Caramel Chocolate Chip Biscotti

Last week I made some Chocolate Chip Biscotti for our church’s Third Tuesday Supper. The theme for the dinner was Italian, and biscotti seemed the thing to do. I was struck by the delicious, caramel flavor of the cookies, which are made with brown sugar, and decided to make them again this morning with a caramel glaze.

So I stirred up a little pan of caramel glaze, drizzled it over the pan of cookies, and, yes, they are so good. For a moment, I almost threw caution to the winds and thought of sprinkling them with some chocolate toffee bits I had on hand, but sometimes, enough really is enough. These are crunchy without being hard, with the caramel, butter and chocolate chips singing together as a melodious trio.

Caramel Chocolate Chip Biscotti

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 ounces mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix the softened butter and the sugar. Add eggs and vanilla, mixing well. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the butter mixture, and then stir in the chocolate chips. The dough will be firm, and you may want to knead it a bit with your impeccably clean hands to bring it together.

Shape into two 10 x 2″ logs and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 22 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Slice logs into 1/2 inch slices and place on cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, take out of oven, flip over, and bake for a further 15 minutes. Allow to cool.

Make glaze: Melt 1/4 cup butter in a small saucepan. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar, and stir over heat until bubbling. Take off heat, and add 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar and 1/3 cup milk. Beat until smooth. (If the powdered sugar is really lumpy, pass the glaze through a sieve into a small bowl to smooth it.)

Baking notes: The original recipe called for a whole 12-ounce bag of chips, but half a bag seemed plenty to me. But you could go for it, and add the whole bag.

Pictured below: The dough, measuring the logs of dough, and pressing the logs so they are two inches across.


Fresh from the oven.
Sliced into 1/2″ slices.
Ready to be baked again.
Cut off a tip of a plastic sandwich bag. Scoop glaze into bag, twist up the top, and use to drizzle glaze over cookies.

You could also dip each cookie into the glaze, though I think drizzling is more fun.

If there a trick to drizzling, it’s to cut a small hole in the bag, and, drizzle over the cookies quickly. If you go slow, blobs could be created.

These are nice with fresh strawberries.

Somehow, the strawberries make me think of cardinals, and I offer a few pictures of this magnificent bird. Peace to you. Fran


A Bread Flower

I love this bread for being so pretty and, also, for tasting so good! The original recipe came from Paneterria by Gennaro Contado. (This is a wonderful book. I’ve made the first recipe for Basic Bread three times, and am slavering over the other recipes for pizzas and focaccias.) I took his recipe for Basic Bread and combined the shaping and tying method from his recipe for pumpkin bread (pane alla zucca). The pumpkin bread, which isn’t sweet, looks interesting, but I am suffering from pumpkin fatigue, and will bake it when I recover.

So the fun thing about this is that it isn’t hard to tie up the dough at all, and when you take the loaf from the oven you will be thrilled: It billows up into a beautiful loaf with a crispy crust. By the way, “flour,” used to be spelled “flower,” in medieval times, as it was thought too be the flower of the wheat plant.

A Bread Flower

packet of yeast (1/4-ounce)
1-3/4 cup warm water
pinch of sugar
4 cups bread flour
1-1/4 teaspoons salt

a five-feet long piece of string

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add a pinch of sugar, and stir. When the yeast has foamed up, add the flour and salt, and stir until the dough is a shaggy mass. Flour your counter, dump the dough onto it, and knead for 10 minutes. Add one or two more tablespoons of flour if the dough seems too sticky. (It’s better, though, to have slightly sticky dough, than dough that is too firm and floury.) It’s helpful to use a dough scraper, if you have one.

Cover your bowl and dough with a clean plastic bag. Twist the bag into a knot underneath the bowl, and set in a warm place. Allow to rise for about one hour. Dump the risen dough onto the floured counter. Knead lightly and form into a circle.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour some water in a pan (I used a 13 x9″ metal pan.) and place on the bottom shelf of the oven. This will create a moist atmosphere for the baking bread. Form dough into a loaf (directions to follow), allow to puff up for 30 minutes, and bake in preheated oven also for 30 minutes. Remove and allow to cool.

