Sunday, July 20, 2014

Italian Sausage Pasta

 Tonight was what I call a "dinner in a hurry." It's a meal that can be made in less than 30 minutes (usually between 15 and 20 minutes) and it uses mostly pantry items. Tonight's meal was raved about by everyone, and the kids all had seconds so I knew that I should get to the computer and share it with you right away before I forgot how I made it. (I just threw it together with what I had on hand, so the "recipe" is only in how I remember it right now.) Of course, like most of my meals, feel free to substitute whatever you have on hand to suit your needs and likes/dislikes. My family loved this dish as is, so I don't think I'll be changing much in the future (other than adding some zucchini from the garden because I forgot to do that this time around).

   Since this was a meal that I just threw together last minute, I don't have step by step pictures but honestly it's incredibly easy. It's actually a meal that I would feel 100% percent comfortable letting my 10 year old son make by himself. (Did I mention that he often wants to make dinner? It's one of my greatest accomplishments knowing that I have instilled a love of cooking in my son!) Anyway, enough talking, here's the recipe:

Italian Sausage Pasta

1 package of 5 Italian Sausage Links (I used mild, but if you like things spicy use hot)
1 12 oz package of tri-color Penne pasta (my kids like the mini version, but any noodle/size works)
1 6 oz can of black olives, drained and sliced
1 14 oz can of artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 14.5 oz can of organic diced tomatoes
2 big handfuls of organic baby spinach, washed and dried
1 tsp Italian Seasoning
1/4 - 1/3 cup Zesty Italian Dressing (I just used what was left in my bottle. Add it to taste.)
crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)

     Put a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Salt the water generously and add the pasta. Stir and cook until 1 minute less than the package directions. Drain and return to the hop pot.
    While the water is coming up to a boil for the pasta, cook the sausage links any way you wish (I recommend grilling, but sauteing works nicely too). Once browned and cooked through, set aside to rest.
    To the cooked and drained hot pasta, add the tomatoes (with the juice), olives, artichokes, and spinach. Stir. Add in the Italian Seasoning, Italian Dressing and the red pepper flakes (if using). Stir again to combine.
    Slice the sausages into rounds, keeping any juice that comes off them. Add the cut sausages and juice to the pasta pot. Stir and serve warm. (The longer it sits the more the flavors meld.)
Serves 6-8



Friday, July 18, 2014

Quadruple Chocolate Mousse Cake

This is a cake for celebrations. A cake to impress, and a definite cake for die hard chocoholics like me. (Oh, and it's gluten free for those who need that.)
   First, let me expound upon my last blog post. I said that things have been crazy the last few months and that is very true. I have not been keeping up with my recipe posts because . . . . are you ready? . . . . I'm pregnant again!!! I am beyond thrilled (I'm one of the lucky ones that LOVES being pregnant). But, with 4 other little ones to take care of I found myself too tired to be a mommy, wife and blogger at the same time. So, the first trimester went by and I was feeling much more energetic, but then the hot weather started and we went on our yearly epic summer road trip in June. To cut to the chase, I am now 20 weeks along and am wanting to blog more now. So, and I celebrating? Of course! And what better recipe to celebrate with than this swoon-worthy chocolate mousse cake?!
    I first made this cake back in March when I had a serious chocolate craving. I then made it again about a week later for, my fellow chocolate loving cousin-in-law Sarah, when my family and I went to visit her and her family near San Diego. (At that point I had just found out that I was pregnant, but I wasn't telling anyone yet.) I asked Sara and her husband Jesse what they wanted me to make for a dessert and all they said was something chocolate, so of course I made them this amazing cake that I had just devoured not a week earlier.
   This cake is made up of four layers: a flour-less chocolate cake on the bottom, chocolate cheesecake for the second layer, dark chocolate mouse comes third and then a shiny chocolate ganache tops it all off as the literal icing on the cake. Nothing about this cake is necessarily difficult, there are just a lot of steps. It is a definite make-ahead dessert. As you'll be able to tell my the lighting differences in this cake, you need to make it a day (or night) in advance because it needs ample time in the refrigerator to set up properly.
    (You can see all the layers here, but I smudged the mousse layer with my thumb while trying to balance the cake piece on the plate.) The strawberry on top not only looks pretty, but the tartness of the fruit helps to cut through some of the richness of the cake.

