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.

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Food and Fandom: Beauty’s Spiced Treacle Cake

I could go on and on about why I chose to do another Beauty-related goodie, but this one is actually inspired by something that McKinley wrote in the pages. I couldn’t really find the passage again, but I’m telling you, the book mentioned spiced treacle cake, and I totally hopped up on the idea!

Beauty by Robin McKinley is a straightforward retelling of an iconic fairy tale. One of the things that I remembered from the book was a scene where Beauty wakes up in the morning thinking of hot chocolate and toast. And later on, she ruminates on the types of foods she’d been having while in Beast’s castle, and Beauty eventually decides that one of her favorites is a spiced treacle cake. Often she would ask for it, and there was an adorable scene where she even feeds the Beast a piece because she wanted him to try it!

So I went on a search for a spiced treacle cake.

Ginger Spiced Treacle Traybake

I actually gleaned this recipe from Fold in the Flour, though the original recipe is very much thanks to Mary Berry. I mention this because I had become addicted to The Great British Bake Off and after seeing that this was a recipe she had, I wanted to try it!

I will say that Mary Berry knows her shit, and honestly, even with the changes I made, it was still delicious and spiced and utterly gingery!

I’ve converted the ingredients into American measurements the best way I can. Also, these are the ingredients of changes I made as well, so if you want to follow the recipe to its totality, there’s plenty of places where this recipe can be found (including the Fold in the Flour link).

Ingredients

Cake

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) softened unsalted butter
  • 1 cup muscovado sugar (I used dark brown)
  • 2/3 cup molasses (I substituted with maple syrup, but you can use honey or some other syrup that has a thicker consistency)
  • 2 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 Tbsp milk
  • 3 bulbs stem ginger (I used 1 Tbsp ginger powder because I couldn’t find stem ginger in the groceries)

Glaze

  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 tsp ginger powder (optional)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • water (as needed)
  • chopped candy ginger (as needed)

Making the Cake

Mix the sugar and butter until smooth and creamy, add eggs one by one. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until smooth.

Bake cake in 9 x 13 inch tray for 35 minutes at 350 F. Set aside to cool and make the glaze.

Prepare glaze. Mix the dry ingredients and add water as needed, up until the consistency is what you want to pour onto the cake.

Sprinkle chopped ginger candy on top for decoration.

Verdict: Not everyone is a big fan of ginger or spiced cake, so this was not exactly the household favorite. The changes I made also made the cake not so treacly, but eh, I’m not a big fan of molasses, so that definitely cut down on the stickiness and the density. of the cake itself.

However, as a ginger-lover, I didn’t mind this so much, and it was like eating a super delicious sponge with candied ginger!

Food and Fandom: Beauty’s Rose Apple Tarts

Oh baking. How I’ve missed thee! The idea actually came to mind because in under two weeks, my friend Meg and I will be releasing our first ever episode of Fableulous Retellings Podcast. Our first theme, surprise surprise, is the tale of Beauty and the Beast!

I had a few options regarding this story, and likely I will do a couple more between podcast episodes. To start it off, though, I was a bit inspired by the whole rose concept. In the original story–and most of the retellings afterward–Beauty often asks for a rose for her father to bring back from his trip. For the most part, he does, and for some reason, the Beast is none too happy with this poor old man pilfering from his rosebushes. I guess beasts don’t suffer thieves, either!

In any case, the rose is important, as is the garden, and even Disney got up on that in their version of BatB.

SO. Onto my baked good.

I thought about trying a rose-flavored macaron but I would have been at a loss, because I haven’t actually learned to make macarons! (All in good time…). So I browsed and I realized, oooh, an apple tart sounds yum!

Rose Apple Tarts

The original recipe I got from Preppy Kitchen, though I will admit that other than the apple seasoning, I didn’t really follow the rest of the ingredients. I couldn’t remember where I got the pastry shell recipe, however, but I do recall using powdered/confectionery sugar instead of regular sugar, just for a sweeter taste. And with tarts, you want something on the sweet side to balance out the sour that’ll be coming from the baked fruit.

The other thing I would say about making and shaping this tart shell is that it would be a good idea to have kidney beans or beads to keep the tart’s shell in place. I had neither, so it was much harder to stuff the apples in and shape them as roses afterward. The other suggestion is not to blind bake the shell and put the apples in immediately. Blind baking wasn’t really necessary for me, especially since I wasn’t making a huge tart shell, but little itty bitty ones.

I used my mini cupcake pan for such an occasion.

I also don’t have a tart pan, so this was definitely me improvising by using one of my cookie cutters to cut out pieces of dough and placing it in my cupcake pan. They shaped up rather well!

Probably the hardest part, however, was slicing the apples in very, very thin layers. In retrospect, I should have used the potato peeler, because slicing things very thinly with a knife took way too long. And most of the slices were still not thin enough! Maybe I just need a bit more practice.

Not that anyone’s complaining. Most of these tarts disappeared the moment they came out of the oven.

Food and Fiction: Mercy’s Trouble Chocolate

Alright, it’s chocolate-centric week, because I’m most likely in Belgium right now, gallivanting about and visiting chocolate shops. However, that is something I’ll probably be blogging about much later in the week when I get back from vacation, and instead, this is more along the lines of “Oh, hey, I finally finished Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs and I want to talk about chocolate chip cookies!”

Or chocolate in general.

