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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome (the Pope) – he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read 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 free-lance 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 family was 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 an old (wild) 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. Just read this one first!

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 May 5th, 2017.

choc_apricot_torte

Oh my. Decadence on a plate. No counting calories on this one; just so you know . . .

It isn’t until I get home from a cooking class and enter a recipe into my software, MasterCook, that I glance at the calories and/or fat, or carbs for any dish. Tarla Fallgatter prepared this at a class a month or so ago, and everyone swooned over it. Me included. The torte is so soft, tender, melt-in-your-mouth chocolaty, and hits all the buttons for tasty. It’s so tender that it sinks in the middle – hence you can see the far right end of the cake has almost completely collapsed. Oh, but that didn’t detract one single calorie from enjoying it. Someone in the class asked if this was a chocolate lava cake, and Tarla said no, it wasn’t, although one could think so.

Tarla oftens does chocolate tortes, cakes, etc. That particular cooking class group loves chocolate too. Tarla loves chocolate, I’m guessing, although she never eats a bite of anything she fixes at the cooking classes, unless it’s to check for seasonings. This torte contains some apricot puree in the cake itself, and she served it with some additional on the plate, along with a scoop of sweetened whipped cream. There’s a chocolate ganache frosting on top, then toasted almonds sprinkled on top of that. It does have to be surrounded in foil (the springform pan, in a single sheet so water can’t permeate) and then baked in a water bath. Not hard, but requires a few extra steps and minutes. Do use a pan (for the water bath) that is much bigger than the springform pan because you need to steam to escape. Tarla baked this in a round pan that wasn’t too much bigger, and the cake took much longer to bake. Just so you know . . .

Serve this when you’re having a very light dinner – not at the end of a multi-course heavy meal as it’s very rich.

What’s GOOD: I hate to say this, but everything about this torte was delicious. Fantastic, really. I ate every smidgen. Will I actually make it? Maybe, but as I suggested above, not to serve after a heavy dinner.

What’s NOT: nothing except the excess of calories! Oh, and maybe the requirement to bake this in a foil covered base and in a water bath. Kind of a nuisance.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate Apricot Torte

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor, chef, 2017
Serving Size: 10

CAKE:
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate — coarsely chopped
3/4 cup unsalted butter
8 large eggs — separated
3/4 cup sugar — PLUS 2 tablespoons
3/4 cup apricot puree (see below)
1/4 cup Amaretto — or brandy or rum
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almonds — toasted
1 pinch salt
APRICOT PUREE:
1 cup dried apricots
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
CHOCOLATE GLAZE:
3/4 pound bittersweet chocolate — coarsely chopped
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup unsalted butter — room temperature
2 tablespoons Amaretto — or brandy
GARNISH:
1/2 cup sliced almonds — toasted
1/2 cup heavy cream — beaten with sugar and vanilla to taste

1. APRICOTS: Simmer apricots with water, sugar until very soft, about 20-30 minutes. Let cool; add vanilla and puree until smooth. Set aside. You will have more puree than needed.
2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan; line with parchment and butter the parchment. Using extra-wide foil, wrap bottom half of springform pan so none of the water bath will be able to enter the springform pan.
3. CAKE: Combine chocolate and butter in a bowl and heat over simmering water until melted. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Pulse the flour and almonds in a food processor.
4. Beat egg yolks and HALF the sugar until very thick and very light colored. Gently stir the apricot puree (3/4 cups of it only) and Amaretto into the chocolate mixture and the pinch of salt. Gently fold the almond flour and chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture.
5. In a clean bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form, then add remaining sugar and continue beating until thoroughly incorporated. Fold the egg whites, by thirds, into the chocolate mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan. Place the cake pan into a larger, open baking dish or pan (10×14 pan, or a large round or oval) and add enough hot water to the cake pan barely floats. Tent the top of the springform pan with foil. Bake for about 40-50 minutes.
6. Remove cake from the water bath and allow to cool on a wire rack for at least an hour. Gently unmold the cake from the springform pan.
7. GLAZE: Combine the chocolate, water and cream in the top half of a double boiler and melt over simmering water. Remove from heat and add butter and Amaretto. Allow to cool until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Ladle about half the glaze over the top of the torte, tilting it slightly so it spreads as evenly as possible. Use remaining glaze to drizzle on the side of each cake slice or drizzle on top of the cake when served.
8. GARNISH:: On each plate place the cake slice with a drizzle of glaze, then garnish with a spoonful of the remaining apricot puree and a dollop of whipped cream. Sprinkle the toasted almonds over all.
Per Serving: 916 Calories; 78g Fat (70.1% calories from fat); 16g Protein; 59g Carbohydrate; 12g Dietary Fiber; 264mg Cholesterol; 95mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on May 6th, 2017:

