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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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, Salads, on February 11th, 2008.


You can’t see the toasted couscous on the bottom, but it’s there, topped with watercress, then lightly breaded shrimp, and drizzled with a delicious orange mayo sauce.

Another recipe from the “stack” I sorted through the other day. And this one is an absolute over-the-top winner.

Ordinarily I might have passed by this recipe. We don’t eat couscous, generally, because it’s a high glycemic carb. Couscous is actually little tiny orbs of pasta, and takes no more than adding water (hot) to it and it’s cooked and ready. But, this recipe won a cooking contest at Cooking Light in 2006. (I know, I told you, I’ve been behind in filing my recipes :-), and the rest of the recipe sounded so delish that I held onto it. DH and I went to a local farmer’s market and had bought some fresh shrimp with no plan as to what I’d make with it.

Here’s the crux of the recipe: you make a mayonnaise-based cold sauce with reduced orange juice, lime juice, cilantro, ginger and cumin. Then you toast the dry couscous in a large pan. THAT I’d never done before, but it added a wonderful taste to the simple prep of couscous. You add chicken broth and orange juice to plump up the couscous, then green onions and almonds at the last. The shrimp: rolled in egg white, then tossed around in a plastic bag with panko, cilantro, fresh ginger and some pepper. You quickly saute the shrimp, then start the artful arrangement: couscous on the bottom, a nice mound of fresh watercress, the hot shrimp, then you drizzle the whole thing with the sauce.


First photo, the couscous toasting golden brown in the pan.

The mayo sauce (small amount, really) based orange ginger sauce that’s drizzled over the top and becomes a kind of salad dressing.
Lastly, the crunchy shrimp moments before serving. They’re crusted with panko, cilantro, fresh ginger and ground black pepper.

The history of the recipe: Cooking Light – the Ultimate Reader Recipe Contest, 2006. There were several categories, but the judges were all, hands down, in love with this dish, which won first prize. The cook: Karen Tedesco of Webster Groves, Maryland.

Notes: I think next time I’d make a little more of the sauce – it was barely enough (because it’s so darned good). Watch the couscous when you’re toasting – it goes from normal to toasted in a matter of about 30-40 seconds. I’d chop up the watercress just a little bit. I’m kind of haphazard when I wrench off most of the stems, but even medium stems are hard to eat. This is a one-dish meal – you need nothing else with it. No salad. No side. It takes about 30-40 minutes from start to finish. Would make a lovely company meal.
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Crunchy Shrimp with Toasted Couscous and Ginger-Orange Sauce

Recipe By: Karen Tedesco, Webster Grove, MO via Cooking Light
Servings: 4

SAUCE:
1 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon fresh ginger — grated
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
COUSCOUS:
1 cup couscous — dried
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chopped green onions
2 tablespoons sliced almonds — toasted
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
SHRIMP:
20 jumbo shrimp — peeled and deveined (about 3/4 pound)
1 large egg white — lightly beaten
1/2 cup panko
1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger — grated
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cups watercress — washed, trimmed, coarsely chopped

1. To prepare sauce, bring 1 cup orange juice to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; cook until reduced to 1/4 cup (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat; cool completely. Stir in 1 tablespoon cilantro and next 7 ingredients (through red pepper); set aside.
2. To prepare couscous, place couscous in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; cook 3 minutes or until toasted, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add 1 1/2 cups broth, 1/2 cup orange juice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork; add onions, almonds, and butter, stirring until butter melts. Keep warm. If made an hour ahead, briefly reheat in same pan until it’s hot all the way through.
3. To prepare shrimp, combine shrimp and egg white in a bowl, tossing to coat. Combine panko, 1 teaspoon cilantro, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, and black pepper in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add shrimp to bag; seal and shake to coat.
4. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; arrange shrimp in a single layer in pan. Cook 2 minutes on each side or until done.
5. Divide couscous evenly among 4 plates; top evenly with watercress and shrimp; drizzle sauce over shrimp.
Per Serving: 423 Calories; 17g Fat (34.3% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 63mg Cholesterol; 557mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 11th, 2008:

    What an interesting recipe. I’ve heard about dry frying pasta before boiling it but couldn’t quite see the point. You have made it clear to me. The flavourings in this dish are some of my favourites, especially the cilantro; or coriander as we call it over here.

  2. Karen

    said on February 12th, 2008:

    Hi Carolyn,

    I’m glad to have found your blog – this is my recipe! It’s so fun to see that you enjoyed making it – this is one that I actually make a lot for company, too. And I agree; the amount of sauce is too small AND I usually add a little more oil to the pan when cooking the shrimp.

    In order for this to be a “light” recipe, the fat portions are strictly portioned – you know how that goes.

    Cheers!

    Karen

  3. yvette

    said on March 17th, 2010:

    Hi Carolyn,
    I served this at a dinner party at my home for my sister Yvonne’s
    50th birthday celebration. The meal was amazing. No wonder it is on your
    “Favorites Lists”. It surely belongs there !!
    I will make this again and again and again.

    Yvette

    I think that recipe is SO unique. And really very easy too. Glad you and your family enjoyed it. . . carolyn t

  4. yvonne

    said on March 23rd, 2010:

    Hi Carolyn,
    I knew I had to make to this recipe after having it at Yvette’s house for my birthday. I hosted a Bunco party at my house and invited 12 of my friends for dinner. It was a huge success. I received rave reviews on the
    dinner. All the gals left with a copy this recipe. The general consensus was “This is what I would expect from a fine dining restaurant”. Thank you!

    Yvonne
    (Yvette’s sister)

    Hi Yvonne – so glad you enjoyed the salad. It’s one of our favorites too, and relatively easy as well. . . carolyn t

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