Sunday, September 9, 2018

Getting into BBQ and Smoking

We both grew up with families that used propane grills for outdoor cooking.  So naturally when we got married and had our own home we bought propane grills and loved them.   Some conversations with friends piqued Dave’s curiousity about smoking.   The great experiment started this summer.

Holly received a work service award catalog that contained a variety of useless gifts to choose from.  We narrowed her options down to a power washer and a bullet smoker.   The smoker was our final choice because 1) we could try one for “free” 2) we are scared of taking the paint off our house with a power washer.  When the smoker finally arrived we were in the middle of our major deck remodel project - fixing sunken joists, refacing everything, new railings, and animal abatement (to prevent other things from dying underneath the deck).   The project was completed by July 4th weekend giving us a chance to take the smoker out of the box.  

Our “free” smoker required an investment in charcoal, a cover, wood chips, and some firestarter things.   For our first attempt we went with baby back ribs.  We thought we followed the instructions right for telling when the coals were ready.... but maybe not.   We could not maintain a temperature over 225 degrees and for the most part it stayed near 200 - we were supposed to be at 250.  We toyed with the coals about every three minutes.   The ribs were to cook for 3+ hours but two hours in we checked and they were charcoal and burnt.   Apparently something went wrong.  Getting beyond the burnt taste, we could taste the wood-smoked flavor of the hickory chips and the meatier end pieces were pretty good.   This was enough to convince us to look at other options.  

We have a few friends that were into smoking/BBQ and asked them about their equipment. This is when we learned about pellet grills.  These grills are fueled by wood pellets (they look like Kashi cereal) that go into a hopper and are fed into a fire pit by an auger.   There is a fan to move the air around and create convection.   Temperature is maintained electronically.   Set the temperature and it theoretically stays there.   The pellets come in different varieties of wood.   We were trying to pick between brands such as Traeger, Pitt Boss, and Green Mountain.   We picked Green Mountain’s Daniel Boone model based on price, WiFi control via iPhone app, and the add-on pizza oven attachment which allows us to create Naples style pizzas.

We decided to take it slow and cook easy things first.  Our first dinner was jerk pork tenderloin using Dave’s favorite jerk sauce and marinade recipe.  Since it’s like a roast we knew we just had to cook to the right temperature.  After about two hours the pork was done.   We did not have to mess with the grill at all.   Wonderful!  

Our pizza experience has been ok.   We love the way it comes out with all the bubbles and wood-charred crust, but the doughs (store bought) are rising too much in the cooking process.  We may try making our own dough soon.

Other items from the grill:

We’ve been occupied the last few weekends and have not used the grill in a while.  Looking forward to experimenting with more recipes and new meats like tri tips and a brisket.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Victoria and Albert’s Chef’s Table Dinner: Walt Disney World May 2018

During our most recent Walt Disney World vacation we were able to enjoy dinner at Victoria & Albert’s Chef’s Table in the Grand Floridian Resort.  The last time we enjoyed this experience was in 2011 with just the two of us dining.   This year we invited long-time friends to join us.    There’s only one seating per night in the kitchen and to get that reservation you need to call six months in advance. For us, that meant remembering to make the phone call during our Bahamas vacation.

We were staying at Bay Lake Towers for this portion of the trip which made it convenient to navigate transportation in dress-up clothes.   Meeting our friends in the Grand Concourse we took the Monorail over to the Grand Floridian, leaving time for a pre-cocktail at Mizner’s Lounge.  We were greeted outside of the restaurant and were told it would be just a minute as they prepared for us.  It wasn’t too long before we were escorted through the dining area into the kitchen.  The dining table is off to one end of the kitchen to give diners a length-wise view to the action.  

One thing we observed in the beginnings their timing seemed off. The chef didn’t greet us right away, which was odd. Turns out a staff meeting was running late and Chef Amy was still at the meeting.  Our backup chef decided to start our toast.  Chef Amy joined us a few minutes later.  There were several times the ladies were not served first.  

Dinner at the Chef’s Table is a set ten-course meal that changes seasonally.  Offerings at the Chef’s Table are the same as in the main dining room.  Surprisingly it’s only a slight up-charge to eat in the kitchen, just requires luck to score the ressie.   We all chose to add the wine pairing which included three whites, three reds, and a dessert wine. We skipped the caviar, turbot, and Miyazaki upgrades.  At various points during dinner a different fresh bread is served along with your choice of salt and butter.

We were not fans of the duck pastrami.  We heard it is no longer on the menu - maybe a result of our dining companions sharing their opinion of the dish with the chef.

After dinner we were presented with a box of small candies to choose from.  Being full we asked for them to be boxed.   We were disappointed to find they did not box one of each for us.  Don’t know why - they had plenty.  

