I admit it, I adore tie-in cookbooks. Redwall, Discworld, even Fanny Flagg's Whistle Stop Cafe cookbook...you find me a cookbook that ties in with a sI admit it, I adore tie-in cookbooks. Redwall, Discworld, even Fanny Flagg's Whistle Stop Cafe cookbook...you find me a cookbook that ties in with a series I enjoy and I'll snap it up, lickety-split. That's why I was so excited to find The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. Even since I first read the books, the food mentioned in them fascinated me, not just the traditional British food (which, due to my Anglophilia, I've long been interested in), but the strange and wonderful wizard food, food which I wondered how it could be translated into real-world equivalents. It's obvious from Dinah Bucholz's writing that she, too, is fascinated by those dishes mentioned by Rowling and it's also apparent that she's given a lot of thought and put a lot of effort into creating the dishes listed in this cookbook. Each one is headed by a synopsis of the scene in which the dish appears and most have sidebars full of trivia related to the dish or the ingredients used. Tips, techniques and ways to make some of the dishes more like those in the books (especially as applies to the food served by Hagrid) appear at the end of many of the recipes. The instructions are clearly written, as they should be seeing how this is directed more towards young cooks, book and web sources are clearly listed, and the index is extensive, making it easy to find a particular dish. I haven't had the opportunity to test any of the recipes out; should I do so and meet with success, I'll be sure to add another star to my rating.
Note: Due to the unofficial nature of this cookbook, being unaffiliated, licensed or endorsed by J.K. Rowling or Warner Bros., some famous recipes, most notably Butterbeer, aren't included due to their licensed state. However, a quick web search will garner you several takes on Butterbeer as well as many other Potter treats which might be missing from this book, although, considering the extensive number of recipes contained in this book (over 150), there can't be that many....more
I adore cookbooks, don't ask me why. The entire bookcase nook off my kitchen is stuffed with them and there are several more individual books sprinkleI adore cookbooks, don't ask me why. The entire bookcase nook off my kitchen is stuffed with them and there are several more individual books sprinkled around the place. I also love novels which feature food, and not just food but descriptive food. Entire meals, banquets, feasts, ales and punches and liqueurs. Food which draws me into the story and gives me an idea of the people involved, who's suffering through hardships, who's living the high life, why they're celebrating. So, quite naturally, I love tie-in cookbooks, official or not, which take those fictional foods and beverages and bring them to life.
Admittedly, some tie-in cookbooks merely go through the motions: collecting a bunch of recipes from one of those huge online databases, without even bothering to check whether or not those recipes actually create something edible, changing the names to fit dishes found in the novel, slapping them together and calling it a cookbook. I've run into those and, man, are they disappointing. However, from the detail of many of the recipes found in The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook, especially in regards to the desserts and breads, it's obvious Baines put quite a bit of time, effort, and thought into producing this work. The recipes, even the more outlandish ones, are easy to work with, with clear, direct instructions for the most part; in fact, most recipes only take up a single page and hints for substitutions and time-savers are given on many of them, along with other helpful cooking tips. Some of the recipes are quite simple, almost to the point of "Why was this included?" simple, such as Clover-Mint Tea or Propos Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Yet even the simplest recipe has meaning in the world of The Hunger Games and, while simple, those recipes possess just enough of a twist, a sense of being somewhat alien to our lives, that you realize, "Oh, that's why that was included."
As I pointed out, some of the recipes are rather bizarre, illustrating the lengths Baines went to to maintain a sense of authenticity. Such recipes as Fightin' Fried Squirrel, Wild Raccoon Sauteed in Bacon Drippings, and Hazelle's Beaver Stew with Rosemary Potatoes will probably only be made by the most fervent of fan; however they and their accompanying tips on how to work with wild game further demonstrate Baines's sincerity and her adherence to The Hunger Games universe. My only comment about the recipes is that, for some of them, Baines has taken what was eaten in a scene of the original novel and condensed it into a recipe. For example, in Chapter 4, when Katniss comes into the train car for breakfast, Peeta is dunking one of the sweet rolls into his hot chocolate; Baines turns this scene into a recipe for Attack of the Chocolate Chunk Muffins, which is a perfect blending of the two tastes. Authentic? Not really, but certainly delicious and definitely a lot easier to recreate for a cookbook. So I'm not really complaining about this kind of translating, just making a note of it.
