In some ways, this post has been a long time coming, although it will probably come as a shock to many of you. You've probably noticed that there hasn't been a post around here in a while - 10 weeks, actually. And you also probably noticed that I never did finish blogging about our trip to Italy. So really, if you think about it, it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that this will be the last real post in Liggiland.
Why? Because Liggiland is dissolving. Just like when Czechoslovakia divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Liggiland is splitting up as well (yes, really, it's just like that). The Liggi- and the -land are going separate ways.
Never fear, you won't have to go on living your internet life without my wit and sarcasm. In the next few weeks I'm going to start a new blog. I'm not quite sure what its angle will be, but I'll link to it from here when it's up and running.
In the meantime, thanks for being my constant readers, despite my sporadic posting and eclectic subject matter. I promise you (and myself) that more laughs, good food and stories of the beautiful Juliette's antics are coming soon.
For the second time this month, I appear (with a photograph this time!) in a post over on Not-A-Fortune. We celebrated Chinese New Year in high style, and all our antics were documented for posterity. Not to be missed!
I know, I know, I've been slacking off lately, not posting like I should (I haven't even finished blogging Italy yet!). But maybe I can make up for it with a pseudo post? Go check out my friend's most recent post on her blog, Not-a-Fortune, where she features a (not-a-)fortune I recently received in a cookie at PF Chang's. I promise, it's worth your while.
1) If you haven't had a prickly pear margarita, you've only been half-living life.
2) I'm prone to impulsive little "adventures" that often aren't well thought out - which is what makes them fun, but also sometimes disastrous.
There's a prickly pear cactus at the entrance to my office park. It looks like it's on an easement so it probably doesn't really belong to anyone - or it belongs to everyone. I don't know. I drive past it every day, and for the past few weeks the fruits have been ripening, and I've been thinking, "I really ought to pick those and figure out how to make some prickly pear syrup and then have some margaritas." But it's always on my way into the office at 8am, and I always forget about it five minutes later. I left work early Friday afternoon to run a quick errand, and on my way back in I saw the cactus again and decided to finally get those fruits. There's no shoulder, so I just pulled up on the curb (bad idea #1), put the hazard lights on, and hopped out of the car. I scrambled up a little embankment (another sign this was doomed) and got to the cactus. Now, I was totally expecting spines on the cactus pads. I was prepared to avoid those. I was artfully bending around 2-inch long spines and I grabbed one of the fruits, and it hurt. And I thought, "Dammit, I thought I avoided those spines, I need to be more careful." I picked the fruit and tossed it in my little bag and grabbed another. And another. And another. And every time, it hurt. So, I looked down at my hand and there are these little, tiny, hair-like things (which I now know are called glochids) sticking out of my skin, like splinters. So I touched one with my finger tip, and it HURT. And I tried to pull it out, and it hurt even more. I looked more carefully at the fruits and realized they're completely covered in these sharp little things. I paused for a moment, considering my options: I could quit with my meager harvest of four prickly pears and and have nothing to show for it, or I could forge ahead and at least make the pain I've endured thus far worthwhile. Being absolutely brilliant, I went with the latter. A couple dozen pilfered prickly pears and a whole lot of cursing later, my right hand was so covered in these things I could barely grip the steering wheel with that hand anymore, and I'd managed to stick myself in about four different places with the bigger cactus spines as well. But, I had my prickly pears, and I will have a margarita by the end of the weekend, dammit.
I hope you all enjoyed ringing in the New Year. Mr. L and I are notorious homebodies, so we decided to stay in and have our own low-key celebration, which revolved around food (of course). Mr. L experimented by making some lowfat jalapeno poppers, while I made Cioppino. If you're not familiar with this soup, it's an Italian-American tomato-based seafood stew that originated in San Francisco. A Bay Area classic. And The Gourmet Cookbook has a great recipe for it, but it calls for a full 5 1/4 pounds of seafood! As you can imagine, this gets expensive pretty quickly, especially if you're going with sea scallops and halibut and crab, not to mention that not everything they call for is always available. So my general rule of thumb is to get whatever is freshest and looks best that day. Below is the version I fixed for New Year's Eve, but you should definitely feel free to change it up based on your own tastes and your fish market's offerings.
