Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cocoa Sauerkraut Cookies

Yeah, this is an actual for-real recipe. Ok, a little background on where I got this. My uncle has made it something of a tradition in the last few years to collect family recipes, newspaper clippings, little bits and pieces of family mementos and photocopy them and make cookbooks for my siblings and I as Christmas gifts. I found this recipe in the first cookbook he gave us (and as this blog grows, I'm almost certainly going to include a few other recipes from these cookbooks) - there's a few variations of this recipe online, but I stick with the original. This was one of the recipes that prompted me to start this little blog in the first place. I'm not sure exactly what prompted the creator of this recipe to use sauerkraut as a cookie ingredient. Maybe the rinsed sauerkraut was originally intended to be a cheaper substitute for shredded coconut. Or maybe some chef got a bit confused while crapulent on cooking sherry. I lean towards the former.

What I didn't particularly like about the original recipe when I first read it was that outside the sauerkraut there wasn't a whole lot going on in these cookies, seeing as how cocoa was really the only other major flavor. I think just about every chocolate cookie recipe, particularly homemade ones, has to have chocolate chips in it - the only chocolate cookies I like that don't have them are the Girl Scout's Thin Mints and Oreos. The original recipe also called for shortening, and I thought I would try using unsalted butter. Shortening is much cheaper, but I thought using real butter would give them some extra richness and flavor. Also, with the idea that the sauerkraut was intended as a coconut substitute, I got the idea to add a little bit of coconut extract to the cookie recipe to see how many people I could fool. Anyway, with the coconut extract and chocolate chips being added, and the butter softened to room temperature, I was all set.

Cocoa Sauerkraut Cookies
1 C. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 T. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
3 3/4 C. flour
1 1/2 C. shortening (or unsalted butter)
3 C. sugar
3 eggs
1 T. vanilla (or coconut extract)
1 lb. canned sauerkraut
2 C. (12-oz. bag) chocolate chips (optional)

Mix the first five ingredients together in a large bowl and set aside. Cream together the shortening, eggs, sugar, and vanilla/coconut until smooth. Drain the sauerkraut, rinse it thoroughly, and chop it. Stir that into the creamed mixture, then add the dry ingredients and stir together until well-blended. If you are using the chocolate chips, add them now and stir just until they are incorporated. Drop by spoonfuls onto baking sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

Dry ingredients

Rinsing the sauerkraut for the 3rd time.

The result of mixing the sauerkraut and the dough. No matter how thoroughly I drain and blot the sauerkraut with paper towels beforehand, the dough always starts to get kind of alarmingly wet at this point, almost like cake batter instead of cookie dough.

Whew. Two in the morning, and I wound up with roughly 4 1/2 dozen of these oddities (this was the first batch I pulled out). They look pretty normal, don't they? Of course, there's the real question - how do they taste?

Not bad. What you wind up with is a cookie that is almost brownie-like in softness and moistness. There is a little hint of the sauerkraut texture in there, but if you didn't know it was sauerkraut, the coconut flavor would throw you - it certainly fooled everyone I gave these to. And actually, I'm thinking that the butter wasn't such a hot idea after all. When I made these cookies with shortening, the cookies held up to baking better and weren't quite as flat as these.

Monday, October 6, 2008

An Improbable Pie-Mutation

I was looking through a Pillsbury Bake-Off cookbook of my mother's last Thanksgiving. This particular cookbook is 40 years old, and I frequently like reading recipes from the 1950s and 1960s because it's kind of neat in a funny way to read recipes that proudly trumpet the amazing dishes you can make for your family using things like Spam, Wonderbread, and Cheez-Its.

Anyway, I was reading it and THIS leapt out at me:

Wow - I don't even know what to say about this. It looks like a pie that mutated, and the list of ingredients indicates a truly bizarre mix of flavors - coconut, pecans, and lime. It's actually pretty simple to make - It's just pre-baking the crust, with a little toasting, a little whipping, a little spreading, and a little spooning.

