Posts filed under ‘Recipes and Food’
This is a meal Elektra could have eaten in Roman North Africa, only instead of venison, the host might have served a young Barbary stag or oryx. Of course, my guests would have been reclining on lounges and served by slaves. And the Zinfandel would have been watered.
The recipe for the sauce comes from one of the most famous cookbooks of antiquity. Today it is known simply as the Apicius.
There is disagreement about whether the famous epicure of the Tiberian reign (1st c AD) Marcus Gavius Apicius was the original collector or the inspiration. Most probably, he had nothing to do with the book, De re coquinaria “On the Subject of Cooking,” which eventually became known by his name.
Most scholars believe the collection of Roman cookery recipes was compiled in the late 4th or early 5th century. The language in which it was written is closer to Vulgar than Classical Latin.
A huge hunk of frozen venison turned out to be three roasts when defrosted. I marinated all three for 24 hours in red wine, fresh rosemary and cloves of garlic.
The smallest roast was cut into chunks for a tajine (see photos) with onions, fingerling potatoes, chunks of carrots, and tons of peas topped with baby bell peppers. Spicing: cumin, cardamon, ginger, cinnamon, clove, smoked paprika and fresh ground black pepper.
The middle-sized roast was coated in cajun spices and slow-cooked on the charcoal grill. Real charcoal please with mesquite chips! I served the Cajun venison with cherry sauce.
The large venison roast (see photo at top) was browned on all sides in olive oil and then put in a 350 oven with a few strips of bacon on top. Venison is very lean.
Now we come to the sauce from a recipe translated from the original Apicius. [Thank you to the food blog Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook]
I had to substitute a couple of herbs. And I used the reduced marinade for a base. I’m sure Apicius would have approved.
Ingredients for the sauce
note: all herbs are fresh, some from my own garden.
rue (I used fresh rosemary)
lovage (I used celery leaves)
Thai fish sauce (in place of Roman garum, the salty cured fish sauce Romans used with almost all meats and that they stole from the Greeks)
sweet wine (I used Port)
salt and pepper
Not having a slave to grind the herbs into a paste, I threw them into a small food processor. You use the goodies from the bottom of the roasting pan to make a sauce much like gravies are made today. The end result should be something between a liquid and a syrup.
Salty and sweet with tons of herbs. That was the Roman taste. Also black pepper – lots of it. Even with syrupy pears.
Not sure if the Romans had cous cous, but they definitely had grain, so I suspect they might have discovered this primitive way of making pasta long before Marco Polo. I toasted slivered almonds and soaked giant raisins in brandy (until they are plump and soft) to put in the cooked cous cous.
In addition to remembering our own fallen heroes on a splendid Memorial Day, we stepped back a little further in history to remember the Romans. To borrow from the gladiators, “We who are about to eat, salute you!”
The table setting is my vision of Roman North Africa. Need to get some silver chalices!
At risk of this turning into a food blog – and what would be so bad about that, you’re saying? – I’m passing on the steps and ingredients to create the birthday cake you see above. Caution: You need 2-3 hours to put this together & clean up.
3 – 9″ cake pans
parchment paper (not necessary but works better than greasing pans)
double boiler – or saucepan that can balance inside a larger saucepan
note: smaller pan must hold at least 5 liquid cups.
small frying pan
2 shelves in oven
several size mixing bowls
measuring cups and spoons
flat blade (for spreading frosting)
recommend heat resistant glove
cream of tartar
chocolate cake mix (Yes! I CHEAT!)
Ingredients by steps:
I prefer Duncan Hines Triple Chocolate or Dark Chocolate Fudge. You can make from scratch, but really not worth it. IMHO
vegetable oil (not olive)
3 eggs whole
1/2 c butter (1 stick) ROOM TEMPERATURE (softened)
2/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder (my preference is Hershey’s)
2 c powdered sugar (sifted)
1/3 c milk (minimum – you’ll need a little more)
note: WARM slightly in microwave
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
Red Raspberry Jam – I love Stonewall Kitchen, but other brands will do.
3 oz (half a package) Slivered Blanched Almonds (to be toasted)
Meringue-like Topping (known as 7 minute frosting):
1 1/2 c granulated sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 c water
2 egg whites
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Put it together:
- grease 3 cake pans. Coat with cocoa powder instead of white flour. MUCH easier if you use parchment paper so guaranteed not to stick. Use both.
- mix according to directions
- using 1 cup measure, distribute batter evenly in 3 pans
- bake in 350 oven. Put shelves close together so baking as even as possible
- took about 18 minutes for 2 on top. Bottom shelf took couple of minutes longer
note: I use toothpick to test
- remove pans to rack or gas burners on top of stove and let cool 15 minutes. No more.
- remove layers from baking pans and set aside
TOAST ALMONDS while cake is baking.
- heat small skillet to hot on stovetop
- put almonds in pan – NO OIL
- stir constantly with wooden spoon
- lift up and down from fire if getting too hot
- keep toasting – KEEP TURNING – as almonds turn golden.
