Brownie Date Drops

I do admit to initially having some reservations about these cookies. For one thing, they are so lumpy I thought of calling them “warthogs,” but was pretty sure it wouldn’t fly. There might not be many takers for warthog  cookies, even if I included this disclaimer: no warthogs were harmed in the making of these cookies.

And as they cooled, the cookies reminded me of an archipelago of volcanic islands off in the Pacific somewhere. Again, calling them “steaming volcanic island cookies,” seemed questionable.

So I will call them what they are called: Brownie Date Drops. I found the recipe in an old Sunset Cookie book, circa 1985. I got this book, along with a ridiculously tall tower of other books that nearly broke my arms, at the Geneva Library used book sale, last Friday. Used book sales =  heaven!

As it turns out, these cookies are so good–soft and fudgy, with chewy bits of dates, melting chocolate chips, and the occasional crunch of walnut. It all comes together in a chewy, chocolatey, date-filled delight. Hope you enjoy,

(The fan in the picture above is my souvenir from the Paul Gaugin exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. The show runs from June 25 through Sept. 10, and it’s worth climbing mountains to see. He was an amazing artist.)

Brownie Date Drops

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup each chopped pitted dates and walnuts
big handful of chocolate chips

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

In a large bowl, mix butter and sugar until creamy. (A big sturdy spoon can be used for this.) Beat in eggs and vanilla until smooth and light, then add melted chocolate. In another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add to butter mixture, blending well. Stir in chopped dates, walnuts and chocolate chips.

Drop dough by tablespoonfuls–I used a small ice-cream scoop–onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 13 minutes, or until just set and tops are no longer shiny. Do not overbake.) Makes about three dozen.

Baking notes: I had some medjool dates, and used them. They are larger and more luscious than regular dates–I used about 10, chopping them coarsely. Whatever you use, check for pits, and remove.

To melt the chocolate, chop roughly and then heat on high in a Pyrex bowl for 30 seconds in the microwave. Stir, and then another 30 seconds. Stir, then 10 seconds more. Then, you may need one more 10 seconds. Walnuts are expensive, so I purchased one ounce for 99 cents. However, if you have more, use them–the cookies might look less volcanic that way.

Lastly, chocolate cookies burn easily, and I don’t advise baking them longer than the 12 to 13 minutes. They will firm up as they cool.

Photos below show the medjool dates, the melted chocolate, and the batter prior to mixing in the dates, nuts and chocolate chips.

Our bird bath continues to host a select clientele of robins, mourning doves and grackles. Here is a robin, enjoying himself. (Looks like he needs a tiny robin toupee.) Peace to you. Fran

Looking good!

Lime-Drizzled Peanut Butter Cookies

These Lime-Drizzled Peanut Butter Cookies really surprised me. I had been looking for a cookie recipe that was a bit lower in sugar than most, and that didn’t require weird ingredients that I had to go to a health food store for. In “Cooking with the Right Side of the Brain,” by Vicki Rae Chelf, I found a super simple peanut butter cookie, made with only three ingredients (peanut butter, maple syrup, whole wheat pastry flour) and gave it a go. I’ve always liked her recipes–they’re healthy but tasty. But would the cookie taste like cardboard? This can happen in cookies made with whole wheat flour.

But No! It was tender and a bit crispy, and mildly sweet, and crunchy with nuts. So it’s good for lunch boxes, and for an afternoon snack. A good cookie. But this morning I’d purchased a bag of limes (10 for 99 cents). They were sitting on the counter, and I was thunderstruck with an idea. (Yes, this happens.) How about mixing powdered sugar and fresh lime juice, and glazing the nice cookie to make a great cookie?

The result is this cookie, which is amazingly good–it could become the cookie you are known for. It’s mellow and nutty, but the glaze is sharp, tart and lime-y. The combination is beyond good, and, as you see, they look like special, difficult-to-make bakery cookies. Here’s how.

Lime-Drizzled Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 cup natural peanut butter with nuts
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour

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

In a medium-sized bowl, cream together the peanut butter and maple syrup. Add the flour and mix well.

Form 20 small balls of dough and place on prepared baking sheet. Flatten the cookies by pressing each one twice with a fork. (Dip the fork into water to keep it from sticking.) Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes. (The longer bake will give a crisper cookie.)

For glaze: Mix one cup of powdered sugar with the grated zest of one small lime and about 1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice. (I used two small limes for the juice.) Mix the glaze until smooth, and dip each cookie, top down, into the glaze. The cookie can be a bit warm. Allow to cool, so the glaze will harden.

