Saturday, November 10, 2018

Roasted Artichokes: or, Smoking out the kitchen

We at A Book of Cookrye always stop by the discount produce bin whenever we get groceries. Sometimes we take home apples and bananas. Other times we find squishy squashes and end up findng recipes that cook them really thoroughly to kill off any microscopic friends. After all, even if they have invasive organisms on them, they're still full of vitamins- and also 25¢ a pound. Guess what turned up today!

Artichokes may usually be expensive, but these were $1 a bag, which means 50¢ each. Which means we can try something weird with them and not feel bad about the expense if it's an utter failure!
The Art of Italian Cooking, Maria Lo Pinto, 1948

Every recipe in this book has been absolutely delicious. You may remember that when our copy finally gave out (it was a cheap 60-year-old paperback, so it was bound to give out), we scanned all the pages, printed them, and bound them into a new copy. The book is that good.

Roasted Artichokes
     Carciofi Arrostiti

6 medium artichokes
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped*
3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
6 tbsp. olive oil
½ c water

Select a pot that will hold the artichokes snugly when inserted upright.
Remove outer leaves from artichokes and cut off stems. Tap on table to open leaves, wash, and leave a few minutes to dry. You may want to cut the spines off the leaves to avoid pricking yourself when inserting the herbs.
Mix garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper. Divide into 6 portions. Then, insert a little bit of the herbs inside each leaf. Close the artichokes back up.
Put half the oil in the pot and put over high heat (note: you probably don't want to just turn your burner as high as it goes- a bit hotter than medium-high would be better).
Put the artichokes upright in the pot. Pour the remaining olive oil into the top of each one. Cook for five minutes, watching to see if they burn. If they start to smell burnt before the five minutes are up, move on to the next step regardless of what the timer says.
Add the water, lower the heat a little, and cook uncovered for about eight minutes or until the water mostly evaporates. Add a little more water, cover the pot, and reduce heat to low. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until an outer leaf comes off easily when pulled.
Serve hot.

*Obviously we used about 7.
Lacking parsley, we substituted a half-and-half combination of rosemary and oregano.

The Art of Italian Cooking, Maria Lo Pinto, 1948

You should know that this recipe gets special mention in the cookbook introduction. Before we get to the recipes, there is a long chapter called "Wines Customs and Festivals" which is full of the author's extremely idyllic reminisces about her family's village in Sicily. She makes it sound so lovely that you wonder why they ever left for America (and you also want to see if any of her relatives still live there and would let you come for dinner). Each major holiday gets its own description. She names roasted artichokes as one of the special dishes served on New Year's Day. Incidentally, if you would like to swoon for somewhere you'll never get to live, her family's village (which, before you think I'm research-obsessed, she gives the name on the first page of the introduction), has a Wikipedia page with photographs.
All right, let's get down to artichokes! I ate my first one when visited an Italian friend at his parents' house. They were really excited to serve them, as if this was a special treat instead of something they cook every other night. My friend had even said about a week before "Actually, you should come over Saturday instead of Friday. Mom's making artichokes." Let me emphasize that the visit was rescheduled around artichokes. And so, on the appointed day, his mother brought forth on individual plates and with especial flourish, these dull-green spike balls that looked impossible to eat. Despite having (somewhat) mastered manners in public, I could not stop myself from staring dumbfounded at this apparently inedible object that had been brought to table.
His mother got this odd look of pity on her face when she realized. "You've never had an artichoke?" To help you get a good mental picture of her reaction, imagine having a guest over and finding out they have never used a spoon and don't even know how to hold one.
Anyway, let's get to the roasting!
Before cooking these things, the recipe has us putting in parsley and garlic. Now, we at A Book of Cookrye know practically nothing about Italian cooking, but apparently they're really big on fresh ingredients and the like. With this in mind (and not at all because we didn't want to pay for a bundle of parsley that we'd never use up), we decided to go super-fresh and cut some pieces off the surviving remains of our attempt at an herb garden. The oregano and the rosemary had survived the combined assault of terrible weather, starving squirrels, and a surprisingly vicious succession of fungus and molds that turned most of the plants into compost.

