Sunday, October 3, 2021

Sauerkraut and Frankfurter Pie: or, The dieting days of yore

 This is what happens when I have the house to myself.

I don't know if everyone has a stack of recipes they've been meaning to make but never got around to, but I sure as heck do. And one of them comes from 1972: The Retro Weight Watchers Experiment. In this experiment, Mimi tried the infamous original Weight Watchers recipes that probably gave "diet food" the reputation it still carries today. Weight Watchers used to permit a lot more frankfurters than anyone on a diet would eat these days, likely because they are so cheap. Anyway, I've been wanting to try this ever since I first saw it:

Frankfurter Pie
4 slices enriched white bread*
4 c sauerkraut, drained
1 chopped dill pickle (or 2 to 4 tbsp dill relish)
¼ c chopped green bell pepper
¼ c yellow mustard
1 pound frankfurters

Broil the hot dogs turning as needed, then slice them. I had better luck doing it on the Low setting- they didn't burn so easily. Then get the oven to 350°.
Roll the bread slices flat, then cut in half. Lay them in a pie pan to make the crust.
Mix else everything together. Put into your pie crust and bake 20 minutes.
This makes four servings.

*All the Weight Watchers recipes from this time specify "enriched white" bread. No idea why they disliked whole-wheat bread so much. But I used brown bread anyway.

NOTE: Some further reading shows us that if you want to scrupulously recreate the original, you will also add 2 tbsp chopped pimento.

Source: 1974 Weight Watchers recipe cards via 1972: The Retro Weight Watchers Project

I don't care about this as a diet recipe. I just really love sauerkraut (along with garlic, onions, and all else that is pungent in life). I'm sure my nearest and dearest curse the person who first introduced me to Reuben sandwiches because I then discovered you could just buy sauerkraut without all that meddlesome sandwich in the way. Ordinarily I couldn't make a recipe like this because of complaints about the smell. But as I said earlier, no one else is home. And so, it was finally time to happily get the ingredients for a gastronomic delight!

I haven't eaten a hot dog in a long time, and I forgot how straight-sided they are when you first rip open the package and accidentally drip that meat-scented brine on your clothes. Anyway, we put them under the broiler and then attended to our other ingredients. First, the one occurrence of fresh vegetables in this recipe. We cut a whole bell pepper, but we're only using what's in that tiny little cup.

I know I said I'm not going to comment on how this recipe would help people on a diet, or go on about how weird and punitively wacky dieting was in the 1970s. I didn't pick this recipe to slim down, but because I really like sauerkraut-laden things. The sour-salty pan of hot dogs and kraut seemed tantalizingly perfect. 

However, I must note my bewilderment that this recipe uses such a parsimonious allotment of fresh vegetables. The only non-canned produce in this entire recipe is a quarter cup of green bell peppers in a pie that serves four. If you remember to follow their serving sizes, that means you only get a tablespoon of chopped fresh greens in your serving of pie. It's quite the shift from the "vegetables contain evil carbs" rules of the 1970s to dieting today where you are encouraged to eat an entire salad bar every night (but only with fat free dressing). 

 Anyway, having put the rest of the bell pepper in the refrigerator for future delights (I like bell pepper a lot, so it absolutely would not go to waste), it is time to move on to our pie crust! I'm using brown sandwich bread instead of the enriched white specified in the recipe because that's what I have on hand. Whole-wheat substitutions like this may be why I've had to set aside some of my pre-pandemic clothes until I can fit into them again, but I wasn't about to spend some grocery money on white bread at mid-pandemic prices when no one in the house eats it.

I thought the bread would get a lot bigger after having at it with a rolling pin, but it stayed nearly the same size.

This has got to be the easiest pie crust I have made since I just unrolled one out of a box. And those bread triangles in a pie pan look so lovely in an orderly way.

But we didn't come here for bread and bell peppers. One can find one or both of them in some form on almost any restaurant menu. Also, just about everyone in the United States has eaten hot dogs at least ten times in their lives, even if they swore off meat later in life. Let's get to the really fun, polarizing, send-everyone-who-has-a-nose-out-of-the-room ingredient that had me maniacally chortling as I came home from the grocery store:

All of this in one pie.

That jar of pungent shreds shrinks a lot after you've drained all the kraut juice out of it.

