Friday, July 30, 2010

Homemade, Naturally Colorful Ice Pops in Sophisticated Flavors

I’ve been having a ball making—and, yes, eating—popsicles all summer. I guess it’s because they speak to my inner child, that secret being with a huge sweet tooth and major weakness for sugary, brightly colored treats. That said, these are completely food color free and have slightly sophisticated flavors --pomegranate, pom-orange, and pink grapefruit. (For more kid-friendly flavors, check out my chocolate-banana or raspberry pops here.)

Just thinking about the twin pops I used to buy with my saved-up allowance at the swimming pool concession stand is making me smile. They were the ample, two-stick kind: You know—the ones parents usually cut in half and made you split with a sibling!

But when I was off for swimming lessons with friends (who had money for their own pops), I didn’t have to share my treasure with anybody. I could just stand there in the hot sun, reveling in my greediness and devouring the whole, thirst-quenching, shivery-good treat myself. Alternately slurping and munching, I’d savor the sweetness and enjoy the cold, smooth goodness going down, then finish by licking off the last drops of icy juice from each stick.

The funny thing is, that same gloriously satisfying sense of self-indulgence I remember still grips me now. During a recent heat wave, I lost interest in meals, but trekked to the freezer for my homemade pops all day long. I kept trying to decide which flavor I liked better: pomegranate or pom-orange or pink grapefruit (bottom pic). Actually I liked them all—a lot!

I could almost hear my lovely, long-departed mother scolding me and enjoyed a momentary surge of glee that, ha-ha, now I’m grown I can do what I want! But the gloating turned to guilt later when I realized I really had ruined my appetite for supper!

I first made my pops using a simple commercial plastic popsicle mold bought in a discount department store and ordinary 3-ounce plastic cups with wooden sticks from a craft store. Both were quite satisfactory to use, and, of course, also economical.

Later I bought and experimented with a Zoku quick popsicle maker. I’ve tested these in it, and they come out just fine, so feel free to Zoku away! If you decide to create your own recipes, note that reduced-sugar pops will usually work in commercial plastic popsicle molds and plastic cups. However, the Zoku specifically advises against diet or low-sugar recipes, warning that they stick in the molds. Since sugar is partly what keeps pops from becoming rock-hard, it’s best not to go completely sugar-free in any case. Remember not to overfill the molds or cups; the mixture expands a good bit when it freezes and you don’t want it to dislodge the stick or touch the foil covering the top.

Pomegranate, Pom-Orange, or Grapefruit Ice Pops (Makes 6 3-ounce pops)

I prefer the grapefruit juice used solo, and often use the pomegranate juice solo, too. But I also like the pomegranate blended with orange juice; 2/3s pom and 1/3 oj, or half of each are both good. Even kids usually like these, though they are really geared for grownup tastes.

As the pop on the right in the top photo shows, you can make attractive two-toned pops with by layering the pom and pom-orange blend. Note that the cranberry juice just brightens up the pink grapefruit color in the pops here and is entirely optional.

Generous 1 3/4 cup ready-to-drink pink grapefruit juice, or pure pomegranate juice, or pomegranate blended with pulp-free orange juice
2 to 3 tablespoons cranberry juice cocktail, optional, for making grapefruit pops
1 to 3 tablespoons clover honey, or as desired

In a 2-cup measure very thoroughly together stir together the juice, g, and honey to taste; stir well as it takes a while to incorporate the honey.

If making ice pops using 3-ounce plastic cups or commercial plastic popsicle molds, pour the mixture into them until they are a little more than 3/4s full. If using molds, add the plastic sticks as directed. If using paper cups cover each with a small square of foil; make a slit in the center top; and insert wooden popsicle sticks into the cups. Freeze the molds or cups until the popsicles are completely frozen; depending on the freezer this may take 3 1/2 to 4 hours or longer. Remove the popsicles from the molds or cups by dipping their exteriors in warm water for 10 to 20 seconds (don’t overdo it!), and/or flexing the cups or molds until the popsicles loosen from the sides. If necessary, loosen the pops from the sides using a table knife to break the vacuum. 

If using a Zoku pop maker: Cover and refrigerate the fruit juice mixture until well-chilled, at least several hours. Have the Zoko maker thoroughly frozen (24 hours). Insert the Zoku plastic sticks into its molds as directed. Pour the mixture into the Zoku molds up to the fill line. When the pops are thoroughly frozen, remove them from the molds using the orange tool as directed. Do not try to pry the pops from the molds using a knife, as the interior of the molds may be damaged. Add new plastic sticks and make a second round of pops, if desired.

