Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Husband Bait of 1936: or, Favorite Fudge Cake

We at A Book of Cookrye, like many people, are no strangers to the notion of wooing by way of baked goods. And while we have never heard of people successfully drawing the attentions of the preferred sex by way of five-layer tortes and other extravagant creations (apparently they overwhelm prospective love interests), we---
You know what? Let's get to the point. Chocolate cake!

Favorite Fudge Cake
4 tbsp shortening*
2 c sugar, divided into 1½ and ½ cup
2 eggs, separated
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 tsp vanilla
1¾ c flour
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1½ c milk
1 c chopped nuts if desired

Heat oven to 350°. Grease two 9" round cake pans, or one 8"x12" pan.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
Cream the shortening until light. Gradually add 1½ cups of the sugar, beating well the whole time. Add the egg yolks, and beat until light. Stir in the cocoa and the vanilla. Alternately add the flour and the milk, stirring just until mixed. Blend in the nuts, if using.
Beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually add the sugar, beating the whole time, until stiff peaks form. Stir one or two spoonfuls gently into the cake batter. When mixed, fold in the remaining meringue.
Pour into the pans. For 9" layers, bake 40-45 minutes. For an 8"x12" pan, bake 50-55 minutes.

Note from the original:
This cake has a delicious fudge-like flavor and consistency, and is complete without icing. If you prefer it iced, however, use a cooked fudge icing, a chocolate butter icing, a cooked white icing, or any type desired.

*I use butter if I have no shortening on hand, and it comes out just fine.
The Betty Crocker people didn't suggest this, but powdered sugar with just enough coffee to thin it to a glaze consistency is really nice on top of this.

Source: Betty Crocker's 15 Prize Recipes: Favorites of Each Year - 1921 to 1936 by General Mills, via University of North Carolina at Greensboro Digital Collections

This comes to us from a recipe handout from the Betty Crocker radio show. It's the only recipe that has a note at the end telling you why you should totally make it right now; every other one just has ingredients and instructions. Apparently a lot of people in the middle of the Depression swore by this recipe's ability to snag a man. Purely out of academic interest, we would like to see if it still works today.
Shortening, sugar, and a cholesterol ball.

Now, as aforementioned, a lot of people have resorted to the stove to cure their singlehood. We at A Book of Cookrye have noticed that recipes sworn to snare the preferred sex are usually very simple. There are no reports of people falling heels over head for the one who made something like a Hungarian seven-layer hazelnut torte. However, a lot many people swear they snagged their beloved by deploying things like baked chicken, brownies, apple pie, or blueberry boy bait. You notice how none of those are particularly fancy?
Well, at least it's not unnervingly white anymore...

Chocolate cake is one of those many things a lot of people try to bait potential beloveds with. So we're going to see if this one has any date-catching potential. And even if it doesn't, does it at least live up to the "delicious, fudge-like flavor and consistency" promised in the recipe afternote?
If you can stir this chocolate stuff and somehow not taste it, you have no soul.

Now, usually when you do this alternately adding in ingredients, you start with the flour. Usually. But we at A Book of Cookrye recommend you add the milk first to make the chocolate paste stuff (which, if you didn't taste it yet, you should) a bit runnier lest this happen.
Remember when you made a homemade facsimile of Play-Doh in first grade?

But however much it looked like it wouldn't turn into cake batter at first, we ended up with... this!
Behold, for it is lovely.

You have no idea how good this tasted. It's like chocolate heaven in a mixing bowl. I guess when there's a Depression on, no one wants to waste their budget on bad cake, so you know this is going to be good.
One of the side effects of cutting recipes in half is sometimes your egg whites don't live up to the bowl you put them in.

A lot of times you have to carefully fold in the egg white foam one spoonful at a time, but with this recipe you can just dump them all at once and it works out just fine.
You've got no idea how delicious this is.

Look at it! It's so creamy and dreamy, and it tasted so divoon I nearly turned off the oven and ate it all right out of the pan.
Turn off the oven and bring forth a spoon.

