Anne Byrn may be best known as the bestselling author of “The Cake Mix Doctor” cookbook series. But as her newest offering, “Anne Byrn Saves the Day Cookbook” (Workman, $18.95), shows, Byrn’s passions and problem solving skills extend well beyond batter and frosting.
The collection of 125 “go-to-recipes,” gleaned from friends, family and her own files, are aimed at rescuing weeknight dinners and giving busy home cooks easy to make dishes to take to show off at a potluck, book club meeting or holiday gathering. And as the intros make clear, every recipe tells a story.
“The book started about three or four years ago,” Byrn said during a recent phone call from her home in Nashville, where she lives with her husband and three children. “I was traveling the country on a busy schedule, and I started asking people I met, as well as family and friends, what’s your best recipe? I believe that everybody has that one recipe that’s theirs. That one people want you to bring to a party. It’s the one people know you by. And if you don’t have one, it’s time to find one.”
Byrn grew up in a big Southern family that influenced the way she would come to view food and create recipes.
“Holidays were a lot of people around the table,” Byrn said. “We were used to feeding crowds, and enjoying a lot of good food, and talking about food, and sharing food. I didn’t know at the time it was laying a pretty good foundation for a food writing career.”
After graduating from the University of Georgia in 1978, she spent 15 years as the food editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, beginning the beat at a time when the Rich’s department store Cooking School and director Nathalie Dupree attracted famous teacher chefs such as Julia Child.
“That job was about reporting on all of the interesting people who came to Atlanta to cook at Rich’s and teach classes around the city,” Byrn remembered. “It was a wonderful place to be to learn to cook and write about food.”
Later, Byrn took a leave of absence and moved to Paris to study cooking at La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine. She admits she returned to Atlanta “a real food snob.”
“I came back from that sojourn making my own French bread and croissants, and I had all the pans I brought back from Paris,” she said. “Then I started reviewing restaurants. I thought I knew it all.”
But after Byrn married, moved back to Nashville, and started a family, things began to change.
“The reality is, once you have kids, you really experience life as a whole. You can’t keep cooking that way. It’s children and it’s deadlines and it’s getting dinner on the table every night. Then all those requests that come flying in to make something for the bake sale. It’s constant for young families. And, yeah, that’s when I started buying the Duncan Hines Devil’s Food cake mix, thinking this will jump-start that bake sale item.”
In 2000, “The Cake Mix Doctor” became a bestseller, and suddenly Byrn was the new guru for harried home cooks.
“You know, it was the first of its kind,” Byrn said. “I believe I gave people a right to cheat. But to do so with some care and some taste. The years 2000-03 were pretty manic. Not only did I have parents who were not well and were living with us, but I had three small children, and book tours.
“But the exposure was unbelievable. Being written about in the New York Times and People Magazine, it was like, where did this come from? And through the years it’s continued. People still like my recipes.”
Byrn’s current book tour for “Saves the Day” will land her back in metro Atlanta Dec. 2-3, where she hopes to reconnect with old friends and maybe even find a few new recipes.
“I just love all the stories behind the recipes,” she said. “The writing part behind cookbooks has become more important to me. Recipes are out there. But stories, especially personal stories, are not out there.”
These guaranteed-to-please recipes from the new “Anne Byrn Saves the Day Cookbook” (Workman, $18.95) are gathered from the files of friends and fans, as well as Byrn’s own sure-fire favorites.
Jana’s Cheese Olivettes
For Atlanta resident Jana Bibat these are the ultimate save-the-day appetizer. With a little advance preparation, you can serve freshly baked goodies. Jana rolls olives in a quick cheese pastry and freezes them until needed. She got the recipe from her mother, Barbara Murphey, who has been making them for 25 years. When just baked and pulled from the oven, they are the perfect companion to a glass of wine or a bowl of tomato soup. And the olivettes make a terrific holiday gift, baked and packed into pretty metal tins.
2 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese blend
8 tablespoons lightly salted butter, at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco or Frank’s RedHot
1 clove garlic, minced, or a dash of granulated garlic
1 jar (5¾ ounces) pimiento-stuffed green olives (about 48 olives)
Place the cheese blend and butter in a large bowl and blend with an electric mixer on low speed until just combined. Add the flour, hot pepper sauce, and garlic. Blend on low speed until just combined, about 15 seconds. Increase the speed to medium and blend until smooth, 30 to 45 seconds more. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough until firm, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 375.
Break off a 1-inch piece of dough and tuck a stuffed olive into it, then roll the dough between your palms so that it completely covers the olive. Place the olivette on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and olives, placing them 1 inch apart on the baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake the olivettes until they are golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the olivettes to a wire rack and let cool for about 10 minutes, then serve.
