Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hump-Day Quickie: Cheesecake Dip (featuring a ground-up bunny and reaction shots!)

Today on A Book of Cookrye, we present a recipe that's so good, you don't care that the Diabetes Fairy took out her book and put another mark next your name. It's perfect for summer because you don't have to turn on your oven or even a stove burner. And it's so easy, you don't even have to measure for it. Also, by accident it's gluten free (if you're into that sort of thing). We present...........

Also, I may be ranting about having to endure a wedding. I'm really happy for my brother, but the wedding itself was... a trial.

Cheesecake Dip
1 (8-oz.) brick cream cheese*
Tiny splash of lemon extract (or juice from about half a lemon)
Powdered sugar to taste
1 (6-oz.) bag mini chocolate chips
Graham crackers, broken along perforations (they sell them already broken into sticks if you feel lazy yet don't want to make everyone break them off for themselves)

Soften the cream cheese. Add the lemon juice or extract (be subtle, you want not so much that it tastes lemony but just enough that you can tell it's there and adds a nice tang) and beat. It may not really mix, but you want to get it past being just a puddle which will become just a clump when you add the powdered sugar.
Add a little powdered sugar- maybe a half cup or so- and beat to uniform. Add more powdered sugar until it's as sweet as you like it to taste. Fold in the chocolate chips. Store refrigerated.
Dip the graham crackers in it and eat.

*You can use neufch√Ętel cheese to reduce calories (it won't affect the taste at all), but since you're making something like this, it's pointless.
Or substitute something else... read on...

Seriously, this is so easy the only measurements are the package sizes. I did vary the recipe a bit. You see, it's just after Easter, so the candy is all on sale.
I do not believe in hollow chocolate bunnies.
Now, like a lot of little kids, I used to love decapitating chocolate rabbits. But I have grown up, matured, and discovered more mature things for mature adults.
Pictured: More mature.
As for the recipe, someone brought this to a potluck at the end of a class. For all the jokes about how weird art students tend to be (most of them tolerably near the truth), when it comes to bringing food, only international student associations have better spreads.
When a recipe starts out like this, you know the Heart Attack Harpy will be waiting.
These days, I make this when I'm invited last-minute to a potluck. Or, as happens more often, I get invited ahead of time, know I should bring something, but feel really lazy. If you bring it somewhere, put it in a cheap container you don't mind not seeing again- that way if someone asks for the leftovers you can just let them have it. This time, I'm making this because my brother's wedding was this week and that zapped a lot of my free time away hand-binding a guestbook, dodging being dragged in as a pianist or photographer... Anyway, I wanted dessert.

Lemon juice... sorta mixed in. At this point I called it stirred enough.
Making the guestbook was a lot of fun, actually. I loved picking out the fancy papers to use for the pages- and I got some absolutely beautiful swirly paper to glue to the outside cover. Then I realized I didn't have glue so I begged at my neighbor who's an architecture student (read: keeps having to glue together balsa or cardboard models) in the middle of the night.

Just a little powdered sugar at first; that way it all mixes in. If you add it all at once it just sort of lumps up.
I even put a photograph of them in a little frame and had a friend who does calligraphy write their names and the wedding date on it. At first, I'd just thought "People love this hand-lettered stuff," but a lot of guestbook signers were really glad to see their names correctly spelled right on the inside cover.

Now just beat the crap out of it until it's nice and smooth.
As for the day itself...
Even your sweetest relatives turn vicious when there's a wedding on the line.
Now start adding more powdered sugar until it's as sweet as you like.

And now it's all mixed and taste-tested.

It was actually really nice once the ceremony was over. I could talk to everyone without being put on the spot or dragged around to be photographed just because I happen to be related to the guy getting married. It was nice to see my cousins again, and also some now near-unrecognizable people who'd been really close friends when we were little. I was mildly confused when they wanted our two families photographed together- it was like they wanted to pretend we were as close as ever when I hadn't seen any of them in person since 2002.