At this point, we dropped our skepticism about this having a fudge-like consistency and decided that what was called a cake was in fact a recipe for brownies.

However, the cake did collapse on itself a bit, making it unfortunately look a little bit like brains.
Chocolate braaaaaaaains!

But you know what? It doesn't matter if it looks like brains on top. This is seriously amazing. It's fudgy and dense, but it's not at all heavy. And it's so chocolatey. It may help you get a date, but you'd have to let other people eat it first.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Book of Cookrye does Kosher Chinese Food

We at A Book of Cookrye, in the desire to expand our culinary horizons, found this in the library:

It has the same sort of thud factor and soft-focus closeup photographs that might lead one to believe the book either calls for ingredients you can only get in this one specialty store in New Jersey or has recipes that start with unrealistic instructions like grinding your own wheat flour (no, I'm not making that up). But the recipes are actually something you could make in your own house without spending six hours in the kitchen or finding the one store that sells the insanely expensive fermented mushrooms in wine that the recipe says you absolutely cannot omit. Granted, you'll need to buy matzo meal for a lot of things in the book, but that's the only specialty ingredient that comes up more than once. Heck, the sausage recipe even says that those who do not have sausage skins and stuffing equipment lying around can do them in tinfoil instead.
The recipes alternate with essays on the cultural history of Jews, Jewish food, and such. A lot of it is reminiscing about being Jewish in New York in the 1950's. Therefore, naturally, there's a section called "Why Jews Like Chinese Food." Which brings us to today's perpetration:

Chinese fajitas, eh? Be careful with that claim; people where I come from know how fajitas are supposed to come out!
Wine, soy sauce, cornstarch. It looks like mud.

As a brief recipe note, we do not have sherry, so we cadged a couple spoons of regular wine off of someone. Also, it just so happens we have skirt steak!
This recipe brought to you by my parents and the blessed phrase "help yourself to whatever's in the freezer."

Also, given how he says that it tastes better if you have a mix of green and orange bell peppers, guess what we found in the discount produce bin!
If you examined them very closely, you could find a couple of wrinkled spots.

A lot of people have written about the deep connections between Jewish people and Chinese food- there are even academic dissertations about it. Apparently the two go together like college students and pizza, which apparently no grad student has ever written about despite living it. I'm actually surprised that the latter hasn't gotten academic writeups (yes, I searched dissertation databases to check).
You'd think some grad student would have done some research piece about Italian immigrants, cultural assimilation, appropriation, and whatever else combined to bring pizza to students everywhere, whether it's people doing late nights or clubs trying to lure people in. The subject interests me the more I think about it. The usual explanations I've seen are "cheap, quick, and requires no utensils." However, a lot of other foods answer to all of those. You just don't see the actuarial science club and the Baptist students both putting up signs that say "free burritos" or "free egg rolls" to get people to show up in their meetings. It's always pizza.
This'll be good.

Getting back to today's perpetration, we find the talk about Jewish people and Chinese food a bit odd, as Chinese food is everywhere. (We're skating right over how much of it resembles what you'll get in China.) Even places where the regional specialty is tater tot casserole have Chinese takeouts. But since we have no working knowledge of Jewish history or culture, we'll not dispute what those who know about it say.
Despite our initial skepticism at the claim, the kitchen smelled like fajitas.

Incidentally, for those of you trying this at home, it seems that his stove runs a lot hotter than ours does as we ended up using about triple the given cooking times. Or maybe he cut everything up a lot smaller than we did. At any rate, cooking everything over higher heat than we usually do made everything in the pan really caramelized without going completely soft.