It turns out that fresh herbs shrink and pack down a lot when you chop them up. To get three tablespoons' worth, we had to go back outside with scissors to cut off even more pieces of plant. But to make things easier, it had rained outside so the herbs were already rinsed.

And of course, this is A Book of Cookrye, where garlic is always to be used more expressively than recipes originally direct. For reference, the original recipe calls for two garlic cloves.

Moving back to the green things, the small houseplant's worth of herb stems yielded this tiny little bowl of minced herbs. They smelled astonishingly pungent. No exaggeration, the whole kitchen smelled like oregano and rosemary.

Once were ready to stuff the artichokes, we discovered a lovely surprise. You know how artichoke leaves have little spines on their tips? We had figured we'd just snip them off before stuffing the leaves rather than get our fingers pricked a lot. But it turns out that the artichoke growers had already cut them off before they even reached the supermarket! Do you know how often it is to find pre-cut produce this cheap?
Again, these were 50¢ each.

Anyway, what had initially looked like a huge bowl of chopped green things suddenly looked tiny when we realized we had to divide it among every single leaf of four artichokes.

I thought these were supposed to be stuffed artichokes. Right after the recipe tells you to stuff the herbs into the artichokes, it says "Then close leaves." Which implies that the artichokes should be absolutely bulging with herbs, right? That's why the recipe says you have to push them shut, right? Well, each leaf got merely a tiny pinch.
You should know that slipping all those herbs into the artichokes was extremely tedious. How tedious, you ask? So much so that before we were halfway through with the job, we were giggling to ourselves at how funny it would be to start an artichoke farm for the express purpose of calling it Okie Dokie Artichokies. It was ever-so-slightly infuriating to do all that work and then see no visible sign that we had done anything.

And now we get to the part that really tests the fan over your stove. The recipe has us put this pot of artichokes over high heat and leave them for a very long time. There will be a lot of smoke. If you have a smoke detector in the kitchen, do yourself a favor and tape over it.
You know how we previously ranted that the vent hood over the stove was one of those stupid recirculating ones that just blows the smoke and bad smells back into the kitchen? Well, it turns out that there is a duct running to it, presumably from a different set of appliances now lost to a previous owner's half-assed renovation. We decided to replace the recirculator with a vent that would actually blow the fumes up the duct. When we dismantled the hood, we found that it is a convertible model meant for either recirculating or for going up a duct. Much swearing at the ineptitude of the stupid people who failed at hastily updating the kitchen before selling the house ensued. But happily, we can now turn on the vent over the stove, and it will take the steam, smoke, and bad smells right out of the house. And boy does this recipe test the hood fan. Someone walking past the house might have thought the hood duct was connected not to a stove vent but to a merrily burning fireplace.
You should also know that aside from the smoke, this recipe is going to be very spattery and loud. If you were spending the recipe up to this point flirting outrageously with someone by telephone (just to give an example), you may have to surrender to the noise and hang up.And when I say spattery, I don't just mean little drops here and there. The hood over the stove was literally dripping before we got halfway through the cooking time.
Now, the recipe says "Watch carefully to prevent burning," but that instruction is no help at all. What does one do if one suspects burning artichokes? Turn them over? Also, with the artichokes so tightly crammed into the pot, how the heck can we see under them to tell if they're burning?
The noise only got worse when we added the water.
This picture may look out of focus, but it's actually a correctly-shot photo of the massive steam eruption from when we dumped in the water. If you doubt me, look to the bottom-left and you will see the sharply-focused rim of the pot.

The recipe had said to "Cook over high flame," but in hindsight I would say that phrase does not mean to literally turn the stove burner as high as it can go like you're boiling a vat of spaghetti. As the steam cleared, the smells emanating into the kitchen (combined with the water's transformation into black sludge) suggested all that was not right in the pot.

At this point we could have thrown out what smelled like burnt artichokes and regret having carelessly wasted a $2 windfall, but we decided to proceed and hope for the best. After all, the only remaining step was to clap a lid on the pot and wait- so even if this was a failure, it required no further effort.
Looks like a pot of dry ice, doesn't it?

At this point, the recipe does what we did on our second-ever post we ever wrote. We're cooking the vegetables by putting a tiny little puddle of water iunder the vegetables and letting the steam rise up and cook everything in the tightly covered pot. So I guess that means our steamed vegetables get an Italian seal of approval? Well, probably not but it is nice to see some sort of support in cookbooks for our culinary daftness. Anyway, let's have a look at what we had done to the artichokes by the end of the recipe!

