Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"A Man and His Meatballs" & "Two Meatballs in The Italian Kitchen" - Meatballs two ways for National Meatball Day

Date I made these recipes:  March 19, 2017 – for National Meatball Day (March 9, 2017)

A Man & His Meatballs – The Hilarious but True Story of a Self-Taught Chef and Restaurateur -  with 75 Recipes by John LaFemina with Pam Manela
Published by Regan – An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers
ISBN: 13: 978-0-06-085335-8; © 2006
Recipe:  Veal, beef, and pork meatballs with ricotta filling – p. 169-170

Two Meatballs in The Italian Kitchen by Pino Luongo & Mark Strausman
Published by Artisan
ISBN: 13: 978-1-57965-345-3; © 2007
Recipe:  Fresh Pasta with[Veal]Meatballs and Mushrooms  - p. 52

Let me just jump right to the moral of this story:  When push comes to shove, make your own family's damned meatballs on National Meatball Day and just be done with it!

Let me now return you to the beginning of our story, already in progress.  Turns out March 9th is National Meatball Day.  I had no idea. 

Now, it's not that other cultures don't have their own meatballs because they do, but given that I'm Sicilian, it just seemed logical to me to make Italian meatballs because that is what I know and love.

My late Aunt Rose has a great meatball recipe. I've made it a thousand times, but since it is in a family cookbook and not a cookbook that I purchased, I decided to give it a miss to make something that was in a "cookbook" cookbook because well, you know, that would be the point of my blog!

So I searched my collection titles for "meatballs" and came up with the two cookbooks listed above, A Man & His Meatballs, and Two Meatballs in The Italian Kitchen, and call me crazy, but I do not think it is too much to expect that two cookbooks containing the word "meatball" in the title should then include lots of recipes for meatballs, plural.

I am going to have to start lowering my expectations about these things because I was way off on my expectations and assumptions.

The first book I pulled off the shelf, A Man and His Meatballs, contained one – ONE – and only one meatball recipe and it was the one I made. What?  Honestly, I was a little disturbed by this discovery although I will say the recipe was quite tasty.  The making of it/them though, was fraught with peril as you shall see.

The second book I pulled off the shelf, Two Meatballs in The Italian Kitchen, contained six meatball recipes plus two recipes for meatloaf that were included in the meatball section.  Well now, I don't know about you, but a meatball is a meatball and a meatloaf is not a meatball, right?  Exactly.

Of the meatballs listed in this book, here were our choices as listed in the Recipe Index:
  • Pan-fried:  In a word, yawn. These days, I either bake my meatballs or I immerse them into the tomato sauce or chicken broth so they can gently "poach."  I like the taste better and it is less messy that way.
  • Veal Meatballs with Green Apple:  I cannot.  I just cannot with this recipe. Ugh.
  • Meatballs with Spaghetti Coco Pazzo (Coco Pazzo is a restaurant name):  So these essentially are "house" meatballs which is fine, but like I said, I could have easily made my Aunt's recipe (with her sauce to boot) and called it a day.
  • Fresh Pasta with [veal] Meatballs and Mushrooms:  this is the dish I made and it worked out fine...eventually
  • And then there were your dueling meatloaf recipes, one from Mark and one from Pino, your two authors.
 I'm afraid I'm going to have to DQ (disqualify) these last two recipes on the grounds that they are not meatballs as intended for National Meatball Day and therefore do not count.  That then left me with four, and then I whittled the four recipes down to one and that "one" would then join the other "one" (and "only" recipe) from the other meatball book for a total of two recipes i.e. meatballs two ways.

Now let me just say that in the past, I've made two recipes at a time without much of a hiccup but today was not that day.  I am big enough to accept 80% of the blame because of things I did or did not do to move these recipes along, but the other 20% has to fall on the recipe/cookbook's authors because it just does!  It can't be all my fault, right?  If anything, I am guilty of being overambitious although I didn't realize that until the whole saga was over and done with. 

Let's start out then, talking about some of the issues starting with the first recipe for the Veal, beef, and pork meatballs with ricotta filling.  This recipe (I made a half recipe) called for meatballs the size of apples and I just could not bring myself to do that to a meatball and so I made them about golf-ball size.  This may have been why the [smaller] meatballs were a tad overcooked as I didn't adjust the cooking size from 60 minutes to something less than 60 minutes. 

Then there was the filling which was supposed to be light enough (my interpretation) to pipe into the meatball using a pastry bag.  Again, no.  What I did instead was to cut off the top of the meatball, spoon on (more like paste on) some filling and put the top on so that it looked more like a meat cream puff than anything.  So when it came to looks, this recipe failed, but the flavor was there except for the slight toughness of the meatball.  I can live with that.[1]

The [veal] meatballs used in the Fresh Pasta with [Veal] Meatballs and Mushrooms (and peas) recipe was another matter and we must discuss this, we must!

I could probably count on one hand – make that two fingers – the number of times I've made a meatball recipe using just veal, but I'm not a fan.  Why?  Because in my [limited] experience, I don't think veal alone hangs together in a meatball very well, even with the addition of bread crumbs.  Veal plus beef or pork, like the first meatball recipe I made, turned out much better but these turned into kind of a mess.  In the end, I improvised and the dish turned out just fine but the meat sure didn't resemble a meatball as was intended by the recipe and the author.

Like I said at the beginning, I should have just made my aunt's very delicious meatballs and called it a day.

If by now you are scared off by these recipes (don't be—it was mostly me), then head back to each book to find alternates to each dish as there are plenty.  Let's start our discussion then, with the contents of A Man and His Meatballs.

This book is half stories, half recipes.  The story portion is all about the creation of his restaurant, Apizz, now closed, and all the trials and tribulations that come with restaurant creation, and let me just say that what was true then (2006), is true now:  opening a restaurant is hard work and costs a fortune. For those of you who think (erroneously) that this would just be a "dream come true," please read then re-read then re-read again the first half of this book. 

Okay, end of the "fair warning" section.  Part II of this book is filled with recipes for "Appetizers & Antipasti," "Soups;" "Salads;" "Pasta & Risotto;" "Meats & Poultry;" "Fish;" "Basic Recipes (like sauces, etc.)," and "Desserts," and honestly, I am pretty  hungry right now.  My only critique, and it's small, is I wish he had swapped out other pasta dishes for the risotto and gnocchi recipes included here.  That said, he paired gnocchi with "Honey-Braised Short Ribs" (p. 153) and I am all about short ribs so there's that.

