Saturday, September 27, 2008

Home Tester Rating Sheet

This is the rating sheet that home testers use when they evaluate my sample recipes. The information really helps me decide which recipes are "keepers" that will go in my cookbooks. Nancy Baggett

Kitchenlane Tester Rating Sheet (Please Rate Very Hard)

Date:  ____    Recipe name:   ___________  Tester Name: ____________

Rate recipe from 1-10, 10 being best.  Then please comment on taste, texture & appearance to explain your scoring in more detail. 

Taste: ___          Texture: ___  Appearance: _      Overall Appeal:  _

Was this recipe:  Easy__  Fairly Easy__ Somewhat Difficult_   Difficult__
If somewhat or very difficult, elaborate:

Was this recipe:   Better than expected __   What you expected ___   Worse than expected ___ Much different than expected ___   If worse or different, elaborate:

Is recipe worth the trouble? Yes_  Maybe __  No __ If maybe or no, why?

Would you make it again? Yes _   Maybe __  No __ If maybe or no, why?

Any suggestions for improving the preparation process or for yielding a better product?

I’d be interested in testing other recipes: Yes__  No____ Maybe ___

Return your rating sheet to:   Put name of recipe, plus "rating" in subject line.
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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Nancy's Cookbooks


By Nancy Baggett
Hardcover - 224 pages

Amazon           Barnes and Noble

For years, countless home cooks have shied away from baking their own bread because they were intimidated by all the mess, the experience, and of course, all the kneading required. Now, with Nancy Baggett's revolutionary new Kneadlessly Simple method, even complete novices can bake bread quickly and easily in their own homes, with no kneading and no kitchen mess. The secret is in Baggett's slow-rise method, which allows the yeast to grow slowly and develop the same full, satisfying flavor of traditional bread, but without any kneading at all. The technique calls for minimal, economical ingredients, often mixed in one bowl with one spoon, eliminating all the mess of traditional bread recipes. It can be used to produce a wide variety of breads, from crusty artisan-style boules and English Muffin Loaves to Raisin Bread and Caraway Beer Bread. With this innovative new method, anyone who can read, measure, and stir can now make delicious, fine-textured yeast bread at home. This book will differ from others on the same subject because Nancy Baggett is an experienced food writer who understand home baker's needs. While techniques by other experts may sound similar, they still require messy dough handling. Nancy Baggett's technique is the simplest one yet;  it's virtually fool-proof; and it yields superior bread.

The All-American Cookie Book
Nancy Baggett's, The All-American Cookie Book, can be purchased in bookstores everywhere or online. It has been enthusiastically received by critics and home cooks alike, and there are now more than 125,000 copies in print. For comments of the critics, click on Reviews. For a nifty cookie decorating idea from the book, go to Nifty Stuff.

Find at

In creating The All-American Cookie Book, Nancy Baggett crisscrossed the nation searching out great cookie recipes, then sure-handedly reworked every one in her own kitchen. This beautiful, 400-page, full-color cookbook (with over 50 glorious photos throughout) celebrates modern and heirloom gems from every corner of the country: Pennsylvania Dutch Soft Sugar Cookies, New York Black and Whites, Florida Key Lime Frosties, and Seattle Mocha Espresso Wafers to name just a few. The collection also features both devastatingly delicious contemporary creations like Chewy Chocolate Chunk Monster Cookies and Cranberry-Cherry Icebox Ribbons, and homespun classics like Chocolate Whoopie Pies, Caramel Apple Crumb Bars, Molasses Applesaucers and a charming1796 Christmas cookie. For children and adults alike, one of the most exciting chapters is the lavishly illustrated "Cookie Decorating and Crafts," which includes everything from simple projects like colorful holiday cookies and Chocolate Gingerbread Bears to a festive "snow covered" gingerbread cottage. Along with the recipes, Nancy tells the story of America's cookie baking heritage and slips in fascinating bits of culinary history and lore.

The International
Cookie Cookbook
(trade paper, 8" x 10") 240pp,
48 color photos, $13.95, plus
$3.00 shipping & handling
Total $16.95

 Dream Desserts
(hard cover, 8" x 9") 159pp,
25 color photos, $10.00, plus
$2.50 shipping & handling
Total $12.50
(less than half of original price!)

Special Sale -- The International Cookie Cookbook and Dream Desserts -- To purchase autographed copies of these books, send a check for the amount indicated; shipping is included in this fee. Books are shipped via postal service media rate and should arrive in about 3 weeks. Send payment, specify books ordered, and your shipping address to: Kitchen Lane, P.O. Box 1644, Columbia, MD 21044

This big, handsome book contains 150 wonderful cookies from Jam-Filled Shorties and Fudge Brownies to Butter Spritz and Viennese Almond Crescents. Also there are interesting bits of lore, cookie-making tips, plans for an authentic German cookie house and 50 gorgeous color photos in this beautiful 240-page

best seller. "Tempting and impressive," says The Christian Science Monitor. "A richly comprehensive sampling, " says Publishers Weekly.  

Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Trade Paper 1993

Praise for The International Cookie Cookbook:

"I borrowed this book from the library at Christmas time and renewed it 3 times! Well, those 12 weeks just weren't enough. ...I had to own this wonderful book. My husband said, "Go and buy it"! (He loves to eat cookies , who doesn't.) I found many new cookie recipes to try from the USA, Canada, Latin America, The British Isles, Scandinavia, All of Europe (3 chapters) and the Middle East, etc. There are BEAUTIFUL photographs. Indexed too!" Suzy R (thecookiebaker

"The best Christmas stocking stuffer. Excellent cookie recipes (that work). Old and new favorites for year round." Atlanta, Georgia

"This is the first cookie book elegant enough to give as a special gift, a beautiful coffee table book—but also a reliable collection of tested recipes."World of Cookbooks


Beautifully designed book featuring 85 fine-quality recipes and 25 gorgeous color photos. Recipes include cinnamon coffee cake, fudge bundt cake, lemon tart, chocolate chip cookies, etc., plus helpful tips on creating light, yet luscious desserts. Excerpted in Ladies' Home Journal.

Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Hard Cover, 1993.

"The moment I heard about Dream Desserts, I wanted it. Now I've read it and I love it. This is one of those books that's kept in the kitchen and gets covered in spots...." Graham Kerr, TV Chef

"I’ve made many desserts from this book and people always love them. This book proves that you really can make good lowfat desserts. Dream Dessertsalso has beautiful photographs of the recipes and would make a great gift book." Dieter with a Sweet Tooth

"Dream Desserts is filled with recipes that taste terrific, look sensational, are easy to make and best of all, taste fattening. .... This book lives up to Nancy's reputation." Marlene Sorosky, author of The Dessert Lover's Cookbook

"Nancy Baggett has succeeded the high-fat way, can she repeat her success on the low-fat route? The answer is yes!" Eating Well Magazine



Other Cookbooks by Nancy Baggett

From appetizers, main dishes, soups, salads, side dishes and desserts, a 200-plus recipe book with more than 75 pages of tips, menus and charts, 65 color photos and recipe nutritional analysis.

Chosen one of 1994's Best Cookbooks by USA Today, which praised its "... mouth- watering sampling of healthful recipes."

Rodale Press, Trade Paper, 1996 Rodale order: 1-800-848-4735

Praise for 100% Pleasure:

"I bought this book because I didn't know where to start with low fat cooking, and the other reviews were very favorable. What a find! The six or seven dishes we've already tried have been very tasty, and not too difficult to prepare. I was surprised to find that low fat dishes can actually taste good. Great photos, good info and a wide variety to select from." Greg Olson, Oregon

"The recipes in 100% Pleasure are well-tested (an anomaly these days) and well explained.... The wonderful thing about these recipes is that they're seasoned. There is real flavor—making cooking and eating a 100% pleasurable experience." The Cook's Bookshop Newsletter
"I have made meals and baked desserts from this book on many occasions, and have always received compliments. This book proves that low fat cooking doesn't have to mean no flavor and no fun." New York

"Making the move to low-fat cooking has been painful. So I was thrilled to discover a book with great recipes you would never dream were low-fat." Sterling Hill, Internet Diet-Food Newsgroup


Co-authored by Nancy, this popular book (50,000 copies sold) contains 115 well-tested recipes for delicious reduced-fat soups. From fancy recipes like crab bisque to quick like chunky chicken and pasta, from hearty like split pea and ham, and beefy vegetable to unusual like spicy apple-wine soup. Includes a chapter of "express" recipes for cooks in a hurry.

Full nutritional analysis of recipes included.

Surrey Books, Trade Paper, Second edition, 1997. Surrey order: 1-800-326-4430

Praise for Skinny Soups:

"Skinny Soups by Ruth Glick and Nancy Baggett is possibly the best lowcal cookbook ever written. I love soup and thought the recipes in this book were fabulous. Each soup I made was delicious, spicy and yet very easy to make. I have been making soups each week from this book for the last 3 months. ... Ruth Glick and Nancy Baggett have a award winning cookbook. I am purchasing several copies to give as gifts." Rowe, Massachusetts

"... an excellent job of trimming the fat and calories without losing the thick, rich texture and full-bodied flavor of traditional soups. All (recipes) received ratings from ‘real good’ to excellent." Diabetes Forecast Magazine

"... Instructions are easy and clear. ... soups are delicious ... economical, nutritious." Tufts University Diet & Nutrition Letter


Large (288 pages), lavish coffee-table book filled with 150 of the world's best chocolate recipes including cakes, cookies, candies, pies and tortes, plus 50 superb color photos and directions for creating a miniature Swiss chocolate chalet. Awarded 1991 Best Book—Baking and Desserts by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

"A stupendous book," raves Booklist.

Stewart,Tabori & Chang, Hard Cover, 1991, Trade Paper 1993

Praise for The International Chocolate Cookbook:

"The International Chocolate Cookbook has many wonderful recipes that will appeal to the chocoholic and the 'normal' audience. Complex techniques are carefully explained, step by step, with hints to understand WHY the chef needs to follow these directions. I particularly love the creative ways to use chocolate suggested by the author. She details how to make boxes, 'birds nests', leaves, small bowls, and more - all out of chocolate. To add to the enjoyment, the author gives descriptions about where the dessert comes from and what makes it so appealing. The pictures are stunning, and are part of what convinced me to buy the book originally. I strongly recommend it to anyone looking for a cookbook to guide them through the complex world of chocolate." A Chocolate Lover

"Chocolaphiles should make room on their shelves for this voluptuous volume. The oversize cookbook literally dazzles.... ...The range is unusually broad."Publishers Weekly

"... this glorious volume may be among the highest tributes ever paid to chocolate. The clincher—a miniature Swiss chocolate chalet." Country InnsMagazine
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Friday, September 5, 2008

Crusty, Seeded Pale Ale Pot Boule

Sample a Recipe from Kneadlessly Simple:
Fabulous, Fuss-Free, No-Knead Breads

Here's one of the rustic, hearty breads from my latest book, Kneadlessly Simple. The snapshot at left is one I took of a loaf while I was testing. It got eaten before I could take a better pic!  The pic at the top shows some slices  being serving with the hearty ham soup here.

