Monday, December 23, 2013

How to Make a Glass of Sparkling Chilled Awesome in 30 Seconds

Step 1: Put some ice in a glass.

Step 2: Pour in about 3 fingers of rose-flavored syrup. (I used Torani, but there are others out there.)

Step 3: Fill the glass with chilled San Pellegrino Arranciata.

Step 4: Stir.

Step 5: Sip orange-rose sparkling deliciousness!!

Arranciata + Rose = AWESOME

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Cross Country for Crabcakes, Episode One: The Saga Begins

Way back in May of 2012, Lexi took me on a cross-country trip to Baltimore and DC to visit her very favorite seafood restaurant in the whole of everywhere. The trip was a decade in the making, and was so full of fun, fury, and food that it's taken until now to do a write-up about it. (I'm still having dreams about casts of blue crabs coated in Old Bay, swimming in butter and beer... mmmmm.....)

Part of Lexi's motive for the trip was to compare East Coast vs. West Coast seafoods. Both of us were raised in the shadow of Mt. Rainier on the gray rocky shores of Puget Sound. Its cold, salty waters yield up a massive bounty of delicious things to eat - foods that are not simply part of our diet, but have been part of our lives as locals.

Hunting and harvesting seafood are more than just fun activities, they're full-blown events that we've taken part in since we were kids: trips to the coast to dig for razor clams in January, putting out the crab pots during Dungeness season in the summer, grilling oysters and steaming mussels a yard from the beach where they were collected, all of these things and more form fond memories for both of us. (One of the most useful skills my dad taught me was how to shuck an oyster.) That doesn't even start to touch on the other culinary delights found in and around the greater Puget Sound area, brought by the influx of cultures from all around the Pacific Rim: salmon caught and smoked by indigenous people, fish stews and soups from Korea and Thailand, a gazillion kinds of sushi, Chinese fish hot pots, even the fish tacos that wandered up from the coast of California... you love seafood? We got it.

We got it... but West Coast style seafood ain't the same as East Coast style. I knew this, but Lexi (having traveled considerably more than I have) had actually experienced it. So to broaden my tastes, she took me eastward. The destination: Baltimore (and areas surrounding), where her favorite restaurant in the world is located: Anne Arundel Seafood.

This is the story of how we got there, and all the yummy things we ate on the way.

Day One
I hate flying. It doesn't frighten me or freak me out, it's just kind of uncomfortable, being stuffed into an aluminum can with a bunch of often grumpy strangers in narrow seats with no leg room, too much dry air, and not enough in the way of little creature comforts to make the whole thing a bit more bearable.

Fortunately, at the time we took the trip, Lexi had been traveling a lot for business, and had amassed enough frequent flyer points to get us upgrades into First Class. (SWEET.) The cabin steward was friendly, the seats were wide enough (and comfy), and at least some of the drinks were free. We played Ticket to Ride and chilled out for 5 hours, landing uneventfully in Washington, DC, as evening fell.

Thank you, friendly cabin steward, for the stiffest Bloody Mary to be found at 35,000 feet.
Of course we landed hungry, so after collecting our bags and rental car, and checking into our hotel in DC, we set out with Lexi at the wheel to find some late-night noshies.

Just off Dupont Circle, we found Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe.

Books & booze at Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe
It's a used bookstore. With a bar. And a late-night cafe. Perfect for two hungry geeks on the prowl for something yummy. We ordered drinks - Lexi got the Stormy Weather, I got a Dark & Stormy. The rum was just right and they made it with a basil garnish, which was a nice touch. Then of course we dove right into the seafood.

East Coast crab cake appetizer with remoulade
First up was a round of mini East Coast crab cakes, made with lump crab and served with a remoulade. I'm a stickler about my crab cakes: I judge them in large part by how much crab there is to how much "cake" - that is, how much of it is actually crab meat, and how much is filler or binder? Some time before this trip, I'd joined Lexi on a short jaunt to Cape Cod, where she spoiled me and our hosts with a round of thick, delicious Maryland-style cakes from one of her favorite restaurants. I recalled those creamy, piping hot roasted cakes so full of crab they barely held together, and wondered: could Kramerbooks' cakes compare?

I'm happy to say that Kramerbooks' crab cakes were more crab than cake. Fried in butter rather than roasted, they had a rich, crisp exterior. Compared to the sweet-fleshed Dungeness of my home state, the blue crab in these cakes was less sweet and considerably meatier, well-balanced by the sweet-sour taste of the remoulade.

Mussels steamed with shallots, garlic, white wine, butter, basil
Next, we tried the steamed mussels. The preparation was pretty traditional: steamed in white wine with butter, shallots, garlic, and fresh basil. One of the reasons I wanted to try them was because of the fact that shellfish can taste radically different from one location to another, even when they're the same species. (I've noted this with local oysters in particular, which can vary in taste depending on waves, weather, content of the water, season of the year, and so on, even when harvested from the same beach.) These were blue mussels, farmed locally, the same species we eat on summer beach trips here in Puget Sound, so while the basic flavors were very similar, the brackish, slightly muddier local waters imparted a sweeter taste with less of an iodine note than mussels from the waters at home. Quite delicious, meaty and sweet as only mussels are, and the fresh basil added a nice almost floral touch.