Some have complained about the lack of photographs in the cookbook. While I'm sure it would've been impossible to photograph each individual dish, I admit, it would've been nice to have had at least an insert of a dozen or so glossy photos of finished dishes. However, I don't find the lack of photos quite as annoying as others, mainly because I'm sure that, for one, the book was probably put out as quickly as possible in order to take advantage of the groundswell in popularity of the series, and, for another, this particular publisher, which seems to specialize in tie-in cookbooks, puts out a certain style of book which doesn't seem to allow for photos. We can always hope that perhaps a later edition will be published and will include those much-lamented photos. I will say this: Because it's obvious the publisher wanted to get this out as quickly as possible, there are some goofs. A step may be left out, portions may be off. I think, if you really want to work with this book, it might take some experimenting on some recipes to get them right and perhaps some adjustments, especially in regards to altitude.
As with most tie-in cookbooks, at the top of each recipe is a reference to which book and scene it came from, as well as what the recipe or the foods it contains means to a certain character. At the back of the book is a small section entitled "Katniss's Family Book of Herbs" describing some of the herbs Katniss surely gathered during her foraging trips outside the fence. Along with a brief description of the plant's appearance, each entry lists in what environment the plant can be found and how the plant is used. While you shouldn't go out looking to gather these wild plants based on this small guide alone (the lack of pictures to positively identify a wild plant would probably garner you a slow and painful death from poisoning), the guide is informative, providing yet another link to the novels and to Katniss's world. With a detailed table of contents and extensive index, The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook is a thoroughly entertaining companion to the novels. And I think that's the most important thing to remember, that this is a companion book. Yes, it's a way to ride the coattails of the series' success and a quite obvious marketing ploy. However, for fans of the series, it's also a fun bit of memorabilia and while the book will probably be more entertaining to read than to actually use, it's still worth a look-see, even if you only check it out from the library. Just remember, have fun with it and let the Games begin!...more
*Disclaimer: I am not a fan of George R.R. Martin's series, A Song of Ice and Fire. That's not to say I couldn't become a fan, but I would have to rea*Disclaimer: I am not a fan of George R.R. Martin's series, A Song of Ice and Fire. That's not to say I couldn't become a fan, but I would have to read the books, something I haven't yet done. I've seen fragments of the first episode of the TV series, but nothing beyond that, so I'm not invested in this series in any way. But I loves me some tie-in cookbooks—-I think it's a sickness—-which is why I got this particular cookbook. Just thought you should know*
The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook follows the same format set up by the previous cookbooks: The recipes are separated into categories such as Heroic Mornings: Breakfasts for Warriors, Feasts for Friends—and Enemies: Main Courses, and Deceitful Delights: Desserts, Drinks, and Poisonous Cocktails; whether a recipe ranges from the simple and ordinary to the outlandish and potentially complicated, the title always references a corresponding dish in one of the novels; each recipe has a short blurb at the top detailing in which scene the particular dish appeared and its significance to a particular character or characters, as well as a shorter blurb at the end detailing substitutions for ingredients, serving suggestions, the meaning of an ingredient, additional preparation instructions, and various other “Words of Wisdom,” as these notes are titled. In addition, there's an extensive index as well as two appendices, one listing the recipes by region, the other containing standard brewing processes to aid in creating the ale, stout, and mead recipes listed in the drinks chapter.
