The Cocoa Cupcake Hero, a blast from the past

It has indeed been a sweet week for us, with a dessert just about every night.

Not that the boys are complaining.

I had a few blog events I felt I absolutely had to get in this month, so the boys were the willing recipients of lots of goodies, with this one being their last for the month of May, my entry into Cupcake Hero: Cocoa, hosted by Laurie, my TWD and DB pal, over at Quirky Cupcake.

Please don't mind the terrible picture. I was trying to squeeze it in with a few other things, and was also trying to learn how to take a good picture with no flash. None of those turned out, all blurry, but I think I have it partially figured out (as some of my later, non-cupcake) pictures turned out quite well.

I didn't go out and get a special cocoa for this. I didn't even go get a new container. Not because I didn't want to, but because I wanted to stick to the true recipe. The recipe as was written down for me many years ago by my grandmother.

Yes, I'm on a nostalgia trip again. Been a few of those lately, but that's okay. They remind me of why I love food, and where that love came from. Memories of making things with my grandmother are happy memories, so there is no reason not to enjoy reliving them occasionally.

My grandmother used to make this as a cake, a bundt cake. I have the pan she used on my shelf right now actually. I always called it the mayonnaise cake, but really it was a Miracle Whip Cake. Only this time, it is the Miracle Whip cupcakes.

I'm sure there are people now making faces at the idea, "Miracle Whip? You mean salad dressing? In a cupcake? Ugh." But have an open mind. You don't taste the dressing, but you do get a slight zing in flavor, though more importantly, what you get is a nice moist cake or cupcake. And this is old fashion comfort baking, with only one bowl, no mixer needed, nothing fancy in ingredients. It was the housewife's dream chocolate cake, one that came together in a snap and came out perfect every time.

Even though we always had our Mayo cake plain, I fancied mine up a bit, making a brown sugar banana buttercream (same recipe as for the Opera cake and my 3 tiered cake, but with sauted and rum kissed banana puree added into the sugar syrup.) The match worked very well, as the empty cupcake papers seemed to indicate.

Now, again, I am getting my entry in under the wire. I hope Laurie likes these old fashioned cupcakes as much as we did.

Miracle Whip Cupcakes

Makes 18 cupcake or 1 bundt cake

1 cup Miracle Whip Dressing (You CANNOT substitute something else for this, it just doesn't work!)
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups flour
3 tbsp cocoa
1 cup water
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, mix together the Miracle Whip and the sugar. Add in the remaining ingredients and stir until well mixed and smooth. A few lumps are okay.

Spray a muffin pan and line with muffin papers. Fill 3/4 full. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, but check them at 15. It may take less time, depending on your oven.

Allow to cool. Frost if you'd like, but really, they are good plain.

SHF: Sweet souffles for a sweet Tartelette (And no I'm not bribing her)

Let me restart this post by saying I swear, swear, swear that the deadline for this was the 30th, not the 25th! I was so pleased, thinking I had a days grace to post this, since I made it a few days ago but did not want to squeeze it in with TWD and with the DB.

I was very excited when I read that Tartelette was hosting SHF and had chosen the theme of citrus. I love blog events and have taken part in SHF a couple of times now, but I tend to loose track of it, and with so many wonderful events happening everywhere, it is hard to participate in even 1/4 of the events that I would like to.

Oh for those of you who don't know, this is SHF #43, started by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess. I'm sure the list of blogs wanting to host this event is long. Very long.

Tartelette announced citrus, and I just happend to be reading the May (so last months) Canadian Living Magazine's section on citrus desserts. The pages were already dog-eared, and my mind was twirling with plans to make several of these desserts, only needing an excuse. What a happy coincidence, isn't it? Just when I needed a reason, Tartelette gave me one!

So for her, I made Individual Lime Souffles. The fact that souffles had been on my "to make this year" list was another happy coincidence. Same with the big basket load of limes sitting on my kitchen table.

