Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Roman Feast

I had not intended this to become a cooking blog, but cooking is just about the only creative/expressive thing I get to do these days aside from reading "Moo, Ba, La La La," which, while fun, is not original or creative... though you'd be amazed at how creative you can get re-reading the same paragraph over & over.

I was asked to be feastocrat for Hunter's Moon, and the event was yesterday.  It was exciting, interesting, painful, frustrating, exciting, frustrating, infuriating, and ultimately worth doing because that was a fabulous meal.  I planned for 60 but we seated 30, so I had chicken and pies left, but not much else.  We only threw out about 1 head of lettuce (salad) and the rest got distributed among the guests.  I cooked the left-over chicken today & put it up in the freezer for future Shire events.  Unfortunately I didn't take pictures, I was busy cooking (sorry!).

Preparation took several days/weeks and a lot of help.  I made up the liquimen, garum & pork forcemeat way ahead of time.
The custard was cooked on Thursday, the chicken marinated then too.
Chicken was stuffed on Friday, grapes picked & carrots/parsnips cut up and marinated. 
Everything else was cooked on location that day.

Here is the menu plan, and below you will find the original recipes with my changes & instructions.  I took nearly everything from Apicius (various translations) and I'm honestly not sure which part was my favorite.  I tried to choose recipes that had a progression of flavors without everything tasting the same, and a good balance of nutrients without too much fat/salt/whatever.  I wanted a colorful meal, and I admit I also wanted to avoid boiled meat at all costs.

I had an original budget of $400, which got upped to $500, but I came in under $400 in the end.

Sideboard: *(this is the snack table, when it runs out, it's gone.)
Bread – Wegmans, various white & wheat *(one rye, not period). 5 loaves *(should have gotten more).
Cheese – 1st platter: soft cheese (goat), bree (goat), salted hard cheese (sheep), Gouda *(should have gotten more)
2nd platter: cheddar, swiss, monteray jack, Munster
Fruit – grapes *(store green seedless, wine grapes from arbor - these were a hit BTW), dates, figs *(dates didn't go over well)
boiled eggs – 40, *have 3 left

Vinegar Water  *(this is close to an electrolyte drink and very tasty) 
Water                           1 gal
Apple cider vinegar       3 tbsp  *(the guys wanted a lot more)
Honey                          3 tbsp  *(again, a lot more, like 1/3 c.)

Preparation: dissolve honey into warm vinegar.  Mix into water, taste, add more water or honey/vinegar until it's good.  Serve at room temperature or cool.  
*We actually ended up serving this slightly warm as it was a chilly day.
*Refill as necessary.

Faux Spiced Wine
Based on recipe in The Classical Cookbook, p. 101
White grape juice                                         2 gal
honey                                                           ¾ c.
ground black pepper                                     ½ tsp.
bay leaf                                                         1
saffron powder                                              1 pinch  (~1/8 tsp)
Put 2/3 cup of the juice in a saucepan with the honey and bring it to a boil. Skim if necessary. Repeat and remove from the heat. Add the seasonings while it is hot: this speeds up the flavouring process. When it is cold, add the rest of the juice and allow to stand overnight. To serve, strain through a fine sieve or muslin. 

*We didn't strain it, just took out the bay leaf & left the saffron.  We watered it by 1/3 so everyone could have 2 glasses.
This may well have been my favorite thing at the feast.  It tastes exactly like a good white wine without the drunk that goes with alcohol.

Coffee & tea
Obviously not part of a Roman feast, but a necessary component of any American gathering.  Brew a big pot.  Have milk, sugar & sugar substitute.  You don't have to like it, you still have to do it.




[1] Hum. pro lactucis uere; Tor. p. l. accipint; G.-V. p. l. vero (separated by period)—all indicating that endives are a substitute for lettuce when this is not available.

lettuce                          7 lbs total
endive heads                 3 lbs
Red onion                     1-2 onions
Liquimen                      1 c.
Olive oil                        1 c.
Honey                          ½ c.
Salt                              2 tsp.

Dressing: Mix olive oil, liquimen, salt & honey together.  Put in containers so guests can use as they wish.
*We ended up pouring the dressing on the salad due to a lack of containers. 

Cut lettuce & endives into pleasant size pieces.  Put in serving bowl.  Chop onion fine and add a little to each bowl
* We sliced the onions so people could easily pull them off.

"Don't kill the king" dressing:
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. vinegar
1/8 c. white wine
3 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp black pepper
Whisk together, bottle & let the king pour his own dressing.  Motto of the feast "don't kill the king."

*I did not get to try the salad.  However, when tasting the dressings I preferred the one I whipped up for Tindal (no fish sauce) to the one everyone else got, though both are very good.  The downside to the first dressing is that it is not very good after a few days, so it's a make & use kind of thing.

