Many of you may remember the Monroe-Cassel family. Maggie Monroe-Cassel was the head of the Judson Fellowship and ran the Center for Spirituality and Creativity. John was the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation and also worked, among other places, at the Arts Council for Chautauqua County and Hospice.
While in high school, their daughter Chelsea created a beautiful bronze sculpture with the help of artist Dave Poulin. This sculpture of family friend and Holocaust survivor Dina Jacobson was donated to the Robert H. Jackson Center.
Chelsea then spent time in Turkey and while there apparently discovered that there was more to food than peanut butter and jelly.
Su Ewing puts the finishing touches on her batch of medieval lemon cakes.
She now lives in Boston, and she and Sariann Lehrer have created a cookbook that is not your grandmother's cookbook.
The cookbook, "A Feast of Ice and Fire," is published by Random House and is based on the authors' blog, www.innatthecrossroads.com. The blog, and the cookbook, is a collection of recipes based on the food described in the fantasy novels of George R.R. Martin. That means there are recipes for boar, rabbit, snake and honeyed locusts (or crickets, your choice).
Two disclaimers right off the bat: one, I have never read any of George R.R. Martin's novels, and two, I don't cook. "I don't cook, I'm a writer" has been my mantra for years, and it's a darn good one. But I love the Monroe-Cassels, I love the blog and I love reading cookbooks, and this cookbook has made me not only want to try some of the recipes, but also to read Martin's series of books.
That doesn't mean I'm ready to crunch into crickets, no matter how tasty Chelsea and Sariann say they are. I don't think I'll manage rattlesnake, either, but there are many less exotic recipes, and some of them sound wonderful.
Each recipe starts with a quote from one of Martin's books referencing the particular food. Then, in most cases, there's a medieval version of the recipe, and then a modern version, with notes from the authors about what particularly works, or doesn't work, in the older version, and what changes they've made to create a modern recipe.
For instance, there's a recipe for beef and bacon pie, and both versions sound very good. The medieval recipe, besides bacon and beef, calls for prunes, raisins and dates. The modern version eliminates the fruit and adds carrots and onion. Instead of cutting up chunks of bacon into the pie filling, the modern version makes a lovely lattice top crust of interwoven bacon strips.
The book has a little of everything, including hearty main dishes, salads, soups, breads and desserts, as well as some beverages, like mulled wine, iced milk with honey, and lemonsweet. The book is not divided by the type of food, but by the Seven Kingdoms described in Martin's books, so each section has some of each kind of food. This might bother a serious cook looking for all the soup recipes, or all the desserts, but since I like to just read the descriptions, I'm fine with the way it's organized, and Martin fans will understand the divisions better than I did. Oh, and I also love the pictures. Full-color photos show you just what that leek soup or that honeyed chicken looks like.
As much as I am not a kitchen person, it didn't seem right not to try to make something from the book. I still want to make beef and bacon pie sometime, but the weather decided to turn up the heat, so a hearty, hot beef pie lost its appeal.
Jim and I decided to make the medieval lemon cakes. The modern cakes looked like petit fours, which seemed too ordinary after reviewing those recipes for bugs and snakes, so we settled on the old-style recipe. It's very simple, which is something I look for whenever I'm tempted to cook or bake. There's just flour, sugar, eggs, unsalted butter and lemon zest, plus confectioner's sugar and a bit of milk for the frosting. We managed to zest (de-zest?) the lemons, but that left us with two perfectly good lemons and nothing to do with them, which seemed a shame. Also, the recipe said to add more flour if the dough was too sticky. On the contrary, it was just a big bowl of ingredients, resembling piecrust before you add the water. It wasn't a dough at all, and certainly didn't need more flour.
Still, we forged ahead, squeezing small amounts of dough tightly in our fists and shaping that squeezed mass into roughly round lumps, which we baked. I'm wondering if we should eliminate about a quarter of a cup of flour the next time we make these, or, if we should include more egg white? (The recipe calls for one whole egg, and two yolks).
Anyway, the finished cakes were delicious. They were very lemony and very chewy, reminding me a bit of a lemon brownie in consistency.
That was our first trial. Then I realized that if we made three batches of lemon cakes, that would give us enough lemons for the lemonsweet beverage, as well as the six egg whites needed to make cream swans. So, we made another batch of lemon cakes.
We didn't try any of our possible solutions to the dryness, but Jim did add a tablespoon of water to the final mixture, which was still very dry. Another aside, the recipe says to bake for 15 minutes, but we've gone 20 minutes both times. And, these cakes do not spread much at all as they bake. Still delicious and chewy.
We had purchased enough lemons for both the lemon cakes and the lemonsweet, but we voted against making a third batch of cakes and just zested the two extra lemons, freezing the zest for a future batch of cakes. Then we used our six lemons and two oranges to make 17th century lemonsweet. It's easy to make and very tasty and refreshing, but with a bit more orange flavor than I would have liked. Two smaller juice oranges is the answer, I think. We used two large navel oranges. If I were doing it again, I think one navel orange would be enough.
The modern version of lemonsweet also sounds good. It's made with lemons only, and with honey instead of sugar, and a bit of vanilla extract or a vanilla bean.
I did save the egg whites, but haven't quite gotten up the nerve to try to create meringue swans.
I love comparing the old and new recipes and think Chelsea and Sariann did a wonderful job finding recipes to match the foods described by George R.R. Martin. I look forward to trying many of the other recipes. And, even though I don't think I'll ever make them, I like having a cookbook with recipes that call for "one rattlesnake, approximately two pounds, cleaned and gutted," and "one cup freeze-dried crickets or locusts." No, it's definitely not my grandmother's cookbook