Saturday, December 3, 2016

Second-Stab Saturday: Cinnamon Pie, or Finding new ways to fail

Remember when we attempted this?
The [Los Angeles] Times Cook Book, no. 2, ca.1905

You may recall that the last time we tried this recipe we just mixed everything, dumped it in a pie pan, and baked it. The result was scrambled eggs floating in this brown stuff that was burnt on top.
 However, this recipe seemed like it would be good if it actually worked. Also, this is a community cookbook. Theoretically, all the recipes are ones that the contributors were particularly proud of and therefore are guaranteed to work. Furthermore, not only did they publish the names of each recipe submitter, but they also put her address. If a recipe failed, you would know who to blame and where to find her.

CINNAMON PIE. Mrs. C.C. Norton, 1407 Girard street, Los Angeles, Cal.--(Original.) Sift together seven tablespoons of sugar, two level tablespoons of flour, four teaspoons of ground cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Stir into this four cupfuls of sweet milk, butter size of egg* and two eggs beaten well. (Filling for two pies.)


 *Since I had to crack an egg open anyway, I measured its contents before mixing them in. "Butter the size of an egg" is about a quarter cup, give or take.


It seemed we made a very simple, easily-corrected error in our first cinnamon pie attempt. This pie theoretically could easily fixed with a double boiler.
Looks as gloriously cinnamon-brown as it did the first time.

Indeed, this recipe yielded a really nice custard. However, as much as the kitchen smelled delightfully of cinnamon by the time it was done, the contents of the pot tasted curiously bland. It seems that over the course of the extended boiling, all the cinnamon oil evaporated right out of the pie-to-be. Fortunately, this was easily fixed. And in future makings of this recipe (which surely would prove so good as to be made again and again), it would be very easy to just add the cinnamon after taking it off the stove.
There's no such thing as too much cinnamon when your recipe is called Cinnamon Pie.

All signs pointed to this being a successful recipe. Our Mom of Cookrye had tried some of what remained in the double boiler and said it was delicious. The pie itself looked amazing, even if it didn't fill the pie pan as much as one might wish.
Feel free to ignore the random splots of who-knows-what on the counter and focus on how delightful, delicious, and de-lovely the pie looks.

We brought this to Thanksgiving with great excitement. However, as is often the case when bringing experimental recipes out in public without first making sure they'll work, this pie never actually set. It was basically a slightly runny pudding that happened to be in a pie crust. You could put it in little Dixie cups (for bonus points, with a blob of whipped cream on top) and been the hit of any potluck. However, this recipe was sold as a pie. And so, no one really ate it. It spent the day in my aunt's oven, steadfastly failing to set.

This pie's failure to actually turn into an actual pie is really galling given how good it tasted. How could you, Mrs. C C Norton of 1407 Girard Street in Los Angeles? Is there some crucial step we missed since you barely put any directions? Is there some ingredient you forgot to list? Why do you tease us so?

Friday, December 2, 2016

Apple pie! Apple pie! Apple pie!

Happy weekend after Thanksgiving! Today, we at A Book of Cookrye are really pleased to present... apple pie! And this is such an easy apple pie recipe, the only tedious part is cutting up the apples. The only other things you have to do are: melt things in a pot, stir spices and apples into the pot, put it all in a pie crust, and sprinkle crumbs on top.

Apple Pie
1 unbaked pie crust
3-6 apples*
¼ c butter
¾ c brown sugar
Pinch salt
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice (leave it out if you don't have any- it's not exactly crucial)
Any other spices you would like (nutmeg, ginger, mace, etc)
  topping:
3-4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp white sugar
Flour to make it crumbly

