Food and Fandom: A Little Taste of Carthak

I’ve been on a Tortallan high these past few weeks, especially after my bout with Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce. As part of my review, I took pictures of quotes I wanted to use and passages I wanted to get back to again just to re-read.

Unsurprisingly enough, most of those pictures involved descriptions of food. I blame Varice for this.

“You should get to know different flavors, alone and mixed,” Varice told him soberly. “We can be brought low by a common poison if we don’t know when something wrong is added to our food and drink. Our Gifts won’t warn us unless, of course, you know your poisons.”

The lovely addition of Varice in Tempests was a splendid move on Pierce’s part. Between Ozorne’s ambition and Arram’s destiny for greatness (as he’s been constantly told by the crocodile god), Varice is one gifted student who has no such desire to become great, powerful, or famous. And yet she’s very intelligent and no ordinary “kitchen witch.”

She’s also a great addition to the narrative because she brings so much perspective on food. Like, seriously, so much food.

As drums pounded and trumpets blared in the arena, a slave selected different fruits and set the on plates, then added small cups of sauce. Varice giggled when she saw that Arram regarded the serving process with mistrust. “You dunk a bite of fruit in a cup, silly. It makes the taste more sophisticated.” She speared a grape on a thin-bladed knife and looked at the three small cups. “This is tamarind syrup, this one is cherry, and this, I am sure, is lime with…” She dipped her grape and tucked it into her mouth before the syrup could drip into her dress. “Mmm, cinnamon,” she said with approval.

That description alone already made me salivate and crave fruits with dipping sauce. Actually I could really just use tamarind juice right about now.

Anyway, the point is, the whole book had a lot of different recipes I wanted to try. Near the beginning of the book, I’d actually found a mention of pastries I wanted to make, like “tassen”, which, after some digging, I found out was a shortened, creative rewriting of “hamantaschen,” which is a Jewish pastry. Now, I’d tried store-bought hamantaschen, but wasn’t actually a fan of the dry texture, so I might hold off on actually making those when I’ve found a decent recipe that I like. That said, there were still a lot of things I could have done for this book that epitomized the Carthaki culture.

The breakfast that waited there helped. While Varice and Arram used pancakes with pistachios to scoop up eggs, Cosmas fed Preet whatever she expressed a wish for in between sips of tea.

One thing I noticed about the food in Tamora Pierce’s Tempests and Slaughter is that they do eat a lot of stew.

“In the meantime, if you have not read it already, you may wish to look at Strange Things in My Stew by Farmer Cooper of Tortall. It was written three hundred years ago and is out of fashion, but there are things in it you will not find in the modern texts.”

Which eventually brought me to this sentence.

“Stop frowning,” Ozorne told Arram as they dove into their beef tajine.

And, of course I had to look up what beef tajine was, because, ya know, I needed an idea for dinner and this sounded like a good thing to look up.

When I found a Moroccan version of the dish, I just HAD to make it, cilantro and all.

Beef Tajine

Tajine is apparently a common dish in Morocco, and named after the tajine pot it is cooked in. Now, I don’t have a tajine, but I imagine it’s a pot you can slow-cook meats in. I also don’t have an earthenware cooking pot big enough for the dish I wanted to make…but I made do, because, hell, what is cooking if not improvising, right?

Heh.

The recipe and prep times were pretty straightforward. A lot of the waiting actually comes from having to simmer the entire stew until the meat is nice and tender and the potatoes and carrots are soft and easily eaten in a bite. Yum.

One of the only things I had been tentative about adding was the cilantro. I’m not a big fan of cilantro, and I’ve seen a lot of recipes use too much of it in a dish to the point where the cilantro overpowers just about everything else (I’m talking about YOU, guacamole). So when the recipe called for 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro, I almost decided not to use it entirely.

Which would have been a big mistake. The cilantro actually augmented the flavors and worked well with the spices involved. In the end, it was so. damn. good. It’s no wonder they eat so much of it in Carthak.

I’d make beef tajine again in a heartbeat.

