Saturday, April 16, 2016

Second-Stab Saturday: Pudding-Egg Nog French Toast

When last we saw the blackberry pudding, it had nearly ruined a shirt and had taken on an afterlife on the counter. We might have thrown it away, but anyone who's been broke as long as we will feel thus about wasting food:

We decided that since this pudding was like bread, we would make French toast of it. And so, we got out our Louisiana charity cookbook because, and we say this lovingly (and as people who've been decamped in the south for some time), if there's any unhealthy food, the south knows how to make it better.
Case in point:
The Cotton Country Collection, 1972

This is one of the few recipes in this book that doesn't have Mrs. Some Husband's Name under it. Reading through the book, one gets the impression that such anonymous recipes are for things that no one submitted but the Committee (always capitalized) felt should not be left out of a printed and bound compendium of the local food. ("We've got five Heavenly Hash Cakes and nine Hush Puppies but no one sent in Poor Knights?")
The pudding, which looks more dead than sliced.

French toast growing up was always just bread soaked in eggs and milk (though we've discovered blenderized bananas work as well). No one added spices and such, and we didn't bring breadcrumb coatings into the business.
So, let's have a look at what we're about to soak these things in!

You should know that while I have been given to being a lot more generous with spices than recipe writers say I should, these are measured out exactly as specified.
Beaten as uniform as it was going to get.

We were curious, what did this sugared, spiced, egged milk stuff taste like? The answer? Egg nog! Yep, this tasted exactly like those cartons that contain what tastes like melted ice cream repackaged and sold at Christmas.
Almost ready for its time overnight...

And so, we dumped the egg nog on the alleged pudding (I still don't know if puddings are supposed to look like that) and attempted to sleep.
In theory, this will be a wonderful breakfast.

The next day, the egg stuff had gotten unnervingly syrupy. One would logically surmise that all the surplus liquid had soaked into the bread, but it still looked like it was going rancid.

Most people faced with semi-gelatinous green egg nog with brown "bread" floating in it would either put it down the sink disposer or bury it. However, we exhumed some bread crumbs from something that was fried in the name of Easter and did this.
These were so mushy that they barely survived being turned over (presumably the overnight soaking was for rock-hard stale bread). The finished product looks a lot like chicken-fried steak, doesn't it?

Wait, it's missing something. Now we have chicken-fried steak with syrup on top.

As for the result? Blackberry pudding apparently strongly resists being modified- if you closed your eyes, you would never know it had been repurposed as French toast. It was just the pudding with a crispy crust added. Maybe if you used plain bread, you could tell it spent the night marinating in egg nog.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Cinnamon Pie: or, Pride goeth before failure

You know, sometimes I think to myself "I'm getting really good at resurrecting old, vague recipes. I can look at one and figure out exactly what someone back in 1852 would have known to do when trying to make something out of this list of ingredients and maybe one sentence of instruction." And of course, that is when I prove myself wrong. Today, we at A Book of Cookrye present... cinnamon pie!
The [Los Angeles] Times Cook Book, no. 2, ca.1905

I found this recipe when I was looking for something to do with fruit. It's on the same page as the seriously delicious Cream of Strawberry pie. At first I thought, "Well, that might be interesting. Cinnamon is delicious, after all. Why not make a whole pie out of it?" We then noted the last line of the recipe: "Filling for two pies." That sold us! This pie is so delicious that you can't just make one!

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.

As a side note, every recipe withholds the contributor's first name in favor of initials that may or may not be her husband's, but gives her address. I hope I'm not the only one who is inclined to look the houses up on Google Street View to see if they're still standing.

This recipe starts out like nearly every custard pie I ever made. Fine, so there are no instructions, but the ingredients look nearly the same. And, to our delight, this recipe uses a lot of cinnamon. Look at that massive cinnamon lump in there!

Most recipes with cinnamon use about a teaspoon or so. This recipe tells us to use two really big spoons of cinnamon (well, the original says four spoons but we're only making one pie), which turned the pie-to-be a promising dark brown.

We then dumped in the pint of milk that one would use for one pie. It looked really pretty, kind of like a cinnamon terrazzo in a mixing bowl.

However, it didn't look nearly so tempting once we mixed it all. This recipe uses so much milk that the whole thing turned a disappointingly pale, un-cinnamon-y shade of cream. You may wonder what it tasted like at this point, now that we had added everything the recipe told us to add. If you ever drank the milk you had poured on your Cinnamon Toast Crunch, you can probably get a good idea.

