For those who have been living in a media free cave for the last few years, Game of Thrones is the first novel in the epic fantasy series by George R. R. Martin. The masses know the series through HBO, but some of us were enthusiasts of the books before the television series appeared. My friend Diana L. introduced me to the books, and I passed them on to Alan and Shay, who then proceeded to get many of their friends also enthralled with the machinations of the Starks, the Lannisters, and all the other denizens of Westeros. We even began playing the Game of Thrones board game, spending interminable summer Saturday afternoons plotting ways for our chosen house to vanquish the others. To reveal how incredibly dorky we were, we even used real props instead of the cardboard tokens that came with the game: a particularly uncomfortable chair for the Iron Throne, a battered stuffed animal for the Messenger Raven, a wooden sword for the Valyrian Steel Blade. For a year or so, a favorite discussion topic amongst some family and friends was: If Ann Arbor were Westeros, then who would be who? I always lobbied to be the Queen of Thorns.
Given this history of unhealthy fascination with George R. R. Martin’s world, it is no wonder that once the two books that are the subject of this post appeared on bookstore shelves, it was not long before they appeared on my shelves. The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook came out between the first and second seasons of the HBO series, and A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Companion Cookbook shortly thereafter.
The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook is a cheaply produced unattactive cookbook with no illustrations (which doesn’t bother me, but seems to incense a lot of Amazon reviewers). It appears to be a compilation of recipes from the Everything series of cookbooks, with awkwardly written headnotes relating the recipe to some character or incident from the Game of Thrones saga. There is no evidence that the author, Alan Kistler, has ever cooked any of these recipes or even eaten any that someone else has cooked. In fact, there is no indication either in the “about the author” paragraphs at the end of the book, or in the author’s introduction, acknowledgments, or even his web site that he has ever been near a kitchen. The only connection that I can find between Alan Kistler and food or drink is the mention in “about the author” that he sometimes uses his laptop in bars. I expect my cookbook authors to have prepared and tasted all the recipes in their books, and if ever they do not, and fail to explicitly state this and explain why, it is a real ethical lapse. Although I might be completely wrong about Alan Kistler, I suspect that he is no true knight.
The recipes are, for the most part simple and accessible, which I assume is characteristic of recipes in the Everything cookbooks. There are a few outliers such as “Leaf Blood Stew” (page 114) or a beef heart recipe, “Khaleesi’s Heart” (page 186). There is a rather useless (at least from my point of view) brewing section at the end of the book. But of the three recipes I tried, I will definitely cook two of them again.
ALan Kistler has done at least a little work in assembling this recipe collection, searching for mentions of food in the five (to date) books. Cod cakes really are served at a Bolton wedding, hence, “Bolton Wedding Cod Cakes” (page 56). These are made of cod with leeks and a red bell pepper, bound with egg white. I found that one egg white was sufficient, not the two called for in the recipe. I also innovated by breading my cod cakes with panko before frying them. These cod cakes turned out fairly tasty with a nice texture, and I will make them again.
“Cersei’s Creamy Chestnut Soup” is a purée of chestnuts with leeks (again), carrot, and celery in broth. I was not about to take the time to roast and peel chestnuts, but just used the packaged 5.2 ounce bags of peeled and roasted chestnuts. The chestnut soup that I used to make was from Crescent Dragonwagon, The Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread. The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook soup was easier, less caloric, more chestnutty, and in fact, tastier, than the Crescent Dragonwagon soup, and so will now be my chestnut soup recipe of choice.
I like using 7-grain cereal in my bread, so “Inn at the Crossroads 7-Grain Loaf” (page 78) looked inviting. It turned out to be just a completely undistinguished loaf of semi-whole grain bread. As you can see in the picture, I braided it, challah-style, and added sesame seeds. The dough was flaccid, and not the bouncy sleek bread dough I like, so it might have worked out better in loaf pans, instead of as stand alone loaves.
