Thursday, May 24, 2018

Walt Disney World: Capt. Cook's


When we recently stayed at the Villas at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, for dinner one night we walked over to Disney's Polynesian Village Resort, which is right next door. No, we didn't have reservations at the ever popular Ohana, but rather were looking for a simple and quick meal before heading back to the park later that evening. The quick service dining options at the Grand Floridian didn't sound too appealing, so we decided to try Capt. Cook's instead.

It has a more exotic menu than some other resort quick service locations. The Seared Chicken Breast is served with pineapple sambal and red quinoa-edamame salad, definitely not your standard quick service chicken breast. The sides definitely add a more tropical touch.

The Pan-Asian Noodles with Vegetables are a popular option that can also be served with chicken or shrimp. Although this wasn't my pick, the two family members who chose this item really enjoyed it, and said that looks can be deceiving. The small cup is chock full of noodles and TONS of chicken. This was more filling than expected at first sight.

I had eaten the famous Pulled Pork Nachos years ago at Tambu Lounge, and really loved them, so I decided to order them again here at Capt. Cook's. Unfortunately they were not quite as good as I remembered. There could be a couple reasons for this. One, it looks like now they are served exclusively with potato chips, whereas in the past it was a combination of potato chips and fried wonton skins.

Also, for some inexplicable reason my nachos appear to be lacking cheese! Please note, the orange stuff in the picture is spicy mayo, not cheese. I swear I didn't see or taste any cheese on my nachos, which is odd because they're nachos. The other toppings were great, same as before, but without melted cheese all over them they're not exactly nachos. I ate them all the same. The pulled pork and pineapple salsa were a great match, just as before. Still kind of perturbed though by the lack of cheese...

For dessert we tried one of the new Millennial Pink treats that were released around Walt Disney World Resort this spring. This Millennial Pink Cupcake is a vanilla cupcake with guava cream filling, and it's only found at Capt. Cook's.

Not only is it adorable, but it's actually really good! The cupcake is moist and delicious, the filling is tasty, not too tart or sweet, and the buttercream frosting is light. We scarfed this down!

Generally speaking, my family was quite pleased by our simple, quick, and affordable (by Disney standards) meal at Capt. Cook's. It was a nice change visiting one of our favorite resorts and enjoying the ambiance of the Polynesian, and with the exception of my cheeseless nachos the meal was satisfactory.

Capt. Cook's
1600 Seven Seas Drive

Monday, May 21, 2018

Mexican Hot Pockets


I have waxed poetic about my love for Disney Cruise Line's Mexican Hot Pockets on more than one occasion. I'm not the only one obsessed with this breakfast buffet offering at Cabanas. It's a favorite among many Disney Cruisers. It's not offered every morning, but on those extra special mornings when its served I always load up my plate!

Mexican Hot Pockets at Cabanas

I managed to find a recipe for Mexican Hot Pockets courtesy of Disney Cruise Line, however just like anything at a buffet it's made in bulk, and the recipe I found was for 10 pounds of ground beef. Needless to say, it needed to be scaled down significantly. The recipe also omitted some important details, including a recipe for their cheese sauce, and the size and number of tortillas required.

I managed to reduce the recipe to use only 1 pound of ground beef (a much more manageable quantity), and used my culinary knowledge and experience to work out the rest of the details on my own the best I could.

I also adapted the amazing cheese sauce recipe used for the cheese fries at my beloved Shake Shack. It's definitely not the same as the "plastic cheese" that Disney uses, but it's delicious and it works.

Folding in the edges burrito-style makes these a bit less messy to assemble and cook. You can trim the ends afterwards, and serve them just the way they do on Disney Cruise Line.

Like I said, there are some major adaptations here to make this work for the home cook. I think they turned out great! I'm pretty sure Disney uses a higher fat content ground beef, because their filling seems juicier than mine, but I tend to stick with relatively lean ground beef for all my ground beef needs. Use whatever you prefer.

Mexican Hot Pockets
Serves 4
(Hot pockets adapted from Disney Cruise Line; cheese sauce adapted from Shake Shack)

Mexican Hot Pockets:
1 pound ground beef
1 ounce diced red onion
2 ounces diced green bell pepper (a little less than half a pepper)
2 ounces diced red bell pepper (a little less than half a pepper)
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Pinch chili flakes
Kosher salt
2 ounces (scant 1/2 cup) drained and rinsed canned kidney beans (the original recipe calls for baked beans, which seems odd, so I replaced it with kidney beans)
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated cheddar cheese
4 burrito size flour tortillas (10-inch diameter)

Cheese Sauce:
1/2 teaspoon vegetable or canola oil
1 (1/2-inch-thick) slice onion
1 slice jalapeno (I used a slice of picked jalapeno since I didn't have any fresh--it worked fine!)
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
Pinch kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon white wine
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup (a little over 1 ounce) grated cheddar cheese
1/3 cup (a little over 1 ounce) grated American cheese (I actually hand-chopped a couple slices of American cheese from the deli counter)

For the filling: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute beef with onions and peppers until beef is no longer pink. Add tomato paste, cumin, paprika, chili flakes, and salt to taste. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes until fully cooked through, and any excess liquid is evaporated.

