Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Hump-Day Quickie: Peanut Butter and Pickle Sandwiches

Do you like reading through the sandwich and appetizer chapters of old cookbooks? We find it oddly fascinating to read how many things were glued together with mayonnaise and spread on crackers to impress your guests. One combination that shows an odd tenacity in the 1950s, making it into nearly every book we've seen from the time period, is....
Rarely do we bother cutting the bread into triangles, but this needed all the help it could get.

Seriously, it seems like every cookbook from the time period when "groovy" was the latest slang has peanut-butter-and-pickle among the many questionable sandwich fillings. Every. Single. One. The idea of putting the two together got a deep hold in our minds. When everyone an entire decade (or two) is making the same bad recipe, we have to ask: Was it really so awful? Was the entire cookbook-writing nation collectively deceived into thinking peanut butter and pickles go together like peanut butter and jelly, or was this actually a good idea? We finally decided that since nothing in a peanut-butter-and-pickle sandwich was fatal, indulging our curiosity would have no consequences worse than regret.
Get a really good look at these tempting layers.

I didn't expect this to work, but in a very weird way, it does. It makes me think of when a friend was pregnant and craved slices of ham spread with peanut butter and rolled up. I didn't expect to like it when I tried it for myself, but I actually did. The pieces of relish turn into these concentrated nuggets of sour and salty that contrast heavily with the sweet, mellow peanut butter. This may have been the salted caramel of the 1950s- it sounds utterly wrong, but once you try it, you're surprisingly glad you did. And like salt-and-caramel nowadays, once a few people gave this combination a go, they liked it enough to rapidly spread the recipe all over the country and onto countless finger buffets in the era when most record players still played 78s.
If you want to try a harmless, weird, new (to you) recipe idea made with things you probably already have in your kitchen, give this one a try.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Today, February 18th, marks six(!) years of writing about what we hath wrought in the kitchen. I first started writing this sitting on my dorm room bed, and didn't even know what to name it. So I named it after the cookbook that happened to be nearest to me on the bed: a 1591 book I had found transcribed online that I printed at work and sewed together using an old folder for the cover. Ever since, I've thought that I should have used English spelling from this millennium.
But, as a special anniversary treat, I thought I'd share some fondly-remembered culinary delights that I never quite got around to writing about.

We Attempted Extremely Rapid Tea
A while ago, some British company devised a tea machine that could supposedly make tea within seconds of adding boiling water. In the promotional video, even they seem unconvinced in their own adorably awkward way. If you didn't watch the full thing, this should tell you everything you need to know:

We took offense at the thought of paying Sur La Table prices for a tea whirligig when we could do it with things already handy in our own kitchen.
Yes, this is a teabag lashed by its own string to my mixer.

If you try this at home, use a narrow cup rather than a bowl. In just three very intense seconds, we burned ourselves and send boiling-hot water all over the kitchen. Also, you're going to need something a lot sturdier than a paper tea bag. Witness the paper shards and tea dregs sitting in what tea remained in the bowl.

Fortunately for us, it turns out that if boiling water is atomized into little flying drops, it will (barely) cool enough to not burn your skin on contact. The idea of motorized tea does have premise, though. The remaining water had in fact turned into a decent puddle of tea.

Ranch Meatloaf
Remember when we swiped food from the wee children? By which I mean we helped ourselves to the surplus lunches they had from kiddie engineering summer camps? To the engineering department's credit, they didn't throw away the extra food, but left it out on tables for who might soever need it. However, they had thought that a bunch of kids stuck in math class all summer would be happy with low-salt pretzel sticks, miserable puny baby carrots with ranch dip, and dried cranberries. The last one is particularly galling in retrospect as I have since learned that since the cranberries are cooked in syrup before drying them, all the vitamins and other nutrients are mostly leached out and replaced with sugar. Rather than give the wee ones candy disguised as healthy snacks, why couldn't they just give them chocolate?
When you're nine years old, this is not an acceptable substitute for caramel sauce.

