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“Indian Peas” from Ancient Rome

PISUM INDICUM. Pisum coques. cum despumaverit, porrum et coriandrum concidis et mittis in caccabum ut ferveat. et accipies sepias minutas, sic quomodo sunt cum atramento suo, ut simul coquantur. Adicies oleum, liquamen et vinum, fasciculum porri et coriandri. facies ut coquantur. cum coctum fuerit, teres piper, ligusticum, origanum, carei modicum, suffundis ius de suo sibi, vino et passo temperabis. sepias minutatim concidis et in pisum mittis. Piper asparges ­et inferes.

– Apicius, De Re Coquinaria V.iii.3

I’m honestly really not sure what makes these peas “Indian.”  As a purely historical matter, there was trade between Rome and India (I’m lazy – if you want more info, check out this reputably-researched and -sourced Wikipedia article).  The weird thing about this dish, though, is that it really isn’t very different from other dishes in Apicius’s collection: the typical Roman flavor profile is based heavily on leeks, cumin, coriander, sweet wine, pepper, garum, and garlic.  These Indian peas have a good number of those ingredients, and not a ton of others.  But then, I don’t know what 4th century Indian cooking was like – or what regions the Romans dealt with.  I’m guessing they weren’t bringing takeout containers of chicken tikka masala back to Italy, though.  Anyone know more about ancient cooking on the subcontinent?

Anyway, just a few things about Roman cooking.  First, I always grind my spices by hand when I do it, to give the right taste and texture.  Here are my cumin, coriander, oregano, peppercorns, and anise (I substituted the last for lovage, which I don’t have).

The final dish turned out beautifully: fresh, a little sweet, a little spicy, and very different from most flavor profiles we usually deal with.  Sadly, this post is in memoriam of both peas and bowl, because I’m a huge spaz and dropped my dinner when the FreshDirect delivery guy rang the bell.  On the positive side: it was a cheap, healthy, and easy meal, and I’m sure I’ll try it again.  And perhaps even foist it on friends as part of a Roman banquet…

Indian Peas (Serves 2)
1/2 lb. squid, cleaned and sliced into rings
2 c. peas, fresh or frozen
2 medium leeks, cleaned and sliced crosswise
1/2 tsp. peppercorns
1/2 tsp. whole cumin
1/2 tsp. whole anise seed
1/2 tsp. whole coriander
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 c. white cooking wine**
1 tbsp. honey
1 tsp. nuoc nam (fish sauce)

1. Grind all the spices together. Boil the squid for 40 minuted, until tender, and set aside.
2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and add the leeks. Toss the peas in when they start to soften, and mix in the the spices, then pour over the wine, honey, and fish sauce. Add the squid and cook for 5 minutes, until most of the liquid is boiled off.

**The original recipe calls for sweet wine, but a light cooking wine mixed with honey worked well as a substitute.

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Sunday Tips: New Years Resolution

The true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments, so that nothing be lost.  I mean fragments of time as well as materials.  Nothing should be thrown away so long as it is possible to make any use of it, however trifling that use may be; and whatever the size of a family, every member should be employed either in earning or saving money. – Mrs. Child, The American Frugal Housewife

I’m not big on new years retrospectives or resolutions: I find it counterproductive to make grand decisions which I’ll inevitably not live up to – instead I’ve been trying to take on bite-sized resolutions all through the year.  But maybe the idea of taking on small resolutions is itself a big resolution…Ack!  Well, before I get tangled up in philosophical conundra, I’ll get back to the original reason for this post: my current mini-resolution is to post more, and to restart my “Sunday Tips” section.  My mom gave my a copy of The American Frugal Housewife, from which the above quote is taken, for Christmas (along with a couple of other books which will probably show up soon).  This book was published in 1833 by Mrs. Child:

This lady looks like she means business, doesn’t she?  Well, she did: in addition to publishing books on housekeeping she was an abolitionist and women’s rights advocate.  Go Mrs. Child!  I think she’s awesome, so I’ll be taking regular Sunday posts from her book.  We can all do with a little more frugality these days – even if we stop short of making our own soap.

