Heart-Shaped Chocolate Chip Cookies

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They said it couldn’t be done: to bake heart-shaped chocolate chip cookies. Chocolate chip cookie dough is notorious for flattening out and generally baking up into roundish blobs.

But just the other day I came across a cookie article in an old copy of Country Living Country Cooking, 1995, and it showed a number of heart-shaped cookies, including this chocolate chip variety. Had to try it! Immediately!

I wasn’t feeling very hopeful, though, being pretty sure that I would find roundish blobs when I opened the oven. I’m coming off of several baking failures, including a Lithuanian soda bread that looked and tasted like something you would be given to eat in solitary confinement in a high-security prison. So I felt low, baking wise.

To my delight, though, the recipe yielded ten large, golden-brown chocolate chip hearts. Furthermore, the dough was easy to handle, with no sticking, breaking or other funny stuff. Here is the recipe!

Heart-Shaped Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_50391 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup semi-sweet mini chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans

A five-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter

Heat oven to 375 degrees, and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Beat butter with the sugars well, until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt and add into the sugar/butter mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips and pecans. The dough will be firm.

Grease the inner side of the cookie cutter and place on the lined baking sheet. Measure 1/3 cup of the dough, and drop into greased cutter. Pat dough evenly to form a heart shape. The dough will be about 1/4″ thick. Pay special attention to the edges, firming them down with the tip of a spoon. Carefully remove the cutter and repeat to make remaining cookies. Leave about 2 inches between each cookie. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes or until golden.

Baking notes: Removing the cutter from the heart-shaped dough is straightforward, especially if you lift it up slowly and press down on the dough edge with the tip of a spoon as you lift. I experimented with lightly flouring the greased cutter, and this also helped. My cookie cutter was actually about 4-1/2 inches from top to bottom.

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IMG_5041The above herbs include fronds of rosemary and rose geranium. According to The Book of Valentine Remembrances by Adelma Simmons, rosemary signifies remembrance, and rose geranium, preference. So it’s a little romantic touch.

I have had this little book for years, as you can see by the spatters!

Photographing birds can be a ticklish business. It only takes a second for the bird to hop from one place to the next, or to simply fly away. Here is a junco, a bit of a rarity at the feeder because it usually is on the ground looking for seed. It hopped down from the perch to the feeder’s edge, and in a second, had flown away.

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Peace to you. Fran

Saucepan Apple Squares and a Chickadee

IMG_5010I wish there were a fancier name for these bars–perhaps Pommes Patisseries au Delicieuse would work–because they are so chewy, buttery, and crispy-edged, with little spangles of tart apple, that you may want to make them for guests, and calling them “Saucepan Apple Squares” might seem a little pedestrian!

This recipe comes from yet another yellowed clipping from my recipe file, from a September 1977 issue of Family Circle. (I have been asked, “You were alive  in 1977?” and I have to say, yes, but a lot of people were. Millions, even.)  The article was called “New Idea! Saucepan Cookies,”and because I have apples on hand, I immediately zeroed in on the Apple Squares recipe. They are so simple, easy, and good, for any time of the year, that I will turn to this recipe again.

 Apple Squares

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Piñata apples

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped apple
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
Cinnamon Sugar (recipe follows)

Grease an 8 x 8″ square metal pan, and line with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make Cinnamon Sugar by combining 1/4 cup sugar with 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Chop the apple (one small).

Melt butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Remove from heat, and add in sugars. Beat the egg with the vanilla, and add. Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon, and add along with the chopped apple and walnuts. The batter will be stiff and lumpy. Spread into the prepared pan, and sprinkle evenly with one tablespoon of the cinnamon sugar. Bake for about thirty minutes, or until golden. (Makes 16 squares.)

Baking notes: I used one small apple, of a variety called Piñata, from Trader Joe’s. Even using a small apple, I had some slices left over. So you need a really small apple. You can pare it or not. You will have some Cinnamon Sugar left over, but perhaps it can be used for a nostalgic slice of cinnamon toast.

