Thursday, February 28, 2013

Risotto Cakes with Poached Eggs

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Wow, time flies. My blog is 4 years old today. She's no longer a toddler; she's well on her way to the big times... I hope! It's amazing to see how things have changed over the years, how my photographs have improved (and will hopefully continue to improve), how the layout has changed, and even how the recipes themselves have become more clear and easier to follow, perhaps. I'm really proud of my baby. She has come a long way. Thanks to all my readers for being a part of the Mission: Food family, whether it was for 4 years or 4 days. I really appreciate your existence in my world :) Now onto today's topic...


Risotto... it doesn't really reheat very well. It's definitely best the day it's made, which is why in a perfect world I would only make exactly as much risotto as I need for a meal. But my math doesn't always match my appetite. Sometimes I end up with leftover risotto, and I hate wasting food.


That's where these risotto cakes come into play! Similar to Italian arancini, but easier to make because they aren't stuffed or deep-fried, they simply require leftover risotto and some breadcrumbs to create the crust. They are then pan-fried to golden perfection. The risotto inside heats up and regains its gooey texture while protected by its crisp exterior.


In this case, I decided to top the risotto cakes with some pea greens and poached eggs. Between the rich, runny yolk and the decadent creaminess of the risotto, this dish didn't need any sauce, but could easily include one if you wanted. I used leftover mushroom risotto from my Le Cellier Mushroom Filet creation from Disney World's Epcot. You can use any leftover risotto you have, and play around with other fillings or sauces, even, that would compliment the type of risotto you are using.


Risotto Cakes with Poached Eggs
Serves 2

1/4 cup dried breadcrumbs
1 cup leftover risotto, cold
1 T. olive oil
2 T. distilled white vinegar
4 eggs
Pea greens or other delicate, small greens such as arugula, baby spinach, or watercress

Place the breadcrumbs in a dish. Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to portion out the risotto onto the dish of breadcrumbs, one at a time. The measuring cup with help give the risotto a round shape. Press the risotto into the breadcrumbs and flatten it to about 3/4-inch to 1-inch thick. Flip the risotto cake over, gently, and coat the other side generously with breadcrumbs. Repeat with the remaining risotto to form 4 cakes.

Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cakes and cook for a few minutes per side until golden brown. Remove risotto cakes to serving plates or keep warm in a low oven until needed.

Meanwhile, poach the eggs. Fill a medium to large, shallow saucepan about halfway with water. Add the vinegar and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Crack 1 egg into a small bowl. If you have several small bowls on hand and don't mind getting them dirty, it saves some time to crack an egg into each bowl and have them all ready in advance. If not, you can do one at a time, reusing the same bowl. When the water is simmering, but not boiling, gently lower 1 egg at a time into the water.

If you feel confident, add more eggs, one at a time, into the simmering water. Just remember the order in which you add the eggs so you can remove them in the same order. Each egg should take about 3 minutes. The whites should be cooked through but the yolks should remain runny. When you remove an egg with a slotted spoon, it should feel fairly firm right where the white meets the yolk, but it should still have some give when you move closer to the yolk.

Remove each egg with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel if you'd like to soak up a bit of the water.  Place a small handful of pea greens or other delicate greens on top of each risotto cake and then top with a poached eggs. Serve immediately.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Pan-fried Sweet Potato and Pork Dumplings

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It's time for another challenge from the Creative Cooking Crew! This month's theme is Meat and Potatoes. Unlike last month's Vegan theme, I was actually really excited about this challenge from the start! I originally brainstormed doing a pork stew studded with veggies and served in individual dishes topped with crusty mashed sweet potatoes. It would be perfect for winter. But for whatever reason, I just didn't feel excited about it. It sounded delicious, but it just seemed so... predictable.


I liked the idea of putting pork and sweet potatoes together. I've made a delicious Sweet Potato Pork Pie before and thought it was a great combo! I just needed a different plan. I saw these Creole Potstickers on Creole Contessa's site and suddenly it hit me. I would make dumplings! I LOVE making dumplings. I'm not sure why it hadn't even occurred to me before!