Catfish fingers with Cajun spices & Cajun remoulade
Then it was on to the fried catfish fingers. Catfish isn't something we get very often back home, since it's not a local delicacy; it's much more something we used to eat when visiting my Southern relatives. To me it always has a slightly muddy taste, a bit like river water - perhaps not surprising, since catfish are river-dwelling bottom feeders. Nonetheless, they're delicious. As I recall, the catfish fingers were pretty good, but a bit greasy despite being cooked in olive oil (rather than, say, deep fried in lard). I kind of expected the cornflake crust to be crispier than it was.

This is how I ended the evening:

Original Sin Cherry Tree Hard Cider
Yup, at the bottom of a pint mug of Cherry Tree Hard Cider from Original Sin. Even under the sallow yellow light of a sodium street lamp, this cider was a lovely, clear red. Made with heirloom apples and tart cherries, it was like a tart apple-cherry pie, crisp and fruity, just sweet enough and just sour enough. Delightfully, while the flavors of a traditional apple cider were strong, the cherries were just as bold, and they actually tasted like real cherries, not like some fake weird cherry syrup. Yum!

I don't even remember if we had dessert. I just remember that, after a long day of travel, it was great to sit outside on a semi-warm East Coast evening, under a warming heat lamp, eating the first of many fishy dishes to come. Kramerbooks comes highly recommended by the FeastyGeeks, if ever you're in DC.

Next time: Day Two, in Which Two Hungry Foodie Geeks Seek Out Breakfast

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Spontaneous Vacation Recipe: Gwen's Cilantro Shrimp Marinade

Some of the best recipes are the ones you throw together out of whatever ingredients happen to be in your kitchen that seem like they'd be delicious in combination. I just got back from a long weekend with my gentleman friend during which I whipped up the following I-Don't-Know-What-to-Call-It-But-It's-Awesome recipe:

1/2 lb. bay shrimp, rinsed
Bunch of fresh cilantro, cleaned & chopped rough
Juice of 1 lemon
2-3 green onions, chopped
About a 1/2 cup each of olive oil & white vinegar
Several generous squirts of Huy Fong Sriracha red rooster sauce

Mix all ingredients together in a non-reactive bowl (glass or ceramic). Cover. Chill for at least 2 hours. Spoon out onto tortilla chips and nom nom nom.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Search for the Edible Pot Noodle: Episode 1

I tell you one thing: I've been to a parallel universe, I've seen time runnin' backwards, I've played pool with planets and I've given birth to twins - but I never thought in my entire life that I'd taste an edible pot noodle.
Ah, the humble pot noodle, that dessicated confection of instant broth, salty spice packet, and noodles that is the sustenance of broke college kids and hungry stoners everywhere. Red Dwarf fans will also know that pot noodle is the culinary bane of David Lister's existence; he loathes it so much he'd rather eat dog food first. To his surprise, on the High Red Dwarf in the episode Demons & Angels, Lister and the Cat encounter something Lister had never expected: an edible pot noodle.

Red Dwarf geek that I am, I had to wonder: could such a thing exist on this humble planet Earth? An edible pot noodle?

Well, you know the intrepid gals of Feastygeeks. For your edification and mine, I have begun the search for an edible pot noodle.

For those not in the know, pot noodle is basically a cup of dried noodles with salt, spices, and various other additives (such as bits of dried veggies or tofu). It's cheap, fast, and easy: all you do to prepare it is peel back the lid, add boiling water, let it sit for a few minutes, and eat. There is actually a brand in the UK called Pot Noodle™, but I don't know whether or not pot noodle is called pot noodle because the brand existed first and people just call pot noodles after the brand (the way we call facial tissues Kleenex™ even if they're a different brand), or if Pot Noodle™ trademarked a common phrase. Either way, I'm on the search for a Pot Noodle™source in the US so I can try it as well. UPDATE: I may have found a source. Stay tuned.

My own personal standard for whether or not a pot noodle is edible is admittedly a bit elusive. What's the overall flavor and texture? Does it smell appealing? What does it look like? Is it tasty enough that I can eat the entire pot or cup? Would I eat it again? Those are some of the questions I'm going to be asking myself, in my search for the edible pot noodle.

With that said, for my journey I've decided to start with the U.S. gold standard: Nissin Foods' Cup Noodles.

I don't think there's actually a chicken head in there.
Nissin is the same company that makes Top Ramen, probably the cheapest food on the planet. It was founded by businessman Momofuku Ando, whose experience with food shortages in post-war Japan led him to invent the instant noodle. In 1971 he put instant noodles in a styrofoam cup, and the cup noodle was born.