First, figure out how many apples you will be using by putting as many apples into the pie pan as you can fit in a single layer.
Put the butter and brown sugar in a big pot and melt them together. Stir in the salt and spices.
Heat oven to 350°.
Cut up the apples. You need not peel them. Also, don't worry about bruises or soft spots on the apples- no one will ever know once the pie is baked. Stir the apples into the pot of brown sugar, then pour it all into the pie crust. Pour any extra butterscotch sauce left in the pot over the apples.
To make the topping, mix the butter and sugar. add flour until it crumbles, then sprinkle it on top of the pie. If you made your own pie crust or if you bought a frozen crust that you put in the pan yourself, you can take the scraps, mix in about 2 spoons of sugar with your hands, and use that instead.
Bake until the apples are tender when you poke the pie with a toothpick, knife or skewer-- about 1 hour. This pie will be fine if the oven is opened multiple times as it bakes, so feel free to push it to the side of the oven and cook other things alongside it.


 Note: If you're either trying to do a lot of things ahead or if (like me) you got a big bag of apples from the clearance bin in the produce section and they're already looking squishy in some places, you can make the filling, freeze it, and then later thaw it and put it in a pie crust.

*I used Gala. Use any apple you think is good enough to eat- the best way is to taste one of the apples and see if it's good enough that you want to eat the rest of it. Avoid bland varieties like Red Delicious. Also, I've found that as much as I like Honeycrisp apples, they seem to turn into a really bland mush when baked. So just eat those as they are and use another variety for baking.

You just know whatever you're making will be good when it starts out looking like this.

This is the hardest part of making any recipe that involves butterscotch-like things: trying not to eat everything in the pot.

However, this time it looked kind of runny. We like it to be this really thick butterscotch stuff, especially since the apples will let out a lot of juice. Fortunately, there was an easy fix:

You may be thinking "It looks just the same as it did before!" And to that I say, "You're right." But it is definitely a lot thicker, which you would be able to see if you weren't just looking at a picture.

And now, we add spices! I usually just add cinnamon, but found a long-forgotten shaker of allspice in the back of the cabinet. It turned out to be perfect for this. But there's no need to grab your money and go to the spice aisle if you don't have allspice- the pie will be delicious with or without. Besides, if you didn't already have allspice, you would probably use it so rarely that you'd have yet another shaker taking up cabinet space for a long, long time.

Lookit the pretty spice swirls!

If you can actually mix the apple slices in without eating at least one, you have no soul.

And now, we just dump the whole thing into the pie pan! Which today is a cake pan lined with foil. It works great when you realize you forgot to get enough disposable pie pans- you can just lift the whole pie out when you get to wherever you were taking it and drop the empty pan in your vehicle. That way, there will be no fuss over whether you got your pans back. Besides, you won't have to wash it.
This looks so good...

For those who also find pie crusts a lot of bother, we at A Book of Cookrye have good news: You can just take the excess scraps from the crust you already made, mix in some sugar with your hands, and just sprinkle it on. There. You've made a crumb topping- which I think is better than a crust on top of apple pie because the juices will boil up and soak into the crumbs- so good. Also, you don't need to bother trying to do a top crust which is so much harder to patch than the crust in the pan.

Although, if you decide the extra dough didn't make enough topping, you can make some more in a pinch. Just kind of mash the ingredients together with your hands until they're mixed.

And here it is, ready to bake! If you couldn't be bothered to get the flour off the countertop from rolling out the pie crust, you should at least wipe the bottom of the pan. Otherwise, the flour will land on the bottom of the oven and make your kitchen smell like burnt.

Tada! Apple pie!

But don't take my word for how good it is. This is how much was left at Thanksgiving:

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Second-Stab Saturday: Cucumber Boats

Today, we at A Book of Cookrye are venturing into territory we so rarely bother with: little appetizer things!

