Thursday, July 21, 2011

Success, Thy Name is Lamb Trenchers

I don't have much experience with cooking, or food in general, really. Let's make that clear. So when I did the grocery shopping for the party today, I was really glad to have my darling roommate Chelsea along. She has a long-term relationship with fresh fruit and veggies, which was really helpful.

Anyway, part of the reason I did the shopping for Saturday's party today was so that I could do a test run of one of the meat courses for the party: cubed lamb in bread trenchers. Another Inn at the Crossroads recipe, it's pretty simple. Just stick the lamb on skewers and broil them, with bread underneath to catch the drippings.

I had to ask my boyfriend's father what broiling was; and according to him, in the context of modern ovens, it just means using the top heating coil only. There was no pre-cubed lamb at the store, so we bought shanks and cubed them ourselves. This resulted in really small pieces, but this was actually favorable. It cooked through quickly, and was easier to chew. The bread underneath got a little toasted, but it remained soft and hot on the inside, and the juice! Oh man. The bread where the juice had dripped was amaaaazing, and getting a little bit of the bread in the bite with the lamb was phenomenal--and that was even without marinading or spicing the meat, which I had completely forgotten to do.

We had riesling with it, and dug in with our forks. We hollowed out the bread, and finished off the rest with oil and herbs. One benefit of the test run was definitely figuring out how much bread we'll need. The servings of lamb seem small, but there's going to be a ton of food at this party and I want everyone to be able to have some of all three courses, so the minimal serving is good (and actually probably more in keeping with recommended serving sizes, as opposed to American serving sizes). This loaf could definitely have been cut in half width-wise, in which case one loaf would have served four people--which means I'll only have to get two, instead of the four I thought I'd need.

Overall, this was way more delicious than I thought it'd be, so much so that I'm tempted to cook all my meat this way and eat it on bread every time. It felt so hearty, and with a smaller piece of bread and a small side I could see this being a much more interesting presentation of your average dinner. I am thoroughly thrilled, and I can't wait to make it for everyone on Saturday.

A Sigil's Worth a Thousand Words

The Game of Thrones costume party is a mere two days away, and I am pumped. I can't decide whether I'm more excited for the food or the costumes. Either way, one of my last preparatory crafts was to make sigil pins so we can better determine who is who.

A sigil is defined as "an inscribed or painted symbol considered to have magical power." In the book series, sigils are the banners of one's House; family symbols, essentially. The Starks have a direwolf, grey on white, the Lannisters, a golden lion on red, etc.

At the party we're going to have a direwolf (house Stark), Daenerys Targaryen, Robert Baratheon, Dacey Mormont, and Margaery Tyrell. So, those were the sigils I made.

I made them really simply, just using felt. I printed out pictures of the sigils and cut them out. I was going to use an xacto knife to cut them out, but the felt proved too much for it, so instead I traced the outlines of the sigils right onto the felt and cut them out with scissors. For the black animals, we ended up having to use white out because that was all we had, but next time I'd use a white colored pencil or something.

I took the widest and tallest to get the size of the pennants, and then cut those out in the appropriate colors in the same way. Then I used felt glue to put them together!

The pins that I got were craft pins that came with adhesive backs, so after the felt glue dried I flipped them over and pressed the pins on, adhesive side down, and tadaa! I think they look pretty great. I'm really proud of Baratheon (the stag on gold) and Targaryen (the dragon on black). They were a pain to cut out, but they look pretty ballin'.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tyroshi Honeythumbs

It has been awhile. I actually started getting crazy hours at work, so I was pretty well occupied! But now it's slowing down and I've got things to do!

So I've mentioned before the Game of Thrones costume party that I'm hosting (in less than a week!). But the party is not just going to be about the costumes. Martin is meticulous in his descriptions of food throughout the series, so the costume party is also a dinner party.

One of the desserts we have planned is Tyroshi honeyfingers. Tyrosh is one of the Nine Free Cities in A Song of Ice and Fire, and the exile princess Daenerys Targaryen spent time there during her childhood while running from the Usurper, Robert Baratheon.

I found the recipe on this fantastic blog, Inn at the Crossroads, which recreates the meals and foods described by Martin in great detail in the books. The recipe for the Tyroshi honeyfingers is here.

I used the modern recipe as opposed to the Roman one. Gotta love Roma, but they just didn't look as appetizing. So anyway, I started with the modern syrup. The ingredients were:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup good quality honey
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 10 cardamom seeds
  • dash each of ground clove and cinnamon
"Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and gradually boil until it thickens slightly." I ended up having not enough honey, and I couldn't find cardamom seeds at the grocery store. This proved to be a mortal error. The honey was overwhelmed by the water, and my guess (hope) is that the cardamom seeds are some kind of thickening agent. I don't know how thick the syrup was supposed to get, but it remained thinner than pure honey. It was also really, really sweet; too sweet for me. I think that was the clove. So for the purposes of the party, I will either let someone who has more experience with syrups and sauces make it, or we'll stick with plain old honey.

The batter was easier.
  • 200ml (6.76 fl. oz) warm water
  • 280g (9.87 oz) all purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons liquid vegetable oil + 2cups for frying
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon instant dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar
  • A pinch of salt
Minus the part where the measurements were not in what's on my measuring cups, haha. Google fixed that, though. Instructions: "Combine dry ingredients in a bowl, then add wet ingredients. Cover with clingfilm and allow to rise for two hours."

