Archive for February, 2009

Dessert plans acquired!

There should be a vegan baked goods option – \o/!

and a cake-type baked goods option.


That and a bunch of fruit and some whipped cream should be decent after a big dinner, yes?

I’m thinking of making truffles and poached pears, too, but they’ll probably accompany the vegan cupcakes. Eee! plating!


Origin Myth

   Posted by: Livia N    in Food, historical

My friend, Cee, asked me to ramble on about my interest in food and cooking.

I learned to cook from my mother (because my father not only doesn’t cook much, but also doesn’t like most food), and she would measure ingredients with her hand and her eyes. To teach me how to make (not particularly authentic) curry, she would pour the flour into my hand so that I could get a feel of how much went into this particular recipe. And she did that many times before she ever let me make it on my own. Huh – and that recipe isn’t on my food blog yet. Good to know.

But I really got into cooking when I started Weight Watchers in high school and all of a sudden that standard rotation of dinners weren’t what I needed. I tried new foods, new cooking methods, and all kinds of new recipes.

And then what really got me confident in my ability to work from concepts to finished dishes was Highlander. See, there was this terrible episode called “Through a Glass Darkly.” The main plot would have been decent if it hadn’t been filmed in a tediously repetitive way. But the subplot! The subplot had my favorite character recovering ancient manuscripts (on white A1 office paper, but moving on) that had gotten damp in a church cellar or something. There was a discussion of a Roman cookbook author named Apicius and a dish called Lentils and Chestnuts, which looked like road tar but tasted delicious. And my mother and I heard that – and looked at each other – and then promptly went to the internet to see if this was random silliness or a real thing. And we ended up with a terrible translation and the discovery that Apicius just lists ingredients and doesn’t actually tell you quantities or really many details at all. And about half of the recipes ended with the direction, “If anything is missing, put it in,” which is rather like, “Adjust seasoning to taste,” only much more vague. So my mother researched how to obtain or substitute for the ingredients. And she bought a couple books on herbs (before then, it had just been thyme. No, really, just thyme. Dried, ground thyme. And salt. But we eschewed black pepper, too). And it was all a very dubious process – with both of us almost losing fingers to the chestnuts, and far more vinegar that the single capful we used for deviled eggs (which was the whole reason we even owned the 1 bottle of white distilled vinegar in the first place). And then halfway through, all of a sudden, you could smell the flavors coming together and turning into food. It was the most amazing thing ever.

In college, every freshman who is going to work on campus must work in the dining halls. I lasted about a month (with pink eye the very first week I was supposed to work, and then I just gave up and quit once I had mono). But over a couple of the summers I spent working at the library, I picked up additional work with the catering branch of dining services and I loved the fancier side of things and learned a few tricks of presentation (in addition to learning napkin folding in first grade with the gifted program).

Then there were a couple difficult years after college when I was living at home. I loved conspiring with my mother to keep trying new dishes and cuisines, but my father was pining for simple food. He ended up complete rebelling against spagetti because my mother kept putting “green stuff” in the sauce (no, not spinach. Bot even basil. But things like *fresh* thyme) and said that he’d really rather have tomato sauce straight from the can like his mother made for him, if that were all right, please.

And then I moved into my own place. \o/!



   Posted by: Livia N    in experiments, Food

Damn – I love my own cooking.

I could totally convince a chickpea hater (me) to love chickpeas with this thai chickpea dish. It is some awesome.

ETA: My co-workers continue to be philistines who do not get excited over savory foods.

Dear Nigella,

Yes. The purple salad would be slightly better with some fish sauce. Bother, vegetarians. But it’s still very exciting without it. You should try it with beets.

