Disney World 2014 Bonus Food Pics Part 1

magic kingdom main streetAt this point, I think we all know that I’m way behind when it comes to posting about recipes and bonus food pics. Case in point? Here’s a whole bunch of pictures from early February when my parents, wife, daughter and I spent a delightful week in Disney World. I had a good time going through our meals day-by-day when we went last spring, but since we’re so far out, I figured a pair of recap posts about all the delicious food we had while in the Happiest Place On Earth would still be fun and hopefully helpful if you’re on your way to Orlando. One quick note before jumping in, on this trip we didn’t opt in for the Disney Dining Plan like last time. While it worked pretty well that time around, we realized that we were eating way more dessert than we would have normally just because it was there. I’m not much of a sweet fan, so I was glad to have more options.

chef mickeys

We all got into Disney World on February 1st and went right to the Magic Kingdom as is our custom, but I didn’t take any photos, so I can’t remember what we ate. On the 2nd, we went back and I did a better job of documenting meals. For lunch we had seafood at The Columbia Harbor House. Again, no pics, but I remember the fried food being nice and crisp without being too heavy. For dinner we hopped on the Monorail to have dinner at Chef Mickey’s, a buffet style place inside the Contemporary that features characters like Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Pluto (sorry Daisy fans) walking around taking pictures with the kids. Lu loved the place and I’ve got to say that we were all pretty impressed with the food. You might think something like that would offer the lowest common denominator because you’re already there and it’s aimed at kids, but it was one of the better buffets I’ve had in recent memory. tutto italia

Again, I don’t have documentation of what we ate for lunch on the 3rd, but we did spend most of the day at Epcot. For dinner we went to Italy in the World Showacse where we had reservations for Tutto Italia Ristorante. There I had the Gnocchetti which is described as Cavatelli pasta, sweet sausage ragu, tomato and Pecorino. This was one of the best pasta dishes I’ve had in a long time. It might seem simple — and it was — both it tasted like each of those simple ingredients was the best it could be and combined for an excellent, rich dish. 1900 park fare cinderella dinner

Finally (for this post, come back tomorrow for the rest!), on the 4th we spent most of the day at Animal Kingdom where we had Pizzafari for lunch. I have a picture of the tiny, tasty pepperoni pizza I had along with the Cesar salad, but I compared photos and it’s almost the exact same as the one I took several months earlier. That night we headed back to our hotel, The Grand Floridian, where we went to the Cinderalla-themed character dinner at 1900 Park Fare. I don’t remember this meal, another buffet, for the food nearly as much as I do for watching our daughter show zero interest in Cinderlla’s stepmother, warm up to the very funny stepsisters and glow when Cinderella came around. I gotta give it to those step sisters, they were pretty funny, tossing tame insults and one-liners across the room at one another and convincing the kids (and me to a lesser extent) that they were the evil, mean, awful creatures seen in the Disney classic.

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Cooking Michele Urvater’s Classic Italian Bolognese With Homemade Pasta

Sometimes I want to just forget about everything else going on around me and spend a few hours in the kitchen making something I know my family will love. That’s what I’ve done the last few times I’ve made Michele Urvater’s Bolognese Sauce with homemade pasta.

Now that I’m grinding my own meat and making my own pasta, dishes like this one, which are already time intensive, can become multi-hour projects, but sometimes I need that time in the kitchen. In this case there are a lot of moving parts, but if you have some time during the day, it’s not too hard to make this dinner happen.

First and foremost, you need to throw your meat in the freezer for an hour or two. This makes grinding a lot easier. While that’s hardening, it makes sense to get the ingredients for the bolognese sauce ready by chopping up the carrots, onion, celery and garlic. The only alteration I made to this recipe was mixing 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar with 1/4 cup of chicken stock to replace the white wine, which I didn’t have on hand. After grinding the meat and cooking the veggies, you’ve got about 2 hours of simmer time.

