Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Disney's California Adventure

On Christmas morning, in the pitch black all I heard was a little voice saying
"It's 52 o'clock mama"
then a little while later, and a little louder
"mom, I just want to let you know it's 53 o'clock"
 Even on vacation, after being up longer then they ever had in their lives the day before, my kids were up bright and early Christmas morning! We opened a few small gifts in the room and then headed to Disney's California Adventure Park. Because we were staying in a Disney hotel we were allowed to enter the park 1 hour before it was open to the public, so we took advantage of that and chose to do the "most popular" rides and experiences first before the park got crowded
I was totally shocked to be the first people to walk up and meet Anna and Elsa. Brianna was in absolute heaven and was so excited! I loved that since there was no one else in line we weren't rushed and the princesses took a long time with her and were so sweet. From there we went to the very back of the park and hit Radiator Springs.
The rides in Cars Land were some of my favorites! There was a moment while we were spinning on the tractor in Mater's Junkyard Jamboree that Marshall was laughing hysterically and yelling "this is Awesome!!" at the top of his lungs. There wasn't even a full line of people waiting for the next ride, so the man just let us stay in our same seats and ride it again immediately once it ended. After getting dizzy, we headed to Radiator Springs Racers which may be the top favorite ride for all of us at the end of our trip!
We were able to ride this twice and then grabbed a Fast Pass for later in the day to ride it one more time. By the end of the day the wait time was close to 2 hours, so I'm so glad we went there first when the park wasn't open to the public and then as soon as the Fast Passes opened at 8 am we grabbed one and went around the rest of the park until it was our time to return. Such a time saver!!
I had downloaded the "Disneyland Wait Times Free" app on my phone and that was also a huge help in figuring out what we should do next and which rides we should get passes for. If anything was 30 minutes or less, we went for it. If it was longer we would either get a Fast Pass or go to that one later on. I totally recommend having something similar on your phone if you go!
Once we did our second ride and grabbed our Fast Passes we took a break for breakfast at the Cozy Cone Motel. I think another tip for having a successful trip, especially with little ones is to eat at "off times" I brought a box of granola bars with us and packed them in our bag each morning. We would snack on those while waiting to get into the parks in the morning and were able to do the bigger more popular activities when everyone was eating breakfast. Then, once the park started to get more crowded we would take a break and eat. Then it wasn't hard to order food or find a table since most of the breakfast rush had already passed. Having a late heavy breakfast set us up for having a snack in the afternoon and then an early dinner- again, when there wasn't much of a wait time for ordering or finding a table. For us, it worked perfectly!
 Cozy Cone Motel was the cutest little spot and each cone had a different snack or meal. We tried both of their breakfast cones:  Chorizo & Eggs Cone- Scrambled Eggs, Chorizo, Tomatillo Sauce and Pico de Gallo served in a Bread Cone and the Southwest Scramble Cone- Scrambled Eggs, Bell Peppers, Onions, Roasted Corn, Black Beans, Cheddar Cheese and Avocado Corn Salsa served in a Bread Cone. The Chorizo Cone was so much better than the Southwest Scramble one! They were both delicious, but the chorizo one was by far my favorite! My kids are already asking me if I can make them at home and I can't wait to try!
It was such a gorgeous day and we had a ton of fun meeting characters, riding different rides and seeing the shows that were offered. All was great, merry and magical until we got on that damn Ferris Wheel. It looks all innocent from far away and then you get on it and realize the entire cart slides on rails and when you are actually sliding on said rails into the middle of the giant wheel you feel like you are an inch from death. I'm not kidding, it terrified me and my kids were begging to get off of this thing. There is also a stash of barf bags provided for you on each door. How convenient.
After that traumatic experience, my kids and husband decided to try out Tower of Terror (which did not scare them as much as that wheel of death if that tells you anything) and I found a better way to spend my time by people watching with some bubbly. Let me tell you, after sitting and just watching the people walking by for about 30 minutes or so, I was shocked at the amount of mullets I saw. Why is this still happening?!
 We filled the rest of the day with:
 meeting Olaf- the kids were so excited but the line was WAY long, Goofy's Sky School Ride- the kids did this one 6 times in a row, Grizzly River Run- this is like a white water rapids "ride" where you will get soaked, Toy Story Mania- this one is also in Disney World and my kids love it!
Ariel's Undersea Adventure, Bug's Land, The Carousel and walking the Boardwalk
After all that I was starving and was really glad we had early dinner reservations at Ariel's Grotto at 4:30. It was right when the sun was setting and it was really beautiful to look over the water at the death wheel over dinner.
 When you walk in you are met with these gorgeous views before you walk down a long winding staircase to meet Ariel, take pictures and then are seated at your table
We were given this pretty bread right when we sat down
And I got this fun drink! It was so delicious and my kids were amazed by the light ice cube, so naturally, I ordered another so each kids could have a light. The things we do for our kids...
I will be re-creating this drink at home for sure!
"Magical Star Cocktail- X-Fusion Organic Mango and Passion Fruit Liqueur, Parrot Bay Coconut Rum, Pineapple Juice, and a souvenir Multicolored Glow Cube"
Our starters were Veggies and Ranch for the kids and Crab Soup for us, which I could have sworn was the exact soup we had the night before. It was delicious, but I didn't notice any crab in it
For entrees Louis had the Red Oak-Smoked Honey-Whiskey Barbecue Tri-Tip with Mashed Potatoes and Seasonal Vegetables and I had the Fire-Roasted Corn Cakes with Sautéed Spinach, Onions, and Shiitake Mushrooms with spicy Bean Salsa and Chili Oil Drizzle. Mine was SO good and it was a huge portion so I wasn't able to finish it all even though I tried! Louis said this was better than the dinner the night before, but still not amazing. I really think Ariel's Grotto was worth it, especially if you have a small princess in your family!
Marshall chose Ursula's Octo-Dog- served atop Macaroni & Cheese with fresh Fruit and Vegetables and Brianna had Angel Hair Pasta a la Dinglehopper served with fresh Fruit and Vegetables
All through dinner you are visited by all the princesses there that evening.
Again, Brianna was in heaven!
For dessert the kids and adults got their own trios
 I think the s'mores bar was the best with the mini crème brulee was a close second
Then the waiter brought the kids a cupcake for being so well behaved at dinner
Another sweet end to a fantastic day!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

