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My reading of late has been short and fitful, somewhat like my sleeping pattern, ever since my dear husband passed away. I’m still in 2 book clubs, though, and have wanted to keep up with the reading for those.

When I started reading The Divorce Papers: A Novel by Susan Rieger, I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue. Initially, it brought back too many unpleasant memories of my divorce in 1979-80. But I kept reading and soon was engrossed in the unusual approach. It’s about Sophie Diehl, a young criminal attorney who gets roped into working on this very messy divorce taken on by her law firm. The entire book is written via letters, documents and email messages between the pertinent parties in this divorce (the couple divorcing, their daughter, both attorneys, her boss, and one of Sophie’s best friends). It’s a clever book. As I write this, I’m about 80% through, so I don’t even know how it ends, but I’ve enjoyed the read so far.

Recently finished Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline. It’s about a little known period of time (1854-1929) when orphaned children were loaded onto trains on the East Coast and sent to the Midwest to be adopted by families who needed or wanted children. Some were adopted by people who were unfit; some of the children were lucky and found good, loving homes. This is the story of one of the girls, Vivian Daly and her journey. Woven into the story is a much later period of Vivian’s life when many facts of  her earlier experiences are revealed. A very, very interesting book; there’s a love story in it too.

Since I’m a fan of Ann Patchett, it’s no surprise that I wanted to buy her most recent book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It’s a book of short stories, but not fictional ones – it’s a compilation of essays and articles she’s written over the course of her writing life. My favorite is the one in which she describes in intimate detail how she goes about writing a book. About the process, her thinking, and the the hard, hard work it entails. I loved every one of the stories. She is quite self-deprecating about the book – it likely wasn’t her idea to put it together as she never thought any of her essays were worth much. She wrote them to make a living. Each of the chapters (essays) has been updated and/or addended to, so she did have to put some spit and polish on all of them before sending this group to the publisher. She’s written essays for a very esoteric group of publications; some I’d never heard of. But I enjoyed the book from beginning to end.

Also just finished reading The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd. What a story. Sometimes it’s a good thing to read the author’s notes before you read a book. I guess I’m glad I didn’t (in this case the notes were at the end of the book) because it was then, afterwards, that I read that one of the characters in this novel is fictional; the other two (sisters) were real. There’s a bit about the Quaker religion in this book too, which was different. This is a slavery story and about the beginnings of the abolitionist movement. Interwoven between the 2 sisters who make waves about anti-slavery is the poignant story of one particular slave and her hard, hard life. It’s heartbreaking in many respects, not just because of the violence and abuse heaped upon her. The book is almost a page-turner. Very glad I read it.

Also read The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a rather unusual story line, all envisioned by the author from reading a tiny line of elaborate script from a journal at what remains of a foundling hospital (run mostly like a convent by Catholic nuns) in Venice. It said something like Antonio Vivaldi purchased “a bow for Maddalena Rossa.” That started the author’s novel journey. Two sisters are raised at the Ospedale della Pieta. One becomes famous for her violin skills; the other for her voice. One is married “out” and the other stays cloistered her entire life. Then you throw Vivaldi himself into the mix, as he really was paid by the Ospedale for his compositions and for teaching some of the residents to play instruments. It’s an enlightening story about Vivaldi himself (a priest, with a lot of questions about his piety). It takes place in the early 1700s. Fascinating story and I want to listen again in total to Vivaldi’s very famous work, The Four Seasons, as a result of reading this. I’ve heard it many times before, but it will have new meaning now.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste 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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