With about an hour of simmer left, I start working on the pasta. I’ve tried a bunch of different basic recipes, but the one I’ve come to know and love is the one I found in my 1981 copy of The New James Beard (p. 276) which calls for 3 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt and four eggs with some water on hand just in case. Mix all that up in the mixing bowl, knead for a few minutes then let sit for 20 minutes. Everything I’ve read says break the main ball down into four parts, but I’ve had much better luck going down to eight smaller sections. Then run it through the rollers and whichever pasta cutter you want to use. I’ve found that it works best to start boiling water after running all the pieces through the roller the first time. By the time you’re done cutting, your water should be boiling or close to it.

Once your done with your epic cooking session, you’ve got yourself one ass kicking meal. This bolognese is just fantastic, mixing the pancetta’s saltiness with your beef and the vegetables into something truly wonderful. One of these days I’ll actually try it with homemade tomato pasta and fresh plum tomatoes.

One note I do want to make about this recipe in general is that I want to include olives in it next time. I’ve made this particular version twice and both times I found my tongue telling me that there should have been some green olives in there to bring in a sour note. Hopefully, now that I’ve written this post, I’ll remember that for next time.

Recipe Roundup: Closet Cooking Part 1

As any regular readers will know, it’s been a looooong time since I’ve posted here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. Unfortunately, with work and all kinds of other things going one — raising our two year old and prepping for a new little baby — MATK can fall to the wayside. But, I’m still cooking almost every night which means I have a huge backlog of meals to talk about going back to last fall. So, in an effort to try and document the good recipes I’ve tried out in the last few months, I figured I’d implement a new kind of a post called Recipe Roundup that will gather a bunch of meals from different places, throw in a few pics and do my best to remember how they turned out.

Today’s subject is one of my favorite new cooking sites, Closet Cooking which is great because there’s tons of older recipes on there and the site gets updated constantly. I also appreciate that Kevin Lynch seems to be cooking in a kitchen even smaller than mine which is no small feat. So, without further ado, hit the jump to check out the first batch of CC recipes I’ve tried out in the past few months!  Continue reading

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Gnocchi & Tomato Sauce

I’ve made gnocchi before and really liked the results, even though it can be a somewhat time consuming process. So, when I saw what looked like an even easier recipe on Smitten Kitchen’s website called Gnocchi & Tomato Broth, I was game. In addition to the difference in taste, I was also interested in noting the difference between this recipe and the previous one I worked off of. For one thing, it makes a lot less gnocchi which is good for me because I had a rough time trying to thaw out the dough I had frozen. You also prep the potato portion of the dish differently, instead of boiling them, you poke a bunch of holes in your potatoes and throw them in the oven, which I think it actually a lot simpler.

While the potatoes baked, I got to work on the sauce. You’ll note I said “sauce” instead of “broth” because instead of straining everything out like the recipe suggests, I took to it with a hand blender and made myself more of a sauce. Why? Well, it’s been cold and I wanted something thicker. If I made this in warmer months, though, I’d try the broth method to see how that works.

Once the sauce was done, I went back to making the gnocchi dough which involved mixing the ingredients up in our Kitchenaide. From there, I divided up the dough, rolled out some lines and chopped them up with my dough cutter/scooper. While working on this part, I set a pot of water on the stove to boil. When I was done with the dough pieces and the water was boiling, I started dropping them in and waiting for them to rise.

Again, the process can be somewhat laborious and time consuming, but there are days when all I want to do is go into the kitchen and not come out for a few hours with something really good and even a little primal that I made with my hands. This gave me that feeling without taking up too much of the day, so I’m adding it to the greatest hits.

Revisiting Smitten Kitchen’s Pasta With Onion Butter Red Sauce & Turkey

revisiting smitten's onion butter pasta One of the few recipes that I cook on a regular basis is Smitten Kitchen’s Tomato Sauce With Onion & Butter. In fact, it’s one of the first dishes I ever wrote about online. It’s so good and only requires four ingredients: pasta, canned tomatoes, butter and onion. I double the recipe to get a lot more sauce because I’m that big of a fan.

One thing that’s always bugged me about the recipe, though, is that you toss the onions after cooking for 45 minutes. I still did it, but I wondered if there might be something else to do with it. Then, after making Nigella Lawson’s Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce and I decided to take one of her techniques and use it with this recipe.

