Friday, June 23, 2017

Italian Dinner: or, I guess this passed for Italian in the Jazz Age

Edit: An anonymous commenter has pointed out that, contrary to my frequent jabs at how barely-Italian this Italian recipe is, this is in fact a rather competent recipe for what (depending on where you are) is either called braciola or involtini.

Today's recipe starts with bleach. You see, the refrigerator has been incubating various molds and things in its back crevices, and we at A Book of Cookrye decided that we might consider giving it its once-per-decade scouring. The growths were worse than anticipated, and rather than just briefly wiping the shelves down, we ended up pushing it out onto the driveway and having at it with a garden hose and a spray bottle of Clorox.
The Woman's Club of Fort Worth Cook Book, 1928

Italian Dinner
Take a half-inch cut of round steak* and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover it with thin slices of garlic. Then lay small pieces of bread which you've dipped in a beaten egg over all. Roll it up, and tie it securely to keep its shape. Use any sturdy, non-synthetic string (you don't want plastic melting into your meat while it boils). Dust it with flour.
Heat a little oil in a pot just big enough to hold it without the need to cram. Brown the meat on all sides. Then add 3 6-oz cans of tomato paste and water to about half an inch above the meat. Bring to a very low boil over medium heat, then cover the pot and reduce heat and simmer for 2-3 hours or until tender. Don't worry when it gets tough at first. Any pot roast you cook will go from directly raw to rawhide. It's the long, slow simmering that makes it break it down and become tender.
Slice and serve over spaghetti, spooning the sauce and sprinkling Italian cheese on each plate.
Leftover meat keeps well in the refrigerator. Store it with a lot of the sauce and it will not dry out.

NOTE FROM THE ORIGINAL: It is also nice with a mild red wine, or coffee, and one grapefruit salad.

The Woman's Club of Fort Worth Cook Book, 1928 (contributor: Mrs. M. A. Stainer)

*You'd probably have to ask a butcher to cut one specially for you. I sliced half-inch slab off a pot roast instead.
You may think a grapefruit salad is a bowl of lettuce, other vegetables, and grapefruit pieces. The book has three recipes for grapefruit salad, all of which start with grapefruit juice, lemon or pineapple juice, and unflavored gelatin, and all end with serving on top of lettuce with mayonnaise (and maybe another dressing, depending on the recipe). 

As a general book note, The Woman's Club of Fort Worth Cook Book is really fascinating to anyone who is into old recipes. It shows us what food looked like for ordinary people (as opposed to the extremely wealthy people whose private chefs make history books) in a city that's not New York or Los Angeles during that brief period when the food industry really took off but before the Depression hit. The recipes make extensive use of things like canned vegetables (where people just a generation earlier would have had to preserve their own produce or wait for things to be in season). However, pre-made things had not yet become prevalent. It would be another few decades before you saw things like casseroles topped with unrolled canned croissants.
Back to today's perpetration, while emptying the refrigerator in preparation for its forceful cleaning, we found this buried in the back of the freezer:

Yes indeed, a huge beef slab was purchased on discount and frozen for some undefined future use. And that use will be an allegedly Italian dinner! We decided to hack off the top half inch or so (since the recipe says a half-inch steak) and hope whoever got out the rest of it didn't mind having a flat-top roast.
Rather than completely thaw it, shave off the top, and refreeze the rest, we decided it would be best to defrost it as little as possible so the unused part of it didn't taste like it had been repeatedly refrozen. While the outside of it was just thawed enough to slice through, the center of it had a rock-solid core of ice.
And this is why using dull knives is terrible.

After probably taking the edge completely off the knife, we had a thin slab of beef to transform into an Italian delight, and a much larger frozen beef rock to try to prevent from thawing while the freezer sat outside drying.

So obviously, this wouldn't pass for Italian today. However, just because it's inauthentic doesn't mean it's bad. It's hard to see how a recipe that starts with covering meat with garlic and ends with spaghetti could possibly go badly.
We got a lot of garlic.

I thought I might save time by putting all the garlic cloves in an egg slicer. However, as seen below, the slicer wires got about halfway through the garlic and gave up. This made us wonder why an egg slicer is even in the kitchen. It turned up in a drawer, still in the original packaging that appeared to be several years old (which says all you need to know about how often it's been used). Egg slicers apparently also confounded Terry Pratchett, who briefly detoured from the plot in Wintersmith to point out that everyone has an egg slicer, no one knows why, and that no one has ever knowingly gone out and bought one.
The egg slicer is as useful as expected.