Souffles do not keep their puff for very long, so I had to make these right before I planned to eat them. Which meant after dinner. When the light was awful. Hence the terrible picture. Which in no way reflects how these came out, or how they tasted.

They tasted amazing. Light and fluffy, even the next morning, cold and floppy. A bright zing of the lime juice and lime zest, oh so good.

I no longer fear the souffle, and will not hesitate to make other variations, including savories, which I've wanted to before but have always been too intimidated to try.

Individual Lime Souffles
May Canadian Living Magazine

Servings: 6

2/3 cup (150 mL) granulated sugar
2 tbsp (25 mL) butter
2 tbsp (25 mL) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (125 mL) milk
1 tbsp (15 mL) grated lime rind
4 eggs, separated
3 tbsp (45 mL) lime juice
1/4 tsp (1 mL) cream of tartar

1 tsp (5 mL) icing sugar

Grease six 3/4-cup (175 mL) ramekins or custard cups. Sprinkle 2 tbsp (25 mL) of the sugar evenly over ramekins. Place on baking sheet; set aside.

In saucepan, melt butter over medium heat; whisk in flour and cook, whisking, for 1 minute. Whisk in milk until smooth; cook, whisking, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Whisk in half of the remaining sugar and the lime rind. Whisk in egg yolks, 1 at a time. Return to heat and cook, whisking, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in lime juice. Transfer to large bowl.

In separate bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Beat in remaining sugar, 1 tbsp (15 mL) at a time, until stiff peaks form. Fold one-quarter into yolk mixture; gently fold in remaining egg whites.

Divide among prepared ramekins. Bake in centre of 375°F (190°C) oven for about 15 minutes or until puffed and almost firm to the touch.

Garnish: Dust with icing sugar. Serve immediately.

The Daring Bakers: Elegance in Baking

In the land of the Daring Bakers, more than 1000 in population, calories don't count. Generous in our cream, our butter, our sugar, we bake up beautiful creations each month and then share them throughout the world.

This month we returned to our roots, to our founders, Ivonne and Lis, who chose this months recipe, but also share co-hosting duties with two of our newer members, Fran and Shea. I wonder if Fran and Shea were questioning what they had gotten themselves into when they saw the recipe for this month.

Seeing as we have Daring Baker's on the far side of the world, or upside down, I'm sure by now you know what the recipe is... the Opera Cake!

But what is an Opera Cake you say? In the words of Ivonne, "For those of you that don't know about this cake, it's an extremely elegant and polished French dessert that is believed to have been created around the beginning of the 1900s. Many people credit a gentleman by the name of Louis Clichy with inventing the cake and that's why it's sometimes referred to as Clichy Cake. So what exactly is an Opéra Cake? Well it's a cake that is made up (usually) of five components: a joconde (a cake layer), a syrup (to wet the joconde), a buttercream (to fill some of the layers), a ganache or mousse (to top the final cake layer) and a glaze (to cover the final layer of cake or of ganache/mousse)."

The recipe chosen for the Daring Baker's version was a compilation of Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets, Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.

I chose to make mine for my sister-in-law's baby shower, sharing the cream, the eggs, the sugar and the chocolate.

While a traditional Opera cake is dark in color, one of this months rules was that we stay with light colors in honor of Barbara of Winos and Foodies and her LiveSTRONG event, an event dedicated to raising awareness of cancer. I've been able to participate in both of Barbara's LiveSTRONG events so was not unaware of it.

For my flavoring, I chose to use a strawberry liquor to both flavor my buttercream and for my syrup. I left the cake, the mousse and the glaze as is, not wanting an overwhelming strawberry flavor, but a mild, subtle hint. There was nothing dramatic about my choice of the flavoring. I've been slowly adding bottles of liquor to my pantry and simply chose the one that appealed to me most at the time. Something that I felt would go well with the white chocolate. Strawberry beat out orange, a choice I do not regret at all.

