Thursday, August 17, 2017

Rumbling Rhubarb returns to A Book of Cookrye

Guess what turned up at the supermarket!

No, it's not celery with red paint, it's fresh rhubarb! Living in a southern enough latitude that the walk from your air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned supermarket can cause heat stroke, seeing rhubarb casually stacked between the celery and the lettuce was quite the surprise. There must be a really big bumper crop in the regions where rhubarb grows, so much so that distributors have sent it down to parts of the country where most of the customers haven't heard of it. If you live further north than I and grow rhubarb plants, do tell-- have they done unusually well this year?
Every rhubarb recipe made on A Book of Cookrye has started with frozen rhubarb because that plant does not like spending its summer days roasting in over 100° days (that's over 40°ish for you Celsius folks) and has an unfortunate habit of dying.
Finding fresh rhubarb prompted the question: Is fresh better than frozen? Can one even tell the difference? More importantly, what really special recipe might one use for this rarity?
That last one is the reason why the rhubarb sat in the refrigerator for longer than it should have. I wanted to make something special because fresh rhubarb simply doesn't happen where I live.
Whenever I find something in stores that either they don't stock or I cannot let myself buy without a discount, I first come home really happy about what I got.and want to make something special to really savor this treat. I then tear through a bunch of cookbooks and a lot of recipes online, trying to find The Perfect One. None of them ever look good enough, so I keep searching while the food slowly expires in the refrigerator. Then, likely as not, I eventually find the perfect recipe and also that the special thing has rotted.
And so, after three weeks without The One Perfect Recipe falling from on high, I decided to make this before the rhubarb turned to compost.

I must note that "rumble" is an odd choice to put in a dessert name. It seems stranger the more I think about it. Usually desserts have dainty (or at least nonthreatening) names like "Lemon Loves," "Red Velvet," "Hummingbird Cake," "Divinity," etc. Yes, there are many exceptions like devil's food. But generally speaking, you're more likely to find rumbling and other ominous noises among the meats and casseroles than among the cakes and cookies.

Rhubarb Rumble
1 c flour
1 c brown sugar
½ c butter, melted
¾ c oatmeal
1 tsp cinnamon
4 c diced rhubarb
1 c sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 c water
1 tsp vanilla

Heat oven to 350°-375°. Grease a rectangular baking dish.
Mix butter and brown sugar, stir in cinnamon. Mix in the flour, then the oatmeal. Press half of this into the pan. Cover with rhubarb.
Stir together the sugar, cornstarch, and water in a pot. Put over high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
Pour over the rhubarb*. Top with remaining crumbs.
Bake one hour. Serve warm, topped if you like with whipped cream.

*Be sure not to leave any big unsugared spots in the pan. It will mix a little as everything bubbles up in the oven, but any un-syruped spots will stay bitter and be rather unpleasant to find when you're eating it. It'd be easier to just stir the rhubarb into the pot just as you take it off the burner and then dump the whole mess into the pan. I'm not sure why the recipe writer didn't do that instead.

Mrs. Carol J. Domier; Mayville, ND; Favorite Recipes of America: Desserts, 1968

By the way, it turns out fresh rhubarb keeps extraordinarily well in the refrigerator. After three weeks of hoping I'd find a worthy recipe, this was all I had to cut off.

Anyway, you may also wonder what the heck this stuff looks like. Well, imagine someone bleached celery all the way to a pure white, then painted the skin red.

Not only does it look a lot like celery, it tastes like it, too. So much so that (this is no joke) I have every intention of using celery in a rhubarb recipe just to see what happens.
Anyway, this recipe says to serve it warm, which generally means you want to time things so you're pulling it out of the oven right before dinner if you're serving it for dessert. This can create a bit of a conflict of interest with regards to the use of the precious few square feet of kitchen. This brought forth two more questions: Can we get all the pieces of this ready so all we have to do is get it in a pan? If so, do we really want to have to wash a bowl?

You may have noticed that, having just a little blob of butter, we ended up substituting some margarine and also some of the shortening left over from all the practice pies in baking class. Which brings us to a fun science lesson: Did you know butter and shortening melt at different temperatures?
Note the choice of mixing this in a storage container. It will be relevant later.
Seeing a completely intact blob of shortening sitting in the melted butter is definitely not unnerving at all. But enough of that-- on with the sugar!