It's the Most Magical time of the Year!

Have you ever had a vacation so amazing and wonderful that when you got home you were in a funk because all you want to do is go back? That's how I feel right now staring at my gigantic pile of laundry and suitcases.
On Christmas Eve morning, Louis and I woke up ridiculously early, showered and got dressed, packed last minute items and then put a robe on so the kids wouldn't know we were already ready. Then we went into their rooms and told them we heard a lot of noise downstairs and the Elves had woken us up so we all needed to go downstairs and check it out
I think they were both still asleep and didn't really understand what was going on at the time but they threw on their shirts and away we went
We got in our car and headed to the airport, got on the shuttle bus, then on a plane then on another shuttle bus, then to our rental car and finally arrived at the Paradise Pier Hotel
It was all decked out for Christmas and I loved that the hotel was a 5 minute walk away from the parks. Once you get to the property you don't need any shuttle busses or car rides to get where you want to be!
We were dying to get into the park and start our day, so we settled in pretty quickly and walked over to Disneyland
I know for some people, Disneyland or World is the last place they want to be, but for me, I couldn't think of anything better to do with my kids. I think them being 8 and 5 was the best possible age to go! No strollers and diapers to worry with, they are big enough to walk on their own everywhere we needed to be, and yet they were still young enough to be in wonder and awe of everything the parks had to offer. There were many times where they asked "is that real?!" on a ride. I can't count the number of times while we were walking to our next ride, or waiting in line to meet a new character where one of them would just look up and say "you're the best mom in the whole widest world" or "this is my favorite-est day, mama".
Priceless moments that I will never forget.
I suppose I love Disney for all those reasons and the fact that, while there, I can say yes so much more than I can at home. Everything is geared for them and there's not much that isn't a possibility while you're there.
You want to meet your favorite character? OK
You want to be the driver of a race car while I sit back and enjoy the ride? Sure
You want amazing fireworks while eating cotton candy every night? Done
Doesn't everyone take goofy selfies while spinning on the Teacups?
Oh well, on to the food!
Disney is so good about paying attention to the tiniest details and food in the parks is no exception
As soon as we got to Main Street we grabbed and inhaled corndogs. It was the best freaking corndog I've ever had! When I say we inhaled them, I really mean it so there is no picture proof to show you, but I promise it was great!
Louis' first request was a Mickey Bar. I don't know why they are SO good!
After a long day of travel and then the excitement of finally being in the park we were starving for dinner. The first night in the parks I made reservations at the River Belle Terrace Restaurant. It's one of the original restaurants in the park and it offers the Fantasmic Dining package, which means when you reserve a table for dinner you are automatically given a pass for a reserved seating area to view the Fantasmic show that night.
The dinner is a 3 course meal and your view for the night can't be beat while watching the Mark Twain Riverboat paddle down the Rivers of America
Louis and I started with the Creamy Corn Chowder with Bacon and Chives and the kids got veggies and ranch. It may have been the fact that I was starving, but I practically licked my bowl clean. The soup was awesome! Unfortunately I can't say the same for our entrees.  Louis got the Slow-roasted New York Strip and Cajun Shrimp Skewer with Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Seasonal Vegetables, and Red Wine Reduction. I got the Hand-tossed Cavatappi Pasta Primavera in Garlic Cream Sauce with Seasonal Vegetables. Both dishes were literally just ok, I would not recommend either of them, but I think my pasta was marginally better than Louis' dish. I would have been happier with a corndog.
Marshall tried the Grilled Chicken with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Seasonal Vegetables but didn't finish most of it and Brianna got the Macaroni & Cheese with Seasonal Vegetables and Grapes but they both had hacked into everything before I could get a pic of their plates.
We ended the meal with Confetti Cupcake with Chocolate Frosting for the kids, Caramel Apple Pie with Streusel for Louis and River Belle's Chocolate Mousse Cake with Raspberry Sauce for me
Before we were served our dessert the kids were falling asleep at the table. I knew they wouldn't make it another 2 hours in the park, so I spoke with our waitress and they were so understanding and nice she printed me new passes to use on another night for the Fantasmic show! We went back to the room, put the kids in bed and they literally passed out in 2 seconds! Louis walked downstairs while I was bathing the kids and brought me this
Best. Husband. Ever.
We clinked our neon plastic glasses and couldn't wait to wake up on Christmas morning and do it all over again!


