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!

My favorite part of this link up party is the FEATURES!  

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:

If you are one of our FEATURED bloggers, this button is for you!

Thank you all so much for sharing your awesomeness!

Are you all ready to party?  If you like, we'd love it you'd help spread the word by grabbing our button:

Here we go!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

January Cross Stitch Plans (TUSAL)


It has been so long since I did a cross-stitch update!  There's a good reason for that - I was very sick for about six weeks this summer, and felt so awful and listless that I couldn't even stitch.  And then I spent most of the rest of the year trying to get my mojo back, but not too hard because I was planning for a hand surgery that would have prevented stitching for months.  Then that got cancelled, and suddenly, I have my motivation up again!

I am going to take this monthly - no big plans for the year (other than a couple things, as you'll see in a minute), just each month, draw on my 'want to stitch' list, and work on a few of my WIPs (Works in Progress).

I don't know if I'll keep up my momentum all year or not - after last year, I'm done predicting anything too far ahead!

Before we get to the stitching, today is the New Moon and that means it is time for the TUSAL!

Why useless?  Because we're not showing off our stitches for this one - we're showing off our ORTs (Old Ratty Threads)!

Why? *shrug* Why not!?

This year, I'm using a very small jelly jar to stow my monthly threads, and I'll transfer them each month into a larger container.

Last year, I found myself accidentally shoving the larger container off my side table and got tired of picking it up.

This little one tucks away neatly and is less accident-prone.

As for what will become of the year's worth of threads, theoretically, they'll get stuffed, along with batting, into some ornaments for the year.

It doesn't always actually work that way, but it's January, and I have INTENTIONS!

So, here's what I have been, or will be, working on this month:


Year & a Day Birthday Sampler. Designer: Me.

Year and a Day Birthday Sampler 
I started this last year on June 1st - my birthday is June 2nd, and I decided to do one triangle a day until my birthday this year, using various odds and ends threads I have, and selecting colors by what Zodiacal house we're in. (So, right now, it's Capricorn, and the colors are blacks, greys, dark browns and greens).  I'm liking how it's coming along, and still unsure how I might finish it. But it was a way to stitch - even a tiny bit - every day, including that long patch when I really just wasn't up for it.

2018 Temperature SAL

2018 Temperature Sampler
Isn't this sweet so far?  This was a freebie from Original Designs By Hetti.  Each small square area is one day, and the colors (selected by me) reflect what the High temperature was for each day. I've decided it will reflect the temperature wherever I am, so while most days, it's Falls Church, VA, but if we're traveling, it will be where we are. I'm so looking forward to seeing how this comes along.


These are the WIPs I'm working on in January:

ABCs, by Lizzie*Kate

Dolphins, from a Kit

1873 Elizabeth Taylor Reproduction Sampler, from May 2010 Gift of Stitching Magazine

Imbolc, The Stitcherhood (just needs a few beads)

Merry Christmas Popcorn Bear (from a magazine insert mini-kit)


Boo! The Stitcherhood
This one had just a few stitches left to do, so I finished it off on New Year's Day.  The thread is a variegated silk thread in vibrant Halloween colors, and it was done on 22ct Hardanger. The ornament insert came in a Stitchy Box collection last year, and set it off perfectly, I think!


These are the new starts I'll be beginning this month. Yes, it's a little nuts to start new things when I have so many to finish - but I might as well plan for them, because resolving not to has never worked out!

7 Swans a'Swimming, Satsuma Street
I got halfway through these last year, and just started #7 a couple days ago. With luck, I might have them up for display this next Christmas!

Bride's Tree Ornaments, Brooks Books. "HOME"
This is another '12 Days' set - but this one is based on the German Bride's Tree custom of gifting a set of good wishes for the couple's marriage.  The color of the fabric here is hard to see - it's a hand dyed pink.

Coffee Quaker, Heartstring Samplery
I'm excited to begin this one - it's been on my "Must Do" list for awhile! "First I Drink the Coffee... Then I Do the Things."

A fun and fairly simple sampler I'd bought last year - it looks a bit like our dog, Sadie, who passed away last October.

Winter Bluster, Glendon Place (Just Cross Stitch Ornament Special, 2016)
A fun, cheery snow man ornament, now that I've finished a Halloween ornie.

That's it - as ever, I also hope to tackle some of my finished items and get them into frames or completed as ornaments instead of living in my 'finished' bag. It's a tough goal - I like stitching. Finishing, not so much!

So, that's it for this month!  One more little show off - I found this in my Christmas decorations box, and realized it's probably the oldest stitched piece I still have.  I'd been stitching for about seven years at that time, and decided to try to design something (using graph paper, back in the dark ages before affordable digital programs.

The bear was modeled after a Steiff teddy bear I perched on top of our tree, dressed for the occasion in a lacy white newborn dress my daughters had born when they were tiny.

It was such a wave of nostalgia to see this again - and to remember I wasn't half bad at drawing stitches on graph paper.  Hmm.... future goals, eh?