Also, rather than marinating the meat for a few hours, we left it overnight. We didn't plan to, but the night we planned to cook it, we were so tired that the thought of doing all the chopping and dishwashing made us get a sandwich and fall into bed. However, it's probably for the best.
At home, when we grill fajitas a lot in the summer, it always seemed that no matter what we did, the homemade attempts never quite equaled purchasing preseasoned meat. Eventually someone figured out that the meat in the store spends multiple days marinating in the package as it makes its way down the shipping pipeline. So if you ever want really good homemade fajitas, just bag the meat with the marinade and leave it in the refrigerator for a few days. And if you're just too tired to turn on the stove, you can tell yourself it's because you want the meat to be properly marinated and not at all because you reached for the stove knob and felt like you just couldn't.

All right, we're going to give him credit for calling these Chinese fajitas. Aside from the soy sauce, the kitchen smelled exactly what they bring you on a sizzling platter in Mexican restaurants. It also was smoking just as much, prompting us to close the kitchen door lest the smoke escape into the common room, trigger the alarm, and cause a fire drill.
Heck yes.

You know what this tastes like? Chines takeout. We will leave meditating on finding Americanized versions of Asian food in a Jewish cookbook for another time because this is so good. Also, given how long our week ended up being, it was so reassuring to know it was in the refrigerator and therefore dinner was already made.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

I know I really want to eat rocks

We at A Book of Cookrye would like to briefly discuss the finer points of cookbook design. While a good cookbook need not have attention-grabbing colors and pictures on every page (it would get jangly and annoying to anyone spending a while looking through the book), the book should nonetheless be easy to read. Also, while recipe names need not be particularly fancy, surely someone can come up with a better name than this.
A Book of Selected Recipes, Mrs George Thurn, 1934

I mean really. I know the Depression was on, but is "rocks" the best name you could come up with? Who would look at a recipe in dismal-looking type called "rocks" and want to make it? ...Besides us, of course.

One of the interesting things about cookbooks like this is seeing what used to be cheap but isn't anymore. A lot of recipes in this book call for cut-up dates in huge amounts. Given the price of dates these days, we instead used that dreadful ingredient that sends so many people away in disgust.

The one time that dates were discounted enough for us to buy them, we found that once you chop them up and stir them into cookie dough, they taste like raisins anyway. Therefore, we these days go with the cheaper option. The Depression may be long over, but the Recession ain't.
That was quick.

As a recipe note, we used butter instead of shortening. A lot of recipes from this time use the word shortening when they mean the solid fat of your choice.
The first batch came out oddly coarse. We refrigerated the remaining dough, and the second batch came out a lot better. Therefore, we at A Book of Cookrye recommend the cookie dough spend long enough in the refrigerator to get thoroughly cold before baking.
MUAHAHAHAH--- er, care for a chocolate chip cookie?

I didn't think this recipe would taste particularly unusual. I mean, there are no odd things in the ingredient list. But if a recipe these days calls for cinnamon, you usually use a lot of it plus other spices like cloves and nutmeg. Also, the only cookies I've seen with raisins in them also have oatmeal. I would swear we've had cookies like these at church potlucks. They're good, but just different enough from ones made from modern recipes to make you find them a little odd.
So if you'd like something slightly unusual, have no family recipes and wish otherwise, or if your (great-)grandma was a terrible cook but you'd like to pretend otherwise and further pretend you have the recipes you liked best, do try these!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Stuffed onions, or Attempted Supper Cupcakes

You know how some things seem so brilliant you can't believe you never tried them? We at A Book of Cookrye, in our ongoing desire to avoid having to get out a plate and fork because we'll have to wash them, decided to do this.

What the heck are those things? Well, we're cracking open a Louisiana Junior League cookbook and perpetrating this.

The Cotton Country Collection; Monroe, LA; 1972

Looks surprisingly straightforward, doesn't it? It's like you're making a skillet supper but then inserting it into onions. We at A Book of Cookrye were drawn to this recipe because we love the idea of encasing our supper in itself. When we want to eat leftovers, we will theoretically be able to just microwave one and eat it like an onion-meat cupcake.
However, we didn't realize that hollowing out onions is a pain in the ass. The recipe makes it seem like they'll just fall apart once you cut them open and you can just pull out the inner layers. The reality involved a lot of inept knife hacking.
Now we get to do it six more times!

