Thursday, March 30, 2017

Chicken Fricassee


Comfort food is called comfort food for a reason, and regardless of its origin it finds a way of warming your soul and filling your belly in ways that other foods just can't compare.

I find a certain comfort in enjoying food hailing from anywhere Disney. Whether I'm enjoying it in the parks, on a Disney cruise ship, or in my own home, it tends to be more gratifying than just any other comfort food.

Take for example this chicken fricassee recipe, straight from Biergarten, the buffet style restaurant in the Germany Pavilion at Epcot. It's studded with fork-tender bites of stewed chicken thighs, sauteed asparagus, and mushrooms, all cloaked in a rich and creamy, thick chicken gravy. Served with a side of rice pilaf, it is truly a vision of comfort.

I've never dined at Biergarten myself, and have selective tastes when it comes to German cooking in general, but this chicken fricassee is excellent, and also quite simple to put together.

Note that the sauce may seem on the thin side as you begin the process of simmering all the ingredients together, but it will reduce very nicely when left uncovered to finish cooking. You can also reduce the amount of cream if you prefer. I used closer to about 3/4 cup instead of 1 cup and my result was still delicious (and I probably spared my family at least a few calories that way).

Still needs to reduce quite a bit

The nearly finished product, after stirring in the cream

This is definitely a decadent dish, but it will brighten up even the most stressful and gloomy day. Yet another win for at-home Disney cooking!

Chicken Fricassee
Serves 4
(From Kitchen Magic with Mickey--Biergarten in Germany Pavilion at Epcot, WDW)

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
4 cups chicken stock
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 dried bay leaf
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3/4 pound asparagus, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2/3 cup sliced cremini mushrooms
1 cup heavy cream
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup green peas, thawed if frozen
Rice pilaf, for serving

Place chicken in a large pot. Cover with chicken stock. Cover pot and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until cooked through, about 25 minutes.

Remove chicken from stock and cut meat into 1/2-inch cubes. Keep chicken stock warm over low heat.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, whisking to combine. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, whisking often. Whisk in reserved chicken stock. Add bay leaf; simmer 30 minutes, whisking often. Set aside.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a large saute pan with deep sides over medium heat; add onion, asparagus, and mushrooms. Cook until onion is translucent. Add chopped chicken and thickened chicken stock mixture.

Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is very thick, about 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Slowly stir in cream. Turn heat to medium-low, and cook until thickened, about 7 minutes. Stir in peas. Serve with rice pilaf.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mac ‘n’ Cheese with Chorizo and Poblanos


Although I no longer consider myself a New Yorker, during my time living there and also visiting the Big Apple in subsequent years I have had the pleasure of dining at The Stanton Social on more than one occasion, noshing on delectable, shareable small plates, and sipping excellent craft cocktails.

Over the years, chef/owner Chris Santos has expanded his New York City dining empire to include two more popular hot spots: Beauty & Essex, and Vandal. I have not yet visited these two, but I hope to someday, and of course The Stanton Social always holds a special place in my heart and stomach.

Their French Onion Soup Dumplings are one of the greatest culinary inventions in recent history. I'm not even exaggerating. They are out of this world. For years they've been on my list of recipes to try and recreate in my own kitchen, but I haven't quite gotten around to it.

Imagine my elation when I discovered that Santos would be releasing a cookbook including all of these wonderful and beloved recipes! Back in early February Share: Delicious and Surprising Recipes to Pass Around Your Table hit bookshelves. It contains recipes from all three of his establishments, ranging from cocktails to breakfast items.

My "wish list" of recipes I would like to try is extensive, and probably includes the majority of recipes within the book. I've actually made a list. It's long. While many of the recipes are for small bites of food perfect for sharing (hence the whole mantra of the cookbook), there are other shareable recipes that are much more entree-like in style.

A perfect example of this is the Mac 'n' Cheese with Chorizo and Poblanos. I am an avid fan of macaroni and cheese, and the various versions I make are some of my favorites. While I love my recipes for this comfort food, I'm always happy to try new ones, and the version in this book is very enticing.

Before Baking

The cheese sauce is a bit different from the typical norm. It begins with a combination of canned evaporated milk, regular milk, and heavy cream brought just to a boil and then whisked together with three kinds of cheese. No roux here. The richness and thickness of the evaporated milk and the decadence of all the cheeses is plenty to creates a luscious and gooey cheese sauce.

