Peanut Butter Surprise Cupcake Timeline

Baking cupcakes with a three-year old girl goes a little something like this…

16:13 – Arrive at my friend Jean’s house to bake cupcakes with her and her 3-year-old daughter (Hannah).

16:14 – Hannah and I have never met, she hides behind Jean’s legs as we’re introduced.

16:17 – Hannah shows me her closet full of clothes and her 1,2,4,5,6,7,8 shoes. (4 pairs, but 8 shoes).

16:18 – I think Hannah and I are friends now.

16:20 – Peanut Butter Cupcake Surprise preparation time.

16:21 – I show Hannah the chocolate rosebuds, chocolate with sprinkles, chocolate covered bananas and Easter eggs that will be used for the “surprise” centre.

16:21 – Hannah says “the Easter bunny will bring me chocolates soon”. I reply “Well, the Easter bunny gave these to me as an early present”.

16:21 – Hannah smiles.

16:22 – Around this time, I wish I had researched the whole legality of showing pictures of kids on a blog. I have a feeling Hannah is going to be pretty cute during this baking adventure. I’m sure it would have been fine since Jean was there, but to be safe, I choose not to take any pictures of Hannah…next time.

16:22 – I’m pretty sure I can take a picture of Montana the dog. He’s thinking “Please buddy, drop a cupcake later for me”.

16:23 – Jean pours the sugar in the measuring cup as I measure out the butter.

16:24 – Hannah grabs the sugar from the counter and moves it to the bowl. Sugar ends up on the floor.

16:25 – I was right, Hannah is very cute.

16:26 – Hannah likes to crack eggs. Eggs and shell(s) go into bowl.

16:27 – Jean spends 5 minutes pulling shells from the bowl. Hannah is unaware of this activity.

16:32 – Batter is being mixed and it’s peanut butter heaven.

16:35 – Hannah gets to lick the whisk and says it’s “yummy”. We can continue.

16:38 – Hannah has a very important job. Place the chocolate right in the middle of the batter. After her first one, I say, “that’s perfect”. Hannah than places each chocolate into the middle of the batter and says “that’s perfect”.

16:40 – Note to self – Kids like to copycat, be careful of what I say.

16:45 – First batch of cupcakes go into the oven. Jean wants to play with her new convection oven. We cut the baking time from 18-20 minutes to 10 minutes.

16:55 – Cupcakes are out and they smell terrific.

16:57 – Cupcakes start to implode and crash inwards.

16:58 – Note to self – Turn off convection oven for the second batch.

17:04 – Hannah begins setting her small table for tea with seven glasses of water, even though there are three of us.

17:18 – Second batch of cupcakes come out looking perfect.

17:30 – All the cupcakes have cooled and get a slight dusting of powdered sugar.

17:31 – Hannah takes a bite and proclaims “It’s good and my surprise in the middle was a sprinkle”.

17:32 – Although they do not look as appealing, both Jean and I decide that the imploded/convection style cupcake is amazing. The outside is perfectly done, but the middle has a warm gooey batter-like consistency. For someone who likes batter and cupcakes, this is the best of both worlds.

17:36 – Hannah lays pillows across the living room floor and takes a nap.

18:00 – I am introduced to In the Night Garden and Igglepiggle. Igglepiggle and his friends chase a bike going down a hill for 20 minutes.

19:00 – I say good-bye to Jean and Hannah. I get a hug from Hannah.

19:01 – Today was a good day.

Peanut Butter Surprise Cupcakes – (Recipe from Southern Living – 1,001 Ways to Cook Southern)

Makes 24 cupcakes

  • 3/4 cup of butter, softened
  • 2 cups of granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup of creamy peanut butter
  • 2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup of buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 24 milk chocolate kisses (or in my case, whatever you think might entertain a three-year old)
  • Confectioners sugar
  1. Preheat over to 375F. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add granulated sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Add peanut butter, beating until smooth.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt; add to peanut butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low-speed just until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla extract.
  3. Spoon 2 tablespoons of batter into each of the 24 paper baking cups in muffin pans. Place 1 chocolate on its side in centre of batter in each cup. Top evenly with remaining batter (about 2 tablespoons in each cup) covering each chocolate.
  4. Bake at 375F for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool in pans on wire racks for 5 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on wire racks. Dust with confectioners sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Filed under chocolate, Cupcakes, Peanut butter, Peanut Butter Cupcakes

Charcutepalooza – Brining and Learning

I’m a little late to the Charcutepalooza party, but better last than never. For those wondering what is (say it with me) “shar-coo-ta-pa-loo-za”, it’s a year-long salute to meat created by Cathy of Mrs. Wheelbarrow and Kim who is The Yummy Mummy. Although I missed out on duck prosciutto in January and bacon and pancetta in February, I was set for the March challenge of brining my very own (and first) brisket.

