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Just finished reading 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 because 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 a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but 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, too!

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

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, Vegetarian, on September 16th, 2011.

tomato_corn_cheese_pie

Will you just trust me on this one? Make it, please. Providing you like tomatoes. And cheese. And fresh corn. And pie crust. Oh, it’s so utterly delicious.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time, you may remember that I posted a similar pie two years ago. It was called a Savory Tomato & Gruyere Pie. And, in fact, this one is also savory, also full of tomatoes, and gruyere cheese. But after I made that pie in 2009 I also made another one – a Tomato & Corn Pie in a Biscuit Crust. I particularly liked the corn in the 2nd rendition. But I thought the first one had better taste. So this time I had both recipes handy and decided to make some changes. All for the better, I assure you! I think this recipe has all the best of both recipes in it. If you’d prefer to use the biscuit crust, by all means do so.

I made a short crust tart shell (you can either roll it out and place in the pie plate, or press it in if you’re piecrust-challenged) and put it into my 9-inch pie dish. I sautéed some onion, added the fresh corn cut off the cob, and a little bit of Sriracha sauce. After the pie shell baked for awhile, I spread the bottom of the crust with about 3 ounces of garlic-and-herb Boursin cheese. It’s a protective layer to keep the moist veggies from soaking into the tender, flaky piecrust. And I used Boursin because I didn’t have any cream cheese in the refrigerator. This worked just fine. The pie shell was still fairly warm, so the cheese really softened a lot. Then I poured in the onion-corn mixture and spread it around. Meanwhile, I’d cut up about 2 1/2 cups of fresh heirloom tomatoes. I cored the tomatoes, cut them in wedges, then squeezed the dickens out of them and put them on some paper towels. Then I squeezed them again to get almost all the juice out of them but still keep the pieces intact. Then I cut the tomatoes into pieces and placed them in the pie and sprinkled the top with a small handful of sliced basil. Then I mixed up the Gruyere cheese, mozzarella cheese and mayonnaise (sinful, I know) and dabbed little pieces all over the top of the tart. There isn’t enough to really spread; besides, the mixture is very sticky, so I used my hands and dropped little bits of it all over the top, then used a spatula to sort-of spread it more evenly. There will be a few holes here and there.

tomato_corn_pie

That’s it – bake for about 30 minutes – until the cheese is bubbling away. I let it sit for a few minutes (letting it rest for about 10 minutes would be best – it will cut better), slice and serve with a few more bits of fresh basil on top. I made a green salad with some soft butter lettuce and my latest Lemon Sherry Vinegar Salad Dressing. Perfection. My DH raved.  And raved. I cut us each one slice for dinner and it was all we could do to keep our forks out of the pie plate to have more. We were good. But I had it for lunch the next day, heated in the microwave for about 45 seconds. More perfection!

printer-friendly PDF – doesn’t include the pie crust
MasterCook 5+ import file (click to run MC or right click to save file)

Tomato Corn Pie

Recipe By: Adapted significantly from Simply Recipes blog
Serving Size: 7-8
NOTES: If using Gruyere, it’s a very salty cheese, so don’t salt