Side Dishes:


Asparagus                    200 stalks (8 bunches)
Water                           several gal.
Salt                              1 c.
Olive Oil                       1 c.
Liquimen                      ½ c.
Black Pepper               3 tbsp

Cut tough ends off asparagus (if small), peel tough skin (if large - use a knife, the peelers gum up, yes it makes a difference, yes it takes a lot of time).  Reassemble in bunches of like sizes & tie with butcher’s twine.  Stand upright in a pan of boiling salt water reaching 1/3 – ½ way up the stalks & cover.  Remove when tender 10-20 minutes (thinner is less time, fatter is more time, they are done when the heads wilt over - don't let them sit).  Drain, lay on serving tray and sprinkle with dressing.
*I got smalls, so I just tied the bunches, then removed the rubber bands & boom, done.

Mix olive oil and liquimen, sprinkle with black pepper.

 "Don't kill the king"
Tindal got olive oil & black pepper on his asparagus.  

People who said "I don't like asparagus" liked this.  It was kind of amazing, though I honestly prefer the baked asparagus my husband makes.  This fit the meal though.


Carrots                         12 lbs
Parsnips                       8 lbs
Olive Oil                       2 c. (reserve 1)
Cooking Wine              1 c.
Liquimen                      ½ c.

Preparation:  Peel & slice carrots & parsnips into coins, marinate in wine sauce.
Sauce: Mix ½ olive oil, wine & liquimen together.  Marinate carrots & parsnips overnight or a few hours in bags or bowls. 
Cook in hot skillet with remaining olive oil. 
*I ended up changing the wine to grape juice only because we couldn't find the cork screw that night.

"Don't kill the King" ended up being olive oil & wine.

These are good warm or cold.  We had some for dinner today & they were quite delicious even without being re-heated.

Main Course:


Chicken breasts                                    60 – 70 breasts
Ground pork                                        6 lbs
fennel                                                   1 lb
Pine nuts                                               1 lb
Ground chicken                                     ~2 lbs
Black pepper                                        ¼ c.
Garlic cloves, crushed                           ~2 bulbs
Olive oil                                                (as needed)
White wine, reduced                               1 qt. (as needed)

Forcemeat: Mix ground pork, fennel, pine nuts, black pepper, garlic and chicken broth/wine into a fine sausage-like mixture.   Chicken trimmings can be added now or later.  Refridgerate overnight or freeze until ready to use.  *(I skipped the wine/broth, and all the chicken went into its own forcemeat).

Stuffed Chicken Breasts: Trim chicken breasts so there is a fat end (the back of the dormouse) and a pointed end (the nose).  Add trimmings to the forcemeat.  Slit the least attractive side with a knife & add forcemeat.  Tie the chicken breast closed with butcher’s twine *(I used a plug of chicken meat vs. tying, it turned out fine & cut down on plate-time).

Add a little broth & olive oil to the roasting pan, set breasts inside.  Cover roasting pan & bake until done.  May have to baste with chicken broth to keep from drying out.
350F for 25-30 min (note: longer cooking time for more meat, don't squeeze things in a pan, give them room to cook).  Use a thermometer to know when it's done.  120F is technically done, 160F is done-done and on the verge of drying out; any higher & it's Dry Chicken City.

Add cloves or raisins for eyes and nose, and chives or other herbs for whiskers.  *(they got set on lettuce leaves on pretty plates - no eyes/nose/whiskers.

Note: I had to use a cheaper chicken breast than I had planned, so marinating it overnight was necessary.  This turned out to be a FANTASTIC decision.  4 c. grape juice, 3/4 c. salt, heat to dissolve salt, marinate breasts in bags, top off with water. 

We baked 4 chicken breasts with chicken forcemeat so the "no piggies" contingent had a lovely meal too (plus, I had 2 lbs of chicken trimmings left).



Take sufficient milk for the size of the cake pan. Mix the milk with honey just as if you were making milk food. Then put in five eggs to a pint of the honey-milk mixture, or three eggs to half a pint. Dissolve the eggs into the milk so that the resulting mixture is smooth. Strain into a clay vessel and cook over a slow fire. When the custard is firm, sprinkle with pepper and serve. (Apicius Book 7, XI-7)

milk                              1 cup
cream                           1 cup
honey                           3 tbsp
eggs                             4 lg / 5 med.
Liquimen                      1 tsp
Black pepper                ~3 tbsp

Flour                            2 cups
Lard                             2/3 c.
Salt                              ½ tsp
COLD Water               4-6 tbsp

Filling; Mix milk and cream.  Heat to just warm in the microwave or on a stovetop.  Add honey slowly while whisking quickly. Beat eggs and liquimen in a separate bowl until frothy. Combine the eggs & milk mixtures and beat again. Pour into prepared crusts, sprinkle pepper on, cover with foil and cook in slow oven at 350F for about an hour

Crust: Mix flour & salt.  Cut in lard until crumbs form.  Add cold water 1 tbsp at a time until moist enough to roll out.  Roll to ¼” thick, put in pie plates.  Fill with custard & then roll the crust in & DOWN to just above the level of the custard.
*Don't use Crisco, it's too sweet and clashes with the custard.  If you don't want to cook with lard, just skip the crust.

