Monday, February 27, 2012

Chocolate from Around the World

When we went to Disney for vacation, I decided to collect some chocolate from other countries. It was easy enough at Epcot, where the World Showcase hosts pavilions from 11 countries. You can shop for authentic clothing, food, and toys from around the world.

But I focused on the chocolate. And oh my! Was it fun to taste test them and decide which one we liked best. We had studied the history of chocolate when we talked about the Mayans and Aztecs, so I turned it into a homeschool lesson that was tasty and fun!

Here's a picture of the different kinds of chocolate we tried:

Dairy Milk is from the UK and is made by Cadbury. I asked a cast member in a UK gift shop which kind of chocolate was her favorite, and she pointed me to this. Stratos and Melkesjokolade are both from Norway. Again, I asked a Norwegian cast member his favorite and he helped me out. The Stratos was his favorite, but he said Americans tended to favor the Melkesjokolade. Kinder and Milka are both from Germany. Milka is white chocolate which is different from the others. The last kind is Ghiardelli which is made in America. I chose a bar with a high cacao content so the kids could see the difference between really dark chocolate and milk chocolate.

I created a taste test comparison sheet, and we all rated the chocolate on a scale of 10. We had to tell what we liked or disliked about the chocolate, too.

The overall favorite was Dairy Milk. It was the most similar to the milk chocolate that we are used to here in the US, but this chocolate was creamier and smoother. The good news - you can find it at WalMart!

Our least favorite was the Ghirardelli. The chocolate was almost bitter. That is easily explained by the high cacao content.

None of us really liked the Stratos from Norway, either. It had air bubbles in it, and it seemed like it didn't have enough chocolate taste. The Kinder was very sweet. It was a milk chocolate bar with creamy filling. Even though I prefer milk chocolate, the Milka was very good. Most white chocolate bars have a chalky aftertaste, but this was very smooth and creamy.

We had a lot of fun as a family, looking for the chocolate then tasting and comparing it. If you ever make the trip to Disney World, take a minute to hunt down some yummy chocolate from another country.

Menu Plan February 27-March 4

This week promises to be a busy one. We are hosting a missions conference at our church, so there will be lots of meetings and even an international dinner on Friday. Everyone brings a dish from another country/culture for a potluck. I think I'm making a curried pasta salad from Africa and perhaps Norwegian meatballs. I'll share links to the recipes below.

Here's the menu:

Chicken shawarma, flatbread - didn't make this last week as we got invited to friends
Pizza soup, easy breadsticks

Rice and lentil burritos
, Mexican rice

Durban spiced chicken
, roasted potatoes
International Supper - curried pasta salad, Kjottaker (Norwegian meatballs)

Grilled hamburgers, mac and cheese


For more meal planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Our Top 10 Disney Tips

We just got back from a wonderful week at Walt Disney World. It was our third trip with the kids, and we've learned quite a bit about getting the most out of our vacations at Disney. We always stay on property, meaning at one of the Disney resorts. We can use the bus transportation system to get from the resort to the parks and Downtown Disney, and we can take advantage of the dining plan or even free dining offers. I know it may be cheaper to stay off site, but the convenience of staying at a Disney resort is worth the extra cost to us.

Now on to some tips to make your Disney vacation more enjoyable and special.

1. If you're eating in the parks, plan to eat early. Since most people start looking for places to eat lunch around noon, try slipping into a counter service location around 11:00 or 11:15. Same idea for dinner. Try eating before 5:00. Your wait for service and food will be greatly reduced. When making reservations for table service meals, it's almost always easier to get early reservations than regular lunch or dinner hours. I know some people hate making reservations because they don't want their park experience to completely revolve around where they're eating, but would you rather spend time waiting to be seated for a meal or waiting in line to ride an attraction? Early dining is always the way to go.

2. Even though it's more expensive, get park hopper tickets. These allow you to move from park to park on the same day. If a park closes early, like Animal Kingdom almost always does, you can hop on a bus to another park for the rest of the evening. Or if you want to catch the Wishes fireworks show after you've spent the day at Hollywood Studios, you can head to the Magic Kingdom. Without the park hopper option, you can only go to one park per day. So when that park closes for the day, you're done.