As you can see, there was too much butter for that sugar and it floated on top in a greasy fat slick.  This could only mean one thing: The oatmeal and flour would absorb the butter and become a heart-stoppingly delicious carbohydrate paste!
You can still see the odd shiny spot.

And so, with a stir of oatmeal, we had the top and bottom of this thing done! For such buttery beginnings, this was really dry and almost sandy.

And so, we got on with.... well, the rhubarb was not going near the oven or even a vacant pan yet. For you see, I wanted to start this baking right after dinner for a late-night gathering with friends. However, it seems that around dinnertime, people want to use the kitchen to make dinner which can create a clash of space. And so, I got all the components ready to assemble. The rhubarb went into the refrigerator, as did the tub of oatmeal stuff. Heck, I even measured out the sugar and cornstarch because I am just that good at preparing ahead of time, guys.
Maybe the cooking classes are paying off in preparedness (and a new stash of overpriced French terms for everything).

And so, as dinner was wrapping up, no one could possibly be annoyed at me for pushing food out of the way to cut up rhubarb, mix things, or have various ingredients slowly conquer the counterspace. That was already done ahead of time. All I had to do was first get the half of the brown stuff into the pan, which proved more difficult than expected because it had turned into butter-sugar sandstone in the refrigerator.

When trying to make half of the oatmeal cover a whole 9x13 pan, I wondered briefly if I might use something smaller. However, I like to have lots of crusty stuff on top of fruit whenever making cobblers (or rumbles, apparently). Were you to make your cobbler (or rumble) in a deep pan, then everyone would get a puny ration of crust on top. But if you make it thinner, there's a lot more of the crusty stuff (with baked-in fruit juice) per serving.

You may notice strawberries in this. That's because a bag of frozen strawberries appeared in the freezer seemingly from nowhere. Since there were only 3 cups of rhubarb whereas the recipe calls for 4, it seemed like a good time to both make up for insufficient fruit and to try this rhubarb-and-strawberry combination so many people rhapsodize about.

While that sat out, the pre-measured sugar and starch turned into syrup. It's basically lemon meringue pie if you left out the lemons, I guess. If you were one of those weird kids who tried to steal from hummingbird feeders, you would love it.

What seemed like a huge mass of sugar slime while in the pot now seemed hopelessly inadequate for dribbling over everything in the pan.

Actually, everything about this recipe seemed promising. We've already discovered how much we like rhubarb, and the last time we dumped syrup over strawberries, the resulting pie had a shelf life of about 2 hours after cutting.
I really should offer to do an advertisement for foil in which I pose under the slogan "I haven't washed my cake pans in five years!"

I must admit I was near-certain that I had wasted the fresh rhubarb that one so rarely finds in my climate region. This was the driest-looking thing I've ever tried to pass off as a cobbler. The oatmeal stuff was like dry sand, and there was barely enough syrup on the fruit to make it visibly wet.After an hour in the oven, this would surely have turned into a desiccated mess and possibly burned onto the pan, right?

Wrong! About halfway into the baking time, the various fruits started oozing out juice. Before the hour elapsed, the pan was merrily boiling under its crispy crust.

As anyone looking at this may surmise, it was in fact really fricken delicious. For those who doubt, this is how much remained after about 45 minutes.

This is a really good cobbler recipe. But I honestly would skip the bottom crust- it went hard and gummy, and got stuck in your teeth the way a Butterfinger does. It'd be better if you just sprinkled all of the crusty stuff on top. But as you can see, made exactly as written, it's pretty good.
And so, to close, let's get back to the question: Is fresh rhubarb better than frozen? Honestly, by the time you've sugared the heck out of it and baked it an hour, you can't tell the difference. Some things may lose flavor if you freeze them, but rhubarb is good either way. That said, rhubarb is really good. So if you've never had it and find it either fresh or frozen, do treat yourself!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Chatters on Parade: A Midterm of Cookrye

We at A Book of Cookrye just survived our first practical exam! Everyone in the class had to draw two recipes the week before test day, and I got assigned a pan of cornbread and peanut butter cookies. As you might expect in a baking class geared toward doing it commercially, they have exacting standards for appearance, uniformity, etc. (Also, your baked perpetration should probably taste good, though they don't emphasize that as much as you may expect.) When we made peanut butter cookies in class, they spent more time telling us that they damn well better have visible fork lines on them than they did saying what they should taste like. And so, I went home dutifully cranked out the official recipe from the textbook. It indeed had the visible fork marks and appropriate spread.

