Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Emperor Domitian's Black Banquet

The historian Cassius  Dio tells us about a very strange dining experience orchestrated by the Emperor Domitian:

"On another occasion he entertained the foremost men among the senators and knights in the following fashion. He prepared a room that was pitch black on every side, ceiling, walls and floor, and had made ready bare couches of the same colour resting on the uncovered floor; then he invited in his guests alone at night without their attendants. And first he set beside each of them a slab shaped like a gravestone, bearing the guest's name and also a small lamp, such as hang in tombs. Next comely naked boys, likewise painted black, entered like phantoms, and after encircling the guests in an awe-inspiring dance took up their stations at their feet. After this all the things that are commonly offered at the sacrifices to departed spirits were likewise set before the guests, all of them black and in dishes of a similar colour. Consequently, every single one of the guests feared and trembled and was kept in constant expectation of having his throat cut the next moment, the more so as on the part of everybody but Domitian there was dead silence, as if they were already in the realms of the dead, and the emperor himself conversed only upon topics relating to death and slaughter. Finally he dismissed them; but he had first removed their slaves, who had stood in the vestibule, and now gave his guests in charge of other slaves, whom they did not know, to be conveyed either in carriages or litters, and by this procedure he filled them with far greater fear. And scarcely had each guest reached his home and was beginning to get his breath again, as one might say, when word was brought him that a messenger from the Augustus (Domitian) had come. While they were accordingly expecting to perish this time in any case, one person brought in the slab, which was of silver, and then others in turn brought in various articles, including the dishes that had been set before them at the dinner, which were constructed of very costly material; and last of all came that particular boy who had been each guest's familiar spirit, now washed and adorned. Thus, after having passed the entire night in terror, they received the gifts."

And for Dessert...

Sesame Cookies: From Edwards, Roman Cookery

100 grams sesame seeds
60 grams white whole wheat or spelt flour
1 T olive oil
2T honey
3T water
Spread the sesame seeds on a baking tray and toast them under the broiler for 3 minutes, shaking frequently until golden.  Combine all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and work into a tough pastry (if you have a Kitchenaid, by all means use it).  You may have to add a tiny bit more water, but only a drop or the cakes will become brittle.
Gather the pastry into a ball and place in a plastic bag at room temperature for an hour or two.  Then roll out the pastry thinly on a lightly floured board.  Using a 2 inch pastry cutter or glass, cut into disks and pals on oiled or parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake at 380F for 5-10 minutes, cool and serve.

Dipping Sauce for Roast Chicken, Salad, and Melons

Dipping Sauce for Fowl 

1 date, seeded
3 T broth
½ t pepper
2 t chopped lovage or celery leaves
2 t chopped rue
2 T toasted pine nuts
½ t powdered mustard
2 t honey
1 T garum or fish sauce
½ t celery seed
¼ c chopped parsley
3 T vinegar
1 to 2 T oil to taste

Warm the broth and soak the date in it till softened. Puree in a blender with the stock.  Add the herbs and nuts and spices, puree. Add the vinegar and oil and blend.

Serve with roasted chicken carved into portions that can be eaten without utensils.

Salad with Oenogarum dressing:
Select and assortment of  dark green, flavorful salad greens such as arugola, watercress, and baby spinach.  Wash and dry the greens.  Place in a large bowl.  Toss with Oenogarum dressing immediately before serving.  Top with freshly ground pepper.

Make Oenogarum dressing:
 Make the Oenogarum-- mix 4.5 oz Shiraz or Syrah red wine with 1 oz garum, whisk to blend.
  To make the dressing, whisk together a quarter of a cup of oenogarum with a quarter of a cup of olive oil.

Melons with Mint Dressing-- Apicius 3.7.   For this class, we will triple the recipe:

3 ripe melons, such as a small watermelon, cantaloup, honeydew
2 T dried mint or 3 T fresh mint, finely chopped
6 T honey
21/2 T garum or fish sauce
2 T vinegar
black pepper

Cut the melons into wedges.  Remove the seeds, separate the melon from the skin.  Dice the wedges into chunks.  Combine the other ingredients and whisk until fully amalgamated.  Pour over the melon about 15 minutes before serving; turn the melon pieces to coat in the sauce.  Serve on a platter with toothpicks.

