Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

I was late leaving for my grandmother’s because there was amazing weather this weekend. I love my back porch so much.

I spent some time cleaning out my refrigerator and pretending that counted as cleaning out my apartment. I’d pull together something out of bits and ends and then I’d eat it on the porch in the sunshine. Whee!

I finally left the house around 1pm. I got to my grandmother’s just in time for dinner. We ate. I tried to make conversation. I think her hearing it going. Then we came back to her apartment, and she sat for an hour or two nodding off before going to bed. I read a little, napped a little, watched the season 2 finale of Being Human, and then changed and went to sleep obscenely early.

Going to sleep early meant that I was up at dawn-ish, so I grabbed a beach towel for some traction and did a wee little bit of yoga. Just enough to get circulation in my shoulders and to loosen up my lower back. Then I put the towel away and pretended to still be asleep.

My grandmother’s aide was late, but she was clean enough that I felt no guilt about just helping her select clothes and get dressed. And then we made it to breakfast a little late. You’d think the timing wouldn’t matter, but the dining room gets crowded and louder, and so conversation still didn’t so much happen. But we smiled at each other and had bonding time.

After breakfast, my grandmother fell asleep. I napped and read until noon, when I got her up to go downstairs for a cup of coffee. I tried to entice her into a quick walk around their garden area, but the sun didn’t quite reach into it and there was a breeze, so she begged off. And then, since she was going right back to sleep after coffee, I left around 2pm. But I didn’t go straight home because I’d heard rumor on Twitter about a DoctorWhoNY event involving an intimate (which just means limited to 100 people) Q&A with Russell Tovey, from Doctor Who/Torchwood and Being Human and stuff. And, hey, they scheduled for a day I’d already be in the city and it was only $20. So there.

But I had four or so hours to kill in New York City without wanting to spend too much money or acquire baggage. Eh, so I wandered a bit. I found a nice sunny ledge by Union Square and read there for an hour. And then I found a restaurant a couple blocks from the venue that didn’t seem to expensive. I walked around a little bit more to kill more time and to make sure I’d made the best restaurant choice, and then I circled around back.

So they don’t have their hours posted on the outside. At first I thought I’d heard that their dining room didn’t open until 4:30, but it turns out they actually said 5:30. No matter, because they have a tea room right next door. I tried a lovely, dark tea from southern India, Nilgiri, which is apparently also carried by Whole Foods (they would have told me a package of it but were out of stock). And despite appearances, their small teapots held three cups worth of tea. It came with cute little dishes with rough hewn sugar cubes (brown and white) and a small dish of honey, just wide enough that the spoon looked like it would not fit but did easily. And cream. This was a good visit for tea.

I also ordered a chaat. I was worried that it would spoil my appetite, but I forgot to account for NYC level of prices. It was just the perfect size for pre-dinner nibbling.

So 5:30 rolled over, and I bopped over to the main dining room. I think they figured I was interested in food as they seated my opposite their theater kitchen, which just serviced the tandoori ovens and a grill. I still have no idea how the different bread got made – one of them ended up rolled into a spiral… and then pressed flat? But it was nifty and pleasing to watch. I ordered a soup and dal makhani.

The cauliflower ginger soup… was a lovely idea, but off a bit. For one thing, it was an oddly large portion for the rest of the scale of the restaurant, but I guess that’s not a complaint. It was also perfectly smooth (as if the cauliflower had been pureed and then strained) with small grains of ginger (there were cumin seeds, but I think some of the chewy bits were also ginger). I think I would have rather also had some small pieces of cauliflower, too. I asked for a salt shaker, and that perked it up a little. But I think what it really needed was a sour note – possibly a lovely contrasting swirl of tamarind chutney.

Dal Makhani – So there’s a restaurant near me with amazing dishes with Makhani sauce, but there’s another with only a bland brown dal makhani. It seemed like a good way to judge the restaurant as well as being the cheapest thing on the menu. Now, I’ve had a few restaurants in London charge separately for rice and everything, but they were also noticeably cheaper pricepoints – at $12.50 for dal, I was surprised to be asked whether I also wanted to order rice. I didn’t – I went with a roti instead for more joy. And, yes, their makhani sauce was very like my favorite, rich and reddish. Very well done, and I would eat there again.

I did not order dessert because I managed to just perfectly hit the time I was aiming for.

So I walked the few blocks to Cafe 50 West. This also looked like a good place for dinner – with casserole dishes of macaroni and cheese or artichoke dip. Their soups looked delicious. I just ordered a hot tea, and that was pretty darn impressive. It was a british style tea (broken leaves, and a high ratio of tea to hot water – water added to tea bag at the right temperature), but they even thought to pre-warm the mug! \o/!

There was a cute Q&A with Russell Tovey, which was taped, wherein there managed to be lewd appreciation of his professional nudity while still respecting his craft. After all, he was the one who suggested that one of his dream roles was to play a rent boy (right after wishing to get to star in a remake of The Goonies, but nevermind that). I have a few more of his past roles I now want to find (it’s well overdue for me to watch The History Boys). There was a queue for his autograph. That went well, and I got to talk to a couple friendly people. And I was also reminded why I pick my fannish associations rather discriminatingly. Russell was friendly in line as well, and he seemed to be having a decent time.

