Monday, August 20, 2018

Pieathlon the Fifth: Cool Mint Cookie Pie

Guess what today is!

Indeed, this is the fifth(!) Pieathlon! A big salute to Yinzerella of Dinner is Served 1972, without whom this would not happen. And so, let's see what we got this year!

Today's recipe comes to us from Vintage Recipe Cards. Believe it or not, we got one of her recipes two Pieathlons ago. To review, that pie was supposed to be a gelatin mold in a pie pan, but ended up looking like this.
Incidentally, this was also a diet recipe.

This year, we have yet another diet recipe! Hopefully this one will actually turn into a pie. You know, something that you slice and lift out of the pan instead of pouring out and claiming that you did exactly what the recipe said. The recipe writers for bonus points for adding gratuitous dieting tips under the heading "How to be a Happy Loser." Actually, they give some very common-sense advice, so I can't get annoyed. We've seen harsher diet advice in unexpected places. The 1928 Woman's Club of Fort Worth Cook Book has this grim page at the very end which tells you to avoid eating any of the many luscious recipes the ladies of the club submitted.
I'd like to point out that this doctor's parents named him Arvel.

To give further indignity, this is the chapter illustration that goes with the diet. Naturally, they put the diet and calorie counts right after the party menus.
Woman's Club of Fort Worth Cook Book, 1928

Speaking of being on a diet,we cancelled out this recipe's calorie avoidance with the pie we submitted. Retro Mimi got to make the pie I sent in, which is an unapologetic diabetes-bomb of butter and sugar. Since she currently writes about salads and previously made original Weight Watchers recipes from the 1970s, I know she will appreciate this thing landing in her kitchen.
All right, back to today's pie! To the recipe writers' credit, they didn't try to make me eat egg whites mixed with saccharin. So at the very least, we won't have a "pie" that has an unnerving metallic taste in it from fake sugar. Though to be honest, this looks less like a pie and more like something that in the Midwest would be passed off as a salad. Except it's in a pie pan.
This recipe, like so many diet recipes, follows the notion that if you put something in a pie pan it's automatically a pie. Since the crust is always a calorie bomb, diet recipes tend to omit it. To be fair, a lot of people I know will leave the pie crusts on their plates, especially if they taste bad. So simply not bothering to make a pie crust at all is actually fairly reasonable. Also, this means that we at A Book of Cookrye need not spend an excessively long time getting flour off of the counter when it comes time to clean.
Well, let's get on with it, shall we? First, I must note that this recipe works out really well for my cheap self because it uses a lot of things that were lurking forgotten in various corners of the kitchen, such as... these!

The frozen egg whites are left over from some dessert recipe that involved a lot of egg yolks. These are the last two.

The food coloring has dwelled among my kitchen so long I could announce that this pie contains antique ingredients.
The shelf life of food coloring is nothing short of amazing.

Rounding out the ingredients, the mint extract has been lurking in the cabinet for a few Christmases now. The powdered milk was not much of a stretch to purchase. No one drinks milk here, so for baking purposes we use the powder anyway. We still had part of a bottle of lemon juice from the pumpkin chips. One might argue that the bottled stuff can never match the glorious flavor of fresh-squeezed lemons, but would you really notice the difference in this recipe? But let's move on to the one thing that was really annoying to find: the stupid pillow mints. I made my way through multiple supermarkets trying to find these things, but apparently people don't like them anymore. I even thought I'd have to dig out a recipe and make them myself. Peculiarly, the one store that had them only had store-brand. There were no name-brand pillow mints at all.

I thought a little girl and dog walking over a rainbow of candy was an odd choice to print on the bag, but apparently Kroger really believes in this young child and her dog. They even printed a little story about them on the back.
Incidentally, I must note that there were a lot of college athletes at the grocery I went to. This is not unusual as there is a college nearby. What is strange is that about a fourth of them had insanely red hair. Is the University breeding redheaded sports players and sending them to grocery stores? Does the University extensively advertise itself in Ireland? Can I get one of these guys to bring over a brother my age?
Whatever. I always liked these little mints a lot. There was this one end-of-year banquet I went to where they filled plastic margarita glasses with these mints and used them as centerpieces. Some friends and I shared a glass between us and ate them like popcorn during the inevitable speeches. This drew some irked glances as we kept having to get yet another glass from someone else's table.
I did not know that they are in fact two-piece mints. Did you also think they were made of some solid mixture with different colors in it? If so, you are wrong.
The pastel coating is a lie!

