Monday, October 5, 2015

Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom Eats


The most iconic park at Walt Disney World is definitely the Magic Kingdom. From the incredible Cinderella Castle serving as its central hub, to the wheel-and-spoke design branching out to several distinct lands such as Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Adventureland, and more, the Magic Kingdom truly is the happiest place on Earth.

I've been very fortunate to have taken the awesome Keys to the Kingdom Tour available at the park for an extra fee. I discussed it in a previous post, but continue to recommend it to anyone interested.

On our recent visit to Walt Disney World, we visited the Magic Kingdom twice and dined at a couple of the Quick Service options for lunch, and then headed to resorts for dinner (our own resort Port Orleans Riverside to dine at Boatwright's and Animal Kingdom Lodge to eat at Sanaa--my newest review will be coming soon).

While Day 1 at MK was sunny and beautiful in theory, it was an inferno. Day 2 was overcast and much more tolerable.

On the day we arrived, after checking into our resort we headed straight to the Magic Kingdom. We were starving, but had an early fast pass to use at Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin first, and then headed immediately to Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe for lunch. I've heard great things about Cosmic Ray's for years, and am happy to finally have a chance to check it out.

Let's start with the setup at Cosmic Ray's. There are three bays where you can order food in this futuristic-themed eatery.

Bay 1 features mostly chicken while bays 2 and 3 feature burgers and sandwiches. You simply stand in line at whichever bay you prefer to order your meal. The offerings at bays 2 and 3 are identical. The Barbecue Pork Sandwich and the Bacon Deluxe Chicken Sandwich are the only items that appear at all 3 bays.

Speaking of the Barbecued Pork Sandwich, that's what we all ordered! This pulled pork sandwich is served on a soft bun with your choice of fries, green beans or apple slices. The sandwich was quite tasty considering it didn't hail from an actual BBQ joint. The pork is moist and the sauce is tasty. The fries are well-seasoned and definitely fit the bill. An order of lemonade rounded out lunch with a bit of refreshment on this super hot day.

Barbecued Pork Sandwich $10.29

The atmosphere at Comic Ray's Starlight Cafe is as big a draw as the food. The resident entertainer, Sonny Eclipse, is an alien musician with a giant venue that serves as the main dining room.

We managed to find some seats with a great view, although a bit further away from Sonny, it probably spared us from experiencing most of the too-noisy aspect of this particular dining spot. I've heard lots of people comment on how loud it can be, but since we were sitting pretty far away it actually wasn't bad at all.

All in all I was very pleased by my first experience at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe. I can see why it's such a popular Magic Kingdom spot, and I can also see myself returning in the future. I'd happy get the Barbecued Pork Sandwich, but I'd also happily try some of the chicken or burger options as well.

This particular day at the Magic Kingdom was appallingly hot. I mean, we were basically melting in this Central Florida inferno. I honestly don't know how people can live there. I complain about the heat and humidity in our New England summers, but they pale in comparison. We headed back to our resort earlier than planned to spend the rest of the afternoon in the pool, and then headed back to the Magic Kingdom the next morning (after breakfast at Kona Cafe--the subject of another upcoming post) and were pleased to find the weather overcast and much more tolerable.

We actually had Advanced Dining Reservations for lunch at Be Our Guest. This was our third time dining here. We've previously enjoyed both dinner and lunch here. Be Our Guest is a unique experience in many ways, but one of which is the fact that it's considered a Quick Service restaurant for lunch (although it does accept reservations) and a Table Service restaurant for dinner.

One of the really cool things about Be Our Guest is that if you have Advanced Dining Reservations, you can also actually order your food in advance. Then when you arrive onsite you simply pay for it, a cast member will hand you a rose (typically red unless someone in your dining party has a food allergy, and then you get a gold one), and then you head into one of the dining rooms to find a table. They use the rose to find your location and bring you your food.

I've dined in the Ball Room and the West Wing on past occasions. I personally love the Ball Room because it's so opulent with the gorgeous chandeliers and huge windows depicting snow falling outside, but this room can get very loud because of its size and the acoustics.

The West Wing is probably the most popular because it's smaller and quieter, but also really beautifully themed. It contains the Beast's rose sitting in the window, as well as a tattered portrait of the Beast as a prince. Every so often, you'll hear a loud rumble of thunder and the portrait will briefly transform to show the Beast. It's a really cool experience, and I do recommend everyone visits this room even if you don't plan on dining in here.