He was mentioning that actors in the UK aspire to get to act on American shows because having the larger budgets and whole teams of writers sounds so glamorous. The audience of anglophiles was trying to dissuade him. The most cogent explanation was given by someone pointing to a specific character point for him where he was, as a protagonist, allowed to win the end of the episode’s plotline by becoming more morally ambiguous instead of less and how awesome British shows are for having the courage to do that. And the woman by me nodding her emphatic agreement was the same one who had earlier told me that she hadn’t watched the whole latest bit of Torchwood canon because she didn’t agree with what they’d done with the characters and she didn’t want her shows to be anything less than light and happy. And I’m sure she wasn’t the only one with no internal irony alert.

And after the autographs, there was a viewing of the first episode of the second season with Russell giving commentary. He said some obvious things. Mentioned that the later love interest for one of the other main characters was an ex of that actor. But in general it was pretty tame stuff, so I didn’t stay until the end of the episode.

I walked back to catch the Chinatown Bus home.


Bread! No, really – bread!

   Posted by: Livia Tags:

I have started baking!

Now I’ve tried baking before, and I have ruined cookies. I have ruined more than one box mix of bread made in a bread machine. I just don’t get dough.

And now, all of a sudden, I’m baking. Bread. Without a bread machine.

Okay, so the without a bread machine part was entirely accidental, but I’d already added water to flour when I found out the motor on my bread machine had given up, and it would have been more difficult to clean up at that stage than to keep going and give it a try completely by hand.

I’m trying to keep myself to eating no more than a loaf of bread a week, so there hasn’t been an explosion of bread products. But it’s the second week of fearless breadmaking, and the second loaf of tasty bread… so I’m ready to confess to it.

Premise: Michael Ruhlman wrote a book, Ratio. And after talking it up with my friends, it was a yule gift to me (thanks!). I thought it was a book about baking, but it’s really more a book about all kinds of cooking – at a very high level. It pretty much says, “All of those techniques you know that come with complicated recipes? Well the recipes are secretly rather simple, and here are the magic formulae behind them all – in graph form, no less.”

Okay, well, I have a scale and I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with bread being able to be reduced to a framework with some flexibility.

But I’m also not an expert, so I can tell right away that the scant ten pages on bread will not be sufficient, so I also pull out the book of bread machine recipes and my Joy of Cooking.

Experiment 1:
I look at the lean dough recipe (Ratio, p.10):

20 ounces bread flour (about 2 cups)
12 ounces water
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon active or instant yeast

And I compare it with the recipes for 2 lb loaves in the bread machine cookbooks. Those tend to call for about 3 cups of flour, so I scale down the recipe to:

15 ounces flour
9 ounces water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Yeah, so I didn’t measure the yeast. The store only had packets, so I just went with a whole packet and figured that should be a loaf of bread worth.

So I pulled out my measuring cup (because it’s microwave safe) and poured in 9 ounces of water. And then I chucked in the random egg yolk I had in my freezer (thawed first) and 2 teaspoons of butter (because every recipe in the bread machine cookbook had about that quantity of lipids). And then I carefully microwaved it up to about 90F and poured some over the active dry yeast to soften it.

Into another container (a quart yogurt container was the perfect size), I started measuring out my flours. And of course I didn’t go the easy route, but I went for whole wheat flour right away. I added about 5 ounces of whole wheat, maybe another 3 ounces of rye flour, and then I was just careful adding the white bread flour to get it to exactly 15 ounces.

Then I added the liquid to the bread machine, added the flour, and topped it with the wet yeast. Plugged it in and nothing happened. Nothing! Whah!

After much despairing, I pulled out the bowl part and twirled the paddle for a bit by hand – and it came together pretty quickly and painlessly into a ball. So I dumped the ball into a large, heavy bowl to mix a little more. And here was the real moment of brilliance that will keep my coming back to bread making – I realized that I didn’t have to get a whole table messy/floury to make bread – I could knead it right there in the bowl!!! Not only was my table not getting dirty, but I was also amazed to discover that my hand didn’t end up all that messy, either. I love bread dough!

I kneaded it in the bowl for a bit, but it fairly quickly became apparent that there wasn’t enough liquid in the dough and it just felt grainy. So I slowly added water in batches as I was kneading. And then I was reading more in Joy of Cooking as I was kneading, and I saw that it said you must have sugars in the dough, too, in order to feed the yeast. So the next time the dough felt dry, I grabbed the honey bottle and squeezed in some honey. I think I ended up adding slightly less than al 1/4 cup of water and maybe an eighth of a cup of honey.

And then I had to let it rise… except my kitchen isn’t hot enough. I live in a tiny studio apartment, and I’ve come up with a solution where I heat my bedroom just a little and the kitchen not at all and this winter (thanks to the help of friends) I have the place insulated enough that it’s enough for me to be comfortable… but the kitchen’s around 40F on most days. So I (oiled the bowl, rounded the dough, turned it in the oil) dampened a kitchen towel and microwaved it until it was warm and steamy. Then I put the bowl on a cutting board and wrapped the top in the warm towel and tucked it all up close to the baseboard heater in my bedroom.

By morning it had doubled in size. Punched it down, kneaded it a little, had some errands to run, so I re-wet and microwaved the towel and put it up for a second rise. Came home and heated up the oven and baked it. (400F for 10 minutes, 350F for 25-30 more minutes – from Joy of Cooking)

Results of experiment #1: So I fully expected this loaf to fail. From no recipe to the equipment failure, from starting off trying a whole wheat loaf to the random inexplicable tinkering – this recipe was doomed to fail. Only it didn’t! It was delicious! It was bread! Okay, so it was a bit solid and tough and more suited to toasting that gobbling up straight, but it was still hard not to gobble it all up right away. I even took some to my mother that night, and she agreed it was tasty bread! Success!

