Saturday, November 24, 2018

Happy belated Thanksgiving from A Book of Cookrye!

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend from A Book of Cookrye! Indeed, it's once again time for us to make pies!
We redid the spine of this book ourselves, which is why it looks odd. But at least the book stopped falling apart.

It's also that time of year when people who never cook try to do so because family's coming over! We at A Book of Cookrye have gotten used to seeing the baking aisle relatively unpillaged. But when we went in the night before Thanksgiving, the aisle still showed evidence of being ransacked earlier that day. Even the spices, which seem to spend weeks if not months waiting on the shelves, were thoroughly trashed.

A favorite Book of Cookrye pasttime during the holidays is watching people who stare dumbfounded at the baking ingredients, amazed that stores have them. Imagine the reaction you would have if you went into a car parts store and found a whole section of buggy whips. We once witnessed a woman gawk at the flour, call someone on the spot, and say "They still sell this stuff!" Although the big rush was long over by the time we arrived after midnight, the cashier said that the baking aisle alone had been stuffed with at least twenty people at once.
This meant that we at A Book of Cookrye had to do the unthinkable: buy things that were not store-brand!

See that darker splot of powder? That is a very expensive powder splot, dagnabbit. Admire it. Bask in the full-priced, name-brand glory because the store didn't even have it discounted.

Also, I've found that a generous helping of allspice does wonders for an apple pie.
Now, we at A Book of Cookrye formerly used Gala apples for pies. They used to be just tart enough to have a kick, with a lovely, deep flavor that seemed to only improve in baking. Indeed, they made such delicious pies that when we saw complete strangers at the supermarket who did not know what apples to use, we would tell them that they simply had to use Galas for their pies and cobblers.
But lately, Galas have been getting prettier and blander. I think they're undergoing the same breeding-only-for-looks problem that made the Red Delicious taste like sweetened foam. Fortunately, the hoity-toity store near our house has, for whatever reason, insanely cheap produce and a lot of apple varieties. I think the produce might be a loss leader to entice customers into pay $20 for a bag of multigrain chips. This year's pie had half McIntosh and half Pink Ladies. We first had McIntosh apples when we managed to cross an international border for the first time in many years.
We got to go apple picking in the Canadian autumn!

However, we've never seen them shipped all the way down to the American south before. Did you know that when you cut them open, the inside is about as white as a cotton ball? Here's a mix of Pink Lady and McIntosh pieces so you can see for yourself.
These days we really like Pink Lady apples in pies, with a sweeter one mixed in to add some different flavors. This may change if apple breeders make the same mistake they did with Red Delicious and Gala, breeding them to look prettier without stopping to bite into one and see if it still tastes good.But let's move on to the pie crust! After trying to keep various mixtures neatly contained in bowls, we find it marvelously freeing to just throw flour all over the bare countertop and use the open space. Even if in this case, the countertop was already covered by a dreadful cooking mess, which forced us to instead use the stovetop.

This is the only thing I like about a flat-top stove.

Incidentally, you can use the extra pie crust scraps to make a crumb topping. Just add extra butter, sugar to taste, enough flour to make it crumbly, and spices to taste. The butter's really important. Without it, your crust scraps will turn rubbery as you try to force the extra things into them. But if you add enough butter, the pieces will get soft and crumbly again.
Ready for sprinkling!

Now, we at A Book of Cookrye faced a mild conundrum. You see, we had accidentally bought and cut up too many apples (we didn't want to be caught short and have to brave the grocery store again). Then we accidentally overestimated how much extra crust we'd need to make the crumb topping for the apple pie. In fact, even after making the crumb top, we had enough pie crust scraps to reroll and put in a small cake pan.
Note the foil condom over the cake pan, eliminating future washing and also making it easy to give away leftovers without having to try to get our pan back.

Incidentally, as you get your apples into the pie pan, you should know that if you don't eat at least some of this delicious sugary apple-spice sludge off the bowl, you either have a lot of willpower or no soul.

But anyway, back to the pies. We had made too much of everything- crust, apples, crumb top- to fit in one pan. But since all the components were ready and at hand, it took only a few minutes to throw the extra things together and produce a second pie. And so, we at A Book of Cookrye happily present: Apple pie and spare pie!

It's a Thanksgiving miracle!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Roasted Artichokes: or, Smoking out the kitchen

We at A Book of Cookrye always stop by the discount produce bin whenever we get groceries. Sometimes we take home apples and bananas. Other times we find squishy squashes and end up findng recipes that cook them really thoroughly to kill off any microscopic friends. After all, even if they have invasive organisms on them, they're still full of vitamins- and also 25¢ a pound. Guess what turned up today!

