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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip, in a Paris restaurant.
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Just finished a very interesting novel, The Color of Water in July by Nora Carroll. It takes place in the upper peninsula of Michigan, an area I’ve never been to, but I have friends who live there and have been trying to get me to visit them for years, having told me (and sent photos) of how beautiful it is. The story takes place at a remote little cottage enclave on a lake. It’s clique-y, in that generations of families have kept these cottages in the family, not wanting any “outsiders” to come in. A young woman, Jess, who grew up partly with a crazy gypsy-like mother, and a loving but stern grandmother (who owns a home in the enclave) has a romance in her youth during the annual trek to the cottage, but a long ago tragedy ripples down through the years to affect her. When her grandmother dies, Jess has lots of mixed emotions about returning to the cottage. She wants to, but doesn’t. Finding papers in the house, she begins to unravel events over the course of two previous generations of family with startling revelations all along the way. Good character development for Jess, Daniel, her long-lost love, her grandmother, Mamie, and her current boyfriend, Russ. And great descriptions of the landscape of the area.

Champagne Baby: How One Parisian Learned to Love Wine–and Life–the American Way by Laure Dugas, another book I read recently. The author is very young, considering she’s written a memoir already (good for her, I say!). She was born to an old Champagne family in France, and paid little attention to anything regarding the wine business until her uncle (the CEO) offered to send her to the United States to do a 6-month tour with the vineyard’s distributor. She was fresh out of college and hadn’t really decided what she was going to do exactly. She’d be the spokesperson (brand ambassador they called her) for the family. Despite having a boyfriend, she made the leap anyway. Each chapter tells the story of her journey in America (with little language skills) or about what she learned about wine. And what she learned about long-distance relationships too. If you’ve never experienced much French wine, this would be a good introduction (she explains all about the different French wine regions and how/why they raise the grapes they do), but it’s woven into the very interesting life she led, living on a shoestring, meeting other French ex-pats in New York, and her thoughts on going to California, Boston, Memphis and other cities. When her 6 months were up, she wasn’t ready to go home. You’ll have to read it to find out what she did then. I liked the book immensely.

If you’ve been reading this sidebar much over the years, you’ve rarely seen mysteries here. Great for an airplane read, maybe, but I don’t find them (usually) gripping enough. But one of my book clubs is read a book by C.J. Box, called Open Season (A Joe Pickett Novel). Joe Pickett is a game warden in the wild country of Wyoming. He’s a good man. A family man. A good husband. AND a dogged investigator whenever anything goes awry in the hills. Usually it’s a murder of some kind. He writes a really good book that incorporates the mystery, lots of character study, some family stuff, but also a lot about the animals, the flora and fauna of the parks and land, and this one is also about an endangered species. I could hardly put it down. I’m SO glad I read this, and yesterday I visited my local library and checked out two more of his books. They’re easy reads; not overly long. But very absorbing. You’ll fall in love with Joe Pickett’s daughter Sheridan, too.

A page-turner of a book, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley grabbed me nearly from the first sentence. A small group of people take a private jet out of Martha’s Vineyard. Sixteen minutes later the plane crashes into the ocean. Two survive, a 4-year old boy and a single guy, an artist/painter, who ended up on the plane almost by happen-chance. What might have looked more like a fluke accident turns a bit sinister when you begin to learn more about the passengers on the plane, and the crew; the parents of the young boy, and a few others. Each person is scrutinized through the author’s lens and his/her culpability is analyzed. The painter and the boy form a bond because the man rescues the child and they swim miles and miles to shore. It’s just riveting. It’s not a James Bond type of thriller, but a real-life kind of drilling down into the core of each person on the plane. What I will mention, though, is that once you’ve read this, there isn’t a whole lot to discuss as a book club read, which is often the case for mysteries. Once the case is solved, there isn’t much to talk about except the characters, perhaps.

When one of my book groups gathered last week, we discussed a bunch of books that we might read for our next Sept-August “year.” We select them all, for the whole year, in advance. On the list of 18 possible ones (we’ll read nine only) was an old classic – I guess you could call it a classic – Plainsong – by Kent Haruf. Since it was published some years ago I dropped by the library, and sure enough, they had a copy. I came home and devoured it in one fell swoop. What a story. Tender, yet harsh in some respects. It tells the story of a group of small-town people (a teacher – a man separated from his wife, but he has the 2 boys who both play prominent roles in the book; a single woman caring for her aging and Alzheimer’s driven father; a young teenage girl who should have known better, but got pregnant; a couple of very old brothers, both single, struggling along with their ranch). All this takes place in a small town in eastern Colorado. I laughed. I cried. I wanted to reach through the pages to some of these characters to give them a hug. It’s a winner of a book. I may have to read more of Haruf’s books. The prose is spare, yet you can feel the anguish, the pain, the love, the caring. What a book!

 

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 November 11th, 2009.

chocolate souffle_2

Don’t you just want to grab a spoon and scrape up that drip and move it directly into your mouth? Because the soufflé top was tilting the way it did, I couldn’t photograph the top without viewing the drip. So, drip it is. Does it make it more real?