Experiment #2:But I can do better.

This time I only went up to 3.5 ounces of 15 to be whole wheat flour. And I mixed some whole milk with the water (still a total weight of 9 ounces).

And I kneaded it for longer in hopes of making it chewier. Oh, and I figured that since I can keep kneading the flour in a bowl and my hand isn’t getting too dirty that the whole project is portable! So I tucked back into the warm bedroom and kneaded the flour for a whole episode of Earth 2.

The dough still needed more liquid (about the same amount more) and I still added honey (2 Tablespoons-ish). And I accidentally – because I didn’t check back with the book – only included 3/4 teaspoon salt.

And even with the long kneading time, it never reached the stage Ruhlman describes where, “To know if you’ve kneaded the bread dough enough, cut a small piece and stretch it gently. If it reaches the point of translucency before it breaks, the dough is ready.” (Ratio, p.8) But I figure that’s a feature of using the whole wheat flour. And I was starting to worry after 50 minutes of desultory kneading whether I might not be doing too much. I kept adding liquid until the dough was just slightly tacky/sticky after a thorough kneading.

Since the initial mixing had been done in this bowl, too, there was a fine crust of floury bits around the rim, so I did have to wash and dry the bowl before oiling it and putting the dough back in it to rise. But I used the same set up as last week. Only one rise, though.

Results of experiment #2: OMG BREAD! No, really – bread! Just the right amount of gumminess. It could use a bit deeper flavor, but it was exactly what bread should be! Without a recipe and done by feel! I can not express how happy this makes me! It wasn’t just beginners’ luck, either! Wooo! I can not wait until next week when I’ll let myself have another go, but I have no idea how this loaf will last through the night without getting completely devoured.

Plan for experiment #3 So I’m going to need to buy more yeast for next week, so I was perusing the King Arthur Flour website, and I stopped by to look at their recipes – some of which convert back and forth between volume and weight. I’ve noticed that they tend to go with a 16oz flour : 10 oz liquid ratio. That would be a little more wet, and I think I’ll try that next.


Bourbon Dinner at Terra, 12/15/2009

   Posted by: Livia

One of the very first food blogs I started reading was Mac and Cheese Review, so I perked up when she first mentioned that a Philadelphia restaurant would have a Bourbon dinner. Actually, I think she was just pointing out how very meat-oriented the menu was, since she’s vegetarian – but they caught her complaint and jumped to say that they would offer full vegetarian options. And then I was rather excited when she put out a call on Twitter for people to join in the excursion – yay, I wouldn’t have to feel like a stalker. ~g~

And, apparently, we’d met before and I’d talked to her, but I’d never quite put together the person at the food blogger pot lucks with the food blog author – go figure.

The scheduling ended up that it was just three days after the birthday party / scotch tasting, which has also been a few months in the planning. But, actually, the contrast was rather charming.

I’ve never really objected to bourbon, but it wasn’t until some random chance encounter at Positano Coast and a bartender taking pity on me and introducing me to Basil Hayden’s that I started to see it as a the kind of beverage worth sipping and discussing. Now mind you, I have a strict policy on alcohol, where I won’t drink something where I don’t like the taste. I’ll even sip tequila, if I’m going to be drinking it. If it’s going in my mouth, it has to be something I’m willing to enjoy. But there’s a step between enjoying something and savoring it and all. And here’s where that leap happened.

Right, so the small batch people at Beam got together with the people at Terra, the cozy restaurant underneath the Tavern on Camac, and they made a five course Bourbon Dinner, with beverage pairings for every course. So there!

Yeah, I ended up requesting time off work to attend because I work crazy late on weeknights, and the post was very specific about an early start time to the dinner.

So after a bit of negotiation, I made reservations and met up with Taylor and another friend for dinner. Here is her much more timely review with pictures (though I am backdating this post to fit the chronology better)

Ambiance – This was my first visit to Terra, and it was cozy with a lot of warm wood everywhere. It was mentioned that it seemed like a very masculine space, but I especially liked the benches around the edge of the room. It was just the place to curl up on a cold evening. I had, however, been to the Tavern on Camac above us before – a friend from high school used to bartend there, and there’ve been random parties there associated with the Philadelphia film festivals. The main floor is a traditional piano bar, with random outbursts of song, that speaks of another place and another era – but it’s good odds that the people there will be smiling and happy.

So the menu – because, really, that’s the important part.

amuse bouche
Steak Tartar
with Baker’s Bourbon Caviar
paired with
Baker’s Bourbon
served neat

Served in an asian soup spoon, the tartar had a clean, mild flavor of fresh beef mixed with a nice crunchy, tang of raw purple onions. Now I’ve been familiar with the theory of molecular gastronomy caviar for a while, but I hadn’t had the occasion to try it. And I must say that I always pictured it in my head as having that same taut burst as real caviar, but no – this was just tiny globules of mush. Another illusion dashed. It didn’t really harm the tartar, but it didn’t do anything to improve it, either.

