Friday, October 22, 2021

Orange-Peanut Butter Cookies

 I knew I would make this recipe the moment I saw it.

Orange Peanut Butter Cookies
½ c butter
½ c peanut butter
½ c brown sugar
½ c white sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp grated orange rind
2¼ c flour
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 c chopped nuts if desired

Mix butters, sugars, egg, orange juice, and rind. Beat well until smooth, light, and fluffy. Stir in the soda and salt. Then add the flour, a small portion at a time. Add the nuts if desired.
Knead dough with your hands until smooth, then divide in half. Shape each half into a log, then wrap in waxed paper. Refrigerate until firm.
When ready to bake, heat oven to 400°.
Cut the dough into eighth-inch slices. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake 8-10 minutes.

Florence Hovanec, (Whiting, Indiana), Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book, First Catholic Slovak Ladies' Union, 1952

Peanut butter and orange are an unusual pair to put in the same cookie recipe (or at least I've never seen this anywhere else). But like the orange pie I did one Christmas, this recipe seemed more like an interesting novelty than a recipe that time thankfully forgot. We're making something just a bit outside the commonplace flavor choices, not something so unfortunate that Mrs. Cropley would have made it on The Vicar of Dibley.

I am enabled by other people in the house who just really like cookies and therefore encourage (or at least step back and tolerate) anything that involves multiple baking sheets and a hot oven. As previously mentioned, our new favorite beat-up old cookbook has a lot of recipes for things that are common today but have gotten a lot more codified and uniform in the intervening decades. You know how just about every latter-day peanut butter cookie recipe (unless you do some very deliberate recipe searching) is basically "make dough, roll into balls, dip/sprinkle with sugar, press grid lines with fork"? 

Equal amounts cow and peanut butter.


This book has multiple peanut butter cookie recipes, which is not surprising. You see duplicate recipes in a lot of community cookbooks. After all, you don't want to elevate one lady (you never see men sending recipes into these) over another by excluding Ida Felton from the book and letting Loretta McAdams get all the credit in print for devil's food cake. But to my mild surprise, all of the peanut butter cookies in the Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book are different recipes. We've got one recipe like the peanut butter cookies you see in cookbooks today, one recipe for drop cookies, and the citrus-infused delight (well hopefully it's a delight) we are making today.

At first I was hesitant to make these because I feared people might be just as picky about peanut butter cookies as they can get about grilled cheese: add one shake of paprika and you've ruined the sandwich. I thought orange might be something people can't accept in peanut butter cookies. Then I decided to just make them anyway so I can stop wondering how they'd come out.

Our starring juice has been added!

As a recipe note, the directions tell us to use the juice of fresh oranges along with the rind we grated off first. But we still have a partial can of orange juice concentrate in the freezer that we periodically thaw out and add by the spoonful to various things.

I was a bit surprised that the recipe instructs us to dump everything besides into a bowl all at once. It really shows how ubiquitous electric kitchen power tools had become in the kitchens of people who couldn't hire domestic staff. You can try to do this with a wooden spoon, but you will really wish you had done like so many recipes tell you to: beat the butter and sugar separately, then add your eggs and other runny ingredients. I suspect that when Florence Hovanec wrote that we should dump everything in the bowl all at once, I she used those one of those marvelous kitchen appliances that almost everyone could finally afford. I only got this well-beaten result after following the wisdom of Our Patron Saint of Cookrye, Fanny Cradock: think of someone you've never really liked but you're too well-bred to say anything so you take it out on your dessert.

After adding the flour, this went from one of the runniest to  one of the stiffest peanut butter cookie doughs I have made.

With a bit more Fanny Cradock-inspired spoon thrashing, we got this citrus-touched mess to coalesce into something that was, if not malleable, could at least be forced into whatever shape one may desire. At this point, I checked the recipe and found that we are shaping these into logs. But more importantly, we're probably not having cookies tonight. The recipe tells us to "Wrap in waxed paper, place in refrigerator. Chill until firm." Meaning, if we want cookies tonight, we are either making something else or buying them.

I tried to hurry these up by freezing them, but as you can see by the rough surfaces, the dough wasn't really firm enough to cut very well. Had I attempted the eighth-inch slices the recipe tells us to make, the dough would have just turned into mush on the knife. Not that I mind thicker cookies; thin wafers are rarely something I wish I had in my life. I do wish I could get my icebox cookies to come out in a cuter shape than "random splotch of misshapen cookie dough."

Given how hard this dough was before it saw the inside of a freezer, I did not expect these to rise as much as they did. I didn't the dough was flexible enough to allow any leavening. But instead of getting hardened dough bricks, we got some delightfully puffy cookies.

As the remaining cookie dough remained in the freezer while the first batch baked, it sliced more smoothly. Had I waited overnight I could have easily cut these as thinly as the recipe tells us to. But if I had patience, I would have had to wait longer for cookies.

And here we have our orange-perfumed plate! I put the second batch that got frozen longer and therefore cut more smoothly on the top of the pile for presentation purposes.

Peanut butter and orange go together so well that I'm surprised I've only seen them put together in this one recipe from 1952. The orange flavor kind of hung in the background of these, though I had expected it to be a lot stronger. Maybe it would have been had I used fresh oranges and also grated off the rind.  But they're like if shortbread was just a bit softer, and they taste wonderful.

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.