Personally, I find nothing more satisfying than making a dumpling completely from scratch. That includes making the skin. No offense, but when I see people claim they are masterful dumpling makers and then whip out store-bought skins, I am less than convinced of their dumpling skills. There is a world of difference between store-bought dumpling wrappers and homemade ones. A world!


Homemade skins can either be made with a flour dough or a wheat starch dough. The wheat starch dough yields snow white, slightly translucent morsels that are typically steamed. The flour dough results in an opaque dough that can be dyed different colors with vegetables. It can be steamed, boiled, pan-fried, or even deep-fried. Each dough has its benefits. For these particular dumplings, I really wanted to pan-fry them so the flour dough was my obvious choice.


The result of using homemade dough for these dumplings is a combination of chewy and crispy textures that can never be matched otherwise. It provides a wonderful textural contrast to the soft filling. In this case, the filling is heavy on sweet potato flavor. The pork is more muted, but honestly I'm very happy with that. The sweet potato really is the star here, along with some Chinese five spice powder, a mixture of pepper, star anise, cinnamon, fennel, and cloves. It walks the line between savory and sweet and can be used in either application.


The Chinese five spice adds a great layer of flavor to the filling along with chives, mirin, and soy sauce. The filling is on the sweet side, even though this is technically a savory dumpling. To finish it off, I created a dipping sauce that showcases a perfect balance between salt, acid, and spice. As a result, a mouthful of these dumplings dipped in the sauce is a flavor explosion that hits every part of the tongue. These dumplings, if I may say so myself, are quite extraordinary.


Pan-fried Sweet Potato and Pork Dumplings
Makes 32 dumplings, serving 4 as a main course, or 6 to 8 as a snack or starter
(Dough and Assembly from Asian Dumplings)

Filling:
1/2 cup mashed sweet potato
4 oz ground pork
2 T. minced chives
1 1/2 tsp. mirin, sake, or rice wine
1 1/2 tsp. tamari, or soy sauce
1/4 tsp. Chinese five spice powder

Dough:
10 oz (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
About 3/4 cup just-boiled water (boil water, then let it sit for a minute off the heat before measuring)

Spicy Soy Dipping Sauce:
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 T. unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 tsp. sriracha

Canola or peanut oil, for pan-frying

To make the filling: mix together all the ingredients in a bowl and chill until needed.

To make the dough: place a large mixing bowl over a damp paper towel on your work surface, to keep in place while mixing. Add the flour and make a well. Use a wooden spoon to mix the flour while you add the water in a steady stream. Mix together until you have a lot of lumpy bits, then knead the hot dough in the bowl until the dough comes together. Add water by the teaspoon if the dough does not come together.

Continue kneading the dough on a lightly floured surface (only flour if necessary, and do so sparingly) for a couple more minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic (my mixing bowl was very large so I finished kneading directly in the bowl and it was just fine). The dough should bounce back when pressed with your finger, but leave a light impression of your finger. Place dough in a zip-top bag, seal tightly, pressing out excess air, and set aside at room temperature for 15 minutes up to 2 hours. The dough will steam up the bag and soften. After resting, the dough can be used right away, or refrigerated overnight and returned to room temperature before using.

To make the dipping sauce: combine all the ingredients in a bowl and set aside. The sauce can be prepared several hours in advance.

To assemble the dumplings, remove the dough from the bag, turning the bag inside out if the dough is sticky. Put the dough on a lightly floured surface and cut it in half. Put half back in the bag, squeezing out the air and sealing it closed to prevent drying.

Roll the dough into a 1-inch-thick log and cut into 16 pieces (cut in half, then cut each half in half, and so on to create pieces that are even in size. The tapered end pieces should be cut slightly larger). If your pieces are oval, stand them on one of the cut ends and gently squeeze with your fingers to make them round, like a scallop. Take each piece of dough and press each cut end in flour, lightly pressing the dough to about 1/4 inch thick and set aside.

Next, flatten each dough disk into a thin circle, about 1/8 inch thick, either with a tortilla press (lined with plastic wrap), or with a heavy flat-bottomed object like a frying pan (also lined with plastic). Alternatively, use a dowel (which is a good lightweight rolling pin alternative for fast and flexible dumpling making) to lightly roll out each disc into an 1/8 inch thick circle.