We at A Book of Cookrye, ever short of funds, did not throw any of this bounty away. We had scored some extremely discounted ground beef and decided to try an old church-lady cooking legend: dump ranch into your hitherto unexciting main dish for a zippy, peppy supper!

Yes. That is ground beef and ranch dressing. Since ranch is mostly mayonnaise (or some synthetic mayonnaise-style product), the meat technically has egg in there to bind it together. Or some petroleum-derived equivalent. This is something I only realize in retrospect. At the time, I just dumped salad dressing onto beef and made meatloaf because after eating mostly vegetables due to funds, I wanted a big log of dead cow.

No, I did not buy the ketchup squirted on it, though I did think that diamond pattern was oddly adorable. Someone left it in the refrigerator with no name on it. And as we repeatedly mentioned, if you left something in the fridge with no name, it was community property.
The pan was also abandoned in the kitchen cabinets by some previous student. I still use it as the tray for my tea-making alarm clock.

I do not like ranch most of the time because it totally obliterates the taste of whatever you put it on. This would explain why it's been used by generations of people to get vegetables into their children (and sometimes themselves- some of us never learn to like lettuce). However, mixing the ranch into the meat and baking it toned down into a nice mellow seasoning mix. If you're doing meatloaf, hamburger patties, meatballs, or anything that involves molding ground meat into shapes and cooking it, try adding a generous squirt of ranch dressing into it.

This turned up in the dorm microwave

Colleges should require students to pass a microwave proficiency test before being allowed to have one in their rooms. It would prevent having to march down the stairs at least once a week for yet another fire drill.

Lemongrass Tea
We at A Book of Cookrye have rarely featured drink recipes. This was something we made when we visited back home over one summer.

When we joined Our Mom of Cookrye earlier in the springtime on the annual pilgrimage to the plant nurseries to choose what would grace the flowerpots that year, we got a few lemongrass plants. We had thought they would add vertical interest and look really nice when surrounded by creeping low flowers. The lemongrass promptly spread like grass and took over every flowerpot it was in. Upon hearing how we had an unexpected and undeserved bumper crop, our grandfather said when he was growing up in Mexico, lemongrass tea sweetened with honey was very popular in the summer.

The first batch was watery and sad. So, as you can see above, we made it again with a lot more grass in the pot this time. The result? Something so refreshing you really should make it by the pitcher instead of by the cup. Just be sure to use a lot of lemongrass when you're making it. You need to really crowd and cram it into the water.

Lemon-Makgeolli Beef Slabs
Much to our delight, the grocery store near our school often had big hunks of beef on clearance. Having made meat loaf of one, meat balls of another, and senior-citizen potluck sandwiches of a third, we one day decided to slice one into steaks.

We never cooked with expensive beef because of money. But we had read in Miss Leslie's Directions for Cookery that laying frozen meat in water was "the only way to extract the frost without injuring the meat." And so, having absolutely no other advice to go to, that's what we did. I'm sure that modern food safety inspectors would have absolutely no objection to leaving beef all day in a bowl of water on top of the refrigerator.

In retrospect, we could have just bought a bottle of lemon juice and saved time. But we didn't, and when the lemons failed to give enough juice to immerse the beef, we dumped in the last of a bottle of makgealli. That's this stuff right here:

We often got our vegetables, tea, and rice from the Vietnamese supermarket nearby, which made things like this cheap rather than priced like rare foreign delicacies. I'm still not quite sure what makgealli is. But I do know that while I didn't like it when I tried just drinking a little, it made a really tasty meat marinade.
On the bright side, since we weren't using the marinade after taking the steaks back out, we didn't need to bother taking out the lemon seeds.

And so, having soaked the meat all day in water to extract the frost, we soaked it all night in this boozy lemon stuff. We even threw the peels back in with the beef in case they had any flavor to add.