Purple Fingers

To Do List

Cooking with Catladies – experiment 1

  • Thai beet slaw/salad (needs a better name)
    • peel and slice thinly 1 beet
    • shred a complementary amount of purple cabbage
    • halve a purple onion and slice one thinly
    • Jalapeno, seeded, sliced into thin matchsticks (core reserved for stock)
    • make dressing of:
      • 1 clove garlic, minced
      • 2 tsp sugar
      • 1 teaspoon vinegar (still haven’t decided between rice vinegar for the thai theme or red wine vinegar for the color theme)
      • juice of 1/2 lime
      • 1 tsp good olive oil
    • toss together with some generous grinds of black pepper
    • give a further toss with 1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
    • ETA:decided on 1 teaspoon of each kind of vinegar – needs more lime juice!
  • Thai-inspired chickpea taco filling (version 1)
    • Drain a can of chickpeas
    • fry 1 tsp shredded fresh coconut (no really, from a coconut – no sugar added), purple onion, garlic, ginger, cilantro stems, jalapeno flesh in 1 tsp olive oil.
    • Add half the can of chickpeas, juice of 1/2 the lime, 1 bay leaf, and some lime zest
    • Add a mixture of vegetable stock and water and cook until no longer thin.
  • Thai-inspired chickpea taco filling (version 2)
    • fry 1 tsp fresh coconut in 2 tsp olive oil
    • add 1/2 tsp thai green curry paste
    • Add the rest of the chickpeas and a similar mixture of vegetable stock and water
    • cook until no longer thin
  • ETA: Instead of one or the other, it should be both – add some green curry paste to the first recipe to give it a yummy base flavor. And don’t forget to add a little salt in the cooking

Vacuum floor
Hang up stuff in closet
Clean off kitchen table
1 hr pilates

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Cooking with Catladies - March 15, 2009 - a fine dining experience to benefit City Kitties Rescue

This is the second time City Kitties has run this event! But this time, the meal will be catered by ME. (RSVP for West Philadelphia location.) This is a great way to help a good cause while meeting new people and sampling new food. At the end of the night, you leave with the recipes. (Or you can even give me suggestions ahead of time here) And if you play your cards right, you might also leave with a cat. OK, that might not be an incentive, but you know, even Catladies can dream…

(please repost far and wide)
From City Kitties:
Another delicious Cooking with Catladies event is fast approaching! For a donation of $30 or more, you can enjoy a multi-course meal and great company. Check out photos from last year’s mouthwatering events here and here. Reserve your place at the table by emailing info at citykitties dot org. Hope to see you there!


Limoncello (restaurant review)

   Posted by: Livia N    in restaurant, Review

For my birthday, my mother and I went out to lunch as a relaxing Italian restaurant in town. They had a buffet with 8 or so different vegetable dishes. The mushroom were especially tasty. As were the potatoes with onions, peppers, and bacon.


Pita Chips & Tzatziki

   Posted by: Livia N    in hors d'oeuvres, Recipe, sauces, vegetarian

The secret to my pita chips are the awesome thin pitas by local halal grocer carries. Really, extremely thin pitas result in light, crispy pita chips that are more addictive than potato chips.

The ones I buy are made by Soumaya & Sons Bakery in Whitehall, PA.

Pita Chips

So split the pitas open into two separate halves, and brush the bready side lightly with olive oil. And then stack them one upon the other so that both sides end up lightly greased.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Cut the stacks into wedges and lay out a single layer of wedges on a baking sheet.

Mix together the following spice mix:

  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 3/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp powdered garlic
  • a dash of thyme or oregano
  • a dash of sumac (or zatar that has been ground smooth in a mortar)
  • a few grinds of nutmeg
  • a few grinds of pepper
  • just the tip of a knife of smoked paprika, it’s strong stuff

Sprinkle spices over pita wedges. And then sprinkle kosher salt over to taste.

Bake on middle rack of oven until crisp, 8 to 10 minutes.

Tzatziki Sauce

Buy any old cheap brand of plain fat free yogurt, and turn it into awesome yogurt by letting it drain for several hours.

