Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Bend in the Road: Stuffed Halibut, Fruited Rice Pilaf and Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing

A Bend in the Road is the story of Miles, a grieving widower with a young son; and Sarah, a divorcee who is new in town and is Miles' son's teacher. Miles' deceased wife, Missy, is very much a part of this saga as well. Four years earlier Missy was struck by a hit-and-run driver while out jogging. Miles spends much of his free time trying to find out who was driving the car, and his obsession with finding Missy's killer (and just wait until you find out who it was--if you love drama, this is right up your alley) sometimes causes some, um, tension in Miles' romance with Sarah. It affects his relationship with his son, Jonah, too, for that matter. Anyway, one night after a particularly unpleasant argument with Sarah, Miles and Jonah are sitting together watching home movies. Jonah barely remembers his mom, and as the two are chatting and reliving some of their last days with her, Miles remembers the last romantic dinner he and Missy shared together: a home-cooked Valentine's Day meal of sole stuffed with shrimp and crab, spinach salad, and wild rice.

As I've been re-reading these books, I'm noticing certain trends in what people enjoy eating. Hush puppies and sweet tea are a common fare (often ordered when they visit a favorite diner or seafood joint), and whenever anyone cooks seafood, they stuff it with crab meat. (At least in the ones I've reread so far, except for The Notebook--in that one Noah just goes for the crabs. Must be one of Nick's favorites, which is good because it's one of ours, too.) I didn't even know what sole was--except that it's a fish, at least I knew that much--and when I started looking around I discovered it isn't easy to find. A quick Google search told me that it's a bottom-dwelling saltwater flatfish, similar to flounder. That's good, I thought, because you can get flounder almost anywhere. When I took a trip to my favorite grocery store that has everything, guess what? No sole OR flounder. Not even frozen. When I asked the guy at the fish counter (at the gi-normous store that has everything, mind you, and I mean everything.), he said that they did have some frozen halibut in one of the cases, and that was a lot like flounder and sole, only better. I took his word for it and brought some home. Here's the recipe I used:


sole fillets (5-6 large, 10-12 small)
4 tbs. butter, melted salt and pepper


4 tbs. butter
1 med. onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1/2 lb. mushrooms, chopped
1 med. red or green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbs. flour
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup cream or milk
12 oz. crabmeat or shrimp (or 6 oz. crab and 6 oz. shrimp)
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
2 tbs. fresh parsley, chopped
1 egg (slightly beaten)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 13x9 baking dish with non-stick pan spray. Brush fillets with melted butter.


Saute onion,celery, pepper, garlic and mushrooms in melted butter until tender. Blend in flour. Add wine and cream and stir until thick. Remove from heat. Add remaining ingredients (except Paprika) and mix well. Stuff fillets with about 3 tablespoons of stuffing (for large fillets, place on one side and fold over; for small fillets, place on one fillet and top with another fillet), press edges together to seal. Sprinkle with paprika and bake covered 25 minutes. Serves 5-6.
(source) (Note to self: Next time you cook fish, transfer it to a platter BEFORE taking the photo. It will look much more appetizing.)

I only had a few halibut filets, so I sliced them most of the way through and put the stuffing in between the top and bottom part. Since Moe is allergic to dairy, I left out the Parmesan cheese and then right before popping them into the oven I sprinkled the cheese over all but one of the pieces of fish. Joe and I loved it. The kids weren't all that impressed, but then again they prefer their fish breaded and deep-fried.


I've never prepared wild rice before, unless you count Rice-A-Roni. I figured my trusty grocery store that has everything would have some, but all the wild rice I could find was combined with other types of rice. After much browsing and pondering, I selected a jar of Rice Select Royal Blend, a mixture of white, brown, red, and wild rice, and cooked it using this recipe:

Fruited Wild Rice Pilaf

• 1/2 cup chopped onion
• 1/2 cup chopped celery
• 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
• 1 1/4 cups hot water
• 3/4 cup uncooked wild rice
• 1 1/2 teaspoons chicken bouillon granules
• 1 red apple, chopped
• 2 tablespoons toasted, chopped pecans(Since Moe is allergic to nuts, I left these out. I had forgotten to pick up pecans, and I had some mixed nuts on hand; I stirred some up in my own serving.)
• 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon peel

In a large saucepan, saute onion and celery in butter until tender. Stir in the water, rice and bouillon; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 50-55 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender. Remove from the heat; fold in apple, pecans and lemon peel if desired. (source)

I had to modify the cooking time, since the instructions on the rice called for only 15 minutes of cooking. I think it's a parboiled variety, kind of like Minute Rice. Whatever--it was delicious.


Ever since I've started this blog, my kids have done two things:

1. Rolled their eyes and reminded my how insane I am every time I announce that we're having something from a Nicholas Sparks book. And when I start taking pictures, it's "Geez, mom, must you really take PICTURES of the FOOD? Quit messing with your plate and let's eat already!" Or something along those lines.

2. Asked me could I PLEASE use a recipe by Alton Brown? According to them, he's the king of TV chefs. So may I present Alton's Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing:


• 8 ounces young spinach
• 2 large eggs
• 8 pieces thick-sliced bacon, chopped
• 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 4 large white mushrooms, sliced
• 3 ounces red onion (1 small), very thinly sliced


Remove the stems from the spinach and wash, drain and pat dry thoroughly. Place into a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Place the eggs into an electric kettle and cover with cold water by at least 1-inch. Turn the kettle on. Once the water comes to a boil, the kettle will turn itself off. Leave the eggs in the water for 15 minutes. Remove and peel off the shell. Slice each egg into 8 pieces and set aside. (Side note: Couldn't he just have said "Boil the eggs in water for 5 minutes"? How many people have an electric kettle anyway, or even HEARD of one?)

While the eggs are cooking, fry the bacon and remove to a paper towel to drain, reserving 3 tablespoons of the rendered fat. Crumble the bacon and set aside.

Transfer the fat to a small saucepan set over low heat and whisk in the red wine vinegar, sugar and Dijon mustard. Season with a small pinch each of kosher salt and black pepper. Add the mushrooms and the sliced onion to the spinach and toss. Add the dressing and bacon and toss to combine. Divide the spinach between 4 plates or bowls and evenly divide the egg among them. Season with pepper, as desired. Serve immediately. (source)

I was a little skeptical about putting warm dressing on crisp spinach leaves (especially since it was made with BACON GREASE, for goodness' sake), but all my doubts disappeared when I took a bite. Amazing. And so easy you wouldn't believe it.

We had some leftover stuffing, and I'll tell you what I did with THAT in a future post. Stay tuned! Next up I'll revisit The Rescue and tell you about the venison dinner I finally conjured up the courage to attempt. That one was definitely interesting!

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