As aforementioned, the introduction lovingly rhapsodizes about the foods and customs of various Italian holidays. In the little section about the New Year's Day, she practically sings about the roast whole pig served with "crackling-brown carciofi arrostiti."Are our artichokes crackling-brown like they apparently should be?

Looks like we failed to follow instructions when they said "watch carefully to prevent burning."
I'm actually a little impressed at the transformation into near-perfect charcoal.

Well, we at A Book of Cookrye haven't burnt several brunches' worth of toast without learning how to scrape off your charred failures with a steak knife.

I think this is a lot closer to what the artichokes should have looked like if we'd gotten the recipe right. Sort golden, really toasty, and crispy on the bottom. Imagine if the artichoke heart had that golden-crunchy layer on the bottom instead of the pure-black cinder.

Once you prop the artichoke upright, it looks surprisingly normal. You'd never guess that we attempted a daring new technique on it (if you can call a recipe from a 1948 cookbook new).

As for the taste: fricken amazing! Even though we only put a tiny smidgen of herbs in each leaf, the flavor suffused the artichokes thoroughly. Even the heart had a nice rosemary-oregano-garlic flavor that had seeped its way into it. And the way the leaves were toasted (well, the leaves that remained after we threw away the burnt ones) added a really nice flavor.
However, at the beginning of the recipe when you have only artichokes and hot oil in the pot, you start to smell them burning, add the water and turn down the stove immediately. I don't think the recipe should leave your pot looking like this.

In full disclosure, I should note that this recipe left the pot with apparently-permanent stains that defied scouring. But that's probably a natural result of turning your food into charcoal.
This pot will never be the same.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Hump-Day Quickie: Honey Fruit Dressing

Recently(ish), we at A Book of Cookrye went to an estate sale. We should not have because we've amassed a lot of things we don't need and therefore had no business going out to buy anything. And so, the only thing we purchased an adorable 1920's novel called The Light Princess (it's a cute story about a princess who is cursed by a spiteful aunt to be weightless, causing the whole court to have to tie her down).
However, we quickly gravitated to the kitchen. The cabinets were opened so people could rummage through the plates, and we saw a small flock of recipes taped inside of them. Because (unlike the others which were newspaper or magazine clippings) this one looked totally anonymous, we slipped it into Our Pocket of Cookrye before it went into the trash can after the sale closed up.

Honey Fruit Dressing
⅓ c honey
¼ c cooking oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp celery seed

Whisk together vigorously. If you want a more pronounced celery flavor, make this a few days ahead and let it sit in the refrigerator.

Serve with:
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Grapes
  • Melon
  • Pineapples
  • Strawberries

Source: Undated handwritten (1970s) recipe card

The only we can date this card is by what's on the back, which is...

An image search for "San Fernando by Vernon" turned up one of those brown plate patterns that seems expressly manufactured for selling secondhand. It's hard to imagine this being sold new- this pattern doesn't seem like it was produced in a factory so much as it spontaneously appeared in the unsorted plate stacks in a thrift store somewhere.
Incidentally, these plates can be yours!

Setting aside dinnerware, we looked for the recipe online to see if anyone else has it with a date. (This is what happens when you are a former library assistant. You look things up.) While various fruit dressings with honey and celery seed turned up, none of them were like this one- even if you allow for the odd variation in ingredient amounts.
But that's enough research. Let's get to making this! The recipe skips straight from the ingredient list to the serving instructions. But, there doesn't seem to be a lot of guesswork needed to figure out how to make it.
The ingredients before we stirred them together. Looks like one of those fancy layered shots, doesn't it?

I'm not sure what the cooking oil is supposed to do for this. Thin the honey out a bit (in which case wouldn't water work)? Or maybe cut the flavor down in case it completely obliterates the taste of whatever fruit you put it on?
Incidentally, that is the same bottle of lemon juice from when we did the pumpkin chips last year (which we are still trying to give away).
Anyway, the ingredients floated on top of each other in very pretty-looking layers, but absolutely refused to mix. I thought I might use a small bowl since this is a small batch of dressing, but ended up moving them into a bigger one (which by the way doubled the number of bowls I had to wash for this recipe)  so I could really bash them about until they learned to like each other.

