Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Dota 2 Lotus Orb Apple Pastries

"The jewel at its center still reflects a pale image of its creator."
- Flavor text from Dota 2 item descriptions

Dota 2 Lotus Orbs made from apples and puff pastry, topped with a cherry! Situational item, core for a Dota 2 party.

This imagining of an edible lotus orb is actually my second attempt. Last year I made "Lotus Root Orbs," which were little spheres made out of lotus roots. They were finicky, and not particularly tasty, but I thought the name was pretty funny (and I love creating pun-based foods).

For this year's The International, I decided to go with an approach more similar to the Magic Sticks or the Aghanim's Scepters, where the dish in question looks visually like the in-game Dota 2 item. Lotus Orbs appear to be white petals surrounding a shiny pink core. I toyed around with a couple of ways to make edible flower structures - I even considered savory lotus orbs made from onion flowers. I wanted an option that would be relatively easy to serve at a buffet-style snack table over the course of a 3-6 hour Grand Finals series, and that would consistently produce an attractive dish without being too finicky. In the end, this laundry list of criteria turned out to be best served by apple roses.

If you've ever watched a recipe gif, you've probably seen one for apple roses. There's good reason for their popularity - they look impressive, they're easy to make, and they only require a handful of ingredients. To turn these into lotus orbs, I dusted the "petals" with powder sugar to lighten the petals and added maraschino cherries to the center. With the added pop of color, I think the resulting dish actually looks more adorable than your run-of-the-mill apple roses, and is a pretty good match for a Lotus Orb. And is, of course, delicious.

Lotus Orbs may just be a situational item for most heroes, but I think these are core for any Dota 2 menu.

Ingredients

Makes 12 lotus orbs.
  • 3 apples - softer varieties are best
  • 1 pack (17.3 oz) puff pastry sheets (Note 1)
  • 4 oz cream cheese (Note 2)
  • 12 maraschino cherries
  • Powdered sugar (for dusting, optional, about 1/4 cup)
Notes
  1. These are available in the frozen foods section of most grocery stores. Thaw overnight in the fridge, or at room temperature for half an hour.
  2. Warm to room temperature to make spreading easier.

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a muffin tin with butter, or line with muffin liners.
  2. Lotus orb petals are completely white, so we want to remove the apple skins! Peel the skin from the apples. If you have an apple corer, core the apples then halve them. If you don't have an apple corer, halve them, then cut out the core.
  3. With a mandolin, or with a sharp knife and a bit of patience, thinly slice the apple halves and place them on a plate.
  4. Microwave the apple slices for 2-3 minutes, or until soft enough to bend easily.
  5. Lightly flour a large cutting board or counter top. Roll out a pastry sheet to around 12x10 inches. Cut into six 2x10 inch strips.
  6. Spread cream cheese along half each pastry strip (to create a 1x10 inch cream cheese rectangle). 
  7. Layer apple slides along the cream cheese-covered long edge of a pastry strip, leaving about half of the apple slice overhanging the pastry strip. Overlap each apple slice by about half a slice width. I like to start with the nice large pieces of apple, and taper o the smaller apple slices. Leave about 1-1.5 inches of pastry unadorned with apple.
  8. Fold the opposite side of the pastry over the apple slices. Starting from the bare end of the pastry, roll up the pastry into a tight spiral, then place in the muffin tin.
  9. Repeat with the remaining pastry strips and with the second puff pastry sheet to create 12 lotus orbs.
  10. Bake for 20 minutes, then loosely cover with a sheet of aluminum foil to prevent the apple petals from burning. Bake for another 20-25 minutes, until your kitchen smells awesome and the pastry is fully cooked and golden.
  11. Transfer to a rack to cool. Using a sieve, dust the apple roses with powdered sugar. This is technically optional, but it looks pretty and it makes the lotus orb petals look a little more white.
  12. Place a maraschino cherry into the center of each orb.
  13. Arrange on a platter and serve.
Dota 2 Lotus Orbs: Apple roses, topped with a cherry. Applies a basic dispel on consumption.

