Thursday, July 27, 2017

Salmon with Quinoa Salad and Arugula Chimichurri


Although I've been to the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival at Walt Disney World twice (and absolutely LOVED it), I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting the park for the renowned International Food and Wine Festival. That's all about to change this year!

In September, for the first time I will be visiting Epcot for this popular festival for it's 35th Anniversary. In honor of this occasion, Epcot will be featuring a record 35 Marketplace booths with an array of appetizing dishes and libations from around the world. You can find the list of all the Marketplace booths with their menus here.

In honor of my consuming, unstoppable excitement, I'm thrilled to share an amazing recipe for one of the dishes featured over the years (including this year) at the Food and Wine Festival. Although in years past it has been a part of the Patagonia Marketplace menu, this year it will be included in the all new Active Eats Marketplace. Roasted Verlasso Salmon with Quinoa Salad and Arugula Chimichurri sounds appetizing by it's description alone, but as a preview to our upcoming Epcot adventures, I decided to make it myself using the recipe in one of my Epcot Festivals Cookbooks.

The salmon is delicately seasoned and roasted in the original recipe, but I adjusted the spices a bit on my own, swapping out the garlic salt (which I don't have) for some garlic powder and kosher salt, and adding a bit of paprika as well. I also grilled my salmon instead of roasting it, since the weather was conducive to grilling, and increased the amount of salmon I made (about 1 1/2 times the original amount, as there was plenty of quinoa salad and chimichurri to go around). The recipe below includes the original values and instructions provided by Disney.

The arugula chimichurri really makes this dish. It's herbaceous, citrusy and vibrant. Chimichurri is basically Argentinian pesto. Although this version is non-traditional, it's exquisite and easily takes the place of a squeeze of lemon or lime on the fish. You will likely yield more chimichurri than you will need for this quantity of salmon, but it would also be excellent served over grilled chicken or steak. I would also imagine it freezes quite well, similar to pesto.

The quinoa salad is reminiscent of tabbouleh but without all the herbs. It's crunchy and bright, a nice bed for the salmon. I used organic tri-color quinoa, which added even more color to the salad with its red, white, and black quinoa combination. Although this is a composed dish, each component can easily stand on its own.

Although I can easily replicate this Disney dish at home, I'm so excited to try it at Epcot this September at the Food and Wine Festival, along with so many other incredible-sounding dishes. Can't make it to Disney yourself this year? Try this recipe and you will almost feel like you're there yourself!

Salmon with Quinoa Salad and Arugula Chimichurri
Serves 6
(From The Best of Epcot Festivals Cookbook--originally served at Patagonia Marketplace at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival)

1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
6 (5- to 6-ounce) salmon fillets, skin removed

1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, including stems, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cups coarsely chopped fresh arugula
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup packed fresh mint leaves
3 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Coarse salt, freshly ground pepper, to taste

Quinoa Salad Dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil (I reduced this to 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup lime juice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cumin
Coarse salt, freshly ground pepper, to taste

Quinoa Salad:
3/4 cup uncooked quinoa, cooked per instructions (makes approximately 3 cups cooked), cooled
1/2 red pepper, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 small tomato, diced
1/4 cup corn kernels
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Coarse salt, freshly ground pepper, to taste

For Salmon: Combine garlic salt, lemon juice, and olive oil in small bowl. Place salmon in large zip-top bag and add liquid, turning fillets to evenly coat. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Remove salmon from refrigerator at least 10 minutes before cooking.

Preheat oven to 400˚F. Cover 15 x 10-inch baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly spray with non-stick cooking spray. Place salmon on baking sheet in a single layer, evenly spaced. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until the salmon easily can be flaked apart with a fork.

For Chimichurri: Place all ingredients in blender or food processor. Blend for about 10 seconds on medium speed or until ingredients are evenly blended. Season with salt and pepper. Store in a sealed container and refrigerate until ready to use.

For Quinoa Salad Dressing: Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

For Quinoa Salad: Mix all ingredients together in large bowl and toss with dressing.

To Serve: Equally divide salad between serving plates, top with salmon fillet and drizzle with chimichurri.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Savory Summer Harvest Ratatouille Pie


Ratatouille is one of my absolute favorite Disney Pixar films. I remember watching it originally in the theater with the biggest, dorkiest smile on my face the entire time! Even today, I love everything about this film and its message that "Anyone Can Cook." I was very excited to hear the recent news that Disney will be adding a Ratatouille attraction to the France Pavilion in Epcot, much like the one at Disneyland Paris, which I have not yet visited.

