Archive for May, 2009


Can’t swing a cat without hitting a coffee shop

   Posted by: Livia N    in economics

So I don’t go to coffee shops all that often because I’m cheap, but I am very much a product of gentrification in that I gain great glee from just knowing that my neighborhood has an abundance of coffee shops. There are significantly more than when I first moved in, and I love it.

And apparently, our local coffee shops are awesome enough that people are making a movie about ’em.

Personally, I looked at the pictures of filming and thought, “West Philly Grounds? That’s a great logo. There should totally be another coffee shop with that logo.”


Another salad – arugula & apricot

   Posted by: Livia N    in Recipe, salad, vegan, vegetarian

On a base of baby arugula, cut fresh apricots into eighths.

Shave fine slivers of purple onion on top.

And thin slices of sharp cheddar cheese (actually, I think a heady blue cheese would be better, but I didn’t have any).

Toast a handful of almond slivers.

Make salad dressing: dip the tip of a spoon into chipotles in adobo sauce and pull out a little sauce. Then acquire an equal amount of chinese mustard (or more, if yours isn’t spicy enough to clear your sinuses). Mix that together with 2 Tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar and 2 teaspoons of sweet red wine. Taste and make sure the adobo is present but not overpowering, and rebalance as necessary.

Throw toasted almonds on top, dress, and eat.

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   Posted by: Livia N    in restaurant, Review

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.


Salad time again!

   Posted by: Livia N    in Recipe, salad, vegan, vegetarian

I made a nifty salad this weekend.

I started with Dole’s Sassy Baby Blend (not from brand loyalty, but because that was the clamshell salad mix on sale that week. Aside from some (not too many) awkwardly non-baby radicchio bits clearly there to same money, it was a good blend).

Then I tossed in some curly parsley left over from making lasagne.

And I sliced in two round radishes.

Then I wen to work on the dressing –

I tossed in the lemon zest left over from making Smitten Kitchen’s Raspberry Buttermilk Cake (note: both the lasagne & the cake were creations of my friend, so I’m not taking credit for them – but they were both very tasty).

Then I added 2 teaspoons of ginger spread (which I loved so much that I will not have to seek it out and buy my own jar) and some apple cider vinegar. Popped that in the microwave for 30 seconds to liquefy it.

I tasted it, and it needed some sweetness and acidity – So I squeezed in a lemon, and it was just about perfect.

Only then, I thought that the dressing and the salad would go well with apples, so I quartered and cored and apple and then sliced it into some remaining lemon juice.

conclusion: I really liked it, but I probably could have added another apple or two (they were small). It had many sharp tastes of early green Spring, but it tied together well and was mellowed a bit by the ginger and sweet lemon juice.

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In the dark days of last winter, my friend gifted me with a sexy olive oil and a small bottle of truffle oil. And I managed in that same evening to mention that I haven’t been putting oil in my homemade salad dressings. *facepalm*

But, really, why is there oil in all of the salad dressing recipes? It doesn’t seem to add much to the flavor. A bit of mustard goes much farther for making the dressing coat the lettuce than oil (especially if your leaves are less than perfectly dry). And it doesn’t add much in the way of umami unless you add more than a couple teaspoons.

So what do I use fancipants oil for? Mostly finishing tarkas, sometimes dipping bread, and also historical cooking for no explainable reason.

In general, it’s when the flavor of the oil will matter.

So there I was with a beautiful bunch of local (to Baltimore) asparagus. And I remembered that one time I made roasted asparagus for a date and it was the best thing ever.

Now, I have a terrible memory. Not only do I forget most things, but also I occasionally remember things that never happened. To this day, I am pretty sure I remember a scene from Blade Runner, which I have been unable to find in any of the versions of the film.

So I have a very distinct memory of opening up The Joy of Cooking and reading up on asparagus. I remember it saying that few people appreciated that the very best preparation for asparagus was roasting it at high heat.

Only, I went to my Joy of Cooking to double check the cooking time and temperature… and there is no mention at all of roasting asparagus. So I checked my other cookbooks to see whether I was mistaken as to the title… nope. I can’t find anyone advocating it, but I swear it was delicious.

So I went ahead and made up the time and temperature.

Roasted Asparagus w/ Truffle Oil

Rinse asparagus and pat dry. Snap off the tough bottoms of the stems (as you do) (Or, you know, cut them).

Okay, so given a choice, I always go for the thinnest asparagus available. Therefore, I didn’t bother with blanching them first. If you are going for thicker stems, there be blanching here. (tip: if you don’t trim the ends off first, you can easily blanch asparagus by holding the woody part and then swirling the tip through the boiling water)

Pop into a 450F oven.

Five minutes later, turn the spears and drizzle with truffle oil.

After another three to five minutes (if you have skinny spears), it should be done. Grab one and munch on it to be sure. Mmmmm – maybe another.

Finish with a sprinkling of salt.



Dining Out for Life

   Posted by: Livia N    in Dining Out for Life, Events/Promotions, restaurant, Review

I try to participate in Dining Out for Life every year, but I often end up too busy or distracted.

Well, this year I managed to go out for both lunch and dinner!

Oddly, however, there must have been a shortage of volunteers this year as neither venue had someone stopping by the tables to talk about the event, nor were there envelopes with the check to encourage you to donate even more to HIV research.

Lunch – Pod
I had been there once before for dinner for a Dining Out for Life and had ended up with mediocre sushi off of their conveyor belt. But I tried it again because it really is quite convenient to where I work. (I have been told since that other people manage to really enjoy their sushi and that my experience was unusual.) This time, I ordered from the menu.