Artichokes may usually be expensive, but these were $1 a bag, which means 50¢ each. Which means we can try something weird with them and not feel bad about the expense if it's an utter failure!
The Art of Italian Cooking, Maria Lo Pinto, 1948

Every recipe in this book has been absolutely delicious. You may remember that when our copy finally gave out (it was a cheap 60-year-old paperback, so it was bound to give out), we scanned all the pages, printed them, and bound them into a new copy. The book is that good.

Roasted Artichokes
     Carciofi Arrostiti

6 medium artichokes
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped*
3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
6 tbsp. olive oil
½ c water

Select a pot that will hold the artichokes snugly when inserted upright.
Remove outer leaves from artichokes and cut off stems. Tap on table to open leaves, wash, and leave a few minutes to dry. You may want to cut the spines off the leaves to avoid pricking yourself when inserting the herbs.
Mix garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper. Divide into 6 portions. Then, insert a little bit of the herbs inside each leaf. Close the artichokes back up.
Put half the oil in the pot and put over high heat (note: you probably don't want to just turn your burner as high as it goes- a bit hotter than medium-high would be better).
Put the artichokes upright in the pot. Pour the remaining olive oil into the top of each one. Cook for five minutes, watching to see if they burn. If they start to smell burnt before the five minutes are up, move on to the next step regardless of what the timer says.
Add the water, lower the heat a little, and cook uncovered for about eight minutes or until the water mostly evaporates. Add a little more water, cover the pot, and reduce heat to low. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until an outer leaf comes off easily when pulled.
Serve hot.

*Obviously we used about 7.
Lacking parsley, we substituted a half-and-half combination of rosemary and oregano.

The Art of Italian Cooking, Maria Lo Pinto, 1948

You should know that this recipe gets special mention in the cookbook introduction. Before we get to the recipes, there is a long chapter called "Wines Customs and Festivals" which is full of the author's extremely idyllic reminisces about her family's village in Sicily. She makes it sound so lovely that you wonder why they ever left for America (and you also want to see if any of her relatives still live there and would let you come for dinner). Each major holiday gets its own description. She names roasted artichokes as one of the special dishes served on New Year's Day. Incidentally, if you would like to swoon for somewhere you'll never get to live, her family's village (which, before you think I'm research-obsessed, she gives the name on the first page of the introduction), has a Wikipedia page with photographs.
All right, let's get down to artichokes! I ate my first one when visited an Italian friend at his parents' house. They were really excited to serve them, as if this was a special treat instead of something they cook every other night. My friend had even said about a week before "Actually, you should come over Saturday instead of Friday. Mom's making artichokes." Let me emphasize that the visit was rescheduled around artichokes. And so, on the appointed day, his mother brought forth on individual plates and with especial flourish, these dull-green spike balls that looked impossible to eat. Despite having (somewhat) mastered manners in public, I could not stop myself from staring dumbfounded at this apparently inedible object that had been brought to table.
His mother got this odd look of pity on her face when she realized. "You've never had an artichoke?" To help you get a good mental picture of her reaction, imagine having a guest over and finding out they have never used a spoon and don't even know how to hold one.
Anyway, let's get to the roasting!
Before cooking these things, the recipe has us putting in parsley and garlic. Now, we at A Book of Cookrye know practically nothing about Italian cooking, but apparently they're really big on fresh ingredients and the like. With this in mind (and not at all because we didn't want to pay for a bundle of parsley that we'd never use up), we decided to go super-fresh and cut some pieces off the surviving remains of our attempt at an herb garden. The oregano and the rosemary had survived the combined assault of terrible weather, starving squirrels, and a surprisingly vicious succession of fungus and molds that turned most of the plants into compost.

It turns out that fresh herbs shrink and pack down a lot when you chop them up. To get three tablespoons' worth, we had to go back outside with scissors to cut off even more pieces of plant. But to make things easier, it had rained outside so the herbs were already rinsed.

And of course, this is A Book of Cookrye, where garlic is always to be used more expressively than recipes originally direct. For reference, the original recipe calls for two garlic cloves.

Moving back to the green things, the small houseplant's worth of herb stems yielded this tiny little bowl of minced herbs. They smelled astonishingly pungent. No exaggeration, the whole kitchen smelled like oregano and rosemary.

Once were ready to stuff the artichokes, we discovered a lovely surprise. You know how artichoke leaves have little spines on their tips? We had figured we'd just snip them off before stuffing the leaves rather than get our fingers pricked a lot. But it turns out that the artichoke growers had already cut them off before they even reached the supermarket! Do you know how often it is to find pre-cut produce this cheap?
Again, these were 50¢ each.

Anyway, what had initially looked like a huge bowl of chopped green things suddenly looked tiny when we realized we had to divide it among every single leaf of four artichokes.

