Monday, June 29, 2015

Peanut Butter Fudgy Squares! Or, I feel so much better now

Ever get one of those really specific cravings? We at A Book of Cookrye wanted peanut butter in brownies. Not peanut butter cookie dough smooshed into a pan and passed off as squares (which admittedly is really good), not one of those no-bake peanut butter bar things, but brownies.

Peanut Butter Brownies
½ c butter
½ c peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla (optional)
2 eggs
2 c sugar
2 c flour*

Heat oven to 350°. Grease a 9x13 pan.
Melt the butter and peanut butter together. Mix in the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating each in thoroughly. Stir in the flour.
Spread into the pan (it's easiest to pat out with your fingers), then bake 13-20 minutes, or until a knife in the center comes out with no liquid batter on it. They're perfect if when you test them, the knife doesn't quite come out clean and dry, but there's still nothing runny on it.

*Using whole-wheat flour (switch all of it out instead of half wheat and half white) makes these even better. It somehow amplifies the peanut-butteriness.

So, for today's culinary perpetration, we took this divoon brownie recipe, diddled with it a little bit, and this happened!
I feel like I should regret this.

Did you know that peanut butter can melt? We found out when we made the marvelous peanut butter and jelly roll scroll. We used to think that if you used the kind that literally contains nothing but ground peanuts it's somewhat good for you. Since we found out peanut butter melts like shortening, this has been called into doubt.

However, did this recipe really have a chance of being good for you when this much sugar got dumped in right afterward?

At this point, we at A Book of Cookrye had our doubts about the success of peanut butter brownies. We had been giddy at discovering something absolutely divoon, but never has brownie batter been able to do this:

Brownie batter rarely requires the Play-Doh approach to spreading into a pan. Unnerved at the brownie batter's failure to act like it would turn into brownies, we at A Book of Cookrye considered writing off the whole project and eating the cookie dough.

However, our efforts paid off! the form of a beige patty. Our ineptitude lifting it out of the pan put a fault line across the... brownie... cookie... thing.
Also, suddenly I want a Jiffy-Pop.

But all our doubts proved pointless, as these turned out to be marvelously chewy and absolutely divoon. In case you don't believe me, I shall now quote someone who randomly showed up in the kitchen after having a rotten day shift work with surprise overtime and had some:

"This... is fucking delicious."

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Summery Second-Stab Saturday: 1800s Catchup without all the effort

We at A Book of Cookrye previously made a batch of tomato ketchup from one of the earliest recipes for it ever. As much as we liked it (who knew a spoonful of ketchup would improve a pot of soup?), it was a pain in the ass. Therefore, with summer icumen in, we did this:
It's so brown you'd think it came from the seventies.

Tomato Steak Sauce
4 pounds tomatoes*
1 tsp black papper
½ tsp cayenne pepper
3 tbsp dry mustard
1½ tbsp mace
1½ tbsp cloves
1 heaping tbsp salt
⅔ c cider vinegar

Put tomatoes and seasonings into a large saucepan. Insert a stick blender and thoroughly liquefy. Be sure there are no spice globules. Gently boil, uncovered, for about 3 hours or until it is a very thick paste. Leave it out to cool, then add the vinegar. If the mustard's too still too hot, add more vinegar to counteract the heat. You can thin it with water if you like, but it tends to separate.
Delicious as a marinade or when used in grilling. Also, a spoonful of this adds a lovely flavor to soups and stews.

*Save money and get the squishy, bruised ones that are marked down. By the time you've finished boiling this, there's no way anyone will tell they were overripe.

If you don't have a stick blender, you can chop the tomatoes, then add everything else and cook it. If you want a smooth sauce, put it in a regular blender when it's done.
Or, if you really don't mind spending a while on this, slit the tomatoes and boil them 30 minutes. Squeeze out the juice through a wet cloth (as seen here). This is the only method that will give you a completely smooth sauce, but it is tedious unless you just love the experience of making preserves.