Like I said before, had I just made his apple-sized meatballs as directed, this would have likely been a home run.  Live and learn.

As to Two Meatballs in The Italian Kitchen, this book is fun because these two "meatballs" (I keep thinking of the word "goombah" which has several meanings but I'm settling on "close friends") each include their favorite recipes for all kinds of dishes, some of which may appeal to you more than the pasta dish I made (which again, was good, if not nothing like they intended).  Here is there Table of Contents:
  • Stand-Alone Soups
  • The Great Meatball Debate
  • Dried Pasta and the Unification of the Two Meatballs
  • Fresh Pasta Like Mama Used to Make:  Essential Techniques and Well-Matched Sauces
  • Risotto and Farrotto (Farro is a grain)
  • Two Meatballs Go Fishing
  • Meat and Poultry:  Rustic Oven Cooking
  • Cucina al Fresco:  Grilling Italian-Style
  • The Twenty-First Region of Italy:  Italian-American Cooking
  • Sunday Means Dinner
  • The Two Meatballs Go Veggie
  • Dessert at Last

I'm intrigued by the chapter about Italian-American Cooking because Pino came to the US from Italy and like a lot of chefs from the "homeland," comments about the hybrid cooking developed by other Italian/Sicilian immigrants to America.  Even my own grandparents adapted their cooking to their new homeland, especially once the grandchildren came on the scene.  They still kept some of their homeland favorites but there was not one grandchild who didn't turn up a nose at the thought of eating tripe so there it is.

Okay, then, you can do the extra-curricular reading on your own and select other recipes if you choose, but here then, are meatballs "two ways" for National Meatball Day.

Veal, Beef, and Pork Meatballs with Ricotta Filling – 8 to 10 servings- from A Man and His Meatballs
For the meatballs:
3 cups cubed crustless filone or regular Italian bread (about ½ loaf)
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork (Ann's Note to Twin City residentsLunds & Byerlys carries a mixture of these three meats.)
1 egg
½ onion, chopped
¼ chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1 ½ cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Pinch of oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce (p. 197) (Ann's NoteI thawed some of my own sauce that I had in the freezer so I skipped this step.  You can use your own sauce in whatever form that takes, or you can make his sauce, ingredients and recipe below.)
For the stuffing:
1 cup ricotta cheese
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 ½ teaspoons salt
Black pepper to taste
To finish the meatballs:
1cup Basic Tomato Sauce
½ cup ricotta cheese
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
For the sauce (makes 5-6 cups):
¼ cup chopped shallots
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
¼ cup olive oil
Two 28-ounce cans whole plum tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons salt
Pinch of black pepper
Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)

To make the sauce:
In a large stockpot over medium heat, cook the shallots and garlic in the oil until they soften, 6 to 8 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, oregano, salt, black pepper, red pepper, and ½ cup of water.

Raise the heat to high and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up the tomatoes slightly with a wooden spoon.  Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.  The sauce can be stored in the freezer in an airtight container for up to 3 months. (Ann's Noteyou will need about 3 cups of this sauce for a full meatball recipe.)

To make the meatballs:
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Run the cubed bread under water and gently squeeze out the excess liquid.  Put the bread in a large mixing bowl.  Add the remaining meatballs ingredients to the bowl, except for the tomato sauce, and mix well with your hands.  Divide the mixture into 8 equal portions.  Using your hands, roll each portion into a large round meatballs, about the size of an apple.  Place the meatballs in a medium to large baking dish.  Ann's Noterecall if you will, my comment from above which was that I decided not to make my meatballs the size of an apple, opting instead for golf balls.  I think I should have stuck with apples as the smaller-sized meatballs were a tad overdone.  Plus, my golf game sort of stinks which should have been another sign.

In a separate bowl, combine 2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce (see above) and 2 cups water. Spoon the tomato sauce and water mixture over the meatballs until the liquid comes three-quarters of the way up (if more liquid is needed, add water).  Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake the meatballs for 1 hour, turning the dish after 30 minutes.  Remove the baking dish from the oven, drain and discard the liquid, and let the meatballs cool to room temperature.  (The meatballs can also in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)

To make the stuffing
Combine the ricotta cheese with the Parmigiano, salt, and pepper in a medium mixing bowl.

Using an apple corer or small knife, core out a hole to the bottom of the meatball that is about ½ inch in diameter.  Fill the hole with the cheese mixture, use a pastry bag).

Ann's NoteAs I mentioned above, this step did not go as planned.  First, my meatballs were just a tad overdone and boring a hole big enough to pipe the mixture into just wasn't going to work too well.  Second, the mixture was just a tad thick for a pastry bag.  I'm not sure if what I made was what the chef/author intended, but he wasn't here coaching me along so there you go.  Third, if we were having company, I might have tried to go along [with the recipe directions] to get along, but we were not having company, and so, dear reader, I punted.  I cut the top off the meatball, spooned a ton of the mixture into my non-apple-sized meatballs, put the top back on and that was that, no apologies.

To finish the meatballs
Spoon the 1 cup of tomato sauce evenly over the meatballs and heat for 10 to 15 minutes at 350F.  Remove the pan from the oven.  Place 1 tablespoon of ricotta cheese over top of each meatball (it should look like the cheese is oozing out of the center), sprinkle with Parmigiano cheese, and heat for an additional 3 minutes.

Ann's Final NoteThis step never happened and not just because I ran out of ricotta, but because I ran out of patience as well. All that said, the taste was great and they didn't look too bad, but these suckers in no way resembled the photo in the cookbook and you probably shouldn't expect yours to, either!

Fresh Pasta with [Veal] Meatballs and Mushrooms (and peas!) – serves 6 as main course
For the meatballs
8 ounces ground veal
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 large egg yolk
½ cup bread crumbs
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the rest of the dish
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling (optional)
1 medium onion, chopped
12 ounces white button mushrooms, wiped clean, stems removed, and sliced ½ inch thick
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ cups fresh sweet peas or thawed tiny frozen peas
½ cup cups vegetable stock or vegetable broth made with Knorr powdered bouillon (Ann's NoteI used chicken stock because I had just enough on hand.)
6 fresh mint leaves
1 ½ pounds pasta all chitarra or tagliolini made from Fresh Egg Pasta Dough (p. 94) Ann's Note: These two fresh pastas are similar to spaghetti and I used the dried spaghetti I had on hand.  It saved time and possibly saved my husband from another round of my swearing!
To finish it
4 tablespoon unsalted butter
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ cup pasta cooking liquid

Place the meatballs in a large bowl, add the Parmigiano, egg yolk, bread crumbs, garlic and parsley, and season well with salt and pepper.  Mix thoroughly but delicately so as not to compress the meat, which would toughen it.

