Thursday, March 27, 2014

Elevensies: How to Make Lembas

I based my Lembas on this writer's idea here, of a nice basic scone wrapped up in some sort of mock mallorn leaf. I really didn't want to cut out all those foam sheets and hand-paint every leaf, so I printed out his template, asked Matt Martin to paint it, and used the magic of color photocopying to simplify the job. Because, really.

Elevensies Menu
scones wrapped up as Lembas (recipe below)
Wensleydale cheese with cranberries, from the co-op's fantastic selection of snooty cheeses.

Lembas Scones
(basically on this recipe here)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch salt
1/4 cup butter
1/8 cup white sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Sift the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt into a bowl.
Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and enough milk to mix to a soft dough.
Turn onto a floured surface, knead lightly and roll out to a 3/4-inch thickness. Cut into 2-inch rounds and place on the prepared baking sheet. Brush with milk to glaze.
Bake at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C) for 10 minutes then cool on a wire rack. Serve with butter or clotted cream and jam.
Now, it's worth pointing out here that this is what the recipe tells us to do. It's not at all what we actually did because, while Matt Martin's daughter and high school friend were tackling the Lembas, Matt Martin's college friend and I were trying to get the steel-cut oatmeal going, because what we all really agreed we felt like doing was a nice game of Trivial Pursuit.

But, there was chaos in the kitchen trying to find the cream of tartar, then Matt's daughter threw all the milk in before they got the butter worked in, and all of this in a bowl that was really too small for the job.

Eventually I went in bare-handed and kneaded that puppy into submission. I got a cookie sheet, squooshed it out into rectanguloids, and slapped them bastards in the oven hoping for the best.

Really, they turned out quite tasty!

Second Breakfast: The Recipes

Second Breakfast was a small collection of simple breakfast foods, not that that made them simple to get together. Frying eggs was significantly harder than I expected (I usually cage those suckers in well-greased Mason jar rings, but that didn't seem hobbity - and DANG but those suckers are slippery). And I singed the bacon a little bit. But everyone was still excited.

Second Breakfast Menu
fried eggs from Buckley's
apple wood bacon from Oscar's
sausage-stuffed mushrooms (recipe below)

This really means just one recipe to share for this part of the day, because if you don't already know how to fry eggs or bacon, I am clearly not the one to show you. No expertise over here in this corner!

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms
(idea from an old Fanny Farmer cookbook)
Handful of big-ass stuffing mushrooms - I think I only made 6-8
Loose breakfast sausage
Cooking spray

Spray the bejeebers out of a cookie sheet or shallow baking pan. Pop the stems out of the shrooms and set them aside for sautéeing later. Stuff that thing with sausage and set it in the baking pan. I like to give the shrooms a shot of cooknig spray, too; it gives the surface a nicer finish.

Bake at 350 till they seem, you know, done. I think I gave myself a margin of half an hour and they were about perfect. Enjoy!

First Breakfast: The Recipes

Many of the party guests from last weekend have asked me to make sure I post the recipes. Sometimes this will be difficult - I've always improvised my stews - but I'll give it the old college try and hope everyone learns what they wanted.

First Breakfast Menu
Steel-cut oatmeal with apples and cinnamon (recipe below)
cinnamon walnuts (recipe below)
muesli bread
tea, coffee, and cider
every possible condiment - honey x2, raspberry jam, orange marmalade, Amish butter, Battenkill half and half, and Meadowbrook cream for the oatmeal.

Steel-Cut Oatmeal with Apples and Cinnamon
(from here)
2 apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1-1/2 cups milk
1-1/2 cups water
1 cup uncooked steel-cut oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

Coat inside of 3-1/2 quart (or larger) slow cooker with cooking spray. Add all ingredients to slow cooker. Stir, cover, and cook on low for approx. 7 hours (slow cooker times can vary). Spoon oatmeal into bowls; add optional toppings, if desired. Store leftovers in refrigerator. Freezes well.

Sweet Coated Walnuts
1 egg white
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons water
1 pound walnut halves
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F (120 degrees C). Lightly butter a baking sheet.

In a bowl, beat the egg white until foamy. Mix in cinnamon, sugar, salt, and water. Mix well. Stir in walnuts, stirring until well coated. Spread on baking sheet.

Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lord of the Rings Epic Party: Victory is Mine!

