Sunday, July 29, 2012

Easy Dune Cupcakes

Spice Cake and Chocolate Sietch.  Note the edible glitter spice blow.

Arrakis.  Dune.  Dessert Planet.

I'm a huge Dune geek.  I love Star Wars and Star Trek, and have great respect for Stargate, Doctor Who, Ray Harryhausen and the like.  But in my heart of hearts, Dune is where my geeky little soul truly lies.  I've read all the books, played the board games (both versions), the video game and heavily compared and critiqued the David Lynch movie version to the SyFy series.

So when one of my oldest friends asked for Dune cupcakes for his birthday, I was compelled to oblige.  My friend is a pretty avid fan himself and when he once called my then-new-boyfriend a geek, the bf simply replied, "He had a collectible sandworm figure in the original box, and then had a second one to play with.  I'm not too concerned with him calling me a geek."

Occasionally, I run across really great Dune-themed cakes. 
See this? It's awesome. Yeah, I can't make that.*

That cake is amazing but impossible for a mere mortal. Instead, following are cupcakes that any Fremen can make in his sietch. 

Arrakis Spice Cake with Spice Frosting

Spice Cake
Any spice cake recipe will do.  I used the America's Test Kitchen recipe and it was delicious but crazy complex so I recommend just using a mix.

Many, many ingredients.

Make the cupcakes about 2 hours ahead of time so they have plenty of time to cool.  
It's best if your cupcakes have flat tops, not domed ones.  Makes 'em easier to decorate.

Flat Tops.  They're not just for the 80's anymore.

Spice Frosting
2 8-oz packages Cream Cheese, softened
1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter, softened
2 Cups Powdered Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt
2 Tbl Cinnamon
1/4 Cup Real Maple Syrup

2 tsp Maple Extract

Cream the butter and cream cheese together.  Add the sugar and cream until smooth.  Add the syrup, cinnamon, salt and extract.  Set the bowl in the fridge for about 15 minutes to set up.

Shai-Hulud: Gummy Worms (or any kind of edible wormy thing), cut to fit on the cakes
Sand: Vanilla Wafers or Shortbread Cookies, crushed into cumbs
Rock: Bulk Chunk Chocolate, smashed with a hammer into small chunks
Spice:  Edible Gold Glitter, available at specialty baking shops

Sietch Signs
Make tiny flags for the cupcakes by writing or printing the names of the sietches, cutting them into small flags and gluing to toothpicks or party picks.

Sietch Abbir
Sietch Gara Kulon
Sietch Jacurutu
Sietch Tabr
Tuek's Sietch
Windgap Sietch

Frost the cupcakes by hand.  You can carefully sculpt dunes if you're good.  I'm not, so mine were flat desert.

We'll never reach the safety of Chocolate.  Well, maybe that small Chocolate.

 Sand: Either roll the cupcake tops in the cookie crumbs, or sprinkle the crumbs from the top.
Rock: Carefully poke in some of the chocolate shards to resemble a sietch.
Worm: Gummy worms don't bend well, so get creative. Shai-Hulud won't mind.
Spice: Sprinkle a little glitter around the worm. The worm is the spice.

Tasty enough for the Kwisatz Haderach!


*Courtesy of Jana's Fun Cakes.  Click the photo to see the source post.
**Courtesy of  Click the photo to see the source post.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Skyrim Food: Apple Cabbage Stew

Pardon me while I stop mid-fight to eat 20 bowls of Stew.

Apple Cabbage Stew.  Sounds tasty, yeah?  Well evidently in Skyrim the only seasoning anyone uses is Salt.  That's fine if you're living in a fantasized medieval Nordic land, but for the rest of us non-Stoics with more than 2 tastebuds who don't actually like eating raw dog meat and mammoth snout, getting this recipe to the Tasty Place was tricky.

The more posts we do, the more Gwen and I feel like what makes our site special is our overwhelming (some would say unhealthy) obsession with canon.  A lot of food blogs are written by cool, well-balanced people with interesting interpretations on recipes.  We're not those people. 

We actually debated making a common version of this stew that exists in the real world.  There was discussion about things like chicken stock, onions, thyme, red wine; ingredients that would make it conventionally tasty and easy to make. 

Easy?  Conventional?  Non-Canon?  BLASPHEMY!!

I  have a giant monkey brain that I use to think through creative problems.  Three ingredients?  No seasoning but salt?  No problem.  Chicken stock is for the weak.

Liberties were taken with the quantities and preparations of the three main ingredients, but no additional foods or seasonings have been added.  The final redaction is a riff on traditional Northern European sauerkraut dishes.  Sauerkraut (preserved cabbage) would be a very likely preparation in Skyrim.

Ingredients: Apple, Cabbage, Salt.