You may have noticed they look just a bit pasty-colored. Just to see what other people thought since these are for a grade, I called some friends and asked them to taste-test my midterm practice. Everyone thought they were oddly bland and really dry.
This is consistent with all the textbook recipes, incidentally. They are all curiously bland. The official brownie recipe in class uses only three-quarters of a small bag of chocolate chips, melted into enough batter to fill one of those massive cafeteria baking sheets.
Anyway, with my midterm grade literally riding on a batch of cookies, I decided to fudge things and make... chatters! After all, they tasted really good the last time I made them.
Unfortunately, as I always seem to do, I waited until the night before the test to get out the recipe. Then, that very night, a storm sent several trees through the local power lines. This meant courteously asking some of my nocturnal friends if I may come over on such short notice and borrow someone's kitchen.

However, since there were people sleeping in the house, other arrangements had to be made. And thus did I pack the toaster oven (which I initially got in the name of keeping garlic fumes out of the house) and a bag of ingredients to set up on someone's carport.

Some people say that the real test of any skill is whether you can do it in terrible conditions. I discovered that I have a lousy memory and forgot to bring peanut butter. For peanut butter cookies. But after borrowing ingredients and repeatedly handing over utensils while asking "lick this clean real quick, wouldja?" we produced a batch of cookies that looked like this!

They may not have the stupid fork marks that we obsessed over in class, but they have adorable crackle tops. More crucially and unlike the official recipe, no one ate them and said "They gave me sour burps."
We then all looked at the big bowl of cookie dough and asked ourselves if we really felt like making that many cookies when only six of them fit on the tiny toaster oven pan at a time. We then decided to make American-sized cookies instead.
Note the attempt to adapt to what we're using: Since the back of the oven is a lot hotter than the front, the back row of cookies is bigger in an attempt to keep them from burning.

And so, remembering at 2:30AM that we also had a written test, I returned home to gather my books. Since the electricity was as dead as ever, I asked myself if I really wanted to study in a hot house by the light of an oil lantern. This happened instead.
Note the drink refills brought two at a time.

And so, worried that my cookies would not be the same when made under the drastically different conditions of indoors and in a real kitchen, I took my scrawled recipe notes, desperately hoped to read my own handwriting under the unforgiving fluorescent lights, and made these.

Whether or not they're good enough, they're as good as they're going to get!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Pieathlon the Fourth: James Cagney's Apple Cheese Pie

Guess what today is!
I don't know what TV show this comes from, and prefer to imagine that this one half-second of animation sprang out of the online ether.

Yes indeed, today is the...

First of all, a big salute to Yinzerella of Dinner is Served 1972 for organizing this four times and counting.
Recipe swaps like this always seem to bring out the more, shall we say, interesting things from people's cookbooks. Of course, I say that as someone who caused an unsuspecting Bittersweet Susie eat a pan of dried-out fish and breadcrumbs last year (in my defense, the recipe didn't look that bad when I read it).
This year, I sent in an Italian recipe for pistachio pie which hopefully Battenburg Belle found unusual yet good. Then again, I had the same hopes for the fish pie I sent in last year. I then got assigned this, courtesy of Jenny over at Silver Screen Suppers:

This is the best Pieathlon ever, because this year we get James Cagney for dessert! Hopefully he'll drop the gangster persona (which he reportedly didn't really like anyway) and sweep me off my piecrust-rolling feet.
What, you thought he was just a movie gangster (or haven't heard of him)? You've just got to pause for a few seconds and watch the man tap dance down a staircase without falling. He's not even close enough to the handrail to grab it if he loses his balance while, again, jumping and tap-dancing on stairs.

