Salmon, Two Ways: Or Why You Shouldn't Buy This Cookbook

MasterChef on FOX has made me want to be a better cook. And I try, really I do. I scour the internet for great recipes. I try to buy quality ingredients, so long as I can get them on sale at Lunds & Byerly’s. And then I try to juggle my legal work, blogging, fundraising, child-rearing, hubby-supporting, and cooking in our small Mid-Century Modern kitchen, and sometimes, sometimes, I succeed at all of the above.
Good recipes are key. Especially now that I’m trying to eat healthy. My wonderful daughter is one years old, and I’m still trying to carve off some of the pounds that she blessed me with for nine months. The saying “it took nine months to birth her, it’ll take nine months to take the pounds off” is bull-&*^%, IMHO.
So eating healthy means staying away from fried foods and unnecessary wheat things (and substituting quinoa for everything I possibly can), and hiding desserts from me, because otherwise I make them disappear.
Which brings me to the newest acquisition to my cookbook collection, “Starters & Sides: Favorite Triple-Tested Recipes Made Easy” by Leah Schapira & Victoria Dwek, a project of
Shortly after receiving the cookbook from its publisher, I sat down with my mother and leafed through page after page of the book trying to imagine which recipes I would want to try out on my husband, before serving them at a dinner party or neighborhood get-together.  Five pages skipped, 10 pages skipped, ooh, that one, 15 pages skipped, then that one. In the end, there were really only about 6 recipes I had any interest in trying, and one of them was a dessert, which, as we’ve established, I’m tempted but am not going to make.
The rest of the dishes either looked gross, call for canned/frozen/prepared foods, or are uber unhealthy. And ironically so.
The “Vegetables” section features “Flatbreads with Eggplant Salad” which involves a small amount of vegetables and a large amount of egg roll wraps and oil,  “Teriyaki Mushrooms” which is plated in a deep friend tortilla wrap, peas in baked phyllo dough, and like four more dishes where different kinds of veges are rolled in bread crumbs and olive oil.
The “Grains” section is … well, not my favorite for the carb factor, but also for oh-so-hilariously-odd statements like this one, accompanying the recipe for “Three-Onion Brown Rice”: “It’s very hard to beat plain rice. White or brown, just give it enough oil and salt, follow the instructions on the package, and you really can’t go wrong. I’m in food heaven when I’m enjoying a simple bowl of rice with coleslaw.” Um, WHAT? Well there ya go. I scored the cookbook for people who think plain rice tastes good. No wonder the recipes suck. And who the heck eats rice and coleslaw?
Everything in “Meat & Chicken” is either (a) Fried, (b) Covered in sugar, or (c) Coated in Teriyaki sauce, or (d) all of the above.  Everything in “Dairy” is fried or breaded. Really? Maybe that’s what your Bubbe is making for dinner, but it’s sure as heck not what I’m cooking (nor my Bubbe, for that matter). And I’m not the only one among my friends who is health-conscious and deep-fried averse (except during the State Fair, but that’s another story).
And though I’m not a huge baker, I’m pretty shocked that the “Sweet” section is just fruit desserts and Whiskey Sweet Potatoes. No chocolate? What’s a dessert section without chocolate? Although the “Peach Cracker Crumble” does look pretty good (although I can’t imagine making it with saltines; do people actually cook with saltines in real life? I mean, not just in a Mystery Box challenge on Chopped?)

Salmon, Two Ways

Salmon, Two Ways

Which brings me to the dish I decided to attempt last night, “Salmon with a Pocket,” in the Starters & Sides‘ section on “Fish“.  You’ll see from the photo that I ended up making salmon two ways – more on that below.
I’m a HUGE salmon fan. My mom has two amazing salmon dishes that I’ve made probably hundreds of times, and I found an awesome Italian-inspired salmon dish that I’ve been making over Mediterranean-style quinoa lately, but I was looking for something new. And really, salmon is just so fabulous and fatty that all you have to do to make it taste awesome is to cover it in salt, pepper, fresh garlic, and a fresh herb like thyme, and poach it in white wine.
But I was trying to be adventurous, and had decided that this was the only recipe in the entire Starters & Sides book that looked remotely healthy so I decided it was now or never.
Like an idiot, I decided to make 3 pounds of salmon with this recipe. 2 pounds of that went into the trash. Literally. It was THAT bad. Let me explain.
Top Five Reasons “Salmon with a Pocket” Tasted Terrible:
1) The salmon is marinated in lemon juice. A quick google search tells me that’s not unheard of, but it’s just weird to me. White wine, yes. Chicken stock, yes. Lemon juice with fresh herbs, garlic and onion, maybe. But straight up lemon juice? Nasty and lazy, IMHO.
2) The salmon calls for putting vegetables inside the salmon, which sounds interesting in theory, but in reality just means that you’re butchering the salmon against the grain and making it look super ugly. Maybe a trained chef can slice a pocket into a slab of raw salmon, but I definitely couldn’t.
3) The red pepper and Portobello mushroom caps placed into the salmon’s jaggedy pocket aren’t sauteed first in garlic and olive oil, or spiced in any way. They’re just put in the fish raw. They didn’t taste like anything, and Portobello mushroom caps are awesome & expensive (as mushrooms go). They should have been highlighted.
4) The salmon was bland as hell. It’s baked with only raw garlic, salt & pepper on the fish to spice it, outside of the weird/boring/acidic tasting marinade the fish was soaked in prior to cooking. I even forgot to wash off the marinade even though the recipe told me to (because why would you wash off the marinade, right?) and still the fish didn’t taste like anything. And to top it off, my garlic turned blue because of the lemon juice.
5) I overcooked it. That’s my fault, not the cookbook’s. But my hubby told me, after kindly eating my food. “Even if you had cooked it right, I still would never want you to make that again,” or something to that effect. In other words — the recipe sucked, no matter the cook on the fish.
Just for fun, I’m printing the recipe & instructions here so you can try this at home – if you dare. I dare you to see if you can make it taste good!

  • 4 (4-6 oz) salmon fillets
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1 red pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 2 Portobello mushroom caps, sliced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp coarse black pepper
  • 3-4 Tbsp olive oil


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees farenheit
  • In a shallow dish, marinate salmon in lemon juice for 15 minutes. Rinse.
  • Slit the belly of each salmon fillet horizontally through the middle, creating an opening. Stuff with pepper and mushroom slices and trim the vegetables even with the edge of the fillet. Place fillets into a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.
  • Season fillets with garlic, salt, and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. Cover and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake until fish flakes easily with a fork, 5-7 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

As I started stuffing my fish (or trying to), I decided to make this salmon two ways.

Sauteeing Veges for my version of the Salmon Dish

Sautéing veggies for my version of the Salmon Dish

Why? I wanted to see if I could improve on the recipe by using only the ingredients in “Salmon with a Pocket” but cooking half of my salmon with the peppers & mushrooms on top of the salmon instead of inside. This was a moderate improvement on the original recipe, since my saute was pretty lemony, and while not tasty, at least added some flavor to the fish while it was cooking, albeit an over-the-top lemon flavor.
In the end, the best part of our dinner was the sweet potatoes roasted in dried herbs that we enjoyed on the side of the salmon.
Quite a waste of a good piece of fish.
Can you make this recipe taste good? A free “Ya, Sure … Jew Betcha” fridge magnet to you if you can, and let me know in the comments.