Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Recipes: Lobster Bisque

What fun would a blog about food & dining be without documented attempts at various Disney recipes? For my first try at Disney grub, I chose the lobster bisque which can be found at quite a few Walt Disney World property restaurants. This is Johns' favorite soup so I decide to have it be my maiden attempt at a WDW dish, for my blog.

So I did some searching around the Internets and not surprisingly, found what looked like a promising recipe on the Disboards. The DISer who posted this recipe states they contacted Chefs de France in Epcot and they got back to them with this recipe. Now this is important-chefs (in general not just the Chefs de France folks) are notoriously secretive of their recipes. Many times you will ask a chef for a recipe and an old trick is to smile and give the person asking a slightly different version of the actually recipe. Why? Job security, ego, didn't learn ALL they needed to learn in kindergarten-you name it. So sometimes you have to try the recipe and if something doesn't make sense, play with it until you get it right. That's what I had to do with this recipe. Also I had to make some common sense substitutions for items I didn't have. So let's start with the recipe.

This is the recipe and instructions that were posted:

Lobster Bisque
Les Chefs de France

14 oz. raw lobster in the shell
1/3 cup butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
¼ clove of garlic, crushed
4 cups fish stock
4 whole black peppercorns
2 ½ cups water
1/3 cup flour
1 ¾ cups tomato puree
2 tbsp cognac
½ cup heavy cream
1 tsp each: chervil & tarragon

Melt half the butter in a pan, add the onions and cook until softened, when done add the garlic and shallots, cook briefly. Add the lobster, fish stock, peppercorns and the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the lobster from the stock, cool & take the meat from the shells & set aside. Crush the shells and return to the pan and continue to simmer for 40 minutes. Strain the stock through a sieve.

In a blender, puree the lobster with some of the stock. Mix the flour and remaining butter to make a paste. Add paste, tomato puree, cognac, cream, and mix well, salt & pepper to taste. Add the tarragon and chervil cook, stirring continuously over high heat until the soup thickens. Reduce and simmer gently for 5 minutes.


So let's start with substitutions I had to make. I had a few. First off, I didn't have fish stock and wasn't about to make it. I could have run out to the grocery store, but didn't feel like it, so I improvised. I did have fish sauce & vegetable base. Base is like bullion cubes, just wet. To make 8oz of vegetable stock from the base it called for 1 tsp of base. I needed 4 cups of fish stock so I used 3 tsp of base and 3 tbsp of fish sauce. The reason being-bases & fish sauce are both wicked salty. You can cut back on the fish sauce if you prefer.

I also didn't have shallots. This one I have to say was sorta big. I substituted in cipollini onions, but would have really preferred shallots. While shallots are in the onion family, they have a far more refined flavor. Milder, sweeter and all around better. But I had the cipollinis, which are sweeter in flavor, if not a bit less refined.

The recipe called for cognac-I substituted in brandy, which I prefer anyway.

I had leftover cooked lobster from the day before (fancy huh?) and although the recipe called for uncooked lobster, I found that using the cooked shells worked just fine. I did however take the meat out of the tail & claws and put it aside. I didn't want to over cook the meat and have it get rubbery. But there was plenty of meat in the legs that went into the pot

The last thing I had to make substitutions for was chervil & fresh tarragon. Since they are often substituted for each other I just used dried tarragon and made a note to myself to get some tarragon & chervil for my herb garden.

Let's begin:

First thing I did was to collect & chop all my ingredients all professional like. To be honest, normally it's more of an on-the-fly style of cooking at my house. But here is everything all nice and portioned out.

Step 1: Saute the onions in 1/2 of the butter until soft. Then add the shallots (cipollini) & garlic and saute a bit more.

Step 2: Add the fish stock, peppercorns & water.

Step 3: Add the lobster. If you are adding an uncooked lobster you would add it whole, or if you already butchered the lobster, would add the sectioned pieces. I was using pre-cooked lobster, so I simply added the broken shells, and legs with meat still in them. Reduce heat & let simmer for about 40 minutes. As you can see, I changed/eliminated steps by using cooked lobster. Keep your heat low & keep an eye on your stock.

Step 5: Strain the stock through a sieve and retain the liquid, discard the shells and any other solids.

Step 7: In a blender, puree SOME of the stock and the lobster meat (VERY important to only use a small amount of the stock or it will go all over the place. And use care anytime you put hot liquids in a blender or food processor!!). Again, here I only used half the meat and reserved the other half for he soup.

Step 7: Using the remaining butter & flour, make a paste.

 Step 8: Add paste, tomato puree, cream & cognac and mix well. The recipe was a bit vague here, and so I would like to give anyone attempting this a heads up. It would yield better results if you blended this mixture either in a blender/ food processor or used a stick mixer in the pot. If you don't you might find yourself working hard to not make dumplings from that butter/flour mixture.

As you can see I added each separately and found myself working hard to get rid of those dumplings ;) But I was successful!

