Things have been getting a little dark during the first few days of 30 Days of Blogging, so I figure we need to move on to a lighter topic today:
Dead celebrities, that is.
As you may recall, I treated myself to The Dead Celebrity Cookbook just after Christmas. I posted a question without context on my Facebook asking friends to pick one of these three dead celebrities, without telling them why: Bette Davis, Karen Carpenter, and Greer Garson. Bette squeaked by with the win, which surprised me since most people that I know seem to only know her because she's got eyes or, possibly, from her spellbinding portrayal of late 1990's-early 2000's Michael Jackson. In honor of her win, I cooked Bette's Red Flannel Hash, and enjoyed it.
Karen Carpenter came in a close second. I feel bad making fun of someone with an eating disorder, but her recipe for a "chewy pie" made of egg whites and saltine crackers could best be described as a warning sign for intervention. I went ahead and cooked it anyway, and I swear that eating it physically hurt me inside. Over the course of a week I managed to eat only half, and I had to soak the pie plate (which had been heavily sprayed with cooking spray prior to baking) for four days to loosen that crap. At one point I even thought about throwing the pie plate away, but it's Pyrex.
This leaves us with poor Greer, the distant third. Although she's largely forgotten by American audiences today, Greer was a major movie star in the 1940's, nominated for Academy Awards five consecutive years in a row (a record that she and Bette Davis jointly hold). I know of her from film class and books about old Hollywood (I've only seen one of her films), and also because she is a valuable piece of Oscar trivia, both for the consecutive nominations and also because she is the reason that acceptance speeches have time limits. Her speech for Mrs. Miniver was over five minutes long, and holds the record for the longest acceptance speech in Academy Award history.
Keep that fact in your back pocket for the next trivia night.
Greer's recipe in the cookbook is for something called capirotada, which I assumed was British since she is, but which turns out to be traditionally Mexican. Given that Greer ended up married to a Texas millionaire, her choice of recipe is maybe not all that surprising, but I'd never heard of it until I saw it in the cookbook. It's described as "like French toast" and "like bread pudding", but it was the "what the hell?" mixture of Monterey Jack cheese, raisins, and sugar syrup that made me think, "Oh, I have to try this."
Our recipe starts with six pieces of toast:
which means that we've already exceeded the number of calories in Karen's chewy pie.
The instructions said to use a casserole dish, which meant that I had to spend ten minutes deciding which piece of Pyrex would be the appropriate size. I settled on a 1.5 quart Golden Honeysuckle, but now that I've cooked this I think I could have gotten by with a standard sized bread loaf pan. Following the recipe, I began to stack the toast in the dish:
and then to cover it with shredded cheese and raisins:
until I ran out of ingredients and ended up with what looked like the driest, least delicious sandwich ever:
Seriously, those raisins filled me with doubt.
Once the layers were arranged, I set to work making syrup out of sugar, water, and nutmeg. The recipe called for cinnamon, but I didn't have any, so the nutmeg was a substitution. According to the recipe, I needed to boil until it turned amber, which I decided was here:
Hey, Greer? It's kind of hard to see when the syrup is turning brown if you have me putting a brown spice in it.
I let the syrup cool for about five minutes (the recipe didn't say to do this, but I was not pouring boiling hot sugar syrup into room-temperature Pyrex; that's how dishes explode) and then poured it over the stacks:
and then I rearranged some of the cheese that had washed into the bottom of the bowl back on top, brushed it with melted butter, and baked it until golden brown and soaked with syrup (twenty minutes):
It smelled really good, like French toast. The book didn't say if I should eat it right out of the oven or let it cool a little first, so I scooped a piece right out:
and dug in.
It's a hard food to describe. It's sweet, crunchy on top, soft on the bottom, and the raisins get kind of soft and squishy while cooking. The cheese somehow stops tasting like cheese (no surprise since it's so mild to begin with), and the whole thing tastes better if you let it cool down to room temperature.
And, best of all, it comes right out of the dish without four days of soaking.