Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cioppino-AKA Cha-Pee-No

Food, food I love you so.
I will always love you wherever I go.
Food, food you may not know,
But in my life, you play the leading role.
Jing Han  
I like trying to cook something new almost once a week.  It keeps things interesting.  Every once in awhile you have a real disappointment but I find that for the most part if you make a dish full of tasty ingredients you will end up with a tasty end product as well.  Thus was the case for last weekend's new dish-Cioppino (aka-Cha-Pee-No.)  I had tasted this dish back in the fall in Boston at a great seafood restaurant called Atlantic Fish Co.  It was probably the most expensive thing on the menu but I had always wanted to try it.  The menu described it as: San Francisco Cioppino: with lobster, shrimp, clams, fish scallops and mussels simmered in a spicy saffron seafood broth.  And this is how it was served...
Impressive huh?  I knew my version wasn't going to live up no matter what I did (mostly because I wasn't going to buy a whole lobster to split for the top) but I was determined to make it deliver the same flavor punch.

I checked out quite a few recipes online, both for ingredients and procedure, as well as checking some of the reviews and I surprisingly found the most highly reviewed recipe was this one from Rachael Ray.  I guess it shouldn't be that surprising as her show is one of the most popular and therefore her recipes receive a good number more reviews than some of the other ones on that site.  But just because it was well reviewed didn't mean it didn't need a little tweaking.  A few changes I made include:

  • Seafood used: Clams, mussels, shrimp, mahi-mahi filet, bay scallops, and some crab meat.
  • Substitutions-I used fennel instead of the celery, 2 cups chicken stock PLUS 2 cups of seafood stock for some of the cooking liquid (as well as the listed wine-a Pinot Grigio.)
  • I also doubled the amount of crushed pepper flakes.
Here is my prepped food ready to go-I always suggest doing this ahead of time if you are making something complicated.  Not only does it make sure you have everything on hand and ready to go for seamless cooking but it just looks simply cool when you take pictures of it for your blog.
A few other notes as far as the recipe goes.  It took a good bit longer than her stated "30 minutes"-this is normally the case with her recipes and it wasn't a big deal to me.  I let my veggies and broth/tomatoes/wine cook a bit longer than it stated, just to build the flavor up a bit.  Also my seafood took longer to cook-especially the clams.  My clams were fairly large and took a good 13 minutes or more to open.  Luckily with clams and mussels you always know when they are done-they open up, it's basically a no-brainer.  So my seafood addition list went a bit like this: toss in the fish (3 mins), add crab meat (which was already cooked), add shrimp and scallops (3 mins) add clams (3 mins), add mussels (3 mins.)  Problem was that the clams were not open at this point so I had to crank the heat up to high and give it another 5-7 minutes to get the clams open.  Depending on what kinds of seafood you might use you will need to adjust the cooking times accordingly.  At this point I was around 30 minutes past Leslie's requested dinner time, the time I was planning on serving dinner ;) but it was ok.  So here is the finished product:
So not quite as pretty as the restaurant version but a fun dish to make and serve.  I did have lemon wedges and a nice loaf of crusty sourdough bread along side.  Using fewer types of seafood would obviously bring the cost per portion down a good bit and the meal honestly would be just as tasty!  So get out there and try some Cha-Pee-No for yourself!  

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Plant Murder

I've given you sunshine
I've given you dirt.
You've given me nothing
But heartache and hurt.
I'm beggin' you sweetly.
I'm down on my knees.
Oh, please-grow for me!

Unlike poor Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors I'm having excellent luck with my seeds sprouting this year so far.  In fact yesterday I had to commit plant murder.  The green beans are coming up so well that I had to thin them.  
This shot is actually post thinning...I'll probably end up having to thin them again in another few days as it says one plant per 8" is ideal.  Seems a shame after stalking them the last couple weeks that now I have to rip them out.  Poor plants...
In other garden news...the squash and cucumber plants are also coming along nicely.  Once again it says thin to three plants per small mound-3 plants?  I'm going to have to wipe the current sprout population out by 80%.  It says to wait til they are 3" tall so I have a bit before I have to commit plant-a-cide again.
Finally I am excited that after three attempts last year my green onion seeds are sprouting this year.  These seeds were about the size of a grain of salt so I had my doubts (again) but for 50 cents per pack of seeds I figured it was worth a shot and I located them in a slightly more sandy area of the garden.
The sprouts are SO tiny, less than 1/2" tall.  I almost stepped on them not seeing them (and sort of forgetting where exactly I had planted them-oops!)   

So all is good in the backyard garden.  Now my current conundrum is whether I am actually going to put mulch around my plants or not.  I have about 6 bags left I could spread and I keep reading pros and cons to doing it.  I think it would help retain moisture and help with weed control but I do like the clean "dirt" look and when I sit on the ground to pull weeds the mulch is a little ahem scratchy to the posterior.  

