Saturday, September 28, 2013

How My Family Did Disneyland

My family recently returned from a week-long trip to Disneyland.  My daughter is 4 1/2 now, the perfect age to experience the magic for the first time.  We're not extreme frugalites by any stretch, but we did do some things that saved us a bit of money here and there.  There are tips and tricks all over the internet for maximizing your Disney experience, but here are some of the things we did:

1.  We booked a package deal that gave us some really fun extras.  I went through AAA, and we got to schedule a character call ahead of time, so Mickey and Minnie called my daughter the day before we left and told her how much they were looking forward to seeing her.  We also got a Vinylmation character, which was a fun souvenir for her to have.

2.  We went during the off season, and during the week.  Granted, we didn't have a whole lot of choice because we took our vacation when our daycare provider took her vacation, but it worked out that it was the first week of the "off season" and the crowds were noticeably smaller than when I have been there in, say, June.  My daughter refused to wait in any line longer than about 25 minutes (other than to meet the princesses), which was fine with us, so there were six or seven rides we never made it on (plus I wouldn't let her go on California Screamin' or Tower of Terror).  But that's ok with me - I'd much rather miss some stuff than be stuck in a long line with a cranky preschooler!

3.  We stayed at a hotel that provided meals.  We stayed at the Residence Inn in Garden Grove.  Not only do they provide the most impressive in-house free breakfast buffet I've ever seen, but on the weeknights you can also get dinner, if you want to eat what they're serving.  We ended up only taking advantage of this a couple of times, because we either didn't want what they served or didn't want to leave the park, but we did get two "free" dinners this way.  The week we were there they had nacho night, sloppy joe night, BBQ (hamburgers and hotdogs), and chili and cornbread.  There is also a kitchenette in every room and they have a free grocery shopping service, so we had them pick up some things so we could eat lunches and dinners in the room when we chose to.  We also had shuttle service to and from Disneyland, I believe because of our package deal, because other people were paying $5 a day for that (the hotel is about a mile and a half from the park).

4.  We made our daughter earn her spending money.  In the weeks leading up to our trip, she had the choice to earn her spending money by doing one extra, special chore each day for a dollar.  She didn't always choose to do it, but by the time we went she had about $30 to spend on pretty much whatever she wanted.  We also bought her mouse ears for her (I would have bought her a t-shirt, too, but she wanted extra fancy mouse ears).

5.  We didn't buy any of the PhotoPass pictures.  Our package included one attraction photo (Splash Mountain, Radiator Springs Racers, etc.), but because of some misinformation I received from one of their employees they ended up giving us a regular PhotoPass picture instead.  Other than that, we had the PhotoPass photographers take the same pictures with our camera that they were taking, and in the end we ended up with basically the same pics, so we skipped it (I have heard from people that they sometimes Photoshop extra effects into the pictures, but we didn't get any of that).  I ordered some souvenir photo items from Shutterfly when we got home, using a coupon I found online.

We had a great, though exhausting experience!  Five days was a bit much for all of us, next time we'd probably only go for four, but we have so many amazing memories and I'm so glad we went! 

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Butter Chicken

I ran across this recipe in an online cooking school I signed up for a few years ago.  I've had butter chicken (Chicken Makhani) in a local Indian restaurant and this isn't really anything like that, but this is good in its own way.  I've adapted it from the original to fit our family's taste.  For example, the original recipe doesn't blend the tomatoes, but my girl is currently trying her darndest to become a picky eater, so so no longer likes chunks of cooked tomato in her food.  So I put the tomatoes in the blender.  No biggie.

Butter Chicken
Serves 6
Adapted from Stone Soup Virtual Cooking School

2 T peanut or canola oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced into 1/2 " pieces
1 cup minced onion
2 T garam masala (I use the punjab style from Penzey's
2 t. chili flakes
1 14.5 oz. can roasted diced tomatoes
1 14.5 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
2 - 4 T heavy cream
ground black pepper
Hot cooked rice

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add chicken and onions.  Cook until chicken is lightly browned on one side; flip and brown the second side.

While the chicken cooks, put tomatoes in the blender.  Whir until smooth (if you want a chunkier sauce, you could leave both cans whole or just blend up one).

Once the chicken is browned, add garam masala and chili flakes.  Continue cooking for one minute, then add tomatoes.  Bring to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes.  Stir in cream, salt and pepper to taste.  Continue cooking until cream is heated through.

Serve over hot cooked rice. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Comfort Food (Homemade Wiener Wraps)

I keep seeing recipes all over the internet for wiener wraps, aka pigs in a blanket.  Been wanting to try them, but hadn't yet.  My original plan was to use some of the pizza dough in the freezer...

Today was a less than stellar day at work.  I came home exhausted, made myself a margarita, and proceeded to think about dinner.  I should have made broccoli beef, since the broccoli is on its last legs, but the last thing I wanted to do was chop vegetables, even a stalk of broccoli.  So, I decided to try out the wiener wraps and serve them with Tater Tots.  Kid friendly comfort food, as far as I'm concerned.  Only problem?  The pizza dough was still in the freezer.

