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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Lord of the Rings/Feast like a Hobbit Day

A friend and I have been talking about marathon watching the trilogy for about three years, and it has never worked out. Finally, I wouldn't so much say that the stars aligned to make it happen, but a variety of circumstances caused Justin and I to be stuck at home over Indigenous People's Day weekend. So we arranged the marathon and complementary feasting. I feel like we cheated a bit because we actually split it up into two days: Sunday we watched the first two, and saved Return of the King for Monday. I was so So SO glad we did: 13 hours of continuous movies and eating are WAY harder in your mid thirties than in college. Also, it lends itself to having more time to cook everything without missing any movie.

The full menu, and my awful attempt at Middle Earth handwriting

Naturally I turned to the interwebs when deciding upon a menu. As tempted as I was to turn gelatin into "manflesh," I stuck with a mostly Hobbit-friendly menu because I did not want my hard work to end up in the trash. There has been rather a lot of study on the diet of Hobbits, and various internet scholars have concluded that such a menu consists of simple items that are mostly hand grown or raised in the Shire itself. Using the UK as the basis for the Shire, this means a moderate climate zone which features lot of grains, root vegetables, cold-hardy fruits, and meat/dairy animals. Herb-lore is emphasized but minimalistic: you don't see recipes featuring a dozen different herbs, spices, and/or sauces. Thus the menu is a compilation of items that are specifically mentioned in the books (ex lembas, seed cakes), general one-ingredient type items that fit the culture (bread, eggs) (yes I know bread is technically more than one ingredient), and items like soup or tea cake that are mentioned, but one may not know what's in the soup or cake, and which required a bit of creativity while using the general dietary descriptors. And as I live in a similar climate, this was pretty easy.

Finally, the timing of everything seems important to mention. I couldn't imagine making all of this stuff the same day we watched the movies, so I started with the items that were likely to keep the longest and worked my way backward. It broke down to something like this:
Friday evening - bake seed cakes and tea cake
Saturday - bake scones, lembas, and tarts. Whip cream, chop some veggies and bake seitan for soup.
Sunday - everything was pretty much ready to go through lunch. We took a break between Fellowship and Two Towers, during which I made the soup using the already-chopped veggies and seitan. While the soup was cooking I was easily able to lay out the rest of the lunch foods.
Monday morning - bake Angel food cake, prep chicken and mushrooms.

So without further ado, I present my Seven Hobbit Meals/Snacks:

Breakfast

Nothing fancy here - over-easy eggs, bacon, and coffee. Simple, Shire appropriate, and not too filling, difficult, or time consuming, keeping it to one egg and two pieces of bacon each. I'm not going to bother posting a recipe or results here - sorry. I don't eat mammal, so we had turkey bacon, which I think tastes better anyway.



Second Breakfast

Scones (buttered, or with jam and "clotted" cream)

It seems there are as many variations in scones as there are people on this planet. I've invented a couple myself, but for this, going back to the concept of *simple,* I wanted what nobody shares recipes for these days: a basic recipe without frilly add ins. Finally I remembered that there is a world renowned bakery and grain supplier in my home state, and that they post their own tested recipes online. Sure enough, on the King Arthur Flour website, there was the "starter" scone recipe. I opted to make the full recipe, divide the dough in half, and make one savory round and one sweet round. The savory would do well buttered while jam and clotted cream would be nice with jam and cream.

Left: vanilla cardamom. Right: rosemary

As far as clotted cream: I went to numerous websites with suggestions on how to make this, since it doesn't seem to exist in US grocery stores. However with a lot of mixed reviews I was skeptical, until one site explained that you needed to use heavy cream that was NOT ultra-pasteurized, as most commercially available creams are. Not living in a metropolitan area to find special cream, and not having time to drive to one, I decided instead to whip up some ultra pasteurized cream, put it in a jar, and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Close enough. I served these on a fancy tea tray with Ent Draught. (water...)




Scones recipe:
2 3/4 cups flour***
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 TBS baking powder
1 stick butter, cold
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
Cardamom, vanilla, and rosemary for the two different rounds.