I had only one problem with this cake, and that is the cake itself. The recipe called for placing my oven racks at the bottom and top thirds of my oven, something I missread, as I placed mine in the middle and top third. My pans lined and filled, I placed them into the oven, and then realized my mistake, but let the cakes go anyways.

My middle layer cake burnt on the bottom. I wonder now what would have happened if I had actually placed the rack at the bottom third? Billowing smoke and the fire department?

I tried to salvage that one cake but the burn on the bottom was too strong, while the top did not quite cook through. With only one layer of cake edible, I moved on.

My initial plan had involved making little round Opera cakelettes, which I started to do, even to assembly, when I realized I had miscounted my rounds and would be short 5 circles. How does one miscount that badly?

By this time it was after 10pm and I had run out of almond meal. I had plenty of while almonds and knew I could make my own meal, but I also had two sleeping children. Food processors making meal of whole almonds is not exactly a quiet activity. So I waited until the next morning and then made half the recipe for the jaconde, baking it in the top third of my oven.

This cake came out just fine in 8 minutes.

With all the rest of the components already made, my buttercream with a hint of strawberry thick and creamy, my white chocolate mousse light and fluffy, and my white chocolate glaze standing by, I cut out my last 5 circles, but was not happy with the results. I wanted elegant, not cute.

Eventually I ended up with something classy and elegant.

And those little rounds that I started with?


Worth the trouble? Five different components, none difficult, but time consuming? No, not really. It was good, the strawberry matched well with the plainness of the cake and the white chocolate, but it didn't really grab me and shake me up. My husband ate two of these (and they weren't exactly small), while neither of my children finished one.

It was fun though, and that buttercream I used in my grandparents cake? Well it was based on the buttercream used in the Opera. I liked it, it tasted good, and it came together nicely.

Now, get yourself comfy and go off and read about lots of other Opera Cakes. I need to do the same, once I've managed to read a few TWD posts first (I'm way behind!) Don't forget to leave some comments please!

P.S Did I mention I need another bowl for Bob? Two would be even better. :-)

TWD: Taste of Cinnamon from the past

This week fellow TWD'er Madam Chow, of Madam Chow's Kitchen, chose a great recipe, Pecan Honey Sticky Buns. It comes with a bonus recipe, since you get to make brioche dough the day before and use half of that in your buns.

It also takes a fair bit of time, with an overnight chilling period, plus some rising time, and oops, I would be out of town, so did not have that time to make the buns!

But what's this you see? Lots and lots of pictures?

No, you aren't blind, or crazy, these really are pictures of this recipe being made. You see, I knew this was a great recipe because I'd made it before and just had not blogged about it!

The silky brioche dough, getting ready for it's overnight chilling. My notes on this recipe reminded me for future baking NOT to walk away from the stand mixer as it liked to travel across the counter. Instead, grab a drink and a book, and get cozy beside your mixer, making sure it doesn't take a walk-a-bout when it should be mixing!

I don't like pecans, so I used raisins.

Big difference a bit of time makes, though. Such a nice rise on those buns. See why I left so much space between the buns?
Not to be ignored, the brioche dough that wasn't used for the buns were baked up as a loaf and enjoyed later, plain and toasted with jam.

The buns tasted good but need a bit more time, I think, to get a bit more golden color. There was plenty of honey goodness and gooeyness, and lots of raisins for everyone. I served them with a simple glaze of milk and icing sugar.

Be sure to head over to Tuesdays with Dorie, and check out the buns (hehe) of all the other TWD'ers, and probably a few people who actually post the recipe too! (And get a sneak peek at what we are making next week.... Mmmmm chocolate!)

Happy Anniverithday Grandmama and Grandpapa!

I invented a new word: Anniverithday. It is what you get when you combine a 59th wedding anniversary with an 80th and a 78th birthday party. Alot of reason to celebrate, so it needs a special word. Hence, Anniverithday!

These are my grandparents, for whom we celebrated with a big family pot luck party. While my grandfather is still as silly as he always was, neither of them is in the best of health anymore. They have always been a huge part of my life, so it is especially hard to see them declining.