And so, to this limp beige confetti, we just dump in everything else. In case you don't think sauerkraut punches you right in the olfactory nerve hard enough, we've also added a massive splat of mustard. I think it's because mustard is nearly calorie-free, and Weight Watchers steered their clients toward condiments that had less sugar and grease than ketchup and mayonnaise. And after carefully counting individual lentils to make sure you didn't over-ration yourself on legumes for the day, it feels nice to just take a big bottle of something (doesn't matter what) and squirt with abandon.

The last thing to go into this pie (for now) is of course our one chopped dill pickle-- or its factory-chopped neighbor on the pickle shelf. Dill relish was cheaper and already cut up a lot finer than I would have bothered, which makes me wonder why the recipe doesn't just tell people to use it instead (or at least suggest it as an alternative).

I don't know if the mustard makes the sauerkraut taste any better, but it certainly makes it a very happy-looking yellow. It almost looks like I splurged on saffron, doesn't it?

And now, let us get to the frankfurters! This is the first time I've eaten a hot dog in many years. I think the recipe has us cut them up after broiling them to hide how bulbous and deformed they look out of the oven.

I wasn't sure how long I was supposed to cook them since they're fully-cooked right out of the package, so I just guessed. I hope the blackened skin didn't ruin the recipe. It appears we're only cooking these to make them a little crispier on the outside and perhaps to make any excess brine evaporate. The inside of these looked stubbornly unchanged-- or maybe I didn't broil them long enough.

I know we're supposed to bake this, but I think the oven time is just to heat things up. I doubt anything is going to change after baking, so it looks like this bowl of sliced weiners in sunshine-yellow Easter basket confetti is our pie.

I didn't know why the recipe tells us to bake it aside from making it feel a bit more like making a (non-diet) pie. But there's nothing to make this pile of ingredients set as a cohesive pie, no raw ingredients that need cooking, no reason I can discern to fire up the oven for this pan of yellow kraut. It did brown the exposed hot dog cores a bit, though.

But you should know that it didn't smell a bit tart in the oven. In fact, this pie did not smell sour at all. The oven fumes scoured my nostrils so hard that I couldn't smell anything.

I know I usually get irked about pies that you scoop out of the pan rather than cut and lift by the slice, but in this pie I didn't mind. Aside from putting it in a pie pan, I didn't think of it as a pie to begin with. It was just a cute way to get more sauerkraut into your kraut dog than a hot dog bun would contain. But I do love how you can scoop out a big slice's worth of kraut pie and barely make a dent into what remains in the pan.

I'm not going to lie, I absolutely loved this. If you like a good kraut dog, this recipe is for you. The salty nuggets of it-might-be-meat were a wonderful contrast against the massive sea of sauerkraut in which they floated. It's the same intense salty-sour combination that leads me to really love vinegar on French fries ever since I went to Canada. The bread got crisp and just a little bit toasted on the bottom of the pan, which just added to the perfection. Even if you don't want to pretend this is a pie with a sandwich bread pie crust, that layer of toast on the bottom is so perfect with the pungent bliss piled on top. Though I had to get out a knife to cut the bread up because you just can't do that with the side of a fork like you normally might with a non-Weight Watchers pie crust. You might consider cutting the flattened bread into bite-size squares and laying them on the bottom of the pan instead.

As delicious as it was, we have to discuss the dieting origin of the recipe. Clearly the sauerkraut is meant to be a flavorful way to fill yourself up on zero-calorie comestible substances. But after I ate my delicious fill of this pie, it was like my body was telling me "That was good, now where is the real food?" You can try to fill yourself up on kraut and other near-nothing diet foods, but you won't feel sated until you eat something with actual sustenance. So, I don't recommend making this pie as your entire dinner. 

But while this would not be a satisfying one-pan dinner, it would be a really good side dish. If you're considering grilling now that it's not too hot to cook outside without risking heat stroke, I would definitely suggest you also cook an entire one-pound package (some of the cheaper ones are only three-quarters pound, beware!) of hot dogs to make this. Whether you grill or oven-broil your frankfurters, it would be a really good side dish for any gathering of your vaccinated friends. Just forget the whole pie presentation and make it in a square pan with a layer bite-size pieces of flattened bread instead of diagonal halves on the bottom. Also, consider plugging a toaster oven into an outdoor socket to bake it.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Second-Stab Saturday: The wackiest birthday cake

One person in the house had a birthday recently, and a cake was called for! On account of it being an introvert's birthday party, the celebration consisted of a nonchalant group text that there was cake on the counter, there would be no singing, and small fires could be lit as desired. As we had previously stated that the Wacky Cake tasted like it was from someone's birthday, it was the natural choice. Also, we have a stack of these tiny pans, so we could make a small but still layered birthday cake.

