Tag: disney inspired

A Ratatouille Remy Would Be Proud Of!

A Ratatouille Remy Would Be Proud Of!

Ever since I watched Ratatouille, I’ve been planning to try making my own Ratatouille. The movie version just looks so good, and so fancy, that I had to try it. Since we had eggplant ripening on the vine outside, I decided this week was going to be the time!

The important thing (in my opinion) to remember when you’re making this is that there appears to be no set recipe for this! Most recipes for traditional French dishes are very similar. However, this one seems to be more of a comfort food, and every Mom and Grandma has their own version. Some are very “organized” like this one, made with layers. Some are all cut up and mixed together. Some recipes I’ve seen have you roast the vegetables separately first, and then cook them together.

What does that mean? It means you can pretty much do whatever you want. 🙂 If you don’t like eggplant or squash – leave them out. Substitute them. Some recipes called for potatoes. Some didn’t. You can alter this to fit you and your family’s tastebuds. You can also alter the amounts. My recipe makes a small 8″ round dish. There are only two of us, and squash and zucchini aren’t our favorites. I didn’t want to make a huge amount and then end up not eating it. I chose to slice and arrange everything as well. You can just chop them up and dump them in – they’ll still taste good – maybe even better because it will all be mixed together!

Ingredients for Ratatouille

Overall, it’s a healthy, pretty easy dish, though it does require some time.

You need a lot of veggies for this. Again, feel free to swap or leave out things you want to change. You can also put more of the things you like most. But a couple cloves of garlic, an onion, red pepper, a couple of tomatoes, a couple zucchini, a yellow squash, an eggplant, bay leaves, thyme, basil, oregano, and olive oil are what I used in mine. I used fresh thyme because I had it – feel free to use dried instead.

The first thing I did was to slice my onion thinly. I wanted to caramelize them before putting them in, but it’s an optional step. You can just saute them until tender and it will work just fine. If you want to caramelize them, you’re going to put them in a non stick skillet with a tablespoon or so of olive oil and let them cook over low heat for about an hour. (See? This is why I say you may not want to do that.)

Once they are cooked, you’re going to seed and dice your tomatoes. I seeded them over a strainer so that I could add the juice to the skillet. I also diced my red pepper, and minced two cloves of garlic. All this went into the skillet, and I turned the heat up to medium and let it cook for about 5 minutes, until the peppers were starting to get tender.

You’re going to pour this into the bottom of your baking dish. If you decide to just chop things and bake them together, you’d mix in the other ingredients. But in this case, I wanted to use it as a base to help hold the slices of vegetables in place. Does that make sense?

This is probably the hardest step of the whole process. Seriously. The next hardest thing is slicing the squash, zucchini, and eggplant. Mainly because I used a mandolin. You don’t have to. I did it because I like that I put in minimal effort and they come out thin. But I also know that mandolins are sharp. Do not find this out first hand. Just trust me on this. I was at a bridal shower once helping to set up when one of the other bridesmaids was using a mandolin and chatting it up. She ended up in the bathroom holding her finger over her head while others applied pressure, and a few girls had to step out to get fresh air because there was blood.

Don’t worry – in the end, she was fine. It didn’t even require a trip to the urgent care.

But believe me when I say those things are sharp!

Anyhoo… once everything is sliced, the rest is pretty simple. Before you start, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Make sure there are no cookie sheets stuffed inside to dry. (Yeah, yeah, I know I shouldn’t do that.) Layering everything takes a little time, but it looks pretty awesome. Having the onion mixture in the bottom helps keep everything in place as you layer them in. I alternated the types of vegetables so it would look pretty – zucchini, squash, and eggplant. In the dish I was using, I ended up only needing one of each vegetable (though I bought more). If you use a bigger dish, it may take longer and take more slices. I even had some left over.

Remy's Ratatouille

Drizzle another tablespoon or so of olive oil over the top of the vegetables, and then tuck your bay leaves in. You could put them in the onion mixture as well if you wanted. Sprinkle the top with thyme, basil, and oregano, and then place your parchment paper over the top. Put an oven safe plate or bowl to weigh it down, and pop it in the oven. I put it in for about 1 hour.

After the hour is up, carefully take the paper and bowl off, and bake another 30-45 minutes. The liquid should have reduced a little, and the top will be roasted and deliciously brown.

Once its done, take it out and enjoy! You could serve it with baked potato, rice, or just some nice French bread. Either way, it will be melt in your mouth delicious! The only thing I will say is that you HAVE to make sure that you get some of that onion mixture on the bottom. Don’t forget that part! That was my favorite part, and I thought it was crucial to have with the squash. If you were to just chop all this in similar size pieces and roast it, I think the flavors would mingle a bit more. Still, this was pretty delicious as is!

Remy's Ratatouille

 

 

table rating
This is a Table recipe – mainly because it requires a few more steps. It’s worth the extra effort!

 

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Remy's Ratatouille
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
2 hr
Total Time
2 hr 15 mins
 

Inspired by the scene at the end of Ratatouille the movie!

Servings: 2 people
Ingredients
  • 1 medium zuchinni, sliced thin
  • 1 medium yellow squash, sliced thin
  • 1 large sweet onion, sliced
  • 1 medium eggplant, sliced thin
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1 medium red bell pepper
  • 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil you can add more as you need
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Thinly slice a large sweet onion. Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil into a nonstick skillet over low heat. Cook, stirring occaisionally, until onions are golden brown. (About one hour)

  2. As your onions are cooking, seed and dice two tomatoes, mince your garlic, and dice the red bell pepper. When the onions are nearly finished, add the rest of these ingredients and turn the heat up to medium. Saute for five minutes, or until the peppers and tomatoes begin to soften.