The burbon, however, was quite tasty. It has a toasty, caramel flavor that was perfect for warming us and settling down.

first course
Arugula salad
Humbolt Fog cheese,
Jim Beam soaked Cranberries,
Roasted Parsnips, House Bacon
and a Ginger Bourbon Vinaigrette
paired with
Black Beauty
Jim Beam, Cranberry Juice
& DeKuyper Reach Schnapps

This salad was by far the most stellar dish of the evening, but I love salads. Every piece was delicious on its own, and they went together perfectly. My only sadness with the perfect union was that there was enough going on that I had no idea what the vinaigrette tasted like on its own, it blended in that seamlessly. The bacon was worth teasing the vegetarians over (but only a little), and the roasted parsnips were sinfully good. Humbolt Fog is one of my favorite cheeses, and it’s mellowness goes well with the arugula. And the Jim Beam soaked cranberries were just the right mix of natural tanginess with spicy smoke from the booze. I would eat this as an entree, if it made it to the regular menu.

Oh, and there was bread – caramelized onion brioche torpedoes that were hot and tasty, and I devoured mine before the salad even arrived. And Taylor, who swears bread isn’t usually worth a second bite, also praised it highly.

The drink? Well, it was the prized invention of one of the bourbon-mongers sherherding the event. It was a good premise, but it needed work. The peach schnapps made things a bit too sweet. But it was suggested (I forget by whom) that maybe adding more bourbon would improve the drink, and since we all still had some of the generous portion of Baker’s left, the experiment was attempted and met with success. It ended up going well with the fruitiness of the salad, even though I’m still not sure about it on its own.

second course
Smoked Pork Belly
Chestnut Bellini, Pickled Beets
and Maple Knob Creek Bourbon Foam
paired with
Knob Creek Manhattan
Knob Creek, Sweet Vermouth, Dry Vermouth,
Bitters & Fresh Lemon
with a Cherry garnish

I totally lucked out with eating meat here because the pork belly was delighful. I could have just basked in the smell… okay, that’s totally a lie because I enjoyed the toasty, smoky fatty joy of the pork. And my vegetarian companions had to made do with seitan that had not been particularly strongly seasoned to function the same way.

Also, the parts of the dish didn’t quite go together. The pork belly went best with the pickled beets, which were charmingly aggressively peppery in a way I plan to try at home. And the maple foam went well with the bellini, almost like breakfasting on buckwheat pancakes. But assembling all 4 together just seemed forced. And while I’m knocking the gastronomy, let me admit that I absolutely loved the foam. It was hard to corral, but it was very temping just to gather the last of it on a finger to make sure I didn’t miss any.

Sadly, I ended up trying to foist my beverage off on my dining companions because I just don’t enjoy bitters.

third course
Pan Seared Lamb Chops
Booker’s Bourbon Grits
and Szechwan Peppercorn jus
paired with
Booker’s Bourbon
served neat

Oh, man – so glad I eat meat. This was the best lamb chop I have ever had, and it took quite a lot of willpower not to completely melt about it because look at this contrast. They had perfectly seared the endge of fat around the tender, succulent meat. And the main place where the vegetarian option fell down was the not only did they have to substitute the meat, but they also couldn’t use the peppery jus, which was necessary to contrast the bulk of the bourbon grits.

Now, I’m not a fan of grits. I grew up with a mother from Mississippi, and I didn’t like her grits – and I wasn’t a fan of them either when there was a charmingly gentrified restaurant in Oxford, MS where the most expensive item on the lunch menu was fancipants grits. But these were rich and creamy and smooth, and I ended up eating every last grain. Without the flavorful sauce, however, the bourbon ended up adding an off whang that wasn’t pleasant at all. Probably would have been better without the bourbon.

The Booker’s bourbon was 127 proof, and it wouldn’t let you forget it. I believe the bourbon-monger said that it was aged 10-14 years in a single barrel, but it still felt like it was setting your nose hairs on fire. When it first hit the tip of my tongue, it was sweet, and then it washed over the mouth with heat. After only two sips, my lips were tingly and a little numb. Taylor had, despite the Black Beauties, saved some of her Baker’s for contrast… and, yes, the Baker’s was downright well behaved and mellow next to the Booker’s. The gentleman seated at the table besides ours ordered a glass of ice and proceeded to adulterate his until it was a bit more mellow.

dessert course
Black Forrest Gateaux
Coffee Granita
and Jim Beam Red Stag Creme Anglaise
paired with
Sleigh Ride
Jim Beam Red Stag, Hot Chocolate
& Whipped Cream
with a Cherry garnish

The dessert was not the best note on which to end the meal. I’m not fond of coffee, but luckily the granita was in an asian dessert spoon and easy to isolate from the rest of the dish (well played!). The creme anglaise was mild and not strongly flavored with the alcohol, but it couldn’t do anything to help the dense hockey puck of a cake. Nor did the abundant frosting and the reconsituted dried cherries in the frosting, which ended up so worked that they ended up chewy and a bit artificial tasting. Luckily, this isn’t a dessert even close to anything on their regular menu and must have been designed specifically for this event and need never be seen again.

I was also worried about the hot chocolate because Taylor had tried the Red Stag before and declared that it definitely tasted like cough syrup when plain. But the hot chocolate worked beautifully and the cherry booze just created a nice layer of flavor, instead of overpowering. It was lovely and warm and soothing – and a much better finish to the evening.


