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Just finished reading 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 Novelby 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 (she arrived after the birth, actually). 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 father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. 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.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.

 

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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