  3. Pour the onion mixture into the bottom of your pan, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.


  4. Using a knife or mandolin, slice the zucchini, eggplant, and yellow squash into thin rounds. 

  5. Alternating the vegetables, layer them over the onion mixture. Drizzle with remaining olive oil, and sprinkle the herbs over the dish. Tuck the bay leaves between the vegetables, or add before layering squash.

  6. Place a piece of parchment cut to fit your dish over the vegetables, and weigh it down with an oven safe plate or bowl. 

  7. Bake for 1 hour, then remove the parchment and bake another 30-45 minutes, or until some of the liquid has reduced and the dish is brown and roasted.

Belle’s Beef Ragout – Disney Inspired Recipe

Belle’s Beef Ragout – Disney Inspired Recipe

For the next recipe on the blog, I thought I’d go with one straight from “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast – Beef Ragout! My version is an easy, slow cooker recipe that provides a hearty, tasty meal at the end of the day. You could easily put all the ingredients for this in a gallon freezer bag and then dump it in the crock pot in the morning before work as well.

The first thing you’ll need is a beef roast. You can use any kind you like – I used a london broil because I already had one in the freezer. I’m all about using what I’ve got before I go out and buy more things. You’ll also need tomato paste, garlic, oregano, basil, diced tomatoes, beef broth, safe, thyme, celery, carrots, onion, bay leaves, a bell pepper, red wine, rosemary, and beef.

Ingredients for Belle's Beef Ragout

Here’s where this recipe gets to be great – you have some prep work ahead of you. But don’t let the ingredient list or the chopping needed throw you off. Once you do that, you just have to dump everything together in your slow cooker, and then walk away. It makes this super easy!

Pull out your onion and dice it, then put it in the slow cooker. Mince your garlic, add it in. Peel and chop the carrot. You can dice it fine, but I did pretty good sized slices. It’s going to be in the slow cooker all day, so bigger chunks will hold up a bit better. Then, you guessed it, throw it in. Dice up your pepper and celery and put those in as well. I prefer red because I like the taste better, but you can use any color of bell pepper you like. For that matter, you could use any type of sweet pepper you wanted. Whatever makes you happy will work. We’ve got Jimmy Nardello peppers growing in the garden right now. If I make this again when they are ripe, I’d just use those.

Once everything is diced and in the slow cooker, add the other ingredients. I had rosemary and sage in the garden, so I used fresh and chopped it up fine. If you don’t, just use about half as much dried. Any herb dried has a more intense flavor, so you won’t need as much. I also used homemade beef broth, but you could easily use canned/boxed stock, or you can add bouillon cubes with the appropriate amount of water. If you’re going that route, just check the bouillon cubes to see what it says about how much water and cube to use. Also, and you probably know this by now, make sure you use a wine you’d drink. If you don’t like it to drink, you probably won’t like it to eat either. If you don’t want to use wine, just leave it out. It isn’t a problem. (though I do think it tastes a little better)

I like to give it a good stir once everything is in, and then add the beef. Make sure you get it down so as much of it is in the mixture as possible. I tend to flip the beef over in the pot to make sure it’s coated in the rest of the ingredients.

Put it on low and let it cook for 8 hours. When you come back at the end of the day, the beef should be falling apart and there should be a thick, lovely sauce made for you! Then, cook up some egg noodles to use as the vehicle for this ragout! If you remember, you can try to fish out the thyme stem and bay leaves. I never do. I always warn people they might get it in their bowl, and move on. No one has complained yet!

Belle's Beef Ragout

I’m pretty sure Belle couldn’t have resisted this if they’d put a bowl in front of her!

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Belle's Beef Ragout
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
8 hr
Total Time
8 hr 10 mins
 

A delicious, easy slow cooker meal inspired by the song "Be Our Guest" from Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

Servings: 8
Ingredients
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 1-2 lb beef roast (london broil, round, etc)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cup carrot, sliced
  • 1 large bell pepper, diced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup red wine
  • 1/3 cup beef broth
  • 3 T red wine vinegar
  • 2-3 leaves fresh sage, chopped
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 rib celery, diced
Instructions
  1. Chop all vegetables and place in slow cooker. 

  2. Add in all other ingredients except beef and stir to combine.

  3. Add beef, and cover. Cook for 8-10 hours on low.

  4. Serve over pasta and enjoy!

Belle's Beef Ragout

Margarita Cupcakes inspired by EPCOT

Margarita Cupcakes inspired by EPCOT

I have a confession to make before I begin – I don’t actually like Margaritas. I know, I know. Sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. I was hoping that if I made it into a baked good, I’d like it better. And I’d rather eat these than drink a margarita, so I suppose I achieved the goal! I think these cupcakes are good, but I haven’t had the same reaction that my margarita loving friends have. They say they are FANTASTIC. I even tested it out on my coworkers, and they loved them. So you should definitely try them!

The cupcakes

This recipe is actually pretty simple. You’re going to need basic cake baking items, and then you’ll need tequila, triple sec, and limes. That’s the only “unique” ingredients that this recipe requires. If you like margaritas, you may already have those things on hand.