People these days have far more crap, generally, than they did in Mrs. Child’s day; if we take her at her word on saving things we’ll all wind up on Hoarders.  One of general ambitions in life is to never show up in TLC reality television, so I’m taking a less-than-literal approach to this.  I really, really, do love her discussion of efficiency and time-saving, though.  I always wonder, given the number of technological shortcuts we have available to us, how efficient and useful it is to concentrate on the labor-intensive DIY-type reuse projects Mrs. Child suggests.  Any thoughts?  I’m hoping to explore this more – and maybe do some math and experiments – as I go through her book.

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A Bundt Cake for 2011

Happy New Year!  Well…almost.  Before I head out to ring in 2011, I’m putting up the first of several treats I whipped up today.  I wound up in charge of dessert for the party I’m going to, so I decided to do one “fruity” thing and one chocolatey one.  For the first, I put together a banana cake with caramel icing.  The recipe book in which I found this (my trust Southern Cook Book) suggests using a loaf or layer pan, but I love bundt cakes and I figured this dense banana-filled batter would cook well in a bundt pan.  I topped it off with a few caramelized bananas and some burnt sugar shards (I got the latter idea from Baked Explorations).  Yum!  See you next year, with more treats!


Banana Cake with Caramel Icing (Makes one bundt cake – 10 or so servings)
(The Southern Cook Book: “from Mrs. R.E. Donnell, from Home Tried Recipes, Americus, GA”)

1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
3 large ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 c. buttermilk
1/2 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 c. flour

For the caramel icing:
3/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. cream
1 tbsp. butter

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.** Grease and flour a 12-cup bundt pan.
2. Cream butter, sugar, and bananas together (I used a paddle attachment on my mixer); add eggs one at a time.
3. Dissolve the soda in the buttermilk and blend into the butter-sugar-egg mixture.
4. Sift the flour and baking powder together and add gradually, with the mixer on low.
5. Bake for __ until a tester comes out clean. I know you’re impatient, but let the cake cool before unmoulding or it’ll fall apart when you’re removing it from the bundt pan.
6. Make the icing while the cake cools: Cook sugar and cream together until it forms a soft ball when dropped in cold water, remove from stove, add butter, and beat well before spreading on cake.

To caramelize bananas for decoration: Slice a banana.  Melt a pat of butter in a non-stick pan over medium heat and mix a couple of tablespoons brown sugar in with a spatula.  Add the bananas and cook for a minute or two on each side, until a tiny bit brown.

To make burnt sugar shards: Place 1/2 a cup of sugar in a small sauce pan and mix in 1 teaspoon water, so it takes on a sandy texture.  Melt the sugar over high heat until it reaches a medium-dark amber color, then cool on a Silpat and break into shards.

** The recipe book actually says “bake in a moderate oven.” I’m using my cake knowledge to infer here…

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Toddy Time

The flip the other day was tasty…but today when I finished my first final and it was freezing out I wanted nothing more than a hot toddy. A classic hot toddy is just hot water, whiskey, and a sugar cube: it’s kind of an old man drink. I spice mine up a little by using honey and lemon juice, and tossing in a few cloves and a cinnamon stick. It’s all very free-wheeling: try it yourself and adjust the ingredients to taste! Maybe start with 3 oz. hot water, 1 oz. whiskey, a half tablespoon of honey, and a squeeze of lemon. Adjust to taste!


In other news: after finishing my exam down at NYU I was wandering around in a daze.  My feet, of course, led me to Broadway Panhandler.  Which was having a sale.  I successfully resisted the lure of new jelly roll pans and Silpats, but I did let myself get a couple of these cute vintagey Duralex glass mugs.  I grew up with Duralex glasses and have always found them kind of comforting.  Especially when filled with hot toddy.

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Mussels Apicella

I love mussels – they’re a great quick dinner, especially since most supermarkets now carry well-cleaned and de-bearded shellfish. My old books tell you to clean mussels for ages, but these days Whole Foods usually does it for you. All you have to do is toss those babies in a pot and steam them for ten minutes. Almost every one of my “big books” (the doorstops: Gourmet, Mrs. Beeton, the Gold Cook Book) had a recipe for Moules Mariniere , but I was looking for something different…and I found Mussels Apicella in Gourmet. I’ve tried without luck to figure out by Googling what “Apicella” refers to – let me know if you turn anything up!

