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Recently finished reading 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, 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.
printer-friendly PDF

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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