Due to the hops and malt in the ale, this homespun, seed-encrusted pot boule has a hearty flavor, faint bitterness, and the same light yeasty aroma that always seems to hover in brew pubs. The interior is somewhat holey, with a pretty pale, well, ale color. If you use sesame seeds (my preference though a multi-seed blend is nice, too) for garnishing the loaf, they will turn golden and give the bread a slight nuttiness and crunch. The pleasantly springy crumb makes it suitable for toast and sandwiches. Or, cut it into generous slabs and serve along with a hearty soup or stew. For another option try my crusty white pot boule. For a tasty savory quick bread instead of a yeast bread, click here.

If you've got questions on what sort of pot works well for yeasted pot breads, you're not alone, so I've covered the topic here. This 5-minute video will answer some questions, too; click here.

Sign up for my free newsletter and recipes: here. (The issues always include an exclusive recipe not published on my site, plus behind the scenes info on what happening at Kitchenlane.)
Tip: The bread usually doesn't stick to seasoned plain or enameled cast iron, but if you aren't sure about your pot, spritz the interior with a little nonstick spray immediately before you turn out the dough into it.

4 1/2 cups (22.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose white flour, plus more if needed
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Scant 2 teaspoons plain table salt
3/4 teaspoon rapid rising, bread machine or “instant,” yeast
1 12-ounce bottle well-chilled pale ale or beer
2/3 cup ice cold water, plus more if needed
Vegetable oil for coating dough top
1/4 cup sesame seeds or poppy seeds, or a blend of seeds for garnish

First rise: In a large bowl thoroughly stir together the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Vigorously stir in the ale and ice water, scraping down bowl sides completely and mixing until the bubbling subsides and the dough is thoroughly blended. If it is too dry to mix together, gradually stir in just enough more ice water to blend the ingredients; don’t over-moisten as the dough should be stiff. If necessary, stir in enough more flour to yield a hard-to-stir dough. Turn it out into a well-oiled 3-4 quart bowl. Brush or spray the top with oil. Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap. If desired, refrigerate the dough for up to 10 hours; this is optional. Let rise at cool room temperature (about 70 degrees F) 12-18 hours; if convenient, vigorously stir once during the rise.

Second rise: Using an oiled rubber spatula, lift and fold the dough in towards the center all the way around until mostly deflated; don’t stir. Brush and smooth the dough surface with oil. Re-cover the bowl with nonstick spray-coated plastic wrap. Let rise using any of these methods: for a 1 1/2- to 21/2-hour regular rise, let stand at warm room temperature; for a 45-minute to 2-hour accelerated rise, let stand in a turned-off microwave along with 1 cup of boiling-hot water; or for an extended rise, refrigerate, covered, 4 to 24 hours, then set out at room temperature. Continue the rise until the dough doubles from the deflated size, removing the plastic if the dough nears it.

Baking Preliminaries: 20 minutes before baking time, put a rack in the lower third of the oven; preheat to 425 degrees F. Heat a 4-quart (or similar) heavy metal pot or Dutch oven or a deep 4-quart heavy, oven-proof saucepan in the oven until sizzling hot (check with a few drops of water), then remove it, using heavy mitts. Taking care not to deflate the dough, loosen it from the bowl sides with an oiled rubber spatula and gently invert it into the pot. Don’t worry if it’s lopsided and ragged-looking; it will even out during baking. Very generously spritz or brush the top with water, then sprinkle over the seeds. Immediately top with the lid. Shake the pot back and forth to center the dough.

Baking: Reduce the heat to 400 F.Bake on the lower rack for 55 minutes. Remove the lid. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer, or until the top is well browned and a skewer inserted in the thickest part comes out with just a few crumbs on the tip (or until the center registers 208 to 210 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. Then bake for 5 minutes longer to ensure the center is baked through. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Remove the loaf to the rack. Cool thoroughly.

Makes 1 large loaf, 12 to 14 portions or slices.
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Have You Decorticated Today? Hazelnut-Honey Caramel Bars

If you have ever baked with hazelnuts, you've probably rubbed off the dark papery skins. This process is technically called "decorticating." While it may sound unpleasant, it simply means taking the hulls off, mostly from nuts or seeds. In the jar of hazelnuts at right, you'll see that one nut on the left side hasn't been decorticated, but all the rest have. The dry, papery brown hulls are slightly bitter tasting, so many recipes call for rubbing them off before using the nuts.

Yes, this is a bit tedious, but toasting the nuts loosens the hulls so they'll flake away when rubbed between the hands or in a clean tea towel. It's not necessary to remove every bit of hull.
Some suppliers sell decorticated, or blanched, hulled hazelnuts, and, of course, this recipe will go together more quickly with them. (Just skip the toasting and hulling steps, and go right to the chopping direction in the recipe.) 

Several on-line venders carry hazelnuts already toasted, decorticated and ready-to-use. Some gourmet and health food stores do, too, but call and ask before you make a trip. (When I find them, I buy in bulk and freeze the extras so they'll be on hand.)

Hazelnut-Honey Caramel Bars

This recipe is from my All-American Cookie Book and was created by Portland, Oregon native Maureen McCarthy. The taste of hazelnuts, caramel and chocolate is completely irresistible, and the chewy-brittle texture of the bars is, too. I can't emphasize enough just how delectable these are!