I thought these were supposed to be stuffed artichokes. Right after the recipe tells you to stuff the herbs into the artichokes, it says "Then close leaves." Which implies that the artichokes should be absolutely bulging with herbs, right? That's why the recipe says you have to push them shut, right? Well, each leaf got merely a tiny pinch.
You should know that slipping all those herbs into the artichokes was extremely tedious. How tedious, you ask? So much so that before we were halfway through with the job, we were giggling to ourselves at how funny it would be to start an artichoke farm for the express purpose of calling it Okie Dokie Artichokies. It was ever-so-slightly infuriating to do all that work and then see no visible sign that we had done anything.

And now we get to the part that really tests the fan over your stove. The recipe has us put this pot of artichokes over high heat and leave them for a very long time. There will be a lot of smoke. If you have a smoke detector in the kitchen, do yourself a favor and tape over it.
You know how we previously ranted that the vent hood over the stove was one of those stupid recirculating ones that just blows the smoke and bad smells back into the kitchen? Well, it turns out that there is a duct running to it, presumably from a different set of appliances now lost to a previous owner's half-assed renovation. We decided to replace the recirculator with a vent that would actually blow the fumes up the duct. When we dismantled the hood, we found that it is a convertible model meant for either recirculating or for going up a duct. Much swearing at the ineptitude of the stupid people who failed at hastily updating the kitchen before selling the house ensued. But happily, we can now turn on the vent over the stove, and it will take the steam, smoke, and bad smells right out of the house. And boy does this recipe test the hood fan. Someone walking past the house might have thought the hood duct was connected not to a stove vent but to a merrily burning fireplace.
You should also know that aside from the smoke, this recipe is going to be very spattery and loud. If you were spending the recipe up to this point flirting outrageously with someone by telephone (just to give an example), you may have to surrender to the noise and hang up.And when I say spattery, I don't just mean little drops here and there. The hood over the stove was literally dripping before we got halfway through the cooking time.
Now, the recipe says "Watch carefully to prevent burning," but that instruction is no help at all. What does one do if one suspects burning artichokes? Turn them over? Also, with the artichokes so tightly crammed into the pot, how the heck can we see under them to tell if they're burning?
The noise only got worse when we added the water.
This picture may look out of focus, but it's actually a correctly-shot photo of the massive steam eruption from when we dumped in the water. If you doubt me, look to the bottom-left and you will see the sharply-focused rim of the pot.

The recipe had said to "Cook over high flame," but in hindsight I would say that phrase does not mean to literally turn the stove burner as high as it can go like you're boiling a vat of spaghetti. As the steam cleared, the smells emanating into the kitchen (combined with the water's transformation into black sludge) suggested all that was not right in the pot.

At this point we could have thrown out what smelled like burnt artichokes and regret having carelessly wasted a $2 windfall, but we decided to proceed and hope for the best. After all, the only remaining step was to clap a lid on the pot and wait- so even if this was a failure, it required no further effort.
Looks like a pot of dry ice, doesn't it?

At this point, the recipe does what we did on our second-ever post we ever wrote. We're cooking the vegetables by putting a tiny little puddle of water iunder the vegetables and letting the steam rise up and cook everything in the tightly covered pot. So I guess that means our steamed vegetables get an Italian seal of approval? Well, probably not but it is nice to see some sort of support in cookbooks for our culinary daftness. Anyway, let's have a look at what we had done to the artichokes by the end of the recipe!

As aforementioned, the introduction lovingly rhapsodizes about the foods and customs of various Italian holidays. In the little section about the New Year's Day, she practically sings about the roast whole pig served with "crackling-brown carciofi arrostiti."Are our artichokes crackling-brown like they apparently should be?

Looks like we failed to follow instructions when they said "watch carefully to prevent burning."
I'm actually a little impressed at the transformation into near-perfect charcoal.

Well, we at A Book of Cookrye haven't burnt several brunches' worth of toast without learning how to scrape off your charred failures with a steak knife.

I think this is a lot closer to what the artichokes should have looked like if we'd gotten the recipe right. Sort golden, really toasty, and crispy on the bottom. Imagine if the artichoke heart had that golden-crunchy layer on the bottom instead of the pure-black cinder.

Once you prop the artichoke upright, it looks surprisingly normal. You'd never guess that we attempted a daring new technique on it (if you can call a recipe from a 1948 cookbook new).

As for the taste: fricken amazing! Even though we only put a tiny smidgen of herbs in each leaf, the flavor suffused the artichokes thoroughly. Even the heart had a nice rosemary-oregano-garlic flavor that had seeped its way into it. And the way the leaves were toasted (well, the leaves that remained after we threw away the burnt ones) added a really nice flavor.
However, at the beginning of the recipe when you have only artichokes and hot oil in the pot, you start to smell them burning, add the water and turn down the stove immediately. I don't think the recipe should leave your pot looking like this.

