Nostalgic American Style Pancakes

Seriously, I know I keep going on about the food we ate in America…but these delights need to be shared!!

One of our favourite parts was the AMAZING  breakfast we had whilst staying at the Homewood Suites hotel on International Drive. A full cooked and continental complimentary breakfast called the ‘Suite Start’, it set us up for the day and meant we didn’t need to eat anything else for a good 5 or 6 hours later. It could quite easily have been 7 or 8 hours later but we force-fed ourselves at lunch in order to sample as many American culinary delights as possible.

Some mornings we had the cooked option, which changed every day…

Sometimes I had raisin whirl bread and various yummy condiments…

And some mornings I just went all out and got pancakes and waffles! Ohhh the calories.

Back to reality…we had some friends stay with us over the Bank Holiday weekend and as they share our passion for Florida I thought it would be fun to surprise them with an American breakfast and make my very first pancakes!

These were so easy to make, I can’t believe I haven’t made them before! The only thing is the pan I used was slightly bowed which caused the pancakes to be oval shaped 😦 Next time (and there will be a next time!) I’ll probably invest in a mould or a tiny saucepan that will produce perfect circular pancakes a la Nigella. I definitely want to be the kind of girl who makes homemade American pancakes all the time!

We teamed the pancakes with super crispy bacon from Sainsburys – £1.40 for 12 streaky ‘USA style’ rashers which produced the perfect crispy bacon that is so prevalent in the US of A. We also made a big batch of scrambled eggs as it was the ‘morning after the night before’ and we all needed something nourishing to repair our poor hungover bodies!

The finishing touch was a big squeeze of maple syrup – purchased in Florida by my parents and bought home to my eagerly anticipating self as a gift. Honestly, the first waft of the sweet, smokey maple syrup and I was transported right back to Florida and the holidays I spent there growing up. Such a lovely feeling.

Check out the spread!

And heres the moral of the story – So excited were we by our authentic American breakfast and the rush of nostalgia it caused that we basically threw caution to the wind…all four of us booked for next year! Vicki and Ian for their ‘Disneymoon’ following their wedding and 14 nights on-site at Disney for us…with 7 nights on I-Drive and Universal to be booked in the coming months. 3 weeks baby!

Only 521 days to go!

Narcoosee’s at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa

Here is another of the amazing restaurants we ate at while in Florida last year. Narcoosee’s is a Signature restaurant located at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa hotel, near the Magic Kingdom. As I said before, we were on the Disney Dining Plan and used 2 credits each for this meal. It was so worth it! One of the best meals I’ve ever had, ever!

First of all, the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. My dream hotel and WDW’s ‘flagship’ resort. Look how beautiful it is! Of course, it’s very very expensive and we will never be able to afford it but a girl can dream…

(Taken from the official Disneyworld website)

Narcoosee’s is outside the main hotel, down by the lake. It is actually set over the water and offers stunning views across the Seven Seas Lagoon and over to the Magic Kingdom, perfect for watching the fireworks after dinner! We had planned this as our Anniversary dinner as we had been together 7 years which is definitely cause for celebration –  I added this to the online reservation I made 180 days before.

Our ADR was for 7.10pm. We were greeted by a lovely Cast Member who wished us Happy Anniversary and said there was about a 10 minute wait and would we like to wait on the balcony? Ummmm yes please! So we went out the little side door out onto the balcony that goes all the way round the restaurant. Such amazing views!

We had been out there about 5 minutes when we were told our table was ready. We were led inside to a PERFECT TABLE, right against the window, opposite the Magic Kingdom with a view of the castle. Little bit of pixie dust there I think! I was so pleased.

Our server was Amir and he was just perfect – kind, funny, attentive, knowledgeable…I sound like I’m describing a blind date but he was just lovely!

He introduced himself, wished us Happy Anniversary and produced two Happy Anniversary badges from behind his back! Adorable! He then asked us what we would like to drink and produced the menus for us to have a look at. But, not just any menus. personalized “Happy Anniversary” menus with Minnie and Mickey on! I was so excited, we both thought this was such a cute touch and it really made our night.

I just ordered a glass of rose and Benji ordered a Sam Adams. Apologies for the poor photos, it was very dark in the restaurant.

Amir then bought us out some delicious warm sourdough bread, with butter topped with sea salt. Yum! I’m a total salt fiend and had to refrain myself from scraping it all off the top and dumping it on my bread so that Ben could actually try some.

Every time Amir came over to check if we were okay we ended up deep in conversation as he was just a really chatty and interesting guy, we learned he had worked at Narcoosee’s for 12 years and absolutely loved it, you could tell he loved his job and was very proud of the restaurant.  This made me really happy because Narcoosee’s gets very mixed reviews with lots of people saying it is their least favourite signature but right from the moment we stepped in I could tell we were going to love it.

