The Amazing, Erupting Volcano Cake - Mulligatawny Soup - Chocolate Mousse Pie </br>Little Piece of my Heart - All Fired Up: The Secret to Irresistible White Chile - Bagna Cauda -

The Amazing, Erupting Volcano Cake

The Amazing Exploding Volcano Cake


It smokes, it gurgles and bubbles, then spews orange marshmallow lava over a dark chocolate mountain of cake. The crowd goes wild!

I made my first Amazing Erupting Volcano Cake several years ago when Chef Catherine Christiansen sent the recipes for her Beyond Wonderful baking column. At first glance they seemed complex, but with a bit of planning the cake was easy and came together quickly. This cake is all about fun so don’t get hung up on perfection. Embrace all its lumps, bumps and crumbs—they add character and keep you sane.

First pick a theme, then let your imagination soar. I’ve made this cake with dinosaurs, super heroes…


Star Wars on the Amazing Erupting Volcano Cake.


Star Wars characters and …


Zombies on the Amazing Erupting Volcano Cake
…zombies—lots of zombies slipping and sliding in  green slime.

You’ll find everything you need at cake supply, party and toy stores; from small bottles of brilliant red, orange and turquoise food coloring to plastic trees, edible rocks and a variety of characters, candles and costumes for added party fun.


Theme parties like Star Wars with the cake.


Who can resist Darth Vadar and a Jedi Master blowing up the Amazing Erupting Volcano cake?


Zombie face paint makes the exploding cake even more fun.

And with a little face paint and disgusting teeth, this birthday boy looks like he jumped off the zombie cake.

I bake the cakes and prepared the black chocolate and green buttercreams and the Kahlúa soaking syrup the day before assembly. Next day, I frost the cakes, made the sugar lava and lake and color the marshmallow lava. Assembly is a breeze and great fun. Once the Amazing Volcano stands before me in all its glory, I just can’t wait to blow it up! When it’s time, everyone gathers and holds their breath as I fuel the cake with cubes of dry ice, hot water, and warm lava. Then it starts—a little smoke—a few bubbles—lots of hoots and hollers—and over the side it goes. “That is so cool! I want that cake for my birthday.” “WOW!” Soon the group joins in a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday with intermittent giggles as the volcano continues its spectacular show.


Cutting the amazing erupting volcano cake.


As the lava…or oozing slime slows, everyone goes for the cake and just can’t believe how good it is. More than a few have a second piece, but my mind is always on the leftover chocolate frosting. No matter how delicious—and how spectacular—the cake, it’s hard to beat the thrill of pure buttercream, sneaked on the sly. Give me a spoon.


See more photos from the hilarious zombie birthday party on our Facebook page.


Get a printable copy of The Amazing Erupting Volcano Cake.


Mulligatawny Soup

Mulligatawny Soup

Leftovers—who says that they have to be boring? At my house a juicy roasted chicken and rice one night often means a big pot of spicy mulligatawny soup the next. No one is ever disappointed.

If you’ve never heard of this beloved Anglo-Indian soup, you’re in for a treat. Indian cooks all have their favorite versions, but the soup basically combines a fragrant curry broth with cooked chicken pieces and rice, fresh lime juice and cilantro. Rich and deeply flavorful, it at once warms the soul and nourishes the body.

I learned how to make mulligatawny soup from my friend Leela Manilal during one of our marathon cooking sessions. We were into the third day of recipe development and had lots of leftovers. Always frugal, Leela stressed the importance of never wasting food but re-working dishes into new and exciting meals the second day.

Everyone at our table that day called mulligatawny “the soup with the funny name,” so Leela patiently coached us in its correct pronunciation. She told us that the name comes from the Tamil language and means “pepper water.” I thought that a tad strange, as there is no pepper in the base recipe (though there is a bit of chile).

Fast forward to my kitchen last Saturday as I prepared lunch for some friends. I find picking chickens for this recipe boring, but am driven forward by the promise of a kitchen filled with the scent of sautéing onions, garlic and ginger. As I stirred in the coriander, earthy cumin, golden turmeric, red chili powder and Turkish bay leaves, my tummy growled with anticipation.

With the soup pot simmering, I decided to set the table on the deck and take full advantage of a small window of warm sunshine on an otherwise dreary day. I covered the table with some beautifully gauzy orange Indian fabric and got out my favorite Jaipur Blue pottery—all hand carried from India over the years. Their brilliant colors and patterns are the perfect contrast for this reddish soup. In this pretty setting, my humble but inspired pot of leftovers became the high point of the weekend; good friends, good food and time to catch up on everyone’s life.