Take a piece of the meat mixture about the size of a small grape and roll the mixture between the palms of your hands into a small ball.  Place on a plate, and repeat with the remaining meat mixture.

Line a large shallow plate with paper towels.  Set aside.

Heat 1 cup of the olive oil in a 10- to 12-inch skillet over medium heat.  Place only as many meatballs in the pan as you can without crowding them and panfry until browned and crisp on one side, about 3 minutes.  Flip and cook until the other side is browned and crisp, about 2 minutes more.  Remove the meatballs from the pan with a spatula and place on the prepared plate to drain.  Repeat with any remaining meatballs.

Ann's Notes [brace thyself]This all started out well but quickly broke down in the making thereof.  Let's start with the meatball size itself as I feel like this got the whole ball rolling downhill in a hurry.  The recipe said to shape the meat mixture the size of a small grape, and maybe I used the wrong-size "grape" as my model for the size of my meatballs because they were hard to handle.  They looked pretty but when I tried to flip those suckers after the requisite three minutes, they stuck to the pan and nothing short of dynamite got them off the bottom.  I tried a small spatula, tiny tongs, regular-size tongs – nada. So while a few meatballs here and there held their shapes, the rest started to fall apart.  And so this is when I had my "Psycho" moment which is to say I got out a plastic meat chopper and just started hacking away at those grape-sized meatballs that were both sticking and disintegrating at the same time. Let me add that as I was tacking out my wrath on the poor meatball, Andy gave me a look that said "Are you crazy?" while at the same time backing away from the stove!  Once I satisfied myself that the meat (now resembling ground beef) was cooked, I removed it to the paper towel as directed to drain and then carried on below.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in another large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 4 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and sauté 5 minutes.  Add the peas, toss and cook until the mushrooms release their liquid, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the stock and mint and cook for another 5 minutes.  Taste and, if necessary, adjust the seasoning.  Add the meatballs, toss well, and set aside, covered, to keep warm.  Ann's Note:  Well, all these instructions are well and good but that's not how I did it.  I think I let the onions cook for 4 minutes but then I shorted the time on the mushrooms, added the peas before they were ready, added stock...then more stock...then more stock to prevent everything from sticking (still, and with the temperature as low as I could get it), skipped the mint, added the meat mixture back to the dish, heated for a minute or so, then served.  Mama ain't got time to play today!

Fill a 10-quart stockpot with 7 quarts of water.  Add 2 tablespoons kosher salt and bring to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente.

To finish the dish, reserve ½ cup of the cooking liquid, then drain the pasta and stir it into the sauce.  Add the butter, the Parmigiano, and a few tablespoons of the reserved cooking water, and heat over very low heat.  Taste and adjust the seasoning, then toss thoroughly, drizzling with more olive oil if desired.

Ann's Final Note:  By this time, I just wanted to eat, already and so skipped adding the butter and the Parmigiano.  As I told my husband, the other meatball dish has ricotta and Parmigiano so did we really need more calories in this dish?  We did not! In hindsight, I should have just committed to making one dish or the other, but not both, but I didn't and so then had to run with several Plan B's during my time in the kitchen.  Nobody died in the making thereof, but like I said, I should have just stuck with my aunt's recipe and called it a day.  Who knew National Meatball Day would be so educational?  Not I, reader.  Not I!

[1] By the way and this is Breaking News:  I just now discovered a video of chef/author John LaFemina making these signature meatballs with Martha Stewart and oh sure, now I find it!:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zp2R5RPVlaA

Thursday, March 23, 2017

"Woman's Day Cooking for One" by Woman's Day magazine - Spanish Eggs and Rice - Celebrating International Women's Day

Date I made this recipe:  Wednesday, March 8, 2017 – International Women's Day

Woman's Day [magazine] Cooking for One – Edited by Jeri Laber
Published by Random House
© 1978
Purchased at the annual Bloomington Police Crime Prevention Association sale
Recipe:  Spanish Eggs and Rice – p. 218-219

Women around the world celebrated International Women's Day last week (March 8th), a "holiday" I knew nothing about but now do thanks to the internet.  And happily, I got enough advance notice such that I could find a cookbook and a recipe to make on time which is to say "on the day itself" and not my version of "on time" which puts us anywhere from a day to a week behind.  ("On-time" posting of the blog though, is another matter all together which is to say that today is March 23rd and I still haven't finished writing this blog post.  Sigh.)

Now some of you "youngsters" may not know about Woman's Day magazine or my play on words here, i.e. I'm cooking from a Woman's Day cookbook on [International] Women's Day, so I'm about to educate you.  It's what I do.

Per Wikipedia, Woman's Day magazine was launched in 1931 as an in-store ad for A&P grocery stores.   Some of you may not have heard of A&P, but we had one in my small hometown and I loved it.  To this day, I remain fascinated by the coffee grinder at the front register.  

By 1937, this in-store ad that included coupons and recipes, graduated to a magazine format although not the glossy publication we know and purchase today.  Like many women-oriented magazines of the time, Woman's Day focused on articles about housekeeping (helpful hints and suggestions), menus, fashion, and related women's topics.

What I found most interesting in investigating this magazine, is that it was part of the Seven Sisters[1] women's magazine group that included the following magazines:

  1. Good Housekeeping
  2. Better Homes and Gardens
  3. Family Circle
  4. Redbook
  5. Ladies Home Journal (no longer published)
  6. McCall's (no longer published)
  7. Woman's Day  

Growing up, my mother was an avid reader of and subscriber to, all of these except Redbook or to Better Homes and Gardens, and when she finished her magazines, I would read them.  Actually, I was often a magazine hog and leafed through the issue before she had a chance and of course, this irked her to no end.  Well, when you are a youngster with time on your hands like I had, as opposed to a mom with endless tasks on her to-do lists, you can do that.

One of my mom and my favorite magazines was Good Housekeeping, and when I was in 9th or 10th grade, I decided to be a journalist (that didn't quite happen) but secretly, I wanted to be a fiction editor at Good Housekeeping magazine.  Not a fiction writer, or even article writer, but a  fiction editor, emphasis on the "fiction," emphasis on the "editor. " You see, for many years, every issue of Good Housekeeping contained an excerpt from a famous novelist at the time and I loved reading those excerpts.  At one time, the magazine featured authors such as Pearl S. Buck, Arthur Hailey (who wrote the novel, Airport that was later spoofed in the movie, Airplane), and countless others who were famous at the time or about to be famous.  I thought it would be cool to have that job of selecting the fiction and then of course, deciding on the excerpted material.  Well, that and the fact that I loved me my red (editing) pencil!

