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Just finished a stunning book, The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives (don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read and is reviewed below) and really liked it. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant. Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Fish, on November 21st, 2017.

honey_mustard_salmon_panko_pecan_crust

Looking for a new way to fix an easy baked salmon dinner? Here it is!

It may have been my daughter Sara who told me about a recipe she’d found on Jenn Segal’s website, Once Upon a Chef. Jenn is a full time mom and wife now (now blogger and cookbook writer) but at one time she was a classically trained chef, so she brings a certain amount of perfection to her recipes. She also uses tons of photos for every post. You’ll never have any guesswork about what the different steps look like!

Her recipe for this easy baked salmon was just the ticket for me one night recently. I quickly defrosted a nice piece of salmon and this dinner came together so easily and quickly. First you make up a honey mustard mixture (my honey was quite thick, so I heated it in the microwave briefly) with butter, Dijon, salt and pepper. Since I was making this recipe just for myself, I guess-timated at the amounts, and I ended up with more than I needed. I certainly didn’t want to waste the rest of it (after I’d spread some on the top of the salmon), so, I added a bit of water to it and used it as a deglazing for a pan full of sliced Brussels sprouts. You can see them in the background behind the salmon in the photo.

Salmon Temps:

Current advice says farm-raised should cook to 125°F. Wild salmon is done at 120°F. Reason: wild salmon contains less fat and goes from raw to cooked (or overcooked) more quickly.

Then you make a little mixture of pecans (chopped) and panko. I forgot the parsley, so added it on the top when I served it. You can add it in with this mixture (per the recipe) and just garnish with some additional sprigs. The pan is popped into a hot oven and baked very briefly – 7-10 minutes only, until the thickest part of the salmon has reached 125°F.

There’s been recent discussion about the inherent differences between farm-raised and wild salmon, and to what temperature it needs to be cooked. Chefs (many, not all, I’d suppose) say that wild salmon (which has less fat in its tissue) is done at 120°. But farm-raised, with higher fat, needs to go to 125°F. The FDA says to cook salmon to 145°F. I never cook it that far because it’s dry. In this dish, with a thinner piece of salmon, it was done at 6 minutes, but you’ll want to test it with an instant read thermometer to make sure you don’t overcook it.

brussels_sprouts_honey_mustardThe BRUSSELS SPROUTS: I didn’t use a recipe for this one – I just made it up as I went along! The leftover honey mustard was the inspiration! As the fish was baking, I prepared the Brussels sprouts, and added the remaining honey mustard mixture, (to which I added a little bit of water so the sprouts would steam a little bit) at the very end and tasted it for seasoning. TJ’s sells a package of Brussels sprouts already sliced up – that’s what I used. I greased a large frying pan with a little bit of canola oil, tossed the Brussels sprouts many times, covered it briefly so it would steam-cook a little bit, then when it was nearly done, I added in the thinned-out honey mustard mixture and stirred and tossed. Done. Dinner was finished in a matter of about 25 minutes including the time needed to preheat the oven!

What’s GOOD: how quickly this dinner came together. I truly liked the honey mustard on both salmon and sprouts. You might think the same seasoning on both would be too much – it wasn’t. Perhaps because the Brussels sprouts are savory and almost bitter (although I don’t think Brussels are a bitter green), if you know what I mean. There’s not enough honey or mustard added to the Brussels sprouts to make a lot of difference, but I definitely knew they’d had something added. Loved the salmon – the honey mustard added a lovely sweetness, and I liked the crunch of the panko and pecans. An EASY dish to make. I’ll be making both of these again.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of. This is a great combo – both are keepers for sure.

SALMON: printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

BRUSSELS SPROUTS: printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe

* Exported from MasterCook *

Baked Salmon with Honey Mustard and Pecan Panko Crust

Recipe By: Once Upon a Chef (blog) 2017
Serving Size: 4

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon salt — divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds salmon fillets — cut into 4 even pieces
1/4 cup panko
1/4 cup pecans — finely chopped
2 teaspoons parsley — finely chopped (optional for color)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 whole lemon — for serving (optional)

NOTES: If you’re going to use some of the honey mustard mixture in a side vegetable (as I did with shaved Brussels sprouts), increase the mustard, butter, honey, salt and pepper mixture by half, then set aside about 1/4 to 1/3 of it to use on the vegetable.
1. Preheat the oven to 450°F and set an oven rack in the middle position. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy cleanup, and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, melted butter, honey, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
3. In another small bowl, mix together the panko, pecans, parsley (if using), and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt.
4. Spoon the honey-mustard mixture evenly over the salmon fillets. (Don’t worry if it drips down the sides a little.) Sprinkle the panko-pecan mixture over the glaze, pressing it lightly so it adheres.
5. Bake for 7-10 minutes per inch of thickness, depending on how well done you like your salmon. (If you find that the topping is browning more than you’d like before the fish is cooked through, loosely cover the salmon with foil.) Serve hot or at room temperature. (Note that if your salmon has skin, it may stick to the foil; to remove the fish from the pan, slide a thin spatula between the skin and the flesh, leaving the skin behind.) Garnish with additional parsley, if desired, and add lemon wedges for serving.
6. Make Ahead: The salmon can be glazed, coated with the panko-pecan mixture, and refrigerated up to 3 hours ahead of time.
Per Serving: 332 Calories; 17g Fat (45.0% calories from fat); 36g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 104mg Cholesterol; 620mg Sodium.

—————-

* Exported from MasterCook *

Shaved Brussels Sprouts with a Honey Mustard Slurry

Recipe By: My concoction, inspired by some leftover honey mustard made for baked salmon.
Serving Size: 3

1 tablespoon canola oil — or EVOO
3 tablespoons yellow onion — chopped finely
1 garlic clove — smashed, chopped
12 ounces Brussels sprouts — shaved (sliced thinly)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons butter — melted
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons water — or more if needed

1. Heat a large saute pan over medium heat; add oil and allow it to heat until the oil begins to shimmer.
2. Add the onion and saute for a few minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and stir very briefly (no more than 45 seconds or so) then add the Brussels sprouts and stir well, continuing to turn and stir until all the vegetables have been coated with a little bit of the oil. Turn heat down to medium and continue cooking for 3-5 minutes until the sprouts are cooked just barely tender.
3. Meanwhile, combine the mustard, melted butter and honey in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper. Add water and stir to make a slurry. During last minute of cooking the sprouts, add the slurry and continue cooking, stirring to make sure all the sprouts are coated. Allow sprouts to simmer and steam until most of the liquid has evaporated. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 172 Calories; 13g Fat (62.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 21mg Cholesterol; 167mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on November 22nd, 2017:

    That looks good!

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