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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 Chicken, on July 3rd, 2008.

chicken tikka masala

It was just a couple of days ago I was watching America’s Test Kitchen. I use my Tivo to record all the ATK programs. The show is broadcast on a different timetable around the country – i.e., not all shows you’d see are current – they may be year old re-runs. And sometimes the recipes have already dropped off the map when you go to the ATK website. Now I’m only recording new programs, so generally the recipes are available online.

Indian food is something I enjoy very much, although we don’t eat it as much anymore since we try to limit our rice consumption. But this version, shown recently on ATK, of Chicken Tikka Masala sounded so delicious, I had to try it. I’ve made it before, but never this well. The recipe is a real winner. I kid you not. If you enjoy Indian cuisine, you’ll likely enjoy this dish very much.

Chicken breasts are seasoned with ground cumin, coriander and cayenne, then dredged in a mixture of whole-milk yogurt, fresh ground ginger and minced garlic. The chicken is broiled while you make the Masala Sauce, which is composed of onion, more Indian spices, garlic, ginger, one moderately warm chile pepper, crushed tomatoes, and some heavy cream. Oh my. When my DH took his first bite of this his eyes rolled and he went into a bit of food rapture. I made a small amount of basmati rice, lapped some thick slices of the broiled chicken breast on top, and then scooped some of the Masala Sauce on top of that. Then sprinkled with mint (I didn’t have any cilantro on hand). I served it with some eggplant (recipe tomorrow) and a wedge of watermelon.
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Chicken Tikka Masala

Recipe By: America’s Test Kitchen
Servings: 6
Serving Ideas: Basmati rice or a simple pilaf would be a good accompaniment. Eggplant also makes a good side dish, with a small wedge of watermelon as a salad.

CHICKEN:
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon table salt
2 pounds boneless chicken — breasts, trimmed of fat
1 cup yogurt — whole-milk preferably
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium garlic cloves — minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — grated
MASALA SAUCE:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion — diced fine (about 1 1/4 cups)
2 medium garlic cloves — minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons fresh ginger — grated
1 serrano pepper — ribs and seeds removed, flesh minced (see note above), or one large jalapeno
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 can crushed tomatoes — (28-ounces)
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves — chopped (or mint, if preferred)

1. FOR THE CHICKEN: Combine cumin, coriander, cayenne, and salt in small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with spice mixture, pressing gently so mixture adheres. Place chicken on plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes. In large bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil, garlic, and ginger; set aside.
2. FOR THE SAUCE: Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, chile, tomato paste, and garam masala; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cream and return to simmer. Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm.
3. While sauce simmers, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position (about 6 inches from heating element) and heat broiler. Using tongs, dip chicken into yogurt mixture (chicken should be coated with thick layer of yogurt) and arrange on wire rack set in foil-lined rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan. Discard excess yogurt mixture. Broil chicken until thickest parts register 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer and exterior is lightly charred in spots, 10 to 18 minutes, flipping chicken halfway through cooking.
4. Let chicken rest 5 minutes, then cut into 1-inch chunks and stir into warm sauce (do not simmer chicken in sauce). Stir in cilantro, adjust seasoning with salt, and serve.
Per Serving: 416 Calories; 25g Fat (55.0% calories from fat); 38g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 129mg Cholesterol; 751mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on July 3rd, 2008:

    This meal, apparently, is the British favourite meal to eat at a resto. It isn’t even Indian, at least, if you went to India and ordered it ,the staff wouldn’t know what you wanted. Here, it is served up with tomato soup to make it red…I have tried it from someone’s plate but I would never order it.

    A couple of weeks ago I spent the day with Sid Khullar (with whom I co-author a Blog) he lives in Dehli and is Indian. We had such lot to talk about! I am used to being around Indian people (Asian) But had not spent time with someone fresh from that Continent – a revalation! He is a lovely man, and I can ‘t wait to meet him again.

  2. Rick Mansfield

    said on July 3rd, 2008:

    I created a link to your recipe in our newest “Cast Iron Around the Web” entry at http://www.cookingincastiron.com

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