Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sing a song of ice and fire... then sit down to a meal which brings Westeros out of fantasy and into reality.

3 out of 5 stars

*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*

Once again Adams Media has jumped on the promotional bandwagon of the latest entertainment pop-culture darling. It all began with The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook: From Cauldron Cakes to Knickerbocker Glory--More Than 150 Magical Recipes for Wizards and Non-Wizards Alike, followed by The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook: From Lamb Stew to "Groosling" - More Than 150 Recipes Inspired by the Hunger Games Trilogy. Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, books which incorporate sensory experiences, most especially of the gustatory kind, tend to imprint themselves more on a reader's memory, not to mention draw the reader into the world, the story, and the action which the author has created. So for any fan of a particular set of books, the ability to immerse yourself more fully into those books through a cookbook, authorized or not, is a wonderful thing. Which makes this particular entry into the unauthorized cookbook canon most welcome, despite the blatant commercial aspect of the enterprise.

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.

Read June 26-28, 2012
Reviewed for the Amazon Vine Program June 28, 2012

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