Peel a cucumber. Now it can be any kind of cucumber – I have used the long, fancy seedless cucumbers; regular eating cucumbers; big, fat pickling cucumbers; and, most recently, small pickling cucumbers. Actually, I think my favorite so far has been the small pickling cucumbers because they had hardly any water content. But, honestly, I’ve had great results every time. And the only time I worried about seeds at all was for the very thick pickling one.

So peel the cucumber. Then slice it lengthwise just as thinly as you can. And then the other plane lengthwise, so that you end up with long, thin strips. And then mince all the way down, so that you end up with wee tiny cucumber pieces. Dump them all into the thick yogurt.

And then I will often add about a 1/4 teaspoon of minced garlic from a jar. It’s better from ajar than fresh in this case because it has had a chance to mellow out a bit.

And then maybe a pinch of salt.

And that’s it. By the next day, everything is settled in and delicious.

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Okay, so I am in the planning stages of making a lovely dinner party that will benefit charity. Which charity? City Kitties. As of now, the date is March 15th, but I will make another post when there is a real announcement with a graphic and everything.

Why City Kitties and not PAWS or some local SPCA group? Because while they are also awesome, I was reading back entries of a friend’s (friend from pilates classes) livejournal and came across an entry where they had done one of these a year ago, and it fills the dinner party void in my life. So there.

So here’s the menu planning part (I really would love your feedback and suggestions):


  • We shall provide sangria with the appetizer course, and after that it is BYOB

Appetizers (3-4 of what is listed below based on availability of ingredients)

  • pita chips & tzatziki

    pita chips: (I think I’ll make a separate post about these)

    tzatziki: drain 1 qt yogurt. Peel and finely dice 1 large to 4 small cucumbers. Stir together with 1/4 tsp jarred minced garlic.

  • Sweet potato spears with dipping sauce

    sweet potato spears: toss cut sweet potatoes with olive oil, cumin seeds, powdered garlic, ground coriander, ground black pepper, ground chipotle, and ground thyme. Bake at 400F for 20-35 minutes (depending on size up spears). Sprinkle with salt.

    dipping sauce: Sweet hot Garlic Sauce

  • Asian-style Pickled Cucumber & Carrot

    Peel cucumber in stripes and slice into 2-3mm pieces. Cut carrots into as fine slices as possible. Also cut thin slices of purple onion. Combine in a water-tight container, sprinkle with (citrus-infused) sugar and pure over 1/4c rice vinegar. Shake to mix and let sit 8-36 hours.

Soup (Choice of 1)

  • *Carrot Ginger Coconut Soup

    Heat 1 can of foreign (full fat) coconut milk until the oils separate. Fry asaphoetida, 2 inches minced ginger, and a spice mix made up of (kala jeera, black cardamom seeds, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, black peppercorns, and salt). After 2 minutes, add 20-ish carrots, peeled and cut into large 2-3″ pieces. Add a can of lowfat coconut milk and vegetable stock until the liquids cover the solids. Check seasoning and add salt, pepper, juice of 1 lime, and 1 tsp creamy peanut butter. When thoroughly cooked, blend until smooth. Garnish with ground chipotle, toasted slivered almonds, and possibly arugula

  • Spicy broth with tofu and avocado

    Make my usual vegetable stock with extra garlic and three kinds of pepper (fresh jalepeno, powdered chipotle, dried cayenne). Marinate tofu strips in cumin, chipotle, oregano, and lemon juice. Add tofu to hot broth and garnish with strips of avocado (and maybe fresh red hot peppers).

Main Course – Build your own soft tacos (with optional store-bought tortilla chips?)

  • Beans
    • Curry Black Beans – Sabut Urad Lajawab
      adapted from The Ultimate Dal Cookbook by Mona Verma

      Soak block beans overnight. Heat olive oil and mustard oil in a pan and fry onions until translucent. Add minced ginger, garlic, and seeded jalepeno. After a couple minutes, add turmeric; garam masala; and ground mix of roasted cumin seeds, roasted coriander seeds, and dried chillies – fry a minute until fragrant. Add drained beans, salt, and tomatoes. Cook down. Season with lime juice near the end of cooking and adjust flavors.