Well, that's all the stuff purchased! Let's have a group photo of everything going into today's pie recipe!
I would just like to say that yes, that is a pineapple top growing in a sour cream carton. It has managed to stay alive for 2 months so far.

Much like the very first time we did a Pieathlon, we have very few ingredients to work with. But at least this time it looks like the only thing we have to do is dump things in a bowl and turn on an electric mixer. If we're going to end up eating a diet recipe from the 1970s, at least it's not one that you spend forever working on, following a tedious series of steps to turn powdered milk and a few Sweet'n Low packets into a cake (or cake-shaped object) only to eat something that tastes disappointing and bland.
Let's check in on our egg whites, which have defrosted into snot.

You should know that (as our ice maker is broken and therefore ice must be purchased) after I'd poured the iced water through a strainer I put the half-melted ice cubes back in the freezer.

All right, let's have a look at what will supposedly turn into a pie!

This is a very... monochromatic recipe, isn't it? I'm surprised at how white this is. It seems most older diet recipes incline toward beige, but this is an utterly blank canvas waiting for green food coloring.  Incidentally, I've seen a lot of diet recipe books claim you can make a passable whipped cream substitute with powdered milk and iced water. However, even the people I know who are on the strictest of diets will mutter under the breath that this never works no matter how hard you beat it. However, this does also have egg whites in it. Maybe the whites will make this stuff whip up?

....Hwell. I was not expecting it to work quite that well. It's like a low-budget version of Cool Whip, isn't it? If you didn't actually taste it, you'd think it was a big bowl of luscious whipped cream. I actually had to switch bowls. I didn't expect less than half an inch of stuff to rise over the edge of the bowl.

See? We're all the way up to the rim. Let's get a closeup in case anyone doubts me. I couldn't get over how astonishingly creamy this looked. I was expecting something that looked a lot more pathetic.

Looks like a big bowl of shaving cream, doesn't it?

At this point we're supposed to start adding what honestly seems like a tiny allowance of sugar. Though I really should not whine about this recipe- it's unusually good for a diet. As we all know, vintage diet dessert recipes did not exist to satisfy one's desire for sweets. They existed to punish you for wanting dessert. Each recipe was its own special kind of terrible. This one looks relatively benign. Instead of tasting metallic from having multiple packets of Sweet'n Low dumped in, it's merely going to be bland and empty. Perhaps because this is a diet recipe, adding the sugar made it look just a bit like cottage cheese. We all know that everyone on a 1970s diet ate ungodly amounts of cottage cheese, so now this pie recipe looks like their refrigerated friend.

Right, this is where the "pie" magic  happens. With just a few drops of food coloring and a spoon of mint extract, this will hopefully turn into a delightful pan of mint-green deliciousness!

I do so love how the mixer always makes stripes with the coloring at first. This brief sense of wonder made up for the unnerving way the mint extract fizzed on contact with the diet foam.

And indeed, we have a lovely looking mint-green pie! Note that I merely said lovely looking. We make no promises about whether this will taste any good. But every diet recipe tends to have at least one baffling addition, and this recipe is no exception. And so, let us finish this off by dumping in... these!

It's not a diet recipe unless you add something that looks utterly wrong. I double-checked the instructions to see if I wasn't supposed to whack these with a mallet or something. But no, these things apparently are meant to be stirred in quite intact. Given that these things are nearly pure sugar anyway, I would have gone mini marshmallows instead. They even come in the same colors, and have the significant advantage of not hardening in the freezer.

