The Hunger Games: Dinner in District 12

MockingjayToday we find ourselves in the world of The Hunger Games. Panem is a slightly futuristic post-American society with an authoritarian dictator that likes to remind the people not to rebel by killing children on live TV every year. Sounds like a blast.

I’ve always found the name interesting. “Panem” is derived from the Latin phrase panem et circenses, which translates to “bread and circuses,” indicating the idea that if you give the people enough food and entertainment, they’ll be distracted from the terrible stuff you’re doing as a government. In this case, though, it is more a threat of starvation and a very macabre form of entertainment that the Capitol uses to keep its people in line.

The wealth of the districts is severely unbalanced, with the Capitol enjoying great luxury while the outer districts suffer from severe poverty. District 12 is the poorest in all of Panem, and Katniss lives in the Seam, the poorest community within the district.

I imagine Katniss not as the rugged-but-beautiful, well-groomed, well-spoken Jennifer Lawrence depiction of her, but rather more as a real poor kid from Appalachia. She’d probably have bad teeth, a worse hairdo (not always the pretty braid her mother did for her), and a back-woods Southern-ish accent riddled with local slang. But the book makes her more relatable to the majority of readers, and the magic of Hollywood dictates that no woman can look less than perfect unless she goes full-on Charlize-Theron-in-Monster and still star in a movie. So we get the glorious J-Law and her perfect braid. Eh, whatever.

In any case, I’ve put together a rather ambitious meal for myself, using four different recipes from the Hunger Games cookbook. I may not do quite so many recipes all at once in the future, but I liked this one as a first try to see how much I could handle. A meal from District 12 would consist largely of whatever Katniss could scrounge up, like game and wild greens, or if one was very lucky, some treats from the bakery in town. I’m combining the two here with a menu of “Real Bakery Bread,” “Prim’s Birthday ‘Venison’ Steaks,” “Bitter Greens with Pea-Sized Tomatoes,” and “Mellark Bakery’s Goat Cheese and Apple Tarts.” All of these recipes come from The Unofficial Recipes of The Hunger Games by Rockridge University Press, but I’ve changed certain parts because of availability, personal preference, or simply forgetting steps. And since I was doing a full menu for this post, I baked the bread and dessert the night before because doing it all at one time while the rest of my family was home would be madness.

Real Bakery Loaf Bread

Makes 2 loaves

This bread is better than the rough bread that would be made from tesserae grain rations, and Katniss and Gale indulge in a loaf on the morning of the reaping. I really wanted to bake bread with this first post because of its importance throughout the books. Not only is the country named Panem, but Katniss first notices Peeta when she is starving and he intentionally burns bread that he has to throw out despite earning a beating from his mother. This recipe isn’t for the kind of bread that Peeta burns—that bread is a sweet raisin and nut bread—but rather a more basic everyday recipe that is more suited for dinner. Also, I don’t really do nuts; you’ll begin to see how picky I am by the way I choose and alter recipes on this blog.

