Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sweets for a Sweetie--Maybe for Yours, Too?

DID YOU MISS MY VALENTINE'S NEWSLETTER? GO HERE.

Are you thinking that these cookies would be perfect for a party or romantic Valentine's treat? I agree. I took them to my sweet granddaughter's birthday celebration several days ago, and she loved them.  (The cookies are actually photographed with the child's tea set I gave her several years ago.)  I've also served them at a spring luncheon and given a prettily-wrapped tin to an ailing friend. And they are on my list to prepare again for this Valentine's Day.

In case the pretty-in-pink theme seems a tad too much, let me mention that my granddaughter is a girlie little girl who enjoys pinks and purples, ruffles and frills. Since I  never had daughters to dress in  cute frocks or shower with baubles and bows, I've been enormously pleased to at last indulge and bestow upon my grandchild girlie gifts including--oh joy!--a dancing ballerina jewelry box, a My Little Pony plate, a faux gem-studded tiara, and lavender-hued hand mirror!


But let me get back to the subject of this post. Obviously, the stunning-looking raspberry buttercream frosting is the star of the show; any good, not-to-sweet vanilla spritz or butter cookie can serve as the base. When it comes to pastry decorating, I'm committed to truth in advertising; if it looks boldly raspberry, it's gonna taste boldly raspberry.  Both the buttercream flavor and color are completely natural and intense, coming from pure, freeze-dried red raspberry powder, not food dyes and artificial flavorings.

As for where to find the freeze-dried raspberry powder, it's available on-line.  But I don't actually recommend this as it usually only comes in large containers that cost $20 to $40 dollars each! Besides the expense, the powder loses its oomph over time and will become faded  and stale long before you’ve used up so much. One other problem is that some raspberry powders on the market contain fillers and red dyes and skimp on the berries; if you do buy the powder check the label to be sure the product is pure.

Alternatively, I suggest buying small or medium-sized packets of plain freeze-dried raspberries (available in some health food stores as well as on line), then turn them into powder yourself. This requires simply grinding them in a food processor with a small amount of powdered sugar, then sieving out the seeds. The packets generally cost $7 to $9, which seems pricy until you remember that the berries are dehydrated so you're getting a lot of them. One brand I like and can obtain at a local heath food store is called "Just Raspberries." Another easy option is the Trader Joe's brand available at Amazon.
Intensely Raspberry Buttercream Frosting

This  recipe is from my new cookie book, Simply Sensational Cookies. The buttercream can serve as a superb filling for French macarons, as well as a frosting for cupcakes. The recipe may be doubled, if you wish. It keeps well, so can be conveniently readied  ahead and refrigerated several days until you need it.  In fact, the fruit flavor actually blooms if  the frosting is allowed to  mellow a day or so.

Tip: For a really bright hot pink frosting like that shown here, use the maximum amount of raspberry powder and the optional cranberry juice cocktail noted in the recipe. The  minimum amount of raspberry used alone with water will produce a slightly less vivid shade. The color will also vary depending on the brand of freeze-dried raspberries; some are a bold red; others are slightly muted.


Raspberry Powder
Generous 1/2 to 2/3 cup freeze-dried raspberries
1 tablespoon powdered sugar, or more if needed
Frosting
2 2/3 cups powdered sugar, plus more if needed
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into chunks
3 1/2 to 4 tablespoons freeze-dried  raspberry powder,  to taste
11/2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons water, or cranberry juice cocktail, as needed
1 teaspoon raspberry extract 

For the raspberry powder:  Process the berries and 1 tablespoon powdered sugar in a food processor until the berries are chopped fine, but the seeds and some bits of pulp are still visible. If the berries have so much moisture that the mixture clumps, add more sugar and process until a "sieve-able" consistency is obtained. Stir the raspberry mixture through a very fine sieve into a small bowl to remove the seeds and any coarse bits of pulp; stop stirring before you force any coarse bits or seeds through. You should have enough sieved powder to yield 3 1/2 to 4 tablespoons.  (If you have extra, just store it airtight in a small jar and use it another time.)

For the frosting: Beat the powdered sugar, butter, berry powder, 2  tablespoons water (or cranberry juice and the extract in a large mixer bowl on low speed until the mixture is completely blended. If very stiff, beat in a little more water. Beat on medium just until thoroughly blended, scraping down the sides as needed. If necessary, gradually beat in a little water or more powdered sugar as needed for the desired spreading or piping consistency.  

The buttercream may be used immediately but the flavor and color will intensify if it is allowed to mellow a day or so covered airtight and stashed in the refrigerator.  Let it come to cool room temperature and stir vigorously before using. (It can also be frozen, airtight, for up to 1 month. Thaw completely before using.)

