Happy October, Wonderlanders! Our new book of the month, in honor of Halloween, is The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux! I remember reading it in college and loving all the drama, intrigue, and interesting themes. Plus, the spooky nature of the Phantom makes this book a perfect choice for October.
One of my favorite themes in the book (and maybe the most common) is the concept of angels and demons. I’ve always thought of the Phantom and Raoul’s battle for Christine as symbolic of the battle between Heaven and Hell over the human soul. I’m not sure if this is the intended interpretation or not, but either way I wanted to include an homage to this theme in my menu. Which brings me to Devils on Horseback!
I heard the recipe name tossed around several years ago and looked it up out of curiosity. As it turns out, Devils on Horseback is a fancy name for a dish many of us know and love: BACON. WRAPPED. DATES.
* resists the urge to squeal *
I’m not exaggerating when I say I’m CRAZY about bacon wrapped dates The Mister and I once spent a whole party hanging out by the oven as we waited for tray after tray of bacon wrapped dates to come out, snagging as many as we could before the hostess (my sister) took them away to serve to other, less obsessed guests. So when I saw that I had an opportunity to make them for this menu, I was like UM YES THIS IS HAPPENING.
In Amelia Writes Again, Amelia tells the story of how her sister Cleo invented a marshmallow game when they were little. The rules: squish a jumbo marshmallow until it’s sticky, then throw it on the ceiling. See how long it sticks and catch it in your mouth when it falls!
I would be lying if I said I didn’t try to play this once as a kid (Mom, if you’re wondering what that weird gray streak on my bedroom ceiling was, now you know). Reading about this game is one of my fondest memories from the Amelia books, so I decided to try my hand at homemade marshmallows for our dessert this month!
This recipe comes from the America’s Test Kitchen youtube channel. The steps are simple, reliable, and easy to follow. I wound up with great marshmallows on my first try, and I’m planning on tweaking the recipe to make chocolate marshmallows for Christmas!
NOTE: This recipe needs to set overnight.
In Amelia’s Notebook, Amelia complains about the terrible cafeteria food at her school, citing the fact that the brownies seem “fossilized” and the mystery mush looks like it’s made of dog food. I think we all have memories of gross cafeteria food (I can recall some particularly slimy sliced turkey), so I thought it would be fun to redeem a tired cafeteria standby: tater tots.
Amelia’s school tater tots are called “tater gems,” but she thinks they taste more like cardboard. To make some delicious, Amelia-worthy tots, I started with a simple recipe for tender, healthy baked tater tots from Wishful Chef and amped it up a bit with garlic powder, minced onion, and snipped parsley. I even made some honey sriracha ketchup to serve on the side! These tater tots are super easy and ultra flavorful. If Amelia’s school served them, they’d be a hit! 🙂
In the first installment of the Amelia’s Notebook series, Amelia and her family move from California to Oregon. The trip takes 3 days, and Amelia’s sister Cleo orders the same thing at every restaurant: a burger and fries. Amelia thinks it’s gross to order the same thing all the time, but it got me thinking…what kind of burger would be good enough to inspire someone to order it for EVERY MEAL FOR 3 DAYS? It sounded like an exciting challenge, so I set to work.
I started from the assumption that Amelia’s family probably wasn’t stopping at fine dining establishments all along the way to Oregon. Fast food joints and diners were probably more likely, so I stuck to materials you could easily find at any chain restaurant.
I started with a basic, smooshy burger bun but toasted it to get that perfect seal to keep any moisture from soaking in. Then I whipped up copycat In-N-Out Burger sauce using a slight variation on a recipe from Cherry Kitchen. It added just the right mix of creamy and tangy with a touch of sweetness, and it’s made with stuff any fast food restaurant would have on hand. Next came the burger patty itself—100% beef with butter mixed right into the meat and smashed onto a hot iron skillet for crispy edges (I used a smash burger technique from Bon Appetit). Add lettuce, tomato, and onion, and you’ve got yourself an awesome diner-style burger that takes basic ingredients to a whole new level.
I think if Amelia gave it a taste, she’d want to order it for every meal too! 🙂
Our new Book of the Month is here, and it’s the Amelia’s Notebook series by Marissa Moss!
When I was a kid, Amelia’s Notebook was my JAM. After reading the books, I insisted on buying wild colored composition notebooks for school. I dressed as her for Halloween. I even had My Notebook (with Help from Amelia) and brought it to school with me. She was seriously my hero. So how could I NOT make a menu of all the awesome foods from the series?
In Amelia Takes Command, she gets to go to Space Camp. She spends the night before daydreaming about what it will be like, and one of the things she hopes for is the chance to eat astronaut food. Although she has a great time at camp, she’s disappointed that they had to eat “gross cafeteria food three times a day.” So I decided to restore Amelia’s dashed hopes by making astronaut pudding for our appetizer!
The recipe I use here is a slight variation on one from Feels Like Home. You’d think astronaut pudding would be super complicated or require special tools, but it’s actually really easy (and all you need is a ziplock bag!). It’s a great dish to make with kids and tastes great alongside freeze-dried fruit. So let’s get cooking! 🙂
I always tend towards making a cocktail whenever I have a chance to make a bonus recipe, and my Man in the Iron Mask menu is no exception. Smoking Bishop is actually a traditional British beverage—not French, like all my other recipes for this menu—but it was just too perfect to pass up. The mulling spices (nutmeg, allspice, and cloves) along with the rich wines make it a perfect companion to our French Onion Soup and Secret Note French Bread. Plus, the name goes perfectly with the story, since Aramis (the Bishop of Vannes) is such an important character in Man in the Iron Mask.