Well, yesterday was our epic party, and I just have to say: Epic Party Was Epic. Friends came from near and far, everybody had fun, and we ate and viewed films from 8:00 am till nearly 10:00 pm.

Here are some highlights:

First Breakfast - steel-cut oatmeal with apples and cinnamon, cinnamon walnuts, muesli bread, tea, coffee, and cider, plus every possible condiment - honey x2, raspberry jam, orange marmalade, Amish butter, Battenkill half and half, and Meadowbrook cream for the oatmeal.
Second Breakfast -fried eggs from Buckley's, bacon from Oscar's (slightly burnt - whoops!), sausage-stuffed mushrooms.

Elevensies - scones wrapped up as Lembas, and Wensleydale cheese with cranberries.

Luncheon - cold chicken and ham, a variety of pickles, hazelnuts, sautéed mushrooms, a collection of cheddars, and more bread and butter.

Afternoon Tea - seed-cake, lots! Also some Stilton.

Dinner - stewed brace of coneys, salad with hard boiled eggs, and the beer and wine made its debut along with root beer and ginger beer for the non-drinking set.

Supper - Shire Hotpot (which I forgot to take a picture of; please accept these sad hobbits instead).

Dessert - a miniature of Bilbo's birthday cake by Quigley's Cakes:

plus tiny mince and blackberry pies:
This was undoubtedly the most fun I've ever had throwing a party in my own home. Guests kept checking up on me and trying to get me to sit, but no dice. I was in my element and bouncing around my kitchen in glee like never before.

I was continually ahead of schedule all day, so eventually, sometime after dinner, I did actually settle in to watch along with everyone else. But only after I admitted to myself that my tuchus hurt, plus there was absolutely nothing I needed to do for over an hour into the future.

Thus ends this year's epic mission. Quest. Thing to give the spouse the best 43rd birthday possible. What next?...

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Hobbit Test Kitchen: Brace of Coneys

I should have listened to Samwise Gamgee. He tells us, “there’s only one way to eat a brace of coneys.” Then he stews them.

I knew this. But did I listen? Well, yes… until I went trolling around AllRecipes and found one for braised rabbit with mushroom sauce. That sounds brilliant, doesn’t it? Hobbits are nutty for mushrooms! Perfect.

So I started my experiment. Usually when a recipe calls for a cream soup, I make up a white sauce of my own. It’s got less salt and less of a “can” taste. I can usually get a good flavor with the addition of some bouillon and spices.

Then, I thought I’d add some variety to our mushroom palate with this dish. I’ve only ever been known to like white mushrooms, but I hadn’t tried shitake yet, and the farmer’s market vendor who grows them did such a good sales job that I was thoroughly convinced I’d love them. So instead of mushroom soup, carrots, and potatoes, I was going to have white sauce, mushrooms, and mushrooms.

When it came out of the oven, it was beautiful. It took a lovely picture. But unfortunately, it turns out I don’t like shitake mushrooms. And of course by cooking them all together like this, their flavor was in everything.

Then it turned out that maybe we don’t like rabbit much, either. I say “maybe” because we couldn’t tell through the mushroom flavor. What was rabbit? What was shitake? It’s hard to say.

One thing was for sure: it’s possible that the rabbit lady was right, and rabbit tastes like chicken; but it sure doesn’t look like chicken. And while I can get very adventurous with meat that’s big enough to come in steak or cubed stew meat form, I’ve learned that I can get a bit funny about smaller animals that I’m not accustomed to. Although frog legs are delicious, I have a terrible time with them because you can clearly make out the shape of their little hips. It gives me a sad.

Another problem is that the texture was strange and chewy near the bone. But I think that, if I listen to Samwise like I should’ve in the first place, all these problems can be solved. Coneys can be stewed much longer than they can be cooked in a cream sauce, making them tender all the way through; and in a stew you would take them off the bone, solving my issue with their shape. And as for the shitakes, well, I just won’t use any.

Stews are simple enough that I’ll skip out on the test kitchen part, though. We’re getting down to the wire here, too. The time for experimentation is passed! 