Mussels Apicella (Serves 2)
2 lbs. mussels, cleaned
2 whole cloves garlic
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. water
6 sprigs parsley, plus some leaves for serving

1. Toss the raw mussels in oil with the garlic, sprigs of parsley, salt, and red pepper. Place over medium flame, add water, and steam for 10 minutes – until the mussels open of their own accord.
2. Sprinkle with reserved raw parsley and serve with bread to mop up mussel juices. So easy!

Note on mussels (and shellfish in general): I hate to break it to you, but mussels are alive when you buy them – or they should be. If a few haven’t opened when the others have, don’t try to open them: it usually means they were DOA and are not safe to eat.

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Post-Thanksgiving Pie Bonanza (Part 1)

I always do the pies for my family’s Thanksgiving. This year we had a smaller dinner on the actual holiday, and a big party on Friday – the unofficial American holiday “Turkey Leftovers/Mass Consumerism Day.”  I chose to do a kind of “Pie Time Machine” approach, starting out with a fresh modern approach to pie on Thursday and getting more and more rustic on Friday.  The starting point for this progression was, of course, taken from my current cookbook obsession: Baked Explorations.  An awesome, awesome friend with publishing connections got me a free copy and I went straight for this book, and for its autumnal tart recipes in particular, when my parents called up asking what pies I was making.  So…Pie #1 (the 21st century pie): Whiskey Pear Tart!

Whiskey-Pear Tart (Makes one 11-inch round tart or one 14-by-4-inch rectangular tart)

For the pears and poaching liquid
1 (15-oz) can pear halves in heavy syrup, about 6 halves
1 1/2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp. whiskey
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract

For the basic sweet tart dough
1/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg, beaten

For the almond cream filling:
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cool but not cold
4 1/2 oz. almond paste
1 large egg
1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp. whiskey (I used bourbon)

For the pear glaze
Reserved syrup and reserved “poaching” liquid from pears
1 tsp. whiskey
3/4 tsp. cornstarch

Baked Note (this is by the cookbook author): At first, I was hesitant to use canned fruit for this tart, but if you find the right brand (with all natural ingredients), you will get a consistent and wonderful tart every time. If you happen to come across excellent fresh pears at a farmers’ market, poach away, using the traditional method on the opposite page. This is a two day project so make sure you read through all the steps before getting started.

Make the pears and poaching liquid
1. Strain the pears and reserve the heavy syrup (for the glaze) in a small, covered bowl or cup in the refrigerator.
2. In a medium, nonreactive bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, whiskey, sugar, and vanilla. Toss the pears with the liquid, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Make the sweet tart dough
1. Put the sugar, flour, and salt in a food processor and pulse until combined.
2. Add the butter and pulse until sandy (about 6 to 10 quick pulses).
3. Add the egg and pulse just until the dough begins to form a mass.
4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap it tightly in plastic, and refrigerate it overnight (or for at least 1 hour).

Bake the crust
1. Dust a work surface with a sprinkling of flour. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough about 1/4 inch thick into either a rectangle about 15 inches long or into a round about 12 inches in diameter. (Note: The dough will be sticky. Make sure to turn it with a bench knife or offset spatula as needed and keep the working surface floured. Some people find it easier to roll dough between two layers of plastic wrap. This can ease transfer and be a bit less messy.)
2. Ever so gently, guide the dough into the tart pan, without pulling it, and lightly press it into place. Roll the rolling pin over the pan to trim off excess dough. Place the tart pan in the freezer for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
4. Line the tart shell with aluminum foil and fill it three-quarters full with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and weights and bake for another 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Transfer the tart pan to a wire rack to cool. Leave the oven on.

Make the almond cream filling
1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and almond paste on medium speed until the mixture is light, fluffy, and smooth, 3 to 4 minutes.
2. Add the egg and beat until combined. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the filling and turn the mixer to low.
3. Drizzle in the whiskey and beat until it is combined. Spread the almond cream filling evenly over the cooled tart shell.
4. Drain the pear halves, reserving the soaking liquid, and arrange them decoratively on top of the almond cream.
5. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the almond cream puffs up and sets and the crust turns golden brown. Let the tart cool on a wire rack while you make the glaze.

