hungry no more: The Hunger Games Menu
Peeta’s nut and raisin bread with Prim goat cheese
Rue dandelion salad with tracker jacker dressing
Katniss’s rabbit (or chicken) chasseur
Roasted blackberries on a vanilla pod bow with vanilla seed ice cream
and fresh violets for Gale
Impossible for me to resist. I love food. I love books. The title is The Hunger Games. Coincidentally the book (part of a trilogy by Suzanne Collins) is a fad among tweens and teens and it was race with my eldest daughter to see who could finish the book first. She won. We both loved the book and the food references throughout sent my creativity into orbit. However, the power of this book goes beyond the ability to encourage a child’s love of literature, it can also encourage them to eat good food (unbeknownst to them), and as I quickly turned the pages, this week’s simple pleasure, a Hunger Games menu, was born.
“Happy Hunger Games and may the odds be ever in your favor.”
Admittedly this post is not for all of you. It is longer than usual and full of literary references to a book you may not have (yet) read (although I promise I do not give it away). Knowing this, the four recipes are posted individually and you can skip ahead and print them out (but I hope not, this took a lot of time and the photos are pretty).
For those of you who have children and/or just love the book as I did, seize the opportunity when it is presented. The popularity of The Hunger Games amongst children is an opportunity to introduce them to some new, healthy foods (and perhaps encourage them to join in the foraging, preparation, and sharing of these foods). Below is your Hunger Games menu “CliffsNotes.” I walk you through the menu, give you ingredient information, tips on the production, and the literary inspiration for the menu and the various ingredients.
➼ two loaves of raisin and nut bread ➼
The sharing and consumption of bread was pivotal in The Hunger Games giving us moments of sincere, selfless generousity and community between the book’s primary characters (a nice analogy as we approach Easter).
There are three “bread moments” in the book and this recipe incorporates all of them:
➽ Katniss and her family eating the burned bread gifted to them by Peeta, the baker’s son, saving them from starvation;
➽ Katniss and Gale sharing bread with goat cheese from Prim’s goat before the reaping; and
➽ The bread District 11 given to Katniss in appreciation for her kindness to Rue (this was omitted in the movie).
Like the two loaves of bread Peeta gave Katniss, this bread is filled with walnuts, hazelnuts, and raisins. This “hearty bread” is lean, meaning it uses a base of water, not dairy, and does not add fat (butter or shorting). It is modestly sweetened with only one ounce of honey. If you do not eat both loaves quickly (which I anticipate you will, all of my tasters did), you can wrap and freeze one of the loaves.
This recipe uses basically a straight dough method which means you do not have to make a sponge or yeast starter. Crudely broken down, baking fresh bread is just four steps: (1) dissolving the yeast and mixing the ingredients to create the dough; (2) letting the dough rise; (3) shaping it; and (4) allowing it to rise a second time and baking it.
Do not rush the bulk fermentation of the bread (the first rise). It should take a good three hours at room temperature. All breads need to rise twice (the bulk rising and then the “proofing,” the second rise); however, do not feel overwhelmed by the process. You can control the speed of the fermentation and when you bake it. For example, if you need to finish the bread the next day or later, slow the fermentation by wrapping the dough (loosely so it can expand but well enough so that it does not dry out) in plastic and let it rise or proof in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. Let it come to room temperature and finish the process.
The recipe is detailed. The ingredient list is short. Make sure that you read through the recipe first. While you can use a mixer with a dough attachment, I recommend using your hands because you can feel when the dough is the consistency you want. After you mix and knead it, the dough should feel like a baby’s bottom. It should neither feel sticky nor tough. It should be soft and smooth.
Like the bread District 11 gave to Katniss in appreciation of her friendship with Rue, this bread is made with whole wheat flour (as well as bread flour) and generously topped with seeds. Before baking, lightly brush the loaves with water and sprinkle the seeds on top. I use a combination of flaxseeds, poppy seeds, and sunflower seeds. It adds texture, the health benefits of seeds, and visual interest.
Lastly, if you can resist, let the bread cool on a wire rack before cutting into it. Serve it with a young goat cheese.
➼ Rue salad with Tracker Jacker dressing ➼
“[We ate the bread for breakfast and I saw Peeta at school] I dropped my gaze [at Peeta …] and that is when I saw it. The first dandelion of the year. A bell went off in my head. I thought of the hours spent in the woods with my father and I knew we [Prim and I] were going to survive […] To this day I can never shake the connection between this boy, Peeta Mellark, and the bread that gave me hope, and the dandelion that reminded me that I was not doomed.” (page 32).
This salad is a collection of moments important to Katniss. The foundational ingredient is dandelions, a weed, but to Katniss dandelions represented hope. Culinarily speaking, dandelions are a wonderful addition to your culinary repertoire and used in French cooking often. (For a discussion on dandelions and dandelion recipes see my September 29, 2011 post.)
With our dandelions, we add greens and vegetables from our market foraging and gathering: various greens (Little Gems lettuce, mesclun, baby beet tops) and root vegetables (radishes, turnips, and carrots). Use baby (Dutch) carrots because they are sweet. The grape/cherry tomatoes are added for color and to balance the bitterness of the dandelions.
