Sour Cream Cherry Scones and House Finches

IMG_2979It’s still cold enough that baking up some scones and nibbling them with a cup of tea sounds appealing, though Spring keeps promising to arrive. I had run across a tasty-sounding recipe for Sour Cream Cherry Scones and decided to give them a whirl. As it turned out, they were delicious–buttery and toasty with tart spangles of dried cherries*. The plate in the above picture is fun–it’s a tin copy of a piece of Sevres porcelain. It’s pretty, but if I drop it, no big problem! And it cost a quarter at a garage sale. It’s my version of the good life!

Here is the recipe:

Sour Cream Cherry Scones

I used this "natural" sugar, which is a beautiful creamy brown, but I can't say it made any different in the scone flavor.

I used this “natural” sugar, which is a beautiful creamy brown, but I can’t say it made any different in the scone flavor.

2-1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3/4 cups sour cream
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2/3 cups dried cherries*

Topping:
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 tablespoon sugar

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine topping ingredients and set aside.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Mix in butter with fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Combine sour cream, egg and almond extract and stir into flour mixture just until moistened. The mixture will be rough and shaggy. Stir in cherries.

Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead 8 to 10 times until smooth. Divide dough in half. Pat each into a 7-inch circle. Place two inches apart on baking sheet. Cut each circle into 8 wedges, and sprinkle with topping. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until scones are golden. Cool 15 minutes before separating scones.

Truth in baking notes: *I actually used cherry-flavored dried cranberries here, as the difference in price was considerable, and the flavor of the cranberries is good. Also, the recipe says to mix the butter into the flour with a fork, but I used my impeccably clean hands for this. I pick up a handful of butter and flour, and smear the butter into the flour with my other hand. I cut the softened butter into chunks before doing this (see photo below). I repeat this process until the flour and butter are combined. How you would actually do with a fork, I’m not sure.

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Here is the mixture after the butter is rubbed in. It looks a bit like sand.

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Here is the dough after kneading, and cut into two halves. Don’t knead it more than necessary, but don’t be afraid to knead it enough to pull it together smoothly.

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I used a ruler to roughly measure the 7″, though you don’t have to be too persnickety. A wise chef once told me that if people want food that looks like it was made by a machine, they can go to the frozen food aisle and buy Sarah Lee. There’s a wisdom in this.

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Here are the two circles of dough ready to go into the oven.

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Out of the oven. Oh, yum.

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On its faux Sevre porcelain plate.

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The house finches are back, looking good.

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And my little Dutch irises are up, looking like jewels. Love ‘em! Peace to you. Fran

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Three Berry Gingerbread and the Robins are Back

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This is a recipe I had wanted to try for a long time–it was a $400 winner in a Better Homes and Gardens Dessert contest in 1999. So I thought I’d better get to it! It is just as delicious as I had hoped–a moist, velvety gingerbread bursts with tart, juicy berries. It uses frozen berries, which are convenient and economical. (I used a frozen “berry medley” and removed the strawberries, which I think would add too much moisture.) It goes together easily, and would be perfect this summer baked using wild blackberries. Note to myself: Do this!

Here is the recipe:

Three Berry Gingerbread

This is the type of frozen berry medley I used--I removed the strawberries.

This is the type of frozen berry medley I used–I removed the strawberries.

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
a pinch of salt
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup molasses
3/4 cup warm water
1-1/2 cups frozen mixed berries
1 tablespoon additional flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 2-quart square baking dish. In a medium bowl combine the 2 cups flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and pinch of salt. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer and then add the brown sugar, beating thoroughly until well combined. Add the egg and molasses; beat one minute. Add the flour mixture and water alternately to beaten mixture just until combined. Toss the frozen berries (which you have kept in the freezer until the last minute) with the one tablespoon flour and fold into batter. Pour into the prepared baking dish.

Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for at least half an hour before cutting.

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This shows the maelstrom of floured berries and batter as it is being stirred. It will only take a minute or so to combine.

Baking notes: This is a wonderful gingerbread recipe, but if I would change one thing it would be to amp up the ginger. Today I was at a nice little spice store in Geneva, Illinois, called the Spice House. They had crystallized ginger there, and if I had been thinking–which I don’t always!–I would have gotten some, chopped it up, and added it to this recipe. I think the spangles of ginger would be sensational, and would turn this from a wonderful recipe to something fantabulous. (While at the Spice House, I purchased a Madagascar vanilla bean, Hawaiian black salt, and something called Sunny Paris blend. This is a blend of shallots, green peppercorns, dill, basil and other herbs and is incredibly tasty.)

