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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 August 14th, 2009.

tiramisu 1 Without a doubt, this is the very best Tiramisù

I’ve ever eaten. Bar none.

It had been some years since I’d made Tiramisù, using an old recipe that I’d put together myself from about 3 different versions. Then I was watching America’s Test Kitchen last week and they made a rather simplified Tiramisù, and I was hooked. Had to try it. Caution: this recipe does have raw egg yolks in it, so if you’re interested in the version made without raw eggs, America’s Test Kitchen has that recipe too. A note: you do have to sign-in to a free ATK membership in order to view these recipes (so they can send you emails, most likely, which they do, but I like receiving most of them – except the two a week wanting me to subscribe to Cook’s Country – wish they would stop sending me that one – I’ve asked – no can do, I guess).

I suppose, from beginning to end, it took me about an hour to make it. Not too bad, I guess, although I thought it would take less than that. This recipe has a lot more mascarpone in it (1 1/2 pounds) than I’ve used before. But I sure learned exactly how to dip the savoiardi cookies – those are the Italian, dry ladyfingers used to make this dessert. Not the soft ones you can sometimes find at the grocery store.

Just the right amount of coffee

That's how much coffee was left over

Even though I’m a fairly experienced home cook, and tackle almost anything, I’d never known HOW to get just the right amount of coffee into the cookies/the dessert. Too much and they fall apart into wet mush. Too little and the dessert is dry. You want a happy mixture of the cookies, coffee and mascarpone cream. That’s what I like about America’s Test Kitchen – they figure all this out for me so I don’t have to guess. They showed us exactly how to hold the cookie and how long to dip and turn it over in the coffee mixture. When I got done I had exactly one cookie left over and a little bit of coffee, so I dipped it in and bit into it. Exactly how it’s supposed to be – you only dip about 2 seconds, maybe 3 at the absolute most to get the coffee on the outside. When you cut (bite) into it, the center of the cookie is still dry. At least it was when I made the dessert. After it sits for 24 hours, the cookies had perfectly absorbed the flavors, but it wasn’t soggy with coffee, nor had it fallen apart. They still had enough “form” to use a spatula to cut and remove a nice serving portion.

tiramisu spread The mascarpone batter was easy – eggs and sugar – some rum (rum was also added to the coffee dipping mixture too), the mascarpone and whipped cream. So, you dip the cookies in the coffee/rum mixture, put one layer in a 9×13 glass dish, slather on half of the mascarpone cream (picture at left shows spreading the first layer over the cookies), sprinkle with a bit of Dutch process cocoa, another layer of dipped cookies and the last half of the mascarpone and more cocoa. That’s it. Chill at least 6 hours, but 24 is preferable.  That was fine with me, so I got this dessert done a day ahead of our dinner party the other night. Just before serving I sprinkled the top with a bit of chopped semisweet chocolate shavings.

tiramisu side view

From this picture above (side view of the Pyrex dish) I can see that on the bottom layer I didn’t push and shove the tender soaked cookies tightly enough over on the right– they mentioned that on the ATK episode, about making sure the cookies are pressed snugly, to push a bit to fill in all the nooks and crannies. So I had a little dip there. Surely didn’t matter to the taste, though!

Results? By far the best tiramisu I’ve ever had. I would make not one change to this recipe. It will now be my go-to one for this coffee and chocolate dessert. The leftovers were sublime, even 48 hours later.
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Tiramisù (from America’s Test Kitchen)

Recipe: America’s Test Kitchen
Servings: 12-16
NOTES: Brandy and even whiskey can stand in for the dark rum. The test kitchen prefers a tiramisù with a pronounced rum flavor; for a less potent rum flavor, halve the amount of rum added to the coffee mixture in step 1. Do not allow the mascarpone to warm to room temperature before using it; it has a tendency to break if allowed to do so. Be certain to use hard, not soft ladyfingers. If you do a little smaller portions, you can probably get 15 or 16 servings from the one 9×13 pan.

2 1/2 cups strong black coffee — room temperature [I use decaf]
1 1/2 tablespoons instant espresso powder — [I use decaf coffee granules]
9 tablespoons dark rum
6 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 pounds mascarpone cheese
3/4 cup heavy cream — (cold)
14 ounces savoiardi (Italian dry ladyfingers) — (42 to 60 preferably depending on size)
3 1/2 tablespoons cocoa — Dutch-processed
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate — grated (optional) or use bittersweet

1. Stir coffee, espresso, and 5 tablespoons rum in wide bowl or baking dish until espresso dissolves; set aside.
2. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat yolks at low speed until just combined. Add sugar and salt and beat at medium-high speed until pale yellow, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula once or twice. Add remaining 4 tablespoons rum and beat at medium speed until just combined, 20 to 30 seconds; scrape bowl. Add mascarpone and beat at medium speed until no lumps remain, 30 to 45 seconds, scraping down bowl once or twice. Transfer mixture to large bowl and set aside.
3. In now-empty mixer bowl (no need to clean bowl), beat cream at medium speed until frothy, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Increase speed to high and continue to beat until cream holds stiff peaks, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes longer. Using rubber spatula, fold one-third of whipped cream into mascarpone mixture to lighten, then gently fold in remaining whipped cream until no white streaks remain. Set mascarpone mixture aside.
4. Working one at a time, drop half of ladyfingers into coffee mixture, roll, remove, and transfer to 13 by 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. (Do not submerge ladyfingers in coffee mixture; entire process should take no longer than 2 to 3 seconds for each cookie.) Arrange soaked cookies in single layer in baking dish, breaking or trimming ladyfingers as needed to fit neatly into dish.
5. Spread half of mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers; use rubber spatula to spread mixture to sides and into corners of dish and smooth surface. Place 2 tablespoons cocoa in fine-mesh strainer and dust cocoa over mascarpone.
6. Repeat dipping and arrangement of ladyfingers; spread remaining mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers and dust with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa. Wipe edges of dish with dry paper towel. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 6 to 24 hours. Sprinkle with grated chocolate, if using; cut into pieces and serve chilled.
Per Serving (if you cut 16 pieces, calorie count will go down, obviously): 510 Calories; 36g Fat (66.2% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 35g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 205mg Cholesterol; 157mg Sodium.

A year ago: Zucchini Pancakes

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  1. Emily

    said on May 5th, 2012:

    This Tiramisù is absolutely spectacular! I invested in some very high quality ingredients and definitely did not regret it once I had a taste. WOW. Thanks so much for sharing. The tip on how long to dip the ladyfingers was especially helpful.

    Thanks, Emily! It’s comments like yours that keep me going writing this blog. I’m so glad you had success with it. But I can’t take the credit – it’s all Cook’s Illustrated’s recipe! . . .carolyn T

  2. Aileen Lengyel

    said on July 17th, 2016:

    It sounds good but isn’t egg yolks dangerous to eat this way?

    There was a big deal made about raw egg yolks some years ago, but more and more home cooks are using raw egg yolks IF they’ve been purchased from a grocery store AND the person eating isn’t pregnant or have other serious health issues. I’ve been using raw egg yolks for years with no problem, but I buy them at my grocery store and they’re stored/refrigerated properly (in their box, not in the door tray in most refrigerators). And I’m not expecting . . . .look at my article, up in the first paragraph there’s a link to making it without raw eggs. . . carolyn t

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