Cucumber Boats

First, decide how many of these you want to make and therefore how many cucumbers you'll be getting. You can get 8 of these from the average-sized cucumber.
Wash cucumbers and cut off stems. You don't need to cut off either of the rounded ends of the cucumber, just nick off the stem. Cut the cucumbers into 1½"-2" lengths. Then cut each cucumber piece in half. Stand the pieces up on their ends and then cut them in half. (If the cucumbers are straight, you can cut them in half lengthwise and then cut them into pieces, but that can be annoyingly tricky if they're curved.)
Then cut or scoop out the inside of each piece, leaving a hollow space. You can use a small sharp knife for this, but it's easier with a small metal spoon (even for cutting out the firmer flesh instead of just scooping out the seeds). One of the smaller teaspoons from a set of measuring spoons will do nicely. Don't worry if you accidentally slit or puncture the cucumber skin- unless it's a wide hole, it won't matter.
Fill them however you like. I used shredded extra-sharp Cheddar seasoned with salt and cayenne, with just enough mayonnaise to hold the shreds together.
They will keep overnight in the refrigerator if tightly covered, but the cucumbers will exude a lot of juice. Be sure they're packed on paper towels or with something to absorb it.

As aforementioned, we brought these to Thanksgiving. Being the extremely organized people who plan ahead when provoked, we were getting ingredients less than two days before the big day. It was a strange experience seeing so many people crowded in the baking aisle. Many of them were staring at the flour and sugar sacks like they'd never seen such arcane things in a grocery store. However, there was one section of the supermarket that even in the pre-Thanksgiving rush was as ignored as ever: the vegetables!

Remember the cucumber baskets from when we fed people the cuisine of Depression-era Britain? They had been surprisingly well-liked, so we thought to ourselves: What if we skipped the damn basket handles? As aforementioned, making them into little baskets had resulted in an awful lot of wasted cucumber. Furthermore, cutting vegetables into cutesy baskets gives them a certain air of I HOPE YOU APPRECIATE ALL THE TIME I SPENT CUTTING ALL OF THESE INTO CUTE SHAPES FOR YOU which--- no. And so, instead of making theoretically adorable cut them in half and gouged out the insides. Here we must note that while we were at first trying to carefully cut them out with a paring knife, it turns out one of these demitasse spoons Our Mom of Cookrye got works a lot better.

It was so much easier to just have at them with a spoon than it was to use a knife at all- and it worked better, too.
On the left, hacking at the cucumber with a spoon. On the right, carefully using a knife to cut out the inside. You'd think the knife would work better, but it doesn't.

And so, we at A Book of Cookrye were ready to bring these lovely, healthy vegetables to Thanksgiving! However, Our Familye of Cookrye, though most of us are on diets the rest of the year, don't bother with this low-calorie business on Thanksgiving day. Look at the way we do the corn.

 And so, we are going to replace most of the cucumbers with.... this!

In the name of looking out for everyone's health,  we are using light mayonnaise. Having spent about two minutes stirring the cheese with just enough mayo to glue it together, see how simple these things are when you don't care about basket handles?

I'm not going to lie, it was still tedious to hollow out all those cucumber pieces. If you're doing more than two cucumbers, you might want to sit down at a table when you hollow them out instead of standing at a counter. but at least it was easy and there was far less waste of cucumber. Also, it was something to do while waiting out the long baking times on other things- and while very deliberately ignoring the utter mess in the kitchen.

As for how people liked them: They were indeed very popular! I was honestly kind of surprised, since most of the "take your food stuff and glue it together with mayo" type things tend to be these sticky things that taste like mayonnaise. Maybe the trick here is that you don't just put huge amounts of mayo in there, but just enough to make the cheese hold together.
 In the name of not subjecting everyone to dissertations about the food I brought, I didn't bother mentioning that they were tasting the British Depression.
However, while these can be made the night before, it turns out that cucumbers exude a lot of juice when cut. Since I just them in a container with only waxed paper between the layers, the ones lower down in the tub got soggy. So, if you are going to stack them in a container (instead of, say, laying them out flat on a platter), you want to be sure that each layer is sitting in a cozy nest of paper towels to soak up whatever juices the cucumbers exude.
Er... yum?

