Monet’s Almond Cookies

fullsizeoutput_2ff5No, Claude Monet didn’t bake these cookies himself–but possibly they were baked by his cook, Marguerite, and served at teatime late in the afternoon under the lime trees at Giverny. If only I had a time machine . . . He and his wife had visited England, and it’s there that he came to appreciate the custom of teatime. At home, Monet and his family and visitors enjoyed scones, fruit cake, and, according to legend, these almond cookies, called galettes nantais.

Monet certainly was interested in eating well, and kept menus and cooking journals, journals that were the basis for “Monet’s Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet,” by Claire Joyes, wife of Madame Monet’s great-grandson, which is where I found this recipe.

Almost forgot–in researching this post, I ran across a snippet of film, from 1915, showing Monet painting. Kind of amazing.

Almond Cookies (Galettes nantais)

fullsizeoutput_2fdc3-3/4 cups flour
2 cups powdered sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup ground almonds
grated rind of one lemon
4 eggs

chopped almonds and sugar for topping the cookies

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the flour, powdered sugar and the pinch of salt. Add the butter, ground almonds, lemon rind and eggs. Mix well. When the dough is smooth, roll it out on a floured work surface. Cut into circles with a cookie cutter, and transfer to baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with the chopped almonds and sugar. Bake for 20 minutes or until the bottoms are golden.

Baking notes: I made a few tweaks to this recipe, including adding salt and decreasing the flour. The recipe was a bit vague as to cookie size, so I used a 2-3/4″ round cutter, and rolled the dough out to a 1/4″ thickness.

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The montage below shows the freshly-grated lemon peel, the finished dough, and what the cookies looked like before baking.

The cookies are nice but plain and seem to call to be served with something tangy and fresh, so I made up a plate of sliced oranges. See below for the how to’s. I peeled two naval oranges, pared off the whitish surface (not sure what to call it) of the peeled oranges, and sliced them crosswise. They can be drizzled with orange liqueur, if desired.

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Birds. Sometimes I feel like they save my life in this crazy world, they are so beautiful. Peace to you. Fran

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Dolce Italiano

img_7323Hope you can will bear with me here, because this post is a maelstrom of pears, Parmesan cheese, chrysanthemums, honey and biscotti. It all began when I found a recipe for Pears and Parmesan Drizzled with Honey in “The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook,” by Jack Bishop, and then recalled the Italian saying, “Don’t tell the peasants how good cheese is with pears,” and before you know it I was at the grocery store looking at pears. That’s all it took! I found four different kinds of pears: Bosc (brown), red, Anjou (green) and little Forelle pears (in the bowl). Pears are so beautiful!img_7328Then from my own cupboard I took a jar of honey purchased at a local farm. With that and with a wedge of fresh Parmesan, I was ready to go.

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You can serve slices of the ripe pear with a small piece of cheese if you like.

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But I decided also to try something fancier, following the recipe from the cookbook.

Pears and Parmesan Drizzled with Honey

3 large, ripe pears, cored and thinly sliced
small piece of fresh Parmesan
2 tablespoons honey

Arrange the pear slices on a dessert plate. With a vegetable peeler, remove curls of the cheese, letting the curls artistically fall onto the pears. (At least we can try.) Use a small spoon to drizzle the honey over the pears. Serve immediately.

Notes: The main thing to remember here is to use ripe, juicy pears. Also, you can cut off the side of a pear, make incisions in it, and fan it out, for a nice presentation (see below). But again, this only works if the pear is ripe and juicy.

img_7315 img_7316When I was looking at the pear and cheese recipe, I made the mistake of turning the page, and found a wonderful-sounding biscotti recipe: Cornmeal Biscotti with Dried Cherries, and I had to try! These are not typical biscotti, as they are made with butter. They are absolutely delicious–chubby buttery little things, crunchy with cornmeal, and with sweet zings of dried cherry.

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Cornmeal Biscotti with Dried Cherries

1 cup flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons butter, softened
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla or brandy
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
3/4 cup dried cherries, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter into chunks and add to the flour mixing. Beat (slowly) with an electric mixer until the mixture resembled coarse crumbs. Mix together the egg, vanilla and lemon zest. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix together. Stir in the dried cherries.

Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of dough into a log about 12 inches long and 1 inch across. Place the two logs on the baking sheet. Bake until firm, about 20 minutes. Let cool for about 10 minutes, and cut the logs into 1-inch-wide diagonal slices.

Lay the slices on their side on the baking sheet and return to the oven for about 8 minutes, or until crisp.