Sang Kee (University City)

   Posted by: Livia

Wow – I think I gained 5 pounds this weekend. And it was thoroughly deserved. I ate so much, that I’m going to have to write it up in multiple posts.

Just in case it takes a while to get to everything, I’m going to make a note of what’s to come –

Last Friday
Sang Kee’s grand opening
office Holiday Party (eh, probably doesn’t deserve a post. There was food.)
Food Blogger Pot Luck

Last Saturday
friend’s birthday party with a scotch tasting

Last Sunday
Yum Cha not in chinatown

Okay, so there I was a few years ago visiting friends at Bryn Mawr College, and they suggested (even though they are many excellent food options closer) to drive 20-30 minutes toward the city to show me Sang Kee in Wynnewood. And, yes, it was absolutely worth the drive – with many small plate options that are delightful and prepared perfectly and served in an relaxing, elegant setting. Of the larger plates, my favorite is their stuffed eggplant (shrimp & pork) in black bean sauce.

And then maybe a little over a year ago, I discovered the original location in Chinatown and gave them a whirl. I ordered familiar dishes and found them right in line with the other location (the stuffed eggplant slightly better, the garlicky greens slightly too salty) and plenty fresh, but the atmosphere was no where near as nice – crowded, loud, and I ended up dining in a weird auxiliary upstairs room that was bright and better suited to a corner cheesesteak joint. So I figured I’d stick with Wynnewood occasionally.

But! But now there’s a location in west philly! I first found out about it from Fries With That Shake, but I also heard that she was a bit underwhelmed. Undaunted, I hopped on over there for lunch right away.

Okay, so lunch was disappointing. Instead of trying my favorite dishes, which were on this same menu, I was seduced by the $9 lunch box special. The salad had real greens, instead of iceberg, but it was generic dressing and too much of that. The vegetarian dumplings would have been amazing if they had been served separately, but they had toughened up a bit from being served at the same time as the rest. The eggplant and beef was good, but not exceptional. They continue to be brilliant at buttery, delicious eggplant, but the sauce was too heave and the beef might as well not have been there for all the character it added to the dish. And I was intrigued by the stir fried rice noodle option, instead of getting the rice, which would have dealt better with the abundant sauce. They were tasty, but not the right thing for this lunch. So a solid meh. Still, I wish to go back and try the proper menu.

And then last Friday, I heard that they were having a grand opening event with free food! Wheee! So I dropped everything and hopped on over even though I had two other food events that same day. And you know how I mentioned that they excel at small dishes freshly prepared at their other location? Well that’s kind of the antithesis of feeding masses of people off of steam tables. So even though they put a lot of work into the day, it ended up coming off as no better than any other passable chinese restaurant. Seriously – large batch scallion pancakes? Those are best piping hot, not room temperature. So new good news yet, but I shall be going back again.

This was only my second time making Thanksgiving, so the food is still shiny, new, and exciting to me.

So I went with a very simple recipe for the turkey because my parents went wild and paid for a turkey, instead of earning a free one through buying groceries. And they splurged for a free range, sexy turkey. So I just chucked some onion, garlic, and herbs inside and rubbed the outside with an herbed garlic butter. After the first half of cooking, I basted with a mixture of the turkey’s juices, orange juice, and soy sauce. Easy, simple, and it turned out juicy and reliable. There was a surprising amount of white meat for a free range bird, but apparently it was an especially breasty breed of bird – but the white meat wasn’t anymore flavourful for the wandering around. But I do think you could tell a difference with the dark meat – with a richer and more complex taste. And a cruelty free holiday!

And my mother scandalized me by not letting me come up with a recipe for dressing – but, instead, she bought Stove Top’s cornbread dressing. And to doctor it, she stirred in sliced scallions right at the end. Yeah. But I have to admit, even if it was sleazy, it was still very tasty and we finished all of it.

She was also going to have our only vegetable be microwaved frozen sugar snap peas (because my father can’t have Vitamin K), but I insisted on a second vegetable (mostly because I still had an abundant amount of Swiss Chard in the garden to use up before first frost). So I melted two teaspoons of bacon fat. Once that warmed up, I tossed in three cloves of garlic, thinly sliced. Once that started to brown, I tossed in the Swiss chard (washed, leaves cut off the spines, and then sliced across into 3/4″ ribbons, still damp). I had meant to add red pepper flakes after, but I ended up getting distracted getting the meal on the table, so there weren’t any – and the dish was delicious without them. Not healthy, mind you, but delicious. My friend, who is a chef, was absolutely right – swiss chard must always go with bacon.

And then there is the dish of which I am the most proud. The sweet potato casserole. Everyone makes this dish, and there are hundreds of recipes for this on the internet – but the first five pages on google didn’t come up with the recipe I was looking for. All of the called for butter. Many of the called for heavy cream. I really liked the recipe that called for orange juice and zest, and then I was amused to notice that the orange juice was never used in any of the versions claiming to be lower fat. Also, while I remember from my youth great debates over whether one would add diced apples or crushed pineapple to the casserole, not a single recipe called for any fruit. So I ended up kind of making my own way to a healthy version of this side dish for my diabetic father.

Sweet Potato Casserole – topped with marshmallows

First off, I made made it in individual ramekins, instead of a large dish, so there would be portion control. I don’t know if it’s necessary, but just for the ease, I did lightly butter the dishes.

Roast and peel 2 medium sweet potatoes.

