Thursday, May 28, 2015

Chicken and Lentil Soup


In between my Disney Cruise Line posts discussing Remy and Palo, I thought I'd share a Disney recipe hailing from the Jolly Holiday Bakery Café, a Mary Poppins-themed eatery on Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland Park.

I know the colder weather (for the most part) is behind us, but I still crave soup on rainy days, even in the summer, so today I'm sharing a really hearty yet healthy chicken and lentil soup!

Lentil soup is a favorite of mine, and I've actually shared four different ones on Mission: Food in the past, from Armenian lentil soup with macaroni to my grandma's red lentil soup and carrot-red lentil soup with Asian spices, and finally the most deluxe of them all, autumn vegetable soup with sausage and green lentils. This chicken and lentil soup is somewhat similar in flavor to the Armenian lentil soup with macaroni, but without the lemon, and with diced chicken breast instead of the macaroni.

I've made this chicken and lentil soup twice now, and it's so hearty and satisfying. It's very low in fat, using only some cooking spray to cook the chicken and vegetables. This high-protein soup is a great way to keep up your energy, while taking comfort in a hot bowl of thick soup. I'm waiting for that next rainy day!

Chicken and Lentil Soup
Serves 6
(Adapted from Kitchen Magic with Mickey)

1 pound dry lentils (about 2 1/2 cups) (any variety of lentils will work, but I use brown lentils)
5 1/2 cups water
3 large cloves garlic, chopped, divided
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro stems
1/2 cup finely diced onion
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Vegetable oil spray
3/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced
3/4 cup diced onions
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced celery
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth or stock, divided
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Fresh cilantro, for garnish, optional

Combine lentils, water, half the garlic, cilantro sprigs, finely diced onion, and cumin in a large pot over high heat. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes, or until lentils are tender (they will continue to cook in a later step). Remove the cilantro stems and discard them.

Meanwhile, season the chicken with salt and pepper. Spray vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat and add chicken. Sear until chicken is golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes.

Add the diced onion, carrots, celery, and remaining garlic, and cook until the vegetables are softened and onion is translucent. Season with salt and pepper.

Add 1 cup of chicken broth to the skillet, using a wooden spoon to scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken and broth mixture to the pot of lentils along with the remaining cup of chicken broth. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chopped cilantro just before serving. Garnish with cilantro, if desired.

*Cook's Note* For a vegetarian version, substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth, and russet potatoes for chicken.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Champagne Brunch at Remy


In both of Disney Cruise Line's Dream Class ships, the Disney Dream and its sister, the Disney Fantasy, which we were aboard, exist two fantastic adult only dining experiences housed on either side of a travel-themed bar aptly called Meridian.


Palo, which means "pole" in Italian is inspired by Venice and named after the poles that Venetian gondoliers use to steer. Remy, on the other hand, is an upscale French establishment with charming references to the Disney Pixar film Ratatouille.

I have previously discussed brunch at Palo on more than one occasion, and intend to share my recent dinner experience in an upcoming blog post, but today the focus is entirely on Remy. I actually penned a guest review regarding dinner at Remy for The Disney Food Blog, but on my most recent venture I explored the Champagne Brunch option instead.

At present time, Disney Cruise Line charges $55 for the Champagne Brunch (with an optional Champagne pairing for an additional $30) and $85 for dinner.

For each brunch seating, about a dozen or so diners first gather in the wine room where the chef and sommelier gather to introduce the meal and Champagne pairings.

Small plates of Pata Negra are passed around. Pata Negra is a specific type of Jamón Ibérico, or Iberian ham, deriving from free-range black pigs that consume mainly acorns during the latter part of their lives. The ham is sliced paper thin using a hand-cranked machine. Anything more mechanical would overheat the fat and ruin the ham's delicate nature.

Glasses of Taittinger Brut Champagne are included with the meal and are served now with the Pata Negra. The Pata Negra is absolutely sublime in both texture/mouthfeel and flavor, and the crisp Champagne helps cut through some of the richness of the fat. Together, this is a luxurious way to begin our midday meal at Remy.

Guests are then escorted to their tables to begin the next phase of the meal. Let's take a moment to discuss the ambiance at Remy. The decor is a combination of elegance and whimsy. A Sworovski crystal replica of the restaurant's namesake Remy is perched above the dining room, peering down from a chandelier.