I was a lucky kid growing up knowing what a brisket should taste like. It was to be sliced thin to melt in your mouth and be perfectly seasoned with a slightly salt taste. Growing up in London, Ontario (population 330,000) didn’t offer the “big-city” options when it came to food as Montreal or Toronto. So on road trips to Montreal to visit my grandparents, we’d always stop at a butcher shop on the way back to London and load up the cooler (that we brought specifically for this mission) with brisket, salami and smoked meat.

As I’m currently in London these days, I was realistic of my options when I walked into the downtown market. I asked the organic butcher if they had a brisket and his response was “I have a roast that you can cut the strings off of and there’s your brisket”. I had a quick look at the roast/brisket and although it was a nice piece of meat, I immediately noticed it lacked a lot of the marbling that I was accustomed to growing up. But beggars can’t be choosers and off I went with my meat which from here on out will  be referred to as “brisket” not “roast”.

The brisket was about 2.5 pounds or 1.1 kilograms in weight, so I cut all the ingredients in half from our Charcutepalooza bible Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman. The recipe called for a 5 pound (2.25 kilogram) brisket, so I knew it also wouldn’t need the five days in the brine which was confirmed by Cathy and Michael (thanks guys). After three days in the brine, it got a good cold bath and then simmered away for 90 minutes. As an added bonus, I made my own pickling spice following Charcuterie’s recipe and tweaked it a bit with some additional spices to try and give it a bit more of a kick.

The results were very good and I was impressed with myself as evidenced by the brisket disappearing in a matter of days.  But for a variety of reasons the brisket did not taste like I had remembered growing up. I know some reasons are real (I need to slice it thinner) and some others are just in my head (tough to duplicate childhood memories).

The brining experience was simple and surprisingly easy. In all, it was a great learning experience and I will certainly be doing it again. Next time, I’m going to channel my inner-deli and carve/shave like this.



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Filed under Brining, Brisket, Charcutepalooza, Montreal

Memories of a (Beef) Tongue

It’s funny how things rarely play out as they do in your head. Last week, I did my best to weave parts of the eulogy I gave at my Bubbie’s (Yiddish for Grandmother) funeral into a post. As I was writing, I thought to myself as I teared up at Starbucks, “This is heavy for me, but I don’t know what others will make of it?” But I decided to just write for myself and let the rest take care of itself.

Simply put, I was touched by all the wonderful comments, so thank you. It was great to see my Bubbie and her love of family resonated with those who are or have been blessed with a similar relationship. But even more importantly, I felt it a privilege to share that moment with others who were not as fortunate to have known their grandparents.

My Bubbie was not a fan of having her picture taken, so sadly there are not a ton of pictures of us together. She gave in somewhat in her later years (I think just to humor us), so although I have a ton of memories, they are not always affiliated with pictures. On the bright side, a memory lasts forever.

I was thinking of some good times we shared and one of my fondest memories is when I was about 5 years old living in Montreal. She was a wonderful cook and when a Bubbie gives you food, you eat, it’s a rule, even if it’s not your Bubbie! So she gave me a piece of meat and told me it was chicken, so of course I believed her. As I took a bite, my mother came into the kitchen and asked if I liked the beef tongue I was eating. Needless to say, at 5 years old, I only knew of the tongue in my own mouth, not the eating of someone else’s so it quickly went back on to the plate. My Bubbie had a good laugh about it and said I had liked it just fine when I thought it was chicken.

To this day, I have yet to try beef tongue again and I don’t really have an inclination to do so. But at any mention of it, I smile and think of an adorable little 4’11” Bubbie who was happiest in her kitchen surrounded by family and having fun with her grandson.

Ironically enough, this memory about beef tongue actually ties in with a contest currently being sponsored by Eat, Write, Retreat, a  food blogging conference in May 2011. Eat, Write, Retreat has partnered up with the folks at Canadian Beef to generously sponsor five (5) randomly selected Canadian food bloggers to attend the conference in Washington if they share a story or recipe of Canadian Beef.

It’s not very often a story about beef tongue can be applied to a chance to attend a food blog conference.

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Filed under Beef, Bubbie, Tongue

Getting my “Around My French Table” groove back…

Confession is good for the soul, especially when there is nourishment involved. Recently, I confessed I have a weakness for Southern belles and their alluring accent, not to mention sweet tea. My next admission is that I’ve been slacking when it comes to French Fridays with Dorie. There is no obligation to post every Friday, but why wouldn’t I treat myself? The opportunity is there to cook (and eat) something wonderful every week and share it along the way.