3. Take your time. Most people hurry through the parks and never see the incredible detail that goes into each building and pathway. Take a less travelled path instead of the one everyone else is crowding into. You never know, you might find a character or two in out of the way places. We once found Peter Pan sitting in a window sill on a walkway between Adventureland and Frontierland, not another person in sight. We chatted and took pictures without having to wait or hurry to get done. Look for hidden Mickeys while you wait in queue lines. You'll be amazed at all the intricate details in the parks and even the resorts. Don't be in a hurry. Be observant and you'll see all kinds of wonderful things the average person misses.

4. Bring a poncho from home. We all know that it rains in Florida just about every day. Or so we've been told. It's good to be prepared by bringing a fold-up poncho to the parks. We purchase ours from Target or Walmart at the end of the camping season and have never paid more than a couple of dollars for them. At the parks, they sell them for $10 or more. If we bought one for everyone in the family, that would be forty bucks! So we'll stick to our cheap clearance ones.

5. Pack a first aid kit to take to the parks. I bring bandaids, antiseptic wipes, Advil, chewable Pepto-Bismol, and antibiotic cream to pack in a baggie. It's small enough to fit into my bag and is so much handier than trying to find a first aid station.

6. Try to go during the off season. Since we homeschool, it's easy for us to go during the school year. Prices on resorts are cheaper and often discounts are offered to entice people to come during the slow season. Crowd levels are lower, too, so you won't have to wait in line as long as during the summer. Weather is generally more pleasant, too. We had two cold days last week, but I'd rather deal with the cold than the heat of a Florida summer. It warmed up and we even got to swim in the resort pool later in the week. If you can, plan your trip for the slow season and hope for the best weather possible!

7. There are tons of penny press machines throughout the parks and resorts, so take some pennies and quarters with you. For $.51, you can get a cool souvenir, often with your favorite rides and attractions featured on them. This is one of our favorite things to do, look for the penny press machines.

8. I know this one will sound kind of weird, but buy some Monistat anti-chafing gel to avoid getting blisters. You'll find it in the feminine product section at Walmart. I use this on the backs of my heels and one the bottoms of my feet near the base of my toes. It prevents your socks and shoes from creating painful blisters as you walk throughout the parks. Did you know the average person walks 7-10 miles per day while at Disney? That's a lot of potential for blisters! I've never gotten one since I started using this product. It's similar to what runners use to prevent their thighs from chafing as they run long distances. Take my advice and don't take chances on getting blisters.

9. Make use of the Photopass photographers throughout the parks. You will find them in front of all the major "landmarks" - the castle at the Magic Kingdom, the "ball" at Epcot, etc. They also take photographs at most character meet and greets. They will give you a Photopass card that they swipe when they take your pictures. All of your Photopass pics are saved on that card you can use to order prints. The prints, however, are expensive. The good news is, the photographers will also use YOUR own camera and take the same shots. Meaning everyone in your party can be in a group shot! And you won't have to pay for the expensive prints.

10. My number one tip - pack a power strip. This doesn't just apply to Disney vacations, but anywhere you stay in a hotel. Inevitably hotels don't have enough outlets for all of our technological stuff - cell phone chargers, laptop chargers, tablet chargers, etc. Taking a power strip along adds several outlets so everything can charge up. Don't forget to bring your chargers, though! And since you're packing things to plug in, take along a simple night light. Hotel rooms are usually very dark, and without a nightlight, it would be nearly impossible to find the bathroom. So we plug in a nightlight, and the problem is solved.

These are just some simple things we do to make our vacation less stressful and more fun. Hope they help you, too!

This post is linked to We are THAT Family's Works for Me Wednesday.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Disney Dining Reviews, Part 2

I've already given you my reviews of The Crystal Palace, Akershus, and the 50's Prime Time Cafe. Today we're headed to Africa, France, and the good ol' USA.

On Wednesday we spent the day at Animal Kingdom. We decided to stick with our African theme of the day and eat at Boma. The restaurant is located in the Jambo House section of the Animal Kingdom Lodge, so it's not actually in the park. We had to catch a bus to the resort, which was no problem. Boma is an all-you-can-eat buffet, so it's a good value for your money.