Remy's likeness is carved into the wooden backs of chairs, stitched into the plush fabric of the booth seating areas, and molded into metal to frame mirrors throughout the dining room.

The incredible Gusteau Room sits just beyond the main dining room. Both areas feature floor-to-ceiling windows, while the Gusteau Room has an extra bit of warmth from the incredible painting depicting the kitchen at Gusteau's, as well as golden-toned paintings of the Parisian skyline. The handmade rug is another focal point in this intimate setting.

While dinner at Remy offers diners a couple choices between selections for each course, the Champagne Brunch includes a set menu across the board (unless, of course, you are vegetarian or have certain dietary restrictions which would elicit different dishes). This set menu can change over time, but I will share what is currently being offered at Remy on the Disney Fantasy.

We begin with the bread course, which features a truffled brioche. The delicate flavor of truffle permeates this rich bread. Slicked with a dab of softened butter, this is a decadent beginning in true French style.

Note the detailing on the plate--Remy is everywhere!

We decided to add on one pairing to our meal to be shared between the three of us at the table (myself, my sister, and her husband--yup, I'm the ultimate third wheel). The first official Champagne pairing is intended to be enjoyed with the first two courses: Taittinger Prestige Cuvée Rosé NV. It had a crisp, fruity flavor and is made from a blend of grapes, including some of the skins during processing, yielding the gorgeous blush color.

Our stunning first course is a tomato tart unlike any other. The tart shell itself is found within the thick tomato puree comprising this tart. The dough is placed between sheet pans and baked to retain a thin and crunchy texture. It's then encompassed with intense tomato flavors, both in a thick puree, and in bites of fresh heirloom tomato on top. Basil pesto and sharp crumbly cheese--I believe it's Parmigiano--finish the dish.

This dish is the epitome of summer, and definitely one of my favorite courses of the meal.

A lobster caviar course follows, featuring ribbons of mango, lobster salad, vanilla aioli, mango Champagne vinaigrette, and finally a small spoonful of caviar.

The sweetness and tartness of the mango is a wonderful foil to the surprisingly light lobster salad within. The brininess of the caviar highlights the flavors of the sea in this colorful second course.

Diving right in!

The second Champagne pairing is now served: a playful miniature bottle displaying the word POP in prominent letters. Pommery Gold '06 is a dry and crisp Champagne which compliments the next two courses beautifully.

The fish course is next. Seared halibut is served over a potato espuma (ie foam-like puree) and a Thai sweet and sour sauce made with ginger, grapefruit, homemade ketchup and citrus. My initial thought was, "sweet and sour sauce at Remy?" but alas, this dish is sophisticated beyond first impressions.

The halibut is cooked to perfection, resting in velvety potato foam. The sweet and sour sauce is actually the most assertive flavor in the dish (as expected) but it plays off the fish and potato perfectly, and is actually quite restrained for such bold flavors.

Next up is a lovely Berkshire pork tenderloin, cooked medium, served over a leek ragu and cannellini bean sauce, and finished with fennel fronds, artichokes, and a crisp bite of cured ham. The smooth cannellini sauce is a delicious revelation. The pork is exceptional both in quality and cookery. This is a not-too-heavy main course for a truly special midday meal.

Our final Champagne is incredibly unique. The bottle itself is designed by Louis Vuitton! Moet & Chandon Ice NV is actually designed to be (and tastes best when) served over ice. Allowing the ice to slightly water down the Champagne while keeping it ultra chilled the entire time opens up the fruity notes of this elegant bubbly. Remy actually sells bottles of this Champagne to guests (for about $69, I believe), signed by the chef and delivered to your stateroom on the final evening of the cruise!

It's served with dessert, Paris Brest, which is choux dough (the pastry for cream puffs, eclairs, and profiteroles) filled with hazelnut cream and served with praline ice cream. This may actually be our overall favorite course. In theory it's so simple, yet the hazelnut flavors totally hit the mark, and were not overly sweet.

A final flourish comes with a small plate of cannelles, a small custardy French pastry enriched with rum.

I'd like to take a moment to give a shout-out to our incredible server Giuseppe. He was actually our server a year ago for dinner at Remy, and he did an incredible job during our brunch as well. For that matter, the entire staff is professional, courteous, and as knowledgeable as they come.