Cup Noodle has been around since I was a kid, though I remember it as Cup O'Noodles. Little about the packaging has changed - it still has the bright red label, the same fat, swirly typeface, the same pretty product picture that looks nothing like the actual product.

And it still has more or less the same foam cup, with the same insulative properties as I remember. Lightweight, too. Plus you can make neat little patterns in the cup with your thumbnail. (Somebody tell me I'm not the only one to do that...)

And the same simple directions: Peel back the lid to the dotted line, add boiling water, close lid, let stand for 3 minutes and eat. Seems straightforward enough...

This is the sight that greeted me when I achieved step one (pulling back the lid to the dotted line). A tangle of dessicated flash-fried noodles with some bits of freeze-dried veggies (looks like carrots and peas), all coated with a yellowish dusting of flavoring. Some cup noodles come with the flavorings in a packet that you tear open and add before the hot water; Cup Noodles puts the flavoring right into the noodle brick so you don't have to go to the extra effort of adding it in yourself. Points for convenience.

And step two achieved: add boiling water. I think there's some corn in there, or maybe bits of dessicated chicken, I'm not sure which. Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble...

Letting it steep for 3 minutes. I hope Spock didn't mind that I let my pot noodle steep on his face.

And the final result, ready for noshing. I ate it with a fork: yeah, I do know how to use chopsticks, but the package had a fork on it and I succumbed to American laziness.

I have to admit here: I'm a tough nut to crack when it comes to instant soups. To my palate, most of them have WAY too much salt, and the seasoning packets rarely taste anything like what they say on the box. (Case in point: "shrimp" flavor. I don't think I need to say anything more on that.) These are my thoughts on Nissin's Chicken Flavored Cup Noodle:
  • Texture of the noodles is just fine. They're wiggly, smooth, and a little salty, with enough oil to keep them together without falling apart in the hot water. 
  • Texture of the veggies left something to be desired. The corn in particular seems like it didn't rehydrate evenly, so it was chewy in parts and very soggy in others. The carrot bits held up the best.
  • The broth was as I expected: too salty and it didn't actually taste anything even remotely like chicken. I have yet to eat any "chicken" flavored instant soup or bouillion that actually tasted like chicken, so I can't hold that against Nissin as it seems to be an industry-wide thing. There was a strong taste of turmeric, and this weird sort of industrial chalky, almost metallic taste. The amount of salt actually burned my tongue and the inside of my cheeks. Which led me to discover...
  • of the standards for whether or not a pot noodle is "edible": can I actually finish the entire cup? Can I finish it, and if I can't, is the reason due to taste, or because there's just too much soup in the bowl and I'm full? In this case, I couldn't actually finish the cup. The salt was just too strong. I managed to eat about half of it before I put it aside.
 Gwen's verdict on Nissin's Chicken Flavored Cup Noodle: NOT EDIBLE. The quest continues...

Monday, June 10, 2013

Red Dwarf Recipe: Chicken Marengo

"Too slow, chicken marengo! Too slow for this cat!" (Image (c) Grant Naylor Productions.)
If it isn't patently obvious by now, my all-time favorite TV show is probably the BBC comedy series, Red Dwarf. Sure, my appreciation of Monty Python's Flying Circus grants me automatic nerd status, Blackadder is hard to beat for historical parody, and Star Trek is my most beloved scifi franchise of choice (give me some Romulan ale, and I'll be waxing poetic about the virtues - and vices - of both Kirk and Picard for hours)... but there's nothing quite like the magic that is Red Dwarf.

I'd be hard-pressed to pick a favorite character, but I must say, the Cat is in my top four. The ever-talented Danny John-Jules managed to capture the gestalt of kittiness in his portrayal of the 3,000,000-years-evolved descendant of Dave Lister's cat Frankenstein. Like a cat, Cat's hygiene is meticulous.  Like a cat, his moves are lissome. Like a cat, his self-centeredness is without bounds. And, like a cat, he plays with his food.

Fish seems to be Cat's favorite (being - well, a cat and all), but in a particularly silly moment in the Season One episode, "Confidence and Paranoia" (the very same episode which brings us BEEEEEEEEEEER MILKSHAKES!!), Cat toys mercilessly with a dish of Chicken Marengo.

I've never given birth to twins, played pool with planets, or had an edible pot noodle - and neither have I ever tried Chicken Marengo. Seems it was about damn time.

According to legend, Chicken Marengo was a dish concocted by Napoleon Bonaparte's chef, Dunand, after the Battle of Marengo in June of 1800. Hungry after his victory, Napoleon ordered Dunand to cook him dinner; Dunand started foraging, and managed to rustle up some olive oil, tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, crayfish, a few eggs, and a rather anxious chicken. One cook pot and a rush of desperation later, Dunand had thrown together the dish now known as Poulet Marengo, complete with artfully-arranged crayfish and fried eggs on top. Napoleon was allegedly so pleased with the dish that he ate it after every battle from then on.