    Years ago, I made an apricot chocolate mousse cake for my mother-in-law’s birthday. It was from a magazine called Cuisine, which I subscribed to until it ceased publication around 1985. (The current or recent magazine of the same name bears no resemblance). I have all the issues still, but have never been able to locate the recipe or anything like it. This seems much richer, but I think it would do the trick nicely! Can’t wait for an excuse to make it! Maybe my daughter-in-law’s birthday in a couple weeks…

    Oh, I’m glad you’re going to try it. The finished torte is just SO good, but I even hesitated posting it because of the calories. Cut small slices, maybe? . . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on May 7th, 2017:

    Yes, small slices for sure! I hadn’t noticed the calorie count–wow! I’ll have to make mine just a sliver. I’m not sure how you can cram that many calories into a single nine-inch layer! I was just visiting one of my daughters this evening. She reads your blog, too, and she had also noticed this post and thought it sounded fantastic.

    It really is fabulous. One of the best recipes for chocolate. The apricot part just makes it even better. . . carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on June 7th, 2017:

    I finally got my chance to bake this when my daughter-in-law and grandkids came for a visit–it was a belated birthday cake. Everyone loved it. I only had a very thin sliver, and it was marvelous. My DIL enjoyed all the parts, but said her favorite was the cake with the apricot puree–she ate the whipped cream and ganache separately. We agreed that the torte with the puree would be great by themselves if one wanted to cut calories and still have a big treat. Even though I was prepared for a big production, I was taken aback just how many dishes and appliances were used–blender, food processor, and mixer with two different bowls and beaters, assorted measuring cups and spoons, saucepan, baking sheet, bowls for separating the eggs, and enough other items to make a complete dishwasher load, with a minimum of hand-washing to boot. And that did not include the springform pan or the ganache bowl, which still contained the cake and the ganache when I went to bed. (It came out of the pan easily even after about six hours.) I am sure my husband would be thrilled if I’d do it all again for his next birthday!
    I missed the note about using a large pan for the water bath, and it did take a lot longer to bake, probably close to twice as long as called for. As there are no doneness tests given, I didn’t know how to be sure it was done. In the end, I used a thermometer in the middle. It came out with lots of goo on it until about 160 degrees, when it was still very moist but slightly firmer when shaken. The resulting torte did not sink much for me, but it was still extremely moist and a bit gooey.
    I’d call it a big success and worth the time and the dishes–but not something to be undertaken lightly! One big plus in my estimation is that I did not have to find room for a cake in my already-crowded-with-food-for-a-feast refrigerator.

    Wow, Donna! Yes, I do recall there were tons of dishes to wash. Am so glad you enjoyed it. It’s truly a delicious dessert, but certainly on the “over the top” kind of scale. Tarla doesn’t test cakes with a thermometer, so am not sure what the “right” temp would be for this one since it’s supposed to be extra moist. . . . carolyn t

  4. hddonna

    said on June 7th, 2017:

    I was also wondering whether you simmered the apricots covered or uncovered. I did them uncovered, since covering wasn’t mentioned, but after 30 minutes most of the water had evaporated and the apricots were still not tender, as they were sticking up out of the syrup. I added a bit of water and covered it and gave them another ten minutes, which worked fine. There was still not much liquid, and I ended up adding a bit more when I pureed them, as they were too thick to blend. Of course, it is easy enough to add water as needed to achieve the consistency desired. It would be helpful to know about how much puree there should be. I ran out of puree too soon, too–a quarter of the torte is left, and no puree, so I’d make more next time.

    I don’t think I have an answer to that. Tarla scooped a bit onto each plate so there was just enough for all the servings. I’d say she put about a tablespoon additional puree on each plate, so not really very much! And then there was some in the torte itself, too. The cooking of them – it also depends on how old the dried apricots are – the fresher ones that are still almost sticky will cook faster. I hate it when they get “old” and it takes forever to rehydrate them! The other option would be to just let the dried apricots sit in hot water for a couple of hours before trying to cook them – that way they wouldn’t take long – or AS long. . . carolyn t

    I would most likely do the apricots covered because you want to retain all the fluid and it helps in the rehydrating process too… carolyn t

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