You do need to complete one step about an hour before you plan to make your cake. You’re going to take two limes, and you’re going to zest them into a bowl, where you’ve measured out the 1 and 1/2 cups of granulated sugar you need. I use vanilla sugar because I like it. You don’t have to. (All vanilla sugar is, is a container of granulated sugar with a vanilla bean dropped in it. You can leave that bean in there for AGES and it will continue to scent any sugar you put in the container with vanilla. Try it. It’s awesome in baked goods!)

I use a microplane to zest my lime, but you could use a vegetable peeler in a pinch. Once you have your limes zested, stir the zest into the sugar and leave it to sit for one hour. This will help the lime flavor infuse into the sugar. It makes a difference. Really.

Lime Sugar

While you’re waiting, go ahead and put cupcake liners in two cupcake pans. Or grease and flour them. But the liners are way easier. You’ll want to preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit as well.

Once your hour is up, you need to get out your mixer. A stand mixer is a lot easier for this, but it doesn’t matter as long as you have a mixer of some kind. The beauty of this recipe is that you dump everything together, except the egg whites, and beat. There’s no creaming (though I do it when my butter is still a little hard) or anything like that.

So dump in your lime sugar, butter, baking powder, a teeny bit of vanilla, salt, and flour. Then beat it together on high for 2 minutes. If you’re using a stand mixer, I’d suggest draping a dish towel over it, so the splatter stays contained.

Great. Now is the time to dip your finger in and eat the batter. Cause there’s no eggs yet, so that thing your mom always told you about how you’d get the collywobbles if you ate raw batter? This is totally safe.

Tell me my mom isn’t the only one who said that.

Now you need to separate your eggs. You can save the yolks and make something, like lime curd or lemon curd, or you can throw them out. Whatever floats your boat.

After the egg whites are in, beat it again on high for 5 minutes. I’d suggest beating it for about 30 seconds on low first to get things started. Sometimes egg whites fly all over if you don’t.

Have I mentioned I am a messy cook?

It should be a pretty smooth batter at this point. Take it to your prepared cupcake pans and then fill the liners about 2/3 of the way full. We will not discuss how long it took me to fill these while trying to be neat. And by the time I got to the end, I flipped batter on the pan anyway. It was a good try though, right?

Margarita Cupcake Pan

You should be able to get two dozen cupcakes out of this, give or take a few. If you overfill you’ll get less cupcakes, but it isn’t a big deal.

Put these in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean. I would recommend putting these on a cooling rack when they come out, because you need to pop them out of the cupcake pans before they cool completely.

The Syrup

The key to making these cupcakes taste like a margarita is in the syrup. While the cupcakes are in the oven, you need to squeeze your two limes into a measuring cup. If you’ve made a margarita before, you’ll know how this works. My recipe for a Margarita is 1 part lime, 1 part triple sec, 2 parts tequila. For me, my two limes made just about 1/4 cup of juice. So I added 1/4 c triple sec, and 1/2 cup tequila. depending on the size and juiciness of your limes, your amounts may be different. But you want to measure how much liquid you have total. Don’t drink any. 🙂

You’ve just basically made yourself a margarita. Great. Now you’re going to add the same amount of sugar as liquid and pour both into a saucepan. Put it over medium high heat, and stir until the sugar dissolves. Then take it off the heat and leave it to cool off just a little.

It will probably be more syrup than you need. You can always save it and use it on something else. I imagine whipped cream for pancakes made with this would be good. Or pouring a little over ice cream or pound cake?

Putting It Together (almost)

By now, hopefully your cupcakes are still warm, but not so hot that you can’t pop them out of the tin and put them on the baking rack. Put a sheet of aluminum foil underneath it to catch any drips. While everything is still warm, you will take your margarita syrup and brush a generous amount of the syrup onto the cupcakes. You can do this while they are in the pan, but they get sticky and it gets hard to get them out sometimes after. I discovered this the first time I made them.

I brushed mine with syrup twice, because I wanted to make sure the flavor really got in the cake. I also made sure I brushed a very generous amount on there. You can brush it with more or less, as you like.

The Icing

Let the cupcakes completely cool, and while they are doing that, you can make your icing. Its really easy. I use a stick of butter and a stick of margarine, at room temperature. Beat them in a mixer until they are fluffy. Add in 1 pound of confectioner’s sugar. Turn your mixer on low and start to beat the sugar in. Add 2 tablespoons of milk, and then slowly pour in about 1-2 tablespoons of the margarita syrup. You could also add about 1/2 tsp of vanilla, but since these are margarita cupcakes, I really wanted the frosting to taste like the drink. You can add more syrup if you want, but be careful you don’t add too much and change the consistency of the icing.

Once the cupcakes are cool, transfer your icing to a piping bag. You can use a tip, or you can just snip off the end and do it that way. How you choose to get the icing on is up to you. Use a knife if you’d rather!

After you frost them, get out a little bit of salt. I happened to have a sample pack of Hawaiian salts a friend sent me, so I used the red Hawaiian salt to finish mine. I think it really helps cut through the sugar, and help amplify the margarita taste. And, you know, it looks pretty.

Margarita Cupcakes Inspired by EPCOT's Mexico Pavilion

If you decide to give these a try, I’d love to know what you think! Tell me in the comments below!

table rating
This is a Table recipe – mainly because it requires advance prepping, and a few more steps and ingredients. It’s worth the extra effort!
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Margarita Cupcakes
Prep Time
30 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
45 mins
 

These cupcakes are inspired by EPCOT's Mexico Pavilion!