Now add one ground rabbit.

Looks like bean dip, tastes so good you'd definitely believe it's bad for you.

Anyway, I promised reaction shots, and here they are!
Too impatient to wait for me to go upstairs and fetch the graham crackers which I'd forgotten.
First bite, and...
"I think I'm going to cry."
There you have it, folks! I can't promise tears of joy when you're not making this at 3AM, but it is so good!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I wish banana cream pie wasn't the color of mashed bananas

It's freezer-cleaning time! I found a stash of sorta-overripe bananas I'd frozen to turn into banana bread. But I've been in one of those "I'm-in-such-a-rut" moods- ho hum, freeze bananas, crank out another loaf of banana bread.... Well, today we're breaking out of our routine and making... pie!
First, I never thought about it, but banana cream pie is not the color of banana pulp. If you buy it, it's about the color of vanilla pudding, if not a little bit more yellow. Mashed bananas are brown. Because they are the main ingredient in a banana cream pie (or at least, one that doesn't start with "make one box banana pudding to package directions"), they provide the main color. So today, from the department of Try It, It Tastes Better Than It Looks, we present Banana Cream Pie Made With Actual Bananas!

And doesn't it look delightful? Seriously, this is the most-- oh, I give up. This pie is the color of mashed bananas which always go an ugly shade of brown. As my cousin would say, "Who ate it before you put it in the pan?"
I wish I'd had whipped cream. Whipped cream covers a multitude of sins.

Banana Cream Pie
1 c sugar
1 tbsp flour
3 eggs
1 c milk
4 bananas
1 baked pie crust

Fill the bottom of a double boiler* with water but not so much it'll touch the top when inserted. Put it over high heat- reduce to medium when it comes to a fast boil. In the top of the double boiler, stir together the flour and sugar (mixing them together while everything's still dry takes a handful of seconds and will prevent flour lumps). Beat in the eggs thoroughly, then stir in the milk. Add the bananas. Beat with a mixer until smooth.
Set the top over the hot water and cook, stirring frequently, until nearly thick enough to hold its shape.
Put into a baked pie crust and refrigerate.

*If you haven't got a double boiler, just set a heatproof bowl over a pot of water. Just be sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl- the idea is that the steam  heats the top. Also, the bowl might float and bob around, and you'll have boiling water spurting out.
You can mash the bananas separately before adding them instead. I didn't have a second bowl to do this in.

The cookie recipe I used for the crust:
Heat oven to 325°.
 Stir together 1½ c flour, ½ tsp baking powder, ½ tsp baking soda. Mix in ½ c. butter with your bare hands until it's all thoroughly mixed. Break in an egg, add 2 tsp milk, and mix just until uniform. Attempt to roll it out, discover it's too sticky. Put it in the freezer, flour the surface really, really well, and try again in 30 minutes. Check under the recipe for a name to direct your ire toward. Wonder why Mrs. Kenneth G Mang of Trenton, New Jersey said to roll it out; clearly it's so sticky you should be either rolling it into balls or just pressing it into a pan. You picked this recipe specifically because you wanted one you could roll out into a sheet, this one said to roll it out into a sheet, and this isn't going to happen. Drop the dough ball onto the counter and knead more flour into it until it finally is fit to roll into a sheet, and then make a pie crust. Put it into your ungreased pie pan and bake until done through, about 20 minutes.
-adapted from Favorite Recipes of America: Desserts (1968)

