Recipes to follow at the bottom.
- Roasted Chicken with Oranges, Brussels Sprouts, and Green Olives
- Stuffed Artichokes
- Butternut Squash Soup
- Fruit Salad
- Macaron Tree
- Can-died Pears
- Crimson Thread and Menage Trois wines
Reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, I was a bit daunted by how to create a menu in theme with the book. In a dystopian society, what do they eat? How do they eat? How do they cook? Thankfully, Miss Anya Spector came to my rescue. “Why don’t we do a Birth Day Party?” Duh. A Birth Day Party. Though this is an oppressive society, they seem to splurge when it comes to the day their Handmaid’s gave birth. This fact opened up options for me. Here, I want to explain my research, as well as my choices for the menu for this week. The three stages in this process are as follows: research, prep, and cooking.
The background of the book is a bit vague. We don’t really learn what happened to the US until page 174 of the Anchor Books edition. I tried to mark down any mention of food, but I also found a list on the website Bookmenus.com. There were many foods mentioned, but the most mentioned were oranges and coffee. Because Anya Spector and I live on coffee, this would automatically make the menu. It is now tradition to begin a recording session with a strong cup. Oranges, however, stumped me. I knew we should do a luncheon, but what savory options would be included?
That’s when I found an interview with the production crew of the new Hulu TV adaptation. A lot of research went into making decisions of what to include in grocery stores like Loves and Fishes in the show. Production designer Julie Berghoff said to a Marie Clare writer visiting set, “Every piece of fruit had a thought process behind it—when she gets oranges, the implication is, ‘Okay, they conquered Florida.’ If they had artichokes, it meant they conquered California. The evolution of Gilead was always in mind.” So that was it. Oranges and artichokes were enough inspiration to start a menu.
In Gilead, there seems to be a black market where rich wives can find luxury gifts, from cosmetics and lotions, to exotic cheeses and canned goods. Following the logic of Berghoff, assuming Florida and California had been conquered, and the Marthas had access to their agriculture, as well as some black market items, they could create a bountiful Birth Day banquet, fit for a Gilead luncheon.
One thing that stood out to me in the books was that cooking had become a bit more pure. No longer are there processed, pre-made foods in Gilead. Everything is homemade, so that was something that we wanted to emphasize in our own work… Not that we’ve actually served anything store bought other than the Harry Potter Candy. However, the homemade bread from P&P, and homemade macarons are very different. Everything to follow is made by us.
Because I agreed to make quite a big spread for this book, my preparation began days before our actual recording. Quick tip: most soups can be made in advance and frozen! Almost all soups have a base that can be separated and frozen, while garnish can be made the day-of.
So I made the soup first. Butternut squash is hard, so make sure you have a sharp knife, sharp peeler, and strong grip. When roasting, make sure you dice vegetables as uniform as possible for even cooking. Metal spoons work wonders at scraping out squash. Save the pulp for a squash bread, especially pumpkins. The seeds can be roasted and salted for a healthy snack! When roasting the squash (see recipe below) toss roasting vegetables in the combination canola oil and EVOO. This mixture lowers the smoke point and help avoid over caramelizing the vegetables. Then I place a small piece of butter at each end of the roasting sheet for the nutty browned butter flavor. Finally, just barely cover the roasted vegetables with vegetable broth. You can always add more, you can’t take it out. However, if your soup becomes more like a puree, thin with more broth. Remember the more you thin, the less seasoning it will have so be sure to continue to taste. Separate into servings and freeze for freshest taste. Thaw the morning-of.
Next I prepped the artichokes. Artichokes have a low yield, so we try our best to avoid cutting the yield down further by wasting much of the plant. Cut the stems off to make the artichokes sit flat on a cutting board. Next cut tips off, at least an inch and a half down the artichoke. Trim the other untrimmed leaves with kitchen sears. Soak in water with fresh squeezed lemons, and be sure to rub the leaves and stem in lemon to prevent discoloration. I’m soaking mine for half a day. When they are done, I will steam them until the are tender, around half an hour. The day of the book club meeting, I will stuff them and roast them.
For the chicken, the oranges can be sliced the day before. Beware! You will smell like oranges all damn day. The Brussels Sprouts can also be cleaned. I tear the outside leaves off the sprouts, cut the stems off, and slice them in half. Store in water and lemon to prevent discoloration. The chicken can also be cleaned and trussed the night before. Run under cold water, and pat dry. Stuff with garlic cloves, onion halves, lemon and orange halves. Truss chicken to prevent the stuffing falling out. Rub in butter. Salt and pepper the chicken just before it is cooked. Pan sear for a beautiful golden brown color. For the gravy, make sure you pre-make the veloute base (blonde roux with stock, reduce until thickened. Skim the scum it creates to reduce floury flavor!). Mix veloute base with drippings and reduce.
