As many of you may know, I teach a class once a week for a non-profit called Common Threads. It’s an amazing organization that works with Chicago public school children from the ages of 8 to 12 years old to teach them cooking skills, nutrition and cultural diversity. Teaching these classes is truly one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and I feel I’ve gained so much from these kids who come from all different backgrounds.
Last fall I was lucky to share this experience with Brett Sterling from the Chicago Wolves. While I’m sure he’s a great hockey player (sorry Brett, I still haven’t seen a game), I can say with absolute certainty that he has a good heart.
Brett visited my class along with others from the Wolves organization last fall, which was so special for the kids. Not only did they love the hats, pennants and posters Brett signed for them, they were so excited to work with him in the kitchen, teach him cooking skills they’ve learned, and ask him all sorts of questions. It was really a special day.
The Wolves also put together this short video of Brett’s Common Threads visit that I just found on their website. It’s a great video that really showcases the spirit of Common Threads and the amazing students I had the privilege of teaching. Take a look – it’s inspiring!
Some recipes have a strong personal history, evoking memories of time or people who have passed. For my sister and I, this recipe for tornado cookies does just that.
As children, every year for Hanukkah our grandmother would prepare individual cookie tins for each of her grandchildren. They were filled with all types of cookies – M&M, chocolate chip, peanut butter and our favorite – tornado cookies (basically button sugar cookies), along with the obligatory pieces of gelt.
But they weren’t called tornado cookies back then. I’m actually not sure what we called them, I just remember the dry, crumbly texture as I popped them into my mouth and how the margarine and powdered sugar came together as I chewed.
This is my grandmother’s recipe and, although I’m certain it’s not unique to her, I have no way of knowing where it originated. All it says on the pink index card in my mom’s kitchen is “Mom’s Cookies.” I imagine the recipe came from a Jewish cookbook because it uses margarine instead of butter, making it kosher to eat after having consumed meat. But, then again this was also the early ’80s and margarine was pretty popular back then in general.
The name “tornado cookies” came later, probably around the time my grandmother moved to Florida. My sister and I came up with that name after we made them during a spring tornado. I remember starting the recipe, then having to abandon the dough as we ran to the basement when the sirens sounded. Once they ended, we came back upstairs and finished making the cookies. What can I say? That’s just life in the Midwest.
We don’t make these cookies often, just during Hanukkah and when we’re in need of a comfort food. That’s why I made these for my sister last week. She was very stressed with the end of tax season and having an overall crappy day, so I made a batch to cheer her up. And I think it worked. At least it helped put the day in perspective and gave her a chance to remember our grandmother who was always so proud of her grandchildren.
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I hate wasting food of any sort, but to throw away perfectly good cake? I don’t think so.
After making the devil’s food cake with malt chocolate frosting, I was left with a baggie of cake scraps leftover from trimming the layers, not to mention about a cup of frosting. Inspired by the Pioneer Woman’s recent endeavors in making cake balls (definitely visit her blog for more creative ways to use the cake balls along with other great recipes), I decided to try it myself.
Coincidentally, my friend was due to give birth to her second child (a boy – welcome to the world Ethan!) last week so I decorated the cake balls and brought them to the hospital in honor of the occasion.
These cake balls were delicious and super cute to boot! The flavor possibilities are endless – you can use any combination of cake and frosting. Note that the “recipe” below is really more of a technique – just use your judgement for consistency and remember you can always make extra frosting (I’d estimate a 3 to 1 ratio cake to frosting).
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My dad excited to eat his soup
As I mentioned in the post for cracked Yukon gold potatoes, my family officially celebrated my dad’s birthday a few days late. My mom and I made potatoes, chicken, fish, broccoli and a chocolate cake (I’ll post that recipe soon). A nice, traditional meal.
Well, I didn’t tell you what my dad ate for dinner on his actual birthday, also a traditional meal for him. He asked my mom to prepare his favorite: peanut butter and grape jelly sandwhich with Lipton chicken noodle soup and crackers. At least he’s finally transitioned from white Wonder Bread to whole grain!
- Classic birthday dinner: PB&J with chicken noodle soup
I didn’t realize how strange this meal request was until I told a few friends about it. Then, earlier that day I had lunch with my friend Sara and her three-year-old son, Ben, requested a PB&J. That confirmed it: my father’s favorite meal is the same as a child’s, but I find it endearing rather than strange. And it completely fits his Peter Pan personality.
Pretty much since he was born I’ve been wanting to cook with my friend Sara’s son Ben. With his third birthday just around the corner, we decided he was finally ready. No, we weren’t going to teach him how to cook an egg, which he said he wanted to do last week. (He actually told Sara he wanted to be a “cooker” and when Sara asked what he wanted to cook he said eggs.) Instead we started with a kid-friendly cookie: snickerdoodles.
The original plan was for Ben to help with the entire recipe, including making the cookie dough. However, he took forever to wake up from his nap so we decided to go ahead and make it without him. In retrospect, this was a wise move as the reality is that Ben has the attention span of the three-year-old he is.
But he did help with the best part of the process: rolling the dough into balls and then into the cinnamon-sugar mixture. He really enjoyed this, although he did take a break about halfway through to get his “doggy” from upstairs. And when it came time to eat the cookies, Ben was incredibly proud of himself.
This was a great cookie to make with a kid – it’s virtually impossible to mess up, it’s quick, uses just one bowl, and it’s really fun. Not to mention the cookies were delicious, so much so that my own mother requested the recipe, which was adapted from Betty Crocker herself.
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