 Note: there is no mention of a crust on the original recipe, but in order to serve that many people it makes it easy to cut & plate. 
Note: A deep dish is better than a pie plate.  It has a much better jiggle when it's a thick slice v. a thin one.

"Don't kill the king"
As above, except I baked it in a proper deep dish, without crust (didn't bring the flour to the site) and I replaced the liquimen with the faux wine. 

This tastes like a typical custard pie, but with a subtle twist.

Please feel free to use these recipes as you choose.  Obviously most of them are for ridiculous numbers of people, and I vastly underestimated the amount of asparagus people would eat, so if you do that & really have 60, you need 16 bunches, not 8.  We could have stretched the carrots & parsnips to feed 60, but I really only had a little left over, so personally I'd rather have everyone leave happy and full than wanting more for fear of waste.

- Please, for the love of all that is good manners, don't ask me to adjust the recipes for you.  You have a brain, you figure it out.  I have every confidence in your ability to reduce/substitute/estimate/etc.  Google has a great conversion tool as well.
- MY GOD DON'T EAT IT IF YOU ARE ALLERGIC TO IT!!!  I made substitutions for Tindal on the fly because I found out that morning that he's allergic to fish, not just shellfish; and if I can do it, so can you.
- Don't ask me about the calories.  Since they refuse to scream if I burn them or not, I'd prefer they just come & go quietly.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

There's Always Room For Jell-O (or the great green grape frappe flop)

The Great Green Grape Frappe Flop

As most of you know, I’ve been participating in the Historical Food Fortnightly Challenges and this one is #7 “the best thing since sliced bread.”  
The mission was to ‘Create a food item that reflects historical food improvements. Showcase a new discovery in food preparation, a different way of using food, or a different way of serving it. Make sure to include your documentation!’

It was a toss-up for me between one of the original breakfast cereals by my sorta-relatives or Jell-O.  I wanted something local, something simple (ha) and something to do with prepackaged foods and marketing, at least loosely.  Anyway, Jell-O won because I don't think there is another food on the face of this planet with more "different ways of serving it."

It all started in LeRoy NY, just a hop skip & jump over the river, but way back in 1900.  The story really begins in 1845 when Peter Cooper invented the stuff, then sold it to
Pearle Wait whose wife May named it Jell-O, who then sold it to Orator Frank Woodward who then (1900 by now) sold it to Sam Nico (for $35 with some swear words) who popularized the product with a really good marketing campaign starting in 1904.  He published recipe booklets, had popular artists paint pictures featuring Jell-O and took out ads in popular magazines across the country.  You can read more about the history of Jell-O here:
You can also pick up original Jell-O recipe packets at almost any antique shop in Livingston County, or at least the ones on Main St. in Mt. Morris. 
You can also visit the Jell-O Museum in LeRoy NY

As to this recipe, it comes from a 1905 booklet.  It is the first recipe listed, and I had a heck of a time with it.  I dumped the first batch down the sink (there went the Lemon). I made the second with lime jell-o, which wasn’t invented until much later (hey, it's what I had left).  The second attempt was slightly more successful, but still a funny, watery, unstable mess.   I have video of the whole thing collapsing into a weird green, quivering heap.

The directions read:
Grape Frappe
Number 1
Dissolve one package of Lemon Jell-O in one-half pint boiling water (that’s 1 cup).  Add one-half pint grape juice and stir thoroughly.  Set away to cool, stirring occasionally.  Beat the whites of three eggs to a stiff froth and when Jell-O mixture begins to thicken, add gradually to the beaten whites, beating with a Dover egg beater all the time.  When it is light and stiff enough to keep its shape, pile in a mold and serve with whipped cream.

So, here’s how it went:
Dissolve one package of Lemon (lime) Jell-O in 1 c. boiling water.  Check. 

(do this for 2 minutes, not 30 seconds or all your ‘jell’ will remain on the bottom of the bowl) Add one-half pint grape juice and stir thoroughly.  Check  
It must jiggle or its not ready.
Set away to cool, stirring occasionally.  Yeah.  They mean for like an hour.  Stir every 15 minutes with a whisk.  If it’s NOT starting to jell it won’t incorporate into your meringue and you’ll have a horrible watery nasty mess.  Ask me how I know that.

