Fine, I’ll admit it. I totally got into the Hunger Games. In a big way. I figured it was just another trendy teen book so I resisted it forever. I ended up taking it as a plane book, forgot to read it on said plane, got bored a couple weeks ago and decided to skim through the first chapter and see what all the fuss was about… fast-forward to 2am , and I was desperately devouring the last few pages! I just had to know what happened to Katniss and Peeta. Whatever, at least I’m not into Twilight, right?
So when the Hunger Games-themed cookbook came out, I jumped. My two passions in life — food and Hunger Games — together?! Done. (Fine, HG isn’t my passion, but it sure felt like it during that three-hour period when I read it cover-to-cover. KATNISS!) Ahem. Anyway, here we have it, The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines. I think it’s pretty funny how much they’re required to emphasize the “unofficial” aspect.
Alright, so, real talk: this cookbook is really contrived. I will concede that I am a bit older and more experienced in the culinary realm than its target demographic, but some of these recipes are straight-up ridic. We’re talking “Hazelle’s Beaver Stew with Rosemary Potatoes” and “Banquet-Baked Mountain Goat with Artichokes, Tomatoes, and Fresh Herbs” (ingredients: “2 pounds wild goat tenderloin or round steak,” yeah, probably the round steak, I haven’t seen any mountain goat at my farmer’s market lately). Oh, and even “Grilled Tree Rat with Peanut Butter Dipping Sauce.” Seeing as how most of these recipes are pretty simple and made for young cooks to try out, I don’t think suggesting TREE RAT is really the most realistic path to take, Emily Ansara Baines.
Also of note are the cooking suggestions included with each recipe, hilariously entitled “Tips from Your Sponsor.” And, perhaps the best part, a little description under the title of each dish explaining how any recipe, even something as simple as cookies, ties in with Hunger Games. My favorite example:
“A twist on the classic chocolate chip cookie, this cookie is similar to Katniss’s spirit — mostly dark, with patches of light throughout.”
Hahaha, WHAAAAAT. Stop. Just stop. I mean, I know it’s probably hard to fill an entire cookbook, but come on. Anyway, who am I to judge until I’ve at least tested some of these recipes for myself, right? My initial impulse was to make Katniss’ favorite lamb stew (an obvious yet necessary choice) but I didn’t have enough time and wanted to make something before the movie premiere today. I decided on brownies:
Milk Chocolate Honey Brownies with a Kick
from The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook
“Even the smallest bite of these brownies packs a quiet punch, much like a conversation – or almost any interaction – with Katniss.”
Yields 24 servings.
1 cup butter
1 12oz bag high-quality semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon honey
Tips from Your Sponsor: Without the honey, this is a pretty standard brownie batter. If you’re not a fan of honey, try adding a tablespoon of caramel sauce or dulce de leche. Or sprinkle in a teaspoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of chipotle powder for some added spice!
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 8″ x 8″ baking pans.
(ES note: I used one 13″ x 9″ pan. Turned out fine.)
2. In a medium-sized bowl, melt butter and chocolate chips in the microwave for thirty seconds. Remove from microwave, and stir with fork. If not completely melted, heat in microwave (on low if possible) for another thirty seconds. Continue this process until chocolate is thoroughly melted but not burned.
3. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Set aside.
4. Stir in sugar, vanilla, and eggs one at a time into the chocolate mixture, followed by honey. Slowly mix in flour mixture. Pour brownie batter into pans.
(Tip from your ES sponsor: as with everything, I like to take it a little overboard – I added some extra honey, sprinkled in another pinch of sea salt, and took the advice of my sponsor by throwing in a liberal teaspoon of cinnamon as well as a very liberal teaspoon [probably more like 2 teaspoons] of cayenne pepper. I know they said chipotle, but I wanted this to be extra kicky, not subtly smoky.)
5. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of brownies comes out clean.
(I hate dry brownies, so I undercooked by about 5min. They were probably in the oven for about 35 minutes.)
Okay. So. Pretty simple, right? I have to tell you, my dear tributes, I don’t know what Capitol-grade manipulation is going on here, but these brownies were AMAZING. I loved them, and so did everyone else who tried them. The combination of cayenne and cinnamon added depth and layers of flavor, while the honey yielded an unexpected complexity to the texture. The corners and top layer were sweet, rich, and chewy. One of my friends referred to the perimeter pieces as “Bit-o-Honey bites” and I really have to agree. I thought the honey wouldn’t make a difference but you could definitely taste it and detect it in the texture! I’m gonna call it: this will be my go-to brownie recipe from now on.
Just like the Hunger Games novel itself, this cookbook seems simplistic, but somehow draws you in and produces more excitement than you would expect. I ate like three of those brownies in one sitting. (Resisting to make a million dumb “hunger” puns right now, by the way.) As for the lamb stew, I’ll be tackling that one tomorrow and will report back next week.
Have a great Hunger Games premiere weekend, y’all, and may the odds be EVER in your favor.