This kind of surprised me since the cucumber baskets from when we made an entire picnic didn't have this problem. Someone suggested the salt in the filling drew out the cucumber juice, but the picnic ones were also salted and didn't leak like these did. But, when thinking about it, the ones made for the picnic were barely out of the refrigerator for 30 minutes before serving, while these sat out on the table all day.
In addition to packing them with lots of paper towels, you might consider putting whatever container you packed them in in a larger container full of ice. Or, you might salt the cucumbers a few hours beforehand and let them do all their dripping before you put these together.
As a postscript, when faced with the last bits of cheese and also a little bowl of scooped-out cucumber insides, we avoided waste by making a pretty good ham sandwich.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Butterscotch Pie!

Happy day after Thanksgiving! We at A Book of Cookrye had a wonderful time, and hope you did too.
This year's Thanksgiving brought to you by the makers of tinfoil.

This year, among many other pies we made, we were especially pleased to make this one because it looked so, so good.
Great-Grandma P's Butterscotch Pie
3 tbsp butter
1 c brown sugar
3 scalded milk
½ c flour
1 egg yolk
½ cold milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 baked pie shell or graham cracker crust

First, scald the milk by pouring the 3 cups into a pan and place on the stove at medium or medium–low heat. You will need to stir this the entire time so it does not scorch. You are looking for those tiny bubbles that form just before it boils. Do not let it boil because it will ruin the consistency. When those million tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan (while you are still whisking) take off the burner immediately and set it down to cool. It must cool about 10 minutes before you start the rest.
Melt the butter in a different saucepan. Once it is melted, add in the brown sugar and stir and stir until the sugar has melted and is liquid like. This will take a long time. You will think this is pointless, and that the sugar is going to stay solid no matter what you do to it on the stove. Keep going, stirring constantly and scraping the pot as you go, and it will eventually melt.
Add the scalded milk and incorporate well leaving the heat at medium low. The sugar will be insanely hot, and if you just dump the milk in at once, you will lose all of it in a burst of steam while the sugar all cools down on the spot into shards that never dissolve again. What you want to do is start stirring the sugar really fast, being sure to get both the edges of the pot and the middle of it moving. Then add a splash of milk without slowing down your spoon. Be ready for a lot of steam. Thoroughly stir the sugar for a few seconds and add another splash in the same way. Be sure to scrape the edge of the pot each time. Add the rest of the milk in the same way- after enough has been added, the filling will be thin enough that you can just dump the rest of it in.
Meantime, in a small bowl mix flour, egg yolks, and the cold milk together into a smooth paste – get all those little lumps out or the pudding will be lumpy! Take the pot off the burner so it doesn't scorch while you're doing this.*
Gradually add the mixture to the saucepan, stirring constantly. Once the pudding has thickened, cook for a few minutes more and then take off the stove and add the vanilla. Now, if you have lumps, don’t worry – just use a fine mesh strainer on top of a clean bowl and strain the pudding through! Works every time. Or, put it all through a blender. Press plastic wrap down on the surface, being sure it makes contact with the pudding. This will prevent a skin forming. Then, leave it to cool.
When it's cooled off, stir it to see if there are any lumps you didn't notice when it was hot. If there are lumps and you don't feel like hearing people whine about them, just use a blender. Then, pour the pudding into the pie crust. Refrigerate until you serve it.
You can either eat it plain, grab a tub of Cool Whip and spread it around or, you can make some homemade whipped cream to put on top.
It won't really set to slicing consistency, so A Book of Cookrye recommends doing as Kelli's Kitchen did- put it in individual pie shells instead of a big one.

*If you're better at planning ahead than I am, you might make the flour paste before starting anything else (or while you were waiting 10 minutes for the scalded milk to cool off), so it's ready when you need it. 