For decorating cookie tops: To spread, put little dollops of buttercream on cookie tops, then swirl it slightly with the tip of a knife. To pipe, spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a [1/2]-inch diameter open star tip; for deeply grooved swirls like those shown, use a pastry tip with long, prominent teeth.  Pipe rosettes onto the cookie tops by holding the tip vertically and squeezing the bag and rotating the tip at the same time.  Let stand until the buttercream sets, at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour, if desired.
Yield: Makes about 1 1/4 cups buttercream, enough for lightly topping about thirty 2 1/2-inch cookies.

Another Valentine's cookie idea--dye-free iced heart cookies shown at right and posted here.
Or perhaps you'd like the all-natural lavender buttercream frosting (below left) here

For other dye-free orange and berry buttercream frostings (shown below), plus decorating with crystallized violets, go here.  
See a quick, fun video about  Simply Sensational Cookies here.









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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Spiced Chicken with Pears--From my 50 Winning Ways with Chicken Collection!





I've never written a "50 Winning Ways with Chicken Cookbook," but I could have! Over the years I've turned out dozens, no make that hundreds, of mostly healthful recipes calling for chicken (very often chicken breasts) for various food publications. 

Editors often assign recipe developers and authors chicken recipes because they are an exceptionally convenient, quality protein source that most readers enjoy. Plus, chicken breast meat is almost always available, not too pricey, and extremely versatile.

 But a key reason I've produced so many chicken recipes is that they are a mainstay for my own family dinners. Which means that the process of creating them kills two birds with one stone (so to speak): I simultaneously devise and test a recipe for a client and put together a dish to use for dinner! (Since I'm often involved in baking assignments, at the end of many testing days the countertops are crammed with sweet treats and, alas, absolutely nothing that could serve as supper!)

 
Depending on the mood and pantry supplies, chicken breasts are easy to turn into a diverse array of entrees, from homestyle pot pie,  coq au vin, and Chinese stir-fry, to faux veal Parmesan, Tex-Mex white chili, and Indian-style curry. I've made and served all of these many times over the years; they are different enough from one another that nobody ever says, "Not chicken again--we already had that this week!" Well, er, the rule here that everybody must either be satisfied with what is put on the plate, or be prepared to buy takeout or assume the job of cooking may account for the lack of complaints.

To kick off the New Year, my hubby and I resolved (once again) to consume fewer calories and less fat, and more fiber, fruits, and vegetables. So the idea of slipping some succulent, high-fiber pears I had sitting around into an entree seemed right on. And it turned out to be a winner! In fact, so much so that I'm now adding the dish into my regular chicken breast recipe rotation!

While the ingredients list calls for a bit of curry powder, don't conclude that the dish will seem Indian. Rather, it heads in the direction of Indonesian or Malaysian, mostly due to the combining of sweet-sour, spice, soy sauce and fruit elements with the meat. But  I make no claims of authenticity: Other than eating a grand meal at the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, DC, a few years back; sampling Dutch-Indonesian menus in several Amsterdam restaurants decades ago; and loving my husband's now  long-departed Navy captain uncle's seriously good Nasi Goreng, I'm short on experience with far east Asian cuisines. 


Spiced Chicken with Pears

This is a zesty, fragrant, easy skillet dish--the spices, juice, vinegar and sugar form a marinade and later a simple pan sauce that compliments the chicken pieces and the pears beautifully. Serve it as shown here, or over rice if preferred. The recipe is adapted from one I created for the Washington Post  several years ago. (As one writer colleague likes to say, if you can't borrow from yourself, who can you borrow from?) 

Tip: If you don't have mustard seeds, you can substitute 1/2 teaspoon powdered mustard, although neither the look nor texture will be nearly as interesting. 

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons plus about 1/4 cup apple juice or orange juice, divided
2 tablespoons light brown sugar  

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce 
1 1/4 teaspoons mild or medium hot curry powder 
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds  

1 teaspoon ground allspice  or 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste 

 1 tablespoon corn oil or canola oil
4 5- to 5 1/2-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, split lengthwise 
3 large barely ripe Bartlett pears, peeled, cored and cut lengthwise into 8 slices 


In a large, shallow non-reactive bowl, stir together the vinegar, 2 tablespoons juice, brown sugar, soy sauce, curry powder, mustard seeds, allspice, and salt until well blended. Add the chicken pieces, tossing until coated. Marinate for 10 to 15 minutes (or up to 30 if more convenient). 

Heat the  oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat till hot but not smoking. Add the chicken pieces to the skillet; reserve any unabsorbed marinade. Cook, frequently stirring and turning the chicken pieces until lightly browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Stir in reserved marinade and pears. Briskly cook, turning frequently, until the pan liquid boils down; continue adding more juice a tablespoon or two at a time as needed to prevent burning until the chicken is just cooked through, about 12 to 15 minutes longer. Stir in a tablespoon or two more juice to produce a little pan sauce.

