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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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 Desserts, on July 22nd, 2014.

anise_cake_coyote_cafe

Knowing some of you as I do, I’m venturing a guess that many most of you will look at that picture, read the word anise, and just decide nope, it’s not for you. You’d be making a big mistake. You’re going to miss out on a really wonderful taste treat. Curiously, I don’t like licorice. Period. I don’t eat the candy, nor the liqueurs made from it. Yuck. But this cake, oh yes, I love it.

Back in 2007 (a couple of months after I started writing this blog, and my photos were awful, I must tell you!) I posted this recipe. Most of you weren’t reading my blog back then. It was a baby blog, you could say, and I didn’t have all that many readers. Still today I have no idea whether people download recipes or not (I know how many people look at my blog, but downloading the pdf, or the MasterCook files, I don’t know).  This is a recipe I’ve been making for well over 20 years. And not all that often, but when I do make it, it’s always a hit. I had a group of women friends over for a potluck lunch and at the last minute (well, 9:30 for an noon lunch) I decided to whip up this cake. It took about 45 minutes of preparation, then the rest was easy (baking and cooling time).

The original recipe came from Mark Miller’s cookbook Coyote Cafe: Foods from the Great Southwest, Recipes from Coyote Café. Back in the early 80s I was quite enamored with southwestern food (still am, but Mexican food has to stand in since southwestern restaurants have basically been and gone) and on a trip to Santa Fe on a food tour, I ate at Miller’s restaurant. I was smitten. With his cookbook in hand, I have prepared some of the recipes from it, but the standout by far is this cake.

Anise Seed Tip:

When you toast anise, it absolutely mellows out the flavor. There is nothing pungent or strong about the flavor once it’s toasted/roasted. You’ll be amazed. Considering that there’s 4 tablespoons of anise in this cake!

Over the years I’ve changed it some – it’s still resembles his recipe – with eggs, butter, anise seed, sugar, vanilla, flour, etc. But I lightened it up (the texture mostly) a little bit many years ago. I reduced the amount of butter, and I separated the eggs to whip the whites to texturally lighten the cake from a heavy pound cake to just a “cake.” It’s still made in a tube pan, and baked for a little longer.

Let’s talk about anise seed a little bit. You know already that it is part of the licorice family – in some countries anise and fennel go by the same name. They certainly are similar. They’re both very aromatic. stovetop_spice_toaster_pan_mesh_lid_closed

In this recipe, the anise seeds have to be toasted. I have a cute little stovetop spice toaster thing. I bought it years ago and have no recollection where. Might have been in an Indian market, since Indian cuisine uses a lot of toasted spices. It’s about 8 inches long, and the metal pan is little more than paper thin, but that means the spices toast in a jiffy. The mesh lid clips down so when hot spices begin to dance and/or pop, they stovetop_spice_toaster_lid_opendon’t go flying.  Once the pan heats up you absolutely have to be right there at the stove gently shaking the pan – otherwise the spices would burn. It’s a miraculous little thing and when I use it I’m ever so glad I have it. But you can use any old pan – just watch it carefully so the spices don’t burn. Generally it takes 2-4 minutes to toast spices over a medium to medium high heat. As soon as they’re done, however, tip the contents out onto a plate so they don’t continue to toast. With my little toaster, I just set it onto the cold granite countertop, and move it about 3 times, shaking it as I move it and the spices stop toasting.

anise_cake_batterThe cake batter is fairly standard. But it sure looks different because of the finely ground toasted anise seed in it – it makes a lovely taupe color as you can see in the photo at right. I’d just folded in the whipped egg whites when I took that picture. The batter is relatively thick, and you do need to fold those whipped egg whites until you can’t see any streaks. Then it’s scooped into the tube pan, leveled slightly and baked. The original recipe said it baked in 50-60 minutes. Mine takes longer, from 60-80 minutes, depending on your oven. I used my instant read thermometer and baked it until I got a reading of about 200° in several places.