Baking notes: Dried cherries can be expensive (as opposed to cherry-flavored dried cranberries), but I found a small bag for $3.99, and used them here, and was glad. The cherry flavor is really delicious. When adding the chopped dried cherries to the dough, sprinkle them evenly over the dough so the pieces are evenly divided. If there are clumps, it makes the finished cookie crumbly to cut.

Photos below show the crumbly dry mixture, the dough ready to be formed, and the dough logs ready for baking.

Another pix of the little Forelle pears.
img_7336Hope you enjoy! Keep the faith. Fran

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One last photo–just as a reminder of summer.

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French Cheese Puffs

img_7279Something made me think of gougères the other day–this doesn’t happen often, but the thought of these crispy, toasty cheese puffs sounded so good that I decided to make a batch. I consulted my favorite French cookbook, “The Taste of France,” by Robert Freson, went to the store to buy some grated cheese and some tulips (indispensable for brightening up these wintry days) and a bottle of Beaujolais (a Burgundy wine), which is traditionally served with the puffs.

img_7287We normally have a small glass of Winking Owl Cabernet Sauvignon with dinner, the whole bottle costing $2.79. So this morning when I bought the $10.99 bottle of Beaujolais-Villages, a “plump wine with notes of strawberry, black cherry and spice,” I felt like I was going wild!

I baked up the puffs, and realized that to photograph them, I should show them with a glass of the Beaujolais, which meant that I should drink it–waste not, want not. The Midwestern Methodist in me felt a little shocked–guzzling wine at 12:30 in the afternoon on Monday? I asked Jim if he would share. “Oh, if I have to,” he replied. So we both had a sip, and snarfed down a crunchy puff. This is when we discovered what a genius combination the wine and the cheese puffs were: the fruity wine with the toasty cheese flavor is so good!

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Here is the recipe:

Gougère

9 tablespoons butter
pinch of salt
2 cups of flour, sifted
5 eggs
8 ounces finely shredded Swiss cheese
one more egg, beaten

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (or grease with shortening if you don’t have the paper), and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a saucepan, combine the butter, salt and 1-1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil; remove from the heat and add the flour all of once. Mix with a large spoon. Return to the (low) heat and stir until the mixture smooths out and comes away easily from the sides of the pan, one to two minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the five eggs, one by one, mixing each until well blended. Add the shredded cheese, and season with salt and pepper. Scoop up the dough with a large spoon, and drop blobs onto the prepared baking sheets. Glaze with the beaten egg, and bake for about 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool before eating.

Baking notes: You are basically making cream puffs here, with the addition of cheese. If you’ve never made cream puffs before, the process may seem a bit strange, but persevere–the results are worth it! The original recipe called for Gruyere cheese, but I knew it would be tough to find at my local supermarket. So I looked for grated Swiss cheese, which is a good substitute–but came up zero. Yikes. So I used a finely-grated Italian five cheese blend. This worked well, and you could probably use a finely grated sharp Cheddar. I don’t recommend mozzarella, as it may be too moist.

There are many different recipes for these puffs, some calling for milk, others for add-ins such as chives. You can also add cayenne pepper or a pinch of nutmeg. It’s the toasty cheese flavor, though, that goes so beautifully with the wine, so I wouldn’t stray too far from the classic recipe.

Below, the photos show the sifted flour, the cooked butter, flour and water mixture, then the mixture with the eggs added, the blobs of dough on the baking pan, and the baked puffs.

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Here are some goldfinches on a sunny day.

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img_5059In these nerve-jangling days, I’ve been using my cat Puff as a guru. He sleeps so deeply and serenely! Keep the faith. Fran

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Dream Bars Fit for a Queen

img_7254I’ve been watching the PBS series “Victoria,” about Queen Victoria and really enjoy it. The fabulous silk dresses and the dashing Lord Melbourne have me hooked! So when I ran across a recipe for Queen Victoria Dream Bars in “Bar Cookies A to Z,” by Marie Simmons, I had to make them! Had to!

Turns out they are buttery bars, tangy with fresh orange juice and grated rind, and chewy with chopped dried apricots. Actually, the original recipe called for good quality candied orange peel, but this is not to be found in my neck of the woods. Even bad quality is hard to find. So I substituted chopped dried apricots, and BINGO–these bars are so tasty!

The original bars did not call for a frosting or topping, but when I showed them to the Queen, she was Not Amused. I mean, they’re not bad looking plain, just a bit plain. So I made up an icing with powdered sugar and fresh orange juice and drizzled it over the bars. The Queen nodded ever so slightly in my direction when she took a nibble. The Queen was Amused! So glad. Here is the recipe.

