Epcot Food And Wine Festival 2013, The World Is Heating Up!

The Epcot International Food And Wine Festival has been going on for just over a week, and I’ve spent a good amount of time there already.  There are two new countries in the International Marketplace this year – Scotland and Brazil.

I spent the majority of my time tasting the new items – not only from the two new countries, but also new food from returning countries.  A good number of the new items pack a spicy punch.  Here are my top 5 picks among these new offerings:

1)  Kimchi Dog, South Korea.  The hot dog is specially made for Disney filled with Asian flavors.  The hot dog is topped with a kimchi style slaw and a spicy mustard.  This is what gives the dish its heat.

2)  Crispy Pork Belly, Brazil.  From one of the new marketplace booths, this was one of the best pieces of pork belly I’ve had.  Ever.  The accompanying black beans and smashed avocado salad help round out the hunk of meat.

3)  Mango and habañero margarita, Mexico.  Despite the chile in the drink, this is not spicy.  The habañero adds more flavor than heat.  The drink is refreshing without being too sweet, which is just how I like them.

4)  Berbere style beef with okra, tomato, and pap (grits),  Africa.  Another spicy dish, this time thanks to the jalapeño.  The vegetables and grits make this dish feel complete, and it is probably the largest portion for the least amount of money.  The Africa booth also consistently has the shortest line, which is a good tip when the park is full.

5)  Potato Leek Waffle with Braised Beef, Belgium.  I waited all afternoon for this dish, because it kept selling out.  Let me tell you, it is worth the wait. The dish tastes like the best beef stew, in a waffle form.  This is not the best picture of the dish, but trust me that this is a must-try.  I’ll also be sharing the recipe for it soon!

6)  Okay, one more. Silky Spun Ice, China.  If you need to cool off from all the spicy food, I recommend this ice cream.  The flavor rotates by week during the festival, and I had the luck to taste the coconut.  It is so light, it feels like tasting coconut spun air.  It’s perfect for a hot afternoon.

Other favorites of the new items include: seared scallop (Brazil), cherry pistachio mousse (Desserts & Champagne), scotch flight (Scotland), and the rainbow trout (Canada).

Intrigued yet?  Are you going to the Food & Wine festival this year?  Which items sound good to you?  Many of my favorite dishes from last year’s festival have returned and are as good as ever, like the Mongolian beef in a steamed bun, filet with truffle sauce, grapefruit beer, and the lamb chop.  Check out my flickr set of the festival to see pictures of all the food that’s offered.

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Party In The Bog, Ocean Spray Reception at Epcot Food And Wine Festival

The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival began last weekend!  This year, there are even more events and experiences.  I had the pleasure to attend  a reception hosted by Ocean Spray on the Friday night.  For the past few years, they’ve constructed cranberry bog near the entrance to the World Showcase.  This reception celebrated the cranberry and the bog.

photo: cranberry and sea salt cured wild salmon with maple sugar crystals representing Canada

Food stations represented one of six countries.  This fit the theme of the entire festival – Taste Your Way Around The World.  Each dish at the tables incorporated cranberries in a unique way.  After sampling the food from each country, guests were invited to stamp a “passport book,” and then collect a special stamp at the end of the book.

Guests also had the opportunity to hang out in the bog.  Working in shifts, we climbed into waders, and (carefully) stomped around in knee-high water floating with cranberries.  This was the highlight of the event.  I couldn’t stop smiling the whole time (as seen above.)  It brought me back to my Massachusetts roots.  I started throwing a “wicked awesome” or two into my conversation.  A signature vodka drink and some more appetizers were served in the bog.

photo credit: Marvin of Foodbidden

Only the first day, and I’ve already experienced one of the highlights of the festival!  Can’t wait to see what other fun events I’ll get to try this year.  Thank you so much to Disney and Ocean Spray!

Disclosure: I was invited by Ocean Spray to attend this event.  All opinions are my own.

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Florida Blogger Conference 2013, Common Threads

This has been my third year attending the Florida Blogger Conference, now expanded into a Social Media conference as well.  I didn’t realize it, but this was also the third year of the event, which means I’ve been to every one since its inception.  Cool!  Each year, the conference has become more informative and has featured more inspiring speakers.  This year we were at the beautiful Full Sail campus, which has come a long way since occupying part of a strip mall on Semoran Blvd.  I was at Full Sail Live a few months ago for an orchestra event, and was blown away by the facilities.  I saw even more of the campus at the conference, and was equally impressed.

