Cooking. Recipes. I used to follow them to the letter, until I had kids. Then shortcuts started happening, or I didn’t have the exact ingredients, or I just thought it might taste better if…
My husband is still a slave to the recipe, no matter what it may be. Which is better? Someone who follows a recipe down to the last quarter teaspoon of water in the pan, or someone who is creative as they cook?
It all boils down (pun intended) to the recipe itself. The trick is finding the right one – and I still go by instinct rather than solid knowledge when I look for a recipe.
For instance, about three months ago hubby decided he’d make a fish chowder. For some reason I wasn’t home that day, so he found a recipe online and made this chowder. When I got home the next evening, he stood at the stove, reheating his creation from the night before.
“Fix this,” he said to me, and thrust the spoon into my hand. “It was bland and boring last night. Please, make it taste better.”
I sipped. He was right, bland and boring. But once you’ve added the cream to the chowder, there’s not much more you can do to it. I tried; I added creamed corn and some thyme, and a little bit of sherry. That brought the chowder up to not-bland and not-boring, but certainly not the chowder he was trying to recreate (from a restaurant we’d eaten at in Monterey in early March).
Time rolled on, until this past weekend. Fish Chowder, says the husband. I agreed to make it if he bought the fish. And it was my turn to hit the internet for a recipe.
Photo from http://simplyrecipes.com
Most of the flavor of a good seafood chowder comes before you add the fish and the cream. The recipe I ultimately found had all the ingredients it needed to be tasty – olive oil and butter, onions, dry white wine, potatoes, clam juice, Old Bay seasoning and thyme, for starters.
The New England Fish Chowder recipe that I found from Simply Recipes had everything I needed. The interesting thing about this recipe? If I wanted to omit the fish and add shrimp, clams, and crab, that too would taste amazing. Because most of the flavor is in the base of the chowder, not the fish itself. Two cups of clam juice was what it took to make this chowder lip-smackingly good.
The recipe itself calls for Pacific Cod, as its a sustainable fish here in the west. I used Tilapia because it’s cheap. I also, at the last minute, threw in a pound of cut-up raw shrimp just before the Tilapia was cooked – the shrimp cooked up in a minute or so and added nice color to the chowder (and as the shrimp was on special, $5 a pound, I didn’t totally blow the grocery budget).
Overall, it was a winner. We had the leftovers last night, and I didn’t have to do a thing to make it taste better! Oh, and we had a Chenin Blanc wine to go with it. Decent pairing, but I would have preferred an oaky Chardonnay.
Some people may think fish chowder is a funny recipe to make during the summer – but days can be foggy and cool here in June, and sometimes a hearty fish chowder can both warm you up and still make it feel like summer, with that taste of the sea.
What are some of your favorite summer dishes?
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Have you read DEMON SOUL yet? You can find it at Crescent Moon Press or Amazon.com. Happy Reading!
Today would have been my brother’s – um, let me count – 55th birthday, had he lived. The middle boy of Chet and Rosie Cunningham’s three children, Scott was an amazing brother.
Oh, who am I kidding! He was four years older than me, and as such terrorized me regularly – once I was old enough to bug him incessantly, that is! We bickered over stupid stuff like siblings often do. Yet he also was patient when he showed me how to drip candles into water to make medallions, and answered my seemingly unending questions about his tarot cards.
But he was truly an amazing adult.
We shared an apartment for a few months – he was 22, I was 18 – but I was rarely there. Within six or seven months I was gone, off to dance for the Arizona Ballet Theatre.
I don’t have a lot more to say about Scott, except that I miss him. I miss his biting wit, his terrible puns, and his out-of-the-blue phone calls. I’d love his take on the political situation in the world today. And I miss his presence.
So that’s why, today, I’m calling it out. Happy Birthday, Scott Cunningham. Love you. Miss you.
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His books continue to sell, 18 years after his death. You can find them at Llewellyn Worldwide’s site.
