Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Week 17 - Medieval

It was a bit of a challenge for me during medieval week to try to find things I wanted to make. I wasn't really inspired by much of what I saw, and there was also a lot of red and game meat (not surprising) which I don't really cook at home. I still hadn't really decided on the meal by the time the challenge week rolled around, but when they mentioned that they had done this theme in honor of the return of Game of Thrones, that sparked an idea. If this was for Game of Thrones, why wouldn't I just look for recipes based on Game of Thrones? That seemed the easiest and most logical and would obviously be "medieval enough" for the challenge.

I decided to follow a recipe for honeyed chicken and another one for white beans and bacon, both of which I found on the Inn at the Crossroads site, a Game of Thrones food blog. In the end, I also added a salad with some bacon and onion dressing. This was mostly because we had a bag of salad greens in the fridge that I had bought with the intention of using it for something else which didn't happen. But more vegetables are always welcome in our meals, and they did eat salad in medieval times, so it worked.

Honeyed Chicken

I adapted the honeyed chicken quite a bit from the original recipe, mostly because I didn't want to roast a whole chicken. We keep boneless skinless chicken breasts (Costco-sized bag) in the freezer, and while they're not the most exciting or, in some people's opinions, the best parts of the chicken, they're convenient and they work for us.

The ingredients for our version of the honeyed chicken were:

- 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts ($3)
- olive oil to rub into the chicken ($0.50)
- salt and pepper ($0.05)
- handful of raisins ($0.50)
- 1/3 cup honey ($0.55)
- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar ($0.15)
- 1 tbsp butter ($0.15)

The cost for the chicken and sauce was about $4.90, not too bad for this portion.

To prepare the chicken, I rubbed it with olive oil and then sprinkled on salt and pepper. In retrospect, I probably should have poured the olive oil on while the chicken was on some other plate instead of the baking pan, because the excess oil smoked up a lot and kept setting off the smoke alarm. Then I roasted it until it was cooked through, checking the temperature with our likely unreliable meat thermometer. I think it was about 20 minutes at 400 degrees, but it's been a while and I can't seem to find my notes from the night I made this.

While the chicken was roasting, we worked on the sauce. I'm not usually a huge fan of mixing fruit with savory dishes (I know I've mentioned that a whole bunch of times in previous posts), but I was willing to give it a try in this sauce. To make the sauce, you combine the apple cider vinegar, honey, raisins, and butter in a saucepan, and let it simmer until the sauce reduces a bit and the raisins soak up some of the sauce. I don't remember how long this took, but it wasn't a super long time.

Once both parts were done, we poured the sauce over the chicken and that component of dinner was done. Overall, we thought it was fine, but it isn't something we necessarily need to make again. I wasn't the biggest fan of the sauce because of its sweetness. A liked it more than I did, but that was the result we both expected. He thought the sauce and the chicken paired very well. The original recipe also included a dash of mint, but I didn't want to buy an entire batch of mint just for a few leaves and also didn't have any dried mint on hand. It probably would have been better with it, but it was okay without it.

White Beans and Bacon

To go with our medieval chicken, I decided to make a side of white beans and bacon. The site we got the recipe from provided recipes for both medieval white beans and bacon and a modern version, but we of course went for the medieval one.

The ingredients for our white beans side dish were:

- 1 can of cannellini beans ($0.89)
- 5 pieces of bacon, chopped ($2.75)
- 1 onion, chopped ($0.50)
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped ($0.08)
- pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon to taste ($0.20)

The beans cost about $4.42, mostly due to the cost of the bacon, but they were really filling for the price. Combined with the chicken (which was the original conception of the meal), it came out to about $9.32, which is pretty reasonable.

We followed the recipe pretty closely, which began by frying the bacon until mostly cooked through. After the bacon was done, we moved it to a bowl, and sauteed the onions and garlic in the bacon fat until they were tender.

The bacon then got added back in, along with the beans. We let it cook for a while over low heat, basically until all the chicken stuff was done. I seasoned it with freshly ground pepper periodically, but only added the nutmeg and cinnamon near the end. The recipe had said to add poudre douce to taste, which according to Wikipedia (since I had no idea what it was) means sweet powder and is often used in medieval and Renaissance cooking. They wrote that it might include grains of paradise, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, and galangal. Instead of making my own mix, I just went with cinnamon and nutmeg to get some of the sweet flavor. The nutmeg came across really intensely, much stronger than I thought it would be, but I added that and the cinnamon anyway to see how it would taste.

We liked the white beans and bacon. It was definitely filling, and comfort food in that stick to your ribs way. I personally liked it much more than the chicken, mostly because of the sweet sauce on the chicken. I would consider making this dish again, although I feel like I might do some more experimenting with the spices. I'm not sure what other ones would go well with it, but perhaps some additional ones or a little less nutmeg would be good.

Salad with Onion and Bacon Vinaigrette

The final component of our medieval meal (although we ate it first) was a salad with some Sorrento greens from Trader Joe's. That mix has baby arugula, baby spinach, and baby lettuces. I wasn't sure how historically accurate it was to eat those greens, but according to this site, they did have lettuce at the time, just not iceberg.

That site also advised that people did use oil and vinegar dressings with some herbs and seasonings. I was originally going to just use olive oil and some vinegar, but then remembered that we had this sweet onion and bacon vinaigrette dressing in the fridge. I thought that would work since we did just use onions and bacon in other parts of our medieval meal. It seemed to fit perfectly.

Since we haven't done a separate post on the greens or the dressing before, here's the quick reviews:

Sorrento Greens
Price: $1.99
Quick review: A more interesting blend than just plain romaine or spinach or arugula, but sometimes tougher to find a good bag without wilted leaves. When there's a good bag, it's a good salad green because of the variety and it's not as bitter as the regular rocket.
Buy Again? Sure, when they look good, but since the greens at TJ's are hit or miss in terms of quality, depends on the batch.

Sweet Onion and Bacon Vinaigrette
Price: $2.99
Quick review: As soon as I saw this on the new items shelf, I knew I had to buy it. It's not bad - a little on the watery side - but it didn't have as much onion or bacon flavor as I would have expected from the name. The dressing has actual sweet onions and bacon bits, along with mustard, some spices and seasonings, and natural hickory smoke flavor.
Buy Again? Maybe, but we like the sriracha ranch better.

Our 3 part medieval meal was interesting, but I think I prefer "modern" cooking a little more. It's always fun to do these experiments and explorations though, which is why I'm thankful the challenge exists!

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