Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes. In our continuing recognition of the final season of Game of Thrones, today we’re going to review the Official Game of Thrones cookbook! And if that sounds like a somewhat boring summary of things, then I have to ask you: why do you hate facts? Seriously, must everything be a joke for you? With that sort of attitude, it’s no wonder you were never popular in Oldtown.
Some of us can cure ancient diseases AND have a good laugh.
Moving on from maesterly matters, I DO want to talk about the Official Game of Thrones cookbook, which is a nice change of pace, because depending on how you count it, we haven’t reviewed a COOKBOOK on the site in like, 15 months. Back in November, we reviewed Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Saimin Nosrat, but, if I’m honest, that was MOSTLY a quick skim of the cookbook, with impressions from the Netflix show. The last time we did a full break down of a cookbook was last January, for Justin Warner’s “The Laws of Cooking (and How to Break Them)”
Also, fun side fact: the two books I reference carrying around to read in the Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat post? I STILL haven’t finished them. I’ve been carrying them around on any trip I think will take longer than 3 hours for the last 9 months, but it takes me so long to refind my place and remember what’s going on I have to put it down before I make any progress. Like a live-action version of constantly refreshing a Youtube video, I’m getting FURTHER from done the more I try, like some kind of literary Sisyphus.
Who is impressively jacked. Apparently if you want to be eternally ripped, just piss off Zeus.
If those 18 month have been as unkind to your memory as they were to my family in general, let me refresh your attentions on how we’re SUPPOSED to review cookbooks on the site. (He said, as if they weren’t his criteria, decided on a whim years ago.) The five qualities we look for in a cookbook are:
Unity of Theme
WHY DO I KEEP THINKING THERE’S A FIFTH CATEGORY?
Seriously, I’m very bad at remembering my own systems/
I’m going to INVENT a fifth category for the next one, just to make my life infinitesimally easier. Something like “Wow Factor”, or “usefulness”, or…I don’t know, SOMETHING.
Anyway, let’s breakdown a “A Feast of Ice and Fire”, and learn how R+L = J. (Reading +Learning = Joy, of course. And how that reference in no way relates to the Tower of Joy.)
I always put this quality first, and it’s because it’s the quality I value the MOST in a cookbook. And the voice here is…it’s something kind of confusing and amazing.
Because each recipe in the book is inspired by a passage from A Song of Ice and Fire, so we’re already dealing with a transformative, and somewhat subordinate voice: the authors have been inspired by ANOTHER author’s work, without which the text would not exist. As a small example of what I mean, the book starts with a 4 page foreword by Martin himself. And it’s pretty fucking fun. Martin uses a lot of sensory details, throws some shade, and references a woman HE hanged as part of his appreciation of the authors.
And then the authors get a half-page introduction that is much more direct, almost mechanical in its generic “we loved the books, we hope to take you on a journey, anyone can cook” sort of inexperienced introduction. And while that may sound somewhat harsh, I think it actually serves as a testament.
And who am I to go around ignoring testaments, eh?
See, as the book goes on, the format of each recipe is the same: we get a quote from the books, then the recipe name and details (serving size, cooking time, etc), and then the authors get a paragraph or two to introduce the recipe and their thoughts about it before the actual recipe starts. And despite that kind of mechanical tone in the introduction, the paragraphs tied to each RECIPE are…fascinating.
Because they SOUND like Martin, in a way; a sort of literary echo. When describing Mutton in Onion and Ale Broth, they note that it’s an excellent way to use Lamb left-overs, since it needs “meaty bones, stale bread, and flat beer”. IT makes a “primitive, hearty soup”. There’s something to their use of adjectives in particular that FEELS literary, it feels a PART of the world the recipes inhabit. It’s subtle, and small, but it’s quite impressive.
This is a book MADE to be looked at. Every recipe has a picture, the pages are semi-gloss, the sections are denoted by color on the edging, instead of chapter designations.
You can see the semi-gloss in the muted lens flare in the top left.
Sort of a Subdued JJ Abrams effect.
I have only a few small complaints: the biggest is that there is a touch less precision in some of the recipes than my family would love, which combines with the fact that while the pictures of the food are good, they’re a little TOO good, in that many feel like a glamour shot from a commercial, not an actual dish. Like, the REASON my mother wanted to change baking vessels for our pork pies on Monday is because the pork pies in the book’s pictures are CLEARLY baked in different vessels…which is never acknowledged in the text. The smallest, and therefore most pressing complaint I have is that one of the recipe pairs has been slowly grating on my sanity because of the pictures.