1 whole pie shell — 9 inch unbaked
2 teaspoons canola oil
1/2 whole yellow or red onion — chopped finely
2 cups fresh corn — cut off the cobs (2-3 ears)
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce — (or more to taste)
2 1/2 cups tomatoes — cut in half horizontally
3 ounces Boursin cheese — at room temperature, garlic flavored
1/4 cup basil — sliced in thin strips
2 1/2 cups grated cheese — a combination of Gruyere and Mozzarella
2/3 cup mayonnaise
Freshly ground black pepper
Basil leaves for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line the unbaked pie shell with waxed paper and add pie weights, pushing them up the sides if possible. Bake for 10 minutes or longer until lightly golden. Reduce oven temp to 350° and bake for another 5-10 minutes. Remove pie shell from oven. Allow to cool just a couple of minutes and gently remove waxed paper (and pie weights), using the waxed paper as a sling. Set pie shell on a rack while you complete the rest of the pie. You can make the pie shell earlier in the day and let it sit at room temp until you’re ready to continue.
2. Squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the chopped tomatoes, then drain on paper towels. Again squeeze gently in your hands, too, to get the last bit of juice out, without pulverizing the tomato flesh in the process. Chop the tomatoes into small bite-sized pieces.
3. In a medium saute pan heat canola oil and cook over medium heat until the onion is limp. Turn up the heat and add the corn and continue cooking until the corn has browned just a little bit, at the most 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add the hot sauce and stir to mix it well. Set aside.
4. Spread the softened Boursin cheese all over the bottom of the baked pie shell, then gently pour in the onion-corn mixture and spread it around, out to the edges too. Spread the chopped tomatoes over the onions. Sprinkle the sliced basil over the tomatoes.
5. In a medium bowl, mix together the grated cheeses, mayonnaise and freshly ground black pepper. Using your hands (it’s gooey) drop small little clumps of the cheese mixture all over the top of the pie, spreading it out to the edges as much as possible. There will still be a few holes here and there.
6. Bake until browned and bubbly, anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes. Cool for 10-15 minutes, sprinkle top with more chopped basil and serve in wedges.
Per Serving (includes the pie shell): 546 Calories; 46g Fat (71.8% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 64mg Cholesterol; 631mg Sodium.

If you’d like to try my short crust shell, this is the recipe I use most often (and that isn’t often because I rarely bake pies, but when I do, this is my go-to recipe). It’s one I got from a Joanne Weir cooking class eons ago (probably 10-15 years) and once I saw how easy this was (even for me who is sometimes piecrust-challenged) I’ve made it many, many times. Sometimes I roll it out, other times I use the press-in technique in the recipe.

printer-friendly PDF (short crust only)
MasterCook 5+ import file – click to run MC or right click to save file

Short Crust (Press-In) Tart Shell

Recipe By: Joanne Weir, from one of her cookbooks
Serving Size: 8
NOTES: This is oh-so-good, and easy. This is a very rich, tender and crumbly pastry. It doesn’t act like a traditional piecrust. If using this for a savory filling (like quiche), add only about 1 tsp. of sugar, and eliminate the lemon zest. I have also successfully rolled this out with a rolling pin (for a piecrust, not a tart). Just don’t get the dough too thin or it will fall apart once you try to transfer it to a pie plate.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar — (if making a dessert)
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest — (if making a dessert)
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons ice water — or more as needed

1. Warm butter at room temperature for a maximum of 15 minutes before proceeding.
2. In a food processor fit with a metal blade, mix the flour, sugar and salt with a few pulses. Add lemon zest and butter and pulse until mixture resembles cornmeal. Add about 2 tsp. of water, or up to a maximum of 1 T., just until the dough holds together into a ball. Remove from the processor, flatten into a 6-inch disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.
3. Remove pastry from refrigerator and allow to sit out (covered) for about 15-20 minutes before proceeding. Have ready a 9-inch tart shell with removable bottom. Or you may use a traditional pie plate. Take a small piece of pastry, about 1 inch by 3 inches and press it into the side evenly. Continue adding more pieces until you have a solid edge. If the dough is too stiff, press it between your palms to warm it slightly, then make into a kind of rope and press into side of tart shell. Take remaining pastry and press in pieces into bottom of pan and pat out so the pastry is mostly even. Do your best to press the corners so that right angle doesn’t become too deep with dough. Set the shell in the freezer for 30 minutes before baking. Use this time to preheat the oven to 400°.
4. Line the pastry with parchment or waxed paper and scatter dry beans or pie weights into the parchment. Make sure the beans reach up close to the edges. Bake until the top edges are very lightly golden, about 10-15 minutes. Remove the parchment and weights, reduce oven temperature to 375° and continue to bake until the shell is golden brown, another 15-20 minutes.
Per Serving): 204 Calories; 15g Fat (63.7% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 39mg Cholesterol; 19mg Sodium.

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