Thursday, December 30, 2010

Prometheus' Revenge!

Prometheus was punished by Zeus by being chained up and having an eagle come and eat his liver every day. See, cause he was immortal the liver would grow back and the eagle could come back the next day and eat the new liver. Eventually Hercules came and shot the eagle with an arrow and freed Prometheus. Now, Hercules in Aristophanes' play The Birds was willing to trade the scepter and authority of Zeus and the gods for a tasty dish of bird cooked in a delicious sauce, so I find it hard to believe that he would not have said ..
Hercules: Hey Prometheus ...
Prometheus: Wow, is it good not to be chained up.
Hercules: What should we with this dead eagle? I have an idea ...
Prometheus: Whatever, I am so glad I am not chained up.
Hercules: Lets eat the eagle!
Prometheus: Only if we put the liver in the sauce. Revenge!
Hercules: Yay! I love birds and liver!
Prometheus' Revenge!
2 duck breasts
1/4 bulb of fennel
teaspoon of orange zest
duck liver
red wine
dried cherries
aleppo pepper (optional)
1) Part out the duck. The best thing to do is buy a whole duck and part it out to get the breasts and the liver. Buying just breasts is really expensive. This step I will make its own post at a later date.
2) Gather other ingredients:
3) Make a series of slices through the fat but not into the flesh of the duck breasts. This will allow more fat to get out which will make the texture better and the sauce tastier.
4) Then, put the duck breasts fat side down in a saute pan. Then turn on the saute pan to a medium high heat. As the pan heats it will start releasing all that wonderful delicious fat from the duck.
5) Sprinkle some salt and pepper on that duck while she cooks! When the fat is all delicious and golden brown, give the breasts a flip.
6) Cook until the ducks are how you like em. Some people like them dry and horrid, some like them still quacking. I like them in the middle. Then set them aside to rest while you make the sauce.
7) To the pan still on the burner and full of hot duck fat but now bereft of duck, add chopped garlic, shallots, duck liver, and fennel. See, Prometheus stole fire in a giant fennel stalk and that was a reason he got punished, so it seems right to put to put fennel in his dish of revenge! Okay, I know, I know: giant fennel is a different plant than this kind of fennel plant ... but who cares! Revenge is also best served cold and this dish is hot! This is Prometheus' revenge dish and he wants fennel in it to symbolize the fennel in which he stole fire! Duck liver tastes so good that at this point in the dish Hercules always cries with joy.
8) Add cherries and aleppo pepper. The aleppo pepper gives the heat that Prometheus feels symbolizes the fire that he had in the fennel stalk. Crushed red pepper works too. Also, add orange zest now.
add wine
 9) Reduce sauce until it is a nice saucy consistency. Then slice your duck breasts and arrange on a plate:
10) Then pour over sauce and eat!
This dish tastes really, really good! And we got to look at Hesiod and Aristophanes to make it! There is a great painting by Rubens at the Philadelphia Museum of Art of Prometheus getting his liver eaten. Go there and look at it and then go make this dish and help Prometheus get his revenge! Enjoy! 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hesiod's Favorite Drink

In Hesiod's Works and Days, written somewhere around 700-650 BC, Hesiod tells how to take a good break in the middle of a hot day (lines 582-596). There is whole meal desrcibed here, but for now, I'm gonna focus just on his drink of choice.
Hesiod's Favorite Drink
Spring water
1) Hesiod specifies a mixture of spring water and wine. I found 'spring water' at the Whole Foods and some Greek wine, because what other kind of wine could Hesiod have had!
2) Now pour one part wine into a glass:
3) And mix with three parts water:
This ends up being about 3% alcohol, which is like a beer, or maybe a light beer. And, it kind of tastes like the purple flavor of Vitaminwater! So, as the snow piles up outside you can imagine how refreshing this would be on a hot day, especially with freezing cold water. Or, perhaps you need a mellow drink for New Years Eve and want to watch your alcohol intake. Either way, now you know Hesiod's favorite drink. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Apicius' Wild Boar Sauce