Step 9: Return to stove and heat on high until the soup thickens. I then ended the remaining lobster meat & tarragon at the very end.

Before adding more cream
 Now at this point the recipe should be completed. When we tasted it, while very good, it wasn't right. As I stated in the beginning, recipes are often modified before they are given out-it became very apparent this was the case here. The original recipe called for only 1/2 cup of heavy cream. This is not enough to produce that creamy bisque-like texture, silkiness and delicate flavor. I recommend using at a minimum of 1 cup of cream and being open to increasing the cream to 1 1/2 cups. I know there's the whole health conscious thing, but it's bisque-not exactly known for it's great health rating lol.I recommend adding a 1/4 cup or cream at a time until you get the taste you like
After adding cream


Even with the substitutions & changes I made to the original recipe, it came out quite well. Both John & I agreed it was very much like the lobster bisque we have had at Chefs de France. The flavor was complex and full. Texturally, the bisque was silky and creamy and the delicious chunks of tender, sweet lobster meat provided a nice addition. While some bisque purists might not like the chunks of lobster, I really think it adds some personality to the dish. If you prefer a smooth texture, puree all the lobster. The most difficult part of this recipe was removing the lobster from the shells. Otherwise, it was a very simple recipe to execute and the results make it definitely worth trying at home. I do have one complaint though.......

I need a clean up crew. Any takers? In any case-Happy cooking!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Fruity Drink Fridays

This weeks' featured drink it one of the all time fruity drinks-Sangria. For me Summer & Sangria go hand in hand. I like to make a big pitcher up for the weekend. This recipes is a white Sangria and one of my favorites.

White Sangria
1 Bottle of White Wine such as Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, or even a Chablis.
1/2 Cup Peach Schnapps
1/4 Cup Triple Sec (or if you don't mind sacrificing it Grand Marnier)
1/4 Cup Mango liquor
1/4 Cup Apricot Brandy (optional)
1/2 Cup Pineapple juice
1/2 Cup Peach nectar
1/2 Cup Orange juice
Sliced oranges, peaches, lemons, limes, pineapple, green apple, fresh berries, star fruit, kiwi, grapes, mango. You can add any combination or even all of these fruits. Myself I really like eating the wine soaked fruit so I go big on the fruit.

Place all the fruit you are using in you pitcher and lightly muddle. Add everything else. Enjoy! This drink only gets better with time, so if you can wait a little bit to drink it-even better :) Oh and with all the fruit & juice this drink seems harmless, but remember there is a lot more than just wine in there. Don't forget the hard liquor is in there too-it sneaks up on you ;)


****Now for the disclaimer: These recipes DO contain alcohol and should only be consumed by persons of legal drinking age. Please drink responsibly & don't drink and drive. Lisa Ruiz & Disney Ala Carte are not responsible for any damage to person(s) or property, or loss of life that result from over consumption or abuse of these recipes. Got it? Not for kids, don't drink & drive, and be responsible :)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mini Food Review: Cirticos Chocolate Banana Tart

Chocolate Banana Tart - vanilla ice cream and caramelized bananas $9.00

This dessert has a lot of loyal fans, but I am not really one of them. Although I am a chocolate fiend, I am also bananas for bananas (sorry for that) and this sweet falls woefully short on them. This dish reminded me more of a Gianduia cake than anything else. When I ordered this I expected to get a more of a ganache filled pastry crust with caramelized bananas either inside or on top. What arrived was more of a brownie or lava cake. While being a cake of warm, gooey, chocolaty goodness is always a good way to score points with me, it was average in my opinion. Good-but predictable. Something I also did not like was the crust. It was way too hard making it difficult to get through. As in I couldn't get through it with my fork and had to break out the knife. As I stated there was a definite lacking of bananas-beyond a measly garnish. For me, if you're going to say something has bananas in it, then I want to taste banana. I didn't with this dish. Granted I am forever spoiled by California Grills' Banana & Butterscotch Buzz, but at the very least, they could have added a more ample portion of caramelized bananas. The tart was accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream which I found boring. I myself would have gone for perhaps a Dulce de Leche  or maybe a praline & sea salt ice cream or gelato. Perhaps the chefs' intention was a less complex dessert, which I can appreciate, but then I feel they should market it as such. Plating & presentation was of course striking and I think helps it's reputation, but it did not make up for the desserts less complex flavors. Don't get me wrong-this is a great dessert for any chocolate lover, but compared to other desserts on property, it's a bit too predicable for me. And did I mention there weren't enough bananas?

Mini Food Review: Citricos Lemon Cheesecake

Lemon Cheesecake - with fresh raspberry sauce $8.00

Ok first indulge me in a brief -SQUEAL! Now that we got that out of the way, let's do a review on my favorite food group-Dessert. I will be honest and say I can be a little harsh in this area, but dessert is serious stuff. Sweet tooth-I haz it. So when I critique a sweet of any time, I take it seriously. So without further ado-Citricos lemon cheesecake.

