Friday, May 30, 2014

Rhubarb Custard Pie

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I could never pick a favorite dessert to make or to eat, but one of my favorites in both categories is definitely pie. It's so versatile, from the many ways to make a pie crust to the limitless filling types. Single crust or double crust? Fruit or chocolate?


Any pie book worth it's weight in butter (yes, butter!) will feature a nice range of pies perfect for any season, and The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book fits the bill. I made a couple pies from the book last Thanksgiving, and was excited to try some of the seasonal Spring pies recently.


I made a lovely, fresh and tart Lemon Sour Cream Pie and a great twist on a spring favorite, Rhubarb Custard Pie. I decided to share the recipe for the latter since it's a bit more unique combining a sweet rhubarb filling with the creamy texture of a custard.


This Rhubarb Custard Pie begins with a rustic oat crumble crust. It's delicious and a great base for this pie, but beware, mine stuck pretty badly to the pie dish since it says not to grease it and yet you're pressing it quite firmly to the dish to get it to even out. Next time I would definitely try greasing it. Also, my pie dish was 9 1/2-inches wide instead of 9-inches (my 9-inch dish was being used the same day for the other pie I made!), so my pie was a touch shallow, but still delicious.


The rhubarb filling is so delicious! It's thick, sweet, and just a bit tart. It's so colorful and peeks out between the crust and custard when you slice up pieces. The rich and creamy custard atop the rhubarb filling kind of sandwiches it into the center of the pie. It's really such a lovely surprise, especially for unsuspecting diners.


I definitely plan on making this pie again (and perhaps even soon). Rhubarb season may be coming to an end, but I will happily find any excuse to make this pie for another occasion, and I recommend you do too.


Rhubard Custard Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie (serves 8 to 10)
(From The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book)

Oat Crumble Crust:
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, at room temperature

Filling:
1 pound fresh rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sour cream
1/8 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste (Nielsen-Massey makes a readily available one)
2 large eggs

To make the crust: Stir together the ingredients except the butter in a large bowl. Sprinkle in the butter pieces and toss to coat. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the butter is incorporated and the mixture is chunky but not homogeneous.

Press evenly into the bottom and sides (it's a bit sticky, you may want to lightly wet your fingers before you press the crust into the pan) of an ungreased, preferable metal 9-inch pie pan (honestly, my crust stuck pretty badly and I would definitely grease the pan/pie dish next time). Freeze until sold, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake on the middle oven rack for 18 to 20 minutes. If the crust slumps or cracks while baking, gently push the crumble back into place, while hot, with a clean, folded kitchen towel. Cool completely before filling. The crust will keep refrigerated for 5 days or frozen for 1 month.

To make the pie: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place the prebaked pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet.

In a medium saucepan, combine the rhubarb, 3/4 cup sugar, cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook over medium heat until the rhubarb is cooked down into a thick sauce, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool while preparing the custard.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, heavy and sour creams, nutmeg, and vanilla paste, and mix until smooth. Stir in the eggs one at a time and mix well.

Spread the rhubarb mixture evenly in the prebaked crust, strain the cream mixture through a fine-mesh sieve directly over the rhubarb. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes (mine baked about 35 minutes, actually), rotating 180 degrees when the edges start to set, about 15 minutes through baking. The pie is finished when the edges are set and puffed slightly and the center is no longer liquid but still quite wobbly. Be careful not to overbake or the custard can curdle and separate; the filling will continue to cook and set after the pie is removed from the oven. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm, at room temperature, or cool. The pie will keep refrigerated for 2 days or at room temperature for 1 day.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Disney Cruise Line: Cabanas

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My family is quickly growing quite obsessed with Disney Cruise Line. I recently sailed on my third Disney Cruise (with others planned for the coming year). Back in 2011, I discussed one of my previous cruises, pointing out some of the dining options on the Disney Magic (which has since been "Re-Imagined" and renovated).


Our recent cruise differed from the previous cruises in more than one way. First, it had a Western Caribbean itinerary, stopping at Cozumel (Mexico), Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and Castaway Cay (Disney's private island in the Bahamas). The previous two had both been Eastern Caribbean (which overall we actually prefer). Additionally, this most recent cruise was on Disney's newest ship, the Disney Fantasy, which is significantly larger than the classic ships (the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder--I'd only sailed on the Magic before).

Clocks showing the current time at all the Disney theme parks around the world!

