Archive for March, 2010

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Food Preview

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Don’t mind me, I’m just going to geek out for a bit about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a new theme park opening in June at Universal Studios, Orlando. I’m a potter fan, and have been keeping an eye on some of the plans for the park. I’ve often been underwhelmed by the news reports–what was being touted as a whole theme park is really just a world in the existing Islands of Adventure park, and they opted to build Hogwarts over an existing medieval castle ride. It seems like most of the Harry Potter themed attractions are just re-brandings of the existing rides in the area.

That being said, I’ve started to get a bit more excited about the shops and restaurants the more I hear. Universal really does seem to be offering the chance to immerse yourself in the world of Harry Potter, and I think that could be really fun. Especially for kids. I thought it might be kind of fun to take a look at what kinds of foods Universal plans to offer. From the official website:

Three Broomsticks in a rustic tavern where visitors to Hogsmeade can come to share a pint of Butterbeer or pumpkin juice and dine on hearty fare. In this restaurant you can choose from such entries as the “Great Feast Platter,” fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, Cornish pasty, turkey legs & fresh vegetables. Children’s menu items include chicken, macaroni & cheese, fish and chips, and chicken fingers, each served with grapes and applesauce. Dessert choices include apple pie, strawberry and peanut butter ice cream, and chocolate trifle. At the rear of the Three Broomsticks tavern is the Hog’s Head pub. Here the family can enjoy Butterbeer, pumpkin juice, and other beverages while adults sample the pub’s selection of domestic and imported beers, specialty drinks, wine, spirits, and mixed drinks.

Recently, one of my favorite Harry Potter news sites, The Leaky Cauldron, posted a review of the food that’s going to be available at the Harry Potter themed restaurant. You can read the full review here, if you’re interested. I was excited to hear about a few things being done right.

  1. The Butterbeer recipes were tested by J.K. Rowling herself, and she chose the version that will be sold at the parks.
  2. Everything seems crazy-faithful to the books. The strawberry and peanut butter ice cream is taken from a tiny cameo appearance in book 2. That’s how much thought they’ve put into it. From the reviews at The Leaky Cauldron, it sounds like everything is lifted straight from the books, which is awesome.
  3. Pumpkin juice will be bottled and sold (not Butterbeer, though. Boo!).
  4. The food’s at the THREE BROOMSTICKS, duh. That’s cool.
  5. So is the Hog’s Head pub in the back.

It sounds like Universal is putting a lot of care into recreating the Harry Potter world. And honestly, I think they can handle the job, having been to Universal Studies and having seen things like the crazy flora surrounding the Jurassic Park area. Wikipedia says the attraction covers six acres of land and contains 353 palm trees of eleven species, 300 bamboo plants of six varieties, and 7,441 shrubs, plants, and flowers of seventy six species. I don’t know about all those plants, but I know that it FEELS like you’ve just been dumped into Jurassic Park. The food is just one small piece of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but if they put this much care into just the concessions, I think it really bodes well for the whole area.

And as Melissa of the Leaky Cauldron pointed out: “Just think…we haven’t even been to Honeydukes yet.”

P.S. Melissa Anelli of the Leaky Cauldron wrote an awesome book about Harry Potter fans called “Harry: A History.” If you’re interested in Harry Potter, or even just the story of how the crazed fan-base grew online, you should check it out. If you like Harry Potter AND are a part of some online HP community, you pretty much don’t have a choice. Get the book.

A Gnocchi Fiasco

Monday, March 29th, 2010

I am a pretty good cook, and I don’t mind saying so. I don’t think I’d be blogging if I wasn’t. Often, my friends will make comments like “Of course it’s good, you made it!” or “Everything you make tastes good, Teri.”

I’m here to tell you that that is not always the case. Sometimes…things happen. Like with these gnocchi.

We’ve got this Meatless Monday thing going on, as you know. So far, we’ve had Chipotle Bean & Cheese Burritos, Fake Lasagna (Cheese only, obviously!), and Basil & Sun-Dried Tomato Panini with Fresh Mozzarella. I’m still struggling to find a meal where David truly doesn’t miss the meat, but we’ve been doing pretty well with the dishes we’ve tried. Last week, I attempted a dish from the “Hearty Pastas” section of Giada De Laurentiis’ Everyday Pasta: Gnocchi with Butter Thyme Sauce. It sounded delicious, and Giada made the gnocchi sound almost simple. The pictures were beautiful, and I really like gnocchi in general, but have never tried to make them. I thought with a crusty Italian bread and a Caesar salad, we’d have a pretty good meatless meal.