Finally the fruit. For your fruit salad, make sure you have a good arrangement of fruit. Too many tart fruits together will make your mouth turn inside out (i.e. pineapple, oranges, grapes, green apples, raspberries…). Instead, mix with softer flavors like strawberries, red apples, melons, etc. For the “can”-died pears, we’re using canned fruit so it is already soft. Don’t overcook these, or they will turn to mush. You only want to heat these up. Immediately mix in the butter with spices. Finish with the whiskey. Be careful! Any time you are cooking with a high-alcohol content liquor, there is a chance it will go up in flames! This is called flambe. Don’t panic if it happens. Enjoy the pretty colors! Alcohol burns off very quickly. As long as it stays in the pan, you are safe. If you try to fling it into the sink, you risk spilling it on something that will actually catch fire. Instead, tend it carefully and it will go out.
**Macaron vs Macaroon
Okay let us get one thing straight. There is a difference between these two cookies, so let me educate y’all. For this podcast, Hale graciously cooked us macarons and we put them on a painted foam tree for pictures. However, many people will think they are macaroons, which would be untrue. Many of you may know the double-O Macaroon. This meringue cookie is popular in the US during Passover, and to understand that you need to understand the history of the cookie and how the French macaron became the coconut macaroon you find in cookie tins.
So the “French” Macaron actually came from Sicily (shout out to my fellow Sicilian co-host Hale). Macaron is actually related to the Italian word ammaccare, meaning “to crush.” This relationship probably refers to the act of crushing almonds into powder, the process necessary for your perfect French Macaron. However, until the 18th century, the cooks in the United States could not get their hands on many nuts or nut powders. Instead they substituted potato starch for a bit of texture, and substituted coconuts for almonds or other nuts, which were more perishable. Because the cookie has no leavening agent, they are considered acceptable for Passover! Thus, we have tins of chocolate dipped coconut macaroons for Passover in the US! However similar in history these cookies are, in the 18th century with the rise of French cuisine, these cookies deviated from each other. Though both are egg white meringue based cookies, the “flour” used is quite different. The French style is said to be more tedious and particular. Below you will see the difference between the coconut macaroon and the French macaron, respectively.
3. Cooking and Final Product
Roasted Chicken with Oranges, Olives, and Brussels Sprouts:
- Whole chicken (for 3-4 people)
- 3 Oranges
- 2 Cans Olives
- 1 lb Bussels Sprouts halved
- 1 Small Onion
- Salt and Pepper to Taste
- Preheat oven to 400
- Clean, stuff, and truss chicken, salt and pepper to taste with a bit of butter rubbed over it
- Line greased pan with oranges, halved Brussels sprouts, and green olives
- Place chicken on top
- Mix orange juice and honey and pour over chicken and everything on roasting tray
- Roast in oven until done; start checking around the hour point.
- When the chicken comes out of the oven, save drippings.
- Mix drippings with veloute sauce. Reduce to desired thickness. Season with salt and pepper, orange juice if needed.
- If the sauce isn’t thick enough, add a corn starch slurry
- Banana, Papaya, Oranges, Grapes, Watermelon, Honeydew, Cantaloupe, Mango
- Cut uniformly and serve
Butternut Squash Soup:
- Cubed squash oiled on a roasting tray with salt and pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, rubbed sage, rosemary, and thyme
- Roast at 400 until tender, about 30 mins
- Puree with warm vegetable stock to desired thickness
- Season to taste
- Garnish with bacon lardons
- Canned pears quartered sautéed with butter and cinnamon/nutmeg
- Saute in butter until they turn golden, mix in brown sugar
- Finish with honey whiskey–flambe
- Top with ice cream
- 3 large Artichokes (for 4-6 people)
- 1 cup Italian Style Bread Crumbs
- 8-10 Garlic Cloves, chopped
- 1/2 cup Parsley, Basil chopped
- 1/2 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
- 1/2 cup Grated Romano Cheese
- Clean artichoke, soak, steam until tender (see tips above)
- Mix together breadcrumbs, garlic, herbs, cheese, and melted butter or oil
- Spoon mixture between leaves of artichoke
- Roast until brown at about 375 degrees
Macarons (not Macaroons. See note)
For the macaron shells:
- 300g ground almonds
- 300g powdered sugar
- 110g liquefied egg whites (see below)
- + 300g caster sugar
- 75g water
- 110g liquefied egg whites
- Liquid food dye to splatter: pink, blue and yellow
- 1 batch fluffy vanilla buttercream frosting
- 1 drop each of yellow, green, blue, purple, red and orange food gel
For the process, use the directions the creator of this recipe uses. Follow the link below.
For a butter cream recipe, look to our Harry Potter themed birthday cake from last months’ recipes: https://loadedliteraturepodcast.com/2018/07/04/unicorn-blood-and-candy/