And y'know what? This is actually pretty tasty. I would suggest letting the lime sherbet sit out of the freezer for a good 15 minutes or so to soften it, or spoon it out into a large bowl and stir it a bit until it's softer - if it's too hard, you're going to have a hell of a time spreading it without breaking the crust.

Macaroon Crunch Pie

9-in. pie crust
1/2 c. shredded coconut
1 pint lime sherbet (1/2 a quart)
1 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
1/3 c. powdered sugar
1 cup crushed macaroon cookies* (I bought a brand that was called (I think) Southern Kitchen)
1/2 c. chopped pecans

Pre-bake a 9-in pie crust, either using a store-bought brand or your favorite homemade recipe. When the crust comes out of the oven, spread the coconut on a small baking sheet or a piece of heavy-duty foil and toast it for a few minutes. Let the crust and coconut cool COMPLETELY.

Set aside 2 tablespoons of the coconut and spread the rest in the bottom of the crust. Spread the soft sherbet over it and pop it in the freezer while you get on with the rest of the recipe.

Whip the heavy cream until it begins to thicken, add the sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Set aside 1 cup of that for later. Fold the cookie crumbs and pecans into the rest of the whipped cream. Take the pie out of the freezer and spread the crumb-cream mixture until it completely covers the sherbert (it will help keep it frozen later). Take that reserved 1 cup of whipped cream and dab spoonfuls of it around the edge of the pie, then sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of coconut in the center. Put it back in the freezer and let it sit overnight.

*Buy thin, crispy coconut cookies. DO NOT buy those delicious, soft, mounded macaroons that look like snowballs - they are FAR too soft to crumble well.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Mockery of Pie

The second of the three pie recipes I'm posting is Mock Apple Pie. I found it while I was rooting around on the Internet, trying to find the original Wonder Pie recipe I used in the previous blog entry.

Mock Apple Pie, as the name suggests, doesn't have a speck of real apple in it. Instead, it uses crushed Ritz crackers and the juice and zest of a lemon to fool the eater into thinking this is an apple pie. It sounded revolting. Naturally, I couldn't resist trying it out.

From the outside, it certainly LOOKS like a classic apple pie, but on the inside I thought it kind of looked like a pecan pie - i.e. a solid brown jelly-like center. Maybe I crushed the crackers a bit too much. That wasn't the only issue I had with this pie. I don't know, maybe it's because we have larger lemons down here in Florida, but everyone who tasted the pie assumed the flavoring was lemon, so I guess there was too much zest in it. Maybe if I make this again, I'll keep the lemon zest but swap out the lemon juice for apple juice or apple cider to mask the flavor a bit more.

Mock Apple Pie

Ready-made crust for a 9-inch pie, top and bottom (I used Pillsbury for this one)
1 sleeve of Ritz Crackers, semi-crushed
1 3/4 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Grated peel of one lemon
2 tablespoons COLD margarine or butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

It's pretty simple to make. First, you preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Then you stir together the water, sugar, and cream of tartar and bring it to a boil for a good 15 minutes - it should be a nice syrup with a faint brown tint to it. Add the zest and juice and let it cool. Don't be alarmed if the lemon zest looks a little browned by the time the syrup cools down a bit - that happened to me and it didn't make any difference. Line a 9" pie plate with the bottom crust, dump in the Ritz crumbs, and carefully pour the syrup over them. Cut the cold butter into little bits and sprinkle them over the syrup-cracker mixture with the cinnamon (see the photo above, and y'know, now that I look at it again, I really didn't crumble the crackers that much). Cover with the upper crust, crimp the top and bottom crust together, slit the top crust a few times to let steam escape while it bakes, and pop it in the oven for 30 minutes or so.

I don't usually use cinnamon in the recipes that call for it. Rather, I use this INCREDIBLY good spice mix from Penzey's. It has anise in it and normally I despise anything that smells like, tastes like, or has had a passing acquaintance with black licorice (and I'm not that fond of cardamom, either), but I still love this stuff. It's especially good sprinkled over coffee, as well. Nice flavor and it smells wonderful, too.