Just to get you in the mood, here is my favorite scene from Ratatouille when Anton Ego, the food critic with the heart of stone, tastes the ratatouille and is transported back to his childhood, and his mother's cooking. It gives me warm fuzzies every time!

In honor of this wonderful news, I decided to make some ratatouille with a variety of farm-fresh vegetables. My sister is a member of a local CSA at Moonrose Farm, and last week she received the perfect bounty for making a batch of ratatouille.

A few of the items in her basket included beautiful, slender Asian eggplants, a handful of summer onions, a couple zucchinis, and a bouquet of fresh basil.

I used all of these ingredients in the ratatouille along with some store-bought tomatoes (they aren't available at our local farms yet) and a red bell pepper. We also made a quick salad on the side with salad greens from the farm ;-)

Prepped veggies minus the tomatoes which didn't fit on the tray :)

Instead of sticking absolutely to tradition, much like Remy in Ratatouille I decided to change things up a bit. I found this wonderful recipe for a flaky, savory pie filled with a summer harvest of vegetables. Take Anton's Ego's ultimate comfort dish and wrap it in flaky pastry, and you've got something that's just a little bit decadent, yet screaming with the flavors of summer.

A quick tip: the recipe suggests straining the filling if there appears to be too much residual liquid. I would encourage you to strain your filling regardless. Mine didn't seem too wet, so I simply used a slotted spoon to fill my pie crust with filling, and yet some of my bottom crust turned out a little soggy.

It wasn't the end of the world, and honestly this savory pie was fantastic and garnered rave reviews from all those who tasted it, but in my opinion it would have been truly Anton Ego-worthy had I strained the filling a bit better.

Savory Summer Harvest Ratatouille Pie
Makes one 9-inch deep-dish pie
(From Art of the Pie)

1/2 cup (118 g) extra-virgin olive oil (I reduced this to about 1/4 cup)
1 medium to large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic (more if you like)
1 eggplant, peeled and cubed (I used 2 smaller unpeeled Asian eggplants)
2 medium zucchini, cubed
1 sweet pepper, seeded and chopped
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cubed
2 teaspoons (10 g) red wine vinegar
1 recipe double-crust pie dough
1 handful of fresh basil, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Egg wash:
1 egg plus 2 tablespoons (30 g) water, fork beaten

In a heavy frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onions are wilted, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the eggplant and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the zucchini, pepper, tomatoes, and vinegar, cover and cook for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables have cooked down a bit. If there is too much liquid, remove the cover and reduce.

Stir in the chopped basil and cool the filling completely. If there is still a lot of liquid in the pan, place the filling in a mesh colander and let the juice drip through. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Roll out one disc of pie dough and place it in a pie pan. Pour the cooled filling into the unbaked pie shell and top with a lattice crust, or a full top crust with vents.

Chill the pie while you are preheating the oven to 475 degrees F. Brush the pie with egg wash (I also like to sprinkle flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper over the top crust when I make savory pies; a contrast to sprinkling sugar on top of sweet pies), then bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees F and bake for 20 minutes more, or until the crust is a nice golden color (mine baked an extra 8 to 10 minutes on top of the 20).

*Note* I really encourage you to strain your filling. Mine didn't seem to have much excess liquid, just a bit on the wet side so I simply used a slotted spoon to transfer my filling to the pie crust, and yet my bottom crust turned out a bit soggy in the center, even after baking a few extra minutes. Definitely better safe than sorry, so strain your filling :)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Za'atar Bread


Za'atar is a Middle Eastern herb blend containing dried herbs as well as sumac and sesame seeds. It's ever popular in Middle Eastern cuisine, namely Lebanese as well as several other nearby cultures. It has a slight sourness to it (from the sumac), and is excellent sprinkled over labneh (a thick yogurt cheese), and is particularly lovely as a topping for freshly baked flatbread.

Before baking

This za'atar bread is easy to make, and bakes pretty quickly. It's a bit fluffier than a typical flatbread, but the dough itself is squishy and light, and beautifully spiced with za'atar, and cloaked with extra-virgin olive oil.

Za'atar Bread
Makes 6
(Adapted from Soframiz)

1 cup warm water, plus more as needed
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons honey
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 to 4 tablespoons za'atar
Kosher salt or sea salt for sprinkling

Combine the water, yeast, and honey in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk by hand. Set aside until foamy, 5 minutes.

Add the flour, salt, and olive oil. Using the dough hook, knead on low speed until a smooth dough is formed, 5 minutes. If the dough is a little stiff, you may need to add an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons water.