Looking for more Dota 2 food? Check out my TI Grand Finals party menus:

Monday, July 10, 2017

Popcornelius Fudge

"Come now Harry, the Ministry doesn't send people to Azkaban for blowing up their aunts."
- Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Sweet and salty combine perfectly in this caramel-coated popcorn fudge

This recipe came about as a literal shower thought. There I was, washing my hair like a normal muggle, when the idea of a Harry Potter dessert pun came to mind. Popcornelius Fudge. Does that ever happen to you? A pun so fun you can't not make it?

In developing the recipe, I started with the popcorn. Stale or soggy popcorn is terribly unappealing, so I kept it crisp by coating it in caramel. Building on the "sweet and salty" theme, I thought sea salt and dark chocolate fudge would be the perfect complement for the base. So here it is - a smooth, rich dark chocolate fudge, topped with the salty crunch of caramel popcorn.

Not an experienced candy maker or baker? Not a problem - this 8-ingredient recipe comes together easily and without specialized equipment. Short on time? Want to cut it down to a 4-ingredient dessert? Use store-bought caramel popcorn! Makes for a very fast Harry Potter potluck dish.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sweet Cakes Soaked With Honey

Catelyn still remembered the innkeep, a fat woman named Masha Heddle who chewed sourleaf night and day and seemed to have an endless supply of smiles and sweet cakes for the children. The sweet cakes had been soaked with honey, rich and heavy on the tongue, but how Catelyn had dreaded those smiles.
- A Game of Thrones, Catelyn V, George R.R. Martin

These honey drizzled sugar cookies would fit perfectly in Riverrun
My re-read of A Game of Thrones last year added many new recipes ideas to my "to-do" list. This one topped the list, because who doesn't love honey? I poked around various medieval recipe sites to see if "sweet cakes" referred to any sort of dish in particular, but this might have been a George R.R. Martin creation. In the end, I selected this recipe from the Receipt Book of Sarah Longe, a beautifully penned cookbook dated to around 1610, because "sugar cakes" seemed to be about as close to "sweet cakes" as I could get.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Teamosas: Mad Hatter Mimosas

'Have some wine,' the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.
'I don't see any wine,' Alice remarked.
'There isn't any,' said the March Hare.
'Then it wasn't very civil for you to offer it,' said Alice angrily.
― Alice in Wonderland, Chapter VII, Lewis Carroll

Teamosa has a jewel-like red color. Shown here in a glass pitcher with a chalkboard label.

Unlike the tea party Alice stumbled into, my Mad Hatter Tea Party certainly had wine. I was torn between making a tea version of sangria and a tea version of mimosas, so I made both! Because I was looking for a caffeine-free alternative to all the other tea drinks at my tea party, this one is technically a tisane. "Tisane-mosa" just doesn't have the same ring to it as teamosa, so I'll stick with the technically-incorrect name.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

DIY Alice in Wonderland Mini-Croquet Game

"The chief difficulty Alice found at first was in managing her flamingo... just as she had got its neck nicely straightened out, and was going to give the hedgehog a blow with its head, it *would* twist itself round and look up in her face, with such a puzzled expression that she couldn't help bursting out laughing, and when she had got its head down, and was going to begin again, it was very provoking to find that the hedgehog had unrolled itself, and was in the act of crawling away."
- Alice in Wonderland, Chapter VIII, Lewis Carroll

Miniature croquet set gets upgraded for a Mad Hatter Tea Party. This image shows a close-up of the flamingo mallets and hedgehog balls.
I was really quite pleased with this inexpensive and easy party entertainment for my Alice in Wonderland Tea Party. The croquet game is one of the most memorable parts of Alice's journey in Wonderland. (Also, one of the most relatable parts of Alice's adventures, in that curious Wonderland way. I know I have certainly struggled with flamingos and hedgehogs of sorts that simply refused to cooperate!) I wanted to incorporate the cricket game somehow into my tea party.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Review: Alice in Matchaland

"But this White Rabbit laid down a blanket, opened a parasol, and PREPARED HIMSELF A BOWL OF TEA."
- Alice in Matchaland

Top-down view of the manga cookbook Alice in Matchaland, with cookies, playing cards and glass teacup with matcha latte

I received a copy of Alice in Matchland  by Mosoko Miyatsuki for free in exchange for an honest review. Alice in Wonderland is one of my favorite books, so I was excited to see how the creator wove this story into a cookbook. 