Baking notes: The water for the yeast should be very warm, about 100 to 110 degrees, and if you have an instant read thermometer, it could be helpful here. Tepid or lukewarm water isn’t warm enough. The pinch of sugar wasn’t called for in the original recipe, but I find it helps get the yeast growing. Be sure to use bread flour. Also, I used a bit more water than the original recipe called for.
Photos below: Yeast mixed in very warm water, yeast foaming, mixed dough ready for kneading, kneaded dough, dough rising in bag, a dough scraper, and risen dough. Tip: Do not proceed unless you see your yeast foam up. Your water might be too cool (it should be very warm, not tepid). Place the yeast in a warm spot, and give it more time. Also, be sure to use bread flour.

Place the string under the dough, evenly centered. Have the smooth side of the dough facing up.
Bring up the string and cross, and then bring the string down around the loaf at an angle.
Turn loaf over, and again cross the string at an angle.
Turn the dough over, and tie the string into a bow.
Allow to rise for 30 minutes.
The bottom will also be brown when the bread is done.
The high oven heat will cause beautiful browning.

To remove the string, untie the bow. Take one of the ends, and yank it–it will slice right through the loaf, and you can pull off the rest of the string in a similar way.

Use a serrated bread knife to slice, or an electric knife also works well.

Sometimes the simplest things are best–some flowers, some butter, and some toast.

The shape of this bread kept ringing a bell in the back of my mind, and after a search, found the following picture of an ancient loaf of bread from Pompeii. The more things change . . .

Photo from the Naples National Archeological Museum
Photo of an ancient Roman feast, by Carole Raddato. The green food is a bean puree with herbs. Sounds like something we could do!

A chickadee was flitting from branch to branch in our pear tree, and I got a few pictures. He was performing some acrobatics! Peace to you. Fran



Dacha Salad

It is snowing. No surprise there. It’s cold. Also, no surprise. So this morning I retreated into a Russian cookbook called “Kachka: A Return to Russian Cooking,” where all feels warm, bright, and cozy. A salad called “Dacha Salad,” caught my eye, because it looked good and called for cherry  tomatoes, which even in the middle of winter here in the Midwest can be pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. Also, I feel like I should be eating more salads and less cookies, and after Jim and I went out for breakfast (first things first), we stopped at the grocery store for salad ingredients.

A dacha. Photo: NVO

It was fun to come home with a grocery bag full of green-smelling things, and I set to work, pickling onions, making a sour cream dressing, and chopping veggies. By the way, a “dacha,” is a little cottage that Russians retreat to for gardening, and for enjoying warm summer days. This is the type of salad they might make after picking the ingredients fresh from the garden.

To make this salad, I advise pickling the onions first, making the salad dressing, and then chopping the vegetables, and adding them to your bowl, one by one. At the end, toss everything together. SO, вот так! (Here we go!)

Dacha Salad 

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 an English cucumber, quartered and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces (1-1/2 cups)
1 bunch radishes, quartered and sliced into 1/4 inch pieces (1 cup–about eight radishes)
1/2 cup pickled onions, drained and minced (see recipe)
1/2 cup scallions, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup loosely packed dill, chopped
black pepper
kosher salt

Dressing: Mix together the following.

1/2 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 TBS minced parsley
1 TBS minced dill
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Pickled onions: Cut a half onion into thin half moons and place in a heat-proof bowl. In a small pan, mix 1/2 cup red wine, 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 2 teaspoons sugar. Bring to a simmer and heat briefly until sugar is dissolved. Pour the mixture over the onions, stir, and let sit while you make the salad. (Pickling smooths out the bite of raw onion. If you don’t want to pickle the onions, try Vidalia onions, instead.)

Note: The dressing will be pretty salty and tart, but it will be fine when combined with all the salad ingredients.