The story is given added flourish with claims that Dunand dramatically cut up the chicken with a saber and helped boost the sauce with a splash of cognac from Napoleon's own flask. It's a great story, but it's probably all a load of honk. No doubt a dish was later created to commemorate the battle, but whether or not it was whipped up on the spot is the stuff of urban legend.

Taking a cursory look at the description from the story, the dish is essentially chicken in a tomato sauce seasoned with herbs, onions, and garlic - a staple Mediterranean dish, with variations common from Portugal to Sicily. This one just happens to have some unusual garnishes: crayfish and eggs. Some recipes include mushrooms in the sauce, but I didn't. Here's my version.

3-4 lb. boneless chicken, cut into large dice or chunks
2 to 3 medium white or yellow onions, sliced
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 to 3 vine ripe tomatoes, cut into large dice
Dry red wine
Italian herb seasoning
Garlic, minced
Olive oil
6 to 8 really big prawns
3 or 4 hard-boiled eggs

Carmelize the sliced onions in a large, deep, heavy skillet in olive oil over medium heat.

When the onions are translucent and starting to brown, add the chicken, garlic, and Italian seasoning to taste (I used about 3 cloves of garlic and 2 tsp. of Italian seasoning).

When the chicken starts to brown and is partly cooked through, add the diced tomato. Turn up the heat a little and cook for a few minutes until the tomato is hot, stirring often.

Add the red wine and crushed tomatoes. Turn up the heat until the crushed tomatoes start to bubble. Reduce heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked through. If you want less liquid, simmer uncovered; if you want more, simmer covered.

At the very end, lay the prawns on the surface of the sauce. Cover and simmer until the prawns are done (about 5 to 8 minutes depending on the size of the prawns).

Serve in flat soup bowls. Garnish with hardboiled eggs and 1 or 2 prawns per serving.

  • Take your time carmelizing the onions. Letting onions carmelize properly will make any dish taste absolutely amazing, so be patient.
  • My version had the consistency of a thick tomato stew. If you prefer less liquid, brown the chicken in a separate pan with the seasonings (herbs and garlic), drain, and then add to the onions. You can also use less crushed tomato and thicken with tomato paste, and/or leave out the fresh diced tomato entirely.
  • Don't be afraid to be generous with seasonings. Don't be afraid to use fresh herbs too, if they're available. Try oregano, rosemary, thyme, parsley, savory, and basil, in any combination. Mince the herbs and add towards the end, a few minutes before steaming the prawns. They'll stay green and retain a fresh flavor that way.
  • Goes well with a dry red wine, thick crusty bread, and a green salad dressed simply (with olive oil, vinegar, a little salt, and some shaved or shredded parmesan cheese)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

So a Khajit, an Argonian, and an Orc Walk Into a Skooma Den...

Now legal in the Ratway, the alley behind the Winking Skeever, and Washington State.
 ...and get totally blasted on skooma.

Ah yes, sweet, sweet skooma... sweet, mind-numbing, haze-inducing, brain-cell-slaughtering skooma. Loathed by uptight Imperial soldiers everywhere in Cyrodiil, you can find plenty of it while wandering the wilds of Skyrim. Buy it at any Khajit caravan, from random skooma dealers encountered on the road, or - best of all - make your own with this Real Life Skooma Recipe!

I did - and I will openly, immediately admit that this is a really weird recipe with a really odd mix of flavors. It's not for the faint of stomach or frail of liver. It's not going to be to everyone's taste. But it's as canon as anything else Lexi and I have concocted for this blog, and if you're a diehard Skyrim fan with Daedric-strength tastebuds, give this one a shot.

Skooma in-game is made from refined moon sugar. A book from Morrowind, An Alchemist's Guide to Skooma, describes the recipe in greater detail (I would seriously love to meet the game designer who wrote it). In developing my own recipe, I started with the following descriptions from the book:
In Elsweyr skooma is made from moon sugar and a poisonous herb called nightshade... the preparation of skooma requires that the alchemist dissolve some moon sugar in water and bring it to the boil. For one pint of water you should add one cup of moon sugar. Once it is boiling, add one thimble full of nightshade essence.
That right there, my friends, is simple syrup with powdered nightshade added. Straightforward, basic, and something Lexi and I have done before, in our recipes for Elsweyr Fondue and the Velvet Lachance. Reasoning that trying to make simple syrup using our own moon sugar recipe might cause some issues with melting, I fell back on the variation we came up with for the fondue:

1 cup granulated white sugar
1 cup water
1-2 Tbsp of lavender or culinary sumac

Boil sugar in water. Stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat immediately and add lavender or culinary sumac to taste, usually 1 or 2 Tbsp. Let cool. (If you make with lavender, we recommend straining before use to get the lavender bits out.)