As you behold the thorough garlic coverage on the meat, I should probably tell you that I found out through a mutual friend that my ex is still traumatized by excessive use of garlic four years later.
I'm not sure what the bread is for or why I'm supposed to dip it in egg, but there it is as specified.

We did actually learn how to properly truss meat in cooking school. And as anyone with sense may surmise, this ain't the right way. But at least I didn't wrap it so tight that it had weird bulges everywhere. Also, while I expected to have to poke and shove half the garlic back in there after rolling the meat up, nearly nothing fell out.
Whatever. No one's going to see the string job anyway.

You should know that nearly every step in the recipe from here forward left hard-to-scrape-off deposits of stuff on the counter. Dusting the meat with flour left a paste of flour and raw meat juice all over the cutting board that hardened in minutes. And it turns out errant splats of tomato paste will glue themselves to whatever they land on and leave a red stain that will not come out. You may want to fill the sink with water so you can drop things into it for soaking and have a wet rag on hand to swipe at anything that lands on the counter.

The recipe says to brown the meat in a skillet and then dump the meat and all the grease into a stewpot. I asked myself how much I wanted to wash both a pot and a frying pan and decided not to be so extravagant in the use of dishes. Also, I hope the suet grease wasn't supposed to add a critical flavor, because that's a special-order item these days. I used cooking oil instead.

As it got surprisingly late, the sight of the meat acting as a tomato paste barricade was more amusing than it should have been.

As I started adding water to this, it occurred to me that there would be a huge bucket of diluted tomato paste by the time I had the meat covered. The mere idea of having to find clever ways to recycle all that sauce was so bothersome (even it was nothing more than water and three cans of tomato paste which were not even imported even though the recipe said they should be) that I mashed the meat roll into a smaller pot just to reduce how much water was needed to cover it.
Looks like someone mistook the cooking pot for a chamber pot.
I will say this for doing pot roast (whether alleged to be Italian or not): the cooking time may seem endlessly long, but it's a great opportunity to not only clean up every stray splatter of raw meat juice in the kitchen, but also to take the dogs out, get groceries, do some housecleaning, and everything else you can think of to distract yourself from how long it's taking to stew and how you should have started this earlier instead of waiting until you were already hungry before starting a recipe that does not use the word microwave.
The meat kept floating up and the top part drying out, so a spoon held down with the pot lid was used to force it to stay underwater.

The Italian dinner may have unfortunately resembled a squishy brown log floating in the water, but surely it would look better when removed. Or so I hoped.

I had been hoping for some awesomely weird-looking jelly roll/meat hybrid slices to look unnervingly creepy, but the slice fell apart as I cut it off.
This is Italian, everybody!

Oh wait. We forgot to sprinkle the plate with "imported Italian cheese." As it happens, some parmesan (imported from Wisconsin) lurked forgotten in the back of the refrigerator. (You may think that someone in the 1920s would have been restricted to those shelf-stable cheese granules, but apparently those didn't exist yet.) And so, by accident, we actually made this entire recipe more or less as originally written, with almost no substitutions at all!
Never before have I needed a knife and fork for a bowl of mostly spaghetti.

And... this is good. Really good. The long boiling somehow removed the canned flavor from the tomato paste, and the bread somehow absorbed the garlic and turned into little concentrated nuggets of garlic-flavored bread stuffing.
This tastes about as Italian as you would expect a meat roll stewed in tomato paste to. Honestly, for a dinner, I'd ditch the spaghetti and the cheese, instead serving it with the usual things one eats with pot roast. With that said, I'd totally make it again. However, there was a lot of sauce with this. Anyone making this should be at least open to the idea of a pot of tomato-heavy soup because you will run out of meat long before you've used up all the sauce. Or, you might add a lot of vegetables toward the end of the cooking time and serve it up as a stew.
There really is a lot of sauce.

And so, we at A Book of Cookrye thank Mrs. M. A. Stainer and the Woman's Club of Fort Worth for a surprisingly delicious (if only barely Italian) pot roast! I had high expectations for a recipe that started with covering meat with garlic and ends with spaghetti, and this was still better than expected.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Attempting zucchini bread in a blender

The joke about people in certain regions locking their cars in the summer to prevent people leaving zucchinis in the seat may be as old as the one about how there's only one fruitcake in the world which gets regifted every year, but for whatever reason, 3 of the little buggers materialized in the refrigerator! No one grows zucchinis near here, and their season has not yet arrived. And so, the blender was brought in to pulverize them and make... zucchini bread!

