The Princess Bride and a Miracle Meal (#87)
My name Matthew. You found my blog. Prepare to dine.
Our movie this month was The Princess Bride. This is a film that we had all seen before, but it's such a classic that no one wanted to skip it. There are several food references throughout this film, so coming up with the theme was not difficult. I decided to serve a variation of the classic soup & sandwich. The sandwich would be an MLT (mutton, lettuce, and tomato) sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and crispy. According to Miracle Max, it's the only thing better than true love. The soup would be a recreation of the soup that Fezzik used to revive Inigo. The dessert for the night was inspired by the miracle pill given to Westley (the one that was coated in chocolate so that it would go down easier).
Before we ate, we started the night with a simple game of wits. I asked my guests to pair up. One person stood on one side of the table and the other person stood across from them. In front of each pair, I placed to two solo cups, face down. Then, I handed each person on one side of the table a cotton ball. The cotton ball represented a silent and odorless poison. I then had their partner turn to face away from the poison and cups. The guest with the poison would chose one cup to put the cotton ball in and when all the poison was placed, their partner would turn back around and face the two face down cups. It is their job to decide which cup they will "drink from." They are allowed to ask questions, but their partner doesn't have to answer them.
This is a game of bluffing, manipulation, and being able to read each other's faces. Once the cup is chosen, both cups are revealed and whoever had the poison is eliminated. The survivors then pair up with each other to play a second round. If possible, try to let them take a different role than last time. For example, if in the last round they hid the poison, this round they will pick the cup. This won't always be possible because both survivors may of had the same role in the last round. The game continues round after round until only one person remains. This person is given the title of the new Dread Pirate Roberts. I would suggest buying a small black mask or a plastic sword from a party store to give the winner as recognition of their new title. I didn't think about that beforehand and was a little embarrassed that I didn't have anything to give our dread pirate.
Now for the recipes:
I'm not going to bother to write a recipe here. It's exactly what you would expect. I took a BLT and swapped the bacon for something to represent mutton. This was honestly the biggest challenge for me. I wanted it to still have the kind of flavor and crispiness that you would get from bacon. If you don't already know mutton is basically another word for lamb. According to my research, most countries identify lamb as coming from a young sheep where as mutton comes from an adult sheep. In America, the word mutton is not considered very appealing so its normal to refer to the meat as lamb meat regardless of the sheep's age.
I bounced around several ideas, including roasting a leg of lamb and trying to slice it thin for sandwiches. I didn't love that idea though, because I'm not good at slicing meat and it seemed like a lot of extra work. Plus, I was afraid of the meat being too lean or tough and completely changing the texture of the sandwich. Eventually, it occurred to me that bacon is made from pig belly and if that's the case, lamb belly might be a thing, and maybe if I am lucky someone may already be selling sliced lamb bacon. It turns out that I was right. I found Seven Sons in Indiana who sell and ship all kinds of meat, including amazingly lamb bacon, which is not only sliced but also smoked just like traditional pork bacon would be.
Let me tell you right now, that meat was not cheap, but it was AMAZING!!! In fairness, I chose to follow a Kosher(ish) diet several years back and so I haven't had pork bacon in a long time. The closest thing I have had is turkey bacon, which doesn't really compare. It's usually tough and comes out more like a jerky than bacon. That was not the case with this lamb bacon. It comes out of the package looking like bacon. It has fat marbled through it. The cuts were a little inconsistent, but that's just a reminder that you are buying from a family business and not a big name meat packager. The other big difference is that when cooked, it is a bit darker than pork bacon would be. Flavor wise, it was incredible. It reminded me why bacon is such a popular ingredient. I honestly feel that it was tastier than any pork bacon that I have ever had, but that opinion is probably bias since it has been so long since I've had pork bacon.
To cook the bacon, I set my oven to 400°. I lined baking sheets with non-stick aluminum foil and crinkled the foil to create ridges. I do this whenever baking something fatty like bacon or chicken wings. The crinkles create little pits to catch oil and fat that drips off the meat while it cooks, which helps your food come out less greasy. I spread the bacon out onto the sheets as best as I could fit without overlapping the strips. Then cook until it is at the desired crispiness. Pay close attention to the fat. The meat darkens faster than normal pork bacon, so it may appear burnt, but if you still see the white fat, it's not done yet. I didn't time it when I was cooking, but I would say it took at least 20 minutes or more get the crispiness that I was looking for.
While the bacon was cooking, I sliced my tomatoes. For the tomatoes, I have a few tips/tricks that may help you. Tomatoes are best when really ripe. For that reason, I did not refrigerate my tomatoes. When you get them at the grocery store, they are sitting out in the produce section. If you plan to use them within a couple days of buying them, don't put them put them in the fridge when you get home. You want them to continue to ripen and become more flavorful. Second tip, when you slice them, set them on paper towels to capture excess moisture. "But tomatoes should be juicy!" you are saying? Yes, but wet tomato slices can make your BLT or MLT bread soggy. With these sandwiches, the texture of the sandwich is just as important as the flavors.