Core, peel, and dice finely half of a smaller apple.

Stir them together in a bowl with the juice of one orange and the zest of half of the orange.

Since my parents have on hand the sugar/splenda blend, I used that. It runs twice as sweet as a comparable measure of sugar. Start with an eighth of a cup and taste, adding up to a quarter of a cup.

For spices, I added cinnamon, sweet paprika, black pepper, and a few drops of vanilla extract.

Then I stirred in 1/2 a teaspoon of baking powder and 2 egg whites. Beat that thoroughly through the mixture.

Fill the ramekins, making sure to leave about 3/4″ from the top because not only do you need room for the marshmallows, but also you the casserole will rise as it bakes.

Then I popped the ramekins into the 325F oven with the turkey for 45 minutes. I pulled them out and let them cool (they did puff up like souffles, but the settled down and still had a light, fluffy texture).

Once the casserole is no longer piping hot, cover with the big marshmallows (size totally matters). And, yes, I used normal, storebought marshmallows instead of trying to find a healthy way around that part.

After the turkey comes out of the oven, throw the ramekins back in and switch it to broil. By the time everything else is on the table, the marshmallows should be perfectly browned and puffy.

Also there was gravy. Mmmm…

After the fourth basting, I sucked up about a cup of the drippings and set them aside long enough for the fat to separate out.

Toast some flour until is it as dark as you want it. My mother went with a nice almond color.

Then spoon the fat from the drippings and add it to the flour. If that is not enough to make a smooth pasty, add some butter.

Once that was smooth and ready to have liquid added, my mother poured in the drippings slowly enough that they’d boil and incorporate smoothly.

After the whole cup had been added, I warmed up another cup of vegetable broth, and she added that until she reached the consistency she wanted.

Then she added a little kitchen bouquet (I don’t know – it’s tradition. But you could also toast the flour more in the beginning). Even though there was soy sauce in the basting liquid, after tasting the gravy still needed a little more salt, too. She has a mixture of white pepper, thyme, and rosemary that she grinds herself – a pinch of that. And a teaspoon and a half of Manischewitz wine for richness.

And then after dinner, we had an apple pie I bought at my farmers’ market and the fior di latte and almond gelato I bought from Capogiro.

And now I am back home and making turkey stock from the carcass. Good times.


bad salsa

   Posted by: Livia Tags:

I just found a salsa that was so bad, I threw it out after the second use. And it takes a lot for me to give up on food.

So if you happen across Old el Paso Pineapple – avoid!

It was bitter and had a strong overtone of celery. I can make a much better pineapple salsa.


pineapple salsa

   Posted by: Livia Tags:

I just found a salsa that was so bad, I threw it out after the second use. And it takes a lot for me to give up on food.

So if you happen across Old el Paso Pineapple – avoid!

It was bitter and had a strong overtone of celery. I can make a much better pineapple salsa.

A few weeks ago, Heather poked me that Billy Boyd‘s band, Beecake, would be playing in Philadelphia. And so I decided to fulfill my fannish duties and jumped all over that and got us tickets and dinner reservations (because that’s the only way to get reserved seats at this location).


And I took a full vacation day from work.

Despite being hella windy, it was a lovely day.

And so once Heather came up, we walked over to the UPenn museum of Anthropology and Archaeology (with a brief stop to appreciate the architecture in the Fine Arts library built by Furness), and I got to show off all of the amazing stuff they’d plundered back when that was how things were done. We started with Egypt (where I did not manage to convince her to fondle the Sphinx just a little), popped into a room for a bit of Islamic tile joy, and then fled from a bunch of students into China. A few southeast Asian countries later, we were popped through Jerusalem to get to Rome and the Etruscans. We almost managed to miss Greece, but we did manage to remember the vases and stele (and I gave my explanation of the mutilation of the Herms in 411). Woot! Then a brief visit through Polynesia, and we were out in the lovely weather again. (I mean, we were there for hours, but it went quickly)

Popped by Penn’s library for a (tiny) display of Jane Austen rare books (apparently, completely missing a copy of Pride and Prejudice), and I also showed off their digital media lab, a display of nifty book arts, and my office.

Out back for a cupcake and drinking chocolate at Naked Chocolate… which led to another mile walk (a little less, really) to show my favorite coffee shop and it’s excellent chocolate selection.

And then we took a bus.

Oh, and I called a friend for the location of the concert venue because I hadn’t bothered to write down the exact location. ~handwave~ (thanks, Kim)

Popped on the #40 bus because that one was the next one to show up. I knew that one went all the way to old city, but I had forgotten that it was also the one that dipped south and gave you the scenic route. Heather, however, had just been mentioning that she’d been disappointed that the last time she’d been in philly, they’d gone to South Street for cheesesteaks but hadn’t then taken the time to see South Street – and look, we got to go the whole length without even having to walk. ~grin~ And then we walked north on 3rd to Chestnut.

