A Midterm, Two Ribeyes and Skeletor

Above, the Fury of Achilles as painted by Coypel Charles-Antoine in 1737 captures the divine-infused killing spree the Greek hero embarks upon after his friend Patroclus is killed by Apollo, Euphorbus, and Hector. Quite appropriate for this post as Gabriela and I spent the week helping to create a midterm for three-hundred and fifteen Honors College students over Genesis and The Iliad.  We feel pretty confident that it will challenge the little buggers, so we’re looking to celebrate!  I’m off to Premier Liquour where I purchase a bottle of Gallo Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2012, a bottle of Glengoyne 12 year old Highland Single Malt Scotch, and a Romeo y Julieta Reserve Maduro cigar.  Hmmm . . . what’s going on here?  I then drive to Revival Market (about two minutes between) and purchase two Bone-In Ribeyes, a nice slice of Hook’s Little Boy Blue Cheese, American Mustard and a cup of Fazenda da Lagoa spiked with The Veldt expresso. Damn!  What’s going on?  If you’re going to finish off over three-hundred students in under an hour with a midterm that tests their memory and analysis of two great works of World Literature, well this deserves a celebration fit for aristocrats.  So, right now I’m drinking an amazing coffee featuring Arabica beans grown in Brazil at Fazenda da Lagoa and then roasted here in Houston by Greenway Roasting.  The Veldt espresso features beans from Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee and Amaro Gayo also in Ethiopia.  Putting the two together in a Black Eye is fantastic–a raspberry jamminness swirls within a dark, chocolate, spice-wash over the tongue.  So good.  I feel much better now about the Ancient Greek terms the students have to define–I mean, it’s not like they were ever told they would not need to learn Ancient Greek.

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So in the time it took to research and write the above, I finished off my Black Eye–now let me have a dram of Benromach Peat Smoke and tell you the menu:

Bone-In Ribeye Pan-Seared

Roasted Butternut Squash with Blue Cheese and Walnuts

Green Salad with an Anchovy and Garlic Dressing

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I rub the two ribeyes with kosher salt, diced chives and a Raspberry Chipolte Sauce.  The chives are from My Father’s Farm in Seguin, Texas–courtesy of Greenling.  The sauce comes from Robert Rothschild Farm in Ohio.  The steaks will absorb this goodness for a few hours.  I’m taking my lead from David Lebovitz’s “Steak with mustard butter and French fires” recipe in My Paris Kitchen.  Instead of the chipolte power, I’m using the Raspberry Chipolte sauce, and instead of cilantro, I’m using fresh chives we received on Monday.  Recipes in cooking and alchemy hearken to the spirit of transformation in order to find gold–as in Joseph Wright’s The Alchemist (1771).

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The Roasted Butternut Squash comes courtesy of Food52 and their Best Butternut Squash recipe, Caramelized Butternut Squash Wedges with a Sage Hazelnut Pesto–winner melissav.  Again, making adjustments with alembics and fire.  We have the Butternut Squash from Gundermann Acres, Wharton, Tx, and sage from our herb garden, and I’m subbing walnuts for hazelnuts and blue cheese for ricotta.  We’ll see if the culinary gods forgive me!  As for our students, I hope they have a refreshing sleep because they’re about to face a phalanx of ancient, obscure passages.  Cue evil laughter.

To the feast!  First off, I roast the walnuts.  Then I pare the squash, slice, toss the wedges with olive oil, light brown sugar and paprika.

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The roasted walnuts go into the blender with sage, garlic, and olive oil.

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I purée with glee and now I have my pesto.

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The squash wedges are in the oven, it’s time for a taste of the Glengoyne 12.

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Oh my, right off the start the nose has the spiciness of a Highland with vanilla, deep cream and apples also rides the waves.  Here’s my favorite malt reviewer Ralfy with his notes on this delicious scotch.

Well we’re nearing the moment of truth for the steaks and Gabriela would also like something to drink, so it’s time to open the Zin!

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Oak, currants, vanilla, white pepper, a light jam texture, elegant on the nose, and then a spice on the tongue, robust berries, and a touch of umami before a mint/berry flavor takes over.  My doctorate in poetry comes in useful at these tasting times.  The Roasted Squash nears completion at 400 degrees and that’s my cue to lovingly place the two ribeyes into a pan where I’ve melted butter on high heat.

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I think of the feast offered by Achilles to Ajax, Odysseus and Phoenix who have journeyed to plead for him to join the war again.  I hope my students remember this moment as well as how it begins a key moment of the poem and their exam.  Here, in Stanley Lombardo’s translation, Achilles and Patroclus prepare a feast for their guests.

Patroclus obliged his beloved companion.

Then he cast a carving block down in the firelight

And set on it a sheep’s back and a goat’s,

And a hog chine too, marbled with fat.

Automedon held the meat while Achilles

Carved it carefully, and spitted the pieces.

Patroclus, godlike in the fire’s glare,

Fed the blaze.  When the flames died down

He laid the spits over the scattered embers,

Resting them on stones, and sprinkled the morsels

with holy salt.  When the meat was roasted

He laid it on platters and set out bread

In exquisite baskets.  (9.209-221)

There is a scene Fergus Henderson would love!  These are really nice cuts so I want to run on the edge of rare and medium rare in order to let the steaks sing.  After six minutes I turn.

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Lovely.  They’re browning and blackening and the kitchen fills with an aroma to please the Greek gods.  I let them go for another six minutes, then pull and let them rest.

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I turn off the oven, place the blue cheese and walnut pesto on top of the caramelized squash and let them meet each other for a few minutes.  I wonder if the students will remember Rebekah’s cooking and how she was able to deceive her husband by braising goat in such a way that he would think it was wild game served by his eldest son, the son that Rebekah will displace through her culinary deception in order to move her favorite and youngest son into his father’s birthright.  Note the plate of food on the right in this 1637 painting by Giuseppe Ribera.

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But now it’s time to plate.  There’s a certain Steak-Frites look to the dish.

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And plate for the boy along with the green salad Gabriela made with anchovy and garlic dressing.  Outstanding!

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So we sit down to dinner, raising our glasses to family, to the Great Books and to the exams we create to challenge and enliven our students within that great experiment called American Education.  Let me leave you with the music we’re listening to as our teeth slash and cut a fine, fine animal. Vivaldi courtesy of Nicola Benedetti and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Bon Appétit.

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