Friday, December 30, 2011

Cranberry Curd


I'll make this short and sweet :) I consider a good white cake to be a blank canvas for pretty much any flavors you desire. I recently created a delicious dessert I called "Not Carrot Cake," filling a white cake with carrot curd and topping with cinnamon-cream cheese frosting. The popularity of this cake led me to try another variation. This time I made a delicious cranberry curd inspired by one that Joanne at Eats Well With Others served a few months ago at a brunch she hosted. I used it to fill the fluffy white cake, and topped it off with a rich fudge frosting.

The cranberry curd reminds me of crack in its addictiveness. It not only boasts a vibrant color, but its tart-sweetness is absolute perfection, well-balanced, velvety smooth, and insatiably delicious. This quantity is just right for filling a 4-layer cake. It also uses exactly one 12-ounce bag of cranberries, which means you don't need to weigh, measure, or buy extra. One bag is the perfect amount.

You can follow the cake recipe and assembly instructions for my Not Carrot Cake if you want to use this curd as a filling, or simply make it on its own to spread on biscuits and brioche, or eat it by the spoonful. No judgement.

Spread on homemade brioche...

Cranberry Curd
Makes 3 cups

12 oz fresh cranberries
3/4 cup + 1 1/2 T. water
5 T. unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup sugar
5 large eggs

Add the cranberries and water to a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until the berries have popped and are tender. Pass the cranberries through a food mill fitted with the plate with the smallest holes or press through a fine-mesh sieve. Return the puree back into the pan.

Add the butter and sugar and bring to medium heat. Lightly beat the eggs in a separate bowl and then add them to the cranberry mixture, stirring/whisking continuously so the eggs don't scramble. The curd is thick enough when it coats the back of a wooden spoon and running your finger over it will leave a streak.

Once thickened to this point, pass through a fine-mesh sieve to make sure there are no scrambled egg remnants. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly against the curd to keep a skin from forming. Cool completely in the refrigerator before serving.

Monday, December 12, 2011

"Not Carrot Cake" and an Eleven Madison Park Cookbook Review


My obsession with Danny Meyer is no secret, which is why I jumped at the chance to review the recently released cookbook from his most upscale restaurant, Eleven Madison Park. The book itself is beyond beautiful. The words "food porn" would best describe its contents. Each and every photo lavishly depicts over 160 reasons why a trip to Eleven Madison Park is well worth the price. There is a LOT of work that goes into each dish. While the book can appear to be very daunting, a guide entitled "How To Use This Book" introduces readers to the world inside. Chef Daniel Humm admits that it will likely remain on one's coffee table if you are not an avid cook, and most home cooks may choose to make parts of recipes as opposed to creating each and every component of the recipes. He assures readers that every recipe has been tested multiple times, to ensure success, and even offers an email address you can contact if you have questions or problems. It's like he's taking you by the hand! I love that. Every fine dining cookbook should include such a safety net, if you will, because God knows when recipes can be as elaborate as these, there will be floods of questions to follow.

I was intrigued by a mignardise recipe for carrot macarons, and decided that would be the recipe I tested out. I had never really attempted macarons before, but had heard horror stories from others. They are not the most reliable cookies to make, trust me. Although I followed every step as best as I could, my macarons were a serious failure. For one thing, the recipe used only 1 tsp. of water to make a sugar slurry to start cooking my sugar. I think this was not nearly enough water (in culinary school we used a lot more), and it made my sugar cook very unevenly and start to caramelize in places before most of the sugar had even melted. This may have been my biggest error. The macarons ended up in the garbage, but the carrot curd that was intended to fill these French nightmares was sublime, truly a unique creation. I needed to find another use for it, and that I did.

A basic stand-by (and highly recommended!) recipe for white cake was the perfect vessel for the carrot curd. I used it as a filling in between thin layers of moist, lightly sweet, spongy cake. A spiced cinnamon cream cheese frosting finished off my creation. While it vaguely mimicked the flavors of carrot cake, it was simpler and far less sugary. A beautiful presentation of white layers broken up by bright orange was a whimsical interpretation of carrot cake. While I can't imagine it being served at a place like Eleven Madison Park, I hope the folks there can appreciate how I took my lemons (carrot curd that would be unusable for my macarons) and turned them into lemonade (a pretty freaking delicious cake, if I may say so myself). My family couldn't get enough of it! I'm adding it to my cake arsenal for all time.

