Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Walt Disney World: Morimoto Asia


Disney Springs at Walt Disney World, formerly known as Downtown Disney, has completely transformed in the past couple of years. The most noticeable development has been the addition of many exciting restaurants featuring all different types of cuisines. There's something for everyone!

The number of have-to-try restaurants at Disney Springs has surpassed my own ability to visit often enough to try them all! If only I lived closer.

When my family traveled to Orlando back in December for our Very Merrytime Disney Cruise I headed straight to Disney Springs for lunch after checking into our resort. I had made a reservation in advance at Morimoto Asia, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto's contribution to this newly developing culinary epicenter on Disney property.

My server at lunch was Hien, and he was fantastic. Truly knowledgeable, helpful, and courteous. He made a point to tell me about the themeing of Morimoto Asia, because just like everything else at Disney there's more thoughtful planning and detail than you'd expect at a regular restaurant.

Looking at the Morimoto Asia building you'll notice the sign on top reads Springs Bottling Co. Supposedly, this space was once used as a bottling factory, and even has some of the old gears and bottles from the factory as some of the decor in the upstairs area, where there's a bar and lounge, as well as a sushi bar.

One of the most prominent aesthetic pieces throughout the space has to be the chandeliers. They are quite stunning from every angle whether you're downstairs, upstairs, or somewhere in between.

There's also a pretty great open kitchen (well, it's behind glass, but it's open as far as I'm concerned), and if you're lucky enough to be seated nearby, you'l have a really nice view of these Peking ducks. Don't they look delicious?!

Now that we've learned a bit about the themeing and decor at Morimoto Asia, let's take a peek at the menus. First up is the drink menu.

Since this was the first meal of my well-deserved vacation, I knew I wanted to start it off right with a cocktail. I asked Hien for some suggestions, and went with one of the highlights he pointed out, the Sparkling Belvedere. This combination of Belvedere vodka, yuzu juice, Calpico (a creamy Japanese soft drink), cranberry juice, and Moet sparkling rose is delicately sweet, refreshing, and light with a bit of dryness from the Champagne. I definitely made a good choice.

Here's a look at the food menu.

I was actually dining alone. Some of my family with annual passes went to the parks, while the rest of the family was on a later flight. I saved my park money, and came to Morimoto instead. The only problem with dining alone is that when you're a foodie like me, and want to try a bunch of different things, it's tough because there aren't others to share with (and I don't like wasting food or money by ordering more than I can eat). I sucked it up, and ordered an appetizer and entree all for myself though because there was no way I was coming here without trying at least a couple dishes.

I had my eye on the Kanikama Rangoon, which is the Morimoto version of crab rangoon. They are shaped like thin, long spring rolls instead of the standard triangular shape, and the wrapper is a lighter, crispier spring roll wrapper. The filling is a combination of imitation crab and blue crab, cream cheese, and a little spicy mayo. It's served with an apricot sweet chili sauce.

These rangoons are pretty crabby, so if you like crab you'll like these. They are the OPPOSITE of your neighborhood Chinese restaurant crab rangoons which are typically super heavy on the cream cheese, and wrapped in a thick, doughy shell. These are way more refined and crab-forward.

Although there were a lot of top contenders, I only had eyes for one entree on the menu, the Singapore Laksa Noodles.

The laksa broth was amazing! Mine was piping hot, creamy, and spicy, but not too spicy. There were all different textures and flavors in the bowl, from the crispy wontons to the soy-marinated hard-boiled egg with it's soft but not-runny yolk. Rice noodles and chicken meatballs rounded out the rest of the soup. The meatballs were juicy, but kind of meh in flavor. They got flavor from the broth, but that was about it. With that said, even the under-seasoned meatballs didn't detract from the out-of-this-world experience eating this wonderful laksa.

This meal for one turned out to be quite pricey, but it was what I expected. With a cocktail, an appetizer, and an entree, this wasn't going to be a bargain by any means, but I don't have a single complaint, and I'd do it again. The laksa was outstanding, and the rangoons were a revelation compared to every other rangoon I've ever tasted. And let's definitely not forget the amazing cocktail to start it all. Along with attentive service and beautiful surroundings I'd be happy to return to Morimoto Asia whenever the opportunity arises.

Morimoto Asia
1600 E Buena Vista Dr
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
(407) 939-6686

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Pear Ginger Oatmeal Crumb Pie


Happy New Year, Mission: Food readers! I hope all of you had a wonderful winter holiday season, and I hope you're all able to stick to whatever resolutions you have come up with for the new year.