    • Kidney Beans

      onions, garlic, jalepeno flesh cooked down. Add kidney beans and 2 cans of stewed tomatoes. Add 1 bay leaf, thyme, oregano, cumin, chili powder, paprika. Cook down until fairly thick and mushy.

    • Thai-inspired chickpeas

      Toast finely shredded fresh coconut in a dry skillet. Add olive oil. Add finely diced purple onion. When soft, add minced garlic, minced ginger, minced jalepeno, minced cilantro stems, minced lemongrass (if available). After 1 minute, add a conservative amount of thai green curry paste. Add chickpeas (from a can, drained and rinsed), lime juice, lime zest, and a bay leaf. After a few minutes, add a mixture of vegetable stock and water and let cook until no longer loose. Let flavors sit overnight.

  • Greens
    • Kenyan Collard Greens

      Cook down thin strips of collard greens in a tiny amount of water/oil. Add vegetable bouillon cube and 5 spice powder. Add diced tomato

    • Asian-inspired Kale – ETA: not served

      Cook down kale and add a mixture of soy sauce, wasabi, minced ginger, and lemon juice.

  • Root vegetables
    • Sweet potatoes

      Roast sweet potatoes and then mash with butter, cumin, chipotle, thyme, oregano, nutmeg, sumac, salt, and black pepper (and maybe a bit of smoked paprika).

      That’s just gilding the lily. Instead, mashed roasted sweet potatoes with roasted garlic and maybe some lime juice to keep things perky. And that’s it.

    • Beet/Cabbage Shred (based on this one)

      Slice beet as thin as possible. Shred purple cabbage. Slice a purple onion thinly. Seed and slice thin matchsticks from a jalepeno or two. Toss together and dress with the following pre-mixed liquid: sugar, finely minced garlic, and a wee bit of minced ginger, rice vinegar and red wine vinegar (equal parts), olive oil, and a decently generous amount of lime juice. Toss together. Grind some black pepper and sprinkle in some cilantro. Toss again. Let sit for 15 minutes.

  • Sauteed onions and peppers
  • Sauteed mushrooms – ETA: not served
  • Cheese
    • hand shredded extra sharp cheddar – ETA: not served
    • queso fresco
  • shredded lettuce, diced tomato, minced purple onion, sliced hot peppers – ETA: not served
  • sour cream and maybe Mexican crema
  • Salsas
  • Guacamole
  • Rice

    1 cup white rice, 1 jar salsa, 1/5 tsp turmeric

Salad – ETA: not served

  • *Carrot & Garlic Salad

    blanch 2 pounds peeled carrots, toss with lemon juice. Roast carrots, 8 peeled scallions, and a head of garlic until tender. Cut carrots and scallions and mix them with the blended mix (roasted garlic, zest and juice of 1 orange, parley, salt, cinnamon, cumin, ground ginger).

  • mixed greens
  • Salad dressings
      Southwestern Ranch

      make a French dressing base (mayonnaise and ketchup), heavier on the ketchup. Stir in 6oz plain yogurt. Add taco seasoning mix from a packet.

    • Sweet Garlic and Cumin dressing

      Roast 2 heads of garlic, and squeeze every clove into a small food processor. Add slightly less than a quarter cup of honey and 2 Tablespoons of good olive oil. Dry Roast 1 Tablespoon of cumin seeds. Add some whole and grind some in a mortar and pestle. Add 2 tsp sweet red wine. Season with salt and pepper. When smooth, taste. When it’s as good as you can make it while still being too strong and a bit too sweet, add cider vinegar until you reach a pourable (but still thick) consistency.


    Note: Adding asterisks to the recipes that need to be tested before the dinner, Anyone interested in tasting some of these things as I go? I especially need someone who likes chickpeas.