Giant Toffee-Chocolate Chip Cookies and a Skipper

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I wish I could say I had a reason for baking these Giant Toffee-Chocolate Chip Cookies, but no rational can be found, except that I just like baking cookies. And this recipe has been calling to me for awhile. Could they possibly be as delicious as they looked in the “Betty Crocker Baking with Love” cookbook, in the chapter titled “Irresistible Cookies”? As it turns out, yes! Big and buttery, crunchy with Heath Bar English Toffee Bits, they are like chocolate chip cookies on steroids. I scooped out the dough with a big 1/4-cup ice cream scooper, but you can make them by the tablespoon for smaller cookies. Either way, these are awfully good!

Giant Toffee-Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup packed  brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup honey
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 12-ounce package miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1 package (8-ounce) milk chocolate toffee bits

Heat oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix brown sugar, butter, shortening, honey and egg. Beat together (a big spoon can be used) until smooth and light. Stir in the flour mixture, and then the chocolate chips and brick chips. Using a 1/4-cup ice cream scoop, drop dough onto cookie sheet, and bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Centers will still be soft. Allow to cool a bit on baking sheet before moving to wire rack. Makes 21 cookies.

Baking notes: As I’ve mentioned, you can make these smaller–bake for about 10 to 12 minutes. I used Heath Bar English Toffee Bits. The original recipe called for a 6-ounce bag of the toffee bits, but the bag I purchased was 8 ounces. So in a fit of wild abandon, I threw in all 8-ounces of chips.

A Silver-Spotted Skipper

Now that I’ve seen one skipper, I seem to see them everywhere: my skipper consciousness has been raised! Here is a silver-spotted skipper, daintily perched on a sedum. He gets his name from the distinctive silver patch on his hindwing.

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Flying away!
Flying away!

This is aster season, and here is a picture of a purple aster I saw out at Otter Creek Nature Preserve this weekend. I think it’s a New York aster, but don’t quote me on that! Peace. Fran

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Note: I’ve made a few changes in the format of this blog, with the aim of making it easier to read! Hope you like, but I would like to hear any comments, yea or nay. Fran

 

Lots-of-Blueberries Coffeecake and a Skipper

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The garden has been alive with butterflies this past week–I’ve seen sulphurs, red admirals and skippers. (This is the first year of my life that I have noticed skippers, and it makes me wonder what else I have been missing.) In my defense, the skipper posing above is barely half an inch long, and is easily missed. Turns out that skippers are considered to be primitive butterflies, and are classified in their own separate group apart from butterflies and moths. There are many kinds of skippers, but after learning that even experts have a hard time knowing which is which, I decided to just enjoy them, and not delve further into nomenclature.

Here are a few closeups of this delightful little creature.

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For Blueberry Lovers

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For blueberry lovers, here is a moist, plump coffeecake, loaded with about as many blueberries as can be shoehorned into one cake, and topped with a crackling crust of sugar. The recipe is from “Tea Breads and Coffeecakes” by Elizabeth Alston, a delightful little book. Its broken spine and smudged pages testify as to how much I have enjoyed baking from it!

Lots-Of-Blueberries Coffeecake

4 tablespoons butter
3 cups blueberries
2 cups flour
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Topping: 2 tablespoons sugar mixed with 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 8- or 9-inch glass baking dish. Line it with parchment paper, and grease lightly again. Melt the butter in a small bowl in a microwave. (This took about 50 seconds at full power in my microwave.) Set aside to cool.

Wash and drain blueberries; spread out on paper towels to dry.

Put the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Stir to mix. Mix the milk, eggs, and vanilla together, and add to the flour mixture along with the melted butter. Fold in the blueberries. Spread the batter in the prepared dish, and sprinkle with the topping mixture. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until a knife tip inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Blueberry Baking notes: The price of blueberries can vary wildly from week to week. When I went shopping this morning, I realized it would cost me at least $8.00 for the blueberries in this recipe. So I opted to buy a 12-0unce bag of frozen berries for $2.69, and they worked well. I did go to the King Arthur Flour website to learn about using frozen blueberries. They recommended rinsing the frozen berries until the water runs clear, and then drying them on paper towels. This keeps the berries from staining the batter. I did this, though I have to say, the water never ran clear, and drying the wet, thawing berries was an ordeal. So I also checked in at the US Highbush Blueberry Council. They recommend not allowing the frozen berries to thaw at all before adding to the batter–this will keep streaking to a minimum. I vote for the second method! The Blueberry Council offers some wonderful looking recipes, so it’s worth stopping by their website.