Last April I came up with a resolution of sorts to bake at least 1 pie every month for the rest of the year. With the exception of November when I got the flu the week of Thanksgiving, throwing off my pie-making game, I stuck to my goal, and baked over a dozen sweet and savory pies throughout the year! I am continuing the resolution for 2018 as well, because pie making and eating bring joy to my life, and these days I will take joy in any form I can find it. And pie form is the best form.

I baked a couple of pies for Christmas to make up for my lack of pies at Thanksgiving. My favorite of the two, the Pear Ginger Oatmeal Crumb Pie, is actually one I would consider to be one of my top four sweet pies, which is saying a lot. The other pies at the top of my list include Hummingbird PiePeppermint Mousse Black Bottom Pie, and Blueberry Nectarine Pie. These are the pies I fantasize about making and eating year round.

This Pear Ginger Oatmeal Pie pretty much kicks any apple pie's butt, in my opinion. Although I love apple pie it lacks excitement for me. It's just kind of Plain Jane even when it's jazzed up a bit (no offense, apple, but you've had your time in the spotlight). Pear is a nice twist to a fall/winter fruit for pie making. In this particular case, thinly sliced pears make for a very delicate, not too sweet filling which is nicely complimented with a crumbly oat topping.

I actually ordered this pie when I visited Magpie in Philadelphia in the fall of 2016. Later, when I purchased the Magpie cookbook I added it to my list of recipes to try. May I be so bold as to say that I prefer the pie I made to the one I purchased at Magpie! I liked the pie at Magpie, but I LOVED the one I baked.

One of the differences is that they leave the skin on the pears at Magpie, but I peeled my pears which yielded a less rustic filling. It was simply more refined and delicate in texture and flavor. I just preferred it that way. It was stunning.

Ginger is the other key ingredient in the filling. It comes in the form of finely diced candied/ crystallized ginger, which is much less assertive than the fresh version. There is also ground ginger in the topping. This gives the pie just that hint of ginger flavor without overpowering the pears.

I'd also like to add that the Magpie pie crust recipe is one of my favorites. I typically prefer making the all-butter crust from Four & Twenty Blackbirds when I am making pie dough by hand, but if I'm willing to lug out the food processor, Magpie's recipe is the bomb.

It's mostly butter with just a bit of shortening (I use Spectrum non-hydrogenated organic shortening), but both fats are cubed and frozen and then blitzed in the food processor, yielding nice crumbs without overworking or overheating the fats. Each fat offers something special to the dough, so using a combination of the two is a nice way to go. I like leaning more on the butter which offers the bulk of the flavor here, while the shortening plays a supporting role with its flakiness and structure.

Perfect, flaky, golden pie crust

This pie certainly made our White Christmas even more festive and delicious. It was incredibly popular at our family gathering, and I will most definitely be making it again and again!

Pear Ginger Oatmeal Crumb Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie
(From Magpie)

Oatmeal Crumb:
1 cup (80 g) rolled oats, divided
1/2 cup (62 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (96 g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
5 tablespoons (71 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/2 recipe Magpie Dough for Flaky Piecrust, chilled overnight
2 1/2 pounds (1132 g) firm, ripe, unpeeled Bartlett pears, cored and sliced 1/8-inch thick (I used 3 pounds of peeled Bartlett pears, to make up the difference in weight for the discarded skin)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup (63 g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch (I added an extra teaspoon as well to ensure a nicely set filling for my juicy pears)
2 tablespoons minced candied/crystallized ginger
1/8 teaspoon fine salt

For the oatmeal crumb: Use a food processor to grind 3/4 cup of the oats, pulsing the machine until the oats resemble coarse cornmeal. Add the flour, sugar, ginger, nutmeg, and salt and pulse 5 times to combine. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and whisk in the remaining 1/4 cup whole oats.

Add the melted butter and blend with a fork or your fingers until the butter is incorporated and  the mixture gathers into small clumps. Set the bowl in the refrigerator and chill the crumb for 15 minutes before topping your pie.

For the pie: Lightly flour a smooth work surface and a rolling pin.

Take a chilled disk of dough out of the fridge. Give it a couple of firm squeezes just to say hello, then unwrap it and set it on the floured work surface.

Set the pin crosswise on the dough and press down firmly, making a nice deep channel across the full width of the disk. Turn the disk 180 degrees and repeat, making a second indentation, forming a plus sign.

Use your rolling pin to press down each of the wedges, turning the dough 45 degrees each time. This will give you the beginnings of a thick circle.

Now, rolling from the center outward and rotating the dough a quarter turn to maintain a circular shape, roll the dough out to a 13-inch circle with an even thickness of ¼ inch.

Set your 9-inch (23-cm) pie pan alongside the circle of dough. Brush off any loose flour, carefully fold the dough circle in half, transfer it to the pan, and unfold.