Cioppino (San Francisco-Style Seafood Stew), adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook Serves 6-8 (I'm willing to bet you love it so much, you only get 6 servings out of it)
1/4 cup olive oil 2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped 4 large garlic cloves, minced 1 Turkish bay leaf or 1/2 California bay leaf 2 teaspoons fresh oregano, minced, or 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice 2 tablespoons tomato paste 1 1/2 cups dry red wine 1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes, drained (juice reserved) and chopped 1 cup bottled clam juice 1 cup chicken stock 1 pound littleneck clams (about 2 inches wide), well scrubbed 1 pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded 1 pound red snapper fillet (or other firm white fish), cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces 1 pound bay scallops 1 1/2 pounds Fruta de Mer (a medley of various seafoods, including calamari rings, scallops, clams, and shrimp - often cheaper and an easy way to get a mix of a lot of different seafood) 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil, plus additional for garnish A loaf of good, crusty San Francisco-style sourdough
Note: Some people will tell you that cioppino is not complete without crab. Gourmet calls for 1 (1-pound) king crab leg, but most San Franciscans would probably go with Dungeness if it's available. Good Pacific crab costs an arm and a leg here in Texas, so I went without.
Heat oil in an 8-quart heavy pot over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, bay leaf, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, until onions are softened, about 5 minutes. Add bell pepper and tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add wine and boil until reduced by about half, 5 to 6 minutes. Add tomatoes, with their juice, clam juice, and stock and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Add clams and mussels to stew and simmer, covered, until they just open, 5 to 10 minutes, transferring them as they open to a bowl with tongs or a slotted spoon; discard any unopened clams or mussels (if they don't open, they've gone bad and you shouldn't eat them!). Lightly season fish fillets, scallops, and Fruta de Mer with salt, add to stew, and simmer, covered, until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf.
Return clams and mussels to pot along with any accumulated juices and gently stir in parsley and chopped basil. Serve cioppino in large soup bowls, garnished with additional basil, and accompanied by good, crusty sourdough bread.
And after all that work, you get this:
Look at all that yumminess in a bowl!
You might wonder why, if the soup has tomatoes and red wine in it, the broth isn't redder. In all honesty, I don't know. I can tell you that it was much redder until I added the clams and mussels. Perhaps they released some of their own juices and diluted the tomato-wine base? At any rate, it still tasted excellent.
For dessert, I finally made a recipe I've been dying to try for years now: Giada's Chocolate-Hazelnut Ravioli. Think about it for a moment: raviolis, filled with Nutella and deep fried to golden brown deliciousness. Yeah, it's about as incredible as you think it is.
I didn't make any major modifications to Giada's recipe, although I will say that I didn't think the sugared mint leaves added anything to the taste, and 45 seconds per side is a little long on the frying time - I'd recommend closer to 20 seconds per side.
All in all, a pretty solid end to 2009. And then, 2010 came along and mucked it all up.
It's early afternoon on New Year's Day and I decide to carve myself a slice of that nice crusty sourdough I picked up to go with the cioppino. Except it's a day old and extra crusty now. And my knife slips and goes straight into the tip of my left index finger. Like, nearly through it. At first I don't realize how bad it is, just that it hurts, so I grab a paper towel and apply pressure (those years of Girl Scout training really stuck with me). And Mr. L comes running, because of course I screamed like a girl, and then he goes and gets the band-aids, and I immediately know those aren't going to cut it. So I call my mom and ask, "Mom, how do you know when you need stitches?" (the call every mother just loves to receive, I'm sure), and she advises I go to the emergency room post haste. So we drive to the ER, with Mr. L speeding the whole way ("it's just a flesh wound!" I remind him), where we proceed to sit for a few hours, and I start to feel like a clumsy moron.
Trust me, it looked much worse in focus.
And then a much clumsier moron arrived in the ER - he had cut the tip of his finger clean off and was carrying it in a plastic bag with ice. For reals. How's that for a well-timed ego boost?
At first the nurse practitioner seemed unimpressed with my wound, and I found myself trying to impress upon her how bad it was ("It's kinda sealed itself back up, but if you pick at it you'll see it's deep and it'll start bleeding again. See?"). But once she started cleaning it and opening it up to inject the local anesthetic (which was the most painful part of the whole thing, I might add - I made Mr. L hold my other hand and grimaced the whole time), she seemed much more impressed with my handiwork ("It's deep, like you said." "Told you."). The best part of the ordeal was that I'm pretty sure I heard her tell Mr. L that I'm not allowed to do any housework whatsoever for at least 3 months, or until I feel up to it, whichever comes second.
Mr. L says I look like I have one of those foam fingers you see at football games.
I say I look pitiful.
Souvenirs! I'm pretty sure "NKDA" stands for "this one's in pretty bad shape and we might have to amputate."
After four hours and four stitches (an astounding average of one stitch per hour), we headed home. On the bright side, Mr. L will be doing all the bread slicing for a while, as well as dishes and laundry (I convinced him we still launder by hand and since I can't get my hand wet I'm just not able to help out!).
While the start of my 2010 was definitely inauspicious, I hope you all started the year out on a much more positive note!