May 4, 2009

Weekend Roundup - Vesper and Cioppino

Ours was a relatively unscheduled weekend, though K had her high school placement exam on Saturday, which (according to her) went well. I'm not sure how valuable self-assessment is on those tests; I have noticed that in my own standardized test-taking I am very confident of my answers when I'm correct and when I'm far off. That's a post for another time.


Maggie and I have decided that we'd like to eat more fish. We both need a way to get more protein without introducing so much cholesterol-inducing fat. The benefit to you, dear reader, is that you may be treated to a seafood dish the next time you're around at dinner time. That is, if I can get confident cooking fish.

To that end, I took K with me after her test to Borders to pick up a cookbook that focused on recipes and techniques for cooking seafood. After a quick on-line search, I settled on Fish Without a Doubt: The Cook's Essential Companion. It looked like the focus was on relatively simple, but versatile recipes. There are lots of sauces and such that can be applied to a number of different fish, and each recipe includes substitutions. Of course, I like to make my own substitutions.


Maggie is spending a good deal of her time studying math. She's very industrious. She'll be taking Linear Algebra at the beginning of the summer and I told her I'd study along with her class. She's tried to get me to look at the book in advance of the class, as she is doing, but I have thus far resisted. I will be having enough fun this week with my PME (Psychology of Math Education) reading I expect to be assigned at any moment.

The Market

I can't stand visiting the supermarket on the weekends. Specifically, I'm talking about Stop & Shop. There's nothing more frustrating that pushing around a carriage that pulls aggressively to the right while trying to circumnavigate people who are standing still, staring off into the distance. Here is a list of the most challenging obstacles you may encounter at the market:

  • The women having a lively social hour in front of the meat counter and their husbands looking lost and bored two or three steps away.
  • The person who seems to be leaning on his carriage more than actually pushing it.
  • The three forlorn carriages arranged at the end of the aisle, and their sprightly owners who are rushing back to them as you push past.
  • The "caravan": a family that uses more than one carriage and moves around as a unit. Understandable when they're buying enough groceries to fill 2 carts, inexplicable otherwise except possibly that the children need something to do.
  • The woman tasting the grapes when you need to get to the electronic scale. (Hint: they taste like grapes. I've never understood this. One white seedless grape tastes like every other white seedless grape you've ever had. Perhaps she's just trying to keep her blood sugar up.)

You know who generally doesn't bother me at the market? Kids. You'd think kids would be annoying in the market, but the ones I notice the most are the ones who elicit a smile because they have either said something cute or they have decided to try to strike up a conversation with me. These are the ones too young to be out of the child seat.

"Hi!" "Hi!" "Hi!"

Say "hello" back and you'll get a huge grin. Gets me every time.

But there are the annoying variety of kids as well, usually at the checkouts. These are the ambulatory variety. Since I use the hand scanner, I want my checkout experience to be quick. I had to resort to one of the lanes with a cashier because I was buying town garbage bags. Besides, the self-serve "12 items or less" aisle was occupied by a fellow who was frantically trying to stuff half of his 40 plus items in bags so he could scan the rest of his carriage-full.

In my aisle I was quickly joined by a family whose presence I noticed because one of the children was tapping on my back while the other was pulling on my jacket. I turned around and was treated to the sight of a pretty motley group. The runts pushed past me and began molesting the poor older gentleman in front of my carriage while they fingered the tabloids, magazines and the candy rack before the matriarch of this brood recalled her progeny, prompting them to push past my carriage again.

I decided to place the carriage between myself and these folks, so I moved in front. The kids took this to mean they could push my carriage, and so the whole family moved up, the kids gripping the cart handle with both hands and their lips. This is why I keep hand sanitizer in my car.

They were pushing on the cart, so I had to plant myself to prevent encroaching on the gentleman to my right. The mother was looking through one of the gossip rags, and the presumable father had moved around to the end of the aisle where he made himself an obstacle as he stood, slack-jawed and glassy-eyed. Sir, I feel your pain.

The older kid pushed past my carriage and me once again, which was fine with me. He was off to bother someone else; the father (ineffectively) played verbal goalie with him as I paid for my order. It was a horror show.


I decided to make the scallop cioppino recipe from the above-mentioned book. It is one of the easier recipes and gets much of its flavor from bell peppers and clam juice. I decided to substitute cod for half the scallops, because Georges Bank scallops are pricey, I like cod, and I didn't want to buy the Chinese kind. Support local scallops!

(Which reminds me, I need to find a decent fishmonger in the area. I'm just not hooked into the local fish purchasing scene, which is half the problem with my lack of seafood expertise. A good cook needs a good fishmonger. Little help, anyone? Who should I be talking to?)

The cioppino was a success, if a teeny bit too spicy (my fault for augmenting the chilies with red pepper flakes). Quite flavorful over linguine. Next time I'll serve it over rice, perhaps with a sourdough bread like they do in San Francisco.


Calmed myself down with a Vesper martini. Here's the recipe I used:

  • 3 oz gin
  • 1 oz vodka
  • 1/2 oz Lillet Blanc
  • 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Shaken over ice. I skipped the "fruit" (twist of lemon). It's as strong as it sounds. I don't know how James Bond is supposed to have ingested 6 of these over the course of a night (in Quantum of Solace). By my calculations, 6 of these is equivalent to 3/4 of a case of beer. Yikes. That's 3 six packs.

One of these is enough, which is the normal number to consume, according to Bond:

Gosh, that's certainly a drink,' said Leiter.

Bond laughed. 'When I',' he explained, 'I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold, and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink's my own invention. I'm going to patent it when I think of a good name.'

One of my favorite lines from Casino Royale (the film) is when the bartender asks him if he wants his martini shaken or stirred. Bond replies "Do I look like I give a damn?" He was a little touchy after the poker tournament.

Posted by James at May 4, 2009 9:39 AM
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I love fish. That's why I hardly ever use a recipe. I just bake or broil it plain, or with maybe a little lemon juice, olive oil, and some light herb (dill or chervil). It's pretty easy: it flakes easily when it's done.

Chervil's probably not worth buying, but it grows under my porch where I casually threw some unwanted seeds long ago. Its light flavor is a good, non-overpowering complement to white fish like haddock and cod and sole.

Dill's better for the tastier tuna, salmon, etc. But I can eat those plain too.

Halibut and swordfish have stronger flavors, and I'd marinate those in mojo criollo or Italian dressing if I didn't like their plain flavor so much already.

Ahhhh. Fish.

Posted by: Julie at May 4, 2009 12:01 PM

The Stranger Molestation Family sounds like they'd make a good poster for birth control.

Your cioppino sounds delish! Too spicy? Is there such a thing? Methinks not.

Posted by: Patti M. at May 5, 2009 8:47 AM

I always guess wrong when I try to figure out how I did on a test. If I think I did well, I've usually done poorly. If I have a lot of doubts, I'm more likely to have done well. I think maybe confidence makes me more error-prone.

Posted by: Julie at May 5, 2009 11:18 AM

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