Avocado Dip with Cottage Cheese

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I was trying very hard not to call this post “Avocado Dip with Cottage Cheese,” but the alternative was to call it “Guacamole con Cuajada,” and I was pretty sure no one knows what “cuajada” is (it’s a Mexican curd cheese similar to American cottage cheese). The recipe is from “Mexican Family Cooking by Aida Gabilondo, yet another excellent cookbook available on Amazon for one penny plus shipping. These are the recipes of a practical Mexican grandmother, who found herself with not enough ripe avocados to make guacamole, and, in a moment of inspiration, added some cottage cheese. The result is a smooth, creamy type of guacamole, which I really enjoy. It takes guacamole in a different direction than its usual spicy, tangy thing, but is excellent in it’s own light, creamy way. Worth a try!

Avocado Dip with Cottage Cheese

2 ripe avocados
1 cup small-curd creamed cottage cheese
1/2 cup chopped peeled ripe tomatoes
2 teaspoons chopped green onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves

Peel and mash avocados. Mash cottage cheese in a separate bowl, just to make it a bit smoother and creamier. Add to mashed avocado, blending completely. Add chopped tomatoes, green onion and salt. Add the chopped cilantro leaves at the end. Serve with corn chips and/or sliced raw veggies.

Mixing the mashed avocado with the cottage cheese.

Mixing the mashed avocado with the cottage cheese.

Notes: The hardest thing about any guacamole recipe is buying perfectly ripe avocados. The avocados shouldn’t be hard, but you also don’t want them to be soft and mushy. Gently press the avocado with your finger–you should be able to feel if it’s mashable or not. Better that it’s slightly firm than mushy.

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Perfect! Easy to mash, but with no blackening or mushiness.

Try to use full-fat cottage cheese, as part of the charm of this recipe is the creaminess of the cheese mixed with the creamy avocado. The original recipe specified to “salt to taste,” but without the teaspoon salt, the dip edges into blandness. Gabilondo mentions that she serves this as a salad on a lettuce leaf, garnished with slices of cucumber, bell pepper, and cherry tomatoes.

Wildlife in the Garden

I know that chipmunks are anathema to many gardeners, but they haven’t undermined my garage or porch–yet– so I can’t help but still think they’re cute, especially their little claws. Also, I looked up the word “anathema” in the dictionary, and it means “something dedicated to evil and thus accursed,” and that does seem a harsh word for chipmunks!

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Yesterday I noticed a small drama on the roof of the house next door. A young mourning dove was receiving probably one of its last feedings from its mourning dove mom.

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Here’s the mourning dove mom with the chick, beak to beak.

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Can’t resist one more bee picture, showing its beautiful, silvery wings.

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Peace to you. Fran

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Zinnia Days and a Belgian Chocolate Brownie

In early June, I planted zinnia seeds, two varieties. They are from a company called Renee’s Garden.  One was called Berry Basket and the other Moulin Rouge. They are flowering now, and are being fought over by monarch and swallowtail butterflies. A hummingbird visits regularly, but I have yet to capture its photo–it’s my holy grail. But here are the flowers and the butterflies.

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A swallowtail, its wings a bit tattered.

Belgian Chocolate Brownies

I was leafing through a favorite cookbook of mine–the Hay Day Country Market Cookbook by Kim Rizk, when I ran across a recipe for Belgian Chocolate Brownies. I wondered how they were different from any other kind of chocolate brownies, so, of course, I had to try. Turns out that Belgian and Swiss chocolates are among the best in the world, and that using the best chocolate does make a difference in the final product. I stopped by our local grocery store and studied their chocolate offerings. I found Chocolove Strong Dark Chocolate as my one and only option. It’s made in Colorado, but with Begian chocolate–I brought home three bars. The wrapper noted that their chocolate tastes best at 70 degrees F, but should be stored at 55 to 65 degrees F. Since my kitchen was about 80 degrees, I was immediately in trouble. But, I jumped in! As a bonus, I found a lovely poem printed on the inside wrapper. Will share the poem after the recipe.

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Belgian Chocolate Brownies

8 ounces unsweetened or dark Belgian chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup (two sticks) butter
6 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3-1/2 cups sugar
2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9″ metal pan and line with parchment paper. Lightly grease again.

Melt the chopped chocolate and butter in a microwave. In my microwave, I melted the chocolate and butter at half power for three minutes, stopping twice to stir. After the three minutes, I stirred the mixture until all was melted. You can melt the chocolate and butter in a saucepan on the stove, but chocolate is very prone to burning, and the microwave method works well. Set aside to cool.