Once again, Remy absolutely fills my heart (and stomach) with pure joy. I know that a meal here can be considerably pricey, but the additional charge is definitely worth it if you enjoy fine dining. The food at Remy is exceptional, and the entire experience is not to be missed.

Sisters! My dress is noticeably inspired by the one and only Minnie Mouse ;-)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Raspberry Clafoutis


As we're heading into summer (you better believe it!), I'm getting more and more excited to start using fresh seasonal ingredients. Although berries are generally available year-round, I associate them with summer flavors, and therefore tend to use them more as the weather gets warmer.

I recently had the opportunity to feature fresh Driscoll's raspberries for a Raspberries for Dessert recipe contest hosted by The Daily Meal and sponsored by Driscoll's. Raspberries are perhaps my favorite berries, and they are incredibly versatile. I brainstormed for a while trying to come up with something creative yet simple that I could share using these plump and juicy berries.

After much deliberation, I decided to make a simple rendition of a clafoutis (baked custard) studded with the fresh raspberries instead of the traditional cherries. This dessert is absolutely a cinch to make and requires a short ingredient list.

It quickly whisks together and then bakes until golden. Mine was just slightly under when I pulled it from the oven to take photos (I ended up popping it back into the oven again), so make sure you bake yours long enough so it's lightly golden over the entire surface and the center is completely set.

The custard itself is eggy and delicately sweet but incredibly light-tasting with a burst of citrus, while the tart raspberries definitely steal the show. This simple dessert is simple enough to make on a weeknight for your family, yet elegant enough for company on the weekend. I baked mine in a 9-inch pie dish, but any gratin dish that size works.

Raspberry Clafoutis
Serves 6
(Adapted from Food & Wine April 2010)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
Kosher salt
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
3 cups raspberries (two 6-ounce containers)
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch gratin dish. In a bowl, whisk the flour, sugar and a pinch of salt. Whisk in the eggs, butter and lemon zest until smooth. Add the milk and whisk until light and very smooth, about 3 minutes. Pour the batter into the gratin dish and top with the raspberries.

Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the clafoutis is set and golden. Let cool slightly. Dust with confectioners' sugar, cut into wedges and serve.

*Disclaimer* I received coupons from Driscoll's to use toward my berry purchase. My opinions are always my own.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Golden Chicken, Potato, and Green Pea Pies (Salteñas de Pollo)


I'm totally on board with Sandra Gutierrez, author of Empanadas: The Hand-Held Pies of Latin America, in our mutual love for delicious fillings wrapped in dough and cooked to perfection. There are many kinds of turnovers throughout all cultures of the world (even Armenian!) and those deriving from Latin America are certainly some of the tastiest.

Her new cookbook is a wonderful tribute to these decadent snacks, appetizers, meals, and even desserts. Gutierrez does a lovely job depicting the differences between empanadas throughout the various countries in South and Central Americas, Mexico, and the Latin Caribbean islands.

She starts out by sharing a variety of dough recipes, even several that are gluten-free and vegan. Each dough recipe designates the preferable cooking method, the country or countries of origin, and the pages where one can find the recipes using this particular dough. The following chapters include recipes for Vegetable, Nut & Cheese Empanadas, Beef & Pork Empanadas, Chicken Empanadas, Fish & Seafood Empanadas, Dessert Empanadas, and finally Salsas.

I really love seeing how the empanadas are so vastly different between some of the Latin American countries. For example, the salteñas of Bolivia are football shaped and feature a very stewy filling held together with gelatin when prepped to make them easy to fill. They are then baked.

Meanwhile Brazilian pastéis are typically rectangular, with a thin dough made extra crispy once fried. The book includes several recipes for pastéis including a vegetable filling featuring hearts of palm, one including ground beef, a shrimp stew-filled version, and a couple dessert variations: one with banana and the other with guava jam and cream cheese.

I luckily own a tortilla press, and highly recommend it. I usually use mine for dumplings, but have also used it to make homemade corn tortillas. It's used for pressing many, but not all, of the doughs in this book, although there are alternative methods if you don't have this tool in your kitchen. You may also need to acquire some specialty ingredients for some of these empanadas, but there are several that use basic ingredients.