Course: Dessert
Servings: 24 cupcakes
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup butter softened
  • 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cup flour
  • 3 1/2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 c milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 4 large egg whites
Syrup
  • 1/4 cup lime juice (from zested limes)
  • 1/4 cup triple sec
  • 1/2 cup tequila
  • 1 cup sugar
Instructions
  1. Zest the limes and mix with the sugar. Let this sit to infuse for one hour. In the meantime, line 2 cupcake pans with 24 liners and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  2. After the sugar has sat for one hour, combine all ingredients but the egg whites in a stand mixer or large mixing bowl. Beat for 2 minutes on high.

  3. Add the egg whites and beat again for 5 minutes on high.

  4. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full, and then bake the cupcakes for 12-15 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

  5. Move to a rack to cool until you can pop out the cupcakes, then place these on a baking rack with aluminum foil underneath.

  6. Juice the two limes, measuring the amount of liquid produced. Generally, you should get around 1/4 c of lime juice. Add the triple sec, tequila, and sugar to a saucepan and heat over medium high heat. 

  7. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and remove from heat. Brush over the top of warm cupcakes, being generous.

  8. Allow cupcakes to finish cooling, then frost as desired.

 

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Margarita Cupcake Frosting
Prep Time
10 mins
Total Time
10 mins
 


Ingredients
  • 1 lb confectioner's sugar
  • 1-3 tbsp margarita syrup from the cupcake recipe
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1/2 cup butter room temperature
  • 1/2 cup margarine room temperature
  • salt for decoration - optional
Instructions
  1. Beat butter and margarine until fluffy. 

  2. Add the confectioner's sugar, and turn your mixer on low. Gradually add in the milk and syrup. 

  3. Once combined, turn mixer to high and beat for 2 minutes, or until light and fluffy.

  4. Pipe or spread onto cupcakes, and garnish with salt, if desired.

Margarita Cupcakes Inspired by EPCOT's Mexico Pavilion

Spreading a Little Magic at Walt Disney World

Spreading a Little Magic at Walt Disney World

I have to apologize for being a little late with this post. I’m a teacher, and this past week was the last week of school. It’s CRAZY. But I’m back now, and I have lots of great posts planned! Mexico Margarita Cupcakes are coming – and they are fantastic!

But I want to talk about something different today. About magic.

©VanessaEdwards Cinderella's Castle

If you’ve ever been to Walt Disney World or any Disney park before, I want to ask you to take a moment and close your eyes and remember walking into the park. Stroll through your memories. There were, I’m sure, a lot of fantastic images there. But I want you to see if you can remember something that most people overlook – the Cast Members (CM).

We talk all the time about magical moments and how to have a magical Disney vacation. Many times it’s a Cast Member who makes that magical moment or memory possible. Usually when you think about it, they blend into the scenery. They are there in the background taking care of serving customers, or picking up a piece of trash, or helping a family find something or do something. Many of the memories where something awesome happened, a cast member was involved in providing that boost of pixie dust for your family.

So today I’m going to suggest something – rather than just being a recipient of the magic, maybe we should help encourage it as well.

Cast Members deal with a LOT of guests every day. They do it with a smile, and in costumes and temperatures that would make lesser mortals melt into puddles of goo. Seriously. I’d die if I had to work outside in Florida in August in those costumes!

They help make all that magic possible, and I believe that you can’t do a job like that unless you have a real passion for it. And while going to Disney World is like nothing else, most people don’t think about making magic themselves. But there is no reason a guest can’t make a little pixie dust for a Cast Member.

Next time you’re there, take a moment to thank a CM. Maybe they helped make your day – maybe they are making magic for another guest and you saw it. But take a moment to acknowledge what they’ve done.

They do a hard job – Disney is supposed to be the Happiest Place on Earth, and working there means that even if you are having a terrible day, you are expected to act like everything is amazing. They work in a service position, and as someone who also works in a service position (sort of – all these things are true in education) where a lot is expected of you every day, often the most attention happens when you are doing something wrong, not when something is going right. It’s always a nice change to have someone tell you thank you for doing a great job. And in a CM’s position – where they deal with hundreds of guests a day, not all of them pleasant, I can see where a simple thank you and smile may go a long way.

In my experience, doing little random acts of kindness helps the giver just as much as the receiver.

So when you’re at Walt Disney World next, and you want to spread a little magic of your own, I’ve made up a couple of free printables that might work. I’d recommend printing them on cardstock or some kind of fancy paper (but that is just me). Have your kids hand them out. Carry one in your park bag and decide as a family that you’re going to give one away every day. These two designs are available to everyone. On June 12, I’ll have uploaded a few more designs that are for blog subscribers only. If you’d like access to those, just subscribe to the blog!Disney Cast Member Appreciation Certificates

Disney Cast Member Appreciation Certificates
Click on photo to download PDF.

 

If you aren’t comfortable walking up to a CM and handing them this and explaining, that’s okay! I’m not the most outgoing of people either. But if a CM or Mousekeeping or other person needs some recognition, maybe try social media. I’d suggest heading to Twitter. Send a shout out telling what the CM has done that was so awesome. Make sure you say where you are, and the CM’s name (if you can), and tagging the WDW twitter account. I’ve seen several times where WDW has seen those tweets and has gone back and recognized the CM for their work.

You can also take a moment to help make a little magic in another guest’s day. If you have an extra set of dollar store glow sticks you’ve brought in, share it with that family with small children next to you. If you’re playing a game in line while waiting for a ride, invite the family in front of you to join in. You never know – that may end up being the highlight of their trip.