Monday, December 22, 2014

Little's Lunches 4

Happy Monday! I know it's Christmas week and most everyone is off already, but I still wanted to share what we packed for our lunches last week. I think today my kids and I will stay in pj's, watch Christmas movies and be lazy- what are your plans? Anyone doing any last minute shopping?
 Monday: freeze dried grapes, cheese sticks, Sandwich Sushi (made with whole wheat bread, chive cream cheese, turkey and carrot), baby carrots, pepperoni, kiwi and mushroom slices in the Sistema box- My kids LOVED the sandwich sushi! I can tell we will be making different variations of this in the weeks to come
 Tuesday: Mini Cornbread Muffins with Hot Dog and Cheese with mustard to dip (this is just cornbread mix in mini muffin tins baked with cheese sticks and "healthier" hot dogs which are all natural turkey with no nitrates), cheese sticks, Asian sesame coleslaw, goldfish, dried apple slices and cranberries in the yumbox
Wednesday: Leftovers!! Chicken and Artichoke Flatbread Sandwiches, sliced grilled chicken sausage slices with BBQ sauce to dip, baby carrots, brown bread, kiwi for B and a fruit snack for M, and a small Baci chocolate ball in the Sistema box
Thursday: Make Your Own Pizza! Sandwich flatbread rounds with shredded mozzarella, pepperoni, sliced olives, green bell pepper, pizza sauce and yogurt- my kids gave this one two thumbs way up. I think this will be a regular in our rotation and it was SO easy to throw together
Friday: On Friday the kids both had their class parties. I had signed up to bake and bring cupcakes for the kids to decorate. Those things always seem like a great idea when you sign up to do it a month before the Christmas rush really starts and then on the night that you're scheduled to make them I'm always looking around me like "who the hell signed me up for one more thing to do?!" SO in my frenzied state of baking for the party, getting the teacher gifts put together, being the chauffer for after school activities and getting last minute reservations and plans together for our insanely amazing trip coming up (more on that one later) I resigned myself to allowing the kids to buy lunch at school. They said it was awesome and delicious. I doubt that very seriously, but as long as they were happy that's all that mattered! What are your plans for Christmas? I can't wait to share mine!!
I'll give you a hint: It's magical ;)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Turkey ‘n Stuffing Chile Rellenos with Cranberry Balsamic Drizzle