Lawson called for celery, carrots and onion to be tossed in the food processor and given a whirl, I figured I’d take that idea and use it with this recipe (I used two onions, two carrots and two celery stalks. Yes, it ups the ingredient list from four things to six, but I’m sure you would have just as much success just whirring the onions instead of all three veggies. When I first tasted the results, I was worried because it tasted very onion-y, but after simmering for the requisite 45 minutes, that flavor mellowed out and combined well with the other ingredients. I think I might have actually made a great recipe even better!

Cooking Nigella Lawson’s Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce With Arugala & Lemon Couscous

Sometimes you’re just so excited to jump into a new cookbook that you don’t fully read the recipe correctly. That’s what happened with me and Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Kitchen. I came across her recipe for Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce (page 44) and was immediately interested. When I noticed a note towards the end that suggested making her Arugala & Lemon Couscous (page 90) I started making that as well without fully reading that paragraph or really thinking much about what I was doing. What Lawson suggests in that graph is serving the prepared meatballs and sauce over the couscous, not in addition to. The way I did it, we wound up having a lot of pasta in one meal, but that’s okay every now and then.

One of the most interesting aspects of this sauce recipe was a method Lawson uses where you blend celery and onion into a paste and use that in the sauce instead of the usual diced or chopped variety. This seems like a good way to do this that saves on a little prep time and makes for a less chunky sauce (if that’s what you’re going for). I think I’m going to try this the next time I make Smitten Kitchen’s Tomato Sauce With Onion and Butter, which just so happens to be on the menu tonight!

From there you’ve got pretty standard sauce and meatball-making techniques (this is the first time I used my Kitchenaid meat grinder attachment for turkey, but it worked great). Another aspect of this recipe that I like is that you don’t bake the meatballs or cook them on the stove, you just put them all in the sauce while it simmers on the stove top. One thing that did surprise me about the recipe and I think made for a weaker sauce than I usually like is that it calls for a can of water. That seems like a missed opportunity for something that could add more flavor. I think next time I make this recipes I’ll use tomato sauce or V8 juice or something along those lines to bolster the sauce a bit.

The couscous is super easy to make. You get some chicken broth boiling and while cooking the couscous in another pot in some olive oil. Once the broth is boiling you pour it over the couscous, cover and let sit for ten minutes off the heat. Once that’s done you throw it in a bowl with some arugala along with lemon zest, lemon juice and some salt and pepper. This makes for a nice, clean, zingy side dish.

My wife and I both agreed that the meal would have been close to perfect had I forgotten about the pasta (it was too late in the process when I realized how much starch I was preparing) and just served the sauce and meatballs over the couscous. Since everything was on the same plate, they wound up mixing and the citrus-y zest of the couscous played very well off of the tomato sauce and turkey.

Cooking Salsa Alla Bolognese (Bolognese Sauce)

After spending all that time making my own tomato pulp, I put that pulp to good use by making some Salsa A Pomodoro and Salsa Alla Bolognese from Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking (pages 4 and 10 respectively). Since I’ve already written about making the Pomodoro sauce (your basic red sauce), I’m going to skip another post on that one, though this time around I froze it all. I did use the Bolognese sauce that day though and actually just thawed out the rest last night for a quick and easy Sunday night dinner. The Bolognese is pretty similar, but it’s a bit heartier and includes some mixed veal, beef and pork which I got in a meatball/meatloaf mix from my local grocery story.

The recipe features carrots, onions, celery, garlic, re-hydrated mushrooms, prosciutto, red wine, parsley, marjoram, salt, pepper, nutmeg, flour, my homemade beef stock and the aforementioned tomato pulp. It’s actually a surprisingly easy recipe that doesn’t involve a ton of work, though you do need over an hour to let it cook and then simmer.

The end result was a great combination of meat and red wine all formed together with the vegetables and spices making for the kind of sauce that felt primal when I ate it. I got the feeling while eating that sauce that it was the kind of thing people have eaten for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. That’s a pretty cool feeling, especially when you made most of the ingredients yourself.

