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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 Brunch, on November 3rd, 2009.

Roulade cheese_1

This was SO good. And it looked like more work than I’d ordinarily want to do. I didn’t make this myself, but it was served to me at a recent cooking class. A class with nothing but Julia Child recipes. Phillis Carey taught the class, and made only a couple of tiny changes to Julia’s recipes, but this was just delish. It’s ideal for a sit-down lunch, if you do such things, or probably a brunch would be perfect. Could be done for a dinner, but it’s rich and filling, so you wouldn’t want anything else very substantial in addition to this. My friend Cherrie and I talked about doing it for a brunch, but it would be best if somebody else could/would help you with some of the work. Either with the soufflé, or with the other parts of the meal, like the fruit plate you might want to have, or the champagne cocktails. How’s that sound?

So what’s a fallen soufflé? Nothing but a soufflé that’s allowed to fall, which it will do all by itself if you just leave it alone. You do do the whipped egg whites folded into your egg mixture, it’s baked flat on a large baking sheet, turned out of the pan onto a flat surface. In that short time, the soufflé falls some – not so flat as scrambled egg-like, but it’s not as high as it is when it first exits the oven. Once briefly cooled, it’s stuffed with a Béchamel-rich spinach sauce (a Béchamel sauce is really just a cream sauce) and rolled. Then cut and served immediately, while it’s hot. In the photo above, there is an egg part underneath the spinach, it’s just that there was so much spinach it kind of rolled out the side. Notice how nice and fluffy the egg layer is.

If the meal didn’t require too much other work (like maybe a green salad and bread) this could be accomplished easily enough. The spinach and sauce can both be made ahead of time and reheated. It’s the soufflé part that can’t be even mixed ahead. Eggs are temperamental things – once they’re puffed up with air, they need to be cooked right away. Everything could be mis en place (ingredients put together on a tray, all ready). The baking sheet, buttered, parchment papered and buttered, all the whisks, whips bowls and mixers ready.

The Béchamel sauce is thicker than usual – in order to hold together the filling. Half of it goes into the soufflé, and the other half is used for the spinach filling. So there’s really only one sauce to make. The filling is not all that difficult – it uses frozen spinach, and you buy the Black Forest ham and cube it up quite small. So this dish is really do-able as long as you plan the menu accordingly.
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Cheese Souffle Roll with Spinach & Ham

Recipe By: A Julia Child recipe, from one of her cookbooks
Serving Size: 5
NOTES: Separate the eggs when they’re cold – they separate more easily. Adding the cheese at the very end of the preparation means the cheese doesn’t completely dissipate throughout, so you still will see and taste the cheese.

THICK BÉCHAMEL SAUCE:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup flour
3 cups whole milk — heated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
1 pinch freshly ground nutmeg
SOUFFLE:
1/2 of the above Béchamel Sauce
6 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup Gruyere cheese — grated [or Emmentaler]
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs — coarsely crushed [divided use]
SPINACH FILLING:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons shallots — minced
20 ounces frozen spinach — chopped, thawed, squeezed dry
1 1/2 cups Black Forest ham slices — cut in tiny cubes
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 of the Béchamel Sauce above
3 tablespoons milk — (approximate) to thin the sauce
1/4 cup Gruyere cheese — grated

1. BÉCHAMEL SAUCE: Melt butter in a 3-quart saucepan. Whisk in flour and cook over medium heat until bubbly, 1-2 minutes. Whisk in hot milk (must be hot milk) until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, as the sauce returns to a boil. Sauce will be very thick. Beat in salt, pepper and nutmeg. Divide sauce in half.
2. SOUFFLE: Preheat oven to 425.
3. Butter a 12×17 inch jelly roll pan (with sides) and line with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang of paper at each end. Butter the parchment (yes, you must do this) and dust with flour. Melt 1 T. butter in a small skillet and add the bread crumbs. Toss over medium heat until toasted. Set aside to cool.
4. Place HALF the Béchamel in a bowl. Whisk in one egg yolk at a time (or you can temper the egg yolks with some of the hot Béchamel sauce).
5. Beat the egg whites until smooth peaks form. Ideally start the whites at a low speed, then increase as they become thicker. Don’t overbeat the whites – they should not be “dry.” When the eggs are still frothy add the cream of tartar and salt. Once stiff peaks form, fold about 1/4 of the egg whites into the Béchamel to lighten up the mixture. Add the remaining whites and gently fold and turn the bowl until there are no more streaks of egg white. Do not overmix. Gently fold in the cheese.
6. Pour souffle mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula, clear into the corners. Bake for 12-15 minutes (12 if using pure convection, 15 if conventional oven) or just until the souffle has puffed and top feels slightly springy.
7. SPINACH FILLING: While souffle bakes prepare the spinach filling. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat and add the shallots. Cook for one minute. Stir in the tiny cubes of ham and toss for one minute. Stir in the spinach (squeezed VERY dry) and Béchamel, adding more milk if necessary to thin out the sauce. The mixture should be spreadable but not too thin. Stir in the cheese and taste for seasoning.
8. SOUFFLE: Remove souffle from oven and sprinkle top with half of the toasted breadcrumbs. Use a spatula all around the edge of the souffle so it’s not sticking to the edges anywhere. Lay a piece of parchment paper over the top of the souffle and carefully turn the pan over onto a bread board or countertop. Let rest 5 minutes, remove pan, then carefully peel off the paper.
9. Spread the hot spinach filling over the warm souffle, leaving a 1-inch border along one long side, the side farthest from you. Fold back the bottom parchment paper partially (about an inch), and roll up the souffle, using the parchment paper to help. As you do this have a hot serving plate/platter next to the far edge and gently roll the souffle onto the platter, making sure the open edge is on the bottom side. Sprinkle with the remaining toasted bread crumbs and serve immediately. Serving Ideas : Ideally serve this at a sit-down brunch, or a more formal luncheon. The souffle cannot be made ahead of time, but everything else can be. Would be nice served with a lightly dressed green salad and some bread.
Per Serving: 752 Calories; 53g Fat (63.3% calories from fat); 41g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 429mg Cholesterol; 1213mg Sodium.

A year ago: Goat Cheese Potato Gratin

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on November 3rd, 2009:

    Gosh, even though I’m not fond of cheese I’m pretty sure I’d like that; the textures look wonderful.

    The cheese is not all that prominent. There certainly IS some in there, but the spinach is what you taste, and the egg. . . carolyn t

  2. Ninette

    said on November 3rd, 2009:

    Looks delish!

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