To finish the wrappers, place wrappers one at a time on your work surface, and flour only if sticky. Imagine a quarter-size circle in the center of the dough. This is what the Chinese call the "belly" of the wrapper. You want to create a wrapper that is larger than its current size, but still retaining a thick "belly" in the center. This ensures an even distribution of dough when the dumpling is sealed. Use the rolling pin to apply pressure to the outer 1/2-to-3/4-inch border of the wrapper. Roll the rolling pin in short downward strokes with one hand while the other hand turns the wrapper in the opposite direction. Aim for wrappers that are about 3 1/4 inches in diameter. When a batch of wrappers is formed, fill them before making wrappers out of the other portion of dough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (if planning to refrigerate dumplings for several hours, also dust with flour to prevent sticking).  Hold a wrapper in a slightly cupped hand and scoop about 1 tablespoon of filling slightly off-center toward the upper half of the wrapper, pressing and shaping it into a flat mound and keeping a 1/2-to-3/4-inch border on all sides.

To make "pleated crescent" shapes (as photographed), make the first pinch between index finger and thumb, then fold over the front edge to form the first pleat and press it against the back edge. Continue pleating the dough in this fashion until making the final pleat and then settle the dumpling on a work surface and press the edges to seal well.

Alternatively, to make "pea pod" shapes, fold the edge of the wrapper closest to you to meet the top edge and pinch together to seal well. Place on your work surface and press gently to steady the dumpling and make it sit flat. Fold the sealed edges of the dumpling to make a series of pleats from one end to the other.

Place finished dumplings on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and dough, spacing out dumplings about 1/2 inch apart. Keep the finished dumplings covered with a dry kitchen towel.

When all the dumplings are assembled, they can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for several hours and can be cooked straight from the refrigerator. For longer storage, freeze them on their baking sheet until hard (about 1 hour), transfer to a zip-top freezer bag, pressing out excess air before sealing, and frozen for up to 1 month. To cook after freezing, partially thaw, using your finger to smooth over any cracks that may have formed during freezing, before cooking.

To pan-fry the dumplings, use a medium or large nonstick skillet (or cook two batches at the same time using two pans). Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 1/2 tablespoons oil for a medium skillet and 2 tablespoons for a large one. Place the dumplings 1 at a time, sealed edges up, in a winding circle pattern. The dumplings can touch. Medium skillets will generally fit 12 to 14 dumplings, large skillets will fit 16 to 18 dumplings. Fry the dumplings for 1 to 2 minutes until they are golden or light brown on the bottom.

Holding the lid close to the skillet to lessen splatter, use a measuring cup to add water to a depth of roughly 1/4 inch (about 1/3 cup water). The water will immediately sputter and boil vigorously, Cover with a lid or aluminum foil, lower the heat to medium, and let the water bubble away for 8 to 10 minutes, until it is mostly gone. When you hear sizzling noises, remove the lid as most of the water is now gone. Let the dumplings fry for another 1 or 2 minutes, or until the bottoms are brown and crisp. Turn off the heat and wait until the sizzling stops before using a spatula to transfer dumplings to a serving plate. Display them with their bottoms facing up so they remain crisp.

Serve with the dipping sauce in a communal bowl or in individual dipping sauce dishes. Enjoy!




Thursday, February 21, 2013

Jam Rum Bar + Bistro Moderne

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My recent trip to Puerto Rico was fabulous! Lounging on the beach, ziplining in the rainforest, wandering around the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan, watching the sunset at El Morro, touring the Bacardi distillery and drinking lots of delicious cocktails were not the only highlights of the trip, believe it or not. I enjoyed some really exquisite meals during my stay. I've already discussed the incredible experience I had dining on the Experience menu at Mi Casa, so now I will talk about one of my other favorite meals from the trip.


One of my friends who also recently visiting Puerto Rico and stayed in the same neighborhood in San Juan as I did (Condado) highly recommended Jam Rum Bar + Bistro Moderne, the sister restaurant to Marmalade in Old San Juan. After reading rave reviews online, I suggested it one night to my traveling companions. It was a short walk from our beautiful hotel, La Concha.


