Saturday, March 26, 2016

"Rachael Ray's 30-Minute Meals - Comfort Foods" - Italian Wedding Soup

Date I made this recipe:  March 19, 2019

Rachael Ray's 30-Minte Meals – Comfort Foods by Rachael Ray
Published by:  Lake Isle Press
ISBN:  1-891105-05-1
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe:  Italian Wedding Soup – p. 15

I don't know about the rest of the country, but the weather in these parts – Minnesota – has been up and down all winter like a yo-yo, idling for a while in the high 40's, then back down, then up to 60, back down to the 30's, then up to 70 and back down, rinse and repeat. 

During one of these cold snaps, I pulled this book off the shelf because cold weather means comfort food, does it not?  But wouldn't you know, the very next day when I had time to make it, the weather hit a new high of 70 and who wants comfort food when it's time to pull out the grill?

But I am learning to be patient and so I waited for the right opportunity when the weather turned cold again and then went shopping – ha!  And by the time I made the soup, there was just enough of a chill in the air to make these efforts all worthwhile. 

And so soup it was and this was a very good soup to boot.  Although I read recently that Italian Wedding Soup is an Italian-American dish and not one Italians in Italy eat, I don't care.  Because this soup is the soup of my childhood.

I think I've explained before that every year when we traveled from Michigan to New Jersey to visit my grandmother, she made sure we were stocked up on pasta and olive oil and Italian cookies and canned tomatoes and canned soups, of which Progresso's Chickarina, the name it gave to its version of Italian Wedding Soup, was my favorite.  It came with little meatballs and little pasta balls (also known as Ancini di Pepe) and it was fabulous.

Many years ago, I stumbled upon a version of this soup in Good Housekeeping magazine and made it over and over and over again.  While it closely approximated Chickarina, it also included escarole which is chopped and then simmered in the broth.  Delicious!

I didn't think another recipe could float my boat until I made Rachael Ray's but it did plus it's a little easier to make than the Good Housekeeping recipe so I may keep this one on hand because it will still impress guests without having me spend hours in my kitchen.

Rachael's meatball recipe for this soup included nutmeg and while I am not overly fond of nutmeg, the amount here won't kill you.  And I used – unintentionally – a bit more meat than what she called for but the meatballs were still great.  The hot broth poaches them and so they cook in very little time.  But then again, when you're Rachael Ray, none of her recipes in this book or in her other cookbooks require a lot of time to cook and I like that. 

This cookbook – Comfort Foods – is one of the rare cookbooks I own where almost every dish sounds like "the one" [I should make].  I toyed with making "Homemade Chicken and Stars Soup" (p. 14), "French Country Chicken and Sausage Soup" (p. 21) and  "Turkey Corn Chili" (p. 24) as well as "Portobello Burgers with Spinach Pesto and Smoked Cheese" (p. 40), "Mystic-Style Portuguese Sea Scallops Over Rice" (p. 110) and I said, everything sounded good.

And given my frustration with the last three recipes I've made, let me just say that Rachael gets a gold star in the recipe clarity category because everything was as clear as clear could be.  Why, she even "translated" her own measurements such as "two turns around the pan" and "a handful" into Every Day (with Rachael Ray—the name of her magazine – sorry, couldn't resist) measurements we cooks are used to:  2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil is equal to two tablespoons and a handful of grated cheese is equal to 1/3 cup.  So thoughtful, that Rachael!

Just remember, "soup is good food" and this soup is really great food and you should make it. 

Buon appetito a tutti!

Italian Wedding Soup – serves up to 4
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (two turns around the pan)
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks from heart of stalk, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
¾ pound ground veal, or beef, pork and veal mixture
1 egg, beaten
½ cup plain bread crumbs (a couple of handfuls)
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano or Romano cheese (a handful)
2 pinches ground nutmeg (1/4 teaspoon)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 quart (32 ounces) chicken broth
2 cups warm water
1 cup dried pasta (broken up fettuccini, ditalini, rings, egg pasta – whatever you like) Ann's Note:  I used orzo
A handful of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, or 2 teaspoons dried
Extra grated cheese, for the table
Crusty Italian bread, for dipping
In a deep pot heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add chopped vegetables and bay leaves.  Cover pot and cook 5 or 6 minutes, stirring constantly.