And here is where the pie goes wrong: We did this.

I'm not referring to the only semi-successful attempt at crust crimping- the problem is that the pie is already in it. I've baked a lot of pies like this, and figured this pie would go into the oven until it set. Sure, it was a lot runnier than a lot of other things I've baked, but I've seen unlikelier things turn out right. Then it did this in the oven.

That's not bumps rising in the pie. It is boiling. You may ask why we didn't pull it out long before, but even at this point it had not set. When probed with a probing implement, it was just as runny as when it went into the oven. Maybe it was done when the bubbles died down?

As seen above, this pie had scars from boiling in the oven and the crust was a bit well-done. I tried to convince myself that the pie looked so old-fashioned and homemade because it had burns on it, but do you see those white flecks there? The ones that look like the egg is now scrambled? Would you like to examine them more closely?

Sure enough, when we cut the pie we got this.

There are pies that are meant to separate into layers in baking (usually it's cream cheese or something that floats to the top), but somehow I doubt this is one of them. Maybe there's someone out there wants an omelet embedded in their dessert, but I'm going to hazard the guess that this recipe was meant to be cooked on the stove instead. I did try a piece of the pie, and it tasted like it should have been good. Therefore, this recipe will likely be attempted again.
So remember, sometimes you have a faulty recipe, other times it just might be you! Either that, or try to sell people on a pie-cum-sweetened quiche.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Twice-Fried French Fries!: or, A Book of Cookrye salutes Fanny Cradock

Have I ever mentioned how much I like Fanny Cradock? In all her overdressed, drag-queen makeup, suspiciously deep smoker's voice splendor, Fanny Cradock and her ever-disapproving ways are a spectacle I am so glad is preserved for posterity and available on YouTube. I feel an odd connection with the drag queen who terrified everyone in the kitchen with her and then produced some very questionable food with excessive amounts of food coloring. I even send her likeness to friends without warning.
I don't hear from this person so much these days.

Today, we at A Book of Cookrye would like to delve into the recipes of Her Not-So-Serene Highness, Fanny Cradock! Also, we are going to prevent the waste of these potatoes.

Sure, they were kind of soft, sprouting new plants, and about a week from turning to mush, but no one who's near-perpetually broke would throw them out. When faced with throwing out food, we at A Book of Cookrye indignantly say...
It occurs to me that Coco is wearing less makeup than someone who was (allegedly) not a drag queen.

What might we be making of these potatoes, you ask? We could have mashed them, we could have made latkes, we could have just baked them. But we at A Book of Cookrye decided to FRY THAT SHIT! There's not a thing in the world that frying doesn't make edible.

The relevant part of the video's at 9:57, but you should watch the whole thing.

French Fries
Oil for frying
Salt, pepper

Cut potatoes into strips (you can leave the skins on unless you dislike it). Immerse the cut potato pieces in water as you go- it keeps them from going rancid when exposed to air (cut potatoes in water will keep a day or two in the refrigerator).
Heat the oil until a few bubbles come out of a raw potato immersed in it. Fry the potatoes until tender, but don't let them brown. Let the oil reheat a minute or two between batches or else your potatoes will be soggier with each successive batch.
At this point, you can refrigerate the potatoes for later.
When you want fresh fries, heat the oil until it almost smokes and a piece of raw potato held in it sends out a lot of bubbles very fast. Fry the potatoes to a deep golden color. Take them up and toss in salt and pepper immediately.

Source: Fanny Cradock for the UK Gas Council, "Kitchen Magic" (1963 film)

In this lovely piece of British history, Fanny Cradock appears in some beleaguered, inexperienced housewife's dream. Her husband's been nagging her for her terrible cooking (quick semantic question: if a man with a nagging wife is henpecked, is she cockpecked?). When she randomly faints in the living room, Fanny Cradock appears like the nagging kitchen fairy to make her feel guilty every time she doesn't know how to make anything. Look at Fanny's reaction to our heroine when she doesn't know how to fry potatoes the Fanny Cradock-approved way.
Incidentally, when I described the film as "some lady in fancy dresses appearing appearing in a dream to disapprove at some woman's terrible cooking," an acquaintance said "That sounds very British."