And for the record, I do look forward to attempting more recipes (or at least components of recipes) from the book as soon as I have more time to play in the kitchen. It's a lovely book, a labor of love, and at the very least one of the most beautiful and well-written ones that I own. I appreciate the time and energy that went into writing it. I would recommend it for lovers of Eleven Madison Park, but certainly beware that the recipes not only require serious kitchen skills and some difficult to find and/or expensive ingredients, but more time in the kitchen than most average people can afford to dedicate. I hope this won't dissuade anyone from trying, though :) And if you ever feel lost, you can reach out through the world wide web and have your questions answered. Now that's something I can really get behind.

Not Carrot Cake
Makes 1 (9-inch) layer cake
(Carrot Curd recipe adapted from Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook and White Cake recipe adapted from Desserts by the Yard)

Carrot Curd:
1 3/4 cups carrot juice
1 cup diced carrots
4 large eggs
1/2 cup + 2 T. sugar
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 package (1/4 oz) unflavored gelatin
1 T. water
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature

White Cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting pans
1 T. baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing pans
2 cups sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz cream cheese (or Neufchatel), at room temperature
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 T. ground cinnamon

For the carrot curd: Combine 1 1/4 cups of the carrot juice and the diced carrots in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until the carrots are tender and some of the juice is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Puree in a blender with the remaining 1/2 cup carrot juice until smooth. Chill over ice.

In a metal bowl, combine the carrot puree, eggs, sugar, and salt. Cook in a double boiler, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 180 degrees F. Bloom the gelatin in 1 T. cold water until softened. Stir some of the warm carrot mixture into the gelatin to dissolve completely, and then add to the remaining carrot mixture. Pass the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any bits of eggs that may have scrambled. Cool the mixture over ice to 105 degrees F. Using a hand blender or whisk (if you want the workout), blend in the softened butter a little at a time until smooth. Cool completely and refrigerate until needed.

For the cakes: Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.  Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans and set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together and set aside.

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat over medium speed for 4 to 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Scrape down the paddle and sides of the bowl.

Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.

On low speed, add a third of the flour mixture, half of the milk, then another third of the flour, the remaining milk, and finally the rest of the flour. Beat only until smooth. Scrape into the prepared pans, smoothing out the tops.

Bake for 30 minutes, switching the pans from front to back halfway through. To test the cake for doneness, lightly touch the top with a finger--it should spring right back into place. It should also slightly pull away from the sides of the pan. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean. If necessary, bake for 5 to 10 minutes more.

Let the cakes cool in the pans on a rack for 15 minutes, then invert onto the rack and remove the pans. Allow to cool completely before assembling.

For the frosting: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese and butter and beat until smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar and cinnamon and beat until combined.

When the cakes are cool, use a serrated knife to cut each cake into two even layers. If your cakes have domed, first carefully trim off the domes with a serrated knife, and then divide the cakes into layers. Whisk together the carrot curd to smooth it out (it will be quite firm right out of the fridge so it wouldn't hurt to leave it out for a few minutes before using it). Spread 1/3 of the curd over one of the cake layers using an offset spatula, spreading it just barely to the edge of the cake. Top with another cake later and repeat with 1/3 of the curd. Repeat with another cake later and the remaining curd. Finally top with the last cake layer.

Make sure that none of the curd is squeezing out of the sides. If it is, smooth it out with your spatula. Using a clean offset spatula, frost the top and sides of the cake with the cinnamon cream cheese frosting. Chill the cake to help the frosting and filling set. The cake slices more neatly when it is cold, but I suggest letting the cake/slices sit out briefly to remove some of the chill before indulging. It will allow the frosting (and the rest of the cake) to soften back up a bit to the perfect temperature for consumption.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Disney Cruise Line: Palo Brunch


I've saved the best for last. For real. The optional (extra fee) adult-exclusive dining experiences on the Disney ships are well worth it. On the Disney Magic, you have Palo which features northern Italian cuisine. It's a cut above the rest. A meal here is well worth the trouble it can take to get a reservation. On our previous cruise we elected to have brunch AND dinner at Palo, but this time around we only managed to squeeze in a brunch. It was fabulous however, made even more fabulous by our one-of-a-kind server Sasha. I can honestly say he was one of the best servers I've ever had at any restaurant ANYWHERE. He not only was able to tell my sister how far along she was in her pregnancy, but he correctly identified the sex of her baby, which she had just found out days earlier by ultrasound. The man has skills. Not only for predicting the sex of your unborn child, but also for feeding you with amazing food until you're about to burst. He made our brunch experience incredibly special. Thank you so much, Sasha! We hope to see you on our next cruise.

