Archive for August, 2007


Trying a new chocolate

   Posted by: Livia N    in chocolate, Review

I bought a Black Pearl Chocolate Bar at my favorite coffee house in philly. It’s 55% cacao with a layer of ginger, wasabi, and black sesame.

This was definitely a one square at a time kind of bar, even though I am usually all about devouring chocolate. Just the week before, I had been eating chocolate covered ginger from Trader Joe’s, and that would be a much more economical version of this bar (if I’d realized it was $7, I might never have tried it), but I have to admit that the fancier chocolate was both tastier and mellower. Even with the addition of wasabi, the chocolate was such good quality and the ratio of chocolate to goody was such that it ended up being a wonderfully balanced chocolate bar.

and not as fancy
One of my coworkers brought in a whole case of Hershey’s Whole Bean bars. Now I will eat regular Hershey’s with no hesitation because while I like fancy stuff, I also like sleazy stuff. But this was better than your average Hershey’s bar. I think it was greatly improved by being just slightly less sweet. On the other hand, it is also higher fiber, so after eating four of the (1.3oz/36g) bars I was a bit flatulent, but hey.

For those interested in nutritional information: And how healthy was this new kind of candy? Well the serving sizes for these two bars were just 1 gram off, so I can do a fairly easy comparison – and the Hershey’s one is almost exactly the same, except for the weirdly high fiber (6g fiber/36g serving). Same saturated fat, only 10 fewer calories, and only 3 fewer grams of sugar. (note: this comparison is with fru fru dark chocolate rather than with regular Hershey’s) On the other hand, I was happy eating a third of the serving size of the fancy one, but wanted several serving sizes of the sleazy one.



Taking Stock – chicken stock

   Posted by: Livia N    in Recipe, stock

Before I moved out on my own, stock came in cans from the supermarket. Homemade stock is a completely different animal, and surprisingly easy. All you need is a bit of time and weather that is not too painfully hot and humid so that extended cooking is still possible.

Stock philosophy: I’m not making consumes, so these recipes won’t give you light, translucent broths. Nope, these are rich and yummy things food of goodness and nutrients.

Ps and Qs chicken stock
Boil together:
chicken bits (whole chicken, chicken backs, chicken feet & necks, whatever)
*(ideally, there’s the stuff called parsley root which is a less sweet parsnip with lovely, tasty parsley green attached – that was always my first choice.)
garlic cloves (not peeled, just cut in half)
onion (not peeled, cut into quarters)
sprigs of thyme
a bay leaf
sprigs of rosemary
water to cover

*boil* *boil* *boil*

Remove the parsley before letting it sit overnight left the broth end up with a greenish tint. If using whole pieces of chicken, pull them out, strip off the meat, and then put the detritus back in the pot.


*cover and let sit overnight*

Next day:

*boil at least 20 minutes to kill of any bacteria*

*boil until concentrated as much as looks tasty*

*let cool just a little (so you don’t die when splashed with the liquid)*

*strain and refrigerate*

Next day:

Pop off the layer of fat, and you’re good to go.


And then on some cooking show there was a cook suggesting keeping scraps (onion peelings, etc.) in the freezer to make stock. So now I have a bag into which I put the peels of just about anything of the allium genus (if able to be washed reasonably clean), extra herbs that are getting dubious or stripped herb stems, and the occasional carrot or piece of celery near the end of its life.

Even though stock was already fairly economical, I no longer end up using things that would otherwise be food in my stock.

Even easier chicken stock
chicken bits (still whatever is cheapest. You can also save bones and stuff from simple roast chickens and use them)
yellow & white onion peels
garlic peels and ends (maybe a feel cloves of garlic, if those are scanty)
rosemary, thyme, parsley, bay leaf

carrots or celery, if frozen anyway
whole dried red pepper
ginger peelings
sprig of fennel
2-3 cloves

*boil* (for as little as 45 minutes after it actually starts boiling enough that things are pretty well thawed)
*cover and let sit overnight*
*boil* (minimum of 20 minutes at a hard boil*
*strain and refrigerate overnight*
*pop off fat layer*

Still every bit as tasty, but now something that can be done in the evening after a chicken dinner instead of a whole project on its own

Notice there’s no step in here about skimming off foamy scum? That’s because after the very first time I tried it, I couldn’t be bothered. After all, you are still going to strain the soup, and the main reason cookbooks give for that anal retentive bit is to have a clear and lovely soup, and I like mine thick and a bit opaque.

