Thursday, December 29, 2011

Homemade Hostess Treats

Cousins fan Cheryl Dillon was kind enough to share the recipes (and where she found them) for the homemade Hostess Cupcakes, Snowballs and Twinkies she made during the holidays. Ahhh...such memories! Just looking at these recipes and photos makes me want to go outside and pogo stick. (OK, maybe not. Besides, I turned in my pogo stick a long time ago.) But if any of you out there are as daring as Cheryl and give these tasty childhood treats a try, let us know how it went and send us some of your own photos! (Or if any of you still hop on your pogo stick, send those photos in, too!) —Diana 

1 cup plus 4 tablespoons flour
5 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 egg yolks
2 cups milk, divided
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 ounces finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
6 tablespoons boiling water

2 tablespoons egg white, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup plus 4 to 6 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

Cupcakes: Position a rack in the center and preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly butter 18 muffin cups

Into a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Mix in the sugar. Make a well in the center. Whisk in the water, oil, vinegar and vanilla extract. Blend until smooth. (The batter will be very thin.) Spoon the batter into the prepared cups. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into the center of one of the cupcakes comes out clean, about 15 to 18 minutes. Cool the cupcakes in the pans on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the pans and finish cooling on the rack.

Filling: Mix ¼ cup sugar and cornstarch in a bowl until smooth.  Add egg yolks and mix until a paste is formed.  Stir in ½ cup milk.  Add to saucepan.  Combine remaining 1 ½ cups milk and ¼ cup sugar in the same saucepan and bring to a boil.  Pour hot mixture into a bowl, whisking constantly.  Pour back into saucepan.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until smooth and thick.  Remove from heat and stir an additional minute.  Stir in vanilla and transfer to a bowl.  Cover with buttered parchment paper touching top and chill a minimum of 2 hours or as long as 2 days.

Transfer the filling to a pastry bag fitted with a 3/8-inch plain tip. Insert the pastry tip 1/4-inch into the bottom of each cupcake and squeeze a little filling into each one.

Glaze: Place the chocolate in a small bowl. Whisk in the boiling water and blend until smooth. One at a time, dip the top of each cupcake into the warm glaze. Turn the glazed cupcakes right side up and set them on a wire rack on top of a baking sheet. Refrigerate the cupcakes for 5 minutes to set the glaze.

Icing: In a medium bowl, whisk the egg white until frothy. Stir in the cream of tartar. Gradually mix in enough of the confectioners' sugar to make a fairly stiff and smooth icing. Fill a small paper cone with the icing and cut a 1/16-inch opening at the tip. Remove the cupcakes from the refrigerator. Pipe a design (a squiggle, spiral, etc.) on the top of each cupcake. Let the design harden and then cover and refrigerate the cupcakes. Serve at room temperature.

The cupcakes can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance, or frozen up to 2 weeks.

Makes 18 cupcakes.
* * * * 
Posted by Cookin'Mom at 

4 egg whites
1/2 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Rind of 1 lemon, finely grated
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2/3 cup milk
2 to 3 cups sweetened shredded coconut

1 (16 ounce) package powdered sugar
1 (7 ounce) jar JET-PUFFED Marshmallow Creme
1/4 cup margarine or butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons milk

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour muffin tins or dome shaped baking molds and set aside.

Whip the egg whites in a clean bowl until stiff but not dry and place in the refrigerator while you make the rest of the batter. Cream the butter and add the sugar. Continue mixing to blend well. Add the vanilla extract, almond extract and lemon rind and mix well.

Sift the flour 3 times with the baking powder then add it to the butter mixture alternately with the milk in 3 additions. Fold in the whites and pour the batter into the molds, filling about 3/4 of the way up. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until batter is firm to the touch in the center. Let cool in the pans then turn out so the top becomes the bottom (you may need to trim them a bit so they sit flat).

Frosting: Beat sugar, Marshmallow Creme, margarine or butter and vanilla extract with electric mixer at medium speed, beating in milk as needed to desired frosting consistency.

