October 25, 2010


Every time I go to Italy I must eat a big plate of Insalada Caprese.  It is, of course, never the same eating it here in America but it is something that I make often just to satisfy those cravings for the tastes of Italy.  This Salad has just a few simple ingredients so they must be the best tasting to make this Salad amazing.  To make this Salad you must use a very good fresh Mozzarella.  The kind that is stored in a liquid brine.  The best place to find fresh Mozzarella is a good Cheese shop or even better, an Italian deli that makes their own fresh Mozzarella.  Traditional Mozzarella is made from buffalo's Milk but cow's Milk Mozzarella is more common in America.  Some markets have well supplied Cheese departments with a knowledgeable Cheese monger (Whole Foods is one) that carry fresh Mozzarella.  In Italy it is second nature to prepare this Salad using only the freshest juicy red Tomatoes just picked from the garden with snips of sun kissed Basil that smell of grassy Anise.   I serve it over fresh Greens and with Olives and Red Peppers which is not traditional but delicious.  It tastes best served at room temperature (the Mozzarella can be cold but the Tomatoes and Basil should be room temperature.)  When you eat this Salad you may not be sitting at a seaside cafe on the island of Capri but when you prepare this Salad and enjoy what simple fresh flavors can create you are Cooking The Amazing.

Here is the recipe.

1  lb.   Fresh Mozzarella Cheese, sliced  
4  Tomatoes, large, sliced thick 
20  Basil Leaves, fresh
1/4  c Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3/4  t  Sea Salt, fine grain
1/2  t  Black Pepper, fresh ground

1.  Drain the Mozzarella and slice into 1/4" or so slices.  Look for the large sized balls of Mozzarella when you purchase it.  "Ovoline" is a large egg size that works well.  There are usually 3-4 Ovolines per lb.

2.  Slice the Tomatoes into similar size 1/4 " slices.

3.  Layer the Mozzarella with whole Basil leaves and Tomato slices on a platter and season with the Sea Salt and Black Pepper then drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  You may not use all of the Olive Oil.

4.  Taste for seasoning and add more Sea Salt and Black Pepper or Olive Oil to suit your taste and serve at room temperature.

Here is the real thing from the last time I was in Italy from Trattoria in Rome where the Mozzarella is made by hand and the Tomatoes were amazing and sweet from Sicily.

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October 22, 2010


Roasted Butternut Squash Soup is healthy and flavorful and is perfect for dinner on a cool autumn evening with a loaf of rustic Bread to dip into it.  Each time you go to the market and see Butternut Squash piled high in the bins you wheel on by thinking, "There's no way I can cook one of those," not knowing just what you have been missing.  Roasting Squash is easy.  Think of it as a giant Potato.  You simply peel it and remove the seeds and roast it.  OK, so a Potato doesn't have seeds but it is the just as easy to roast.  The roasting will bring out subtle nutty sweetness, that with a background of smokey Bacon, makes a delicious hearty autumn soup.  Summer may be gone but when you make soup from roasted Butternut Squash you are Cooking The Amazing.

TIP:  Try using Acorn Squash or Fresh Pie Pumpkin (the little sweet Pumpkins used to make fresh Pumpkin Pie) in place of the Butternut Squash.

Here is the recipe.

3 1/2 lbs  Butternut Squash, peeled, seeded
2 T  Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 t  Sea Salt, fine grain
1/2 t  Pepper, black, fresh ground
6  Slices of Bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 T  Butter, unsalted
1  Onion, yellow, medium
1 c  Carrot, diced small
2  Cloves of Garlic, minced fine
4 c  Chicken Stock
1 t  Sea Salt, fine grain
1 t  Pepper, black, fresh ground
2 t  Thyme, dried or fresh
1/8 t  Cayenne Pepper
1 c  Heavy Cream
OPTIONAL:  Sour Cream, Green Onions for garnish

1.  Preheat Oven to 400 degrees.

2.  Peel and seed then dice into large  2 inch chunks the Butternut Squash.  Use a vegetable peeler to peel the tough skin and a large sharp chef's knife to cut the Squash in half then quarters.  Seed the Squash then cut into 2 inch chunks.

3.  Place the Squash on a large cookie sheet and drizzle with the Olive Oil and sprinkle with 1 t Sea Salt and 1/2 t Pepper.  Using your hands mix the Squash around to cover well with the oil.

4.  Roast in the oven for 55-60 minutes at 400 degrees or until the Squash is lightly browned and soft all the way through tested by being easily pierced with a knife.  Set aside on counter.

5.  Cut the Bacon into large 1 inch pieces.  In a large pot (the one you plan to make the soup in),  over medium heat, fry the strips of Bacon until crisp then remove to a paper towel covered plate to drain.  Reserve 2 T of Bacon fat.