Mix together the first four ingredients, then cut in butter till you get something that looks like meal. It's easiest if you use a hand held pastry blender. Make a divot in the middle of your bowl, and break the eggs and pour the milk into it. Whisk these together, then  mix into the dry ingredients. It should form a ball that is only a little sticky. If there's still flour you can't mix in, add a bit more milk. ***Mine was way too wet and sticky as it was, and I actually had to add about a half cup more flour to get it to form a ball. Divide the dough in half. To one half, knead in some dried rosemary, to taste. To the other half, mix in the cardamom and a splash of vanilla extract. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly flour it. Plop each ball of dough onto the sheet and flatten into a round. Score each ball into six scones. Stick the baking sheet with the dough into the freezer for half an hour, then preheat the oven to 425. Brush the tops of the cardamom scones with a little milk, then sprinkle some demerara sugar over them (optional). Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden. I served them with the butter and "clotted" cream, apple bourbon jelly, and raspberry jam. The jams were home made from previous harvests.

Results
No surprises that the recipe from a renowned bakery turned out fabulous, even though I did have to add a bunch more flour. I believe freezing it was the key - according to their website, it softens the gluten and hardens the butter, making the scones softer and more flakey. The "clotted cream," as I said, was close enough. The rosemary scones even went surprisingly well with the raspberry jam.

Elevensies

Lembas

Since Eleven looks like Elven, I figured this would be a good time for the infamous waybread. I figured it would have to be shortbread like, and the world of internet fandom seems to agree - there are several lembas recipies out there, all of which are basically shortbread. However I wanted something a bit thicker and less sugary/more nutritious, so I came across a recipe for traditional Scottish shortbread from King Arthur Flour, whose site I'd been perusing while searching for the perfect scone recipe. They have all kinds of ideas about ancient grains and how to use them. As much as my culinary inquisitiveness wanted to give lembas a go with Teff, thinking white flour may not be a thing in the Shire, my busy and tired side said, "oh shut up, there's already oats in it." Veto. At least I substituted half a cup of almond meal for some flour and added some almond extract to give it a bit more character.

The recipe suggests baking in a round cake pan and cutting into 16 wedges. My brain never bothered forming a mental image of lembas prior to seeing the movies, so I cede imagery to Peter Jackson's creative team, baked it in a square pan and cut into 12 wedges.



Ingredients:
1 cup oats - quick oats are best
2 sticks butter, room temp, cut into chunks
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 cup almond flour or ground almonds
1/2 tsp salt
dash of almond extract

Preheat oven to 350. Spend more time looking for parts to your food processor than actually making the recipe. Find all the parts (phew!). Pulse the oats to grind them a bit. Add everything else and blend into a dough. If you don't have a food processor, roll up your sleeves and use some elbow grease to mash everything together. Put dough into lightly greased pan, flatten to fit pan, and score wedges of whatever number, size and shape you like. Beware: this is an extremely crumbly pastry; the more/smaller wedges you have, the more likely they will be to fall apart. Bake 35-40 minutes until the top is a nice golden brown. Remove from oven, cool, invert onto parchment paper, and use a sharp knife to cut along the score lines, separating the wedges. Unless you've found some mallorn leaves, cut the parchment around the pieces, and use the parchment to lift them into whatever container or plastic bag will be storing them.

Results
Ooh, the flavor is really nice! And this truly must be close to what lembas is because it sure is filling! Probably the two sticks of butter...
I doubt I'd take this backpacking though as it's extremely crumbly. It would fall apart within an hour of being in my pack. Maybe the elves use corn syrup instead of confectioners' sugar. But then this would basically be a granola bar and meh to those.


Lunch

Lunch was inspired by Butterbur in Bree. When the hobbits arrived, they were served "hot soup, cold meats, blackberry tart, new loaves with slabs of butter, and half a ripe cheese." So that is what we had. I made a "steak and ale" soup with mushrooms (aka hobbit crack), and spread out some cold cuts, bread (from the bakery), slices of smoked cheddar and derby cheese, and butter. I also made the blackberry tart, and an apple goat cheese one as well. I threw in some pickled veggies for good measure and we drank it all down with ale - a thick Scottish ale, because hops were in short supply in those days. True story.

The whole luncheon spread
Top: turkey, ham, salami, two types of pickles
Bottom: fresh bread, cheddar, derby, and golden berries

Steak and Ale Soup with Mushrooms

Since I don't eat bovine, this was actually a seitan ale soup. I made the seitan, but it can be bought from specialty grocery stores. However I find the store bought stuff doesn't taste nearly as good.



