Mother’s Day is a bit different when your mom’s no longer around.  It’s even more so when Mother’s Day and Mom’s Birthday fall on the same day.

Mother’s Day and Mom’s Birthday were always the start of the month-long May Birthday Celebration in our house.  All four of my sisters are May-Babies, as well.  Yes, it was a crazy time.  But none of those birthdays topped Moms.  She was the Queen Bee.  And even though they were often just days apart – when they didn’t fall on the same day – they were two separate occasions.

My father set the mood by having stacks of presents on the table when she got up.  He had a great eye and bought a good portion of her clothes.  He knew what she looked good in and she loved what he bought.  She very rarely returned anything.  And shoes…  Her father and brother both sold high-end women’s shoes.  Back in the day she had every matching shoe/bag/belt/hat-combo there was. Imelda Marcos sought advice from her.

Mama had six kids but Mama had style.

And while she ooed and awed over her gifts, she spent extra-special attention on the things we made her.  Every picture was a Michelangelo original.  Every card, every 29¢ bottle of perfume, every inedible cake we baked, was greeted with praise worthy of an Old Master or chef de pâtisserie.  And she saved every one of those scribbled cards.

Victor’s mom and my mom were born 2 days apart, on opposite coasts, in 1926.  Friday we took his mom out for dinner at the local diner – her choice – and yesterday we had his family over for a combo Birthday Mother’s Day dinner.  Since I’ve been doing through Mom’s recipes for our Mad Men Mondays I’ve kept eying her Chinese Casserole.  It’s a dish she made up back in the ’60s and feeds an army.  I haven’t made it in years and years – because it feeds an army.  I decided her birthday was the perfect excuse to introduce it to the east coast family.

My mom never really followed recipes and never really quite had her measurements down.  It’s a trait I totally understand, so I never have a problem following them.  You can go with them as written or play around a bit.  They always come out great.  For the casserole, the only things I changed were the soups and the mushrooms.  I used organic cream of soups – I just couldn’t do the national brand and she probably used Lady Lee brand from Lucky Market, anyway… and I added a package of exotic mushroom blend to the mushroom mix.  As I said, mom would experiment all the time and as new things caught her eye she would include them when she could.

The Rice-A-Roni Wid Rice mix was a bit different, as well.  It’s now labelled “Nature’s Way” and calls itself “all natural.”  Strange… But it worked.

In fact, all of it worked quite well.  It was Mom’s Chinese Casserole.  No doubt about it.  The only things missing were her – and the huge Corning Ware casserole she made it in.

And then we had the rest of the meal…

I made a huge lasagne.  And I do mean huge.

Lasagne is something I have never used a recipe for.  I simply worked in too many Italian restaurants and made too many of them to ever think I needed one.  And I don’t use no-boil noodles.  I think they make a gummy lasagne and you can’t encapsulate the filling with them.  Lasagne is a wrapped package of goodness – not a semi-layered gooey mess.  Spend the extra ten minutes cooking your noodles.

The filling for this lasagne included cooked ground beef, hard cooked eggs, porchetta, speck, prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, ricotta, and lots of shredded cheeses – mozzarella, fontina, asiago…

I baked it covered Saturday night for 1 1/2 hours at 350° and then re-baked – also covered – it Sunday for 2 hours at 300°.

For the last 30 minutes I raised the temperature to 350°, uncovered it, and added shredded cheese to the top.

It made much more than we needed.  Even with doggie bags leaving, I froze a goodly amount for another day.

The meal didn’t stop there…  We also had Chicken cutlets.

I breaded them with panko breadcrumbs and corn meal.    It gave them a nice crunch.

We also had another huge fruit salad – in Mom’s 1960s Salad Bowl…

And the pièce de résistance was a Coconut Cake!

This was a much simpler cake than the monstrosity I made last year.  Last year was good, but it was really a one-time cake.  I don’t see another one of those in my future.

This cake was much lighter and actually more enjoyable because of it.

I made a lightly-flavored coconut whipped cream for the filling and top and sprinkled shredded coconut on top.

The recipe will make either three 8″ layers or 2 10″ layers. I chose width over height and used 2 10″ springform pans.

Coconut Cake

All ingredients should be at room temperature.

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • ½ cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • ¼ cup Coco Lopez or other coconut cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 8 large egg whites

Preheat oven to 350°.  Butter two 10″ or three 8″ pans.  Line with parchment, and butter parchment.  Flour pans and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Mix  together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Stir together the milk, coconut milk, vanilla, and coconut cream.  Add the dry and wet ingredients to the butter mixture in three increments, starting and ending with the dry.

Whip the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter until evenly blended. Divide the cake batter evenly among the two or three prepared cake pans.

Bake for about 30-35 minutes for 8″ cakes or 40-45 minutes for 10″ cakes – or until toothpick comes out clean.

Cool in pans about 15 minutes, remove from pans and set on racks until completely cool.

For Whipped Cream Icing:

Whip 1 1/2 cups whipping cream with 1/4 cup Coco Lopez.  Place about 1/3 whipped cream on first layer.  Top with second layer and spread remaining 2/3 cream on top.  Generously top with shredded coconut.

This was an easy one to make and really took no time at all.  I can see it – and a few variations – becoming a part of the repertoire.

All-in-all It was a good day with a lot of good food and fond memories.

And Mad Men Monday?!?  There’s a 1960s Chinese Casserole in the ‘fridge right now.

Leftovers.  What a concept!