Eat the pops immediately or place in baggies or containers and freeze for later use.
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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Chill Out with Chocolate-Peppermint Sorbet

Last week it was simmering here in Maryland; for a couple of days the thermometer topped 100 degrees F. Everywhere heat waves were radiating off the sidewalks, and the air was so muggy wet towels wouldn’t dry.

The stifling weather set me on a binge of sorbet and popsicle making, which I’m in fact still on. To maximize the goose bumps, I focused on coming up with some super cooling combinations, especially ones incorporating citrus and mint. (Check out my minted lime sorbet here.)

One of my biggest successes was this chocolate-mint sorbet. As a result of the peppermint, it seems colder and more invigorating than most icy treats because the sea breeze sensation when you take a breath lingers even after the actual ice has melted away.

Scientists say that the unique cooling properties of peppermint can last up to 15 minutes or more. The phenomenon is the result of menthol in the herb affecting the same nerve endings that detect temperature changes in the mouth. Menthol causes these sensors, called thermoreceptors, to send messages to the brain saying “whooo, cool,” even when there’s nothing cold there. That's some peppermint in the pic. I contain it in a pot because it's a rampant grower, and I don't want it to take over my whole yard!

Chocolate-Peppermint Sorbet

When my peppermint starts overflowing the pot and looking leggy like the plant pictured, I know it’s time to trim it back and make this amazingly refreshing sorbet. Even two large handfuls of sprigs are not too much—I’m not sure it’s possible to use too much!

If you are aren’t sure which variety of mint you’ve got, it’s alright to use whatever is available, because this recipe calls for enhancing the fresh herb with some crushed peppermint hard candies. These contain the highly concentrated flavoring, oil of peppermint, which is produced from plants specifically chosen for their fresh, clean, invigorating character. I find the candies impart a much more enticing minty quality than peppermint extract; somehow it lends an artificial taste. (If you happen to have oil of peppermint on hand, add a drop of that for an even bigger punch of peppermint.)

Depending on the brands of chocolate and cocoa used, your sorbet will range from super dark and bittersweet, to semi-sweet, medium-dark and moderately chocolaty. I like to use a quality chocolate bar with a cacao percentage of between 60 and 75, as the generous quantity of cocoa butter helps carry the minty aroma to the nose.

Tip: To crush the peppermint candies, place the unwrapped discs between two pastic mats (or in a triple thickness of plastic baggies); close them tightly and whack with a kitchen mallet or back of a heavy spoon until the candies are reduced to fine shards.

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup clover honey
2 large handfuls fresh mint sprigs, preferably peppermint or blue balsam peppermint, washed and patted dry
3 tablespoons finely crushed peppermint pinwheel hard candies
3/4 cup good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder, such as Droste, Ghirardelli, Guittard, or Pernigotti
4 1/2 ounces semisweet or bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate, chopped

Thoroughly stir together the sugar, honey, 3 cups water and the mint spigs in a non-reactive medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring, then stir in the candy bits; keep stirring until they dissolve or they may stick to the pan bottom. Adjust the heat so the mixture boils gently for about 5 minutes, or until the mint sprigs wilt and discolor. Remove the pan from the heat. Measure out 2/3 cup hot liquid from the pan and pour it over the cocoa and chocolate in a bowl; do not stir it in. Let stand so the chocolate can soften for 5 minutes, then stir until smoothly incorporated, mashing out any cocoa lumps with the back of the spoon. Stir the chocolate mixture back into the saucepan.

Let the mixture cool. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 24 hours to allow the mint to infuse the mixture. Strain it through a fine sieve into a 4-cup measure, pressing down on the mint to extract as much flavor as possible. If necessary, add enough ice water to yield 3 1/3 cups of sorbet mixture. Process in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Makes 1 scant quart.

Other recipes you may like:  Blackberry-Plum Sorbet
or perhaps Lime with Mint.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Introducing the Recipe—Three Big Do’s & Don’ts

I’m convinced that all recipes should have introductions, or as cookbook editors call them, “recipe headnotes.” I just finished 200 headnotes for my next book, so I’ve thought a lot about their purpose. I see each one as a special chance to connect with you my readers—you are right there at the top of the page, waiting to see what I have to say. So the intro is my opportunity to tell you why I care about this kind of food in general and this recipe in particular. (For some other tips on how to write tasty headnotes go here.)