I have to admit that I am not a real big fan of cheesecake. I don't like it because it's too dense and the texture is usually crumbly. But Citricos lemon cheesecake is none of these things. While the texture is rich and creamy, it is also very smooth. The lemon flavor is clean and tart with just the perfect amount of sweetness and a whisper of vanilla. The cheese flavor is mild the way it should be-present but not overpowering. There are no bits of lemon, which I appreciate because I find it to be a total cheat when bakers do that. The dome of cheesecake is encapsulated in a shell of white chocolate ganache and bottomed with a fresh graham cracker crust. I do believe I noticed hints of ginger in the crust, perhaps from gingersnaps? The plate is garnished (read as bonus goodies) with a wonderful crisp tuile cookie (ours was served with a hazelnut tuile, but I do believe that changes from time to time) that nestles the cheesecake as well as white chocolate shavings, fresh berries. A sweet-tart raspberry sauce finishes off the presentation. 

Final impression: this is an amazing dessert. I think that this dish dazzles people with it's over-the-top presentation, but if you stripped away all the garnishes, you would still have a powerhouse dessert. From your first bite to the last you will have a smile on your face. It's not to be missed.

Mini Food Review: Citricos Braised Veal Shank

Braised Veal Shank - Carrot-Potato Puree, Roasted Vegetables, and Toasted Citrus Gremoloda $46.00

This is one of Citricos' signature dishes and it seems to be a a staple. It remained on the menu for a few years now and the reason being-it's just that good. While I enjoy a variety of food, I have to admit being a raging carnivore and this dish soothes the meat-craving beast in me. Whereas you can pretty much get a steak of some sort in every restaurant on WDW property, braised veal shank is a rare treat. The trick to this dish is time. To braise cook anything, you need to start early and take your time and they do at Citricos. The meat is flavorful, moist, fall-off-the-bone deliciousness. The flavor is rich without being gamy and the braising liquid is an explosion of flavor. The carrot-potato puree & roasted vegetables lend a sweetness and an earthy component to the dish. The toasted gremoloda is a lovely, light and crisp compliment that adds a bit of zing to this comfort food entree. There is one more thing to mention about this dish. When you order this dish, you will be given a long spoon. This is a marrow spoon. It is for scooping out all the wonderful marrow from the  bone. Now I know this is not for everyone, but the marrow is considered a delicacy and it is worth giving it a try. It is rich and decadent in flavor but texture wise, it may not be your cup of tea. There is a fattiness as well as greasiness that takes an acquired taste. Me-I absolutely love it, even if I can only enjoy it in small quantities. My final take on this dish? This dish is love. It's the kind of thing your old country grandmother would make for you. This is one of those dishes that you can actually taste the time & care put into making in. And quite simply-it makes me happy. 

Mini Food Review: Citricos Sautéed Shrimp - Lemon, White Wine, Tomatoes, and Feta Cheese

Sautéed Shrimp with Lemon, White Wine, Tomatoes, and Feta Cheese $14.00

This is another one of my favorites. This dish relies on very distinct flavors working together to create a wonderful dish. The shrimp is fresh, sweet and flavorful and NOT overcooked. Complimented by a white wine & lemon broth that is very typical of Medetierean cooking-it is refreshing in it's acidity and tartness.The Feta cheese adds a touch of Greek flair to this dish and ties the whole thing together. Because of Fetas' texture, the cheese does not suffer from sliminess by being in the broth. I really feel that this dish would suffer without the Feta-so definitely be open to giving it a try. I suggest asking for it on the side at the very least. This dish it big in flavor, but somehow still light on your palette. Where some dishes melt in your mouth and settle in, this dish does more of a tap dance across your tongue. Now while I know I will be mocked mercilessly over that description -it's the best way I can explain it lol. This dish is especially wonderfully adapted to Floridas' warm weather as it provides a light, delicious pick-me-up after a long day of touring.

Mini Food Review: Citricos Arancini Appetizer

Arancini - Crispy Risotto with Crimini Mushrooms, Asiago, and Charred Tomato Coulis $10.00

This appetizer sounds simple, almost too simple. And hey who can't make fried balls of rice-right? Wrong. This dish begins with a very important skill-making rice properly. I know, you think I'm being dramatic, but I'm really not. Because if not prepared properly, you end up with gluey, heavy balls of something you would rather give your kid to play with than eat.These wonderful little rice gems are light and the texture is defined and not at all glue-like. The sharpness of the cheese cuts through the fried food element, which is not in the least bit greasy.The earthiness of the crimini mushrooms give the dish a foundation and adds a nice earthy quality. Finished off with the slight acidity of the tomato coulis, this dish is an example it complementing flavors and knowing what your doing. It is approachable and delicious.

*This dish varies and at times will have a little bite-sized piece of ground sausage nestled in the center. A most delicious version indeed!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Restaurant Review: Citricos

I figured I'd start my restaurant reviews with my favorite restaurant in Walt Disney World-Citricos. We have eaten at this restaurant many times and really enjoy it.