Weather forecast is two more days of bright sun and then two days of rain-perfect garden forecast! 

Friday, April 16, 2010

Betrayed By A Number...

Ok maybe not betrayed but I always have had a flair for being dramatic (even if my high school drama teacher hated me.)  So here is a picture of my truck (please excuse the pollen but there is no need to wash until it is finally cleared up.)
Please note the 9 sticker on the rear window and the special order 9 license plate.  Here is a picture from my office...
I also have the following:
  • #9 Bathroom Rug
  • #9 Kitchen Rug
  • #9 Apron
  • #9 Purse
  • 2 ea. #9 Hats
  • 7 ea #9 Shirts
  • #9 Travel Mug
So guess who is changing car numbers?  Yup Kasey Kahne, the #9 will no longer drive the #9 after this season.  Good thing I didn't get that #9 tattoo...

In other news all of the stalking has paid off and this is a view from the green bean section this morning!
Squash, Zucchini and Cucumbers also sprouting, although I did accidentally step on a small mound of them this morning while adjusting the sprinkler-hopefully they are a resilient bunch!  Happy Friday everyone!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Still Stalking & More Planting...

Yup, I'm still stalking for sprouts, nothing yet.  So in the meantime it was time to plant all of the rest of the garden!  The farmer at the end of my street always has a FAB-U-LOUS garden and I noticed he had gone ahead with his peppers and tomatoes so I decided I could as well.  So yesterday was planting-session #2.
Above plants all purchased from Home Depot, which actually had a great selection, fair pricing and the plants all looked extremely healthy.  (As an aside I stopped by a Pike's Nursery today and found their selection to be quite small, labeled poorly and quite unhealthy looking so I was extra pleased with these from HD.)

There is something MUCH more satisfying in planting actual plants rather than planting seeds.  It's all about the instant gratification.  You go from dirt to garden in a mere matter of hours.  See?

It was a little dusky when I finished yesterday evening, gave everything a good watering and headed inside.  I have checked this morning twice for seed sprouting already.  Nothing.  Maybe I should go check again...nope nothing.  Maybe tomorrow ;)

Well that's all to update on the garden front until I have "sproutage" but here is a re-cap of what I added yesterday:
  • 17 Clemson Spineless Green Okra 
  • Flat Leaf Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and German Thyme (why do I feel a song coming on?), Cilantro, Sweet Basil and Greek Oregano (added to the still living Chives from last year.)
  • 1 ea. Big Boy and Better Boy Large Tomato
  • 4 ea. Roma Tomatoes
  • 1 ea. Yellow and Husky Red Cherry Tomato
  • 1 ea. Lemon Boy Yellow Hybrid Tomato
  • 4 ea. Mammoth Jalapeno
  • 3 ea. Big Bertha Bell Peppers
  • 2 ea. Poblano Peppers
  • 2 ea. Red Bell Peppers
  • 1 ea. Yellow Bell Pepper
  • 1 ea. Sweet Banana Pepper
Sushi Night coming up Friday night that I hope to well document!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Gardening for Dummies-by Dummies...

Ok so I'm not a dummy, I rock at Jeopardy.  But I will admit to knowing absolutely NOTHING about vegetable gardening until I planted my first one last year.  Call it good dirt (even though it looked terrible), call it good location, or call it dumb luck but last year's garden was a huge success.  I spent the whole "off-season" thinking and planning for this year.  (See below, last year's garden!)
So I thought I would write just a bit about prep and planting for this year.  (Short disclaimer-you can read all you would like to about scientific gardening, soil tests, planting dates and the like in some wonderful publications from your local extension service.  I'm not them.  There is basically no science to my ramblings, like I mentioned above-dumb luck, and some crossed fingers!)

My first goal was to tackle some of the problems umm, aggravations of last year's garden.  First decision, not to grow corn this year.  This was slightly heartbreaking due to the fact that it honestly was the most fun plant to watch grow and produce.  But it took up about a quarter of my garden space and only produced around 24 ears.  It can also be purchased at my local farmer's market for around 25 cents an ear, so...no corn.  (One of my proudest photos ever-last year's corn!)
Next issue, the weeds.  Now call it a sick hobby but I really didn't mind the weed pulling, something about sweating it out, listening to some music, making the garden look pretty...but they look terrible and you have to stay on top of them.  So this year I am adding some mulch (purchased on sale a couple weeks ago for $1.12 a sack.)  I'm adding mulch around the perimeter and I will mulch around some plants once they sprout.  This should also help with moisture control. (Note mulch perimeter.) 
Last issue for this post-picking the green beans.  I decided last year to plant bush type green beans as I did not want to have to think about how to string up, hold up, or support pole type plants.  A good friend told me I would never plant bush beans again.  He was right.  Picking bush beans just plain sucks, stinks, umm is hard on the back.  So I knew from very early on I would need to construct something to hold up the plants.  I also knew this had to be installed at time of planting as to not disrupt the seedlings once they sprouted.  So may I present to you-the green bean labyrinth.
  • an intricate combination of paths or passages in which it is difficult to find one's way or to reach the exit.
  • a maze of paths bordered by high hedges, as in a park or garden, for the amusement of those who search for a way out.
  • a complicated or tortuous arrangement, as of streets or buildings.
  • any confusingly intricate state of things or events; a bewildering complex. 
The green posts came from the fencing department and already have pre-drilled holes.  I would have preferred they be about 2 feet taller but these were the tallest that already had holes.  The wire is actually coated speaker wire and came in a roll of 500 feet.  It was a little pricey but amazingly cheaper than just plain wire.  There is one more component needing to be added-the vertical stringers.  Once my seedlings are up and thinned I will add rows of vertical string between the wires to help support the plants.

