Thunder Cake from Thunder Cake

Its hard to make chocolate cake look pretty in a photo.

Author Patricia Polacco certainly knows how to make young mouths water! In Thunder Cake a Ukrainian grandma uses baking to allay the fears of her granddaughter unused to calamitous sounding Midwestern thunderstorms.

Kids who have been baking awhile love getting surpised by unusual ingredients. What! Tomatoes in chocolate cake! Summertime is ideal for making this recipe when tomatoes are juicy and plentiful, but you can use canned as well. 

This recipe is included in the back of the book. 

Cream together one at a time:

1 cup shortening 

1 ¾ cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 eggs, separated 

Blend in only the yolks.

1 cup cold water

⅓ cup pureed tomatoes

Sift together:

2 ½ cups cake flour

½ cup dry cocoa

1½ teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

Beat the whites until stiff.

Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter then gently fold in the stiff whites.

Bake at 350 in 2-8½ inch round pans for 35 to 40 minutes. Cool.

Frost, sprinkle with powdered sugar, or serve with berries.

Peanut Butter Fudge from Peeny Butter Fudge

This charmingly simple book for small kids by Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison and her late son Slade, is about the prerogatives of grandmahood, the good intentions of motherhood, and of course peanut butter fudge. The recipe in back of the book is simple and delicious. My daughter is ape over it.

1 Tablespoon butter

1-cup full fat milk

Two one-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate

2 cups sugar

¼ teaspoon vanilla

¼ cup creamy peanut butter

1) Butter the inside of an 8-inch square pan.

2) In a saucepan, melt the chocolate in the milk.

3) Add the sugar and bring to a low boil over medium heat for at least five minutes.

4) Try the softball stage.

5) Drop a drip or two of the mixture into a glass of cold water.

6) If ready, it will it not dissolve but will form a unit. The Morrisons think it looks like a tadpole and it really does!

7) Turn off the heat.

8) Add the vanilla and stir.

9) Cool off in a sink or pan of shallow, cool water. Don't splash any water into the fudge!

10) When the bottom of the saucepan is cool enough to touch, stir in the peanut butter.

11) Beat until the mixture loses its sheen.

12) Pour right away into the buttered pan and smooth down.

13) Cool.

14) Cut into squares.

15) Find a good hiding place to keep any uneaten pieces for later. 


We could surely do with some skyborne meatballs to break the monotony of several days of fog in summer- resistent San Francisco.  Or if none happen to fall from the heavens you can make some with the kids to break the chill. 

These meatballs are lightened up by the addition of ricotta. They taste really good! 

1 cup ricotta

1 ¼ pound ground beef or pork

1 large egg

¼ cup grated Parmesan

½ cup dry breadcrumbs

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Salt and pepper

Combine the ingredients. 

Form into pingpong sized balls. This is where the kids excel.

Saute in an well-oiled pan until golden brown. 

Toss these into your favourite spaghetti sauce, serve them in chicken broth with or without rice or noodles, or eat them on their own.  

My copy of the Wind in the Willows was a gift from my grandmother. While it was her favourite childhood book, I never really enjoyed it as much as she did. Taking a glance at it as an adult, I can see the language would have been a little difficult for a new reader, but it's quite beautifully written and the books is full of food! Wind is not terribly popular reading material any longer, but there are several films, cartoons, and a BBC live human version that your kids might enjoy. And take a look at the book and see if it might be something you'd enjoy reading to the kids.

One of the many nummy dishes celebrated in the book is trifle---one of my favourite desserts. I like it made with everything from traditional strawberries and slivered almonds to rhubarb and pistachios. And of course sherry. The following recipe is so easy to assemble even young children can help and the ingredients are such that you may have everything on hand. You can use entirely packaged ingredients or add whatever fresh or homemade components that you choose.

1 package cherry or strawberry jello

1 package vanilla pudding or custard from scratch or from Birds Custard Mix

1 pound cake

1 carton, tin, or bowl of whipped cream 

Chopped nuts, if desired

Fresh, frozen or tinned berries of any kind---strawberries, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, boysenberries, marionberries

Prepare the jello according to the package. It takes several hour to gel.

You can make the jello yourself as it uses boiling water and have it ready to go for the kids or supervised kids can make in the morning and assemble the rest for dessert

Prepare the pudding according to the package.

Place the set jello in the serving container. If you have no trifle bowl, then a clear glass bowl or clear glass individual serving dishes are ideal, but not necessary.

Cut the pound cake or tear it into cubes. 

Place the cubes over the jello.

Pour the pudding over the cake and jello.

Place the defrosted, drained, or washed berries over the pudding. 

Top with whipped cream and nuts. 

No sherry for this one.

Sleepover Cannelloni

It's hard to know what to prepare for kids' sleepovers. You want to rise to such a grand occasion, but sleepovers can be hectic and kids can be fussy. This recipe from First Meals by Annabel Karmel is perfect. You can prepare the whole thing yourself in advance, you can prepare it alongside older children, or you can make most of it while smaller children handle "decorating"  the sleeping children. You can adjust this recipe to cater to various degrees of fussiness omitting the mustard, using a very mild cheese, etc. 

Cannelloni shells, parboiled

1 1/2 cups frozen spinach or fresh cleaned, chopped

2 Tablespoons butter

1 onion, peeled and chopped

1 Tablespoon flour

1/3 cup milk

2 Tablespoons heavy cream

salt and pepper

Cook the spinach in the microwave or on the stove top (without water) for about five minutes. 


Squeeze out excess moisture.

Melt the butter in a saute pan. 

Add the onion. 

Saute until soft. 

Stir in the flour and cook for one minute. 

Add the spinach and the milk. 

Cook for two minutes.

Add the cream and seasonings to taste. 

Cool to room temp.

Grease a baking dish. 

Push stuffing carefully into the parboiled tubes.

Place in baking dish.  

Make the cheese sauce:

2 Tablespoons butter

1/4 cup flour

1 3/4 cup milk

2 cups grated hard cheese such as Gruyere, cheddar, 

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard or 1 tablespoon Dijon

salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a saucepan.

Add the flour and cook for two minutes.

Whisk in the milk to form a smooth sauce.

Add the cheese until just melted. 

Add the mustard and season.

Pour over the shells. 

If freezing, do so now. Defrost before cooking.

If refrigerating, do so now and bring to room temp before cooking. 

Decorate right before cooking. 

Preheat oven to 350.

For decorating:

olives, green or black, pitted for eyes, shoes

red peppers strips or pimento for mouths, hair ribbons

green pepper strips

Grated cheese as hair

Bake for 35 minutes.  

Serve with strips of red and green pepper, cherry tomatoes, and cucs for munching.  

Not a pretty dish but a filling and delicious one.

This simple, filling, and delicious dish is ideal for cold winter evenings for your family or guests. Corned Beef isn't as popular as it used to be and it's not available eveywhere at anytime. Often it is now pre-packaged and partially cooked which makes it even easier for you to prepare. You'll welcome the leftovers this recipe provides. 

4 pounds corned beef brisket

water enough to cover

6 onions, peeled and quartered 

6 carrots, peeled and chunked

6 potatoes,peeled and chunked

1 bay leaf

6 peppercorns

parsnips, peeled and chunked, optional

turnips, peeled and chunked, optional

Place the beef in a heavy pot.

Cover with water.

Add the bay and peppercorns. Remember corned beef is very salty, no salt need be added.

Bring to a boil, then simmer for three hourse adding the vegetables at the last hour or half hour of cooking. 

Place everything on a platter and serve with dishes of horseradish, mustard, pickled beets, and gherkins alongside.