Monday, May 21, 2007

Vacation Food - More Cruising - Days 3 and 4

Isn't it a shame how fast vacation time just zooms by?

Wednesday we docked off the smokin' island of Catalina. (Quite literally!) We treated ourselves to a lunch of margaritas and coconut shrimp at a local restaurant we found completely by accident. It was so nice not to get stuck in a tourist trap!

We burnt off the calories by walking around the town of Avalon, then later returned to the ship for a brief nap before prepping ourselves for dinner.

Time to order! I asked for a starter of Watermelon Gazpacho (yes, another chilled soup - but I really, really like them!), an Onion Tartlet instead of the salad, and entree of Prime Rib and for dessert the Puff Pastry Swan. Ohhhhhh...I was so excited about that darn swan!!!

The Chilled Watermelon Gazpacho was basically juiced watermelon put through a sieve with small chunks of celery, green bell pepper and seedless watermelon. The juice from the melon was so smooth and clear and just danced on my tongue. The vegetable chunks provided a wonderful contrast in texture and flavor...kind of sweet and savory all in one. It was great! I was a little leery about the combination of fruit and vegetables, but it simply worked. I tried so hard to get a decent picture - but failed miserably.

The Onion Tartlet was also tasty - my only complaint being that the tartlet was more of a quiche. I wanted more onion, and less egg! The dish came garnished with a red bell pepper puree and fried onions on top. Definitely a better choice than a boring salad!

Again, I was hoping for more with the Prime Rib. Although mine was nice and pink, just the way I liked it, everyone else's was more on the well-done side, and didn't look as appetizing. (By now our waitress knew I was blogging our gluttony, so that probably helped in getting the best picture worthy dishes!) Unfortunately my piece of prime had a lot of fat to cut around. I guess that's one way to keep from overeating! The plate was finished with a baked potato loaded with sour cream and a medley of roasted root vegetables.

Like I said above, I was just waiting for dessert. What I failed to see when ordering, were the words "Sugar Free." Although the presentation was pretty, the pastry tasted like cardboard....not good! The mascarpone cheese filling was also tasteless. I have no doubt that if this dessert was full of sugar, it would've been divine. I did relish in the ripe berries, so all was not lost.

Thursday brought a day in Esenada, Mexico - and authentic homemade tacos from a shack in town. (We later found out that this shack did not have running water, which still makes me gag a little...I am so surprised that neither of us got sick!) The soft tortilla shells were pressed right in front of us, into perfect rounds of deliciousness, which were then grilled on a flat iron and filled with grilled beef, onions, cilantro, guacamole and spicy...really spicy!... homemade salsa.

I have never had a taco this yummy! In fact, I pulled out some of my high school "Spanglish" and ordered us a second round. "Senorita. Dos mas, por favor. Gracias!" Nathan even went for a third, this time asking for chicken. Guess how much!!!??? $1.00 per taco, with no charge on Nate's chicken taco! It was seriously one of the best meals we had on this trip. We washed it down with a couple of Corona's and lime.

Our vacation was coming to a close, as this night marked our last dinner aboard the ocean liner. It was very sad knowing that our vacation was coming to an end...

My last supper included (wait for it, wait for it) Chilled Berry and Buttermilk Soup as a starter, access to the community salad, a la Olive Garden, traditional Thanksgiving Turkey as the entree and to top it all off, bringing on the guilt - Double Chocolate Brownie Supreme. Can you feel the belly ache?

The Chilled Berry soup was spot-on, and something that I am so going to try at home, much to Nathan's dismay. All it was was blended berries and buttermilk. Simple. And perfect. I wanted to lick the bowl, but it was too tiny and I couldn't get my face into it. LOL!

The Turkey was a disappointment. It was dry and covered in gravy - and you will never guess what it was served with...maaaaaaashed potatoes! Do you think that Royal Caribean got a discount on potatoes? Also on the plate, dressing/stuffing, steamed broccoli, a piece of corn on the cob (to which I say, what the hell?) and cranberry sauce. It was what you would find on the menu at a diner.

The Double Chocolate Brownie Supreme sealed the deal on the food voyage. It was a moist, dense brownie filled with walnuts, and slathered in a chocolate mousse, then topped with a chocolate garnish "candy bar." Oy vey! It was sinfully rich, and I could only eat a quarter of it before I started to clutch my stomach! No wonder that was offered was the perfect ending to remember.


