Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cake Pops, Macaroons, & Candy Sushi, Oh My!

I recently had the pleasure of trying Maria's Mini Sweets' yummy cake pops. Mine was a yellow cake with chocolate fondant and cute flower decorations. I love supporting this small business, because all the desserts are delicious and very unique. 

Maria Hoagland began making French desserts soon after her honeymoon to Europe. "I wondered, 'Why is it so expensive for one macaroon? I can make that myself," Maria says. She soon began researching how to make macaroons and other desserts, with great success. The self-taught baker also taught herself how to make adorable Candy Sushi sets, using peeps, gummy worms, and other candies. 

Now, Maria makes custom cake pops, candy sushi, and macaroons for friends, and can make them for your holiday party, baby shower, birthday party, or special gift. I love the blue and white Cheesecake Pops she made for a Hanukkah get-together! Check out Maria's Mini Sweets Facebook page MariasMiniSweets for information on how to order and see photos from past occasions to get ideas! 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Try New Food, Atmosphere at Bahama Breeze

Ahi Tuna Stacks. Photo by Shad Bookout
We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Bahama Breeze in Altamonte Springs, Fla., on a recent evening. It was not just because the renovated restaurant now has a better feel to it, but also it was because we were able to try some of the new appetizers, drinks, and entrees on the restaurant's extensive menu!

First, we took time to look around the beautiful restaurant. Some of the changes are more noticeable, such as the bar area, which is more open with beautiful shelving and bottles. Outside, flat screen TVs have been added, along with tables that have a granite finish and upgraded chairs. Other changes stand out less, but really upscale the place such as refinished woodwork throughout the restaurant and new artwork.

New bar area.
Photo by Shad Bookout

Now, to the two main reasons we like to visit Bahama Breeze: the food and the beverages. Florida stone crab is in season, so we tried the Stone Crab Appetizer ($23.99). It was served cold with lemon butter and a delicious sauce. I would recommend this dish, and you can upgrade to a Stone Crab entree portion for $1.99 more. Our favorite new appetizer is the Ahi Tuna Stacks ($6.99), which is delicate chopped Yellowfin tuna in Ponzu sauce, stacked between crispy wonton crackers. The accompanying pineapple salsa marries quite well with the tuna and wontons. I noticed more small plates on the menu than ever before, so everyone at the table can try a few different dishes, tapas style.

Our favorite new entree at Bahama Breeze is the Wood-Grilled Swordfish Steak, served atop Coconut-Ginger Sauce and with rice fritters. The swordfish was cooked perfectly and is so flavorful that it doesn't really need the sauce. The rice fritters were a fun, tasty addition to the meal - I thought they were corn fritters! The Wood-Grilled Chicken Sandwich, served warm inside Naan bread with arugula and tomato is very tasty and different from the normal sandwichThe new Curry Shrimp Rice Bowl (you can also order with chicken) has a really good, spicy curry sauce that I haven't had anywhere else. I would recommend trying this new dish for something different. Bahama Breeze also recently introduced several delicious burgers, including a Turkey Burger and the Portabella and Manchengo Cheeseburger.
Wood-Grilled Swordfish Steak.  By Shad Bookout

While we enjoy all of the tropical island-style drinks at Bahama Breeze, we especially liked the new Zombie, a mixture of three rums and Peach Schnapps, and the Havana Hotel Special, which combines rum, pineapple juice, lime, and a splash of Apricot Brandy into a very tasty concoction.

For dessert, the restaurant's Key Lime Pie is one of the best I have had. You can tell that it is made fresh daily in-house. The graham cracker crust really has a great, fresh flavor, and offsets the strong lime flavor of the pie. Two thumbs up! Let me know about your experience at any of the Bahama Breeze restaurants below!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Food Trucks for Families Helps Those in Need

I recently heard about New York City- based food trucks feeding the hungry in the City for free after Hurricane Sandy. While I was impressed with that, I was wondering if it takes a natural disaster for people to help the poor, the hungry and tired in their own communities.

Then, I came across Food Trucks For Families, and realized there are people who want to give back to their communities all the time.Craig Kimmel, owner of the Firehouse BBQ truck - which was voted "Best Barbecue" on Pit Masters last year -- started the organization. Food Trucks for Families plans to give 100 percent of the food trucks' entry fees ($100 each) to rotating charities and individuals in need. In addition, food trucks will donate leftover food from events to the hungry.

As a firefighter and paramedic, Kimmel says he is acutely aware of the numerous people in Orlando who need help. "There are over 500 homeless families in Seminole County, for example. If you know of a family in need - possibly even someone with medical needs who cannot pay the light bill that month - send in your request," Kimmel said. 

Orlando food trucks that plan to participate in some of the charity events include: The Flattery, The Crepe Co., Big Wheel, Twisted Cuban, Crabby Chris, Bem Bom, Yum Yum Cupcakes, Melissa's Waffles, Monsta Lobsta, and Saigon Sizzle. 

Food Trucks for Families' first event will be held at Northland Church, 530 Dog Track Rd. in Longwood, on December 8 from 5:00 - 9:00 p.m. Northland Church will use the donation to help feed the hungry. In addition, a food bank will be on hand to take leftover food from the event. I am so happy that this new organization is in our community and I urge all of my readers to help support it. Plus, you get to eat delicious food at the same time!

