Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Medieval Breakfast for the Dark Lady of Doona

“You must be the beloved cook I’ve heard so much about,” I said. 
She had a lilting laugh. “Ah, these men, they know no better. They’re just grateful for a hot meal.” Her gentle demeanor reminded me of my daughter. I wondered what Margaret must have thought sometimes when Carraigahowley Castle was overrun with men from my fleet.  
“Well, you have an admirer in me, too,” I said. I glanced with interest at the stone griddle she placed before the fire. “What are you making?”  
“Now that everyone has eaten, I’m having my own breakfast. Care to join me for some oatcakes and leeks?” She smiled as she reached for a wooden bowl.  
Dark Lady of Doona 

Back in my early blogging days circa 2010, I realized I had an opportunity to combine several interests on one platform. This was also the early days of the indie publishing movement—Smashwords was an innovative rising star that put cost-saving, professional tools in the hands of authors. Etiquette for social media and, indie book reviews, and online book tours was a common topic of debate, and it quickly became the focus of a number of newly formed indie author organizations.   

Some vestiges of those early days remain, but indie authors have even more sophisticated resources to do their research, manage their manuscripts, create professional-looking graphics, and market their work. The style and content of my own blogs have changed over time. A series about how food is portrayed in historical fiction was buried deep in my former, catch-all blog under the name How Do They Feast?, has finally branched onto its ownhere on Savored Words. After reviewing some of the original posts in the series, I'm redoing some of them with a fresh set of photos and a new look at the recipes.  

Researching culinary history has its challenges, and with the Dark Lady of Doona, those challenges were amplified by a lack of credible sources on the pirate queen's life. Much of what is known about her is sensationalized—either by her contemporaries or those who mythologized her over the centuries. While I had access to excellent books that covered everyday life in the 1500s, there was still a lot of guessing on my part as a writer, and I wanted it to be as realistic as it could be, while acknowledging the more sensational aspects of Granía's character.  

When I started writing Dark Lady of Doona, I wanted food to feature in it more prominently than in my first novel. I’ve become rather attached to the practice of making recipes that would have been familiar to the characters in my stories. It’s a wonderful way to connect with the characters, and my hope is that my delving into the details about cooking, that readers will be able to relate more closely to the time and place being described in the story. While researching the Tudor era, I came upon a recipe for oatcakes. Knowing the popularity of leeks and cheese, I created a feast of a breakfast for a hungry female captain who commands her own fleet. As Granía O’Malley stops in the Hebrides to hire mercenaries to join her husband’s army, she enjoys oatcakes topped with buttered leeks. I’ve altered the recipe somewhat here, based on numerous experiments. And the addition of the spicy sausage patties? Well, they happen to be a favorite of my husband, and they go well with the meal. It’s a fabulous brunch to prepare on a cold, rainy morning, and keep an eye to the sea for any galleons that may pass by!  

Oatcakes topped with herbed goat cheese and leeks 

Goat cheese spread 
Ingredients 8 oz. goat cheese 1 to 1½ tsp. Herbes de Provence (or to taste) Zest and juice of one lemon 

Blend in food processor, keep at room temperature until serving time.  

Braised Leeks 
Ingredients 6 leeks, thoroughly rinsed and cut into small rings half stick butter 3/4 cup chicken broth 1½ tsp. Herbes de Provence 

Melt butter in deep skillet, add leeks and cook over medium heat for five minutes, until they soften. Add broth and Herbes de Provence, and braise, stirring occasionally as it reduces, for about fifteen minutes, until sauce thickens and leeks are soft.  

1 1/2 cups steel-cut oats 1 cup flour 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 tsp. baking soda 1/4 tsp. salt 1/2 cup chilled vegetable shortening, cut into pieces 1/4 cup buttermilk 

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease large baking sheet with butter. In large mixing bowl, mix oats, flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add shortening and mix using hands until mixture is coarse and well-blended. Add buttermilk and stir dough.  Make large-cookie sized rounds and place on baking sheet.  

Bake oatcakes until golden, for about 15 minutes, turning once midway through.  