This little book is a unique hybrid between an illustrated storybook and a cookbook. Alice meets the familiar Wonderland and Looking Glass characters, each of whom present to her a dessert or drink made with matcha. Recipes range from the simple essentials, like matcha tea, to the more complicated, like chiffon cake. The illustrations are cute anime re-imaginings of Lewis Carroll's creations - the dormouse, for instance, is a toddler with a tail, wearing a hood with mouse ears. The final products of the recipes are also illustrated, not photographed.

The story blends anime and western allusions to fantasy - namedropping Totoro in one moment then referencing Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy the next. I appreciate that the author included the more obscure characters from the original book - the dodo doesn't typically get as much love as the Mad Hatter - as well as some Carrollian words (frabjous!). On the other hand, the story doesn't capture the same absurd humor found in Carroll's tales, relying more on the "oh I understood that reference" sort of humor.
Matcha cheshire cat cookies and latte
As much as I love the concept of a storybook-cookbook, the recipes could perhaps have been tied a little more closely to the story. It isn't evident to me why the dodo provides Alice with matcha tofu blancmange and the Jabberwock gives Alice matcha gelatin. Because tea parties feature so prominently in the Alice in Wonderland story, I would have also liked to see more green tea takes on classic tea party dishes. For example, matcha scones or tea sandwiches with matcha cream cheese. 

However, the author does provide an interesting range of matcha recipes, as well as a few showstopper recipes that incorporate multiple recipes all combined into one bigger dessert. Because the recipes selected are typically quite simple - usually just three or four ingredients in addition to the matcha - the matcha flavor is very much on display in these recipes.

The recipes themselves call for an unusual range of culinary skill. The recipe for matcha pancakes requires boxed pancake mix (why not make from scratch?), while the chiffon cake requires whisking egg whites and egg yolks separately for 10 minutes each. Some specialized equipment is also required, like chocolate molds for the chocolates and a food processor for the cookies.

Pudding in a conical glass container and a red and white striped background, with both Alice in Matchaland and Lewis Carroll's books in background

The quantities of the ingredients are all in metric. I prefer baking in metric units, but some readers may find it discombobulating.

The instructions are not always clear. For example, when I made the matcha pudding, I was instructed to pour the egg-milk-sugar-matcha mixture into the serving cups and heat the serving cups into a larger pot containing water over medium-low for 10 to 15 minutes or until the "surface of [the] pudding hardens." I would have liked to know factors like the suggested volume of the serving cups and the height of the water in the water bath. Should I have preheated the water before adding the pudding? I assume the "hardening" of the surface is a mis-translation that should be "solidifies." Less experienced chefs may also appreciate a reminder to stir the eggs while slowly pouring in the milk mixture to prevent egg scrambling.

The quality of the printing and binding is great, however some of the translations or wording could be edited for clarity and flow. Some of the typesetting is also a little awkward (see below). The illustrations are beautiful.


In summary, I would recommend this book for two target audiences. First, I think this would make a perfect addition to a little gift bag that includes matcha, a whisk and a tea bowl. The final recipe in the book is a sufficiently detailed description of how to make matcha, while the other recipes are fun inspiration for other ways you can use the gifted matcha.

Second, I think the book would be a fun introduction to baking for a child. I could see it being a great activity to read the story with a kid, and try to pick out a recipe to try together. Many of the recipes are simple enough that a child could perform them with supervision, and the plot and language of the story are similarly appropriate for a child.

This book is available on Amazon.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Princess Carolyn's "Save The Day" Mushroom Risotto

Recently-Hired-Waitress: "[The food critic] still wants her mushroom risotto."
Recently-Promoted-Chef: "I don't know how to make risotto."
Princess Carolyn: "I know how."
- "Best Thing That Ever Happened," BoJack Horseman

Eat like a Hollywoo food critic with this acorn squash and portobello mushroom risotto
It's #Nyanuary over at Fandom Foodies so I thought I would celebrate with the fictional anthropomorphic cat I perhaps identify with the most, Princess Carolyn from BoJack Horseman. (I also give myself "you are now a robot" pep-talks!)