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The china pattern is Spode’s “Camilla,” from England.

As well as skippers, there were bees browsing the sedum yesterday. Peace to you. Fran

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A Visit to a Hen House

This post all began when I noticed that the peppers growing in our backyard were getting larger and larger. There were shiny green peppers, and a bunch of glowing red hot peppers. Thinking “green pepper” made me think of the pepper and egg sandwiches that were sold on Fridays at the Italian beef stands near where I grew up in Chicago. We would go to Connie’s Italian Beef, a dark hole-in-the-wall shop, manned by what looked like the Mafia, and where Italian beef sandwiches sold for 40 cents. (Shows how long ago this was.) On Fridays, they made pepper and egg sandwiches, with eggs and oily peppers piled on top of a split French roll. Wrapped in greasy waxed paper, they smelled good! I decided to give them a try in my own kitchen.

We had the peppers, now where to get the eggs? Of course, I could go to the grocery store, but that would be too easy! So Jim and I decided to go to Primrose Farm, a local farm from the 1930s, which is part of the St. Charles Park system. I had heard that they had a farm stand offering free-range eggs, and that you could meet the hens.

The next day, after a ten-minute drive later, we found ourselves at the farm. It was a beautiful day, and we made a stop at the hen house before going to the farm stand. The chickens are a variety called “Columbian Wyandotte.”

Columbian Wyandotte hens
Columbian Wyandotte hens
A closer look at some hens.
A closer look at some hens.

They have their own chicken house, and get into it via a front door, or a side ramp.

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They are very photogenic!
They are very photogenic!

Here is the view from the hen house. We should all be so lucky!

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After admiring the hens, we stopped by the farm stand and purchased some eggs. And on the way we saw these sweet cows.

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Free-range eggs from a local farm.
Free-range eggs from a local farm.

As it turned out, the eggs from the Columbian Wyandottes were given to kids taking part in programs at the farm. So the eggs we purchased were from a nearby farm, and were also free range.

It had been a beautiful day, and we will return.

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Now, to the Pepper and Egg Sandwiches. This is a loose recipe, scaled for two people. You will need eggs, green peppers, garlic, olive oil, salt, and rolls. We were lucky enough to have crusty rolls from an Italian bakery, but any kind of long crusty roll or Italian bread will work. Also, you don’t have to make a special trip to a farm stand for the eggs–most grocery stores now offer free-range eggs.

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Slice up a green pepper (one is enough for two people), and fry in olive oil, along with a crushed garlic clove and a shake of salt. You can also slice up a hot pepper and add it, as well.

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For the scrambled eggs, I recommend five eggs for two people. Scramble the eggs using one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon on olive oil. While this is heating up, beat your eggs thoroughly, adding some salt. Pour into the heated frying pan. Keep the heat low, and scrape the curds of eggs to the center as they cook. When they are almost done, turn off the heat and put the lid on for a minute. They will finish cooking and stay fluffy. (I have a picture of some rather glistening scrambled eggs, but think it’s better if you use your imagination!)

At this point, slice open your rolls. Apportion the scrambled eggs to each roll, and top with the cooked peppers. Drizzle on any of the garlic-flavored oil left in the pan.

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You can top with some mozzarella, if you want, and roll up the sandwich in foil. Place in a 300 degree oven for about five minutes to warm the roll and melt the cheese.

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Time to eat. (Whoops–cheese not quite melted–but still tasty!)

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This is my take on pepper and egg sandwiches, but you might also want to watch a video from the Great Depression Cooking with Clara series. Clara was in her nineties when this video was made. Be sure to watch both Part I and II! She cooks her eggs with the peppers, and it also looks good!

One more chicken picture!

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Peace to you. Fran

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No-Bake Chocolate Daisy Cookies and a Hummingbird

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Before we get to the hummingbird (which I’m pretty excited about!), I’d like to share an easy recipe for No-Bake Chocolate Daisy Cookies. As usual, I had been riffling through old magazine clippings, and had found a recipe for No-Bake Chocolate Cookie Squares from the Baker’s chocolate company. It sounded good and easy: broken up cookies are added to a mixture of melted chocolate and butter. The mixture is chilled, and cut into shards.

Since it’s still pretty warm out, I liked the idea of “no-bake,” and found myself heading to our local Blue Goose grocery store for chocolate. Suddenly, I had a brainstorm! How about placing the cookies on top of the chocolate, and how about using the cookies of my childhood, the daisy-like Salerno Butter Cookies?