Since this is my first review, I think I should set myself up with a format or framework to do all of them by. I will review on 5 major points: decor, service, menu selections/approachability, execution/food quality, and value. I will also give it a transportation rating (from 1-being the easiest to 5-being a complete pain in the knickers) based on ease of getting to & from the restaurant. So let's begin.

Brief Description: Citricos cuisine is Mediterranean, drawing it's influences from countries such as Italy, France and Spain. Fresh seafood, oak-fired meats, pasta, risotto and creative desserts can be found on this wonderful menu.

Decor: One of my favorite things about Citricos is it's decor. The colors are warm yellows and oranges with splashes of greens that can be found in the lush carpeting and padded dining chairs. Wrought iron railings and fixtures accent the decor. Floor to ceiling windows give the restaurant an open airy feeling, without being too bright or harsh. Lighting is ample but not overbearing or annoying. Although seating is fairly close, the carpeting, padded seats and drapery really do a great job at keeping noise levels low and making a conversation with your companions possible without having to raise your voice. This is one of my favorite things about Citricos. I am one of those people who will actually get ill if the dining environment is to loud or crazy. Citricos is a completely relaxing place to enjoy your meal.

Service: Like many of the Signature dining restaurants in Walt Disney World, Citricos has a very professional staff. I can honestly say that every time we have dined at Citricos, we have gotten a wonderful server. In fact from one year to the next, we have actually gotten the same server, who actually remembered us. Now, in full disclosure, I work in the restaurant industry and am not only a good tipper, but very interactive with my servers because I'm a nerd and love to talk food & trade. This might have left an impression-or maybe they are just that good. But it does take more than remembering me (and my money) to earn my adoration. I have found that the servers are quite knowledgeable in the menu, including ingredients and how the foods are prepared. They are pros at pacing out the meal, so you never feel rushed. Their wine & spirit knowledge is also extensive. I often ask for wine suggestions to compliment my meal and have always been pleased with the selections suggested. There is one other thing that I have only experienced at Citricos-amuse bouche. No-it's not some craft beer. Amuse bouche translates as "mouth amuser" (told you I was a food nerd) and it is a small bite-sized appetizer sent out by the chef. Now whether the server or the chef prompted these wonderful little tidbits to arrive at my table, I do not know. But I can tell you that this have never happened at any other WDW restaurant and I think it's a nice touch. As soon as you recognize who your diners (not eaters) are and do a little something to acknowledge them and entertain them, you have a fan in me. It's classy, it's fun and most of all it's part of the culture and lets foodies know that you know what you're doing. Overall I have always had a very positive service experience at Citricos.

Menu Selections/ Approachability: This one is tricky. This is a menu that samples in a variety of cuisines, so while you might be polished in your Italian, some French style might have you a bit unsure. But in spite of this, the menu offers something for everyone. Light & tasty vegetarian options, hearty meat dishes, and interesting takes on good old stand-bys like chicken. But I can see where some folks my feel overwhelmed by the menu choices and find it unapproachable. My advise-ask questions. A lot of times people are afraid to ask for an explanation of a dish, for fear of looking unsophisticated, when in a fancy restaurant. Don't be. You are giving them your hard earned money and in return it is their job to make sure you leave happy. People also fear it will insult the chef, and while I have known my share of uppity chefs who stroke out if you ask for a salt shaker, again-your money and they are working for it. Of course be polite & reasonable always, but if modifying a dish means you'll be willing to try it-please do so. So if preserved lemons sounds like something that you might want to request on the side-do so. Not sure what a gremoloda is-ask. You might find that you don't know how you ever lived without preserved tomatoes and dropping the word gremoloda to your friends like a Food network host. Incidentally a gremoloda is a garnish in Italian cooking made of lemon zest, parsley, garlic and olive oil. ;)

Execution/ Food Quality: *(So as not to make this the War & Peace version of a restaurant review, I will do mini reviews on individual dishes at a later time and give an overall review of the food & execution here.)
Here is where I feel Citricos really shines. It's not just about what they choose to put together-it's how they do it. I am a big fan of anyone who has mastered a variety of cooking skills. Anyone can apply heat to food and call themselves a cook, but to execute a cooking style and do it well-THAT is what separates the pros from the amateurs. The chefs execute a variety of complex cooking styles and manage to do it all in a timely manner and very well. They are consistent and the food is always prepared to perfection. Fresh ingredients are the rule and it shows. Nothing tastes of prepackaging or having been sitting around waiting (hoping) for you to order it. Dishes arrive at the table a picture of perfection. Plated and garnished perfectly, your eyes are fed first and your mouth can't wait for it's turn. The flavors range from simple & delicious to complex & heavenly. The chefs are Citricos are true professionals in every sense of the word and I highly recommend you allow them to cook for you during your next visit to Walt Disney World.