While the veggies cook, combine ground meat with egg, bread crumbs, cheese, nutmeg, and salt and pepper.

Uncover veggies, add broth and water, and raise heat to high.  Bring liquids to a boil.  Roll the meat mixture into bite-size meatballs and drop into boiling broth.  Add pasta.  Return to boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 8 minutes, until pasta is al dente and meatballs are cooked through—split one open and make sure there is no pink left in the meat.  Add parsley and remove from heat.

Serve soup in shallow bowls with grated cheese and bread.

"The Original Betty's Pies Favorite Recipes" (Betty's Pies is located in Two Harbors, MN) - Lemon Angel Pie for "Pi" Day 2016

Date I made this recipe:  3/14/2016 – "Pi"  (Pie) Day

The Original Betty's Pies Favorite Recipes by Betty Lessard
Published by:  Lake Superior Port Cities, Inc.
ISBN: 0-942235-50-9; © 2011
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe:  Lemon Angel Pie – p. 43

Betty, Betty, Betty...Betty.  Sigh.  And no, I don't mean Betty Crocker, I mean Betty Lessard, she of the venerable Betty's Pies, located just north of Two Harbors, MN on Minnesota's famed "North Shore."

Betty is a legend in this state and no trip up the North Shore is complete without a stop at Betty's.  Factoid:  to drive along Minnesota's North Shore is to drive Highway 61 and yes, it's the same Highway 61 from the Hibbing, MN native Bob Dylan's song of the same name.

Now, this will likely shock and appall many of you but I was never a huge fan of Betty's Pies.

I know, right?  What am I saying? 

It's just that Betty's pies are okay, but not great.  I'm pretty sure though, that half the people who stop at Betty's do so because it breaks up the long-haul trip to Grand Marais, MN, which in turn is practically in O, Canada!

According to Betty's Pies website – – Betty started making baked goods to sell at her dad's fish shack in 1956 and by 1958, she converted the shack to Betty's Cafe.  In 1974, Betty changed the name to Betty's Pies and in 1984, she wisely sold the restaurant and retired.  Smart move, Betty!  (PS—Betty passed away in 2015 at age 90.)  Betty's Pies is still in business and still continues to crank out her pies which are now available online!

Another smart move was sharing her recipes in the form of this cookbook – The Original Betty's Pies Favorite Recipes – because as lovely as the drive up Highway 61 is, it's still a long haul and one I'm not making just to get my hands on a slice of blueberry heaven.  Estimated drive time is 2 hours to Duluth, turn right (!) and then drive about another hour or so until you get to Two Harbors.  If your final destination is the picturesque Grand Marais (a/k/a the best town along the "Scandinavian Riviera"), then tack on another hour and thirty minutes.

Now then, when this year's "Pi" (Pie) Day came along, I perused Betty's recipes and then quickly settled on the Lemon Angel Pie because it sounded refreshing during a somewhat harsh weather week (We went from 70 and sunny to 30 and freezing overnight.  Welcome, spring?).  Plus it was easy to make.  Or was it?

Betty (Betty, Betty, Betty...Betty), I appreciate the simplicity of this pie, I really do.  But I feel like you left a few things out.  Let's parse this recipe:

Step one is to beat the 4 egg whites well, add cream of tarter, then sugar and the "spread" this into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan.

If this concoction should have resembled something fluffy, ala meringue, this was a fail.  And I even had my egg whites warmed up to room temp just like a good baker should!  Oh, the humanity!  Anyway, I have a feeling that there was more to the "beat the 4 egg whites well" story than Betty let on.  My mixture never fluffed up to meringue consistency and I will never know if that was a good thing, a bad thing or the expected thing.

And I wouldn't go so far as to say that the concoction I got was "spreadable."  More like "pourable."

So I baked the crust as directed but the result, just so you know, was more like a Pavlova, i.e. a meringue cloud, rather than a tradition pie crust.  And apparently this is the result we wanted because as the book explains, "Lemon Angel Pie" is the name Betty gave to this dish that is traditionally referred to as "On a Cloud Pie."