We later thought that rather than slicing off a lid and using the rest of the onion as a shell, we should have halved the onions and thus gotten two onion bowls from each. However, just doing these took forever, so we didn't regret that we thought of it too late.

As a brief aside, despite being nearly white, they turned the boiling water surprisingly yellow.

All right, we've done enough silly prep work. Now it's time for this to turn into a Southern recipe. By this we mean an ungodly amount of butter. I should have just used a little splash of oil, but for some reason I was convinced that there was some very specific reason why we're supposed to dump half a stick of butter into this.
That sizzling is the sound of my recent health kick ending.

I don't know what's worse, using that much butter or the fact that all the excess disappeared by the time the onions were cooked.
See? Not a butter puddle anywhere.

However, that's before we add a massive wad of sausage! We're using Italian sausage and you can you insert your own joke about Italian sausages because we at A Book of Cookrye are too classy to make one ourselves.
That's hot Italian sausage, by the way.

I would just like to point out two things: butter and sausage. You know how sausages ooze out fat when you cook them? According to this recipe, all that butter and sausage drippings are so precious that we're making sure they get soaked into bread so we can really savor all the goodness of fat.
This recipe makes me think of what a friend of mine said after having dinner with some relatives who live out in the country and coming home looking like her eggs had been scrambled: "I don't know how much butter went into that casserole, but I know she didn't drain it!" We did, however, soak the bread crumbs in milk instead of cream. The teensy allotment turned them into bread Play-Doh.
It's whole-wheat bread so you know it's good for you.

The breadcrumb clay refused to break up into the rest of the stuff in the pan until we dumped a lot more water in to dissolve it. We now had something unrelentingly brown which we were going to insert into onions.

Fortunately for the color-starved, we at A Book of Cookrye previously discovered that parsley is in fact really cheap.
Takes a couple seconds to realize that's not the countertop, doesn't it?

As stupid a thing as it is to get excited over, we at A Book of Cookrye got really excited that these things matched the little picture in the book right down to the one that kept trying to fall over. Incidentally, and perhaps due to my poor onion-hollowing abilities, only half of the stuffing went into the onions. We should have cut them in half so we'd have twice as many little shells to fill. However, the other half of the stuffing was delicious.
We're only using wine because we have it leftover from the boozy pork chops and cabbage.

However, once we got to the point that we could just ditch them in the oven and come back when we were done, our excitement at being finished with all the work made like a fat-soluble vitamin and dissolved in butter.

 The @^$#@%$ frequent basting felt like watering flowerpots except if you twitched your hand, you'd burn it. For the record, I think I basted them about 7 or 8 times. Does that count as "several times"?

Some slight rearranging may have been necessary to facilitate basting.

All right, we're done with these! Wasn't that a surprising amount of work for such a short paragraph... oh wait. Reduce sauce. Is there any point in reducing them when this is all you have to begin with?
At least this won't take long.

Turns out, yes there is. We now had syrup. Ever had concentrated broth and wine? It was pungent. It might be good in tiny amounts, but you wouldn't want to dump it all over things. Not that you could, anyway. There's only a spoonful or so.

Great. Now it looks like tar puddles formed on top of the onions.

I kept going back and forth between "It's just like the picture! Ooo, it looks so retro!" and "It looks like something crawled into the onions and died."

And, for the record, these things tasted amazing. Pungent wine tar on top? Divoon. Sausage-onion stuff? Heck yes. Onions soaking in butter from the inside and wine soup from the outside? You have no idea what you're missing. However, these are incredibly awkward to eat. You can't eat them like cupcakes because the inner onion layers squirt out, spilling stuffing everywhere and leaving you with a soggy onion husk in your hand.
However..... er... since this is Southern food, we're going to attempt to be gracious.
These are an ideal food for an outdoorsy picnic. They would be wonderful made ahead and wrapped in foil for a camping trip on those lovely nights when you sleep directly under the stars. They're a lovely lunch or dinner idea in the fall or spring, when the weather is just perfect and you just want to open the windows and let the beautiful breeze flow through the house.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Second-Stab Saturday: Caramel Rolls that didn't get burnt!