Barbara Adams ladeling Mulligatawny soup.

I ladled the piping hot soup into bowls and…

Barbara Adams spooning rice into Mulligatawny soup.

…encouraged my friends to help themselves to rice. None of the guests had ever added rice to soup this way…

Barbara Adams spritzing limes into Mulligatawny soup.

…or spritzed in fresh lime juice. Some commented on the taste and beauty of the contrasting green cilantro leaves as they sprinkled them on top. We all inhaled the divine scent with each bite, and agreed that mulligatawny soup is sensational.

Could things get any better? Well yes, they did. I brought out a large basket of warm naan, the Indian flatbread, as a special treat. Some guests dipped it into their soup while other simply devoured it. I told them that I found it in the artisan bread section of my local market, but they could also find it in Indian markets and restaurants.

The afternoon flew by as we savored every last drop of soup. One guest looked at me and laughed, “I guess there won’t be any leftovers today, so you’ll have to create something new tomorrow. Can I come for dinner?”

Print a copy of Mulligatawny Soup for your convenience. 

Chocolate Mousse Pie
Little Piece of my Heart

Decadent Chocolate Mousse Pie


When I was a kid, Oreos were my favorite cookies in the whole world. Today, they are the dark crunchy crust of my decadent chocolate mousse pie. It’s a bit more sophisticated but just as memorable. This deep, rich chocolate dessert is my Valentine to you.

As an eater, I’m not sure which gives more pleasure: licking the spoon after folding mounds of freshly whipped cream into liquid chocolate infused with espresso and Kahlúa, or just dipping Oreo cookies into an icy-cold glass of milk, then sucking them dry until the next dip. Chocolate love needs no real thought—it just is.


Decadent Chocolate Mousse Pie with Raspberries


This pie is a showstopper dessert—the “wow!” both at large gatherings and spoon-to-spoon, one-on-one with your special love. And it gets better—especially for you, the cook—because this pie is easy to assemble and can be conveniently made a day ahead.

To start, you’ll need a 10-inch round springform pan to mold and chill the pie. For Valentine’s Day, I used a special heart-shaped springform that I bought at a local kitchen store. These pans have side latches that make removing the pie in one piece fairly foolproof. After all, who wants all that chocolate love on the floor or in multiple pieces of ugly on the serving plate?

Think you’re too busy to try this? Time is on your side as the crust and mousse are ready in approximately 30 minutes. And while the recipe allows for a quick chill of four to six hours, mousse pie is best when chilled overnight. Now if you are new to cooking or never attempted a dessert like this, don’t be shy. Jump right in and refer to my illustrated, step-by-step cooking techniques and tips for help.

The ingredients are easy: double-chocolate Oreos (any style will work, as there is no wrong Oreo), semi-sweet chocolate chips, espresso powder, Kahlúa, butter, eggs and heavy cream—plus decorations of your choice. My personal Valentines get fresh raspberries, but you could pipe whipped cream on top, add shaved chocolate or colorful holiday candies or sprinkles.

On the day I removed my mousse pie from the refrigerator and outlined it with plump red raspberries, I couldn’t help humming a bit of Janis Joplin, “…come on, come on…take another little piece of my heart…it makes you feel good.”

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Refer to my illustrated, step-by-step cooking techniques and tips:

Make a Crumb Crust
Melt Chocolate
Grease and Flour a Cake Pan
Unmold Your Cake from a Springform Pan



All Fired Up: The Secret to Irresistible White Chile

White chili is filled with wonderful flavors and textures: beans, shredded chicken, chiles, onions, garlic, cumin…. So why does it so often end up as a boring dish that’s just hot and nothing else?

I took a look at my old family recipe that I had not made in years and immediately saw why it’s always been a poor second cousin to the fiery red chili I love. With a few simple cooking techniques learned from Mexican and Indian cuisines, I’ve finally made white wonderful.

The obvious: Give up the seemingly quick and easy, expensive canned and bottled ingredients for fresh. If your chili is flavorless, you’re wasting your time.

Beans. Many standard recipes call for several jars or cans of fully cooked white cannellini beans that cost two to three dollars each. Home cooked great northern beans are economical and your best choice for texture and flavor. When combined with the other ingredients, great northerns absorb all the flavors, giving you a tasty, tender bean rather than the overcooked, mushy results you get with canned.