A few weeks before their anniversary, my grandfather "requested" we do something, if only for my grandmother's sake, who's memory is very bad now and only getting worse. He wanted all of his children, plus spouses, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and most of us were able to attend, along with a few of my great-aunts and second cousins.

There were alot of people, and alot of food.

I was put in charge of the cake for them, and this is what I eventually settled on. (My grandparents were very uncooperative in helping me choose what type to make, instead telling me, "We will love anything you make." How unhelpful is that?)

The bottom layer is a white cake, from The Cake Book, with a layer of brown sugar buttercream, while the top two layers of the cake are the sour cream chocolate cake, also from The Cake Book, with the same brown sugar buttercream filling. I used a store bought fondant, my last choice but I had run out of time to make my own, and had a friend who is very talented with fondant, make me the flowers that I used to decorate the tiers. Finally, I used some pretty ribbon to decorate the layers (and hide my lousy fondant job, but I learned a few things doing this cake, such as don't roll the fondant so thin!)

Oh, btw, Hx of Aardvark Cakes wanted to know what I was making that would take 3 pans (hence I did not buy a madeleine pan,) and this was it. The sizes are 9 inch, 7 inch and 5 inch.

Did I mention that to get to this party, we had to drive almost 4 hours away?

I didn't bring the cake to them all assembled and looking pretty. That would have had me chewing my nails and filled with anxiety with every bump on the road (and let me tell you, Hwy 17 has ALOT of bumps in the road.) Instead I packed up the 3 layers, covered in fondant, and assembled it in their kitchen, while family kept walking by for a peek. Despite my careful packing, I still had to do a bit of repair work to the layers, but for the most part, they were good travelers.

While I was not totally satisfied with the results of the cake, everyone else was thrilled with it. Especially my grandparents.

I've been blessed with two loving, wonderful grandparents, and was glad I could take part and contribute to such an amazing celebration of them and their life together.

Brown Sugar Buttercream
*This is a variation of a buttercream recipe that I used for something else, but I don't at this exact time know the source of it. I will update with the original source later, when I figure out what it is.

2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¾ sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1.Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.

2.Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225◦F (107◦C). Once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.

3.While the syrup is heating, begin whisking the egg and egg yolk at high speed in the bowl of your mixer using the whisk attachment. Whisk them until they are pale and foamy.

4.When the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature and you remove it from the heat, reduce the mixer speed to low speed and begin slowly (very slowly) pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl being very careful not to splatter the syrup into the path of the whisk attachment. Some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!

5.Raise the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the eggs are thick and satiny and the mixture is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes or so).

6.While the egg mixture is beating, place the softened butter in a bowl and mash it with a spatula until you have a soft creamy mass.

7.With the mixer on medium speed, begin adding in two-tablespoon chunks. When all the butter has been incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thick and shiny.

8.Refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).

TWD: Madeleines without the "bump"

When the choice for today's TWD was announced, Traditional Madeleines, chosen by Tara of Smells Like Home, I was both excited and disappointed.

Excited because it was a recipe I had wanted to try but had not been sure about, but disappointed because I wasn't sure I could make them without the proper pan. I felt a little better when the decision was made to allow for an alternate recipe, but not much. I wanted to make the Madeleines. And I don't really object to buying a new pan, it just isn't practical at this time.

Then I sent an email off to one of my favorite bakers, Tartelette, who is usually Lis' baking guru, but occasionally I have to borrow her as well. However if anyone would know about the making of these little French cookies, it would be Tartelette. And she assured me that I could indeed make the cookies in a mini muffin pan, and also let me know I could order a pan online if I wasn't able to find one. (Which is kinda funny, because I found one after that conversation, but didn't buy it as I was already buying 3 other pans for something else!)

These cookies mix together in minutes. Takes longer to get the eggs to room temperature. Actually, it takes longer for those eggs than it does to bake these, in a mini muffin pan. So if you don't count the minimum 3 hour chilling time, these cookies take about 12 minutes to make and bake.

