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...



    In a weird way, it seems strange it's been only six years... I've been following this blog for a long time, and I've made a habit of re-skimming favorite old entries in the summers. Maybe it's just all the changes the past six years have brought for me!

    Also, you made my poor sick lungs ache when I wheezed with laughter over the electric-mixer-teabag contraption.

    1. Why thank you! It's an honor that you think my writing is worth following!
      Glad to amuse, and I hope whatever ails you goes away!