Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

During the Renaissance, bakeries were considered the epicenter of many larger towns.  The townsfolk would buy their breads on a daily basis and they could catch up on the news and gossip of the town at the bakery.  Unlike our modern bakeries with electrical or gas ovens, the bakers’ ovens were usually heated with wood or peat and were often built into the bakery’s architecture.

Rustic peasant bread before slicing

Rustic peasant bread before slicing

This past year, I became very familiar with the art of wood-fired baking. I had recently acquired a wood-burning oven to practice my baking skills.  The oven provided some fairly accurate experiences of working in a bakery during the Renaissance.  Each morning, I would heat the oven with birch and oak wood and would gradually warm up the oven.  Once the oven was hot enough, I had the option of pushing back the hot coals to keep the heat longer or rake them out to cool the oven faster and then bake directly on the oven’s stone hearth.

There were many challenges in baking with traditional methods.  From our modern perspective, the largest challenge Renaissance era bakers faced were the lack of prepackaged yeast.  Bakers would have to create yeast naturally or find another baker to purchase or acquire live yeast.  The live yeast was also known as wild yeast and grows naturally nearly everywhere, but it takes about a week to develop.

With patience wild yeast can be grown at home, but it takes a time.  Below is one of my traditional methods of growing wild yeast.

Recipe for Wild Yeast
Combine 1/2 cup unflavored yogurt and two tablespoons of flour in a clean bowl. Cover with a cloth and let it rest for 24 hours.

Peasant bread after slicing

Peasant bread after slicing

Remove any liquid that develops over the yeast.  Add two tablespoons flour and two tablespoons of water and stir every morning for a week.   Make sure that you are removing any extra liquid before adding more flour and water to the mixture.

If too much starter grows, throw away half and replace it with an equal volume of the flour and water mixture.  If bubbles develop, begin feeding the yeast every six hours with the flour and water mixture. Continue to pour off any water.   Feed the yeast with the flour and water mixture about an hour before you plan to use in a recipe.

A Traditional Bread Recipe
Now the yeast that is grown would be traded or sold to other bakers.  It can be messy and time consuming and the ease and the availability of dry yeast allow for tasty, and yet fairly easy bread recipes.  The recipe below is for rustic peasant bread and has been tested and written for modern ovens and equipment

Rustic Peasant Bread
1 package dry yeast
2 cups warm (not hot) water
1 tablespoon sugar
(honey was used during the Renaissance, but it doesn’t rise as much as using sugar)
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups flour
Melted butter

Place yeast, water, and sugar in a bowl and stir until dissolved.  The sugar will help feed the yeast and help the process along.

Blend the flour and salt together.  Add the liquid yeast to the dry ingredients and stir until well blended. Do not knead.

Cover with a warm damp cloth and let it rise until double its original size (approximately 1 hour).

Remove the dough from the bowl, divide it, and place in 2 rounds on a greased cookie sheet sprinkled with cornmeal; the cornmeal will help stop the bread from sticking to the pan. Let the dough rise an additional hour.

Brush top on dough with melted butter and bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees and cook for an additional 15 minutes.

Serve warm.

This is the recipe that was featured on my Facebook fan page.

Garam Masala

Cinnamon sticks, broken into smaller pieces
Caradamom pods (green, black, or brown)
Ginger, dried and cracked
Coriander seeds
Techillacherry black peppercorns
Cumin seeds
Dried chili peppers (do not use powder)

Heat up a cast iron skillet so that it is quite hot and add the spices in order to dry roast them together. I recommend adding each spice a teaspoon at a time.  It will make more than you need, but you can save small quantities to use later.  Don’t over make the spice, as its potency will wear off over time.Curry Chickpea Stew

Once the chili peppers are brown, remove the spice mixture off of the heat and add them to the mortar and pestle to begin breaking the spices down for easier grinding.  Once broken down, you can continue grinding them in the mortar and pestle, or you may use a spice or coffee grinder to combine the spices into a finer blend.

Once ground up, the garam masala may be moved into a storage jar for future use.  Our side of the recipe below, garam masala may be added to fish, lamb, chicken, or beef, and may be used to accent saffron rice, orzo, or risotto.

Curry Spice Blend Recipe

Mustard seeds
Turmeric powder
Garam masala (see the above recipe or use store bought)
Garlic powder (course),
Ginger, dried and cracked (preferred)
Cumin seeds

Heat up a cast iron skillet so that it is quite hot and add the spices in a particular order (THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT). I recommend adding each spice a teaspoon at a time.  It will make more than you need, but you can save small quantities to use later.  Don’t over make the spice, as its potency will wear off over time.  First, add the mustard seeds.  When they begin to pop, add the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, ginger, and garlic.  It’s important to use dried garlic and ginger as it will minimize the scalding of the spices.

Once toasted, remove from the heat and grind together.  Once ground add a teaspoon of the garam masala and 2 teaspoons of the tumeric and stir together with a wooden spoon.  Your curry spice blend is complete.  

Curry Chickpea Stew
(follow the recipe as is)

1 tsp sea salt
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 medium red potatoes, sliced thinly
1 medium onion, diced
3 green onions, chopped
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
2 tsp coriander, ground
2 tsp garlic, minced
2 tsp ginger, dried and cracked (preferred) ground is also acceptable
1 tsp cumin seeds
3 medium carrots, julienne
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 cup of water
Optional items: potatoes, zucchini, eggplant, sweet potatoes, yams, fresh chili peppers, etc.

