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Just finished News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her parents were killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of a old west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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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