Several years ago I went on a roadtrip with a friend. We met up with a group of her friends, and they were going to Harry Potter World at Universal, on opening weekend. I am not that big a Harry fan, so they dropped me off at EPCOT in the morning. I stood in line for Soarin’, and the wait was well over 45 minutes. A CM came by asking for “single flyers” and I got to jump to the front of the line.  I ended up at the end of a row with a large family. When we got off, they asked if I was alone. When I said yes, they were so concerned. “You can be part of our family for the day!” I declined, but it was one of the nicest things I’ve had someone do in a theme park. She genuinely wanted to make sure I had a great day in Disney World.

That kind of attitude is what helps spread a little kindness. Like Cinderella says, “Have courage and be kind.” In the world we live in, it never hurts to help spread a little pixie dust – whether in everyday life, or the Happiest Place on Earth.

If you do this, please comment and tell me how it went – or even send a photo! I’d love to post it on the blog. And if you’ve had a magical experience at Disney World, I’d love to hear about that too!

Chien-Po’s Tofu Bowl

Chien-Po’s Tofu Bowl

This post may contain affiliate links, and purchases made by using these links will provide me a small commission that will go toward the maintenance of this site.

We were watching Mulan the other night, and the scene at the beginning where Mulan is making her first appearance as Ping came onto the screen. Yao is calmed by Chien-Po, who picks him up and chants something that sounds like a string of nonsense, but a few words are recognizable. The only one I really heard, however, was “tofu.”

Did I mention I was hungry when I started watching this?

I lived for the first two years of college on tofu and bad cafeteria pizza. While I don’t eat pizza much anymore, tofu has stuck with me. Add to it that one of my roommates through college was Japanese-American and from Hawaii… we ate a lot of tofu. One of the things I liked was Ma Po Tofu. But I didn’t have any mix, and short of ordering it online, there’s nowhere here to buy it.

So I decided, as I watched Mulan, that I could take the same basic concept and create my own dish. Thus, Chien-Po’s Tofu Bowl was born!

If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can easily substitute veggie meat in this rather than including the ground meat. Regardless of your food preferences, I would recommend two things for certain – serve this with plain white rice, and make sure you use extra stock. You can add cornstarch or arrowroot powder to the sauce to thicken it if you want, but if you let this reduce too much, it will be REALLY salty. The soy sauce and black bean sauce are pretty salty on their own – reduced down they can be too much.

First, chop all the veggies. Don’t be like me and pull things out and try to prep as you go. It usually slows things down and something might burn. I’m getting better about prepping first, and I have to tell you it really makes things easier. When you’re chopping your onions and peppers, I would recommend a pretty fine dice. Then again, I am one of those weird people who doesn’t like huge chunks of veg in my dish. If you don’t have a problem with that, you can just rough chop them. Whatever makes you happy. It may change how long they need to saute and soften a bit, but you can judge that. I trust you.

Once everything is prepped, heat your olive oil in a big non stick pan. It is better to have too big a pan than not big enough. After you get the tofu in and you try to stir it around, you don’t want to have to worry about flipping it all over the stove. Not that I’ve done that or anything.

Chien Po Tofu Bowl Onions and Peppers

Once you’ve got the oil heated, dump in your onions, peppers, and garlic. Continue to saute these for about 10 minutes, or until the onion is translucent and softened a bit. After it hits that point, add in your ground meat and brown it off. When it is cooked through, drain off any excess fat.

Next add your sauces, broth, and seasonings. Don’t add any extra salt! You don’t need it. Trust me. After you have everything in, make sure everything is well combined and the broth is simmering. Let it cook for a few minutes. While its doing its thing, drain your tofu and cut it into small cubes. You can do big ones if you like, but when I did it the first time, I found the big ones had a tendency to end up a little torn if you weren’t paying attention when stirring them in.

Put your tofu in the pan and gently stir it into the sauce. You want to make sure its coated in sauce. Let it simmer for a few more minutes. You don’t need to cook the tofu, but you want to give it a chance to absorb some of the sauce flavors and warm up.

Chien-Po's Tofu Bowl

Once its done turn off the heat, and get your bowls of white rice ready. Serve some of the tofu mixture right over top. If you don’t own a rice cooker, I highly recommend them. I always manage to screw up rice made in a regular saucepan. Its either not done all the way through, or its stuck to the bottom of the pan. With the rice cooker, I don’t have those issues, and its relatively inexpensive. As a bonus, the one I bought also comes with a steaming tray that fits over the top.

 

 

Chien Po's Tofu Bowl

 

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Chien-Po's Tofu Bowl
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
10 mins
Total Time
30 mins
 
Ingredients
  • 1 lb ground pork, turkey, or beef
  • 1 block firm or extra firm tofu (usually 12-16 oz), drained and cubed
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp black bean garlic sauce
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 c chicken or beef broth, or veg stock
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp sweet thai chili garlic sauce
Instructions
  1. Chop and mince all ingredients. Heat olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add onions, peppers, and garlic.

  2. Saute until onions become soft and translucent, around 7-10 minutes. If it looks like it needs more liquid, add a few tablespoons of broth to the pan.

  3. Add your ground meat and brown off the meat. Drain off any excess fat.

  4. Add in all the spices and sauces, and allow to simmer for 1-2 minutes. Add in the tofu and gently stir into the mixture.

