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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 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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