See the oil globules stubbornly refusing to mix in? For such a tiny little bowl of small amounts, you had to beat it really hard with a whisk before you could get anywhere with it. I was starting to think it wasn't supposed to permanently mix- like those bottles of salad dressing you have to shake every time you pour. But after a thorough whisk-bashing, we had what looked like a bowl of slightly thinned honey with specks floating in it.
Doesn't look very different, does it?

And so, after spending literally a minute making this, how does it taste?
Everything in this bowl is on the list from the recipe card.

Well, it does a lovely job of hiding the fact that the strawberries are slightly dried-out and wrinkly. The celery seed flavor was barely noticeable. I mean, it was kind of there, but you could have used poppy seeds and barely noticed the difference. It mostly tasted like very tart honey lemonade- which is of course delicious. However, if you're going to toss a fruit salad in this, you should know that the honey will draw out the juices from the fruits if you do it too far ahead of time.

You should also know that the resulting puddle of fruit juice and honey is absolutely delicious.
The unused honey dressing went into the refrigerator. Even after three days, it did not separate. The honey and oil may have refused to mix at first, but once combined they would not leave each other. Also, the celery seed exuded a lot of its flavor into the dressing. You'd have thought it had a lot of celery juice in it. I thought it was an interesting flavor contrast, especially with apples.
I know apples aren't on the list of acceptable fruits on the card, but I am just rebellious that way.

This is a lovely and very easy fruit dip or dressing for fruit salads. If you eat it right after you make it, you can't taste the celery unless you bite into a seed. If you let it wait in the refrigerator for a few days, it practically tastes like you used equal parts lemon and celery juice. I think the latter makes a lovely flavor contrast with sweet fruit, but you should definitely try both.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Deck cakes with A Book of Cookrye!

We at A Book of Cookrye, in our attempts to get an associate's degree in cooking, finally had to face one of the most dreaded classes required of us: CAKE DECORATING.
For a refresher, our cakes tend to look like this.

This is why we favor glaze over icing. You just dump the glaze on, and in five seconds your cake is done. Nevertheless, cake decorating is a required class, and so we finally had to subject ourselves to it.
For the big midterm, we had to do a cake that met a long list of specifications (must have two of the following six flowers, must have one of these types of top borders, one of these types of bottom borders, etc).
We at A Book of Cookrye realized that if we didn't attempt this a few times beforehand, a grading disaster would befall us. However, not wanting to spend a lot of grocery money, we economized in a way that practically never happens at A Book of Cookrye.

Yes, that is white cake mix. We haven't so much as opened a box of that powdery stuff in a long time. But we had four cake layers to make in one night, and that would have been a lot of butter and sugar. The cake mix was $1 a box. I have to say, I was getting some powerful olfactory flashbacks. It smells like the cheap vanilla candles people put in the bathroom when company's over to hide the smell of any guests' embarrassment.
Anyway, for the midterm, we decided to practice at home twice: Once with just white icing to see if it'd work, and once with actual colors.

Not to bad, is it? I mean, if you ignore that the icing has so much shortening in it that it tastes like a sketchy Oreo knockoff from the dollar store. But that's all right, the cake itself tastes like it was made from $1-per-box cake mix. Putting a really good icing on such a crappy cake would have been a waste. I mean, I know a lot of bakeries do just that, but we at A Book of Cookrye have standards-- most of the time.
Anyway, having actually done the icing once, we tried to do it in full color while watching the time to see if we could do it in the equivalent of one class period. When this is literally for a test grade, you want to make damn sure.
Note the deliberate avoidance of any decoration that would require drawing a straight line.

You may be wondering what it looked like on the big day when my grade was on the line. And I have to tell you it was pretty.
You may notice the  results of a sudden increase in the food coloring budget once I can help myself to the school's extravagant supply.