Alas, once I got to college, I pretty much became an English Lit major, and then Good Housekeeping stopped excerpting novels and so there went that whole grand idea.  And honestly, my idea of being a journalist was more about admiring famous CBS News anchor, Walter Cronkite ("Uncle Walter"), and less about chasing a story down and writing about it.  Back then, women journalists were still few and far between, and forget about being an anchor, are you kidding?  As it is Barbara Walters had to fight like hell just to get to get herself a co-anchor spot on ABC News with Harry Reasoner which did not go well for her at all.  Happily for Barbara, she ended up making quite the name for herself in spite of it all, now didn't she?

Now I keep mentioning Good Housekeeping not just because it was my mom's favorite, but because my mother rarely ever felt compelled to speak her mind about anything unless it had something to do with her subscription renewals.  The issue was this:  Good Housekeeping, along with some of her other favorites, frequently charged long-time subscribers a higher subscription renewal rate than those just starting up a subscription with them.  And so when this happened, I always knew I would hear my mother, in her very tiny and very dainty voice say "Well, I'm going to give them a piece of my mind," which usually involved calling (back before 1-800-subscription services) or writing.  Let me tell you, that woman could pen a mean letter if she needed to and the thing is it worked every time.  Every time.  Of course, this makes me wonder why they didn't just flag my mother's account and stop the insanity ahead of time, but remember folks, this was pre-computers, pre-internet, pre-anything.

Fast forward to the here and now where as of late, I have found myself calling and complaining about the very same issue my mother experienced which is subscription renewal shenanigans. I've been a longtime subscriber to a certain magazine that shall remain nameless, and every single year, they send me a renewal notice for an amount that is almost twice the new subscriber rate.  This drives me absolutely up the wall and seems counterintuitive.  Magazines live, breathe, and die by subscribers, not one-and done-sales at bookstores or grocery stores.  So I decided "the hell with" this one magazine, refused pay my renewal and thought that would be the end of it.  But alas, reader, I just got a new issue in the mail and it said my subscription will expire in 2018, not 2017 so hmmm, I'm adopting a line from the movie, Young Frankenstein:  "Say nothing, act casual."

Before I move on to the topic at hand, I have just one memorable story about my mom and her magazines and it is my favorite and will stick with me forever.  (BTW, my mom passed away 9 years ago this week so she's top of mind.) When I was in high school (in the 70's), I had the requisite long hair, parted in the middle, and somewhat bushy eyebrows.  Not Frieda Kahlo eyebrows, but on the verge of heading in that direction. My mom was always nervous about me tweezing my brows because I had a scar from a close encounter with a wooden settee (small couch) when I was about two and she worried that if not done properly, the eyebrow would look like crap.  She was not wrong and so often talked about "having someone do that" for me.

And thanks to either Woman's Day, or Family Circle (I know not which), my mom got her wish and then some.  You see, we traveled every summer to visit relatives in NJ and NYC and my mother got the idea to write to both magazines, headquartered in NYC, to ask for suggestions for a salon/spa so I, and she, could get makeovers as part of my high school graduation present.  And so one fine June day, my mom and I, and an aunt went into the city, met up with an older cousin, Cousin Rose (from Brooklyn), and advanced on the Louis Guy D salon on E 57th street so we could get this party started, and reader, we had a blast.  The salon took before and after pictures of us and wow, they were stunning.  My unruly hair was cut and shaped for the first time in a long time (Pixie cuts do not count), my brows were tweezed, and we each got makeup that suited our complexion.  My aunt and cousin watched from the "gallery" and said later they wished they booked their own appointments.  And then when we were done, we ate lunch at The Magic Pan, the newest "it" place in the city.  Best.graduation.present.ever.

Now then, whereas mom enjoyed the magazines themselves, I rather like several of these magazines' cookbooks, of which I have several.  I have the 16-volume Family Circle Illustrated Library of Cooking and also the 12-volume Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cooking.  I also have a series of cookbooks from Better Homes and Gardens and Sunset Magazine, as well as a handful of the series of cookbook published by Southern Living Magazine.  I "inherited" a set of Good Housekeeping cookbooks from my mom, but have acquired also a few separate books from magazines such as Good Housekeeping, McCall's, Vogue, and Seventeen.  Believe it or not, I've managed to store them pretty close to each other on my shelves so as to comprise the "magazine" section of my collection.

Still, I hesitate to start making recipes from the "libraries" because once I go down that road, I feel like I have to cook from them all and so thus far, I've refrained.  I have no problem though, cooking from a "one-off" cookbook such as today's selection – Woman's Day Cooking for One.

For the record, I tried finding a Woman's Day crock pot cookbook that is somewhere on my shelves and failed.  It's there someplace, probably right in front of my eyes, but I couldn't find it in time so I defaulted to the Woman's Day Cooking for One cookbook.   This would have actually worked out great – a woman eating a dish on International Women's Day from a Woman's Day cookbook for one, but my husband was home that evening.  He isn't normally, but this week he was, and so I just doubled the recipe and so we had Spanish Eggs and Rice for two. He's very sympathetic to women's causes and so it was only fair to feed him.

Now this will not be the first or last time I point out to all of you that the year a book was published tells us much about history, sociology, anthropology and "cook-ology" which is to say "What foods were popular at the time, and why?"  This book is no exception which is why there are several recipes for "Frankfurters," as well as several options for hamburger.  I must say though, that the recipe for "Peanut Hamburger Balls" – p. 58 gave me pause, as did "Sardine-Onion-Egg Platter" – p. 168.  Were they popular at the time? Probably?  Economical?  Indeed.   Easy to Make?  To be sure! Tasty?  Debatable.

As tempting as the "Frankfurter" recipe selections were (mostly because they cracked me up), I thought that making one of those recipes was a copout (who can't boil a hotdog?) and so decided on the eggs and rice dish, the allegedly very easy rice dish which is to say that by the time I got through with it, it wasn't all that easy!

Here's the deal:  maybe it was the day, but nothing "set up" like it should and although the results weren't bad at all (in fact, quite good), I was mad at myself for just mucking up my own works.