The decor was amazing! Everything was in dark wood with thatched roof accents throughout. And the food was spectacular. Well, I thought so. Charles didn't care for the sweetness of many of the dishes. But I could have licked my plate, over and over. I didn't, though, just so you know.

I especially enjoyed the Carrot Ginger Soup and the Coconut Curry Chicken Soup. There were also a variety of yummy salads, including a curried pasta salad that was delicious. For picky eaters, there were many chicken choices, as well as standard rice and potatoes. Mr. Lego loved the Durban spiced chicken, returning many times for more.

As much as I loved the main dishes and salads, I knew I had to save room for dessert. And am I glad I did! The dessert bar consisted of a variety of cookies as well as sample-sized servings of African favorites. I enjoyed being able to sample them all without filling up on one.

Everyone but Charles gave this restaurant 5 stars. And even though he wasn't wild about the cuisine, he is glad he tried it. There was a balance of sweet and spicy dishes and the serving staff was helpful and friendly. We all enjoyed Boma very much.

Thursday's meal was eaten as Les Chefs de France located in the French pavilion at Epcot. I had read mixed reviews of this restaurant, so I wasn't sure if we should try it. But in the end I'm glad we did.

Before we got started with our meal, Remy from the movie Ratatouille stopped by our table. That was a nice touch, we thought. He moved from table to table with his handler while we were there.

The wait staff was friendly, but as the restaurant started filling up, it took longer and longer for refills and food to be brought to our table. That was the biggest drawback, in my opinion.

The food was adequate, but nothing was absolutely amazing except the chocolate mousse for dessert. I had beef short ribs in a Cabernet sauce and Charles ate a salmon dish served with a red pepper/tomato sauce. Without the sauce, the salmon would have been very bland. And while my Cabernet sauce was very tasty, the beef had a lot of fat. Our friend Matt enjoyed his duck confit very much.

The atmosphere in the restaurant was wonderful. We really felt like we were in France. We would rate this restaurant with 3.5 stars.

Our final table service meal was lunch at the Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom. The theme of this restaurant is a colonial-era tavern with servers dressed in mobcaps (women) and breeches (men). Since I'm a history buff, I loved it!

The food was very hearty and flavorful. I enjoyed lamb stew with wild rice, while Charles had a very large burger. The Princess had chicken and Mr. Lego ate pasta. The chef was very accomodating to change the pasta sauce to something tomato-based instead of the cream sauce listed on the menu.

We all enjoyed dessert. Mine was an ooey gooey toffee cake, but I have to say I liked Charles' choice better. It was a rich, chocolately cake with heavenly coffee icing. I believe it was called Martha Washington's cake.

We give this restaurant 5 stars for the wonderful food and service.

I hope you've enjoyed reading about our experiences. I realize that everyone has different tastes and expectations, so you may not have the same good experiences we had. But I do hope I've been able to to give some insight at what to expect at these table service dining options at Walt Disney World.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Disney Dining Reviews, Part 1

Last week my family and our good friends vacationed at Disney World. In addition to the rides and attractions, we always enjoy good food. In the past we have always booked the dining plan, which allows you to prepay for your meals prior to your trip. We received one table service meal, one counter service meal, and one snack (such as a Mickey ice cream bar or pretzel) per person per day. This time we took advantage of a free dining plan offer, so basically we ate for free!

Because Mr. Lego was over the age of 9, he could order from the adults menu, which opened up a new vista of food for him. But it also presented a few problems as sometimes the items included didn't appeal to him as much as the kids menu. But we overcame the pickiness and no one went hungry.

One of our favorite meal experiences is breakfast at the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom. We always book an early reservation so we can enter the park before it officially opens. It's peaceful and quiet, a huge contrast from later in the day when the park fills with guests rushing here and there.

Some of the items included were pancakes, Mickey waffles, an omelet station, and hubby's favorite, Pooh's breakfast lasagna. It's a layered concoction with fruit, cream, pancakes and waffles. There was also bacon, sausage, potatoes, fruit, yogurt, cereal, biscuits, sausage gravy, and bagels.

This is a character meal with Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, and Tigger. Each character comes to your table and stops for pictures and fun. We really enjoyed the interaction and food. We'd give this restaurant 4 out of 5 stars. We did have some wait time for the characters that slowed us down, but the food was very good and there was plenty of variety.