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The weather continues to be cold, and I noticed this little chickadee posing with feathers fluffed. The square patterns are the shadow of the lace curtain at our back door. It’s a bit difficult to see the eye of the chickadee–the eye, the eye ring, and his feathers are all black, making him a photographic challenge! But his fluffy feathers are so cute. Peace to you. Fran

 

A Squirrel’s Tail

It’s been cold, and I always wonder how local birds and squirrels cope with the sub-zero temperatures. But I looked up yesterday from doing the dishes only to see this delightful squirrel peering in at me. What was I doing? Why would anyone want to do it? Got me. We looked at each other curiously. His fur looked thick and warm. Seems to be doing okay!

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Felt like baking up something cozy today, and after inspecting the pantry, found a nice jar of fig preserves. Fig Bars it would be! I love figs, but have to admit that I’ve never had a good fresh one, the Midwest not being the fresh fig capital of the world. But dried Turkish figs are moist and sweet, so I don’t feel deprived.

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The bars have a shortbread base, a layer of jammy fig preserves, and are topped with a crunchy oatmeal and walnut layer and a veil of confectioners sugar. I have made the bars in a springform pan, just to be fancy–makes the bars look like a fancy tart. But you can make them in a 9″ square pan, as well.

Fig Bars

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Dusted with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Crust:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour

Filling: 1 cup fig preserves, or jam of your choice

Topping:
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup oats
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Prepare either a 9″ springform pan or a 9″ square pan by greasing generously. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the crust, cream the sugar with the softened butter. Stir in vanilla. Add in the flour, rubbing it in with your fingertips. It will be very crumbly, and seem a bit dry. Pat into the bottom of the pan, and bake for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, stir the preserves so they are soft and spreadable.

Set the pan with its baked crust aside while you make the topping. Mix the brown sugar and butter together, and rub in the flour until crumbly. Add in the oats and chopped walnuts and stir until a evenly crumbly mixture results.

Spread the preserves over the crust, and sprinkle with the crumble mixture. I also made some fig decorations using a couple of dried figs. I cut off the hard stem, flattened the fig, and cut into slivers, then topped the bars with these slivers. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the preserves are bubbling and the sides golden. Allow to cool, and sift on some powdered sugar.

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I chopped the walnuts using an antique nut chopper. Ingredients include a cup of coffee for the baker!

This bird photo may not seem amazing, but I am proud of it, because it’s a brown creeper. Brown creepers are little birds that start out at the base of a tree and work their way around the trunk in a spiral, looking for insects. Since they blend in with the bark, you hardly ever notice them except out of the corner of your eye, and since they move fast, it’s not easy to get a photo. What a beautiful little bird!

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Some daffodils, albeit from Aldi, but still a harbinger of Spring. Peace to you. Fran

 

Mrs. Pettigrew’s Lemon Cake

IMG_4930Riffling through some old recipe clippings, circa 1989, I came across a recipe for Mrs. Pettigrew’s Lemon Cake. I had previously skipped over it because while the cake looked luscious in the photo, the recipe had more pitfalls than the Matterhorn has crevasses, and the experienced baker/mountain climber in me was afraid of falling into an abyss. But today I gave it a try, and it’s delish, a type of cake that the British would call squidgy–very, very soft and moist. The flavor explodes with tart lemon, and then tails off into mellow butteriness. There is no eggy or floury flavor note. I have navigated the crevasses so that for you, the reader, the recipe will be like a walk in an alpine meadow.

Mrs. Pettigrew’s Lemon Cake

2 large lemons
3 tablespoons sugar, for topping
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup flour
6 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8 x 4″ metal loaf pan, line with parchment, and lightly grease again. Finely grate both lemons–this should yield about 1-1/2 to 2 teaspoons of grated rind. Juice one lemon (should yield 3 tablespoons juice) and combine the juice with the 3 tablespoons sugar in a small bowl. Stir and then set aside.

Thoroughly cream the butter with the 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add the beaten eggs, a little at a time, to the butter mixture and beat with an electric mixer for about four minutes. The mixture should be light and smooth. Stir in the grated lemon rind. Sift in the flour and stir briefly. Add the milk and beat only until combined.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes. The center of the cake should spring back when pressed gently in the center. Set the hot cake (still in the pan) on a folded towel, and pierce all over with a skewer. Stir the lemon juice-sugar syrup and spoon all over the cake. Allow to cool, and remove from pan to plate.

Batter should be light and smooth.

Batter should be light and smooth.