One of the more fun experiences we had in the kitchen was watching the chefs make stock.   Two large (20 gallon maybe) cook pots were close to our rooms doorway.  We watched the chefs stir the contents displaying whole garlic cloves, bones, other vegetables, etc.   this stock would be cooked down over 5 days.   

It was probably a little after 10 o’clock when we finished up our coffees and paying our bills.   We had a chance to get a photo with the staff, which was nice.  The quality of the food and knowledge of the staff still remains impressive.  On this night the attention to details slipped a little but it still did not detract from the experience.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Charity of the Month: Ronald McDonald House Charities

Charity of the Month is a way Team Tizzel is helping to support some very worthy organizations. As part of this program, we will dedicate a post to a charity that we will sponsor through the month by donating Holly's training run money.

In July we supported Sarcoma Foundation of America via Pittsburgh Cure Sarcoma 5K in honor of a friend’s relative with a $125 donation.

August Charity of the Month:

Yes we know we are late with this post.   When we rolled into August we did not have a charity in mind to support.  We thought we’d end up turning September into a double-down month until this came in the mail:

We were curious to see what Justin drew so we opened the envelope.  

Also included was a photo of Justin and his family.  The drawing was pretty accurate.  Good job Justin!  Thanks to your letter we are donating to Ronald McDonald House Charities this month.

From their website:

Many families travel far from home and spend several weeks or months to get treatment for their seriously ill or injured children – a long time to be away or to divide a family. And, for children facing a serious medical crisis, nothing seems scarier than not having mom and dad close by for love and support. A Ronald McDonald House provides a place for families to call home so they can stay close by their hospitalized child at little to no cost. 

Our Houses are built on the simple idea that nothing else should matter when a family is focused on the health of their child – not where they can afford to stay, where they will get their next meal or where they will lay their head at night to rest. We believe that when a child is hospitalized the love and support of family is as powerful as the strongest medicine prescribed.

Allow Families to Face the Weight of Illness Together 
Families are stronger when they are together, which helps in the healing process. By staying at a Ronald McDonald House, parents also can better communicate with their child’s medical team and keep up with complicated treatment plans when needed. They can also focus on the health of their child, rather than grocery shopping, cleaning or cooking meals.

Allow Children to Get the Best Care 
When your child is sick, you want the best care possible – even if it is hundreds or thousands of miles away. The Ronald McDonald House allows families to access specialized medical treatment by providing a place to stay at little or sometimes no cost.

Services for Families 
At every House, families can enjoy:
Home-cooked meals
Private bedrooms
Playrooms for children

Depending on the House, these services may also be available: 
Special suites for children with suppressed immune systems
Accredited education programs
Recreational activities
Non-clinical support services
Sibling support services

The generosity of volunteers and donors make it all possible. In return, families either stay at no cost or are asked to make a donation up to $25 per day, depending on the House. The RMHC Global Policy is that families are never turned away; if it’s not possible to pay, the fee is waived.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Disney World Trip Highlights - May/June 2018

Every few years we book a week+ long trip to Disney World in May.   Typically we do this around Mother’s Day but since Dave started with a new company last year his vacation allotment reset, causing us to take advantage of the Memorial Day holiday to minimize vacation use.   We figured there would be a noticeable difference in the crowds for the holiday weekend, but it actually wasn’t any worse than earlier in the month. 

We’re going to cover the highlights in the post vs. a day-by-day account of our trip.   We spent the first 6 nights at Bay Lake Tower (attached to the Contemporary Resort) followed by 4 nights at Boardwalk Resort.   We are DVC (Disney Vacation Club) members.

We landed early Friday evening and rushed through MCO to our rental car.   We dropped everything off in the hotel room so we could head right into the Magic Kingdom to see the Happily Ever After fireworks show.   Holly was a big fan of Wishes and we both decided the new show was not a very good replacement – definitely less pyrotechnics and more castle projections (which are hard to see with all the darn kids on parents’ shoulders).

Memorial Day Weekend marked the last few days of Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival.  This put the pressure on us to hit all the food booths around World Showcase that we wanted to try.   Overall offerings this year were not as good as they have been in the past.   Epcot did look great and it was fun to watch the flowers slowly disappear later in the week when the festival closed.   We took in The Spinners at the Garden Rocks concert.  Fun show!

Trader Sam’s at the Polynesian is still a fun place to enjoy the evening (outdoors).  We were happy to see that Disney did not get rid of the guitarist/singer on the terrace. 

California Grill is back on our top dining list.   We had really bad service on our last visit to the restaurant and the changes to the menu items at that time were not our favorite.  Now with the former Jiko chef at the helm things are back the way we like them.   We ate a late (10pm) dinner one night at the bar and then a normal time dinner the following evening.   The filet with the tamarind BBQ was as good as ever.   Our motto for Disney dining in May still held true:  If Zellwood corn is on the menu get it.  The corn chowder was fantastic!