Immediately upon entering the restaurant, we were excited by the bright and vibrant colors, the cool and modern decor, and most of all the tantalizing menu, both for specialty cocktails and for food. We all started out with some cocktails. I tried a couple different ones throughout the night. The first is called Naughty Dragon. Let's be honest. That's the real reason I ordered this drink; the name. It contains raspberry rum, Grand Marnier, fresh grapefruit and sparkling wine. It is as delicious and refreshing as the name is awesome.

Naughty Dragon $11

The second drink I tried was recommended by the restaurant's owner, Mr. Ross, who wandered over to our table with a drink in his hand and a Southern drawl. We were pretty sure he was just a drunk patron who couldn't find the bathroom, but then later discovered that he, in fact, had moved to Puerto Rico years ago with his construction business and had decided to settle down there (after meeting and falling in love with "a little Puerto Rican lady") and purchase the restaurant! It was pretty random, but he was really nice and continued to check on us periodically.


Anyway, back to the drink. It's called Blind Bartender and contains spicy ginger juice combined with mango rum, fresh cilantro and a sliver of fresno chile pepper. It was spicy from the ginger, but refreshing and complex in its own way. This was a very popular drink around the table. Almost everyone ended up ordering one at some point during the meal.

Blind Bartender $11

We decided to share several starters before enjoying our entrees. The first was the Beef Tripleta Empanada, which is filled with ribeye, churrasco, and ground beef along with roasted onions and fresh cheese. It's served with whipped horseradish sauce. Delicious! I love empanadas and this is a well constructed play on a traditional turnover with more upscale elements.

Beef Tripleta Empanada $10

Another starter we tried was the Yucatan Ceviche, which contains local fresh fish of the day, sweet and spicy salsa "cruda," avocado and mango and is served with malanga chips. Over all this was nice and refreshing with many layers of flavor and texture.

Yucatan Ceviche $11

Perhaps my favorite starter was the Plantain Crusted Calamari. Unlike calamari rings, these calamari are served in strips with a mild anchovy-cilantro dipping sauce. I loved the texture and flavor of these fried strips; they were tender, not chewy at all, and really unique. I would definitely order this again next time.

Plantain Crusted Calamari $10

Our final starter was the Pork Quesadilla. It features a combination of provolone, pecorino and 3-chili cheese with slow-braised pulled pork, along with chipotle creme fraiche and a sesame seed pico de gallo. This is another elevated play on a classic. It beats a traditional quesadilla six days a week and twice on Sunday.

Pork Quesadilla $9

Even after this delicious spread, I have to say that my entree still managed to blow everything else out of the water. It was truly divine, one of my favorite dishes I've eaten in a long time. I opted for the Pastelon de Pernil, which is Puerto Rican roasted pork layered with homemade mashed potatoes, caramelized sweet plantains, and a gratin of cheese and finished with bits of longaniza sausage. Oh. My. Goodness. This dish was truly sensational. The pork was so rich and flavorful. The tender bites of pork had become nearly creamy with the marriage of mashed potato. Sweet bites of plantain studded the creation along with salty, melty cheese and chunks of meaty sausage. It took a kitchen sink scenario and made it sing... opera. I dream about this dish. I crave it. I would fly to Puerto Rico just to have it. Yes, it was that good.

Pastelon de Pernil $22

I am so grateful for the recommendation to try Jam Rum Bar, and also thrilled that my traveling companions got on board to give it a try as well. We were all very impressed by the food and drinks here, as well as the decor and service. Mr. Ross, the owner, was really funny and made a great recommendation on a drink that we all enjoyed. If you are visiting San Juan, especially if you are staying in the Condado neighborhood, you really have no excuse not to visit Jam Rum Bar. It was a delicious and memorable experience.

Jam Rum Bar + Bistro Moderne 
1400 Calle Magdalena
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00907
787-721-5991

Monday, February 18, 2013

Le Cellier's Mushroom Filet and DCL's Herb-Crusted Sea Bass

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I recently had the opportunity to check out some amazing products from Certified Steak & Seafood Company. They sent me some of their delicious aged Filet Mignon steaks as well as some beautiful Chilean Sea Bass fillets to try out in my kitchen. I absolutely loved both, and made some really delicious dishes with them, which I will share below. Here is some info on these products:

Photo courtesy Certified Steak & Seafood

Buttery Prime Angus Filet Mignon

If there was ever a steak that you will believe can “melt in your mouth” the Certified Steak and Seafood Prime angus Filet Mignon is it. With a delectable almost sweet beef flavor, and a strong buttery undertone that only Prime angus offers, it has to be tasted to be believed.

