Pardon the mess...we're under construction!

This site is a labor of love for this self-professed Disney Geek, but it is by no means the only thing in my life. I'm building it as quickly as I can, but I won't sacrifice quality for quantity, so it will be a gradual process. Bookmark us and check back often, and if you have questions or requests for information, just email!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Win a free trip to Walt Disney World!

My agency, Pixie Vacations, is giving away a free 4-night, 3 day trip to Walt Disney World - no purchase necessary, it's totally on us!  So be sure to pop over and register...details are all there, and the contest ends February 29, 2012.  Good luck!!!

Pixie Create Magical Memories Contest

°o° Leslie Watson Harris °o°
Disney Vacation Specialist for Pixie Vacations
PHONE:  (804) 314-8189
FAX:  (888) 419-1599


Friday, November 25, 2011


Anyone who knows me knows that I am a serious Disney Geek.  I love Walt Disney World, and everything that goes with it.  For years I have been planning my own family's trips, as well as helping plan trips for friends and other family members who wanted to make their trip memorable but didn't know where to start.  After a lot of consideration and encouragement from my family, I've taken a bold step and joined Pixie Vacations as a travel planner.  I'm going to try and actually make planning magical trips my job!

I have just completed my Disney College of Knowledge training, which gave me a vast amount of information about not only Walt Disney World, but Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Disney's Aulani resort on O'ahu, Hawai'i, and also Adventures by Disney, which is a wide array of guided tours across the U.S. and around the world.  These Adventures offer a staggering array of itineraries, with knowledgeable guides and the first-class accommodations and service that you expect from Disney.  Plus, all of their destinations offer tours for adults only, if you prefer to travel without children.

While my first love is Disney World, I can book just about any kind of travel.  Interested in a non-Disney cruise, or a trip to a resort in the islands?  I'm your girl! 

The best part about working with a travel planner is that you get concierge-level service, at no cost to you. I do all the research, I make all the reservations, and you just enjoy the anticipation of a wonderful, stress-free journey. 

This is a big step for me, and I have been considering it for a long time.  Everyone who books with me will receive a special surprise when they receive their travel documents, and I also reward referrals - if you know someone who is looking to travel, send them my way.  When they book and complete their travel, you'll find a reward from me to thank you for your support!

Disney Vacation Specialist for Pixie Vacations
(804) 314-8189


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cooking Up Some Magic: Buttermilk Fried Chicken from the Pop Century Resort

Fried chicken is a Southern birthright, and so I was interested to find this recipe and try it at home myself.  It’s simple, and not at all difficult, but it does require some advance planning and some modifications from the original recipe to ensure food safety.  

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 pounds of chicken pieces (breasts, legs, thighs)4 eggs, beaten
3 cups buttermilk3 cups all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper4 cups vegetable shortening

Here’s what to do:
  1. Place the chicken pieces, skin side down, in a shallow, seal-able container and pour in the buttermilk.  Seal and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  1. Put shortening in a 12 inch skillet or sauté pan with deep sides, and allow to melt over medium-high heat.  The recipe calls for 2 inches of melted shortening, though the amount of solid shortening needed to achieve this can vary depending on your pan.  It will be ready for frying when it begins to smoke, so keep a close eye on it while preparing your chicken.
  1. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk and season both sides with salt and pepper.
  1. Beat the eggs in a shallow bowl .  In another shallow bowl or dish, place the flour.  Dredge the chicken pieces, one at a time, first in the egg and then in the flour, then repeat.  
  1. Fry the chicken for 2 minutes on each side, until the skin is golden brown.  Transfer it to a baking sheet and bake the chicken for 15 minutes or until cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F.

Leslie’s notes:

First, the only chicken pieces I could find were HUGE.  They were either sold in packages segregated by body part (all breasts, all thighs, etc.) or I finally found a package that included 2 breasts, 2 thighs, and 2 legs.  But in every case, the breasts were absolutely enormous.  This affected the recipe in terms of the amount of buttermilk I needed to coat the chicken overnight, the amount of melted shortening necessary to fry it, and the amount of time required to have the chicken reach the proper temperature.  

Bearing all of the above in mind, I used a full quart of buttermilk (4 cups) and could have probably used more, except that was all I had available.  I also used a can and a half of Crisco shortening, which was as much as my skillet could reasonably hold without overflowing once I put the chicken in to fry, but it still left a lot of the breast above the oil during cooking.  You don’t want your chicken to be entirely submerged while frying, but more than ¼ of it should be in the oil otherwise you get browning on both sides, and a pale, raw stripe around the middle!