I substituted fresh lemon juice for the vanilla, but otherwise left things alone. But I can see the flavor possibilities with these simple little cookies. Their airy texture, light but similar to a pound cake, would be nice with so many flavors, not just citrus. Though the lemon zing in these little morsels is very nice.

The children haven't tried them out yet, but I suspect they will enjoy them and ask for more. Probably ask for chocolate, too.

Now I will likely have to consider if I want to invest in a proper pan, or just enjoy them in mini muffin shape. While I contemplate this, I will likely be starting next week's challenge tomorrow, Pecan Honey Sticky buns, a recipe I have made before, including the brioche dough recipe, but will happily make again.

Blogging by mail, a box of goodies for me!

I think I've managed to participate in each of the Blogging by Mail events that have been hosted by Stephanie over at Dispensing Happiness. So when she put out the call for participation in a new round, Little Things, I signed up right away!

My partner this time was April from Cookworm, a fellow Daring Baker. And the post office doesn't like either one of us! She had a few technical difficulties getting her package to me, but it finally made it this week, filled with lots of little goodies for me. (And as for why it doesn't like me, well my package to my partner went out early, with a tracking number and a short delivery date, but so far as I can tell, once it went into the hands of USPS, it has disappeared.)

But back to my package of little things....

April knew I liked chocolate, so she gave me a bunch of little chocolates from Scharffen Berger and Guylian, the perfect size for a little pick me up. And she must have known I like little whisks (they are so cute), which is why she included a mini balloon whisk, as well as a fun little egg turner, for me to play with.

The little jar of ginger bears are very cute and are so pretty to look at it that it might be awhile before I open it. But when I do I will enjoy them with a cup of tea, as April sent me two kinds to try. I won't be waiting to try the biscotti though, and will probably have to fight off the children. Maybe I can distract them with the dried mango?

It has just started to rain outside, and the wind has picked up, making the temperature drop and the house feel cool. I may have to go make myself a cup of tea now, which would give me the perfect excuse to break open my cookies.

Thanks so much April for the goodies, and thanks again to Stephanie for another fun round of Blogging by Mail!

And we have a winner!

This was very fun to do with the boys, and had a surprising outcome!

I sat down with my boys this morning and read off all the entries to them, being very careful not to let them know who wrote what as there were a few where I personally knew the story teller and I did not want to influence the boys in their choice. At the end of all the comments, they each had a favorite, though it was not the same one, but they understood that they had to agree on one story.

After careful consideration, they finally agreed up a winner with this entry:

Once upon a time there were 3 little girls who loved to bake with their grandma (true). Grandma loved to bake pies because everybody loved them and she won awards for them (true). Then one day an evil power ranger kidnapped one of the girls (false). So Grandma decided to bake pies to win her granddaughter back. She made 3 award winning pies and taught the girls to make little baby pies. "Not like that Colly" she'd say "you have to flute the edges like this" (true). They all rode flying snakes to the evil power ranger's castle. "Here are some pies in exchange for my little granddaughter" the grandmother offered. "Mmmmm those smell so good" said the evil power ranger "besides this kid is too much trouble". Many many years later, there are 3 little girls who love to bake pies with their mother. Now it's the mother that says "Not like that LuLu, you need to flute the edges like this". (true)And they all lived happily ever after.

"I liked the Power Rangers, it was really fun. It was also quite silly." said one judge.

"I liked how they were telling a story, telling both true parts and false parts, and it was quite interesting." said our second judge.

And then they smiled and giggled like crazy when I told them who had written this entry, their friends from Utah!

Oh and I should add in that their winning choice was not the same as my winning choice.

I believe there was a tie for second place, between Katie and her "sprinkle, sprinkle" two year old, and littlelisa with her Korean cooking class. And both boys thought offering a recipe as a bribe was cheating, though I'm willing to try out the recipe if it just happens to show up on my email. (insert smiley here!)