Each Prime angus filet is slow aged,  custom cut and trimmed for consistency in color and quality. It is a flavor you will remember long after your meal is over. Great accompanied by grilled root vegetables and horseradish mashed potatoes.

Photo courtesy Certified Steak & Seafood

Chilean Sea Bass

A popular favorite in restaurants across America, the best Chilean Sea Bass now comes to your table courtesy Certified Steak and Seafood. Harvested and processed under close inspection of the National Marine Fishery Service, this soft, tender and smooth fish is a smart and healthy purchase. Impress your family or give as a memorable gift. Facts: Easy to Cook, Wild Caught, 3rd Party Certified, Product of Chile.

 

Let's start with the filet. After a recent bad experience with the filet mignon at a local steakhouse, the filet from Certified Steak & Seafood was a breath of fresh air! Honestly, the steaks were beautiful, perfectly marbled, nicely portioned, and individually vacuumed sealed and frozen for convenience. The company actually ages all the steaks themselves for several weeks. This certainly shows in the final result. I seasoned my steaks simply with salt and pepper and grilled them to medium rare.


I served them in the style of the Mushroom Filet at Le Cellier Steakhouse in the World Showcase at Disney World's Epcot. I served the steaks with Mushroom Risotto and White Truffle Butter Sauce, as they do in the restaurant. The steaks were unreal. Even though they were delicately seasoned, there was tons of flavor deep inside each steak (where no seasoning could ever reach).


Filet mignon is very tricky because it's leaner than other cuts and therefore some people argue that it lacks flavor. These filet mignons were extremely flavorful. They were juicy and decadent and cut like butter. These were the best filets I have ever eaten in my home.


Honestly, they didn't even need the sauce. Don't get me wrong, the sauce was delicious. With hints of white truffle and a touch of acid, it's a nice balance to the meatiness of the steak. Along with the totally decadent mushroom risotto (it uses roasted mushrooms and is finished with cream to make it particularly rich), it was a beautiful plate of food, perfect for a snowy day.


I had been wanting to try this recipe for some time so it seemed like a perfect excuse, but with or without the white truffle sauce, these steaks shine. Funny story, I went to so much trouble selecting the most perfect looking steak out of the bunch with the best grill marks to use for my photo. Set it on my plate and then poured sauce on top, covering the grill marks. Oops!! I assure you, the grill marks were gorgeous. You'll have to take my word for it :)


I actually adapted another Disney recipe, this one for Herb-Crusted Sea Bass from Disney Cruise Line, for my sea bass preparation. These fish fillets are, like the steaks, so full of flavor. They are tender and delicate and moist, even when cooked through all the way. Just make sure you dry the raw fillets thoroughly or else they may release excess albumen (that white stuff) while cooking. This is common with cooking nearly any protein that has been previously frozen.


For the prep, each fillet was topped with duxelles and seasoned bread crumbs. The final result was a delicate fish married with the flavors of stuffed mushrooms. It's actually pretty awesome. There are so many layers of flavor here. Many people have topped fish with bread crumbs or cracker crumbs, but adding the duxelles is a brilliant twist. This fish is seriously addictive. I served it over simply sauteed rainbow chard. It was sliced up and tossed in olive oil and garlic until wilted and then used as a bed for the fish.


I highly recommend Certified Steak & Seafood for their wonderful products. Their steaks and fish fillets were all individually vacuum packed, frozen, and nicely packaged. The products were exactly as described on their website. I would definitely look to them in the future for my steak and seafood needs! In fact, they are offering $25 off your order if you use the coupon code below. It's definitely worth it, if you ask me. Please go and check out their site! Also you can check out their FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest pages!