After baking

A combination of sharp Cheddar, Gruyère, and goat cheese creates a wonderful balance of cheesy flavors, taking the best that each cheese has to offer: sharpness from the Cheddar, nuttiness from the Gruyère, and creamy tanginess from the goat cheese.

Chorizo sausage infuses its smoky quality to the entire dish, while chopped roasted poblanos add a hint more spice. The dish is finished with an herbed bread crumb topping featuring crunchy panko, a touch more of Gruyère cheese, and chopped herbs for a bit of color.

I recently made this dish for my nephew's birthday party and the general consensus was "Oh my God, I need this recipe!" This is not your typical mac and cheese, it's definitely elevated for an adult palate, but it couldn't be easier to make (like I said, no need to even make a roux!).

I baked it in two smaller casserole dishes so we could set one at each end of the table for our large gathering, but you can definitely follow the recipe as is and bake it in one larger baking dish.

Look for the "Hidden Mickey" to find the second casserole dish ;-)

Mac ’n’ Cheese With Chorizo and Poblanos
Serves 6
(From Share)

Herbed Bread Crumbs:
1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup (1 ounce) shredded Gruyère cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, or 1 tablespoon each parsley and fresh chives
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cheese Sauce:
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Gruyère cheese
1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled goat cheese
2 teaspoons sriracha
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more for baking dish
8 ounces smoked chorizo, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 pound radiatore or ziti pasta (I used cavatappi/cellantani)
2 poblano (fresh ancho) chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh chives, for garnish (optional)

To make the herbed crumbs: Mix the panko and butter together in  asmall bowl, being sure that the panko is coated with the butter. Stir in the Gruyère and herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set the crumbs aside.

To make the cheese sauce: Bring the evaporated milk, whole milk, and cream just to boil in a large saucepan over medium heat, taking care that the mixture does not boil over. Remove from the heat. Gradually whisk in the Cheddar, Gruyère, and goat cheese, and mix until the cheeses are melted. Whisk in the sriracha and mustard. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set the cheese sauce aside.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chorizo and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and crispy, about 5 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer the chorizo to paper towels to drain.

Position a rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil large baking dish or cast iron skillet.

Bring large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add the radiatore and cook according to package directions until almost al dente (slightly undercook pasta as it will bake and soften further in the oven--my pasta said to boil 11 to 12 minutes for al dente, and I boiled it for 8 minutes instead). Drain well. Return the pasta to the cooking pot and stir in the cheese sauce, chorizo and poblanos. Stir in the yolks, mixing well.

Spread the mixture in the oiled dish and sprinkle the herbed crumbs on top. Bake until the crumbs are golden brown and the sauce is bubbling around the edges, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with the chives, if using, and serve hot.

Note: Evaporated milk has a richer flavor than fresh milk, although you can use the latter if you don't happen to have canned on hand. In that case, I'd use 1 1/2 cups fresh whole milk and 1/2 cup heavy cream.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Ultimate Brownies with Walnuts and Chocolate Chips


Homemade brownies are far and away better than their boxed counterparts. I know it can be tempting to grab a box of brownie mix from the supermarket because those photos and appetizing descriptions sound so tempting, but you can make brownies from scratch in little time, with minimal effort, and achieve outstanding results.

I prefer baking brownies with real chocolate. There are decent recipes that use good quality cocoa powder, but I'm a firm believer in real chocolate in brownies.

It's easy enough to chop up some chocolate and melt it together with butter to create the base of your brownies. Some eggs, sugar, and just a little bit of flour round out your basic recipe.

I particularly enjoy the brownie recipe from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook. A tiny bit of leavening gives these brownies just a bit of lift, while the espresso powder and vanilla extract offer depth of flavor. A combination of chopped unsweetened chocolate and semisweet chocolate chips provide a rich chocolate flavor that isn't too sweet.

I've made these brownies with both chocolate chips and walnuts folded in at the end, and also with just walnuts (I ran out of chocolate chips one time), and both versions are excellent.

With a well-stocked pantry, you can make these brownies any time. I've baked a batch after work once to take to a friend's house for a weeknight dinner, and also baked them this past Saturday morning for my nephew's birthday party. They are always a hit regardless of the occasion!

If you're looking for an excellent brownie recipe to return to over and over again, look no further. This is it.