Left: Sumac Simple Syrup (Secunda)
Right: Lavender Simple Syrup (Masser)
With the Velvet Lachance, we solved the issue of where we might get nightshade; the nightshade family is vast, and there are, in fact, quite a few edible plants within it: tomato and eggplant are some examples, but for spice and kick we went with peppers. And oh, there are sooo many to choose from... which ones to use?

Clockwise, starting with the fresh red pepper on the left: Thai pepper, chipotle powder, ancho chili powder, cayenne chili powder, crushed jalapeno peppers, Aleppo pepper (center), Guajillo pepper (long purplish dried pepper), Sanaam chili pepper (bottom)
This is where the flavor really comes into this recipe, and where you can go hog wild, picking and choosing as many (or as few) peppers as you wish. And I highly encourage readers to experiment on your own: we came up with flavors we liked, but there are so many more possible variations out there. Here's the basic recipe:

4-6 oz. simple syrup
A pinch to a teaspoon of peppers (crushed, minced, dried, powder, a mix of peppers or a single variety)

Mix the peppers into the simple syrup. Let sit for an hour or two. Strain. Mix with an equal part vodka, over ice or as straight shots. Lose your mind and yowl like a horny desert cat at the moon's dim light.

  • Lavender has a stronger flavor than sumac, so will stand up to the stronger peppers.
  • Don't let your base mixture sit for very long. Either drink it right away, or strain out the pepper after an hour (2 hours tops). If you let it sit, it tastes terrible.
  • Fresh peppers have a milder flavor than powdered (at least the ones we tried), but may have more heat.
  • Combinations that worked reasonably well were lavender and chipotle, lavender and Guajillo pepper, sumac and Aleppo pepper, and sumac and Thai pepper.
  • Don't drink this without cutting it with vodka (or gin, if you want something sweeter and fruitier). It's too cloyingly sweet without being diluted.
  • Goes well with Elsweyr Fondue and a need to erase the bleak lawlessness of Skyrim from your mind.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

10.10.10 Is the Number of the Feast

Towel Day is May 25. 
Have a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Party!

Gwen and I enjoy throwing themed parties, especially long ones. The more pop cultural the better, and if we can work themed food in, well woe be to him who violates the theme. Like the Kung Fu Weekend of Death, complete with Shaw Brothers movies, a copious chinese dinner and dim sum breakfast. Or the Geek Movie Weekend, with back-to-back Holy Grail and Princess Bride.

Tangentially: We've spent waaaayyyy to many hours of our lives arguing over what is and is not a Geek Movie [Holy Grail IS, Total Recall is definitely NOT] and devising logical tests to determine it quickly and decisively. Eventually we'll be forced to post a Venn diagram to publish our research into this heady and debatable subject.  But I digress...

So when October 10, 2010 rolled around, my better half and I absolutely had to throw a themed party (Gwen attended of course).   We decided to make it a contest - a geek trivia scavenger hunt if you will - with clues and prizes for the first person to get it right. We thought long and hard for weeks about the clues, not wanting the game to be too easy or too hard, and using Guinea Pig Gwen to gauge their difficulty. We picked up some sweet ass prizes for the winners, including a D-n-D Red Box, Creationary (it's Lego Pictionary! Brilliant!), The Ladies of Star Wars playing cards, old USSR propaganda posters against drinking... We even prepared a Lamuella Sandwich Bar: a sumptuous buffet of fixin's for build-your-own sandwiches (including Perfectly Normal Beast, of course) and homemade mocha stout to keep everyone's spirits up.

The guests were gathered and the goal was explained:
Tell us what the theme of the party is, and why it's significant.

Clue #1: There are clues all around the house:

Sci-Fi + Britain

A dolphin, A Whale, and a Robot


Bottles of Bitter and Salted Peanuts
Clue #2: Mice (Hyperintelligent pan-dimensional Beings)

Clue #3: Jack Handy (As in, Jack Handy's Deep Thoughts)

Clue #4: This party could only be held on 10/10/10.

The fourth clue was our favorite, and the inspiration for the party.  Serious Geeks will know that in Binary, 101010 = 42. 

We wanted the clues to be hard enough to be challenging and tailored to the audience, which is obsessed with pop culture references and quotes.  Unfortunately, we made them a little too hard, and nobody got it without hints.  But the guests had a good time, the sandwiches were worthy of Arthur Dent, and everyone loved the prizes, which we gave out anyway.

Here are some additional food ideas for future HHGTTG parties:
Gwen's Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster recipe
Fairy Cake
Milliway Steak Bites (Ameglion Major cow) and green Salad

So this Towel Day, have some friends over and raise a pint of bitter to the memory of Douglas Adams.   Stay Froody, Dude.  We miss you.

Douglas Adams 1952 - 2001

Monday, April 22, 2013

Skyrim Recipe: Elsweyr Fondue

There's a Khajit caravan that travels the roads and byways of Skyrim, appearing outside town from time to time to offer rare goods. I like to have my character stop by for a bit of moon sugar and some light conversation about the warm, exotic sands of Elsweyr, the Khajit homeland. But there's one thing I always wonder: just how does a desert kitty stay warm and groovy in the frozen wastes of Skyrim?