  • 3 or 4 Sweet Apples, like Honeycrisp or Red Delicious
  • 2 lb Salt-Cured Sauerkraut, Canned sauerkraut won't do.  Get the naturally cured stuff in the refrigerator section at the store made with Cabbage and Salt.
  • 4 Cups Apple Juice or Apple Cider, The sweeter, the better; you're not going to add any sugar.
  • Salt to taste
Found these authentic Skyrim apples in a barrow. They look like they'd been there for a couple millennia.

  1. Empty the sauerkraut into a strainer, rinse and drain well.  Squeeze out extra moisture with your hands.
  2. Dice all but one of the apples
  3. Add the drained sauerkraut, apple juice and diced apples to a large pot and simmer over low heat for 3.5 hours
  4. Dice the final apple and add it to the stew
  5. Simmer another 30 minutes or until the stew is a nice dark golden color.
  6. Salt to taste

It's actually pretty good - it's a crunchy sweet-n-sour hot dish that can double as a side to pork. It's also vegan.  The sauerkraut absorbs up the sugars from the apples and apple juice and it mellows out the tang of the kraut.  The longer you cook it, the more caramelized the stew will become, and the sweeter and darker it will get.

Monday, May 7, 2012

May Wine

NOTE: This post was originally posted in 2011.  It's such a great recipe and so timely for the season that we're giving it a bump.

For a number of years, Lexi and I have made our own variation on May wine as a way of heralding the arrival of spring. Traditionally associated with Beltane or Mayday, it's a light, white wine infused with the fresh flavor of sweet woodruff.

Galium odoratum, Sweet Woodruff
Sweet woodruff is a perennial ground cover with bright green leaves. It grows well in shady, moist soil, and will take over your garden if not kept in check. Every year, sometime around the end of April, it puts out little stalks with lovely, sweet-scented white flowers, which stay in blossom through May. The plant smells like fresh cut grass, due to the presence of coumarin (the same stuff that gives vanilla and lavender their own fresh smell).

Both Lexi and I have quite a bit of sweet woodruff growing in our respective gardens. This year, my plants had the fortune of blooming first, so I brought a few sprigs down to the beach house to mix up a bottle of May wine.

May wine
A few flowering sprays of sweet woodruff (more flower than leaf, though a few leaves are OK)
A bottle or two of dry White wine (rhines or dry rieslings work well)
Honey (optional)

Don't wash the flowers, even if they have aphids on them. Use flowers that haven't been sprayed with pesticides or grown too close to a highway since you won't be washing them. The pollen is much of what gives this drink its flavor so you don't want to wash it off. Filter the wine through cheesecloth before decanting to get rid of any unwanted detreius or bugs.

Mix 1/2 cup of honey into each bottle of wine at room temperature. (I usually drink a half glass of the wine, both for quality control and to make enough room to add the honey and mix right in the bottle.) Add 4 or 5 sprigs of woodruff flowers to each bottle. Cap or recork and refrigerate overnight. Serve in a smallish glass, 1 or 2 oz. Best served the next day, but will keep in the fridge for 4 or 5 days.

WARNING: Sweet woodruff may be toxic at high doses due to the coumarin. As with any recipe or food mentioned in this blog, CONSUME AT YOUR OWN RISK. When in doubt, throw it out.

Do not let the plants sit in the wine for more than 12 hours; be sure to filter and decant within 12 hours to prevent the coumarin level from getting too high.

A light, flowery drink that goes well with light, flowery snacks: seasonal fruits, small cakes, creamy, herby cheeses, and spring salads.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cross Country for Crabcakes


Yup, Baltimore. To eat and post about all the great food there.  YES, Baltimore.  YES, for food. YES.  Is this thing on? 

This trip has been almost 10 years in the making.  Lexi's Favorite Restaurant Anywhere is located in Pasadena, Maryland so it's gonna be a Girls' Trip to take Gwen to dinner. 

Baltimore is really underappreciated as a food destination, mostly because folks have a hard time differentiating between blue collar food and blue collar culture.  I know, I know, Tony Bourdain calls BTown a "Rust Belt" city.  Sure, it's industrial.  But it's also been situated right on the shores of Chesapeake Bay for hundreds of years and that means a rich and storied seafood tradition by folks who have learned to make the best with what they've got.  And lemme tell ya, it's good.

Some people may think this is what Baltimore food is about:
Those people are wrong.

Both of us were raised on the pebbly shores of Puget Sound, and admittedly we're totally spoiled when it comes to seafood.  We grew up with clams, mussels, oysters, crab, salmon, cod and all manner of seafood practically at our doorstep.  As much as we love local seafood, we're totally down for trying new experiences and new traditions when it comes to fishy goodness.  Hence: Baltimore - first stop: Crabtown!

The native Puget Sound Dungeness Crab.  Note the size.