Place the coconut in a bowl and add 1 drop of red or green food coloring for a pale color. Toss until food coloring is well mixed in and the coconut is the desired color. Fros
t the top and sides of the cakes and dip/roll in coconut to make them look like snowballs.

* * * *

For the Twinkies, Cheryl went to a site called Top Secret Recipes. There she found both the recipe (a low-fat version also is available) and instructions how to make the mold. Check it out!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Unconventional Chocolate Chip Cookies

The holidays are over and I’m tired of making red and green sugar cookies. I want a good old-fashioned chocolate chip cookie. And when I decide I want to bake, I just start baking. I grab Betty, my KitchenAid stand mixer, and head to the pantry to see if I have all the makings for a chocolate chip cookie. Flour, check. Baking soda, check. Sugar, both white and brown, check.  Looks like the making of a cookie. Except...oh no.  The last of the eggs were made this morning for breakfast.  What to do? What to do? Here comes the unconventional part—use mayonnaise.  Yep, that’s what I used. To substitute two eggs I used six tablespoons of mayonnaise.  After all, what is mayonnaise except eggs, right?  And oh yeah, instead of those whimpy chocolate chips, I use the melting chocolate chips. Yep, the big chocolate discs. Yum! One suggestion: Don't tell the cookie eaters that that the cookies are made mayonnaise instead of eggs until after they exclaim, “These are the best cookies ev-ah!" — Lisa

You'll need:
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
¾ cup white sugar
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
6 tbsp. mayonnaise
3 cups melting chocolate discs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt is a small bowl and set aside.  Beat the butter, both sugars, and vanilla in mixer until creamy. Add mayonnaise.  Gradually beat in the flour mixture until combined. Mix in the chocolate. 

Drop by ice cream scoop onto a baking sheet.  These will be huge cookies!  If you want, sprinkle a little sea salt on each cookie; salty and sweet is a great combination. Cook 18-20 minutes on the middle rack.   Check cookies at 15 minutes to see if sides are browning.  Let cool.'s a secret!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Leave your passport at home and head to Eataly

I had heard mixed reviews from friends who had visited Eataly in New York City, so I was excited to check it out for myself. Evan and I met our friends Kathy and Ernie in Times Square and took the R train downtown. I was expecting to walk up from the subway and see something equivalent to the Magic Kingdom, but there it was, just another building with modest signage indicating that we had arrived at our destination.
But when we entered the market, I felt like I was a kid again in Disney World. Only it was Italy! There was a lot of "oohing and ahhing" going on as we walked down the aisle and marveled at the displays of products and eateries lined along the wall. Kathy and Ernie have been to Italy several times so there was a lot of reminiscing going on: "Remember this is the cheese we had in Parma?" and "This is the olive oil they had at that restaurant in Tuscany." Evan and I have never been so there was a lot, "This is amazing. We have to get to Italy" going on. (I think he got the hint.)

We walked around a few minutes checking out the pasta, produce, seafood, all so overwhelmingly fresh. We grabbed a glass of wine and watched the patrons at the marble top standing tables tables delighting in their cheese and fruit platters. We watched the "mozzarella artisans" make the fresh stuff, with whole milk only, right before our eyes.

Kathy and Ernie headed over to the wine pairing and enjoyed a glass of Asti Spumante with chunks of sharp parmigiana.
As soon as we arrived we headed straight to the reservation desk for Birreria to put our name down. They told us it would be about a half hour and they would send a text when our table was ready. They were right on target. We took our last sips of wine and headed up the elevator to the rooftop restaurant and brewery. We ate under the night sky, protected from the wind and cold by the retractable roof. It must be awesome when the weather is nice and the roof is down.

Our waiter Peter explained the menu's Italian/German influence and for beer suggested the Victory Prima Pils, a "snappy, peppery pilsner." Evan and Ernie were sold. Kathy and I stuck to wine and had a lovely red made with Sangiovese grapes. We ordered the marinated olives to start. It was a nice assortment and just the right amount for the four of us. Peter also brought us some wonderful bread and olive oil for dipping to start. For dinner we split three meals: the grilled portobello mushrooms with piquillo pepperonata and arugla; the costoletta di maiale con bomba (pork chop with fried fingerling potatoes, roasted onions and Calabrian "bomba" vinaigrette); and the stripped bass special with couscous. It was all delicious.