Note: Don’t make substitutions in this recipe.Use natural, sugar-free peanut butter, real maple syrup and whole wheat pastry flour, which is softer than plain whole what flour. When opened, the peanut butter will have a layer of oil on top: take time to stir this in. I used a dinner knife, and stirred thoroughly, scooping up from the bottom. I measured the peanut butter by measuring out eight tablespoons. This equals half a cup, and the tablespoon is easier to clean than a measuring cup. Otherwise, the dough comes together very easily, and makes exactly 20 cookies.

Photos: Ingredients, opened peanut butter showing oil layer, cookie dough, formed cookies, baked cookies, ready for glazing, amount of lime peel; and glazed cookies.

Meanwhile, in the world of birds, a mourning dove delicately dips her claw into the bird bath, and then, for a moment, all hell breaks loose. Then a friend visits. At least, that’s my interpretation of this story.

Blog Recommendation

Just wanted to say a word for a blog called Mrs. Twinkle: My Wonderful Little World. Tammy Twinkle lives in Switzerland with her husband, adorable kids, dogs and kittens. There are trips to chalets, mountain climbing and great food. Here’s the thing: you want to be very jealous of Mrs. Twinkle, but she’s so nice, you can’t do it! Worth a visit. Here’s a pix from the blog, which I borrowed–hope she doesn’t mind.

Yesterday after doing some weeding, I found myself lying in the grass, shoes off, and looking at the clouds. I haven’t done this in a long time, and recommend it!  Clouds like birds, sailing ships and, yes, cookies floated overhead, and it was so relaxing! Here’s a bit of blue sky in case, right now, your sky is gray. Peace to you. Fran

 

Origami Notebook: Japanese Butterflies

I love origami paper, and particularly love a variety called yuzen washi paper, or chiyogami. I don’t pretend to be an expert about this–all I know is that these papers are patterned after Japanese kimono fabrics, and have a textured, almost fabric-like feeling.

When Jim and I make a journey/pilgrimage to Mitsuba, which is a Japanese food store in Arlington Heights, there is a Japanese newsstand there that sells this paper. I am helpless before it!

At any rate, I was at a garage sale recently, and purchased a book called “The Book of Fabulous Origami.” It featured a lovely little butterfly, and immediately my stash of yuzen paper flew to mind. The result are these butterflies. Since you may not be anywhere near Mitsuba, I went online to find a source for yuzen paper, and ran across a fabulous site called Mulberry Paper and More. These have a wide variety of origami papers, books, and kits.

Here are the directions for the Japanese butterfly–I have simplified them a bit. If you are a beginner, use regular origami paper, which is thin, not the yuzen, which is a bit softer and thicker. Once you get the hang of it, proceed!

Tip: As you fold, use the fingernail of your thumb to hold paper down and stabilize it. You can make very precise folds this way.

Origami Notebook: Japanese Butterflies


If you enjoyed the butterflies, you might enjoy another project of mine made with yuzen paper called Danish Woven Hearts with a Japanese Twist.

Birds

I love the grace of this lovely goldfinch . . .

and this house finch. Peace to you. Fran

 

Crickets and Cardinals

The little yellow flowers are perennial foxgloves.

Crickets are cute little cookies that I found in an old community cookbook called “Our Incredible Edibles,” by the women of the Mont Clare Congregational Church, in Chicago. While the temptation is to be a bit condescending to these cookbooks, often made with more love than skill, I love them. The recipes may not be sophisticated, but they tell me about the women who made them, their day to day lives, their world. This cookbook probably was published in the early ’70s: microwaves were just coming on the scene, dishwashers were big, noisy luxuries. And Cool Whip was something new and exciting, but in this cookbook did not appear in any recipe.

Course there’s the question: why are these called Crickets? They don’t look like crickets and they don’t chirp when you eat them. They certainly aren’t made with crickets. Whatever the reason, the chocolate-covered peanuts, the chewy coconut, and the buttery, brown-sugary cookie itself is an inspired combination. So my thanks to long ago Lori Johnson.

Crickets

1/2 cup each: butter (softened), white sugar & brown sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1  tablespoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon each: baking soda & salt
1 cup coconut
1 cup chocolate-covered peanuts

Preheat oven to 375 and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Cream the softened butter with the sugars. Add egg, water, vanilla, and beat thoroughly. Mix the flour with the baking soda and salt, and stir into the butter mixture. Stir in coconut and chocolate-covered peanuts. Drop from a tablespoon onto the prepared baking sheet, or use a small ice cream scoop to form the cookies. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until delicately browned.

Baking notes: This is an easy cookie that requires no special baking skills. I used a 6-ounce bag of chocolate-covered peanuts, and sweetened coconut. This type of cookie contains a lot of butter, and how much it spreads depends a bit on how warm your kitchen is. It makes a difference if your kitchen is 68 degrees or 85 degrees. In a professional bakery, they might chill the sheets of formed cookies to keep them from spreading. In the home kitchen, they will taste delicious no matter what.