  1. In a large bowl, dump 2 ½ cups whole wheat flour and ¾ cup barley flour (if you can get your hands on it. I couldn’t find any barley flour at the various grocery stores here or over the mountain, so I just used all wheat flour). Whisk or sift this with 2 teaspoons 1 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons active dry yeast. (Okay, so I really like salt, and even I was like, damn, that’s pretty salty, and this isn’t even District 4 bread. Adjust amount according to your preferences, but I’d probably cut the original amount in half).
  2. Get 1 ½ cups of water and warm it up to about 110°. (If you’re anything like me, you’ll overheat it and have to wait around for it to cool off so you don’t kill your yeast.) Mix this into the flour mixture until you’ve got a smooth dough.
  3. Rub a bit of olive oil over the surface to prevent the dough from drying out, then cover the bowl with a clean, damp towel and set it in a warm place for at least 2 hours to rise.
  4. After the dough has risen to about double its size, sprinkle it with a bit of flour, then divide it into 2 equal-sized balls. Start forming the first ball into a loaf, kneading it fairly gently for 5 minutes, folding it over and turning as you go. Use both hands to form the dough into an oval or round shape, set it on a piece of oiled parchment paper or foil, and cover it with a mixing bowl. Repeat with the second loaf.
  5. Let the dough rise for 1 hour, or until roughly doubled again.
  6. Preheat the oven to 450°. If you have a fancy pizza/bread baking stone, let that heat up in the oven for a while. (I don’t have one of these, so I just used a cast-iron pan that wasn’t preheated.)
  7. Dust the tops of your loaves with a bit of all-purpose flour and use a wet knife to lightly score the dough diagonally along the tops. (I don’t think my knife was terribly sharp, so my cuts are a bit wonky.)Bread Dough
  8. Place the dough and parchment or foil directly onto the pizza stone or pan. Fill an oven-safe casserole dish with 1 cup of water and place it carefully on bottom rack of the oven.
  9. Bake the loaves until golden brown and crusty, about 25-30 minutes. Place on a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature or a bit warmer before slicing. (I think 25-30 minutes probably wasn’t quite long enough for my loaves. As they cooled they developed a bit of a ring around the middle like they were still a bit too moist inside.)Baked Bread
  10. When cool, cut in and enjoy with butter or cheese or just on its own.Cut Bread

Prim’s Birthday “Venison” Steaks

Serves 4

In the arena, when Katniss and Peeta are telling each other stories, Katniss tells him about how she got Prim’s goat. She edits the story for safety, but we also hear the real version. It involves a lucky day of hunting, trading with the butcher, getting some venison steaks to take home, and ultimately buying Prim an injured goat.

Okay, so I don’t actually use venison here. I had every intention of doing so, but nobody—and I mean NOBODY—sells venison commercially around here, and I’m not doing a back-woods deal with a hunter when it’s not even deer season. In fact, my husband did some research and found out that you can’t legally sell game commercially in New York. Buying it online is way more expensive than I’m willing to pay for. I could have switched recipes and cooked fish, but I don’t eat seafood at all. And a lot of the other recipes in this book involve other game (rabbit, squirrel, beaver, and the fictional groosling), which aren’t available. So we’re substituting beef and pretending it’s deer. Let’s all just close our eyes and make believe together.

  1. Season ½-inch venison steaks (if you can’t find venison like me, use ½-inch leanish New York strip steaks) with salt and pepper (and I threw on some steak seasoning because I’m skipping the rosemary in step 4) and let come to room temperature.
  2. Heat a large cast-iron or very heavy skillet over high heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Fry for about 4 minutes.Cooking Steak
  3. (Acknowledge the toddler clinging to your knees. Pick him up and explain that you’re busy. Take a selfie with your little helper. Realize you may have let the steaks go a bit long on one side. Sigh and move on with your life.)Tommy Helps
  4. Turn and cook for another 2 minutes. Then, baste the tops with the remaining oil and sprinkle with rosemary (rosemary is one of the herbs I really hate on its own, so no).
  5. Cook for another 3-4 minutes, or until meat thermometer reads 155° for medium doneness and 165°for well-done meat (if you’re eating beef, never cook your steak well done. never).
  6. Remove the cooked steaks to a plate to rest for at least 5 minutes before cutting into them.Resting Steaks

Bitter Greens with Pea-Sized Tomatoes

Serves 6

Greens were among the items that Gale and Katniss gathered the day they shot the deer. This dish is actually served at the Capitol, but I think it would definitely be among the dishes served in District 12 if they could have gotten their hands on a smidge of bacon and some tomatoes. The other options for side items in District 12 are kind of limited to Katniss tubers, which don’t actually exist, and I’d rather skip replacements such as cassava and the like.