The Seitan

There is a truly hilarious blog post from ten years ago (TEN?! YEARS?!), describing a very excellent seitan recipe. This recipe is called the seitan o' greatness, and rightfully so. It is my base-line, but I always alter the flavors and seasoning to suit whatever application the seitan is being used for. Making seitan can be tricky because you want enough moisture to make it tender but too much and it quickly turns into sponge. This recipe is going for a very firm, dense seitan, which I find too tough. So instead of baking it for 90 minutes, I bake it for an hour, then slice it up and cook it a bit more in liquid - just not too much more. I made the seitan the day before, cut it up and stored in the fridge overnight before adding to the soup.

You will need:
1 1/2 cups wheat gluten
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp salt
4 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
2 tsp thyme
1 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cup beef broth
2 TBS olive oil
2 TBS worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 325. Mix first six ingredients in a bowl. Mix the last three ingredients in another bowl. The tricky part: since you don't want the oil to separate, you'll need to work quickly. As soon as you finish giving the wet ingredients a good beating, dump MOST of it (like 3/4) into the dry ingredients. Mix together and see if it comes together like dough. If you've still got some dry gluten that won't mix in, add a bit more liquid at a time, whisking it first, until it forms a nice dough ball. If you still need more liquid, sprinkle in a bit of water or more broth. Knead the dough a bit, then roll and punch it into a log shape. Wrap it up in foil, twist the ends shut, and place seam sided down on a baking sheet. Bake one hour. Allow to cool, then slice into chunks.

The Soup
1 TBS butter
1 large onion, diced
1 lb portabella mushrooms, quartered
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 cups ale (I used close to 2 cups of a very bland ale and cooked it down)
3 red potatoes, cubed
4 carrots, sliced
2 slices bacon, fried and diced
6 cups beef broth
2 TBS olive oil
bunch of fresh thyme
2 tsp each of basil and oregano
salt and pepper to taste
seitan, from above
4 TBS flour or corn starch

Sautee the onion and mushrooms in the butter over medium heat until brown. Add the garlic, cook one minute, then pour in the beer. Allow the beer to simmer and cook down until reduced by at least half. Add potatoes, carrots, bacon, broth, oil, herbs, and salt and pepper, and bring to simmer. Toss in the seitan from above. Cook until the potatoes and seitan are tender. Make a slurry with the flour and a bit of leftover broth or water and pour it in. Allow to thicken slightly, then serve with bread.

Results
The guys liked it quite a bit. I don't care for beef so the broth wasn't quite to my taste, but dunking some bread in it made it a lot better. The seitan was perfect and the seasoning worked very well.

Blackberry Tart (and apple/honey/goat cheese tart)

I found what appeared to be an award winning recipe for a rustic (aka flat and roughly shaped rather than being prepared in a tart pan) blackberry-blueberry tart; people really seemed to like the crust. So I hijacked the recipe, stole the crust, and omitted blueberries. I adore blueberries, but not frozen or cooked - they need to be fresh. I also cut the filling in half because blackberries are expensive, and I already had a half bushel of apples just sitting there. I split the dough in half to use one part for each tart. Hah! I rhymed.



The crust
2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn meal
2/3 cup butter (1 stick plus 2 and 2/3 TBS)
1/2 cup buttermilk, or regular milk plus 1 TBS lemon juice

Mix the dry stuff then cut in the butter. Add the buttermilk and form a dough ball. Halve the dough ball and flatten each ball into a thick disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate a minimum of 30 minutes. When ready to use, let stand at room temp about 5 minutes or until malleable, but not much longer as it will get stickier. Roll out to about 1/8" thickness.

Blackberry filling
12 oz package frozen blackberries, drained
1/4 cup sugar
1 TBS lemon juice
2 TBS flour

Apple filling
2 apples, peeled and sliced thin
3 oz honey goat cheese, softened
2 TBS honey
1 TBS lemon juice
2 TBS flour
nutmeg to taste

Preheat oven to 375. Mix all blackberry filling ingredients. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and carefully place a rolled crust onto each sheet. Dump blackberry mixture onto the center of one, and fold up the edges around it - about 2". Mix all apple filling ingredients except cheese. Spread cheese on the crust like you are buttering bread. Leave about 2" uncheesed toward the outside where you will fold over the crust. Dump the apple filling on top and dab a few more pieces of goat cheese throughout. Fold up the crust. Optional: beat an egg and brush it over the exposed crusts, and sprinkle with raw, large crystal sugar. Bake for about an hour until the crust is gold, and the filling thick and bubbly.