Made by Kelli's Kitchen, recipe from Ginger Lemon Girl's great-grandmother

I'd thought this recipe looked divoon ever since the first Pieathlon- and had been meaning to make it for some time. You know how whatever your interest is, you always have some project you've been meaning to get around to? Carpenters have plans waiting to be made, painters have sketches and ideas they keep intending to turn into a finished picture, and we at A Book of Cookrye have recipes that we've been meaning to actually get out and make. And so, we decided to make it for Thanksgiving this year! An aunt and uncle graciously agreed to watch the dog while we were gone all day, and so a pie was in order to leave at their house with her.
We took issue with the first instruction after scalding the milk. You see, we read in one of the cookbooks Our Mom of Cookrye had when she bravely gave us a kitchen education that in order to make butterscotch taste like butterscotch, you have to melt the two together. Otherwise, whatever you create will just taste like buttery brown sugar- which is good, but it's not quite butterscotch. I forget what cookbook it was, but whoever wrote it was almost religious in their insistence on the subject. However, although this goes against what some cookbook writer bashed into my head about butterscotch, this isn't some random recipe fished out of a book. This is from someone's great-grandmother who must have known what she was doing. Therefore, we decided to trust the recipe and see what happened.
If this doesn't work, I will be sad.

Not five minutes into making this, we at A Book of Cookrye were wondering why we let this recipe sit unmade for so long.

Already the kitchen smelled tantalizing and amazing. However, we once again doubted Great-Grandma P's recipe. Every other butterscotch thing we've made, the butter and sugar mix to make some kind of oozy sludge of sweet divinity. This, however, was barely enough melted butter to make the sugar damp.

An inordinate amount of time passed, and the brown sugar clumps went from slightly damp to dried out and tooth-breakingly hard. The recipe clearly said the contents of the pot should be melting, and they were going in exactly the wrong direction. We were about to just move on with the recipe and hope the sugar rocks dissolved in the milk if we stirred it long enough. However, when we stopped stirring to pick up the pot of scalded-and-cooled milk, what should we see but... this!

It's hard to see in the above picture, but if you look closely, you can see some of the sugar looks kind of wet, just to the right of the center. Realizing we should always have faith in great-grandmotherly recipes, we put the pot of milk back down and kept stirring as the brown sugar melted surprisingly fast.

See the puddles starting to form? This made us once again stare at the pot, asking a question that comes up so often in the kitchen:

We had such passionately conflicting feelings over this pot of brown stuff. On the one hand, the kitchen smelled heavenly. The brown sugar had melted into this lovely, velvety-looking stuff that proved we should always have faith in people's great-grandmothers' recipes. On the other hand, the butter slick covering the whole mess made us fear that this would be a really greasy pie.

However, we decided that we had already gotten this far without the recipe telling us a single lie. If we could melt a bunch of dried-out brown sugar rocks into a beautifully smooth sauce, surely we could turn it into a pie that wouldn't make anyone ask "Why all the butter?" And so, we started to pour in the milk that had been waiting on the stove, and suddenly the pot of velvety smooth butterscotch goodness turned into a saucepan of angry spatters and hissing steam.
That milk is definitely scalded now.

It turns out that cooking something for a long time over a hot stove will make it really fricken hot. I've actually seen recipes like this before, and there's a trick to actually getting this to work. If you add all of the liquid to your way-hotter-than-boiling pot of sugar stuff, you'll have sugar shards floating in it that never dissolve. Instead, you have to beat the crap out of the pot's contents while adding the liquid in tiny splashes. If your spoon has a short handle, you may well burn your arm. This pie was one of the last ones we got around to making and therefore we were getting really tired, but nearly scalding a forearm is a great way to snap out of sleepiness.
Eventually, the sugar stuff stops putting up a steam fight, leaving the milk ready to easily stir in. By this point, you may possibly have also saved a lot of money on waxing your arms.

Now that we had successfully added the milk to the pot of superheated sugar sludge with only minor burns, we sampled the pot of stuff and..... yes. If you were to ask how this tasted, the answer is yes.