The recipe is supposed to be served with a Pudding Sauce, and I will give the recipe here. However, delicious as it may be–and I’m sure it’s ridiculously delicious–it will add a gazillion calories, and I really enjoyed this cake with fresh berries and a sprinkling of confectioners sugar. Still, you might want to go for it and try the sauce: In a small saucepan combine 1/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup butter, and 1/4 cup half-and-half or cream. Bring to boiling, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and boil gently, uncovered for two minute. Stir constantly. Serve warm.

The robins are back! I’m so glad to see them. Suddenly, they’re everywhere, posing, warbling and fluttering around, and it’s just a joy.

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IMG_2912 IMG_2914 IMG_2916And here is a bird of another feather . . . I saw him as I walked along the Fox River.

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And flowers are blooming–at least these flowers of our silver maple! Peace to you. Fran

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Roasted Peanut Brownie Drops and a Bird Bath

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Oh, yum. Roasted Peanut Brownie Drop cookies were an unexpected wild success for me, even though they came from the Pillsbury Best 10th Grand National Bake-Off Cookbook (circa 1958), and I like the older Bake-Off cookbooks because the bakers often brought time-tested and heirloom recipes to the contest. So I was expecting something pretty tasty. Still, I was surprised by how incredibly good these are. These Brownie drops were a “Bride Second Prize Winner,” and were from a Mrs. Frank Hill. They are soft and chocolatey and full of salty crunchy roasted peanuts. You can make them either with unsweetened baking chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate. Also, they can be made in a saucepan. Very difficult to stop eating these!

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Here is the recipe:

Roasted Peanut Brownie Drops

Melt 1/2 cup butter with three one-ounce squares of unsweetened or semi-sweet chocolate in a saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Thoroughly stir in 1-1/2 cups of sugar. Add 3 unbeaten eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Blend in 1-1/2 cups sifted flour and one cup whole salted, roasted peanuts. Chill dough for two hours. The melted butter and chocolate will cool off and re-solidify.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls (or use a small cookie scoop) onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in 350 degree oven for 12-13 minutes or until cookies spring back when touched lightly.

Baking notes: There is no leavening or salt in this recipe. Be sure to chill the dough the full two hours before baking. I made the dough before dinner, and baked afterwards. The chilled consistency is very solid, which is why using a small cookie scoop works well here. If you haven’t used parchment paper yet in baking, this would be a good time to try it. Chocolate cookies are notorious for getting easily over baked or burned, but with the parchment, these baked like a dream. If you are not a peanut lover, giant chocolate chips would be good in these. Or shards of white chocolate. These would make the most fantastic ice cream sandwiches!

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Spring is coming. I noticed this cardinal taking a bath in a little puddle–he seemed to be enjoying himself!

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Peace to you! Fran

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First snowdrop of the season!

 

 

An Heirloom Cookie and Birds in a the Treetops

IMG_2783I love these Cinnamon and Sugar Cookies, because they are so pretty and so easy! Also, I just like cookies! They are made with a simple butter dough, rolled into balls, and stamped with the bottom of a glass, preferably, a cut glass tumbler or vase. Finally, you have a use for Aunt Maude’s cut glass flower vase! So that’s why I call these heirloom cookies–they are so special they may become a family heirloom recipe, and you can use an heirloom to make them! Here is the recipe:

Cinnamon and Sugar Cookies

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 egg
2-1/4 cups flour
3 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar
a pinch of salt

Combine 1 cup sugar and softened butter; beat until smooth and fluffy. Add the egg; blend well. Lightly spoon flour into a measuring cup; level off. Stir in salt. Stir flour and 1 teaspoon cinnamon into the butter mixture. Mix until well blended. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.

Heat oven to 350 degrees, and line cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons sugar and remaining 2 teaspoons cinnamon. Mix well. Shape dough into 1-1/2″ balls; roll in cinnamon sugar mixture, covering thoroughly. Place two inches apart on baking sheet and using the bottom of a glass, flatten each ball of dough until about 1/4″ thick. Bake for 11 to 14 minutes, or until firm to the touch. Remove from baking sheet.