 And believe me, it's rich. Just a little slice will satisfy a normal person. Myself, I could tolerate two pieces before saying I've had enough . . . . for the moment. :)
   Ok, enough chit-chat, let's get down to business. If you have spring form pans then by all means, use those because they will most likely make your life making this cake easier. BUT, if you are like me and just have 9 inch round cake pans then those work just fine. :)
   Prep two 9 inch round cake pans by spraying them with no-stick cooking spray, lining them each with parchment paper and then spraying the paper again. You are going to need to get the cakes out of the pans easily, so believe me when I say that all this prep is worth it. These pans will be for the first two layers: the flour-less chocolate cake and the chocolate cheesecake. (If you are wondering how to get the square parchment paper to fit into your round pans then watch my step-by-step instructions on how to fold and cut the parchment paper in my Perfect Lemon Cheesecake post.)

The next step is to measure the chocolate for the flour-less chocolate cake layer. The original recipe only gave measurements by ounces, so I measured them out in cups as well to make it easier for those of you who don't own a food scale. You need 7 oz (it was just about 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips). I used a different chocolate in each of the layers, but you don't have to. You can use all dark or semi-sweet. But, if you use milk-chocolate then you should cut back on the sugars so that the cake is not too cloyingly sweet.

Then (this is optional) you can add 1 tsp of either espresso powder or Pero (finely ground, roasted barley). I don't eat or drink coffee so I used my barley. These things just enhance the chocolate flavor. Just add it to the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl (or in the bowl of a double boiler).

Then add the butter (6 Tbsp). I like salted butter. Slowly melt the chocolate (either in a double boiler or in the microwave in 20 second intervals). Stirring frequently until smooth.

When the chocolate mixture is completely melted and smooth, set it aside to cool for a few minutes.

Next comes the body of the cake. Since we are not using flour we will get the structure of the cake from eggs. 4 eggs get separated. The yolks in one bowl and the whites in a big mixing bowl. To the yolks, add a little vanilla.

Next, we need to measure the brown sugar. About 2 1/3 oz or 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar.

Whip the egg whites until they start to foam.

Then, while still beating on medium high speed, gradually add the brown sugar.

When add the sugar is added the mixture will look a little brown, but that's o.k. You are not done whipping the egg whites yet. Keep going until the mixture is lighter and fluffier.

See the change in color?

The egg whites are done when medium stiff peaks form. (See the peaks on the end of the beaters and the egg whites in the bowl are keeping their shape? Now you know they are done.)

Now for the egg yolks and vanilla. Whisk them together until frothy,

and then add them to the chocolate mixture.

Whisk them together vigorously, so that there is no chance that the yolks could scramble in the barely warm chocolate.

When the chocolate and egg yolks are completely combined, then add about 1/3 of the egg whites.

Whisk the egg whites in until combined. (It's o.k. if some white streaks remain.)

Then add the chocolate mixture to the remaining 2/3 of the egg whites.

Using a rubber or silicone spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture.

When the egg whites are fully incorporated, like this,

pour the batter into one of the prepared pans.

Even out the batter and then bake it @ 325 for about 25 minutes.

While the first layer bakes, start of the cheesecake layer. Measure out 5 oz of chocolate (about 3/4 cup). I used milk chocolate for my cheesecake layer.

Just like before, add the chocolate to a bowl and melt it. (I usually melt in the microwave, stirring every 20 seconds until the chocolate is smooth).

In a mixing bowl, add the soft cream cheese, cocoa powder, sugar, and sour cream and beat to combine.

When the chocolate is smooth, set it aside for a minute to cool.

When the cream cheese mixture is smooth, add in the eggs. You can do this one at a time or both together. You just want to make sure that they get completely incorporated into the mixture. It is very important not to over-beat the cheesecake batter, though, or you will get air into the batter and a poor texture to your cake.

When the eggs are mixed in, scrape down the sides and pour in the melted chocolate. Continue to mix, just until combined.

