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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 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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