Sunday, August 9, 2020

Apple-Sour Cream Crumble (The sour cream makes it deluxe)

These past few weeks we have had a lot of bananas on the counter turning brown. We've been flipping through the old books in the house and found a lot of lovely ways to use up the extra bananas that seem to be a fact of life as a result of having to get two weeks of groceries in one single sticker-shocking trip rather than going for a few items every other night depending on what we're making for dinner. Just as we had a lot of exciting plans for the bananas (Frozen custard! Pie! Gelatin mold! Whipped banana cake icing!), the bananas all disappeared and these short-lived apples landed in the kitchen.

Obviously, if we left them out in the kitchen for everyone to partake of the occasional healthy handheld snack over the next week, they would rot- and also bring in swarms of fruit flies. We considered making sticky apple man-bait, but it is difficult to try to attract men when you're avoiding people like your life depends on it. What does the wonderful world of recipes have to offer for someone who is off the dating market at least until you won't die two weeks after a mediocre dinner?

Apple-Sour Cream Crumble Deluxe
¾ c sugar
2 tbsp flour
⅛ tsp salt
1 c sour cream
½ tsp vanilla
4 c finely cut apples
1 egg
6 tbsp butter
½ c sugar
½ c flour
1½ tsp cinnamon
1 pinch salt

Heat oven to 425°. Line a 9" square pan with foil and grease it.
Thoroughly mix the flour, sugar, and salt. Whisk in the sour cream, vanilla, and egg. Fold in the apples and pour into the pan.
Bake 15 minutes. While it's baking, make the topping: Mix the butter and sugar, beating out any lumps. Stir in the cinnamon, and when all is mixed add the flour. Pat it into a layer about 1" thick and put in the freezer to make it more crumbly.
After 15 minutes have elapsed, reduce heat to 350°. Bake 40 minutes. Sprinkle with topping and bake 20 minutes more.

Adapted from a recipe by Helen Kalata (of Chicago, IL), Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book, First Catholic Slovak Ladies' Union, 1952


 We decided to try this because we've never seen an apple pie like it. Every apple pie we've ever seen or made was some variation of apples, sugar, and spices in a pie crust. Sure, there have been some tragic intrusions like a half-pound of process American cheese, but the basics of the pie have been pretty consistent: sugar, spice, apples, pie crust (and maybe a crumb topping). We've never seen apples suspended in a sour cream custard.

You will notice that we're not cutting out any of the bruises. We used to carefully excise them with a knife, but pies and cobblers were made for squishy fruit like this. There's a farmer's market near where we used to live where they openly say that the peach cobbler contains the peaches that arrived bruised and mushy. You'd never know after the fruit gets doused in sugar and spice and then shoved into a hot oven.

The more we have economizing thrust upon us due to ever-rising grocery prices, the more we feel silly for every time in the past that we have insisted on the most perfect fruits for our pies. These apples may have been more bruise than apple on the surface, but baking them will completely hide that. And so, instead of a well-fed trash can, we have a healthy(ish) dessert!

And now this recipe veers away from anything we've ever done. I hate to say no one ever does an apple pie like this. Clearly someone did because they wrote it down and put it in a cookbook. It looks like the beginnings of a boiled custard, but nowhere in the instructions are we told to turn on a stove burner.

It's been noted that most of our attempts to avoid wasted fruit has been to put them into cakes and pies. We have occasionally contemplated whether it's economical or not to expend a lot of baking ingredients on desserts we would have otherwise not have made at all. If "I'm making pie to save our grocery budget" seems like a flimsy excuse, there's always the backup excuse of "There's a damn plague on and life is stressful enough without reducing ourselves to salad and cottage cheese."
Does the vanilla-spattered sour cream look like ice cream and syrup to anyone else?

This tiny bowl of batter-custard brings us to the first misgiving we had about altering the recipe. We've doubled the amount of apples going into this without increasing the amount of this sour cream stuff. It seemed reasonable at the time- after all, we often double the pecans in a pecan pie without any problems whatsoever. Rather than getting a parsimonious handful of pecans floating on top of a oozing pan of corn syrup glop, we get a delicious pie that is packed full of nuts that get candied while it bakes.

We saw no reason we couldn't do the same with apple cubes. In theory, we'd get a delicious pie that was crammed full of enough apples with just enough of this sour cream mixture to hold them together. We theorized that this would conveniently use up all the apples that threatened to turn into countertop compost and also make this a deliciously apple-filled apple pie. Some people like their fruit pies to be a tastefully moderate portion of fruit suspended in something, but we like ours to be absolutely stuffed with fruits.
With that said, we didn't know whether this would be enough sour cream for all the apples we had cut up and slowly browning on the counter next to us.

This kitchen doesn't seem to have any medium-sized bowls, just very tiny and very big ones. Sometimes we feel a little silly making something that only uses about a third of the space in the bowl (and still sloshing it all over the floor), but for once all the excessive space paid off. If you close your eyes, you won't notice how many of the apples are the color of an iced coffee with extra cream.