We had a wonderful experience on the Disney Fantasy. Although the new Disney Magic is very enticing, as they've added a lot of great features, the Disney Fantasy has sailed its way into my heart as my new favorite ship. From it's three rotational dining rooms (Royal Court, Animator's Palate, and Enchanted Garden) to it's superior buffet experience at Cabanas, and the many poolside options for snacks (the only thing missing from the Magic was our beloved tacos!), the Disney Fantasy has lots of great food options in addition to entertainment and relaxation (Satellite Falls being my new favorite spot for the latter).


I'm actually planning on writing a few guest posts for the Disney Food Blog (including one about Remy, the upscale French restaurant inspired by everyone's favorite rat), so I will touch upon some other dining experiences here at Mission: Food (and post links to my guest posts whenever they're up). I will be discussing the Royal Court on Disney Food Blog, but will share some of my experiences and photos from the other two rotational dining rooms here. I will also be discussing a mixology class I took at the Skyline Lounge, as well as some of the other bars in the Europa district on the Fantasy. But first, I want to talk about Cabanas, the Finding Nemo-themed buffet, which serves up all-you-can-eat breakfast and lunch, as well as table service for dinner in a casual setting.


In life, I'd say I'm way more of a table service person than a buffet person. Don't get me wrong, I really love variety and trying a lot of different things, but sometimes it just seems like too much work to stand in line and collect your own food. Cabanas is a real exception to that. I think the theming and the gorgeous view out all of the windows really helps make Cabanas a great choice for a meal while at sea.


Let's discuss the atmosphere before delving into the food. Cabanas is a giant U-shaped restaurant on deck 11 aft (the back of the ship). There are matching buffets on either side of the U with an omelet and carving station (depending on the meal) with desserts where the two matching buffets merge. The buffet stations describe their offers on surfboards with titles like Surfin' Us Eggs and Totally Toasted that flip over to reveal lunchtime titles once breakfast is over.


The famous seagulls from Finding Nemo (MINE!) are everywhere, and I mean everywhere. It's so much fun to look up and around and find them leering at you from every direction. Tropical tiki-style umbrellas meet colorful kite-shaped lighting fixtures that brighten the space, day or night.


A display of sand castle versions of all the Disney theme park castles from around the world is creative and beachy, a perfect highlight when entering Cabanas from the aft elevator bank. There's also a row of clocks showing whatever time it is at all the same theme parks around the world.

Sand castle versions of all the Disney theme park castles around the world

On either side of Cabanas is a massive mosaic depicting scenes from Finding Nemo. Located by the cold section of the buffet (think cereals and milk in the morning and cold salads and seafood for lunchtime). One of the two mosaics features Mr. Ray as the prominent character, but my favorite of the two mosaics (and coincidentally the one on the side of the buffet we would frequent) features my favorite character in the movie: Bruce. Each wall is more than 25 feet wide and more than 8 feet high and contains approximately 194,500 tiles in 200 colors of hand-crafted Venetian enamel.


Perhaps Bruce's pearly whites make for a more exciting meal, but regardless for my love of the ambiance in Cabanas (it really is a great tribute to Finding Nemo), I really enjoyed my meals here as well.


Breakfast always offered the same basic fare, which a few twists from day to day. By the end of the cruise, I was honestly a little bored. Some of the staples offered at breakfast include scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage...


French toast/pancakes/Mickey waffles (or some combination thereof) with topping options like macerated strawberries, whipped cream, syrup, etc, home fries, hash browns, baked beans with pork, roasted tomatoes, a variety of smoked fishes (smoked salmon, gravlax, peppered smoked haddock, and smoked trout)...


A variety of kinds of toast, bagels, and English muffins, omelettes (usually a range of veggie, ham and cheese, and plain cheese--all found at the far end where the two buffets meet), a variation of eggs Benedict pre-assembled with Hollandaise sauce available on the side (each day featured one variety such as Eggs Julia--with smoked salmon--, Eggs Benedict or Eggs Florentine), as well as an array of breakfast pastries.



Finally, my absolute favorite, every once in a while they would also have what they refer to as hot pockets, but they are so much better. The Mexican hot pockets feature beans and ground beef rolled into tortillas, sliced into rounds and topped with cheese sauce. They also had a chicken and cheese version one day, but the Mexican ones are my favorite, and I actually remember them from my previous cruise at the buffet on the Magic (at the time it was the Topsider Buffet, but now they have changed it to a Cabanas as well).


Very little actually changed at the breakfast buffet. I enjoyed the Eggs Benedict varieties, as well as the omelettes, baked beans, hash browns, home fries, and roasted tomatoes. I rarely had room (or temptation) for the sweet options, but my family loved finishing breakfast with some of the sweeter offerings. The breakfast pastries are only alright. The pains aux chocolats and croissants are on the soft side and don't feature the crackle that a really good pastry of the sort should have.