You may think I attempted to artistically scatter the flowers atop the cake in a pleasing asymmetrical design. But I actually didn't even think about where the flowers would go until after I did that squiggly lace pattern over the cake. Then I put a big flower on top of every spot that I messed up.
I passed the midterm with flying colors (given my ineptitude that drove me to attempt this twice, about the only thing I get complimented on regularly is my use of color).
Unfortunately, all my pre-midterm practicing meant I had two cakes at home that I needed something to do with. A friend and I tried eating one. Keep in mind that as exquisite(?) as the decorating may have been, this was shortening-heavy icing on top of some seriously questionable cake mix. I hadn't made this thing to taste good, I'd cranked it out so I could have a vehicle for decorating.
There's a metaphor here, really. You know how how people bred Red Delicious apples to look prettier and brighter without thinking about the flavor until we ended up with a very photogenic apple that tastes like sugared upholstery? Well, you're looking at the cake equivalent. I didn't expect much from bargain-brand cake mix, yet this was worse. As my friend so eloquently put it: "This tastes like shit."
We found a simple solution: cake balls!

When you've spent hours fussing over icing flowers, this feels fucking great.

Now, we thought that adding a bit of random cream cheese from the refrigerator and smashing this thing up would make it taste better. It did not. It tasted like artificial vanilla and shortening. But there was an easy way to salvage this mess:
Yes, that is a second cake we still haven't dealt with.

I don't know if the lemon cut through the shortening the way an acidic barbecue sauce cuts through all the meat grease that your grilling relative swears is flavor, or if it just overpowered the fake vanilla and made everything all right. But now that this tasted fit for human consumption, we could commence cake-balling.

As shown above, we ran out of plate space before we ran out of cake mush to turn into balls. And so, we hastily decided we were doing, um, cake-ball-bars.

Looks like a plate of ugly mush, doesn't it? This is the time for my new cake decorating skills to really pay off! We popped some canned icing into the microwave (even though this is like 50% icing by volume already) and made a beautiful white glaze that would tempt the eye as much as the palate!

Actually, once you sliced it up, the pieces looked rather nice. Or they would have if we'd cut them into cute little squares or something. Both the "cake" and the icing firmed up really nicely after a while in the refrigerator. Really, this could have made a decent tray of petits fours. At the very least, you could be sure someone would bring an uglier-looking plate to the potluck than yours.

Kinda looks like an iced vanilla brownie, doesn't it?

But you may feel that this... er... lacks color. You may think that it looks about as festive and bright as the contents of a sack of flour. If you feel this needs further ornamentation, my friend has you covered.

I may invite said friend to write a guest post on the expressive use of hot Cheetos.
Anyway, we at A Book of Cookrye would like to share a few handy tips for anyone thinking of attempting this for themselves- from one beginner to another.
Plenty of people who've bedecked cakes for years will do some incredibly difficult decorations in a matter of seconds and then chirp "It's so easy!" Those people piss me off because they should know damn well that the only reason they can make it look so easy is that they put in years of practice. And then people like me watch the video, fail utterly at the allegedly easy task, feel stupid because the chipper person in the video said it was supposed to be easy, and foul language ensues.
Anyway, here's some advice for people who can't do fine-detailed things and really are just starting out:

