat. I recommend using a crust made with vegetable shortening, even though I know purists might cringe. Yes, a crust made with butter may taste a bit better, but it’s also a bit tricker to make. Shortening has a plastic quality that make rolling out and baking easier for the beginner, and it doesn’t melt as quickly in our hot little hands. Here’s a 10-inch pie crust recipe to try. You can use the proportions of butter and shortening indicated, or just use all shortening. Use Crisco, not an off brand. Also, if you have to patch your crust once it’s in the pie tin, who will know? One thing about pies is that there are way more pie lovers out there than you might think, and that a good pie is a thing of beauty.

Yellow Fellow Pie

(Makes a 10-inch pie)
1/3 cup flour
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, separated
1-1/3 cups milk or half and half
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

10-inch pre-baked pie shell

Note: Be sure to use a 10-inch pie pan. Measure at the top of the pan from inner edge to inner edge.

Combine flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks and add the milk or half and half; stir until combined. Add the lemon juice and peel, and stir until blended. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold into lemon mixture. Pour into pie shell. Bake in pre-heated 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake for 35 to 40 minutes. The center should be springy and set. Cool before serving.

Baking note: I used one large and one small lemon for the peel and juice. Rolling the lemon firmly on the counter will make it juicier. Do not use the commercial juice in the plastic lemons–wish it worked, but it’s just not the same! IMG_2557

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Of course, you can use an electric mixer to beat your egg whites. But I actually enjoy using my whisk and copper bowl–it goes fast.

IMG_2567Baking the Yellow Fellow Pie made me think of some other yellow fellows I know. These pictures were taken late last summer, but I think we may enjoy them more now! Peace to you. Fran IMG_0154 IMG_0156 IMG_0159 IMG_0161

 

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