Make, Jane, make!: February 2012


Small Share

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Another Child's Birthday, Another Slapdash Cake

We've had a bit of family upheaval recently, which has resulted in some new and promising improvements in our family/home life, but has also wreaked havoc on my normal mama/housekeeper/chef/sewer routine.

Hence this terrible birthday cake for my son's second birthday...

Yes, that's the saddest little marshmallow-covered, cupcake igloo you've ever seen. I had grand visions of making an igloo cake, but without time to make more marshmallows or have buttercream set hard enough to place fondant over... I had to settle for using what was already in the house.

Even the icing which went onto the main cake for our consumption did not cooperate with me. Why is it that when I have a fail, it's always a colossal fail?

Luckily, the birthday boy was overjoyed to have his own cake and a little penguin to play with afterward. Never mind that the penguin was made from cheap store bought marshmallows, which refused to harden properly and remained tacky even after a couple of days of sticky-fingered play.

Young kids are so easily pleased. I think I've said this before - but I wonder how many more years I have before the kids realize how ghetto mommy's homemade stuff really is? :)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cooking with Kids: The Food

So after dressing the kids up in aprons and hats, what if they ask you to actually cook with them? I find that sometimes they are content to stand and watch me cut and chop everything for dinner. It's especially fun for them when the foods include things that they can steal bits of while I'm prepping: carrots, cheese, etc.

Sometimes, they just want to go into their special drawer in the kitchen (which is full of all the cooking tools that are safe for play) and grab some stuff to make believe with.

Great to have recipes with weights... eliminates measuring!

Sometimes though, watching or pretending is not enough and they want to participate. Or as my toddler says, "Elp mommy doop [Help mommy scoop]".

Little hands trying to knead

We often bake cookies or muffins together since they are very forgiving about my kids inaccurate measurements. The kids have fun scooping, counting and measuring out all the ingredients. Giving them each their own bowl to mix only makes one extra bowl to wash, but keeps both very happy. Then they enjoy forming the cookies or dropping chocolate chips/fruit/raisins into the muffin cups.

Of course, my waistline doth protest when we bake too many sweets. So they often help me with pizza or calzones. You can make your own dough or buy some from the store. They play with the dough like it's modelling clay while I make the actual meal. When they are finally done playing with the dough, I either have them make a mini pizza/calzone or we fry the dough like a pan bread for a quick treat while we wait for the main event to bake.

What mommy made while the kids were playing with the dough

Any type of bread is fun for the kids, because they get to measure and then get hands-on with the dough. Breads are also great because you can often convert all the measurements to weights. And if you place your mixing bowl on a scale, the kids can scoop away to their little hearts' content while you simply watch the scale.

What the kids made

To minimize the waiting time between risings, I use instant yeast where possible and plan the bread making around lunch time. That way we can make the dough and knead it before lunch, have some lunch while it rises, form it after lunch, rise it again and bake/cook during post-lunch play and it's ready by snack time.

The sweet reward 

Mommy does have an ulterior motive for having kids in the kitchen and the inevitable mess that follows. though... the faint hope of future kids who can cook for themselves and me!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cooking with Kids: Chef Hats

Of course, every little chef in an apron needs a hat to complete the look.

Never mind the super wiggly sewing...
that's what happens when your super wiggly two year-old sits in your lap while you're sewing.

You can definitely make a chef's hat without a pattern... but I like this tutorial from because the adjustable headband is really nicely finished.

I modified this one to include a little bit of piping along the band and crown edge. I simply pinned the piping between the crown and band...

... and sewed it all together with the zipper foot. No basting required because the ruffling of the crown hides all anyway :)

I've also made them with coloured/patterned headbands and caps to coordinate with patterned aprons. Unfortunately, no pictures of those ones exist because they are currently being enjoyed by the kids they were made for :) Maybe I can get their mom to get a pic of her adorable children for me...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Covert Recipes: Japanese Curry (from scratch, no MSG, Jane-style :)

I love Japanese-style curry. It tasted especially good in Japan when ordered with a ticket from a vending machine and eaten at a cramped diner after a long day of traveling. You can easily duplicate these yummy plate lunches using some store-bought curry cubes, but I find that most of them contain MSG which doesn't sit well with my eczema.

I've searched high and low on the internet for a homemade version of this great curry, but have yet to find one that doesn't include bouillon cubes (i.e. more MSG). So I decided that it was time to create my own. The flavouring of my version is fragrant and slightly sweet (you can add some heat in too, but I've left mine heatless for now because of our young kids :P) The presentation of the dish (ground meat and julienned veggies) is taken from my good friend, whose thoughtfully frozen curries were greatly enjoyed by us during the sleepless weeks after the baby girl was born.

I'd never thought of using ground meat and finely julienned vegetables in my Japanese curry before, but it works great for kids because it mixes so well with rice and it is impossible for even the most skilled picky eater to select out only what they want. In fact you can use a lot of vegetables that the kids may not usually eat in this recipe, hence the "covert" label.

The sweetness of my version comes from fruit, which also conveniently thickens the sauce. I usually use one or two finely chopped pears and a banana, which dissolve during the cooking process and lends the sauce a subtle sweetness.

I grind the spice mix myself, because I find spices taste much fresher and better when not ground beforehand. Besides, cheap coffee grinders are easy to find, so it's not hard to keep an extra grinder for spices. You could probably also use some store-bought Chinese curry powder but the taste will likely be slightly different than mine and also probably not quite Japanese.

I cook the fruit down a bit first to get a slight caramelization which adds to the taste and thickness of the sauce. When the fruit has softened and become fragrant, I add the spices and fry them a short while to release their flavours.

Then I use some sake/stock/water to deglaze before stirring in your ground meat of choice... ground beef in this version.