We were REALLY GOOD here and decided not to order starters. Shocker! There wasn’t anything on the starters list I was dying to try and I really really wanted to be able to finish what I was anticipating would be an amazing main course.

Once we’d munched our way through most of the bread and had a good long look at the menu, Amir came over to take our order. I was of course torn between various items and needed help! From the moment I saw the Narcoosee’s menu (like a year ago…) I knew I was going to order the famous Surf and Turf. But, the dish was now being served with mashed potatoes (the menu changes seasonally) which I’m not the biggest fan of, and I was also tempted to order the Filet Mignon as that came with a delicious sounding risotto. As I was uming and ahing about which to order, Amir said ‘Well why don’t we just get you the Surf and Turf with a side of risotto?” Yes please! I was a very very happy girl. I ordered the steak medium rare.

Benji was a lot easier to please as there was only one veggie option bless him. He opted for the Fall Vegetable Lasagna.

Orders placed, we sat back with our drinks and waited, taking in the lovely calm atmosphere and looking out toward the castle.

Not long after, our main courses were delivered to our table and we just sat there in stunned silence staring at them. They looked incredible!

This was my dinner. I ordered the Butter-poached Lobster Tail and Grilled Filet Mignon with Boniato Mashed Potatoes, Fall Vegetables, and Shallot-Red Wine Butter Emulsion, but substituted the mashed potatoes for the Gruyère Cheese and Caramelized Red Onion Risotto from the Filet Mignon dish. I got the shallot-red wine reduction too which was a bit of a bonus!

I took one taste of the reduction and poured it half over the risotto and half on the steak as it was just the most rich, amazing flavour – it needed to be enjoyed with all areas of the plate. I reserved the butter emulsion for the lobster and dipped each piece in…then pretty much poured the rest on the last mouthful. I promise you, not a drop of either was left in the pots. Very classy.

This was the first time I’d ever had real, properly cooked lobster and it is without a doubt the best thing I’ve ever eaten. The filet was fabulous of course, but the lobster was just in a different league. It was buttery, sweet and tender and I savoured every mouthful. The veggies were lovely too, perfectly cooked and a nice accompaniment to the rich meat and sauce.

Phew! Can you tell I liked this dish!?
Ben had a perfectly cooked lasagna, a huge portion, stuffed with roasted vegetables like courgette, pepper, onions, butternut squash and spinach. It was all bound together in a flavourful tomato/cheese sauce and topped with extra cheese that was mega crispy! It was sat in a crazily vibrant bright green sauce that turned out to be pea sauce. Just incredible. He ate every single last bite of his as well.

Amir came over half way through to ask how we were doing and we asked him loads about the food and I was gushing quite a lot about it all as I tend to do and he seemed really pleased.

All too soon I realized my plate was empty! Nightmare! Luckily I still had a tiny bit of room for dessert, PHEW! Just a tiny bit though.

I had to order the Almond Crusted Cheesecake. Had to! Look how beautifully it was presented to me.

It came with a lambert cherry sauce and it was absolutely to die for. I was so full I thought I might keel over but I managed to force down most of it. The almond crusting gave an amazing crunch to the cheesecake, perfectly complimenting the sweet, rich creamy insides. Mmmm. I ate it with the cherry sauce and it was grand.

Ben pulled a bit of a wildcard here and chose the cheeseplate! Which was really exciting as I’d wanted to see a signature cheese plate but I didn’t think I’d get to. He really enjoyed this, a bit of a treat. Neither of us have huge sweet tooths, I often find I need something sweet after dinner but I normally only need a couple of bites and then I’m done so it was nice to find we could order cheese as a dessert if we fancied.

Artisan Cheeses – Humboldt Fog, Fourme D’Ambert, and Pleasant Ridge Reserve with accompaniements.

While we were enjoying our desserts/trying not to be sick, Amir came over with a surprise!!

How amazing is that. He set them down and said “Happy Anniversary, I wish you seven more years of happiness!” I’m surprised I didn’t cry!  Once we’d eaten all we could of our desserts it was coming up to 9.30 and Amir came over and advised us that the Magic Kingdom fireworks would soon be starting if we wanted to watch it from the balcony. Perfect timing!

It was fabulous to stand out on the balcony, champagne in hand, watching ‘HalloWishes (the Halloween version of the usual ‘Wishes.’)  There were lots of other people out on the balcony but plenty of room for us all to stand and see everything.

Once the show was finished we went back inside to pay for our delicious dinner. We decided to give Amir a super duper big tip because we felt he had just gone above and beyond as a server and we had really enjoyed hearing about his life and his job at Narcoosee’s and just his company in general! At one point we were even considering asking him if he’d just sit down and join us!

He was really pleased and thanked us lots, he then made my night even more as I asked if we could keep the personalized menu’s and he said he could do one better than that and disapperared for a second, returning with two new personalised menu’s for us in a Narcoosee’s envelope. What a lovely, special memento of our night.