Menu for March 2, with recipes

This week we will try the following dishes:

Moretum:  A Pesto-like cheese dip for crackers or vegetables
Salad with Oenogarum dressing
A Roman Mushroom Dish
Barley and Vegetable soup
Roast Fowl with Dipping Sauce
Melon with Mint Dressing
Sesamides:  Sesame and Honey Cookies


Moretum:(thanks to the The Silk Road Gourmet for this recipe)

4 medium cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 pound Romano or Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 tsp. salt
2-3 tsp fennel seeds, ground in mortar
small bunch of cilantro, washed, dried, and roughly chopped
1/2 cup parsley, washed, dried, stems removed
1/4 cup celery leaves or mix of chopped celery and celery leaves
approx. 4-6 Tablespoons olive oil

Grind garlic and salt in mortar and pestle or food processor, then add the grated cheese and blend thoroughly.  Add olive oil as needed, process to a smooth paste.  If you are storing it in the refrigerator, place a layer of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the moretum to prevent any discoloring or drying out.

Roman Mushrooms (thanks to the The Silk Road Gourmet for this recipe)
1 pound Portobello Mushroom caps
1.5 cups good Shiraz (or Syrah)
1/3 cup garum or liquamen
4-5 long pepper catkins, crushed or ground
Clean thoroughly and slice the mushrooms into bite-sized morsels and set aside. Mix wine and garum and mix well but gently.

In a large sauté pan, warm the oenogarum and long pepper over medium-low flame until it is hot. Do not let it come to a boil. When hot, add the mushrooms. Cook uncovered until mushrooms have given off their own water and have become tender. Remove from flame and drain the mushrooms. If desired, catch the liquid from the pan and use it to flavor another dish for the same meal. Works very nicely with grain dishes such as barley. Enjoy!

Ancient Roman Barley Soup with Legumes and Greens

1/2 cup pearled barley
1 cup yellow split peas
1 cup tan lentils (supermarket type)
10 cups water
1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons salt, plus to taste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon ground celery seed
2 tablespoons Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce**
1 large or 2 smaller leeks, white part and 3 inches of green part, split, rinsed carefully and chopped
3 cups coarsely chopped Savoy cabbage, packed
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, packed
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill, packed
1/4 cup chopped fennel leaves, packed
1/2 cup olive oil

Place barley, peas and lentils in a heavy pot. Rinse and drain. Add water and bring to a boil. Skim off foam. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are becoming tender. Add a little water if too thick.

Add chickpeas, salt, oregano, ground spices and fish sauce. Simmer 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare leeks, cabbage and greens. In a frying pan, cook them gently in olive oil until bright colored and wilted. Stir mixture into soup. Simmer, stirring frequently, just until cabbage is tender, 5-10 minutes.
** Omit if vegetarian, but be sure to add salt to taste
Taste, and add salt as needed to make slightly salty, since the vegetables will absorb more salt.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Fridge, the Freezer, and the Pantry

