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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 July 12th, 2017.

bittersweet_choc_almond_torte

Would you ever guess I like chocolate? Ha! I need a daily (small) chocolate fix, and was ever so glad when the FDA or someone announced some years ago that an ounce of chocolate a day is good for us. Hooray! My challenge is keeping the chocolate to ONE ounce.

This torte is all about chocolate and almonds. There’s Amaretto and almond extract in the cake/torte part, then there are toasted almonds sprinkled on top when you serve it. The word decadent comes to mind here. The cake/torte part is certainly easy to mix up – it’s got the usual ingredients (sugar, butter, chocolate and numerous eggs) but then it also contains the Amaretto too and some espresso powder as well. AND the almond extract which gives this an extra boost of almond flavor. You do have to bake it in a water bath – that may be the only down side to making this if you hate that part.

choc_almond_torte_coolingIn my previous home I designed the kitchen myself and had a small Gaggenau baking oven, the kind that you could bake things without a bain marie (water bath). It was really, really nice to have, but the oven was very small and barely would fit a casserole dish – so small that a regular 9×13 pan wouldn’t fit in it unless it was small for its size. I had just one 9×13 pan that would fit. Other, smaller baking dishes were no problem, though. Fortunately I had a 2nd, regular oven for the larger pans. When I designed my current kitchen in 2006, I bought Dacor brand appliances (plus the Sub-Zero refrigerator and freezer), and the two ovens I have, as good as they are, don’t have that kind of a baking oven. In the Gaggenau, it had to do with the insulation around the oven – it had deep insulation so the heat was very gentle. I don’t know that Gaggenau makes that kind of baking oven anymore. Maybe to the professional trade.

choc_almond_torte_frostedWell anyway, back to this torte. You DO need to use a water bath – just place the torte in a large and deep baking dish or pan and pour in warm water (hot tap water works) while it bakes. Then you need to make the ganache which is nothing but bittersweet chocolate and heavy cream. Once the cake cools an hour you spread it over the torte (which you’ve removed from the pan – carefully). Ideally, let it cool completely before serving, but do serve it within a few hours with a dollop of whipped cream and the toasted almonds. And a lovely mint leaf if you have one. Yum. This was from a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter.

What’s GOOD: I loved-loved the almond flavor in this – it’s VERY intense almond. And very much chocolate. You’ll swoon with each bite if you’re a chocoholic and love almonds like I do! A real treat.

What’s NOT: only the hassle of the water bath, I suppose. Maybe the calorie and fat content – cut small pieces so you won’t feel so guilty! This torte is definitely worth making.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Bittersweet Chocolate Almond Torte

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking class, 2017
Serving Size: 10

TORTE:
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
4 ounces unsalted butter — cubed
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate — cut in pieces
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup Amaretto — or cold-brewed coffee
2 teaspoons almond extract
6 large eggs
GANACHE:
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate — cut in pieces
GARNISH:
1/2 cup sliced almonds — toasted
1/2 cup heavy cream — beaten with sugar and vanilla to taste
mint sprigs

NOTE: This “cake” is almost the consistency of a firm pudding. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
2. Butter a 9×2″ round cake pan, line with parchment paper and butter the top of the parchment.
3. Bring water and sugar to a boil; remove from heat. Add butter, chopped chocolate, espresso powder and salt and let sit for a few minutes until chocolate has melted. Stir until smooth. Add Amaretto and almond extract. Set aside.
4. Whisk eggs until thick. Add chocolate mixture and fold gently. Pour batter into prepared cake pan and place cake pan inside a roasting pan. Add warm water to pan, halfway up the side of the cake pan. Bake until puffed and soft to the touch, 40-45 minutes. Remove roasting pan from oven, then remove cake pan to a cooling rack. Let cake cool one hour. Run a knife around inside of the cake pan; invert onto a platter and peel off the parchment; cool completely.
5. GANACHE: Heat cream, add chocolate and let it sit for a few minutes until the chocolate has melted. Stir until smooth. Let cool slightly. Spread mixture over the top and down the sides of the torte. If needed, very, very carefully slide the cake onto a serving plate or tall cake stand. Cake is very tender and soft.
6. Sprinkle top with toasted almonds and serve with sweetened whipped cream. Garnish with a mint sprig on each slice.
Per Serving: 549 Calories; 50g Fat (74.7% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 185mg Cholesterol; 113mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on July 12th, 2017:

    Wonder why it is that a water bath seems like so much trouble–there’s really not much to it. The worst, in my opinion, is just finding the right pan or dish to use. For a 9-inch round pan, I have to dig out a large roasting pan from the basement. The torte looks like a chocolate lover’s bliss!

    Yes, there IS something about doing a water bath that’s a big nuisance. I have to do the same thing you do, although my big roasting pan is about 20 feet away in a closet. At the last class (maybe it was for this dessert) Tarla said you do not have to pour in boiling water (I always filled the teapot and hoped I had enough). She said that hot-hot tap water is fine for a water bath. She’s a graduate of a culinary school, so I trust her about things like that. . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on July 18th, 2017:

    That looks rather good, I wonder if I might ever make it? I never have a problem with a
    Bain-Marie, it is easy enough.

    Why, I wonder, do almost all American recipes call for unsalted butter only to add salt later? I would simply use my normal salted butter.

    The unsalted butter thing stems from professional bakers/chefs wanting to control the amount of salt in things, that sometimes you wouldn’t want as much added sodium as is put into salted butter. I happen to love the taste of unsalted butter on bread or toast and I use it mostly on other things too, but I could easily use salted butter everywhere else. I convince myself I’m keeping a better control on how much salt I use. . . carolyn t

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on July 24th, 2017:

    I was brought up on good Welsh butter which is (was) quite highly salted and I suppose that I have never lost the taste for it. I use French butter now, Beurre d’Isigny which is made using a culture such as might be in real yoghurt. It is a treat, on toasted artisan bread.

    Oh, Toni, that sounds marvelous – my mouth is watering! I do love good, artisan bread. Hard to find here. I’ve never heard of that kind of butter. It must not be imported here. . . carolyn t

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