Taste and add more salt, if desired. Arrange the pear slices and chicken on a platter or individual serving plates (over rice, if desired). Spoon the sauce over top. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.


For my Curry-in-a-Hurry recipe, go here.



 For a quick, easy Tex-Mex entree, check out my zippy black bean-chicken skillet here.

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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Your Favorite Posts of 2012--You Liked "What!?"

One of the really fun aspects of blogging is to try to predict which topics and pics are going to be a hit with you, my readers. With each new post I eagerly await your feedback (yes, it's true!), and though I'm a little better at anticipating your responses than in the beginning, I'm still often amazed at what subjects fly high or miss the mark. (Tip: All of the pics shown here are from very popular 2012 posts.)

Several long-time editors of food publications have assured me that they don't have all the answers either. One summed it up this way, "Yes, I know the annual cookie feature is going to be widely read, but why was the bran muffin story big?  I almost didn't run it!"

Still, in an effort to gain insights, at the beginning of each year I check back over the last 12 months to see what posts got the most look-sees. As in the past, some of your top 2012 faves were NOT what I was expecting. In fact, they elicited a stunned, scratch-my-head "What?!"

To see what I mean, stop and really look at the following list of  the Kitchenlane 2012 top ten posts as measured by page views. (Note that the story that garnered the most reader comments, but not the most traffic, was "Getting To Yes on Foodgawker and Tastespotting."  The pic at left is the first one of mine Tastespotting ever ran.) The remaining most popular blog posts are presented below hotlinked and in random order, and I'm betting, that like me, you will not correctly guess which one came in first.

Party Panache with Parmesan Wafers

 Fresh Blueberry Muffins

No-Knead Herbed Focaccia

Secrets to Successful Food Blogging (Interview with Dianne Jacob)

Ultimate One-Bowl Chocolate Chip Cookies

The Presentation Power of the Pedestal Plate, Plus a Lavender Buttercream Frosting

The Best-Ever Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream

 How to Make Your Own Wild Violet Decorating Sugar

A Fine New "Kneadless" Crusty Pot Bread, Plus a Beautiful Baking Pot

Did you guess that the "ultimate" chocolate chip cookie story was the year's biggest draw? It wasn't! Maybe the fresh blueberry muffins, or "best-ever" raspberry ripple ice cream? Not them either! 

Nope, the winner was: How to use pedestal plates to show off desserts and how to make a lavender buttercream frosting. Yes, really! And close behind it ... how to make a naturally colorful decorating sugar with wild violets!  If you did think either of these was the top draw, please tell me in the comments, along with how you made your pick. Actually, I'd love to hear the rationale behind whatever topic you thought was first.

What do I make of such quirky choices? Maybe they simply indicate that you're intrigued by something fresh and a little different. Or that you just like flowers! Or that you adore the color purple!
What I do know for sure is that these results underscore the risks of being ruled by statistics. One might conclude from them that my readers are mostly dedicated pastry decorators! But I am certain (and some of the other top picks suggest it) that that is not the case. Perhaps the only safe conclusion: Your preferences are always complicated, interesting, and, yes, a little off the wall!

So now, I'm enthusiastically embarking on my 2013 blogging journey. I know it will be full of feedback surprises, which I will have fun with throughout the year. Please know that I am so happy to have you along for the Kitchenlane ride.  Happy New Year to each and every one of you.


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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook


a Kindle book AVAILABLE  on Amazon NOW

75 Carefully Crafted Recipes . 50 Color Photos .  Tips on Losing Weight .  Menus . for just $2.99

Getting great Reviews: "Best $ you will spend in 2014!"


Authors Nancy Baggett and Ruth Glick both lost weight as they developed, tested, and sampled the recipes for this book. And they've found the plan easier to stay on than any other diet they've ever tried.  Ruth has lost 16 pounds, and Nancy, who never loses anything on any diet, has lost 6 (her lowest weight in 15 years)!  Scroll down for pics of just some of the easy, tasty everyday recipes--from soups, salads, main dishes, sides and snacks that you'll find in the book.

About The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook: A whole lot of cookbook for very little money, this attractive, 200-plus "page"  Kindle book has everything you'll need to LOSE WEIGHT on the 2 Day a Week Diet. And you'll enjoy tasty, quick-to prepare-meals while you do it! Authors Nancy Baggett and Ruth Glick shed pounds their pounds by relying exclusively on their own recipes.Their 75 favorites are featured in the book.