Results:
The Blackberry tart was very pretty but I strongly preferred the apple. It felt like something was missing from the blackberry tart. No, not blueberries. It was still good though. People really seemed to like the crust, which was mildly more interesting than standard, store-bought crust, but not by much. I wouldn't call the recipe prize winning. But it was tasty.

Afternoon Tea



Seed cakes

I have been intrigued by the question, "what's a seed cake?" since I first read the Hobbit. It turns out to be a rather old, Victorian era pastry with tons of butter and some brandy. I would imagine there are a variety of renditions on it, but here is one I found, and I translated it below with some suggestions for those of us heathens who still use imperial measuring systems.

I meant to substitute some of flour with almond meal - ground almonds, according to this site, played a big part in Victorian baking. But I got distracted and forgot, so instead I'll try this with the lembas!

For some reason I've always imagined seed cakes to be small, individual-serving sized rounds. I imagined them savory rather than sweet, but since that is evidently wrong, I stuck with the original idea for them. They are not nearly as seedy as their name implies, having only a few caraway seeds. I love caraway and was excited to see that this was the seed of choice - but still found the title misleading. So instead of making a full sized cake, I used a muffin tin, filled each chamber 1/3 to half way so they would not look like muffins, leveled them, and gave each one a good shake of sesame seeds for a topping instead of more sugar. Poppy seeds would have been good too but I didn't have any on hand


So the recipe:
2 sticks softened butter
1 cup caster (or regular white) sugar
4 eggs
1 TBS caraway seeds
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp mace (I didn't have mace so used about 3/4 tsp nutmeg and 1/4 tsp allspice)
2.25ish cups flour* (or sub 1/2 cup almond flour)
1/4 tsp salt
1.5 tsp baking powder
3 TBS brandy
5ish TBS milk
Sesame seeds

*the recipe cited calls for 340 grams. I measured that out to be very slightly less than 2.5 cups, pre-sifted.

I recommend a stand mixer. Preheat oven to 350F. Beat together butter and sugar till fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in caraway, spices, sifted flour, salt, and baking powder. Consistency should be similar to a buttercream frosting. Stir in brandy and just enough milk to make the batter loose enough to come off your finger when you stick it in for a taste test. Drop by large spoonful into well-greased muffin tins. Level off the tops and sprinkle with sesame and/or poppy seeds. Bake 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Serve with a large pot of black tea - I put orange and lemon slices, a cinnamon stick, and a couple cloves in my teapot to steep with the tea!

Results:
Despite my efforts they still looked like muffins. I think round ramekins would be the better choice next time. (Anybody wanna buy me some ramekins??) However they were quite tasty! The top had a bit of crispiness to it while the flavor was subtle yet complex. I wish it didn't have so much butter because I want to eat a bunch of them! It's also a fabulous pair with tea - I'm so glad I decided to serve them for afternoon tea time!


Lemon Tea Cake

I don't know that lemons are really a legit fruit for the occasion - they are a subtropical fruit, of which the Shire is nowhere near. Though Tolkien does not specifically write about any regions that may be considered subtropical, I would suppose that at best they might be cultivated in Rohan, or thereabouts. So I suppose we'll say that Hobbits were able to trade for them. Besides, what pairs better with tea than a spongy, lemony, sugary treat?

I used this recipe but cut it into 2/3 because between everything I'm making, I decided I was going through quite enough butter as it was.

The unaltered recipe:
1.5 sticks of butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
Lemon, zested and juiced
4 eggs
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup dried fruit of choice (currents would probably be most authentic but as I don't like them, craisins it was)

Preheat  oven to 350F and grease a bread loaf pan thoroughly. Beat together the butter, sugar, and lemon zest. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in the dry ingredients, then the lemon juice. Pour into pan and bake about 40 minutes or until set. Remove from oven, cool, and remove from pan. Drizzle a glaze made from confectioners sugar whisked into a tablespoon or so of lemon juice. Allow glaze to harden, then store wrapped.