Tip: If the idea of slipping a little whole wheat flour into baked goods appeals to you, it will work well in this recipe. Try using half white flour and half (3/4 cup each) white whole wheat flour. This product is milder and lighter in color that regular whole wheat flour. (The King Arthur brand is available nationally.)

2 cups (10 ounces) whole hazelnuts, divided
Crust Layer
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (1 stick plus 1
tablespoon) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose white flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Generous 1/4 teaspoon salt
Honey Caramel Layer
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 cup clover honey or other mild honey
6 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2- 2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 13- by 9-inch flat baking dish with aluminum foil, allowing the foil to overhang the two narrow end slightly.

To decorticate the hazelnuts: Spread them in a rimmed baking pan and toast, stirring every 4 minutes, for 12 to 15 minutes or until the hulls loosen and the nuts lightly brown. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Rub the nuts between your hands or in a clean kitchen towel, loosening and discarding as much hull as possible. In a food processor or by hand, chop the nuts moderately fine; set aside.

For the dough: Reset the oven to 375 degrees F. Beat together the butter, sugar, and egg on medium speed until lightened and fluffy, about 2 minutes. In a small bowl, thoroughly stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat or stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended and smooth. Turn out the dough into the baking dish. Using the hands, press the dough firmly into the baking pan. Lay a sheet of wax paper over the dough. Press down and smooth out to the edges to form a smooth, evenly-thick layer. Carefully peel off the paper and discard. Bake (middle oven rack) for 13 to 17 minutes, or until tinged with brown all over and slightly darker at the edges. Set aside.

For the caramel layer: Reset the oven back to 350 degrees F.
In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Using a long-handled wooden spoon, stir in the honey, brown sugar, and cream. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Adjust the heat so the mixture boils briskly, If testing doneness with a candy thermometer, clip it to the pan side, adjusting the tip so it is inserted into the mixture but not touching the pan bottom; if testing doneness using ice water, set out a small cup of water and add 3 ice cubes. Cook, briskly, but not hard, for about 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens to the consistency of gravy and darkens slightly. (If you use a candy thermometer it should register about 245 degrees F on the thermometer. To check doneness with ice water, drop about 1/2 teaspoon into the water, and let stand about 20 seconds; when squeezed, the mixture should form a soft ball that flattens out upon removal from the water.) Be careful, as the caramel is very hot. Immediately remove from the heat. Stir in a generous 3/4s of the hazelnuts and the vanilla.

To bake: Pour the caramel-nut mixture over the dough, spreading evenly to the edges. Bake for 13 to 18 minutes, or until nicely browned and bubbly all over. Remove from the oven, and let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Sprinkle the chopped chocolate over the top. Let stand a few minutes until the chocolate melts. Smooth it out a bit; it won’t completely cover the top. Sprinkle the remaining hazelnuts over the top.

Refrigerate until cooled and slightly firm (to make cutting easier); if the bars are fully chilled they will become brittle and hard to cut. Lift the foil and cookie slab from the pan. Peel off the foil, and transfer the slab to a cutting board. Trim away and discard the over-baked edges all the way around; then cut into fourths lenghtwise and eighths crosswise for small bars (or as desired). The bars will keep, airtight, for up to 10 days. Wrapped airtight, they may also be frozen for 2 months.

Makes 32 2- by 2 1/4-inch bars (or as desired).

Tip: If the idea of slipping a little whole wheat flour into baked goods appeals to you, it will work well in this recipe. Try using half white flour and half (3/4 cup each) white whole wheat flour. This product is milder and lighter in color that regular whole wheat flour. (The King Arthur brand is available nationally.)
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Easy Chutney Chicken with Apples and Pears

In this zesty, fragrant skillet, apples, pears, spices, vinegar and sugar cook together to form a simple accompaniment to boneless chicken breasts. The dish, which was featured in a Washington Post story I wrote on cooking with apples and pears, is perfect for autumn or whenever you want a healthful, tasty, and fairly fuss-free entree. 

Tip: If you don't have fresh gingerroot, substitute 1 teaspoon powdered ginger. Likewise, if you don't have mustard seeds, substitute 1/2 teaspoon powdered mustard.

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar 
2 tablespoons light brown sugar 
2 tablespoons corn oil or canola oil, divided 
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce 
2 teaspoons minced fresh gingerroot 
1 1/4 teaspoons mild or medium curry powder 
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds 
2 teaspoon ground cardamom 
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste 
4 5- to 5 2-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, split lengthwise 
1 tablespoon chopped onion 
2 large barely ripe Bartlett pears, peeled, cored and cut lengthwise into 8 slices 
1 large Stayman, Granny Smith or other crisp, tart apples, peeled, cored and cut into 12 slices 

In a large, shallow non-reactive bowl, stir together vinegar, brown sugar, 1 tablespoon oil, soy sauce, gingerroot, curry powder, mustard seeds, cardamom, and salt until well blended. Add chicken pieces, tossing until coated. Marinate for at least 15 minutes and preferably 20 minutes. 

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat till hot but not smoking. Add onion and chicken pieces to skillet; reserve unabsorbed marinade. Cook, frequently stirring onions and turning chicken pieces until lightly browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Stir in reserved marinade and pears and apples. Briskly cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is just cooked through, about 12 to 15 minutes longer. 

Taste and add more salt, if desired. Arrange fruit slices and chicken on a platter or individual plates. Serve immediately. 

Makes 4 servings.

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Hurry-Up Microwave-Baked Apples

My family and I bought way too many apples at a pick-your-own farm recently--that's my grandson lugging one of the baskets we picked. As a result, we've been eating them both raw and cooked nearly every day. I like traditional baked apples, but I also like having baked apples ready, from start to finish, in less than 15 minutes.