Narcoosee’s is a wonderful restaurant with delicious food and is second only to California Grill in our opinion. Obviously we didn’t get a chance to try any of the other signature restaurants (that is for our next trip!) but judging by these two, the standards will be pretty high! They’d have to be very good to beat these two though. Incredible food and one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.

Jalapeno Cream Cheese Stuffed Pretzels

THIS is the best snack in all of Walt Disney World, in my humble opinion. We had these for breakfast while at Animal Kingdom and even though I was initially worried they were unsuitable as a breakfast item (even though the other options were cinnamon buns and chocolate muffins…) I was soon proved wrong. This is a jalapeno pepper and cream cheese STUFFED soft pretzel. And yes, they are as good as they look!

Ever since we had these delicious heaven-sent pretzels, I know Ben hasn’t been able to stop thinking about them. So, I decided to be a really good girlfriend and recreate them for him as the only pretzels we get over here are of the party food ‘snack selection’ variety. Not quite the same.

I started with a simple sounding pretzel recipe – Alton Browns. I was going to go for one that avoided the boiling-in-water step as it sounded way too difficult but in the end I decided to just man up and go for it.

I started by adding all my wet and dry ingredients into the bowl and stirring them together. We were house-sitting and they didn’t have a Kitchenaid so it was unfortunately all done by hand. Quite the work out!

Once the dough was formed I kneaded it for about 5 minutes before putting it into an oiled bowl, covering with clingfilm and leaving it to rise for about an hour.

Once it had doubled in size I removed it from the bowl and cut it into 8 equal pieces. This recipe makes 8 large pretzels but you could make lots of mini pretzel bites which would be perfect for parties and a possibly a little bit simpler – I imagine it would be easier to get the filling inside.

From this point on I was pretty much on my own, couldn’t find any recipes that were exactly like the Disney pretzels so I was very much making it up. Eek!

In a bowl, I mixed together a tub of Philadelphia cream cheese and a handful of jarred green jalapeno peppers. I finely chopped the peppers (removed the seeds first! I’m a wuss!) and then chopped them even smaller so that it was nearly a paste. I also added in some of the brine from the jar to moisten the mixture until it was pliable. Finally, I grated some cheddar cheese to really maximise the cheesiness.

Then it was time to get my roll on. I rolled each ball out into a long strip and then rolled sideways until the dough was wide enough to hold a good portion of the cream cheese filling in the middle.

I spooned the mixture all along the length of the dough. Not going to lie, it was fiddly…but I knew the end result would be rewarding!

As you can see, it got a little messy toward the end as I was getting impatient and just wanted to get to the exciting part of plunging them into boiling water. It didn’t matter though as I found it easy to pinch the edges together even if the cream cheese was spilling out a little bit – if anything it helped it stick better!

I then Youtube’d a selection of videos of people making pretzel knots until I felt confident enough to try it myself. It was so easy! Knotted up a treat! I knew my childhood years spent in the Brownies would come in useful.

I was so nervous about putting them in the water because I was convinced they’d collapse or unravel and let all the mixture ooze out. However, after just a few seconds in the scalding depths of the pan, my brave tester pretzel rose defiantly back up to the surface. Score!

I was then faced with the challenging task of lifting the pretzel out of the pan and onto the baking tray. It was too large and floppy to pick up so I brought in reinforcements of a fish slice and a ladle (two implements not used to working simultaneously.) I was then able to use this unusual combination to pick the pretzel up and slop it onto the baking tray where it waited until I’d finished the other three. (I saved half the dough for the following day.)

Once the pretzels were laying pretty on the tray I sprinkled them with big chunks of rock salt, placed them in the oven and waited 20 minutes for the darlings to be done.

This was the result!

Attempts to show the creamy cheesy middle!

I don’t think I need to tell you that these went down an absolute treat. They were creamy and spicy at the same time with the occasional punch of salt from the rock salt on top. I really recommend getting the rock salt if you can, normal salt isn’t quite the same as you don’t get the texture and crunch. The only thing I would say is I needed to have made sure that the ‘seam’ of the dough wasn’t on the bottom – some of the mixture oozed out during cooking so despite my well oiled tray it stuck, making for a very difficult removal session involving a spatula and quite a lot of swearing. When I made the rest of the batch the next day I made sure to keep the seam on the top which resulted in an intact pretzel with a lovely crispy bottom. Perfect!

I scored some serious girlfriend points with these little babies and Ben was so enamoured with them that he ate all four for lunch! Good lad. When we made the remaining four I shook things up a little by adding sliced pepperoni to mine in place of the jalapenos, taking them to a whole new level of amazing.

Our cunning plan for them to be Monday’s work lunch was over-ambitious at best and we both ate one at breakneck speed moments after their removal from the oven, throat-scalding temperatures be damned.