I ordered the exact same dish I had last time I was here for lunch: the Braised Pork. It's slow-cooked for 8 hours with mushrooms, onions, carrots, and bacon and served with mashed potatoes and green beans jardiniere. Obviously I wouldn't have ordered it again if I didn't enjoy it the first time around. It's absolute comfort food, and perhaps was even more enjoyable the second time around. I've said it before and I will say it again, the chef here likes salt. I'd say the food in general is just on the cusp of being salty, but was just fine for us. A pinch more and it would have been too much. If you're really sensitive to salt, please beware of this.

Braised Pork (Coq au Vin Style) $12.99

Be Our Guest continues to be a culinary highlight at the Magic Kingdom, not particularly because of the food (although we have overall been pleased by all of our meals here--minus the salt issue), but because of the ambiance and the experience (when you have dinner here you get to meet the Beast!). I definitely think it's worth visiting Be Our Guest at least once, but definitely try to get reservations if you can! Because lunch is Quick Service, some visitors don't realize you can do that, but I'm here to tell you that you can and you should!

My nephew enjoying his first visit to Walt Disney World!

Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe
1180 Seven Seas Drive
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
(407) 939-3463

Be Our Guest Restaurant
1180 Seven Seas Drive
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
(407) 939-3463

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Carrot Cake Pancakes


Breakfast! It's October's theme for the Creative Cooking Crew challenge. It's also one of my favorite meals, but one that I rarely actually get to enjoy. I don't eat breakfast daily, but on the weekends or on vacation eating breakfast or brunch is one of the highlights, whether in my own kitchen or at a restaurant.

I tend to sway to more savory dishes in both instances. I am a lover of all forms of Eggs Benedict, and have eaten my share both in and out of my kitchen. I find it very difficult to order sweet breakfast dishes whenever I go out for brunch because I find the savory ones to be so irresistible.

Carrot cake pancake batter

With that said, I do occasionally make sweet breakfast dishes in my own kitchen to make up for that. I enjoy making everything from waffles to pancakes and everything in between (think French toast and cinnamon buns for starters). They tend to be more special occasion breakfasts and not something I'd make every weekend since they aren't exactly a healthy way to start the day.

For this month's breakfast challenge, I decided to take the sweet route. There are so many wonderful ideas for seasonal pancakes and waffles, from variations including pumpkin to cranberries, apples, pears, and soon even gingerbread flavored dishes will begin to trend. I decided to make something that would be perfect for the season, but truly excellent any time of year: carrot cake pancakes.

This spin on carrot cake takes the popular flavors from the dessert and transforms them into light, not-too-sweet pancakes studded with crunchy pecans and sweet pineapple, and finished off with a tangy cream cheese glaze.

What's not to like? I highly recommend these easy to make pancakes to satisfy your weekend pancake craving. They are not only delicious, but a great way to sneak some fruit and vegetables into the bellies of picky eaters ;-)

Check out this month's roundup of recipes at Lazaro Cooks.

Carrot Cake Pancakes
Makes 8 pancakes (I actually yielded 1 dozen)
(From Pancakes)

Dry Mix:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Wet Mix:
1 1/4 cups buttermilk, shaken
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 cup peeled and grated carrots
1/4 cup diced pineapple
1/8 cup chopped pecans

Butter or vegetable oil, for the skillet
Cream cheese glaze, for serving (recipe follows)

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg.

In a measuring cup or small bowl, measure out the buttermilk. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until thoroughly combined.

All at once, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. The batter should have some small to medium lumps. Gently fold in the grated carrots, pecans, and pineapple.

Preheat your skillet over medium heat and brush with 1 1/2 teaspoons of butter or a teaspoon of vegetable oil. Using a 1/4-cup measure, scoop the batter onto the warm skillet. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until small bubbles form on the surface of the pancakes, and then flip. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook on the opposite sides for 1 to 2 minutes, or until golden brown.

Transfer the cooked pancakes to a baking sheet and place in a preheated 200 degree F oven to keep warm. Repeat the process with the remaining batter, adding more butter or vegetable oil to the skillet when needed. Serve immediately with cream cheese glaze.

Cream Cheese Glaze
Makes 1 cup glaze
(From Pancakes)

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2/3 cup whole milk
1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, add the cream cheese, sugar, milk, and vanilla. Using an electric mixer (or a whisk) beat vigorously until smooth. Serve immediately.