At this point, the recipe has us thickening the pot of butterscotch stuff in the same way we would gravy. Getting one of those flour pastes to be smooth and lumpless is one of the most tedious things that comes up in cooking. Once again, we had to do a lot of adding one thing in very small amounts to a bowl of stuff. It seems like half of this recipe is stirring a pot of sugar waiting for it to do something, and the other half is gradually adding things in tiny splashes to bowls of stuff.

Yep, the flour really doesn't want to mix with the milk. If you just dump the milk in all at once, the flour gets defensive and forms groups to better defend itself against the onslaught. Instead, like we did when we made the blueberry boy bait, As you can see, we beat in just enough milk to make a sticky paste. Like, just barely enough that we wouldn't have a bowl of crumbly things. It was tough, and more elastic than liquid. Now, we're adding a teeny splash more...

It looks uneven and lumpy, but we beat and flogged this until it had no more clumps of dried flour in it. And it's starting to look like it might actually work all right. It's gone from this really sticky, almost clay-like stuff to... er... this.
Incidentally, we would like to thank whoever put a cocktail whisk into a gift basket Our Mom of Cookrye got as a teacher gift some time ago.

It's still gummy and still has really weird elastic properties, but believe it or not, we can keep incrementally adding the rest of the milk and... tada!

And so, after we finally got to the point of gradually stirring the flour paste into the pot of butterscotch, we had... this!

Look at it! It's so thick and creamy! And... you just have no idea how good this is unless you happen to have also made this recipe yourself. And so, we pressed on the plastic wrap to prevent a leathery skin ruining the butterscotch pot of divine goodness as it cooled.

Had we obsessively removed every little air bubble in there, it would have worked perfectly. See those bubbles under the plastic wrap? Somehow, the pudding got little skin spots under every one.

We actually didn't notice the skin specks until we stirred the pudding up, at which point they manifested themselves as weird semi-gelatinous lumps.

Fortunately, there was a very easy fix to this problem.

Muttering to myself that beating the crap out of that flour paste to make sure it was as smooth as I could get it was a waste of time if I was going to have to get out the blender anyway, I turned the lumpy pudding into the velvety butterscotch goodness it had been before I tried to cool it off.

It never set to the point that you could slice it. Rather than being a pie, it was more of a pudding that happened to be in a pie crust. Apparently, we should have put it in the refrigerator rather than just leaving it out. But you know what? It's really good. Like, really good.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving from A Book of Cookrye!

'Tis that glorious day here in Glorious America, where we eat massive amounts of food so we can have energy for the Black Friday stampedes! Every year, Our Familye of Cookrye convenes (and there are a lot of us) and it is wonderful. We got assigned to bring desserts, and boy did we deliver!
The cucumbers were in the refrigerator when the group photo was taken.

Unbeknownst to any of my relatives, they get to try two recipes I've been meaning to foist on someone! First, they are going to, without prior warning, eat British foods from the Depression!  Did you recognize those cucumbers when they're stripped of their basket handles?  After that, seen in the above photo at the top right, we have brought our second attempt at cinnamon pie! We don't know how anyone will like it, but at least unlike last time, the pie contains no scrambled eggs.
Rounding out all that we bring this year: chess pie at the bottom right (my grandmother likes it a lot), and lemon squares lurking way in the back (as previously mentioned, lemony things are very popular in my family).
The leftmost pie with the kind of unfortunate shade of brown (it looks a bit too close to the world's ugliest color for my liking) is to be presented to my aunt who's babysitting the dog while we are gone all day. Despite the unfortunate color, it's actually butterscotch. I don't know how they'll like it, but the pot was very thoroughly spit-polished before washing.
This year, we at A Book of Cookrye are thankful for many things- employment (even if it is sporadic), friends, family, and the commuter rail that lets us avoid being trapped in traffic every time we want to go to work 30 miles away. As you can see below, we would like to be grateful for a working dishwasher, but that will have to wait until at least next year.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!