Another character meal we liked was Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in the Norway pavilion at Epcot. A cold buffet with various kinds of fish, cheese, bread, salads, and fruit starts off the meal. You then order from a selection of Norwegian favorites. I ordered the seared salmon cakes with cauliflower soup on the side. Yummy! The best part of the meal was dessert, which is served family style. We had a choice of fruit tart, chocolate mousse, or the always delightful rice cream.

This meal featured princesses, which of course, the Princess loved. Belle greeted us as we arrived, then four more princesses stopped by our table. Ariel wanted a picture of the Princess since the Princess was wearing a picture of her (Ariel). Very sweet! This restaurant gets 4 out of 5 stars, mainly because the tables are close together and there isn't much room to get around. The food, however, is excellent, though I can see people not enjoying Norwegian dishes.

At Hollywood Studios, we ate dinner at the 50's PrimeTime Cafe. As you can tell by the name, the theme of this restaurant is the 50's. The tables are laminate with small TV's playing clips of black and white television show at each one. The servers pretend to be your brothers and sisters, threatening to tell "Mom" if you don't eat your veggies. The whole atmosphere is fun and light-hearted.

I chose the salmon with mushroom ragout. I loved the mushroom ragout, but the salmon was a little bland. Charles got the chicken pot pie and he raved over it.

The desserts were served in large sundae glasses reminiscent of a soda shop. I don't think anyone was able to finish theirs because the portions were so huge! But it was fun trying.

Out of 5 stars, we'd give this a 4. Nearly every dish had a sauce component which Mr. Lego didn't care for. But we were able to finagle it so he could eat something by sharing with his sister, who could still order from the kids menu.

I've got some more table service meals to review, then I'll post our favorite quick service meals, too. Maybe the next time you go to Disney, you can try some of our faves.

Menu Plan February 20-26

I didn't post a menu plan last week because I was here:

And I was eating things like this:

Not to mention desserts like this:

I won't, however, be cooking anything like that this week. It's quick and simple as we all recover from our wonderful vacation. I'll be posting some dining reviews from our trip later this week, so come back if you're interested.

Now on to this week's menu plan:

Pepperoni carbonara, garlic bread

Feel Better Chicken Stew, homemade bread

Hot dogs with West Virginia hot dog sauce

Oatmeal pancakes, bacon and eggs

Chicken shawarma, flatbread

Pizza soup, breadsticks

Roast beef and potatoes in the crockpot

For more meal planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday. You'll find tons of menu plans shared by everyday cooks like me and you.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Home Again

We're finally home after a fun-filled week at Walt Disney World! I'm going to post some dining reviews later this week, so stay tuned for that. Charles laughed at me as I took pictures of our food, but hey...this is primarily a cooking blog, right? By Wednesday, I had him trained NOT to take a bite until I had photographed his plate! Ha ha!

My feet are glad to be home, let me tell you. We had "trained" for Disney by walking on the treadmill, but my feet still weren't adjusted to walking on concrete for hours. I can tell a difference already and we've not been home 24 hours!

I think I'll post some Disney tips, too, if anyone is interested. This was our third trip with kids, and we've learned a few things along the way. I'll be happy to share if you'd like.

Hope everyone has a great week!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Easy Breadsticks Kitchen Tip

I make ugly bread sticks. There I said it.

I want to make pretty, perfectly proportioned bread sticks, but apparently I don't have the gift for it. Or maybe I don't have the patience for it! Who wants to take the time to shape a dozen bread sticks, anyway?

So I've made it easier on myself. And maybe a little bit prettier. Or maybe a little less ugly would be more accurate. Instead of shaping each bread stick individually, I roll the dough out into a rectangle and use my pizza cutter to slice it.

The bread sticks may still not be absolutely perfect, but they look more like bread sticks and less like alien arms.

Since we're talking about bread sticks, how about an easy recipe? I adapted this one from SnoWhite at Finding Joy in My Kitchen. It's a recipe similar to Olive Garden's breadsticks, the ones they used to serve. Not the tasteless, frozen-then-reheated ones they serve now. These yummy bread sticks are soft on the inside with a slightly crunchy crust on the bottom.