Even moving rather slowly, we ended up at the Tin Angel a little early for our reservation, but we decided there wasn’t really anything we’d rather be doing than sitting down right then (because that was a lot of walking!). Nice waiter. Very nice waiter. He only laughed at us a little for showing up an hour early, being only the second people in the joint, decided to do all appetizers, and then picking our first round of food as the Calamari and a side of mashed potatoes. Wot!

vietnamese fried calamari tossed with pepper, onion & cilantro
chilis, sweet & spicy dipping sauce
– Very light and crunchy and not chewy at all. The bell peppers and onions were a nice addition, and I loved the dipping sauce. We were warned there were spicy rounds of jalapeno peppers in the mix but only found the little roasted whole peppers. I thought they were delightful, and my dining companion was able to avoid them easily.

mashed potatoes side dish – So the windy day and much walking had made me especially susceptible to pining after the mashed potatoes listed as accompanying one of the specials, and I could not resist ordering this. Fairly small bowl, but full of rich tastiness. It had a rich flavor that was not strongly buttery. Very comforting and served wonderfully hot.

potato pancakes special of the day – served with bacon and shrimp confit – Okay, so this was not latkes. Think instead of a crabcake made all of potato strings. Thinly shredded, in a patty that’s 2″ in diameter and 1″ tall — and then I think it wasn’t just topped with bacon, but also fried in bacon fat. At least partially. There was a light sauce on top, and there were baby greens underneath. With more greens, slightly wilted from the heat of the pancakes, this would have been a wonderful entree salad. No matter how odd, it was delicious. A good balance of greasy and vegetable.

warm goat cheese bruschetta strawberries, laura chenel chevre, carmelized shallot, fig balsamic, black pepper oil – this was not perfect. Instead of just having fanned strawberries on top, they had also processed strawberries in with the goat cheese. But that made it all a bit sweet instead of leaving you with contrasting sweet and tart/sour of the cheese. It really ended up being more of a dessert thing than a savory entree.

garlicky spinach side dish – was very good and tasty, but it was a little frustrating because it had a distinct asian seasoning that we couldn’t identify. It definitely wasn’t 5 spice, wasn’t ginger, and while there might have been some soy sauce that wasn’t primary. It almost tasted like sesame oil, but not quite. Still delicious.

blueberry plum crisp – served in a very shallow tart dish with an ice cream scoop of dense whipped cream on top. The whipped cream was not good, so I tumbled it to the side. The crisp, however, was delicious. The shallow dish made for a great ratio of oaty, crispy goodness to hot, sweet fruit.

As for the music? It was fun to listen to, but I was not sad to leave without an album. They like switching between ballad mood and hard rock mood in their songs, but their opening song also had a sort of swing mood thrown in the mix, too. And three totally different tempo thingies is too much. I put my foot down. Okay, so it was still fun, but still. So I questioned some of his aesthetic choices, and I questioned some of the messages in the songs. My favorite song of the lot was Rip It Up

And then we went back to my place and had tea, chocolate, and good times.

So I called out sick from work on Friday. Yeah. It was lovely.

Basically, I had a food blogger potluck, no food, and performance anxiety. And a plethora of sick days available.

Plan A for food: Pita chips and tzatziki.
I’ve started taking that to almost every pot luck type thing, and I wasn’t feeling it this time. I drained the yogurt, but I didn’t even work up to buying the pita.

Plan B for food: Salsa
I’ve got a butt load of tomatoes from my garden, but, again, I didn’t work up enthusiasm. (It’s okay – I think I’ll work up to it next week or so and then can/jar some)

Plan E for food: So I had a two-week old plan to use up eggplants in my fridge in imam bayildi… and two week old eggplants, which ended up in the compost because they were a little fuzzy. But it was a good plan – and one that would help me with my tomato backlog. So I drove off to one of the big Asian supermarkets in south philly to acquire eggplants (of the variety often found near me, but not when I’m looking for them).

food bloggers potluck
Okay, so let me tell you the genius of using Asian (long, skinny) eggplants for this Mediterranean dish: bite-sized imam bayildi!

Not a big pile of mush! No, these were 4-5cm long segments, each one with it’s own little pocket-forming slit and awesome deliciousness. It turned out just as well as I had planned (and better than I’d feared, the big pile of resulting mush would still have been delicious, though, so no worries). And I got the portion right (about 30 pieces) for the gathering, so there was just enough let over at the end of the evening for a lunch-sized portion for me.

And what do you know – someone else had brought chips and homemade salsas and another person has pitas and dip. No one else had mysteriously delicious eggplant with tomatoes and onions and parsley.

Oh, and I also took a fruit salad which I loved

Fruit Salad

watermelon, hand-picked blackberries, and banana slices that had been dosed in lime juice and ginger juice.

I loved it and thought it needed more of the sauce throughout! Those bananas were yummy.

What else was there?

Teagan brought a pasta salad with mint pesto and an indian string bean and carrot dish with mustard seeds. Oh, and she also had a pumpkin and coconut pudding.

Marisa brought a big jar of pickles with delicious onions.

Someone had a plate of traditional pimento cheese sandwiches. Up here, that is an exotic gourmet treat. Yum!

Messy & Picky brought a tasty and simple corn salad.

North Port Fishington Vegan Cookie Factory brought donuts

Someone made little caprese salads on a stick with grape tomato halves framing little mozzarella lumps and basil

someone brought carnitas

There was a fruit tart.

And the host made tasty peanut butter cookies.

There was socializing.

And then I left.

farmers market! – where I achieved my primary goal of acquiring a lot of dubious peaches.
looking at potential houses…

Meeting up with friends for a game night
I took some more of the same fruit salad (but with a slightly higher ratio of lime/ginger to fruit that for the potluck), but the people trying it this time thought it tasted a bit wonky.

then dinner
a failed quest for ice cream
and home

first there was kick ass yoga.
then I went on an emergency quest for pectin (only to be found in solid form at the whole foods)
and did laundry

and then I made jam
and then I made a tonne of peach jam.