Again, for the full recipe, check out The Wicked Noodle. I didn’t stray very far from this, to be honest! The only thing I did alter was the carrot and potato ratio. I used one large carrot and an assortment of baby potatoes. Everything else was a mixture of following the recipe and tasting for flavor.

With all this said and done, time for lunch!

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Food and Fandom: Medovik and Maslenitsa

I needed to get back into gear with the blogging, and what better time to do so especially when all I want to do is talk about food? I think it’s totally the right time, mostly because for me, Lent just began and it’s practically a countdown for me until Easter.

Why is this important to mention? Because of Maslenitsa!

“Maslenitsa was the three-day sun-feast, one of the oldest holidays in Muscovy. Older by far than the bells and crosses that marked its passing, though it had been given the trappings of religion to mask its pagan soul. This–the last day before the festival began–was the last day they could eat meat until Easter. Vladimir, Olga’s husband, was still in Serpukhov, but Olga had arranged a feast for his household–wild boar and stewed rabbit and cock-pheasants, and fish.” – The Girl in the Tower

I had honestly been waiting to get back into the swing of Food and Fandom-ness, especially when it comes to the fictional department, but I’d been so blah lately with books for the past two months that I couldn’t bring myself to be inspired. When I finally read my advanced copy of The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden, though, I started getting really enthusiastic about the story to warrant another visit to Russia for some delectable treats.

Also, I’d gone to visit The Russian Tea Room in New York City and was absolutely inspired.

Seriously, how lovely is this place?!

Suffice to say that when February came rolling along, and the fact that my mother’s birthday almost coincided with the beginnings of Lent, I had every opportunity to find something to make that was based off of what I’d read from The Girl in the Tower.

Medovik

“For a few more days, the people could still eat butter and lard and cheese and other rich things, and so in the kitchen they were making butter-cakes by the score, by the hundred, cakes enough for days of gluttony.” – The Girl in the Tower

I’m outright refusing to get into the word origin of this cake, because for the most part, I was finding the word “medovik” when it came to looking up Russian honey cakes. Even though at some point it might also be called a smetannik…but ANYWAY. Natasha’s Kitchen (where I got the recipe from) calls it a medovik, so I’m going to call it that.

I chose to do a Russian honey cake because it was the closest iteration I could find that would best fit Arden’s world. A lot of the ingredients sound like they’d be used commonly, especially when it comes to making cakes. I barely used butter, but sour cream came into play, as did flour, eggs, and honey.

And because I was kind of in an experimenting mood, I wound up using the strong wild flower honey that I got from England almost a year ago. You could definitely taste the flavor in the cake afterwards, which is GREAT, because I adore honey.

Anyway, I didn’t change much in the recipe, so I suggest heading over to Natasha’s Kitchen to get the ingredients and cooking method.

What I should have changed was the way I rolled out these effing layers. WHY DIDN’T I JUST FLOUR THE SURFACE? WHY DID I HAVE TO USE PARCHMENT PAPER?

My arms were sore by the end of it, and I couldn’t even roll it all the way to 9 inches.

So…8-inch diameter cake it is!

From there it was pretty much easy peasy lemon squeezy. I was half-expecting my frosting to collapse on me, but I think it actually held well! The sour cream with the frosting and the sugar stiffened enough to keep the shape of the cake, but it also moistened the cake layers themselves.

THOSE LAYERS THO.

Verdict: I honestly thought I’d be chomping on a layered frosted cookie. But that was not the case! It was delicious, and the sour cream and honey flavors came through. In the future, I might experiment with condensed milk or cream cheese, though I got no complaints with the sour cream. It’s mostly for me at this point, because after a day or two, the smell and flavor of the sour cream started to get a bit more overpowering than usual.

So all in all, being back to doing Food and Fandom things was so totally worth.

An Apple a Day Drives the Witch Right into Your Path…Wait

I kind of got away with that title there, but to be fair, whenever I see apples involved in literature, I immediately think of the tale of Snow White. It’s not even my favorite tale by a mile, but I will admit that some of the retellings I’ve read do bring about the need to bake something with apples inside. Winter, I’m talking about you specifically.