Because we wanted to actually do a layer cake, we made one big revision to the recipe: we got out a mixing bowl. It may seem like we just got rid of the one reason to make a wacky cake, but really it means it tastes so good you can mix it in anything.

Once again, we tried to give each liquid its own hole, but the melted oleo spilled over.

You may think that we have turned the wacky cake into a wack-free one, but this was the day we found out that the cookie sheet we put the flimsy foil pans on was as warped as a potato chip. This caused some unfortunate cake tilt.

If we zoom in a bit, we can see that the cakes got downright crispy on one corner.

I tried to stack them in opposite directions hoping they would level out on top, but anyone who has tried this knows it never really works.

We wanted to know if the cake would actually let go of the pan if you mixed it in a separate bowl and then greased the pan first. It does. But it will then want to spangle any icing you put on top with unprofessional crumbs.

As a lot of people know, one can easily avoid crumbs in your cake icing (or at least reduce them) by simply freezing your cake before bringing out your icing and spatula. However, our freezer does not have that kind of vacant space. Therefore, the unimpeded cake crumbs ruined my perfect icing aesthetics.

My professional reputation is ruined!

Thinking of those fancy red velvet cakes where they cover the iced sides with more cake crumbs, I tried pushing the icing around with the spatula to raise so many cake crumbs into it that it would surely look deliberate. It definitely looks like an attempt was made.

I should have just used sprinkles.

But all was well when we cut the cake. It was absolutely delicious. And the birthday wacky cake had the wackiest of uneven cake layers which looked really neat (and name-appropriate) when we cut it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Cow Cookies!

When we last saw beef fat, it was holding together a pie crust for a mysteriously resilient pink pie. Jana from Time Travel Kitchen noted that if we put our beef fat in hot water, we will wash away the various things suspended in it and therefore it will last far longer. But you really should see what we got when we first upended the cup that held the fat and the random pan juices that came out with it. We had this after letting the fat harden in the refrigerator:

And when we upturned the cup to release its contents (and did some prying and cutting around the edges), we had a perfect freestanding beef gelatin.

Rather than going down the drain, the gelatinized beef juice got frozen until the next soup night.


I know I said that despite my hatred of food waste, I wasn't going to look for ways to better integrate beef fat into our diet. But I also got a little bit obsessed with beef fat in desserts. I previously thought that the beef-fat-crusted pie was the end of my explorations of bovine sweets, but then I thought to myself "Maybe the artificial strawberry flavor concealed the beef fat too much! Maybe we were all too distracted by the ballistic-gelatin-like pie filling to notice what a bad idea this was!"

So I had to try the cow-derived dessert idea again. I know it seems like I've gone nuts in quarantine, and maybe I have. But a lot of people outside America swear by using hog lard in their cookies and pastries. All we're doing here is swapping species.

Beef Shortbread Cookies
½ c beef fat
A little milk
¼ c sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1¼ c flour

Heat oven to 350°. Grease a cookie sheet well.
Thoroughly beat the sugar, fat, and vanilla. Then mix in the flour. Add the milk, a tiny half-teaspoon at a time, until it comes together into a cookie dough. Stir the dough as little as possible to keep it from going tough.
Roll into 1-inch balls, and then flatten them with your hands. Or, roll the dough out into a sheet and cut them. Place on the cookie sheet.
Bake until slightly golden at the edge and cooked through. Refrigerate the dough for a few hours after shaping into cookies for a more shortbread-like texture.

I picked this recipe for two reasons. First, it's a very plain recipe. I didn't want to cover any meat-related flavor problems with spices or molasses. Second, since this recipe uses no eggs, we can easily cut it down to a very tiny amount. In the likely event that this turns out to be a bad idea, we won't have wasted a lot of flour or sugar in this. Yes, one can subdivide eggs (which I did on our adventure into our great-grandmother's forgotten kitchen), but it is a very irksome task that I did not want to do again.

