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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A Focaccia and Goldfinches

Focaccia is a golden, chewy Italian flat bread. I enjoy making it because it’s so easy, delicious and versatile. Here I show it topped with sliced cherry tomatoes and garlic, sprinkled with oregano and coarse salt, but you could top it with olives, cheese, walnuts or . . . ? With chicken from the grill, a salad, and fresh peaches for dessert, you have a nice meal. Don’t be afraid of the sliced garlic–it mellows as it bakes.

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This is based on a recipe for Focaccia from Puglia from “Savory Baking From the Mediterranean,” by Anissa Helou.

Focaccia

1 package (1/4 oz.) dry yeast
2 cups + 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup water, divided
1 teaspoon table salt
6 cherry tomatoes, quartered and seeded
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
coarse sea salt
extra virgin olive oil

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. Add a pinch of sugar and stir. Let sit until creamy. Combine 2 cups flour and the table salt, and add to the yeast mixture with 1/2 cup warm water. Stir with a large spoon to make a rough dough. If it seems sticky, add the two additional tablespoons of flour. Lightly knead and shape into a ball. Let it rest for 15 minutes, and knead for a few more minutes until smooth. (It’s a light dough, and will still be just a bit sticky.) Remove the dough from the bowl, and wash and dry the bowl. Add a bit of olive oil to the bowl–place the dough on it, turning to coat the dough with oil. Place in a plastic bag, and let rise for an hour.

Meanwhile, using olive oil, grease a 15 x 11″ pan. Line with parchment paper and oil again. Take the risen dough and place it in the pan. Flatten it and press it to cover the whole pan. Cover with a clean dishtowel, and let it rise for about 45 more minutes, until puffy. Meanwhile, prepare your cherry tomatoes and garlic cloves.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Dot the dough with the sliced cherry tomatoes and garlic slices, pressing them in. Sprinkle with the oregano and sea salt, and then drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Bottom crust should be golden brown.

Bottom crust should be golden brown.

Baking notes: Yes, this is almost pizza, but without the tomato sauce, the dough bakes up with a chewy interior and a crispy crust. The original recipe called for two initial risings, but I think it’s fine with just one. Be sure to use coarse sea salt for the topping. Table salt will be too salty. Also, you can slice this bread in half, and freeze one half for another meal.

The Country of Goldfinchania

As usual, the world is in turmoil, and I know that ignoring it won’t make it all go away. But I do enjoy the relief of immersing myself in the world of goldfinches, and noting that all is well there. No goldfinch, that I know of, is running for president! Hurrah! Come to think of it, though, I would vote for any goldfinch who did run for office. Their campaign promises would somehow involve sunflower seeds for all, and that sounds fine to me. Peace to you. Fran

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Chocolate Chip Cookie Pound Cake

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What is better than a chocolate chip cookie fresh from the oven? Nothing that I can think of, though a warm slice of this Chocolate Chip Cookie Pound Cake comes in a very close second. The original recipe is from “300 Best Chocolate Recipes,” by Julie Hasson. She describes it as a “cross between a chocolate chip cookie and a pound cake,” and I had to try it. Had to! How could a crisp cookie and a velvety pound cake come together in one recipe? Well, here’s how: the cake itself is moist, full of melty milk chocolate chips and chopped walnuts, and the crust is crispy and brown and brown sugary. Voila–a Chocolate Chip Cookie Pound Cake! This would be so perfect for a picnic. Here’s the recipe.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Pound Cake

2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-3/4 cups brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
5 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
milk chocolate chips, one 11.5 oz. bag
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

powdered sugar for dusting

Grease a 9″ square metal baking pan, and then line with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix together the flour and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together brown sugar and softened butter until smooth and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract.

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After adding the eggs. the batter should be light and fluffy.

Add flour mixture, beating just until smooth. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts.

Spread batter in prepared pan, smoothing top. Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes, and then lift out.

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You can sprinkle your cake with powdered sugar, if you wish. I used my muffineer-the silver-topped shaker seen in the first photo. It’s an antique and used to be used for sprinkler powdered sugar onto muffins. Thought it would be fun to use on this cake, too!

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Baking notes: Recipes have a way of evolving, and the original recipe for this called for slabs of milk chocolate. But when I found that two bars of good-quality milk chocolate would cost $5.78, and that one bag of good-quality milk chocolate chips cost $1.79, I went with the chips, and the cake became a Chocolate Chip Cookie Pound Cake. I recommend taking the eggs from the fridge beforehand, to come to room temperature. The room temperature eggs and softened butter will give you a fluffy batter and a moist, fine-textured cake. By the way, there seems to be a lot of batter for the relatively small pan, but it will fit in.

On to birds! While the birds in my garden may not be the most interesting to experienced birders, to me, they always seem to be doing interesting things. This grackle sat on the line for more than 20 minutes, alternately resting and grooming himself. He’s so elegant! Peace to you. Fran

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Pistachio Brown-Sugar Cookies and Busy Bees

 

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I love the buttery, almost lemony, flavor of pistachios, and when I saw this recipe for Pistachio Brown-Sugar Cookies, I had to try. The recipe comes from a book called “Gourmet’s Casual Entertaining.” The cookies are unremarkable in appearance, being flat, brown and round, and bumpy with chopped pistachios. But they are incredibly crunchy, buttery and nutty, and will make the pistachio lovers of your acquaintance very happy!

