Posted in Book/TV/Film Themed Dishes

The Wizard of Oz: Pork and Corn and Fruit ‘oh my’

One word… Mmmmmm…

Anybody who’s actually stumbled across my Twitter account (probably by accident I’d imagine as I don’t believe I’m that interesting to catch your attention purposely) will know that a few months ago I was reading ‘The Wizard of Oz’. I’ve got to be honest, the page I showed on there was just about as far as I got. Okay, okay, I got slightly further but I certainly never made it to the actual Emerald City scenes or their meeting of the Witch. I think, perhaps, I met the Cowardly Lion.

            Why didn’t I keep going, you might ask? Did time get away from me? Did I have so much going on in my life I couldn’t take some time to read a children’s story? Well, I wish I could say yes (which I may have been able to do back then, but certainly not presently), but the truth is I stopped because I just wasn’t enjoying it. It’s a classic. It’s a story that should be respected for what it’s added to the world, the authors it’s inspired, but I just could not get invested in any of these characters lives.

            Why? For a normal person you may say it’s just because it was written for children and I’m an adult. But, you see, I’m not a normal person—I regularly enjoy reading children’s fiction and always have done. I used to leave the library as a teenager with a pile of ‘Magical Ballerina’, Jacqueline Wilson’s, Enid Blyton’s—and, probably a rather disturbing sight for the librarians, a pile of Murder Mystery and Crime novels too. I have always told people, rather than saying I’m ‘a writer’, that I’m a ‘children’s writer’. I enjoy the freedom, the focus on characters and the sheer joy of the area. But I don’t like books that write down to children. I don’t enjoy when it tries to tell me how to think and feel, just because it’s aimed at children—and, whether it’s the case or not, that’s how ‘The Wizard of Oz’ felt to me.

            I love the idea behind the story, the characters that have been shown and parodied thousands of times by other writers—even the themes of family and home are inspired enough. At the very least I can say that I respect this book and I believe it’s earned it’s place in history. And that’s why I decided to create a dish for it, despite the fact that it—or it’s film counterpart—simply aren’t for me. Whatever I may feel about it, other people have connected to it and that’s all an author can hope for. Good for you for loving something like ‘The Wizard of Oz’—every piece of work, every piece that someone has poured their heart into, deserves just a bit of love from others for the mere time and effort and heart that’s been poured into it.

            Okay, rant over. Sorry, I had to get this off my chest and explain myself (again, apologies, opinions are hard things to have). I created this dish based on the love its readers give it, the place it holds in our history and the characters that even I can love without caring for the words behind them (it tasted delicious, by the way—my Mum’s favourite dish so far).

Tip to making puree: Put in a bit of cooked potato for a smooth consistency.

            We have a silky, smooth corn puree representing our Yellow Brick Road; crispy straw potatoes representing our friendly, smartly-dressed scarecrow (pun intended); a piece of the finest cut of pork: fillet (for our meat-eating but timid lion), stuffed with fruity breadcrumbs (for our down-to-earth, sweet Dorothy); raspberry and blackcurrant coulis’ put on the plate for our sleepy, obstacles that block the path to Oz—the proud poppy (and some poppy seeds for good measure); and all covered in a tinny flavoured broccoli and gorgonzola sauce, both for our heart-lost Tin-Man and the colour of their desired location.

            It was certainly one of my easiest to cook, each part simply made but lovely to eat, and I think/hope represents this work well. Because the book is simple, especially from a modern prospective, but can still be creative and tasty. I think, now, that works like ‘The Wizard of Oz’ are considered the greats because of what they can inspire, rather than what they originally were. The ideas are there and at their very basic form—perfect for the freedom of a new writer/artist/song-writers imagination. I created a dish—other people create films, songs and paintings. So although you weren’t for me ‘Wizard of Oz’, thank you for everything you’ve done to inspire your following generations. As said previously, you’ve earned your place in history and I thank your creator L. Frank Baum for putting his heart on the page and sharing it with the public. Your bravery is something I struggle to reach still and can only aspire too. Thank you for all you’ve done and thank you, to every writer or artist out there for spreading your own hearts out to the public to be heard. You all truly amaze me—thank you.

