Monday, April 22, 2013

Skyrim Recipe: Elsweyr Fondue

There's a Khajit caravan that travels the roads and byways of Skyrim, appearing outside town from time to time to offer rare goods. I like to have my character stop by for a bit of moon sugar and some light conversation about the warm, exotic sands of Elsweyr, the Khajit homeland. But there's one thing I always wonder: just how does a desert kitty stay warm and groovy in the frozen wastes of Skyrim?

The answer, it turns out, is cheese fondue.

Cheese fondue and a bottle of skooma: not just for 1970's lounge cats anymore.
More specifically, Elsweyr fondue, a tasty recipe made from three simple ingredients in-game: ale, moon sugar, and an Eidar cheese wheel.

Beer? Cheese? Two of my favorite things! How, then, could I resist attempting a real world version? Well, lucky you: I couldn't.

Cheese fondue is a very simple dish with a history dating back several hundred years. It's little more than a thick cheese sauce made with beer or wine at low heat in a communal pot, into which diners dip cubes of bread. There are literally thousands of recipes built on this simple foundation. Variation comes from what type of cheese or liquor is used, what seasonings are chosen, or the addition of thickeners or emulsifiers (such as flour or egg).

As with other Skyrim-based recipes, the goal was to achieve an end result that came as close to the in-game description as possible, but was also tasty and relatively easy to make.

In this case, the first challenge came with how Elsweyr fondue is depicted in-game, as compared to what your average actual cheese sauce or cheese fondue looks like in reality. This is what game designers at Bethesda thought Elsweyr fondue should look like:

Image copyright Bethesda Game Studios.
Aside from being a liquid almost, but not quite, entirely unlike fondue... well, would you eat that? I sure wouldn't. It looks like the worst, most industrial chili ever made. If the game designers were trying to convey the bleak lawlessness of Skyrim in a single meal, I think they succeeded admirably with this one. It looks like a bowl of despair, Nord style. And it's certainly uncontaminated by cheese.

Which brings us to our next challenge: picking the right cheese. Take a look at this illustration of an Eidar cheese wheel:
Image copyright Bethesda Game Studios.
I've eaten a lot of cheese in my day, and that picture right there just screams STILTON to me. Stilton is a well-marbled blue cheese with a thick, brownish rind, lovely and creamy when at its most ripe. It goes very well with sweetish red wines and very ripe fruit... and it's definitely a stinky cheese. A wedge of the stuff, improperly sealed up, can make the inside of your fridge smell like feet, so I couldn't even imagine how rank a whole load of it would smell, bubbling away on a hot stove.

So Lexi and I decided against using just Stilton for this one. Instead, we chose a combination of cheeses for flavor, meltability, and scent. We also wanted to come up with a cheese that would melt well, becoming stable and smooth without the need for any emulsifiers, since none are called for in the game recipe.

Our family of ingredients: beer, cheese, fruit, and moon sugar.

The cheese we picked for our base was Snofrisk, a smooth, very mild, slightly tangy Norwegian cream cheese made mostly of goat's milk. We added a lovely, mild, soft French blue cheese (the front wedge in the image above) to stand in for the Eidar wheel and decided to pretend that Eidar Cheese would be a smooth, creamy, marbled goat cheese best represented by combining these two.   Add my favorite go-to amber ale (Silver City's Ridgetop Red), sumac moon sugar simple syrup... and it all melted into a magical tasty recipe that would do any Khajit proud. Here it is, in all its glory.

Butter (optional)
1 4.4-oz. container of plain Snofrisk cheese
About 4 oz. soft, creamy blue cheese
Beer or ale
Moon sugar simple syrup (see recipe below)
Culinary sumac or lavender (to correct seasonings as needed)
Bread and/or fruit wedges for dipping

1. Melt a pat of butter in the top of a double boiler over medium heat. This is optional, but can help prevent sticking.
2. When the butter foams, add the Snofrisk. Whisk slowly with the butter until well blended.
3. Whisk in beer or ale, 4 oz. at a time or so, until the texture is thick and creamy, somewhere between the consistency of a melted milkshake and unwhipped whipping cream.
4. Add the blue cheese in bits and gradually whisk in until smooth.
5. Add a tablespoon or two of the moon sugar simple syrup. This will sweeten the fondue, so check to taste before adding a whole bunch of it.
6. If your moon sugar simple syrup was on the mild side, add lavender or sumac a teaspoon at a time to adjust seasonings.
6. If your fondue is a bit too thick, thin it with more beer or ale.
7. Mess it forth into a pre-warmed earthenware bowl or your favorite fondue pot, and eat by dipping in sliced apples or chunks of lightly toasted bread!