Tragically yet obviously, we do not get the man himself for the Pieathlon, but instead a pie recipe he sent to a cookbook:

The pie looks like it will be really good... until we reach the very bottom of the page and put one half-pound of "sliced process cheese" in it. Really, it looks like someone took a perfectly normal recipe for apple pie and stuffed it with half a pound of sliced process gimmick and novelty.
To be clear, no one here is bashing apple pie with cheese. As skeptical as I was when first served it, apple pie with cheese on top of it is actually really delicious. There's no reason to believe putting the cheese in the middle of the pie rather than on top wouldn't be good. However, absolutely and literally every apple pie with cheese I've eaten had actual Cheddar (and significantly less than one half-pound per pie). Tragically, the Pieathlon rules strictly forbid substitutions unless you have a damn good reason, and "I really don't like this" is not a valid excuse. The recipe very clearly specifies one half-pound of sliced process cheese. So regardless of how much I think American process cheese tastes like fermented plastic, there is no way for me to fudge the directions and use real cheese.

A lot of my engineering school textbooks used this cover font.

Apple Cheese Pie
Make as directed:
     1 box pie crust mix
Roll out half of the dough and line a 9" pan.

Toss in a large bowl until mixed:
     7 c pared, sliced cooking apples
     ½ c white sugar
     ½ c brown sugar
     3 tbsp flour
     ¾ tsp cinnamon
     ¼ tsp nutmeg
Put half of this in the pie pan and cover with a layer made of:
     ½ pound sliced process cheese
Cover with remaining apples, then dot with:
      2 tbsp butter or margarine

Roll out the remaining pie dough, cover the pie, and cut steam vents. Press edges to seal.
Bake at 425° for 40 minutes, or until apples are done.

James Cagney, Cooking with the Stars by Jane Sherrod Singer, 1970

All right, let's ask one basic question: Did James Cagney ever make this pie? After all, he didn't seem enthusiastic enough about the recipe to be in the photo that came with it. Or, if he didn't like to cook for himself (after all, attaining enough dancing skill to tap-dance down stairs without tripping can consume a lot of time), did he ever ask whoever he hired as a cook to make this exact recipe for him? If he did, I'd like to think that he would have at least used real cheese. (Then again, Mamie Eisenhower served cakes made from mix during her time as First Lady.)
While many celebrities do indeed send recipes they themselves actually like to whoever's asking for one, other recipes that purportedly fell from the stars are a bit suspect in provenance. Do you really think the Hollywood elite of 1935 loved to turn Bisquick into approximations of cakes and puff paste?). More recently, it seems everyone's favorite crankypants from The Office (American version) did not particularly care for the fast food he was endorsing...
Apparently he backpedaled and tried to claim it was a joke/hoax, but there was still a spate of articles trying to turn this into a controversy.

Back to James Cagney and pie. Rather than just mention the photo that comes with the recipe in passing, let's examine it a little more closely.

The caption says we are looking at James Cagney's favorite lunch of pâté, mushroom soup, and apple cheese pie, but I don't see any of those on the table. The bowl may contain mushroom soup, but appears to share the photograph not with an apple cheese pie and pâté but with a casserole and tray of cold cuts. Maybe they baked the pie in a casserole dish and served a tiny amount of pâté on the deli tray?
The photo is "courtesy of BP Singer Features," which shares a last name with the cookbook author (though her last name is common enough that it doesn't show up with a red underline when typing, so that may just be a coincidence). A search for "BP Singer Features" turned up various adventure novels of yesteryear.
All right, enough researching, let's get to pie!
This recipe begins with a lot more work than I usually put into apple pie. By which I mean I had to peel nearly four pounds of apples, where I would normally leave the skins on and claim it added flavor or something like that. But while staring at the recipe and the dauntingly large pile of apples, I had a genius idea! Hasn't there been a doughnut cutter buried in the back of a kitchen drawer even though literally no one here has ever made doughnuts? Wouldn't such a device be perfect for simultaneously shearing off the apple skin and excising the apple cores?
It might have worked had I not overestimated the structural integrity of old cookie cutters.