Remove from the heat, add the beans and cheese, and mix until thoroughly combined. Allow the mixture to cool.

For the cheese sauce: Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, jalapeno, peppercorns, and salt, and cook, stirring often until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and wine, and cook until the liquid has almost completely evaporated. Stir in the cream. Remove the pan from the heat and let the cream steep for 30 minutes to build flavor.

Return the saucepan to the stove and heat over medium heat until very warm, but not boiling. Meanwhile put the cheeses into a medium heatproof bowl. Pour the hot cream through a strainer (to remove the solids) over the cheeses, stirring until the cheese melts, and the sauce is smooth, about 3 minutes. Sauce will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 week. You can easily reheat the sauce in a microwave or over a pot of gently simmering hot water. Makes about 1 cup.

To assemble: Divide the meat mixture onto the four tortillas into a strip down the length of one side (off center), leaving an inch or two at either end empty. Roll the tortilla around the filling from one end to the other, folding over the edges to seal in the sides (like a burrito).

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, add the rolled tortillas seam-side down to the pan (in batches if necessary), and griddle until crispy/brown, rotating the rolls to crisp on all sides and heat the filling through (lower the heat if it's browning too fast, or else it may not heat the filling before the edges are crisped).

Remove from the heat, and use a serrated knife to trim the ends, then cut the trimmed roll in half crosswise, and then cut each piece again in half on an angle, to yield 4 pieces that are flat on one side and angled on the other. Repeat with the remaining rolls to yield 16 pieces. Discard the trimmed ends (or eat them if you want). Garnish with cheese sauce, salsa, and cilantro (if desired).

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Walt Disney World: Liberty Tree Tavern


The Liberty Tree Tavern in Liberty Square is one of the more popular table service restaurants at Disney's Magic Kingdom. I recently enjoyed my second meal here, and would happily come back a third and fourth time in the future.

Six different dining rooms are themed to represent six important historical figures from colonial times including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Paul Jones, Paul Revere, Betsy Ross, and George Washington. Both times I've dined here, I've sat in the Betsy Ross room, which is one of the smaller rooms actually.

Paul Revere room

Betsy Ross room

Betsy Ross room

George Washington Room

Thomas Jefferson room

While dinner here is an all-you-care-to-eat family style Thanksgiving-inspired feast, lunch is mostly a la carte. If you love dinner at Liberty Tree Tavern, you can enjoy the same feast at lunchtime as well, but there are so many other options for those of us who want to try something a little different.

The a la carte menu is full of favorites. Our Tavern Keeper's Favorite, the pot roast, is so popular that there was an outrage when it was recently removed from the menu. It was quickly added back. Another popular dish, and the one I selected, is the Freedom Pasta, a combination of cavatappi pasta, artichokes, mushrooms, tomatoes, grilled chicken or sauteed shrimp (I went with chicken) in a roasted red pepper cream sauce.

I didn't really notice roasted red pepper flavor in the sauce, but no matter because the pasta dish in general was excellent. It was a HUGE portion, and a great value, with lots of flavor. I actually only ate about half, and took the leftovers with me to the airport later for a pre-flight meal. It wasn't as good leftover, of course, but this pasta could easily be shareable among two adults, especially if you also share an appetizer.

While the majority of my dining party ordered the pasta, my mom picked the Tavern Battered Fish and Chips. It's really your typical fish and chips. My mom enjoyed it, but said it was inferior to the excellent fish and chips we had eaten only a few days prior at the Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room in the United Kingdom Pavilion at Epcot.

Liberty Tree Tavern is an excellent choice for a sit-down meal at the Magic Kingdom, whether it's lunch or dinner time. We changed our lunch plans the day before, and were still able to snag a nearly last minute lunch reservation. The meal was incredibly satisfying, and a nice break for our tired feet.