Given how well the green foam covers the mints, I got to serve this with a creepy smile and say "Guess the secret ingredient!" Now, the recipe says that this thing should be frozen for an hour or so. I've always found freezing times in recipes to be very optimistic. Sure enough, the pie needed about twice as long to freeze solid. You should know that this thing gave off a powerful smell in the freezer every time I checked to see if it was hard yet. It was like getting blasted with mouthwash fumes every time I opened the freezer door.
 However, that does not detract from the fact that (excluding time spent finding all the ingredients and stopping to take pictures) this thing only took 15 minutes to make. And so, we at A Book of Cookrye took this pie out into public to feast with friends! Now, the recipe takes to take one chocolate wafer and pulverize it on top. They probably meant one of these:

But we at A Book of Cookrye didn't want to buy those. In fact, we've only ever seen them in that recipe where you basically layer them with whipped cream and refrigerate it overnight. They don't even try to show the cookies by themselves on the box, but encased in something white and with sprinkles on top. The grocery store near me sells them in the baking aisle instead of with the cookies, further suggesting that most people don't open a box and commence eating them. Instead of using a single isolated Famous Wafer, we did this.
Surprisingly, neither myself nor my friends even had Oreos on hand. We had to buy them just for this recipe.

Indeed, that is one half of an Oreo with the filling scraped off. I know the recipe card says I'm supposed to be a happy loser and therefore probably throw the rest of the Oreo away, but we all know that I ate it instead. Actually, as I was describing the recipe to my increasingly apprehensive friends, I found myself repeatedly pointing out that even if this pie is terrible, we have a bag or Oreos to eat. My friends were less than impressed with this attempted consolation as they'd been the ones to go out and buy the cookies for me.

Doesn't look so bad, does it? I have to tell you, this pie melts really quickly. After a short drive from my kitchen to the house of my complicit victims (in which I wrapped the pie in multiple cloths because it was warm outside), it got so melty that we had to rush it into the freezer to resolidify before attempting to eat it.
But enough blathering. Let's get to eating!

"You put whole mints in this, didn't you?"

"It tastes like ice cream!"
A second (and more camera-averse) person said "My mouth feels so clean now! It's like mouthwash! Like, if you don't have time to brush your teeth in the morning, you just eat this and get dressed!"
Then I tried it. It's not so bad. Kind of like mouthwash, but surprisingly good. The sugar was almost enough to make it taste right. I'd expected it to basically taste like frozen milk powder, but the recipe works surprisingly well. Then I bit into one of the pillow mints, which had frozen into a tooth-breaking rock.
I hope you all like my hair's photographic proof of how humid it's been lately.

As you can see, it does in fact lift very nicely off the pie pan. I did not think we'd actually be able to slice and serve this thing. I was dead certain we'd be scooping it out of the pan.
To my own surprise, this is surprisingly close to a competent recipe. But (aside from maybe another quarter cup of sugar) it was missing... something. Maybe a little vanilla to mellow out the harsh mintiness and make it taste less like dessert Listerine? Definitely a pinch of salt.
However, one must note that you have like ten minutes to eat the pie before this happens.

If you take out the pillow mints (or at least pulverize them first), this would actually be a pretty decent ice cream. It's right up there with the diet desserts one finds in the freezer aisle today. Though there is no point in even trying to pretend this is a pie.
However, let us at A Book of Cookrye point out that this recipe is not necessarily as diet-friendly as it may seem. Yes, if you strictly followed the directions, you have a "pie" with less than 100 calories per serving in the freezer. But you also have a box of chocolate cookies (minus the one you crumbled on top) and most of a bag of pillow mints in your cabinets. They will be staring at you, tempting you, and reminding you that if your diet gets too terrible, they are waiting for you. Perhaps you could gradually use the cookies one "pie" at a time, but making that many dessert pies seems counterproductive to being the happy loser this recipe card wants you to be.
However, this pie is not nearly as bad as I feared it would be. I left the rest of it in my friend's freezer. Two days later, I got  this screencap:
That's my friend in blue, and a complete stranger in gray.