My good friend Kat was kind enough to invite me to her girl’s wine night a few weeks ago. Since I’d just started this feature here at the blog, I commandeered the night and suggested we each bring a bottle of red wine, under $10 of course. (The next day, I apologized – but the die had been cast and all was set.)
These gals are old friends, and have been gathering on a semi-regular basis for a few years to drink wine and eat nibbles and talk about everything under the sun. I was the beginner infiltrating their ranks. While I had some surprises in store, I think it went very well in the end.
I arrived at 4:30 sharp with my bottle to find Patti there before me and Kat dealing with a passel of kids (Patti and Kat’s daughters are in dance class together). Soon Kelly arrived (who was Kat’s daughter’s kindergarten teacher, if I’ve got this straight…) and all the wine was there. Four bottles. Four women. Lots and lots of yummy finger foods spread out on the table in front of us. I suggested to Kat that we open all the bottles and allow the oxygen to at least start the airing process. I glanced at the clock – almost five.
At any rate – let’s get to the wine, shall we? We went from the lightest to the heaviest.
Wine #1: Estancia Pinot Noir, 2009 Monterey County, Pinnacles Ranches Normally $14.99, on sale at Vons for $9.99
On the Label: “Displays luscious berry flavors, spice and a rich, supple finish.” The winery’s website here.
This wine gave me a handle on the women I sipped with. One loved it – it was light in flavor and easy for her to drink. Another one was so so about it – neither loving nor hating it. The third found it unremarkable, and easy to forget. Me? It made a nice sipping wine. It didn’t need food. All in all, a nice, undemanding wine to start the evening.
My Rating: ~Drinkable~
Wine #2: Clos du Bois, 2007 Shiraz, North Coast Regularly $14.99, on sale for $7.49 at Vons.
On the Label: “This spicy, peppery Shiraz tastes of wild raspberries and blackberries with expressive layers of ground pepper and licorice. An approachable wine that pairs well with grilled pork or roast duck.”
The pepper was there, the color was gorgeous – a nice, deep ruby. We didn’t taste the berries in the wine, but it went great with cheese and crackers. A good food wine.
The consensus: Three of us really liked it, especially at almost half price. The fourth found it too big and bold a wine.
My Rating: ~Very Drinkable~
Wine #3: Santa Rita Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Do. Valle Del Maipo – Chile, 2008 I don’t have a cost on this, but I know it was under the $10 limit.
On the Label: “Superb quality and craftsmanship are the hallmarks of Santa Rita, one of Chile’s most admired and innovative wine estates. Ripe black fruit, plums and herbs.”
By this time we’d gotten comfy. Shoes were kicked off, hair let down, and we were chatting nine to the dozen. The wine got a critical reception and I’m not sure if it was because I kept dragging the conversation back to it, or because of the topic I’d interrupted (something about men, of course). At any rate, it wasn’t as well received as the Shiraz. It needed more airing, said one person. It had a funny aftertaste, said another. It’s better with food – especially meat, I said after stuffing a slice of salami in my mouth.
The consensus? Perhaps it needed a couple more years, or an aerator, or a big meal of steaks and potatoes and candlelight. But I got the feeling that none of us would necessarily rush out and buy a bottle.
My rating: ~Drinkable~
It wasn’t until after that third wine that I looked around. Six p.m. Kat’s hubby had come and gone, wrangling their sons. Patti’s hubby came to take the girls to dance, and vowed to be back to pick her up so she didn’t have to drive. We were even more comfy, dug deep into cushiony couches or chairs, sipping and nibbling for all we were worth. I sent out a tentative feeler. “So how late does this go? I’ll need to make dinner for my family tonight.”
Three people sent me shocked looks. “Dinner?” “No way.” “They can fend for themselves for one night.” “We’re here until about nine.”
Gulp. Nine? As in p.m.? I’d told my family I’d be home around 6:30p. Seriously? These were hard core wine night gals, for sure! I knew then I couldn’t begin to keep up. I also felt like I’d stepped in it, but as I poured the last wine I was totally forgiven as the conversations started up again.
