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fantasy

book review, of interest, recipe

American Gods + Beef Pasties

I read American Gods hoping to create some personal excitement for the new series on Starz (which premiered on April 30), but I finished it feeling less than enthused. I’ve had a bit of a mixed reaction to Neil Gaiman – ultimately thinking that my first selection The Ocean at the End of the Lane was just okay, but enjoying both Coraline and Neverwhere.

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Gaiman’s novel is interesting enough at the outset. It follows Shadow as he is released from prison after serving three years. On his way home, he meets a mysterious man called Wednesday, an old god, actually. Wednesday enlists Shadow to help him recruit other old gods, traveling back and forth across the United States attempting to convince them to join the fight against the new gods.

Shadow’s story, when we were following it, kept my attention. It was the detours Gaiman took at the end of each chapter that I found distracting, as the story peeked in at the goings-on of various other gods we usually hadn’t met yet (and sometimes never saw again). The plot took a lot of twists and turns, and had I been fully invested, I would’ve been at the edge of my seat so I can see why people really enjoy it.

When he wasn’t with Wednesday, Shadow took refuge in a small town called Lakeside, Wisconsin. It was there that I found my recipe for American Gods – Mabel’s famous pasties. Pasties are baked pastries filled with meat and vegetables, said to have originated in Cornwall, England. They are also quite popular in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and while I have had them in England, I’ve never had them close to home – until now.

Scott’s mom had actually made them before and shared her recipe with me. (Thank you!) I made my own dough, which she said would be easy with a food processor – and it was.

My food processor didn’t seem to be able to handle such a large amount of ingredients, however, so I ended up splitting the dough into two batches. I also needed slightly more liquid to get it to come together, so use your best judgment, but make sure not to overdo the liquid because you don’t want the dough to become sticky.  

I formed the dough into two smaller disks and stored them in the refrigerator in plastic wrap to chill. I allowed mine to chill overnight but a couple of hours should be sufficient.

While the dough chilled (or in my case, before I took it out to roll it), I prepared the vegetables for the filling. First, I diced the carrots, doing my best to keep them relatively small so they would soften well while baking.

Having never even eaten rutabaga (to my knowledge), I certainly had never made it, so I was a little unsure how to tackle it at first. Ultimately, I just hacked off a chunk of it, peeled off the skin and then cut the piece into smaller pieces that would fit in my food processor spout. I used my grating attachment to grate it quickly.

Then, I peeled and diced my potatoes, trying to keep their size in line with the size of my carrots. About 2 medium potatoes yielded the 1½ cups I needed. After so much prepped I decided to just use minced dried onion out of my cupboard. Fresh onion might impart a bit more moisture into the meat, but it turned out well with the dried version, so use whatever works best for you.

I combined all of my filling ingredients – about a pound of ground beef, the carrots, potatoes, rutabaga and minced onion. I also added salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Lastly, I melted the butter and poured that over the filling, making sure to mix it in well.

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As I took my dough out to roll and shape, I turned on my oven to 350 degrees F to preheat. I rolled out the dough and used 8” saucers as a guide for my circles, yielding 4 large pastry circles. I filled half of each circle with as much filling as I could, making sure it could still be closed and sealed.  

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Note: I had a bit of filling leftover as well as a bit of pastry, so I probably could’ve made each one a bit bigger.

Finally, I cut 3 slits into each pasty and brushed them with an egg wash before putting them in the oven on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. After about an hour, they came out a lovely golden brown.

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Thinking it seemed similar to meatloaf (and after some online research), I decided to eat mine with some ketchup – which seems to be a popular choice – as well as a little spicy brown mustard. Scott enjoyed his with sour cream (another online hit). Serve with whatever condiments you enjoy, but make sure you allow them to cool before digging in! 

Beef Pasties

  • Servings: 4
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Ingredients

    For the Dough:
  • 1 cup Crisco or lard
  • 3½ cups flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • ½ TBS vinegar
  • ½ cup ice water
  • For the Filling:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 cup grated (or finely diced) rutabaga
  • 1 ½ cup diced potatoes
  • 1 or 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced or 1 TBS dried minced onion
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 stick butter or margarine, melted
  • egg wash: 1 egg and 1 TBS water

Directions

  1. To make the dough, put the dry ingredients – shortening/lard, flour, salt and baking powder – into the food processor. With it on low, drizzle in the liquid ingredients – 1 beaten egg, 1 tablespoon of white vinegar and ½ cup of ice water.
  2. Once dough is well combined, form into a disk (or two smaller disks) in plastic wrap and allow to chill for a few hours, or overnight. When ready to create the pasties, roll out the dough and cut into circles with a small saucer (8” or 10” diameter).
  3. Combine the filling ingredients, adding the melted butter last.
  4. Add filling to one half of each pastry circle. Fold over and crimp the edges.
  5. Brush with an egg wash and make 2-3 slits or use a fork on the top to allow the steam escape while baking.
  6. Bake on parchment paper-lined baking sheets at 375 degrees F for 15 minutes before turning down to 325 degrees F for 45 minutes, OR just bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees F.