As I said, this was alot of fun, not just for myself, but also for my boys. Thanks again to Yvette for giving me a chance to host a cookbook giveaway, and to get my kids a bit more involved in the kitchen!

Don't forget to enter to win!

Tomorrow is your last day to enter your comment for your chance to win this fun cookbook!

Don't know about my contest? Well you can read all about it here, or I can tell you about it now - just leave me a comment telling me a favorite story about cooking with "your" child (which could be a niece/nephew/grandchild/neighbor/any child you cook with) or cooking you did as a child. I will then read all the comments to my favorite sous chefs, my own children, and they will pick their favorite story as the winner!

In the meantime, don't forget to head over to Handstand Kids and check out the free recipe from the Mexican cookbook.

TWD: Florida Pie and techincal difficulties

Right off, I need to say. There were no technical difficulties with making, or eating, this pie. They were all Blogger related. Every once in awhile Blogger just does not want to let me do things, and yesterday was one of those days.

Seeing as I had been awake since 4:36am, I didn't feel like fighting with Blogger at the time, so held off until today to try this.

And now back to my pie....

The Florida Pie was the choice this week of Dianne from Dianne's Dishes, and had been on my to make list for awhile. Laziness and other desserts was all that had stopped me from making it. Seriously, read the recipe: a cross between a key lime and a coconut cream pie, piled high on a graham cracker crust. How bad can that be?

Instead of telling you, I'll show you with a picture instead:

Okay my cut isn't perfectly clean. I was in a hurry to cut and photograph it so I could eat it!

But doesn't it look just luscious? The creaminess of the filling, the light, airy meringue with its golden top.

I had to share this out not only with my usual taste tester neighbor, but also with my coworkers. Because if this had stayed around at home, I would have eaten way too much of it. True, that 4:36am wake up was followed by a tough swim set, there is not enough time in a full swim session for me to work off this pie. I don't swim fast enough to burn up all those calories!

I did not mess in any way with the recipe for this pie. I considered briefly adding the zest of the limes in, but decided to try it as written first. I'm glad I did as it made the lime subtle, not overpowering the coconut, but balancing well with it.

Many thanks for pushing me towards this pie Dianne!

My kind of Mother's Day Flowers

Don't get me wrong, flowers are all well and fine. Pretty, and help liven up a room. But they don't last very long and they cost a small fortune, money I would rather have spend on something else, like say new dishes, or a pot. Or heck, even a nice set of oven mitts! Or better yet, skip the flowers and buy a nice assortment of flour instead - with the rising prices, you may spend just as much, though.

Now, these kinds of flowers, again, they won't last very long, but they don't cost nearly as much and are just as effective at brightening up a room! (And if at some point you did buy a "bouquet" of flour, you've contributed to making these as well.)

I made these recently for a baby shower, so they are pretty close to being Mother's Day cupcakes. I think my mother would have enjoyed eating them, vanilla bean cupcakes, filled with dulce de leche, and topped with a light vanilla buttercream. I know she liked to look at them as she was nearby when I made them, enjoying some of the left over dulce on a spoon.

For these cupcakes, I went back to Dorie's Perfect Party Cake, which I had made for last month's Daring Baker challenge. A few changes - I had neither whole milk nor buttermilk, so used a combination of 1% and of light cream. I omitted the lemon but added the seeds of a vanilla bean in addition to some vanilla extract. The little cakes came out with just the right weight and denseness, heavy enough to support the filling, but still light in flavor.

I stuck with the buttercream that came with the recipe, but again, omitted the lemon and stayed with the vanilla for flavoring. I wanted subtle this time, and did not want the off color that comes with pure extract, so used some clear vanilla extract instead.

I understand these were well received at the baby shower, by the mom-to-be and the guests. I was supposed to be there as well but that cough and cold had not yet let go of me and I would have felt quite badly if I had made her sick.

Now the next time you are thinking of giving someone flowers, why not consider giving vanilla bean caramel flowers instead? Or play it safe - an assortment of different flours would be just as nice, and would last longer than a bouquet of mixed flowers.