Microwave-baked apples come out tender and appetizing, but quite different from oven baked. Juices don't evaporate from the dish; the apples don't cook down much; and they keep more of their color than oven baked.
Some apples are definitely better for baking whole than others. Some comparison pics, here, show how several different varieties can come out. Besides the ones recommended below, check out the results of my side-by-side apple testings here. 

The apple in the two photos below is Honeycrisp, which tastes good, holds its shape well, and has a very appetizing golden-pink color. Recently, I invited Guy Raz, the host of NPR's Weekend All Things Considered, to do a comparative baked apple tasting in my kitchen, and his favorite was the Honeycrisp.

To ensure that all the apples are done at the same time, choose ones that are all the same size. Microwaving time will depend not only on apple size and variety but wattage of your oven. If you decide to reduce the total number of apples be sure to also reduce the baking time.

(To make sure you don't miss any of my recipes,
sign up for my free newsletter here. Issues always include an exclusive recipe not published on my site, plus behind the scenes info on what happening at Kitchenlane.)

Tip: If you ready baked apples often consider buying a new, good quality apple corer. The modern ones have a sharp bladed cylinder that plunges down through the center, making the core extraction very fast and tidy.

Tip: If you'd like more info on what apples are best for baking, I've done an extensive side-by-side apple bake-off and posted my results here.  I've also come up with an even easier 2-ingredient "baked" apple recipe (it calls for only sugar and apples!); check it out here.

1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar (can increase this for very tart apples)
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice or ground cinnamon (or use 1/4 teaspoon of both)
4 6- to 9-ounce baking apples, such as Braeburn, Empire, Honeycrisp, Jonathan, or Rome
 2 tablespoons water combined with 1 teaspoon lemon juice

In a small bowl thoroughly stir together butter, brown sugar, and spice. Using apple corer (or small, sharp paring knife), core apples; if possible, remaining center cavity should be no more than 1 inch in diameter. If necessary, trim bottoms so apples stand up. Using tip of a paring knife, puncture each apple about halfway down and 1/2-inch deep on four sides. This aids release of steam, helping the apples to stay intact.

Arrange apples upright in a deep microwave-safe casserole large until to comfortably hold them; drizzle the lemon water over them. Spoon the sugar mixture into the apple cavities.

Microwave apples, covered with a microwave-safe cover, at 100% power. At 6 minutes begin checking to see if apples are tender by piercing with a fork; baking time may range from 6 to 12 minutes. Let apples stand a few minutes before serving. Transfer apples to individual bowls and spoon the cooking juices over them, dividing equally. Serve plain for breakfast or snacks, or with a scoop of ice cream for a healthful, but yummy dessert.

Makes 4 servings.

It's amazingly easy to turn these apples into a fabulous dessert just by adding scoops of ice cream, drizzling over some amazing caramel sauce (shown below), and if desired, a pinch of sea salt--oh my! Or if you're in the mood for another fine homestyle apple dessert check out my favorite Apple Crisp or Blueberry-Apple Crumble.
To simply look at some beautiful pics of autumn bounty, including  apples, squash, pumpkins and corn, click here.

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Brown Sugar-Orange Sauce for Puddings

A nice complement to many bread puddings, this easy sauce from The All-American Dessert Book can dress up other puddings and fruit desserts featuring peaches, cranberries, or raisins. It's a fine accompaniment to my Pumpkin-Cranberry Bread Pudding; see the  pic at the bottom. (Both the sauce and the pudding can be made well ahead, so they are great for the busy holidays.) You'll also find some interesting American cuolinary history served up with the bread pudding recipe.
1-1/4 cups heavy (whipping) cream
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest (orange
part of skin)
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a heavy, nonreactive 2-quart saucepan, thoroughly stir together the cream, corn syrup, brown sugar, butter, orange zest, and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar completely dissolves and the butter melts. Bring to a gentle boil and cook, stirring frequently, for 4 minutes.(The sauce will thicken just slightly as it cooks and a bit more as it cools.)
Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes so the orange zest can flavor the sauce. 

Stir in the vanilla.Strain through a fine sieve into a sauceboat or pitcher and serve. The sauce will keep, covered, for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. Reheat in a saucepan over low heat, stirring (or in a microwave oven on medium power, stopping and stirring at 30-second intervals), until warm and fluid. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

For my very tasty, yet simple to make pumpkin bread pudding go here. (It takes a bit like pumpkin pie, but eliminates fiddling with a crust!)

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Stained Glass Holiday Cookies & Light Catcher Cookies

It's fun and easy make eye-catching "stained glass" or "jewel studded" cookies like the ones pictured. You can use a gingerbread or my tried and true Sugar Cookie Dough from my All-American Cookie Book. Just be sure it's a recipe that doesn't puff up too much or call for more than about a teaspoon of baking powder. You can cut out the cookies with whatever seasonal cutters you like–such as my "jeweled" hearts for Valentine's Day, or pumpkins for Thanksgiving, or evergreen trees and stars for Christmas, etc.  (For the best method of rolling out dough, see my short how-to video here.)

Then, using mini-cookie cutters, mini fondant cutters or the end of a metal pastry piping tip (or a thimble or small bottle cap) cut out a cut-away or several small cutaways from each cookie. (The cookies are easier to eat if the cut-aways are not too large as shown above or at left, though if you plan to use them mainly as light-catcher decorations, a large expanse of "glass" such as in the star below is very pretty.) Next, bake the cookies as you normally would following the recipe directions. If you plan to hang up the cookies, be sure to make a stringing hole in each before you bake. (Insert a piece of toothpick to keep the hole open during baking. Remove it after the baked cookies have cooled just slightly.