Lunch at Cabanas features way more variety from day to day. There is always a pizza station, an Italian station (which includes at least a couple pasta options along with my absolute favorite macaroni and cheese--I enjoyed it at every meal here with no regrets, except maybe to my waistline).


There's also a sushi bar along with tons of cold cuts and cheeses you can enjoy if you'd like. Many other entrees at lunch range from fish dishes like Cajun spiced grouper with mango-papaya relish to paella, braised short ribs, various curries, and other international favorites, and even super crispy sweet potato fries!


A cold buffet includes a section devoted to seafood daily (with shrimp cocktail, crab claws and mussels), a salad bar, and a section with lots of pre-made cold salads, such as lentil salad, duck and avocado salad, and more.


Although there are many other options for a midday meal on the ship (including table service at Royal Court) and convenient poolside options at Flo's V8 Cafe, the most variety is undoubtedly available at Cabanas. I was rarely disappointed with anything I tried here, and being a buffet you can always grab more of anything you really like (such as the always tempting macaroni and cheese--not just for kids!).


Between the awesome atmosphere that really submerges you right into the world of Finding Nemo to the great variety of delicious food, Cabanas is a highlight of Disney Cruise Line (it's found on three of the ships thus far--Disney Fantasy, Disney Dream, and now the Re-Imagined Disney Magic).

This was inspired by Tetris... I managed to fit 12 different buffet items on one plate! From chicken pot pie to filet mignon, sauteed mushrooms to duck and avocado salad, curried lentils to cold lentil salad and so much more!

Tune in soon for more posts from my recent Disney Fantasy cruise!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Stuffed: Cuban Sandwich Empanadas and Cheddar Sriracha Mushrooms

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I recently received a review copy of Stuffed: The Ultimate Comfort Food Cookbook by Dan Whalen (published by Page Street Publishing Co.). I'm a big fan of comfort foods, but had not often considered the beauty of creating stuffed versions of my favorite dishes, sometimes stuffing one into the other.


I was excited to check out this book featuring tons of creative recipes, each sharing useful heat and pig-out scales to help determine which recipes to try (based on your spice tolerance and overall gluttony). This is fun and playful, keeping with the attitude of this outside-of-the-box cookbook.


The photography is only so-so (the lighting is on the harsh side), but there are photos included for many (but not all) of the recipes, so even though the photo quality doesn't quite stand up to other cookbooks I own, it's forgivable considering there are lots featured throughout. A matching photo usually adds to my desire to attempt a particular recipe.


Some of the most appealing recipes in the book quickly added to my "to do list" include Cuban Sandwich Empanadas, Cheeseburger Slider Steamed Buns, Buffalo Chicken Buns, Sweet Potato Tamales, Brazilian Cheese Bread Stuffed with Chorizo, Cobb Summer Rolls, Chicken Tikka Masala Ravioli, Cheesesteak Pot Stickers, Buffalo Chicken Stuffed Blue Cheese Arancini, Lobster Stuffed Fried Mac and Cheese Balls, Cuban Chicken Cordon Bleu, Banh Mi Deviled Eggs, Cheddar Sriracha Stuffed Mushrooms, Bacon Avocado Chicken Salad Stuffed Tomatoes, Fish and Chip Tots, and last but not least Cherry Pie Stuffed Chocolate Cake.


It was quite a challenge to narrow down which recipe to try, and if it had been football season when I received this book I undoubtedly would have created a massive spread of several of the dishes for munching on during the game. In lieu of that, I was happy to indulge in a post-football feast.


It's actually the Stanley Cup Playoffs and so preparing yummy snacks while watching the big game is still totally relevant in my eyes. Also, many of these creations are perfect for game nights of any kind, which is actually the purpose for which I whipped up the first of my attempts from the book: Cuban Sandwich Empanadas for a night playing Cards Against Humanity with friends (best game ever!).


Although the roast pork filling isn't super authentic Cuban, I like that the pork is essentially slow-roasted/braised in a mustardy concoction, which steeps that necessary mustard flavor from a traditional Cuban sandwich straight into the pork without having to add extra mustard to the empanada. I did end up with a lot of extra sauce even after shredding my pork and tossing it around in the sauce to moisten it, so I used a slotted spoon to remove the pork from the sauce before assembling so I wouldn't end up with soggy empanada filling.