The dressing pulls our foraged salad together by adding a sweet buzz to the semi-bitter greens. Tracker jackers are fictional killer wasps in The Hunger Games. Their sting causes swelling, hallucinations, and sometimes death. I can assure you that this dressing does not cause any of the three (unless you have a food allergy). However, Katniss’s hallucinations from their stings reminded me of poppy seeds (which come from the opium poppy…the seeds, however, are not mind altering, just yummy). The use of honey in the dressing is just bee-related (albeit a real and different bee). Make sure to toast the poppy seeds before you add them to the dressing.
Of course, the salad could not be dedicated to Rue without incorporating the herb with the same name and I wondered as I read the book the extent of Ms. Collins’s knowledge of the herb.
Rue (the herb) is not pleasant smelling. In truth, it stinks and it is bitter. It is nicknamed “the herb of grace” because the Catholic church used to use a gathering of rue leaves to disperse holy water on the parishioners (although I think rue has been replaced with something else…but I will have to pay closer attention today in mass). Historically the herb is associated with medicinal properties: treating insect and snake bites; as a sedative; and even protecting eyesight (to identify a few). I actually grow rue in my home kitchen garden as I was told at the nursery that it relieved headaches (I did not realize that rather than using it to make a tisane apparently I was supposed slap the dried leaves on my forehead … um…I don’t think so…) Rue is useful to ward off pests and dried rue is burned (like sage) in some cultures to fend off evil sprits. This I do not doubt. The smell keeps pests out of my organic herbs and my chickens will not go anywhere near it.
➼ rabbit (or chicken) chasseur ➼
This dish is for Katniss who relied upon her hunting skills to survive in life and in the Games. “Chasseur(e)” is French for “hunter.” It also describes a particular French sauce which is result of sautéing shallots, onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes and used to coat various meats or eggs. I am quite sure the above photo, rabbit chasseur served in a rabbit ribcage cornucopia (another Hunger Games reference), would not be given a second thought in France (in fact, Chef Laurent Broussier at Le Jarrier in Biot, France often does this), but I anticipate Americans will not jump on the rabbit ribcage presentation food wagon. Ça va.
I use rabbit for this dish because it is what Katniss, her friends, and her family ate. In France, rabbit is enjoyed with frequency and it can be purchased in every market, boucherie, and farmer’s market. It is delicious, tender, and lean. In America, rabbits are thought of more as pets, opposed to meat, (reminding me of the“pet or meat” sign from the movie Roger and Me).
Knowing this, the recipe is written to work with either rabbit (usually 2½ – 3 pounds, bone-in) or a small (3 pound) chicken. However, respect the differences in the meats when you make the dish. The chicken will be much more fatty, which means you will have to degrease your pan well before cooking the vegetables and again before you reduce the cooking liquid. Rabbit is lean and you actually may need to add a little more fat (butter) to the pan before cooking the vegetables. Rabbit frames are smaller so you will use less broth for the braise than you would with chicken. Also, cut each chicken breast into two pieces.
The hunting, woodsy feel for this dish is furthered by the fresh thyme, mushrooms, and onions. If you use chicken (it is not a delicate as rabbit) you can substitute Cippoline onions in lieu of sliced yellow onions. I like to use a combination of mushrooms for this dish, it keeps with the “foraging” theme. Crimini mushrooms are available in all grocery stores; however, if you have access to more exotic mushrooms (such as small yellow-footed Chanterelles or Shiitake) use them with Crimini.
As a nod to Rue’s contribution to the meal, the chasseur sauce is thickened with a slurry made from arrowroot, a powder the result of a lengthy process of cleaning, grinding, straining and drying the tuber. Arrowroot is easily found in the spice aisle of your grocery store. Funnily, arrowroot allegedly was used historically by the Arwaks (in the Caribbean) to draw out the poison from arrows (again, consistent with our Katniss hunting theme!).
Arrowroot is a great way to thicken sauces for several reasons. First, it is not broken down by acid (here our stew has tomatoes). Second, it works quickly and at a low temperature. Third, it gives the sauce a nice sheen that usually you only achieve with butter and/or a little sugar. Lastly, using an arrowroot slurry is a calorie conscious and gluten free way to thicken sauces so it is something you can easily use for other recipes which call for a thickener of a roux or beurre manié.
The chasseur is simple to make. It will take you about 1 hour and 15 minutes, with half of that as nonactive oven time. You can also make it one day and finish it the second day (store the meat and vegetables in one container and the liquid – which you then can easily degrease – in a second container). The following day, thicken and reduce the sauce and warm the meat and vegetables, tossing them in the sauce.
➽ roasted blackberries on a vanilla bow ➽
“‘Happy Hunger Games!’ [Gale] plucks a few blackberries from the bushes around us. ‘And may the odds–’ He tosses a berry in a high arc toward me. I catch it in my mouth and I break the delicate skin with my teeth — ‘be ever in your favor!’” (page 8).
This dessert of roasted blackberries (Gale’s gathering) and the vanilla pod bow (Katniss’s hunting) is an homage to the friendship of the two. Adding fresh vanilla seeds to your favorite vanilla ice cream (or yogurt) is a delicious bonus. Roasting the berries on a vanilla pod infuses the berries with vanilla (and keeps with our hunting and survival theme).
If you do not have fresh vanilla pods, skewer the blackberries on a small wooden skewer and tie a piece of kitchen twine to it on either side. You can fold vanilla powder or paste in the ice cream.
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Happy Hunger Games! With these four simple and delicious recipes, the odds of a successful family dinner are clearly in your favor.
Je vous souhaite un bon appétit !
Le Jarrier – Laurent Broussier
30, passage de la bourgade
(33) 08 99 02 51 09