In the Northwest, you get more or less 1 crab per person.  The local dungeness are big, and the meat is sweet and easy to pick.  It also shreds easily and getting true lump meat from a dungeness is nearly impossible.  If you get just one bigger Alaskan crab off of a boat,  it's a crab party for 4!

In the Pacific, crabs get big.

The Atlantic has smaller blue crabs.  They eat 'em by the bushel in Maryland: steamed and pasted thickly with old bay, lumped into crabcakes, cooked into soups and stews.  Ordering crabs by the dozen?  That's crazy talk!  We've gotta do it.

Atlantic Blue Crab.  How tiny and cute!  I'll take a dozen.

Baw'lmer is going to be a seafood tour extraordinaire.  The restaurants are working class simple, with little decor and low ceilings.  The drinks are stiff and the beer tends to be either Budweiser or Yuengling.  And every place worth a damn has crab, crabcakes, stuffed quahogs, stuffed flounder, fried softshell crab, steamed shrimp, the list goes on and on... And Old Bay is an option everywhere.  It's really the first American Curry.  But more on that later...

The blue collar difference in the attitude about seafood is most evident in restaurants.   In Seattle, you order by the plate. In Baltimore, you order by the pound.  The west coast serves very spartan, usually Asian-influenced seafood dishes:

How it's done out West:  Note the elegant photography, the restrained presentation, the clean white plate. There's a chilled glass of white wine and a clean linen napkin somewhere in there too... the wine is probably some oaky overpriced chardonnay with a pretentious name.

How it's done back East:  Awwww Yeah!  A big ass pile of steamy, spicy crabs dumped onto a table covered with newspaper to be picked clean by hand and served with pitchers of cold lager.

While we're gone, eating our way through the Eastern Seaboard, posting will be suspended for a week.  HOWEVER, if you have suggestions for where we should go, ideas on what to eat, or just generally want to follow what we're up to, we'll be constantly on twitter @feastygeeks.  If you're in the area and want to meet up, let us know!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Skyrim Treats: Moon Sugar

Moon Sugar; sweet and mysterious
Wander the roads and byways of Skyrim, and eventually you're bound to run into a rough encampment by the side of the road on the way into town. These clusters of tents are temporary trading posts set up by the nomadic Khajiiti, a feline race from the exotic desert land of Elsweyr. Here you can buy and sell goods many merchants in town will avoid, including the less-than-licit moon sugar.

Pure, uncut, from the wilds of Elsweyr. The first sample is always free.
Image source Bethesda Game Studios.
Moon sugar is described as a crystal made from the canes of certain grasses in Elsweyr. It has magical properties, can be used as an alchemy ingredient, and is a strong narcotic. It's illegal in much of Tamriel: in Morrowind many shopkeepers won't even do business with you if you're carrying the stuff (not so in the more lawless land of Skyrim). Refine it, and you have skooma.

The in-game picture shown above depicts pale but not colorless lumps or chunks of various sizes. It reminded us immediately of rock candy.  Figuring that nobody really wants to wait a whole week for traditional rock candy to crystallize, eventually we found this easy microwave hard candy recipe, upon which we based the recipe below.

The land of Elsweyr is an exotic, somewhat mysterious desert land with a rich religious tradition, including some pretty hefty mythology about the moons of Tamriel: Masser and Secunda. There's plenty of in-game talk about Moon Sugar, but nothing specifically about which one, so it made the most sense to do a version for each moon.  

Masser and Secunda
Image Source Bethesda Game Studios
Masser is floral and sweet, while Secunda is dark and mysterious.  The resulting Moon Sugar(s) should be laden with subtle flavors which seem familiar but foreign to the average Nord, as if one can't quite put their tongue on just what they're tasting...

Early recipes started with vanilla sugar and vanilla-cardamom sugar (vanilla bean pods and/or cracked cardamom pods scraped into a cup or two of sugar and left for a week to absorb the spices). That makes a good base, but I learned after a few trials that plain hard candy made this way will have a honeylike taste which tends to overwhelm the mildness of the vanilla. So it was back to the drawing board.

Eventually I came up with two good variations. The first was made with lavender sugar (made by putting two Tbsp of culinary lavender in with the vanilla sugar and letting it sit for a week, then sifting out the lavender). The end result is subtle and floral, with a lovely translucent golden color to it.

Top: Sumac Moon Sugar (Secunda)
Bottom: Lavender Moon Sugar (Masser)
I realized after I made it, however, that at least one of the recipes we came up with should fit the in-game Khajiit culture where it's made: dry, desert lands, exotic, distant, hot. Lavender is lovely, but it's a much more European herb: I always think of France when I think of lavender, and Lexi always thinks of the tundra around Whiterun. A better analog for Elsweyr would be some place like Arabia or North Africa, and the spice would be something grown and used heavily in the region. 