The answer, it turns out, is cheese fondue.

Cheese fondue and a bottle of skooma: not just for 1970's lounge cats anymore.
More specifically, Elsweyr fondue, a tasty recipe made from three simple ingredients in-game: ale, moon sugar, and an Eidar cheese wheel.

Beer? Cheese? Two of my favorite things! How, then, could I resist attempting a real world version? Well, lucky you: I couldn't.

Cheese fondue is a very simple dish with a history dating back several hundred years. It's little more than a thick cheese sauce made with beer or wine at low heat in a communal pot, into which diners dip cubes of bread. There are literally thousands of recipes built on this simple foundation. Variation comes from what type of cheese or liquor is used, what seasonings are chosen, or the addition of thickeners or emulsifiers (such as flour or egg).

As with other Skyrim-based recipes, the goal was to achieve an end result that came as close to the in-game description as possible, but was also tasty and relatively easy to make.

In this case, the first challenge came with how Elsweyr fondue is depicted in-game, as compared to what your average actual cheese sauce or cheese fondue looks like in reality. This is what game designers at Bethesda thought Elsweyr fondue should look like:

Image copyright Bethesda Game Studios.
Aside from being a liquid almost, but not quite, entirely unlike fondue... well, would you eat that? I sure wouldn't. It looks like the worst, most industrial chili ever made. If the game designers were trying to convey the bleak lawlessness of Skyrim in a single meal, I think they succeeded admirably with this one. It looks like a bowl of despair, Nord style. And it's certainly uncontaminated by cheese.

Which brings us to our next challenge: picking the right cheese. Take a look at this illustration of an Eidar cheese wheel:
Image copyright Bethesda Game Studios.
I've eaten a lot of cheese in my day, and that picture right there just screams STILTON to me. Stilton is a well-marbled blue cheese with a thick, brownish rind, lovely and creamy when at its most ripe. It goes very well with sweetish red wines and very ripe fruit... and it's definitely a stinky cheese. A wedge of the stuff, improperly sealed up, can make the inside of your fridge smell like feet, so I couldn't even imagine how rank a whole load of it would smell, bubbling away on a hot stove.

So Lexi and I decided against using just Stilton for this one. Instead, we chose a combination of cheeses for flavor, meltability, and scent. We also wanted to come up with a cheese that would melt well, becoming stable and smooth without the need for any emulsifiers, since none are called for in the game recipe.

Our family of ingredients: beer, cheese, fruit, and moon sugar.

The cheese we picked for our base was Snofrisk, a smooth, very mild, slightly tangy Norwegian cream cheese made mostly of goat's milk. We added a lovely, mild, soft French blue cheese (the front wedge in the image above) to stand in for the Eidar wheel and decided to pretend that Eidar Cheese would be a smooth, creamy, marbled goat cheese best represented by combining these two.   Add my favorite go-to amber ale (Silver City's Ridgetop Red), sumac moon sugar simple syrup... and it all melted into a magical tasty recipe that would do any Khajit proud. Here it is, in all its glory.

Butter (optional)
1 4.4-oz. container of plain Snofrisk cheese
About 4 oz. soft, creamy blue cheese
Beer or ale
Moon sugar simple syrup (see recipe below)
Culinary sumac or lavender (to correct seasonings as needed)
Bread and/or fruit wedges for dipping

1. Melt a pat of butter in the top of a double boiler over medium heat. This is optional, but can help prevent sticking.
2. When the butter foams, add the Snofrisk. Whisk slowly with the butter until well blended.
3. Whisk in beer or ale, 4 oz. at a time or so, until the texture is thick and creamy, somewhere between the consistency of a melted milkshake and unwhipped whipping cream.
4. Add the blue cheese in bits and gradually whisk in until smooth.
5. Add a tablespoon or two of the moon sugar simple syrup. This will sweeten the fondue, so check to taste before adding a whole bunch of it.
6. If your moon sugar simple syrup was on the mild side, add lavender or sumac a teaspoon at a time to adjust seasonings.
6. If your fondue is a bit too thick, thin it with more beer or ale.
7. Mess it forth into a pre-warmed earthenware bowl or your favorite fondue pot, and eat by dipping in sliced apples or chunks of lightly toasted bread!

It should look more or less like this, a little thicker if you wish.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Several Tbsp of lavender or culinary sumac

Awhile back Lexi and I came up with a very serviceable recipe for moon sugar based on a microwave hard candy recipe. Initially I wanted to add the straight moon sugar to this recipe, but Lexi noted that we might have difficulties with it melting smoothly, and would end up with cheese sauce with bits of half-melted moon sugar floating in it rather than a smooth, creamy, dippable sauce. So instead, I took her advice and opted to make a simple syrup instead.