But it's mostly-natural! And it's got a cookie crust! By which I mean I made a cookie recipe and just laid the dough into the pan instead of getting out cookie cutters. Which.... sort of worked. Once I got the dough mixed, it was really, really sticky and no amount of leaving it in the refrigerator made it fit to roll out.
When it sticks to your hands like that, no amount of flouring the rolling pin will help.
Why was it so sticky? The recipe said to roll the dough out and cut it, but I had to double the flour before any amount of rolling it out happened.
At this point, it rolled so well I finally did that thing where you put it on your rolling pin and then lay it in the pie pan! For someone whose usual method of pie crust is "Roll it flat, try to lift it up, and end up doing the whole thing by patching in little pieces," this was an achievement.
This never happens.
I shouted in Marcus whose photographic work has been previously featured on A Book of Cookrye.
Look at it. Study it. Behold it.
I had my hands full of rolling pin and was near-shouting. "Quick! Take a picture!... Press OK again!.... All right! Quick do it again!"
Some dough fell off waiting for the camera to stop freezing up.
It ended up nice and perfect looking where I'd gotten the dough in properly, and lumpy and sad where I'd just smooshed in the scrap dough. However, it was tastier in the thicker part, and once I'd put on the filling you couldn't see how bad the crust looked anyway.
Although the filling did look worse.
While the crust was baking, I started on the filling. These are the lovely bananas that I started with. That's frost on them and not furry growths. I forgot to thaw them.
Foreshadowing the color of the finished pie.
It turns out it's a real pain to peel frozen bananas. The inner layer of peel sticks to the part you're planning to turn into something unrecognizable and then eat.
If this doesn't make you want dessert, you may be smarter than I am.
Anyway, into the rest of the filling (actually, the recipe for pecan pie minus the pecans) they went.
If this looks any uglier, I'll have to start saying "Eat up, it's good for you."

A friend came into the kitchen as I was peeling the bananas and was rather incredulous to see such well-ripened ones being put to use. "You're going to eat those! Oh my God, you're going to eat those!" What made it really priceless was that he's not from the United States and has been saying all year that I'm a spoiled American. So I gleefully responded "Oh, you must be so spoiled! You can afford to just throw things away when they go a bit droopy! Fiiiirst wooooorld probleems!" [That last one is sung.]
I don't know why he was so grossed out.
"You've been in America so long, you're fitting right in! You spoiled American!" At this point I was more or less quoting what he's said every time I've muttered that the hot water's not working or something like that. "You don't know how good you have it! You must have been very privileged growing up!" I'd have let it drop had I not gotten this for an entire year.
I just put it all on the stove and once the bananas were soft I did this.

I'm not going to claim I had it hard growing up, but unlike certain people who've been reminding me all year how good I've had it, I've never thought anything of putting droopy vegetables into casseroles or squishy fruits into pies. By the time it's all cooked, you can't tell.
Stick-a-fork-in-it-it'll-probably-stand-up done.
Also, random coconut that just turned up in the kitchen.
At this point, I tried some. Hot mashed bananas taste terrible. I really hoped refrigeration would do a lot more than I expected. Being vaguely worried that setting an oven-hot pan on a glass shelf would lead to cracks, I used the only hot pad I could find.
I feel vaguely guilty putting a 1960s cookbook in the refrigerator like this.
And it did! Look at how much we ate in one night! The best parts were where the cookie crust was extra thick from my patch job- next time I'll make it like that all through. Or just do a graham cracker crust.

Surprisingly delicious!

And so, in conclusion, why have one of those artificially flavored, artificially colored, synthetic pies when you can have delicious, all-natural goodness like this?
I learned how to do crazy eyes from youth-group counselors asking if Jesus approves of what you're doing.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Is it better to grind your own meatballs?

Today on A Book of Cookrye, we proudly present the first time we fall for what those hoity-toity cooking magazines have been yammering on about! (side note: does anyone actually cook out of those, or do you just set them out so visitors think that you may be the sort of person who makes salted-caramel truffles in orange blossom honey?) That's right, we're taking a pricy cut of meat and grinding that sucker, because fresh-ground meat is apparently ever so much better!
Also, we have a guest photographer who held the phone (What? Me? Afford a camera?) while I had icky raw-meat hands. Yes, Marcus (who you may have seen tasting what is to date my favorite creation on this site) gets credit for just about every picture with raw meat in it and also for cranking half of the meat through the grinder.