The recipe I use here (a slight variation on one originally from PUNCH), is easy to throw together. Though roasting the orange adds to the prep time, I highly recommend it. Juice from the roasted orange adds so much flavor! The final cocktail is cozy and warm, with a lovely spiced aroma and a bit of citrus bite to offset the sweet wine. I can just imagine Aramis sipping this to calm his nerves before helping the prince break out of the Bastille!
When I first decided to make a Man in the Iron Mask menu, I fell in love with the idea of making a traditional French dessert. And when I read about Monsieur Fouquet’s famous peaches, I knew my dessert would have a peach theme. I tossed around the idea of peach madeleines, but I already made madeleines for my Hobbit menu (and adding fruit to the batter can be tricky).
Peach macarons also came to mind, but I’ll admit I was a little intimidated. I’ve never tried to make the infamously difficult macaron before, and I wasn’t confident that I’d have enough time to perfect such a temperamental recipe. Then I hit on the idea of meringues.
I’ve had great luck making meringue in the past, and I liked the idea of trying it as a cookie, something I’ve tasted but never made for myself. I used a combination of recipes to get my cookies: the proportions and prep instructions come from my baked Alaska recipe and the baking instructions come from a Taste of Home meringue cookie recipe my mom recommended.
But how to add the peaches? Since meringue can be fussy, I didn’t want to mess with the flavoring too much, but I’ve had fruit curd on the brain since I recently finished developing a blueberry curd recipe for my cookbook. So I consulted a peach curd recipe from Chocolate Moosey and made adjustments to my blueberry version to suit the differences in the fruit.
The final cookies had crisp, delicately sweet meringue with clean lines from the piping (no cracks or melting—yay!), and the peach curd was silky and fruity. Top with a sprig of mint to contrast the sweetness, and you’re in business! 🙂
Finding a side dish for my Man in the Iron Mask menu proved to be more difficult than I anticipated. No one dish jumped out as the obvious choice, but I noticed soup was mentioned in the long list of elaborate dishes the governor of the Bastille sups on with Aramis. It’s also mentioned in a scene with the king.
I had already decided that all my Man in the Iron Mask dishes would be classic French food (tilapia meunière, French bread, etc.), so I decided to make a well-known French soup: French Onion Soup! And since I wanted to make a truly authentic version, what better recipe to use than Julia Child’s French onion soup? I made a few small tweaks to allow for modern conveniences (like using a toaster for the croutes) and ingredients I had on hand, but apart from that I stuck to the original as closely as possible.
The base itself has a robust, beefy (and of course onion-y) flavor with plenty of texture from the grated fresh onion you add just before ladling it out. With the toasted bread and broiled cheese on top, you wind up with quite the hearty side dish.
Full Disclosure: I’d never actually eaten French onion soup before I made this. Not even in a restaurant. I guess I always thought of it as the “beginning” of a soup, the sort of base you add things to but not a soup unto itself. And maybe if the soup were just plain on its own, I’d still feel that way. But with the croutes and toasted cheese, I totally get it! 🙂
You can make my Secret Note French Bread to slice on top or just go with store bought. Bon appetit! 🙂
When I first read Man in the Iron Mask, I agonized over the fact that there didn’t seem to be any distinctive entrees in the book. Sure, there was a brief mention of quail, partridge, and other fowl (but only in passing). I went back to combing through the text, worried I wouldn’t be able to find anything, when I suddenly stumbled upon an idea: the alley of limes.
Five different times in the book, Dumas mentions that Athos likes to walk with his son down a path lined with lime trees on their estate. It’s where they have important conversations about Raoul’s future, and Athos’ increasing difficulty with walking the path is used to show how his age affects him.
Limes themselves aren’t an entree, but tilapia meunière is. It’s a variation of sole meunière, a simple, classic French fish dish that is traditionally served with lemon sauce (I used tilapia instead of sole because it’s easier to get). And Bon Appetit has a great recipe for sole meunière. I just swapped the lemon for lime, and I had the perfect entree.
The butter sauce is mild and delicate, with just a hint of bite from the lime. The acidity of the citrus cuts through the fat of the fish, resulting in a delicate dish fit for a refined nobleman like Athos! 🙂
Our new Book of the Month is The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas, and I can’t wait to get started! It took me forever to finish it (60 chapters, y’all. Dumas ain’t kidding around), but it was still a really fun read. It’s got everything you could ever want in a classic book: Intrigue! Adventure! Bishops on the run for trying to put the king’s displaced twin brother on the throne! Yaaay! 🙂
When I started reading, it didn’t take long for me to find my appetizer: early in the book, Aramis sneaks Prince Philippe a secret note in a loaf of bread.
“Fun!” I thought. “I can make french bread and hide a little note inside.”
In my hubris, I decided to make authentic french bread, because, y’know, historical accuracy. Then I saw that the Julia Child recipe takes seven hours. And most other “authentic” recipes take anywhere from two to four.
There are people out there who have hours and hours to devote to the refined art of traditional bread making. These people do not have 6-month-olds who are teething and mobile, which means I am not one of them. So instead we’re going a less historically accurate route and going a more fast-and-easy-but-still-french-bread-and-still-delicious route.
Enter Leigh Anne from Your Homebased Mom‘s recipe for Easy French Bread. It caught my attention because of the short rise time (40 minutes total), making the whole recipe just a little over an hour from start to finish. It’s not as porous inside as a traditional French baguette, but it’s delicious, with a beautiful crust and tender crumb.
Maybe it’s a good thing that Aramis didn’t give Philipe this EXACT loaf of bread…he probably would have eaten it all without even stopping to notice the note! 😉