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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby 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 (she arrived after the birth, actually). 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 father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. 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.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.

 

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 Cookies, Desserts, on December 19th, 2016.

new_cream_cheese_brownies

Did you know there’s a somewhat different way to make cream cheese brownies? Neither did I, but they’re really, really good. Yes, better than the old recipe.

I’ve long been a fan of cream cheese brownies. Not that I make them all that often – it’s been a couple of years. But I watched a show on America’s Test Kitchen awhile back and they talked about some of the inherent problems that existed with the old-style ones. What’s new about these: (1) unsweetened chocolate provides a more bold chocolate flavor; (2) sour cream added some tang to the cream cheese layer; (3) a more cakey batter doesn’t allow the brownies to get soggy or dense; (4) no more dry edges because the cream cheese layer is spread all over the chocolate batter, then a reserved portion of chocolate is dolloped on top before the whole pan is swirled and baked.

cc_brownies_slingThe chefs at ATK felt that the two batters didn’t complement one another, so they set out making a bunch of changes. And it works. No question about that. I’ll be making these again and again. They also recommend preparing heavy-duty foil slings (both directions) in and out of the 8×8 pan. See photo above.

You prepare a chocolate batter. You make a cream cheese, sour cream, sugar and flour (very little) mixture that comprises the cream cheese layer, so to speak. cc_brownies_choc_batterThere on the right you can see the chocolate batter which was poured into the pan first. About 1/2 cup was reserved and set aside to dollop on top later.

cc_brownies_ch_layerAt left, see how you gently spread the cream cheese layer on top of the chocolate batter. You spread it almost out to the edges. THEN, you use that reserved chocolate batter (that needs to be heated in the microwave for 10-20 seconds to heat it up and make it more liquid) and you either pour or scoop it all over and around the top. Then you use a regular knife to swirl it – they tell you to do about 10-12 strokes. I did a zigzag patterncc_brownies_baked_swirled, going one way, then the other. I ended up with the photo at right of the finished pan.

The brownies are baked at 325°F. for about 35-40 minutes. Mine took the full 40 minutes and you need to stick your cake tester or toothpick into the chocolate portion, not the cream cheese part (it’s still retains a bit of a soft texture).

Once baked, you leave the brownies in the pan (in the slings) for an hour before removing them. If you do it too soon they won’t remain flat and stable (solid) on the bottom and the whole pan full would bend with the sling. I removed them after an hour or so, laid the foil edges over the top and let it sit overnight. They were still warm when I went to bed, so I left them out. They recommend you keep these refrigerated (because of the sour cream), but I think I’d let them come to room temp before serving.

What’s GOOD: these cream cheese brownies are really wonderful. I loved the more intense chocolate flavor. The cream cheese layer was a bit more stable (with the added flour) so the brownies weren’t dense at all, more cakey altogether. Loved these. As I mentioned, this is going to replace my old recipe, and yes, I’ll be making them again.

What’s NOT: nothing really. The foil slings take a bit of fussing with, to get them right, but they’re not difficult.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

New Cream Cheese Brownies

Recipe By: America’s Test Kitchen, 2016
Serving Size: 16

4 ounces cream cheese — cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
BROWNIE BATTER:
2/3 cup all-purpose flour — (3 1/3 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate — chopped fine
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar — (8 3/4 ounces)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. FOR THE CREAM CHEESE FILLING: Microwave cream cheese until soft, 20 to 30 seconds. Add sour cream, sugar, and flour and whisk to combine. Set aside.
2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Make foil sling for 8-inch square baking pan by folding 2 long sheets of aluminum foil so each is 8 inches wide. Lay sheets of foil in pan perpendicular to each other, with extra foil hanging over edges of pan. Push foil into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing foil flush to pan. Grease foil.
3. FOR THE BROWNIE BATTER: Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in bowl and set aside. Microwave chocolate and butter in bowl at 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until melted, 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Whisk sugar, eggs, and vanilla together in medium bowl. Add melted chocolate mixture (do not clean bowl) and whisk until incorporated. Add flour mixture and fold to combine.
5. Transfer 1/2 cup batter to bowl used to melt chocolate. Spread remaining batter in prepared pan. Spread cream cheese filling evenly over batter.
6. Microwave bowl of reserved batter until warm and pourable, 10 to 20 seconds. Using spoon, dollop softened batter over cream cheese filling, 6 to 8 dollops. Using knife, swirl batter through cream cheese filling, making marbled pattern, 10 to 12 strokes, leaving 1/2-inch border around edges.
7. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Let cool in pan on wire rack for 1 hour.
8. Using foil overhang, lift brownies out of pan. Return brownies to wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.
Per Serving : 225 Calories; 14g Fat (54.3% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 24g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 53mg Cholesterol; 117mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on December 21st, 2016:

    Gosh, I had no idea that such a thing existed. Fudgy chocolate Brownies is all I know!

    Several years ago I posted the recipe for the “old” ones that I knew from the 1970s. These are different – good different. They’re a lighter cake-type brownie. . . carolyn t

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