Small confession - I forgot to put the cinnamon in with the butter, so when the pie came out of the oven (it looked pretty terrific, if I do say so myself) I mixed my baking spice with an equal bit of granulated sugar. I gave the still-hot pie a quick brush-over with milk and quickly sprinkled the sugar-and-spice mixture over the top. Maybe the spice flavor didn't permeate the pie like it would have, if I'd added it when I was supposed to, but it looked nice and it smelled divine.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wonder Pie in the Sky

Someone recently posted a request for the Wonder Pie I mentioned in an earlier post, and since I remember it being a snap to make and that I finally have some free time after two weeks, I decided to crank it out. Also, it ties in nicely with the premiere of "Pushing Daisies", with it's pie-shop-dwelling characters, so I'll post this recipe and one or two other pie recipes later on.

So, when I sat down to make this, I realized I didn't have my mother's original recipe anywhere. I remember it being hand-written on an index card and stuffed in a small cardboard box with a jumble of recipes clipped from magazines and newspapers, and copies of stuff from my uncle and grandmother. I checked the Internet, and nothing I found recalled my mother's recipe. Some were close (and by close I mean they contained eggs, sugar, and coconut), but none were the original. So, I called my mom up.

Me: "Do you remember a recipe for something called Wonder Pie?"
Mom: "No, I don't think so."
Me: "I made it for that food class I took in high school, remember?"
Mom: "Oh, that's right - Ms. Cavanaugh's class."
Me: "Yeah, it's got coconut in it - you had it written down and you kept it in a box with some other recipes."
Mom: "Yes - do you need it? Hold on a sec."
*shuffling noises, followed by her scolding one of her dogs*
Mom: "Ok, got it - I have it as Impossible Pie, but I have 'aka Wonder Pie' on it. Here it is:"

Impossible Pie (aka Wonder Pie)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 c Oleo
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 c. milk
  • 1 c. coconut
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

  • Blend ALL ingredients at once in a food processor. Pour into a buttered 10" pie shell and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

    Me: "A 'buttered pie shell' - like a ready-made crust?"
    Mom: "Maybe, why?"
    Me: "I thought it made it's own crust - aka the WONDER part of Wonder Pie."
    Mom: "Hmm - maybe I meant a buttered pie plate. Oh well. So, just don't use the crust - if it doesn't work you'll have coconut custard."
    Me: "I don't need a dish of CUSTARD, I need a PIE."
    Mom: "So, make it both ways. It sounds easy to make."
    Me: "It's not made in the microwave?"
    Mom: "The microwave? No, should it be?"
    Me: "The recipes I found online that sounded close to this were made in the microwave."
    Mom: "My dear, microwaves weren't invented when I wrote this recipe down."
    Me: "Oh... really?"
    Mom (annoyed): "YEAH, really."
    Me: "Ok - just one more question."
    Mom: "Yes?"
    Me: "What is this 'Oleo'? Is it some kind of cookie, or something?"
    Mom: "..."
    Me: "What?"
    Mom: " just love making me feel old, don't you?"

    Love ya, Mom.

    Well, I didn't make it both ways - I went with my gut, which said my mom's recipe meant a buttered pie plate. It turned out really well, with a nice golden brown coconut topping and a nice custard filling in the center. I wound up using unsalted butter instead of Oleo and I had to go with skim milk since it was all I had on hand at the time. It jiggled rather alarmingly when I first checked it, until I remembered that it's mostly eggs and milk, and would probably set when it cooled. It did (WHEW), and it was delicious, particularly with a little pineapple ice cream topping spooned on it and some real whipped cream.