If raw-meat pictures make you squeamish, just remember we end up at this lovely place.
3 pounds ground beef
2 eggs 
 3-4 slices bread
Salt, pepper to taste
4 garlic cloves
½ c. flour

Heat oven to 350°.* Grease a large cookie sheet very well.
Soak bread in for a few milk to cover until thoroughly mushy, breaking it up as it softens. Mince the garlic or shove it in a garlic press. Mix the flour and paprika in a large, flat pan or bowl.
Mix everything else with the bread mush. Shape into balls the size you like, and put them a few at a time (how many depends on how broad your flouring dish is- I used a big frying pan and got six at once). Roll them until well-coated--- the flour coating helps the sauce stick.
Bake until done- mine were about 1" diameter and took 30 minutes.

*If you like, you can try cooking them in a skillet which is the more usual way. When I try to, I end up with meat-squished instead of meatballs. And you can't tell you cooked them differently once you've got them in the sauce.
If you're grinding the beef yourself, just shove the garlic cloves through the grinder with the meat.

We start with 3 pounds of sirloin (it was on sale!!!!), and trim off the fat.

Does anyone else find themselves using their sewing kit for cooking?
Now it has to be cut small enough to get pulverized. It's gotta get squeezed into the grinder if we're pulverizing it, eh?
I already had to wash the scissors anyway.
Anyway, after it was cut up a bit, this is the magnificent moment!
...but first, a crapton of unground pepper!
All right, now it's time for the magnificent moment!
One of the best moments of my recent life.
About a third of the way through this, I started to figure out why only magazines for really rich people go on and on about buying $20 cuts of meat (you know they're not waiting for it to go on sale) and grinding it up- this is really tedious. I can pulverise a cauliflower in about 3 minutes; it took about 45 to get the meat through- excluding time spent periodically removing the connective tissue that blocked it up.
Yes, every now and then you get to fish this out.
 And even when the grinder's not clogged, the meat doesn't fall off. You have to stop every few cranks to pull it off or else it starts getting flung about.

It's like a meat grinder sheepdog.
You don't do fresh-ground meat yourself, you throw this at the hired help who you've also got putting up with your insistence that you should baking your own bread fresh to make the croutons. Then you get them going on the salted-caramel lobster whatever the hell it is with truffles on top that you saw in Real Simple.
This is also a tasty way to get rid of questionable-looking mushrooms.
Meanwhile, in my mixing bowl, we've had bread soaking to a mush. We now wish we weren't using the bread with seeds in-- it looks like bugs. It could be worse, it could be another chicken beetle.
Yes, this is my mixing bowl.
We're getting to the normal part of meatball making! Finally!
Don't bother even trying with the wooden spoon.
First, look at your pot bowl of meat and realize you'll be having a lot of meatballs.
Second, mix together flour and a little paprika (enough that you'll be able to taste it) in a nice, broad pan.
Pictured: a little paprika.
 Now, shape your meatballs and coat them!
I'd just like to say that the scoop was a present from my sister's sister. I love it when people give me things I use rather than decorative stuff; I think of them every time I get it out.
Finally, decide that doing one of these at a time is for suckers.
Also, it's 2:30AM and you haven't had supper yet.

 By the way, we ended up with not one but two pans of these.
Man, I could have bought 3 pounds of ground beef and been here 2 hours ago.
I've tried cooking them on the stove, but I end up squishing them trying to get them cooked on all sides. So now I just put them on a (very well greased!) pan and bake them. All you have to do is just pop them in the oven and then pull them back out.
This is why the pan's not just greased, but well greased.

...Yeah, some of the flour stayed white which looks kind of unnerving. But it's totally worth coating the meatballs in it because then you put them in the sauce, clap the lid on the pot and shake to coat, and...