Sappy message over. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed eating that corn puree.

A tasty combination. Sweet, salty and sour are always a perfect match.

Posted in Book/TV/Film Themed Dishes

Anne’s ‘Scope for the Imagination’ Raspberry Tart

Okay, to start this off, I should give a big thank you to my university. During my ‘Introduction to Children’s Fiction’, I was introduced to ‘Anne of Green Gables’… and I loved this book. I still do, in fact, and I knew that eventually I was going to get around to create a dish from it. In truth this isn’t the first time I’ve ever made a dish from the book, as the copy I’d originally bought from my local book store (it was Waterstones, guys, no bias—it was just what was available) had a recipe for the Raspberry Tart Anne ate at the end of it. It was whilst making this recipe I discovered that it was essentially a Bakewell tart with peaches and a surprisingly small amount of raspberries.

A lot of different components for this one.

            As I type this I’m still waiting for the new series/season of ‘Anne with an E’ to come out on Netflix. I’m sure it’s out somewhere, the trailer dropped a couple of months back, but at least as I type—it doesn’t seem to be reaching my Netflix at all. I loved the book and, although I’ve seen no other adaptation, I do love this one (with no comparison other than the original book). Although they’ve made many changes, modernised slightly to create better, more fitting roles for these characters than their time period actually allowed, all of the fun personalities and captivating plot-points have remained.

            And Anne? She’s freaking amazing. I have used the term ‘providing enough scope for the imagination’ every day over my impatient year waiting for the new series. I knew that when creating a dish, I couldn’t just do the plain Raspberry Tart I’d originally made back at University—no, I had to use my imagination. I had to imagine a more extravagant affair, something Anne could have only dreamed of (and I’ve no doubt, would have).

            And so I bring you—my ‘Anne of Green Gables Scope-For-The-Imagination Raspberry Tart’. An apricot mousse, sitting on an almond base, topped with a lusciously smooth raspberry jelly, surrounded by Anne’s preferred ‘puff sleeves’ (choux buns filled with an almond crème diplomat for that fragrant frangipane flavour), and topped with a crown of twigs and leaves befitting of the regality of Princess Cordelia (brandy snaps, made with Breton honey and mint leaves).

It was a lunch all to itself.

            It was my first time making many of the elements—a fruit mousse, a blended-dried-apricot filling, a crystal-clear jelly (not quite, but close). The choux buns, admittedly, are something I can do practically in my sleep but in a new, highly unpredictable oven it was touch and go whether they’d turn out as well as I wanted. Even the red caramel used to stick the choux together was an experiment never attempted before.

            I hope Anne would be proud of my efforts. I would be proud to serve it to her, if only there weren’t a generation and a reality-fiction border separating us I’m sure we would—moderately, tolerate each other. We’re very alike, is all I mean, and I know that tends to make for a bad friendship. But still, I could hope. I’ve never seen a character so beloved, and such a strong representative of her adoptive home that the writer herself gave all rights to her and her words to that home in reality. Go Anne and go Prince Edward Island. Believe me, the only thing stopping me from visiting is my fear of any form of travel (especially heights, sorry Canada).

            So until the day I gain some guts and adopt an Anne-style-bravery I’ll stay content with cooking up my creations and sitting down to watch ‘Anne with An E’. Seriously though, Netflix, it is coming on soon, right?

            Bonus points to the fact that I used the remainder of the pudding to create a dessert spread for my new French neighbours. You know you’ve done something right when the locals ask why you don’t try being a baker for a living. Especially when you happen to live in the land of great bakers. Honestly, though it was sweet of them, my confidence levels are at 0 most of the time—so I think I’ve got a long way to go before I can manage that.

‘Holidays are coming… Holidays are coming.’