Needless to say, since we've gotten back it's been take out and pizza. I hope to get back into the swing of things now that we are unpacked and settled...until our next foodie adventure!

Vacation Food - Cruising on the Open Ocean

Hello God? It's me, Kateri. I've sinned. It's been 7 years since my last cruise.

The one thing that everyone tells you about cruises, is that you eat and eat and eat some more. That, and that the food is amazing. I fondly remember my last cruise, which I took with my bestest girlfriend - and I do remember the food being out of this world. We tried a ton of new items...escargot (snails!), caviar, cold soups - the list goes on and on. It was a whole new experience for my taste buds.

This cruise, however, was a little disappointing in terms of food - both in presentation and originality. As Nathan said "Kat, you cook way better than this."

(I apologize in advance for the crappy pictures...apparently, it is a lot harder to focus with a camera when A) your surroundings are in constant motion, B) there is shitty lighting and C) when you are drunk. Note to self - do not purchase the wine package! We like wine, and by the third night, I was ready to throw the bottle across the room! Just thinking about wine made my stomach turn.)

Monday evening was dinner #1, and also the introduction to our dinner mates. We totally lucked out, everyone was charming and interesting. No one even looked at me funny for taking a boat-load of pictures...although I did explain that I was a food blogger - which seemed to tickle their fancy. I hope that if any of our dinner mates stops by this blog for a visit, they make a little comment!

As soon as introductions were made, we got to ordering. I had the Strawberry Bisque for my starter, the salad, Chicken Marsala for an entree, and finally some kind of berry mousse-like dessert.

The Strawberry Bisque was served cold, and was delicious - although very sweet. The soup had a frothy quality to it that made it seem really light and airy. The chef smartly garnished the dish with a little fresh mint. Very nice starter.

The Chicken Marsala, in my humble opinion, sucked. Not only was it over salted...but the sauce was more of a gravy. Marsala is not gravy! I was really disappointed. I wish that I could've traded with Nathan, but he ordered the EXACT SAME THING. (A trend you will see throughout this food trip. Doesn't he know the rules of dining with a partner? You eat order something different, so that you can taste everything!!!!) The chicken was served alongside mashed potatoes and (over) steamed (mushy) asparagus. Each equally salty.

The dessert I did enjoy, naturally. I can't remember the exact name on the menu - but it was like a cushion of spongy mousse/jell-o like mixed berries, garnished with a little fresh whipped cream and a perfect berry as a crown. There was also some kind of berry puree that was very nice, on the side - and it took all my effort not to scoop it up with my finger!

Tuesday night's meal was French inspired, which I was really looking forward to. I started with the Chilled Pear and Cranberry Soup, the salad, Fillet of Beef as the entree and Cherries Jubilee for dessert. Nathan tried the escargot, which was downing in butter and melted cheese, but then copied the rest of my order. Why didn't I insist he order first?!

(I tried to get a picture of the escargot, but Nate ate it too fast! I guess he thought it was tasty!)

My Chilled Pear and Cranberry Soup tasted like canned pears, blended...or maybe Gerber Baby Food, I couldn't tell. I mean, I like canned fruits - but I expected more...maybe a smoother texture, or a brighter color. The "cranberry" part of the soup was a couple of dried cranberries thrown in, I believe, to compensate for the poor texture and and lack of color. The dish made me want to brush my teeth afterwards.

I love fillet mignon more than anything in the world! I was expecting a 2 inch fillet, but got two thin strips of meat. The beef was cooked to a perfect medium and had great beefy flavor. Served alongside the beef was mashed potatoes (again?) and steamed asparagus (really, again?!), sauteed mushrooms and a sprig of rosemary. The au jus was more of a gravy (this chef must love gravy!), but the overall dish was satisfying and delicious. I think the only thing left on my plate was the rosemary!

Let's talk dessert...I ordered the Cherries Jubilee with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a handful of toasted slivered almonds. According to the menu, the cherries were flam bayed in bourbon, and they were not kidding! They could've used a little more fire, because the alcohol had not gotten the chance to burn out. It was a little bitter, but very beautiful in presentation. Lucky for me, the ice cream cut some of the bitterness so I was able to enjoy a couple of bits before almost passing out in sugar shock!