Pictures below show the chocolate-covered peanuts I used, the original recipe, feline assistant Puff, and the dough being mixed.

Below: In the “We all have days like this department.”

Keep knocking and the joy inside
will eventually open a window
and look out to see who’s there.

by Rumi

Peace to you. Fran

Sand Cookies, Peonies and a Robin

I was riffling through “The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook” when I came across this recipe for Sand Cookies. The cookbook itself is a fun trip to the past, circa 1963. And, the recipes looked good. So, given the reputation of Pepperidge Farm cookies, I decided to give these Sand Cookies a go.

As it turns out, the cookies are fun to make (the “dough” looks exactly like sand) and are really delicious and incredibly buttery. This is because the butter is browned before using in the recipe, and browning amps up the butter flavor to the max. So there is a toasted, roasted butter flavor. Oh, my! Delish.

Sand Cookies

A Seven Sisters rose

1/4 pound (1 stick) butter
1-1/4 cups unbleached sifted white flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt the butter over low heat and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, or for about 7 to 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the sugar to this, and sift again.

When the butter is cooled, stir in the vanilla, and then add the sifted ingredients. Stir the mixture until it starts coming together, and then finish off by kneading lightly. The dough will look like sand and be a bit crumbly. Form into 18 one-inch balls, pressing the mixture firmly together.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and line the baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the balls on the prepared baking sheet, and press down lightly with your fingers. You may press a slivered almond on the cookie, too, if you wish.

Bake for about 14 to 15 minutes. The bottoms should be a medium dark golden brown. After cooling, sift on some powdered sugar.

Baking notes: There is a fair amount of sifting in this recipe, and I did it as follows: I measured 1-1/4 cups of flour and then sifted it onto a piece of waxed paper. I then poured this back into the measuring cup, and found that it was a little over the required amount. I spooned this off. This may seem persnickety, but that small amount of flour could make a difference in this small-batch cookie. So don’t skip sifting.

Also, being a sand cookie, this cookie is very beige. It will not brown appreciably in the oven–it just gets even more beige. So that’s why I topped each cookie with an almond sliver and powdered sugar, just so they aren’t so beige. You will forgive them their beige-ness once you take a bite!

The butter will brown over low heat–just be sure to keep an eye on it.

The photos below show the browned butter in the bowl, the sandy dough, and the cookies ready for baking.

Peony Season

Lastly, a young robin in a birdbath, just his size. Like a little robin bonbon! Take care. Fran

Yogurt to the Max

I can remember way back when eating yogurt was the province of only the most hard-core, sandal-wearing health fanatics: you had to go to a health store to find it, and it was only plain and full fat, with none of the flavors you find nowadays. But that was long ago.

Since then I’ve seen Boston Cream Pie-flavored yogurt and White Chocolate-flavored yogurt and wonder if we haven’t lost our way, yogurt-wise. So this post is devoted to the many ways you can use plain, full-fat yogurt. We’ll start out by making a delicious yogurt cheese. Hope you enjoy!

This recipe for Dill Yogurt Cheese comes from a a Balkan Sephardic cookbook. (Sephardic means “Spain” in Hebrew and refers to the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who fled Iberia in the fifteenth century to escape the Inquisition. Just in case you were wondering.) I had always wanted to try yogurt cheese, and this recipe is fun and easy.

Dill Yogurt Cheese

2 cups full-fat yogurt
1 garlic clove, peeled and put through garlic press
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh dill, parsley, or scallions

Spread a double layer of cheesecloth in a colander. Combine all ingredients and spoon into the cheesecloth: bring up the corners and tie the neck off with a rubber band. Hang over the sink to allow excess liquid to drip off.

The next day, remove the cheesecloth, and your yogurt cheese is ready!

Below, photos of the yogurt mixture hanging from the faucet. (Warn people before you do this!) Second photo shows the yogurt cheese ready for unwrapping. Lastly, try to use the fine-textured cheesecloth on the right. I found this in the car product aisle of my supermarket–it’s used for waxing cars. Or it may be found in the canning product area.

Yogurt cheese has a smooth, creamy texture.

Another way I like to use yogurt is as a sauce. Just add one crushed garlic clove and a bit of salt to one cup of yogurt. Stir until smooth, and top with a swirl of extra virgin olive oil. This is delicious with grilled foods, but I like it with almost anything–baked chicken, stuffed peppers, you name it.

The yellow flowers above are buttercups. It’s buttercup season!