That's the zucchini in the blender, along with the egg to make it actually blend instead of sitting still while the blades spin under it. It first occurred to me that several people into juicing probably make a blenderful of zucchini and egg on purpose routinely. After that, I thought "Is there any reason one can't just do all the mixing in a blender?" And thus the voyage of discovery began! Reading down the ingredient list, the next thing to get pulverized was the butter.

For the longest time, the butter refused to blenderize in. Instead, it made ever-more-minute butter worms that floated in the green. See all those lumps making everything look curdled? Those are the butter.

But if one runs the blender for long enough, the butter eventually stops looking like tiny little worms and actually mixes in. And now, let us bring on the sugar!

I have to admit, things were going great so far. The batter looked like a batter (instead of looking like something was going very wrong). And it actually tasted really good. Feeling happier than we should about zucchini bread, we dumped in the flour and set the blender to its slowest speed.
The flour formed isolated clumps that needed to be scraped away, but we still managed to have it all mixed in 45 seconds. Truly the blender is magical.

Further proof that the blender is magic: Check out how easy it is to pour cupcakes! If this is what I've been missing out on in the dark days before I owned a blender, would a food processor change my life?

I can't tell you how excited I was that I had discovered this new, mess-free way to use the magic of small kitchen appliances to make baking a snap. Heck, the blender even cleaned itself.

After an unusually long baking time, the zucchini muffins showed every sign of being done. The tops of them rose like perfect little green domes over the pan. When poked in the center, the probing implement came out nice and clean. They sprang back when pressed. Nevertheless, they looked like this within 10 minutes of leaving the oven.

All right, let's cut these open and see how bad an idea this was.

As you can see, the outside is almost bread-like,  but the inside is this core of paste. Ordinarily, this is a sign that I took them out of the oven too early. And I agree, it really looks like it. But I promise, they were completely baked through.
I think the big difference is that the zucchini was thoroughly blenderized to a paste. Last time, it was finely chopped, but still recognizable:

That batch of zucchini bread was really lovely. But this was the same sort of disappointing paste one gets with lousy carrot cake recipes or when trying internet-endorsed vegan egg substitutes. And for the record, you should not be able to make a cake do this.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Penuche Applesauce Cake: or, You'd never believe this is carrot-free

You know how very recently, we modified a cake recipe to use strawberries instead of applesauce? The original recipe was so intriguing- especially since it had an awful lot of ground raisins in it. I've never seen a recipe where you grind raisins. What the heck do they do to a cake?

Favorite Recipes of America: Desserts, 1968

Penuche Applesauce Cake
½ c water
2 c sweetened applesauce*
1 c raisins
1½ c sugar
½ c butter or margarine
2 eggs
¼ tsp baking powder
1½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves
½ tsp allspice
2½ c flour
¾ c (3 oz) nuts, chopped

Heat oven to 350°. Grease and dust with flour a 9x13 pan. (For this cake, you want the extra insurance against sticking, so be sure to dust the pan with flour.)
Put in a blender the applesauce, water, and raisins. Thoroughly liquefy.
Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. When mixed, switch from a spoon to a whisk and beat in the eggs. Alternately add the flour (in three additions) and the blenderized mixture (in two additions), starting with the flour. Fold in the nuts.
Pour into the pan and bake until done, about 45-50 minutes.
If you're strictly following the original recipe, cool the cake and then ice it. I dumped the icing on right out of the oven and tilted the pan until it was coated. That way the icing kind of melts into the very top of the cake and is so good.

Easy Penuche Icing:
⅓ c butter
1 c brown sugar
½ c cream
Powdered sugar
Put butter and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, add cream, and cool to lukewarm. Add enough powdered sugar to make it a spreading consistency. It'll be easier to beat out lumps of sugar if you transfer the brown sugar mixture to a small bowl first.

*I used unsweetened applesauce because it was cheaper. The recipe came out fine.
I used hazelnuts, though I suspect someone making this recipe in 1968 would have used walnuts.