Queen Victoria Dream Bars

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 11 x 7 or 9-inch square metal baking pan. Line it with parchment paper, and lightly grease again.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg until blended. Gradually add the orange juice and stir until blended. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and pinch of salt. Add the grated orange zest and chopped dried apricots. Add this flour mixture to the butter mixture; stir to blend. The dough will be almost like a cookie dough, not like a batter. Place big spoonfuls into the prepared pan, and press down with the back of a big spoon. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until edges are brown. Cool.

For the icing: Mix one cup of powdered sugar with three tablespoons fresh orange juice. Stir until completely smooth. Using a small spoon, drizzle over the cooled bars.

Baking notes: I recommend sifting the flour. Also, use a large egg. It used to be that small, medium and large eggs were sold separately, but now they all seem to be in the same carton. Egg size does make a difference in a recipe, so pick out the largest in your carton. I found that one orange yielded a bit more than three tablespoons of juice. You could just sprinkle the bars with powdered sugar–the Queen will like them almost as much as with the drizzled frosting.

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I love having fresh flowers in the kitchen. They really are a joy to see every day!

Shown above, the freshly squeezed orange juice, the grated rind and the chopped dried apricots. Use the fine side of the grater to grate the rind. I got the flowered metal plate at a garage sale for a quarter! It’s a replica of a Sevres porcelain saucer. Only the best for the Queen.

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I’m reaching into my bird photo archives here, because I want to enjoy some summer and blue skies right now, and it’s January, so it’s not going to happen. So I reached into a past summer and a past spring for the following photos. Hope you enjoy!

img_0864img_1248img_3865img_3803img_7240Meanwhile, my American prayer flag (see last week’s post) continues to flutter in the wind. It gives off blessings as it flutters, and seeing it helps heal my heart in these painful times. Hope it helps you, as well. Namaste. Fran

 

American Prayer Flag

img_7239I’ve been worrying, like many people, about our country. So along with my husband Jim and sisters Janet and Kathy, I marched in the Women’s March in Chicago on Saturday, along with 250,000 other people. It was an amazing experience. I have the feeling there will be more marches ahead.

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One of the oldest American flags.

Meanwhile, I made an American prayer flag. It’s based on the prayer flags of Nepal and our own beautiful flag. In Nepal, prayer flags are flown from rocky peaks and mountaintops. Here in the Midwest, I made do with our pear tree! A prayer flag flutters in the wind, dispensing blessings all around, in this case, I hope the blessings that freedom brings. I tried hanging the prayer flag indoors, but found that it needs to be outside, fluttering free in the wind.

Prayer flags are ephemeral things, and gradually disintegrate in the rain and wind. You might think of ways to make this your own: stenciling the stars instead of sewing, or just using red, white and blue squares, or making it much longer. Here is how to make the prayer flag shown.

American Prayer Flag

Gather together some remnants of red, white and blue cotton. Have scissors, thread, a sewing needle, pins, and a ruler at hand. I tore the pieces for this, and didn’t cut them. Snip the fabric with the scissors where you want to begin the tear. Tear the following pieces:

5  4×5″ pieces blue fabric
2  4×5″ pieces red fabric
4  4×2-3/4″ white fabric
4  4×2-3/4″ red fabric
small amount of white fabric for the stars
string or twine for hanging the flags

Cut or tear the pieces of fabric.

Make five stars. To do this, first cut a pattern. Google “making a five-pointed star with one cut,” and a number of pages will come up. I based my star on a three-inch square of paper. Take your paper star pattern and draw around it on your white fabric. Cut out five stars.

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Sew your stars onto the blue fabric squares. I didn’t turn over the edges, and just sewed them on with a running stitch.

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Then take your smaller rectangles of red and white fabric and sew them together with a 1/4″ seam to make the stripes. Iron the seams. The picture below shows the component pieces.

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For hanging, iron a 1/2″ hem at the top of each piece. Using a running stitch, sew the hems. Place your pieces in a row on your work surface, and measure the length. Add 20″ at either end for tying the flag up. The total length is how much string you need. String your pieces together.

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This shows the hem, and how the string is pulled through, using a large needle.
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The squares being strung together.

In hanging the flag, I first tried using our fence. But to get those blessings out there, I think the flags look most beautiful fluttering free in the wind.

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Hope you enjoy! Namaste. Fran

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A Sugar Cookie and a Dove

img_7187Two things came together in this cookie: a wonderful sugar cookie recipe and a rose geranium plant that had gotten wildly out of control.

The sugar cookie recipe itself is a classic that pops up in community cookbooks–the cookie is made with oil and butter, and melts away and crunches in your mouth with an explosion of butteriness. Can’t ask for more from a cookie!