It also occurred to me that any flavor we chose would have to fit in with a future Elsweyr Fondue recipe, which uses Moon Sugar as an ingredient.  So instead of another sweet, floral herb found on the roads of Skyrim, we used Sumac.

I can hear you now: "What the hell is sumac?? Isn't that the poisonous stuff that gets you all itchy if you run into it in the woods??"

Well, that's poison sumac, yes... but culinary sumac is an entirely different animal. (Well, plant, really.) It's a small shrub which grows in tropical and subtropical zones across Africa, in dry desert lands much like the Khajiit homeland. The fruit is dried and ground into a rich purplish-reddish powder and used in Middle Eastern cooking. It's a little bit lemony, a little like cumin, and a little bit delicious and unfamiliar.

Here's the final recipe. For the Masser version, leave out the sumac.

1 cup vanilla, vanilla-cardamom, or lavender sugar (use standard white sugar only)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 Tbsp sumac (for the Secunda version only)
Vegetable oil (a flavorless oil like canola) or vegetable shortening
1-2 Tbsp powdered sugar

Oil or grease a jelly roll pan. Mix the flavored sugar and corn syrup in a microwave-safe bowl.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and microwave for 3 minutes. Remove from microwave and stir. Cover again and microwave for another 2 minutes. Add the sumac at this point, if you're making the Secunda version.

Remove from microwave, remove plastic wrap, and pour mixture onto oiled/greased jelly roll pan.
You can dust with powdered sugar at this point, but there's an easier way. See below.
Let cool until hard. Break into large chunks. Put the large chunks into a heavy-duty freezer bag, seal, and break them by tapping firmly with the side of a wooden spoon. Add powdered sugar to the bag and shake to coat pieces.

Store in an airtight container.

We can neither confirm nor deny that this recipe will have you yowling to the full moon like a wild feline on a hot summer's night. You'll just have to try it yourself.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Crunchy Frog

Crunchy Raw Unboned Real Dead Frog (to avoid prosecution)

The Crunchy Frog is a standard reference for all Monty Python afficionados.  The original 1969 sketch featuring Inspector Parrot and the Whizzo Quality Assortment is classic.  Tragically, there's a whole generation who aren't familiar with Monty Python and have never heard of a Crunchy Frog.  At my recent visit to PAX, only a very, very few recipients understood the reference.  It was a sad day in my geeky little world.

But fear not, good readers!   The crunchy frog is alive and well in a new modern interpretive crossover meme: the Harry Potter Chocolate Frog.  I couldn't decide whether to be pleased or saddened when Tycho, upon recieving one of these chocolates (that were actually labled 'Crunchy Frog'), commented on Harry Potter.  For the briefest of moments, I considered a wand and a well placed Crucio!  But at the end of the day, the fact that these candies can be equally enjoyed by both Potter and Python fans is actually kinda cool.

The main distinction between Crunchy Frog and the Chocolate Frog is this: The Crunchy Frog is a Real Dead Frog covered in Chocolate, while the Chocolate Frog is a Magic Live Frog made from Chocolate.  See the difference?
Insp. Praline: Am I right in thinking there's a real frog in here?
Mr. Milton: Yes. A little one.
Insp. Praline: What sort of frog?
Mr. Milton: A dead frog.

Since we originally went for Monty Python in this recipe, the idea was to create the experience of biting into a dead frog.  Real frogs are both a) hard to come by and b) disgusting, so instead I came up with the idea of filling a chocolate frog mold with red jelly and something crunchy.

Insp. Praline: Well don't you even take the bones out?
Mr. Milton: If we took the bones out it wouldn't be crunchy would it?

Honestly, the hardest part was finding chocolate frog molds that weren't cartoonish.  I ended up finding a pretty good mold here.  We decided to fill them with raspberry jelly and pretzel sticks, for that 'real dead frog' experience.  To make the Harry Potter variation, just leave out the fillings, and make a solid chocolate frog in the mold.

The addition of the candy eyes was an afterthought, but it really make them look great.  Also, making your own raspberry jelly is pretty time consuming.  After giving it much thought, I made the executive decision to use premade jelly sticks.

16 oz Dark or Bittersweet Chocolate - Either chips, or chopped up block chocolate.
8 oz Melting Chocolate, Almond Bark, or Candy Melt
2 Tbsp Chocolate Thinner (available at specialty baking shops)
24 Raspberry Jelly Sticks or small jelly candies
Small Pretzel Sticks
Small candy eyes (optional)

1. Melt the chocolate with the melting chocolate.  Directions abound.
2. If the chocolate is not runny like syrup, add the chocolate thinner.
3. Using a pastry brush, brush the molds with melted chocolate. This ensures that chocolate gets into all the little details in the mold.
4. Let the molds cool and set for a few minutes.
5. Add a broken raspberry stick and as many pretzels as you can fit into each frog mold.