Once the cookies are completely baked, lay them, slightly separated, on a foil-lined baking sheet; do not omit the foil or the cookies will stick to the pan. Fill the cut-aways in the cookies with crushed clear hard candies, such as lollipops, Lifesavers, or Jolly Ranchers.

One way to prepare the candies is to put them in a tightly closed triple layer of plastic bags and crack them into fine pieces using a mallet, heavy rolling pin, or heavy metal spoon. Even better, if you have a plastic chopping mat--place the candies centered on a cutting board, then lay the chopping mat over top and whack away!  You need to spoon in enough candy bits to fill the cut-aways, but don't pile in too much or it will overflow. If necessary, use a small, clean artist's paint brush to brush away any candy bits that spill onto the cookie surface.

Put the cookies back into the oven just long enough for the candy to melt but not boil over, about a minute or two–keep checking, as the time will vary depending on the brand of candy and the amount used. Let the cookies stand on the baking sheet until completely cool again. Be sure not to touch the "stained glass" parts during cooling as they will be extremely hot and can cause bad burns. After the cookies are cooled, they peel right off the foil. Use them as gifts or attractive edible ornaments.

For another look and season, see my iced and "jeweled" stained glass Valentine cookies here.

For holiday cookie decorating using icings instead of "glass," see the tips and how-to for creating the pretty cookies shown below plus others, here

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Arizona Sunset Cocktail

Being an East Coaster, I'd never encountered prickly pear cacti, or any of the recipes calling for it until I visited beautiful Tucson several years ago. Restaurants everywhere seemed to be serving prickly pear lemonade, which was a lovely pink-purple and tasted good, but was pretty much like regular lemonade if you drank it with your eyes closed! Some places also served prickly pear syrup sundaes and fancy cocktails, like the Arizona Sunset, pictured here.

The key ingredient in this cocktail, prickly pear cactus syrup, can be purchased through a number of websites. However, you can obtain a similar visual effect by substituting the readily available grenadine syrup; liquor stores often carry it. In this case, perhaps you could call your cocktail a Grenada Sunset--this sounds equally enticing to me! 

Since this drink fairly sweet,  it's going to appeal mostly to fans of mimosas, mai-tais, and such. I've served Arizona sunsets to my son's in-laws at a summer get-together on my deck, and they were a huge hit. Obviously, they go well with Southwestern-style fare.

Tip: I suppose that the alcohol could be omitted for a sort of Shirley Temple cocktail, though I think the rum, especially coconut-flavored rum, adds a lot of oomph to the drink.

2/3 to 3/4 cup very well-chilled orange juice 
2 to 3 tablespoons light rum, coconut flavored rum, or tequila, as desired 
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice 
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons well-chilled prickly pear cactus syrup or grenadine syrup 
A seeded orange wedge for garnish 

Shake the orange juice, rum, lime juice, and several ice cubes in a cocktail shaker, or stir together in a cup. Strain into a well-chilled stemmed goblet or wine glass. Gently pour the cactus syrup into the glass; do not stir. The syrup will sink to the bottom, producing a layered “sunset” look. 

Cut a notch in the orange wedge and hook it on the rim of the glass. Serve immediately.
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Almost My Mother's Blackberry Cobbler--Favorite Taste of Summer

Blackberries in the woods

I'm lucky enough to have blackberries growing wild where I live. And even luckier that there are some productive stands of canes nobody else wants to go out in the heat to harvest. (The pic at the bottom right shows them in bloom several months before the berries actually appear.)

Often, it's really too hot for picking by the time they ripen here in July, but I go anyway! Some servings served plain, right from the patch, and an amazingly flavorful cobbler are always the reward.

 The aroma when the cobbler bakes is almost, but not quite, as seductive as its taste. My summer is simply not complete without a bowl or two. When fresh berries are not available, I have even substituted frozen unsweetened berries with success.

Fresh picked wild blackberries
Blackberry cobbler
Although boysenberries don't grow in my area, I love them in this recipe, too. Sometimes I buy a pint and add them to the blackberries. The blend is even better than the blackberries alone. Maybe one reason they work so well is that they are actually a cross of blackberries, raspberries, and loganberries. They were developed by horticulturalist named Rudolph Boysen! (The pic below features fresh-picked wild blackberries I gathered by the edge of a nearby Maryland road.)

Almost My Mother's Blackberry Cobbler

This cobbler is pretty much like the wonderful traditional one my mother prepared, but I speed up the dough making by using a food processor. It cuts the butter into the flour in a fraction of the time it used to take, and the results are just as good.
(For another cobbler that calls for an easy crumb crust instead check out my Raspberry Cobbler.)

I've done a lot of research on the history of cobblers, and it's clear that they originated in America. The earliest known reference is one I found in the 1839 Kentucky Housewife cookbook by Lettice Bryan. She mentions that "coblers" were "very excellent for family use," though not "fashionable" for company. Actually, I think most company would be thrilled with them today!

