Friday, March 29, 2013

Pre-Party Teaser Photos

More thrift store shopping!

I couldn't resist taking a couple of teaser pics after Brendan and I did a pre-staging of the food service area yesterday. We found some really excellent silver-plated serving trays, and left the edges tarnished for that worn-in look.

A portion of the drink selection: wines and mead.

We had two issues with dinner plates- first, we didn't have enough for twelve guests, and second, nothing we had looked even remotely period. After looking for 12 matching plates at 4 different thrift shops, we finally found these stainless steel plates at a dollar store for $1.25 each. They had a circle design lightly etched into the surface, so Brendan and I used 180 grit sandpaper to remove it, and take down some of the freshly-machined shine. Later, we also treated each plate with beeswax and distressed them a bit more.

More pictures to come later! For now, it's time to start on the first bits of food prep: making dough and soaking some split-peas.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Medieval Cooking, pt. 7, Elizabethan Lemon Cakes

More extra credit. I can definitely taste why these are Sansa's favorites. The recipe from the cookbook isn't listed on their website, but Inn at the Crossroads has a different lemon cake recipe to try.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Medieval Cooking, pt. 6, Buttered Carrots and Parsnips

While we at House Sheppard have been preparing to host our own modest shindig, the authors of A Feast of Ice and Fire (the cookbook I've been using all month) have been putting together a Game of Thrones Party Planning EBook, which they announced yesterday on their website!

Medieval March is almost over, and this is the final recipe I've chosen to prepare for the month. It's the simplest thing on the menu so far, and takes very little time to prepare.

Buttered Carrots and Parsnips

Carrot, parsnip, butter, spring onion, salt and pepper. That's really it. Peel and slice the roots at an angle (about 1/8 inch thick), melt a generous amount of unsalted butter in a skillet on medium-high, cook the roots in the butter until fork tender and beginning to blacken around the edges. The book says cook for 15 minutes but on my stove it only took about 5 minutes. Use your judgement.

Season with salt and pepper, garnish with spring onion, and serve.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Game of Thrones Party Preparations

It's just one week until the Game of Thrones premiere party! The official invitations have been sent:

Just for fun, I made a short video of myself digitally painting the portrait of Daenerys Targaryen on the invitations. Continuing the art project thread, Brendan indulged in a bit of woodburning and made a wall hanging for the dining room. Along with some intricate knotwork, he created a family sigil in the style of the show:

Other little details involve making the long grocery list and finding some decorations to finish off the theme. I managed to score this medieval-style candle holder centerpiece (with candles) at a thrift store for $15:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

First Day of Spring Onions

Yesterday was the long-awaited Vernal Equinox, so I wanted to post something in celebration of my favorite season, Spring.

The following tip is worth passing on: If you buy spring onions from the store, you can regrow them just by placing the roots in water. We started these in a ramekin with shallow water, then when they started growing we transferred them to an empty peanut butter jar. They're thriving with little effort; we typically change the water every other day, but that's about it. The jar also makes another welcome pop of green on the kitchen counter.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Potatoes Au Gratin

Taking a short break from this month's medieval theme, I needed something simple to make on Sunday after a long and exhausting weekend signing autographs and sketching at a Magic: The Gathering tournament in DC. I had a great time, but after 10+ hours working plus commute time both days, I didn't want to expend too much energy in the kitchen.

Sunday was also St. Patrick's day. I'm neither Catholic nor of Irish descent, so I don't celebrate the holiday in its intended form, but a lot of folks seem to have adapted it into an informal celebration of Irish culture and beer. I decided to make a classic and simple potato dish. Au Gratin was originally a French style, but has been adapted by many different cultures over time. I thought au gratin potatoes were awful growing up because the first ones I tried were from a box (my nickname for them as a kid was "ugh, rotten!"). I can't begin to explain how much better it is made fresh.

