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Making Cooking Fun

Cookbook author and television personality Tyler Florence knows what Americans love to eat.

He focuses on bold flavors with easy techniques.

For more than 10 years, Florence has taken the mystery out of cooking as host of several shows on the Food Network, including his latest, "Tyler's Ultimate."

He served up some of his favorite spring recipes Thursday as The Early Show continued its "Culinary Inspirations" series.

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Florence is a star in the culinary world. His boyish looks and his fun, easy approach to food resonate with people.

Florence loves showing how much fun it is to cook. He's traveled across the country to help everyday people with their cooking challenges.

He champions uncomplicated recipes, bright flavors and fresh food, which he believes is the type of cooking that comes from "real kitchens" — places dedicated to culinary honesty.

Florence has received accolades from the national culinary community for his creativity and dedication to the art of cooking.

TERMINOLOGY

Ratatouille: A popular dish from the French region of Provence that combines eggplant, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, zucchini, garlic and herbs, all simmered in olive oil. The vegetables can be cooked together, or cooked separately and then combined and heated briefly together. Ratatouille can be served hot, cold or at room temperature, either as a side dish or as an appetizer with bread or crackers.

RECIPES

Strawberry Sandwiches

Yield: 4 servings

8 slices brioche
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus 2 tablespoons for browning the sandwiches
About 1/4 cup sugar
1 jar good-quality strawberry jam
1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced
6 ounces Brie cheese, sliced, at room temperature
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Butter 4 brioche slices on both sides. Sprinkle one side with sugar and turn the slices sugared sides down. Spread each slice with jam. Now make a layer of sliced strawberries and cover with slices of cheese. Butter the remaining 4 brioche slices on both sides and sprinkle one side with sugar. Lay the slices on top of the cheese, sugared sides facing up, to make 4 sandwiches. Press down gently.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a cast iron skillet over medium-low heat. Put 2 of the sandwiches in the pan and cook 2 to 3 minutes until the sugar melts, the bread turns golden and the cheese begins to melt. Turn and cook until the second side is golden and the cheese is bubbly. Take the sandwiches out of the pan and repeat to cook the rest. Dust the sandwiches with confectioners' sugar, cut them in half and serve warm.

The Ultimate Grilled Shrimp and Ultimate Ratatouille

Yield: 4 servings

16 large head-on jumbo shrimp in the shell, shells split down the back
2 lemons
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pesto:
2 cups fresh basil
1 cup fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup Parmesan or romano cheese
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil

Put a large grill pan on two burners over medium-high heat or pre-heat an outdoor gas or charcoal grill and get it very hot. If you're using an outdoor grill, take a few paper towels and fold them over several times to make a thick square. Blot a small amount of oil on the paper towel, then carefully and quickly wipe the hot grates of the grill to make a nonstick grilling surface.

Meanwhile, throw the pesto ingredients into a food processor. Puree. Stuff about half of the pesto under the shells of the shrimp (about 1/2 tablespoon per shrimp). Lay the shrimp on the hot grill and cook for 3 minutes on each side, brushing with the remaining pesto a few times as they cook.

To serve, put the shrimp on plates and dot with the remaining pesto. Squeeze the remaining lemon over the shrimp and garnish the plates with basil leaves.

Ultimate ratatouille:
1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound smallish Italian eggplants, cut into 1-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound zucchini, cut crosswise into 1-inch sections
3 anchovy fillets, finely minced
2 onions, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Leaves from 1/2 bunch of fresh basil, coarsely chopped
Leaves from 4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 pints cherry tomatoes
1 dried chile
splash of balsamic vinegar

Line a large platter with paper towels. Heat 1/3 cup olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the eggplant, season generously with salt and pepper, and let that cook down for 10 to 12 minutes, until the eggplant is nice and soft and wilted. Move the eggplant out of the pan and onto the platter to drain. Next stop, zucchini: cook it the same way in 1/4 cup oil, then add it to the platter with the eggplant.

Add another 1/4 cup olive oil to the pan, then the anchovies, onions, garlic and herbs. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until the onions get nice and caramelized. Add the tomatoes and cook that down for 10 to 12 minutes, until pulpy. Return the eggplant and zucchini to the pan, crack open the chile, and add that, too. Season with salt and pepper and let the ratatouille cook slowly for about 20 minutes, until the mixture is soft, mushy and juicy; you want all the flavors to come together. Stir in the vinegar and let cool to room temperature.

For more of Florence's recipes, go to Page 2.

The Ultimate Spinach Salad with Bacon, Black Pepper, and Honey

Yield: 4 servings

2 large eggs
2 bacon slices, cut crosswise into thin strips
1 onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, whacked with the side of a chef's knife so that they fall into big pieces
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 bag (1 pound) baby spinach
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, turn the heat off and let the eggs sit for 12 minutes. Lift the eggs out of the pan and cook; peel the eggs.

Meanwhile, put the bacon strips into a big skillet and cook for 3 to 4 minutes over medium heat to render the fat. Scoop the bacon out and set aside on a plate, leaving the fat in the pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, until soft. Add the honey and vinegar and keep cooking until the onion has caramelized, about 5 more minutes. Toss the spinach into the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss with tongs until the spinach is just wilted, about 30 seconds. Dump the spinach out into a bowl and add the bacon. Halve the eggs and arrange atop the salad.

Spaghetti with oven-Baked Clams, Pancetta, Cherry Tomatoes, and Fresh Basil Pesto

Yield: 4-6 servings

Clams:
40 littleneck clams, well scrubbed
2 pints cherry tomatoes, stemmed
1/4 pound pancetta, small dice
10 garlic cloves, smashed with the back of a knife
Handful fresh basil leaves
2 dried red chiles
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound spaghetti

1 pint of yellow and red (or mixed color) cherry tomatoes on the vine for garnish
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pesto:
2 cups fresh basil
1 cup fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup Parmesan or romano cheese
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Put 2 oven racks in the oven so that you can roast the clams and tomatoes at the same time.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, scrub the clams with a stiff brush under cold running water and discard any that are open. Put a medium roasting pan over 2 burners.
Add the olive oil, garlic, pancetta, chiles, and herbs and cook until the pancetta renders, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the clams, the wine, tomatoes, and a good amount of pepper and toss that all together. Roast until the clams open, about 10 minutes.

On a separate oven tray lay out the vine tomatoes and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and ground black pepper and roast in the oven until tomatoes are tender and skins have slightly burst.

While the clams are cooking, drop the pasta into the water for 7-8 minutes. Drain. For the pesto, combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Puree until the mixture forms a smooth, thick paste. Dump the drained pasta into a serving bowl, and toss with pesto and clams.

Garnish with fresh basil leaves, roasted vine tomatoes (snip the vines to form small bunches of 3 or 4), some extra pesto and drizzle all over with some extra virgin olive oil.

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