As to the recipes themselves, many of them have varied and interesting ingredients, giving the anticipation of an exciting culinary adventure. However, there are a couple which are so unbelievably easy, their inclusion is almost ridiculous; it was if Kistler needed just a couple more recipes to reach a quota and so came up with the easiest ones he could find. You may or may not remember the mention I made in my review of The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook concerning the simplicity of a few of the recipes it contained. However, unlike the recipes in the Hunger Games Cookbook, whose simplicity belied their emotional impact, the recipes in the Game of Thrones Cookbook didn't seem to carry the same kind of weight, despite their apparent connection to the novels. For instance, one recipe is called Arya's Sweetcorn Eaten on the Cob: Basically, you brush some butter over ears of corn and grill them. Really? Wow, that's amazing! Come on. I've seen plenty of grilled corn recipes which use herbs, spices, cheeses, all sorts of additional ingredients to make grilled corn on the cob a bit different; if the recipe had been along those lines, I could see why it was included. However, if Kistler wanted to keep the recipe as-is because it meant something to the character, it would've made more sense to have placed it as an adjunct to a main course recipe rather than have it as a stand-alone. The other recipes are in the breakfast section, which has a tendency to attract the most basic of dishes anyway, but these are ridiculous--I'm talking about eggs and toast, and eggs and bacon. Oy. Also, the occasional recipe would skip over steps or pertinent information, steps which an experienced chef would take automatically, but, since this book is aimed at all ages and cooking experience, are needed in order to prevent mishaps. In the recipe for The Cheesemonger's Candied Onions, for example, an alternate step calls for placing the entire pan in a preheated oven to finish the dish and there's nothing wrong with that. However, in the first step, there's no mention of using an oven-safe pan. Well, that's just a given, I'm sure you're saying. True, but there are people out there who will put an inappropriate pan in the oven, watch it catch fire, and become irate over the fact that that particular pan had no business being in the oven, blaming the cookbook and not themselves for their ignorance. It's how we've gotten “Caution: Contents May Be Hot” notices on the side of fast food coffee cups and “Do Not Use in the Shower” tags on hair dryers and irons. People can be stupid and, to prevent that, need every single step of a process clearly outlined.
I have a couple other niggly issues with the book. For one, a few of the recipes are mislabeled. For instance, the recipe for Winterfell Cold Fruit Soup is not a soup. Consisting of seven different fruits and berries, chopped, halved, and sliced, gently tossed together and served with a sauce lightly drizzled to coat, it's clearly a salad. Fruit soups exist, but to be a soup, the fruit must be pureed. Also, some of the cooking directions are questionable: Butter is a common ingredient in many of the frying/sauteing recipes, which is fine except for those where the directions say to let the butter brown and then have long cooking times for the ingredients. Butter will burn very quickly once it has browned; keep the butter, but reduce it and replace that amount with a bit of olive oil (good ol' EVOO), safflower oil, or sunflower oil.
I think part of the problem is the author. There's no mention of his involvement in or experience with the culinary arts in his author bio, nor is there a mention of recipe tasters or advisers in the acknowledgments. However, we are told that Alan Kistler is an actor, a columnist focusing on the evolution of superheroes and villains, the creator and co-host of a weekly podcast which discusses popular geek culture and gives out dating advice, a comic book historian who's been recognized for having a deep knowledge of many sci-fi and fantasy sagas through his articles, convention appearances, comic book documentaries, and lectures, not to mention has inspired a fictional counterpart in Star Trek novels written by David A. Mack. His resume doesn't particularly inspire my confidence in his ability to write a cookbook. Though some doubts have been raised regarding the extent of their respective culinary expertise, the authors of the other two unauthorized cookbooks, Dinah Bucholz (Harry Potter) and Emily Ansara Baines (Hunger Games), at least have had some experience with cooking, baking, and working with recipes. It makes me wonder, where did Kistler get his recipes? Did he simply find recipes from other sources which happened to fit a dish in one of Martin's books, steal them and rename them, as has been rumored? I can't say.
Despite my misgivings about Kistler, as with the previous cookbooks, I look at this one as a fun and entertaining novelty item, good for some interesting reading; anything more is simply a bonus.