Adapted from Directions for Cookery in its Various Branches, Miss Leslie, 1848

Indeed, we at A Book of Cookrye decided that the recipe for homemade ketchup was good enough to attempt again while trying to take all the excess work out of it. And had we had a stick blender, we could have. We tried liquefying the tomatoes in a regular blender (well, some knockoff Magic Bullet someone abandoned in the kitchen), but this happened.
Note that only the blades are moving.

We at A Book of Cookrye considered the possibility of chopping all the tomatoes by hand, but only briefly.

We would like to know what Miss Leslie would think of us skipping all the tedious business at the front end of her original recipe. On the one hand, she may appreciate having reduced the prep work to a matter of minutes. She did cook for her mother's boarding house, after all. On the other hand, a lot of her recipes read like she's saying this is the only correct way and only cooks in inferior houses would deviate.
We blenderized the spices with some of the tomato juice. The before picture looks like a geological core sample.

Anyway, having skipped all the boiling, skinning, and juicing of tomatoes, we could get straight to the part where you just leave it on the stove.
We're gonna be here a while.

At first the really long cooking time threw us off, but then we realized that this doesn't need to be babysat. Heck, we didn't even need to be in the kitchen!

So, when we failed to have a stick blender, we'd thought that... well, I don't remember the exact thought process, but it involved "chunky tomato" and "homemade charm." Neither of those held up in front of a pot of brown barf.

Fortunately, the same blender that couldn't handle raw tomatoes could finally handle this.Granted, there's still little tomato-skin flecks and seeds floating in it, but we at A Book of Cookrye decided that they could just stay there.

All the tomatoes yielded a spaghetti sauce jar full of homemade tomato sauce plus a baggie of surplus.
"It looks like a bag of poo." -my roommate

However, the rest of it fit very nicely in this and will make a lot of things taste divoon. And it required very little effort unless you consider leaving a pot on top of the stove to be a lot of work, so hooray for homemade catchup!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Porcupines! or, How to make one package of meat fill an entire casserole

Today, we at A Book of Cookrye are making meatballs! However, we aren't making just any meatballs. Normally, we take meatballs very literally. Aside from some seasonings, we make ours with nothing but meat. But today, we figure if anyone would know how to stretch meat, it's people living in the Depression. Therefore, we're consulting Mrs. George Thurn's book again and perpetrating this:
"And I said to him, 'I know the depression's on if ya gotta find work with your hands, but keep'em off of me!'"

Seems pretty straightforward, yes?
That's... a lot of milk.

We at A Book of Cookrye were going to use raw rice, but we ended up cadging this off of a friend instead.

People have been adding bread crumbs, crushed cereal, and such to meatballs for a long time, so why does rice look so weird here?

But you know what? There's a Depression on, and this made one tray of meat nearly fill a bowl.
It's like magic.

We at A Book of Cookrye made an executive decision at this point. We do not like canned tomato soup enough to let this much ground beef stew in it, even if we did just cut it with a lot of rice and such. We used spaghetti sauce instead.

And no, we're not kidding when we said this really stretched out the meat. As you can see, we ended up stacking the meatballs and they barely filled our really big casserole. Admittedly, we accidentally ended up doubling this recipe when we checked the meat label and realized it was twice as much as called for (Wheeee! Surprise meat!!), but this is a lot of meatball. We ended up layering them with sauce on top to possible keep them separated. We had no idea if they would remain meatballs or if they would merge into one massive casserole-sized wad of meat, spaghetti sauce, and rice.
We then realized that they weren't supposed to bake for 35 minutes. It's 35 minutes with the lid off and another 35 with the lid on. That's seventy minutes!

Look at the little bristly porcupines! Incidentally, someone asked what I was making when I pulled this out of the oven. Upon my answering "porcupine balls," he thought I had procured porcupine meat. Meanwhile, I'm not sure how I kept from giggling every time I thought about the phrase "porcupine balls."

 As you can see, the rice turned into reasonably convincing porcupine quills.

Also, quite fortunately, the porcupine balls had not coalesced into a massive porcupine. I understand it's always better when different balls stay separate. Putting them on top of spaghetti seemed redundant with the rice in them already, so we just dumped them out and got a fork.