- remove from heat and keep stirring.
note: almonds will continue to toast in hot pan
- when desired color is reached, turn onto a plate and spread almonds to cool
CHOCOLATE FROSTING (makes about 1 1/2 c)
- soften butter in a small-medium mixing bowl (room temperature or few seconds in microwave)
- mash with rubber spatula
- stir in cocoa and salt, blending with rubber spatula until smooth paste
- using low to medium speed on electric mixer, alternately add sifted powdered sugar and warm milk
- beat on medium speed until spreading consistency and very smooth
- blend in vanilla extract at end
- Choose layer with highest top and set aside
- Using a bread knife, slice off rounded top of two remaining layers so they are relatively flat on both sides
- put one layer on cake plate
DRESSING the cake layers
- spread chocolate frosting generously on top of layer 1 (on cake plate)
- spread carefully (not thick) red raspberry jam on top of chocolate
- place layer 2 on top
- spread chocolate frosting generously on top of layer 2
- sprinkle toasted almonds, covering surface well
- place layer 3 (with rounded top) on top of layer 2
TOPPING with 7 minute frosting
note: this makes enough frosting to cover a cake. I pile it on top to show the layers. If stiff enough, topping will stand on its own and hang over the edges as above.
- place sugar, cream of tartar, salt, water and egg whites in the top of a double boiler (or smallish saucepan over larger one)
- beat with an electric mixer for 1 minute
- place pan over boiling water.
note: to avoid grainy frosting, make sure water doesn’t touch bottom of the top pan.
- beat constantly on high speed for 7 minutes (this is when I recommend a heat-resistant glove)
- remove from boiling water (heat) and beat in vanilla
- check consistency – MUST stand in peaks. Beat more if necessary.
- spread on cake right away
- sprinkle toasted almonds before frosting sets
- when frosting sets, it forms a delightful soft crust while the inside remains gooey – thus I call it “meringue-like”
Be sure to cover remaining cake under a cake dome, as the meringue frosting will get gooier over time.
Store any left-over almonds in an airtight container to sprinkle on salads etc.
Whew! Did I really do all that????
Last night some friends were dropping by with a bottle of good Merlot to see the sunset. As life has been more than hectic lately, I wasn’t up to a full-on meal. Greg and Jess live in North San Luis Obispo County where hunting abides, so I pulled out a wild boar shoulder from the freezer and invented a new dish inspired by my years in North Africa.
The nomads cook their tajines (also spelled tagine) with camel or goat, so wild boar seemed a logical progression.
This stew was designed to eat around the bar. Instead of dipping into the sauce with chunks of bread in the North African fashion, I rolled up the shredded boar with a couple of spoonfuls of sauce in whole wheat tortillas to create a North African, Mexican Moo-Shoo wild boar.
Where do you get wild boar? Either you need to hunt yourself – or have generous friends that do. In this case, a friend of a friend passed the meat to me. P.S. Our wines are listed at end of post.
ON TAJINE DISHES:
There are many kinds of tajine dishes on the market now. I prefer ones with metal bottoms with one-step cooking on top of the stove. Ceramic tajines (traditional ones) do not do well for stove-top cooking. The ceramic was designed to be placed over charcoal. In Morocco, the circumference of the bottom dish fits exactly its own charcoal cooker.
The web shows many pictures of ceramic dishes on a gas fire, but as I’ve had a couple dishes break while cooking, I feel obliged to caution you. If you have a ceramic or silicon dish, then I advise you to do all the sauteing in a frying pan, then transfer to tajine dish and cook in oven. The temperature should be medium heat.
This stew could also be made in one of those French-style iron cookers with heavy lids (also called Dutch ovens). But I’m a firm believer that the conical lid of the tajine dish adds a dimension in savory moistness.
For a little history note, the Romans cooked stews in pots with conical lids. I’m wondering which came first, the Romans’ introduction into North Africa, or the Berbers teaching the Romans?
Wild Boar Tajine (Moroccan stew)
shoulder of wild boar, cut into big chunks with the bony piece left whole
tortillas, strongly advise whole wheat for texture and flavor
garlic, 5-6 cloves, minced
onions, 2 large yellow, cut in 2-3 inch wedges
olive oil, enough to generously cover bottom of pan
tomato paste, 2 Tblsp
salt, rock, sprinkle generously
black pepper, fresh ground over all
apricots, dried, generous handful
raisins, big and black, generous handful
carrots, 4 large, cut in half lengthwise and then sliced in narrow wedges
red wine, 1/3 bottle
Guinness, ½ bottle
diced smoky bacon, 1 Tblsp
***Please note: You will never find wine/beer or bacon in a traditional Moroccan recipe
beef stock (paste), heaping Tblsp
cumin, 2 heaping Tblsp
paprika, 1 generous Tblsp
cardamon, very generous pinch
ginger, very generous pinch
cloves, very generous pinch
cinnamon, 2 generous pinches
Take a Tajine dish and set on medium fire
Sauté garlic, onions and bacon in olive oil until onions soft and starting to clear
Add in tomato paste, turn well
Sprinkle with salt
Add wild boar
Sprinkle meat with spices, one at a time, turning the pieces to make sure coated
Salt more if desired
Add apricots and raisins to pan, distributing evenly
Add red wine
Add beef stock paste, turning well
Mix in carrots
Put on lid, reduce heat to low – as low as possible while still cooking.