The process is simple: boil 1 cup of granulated white sugar in 1 cup of water. Stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat immediately and add lavender or culinary sumac to taste, usually 1 or 2 Tbsp. Let cool and use as you would in any simple syrup recipe. (If you make with lavender, we recommend straining before use to get the lavender bits out.)

Lexi and I made two different kinds of moon sugar, one for each of Skyrim's moons (Masser and Secunda). One uses lavender, the other culinary sumac; each have their own flavor qualities, and we kept this in mind when choosing ingredients for the fondue. Lavender makes a very floral, pretty flavor, but it's very strong. Sumac is more musky, like one of those flavors you've met before but just can't put your tongue on it... it's also more subtle than the lavender.

So for the first workup of this recipe I chose a milder French cheese and a solid, not-very-hoppy amber ale to go with the sumac without drowning out the flavor. The breads were chose were a dark rye (as might be found in the Nordic wilds) and an Italian artisan loaf, cut into large chunks and lightly toasted on a baking sheet at about 325F for 10 minutes or so. Round it out with slices of a firm, fleshy apple (like Granny Smith or Fuji) and you can dine with the coolest cats on the tundra.

And don't forget the skooma...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Skyrim Food That We'll Never Make


Gwen and I have been fielding some requests from readers, and seeing some requests posted on Skyrim forums around the intertoobs that we make some specific things from the land of Skyrim.  But there are some things that we will never make and you will never see on this site.  Here's why... 


1. Boiled Cream Treat

Because it's a fracking donut.  I can't believe how much discussion I've seen online about this.  "What is it?  Is it a bagel?  What could it be?  It's fascinating!"  Seriously?  WTF.  IT'S A DONUT.  We're not going to spend our time and effort recreating something you can buy at a grocery store for 49 cents.

You can read this two ways: "Boiled" + "Cream Treat", where the cream treat itself is boiled.  That's just stupid.  or "Boiled Cream" + "Treat".  Oh, boiled cream?  Like CUSTARD?! Or PUDDING?!  Tell me you've never made the kind of instant pudding at home where you have to heat the milk first.   In all fairness, those of you under the age of 20 may have only ever had instant pudding, but let this be the time you learn from Gramma Lexi about how things were in the olden days of 1995.  Oh wait - it's not that old.  You can buy it right next to the instant stuff right now.

How exotic and mysterious!

2. Sweetrolls

Sweetrolls are everywhere in Skyrim, and everyone wants to taste them, including us.  This is a legit recipe that's got some of its own interesting challenges, but frankly, it's been done.  To death.  We don't think the world needs yet another sweetroll recipe right now.  Other sites did it first.  And probably better. - The original and still Champeen!


3. Potage Magnifique

Because it's nasty.  It's a flour gravy filled with vegetables.  Potage was peasant food in the middle ages that people had to eat out of necessity that was bland and subsistence-only food.  It's also the in-game joke.  The 'Gourmet' who wrote the book Uncommon Taste can't cook.  His whole presence in the game is a parody of arrogant TV chefs and his recipes are bunk. This one is no exception.  Sunlight Souffle without the eggs?  That's not a typo, it's irony.

 IT'S A JOKE.  IT'S SUPPOSED TO TASTE LIKE ASS.  (Actually it looks like ass too)

BTW, this goes for all the rest of the recipes in Uncommon Taste as well.   Pfft.

4.  Boring, Common or Otherwise Uninspired Recipes

There's a lot of really interesting in-game food.  Aaaaaannnd... there's a lot that's not.  We're not going to make things like Beef Stew, Roast Chicken, or Clam Meat.  If it's got a clear real-life analogy, there are hundreds or even thousands of recipes out there that you can try.  What makes our cooking juices flow is the stuff nobody else is doing, or stuff that's super challenging.  While we might do a Horker Stew with pork and lavender sometime, we'll probably not post a recipe for a baked potato. 

So there you have it.  The Foods We'll Never Make.  As an aside, although we love Skyrim, we've been itching to get back to our bloggy cooking roots and do more food from things not Skyrim related.  There will be a few more Tamriel recipes, sure, but expect to see an increasing number of recipes from Britcoms, movies, cartoons and other geeky sources.  We can't be one-dimensional now, can we?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mrs. Miggins' Scarlet Chicken in a Pimpernel Sauce


Die hard fans - I mean REALLY die hard fans - of Britcoms will recognize this dish as an obscure single-line reference from the 1987 "Nob and Nobility" episode of the classic series, Blackadder.  In it, the show pokes fun at the legend of the Scarlet Pimpernel, a popular fictional story about a rich nobleman who decides to don a disguise and uses his money and skills to effect daring rescues of disenfranchised nobles from the clutches of the French Revolution under the pseudonym 'The Scarlet Pimpernel'.

Sound familiar?  A regular rich guy who wears disguises and uses pure skill to pursue the cause of his own vigilante form of justice?  That's because this story was one of the main influences for the development of the Batman mythology.  The original book, published in 1905, was wildly popular with a society that had finally come to terms with the violence and anarchy of the French Revolution, despite the book's clear pro-nobility stance. 

