Q. I would like to make a cake for my mother's birthday - the same cake that her mother used to make. The problem is that I do not have my grandmother's recipe. My mother always talks about it because it is a chocolate cake made with mayonnaise. Have you ever heard of this kind of cake, and if so, would you send me a recipe for it? Your friend,

- Shawn P.

A. At first I didn't know if this was a serious request or a "let's make that crazy chef go a little more nuts" e-mail. Chocolate cake with mayonnaise? What's next - mustard cookies? Ketchup ice cream? Pickle frosting? But hey, wait a minute. After all, mayonnaise is concocted from two basic ingredients: eggs (which are obviously used in baking) and oil, which is used for baking much more than people realize - especially to keep things moist.

Then I started talking to people about this request, and got the old, "What, you've never heard of that before?" Regardless of the issue, when you are hit with that infamous dig, you only have two options. First-lie. "Are you kidding me? My great grandfather came up with that. I was just seeing if you knew what it was." Second - "I must have skipped that day of school; I guess only the losers were present when that information was handed out."

Either way, mayonnaise chocolate cake was news to me and sounded gross until I realized the ingredients in that particular condiment (we can forgo the pickles and mustard) would segue right into a baking recipe. The fact that I don't have a mayonnaise chocolate cake recipe is not a Shawn P. problem, because word spread that I needed one like fire ants at a 5-year-old's backyard birthday party. Suddenly I was swarmed with recipes.

I believe that I picked two of the best, and I found it interesting that one called for ice water and the other boiling water! The frostings are very simple to make. Shawn, tell your mom happy birthday for me, and that next year you are going to surprise her with Thousand Island Dressing Brownies. *