Italian cookbooks often mention a sprinkling of cheese with your spaghetti. I may have overdone it.

Moderation is for people who have restraint.

So now, we answer the question: is it better to grind beef yourself? ...Well, I couldn't tell. They're definitely better than those frozen meatballs you can get by the sack. The texture was definitely better than the cheap ground beef with mystery stuff added- they were very firm. They may have tasted better, but since we threw in 4 garlic cloves, a box of mushrooms, and an ungodly amount of pepper, I couldn't really tell.
Also, green glass plates make your meatballs look purple on the inside.
Anyway, not going to rule either way on this one yet. Fortunately, I got another beef slab on sale (let's hear it for learning what day the supermarket marks down their meats!), so I'll try it again soon and this time make something less hyperseasoned so I can actually tell.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Portuguese Farts are Honey Tarts

Today, to ensure a dignified tone, we're starting with a quote from Great Literature.
Yesterday, though, we heard the king of farts,
It smelled as sweet as honey tarts,
While it wasn't in the strongest of voice,
It still came on as a powerful noise.

Yes, yes, earlier I promised Portuguese Farts, and as with any recipe with a name like that, by all the Gods I'm going to deliver! This comes from the online transcript of A Book of Cookrye. The last time we made a recipe out of A Book of Cookrye, it was only slightly scary looking and tasted disappointingly normal. Hopefully, today's recipe will be a real gas (rimshot!).

I'd like to note that unlike a lot of my other middle-of-the-night baking escapades, not only did I have friends over, but friends bearing cupcake pans! So Mike, thanks for bringing your mom's pans. After you repeatedly told me not to, I made damn sure not to scratch them so when she finds out you lent them, it won't be from finding new claw marks all over them. And Maria, who cleaned the kitchen when we weren't looking. Seriously, it was like we like a benevolent kitchen spirit- we'd turn around and hey look, the stove's been wiped!

Here's the original:
To make Farts of Portingale*.
Take a quart of life Hony, and set it upon the fire and when it seetheth scum it clean, and then put in a certaine of fine Biskets well serced, and some pouder of Cloves, some Ginger, and powder of sinamon, Annis seeds and some Sugar, and let all these be well stirred upon the fire, til it be as thicke as you thinke needfull, and for the paste for them take Flower as finelye dressed as may be, and a good peece of sweet Butter, and woorke all these same well togither, and not knead it.
*Portingale- the 1500s name for Portugal. Thanks, OED!
I decided after dumping in all that honey that I could leave this out.
I desperately hope that this recipe's name is not a mistype. If the original book calls it Tarts of Portingale, I will be very very sad.

Portuguese Farts
½ c. butter
Flour (sorry, didn't measure)
Pinch salt
2 sleeves graham crackers*
1 (24 oz.) honey bottle
Anise Extract

Heat oven to 350°.
Make the little crusts:
Mix the butter and flour together salt, adding more until you've got a kind of coarse meal that barely holds together when you squeeze it in your hand. Add enough cold water that you can roll it out (some people use iced water, I just take it right from the tap), and then roll it thin.
Tear off pieces of the dough and press them into ungreased cupcake tins- you should end up with 12.
Bake until cooked through and somewhat golden. Take out of the tins- they should fall right out. Set them on an ungreased cookie sheet.
Make the filling:
Pulverize the graham crackers- I just set them on the counter and took a rolling pin to them. Put in a saucepan and add honey to get a sort of thin paste. Add the spices- be very generous with the cinnamon and nutmeg, moderate with the anise, and conservative (but not overly so) with the cloves. Cook it a bit over medium-low heat to soften the crumbs, and add more spices to taste. Pour or spoon into the shells.
Bake until the tops are crispy, but don't leave them in too long.

*Apparently biscuits in the UK are cookies in the US, so I'm figuring it was also true in 1590s England. Also, I'm being shamelessly cheap- or at least as cheap as you can be while dumping a whole bottle of honey into one recipe.
No, you won't use all of it.
Or you can buy premade shells; I was just too cheap curious how it'd taste in the crust the recipe specifies.