Pistachio Brown-Sugar Cookies

1-1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (one cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup salted pistachios, shelled and chopped

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

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside. Cream the softened butter with the brown sugar until light and fluffy. Then beat in the egg yolk and vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture, and then the chopped pistachios.

Drop by tablespoons (I used a small cookie scoop) 3 inches apart onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes. The bottoms and edges will be golden brown. Allow to cool and firm up for a few minutes on the baking sheet, and then transfer to racks to cool.

Baking notes: The only slightly difficult thing about making these cookies is shelling the pistachios and chopping them. I purchased a one pound bag of roasted and salted pistachios and didn’t quite use a half of the bag. Different grocery stores may offer different quantities of nuts. My estimate is that I used about 6 ounces of nuts in the shell to end up with about one cup of chopped nuts. I made these cookies on a warm day, and when the dough was mixed, I put it into the refrigerator to firm up for about one half hour.

The other day, I was weeding in our side garden when I heard soft, low buzzing, and noticed bees steadily flying amidst the flowers of the nearby Ballerina rose. (If you have trouble with roses, by the way, Ballerina is a good one to try. It’s tough, doesn’t attract Japanese beetles, and can take a bit of shade.) Seeing the bees, I ran for my camera and took these photos. Hope you enjoy!

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Flying bee.

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Falling in head first bee.

Lastly, just a robin, but one of noble demeanor! May he brighten your day as he has brightened mine. Peace, Fran

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Plum Kuchen and a Butterfly

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I have a bad habit of riffling through cookbooks, recipe clippings and recipe booklets, and then becoming enamored of a recipe. Before I know it, I’m in the kitchen retrieving the butter from the fridge. In this case, the recipe is for Plum Kuchen, from a booklet called “Pillsbury Simply from Scratch,” published in 1986. Jammy, juicy sliced plums nestle in a soft, buttery crust–yum! The recipe just looks like it came from a fancy bakery–in reality, it’s easier than pie. And with summer upon us, it’s a good recipe for using the luscious stone fruits that will be showing up soon at the grocery store–not just plums, but nectarines, peaches and apricots. Here’s the recipe.

Plum Kuchen

Ready for the oven.

Ready for the oven.

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 plums, pitted and sliced

Mix together: 3 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch springform pan. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg; beat well. (I recommend using an electric mixer for this.) Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add to butter mixture. Pat dough over bottom of pan, and arranged sliced plums over dough. Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Place the filled pan on a baking sheet, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Cool 10 minutes before removing the sides of the pan. This kuchen is delicious warm or cool.

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Baking notes: A springform pan can also be used for cheesecakes and tortes. It’s the type of thing that pops up at garage sales and resale shops–look around and you may find one for a dollar. The dough is like a soft sugar cookie dough. To help pat it into the pan, put some confectioners sugar into a small bowl, and dip your fingertips into it as you pat to keep the dough from sticking. I used small red plums, and sliced each into eight pieces. I did my best to arrange the slices in a neat pattern. I made an outer and inner circle, and placed three slices in the middle. It may look a little messy when it goes into the oven, but a masterpiece will emerge!

Butterfly Time

Our kitty Puff was out in the front yard, lounging under a hosta, when I noticed this little butterfly fluttering over the baptisia plant. Baptisia is also called wild indigo, and is a stellar prairie plant for the home garden. I ran back inside for my camera, and was able to take these pictures. I think it’s a clouded sulphur butterfly, but after poring over three butterfly manuals, I have new respect for butterfly experts. There are innumerable sulphurs, and some may be young, some female, some a regional variation. To me, they aren’t easy to identify. (I almost said, “aren’t easy to pin down”), but caught myself! I only capture butterflies with my camera! Hope you enjoy. Peace to you. Fran

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Flying away.

Flying away.

A Visit to a Natural History Museum

The title of this post may have grabbed you; it may have not. I just know that when I was a kid I loved going to the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois. The shadowy, echoing hallways, the marble staircases, the mummy cases, the dinosaur skeletons, the murky dioramas, the stuffed bears–I was transfixed. So I was amazed to find a small version of this in Elgin, Illinois, called the Elgin Public Museum. There are no mummy cases, but it has the same shadowy, echoing Victorian feel to it, and I enjoyed exploring it. I was there Sunday, and would like to share some photos.

A scene taken from the balcony.

A scene taken from the balcony.

In an alcove, there was a decorative bird case, with stuffed cedar waxwings.

In an alcove, there was a decorative bird case, with stuffed cedar waxwings perched on branches.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the stuffed birds and animals. They were both beautiful and melancholy. Here are some closeups of the bird case.

Individual birds.

My favorite exhibit was this glass case filled with milkweed pods and silk. There were bird feathers, eggs, and butterfly wings nestled in the milkweed silk. I’ve never seen anything like this.

On the walls, there were cases with stuffed birds.

A passenger pigeon.

There was another bird kiosk (not sure what to call it) on the balcony.

An egret.

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A deer’s eye view from the balcony.

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A view from the balcony.

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From other side.

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Time to leave!

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Back home, I took this picture of a young robin. Glad to see him. Peace to you. Fran

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