Monday, January 22, 2018

Feast of Sorrow: Whole30 Chicken Apicius #cookthebooks

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Every couple of months, a few bloggers get together for the Cook the Books Club to read a book, and make a dish inspired by it. The book for Dec-Jan. was Feast of Sorrow, by Crystal King.

I'd never read this before, but I happily tucked a copy of it into my Kindle just before we took a two week vacation to Germany, and I found it very compelling.

The book is a novel set across a span of years in the household of Apicius, a wealthy epicurean whose obsession is food prepared in the most interesting an exotic ways possible. The story centers on Thracius, a slave Apicius purchases because he has a reputation for being a highly skilled cook. Over time, the two work together to write a series of recipes - a cookbook - that would come to us today as one of the most comprehensive explanations of an ancient culture's foods we have available.

Apicius is portrayed as temperamental and inconsistent, by turns punitive and friendly to his closest slaves, and Thracius is portrayed as the voice of reason and the skill and brains behind the lavish meals that are bringing Apicius renown while he tries to hold the household together in the midst of external and internal intrigue.

Familial and political crises abound, and the result is a book that is both very compelling and highly disturbing, ending on a dark (but historically accurate) note.

While it is fictionalized (there is no Thracius mentioned in the annals of history), there are a lot of details 'ripped from the headlines' of the Roman Empire.

Apicius likely did exist, although it is also likely that over time his name was used by other epicureans to lend credence to their own recipes.  The surrounding characters and many of the events are historical.

Reading it while traveling through Germany, including to the Roman city of Trier (my friend and co-writer Lauren recently shared her own trip to Trier here) really helped me feel a sense of place about the story.

The food inspiration runs all through the book - too much to keep up with, actually!  Each chapter begins with one of Apicius' recipes.  I tried to keep notes and found my Kindle copy was chock full of highlights and notes.

When we returned home, I put together a few ideas, planning to create a Roman 'feast' for our New Year's Eve meal... and then we decided to go to Florida for a couple weeks for the holidays and there was simply no time to shop or plan for that feast, so I went back to the drawing board.

I had a half thought out idea for some sort of cute 'dormice' thing made out of chocolate - but then we started a month of Whole30.


The definitive answer is: Not happily!  Apicius would have been shocked and appalled.  The Stoics would have been horrified.

Roman cuisine relied heavily on grains, wine, dairy and honey - all disallowed on Whole30. Meat was a luxury food - so Apicius enjoyed it frequently, but for most Romans the only meat they had came from the shared meat made available at civil sacrifices.

Vegetables were used as they could be had - but that meant only what was available locally and in season.

So what to do?  I grazed everything I could find about Apicius, his recipes, modern interpretations of his recipes and there was just very little to work with that felt inspirational.

There were a few things I knew I could include - dates, figs, olives, olive oil, fish sauce.

So - because I really needed to sort out my menu plan, I decided to lean hard on the 'inspired by' portion of this challenge, and started with Chicken Marbella, a Silver Palate faux-Spanish recipe born in the 1970s.

First, I had to make it Whole30 compliant, and then I had to make it 'Roman'.

(By the way, faux-foods would have totally appealed to Crystal King's Apicius, I think!  So a faux-Spanish recipe going faux-Roman? Served with faux-pasta?  On it!)

My modifications involved switching the wine for wine vinegar, getting rid of the brown sugar entirely, and switching out the prunes for dried dates (why? Because I have dates in the house, love them, and dates and figs feel more Roman to me).

Finally, in an homage to the never-ending fish sauce, which seemed to go into everything, I added a bit of Red Boat fish sauce, too.

The result was quick, easy and delicious!

My husband and I agreed that this was going straight onto regular menu rotation (with wine and some honey once I can cook with those again).

Even without the wine, the vinegars mellowed, and the flavor was really intriguing and delicious.

Chicken Apicius (Whole30)
(serves 4)

3-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tblsp. Red Boat fish sauce
1 cup dried dates, pitted
1/2 cup green olives, pitted
1/3 cup capers
3 bay leaves
1 Tblsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1-2 zucchinis
olive oil

Combine all but the chicken in a baking dish, mixing well to combine.

Nestle the chicken into the pan, among the olives and prunes, flipping a couple times to coat with the sauce.

At this point, if desired, cover and put the pan into the refrigerator to marinate for awhile.