  • Be nice to yourself. Cake decorating is harder than actually baking the cake (unless you have a natural knack for fine-detailed work).
  • You can save a lot of money on cakes by practicing your icing skills on newspaper, cardboard (like the circles that come under frozen pizzas), and the like. Porcelain plates don't work very well- they're so slick that your icing will slip everywhere instead of stay in place long enough for you to turn it into a design.
Many thanks to my sister's no-good ex for the Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe boxed set. After the breakup, she handed the books on to me.
  • If you're practicing on anything besides an actual cake, you can save even more money by just scraping the icing back into the bowl and reusing it over and over. While I personally wouldn't serve a cake with icing I've reused ten to twelve times, it's a great way to avoid wasting a lot of grocery money while you practice on random flat household objects.
  • Have a damp rag in a bowl for quickly cleaning off your fingertips. They will get sticky often.
  • Closely related to the above: Either get a huge case of paper towels or have a lot of dishrags handy. You will be wiping icing smears off of things a lot. Cake decorating is sticky and messy.
  • Do yourself a favor and purchase only a few basic icing tips at first. If you just go to any baking store (whether online or in-person), you will find that icing tips (and other cake decorating supplies) are like spices: there are approximately eleventy-billion-and-one of them. And just like spices, there are many things you may use only once only have them sit alone in the back of the cabinet forever afterward. You can get the specialty things as you need them, thus guaranteeing that actually use them at least once (instead of buying one of those 50-tip box sets and only using like 6 of them). The cost of icing tips adds up quickly, so don't buy twenty bazillion of them. Keep your money for other things.
  • If you decide you're going to dress cakes a lot, a turntable will be more useful than you may think. If you're like me, you won't run out and buy one, but instead you will be grateful that spinning cake plates were fashionable enough in the days of yore that your great-grandmother got a fancy one, and hope that you don't shatter a family heirloom in a decorating mishap.
I wasn't worried about breaking the cake plate, but I did fear getting icing permanently stuck in some of the scrollwork in the base.
  • Closely related to the above: unless you intend to serve the cake on the stand you're decorating it on, be sure to put the cake on its own serving plate before you start icing it. Yes, I found this out the hard way. If you have a super-wide spatula (the sturdy and extremely oversized sort they sell in the grilling aisle for men who want to look manly despite holding a kitchen implement), you might be able to carefully lift it off the decorating stand without smudging anything, but that is unlikely.
    If you don't know what sort of platter you can put your cake on and have nothing suitable in the kitchen, they sell cardboard circles and rectangles just for cake serving. But you can easily cut one out of the side of a box instead of stopping by the nearest baker's specialty store. Once you wrap it in foil, it'll look fine. If anyone checks under the foil and finds an old shipping label, that person was so picky and snooty that they clearly didn't want cake and instead wanted to find something to be dissatisfied about.
  • When setting up your space, we at A Book of Cookrye really recommend putting down a mat you can throw away- something like parchment or newspaper. Things will get messy, and it feels so great to be able to roll up the whole sticky surface and throw it away when you're done.
  • Have a dedicated saucer, tiny plate, or other receptacle for the icing tips you've used. Cake decorating involves a lot of tiny little overpriced tools that love to roll all over the table. If left unattended and uncontained, all those little icing tips and other accessories are very good at hiding. Keep them corralled or else you will go insane from constantly having to stop and hunt for the latest thing to go missing.
Pictured: as close to well-organized as I'm going to get. Note the container lid holding the various used tips, the wet dishrag in a bowl, and the parchment pan liner saving me a lot of future counter-wiping.
  • As you can see above, if you like using lots of different colors, prepare to have a lot of little bowls and spoons to wash.
  • This is less of a practical tip and more of a general note about icing. A lot of decorator's icing tastes like crap. This is generally because it's mostly shortening and powdered sugar. You'd think it's hard to make something that's almost pure sugar and fat taste bad, but shortening makes it happen. If you're making your own icing, you may decide to use all or mostly butter instead so it will taste good. But keep in mind that if butter sits out of the fridge for too long, it melts. So if your buttercream is actually made with butter, your cake decorations will droop unless it's cold out.
    In other words, if you want to leave your cake out on the table for a long time, keep in mind that your icing will probably melt and look sad. You'll have to either make a Crisco compromise between looks and taste, or keep the cake in the refrigerator right until you serve it.
We at A Book of Cookrye will let a friend we were texting give the last bit of cake-decking advice:

Monday, October 1, 2018

More banana bread!

Today's story starts with helping a friend move. If your vehicle has a noteworthy amount of space in the back, people will inevitably ask you to help them as their possessions migrate to a new home, preferably one where the management hasn't ignored the growing roach infestation. This time, we at A Book of Cookrye ended up spending a lot of time moving someone who repairs electronics. Besides the gasoline and food, we got.... this!
I restrung it myself.

Not sure what you're looking at? This likely makes it clearer.
Notice the desoldering gun hovering over it in the back.

When you are offered a vintage stereo for free, it's perfectly fine that some repairwork may be required. Especially if you've been semi-secretly wanting to have a crack at electronics repairs for yourself. At any rate, said friend later noted "You know, we haven't broken in the oven yet..."
I asked "Well, what do you want to put in it?"
Which brings us to.... banana bread!