We at A Book of Cookrye have been contemplating a recipe that seemed really delicious but failed in execution. It's cinnamon rolls baked in the brown sugar-butter stuff you'd do a pineapple upside-down cake in. When we last tried to make them, we unfortunately burned the hell out of them because it turns out Marcus' oven runs some somewhere between fifty and a hundred degrees over what you set it to.
However, given how many spatters have landed on the original book's page in its lifetime, the recipe has got to be good if you don't turn your cinnamon rolls into charcoal, right?

Caramel Rolls
    for the pan:
 ¼ c. butter
½ c. brown sugar
   for the dough:
4 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
2 c. flour (I used all-purpose and it came out fine)
¼ c. butter
¾ c. milk
   for the filling:
⅓ c. brown sugar*
Cinnamon to taste (be generous)

Heat oven to 450°. Set a round cake pan or skillet over medium heat and melt the brown sugar and butter together (If you're using a cake pan, you may want to do this in a pot and then pour it into the pan).
Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or just use your hands- it should be a coarse meal. Add the milk and beat for a while. The dough will thicken and get firmer until it pulls away from the sides and you can make a really sticky but nonetheless firm ball. Set it on a floured surface and knead for about thirty seconds, reflouring as needed if it sticks.
Roll on a floured surface into a rectangle a little thinner than half an inch thick. Mix the brown sugar and a lot of cinnamon. Cover the dough with this, being sure to get all the way to the edge on three sides. Leave about half an inch of dough on one of the long edges bare, and wet this edge with a little water or milk. Roll the dough up from the opposite edge (so the bare one gets rolled up last). Press and pinch the seam closed.
Set the dough scroll seam side down- if the seam is on the side it's more liable to open when you're slicing. Slice it into half-inch pieces, pinching them back into shape if they get flattened by the knife. Set them into the pan.
Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until nice and golden on top. Check the oven early.
Turn out onto a plate immediately if you're not serving them out of the pan.

*I used dark.

All Electric-Mix Recipes Prepared Specially for your Dormeyer Mixer, 1946

If nothing else, these things are really quick to make. Seriously, we went from a bowl of partially-mixed stuff to rolling dough out onto the counter in 15 minutes.

Most of the cinnamon roll recipes we've found that don't involve just buying a can of refrigerated ones use yeast. These use baking powder instead. We wondered if the dough would come out kind of bland, but then again we're covering it in craptons of brown sugar and butter.
We ran out of brown sugar and ended up using white sugar and molasses. We may have overdone it on the molasses.

The original recipe said to coat the dough in butter before you put the brown sugar on, but we usually skip that and just sprinkle the brown sugar on. Supposedly the butter helps the brown sugar stick either while rolling them or while baking, but ever since we forgot it in an incident that involved the phrase "too late, they're in the oven," we don't bother with it any more.
We had suspected the butter is there to melt while baking and keep the brown sugar from falling out into a powdery mess once you bit into one. The rolls came out just fine, and you couldn't taste the difference even before we slathered the icing on top. So, yeah, you can skip the butter. And if you think we're saying this in an attempt to dodge calories... uh, have you seen the recipe we're making?

While there was a satisfyingly deep layer of brown sugar stuff in the bottom of the pan, we wondered if it would be enough once the rolls expanded in the oven. Would they have a scant layer of stuff on top or would they be gloriously butterscotch-y on the bottom? Well, we figured, even if the topping turns out disappointingly thin, we could ice them and then have this awesome glaze-under-icing thing going. However, we didn't need to worry about forgetting to buy cream cheese for the icing.
Look at how sticky and divoon they turned out!

The bread part was deliciously buttery, and the recipe provides a lot of cinnamon sugar to roll up into them. I could go on about how delicious these were, but instead here's what the pan looked like 20 minutes later.