Beat it!
Beat the whites of 3 eggs to a stiff froth and when jell-o mixture begins to thicken… AFTER the jell-o has gone all slurpy jiggly, then go ahead & beat your egg whites.  This takes a while, let’s say 15 minutes.  Note: Chill the egg beating bowl in the freezer when you set the jello away so the bowl is cool, and what the heck, put the jello mold in there too.  Note: use a BIG bowl to mix this in, the medium size mixing bowl was not quite large enough once that froth got going.  You’ll need a mold that holds 4 cups, or 2 smaller molds.

A tiny bit at a time...
add gradually to the beaten whites… they mean that.

Now do this FOREVER
beating with a Dover egg beater all the time.   I have one!  I used it!  It works!  (OK, it's a different brand, but it's still the same tool)  It adds more fluffy air than a whisk and helps to incorporate the jelled jello into the meringue better than the whisk, though I used both.   It’s far less splattering than a modern mixer, so in this case stick with the hand tools.

More like poured after pure exhaustion.
When it is light and stiff enough to keep its shape, pile in a mold.  Yeah.  Right.  I beat this sucker for 40 minutes and called it good when it was still runny and about to overflow the bowl (here’s a vote for electric).  I probably should have kept going, but it was late, I was tired & I just wanted it done.  Spoon the first bits into the mold, then pour the rest gently.  There should not be any liquid, it should all be incorporated.  If there is liquid, you need to just keep beating or throw the whole darn thing out because you didn’t wait for it to cool and it’ll never ever, ever set up.  You could probably toss it in the freezer for a few minutes to re-cool if necessary.
  Note: do not grease the mold!  I'm serious.  Don't do it.

serve with whipped cream.  Whoa there me buckaroo!  First you need to chill that puppy overnight.  Maybe a little more than that, but not much more.  To release from the mold, run a knife along the top edges, then set the mold in hot water for a few seconds to melt just the outer bits of the jello, then put the serving plate over the top, turn the whole thing over, and gently lift, jiggle, shake, SPLAT onto the serving plate.  Hope it comes out clean.  Mine almost did.

Time:  Let’s not even think about it.  I’ll say 15 min. prep, 40 minutes of beating stuff (whipped cream not included), chilled overnight, then 5 minutes of getting stuff ready & unmolding it the next day.  Add time for laughing & some serious mess-ups.

Cost:  The ingredients were around $5. 
Let’s not discuss the $32 I coughed up for the antique jell-o mold from the ONLY shop that had molds in the entirety of Livingston County.  After 6 antique shops, 3 regular stores & actually calling around to several supermarkets, some of whom had no clue what I was even talking about I was exhausted, frustrated & apparently my brain had turned to jell-o.  It was a darn expensive flop.  Fortunately that mold is lovely & reusable.   Note on Jell-O molds: don’t grease them, no matter what Mother’s friend says.  Just don’t.  Use hot water to loosen it like you are supposed to. 

I suppose going from 'useless goop'
to 'almost-dessert' is a success, right?
Success:  After an amazing failure... Not.  Or kinda.  But still not really.The taste wasn’t bad, even though I hate lime jell-o.  It had a lovely meringue flavor, and you could easily make a meringue dessert topping this way; but as a stand-alone, not so much.  It would be delightful with whipped cream.  In the future, I’ll stick with Knox gelatin and do my own flavors, which are much cleaner & don’t have horrible migraine-inducing dyes in them.  Needless to say, I did not make the whipped cream.  It was collapsing as I looked and when we cut it it went ‘splurk/fizz’ into a flattened pile on the plate.  It was rather funny.
Accuracy:  Only sorta.  The Jell-O recipe has changed over the years, the packet is actually smaller and so I’d recommend using less liquid than the directions say to do, maybe ¼ c. less as I ended up with an unstable dessert.  Cut back on the water not the juice or the egg whites.
I did use the hand crank egg beater to mix this, so I could see how the tools act differently.  The whisk didn’t add quite as much air, though it did the job.
I also used an early-ish mold, at least the earliest that Highway Robbery Antiques had to offer (they are very nice & extremely knowledgeable, but ouch! My pocket book… and the kicker was that my mother brought home 2 molds from a thrift shop in the one place I didn’t call for $2 each - I could die).
  If I were to do this recipe again I would use a solid mold vs. the one with the bunt-style hole.
Chilled in a modern fridge, which is not substantially different from an old ice box considering the fridge in question. Be aware that this recipe uses raw eggs.  I used raw eggs.

Overall, I wouldn’t make this again unless I needed a twist on a meringue recipe.  Clearly not my favorite.
It might be awesome on Key Lime Pie, or Lime-Meringue.  
Don't forget the whipped cream.