            Thank you, Anne. Thank you, Lucy Maud Montgomery. Keep being you—and keep using that imagination. It’s a gift, believe me. A curse too—but also a great gift.

Posted in Book/TV/Film Themed Dishes

The Nightmare Before Pasta…

It’s long since passed Halloween—sort of midway between then and Christmas—but, what can I say? I haven’t had any internet for over a month and a half—a very slow and stressful month and a half. As I’m writing this blog post (pre-publishing) I still haven’t got any internet. Maybe it will come soon, but I was promised that two weeks ago. Oh, well, life goes on—and now, as I’m officially a full-time blogger, so does this blog.

            So, being that this was originally meant to be published on Halloween I decided to create a dish inspired by a film of the holiday. That didn’t happen, of course, but in the end it actually worked out better. You see, the film I chose was Tim Burton’s ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’. Perfect. I skipped Halloween and by the time I get internet again, who knows, maybe it’ll actually be Christmas?

            I really wanted to create something truly challenging and spectacular for my first blog post back—my first ‘real’ blog post. An Alice-in-Wonderland-style-madness came over me and I was fixated with the idea of doing pasta—and not just pasta but filled pasta—and not just filled pasta, but three different types of filled pastas with three separate sauces. Why would I do that to myself? It’s been over a year since I last made ravioli, or indeed pasta, and the experience/knowledge disappears over even a short amount of time. I made foolish mistakes that I only remembered were wrong after the fact (such as painstakingly cutting out the shapes and filling them one-by-one, instead of putting the fillings on a long sheet, covering with another sheet and then cutting out the shapes). Idiotic. Laughable.

            I dragged both of my unsuspecting parents into this business, having one act as a vice for the pasta machine (as our new table is too thick) and another acting as my holder. Being left-handed on anything is hard, but a pasta machine is something I had to teach myself to do properly left-handed at college. It doesn’t come naturally when everything is working against you. The hole for the handle being on the wrong side, for example.

            But we did it, people! My fears of them splitting didn’t come true, bar two which were stabbed by parts of the roasted chestnuts. We made my vision a semi-reality. Oogie Boogie’s face didn’t show as prominently but it’s chestnut stuffing (including herbs, lardons and sausage meat as well as the home-roasted chestnuts) tasted delicious. The onion gravy I served with it was easily drinkable. My dad decided to eat the rest of it even without any pasta to go with it. And bonus, the onions looked a bit like worms! I think Oogie Boogie would be proud of that fact alone.

I might just bust a seam, if I don’t die laughing first’— Oogie Boogie

            The Pumpkin King could chow down on his own face, the star of any Christmas meal lying inside. I confited the turkey leg in duck fat, herbs and lemon two days before and put some deliciously crispy brussels sprouts in there with them (my favourite part of any Christmas feast). All with a homemade redcurrant coulis. It was supposed to be cranberry but they were out of season so we did what we could. This was the sauce my mum decided to finish the entire jug of. I tell you what, there was no point making the pasta for them, they would’ve happily just had their drinkable accompaniments.

King of Christmas meets the Pumpkin King.

            Finally, a pudding—yes, a sweet pasta. Cinnamon pasta, to be specific, coloured with food dye (unlike the natural colourings of the spinach and pumpkin pastas). It wasn’t quite as I envisioned colour-wise, but you know what, it looked more like a Halloween-Christmas present anyway. Isn’t that the way Jack would want it? Or certainly what the residents of Halloween Town would prefer?

            The filling on this was a simple boiled apple sauce, like one you would use for a apple pie, and the sauce (my favourite of the three) a Halloween-toffee-apple inspired butterscotch toffee sauce.

Everybody make a scene.’

            Was it perfect? No. Did it taste heaven-sent? Oddly enough, yes. Merry Christmas to my stomach and a Happy Halloween to my eyes. Most importantly it was a lot of fun—from thinking of the Christmas flavours to stuff into the Halloween shapes (or vice-versa) to failing miserably at getting the pasta through the machine and showering both our dogs with flour. Is it easy to make pasta? Definitely not. Should you? Completely. You’d be surprised at just how fun it is and the taste of the homemade thing is far, far superior to anything else anyone could sell you.