So just a quick summary of the book and the Mercy Thompson universe: Silence Fallen is the tenth installation of the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, and revolves around Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman, now the mate of the Columbia Basin’s Alpha werewolf. For those who are a fan of–or who have read–the series, you’ll know at this point that Mercy is living a rather eclectic life as a mechanic and non-werewolf wife. She’s also a shape-shifting coyote, is friends with a powerful fae, is bonded to an equally powerful vampire, and has adopted a fire-generating fae spirit. Mercy can also see and command ghosts. So. Yeah. Not a normal life by any means, and things just escalate from there.

One of my favorite things about Mercy is the fact that she bakes cookies. You laugh at this minute detail, but seriously, she does a lot of baking in the books. I admire her for that, because honestly, how does she find the time between being kidnapped by vampires and having to fend for herself against the Gray Lords and coyote-hating pack members? But she does, and in the beginning of Silence Fallen legit starts with her trying to bake cookies.

Of course, everything goes horribly wrong afterwards, but that’s besides the point.

The point is, I ended up with a craving for chocolate chip cookies. So I made them.

Thankfully, I wasn’t making cookies for a pack of werewolves, so I didn’t have to worry about lack of ingredients! So no vampire-induced car accidents here!

I was, however, baking these cookies for a get-together, so I decided to add a bit of extra into it. Mmm…coffee chocolate chip cookies here we come!

I used the recipe from Cathy at Lemon Tree Dwelling. And they came out delicious, by the way!

The coffee flavor came out, and the cookies themselves were seriously disappearing pretty quickly! I’d definitely make them again.

Anyway, I’ll end it there. Gotta run and frolic!

This post counts as #3 of my Food and Fiction Challenge.

Food and Fandom: Winter King’s Pirozhki

bearnightingaleNot gonna lie, the entire time I read The Bear and the Nightingale I kept thinking about the old-school baking that was happening in the oven at Pyotr’s hearth. Every single time, Dunya was always baking something, and Vasya almost always tried to steal some of the food that came freshly out of the oven.

Vasya, thinking of cakes, went meekly to her stool. There was a heap of them already cooling on the table, brown on the outside and flecked with ash. A corner of one cake crumbled as the child watched. Its insides were midsummer–gold, and a little curl of steam rose up. Vasya swallowed. Her morning porridge seemed a year ago.

So naturally, I turned to Russian inspiration for this Food and Fiction Challenge, and there were several descriptions of food that made me think about what I wanted to do.

They dined outside, on eggs and kasha and summer greens, bread and cheese and honey. The usual cheerful muddle was subdued. The young peasant women stood in knots and whispered.

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Mmm…apples and cheese are the best.

One thing I did note was that there was a lot of bread and honey involved. So from the get-go, I wanted to do something with bread and honey. And honestly, bread with honey just sounded lovely and traditional and simple (well, not too simple, considering bread tends to take more time with the whole rising thing).

The table was laid with two silver cups and a slender ewer. The scent of warm honey floated through the room. A loaf of black bread, smelling of rye and anise, lay beside a platter of fresh herbs. On one side stood a bowl of pears and on the other a bowl of apples…

Cautiously, Vasya picked up an apple and bit down. Icy sweetness dazzled her tongue. She reached for the bread. Before she knew it, her bowl was empty, half the loaf was gone, and she sat replete, feeding bits of bread and fruit to the two horses.

And then it hit me. Why not put apples INSIDE the bread, too? Isn’t there some kind of Russian dessert that does that?

So I found that there was. Say hello to the pirozhki.

Morozko’s Pirozhki

In essence, pirozhki are baked or fried bread buns filled with stuffing inside. Stuffing can be either savory or sweet, and the dough can be formed into various shapes so long as it holds the stuffing properly inside. Typically, people use meat like beef to stuff inside a pirozhki. Personally, I always go for the sweet stuff, because why the heck not.

This brought me into thinking about the book, The Bear and the Nightingale itself. For the most part, I was struck by the scenes in the winter-king’s home. I swear he always tried to feed Vasya, so whenever Vasya woke, she always found an abundance of fruit, bread, and mead at the table. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Morozko HAD put in some apple pirozhki for Vasya to eat at some point. They sound super-delicious.

I got the recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen, along with the apples and then-some. I really didn’t do anything differently from the recipe, so I won’t re-hash the steps and ingredients again. I mean, there was some point where I ALMOST forgot to put the second half of my divided sugar, which would have been a BAD idea, but I remembered at the last minute, so it was all good.

Just something to think about, though, as far as playing with yeast: I do not have a thermometer (I really need to get one, considering…) nor do I have a proofing chamber, so I improvised by turning on my oven, letting it heat up for a couple minutes, then turned it off again and let it cool. Once it was relatively warm, but not too warm, I put my dough in the proofing chamber and let it rise. The effects were roughly the same as a proofing chamber, and honestly, the bread baked so well that I have no complaints.

I also didn’t process the apples, choosing instead just to dice them and then lightly cook them with sugar. Nothing fancy. Next time, I may add some cinnamon, though.

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I did run out of apple filling, so for the last two batches of dough, I broke them into pieces, rolled them into round shapes, and then doused them with honey before baking them in, too.

Verdict: The results were MAH-VELOUS, dahling. I could taste the warmth of the hearth and of gold and sunshine, etc. etc. Now all I need is a bit of mead…