Here's what you need:

3/4 cup warm water
1 1/8 teas yeast
1 TBSP sugar
1 TBSP olive oil
2 1/4 cup flour (I use half white, half white-wheat)
1 teas sea salt

In a mixing bowl, combine the water, yeast and sugar. Let sit about 5 minutes or until the mixture is puffy. Add the oil, then the flour and salt. Mix well. Allow to rest for about 40 minutes.

Then roll out the dough into a rectangle until it's about an 1/2 inch thick. Slice with a pizza cutter into 8-10 breadsticks.

Bake at 400 degrees for 7 minutes. While the bread sticks are baking, combine 2 TBSP melted butter with 1 teas garlic powder and 1/2 teas salt. After 7 minutes, remove from the oven and brush with the butter mixture. Return to the oven for another 7 minutes. Brush the remaining butter over the bread sticks. Serve warm.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Menu Plan February 6-12

We are knee deep in packing for Disney World, so this week is going to be full of simple meals. Last week I had the foresight to have the kids try on some of their warm weather clothes to see if we needed to make any vacation clothing purchases. Considering that nearly everything they had worn just a few months ago is now too small, I guess it's fortunate I did.

I mean it! Both of them have grown so much since fall that I had to buy them both new clothes. I was thinking maybe I'd have to buy a shirt or two, but oh no. They've got new pants, shirts, and shoes! How in the world did they grow so much and I didn't notice?

Anyway, the final vacation countdown is on and the anticipation is growing by leaps and bounds! Just a few more days!

In the meantime, here's the plan for this week:

Chicken tacos, corn

Sausage lentil soup

Cheeseburger rice, green beans



Earl of Sandwich

The Crystal Palace

For more meal planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Cheesy Chicken Nachos

After making a batch of Chicken Taco Filling in my crockpot, I wanted to make chicken nachos for a light meal. This would also be the perfect snack to serve at a Super Bowl party or other gathering.

The wonderful homemade cheese sauce makes these unique and super yummy. It's easy to make and tastes so much better than Velveeta or other jarred cheese sauces.

I want to add, if you prefer beef nachos over chicken, just substitute a pound of ground beef seasoned with taco seasoning for the chicken filling.

Here's what you need:

2 cups Chicken Taco filling
1 bag tortilla chips
2 cups monterey jack cheese, shredded
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
Additional toppings of your choice - jalapenos, tomatoes, scallions
Sour cream, if desired

For the cheese sauce:
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 TBSP corn starch
1 can evaporated milk
1/2 teas paprika
dash of cayenne pepper

In a saucepan, combine the cheese and cornstarch. Toss to coat. Add the evaporated milk, paprika and cayenne. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the cheese is completely melted. Keep stirring until thickened, about 5 minutes.

On a large baking sheet, layer half the tortilla chips, chicken, monterey jack cheese and beans. Pour about half the cheese sauce over top. Repeat layers.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Scoop onto individual plates and add additional toppings if desired.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chocolate Pie

I love pies of all sorts. But chocolate pie is one of my favorites. I set out to make one like my grandmother used to make - not the gritty kind you find in the frozen food section or in restaurants. But smooth, rich, chocolatey, creamy goodness.

This pie is it.

It doesn't take long to prepare. The hardest part was allowing it to chill overnight! And the raves from family and friends who tasted it convinced me this is a keeper.

Here's what you need:

1 9-inch pie shell, baked and cooled
1/4 cup water
2 TBSP cornstarch
3 eggs
1 teas vanilla
2/3 cup milk
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
3 TBSP melted butter

In a small bowl, combine the water and cornstarch. Stir until the cornstarch is completely dissolved. Mix in the eggs and vanilla. Set aside.

In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk until it starts to bubble around the edges. Stir in the chocolate until melted.

Add the sweetened condensed milk and whisk until combined. Stir in the egg mixture. While stirring constantly, bring the chocolate mixture to a boil. Cook and stir for several minutes, until the mixture is very thick. When it no longer drips off the whisk and you have to shake it off, it's thick enough

Remove from the heat and add the butter. Stir until thoroughly combined. Pour into prepared pie shell. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Garnish with whipped cream if desired. And get ready for the squeals of delight that will come your way from those lucky enough to share this with you!

For more yummy recipes, head over to Miz Helen's Country Cottage for Full Plate Thursday.