First, I made the rice in my rice cooker and should have let it cool way down but didn't, and so it was a little hot and a little wet when I "built" the casserole, and as a result, it dried out a little in the oven and then became a tad crusty.  My suggestion to you is to make it up ahead if you can and if you can't, let it cool before going on to the next steps.

Next, I've come to the conclusion that I am not a fan of making a roux, a mixture of fat (usually butter) and flour.  It is supposed to thicken a sauce and it did, but once again (and probably for the 4th time in a row), it made the sauce too thick and so instead of "pouring" it as directed, I pretty much glopped it onto the eggs and rice.  Plus, I also think it takes away from the taste – not a lot, but just enough to irk me.

I would be remiss if I did not mention my next boo-boo and this one is back to being squarely on my shoulders and that is the near-disaster I had with the buttered bread crumbs.  In my attempt to move things along in my kitchen, I threw the bread crumbs and the butter in the same bowl, stirred, and then nuked it for about 30 seconds.  Color me dumb folks, because not only did the butter not coat the bread crumbs all the way, but the crumb/butter combination became napalm, such that when I tried to scrape the crumbs out of the bowl with my hand, I scorched it, although thankfully not a lot and not such that an ER visit was required.  Still, I remain embarrassed by that and the rice snafu, not to mention the sauce although I think I can be forgiven for the sauce since it was not my idea to make a roux to thicken it.  I don't generally "do" roux!

Finally, the dish was supposed to cook for 20 minutes which I think was just a bit too long.  The egg yolks were almost overdone just adding to my ire when I should have been relaxing. In fact, I probably should have had Andy cook this for me!  "But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln," we enjoyed it.   I might have let the sauce (without the roux) sit for a bit so the flavors could develop (there are a lot of good spices and seasonings in this dish) but that's a minor quibble.

Despite all my kitchen issues, you should make this, if only to overcome one woman's unexpected kitchen problems on International Woman's Day with Woman's Day.  Enjoy!

Spanish Eggs and Rice – serves 1 (easily doubled)
¼ cup uncooked rice (or ¾ cup cooked rice)
2 eggs
5 ounces canned tomatoes
½ small bay leaf
1 whole clove
¼ teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon celery seed
¼ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons butter  (Ann's Note:  I am not convinced you need this roux combination of butter and flour as it turned my sauce into near-paste but have no idea what it would be like if you left it out so proceed with caution!)
2 teaspoons flour (Ann's Note:  I am not convinced you need this roux combination of butter and flour as it turned my sauce into near-paste but have no idea what it would be like if you left it out so proceed with caution!)
1/3 cup buttered bread crumbs
2 teaspoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350.

Cook the rice and drain it.  (Or, use already-cooked rice.)  Put it in a shallow baking dish.  Make 2 indentations in the rice and break an egg into each.

Combine in a saucepan the tomatoes, onion, bay leaf, clove, sugar, pepper, salt, celery seed, paprika and Worcestershire sauce.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes.

(Ann's Note:  Here are the actual instructions but see below for my suggestions and observations.) Melt the butter in a small pan, then blend in the flour and cook over low heat, stirring for 2 minutes.  Strain the tomato mixture into the butter-flour mixture and cook, stirring, until thickened.  Pour over the eggs and rice.  Mix the crumbs and cheese together and sprinkle them over the contents of the baking dish.  Bake for about 20 minutes.  (Ann's Note, part 2:  I followed these directions to the letter but the sauce was too thick to pour, likely as a direct result of the roux mixture of butter and flour.  If I had to make this again, I think I would skip that part so as to enjoy the flavor of the sauce itself, without enhancements.  Also, 20 minutes was just a tad long and so check it at 10 minutes and see what you think.) 

[1] Magazines aren't the only famous "Seven Sisters."  The following famous women's colleges have enjoyed the status of that name for years and years: Mount Holyoke College; Vassar College (now co-ed); Wellesley College; Smith College; Radcliff College ("sister" school to Harvard); Bryn Mawr College, and Barnard College ("sister" school to Columbia University).

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"Better with Buttermilk" - Glazed Pork Roast - Using Leftovers!

Date I made this recipe:  Sunday, March 5, 2017 – Leftover buttermilk

Better with Buttermilk – The Secret Ingredient in Old-Fashioned Cooking by Lee Edwards Benning
Published by Henry Holt and Company, Inc.
ISBN:  0-8050-3118-9; © 1996
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores, St. Paul, MN
Recipe:  Glazed Pork Roast – p. 79

I am my mother's daughter.  She never liked to throw anything out and neither do I which is why I try to use up leftover ingredients from other dishes I've made.

Today's "leftover" is buttermilk which I purchased and used in my husband's birthday cake the day before.  His recipe required a mere four tablespoons and of course, I could not find anything smaller than a pint which was way more than I needed.

No worries, because I had a buttermilk cookbook that was collecting dust, just waiting for the perfect moment to be used.  I can now check this sucker off my list and get on with my life, hooray!

Truth be told, I could have (and often have) made my own buttermilk at home by adding lemon juice to milk, but I didn't want my homemade buttermilk to be the reason for a potential disaster with his birthday cake (happily, it wasn't) and so when life hands you leftover real buttermilk, you make something else with it.

I have to say that the "something else" I made with it – Glazed Pork Roast – was good yet puzzling.  This is the second time I've made a pork roast in a tenderizing milk bath and I have to say it's one of the uglier dishes I've ever platted as the milk gets all clumpy. But this time around, the appearance was made even worse by the inexplicable (to me) addition one 1 tablespoon cider vinegar.

As I am fond of saying, let's parse this.  If buttermilk already contains a sour agent like lemon juice, then what is accomplished by adding more sour (cider vinegar) to the mix?  The taste was fine if not a tad "biting" but the presentation fell far short of my expectations and I'm not sure it would have improved had I made the gravy which I did not because I'm boycotting flour and milk and/or flour and butter combinations for the time being plus, I was tired!

In terms of flavor, it was good but I cannot say I tasted the buttermilk in any way.  I should read up on these type of milk-bath pork recipes more because maybe the intent it to tenderize (with the milk) rather than "flavorize," in which case, mission accomplished.  What I tasted instead were the onions (two kinds), the sweet carrots, and a bit of the cider vinegar which did not please.  It wasn't enough to derail the dish, but it did make me wonder – again – the point of adding the vinegar.