I mentioned last week that I’d been to a Julia Child cooking class. Taught by one of my favorite teachers, Phillis Carey. She was a particular fan of Julia’s, so it was no trouble for her to find recipes for a class. Phillis made coq au vin, chicken fricassee, the Roulade au Fromage, and Beef Bourguignon too. And this chocolate treat. Over the years I have made chocolate soufflé – maybe once. And I’ve made a chilled frothy gelatin kind of soufflé, but unless it’s baked like this one, it’s not a true soufflé. And although the instructions below seem long and tedious, it’s really not that hard. One of the great things about this recipe is that, except for baking them, you can make these ahead – yes, really – you keep them chilled until you’re ready to bake. They will keep overnight, but ideally make them earlier in the day and pop them in the oven about halfway through your dinner. Small ramekins take about 35 minutes. A larger single bowl of soufflé would take longer, probably 55 minutes or so. Whatever you do, once the top is puffed up (do NOT open the oven door to peek – you need to look through the door) don’t overbake it or it will be dry. Phillis told us that in France they generally bake soufflés at a 425 (a higher temp) for a shorter time period, because they prefer the center to still be soft and molten. This may be a change Julia made to this recipe – or Phillis did. Am not sure, but these are baked at 375 for 35 minutes.

What you see in the top-center is a small hole in the soufflé where Phillis piped in some freshly whipped cream, which oozes down into the soufflé. In France they serve a dessert soufflé (making a slot in the middle of the soufflé and spooning in something) with either a chocolate or vanilla sauce. In this one it’s just whipped cream, which I liked very much. Just remember that you must whisk these to your dinner guests immediately – within a minute or two – or the soufflé will begin to deflate, and you definitely don’t want THAT! Serve the ramekins on a plate with a small cocktail napkin underneath, to catch any drips and so the crock won’t slide around on the plate.
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Chocolate Soufflé (Soufflé au Chocolat)

Recipe By: A Julia Child recipe, prepared at a cooking class by Phillis Carey, 10/09
Serving Size: 8
NOTES: The soufflés can be prepared ahead, then baked just before serving. Do serve them immediately, though. Don’t forget to sugar the dishe(es), as the souffle needs the texture in the dish to climb the sides, to puff correctly.

3 tablespoons instant coffee granules — OR
2 tablespoons instant espresso — OR use a small amount of very strong, real espresso in lieu of the boiling water
3 tablespoons boiling water
6 ounces semisweet chocolate — chopped
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups whole milk — (or a combo of milk and heavy cream to equal the approximate butterfat content of whole milk)
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons soft butter
5 large eggs — separated
2 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream

1. Butter a 2-quart soufflé dish well and coat with granulated sugar or flour. Or use 6-8 small ramekins and utilize same process. If using a single soufflé dish you must make a collar around the top of the dish. Cut a piece of aluminum foil about 12″ wide and 1 1/2 inches longer than the circumference of the dish. Fold foil in half lengthwise, butter one side and surround dish with foil, butter side in. Secure with a straight pin, head down for easier removal.
2. Place water in the bottom of a double boiler or medium saucepan; bring to a boil and then remove from heat. In the top of the double boiler or in a stainless steel bowl place the coffee. Stir in the boiling water to dissolve the coffee; stir chocolate into coffee and set over hot water in pan off the heat. Stir briefly until chocolate starts to melt, then set aside and let rest for 5 minutes; stir until smooth.
3. Preheat oven to 375.
4. Place cornstarch in a medium saucepan; add a few tablespoons of the milk and whisk to blend completely. Whisk in the remaining milk and the 1/2 cup sugar. Stir over medium heat until sauce comes to a boil and thickens. Boil, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Scrape sauce off sides of pan with rubber spatula; spread softened butter over the top of the custard and set aside.
5. When ready to continue, scrape custard into a large bowl and whisk in the melted chocolate. Whisk in egg yolks.
6. Whip all seven egg whites with cream of tartar and salt until egg whites form soft peaks. Sprinkle on the 2 T. sugar and beat until egg whites form stiff peaks.
7. Fold 1/4 of the whipped egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Stir it to “lighten” the chocolate. Then add the remaining whites and fold gently, but thoroughly, until there are no more streaks of egg white. Carefully spoon the soufflé into the prepared dish(es). For the ramekins, fill them to just below the top of each small ramekin. You may refrigerate the soufflés at this point for several hours, or up to overnight.
8. Place the ramekins on a Silpat or foil lined sheet (in case there are any overflows) and bake, without opening the door, for 35 minutes (ramekins) or 45-55 minutes for the large soufflé dish, or until the soufflés puffed and set. Remove from oven, and remove foil collar (if using) and serve immediately with the heavy cream that has been whipped. Serve the ramekins on a plate, using a small napkin underneath each one.
Per Serving: 360 Calories; 21g Fat (51.0% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 174mg Cholesterol; 120mg Sodium.

A year ago: Filet Mignon with Mushrooms and Blue Cheese

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  1. Momstah

    said on December 26th, 2012:

    I made this recipe for Christmas and thought it turned out well. Two comments about step 6, which is confusing as written. First, the reference to salt – I omitted it as it was not listed in the ingredients. Also, calling for “all the egg whites” required a check against other recipes to clarify whether this meant the two separated egg whites (yes) or all five of them (no). Otherwise, good recipe and I will use it again!

    Thanks for the instructions enhancements. I’ll go fix that soon so it reads better. . . [later] I went to 3 other websites to compare the recipes for egg whites. I don’t own Julia’s “Mastering” cookbooks, so had to rely on online versions. All indicated you use all 7 egg whites, so I’ve changed the recipe to say “seven.” The omission of salt in the recipe must have been my oversight – it IS in the original recipes I found online, so I added it into mine as well. I hope you try it again with all 7 egg whites – it should make a huge difference! . . . carolyn t

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