Thank you for reading this and I hope you’re going to enjoy a Literary Onion. Exciting news on top of this—I now have another blog ‘Literary Scribbles’. On this you can read my home-written stories, poems, plays etc. as well as pick up tips and tricks to writing your own masterpieces. It’s going to be a busy year but, well, let’s make it worth it, shall we?

Cheers to the year ahead (I know, I’m early) and, hopefully if you’re reading this then cheers to being back online.

If you want to, that is. Thank you in advance.
Posted in Book/TV/Film Themed Dishes

‘Alice in Wonderland’ Afternoon Tea

A tea fit for the Mad Hatter!

If anyone ever asks me what is my favourite genre of book, or asks me as a writer which genre I prefer to write, I will never hesitate to say ‘children’s’. I could go onto lengthy descriptions of exactly why the genre (which is more of an age range than a genre, since it contains many other genres within it) is so special to me. I could fill a book with ideas and thoughts on how the most secretive, mad and special genre manages to make me entertain and question everything.

But what can I say that can’t be understood by reading a masterpiece like Lewis Carroll’s famously mad-adventure ‘Alice in Wonderland’? And that is how you do a sly, but unsuccessful segue into the dish of the day: welcome my ‘Alice and Wonderland’ inspired Afternoon Tea.

When I decided to do an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ dish I knew straight away that it had to be tea-related. I mean, is there any scene that epitomises ‘Wonderland’ more than the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party?

‘We’re all mad here’ — Cheshire Cat

Well, yes, there’s actually plenty of famous scenes from ‘Alice in Wonderland’, and from ‘Alice through the Looking Glass too’ and with the Afternoon Tea I’ve managed to capture just a small few of the magical things inside the book.

The favourite of the day was an award won by the ‘Time/Thyme’ Scones and ‘White Rabbit’s’ carrot spread, made with very few ingredients but extraordinarily tasty. My only advice to myself when making them again would be to choose the softer parts of the thyme stem for clock handles, as the hard ones are a smidgen too difficult to chew.

Who knew a pun could be so tasty?
The tasty surprise of the hour!

The Mushroom Caterpillars were especially fun to make, and with a seat of buttery cooked chestnut mushrooms they were the perfect filling edition to the savoury platform. Although, as tasty as they were they were easily beaten by the Duchess’ tasty ‘baby’ in a blanket. The scene when the baby turned into a pig in a blanket (already a good dish in its own right) will forever be a memorable one and I hope to have elevated a great joke (and a great accompaniment) to an Afternoon tea delight, with the addition of a wholemeal ‘mattress’, a blue cheese ‘sheet’ and a little ‘baby’ lettuce cover. It was all a tasty treat and, by far one of the easiest things to make and enjoy.

‘Who are you?’– Caterpillar
It doesn’t take much to make something good, even better!

That brings us on to the puddings, a much harder fete as I had to think of any scene where there was a crazy enough idea to represent the sheer creativity of Wonderland. Jam and rose sandwiches were a must to celebrate the Queen of Hearts and her deck of Playing Cards. Keep painting those roses, guys!

Not quite as well decorated as I’d hoped? ‘Off with their heads’– Queen of Hearts

The Cheshire Cat’s smile is iconic and referenced all throughout many art works post ‘Wonderland’. With a crispy cinnamon base, a chantilly cream cover and large floral-milk jelly teeth I think this Cat will need to see a dentist pretty soon (especially if those biscuits don’t stop being as delicious as they are).

Use rose, lavender, thyme, verbena, whatever mad thing you can think of. Even use mint, then you’ll have teeth that tastes like toothpaste.