Make the pear glaze
1. Place the syrup and soaking liquid in a medium pan over medium heat and gently boil until the liquid is reduced to about 3/4 cup.
2. Remove it from the heat and whisk quickly and continuously for 1 minute to speed cooling. Add the whiskey and cornstarch and whisk to combine.
3. Set the pan over medium-high heat, bring the glaze to a boil, and cook it for 1 minute. Use a pastry brush to apply the glaze gently to the tart.
4. Remove the tart from the pan and serve it as soon as possible. The tart will keep at room temperature, covered, for up to 3 days, but the crust will turn slightly soggy after the first day.

I chose not to do this and my tart came out great, but the folks at Baked provide directions for poaching pears if you so choose…

How to poach your own pears:

Suffice it to say, there are many, many ways to poach your own pears. You can use a variety of liquids (water, wine, half water/half wine, diluted fruit juice), and you can tweak the liquid according to your mood (add spices, other fruits, vanilla, and sugars). It is a recipe with endless possibilities, and I suggest you modify the below ingredients at will. This quick poaching method is only a roadmap, so feel free to throw your personality in the poaching pot:

4 firm and ripe pears
1 cup sugar
1 bottle of cheap and cheerful sweet dry wine
Zest and juice of 1 orange

1. Peel the pears, core them, and cut them in half. Set aside.
2. In a large saucepan set over low heat, stir together the sugar and the wine until dissolved.
3. Stir in the orange zest and juice, increase the heat to medium, and wait for the liquid to simmer.
4. Once the liquid reaches a low boil, add the pears and simmer for 15-30 minutes. During the poaching process it is important to make sure the liquid covers the pears the entire time.
5. The pears are done when a sharp knife inserted into the bulbous end of the pear slides in and out easily. Check your pears every few minutes after the 15-minute mark, as cooking time is determined by the size and ripeness of your pears.
6. Remove the pears and let cool if you are using in a recipe, or serve warm with any accompaniment (ice cream, whipped cream, etc.). The poaching liquid can be reused. Store the poaching liquid in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

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Offally Good: [Leftover] Liver Dumpling Soup

So, I remembered after Soup #1 why I don’t usually buy liver even though I really enjoy it…stores sell liver by the pint. They, really, really just want to foist as much of it off on someone else for a marginal profit, so they make it super cheap and let you buy three-quarters of a pound minimum.

I didn’t have the energy to tackle something that would require a lot of extra ingredients (like pate), so I settled on another soup – one I’d seen in Ed Harris Heth’s Country Kitchen Cook Book. The book has a section titled “The Winter Soup Pot” and filled with hearty Midwestern stews designed to keep you warm and your house smelling cheery at times when “the snowplow does not arrive for three or four days.”  I’m sure you’ll be seeing more of these soups soon – especially the German Beer Soup which the author’s grandmother was fond of serving with “a little fried blood sausage.”

I love Heth’s narrative way of setting recipes out so I’m copying this verbatim instead of putting it into a numbered list of steps…

Chicken Liver Dumplings (Serves 2-3)

“Grind very fine 1/2 lb. chicken livers and mix with a beaten egg yolk, a slice of bread soaked in milk and squeezed dry, 2 T butter, 1 t each of chopped parsley and grated onion, 1/2 t salt, fresh pepper, 1 T flour and 1/4 t each of ground nutmeg and ginger.  Fold in a stiffly beaten egg white, chill, shape into very small balls and boil about 5 minutes in the broth, uncovered.  A little parsley fried in butter is also good in the soup with these.”

A few notes on this recipe…First, this is one dish where I decided to cut down on butter: liver is already high in cholesterol and the butter didn’t seem really necessary to bind the dumplings (that’s what the egg is for), so I just omitted it.  I also made this soup into a full meal by pouring the dumplings and the quart of chicken stock in which I boiled them over some veggies.  I prefer my veggies to be non-mushy and a little caramelized, so instead of boiling them in the stock I braised them in a pan while making dumplings.  Very good call, if I may say so myself.

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