Last week, when I saw everyone’s posts for their Savory Cheese And Chive Bread, I knew I missed out. First off, what part of that doesn’t sound good? Even the word “and” sounds delicious sandwiched between “cheese” and “chive”. Secondly, a bread recipe that does not involve yeast is a recipe I can get behind. Yeast and I are slowly getting to know each other, we’re still in the acquaintance stage, not friends…yet.

When I saw that the dish for this week was something called Beggar’s Linguine, the Savory Cheese And Chive Bread was beckoning to be served along with it and really who am I to say no?

I’d like to find a simpler recipe that results in something this phenomenal, because I don’t think it exists. Within five minutes of having placed the bread in the oven, the combination of cheese, chives and walnuts made for an aroma that even a baker would applaud. When I pulled the loaf pan out, I was smiling (and salivating) from seeing the baked cubes of cheddar cheese. As for the taste, it is indeed savory and comforting. Each bite provides something just slightly different from the next one. I will make this again with pleasure and the next time I take this over to a friend, I am sure they will ask for it again as well.

As for the linguine, it was a treat. It’s not often you find a pasta recipe that includes pistachios, almonds, figs and raisins but they all went together very nicely. Not surprising, the pasta and the bread were a perfect match and already has me looking forward to next Friday’s recipe.

As is the case with recipes from Around My French Table, the members of French Fridays with Dorie hope to encourage people to buy this incredible book rather than posting the recipes. I don’t want to sound like a used car salesman, but the recipe for the bread alone is worth the price of this book. It’s a great deal at Amazon (US) or Amazon (Canada) if you’re interested!

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Filed under Beggars linguine, Bread, Cheese, Dorie Greenspan, French Fridays with Dorie, pasta, Savory Cheese and Chive Bread

Sweet Tea – My Southern Addiction

Confession time – I have a weakness for Southern belles and their alluring drawl. I was introduced to the Southern drawl around the age of 10 by the one and only Blanche Devereaux (played by Rue McClanahan) from the Golden Girls.

Maybe I have Blanche to thank for my love of all things Southern. With that logic, perhaps I love sweet tea because it reminds me of her or maybe I just love sweet tea because it’s sweet tea! Sweet tea is just that, it’s sweet and a way of life in the South. Southerners take their sweet tea very seriously and chances are if you ask ten Southerners how they make theirs, they’ll give you ten different answers all claiming theirs to be the best

As an added bonus, not only is sweet tea good, it’s also good for you as it’s loaded with antioxidants. Mary over at Deep South Dish whose blog reads like a testament to the South has a sweet tea recipe that I’m sure has been tried and tested more times than she can remember. In fact, browse her site for a while and you’ll be yearning for fried chicken, biscuits, pecan pie and a hundred other classic Southern dishes!

Now, when I’m enjoying a glass of sweet tea, for me, the sweeter the better. I enjoy a hurt-my-teeth-sugary-sweet tea. A person’s personal preference is like a snowflake, each one is unique. And for those that are curious, I still have never had a cavity. But insofar as making sweet tea at home, I just couldn’t justify putting in the recommended 1 3/4 cup of sugar knowing I was likely to be the one to drink all one gallon of it. So I went with the minimum that the recipe called for of 1 cup. But if I were to be entertaining, I’d definitely ramp up the sugar!

The sweet tea was as it should be. It was satisfying even on a cold winter day (is it summer yet?) up here in the North! I could sense it wasn’t as sweet as it could have been because I did hold back a bit, but it certainly did the trick and was refreshing.

Now, I just need a rocking chair, a porch to sit on and a Southern Belle to enjoy it with me.

Southern Sweet Tea (Southern Living – 1,001 Ways to Cook Southern)

  • 6 cups of water
  • 4 tea bags (I used ginger tea, but I think the fun is really in trying out all sorts until you find the perfect one for you)
  • 1 to 1 3/4 cups of sugar
  1. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan; add tea bags. Boil 1 minute; remove from heat. Cover and steep for 10 minutes. Remove tea bags, squeezing gently.
  2. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Pour into a 1-gallon pitcher, and add enough water to fill pitcher. Serve over ice.

I used an orange for garnish because that’s what was available, but lemons, limes or sprig of mint are all wonderful as well

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Treasuring & Remembering Grandparents

“That has always been my claim to fame. I made my bubbie a bubbie.”