So, there’s two recipes for Cheese and Onion Pie. There’s two recipes for a LOT of dishes in here, as we noted on Monday, because a lot of the recipes do a “Medieval” (which ranges anywhere from Ancient Rome to 17th century) version, and a “modern” version. And THESE are the pictures for the two options.
I feel like the pictures themselves are a little biased. Like, one is full of rich warm browns, and the other is pale beige and gray.
Now, that seems pretty straightforward. The one on the left is the Modern one, and it’s basically a cheese and onion Quiche. The one on the right is the Medieval one, with two pie crusts, and some weird fruit thing.
Except that’s not right. The LEFT one is the Medieval one, and the RIGHT one is the modern one. They HAVE to be, because the Medieval recipe only uses one crust, on the bottom, and the modern one uses two crusts.
EXCEPT for that obvious bit of fruit in the right one messing it up because while there are currants in the medieval recipe, there’s NO fruit in the modern one. And I can’t see any currants in the medieval one at all! Did they just fuck up and put the fruit in the wrong pies? I don’t know, because this recipe is exclusive to the cookbook! I’d have to directly ASK them what happened, and, as a millennial, I would rather suffer in silence than willingly speak to another person directly without previous contact and connection.
At least, SOBER Jon feels like that. Drunk Jon is much more personable.
Moving on, before I go cross-eyed over pies.
This refers to the desire the cookbook instill in me to go out and MAKE the recipes it depicts. And…I can’t tell if this book really has that. Because yes, I want to make some of the recipes from it…but I can’t tell how much of that impulse is because of my previous connection to the show and books. I don’t know if it’s that THEY’RE motivating me, or if it’s more of a “Oh, that’s the dish from that one scene! And it’s pretty easy to make! I should do that!’
It’s the downside to the remarkably fitting voice of before: I can’t tell how much of my interest comes from them, and how much comes from someone else, refracted through them. Which, I suppose, makes sense: the entire cookbooks is a result of the authors being catapulted by Martin’s novels, so it follows that I feel more of the inspiration that moved them, than an inspiration FROM them.
Unity of Theme
While my opening comments in the Production Quality section should leave little doubt that I think this is a beautiful book, I think this is the shining star of the text. The book almost renders itself into a Travelogue of Westeros, it’s so dedicated to this principle.
While the first chapter is a short collection of basic recipes (pastry dough, roux, sauces and spices), every following chapter has the same theme and lay-out: we start at the Wall, and work our way South: The Wall, The North, The South, King’s Landing, Dorne, and then we cross the Narrow Sea. And each chapter starts the same way: “Breakfast at [Region]”, giving us a (typically pretty simple) breakfast the novels mentioned someone eating in that area. Then we progress through the day, the dishes getting heavier, until we hit sweets and desserts, closing in a couple chapters with drinks. So there’s this subtle impression of a day in each locale passing as you read through the recipes. You have breakfast, then lunch, a couple snacks, then dinner, then wash it down and move on.
This specific breakfast keeps messing me up, because I keep thinking the elk-horn handle is some kind of pepper.
And there’s a dedication to the series here in some surprising little nuances. As I alluded to in Monday’s post, they’re not afraid to tell you to go find weird ingredients like Grains of Paradise to make something, or drop in something like “well, there’s a dish of grilled snake in one of the books, so here’s a recipe for snake”.
Seriously, just “And here’s a recipe that needs 2 pound of rattlesnake.”
And I can confirm, as the text says, that it’s a pretty mild meat.
The unity of the theme is remarkable.
As a cookbook, the text has some flaws, mostly minor. As a conversation piece, or a continuation of one’s interest in the show, it’s pretty invaluable. The foreword alone is a fantastic look into Martin’s style and tone as an author. I’d recommend it if you’re a big Song of Ice and Fire or Game of Thrones fan, and you want something that’ll really cinch a finale viewing party.
Normally I’d make a plug for my social media stuff here, but a series of technical issues has delayed me to the point that I have no time. Look out for those links on Monday.
MONDAY: JON BRINGS YOU A COUPLE EGG RECIPES, JUST IN TIME FOR EASTER.
THURSDAY: MAYBE WE’LL REVISIT THE COZIES, ASSUMING I’VE EVADED THE POLICE BY THEN.