Then I thought of decorating the cookie with leaves from the wildly out of control geranium, which really likes its southern exposure. So I picked some of the smallest leaves a few days ago, and pressed them in an old book. I used these to decorate each cookie.

I also tried a bad idea, and pressed a gummy cherry candy on the cookie before baking. See below for results! Oh, well.

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But the cookies with the leaves turned out beautifully. By the way, I peeled the leaf off my cookie before nibbling–it left no flavor. (Though I think if these were stored in a cookie jar, the flavor might develop in a day or two.)

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Here is the recipe.

Sugar Cookies

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Out-of-control rose geranium plant.

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
4-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt in a bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the softened butter, vegetable oil and sugars. Then beat in eggs until well blended. Then add the flour mixture. I used an electric mixer for this, because it’s a fairly large amount of dough to mix by hand.

Using a small cookie scoop, drop on the prepared baking sheet. Flatten the dough a bit with a pancake turner, and press on a leaf, if desired. The cookies will double in size as they bake. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until bottoms are golden. You can sprinkle with powdered sugar after they have cooled, if you like.

Baking notes: Various recipes for this cookie have different baking temps and times, but what I’ve given here (350 degrees for 12 minutes) works well. I used a mild vegetable oil that is a combination of sunflower and canola.

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A Mourning Dove

Mourning doves are so common that we almost don’t notice them. But I love their soft mournful cry, and was glad to take this elegant bird’s picture.

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img_7068 img_7069Keep the faith. Fran

 

Swedish Biscotti and a Movie Star Cardinal

img_7166I’m trying to ease myself back into the new year, and having overdosed on rich Christmas fare, I’ve been looking for a cookie that’s tasty, but light. Right on cue, I ran across a basic biscotti recipe on allrecipes.com that looked promising.

The recipe worked well, with an easy-to-mix dough that baked up nicely. The biscotti itself was crunchy, not rock hard. But the flavor and appearance of the cookie were a little plain and sad. So I switched from anise flavoring to a brighter lemon flavor, and topped the cookie with a shiny egg glaze and a sprinkling of Swedish pearl sugar. A pinch of salt also helped. Bingo! A Swedish biscotti! This is a light, crispy, crunchy, toasty biscotti, a perfect go-with for a cup of coffee or even with a glass of chilled Prosecco. Here is the recipe.

Swedish Biscotti

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon lemon extract
3-1/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
one beaten egg for glaze
Swedish pearl sugar for topping

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, beat together the oil, sugar, eggs and lemon flavoring. Beat vigorously with a big spoon for about two minutes. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir this into the egg mixture, mixing with a spoon at first, then kneading by hand. The dough will be a little crumbly, but will come together. Divide into two parts. Shape each part into a roll about twelve inches long. Flatten the roll so that it’s about 2-1/2 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick. Using a pastry brush, spread the beaten egg over the top of the rolls, and then strew with the Swedish pearl sugar.

Bake for about 25 minutes. The bottoms should be golden. Take out of the oven and allow to cool for about ten minutes. Don’t turn off the oven. Using a sharp kitchen knife, cut the baked cookies at a diagonal, about 1/2″ thick. Place the slices onto the baking sheet, cut side up. Put back into the oven, and allow to toast for about 10 minutes. The edges should turn light brown. This made about 32 biscotti.

Baking notes: Don’t hesitate to knead this dough until it’s smooth. The cookie will be crunchy, not tough. You could use any kind of coarse sugar for this to add crunch and sparkle. Also, I added a little speck of yellow food coloring to make the biscotti more golden.

Below: ingredients, the mixed dough, and the dough formed for baking.

Above, cutting the baked biscotti.

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The toasted biscotti.

Movie Star Cardinal

This cardinal landed at the feeder the other day, and I was immediately struck by his movie star good looks. His feather cap was sleek, his eyes soulful. What movie is he starring in? I’m thinking the next Star Wars movie, playing the avian co-pilot of a Wookie. Who knows?

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After the election, many of us have wondered what to do to resist the incoming administration. One way: shop local. Rather then sending your money to factory farms and industrial-sized feedlots who then ship food back to us using lots of gasoline, buy from your local farmer. I was at the Geneva Green Market, in Geneva, Illinois, this Saturday, and for under $25 purchased organic chicken (enough for four), a beautiful loaf of bread, a French cheese, a dozen organic eggs, some pea shoots for a salad, a head of purple garlic, a crispy apple, and some turnips. (See below.) I loved handing my money to the actual farmers and their families. Google “local farmers markets,” to find a market near you.

Peace to you. Fran

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