Pizza Party: Mama Theresa’s Eggplant Appetizer & Greek Pizza

This past Sunday, after attempting to hit up a few other places, we found ourselves at Mama Theresa’s for dinner. Since we didn’t order ahead of time and wanted a full pie, we decided to eat there and actually sat in the really nice back room that we’d never been in. As always, the food there was excellent. We started off with a special eggplant appetizer whose name I can’t quite remember, but think it might have been something like Eggplant Pie or Eggplant Stack or something along those lines. Basically, among slices of cooked eggplant there was also healthy doses of mozzarella, pesto, their awesome red sauce and prosciutto. It was all around delightful, the kind of thing I’d like to figure out how to make myself.

Of course, that was the opening act to the main event: pizza! When my wife first suggested getting the Greek Pizza, I vetoed that because I was thinking it would focus on the somewhat overpowering combination of feta and olives that mark such things when cooked by people without much knowledge of Greek cooking. I decided to give it a try and it was delish! The key here was not using too many olives or too much feta, but there was also great grilled chicken, roasted red peppers, onions and yellow peppers that weren’t too hot for my wussy tongue.

Making Polpa Al Pomodoro (Tomato Pulp)

A couple weeks back, while on the way home from a weekend trip to New Paltz, we stopped by a great farm stand and I walked away with a box full of tomatoes for $10 with a mind set towards making some homemade red sauce based on the recipes in Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking. The first step for all that is making what’s called Polpa Al Pomodoro (page 4), so I got to work on that. Even though I made a much smaller version of this and wrote about it here on the site, I figured it was worth a post writing about doing so on a much larger scale.

I tried to set myself up well which meant putting the box of tomatoes next to the stove where a pot of water was boiling. Across from that I had a cutting board where I would get the skin off, halve them and then squeeze the insides out into the sink. I then put the squeezed tomato halves into two large glass containers. Once I got all that done, I moved the halved tomatoes back over to the cutting board and chopped them up before putting some of the chopped tomatoes into a strainer before storing them in those same glass containers.

With so many tomatoes this took a couple hours. At the suggestion of my wife, I scored the bottom of the tomatoes (cutting an X in the skin) which made getting the skin off so much easier. I’d put as many tomatoes in the boiling water as I could fit — only for about 10-15 seconds — but I still got backed up and had to go from that to peeling and halving and then back again. I’m sure there’s a better way to do all this, but I wasn’t sure if it’d still be easy to get the skin off if the tomatoes cooled down too much.

Anyway, this system worked for me in our limited space and I got a pretty good yield. I was able to make two different sauces (posts coming soon) and even freeze some of the basic pulp for later, so I’d say that was a success!

Cooking Bow Ties With Sausage, Tomatoes & Cream

As you can probably tell by now, I’m a big fan of Italian food. Garlic, tomatoes, basil and pasta are pretty much perfect foods as far as I’m concerned and go with almost everything. I also really like sausage, so when I came across this recipe for Bow Ties With Sausage, Tomatoes and Cream on AllRecipes, I was in from the jump. I made two small changes when making this, I ditched the red pepper flakes and substituted the heavy cream for whole milk we had in the fridge. Aside from that, I went by the book.

The problem with my love of pasta? It makes for a very hot kitchen in the summer. Still, I persevere. You get the water boiling and then start working on the sauce which kicks off with browning the sausage. I went with the Dutch oven for this because it’s better for mixing in the pasta later on, things tend to get messy for me when I do this with a regular high sided pan. Anyway, you then mix in the garlic and onion, cook some more and then stir in the tomatoes, cream (or in my case milk). Because I used milk, I cooked it a little longer to thicken up. Once that’s done and the pasta is drained, mic in the Dutch oven and cook like you’re supposed to do with pasta dishes.

By the way, to go along with the pasta, I also made some asparagus. I cleaned them, put them on a baking sheet, sprinkled with olive oil and some ground lemon pepper. I just get the oven going at 375 and cook them for about 10 minutes, or until you can stick easily with a fork.

You can probably guess that I liked this recipe, which I did. The fam, including the baby, also seemed to like it. When coming up with a menu every week, sometimes I get a little tired of the usual ground beef/chicken breast/pork chop triumvirate, so it’s nice to mix a few things like sausage in there. Will definitely return to this recipe again in the future.