Results:
The ratios weren't perfect (you try splitting four eggs into thirds), so it needed to bake for about an hour to set, and unfortunately that made it rather dry. So I do recommend making the full recipe. Good thing we had tea to dunk it into. The flavor was quite nice, and the lemon glaze gave it an interesting texture on the top where it had set in.


Dinner

This was where we picked up on Monday, with Return of the King. Finally some semblance of appetite was coming back after all the previous day's feasting so we had no trouble polishing these off with a red table wine whose label looked convincingly provincial.



Roast Chicken

Roast chicken was mentioned in The Hobbit when the Dwarves sang about making a mess of Bilbo's home. I don't believe it was mentioned in LotR unless you count the Two Towers film. However it seems appropriate. The most obvious and appropriate choice would be to roast a whole chicken, but I am both cheap and lazy, and thighs and drumsticks cost less per pound. So this one I mostly made up.

Ingredients:
Chicken pieces, bone in, skin on, excess fat and loose skin trimmed off
One small onion, diced
Loads of garlic, minced
1/4 cup butter, melted
salt and pepper
half a lemon
bunch of fresh thyme

Preheat oven to 425. Lay the onion pieces over a baking sheet and placed the trimmed chicken on top. Pour butter over the chicken, squeeze the lemon over this, and sprinkle the garlic, salt and pepper, and thyme over the top. Bake 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake another 45 minutes or until the juices are clear.

Results:
It was cooked perfectly and 9/10 pieces were eaten. The last became Justin's lunch on Tuesday. The seasoning was a little bland - I'd use dry herbs next time, and more of them.

Maggots' Mushrooms

These seemed like a natural accompaniment to the chicken. I'd probably normally make these in a pan but since the oven was already on, I went ahead and stuck them in with the chicken.  These go fabulously with red wine and use some of the same flavors as the chicken.


Ingredients
1 lb portabella mushrooms, sliced
2 TBS butter, melted
2 strips of bacon, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper, to taste
a few shakes of dry thyme, basil and oregano

I just tossed these all together, spread them on a baking sheet and stuck them in the oven for the last 10 minutes the chicken was in. Would definitely eat again.

Supper

I was running out of ideas at this point, manflesh notwithstanding. I wanted something inspired by Beorn, but all that is mentioned about his meals is cream and honey which is a) dessert, and b) a bit difficult to serve on its own. So I made an angel food cake to go with that theme, and a (York)Shire pudding. If you haven't had such a pudding before, I highly recommend it - very simple, and very tasty. We finished this off with some of Beorn's mead. And by Beorn's I mean mine, because making mead is what I do.



(York)Shire Pudding

This is sometimes also known as a popover, or if made with sausage, toad in the hole. It's an eggy, floury, savory dish, nothing like we 'murcans call "pudding." I made this one with bacon and leeks, and it actually would have been perfect for baking with the chicken due to the times and temperatures below.

Ingredients
about a quarter of a leek, sliced
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 cup flour
salt and pepper
3-4 slices bacon, diced
melted butter, oil, or grease drippings
Optional: gravy

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease a round cake pan with your choice of fat. Sprinkle the leeks around the pan. Whisk together milk and eggs, then whisk in the flour, salt and pepper. Pour mixture over the leeks. Sprinkle in the bacon. Bake 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350F and bake another 45 minutes until the top is brown and the batter set.  Serve with gravy if using.

Results:
By the time this was done I had completely forgotten about the gravy and it was getting late, so I couldn't be bothered to make it, but I really do recommend it. It is delightful on its own but the gravy really does kick it up a notch.

Beorn's honey and cream

This really can't get any more simple, but please forgive these last few photos as I progressively got lazier and cared less.

Ingredients
Angel food cake - pre-baked or from a box, home made or from a fox. Whatever. No one will care.
Honey
"clotted" cream from before

I got the boxed cake mix, followed the instructions, and baked it in two loaf pans rather than a flute pan. Slice it up, drizzle honey over it, and spoon cream on top. Optionally you could also add strawberries or some other fruit.

Results
This was so easy! And tasty, although very sugary, so a tart fruit would be a superb addition.




Overall it was an enjoyable weekend. I did not weigh myself after all the feasting but will likely be eating salads for the remainder of the week!