    My mom isn't the only one feeling old right now. Out of nowhere today, I had a sudden realization that Super Mario Bros., my favorite video game when I was a kid, is almost 25 years (a QUARTER of a CENTURY) old. Uch, I need to lie down.
  • Saturday, August 30, 2008

    My New Family Member

    So, up until recently I had a pretty sorry collection of cutlery in my silverware drawer. I did get a decent paring knife and serrated knife from a friend of mine for Christmas, but other than that my kitchen knives were sorry little pieces of crap that I got for free with an order from Omaha Steaks. They're cheaply made, with hollow plastic handles, and they don't stand up well to abuse - I lost the tip of the chef's knife in a half-frozen wad of ground chuck I was trying to break up for a batch of chili. Stabbing frozen meat isn't good for cheap cutlery, apparently. And I'd also like to take this opportunity to apologize for whatever intestinal distress it caused to whomever it was at my church's chili cook-off who ate the bowl that had that tip in it (KIDDING).

    In any event, I decided to invest in a proper, quality cook's knife. A little research and I settled on Global as the one I wanted. It may or may not be as good as the Wusthof brand, but it's a little cheaper and I'm not a serious cook anyway. Plus, I like the way the handle looks.

    I love that knife. After a few years of using that cheap tip-free knife, I really didn't know what to expect. I was shocked at how smoothly and easily my Global went through a potato and I nearly wept with pride at the sight of a pile of potato slices so thin you could almost see through them. I enjoyed using my Global so much that I went ahead and sliced up half a dozen more potatoes and for dinner I ate nothing but roasted, sliced potatoes that were tossed with a little rosemary, garlic, and olive oil.

    Really, it's an incredible knife. It cuts through anything with ease - raw potatoes, cheap cuts of beef, thick slabs of cooked bacon, and fingernails. Yeah, fingernails. Instead of crumbling cooked bacon with my fingers like any smart person, I broke out the Global again to slice up a few rashers of bacon. Bad idea - long story short, the greasy bacon was slippery, I'm naturally clutzy, and I'm currently typing this with my left index finger swaddled in gauze and half of my fingernail down the garbage disposal. THAT hurt like you wouldn't believe, but at least my finger is intact - just bloody and SCREAMING IN PAIN.

    But I still love my new Global. I may name it. Hell, I may even baptize it.

    Thursday, July 3, 2008


    I found out about this little food oddity in a sort of roundabout way. I was reading a recap off of Television Without Pity's website for "Top Chef", and there was a little link to the Black Widow Bakery for something called "meat-cake". Basically, it's a ginormous meatloaf recipe split up and shaped into rounds like a layer cake, stacked and "frosted" with mashed potatoes.

    Intrigued? Hell, yes - but that was a LOT of meatloaf for just me to eat - I'd be picking at it for a week if I made it for myself! Still, I couldn't let go of the idea, and luckily an opportunity to make this fell into my lap just a few days later. My boss was celebrating his birthday, but this was during Lent, and he swears off sweets of all kinds during that time. Could there have been a more obvious sign that I was meant to make this cake? I think not (of course, if his birthday had fallen on a Friday, I'd have been in deep shit - for some reason I can't imagine making the cake layers out of fish or mac and cheese)!

    Basically, I followed this recipe almost exactly as it appeared on Black Widow Bakery's site (I didn't do the glazing that the original author tried, as that clearly didn't work for her). However, I didn't feel like whipping out my pastry bag and piping potatoes around the side, and I'm a lousy artist - if I tried to emulate the steak drawing, I feared it would look more like a part of the female anatomy than anything else. No, instead I chose to decorate the cake with parsley springs, cherry tomatoes, and strips of precooked bacon.

    It really wasn't hard to make - actually, the worst part of it was "kneading" the six pounds of beef by hand. The beef was ice-cold, and since there was so much of it that needed to have the eggs, seasonings, and spices mixed in that my hand alternated between being numb and aching badly from the cold. But, once it was mixed, portioned, and popped into the oven, it was smooth sailing all the way. When it came out of the oven, I grabbed up my trusty serrated knife (Xmas gift from my old friend Banana), and trimmed off a bit of the top and sides to make all the layers uniform.