It should look more or less like this, a little thicker if you wish.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Several Tbsp of lavender or culinary sumac

Awhile back Lexi and I came up with a very serviceable recipe for moon sugar based on a microwave hard candy recipe. Initially I wanted to add the straight moon sugar to this recipe, but Lexi noted that we might have difficulties with it melting smoothly, and would end up with cheese sauce with bits of half-melted moon sugar floating in it rather than a smooth, creamy, dippable sauce. So instead, I took her advice and opted to make a simple syrup instead.

The process is simple: boil 1 cup of granulated white sugar in 1 cup of water. Stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat immediately and add lavender or culinary sumac to taste, usually 1 or 2 Tbsp. Let cool and use as you would in any simple syrup recipe. (If you make with lavender, we recommend straining before use to get the lavender bits out.)

Lexi and I made two different kinds of moon sugar, one for each of Skyrim's moons (Masser and Secunda). One uses lavender, the other culinary sumac; each have their own flavor qualities, and we kept this in mind when choosing ingredients for the fondue. Lavender makes a very floral, pretty flavor, but it's very strong. Sumac is more musky, like one of those flavors you've met before but just can't put your tongue on it... it's also more subtle than the lavender.

So for the first workup of this recipe I chose a milder French cheese and a solid, not-very-hoppy amber ale to go with the sumac without drowning out the flavor. The breads were chose were a dark rye (as might be found in the Nordic wilds) and an Italian artisan loaf, cut into large chunks and lightly toasted on a baking sheet at about 325F for 10 minutes or so. Round it out with slices of a firm, fleshy apple (like Granny Smith or Fuji) and you can dine with the coolest cats on the tundra.

And don't forget the skooma...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Skyrim Food That We'll Never Make


Gwen and I have been fielding some requests from readers, and seeing some requests posted on Skyrim forums around the intertoobs that we make some specific things from the land of Skyrim.  But there are some things that we will never make and you will never see on this site.  Here's why... 


1. Boiled Cream Treat

Because it's a fracking donut.  I can't believe how much discussion I've seen online about this.  "What is it?  Is it a bagel?  What could it be?  It's fascinating!"  Seriously?  WTF.  IT'S A DONUT.  We're not going to spend our time and effort recreating something you can buy at a grocery store for 49 cents.

You can read this two ways: "Boiled" + "Cream Treat", where the cream treat itself is boiled.  That's just stupid.  or "Boiled Cream" + "Treat".  Oh, boiled cream?  Like CUSTARD?! Or PUDDING?!  Tell me you've never made the kind of instant pudding at home where you have to heat the milk first.   In all fairness, those of you under the age of 20 may have only ever had instant pudding, but let this be the time you learn from Gramma Lexi about how things were in the olden days of 1995.  Oh wait - it's not that old.  You can buy it right next to the instant stuff right now.

How exotic and mysterious!

2. Sweetrolls

Sweetrolls are everywhere in Skyrim, and everyone wants to taste them, including us.  This is a legit recipe that's got some of its own interesting challenges, but frankly, it's been done.  To death.  We don't think the world needs yet another sweetroll recipe right now.  Other sites did it first.  And probably better. - The original and still Champeen!


3. Potage Magnifique

Because it's nasty.  It's a flour gravy filled with vegetables.  Potage was peasant food in the middle ages that people had to eat out of necessity that was bland and subsistence-only food.  It's also the in-game joke.  The 'Gourmet' who wrote the book Uncommon Taste can't cook.  His whole presence in the game is a parody of arrogant TV chefs and his recipes are bunk. This one is no exception.  Sunlight Souffle without the eggs?  That's not a typo, it's irony.

 IT'S A JOKE.  IT'S SUPPOSED TO TASTE LIKE ASS.  (Actually it looks like ass too)

BTW, this goes for all the rest of the recipes in Uncommon Taste as well.   Pfft.

4.  Boring, Common or Otherwise Uninspired Recipes

There's a lot of really interesting in-game food.  Aaaaaannnd... there's a lot that's not.  We're not going to make things like Beef Stew, Roast Chicken, or Clam Meat.  If it's got a clear real-life analogy, there are hundreds or even thousands of recipes out there that you can try.  What makes our cooking juices flow is the stuff nobody else is doing, or stuff that's super challenging.  While we might do a Horker Stew with pork and lavender sometime, we'll probably not post a recipe for a baked potato. 

So there you have it.  The Foods We'll Never Make.  As an aside, although we love Skyrim, we've been itching to get back to our bloggy cooking roots and do more food from things not Skyrim related.  There will be a few more Tamriel recipes, sure, but expect to see an increasing number of recipes from Britcoms, movies, cartoons and other geeky sources.  We can't be one-dimensional now, can we?