Combine the eggs, vanilla, salt and sugar in a large bowl and beat with either a large metal whisk or with an electric mixer. A mere spoon isn’t up to this. Beat until mixture is light and smooth. Sift the flour into the egg mixture, alternating with the cooled chocolate mixture. Beat only until combined. Spread the batter into the prepared pan, and bake just until set about 35 minutes. The brownie will have puffed up and will have some crackling.

Allow to cool before cutting.

Baking notes: This recipe made me a bit nervous, as the 375 degree baking temperature is high for a brownie, and the 3-1/2 cups sugar looked like a typo. But, all was well. There is a lot of batter, and the higher temperature helps it rise up quickly. Try not to bake it too much longer than the 35 minutes. Brownies burn easily. Just peek in the oven after about 30 minutes, watch for it to puff up, and snatch it out after 35 to 37 minutes. A neighbor came to the door just as the baking brownies hit the 37 minutes point–our newspaper had landed in her yard. So my brownies baked for about 39 minutes, and the corners browned a bit too much. But they are still moist and delish. And, we have our paper. The original recipe called for unsweetened Belgian chocolate, but you can also use dark Belgian chocolate.

Ready to go.

Ready to go.

Cut up the butter and chop the chocolate before melting.

Cut up the butter and chop the chocolate before melting.

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Here is the poem:

Love’s Omnipresence

Were I as base as is the lowly plain,
and you, my Love, as high as heaven above,
Yet should the thoughts of me your humble swain,
Ascend to heaven, in honor of my Love.

Were I as high as heaven above the plain,
And you, my Love, as humble and as low
As are the deepest bottoms of the main,
Whereso’er you were, with you my love should go.

Were you the earth, dear Love and I the skies,
My love should shine on you like to the sun,
And look upon you with ten thousand eyes
Till heaven wax’d blind, and till the world were done.

Whereso’er I am, below, or else above you,
Whereso’er you are, my heart shall truly love you.

Joshua Sylvester (1563-1618)

 

Chocolate Chip Coconut Bars and Life in the Garden

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The daylily shown above is from a 5-foot-tall variety called ‘Minaret.”

Thrills and adventure can be found in cookie baking–no need to go mountain climbing or bungee jumping. On a whim this week, I made these Chocolate Chip Coconut Bars from the St. Mark’s Lutheran Church Cookie Cookbook, to take to work. They were fabulous. A delicate shortbread crust supported a chewy layer of coconut, chopped walnuts and chocolate chips. Yum. Thinking about featuring it in this post, I re-read the recipe and realized that I had put in twice as much butter as the recipe called for! I did wonder why the crust mixture was like a batter, and not crumbly. When I made them again correctly, they weren’t nearly as good!  So here is my extra-buttery variation.

Chocolate Chip  Coconut Bars

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
3 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9″ pan and line with parchment paper. Cream butter and sugar. Add flour and then the milk. Evenly spread batter into the pan, and bake for 10 minutes, or until surface of batter is no longer shiny. Then make the following filling.

2 eggs
3/4 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sweetened coconut (half a 7-oz. bag)
1 cup chopped walnuts
half a 12-oz. bag of semi-sweet mini chips

Beat eggs well, and add sugar, beating until smooth. Add vanilla. Fold in coconut, walnuts and mini chips, and spread mixture evenly over hot crust. Bake for 20 minutes longer. Allow to cool completely. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar and cut into squares.

In the Garden

The garden is humming with bees and colorful with flowers and butterflies. The yellow flowers are from a wild sesame plant. The bee in the phlox looks like he’s holding on for dear life! Peace to you. Fran

 

Lemon-Blueberry Swirl Cake and an Encounter with a Butterfly

IMG_6157If you like a moist cake, here it is! It’s called Lemon-Blueberry Swirl Cake, and it’s a moist, tender cake studded with tart blueberries and swirled with a cream cheese filling. This morning I walked down the hill to our local grocery store, called the Blue Goose, picked up the ingredients, then walked up the hill (pretty much harder than walking down, as I also decided to buy some ears of fresh corn), and began baking. Hope you like!

Lemon-Blueberry Swirl Cake

1 package white cake mix
3/4 cup water
3 egg whites
2 tablespoons oil
1 package (3 oz.) lemon jello, divided
1 cup blueberries, washed and dried
1 8-oz. package of cream cheese
1 whole egg
3 additional tablespoons water

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-cup fluted pan and set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat the cake mix, 3/4 cup water, egg whites and oil in a large bowl. Add 1/4 cup dry gelatin mix; beat on low speed for one minute, then on medium for 4 minutes. Stir in berries. Using same beaters, beat together the cream cheese and whole egg until smooth.