Liberty Tree Tavern
1180 Seven Seas Drive
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
(407) 939-3463

Monday, May 14, 2018

Individual Beef and Mushroom Pies


Clearly I love pie. No doubt about it. It's one of my favorite things. If I were Maria from The Sound of Music, it would for sure make the cut into my version of the song. There are so many things I love about pie, but one of the most important reasons, and what makes great pie great and mediocre pie mediocre is the crust.

Store-bought crust is the devil. I'm sorry, I know it's a great shortcut, but it is going to seriously impact the quality of your pie. Don't do it. It's easy enough to make pie crust from scratch. You can even use a food processor, although I often don't bother since it's not that hard to do by hand. Just give it a chance!

Although most of my pie endeavors are of the sweet variety, I love a good savory pie just as much. I'm traveling to Ireland in the near future, and although Ireland and the UK are not typically regarded as culinary powerhouses, I'd like to prove the world wrong, but that's for another day.

Today I'm sharing a recipe for individual beef and mushroom pies. These are probably a bit more British than Irish, as the latter would probably sway more towards a beef and Guinness stew as the filling rather than a broth-based concoction.

I used jumbo muffin cups to shape my mini pies, and that worked really well for both the size and shape. Please note, you don't have to do this, but it might help: when you cut out the dough circles for your bottom crust, cutting out a wedge out of the circle will make it a bit easier to press your dough into the muffin cups without having the dough bunch up a lot. You can overlap some of the dough if needed and press to seal. You can also use some dough scraps to patch it up if you accidentally cut a wedge that is too large or too deep. Just as long as the muffin cup is fully lined, you're fine.

The filling is excellent, and considering it doesn't include a million ingredients it's really so flavorful. The small chunks of beef are perfectly fork-tender (they better be after stewing for a couple hours), and the bites of mushroom add another layer of hearty flavor.

Shockingly the crust on these pies is incredibly crispy and flaky, and really stands up well against the soft, stewy filling within. I was thrilled to see that it didn't get soggy at all!

I've made these little pies a couple of times over the past months, and both times I did my prep work a day in advance (on a Saturday), cooking the filling, letting it chill overnight in the fridge along with my pie dough, and then rolled out and assembled the little pies on Sunday in time for dinner. They freeze really well too, so any pies that aren't eaten immediately can be wrapped in plastic wrap, tossed in a freezer bag, and easily thawed and reheated for a weeknight meal some other time.

I serve these with simple mashed potatoes and peas tossed with a little butter, salt, and pepper. Simple perfection.

Individual Beef and Mushroom Pies
Makes 6 pies
(VERY adapted from the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook)

Pie Crust:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into pieces (I use Spectrum non-hydrogenated shortening)
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup cold water

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
22 ounces (about 1 1/3 pounds) trimmed chuck steak, cut into 1/2-inch dice (buy a little more than you need so you can trim and discard the fat and still yield about 1 1/4-1 1/3 pounds meat)
2 medium onions, finely chopped
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, wiped clean and chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Stir the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Add the butter and shortening pieces and toss to coat with the flour, then flatten the butter and shortening pieces between your fingers until there are pea-sized pieces of butter and shortening throughout the flour. Sprinkled 1/2 cup of cold water over the mixture, and gently use a rubber spatula or bowl scraper to hydrate the flour until the mixture sticks together. Add more water by the tablespoonful as needed until the dough holds together. Divide the dough in half, form into two disks, and wrap each disk with plastic wrap. Chill at least two hours or preferably overnight.

To make the filling, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, and add the beef in two batches, searing on each side until crusty brown, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer each batch to a plate and set aside.

Add the remaining oil to the pan and reduce the heat to medium. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook, stirring and scraping up the fond (browned bits) until the onions and mushrooms have softened. Add the flour and mix until combined, then stir in the tomato paste. Slowly add the chicken broth, mixing well to make sure the flour doesn't leave lumps. Return the beef to the pan, add the thyme, and season with salt and pepper, but be careful not to overseason as the mixture will reduce significantly. You can always season more later.

Lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and continue to simmer uncovered for another 30 minutes, until liquid has reduced to a thick gravy-like consistency. Stir often to make sure the mixture doesn't stick, especially once it has thickened considerably. Adjust seasoning as needed. Transfer to a bowl or storage container and let cool to room temperature. You can make the filling ahead of time and refrigerate for up to a couple days if needed. You'll have about 3 cups of filling.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator. On a generously floured surface roll out each of the discs to about 1/8-inch thickness. You will need to cut out 6 larger circles measuring about 6 1/2-inches in diameter, and 6 smaller circles at 3 3/4-inch in diameter. For the larger circles you can trace a knife around a plate. For the smaller circles, use a circular dough cutter or trace the top of the glass. You will likely need to re-roll the scraps from both disks of dough once in order to cut out enough circles.