All I did to cook them was put the clay pot they'd been marinating in over the stove and come back in a few hours. I didn't get any tempting pictures after I cooked them. But, this marinade turned some sliced chuck into some outrageously tender steaks. Before the rare-meat-is-the-only-meat crowd comes in here a-grousing, I was not about to eat rare beef that had sat out in room-temperature water all day, singing its siren song to all our microscopic friends.
I never eat steaks these days because whenever people cook them, they dogmatically leave them raw in the middle which I don't like. So, rather than being burned at the stake for blasphemy whenever I tell people I want the entire steak cooked rather than just the outside of it, I just say I don't like steaks.
Anyway, these were actually tender all the way through despite being fully-cooked. I'd do them again, but I still don't go around buying steaks.

Our First Cake We Decorated After Taking A Class

They said we could write whatever we wanted on top. Everyone else got to take their cakes home. Ours was requisitioned by the teacher for a faculty prank.

Impossible Coconut Pie
Impossible pies are one of those corporate recipe inventions that became popular enough that they still show up in fundraiser cookbooks thirty or forty years later. The batter supposedly separates into multiple layers as it bakes. In theory, the magic of kitchen science gives you both a crispy top crust and a delightful filling from a single mixture. This didn't work, but it was a decent if somewhat eggy coconut cake.
When we gave the recipe a go, we were so impatient to see if the self-layering gimmick worked that we we made the cake cool off faster than the people in the General Mills test kitchens probably intended.
Would you believe someone tried to throw that amazing fan away?

Apple Skillet

It's apple pie in cast iron. I don't know why I felt that the pie needed to be in a skillet, but it seemed adorable and homey at the time. Unfortunately, I made it as a present for someone and thus needed to bother an unsuspecting recipient to give me the pan back.

Chickpea and Spinach Salad with Pumpkin Chips

You know how we cut two whole pumpkins into tiny slivers and candied them? Well, we ran out of friends we could dump the jars of sugary lemon-flavored pumpkin on, and had to get really creative when using them up. This was actually really delicious. The hypersweet, lemony pumpkin, when cut into little bits, made a nice counterpoint to the bitterness in the fresh spinach. Spoon on a little extra syrup from the jar, add a shake of garlic salt, and it's absolutely exquisite.
We found that cut-up pumpkin chips go really well on any bitter salad greens. The concentrated tartness and sweetness are a perfect flavor counterpoint.

Banana Frozen Custard
Remember when we tried the Depression-era banana mousse, which ended up being far too runny to call a mousse?

We ended up freezing the goop so we could just claim it was supposed to be ice cream the whole time, and it was in fact quite lovely.

We thought to ourselves, what would happen if we just froze it in the first place instead of pretending it was supposed to be a mousse? Or perhaps Mrs. George Thurn intended for that recipe to be frozen, and we would have known that had we attended any of her music-hall cooking classes.
Anyway, we further decided to make it extra-smooth by putting the custard and the bananas into a blender.

After we boiled and cooled the custard, we just dumped everything into an ice cream freezer.
When it was ready, it was so rich and smooth that I'm still not sure why I haven't made it again and often. We would not encounter a better frozen custard until we got a brief string of jobs in Wisconsin- they're pretty big on dairy there, you know.

Sometimes Recipes Come Back Around Again
Remember when we cracked open our 1920's cookbook and made apples-and-meatballs? We were surprised to find a near-identical recipe in one of those foofy, ultra-trendy food magazines.

The only real difference is that they didn't bother making meatballs, instead taking the easier route of just cooking it in a frying pan.

There may be a way to make a pretty picture of cooked ground beef, but we haven't found it.

This tastes astonishingly like sausage. If you added a few spices (maybe nutmeg, mustard powder, and a little sage) it would be near-indistinguishable. We were surprised at how good it was, and we've already made the recipe before.

We Found Flatbread That Fit Our Waffle Iron Perfectly

We then had to forbid ourselves from buying it because we got fat on novelty grilled cheese. This is not the first time we have needed to restrain ourselves from buying flatbread that exactly fit our pans...
This skillet is about the size of a pizza.

Sandwich Recipes Found in Random Comments Sections

It was indeed delicious, and that's without bothering to butter the outside.

Speaking of ham sandwiches...