Pour half the cake batter into the prepared pan, and cover with spoonfuls of the cream cheese mixture. Pour the rest of the batter over the cream cheese mixture and smooth with the back of a spoon. Bake for 45 minutes, or until deep gold. Cool cake for ten minutes. Loosen from sides of pan and invert onto a wire rack. Allow to cool.

baked cake

baked cake

Place cake on plate. Microwave 3 tablespoons water in a measuring cup. Add the remaining dry jello mix and stir until dissolved. Using a pastry brush, brush the mixture evenly over the cake until absorbed. I had to do this a number of times, and used up all the lemon mixture.

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ingredients

Baking notes: This cake is all about the soft, tender texture and the creamy filling. It’s like eating a cloud. The lemon flavor is mild, and the blueberries are few and far between, but somehow that’s okay. As I’ve mentioned, keep brushing the lemon mixture over the cake, allowing it to absorb, and using all the mixture. The recipe is from Kraft Foods Food & Family magazine, Spring 2010.

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What a gift birds and butterflies are. This morning as I stood at the kitchen sink, I saw a swallowtail butterfly fluttering among the plumes of the Joe Pye weed flowers. I rushed for my camera, and here are the photos. Peace to you. Fran

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One Easy Pizza

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I’ve been making this pizza for years, and thought it was time to share! It’s from a cookbook called “the Quick & Easy Vegetarian Cookbook,” by Ruth Ann Manners. (Available for one penny plus shipping on Amazon!) This pizza really is fast, fresh, and tasty, and really can be on the table in under an hour. Is it as fantastic as an artisanal pizza baked with heirloom tomato sauce in a handmade clay oven made with clay from Mt. Vesuvius and fueled with vine clippings from Tuscany? Probably not–it’s not quite as crisp as such a pizza paragon would be–but it’s still awfully good, fresh tasting, and can be varied infinitely.

Note: The recipe can be made more prosaically with 8 ounces of pizza sauce, shredded mozzarella, pre-sliced pepperoni and Parmesan, but the topping below is what I used today. The Priano Rosso Pesto Sauce is a red sauce made with sun dried tomatoes, and can be purchased at Aldi, as can the fresh mozzarella and Parmesan.

Easy Pizza

Dough:

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fresh basil

2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 package dry yeast
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm/hot water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon honey

Topping:
6.7 ounces Priano Rosso Pesto Sauce
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
sliced fresh basil
handful of sliced olives
freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
black pepper

Pour flour into a large bowl, and mix with the dry yeast and salt. Add the water, olive oil and honey, and stir into a rough ball of dough. Knead it lightly for a few minutes until smooth. The dough should be fairly light and springy–add a tablespoon more water if it feels dense. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about ten minutes while you prepare the  topping ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Punch the dough down. Pour a glug of olive oil onto a 14-inch pizza pan, and spread over the pan. Spread the dough onto the pan, pressing with fingers to evenly cover bottom of pan. Then layer on the ingredients: first the pesto sauce, and then the mozzarella. Sprinkle on the sliced basil, and distribute the sliced olives. Sprinkle with black pepper, and top with the freshly shredded Parmesan cheese. Pop into the oven and bake for about 18 to 20 minutes.

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Next photos show the unrisen and risen dough.

I'll be dreaming about this fresh basil in January!

I’ll be dreaming about this fresh basil in January!

Dough on oiled sheet, ready to be spread.

Dough on oiled sheet, ready to be spread.

Ready for the oven.

Ready for the oven.

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Baking notes: The white whole wheat flour is from is from Trader Joe’s, but the pizza can be made with regular whole wheat. As I’ve noted, you can use ready made pizza sauce, but I thought I’d try something different with the Rosso Pesto Sauce. You can also use pre-sliced mozzarella. To slice the fresh basil, stack some leaves, roll up, and slice crosswise with a sharp knife. You could also sprinkle with dried basil. You can do anything you want! I measure the olive oil and honey by estimating, rather than using measuring spoons.

Mystery Bird

I don’t claim to be an experienced “birder,” and when the following bird appeared in my garden, I had to ask a local expert. Turns out it’s a juvenile female cowbird. Never would have guessed!

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Just a bee, doing his thing. The pollen looks like gold dust.

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Lastly, a coneflower, one of the newer varieties. I like it! Peace to you. Fran

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Potato Chip Cookies

IMG_6077One of my most treasured cookie cookbooks is from The Women’s Guild of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, in St. Charles, Illinois. The church is right next to the library where I work. The book is a treasure trove of the best recipes from the church ladies, and if there is anything I know, it’s that church ladies know their cookies. They don’t have time for fiddly things, and know a good cookie when they taste it. So today I tried Potato Chip Cookies, contributed by four ladies, and it’s a big, big winner. These cookies are melt-in-your mouth tender, but are easy to make and economical. And, they have that wonderful sweet, salty, buttery flavor that is so popular right now.