  5. Cook for another couple of minutes, until the tofu is warm and well coated in the sauce. 

  6. Serve over rice. 

chien-po tofu bowl

Bananas Foster Cookies

Bananas Foster Cookies

Remember how I told you we had a Moana dinner and movie party, and the food was themed around Polynesia? These cookies were our dessert. I came up with the recipe from the ground up, and I’ve been tweaking them for awhile. This recipe is easy, delicious, and you’ll never make enough! They are also great if you have someone who has an egg allergy, because there are no eggs in the cookies! I prefer these without nuts, because I’m weird and I have texture issues with food. I mean, I like nuts, and I like cookies, but they aren’t friends as far as I’m concerned. I feel the same way about chocolate and nuts, mostly, which makes some of my friends think I’m weird. If you don’t have such qualms, feel free to add nuts to these!

They taste like a sweeter version of banana bread, really. I made about three dozen, and when I came back after the party for clean up, there was only about 10 cookies left! I think they tasted okay!

They’re super simple to make. You don’t need to refrigerate them (though you could make the dough in advance and put it in the fridge overnight), and they make a ton. The biggest suggestion I can make is to make sure you set your butter out about 30 minutes to an hour before you plan to make them. You want it a little soft, or it will take forever to beat smooth. In the summer, it only takes about 30 minutes to accomplish that in my kitchen. You know how warm yours will get (or doesn’t.) so you can judge accordingly.

The cookies come together pretty quickly. First thing, heat the oven to 350 degrees, and then lightly spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, or use parchment paper to line it. I’m all about not having to wash any more dishes than is necessary, so I opt for the parchment paper. Plus, you can use it multiple times. I use mine through a whole batch of cookies – sometimes more if I’m making several batches at a time (like at holidays).

Dump your butter and sugar into the mixer and beat it until light and fluffy. You can use all butter or all margarine if you like, but I prefer a stick of each. A bonus tip – if you have the ability, it is totally worth it to get a special container and fill it with sugar, and then drop in a whole vanilla bean or two. It doesn’t take long for the sugar to pick up the vanilla flavor, and it really adds something to baked goods. Honest! Try it! Plus, you can cut the beans open, scrape out the seeds and use them in a recipe, and put the scraped pods back in the sugar. It will taste just as good.

Anyway, once your sugar and butter are beaten, add the bananas, which you can puree or mash. I only bananas when they are super ripe (like they’re pretty much on their way to overripe. They’re good. Don’t judge.), so mashing them pretty much turns them mushy enough. If you use greener bananas, I recommend blending them. Mix themin with the rum and spices. Once that is all incorporated, add the salt, flour, and baking powder. Mix this until everything is combined and well blended. Don’t overbeat it. If you want to add nuts, just mix them in here with a wooden spoon.

Then scoop out the dough with a small cookie scoop, or a teaspoon. I can’t tell you how handy the cookie scoop is, especially if you make cookies often. Its so much easier. Of course, I am also REALLY messy when trying to use a couple teaspoons to scoop the dough.

You’re going to bake them for 10 – 12 minutes until they are set and the bottoms are golden brown. Transfer them to a linen towel and let them cool. If you can wait that long.

They are very tender, moist cookies, so if you store them together, I’d recommend a tin with a layer of wax paper or parchment between each layer. Otherwise, they’ll stick to each other. Of course, if you want a good reason why you HAVE to eat three or four cookies at a time, sticking together is a bonus.

Either way, this will make about two or three dozen cookies, and they’ll get eaten fast!

If you try them, I’d love to know what you think!

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Bananas Foster Cookies - Cooking With Character
Author: cookwcharacter
Ingredients
  • 1/2 c butter
  • 1/2 c margarine
  • 1 c dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 banana, mashed
  • 1 tbsp rum
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 3 c flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and lightly spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray (or line with parchment paper).

  2. In a mixing bowl, cream the margarine and sugar together until fluffy. 

  3. Add the vanilla, banana, rum, salt, and spices and mix until just combined.
  4. With the mixer on low at first, add flour and baking powder. Mix until combined.
  5. Drop the dough by spoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheet, and bake 10-12 minutes until set and slightly golden. Remove from oven and cool on a rack or linen towel.

 

Maui’s Wayfinder Sunrise

Maui’s Wayfinder Sunrise

Maui’s Wayfinder Sunrise is a tasty tropical treat that is perfect for those warm summer evenings coming our way (and remembering them during the cold winter nights!). Inspired by Disney’s Moana, this is a really simple recipe. You can leave it virgin, add a shot of rum, serve on its own, or make it into a blended drink by adding ice – there are lots of options! No matter which way you have it (and I’ve done them all to make sure. Quality control and everything.) it will be delicious.

The prep is easy. You’ll need pineapple juice, guava nectar, mango nectar, and cream of coconut. Simple, right? All of these can be found at most grocery stores. I recommend looking in the international and/or latin food section for the guava and mango nectars. Jumex makes the mango nectar in single cans, and if you’re planning to make this recipe and you aren’t sure you’ll like it, that’s just the right size.

Just measure everything directly into a blender. If you aren’t putting ice in it, you don’t have to use the blender, but I’ve found that the cream of coconut sometimes needs to be blended in or it just stays clumpy. It seems to depend on the brand I buy and whether or not its in a bottle or a can, but its just easier to blend it. And its pretty awesome with ice, made into a slushy type drink.

Pulse it a few times until it is mixed and/or reaches the level of slushiness you want, and then pour into a glass. Its thick and sweet and tropical and sometimes it works for me as a dessert on its own!

We’ll be using this at the Moana dinner and movie party in May – its a perfect way to start the evening!

Did you try it? What did you think?