Shopping in Reading Terminal Market, I found wild boar! Lets cook it following a recipe from the wild and wonderful cookbook of that ancient Roman foodie, Apicius. Now, the boar I found is ground and all Apicius' boar recipes are for sauces for whole roasts. So, I made one of those sauces (Apicius 332) into a boar sauce.
Apicius' Wild Boar Sauce
1 pound ground wild boar
black pepper
herbs de provence
almonds or pine nuts
red wine vinegar
olive oil
1) Gather all your ingredients together.
2) Add a healthy quarter cup or so of olive oil to a pan over medium heat. The boar I had was quite lean, but if your boar is fatty, you might need less oil. Also, I have a heavy hand with the olive oil ... because it is delicious.
3) Add the almonds or pine nuts. Apicius says that either are good for the dish.
4) When these have started to turn a beautiful golden brown ...
5) Add the boar, stir and brown the boar all over.
6) After meat has browned, add herbs and spices. Apicius specifies cumin. He also specifies mint, thyme, savory, celery seed, and flower of thistle. Now, fresh herbs aren't so available now and are pricey. But a good herbs de provence mix has mint, thyme, savory, and lavender flowers. So, I recommend subbing this mix and some fresh parsley. And grind in pepper as well. 
7) Add red wine vinegar. This dish wants alot of vinegar. It tenderizes the tough meat, it tastes good, and it combines with the honey to make the sweet-and-sour flavor so predominant in Apicius' cooking. So, really you will need about a cup. I admit this is alot of vinegar for one pound of meat. If you do not believe me, try adding it in smaller amounts and you will keep adding it to get it to taste right until you realize you have put in about a cup.
8) Then add about a cup of wine. I prefer my cooking wine to come from a giant plastic bag.
9) Cook until all virtually all the liquid has evaporated. The longer you can cook this the better. Adding extra wine and giving it a couple hours to cook would be a very smart and delicious move. Then add a couple tablespoons of honey. Basically you need to add enough honey to offset the amount of vinegar you added so they combine to make their delicious combination. 

10) Stir in the honey and taste. Add whatever you need (honey, vinegar, salt, cumin) to get the balance right. 
11) Now, what to do with? I tried it on spread on crusty bread and it was delicious! Then, I added cubed bread to the mixture and made a stuffing and used that to stuff a chicken, which I then baked. I added some currents to the mix to make it a better poultry stuffing. It was really good, and I felt that Apicius would have approved of stuffing a chicken with boar! It definitely fits into the concept of hiding animals inside of others that we see in Apicius and Petronius. You could also make this into a pasta sauce with some tomatoes ... but since the ancients did not eat pasta or tomatoes you would no longer be cooking Ancient Foods Today!

Now, go eat some wild boar! Enjoy!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas everybody! I have some very important words of wisdom to pass on this Christmas morning. Many of you will be cooking a goose, duck or some such tasty bird today. Be very careful! Do not leave your knife unattended on your cutting board near that bird, like in the picture below:
Because that bird will snatch up that knife ...
and try to stab you!
So, please, everyone be very careful this holiday season! And, enjoy cooking ducks and geese -- the ancient Persians, Egyptians, and Romans all sure did! Enjoy!

Monday, December 13, 2010

A moon man cheese revision

So, today I spoke with fellow graduate student Matt Farmer, who is wise and whose Greek is really, really good. He pointed out that the word used to modify honey in the passage looked at in the previous post is a word that could not be applied to honey. It is a superlative meaning "bitter" or "sour" - the apparent joke being that in this topsy-turvy world of the moon honey is as sour as vinegar and thus could curdle milk. I agree whole heartedly with his analysis of the joke instead of what I posted yesterday. Thanks, Matt!

Lucian, Moon Men, and Cheese

So, today we look at that witty writer of the Second Sophistic, Lucian, and his moon men! Well, he talks about a whole bunch of different races of moon men and I just want to look at one of them now. I want to look at the ones that blow honey from their noses and sweat milk and then when the honey hits the milk it curdles and makes cheese! (True History 1.24) So, I want to know if honey can cure cheese. Not having any milk in the house with which to experiment, I did some cookbook science research instead. So, milk has a pH of 6.5. The presence of acid makes milk curdle. Milk curdles at pH 4.6. Now, as sen in a previous post, lemon juice makes milk curdle. Lemon juice has a pH of 2.3. Vinegar also makes milk curdle. Vinegar has a pH of 2.4-3.4. Honey has a pH of 3.2-4.5. Now, The actual quote is "They blow pungent honey from their noses. Whenever they work hard or sweat, they sweat milk all over their body, so that, letting a few drops of honey fall, they make (by curdling) cheeses from this." So, since 'pungent' honey is specified, I take that to mean very acidic. If a few drops of vinegar can curdle milk and vinegar and honey overlap in their ph, then this could happen! And, interestingly, since the joke appears to be that the moon men produce two fluids that form cheese when they touch, rather than that honey is a funny thing from which to make cheese, I feel we can assume the audience knew that curdling milk with honey to make cheese was something they were familiar with. So, perhaps we get some insight here into home made cheeses of the Greek world in the second century AD and their use of honey. Moon men covered in fresh cheese! This is different than a moon made of cheese ... a moon covered in people covered in cheese!