Do you have trouble thinking of new ways to use up those Thanksgiving and Christmas leftovers? Well, if you do, I've got a great idea for you to use up the last of that turkey, gravy, stuffing AND cranberry sauce stuck in the back of your fridge! I love morphing leftovers into something totally new and creative and I was so excited to dig into this beauty! The cranberry drizzle and chopped bacon totally made this dish for me and my family gobbled this one up!
Living in Austin TX, you're never far away from a Tex-Mex restaurant and almost every one of them offers some form of chiles rellenos. As delicious as they are, I love this non-traditional twist on the classic Mexican dish!
Turkey ‘n Stuffing Chile Rellenos with Cranberry Balsamic Drizzle
4 poblano peppers
1 cup leftover roasted turkey breast, diced
2 cups leftover stuffing
1 ¾ cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
½ cup leftover turkey gravy
3 ounces leftover cranberry sauce
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
4 slices crumbled cooked bacon
Preheat the broiler to high heat. Liberally spray poblanos with cooking spray and lay them on a cookie sheet lined with foil. Place the pan under the broiler for 4-5 minutes or until skin is bubbling and charred. Flip the peppers over and broil for another 4-5 minutes. Once the skins of the peppers are completely blackened, remove them from the oven and wrap the foil around them, sealing tightly. Set aside to cool, turn the broiler off and set the oven to 375 degrees.
In a medium mixing bowl, add the diced roasted turkey breast, stuffing, 1 cup of the cheese and the gravy and stir to combine.
Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove the charred outer peeling and, using a paring knife, cut a slit into the side of the peppers. Remove as many seeds as you can from the middle and stuff each pepper with an equal amount of the turkey and stuffing mixture. Set the stuffed peppers back onto the cookie sheet and top each with an equal amount of the remaining cheese. Place the peppers into the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes.
While the peppers are baking, whisk together the leftover cranberry sauce, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard and salt in a small mixing bowl until smooth.
Once the peppers are warmed through and the cheese has melted, remove them from the oven, sprinkle with the bacon and drizzle with cranberry sauce before serving.

 Do you have the same dishes on Thanksgiving and Christmas? Or are your menus completely different?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Holidays with Extended Stay America

My Friday morning was very exciting! I was asked to represent Extended Stay America and show off some delicious Holiday dishes from their Away From Home Cookbook on the local Austin morning news.
I made Sunny's Nutty and Fruit Pilaf and Chocolate Candy Bar Pie the night before and prepped all of the ingredients for the Panzanella Salad so I could demo it once I got there.
I made a mess, as you can tell, but it was fun and my kitchen smelled amazing! The recipes were all created for being made in your hotel room, so the ingredient lists are short, and the instructions are simple!
Once I got to the station I realized that we were actually taping the segment and it would be played the next day. For some reason that really helped me relax knowing that it wasn't live. I felt really comfortable and was the least nervous I've ever been on camera. Maybe I'm finally getting the hang of this!
 If you'd like to see the segment, HERE it is!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Little's Lunches 3

Happy Monday! I can't believe how fast this month is flying by! I'm so excited to have received such a great response from the previous Little's Lunches, I have had a lot of fun putting these posts together!
Monday: M has bronchitis, so I heated up chicken noodle soup in the kid's thermos bowls and sent that with some goldfish and a mini Hawaiian banana nut muffin
 Tuesday: Roast Beef and Chive Cream Cheese sandwiches on whole wheat bread, veggies (my kids get a kick out of the baby corn!) dried apple slices and prunes in these Sistema cubes
 Wednesday: Roast Beef and Chive Cream Cheese rolled in tortillas, honey wheat pretzel sticks, pickles, carrots and dried cranberries in the yumbox
Thursday: Roast Beef, Whole Grain Crackers, hard boiled egg, olive snack cup, baby cheese wedge, veggies and ranch dip, frozen strawberries in the Sistema cubes
Friday: Egg Salad, Whole Wheat Pita Wedges, Cheese Sticks, baby carrots and mushrooms with Ranch, a prune and a mini Hawaiian Banana Nut Muffin in the yumbox
It's so funny to me that my kids love prunes. When I was little, prunes grossed me out so much and I was convinced that no one below the age of 85 ate them. I know they're healthy and I'm glad my kids are willing to try anything but I can't help but giggle when I put them in their boxes. Is there anything your kids eat that you won't touch?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