And listen kids, it mattered not to me if I got a Pavlova rather than a pie crust but Betty's directions tell you ultimately to pour the lemon filling into a meringue "shell."  You will not get a "shell" by following the directions.  (And fair warning: when you don't get a "shell," it makes it all the harder to pour the lemon filling onto or into this thing.  Talk about a mess!)

The next set of directions to make the lemon filling also gave me pause:  "Beat the four egg yolks, add sugar and lemon juice, then cook over low heat until thick."

Well, okay, except that the mixture was already somewhat thick when I put in on the stove top.  And nowhere in the directions did it say how long to cook this mixture and what kind of "thick" consistency we were looking for so I spent a good deal of time stirring and stirring until – and this always seems to happen to me – it almost became too thick which is to say almost scrambled – blech!

The last step was to add whipped cream to the lemon mixture but again, Betty, how "whipped" did this cream need to be?

In conclusion:  the simplest set of instructions and ingredients proved to be a challenge.  Perhaps this is what Betty intended?:  "Oh sure, I'll give you the recipe but I'll fix it so you can't quite duplicate my masterpieces – bwahahahahahahahaha...."

Despite all these little cooking crises, the pie was great.  It was perhaps a tad too summery for a chilly March day, but Pi Day waits for no one. But if you want to wait to make it or eat it, the cookbook says that you can freeze this pie for another day.  Like maybe summer when it's hot and you just feel like having something refreshing. 

Last piece of advice:  the meringue will start to break down the longer it sits so if you and your loved ones cannot demolish this pie in one to two sittings, consider freezing it.

Lemon Angel Pie – makes 1 9-inch pie
Meringue Crust
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

4 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream, whipped

Preheat oven to 275F.  Grease bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate.

Beat the 4 egg whites well.  Add cream of tarter.  Gradually add sugar in 2-tablespoon increments until the full cup (one cup) has been added.  Spread (or pour!) into bottom and up the sides of a greased 9-inch pie pan and bake at 275 for 1 hour.  Cool.

Beat the 4 egg yolks and stir in ½ cup sugar and 3 tablespoons lemon juice.  Cook over low heat until thick.  Cool.  Ann's Note:  this seemed to take longer than intended because I wasn't sure how "thick" was thick!  I'm thinking that my total elapsed time was 5-10 minutes but don't quote me on that!

Whip 1 cup cream and add to the above custard.  Pour into the meringue shell and chill at least 2 hours.

Friday, March 18, 2016

"The Whole Foods Market Cookbook" - Tuna Noodle Casserole

Date I made this recipe:  March 13, 2016

The Whole Foods Market Cookbook – A Guide to Natural Foods with 350 Recipes by Steve Petusevsky and Whole Foods Market Team Members
Published by:  Clarkson Potter/Publishers
ISBN:  0-609-80644-0; copyright 2002
Recipe:  Tuna Noodle Casserole – p. 274-275

Et tu, Whole Foods?  Et tu? 

In last week's blog (Smith Island Cake), I told the tale of my frustration with a key ingredient being left out of the instructions for the cake's frosting.

This week, when I reviewed the list of ingredients for today's Tuna Noodle Casserole, I failed to see the key ingredient – noodle.  Well huh.

So I read the recipe's narrative and it said "Our recipe is made with pappardelle noodles."  Okay then.  But how much?

Turns out the answer is "1 pound."  Turns out it actually said that but I missed it until after I started writing this recap.  So when making the recipe, I guessed.  Guessed correctly, but guessed.

In my defense, here's why I was tripped up:  all ingredients except the pasta were listed under one of three headings, all of them in bold:  "The Béchamel Sauce;" "The Tuna Casserole Filling" and "The Crumb Topping."  The pasta was on its own, sans a heading, sans bold.  The average person's eyes are drawn to the bold heading and so I completely missed the pasta all eight or so times I looked at the recipe while I was in the midst of making it!

The recipe's narrative might have provided a clue but of course it didn't, stating only to make the pappardelle "per directions on the box."  So...would that be box or boxes?  (For the record, I got my pasta at Trader Joe's and it came in 8 oz. bags, not boxes.  But details, details.)  Again, having guessed correctly, I cooked a pound of pasta so all should have been right with the world.

Except it wasn't.  Turns out one pound of pasta was more than my very large casserole pan could handle and so I couldn't use all of it.  Further, the béchamel sauce did not stretch that far and so the recipe was off balance.  I hate it when that happens.