Banana Bread
½ c butter
1 c brown sugar
2 eggs
3 bananas (about 1 c mashed)
2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
Dash of salt
Dash of cinnamon (enough to alter the flavor, but not quite enough to be recognized)

Heat oven to 350°. Grease a loaf or 9x13 pan.
Mix butter and brown sugar. Beat in the eggs, then add the bananas. Stir in the salt, cinnamon, and baking soda, then mix in the flour.
Pour into the pan and bake. A loaf pan will take about 40-50 minutes, a 9x13 pan will be done in 20 or so.

Favorite Recipes of America: Desserts, 1968

This brings us to a rare experience here on A Book of Cookrye- baking in the houses of people who practically never cook!
While we often like to cook with friends, said friends tend to at least occasionally make themselves a pot of spaghetti. Their kitchens generally contain the more basic cooking things. But hey, we all have different lifestyles- I get surprised when someone doesn't cook, other people look at me funny when they find out I never learned to parallel park. (This is not a joke. The last few times I had to parallel park, I have made a few attempts to back into the space before asking some random nearby person on the sidewalk to park the vehicle for me.)
Anyway, the reason we point this out is that we were once again working in a kitchen with very few kitchen things in the cabinets (or more realistically, in the piles of boxes. Again, he only just moved in).

We at A Book of Cookrye, of course, are no strangers to making things happen in under-supplied kitchens. However, oddly enough, we have never actually made banana bread without an electric mixer to pulverize the bananas with. I realize that quite a lot of people will have at the bananas with a fork until mashed, but (to my own surprise when I thought about it) this was the first time I ever did so myself.

A note to people who like multipurpose devices: stewpots do indeed make excellent mixing bowls. However, at first the ingredients will run away from each other instead of mixing together.

However, all you need to do is think of what Our Heroine of Cookrye, Fanny Cradock, would say: think of someone you've never really liked but you're too well-bred to say anything, so instead you take it out on the innocent bowl of things!

As things simply skid to the side of the pot instead of actually mixing together, simply bash them about harder and they will eventually turn into... this!

The bananas may look like someone was unfortunately sick in the bowl, but that seems to happen a lot with banana recipes. Besides, those are hand-mashed bananas- which hopefully adds prestige.

Looks good enough to eat, doesn't it? We were excited. And indeed, it is time to introduce these to the oven!
But wait-- we've never used this oven. Remember when we irreparably burnt a batch of cinnamon rolls when attempting to inaugurate Marcus' oven? My friend, despite having not so much as a mixing bowl, actually had an oven thermometer! Furthermore, he had what may be the most expensive oven thermometer I've ever seen!

I should have stepped back a bit so you could really see what's going on here. Here's an artist's impression:
Anyone who works with electronics is probably laughing right now.

It is very difficult, when baking, to operate a multimeter without getting batter on it. Incidentally, the oven was correctly calibrated, but varies way too much.
Of course, if you think about it, if you set your oven to 350° (that's 180°ish for you Celsius folks), it will get a few degrees hotter every time the heat turns on, and that it will dip a bit below that before it cycles back on to heat up again. But it's not supposed to go 20 degrees off in each direction. Hoping that all would average out during the long baking time, we inserted the loaf into the oven. It... sort of worked. I mean, we did end up with a loaf of banana bread and not a cinder.

However, sharp-eyed bakers will notice that the top of this loaf is not slightly curved but looks like an upturned C. The oven got so hot every time the heating element cycled on that the sides of it baked hard before it had time to rise, while the batter in the center baked a lot more nicely (see? I have learned things in my baking class!). But at least it wasn't burnt and dead at the edges.

Indeed, aside from being a teensy bit dense at the edges, this banana bread was everything you'd expect it to be!
And so, as a (honestly rather extravagant) present for helping a friend move, we got to take home... this!
It was fully assembled by the time we got it home.

Incidentally, ever wonder what lights these things up? Or thought it was something like panel of tiny LEDs or the like? It turns out... it's just extremely industrial-looking incandescent Christmas lights.
Recapped and restrung by me. I only accidentally put two capacitors in backwards.

As a final food-related note, it turns out this stuff does not go stale. My friend left it out the counter for a week for sporadic snacking, and it was only barely a little worse than fresh. Even the cut surface hadn't gone hard on the outside.

And that is the closest we've gotten to A Book of Cookrye Miracle in a long time!