For dessert we headed back downstairs for cappuccino and gelato. But before we did, Peter took us behind the scenes to show us how the beer is brewed (see videos below).

We were lucky to grab a table downstairs across from the Gelateria and enjoyed some of the best gelato I've ever had. (I went for a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of coconut on a waffle cone. Yum!) I also stuck my spoon in everyone else's cups and tasted the hazelnut and espresso. Next visit I'm trying the pistachio, for which they get the nuts from Bronte, Sicily.

It's definitely worth a visit to Eataly. Yes, it's crowded; yes, you'll probably have to wait for a table at one of the many eateries; yes, the checkout lines are long. But go with all that in mind and no restrictions on your time, and you're sure to enjoy the experience. Go mangia!

(For more photos of Diana's trip to Eataly, go to 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Deck the Halls!

Every December our parents would pile us in the back of my Uncle Mike's red station wagon along with our cousins, Lisa and Michelle, and we would drive around Alpine, NJ looking at all the beautiful christmas lights.  There was nothing like this!  This house is in Denville, Morris County, NJ.  If you're in the area this house is worth the stop!
How do you decorate for the holidays?  Do you go all out or throw a light or two around the house?  We'd love to see your holiday decorations!  It would feel like we were in the red station wagon again!  Send your photos to

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Buffalo Chicken Soup

Lisa always likes a good challenge. We don't know how this scenario played out, but we do know that when Eddie challenged Lisa to make a buffalo chicken soup...he went down!

"This came about when my friend Eddie challenged me to come up with a buffalo chicken soup that he saw on a menu at a Boston restaurant. He's a huge buffalo chicken fan but he couldn’t order the soup because he was there in the morning and apparently they frown upon serving the soup for breakfast. So being Italian and a Bucco, I took him up on the challenge and had great success!  It’s my shortcut version using my dad's vodka penne sauce as a base, and I usually have plenty of that in the freezer. Needless to say I won the challenge and now Eddie doesn't have to go to all the way to Boston for "wicked good" buffalo chicken soup." —Lisa

You'll Need: 
My Dad's Vodka Penne Sauce (recipe posted July 25, 2011)
2 or 3 boneless chicken breasts, boiled and shredded
½ cup celery, finely chopped
Frank's Red Hot Sauce to taste (yes, I put that #$&* on (almost) everything!)
Your favorite hot wing sauce to taste (I like Steve & Ed’s Garlic Buffalo Wing Sauce)
Blue cheese crumbles

Heat the vodka sauce. While sauce is heating, boil the chicken breasts. Let cool and shred with a fork.  Add to the sauce. Add celery, Frank's Red Hot and the hot wing sauce.  Cook until everything is heated through.  Divide into bowls and add blue cheese to each bowl.  Oh yeah, take that Eddie! 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Beef Stew over Egg Noodles

My Rival Crock Pot is a lifesaver. With teaching full time, interning as a vice principal, graduate school work, twins, a husband and marathon training, my life is happily hectic, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. But that doesn’t mean I’m not always looking for ways to make some aspects of my life a little easier. That’s where my Crock Pot comes in, especially in the winter when my Crock Pot is my best friend. I chop all my veggies the night before, get a little help from ShopRite pre-chopped meat and McCormick's Stew Mix and BAm!...a slow-cooked dream. There is nothing like coming home and knowing that the evening meal is ready. All I have to do is boil the water for the egg noodles and serve. Less time in the kitchen and more time for my family! – Jennifer

What you'll need (feeds 4):
2.5 pounds beef cubes (buying pre-cubed makes this meal that much easier) 
1 6-oz can of tomato paste
2 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 package baby carrots
1 package McCormick's Beef Stew Mix
1 package egg noodles. You can also serve this over brown rice 
1tbsp cornstarch for thickening
2 cups water
½ cup Merlot. Any red wine will do, but I love Merlot. And, it’s the perfect wine to have with the stew! 