But now that it’s so easy, what about other kind of stock?

Well I’ve successfully made pork stock, but unless you are using it for something that will taste strongly of pork (red beans & rice, greens… and that’s about all I’ve come up with), it’s a bit too strongly pork flavoured and tends to take over the dish. (but it’s the same recipe as lamb, so keep reading)

Beef stock – is a pain in my ass! It was such a relief later to read in the Best Recipe cookbook that it was also a pain in their ass. Either you have to use almost a 1:1 ratio of beef to water, or you have to add a few chicken pieces to give the stock some body while you hope the beef flavor is stronger than the chicken one. It’s not worth doing unless you have a craving for homemade onion soup that neither restaurants nor Trader Joe’s can satisfy, but you won’t be saving yourself any money to make it at home.

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   Posted by: Livia N    in Food, invitation

Woot! We’ve got a special project that can only be done the coming weekend, and my student worker is quitting before then!


I’m getting overtime!

So who wants to help me spend that money by going for yum cha at 10:30-ish on Sunday at Joy Tsin Lau?



   Posted by: Livia N    in economics, Food

Even though I have food frozen for lunch, it is an act of will almost every single day not to go out to eat.

The tasty Mexican place across the street is half price from 2-4pm.

I have 18 minutes in which to cave to temptation.

Read books
Element of Fire by Martha Wells

I really liked this book, but I spent the entire time I was reading it wishing it were Science Fiction instead of Fantasy. See, one of the things I like most about some of this author’s other writing is that she writes science fiction that is believably otherworldly where I am neither pointing the the earth culture some author blatantly ripped off nor am I wincing at the implausible technobabble. Her stuff is the closest to good hard sci fi that I have read in a while. So I went into this book looking for that itch to be scratched, and I got fantasy.

Still, there’s wonderful political intrigue, and an amazingly understated and limiting system of magic that feels wonderfully plausible. Every single character has dimensions and motivations and regrets. I ended up wanting to spend a good deal more time in this world.

The Wizard Hunters by Martha Wells

Luckily, I already had another book set in the same world as Element of Fire. Only this one – is set in the future of the other book – possibly a steampunk future. So there’s that rich texture of fantasy, but the magic has faded a bit in the way of technology and there are whizzing gadgets and whamframits and legacies of wizards and the ways different cultures have been shaped by developing in a world with magic. It’s almost an anthropological study, but it’s also swashbuckling and quirkiness. There are so many elements in this world, but they are all clearly defined and interesting and I need to go buy the next two books in the trilogy right away.

Watched movies

There were times when I was grinning uncontrollably, thinking, “Awwww… Neil Gaiman, your message is showing.” Geek boy makes good! People love you, even if you’re different! Overconfidence will do you in every time. N’awww!

But aside from that, totally aside from Neil Gaiman’s input, this was an awesome movie. The visuals were stunning! The acting was wonderful – there was just the right balance of scenery chewing and subtlety. And I have never seen costuming and special effects work together so well before – with the way they did the witch’s magic, her incredibly awkward dress totally worked because it matched the smokey magic effect and made it looks like she was trailing off into vapours at the edges – and both were enhanced by the other. I loved that the pretty pretty princess looked like a real person, and beautiful. I loved that one of the essential parts of becoming a hero was acquiring Keanu Reeve’s hair – I had never understood before. Robert De Niro was great, but I really wanted to squish his first mate’s cheeks – who was he? OH! – well, this movie really suited him.

Kiss of the Spider Woman

This movie has been available for me to watch ever since it was released and we had a copy on Beta. Finally got around to it.

First off. I hate William Hurt. Far too many times, I have gone into a movie really excited that it will have John Hurt in it, only to be tricked into having to watch William Hurt, instead. Not a fair substitution, I tell you! I think he managed to single-handedly ruin the last third of History of Violence, which would have been one of my favorite movies, if only they had cast someone other than William Hurt. I don’t like his voice, his mannerisms, the way he manages to be smugly modest, and he has stupid hair. Or I might just be projecting that all because I am bitter that he isn’t John Hurt.