I came back home loaded with chocolate and cookies and set to work. I found that sixteen cookies fit perfectly into a 9-inch pan. I also made allowances for the fact that the Baker’s chocolate people had decreased the size of their chocolate bar since the recipe was published. I found myself at a Canadian site that showed the original recipe–it had half the butter. (Sometimes the simplest recipes are the hardest!) I donned my mad scientist jacket and hat, and started melting butter and chopping chocolate, and here is the result. The finished cookie combines the crispness of the butter cookie and the melt-in-the-mouth butteriness of the chocolate. Plus the crunch of the pistachios. Easy and delicious!

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No-Bake Chocolate Daisy Cookies

2 four-ounce boxes of Baker’s semi-sweet baking chocolate
1/2 cup (one stick) butter
16 Salerno Butter Cookies
handful of chopped pistachios

Line a 9-inch pan with parchment paper. Coarsely chop the two bars of chocolate and place into a microwave-safe bowl. Cut up the butter into chunks, and add to the chocolate. Microwave on half power for three minutes, stopping to stir twice. After three minutes, stir until completely smooth. (On my machine, half power was number five out of nine.) Using a spatula, scrape melted chocolate and butter mixture into the prepared pan. Smooth with the back of a spoon. Carefully place the 16 cookies on top of the chocolate, press down a bit, and sprinkle with the chopped pistachios. Place into refrigerator and allow to harden–at least one hour. Cut into pieces. Store uneaten cookies in the fridge.

The pictures below show the two bars of chocolate that are used, as well as how to coarsely cut up the chocolate, and how to place the cookies on the melted chocolate.

Notes: If you don’t want to use the Salerno Butter Cookies, you can use one cup of broken cookies of your choice, such as shortbread cookies or even peanut butter cookies. Be sure to use half power on your microwave when melting!

For Christmas, you could use white chocolate with added chopped dried cranberries. Place the cookies on top, and sprinkle with chopped pistachios.

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We’ve had a hummingbird visiting our garden, apparently attracted to our red and pink zinnias. I’ve despaired of ever catching a photo of one, because they do zip around quickly. But the other day, I was standing by the zinnias when the hummingbird flew right up to me, and stared at me–I felt a moment of complete joy. I had my camera, and as the bird flew over to the zinnias, I caught this picture. If you look closely, you can see his beating wings. Hope you enjoy! Peace to you. Fran

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Goldfinches on Zinnias

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There is no excuse for these cookies–none! The recipe is from an ancient copy of Gourmet, from the time long ago when no one worried about fat, with the result that the cookies are so loaded with butter it’s ridiculous. They are also too large! But can a cookie be too large? I leave that to you to wrestle with! All I know is that these are buttery to the max, and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, would be much easier to make than a pecan pie. Go for it!

Pecan Shortbread Cookies

2-1/2 sticks (1-1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
1-1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
2-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans plus
30 pecans halves, for garnish
1/2 cup oatmeal

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Using an electric mixer, beat the softened butter and brown sugar together for about five minutes, stopping to scrape the bowl down several times. The mixture will be light, creamy and fluffy. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, salt, the chopped pecans, and the oats. Stir into the butter mixture and combine well. Drop 1/4-cup measures of the dough about 4 inches apart onto the baking sheet. With the palm of your hand flatten each mound into a 3/4-inch thick round. Press 2 pecan halves on top of each cookie and bake the cookies for about 20 minutes, or until the edges are golden. Allow to cool off a bit before transferring to a rack. Makes about 15 cookies.

Baking notes: The original recipe stated that quantity of cookies would be 24. But I used a 1/4-cup cookie scoop, and it came up 15. You can certainly make the cookies smaller, by using a generous tablespoon of dough, and pressing only one pecan half on top.

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Original recipe, from Gourmet Magazine, January 1992.

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Behind the scenes of a cookie photo shoot! Kitty Puff supervises.

Goldfinches on Zinnias

When I planted zinnia seeds in the early summer, I didn’t realize just how popular the flowers would be with butterflies, hummingbirds, and, especially, goldfinches. It’s as though I had planted a goldfinch theme park, complete with rides and free food! I’d been wondering why the goldfinches had been pulling the zinnia petals out, but it turns out there’s a fresh, juicy seed at the end of each petal. So that’s why my zinnias are going bald! It’s so much fun to watch the birds that I really don’t mind. (I took the photos through our dining room window, so they are a bit murky, though I hope in an interesting, atmospheric way.) Peace to you. Fran

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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)