If you’ve had fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, here the fruit is on the top! For a single serving, use about two tablespoons yogurt. Top with one tablespoon of good quality fruit preserves. Here, the preserve is cherry, and I topped the whole thing with chopped almonds.

I used this delicious cherry preserve from Italy. Heating the spoonful of preserve in the microwave makes it easy to spoon over the yogurt.

You can also top the yogurt with honey, cinnamon and chopped nuts. The photo below shows the recipe from “Food From Many Greek Kitchens,” by Tessa Kiros. It calls for two dollops of yogurt, a tablespoon of coarsely chopped walnuts, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and about two teaspoons of honey.


I am lucky to live near an Italian grocery store that features food from all over the world (Caputo’s in South Elgin, Illinois). So I’ve been able to use top-quality yogurt for the above recipes, and that’s the key to their deliciousness. Look for full-fat yogurt without pectin or gelatin, or failing that, do the best you can.

One more recipe! It’s for a Bulgarian Yogurt Cake. It’s a soft, gentle, lemony tangy cake that tastes great with fruit such as strawberries.

Bulgarian Yogurt Cake

1/2 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
the grated rind of one lemon
1 cup full-fat yogurt
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
powdered sugar

Grease a 9″-square or 7 x 11″-rectangle baking pan, and then line with parchment paper. Lightly grease again. In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, using a mixer, cream the butter and the sugar. Add eggs one at a time, then lemon rind. Beat until smooth. Stir in yogurt. Then stir in the dry ingredients, just until combined. The batter will be thick but fluffy. Scrape into the prepared pan, and smooth with a knife. Bake for about 33 to 35 minutes. Cool and dust with powder sugar.

Baking notes: This plain but delicious cake cries out to be served with fresh fruit, such as sliced strawberries or peaches. Be sure to use full-fat yogurt. I forgot to dust the cake with powdered sugar, but it would look nice!

 Lastly, a robin (not yogurt-flavored, as far as I know) showing off his beautiful feathers. Peace to you. Fran

Cookies fit for a Queen

As I get older, my tastebuds seem to appreciate crunchy, crispy, crackly cookies more than the chewy and gooey ones. But a good crunchy cookie is a challenge  for the baker–it’s so easy for cookies to be hard, instead, through overbaking.

So, from “Cooking with Bon Appetit,” comes Biscotti di Regina (Queen’s Cookies), which are as crunchy as they come–just follow the baking instructions. These are elegant cookies, which would be nice after a meal served with fresh fruit. So Italian!

The flowers in the photo above are from our horsechestnut tree.

Biscotti di Regina (Queen’s Cookies)

1-1/2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sesame seed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl. Blend in melted butter, egg, and vanilla with a spoon, and then knead lightly together with your hands.

Divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a 12-inch-long rope (about 3/4″ across). Cut into 1-1/2 inch lengths. Roll in sesame seed to coat completely. Place cookies on prepared baking sheet, and bake for about 18 to 20 minutes. Cool completely. Makes 48 cookies.

Baking notes: This is a beautiful dough–so easy to mix and roll out. The key to the cookie’s crunchiness is to bake until the bottoms are a dark golden brown. If baked until the bottoms are light golden brown, the interior of the cookie will be soft. They will be good, just not so crunchy! So the exact time depends on your oven, but somewhere from 19 to 20 minutes should do it.

I have run across a number of recipes for these cookies, some calling for shortening, others rolling the dough in egg before the sesame seed, and still others that are round not oval. But this is a nice buttery, crunchy cookie and I do recommend it.

The photos below show the ingredients, the formed dough, how to measure the dough, and the cookies ready for the oven.

This shows the dark golden brown bottom of the cookie–not burnt! Just a dark golden brown.
Cookies on the left are lighter and softer. Cookies on right are crunchy.

Just a Grackle in a Pear Tree

From afar, this grackle looked quite elegant perched in the pear tree on a rainy day. From up close, though, his beak was full of suet. Love his iridescent feathers!

An Adventure

Last Saturday, Jim and I drove down to Coal City, Illinois, and with other members of ESCONI (Earth Sciences Club of Northern Illinois), went looking for fossils. Here are a few photos of our adventure.

This is a “spoils pile,” which is left over from coal mining operations.
Hunting for fossils.
What we were looking at–full of ground rocks and possible fossils!
Our bucket of possible fossils–they have to be cracked open.
Jim looking at a rock–surprisingly fun!
Our haul. It’s not easy to find fossils, and while we found some of these, others came from a box labeled “for newbies and children!” So some of these come from that box. The small round fossil near the upper left is a little jellyfish. Otherwise, there are many fern fragments. I also found a fossilized seed, and some individual fern leaves. Other things, unidentified!