Then wash and cut up the vegetables, adding them to a bowl as you finish with each. Add the dressing, and toss thoroughly.

These were good, but grape tomatoes would work, too.
Cutting the onion into thin half moons.
Pickled onions. I think you could use red wine vinegar if you didn’t want to use red wine.
The original recipe called for a Russian sour cream called “smetana,” but this worked well.
I mixed the dressing in a measuring cup.
Chopping the dill. Remove fronds from thick stems before chopping.
Finished dressing.
As I chopped, it continued to snow.
Cut each little tomato in half.
Use the long, thin-skinned type of cucumber.
Radishes are so beautiful!
We’re almost there!
I used two of these green onions–they were pretty large.

Just a side note: Be sure to use kosher salt, not sea salt. Sea salt, on the left, is coarser.
Ready to assemble all ingredients!
Almost forgot the chopped pickled onions!
Toss your ingredients together thoroughly.


Yes, this salad involves a lot of chopping and tossing, but I served it along with some sliced ham, baked on Saturday (got the ham at Aldi–it was $8.40 and there was a $5 off coupon. The whole ham cost $3.40. Doesn’t get any better.), along with a Swedish Rye crisp bread and some butter.

I enjoyed making this salad–it was delicious, with the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes, the crispness of the cucumber, and the sour cream dressing pulling it all together. I slowed down and especially enjoyed smelling the fresh dill. And, “Kachka,” is a wonderful cookbook, with lots of inspirational recipes. I definitely recommend it. A nice way to spend a snowy morning!

There haven’t been many birds out lately–there has been a hawk (Mr. Fluffy) patrolling the neighborhood, and it’s been very cold. But for a few minutes yesterday, some house finches appeared, and they stopped at the feeder, and had a bit of a kerfuffle. It was fun to see them. Peace to you. Fran


Jalapeño-Cheddar Corn Muffins

I’m deep in a muffin mode, and having really enjoyed last week’s Fresh Strawberry Muffins from Muffins A to Z by Marie Simmons, decided to try her Jalapeño- Cheddar Corn Muffins.

So on Saturday morning I started some Green Split Pea Soup in the crockpot, baked the muffins in the afternoon, and it was such a good meal for a cold day in January, along with a glass of merlot, and some fresh strawberries and a square of milk chocolate for dessert.

Don’t be afraid of the hotness of jalapeños. Compared to some hot peppers, they are only moderately hot, and you can control the heat by removing the seeds and pith. The one tablespoon of chopped pepper called for in this recipe yields a pretty mild muffin, in my opinion.

At any rate, when these muffins are baking the smell of toasted cheese fills the air along with the green note of the jalapeño, banishing the chill of winter.  And as you can see, they rise high, light, and golden. Yum.

Jalapeño-Cheddar Corn Muffiins

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 tablespoon seeded, finely chopped fresh jalapeño pepper
1-3/4  cups flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup canned creamed corn (8.5 oz. can)
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
dash of Tabasco
1-1/2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and place cupcake liners in a 12-mold cupcake pan. Melt the butter in a small pan; turn off the heat, and stir in the chopped jalapeños to soften.

Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the corn, buttermilk, egg, Tabasco and the butter/pepper mixture until blended. Add to the dry ingredients, along with one cup of the shredded cheese. (The remaining cheese will go on top.) Stir just until moistened.

Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake liners, and sprinkle each with the remaining cheese. Bake until the tops are golden, about 20 to 22 minutes.

Baking notes: The original recipe called for cooking a half cup of chopped onion in the butter. Somehow this didn’t appeal to me, and I left it out, but feel free to try. Also, after chopping the jalapeños, wash your hands very thoroughly in hot water and soap. I used a quarter cup ice cream scoop to apportion the batter–I think this helped the muffins have a nice rounded top.

This is a handy recipe–you can set some cooled muffins aside for a meal, and then put the rest of them in a plastic bag. Twist the bag firmly closed, and place in the freezer. Then when you need a few muffins for another meal, microwave each for about 30 seconds. (Remove the liner if it’s metallic.) They will be good as new!