Cook 3-4 hrs – longer is best – removing lid and turning meat chunks every 45 minutes or so for even soaking in sauce.
Let sit as long as you want and reheat with lid on to serve.
note: the longer the spices sit, the better they taste. The flavors meld together with time.
- Remove boar meat onto carving board and shred.
- Warm tortillas in microwave.
- Spoon on shredded meat, then sauce from Tajine dish. Amount of sauce subject to taste. I recommend each guest building their own.
- Wrap tortilla like moo shoo pork so doesn’t drip.
Sandra adds “This is simply marvelous (ain’t it grand to love your own cooking!) if you want exotic spicing combined with the wild taste of the boar. You could use any meat, but the very long cooking is especially good for tougher cuts.
The Secret: USE FRESH SPICES! I get mine from Penzeys Spices. If you use from grocery store, then DOUBLE at least the above. Also LONG slow cooking vital to bringing out flavors. www.penzeys.com
SUGGESTED WINES: We started with EOS Estate Merlot, Sonoma, 2009 and finished with Red Carpet Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, 2011.
Summer is the season of glorious fruit and veggies in California – and my favorite time because we love tomatoes most of all. Just a few miles down the freeway, back on a winding road at the foot of the Mesa, is a little wooden stand tucked away behind a gate. It’s kind of a secret place, so I won’t give you exact directions.
But there you can find paper bags of very ripe tomatoes for $3 and little square baskets of plump, firm, perfect ones for $4. I make my own tomato sauce these days. Just chop the super ripe tomatoes in chunks, throw them in a saucepan with some salt and boil until the consistency you want. Soup, sauce or paste. It all depends on the cooking time.
Wanna make a ratatouille? You’ll find everything you need – lavender, round eggplants the size of grapefruits, shiny green bell peppers, juicy white onions with their long bushy stalks. Did I mention ripe peaches with no bruises and sunflowers with four foot stems?
Do you need more to be impressed? You leave your money in a small box with a slat on top. The honor system. A little bit of heaven right here on our tumultuous earth.
This is a Caprese salad I made for lunch today. Tomatoes from the Mesa, fresh mozarella from DePalo & Sons and purple basil from Avila Beach Farmer’s Market. The flavor of the basil is super intense, so I chop and sprinkle rather than put whole leaves like I would with green basil. I know I’ve written about the purple basil and caprese salad before. But can good things be repeated too often?
I wish I had adequate words to describe the rich, heady aroma with almost a hint of licorice or anise.
Sensing the potency of the taste would match the scent, I chopped it fine on a caprese salad instead of using whole leaves as I would with standard “green” basil.
Cari and Craig Clark at Chaparral Gardens in Atascadero CA grow the basil to use in their artisan vinegars. Check out their website at CGVinegar.com
The tomatoes came from a local farmer and the mozzarella cheese from DePalo and Sons Deli in Shell Beach CA. The cheese is hand-crafted daily from grandfather Dr. Tedone’s recipe. The good doctor, retired now, starting making the cheese to work out his grief after his wife passed. DePalo’s is a family affair with an excellent Italian-California style deli, tremendous wine collection and shelves stuffed with every imaginable delicacy.
I love to cook and my favorite approach is to make something out of whatever ingredients I have in the fridge.
Today I prepared some Tilapia fillets which were on special in the fish department of the local supermarket.
After sauteeing slim rondelles of white onions and small, whole garlic wedges in olive oil, I tossed in the last of my yellow baby bell peppers, sliced also in rondelles.
Next came sprigs of fresh thyme from my herb garden.
I scraped the veggies to the side and put the tilapia in the pan, turning gently after one minute. Remember, these are fillets and very thin and delicate.
Of course, I salt & pepper to taste before adding a generous amount of dry white wine to cover. A Charles Shaw Chardonnay is just fine for cooking this dish. Why spend more? Let simmer very gently to boil off the alcohol from wine and reduce sauce. DO NOT overcook fish.
At the last minute, I sprinkled with cubed papaya which warmed slightly by the time I got the pan to the table and served. This really turned out delicious and was so fast, simple and cheap.
I served the tilapia with steamed green beans and a romaine salad with a vinaigrette and chunks of fresh parsley. The parsley also comes from my herb garden. We’re trying to watch calorie intake, so I didn’t serve any bread or rice. Obviously both would be great with this.
The white wine is Panilonco, a Chardonnay from Chile – crisp, dry and very reasonable at $4-5 a bottle.
Bon appetit! Velbekomme! Guten Appetit! Buon appetito! Smacznego! Bom apetite! Dobru chut! Smaklig maltid! Buen provecho! Bonum appetitionem!