12/13 Okay, after a discussion today with the wise Matt Farmer I stand corrected. See today's post for my palinode!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Paulus Feeding his Soldiers in Livy

Today we look at some ancient Roman soldiers' food as described by the historian Livy. In book 44. 35 of his history of Rome, Livy describes the Roman General Aemilius Paulus' preparations for campaign. Paulus orders his praetor to sail ahead with "ten days cooked rations for 1000 men." Not rations to be cooked, but already cooked rations. Interesting! By rations, we can assume he means farro. This is a kind of wheat that is cooked into a porridge (pictures of such coming soon!). Now a boat can carry a great amount of weight, so carrying the cooked wheat will not cause a problem there. Carrying cooked wheat would be much heavier than dry wheat because one would be carrying all the water weight that the grains absorbed as well. And maybe Paulus means that he should cook the stuff when he gets there and just have ten days of food waiting for Paulus' arrival. Either way, what this does mean is that the men would be eating old, cooked farro! Not so appetizing! So, you should boil some farro like pasta and eat it hot and be thankful you are not a Roman soldier!

Also, about Aemilius Paulus, from Livy 45.32, "People kept on repeating Paullus' own dictum that the man who knows how to organize a feast and put on games is the same man who knows how to win a battle!" So, think of which of your friends holds the best dinner parties and know that, if needed, he is the best man you know to follow into battle. Thanks for the advice, Paulus!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fancy Food in Daphnis and Chloe

After that last post on Daphnis' and Chloe's favorite food, we need to look at what the other characters in the story eat. Dionysophanes, the wealthy owner of the farm, puts on a feast of wine, wheat meal, marsh birds, suckling pigs, and many colored honey cakes (or perhaps honey cakes of different colors) (4.26.1). That does sound like a delicious meal. Wheat meal, you ask? Well, that could be a bowl of wheat berries as opposed to barley groats, (which would be fancier) and could be farro - the principle food of Egypt and Italy. Or, it could be flour with which to make bread, again pointing out that it is not barley and is ready for baking. Different kinds of bread do seem to play a narrative role in the story by being associated with different characters. What are these different honey cakes, you ask? I will make some over break and we will get that post up. I ate a suckling pig once. It was amazing. I will get some pictures. This would be a really good meal. But, if you want to be a really good person, you should prefer bread and cheese!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Daphnis and Chloe's Happily Ever After Dessert

Today we get our recipe from the end of Longus' late 2nd century pastoral Greek love story, Daphnis and Chloe. We enter the scene at the end of this well known story of boy meets girl; boy kind of loses girl to rivals, pirates, ignorance of sex, grouchy parents, boy being seduced, boy being bought to become a boytoy for a drunk, and, of course, boy turning out to be the rich man's abandoned son and now being too rich for girl; boy gets girl back and boy marries girl. At this happy end-of-book marriage, their future wealth, babies, and lifelong predilection for fruit and milk are revealed. Yes, for their whole life, even though they are wealthy and could live in the city and eat city food, they will live in the country and will always "think that summer fruit and milk were the sweetest food"(4.39.1). Well, Daphnis and Chloe, we agree! That is my all time favorite dessert too!
Daphnis and Chloe's Favorite Dessert 
Happily Ever Forever
1) Clean and cut up fruit and berries.
2) Put fruit and berries in individual bowls.
3) Pour heavy cream over top.
4) Eat.
What a decadent, wonderful dessert! Also, on a cold evening, it is quite nice to imagine the fruits of summer and eating them on a hot day under a shady tree. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jason, Medea, Aietes, and Some Delicious Fire Breathing Bulls

