Sunday, January 27, 2008

Review - The Dinner A'Fare, 2735 Old Winter Garden Rd, Ocoee, FL

The Dinner A'Fare OcoeeIt's been a while since I have reviewed a meal preparation place so I thought I'd review the place I have been going lately - The Dinner A'Fare. There has been an explosion of meal preparation places in the area in the past couple of years - Let's Eat, Magical Mealtimes, Super Suppers, Dream Dinners, etc. I checked out all of the ones near me and have been going to The Dinner A'Fare based on pricing, portion sizes, ease of getting an appointment, ease of making the dishes, and, most important, how well my family likes the food. It's really a personal family decision for all of these aspects so a place that works well for someone else may not work well for you.

For those of you not familiar with the meal preparation process, you are basically going to prepare 6 - 12 meals for your family, freezer ready, so that you just need to thaw and cook the meals when you need them. We prefer to use the meals during the week when things are really hectic with work, school, and after-school activities. Plus, it eliminates the "what are we having for dinner" discussion between Hubby and me. I also like that you can leave out ingredients that your family doesn't like. We are not big onion fans so I don't put those in and I also leave out any ingredients that might be spicy such as chili sauce or red pepper flakes.

Step one for most places is to reserve a date and time slot on the kitchen's website. For The Dinner A'Fare you can click here. I always chose Package #2 which is 12 meals that feed 2-3 people for $150. BB and LB generally split a meal so with a side dish or two, we have enough food to feed everyone. You can also chose a "Stand-in Chef" for an extra fee - that means that they will make everything for you and Snacks to try while you are creating mealsyou just show up and cart away your meals already bagged and ready to go in the freezer. If you are doing the meals yourself, The Dinner A'Fare has some great times for working moms like me - I typically pick one of the 7 pm weekday times or one of the Saturday times. Then, you chose the meals you would like to make. I always make sure to check the cooking times when I am choosing the meals as I don't want to come home on a weekday and then realize it is going to take 60 minutes to make dinner. So, I will generally pick only the meals that take 30 minutes or less to make. But again, that is personal preference. Also, the menus change every month so you always have a bunch of new selections to choose from.

Make sure to bring a laundry basket or cooler to your session so you have a way to transport home all of your meals. I have a rolling cooler that I use that I find very handy. You can also bring one helper with you, although if you want to bring your child, they have to be at least 12 years old for health and safety regulations.

As soon as you enter the store, you will be given an apron and hat to wear, and then Ingredients are labeled in stainless steel binswill get a demonstration on how to put together the meals. You'll usually get offered a drink of soda, water, or wine, and sometimes they will have samples of some of their side dishes (that you can purchase and take home to go with your meals). The stLeave out the ingredients you don't wantainless steel stations all around are set up to facilitate 2 -3 different meals with recipes and dry ingredients at the top, cold items in the bins, and then usually the meats in the fridge underneath. You will get a list with the meals you chose so you can check off the meals as you go to each station. Most of the meals are pretty easy, generally you grab a ziploc bag with the meat from the fridge and then add ingredients as indicated on the recipe. Sometimes you'll make a couple of other bags full of ingredients as well. There's usually at least one meal at every session that is the "hard" one to do. For me, last time I went, it was the Italian Style Stuffed Turkey Burgers - I didn't do a very good job keeping the stuffing inside each burger. But, I'm sure it's still going to taste good.

A few tips that I've learned along the way: Make sure to really mix up the contents of the bags while you are making them while everything is still thawed. The instructions will just say add the list of ingredients to the ziploc bag but if you don't mix it up right there and then, you may have Mongolian Beef Noodle Bowlsclumps of ingredients when you try to make it. ThisOrange Chicken with Pecan Crust is especially true if you don't allow the meals enough time to defrost the night before (trust me, it happens).

In the end, we end up with meals that last about a month since we trade off Dinner A'Fare meals with pizza, pasta, or just eat out. And the best part is that my kids are trying new foods that are more creative than anything I can come up with, especially after working all day.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Restaurant Update - Dolly's Parton's Dixie Stampede Orlando has closed!

Found out today that Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede Orlando location suddenly closed this weekend! And, I had just did a recent (very recent) review of the Christmas show here. So what was the cause of the sudden closure? Was the business doing badly? Was it for health inspection reasons? Nope, it was money. Apparently Dolly and her company were offered a boatload of money for the prime real estate that the Dixie Stampede sits on, with its prominent view of I-4. In fact, the company said they had their best Christmas season yet. Reports say that the Dixie Stampede will return to Orlando, they just have to find a new location. We'll see.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Restaurant Review - Infusion Tea, 1600 Edgewater Drive, Orlando, FL

Infusion Tea in College ParkLocated in College Park, south of Princeton Street on Edgewater Drive, is Infusion Tea. Infusion Tea is a modern teahouse as well as an organic/vegetarian cafe. I visited with my boys and one of my girlfriends. Yes, this was another attempt by me to take my kids to tea -- I can't help it that I had boys instead of girls!