*Note* This will make more glaze than you really need for one pancake recipe. I scaled it down when I made it. I think half the recipe would be plenty, but use your judgement.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Walt Disney World: Port Orleans Dining (Boatwright's and More!)


Last week, I shared a post exploring one of the most popular Moderate Resorts at Walt Disney World: Port Orleans Riverside. We took a look around the beautiful grounds as well as into the charming rooms in the Alligator Bayou section of the resort. Today, I'd like to discuss the food at Port Orleans, both at Riverside and its next door neighbor Port Orleans French Quarter.

Let's begin with my favorite of the three Port Orleans dining options: Boatwright's Dining Hall. Located at Port Orleans Riverside (POR), this table service restaurant is themed like a Louisiana shipyard, and even has the hull of an unfinished boat on display hanging from the ceiling. Boat-making tools are displayed prominently on the walls throughout the space.

Although I love the themeing of this restaurant, it's not my favorite part of dining here. The food definitely wins out here. Louisiana's most prominent Creole and Cajun dishes are featured on the menu, along with some other Southern-inspired favorites. Dishes like jambalaya, gumbo, and étouffée are just a few of these dishes. Let's take a closer look.

First and foremost, drinks! After reviewing the drink menu, there were lots of delicious-sounding options, but one of them really stood out as a super refreshing choice at the end of what turned out to be an exceptionally hot day. Really, it felt like an inferno. We actually had to leave the park far earlier than planned and go submerge ourselves in the resort pool instead. It's a tough life. Anyway, back to that drink!

The Raspberry-Ginger Mojito is a blend of Finlandia raspberry vodka, ginger, mint, raspberry puree, fresh lime juice, and coconut water. Between the mint and lime, mojitos by nature are refreshing drinks. This particular one is really a pseudo-mojito because its alcohol base is vodka as opposed to the traditional rum. Regardless, it was a fantastic cocktail to start this meal and I'd happily order it again. PS this drink is actually on the standard Disney Bar and Lounge menu available throughout Walt Disney World, not just specific to this restaurant, so you should be able to find it elsewhere too!

Raspberry-Ginger Mojito

Soon after, a basket of sweet, crumbly cornbread with giant scoops of soft, spreadable butter was delivered to our table. Oh yes. Seriously, two of my favorite indulgent things combined. The cornbread at Boatwright's fits the bill and ties in well with the rest of the menu.

I absolutely had to begin my meal with some of the Crescent City Gumbo, which features chicken and andouille sausage slow-cooked in a Cajun-spiced broth and served with rice. This 6-ounce portion should be offered in a 20-ounce portion because it's quite frankly one of the best things ever. I'm not from "N'Oleans" so I'm certainly no expert on the art of gumbo, but my mouth says that this gumbo is excellent and not to be missed. It's somewhat spicy, and just so well seasoned and fantastic. I just can't say enough. Order it.

Crescent City Gumbo $7.49

Onto the entrees. My sister and I actually went halfsies on our entrees, but I also partook in some of my dining companions meals as well (it's good being a food blogger). Let me begin with what I thought was the most disappointing item, the Voodoo Chicken. This is Boatwright's take on chicken and waffles, one of the best, most unexpected food combinations of all time. This dish was fine, but nothing to write home about. It features a thick maple-bacon gravy on the side which you use to dress your chicken and waffles. The gravy was fine but maybe a tad too thick to make it easy to pour. I really prefer something more in the maple syrup family for my chicken and waffles. Again, just mediocre. It's not bad, but I've had way better chicken and waffles.

Voodoo Chicken $21.99

The other dish we shared was the Cajun Bayou Catfish, served with dirty rice, seasonal veggies, cayenne-butter sauce, and chive aioli. This was more flavorful than the chicken dish. I really loved the cayenne-butter sauce especially. It added a bit of spice without overwhelming the delicate fish. Another Southern favorite, dirty rice, is a wonderful accompaniment, as is the fresh asparagus. I'd happily recommend this dish.

Cajun Bayou Catfish $19.99

One of my dining companions who considers himself to be a rib aficionado was very impressed by the Turbodog Barbecued Ribs, served with Cajun steak fries and homemade coleslaw. I tasted a small bite and thought it was perfectly tender and very flavorful. Although this isn't a smokehouse, if you're craving barbecue, these ribs are a solid choice.