Like many dishes though, this one improved by refrigerating overnight and so we finished it up, but I don't like to "grade" recipes on their overnight stay, I grade them on how they taste and appear on arrival [to my dining room table].  So on arrival, I was on the fence, upon further review, it improved, and overall, I'd say I liked this but probably would make something else from the book the second time around.

One note on the onions:  This dish calls for a yellow onion and then small white onions.  Since I always make a half recipe, I did not want to purchase too many white onions as I would not have used them up quickly in the next few days.  And in my opinion and experience, frozen white onions (a third option not noted in the book) work great but only if you use them up at once.  If you don't, they can become waterlogged and that is not good at all.

And now, back to our discussion of the main ingredient, buttermilk, already in progress.  In theory, there is absolutely no reason you can't find a dish to make in this book because it pretty much runs the gamut of starters (appetizers) to pancakes.  That said, the "Main Dish" chapter was somewhat disappointing in that it contained only 10 recipes, most of which did nothing for me such as "Calves' Liver Stroganoff," "Salmon Pie with Artichoke Hearts" and "Leg of Lamb," none of which I enjoy.  Okay, slight fib:  my dad used to make the best liver and onions when we were kids but then we stopped eating it when we found out how bad it was for our cholesterol which was genetically-high on my mom's side.  Still, I could deal with the liver if I had to but the "stroganoff" was a big no for me.  I just can't go there.

I could have easily made just about everything in the "Dessert" chapter but then again, I just spent hours in the kitchen making my husband's birthday cake and was not in the mood to repeat that experience so that chapter was out.  You should know though, that a good portion of the recipes in the "Dessert" chapter are for sherbet which is fine but I don't really consider it a "dessert" dessert, unlike the "Chocolate Frozen Soufflé," be still my heart!

And honestly, if the weather was warmer, I likely would have made a salad dressing because I love buttermilk dressing, but it was on the chilly side and that does not say "salad" to me.

In the end, I went with the pork roast, final answer.  I cannot say it was "Glazed" as per the title, but that's okay as sometimes recipe creators take poetic license with the name to generate interest; I do the same with my own writing from time to time.  Still, if you are thinking this will be "glazed" as in "glazed ham" glazed, this is not that.  It was tasty and it was easy to make but not necessarily glazed.  Of course, this could very well have been an "operator error" on my part.

Here then, is a recipe from a cookbook I used for no other reason than "waste not, want not!"  Enjoy.

Glazed Pork Roast – Yield: 8 servings (The author notes you can substitute a solid piece of chuck roast, if desired)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 medium yellow onions, sliced
6 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 tablespoons oil or margarine
3- to 4-pound boneless pork roast (butt or shoulder)
2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
8 small potatoes
One 14-ounce can small white onions, or 16 fresh peeled (Ann's Note:  I cheated and diced up one large, white onion and it was fine although it will add a bit more onion flavor to the dish than the small white ones.)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons flour

Heat the oil or margarine in a heavy Dutch oven or large frying pan with cover.  Brown the meat on all sides in the oil, then pour off the accumulated fat.

Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the buttermilk, vinegar, garlic, and sliced yellow onions.  Cover and simmer over low heat until the pork is almost done. (Ann's Note:  I used about a 2 pound roast (half the recipe) and cooked it for almost two hours.  Plan on about an hour per pound but double-check on Google to be sure.)

Add the carrots, potatoes, and small white onions, cover, and cook until the pork and vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.  Remove the pork to a platter and surround with the vegetables.  Use the flour to make a gravy, adding additional water, if necessary.

Tips:  To make a low-fat, low-calorie gravy, process the vegetables in a food processor, strain if desired, and bring to the right consistency by moistening with skimmed drippings.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"The Great British Bake Off Perfect Cakes & Bakes to Make At Home" - Bitter Chocolate Stout Cake for my husband's birthday

Date I made this recipe:  March 4, 2017 for my husband's 60th birthday

The Great British Bake Off Perfect Cakes & Bakes to Make at Home by Linda Collister, with recipes by Mary Berry & Paul Hollywood and the Bakers of 2016
Published by Love Productions/Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN: 978-1-473-61544-1; © 2016
Purchased at Bibelot, St. Paul
Recipe:  Bitter Chocolate Stout Cake – p. 40-42

Well folks, my darling husband just commenced firing on his 6th decade which gave me the perfect excuse to make a recipe from this book.  And not just any recipe, reader, but a recipe involving chocolate and chocolate stout (beer) which he considers to be food of the gods.  I cannot argue with that!

Now even though Andy has a mean hand when it comes to making cakes, pastries and pies, particularly pies, I did not buy this book for him because he wouldn't have used it.  Instead, I do what I often do for Christmas and that is to buy a bunch of cookbooks for myself that I label as being from him; he does the same with bicycle parts that he wants and it works like a charm! In this case, although I would have purchased this book anyway, (from "me" to "me"), as soon as I saw the Bitter Chocolate Stout Cake recipe, I knew I would earmark it for his upcoming 60th birthday because that's the kind of spouse I am!

I've mentioned in previous blogs how much I love The Great British Bake Off, the TV show responsible for cookbooks like these of the same name, and I won't go into a lot of detail here except to say I have updates and folks and fans, they are not necessarily good updates so brace yourselves: the show is leaving the BBC for another network that is not the BBC.  There, I said it.

You may be thinking "Well, so what?" but apparently this decision might just derail the show all together because judge Mary Berry, and hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc decided not to make the move and so are- gasp- out!  Double gasp!  How can this be?  The only one left standing who decided to try out the new network is judge Paul Hollywood. 

I am trying, unsuccessfully, to imagine a show with only Paul as the host.  I loved those three other ladies.  Loved them.  Now what?

Well not only did all of Britain have a collective meltdown but here in the U.S. we are left wondering "what next" as well because the show aired for us here on PBS which often rebroadcasts BBC shows.  So no BBC in Britain likely means no PBS rebroadcast here.

I shall stay as on top of this situ for you as I can.

Meanwhile folks, back to the cookbook and here is where I must take a few moments to critique the cookbook which I now call The Great British Bitch-off.  Why?  Because of the countless challenges I encountered while trying to pull together a simple birthday cake.  A simple chocolate + stout birthday cake.

First, and in case you didn't know, England uses mostly the metric system for measuring things which means that instead of ounces, we're talking grams, instead of fluid ounces, we're talking liters and so on.  And while conversion charts abound (including one in the back of the book but not the front of the book which would have been more helpful), almost none of the measures I needed was on that inconvenient chart which meant I had to weigh them out anyway.  Besides, all the chart did was convert grams to ounces and I do not keep a runny tally of ounces needed in my head:  it's "cups" or bust!