White Truffle Butter Sauce
Makes enough for 6 to 8 steaks
(From Le Cellier Steakhouse at Disney World's Epcot)

Extra-virgin olive oil, to coat
1 shallot, sliced
1 cup white wine
1 cup heavy cream
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) white truffle oil
4 ounces (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cubed
Fresh lemon juice, as needed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced chives

In a small saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil and the shallots and saute until translucent. Add the wine and reduce by 90 percent. Add the cream and reduce by 75 percent (caution: the cream will boil over if the heat is too high; keep an eye on the cream, stir regularly, and reduce gently).

Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and truffle oil. Add lemon juice to taste, and season with salt and pepper. Strain the mixture, stir in the chives and keep warm.

Mushroom Risotto
Makes enough for 6 to 8 servings as a side
(Adapted from Le Cellier Steakhouse at Disney World's Epcot)

Extra-virgin olive oil, to coat
4 ounces sliced mushrooms
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot or 1/2 a small onion, minced
8 ounces Arborio rice
3 1/2 cups beef stock or broth
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Toss the olive oil, mushrooms, garlic, salt and pepper. Place on a sheet pan and roast for 20 minutes. Set aside.

In a 3-quart heavy pan, melt half the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot, season with salt and pepper and saute until translucent. Add the rice and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently until it begins to look translucent and a white dot is clearly visible in the center of each grain.

Meanwhile bring the beef stock to a simmer. Begin to add the beef stock 1/2 cup at a time (seasoning occasionally), simmering and stirring until each addition has been absorbed by the rice before adding the next.

After all the beef stock is added, heat the cream in the same saucepan just until hot, but doesn't boil over. Keep warm. Fold the roasted mushrooms into the risotto. Begin adding the hot cream, 1/4 cup at a time and being tasting.

When ready, the rice should be al dente. It should be slightly loose with a creamy consistency. If the risotto is still too firm, or the sauce is drying out and not free-flowing, add more hot stock or even water until it is al dente and creamy.

Remove pan from the heat and stir in the remaining butter and cheese. Serve immediately.


Herb-Crusted Sea Bass
Serves 4
(Adapted from Disney Cruise Line)

Mushroom Duxelles:
8 ounces cremini mushrooms
1 shallot
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Herb Crust:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon brandy
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
1 egg white

4 (8-ounce) sea bass fillets

For the duxelles: Finely chop the mushrooms and shallot in a food processor. Add the olive oil to a saute pan over medium heat and cook the mushroom mixture with the wine until the mushrooms release their liquid and then all the liquid evaporates. Season with salt and pepper. Reserve and chill.

For the herb crust: Mix all the ingredients thoroughly, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the sea bass on a foil-lined baking sheet and spread the mushroom duxelles on top, followed by the herb crust. Bake for 30 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 degrees F for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the fish is firm and the crust is golden, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees F (if you use smaller fillets of sea bass, it will obviously decrease the cooking time). Serve immediately.

*Disclaimer* This sponsorship is brought to you by Certified Steak & Seafood Company who we have partnered with for this promotion.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The José Andrés Experience via Puerto Rico

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I recently went on a press trip for Bacardi and visited the distillery in Puerto Rico. It was a really eye-opening experience. I knew very little about making rum before the trip, and I left feeling like an expert! I was reporting for The Daily Meal and wrote a couple of stories for the site based on my travels.


The first is a piece about how Bacardi makes rum. It includes a step-by-step slideshow as well! Once you learn about rum-making, you can read up on how to do a rum tasting with my second story for The Daily Meal. Both are very imformative pieces :)


The trip wasn't all work, however (not like drinking rum is serious work, but you get my drift). We definitely made time to have some fun (laying on the beach, exploring Old San Juan, and ziplining in the rain forest!) and eat a lot of great food! My most exciting dining experience on the trip involved a trip to Dorado Beach, a Ritz Carlton Reserve in Dorado, Puerto Rico.


Picture this. You're in a taxi with your companions driving about 30 minutes out from San Juan. It's pouring rain, it's dark, and it looks like a jungle outside. You're pretty sure a Tyrannosaurus Rex is about to jump out of the palms and eat you. You think you see Jeff Goldblum lurking in the trees. Very Jurassic Park.