Value: With an average appetizer price of $12, entree price of $35 and average dessert price of $8, Citricos is not a cheap date. But in my opinion, it is worth it. Like all upscale dining restaurants, Citricos goes for quality over quantity. Do not expect to get gobs of food-the emphasis is on pleasing your palette not stuffing you like a holiday turkey. The portions are not overabundant, but they are not miniscule either, and if you are having a 3 course meal-they are perfectly portioned. In the end if you are someone who appreciates the experience of dining & can see the value in fresh food prepared to perfection, Citricos is a wonderful choice.

Finally I give Citricos a transportation/ease rating of 2. Although there isn't a direct resort-to-resort means of transportation, you can easily get to Citricos by taking your resort bus to Magic Kingdom and the either taking the monorail or a Friendship boat to the Grand Floridian. We are big fans of the Friendship boats, we find them relaxing and actually enjoy the ride, especially after a nice meal. The return is just as easy. Take the monorail or Friendship boat to Magic Kingdom & a return bus back to your resort from Magic.

My final word on Citricos is that it really is a great restaurant and definitely worth making a reservation to try. It's combination of warm decor, excellent service & most of all, outstanding food makes it a wonderful addition to your vacation.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fruity Drink Fridays

Today's drink recipe is my spin-off of Disney's Vanilla Blossom Cocktail.

Disneys' cocktail calls for Stoli Vanilla Vodka, St-Germain Liqueur, agave nectar & freshly squeezed lemon. But I am going to tweak it a bit. I am going to call my cocktail Summer Silk. So here we go.

Summer Silk Cocktail

2 Parts Grey Goose Le Vanille vodka
1 Part St-Germain Liqueur
2 Parts Lychee juice*
Juice of 1/4 lemon

Combine and serve chilled & up.

*You can find lychee juice in most Asian food section at your local grocery store. You can also use the juice from canned lychees as well. Lychees have a short season, but if you can get your hands on them to add some fresh lychee fruit to your drink-all the better!

****Now for the disclaimer: These recipes DO contain alcohol and should only be consumed by persons of legal drinking age. Please drink responsibly & don't drink and drive. Lisa Ruiz & Disney Ala Carte are not responsible for any damage to person(s) or property, or loss of life that result from over consumption or abuse of these recipes. Got it? Not for kids, don't drink & drive, and be responsible :)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fruity Drink Fridays

Todays' Drink is the Mojito:
If your neck of the woods is as warm as mine has been, this is a great summer drink to sit on your deck and cool off with. I am going to post the classic recipe that I use as well as some great variations.

6-10 Large Mint Leaves
1/4 Fresh Lime
2 oz of White Rum
1 oz Simple Sugar
Splash of Roses Lime Juice
Club Soda (Not Seltzer)

-Muddle (or crush) together the lime, mint & simple sugar together. *Don't own a muddler? That's ok-use the handle of a spoon or other long neck utensil.
-Fill glass with ice
-Add Rum (Why is the Rum always gone?)
-Fill with club soda
-Garnish with mint & fresh lime


Many variations of this drink can be made my substituting various flavored Rums in for White Rum. Examples are:
Pineapple Mojito: Use Pineapple Rum & pineapple mint.
Mango Mojito: Use Mango Rum & a splash of pineapple juice.
Raspberry Mojito: Use Raspberry infused Rum.
Coconut Mojito: Yup you guesses it-use any one of the delicious Coconut Rums available & a splash of unsweetened coconut milk or water. 

Have fun with this drink and adjust it to suit your taste buds. And don't be afraid to make these up by the pitcher ;)
****Now for the disclaimer: These recipes DO contain alcohol and should only be consumed by persons of legal drinking age. Please drink responsibly & don't drink and drive. Lisa Ruiz & Disney Ala Carte are not responsible for any damage to person(s) or property, or loss of life that result from over consumption or abuse of these recipes. Got it? Not for kids, don't drink & drive, and be responsible :)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pancake Failure & Other Kitchen Disasters

First I'm gonna brag a bit and it's totally ok because I'm going to follow it up with an embarrassing confession. So the bragging. I'm a pretty good cook, some would say very good. I can pull off quite a few very complicated dishes, backtrack a recipe just from taste, and have been known to even create a few winner recipes of my own. All in all, quite proficient in the kitchen.

And now for the embarrassing part-for as good as I can be in the kitchen, there is still a really basic dish that eludes me. Pancakes. And I know all you pancake pros are out there laughing at me from behind your griddles, and it's ok. I will sit here and wait, hanging my head in shame, as you get over your giggle fit. Try as I might, I can never get those light, fluffy wonderous delights they serve at IHOP or Perkins. It's sad really-belly bombs every time....