Despite being told that the mushroom fried rice was exceptional, I was distracted by the Thai Chicken Salad (Thai chili dressing, avocados, peanuts, oven-dried tomatoes and egg with shredded lettuce and napa cabbage). I ordered it with the dressing on the side, and it ended up delivered dressed – but the dressing was well balanced and the salad didn’t feel wet at all.

Oh, and I also could not resist the chicken potstickers. The dough tasted oddly like a perogie (perhaps it had been cooked down with onions?), but had a nice amount of browning and it was a delicious (though I’m not sure intentional) fusion. There wasn’t regular dipping sauce, only mustard aoli. I was surprised that I did not mind the substitution at all. Yum! If I hadn’t gone with a friend, I would have been tempted to order a second round of the dumplings they were so good.

Dinner – Lemongrass Thai
This was my first time going, and I went with two friends.

We ordered thai iced teas, and this might be the sweetest one I’ve ever had. I’m not saying it was bad, but I did ponder asking for a little more tea to even it out (did not ask, though).

The menu is laid out weirdly: first regional specialties, then chef specials, other entrees, vegetarian options, and then more specials hidden away at the back.

I ordered the Eggplant Stinger (marked with three chili peppers for spiciness – Steamed Thai eggplants lightly sautéed until golden brown, then braised with chicken, garlic, hot chili peppers and fresh basil). It wasn’t spicy at all, but the eggplant melted in my mouth and the overall dish was quite good. The flavors were a bit more muddled than the best Thai places I have been to, but it was very tasty.

One of my friends ordered the Salmon Supreme (fillet of salmon wrapped in grape leaves and grilled to perfection, served with mild Tamarind fruit sauce). The chicken was cooked quite thoroughly, which we both liked and it didn’t have a texture of being overcooked at all. The grape leaves were theoretically edible, but I picked them off of my bite, as they were rather thickly wrapped. It felt as though they should have been using tobacco leaves or something sturdier and smokier. And then the tamarind sauce was lovely – I am taking quite a shine to light/sweet-ish tamarind sauces these days.

And my other friend ordered the Masaman curry* with chicken (rich red curry peanut sauce with coconut milk, onions and potatoes – and three strips of red bell pepper). I think this was probably the best dish of the meal. The cocnut really sang, and it was worth eating until we were overfull.

After the fact, I went and read some other reviews online, and several of them complained about the service. I don’t know what to say about that… our servers were reasonably attentive and my water was refilled frequently, but it was oddly not quite friendly. And they ended up asking my party to leave so that they could seat another party even though we were looking out at a mostly empty room (not the only dining room) and we had only been there an hour and a half (i.e. we were leisurely, but not obscenely so). So I’m not sure on that point.

*note: for more reviews of Masaman curry in the Philadelphia area, it’s a dish that Mac & Cheese talks about.


Waverly Farmers’ Market

   Posted by: Livia N    in Food, travel

I love my local farmers’ market. That said, I get very excited whenever I have a chance to visit Baltimore and go to the one in Waverly.

There are a wide variety of prepared foods – from the Curry Shack to the mango sticky rice vendor. Oh, and there was a woman there this last time whose soups looked delicious, but I was on my way to brunch after.

My prepared food purchase this trip was some granola. I wandered over to Michele’s Granola and was drawn to taste the Ginger Hemp, and didn’t even bother to try to others before buying. The ginger flavor could be more pronounced and I would still be happy. But it’s gluten free, so it’s fully of many different seeds and toasted coconut, and it has this nice woody taste. I’ve been especially enjoying mixing it with dried cranberries.

And then I bought butter. Seriously, I’ve been wanting to gush about this farmers’ market for about two weeks now, but I held off because I wanted to make sure I had bought my butter first. Sometimes they sell out. South Mountain Creamery makes the tastiest butter in the world. It’s made with pure cream, and they estimate that it’s 42% butterfat. I buy the salted version, and it’s prenty salted and perfect. There are times when I have been tempted to just dive facefirst into the container of butter it is so good. For Passover, there’s usually some need to change things up a bit for the bland boring breakfasts – maybe some matzoh brei or matzoh meal pancakes. Oh, no – I just went through a couple pounds of matzoh with nothing but this butter and considered it a luxury indulgence. So good!

There’s also a woman who goes to the farmers’ market who sells fresh peas and beans. I woke up extra special early so that I’d be able to get there before she sold out (there’s usually a line and swarming and it’s not pretty), only she wasn’t there. I brought a cooler for her peas! I guess I’ll have to hope the season hasn’t passed by the next time I’ll be in the area (mid June-ish).

I did catch the guy who was there selling nothing but his fresh asparagus picked that morning.

What else? There’s one produce vendor who is more awesome than the many awesome produce vendors, but I have no idea his farm’s name, so I can’t link you to him. He’s a real sweetheart, though.

And the people with the ginger and the salsas are always very patient with my taking many delicious samples but never buying anything. Though in the dead heat of summer, their ginger drink will sustain you though your shopping.

And the mushroom people! Wide varieties of fresh mushrooms! I’ve never had a mushroom dish planned, so I’ve never bought from her because I was afraid of wasting the expensive fungus. Maybe, you know, planning around buying mushrooms wouldn’t be a bad idea sometime in the future.

Oh, and there was a new guy! He had his big copper kettle and was popping popcorn right there. It seemed an odd thing to pay for when I have only recently discovered the joys of popping my own, but a friend of mine was telling me that she loves his product and that it keeps for over a week.

So, yeah, I make excuses to see my friends in Baltimore so that I can schedule trips to the farmers’ market.