 

Maui Wayfinder Sunrise

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Maui's Wayfinder Sunrise
Prep Time
10 mins
 

This is inspired by Disney's Moana, and is a delicious drink whether left as is, or with a little alcohol added for adults.

Course: Drinks
Servings: 4 people
Author: cookwcharacter
Ingredients
  • 4 tbsp lime juice, fresh
  • 6 tbsp cream of coconut
  • 2 2/3 cup guava nectar
  • 1 1/3 cup mango nectar
  • 4 cup pineapple juice
Instructions
  1. Measure all ingredients into a blender. If you want a slushy style drink, add about halfway full of ice.

  2. Pulse until you combine the ingredients and/or get the consistency you like.

  3. Pour and enjoy!

Louis’ Favorite Chicken Gumbo – Princess and the Frog Inspired Dinner!

Louis’ Favorite Chicken Gumbo – Princess and the Frog Inspired Dinner!

After watching The Princess and the Frog the other night, I had the urge to try to make something more like what Tiana would cook in her restaurant. I ruled out beignets (at least this time) because I didn’t have the time, and while I love a good pastry, I don’t need to eat a million of them. So instead, we decided on chicken and sausage gumbo.

This version I created from several recipes I’ve found online and in cookbooks. If I had to tell you one specific recipe it was adapted from, I’d say probably Emeril’s – but it was more than just one! I bought file powder months ago with the intention of making gumbo, so the research had already been in the works. This evening just seemed to be the ideal time to try it!

I went out with my list of ingredients and picked up the few things I needed. Mostly it was the andouille sausage and peppers. I like red bell peppers better than green, so I almost never have those on hand. But I was warned in the past by friends that red wouldn’t taste the same in the “trinity” of onions, celery, and peppers, so I wanted to make sure I bought the right thing!

Now, before we get into making this, I must give you one disclaimer – I have no connections to Louisiana (outside of a few friends) and I’ve never been there. So I fully admit that this may not be “true” Louisiana gumbo – its just my take on the dish. I’ve tried to do it justice.

Onto the process – the first thing you want to do is chop up all the vegetables and pull out all the spices. I had plans to take lovely pictures of all the ingredients all lined up, but I made this and had to empty the spice cabinet to find a couple things and it kind of looked like my kitchen exploded. So I didn’t. I’m sorry.

Once you have all of that together, you are going to pull out a big stock pot and put it over medium-high heat. I also like to put the chicken stock into another pot on the stove to heat – putting hot liquid in the pot really helps, rather than cold. It isn’t mandatory, but I would encourage you to try it!

The first part of this recipe is getting the roux made and to the proper color. A roux is simply a mixture of flour and fat that you whisk together and cook to get the flour taste out, and toasty flavor in. Depending on how long you cook it, and the color it turns, the flavor can be mild or seriously nutty. Its other purpose, and probably the biggest purpose, is to thicken whatever you’re putting it in.

For this recipe, I used bacon drippings that I had in the fridge. Not exactly low-cal, but its BACON. How can this possibly be wrong? Anyway, you’re going to put a whole cup of it (I didn’t have quite enough, so I added a little butter – bacon and butter. Yum.) in your pan and let it melt. When it is completely melted, you’re going to whisk in a cup of flour. You want it smooth, and you’re going to continue to whisk it until your roux turns a nice chocolate brown. At first you’ll think that it will NEVER change color. But once it starts, it goes fast! When you are doing this part, don’t answer the phone or wander away from the pot. The second you do it will turn black, and that’s not a good thing. If it gets black flakes in it, its burnt, and you’ll have to throw it all out and start over. No one wants that!

Once that’s done, you can ditch the whisk and use a wooden spoon. Grab your diced veggies, because now you need to add your “trinity” – the green pepper, onion, and celery. Let it cook for a few minutes (about 5) stirring it often. Then dump in the sliced andouille. At this point, it should smell pretty good. Next, add your spices.

I will caution you about one thing – I marked the cayenne pepper as optional. I am a total wuss when it comes to hot things. I’ve gotten better since I got married because my husband likes spicier dishes. But I haven’t got a lot of heat tolerance. I would recommend holding the cayenne until the end, when it has had a chance to cook and you can taste it. I forgot that creole seasoning has cayenne in it already. So when I added everything in mine, I realized it was a teeny bit more spicy than I intended. It was still good, and I could eat it, but I figured I’d warn you.

Either way, stir in the spices before you add the liquid, because it lets them get a little bit of heat on them and can toast a bit. Just stir them in for about a minute, and pour in 3 quarts of chicken broth, the sugar, and the Worcestershire sauce. Stir this until the mixture is smooth and there aren’t any lumps.

Add the chicken, which you’ve cut into 1-2 inch pieces, and stir. You can use breast or thighs. Many people recommend thighs, but to me it is a personal preference. I don’t really like dark meat, so I chose to use breasts. It worked just fine. Once you stir those in, put it on a low simmer and let it cook for about 45 minutes.

At the end, taste it, add your vinegar and a couple extra teaspoons of file powder, and the cayenne (if you want it), and let it cook a few minutes more.

Then just serve this over white rice, and enjoy! If you try the recipe, I’d love to hear what you think!

*Please be aware that this post contains affiliate links. By clicking on any of these links and purchasing the product, I receive a small commission from the company.