The brunch at Palo consists of a ridiculously awesome cold buffet section which includes everything from seafood (shrimp cocktail, stone crab claws, Alaskan king crab legs, smoked salmon, smoked salmon mousse, seared ahi, caviar), a make-your-own Nicoise salad station, breads, cheeses (unique ones like port wine-infused cheddar, etc), charcuterie (and I'm talking the good stuff), pastries, and loads of desserts. In addition to the buffet stations, there is also hot food made to order. Everything from their unique and delicious pizzas, to egg dishes, pasta, fish, and meat dishes. Pretty much everything under the (brunch) sun. Here are some mouth-watering photographs of this not-to-be-missed brunch experience aboard Disney Cruise Lines...

From left to right: Caprese salad, stone crab claws, Alaskan king crab legs, smoked salmon mousse; Virgin mary shooters with baby shrimp, assorted cold salads

Clockwise from left: Hot items made to order; some dessert offerings; breads, cheeses, and charcuterie

My first selections from the buffet... there would be more to come :)

A la carte items (clockwise from top left): pizzas (gorgonzola, grape, and port wine reduction, spicy sausage minus the sausage, and sun-dried tomato and goat cheese); oysters Rockefeller; chicken Parmesan with risotto; eggs Julia (w/ smoked salmon)

Some selections from the dessert buffet (my favorite was the insanely decadent chocolate confection  to the left)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Disney Cruise Line: "Special" Menus and Excursion Dining


Disney is known for its attention to detail. If you've ever been to any of the theme parks, you know what I'm talking about. The same can be said for their cruise line. Not only does Disney offer the 3 main dining room menus, but there are several theme nights in which guests partake throughout their journey. Here are the theme nights for their 7 day cruise on the Disney Magic, along with some of the menu highlights...

Prince and Princess Dinner: Inspired by, you guessed it, the fairy tales that make Disney so special. Dishes like "Belle's" Scallops au Gratin and Roasted Filet of Beef Wellington definitely suggest a fairy tale worthy meal. Overall, this menu was fun for us. I thought my meat was a bit overcooked for the temperature I had asked, but otherwise, the meal was pretty solid. My ice cream sundae was a perfect end to the meal.

"Belle's" Scallops au Gratin

Roasted Filet of Beef Wellington

Princess Aurora Sundae (with Rocky Road)

Pirates IN the Caribbean Dinner: Perhaps everyone's favorite theme night! Not only do you get a special menu with offerings like Black Beard's Jumbo Crab Cake, Jack Sparrow's Barbecue Marinated Beef Short Ribs, and Captain Hook's Macadamia Nut-Dusted Mahi Mahi, but you also get a party in your dining room, limbo stick and all, and a fun open-air party after dinner culminating in an at-sea fireworks show. It doesn't get more fun than that :)

Black Beard's Jumbo Crab Cake

Jack Sparrow's Barbecue Marinated Beef Short Rib

Treasure-of-the-Seas Grilled Shrimp and Seared Scallops

Sweet Temptations: Rum-Soaked Chocolate Cake, Fruit Cobbler, and Floating Island

Captain's Gala Dinner: Often considered the "fancy" meal of the week. Items like Oysters Rockefeller and Baked Lobster Tail are a pretty big draw. I also love how well you are served by the dining room staff. Our server removed my lobster meat from the tail for me to save me any trouble in doing so myself. They will also cut up food for the kids. It's a really nice perk and we certainly appreciate every bit of attention they offer to making our meals so special.