From: The Kitchen of Scott’s Mom, Karen

You could also make more smaller pasties, by cutting smaller circles of dough and using less filling. This may affect baking time. Mine were quite giant, but worked well as a main course (or full meal)!


book review, recipe

Land of Love and Drowning + Lobster Rolls

The magical Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique is set in the newly transferred United States Virgin Islands. The sparsely populated island of Anegada, formed from coral, has more lobsters than people. It is surrounded for eight miles by a submerged reef; it is also surrounded by shipwrecks.

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Though Antoinette Stemme is of Anegada, when she marries Owen Arthur, he whisks her away to St. Thomas. Their two daughters, Eeona and Anette, are born and raised there, never setting foot on their mother’s homeland. The young red-headed Anette is like her mother in many ways and a bit rough around the edges, like Anegada. Beautiful Eeona is very much her wealthy father’s daughter, always concerned with the proper way of doing things and sharing an unusual bond with him from a young age.

It is surprising then, that on a later-life trip to Anegada, Eeona is able to ultimately find herself and begin to accept who she truly is. When she first arrives, a local woman gifts her a lobster. Eeona is startled and almost drops it, having never touched or eaten one before. The woman tells her that on Anegada, they “eat lobster for breakfast and lunch and dinner.”

Unlike Eeona, I have eaten lobster before. I hadn’t cooked it before – until I made LoLo’s Caribbean Lobster Rolls for lunch this weekend. It felt a little extravagant to make lobster for lunch, but considering the circumstances, it seemed right.

I began by prepping the johnnycakes, since the dough had to rest for an hour. I mixed them by hand, as directed, resulting in some messy dough-covered fingers. I had to add a touch more water (about a tablespoon) to get all of the dry ingredients to really come together, but then I was easily able to form the dough into a large ball (and then four smaller ones).

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Towards the end of the hour, I put on the water to boil for the lobster tail. I also combined the mayo, mustard, pickles (I used about 1 spear, once diced), lemon juice, zest and salt to make the remoulade.

In lieu of a tortilla press, I used my cast iron skillet and some parchment paper to form the johnnycake dough balls into thinner patties. I fried them in the same skillet, using vegetable oil.

I was both excited and nervous to cook a live lobster, but in the end, finding one locally proved to be a little difficult. At the seafood market, they had both Maine lobster tails and rock lobster tails. Because of the Caribbean connection, I bought an 8-ounce rock lobster tail. (They are also known as spiny lobsters and live in warmer waters than Maine lobster. They are commonly found the Caribbean.)

Here it is after cooking and its ice bath – notice the little spines along the side:

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I rescued the lobster meat from it’s slightly-dangerous shell and chopped it into bite-size pieces. I tossed it with a generous amount of remoulade (probably closer to two tablespoons). I sliced the johnnycakes, slathered on a bit more sauce and added the lobster meat for a tasty Anegada-style lunch.

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Caribbean Lobster Rolls

  • Servings: 4
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Remoulade Ingredients

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons pickles, finely chopped
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Lobster Filling

  • 1 1½-pound lobster

Johnnycake Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • ¼ cup cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon scallions, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • oil, for frying

Directions

  1. Place all dry ingredients for the johnnycakes in a mixing bowl and mix together by hand.
  2. Add 1/2 cup of water and knead the dough until it forms into a ball, then portion the dough into 4 balls of equal size.
  3. Place the balls of dough on a pan and cover with plastic. Allow to rest for 1 hour at room temperature.
  4. While the dough rests, place all remoulade ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix well. Set aside.
  5. Poach the lobster in boiling water for 6 minutes. Remove the lobster from the boiling water and soak in an ice bath to halt the cooking process.
  6. De-shell the lobster and cut it into bite-size pieces tossed in 1-2 tablespoons of the remoulade sauce. Set aside.
  7. Flatten each ball of dough in a tortilla press. Heat the oil in large, heavy pot to 350°F and fry each for 3 to 4 minutes, flipping intermittently, until the cakes are golden brown.
  8. Remove the cakes from the oil and let them rest and drain.
  9. Once cooled, slice and fill each johnnycake with the lobster and remoulade filling mixture and serve.