At this point, the dough will be lying across rather than fitted into the pan. Now, without stretching the dough, set the dough down into the pan so that it is flush up against the sides and bottom. The best way to do this is to gingerly lift the dough and gently shift it around so that it settles into the pan bit by bit. Use a very light touch to help cozy it in.

To flute the edge, fold the overhang under to form a 1-inch wall that rests on the lip of the pan with the seam slightly below the pan’s top edge. Go around the edge of the pan and use a very light touch to firm up the wall to an even thickness from the bottom to the top and all the way around. Flute the edge of the crust at about 1-inch intervals, pressing from the inside with the knuckle of your index finger while supporting on the outside with the thumb and index finger of your opposite hand. Don’t pinch the dough, you want the flute to look like a thick rope.

Transfer the crust to the refrigerator to chill while you make your filling. Alternatively, at this point the crust can be covered tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 3 days or double-wrapped and frozen for up to 2 months (defrost overnight in the refrigerator before filling and baking or prebaking, or at room temperature for 30 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F with a rack in the center. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. (I actually pre-heated my baking sheet in the oven until ready to bake the pie).

In a large bowl, toss the pears with the lemon juice and vanilla.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, candied ginger, and salt. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the pears and toss to coat the fruit and moisten the sugar and cornstarch so that no dry white streaks remain.

Retrieve the prepared pie shell from the refrigerator and set the pan on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Scoop the filling into the shell and top with the oatmeal crumb, spreading evenly and completely covering the fruit.

Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake the pie 25 minutes, then rotate the baking sheet, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake 25 to 30 minutes more, or until the topping is golden and the juices bubble up through the crumb (all of my pies bake longer than recipes suggest--mine baked an extra 25 minutes beyond, a total of 55 minutes at the lower temperature--but just look for the signs and don't count on the timer to always be right). Tent the top with foil if it starts to over-brown.

Set the baking sheet on a wire rack and let the pie cool and set, uncovered, at room temperature, overnight (or up to 3 days) before slicing and serving (mine cooled about 4-6 hours, which was plenty of time for it to set while retaining its flaky crust; I also dusted mine with confectioners' sugar before serving).

Friday, December 29, 2017

Day 7 of Disney Very Merrytime Western Caribbean Cruise: Castaway Cay


Sadly we have reached the final day of our 7-night cruise. On the bright side, it's arguably everyone's favorite port of call, Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas. This was my sixth visit to Castaway Cay. The only cruise I've done that skipped this port of call was the Southern Caribbean out of San Juan.

There are not enough words to express how much we love Castaway Cay, but I will try. It's pretty much the ultimate happy place for any Disney Cruise Line lover.

Comprised of a family beach and an adult-only beach (Serenity Bay), waterslides (Pelican Plunge), a snorkeling lagoon, water sports, food, drinks, and more. The sand is powdery white and the water is turquoise blue and crystal clear.

As this was our first Very Merrytime cruise, this was the first time we experienced Castaway Cay decked out for the holidays, and oh my goodness, it was seriously extraordinary.

The Christmas tree alone was a perfect mashup of Caribbean flair and Christmas comfort.

In place of snowmen we had sand-people, and a snow machine blew artificial snow into the air by Santa's nautical-inspired sleigh.

Garlands strung across the tram-depot featured knotted boat ropes.

The weather at Castaway Cay can be temperamental. Years ago we nearly couldn't dock because of the high winds and surf. This visit we had no problems docking, but due to higher than usual winds all of the port excursions were cancelled, and the water at the family beaches was pretty choppy.

There are a few spots to eat lunch at Castaway Cay: Cookies BBQ at Scuttle's Cove, Cookies Too BBQ at Pelican Point, and the Serenity Bay BBQ area (photos below), which is identical to the others, menu-wise, but also features a couple extra items like grilled rib-eye steaks, and some cold soups, like gazpacho.

Tomato and red onion salad, Greek salad, couscous, German potato salad, coleslaw, and burger toppings

Salads/sides and buns

Smokey grill area for all your proteins

Cheeseburger, ribs, German potato salad, coleslaw, and gazpacho

Because Serenity Bay, the adults only beach, is on a different side of the island, we were well-protected from the wind, and it was almost like we were on a different island altogether! The water was absolutely calm and clear.

A school of fish swam all around us, and even had a bit of a feeding frenzy when another guest fed them some bread!

We also saw a large blue-ish looking stingray (not sure exactly what kind it was) and stalked it down the length of the beach. This was definitely one of the highlights of the entire day.

We have snorkeled with stingrays both at Castaway Cay years ago for an excursion, and also at Discovery Cove in Orlando, FL, but this was our first time seeing a stingray truly in the wild!