Makes 48 olivettes
Per olivette: 48 calories (percent of calories from fat, 70), 1 gram protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 4 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 10 milligrams cholesterol, 79 milligrams sodium.
Easy Korean Chicken
Boneless chicken breasts are convenient, but if you don’t give them a bit of pizzazz they can be downright boring. Many years ago cookbook fan Christine McLaughlin shared this recipe with me, and I have used it ever since to spice up the weekly chicken repertoire. Talk about easy! The marinade is also the cooking sauce and the chicken marinates and bakes in the same dish. Plus, the cooking juices are delicious spooned over cooked rice. And when you’re tired of chicken, try the marinade on salmon. The cooking time is shorter for salmon — ten to fifteen minutes — and the oven hotter — 400.
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (1 to 1½ pounds total)
½ cup low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons Asian (dark) sesame oil
3 tablespoons honey
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup chopped scallions, both white and green parts
2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350.
Place the chicken breasts in a shallow glass baking dish. Using a sharp paring knife, cut three or four 1-inch slits in the chicken, being careful not to cut all the way through the breasts.
Place the soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, garlic, scallions, and ginger in a small bowl and stir to combine. Pour the marinade over the chicken and turn the breasts with a fork to coat them well. Let the chicken breasts marinate at room temperature for about 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, bake the chicken until it is cooked through and lightly glazed to a deep mahogany brown on top, and the juices have cooked down and are bubbly, 30 to 35 minutes. Turn the chicken once as it cooks.
Do Ahead: Prepare the Korean chicken ahead and refrigerate it for up to 3 hours before cooking. Or completely cook the chicken, let it cool, cover it, and refrigerate it for up to 2 days. Reheat it, covered, in a low oven or microwave. It is also delicious cold in wraps and sliced on top of salads.
Per serving: 290 calories (percent of calories from fat, 36), 28 grams protein, 18 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 12 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 66 milligrams cholesterol, 1,277 milligrams sodium.
Zucchini Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting
Kathy Lambert surprised me not long ago with a recipe for a brown sugar cream cheese frosting that she wanted me to try. She said the brown sugar would dissolve and give the frosting a deep and rich taste. I was fascinated and couldn’t get it out of my mind. Kathy uses the frosting for carrot cakes, but just that week our zucchini were coming in strong from the backyard garden, and it was also my birthday. My daughter, Litton, asked what kind of birthday cake I wanted, so I handed her an old zucchini bread recipe I had cherished for years. Instructions — please make the bread into a layer cake, and try out Kathy’s frosting. Litton grated the zucchini and folded them into the batter. The cake and frosting were moist, distinctive, and memorable — and the birthday cake Litton baked for her mom was a bog hit.
For the Cake:
Vegetable oil spray, for misting the cake pans
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus flour for dusting the cake pans
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)
2 packed cups grated zucchini (about 1 pound)
For the frosting:
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) lightly salted butter, at room temperature
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Chopped toasted walnuts or pecans (optional), for garnish
To make the cake:
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly mist two 9 inch round cake pans with vegetable oil spray, then dust them with flour. Shake out the excess flour. Set the pans aside.
Place the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and baking powder in a medium size bowl and stir to combine well. Set the dry ingredients aside.
Place the eggs and granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until combined, 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium and beat until lemon colored, about 2 minutes. Add the oil and 1 teaspoon of vanilla and beat until combined, about 1 minute. Fold in the dry ingredients and the walnuts, if desired. Fold in the zucchini. Stir with a wooden spoon until the ingredients are well combined. Divide the batter between the 2 prepared pans.
Bake the cake layers until the tops spring back when lightly pressed with a finger, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let the cakes cool for about 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of each cake, shake the pans gently to release the cakes, then invert them onto the rack to cool right side up. Let the cakes cool for about 30 minutes before frosting.
To make the frosting:
Place the cream cheese and butter in a bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat them together on low speed until fluffy. Add the brown sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla and beat on medium speed until well combined, 2 to 3 minutes.
To assemble the cake:
Place one cake layer on a serving platter or cake stand and spread about ⅓ cup of frosting over the top, spreading it evenly to the edge. Place the second layer on top of the first and spread 1 cup of frosting on the top of the cake in a decorative fashion. Then spread the remaining frosting over the side of the cake, working with smooth, clean strokes. If desired, press toasted chopped walnuts on the sides of the cake. Slice and serve.
Do Ahead: The zucchini can be grated up to 8 hours ahead of time and refrigerated, covered. The cake keeps for up to 1 day in a cake saver or in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Per serving: 604 calories (percent of calories from fat, 49), 6 grams protein, 71 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 34 grams fat (11 grams saturated), 77 milligrams cholesterol, 411 milligrams sodium
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