For the bread, I bought a Hearty White bread. Literally, that was the name. It's made by Farmhouse. For a BLT or MLT you want a nice, toasted bread and this was perfect for that. Toasting multiple slices of bread can be tricky, so I used my oven again. After the bacon was done, I moved the slices to paper towels to soak up any excess grease, threw out the aluminum foil, and gave my pans a rinse. They pretty much all had bacon grease on them that had gotten past the aluminum foil, so after rinsing off the excess, instead of fully cleaning it, I used a napkin to spread the remaining bacon grease around the baking sheets to grease them. Then, I set the oven to Broil at 425° and set the slices of bread on the sheets and let them toast. Keep a close eye of them. The ones on top will toast the fastest. If you want both sides of the bread to be crispy, you can flip it. I didn't do that and didn't feel that it was necessary.For the lettuce I used green leaf. I feel like its a good overall lettuce with more flavor than something like iceberg and its also more vibrant and colorful which looks good in contrast with the bright red tomato. Feel free to use a different lettuce if you'd prefer. I washed the lettuce and put it in bowl. I let my guests make their own sandwich and had everything sitting out for them, including mayonnaise, which some people like to put on a BLT, but some may not.
The sandwiches came out so good. There were ten of us and we went through about four pounds of lamb bacon. I had purchased and baked 5 lbs, which means I have some leftovers. Something that I am not upset about. Hahaha Everyone seemed to really enjoy their sandwich as well as the unique experience of having "mutton bacon."
Fezzik's Giant Stew/Soup
Since the MLTs were basically my main course, I kept the stew/soup simple. Fezzik was not a rich giant, so I kept this dish simple with earthy flavors. Also, I left my meat, potatoes, and carrot in large chunks rather than the small bite size pieces you might expect. Fezzik is a giant after all. His bite size is a bit larger that ours. I found another website that had a great recipe already, so used it, but with some slight alterations.
- Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. This is a one pot dish.
- Stir in the steak tips, pepperleaf (or pepper with thyme), and garlic and continue stirring until the steak meat lightly browns. Steak tips a basically the leftovers when steak is cut at the butchers. These are big chunks of delicious meat. You could use something like stew meat if you prefer, but steak tips give it a more rustic feel.
- Once the meat has browned, add the beef broth and a lid. Let the the meat and spices simmer in the closed pot for an hour, while you prep the veggies.
- Chop the potatoes into eighths and the carrots into large chunks.
- Use a measuring cup to measure out 4 cups of water. Add the cornstarch to the water and stir until completely dissolved.
- Once that hour of simmering has passed, stir the veggies, cornstarch water, and remaining ingredients of onion powder and Worcestershire sauce to the pot. Reduce the heat, cover, and leave on a low simmer for another hour. While cooking, if the dish seems to thick, you can add more water or beef broth. The goal is to make it look like the picture, soupy with large chunks or meat and veggies.
This dish came out pretty much exactly as I expected it to. The flavors were very natural and earthy but not overpowering. It tasted good, while still being believable as a poor man's soup. It was a good accompaniment to the MLTs without stealing the show.
The only hint we are given about the miracle pill is that it is coated in chocolate to go down easier. We also get a sneak peek of it a couple times in film and can tell that it is a large chocolate ball. For this reason, I could have put anything in chocolate coating and called it a miracle pill, but you know I need to go a little further with the concept than that.
Anybody want a peanut? It occurred to me that I had not incorporated peanuts into anything so far, so making this dish a peanut butter and chocolate dessert only made sense. That wasn't enough for me though. I though about just making a peanut butter and chocolate dessert. I also thought about doing peanut butter ice cream and making that into chocolate coated ice cream balls. That probably would have been delicious, but I didn't want to go for a traditional dessert with this.
The original miracle pill is powerful enough to raise the dead (or at least mostly dead). A standard dessert would never do this. My first thought was to add caffeine somehow. I thought about adding espresso to the dish. The only reason that I ultimately decided against that is that I knew we wouldn't be eating this dessert until around 9pm. My guests might not be keen on being caffeinated that late at night. I'd hate for a dinner guest to struggle with getting to sleep because of a dish I served them.
Ultimately, I decided to mimic energy bars with my miracle pills. Energy bars are healthy little snacks that you might take with you on a hike or workout to get an extra boost of protein energy. Peanuts and/or peanut butter is a common ingredient and so is dark chocolate, which adds sweetness and is much better for you than milk chocolate. Many energy also have a fruit element. I did not add any fruit to my recipe, but in hindsight, it probably would have been tastier with some dehydrated cranberry or date.
- Add oats, peanut butter, and honey in a large bowl and stir with spatula until everything is thoroughly mixed. This takes a little work and time.
- Prep an area near the stove for your energy bars. Lay out some wax paper there. I like to put my wax paper in a large rectangular tupperware so that I can put the lid on and cover it when I am done.
- Use a tablespoon to measure out a tablespoon of mixture. Roll it in your hands to a ball shape and place it on your wax paper.
- Continue to do this until you have used all of your mixture. I got about 48 energy balls using this method and they were all the same shape and size, since I used the tablespoon to measure.
- Use a double boiler method to melt your chocolate. I did this by putting water in a small pot and putting it on medium heat. Then I put a metal bowl that is larger than the pot on top of it and added the chocolate wafers to the bowl. Using this method, keeps your chocolate melted without burning because it is being heated by the steam and not directly touching the heat source.
- Using a spoon, drop a ball into the chocolate and roll around until it's fully coated. Then remove and return it to the wax paper. Do this for all of your energy balls.
- The chocolate will harden and cool at room temperature so there is no need to refrigerate this.
This dessert was definitely a win. Not overly sweet, but definitely sweet enough. It ends up tasting a bit like a granola bar. It is a little dry though. If I was to do this again, I probably would add some dried cranberries to give it extra flavor and texture.
Overall, the night was a big success. Everyone seemed to enjoy the food and theme. If you ever host a dinner party based on the Princess Bride, I would definitely suggest that you use some of my recipes or ideas. Let me know if the comments what you would have done differently.