And yes, okay, so most apple covers don’t necessarily mean Snow White. I mean, unless you can give me a really good argument that says Twilight is a metaphor for the story of a crazed queen and her attempts to kill her more beautiful stepdaughter (but wait, wasn’t Kristen Stewart a star on both so maybe there’s the connection…argh, I’m digressing), then yeah, apple covers don’t mean Snow White.

Buuut there’s got to be an appeal to apples, right? Because poor, silly Snow likes apples. Winter happens to love ’em especially when sprinkled and baked in with cinnamon. And honestly, I love baking with apples when I can.

So there you have it. Apples. Are. Awesome.

Now that I’ve completely rambled on about dem apples, onto what I had meant to do, which was post something I had made weeks ago! (Hah, yes to backlog of baking-related posts!)

Apple Bread

Say hello to the most scrumptious bready thing ever! I’ve been saving a ton of apple-related recipes on my Pinterest to get back to later on, and eventually made my way to one I wanted to attempt. So while I procrastinated writing, well, anything (I’m sorry Meg and Tarma and and…yeah…), I baked something I could totally use as an excuse for being unproductive. Only I suppose I was productive, because I made bread.

The recipe was pretty straightforward, and the glaze was standard milk, not cream, because I didn’t really have any cream handy. (And I wouldn’t go so far as to make glaze with cream anyway, not too fond of it being too thickly sweet). I also used three apples instead of two.

And with my sister’s trusty new apple corer, peeling coring, and slicing those apples took mere seconds!

Like the recipe suggested, I split the batter up into two. I lined my bread pan with parchment paper poured half the batter in, half the apple mixture in, and sprinkled that with a cinnamon-sugar mixture. Then rinse, repeat. I waited 45 minutes before checking up on the bread, and let it brown a bit more before pulling it out of the oven.

Verdict: The bready middle was super moist and soft and so yum. It was a good call to split the batter so there’s plenty of apple to go around. There was a suggestion to add walnuts in, but with a brother who’s allergic to practically every nut in existence, I can safely say this recipe can do without.

“That’s Not Green Tea…It’s MINT!”

When it comes to baking my brother’s birthday cake, it’s often a collaboration between myself and my artistic sister. I tend to focus on the baking, since I bake from scratch, and my sister does the piping or surface decorations. It works well, because we play to our strengths, and for the most part, we’ve done pretty well, considering my brother tends to get the BEST. CAKES. EVER.

I wonder why.

Anyway, this year, we were kind of at a loss for ideas, up until I stared at my sister and went: “Well, Gale likes Oreos so much, we can make him a giant Oreo cake. With matcha filling.”

Hence the giant Oreo cake was born. Except I didn’t even use any Oreos. So can it really be called an Oreo cake?

Probably not. We’ll call it a Dark Chocolate Mint–er, Matcha–Surprise.

The funny bit is that my brother was actually around long enough to see the layers at work. I employed two frostings and two types of cake batter to make this cake, and for some reason he kept looking at the green cake and couldn’t put a name to it. So whenever he stared long and hard at the green cake, my sister and I tended to say, “This isn’t your cake. It’s mint.”

But it’s not really mint, you guys. Of course it’s not. I mean, honestly, how can anyone really mistake the distinct green of matcha powder?

(That said, I kind of colored both the batter and frosting with forest green coloring to bring out the vibrancy of the green.)

You’ll find the recipes of things I found below:

Dark Chocolate Cake – This was super moist and awesome. My main fear about making a large, triple-layered cake was that the cakes would dry out. Thankfully, the chocolate cake recipe was super moist since it employed vegetable oil instead of butter.

Green Tea Pound Cake – This was the heavier and smaller layer that got sandwiched between the two dark chocolate cake layers. This was straightforward, and I still have a lot of matcha powder for baking. But of course I do. I always keep a stock of matcha handy!

Chocolate Frosting – Straightforward. You really can’t eff up chocolate frosting unless you try really hard to do so. Or replace powdered sugar with salt (HOW?!).