Tip: If you are a little short on blackberries, you can stretch them by adding up to 2 1/2 cups tart plums or tart apples.
Blackberry canes in bloom

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) chilled butter (preferably unsalted) cut into 1/3-inch cubes
4 1/2 tablespoons white vegetable shortening (or butter-flavored) cut or spooned into 1/2- tablespoon portions
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose white flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
About 2 1/2 to 5 tablespoons ice water

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
6 1/2 cups fresh blackberries (may substitute up to 2 1/2 cups peeled 1/3-inch pieces tart plums or apples for some of the blackberries)
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (use larger amount for sweet berries)

For the dough: Put the butter and shortening in the freezer while the other ingredients are readied. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a food processor. Process briefly to mix. Sprinkle the butter and shortening over the flour mixture. Process in on/off pulses until lumpy. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons ice water over the mixture. Process with 1-second pulses until the mixture is the consistency of very coarse crumbs; if it seems crumbly or dry, add a tablespoon or two more ice water until it is moist and begins to hold together. Carefully remove the processor blade. Turn out the dough onto wax paper; gently knead until the dough holds together and is very smooth. Cover and refrigerate while the fruit is readied. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

For the fruit: Set aside 1 tablespoon granulated sugar for garnish. In a 3-quart or similar-sized oven-proof, non-reactive deep-sided skillet or stove-top casserole, thoroughly stir together remaining sugar and cornstarch. Gently stir in the berries (and plums or apples, if using), lemon zest, and lemon juice until thoroughly incorporated. Over high heat, stirring, bring the mixture just to a full boil and cook until slightly thickened.

To assemble the cobbler: Shape the dough into a 5-inch evenly-thick disc. Lay it between squares of baking parchment or wax paper. Roll out into an evenly-thick round just slightly larger than the diameter of the skillet or casserole used. Peel off one sheet of paper, then pat it back into place. Remove and discard the second sheet. With a paring knife, trim the dough edges to even the round slightly. Center the dough, paper-side up, on berries; discard the paper. Cut decorative steam vents in dough top. Garnish the dough with the reserved 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake (middle rack) in oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees F; continue baking 20 to 30 minutes longer or until the top is nicely browned and the edges are bubbly. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool at least 15 minutes serving.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Or perhaps you might enough this blackberry treat, blackberry sorbet is here.

For another great summer fruit dessert that just happens to be gluten-free, try my Bumbleberry Crisp.
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Roasted Banana Ice Cream, Inn at Little Washington Style

Here's one of the recipes from my cookbook, The All-American Dessert Book. This sumptuous ice cream was inspired by one I tasted at Virginia’s acclaimed Inn at Little Washington, where the food is splendid, the service distinguished, and decor delightfully, elegantly overdone. The ice cream was served along with a warm bittersweet chocolate cake, but it could have easily stood on its own. In the photo, I've combined the banana ice cream with some strawberry cheesecake ice cream (also in the book), and topped them with fruit and a homemade marshmallow sundae sauce for an easy red-white-and blue Independence Day dessert.

The secret to the exceptional flavor of the banana ice crean is starting with very ripe bananas, then roasting them to bring out their distinctive creamy taste even more. While the resulting ice cream is plenty gratifying as is, folding some fine quality grated chocolate into it (my improvisation) is a nice--and easy--touch.

Tip: Banana ice cream is also great with some hot fudge sauce drizzled over top.

4 fully ripe, medium bananas, unpeeled
1 1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 1/2 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons light or dark rum, or orange juice, if preferred
1 cup granulated sugar
5 large egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 to 3/4 cup very finely chopped quality bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place bananas on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast in the oven until skins turn dark, 10-15 minutes. (They may exude some juice.) Let cool.

In a heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring cream, milk, and rum almost to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in sugar until dissolved. In a medium, deep bowl, lightly whisk yolks. In a very thin stream, whisk about 1 cup hot milk mixture into yolks until evenly incorporated. Pouring slowly and whisking, add yolk mixture back to saucepan.

Return saucepan to burner over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring and occasionally scraping pan bottom; as necessary, adjust burner so mixture heats efficiently but does not boil (which would cause yolks to curdle. Cook, stirring, until mixture thickens slightly and is hot to touch, about 5 minutes.) Continuing to stir, immediately remove heat. Add vanilla.

Put peeled, chopped bananas in food processor. Add about 1 cup cooked custard. Process about 2 minutes, or until completely pureed; scrape down sides as needed. Stir banana mixture back into custard. Strain through a fine sieve into a storage container. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 4 hours and overnight, if preferred.

Pour mixture into an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer's directions. When ice cream finishes processing, fold in chopped chocolate until evenly distributed throughout, if desired. Turn out into a chilled plastic storage container. Keeps, tightly covered, for up to 2 weeks.

Makes about 1 quart frozen custard.

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Lowney's 1907 Heirloom Brownies

It's hard to imagine American baking without brownies, but so far as I can tell, not a single recipe for these fudgy, uniquely American favorites was published before the 20th century. The 1905 and 1906 editions of Fannie Farmer's The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book included a chocolate brownie recipe, and two more appeared in the Lowney's Cook Book, published in 1907 by Boston chocolate and cocoa purveyor, Walter M. Lowney. At the time, he was a major competitor of Baker's, but, obviously, eventually lost out. (If you're hungry for brownies but are counting calories or trying to eat healthfully, check out my Better for You Brownies. or Shauna Ahern's Gluten-Free chocolate brownies.)

Lowney's Brownies are not fancy but are incredibly good—moist, dense, and chocolatey— and reminiscent of many brownies that cooks began preparing around the country in the early 20th century. Most of these called only for unsweetened chocolate and contained no additions except nuts. They are remarkably uncomplicated to make. A variation of this recipe appears in my All-American Cookie Book.
Lowney's Old-Fashioned Brownies

Notice in the pic at the bottom that the brownies have been removed from their pan; this makes them easier to cut. I also like to trim away the overdone edges, but this is entirely optional Even though early recipes didn't call for lining the pan with foil so the finished slab can be lifted out, now that we actually have foil available, it's a wonderfully handy step. It also means the brownie baking pan may not need to be washed
after baking.