I brought this book home to show my mother when I'd printed it, and she was reading it out loud to get past the spellings. I laughed so hard when she got to this one: "...then cast in your dredge and serve it out hot or cold. That one actually sounds good. To make Farts of Portingale. Take a quart of life honey, and... wait a minute, FARTS OF WHAT!?"
Making the crust- I just threw in a stick of butter and guessed at the flour.
This book's really interesting- obviously, given all the heavy spices and such, you can tell this was for those rich enough to afford it.
I deliberately went for that "homemade charm."
Just about all the really fancy recipes have lots of dried fruit, especially ones you'd have to import from who knows where like dates. And everything from cherries to chicken is liberally sugared because- well, have you seen sugar prices of the late 1500s? What better way to show your guests how much richer you presumably are than they than to literally put it down their throats?

I didn't know if this was a promising or ominous beginning.
But honestly, while a lot of things are just shoved into foods to show you can afford them (much like today, where the more expensive the restaurant, the more likely you'll find truffles and lobster in everything from the artisan grilled cheese to the spaghetti sauce), the combinations are actually really good a lot of the time. Okay, the fresh grapes in the chicken pie I did once (I may make it again, but I'm trying the stuffed fish first) were kind of strange, but in a weird way they actually worked.
It's ominous. We have gritty sludge.
 In the 1500s, showing off your grocery budget to guests apparently meant sugar, rose water, lots of seasonings (usually cinnamon, mace, cloves, ginger, and black pepper), and dried fruits (preferably imported from really far off, like dates).
Enough time on the stove and it actually got really smooth.
And I'm not kidding about sugar in everything. Just about all the meat and most of the vegetables have a lot of sugar stirred in and then dumped-- er, cast on top. Did all those Lord and Lady Whoevers have diabetes? Have their descendants built up an immunity to it? I'll have to look up UK diabetes stats when I'm bored enough.
Y'know, it honestly doesn't look so bad.
Portuguese Farts is actually a bit of an odd recipe for A Book of Cookrye- it's a dessert sweetened with then-cheaper honey (beehives cost a bit less than a sugarcane field and refinery). Also, unlike nearly every other recipe including a lot of the fish ones, there's no rose water. I wonder if this was meant to be a family recipe- you may make the Cherries Baked in Confection when you're entertaining, but if it's just your husband and kids it's farts or nothing.
Surprisingly fluffy farts.
These smelled really good baking. And I'd like to announce a first on A Book of Cookrye: We let them cool completely before eating them! (They were still kind of liquidy in the middle, and no one wants to scald their tongue on hot farts). We set them outside to cool, and since it was a nice night, just sat out on the picnic table and talked as we waited for them to cool. Since it was kind of stuffy, we ate them outside as well- leading me to ask whoever I saw coming in the front door "Honey tart?" (which, considering it, sounds like what some stupidly saccharine couple might use as a term of endearment). I think it says a lot about how often I'm making desserts in the middle of the night that no one thought anything of seeing some people at the table by the door randomly offering desserts around midnight.
Other things that are really satisfying at midnight: Cooked pie crust scraps.

And these were delicious! I baked them a bit too long thinking they were supposed to get completely set, but the flavor was really good and oddly like pumpkin bread. Fortunately, the insides were still soft even though the tops were kind of crunchy due to an inability to realize they were ready to take out of the oven.
There should have been more gooey center, but I was just guessing at when to take them out.

The crust itself was very plain, which went well with the very sweet and flavorful filling. I think it was actually better for me not buying those tartlet shells that are pretty much pie crust-shaped cookies. Mike suggested, and I think I will do this next time, adding nuts into this.

Yes, the only reason I made this was because it's called farts (And who wouldn't at least look twice over a recipe like that?). But it turned out good enough to make again.