Then I remembered seeing this recipe for Homemade Pigs in a Blanket, using a quick yeast roll dough.  So, I decided to give it a shot.  Yes, that's right.  I didn't want to chop vegetables but I made dough from scratch.  Don't look for the logic there, people, you won't find it.  At least I have a mixer.

Anyway, I made the dough as directed, except I used all white flour.  I decided to mix things up a bit and added a small slice of cheddar cheese into each one.  As you can see, that didn't work out so well (other than the cheese got all crispy and delicious, so maybe it wasn't such a bad idea after all!). 

Bonus...I had enough dough leftover to make some breadsticks, which we'll eat later on this week with spaghetti!

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Dinner Recap and Menu Planning Update

We stuck to our menu plan pretty well last week.  There was one night I had to work late so we picked up burgers (I had planned to make a casserole in the morning but hubby had already told our girl that they'd go out since I'd be home late, so that was the end of that idea!).  Now, let's see, what did we eat...

Spinach and Artichoke Pasta
Fried ham with Zucchini Fritters
Chicken and Stuffing

And honestly, I don't remember what else!

Saturday we went to the beach for the day to watch a Civil War reenactment.  I packed steak sandwiches in a cooler for lunch, and then we went out for seafood for dinner.  Today I spent some time in the kitchen, making roasted vegetable sauce and baked beans for the freezer.  Tomorrow I'm canning apples.

And now, for this week's plan.  Here's what's on the list, in no particular order (as usual):

Butter chicken (I use a recipe from Stone Soup Virtual Cookery School)
Chicken Gyro Sandwiches
Queso Fundido
Buffalo chicken strips
Ham and Bows (ham instead of chicken)

Have a great week, everyone!  And remember, has more menu ideas than you can possibly imagine!

Recipe Review - Roasted Vegetable Pasta Sauce

I *love* this recipe from An Oregon Cottage (I also *love* the blog, but that's another blog post).  This is the fourth or fifth time I've made it, and it's always a hit.  Today, we finally had enough tomatoes ripe all at once that I could make it.  In years past, I've made it almost completely with home grown produce, but since I didn't really have a spring garden this year, I settled for home grown tomatoes and purchased everything else (mostly organic).

I think the thing I love most about this recipe is its simplicity.  I'd say about 90% of the flavor comes from the roasting process - deep, intense flavor, with a bit of caramelization here and there.  Here's how today's went down.

(Find the original recipe on An Oregon Cottage - Roasted Tomato Sauce (with Vegetables)

First, I started with this gorgeous bowl of red ripe tomatoes out of our garden.

I cleaned them, quartered them, and laid them in two baking sheets.   Then, I cleaned and cut up additional veggies.  Today, I used bell peppers, carrots, celery (including the leaves), zucchini, shallots, and elephant garlic, because that was what I had on hand.  I sprinkled the whole thing with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (slightly different than the original instructions), and topped it with a sprinkling of Italian seasoning, salt, and fresh ground black pepper.

I roasted the whole thing at 400 degrees for 50 minutes.  Then I put it in the blender, one pan at a time, and gave it a whirl.  I didn't strain it, because I like the texture it has when the little bits remain.  I added more salt to taste and put it in the fridge to cool.

I get about one quart of sauce per baking sheet.  So two quarts of sauce will go into the freezer tonight, to sit and wait until I'm ready for it.  This is beautiful mixed with penne or rigatoni as a side dish with simple grilled chicken or beef.

One reminder for myself for next time - use the light baking sheets, not the dark ones.  Otherwise you end up with completely burned edges like these, which pretty much detract from the nice roasty flavor we're going for here!

Fried Apple Waffle Topping

Once upon a time, I used to can quarts and quarts of apple pie filling.  It was our favorite waffle topping, and we ate waffles and apples at least twice a month.  Then, I found out that my beloved recipe isn't safe for canning (it used cornstarch as a thickener, and you must use Clear Jel for food safety).  So that was the end of that.  Nowadays, I mostly turn my apples into applesauce, but I do can a few quarts of apple slices in syrup and spices that I thicken in a pot to top the waffles.

But when apple season is upon us, and we have a plethora of fresh apples from our backyard tree, I love to make this - with hints of butterscotch and spice, it is equally beautiful over waffles or a dish of ice cream.

Fried Apple Waffle Topping
Makes three generous servings

4 cups peeled, cored, and sliced cooking apples (Gala, Granny Smith, etc.)
2 T. butter
3 T. brown sugar (either light or dark will work here)
1/2 tsp. mixed spice (your choice - apple pie spice, pumpkin pie spice, cake spice, or a mixture of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg all work here)
1/4 tsp. salt

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Add apples and saute for two to three minutes.  Add sugar, spices and salt.  Continue cooking for 10 - 15 minutes, until the apples are soft and the sauce is slightly caramelized.  Serve hot.