Potatoes Au Gratin

Ingredients (makes 4 generous servings):
  • 3 medium red skin potatoes, peeled
  • 8 oz soft cheese (havarti, gouda, etc.)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • 1/4 tsp rosemary
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped spring onions (for garnish, optional)

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Using a mandolin slicer, slice the peeled potatoes as thin as possible. Set aside.

Begin making a cheese sauce by heating the heavy cream over low heat. Grate or cut up the havarti cheese into small pieces, and add to the heavy cream. Stir the cheese as it melts- the trick here is to let the cheese melt slowly. You do not want the cream to boil or burn while you make the cheese sauce. When the cheese is completely melted, add the salt and pepper and remove from heat.

In a 9 inch glass pie dish (or other glass bakeware) greased lightly with butter, create a layer from 1/3 of the potato slices. Pour 1/3 of the cheese sauce, then a pinch of the rosemary and thyme on top of the potatoes, and repeat twice more until all of the sauce, potatoes, and spices are layered in the dish.

Bake for 1 hour. When done, the top should be browned and crispy but the layers below should be soft, creamy, and easy to cut with a knife. This is a dish best served the same day it's made, since the cheese sauce can separate overnight and become oily. Once cooled for about 15 minutes, garnish with spring onions and enjoy!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Medieval Cooking, pt. 5, Tart in Ymbre Day

Happy Pi Day! (March 14th... 3.14... get it?)

I totally did not plan to make a pie on Pi Day, it just happened. This pie is based on the Tart in Ymbre Day (Amber Day Tart), or Cheese and Onion Pie in the Feast of Ice and Fire cookbook.

I made one the authentic way last week, and it came out bland, and a little awkward. Brendan specifically mentioned the saffron didn't work well with the currants and almost tasted soapy. Also, 3-4 modern-size onions and 8 modern-size eggs is far too much for a 9-inch pie. So I remixed the recipe a little and made it again. Here's what came out:

The crust is the same as the pastry crust I used in the fruit tarts from earlier this week, plus salt. I pre-baked this crust at 350° F for 10 minutes.

Tart in Ymbre Day, Revised

Filling Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 yellow onions, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 cup grated Havarti cheese
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup raisins, lightly coated in flour
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp fresh chopped basil
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp poudre douce
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Pan-fry the chopped onions, basil, sage, and garlic in 2 tbsp butter over medium-high heat for about 12 minutes, or until the onions are tender. In a bowl, combine the cooked onions and all other ingredients, mix well, and pour the filling into the pre-baked pastry crust.

Bake the pie for 20 minutes, then remove and, if the crust is golden-brown, cover the crust with tin foil to keep it from getting too dark. Bake for another 15-20 minutes, until the filling is set. Let cool for 10 minutes, slice and serve.

So, let's recap:
Appearance-wise, the authentic and revised versions aren't so different; the authentic version came out a bit lighter in both color and texture, probably because the onions were still white after parboiling, and there was more egg involved. The revised version is more flavorful and balanced, with the butter lending a rich almost dessert-like quality to the raisins and sweet spices.

So far, I'm thinking this dish will play the part of the vegetarian main course at the Game of Thrones-themed dinner. Stay tuned, as there's more to come...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Medieval Cooking, pt. 4, Peeres in Confyt

This dish was a little bit of extra credit. I've been absolutely loving the medieval theme this month, and doing some additional research. While there is a poached pear recipe in the Feast of Ice and Fire, I first heard about it via an excellent BBC4 documentary called Clarissa and the King's Cookbook.

Watch the three-part documentary on YouTube:

Famous British foodie Clarissa Dickson Wright tackles Peeres in Confyt (pears poached in red wine) in the third segment, working directly from the version of the recipe in the Forme of Cury. To make mine, I boiled the pears, then simmered them in a light syrup of 2 cups merlot, 1/2 cup honey, ginger, cinnamon, and whole cloves.