Favorite Recipes of America: Desserts, 1968
Submitter: Mrs. Gloria Shaw; Sedan, KS (Chautauqua County Fair blue ribbon winning recipe)

I had another reason to make this recipe: it's an excuse to get out my one and only wedding present!
I haven't bothered to get married. Indeed, I am the oldest person in my entire extended family to be neither married, engaged, dating, or even merely seeing someone. That is not an exaggeration. I am so single my brother got married and gave me the blender. So if you are so single that you post baby pictures of your houseplants online, worry not! If you truly believe, wedding presents will come your way.

Not knowing just how well-ground Mrs. Gloria Shaw of Sedan, Kansas wanted the raisins to be, I ran the blender until not even the tiniest flecks of skin remained visible. After all, there's no doing it like overdoing it. Incidentally, the raisins didn't change the taste of the applesauce nearly as much as I thought they would.

Only one task remained before we could get to the mixing of the cake. Most happily, it involved using a meat grinder!
Insert a joke about nuts in a meat grinder here.

Rarely do I ever successfully plan things ahead when in the kitchen. But indeed, every ingredient that needed prior preparation had been properly prepared, and we were ready to proceed! Things were going very well until I reached in the refrigerator for the required two eggs and instead found my carousel of progress coming to a whiplash-inducing halt.

Do you know how much side-eye one receives from going grocery shopping in batter-spattered clothes?
Had I halved the recipe, we could have been at this point half an hour ago.

At this point, we had what tasted like a perfectly good (if somewhat salty) spice cake. Seriously, this recipe uses a lot of salt for just one cake. I'd have cut back on how much  I added except that apparently this recipe won a blue ribbon at some county fair in Kansas. Therefore, if I ended up with a cake that tasted like someone spilled seawater on it, I could blame some county fair judges from the last millennium.
But enough of that. Let's bring on the blenderized raisins!

As a recipe note, it seems that sweetened applesauce is considered outdated now because the store didn't have very much of it. And what they did have was kind of expensive. Anyway, we now have this big pan of cake batter!
Unsurprisingly, this tasted really good.

Those who were traumatized by raisins you thought were chocolate chips will be glad to know that you really couldn't taste their presence. Though it occurred to me: between all the butter, the raisins, and the nuts (not to mention what goes in the icing which we haven't gotten to yet), this must be one of the most calorie-dense cake recipes ever perpetrated on A Book of Cookrye. As I stirred in the nuts, I wondered if this was a fairly representative specimen of the food one would have found in Mrs. Gloria Shaw of Sedan, Kansas' household. And if so, could any of the men in the family see their belt buckles in a mirror?

Right, let's get all this in the pan! Like the last time we used this recipe, this proved to be a lot of cake batter.

With the cake in the oven, we decided to ignore the dirty dishes and instead get the icing ready to go. The icing uses brown sugar, butter, cream, and in general looked like one of the richest icing recipes I've made in a long time. However, for reasons known only to herself, Mrs. Gloria Shaw of Sedan, Kansas has us using almost but not quite a whole stick of butter.
Thank heavens we weren't supposed to put this in the icing, because that would have made it fattening.

With that said, if you can resist sampling a pot of this, not even allowing yourself a dainty dip of the spoon, you have no soul.

To save dishes, I tried to finish the icing in the pot. This resulted in chasing powdered sugar lumps with a whisk until I accepted the reality of more things to wash and got out another bowl. The result: insanely delicious icing.

One of the nice things about cakes with ludicrously long baking times is that you can get the icing done and all the dishes washed before removing them from the oven, thus eliminating that dread of the impending cleanup. And behold how delicious the cake looks!

And so, we dump icing on. Unlike last time, absolutely no attempts at decoration were made.

What, you think it looks bad? Let's just tilt the pan a few times to get a more even coverage.

It may not be the most attractive icing job I've ever done, but at least it doesn't look ugly. Uninspired, yes, but not ugly.
I brought this to a party and everyone liked it. However, they all thought it was a carrot cake. It's the weirdest thing, but this really does taste like it has carrots in it. It tastes like the best damn carrot cake you'll ever make. This is the carrot cake you'd make for someone who swears they hate carrot cake (as a bonus, you can then say "Surprise! There's no carrots in it!"). Those with whom I left the leftovers informed me that as a further bonus, this cake does not dry out. And so, in conclusion, if you are not on a diet this week, make this cake.