Sunday, February 9, 2014

Kaya’s Lewis and Clark Adventure: Harvest Mincemeat and Monticello Muffins

Both of which are probably some of the more unusual dishes we've done here!

I wasn't sure what to expect when tackling these two recipes, and I'll admit that I think I overdid it a bit today with the cooking. I need to stop doing that! As much as I enjoy thinking up recipes to feature for the blog and info to share with you guys, spending almost all day in the kitchen is exhausting, and I am a little irritated at myself for not learning my lesson and saying you know what, it's time to take a break.

But that said, as promised, here's another entry into our ongoing adventure through The Food Journal of Lewis & Clark! Neither of these recipes were really the source of my frustration - the one that was you'll have to wait and hear about tomorrow, because I actually did the legwork for two posts today. Apparently I'm ambitious sometimes.

Anyway, on to the post!

These two recipes are still from the chapter about what kind of food Thomas Jefferson would have enjoyed at Monticello around the time he thought up the need for the Corps of Discovery, and as interesting as they were to make, I'm starting to consider skipping ahead to the good part of the cookbook. There are a couple other wealthy Virginian dishes to do, and I feel like if I do all of them, I'm never going to get to the dishes actually eaten on the expedition! Besides, we can always come back to these later if the mood strikes. It's not like the cookbook is going anywhere.

Still, I'm not sorry we did these two recipes, especially because I was very interested to see how they turned out. The first one I decided to jump into was the harvest mincemeat, mostly because it needed the longest time to cook and I wanted to make sure it was ready to go in time for company to arrive.

I've never actually had mincemeat before, even though I've obviously heard of it. The book explains that before refrigeration, people relied on adding sugar, salt or alcohol (or a combination of the three) to preserve food. Mincemeat was apparently invented in the British Isles and brought to the American colonies as a dish to make after the harvest and butchering season. I know we're making this well after said season is over, but I definitely wasn't planning on waiting until next fall to give it a shot.

It's a fairly straightforward recipe to make. You brown the meat, throw in chopped apples, raisins, brown sugar, apple cider, brandy and spices into the pan and mush it all around. You can either cook it uncovered on the stove for two and a half hours, or put it in a baking dish and cook it in the oven.

As you can see, we opted to put it in the oven.

While that cooked, I got started on the muffins. I'm going to let you all know right off the bat that these are not muffins as we know them, unless you're thinking of English muffins, in which case that's pretty much exactly what they are. According to the cookbook, a copy of this recipe exists in Thomas Jefferson's own handwriting! Again, not my favorite historical figure, but that's still pretty cool to hear. I've got my eye on a recipe for a tea cake that Emily Dickinson wrote out.

This is the second time I used the stand mixer, and the first time I used the dough hook attachment for it. I've had mixed results with recipes that involve yeast, so I was a little wary of the whole situation, but the dough came out looking pretty okay.

And I was very pleased to find that it did rise after we let it sit for about fifty minutes! I'm not really sure it rose again once it was broken up into muffins, but they looked different enough that I was quite satisfied.

One weird thing that's never happened to me before while making bread is that the dough got a really thick, almost crunchy skin on top of it, and it didn't get reincorporated into the dough again even after I messed with it a bit. Weird.

But here's the stranger part of the recipe for me: instead of popping these in the oven, they needed to be cooked in a skillet.

This in retrospect makes sense, and definitely made them look more like English muffins because they need to be cooked on both sides, and can be kind of smushed down to get a flatter shape more consistent with what you'd expect from a store bought muffin.

My one major complaint about them was that it was super difficult to tell if they'd been cooked through or not, especially because the cooking time the recipe gave didn't seem accurate for the muffins I actually made. Still, they weren't completely raw in the middle, which was nice.

It worked out that the mincemeat was done around the same time as the muffins, and when I pulled it out of the oven, it looked... kind of overcooked.

There are definitely some very dark raisins in there...

But once it got mushed around a bit, it definitely had more liquid to it.

Much better!

So, how did it all taste?

While these weren't my favorite things I've ever made by a long shot, I did enjoy making and eating them, and I think my taste testers thought they were alright too. This makes a lot of mincemeat though, and I have to admit, I am still kind of baffled by this being a dessert. It was... interesting? But the book recommends serving it with pastry (which I could definitely see) or ice cream (which I definitely can't). In general, I just don't think the texture of meat and cooked fruit together really appeals to me, even though the flavors were really nice. If nothing else, it made the house smell really nice.

Apparently it'll keep for about a month in the fridge and three months in the freezer. My mom wants to see if we can try and turn it into a mincemeat pie, which could definitely be an interesting thing to attempt!

The muffins were tasty, particularly when they were warm, but once they were allowed to sit, they got really tough and doughy. I'm not sure if they all cooked consistently through, and like I mentioned before, it was difficult to tell when one was really done without totally mutilating it while it was on the stove, which I don't like doing when I know other people are going to be eating them and wondering why does this look like a velociraptor went after my muffin? Still, they tasted a lot like a normal English muffin and generally tasted decent if you were willing to overlook the doughiness.

So overall? Not a bad experiment. Would I make this again? I'm honestly not sure. It wasn't complicated, but it also wasn't really my favorite thing ever. The muffins actually tasted a lot like the biscuits we made in the first Lewis and Clark themed post, and I kind of liked those better, and I can't say I'm a huge fan of mincemeat. I also just generally feel a little fatigued of this chapter and am impatient to get on to some of the more rugged, interesting recipes waiting for us down the line, so I feel like my opinion of these was a little soured. That said, I've got no regrets and am pleased this didn't turn out to be a catastrophe!

Now to find a good recipe for mincemeat pie...

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