The chicken came out nicely, however I was disappointed in the texture and flavor of the skin.  The texture could have been a little more crispy for my liking, but it absolutely needed more flavor.  This recipe does not call for any seasoning whatsoever to be put into the flour before dredging the chicken, and to be blunt, I think that’s a crime against chicken.  I restrained myself to adding only salt and pepper to the flour, in an attempt to be true to the recipe, but if I were to make this again I would certainly want to jazz things up by adding some additional seasoning, such as cayenne or paprika, or maybe even garlic powder.  I would also rather have something besides just flour – panko bread crumbs or even cornflakes are great for fried chicken if you like a lot of crunch and texture.  As written, though, this recipe produces a flaky, but dull skin, with a slightly papery texture.

Chicken needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F to be safe for consumption.  I browned it in the skillet for more than the directed 2 minutes per side (because at 2 minutes it looked rather anemic to me), and the thighs still requires closer to 20 minutes to achieve the proper temperature.  The breasts, however, took over 25 minutes.  (If you don’t own an instant read thermometer, it’s a worthwhile investment for your kitchen.  The Thermapen is my personal favorite, but I know not everyone is willing to shell out that kind of money for a thermometer.  You can find others at lower price points, they may just be slightly slower to read the temperature. )

Aside from my disappointment in the crust, the meat was moist and flavorful thanks to the overnight buttermilk bath.  My family scarfed down most of the chicken I prepared, and the leftover chicken was cut off the bone and used in a frittata for dinner the next night.  Waste not, want not!

Due to the messy nature of the preparation for the recipe, and the fact that raw chicken is less than visually appealing, I only have “after” shots for this recipe.  Give it a try, play with the seasoning, and let me know what you think!

Spectacular Spaghetti & Meatballs from the “Feed Our Small World” cookbook

I was blessed to receive a care package in the mail recently from my best friend who was lucky enough to attend the recent D23 Expo in Anaheim.  One of the goodies enclosed was a new Disney cookbook, hot off the presses.  Does she know me or what?!

“Feed Our Small World” is designed as a cookbook for kids to use with their parents, and it is filled with beautiful photographs and bright, colorful illustrations.  The directions are clear and simply written, and my boys have enjoyed looking through it and picking out what they want to try in the coming weeks.  The unanimous vote for our first meal, however, was Spectacular Spaghetti and Meatballs!

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 cup crumbled Italian bread1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup water1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ pounds ground beeffreshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 eggs2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese2 (28oz) jars tomato sauce
1 ½ teaspoons finely chopped garlic1 pound spaghetti

Leslie’s notes:  I will always tell you when I vary from a recipe or find short cuts that save you time without sacrificing quality.  I had a tub of pre-grated Parmesan cheese in the fridge from another recipe that I used rather than grate my own for this recipe.  I’m not talking about the stuff in the green shaker can, mind you, but another brand that was very high quality.  It turned out fine.  Where I do not recommend you cut corners is on your garlic.  The stuff that comes pre-chopped in a jar of olive oil is just not as good as fresh, and it only takes a minute, especially if you have a garlic press to do the work for you!  Also, fresh parsley really does make a big impact in this recipe, and it’s cheap.  Don’t skip it!

1.  In a small bowl, soak the bread in the water.  Then gently squeeze the bread and discard the excess water.

2.  Transfer the moistened bread to a large bowl, tearing it up into small pieces.  Add the ground beef, eggs, cheese, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper.  Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until it is well combined, then shape it into 2-inch balls.  (I got 10 out of this recipe - they’re big!)

3.  Ask an adult to help you heat the oil in a large, deep saucepan over medium heat.  Cook the meatballs in batches, turning them with tongs, until they are nicely browned.  This takes about 10 minutes. The meatballs will finish cooking in the sauce.

4.  Heat the tomato sauce in a large saucepan, until it begins to simmer.  Add the meatballs and let them simmer in the sauce, turning them occasionally (and gently!), until they are cooked through, about 10-15 minutes.

5.  Cook and drain the spaghetti.  Spoon some of the sauce into a large warmed serving bowl.  Add the spaghetti, and toss well to keep it from sticking together. Serve the spaghetti with the meatballs and additional sauce.  

We really, really loved this recipe, it was hit with everyone.  The meatballs are huge (1 per child is plenty) and so tender.  When you cut them open, the cheese is a tad gooey, and the fresh parsley really gives a nice note.  

Finally, I want to recommend this book as a great addition to your Disney cookbook library (you do have a Disney cookbook library, don’t you??)  Having read through it, I expect it will become a firm favorite in our house, but more than that, it supports a wonderful organization called FEED, and a donation in support of this book has been made to FEED to provide Vitamin A supplements for a year to 450,000 children who need it for healthy development.