6. Fill the molds with chocolate.
7. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes to set, then pop out of the molds and place in the fridge to finish hardening.
8. After hardening, Dab the candy eyes with a little melted chocolate and glue to the finished frogs.

The Solid Chocolate Harry Potter Version

UPDATE May 29, 2013: Just found a professional chocolatier that makes Crunchy Frogs!  It's not the same recipe, but we'd like to give them a shoutout just for doing it!  Carter's Chocolates in Port Orchard, WA

Monday, April 9, 2012

Skyrim Honey-Nut Treats

Restore 5 Points of Health

Honey Nut Treats can be found all over Skryim.  It's a pretty simple idea, really: nuts+honey+stick = sweet, caloric goodness.   Putting these on a stick totally makes sense, as they're so sticky that the Dovahkiin's hands would stick to his/her sword.  Try explaining THAT to a Falmer.

To be really canon, these would probably just be honey, nuts and spices mixed with boiled honey - kind of like simsimieh, but it's a serious pain in the ass to make and unless you're a professional candy maker, there's no guarantee that it will actually set up.  Instead, I've modified an easier marshmallow treat recipe to get a taste that's authentically Skyrim without the need for a French culinary degree.

When you're making these, take the time to go to a restaurant or craft store and get Candy Apple Sticks.  They're sturdy, the perfect size and look just right.  In the game, these treats are the size of a baby's arm, which I put down to the game rendering.  Using a Candy Apple stick produces a treat that's really just the right size for a real meat human (or Dunmer.  or Argonian.  or...).

"Nothing hits the spot right after a fight like Nuts on a Stick."

Recipe (yields about 2 dozen treats)
3 Cups of Puffed Rice Cereal
(you know, the kind that's got a copyright on the name)
3 Cups of Mixed Nuts (salted or unsalted, per your preference)
1/2 Cup Honey
1/2 Cup Peanut Butter
2 Cups Marshmallows
3 Tbsp. Cinnamon

Mix the cereal, nuts and cinnamon in a VERY large mixing bowl, and set aside.

Melt the marshmallows, peanut butter and honey in a very large pot over low heat. Stir well until everything is melted and combined.

Pour the melted mixture into the cereal and nuts, and stir well to combine.

We used unsalted peanuts and almonds.  It was kind of like tasty hippie food.

Transfer the mix to a large mixing bowl and chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.  The mix is too loose to form into balls when it's warm, and needs to chill a bit to firm up.

Take the mix out of the fridge and with damp hands (not soaking wet, just damp), mold the mix into balls that will be skewered onto the apple sticks. Damp hands keep the treats from sticking to you. Buttering your hands works too, but isn't as effective.

At this point, depending on the heat and humidity at your house, the treats may still be too loose to stay stuck on the apple stick. If this is the case, put the rolled treats on a tray and stick them in the freezer for about 15 minutes, then try to skewer them again.

These will keep for a week or more without refrigeration.  Just make sure to wrap or pack them in an airtight container.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Zombie Easter


Easter is almost upon us.  In honor of a holiday shared by Christians and Pagans alike, we'd like to share an ancient tradition that was started over 4 years ago by Lexi and her SO as a way to bring together friends from a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds who were 'orphaned' over the Easter Holidays: folks with either no family or celebration to attend.  How do you bring together a diverse group of people over a religious holiday?  Simple.  Just celebrate Zombie Easter.

Here's how we figure it:  Easter, at its most literal, is a resurrection holiday.  Since we don't want any fights or arguments between our friends about the nature or purpose of resurrection, or religion, or any other touchy subjects, this holiday is  all about that most fundamental expression of resurrection, Zombies.

After much consideration about the tradition of Easter in America, we've culled what we think are the most universal (in the colonial sense of the USA being the entire universe, of course) expressions of the holiday that everyone can relate to.

1. Have some Entertainment. A Zombie movie double feature!
Preferably humorous, or tongue-in-cheek.  The more implausible, the better.

Past Double Features...

  • Black Sheep* + Fido
  • Wild Zero + Zombieland
  • Dead Snow + Dead Alive

  • *Okay, okay, it's not strictly a zombie movie.  But it's perfect for getting in touch with the for the spirit of the event.

    2. Serve Food: Lots of snacks and traditional Easter food.
    For that true zombie experience,  serve whole, bone-in cuts of meat for the roasts.  The more primal, the better.  There's also a lot of sugar at this party, so having a variety of healthy, lighter fingerfoods on hand is important.

    Cheese and Meat tray
    Veggie and dip tray
    Fruit Tray
    Assortment of Chips and popcorn
    Easter Ham
    Leg of Lamb (Try Lexi's recipe here.)
    Potluck Side Dishes

    3. Offer Easter Treats, like TONS of candy
    Candy in bowls, candy on trays, candy displays, candy gift bags.  If nobody goes into a diabetic coma, you're doing it wrong. 