Ok so why am I telling you this and subjecting myself to merciless ridicule? Simple-one of my goals for this blog is for it to be interactive. I plan on posting recipes I like-ones I have tried and ones I want to try. I want to try and decode them from menu descriptions & pictures as well. Hopefully you'll join me and try out some of these dishes on your own. But let's face it-not every kitchen endeavour is a successful one. Sure I could sit here telling you how every thing I have every made was a culinary masterpiece, deserving of being served to royalty-but then I'd be a big, fat fibber. I've had some real bombs. Mishaps my dogs wouldn't eat. And I hate wasting food-so barring food that is harmful to them-yeah I've tried to pass it off on them and the little traitors wouldn't even help me out.

So here it is-my promise to you dear readers. No matter what the out come, for good or bad I will honestly post all results from all attempts to recreate/create/decode, any recipe I post on this blog. So committed to this level of full disclosure, I am starting a section just for my failures/disasters. And I'll be honest, my ego & I are really hoping this is a very small section, but only time will tell that. But I will give myself one chance at redemption. If I can learn from my failure and pull off the recipe successfully the second time-then I get to move the recipe to a success file (yet to be given a clever name). So here's to failing miserably & learning from your mistakes-but always being honest about it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fruity Drink Fridays

Yes-I know I'm late posting today. But I did start this tradition on my Facebook page (which you can also view here) on Friday. I am going to do a quick repost, but I promise next week it will be a fresh on-time post each Friday. 

Thank you & enjoy :)

"Taking a break from working on my next installment on the Disney dining plan to start a new Friday tradition at Disney Ala Carte-Fruity Drink Friday. As some of you know I wear many hats, besides the travel agent stuff, I am a long time bartender. So to start off the weekend right, I will be posting a new adult beverage recipe each Friday."

****Now for the disclaimer: These recipes DO contain alcohol and should only be consumed by persons of legal drinking age. Please drink responsibly & don't drink and drive. Lisa Ruiz & Disney Ala Carte are not responsible for any damage to person(s) or property, or loss of life that result from over consumption or abuse of these recipes. Got it? Not for kids, don't drink & drive, and be responsible.

This is an adaptation of Disneys' Blue Glow-tini:

2 Parts Citrus Vodka (They use SKYY Vodka-I use anything but lol)
1 Part Peach Schnapps (I like Peachtree)
1 Part Blue Curacao
Fill with 1/2 Pineapple juice & 1/2 Sour mix
Shake with ice and strain and serve up (no ice) in a glass with a sugared rim

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Disney Dining Plan and Other Fighting Words (Part 3)

So we've discussed the Quick Service Plan, and the Base Plan, which brings us to my absolute favorite of all plans-Deluxe Dining. Now, I'm going to be upfront and say that this plan is NOT for everyone. And I don't always recommend this plan for first time visitors with young children. There are only certain people who I would even bring this plan up with and pretty basically they would be complete foodies like myself and/or repeat visitors. Like I said before-we're a family of food nerds. Even our daughter is a food nerd-she will sit with us through a 4 course meal & critique the menu, individual dishes, decor, service and strangely enough-the bathroom decor. She's a weird kid-takes after her mom. In any case, let's get right into the unique bird that is Disneys' Deluxe Dining Plan.

The Deluxe plan includes the following per person, per night:

(3) Table Service or Quick Service meals or a mix & match of the two

Quick Service Meal:

1 entree or combo meal
1 dessert
1 non-alcoholic drink (coffee, soda, iced tea, etc.)

Table Service Meal:

1 appetizer
1 entree of full buffet meal
1 non-alcoholic drink (coffee, soda, iced tea, etc.)
1 dessert


2 Snack per day
1 refillable resort mug per person

The cost for his plan is based on travel dates:

$99.97 per adult (ages 10+)
$26.84 per child (ages 3-9)

During the following dates in 2013:                      
1/1/13  - 2/13/13
2/24/13 - 3/7/13
4/7/13  - 5/30/13
8/4/13  - 12/12/13                

$102.27 per adult (ages 10+)
$28.91   per child (ages 3-9)

During the following dates in 2013: (Peak Season)
2/14/13  - 2/23/13
3/8/13   -  4/6/13
5/31/13  - 8/3/12

12/13/13- 12/31/13                     

Let me quickly touch on what I mean about mixing & matching table service and quick service.What this means is you have 3 credits per person per day and you can work out where & when you eat in any way that makes you happy. I know you're thinking-but wait what if I want to eat at Cinderellas' Royal Table (2 credit meal) for breakfast, Coral Reef (1 credit dining) for lunch and top the day off with California Grill (2 credit Signature dining) for dinner? You can. You would be stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey and probably in need of being rolled to your room like Violet Beauregarde after the Wonka factory incident, but you could totally do it. How-you ask? Well here's the trick-When you check in, Disney deposits all your dining credits in to your account. They are yours to spend as you please. So you can dole them out daily and only use 3 per day( in any configuration you like) or burn them all in a few days. Same goes for snacks.

Ok the pros & cons of the Deluxe Dining Plan:

The Pros to this plan are:

* The ultimate in dining flexibility & restaurant choices
* A chance to try all of the best restaurants on property
* The plan includes dessert & appetizers-which to some of us is big
* More food (I am also going to list this under cons-because for different people this could be good or bad)
* Ability to experience a Character meal every day
* Snacks can be used at the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival kiosks (Which I will review later on it's own-the Festival that is.)