The brownies are delish as is but are also terriffic as a base for brownie sundaes like the one below. Either my old-fashioned hot fudge sauce or quick, light chocolate sauce is tempting with these brownies. (If you're in the mood for more easy chocolate recipes, also check out my rocky road faux fudge.)  
 Tip: Mixing the batter by hand, as the original recipe directs, yields dense, fudgy, fairly thin brownies. If you prefer to use a mixer be very careful not to overbeat or too much air will be whipped into the batter and the flavor will be less intensely chocolately.

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose white flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan, or coat with nonstick spray.

In a small, heavy saucepan, melt the chocolate over lowest heat, stirring frequently until nearly melted. Immediately remove from the heat, stirring until completely melted. Let cool slightly.

Using a large wooden spoon and working in a medium-sized bowl, vigorously stir together the butter and sugar until well blended and smooth. Stir in the chocolate until smoothly incorporated. Stir in all remaining ingredients until well blended.

Turn out the batter into the baking pan, smoothing to the edges. Bake on the center oven rack for 21 to 26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack until thoroughly cooled. Cut the brownie into squares using a large sharp knife and wiping the knife clean between cuts. Will keep, packed airtight, for several days and may also be frozen for up to a month.

Makes 16 2- by 2-inch squares (or cut as desired).

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All-Purpose Sugar Cookie Dough--Dress Up the Cookies for Any Season

This is a good, really tasty, all-purpose sugar cookie recipe. The cookies, which I demonstrated on the NBC Today Show and showed on a satellite media tour several years ago, come out very crispy and buttery. You might enjoy seeing my favorite way to roll out cookies--the method used for both the holiday cookies above and left--in a short, fun video here. The method is easy, require almost no clean-up, and produces very pretty cookies.

They cookies are not too sweet, and are easy to handle and decorate for any occasion. I made them, shown  left for Thanksgiving. (Below you can see the dough made up into a "stained glass" Valentine's cookie (directions are here) And check out the beautiful autumn leaves and painted with icing here .) Or for some stunning Christmas and winter-themed decorated cookies, go here.  For info on the "naturally beautiful" decorating how-to  that's in my hot-off-the-presses new book, Simply Sensational Cookies go here.

This dough can also be used for "stenciled" cookies, or color washed cookies or several other attractive decorating techniques.The stained glass technique is detailed here.

    All-Purpose Sugar Cookie Dough

This is the cookie baking equivalent of the little black dress--it can be accessorized with the right cutter and icing to fit absolutely any occasion.  At left, I decorated the resulting cookies for my granddaughter's birthday. For some more absolutely beautiful autumn leaf- and pumpkin-shaped cookies, plus tips on making them, go here.  I also provide details on my preference for using all-natural botanical food colors for decorating here.

Tip: The recipe calls for butter; don't even think about substituting margarine!

3 cups all-purpose white flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
Scant 1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon whole or low-fat milk
2 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract or 1/4 teaspoon almond extract, optional
Assorted jimmies, colored sugar or sprinkles, optional

In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a mixer bowl with mixer on medium speed, beat together butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Beat in egg, milk, vanilla, and lemon extract (if using) until very well blended and smooth. Gradually beat or stir flour mixture into butter mixture to form a smooth, slightly stiff dough. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes to firm up slightly.

Divide dough in half. Place each portion between large sheets of wax paper or parchment. Roll out each portion a scant 1/4-inch thick; check underside of dough and smooth out any wrinkles that form. Stack rolled portions (paper still attached) on a baking sheet. Refrigerate about 45 minutes or until cold and firm. (Or freeze for about 25 minutes to speed up chilling.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Generously grease several large baking sheets or coat with nonstick spray. Working with one portion at a time and leaving remainder chilled, gently peel away, then pat one sheet of paper back into place. (This will make it easier to lift cookies from the paper later.) Peel off and discard second layer. Using assorted 2 ½-inch to 3-inch cutters (or as desired), cut out cookies. (If at any point the dough softens too much to handle easily, transfer the paper and cookies to a baking sheet, and refrigerate until firm again.)

Using a spatula, carefully transfer cookies from wax paper, spacing about 1 1/4 inches apart on baking sheets. Re-roll any dough scraps. Continue cutting out cookies until all dough is used; if dough become too warm, refrigerate it briefly before continuing. If planning to hang up the cookies, form generous holes with a toothpick or point of a small knife. Then place short lengths of toothpicks or spaghetti in the holes to prevent them from closing during baking. Sprinkle cookies with colored sugar, sprinkles, patting down lightly, if desired.

Bake one pan at a time in upper third of oven 8 to 11 minutes or until cookies are lightly colored on top and slightly darker at edges. Turn around pan about halfway through baking if necessary to ensure even browning. Transfer pan to a cooling rack; let cookies firm up a minute or two. If toothpicks or spaghetti pieces were inserted to form hanging holes, carefully remove them now. Then, using a wide spatula, transfer cookies to racks and let cool thoroughly. Decorate previously undecorated cookies with icing, or glaze, if desired.
Store airtight for up to 2 weeks or freeze, airtight, for up to 2 months. Makes about 30 to 35 2 3/4- to 3 1/4-inch cookies (depending on the cutters used).

 See tips on decorating cookies by marbling (shown left), plus links to decorating and cutting out cookie how-to videos here.  
 Or perhaps you're interested in making stained glass cookies like those shown below right

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