But then to really yank this Yank's chain, some of the ingredients were in teaspoons and tablespoons.  Well fine, then, be that way.  In my opinion, not enough of the ingredients were in teaspoons but I take my wins where I could find them.

Still in all, measuring grams or ounces required a kitchen scale and let me say right now and we shall consider this a new and mandatory rule:  if you don't have a kitchen scale, get one. If you don't want one, this is not the recipe or cookbook for you.  Even then, by the time I finished measuring out the ingredients (both on a scale or by hand), I'd say a good hour had passed and I hadn't even started baking yet.  Major point deductions for that, folks.  Major.

Then there was the "guess what this ingredient is called in the U.S." game that I had to play with a couple of the ingredients listed in this recipe such as "light muscovado sugar" (light brown sugar), or "icing sugar," which is confectioners' sugar.

In fact, small story here about confectioner's sugar.  I Googled "icing sugar" and finally found a video of a British baker mixing regular sugar and cornstarch together in a Cuisinart.  So then I Googled "sugar and cornstarch" and up poppef "confectioners' sugar."  Ah ha!  So I doubled checked C&H's (sugar producer) website but couldn't find confirmation that icing sugar and confectioners' sugar were one in the same.  And the customer service person was no help.  When I asked her if "icing sugar" was the same as "confectioners' sugar" she said "I have no idea."

Really?  I mean, you work for a sugar company, surely you'd know this.  So I put on my best attorney voice and then said "Well, can you at least confirm (or deny – your choice) that confectioners' sugar is a mixture of regular sugar and cornstarch?"  "Yes, I can confirm that."

Now really, was that hard?
Okay then, so once I resolved those two issues, I was almost ready to go.  Still to be resolved:  how to make "self-rising" flour at home because I sure as heck wasn't going out to buy a large bag that I would never use.  This one was easy:  mix 1 cup of flour with 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder with ¼ teaspoon salt. Piece of cake, 'scuse the pun.  Except folks, it wasn't exactly a piece of cake because I needed more than 1 cup self-rising flour.  In fact, I needed 250g or 9 ounces.  Well, I was all out of patience with today's math problems so what my husband suggested and what I did, was to make up another cup of the mixture then measure out the 9 ounces I needed on my kitchen scale and then toss the rest.  I hate wasting ingredients but at this point, I just needed to get this cake done already.

The last thing I needed to do was to convert the measurements for the British baking pans and that was somewhat easy:  two 20.5cm pans are equal to two 8" round cake pans.  I know this because I have a tape measure in my kitchen with inches on one side and those ghastly centimeters on the other.  Not that I keep it around for projects like this but since I did and it was handy, it saved me yet another trip to my computer.

Please note that between tax, license, Google searches and measurements, the total elapsed time was now about two hours.  Good thing I decided to give this recipe a dry run the night before I served it.  Also?  This was one of the easier recipes in this book!

Speaking of which, please do make a note that the subtitle of this cook is "Perfect Cakes & Bakes To Make At Home," and no offense to the show, but are they kidding me? Let's take a look at our chapters and then we can talk:

  • Cakes ("Greek Lemon-Yoghurt Loaf Cake;" "Bitter Chocolate Stout Cake")
  • Biscuits & Teatime Treats ("Mexican Wedding Cookies;" "Posh Granola Bars")
  • Breads ("Sprouted Wheat Bread;" "Cobbled Chocolate Loaf")
  • Desserts & Puddings ("Chocolate-Hazelnut Rochers;" "Grand Strawberry Mouse" with homemade ladyfingers, no less.)
  • Sweet Pastry & Patisserie ("Bitter Chocolate and Pear Tartlets;" "Gateau St-Honore," and even though "gateau" is the French word for "cake," you should run away from recipes like this because they are involved.  Very involved.)
  • Savoury Bakes ("Roast Vegetable and Cashew Pie;" "Duck and Pistachio Pate En Croute."  Let that last recipe just sink in, okay?)

Some translation is required and so please make a note that:
  • Biscuits = cookies
  • Puddings = other desserts and not necessarily [Jell-O]pudding as we know it.
  • Savoury, or as we say in America "savory," are things like crackers or canapés.

Far be it from the Brits to call a spade a "spade!"

Anyway, in my opinion, the degree of difficulty rises as we move from chapter to chapter.  The first one – "Cakes" – is relatively harmless except for the time spent measuring and "translating" ingredients.  But by the time we hit "Desserts & Puddings," my baking poker hand was getting weaker, by "Sweet Pastry & Patisserie," I was  bluffing badly, and by "Savoury Bakes," many of which require the use of phyllo dough, I folded!  Now then, will the person who makes "Duck and Pistachio Pate En Croute" at home on a regular basis please contact me ASAP?  Thank you.

And so now back to our recipe, already in progress!  Once I got everything measured, putting it all together didn't take long but cleaning up afterwards did.  I don't know about you, but I find working with melted chocolate to be a challenge because the cocoa "butter" in the chocolate itself makes it greasy and greasy items take some real elbow grease to get clean.  And since I had to melt chocolate a few times over for this endeavor, I was constantly wiping down melted chocolate from pans and bowls and spatulas and walls since it splattered here and there. 

So I tell you what, if it wasn't for my husband's birthday and his love of the two primary ingredients, I might have been tempted to chuck this book into the nearest dust bin (British-speak for "waste basket") but a birthday comes but once a year and a 60th birthday is special.  Plus, and this is the big thing, the cake was delicious.  The cake itself was a little dry but only a very little, probably because I baked it the full 25 minutes but that's because it was still soupy at 22 minutes (baking time was 20-25 minutes).  Fair warning then: somewhere between 23 and 24, but not 25 minutes, is where you want to land.  Had judge Paul Hollywood sampled it, he would have likely said "It's good, but the sponge – which he pronounced "spooonge" is a little dry," so thank goodness for the frosting which was the real star of the show.

I have previously mentioned in this blog that I am all about the frosting as the cake doesn't interest me much at all, and this frosting was delicious.  That "icing sugar" (!) was just the ticket and I could have eaten the entire bowl and skipped putting it on the cake all together except Andy had some guy friends over and we needed to be able to serve a frosted cake to our 15 or so guests. Said guests then inhaled every single crumb of this cake, every single piece and so my plan for leftover frosting (and oh sure, the cake, too) went out the window.  Damn and blast!