We dined with friends one night at Victoria and Albert’s Chef’s Table.   We had a great night watching the kitchen team in action and enjoying great food and wine.   That evening will get a detailed post of its own.

We had a surprisingly good lunch at The Wave in the Contemporary.  We didn’t want park food or food court food and found this a decent option.  We split the appetizer mussels and Asian pork belly buns.   There were a few decent beers on tap.   This is a perfect break from the Magic Kingdom.
Disney Springs has become an enjoyable place to eat and drink.   We experienced Paddlefish, Dockside Margaritas, Polite Pig, The Edison, Morimoto Asia, and more.
 Afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian is still a fun break from the Magic Kingdom.

 This summer Animal Kingdom started an event in Dino Land called Donald’s Dino-Bash.   The premise is Donald Duck discovers ducks are descended from Dinosaurs and throws a party. Uncle Scrooge is fighting with some rival duck over whom was the first duck clan of Scotland.  There’s some decent theming and backstory in the Uncle Scrooge photo opp area.  Other photo opps include Launchpad McQuack, Chip & Dale in cute dinosaur onesies, Pluto, Daisy, and Goofy.   We hit the character stops before they opened (at 10am) and breezed through them.   In the afternoon the hold a dance party in the courtyard.   By dance party think Disney Jr. vs. Dj Elliott.

 Incredible Summer was occurring in Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland.   Characters from the Incredibles movies were out along with some photo opp backgrounds and a stage show/dance party.   Banners were all over the place and the regular Tomorrowland music loop was replaced by an Incredibles themed soundtrack.   We weren’t fans of this since 1) we don’t really enjoy The Incredibles and 2) it replaced the theming of Tomorrowland.   Dino-Bash was an add-on vs. an overhaul.   There’s rumor Edna Mode is going to narrate the Tomorrowland Transit Authority.   If that’s true it’s time to bring headphones with us to stream an old narration.

We dined at Spice Road Table in Epcot’s Morocco for the first time.   We never included this location on our dining list before because the outside patio area was usually empty when we passed by.  They have a great location on the water so something must be wrong if it’s empty.  We booked a table in time to see Illuminations (fireworks show) and enjoyed how close we were to the action in the lagoon.  Then we remembered this used to be where we watched Illuminations before they built the restaurant.   Food was good, portions were large and reasonably priced.  We could come back and share an appetizer and share an entrĂ©e and be content.

Several months ago Dooney & Bourke  released a purse with a Disney dog pattern that Holly was after.  She missed out online at the release date (setting an alarm to get up in the middle of the night).  While we were on property some were being released in very limited amounts.    We got to Animal Kingdom later than we normally would one morning and she missed it by 10 minutes.  We started rope-dropping stores selling purses vs. attractions for a few days after that.   No luck.

Flights of Wonder bird show in Animal Kingdom was overhauled to be Up! A Great Bird Adventure.   By doing this they have incorporated characters from Up! into the show.   The birds are basically the same, just the main narrator’s “Eat, Pray, Love” shtick is more annoying than the tour guide shtick from the old show

Even though it was his birthday, Dave agreed to go to the princess character breakfast at Trattoria al Forno in the Boardwalk Resort.   Characters are not his thing, especially ones that talk back.   The food was good – can’t argue with steak at 8am and the character interaction was quick.    They had the annoying kid parade around the restaurant and other songs so be ready for that.   The characters were nice and knew to limit interaction with Dave, even when they found out it was his birthday.   This is worth a try if you want to see Ariel, Rapunzel, and related princes.

Since we are on the topic of the Boardwalk Resort we’ll cover our check-in mishap.   We left Animal Kingdom around 3:45 and finally got the notice that are room was ready.   We arrived, asked Bell Services to bring our bags (we dropped them off earlier that day), and went to our unclean room.   The room had not been serviced.   Dave called the desk (which is a central line for all the hotels) while Holly went to the desk directly.   We were told it would be 45 minutes and received some compensation for our troubles.   45 minutes turned into almost 2 hours.   After some additional conversations were received 3 bonus Fast Passes (shorter wait tickets) per day.   

We were going to write a glowing review of Matboukha Groove at Epcot’s Morocco Pavilion but the band is no longer there.   They engaged the crowd with their high-energy performance.   Sahara Beat is the replacement act.

Brown Derby’s outdoor lounge in the Hollywood Studios is still enjoyable.  It’s a really nice dining venue with great appetizer selections and the chance to get Zellwood corn soup from the inside menu if you ask nice.    Sitting at a two-top we were not given the advantage of an umbrella for shade.   While dining around noon the breeze had stopped and the sun shifted perfectly over us.   It was HOT!

Those were some of the highlights.  We'll return back to Disney World Labor Day Weekend for a few fun days at Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival (Tiffany is performing that weekend) and to check out the Studio's new Toy Story Land.   This will also be our first time staying at The Grand Floridian Resort.