This recipe came out of a year long seminar on Jason and the Argonauts in Greek and Latin poetry. So, we enter the story where Jason has sailed to the Black Sea and asked Aietes for the Golden Fleece. Aietes says that Jason has to yoke Aietes' fire breathing bulls. Jason, as is his wont, becomes sad. But luckily for Jason (well ... at least for the time being) the king's daughter, Medea, has fallen in love with him. Here is where it gets fun. Apollonius says that she gave him a substance to smear on his body (a nasty root thingy grown from the dripped blood of Prometheus, nasty I tell you) so he could yoke the bulls. Horace, however, says that this magic subsance was garlic! Then, garlic besmeared, Jason yokes the bulls. Needless to say, Aietes is now mad. So, I figure that Aietes got so mad that he would have killed and eaten those bulls in anger. So I tried to figure out what that would have tasted like. For the recipe, what I figure is that Jason got that garlic that he had smeared all over his body onto those bulls when he was wrastlin' that yoke onto them. And, they are fire breathing so I figure they would be pretty hot. So, I made a beef dish that is garlicky and hot. And we need a tough cut to slow cook because those bulls, I figure, worked hard and were not tender. So, lets eat those bulls.
Aietes' Fire Breathing Bulls
a couple big beef shanks (one to represent each bull, perhaps)
a carrot
an onion
3 heads of garlic
couple stalks of celery
olive oil
a bottle of red wine
crushed red pepper
1) I love beef shanks. 
2) Now, get all your ingredients all together!
3) This is a wonderfully easy dish to make, all you need is time. First, dredge both sides of the shanks in flour and shake off the excess. Then, in a pot, heat a quarter cup or so of olive oil on medium heat.
4) Add shanks and brown both sides. This will make some roux to help make some pretty texture for the sauce later. And this step is fun and smells good.
5) Now add everything else! Yep, add the bottle of red wine, chop the vegetables and add them. Do not forget to add all the garlic! A rough chop is all you need because we are going to puree the sauce later. And, add a healthy pinch of crushed red pepper. I know that crushed red pepper is not ancient. To be really ancient, use only black pepper and garlic to generate your heat. However, since we are talking about cooking fire breathing bulls here, perhaps a little license can be granted. So, use whatever heat generator you like. Heck, use habaneros! But, I like crushed red pepper. 
6) Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for as long as you can (beef shanks are tough and need at least four hours - but the more the better). At around the 6 hour mark, magic will start to happen. At this point, pull out the pieces of meat and bone and puree the sauce with a stick mixer if you have one or in a blender. Then put everything back into the pot and keep cooking. You can cook this until the whole thing becomes this marvelous paste of goodness. Or, you can stop cooking earlier than that and still have chunks of meat that have fallen off the bone and sauce.
7) I like to serve this one with roasted garlic and flatbread. More garlic, yes! 
And, um, beware of king's daughters who fall in love with you on first sight. Don't listen to Horace and his hatred of garlic (epode 3)! This dish is a real celebration of garlic. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Persian Stuffed Hens

This is one of my favorite recipes! For this one I looked to the ancient Greek historian Polyaenus and his Strategems. Polyaenus says that at Persepolis, the capital of the Persian empire, there was a bronze pillar with the ingredients listed that were required for the Great King's daily lunch for, as that compiler of food stories Athenaeus says, 15,000 people! I like to think of this pillar as the world's first recorded catering invoice! So, I looked at the list and designed a stuffed bird dish. I originally made this with duck for my advisor, Professor Dusinberre, at UColorado because she studies Achaemenid Persia and first showed me the Polyaenus source. Experimenting since then, I now like it with game hens best.
Persian Stuffed Hens
3 game hens
2 small jars of capers packed in salt
olive oil
sesame seeds
pita bread
Now, I like to make alot of stuffing and then cook the stuffed birds on a bed of stuffing. If you do not want so much stuffing, although I highly recommend it, make half as much stuffing.
1) Now this dish is based on an ingredient on that pillar, "candied capers with salt for stuffings." From talking to Professor Dusinberre and the fact that that pillar specifies 1300 birds as needed per day, I decided to use this caper stuffing for birds. Now, to candy something without sugar, we need to use honey. This is the same concept used in the post about Apicius' stuffed dates. So, heat some honey in a pan at low heat.
2) Then when it starts to bubble, add the capers packed in salt.
3) Get them all coated in the honey so that you have a pan of salty, sweet caper goodness.
4) Then turn off the heat and set it aside. Now for the rest of the stuffing. In a separate pan, add some olive oil, maybe a quarter cup or so. Add a handful of sesame seeds and a handful or two of blanched, slivered almonds.
5) When these start to turn a light golden brown, add a chopped onion and some minced garlic.
6) Let that cook for a couple more minutes and add your parsley, raisins, and cumin.
7) Then add your caper mixture.
8) Then add a quarter cup of apple cider or so and cook it until it has cooked off.
9) Now take one or two loaves of pita, depending on how moist your stuffing is, and mince them up
Then add add them to your stuffing until it is the right consistency ... think the consistency of the stuffing you just made for Thanksgiving!
Stir and get ready to stuff!
10) Get your birds ready.
And stuff em!
Then, tie them with twine. I take the rest of the stuffing and make a bed on my baking pan. Then I rub my stuffed hens with cumin and set them on the bed.
Now bake them uncovered at around 400 for about 45, or until the stuffing in the birds reads 165 degrees on your meat thermometer. If they start to look like they are getting too done on the outside, turn the oven down to 300. Then eat them! They are shockingly good. Shocking! A really exotic and delicious dish. 
Enjoy this attempt at recreating the food from the royal table of the ancient Persians!