Anyway, as to the pasta problem, if I was editing this recipe I would have put a header, in bold, above the pound of pasta that said "The Pasta," in the same way the other ingredients got headers ("The Béchamel Sauce;" "The Tuna Casserole Filling;" and "The Crumb Topping") so that the reader could have seen clearly how much pasta was required. 

This is not clean recipe writing.  I was peeved.  You will likely not be peeved since I am pointing out the inconsistency but I'm telling you right now, if you use the entire pound of pasta, you're going to "need a bigger boat" (I reference the movie, Jaws) i.e. casserole pan/cooking vessel!

So let's talk about why I selected this cookbook:  on Wednesday, March 16th, the St. Paul Whole Foods store is moving out of its tiny store on Fairview Ave to a much larger footprint at the intersection of Selby Ave and Snelling (Ave).  Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, I can't wait.  I can't. 

Because folks, despite the nickname, "Whole Paycheck," I love Whole Foods.  I go there all the time for my meat, it being the only place in town where I can buy just what I need of, for example, ground meats (chicken, turkey, beef and pork), as well as cheese and olives and other condiments.  I also like their fruit and vegetable selections – again, often purchasing only the amount needed, their bulk foods and sometimes, their hot food selections.  So I'm excited about the larger store because I'll be able to shop an even wider selection of the items I love.

What I don't love about Whole Foods though, is that their prices for every day items such as Kleenex or toilet paper are too high and the selection not to my liking.  In other words, it is not a one-stop shop for me although it often comes close.

As to the cookbook (published in 2002), I found it an interesting study in how I think Whole Foods has tweaked its brand and image over time.  The subtitle of this cookbook, "A Guide to Natural Foods...," reflects their roots when they were indeed a Mecca for "whole," organic food, and very similar to a co-op.  Co-ops have also changed but I remember well the days when you couldn't walk in and buy something so basic as chocolate chips because at that time, chocolate chips weren't "organic;" it was carob chips (Ew!) or nothing at all.  Now organic chocolate is all the rage and of course Whole Foods carries 57 kinds* (*Slight exaggeration.).

Today's Whole Foods shoppers present an interesting mix:  hipsters, young families, against hippies, soccer moms – you name it, we shop there.  And I don't think we shop there as much for those "natural" foods as we do because we like the store, are into a "farm-to-table" approach and generally like what they have to offer because it's good quality.  To be sure, the store is not for everybody.  Lower income people will have a harder time sticking to budget at Whole Foods/"Whole Paycheck," not everyone is into paying through the nose for "organic" food – a definition that is constantly changing - and the product mix is not as broad as a "regular" grocery store. 

Now that my local Whole Foods is expanding though, I am excited that their deli offerings will equal that of their other larger stores in the area and with that will come a broader selection of the recipes featured in their cookbook.  That said, there were certain sections of recipes in this cookbook that didn't appeal, mostly because they were too natural!  If you like tofu for instance, there are plenty of recipes.  If you like quinoa and wheat berries and barley, well then, knock yourself out with the variety of recipes presented.  I was not so inclined.

Since I'm more of an entree gal, I checked out that section and found plenty of potential recipes such as Pomegranate Glazed Chicken (p. 238), Cubano-Style Pork Loin (p. 252) and Chicken Pot Pie with Whole Wheat Crust (p. 270).  My choice though, was for the Tuna Noodle Casserole on p. 274 and why?  Because the ingredient list included peas.  A tuna noodle casserole is not a tuna noodle casserole without peas.  Period.  I am still on the fence about any topping – crumb or otherwise – but that's a personal preference.  But if it doesn't have peas, then fugghedaboudit.