I started cutting up and sugaring peaches while I boiled the jars.

first project was re-cooking the white peach with lime and ginger from last time that did not set up properly. I just cooked it down more and added some more pectin from the last packet of liquid pectin. I think it turned out better, but I haven’t tried. it. (yield: 4 – 4oz jars)

second project – was making a non-spicy jam for geeksdoitbetter, but I think the 2 parts fruit to 1 part sugar recipe is a bit too sweet for me, and I like spicy to balance that. Also, I’m actually not a bit jelly person, and I quite like jam from the supermarket. I’m not trying to make something I will enjoy from any ole source, so I might as well get wacky. So a simpler recipe was hard. I ended up adding about 1/4 cup of the cherries we’d picked together and that she’d dried with quite a lot of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and possible allspice. When those cherries were finished, she was quite sure they were way too heavily seasoned, so I only used that many for about 6 cups of fruit and 3 cups of sugar – and then I added cranberries when I decided it was a little too sparsely populated with fruit (if you are going to have random dried fruit chewy bits, then there should be enough to pop up reliably, instead of as surprise chewy). No other seasoning. For this one, I added 3 teaspoons of dried pectin, and it seemed like it was going to set up rather solidly. (yield: 3 – 4oz jars; 3 – 8oz jars)

third project – so then I went looking for savourier options, and started with 5 Spice Powder. A lot of 5 spice powder. And then some ginger juice. And a wee little bit of black pepper sauce. Stir cook stir. And then it didn’t seem to have a distinctive enough flavor, so things went a bit wacky. I added a little rice vinegar and some soy sauce, and then I added some sambal oelek for kick, and the hot version finally tasted right. (yield: 5 – 4oz jars; 3 – 8oz jars)

Fourth project – So I have a coconut, and I was thinking of adding shredded unsweetened coconut meat to one, but at 10pm it was a little much work to start on. So I went for a peach masala theory. I added a lot of Penzey’s garam masala. And I wanted a few more savory notes, so I added a shake or two of Penzey’s Rogan Josh. Oh, and this one got just 1 teaspoon of solid pectin for about 6 cups (maybe more) of peaches. Cook cook stir cook. And then when it was near thick enough, I melted some coconut fat in another pan and fried up a generous quantity of mustard seeds and nigella seeds (and added three drops of mustard oil when the coconut fat seemed to be toasting more quickly than the seeds). Add to jam. This one tasted awesome hot, and I have high hopes for it being my favorite. yield: 6 – 4oz jars; 2 – 8oz jars; and 2 wee tiny jelly jars because I couldn’t bear to leave the little scrapings in the pot to be washed down the drain)

Fifth project – And I liked the peach chipotle jam I made in the first experiment so much, that I tried to replicate that batch. By this point my tastebuds were so blown with sticky peach that I suspect I made it spicier, but hey. Same ingredients at least. (yield: 6 – 4oz jars; 1 – 16oz jar)

project 4.5 and while I had just started cooking down the peaches for batch 5, I threw my Green Tomato Salsa in a pint jar and boiled it for the entire length of the cooking process and all because I couldn’t bear a 6th round of heating stuff before canning it. I’m storing it in the fridge in case that wouldn’t be sufficient to make it shelf stable, but it should at least slow down the aging process. (yes, there’s lots of vinegar in the salsa)

Oh, and I went out to dinner
Oh, and I went out to dinner. With a boy. Yeah, it’s my co-worker on whom I have a vague crush, but I’m pretty sure it’s doomed.

So we tried out the new Tampopo near me. The dumplings were exceptional – with a light skin and filling with flavor. Pan fried to deliciousness. He ordered the hot, spicy tofu – which was tasty. The tofu had nice crispy edges. I ordered hot, spicy squid, and my tentacles were not too chewy. Same sauce really was used for both. And the portions were small, but it was a full meal’s worth and sized right for the price. No service and free water.

And the place was chock full of the most stereotypical west philly people, and I kept getting distracted from my barely coworker level of intimacy conversation by the wacky west philly people discussing their accupuncture and tattoos.

a little more house shopping before work…



   Posted by: Livia

A friend of mine was in town this weekend, so we walked over to 40th & Chestnut for my favorite local Thai place, only it was closed. Luckily, there’s another Thai place less than a block away… also closed. Indian was out; we weren’t sure about Korean; and I didn’t do a good job selling the Mexican tapas place. So we kept walking on Chestnut until we hit 23rd, and then cut south for Erawan Thai.

Appetizer Sampler: fried pork dumplings were awesome; shrimp wrapped in spring roll wrapper & fried was tasty, but keep a hold of the tail; spring rolls were good; the fish cakes, however, tasted only vaguely fishy and mostly of lemon grass, all kind of spongy-textured and held together in a membrane.

Golden Eggplant (my dish): Excellent! Tofu and Eggplant in a mildly spicy sauce. The eggplant melted in your mouth and the whole dish was very satisfying and comforting.

Ultimate Pad Thai (friend’s dish): Chosen because it had clearly been a re-boot of the Pad Thai series, I got the impression that this dish did not disappoint.

The service was excellent, and there was abundant water and only a little mocking of how much I drank.