    A great place to find crazy easter candy is at dollar, discount and overstock stores.  You always find the wildest imported candies and most unexpected stuff there.

    4. A Fun Activity! How about Peep Mutilation?
    Really, any kind of marshmallow easter treats will do.  The sacrificial peep portion of the afternoon gets more and more involved each year.  Put out a tray with skewers, toothpicks, raspberry jam (for blood), tiny cocktail swords, and microwave safe plates. Encourage the guests to get creative.

    Peeps were boiled, fried, microwaved, sliced, diced, skewered, stigmata'ed, squished, bitten, and finally... eaten.

    We get more and more people at Zombie Easter every year.  Our friends and family love it (Christians and Pagans alike), and I love the fact that we can all get together to celebrate without any pesky religious arguments.   Really, isn't that what a holiday should be about?

    Monday, March 26, 2012

    Roast Chicken

    Spicy, Salty, Crispy Roast Chicken with skin that crackles when you eat it

    Roast Chicken is enigmatic. It's such a simple, basic meal but can be really tricky to get just perfect. It's one of our favorite meals at our house, and the chicken rarely makes it to the table; long before it's fully rested, we're standing over the stove, tearing a the crispy skin and picking off the juicy, steamy meat, blowing on our hot fingers. The tradition of impatiently tearing apart a whole chicken, hot from the oven is handed down to me by my mother, who learned much of her cooking many years ago in the tiny village of Ardaktos on Crete. This is another tried-and-true family recipe and it's f'ing delicious.

    This chicken recipe takes all day, be warned.

    To keep a chicken moist when it's cooked, be sure to brine it for at least an hour. The salt in the brine keeps the chicken meat from releasing moisture during the cooking process, and the sugar helps to crisp and brown the skin. The recipe below is a basic unflavored brine, but you can tinker with it by using brown sugar, flavored salts, or adding crushed herbs and spices.

    Basic Brine
    1/2 C Sugar
    1/2 C Salt
    4 Cups Hot or Boiling Water
    6 Cups Cold or Ice Water
    1 Very Large Bowl
    Note the weight of your chicken, you'll need it later

    Mix the salt, sugar and hot water in a large bowl, stirring until the crystals are dissolved. If using other spices, add them to the hot mixture as well as the heat will help to release the flavors. Cool the mixture down by adding the cold water. We don't want a chicken sitting for hours in warm water, getting us all sick, now would we?

    Remove the giblets from the cavity and set them aside for stock. Put the chicken in the brine, opening up the cavity and making sure it fills with brine. Cover and refrigerate. Brine for at least 2 hours, up to 12 hours. The longer the brining, the saltier the chicken will taste.

    Preparing the Chicken
    To get a crispy skin, the chicken skin must be dry when it goes into the oven.

    1 Chicken
    1 Lemon

    1. Remove the chicken from the brine. Do not rinse.
    2. Loosen the skin all over the chicken by gently running your hand under the skin and separating it from the meat. Be careful not to tear.
    3. Zest 1 lemon into a small bowl. Juice half of it into the same bowl.
    4. Gently pour the juice/zest mixture between the chicken skin and meat. Massage it around so it spreads evenly.
    5. Pat the chicken dry inside and out and set on an open plate in the refrigerator for about an hour to dry.

    Roasting the Chicken
    Stuffing the chicken cavity with a dense stuffing will make the chicken cook unevenly. Make sure that if you stuff it, only use loosely packed herbs like rosemary sprigs or a few cloves of garlic so that the heat can circulate evenly.

    Preheat Oven to 450

    4 Tbl Olive Oil
    4-6 Tbl Dried Oregano
    2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
    2 Cloves Garlic, Smashed
    1 Tbl Salt (go easy on the salt if it was a long brine)
    1 Tbl Pepper

    1. Rub the inside of the chicken cavity with 1 Tbl Olive Oil and the smashed garlic.
    2. Rub the outside of the chicken with the remaining olive oil.
    3. Mix the Oregano and Cayenne, and rub it all over the chicken
    4. Salt and pepper the chicken on both sides.

    Place the chicken breast side down in an open roasting pan with a rack on the bottom. By roasting the back on top for the first part of cooking, the chicken bastes itself and stays moist.

    Do not put water in the pan, and do not let the chicken touch the bottom of the pan. Circulating the hot air around the bird helps to crisp the skin.

    5. Place in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 350.
    6. The chicken will roast for about 20 minutes per pound, but will be turned over for the last 20 minutes so set the timer for the total roast time minus 20 minutes.
    7. Turn the chicken over 20 minutes before the roasting time is done.
    8. Add more time if needed. The chicken is done when the juices run clear and a thermometer inserted between the breast and thigh reads 160 (the chicken will continue to cook once it's been removed from the oven - the temp you want is actually 165).
    9. If the skin isn't brown enough when the chicken is done, turn on the broiler and crisp it up. It should only take a minute or two - watch carefully so it doesn't burn.