I also cut down on the amount of cheese. It called for 16 slices Swiss cheese (2 per empanada) but Swiss cheese slices can be pretty large especially if you get them at the deli, so I actually used only 8 slices, each of which I cut in half and placed one half on the bottom and one on top of the filling. I had baby dill pickles and not regular pickles, so I sliced some of those up and used an extra slice per empanada since they are smaller. Also, please note that although the original recipe states it yields 8 small empanadas, I would use the term large to refer to these bad boys. They are about 5 inches across. Not small and easily shareable.


The flavor is huge. Although I baked and didn't fry, the buttery crust was flaky and delicious, while the piping hot filling was the perfect balance of smokiness from the ham, gooeyness from the cheese, juiciness from the mustardy pork, with acidity from the pickles. Everyone who tried one said it was awesome, and I can't help but agree! These will make it onto a future game day menu again regardless of the sport or activity.


I also couldn't resist trying the Cheddar Sriracha Stuffed Mushrooms. They are even easier to make than the empanadas, and much faster too. The recipe calls for only 15 to 20 cremini mushrooms, but especially since mushrooms vary in size I definitely suggest using the ample stuffing to fill even more mushrooms if you'd like. I generously filled 34 cremini mushrooms from two (10-ounce) packages. There were larger mushrooms and smaller ones, but I filled each and every one. The more the merrier!


I replaced the shallot in the original recipe with garlic and omitted the jalapenos entirely. The sriracha is more than enough spice for these mushrooms, but you can definitely mince up a couple jalapenos and add them to the filling if you'd like.


These mushrooms were just as popular as the empanadas. The spicy, cheesy filling was perfection and a great go-to idea for a last minute appetizer or snack for any gathering. Just like the empanadas, these guys will be gracing the table at many future game nights as well as for watching my favorite sporting events.


Stuffed is full of really fun and creative ideas, putting spins on many classics with easy to follow instructions. Although authenticity isn't the main attraction here, using ethnic fusion to think outside-of-the-box definitely makes this a fun cookbook for anyone who enjoys entertaining. Most of the recipes are best suited for parties and less so for everyday eating.


Cuban Sandwich Empanadas
Makes 8 large empanadas
(Adapted from Stuffed: The Ultimate Comfort Food Cookbook)

Roast Pork Filling:
3/4 pound (340 g) boneless country-style pork ribs
1/4 cup (60 ml) red wine vinegar
1/4 cup (44 g) mustard
2 tablespoons (30 ml) Worcestershire sauce

Empanada Dough:
1 3/4 cups (210 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (112 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 large egg
1/3 cup (80 ml) water

Stuffing:
16 pickle slices
8 Swiss cheese slices
8 ham slices

Egg Wash:
1 large egg
2 tablespoons (30 ml) water

Make the roast pork filling: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).

Chop the pork into 1-inch cubes. Toss in the vinegar, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Place in an oven-safe frying pan or small baking dish and cover with foil. Bake for 2 1/2 hours, stirring once halfway through the cooking time. Remove from the oven and shred the pork with the cooking liquid. If there is a lot of excess cooking liquid, use a slotted spoon to remove the pork from the excess sauce before using it in the empanadas.

Make the dough: Mix the flour and butter in a bowl. With your fingers, work the butter into the flour until it creates small crumbs. Then beat the egg into the water and pour the water/egg mixture into the flour and mix with a fork. Once it comes together, begin kneading with your hands until the dough is smooth, but not too long because you don't want to soften the butter too much. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

Stuff it!: Roll out the empanada dough into 8 thin rounds. Place half a slice of Swiss cheese followed by a slice of ham, one-eighth of the pork filling, 2 pickle slices, and another half a slice of Swiss cheese onto each round, placing them off to one side. Fold the round over and seal by lightly wetting the edge with your finger. Fold the edge of the dough over itself repeatedly from one end to the other to form the traditional empanada look.

Cook it: You can bake or fry these empanadas. To fry, heat vegetable oil in a Dutch oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Gently drop in your empanada and let it cook until browned, about 2 minutes. If you want to bake it, set the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper, placing the empanadas on top. Beat the egg with the water and brush it evenly over the tops of the empanadas. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Cheddar Sriracha Stuffed Mushrooms
Makes about 30
(Adapted from Stuffed: The Ultimate Comfort Food Cookbook)

Filling:
1 cup (115 g) crushed tortilla chips
1 cup (120 g) shredded Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup (60 ml) Sriracha
2 cloves garlic, minced

About 30 baby bella or cremini mushrooms

Make the filling: Mix all the filling ingredients in a bowl.

Stuff it!: Clean the mushrooms and remove the stems. Generously stuff the mushrooms with the filling. Put the mushrooms onto a baking sheet.

Cook it: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Roast the mushrooms for about 15 minutes. Serve hot.

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

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