And if the gnocchi had worked out at all, we probably could have.

I’m not sure what went wrong. I thought I was doing the right thing. The dough came together, I rolled it out like play-dough snakes and cut the gnocchi into one-inch pieces. The recipe sounded so simple. Giada promised they were worth the work, even though gnocchi are available at your regular store. She lied to me.

Most of the gnocchi just crumbled in the water. They crumbled further when they hit the butter sauce. I ended up with a saucepan full of extra-gummy, gluey, greasy-from-all-the-butter mashed potatoes. Yuck. (I also tried to use light butter, which was a mistake. It melted way wrong, and tasted worse than margarine! I can’t blame Giada for that part, but the damage was already done.) We ended up ordering a four cheese pizza from Homemade Pizza Company. They saved dinner!

I’m posting the recipe from Giada below, in case anyone with real gnocchi experience has some ideas on how to correct the recipe, or maybe a more trustworthy gnocchi recipe to share. I’ll admit, I’m a little leery of trying gnocchi again–seemed like a lot of work, and in this case, all for nothing. Once bitten, twice shy, and all that.

In the meantime, I will take comfort in the fact that over at the Food Network website, two people seemed to have failed at this recipe for every one person that made it work, so it’s not just me.

Here's what the gnocchi should have looked like, from The Food Network

Gnocchi with Butter Thyme Sauce
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis’ Everyday Pasta

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 (1-pound) russet potato
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg, beaten to blend
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup shaved Pecorino Romano

Directions

Cook the butter in a heavy medium skillet over medium heat until it begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the thyme leaves. Set aside.

Pierce the potato all over with a fork. Microwave the potato until tender, turning once, about 12 minutes. Cut the potato in half and scoop the flesh into a large bowl; discard the skin. Using a fork, mash the potato well. Mash in the salt and pepper. Mix in 3 tablespoons of the egg; discard the remaining egg. Sift the flour over the potato mixture and knead just until blended.

Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece between your palms and the work surface into a 1/2-inch-diameter rope (about 20 inches long). Cut the dough into 1-inch pieces. Roll each piece of dough over a wooden paddle with ridges or over the tines of a fork to form grooves in the dough.

Cook the gnocchi in a large pot of boiling salted water until the gnocchi rise to the surface, about 1 minute. Continue cooking until the gnocchi are tender, about 4 minutes longer. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the gnocchi to the hot thyme-butter in the skillet. Toss to coat.

Spoon the gnocchi and butter sauce into shallow bowls. Top with the Pecorino and serve.

Note: Absent some expert advice (and I don’t think Giada is reading!), I don’t think I’ll be trying this again. Just too much work to risk it not turning out again. And I can get gnocchi off the shelf anywhere, including my local supermarket.

Cheese-Stuffed Chicken Burgers

Monday, March 15th, 2010

This recipe comes from the Weight Watchers Comfort Classics cookbook, which I’ve recommended here on the blog before. As with each of the other recipes we’ve tried, this dish was tasty and simple. I wouldn’t say it was spectacular though. I don’t know if I’ll be making these again, since I can pull off the same points value (8) with lean ground beef if I’m careful.

One nice thing though: I ground the chicken breasts myself to make these burgers, which saved a little bit of money since we buy chicken breasts in bulk  and ground chicken can be a little bit on the expensive side. Yay for another chance to use the food grinder attachment for our stand mixer!

Cheese-Stuffed Chicken Burgers
Adapted from Weight Watchers Comfort Classics

  • 3/4 cup shredded 2% sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 pound ground chicken breast
  • 1/3 cup dried seasoned bread crumbs
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 light multigrain English muffins, split & toasted
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 4 lettuce leaves
  • 4 tomato slices
  • pickle slices

1. Mix the cheese and mustard together in a small dish. Stir the chicken, bread crumbs, and salt & pepper together in a medium bowl until just blended. Shape into 4 balls. With your index finger, make a deep indentation in each ball. Fill each indentation with 3 tablespoons of the cheese mixture. Fold the chicken mixture around the cheese to seal; shape each one into a patty.

2. Spray a nonstick grill pan with nonstick spray, and place over medium heat. (Could also be done on a George Foreman Grill, if you’re into that sort of thing). Place the burgers in the pan and cook until a thermometer inserted into the side of each burger (without touching the cheese) registers 165 degrees. It should take about 6-7 minutes on each side.

3. Serve the burgers in the english muffins topped with ketchup, lettuce, tomato, and pickles.

Lightened-Up Banana Bread

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

I love banana bread, and zucchini bread, and everything in that family, but most recipes I come across are insanely unhealthy. My grandma’s recipe for zucchini bread worked out to 15 points for a one-inch slice. Yummy, but yikes!