We Made The Oldest Written Recipe for Sandwiches
Miss Leslie, Directions for Cookery in its Various Branches, 1837

It was after Easter. There were leftovers.

Consoling a laid-off friend with cake

Like many people looking to help others in their bad times, we default to bringing unsolicited desserts.

Fortifying Cornbread in our Blender
You know how we had to replace our wedding blender with a 1970s survivor? Well, we decided to add calcium to a batch of cornbread the modern way with modern appliances.

Yes, that is a whole egg in there. The eggshell would in theory be pulverized to powder, which apparently is a good source of calcium.

Dumping in the remaining ingredients, we had what almost passed for normal cornbread batter.

Looks nice and innocent, doesn't it?

To the surprise of no one, it turns out that blenderizing eggshells into your bread gives you the same result as dumping in sand. Take our advice and find better ways to be sanctimoniously healthy. Speaking of using our blender for bad ideas...

Sauerkraut Casserole
These are the things I make when no one else is home to whine about the kitchen fumes. We start with this kale no one has eaten...

Add a lot of sauerkraut and all its vinegary juice...
I really like both sauerkraut and garlic, so much so that I use things like this to test potential dating partners.

And then we decide to add this bell pepper that has reached the end of its shelf life.

We could have cut it up, but we were too lazy. We were planning to use eggs (without their shells) in this baked mess anyway.
The blender also contains like 5 garlic cloves.

And so, we start filling the pan with these frozen chicken hunks.

That's what's reassuring about a lot of these questionable casseroles. You at least know there's meat in the middle and cheese on top. This is what you remind yourself as you cover the chicken with this mess.

And so, with the help of some cheese nearing its expiration date, we have a casserole ready to bake!

It looks like cafeteria slop and tastes like concentrated kraut. I regret nothing.

And so, here's to a wonderful future of cooking adventures! We've gathered over recipes with friends, and discovered horrors and delights. And remember, as we said to a music-major friend who needed post-ordeal brownies on jury day...

Sunday, February 16, 2020

That fantastic fudge

Today's recipe starts with fat-free food, so you know it's good for you!
Incidentally, they chose to write "A FAT FREE FOOD" in the same typeface as those old "never trust anyone over 30" bumper stickers.

Yes indeed, today we are making.... this!

Fantastic Fantasy Fudge
3 c sugar
⅔ c butter
½ tsp salt
⅔ c evaporated milk*
1 tsp vanilla
12 oz semisweet chocolate chips
1 (7-oz) jar marshmallow creme

Grease a 9"x13" pan (or smaller, if you'd like thicker fudge). Have the jar marshmallow creme opened and ready to add in so you don't have to try to pry off the seal later on while your mixture is cooling without you.
Put the butter, sugar, salt, and milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Pick one that has plenty of room for it to boil up. Bring it to a hard boil over medium heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pot well. Boil for about five or seven minutes, to 234°F or soft-ball stage.
Remove from heat and immediately add the chocolate chips. Quickly stir until melted. Then add the vanilla and the marshmallow cream. Beat hard until well-mixed. Pour into the pan and leave at room temperature to cool. Then cut it.

*Just dump in the whole can.
We recommend letting it cook to about 5 degrees hotter so that the fudge sets better.

Source: the back of the jar

Many of you likely recognize this. Fantasy fudge (or its store-brand knockoff "fantastic fudge") is still printed on the back of marshmallow creme jars several decades as it first appeared. I'm surprised to note that the recipe looks identical to the actual name-brand one despite the hasty title change. Either they licensed the recipe, or they used the ever-popular "let's just hope they don't sue us" legal defense. At any rate, this recipe starts with enough sugar to supply a diabetes clinic with a week's worth of new patients.

Don't you love how the jar proudly proclaims that the marshmallow creme is fat-free, and the first thing we add is a big hunk of butter? We then proceed to fortify this with calcium.