Baking notes: One of the keys to a good butter cookie is the thorough beating together of the butter and sugar–the mixture should be smooth, even in texture and light, before you proceed with the rest of the recipe. I found that flattening these cookies to even a bit thinner than 1/4″ worked the best: they baked evenly and resulted in a crisp cookie. There is no need to butter the bottom of the glass–the dough will not stick if covered completely in the cinnamon sugar.

The original recipe came from Pillsbury Festive Holiday Baking.

I used the bottom of this little cut glass flower vase to stamp these cookies.

I used the bottom of this little cut glass flower vase to stamp these cookies.

IMG_2797 Of course, you can use a cut glass plate to display the cookies! IMG_2788 IMG_2799 You can find cut glass plates, glasses and vases at resale shops for a song. Not sure why–they are beautiful! IMG_2803Spring is so close, and the birds were out and about yesterday, singing. Here are some house sparrows at the top of a nearby tree.

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Spring may be close, but as this squirrel and I noticed this morning, it’s not quite here yet! Peace to you. Fran

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Fruit Salsas and a Little Bird

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Hello little bird! I was so happy to see this little white-breasted nuthatch yesterday. People have been complaining about the weather a lot lately–it’s like we’ve had two Januaries–but this little bird seems fine with it. He was flitting back and forth between our sugar maple tree and the horse chestnut.

Maybe it’s because of the dull weather, but I’ve been craving food that’s colorful and festive. So I was thinking salsas, but so many salsas call for nice, ripe tomatoes. This is just not going to happen in the beginning of March in the Midwest. But I did find a wonderful recipe for a banana salsa, and then for a strawberry salsa. As unlikely as they may sound, they are delicious–fresh and fruity, though not particularly sweet. So I went on a chopping rampage, and serve them up in my favorite footed bowls. These bowls were a gift, so I’m not sure where they came from, but they always make me smile. These salsas are nice additions to a meal that might be otherwise, well, dull. We will be having them tonight with baked pork chops and yellow rice and a deep red wine.

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Strawberry Salsa

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Four cups chopped strawberries.

1 quart (4 cups) chopped fresh strawberries
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup sliced green onions
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Taste for seasoning, especially for salt. The seasonings will depend a bit on the ripeness of the strawberries, so don’t hesitate to add more salt, lime juice or cilantro.

This recipe makes a fair amount of salsa, so you might want halve it first, just to try. It comes from Pillsbury Brunches & Desserts.

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Even the tops of the strawberries are beautiful!

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Never thought I would like a banana salsa, but this is so good. The original recipe comes from Mexican Flavors by Carpenter and Sandison–I have tweaked it for my kitchen. If you enjoy it, they note you can substitute mango, papaya, or pineapple. But the gentle fruitiness of the banana is so good, and bananas are available all year round.

Banana Salsa

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The bananas I used were about 7″ long. Here they are sliced into long strips before being chopped into little cubes.

2 firm bananas
1/2 red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded
1 green onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 serrano or jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Peal the bananas and cut lengthwise into long strips. Cut across into 1/2″ cubes. Mince the red bell pepper, green onion, cilantro, and jalapeño pepper. Combine with the bananas, and the rest of the ingredients. Mix thoroughly.

Cooking notes: The original recipe called for 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger, but I found it more convenient to use the powdered form. I know it’s not the same, but it was still good. Also, instead of the brown sugar, I grated a Mexican sugar called piloncillo, and used that–it has an interesting molasses flavor. Also, the original recipe called for an entire red bell pepper, but I found it overwhelmed the bananas, so I just used half. But it does depend on the size of your pepper.

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The nuthatch wasn’t the only bird I’ve seen recently. This little black-capped chickadee posed obligingly yesterday in the cold wind.

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Peace to you. Fran

 

 

 

Chocolate Snowdrops and a Virtual Spring Garden

IMG_2716IMG_7662There’s always a day in late winter when time seems to grind to a halt, and it looks like Spring will never come. Even the snowdrops are still fast asleep beneath the snow and ice. Okay, so if we can’t have real snowdrops, how about Chocolate Snowdrops? I seemed to remember a Chocolate Snowdrop cookie recipe, and after riffling through my chocolate cookie files a bit, found it. They are melt-in-the mouth chocolate butter cookies enrobed in a drift of snowy powdered sugar. They fall into that “too good” category! I nibbled one (okay, two) along with a cup of chamomile tea, and until the real snowdrops pop up, I have to say, the chocolate ones are a pretty good substitute!