The above quote and all the quotes to follow are a part of the eulogy I gave when my grandmother passed away in December of 2004. It was the toughest thing I’ve ever written and presented and I never thought I’d post any of this. But here I am and I’d love to tell you about the most incredible person that’s ever been a part of my life.

By now, most of you have shared and enjoyed Hannah’s (my other grandmother) cherry snowballs, brownies and applesauce cookies with me. It’s been wonderful connecting with my dad’s mother again through her recipes and I’ve felt a re-connection with her through the process. With that said, it dawned on me that perhaps I was giving the impression that I only had one grandmother growing up. In fact, I was lucky enough to have all four grandparents in my life until I was in my early twenties.

I’d like to tell you about my mom’s mom or bubbie which is grandmother in Yiddish or as I called her, my bubs. She was an amazing woman who will always define what  goodness is to me. She never quite cracked five feet tall, but her personality and energy made up for her lack of height and then some. My bubbie was a Holocaust survivor who lost her entire family in a concentration camp and yet, the horrors around her could not extinguish her spirit.

“When you think of a bubbie, you think of her. They are short, European, crazy about food and only want the best for their family.”

Unfortunately, my bubbie didn’t leave us a book of recipes. She was a great cook, but recipes were not meant to be written down, they were kept by memory or by whatever was available in the pantry on a given day. As immigrants to Canada after World War II, food was nourishment, there was little need to write it down. It was good, wholesome food, but it didn’t need to be celebrated in book form. Aside from a handful of recipes, my bubbie left us only with the memories in our hearts.

I love the wall-paper as much as the family love in this picture. My mom kissing me, my bubbie holding me and my zaide (grandfather) trying to peek through.

“I realized early on that my bubbie was all about food and how much of it she could feed us. The more I ate, the happier she was. I always looked forward to spending the night because I knew I would never go to bed hungry. Even before bedtime, it was never too late for a bowl of chicken soup or a piece of her homemade gefilte fish. Even waking up, I knew I was in store for a big treat, because she has always had her special scrambled eggs all prepared for me.”

(Gefilte fish is a Yiddish word for poached fish patties or balls made from a mixture of ground fish (minus the bones), usually carp or pike).

Maybe it was because she endured such terrible atrocities growing up or maybe it’s just a grandparent thing or maybe it’s both, but she took such delight in hearing about the school accomplishments of her grandchildren.

“I couldn’t hand in a paper or write an exam without her wishing me good luck or as she put it, GL. I lived for her gl’s. They meant the world to me, each time she said it, she put her entire being into those words. She would put her thumbs between her index and middle finger, shake her fist, look up to the sky, close her eyes and just repeat gl, gl, gl.”

It’s wonderful growing up with both sets of grandparents and I was lucky to do so. So much love and finally a use for all those wallet-size pictures you receive after picture day! But there is also a point in time when the tables get turned and it’s your time to take care of them.

“I believe things happen for a reason and I am convinced I ended up in Montreal for school to be with her. I would like to think that after so many years of taking care of me, I was finally able to return the favor. But how do you help out a woman who is so independent and stubborn? Before coming over to visit, I would ask if she needed anything, but the answer was always no. I quickly learned she was never going to admit to needing anything. So much to her I just started showing up with things. If bubbie’s are allowed to spoil their grandchildren, I figured it could go both ways. So in addition to groceries, including shmaltz herring, we would happily munch on BBQ ruffled chips and Drumstick ice cream cones.”

(Shmaltz is Yiddish for fat and a herring is a fatty oily fish. Together, shmaltz herring are preserved in brine and brown sugar and then rendered in fat).

As always, the best moments in life cost nothing. As much as I look back and smile at the thought of me as a young kid eating her amazingly yellow scrambled eggs or later on sharing a bag of chips, I’m happiest when I think of these moments we shared together.

“Over the last few months of her life, our visits always consisted of me giving her a back massage. After the first rub of the shoulders, she would always let out a big Ahhhhh. Initially, she would thank me after it was done, but near the end, when I would stop she would just keep on talking without even saying thank you. I would like to think she knew she didn’t have to thank me for it because it was me who should have been thanking her for everything she had ever done for me.”

As I was writing the eulogy, I knew I wanted the last paragraph to be me talking directly to her. It just so happened there was a room full of people to overhear our final conversation, but it didn’t matter. As I got closer to the paragraph, I could feel myself begin to tear up but I looked straight ahead and did my best to make her proud.

“Bubbie, thank you for being my bubs. Thank you for letting me be a part of your life. I cannot tell you how much I loved being with you the last few years. A Friday will never pass without me wishing you a good shabbas. I vow to keep every promise I ever made to you. But it is now for you to look after yourself. I hope you have a great shloof (sleep).”