When everything is homogenous (the same color and texture) scrape down the sides again to make sure that everything is combined.

Pour the cheesecake batter into the second prepared pan.

The flour-less chocolate cake layer should be done. See how it puffs when baking? It will fall in the middle while cooling.

Take the cake out, turn the heat to 350F and put the cheesecake in. But, don't forget about the water bath. Place the cheesecake pan into a roasting pan or other large vessel, and pour hot water into the larger pan. (Make sure to not get any water on the cheesecake. If you are using a spring form pan, then you will need to wrap the outside of that pan with foil, so the water doesn't seep in through the cracks.) Fill the larger pan with water until it comes about 1/2 way up the sides of the cheesecake pan.

The cheesecake might also puff a little while baking, but not too much. It is done when the cheesecake just barely jiggles when the pan is agitated (about 30-35 minutes). Turn the oven off, open the door and let the cheesecake sit in the water bath until set. Then remove the cheesecake and cool it in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Your work for now is done. (Unless you started in the morning like me and you wish to finish the cake tonight.)

This is the cheesecake the next day. It has cooled, firmed up and separated itself from the edges of the pan.

This is the cake layer after it has cooled. See how it falls? That's o.k. It's suppose to do that. :) Run a knife around the edges of the cooled cake and turn it out onto a cake platter. (I place a plate on top, turn the cake upside down onto the cake, remove the parchment paper, put the cake platter upside down onto the bottom of the cake and then -holding the cake in place by using the plate still on the topside of the cake- turn everything right-side up. Make sense?)

The edges of my cake broke a little when I was inverting it, but it's not a big deal because I have to trim the edges anyway.

The next step is to invert the cheesecake and place it upside down onto the cake layer. Don't forget to peel the parchment paper away!

Now is when you trim up the edges. Just run a knife along the cheesecake layer straight up and down, so that you are only cutting the excess cake away from the sides. (You know I ate these edges! Yum, yum!)

See, now everything is even and pretty. :)

The third layer is the chocolate mousse. The main ingredients are chocolate and cream. Measure out 1 1/2 cups of COLD heavy whipping cream. I know it looks like more from the angle of the camera, but you just need 1 1/2 cups.

Next, you need some more chocolate. And yes, I used the bowl I melted chocolate in earlier for my cheesecake. This time, I'm using dark 70% cocoa chocolate chips. Just melt the chocolate until smooth like before.

In another bowl, or measure cup, mix together 2 Tbsp dark cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Special Dark) and 1/2 tsp of either Pero or espresso powder. Again, I went with the finely ground barley to enhance the chocolate flavor.

Whisk that together with 5 Tbsp of hot water, and set aside.

When the chocolate is smooth, set it aside.

Whip the cold cream until it starts to thicken. While it's mixing add 1 Tbsp of sugar (I like to use powdered sugar, so it dissolves better, but regular granulated sugar works as well.) You want the cream to be slightly sweetened, but it's really to taste.

Whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Be sure not to over beat and turn it into butter!

Add the cocoa and water mixture to the chocolate,

and whisk together until smooth. (I'll have to admit that this part terrified me. Every time I have tried in the past to add any liquid to melted chocolate, the chocolate always seizes up on me and it's a disaster. That didn't happen this time, though. I think the key is to make sure that the chocolate and the water mixture are about the same temperature. The chocolate did thicken slightly as I mixed the two together, but to seizing happened which was amazing!) See how glossy the chocolate gets? Beautiful.

Just like when we combined the egg whites with the chocolate mixture before for the flour-less chocolate cake layer, we are going to do the same thing with the whipped cream. Take 1/3 of the whipped cream and whisk it into the chocolate mixture.

Like this:

Then add the lightened chocolate mixture to the rest of the whipped cream.

Use a rubber spatula and gently fold the cream and chocolate together.

Keep folding gently until there are no more white streaks.