Matcha Cream Cheese Frosting – This was definitely my favorite flavor in the cake, hands down. Alone, the frosting is super-sweet and super-cream cheesy. But think about the dark bitterness of the chocolate cake and the slight matcha-tasting pound cake! If there’s something that can tie all of the pieces together, it was definitely this frosting. And holy hell, that green tea flavor really came out after putting this frosting on.

My sister did the piping, so I couldn’t show you the process even if I wanted to. At that point, I’d done my job and gone to bed, because of course school night. Sigh.

Verdict: Sooooo good. Even my brother quite enjoyed it. Maybe next year, we’ll make a peanut butter cup cake…except without peanut butter, because my brother’s allergic. I  mean…it’s definitely a great way to troll him!

Food and Fiction: Central Kitchen Parsnip Cakes

Yes a Food and Fiction/Fandom post!

You know, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that made vegetables seem so delicious until I read The List by Patricia Forde. Don’t get me wrong, I do have a love for my fair share of vegetables, like brussel sprouts and artichokes and green beans and asparagus and eggplants, but surprisingly, I’m actually more picky with veggies than I am with fruits (I effing love fruits in general). So when I read The List, I couldn’t help but want to know what parsnip cakes looked like. Hell, at this point, I don’t even know if I like parsnip. I sure as heck am not a fan of radish (Daikon radish being an exception), and they’re essentially both root vegetables.

She would walk as far as the first potato fields, she told herself, and then turn back. She would still have time to pick up their evening meal from Central Kitchen. A Monday meal. Vegetable soup, parsnip cakes, and green beans. She hated parsnips.

Letta isn’t a big fan of parsnips either, though in her case, she can’t exactly complain. The world of The List is harsh enough that turning down a meal tips the scale of survival to “not bloody likely.” Food is scarce in Ark, and what they have is grown with what limited water they manage to purify. From what I read, it makes sense that most of the food is limited to plants. There’s barely any mention of meat, and even in the forest, most Desecrators and Tintown inhabitants make do with what they can scavenge in the forest (nuts, berries, plants, mushrooms, etc.).

Anyway, parsnip cakes.

I honestly had no idea what these things looked like, for one. So when I looked them up, I realized they were added to potatoes and then fried. I figured anything fried would be great, right? And fried potatoes? Yum yum.

The recipe I found called for mashed potatoes, leeks, and parsnips. Now, I don’t know about you, but I never cooked with leeks and parsnips before. I mean, I knew what leeks looked like (ginormous scallions) and parsnips are often mentioned to be sweeter forms of radish, but again, never used these ingredients before.

I did, however, decide that I like parsnips. They have a sweeter flavor than regular radishes and I could totally eat these pickled or in a raw, stringy form. Leeks on the other hand? Not so much. They’re supposed to be a milder, sweeter, more bake-able version of their smaller relatives, but honestly, I just found the plant boring. And the farmer’s market nearby sells so much of it in a bunch! No idea what to do with the rest of this nonsense. I’ll stick to scallions and spring onions, thank you very much.

Add a bit of salt (okay, a lot of, considering potatoes need quite a bit of seasoning) and pepper, and mix into the mashed potatoes and you’ve pretty much got your concoction ready for frying!

Note: Not a big fan of the mashed potato consistency for these things. I should have just grated the potatoes much like I grated the radish. That would have given a better crunch and texture to the whole thing.

Extra note: Hah, as if the only thing I’d put is salt and pepper. I also added a bit o’ chili powder in there to add some kick to it. Yum yum.

Extra extra note: Oh, and I made a cheese dip with the rest of the leeks I’d cut out. Wasn’t bad, though probably needed a citrus flavor to top it off (lemon or lime preferably). Yum yum.

Verdict: Not too bad. With a couple of changes, it would probably be a delicious snack or mealtime side. I don’t think I was won over, though, but it was a fun experiment. Also, at least now I know I like parsnips!

This counts as #6 of my Food and Fiction Reading Challenge.