As far as book reviews go, my contributions thus far have been few and far between. I sadly don’t get a lot of time to read. However I do, no matter what else is happening, carve out time to cook. And what better way to combine the off the wall nerdgasm that is Book Punks with food than to write a series on nerd/geek/sci fi/fantasy/zombie cookbooks?
I start my quest with the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook by Dinah Buchotz. The plan was to make a meal entirely from recipes from each cookbook and to judge them based on usability of the recipes, geek relevance, and of course, how the food tasted. I set out to make my Harry Potter meal on a night that I should have had time, but was late at work etc and with a bunch of people coming over to eat said meal, panicked and did what I always do to relieve a panic.
I listened to Harry Potter.
There’s something so comforting about Harry Potter, and not just Jim Dale’s voice. So I expected the Harry Potter cookbook to feel similar—comfortable, easy, and friendly. Something you can turn to in a time of need. The majority of these recipes are what you’d call comfort foods, but the problem with a book made up of comfort foods is that EVERY recipe is heavy, with far too many stews and soups and meat pies. I love meat pies—I really do—but they’re not for every day. These are winter recipes, without a doubt. There are, by my count, four vegetable recipes (one is for buttered peas, which really shouldn’t even be a recipe).
My main complaint with this cookbook, aside from the lack of vegetable dishes, is the inconsistency in skill level. Some of the recipes are for those with no cooking skills at all—sausages wrapped in pre-made pastry, for example. And on the other end, you have homemade marshmallows. Now, I’m all for making things from scratch. I love making things from scratch. But marshmallows? And toffee, and taffy, and chocolates filled with cream and who knows what else? That’s all a bit much.
This book wildly vacillates between too simple and too complicated. There are recipes that, for someone who has been cooking for a while, are fairly standard and don’t require a mention (the aforementioned buttered peas). She includes bacon and eggs (TWICE), basic pork chops, roasted chicken, and more beef stews than you can shake a stick at. If you have a basic knowledge of cooking, you won’t learn anything in regards to cooking skills.
But then you have the opposite end—the marshmallows—and also the recipes that the author readily admits you won’t be able to make. She includes haggis, black (blood) pudding, and tripe—not out of any expectation that you might make them, but just for the hell of it. And despite the vague mention of marshmallows and haggis in the Harry Potter series, there’s really not enough of a connection to merit including recipes for things you can’t actually make in the United States.
While we’re on the subject of relevance: there’s no butterbeer. Buchotz includes things that have vague mentions, for example, a slew of very similar recipes for soups and stews derived from a reference in Goblet of Fire to “a series of rich, warming stews and savory puddings.” There are a hundred flavors of ice cream, presumably because the ice cream shop in Diagon Alley offers a lot of flavors. But no butterbeer.
There is one kind of cool thing about this book. If you want that Harry Potter feeling that everything is magical and somehow more awesome than your own, overworked, stressful, shitty day sort of life, you may not find it here. The recipes just aren’t that satisfying, and many of them are just too complicated, even for a cook who loves involved recipes. However, you will learn a lot about British cooking. Every recipe is accompanied by a historical tidbit, and I found myself quoting little facts to people for a week after reading the book. If any of these ever come up at trivia, I’m going to rock it. For example: did you know that Mulligatawny soup, far from being Irish, as it sounds, is actually a British bastardization of the Tamil (Indian) words for pepper and water? It’s an Indian recipe, as it turns out.
I attempted to make a full meal out of this cookbook (appetizer, entrée, dessert) but failed dramatically. There are no appetizers, and almost no sides (except lots of potatoes). So I ended up with the following menu:
Guinness Stew (the adult version)
Irish Soda Bread
No-Bake Chocolate Pumpkin Tart
Each recipe was fairly easy to follow, and they were all good. Not amazing, but sturdy, satisfying foods. To sum up the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook experience:
- You will have to seek out some odd ingredients if you want to do the thing properly, namely Lyle’s Golden Syrup. I am fortunate that my mother in law keeps a supply handy from her Scottish ingredient supply source.
- There are no pictures, though I didn’t mind. Most of these foods are just brown, anyway.
- I probably won’t keep coming back to this book. It was a fun romp, but I can make most of these things without the recipes.
- Treacle tart is, in my opinion, disgusting. Harry, what were you thinking? On the other hand, my partner loves it and has been eating the leftover every night with ice cream.
Have you ever tried to cook a Harry Potter-themed meal?
Where I got it: borrowed from my stepmom (who I gave it to once upon a birthday)