We had imagined a pie just stuffed full of delicious mostly-edible apples, but we realized that this wouldn't even fit in a pie pan. You might think we were a bit annoyed at having to cancel using a pie crust after going through all the effort of making one, but we had fortunately decided we were so lazy that this would be a be  crustless pie. I think I read in one of my mother's back issues of dieting magazines that if you leave off the crust, you cut half the calories. I could pretend I'm watching what remains of my waist after avoiding people like it will save my life, but in reality I just didn't feel like bothering.

So much of the sour cream stuck to the apples that only this tiny little puddle remained. Resisting the urge to just eat it, we dribbled it across the pan because these half-rotten apples needed all the help they could get.

Anyway, with the apples in the oven we could mix together the stuff that's supposed to grace the top of the pie.

The butter was a bit too rock-hard to mix with anything, so we had to get out the power tools.

Some of the more watchful people out there may have noticed that we have so far gotten out two bowls, plus the knife and board for apple-cutting, and now we're getting out a mixer with beaters that will need a good cleaning. You might think that's a lot of dirty dishes for one recipe, but that will never be a problem in this kitchen again. Since the plumbers finished replacing all the rusted and rotted pipes, a marvelous change has happened to us here at A Book of Cookrye. Behold!
I have wanted to live with one of these for such a long time.

In case you didn't know, the lack of a dishwasher in my life has long caused vexation. Anyone who has read my writings on the subject would know that I reeeeally love a machine that takes washing dishes right out of my detergent-chapped hands. And now one resides right here in the kitchen! No longer must I stare at a stinky sponge and everyone's sauce-spattered plates after dinner. No more will I scour that nasty mixture of food residue and crusted-over spit off of all the forks, one at a time, every single day. The dishwasher has magically freed me from the drudge. And to make it even better, if I just leave it open after it has done the cleaning for me, it automatically converts into a drying rack!

Incidentally, the plumbers left another thing outside the house that we've used more than expected:

Yes, we now have hot water on the outside of the house. This was not my idea, but it's also not my house. Hot water on an exterior spigot is one of those things that seems silly and useless until you have it. But now that it is installed, we've used it extensively. If you were going to clean something by taking it outside and hosing it, you should try hosing it with nearly-scalding hot water. Even the most malodorous indications of an incontinent cat come right out of the rugs, leaving only steaming-hot cleanliness.
Anyway, we were in the middle of making an apple pie. Except we decided we didn't feel like making a pie crust, so this is not a pie but an apple... cobbler? crisp? buckle? crumble? We read this article and decided that it's probably either an apple crisp or an apple crumble.

We lengthened the baking time after spearing one of the apples with a toothpick and finding that it was still rock-hard after the recipe said it should have been at least halfway done. It was barely warmed up in the center. We can't fault Helen Kalata of Chicago, Illinois for faulty recipe instructions. It's quite reasonable that the baking time should get longer when we have twice as many apples that the oven heat must penetrate.
Anyway, we wanted to get the dishwasher started (since it was nearly full), but the bowl of apple topping was still, well, full of apple topping. The oven timer told us we still had thirty minutes before the pie was ready to be dressed on top, and we were not going to delay the dish cycle for that long just because of one bowl.

When the apples were finally nearly-done, this looked like a really damn good pan of potato hash.

I thought this was meant to be a crumb topping, but it started melting onto the apples before we'd scattered the entirety of it. Perhaps if we were good at dispersing it evenly instead of in lumps, it would have melted into a crispy crust on top.

At the end of its baking time, the pie emerged looking oddly like something a preschooler would have made. The spattered-looking top makes it look like someone's parent will smile down at their child and proudly say "And little Tilsie helped make dessert!"

Interestingly, some of the apples had squirted out foam that hardened before it could evaporate away. You might think this fizzled for a bit right after we took it out of the oven and then dripped down that apple cube, but it remained there without even deflating long after the pie cooled off.

One thing I liked about this pie from the moment I cut it: it slices very cleanly. A lot of pies are too runny for that, like those cherry pies made from canned pie filling (which I like so much that I often skip the whole business of baking them and just get a can opener and a spoon). But when you cut this pie, it stays cut.

When you cut it, it looks like, well, apples suspended in a white baked custard. AND IT IS DELICIOUS. The sour-cream stuff brings out the tartness of the apples without covering up the apple flavor, and separating the cinnamon out of the pie and into an intensely-spiced crispy top layer is brilliant. One person noted that "this tastes like it should be in a pie crust," so maybe next time we'll at least press one into the bottom of the pan even if we don't feel like doing anything involving a rolling pin.

