August 20, 2012

A Feast of Ice and Fire

A FEAST OF ICE AND FIRE: The Official Companion Cookbook by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer, with George R.R. Martin (Bantam, 2012)
GENRE: Cooking

Allow me to state up front that I'm not a fan of media tie-ins. Wookie Cookies is super cute, but not really my thing and if True Blood came out with a drinks guide, I probably wouldn't crack the spine. That said, A Feast of Fire and Ice, the official companion cookbook to A Game of Thrones is, suffice it to say, an exception.

There is so much about this cookbook that is exceptional, especially for a cooking geek (which I am), or a history geek (MA in medieval lit. here) or a fantasy geek (guilty as charged, though I'm embarrassed to admit that I have yet to read the series that inspired this culinary awesomeness, George R.R. Martin's Game of Fire and Ice). But there's a lot here for those who don't fall into one of these geekdoms too, though a love of food is pretty much required, otherwise what's the point?

Beautifully laid out with photography that begs for roaring fires and malt beer, the book is a visual treat, but it's the recipes that make A Feast and Ice a work of substance, rather than just another pretty face. Thoroughly modern and historically accurate, these dishes are deeply rooted in both the Westeros of Martin's books and the culinary traditions of medieval and Elizabethan Europe. Monroe-Cassel and Lehrer really know their stuff. While I expected the book to be filled with cutesy, Shepherds-pie-shaped nods to faux-Elizabethan cooking, what I found were recipes for everything from pease porridge (part of the "Breakfast on the Wall" menu) to "Dornish Snake with Fiery Sauce".  Every dish in this pristinely researched volume contains two recipes, one a historically accurate version for the cook with the time and resources to roast boar (yes, roast boar), the other a carefully constructed modern update that preserves the spirit of the original while incorporating modern ingredients and techniques. Sample menus are provided, organized by region, and suggestions for viable substitutions are helpfully given, just in case you can't source aurochs in time for your dinner party. An introduction by George R.R. Martin adds a charming touch, as do the quotes that pepper the chapters, which are likewise organized by region, from Winterfell and the Wall in the North to the lands across the Narrow Sea. Most helpfully, perhaps, is the succinct opening chapter on stocking a medieval kitchen and making certain basics, like the pastry dough and sauces that feature in various recipes.

Gorgeous, lush and tempting, A Feast of Ice and Fire really does inspire. It's heads and shoulders the best tie-in anything I've ever read and one of the best cookbooks of the year thus far. My only fear is that it will get overlooked by serious cooks for the same (admittedly snobby) reasons that nearly held me back. All I can do is say, please don't let it. This cookbook stands on it's own and I am officially a fan.

Incidentally, Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer have a fantastic blog devoted to the cooking of Westeros called The Inn at the Crossroads. Check it out here.

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