And the movie starts off with William Hurt’s voice talking painfully slowly he’s really savouring his own nasal tone, and I almost turned it off right there. But my mother has been trying to get me to watch this movie for years, so I kept going.

I sure was glad that my closest neighbors have moved because I was a bit embarrassed at times to have, “Faggot,” shouted out through my windows so frequently – not a polite movie.

But it was a good movie. I liked how the characters developed and didn’t compromise. I liked how the story was built up in layers that seemed superficial but weren’t.

I have an urge to rewrite bits of it. On the other hand, I like that I have to fight the text at that point.

Baked… badly
Saga of the whole wheat banana peanut butter chocolate chip cookies

It all started with overripe bananas. And I was going to make banana bread, but I always make banana bread. So I looked through my cookbooks for something new to bake with bananas.

I have checked out from the library a cookbook for Clueless Bakers, and it had a recipe for whole wheat banana peanut butter cookies. What could go wrong?

So I started off following the recipe exactly, and the recipe said that throwing in chocolate chips would cause nothing but good things, so I did that.

The result? Lumpy, grainy, yucky cookies of blech!

I thought back to the best peanut butter cookies I have ever had, and they had been made from a fairly thin batter with melted chocolate drops on top. So I went to the store to buy Hershey’s Kisses, and I set out to thin the batter.

I looked in my fridge and decided that the small cup of vanilla yogurt would be the perfect choice, after all I was planning to put yogurt (plain) in the banana bread, if I made it, and a bit of vanilla would do wonders for the taste. I also decided that a teaspoon of powdered ginger would also do wonders for the taste, so I added that.

The batter was thin and spread out just the way I wanted, but it didn’t get crispy at all. The outside was cooked, but the inside was still mushy – and they were thin now!

Apparently, yogurt was the wrong choice. When I called my mother to whine about my cookies, she said that I should have used an egg but that a dairy product would trap too much moisture.

The Hershey’s Kisses were also not as charming as the chocolate drops made special for the other recipe because they didn’t melt – the just got a bit droopy around the edges but maintained their shape perfectly even after baking. Creepy. Possibly, I should have been tipped off by the paper tags under the foil that said, “Oops,” and, “I hate Mondays!”

At least the dough was tasty. If it weren’t for cultural indoctrination against salmonella, I’d prefer to eat most cookies as dough.

Nevermind, I packed up the entire lot of them and left them in the staff room for people to try.

I’m good at savoury food, but for some reason I am bizarrely incompetent at baked goods.

ETA: The free cookies at work were not tempting enough at all – at the end of the day, I ended up throwing out half of them.



Soup follow up + meatballs

   Posted by: Livia N    in dubious, Food, non-vegetarian, Recipe, soup

Yesterday, I had soup issues.

It was far too hot last night to try to deal, so I got leftover pasta & meatballs from the deli counter – and somehow my local grocery store managed to almost exactly reproduce the flavor of Chef Boyardee.

Anyway, the weather broke overnight (now the high is only 90, and not nearly as humid), so I did some tinkering. Orzo was a brilliant suggestion, unfortunately I didn’t have any and my brain had already substituted Arborio rice for orzo, so rice went in instead of rice-shaped pasta.

I also added some ketchup and a dash of cayenne because ketchup is just like tomato paste, except with sugar and vinegar, and those sounds like things that might perk up the flavor, too.

I’ll be testing that hypothesis tonight.

So now I just have the following perishables in my fridge:
1/8 of a head of cabbage
1 zucchini
and some stock.

I reboiled the stock, so it’s good for another week in the fridge.

I’m thinking that carrots, zucchini, and cabbage would make a pretty nice thai stir fry with Prik Khing paste. And then I think I’d put that over noodles instead of rice because I have a box of noodles I want to finish up.

Meanwhile, I bought a package of ground turkey because it was less than $2/lb (my requirement for buying meat). So I seasoned it with the last of my roasted garlic, some worcestershire sauce, ground thyme, ground nutmeg, and ground white pepper. I debated putting some crushed mustard seed in because Penzey’s has that listed as an ingredient in their Bratwurst seasoning I’ve been meaning to try – but I chickened out of putting it in.

So, took that and made up hamburger patties, wrapped them in waxed paper, and put them in the freezer in freezer bags.