As only the supremely educated British comedy writer can, the story is cleverly parodied in the episode, and is presented as seen through the eyes of the butler Edmund.  Upon visiting his favorite pie shop, he's disgusted to find that Pimpernel-inspired Francophilia has taken over London and instead of Shepherd's Pie, is offered only a selection of pretentiously French dishes by the somewhat-less-than-upper-class proprietor, Mrs. Miggins. 

 "Today's hot choice is Chicken Pimpernel in a Scarlet Sauce, Scarlet Chicken in a Pimpernel Sauce, or Huge Suspicious Looking Sausages*.  In a Scarlet Pimpernel Sauce."

Blackadder doesn't have a ton of food references, and it's absolutely one of our favorite - and most quotable - TV series ever produced, so this seemed to be a good place to start.  

The humble Scarlet Pimpernel, image courtesy of Wikipedia 

I started (as always) by researching the main ingredients of the recipe and found that the Scarlet Pimpernel is a common roadside flower that grows extensively in Europe. The pimpernel family also includes an edible herb known to us Americans as Salad Burnet. Serendipitously, Salad Burnet is one of the main ingredients in the modern Frankfurt Green Sauce, a popular mixed herb sauce that dates back to the middle ages in one variant or another.

Clockwise from Top: Tarragon, Chervil, Chives, Tarragon, Parsley, Cress

The sauce is basically a puree of fresh green herbs, lemon and sour cream or yoghurt.  Since German field herbs don't grow so readily in US supermarkets, I thought it would be a good idea if I modified the recipe to used herbs and substitutions that could easily be purchased in your local grocery store.

For the Scarlet Chicken, we had a couple of options.  I leaned heavily on Gwen for this one, as she's got a Medieval History degree and knows everything about everything when you're talking historic food. 

According to her, Red spices like paprika and sumac would have been common in England during the late 1700's and used extensively to spice and flavor dishes.  Citrus would have been easily imported from France or Spain (though French lemons would have been an unlikely commodity during the revolution itself, due to interrupted trade).  Chickens would probably have been smaller, due to the lack of advances in genetic science during the time, so a modern GMO cornish game hen makes a nice substitute.

We never got the poultry to that bright red that you see in Tandoori cuisine (incidentally, Tandoori red is food coloring), but the bird did turn a rich toasty ruddy caramel color, loaded with flavor and smelled absolutely scrumptious while it was cooking.  However, they evidently liked food colored with livid hues in the olden days, so feel free to liven the meat up with some beet juice if it suits your fancy.

Using generous amounts of smoked instead of sweet paprika made the hen smell and taste just like bacon.  OMG.  Bacon flavored Chicken?  SIGN ME UP.  The idea was to make a really french dish, but... BACON!  It's close enough.


Pimpernel Sauce

Combine in a blender:
1 C Sour Cream
1/2 C Heavy Cream
1 Tbl Chopped Fresh Chives
1/4 C Chopped Fresh Dill
1/4 C Chopped Fresh Chervil
1/4 C Chopped Fresh Tarragon
1/4 C Chopped Fresh Parsley
1/2 C Chopped Fresh Upland Cress (sub with 1/4 C Watercress)
1 C Chopped Fresh Salad Burnet (Sub with Cucumber and decrease cream to 1/4 C)
Juice and Grated Rind of 1/2 Lemon
2 tsp Salt

Blend until smooth and creamy.  Adjust the herbs and salt to taste.  Let the sauce rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, up to 24 hours.

Scarlet Chicken

Dissolve into 3 Qt water:
1/4 C Salt
1/4 C Brown Sugar
1/4 C Apple Cider Vinegar

Wash and remove giblets from
1 Cornish Game Hen
Brine for 2 hours

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

8 Cloves of Garlic
Using the flat of a knife, crush 2 of the cloves to bruise and soften them.

In a small bowl, mix together into a smooth paste:
3 Tbl Smoked Paprika
3 Tbl Dried Sumac
1 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1/4 C Olive Oil
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Black Pepper

Set aside.

Peel and Slice into wedges:
1/4 Onion
1/4 Apple

Set aside.

Set a raised rack into an oven proof pan so that air can circulate underneath the bird.
Rub the hen inside and out with the crushed garlic.

Salt and Pepper the cavity of the bird and then stuff with the Apple and Onion Wedges and the whole garlic cloves.

Rub the paprika paste gently over the whole chicken (add a little more oil if it's too sticky)

Roast in oven at 450 for 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 375 and Roast in for 30-45 additional minutes or until the juices run clear. (internal temp of 155).

You can serve the sauce on the bird or on the side, whatever your personal preference dictates.  The sauce is fresh and creamy and balances the spicy/smokey richness of the poultry perfectly.

Bon Apetit, Monsieur!  It's French!

*They're horse willies.  No really, that's the joke.  How prescient those writers were...