Vacation Food - Part Deux

Our second day of vacation, brought the arrival of Mother's Day - which included brunch at the beautiful Descanso Gardens a few miles from Nate's sisters home. I didn't quite know what to expect, and honestly - I was blown away.

First of all, the day was absolutely marvelous. Sunny with just a bit of a breeze...the day you would describe as perfect. I took lots of pictures of flowers...

...and our nieces!

The spread that we happened upon was mouthwatering. Eggs as fluffy as clouds, peppered with chives. French toast that was crispy on the outside, yet moist and creamy on the inside. Fruit of all kinds - melons, berries, citrus. Plus potatoes, and salads, mimosas (strong ones!) and desserts - oh my! My stomach was so full by the time we left the table.

Seriously - is this not the most awesome looking breakfast EVER?!

The best part (besides not having to clean up afterwards) is that we were not rushed at all. The kids ate so well, and all the grown-ups were able to chat and laugh and eat...lots. It was a great time - the highlight, for sure, of our whole trip. And, I'm happy to say that no one got stung along the way.

Vacation Food - Part 1

Vacation is all about the food, right?!

This is "part one" of what is shaping up to be a multi-tiered food frenzy recap.

We began our vacation in beautiful Pasadena, California with a visit with Nathan's sister's family. She has three little girls (one whom we had yet to meet!) and we were anxious to spend some time with them.

Not only did we play until we collapsed, but Nate's sister made an absolutely scrumptious meal - complete with chocolate cake!

I was sitting in the livingroom, playing with one of the girls, when I heard Nate's sister as him if he could peel some garlic. Knowing what I know about Nathan and his lack of skills in all areas of the kitchen, I knew that garlic peeling would be an impossible task - so, I volunteered to complete the (stinky) job! Good thing too, because I needed to separate and peel the cloves from 4 heads of garlic! During that time, I was able to carefully glance at Nate's sister to steal the recipe. LOL!

(eat with a loved one - two garlics cancel eat other out!)

1 large package of chicken thighs
1 stick of butter (or, you could do 1/2 butter, 1/2 olive oil to make it a little healthier)
40 cloves of garlic, left whole and peeled
4 shallots, sliced not too thinly
4 tbsp freshly chopped rosemary
4 tbsp freshly chopped oregano

It's all about the number 4!

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large pyrex baking dish, heat up butter, garlic, shallots and herbs until butter is melted and herbs are fragrant. Dredge raw chicken in melted butter and position in an even layer in baking dish. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through completely.

The heat and butter blistered the skin on the chicken ever so slightly - and made the whole dish very rich and satisfying. I got up for seconds, which I never do with dark meat!

The garlic roasted a little, and became really sweet and soft...spreadable, almost. The garlic made a nice pair with the chicken - like a counterbalance of sorts. It was heaven! Nate's sister served the dish with a side of creamy polenta (with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese) and some roasted baby carrots topped with a drizzle of honey.

And, of course the double chocolate cake was a big surprise and totally hit the spot! It was garnished with flowers from the garden. Nathan helped himself to the largest slice of cake that I have ever seen him eat!

We joked that this meal was all about stretching our stomachs for the cruise we were about to board.

Some of us got a little messy. (including me - but Audrey was waaaaay cuter!)

Monday, May 07, 2007

It was a Cake'Castrophy

Back in my highschool years, my grandmother took me under her wing, and taught me how to decorate cakes. I used this new found knowledge to the best of my ability, and started making cakes for my family and friends. Back then, it was easy - because the cakes stayed stationary...I baked and decorated where we ate. Fast forward a couple 2, 3, 15 years later, and decorating cakes is not as fact, it's a wonder I even made it out alive and it's all because of one word - TRANSPORTATION.

My mother asked me to make 3 cakes for this weekend. We were celebrating my niece Kelsey's 7th birthday, my aunt Jane's 50th birthday and my brother Andy's confirmation. And of course (per my mom), each person needed their own cake. I ended up purchasing a three tier stand - a Wilton product - that allows each cake to be highlighted on their own...perfect for this application. (It also collapses down to about 2 inches for easy storage!)