If you have extra apples from when you stocked up on fruit and didn't realize it would all go bad at the same time, or even if you just feel like making an apple pie, this is a great recipe. We at A Book of Cookrye would even go so far as to put it on the holiday baking list if that happens this year.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Herbed Potatoes and Carrots: or, Making dinner without using any dishes at all

How many of us ever pause to appreciate the pipes in our house until they break? We have suffered a minor plumbing failure which expanded. The plumbers crawled under the house thinking they would fix a minor leak. They re-emerged through the floor hatch and said that actually, the pipes to the other part of the house need to be replaced too. They later emerged from working on the other pipes to say they'd found some other spots, and.... well ultimately it turned out that all the plumbing in the house was held together only by rust and dumb luck, and had to be taken out immediately because it should have burst in the walls a few years ago. Among other things, this meant that we had no running water in the kitchen. But running water or no, we all still have to eat, right?
With that said, we at A Book of Cookrye have been adapting to dishless cookery.

Zero-Dirty-Dishes Potatoes and Carrots
1 pound fingerling potatoes
1 pound baby carrots
1 splash of cooking oil
Rosemary, paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder (or spices to taste)
Salt to taste
1 egg per portion, optional
1 handful shredded cheese per portion, optional

Heat oven to 350°. Line a square pan with foil, then spray it. Alternately, fold the foil to make a pan, and set it on top of a sheet pan for baking (You can make individual pans to divide this into portions before you've even baked anything).
Put the vegetables in the pan. Pour the oil over them and toss with your hands to coat. Shake the seasonings over them and toss to coat again.
Bake until the potatoes are done. If desired, remove the pan from the oven when everything is very nearly cooked. Crack an egg over it, sprinkle on a handful of shredded cheese, and return to the oven to finish baking.

Dishless cooking as practiced here at A Book of Cookrye seems to involve a lot of potatoes. We have microwaved them, baked them, and attempted all manner of things to make it seem like we have variety in our lives.
Today we attempted to be fancy and toss them in spice-infused oil. Now, it's true that the oil tastes better if you steep the spices for a day or two. But if you didn't remember to put the spices in the oil early enough to allow time to infuse, you can put it in the microwave until piping hot and get the same marvelously flavored result.
This quick-infusion (which works just as well as- if not better than- leaving the oil and spices to sit for a day or two) typically involves a microwave-safe cup which then has to be washed. If you think we get twitchy about washing dishes without a dishwasher, you should see us when the only running water is a garden hose that the neighbor mercifully threw over the fence. I have actually snatched ceramic plates out of people's hands and pointed to the stack of paper ones on the counter. Anyway, going of the idea that you can microwave paper plates, we thought we could microwave-infuse the oil in this paper cup with the adorable little squirrel on it.

We tend to like a lot of lovely spices on our spuds when we cook them this way. Believe it or not, there's a decent allotment of cooking oil under there.

We gave it a quick stir with the index finger and put it in the microwave. As you can see, we added so much paprika that we dyed the oil a very dark color. A lot of recipes seem to use a parsimonious amount of paprika just for the color, but we think it's delicious. There's only 2 or 3 spoons of oil in there, so we figured that 15 seconds would probably be plenty of time for things to get nice and hot.

It turns out it's quite the mercy that we microwaved the oil for such a short time because we opened the microwave and a massive smoke cloud attacked us right in the eyes. We're only showing this so that you can learn from our mistakes and never try to microwave paper cups. You will end up frantically rushing out the door so it can smolder outside instead of smoking up the kitchen.
Thank heavens this house has a back door in the kitchen which we can run through with smoking failures.

Fortunately, while we had burned off the oil and a lot of spices, we had at least avoided wasting the actual main ingredients of dinner. But first, we merely needed to temporarily pause our food production and frantically open windows and bring out box fans because we had just reenacted this card we sent to our brother when he called and bemoaned having to march outside due to burning popcorn:
We actually passed this around and had all our friends sign it before mailing it out.
 Fortunately, the principal ingredients of our dinner still looked like this: happy, colorful, and (most crucially) not burnt.

So, dropping our misguided microwave notions, we just dumped everything on the spuds and carrots, tossed them around a bit with our hands to coat, and inserted it in the oven. Hopefully the magical smell of spuds and herbs would cover up the odor of burnt failures.

We were hoping for these to be nicely browned and enticing. But instead we only got shrinkage. We figured they were ready when you could stick them with a plastic fork without snapping anything.

Now, as this water outage is ongoing, we've been making quite a few batches of carrots and spuds. It's very convenient, and if we copy that lovely recipe from Canada and crack an egg on top, it's a complete(ish) dinner.

Now, no dinner is complete without dessert, especially when you're stressed because there's smelly rags piling up in the washing machine and crusty plates festering in the sink while you yearningly stare at the shower and fondly wait for it to bless you with scalding water again. But do we have a brownie recipe that doesn't involve dirtying a lot of cooking utensils?

Blessed be our former teacher for sending us this recipe! We had previously thought mixing it in the pan was silly and that it'd be so much easier to really give the batter a good hard stirring if we had it in a bowl. But today, this brownie recipe makes perfect sense. We snapped two plastic spoons before it was mixed, but we got perfect brownies.

And to make things even better, the only dirty dish we had was this one measuring cup, which we we merely wiped with a paper towel and put away.

Dinner is made, dessert is served, let us now rest and hope we're using the real plates next week!