Okay, so:  this recipe came close to satisfying my (sudden) craving for Tuna Noodle Casserole but missed the mark because of the following:
1)     The noodle problem.  I think a half a pound of noodles is about right.  I crammed every noodle I could into my casserole pan but doing so left no room for the sauce and the resulting dish was a little on the dry side. 
2)     Unless you like crunchy onions, celery and pepper in your tuna casserole (I did not), sauté them a lot longer than stated.  A lot longer.  I wish I would have kept them on the stove until they were almost mushy!
3)     Let's discuss béchamel sauce a/k/a "white sauce."  In theory, this is an easy thing to make but in practice, I am always challenged by adding the flour to the melted butter so that it doesn't end up resembling a crumbly pie dough!  The directive to let this mixture "bubble" had me howling with laughter because mine didn't even come close to bubbling.  My roux base of flour and butter ended up almost forming into a ball and I'm pretty sure that this was not correct.  All was well in the end but I had to ditch the first batch in order to get (almost) the right consistency.  First last week's frosting and now this—what is going on here?!
4)     This casserole is supposed to cook at 350F for 20-25 minutes until the sides are bubbling.  No bubbles were harmed in the making of this recipe as the noodle to tuna mixture ratio was too high.  Instead, I got baked noodles, san sauce and this irked.

Despite all that, my husband thought it was good and gave it a thumb's up.  I wanted to tweak it and if you make it, I think you should too.  And if making this with Cream of Mushroom soup is more to your liking, then go ahead and use that.  Even Whole Foods gives you the okay:  "Some cooks use prepared mushroom soup mix for the sauce."  And I tell you what, it sure would be easier than dealing with the béchamel sauce!

By the way, I was tempted to make this on Friday for Lent (not that I really observe but...) but a friend called and invited me to Happy Hour instead so there went that idea.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I'm planning a mid-day "raid" on the Whole Foods at their new location so as to avoid the crowds that they and I are anticipating.  I cannot wait.

Tuna Noodle Casserole – serves 6
The Pasta (Heading assigned by Ann, not Whole Foods)
1 pound dried pappardelle pasta

The Béchamel Sauce
2 cups milk
Freshly ground white pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

The Tuna Casserole Filling
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup chopped onions
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped red pepper
½ cup chopped green pepper
2 ½ cups sliced white button mushrooms
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
2 (6 ounce) cans tongol tuna, drained (Ann's Note:  or any tuna, drained and by the way, tuna comes in 12 ounce cans as well.)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon hot sauce

The Crumb Topping
1 ¼ cups dried bread crumbs
½ teaspoon paprika
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon lemon pepper (Ann's Note:  I didn't have this on hand so I mixed regular pepper with dried lemon peel.)
1/8 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon butter

To Prepare the Pasta
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook the pappardelle for 6 to 8 minutes, until it is al dente, or follow the directions on the box.  Rinse the pasta in cold water, and drain.  Ann's Note:  I think I'd make a half a pound to three-quarters of a pound and see how that works first.  It's pretty easy to boil up the rest if you need it.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

To Prepare the Béchamel Sauce
Heat the milk, white pepper, nutmeg, and salt together in a small saucepan over medium-high heat just until it beings to boil.  Lower the heat, and keep the milk warm.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Using a wire whisk, blend in the flour (Ann's Note:  do this as slowly and as incrementally as possible or you'll have a mess on your hands and have to start over.)  Cook slowly for 2 minutes, stirring constantly and keeping the mixture at a medium simmer.  Do not allow the mixture to color or brown.  Remove the pan from the heat.

As soon as the mixture has stopped bubbling (Ann's Note:  mine never bubbled.  Not once.), pour in all of the hot milk at once.  Use vigorous strokes with the wire whisk to blend the milk and flour together, making sure to scrape up all bits of the flour from the inside edges of the pan.  Set the saucepan over medium-high heat, and stir with the wire whisk until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens.  Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove the sauce from the heat.

To Prepare the Tuna Casserole Filling
Heat the canola oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat.  Add the onions, celery, and peppers, and saute for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the mushrooms, and cook for 1 additional minute.  Ann's Note:  Unless you like really crunchy vegetables, plan on sautéing this mixture for several more minutes.  I didn't and wish I had.

Transfer the filling to a large mixing bowl.  (Ann's Note:  when they say "large" they mean large; use the biggest bowl or pot you have.) Add the cooked pasta.  Add the bechamel sauce, peas, tuna, lemon juice, and hot sauce to the mixing bowl with the cooked vegetables and pasta; toss lightly to incorporate all ingredients well.  Pour into a 2 ½ - to 3-quart greased ovenproof casserole.   Ann's Note:  Unless you cut back on the pasta, you will find it hard to squeeze all this into even a 3-quart casserole.  And if you can't fit it all in with room for it to actually heat, you may be faced with a casserole that is a tad dry.  You've been warned!)