Bonus: You should have some syrup left over, and you can pour it in small glasses and serve it as a sweet spiced dessert wine with the pears.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Color Palette This Week

This week's palette includes hard-boiled eggs, red potatoes, Bartlett pears, and the pricey spice saffron. Apparently it was much more available in the old days because it seems there's saffron in almost every medieval recipe! I need to make that small bunch last a long time in my kitchen.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Medieval Cooking, pt. 3, Dessert & Drinks

First, I'd like to give a belated shout out. On the 6th and 8th of March respectively, the two most beautiful women I know (my grandmom and my mom) celebrated happy birthdays. Love you two ladies!

Fruit Tarts with Raisins, Apples, and Pine Nuts
Being in a birthday-celebrating mood, the next thing to try out for the Game of Thrones dinner was a dessert. My original intention was to make apricot tarts but since apricots weren't available at the grocery I combined the fruit tart concept with the filling from another A Feast of Ice and Fire recipe: the Buns with Raisins, Apples, and Pine Nuts.

On my first attempt (pictured) I added spiced almond milk before baking, per the instructions on the Apricot Tart recipe. They came out pretty well, but to add some sweetness to please a modern palate, I thought I'd try it again with an almond milk caramel sauce instead. Here's where I finally ended up, with the version I'll make for premiere night.

Ingredients (makes four 4-inch tarts):

For the pastry dough (use any Medieval Pastry Dough recipe)------------
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 2 oz (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • pinch of saffron (optional)
For the filling------------
  • 1 braeburn apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar
  • 2 tbsp poudre douce

For the pastry dough: Preheat oven to 350° F.

Add the saffron strands to the water and let some of the flavor get drawn out. In a large mixing bowl, mash the flour into the butter with a fork or pastry blender until the butter is broken up into small pieces (no larger than a pea). Make a well in the flour mixture and add the egg yolks and saffron-water. Combine with a fork then continue to knead the dough by hand until it becomes the pliable consistency of pastry dough. If your dough is too flaky, add water 1 tsp at a time and continue kneading.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and divide it into 4 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball by hand, then roll the balls out into sheets using a floured rolling pin. Ideally the rolled-out dough should be 1/8 inch thick. Take the rolled-out sheets and place them in 4 inch tart pans.

Next you will need to pre-bake the crusts. Poke lots of holes in the bottoms with a fork to prevent bubbling, and put them in the oven for about 8 minutes. Keep an eye on them and don't let them start to brown yet. When finished, set aside.

For the tart filling: Preheat oven to 375° F.

In a bowl, mix together the chopped apples, raisins, pine nuts, and poudre douce until everything is evenly coated in the spices. Fill each pre-baked tart shell with the fruit mixture, level with the top of the tart pans.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the crusts are slightly brown. While the tarts are baking, begin making the caramel. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the almond milk and raw sugar. Bring it to a rolling boil, stirring constantly with a spatula for about 5 minutes. Don't let it burn during that time. Let the caramel cool for a few minutes to check the consistency; when it's just right, it should be a soft caramel sauce, dark and easy to pour at room temp but not liquid or runny.

Remove the tarts from the oven and place on cooling racks. When cool enough to touch, remove the tarts from the tart pans, and pour the caramel over the filling in each, dividing it evenly among them. Continue letting the tarts cool for about 15 minutes before serving.

Wine and Beer
Disclaimer: I'm a total sucker for good label design, fantasy themes, and red wine.

While browsing the wine selection at Harris Teeter last week, Brendan and I found a wine that combines all three of those elements: Once Upon A Vine's Big Bad Red Blend. It's a good medium-bodied red that I think would pair well with most non-sweet hearty dishes, and it's definitely a good buy in the $10-$12 price range.

Of course we also have to serve beer, and we've got some delicious home brewed stout. I've mentioned before that Brendan makes beer, and our most recent batch (based on a Mackeson Triple Stout clone recipe) will be perfect for the theme.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Medieval Cooking, pt. 2, Salad & Porridge

I had recipe experiments lined up for the last two days, but they didn't come out well enough to post, so I'm doubling up today.

