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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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 July 27th, 2007.

grilled salmon on watercress salad

If I owned a restaurant, this would probably be my signature dish. I’ve made this so often that I might be able to make it in my sleep. And it is my one-and-only recipe for which I can buy the ingredients in the late afternoon and have dinner on the table by 6:30 or 7:00 – for guests. This is a one dish meal – well, clarify that . . . it’s a grill in one meal. Except for dessert and appetizers, if you’re serving them, you can make this in no time at all. It may be the only recipe in my entire personal cookbook that qualifies. So, take note, if you’d like a company meal with little effort.

My friend Stacey is a good cook, but doesn’t really like spending hours in prep, nor does she have time anymore with two little ones getting into mischief. But after I made this at their house in the Bay Area one weekend several years ago, she said they invited lots of friends over and she got a lot of entertaining done – serving this for every one. So, Stacey, this one’s dedicated to you! You’re my hero!

salmon watercress saladI’ve told you before about Chris Schlesinger. His book, The Thrill of the Grill, is one of my favorite cookbooks. This recipe came from there. This is the fellow I spoke to, telling him my favorite recipe from his book was the Asian Slaw and he gave me this face. If you haven’t read that story, click here. When he signed my cookbook, I hadn’t prepared this salmon dish yet. I just wish Chris was reading my blog and he’d know that this is my favorite recipe to date. And I’ve amplified on his recipe too. I’ve thought about writing to him tell tell him all about what I’ve done to his recipe. But oh well. He’s a famous chef and all. I think I won’t.

For awhile, some years ago, I cut down the amount of the dressing on this salad, to reduce the total fat grams, but have since decided that the full amount is needed; it’s an important component of the dish so it covers the salad sufficiently and you have enough left over to pour a little over the salmon itself. And if you grill vegetables to go with, like I do, then you need a bit more for them too. Salmon has plenty of fat in its tissues, but it’s good fat, so don’t be thrown by the fat content on this one. I’ve done the math and the salad dressing is fairly inconsequential.

watercress saladI do need to talk a bit about watercress. It’s a little hard to find – at least it is here in California. Whole Foods sells some funny kind of young watercress still growing in vermiculite covered in a little root ball. It has different roundish leaves. And has almost no flavor. This is NOT what you want for this. You need the real thing, the kind of watercress that’s actually grown in water. It has fattish stems (which you don’t use in the salad) and wonderful crinkly leaves. The taste is peppery, not to everyone’s taste, I suppose. I love it, though. So seek out good, fresh watercress.

Costco sells this huge slab of boneless salmon. It is farm-raised; not my favorite thing anymore, but I will buy it on occasion. I prefer wild caught now, and if you can find it, by all means do so! You wipe it off, spray it with olive oil spray, then place it on two large pieces of greased heavy-duty aluminum foil, crimp up the edges around the salmon (you don’t seal it or cover it). Add a bit of salt and pepper. Meanwhile, you fire up your grill and start working on the vegetables, whichever ones you decide to use. I like putting something red with this dish – the color is just glorious on a large platter. So, you need red bell peppers for sure, even yellow or orange ones too. Asparagus works also. And zucchini too. In a pinch I’ve also thrown a large quantity of halved cherry tomatoes on the platter at the end (not grilled, of course). And DH’s favorite is small red onions, halved. All the vegies need to be well oiled, then grilled. Then you put on the salmon and it’s done when you begin to see some white foam seep up through the middle of the salmon. At the last minute toss the watercress salad with some of the dressing, spread it down the middle of the large platter, then slide the salmon off the foil and on top of the salad and add the grilled vegies (that you’ve kept hot) around the edges. Serve immediately to raves. Guaranteed.
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Grilled Salmon with Watercress Salad

Recipe: adapted from “The Thrill of the Grill” cookbook
Servings: 6
COOK’S NOTES: This is also excellent made with halibut or swordfish. The salmon is the best, however.
Serving Ideas: Good for a hot, summer night. I’ve served this with asparagus, simply dressed with seasoned rice wine vinegar sprinkled over the spears, or green beans. Sometimes I also decorate the platter with halved cherry tomatoes, to give it some color. If you do the peppers, grill them before you put on the salmon, then push them off to the side when you put the salmon on. This is really a fairly simple dish. Everything can be done ahead except grilling the fish.

2 1/2 lb salmon fillet — max 1″ thick
SALAD & DRESSING:
2 bunches watercress
1/2 medium red onion — thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh ginger root — minced
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil salt and pepper — to taste
2 tbsp sesame seeds — toast in teflon pan
VEGGIES (optional):
3 whole red onions — peeled, halved or quartered
2 pounds asparagus
4 whole red bell pepper — quartered

1. Heat a non-stick pan and toast the sesame seeds, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. They tend to burn quickly, so stir often when they start to brown.
Salad: wash well the bunches of watercress and pull the small stems off and discard the large stems. Dry in a towel. Place watercress and red onion in a plastic bag and keep until ready to serve.
2. Vinaigrette: combine the oil, sugar, soy sauce, ginger, vinegars, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. It is best if this is allowed to sit for a few hours, refrigerated, before dressing the salad.
3. If using vegetables, prepare them, oil them, then grill to your taste, being careful not to burn. Move to the side before they’re completely done and add the salmon.
4. Fish: Spray the top of the salmon with olive oil spray. Using either heavy-duty foil, or two layers of regular foil, spray the foil with olive oil spray, then place fillet on foil and curl up edges to make a sort of a “pan.” Place on grill for 12-20 minutes, or until the inner juices of the salmon have begun to bubble up in the meat (whitish fluid).
5. Immediately before serving, in a large bowl combine the watercress and onion and add most of the vinaigrette to taste – really, taste it to make sure it’s right. Sometimes I add green and/or red leaf lettuce to the salad mixture as well. Pour the salad out onto a large platter and place the hot, grilled fish on top. Pour the remaining vinaigrette over the top of the salmon and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds and serve. It says this is excellent served cold although we’ve never done it that way.
Per Serving: 441 Calories; 22g Fat (44.4% calories from fat); 42g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 98mg Cholesterol; 481mg Sodium.

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  1. victoria gilbert

    said on January 18th, 2011:

    I visited your site for the first time today and I am quite impressed I will be using your recipes for my future menus for my catering business. I think that you do and excellent job with the ideas for eye appeal/presentation.

    Sincerely, Victoria Gilbert
    Meals with Victoria

    Thanks very much. I’m honored that you think the recipes are cater-worthy. The salmon dish is one of my very favorites, so hope you enjoy it as well. . . carolyn t

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