I try to avoid frying and consider it more of a "treat" rather than the norm. Many of the empanadas in the book are fried, but there are still lots of recipes for baked creations that are equally appetizing. There are 21 recipes for fried empanadas, 16 for baked, while a couple can be griddled.

The cooking method is mostly dependent on the dough used (some of the types of dough MUST be fried) so if you really love a particular filling, you could switch out the dough from a fried dough to a baked dough. It may not be the traditional dough for that empanada, but it's a doable compromise. Just beware that the yield on the dough recipes vary so you may end up with too little or too much filling if you swap dough.

There are lots of empanadas that I'm just dying to try from this book, but the first one to stand out was one I conveniently already had all the ingredients for in my pantry/refrigerator: Golden Chicken, Potato, and Green Pea Pies aka Salteñas de Pollo from Bolivia.

These are really unique empanadas, featuring a slightly sweet golden-hued dough and a rich, stew-like filling. The football-shaped pockets are then baked until golden.

The golden salteña dough

Salteñas are a bit time consuming to make, but mainly because there is a lot of resting/waiting in between steps. The filling is made in advance, and must chill at least 6 hours or overnight. The dough rests nearly an hour before it is portioned out and then rested another 20 minutes. After assembling, the salteñas are chilled at least another 20 minutes until they are finally baked for nearly 40 more minutes. The actual labor involved is reasonable, however, for a hand-crafted treat.

The filling

I luckily had all the ingredients on hand for these salteñas, including leftover rotisserie chicken. The filling is essentially a thick chicken stew studded with finely diced potatoes, onions, peppers, and peas. Gelatin is used to jell the filling, making it less messy to assemble. In theory, once heated a soupy or saucy filling will result, yet whatever soupiness my filling had seemed to just absorb into itself (or leak out of a few). Regardless, the filling maintained a moist texture and I was very pleased even without the actual liquid in the filling of my salteñas.

The dough is slightly sweet, yielding a crispy contrast to the savory filling. I weighed out each portion of dough and resulted in 25 pieces (a bit less than the recipe would otherwise create) and each piece when pressed with my 6 1/2-inch tortilla press nearly squeezed out the sides, so I know my dough circles were a tad on the larger side than the 6-inches the recipe states, although I followed the directions to a T. My filling to dough ratio was also a little low, and some of my dough sagged a bit after assembly because there wasn't a ton of filling packed inside to hold the shape, but alas, this was really a minor concern.

Also as I neared the end of my assembly, the dough that had been pressed between the parchment sheets the longest got a little extra sticky and stretched slightly as I removed them to begin shaping. Where the dough stretched a bit too thin, once baked the salteñas over-browned, but still tasted crisp and delicious.

One big pointer I'd like to offer: use 3 baking sheets instead of the 2 mentioned in the original recipe (I've already changed this below), and bake in batches. It's important that the salteñas don't touch, and yet even though I spaced mine out before baking, and even baked a few on an additional small baking sheet, many of them still stuck together. One of the sheets even had quite a few leaks, although I was able to gently pry them apart and still retain the integrity of the filling.

I really loved taking an adventure into the world of Empanadas. I've made some in the past, but they were not really authentic to any particular cuisine. I enjoy delving into the history and gastronomic culture of nations around the world, and must admit the lessons learned from Latin American cooking, namely in the form of these hand-held treats, are some of the most delicious.

Golden Chicken, Potato, and Green Pea Pies (Salteñas de Pollo)
Makes 26 to 28 salteñas
(Adapted from Empanadas: The Hand-Held Pies of Latin America)

1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
2 1/2 cups cold chicken broth
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup (120 g) finely chopped white onions
1 cup (100 g) finely chopped green bell peppers
1 tablespoon sweet smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton)
1 tablespoon annatto (achiote) paste or Bijol (I used 1/2 tablespoon ground annatto)
2 cups (280 g) peeled and finely chopped Yukon gold potatoes (I used unpeeled red bliss potatoes)
2 cups (280 g) packed shredded poached or roasted chicken
1 cup (120 g) green peas
1/2 cup (20 g) finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt (I used kosher, and increased the salt slightly to taste)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup melted lard (or vegetable shortening) (I use Spectrum organic non-hydrogenated shortening)
1 tablespoon whole annatto (achiote) seeds
9 1/2 cups (1.2 kg) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large egg yolks
About 3 cups hot water (115 degrees F), plus more as needed
Egg wash, made with 1 beaten egg and 2 teaspoons water