The Cons of this plan are:

* It is A LOT of food (although there is a trick to getting around this)
* It requires a lot time. In getting to the restaurant & the time it takes to eat a 3 course meal.
* Tips are not included and if you are dining in the Signature restaurants this can get expensive
* This plan requires planning-and LOTS of it.

Like I said before, this plan isn't for amateurs. And it's not for people who wouldn't eat like this anyway. If after reading what this plan entails your first thought is "WHO would do this?!"-this isn't the plan for you. But is you're like us and your first thought is "I can't wait to download menus & make my advance dining reservations (ADRs)."-then we are kindred spirits and you will be very happy with your choice.

First you need to make your advance dining reservations (ADRs) and pretty much at the 180 day mark to get the best selection of restaurants, especially Character dining and decent times at Signature restaurants. Once I get where I'm dining planned out & my ADRs made (using any special events/fireworks/parades to help decide when), I will download the most recent menus available and guesstimate what the tip will be for any table-service meals. I know this sounds difficult, but I basically know what my family will order and you probably know what your family is most likely to order as well lol. I then put money that aside in an envelope marked 'Tips'. Next I do something important-I figure out my travel times. This is big-there's nothing worse than being stressed out because you're trying to make an ADR and watching the 3 full buses roll on by (or if you rented a car-getting lost or stuck in traffic), except actually missing an ADR. It takes a lot of time to organize & plan your dining reservations-the last thing you want to do is miss them because of transportation.

Now, no matter how I spin it-this IS a lot of food. But I mentioned a trick we use to get around this. As much as we love to eat-we can't put away 3 full meals daily plus snacks. So what we usually do it this: I book a late breakfast (usually a character meal) around 10am-10:30am. This also works for us because when on vacation-we usually don't like to get up early. Then I book a later dinner, usually between 6pm-7:30pm, at a 2 credit Signature restaurant or dinner show.

Here are my reasons:
1) That's only 2 large meals spread out during the day.
2) It allows us to eat a great breakfast & dinner.
3) It gives us time after breakfast in the parks & time after dinner to see fireworks, many times.
* You can modify our plan to accommodate being early risers & early dinner diners. The point is to give yourself enough time to work off breakfast before it's time to eat dinner.

Now we do not always eat at a 2 credit restaurant every night, some nights we will enjoy a meal Downtown or one of the many great 1 credit dining locations in the parks, this means that we have extra credits available to us if we get peckish in between meals and we also have plenty of snack credits that can be used for side salads, soups, fruit and other items to tie us over.

While I am on snack credits, I'd like to mention that if you are going during the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, those snack credits can be used for many of the food items & non-alcoholic beverages, in the many kiosks throughout the park. The usual "rule" is anything under $4.00-but I can tell you I have gotten the Lobster roll & crab cakes which were priced around $7.00 using snack credits. So if you are considering going for the Festival, consider the Deluxe plan and using your snack credits during it.

So there you have it, the 3 Dining plans. I tried to be as objective as possible to help you make a decision on whether or not the plan is for you, as well as which of the plans would best fit your family and touring style. I would of course, like to mention, that if the dining plan seems like something you would like to experience, but are intimidated by the planning required for the Base & Deluxe plans-consider utilizing the services of a good travel agent. One who is familiar with all 3 plans and can give you suggestions on on the many restaurant choices available throughout the WDW property. But also one who will not put you into a plan that doesn't work for you. I would love the opportunity to help plan out your next Disney vacation including a Dining Plan. I can sit down with you in person, if local, or on the phone and discuss with you which plan is best for your family & your budget, suggest different dining experiences as well as make your ADRs and create a complete itinerary to ensure enough time for transportation, fireworks viewing and more. If you're interested please contact me at or (845)283-5099 to start planning your next Disney vacation experience. I hope this has helped you decide if a Disney Dining plan is something you would like to experience on your Disney vacation.

The Disney Dining Plan and Other Fighting Words (Part 2)

In my previous post I discussed the Quick Service Plan and the pros & cons as well as my personal opinion on who the plan would benefit or not benefit. For Part 2, I will discuss the mid level plan, the Plus plan This plan is a mixture of counter service, sit-down meals and snack options. I like this plan myself and think that it works well for first timers as well as creative veterans. But I do want to be as honest about the plan as I can, so you can make the best decision as to whether or not the plan work for you specifically.

The Plus plan includes the following per person, per night:

(1) Counter service meal 

1 meal or combo meal
1 non-alcoholic beverage (juice, milk, coffee, tea, etc.)

1 entree or combo meal
1 dessert
1 non-alcoholic beverage (coffee, soda, iced tea, etc.)

(1) Table service or buffet meal:

1 entree or full buffet meal
1 non-alcoholic meal

1 appetizer
1 entree or full buffet
1 non-alcoholic beverage (coffee, soda, iced tea, etc.)

