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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.

Also read The Time In Between: A Novel by Maria Duenas (translated). Apparently this book has been a runaway best seller in Europe as it deals with a little known, or I should say a part of WWII that you’ve probably never read about – Spain. The heroine is a Madrid seamstress, but is seduced by a young man to go to Morocco. She knows no one and is left high and dry when the lover disappears. She finds her way, makes friends, begins sewing couturier clothing in Morocco. The Spanish Revolution intervenes and merges into WWII. She becomes a spy of sorts (in Madrid) because she is coveted as a seamstress to the Nazi wives of Madrid. It’s a page-turner and informative. Good read.

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 Breads, Desserts, on March 16th, 2010.

My friend Linda, who came up to visit last week, was telling me all about Tyler Florence, and about how much she enjoys his cookbooks (I bought her one for Christmas), his Food Network programs, and his recipes. Naturally, I had to go check him out. It’s not like I didn’t know who he was – I did – or that I’d never watched his show – I had – but somehow I’d never tried any of his recipes. So, I’ve started to Tivo his programs now, and I’m subscribed to his blog (through his website). And in the process I came across this chocolate banana bread recipe.

At a local restaurant we go to now and then, they offer a tart that always rocks my boat – it’s a very small pastry shell filled with chocolate pudding, with sliced bananas on top, then some whipped cream on top of that, with more bananas. It’s been a year or two since I’ve had one of them, so I thought maybe this chocolate banana bread would sort-of satisfy that flavor need.

The bread is quite easy to make – you just have to have some very ripe bananas. I think Tyler mentions it in his blog piece – gotta have ultra-ripe bananas or it just doesn’t have the flavor he knows it can have. The bread calls for both cocoa – I used Penzey’s natural (which is extra dark), not Dutch processed, which weakens the flavor -  and semisweet chocolate (I used some Ghiradelli chocolate chips I had in the stash). Otherwise, the bread is typical (butter, flour, baking powder, sugar, eggs). It requires little mixing once you get everything all together and it’s baked for a little under an hour. I should have rapped the pan once on the counter (see the air bubbles in the top half of the bread in the photo above), but otherwise it was easy to remove and slice. The taste is really good – I mean really, really good. Very chocolate-y and moderately high on banana flavor too. I like it very much and would definitely make it again.

Chocolate Banana Bread

Recipe By: Tyler Florence (on his website)
Serving Size: 12

NOTES: You won’t need to butter the pan if you use a nonstick bread pan. The bread develops deep cracks during the baking process, but it does flatten some once it cools.

1/2 cup unsalted butter — (1 stick) softened, plus more for the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate — melted
2 large eggs
3 whole bananas — ripe
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Mix together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, cream the butter until lightened, then beat in the chocolate, eggs, bananas, and vanilla. Stir in the dry ingredients just until combined and no streaks of flour are visible; do not overbeat.
2. Pour the batter into the loaf pan. Drop the pan on the counter from about 2-3 inches above it (to pop any air bubbles in the batter) and bake until a toothpick stuck into the center of the bread comes out almost clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for at least 15 minutes before unmolding.
Per Serving: 286 Calories; 14g Fat (42.2% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 39g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 56mg Cholesterol; 233mg Sodium.
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A year ago: Corned Beef Dinner
Two years ago: Fumi Chinese Chicken Salad

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