    Verdict? Pretty damn tasty. Just the right amount of salt in it for me (although I like my meat to be on the salty side), although the "cake" portion was kind of dry for me. But, I suppose that's necessary - if I made it moister by using less bread crumbs, I'd run the risk of the cake being too juicy or too soft for me to stack it or even remove it from the pie pan without it falling apart. C'est la vie and all that jazz. Most of the people I work with who saw the cake cut themselves a slice, and they all seemed to like it. That actually brings to mind the one negative with this cake - it's quite heavy and quite hard to cut, so make sure your knife that you use to cut this is pretty damn sharp before you make this. There were leftovers, but the garlic and oregano in the cake really imparted a nice flavor to the meat overnight, so the leftovers were still pretty damn tasty for lunch the next day.

    Definitely something I'd make again for a special occasion. Next time, I think I might go for a more Italian-type flavor. I made a sort of stuffed meatloaf a while ago that was made with red wine added to the ground beef, and the meat surrounded a center of mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, and spinach, and I thought it was absolutely delicious. I'm thinking that instead of the ketchup-brown sugar filling, I could use spaghetti sauce and some chopped fresh tomatoes, or maybe stack some slices of mozzarella cheese and fresh spinach leaves between meat layers, and decorate the cake with cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, red onion slices... I'm not sure how I'm going to go about "frosting" the cake - maybe use garlic-flavored mashed potatoes and grate some fresh Parmesean and press it into the top and sides of the cake. Well, I guess that's an experiment for another day.

    Thursday, June 26, 2008

    So, what's going in this?

    I love to cook. Even more so, I love to cook weird food. This blog is going to be a place where I cook up unusual recipes I find (or which readers send to me, HINT HINT), and do a wee bit of experimenting with food, and share the results. Since I can't put my whole story in my user profile, this is going to be my major inaugural post. So, here goes...

    My cooking hobby got off to a rather inauspicious start when I was about four years old. The first thing I ever remember attempting to make was peanut butter, which might sound a bit ambitious until I tell you that to my 4-year-old mind equated "peanut butter" as "butter with peanuts mixed into it". As in, mixed with my grubby little hands until the butter was half-melted and slightly gray from my perpetually-dirty hands, which I then proudly presented to my mother.

    Obviously, it became immediately clear to my mom that she had to protect her own health and squash whatever desire to cook that I had, at least for the time being. So, she hit on an ingenious little clause for me: anything I cooked, I had to clean the dishes afterward. And, I hated doing dishes, so I wound up cooking about once a year until I was in high school.

    In high school, I had some extra space on my schedule, and I made the mistake of assuming that the Foods I/II classes my school offered in the Home Ec lab would be easy "A"s. Of course, the teacher knew that was what we students were thinking and was dead-set on making sure that NOBODY was going to breeze through the class. One C-/D+ exam later, and I was looking down the barrel of a shitty grade. So I baked chocolate-chip-walnut cookies for extra credit. I got a glowing note from the teacher with the comment that this was the first time anyone had done anything like that for extra credit. Naturally, rather than study to an "A", I just covered my butt doing extra credit cooking. From the cookies, I moved on to things like Jell-O cake and some recipe from my mom's collection of clipped recipes called "Wonder Pie". With my "A" secured, I graduated and went on to college.

    Four years in college on a student's salary in a dorm with a communal kitchen area pretty much killed any drive I had to cook for a while, although the fact that I caused a fire alarm to go off and brought the fire department and police down on the place probably had a lot to do with it as well. The most daring thing I could bring myself to cook in college after that was the occasional saucepan of Zatarain's.

    Right out of college, I landed a decent-paying job at a dot-com company near Chicago, which lasted for all of nine months until the dot-com bubble burst (and also the owner of said company got indicted on a $17 million stock fraud scam). I got hired by a company in Florida, moved down there, and for the last seven and a half years I've been putting part of my salary towards unusual kitchen gadgets, and buying groceries to prepare unusual food - the more unusual the better.