1 single serve size snack per person

(1) Refillable Resort Mug per person (*New for 2012)

*The cost of this plan varies by dates of travel:

$55.59 per adult (ages 10+)                                       
$17.16 per child (ages 3-9) 
During the following dates in 2013:                        
1/1/13  - 2/13/13
2/24/13 - 3/7/13
4/7/13  - 5/30/13
8/4/13  - 12/12/13                

$56.94 per adult (ages 10+)
$18.16 per child (ages 3-9)

During the following dates in 2013: (Peak Season)
2/14/13  - 2/23/13
3/8/13   -  4/6/13
5/31/13  - 8/3/12
12/13/13- 12/31/13                     

The Pros to this plan are:
* More dining options
* Character dining included
* Ability to get creative and use (2) table service credits on a Signature dining restaurant or a Dinner show
* More food including the addition of an appetizer for lunch/dinner dining.
* Early admittance to parks with an early morning ADR (Advance Dining Reservation)

The Cons of this plan are:
* Making Advance Dining Reservations (ADR) is highly recommended. If you don't like planning ahead-this          
   plan may not be for you (*the new reservation policy has helped a lot)
* Tips for table service restaurants are not included so this is an extra cost to factor in
* Time away from parks
* Childrens' dining options are somewhat limited and repetitious

For our family, this plan is a favorite. I like that we can grab a quick breakfast at the resort and then head out to the parks. Having done pretty much every character breakfast available & my daughter turning 10 has made character breakfasts a little less important to us. Don't get me wrong-I love a good breakfast buffet and Disney does them better than anyone-but we are moving into the 'slower start' stage of our vacation lives. Then we can plan for a nice sit-down dinner in a variety of restaurants in the parks, as well as resort restaurants. We also will trade (2) table service credits for a wonderful Signature dining experience as well.

Now will this plan work for you? Here are some things to consider when deciding if it will work for your family. First do you like to plan? Any Disney regular will tell you that to make the most out of your dining plan, you need to make advance dining reservations. While I am not saying you couldn't get lucky by walking up to a table service restaurant and asking if there are any openings, during busy times such as holidays and during Free Dining promotions (I will get into this juggernaut in a later post-but keep it in the back of your mind), getting into certain restaurants is nearly impossible without an ADR. I say if you're paying for it-take time to plan ahead and make sure you get to eat in the restaurants you want.

The next thing to think about is the time it takes to actually eat. As you've heard me say, dining is just as an important part of our vacation as being in the parks. We have also been to WDW many times and don't mind taking the time out of touring to eat. But you might feel different. Consider how your family tours and then consider your eating patterns too. Do you eat on a certain schedule? Are you a family of light eaters? Is it going to be a fight/waste of time to get your kids to sit down long enough to eat, or will they spend the whole meal asking when they can get back on Dumbo? All these things factor into whether the plan would work for your family.

And finally cost. This one is tricky and there are a lot of things to consider/compare here. I am going to work off of the $55.59 and $17.16 price points. Let's say a family of 5, consisting of 2 adult and 3 kids decides on the Plus plan. With no discounts promotions (like Free Dining-back to this later I promise) you would be looking at a total cost of $162.66 per day. Plus any additional gratuities for Table Service dining which I will figure at 18% on a buffet dinner at Chef Mickey simply because it is a fixed price meal and I like easy math, and get an amount of $26.00 (rounded up for ease). This gives us a grand total of $188.66 for the day, for (2) adults and (3) children to purchase the Plus plan and assuming gratuity on one sit-down meal a day.

Now for that $189.00 you get:

5 counter service meals (let's say breakfast at the resort counter service restaurant)
5 Buffet meals in Chef Mickeys (or any other sit-down of your choice-but pricing may change)
5 Snacks

The same days worth of dining would look like this if you paid out of pocket:

5 Counter service breakfast platters approx $37.00 (including tax)
5 Buffet meals in Chef Mickeys + gratuity & tax approx $170.00
5 Snacks which I averaged out to about $20.00
Giving me a grand total of $227.00

This would give you around a $38.00** savings BUT if you were to factor in appetizers and other ala carte dining options-you would more than likely see even more savings.
(* *Please note all these numbers are completely relative to what foods I chose to use as an example and might be drastically different than what you & your family might choose, changing the totals greatly.)

SO the answer really lies in you, your family and your dining habits. For us-if given the option, we would prefer to eat at least one sit-down meal a day in a nice restaurant. We often order appetizers & desserts for that matter, and don't mind taking time away from touring to dine-so the plan works for us and saves us money. You might be different-and that's ok. You might find the QSDP (Quick Service Dining Plan) or the Tables in Wonderland card might be a better option.

Hope this helps a bit, but if you have any questions-drop me a line. I'd be more than happy to answer any questions you might have about the plan :)

Next post Disney Dining Plan and Other Fighting Words (Part 3)