  1. Take one small bunch of fresh kale, remove the leaves from their stems, and rinse the leaves well in a bowl of fresh water to allow any sand to settle. Take one bunch of Swiss chard, cut off the toughest parts of the stems, roughly chop the rest of the stems and leaves, and rinse well in a colander. Add the kale to the colander and let sit for 30 minutes to drain, or spin in a salad spinner (salad spinner to the rescue!).Kale
  2. In a heavy skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil on medium-high heat.
  3. Add 1 clove crushed garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon 1 large handful bacon crumbles (because you can) and 1 tablespoon butter. Once butter is melted, add the greens and 1 tablespoon of water. Marvel at the towering  mountain of greens and smush the top of your pan on.Greens
  4. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add ½ pint small (grape or cherry) tomatoes (do pea-sized tomatoes even exist?), stir well, and cover and cook for 5 more minutes until tomatoes burst. Add salt and pepper to taste.Cooked Greens
  6. Spoon onto plates, drizzle with ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar (I missed this step. Don’t judge, I get frazzled when I’m doing more than one thing at once) and serve.

Mellark Bakery’s Goat Cheese and Apple Tarts

Serves 8

This would have been an utter treat for either Katniss or Peeta. In the arena Peeta tells Katniss that his family bakery makes these goat cheese tarts, but that they can’t afford to eat any themselves. In fact, they only ever eat stale baked goods. This makes Katniss briefly feel sorry him, since all of the food she hunts or gathers is incredibly fresh. But she doesn’t feel too bad, since he never nearly starved to death like she did.

  1. Peel and cut 2 1 pink lady apples into ½-inch -centimeter slices. (I clearly forgot to peel mine. Also, I used thinner slices because I thought they would cook through better, and so I ended up using only 1 apple. More apple wouldn’t have hurt the tarts at all.)Apples
  2. Preheat oven to 350°. Prick bottoms of 8 tart pie shells with a fork and place on a baking sheet. (I couldn’t actually find any premade tart shells at our store, so I opted for these roll-out pie crusts that I cut out with a cup and smushed into a muffin tin. The flavor and texture are different, and I probably left mine just a bit undercooked. Actual tart crust would definitely improve the flavor.) Bake for 8 minutes in the center of the oven.Tart Crusts
  3. In a medium bowl, mix 6 ounces of goat cheese, 6 ounces of mascarpone cheese and ½ cup of sugar with an electric mixer until smooth.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix ½ teaspoon nutmeg and ¼ cup sugar, add the apple slices, and toss to coat well.
  5. Remove tart pie shells from the oven and use a spoon to fill the shells with the cheese mixture, ¾ full. Smooth the surface with a rubber spatula (it’s fairly thick and only smooths so well).
  6. Brush the edges of each tart shell with egg wash of one whole egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water, (I completely forgot this step) and then arrange apple slices on top to cover completely.Uncooked Tarts
  7. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until apples are golden brown.
  8. Let cool to room temperature before garnishing with fresh mint leaves (yeah, I don’t have fresh mint leaves, and I’m not buying them just for this) and serving.Apple Tart

In all, I’m fairly pleased with the results. I prefer a steak that’s been marinated, but I refrained in the spirit of the exercise and may have ended up over-seasoning the steaks as a result. Meh, steak is good. I do wish I could have gotten venison, since I’ve never tried it. The greens were delicious. As I said, the bread was too salty, but it turned out pretty well otherwise. As for the tarts, I like cheese tarts, but I think the pie crust substitution was a bad move, and for some reason, I just wasn’t feeling goat cheese in such large proportions, which is odd for me. Chalk it up to pregnancy.Finished Meal

I’m really glad I did the bread and dessert ahead of time, otherwise I would have had a disaster on my hands. As it was, doing the steaks and greens all at once was even a bit much, even though I regularly cook multiple things for dinner, because I’m really not used to following a new recipe, cooking, taking pictures, and occasionally appeasing a small child at the same time. I’ll either get used to the process as time goes on, or I’ll cut down on the amount of blog recipes that I do at one time.

Next up, a Bob’s Burgers daily special followed by dinner on the train to the Capitol.