And I have no idea how I got the final words out, they were more like a whimper.

“Love you bubs.”

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Filed under Bubbie, Bubbierocks, Grandparents

Guest Post – My Lisbon Food Experience

Hi y’all,

Well, there’s a first time for everything and today I bring you the very first guest post on Tastes Better With Friends. Appropriately enough, the post was written by one of my very best friends Jonathan. There isn’t much need of a lead-in, Jonathan took care of that for us. I hope you enjoy the post!

My Lisbon Food Experience

I’ve known Ethan for a while and have always admired his passion for food. What’s more admirable is that he transmits his passion to the people around him. Ethan has visited my family cottage on several occasions and has left an impression on many of the Kennedy’s. He’s connected over food and euchre with my grandmother and she even shared a treasured family cookie recipe known affectionately as jam-jams. This desire to make others happy with food and share his food experiments has always been innate to his personality, even long before this food journal was born. His blog has simply enabled his passion to reach a wider audience, doing exactly what he has always done.

Ethan and I have had the chance to travel together and share different food experiences around sporting events, late night street food vendors (the legendary Boustan) and the memorable Taco Factory in Mexico where we overdosed on taco al pastor. T is for Taco!

I recently moved to Portugal from Montreal to work, travel and expand my circle. A by-product of travelling is the ultra unique food adventures that you find yourself experiencing. Before moving to Europe, I spent some time reflecting and educating myself about the origins of food, how it’s produced and the effects of mass food production on our health and the environment. I have become a much more conscious eater with the influence of movies like Food Inc, and authors like Micheal Pollan and Jonathan Safran Foer. I have chosen to make my own food rules by absorbing the bits and pieces that work for me.

That said, whenever I find myself in a cool foodie situation, I think ”What would Ethan say” and most of the time, I wish I had a camera to boast about it. Having the god-given gift of breaking and losing cameras, I rarely have one on me to capture the moment. On a recent trip to Lisbon, I stumbled upon this picturesque 100% Biological Cafe called Quinoa. I loved it so much that I thought it would make a great guest post on TBWF.

After arriving into Lisbon by train, I was exhausted and hungry. I checked into the Lisb’on Hostel (I would argue one of the nicest in the world). The Hostel staff pointed me to the Quinoa Cafe so off I went. The newly opened cafe is located in the Chiado district, just down the street from the world-renowned Bairro Alto, the nightlife mecca of Lisbon. Just inside was an old staircase which was beautifully restored and the entrance door seemed to be salvaged from an old church. I walked in and just knew it would be a cool experience. Fresh breads filled glass casings by the cash, a selection of Kusmi tea lined the back wall and Portuguese gourmet products were stacked nicely on shelves. I knew this would be one of those true European experiences. I felt like Ernest Hemingway in ”A Moveable Feast”.

I sat down and ordered a glass of house red with the few Portuguese words I’ve learned since I’ve been here. I picked up my trusty ”Off The Beaten Path” travel guide and just took it all in. The house wine was fantastic at 4 Euros. A 2007 Dona Ermelinda, a red wine produced from the Castelao grape grown in the Palmela area of Portugal. It was full-bodied, complex and rounded tannins (thanks to Gary V, I now know what that means). In this case, the wine tasted even better thanks to the setting.

I spotted something on the menu called the ‘’trilogia de hamburguer biologicos’’ (The Bio-Burger Trilogy). What a cool name! I ordered it without hesitation. I never feel too good about eating meat unless I can be certain there is a discerning mind producing and preparing it. I felt good about this. The three burgers, more like sliders, were accompanied by a fresh green salad and Portuguese kettle chips and served on mini Kaiser buns. One topped with homemade mustard, one with caramelized onions and the third with two thin slices of cheese goodness. I tried not to devour them and took my time sipping my wine and appreciating the plate. I made a point to chew every mouthful at least 6 times. The meat actually tasted good. Lightly spiced and medium well, I will go out on a limb and say they were the best burgers I have ever had. There, I said it. I wondered what Ethan would think at that moment. Luckily, this time I had a camera and I felt no shame in taking a photograph of my plate. The photo can’t express the goodness – but hopefully, this entry might get him, or one of you visit Quinoa the next time you find yourself on this side of the pond.

Thanks Ethan. Without your influence, I doubt I would be as open to appreciating food on this level or even going as far as guest posting about food adventures.

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Filed under Gary V, Gary Vaynerchuk, Lisbon, Montreal, Portugal