The fourth wine we tasted was from Kat’s special stock and I believe was the reason they got together to drink wines to begin with, to share the wine. She belongs to a couple of wine clubs, and a good bottle of wine is a terrific reason to have a wine night. Can’t say I disagree with her! So, for the first time I will profile a wine that is over – WAY over – $10 a bottle.
Wine #4 Bridlewood Zinfandel 2005 Santa Ynez Valley – approx $40
On the Label: “Located in the emerging Santa Ynez Valley, Bridlewood Estate Winery is an artisan winemaking facility focused on making award-winning, Rhone-style wines.”
My first taste of the wine was heaven. I stopped writing words down. Everyone, even the gal who prefers lighter wines, liked this wine. Maybe it was the years on it – a 2005 bottle is hard to find in the grocery store. Maybe it was the Rhone-style production. Maybe it was because by this point, I’d had a full glass of wine? I’m not sure. But we all loved it. LOVED it. The expensive wine got the Wine of the Night designation.
It was a wowser and unfortunately, since I didn’t write down any distinguishing characteristics of it, I can’t pass those on to you. I don’t think you can even find Bridlewood at the local wine shop. I believe it’s one of those boutique wineries, the wines available at the winery or through their wine club exclusively.
While this was a very very good wine, it was not yet in the “slut” category for me (as in, “This is MY wine you slut, get your own!), but I’ve got a post coming up on wines that do hit that category so be on the lookout!
My Rating: ~Very, very drinkable!~ I guess I now have a new category, lol!
Recap: It was wonderful if a bit overwhelming to share four totally different bottles of wine with four totally different personalities. I think, if I’m ever lucky enough to be allowed back, that I won’t schedule anything silly like dinner for the family. And I’ll never again suggest we each bring a bottle of wine – my mouth went on overload.
As usual, this is my opinion and my taste buds. Your taste buds may vary. If you do choose to pick up a bottle on my recommendation, please remember to drink responsibly!
~ Christine ~
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Have you read DEMON SOUL yet? You can find it at Crescent Moon Press orAmazon.com. Happy Reading!
The solstices have always been magical for me, even before I knew what they were. “The longest day of the year.” “The longest night of the year.” Both were magical times in my young mind, spurred on with many, many viewings of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Plus actually dancing in the full length ballet, years ago, with California Ballet Company down in San Diego, way before acting in two different productions of it. But that’s another story.)
Not only are the days themselves somewhat magical, but I also believe its a good time to enact change. Whether in your self, your routine, your environment, it’s the perfect time to shake things up, make things better. Some people use the calendar New Year to do so; others use back-to-school time to make changes. I’ve used those dates, too, but this year the Solstice seems right.
The biggest change for me? I’m going to really, truly believe in myself and go for what I want, which means there’s a story here for you. I’m on Twitter – not a lot, but often enough – and whenever Angela James (Carina Press) finds something awesome, I tend to check it out. Today, she found Tara and Tara’s Story. This so moved me that I sent the link to my closest writing group, the Los Angeles Romance Authors.
But Tara’s story basically built on stuff I’d been processing internally, via a video shared with LARA by Lynne Marshall, a lovely writer and neighbor of mine. And while this video took time to watch, it is definitely stirring and I sent it to my husband and sons, the most important people in my life.
It’s a TED video (I don’t know anything about them, but you might?) and the woman who speaks is funny, passionate, and wonderful.
So, here’s to change, scary as it may be. Here’s to being the most authentic you that you can be. And here’s to living a wonderful, helpful, serving life.
Happy Summer Solstice, everyone!
Pinot Grigio if you’re in Italy, or Pinot Gris if you’re in France, is on an upswing in the United States. Considered the “new Chardonnay” due to it’s rising popularity in the past ten years, it’s an easy sipping wine that can wow both the knowledgeable and the casual drinker. From everything I’ve read, there are no “rules” for Pinot Grigios – they can be barrel aged in oak or stainless steel, left completely dry or with a bit of residual sugar left behind. This will inevitably change the wine from producer to producer, and the color will range from a pale gray to a light pink.