anise_cake_wholeIt cools in the pan for awhile (an hour), then you can remove the outer part of the tube pan. Even though the pan is greased and flour-dusted, I always run a knife around the edge (mine is old – it’s not a nonstick – I think tube pans – mostly designed for making angel food cake aren’t ever supposed to be nonstick). Once the outer rim is removed, then I run a knife underneath the cake and around the center tube and usually the cake will come out of the tube onto your outstretched hand and forearm. Then gently place it onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

I think this is best with nothing but vanilla ice cream or whipped cream – you want the anise flavor to shine through. If you add fruit or syrups or anything, it will just dampen the anise flavor.

What’s GOOD: to me, the anise flavor is just off the charts. When I served this to my group of lady friends they – to a person – raved. And I mean RAVED. The cake isn’t hard to make at all. Do use anise that’s not too old, or it won’t have good flavor. Am sure my jar is at least a year old, but it hadn’t been opened, so I knew it was good. Freeze the left overs, if you have any. It’s best eaten the day it’s made if at all possible.

What’s NOT: well, if you don’t like anise, I’m sorry! But remember, I don’t like licorice and I just adore this cake. You might be a convert to this type of anise flavor.

printer-friendly CutePDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Anise Pound Cake a la Coyote Cafe

Recipe By: Adapted some from Mark Miller’s cookbook, Coyote Cafe
Serving Size: 16

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
14 ounces unsalted butter — softened
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons anise seed — roasted, ground
5 large eggs — separated
2/3 cup sour cream — (I used a mix of sour cream and Greek yogurt)

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan. Sift together flour and salt, then set aside. To toast the anise seeds, use an iron skillet, or pan with a heavy bottom, if possible. Heat the pan (dry) to medium-high. Add the seeds, and either shake or stir with a spatula until the seeds begin to brown. If they begin to smoke, the heat may be too high – be careful and don’t burn them. You want them to be just past golden brown – but not burned. This will take 2-3 minutes, maybe 4, depending on the heat level. Immediately tip the seeds out onto a big plate (to stop the toasting altogether).
2. Cream the butter with sugar, vanilla and toasted, finely ground anise seed until light, 5-7 minutes. In another bowl, whip the egg whites until they reach stiff peaks and set aside. To the caek batter add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Then add dry ingredients alternately with the sour cream. Scrape the bowl well and mix until blended. Then, using a spatula fold in the egg whites until mixed in and no streaks of white are visible. (This is a bit difficult because the batter is thick.)
3. Pour or scoop into prepared pan and bake for approximately 60-75 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch. If using an instant read thermometer, bake until cake reaches 200°, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool on a rack for about 45 minutes, then run a knife around the outside of the pan and around the center, then remove the outer part of the tube pan. Holding onto the top of the tube, slide a knife all along bottom (between the cake and the bottom of the cake, turning the cake as you go. Unmold the cake onto your outstretched hand, then quickly, but gently, turn it back over onto the cooling rack. Can serve warm.
4. Serve in small slices with vanilla ice cream, or with fresh, sliced summer fruit (peaches, strawberries, other berries) and whipped cream. You’ll have the more predominant anise flavor if you serve it plain with ice cream or whipped cream.
Per Serving: 411 Calories; 24g Fat (52.2% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 125mg Cholesterol; 155mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on July 23rd, 2014:

    Carolyn, this looks intriguing. I love anise in biscotti, springerle, and anise drop cookies, so I’m sure I’d love this cake. And it’s a flavor I’ve never encountered in a cake. It would be a nice change to accompany summer peaches.

    Peaches would work – just don’t put other flavors in with it – maybe some vanilla, or just plain sliced would be lovely, I think. . . carolyn t

  2. Thalia @ butter and brioche

    said on July 23rd, 2014:

    i’ve never made a pound cake before.. definitely something i need to try. love the anise flavour too!

    It really is worth making and everyone is surprised that the anise isn’t more pronounced. You know it’s anise, but it’s not overpowering at all. . . carolyn t

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