After I had filled two bags (10 patties), I added some bread crumbs and a little more than half of a scrambled egg, and made meatballs. The finished meatballs almost all fit into a little pint container. I was forced to eat the stragglers. *MMmmmm*



Oh noes – Wimpy Soup!

   Posted by: Livia N    in dubious, Food, Recipe, soup

I made a Soupe au Pistou this weekend to be my dinner-that-would-only-require-a-microwave-since-it-is-icky-hot-here for the entire week.

Only it it weak. Limpid. A bit lacking in flavor and body.

And I suspect it’s because the recipe I was working from required tomato paste, and I left it out because 1) I had none, and 2) there are many pistou recipes that don’t call for tomato paste.

That’s not something you can add after the fact, is it?

What else can I do to give my soup some character?

Suggestions from comments: cook the tomato paste in some bacon grease and add it, throw in some orzo, a dollop of sriracha, Pasta, some herbs, cornstarch

A friend of mine at work is getting married. So when word came around that there might be a bridal shower, I mentioned that I studied little tea sandwiches in college.

…sadly, this is not much of an exaggeration.

So I am contributing at least part of the food.

Here be menu planning
Limiting conditions:

  • I don’t want to give anyone food poisoning
  • *maybe* a microwave for heating things
  • Everything should come out in one go and appear effortless
  • Guest of honor does not like seafood

Coronation chicken (maybe with sultanas) in parkerhouse rolls with a bit of lettuce
– pre-bought rolls
– container with chicken
– stuff at work

Roasted tomatoes with basil & feta in parmesan cups
make parmesan cups ahead of time, cool, and just put in a plastic bag to transport
– roast tomatoes that morning so they don’t have a chill from the refrigerator and that should be warm enough

Veggie (& Chicken?) stir-fry in wonton cups
– again, make cups ahead and bring in a bag – no not trip on the way to work
– microwave stir fry and fill cups – with as little liquid as possible because that makes for a nasty surprise

[Redacted]’s bacon horseradish dip on triskets
– pretty container that can just be opened and put on a serving tray

And maybe some real little sandwiches, but I don’t have much patience for them.
I think I like this web page for that, and the likeliest suspects are:

  • Cucumber sandwiches
  • Pepper Cheese sandwiches
  • and possibly my own egg salad recipe

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After staying up until dawn reading Harry Potter fanfiction a few nights last week, by Friday everyone who talked to me was noticing that I was starting to come down with a cold – man, did I sound raspy and sexy.

Sadly, that meant canceling my lovely plans in New York because while I might not have yet been sick, I was pretty sure that a 2.5 hour bus ride, partying until late, and then a 2.5 hour bus ride back, might have put me over the edge.

Instead, I spent some time socializing with the cats I have been sitting on while their owner has been at Pennsic.

And then around 3:30ish on Saturday, I got a call from my mother that one of the department stores at a local mall was closing one of its two locations there – and things were on clearance. So we met up at the mall for some looting and pillaging before dinner.

I found two lovely large bowls, and I went for the one with a pretty color and a slightly sturdier feel. Turns out it’s designed by Calvin Klein – not sure that would have been a factor in its favor, if I had noticed before I bought it. Anyway, here is the lovely thing. $12 My mother has custody of it for now because I’m not sure where to store it. I’ve started thinking that I should start putting together a dowry for myself when I marry a larger house.

And then there were some small dishes that go perfectly with my black bowls from Target. I grabbed 9 little ingredient/dipping sauce and 5 of the little square plates you see in the bottom left of the picture here. The little bowls nestle nicely in the corner of the square plates, and I am having a craving to have people over for small plates… especially now that I have steamer baskets and a hankering for massive quantities of dim sum (I blame Vancouver).

Right – so who wants to enable me some time by coming over for a dinner made out of appetizers?


food front

   Posted by: Livia N    in experiments, Food

It has been too hot to cook, so I made soup/stew at night over the weekend and have been making that last.

I had half a cabbage and (what I thought was) a spaghetti squash in my produce drawer, so I came up with a daring plan to try to make another soup/stew with the two of those, some ham, and chicken stock.

When I went to cut up the squash, however, it turned out to be a random asian melon.

It made a rather wonderful breakfast, but it was a surprise.