Turbodog Barbecued Ribs $21.99

My favorite entree that I tried luckily belonged to a friend who got full after eating only half of it, so she gave me the rest :) I couldn't finish it after already eating most of my two entree halves, but I just couldn't stop eating it! It was so good! The entree I speak of is the Jackson Square Étouffée. Using a popular Cajun technique known as "smothering" this dish uses crawfish as its base and boasts and incredibly delicious and spicy flavor profile. Like the gumbo, this too is served with rice. It is a massive portion with a healthy amount of heat, but not so much that a spice lover couldn't handle it. I've had WAY spicier food, but if you're sensitive to spice, this dish isn't for you.

Jackson Square Étouffée $17.99

Finally, with our meal complete, our server brought over a small birthday treat for my nephew and his friend, who were both celebrating birthdays on our trip. They each got a small plastic glowing Buzz Lightyear clipped to Mardi Gras beads and a balloon. This was such a fun birthday treat for a child that still tied in the themeing of the resort.

During our stay at Port Orleans, we also visited the two quick service options for breakfast: Riverside Mill Food Court at Port Orleans Riverside, and Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory at Port Orleans French Quarter. Both of them are cafeteria style in the sense that there are different food stations where you can order certain items and then you pay for your selections and find a table. Many of the menu options are the same at both locations, but there are a few differences.

The Riverside Mill Food Court is housed in a space that actually features a water wheel or watermill. You can see the turbines and gears inside the dining area. That's the main themeing of this space. It's otherwise very wooden inside. Lots of browns, very rustic. Not surprising. Breakfast here is pretty standard. I could see myself getting sick of the food a few days in, but for once or twice in the span of a trip, it's fine. Here are the menus...

Apparently the Bounty Platter differs slightly depending on the station at which its ordered. If you order a Bounty Platter at the Salads & Sandwiches station, you get a Mickey Waffle. If you order at The Grill, it comes with either French toast or a pancake. In addition to this sweet component, regardless of where you order, you get scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, a biscuit, and home fries. I selected a Bounty Platter with French toast. It had a good variety of standard breakfast items packed with protein to start the day, but with a bit of decadence as well. The food here is fine, but nothing overtly special. It's a convenient fix to your morning dining needs. They also serve lunch and dinner here, but I haven't tried it myself.

Bounty Platter $9.49

I actually prefer breakfast at Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory next door at Port Orleans French Quarter for one main reason: Beignets. Although there are plenty of other food options here, the reason to come here is the beignets. They are hot, puffy, and covered in sweet powdered sugar that just coats the roof of your mouth with molten sugar. With each bite of these crispy, chewy, fried morsels, you just feel a little closer to Heaven.

Beignets (6) $4.59

Sorry, I just zoned out for a minute.

I also tried one of the croissants here. It was simply okay, nothing special. My one complaint is that they don't have any real butter, but rather only margarine and a vegetable oil spread. I asked a cast member if they had any real butter I could use on my croissant (because we all know there just isn't enough butter in there already), and he offered to go into the kitchen and get some. He returned with a huge slab of butter (he knows my secret shame!). But alas, I didn't use all the butter, just a small bit along with some honey (available with the condiments). I felt like it was a waste for them to give me all that butter (and I almost wanted to eat it all just to prove a point), but I do appreciate that they were able to accommodate my food snobbery and desire for real butter.

Croissant $2.99

Anyway, if you're staying at Port Orleans, you really have no excuse not to stop by at least once to try the beignets. They even have gluten-free ones, although I can't comment on their quality. They're found only at Sassagoula Floatworks at Port Orleans French Quarter, but that's a short walk from Riverside, and really, you want to start burning off calories in advance. Trust me on this.

The decor at Sassagoula (named after the river that flows by the two resorts) includes fake floats (many creepy) that are reminiscent of what I imagine Mardi Gras would be like. I've never actually been. Sad face.

See what I mean? Creepy.

All in all, Port Orleans has some solid options for food. I really with Boatwright's offered more than just dinner (years ago they used to also have breakfast and possibly lunch), but otherwise, it's definitely one of my favorite dining spots at Disney, and it's more reasonably priced than some of my other favorites so that's a win in my book! Also, beignets. Definitely don't discount Port Orleans when making your dining plans at Disney. It's worth a visit. Maybe two.

Boatwright's Food Hall
1251 Dixie Dr
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
(407) 939-3463

Riverside Mill Food Court
1251 Riverside Dr
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
(407) 939-3463

Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory
2201 Orleans Dr
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
(407) 934-5000


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