Your taxi driver is lost and, being a typical man, doesn't want to ask for directions. Finally, you turn back around and find the tiny illuminated sign that reads "Dorado Beach, a Ritz Carlton Reserve." You turn at the sign and continue to drive for what feels like an eternity through rows and rows of brightly lit palms. Finally, you arrive at one of the most beautiful hotels you've ever seen. Even in the rain. In the dark. With a T-Rex on your tail.


You realize you could never afford to stay here. Ever. But you feel pretty fancy being dropped off and escorted into the very open and airy outdoor pavilion to check in for your dinner reservation at Mi Casa by José Andrés. Yes, I said José Andrés. One of the best chefs in the world. He recently (as of December) opened a restaurant in Puerto Rico, and it is a must-try for any foodie visiting the area.


We started out in the bar sampling some specialty cocktails. Although there were many tantalizing options, I elected to try a classic: a dark and stormy made with homemade ginger beer.


It was refreshing and very tasty. All of my companions loved their cocktails as well. They are all very inventive and beautifully executed.


We were escorted (along with our drinks) to a table in the main dining room. A large tank of Caribbean lobsters featured a key ingredient for one of our dishes later in the evening.


A room lined with wine bottles was another attraction while entering the dining room along with a beautiful red chair straight out of a David Lynch film.


The main dining room is reasonably sized but not too big, and features a small additional private dining room with a refreshing backdrop.


You can tell that a lot of thought and planning went into this restaurant space. It is undoubtedly very beautiful with a great open layout.


Even the menus are shaped like houses, and at the end of the meal a house-shaped box holding your check is brought to your table. Very clever!


Our table decided to partake in the "Experience" menu (essentially a tasting menu) for $85 per person. We also added on another dish that we were anxious to try. The food arrived in waves of shared platters, with the exception of the last few courses which were not shared. Here is a run down of the many flavors we experienced with the Experience menu.


Jamón ibérico de bellota ‘Fermín’: Cured acorn-fed Spanish ham + tomato bread. This tomato bread is something I've actually made before in my kitchen. It's pretty straight-forward, but never boring. Accompanied by the tender and salty ham, it was especially fantastic. The ham is quite expensive if ordered à la carte (a 1 oz portion is $22).



Cono de queso cañarejal con lechoza: Brik pastry + sheep’s milk cheese + green papaya. These adorable little cones are topped with hazelnut shavings and feature a creamy and slightly sweet filling. I enjoyed the flavors and textures of this dish, but it was such a small bite, I'd definitely appreciate another :)


Coquitos frescos ‘Ferran Adrià’: Coconut + mint + lime. This was a really unique experience. A fresh coconut half is filled with a rum-spiked mixture of coconut water, mint, and lime. Small balls (filled with the same liquid, I'm assuming) are somehow contained in a thin membrane which essentially pops in your mouth releasing the flavored liquor. This dish serves as a palate-cleanser. We had some mixed feelings about the flavors, but I think the concept is really unique and the presentation is lovely.


Mallorca con hígado de pato y mango: Mallorcan sweet bread + foie gras + mango. This course was our add-on. It was not included on the tasting menu, but was absolutely worth it! The extreme richness of the foie gras is offset beautifully by the sweet mango and wrapped up perfectly in what is essentially a tiny sandwich. This was a very tasty excursion from our set Experience menu.


Mejillones en vinagreta: Mussels + honey + Sherry dressing. I thought this presentation of raw mussels was lovely. The mussels themselves were very tender and topped with a delicately acidic and flavorful escabeche "air." It also contained some finely chopped vegetables to add a bit of texture and additional layers of flavor.


Ostras ‘piña colada’: Oysters + pineapple + coconut + rum. I actually really loved this dish. A couple of my fellow diners weren't super impressed. They felt that the piña colada foam didn't have much flavor, but I thought that the briny oyster married with the sweet and acidic chopped pineapple was a marriage made in Heaven. I happily would have eaten more of these oysters. Very well done, in my opinion :)



Croquetas de pollo: Chicken + béchamel. This crunchy and decadent croquetas were served in an acrylic shoe. Seriously. This was one of my favorite presentations of the entire evening. Not only was it whimsical and playful, but the croquetas themselves were phenomenal. The exterior was perfectly crisp while the filling was luscious, creamy, and rich, studded with small bites of chicken. I would eat a million of these if I could. Hands down one of my favorites of the night.