Infusion Tea is part retail tea store, with all kinds of tea accouterments such as tea pots, stirrers, infusers, and cups, as well as modern cafe. The chairs and tables are interspersed throughout the room so you can look at the wares as well as wait for your food. There is also a comfy couch area towards the back.

If you love tea, there is a lot to enjoy at Infusion Tea. They have an extensive tea menu including black, oolong, green, white, flavored, herbal, and rooibos (African red bush) teas, most of them organic. All can be ordered in the cafe or can be purchased to be made at home. The cafe menu features soups, tea sandwiches, wraps, appetizers and dips, salads, as well as a kids' menu and seasonal specials. You order your teas and food at the counter and then your meal will be delivered to your table when it is done.

The kids' menu offers three meal items, an apple and cheese quesadilla in a light wheat tortilla ($4), organic fruit and cheese kabobs with yogurt dipping sauce ($3.50), and a half peanut butter and jelly sandwich with veggies chips ($3.50). My younger son asked for the PB&J while my older son ordered the fruit and cheese kabobs. I was stumped for what to get them to drink because my boys don't like hot drinks. My oldest wanted sweet iced tea and the server immediately said she could make that for him with a light green tea, sweetened with simple syrup over ice. She offered apple juice for LB but he decided he just wanted water.

Another mother with her young son walked in at this point and I asked her what her son usually drinks here. She said he likes the Izze brand sparkling juices that Infusion Tea carries (so it is kind of like a fruit soda). She also told me he is a picky eater and his favorite thing on the menu is the veggie burger wrap ($7.50). So that is another option for a child, although kind of pricey unless you know your child will eat the whole thing.

The Concorde wrap with Veggie chipsI ordered the lunch combo ($7.50), a choice of a half soup and half sandwich - you can also chose a half salad as well. I chose the gazpacho, a cold tomato-based soup, and the Sundried Special, a sandwich with sundried tomato spread, cream cheese, cucumbers, and organic spinach. My friend ordered the Concorde wrap ($7.50) which consisted of hummus, tabouleh (a parsley-based Middle Eastern salad), and field greens in a wheat wrap and a scone for dessert ($2). We ordered a pot ($6) of the Cape Town Rooibos tea to share.

Our teaThe drinks came out right away. I was very pleased with the presentation of the tea. It was served in a clear glass pot andA nice cup of Capetown Rooibos two huge glass tea cups. On the side were the sweeteners -- honey, raw sugar cubes, and sugar. After the timer went off, we took out the filter with the tea leaves and put it on the provided plate and then poured the tea. It was a wonderful rusty red color and had a deep, comforting, slightly sweet flavor.

Kids' PB&JOur food arrived and it all looked very appetizing. The half peanut butter and jelly sandwich was on lightly toasted white bread and came with vegetable chips that looked like real vegetables that had just been sliced, cooked andKids' Fruit & Cheese Kabobs lightly salted. I was surprised that my four-year-old, who I can never get to eat his veggies, dug right into the chips and finished them all -- all except one green bean that looked a little too much like a green bean to him. The fruit and cheese kabobs were strawberries and red grapes alternated with large squares of cheddar cheese and came with a sweet honey yogurt sauce. My oldest ate all of the fruit, dipping them in the sauce and did a good job with the cheese but said there was just too much cheese to eat.

My gazpacho was unusually prepared. Gazpacho is typically a soup made with tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, and garlic and can be smooth, with the veggies all pureed, or "chunky" with diced vegetables in the soup. Infusion Tea's version is all chunky with no soMy gazpacho and Sundried Special sandwichup, just very finely chopped vegetables spooned into a large cup. It was very fresh and I appreciated the unique presentation. The sandwich was Check out this scone!tangy and creamy at the same time and was very filling. My friend's wrap was a wonderful blend of Middle Eastern flavors. The warmed scone was served with strawberry jam and Devon cream and the scone itself was full of pieces of juicy dried fruits. It was so good that I ordered one as well. Wow, it was a very decadent pastry and extremely filling - I was not able to finish it. I will definitely return to Infusion Tea to try some of the other teas and sandwiches... and I'll attempt to save room for another scone.

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