I don't know who this person is at all, so they have no reason to try to lie and make me feel better. So not only did my friend keep the pie instead of throwing it out (or letting it melt down the sink), but this pie also visited even more people's houses! And they gladly received it!
Happy Pieathlon everybody! I never thought I'd say this, but I'm a little disappointed I got off so easy this year. But who knows what awful food the future will bring!
Be sure to see what everyone else made!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Spooning (for) Cowboys: or, Finding out what the heck spoon bread is

Happy Cowboy Day!

We at A Book of Cookrye didn't know it was National Cowboy Day until Greg at Recipes4Rebels announced it. We at A Book of Cookrye, while we've done recipes from ancient Greece and Rome, recipes from the late Middle Ages. and various other random time periods. But cowboy food? We have... nothing. I mean, we could take a page out of Blazing Saddles and put on a pot of black coffee and a pan of beans, but it is too hot outside to sleep with the window open.
We cracked our recipe books and found a surprising shortage of various hokey 1950s casseroles with "cowboy" in the name and canned soup in the ingredients, and also of actual historical recipes. It wasn't until the night before that we found an actual authentic Alaskan pioneer-era recipe--- which takes multiple days to make because it's sourdough.
Pan-American World Airways' Complete Around-the-World Cookbook, Myra Waldo, 1954

With National Cowboy Day starting in just a few hours, we didn't have time to do a recipe that says it will take at least two days. And so, we flipped through the Woman's Club of Fort Worth Cook Book because surely a bunch of Texans in the 1920s would have a decent cowboy recipe. Would they?

Spoon Bread
3 c milk
4 c cornmeal
4 eggs, separated
1 large piece of butter*
Salt to taste

Heat oven to 375°. Grease a large pan.
Cook milk, meal, and salt together, stirring constantly until you have a thick mush (which will not take very long). Add the butter, stirring until melted (or just melt the butter beforehand to make things easier). Stir in the egg yolks.
Beat the egg whites stiff. Thoroughly stir in two or three spoonfuls, one at a time. This softens the mush so you can fold in the remaining egg whites without deflating them. Fold in the remaining whites.
Turn into the pan and bake for 30 minutes.

*We were quartering the recipe and used 1 tablespoons of butter. Which would mean you just add a half stick if you're making the full amount.
The original recipe just says a fairly hot oven, so this is a semi-educated guess.

Mrs. Cullen Bailey, Woman's Club of Fort Worth Cook Book, 1928

We've seen a lot of recipes for spoon bread in various books dating back quite a long time. And we have no idea why it's called spoon bread. Does it bake into this mushy stuff you eat out of the pan with a spoon? We've flipped past various recipes for it many times, so why not have a crack at it? Besides, look at how short the ingredient list is!
Every required ingredient is in this picture.

I admit that I doubt anyone on a cattle drive would make this unless the cowboys also brought hens for the eggs. It is possible to keep the butter this recipe uses preserved in brine if you really want to. And if you didn't feel like brining butter, there certainly was no shortage of fresh dairy when you're driving a herd of cattle (though oddly I've never heard any cowboys so much as holding a coffee cup under a cow for a couple of quick squirts). Heck, you wouldn't even need to haul a butter churn. Various old Western novels will poetically describe people hanging bags of cream off of a saddle when starting the day so it'd be churned to butter by nightfall. But even though it's technically possible, I don't think anyone was making this recipe on the open range.To make up for not having an actual authentic-off-the-range recipe, would it make things better if I cooked this in a skillet?

Now, in the modern world I'd just coat the pan with cooking spray. But since we're going for at least some semblance of old-fashionedness and authenticity, we're borrowing from an old cookbook we had that told you to put a huge piece of lard in the pan and leave it in the oven until ready to bake, at which point the pan's gotten really hot and the grease is practically spattering in the pan. Then you sort of swirl it to coat the sides. Since I have no lard lying around the house, we're using cooking oil instead.
All right, let's get to the actual spoon bread! Anyone reading this will note that this recipe makes a lot of whatever spoon bread will turn out to be. Therefore, we're not halving this recipe but quartering it. The recipe says to cook the cornmeal to a thick mush, but it already looked like one before we even turned on the burner under it.