One Shitake, Two Shitake, Three Shitake, HORK
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon onion powder
1 dressed rabbit, cut up
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cups milk
3 T. cornstarch
3 cubes bouillon, crushed
poultry seasoning
1½ - 2 cups shitakes, cut into chunks
1½ - 2 cups white mushrooms, cut into chunks

Combine flour, salt, pepper, and onion powder in a bowl, and set aside. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Coat each piece of rabbit with the seasoned flour mixture, and cook in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes per side, until the rabbit pieces are golden brown. Remove the rabbit from the skillet and set aside.

Preheat an oven to 325F.

In the skillet, blend three cups of milk with three crushed cubes of bouillon, 3 tablespoons of cornstarch, and a sprinkling of Bell’s poultry seasoning. Heat (no higher than medium) while whisking until it the cornstarch cooks and it thickens. You may want to add some salt to taste, also.

I used the ceramic part of one of my crockpots to make this dish. I greased it and layered the bottom with mushrooms, then laid the rabbit on top, and put in the remaining mushrooms. I then poured the sauce over the whole thing, put the lid on, and set it in the oven. I let mine bake for 1 1/2 hours.

Hobbit Test Kitchen: The Little Things - Spiced Walnuts

First breakfast is going to center around apple cinnamon oatmeal. You make it in a crockpot with steel-cut oats, so it’s the kind of thing I can plug in at night and it will be ready for us when we all wake up. Ahhhh.

To go with it, I thought it’d be nice to have some spices nuts. I used to make some every Christmas and give them away – cinnamon walnuts and ginger almonds. They were great because they lasted forever, so they were a sweet treat that I could give out, and if the recipient didn’t eat them right away they wouldn’t go stale and be wasted like cookies or other baked stuff.

But somewhere in the course of moving computers over the years, the recipe was misplaced. Also, they were cooked up in a microwave, and ours broke and hasn’t been replaced. So I looked for a new recipe on my favorite recipe site.

As usual, I looked at the recipes by rank, and the highest-rated one was something I had all the ingredients and equipment for. It was originally for pecans, but it seemed worth the risk, so I tried it.

But apparently, it’s not as good with walnuts, period. And it’s definitely not as good as my old recipe. They’re not bad, but walnuts have a much stronger taste than pecans, and this recipe has almost all sweet notes, and no buttery or salty, which I miss. But they’re still good enough that I’m going to try it on pecans later and see what I think.

A reasonable person might wonder at this point why I don’t make this with pecans now. It has to do with the attempted aesthetic for this shindig.

When contemplating the foods I was going to serve, I considered a number of factors. The first, and most important, is that Tolkien himself wrote about food that was inspired by the rural, late-19th-century diet that he remembered fondly from his youth in the English countryside. It’s also worth taking into account the medieval feel of the stories as well as the 18th-century feel of the movies’ version of the Shire.

To this end, I’ve tried to cut out American and other non-British crops unless they are specifically mentioned in the books. Potatoes are in (“boil ‘em up, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew”), but the dilly beans I bought really shouldn’t be included, and Tolkien himself ruled out tomatoes during an edit of the Hobbit. (Apparently Gandalf originally asked Bilbo to bring out the “tomatoes and cold chicken,” instead of pickles. There is some debate as to why he made the change, though.)

I’ve already got a fairly thorough knowledge of American crops, but in terms of some other areas – cheeses, nuts, and wines – I’ve had to do some research. Hazelnuts are in, because they’ve been cultivated and prized in the now-BritishIsles since prehistory. I’m going to put them out right in their shells in a salute to this little fact.

Black walnuts are indigenous to the Americas, and so are pecans (a type of hickory nut, apparently), but while regular walnuts aren’t native to Britain, they’ve been eaten there for long enough that they’re now called, “English walnuts.” Good enough for me!

It’s just too bad I didn’t have my old recipe…

Sweet Coated Walnuts

1 egg white
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons water
1 pound walnut halves
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F (120 degrees C). Lightly butter a baking sheet.

In a bowl, beat the egg white until foamy. Mix in cinnamon, sugar, salt, and water. Mix well. Stir in walnuts, stirring until well coated. Spread on baking sheet.
Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Hobbit Test Kitchen: Shire Hotpot

This one was a definite winner. In fact it was such a BIG win that nearly the entire dish was gone before I realized I'd never taken a picture.

Given my level of skill with a camera, that hardly seems like much of a loss.