Cook with your children - Cookbook give away!

Yes, you read that correctly - I get to give away a cookbook!

Not this one though - this one is mine (though my children think it belongs to them.) And I have Yvette Garfield to thank for my book, the author of the Handstand Kids Italian Cookbook and the recently released Handstand Kids Mexican Cookbook. Which I get to give away to one of my readers!

So if you want to win, keep reading, and I'll let you know how, after I've told you a bit about this book.

Actually, it isn't just a kids cookbook, it is much more fun than that. First, it comes in a pizza box. Yes, I said a pizza box. With a chef's hat. The Mexican comes in a resealable Tortilla bag, and includes an oven mitt. Both books also include a fun way to be introduced not only to the food of a different culture, but also to the language.

The recipe for turning Sandwiches into Panini does not call for slicing bread, but instead pane, which is later needs to be brushed with olio (olive oil), and cooked on a media pentola, a medium saucepan, with a piccola pentola, a small saucepan, weighing it down. Both the English and Italian are included in each recipe, and my 9 year old, who made Panini sandwiches for his family for dinner earlier this week, actually asked me for the olio, when assembling his ingredients before cooking.

I have to add in that my 9 year old is not that interested in cooking. This time he put on the chef's hat and dug right in! His plan involved not only making Panini, but also making dessert, called Every Tummy Loves Tartufo, or chocolate dipped ice cream.

Not to be outdone by his brother, my 5 year old, who loves to help me cook, begged to be included, first turning Popcorn into Italian Popcorn, to go along with his brother's Panini sandwiches, and tonight making Foot-Long Garlic Bread. While he is too young to cook by himself the way his brother did, there were plenty of steps in both recipes that he could handle on his own.

Now my children stuck with 1 and 2 garlic clove recipes, recipes that did not require quite as much skill as say a 4 garlic clove recipe, such as the Torta al Cioccolato (a chocolate, hazelnut torte.) My oldest had a few difficulties following the recipes exactly, but mostly because of lack of experience - I had no problems understanding that he would have to refreeze his ice cream balls for an hour before he melted the chocolate, but he thought he had to melt the chocolate right after he put the balls into the freezer, unaware that it would harden up again before that hour was up.

Doesn't he look proud of his dessert? (Which he finished eating almost an hour ago, and has still not taken off the hat!)

I've just been told that we need to make the spaghetti and meatball recipe next, according to my youngest aspiring chef, who can't read yet, but is loving "reading" the book - and just told me that there is no way he would eat the Leaning Tower of Eggplant.

In letting me try out her book, Yvette has also offered me the chance to give away a signed copy of the Handstand Kids Mexican Cookbook, in celebration of cinco de Mayo. In it the five Handstand Kids, Felix, Izzy, Ari, Gabby and Marvin, will help introduce you and your kids to Mexican cooking (and language) in a fun way. And all you have to do is leave me a comment about your favorite thing to make with your children. Or maybe what your favorite thing was to make as a child (and with who!)

Just leave me a comment before Friday, May 16th. At that time, I will read all the comments to my chef's in training and have them pick their favorite story as the winner!

Time to come out of lurker mode, leave a comment and you could be having a blast cooking with your children (or nieces, nephews, neighborhood children, grandchildren, whomever!)

Free dessert for Mom's this weekend!

If you have a TCBY in your area (we don't in ours), be sure to head there on Mother's Day with your Mom and enjoy your free cup or cone. Or have someone take you so you can indulge in a frozen yogurt yourself.

Cooking + Cold = No go

Poor Janet and Greta. It was their turn to shine during April. There are so many great looking recipes in their most recent book, Eat, Shrink and Be Merry, that I had a long list of things to try.

Then I caught the devil of all colds. So nasty that I have missed TWD challenges, some work and 4 of my last 5 swims. Food didn't interest me, unless it was cold and soothing on the throat.

Fortunately I managed a few recipes before the cold hit.

