Saturday, January 2, 2010

Good Food and Bad Omens

Happy 2010 everyone!

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!

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