A day in the sun at Castaway Cay wouldn't be the same without one of our traditions, a beach side Konk Kooler. This Disney Cruise Line exclusive cocktail is a mixture of light and dark rums, orange and passion fruit juices, and cream of coconut all blended with ice.

Dragging ourselves away from Serenity Bay is next to impossible, but we managed to head back to the ship with some time to spare. In addition to the usual infused waters, Cast Members were also serving up hot chocolate and Christmas cookies for guests returning to the ship!

Here's a final look around before boarding the ship one last time.

Back in our room, we said goodbye to Castaway Cay out of our porthole. I nearly cried when the Cast Members sent us off with a wave with their matching Mickey Mouse gloves, and a synchronized bow as they said farewell.

In honor of our last night aboard, we had made reservations at Palo, one of two adult-only specialty restaurants on the Disney Fantasy.

Palo is inspired by Venetian decor, while the other restaurant Remy is a nod to the little chef by the same name. While both offer very different dining experiences with vastly different price points, they both feature both brunch and dinner. We decided this time around to do dinner at Palo.

Full disclosure, I struggled to get good photos at this meal as our table was in a particularly dimly lit portion of the dining room. Per usual, our meal started with a selection of freshly baked breads and a tableside antipasti service by our server.

We absolutely love the antipasti at Palo, which features prosciutto, bresaola, Parmigiano-Reggiano (aged 12 months), marinated olives, artichokes, and roasted bell peppers all drizzled with your choice of infused extra-virgin olive oil (either thyme, chili, or rosemary--our server drizzled all three) and balsamic vinegar (aged 8 years).

A popular starter at our table was the Tomato Mozzarella Caprese, truly a classic.

Several of us also ordered the Tuscan White Bean Soup. Previously, this was a pureed bean soup, but now features whole beans in chicken stock with pancetta and kale. Our server raved about the new version of the soup, but honestly I preferred the old pureed variation. This was comforting, but lacked seasoning for all of us.

When asked for salt we were offered a selection of three salts including a smoked salt, but I do wish it would have been better seasoned in the first place.

My brother-in-law made an excellent pick for one of his starters, and was nice enough to let me try one! This Soft Potato Gnocchi was tossed in Piennolo tomato sauce from Italy, and garnished with kale and caramelized grape tomatoes. It was incredibly tender and the sauce was just luscious.

I asked for a small portion of the Caramelle di Vitello off the pasta menu. It's a pasta stuffed with milk-braised veal, pancetta, and porcini mushrooms. It was incredible. The "small portion" came with two candy-wrapped pastas, while the regular portion my sister got for her entree was only three, so not a huge difference in size, but totally worth ordering either way!

At this point we were served a small portion of sorbet as an intermezzo to cleanse our palates before the main course.

My mom ordered the most entertaining entree out of all of us, the Piquant Dover Sole which is filleted tableside. It features capers, anchovies, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, carrots, and thyme potatoes.

Here's a video of our server in action!

I selected the Sea Scallops which were served over celery root puree with baby vegetables, crispy leeks, and a Prosecco and black truffle sauce on the side. I was pretty stuffed at this point, but really loved my entree (or as much of it as I could finish). The scallops were perfectly cooked, and the baby vegetables were by far the smallest baby vegetables I've ever seen. So adorable!

For dessert the most popular option is the famous Palo Chocolate Souffle with vanilla bean gelato and vanilla and chocolate sauces. It's dream-worthy and reason enough to book a reservation at Palo for your next Disney Cruise.

Although I couldn't NOT order a chocolate souffle at Palo, we were excited to see another souffle had been added to the menu, and several other family members decided to try it. This Amaretto Souffle is served with espresso gelato and vanilla sauce. If you like amaretto, then you will love this souffle! It's decadent and absolutely fantastic. I will be hard-pressed to pick which souffle to order next time!

The final touch at Palo dinner is a shot glass of Venetian sgroppino, a combination of lemon sorbet, Prosecco, and at Palo a splash of Calvados (apple brandy). It's a sweet, tart, and boozy finish to what is consistently a wonderful meal.

It's been a really magical trip down memory lane sharing my experiences from my recent Very Merrytime Western Caribbean Cruise. Although our cruise plans were turned upside down because of hurricanes that came and went months ago, our trip turned out even better than we had hoped. Although we still prefer Eastern Caribbean itineraries, I have to say this Western really won me over! I would happily visit any of these ports of call again. All in all this was a wonderful week aboard our favorite Disney Cruise Line ship. Thank you so much for joining me on this journey. It's been a pleasure sharing these wonderful memories with you all.

Disney Fantasy Very Merrytime Western Caribbean Cruise (December 2017):


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