I thought about doing a cake instead of cookies, but I wanted to cut this recipe down a lot in case it was terrible. Therefore a cake was not suitable. If you bake too small of a cake, your tiny puddle of cake batter will just dry out in the pan instead of baking properly. But you can cut a cookie recipe down to a thirty-secondth of its original quantity, and the one or two resulting cookies will turn out fine. You might think I should have just made 6 or so cupcakes, but I didn't think of that until the oven was hot and the cookies were mixed.

I'm partially trying this to see how we can economize better than we already do. But mostly, I thought it would be a hoot to make beef-based sweets. Everyone else in the house has by now just let me expend a moderate amount of dry goods in these experiments, especially since nothing to date has been worse than the ham-cherry pie. When I told everyone I was making cow cookies, by now they knew me too well to think I meant cookies iced with a novelty splotch-pattern black-and-white decoration. When they saw the tiny amount of cookie dough forming in the smallest mixing bowl in the drawer, everyone's objections melted into curiosity-motivated "Let me know when they're done."

Figuring that we'd definitely notice undesirable beefiness when we had only beef fat and sugar beaten together, I tried a tiny amount on the tip of a spoon. It tasted... fine. Nothing thrilling, but it was fine. Basically it tasted like if you accidentally used granulated instead of powdered sugar in your cake frosting. It seemed like using beef fat instead of butter would make no difference. However, upon mixing in the flour, we got sand instead of ready-to-bake cookie dough.

At first I wondered if I should just press and smush the floury fat-gravel into cookie shapes and hope for the best. But then I realized: a stick of butter contains at least a spoonful of water. That's why butter boils a little bit when you melt it. So I added milk by the teaspoon until we had cookie dough.

As aforementioned, I cut this recipe down by a lot. These are all of the cookies we got. If the cow cookies are a success, I reasoned, we can actually make a full batch of the things.

They got a little puffy in the oven, and smelled unexpectedly normal.

To my surprise, these cookies are just fine. It's true that they have no buttery flavor (nor any butter), but no one would taste one, look at it suspiciously, and ask "What's in this?" They tasted like perfectly normal baked sweets. I would like to emphasize that I used the plainest, most unadorned, if-something-was-fishy-or-beefy-we-would-notice-it recipe.

The cookies formed this sort of extra crisp layer on the outside that was almost like an ultra-thin glaze-- rather like how brownies form their own separate top layer. The inside of them was crispy and then melted in your mouth like one of those Mexican wedding cookies that people put in powdered sugar. As someone else put it, they were "delightfully crumbly. Everything you make with beef fat has been delightfully crumbly." I'm not going to start fanatically putting the fat we drain out of various frying pans of beef back into our daily diet, but this happened barely two weeks later:

One of them did not fit.

That's right, we made a full batch of cow cookies-- and others in the house were excited about them. Have a look at how light and crisp they are on the inside.

And so, in conclusion, you can put beef fat anywhere butter would have gone. Next time you drain off a frying pan of ground beef, put the fat into your refrigerator and then pick the recipe of your dreams.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Fun with Fudge Frosting

 When last we saw the nun brownies, we had made the brownies themselves twice but never tried the fudge frosting that came with the recipe. We at A Book of Cookrye were nevertheless curious about whether this boiled concoction would be any good. Furthermore, we wondered if it would actually improve the brownies. I've found that brownies, being very rich and sweet already, usually don't need any post-oven improvement. But this brownie recipe came with an icing recipe, so in theory they would perfectly complement each other.

Fudge Frosting for Brownies
1 c sifted powdered sugar
1 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp cream (or half-and-half)
1 tbsp butter

Combine in a saucepan and cook until it boils around the side of the pan. Remove from heat and beat until it is thick enough to spread. It sets quickly when it's ready, so wait until you're ready to spread it on your brownies before making it. Covers one small batch.

Dominican Sisters (Oxford, Michigan), Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book, First Catholic Slovak Ladies' Union, 1952

I usually don't bother sifting powdered sugar that is going to be boiled because any lumps always disappear in the bubbling heat, but I didn't want to argue with a convent's worth of nuns. 

As an recipe note, we don't have cream in the house, and I wasn't about to get a carton just to use a single spoon of it. However, someone else in the house has taken to using half-and-half in coffee, which seemed close enough for today's endeavor.

I don't think those nuns were kidding when they said to boil it only until it bubbles up around the edge of the pot. The overcooked fudge icing turned a bit crumbly when we tried to get it onto the brownies. 