Whole30 Week 2 Menu & Progress


We're now into our third week of Whole30, and remain a little mystified at how much easier it seems to be this time out. The first time this was when we crashed and burned and dropped out, running away as if we'd survived a horror movie.

The second time, we got through the 30 days, but the very idea of another couple of weeks doing a slow reintroduction was beyond us.

This time, we know where most of our potential pitfalls are, and mentally prepped for them to the point where they don't seem that hard at all. We miss the occasional drink.  I miss cheese on things that are simply better with cheese - but not so much that I no longer want to eat what I have.  Neither of us miss bread, unless there's a good sauce on our plate and no easy way to sop it up.

(I do realize that I have no totally jinxed us for this next week!)

During our second week, we had a couple days where we had to eat out, and that's by far the most challenging. No matter where you go, things are either breaded, ON bread, with cheese or sugared in some way. So. Much. Sugar.

The first time, we had a day full of errands, so we stopped at lunch at a local area chain of diners called the Silver Diner. They locally source their food, so the quality was a good bet. Even there, though, the only safe-ish bet was to stick to the breakfast menu and have eggs and bacon (which likely was sugar cured, so not perfect), and we ordered a side of roasted mix veggies that turned ou to be butternut squash, brussels sprouts and beets.

Our second time out was after an early showing of The Post - we went to a Nando's Peri-Peri Chicken, which was a great choice - their chicken was flavorful and succulent, and not breaded, and here also there was a side of delicious roasted veggies in balsamic vinegar.  There were also salads that could be modified slightly and still be interesting.

I'd hate to have to wrestle with restaurants often while on Whole30, although we did pretty well.  It does make it easier if you check the menu online before you go and develop a plan.

So here's the rest of what we ate this past week:

Cashew Chicken with Stir-Fried Cabbage
No real recipe here - I used cooked chicken from last week's roast chicken.  I stir-fried a half a bag of cole slaw cabbage mix along with some sliced mushrooms in a blend of coconut oil and sesame oil   and seasoned it in a sort of vaguely curry-ish blend of spices, a bit of fish sauce and hot sauce.  The chicken was added in and heated through, and a good sprinkle  of cashews was added to serve.

Pan-Fried Rib Eye Steak,
Caramelized Onions, Tomatoes and Mushrooms, 
and Avocado Slices
This was a joint effort - I put together the onions, tomatoes and mushrooms, intending to slow-braise them.  They got away from us though and before we knew it, they'd begun to scald on the bottom of the pan. I carefully scooped out the part that didn't get burned quickly enough to avoid an off flavor.

So we had much less than I'd hoped for - but the upside was that what we did have had cooked down
to a sort of marvelous savory jam that made a very nice accompaniment for Michael's steak, seasonedwith salt, pepper and Sweet Hungarian paprika, and cooked to a perfect medium rare.

Peruvian Aji Chicken over Coconut Cauliflower Rice 
with Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Spinach
Ok, this is where it got weird - I occasionally get meal plan kits but I was sure I'd set them to Skip for this month.  Then a Plated box showed up at my door - oops. Since I hadn't planned for it, it was totally random what was in it, of course neither of the two meals were Whole30.  Fortunately, this one, chicken with a yellow chile sauce and vegetables, served over coconut quinoa, was easy to fix by switching out the quinoa for cauliflower rice.  Very tasty!

Pan Roasted Chicken Over Cauliflower Rice, Brussels and Apple Salad
This was the other Plated dish - originally, it involved Farro instead of the cauliflower, and included Parmesan and a buttermilk dressing.  We skipped the dressing and used a drizzle of a Whole30 compliant Ranch dressing, instead.  I really liked how the tart apples added flavor and crunch to the dish.

Eggs, Hash Browns, Bacon, Guacamole
Then there was the day when I hated everything, so Michael made me breakfast for dinner.

Deconstructed Salmon Sushi
I really, really loved this one.  I used this recipe, and added some wasabi paste. The brightly flavored orange sauce and hint of heat from the wasabi was delicious!  We'll be doing this again.

Egg Muffins
Finally, this is a part of how we kept ourselves fed for breakfast on busy morings.  These take just a few minutes to prepare, and are infinitely modifiable.  The are fluffy and heat up well in the microwave.  I think they'd freeze fine too, although we just kept them in the fridge as grab-and-go options.

Here's all it takes:

Egg Muffins
(makes 12)

6 eggs
3 T water or coconut milk
2 cups. cooked vegetables (tomatoes and spinach are good - we used leftover cooked Brussels sprouts this time), and meat as desired (I sprinkled in some chopped prosciutto)
Seasonings as desired

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease a 12 cup muffin pan with coconut oil.  

In a large bowl, beat the eggs along with the water or coconut milk, and add in vegetables, meats and any seasonings.

Scoop some egg with fillings into each prepared muffin cup, leaving about a half inch at the top.

Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown on top.  Remove from oven, let cool a couple minutes and then carefully use a table knife to help pop them out of the muffin cups.


(And yes - if you're not doing Whole30, these would be wonderful with the addition of some cheese!)