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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 Desserts, on February 21st, 2017.

choc_truffle_cake

Oh my! This cake/torte is just off the charts. Ample chocolate for the chocoholic; plenty of substance with the “cake” part – almost like fudge but not quite, and crunch from the walnuts. All gently lapped with whipped cream on top.

If you’re a chocolate person, you’ll want to make this truffle cake. The ganache (the top layer) is rich with just bittersweet chocolate and cream. Oh so rich. Oh so lovely and delicious. The crust has unsweetened cocoa in it, plus some walnuts and stuff to hold it together. The filling has copious amounts of walnuts and honey plus butter, brown sugar and cream. Tarla put this together in no time – you might think it would be time-consuming with all the layers, but really not. Your guests will be wowed.

The cake/torte is made in a 9-inch springform pan lined with parchment. The crust is all composed of standard ingredients and you pack that into the bottom. The base is baked until firm and is allowed to cool on a rack. Then you put together the filling with more standard kind of ingredients plus the walnuts. That layer is cooked on the stove – kind of like a candy, to 280°F and it’s poured on top of the crust/base. The walnuts are sprinkled on top once that filling layer has cooled. You kind of press them into the filling. The ganache is just bittersweet chocolate and cream and once smooth and melted, you cool it to room temp and at that point it will hold into soft peaks – then  you spread it on top of the filling (and walnuts nestled into the filling). That’s then chilled for several hours – at least 4 – and do allow it to sit at room temp for about 30 minutes before you try to cut and serve it – WITH whipped cream. It might seem like overkill, but trust me, it isn’t. You’ll want that whipped cream to counter the richness of the truffle cake. Thank you, Tarla, for another great chocolate recipe (cooking class).

What’s GOOD: the flavor – the chocolate – oh yes, SO delicious. It serves 10 if you make the slices fairly narrow. It’s very rich, so you don’t need a big piece. It’s a chocoholic’s dream come true. Make it, okay?

What’s NOT: nothing, unless you don’t like chocolate!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate Walnut Truffle Cake

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor
Serving Size: 12

BASE:
1/2 stick unsalted butter — (1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup walnuts — finely chopped
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
FILLING:
1 1/2 cups walnuts
1/2 stick unsalted butter — (1/4 cup)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
GANACHE:
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 pound bittersweet chocolate — (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate), use good quality

1. Preheat oven to 350°F and butter a 9-inch springform pan.
2. Make base: In a small saucepan melt butter and stir in cocoa powder. Remove pan from heat and add brown sugar, stirring until dissolved. Stir in flour, walnuts, egg, and vanilla and spread batter evenly in springform pan. Bake base in middle of oven 10 minutes, or just until firm, and transfer to a rack to cool.
3. Make filling: Arrange walnuts in one layer on top of base. In a small heavy saucepan combine butter, brown sugar, and honey and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes, or until a candy thermometer registers 280°F. Remove pan from heat and add cream, vanilla, and lemon juice, stirring until smooth. Cool mixture to room temperature and pour over walnuts, spreading evenly.
4. Make ganache: In a saucepan bring cream just to a boil. Finely chop chocolate. Put chocolate in a metal bowl and pour hot cream over it, stirring until smooth. Cool ganache to room temperature and beat with an electric mixer until it just holds soft peaks (do not overbeat or it will become grainy).
5. Spread ganache evenly over filling. Chill cake, covered, at least 4 hours and up to 1 day.
6. Run a thin knife around edge of cake and remove side of pan. With a large spatula transfer cake to a plate and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving.
Per Serving: 634 Calories; 53g Fat (68.4% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 79mg Cholesterol; 33mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 23rd, 2017:

    I wish that I were fonder of chocolate!

    Well, you will have saved yourself a bunch of calories, then! I wish I didn’t like chocolate!! . . . carolyn t

  2. Lisa

    said on May 9th, 2017:

    I would love to make this for my mother in law for her birthday, but she recently became gluten free. Do you think there is anything I could substitute for the AP flour and get the same result? It looks divine!

    Well, there are lots of flourless chocolate cake recipes (I have a couple here on my blog – go to the recipe index for desserts). Perhaps using one of those recipe, but adding the apricot to it would be a more reliable recipe. BUT, that said, I think you might be able to substitute almond flour for the AP in this recipe – there is so LITTLE flour in it to begin with. I certainly can’t guarantee it, but it might be worth a try. You could – if you are so inclined – make a little bitty cake, like 1/4 of the recipe, and use a small round ceramic dish and see if it works before you make the entire cake with it. The eggs are providing most of the leavening in this torte, so it’s worth trying. Good luck, and let me know how it turns out! . . . carolyn t

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