Pictured below: ingredients, chopping the jalapeño, the dough showing some flecks of flour, the filled muffin cups and the baked muffins.



Don’t be afraid to load up each cup with batter–it will rise high, not slop over.


Picture from The Persian Fusion

On another note, sometimes I run across a recipe that sounds interesting, but I’m not sure about it and I bake it to see what’s what. So last week I baked some saffron biscotti that looked golden and plump in the photo, but turned out pale and flavorless. I realized that I didn’t know much about saffron, and when I searched the web for info, ran across a wonderful food blog called The Persian Fusion, by Maryam Sinalee, all about Persian (Iranian) food. The food is beautiful, the photography great, the recipes sound delicious, and you might want to stop to stop by for a look. Meanwhile, I will keep working on the saffron biscotti!

A School of Origami Fish

I’m always conflicted about origami, because as much as I enjoy it, I have a practical streak and like to make things that are useful. These little fish, as well as being pretty, could conceivably be used on a keychain, or as bookmarks, or as a money holder. But their main appeal is that they fun to fold! I used 4 x 4″ chiyogami paper, which can be found on line–just google “chiyogami paper.” It’s heavily decorated, often with gold. I used instructions from Minigami by Gay Merrill Gross. You can also use the following instructions, using a 4 x 5″ piece of paper.

True confession: I use a quarter every week at Aldi, for a shopping cart. I keep a quarter in a folded fish in my wallet–helps make life a little more fun, and it’s my lucky coin!

Peace to you. Fran



Fresh Strawberry Muffins with Brown Sugar Cinnamon Butter

Woke up this morning on the first day of the new year to find that it’s 12 below zero. Immediately decided to pretend it’s spring! These fresh strawberry muffins, from Muffins A to Z by Marie Simmons, sounded like the ticket to springtime, and I decided to pair them with brown sugar cinnamon butter for extra deliciousness. They are so good.

Fresh chopped strawberries are folded into a buttermilk muffin batter, baked until toasty brown, and served with brown sugar cinnamon butter. One bite and I was in strawberry fields forever–really, it’s a wonderful combination, and along with a cup of fresh brewed coffee, I was able to laugh at the thermometer! At least for a few minutes.

Fresh Strawberry Muffins

2-1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 cups buttermilk
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/4 cups chopped hulled strawberries

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and place cupcake liners in a cupcake pan. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a small bowl. In a separate bowl, stir together the buttermilk, melted butter, eggs and vanilla until well blended. Add the dry ingredients all at once, along with the chopped strawberries, and fold just until evenly moistened.

Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake liners. Sprinkle with a bit of sugar, if desired. Bake until brown and risen, about 22 minutes. Serve with the brown sugar cinnamon butter.

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Butter: Soften 1/4 cup butter and mix well with 2 teaspoons brown sugar and 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon. While still in the bowl, using a spatula, you can mold the butter into a rough cylinder about five inches long. Place on a square of waxed paper; roll up, and place in refrigerator to firm up.

Butter rolled up in waxed paper.

Baking notes: Being lumpy things, chopped strawberries are not easy to measure. I had a one-pound container of strawberries, and used about a third of it, chopping the berries into approximately 1/3 inch cubes. Just do your best! One wonderful thing about these muffins is that they rise high, and don’t flop over. I used a 1/4 cup ice cream scoop to measure the batter into the cups, and made 15 muffins. I think you could dare to put all the batter into 12 cups, and they would rise super high!

Pictured below: chopping strawberries, batter being mixed, just mixed dough, and filled cupcake liners.


Library Card Holder

One of my most precious possessions is my library card–really! I can remember my first card, from the Chicago Public Library, and can remember going with my mother to our small local library, which was just a storefront, but seemed as magical as Ali Baba’s cave. Libraries were magical places to me, and they still are.