Use only as much water as is needed because the vegetables will usually release a good amount of water.  Of course you could always use some roux or a few cubed potatoes to thicken up the final product if you end up having a watery sauce... or if you've added more liquid to increase the sauciness factor.

In this particular pot, there's an entire large eggplant, four large carrot and five green/red bell peppers hidden in there. Hubby and I enjoy this curry with tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets) and rice. My sons gobble this down without even a second glance to figure out what exactly has been mixed with their rice. They usually ask for second and third helpings as well!

The curry tastes great fresh and hot on the first day... but it gets even better on the second day when the flavours have had time to meld and it freezes well. It's also pretty easy to make in large batches provided you have a large enough pot :)

All in all, it's a good recipe to have in the pocket for busy people and picky kids.


Japanese Curry (from scratch, no MSG, Jane-style :)
Yield: 4 adult servings or enough for a young family of 4 plus a leftovers lunch

1-inch piece cinnamon stick
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 tsps onion powder
1-inch piece ginger, grated
1 - 2 pears, finely chopped
1/2 - 1 banana, chopped
1 - 2 tbsp miso paste (any colour)
1 lb ground meat of your choice
1 eggplant, julienned
3 - 4 carrots, grated/julienned
3 - 4 bell peppers, julienned
or other veggies of your choice in the amounts you like!
2 - 3 tsps salt, or to taste (strongly dependent on how much water/veggies you add)

  1. Grind the cinnamon, coriander, cumin, peppercorns and fennel in a coffee/spice grinder until fine. Mix with garlic and onion powder and set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat a small amount of oil over medium-high heat and saute pears and bananas until soft and beginning to caramelize.
  3. Add in spice mixture and grater ginger and stir until fragrant, approximately one minute.
  4. Deglaze with water (or stock or sake if you wish). Stir in miso paste.
  5. Add in ground meat and enough water to barely cover the meat. Saute while stirring to break up all the meat lumps.
  6. Add your chopped vegetables. Season with salt if necessary. Top up with some liquid if necessary. Cover and simmer for approximately 15-20 minutes.
  7. Serve warm over rice or keep for a later date!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Naturally Pink Valentines Coconut Cupcakes

I'm going to digress from my Cooking with Kids train of thought to squeeze this quick Valentines Day post in...

Red velvet everything is all the rage right now, but I don't like thinking about how much food colouring has to go into one of those creations to achieve that deep red hue. So for Valentines day this year I decided that I would go more pink and natural.

My hubby has only recently discovered the deliciousness that is coconut cake. So I was going to make him some coconut cupcakes with pink frosting. However, upon further consideration pink icing seemed a little too baby girlish and I opted instead to make the cake pink and the frosting white.

I adapted Martha's recipe for coconut cake for this experiment. It's a good tasting coconut cake, but I'm still not convinced that it's the best coconut cake out there... If anyone knows of an incredible coconut cake recipe (with the creamy white frosting of course!), please point me in the proper direction.

To colour the cake pink, I used nature's best red colorant - beets! I have a bunch of frozen roasted beets from my summer farmshare and I used half a small beet blended with the coconut milk to give my cupcakes that Valentine touch.

The batter looked the appropriate shade of pink once all the mixing was done... so I didn't add any more beets into the mix.

They came out of the oven smelling heavenly and with the cutest deep pink tops. The inner part of the cake remained mostly white which suited me just fine, but I guess you could always use more beets or beet juice if you wanted a deeper, more pervasive colour.

Add some fluffy white frosting and you've got a treat fit for all the men/boys of the house.


Naturally Pink Valentines Coconut Cupcakes   Yield: 10 large or 12 medium cupcakes
adapted from Coconut Cake, Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

1-1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup sweetened coconut, blended/processed until fine
pinch salt
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 - 1 small beet, roasted/cooked and roughly chopped
1/2 cup butter, softened
scant 1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and prepare baking pans with butter/spray/muffin cups.
  2. Mix together dry ingredients and set aside.
  3. In a blender or food processor, blend coconut milk and chopped beet until smooth.
  4. In a mixer (or by hand), cream butter and sugar until fluffy.
  5. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add vanilla.
  6. Stir flour mixture into butter mixture in two additions, alternating with the pink coconut milk.
  7. Divide the batter into your baking pan and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out with moist crumbs.
  8. Let cool and frost as desired.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cooking with Kids: Apron Crazy

Aprons are always a great dress-up/utility item for kids. Over the years, I've made my share of aprons and chef's hats for little friends. My first few aprons were creations from off the top of my head, but most recently I've made a few using this great tutorial from Lier @ ikatbag.

What I love about Lier's tutorials and projects is the attention to detail and the functionality of her pieces... In the past, I've made my aprons with a d-ring on the neck strap for adjustability, but Lier's elasticized neck strap is pure genius for little heads and impatient hands.

These ones were made for my two boys after my eldest asked me to make him a "cooking dress" for his Kids in the Kitchen class at the local rec centre. I wanted the aprons to be masculine enough to be worn by my boys, but not so much so that they could not be passed down to the baby girl. Hence the bias tape made from green camouflage print and the fairly unisex pictures embellishing the apron pockets.

The apple and orange were cut freehand from some scrap fabric. Love being able to use up scraps... (Does anyone know at what point I need to stop saving the scraps and consider them garbage? I find it so hard to throw cloth into the garbage!)

Here are a couple more aprons that were made for another set of brothers.

The Thomas fabric seemed a bit thin, so these aprons were lined with some broadcloth.

I love aprons! So much variation and so quick to make. The best reward is that the kids love them and they are a totally practical dress-up item. Add in a chef's hat and the kids are in heaven. Picture op for moms and dads as well :)