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Just finished 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 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 parents were 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 a old 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.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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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