"Freeform" Cheesecake Poured over Fresh Fruit
Balsamic-Caramel Sauce over Vanilla Ice Cream
Champagne with Pear Liqueur
To get the recipes:
Michael starts the show by telling us, this is "a fantastic party to throw after an event. It’s just dessert, but how sweet it is.” He’s making Sicilian cannoli first, filled with “rigotta”. That’s just how he said it.
He’s showing us how to make "rigotta". You don’t have to, he reminds us, but it IS simple. 2 quarts milk, 2 cups cream, 2 teaspoons sugar plus a little salt get whisked together. He brings them up to the boil, then turns off the heat and adds the zest and juice of 8(!) lemons. It’s the acid from the juice and zest that actually makes the curds and whey. He lets the mixture cool. It begins to separate and the curds float to the top.
He’s not going to use ALL ricotta in the filling. He’s going to mix it with an equal amount of whipped cream. He whips the cream with 1 tablespoon sugar, bringing the bowl up to the camera to show us exactly what soft peaks should look like.
(If you do overbeat the cream, the only remedy I know is to whip some new cream quite soft and fold that into the other cream to soften it. Whenever a recipe calls for cream, I usually buy double the amount, just in case there are any mishaps.)
To add to the filling, Michael crisps unsalted pistachios in the oven - 350 deg. F for 10 minutes. He chops them with his Choppie-Chop. He adds the nuts right into the cream from his portable, BENDABLE cutting board, which “keeps the mess down to a minimum.” Now, he’s going to “knock (the bittersweet chocolate) down into some smaller pieces.” The Choppie-chop gets applied to the chocolate. It’s sweet that he uses that, because he once told us it was his mother’s favorite kitchen tool.
It‘s time to drain the ricotta. He ladles it out onto wet cheesecloth (or you can use a tea towel). He folds it over and squeezes the ends tight while holding it up over a bowl. The whey comes dripping through. The liquid is clear, because all the cream is left behind. Wow, that looks like real good honest fun. Who needs to bungee jump or jump on a trampoline, when you can make your very own ricotta? THAT is MY idea of a good time. (Sadly, I’m really not kidding.)
Drain the ricotta for 5 to 6 minutes. Spread it out in a bowl to cool. You need one cup for the filling. I consult the recipe for a minute. HUH? The homemade ricotta is a complete bonus. He doesn’t even allude to it in the recipe. I sure hope I got the amounts right…I just checked…They are all correct.
Now he’s going to add chocolate, nuts and…raisins??? Since when do you put raisins in cannoli? Oh, I guess that’s in place of the nasty candied orange peel that’s sometimes added. Let’s leave them both out. He adds 1/3 of the chocolate and 1/3 of the pistachios to the whipped cream plus some sugar. He folds both into the cooled ricotta. On a small plate, he mixes together the remaining chocolate and pistachios.
Gorgeous cannoli shells are waiting. What? We’re not going to see MC go into the store and make manly manly contact with the specialty foods purveyor? He's not going to have the strong handshake at the end with the knowing nod, as he walks out with the best product of its kind? Nope, not today.
He folds cream into ricotta and he’s done. No vanilla? Or bit of rum? Nope, again. He fills a pastry bag. THANK GOODNESS he’s not using a plastic bag, for goodness sake, in place of a pastry bag. I wonder who does that.
Just BUY a pastry bag. You’ll have it forever. One tip - buy a big one, 16 to 18 inches if you can. There’s nothing harder to work with than a too-small pastry bag with stuff oozing out of the top as you’re trying to squeeze it out of the bottom. Well, I suppose molten iron that you’re trying to move from one red-hot rod to another might be a bit tougher, but, in terms of kitchen projects, a messy piping bag is right up there.
He fills the bag...not folding down a big enough cuff at the top, in my opinion. He tests the tip. He fills the cannoli and then dips each end into the chocolate pistachio mix. THEN, for some reason, he puts them in a cigar box. Actually, it’s a beautiful cigar box, but it’s completely unlined, so the cannoli are going to make a big oozing mess and the box will be unusable for anything else. Also, if it DID have cigars in it, do I really want my beautiful cannoli in there? He refrigerates them for an hour.
