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Just finished a stunning book, The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives (don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read and is reviewed below) and really liked it. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

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 Novel by 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. 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 angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. 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.

 

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 Beef, Grilling, on August 31st, 2014.

cajun_rubbed_steak_maque_choux

You know what “maque choux” is?  Kinda sounds like a sneeze, but no, that’s a French phrase that’s actually Cajun and Native American. Pronounced it’s “mackeh-choo,” sort of. Corn isn’t part of either word. Wikipedia doesn’t exactly define the French words, so I had to go look it up just cuz I’m curious. More literally translated it means “messy pairing,” but in common parlance it’s that corn mixture above. In the American South “everybody” knows what macque-choux means. Phillis Carey made hers with bacon and some heavy cream. I don’t know that those things are traditional. But hey, it absolutely works here and it’s SO good.

In the cooking class, Phillis prepared this with top sirloin steak. Not my most favorite cut. She mentioned that you could use ribeye or even flank steak (I’d marinate the flank a bit in something to tenderize it first – not anything very highly seasoned – then still use the Cajun rub on it too). But with a tender ribeye – oh yes, that’s what I’d use. If you decide to use top sirloin, do cut the slices thinly.

You can barely see that there’s a tiny bit of cream in the corn relish. Mostly I think the cream got boiled down, or maybe my serving just didn’t get all that much. But in any case, the maque-choux is just the best part of this dish. It’s made with fresh corn (if at all possible), bacon, onion, garlic, red bells, green onions and cream. Quite simple. And you can make it the day before if that helps you with timing.

The steaks must be at least 1 1/4 inches thick. That’s imperative for making this dish work. The rub on the steak was also really easy. Below is a recipe for making it, but you can also just buy it. I think Paul Prudhomme makes one, but Phillis recommended the one by Spice Hunter if you can find it at your local store. If you make up a small batch from the recipe, make double, but just use it within a month or two as it doesn’t keep all that long. Be sure to blot the steak well with paper towels before you start. Phillis talked to us about seasoning the steak – usually I would oil the meat then sprinkle on the seasonings. She said no, that’s the wrong way to do it – pat the spices on first, THEN gently spread on the oil. She says the seasonings stick better that way. Who knew?

The steaks are grilled – use whatever method you prefer – allowed to rest for 5 minutes then served with the macque-choux spooned over the center or at one end (i.e., don’t cover the steak with the corn). Phillis also said this dish is just fabulous served ON a bed of mashed potatoes. Hmmm. That sounds really good and I may do it that way next time.

What’s GOOD: the relish is the best part. Get fresh corn if possible, but frozen will work. The corn relish elevates this dish to something very special. The Cajun rub was also very good – I’d use that again on chicken perhaps.
What’s NOT: nothing at all – it’s a fabulous dish.

printer-friendly CutePDF
Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cajun-Rubbed Steak with Maque-Choux and Bacon

Recipe By: From a Phillis Carey cooking class, 8/2014
Serving Size: 5

MAQUE-CHOUX (Corn):
4 ounces applewood smoked bacon — finely diced
1 1/2 cups white corn — or yellow, freshly cut from about 2 ears
1/4 cup onions — chopped
1 tablespoon shallots — minced
1 tablespoon garlic — minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup red bell peppers — diced
1/4 cup green onions — chopped
STEAKS:
2 pounds steak — preferably ribeye, may also use top sirloin (cut 1 1/4″ thick at minimum), or flank steak
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil — or canola
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning — see recipe below, or buy Spice Hunter’s
Flaky salt to taste
2 tablespoons green onions — chopped (garnish)
2 tablespoons red bell peppers — chopped (garnish)
CAJUN/CREOLE SPICE MIX:
2 1/2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder (not granulated)
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoons black pepper

Notes: Phillis made this with top sirloin and served thin slices (1/4 inch) but I’d recommend using a ribeye instead. Do not make this with filet mignon.
1. MACQUE CHOUX: Cook bacon in medium skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until crisp. Remove bacon to paper towels to drain. Add corn to the skillet and saute for one minute. Add onions and continue cooking for one more minute. Add garlic and season with salt and pepper; cook one minute. Stir in the cream, red peppers and green onions and simmer until the mixture is heated through. (Sauce can be made ahead, even a full day – just reheat before serving.)
2. STEAKS: Preheat grill. Sprinkle each steak with the Cajun spice, season with salt and brush or dab on the oil. (Yes, season first, then dab on the oil.) Grill steak 4-7 minutes per side for medium-rare to medium. Let steaks rest 5 minutes, tented with foil. Cut steaks across the grain into 1/2-inch slices and set on a HEATED serving plate. Spoon the corn mixture over the steak slices (down the center or at one end); do not cover the steaks with the corn. Garnish with onions and red bell peppers. Can be served plain or on a bed or mashed potatoes.
Per Serving: 805 Calories; 67g Fat (74.3% calories from fat); 36g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 186mg Cholesterol; 719mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on September 1st, 2014:

    I’ll pass on the steak but the relish does sound good. Especially if you have the freshest corn as you do over there.

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