Cheryl's Brownies
Makes 12 large or 24 small brownies
(From The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook)

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
3 extra-large eggs (I used large eggs)
1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan and line with parchment (I didn't bother greasing the pan first--the parchment is sufficient), allowing the ends of the paper to hang over two opposite edges of the pan.

Whisk the flour and baking powder together in a small bowl and set aside.

Put 1 cup of the chocolate chips, the unsweetened chocolate, and the butter in a large heatproof bowl, set it over a pot of barely simmering water (do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water), and stir frequently until the chocolate and butter are melted and smooth. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, espresso powder, vanilla, and sugar until thoroughly combined.

Add the egg mixture to the chocolate mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens, 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate and mix it until combined. Stir in the walnuts and the remaining semisweet chocolate chips, mixing until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Tap the pan firmly on the kitchen counter to get rid of any air bubbles. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Let the brownies cool completely on a wire rack.

Cut the brownies into squares and enjoy. The brownies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Mojo Pork with Black Beans, Cilantro Rice and Pickled Red Onions


My sister recently upgraded her Crock Pot to an Instant Pot, and thus passed her Crock Pot down to me. Believe it or not, this was my first ever slow cooker. I usually braise and stew meat the old fashioned way, in my beloved Le Creuset French oven, or something similar, for several hours on the stove top. It never occurred to me to purchase a Crock Pot myself, but when gifted one it made sense to break it out and make something slow-cooked.

Speaking of my sister, she was at Disney World last week with her family (WITHOUT ME!) so as disappointing as that is, I figured I would use the Crock Pot to prepare a Disney recipe, so I wouldn't feel quite so depressed about it (I'll be going again in September, so I suppose I can forgive them).

I'm really loving The Best of Epcot Festivals Cookbook, which I purchased this past December at Epcot. It includes wonderful recipes from both the International Food and Wine Festival and the International Flower and Garden Festival. The recipe I'm sharing today was featured on the menu last year at the Food and Wine Festival's Islands of the Caribbean outdoor kitchen.

Mojo Pork with Black Beans, Cilantro Rice and Pickled Red Onions is the ultimate Caribbean comfort. Pork butt slowly simmers in a combination of orange, lime, and lemon juices, white vinegar, garlic, onion, and oregano until it literally falls apart. I removed the pork pieces to shred them, then strained the braising liquid to remove the chunks of onion and spices, then returned the pork back to the Crock Pot with some of the reserved braising liquid to keep the meat moist.

To accompany the slightly acidic, meltingly tender pork is an herbaceous cilantro lime rice and cumin-and-oregano-scented black beans with sauteed onion, garlic, and bell peppers.

The finished dish is served with pickled red onions, but alas the recipe in the cookbook left out any mention of them outside the actual title of the recipe, so I've simply linked to a quick pickled red onion recipe on my blog, but you can use any recipe you prefer. The slightly sweet, acidic onions pack a punch, and balance out the richness of the pork very nicely.

Although it's not quite a replacement for an actual trip to Disney, this mojo pork is delicious and satisfying. It will also make your entire house smell magical!

Mojo Pork with Black Beans, Cilantro Rice and Pickled Red Onions
Serves 6
(From The Best of Epcot Festivals Cookbook--originally served at Islands of the Caribbean outdoor kitchen at the 2016 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival)

Mojo Pork:
3-to-4-lb boneless pork butt, cut into 4 to 5 pieces
2 tablespoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 small white onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Cilantro Lime Rice:
2 cups long-grain rice
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 bunch fresh cilantro, stems removed and minced
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Black Beans:
1/2 cup olive oil (I only used about 2 tablespoons)
1 small white onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 teaspoon oregano (I doubled this)
1/4 teaspoon cumin (I doubled this)
1/8 teaspoon chili pepper flakes (I doubled this)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Pickled red onions, for serving

For mojo pork: Season pork with salt and pepper. Place all ingredients in slow cooker, mixing well. Cook 8 to 10 hours, or until pork is tender and easy to pull apart. Cool slightly and shred with two forks.

For cilantro lime rice: Bring 4 cups of water to a boil, stir in rice, salt, and oil, reduce heat and simmer, cover and cook until rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in cilantro and lime juice. Set aside and keep warm.

For black beans: Heat oil in a large saucepan and saute onion, red and green peppers and garlic over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add black beans, oregano, cumin, pepper flakes and cilantro and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in red wine vinegar. Simmer or keep warm until ready to serve.