Incidentally, if you're using a can of evaporated milk that's been sitting in the back of the food closet for so long you forgot when you bought it, be sure to give it a good hard shake before opening it. Otherwise, you may find a quarter inch of surprisingly hard sediment on the bottom of the can after you dump it out.
We gouged it out with a spatula and stirred it in.

And so, we commence to awkwardly push the butter around in the pan and wait for it to finally melt.
While we're waiting, this was one of my signature recipes in high school. I first learned how to test candy in cold water when making fantasy fudge. When I was in high school, one of my signature desserts was a 4-layered mint-chocolate version. You'd cut the recipe in half, and make it with white chocolate chips, mint extract, and a little green coloring. You'd then melt the other half of the white chocolate chips and spread them on top to hold the layers together. Then you'd do another half-recipe with actual chocolate and pour it on top. After melting the other half of the semisweet chocolate to spread on top, you were finally one. I attempted once to do one big boiled mixture and divide it in half instead of standing over a hot stove and cooking two batches one at at a time. What was left in the pot turned into a sad grainy mess while I was finishing the minty white chocolate layer.

Actually, our history with this recipe goes back further than this. Our Mom of Cookrye fondly remembers a lot of her grandmother's cooking. She used to rhapsodize about this fudge that involved marshmallow creme, saying no one ever got the recipe and she's never had anything as good since. Then, one day when we were getting the ingredients for a batch of Rice Krispy treats, she happened to look at the back of the jar and was like "This is it!!!"

At this point, we have what seems like a cross between condensed milk and lava. But when we tested it in ice water, we found that it was indeed cooked to the proper soft-ball stage. The test sample we dripped into the water came out shaped like someone's pair of kidneys.

We actually tend to let it get just a tiny smidge harder than the recipe says. We've had way too many batches of fudge stay runny, and you can only claim you were making chocolate sauce so many times before people realize you fudged the fudge. Letting the pot of boiling stuff get just a few degrees harder than advised is a nice way to make sure the fudge actually hardens. And so, we were ready to finish this delightful creation with a bag of chocolate chips that promptly sank into the molten mire.

It was just a little bit grainy and gritty, but we had in fact achieved chocolate lava. We were not worried about the graniness- the marshmallow creme seems to dispel the grit and turn it into creamy fudge. All that remained was that white glop that is so far removed from dairy that the manufacturers legally must misspell the word "cream."

The one tricky thing about this recipe is that once you take it off the stove, you have very little time to actually get everything else in there before it's too cooled-off to mix. We've tried reheating it, but it always seems to come out grainy when we do. Also, the chocolate will resist mixing with the marshmallow creme. You have to really beat the bejesus out of it.We thought we'd use a rubber spatula so we could scrape any umixed deposits of melted chocolate while we mixed, but the stuff in the pot was too stiff and hard. You can also see the chocolate and the marshmallow refusing to mix before we got out the wooden spoon and did as Fanny Cradock would do: think of someone we utterly despise but are too well-bred to say so, so we take our anger and beat the soft-ball-stage snot out of the mix-resistant fudge.

In very short order, we turned the hot mess into fudge.
Creamy, dreamy, and delicious!

The recipe says to use a 9"x13" pan, but that tends to make thin fudge. We wanted to be able to cut it into adorable cubes, so we used a smaller pan. Unlike cakes, no one needs to worry about whether it will come out all right if you change the pan size. It just takes longer to cool off.

Let's get a closer look at this chocolate delight!

I do find it strange that while it gets too cool to mix anything in there almost immediately, it takes forever to cool off enough to cut. But we did ultimately have this huge pan of fudge.

Of course it's delicious. Otherwise I wouldn't have made this as many times as I have. We will note that this fudge has a much longer shelf life than any other recipe we've made. A lot of them become dried-out and hard after a day or two, this was still fresh a week later. We didn't go out of our way to tightly seal it either- we only put the pieces in a sandwich bag.
With that said, this is sweet. It's like sliceable chocolate icing. It occurred to us afterward: between all the sugar and the marshmallow, did we really need to use semisweet chocolate that has even more sugar in it? Purely as an experiment, we'd love to try this with baking chocolate instead sometime.