Potato Chip Cookies

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Bottom of cookie should be golden brown.

2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup Crisco shortening
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3-1/2 cups flour
1 cup crushed potato chips

confectioners sugar

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (Sheet can be left ungreased if you don’t use the parchment paper.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream softened butter and shortening along with sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla, then flour and beat in. Then add crushed potato chips. Drop by teaspoonfuls, or use a small cookie scoop (which is about a tablespoon), spacing about two inches apart. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until cookie bottoms are a deep golden brown. Allow cookies to set for a moment when you take them out of the oven–they are tender. Place on cookie rack (I use a piece of clean newspaper for cooling cookies) and allow to cool. Sift confectioners sugar over all.

Baking notes: Some recipes for Potato Chip Cookies call for all butter, but I placed my money with the church ladies and used half Crisco. I have to say, the cookies really do melt in your mouth. If you do use all butter, the cookies may spread out more and be thinner. Other recipes specify a 375 degree oven temperature, but 350 degrees works perfectly. Some add in more potato chips, so go for it! I used Classic Lay’s Potato Chips. You could dip half of each cookie in melted chocolate, and then dip the chocolate end into more crushed chips. Or, you could make these cookies small–teaspoon size–and sandwich together with melted chocolate. Maybe I should stop now!

I used the small cookie scoop, and the recipe yielded 43 cookies.

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In the Garden

Not much going on in my garden, except when you look close. Goldfinches, sparrows and chickadees are up to the  usual drama. I am trying to borrow their state of being, which is to be in the moment, and to be happy with just being a bird (or in my case, just a human).

This young sparrow has that look of wearing feather diapers that so many young birds display, and that’s so sweet. And the chickadee is just doing his thing.

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Never realized that the petals of this campanula were feathery.

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Goldfinches and a daylily. Both goldfinches are playing peekaboo! Peace to you. Fran

 

Herb and Lemon Goat Cheese Spread (and a Robin)

 

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It’s summer, and the herbs in my garden are flourishing. The basil, the sage, and the oregano love the summer heat and sunshine. The mounds of thyme, especially, are fresh and green and covered with flowers. So when I ran across this recipe for Herb and Lemon Goat Cheese Spread (in a 1999 issue of Bon Appetit, all about Provence), which called for fresh thyme, I had to try it. I’ve come to love goat cheese, and it’s been popping up in more and more stores as cooks discover its tangy creaminess. Aldi sells it in three different varieties–I use the plain here. This spread has a creamy, herbal flavor, with the brightness of lemon glowing like sunshine over it all.

Herb and Lemon Goat Cheese Spread

IMG_60245 to 6 ounces (about 1/2 cup) soft goat cheese
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
1 garlic clove, minced
black pepper, to taste
5 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
crackers to accompany

Place the cheese in a small bowl. Mix thyme, lemon peel and garlic in a measuring cup; season with black pepper. Add half of the thyme mixture to the goat cheese, and mix well. Add the olive oil to remaining half of thyme mixture. Spoon the flavored cheese into a small, decorative bowl. Swirl with a knife. Spoon the oil-thyme mixture over top of the cheese, and serve with crackers or toasted slices of French baguette.

The goat cheese being mixed with the thyme mixture.

The goat cheese being mixed with the thyme mixture.

Cooking notes: Could you make it with dried thyme? You could try (I would use 1/2 teaspoon) but there is nothing like the flavor of fresh. Thyme is genuinely easy to grow–it just needs sun and average soil. The above thyme is a mat-forming oregano thyme and I recommend it for its flavor and attractiveness in the garden. It’s sometimes called “pizza thyme.” Lemon thyme is also good. The goat cheese I used here is soft, but firmer varieties are available. If you use a firmer variety, flatten the flavored cheese into a 2-1/2 inch disc. The goat cheese I used from Aldi comes in 4 ounce logs. I used one and a half logs. No, this doesn’t create a large amount of spread–it’s barely one cup. But it’s rich and creamy, and a little goes a long way. This would be delicious with a sparkling white wine!

A honey bee, investigating the thyme flowers this morning.

A honey bee, investigating the thyme flowers this morning.

If I just sit quietly on the lichen-covered bench on our back patio, birds appear and start doing interesting things. This robin perched above me, singing, and then flew over to the fence, and resumed his song. He has a beautiful voice, and I enjoyed listening to him. He seemed to take a bow at the end! Peace. Fran

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