Both Chris and his daughter, Lucinda, are Skyrim fans, so I bought The Elder Scrolls: The Official Cookbook for Chris over the summer. I don’t play video games much – wasn’t allowed to as a kid (except when I could sneak some time in on my friends’ Nintendo 64) never really got into video games… and yet somehow I managed to marry into a family of gaming geeks. An unexpected benefit is that my daughter, Georgia, is getting exposure to a whole new side of popular culture. Long story short: I haven’t played any Skyrim, but I have knitted quite a lot while Chris has played it, and it’s very pretty.
After perusing the book with Chris and Lucinda, we determined that much of the food was best built for winter. Definitely time for some stick-to-one’s-ribs meals. Chris was up first, and chose the Companions Meatball Bake (pg 115), which as he noted, had a totally different flavor profile than what he normally cooked. The dish consists of meatballs and potatoes, baked together. Simple enough, and picky eater friendly, so we figured it’d be fine.
The meal was fine, but it didn’t have the usual sparkle that Chris’s food does. I think I was the one who polished off the leftovers, as Chris was fairly disappointed with this one. I believe that he found the recipe somewhat lacking.
(Chris: The recipe seemed promising enough, as I was laboring under the misapprehension that it is extremely hard to really screw up a meat–and-potatoes dish. Unfortunately the stated cooking time was a fraction of what was necessary. More importantly, the recipe called for the meat and potatoes to partially sit in a bath of sour cream and tomato paste infused water, which resulted in a flavor profile that may appeal to some but which to me came unsettlingly close to dairy that had gone slightly off.)
As the recipe took a lot longer than anticipated, we were completely starving by the time the meal came out and didn’t take the time to take photos of the food. Whoops.
Chris and Lucinda consulted with me on which recipe I should choose to cook from this book. I wanted to cook something while Lucinda was here, given that she loves the game, but she has some anxiety-related food issues, so I wanted to make sure that she had some agency with regards to the recipe. And, you know, involve the kids in the cooking/cookbook choosing process.
So she, Chris and I chose the Festival Hand Pies (pg 119), which were filled with ground beef, cheese and sour cream. Think Jamaican Beef Patties (free link at bonappetit.com) or Scottish Forfar Bridies (free link at food.com).
Making these was an unmitigated clusterfuck, to say the least. The first thing that I noticed as I read through the recipe is that the ingredient list references two other recipes in other parts of the book, for the “Stormcloak Seasoning” and the “Rye Pie Dough.” which annoyed me. The estimated prep and cooking time at the top of the recipe did not take into account the prep and cooking time for the other two recipes. But I reasoned it out, and figured out how to time things so that I wouldn’t be running too far behind.
The first dough that I made was a disaster and I had to throw it out. Mind you, I’ve made approximately a billion and a half Forfar Bridies for Burns Nights over the years (honoring Scottish national poet Robert Burns, we’ll cover this next January, I’m sure), and endless biscuits, pie crusts and a wide range of other similar doughs with great success. I mean, come on… anything that involves butter? I’m IN.
Also, I hate rye (apparently some people, like cilantro haters, genetically cannot abide the flavor of rye. I’m one of them. Here’s a link to a Discover article on it) so I eliminated the rye and made it with straight wheat flour instead. Fail, fail, faily fail fail.
At the risk of being a crappity internet troll*, the dough recipe was pretty terrible. The second step (and there are only two) starts with, “Add just enough water to bring the dough together. Form into a disk…” and honestly, if this had been my daughter cooking this, and she’s actually fairly experienced at the tender age of 14, she would have just dumped the water in and looked at the flour/water and asked me if she was supposed to mix it, knead it, or just let it soak in.
Anyway, the dough sucked. I chucked it and cross referenced a few other hand dough recipes on the internet before just winging it, and also hauling out my cuisinart to cut the butter into the flour mixture, skipping the “rubbing in the butter” instruction, which is not my favorite method for making pastry, as it heats up the cold butter too much (in my opinion). I was frustrated enough to skip my beloved and well-used pastry cutter, because at this point, I just wanted to get it freakin done.
My favorite part of the recipe was making the Stormcloak Seasoning. It called for Grains of Paradise, which is a spice that I have never even heard of before reading it in this book. I mean, even Penzey’s doesn’t carry it (no kickback on the link, I just adore their spices), and after a quick internet search discovered that I could sub in some cardamom and black pepper for it. You learn something new everyday! Bonus: I got to grind up the spices with my mortar and pestle. I really love doing that.
So onto the meat. Was supposed to brown the meat with butter and garlic – no problem. Other than some Stormcloak seasoning, though, that was it on the flavor. Sour cream, which seems to be a favorite of this author’s, was to be mixed in later, along with some white rice. Salt and pepper to taste, of course. Because I know me, and my crew, I browned the beef with some Guinness and Worcestershire sauce. However, I should have left out the sour cream. It turned the meat mixture a very unappetizing beige, and just completely overwhelmed everything else, while not adding much. I was disappointed in this. The cooked rice, in hindsight, seems highly unnecessary, especially since we already have some empty carbs with the dough, and it served to further bland everything down in ways that I found unappealing. I fought pretty hard with this recipe to make it more palatable. I’m glad that I ended up cooking it when it was just Chris and me for lunch. I think the kids would have been pretty bummed about it.
Conclusion: Probably won’t cook from this book again, however, we’ll keep it for the nerdy gaming sentiment. And who knows when you’ll need a recipe for sweetrolls?
*re: internet trolling and bad recipes. I try not to slag on other people’s work too much. I know how hard it is to write a recipe (or a knitting pattern, or any other sort of instruction for a product that is to go out into someone else’s hands/brain/weird interpretation) with clear, concise instructions and fully realized ingredient lists. Also, given that I generally tend to take recipes as suggestions, which I clearly did with this one, I can be pretty forgiving of vagueness.
In the world of publishing and graphic design, I also understand that space is an issue, that things sometimes get overlooked, etc. However, these recipes just seemed…incomplete. I get that this book will probably be purchased by people for the nerdy gaming factor, which is exactly why I purchased it (plus, you know, cookbook!) but I am overall disappointed with the quality of the instructions, among other things.
2 thoughts on “Week 5: The Elder Scrolls: The Official Cookbook”
It’s always a bummer when a recipe that you’re really looking forward to making turns out to be a disappointment. Especially if it sounds delicious in the book. Your story about making the rye dough reminds me of when I tried to make pasta from scratch for the very first time. Talk about an unmitigated disaster. But you guys gave it a shot and that’s all that matters. And the pies definitely look beautiful. On to the next cookbook! I can’t wait to see what you do next.
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Thank you! We have a lot of fun with this, even with the disasters.