Regular readers will not be surprised to hear that I love to cook…or that I have a rather alarming tendency to connect all sorts of minutia to the ancient world 🙂 It makes perfect sense really. I spend a whole lot of my professional life immersed in things ancient, and every so often, there is active crossover. I recently completed a class on Pompeii and Herculaneum during which a student presentation on the bakeries produced a practical demonstration on Roman bread.
I usually shudder in anticipation of Roman food presentations because of one word – GARUM, but I figured that a presentation on bread would be far enough removed that I would be safe from the Roman’s favorite ingredient. With no fermented fish sauce in sight, all things proceeded apace until the presenter realized that her yeastless Roman recipe, bread was more than a little doughy in the center (the center being the entire thing minus a one inch ring around the edge.) Turns out she was following a British recipe…adapted from the Roman culinary stylings of Apicius…and had not made the adjustment from Celsius to Fahrenheit when she set her oven temp (she tells me that she re-baked the bread and that it was quite tasty)
Baking mishap aside, it was an exceptionally good presentation, but it reinforced my conclusion that I would much rather cook. Baking requires far too much precision for the sort of haphazard cooking chemistry that I prefer. Cooking is a much more experimental process for me…I rarely break out the measuring gizmos except for general proportions.
I seem to have food on the brain lately (I broke down and turned on the A/C in the kitchen) Now that using the microwave doesn’t make it sweltering hot in there, I’m cooking again. So, I thought I might share a couple of the “recipes” that I used to feed the small masses this week…perennial crowd pleasers I’ve adapted from their original forms.
This recipe is really more “stirring” than it is cooking, but here goes:
1lb ground beef
1/2 lb of bacon
1 medium onion – diced
28 oz can of baked beans
15 oz can butter beans
15 oz can kidney beans
15 oz can cut green beans (short cut work best since they don’t break up as much)
1/4 c. brown sugar (lightly packed)
1/2 c. ketchup (chili sauce if you must)
1/4 c. yellow mustard
The last three ingredients are approximate measurements as I usually grab a handful of brown sugar, give a big squeeze of ketchup and a smaller squeeze of mustard. In fact, this recipe is really forgiving of substitutions. I often use ground turkey in place of beef, turkey bacon in place of regular (could wholly omit the meat too if you wanted) and any combination of cooked, canned legumes I have on the shelf. (you do need some variety of baked beans though since they are the base of the sauce, but you could go altogether naked bean if you craft your own sauce).
Brown bacon…drain and set aside. In the same pan, brown ground meat and onions together. Drain excess fat. In a separate large bowl, combine all the beans. (I drain and rinse all but the baked beans).
Add the remaining ingredients, along with the meat and onions to the bowl and stir gently to combine. Dump the whole mess into your preferred baking dish…I use a small enameled roaster pan for a batch this size…and bake for one hour in a preheated 350 degree oven. Since everything is already cooked, all you are really doing is heating it through and allowing the flavors to marry. I let them cool a bit since I prefer not to eat lava, but to each their own! (Salt and pepper to taste)
The batch above went to a local homeless shelter where a group of friends and I sponsor a dinner once a month. The ladies don’t always get a lot of protein, so this dish packs a nutritional punch.
Napa (Chinese) Cabbage Salad
This salad is a really tasty, sweet and sour side for all kinds of grilled meats, or stands alone quite well.
1 medium head of Napa Cabbage (1-1.5 poundish I guess) sliced
1 bunch of green onions (scallions are fine too)
4oz of slivered almonds (lightly toasted) – I subbed dry roasted sunflower kernals here…yummmmm!
1 pack of Ramen Noodles (toast them in butter if you like…I’m usually in too much of a hurry for that step)
Dressing (here’s where I go rogue)
1/4 c rice vinegar
1/2 c vegetable oil (I sub olive oil)
1 tbs soy sauce (I only put in a shake or two and use the seasoning pack from the noodles…if you have MSG or sodium issues, DO NOT do this)
1 tbs sesame oil (I add this to taste…I really like sesame)
1/4 c sugar (I wiggle to taste on this and I usually use Splenda or Stevia since I’ve got diabetics to consider)
Take off the outer leaves of the cabbage if…give it a wash, then cut off the core, quarter it and then slice in thing crosswise slices. Cut off the onion roots and slice them up. Add this to a large bowl with the toasted nuts and noodles. I mix the dressing up ahead (at least 30 minutes) in a jar and then dress and toss the salad right before serving. It holds up to the dressing pretty well, but if it sits too long, the noodles and nuts get soggy…not so tasty.
There you have it…two tasty recipes and not a whiff of fish sauce in sight!
Happy Stirring Armitageworld!