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A Romantic Dinner for Two

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The following recipes are excerpts from the book: Young & Hungry: More Than 100 Recipes for Cooking Fresh and Affordable Food for Everyone by Dave Lieberman, available from Hyperion Books

Antipasto di Casa

This dish will make anyone swoon. Arrange a few modest delicacies in the right way on a plate, and you end up with a creation that s more mouthwatering than any of its parts alone. You don t necessarily have to stick to what I ve chosen for my platter, but if you decide to come up with your own collection of goodies, make sure everything you choose will taste and look great together. If you make all my suggested items as written, you ll have a more than ample platter for two. You can also down-size, just be sure to make enough of everything so your platter is full. Arrange the platter so that each ingredient has its space.

Bocconcini are little fresh mozzarella balls. Many supermarkets, delis, and Italian specialty stores carry them. Drain off the liquid they re packed in and toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. If you have herbs lying around (basil and rosemary are just right), chop them up and toss them in along with the other seasonings. (Buy 8 to 10 round pieces.)

Hard Cheeses with a strong flavor contrast nicely with fresh mozzarella. Hard goat cheese, Manchego, or something related to Appenzeller is a perfect choice. Hard provolone also works well. Cut the cheese into thin, bite-size triangles. (Buy about 1/4-1/2 pound s worth of cheese.)

Prosciutto or Black Forest ham, thinly sliced, is just the right kind of meat to put on this platter because it s light but still has a robust salty flavor that s going to complement the other items. I love Black Forest ham for its smokiness. It seems to complete the circle of flavors. (Buy 6 to 8 slices of meat.)

Roasted red pepper: Roast 1 large red or yellow pepper

Mixed seasoned olives: Buy a mix of green, black, and reddish-colored olives, such as kalamata. (Buy about 1/2 pound of olives.)

Small greens: Every antipasto platter benefits from a little dash of fresh greens. It lightens up the whole plate and makes it look really beautiful. Arugula is my favorite because the pepperiness goes well with the other flavors, but you can also try baby spinach or mesclun. Wash and dry the greens then tear them up and toss with olive oil, a few pinches of salt, a few grinds of pepper, and a dash or two of balsamic vinegar. (Clean and dress 1 small bunch of arugula.)

Mussels in a Tomato-Basil Broth

If both you and your date like mussels, then this is your dish. For me, mussels are a total turn-on. I think the affinity goes all the way back to a date with my high school girlfriend at a cozy, down-to-earth neighborhood restaurant in Philly. It was a warm spring night, and we sat by an open bay window. We shared a big order of mussels, slurping and sucking our way enthusiastically through the fresh tomato broth and the tender shellfish. Needless to say, I ve been making mussels ever since. I still like to heap all the mussels and sauce in one big bowl because there s something very sensual about eating from the same serving bowl. Mussels are a bit sloppy, but that makes it so much better. You re in the mess together, you can laugh about it, and you re turning each other on in the process. Forget your inhibitions and just run with it!

Makes 2 servings

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 to 10 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1 cup dry white wine
2 dashes hot red pepper flakes
2 pounds mussels
A big handful of roughly chopped fresh basil
Crusty bread

Heat the oil over high heat in a pot large enough to hold the mussels comfortably. Add the garlic and cook just until you can smell it, about 30 seconds. Pour in the tomatoes, wine, and 1 cup of water. Add the red pepper flakes and a big pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and cook until the broth is slightly thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.
Stir the mussels into the broth, cover the pot, and cook until the mussels open, 4 to 5 minutes. Throw in the basil and give a good stir. Slice your bread into dipping-size pieces. Toast the pieces in a skillet or oven.
Carefully so that you don t splash tomato all over the place ladle the mussels and broth into a large bowl and bring them out to the table along with the bread. Have individual plates to eat over and to put your shells in.

Mini Fudgey Chocolate Cakes

If you re looking to end the meal on an intense decadent note, then this is the way to go. These are meant to be served fresh out of the oven so that the inside is still warm and runny. You can put the batter into the little cupcake tins earlier in the day and then refrigerate until you re ready to pop them into the oven toward the end of your meal. While you re waiting for the cakes to finish, clear the table and serve some tea or coffee. And don t worry, baking has never been easier. Just make sure to have all of your ingredients at room temperature before you start.

Makes about 4 cakes, just in case one or two fall apart in the process4 ounces semisweet baking chocolate
4 tablespoons butter
1 large egg
1/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon flour

Preheat the oven to 350*F.
Melt the chocolate and butter together in a small saucepan.
Whisk the egg, sugar, and salt together until yellow and light. Fold in the melted chocolate batter. Mix in the flour until fully incorporated.
Lightly butter the cupcake tins. Pour the batter into the tins and bake for about 12 minutes, just until the tops crack.
Remove the cakes from the oven. Using oven mitts, place aluminum foil on the top of the cupcake tins and seal on all sides. Turn over onto a flat surface and bang the bottom of the cupcake tins. Remove the cupcake tins to leave the cakes upside down on the aluminum foil.
Carefully turn right side up and place on a plate. Serve immediately.