Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Food&Fiction: The Maze Runner and Pepper Crusted Steak with Mushroom Sauce

So, this is the first post in my new Food&Fiction series. I had originally planned on posting the book review and the recipe in separate posts, but that doesn't seem to be working for me. While posting the review and the recipe together may make the posts clumsy and kind of long, I'm worried that breaking the post up might negate the spirit of the series. So excuse me if my first attempt at this is a bit awkward.

The Maze Runner and Pepper Crusted Steak with Mushroom Sauce

Maze Runner

"He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air."
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Title: The Maze Runner
Author: James Dashner
Genre: Dystopian/Apocalyptic, Young Adult

Summary: (from amazon.com)
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.

Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.
Review:

In a pretty cliched beginning now that I think of it, Thomas awakes without his memory in a strange place. As the summary says, Thomas is surrounded by kids and stuck in the center of a maze (I hope that's not considered a spoiler since the title is "The Maze Runner"). While life in the Glade isn't all that bad, things quickly turn sour when a mysterious girl arrives with a note about appending doom. Thomas and the kids must then work together to finally find a way out of the maze.

While the story is full of annoying slang and the characters are kind of dry, I found the overall story very entertaining. My love for dystopia far outweighs any annoyances I had about how Thomas seems to suddenly remember things right in the nick of time. I also thought the ending was fantastic. While it wasn't so much of a cliffhanger you feel conned by the author, the ending was still interesting enough to ensure I read the second book in the series.

You can read more about The Maze Runner at its website here.

Rating: 8. Excellent – some laughing and/or crying involved

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I decided to make steak since Thomas specifically mentions eating one in the book. I'm not a big beef person, but something about reading about someone else eating one made me want one. I'm just a tad ridiculous like that. While this recipe calls specifically for beef tenderloin steaks, I used flank steak (or something like that) since I had bought it for another recipe so don't get too caught up on that.

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I got this recipe from Rachael Ray and it's the only way I make steak now. For me, the pepper makes this dish. I absolutely adore pepper and I think peppering both sides gives the best flavor. I also liberally salt the steaks. I'm not a big salt person but I really think the steaks need it (even though the originally recipe doesn't call for it). My only other tip is to make sure you let your meat get nice and brown. I may have had to fight the smoke alarm into submission, but my steaks turned out nicely browned. And like Anne Burrell always says, brown food tastes good.

Pepper Crusted Steak with Mushroom Sauce

Ingredients:

4 (1-inch thick, 3 to 4-inch round) beef tenderloin steaks, about 1 pound total
4 teaspoons coarse black pepper, a rounded palm full
2 tablespoons butter
6 white mushroom caps, very thinly sliced (I used a whole container)
1/4 cup Marsala, eyeball it (I used Sherry since I had it on hand)
3/4 cup cream, eyeball it
Chopped parsley leaves or chives, for garnish

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

1. Take the chill off the meat then pour the black pepper onto a small plate. Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high to high heat. Season steaks with salt and press each steak into the pepper to coat (I pepper both sides). When oil smokes, place peppered side down in the skillet. Sear and caramelize the meat 3 to 4 minutes, turn and cook 2 minutes more for rare, 3 minutes for pink.

2. While the meat cooks, heat a small skillet over medium flame and melt then butter. Add mushrooms and lightly saute them for 4 to 5 minutes. Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper and add Marsala to the pan. Reduce the liquid by half, cooking off the alcohol and concentrating the flavor, then stir in the cream and warm it through. Reduce heat a bit and let sauce thicken 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Spoon sauce over meat and enjoy.

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