Cooking Up Some Magic - Chef Mickey’s Parmesan Potatoes and Liberty Tree Tavern’s Garlic Beans

It’s a two-fer, Disney fans!  Both of today’s side dishes were seen in my recent post about Mom’s Meatloaf from the 50’s Prime Time Diner, and I didn’t want to leave you hanging without them for too long. Both are simple and quick, and are almost universal favorites in our house.  

First, Chef Mickey’s Parmesan Potatoes.  These delicious spuds are a snap to make, but have more flavor than your average mashers.  

Here’s what you’ll need:

3 large baking potatoes
3 tablespoons salted butter
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (the real stuff, not the kind in the green can!)
1 cup milk

1.  Peel the potatoes and cut into evenly sized chunks (this makes them cook quickly and evenly.)  Put the potato chunks in a pot and cover with water, then boil for 15 minutes or until a knife stuck through comes out easily.

2.  In a small saucepan, slowly heat the milk and butter, being careful not to allow it to boil or scald.  This can also be done in the microwave, but only use 20 second increments.

3.  When potatoes are cooked though, drain them (carefully!) in a colander, then return them to the pot.  Add the milk/butter mixture and the cheese, and mash using a potato masher.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Second up, Garlic Beans from the Liberty Tree Tavern.  These beautiful beans are perfectly seasoned, which makes them seem so much more special than just heating up a can from the grocery store, and it only takes a few minutes!

Here’s what you’ll need:

¼ pounds green beans, yellow wax beans, and carrots (frozen is fine if fresh isn’t available!)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1.  Heat the olive oil in a skillet or saute pan, but be careful it doesn’t begin to smoke.

2.  When the oil is hot, add the garlic and cook for 15-20 seconds, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  Be careful not to burn the garlic!  As a general rule of thumb, once you can smell it, it’s about done.  it happens FAST!

3.  Add the beans and carrots and saute until heated through.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Leslie’s hints:  

  • Frozen vegetables are a great thing to keep on hand, since they’re flash frozen and quite fresh.  Carrots can be diced, coin sized, or I recently found these bias cut slices in the fresh aisle.  What I don’t use for this recipe I use with ranch dip for school lunches.
  • I can’t always find fresh yellow wax beans as called for in the recipe, so I just stick to green beans.  It’s all good!
  • This recipe only warms the veggies, so they’re still quite crisp.  If you’re concerned that your kids will want them a bit more cooked, par boil them for a few minutes before you start the recipe.
  • These beans are zesty, which my family loves.  If your kids prefer foods to be a bit more bland, consider cutting the garlic a bit.

Cooking Up Some Magic: Mom’s Meatloaf from the 50’s Prime Time Diner

The most-loved cookbook in my Disney library is Cooking With Mickey and the Chefs of Walt Disney World Resort and it sure shows!  The pages are showing some age and some of them are a bit splattered with Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, or whatever else I was using in any given recipe.  This small, spiral-bound book has its own easel which means it’s always in the middle of the action when I cook out of it.  

Today we’re making Mom’s Meatloaf from the 50’s Prime Time Diner in Disney’s Hollywood Studios (though at the time I bought this cookbook, it was still MGM Studios!)  This is a great recipe because it’s very straightforward, and also because it makes two loaves, which means meatloaf sandwiches for lunch the next day!  

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 pounds ground beef
1 pound ground pork
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
½ cup finely chopped onion
¼ cup finely chopped green bell pepper
¼ cup finely chopped red bell pepper
2 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon coarsely crushed black peppercorns
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup ketchup
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1.  Preheat the oven to 350°F and lightly oil two 8 ½ by 4 ½ inch loaf pans.  (I hate to scrub loaf pans, so I cheat and buy a two-pack of disposable aluminum loaf pans at the grocery store...way easier!)

2.  In a large bowl, combine the beef, pork, eggs, bread crumbs, onion, bell pepper, 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, cracked peppercorns and salt until just blended.  

3.  Divide the mixture in half, shape into 2 loaves, then place into the prepared loaf pans.  Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the internal temperature taken with an instant-read thermometer is 155°F.

4. While the meatloaves are baking, in a small bowl stir together the ketchup, brown sugar, mustard and remaining ½ teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce (Hint:  I usually add more than ½ a teaspoon of Worcestershire, but I honestly couldn't tell you how much. We love it around here!)  Brush the cooked meatloaves with the mixture, and then bake for an additional 10 minutes to caramelize the sauce and bring the internal temperature up a bit higher.

5.  Remove the meatloaves from the oven and allow to stand for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving.  

I normally serve this with 2 other Disney side dishes - Parmesan mashed potatoes from Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort, and garlic beans from the Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom - those recipes are coming up soon!