You know how rice tastes when you eat it last so you can mix it with whatever sauce, crumbled-off food bits, and other things fell back onto the plate? That's what these were. We liked them a lot. However, cook them covered the whole time. I don't know what cooking them uncovered half the time was supposed to do, but it meant the balls on top had crunchy rice sticking out of them.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Piroshki: or, Trying to make liver edible

We at A Book of Cookrye have been pondering the fact that we cannot afford meat as often as we would like. We have also been flipping through a book that we've had sitting around for a while...

Exciting title page, isn't it?

Pan-Am published a cookbook of recipes sorted by country of origin in 1954. They had their various employees gather recipes from the countries they sent planes to. We had a copy in our house for years (along with various Pan-Am things since my grandfather worked for them), but the book disappeared at some point. Fortunately, it's fairly cheap online, hence the copy we have now.
You may think this is one of those posts where we say "Oh-ho-ho, look at those silly 1950s people and their sad and bland attempts at foreign foods!", but lot of my friends from outside the US have flipped through their home countries' sections and apparently the recipes are pretty accurate. Which makes sense- if you're going to sell an international cookbook to people who can afford to actually go to the countries, they're going to know how the food is supposed to taste. You can't try to sell them cookbooks that tell you to make Japanese food with a packet of onion soup mix.

They also put this inside the covers in case you wanted to get someone else to make the food for you.

Today, we're cracking this book open to Russia and attempting...
As aforesaid, we're attempting to get meat without paying full price.

Normally when trying entirely new things, we at A Book of Cookrye are perfectly fine with the possibility that the food might be bad.  However, today's offal adventure had better be good because the people at the meat counter would not open one of their liver trays and repackage a smaller amount for us no matter how nicely we asked. We thought we were making liver rolls, we ended up making a commitment.

You know what, let's leave the livers aside for an indefinite period and work on that pie crust.
It just got a lot harder to justify eating livers with "it's good for you."

According to the introduction to the Russian chapter, Russian food makes extensive use of sour cream for the same reason we have pickles and cheese: a holdover from before we had refrigerators. The point is, we're going to be wrapping livers in butter-sour cream-flour paste.
Put a blob of guacamole at about two o'clock and we can serve this at a Tex-Mex restaurant.

Correction: we're wrapping livers in very sticky sour cream-butter-flour paste.

At present the dough had no hope of rolling out at all. It was a sticky blob. But we put it in the refrigerator anyway. After it had spent hours in the refrigerator thinking about what it had done, it was time to get out that which we dread...

Just kidding- Fanny Cradock taught us that we now like mushrooms. Now we must face that which we dread. At least the livers get drowned in butter first.

You know, it's kind of surprising Russia got a chapter in this book with the Cold War heating up. Furthermore, it's called Russia and not the USSR (incidentally, Ukraine got its own chapter despite not being a country at the time). Furthermore, there's no apology for including those icky commies whatsoever. There's not even any acknowledgement that the US and Russia were, ahem, having difficult diplomatic times.
Either the liver's cooked or it's pre-digested.

The pie crust, in its time spent refrigerating, had gone from a sticky paste to a lump of dough about as hard as a stick of butter. We weren't rolling this out, we were smashing it with a rolling pin.
This is the first time we've ever done a pie crust that didn't involve shortening-- although we've read plenty of cookbooks old enough that butter was your only option. The instructions in those books extensively repeat not to touch it lest your body heat ruin everything. Also, most say that a marble surface is best because it's cold. Also, try to do this when it's cold out.
We always thought that was overkill, but sure enough, this melted back to the sticky paste a few pictures up if we touched it for a second or so. The point is, maybe all those people who want granite counters aren't being trendy. They might be really into making their own puff pastry.
I hope that's ⅛ inch thick.

Even though I'm terrible at it, making pie crust is a lot more fun than it should be. Maybe I just like the fact that rather than trying to make everything stay in bowls and pans without spilling, you do the whole operation, messy flour everywhere and all, directly on the counter.
The liver kept trying to escape.