Baking notes: Take the butter, eggs and milk out of the fridge and allow to sit on the counter at warm room temperature for at least an hour. This is important. Chilled ingredients will result in a curdled batter and a small cake. I beat the eggs with a fork in a small bowl for about a minute–they should be light and foamy. One of the major pitfalls of the recipe is that it specified beating the batter for a long time after adding the flour. In my experience, this leads to a gluey batter and tough cake. You can beat the butter, sugar and egg for at least four to five minutes, but just stir in the flour until incorporated. Before adding the milk, test it with the tip of your finger: it should be tepid. A few seconds in the microwave could help it warm up.

Not all lemons are alike. If your lemons are not real juicy, you may have to use more than one lemon for the 3 tablespoons juice.

This sounds like a lot of work, but if you remember to take your butter, eggs and milk from the fridge beforehand to warm up, it’s a snap!

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Use large lemons. Grate both, and juice one.

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Yesterday I ran across a book you might like, especially if you are a fan of the Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, like butterflies, or old-fashioned botanic art. It’s called The Butterflies of North America–Titian Peale’s Lost Manuscript. It’s wonderful to browse through! Ask for it at your Library.

The squirrels are up to their usual shenanigans.

Only the sparrows braved the cold yesterday.

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Cozier this way!

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Meanwhile, our cat Puff stays warm and cozy indoors.

Meanwhile, our cat Puff stays warm and cozy indoors. Peace to you. Fran

 

 

A Bird Hello

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Here is a little nuthatch with a translucent millet seed in his beak. Love his little claws and perfect feathers.

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This downy wood pecker is enjoying a suet peanut treat that I got for Christmas.

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Not totally sure what this starling is up to–he may be hunting for a juniper berry but few were left by the cedar waxwings this fall.

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A stern sparrow.

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His feathers are amazing.

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This female cardinal looks pretty much how I feel, after the holidays and a bout with a cold. We will all recover together! Peace. Fran

 

Old Hippie Banana Bread

IMG_4837There are several reasons for this post–one is that having overdosed on Christmas cookies in the past weeks I know I should get on the treadmill and eat Ry Krisps–or, horrors, nothing at all–but I can’t quite bring myself to do that . . . yet. So this rough hewn cobblestone of a loaf of banana bread will help me segue to all things healthy. At least that’s the theory! The other reason is that I had a big pile of bananas rapidly turning brown on the kitchen counter. Banana Bread to the rescue!

The recipe comes from Laurel’s Kitchen, an old hippie cookbook if there ever was one. It’s from the days when I wore granny glasses, buffalo hide sandals, an army surplus t-shirt and patchouli perfume.

The loaf is loaded with wheat germ, from a time when they put bushels of wheat germ into everything and it works here, making the loaf nutty, speckly, and crunchy.

Banana Bread

Juice of one lemon
3 ripe bananas
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

handful of nuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and grease a 9x 5″ loaf pan. You can line with parchment paper, if you like–it makes it easy to lift the bread out. Mash the bananas and mix them with the lemon juice. You can mash the bananas till they are smooth, or leave some lumps. Do your own thing!

Cream butter and sugar together and add the mashed bananas. Stir well. In a separate bowl stir together the dried ingredients, and then add to the banana mix. With wild hippie abandon, throw in a big handful of nuts. The dough will be stiff–don’t freak. Turn into the greased loaf pan; sprinkle with more wheat germ, and bake for about 40 minutes. Use a skewer to test for doneness. Allow to cool completely before removing from pan and slicing.

Baking notes: The bananas were about 6 inches long, and mashed up to about 1-1/2 cups, but a little bit more or less won’t hurt. The original recipe called for margarine, because it used to be thought healthier than butter. Not! It’s funny, but this tastes a bit too sweet to me now–times have changed. You could scale back to 1/3 cup brown sugar, and see what you think. In the past I have experimented with using Pyrex or ceramic pans, but metal is best for this dense loaf.

Yesterday was the worse weather imaginable (sleet pelting us and a low pressure system), and birds were nowhere to be seen. So I am posting some pix taken in the fall.

red-bellied woodpecker

red-bellied woodpecker

starling

A starling: surprisingly elegant close up.

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The blue jays are back!

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I woke up sick yesterday with a cold/flu thing, but was able to cure myself by reading The Wind in the Willows by Ernest H. Shepard. This gentle story is the perfect antidote to after-Christmas illnesses or holiday let down. It really took me away to another world, and when I awoke this morning, was 100% better!  Peace. Fran