I like to chop up the veggies the night before to make things easier. I like to rough chop the onions and celery. The next morning
 I put all but the egg noodles and cornstarch into the slow cooker. Cook on low for 8-10 hours, or on high for 4 hours. 

Boil water and cook egg noodles. Put cornstarch in about a ½ hour before serving to thicken the sauce. Serve stew over the egg noodles and enjoy! 

Eliza and Abigail love when mom makes a Crock Pot dinner because that means she spends less time in the kitchen and more time with them! 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ginger Noodles with Bok Choy and Edamame

This is a recipe I came up with during my vegetarian years. (Ah yes, the vegetarian years...I remember them well!) This is a great meat-free, light dish that is super healthy and easy to make. Here's how it happened—I was looking for a pasta dish one day, but I didn't want to have that after-dinner heavy feeling. When you're a vegetarian it can be tricky to balance your diet; you don't want to eat carbs all the time, and you want to make sure to get enough protein. This was the key for me to maintain a healthy vegetarian lifestyle. I have tweaked this recipe over the years by switching to whole wheat spaghetti or sometimes I use garden veggie pasta noodles made with tomatoes, carrots and spinach, These options add extra protein to a meat-free dish, plus they're high in fiber so you'll get fuller faster. Sometimes I add grilled tofu strips with lemon grass. You can also use portobello mushrooms, which gives the dish a real "beefy" feel. If you must have meat you can always add grilled chicken or if you prefer fish, add shrimp. This is a great dish with an Asian flair that will have your friends coming back for seconds. —Jill

You'll need:
1 lb whole wheat spaghetti
1 lemon for juice and 1 tsp zest
1 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp ginger paste (in the tube)
5 or 6 large white or portobello mushrooms, sliced
Scallions, chopped
Bok choy, chopped (if you're not crazy about bok choy, you can substitute spinach)
Edamame beans in shell (or sesame seeds)

Boil the pasta in a large pot of salted water.
While pasta is boiling (8-10 minutes; whole wheat pasta takes a little longer to cook), sauté mushrooms in a large skillet until tender. Add bok choy until the greens cook down. Add ginger paste and soy sauce.  Drain the noodles and add to the mushrooms and sauce. (If the sauce is too dry add 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta water). Top with scallions, lemon zest and a few salted edamame beans (or sesame seeds).
Add a squeeze of lemon juice on top and enjoy! 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Pasta with Fresh Veggies

This is a dish my mother would often make for us because she knows her grandsons love it (it's pasta...'nuff said) and her picky son-in-law also enjoys it because of the array of fresh vegetables. It's been a while since Evan, both boys, and I have been at my mom's at the same time for a weeknight dinner (or "sup-pa," as she calls it). With the kids' schedule and Evan's traveling, we never seem to be there at once. But the recent October snowstorm left us without power for a few days so we bunked at my mom's one night and, lo and behold, this is what she made. It was, as always, delicious. And what's great about this dish is that you can change it up with a variety of vegetables, so it never gets boring. Not that it would make a difference to my kids...they would eat pasta the same way every night and never get bored (yes, that's the Italian in them). It was a nice night, despite the crazy storm, so thanks to both moms....mine and Mother Nature...for making it possible!Diana

What you'll need (to feed four; double for more!):
1 pound tricolor pasta (rotini, wheels, shells, whatever you prefer)
1 large red pepper, seeded and sliced in strips
1 large green pepper, seeded and sliced in strips
1 large zucchini, cut in chunks
1 large onion, sliced in strips
1 head of broccoli, steamed (or you can cheat and use frozen)
1 package of white cap mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 small can chicken broth
1 small can (14.5 oz) of diced tomatoes
Parmigiana cheese
Olive oil

Coat the bottom of a large frying pan with olive oil. On medium heat sauté onions, garlic and peppers until soft. Add zucchini, mushrooms and broccoli, and sauté those until partially cooked, but not soft. Add chicken broth and diced tomatoes. Season with pepper, basil, (my mother loves using Mrs. Dash.)

Cook pasta. When done, combine the pasta and veggies in a large bowl. Mix and top with grated cheese. Mangia.