Chocolate Snowdrop Cookies

makes about 5 dozen

I ground the nuts with my old-fashioned nut grinder.

I ground the nuts with my old-fashioned nut grinder.

3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
3 (1-0z.) squares unsweetened baking
chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 cup chopped nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
powdered sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine brown sugar and butter in a large bowl. Beat until creamy. Add melted chocolate and vanilla. Continue beating until well mixed. Add flour, nuts and salt, beating until well mixed. The dough will be firm and a bit crumbly.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart onto lined cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until set. They will swell up just slightly, and the surface will look dry.

Let stand for 5 minutes; carefully remove from cookie sheets with a spatula. Cool for 5 more minutes. Roll in powdered sugar while still warm and again when cool.

Baking notes: These really don’t take long to bake, and you may wonder if they are done after only 8 to 10 minutes–they will be. The nuts should be chopped pretty finely, but not to the point of being like flour. See the nuts in the nut grinder above.

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Here is a virtual spring garden to stroll through–until the real thing arrives!

A Delicious Herbal Cheese Spread

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Years ago I can remember when Boursin® cheese first appeared, and how it became immediately popular. Boursin® is a soft, spreadable herbal cheese from France, and it is so delicious. It is sold in a little crinkled foil cup, and can be used on anything, from a slice of baguette to steamed vegetables. It’s original motto was “Du pain, du vin, du Boursin,”–“Some bread, some wine, some Boursin,” meaning, that’s all you need for happiness, and I get their drift. I recently came across a recipe for “Herb Cheese Spread” in a community cookbook (Purple Sage and other Pleasures from the Junior League of Tucson, Arizona), and gave it a whirl. Much to my surprise, it’s wonderful, and almost indistinguishable from the original Boursin®. A little 5-ounce cup of Boursin® costs more than $7.00 at the store, but you can make a large quantity (about two cups) for almost the same cost. (You may not think you want/need a large quantity, but wait till you taste it! And it can be frozen like a flavored butter for future use.)

Here is the recipe:

Herb Cheese Spread

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Preparing radishes for the cheese platter.

(Note: all the herbs in this recipe are dried)

2 cloves garlic
8 ounces whipped butter, softened
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon dill
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon pepper

Press the garlic cloves through a garlic press into a large bowl, and add all remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Place in a crock and chill to let flavors blend.

Notes: Be sure to use whipped butter, and not soft butter blended with oil. Also, the herbal flavor depends on the particular blend of herbs here, and, I know, it’s quite a list. I think you could probably leave out the marjoram, but I wouldn’t tinker with the formula beyond that.

What can you do with our faux Boursin®? Slather on a slice of baguette, melt a pat on a baked or boiled potato, beat into some freshly cooked rice or noodles, stuff a chicken breast with it, slather on a whole chicken under the skin and then roast, serve at a get-together with crackers instead of a dip . . .

I packed some of the mixture into a little ceramic heart mold lined with cheese cloth, and unfolded it on the plate shown above. You could use any small bowl, can or other mold in a similar way, but it must be lined with cheese cloth or it won’t unmold.

Herb cheese mixture packed into a ceramic mold.

Herb cheese mixture packed into a ceramic mold.

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Here’s how to cut the radishes, as shown on the plate above. Start with a nice, plump radish.  The leaves are pretty mangy, but, hey, it’s February!

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Slice off the root and leaves.

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Slice around the equator of the radish with a small, sharp knife. Hold the knife at a 45 degree angle for the first cut, then reverse the angle for the second cut, piercing the radish to the center, to form a zig-zag cut.

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Pull the two halves apart–voila!

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These are so much fun you will have to restrain yourself from making too many. I sprinkled some little broccoli flowers over the radishes above just for pretty.

I mentioned that you can freeze this herb spread for convenience–just form into a roll on a piece of plastic wrap, and then wrap tightly in foil. Place in the freezer and slice some off as needed.

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Not many flowers this time of year, but my geranium is blooming.

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Went out bird hunting yesterday, and only found a half-asleep mourning dove! Peace to you. Fran

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