Bocadillo de lechón de Guavate con mojo de chayote y chicharrón volao: Steamed bun + Guavate-style pork belly + chayote mojo + pork rinds. This was another favorite from the night. Small rounds of fried bread were filled with absolutely tender pork belly and crunchy chicharróns. The combination of textures, from the unctuous pork belly to the crunchy chicharróns was nicely offset by the chayote mojo. This was a really lovely bite of food. Again, would have enjoyed more of these!



Ceviche de atún con coco y aguacate ‘Café Atlántico’: Tuna + avocado + jicama + coconut + quinoa. One of my favorite flavor combinations is raw tuna and avocado. This dish is nicely presented and boasts great, but mild, flavors. It's a nice transition from some of the heavier dishes featured on the menu. I especially loved the crunchy quinoa sprinkled on top. It added a really great texture that mimicked bread crumbs in a way, but was a lot more creative and of course healthier.


Ensalada César organizada con aguacate y anchoas de Santoña: Romaine + Parmesan cheese + avocado + anchovies. This was the last shared course on the experience menu. Essentially, these rolls encompass a deconstructed Caesar salad. Each is filled with lettuce and topped with a key component of a classic Caesar. I thought this was really inventive and, like the others, beautifully presented. Since we only got 2 rolls each, we didn't get to experience all 3 of the deconstructed toppings, but alas, it still hit the nail on the head.


Asopao de bogavante tradicional de Puerto Rico: Maine lobster + rice + chayote +plantain chips. Remember the Caribbean lobsters hanging out in the fish tank? Yeah, this is their final resting place. Essentially, it's a lobster and rice stew, a play on a more traditional Puerto Rican rice soup. The stewing pot is presented tableside and then returned to a plating area to serve into individual dishes. I thought the aromas and flavors of this dish were incredible. The rice still had a great texture and the lobster was perfectly cooked. It was literally the perfect dish for our rainy day by the beach!



Carne guisada con funche de maíz, camarones y setas: Veal cheeks + corn + shrimp + mushrooms. I know I said that some of the previous dishes were favorites, but if I had to pick only one favorite dish from the evening, it would be this one. The veal cheek was mind-blowingly delicious and super tender. A decadent corn puree/polenta topped with shrimp and mushrooms was the perfect accompaniment. It added a touch of sweetness to an otherwise rich and unctuous main dish. This dish also utilized the crunchy quinoa that was featured in the ceviche dish. I loved this added texture here as well. One of my greatest regrets in life (seriously, in my whole life!) is that I was so ridiculously full by this point that I left a couple bites on my plate. I still wistfully think of them and kick myself for my stomach's failure to finish what it started.


Flan con parcha: Vanilla + citrus + passion fruit. This dessert is included with the Experience menu. I was so full by this point (see previous paragraph) and it was also nearly 1am at this point, that I only tried one bite. It had a very mild passion fruit flavor. I couldn't really pinpoint it myself (I'm not even sure I was fully conscious by now), but the flan itself was well-done.


“Mi Casa”: Chocolate + hazelnut + olive oil + salt. Even though it's not typically a part of the Experience menu, we also got to try this dessert featuring a chocolate ganache house. As a chocolate-lover, this was my favorite of the 2 desserts I tasted. It was worth the pain that followed after having already eaten way too much :)


Dining at Mi Casa is an incredible experience. Honestly, I think the $85 Experience menu is a tremendous bargain compared to other comparable tasting menus I've seen and tried myself. Overall, the menu was really inventive, featuring spins on traditional Spanish and Puerto Rican fare in a fine dining environment. The staff is extremely professional and helpful. The facilities are lovely. I can honestly say that taking a trip to Dorado to visit Mi Casa is worth it for anyone who appreciates great food.


My Casa by José Andrés 
Dorado Beach, a Ritz Carlton Reserve
100 Dorado Beach Drive
Dorado, Puerto Rico 00646
(787) 626-1100
http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/DoradoBeach/Dining/MiCasa/Default.htm




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