Baked Lobster Tail

Warm Chocolate Lava Cake

Till We Meet Again: The last dinner of the cruise is one that will hopefully bring you back for more. It is another one of our favorites, with items like Sesame-Crusted Tuna Sashimi, Crawfish and Lobster Bisque, and their tasty Seafood Linguine Pasta, along with a stand-by Yachtsman Steakhouse Center Cut Grilled Beef Tenderloin, you will surely want to come back to experience more of Disney Cruise Line, more of their outstanding service, and more of the delicious food.

Sesame-Crusted Tuna Sashimi

Crawfish and Lobster Bisque

Seafood Linguine Pasta

Sweet Temptations: Chocolate Decadence, Celebration Cake, Cappuccino Mousse

Mickey's Island Jam Breakfast: As a special treat during your cruise, everyone gets to partake in a breakfast experience in which your favorite Disney characters actually visit you at your tables as you enjoy your meal. It's great for little kids and big kids alike. The food isn't anything special compared to some of the better breakfast selections available at both Lumiere's for a la carte service and even Topsiders Buffet, but it's all about the character experience here :)

Cookie's BBQ: On Disney's private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay, guests are invited to partake in a casual lunch at Cookie's BBQ (or Cookie's BBQ Too). Here a selection of burgers, hot dogs, and ribs, along with many sides, fresh fruit, ice cream, cookies, and cake are the perfect beach side meal.

Other Excursions: Depending on excursions you select for your ports of call, lunch is sometimes included. On our visit to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, part of our tour included a visit to the beautiful beach at Cane Garden Bay. Here, along with hours of fun in the sun (and surf), we dined on a Caribbean buffet meal which included options of chicken, fish, or ribs (all island style), rice and beans, vegetables, and Caesar salad (not so Caribbean, but not bad either).

Monday, November 14, 2011

Disney Cruise Line: Rotational Dining and Quick Dining Options


I recently had the pleasure of embarking on a magical Disney Cruise vacation with my family. It was my second Disney Cruise and still as fantastic as the very first time. Disney currently has 3 vessels in its arsenal: the Disney Magic, the Disney Wonder, and the Disney Dream. The Disney Fantasy will be a new addition next spring. Although we're very anxious to check out the newer ships, the Disney Magic holds a special place in our hearts. Through the next several posts, I will discuss some of the food that we experienced on our trip. If you are considering a Disney cruise in the future, this will be a great way to get a sneak peak of what's in store for you. If you get sea sick and/or have no desire to go galavanting around the beautiful ports of call (I can't imagine this being a valid reason not to go), then let this be a mini visual vacation for you. Please enjoy :)

Rotational Dining: Each of the Disney ships has 3 main dining rooms between which your party rotates based on a pre-set schedule. Each of those dining rooms has a standard dinner menu inspired by the theme of the restaurant. There are also several "special" menus that are sprinkled in between, and will be enjoyed when you are in any one of the given dining rooms simply based on your rotation. Today's post will briefly discuss and share some of the options from the 3 main dining room menus. I will discuss the "special" menus in a later post. On the Disney Magic, the 3 dining rooms are Lumiere's, Animator's Palate, and Parrot Cay.


My favorite of the 3 standard menus is that at Lumiere's. It features French cuisine, and the galley team does a knockout job at preparing the food here. Each dinner menu features 4 courses, and you can select an item from each category. A couple of the stand-out appetizers include the escargots (marinated in herbs and finely chopped mushrooms in garlic butter) and the duck confit (served with dried prunes and candied walnuts). I also really loved the French onion soup (you'd be shocked how many places actually can't get this right), and the tomato basil soup and avocado-citrus salad were favorites among my family. For entrees, the three-cheese lobster macaroni was my pick, but the lamb shank was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and would have been my second choice. "Sweet Temptations" are offered as a dessert option at every meal. In lieu of making a single selection from the menu, a small tasting of 3 pre-determined desserts can be chosen. On many occasions, this was the way to go, although from time to time I/we picked individual desserts.