At any given time, there were at least two sessions I wanted to attend.  Great problem to have, I know.  I did get to hear Pat Williams, Lou Mongello, Kerry Gorgone, Julie Deily, Jason (nee Sadler) Headsetsdotcom, and  Pam Moore.

I heard lots of inspiring words.  Some of it was stuff I’ve heard before and helped reaffirm how I approach blogging.  Some were new ideas that I had never thought of.  There seemed to be three common threads that I heard throughout the day by many of the speakers:

1) MAKE CONNECTIONS TO PEOPLE.  Whether it’s online or in person, people need people.  Isn’t there a Barbra Striesand song about that?  Find like minded people who share your passion.  Find trustworthy people who you can talk to about stuff you don’t want the entire interweb to read.  Find people who have differing opinions than your own to help keep yourself in check.  As Lou Mongello said, “Nothing goes further than a hug and a handshake.”

2) DO MORE.  I heard this in so many different ways – under promise, over deliver (Jason Headsetsdotcom).  Go the second mile (Pat Williams).  Exceed expectations (Julie Deily).  If you give more than what’s expected, people will want to keep working with you in the future.  For example, Gigi’s Cupcakes offered these lovelies at the after party, and they brought so many they were giving away four packs for guests to take home.  That certainly was a pleasant surprise!

3) ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT.  If you don’t, how are people going to know about it?  I spent most of my day hanging out with the above fabulous people (along with Kelly and Ricky), and I helped hustle everyone toward the photo booth to get some group pictures.  They are some of my favorites from the entire day.

Many thanks to all the sponsors!  And a standing ovation goes to Bess Auer, who along with a dedicated team (Joe, Katy, Josh, Brian, Jeanette), organized the event.  It gets better every year!

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Taste Of The Nation Orlando 2013

 

I’ve been wanting to go to Taste Of The Nation for the past few years.  All the proceedings from the event (including a live auction and a silent auction) go to support Share Our Strength, which works to end childhood hunger.  As a teacher, I occasionally have students come up to me to say they’re not feeling well, due to the fact that they haven’t eaten.  A hungry student cannot concentrate. A hungry student cannot learn.  A hungry student is in pain. Looking at the displays, I saw the faces of my students, and wondered who among them struggles with this.

So, when I received a last minute (and I’m talking like, eleventh hour, fifty-ninth minute) invitation to the event, I leaped at the chance, not only to support the No Kid Hungry campaign, but also to sample the offerings from many local restaurants. Thanks, Julie!

Folks, this is one impressive event.  The chefs pull out all the stops. [Read more…]

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Epcot International Flower And Garden Festival 2013

The EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival kicked off recently.   The festival is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and there are some upgrades.  There’s the usual celebrity appearances from HGTV personalities, Flower Power concert series, beautiful topiaries, butterfly garden, and stations with growing tips. But wait! There’s more.

clockwise from top left: ratatouille tart, meatloaf sandwich, pate with cherry compote, lobster and asparagus with garden cocktail sauce, ratatouille fun facts, Angela waits to taste, lasagna primavera, baked goat’s brie with kumquat chutney, Julius taking a picture, lamb kebab with vegetable couscous salad, butterfly garden

 

There are two play areas during the festival: one with a Radiator Springs theme, and the other with a very elaborate Oz theme.  New topiaries include: Mike and Sully, Phineas and Ferb, Lightning McQueen and Mater, and the outdoor party with Mickey and friends at the entrance to the park.   Some of the topiaries light up at night. And, there are the Garden Marketplaces.

clockwise from top left: frushi, Tyler, kumquat tree, pancake with chicken and apple, chirashi hanazushi, Captain Hook topiary, vegetable bun

 

The marketplaces are similar to the booths at the Food and Wine Festival.  Each booth’s name and decor reflects the country it represents.  There are three to four selections at each, as well as a few drink options.  Slushie type of drinks are popular this year, which were a hit with my son (non-alcoholic varieties, of course.)  I went one afternoon with my family, and the next day with some friends, so I’ve sampled most of the food available at the booths.

 clockwise from top left: pulled pig slider, crab tostada, brisket with jalapeno cornbread and greens, shrimp and girts, garden display, meatloaf sandwich (again, sic), Marvin takes a picture

 

The chefs really outdid themselves on the food. Emphasis was obviously placed on incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into all the dishes.  The quality of the ingredients shone – from the corn atop the shrimp and grits to the vibrant peas in the savory bread pudding.

 

clockwise from top left: limoncello panna cotta, strawberry slush, Dole whip, candied strawberries, La Vie En Rose frozen drink, trio of trifles, tequila tasting, pineapple upside down cake

 

While most of the dishes were outstanding, I definitely had a few favorites.  These are on the “Must Try” list.