Jesus, Fanny! You don't just have her embarrassed for not knowing how to fry potatoes, she's bracing for when you grab that ornamental cactus in the background and perforate her face!
And just what does Fanny Cradock say we should do when frying potatoes? Fry them twice!
We're not having really thick-cut fries with the skins left on because we're too lazy, it's because we think they're better that way. That's our story and we're sticking to it.

It was easy to cut the potatoes up, especially since we decided to forget about peeling them or cutting them into tiny slivers. However, we had difficulty finding sufficient vessels to store the cut pieces in.
This is a lot more potato than anticipated.

An involved discussion occurred in Marcus' kitchen- did we really want to fry all of these? Like, all of them? The answer, of course, was a resounding yes!
Testing the oil just like Fanny would.

At this point, we must say that even though (based on the test we did with a raw potato) we had the oil just as hot as Fanny Cradock and her unfortunate housewife pupil did in the film, these potatoes were not nearly done in the four and a half minutes Fanny said it'd take. Granted, the film is set in a dream where everything works out better than our dismal reality, but these had to fry for about ten minutes.

Such a long frying time doesn't seem so bad at first, but check out the size of the pot we're frying them in. See how small it is? We had a lot of batches that needed to fry for ten minutes each.
Tender all through, not brown at all. Fanny Cradock might approve. Also, we really hope they're supposed to be this soggy.

All right, now it's time to do the second, crisping fry! Fanny Cradock may have had two oil vats side by side, but the most oil Marcus and I came up with was three quarters of a bottle and a small saucepan. Therefore, we and the fries had to wait while the oil heated up.
I now have tiny burns on my hand and the oil's ready to go.

Did Fanny Cradock have leather hands? We got grease spatters all over ours while holding that fricken potato piece in there! We then realized that while just dropping the potatoes into the oil and fishing them out with tongs may have worked just fine when the oil wasn't so hot, we would probably get grease burns all over our fingers from not having a frying basket with a very long handle. Did we really want fries that badly?
Yes we did.

In Fanny's kitchen dreams, the fries took a minute and a half to turn really brown. And indeed, the fries were nice and crisp on the outside in ninety seconds- you could hear them knocking into each other. But we at A Book of Cookrye wanted them really fricken brown, just like Fanny Cradock did on TV.
As a side note, we dubbed the salt and pepper we promiscuously put on these "fairy dust."

First, what does Marcus think? Did we successfully turn some near-rancid potatoes into a successful (if not heart-attack inducing) delicious avoidance of waste?
Both of us were considering the fact that we made these ourselves rather than getting drive-thru.


Hoping that's a pepper granule he's looking at...


REALLY approves!

On that enthusiastic note, I tried them for myself. Would all that time I spent waiting to put another handful of potato sticks into the frying pot be worth it?

Yes it would!

REALLY would! Do this yourself!

These were still good after they'd gone cold. When we asked ourselves if we'd learned anything, Marcus said "Creepy old British ladies are awesome!"
We at A Book of Cookrye would like to salute Fanny Cradock! May her disapproving gaze be ever upon us!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Cream of Strawberry Pie: You're welcome!

We at A Book of Cookrye would like to present a backup recipe! When we made the pudding boiled in a T-shirt, we thought it unwise to have guests over and serve them such a thing and have nothing with a better guarantee of deliciousness. And so, we found this!
The [Los Angeles] Times Cook Book, no. 2, ca. 1905

Scans like that make one appreciate digital scanners over microfiche, don't they?
I must admit that out of personal prejudice, I was wary of making a recipe from a Los Angeles book. I mean, that's the town that gave us Michael Bay and traffic jams. Is it wise to eat like they do? Would I feel a sudden urge to turn my hair blonde and get my teeth whitened?

Cream of Strawberry Pie
1 pie crust (regular or puff paste) in a deep pan, unbaked
1 c cream
½ tsp vanilla
1 c powdered sugar, divided
1 box strawberries

Take the scrap dough from making the pie crust and roll it out not quite as thin as usual- about ½" or so. Cut into six strips a little less than half as long as the pie is wide. Bake them and the pie crust until done.
Wash and hull the strawberries, then crush them. Mix in ½ c powdered sugar, cover tightly, and set aside.
Beat the cream until it starts to thicken, then add the remaining powdered sugar. Whip until thick, then add the vanilla and strawberries. Mix and pour into the cooled crust (heat will deflate the cream- if the crust is still warm, put the cream in the refrigerator and let it wait). Lay the baked strips on top. If you leave it in the refrigerator for an hour or so, the crust will absorb the juices. If you prefer a crisp crust, put the cream in right before you serve.