To Prepare the Crumb Topping
In a small bowl, mix the bread crumbs and the paprika, salt, lemon pepper, and parsley.  Sprinkle the topping over the casserole and dot with butter.

Place casserole in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges of the casserole are bubbling and the bread crumbs are golden brown.  Ann's Note:  the bread crumbs were brown but the casserole was not bubbling.  Sigh.

For those who are interested, here's the nutritional information for this dish per serving:

Calories 560; Calories from Fat 110; Calories from Saturated Fat 45; Protein 30 G; Carbohydrate 80 G; Total Fat 13 G; Saturated Fat 5 G; Cholesterol 40 MG; Sodium 560 MG; 20% Calories From Fat

Monday, March 7, 2016

"The Secret Lives of Baked Goods - Sweet Stories & Recipes for America's Favorite Desserts" - Smith Island Cake (8 layers of decadence for my husband's birthday)

Date I made this recipe:  March 1, 2016 – my husband's birthday!          

The Secret Lives of Baked Goods – Sweet Stories & Recipes for America's Favorite Desserts by Jessie Oleson Moore
Published by:  Sasquatch Books, Seattle
ISBN:  978-1-57061-853-6
Recipe:  Smith Island Cake – p. 45-48

People my age often bemoan the fact that cursive – a/k/a handwriting – is a dying art.  These days, you can't walk two feet without seeing somebody punching out a message with their thumbs on the world's smallest keyboard ever, contained in a Smartphone.  Frankly, I don't know how they do it because I'm all thumbs myself (pun intended) and so when I send a message, I type it out with my finger.  Takes longer but there are fewer errors.

Yet even with fancy technology with my fingertips, I still take notes in cursive, in pen, on a pad of paper, rumors of their impending demise be damned!  And I still like to use a paper daily planner rather than electronic to note different events such lunch appointments, due dates for library books (it follows that I like actual books as well) and birthdays like the one my husband celebrated on March 1st.

This year, I didn't just mark down my husband's birthday, I left myself a note about what to make for that day.  In cursive.  But kids, just because I wrote it myself, doesn't mean I had an easy time translating it, especially since I penciled it in way back in January when I got the calendar.

And so it took me a minute to figure out what this notation "Mke Smith Island Lake from the Secret Liver of Bakel Goods" meant and it was...drumroll...  "Make Smith Island Cake from The Secret Lives of Baked Goods."  Oh so close, right?

You should know that I got consistently "C's" in penmanship when I was in grade school.

And so it came to pass that Andy's birthday cake this year was a Smith Island Cake from this newly-purchased cookbook.  I'm not sure why I selected it although I'm guessing it was because of the photo of this 10-layer cake, all bathed in chocolate frosting.  Well that, and the challenge of making something so tall and so "fancy." 

Still, every single recipe in this book was pretty much mouth-watering, even the "Toaster-Style Pastries" on p. 158 or the "Animal Crackers" found on p. 141.  Both of these recipes prompted a fond walk down the memory lane of my childhood.  I remember well when Pop-Tarts®(a/k/a "Toaster-Style Pastries") came on the market.  When I was younger, we traveled a lot and to save money, had breakfast in our room.  Pop-Tars® could be eaten warm or cold and so we often snacked on them before hitting the road.

And although I have very fond memories of one of my grandmothers giving me money so I could buy "Animal Crackers" (or whatever other sweet treat I could afford with a dime or a quarter), my best memory is a photo of my dad when he was about three, circa 1927, clutching the string from a box of "Animal Crackers" while posing for a formal photo.  I think that is just the coolest thing and might have to make the crackers "just because."

If you are craving "Whoopie Pies," you'll find the recipe here.  If you want to attempt "Girl Scout Cookies," look no further than p. 143.  And if you are feeling really daring (I wasn't), then try your hand at a "Baked Alaska" on p. 89.

All in all, this is a very fun cookbook and I'm glad someone (not me) took the time to unearth these classic favorites and publish them.  There was just one teensy, teensy problem with the recipe I selected and that was that the author left out instructions on how and when to incorporate the milk listed as a frosting ingredient.  She also did not designate a measure for the cocoa used in the frosting; all it said was 2/3 but 2/3 what?  Teaspoon?  Cup?  Other?