When ready to cook, preheat the over to 350F and bake for 25-30 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, spiralize one or two zucchinis (or use store-bought spiralized zucchini, which is a thing now!), and saute for about 4-5 minutes in a pan along with a bit of olive oil or ghee and season to taste.

When the chicken is done, remove the chicken, olives and dates from the pan and serve along with the zucchini noodles.

This is where this really veers from the Silver Palate version - that recipe calls for wine and brown sugar to be added to the vinegar sauce in the pan and thickened into a sauce to be poured over the chicken. Which sounds awesome, but also impossible to modify for Whole30 and honestly, the chicken did not notice the lack at all.

Either way, this meal was a winner!


At the end of the month, the full round up of #cookthebooks Feast of Sorrow posts will be compiled by Debra of Eliot's Eats. I can't wait to see what others have done!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Cave Tools Burger Press - Spinach Feta Burgers


So we all know that making hamburgers at home can be daunting when not using the frozen patties that you can buy at the store can be daunting.

Unless you are a pro (which I am not), you either get patties that are entirely too thick and don't cook all the way through without burning, or you get the uneven patties that may have thin sides and thick centers.

Cave Tools has come to me again to review another one of their great products, this time around I am reviewing their Burger Press.  If, like me, you find shaping burger patties to be a chore, this may be your savior!

The Cave Tools Burger Press perfectly forms 1/3 or 1/4 pound burgers that will cook evenly every time.

It is a circular heavy metal item that has a lid with a plastic handle that makes it easy to operate.

This useful gadget rolls in at a mere $11.99, and when you purchase this item, you also get 200 burger papers as well. These let you batch-prep a bunch of burgers ahead of time and freeze them, using the burger papers in between each patty for easy separation! Pretty cool.

It is a rare treat when I feel the need to make my own burger creations rather than buy the frozen patties, but the Cave Tools Burger Press made it easy enough that I think I will use it now and then, for sure, especially for specialty burgers that are more than just shaped beef.

My only complaint is that pressing down on the handle to "smoosh" the burger did hurt my hand, in spite of plastic handle.

Not 'oh my god I am in so much pain', but it was definitely an 'ugh this is annoying' pain.

I did pack the press to the marker but maybe I had too much which is why it hurt. 

I would need to work out some way to pad my hand before I'd try making a lot of burgers at one time for the freezer.

In spite of that one caution, I would definitely recommend this to others who love to cook and BBQ!

Of course, I couldn't resist making up a yummy hamburger recipe for this review!

Right now, we are trying to do a low carb diet, so my recipe is lacking the bun ( you can easily add this burger right onto a bun and have it taste just as amazing!)

These burgers turned out so well that we didn't even need to add a dipping sauce on the side!  We used beef for these, but they'd also be delicious made with ground chicken or turkey.  To make a larger batch, just double or quadruple the ingredients as needed.

Spinach and Feta Bunless Burgers
(makes 2 burgers)

1/2 pound of ground hamburger
1 handful of fresh spinach
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
Garlic salt to taste (you can do salt and pepper to taste, we are just garlic salt lovers in this family)

Combine all ingredients and mix them all up in a bowl.  (Don't overwork the meat or your patties will be dense and dry.)

Use a burger press and form your perfect patties!

How long you cook them is dependent on your preference. I personally am a weirdo and like mine well well done! No pink, completely dead, lol. I cooked mine about 8 minutes on each side. 

If you're using ground poultry, make sure you're cooking them all the way through.

(These would easily be amazing on the grill as well, but I cooked them on my stove-top.)

Once I took my burgers out of the pan, I placed them on a napkin to drain a little bit of the residual grease. This is a step you can skip if you BBQ them.

I paired these burgers with a great green salad and a side of Tortellini Alfredo! You can go so many directions with what sides you choose to make with these yummy burgers. Be Creative!

Give the Cave Tools Burger Press a try! 
They are offering 15% off of this product for our readers - 
Just enter BURGER15 at check out on their site!

You can also purchase Cave Tools products on Amazon.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Awesome Life Friday #144

Welcome to Awesome Life Friday!

We're so looking forward to seeing what you've been cooking, creating, growing, decorating, reviewing, giving away, and thinking about this week!

While you're here, leave your posts at the other link up we co-host here - Party in Your PJs!  It starts on Tuesday evenings, and runs through Sunday.  I hope you'll join us there as well!

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This week, I was struck by how many posts there were solving problems we all deal with. Look at what you all have been up to:

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