Spoon the mousse on top of the cheesecake layer a little at a time, so that you can keep it even. Smooth the top and the edges so it looks something like this: (If you have a tall spring form pan you can just place the collar of the pan around the cake and then add the mousse. Then you don't have to worry about getting the sides exactly right. But, since I don't have one of those fancy pans I just eye balled it.) Now you need to chill the cake. You can put it in the fridge for an hour or two, or you can put it in the freezer for 30 minutes.You need it to be cold when the ganache goes on top, so the mousse doesn't melt.

The last step is to make the chocolate ganache. You need to get the cream hot. You can warm it in a pan on the stove, but I like the convenience of the microwave. Also, this measuring cup is way easier to clean than another pan! (And it's such a small amount it seems silly to use a pan.) Heat the cream until scalded (that means just to the point of boiling, but don't actually let it boil.)

Add the chocolate chips to the hot cream.

Also, add in a little pure vanilla extract.

Whisk until all the chocolate is melted, and let it cool down and thicken a bit before adding it to your cake.

Slowly pour the ganache onto the cooled cake. (Again, if you used a spring form pan to help to layer on the mousse, just leave the pan collar in place and add the ganache on top. It won't drizzle down the sides, but rather settle into it's own separate layer on top of the cake.) Go slowly, and pour in the center of the cake so it spreads evenly over the whole surface.

If needed, use a spatula to spread out the top into an even layer. See how the ganache sets up almost instantly on top? A little did drizzle over the sides, but I like the way that the ganache drips over the edges. I think it's rather beautiful.

Now, for the finishing touch, use the back-side of a knife or the edge of an off-set metal spatula and gently drag it across the cake to make any design you wish. I just made line about 1 1/2 inches apart in one direction and then turned the cake platter and did the same thing in the opposite direction. Now chill the cake until ready to serve.

So pretty! (This is the next day, hence the dramatic lighting difference.)

You can see how each layer is distinct and tantalizing on it's own. The moist cake layer supporting the creamy milk-chocolate cheesecake layer, topped with the dark chocolate mousse and finished with the decadent chocolate ganache. I can't tell you how good this cake truly is. It is indescribable.

Chill the cake before serving, and it will cut into perfect slices every time.

Now, what are you waiting for? Plan out your next day accordingly and make this cake! It will definitely "wow" someone (even if that someone is just you). :)

***I should note that if you need this cake to be completely gluten free then omit the Pero (roasted and finely ground barley). I use it instead of espresso powder because I don't eat or drink coffee, but both ingredients (the Pero and the espresso) are completely optional.

recipe modified from Portuguese Girl Cooks

Quadruple Chocolate Mousse Cake 

Flour-less Chocolate Cake Layer
  • 6 tablespoons (85g) butter, cut into 6 pieces (I like salted, but unsalted works too.)
  • 7 ounces (198g) bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped fine (about 1 cup chocolate chips)
  • 1 teaspoon Pero (roasted and finely ground barley) or instant espresso powder (optional)
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt (Don't add the salt if using salted butter)
  • 1/3 cup packed (2 1/3 ounces or 67g) dark brown sugar, with lumps removed


  • Chocolate Cheesecake Layer
  • 5 ounces (142g) milk chocolate, chopped (about 3/4 cup chocolate chips)
  • 16 ounces (2 packages) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (15g) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons (31g) sour cream 

  •  Dark Chocolate Mousse
  • 2 tablespoons (15g) dutch-processed cocoa powder (I like Hershey's Special Dark)
  • 5 tablespoons (75ml) hot water
  • 1/2 teaspoon Pero (roasted and finely ground barley) or instant espresso powder (optional)
  • 7 ounces (198g) bittersweet chocolate-chopped fine (about 1 cup chocolate chips)
  • 1 1/2 cups (375ml) cold heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon (12.5g) sugar (I used powdered sugar, but granulated works fine too)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt 