[Insert gasps of horror here!]

Faithful readers of this blog know that I am never amused when instructions are missing and/or unclear.  And really, there's no excuse for a modern day cookbook (or any book, really) to leave out something so critical; this is what editors are for!  So for that one tiny error, I have to ding the author and yesterday, I emailed her regarding the omission and that is all I have to say about that.  Well, not all...keep reading.

So the Smith Island Cake is a thing of beauty what with its 10 layers and all.  Or, if you are me, 8 layers.  Do know that I put all the batter into a measuring cup and then divided it by 10 so I knew how much to measure out for each layer and yet, 8 layers was the best I got.  You should know though, that I got about the same grades in math that I got in penmanship so...

Also?  Some of the layers needed extra baking time and I don't know why because they all had about the same amount of batter but such is life—the "secret life" – of baked goods.  At any rate, plan on baking them for a couple more minutes and just know that you'll still come away with moist layers. 

Okay, so let's turn our attention to the Smith Island Cake Frosting Debacle of 2016.  The ingredients were:  1 cup butter; two 12-ounce cans evaporated milk; 2/3 (cup?  All it said was "2/3") and 8 cups confectioners' sugar.  Easy enough, right?

Sure.  So I started making the frosting, as directed, melting the butter and cocoa powder in a pan but then the recipe unraveled.  After whisking that mixture until smooth, I was to return it to the stove to cook for about 10 minutes.  Then I was to add the confectioners' sugar.  As to the milk, your guess was as good as mine.  I read and re-read and re-read the instructions some more and could not see where I was to add the milk.  And so I scanned the page and sent it to my birthday-boy husband asking him to find the milk instructions.  He could not.  They were not listed. He suggested looking on the internet to see if I could find a similar recipe for the frosting and I did and then ended up using that...but more on that in a bit.

Okay, so...punt, right?  So I decided to add the milk to the melted butter and cocoa powder mixture then cook that for 10 minutes and then add the confectioners' sugar because that just felt right to me.

And it might have been right had not the entire mixture boiled over when I glanced away for a second.  A second!  And I didn't even have the chance to cook it on medium-low as directed.

Excuse my language, but this was a total WTF moment for me.  I rarely have something go wrong but now I had the cake frosting go wrong in such a way that I spent a half hour just cleaning the junk off my stovetop.  You should know that when sugar contacts a gas burner, it basically turns the mixture to brittle and it was a bitch to clean!

At this point,  Andy came home from work and I wished him a happy birthday, got on my coat, got my car keys and told him I'd be back soon as I had to make another grocery run because I used up every ingredient I needed for that freaking frosting!

And so onward to Rainbow (grocery store) it was but this time around I Googled "Smith Island Cake Frosting," found two recipes, one from the source itself – Smith Island – ( and purchased the ingredients listed there.  You should know that Smith Island Cake (and frosting) is the "official" dessert for the state of Maryland.  The things I learn....

At any rate, the ingredients of the "official" frosting recipe were a little easier to work with but I was still not satisfied with the appearance of this frosting.  It tasted great (as did the cake) but it was very grainy.

In the end, all that mattered was that Andy liked his birthday cake and he did and so that's all there is to that.  And okay, so I would have been bounced from a CIA (Culinary Institute of America) test kitchen because my god, the mess these recipes made was unbelievable but all we care about is the end result.  And given that Andy spent last year's birthday stuck overnight in Newark's airport with me due to a snowstorm, a little cake batter here and a little (read: lot) of boiled-over frosting there still made for a most-excellent birthday. 

Please note, I'll list both frosting recipes below and if I hear from the author, I will post a correction.

Smith Island Cake – makes one 9-inch 10-layer cake (16 servings)

As the author notes, this cake takes some time to bake and assemble so gird your loins, bakers!
Cake Batter
3 ¼ cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¾ cups sugar
5 large eggs
1 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup whole or 2% milk
6 ½ cups Chocolate Frosting
Chocolate Frosting
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
Two 12-ounce cans evaporated milk
2/3 [cup?] unsweetened cocoa powder
8 cups confectioners' sugar

*Ideally, you would use 10 separate 9" cake pans to make these recipes but if you don't have 10 (and really, who does?), then let the cake layers cool then remove them and clean the pans to reuse.