So call this the first installment of Gardening by Dummies...I'm also including a garden tally for what I have planted so far (by the way, constant checking of the garden to see if something has sprouted is normal-this is called seed stalking.  I have been told checking every hour does not help the seeds grow any faster.)--
  • Green and White Bunching Onions-One pack
  • Squash-Zucchini, Black Beauty-Two packs
  • Cucumber-Tendergreen-Burpless-One pack
  • Cucumber-Boston Pickling-Two packs
  • Squash-Yellow Summer Crookneck-Two packs
  • Carrots-Petite n' Sweet-Two packs
  • Green Beans-Stringless, Blue Lake, FM1K Pole-4 packs.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Where Did That Water Come From?

You know the feeling right?  You walk into the house and see a water stained ceiling.  It isn't raining.  It isn't the roof.  Where is it coming from???  We had a small leak/stain (the farthest back mark) back in the SUPER cold snap we had in January.  We thought maybe some ice built up around one of the roof vents and then melted slowly and leaked down.  It never happened again so we were just sort of waiting for a good time to paint the ceiling.  Well luckily that good time hadn't happened yet cause now the ceiling looks like the above picture.  After some investigation in the attic I found this...
Condensation line for the HVAC unit in the attic was broken wide open!!  Now...how enough water sat in that pipe to freeze and break the pipe in January I'm not sure.  So after shutting off the air (which we had on because it is 90 in April-sheesh) and spending an evening pondering the repair...this morning I headed to Home Depot and then I got to it.

What you need for pipe repair-flashlight, towel, butt pad to sit on, pipe cleaner and glue, new pieces of pipe, connectors and joints, a saw, some string, some sandpaper, some scissors, a tape measure, and a cellphone-in case of getting trapped in the attic or something-oh and save yourself some time and lock your cats up because cats playing in the attic insulation is not cool-trust me, ask AJ, he didn't much enjoy it yesterday.

Step One-Remove broken pieces...(tried to do it with a saw but actually with PVC pipe it is easier to use some string, wrap it around the pipe and use a sawing motion to cut the pipe, especially in a tight spot.)  A tip-wear gloves, that string is tough on the hands!

After removing the broken piece I gave the other end (the one laying in the insulation) a very good blow out, and heard a sort of popping and gurgling-which may mean it was clogged and that caused the water to back up and leak, I'm sort of hoping that was the case.  At this point another large piece of piping broke off of the HVAC unit (oops.)  I noticed the piece that came off wasn't even glued to the unit-hmmm.  Well add that to the list of things to fix.  (See below large other misc. broken piece.)

Luckily after that things went fairly smoothly (well except for an extra run to Ace Hardware to get one more connector-but hey only one extra trip out for supplies is not too shabby!) 

A few more notes:
  • They now make these very cool sliding connectors for you to attach two pieces of pipe together-it gives you about 2" of play so that you don't have to have your pieces cut exactly to size-they are about $3 and worth every penny! 
  • After sawing your pipes with the saw or the string, give them a good run over with some sandpaper before cleaning and gluing.
  • When you get a work call on your cell phone pretend you are in the office, not making HVAC repairs in your attic.
$8.26 and an hour and a half later...ta-da!
I'm giving it a couple hours to sit before cranking up the air again...I am woman, I fix stuff!

Monday, April 5, 2010

You Might Be A Gardener If...

You might be a gardener if you laid awake last night wondering if you are choosing the right way to string up your pole beans this year...

You might be a gardener if someone told you that you had a Farmer's tan and you took it as a compliment...

You might be a gardener if you put out 10 bags of this yesterday...

 You might be a gardener if you think a pressure canner would make an excellent birthday gift this year.

You might be a gardener if you have bruises from running this thing, but it was fun...

And finally you might be a gardener if you see this as a bed of endless possibilities...
Happy Seed Planting!