NOLA Thanksgiving Restaurant Tour

For Thanksgiving week, we were in New Orleans, and keeping with tradition we stuffed ourselves like we do each time we go home. Louis and I have a running joke (but we're not really joking) that every time we go home we gain 5 pounds. At least a week before we arrive usually, every meal has already been planned for us, and this time was no exception. Here are just a few highlights of the meals we tried while we there:
You can't go to Drago's without getting their charbroiled oysters, and our order of a dozen lasted about 3 minutes. The kids fought over who would get more of them and pretty much inhaled them the minute the waiter set the platter on the table. If you've never had them before, Charbroiled Oysters are fresh shucked oysters on the half-shell that are brushed with an herb butter and then loaded with parm and romano cheese and broiled over a hot grill. I really can't decide what I love more; the oysters themselves or soaking up the herb and cheese butter that's leftover with French bread.
My mom got the lunch special: Stuffed Crab topped with Crabmeat Au Gratin, served with Rosemary Potatoes and Greens. Even though she could only finish half of it, she loved it! I got the Fried Shrimp Remoulade Po-boy which was REALLY heavy on the horseradish- if you don't like spice, this is not the dish for you. Louis got a fried oyster po-boy and both po-boys were roughly the size of an infant. I couldn't even eat a fourth of it, but we all left stuffed and happy.
That night we met friends for dinner and tried Legacy Kitchen. To start we ordered the Blue Cheese Chips. House made thick cut chips covered in a creamy béchamel, truffle herb aioli and crumbled blue cheese. Holy deliciousness- these are so rich, decadent and completely divine. I tried their Prosecco with Limoncello and it was SO good with the chips! Louis got the prime rib for dinner. He said it was great but I couldn't even look while he ate it. Beef has never been a favorite of mine, and the pink meat with huge hunks of fat on the side is not appealing to me. After eating the super rich blue cheese chips I settled on the Tuna Tango Salad; seared ahi tuna with avocado, mango, macadamia nuts, won-ton strips and a delicious ginger-lime dressing. By the time I got my salad I was too busy chatting to get a picture, but here's the pic from their website so you can see just how pretty the salad was:
(photo above is from Legacy Kitchen
 The next day I was so excited to finally try Coquette for brunch. The last two times we were in town we made attempts to get over there and for one reason or another it fell through. I was so happy to make my way to Magazine Street and finally see what all the fuss was about
Coquette has a new menu every day, which in turn, will always leave you with something new, exciting and hyper seasonal to try. We started off with the charcuterie board which included house pickled vegetables, hogs head cheese, boudin balls and a really delicious pate. The plate below it is a crudo topped with one of the best shaved Brussels sprouts, parsley and mint combos I've ever had. Totally bright, crunchy, fresh and so nice along side the heavy meat board.
For our meals, we tried the Shrimp and Grits with a Louisiana hot sauce gravy, tasso, Brussels sprouts and fried kale.  The sauce was absolutely delicious and I kept reaching into Louis' plate with my spoon to get the rest of it before the waitress snatched up the plate. I had the perfectly crispy seared scallops with chorizo, arugula, charred red onion and a surprise sauce that wasn't listed on the menu. It looked like small bubbles on the plate, but it was actually spicy and sweet and very thick. If I had to guess I would say it was pepper jelly reduction, but whatever it was, I ate it all happily. 
That evening we went to Katie's in mid-city. It's been featured on Diners Drive Ins and Dives before and I love how right outside the door they have a small plaque showing you the line of water left by Hurricane Katrina. I had to try their Pimm's Cup and it did not disappoint!
We started the meal with Charbroiled Oysters and their Seafood Stuffed Beignet. This Beignet is HUGE and overstuffed with crawfish, crabmeat, shrimp, jalapeno peppers, onions, and three kinds of cheese; fried then topped with a jalapeno aioli
For our entrees we got "The Legend"; a piece of French bread about as long as my forearm stuffed with their amazing cochon de lait and BBQ shrimp. This was one of those sandwiches that is so messy it ends up being all over you and so delicious you don't even care that you're wearing it. We also tried the nightly special which was Drum on top of a Seafood Stuffed Mirliton with a Seafood Cream Sauce. I forgot how much I love mirlitons and after having this delicious version, I will definitely be making some at home soon!
I made sure to go to Rouse's and stock up on some essentials before heading home  in the worst holiday traffic EVER. Thank the good Lord for DVD players that come with headphones because that is all that saved us that day.
What is your favorite restaurant in NOLA to visit?

Pickle Baked Chicken Tenders with Creamy Chili Honey Sauce

Thanks to Hellmann’s 100% Recycled Plastic Bottles and the “Real Taste, Less Waste” challenge I get to share with you a kitchen hack that...