    Let the bird rest, uncovered, for about 15 minutes. Carve and serve.

    Unless you're at our house, in which case the chicken is GONE as soon as it's cool enough to touch.

    Monday, March 19, 2012

    Skyrim Cocktail #3: The Cliff Racer

    The Cliff Racer from Talen-Jei at the Riften Bee & Barb

    This is the third and final drink in the succession of Talen-Jei's Skyrim cocktails: guaranteed to aid you in your quest to drink yourself to Oblivion. You can read recipes elsewhere on this blog for the White Gold Tower and the Velvet Lachance. As noted earlier, these drinks are redactions based on the in-game descriptions from Talen-Jei at the Bee and Barb in Riften. 
    ...Last, and only for the bravest of souls, we have the Cliff Racer, which is Firebrand Wine, Cyrodiilic Brandy, Flin, and Sujamma.
    Both of the previous drinks we did were elegant, beautiful, fanciful drinks. This one proved the hardest to figure out - it has the most fictional ingredients, and we just couldn't wrap our heads around what it should be.

    We started by researching the game history of the drink and the ingredients.

    Cliff Racers are half-avian, half-reptile monsters of Vvardenfell in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. This is ostensibly where the drink gets its name. Cliff Racers are something like perpetually cranky pterodactyls. They are highly aggressive and tend to ambush the player, attacking in swarms.
    • Firebrand Wine was the hardest to research. Other than being the subject of a side quest for the Thieves' Guild quest line in Skyrim, it was pretty open to interpretation.
    • Cyrodiilic Brandy is clearly well... brandy. It's expensive and imported.
    • Flin is also an expensive import: an Imperial Whiskey with few negative side effects that is often the subject of contentous exorbitant pricing.
    • Sujamma is a potent Dunmer liquor highly valued as a strength potion.
    So let's see.... expensive brandy and whiskey, that's not too tough to find. Some sort of fancy wine or spirits...firebrand=firewater...?? Something spicy or cinnamon flavored, perhaps? Lastly... a Strength potion. Hm... a strength potion. A stren-...Wait, Wha-!? WTF?!



    We quickly came to the disturbing realization that this drink is the Skyrim equivalent of a Jaeger Bomb. Quickly redubbed the White Trash Tower and the Skyrim Cart Bomb, we set about the dubious business of designing a drink that we'd be embarrased to order in public.

    Not being huge fans of Red Bull, it took a LOT of tries, and a lot of drinks down the drain to get this to a point that it was drinkable. I think it was more because of the Red Bull than the actual mix or recipe. Gwen and I...well, we don't care much for Red Bull, it seems.

    By the way, you know what they say about the more drunk you are, the less you care about what you're drinking? It's not true. I was plastered and every sample still tasted like licking the inside of a double-wide. From 1970.

    In the end, we came up with a recipe that is suitably trashy, alcoholic and energizing. This drink is served as a bomb shot, ie: a tall glass of mixer into which is dropped a shot of some high proof spirit. Because how else would you serve a classy drink like this?

    Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you like), one shot didn't really make it as strong as Talen-Jei's description inferred, so we figured the answer was the solution to all of life's little problems: ADD MORE ALCOHOL. Double bomb: 1 Red Bull + 2 Shots.

    "Only for the bravest of souls" is right. Be warned that if you don't like Red Bull, it's gonna taste like ass. For lovers of Red Bull, it's not bad. The cinnamon really works. Trust me when I tell you that there's no way this can taste worse than some of our failed unholy recipe testing attempts (NEVER drink box-merlot+cheap blackberry brandy+red bull+cheap whiskey unless you like drinking pee).

    Not for the faint of heart.

    1 Red Bull in a pint glass (Sujamma)
    1 Shot Goldschlager or Cinnamon Schnapps (Firebrand Wine)
    1/2 Shot Good Brandy (Cyrodilic Brandy - sub fruit brandy)*
    1/2 Shot Good Whiskey (like Jameson)*
    *Note that if you're really feeling it, you can make it a triple by changing the recipe to 1 full shot each of brandy and whiskey. Just remember that if it comes back up, the Red Bull will too.

    Serve it with the shots on the side, or just make a big pitcher and fill your ale hat with it for the NasCART finals. Recommended food pairings: Doritos, Apple Cabbage Stew or Hungry Man Dinners. Don't forget your WhiteSnake Greatest Hits Cassette!! Or just loop Ragnar the Red over and over again on your console.