Instead, I had to get out the knife and do this nine times. You may notice that I missed several tiny skin pieces, but these apples are about to get trapped in a pie crust with one half-pound of sliced process cheese anyway.

By the way, I may have inadvertently given this pie more dignity than its one half-pound of sliced process cheese deserved. As we all know, if it was 1970 and you didn't live in apple-growing country, apples probably came in only two colors: Red Delicious and Granny Smith. However, the supermarket near me has an entire rack of different varieties of apples, and it seems each week they over-order one kind and must steeply discount them just so they sell before turning to bruised mush. This week, they had way too many Pink Lady apples, and thus set their price at like half of what their other apples cost. (In a move to reduce food waste, I bought the ones that were just starting to go soft, leaving the perfect ones for those who didn't intend to bake them.) The absurdly cheap price was a slight consolation upon beholding how much of the apples was going straight into the trash:

I think we all know how I feel about wasting that much food:

At any rate, all that paring and cutting yielded a pot of sliced beige. Incidentally, we're taking advantage of this pot having little measuring marks to skip trying to somehow get apple slices into a measuring cup. Since one quart is four cups, it stood to reason that if the apple slices fell just short of the 2-quart line, we would have seven cups or close enough.

The way all the white sugar sank through the apple slices and disappeared into the depths reminded me of when I used to promiscuously and excessively dump sugar on Corn Flakes in an attempt to make them edible. I know I'm supposed to say that I do not need to bury Corn Flakes in diabetes crystals now that I am (allegedly) grown up, but instead I just stopped eating them.

Moving right along, we are supposed to buy a pie crust mix and make it according to package directions. Here I must confess to and apologize for veering away from following the recipe exactly.
Pie crust mixes are surprisingly hard to find these days (just watch- someone else doing the Pieathlon this year will have found a whole shelf of them in the store right around the corner from their house). My guess is that unlike cake mix, they don't remove much work from what you're making. You still have to roll a lump of dough into a thin sheet and then get it off the counter, all while doing your damnedest not to tear it.
I briefly considered driving 20 miles to the nearest store that stocked pie crust mix- and then asked myself just how much I was willing to drive chasing hard-to-find products when I'm about to dump one half-pound of sliced process cheese on them. Then I bought this.

I haven't used a premade pie crust in a long time. My first impression after unwrapping one: they are oddly rubbery and smell like those cheap tortillas that have a weird chemical aftertaste that no amount of cheese (or even one half-pound of sliced process cheese) can cover. However, I had this sucker in the pan in less than thirty seconds. It may look sloppy, but again, one half-pound of sliced process cheese.

All right, it's finally time to get to the one half-pound of sliced process cheese! This picture does not properly show just how rubbery and weird it looked. It was like someone started making a pie and tried to turn it into orange, naturally-flavored Shrinky Dinks.
Believe it or not, there are apples under that cheese.

Let's briefly pause and gaze on the huge pile of wrappers that remained after putting one half-pound of sliced process cheese on top of a pan of apples.

All right, back to the pie! One very specific image came to mind when I gazed on the rubbery orange layer that I had voluntarily put in the pan:

Though I did not take the above picture nor do I even know where to find this buffet of despair, it is is an accurate representation of the cafeteria food when I went to college. At least once, they used ketchup instead of pizza sauce. However, since the cafeteria management were either too dimwitted or too apathetic from low pay to serve better food than usual on orientation weekend (when the parents were all present), my parents believed me when I called claiming I was starving and begging for grocery money even though we had surrendered an obscene sum on a mandatory meal plan. And for the record, I never used the grocery money to make things that looked like this.

Actually, the apples coated in spiced sugar were really good. But I was so aghast at the rubbery sight of one half-pound of sliced process cheese that I had the top crust pressed on it before realizing that I forgot the crucial last step:

Thank goodness I remembered to dot the pie with 2 tablespoons of butter or margarine before it was too late! You just know that those two tablespoons of butter or margarine are what will make this pie a success.