Incidentally, for those who wish to try this at home, it's a lot easier to make the little liver things stay shut if you dip your finger in water and draw a ring around the edge of the crust circles before you put the filling on it. After all, we don't want the liver escaping, do we?
Having rerolled the dough once to get another batch of tiny circles, the third time around we decided we'd done enough tiny liver pods.

We've got a pan of fourteen Russian-sized liver pods and one American-sized liver thing. They almost look like potstickers, don't they?
Evil potstickers of liver!

While the Russian liver potsticker things baked, we reheated the extra liver-mushroom stuff to see if it's any good on its own. Not every food matches the countertop so well.
You know what? Not bad.

At this point, we at A Book of Cookrye must register surprise: these actually smelled amazing coming out of the oven despite containing what now looked like mysterious black stuff.

Despite containing livers, they were actually very good! So, if you cut liver with mushrooms, douse it in salt and pepper (we used a lot more than the piddly doses given in the recipe) and wrap it in sour cream and butter, you can actually eat the stuff!
Liver pod, anyone?

By the way, if anyone from Russia is reading this, please share how correct you think the recipe is.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Carrot Cake X: This time with mayonnaise!

Did you think we at A Book of Cookrye were through with carrot cakes?

Carrot-Mayonnaise Cake
1 c sugar
1 c mayonnaise
1½ c shredded carrots
1 tsp baking soda
2 c flour

Heat oven to 350°. Grease a round cake pan.
Mix sugar and mayonnaise. Stir in the soda, and when that's mixed in add the flour. When all is mixed, stir in the carrots.
Pour into the pan and bake until a knife in the center comes out clean, 30-45 minutes.

There's just something about carrots that makes me want to put them in a meat grinder. Although why we keep trying carrot cakes is a mystery. For the record, we have to date tried nine and only two have been good: the really easy one and the one that involves grinding almonds.
It's the satisfying things in life.

We're not just using a little bit of mayo. This cake calls for a great big blob of the stuff. This is not as daffy as it first seems. There are actually a lot of mayonnaise cakes floating around. Since mayonnaise is mostly eggs and oil, apparently you can just substitute it right in and have cake.
The stray carrot shards make it look even worse.

Normally, one sees this at the beginning of one of those artery-clogging casseroles. You're supposed to add your canned soup, vegetables, and whatever else to the mayo and bake until bubbly. Well, vegetables will be involved in a minute. But first...

We have mayo-sugar sludge! At this point, I had to pause cake-making to taste this and see if it's worth committing the rest of the ingredients. I have another carrot cake recipe and it has pineapple in it, so why am I making one with mayo? Did you ever realize how pungent mayonnaise gets when you have a really big bowl of it radiating mayonnaise stink rays?

To the surprise of literally everyone in the kitchen who tried what lurked in the bowl, it was actually... good. It tasted like what would happen if someone wanted to make a cheesecake and had about $3.25 for ingredients. At any rate, we at A Book of Cookrye decided we had it in us to stay the course.
If you didn't know the secret ingredient, you'd think this was going to be a pretty tasty batch of cookies.

All right, we have successfully(?) concealed the mayonnaise in a half-finished dessert. Let's bring out the carrots and ruin what we have just done!

We also put in the juice that dripped out of the back of the grinder as we turned the carrots into carrot shrapnel- it's the puddle that goes from ten o'clock to twelve thirty. Why does carrot juice look like sewer water? With that in mind, doesn't the cake batter look like a taste-tempting treat?

Despite containing more mayonnaise than a potluck's worth of tuna salad, this actually became a seemingly normal carrot cake.

What, you thought it turned into a nice cake? I said it ended up normal for a carrot cake (see example here). Therefore, it was a weird gummy cake-paste that turned paper towels clear after sitting on them for thirty seconds.

It didn't taste too bad, and getting the rest of it out of the pan made us at A Book of Cookrye consider making cake balls out of it. However, we did not feel like salvaging a carrot-mayonnaise grease ball. My hands were shiny from scooping it out of the pan. We might save this recipe for if we ever feel like we reeeeally want to bother with tediously dipping cake balls, but we didn't save the cake.
Cakes should not do this.