Preparation: Top each oatcake with goat cheese spread and leeks.  

Spicy Orange Sausage Patties 
1 lb. ground sausage (or pork) 1/4 c. bread crumbs tblorange juice 2 tsp. maple syrup 2 tsp. finely chopped cilantro 1/2 tsp. hot paprika or chili powder 1/2 tsp. salt 1/2 tsp. black pepper  Combine all ingredients and mix well. Heat nonstick pan over medium heat. Form each patty about 1/2 inch thick. Place in pan and fry, turning once, about 5 minutes per side, until cooked through.  

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Kitchens of Skyrim: Venison Stew

With the remastered release of Skyrim last fall, I found myself lured back to one of my favorite series of all time. Daggerfall was my first Elder Scrolls game, back when I got my first computer in 1996(!). While Morrowind will always hold a special place in my heart as the star of the Elder Scrolls stories, the open world of Skyrim is fascinating not only for its branched questlines, but also for the mundane daily activities that can fill a character’s time. 

I bought the original edition in November 2011, but didn’t install it because I was starting my first NaNoWriMo project, trying to bring my third novel into good form. The statue of Alduin the World-Eater stood on a shelf over my desk to encourage me to exceed my daily word count goal so I could delve in and see what awaited me in Skyrim. When I finally got around to playing, a friend advised me to build up my blacksmithing skills ASAP—oh, and go mine your own ore. The second recommendation—cook your own food. It’s a nice break between quests to sit back in-game and strategize for the next quests.

In the years since Skyrim’s release, a number of bloggers have reproduced honey nuts treats and the infamous sweet rolls. (Anyone else ever use their thu’um to fus-ro-dah one of those snarky guards?)

Personally, I’m much more into cooking savory foods. There is a running list of recipes from the game I’ve always wanted to try, so I’m kicking off an occasional series about the meals of Skyrim. After procuring some venison from a local meat shop, I settled in on a snowy weekend and made stew with a loaf of potato bread (possible with the Hearthfire mod, or, if you go way back to Oblivion, as part of a visit to the Faregyl Inn in Cyrodiil).

The bread came out surprisingly fluffy and was a delight. Because venison wasn’t in season I settled for frozen, but would happily revisit this recipe again to get some fresh loin when it’s available.

Skyrim’s Venison Stew
¼ cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste
2 pounds venison (loin)
4 tablespoons butter
2 to 3 medium or large leeks
2 medium-sized potatoes
3 cloves garlic
2 cups red wine
Approx. 4 cups stock (I prefer vegetable)
1 tablespoon Hungarian paprika
½ tablespoon Aleppo pepper
8 juniper berries, ground
1 bay leaf

Cur venison into 1 to 2-inch chunks and brown in a skillet, set aside. Melt butter in stock pot, add leeks and garlic and simmer until caramelized, approximately 25 minutes. Add flour and stir until it thickens. Add wine and simmer another ten minutes. Add meat to stock pot, add rest of ingredients and top off with stock, simmer on low for another hour before serving. Serve with fresh bread.

Potato Bread
1 large potato
1 egg (or egg substitute)
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon honey
1 ½ teaspoon salt
4 cups flour
Approx. 2 cups of water
1 packet of yeast
½ teaspoon saffron threads
Peel and boil the potato until soft. Mash and let cool. In large bowl, activate the yeast. Add flour, crumble saffron into the mixture, add salt. Melt butter, mix into dry ingredients with honey, mashed potato, and egg. Knead for ten minutes, adding flour or water as necessary. Cover bowl and let rise for 90 minutes. Punch down, let rise for another hour or until doubled in size. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Punch down dough again; shape it into a large round on a buttered pan. Just before placing in oven, score the top of the loaf with a knife. Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown and knocking on the top sounds hollow. (I typically keep a bamboo skewer on hand to inset into the loaf to ensure the inside is cooked enough. If it comes out wet and clumpy, keep in the oven for a bit more.) Serve with your favorite butter.

Special thanks to Jarl Balgruuf for use of the Dragonsreach kitchen in Whiterun. And now, for more sweet rolls.