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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 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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