I ended up watching the HP7.1 during those two hours, but that movie is longer than two hours, and I ran out of time before I had to go see HP7.2. I had to put the batter in the fridge overnight. It didn't hurt it, but I had to add two tablespoons of flour to soak up the yeast juice that continued to ooze.

Anyway, this morning I was ready to fry.

I got a big frying pan and poured 1" of vegetable oil in, as per the instructions. The cooks from IatCR recommended using a bag to pipe lines of batter in the oil to achieve a finger-like shape, so I'd bought a cheapie cake icing bag at Giant. The batter, however, is much runnier than icing tends to be, and it was determined to come out both ends. I ended up losing a lot of batter to the sink. Instead, I decided to use a regular old Ziploc bag, as per my childhood cake decorating. This was not entirely successful, though--the bag I had was a special Ziploc bag whose bottom expands to that it can be sat upright. Nice for storage, less nice for cutting a corner off for piping. I kept it pretty narrow by squeezing it as I piped, but I still ended up with honeythumbs instead of honeyfingers.

Next time, I'll just use a regular four-corner sandwich bag. Anyway. "Place the oil on high heat until hot, then turn heat back to medium." On my stove, after turning it down to medium, I turned it back up to medium-hot. My first two fingers burned because the oil was so hot, but when it got down to medium they took a long time to turn golden-brown. Somewhere in between worked nicely.

I dumped the syrup because I couldn't stomach it, and since I was out of honey, I dusted mine with powdered sugar and at them like carnival funnel cakes. They were delicious! You can even throw some maple syrup on them. The taste is reminiscent of a crisp Belgian waffle. And the nice thing is that even though they're fried, they're fried in oil, not fat, so it's not as...fattening.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Not Built in a Day

So it's probably safe to assume that if I'm writing a blog, writing is something I enjoy, yes? This is true. I'm a writer in my spare time, such as it is. As it would happen, I'm writing a medieval fantasy novel. This novel was begun in 10th grade biology when I decided that the four base proteins of DNA (Adenine, Guanine, Thymine, and Cytosine) sounded like cool names. Those four proteins became four witch clans, who rule each region of their country from their castles in the furthest corners.

Reading A Song of Ice and Fire has inspired me to work on the novel again, though they're not terribly similar. My craftiness of late has then also been directed towards some of the items and landscapes of my own universe.

Hence, my first original fantasy craft: a clay model of Cytosine Castle, set in the far north of my imaginary country, which the Clan of Wit and Knowledge calls home.

Oven-bake clay (I used the Sculpey brand, as per a number of blogger recommendations)
Aluminum foil
Small canvas board (for the base)
Spray adhesive (I used Elmer's craft adhesive spray)
Floral moss
Floral rocks
Dowel rods

Step One: cover your work area. I ended up with a combination of foil and paper towels down on the table. I started working on just the square of foil; there is some time required between each step, so you don't necessarily need to have all of your materials on hand, but it's nice to have them close anyway.

Step Two: build your castle out of foil. Oven-bake clay, especially the kind you bake at home, shouldn't really be thicker than 1/2 inch. The outer clay would become too brittle before the inner clay was baked through. Therefore, you first have to build a skeleton for your sculpture out of armature wire or something like aluminum foil. The foil was quick and easy; however, make it dense. I just kind of haphazardly crumpled up foil and left a lot of air in, which made it really difficult to keep shape later when I was smoothing sections of clay together.

Step Three: add clay. Work the clay in your hands until it's nice and soft, then roll into small sheets with the dowel rod, or any smooth cylindrical object. Cover your skeleton with the sheets and smooth creases by blending with your thumb and forefinger. Remember to keep the clay thinner than 1/2 inch. To make rolls, like I've used on the doors and the balcony, roll a chunk of clay out with your two forefingers, rolling on the fatter parts to even them out. For the cones, roll out as circular a sheet as possible, then pinch the center between thumb and forefinger and twist the remaining clay around. To make the ramparts, roll out a circular sheet and roll the edges up, then depress at intervals with a toothpick.

Step Four: bake the clay. Follow the instructions on your clay packaging. The Sculpey clay requires 15 minutes at 275 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1/4 inch of thickness. Even if your clay's a little thicker in some places, I would start at 15 minutes and check on it then. Allow to cool completely, ideally overnight to let it set.

I'm afraid I slacked on the process pictures for the next sections, so bear with me.

Step Five: paint. My castle is white with grey accents, and the stone is "flecked with black." I painted to these specifications as best I could.

Step Six: assemble. After the paint is dry, make sure your workspace is covered, and spray the canvas board with the adhesive. Set the castle/sculpture in its place on the board. Arrange the floral rocks and moss where desired, applying more adhesive as needed. I also drew a banner with the Clan's symbol on it; I glued a toothpick along the top of the banner, and glued this to a thin dowel rod cut in half. This was glued on the back of the board.

And voila! A castle:

This was a lot of fun! I hope to be able to play with the clay a little more, next time using a much more dense foil skeleton. I think that will help add a more authentic, solid look. I'm also going to play around with texturizing options. I used a toothpick to try and add some stone detail, but it would have been painstaking to go over the whole thing that way, so next time I will make use of a stamp or something similar. The coolest thing was the moss. Especially in the last picture, it really gives it an earthy feel, which is nice. Really completes the picture.