Note: If you're not keeping to strict period-correctness standards, this is delicious frozen. Slice it up before putting it in the freezer (even though it won't make much visible difference), otherwise you'll be hacking through frozen pie crust. Also, be sure to crush the strawberries very well- any big pieces will turn into ice rocks.

The Los Angeles Times, The Times Cook Book, no. 2, ca. 1905 (contributor: Mrs. J Hamilton)

The original recipe says "A most delicious pie and easily and quickly prepared." Given that early-1900's cooks had much lower standards for an easy recipe, would we in the next millennium still think it was either quick or easy? (Side note: the only reason I can spell millennium on the first attempt is because I had to do a paper on modern intellectual property law and the DMCA came up a lot in the last third of it.)
One box of strawberries!

So far, the recipe's claim that it was easy was correct. Look at our spectacularly un-torn pie crust!

No, really look at it.

I'm beginning to think my biggest mistake in pie crusts all this time was using shortening. For reasons I cannot define, the ones I make from butter never end up being patch jobs. Look at it! It didn't fall apart, not even when I attempted to decoratively notch it!

However, before I let myself get too proud of my pie abilities, I should point out that I didn't anchor it over the pan, causing it to collapse while baking.
Once it's filled with strawberries and cream, hopefully no one will care.

I like how the recipe makes use of the scraps you were going to throw away. Since we weren't too obsessed with perfectly-shaped pie ornamentation, we just cut up what fell off the pie pan from trimming the crust.

Since it's not so cold out that we wanted the extra heat, we baked the crust strips and the pie crust at the same time. However, we discovered that not only did the strips bake faster, but the ones that weren't directly under the pie pan (which were in the back of the oven where we wouldn't notice them) were a bit well-done by the time the rest were baked.

Enough crust. Let's move on to putting the strawberries and the cream into the cream of strawberry pie!
I hope this is how we were supposed to crush them.

Having taken the liberty of eating some of them, I felt kind of bad turning these strawberries into a pulp. They were really good. Like, the kind you would just put in a bowl and serve out because they don't need any help.

In-season strawberries are a cheap rarity. There are so many of them for maybe three weeks that the grocery can barely give them away fast enough, then suddenly they're gone. Since recipes like this don't cover up the bitter and bland taste of out-of-season ones, this would only be "a most delicious pie" (original recipe's words) for a short time of the year.

I wasn't sure why the recipe said to cover the strawberry pulp until gnats started orbiting the bowl.

And now, the super decadent part of this recipe! This isn't just whipped cream, this is vanilla whipped cream!
That brown splotch makes it classy.

You know this pie's going to be good when you get to say "And now we add the fresh strawberries to the vanilla whipped cream."

As a minor detour, the strawberry juice that stuck to the waxed paper that had covered it was utterly delicious.

All right, let's have a look at the beautiful filling of fresh strawberries and vanilla whipped cream ready to go into the pie pan!
For something with no artificial coloring, this looks really unnatural.

And now, the pie was ready to go into the crust! Which... doesn't look quite as bad as we thought it would when we watched it bake. Heck, most of those little folded-down triangles managed to puff out a little.

What was the point of putting it in a pie? Sure, there was absolutely nothing in this that could possibly make it taste bad, but it was just whipped goop.  On the hopes that spending time in the refrigerator like the recipe says would somehow cause it to set, we covered it and let it get cold.

Would you like to see how nice and easily-sliced it turned after chilling for an hour or two?
"I think you should cut it with a spoon."

It's a pretty shade of pink and all, but this pie does not look good on a plate. The sad heap of pink goopiness looks like those cheap from-a-box pudding mixes that may or may not contain actual fruit.

However, as we repeatedly told ourselves as we made it, there's absolutely nothing in this pie that can possibly make it taste bad. Even describing the recipe makes it sound divoon: "You put fresh strawberries into vanilla whipped cream." And indeed, it was really good. It tastes like a not-fake version of strawberry yogurt. And, as the recipe claims, it really was quick and easy. But, there's one thing we have in the 21st century that makes this pie perfect: a freezer.
Heck yes.