Fit the large circles into the cups of a jumbo sized muffin pan. To make life a little easier, you can use your knife to cut a small wedge from one side of the circle before pressing the dough into the cups. This will keep you from having a rumpled piece of dough inside the cup. Just press the cut edges together to seal once the dough is fitted into the cup. You can also patch up with scraps of dough as needed if you accidentally cut the wedge too deep.

Fill each of the dough-lined muffin cups generously will the filling, about 1/2 cup into each. Take the smaller dough circles and brush the edges with a little water, then lay the smaller circles over the filling, and use your fingers to press and seal the dough. Crimp the edges if you'd like. Brush the tops of the pies with the egg wash, and use a sharp knife to cut a few slits to form vents. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and continue baking for another 30 minutes, or until the pies are golden brown.

Remove from the oven and use a thin knife to gently pop each of the pies out of the muffin cups. You could also flip over the pan, but this could be dangerous if any of the pie tops are a little loose. These pies can be individually frozen and reheated at a later time.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Walt Disney World: Garden View Tea Room


There were a couple of meals I was especially excited about during our recent trip to Walt Disney World. One was dinner at Homecomin', and the other was the Afternoon Tea at the Garden View Tea Room at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa on my birthday!

I had been wanting to experience the afternoon tea here for quite some time.

In the past it was offered at kind of weird times, and starting later in the afternoon on certain days of the week. At the time of this post, it appears that it's offered daily from noon to 4 pm, which is an improvement to the previous schedule.

The Garden View Tea Room is located just beyond the lobby of the Grand Floridian, overlooking the beautiful grounds and gardens.

There's definitely a garden theme here with floral accents (and of course some hidden Minnies in this case) in the carpeting.

Let's start off by taking a look at the menus. We'll begin with the food.

Each afternoon tea experience comes with a pot of tea. The tea selection is extensive.

We all selected the Bedfordshire Tea, which is the most basic option. It includes a medley of finger sandwiches, a scone with accompaniments, and a choice of dessert. There are a couple of other tea experiences which include either caviar or fruit and cheese plates, and they are priced accordingly. For my choice of tea I picked the Castleton Moonlight Oolong, which was excellent! And I just loved the adorable tea cozies used to keep our teapots warm.

Let's take a closer look at each of the components of our afternoon tea experience. We'll begin with the medley of finger sandwiches.

These include poached pear with Gorgonzola cream cheese, traditional egg salad, curried chicken salad, cucumber and Boursin cheese, and fire roasted tomato on oregano-goat cheese. These are served with a tiny caramelized onion tartlet.

I enjoyed each of the finger sandwiches for their unique qualities, however I found the cucumber sandwich to be the least exciting. I expected a bit more flavor from the Boursin, but it was pretty neutral in flavor.

I loved all the other sandwiches a lot though. The flavors were good, the texture of the bread was good, squishy but firm. I also really liked the little tartlet.

Between the four of us we received two towers featuring our next two courses, the scones and the desserts.

Flaky golden raisin scones are served with Devonshire clotted cream, lemon curd, and strawberry jam alongside a small strawberry preserve tart.

The scone and its accompaniments were all spot on, as was the tartlet. I have pretty high standards when it comes to scones (and really afternoon tea anything) so I'm happy to report that there were no disappointments here at all. Tender. Buttery. Delicious.

There are three options for dessert: strawberries and cream, English trifle, or house-made pastries and a chocolate-covered strawberry. We ordered all of them.

The strawberries and cream is the simplest of the three, however it's a classic British treat, and quite delicious.

The traditional English trifle varies seasonally, and at the time of our visit was blueberry-lemon, a lovely combination.

I preferred my trifle to the strawberries and cream that I sampled, meanwhile my sister was quite content with her strawberries and cream selection. I don't think you can really go wrong with either.

The final dessert option includes a few pastries including a mousse-filled swan (during our visit it was a mixed berry mousse), macarons, and a chocolate-covered strawberry. This is a good choice if you want a little more variety in your final course.

I tried half the mousse-filled swan, and it was divine!

Afternoon Tea at the Garden View Tea Room didn't just live up to my expectations, but rather exceeded them. I knew it would be a fun experience, but it was really so lovely. The lounge was mostly empty when we dined, and therefore pretty quiet and intimate. The tea was outstanding, and our various courses of food were fantastic! The entire family enjoyed this experience. I would definitely do it again, and would highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys afternoon tea.

Garden View Tea Room
4401 Floridian Way
Orlando, FL 32830
(407) 939-3463


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