In full disclosure, I should note that this recipe left the pot with apparently-permanent stains that defied scouring. But that's probably a natural result of turning your food into charcoal.
This pot will never be the same.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Hump-Day Quickie: Honey Fruit Dressing

Recently(ish), we at A Book of Cookrye went to an estate sale. We should not have because we've amassed a lot of things we don't need and therefore had no business going out to buy anything. And so, the only thing we purchased an adorable 1920's novel called The Light Princess (it's a cute story about a princess who is cursed by a spiteful aunt to be weightless, causing the whole court to have to tie her down).
However, we quickly gravitated to the kitchen. The cabinets were opened so people could rummage through the plates, and we saw a small flock of recipes taped inside of them. Because (unlike the others which were newspaper or magazine clippings) this one looked totally anonymous, we slipped it into Our Pocket of Cookrye before it went into the trash can after the sale closed up.

Honey Fruit Dressing
⅓ c honey
¼ c cooking oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp celery seed

Whisk together vigorously. If you want a more pronounced celery flavor, make this a few days ahead and let it sit in the refrigerator.

Serve with:
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Grapes
  • Melon
  • Pineapples
  • Strawberries

Source: Undated handwritten (1970s) recipe card

The only we can date this card is by what's on the back, which is...

An image search for "San Fernando by Vernon" turned up one of those brown plate patterns that seems expressly manufactured for selling secondhand. It's hard to imagine this being sold new- this pattern doesn't seem like it was produced in a factory so much as it spontaneously appeared in the unsorted plate stacks in a thrift store somewhere.
Incidentally, these plates can be yours!

Setting aside dinnerware, we looked for the recipe online to see if anyone else has it with a date. (This is what happens when you are a former library assistant. You look things up.) While various fruit dressings with honey and celery seed turned up, none of them were like this one- even if you allow for the odd variation in ingredient amounts.
But that's enough research. Let's get to making this! The recipe skips straight from the ingredient list to the serving instructions. But, there doesn't seem to be a lot of guesswork needed to figure out how to make it.
The ingredients before we stirred them together. Looks like one of those fancy layered shots, doesn't it?

I'm not sure what the cooking oil is supposed to do for this. Thin the honey out a bit (in which case wouldn't water work)? Or maybe cut the flavor down in case it completely obliterates the taste of whatever fruit you put it on?
Incidentally, that is the same bottle of lemon juice from when we did the pumpkin chips last year (which we are still trying to give away).
Anyway, the ingredients floated on top of each other in very pretty-looking layers, but absolutely refused to mix. I thought I might use a small bowl since this is a small batch of dressing, but ended up moving them into a bigger one (which by the way doubled the number of bowls I had to wash for this recipe)  so I could really bash them about until they learned to like each other.

See the oil globules stubbornly refusing to mix in? For such a tiny little bowl of small amounts, you had to beat it really hard with a whisk before you could get anywhere with it. I was starting to think it wasn't supposed to permanently mix- like those bottles of salad dressing you have to shake every time you pour. But after a thorough whisk-bashing, we had what looked like a bowl of slightly thinned honey with specks floating in it.
Doesn't look very different, does it?

And so, after spending literally a minute making this, how does it taste?
Everything in this bowl is on the list from the recipe card.

Well, it does a lovely job of hiding the fact that the strawberries are slightly dried-out and wrinkly. The celery seed flavor was barely noticeable. I mean, it was kind of there, but you could have used poppy seeds and barely noticed the difference. It mostly tasted like very tart honey lemonade- which is of course delicious. However, if you're going to toss a fruit salad in this, you should know that the honey will draw out the juices from the fruits if you do it too far ahead of time.

You should also know that the resulting puddle of fruit juice and honey is absolutely delicious.
The unused honey dressing went into the refrigerator. Even after three days, it did not separate. The honey and oil may have refused to mix at first, but once combined they would not leave each other. Also, the celery seed exuded a lot of its flavor into the dressing. You'd have thought it had a lot of celery juice in it. I thought it was an interesting flavor contrast, especially with apples.
I know apples aren't on the list of acceptable fruits on the card, but I am just rebellious that way.

This is a lovely and very easy fruit dip or dressing for fruit salads. If you eat it right after you make it, you can't taste the celery unless you bite into a seed. If you let it wait in the refrigerator for a few days, it practically tastes like you used equal parts lemon and celery juice. I think the latter makes a lovely flavor contrast with sweet fruit, but you should definitely try both.