As I understand it, Eat, Shrink and Be Merry is recently making itself known in the US cookbook market. Here in Canada, however, the sisters have been around for years. Their first cookbook, Looneyspoons, has been on my shelf almost since it was first published (and if you have a copy, hold onto it for dear life as I just read on Janet and Greta's blog that it is no longer published!) Their follow up book Crazy Plates has lived in my home for almost as long as Looneyspoons has, and has been a book that I gifted to a few people.

When the sisters came out with their own frozen food line several years back, I even had the chance to meet them and chat with them briefly.

With their prior history with me, it is no wonder that I snapped up Eat, Shrink and Be Merry when it first hit Canadian bookstores. My copy has notes and dog ears. I've read it from front to back, enjoying the jokes and puns, but also enjoying the nutritional facts, cooking tips and little stories. But typical of me, I read more of the book than I ever cooked from it.

I decided to start with a recipe from "Don't have a cow, Man!" Pizza for the Upper Crust, otherwise known as Grilled Margherita pizza, on page 70. This vegetarian pizza is a basic pizza, made only with tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella. It was tasty, with a nice crispy crust, but would not have fed a crowd, though it cut into 8 slices.

After that, I moved onto a recipe from "Poultry in Motion", The Better Butter Chicken (page 82). Not only was butter chicken from scratch on my to do list for this year, I had seen the sisters make their version of butter chicken on their TV show, also called Eat, Shrink and Be Merry.

This recipe was tasty, but it was not my idea of butter chicken. Nor was it my children's idea, and they love butter chicken. I would call this creamy, tomato chicken, and would make it again, but would not tell people it was butter chicken.

This next recipe was made with no plans to feed it to the children at all. From the section called, "A Chorus Loin, " Wok This Way, Asian beef stir-fry with basil and red bell pepper (page 115).

My husband and I love going out for Thai food together, and beef with basil was one of the things we had together the first time we went out. So I had high expectations for this dish. Perhaps too high. It was good, the beef was flavorful and tender, but it was not what I was expecting. We both agreed that we enjoyed it, but would stick with our usual Thai restaurant if we wanted real beef and basil, though, again, I would make this again.

Staying in "A Chorus Loin," I moved on to making Kebob's Your Uncle, beef kabobs with pineapple and vegetables, found on page 128. I actually changed this a tiny bit, grilling the pineapple and veggies separately from the beef, knowing that my children would not enjoy quite as many vegetables as we adults would. I also added chunks of red onions because I like red onions. And the children don't. Nor do they like red peppers, though they like pineapple. Hence the small change.

These were very good. The beef was tender and flavorful, the veggies were nicely grilled and also tasty. This would be a nice company bbq meal, though with 1 3/4 lbs of sirloin steak, a bit pricey.

I had a chance to get one more recipe in before the cold struck, from "A Beautiful Grind," the Ooh-la-la-sagna! on page 137. This recipe came together quickly, and baked up nicely, a generous pan full of lasagna, filled with chunks of sausage, beef, spinach and ricotta. Mine looks like it has huge amounts of cheese on the top, and it does, but only because I forgot to add them in between the ricotta spinach layer and the last layer of whole wheat noodles, so I added them all on the top instead.

This recipe didn't do much for me, but I admit, I am not a huge fan of lasagna. It was good, and I'd make it again for the family, but would be sure to make bread and salad with it, so I could fill up on those and only have a small piece of the lasagna.

This book has alot of variety in it, including dessert recipes that I did not get a chance to make, though I had previously made the Died-and-Gone-to-Heaven Chocolate layer cake (which is NOT a healthy, low fat, low calorie recipe, but is instead Janet and Greta's fun recipe, listed under the chapter of "You're Gonna Die Anyway.")

There are more recipes in this book that I have made before, though not during the month of April. And this book will stay on my main shelf.

Now, I am finally feeling better, finally getting back to cooking, and eating, so I will have to go figure out what book I want to use for the month of May.