The smoked salmon on a potato, cheddar, and chive biscuit from The Cottages (between Canada and the UK.)  This was the very first thing I tried, and it was absolutely amazing.  It really set the bar high for all the other dishes.  The biscuit was soft and savory, and the smoked salmon had just the right amount of lemon to balance out the dish.  I’m definitely ordering it again on future visits.

The savory bread bread pudding with peas and wild mushroom ragout from Bauernmarkt (Germany.)  This dish was a real surprise – it looked messy, but the bread pudding tasted like Thanksgiving stuffing, and the peas were so fresh that they burst in your mouth.  And I’m a sucker for mushrooms, so this dish was right up my alley.

The rocky road brownie mousse from The Smokehouse (United States.)  Chocolatey, rich, but not too heavy.  There was the perfect ratio of mousse-to-brownie crust.  I thought there could’ve been a few more marshmallows, but this was my favorite of the desserts I tried (the limoncello panna cotta, candied strawberries, and berry trifle were close seconds.)

The frozen violet lemonade from Pineapple Promenade (near entrance to World Showcase.)  We had this at the end of our day of eating.  It was slightly tart, citrus-y, with a hint of floral – just what we needed to cleanse the palate.  It tasted fabulous on a hot afternoon.  Marvin and Julius liked it so much they each went back for seconds.

 

Well, that’s my summary of the Flower and Garden festival.  Of course, I focused mostly on the food.  For a different perspective, AJ from the Disney Food Blog has a wonderful review of the dishes.  Check out my Flickr set for full sized pictures of the dishes, and some more topiaries.  I will update the set when I visit the festival again.  If you go, please come back and tell me which dishes were your favorites.  Did you like the smoked salmon biscuit as much as I did?

 

 

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Raspberry Pillow Cookies

This past month, I participated in the Second Annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap! This international event is organized by Lindsay of Love & Olive Oil, and Julie of The Little Kitchen. Thank you so much, ladies, for your hard work making this possible!

This is becoming a fun tradition.  It’s simple: receive the names of three food bloggers.  Bake and send a dozen cookies to each person.  Receive a dozen cookies from three different food bloggers in return.  I was so excited for each box of goodies that arrived. This year, the swap raised money for Cookies For Kids’ Cancer. OXO generously matched donations up to $100,000, and provided all participants with a handy cookie spatula.

I received (clockwise from top left): chocolate m&m cookies from Meagan of A Zesty Bite, pistachio wedding cookies in a beautiful shade of celadon from Lisa of Clawson Live, and coconut macaroons from Koko of Koko Likes. You may notice an extra set of cookies.  These are white chocolate toffee crunch cookies from the above-mentioned Julie. She sent me a complimentary set of cookies as a “thank you” for helping her name the scrumptious cookie concoction. She also threw in a set of paper straws from Pick Your Plum. Thanks, everyone!  Special congratulations go to Meagan, who very recently welcomed a baby girl to the family!

For my part, I made raspberry pillow cookies.  They are my copycat version of the pillow cookie from The Fresh Market.  Anyone familiar with these cookies knows how addictive they are, and how tightly the store keeps this recipe under wraps.  I used raspberry preserves for the middles, which is similar to the original filling.  I would like to come up with a more accurate raspberry filling, but these are close.  These pretties went to Lisa of Snappy Gourmet, Christina of Stracciatella, and Nik of A Brown Table.  Hope y’all liked them!

 

Raspberry Pillow Cookies

Yield: 20-24

Raspberry Pillow Cookies

Note: these cookies spread a good bit during baking. To help them hold their shape, gently nudge the cookie dough into a slight mound after sealing the edges.

Ingredients

Cookies
2 sticks butter, softened
½ c sugar
½ c light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 Tbs vanilla
½ tsp almond extract
3 c flour
1 Tbs baking powder
½ tsp salt
Filling
1 c raspberry preserves, stirred

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Combine butter and both sugars in a large bowl. Beat until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, and beat after each addition. Add vanilla and almond extract and beat another minute. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients slowly, and mix well.
  2. Form dough into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least an hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Place raspberry preserves in a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip.
  4. Roll cookie dough on a very lightly floured surface and cut into 2-inch squares. Place half the cookie dough squares onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Pipe about 2 tsp of preserves into the center the squares. Top cookies with the remaining cookie dough squares and pinch edges to seal.
  5. Bake for 9-10 minutes, until the edges just start to turn golden. Do not over bake. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a rack to cool.
http://kokocooks.com/2012/12/raspberry-pillow-cookies/

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Driscoll’s Culinary Demonstration at the EPCOT Food And Wine Festival

 

The EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival is coming to a close. I’ve enjoyed so many aspects of it. This year, I had the privilege to attend a culinary demonstration by Chef Jon Ashton and Dr. Wendy Bazilian, hosted by Driscoll’s Berries.