To serve: Scoop serving of rice into bowl, spoon black beans on top, then shredded pork. Top with fresh chopped cilantro and pickled red onions.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Walt Disney World: The Mara


Named for a river flowing through Kenya and Tanzania, The Mara is the quick service dining location at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge featuring some of the most interesting and ethnic dining options at a resort quick service location.

I really enjoy the atmosphere at The Mara. It's made to look like you are surrounded and covered by trees, and the painted walls surrounding the space depict various animals in their native African ecosystems. We sat near some hippos, snakes, monkeys, frogs, and more.

We actually dined twice at The Mara during our recent visit to Walt Disney World. Although it serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, both of our meals were at lunchtime, so I will happily share our selections as well as some thoughts from the experience. Let's begin with some of our favorites off the menu.

There are three flatbreads offered, and we tried one of them during our visit, namely the Mixed Tomato Flatbread topped with vine-ripened tomatoes, roasted garlic, fresh herb ricotta, artichokes, red peppers, and finished with peppery arugula and balsamic glaze. While this flatbread is likely a bit more mild in flavor than its counterparts, it's also the only vegetarian one out of the three, and honestly was quite enjoyable. It wasn't as good as a flatbread at nearby signature restaurant Jiko, but for quick service it certainly hits the spot.

Mixed Tomato Flatbread $9.99

The Mara Salad is a popular choice as well. It's packed with a blend of greens, grilled chicken, lentils, chickpeas, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta cheese, red onion, and a chili-cilantro dressing. This is no boring salad, it's full of protein even if you asked to omit the chicken to make it vegetarian. My mom actually ordered this salad both days we dined here and was very pleased with her choice.

The Mara Salad $9.69

There are some solid sandwich options at The Mara as well. In addition to your standard Disney burger and hot dog, you can also get a Hand-carved Sandwich served on a brioche bun with a choice of side, in this case a delicious couscous salad. On this particular day, the sandwich was hand-carved turkey, and topped with cheddar cheese and what seemed to be a cranberry mayo of sorts. My sister absolutely loved and raved over both her sandwich and the couscous salad. I would likely try this sandwich myself on a future visit.

Hand-carved Sandwich $10.99

You can also order a Chicken Pita, which is a slightly more ethnic sandwich option, filled with grilled chicken, sun-dried tomato hummus, cucumbers, tomatoes, mixed greens, and a mint-yogurt sauce. This was another delicious sandwich option, and a good one to consider for the future. There's also a similar Falafel Pita that is served with the same fillings but swaps out falafel for the chicken.

Chicken Pita $9.99

So here's the part where I tell you about my least favorite dish we tried on the menu. This is sad because it's something I was really looking forward to trying. In theory is sounds amazing: African Stew with beef, turkey, ham, carrots, potatoes, peas, chickpeas, and raisins served over basmati rice. The flavor was actually excellent. I enjoyed the sauce, the vegetables, and most of the meat. What I couldn't get over was that what I believe was the ham in the stew was exceptionally fatty. It was basically just huge chunks of fat, not meat. This made the dish unpalatable, and I ended up picking through the stew and eating the other stuff and removing the ham. This was tremendously unfortunate, as I said, because otherwise this is one of the most "exciting" menu options here, and something more authentic to the resort's African roots. I wish they had done a better job trimming the meat before cubing it up into the stew.

African Stew $8.49

I don't want to end this review on a bitter note, however, so I have one more yummy discovery to share! We finally had the chance to try the epic Zebra Domes! You can purchase them in a small plastic container in the refrigerated section of The Mara. These treats are filled with creamy Kahlua-spiked mousse, and wrapped in a melted chocolate coating that resembles the stripes of a zebra. These Zebra Domes have a cult following, and are available both at The Mara as well as Boma, the nearby buffet dining option. They are everything we thought they could be and more! This certainly turned my frown upside down.

Zebra Domes

Overall we really enjoyed our lunches at The Mara. There was only one menu option we selected that was sub-par, and that was due to technical execution (on any other day that ham may have been trimmed better). Otherwise, the selections at The Mara were quite excellent for quick service, and are certainly more intriguing than many other resort quick service locations (with the exception perhaps of Captain Cook's at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort). If you're staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge or Animal Kingdom Villas, this is a great spot to grab a quick bite before, after, or in between park visits!

The Mara
Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
2901 Osceola Pkwy
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
(407) 938-3000


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