With that in mind, I offer an origami pattern for a library card holder. I first made this library card holder in August, but wondered how practical it would be. Since then, I always have my card in the holder. It’s fun, and makes the card easy to spot in my wallet. The instructions for this came from Travel Origami: 24 Fun and Functional Keepsakes by Cindy Ng.

How to:

You will need one 6 x 6″ piece of origami paper.
Center your card on the paper.
Fold the sides towards the center.
Fold the top and bottom over the card. The top and bottom flaps should be equal.
Your folded paper will look like this.
Insert the top flap into the bottom flap. (Squeeze the bottom flap to form a pocket for the top flap.)
Insert library card
A full library card holder wardrobe!

Christmas Gift Tags

Christmas is over, but I have one last tiny little Christmas project you might enjoy, especially if you have saved the used wrapping paper and any Christmas cards you’ve received. It’s fun and easy.

Just gather your wrapping  paper and cards, along with a small can (about 2-1/2 inches across–I used a small cat food can), a pencil, scissors and a hole puncher. Draw around the can on the paper or card, cut out, and punch a hole in the tag. Voila! Next year’s Christmas gift tags.

Peace to you. Fran


Some Christmas Cardinals

Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, 圣诞节快乐, Fröhliche Weihnachten, hyvää joulua, joyeux Noël, Heri ya Krismasi, glædelig jul i, god jul i, selamat natal di, クリスマスメリー, Schöni Wiehnachte to all! May your coming year be happy and healthy. And thank you for visiting Something for (Almost) Nothing–I truly appreciate it.

It started to snow this morning, and I saw a flash of red out in the crabapple tree across the alley. It was a cardinal and his mate looking beautiful in the snow, and somehow very Christmas-y. And some juncos visited, as well. Hope you enjoy! Peace to you. Fran





Cranberry Gingerbread

I’m on a cranberry kick–they are such a fabulous bright red, and their vivid tartness wakes up otherwise slumbering cookies and in this case, gingerbread. So when I found a recipe  for Cranberry Gingerbread in a cookbook called “Special Occasions,” by John Hadamuscin, I had to try.

The recipe is a beauty–the baked gingerbread looks like it’s adorned with rubies, and the tart berry jewels and bright ginger flavor and the richness of the molasses are so good together. Because it’s so pretty, it doesn’t need frosting, and a pan of this would look beautiful on any Christmas dessert table.

Cranberry Gingerbread

1/3 cup butter, melted
2/3 cup milk
1 cup dark molasses
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh cranberries
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9″ pan, line with parchment paper, and grease lightly again.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the melted butter, milk, molasses and beaten egg until well mixed. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Gradually add the mixture to the liquids, stirring until completely blended.

In a small bowl, stir together the cranberries, orange rind, and sugar, then stir half the mixture into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spoon the remaining mixture on top. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Baking notes: When it came time to make this, I found I didn’t have an orange for the orange rind. Oops! It’s delicious this way, but the grated orange rind would be great, too. The original recipe called for baking this for 50 minutes. In my oven, it was 30 minutes. It will be done when the edges shrink a bit away from the pan sides, and the center will be springy when pressed.

Pictured below: Ingredients, washing and chopping the cranberries, the sugared cranberries, and adding the cranberries to the batter.



Christmas Tree Baubles

Jim and I buy a small tree for Christmas, usually no more than three feet tall. Everything about it is easy: easy to bring home and easy to put up. We put it on a small table in the dining room window. Thing is, I have a lot of ornaments, enough for a 30-foot tree!

So every year I choose a theme–animals, rosemaling, crocheted ornaments, birds, and go with that. This year, I used my translucent glass ornaments, including some I made at a glass blowing workshop at Waterstreet Studios, in Batavia, Illinois. (The lumpy ornaments below, are the ones I made–discovered that glass blowing is not easy!)




A little bird drama from a warm June day, which seems far away right now! And then, lastly, the Carol of the Birds, by singer Emily Mitchell. Birds seem to carol all year long, so I really enjoyed this music.