Here’s an intro I especially like for a peach cobbler recipe. I hope it makes you hungry to read further, and maybe even tempts you to rush to the kitchen and make the dish. 

When I asked around Mountain View, Arkansas, for the best home bakers, Jean Jennings’ name kept popping up. People would look heavenward, sigh blissfully and mention her cobbler. One musician friend of hers even told me, “Lordy, eatin’ her peach cobbler is better than sinnin’!”

I’ve also thought a lot about the do’s and don’t of writing headnotes. If you’ve ever considered doing a cookbook you should read on. If you just love cookbooks, you may find the info here insightful.

Don’t start every recipe with “This recipe is…”
There’s nothing wrong with introducing an occasional dish that way, but both editors and buyers will want to scream if every page of your cookbook or every recipe in your article starts with this same phrase.

Do: Start with your personal take: “I really like this dish because….” Or at least invert your sentence order and begin with: “The perfect thirst quencher on a muggy day, this recipe is ….” Or better yet, tell a story—how you came upon the dish, or what inspired it, why it’s unusual, etc.

The buttery, mildly yeasty taste and melting, float-away texture of these home-style rolls remind me of ones that were the pride of several gray-haired ladies who baked for the frequent fund-raising church suppers of my childhood. Neatly aproned and hair-netted, they would stand in the back of the parish kitchen deftly turning out dozens of sheet pans of rolls, which were whisked straight from the ovens and devoured by eager tables of diners. For me (and probably for many other customers) the highlight was not the featured ham, or oysters, or turkey, but those amazing, all-you-could-eat rolls!

Don’t use “mouthwatering” or “delicious,” to describe your dish.
I’m tempted to say never, but certainly almost never. I never, ever use mouthwatering because Atlanta-Journal-Constitution writer John Kessler did a search and found that it was the most common food adjective used. I don’t want my writing to be that ordinary. Plus, the word “mouthwatering,” just doesn’t sound appetizing to me—sorry, but I picture drooling! As for delicious, I allow myself one per cookbook; it doesn’t tell the reader what is appealing about the food, which is really what a headnote should do.

Do: Think about how the dish is delicious: Is it juicy? Tender? Fragrant with spices? Silky on the tongue? Warming? Palate cleansing? There are hundreds of food adjectives and innumerable ways to say what a recipe tastes like; use them.


I adapted this boule from a terrific recipe shared with me by Craig Ponsford, founder of Artisan Bakers of Sonoma, California. Craig brought some of his gorgeous multigrain loaves to a baking conference, and, though I’m not normally a great fan of multigrain breads, I was bowled over by the unique earthy flavor, light but hearty texture, and handsome look of his loaves. The secret is the combination of nine different whole and ground grains and seeds, which adds a wonderful graininess and crunch, yet doesn’t hurt the teeth and completely avoids that earnest “it’s good for you so eat it,” character of some multigrain breads.

Don’t lie about the dish!
I recently gave one of my testers a recipe that was prefaced with some introductory notes I’d typed regarding how I’d liked the previous version. “This is so-so. A little bland. Also poor texture—dry and grainy.” I’d noted. “That’s your recipe intro?” my tester asked. No, it was in fact a road map to remind me of what needed to be improved before I could write my recipe intro. If I can’t honestly say something nice, I know I need to keep working on the recipe, or maybe decide to deep-six it.

Do: Focus on what you think is especially appealing, but also on what the reader may not like. I do this because I don’t see any point in people preparing a recipe they may not enjoy. So, I may say, “Since this sorbet is conveniently readied in a food processor , it’s texture won’t be quite a smooth as one made in an ice cream machine.” Or, “The fennel seeds give these breadsticks a pronounced licorice taste. If you aren’t wild about this flavor, you may want to reduce the amount to 1 teaspoon, or substitute caraway seeds for a different effect altogether.”


This is not your typical understated chocolate pudding! In fact, since it features not only chocolate but cayenne pepper, orange, cinnamon, and allspice, it’s at the far end of the spectrum from the comforting classic versions most folks are familiar with.

So there you have it. I hope this is your recipe for recipe intro success!
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