Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Oatcakes, Redux.

 So. It was Robbie Burn's Day. And while I can be very open-minded about what may constitute a Robbie Burn's Day dinner.... (ie. I'm not committed solely to haggis), I do tend to always think of athol brose.)

 Now even recipes for Athol Brose have many variations. I just looked out a quick one from a cookbook and it says: whiskey, honey, cold water.
 But the one I've done for years has been to take oatmeal and soak it in water, then drain off the water, add honey, whiskey, and cream. (I don't even remember where that version came from, but it's danged tasty.)

 However, it leaves you with some soaked, softened oats..

 On an energetic Robbie Burn's Day, I've taken those softened oats, and made them into a pudding of some sort. Maybe adding fruit, like raspberries. Maybe not... but they've been used then.

 This time I put them aside to use the next day.
 Now I could have just made them into porridge. But I was slow off the mark and it didn't happen. And then, because I'd already been thinking about this blog, I decided to try some more oatcakes. What the heck, why not? [NOTE: it was soaked rolled oats, not steelcut oats.]

So, because I was thinking of oatcakes, and had bacon, I thought about oatcakes fried in bacon grease. And decided on aiming towards savoury flavours, since I often make oatcakes with dried fruit, and a change is a good a a rest. (Don't they say?)

 I had recently purchased some fresh sage, and had some left over, so I finely chopped some green onion, some sage, and crumbled in a small bit of dried dulse. I seasoned it with a small pinch of Breton grey sea salt. (Thank you, Diane.) I added flour to the batter; fortunately the flour I have on hand is an unbleached flour, since my alternate grain flours didn't come with me.At least unbleached wheat flour is a bit less in-your-face modern! (If I'd drained the oatmeal mixture again, it might have required less flour, but of course, I thought of this after the fact!)

 After reaching a workable consistency of the soaked oats and flour, I shaped some oat cakes. I rendered some bacon in a pan. (Not wasted, I ate it!) And cooked the oat cakes in the reserved bacon fat. I also took a second batch of oat cakes, tossed them in the warm pan to absorb any leftover bacon fat, and baked them on a sheet in the oven at 325 F.

 Admittedly, EVERYTHING with bacon is better, but the oatcakes were pretty good! Of course, because it had also crossed my mind I decided to make a quick cheese, a paneer, to go with them.

 At Christmas I'd treated myself to a favourite cheese, Boursin, a cow's milk cheese with pepper, and had wondered to myself if I could make a paneer that reminded me of it. I'd recently made a ricotta/paneer cheese that had left me with some ingredients on hand, so I just replayed that process, and flavoured it with some of the Breton salt and ground black pepper. I'd also decided to make the paneer with lemon juice this time, although I'd been warned it might be less precise. So actually, in the end I used lemon juice MOSTLY, and a bit of vinegar. [If I were doing this at a historic camp, I think I'd use vinegar for a more neutral flavour, though the lemon juice had a nice tang. Just not a Viking Age tang. And actually, to provide the tang I'd hoped for, I might try remaking this with a drained yoghurt cheese....

 But on the whole, the oatcakes were very tasty. (They were cooked in bacon fat, how could they fail to be tasty?) But also strike me as a very do-able bread for a camp. And not completely improbable for a Norse homestead. I think the jump would have to do with the bacon fat. a) is bacon likely? b) if bacon is a probable food item, would it be saved bacon fat, and how would they save it, or would it only be something they made when there was bacon fat?

 But I liked the savoury approach to the oatcakes. Very much. When fresh they were tender. Even better with the cheese. A day later, out of the fridge, they're tough,and dangerous to cut, but warm up to totally pleasant again, though maybe better with some broth to moisten them in. I can see them as a camp-bread! And if we answer the bacon and bacon-fat question, could easily imagine them as a norse food-stuff.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Revisiting Oatcakes

(Heck, just revisiting FOOD!)

So, very recently an historic food blogger I read and admire added me as a link to her blog! And the link points out that I haven't written anything here for just over two years.
 TWO YEARS??? That's hard to believe.

Okay, maybe not so hard.
 I've always had the uphill battle, especially with this blog where I'd like to sound halfways intelligible, that experimenting with the food doesn't totally equate with having a post. Half the time I forget to take pictures. Or if I take them they need cropping and resizing and saving in their new and improved format. If I've made any notes, or used any references, I need to organize those. Or find them again.

 And suddenly time has passed, and I can't even quite remember the details. Or I did several experiments, or tried something that took several days, and it all starts to get a bit fuzzy and vague.

So, early in 2012 (or possibly the end of 2011) I tried some experiments that took a bit of time. I was playing around with some sprouted grain breads. (Kind of like watching paint dry!)(Or genetics.) And by the time I got to one end, I'd forgotten how the beginning had worked. I knew I'd have to go back and try it all over again.

[Actually, I'll have to go back and reread my blog now, just to see what I'd been thinking about back then...]

 But anyway, at the beginning of 2012, I'd had an idea of some things I wanted to try. Then life got busy.

There was a lovely trip down to Virginia that felt more vacation-like than I can recall in a long time. And more work. And then DARC was invited to Newfoundland and L'Anse aux Meadows again. Sadly, for me, it conflicted with some of my theatre work, and there was just no way to do both. So I contented myself with preparing the food for them to take away with them.

 Since we'd just done a trip in 2010, I had some current feedback about what had worked, and what hadn't, to which were added some roadbumps from the site management itself. In the long run, I opted for mostly historic, but with a bit less complexity, and hopefully easier to be dealt with at the far end by some of the team members who had other activities to handle as well, and trusted that the team would be well-fed and fuelled for the presentation days.
 There were some crazy days of trying to put this together, making more food ahead than I had in 2010, and in ways that would require less fuss on-site. There were already concerns from the site management about whether or not there even should be a foodways demonstration, although they agreed it's a very compelling part of the entire interpretive presentation, and that with the timing of the day, and lack of facilities near the historic buildings, a foodways program was important for the interpreters' lunches. But it made it even more critical that whatever we did should be as uncomplicated as possible.

 As soon as the team had left, I was immediately busy with the Young Company at the theatre. We had some excruciatingly hot weather, I had no time to think, let alone eat or think about historic food, and had some weird health stuff happen. Spent a day in the ER, missed my dress rehearsals. Never really did find out what the problem may have been, but since then have searched for doctors, been loaned doctors, found a doctor, seen specialists, had all sorts of tests, felt like an episode of House...did more shows, and eventually ran out of 2012.

 Then I kind of lost 2013 in a whirl of my marriage ending, more follow-ups with medical people, spending a week in hospital for something else, and doing a bunch of  tests to eventually determine it was a reaction to a prescription medication I'd started a few weeks before, went straight into another show, lost my mother suddenly, went home to see my family, scuttled medical procedures, packed, found somewhere to live, designed and costumed more shows, and pretty much have been moving ever since.

 And bang, two years shot! Well, as far as cooking has gone!

 And I missed it. Cooking and food research are just something I love. Cooking can be as much a form of relaxation and stress-management for me as listening to music I love, or sitting on the edge of a dock with my feet in the water. It's something that excites me and intrigues me. Keeps me sane.
 And now, seeing that it's just over two years, well I have to come back.

So. Those oatcakes I mentioned... Well, it's a challenge, because I'm still surrounded by boxes. I have a tiny little kitchen now. I'm not sure where anything is. Some of my tools haven't surfaced yet, or may be stored with friends...but it can't wait. I need to get doing this again. So today I did a quick cook. I've remembered to take some pictures. Most of the roads are closed by snow and snow squalls around here, so I'm not going anywhere... I might as well make a start!
 Stay tuned.