6.  Over medium heat add the 2 T Butter to the 2 T of reserved Bacon fat and saute the diced Onion for 4 minutes then add the diced Carrot and saute for 6-8 minutes until semi-soft. 

7.  Add the finely minced Garlic and cook for 1 minute more then add the Chicken Stock and increase the heat to medium high and bring to a boil.
Scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon removing the browned bits of cooked Bacon and Onion and Carrot using the boiling liquid to assist.  This is called deglazing and incorporates amazing flavor into the soup.

8.  Once at a boil, add the 1 t Sea Salt, 1 t Pepper, 2 t Thyme, 1/8 t Cayenne Pepper and stir well.

9.  Add all the roasted Squash and any juices from the cookie sheet to the boiling pot and cover with a lid partially and reduce the heat to medium low and allow to simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

10.  Remove from the heat and add the Heavy Cream and stir well. 

11.  Using and immersion blender or regular blender or food mill, puree the soup in small batches.  Use caution in a regular blender with hot blending  liquids which can explode out the top and burn anyone in a 10 foot radius.  It's not pretty, I know from experience.   Fill the blender only 1/3 full and cover the lid with a kitchen towel holding the lid tightly in place before you turn it on.   Puree all the soup and return to the pot.

12.  Once all the Soup is blended taste for seasoning.  Add more Salt or Pepper as needed.  Add more Chicken Stock if it is too thick for your tastes.  Garnish with Homemade Croutons, Bacon crisps and/or Sour Cream and/or Green Onion finely diced and serve hot. 

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October 8, 2010



Chocolate, Chocolate and more Chocolate.  It's worth having a big butt for Chocolate, if you ask me.  This recipe has a few easy steps which will make the process easier.  It looks like a lot of work but when you break down the recipe into 5 steps it isn't so daunting and actually fun.  When you combine my amazing Chocolate Cake recipe with my incredible Chocolate Mousse you get the most irresistible Chocolate Mousse Cake.  It is beyond chocoholic bliss because it is covered in the ultimate Chocolate Ganache.  There is no such thing as too much of a good thing... is there?  Not when you are Cooking The Amazing!

Here is the recipe.

STEP 1:  Begin the Chocolate Mousse

12 oz Chocolate, chopped or chips (see below)
1 c Heavy Whipping Cream
1 t Vanilla Extract
1 pinch Sea Salt, fine grain (very small pinch)
2 c Heavy Whipping Cream
1 t Vanilla Extract
2 T  Powdered Sugar

1. PLAN AHEAD:  Make sure you have room in your refrigerator and freezer for chilling later. Have your Butter warmed to room temperature. Have your beaters and bowl and 2 c of Whipping Cream in freezer while you make the Ganache, the first part of your Chocolate Mousse.

2. In a large mixing bowl place 12 oz of very good Chocolate, chopped or in Chips. If your wallet is bursting then buy the best Chocolate like Valrhona, Callebaut or Lindt. There are amazing American Chocolates like Dove dark candy squares, which is my favorite to use and very reasonable, that you can chop into small chip sized pieces using a sharp serrated knife or use Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Chocolate Chips. 

3. Over medium high heat, bring 1 cup of Heavy Cream (Cream you buy to make Whipped Cream) to a gentle boil and poor the hot Cream over the Chocolate making sure all Chocolate is submerged. Use a rubber spatula to push the Chocolate below the hot Cream surface. This is the beginnings of Ganache. A fancy French cooking term for one of best things you'll ever eat!

4. Do not stir and allow to sit on the counter for 5 minutes undisturbed.

5. After 5 minutes, using a large spoon, whisk or rubber spatula, stir the Chocolate gently so that air is not incorporated into the Ganache. It will look grainy at first then become glossy and smooth very quickly. Be patient and keep stirring.

6. Once the Cream and Chocolate have come together add 1 t of Vanilla Extract and Sea Salt and incorporate gently until well mixed.  Place in the freezer to cool for 30 mins.  Later, you will finish the Mousse by adding Whipped Cream.  That step comes later but for now while the Ganache cools, make the Chocolate Cake before finishing the Chocolate Mousse.

STEP 2:  Make The Chocolate Cake

1 c  Baking Cocoa Powder
1 1/2 c  Sugar
1/2 c  Brown Sugar, dark, packed
1 3/4 c  Cake Flour (Can substitute all purpose flour)
1 t  Sea Salt, fine grain
1 1/4 t  Baking Soda
1 1/4 t  Baking Powder
3 large Eggs
1 c Buttermilk
1/2 c Sour Cream
1/2 c Vegetable Oil
1 T Vanilla Extract
Butter to grease cake pans

1. Butter 3, eight inch cake pans with 2 inch sides and line bottom with parchment paper, buttering the parchment paper on top also.