Appetizers (Clockwise from Left): Chilled Jumbo Shrimp, "Gaston's" Escargots Gratinee, Duck Confit

"Mrs. Potts" French Onion Soup

Entrees (Clockwise from Left): Three-Cheese Lobster Macaroni, Slowly Braised Lamb Shank, Lumiere's Seared Sea Bass

Sweet Temptations: Chocolate Mousse, Creme Brulee, Praline Petite Choux

Animator's Palate is special in that it includes a show as part of the experience. On the older 2 ships (Magic and Wonder), the show involves screens that light up around the room as songs from those Disney films play in the dining room. On the newer ships, Animator's Palate has gotten a makeover that includes a tour around the dining room with the amazing turtles from Finding Nemo. The menu here is pretty upscale as well. My ahi tuna tartare was a great start to the meal, while my Asian marinated beef tenderloin was absolutely cooked to perfection. A final appearance by Sorcerer Mickey defines Animator's Palate as a truly whimsical experience filled with magic, both on your plates and in the air all around you.

Animator's Palate Show Dinner

Ahi Tuna Tartare

Asian Marinated Beef Tenderloin

Sweet Temptations: Strawberry Sable, Double-Fudge Chocolate Cake, Cranberry and Orange Cheesecake

Our least favorite in general is Parrot Cay. I honestly think this is a common opinion. The menu is more island-themed, and in general has less highlights for our palates. In our particular case, we experienced an off night during our meal here (meat not cooked to the temperature desired and/or not trimmed properly is an example). Our food overall was disappointing. Disney, being the people-pleasers that they are, fully made up for this fact throughout our cruise by regularly sending people (such as the chef de cuisine) to our table to check in on us, and even surprised us with some chocolate-covered strawberries and a written apology in our stateroom. We felt very much taken care of, and knew that Disney valued our opinion and didn't want us to be unhappy with our meals in the future. Gotta love that customer service.

Parrot Cay

Baked Crab Dip Martinique

Mixed Grill

Quick Dining Options: The ships also have several quick dining options that can stand in for meals or snacks as desired. These options include Pinocchio's Pizzeria, Pluto's Dog House (where I simply could not resist indulging in SEVERAL tacos over the span of the week), and Goofy's Galley. Also, the Topsider's Buffet is a breakfast, lunch, and dinner option in lieu of a more formal setting elsewhere. All of these treats are free of charge, completely included in the price of your cruise ticket.

Taco and Fries from Pluto's Dog House

Friday, October 28, 2011

Lemon Cutout Cookies


My adorable nephew recently celebrated his 3rd birthday! In honor of the occasion (and every future birthday), I vowed to make cookies in the shape of his age. This tradition will God-willing continue in the years to come, with different flavors at each celebration. Earlier this year we made cookies together for the first time, and this was partly the inspiration for the annual birthday cookies. These lemon cookies have a faint citrus burst without being overwhelmingly lemony.

I omitted the icing because quite frankly, I just didn't have time to decorate the cookies and allow the icing to set before the party. I had made the dough the weekend before when I was in RI and froze it, then had my mom thaw it out the night before the party and I drove from NYC to RI (left by 6:30 am on a SATURDAY thank you very much) so I could roll out, cut and bake them in time for the party (among a million other things I had to do, which apparently included a nap, sorry these things happen). For the record, I was barely conscious when I cut and baked the cookies, so even zombies and sleep-bakers can make them!

Anyway, I can't comment on the icing portion of the recipe, although I can assure you that it will add a more citrus element to the cookies. These babies were super popular at the party. People took them in threes (pun intended) instead of singles. They had a nice crunch and a fresh flavor. My brother-in-law said they reminded him of the cookies his grandmother would make... quite an emotional statement since she passed away recently :( Make these cookies. They are good. And easy. Easy is good.

Lemon Cutout Cookies
Makes 4 to 5 dozen
(Adapted from New Treasury of Christmas Recipes)

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
Lemon icing, optional

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg. Gradually add the dry mixture, alternating with lemon juice, until combined (dough will be soft). Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap and flatten the dough into a disc about 1/2-inch to 1-inch in thickness (this will make it easier to roll out later). Wrap the dough well with the plastic wrap and chill for several hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out 1/3 of the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut with floured cookie cutters. Place 1-inch apart on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the edges are just starting to turn golden. Cool thoroughly on wire racks. Ice and decorate as desired.

Lemon Icing:
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 T. fresh lemon juice
Yellow food coloring, optional

Mix together the confectioners' sugar, lemon juice, and food coloring (if desired) until smooth.

Makes about 1/2 cup


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