Make the filling: In a large, heat-resistant glass bowl, combine the gelatin and broth; stir to mix it together and let it sit for 2 minutes. Heat the gelatin mixture in the microwave on high for 1 1/2 minutes, until the gelatin is dissolved (or over medium-low heat in a double boiler for 3 to 4 minutes); set aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and bell peppers; cook until they are softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the paprika and annatto; cook for 30 seconds. Add the broth mixture, stirring until the spices are dissolved. Add the potatoes, chicken, peas, parsley, sugar, salt, cumin, oregano, and black pepper; bring the liquid to a boil and cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender, about 6 minutes. Adjust seasoning as necessary. Transfer the stew to a medium bowl and set it over a large bowl of iced water to cool it quickly. Cool the stew completely; cover it with plastic wrap and chill it for at least 6 hours or overnight (the mixture will jell).

Make the dough: In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, combine the lard and annatto seeds and heat until they begin to bubble slightly, about 2 minutes.  Immediately remove the pot from the heat and steep the seeds for 15 minutes. Strain the lard into a medium bowl; discard the seeds. Cool the lard completely.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Make a well in the center and add the egg yolks and cooled lard. Using a wooden spatula, begin to mix everything together while slowly adding enough of the hot water that the dough holds together (it will be wet and sticky) (I used about 2 1/2 cups total). Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it for 2 to 3 minutes (adding more flour as needed), until the dough is smooth, comes together into a ball, and springs back when gently pressed with a fingertip (if your bowl is large enough, as mine is, I like to just continue the kneading step in the bowl in order to keep my work surface clean). Return it to the bowl; cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap and let it rest for 45 to 60 minutes.

Assemble the salteñas: Line 2 to 3 baking sheets with parchment paper; set them aside. Divide the dough into 26 to 28 equal portions (about 3 ounces/85 g each) (I actually resulted in 25 portions that were about 85 g each). Roll each piece into a ball, folding the bottom of the dough onto itself so that the ends are at the bottom and the tops are smooth (the way you'd shape rolls). Place them on the prepared baking sheets and cover them with a clean towel; let them rest for 20 minutes.

Working one at a time, flatten each ball slightly into a disc. Line a tortilla press with a zip-top freezer or sandwich bag that has been cut open on three sides so that it opens like a book. Place the disc in the middle of the tortilla press and press the dough into a 6-inch disc about 1/8-inch thick (or roll it out with a rolling pin). Stack the discs with parchment paper in between to avoid sticking.

Place 3 heaping tablespoons of jelled filling in the middle of the disc; bring the edges of the pastry together, letting the dough stretch over the filling (I like to divide the filling ahead of time to match the number of pieces of dough--in my case I divided the bowl of filling into fifths, then as I was assembling I would place each fifth onto a plate and divide it again by five to have equal portions of filling so I don't either run out or end up with extra). Enclose the filling (press the filling down with your forefinger to compact it). Form a half-moon and, holding it by the top edges, stand it on its bottom, flattening it so it can stand without toppling.

Pinch the edges tightly, and press to form a small rim, about 1/2 inch wide. Then pinch and fold sections of the rim decoratively to seal it well (as you would a dumpling, by gathering the dough starting at one end and pressing it together at 1/2-inch intervals, until it's all sealed). Stand the salteñas on the prepared pans and chill them for at least 20 minutes (or up to 2 hours). Do not crowd the salteñas together on the baking sheet, or their sides will stick and the juices will ooze out (even if you leave spaces in between, they puff up and can stick to each other while baking--the original recipes calls for 2 baking sheets, but I suggest 3 and baking them in batches. I used 2 baking sheets, plus a tiny one so they wouldn't crowd and many of mine still stuck together, so 3 baking sheets would be a lot less crowded!).

Bake the salteñas and serve: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Brush the salteñas with the egg wash. Bake them for 35 to 40 minutes, or until they are golden (rotate the pans in the oven halfway through baking, back to front and top to bottom, to ensure that all of the salteñas bake evenly). Transfer the salteñas to a cooling rack. Let them cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Note: Freeze the salteñas in a single layer after baking. When solid, transfer to containers and freeze for up to 4 months; reheat them in a 350 degree F oven until hot, 15 to 20 minutes.

*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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