2. Plan ahead and get all ingredients measured and ready for the recipe.

3. Combine in a large bowl sift all the dry ingredients : Cocoa Powder, Sugar, Brown Sugar, Cake Flour, Baking Soda, Baking Powder, Salt. Then whisk until well combined.

4. Combine the Eggs, Buttermilk, Sour Cream, Oil, and Vanilla Extract in a medium bowl and mix well.  It will look curdled.

5. Add the dry ingredients to the Egg, Milk and Oil mixture then mix with the hand mixer for  1 minute, no longer. Over mixing creates a tough cake. The batter will be thin.

6. Let the mixed cake batter sit for 1 minute so the flour can absorb the liquid.

7. Pour the batter in even amounts into the prepared cake pans which should be on a cookie sheet for easy transfer.  Bake in center of the oven.

8. Bake for 30-35 mins. at 350 degrees or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow Cakes to cool in the pans on the counter top when done.  While the Cakes bake, finish the Chocolate Mousse in Step 3.

STEP 3:  Finish The Chocolate Mousse

1. Remove your chilled bowl and beaters and 2 c Heaving Whipping Cream from the freezer. Using a hand mixer or Kitchen Aid, whip the Heavy Cream with the 1 t of Vanilla Extract and 2 T Powdered Sugar into stiff peaks.

2. Remove the chilled Ganache.  It should be very thick and fudgy where a spoon will stand up in it.  If not put back in freezer for 10-15 mins more and recheck.  When it is thick whip with a hand mixer until fluffy and the color turns pale brown, about 3-4 minutes. I use the same beaters I just whipped the Cream with and don't bother wasting time to clean them. It all gets mixed together in the end anyway.

3. Spoon 1/3 rd of the Whipped Cream into the bowl of whipped Ganache and mix well with the mixer until completely incorporated. This will lighten it up.

4. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the rest of the Whipped Cream until well incorporated being careful not to deflate the Whipped Cream too much.

5.  Place the bowl of Chocolate Mousse on the counter to sit.  Continue to allow the Chocolate Cakes to cool on the counter in the pans.

Step 4:  Make The Ganache Icing

12 oz. Chocolate, semi-sweet chips or chunk
1 c Heavy Cream (1/2 pint/8 oz.)
1 t Vanilla Extract
2 T Butter, unsalted

1.  Using a serrated knife, chop up the chocolate into small pieces and place in a medium bowl if using chunk Chocolate.  Or place Chocolate Chips in the bowl.

2.  Bring the Heavy Cream to a slow boil on medium high heat in a medium pan . Remove from heat as soon as it begins to boil.

3.  Pour the hot Heavy Cream over the chopped Chocolate or chips in the bowl (see picture 1 below). Use a rubber spatula, push the Chocolate below the surface of the hot Cream so it is completely covered. Do not stir.

4.  Allow the hot Cream to sit on top of Chocolate for 5 minutes undisturbed.

5.  After 5 minutes, whisk the Cream into the Chocolate. At first, the Chocolate and Cream will look grainy and a lumpy mess (see picture 2 below) this is normal. As you continue to whisk the Cream and Chocolate it will suddenly become very liquid and shiny (see picture 3 below). Whisk until completely incorporated and all the chocolate is melted, approx 4 mins total.

6.  Add the Vanilla Extract and Butter and and mix well. About 45 secs more whisking.  Set aside.

Step 5:  Assemble the Chocolate Mousse Cake

1.  Remove one of the Chocolate Cakes and place on a cardboard cake round then on a wire rack over a cookie sheet with sides. (Cardboard cake rounds can be purchased at Michael's Craft Store your local Bakery and online).

2.  Place 1/3 rd of the Chocolate Mousse on top of the Chocolate Cake and spread it evenly to the edge.  Place the second layer of Chocolate Cake on top of the layer of Mousse and then top it with 1/3 rd of the Mousse, spread evenly to the edge.

3.  Place the last Cake layer upside down on top so that the flat bottom is the top.  The bottom of the Cake is flat and makes a nicer looking top when you pour on the Ganache.

4.  Using a butter knife or icing spatula, fill in the side of the cake with the last 1/3 rd of the Mousse evenly around all sides.

5.  Slowly pour the 1/3 rd of the  Ganache in the center of the top of the Cake and allow to run over the sides down into the cookie sheet below.  Repeat and pour another 1/3 rd of Ganache in the center of the cake and allow to run down the sides.

6.  Carefully lift the wire rack up and scrape the Ganache that has dripped onto the cookie sheet back into the Ganache bowl.  Place the wire rack with the cake back onto the cookie sheet.

7.  Pour all of the Ganache onto the center of the cake and allow to run over the sides.

8.  Allow the cake to sit at room temperature until it is set up approx. 1 hour.  Transfer with large spatulas to serving plate and serve at room temperature.

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