Remove the dough from the bowl and, using your hands, knead into a smooth ball. Place in a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Divide the dough into six equal portions (about 4 ounces each). Lightly flour a work surface and place the balls of dough on the work surface to rest. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 45 minutes.

Lightly flour a work surface. Brush a large baking sheet (18-by-26-inches) with 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Roll each ball into a 5-to-6-inch circle and place on the prepared baking sheet. Brush each dough circle with olive oil, sprinkle with a generous 1/2 tablespoon of za'atar, and drizzle with a teaspoon of olive oil. Lightly salt each za'atar bread.

Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 20 to 30 minutes. The dough should spring back when you touch it with your finger.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bake the breads until they just start to brown around the edges, 15 to 20 minutes. These are best served warm.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Hibiscus Margarita


If I could use one word to describe this Hibiscus Margarita it would be refreshing. A few other words would be beautiful, bright, pink, delicious, fruity, and boozy.

Dried hibiscus flowers are often used to make herbal hibiscus teas and also for agua fresca, a light non-alcoholic beverage. Hibiscus is also referred to as jamaica, so when purchasing dried hibiscus it may be labeled as such. You can find it online, in Latin American markets, and I myself purchased some at a local spice and tea shop.

You'll start by making a hibiscus syrup by soaking the dried hibiscus flowers (which look like little octopuses!) in boiling water and sugar.

After steeping and straining, I saved a few of the intact rehydrated hibiscus flowers to use as garnish. I just stored them in the syrup until ready to use. They aren't quite as delightful as hibiscus flowers in syrup, but they are still edible and not unlike chewy fruit leather.

The hibiscus margarita itself reminded me a bit of a less tart cranberry juice in flavor. It was not too strong, and like I said earlier incredibly refreshing.

Although a salt rim is traditional for margaritas, in this case I opted to rim my glasses with some raspberry sugar, which I purchased at the same spice and tea shop as the hibiscus. The color matched perfectly, and the flavor helped bring out fruity notes from the drink.

Hibiscus Margarita (Margarita de Jamaica)
Makes 6 to 8 drinks
(Adapted from Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales)

Hibiscus Syrup:
2 cups water
1 cup (1 ounce) dried hibiscus flowers (jamaica)
1/2 cup sugar

Single Margarita:
2 ounces hibiscus syrup
1 1/2 ounces tequila
1/2 ounce Cointreau or triple sec
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
Ice cubes

Margarita Pitcher:
Hibiscus syrup
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons tequila
Scant 1/2 cup Cointreau or triple sec
Scant 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
Ice cubes

To make the syrup: Bring water to a boil in a small pot or saucepan. Add the hibiscus flowers and sugar, lower the heat to medium, and simmer steadily until the sugar dissolves and the syrup has thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Strain the mixture through a sieve, and let cool. You may reserve a few of the intact (non-broken) hibiscus flowers to garnish your drinks before discarding the remaining solids. Return the hibiscus flowers for garnish back into the syrup to stay saturated until ready to use. This makes about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups of syrup, and keeps up to 1 week in the fridge.

To make a single margarita: Combine hibiscus syrup, tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake very well. Strain into an ice-filled glass (rimmed with salt or sugar if desired) and serve immediately.

To make a pitcher of margaritas: Combine all of the syrup, tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and 2 cups of ice in a pitcher and stir very well, at least 1 minute. It's important to stir for a full minute so some of the ice dissolves. Pour the mixture into 6 ice-filled glasses (rimmed with salt or sugar if desired) and serve immediately.

*Note* To rim your glasses with salt or sugar, gently rub a lime wedge along the rim of your glass (you can also use a bit of water to wet the rim). Add some salt or sugar (a flavored/colored sugar like raspberry sugar is fantastic with this hibiscus margarita) to a plate and then press the wet rim of the glass against the salt/sugar, carefully rotating the glass until there is an even coating.

More traditionally, you may squeeze the lime juice onto a plate to a depth of about 1/8-inch, and fill a more hefty amount of salt/sugar onto another plate, but that is wasteful for rimming a single glass, especially if you are using a gourmet flavored sugar as I did.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

First Annual Boston Pizza Festival


This past weekend I attended the First Annual Boston Pizza Festival at Boston's City Hall Plaza. This two-day event featured nearly two dozen pizza vendors, including a couple from Naples, Italy, the birthplace of Neapolitan-style pizza.