Chicken. White chili recipes often require breast meat that can be bland when poached in water. Long, ago, I learned that dark, flavorful thighs are preferred in Indian curries because they absorb the onion, garlic and spices while imparting their chicken goodness to the gravy. I decided to use half thighs and half breasts for flavor and the white color.

Stock. I prefer homemade chicken stock for absolutely best flavor, but realize that many home cooks reach for canned convenience. Make it low sodium and you’ll be fine.

Onions, garlic and spices. Sauté everything in the chicken fat, rather than ordinary oil, for richer flavor. When it comes to dry spices, I depend on the Indian method of roasting the cumin and coriander in a cleared area of the pan for 30 seconds before mixing them into the mixture.

Chiles. No canned chiles for this dish unless you absolutely can’t find fresh, mild pasillas and anaheims, as well as the hotter and more common jalapenos. My secret is fire-roasting the chilies for a deep smoky flavor. While it’s great fun to do this in the ashes of a wood-burning fireplace (try it if you have one!), the simplest approach is to use a gas range. Just follow these easy steps:

  1. Place the chiles over a high flame, turning them as they blacken.
  2. Remove the blackened chiles from the flame and immediately cover them with a clean towel.
  3. Let them sweat for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove the towel and peel off the charred skin with a paring knife or your fingers. Remove excess pieces of skin with a paper towel.
  5. Make a slit in each chile and carefully remove the seeds.
  6. Rinse the chiles in cool water to remove any remaining skin bits or seeds.

One last tip:Chileshave different heat levels throughout the year. The same variety that blew out your eyeballs one week may be meek another. Check with your produce person and always taste and adjust as you cook.

Now, this is a white chile you can be proud of. Ladle it in to bowls and top with chopped cilantro and lime wedges for spritzing. Add some hot, golden cornbread and life is good.

Print a copy of  White Chili  and How to Roast Chilies for your convenience.


Bagna Cauda

Bagna Cauda Italian recipe

We’re all getting tired of cold, cold winter, so when the sun came out for a few short hours, everyone at my house headed outdoors to soak it up. I followed them with a hot bowl of bagna cauda, a tray of bite-sized vegetables and a loaf of crusty French bread for dipping.

Bagna cauda is a simple Italian mixture of olive oil and butter infused with garlic and anchovies. The proportions are basically up to the cook. What’s your pleasure? Some prefer more oil while others go heavy on the melted butter. A hint of garlic or enough to keep the vampires away—after all we’re all in this together, so garlic breath is not an issue. Then there are the anchovies, those controversial little critters you either love or hate. Do you want a subtle sophisticated flavor or a fish-infused jolt? Personally, I prefer a mixture of 2/3 cup of good olive oil with ¼ cup of butter, lots of garlic and no more than four anchovy fillets. Some cooks delight in eight to 10 fillets, in which case I must pass on the sauce and fill up on the veggies, bread, and a crisp glass of white wine to drown my disappointment.

As we all sat around the old garden table laughing and sharing the feast, the winds picked up and things got cold really fast. I was reminded of the early vineyard workers of Piedmont, Italy, who depended on this pungent dish to warm them up in the fields on cold winter days. Like the peasants that originated it, the vineyard workers consumed their bagna cauda in large rustic pots set over an open flame. Today, I served it in a terra cotta pot set over a candle to keep it warm. No matter your heat source, never boil the sauce or you risk spoiling it quickly.

Italians serve fresh local vegetables like fennel, cardoons and peppers for dipping, while I chose cauliflower florets, peppers, cucumbers, broccoli and artichokes for my platter. In California we are fortunate to have an abundance of winter produce choices that can be served raw, blanched or roasted.

Many home cooks go into the kitchen and madly chop a bunch of vegetables for immediate consumption, and while this works well for cucumbers and peppers, there is a much better way for sturdier items like broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. Take the time to blanch these vegetables in salted boiling water for several minutes, then plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking process. You’ll be amazed at the difference between hard, gray-green raw broccoli florets and the tender, emerald green morsels you get after blanching. A veggie worthy of all that delicious sauce!

I’m also a great fan of roasting vegetables like artichokes. Simply halve them and cut away the thorny tips of their leaves with scissors. Rub with olive oil, then place a clove of peeled garlic, a lemon slice and sprig or two of fresh thyme on each half and place face down on a baking sheet. Roast them in a 375-degree oven for approximately 50 minutes, or until the leaves pull away easily. Try this once and you’ll never boil an artichoke again.

Bagna cauda is the essence of simple food shared with friends and family; both warming and fortifying us for the next big storm.