  • Chocolate Ganache- Top Layer
  • 4.5 ounces(128g) semi-sweet chocolate- chopped (about 1/2 cup chocolate chips)
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
  • 1 tablespoon butter or white corn syrup (to make the ganache shiny), optional
Directions:
    For the Flour-less Cake Layer:
  1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 325F. Spray and line a 9 inch cake pan with no-stick cooking spray and parchment paper. (A springform pan works well.)
  2. In a double boiler, melt the butter, chocolate and Pero powder, stirring occasionally until smooth. (You can also melt it in the microwave, stirring every 20 seconds until smooth.) Remove from heat, and allow to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Whisk in egg yolks, and vanilla.
  3. With a stand mixer or a hand mixer, beat egg whites and salt together on medium speed until frothy, about 30 seconds. Add the brown sugar gradually and beat until combined. Beat on high speed until soft to medium peaks have formed. At least 1 minute.
  4. Using a whisk, gently whisk in one-third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the remaining egg whites until no streaks of white remain. Gently pour the batter into the prepared pan, and gently smooth the top.
  5. Bake until the cake has risen, is firm around the edges, and the center has just set (about 25 minutes). Transfer cake to a wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour. (the cake will collapse as it cools). Once the cake is completely cool remove cake from pan and set aside. (If using another pan for cheesecake layer, then you can keep it in the pan)
  6. For the Cheesecake Layer:
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray and line the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan with no-stick cooking spray and parchment paper. (If using a springform pan, wrap it with foil twice.) Place the springform pan in a roasting pan.
  8. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or the microwave, stirring every 20 seconds.  Set aside.
  9. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth (about 1 minute). Add the sugar, cocoa powder, and sour cream and beat until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl once. At low speed beat in the eggs, 1 at a time. Slowly pour in the melted chocolate and mix until fully combined. (Be careful not to over mix the batter!)
  10. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
  11. Put the pan and roasting pan into the oven, then slowly pour hot water into the roasting pan, so that it goes about 1/2 way up the sides of the cheesecake pan.
  12. Bake the cheesecake until the middle is almost set, but still jiggles a little when the pan is moved. (About 30-35 minutes.) 
  13. Let the cheesecake cool in the water bath until set, then remove and Allow the cheesecake to cool completely in the fridge.
  14. For the Mousse Layer:
  15. Combine the cocoa powder, Pero and hot water in a small bowl, and mix to combine. Set aside.
  16. Melt chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave stirring every 20 seconds until smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, about 5 minutes.
  17. Using a stand mixer or a hand mixer, whip the cold cream, sugar, and salt together on medium speed until the mixture begins to thicken, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to high and whip until soft peaks have formed, about 1 minute.
  18. Whisk the cocoa powder mixture into the melted chocolate until smooth and shiny. Using a whisk, whisk in one-third of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the remaining whipped cream into the chocolate until no white streaks remain. 
  19. For the Ganache:
  20. Heat the heavy cream on the stove or in the microwave just until hot (scalding but not boiling). Combine the hot cream with the chocolate, (with the butter or corn syrup if using) and add the vanilla. Allow the mixture to sit for about 5 minutes, or until all the chocolate is soft. Gently mix with a whisk until the mixture is thick and smooth. Allow to cool about 10 minutes before pouring on cake.
  21. Assembly
  22. You can assemble this all using a spring form pan, or just by building the layers on a cake platter and evening out the edges. If you baked the bottom layer in a springform pan, just leave it in the pan and build up form there. If you are using regular cake pans (like I did) then you will need to turn out the flour-less chocolate cake onto a cake platter, remembering to remove the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake. Place the cooled cheesecake layer on top (remembering to remove the parchment paper from the bottom of the cheesecake as well). 
  23. Spoon the mousse layer over the cheesecake layer, and smooth. Using an offset spatula, smooth the top of the mousse. If you are building the cake in the spring-form pan, make sure to leave a little bit of room for the ganache layer, about 1/4-inch. You might not use all the mousse doing it this way. If you are building it free-form then put all the mousse on top of the cheesecake layer and smooth the top and edges.
  24. Place the pan in the freezer for about 30 minutes to chill the cake. Make the ganache glaze.
  25. When the cake has chilled, pour the slightly cooled ganache over it, pouring directly in the center of the top of the cake. Working quickly with a small offset spatula, smooth the top. Using the spatula make a simple design if you wish. Cool the cake in the refrigerator. Do not cover with plastic wrap as this will mess up the look of the cake.
  26. Serve the cake chilled, and store in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days (but really it will be a miracle if it's not devoured before then). :)