Louis' Favorite Chicken Gumbo

table rating
This is a Table recipe – mainly because it requires advance prepping and the grill. Its worth the wait though!
Louis' Favorite Chicken Gumbo
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Louis' Favorite Chicken Gumbo
Prep Time
30 mins
Cook Time
1 hrs
Total Time
2 hr 15 mins
 
This recipe is adapted from several I've seen, including Emeril's. It was inspired after watching Princess and the Frog!
Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: Movie Dishes
Servings: 6 people
Author: cookwcharacter
Ingredients
  • 1 c bacon fat/oil/butter
  • 1 c flour
  • 1 large green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 large white onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 pound andouille sausage, sliced
  • 1 pound chicken breast, cut into 1" chunks (you can use thighs if you like.)
  • 3 qt chicken stock
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1 heaping tsp creole seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp gumbo file powder
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp worchestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp apple cider or red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
Instructions
  1. Put your butter or bacon fat into a heavy stockpot. When it has melted, whisk in your flour until it is smooth. Over medium to medium high heat, continue to whisk this roux until it is a chocolate brown color.
  2. Add your onion, celery, and pepper to the mix and turn down the heat to medium low. Cook the mixture for around 5 minutes.
  3. Add your sliced sausage to the pot and cook for a few minutes. Next add all the spices (except the 1/2 tsp cayenne) and stir them for a minute or two to heat up and toast a bit.
  4. Add the chicken stock, stirring constantly until most of the lumps are gone.
  5. Let the mixture simmer on the stove for around 45 minutes. Near the end, add the vinegar, and the extra 1/2 tsp cayenne (if desired). At this point you will also add another 2 tsp of file powder, if you taste the gumbo and decide it needs a little more flavor.
  6. Pour over rice and enjoy!
The Best Dill Pickle Flavored Popcorn Recipe for a Movie Night!

The Best Dill Pickle Flavored Popcorn Recipe for a Movie Night!

There’s a flavored popcorn stand in EPCOT that I’ve heard many people rave about. And apparently flavored popcorn is a big thing in Disneyland and some of the other parks across the world. What a perfect snack! I mean, who doesn’t love the smell of popcorn? (Unless its burnt. No one, except a friend from college, likes that. She used to hunt down the burned popcorn smell and take it off our hands, so I suppose it wasn’t a bad thing in the end, right?)

I’ve got a fun, tasty flavor for you to try this weekend. If you do a family movie night, this is a fun way to up your popcorn game. Keep an eye out, because I’ve been working on a handful of these. This is just the one I finished first. This spice blend is easily kept in a jar and used a little at a time. While I’m writing a recipe designed to flavor a lot of popcorn, you can easily just sprinkle it with a spoon over your personal bowl, and then everyone can have what they like! That way too, if you follow the blog and get the other recipes (they’re coming soon!) you can pass around the bowls and see which ones you like best.

What flavor are we making? Dill Pickle, of course!

If you like pickles, you’ll like this. Now me, I don’t like pickles. I LOVE pickles. Its a problem. I have no problem sitting and eating an entire jar by myself. Whenever someone tells me it isn’t good for me, I wave and hand and remind them I’m eating vegetables. They seem to think this doesn’t count. Whatever.

If you’re like me, then you should make sure there’s a separate bowl for everyone else. Cause there’s no sharing going on here.

Dill Pickle Popcorn

This is really easy. If you have a spice grinder, you can get fancy and grind your own spices. I like to do this because I think they taste fresher longer, but its not necessary. Mixing preground spices works just as well. The hardest thing to find for any of these recipes will probably be the citric acid. Its usually in the canning section of the store, or you can order it online. You don’t need very much – only a 1/4 tsp for the whole recipe! One container will  last you a long time.

Dill Pickle Popcorn Seasoning
This recipe makes quite a bit. Only use what you need – you should get a couple batches of popcorn out of this!

To do this recipe, you measure out your spices (if you’re using any whole spices) into a spice grinder, and pulse them all together. Be careful when you remove the top, because some of the spices, especially those that were already ground, will be a really fine powder. If you get too close to the puff of spice that comes out when you take off the lid, it will go straight up your nose. Ask me how I know. If you don’t have any whole spices, just measure everything into a small bowl and mix well with a spoon. I would recommend using fine grain sea salt or popcorn salt if you go this method, but that’s a personal preference.

Dill Pickle Popcorn

I cheated for this, and popped a bag of microwave buttered popcorn because I didn’t want to get out the popcorn popper (I have the kind you put on the stove and crank.). If you’re going this route, you won’t get 5 quarts of popcorn. I used about two heaping teaspoons of powder, sprinkled it into the bag, and then poured the popcorn into a bowl. You can add as much or as little as you like. If you aren’t sure you’ll like it, I’d start with one teaspoon, toss the popcorn, and then taste. You can add more from there if you like.

 

Its got a lovely dill pickle flavor and a nice pungent sour note that isn’t too strong. Before you know it, you’ll be staring at the bottom of an empty bowl and hunting down the next bag of popcorn!

What other popcorn flavors would you love to see?

 Dill Pickle Popcorn

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Dill Pickle Popcorn
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Dill Pickle Popcorn
Prep Time
5 mins
Cook Time
5 mins
Total Time
10 mins
 
This recipe is adapted from one found at Food and Wine's website.
Course: Snack
Servings: 4 people
Author: cookwcharacter
Ingredients
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried dill
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 3/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp light mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp dill seed
  • 1/2 tsp citric acid
Instructions
  1. Mix all spices together in a bowl, or put all spices into a spice grinder and pulse to a powder.
  2. Sprinkle over popcorn sprayed lightly with cooking spray or tossed with butter. If using microwave popcorn, just open bag, close, and shake.
  3. Enjoy!