A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Companion Cookbookemerged from Chelsea Monroe-Cassel’s and Sariann Lehrer’s blog, “Inn at the Crossroads“. Both blog and book are a serious exploration of the food of Westeros and environs. Chelsea and Sariann usually provide two recipes for a food mentioned in Game of Thrones books: a medieval (or Elizabethan, or Roman or some other time in the past) version and a modern version. Although the medieval version may be accompanied by a recipe from an old cookery book, it is often hard to tell what makes one recipe medieval and the other modern. It is clear, though, that Chelsea and Sariann have tested and tasted their recipes, even “Dornish Snake with Fiery Sauce” (page 182), for which there is a lovely photograph.
Unfortunately, the “Elizabethan Lemon Cakes” just did not work for me. I was hoping for something like lemon flavored Mexican Wedding cookies, but ended up with an almost chewy cookie. The lemon flavor was perhaps too strong. No one really ate these, and I ended up throwing a lot of them out.
“Sweetcorn Fritters” (page 123) were pretty good; perhaps not quite “so very delicious”, as Chelsea and Sariann think, but decent. These are made by adding corn to a cornmeal batter and frying; hushpuppies with some texture. My fritters seemed to be lacking something tastewise. I solved this problem by dunking them in sriracha mayonnaise, but maybe just a little more salt would have done the trick.
“Almond Crusted Trout” (page 156) was not terribly successful. This was trout coated and stuffed with a ground up mixture of almonds, dill, shallots, garlic, lemon, and bread crumbs, then cooked in a slow oven. The fish turned out nice and flaky, the coating was flavorful, but both fish and coating would have been better by themselves.
So far I am sounding rather lukewarm about A Feast of Ice and Fire; in fact, based on the six recipes discussed above, it may even appear that, at least in sense of having more appetizing recipes, that The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook is the better of the two cookbook. However, with the next two recipes, A Feast of Ice and Fire blows the competition away.
The soup I ended up with after starting to make “Medieval Cold Fruit Soup” (page 59) varied quite a bit from the soup in the book. I used more apples and a lot more almond milk; I used only a tiny bit of honey (as opposed to the third cup in the recipe), and instead of using the sweet spice mix that Chelsea and Sariann (really getting into the medieval mindset) call “poudre douce“, I spiked the soup with orange blossom water and almond extract. I thought the end result was a great cold soup.
Dessert (at least dessert without chocolate) does not get much better than “Modern Blueberry Tarts” (page 105). Start with a lemon-flavored press-in tart crust, pressed into eight tartlet pans. Chelsea and Sariann make one big tart, but I think that press-in crusts work better in smaller amounts. Also, I like tartlets. Then all you do is fill the shells with two pints of blueberries! Chelsea and Sariann want the blueberries in a single layer, but I just piled them in. Sprinkle some cinnamon sugar on top, and bake until the shells are brown and the berries soft. At some point in the middle of baking, I opened the oven door and smushed the berries down into the shells some. That’s it! The filling firms up from the pectin naturally occurring in the blueberries. Serve, of course, with whipped cream. Here is Chelsea and Sariann’s version.
Adapted from Alan Kistler, The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook
1 pound cod
1 red bell pepper
1 egg white
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Panko for breading
Olive oil for frying
Rinse the cod and cut it into chunks. Using only the white and light green part of the leeks, rinse well and cut into chunks. Remove the seeds from the red bell pepper and cut into chunks. Put these three ingredients in the food processor and pulse until vegetables and cod are in tiny pieces. Do not process too much; you do not want a paste. Add the egg white, salt, and pepper, and pulse until combined. The mixture should be firm enough to form rather wet patties. (If it’s too wet, you will just have to forget the breading and cook like pancakes.)
Heat some olive oil in a skillet; there should be enough oil to just cover the bottom of the pan. Form the cod into patties and coat both sides with panko. Fry until done, turning once. I got eight patties from one pound of cod, and cooked them in two batches of four each.
Cold Apple Soup
Adapted from Chelsea Monroe and Sariann Lehrer, A Feast of Ice and Fire
3 Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled, and sliced
32 fluid ounces (4 cups) sweetened almond milk
1-2 tablespoons honey
Pinch of saffron
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
Put the apples, almond milk to cover (about half of it), honey, saffron, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the apples are soft. This might take about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and blend, either in a blender or with an immersion blender. Add the rest of the almond milk, the almond extract, and the orange blossom water. Serve cold.