This dish is based on a British comfort food called Lancashire Hotpot, which I heard of because of Wallace and Gromit, easily one of my favorite cartoons of all time. The authentic dish calls for lamb kidneys, but fortunately for me, I only have to be authentically hobbit, not authentically Lancashire. We're dealing with an American audience here, so organ meats are right out.

Otherwise, Lancashire hotpot is a lot like shepherd's pie. The big difference is that it's made with sliced instead of mashed potatoes, which actually make it simpler to prepare if you don't have leftover mashed handy (and who ever does? Certainly no one in our house). We're going to call our version Shire Hotpot, and it's so good it might make its way into regular rotation in our kitchen.

I based my experiment on a combination of two recipes - one from AllRecipes, one from the BBC. I essentially followed the AllRecipes version (minus kidneys), but added in carrots because the BBC allows it.

Here's how we did it.

Mini Shire Hotpot

1 tiny onion, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced

½ pound cubed leg of lamb meat
3 to 4 medium-to-large potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

cup lamb stock
1 cube of chicken bouillon, crushed

I used lamb steaks to make my stew meat for this, which meant cutting away some fat, membrane, and bone. I put it all in a small saucepan with some water and a sprinkling of Bell's poultry seasoning to boil into some stock while the potatoes and carrots were peeled and sliced.

Preheat the oven 375°F.

While the lamb stock boiled, I sautéed the onions with the carrots in some vegetable oil and butter. (The Lancashire recipe that allowed for the inclusion of carrots suggested this method.) Then I took them from the pan and set them aside. I put the lamb in the skillet to brown it on all sides; the original recipe said to fry it for 12 to 15 minutes, "until rich chestnut brown in color," but I had mine in very small cubes and I didn't want it to get tough or crunchy. So once it browned, I actually added the lamb stock plus the crushed bouillon right in there and let it stew away until 12 minutes had passed. (The bouillon was added because the stock hadn't had time to boil for very long; I presumed it might be kind of weak.)

Because this was a trial sized hotpot, I made it in a greased loaf pan. I put a nice layer of potato slices on the bottom and salted and peppered them, then the onions and carrots went in (more salt), then the stew meat (but reserving the broth - it should be poured over the top potatoes). Here I put in just a sprinkling of thyme (but the lamb is so good on its own I may skip this next time), then lay the last of the potatoes over, slathered some butter on top, and poured the broth over the whole thing.

I covered the whole thing in foil to keep it from drying out, then baked it an hour or so. When the potatoes were nice and soft, I slathered the top with more butter and put them under the broiler (set for low) to give the top some nice browning.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Hobbit Test Kitchen: Mince and Blackberry Pies

So I had this notion that a tortilla press would make the manufacture of weensie pies much easier. To a degree, I was right - but I need to try something a little different on the next batch.

Remember that proper British mince pies are made in muffin tins or tart tins. I made pretty little rounds of dough on the tortilla press well enough, but they didn't fit in the muffin tins - their diameter was too small and they wanted to crumble and tear instead of submit meekly to their reshaping. So instead, I put a dollop of filling between two rounds of crust, squished the edges, and baked them flat to see what happened.

What happened was, there was a REALLY high crust-to-filling ratio. Well, that was one thing that happened. Another thing that happened is that I learned that my mincemeat? Is amazing.

Another, other thing that happened is that I learned to definitely cook the blackberry filling beforehand. You can get away without it in a big pie, but in a small pie it needs to be compacted down so that as much as possible can fit into the weensie pie. The blackberry pies were really ridiculously crusty.

So next time, come what may, I have to make the pastry bend to my will. This will be one of my big tasks this coming weekend, since this is just the sort of thing you can freeze ahead to free up your hands for other tasks that can't be accomplished ahead of time.

Here's how I made up this round of pies.

Mince Pies

1 premade pie crust (don't judge me!)
Mincemeat with cornstarch (I just used 1 T. in one pint of mincemeat)

Divide the pie crust into quarters, ball, and flatten in the tortilla press. Balance one round over a muffin hole to allow more filling; spoon filling in. Place second round on top, seal, and set on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Repeat with second pie.

Poke with fork or cut slits so steam can escape. Bake at 450°for 15-20 minutes, until crust is golden.

Blackberry Pies

1 premade pie crust
Filling made from:
12 oz. frozen blackberries
2 T. cornstarch

¼ c. sugar (I think it might need more - hard to tell with the crust ratio that resulted)

See above for instructions