Now then, I have one last piece of unfinished business to discuss and it's the alcohol in this cake.  For those of you with concerns, let me just talk out loud about a couple of things:  You might (emphasis on "might") be able to substitute a chocolate syrup mix for the chocolate stout if you wish; consider the "Hot Bitter Chocolate Sauce" recipe on p. 20 of the book.  You might also consider using a slurry (I just love that word) of chocolate syrup, malt powder (used in the recipe) and milk instead of the alcohol.  Or, you can think of it this way:  the recipe calls for 150ml of chocolate stout (or porter) which is the equivalent of just over 5 ounces (8 ounces is a cup).  Andy cut this cake into 15 slices and so it you divide out that 5 ounces into 15 slices, you basically have about an eye dropper full of chocolate stout per piece which is to say not much of anything.  That said, I am not here to encourage you to cook with alcohol if you're uncomfortable, but I think it was there to just enhance the flavor and add to the volume without intending to give anyone a hangover.

All in all, my husband had a great 60th birthday and this cake helped a lot.  He was a little nervous about inviting "the guys" over since sometimes men can be reticent about going to a birthday party, but a good number of them came over and enjoyed the cake and other savoury/savory items, and it was a lot of fun.  I'm still on the fence about the level of fun I experienced making the cake but that is to be expected as the bakers in this cookbook were all (2016) contestants on the show and they could out-bake me with their hands tied behind their backs.  In the end, I'll take the fact that I didn't go nuts, didn't scream at anybody and didn't burn down the house as my own version of a "win" on The Great British Bake Off – "At Home with Ann and Andy!" 

Bitter Chocolate Stout Cake – serves 10-12 – Ann's Note:  it helps to have a kitchen scale
For the sponge
40 g cocoa powder
1 tablespoon malted-milk drink powder (use "original," not diet or flavoured versions)
150 ml chocolate milk stout OR porter
150g unsalted butter, softened
120g caster sugar (Ann's Note:  a/k/a superfine sugar)
120g light muscovado sugar (Ann's Note:  a/k/a light brown sugar)
2 medium eggs, at room temperature, beaten to mix
4 tablespoons buttermilk, at room temperature
250g self-raising flour (Ann's Note:  *see below for how to make this at home)
¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (Ann's Note:  a/k/a Baking Soda)
Good pinch of fine sea salt

*The standard "recipe" for making self-rising flour is to add 1 ½ tsp baking powder and ¼ tsp salt to 1 cup All Purpose Flour.  Since you will need more than that for the recipe, make a double batch of the recipe then weigh it and subtract out what you don't need. 

For the chocolate filling and frosting
85g dark chocolate (about 70% chocolate solids)
1 ½ tablespoons malted-milk drink powder ("original")
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons boiling water
115g unsalted butter, softened (Ann's Note:  one stick of butter is 113g so you will need a little more from another stick)
25g light muscovado sugar (Ann's Note:  a/k/a light brown sugar)
75g icing sugar (Ann's Note:  a/k/a Confectioner's sugar)
Good pinch of sea salt flakes, or to taste

To finish
15g dark chocolate (about 70% cocoa), grated

Ann's Note: You'll need two 20.5cm round, deep sandwich tins, greased with butter and base-lined.  Translation:  two 8" round cake pans, greased then lined with parchment paper. I have no idea why round cake pans are called "sandwich tins," but mine is not to question why, mine is to Google search to figure it out!

Heat the coven to 350F.  Measure the cocoa and malted milk powders into a small pan, add the milk stout and set over low heat.  Whisk constantly with a small hand wire whisk until the mixture is smooth and comes to the boil – take care it doesn't catch on the base of the pan.  Remove from the heat and leave until cooled to room temperature.

Meanwhile, put the softened butter into a mixing bowl, or the bowl of  free-standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, until creamy and mayonnaise-like.  Scrape down the side of the bowl, then beta in the caster sugar.  As soon as it is thoroughly amalgamated, beat in the muscovado (light brown sugar) sugar (press out any lumps first).  Once combined, scrape down the side of the bowl again, then beta for 2 minutes to make a soft, light creamed mixture.

Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition and scraping down the side of the bowl from time to time.  Beat in the buttermilk a tablespoon at a time, adding a tablespoon of the weighed flour with the last 2 additions.  Sift the remaining flour with the bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and salt into the bowl.  Add the cooled cocoa mixture.  Mix in using the whisk on its lowest speed, stopping as soon as the mixture is very smooth.

Divide the mixture equally between the 2 sandwich tins and spread evenly.  Bake in the heated oven for 20-25 minutes until the sponges are well risen and springy when gently pressed in the center. (Ann's Note:  20 minutes is too short.  Twenty two minutes was also too short. Twenty five minutes was too long.  Try for 23-24 and then stop.  Immediately.)  Remove from the oven and run a round-bladed knife around the inside of each tin to loosen the sponge, then turn it out on to a wire rack and leave to cool.

When sponges have cooled to room temperature, make the chocolate mixture for the filing and frosting.  Gently melt the chocolate then leave to cool until needed.  Put the malted-milk powder and cocoa powder into a small heatproof bowl, add the boiling water and stir to make a smooth paste.  Leave to cool.  (Ann's Note:  this didn't really make a paste as it was more like a thick syrup.  No matter, it worked.)

Beat the butter in a mixing bowl until very creamy using a wooden spoon or hand-held electric whisk, then beat in the muscovado sugar (press out any lumps first).  Add the cooled melted chocolate and beat well, then beat in the cooled cocoa liquid.  Sift the icing sugar (confectioner's sugar) into the bowl and beat, slowly at first, until the mixture is very smooth and light in texture.  Sprinkle over the salt and stir in.

Now set one sponge, crust-side down, on a serving plate.  Spread over half the chocolate mixture.  Set the other sponge on top, crust-side up.  Spread and swirl the rest of the chocolate over the surface.  Grate the dark chocolate on top – or decorate with chocolate curls shaved off with a vegetable peeler.  Leave the frosting to firm up for at least 2 hours before cutting the cake.  Store in an airtight container and eat within 4 days.

Ann's Final Note:  I didn't have time to let the frosting firm up but it was just fine and met my strict frosting requirements, thank you very much.  Also, intriguing as it is to know that this cake lasts 4 days, I don't think it lasted for four minutes once Andy started cutting it. Of course, it helps to have 15 people helping to eat it but still, this was one tasty cake.  It looked like hell but I was not trying for bakery-competition worthy so there you go.