In a cast iron pot, begin heating the oil. Avoid using an aluminum pan, when making this dish as the pot’s metal will detract from the flavors of this dish.

Once the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds and wait for them to begin popping.  Add the garlic, ginger, carrots, onions, any additional items (see the optional list above), potatoes, and the chickpeas and begin to stir the items lightly.  While cooking the chickpeas and vegetables, combine the whole spices in a separate bowl and blend together.

After cooking the vegetables and chickpeas for two minutes, slowly add the spice mixture to the pot and stir occasionally to mix everything together.  Cook for 4 more minutes and then increase the heat to a medium-high level.  Add the cup of water and continue to cook until the carrots and potatoes are soft.  Remove the pot from the heat and cover the stew. Let the vegetables and chickpeas absorb the flavors of the curry for 10 minutes,  Garnish with the green onions before serving.

Serves 2 main dishes, or four side dishes


This past weekend, September 1-3, 2012 was the Mideast Mirage weekend at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.  We struggled through the long weekend with the excessive heat, but we overcame it and made very tasty recipes.  Our 12:30 show centered on our wood-fired oven that was funded through Kickstarter.  The campaign concluded on July 1, 2012.

Tandoori and Naan prepared at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival on September 3, 2012. Photo taken by Alice the Cook.

Each recipe we use is tested and altered to suit our needs.  The recipes below are the perfected versions of our recipes. 

2 lbs. skinless chicken thighs with bones
1 tsp saffron
1 tbsp hot water
1 cup onion, chopped
1” x 1” fresh ginger, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin seed
3/4 tsp coriander seed
1/8 fresh ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp chilies
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp paprika
3/4 tsp turmeric 
1/2 a lime, zested and juiced
1 tsp olive oil
2 tsp of Punjab powder (1 tsp cinnamon powder, 1/2 tsp ground cloves, 
3/4 tsp of black pepper, 1/4 tsp ground cardamom) 
1 and 1/2 cup of unflavored Greek yogurt
1/4 cup melted butter or ghee

Preparing the marinade: 
Crush the saffron with your fingers and add to hot water and set aside for 10 minutes. Place whole seeds in a mortar and pestle or grinder and break them down to a course powder.  Mix the crushed spices with the powdered spices and mix in with the yogurt, saffron water, onions, garlic, ginger, lime juice and zest, oil and yogurt and mix until creamy. 

With a sharp knife cut deep crosses into the tops and bottoms of each piece of chicken.  Add the chicken to the marinade and transfer to a ceramic or glass bowl.  Let it sit in the refrigerator for 4-24 hours.  The longer it marinades, the better the flavor.

When ready, preheat oven to 425º F and remove the chicken from marinade and place the chicken in a single layer in a shallow, ceramic dish. Discard Marinate.  Bake for 15 minutes and baste the chicken with the butter/ghee and bake for another 10-15 minute or until the chicken is cooked thoroughly.


1 package active dry yeast (or, if from bulk, 2 teaspoons yeast)
1 cup warm water
¼ cup white sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 whole egg, beaten
2 teaspoons salt
4½ cups bread flour
2 teaspoons minced garlic (optional)
¼ cup butter (one half stick), melted

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water and let it stand about 5 minutes. Add the sugar to the yeast water and let it sit for a couple of minutes.  The sugar will help feed the yeast.  Stir in milk, egg, salt, and enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead for 6 to 8 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or until smooth. Place dough in a well oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise. Let it rise 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in volume.

Punch down dough and pinch off small handfuls of dough about the size of a golf ball. Roll into balls, and place on a tray. Cover with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.  The oven should have the fire removed and the temperature stabilized around 700 to 900 degrees F. 

At oven side, roll balls of dough out into thin circles. Use your rolling-pin to roll in the minced garlic into the naan and brush with butter.  Place dough on hearth, and cook until puffy and lightly browned. Brush uncooked side with butter, and turn over. Cook until browned (about 45 seconds in a 900 degree oven). Remove from hearth, and continue the process until all the naan have been prepared.

Now, if you do not have the advantage of a wood-fired oven, you may do a couple of things instead.  You may use a pizza stone in the middle of the oven and heat your oven to 500 degrees.  This will take longer, but will offer an adequate way of baking the naan.  Naan may also be baked in a cast iron fry pan on high temperature.  My assistant Rissa has used the back part of a pan as it is flat and easier to flip the naan. 


Many of my ancestors hailed from Scotland.  As a member of the Lindsay clan, I have had the opportunities to try

Traditional Haggis

many traditional Scottish recipes including haggis.  Most people assume haggis is a Scottish dish; however haggis-like dishes have been traced back to the Romans and are mentioned in “Homer’s Odyssey.”  Other variations have been found in Scandinavian culture and among other regions.  But, it is the Scots who made haggis famous.  Haggis usually consists of cheap cuts of meat, suet, sheep liver, intestines, and oatmeal.  In the United States, similar dishes have evolved including Scrapple, hashes, and meatloaf.

One of the largest challenges making traditional haggis is locating the sheep’s stomach, a key ingredient in preparing haggis.  I have found that sheep’s stomachs are very easy to come by via butchers who cater to the Amish customers or who provide other old world ingredients.  A sheep’s stomach is quite large.  If you feel as though a lot of people may not enjoy this dish, I would recommend cutting the stomach in half and reducing the recipe to limit any wasted food. 

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Alice the Cook now has a marketplace on Facebook.  If you have been interested in wanting to purchase a cookbook or one of her house made spice blends, visit and see what is being offered. New items will be added occasionally.

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