Also, this recipe makes exactly enough to cover this one small pan. It's like God meant for this icing to go with only this brownie recipe.

We all tried the frosting-crowned brownies and were delighted. It's basically a brownie with boiled fudge on top. As aforesaid, I usually don't think brownies need icing on top, but this really did improve on perfection.We all ate the entire pan with embarrassing speed.

I know that a lot of boiled icings exist in the homemade world, but I've never done one until now. I began to think about how we might vary and play with the recipe. My first thought was this: when you first take the icing off the stove it's still very runny, and you stir it hard to pass the time while it cools and thickens. We thought to ourselves, what if we poured it out as soon as we took it off the stove? Would we get a lovely thin layer of glaze that turned into a delicate shell of fudge?

For those of you cooking along with us at home, this is the cookie recipe from the back of the Reese's chips bag-- except this time we used white chocolate chips instead. As you can see, we did not get the thin glaze we hoped for when we dumped the still boiling-hot icing on top of them. The icing separated out and just wasn't as nice as it could have been if I'd waited until it had cooled (stirring the whole time of course). However, the icing did cool off enough to keep itself together by the time we got to the last cookies in the batch.

Both the cookies we iced in premature haste and the ones that we iced properly tasted just fine, even though the first ones didn't look right. But we started to wonder... if we separated the icing recipe from the brownies it came with, did we have a quick in-a-pinch recipe for fudge? We gave the icing yet another go (we've made it thrice so far,for those of you who are counting), with a new ingredient:

I thought we'd get delicious fudge-coconut clusters, but this really is a frosting recipe. They look cute, but they tasted like coconut and icing. The chocolate part did have a nice praline-ish texture, though. They weren't bad, but they weren't what I hoped for either.

We ate all of these, but they weren't worth making again. But chocolate and coconut swirled in my mind after my previous attempt to unite them until I had a vision. I imagined the brownies filled with a generous amount of coconut because I like coconut a lot. I even had the perfect recipe which I had saved from Mid-Century menu a long time ago and periodically made when I thought my then-significant other deserved it. (Seriously, it's really good.)

Source: Mid-Century Menu (read about her adventures making this recipe!)

This would be the perfect coconut filling for the brownie delight of my dreams- it tastes amazing, but it has never (no matter how many times I made it) set enough to serve as candy. This shortcoming never mattered since we always just ate it out of the pan with one spatula per person.

Here is a cross-section of what I imagined:

And here is what happened when the brownies fell apart when I attempted to stack them.

I should have known that such decadence would have been forbidden by nuns. But since I am not in a convent, I tried to cut the edges even (it didn't work) and make something semi-pretty. The icing certainly looked tempting as I poured it on. Take a good look at the photo below, because that's the last time this looks at all promising.

It's hard to pour out this icing without salivating.

And here we see the tragic results. There was an attempt.

You may be surprised about this, but it fell apart into a sad chocolate coconut mess when you tried to cut yourself a piece.

With that said, while my dream fell apart, all the components of my vision added up really well when you ate it--- except the icing that inspired the whole mess. It was too sweet on top of all the coconut and brownies. The coconut recipe uses unsweetened chocolate, and you should too. Sugary icing on top candy is a bit too much. I should not have defied God's yardstick-wielding enforcement squad by putting the fudge frosting on anything but otherwise-unadorned brownies.

However, the brownies and the coconut were absolutely perfect together. Also, putting the coconut candy on top of brownies solved the problem I always had that I could never serve it up. The coconut candy, no matter how many times I made it, always remained a sticky mess that clung to the spatula until you thwacked it onto your plate like a cafeteria lady slinging mashed potatoes. Treating it like a decadent brownie topping instead of a standalone delight seemed more right. But I definitely overdid it in making a not-majestic tower of chocolate. A single, non-stacked layer of brownies with the coconut on top would have all the deliciousness I envisioned without the structural instability.

In sum, this tower of cocoa and coconut was really good and also so rich that after a very small portion you were done eating it. Everyone will only want a little bit, so you can make dessert for like twenty soon-to-be-sated people without having to get out a second 9x13 pan. To give my attempted artistry some dignity, I want to show you that we did indeed have the layers we dreamed of in the part that remained on the platter after a few days of everyone hacking off a little bit when we needed just a chocolate lift.

Also, the icing is very good and worth making again. If you're making a small batch of brownies, definitely consider pouring it on top.