These carefully tested dishes are varied, nutritious, full of flavor and, at 200 or fewer calories each, perfectly designed to fit perfectly into the 500-calorie diet day budget. Think chili, New England clam chowder, fruit smoothie, and French toast, for example. Or perhaps ethnic fare like Singapore noodles with chicken, gazpacho, and  fauz “fried rice." And lots more satifying soups, salads, mains, sides and snack. Many dishes are vegetarian and most are gluten-free.

The authors have years of experience creating tasty, calorie-wise recipes for national publishers including The American Diabetes Association, Rodale Books, Prevention, Eating Well,  Cooking Light and Weight Watchers Magazine. Here, their recipes do most of  the work for you with calorie counts, shopping tips, and streamlined techniques so you can fit meal preparations into your busy schedule.

 Among the book’s features:
.  75 quick, easy, varied recipes
.  50 beautiful photographs
.  Clear, simple-to-follow instructions
.  Helpful recipe introductions
.  Time-saving cooking methods
.  Recipes that can be made ahead or frozen
.  Emphasis on everyday ingredients
.  Nutritional analysis/calorie count for each recipe
.  Cooking and shopping tips
.  Sample menus
.  Diet day strategies

About the Diet:

This is an incredibly easy and convenient  2 day a week weight-busting plan that--believe it or not!-- lets you to lose more pounds than traditional 7 day a week regimes. Sometimes called the  5-2 or fast diet, but more accurately described as the 2 day a week diet, it calls for cutting calories to 500 to 600 calories two days a week and  just eating normally the other five. The good news: Studies have shown that this plan is more effective than the usual stringent seven-day regimes.And some studies show it has other health benefits besides weight loss. The diet was first popularized in Great Britain, but is now the rage around the world. The diet fits comfortably into most lifestyles.

So, time to get started. Check out The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook and get going--your scales will thank you! And YOU will thank you as you lose weight, look better, feel great, and eat well all at the same time.
Here are some of the 75 dishes and 50 pics in the book: 





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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Reveling in the Old, Revving Up for the New




A Facebook friend just asked her followers what 2012 accomplishments they were most proud of, a poignant question I'd never thought to ask myself before. Because it immediately focused my attention on highlights and successes, it set a positive, upbeat tone for the new year. It also provided me an opportunity to reflect and pat myself on the back, a feel-good exercise I'm certain benefits the psyche.

So, I hope you'll now take a moment to bask in the glow of your own achievements of the past year. One person told me that just holding on to his job in a tough working environment was a major coup. Another said that dealing effectively with a difficult boss made her proud. Your successes don't have to be professional--personal triumphs such as adjusting to widowhood, or just keeping the house tidier or getting more exercise (the latter two are goals I'm setting for the coming year) are just fine. And please do share your proudest moments in the comments section below; other readers, including me, will be inspired.

To help put you in a sharing mood, here are my answers. As you'll see, 2012 was an exceptionally gratifying year for me professionally. I know I've been lucky and am very grateful.


Number 1:  Early in 2012 I set a goal to improve my food photos. I felt that they didn't do justice to my blog recipes and writing and determined to learn and practice until my pics actually enhanced my posts. The effort took a lot of hours over a number of months; the how-to process is detailed in a popular post here. I used the acceptance/rejection rate of  submissions to Foodgawker and Tastespotting as benchmarks, and went from zero acceptances to a third, to eventually about half  submitted being selected for publication. Yes, there's still room for improvement, but the progress is clear to me in the baked goods pics included here. Knowing my images are much more appealing now is both gratifying and empowering! (The seeded bread at right is posted here.  And the raspberry crumb cobbler below is here.)


Number 2:  I'd been considering trying to produce a  cookbook trailer for my new book and a short how-to video for Kitchenlane for quite a while, but finally gathered my courage and hired a local university videography student to work with me on them this past summer. We learned a huge amount through trial and error and eventually created products that have been well received by many viewers and several pros. (More videos are already in progress.) Amazon.com, which is very selective these days, posted our book trailer on its page featuring my new cookbook. Besides being pleased with what we accomplished, I'm proud of stepping out of my comfort zone and trying something new.

Number 3: Successfully seeing my large cookbook through several intense years of recipe development, then a complex production, and finally through the publication and promotion stages was a major accomplishment, even though I've been through the process with a number of books before. I was particularly thrilled that Simply Sensational Cookies made a number of holiday "Best Cookbooks" lists and that some of my cookie recipes were featured in the December issue of Better Homes and Gardens (shown at right). I'd been wanting to write a story for that iconic magazine my whole professional life, so this was a huge thrill.

So, there you have it. Now it's your turn to celebrate your accomplishments and toot your own horn. What better way to rev up for and ring in a brand new year!



 
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