While the writing prompt was solely about the refrigerator, two other food caches played equal roles in my childhood.  The contents of the refrigerator are what I remember the least clearly.  I know that it contained the staples of milk, eggs, and various cheeses, fruits, and vegetables.  It also contained soy milk for me, as I was severely lactose intolerant when I was younger.  There was a Brita filtered water container that was perpetually in the cycle of being emptied and fulled, far past the filter's suggested time of use.  The freezer section of the refrigerator held a myriad of frozen vegetables such as corn, green beans, peas, mixed vegetables — different types ad infinitum.  Every so often, perhaps twice a month at most, there would be some sort of sweet frozen delicacy, be it ice cream (which sadly I could not enjoy), Popsicles or Italian Ice.  However, the contents of this freezer were dwarfed by the refrigerator-sized full freezer that inhabited the basement of our townhouse.  This mammoth contained shelves upon shelves of meats that my father would purchase after scouring the meat market for anything on clearance.  Anything of above-average size was relegated to its frozen body, such as the boxes of frozen soft pretzels that my sister and I would beg our parents for whenever we entered the frozen section of the supermarket.  An almost daily quasi-chore was to head into the depths to reclaim some morsel to be prepared for dinner that night. The last bastion of food in the house was the full wall pantry that hid behind folding metal doors.  Everything that did not require chilling or freezing was placed in that magical wonderland of dried pasta and crackers.  Unopened bottles of juice sat solemnly next to bags of chips, both wondering which was to be devoured next.  As the pantry was where the vast majority of snacks resided, I practiced my stealth, as I would sneak downstairs, do my best to open the creaking metal doors without noise, and to silently open the bag that would lead to a few fleeting minutes of complete contentment.  I did not master this ability in a day, however.  When I was about six years old, I sneaked downstairs and removed my prize, a box of fruit snacks.  I gulped down about three separate bags of them.  I quietly replaced the box of fruit snacks into the pantry and closed the painted metal doors.  The next morning, my parents confronted me about my late-night excursion.  While I had not alerted them due to noise, nor had they seen me, I miscalculated one small part of the plan.  I had left the wrappers on the kitchen table.

From Michaela Miller

I grew up on a farming family so our fridge was full of the days hard work. There was always fresh milk, cream, and eggs. In the summer time we'd have fresh blueberries that we had picked and a bunch of vegetables from the garden. One thing I remember about our fridge as a kid was all the leftovers from dinner. Growing up with older brothers and a bunch of cousins always running in and out of the house my mother always had to make a lot food to feed us all. My fridge still has an excess of leftovers even though a lot of the mouths she once had to feed have left the house, but at least I know when I get home there is always a bunch of food to at up!

From Amber Hatchett

Looking inside the Fridge

Surprisingly my fridge contents have not changed much since elementary
school. I believe back then organic or all natural labeling wasn’t very
popular, so we usually did not stock on things such as that. However we
bought typical name brand groceries like Motts Apple Sauce, Ocean Spray
Cranberry Juice, Yoplait yogurt, etc. My mom started to be a vegetarian
around the time I was in elementary school and packed her own lunch to
work everyday. So there were lots of vegetables such as carrots, celery,
bell pepper, cabbage, kale, and collard greens; fruits (when in season)
red or green grapes, oranges, bananas, and apples. Since I was not a
completely a vegetarian however since my mother bought the groceries and
cooked my food she would only buy tofu and turkey meat.  So I had turkey
sandwich meat, turkey bacon, ground turkey and turkey sausage links.  We
had your typically condiments like ketchup, mustard, ranch, pickles,
etc. Overall I had an average fridge but a very health one as well.

From Anthony Yeh

Old memories of the old refrigerator 

What I remember most about my family's refrigerator back in elementary school was that there was a lot of ingredients for Taiwanese cuisine.  I remember seeing many different kinds of vegetables such as broccoli, beans, and spinach.  Almost every night we ate rice with Taiwanese traditional dishes, since my grandparents and parents are from Taiwan.  We would usually have a meat dish, vegetable dish, seafood dish, or a fish dish.  I never knew the names of the dishes my family cooked but they were delicious.  We occasionally had other kinds of food when we didn't cook, such as pizza.  So there would be leftover pizza in our refrigerator.  We also had a lot of Asian spices and sauces that were essential for the dishes.