 

Confession: for all the time I spend at this festival, I have never been to a culinary demonstration. Usually, I’m at the park with my son, and while I think he would enjoy running around and climbing on all the seats, I don’t think it’s the right environment for an energetic toddler.

 

The demo began with Lucas from Meeker Vineyards presenting us with a FroZin dessert wine. I’ve tried ice wines before, and have found many of them a bit too syrupy for my taste. This wine was not only a beautiful color, but was sweet, bold, and not at all cloying (Best way I can describe it. Oenophile, I am not.) The zinfandel grapes were grown in the Russian River Valley, which I’ve actually visited and have tasted my way through the vineyards tucked into those rolling hills.  More about the wine later.

 

Next, Chef Jon described the three appetizers that he prepared for the tasting – a blackberry brie wonton cup, strawberry bruschetta, and a Thai turkey meatball. He didn’t really explain the cooking process of the dishes; he gave mostly tips about how to handle the ingredients, other uses for them, and advice on adapting recipes. His charismatic personality was matched by his charming Liverpudian accent. I loved the way he crooned the word “bluuuueberry!” Dr. Wendy was on hand to drop fun facts about each of the berries featured in the dishes. Some things I learned from her:

1 serving of strawberries has more Vitamin C than 1 medium orange.

There are about 100 drooplets on every blackberry. (Drooplets. Still loving that word.)

Blueberries are one of the best superfoods. Their blue color is from anthocyanin.

The dishes rocked!  My favorite was the meatball.  It was garnished with blueberry jam, whipped goat cheese, and mircogreens.  The dessert wine paired incredibly with this dish.  The wine’s sweetness simmered down and enhanced the robust flavors of the meatball.  I can’t wait to try this recipe in a hamburger version.

 

And of course, every event is always more fun with other bloggers to connect and hang with.  Chef Jon chatted with us for a few minutes after the demo, and he graciously posed for a picture with us. Left to right: Mark from The Daily City, Michelle from The Village Cook, Ken, Denise from Creative Kitchen, Dr. Wendy Bazilian, Chef Jon Ashton, Julie from Peanut Butter Fingers, Katie from Katie’s Cucina, me, and Brooke representing The Disney Food Blog. Not pictured but present were Ricky from Tasty Chomps, Ryan, and Jason.  (Photo courtesy of Julie)

 

After the demonstration, we headed to Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant for dinner.  During the leisurely dinner we ate spring rolls, salad, goulash (most of the table orderd Wolfgang Puck’s renowned family recipe), and cheesecake.

What a fun evening!  I will make a point to attend a few more demonstrations when next year’s Food and Wine Festival rolls into EPCOT.  I’d like to take a moment to thank Pam and the entire Walt Disney World team who worked the event, Fran, Laura, the team at Wolfgang Puck’s who attended us, and especially to Katie for recommending me for the event.

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Epcot Food and Wine Festival 2012

 

 

It’s here!  My absolute favorite event at Disney.  And I’m not the only one.  Thousands of people plan trips to Epcot during the Food and Wine Festival.

 

top row: zapiekanki, mung bean pancake with shrimp and kimchi sauce; middle row: Caribbean booth, spicy sushi roll, us; bottom row: Brewer’s Collection beers, pork and kimchi lettuce wrap

With so much to do, there’s something for everyone. And the place is decorated so prettily with all the gardening displays and food topiaries.  Every booth has a variety of regional-specific potted plants.  If only my house were as nicely decked out!

 

We went a few times already, and tried to mainly try the new stuff. I’d like to give a shout out to Julius (of Droolius) and Odessa, who we met up with for a few hours.  My husband and Odessa rolled their eyes while Julius and I took pictures of all the food.  He also took the photo of Joey and I (see above.)  Here are the highlights from our weekend:

 

The filet mignon from Canada. This is a dish from the Le Cellier Steakhouse menu. It’s a small portion, but quality makes up for the size. The meat was perfectly cooked, and it was served with wild mushrooms and a truffle butter sauce.

 

The tequila flight in Mexico. This was the first thing we had upon arriving, and after drinking all three, I didn’t notice the heat or the lines for quite a while! We talked with one of the servers in the booth, and discovered that two of tequilas were better for sipping instead of shooting. Wish I had learned that beforehand. Now I want to try them again and savor more of their flavors.