I tried this recipe with a healthy dose of skepticisim. I am suspicious of fat free cream cheese, for one. And I wasn’t quite sure how the baking mix would turn out in this.

It turned out great. The loaf made the house smell amazing, and I couldn’t wait for it to be finished so I could try it. It was one of those things I had to struggle to let cool before I tried it. Fortunately, it was worth the wait. The texture was light and crumbly–a little less dense than a traditional banana bread, and a little lighter in color. Otherwise though, the flavor was excellent. Next time, I think I’ll try it as muffins or mini-muffins, for a little built-in portion control. As it was, baked in the traditional loaf pan the nutritional info worked out to about 160 calories, 4 grams of fat, and less than one gram of fiber per slice, or 3 points.

Lightened-Up Banana Bread

1 cup sugar
1 (8-ounce) package fat-free cream cheese
1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 2 medium)
2 large eggs
2 cups reduced-fat baking mix (such as Bisquick)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°.

Place sugar and cream cheese in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add banana and eggs; beat until well blended. Add the baking mix and walnuts, and stir just until moist.

Pour batter into a 9-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray; bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Tent bread with foil, and bake an additional 15 minutes.or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.

Yield: 16 servings (serving size: 1 slice)

Note: I think this recipe came from the Weight Watchers message boards, but I’m not 100% sure. If anyone knows the source, let me know and I’ll be sure and give credit. This would be great with chocolate chips, dried cranberries, or any of the other classic additions to banana bread.

Does anyone else have any favorite “light” baked goods recipes?

Meatless Mondays?

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

We are not vegetarians around here. If you’re a regular reader, you know that I don’t even like most vegetables that much.

Despite that, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of including a day of meatless meals in our weekly menu. Even a slight reduction int he amount of meat you eat is supposed to make a difference in the average American’s health, and will make a positive impact on the environment as well. There’s a whole “Meatless Monday,” movement going on (you can read more at www.meatlessmonday.com).

In his book In Defense of Food, Michael Pollen advised America to  “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” He has since cited Meatless Monday as a way to reach this goal. In April 2009 Pollan expressed the need for Americans to reduce meat consumption during an interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show: “even one meatless day a week—a Meatless Monday, which is what we do in our household—if everybody in America did that, that would be the equivalent of taking 20 million mid-size sedans off the road.”

That’s all well and good, but I grew up in America, and for me (and my husband) a dinner plate has a piece of meat, a side dish, and [hopefully] a vegetable. We’ve been eating healthier for about 6 months now, and have been doing well at it, but our menus do tend to follow that format. We’re on board with the Meatless Monday concept, for sure, but I’m having trouble coming up with meatless meals for picky eaters.

Here’s why:

1) We don’t like meat substitutes. No tofu, no boca burgers. They’re not good, and may not be good for you.

2) We’re not huge vegetable eaters, and the veggies we do like don’t tend to be liked by both of us. I like mushrooms, but not David. He’ll eat peppers all day long, but I pick around them. Etc.

3) We’re still trying to eat healthy here! I’m following Weight Watchers, and most of the satisfying meatless things I can think of are swimming in butter, cheese, and cream. Fettuccine Alfredo, anyone?

So I feel a little stuck. Anyone have ideas for substantial, tasty meatless menus? A couple of carnivores could use your help.

Pork Tenderloin with Mustard Sauce

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

This very tasty dish from Cooking Light magazine turned out to be both simple and yummy–plus had a kind of fancy look to it as well. I think this could absolutely be served for entertaining.

The pork slices were tender, and the sauce was tangy and delicious. Our roommate Leah isn’t a fan of mustard, but she still enjoyed this sauce. It was so good, I was glad the noodles were there to soak up every last drop. It would also be good over mashed potatoes.

Pork Tenderlion with Mustard Sauce
Adapted from Cooking Light, October 2001

Ingredients

  • 2 cups uncooked medium egg noodles
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut crosswise into 12 (1-inch-thick) slices
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons whole-grain Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch

Directions:

Cook noodles according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain.

While the noodles cook, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the pork with pepper and salt. Place pork in pan; cook 5 minutes, turning once.

Combine the wine and mustard; pour into pan. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Remove pork from pan; keep warm.

Combine water and cornstarch in a small bowl. Stir cornstarch mixture into pan; bring to a boil, and cook 1 minute or until thick. Serve pork with sauce and noodles.

Calories: 242, Fat: 8g, Fiber: 1 g