    Monday, March 12, 2012

    Skyrim Cocktail #2: The Velvet Lachance

    The Velvet Lachance
    Last week on FeastyGeeks... we posted our recipe for the first of three Skyrim cocktails, the White Gold Tower. This week, Lexi and m'self proudly present number two: the Velvet Lachance, named for Lucien Lachance, the former Speaker of the Black Hand from Oblivion. Talen-Jei describes the Velvet Lachance thusly:
    ...a mixture of blackberry, honey, spiced wine, and a touch of nightshade. Perfectly safe, I assure you.
    For this recipe, we enlisted the help of our friend-and-guest-barista Jeff (of Jeff's Chicken Noodle Soup fame), a fine young man whose awesomeness is rivaled only by his height.

    Being an assassins guild, any drink named for the Black Hand should be just a little dangerous but pleasant and smooth - at first. A few sips in, you realize that you got a little more than you bargained for; is it poison? What is that taste? The final notes must be mixed with pleasure and the realization that you feel a sting like the cold steel of a blade discovered too late.

    This time, all the in-game ingredients exist in the real world. The 'spiced' wine used was a Port, redolent of dark, gothic plots and old crumbling estates. The juice of canned blackberries in light syrup gave a nice blackberry flavor without adding too much sweetness or any berry seeds. If you must use commercial syrup, apply caution since they can easily become overwhelmingly sweet.

    One of the ingredients, however, is definitely poisonous: nightshade. Since we're not interested in killing anybody (outside of the game, anyway), we had to figure out an analog for the nightshade. As with the Dragon's Tongue from the White Gold Tower, we thought about whether or not we should try to emulate the plant from the game, or figure out a real world substitute:

    Nightshade. Image copyright Bethesda, via the Elderscrolls Wiki.
    I first considered using an edible daylily. Added to the drink as a garnish, it would probably look very lovely. But daylilies aren't in season here right now, and my spider sense told me that we really wanted something that would serve as an ingredient, not as decoration.

    Hello Wikipedia! With a little more research, I found that despite its poisonous nature, there are quite a few plants within the nightshade family that are edible. Eggplant, tomatoes, and potatoes make the list, along with a surprising ingredient possibility: chili peppers.

    The idea seemed weird on the surface: chili powder has a distinct flavor and scent, and we wondered if it would blend with the other ingredients. I suggested chipotle as a possibility, since the smoky flavor seemed a reasonable pairing with the sweet blackberry and red wine.

    Our first text mixtures didn't work at all. The ratio of chili powder to everything else was high enough that the flavor of chili was overwhelming. We thought of using cayenne, just for the bite, but we didn't have any.

    And then Jeff miraculously fixed everything.

    Jeff works as a barista at a local coffee chain. He's made every coffee drink under the sun, and he's damn good at it. Not long ago he started experimenting with chocolate chili pepper mochas, heavy on the dark chocolate syrup with just a touch of chili powder. The biggest challenge was figuring out how much chili powder to add, but after some practice he got it just right. Jeff's chili mochas are heady and delicious, much like a traditional Mexican chocolate.

    The trick is to add just the lightest, barest dusting of chili powder on the surface of the drink. To get the right amount, Jeff puts about 1/16 of a teaspoon of chipotle in the palm of his hand, takes a tiny pinch with his fingers, and sprinkles it sparingly.
    We had just the right blend of honey, wine, and blackberry. Jeff's chipotle powder elevated it to perfection. Here's the final recipe:

    The Velvet Lachance
    1 part port wine
    1 part blackberry juice or flavored syrup (NOT blackberry pancake syrup!!)
    Chipotle powder

    Ingredients: blackberry, honey, wine
    Drizzle about a 1/4" to 1/2" honey in the bottom of the glass.

    Honey in the bottom of the glass
    Mix the port wine and blackberry juice in a cocktail mixer, then pour into the glass. Gently stir some of the honey into the juice/wine mixture, but don't mix all of it in - leave a layer of honey at the bottom of the glass.

    Chipotle powder dusted on top
    Add the lightest, barest pinch of chipotle chili powder to the surface of the drink. We're talking hardly any here, just the faintest dusting, enough so that you can smell the smokiness of it, but not enough to be able to taste it. (We recommend using Jeff's pinch method, as outlined above.

    Let it sit for a minute or two, and enjoy.

    The chipotle is the stroke of genius in this drink. After a few minutes, the powder starts to sink into the liquid, eventually sticking to the layer of honey at the bottom. If you've gotten the amount right, you shouldn't be able to taste the chipotle at all, just note a slight whiff of smokiness.

    A few moments after taking a sip, our lips started to tingle and burn - the drink has bite, like the sting of an assassin's blade or a brew you realize only too late was poisoned. It gets sweeter the further down you go, as the honey gradually mixes in. It ends with a sting in its tail: the final swallow is an unexpectedly spicy taste of honey laced with smoky heat.

    The Night Mother would be proud.