 

The lamb chop from Australia. This booth has always served a tasty lamb chop, but this year’s dish is dressed with a mint pesto (nice spin on the traditional mint jelly) and a crust of salt and vinegar potato chips.  Yes, please!

 

White corn arepa from the Florida Local booth. I’ve never had an arepa stuffed with anything other than cheese, so I was pleasantly surprised to find the pork inside the pocket. The corn salsa was refreshing.

 

The cheese selection from the Cheese booth. This year’s cheese selections were a wicked sharp cheddar, blue cheese, and a goat brie. The cheddar had a drizzle of honey cut some of the sharpness. I just wish there had been a couple more crackers to accompany that wedge of brie.

 

The grapefruit beer from the Brewer’s Collection booth. We ended up tasting more beer during our visit than wine, and this one was the biggest surprise. It was light, refreshing, and didn’t at all taste like beer. It made the hot afternoon a little bit cooler.

 

top row: sparkling pomegranate kir, France booth, dessert trio; middle row: shrimp ceviche with plantains and cilantro, escargot and Grey Goose lemon slush, lobster claw; bottom row: chocolate lava cake, spinach and paneer pocket, coq au vin

Other highlights include:

 

For those people who are weirded out by using a garbage can as a table top (flat surfaces around the World Showcase are in high demand) the park now sells these nifty plates so you can carry your food and drink with one hand. Problem solved!

 

The Festival Center. This is the old Wonders of Life building, located to the left of Mission: Space. This is where a lot of the cooking demonstrations, tastings, and celebrity appearances occur. There is also a “wine cellar” where you can buy just about any of the beverages that are sold in the booths. And the building also houses the Ghirardelli Chocolate display. You can read about the chocolate making process, get a free sample of chocolate, sip a cup of hot chocolate, and gaze at the amazing chocolate displays (bonus if you can find Captain Jack Sparrow hiding in one of the displays.)

 

So that was the first weekend of the festival for us! I’m sure we’ll visit a bunch more times during the month. Check out my flickr set, because I’ll be adding pictures as we experience more of the festival. And in case you missed it, I chatted with Christine and Katie about some tips for maneuvering through the festival.

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Central Florida Blogger Conference 2012

 

This conference gave me such iPad envy

 

The 2012 Central Florida Blogger Conference is the third blog conference I’ve attended, but the first one I’ve actually written about. I was especially pumped after attending this conference. First, it opened with a flash mob, which set the energetic tone for the day.

 

Second, it took place at the Orlando Science Center, which is one of my favorite places in Central Florida. We have family passes because my son loves coming here. I particularly enjoy watching the alligators and turtles hang out under the lights.

 

The speakers were top notch. Lou Mongello gave an inspiring keynote speech. Colleen Cowan taught me all about how to make a media kit (something I was clueless about.) Tom Jelneck made SEO seem a little more understandable. Just a little. And Julie Deily spoke about her strategies for working with brands.

 

Like a good Star Wars geek, I managed to find some references throughout the day. The nerf herder lover in me was thrilled to win the gift basket sponsored by the Orlando Science Center, which was stocked with a ton of Star Wars swag, including two tickets to the opening night of their Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination exhibit.  Super excited!

 

Of course, any conference wouldn’t be half as fun without all the people. It was so much fun connecting with locals, putting faces and real names to so many people I follow on Twitter, and making new friends (especially those of the dinosaur variety.)

above: Julie, Katie, Julius, me, and Robin

 

Huge thanks go to Bess Auer and Katie Widrick, the OSC, Florida Institute of Technology, Bahama Breeze, Macbeth Photography, and all the other sponsors. I can’t wait for next year’s conference!

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My Google Chat, The EPCOT Food and Wine Festival

 

It’s getting close to my favorite time of year: Autumn. I grew up in Massachusetts, where by now the air has a bite, and the leaves start to turn a rainbow of colors. Here in Florida, it’s still well above 90, with little end in sight.

 

One thing I have to look forward to this time of year is the Epcot Food and Wine Festival. It runs from September 28 to November 12. I’ve gone just about every year since the late 90’s, so I could be considered well versed on the event. Which is why I jumped at the chance to chat with Christine and Katie about it on one of their google hangouts.

Watch the chat to hear some of my favorite returning food items, this year’s new booths, and some tips to help you plan your visit. You can view two recaps I did last year: one for my favorite savory dishes, and one for my favorite desserts. And, I loved the coq au vin from France so much, I made the recipe.  It was just as good as I remembered it.

 

P.S. The cranberry bog is returning!

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