But within just a short few minutes, we had what looked like really gritty modeling clay. I didn't know if the cornmeal was supposed to soften as it cooked, but it stayed really gritty. We took it off the stove when it was so dry that it kept trying to burn onto the bottom of the pot.

I have to admit, I was wondering if Mrs. Cullen Bailey of Fort Worth, Texas didn't possibly miswrite the recipe amounts. Every cornbread recipe I've ever made was a lot runnier than this. Was there enough milk in here to make soften this out in the oven, or would it be like biting into sand? Well, at least adding the butter made it look... slightly better. Or at least, less desiccated.

All right, we've only got one more thing to dump in here. I have to admit that so far, this recipe was at least going very easily. It looked like it fundamentally wouldn't work, like it'd come out of the oven a gritty mess. But at least it had so far taken less than five minutes.

All right, here we get to the only fussy part of the recipe: beating and folding egg whites! (Well, only one egg white because no one was going to eat a huge pan of spoon bread in one night unless it turned out to be a lot better than the ingredient list suggested.) We briefly considered trying to give ourselves an old-fashioned cooking experience by hand-beating the egg whites to a stiff foam. But common sense prevailed after only 45 seconds. We got out the power tools.

Less than one gloriously modern minute later, the one egg white had turned into a gloriously fluffy foam!

All right, we're closing in on the end of this recipe, and it's starting to look a lot like cornbread. Is spoon bread just another name for cornbread and we never knew? All this time we've flipped past spoon bread recipes, swearing we'd someday find out what the heck spoon bread is, and it's just the same stuff you can get out of a Jiffy box?

Well, spoon bread turned out to be surprisingly normal for something we've never made before. Ineed, our exciting road of discovery seems to be ending at a rather bland stop. As a brief note, we at A Book of Cookrye grew up eating cornbread with so much sugar it was practically dessert. Also of note, it seems no one we know can agree on whether sweet cornbread is Northern or Southern. Interestingly, everyone we know insists that the sugared version comes from whichever side of the Mason-Dixon line they are not from. My northern friends make fun of southerners for turning cornbread into cake, and my Southern friends, when seeing someone put sugar into cornbread batter, will mutter "Oh, you're making it yankee style."
I know a lot of southerners will swear that the edge of the bread with the hot oil soaking into it as it bakes is the best part, but I carefully dabbed the excess away before baking.

But who knows, maybe spoon bread batter turns into something completely different from cornbread in the oven. Even if it doesn't we at A Book of Cookrye got at least one very nice discovery out of this venture: Our toaster oven can fit a skillet.

We at A Book of Cookrye, doing our minor bit to save energy, baked this in a toaster oven set up in the garage. It (obviously) uses less electricity than the big oven, and it also doesn't give the air conditioning more work to do. Though in retrospect, I should have moved the toaster oven to the yard so I could at least truthfully claimed that I actually made the Cowboy Cookalong recipe outdoors.

And so, as we at A Book of Cookrye had come to suspect about halfway through the recipe, we set out to make something exciting and new and ended up making cornbread. But that's all right because as we all know, cornbread and chili are not only both perfect for Cowboy Day, but perfect for each other. Furthermore, this is really good cornbread. It's just a little bit more dense than what we're used to, but it also holds together really well for dipping into whatever stew you're serving it with.

I could pretend that I actually did make a pot of chili (or at least open a can of it), but to be honest I had an oddly specific craving for beef in spaghetti sauce. With cornbread. I'm (not) sorry, but I even put Parmesan on top.

But for the record, not only does putting enough oil to fry the batter in a hot pan make the bottom and sides of your cornbread deliriously crispy and brown...

...but it means that absolutely nothing will stick to the skillet. This is what it looked like after I wiped it with a paper towel.

I think we can agree that anyone cooking out on the range where the deer and antelope play and where there is absolutely no running water would appreciate just wiping off a pan and calling it clean. Happy Cowboy Day everyone!