Anthony Yeh

From David Brunette

Refrigerator Reminiscence

My most fond youth refrigerator memory is definitely whenever Five Alive appeared on the top shelf during the summer. Essentially, it is a generic KoolAid. My favorite flavor was Citrus, which combined the flavors of orange, lemon, grapefruit, tangerine and lime into one delicious concoction. I remember my 8 or 9 year old rationale for this was, "I would literally have to drink five CapriSun pouches to equal one Five Alive and that's just too much." I don't think I have had it or seen it since then. Which begged the question: What happened to it? Sadly, a Google search told me that is not sold in the US anymore. After writing the majority of this blog entry, I decided that I should leave the reasoning behind leaving the country unknown to preserve my cherished childhood refrigerator memory. Ignorance is bliss? Maybe I'll give it a shot.

- David Brunette

From Akeila Lain

As a child I loved to eat! I would look forward to Sunday dinners, Saturday morning

breakfast, or simply getting home from school in the afternoon to get a snack,

(anything would have been better then the horrendous lunch they provided for all

the children at the elementary school). I come from a long line of family tradition,

everything from family road trips to family cook offs, so its no surprise I had an

interest in cooking growing up. Every holiday my siblings and I pitched in around

the kitchen each cooking a dish for dinner. But me being the pasta-loving girl I am I

would always volunteer to make the baked macaroni and cheese, while my sisters

cooked the turkey, and my brothers baked the desserts. These are times in my life I

would always chariest, in hopes of passing them on to my children one day.

I think my love for eating and cooking stems from always having food in the house,

I think this is due to my fathers philosophy of if we run out of something replace it.

Growing up my siblings and I never fought (over food that is) because it just seemed

like there was ample amounts of food at our disposal. Until this day there’s things

I always have to have in my refrigerator. I remember just going to the fridge after

school and there would always be cold Capri Suns, Hawaiian Punch, or Nesquik

chocolate milk for us to choose from. This went great with our animal crackers and

gummy bears.

Monday’s was always Spaghetti nights, and my

mom always prepared the night before so I

remembered seeing big tubs of Pergo Traditional

tomato sauce in the glass jaw sitting on the top

shelf, along plastic tuba wear full of noodles. This

is how my mother feed us when she worked late.

On the shelf below that you’d find a carton of

eggs, a tub of Country crock’s butter, and every

flavored yogurt I could image at the time (at least

that’s what it felt like to me). On the door you can

bottles of barbeque sauce, and hidden valley

ranch dressing along with Strawberry Jelly.

These are all just some of the things I remembered being in my refrigerator as a

child growing up, things I always had access to eat.

From Tahleia Bishop

The Early Years of My Refrigerator

From what I remember of my fridge in elementary school, what it contained seemed to be on a repeating cycle. My siblings and I were always very active children - playing on various club and school sports teams. As such, during our sports season, my fridge mostly contained fruits to be sliced and taken as snacks to our tournaments. These fruit were accompanied by several packages of sliced meat (be it turkey, ham or chicken) that were to be our contribution to the team lunch all the parents would pitch in to make. 

During these months of competition, there was almost always a chicken or package of mince meat defrosting in the fridge, which you would generally find beside the 3-day old left overs of mac and cheese that we always swore we were going to finish but that still never managed to find its way anywhere but the compost bin.

I was always one of those rare children that would actually rather have fruits or vegetables instead of a sugary snack - so on any given day you would also find the crisper filled with a seemingly endless supply of apples, broccoli, oranges (for my sister), bananas (for my brother, and my personal favourite, pears. To this day, expect when the occasional chocolate bar gets the better of me, I will generally reach for a firm pear as my choice of snack. However, on occasion, my father would buy Yoplait Yogurt Tubes as a treat for my siblings and I. Tubes that were always a welcomed surprise, though they would inevitably be used as lazer-swords in epic living-room battles...which may explain why they were such rare treats in my household.  

Finally, for the couple months out of the year when neither me or my siblings were competing, you could find my fridge full of such Jamaican classics as the ever-fought-over oxtail, pieces of goat meat for my moms delicious curry goat meal, akee and salt-fish just waiting to be devoured during Sunday breakfast, and finally a package of hot dogs that my sister would insist on heating up and eating with ketchup while she did her homework after school.

Though the contents of my fridge may vary throughout the months, one thing you can count always on is that it will never be empty.