I'll be honest, I was a little nervous heading up to Boston on Sunday because I had read a lot of negative feedback on social media from festival attendees who were there on Saturday and complained of insanely lone lines to get into the event, and excessive crowding once inside.

Our very short VIP line to get in

Although the festival lasted two days, tickets were sold as general admission for $15 and VIP for $50, but once a ticket is purchased the ticket holder could attend on either of the two days. First of all, I think that is a terrible idea. It doesn't allow festival management to know exactly how many people will be attending either way. They also did not cut off ticket sales due to whatever the capacity would be for this location. VIP access allowed entry at 11 am as opposed to noon, which is when general admission begins, but this is not crystal clear on the Festival's website, which simply states the time as July 8-9, 11 am to 10 pm. There were people with general admission tickets who showed up at 11 am instead of noon.

We had purchased VIP tickets and arrived early to wait in a relatively short line to get inside. Believe it or not, the line for people with bags who had to wait for bag check moved faster than the line for people without bags, and I got in with my bag before my friends did in the no-bag line. As a VIP, we not only got to enter the festival an hour earlier, but unlike general admission, this first hour allowed us unlimited free samples of pizzas. When I say samples, in most cases these were large, full-size slices of pizza, and at one location they were dishing out entire individual size pies. We also got a goodie bag, and got to really enjoy that hour without any crowding or waiting in lines for pizza.

As soon as the general admission doors opened at noon, the difference in crowding was palpable, and as we exited the festival shortly after we saw an insanely long line wrapping around the block. This was a case where our experience was fantastic, not crowded at all, with unlimited free samples, and many of the general admission folks would understandably be unhappy regarding the extensive wait, and pay-per-slice mantra once inside.

I would happily come back next year to the Boston Pizza Festival, but only with a VIP ticket. I hope the festival founders have learned some useful lessons from this year's experience, because there were a lot of very unhappy folks who did not get to enjoy the festival as much as we did. A larger space to hold the event would be paramount if anticipating thousands of visitors. A more robust security process with even more folks checking bags and scanning tickets would allow for faster processing into the event space.

My lifelong dream to be a pepperoni has finally been realized!

With that said, we really did have an awesome time at the festival! There were lots of amazing slices to try, while a few others were a bit meager in comparison. Not having to pay per slice was great because it's impossible to know which are worth tasting, and to shell out money for a mediocre offering would have been disappointing.

With that said most slices were around $2, but others cost more depending on the toppings and such. I would guess that during the VIP hour we each sampled an average of at least 15 slices (don't judge!). At a minimum of $2 each (many of these were priced higher at general admission), that would be a minimum of $30-ish for pizza tastings on top of the $15 general admission ticket. That already brings you to $45. The VIP ticket was $50. Having a less crowded atmosphere, and the freedom to truly eat as much pizza as we would like (plus don't forget the goodie bag) was absolutely worth it to us.

The UpperCrust Pizzeria samplings

Some of our favorite pizzas from the festival were understandably from the two vendors from Naples. Da Peppe e Figli was our favorite of the two, but we also enjoyed Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, which offered up individual pies!

My favorite creative pizzas were from Oath Craft Pizza. I tried three different slices from them including the Bella featuring mozzarella, roasted cherry tomato, roasted garlic, ricotta, balsamic drizzle, Parmigiana, and fresh basil, the Spicy Mother Clucker featuring mozzarella, pickled red onion, spiced chicken, sriracha, secret sauce, and scallion, and the Luau featuring mozzarella, BBQ pulled pork, fresh pineapple, crushed red pepper, BBQ drizzle, and scallion. I loved them all! The texture of the crust was fantastic, and the toppings were perfection.



Spicy Mother Clucker

Another pizza we loved was from Wicked Cheesy in Tewksbury, MA. Their Got Whitey! pizza with mozzarella, provolone, feta, romano, fresh garlic, ricotta cheese, and spinach was excellent!

Got Whitey!

There were other non-pizza food and drink vendors at the event as well. We got some awesome extra-virgin olive oil, tomato sauce, and pizza sauce samples from Monini and Mutti.

We also enjoyed gelato from Gelarto in Turin, Italy. $5 for two scoops was totally worth it for their strawberries and cream, and hazelnut flavors, although I'm sure any of their offerings were delicious.

All in all, I personally have no complaints about my time at the Boston Pizza Festival. We loved sampling the very generously sized samples of pizzas from a variety of pizza vendors, and also really enjoyed the added extras like early admission, a gift bag, and other fun treats like gelato and cannoli to wash down all that pizza!

Nutella and strawberry pizza!


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