These are the first two recipes I've made from A Feast of Ice and Fire, the Game of Thrones companion cookbook that I mentioned in my last post.

Salad at Castle Black
For the salad, I chose one of the simplest in the book, the Salad at Castle Black. Some of the recipes are posted on the authors' blog Inn at the Crossroads, but some are exclusive to the cookbook, so I can't share a link for this one. I'll just mention I swapped the turnip greens for arugula because that's what I had, but either would be delicious.

Pease Porridge
The pease porridge recipe is from the 14th century, made from yellow split-peas, pearl onions, herbs, and spices. A translation like the one in the GoT cookbook can be found on One thing I didn't expect, never having used pearl onions before, was how long it takes to peel them before they're cooked. The first layer of flaky skin comes off well, but the second can be stubborn. I threw half of them in the pot with the second layer on, and found it was much easier to peel off that layer after cooking.

The authors were quite correct: this dish is totally about the herbs, the parboiled onions adding sweetness, and the peas being a canvas for the flavors. I went heavy on the sage, and also added marjoram, savory, and thyme. So good.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Medieval Cooking, pt. 1

The popular HBO TV series Game of Thrones returns for a third season later this month, and to celebrate, I'm trying to put together a themed dinner. This is something I've done before; when I was a meat eater I did a Skyrim-inspired stew to celebrate the game's release.

To do this month's themed meal, I have some help from an awesome cookbook my friend got me as a gift- A Feast of Ice and Fire, the official companion cookbook of the series, written by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer, two women after my own heart.

I love this book, and if you're thinking about picking it up yourself, I will encourage you for several reasons:
1.) For a glossy, thick hardcover, it's very reasonably priced.

2.) The dishes are translated from authentic period recipes, from sources like the Forme of Cury (the writings of King Richard II's master cooks) but most of them also come with easy to follow modern updates, so you can choose between authenticity or availability of ingredients. Many of us don't have galangal and pigeon breast just lying around...

3.) Each dish is also accompanied by a quote from the A Song of Ice and Fire book series, great for fans of the story.

4.) The recipes are all beautifully photographed. I admit to having one of my first pangs of meat-eating envy at the sight of the rabbit stew in this book.

After a cheeky foreword by George R.R. Martin, the opening section gives instructions for stocking a medieval kitchen, and covers some of the basic components such as spice blends, preparing pastry dough, making a basic roux for sauces, etc. My first task was to mix the two most common period spices, Poudre Douce (sweet powder) and Poudre Forte (strong powder).

McCormick Gourmet Collection spice jars are relics of the past, right?

I made my own custom labels, and if you have some empty jars lying around and want to have the same ones, I made a free PDF you can download and use to print your own.

Also, there's a certain amount of flexibility with period recipes- because nothing was manufactured en masse back then, no two kitchens had the exact same spice blends. For Poudre Douce, think classic apple pie spices, and Poudre Forte is a similar blend sans sugar with a higher ratio of ginger and clove.

The next step will be trying out some of the recipes and creating a menu. I have a few ideas so far... also, **UPDATE: I just saw that the book's authors provide a convenient Game of Thrones party planning idea list on their blog, Inn at the Crossroads.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Simplest Broccoli Soup (via Gordon Ramsay)

I bought the ingredients to make my buddy's dairy-free broccoli soup (as I mentioned in a previous post), but I have to let the avocados ripen first. So instead of doing that one tonight, I used half the broccoli I bought and tried out an extremely uncomplicated broccoli soup from this Gordon Ramsay video [watch to get the recipe].

Yes, it really is that green.

Being made out of only three ingredients (broccoli, water, and salt), I thought it seemed too simple to be good, but I stand corrected. Trust me, try it.

Friday, March 1, 2013