Position a rack in the center of the oven; preheat the oven to 350F.

Grease then line with parchment paper all the cake pans you have gathered. 

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, pausing after each addition to scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Beat until smooth.  Add the flour mixture, 1 cup at a time, to the butter mixture.  Beat on low speed after each addition just until incorporated.  With each addition, scrape down the sides of the bowl.

With the mixer running, pour in the evaporated milk, then the vanilla and milk.  Mix just until incorporated.  Pour 1/10 of the batter into each of your prepared pans, using the back of the spoon to spread the batter evenly so that it covers the entire bottom of the pan.  If you run out of batter before you've made 10 layers of cake, do not despair; you can just make thicker layers of frosting between the cake layers.

Ann's Notes:  1) most recipes that use evaporated milk call for one cup and yet the can size is 12 ounces.  I hate that. 2) The easiest way to pour 1/10 of the batter into each pan is to pour all the batter into a large measuring cup and then divide that by 10.  Plus, it's easier to pour that way.  That said, and despite my best math skills, I only got 8 layers. 3) The author said not to despair if we got 8 layers and I did not "despair" that I only got 8 layers but still, when a recipe says 10, I planned for 10!

If you have room in your oven, bake several layers at a time for 6 to 8 minutes.  (Ann's Note:  more like 8-10 minutes.)  You're looking for a dull finish on top and just slightly golden edges – not golden brown or crispy.  Let the layers cool for a couple of minutes in the pan before removing them; then run a spatula around the edge of the pan and gently transfer the layers onto sheets of parchment paper.  If it tears slightly, don't panic: you can cover up a lot with the icing.

To assemble, set the first slightly cooled layer on your serving plate and spread it with a thin layer of frosting, covering the entire surface of the layer.  Add the next layer, frost, and repeat the process until the batter is gone (hopefully, you'll have 10 layers!).  Finish by frosting the sides and then the top of the cake; I find that starting on the top, and smoothing the frosting that has dripped down the sides, is the way to go with frosting this cake.

Let the finished cake chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before serving, so that the frosting can set.  Slice while still lightly chilled.  Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Smith Island Fudge Frosting, Part 1 (NOT the one I ended up making but it came with the cake recipe) – makes about 6 ½ cups frosting. 

Ann's Note:  as a reminder, here are the ingredients:  1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter; two 10-ounce cans evaporated milk; 2/3 [cup?] unsweetened cocoa powder; 8 cups confectioners' sugar.

Melt the butter over low heat in a large saucepan.  Remove from the heat, and add the cocoa powder and whisk slowly until smooth.

Return to the heat, this time on medium-low, and cook for approximately 10 minutes, but don't let the mixture come to a boil.  Stir continuously so that it doesn't scorch.  Once warm and just beginning to thicken, remove from the heat.

Whisk in the confectioners' sugar 1 cup at a time, until it's all incorporated.  Return the pan to low heat, stirring constantly until it has thickened to the point that it forms a ribbon when you drizzle a spoonful back onto the mixture.  The mixture may bubble, but don't let it boil.  You want to keep the frosting slightly warm to keep it from setting in the pan; it is OK to return to low heat or add a small quantity of water to the mixture to keep it spreadable.

Ann's VERY IMPORTANT Note:  For 10 points and the win, please tell me where you see instructions to add the two cans of evaporated milk.  I'll wait.  Can't?  Told you so.  I added it to the butter/cocoa mixture and then cooked that for 10 minutes and then added the confectioners sugar but given that it all boiled over, I had to start from scratch and when I did so, this is the recipe I used:

***Smith Island Cake Frosting from – This is the one I used.
2 cups sugar
1 cup evaporated milk
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ to 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the sugar and evaporated milk in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add the chocolate and butter; warm through, stirring, until both have melted.  Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the vanilla extract, stirring to combine.  The icing will be thin but will thicken as it cools. 

Ann's Note:  this icing was thin but because it was, it made it easier to spread around the sides of the cake.  Basically, just "scrape" excess frosting from the very top layer over the sides and frost!