I’m contrasting two very different Pinot Grigios today. A friend, Christine London, poked fun at me and asked when I’d be reviewing Two Buck Chuck; so the next time I happened to be in Trader Joe’s, I picked up a bottle of their Pinot Grigio to give it a taste. Christine, this one’s for you!
Here’s the scoop:
Charles Shaw Winery Pinot Grigio, 2010, California $1.99 at Trader Joe’s. Napa and Sonoma Valley, California Alcohol 12.5% by volume. For more info on the wine maker, go here.
On the Label: The label was uninformative, which in my book is not a bad thing.
My take: Eh. It’s not a bad wine. Please do yourself a favor and drink very cold. If it’s a dinner wine, and I highly recommend it as such, keep it in an ice bucket. It’s got a high acidity level, which cuts through spicy foods well.
If you’re having a party, consider stocking up on this wine as a mixing wine – white wine spritzers on a hot summer day, with a splash of lime or lemon – this wine is excellent for that purpose. If you’re sipping it poolside, make sure you have a sharp cheese and some crackers to go with it as you’ll enjoy the wine more.
In these uncertain economic times, the producers of all the Two Buck Chuck varietals are making wines available to a wide population at ridiculously low prices. If you like them, then your wallet will be ecstatically happy. If you don’t, then the hunt for inexpensive and tasty wine continues.
My rating: ~Drinkable~ especially for the price. I much prefer other wines, but will come back to this one. Maybe it just needs a year in the bottle? I’ll see if I can find a 2009.
Concannon Pinot Grigio Central Coast, 2010 Regularly $8.99, on sale $6.65 at Vons. (Sorry – I couldn’t find a pic of the Pinot Grigio!)
On the Label: “Roots. Rocks. Intrigue. Since 1883, Concannon Vineyard has been handcrafting fine varietal wines from grapes grown along the Central Coast of California, a diverse region that stretches north from Santa Barbara to the San Francisco Bay. We carefully select the most ideal vineyards for growing each varietal and craft this expressive fruit into superb wines.
“The coastal fog blankets the grapes and protects them from too much heat…and too much cold. This allows for gradual ripening, producing aromas and flavors of citrus, melon and honeysuckle. This well-balanced, crisp Pinot Grigio goes well with somked salmon or roasted pork tenderloin.”
My first impression: A friendly wine. Why? It had a screwtop. Oh now, stop it. Don’t lift your nose and sniff. Screwtops make complete sense. Cork is expensive, and can fail. A screwtop can’t, especially when they add a sealer to it underneath the top. From my readings, South Africa and Australia don’t have the same “cheap” connotation for screwtops as Americans do, and they’ve whole-heartedly embraced the screwtop on their wines. I say, good for them! And I hope America soon follows suit.
Now to the wine itself: I could definitely smell and taste the melon and honeysuckle, which surprised me. This is a light, refreshing wine with a zing on the aftertaste, as well as a hint of sweetness to it that makes it an excellent sipping wine.
I paired it with a roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, fresh green beans and a salad and it made the whole meal feel summery and fresh in the heat of the evening.
I find I’m liking Pinot Grigio a lot, and I’ll pick it up when I need a refreshing white wine. Overall it’s a friendly varietal that pairs well with lots of different foods. Several are terrific sipping wines, and they make a nice change from Chardonnay at a summer party.
My rating: ~Very Drinkable~ . A bargain even when not on sale!
REMEMBER: Your tastebuds may vary. What I love, you may hate, and vice-versa. So if it’s under $10 and in your taste ballpark, go ahead and give it a try no matter what I’ve rated it.
Now, weigh in on screw tops. Yay or nay, and why? Is it more romantic, having to uncork a wine?