After a break, we see Michael in a café eating cheesecake and having coffee. Does he really have to give the waitress googoo eyes? Back in the kitchen, he beats regular American cream cheese, that he’s going to mix with ITALIAN cream cheese - marscapone. He’s adding lemon zest and juice. He uses a microplaner, my favorite kitchen tool. He tells us that in ANY recipe that uses citrus, you can use anything you want - lemons, limes, oranges…KUMQUATS?? It's funny, I never really thought of kumquats as being a citrus fruit, but, of course, they are. “You can really mix it up. If you just think about it a little bit, once you understand the method, the technique itself, then you innovate and add the flavors that you like…that’s what cooking is all about to me.”
That is why I love Michael so much. He’s all about the theory behind the recipe. He makes you understand WHY he’s applying a certain technique to a certain ingredient.
Mike squeezes lemons over a strainer. He cracks eggs in his super-cool-one-handed way, lifting them in the air as he goes. He is like a jazz musician riffing on a piano. He adds lemon juice to the cream cheeses. Almond liqueur goes in. He adds eggs one at at time with the mixer running. Then he mixes in sugar a few tablespoons at a time. Why didn’t he add that first, I wonder? Now he adds the marscapone. I thought he added that at the beginning. I guess not.
The mixture goes on top of a double boiler for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every once in a while. This will cook the eggs gently. Then he says, ”As always, when I have a task that takes a couple of minutes, I try to have another task to do in the mean time.” He is soooo right. And except for using the word “TASK”, I completely agree. He’s going to play with his berries, while the cheese mixture is cooking. He has raspberries, black berries, blueberries and strawberries. He tells us that he thought of this recipe because he wanted to make cheesecake, but he didn’t want to take the 94 hours that it usually takes. He marinates the fruit in sugar and lemon juice.
"We all love caramel sauce“, me too, but I DON'T love it when someone pronounces it "carmel", as our host just did. C'mon Mike, it's Caahh-Rah-Mell. He adds a few tablespoons of water to a pan with 2 cups sugar. The water is only there to help melt the sugar. He brings 2 cups of cream to the boil in a separate pot. Meanwhile, he stirs the sugar syrup. He says if you don't want to make your own caramel sauce you can go the “speed scratch” route and take an "artisan's" product and add your own flavorings. (I think he’s giving us too much credit here for the type of product we use.)
He boils the sugar syrup for 8 to 9 minutes. He reminds us to brush down the sugar on the side of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. You certainly don't want premature caramelization. (Isn't there a pill for that?) The syrup turns light brown. He adds the cream SLOWLY and voila it turns into caramel sauce. YUM!!! Don’t stick your finger in to taste, it's HOT. He adds a pinch of salt, lemon juice and 4 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar (it doesn’t have to be the highest quality). He pours it into bowl and chills it in the fridge. His cleaning up tip: put water in pot, bring to boil to melt caramel on bottom of pot.
He’s getting everything ready. Gosh, I love a man who sets the table. Napkins go on a tray. Attractive. He sieves powdered sugar over his cigar-boxed cannoli. They DO look good in their cigar box. Who am I to have doubted him? Seriously, everything is impeccable. “You don’t always have to be at the dinner table. Go to unexpected places to add to the flavor of your party“…(Sounds good to me. Mike, I’ll meet you in the hot tub…) Oh, he meant the kitchen. He’s going to have folks right there. He actually covered the kitchen island with a table cloth. THAT is an interesting idea. I’m trying to think if I like that…
He spoons cheesecake over the fruit in margarita glasses. That looks so rich and yummy and oozy. It’s also a good way to get more use out of your margarita glasses, he says. Did he put any booze in that cheesecake? Is it just me, or would that taste fabulous with a bit of grand marnier or brandy or even rum. And just for good measure, add some to the fruit. (I seem to be lobbying for a lot booze in these recipes, but I think it would add to the flavor.)
He gives us a great idea of freezing any extra cheesecake in a little pan...or what about plastic lined ramekins? How great would that be to be able to pull those out? This recipe is basically a user-friendly zabaglione. The freezing part really appeals to me. I might make it JUST to freeze it. Sorry, I’m IN LOVE with this
The guests arrive. He calls on a lovely lady, Sabrina, to slice the pears. A guy is responsible for putting the pear liqueur in each glass. Michael instructs Sabrina to drop in a slice of pear. He pours over champagne. Now CLAUDIA is helping him. She ladles over the caramel sauce. “Only YOU would think of putting balsamic vinegar in”, she coos. They eat the desserts. No dried fruit is in the cannoli, he warns the Sicilian guests. Thank goodness...they all love everything.