Andy wanted a plain cheesecake. That was easy enough...I have a great recipe that is a winner every single time. I was not worried about the cheesecake, however the other two were still weighing heavily on my mind. My Aunt Jane wanted WHITE cake with CHOCOLATE frosting - which I almost reversed while at the market purchasing mixes. (Yep, that's right...mixes! Regular Birthday Cake, for me, always starts with a mix.) Kelsey wanted confetti cake, and she wanted something special.

Baking went fine. I had all of the cakes done before bedtime on Friday evening. After they completely cooled, I crumb coated them, wrapped the up and threw them into the refrigerator for safe keeping. Saturday morning, after a beautiful night's sleep, I woke up and set my table as a decorating station. All of my icings were out an mixed into pretty shades of yellow, pink, green and blue. The glass of water, a trick to smoothing out icing, was steaming hot. My Lazy Susan was oiled and ready to be turned and my trusty stool was at the perfect height, so as not to break my back! I also was in a good mood - I knew the look I was going for, and I knew that these cakes would be perfect!

I did my Aunt Jane's first....two layers of moist white cake, frosted with chocolate icing, and decorated with white daisies. (I did the daisies on a piece of parchment paper before I started assembling, so that they could dry out and be easy to place.) I was very happy with the result. It was simple and pretty, and had a lot of little details that you didn't see right away.

Kelsey's cake was up next...three layers of confetti cake, frosting with yellow-tinted vanilla icing. I smoothed the entire thing out, and decorated it with frosting stars, swags and sprinkles. I also bought a batch of re-useable silicone muffin cups (which are cool as hell, BTW!) and planted those on the top of the cake, to be distributed by the birthday girl.

I started the decorating marathon at 9am - and finished at about 4pm, but it really didn't feel like it took all that long. I called my mother, and asked her if I could bring the finished cakes over to her house, to avoid that transporting frenzy the following day, and I was off to carefully pack my cakes. And, that's when it happened...

I packed up Aunt Jane's cake into a carrier, and apparently the stupid fucking carrier didn't latch correctly. When I picked it up, the bottom of the carrier crashed to the floor, along with the cake I worked so hard on - destroying it in one foul swoop. Did you hear me scream and yell and curse the high heavens, and Nathan? Because I did. Then, I sank to the floor and sobbed, as my dog feasted on cake. Finding no sympathy in Nathan ("Normal people do not react that way"), I called my mother - who totally guilted me into making another cake for my aunt!

All turned out OK (my aunt's cake was not as perfect the second time around, and one of the cupcakes on Kelsey's cake toppled during transport), but everyone was happy. And on a high from all the sugar!

When all else fails - just take a picture of the cake in the one will notice the flaws!

The cheesecake was by far the biggest success. Only one sliver remained.


Crust ingredients:
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup melted butter
2 tbsp sugar
Filling ingredients:
3 (8 oz) bricks of cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine all crust ingredients in medium bowl. Press onto bottom and 1-inch up sides of ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool. Meanwhile, combine cream cheese and sugar in large bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy. Gradually add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to low; add sour cream and vanilla. Beat until well mixed. Pour cream cheese mixture into baked crust. Bake for 80 to 95 minutes or until set. Loosen sides of cheesecake from pan by running knife around inside of pan; remove sides of pan. Cool completely (about 2 hours). Leave uncovered until completely cooled. Store in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Roasted Cauliflower, Fennel and Garlic Soup

(For recipe - go to CityMama's Family Food blog!)

I have to admit, I am not a great lover of fennel, or basically anything with a licorice flavor. Black jelly beans - stay away! I was kind of cautious of trying the recipe, due to the fennel...but decided that I would put up and shut up, and be an adult about things. Wow! I am so glad I did! The soup is delicious.

I omitted the potatoes (accidently) and it really didn't matter - the soup still had a fantastic consistency and a to-die-for flavor. It's all about roasting the vegetables. Do not skip this step! To me, cauliflower has a tendency to taste really bland - but roasting it completely changes the vegetable and gives it an almost nutty kind of flavor. The fennel also become much more mellow and combined perfectly with the cauliflower and garlic. (I did add a pinch of freshly grated whole nutmeg.)

Just look how creamy this soup is!!!

I served the soup along side a chicken and cheese quesadilla with some homemade guacamole, a dollop of sour cream and a bit of chunky salsa.