And last but certainly no less delicious, my salt and pepper madeleines, inspired by the poem ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’. It may be a slightly dark tale (although no darker than other fairy tales and poetry for children at the time) but salted caramel and peppercorns go really well with the sweet vanilla and caramel sponge. If these things walked out of the sea and I was feeling as hungry as the Carpenter I’d be tempted to trick the young ones into following me too (wait, was this poem meant to be about the farming/fishing industry? Hmmm… That’s worth considering).

I can say nothing but, yum.

Overall I hope that this Afternoon Tea was a good tribute to one of my favourite books, and one of the favourite books of many other people. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is as timeless as a vanilla sponge, as fun as a scone with clock hands and as crazy as a mushroom mousse stuffed choux caterpillar.

Thank you for reading and the recipes will be posted soon for the Sea Salt and Pepper ‘Oysters’ and the ‘White Rabbit’s’ carrot spread .

Signed,

The Literary Onion
Posted in Book/TV/Film Themed Dishes

‘Hard Times’: The Pudding

A Pudding Fit for Bounderby’s Pretentiousness!

I first read ‘Hard Times’, by Mr. Charles Dickens himself, when I was in my second year of University. It remains one of the only books I can remember and fast became one of my favourite books of all time. But why?

Okay, so the first thing I should say is that ‘Hard Times’, from my experience, seems to be a very marmite-type of a book. Out of the hundreds of students in my University who were forced to read it, my friend and I were seemingly the only two who loved it. That wasn’t uncommon, as we often preferred books others hated and hated books others loved (which may honestly say something about our taste, more than anything), but the truth is that ‘Hard Times’, for us, was the best Dickens book we had ever read.

And back to that initial question, why? Why did we love it so much? Well, it’s for the same reason that C.S. Lewis is one of my favourite authors, the entire focus of the story is on the characters. At the core of the novel the message is fairly simple, ‘creativity is ultimately better than seeing everything in numbers’, and the plot is almost non-existent as, if you have read it you will know, nothing much happens… and what does happen takes its time.

But the characters? All caricatures, not dissimilar to Dickens other famous creations (I’m looking at you Scrooge), but used in such a way that you see depth, growth and a very real humanity behind their actions. Tom Senior is, as he says himself, interested in ‘Facts, Facts and Nothing but Facts’ but he is also a kind and generous man who takes in a child from a circus when her father leaves her behind. Bounderby is a pretentious, egotistic narcissist but he feels vulnerable about his past poorness and tries everything to overcompensate for this fact (although many of his actions do make you want to root against him).

So, when it came to creating a dish that represented the entirety of this great novel I knew that I had to focus on these complex sides, these human characteristics that Dickens imbued them with. I decided on a pudding, rather than a main course, mostly because it was easier to represent it in a pudding but also because I knew there was far more scope for creativity with a ‘Hard Times’ pudding.

The main body of the dish is a piece of patisserie inspired by desserts I have eaten previously in France. The flavours are very simple, basic, tried-and-tested; they’re flavours that traditionally go together and don’t take much creativity in the way of visualising. Vanilla, blackberry, orange– they all support each other and the flavours are balanced. They taste beautiful but they will never excite the taste-buds, just as facts will always be important but they will never change the world.

The ice-cream represents Sissy Jupe and the creative thinkers. Pineapple and cinnamon, a perfect match and made all the more exciting by the edition of cold custard and cream. They’re flavours that take their bare bones– eggs, sugar and milk– and elevate them to new heights. The ethos of ‘Hard Times’ and Dickens strongest message is exactly that: facts should be the foundation and creativity should be allowed to build on them. The coulis and the strawberry add much needed colour to an otherwise bland and grey dish/world.

The theory completed (including a grey and colourful contrasting colour scheme), the finished result:

‘Give them Facts, Facts and Nothing but Facts!’

For the discerning eyes, I added a reblochon of a failed (but very tasty) grey white chocolate glaze to the top. Was it perfect? In taste, yes. In look, no. But what better way is there to show the true meaning of ‘Hard Times’ than to have failures mixed with wins? There couldn’t be anything more human than that.

Thank you for reading.

Signed,

The Literary Onion