This pie spent 40 minutes in the oven, exactly as the recipe said. I usually cook apple pie for longer, but it's been pointed out to me that the apples don't need to be completely cooked soft. Many people like for the apples to retain some of their snap. This seemed as good a time as any to test the idea.
The smell coming out of the oven was... odd. Imagine if you will someone making a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (the kind where the cheese is in powder form) while your mom's Glade apple candle that smells like aerosol bathroom freshener burns on the kitchen counter. Now intensify that smell until it follows you throughout the house. I had to hide the oven odor somehow, so in desperation I decided that I really wanted cinnamon tea. You know, the kind that involves boiling cinnamon sticks for half an hour.

I actually like apple pies that come out lumpy on top from the crust melting into the apple slices before it gets baked hard. It promises the delicious apple chunks you will find inside the pie. However, this particular pie also oozed out some of the one half-pound of sliced process cheese, which now bore a striking resemblance to artificially colored plastic pus.
The cheese splurts looked even worse as they shrivelled while cooling.
And so, I dragged this pie out into public!
No, I was not the only one who ate this.

You know what's really weird? You couldn't taste the one half-pound of sliced process cheese at all. It added a weird, almost-creamy texture to the pie and made it land in your stomach like a concrete ball, but nevertheless you couldn't taste it. Actually, the pie was kind of bland.
This is what  a pie impregnated with one half-pound of sliced process cheese looks like.

I don't believe it myself, but the biggest complaint at first was that it needed a lot more cinnamon. Although any time you got a forkload from the edge of the pie where it was just cheese and crust, you could taste the one half-pound of sliced process cheese and the preservatives in the crust. It was awful.
After being attacked by a fork, it looked and smelled like the aftermath of Thanksgiving.

Note that I said that the underuse of cinnamon was the biggest complaint at first. Because within only 15 minutes of eating this, we both had a slight yet building feeling that something inside us was not right. Ever had your body try to reject food? Or feel like whatever you just ate should not be inside you? It's not that either of us felt sick, but a little bit of light vomiting might have been quite refreshing. Very soon, we both felt like this:

Although it wasn't nearly as cute as the baby-faced and rosy-cheeked construction worker makes it appear. Imagine this guy's hands are just a bit lower.

You may think "That's what you get for eating one half-pound of sliced process cheese!", but between two people, we only carved out this much pie:

As shown above, we each only had about one eighth of the pie on our plate. Which means we had one sixteenth of a pound of sliced process cheese each. Furthermore, neither of us actually finished the slice. Nevertheless, before we went anywhere there was much discussion of whether we would both survive the car ride without puking. (Also, the rest of the pie somehow ended up in the trash.) If James Cagney actually ate this pie, do you think he also found himself eating dry toast to quell his internal distress and ensuring the bathroom had some light reading?
Well, that's it for this year's pie! Thank you for electronically joining me on this adventure! If you haven't yet, have a look at what everyone else made! If a link's not working yet, check back later. The Pieathlon is a seriously international event spanning time zones, countries, and hemispheres, so links are coming in all day!
  • Yinzerella of Dinner is Served 1972 organized the Pieathlon and made Betty Crocker's Chicken-Sausage Pies. The recipe comes from Betty Crocker's more questionable period of weird cookbooks.
  • Jenny from Silver Screen Suppers took the booze I needed after making the recipe she sent- and made a Rum Pie.
  • Battenburg Belle got to make my recipe- Italian Pistachio Pie. Who knows, maybe it's actually good!
  • Dr. Bobb of Dr. Bobb's Kitschen made Lemon Raisin Pie. Is it a lemony flea cemetery or something worse? Go to his page and see!
  • Poppy Crocker of Grannie Pantries made Nutty Caramel Pies. Whether they were good or not, it looks like there were more than one.
  • Greg at got off easy this year! He made Apple Pie.
  • Bittersweet Susie got to bust out a waffle iron (or maybe a box of Eggos, depending on the recipe) and make Waffle Pie.
  • Vintage Recipe Cards made Angel Pie. Just what is an Angel Pie? In a recipe exchange like this, it could be anything, and there's only one way to find out...
  • The Food and Wine Hedonist gave us Savoury Pie. Based on the spelling, I doubt the recipe is American.
  • Taryn of Retro Food for Modern Times made Fluffy Lime Pie. After few Pieathlons, even innocent words like "fluffy" in a recipe name set off alarms in my mind, so do share her journey of pie discovery!