To find out about other Food Trucks for Families events, follow the organization on Twitter @FoodTrucks4Kids and on Facebook:

Friday, November 16, 2012

How to Make the Best Holiday Pie

I have always wanted to be one of those ladies - the one who brings the perfect-looking pie to the barbecue or family gathering. Now, I feel like I have more of the skills I need to do just that. I recently received a beautiful cookbook and instruction book, "How to Build a Better Pie", by Millicent Suris. She is the self-taught expert in making pie crusts and preparing all the various fillings - everything from fruit to nuts to meats. 

In her book, I learned how to make the best crumble topping for pies, how to make a shortbread crust (yum!), and how to make the basic pie crust. I was excited to read this book to not only learn techniques, but to find unique recipes that I don't see in magazines or on web sites such as Suris did not disappoint! A few of the unique recipes in this book include Apricot Tomatillo Pie, Chocolate Caramel Pecan Pie and Oyster and Sweetbreads Pie. 

The recipe from "How to Build a Better Pie" that  I would like to share with you is one that would be perfect for Thanksgiving or Christmas: Bourbon Pecan Pie. Enjoy the recipe below, and to order the book for yourself or for a gift, visit:

Bourbon Pecan Pie 

Single Pie Crust (page 19), chilled

12 cup (112 g) unsalted melted butter
1 12 cups (165 g) coarsely chopped pecans,
the fresher the better, toasted
3 extra-large eggs, room temperature
12 cup (60 g) packed light brown sugar
12 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
12 cup (170 g) light corn syrup
12 cup (170 g) dark corn syrup
14 cup (85 g) molasses (blackstrap)
14 cup (60 ml) bourbon—but not
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla
12 teaspoon (3 g) kosher salt

Prebake tools
aluminum foil
baking beans

Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C, gas mark 7).
Bottom Crust
Roll out your chilled pie crust to 18-inch (3 mm) thick.
It should be about 13 inches (33 cm) in diameter. Place
in your pie pan per the instructions in chapter 3. Trim
the edges so there is no more than 14 inch (6 mm) of
overhang. Lift and crimp the overhang along the rim
of the pie pan. Prick the bottom and the sides of the
crust with a regular fork to prevent bubbles. Try to not
pierce through the crust. If you can, chill your crust in
the freezer for at least 15 minutes. If not, chill it in the
refrigerator for at least 20 minutes. It is important for
the crust to be very cold and the fat to re-form and
firm up.

Pull your pie plate out of the refrigerator and place
your foil in it. It should sit flush with the plate, come up
along the rim, and fold down to cover the edges. This
foil protects the crust from overbrowning, but you do
not want the foil pressed securely to the edges. Place
your baking beans in the bottom and level them out.
Put the crust in the oven.

Bake the crust for 15 minutes at 425°F (220°C, gas
mark 7). Then pull out the crust, lower your oven to
350°F (180°C, gas mark 4), and carefully lift the aluminum
foil by the edges off your crust with the beans in
it. Put your crust back in the oven for 10 minutes. Pull
and let cool a bit.

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C, gas mark 5).

Melt your butter and let cool. Arrange your nuts on
the bottom of the par-baked crust. Whisk together the
eggs until homogenized and add the white and brown
sugars, then the corn syrups, molasses, bourbon,
vanilla, melted butter, and salt. Pour the mixture over
the nuts and carefully transfer to the oven. The pecans
will float.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the pie is set. A
little wiggle in the middle is all right; the pie will continue
cooking at it sits. Let cool at least 1 hour.

Yield: 1 pie (8 servings)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Eating at Panera Helps Feed the Hungry

For the past week or so, we have been focused on restaurants and hotels that are giving to the needy people in our communities. This is because I am so impressed with the restaurateurs, food trucks and others who donating time and money to help those who are hungry and those who have been impacted by Hurricane Sandy. For example, Uber Good, a new food truck in Orlando, is asking its guests to donate blankets and coats to the homeless who are particularly suffering in the chilly weather. Feeding people in need is a cause I am so passionate about because I have never had to go hungry, and can't imagine how awful that would be.

Panera's Harvest Cookie
Now, I am planning to eat at Panera Bread more often because they are donating money to Second Harvest Food Bank, a great organization that gets food to organizations such as HIV/ AIDS groups and homeless shelters. Throughout November and December, Panera's Central Florida restaurants are matching its guests' donations to Second Harvest, dollar for dollar. And, 100% of the proceeds from a special edition Harvest Cookie will be donated to Second Harvest from November 1 through November 25.

Please tell me you will be eating at Panera to support Second Harvest Food Bank! I highly recommend Panera's French Toast Bagel and the Thai Chopped Chicken Salad. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Eat & Drink for a Great Cause in Winter Park!

Come out for the enjoyable Happy Hour for Hunger event, which donates 100% of its ticket proceeds to the Second Harvest Food Bank. The fun party is this Thursday, November 8, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Winter Park Village. This is a great way to de-stress from the Election!

For $20 per ticket, you can experience delicious food and drinks - and live jazz music - from Winter Park Village restaurants. Participating restaurants include: Mitchell's Fish Market, Brio Tuscan Grille, P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Lime Fresh Mexican Grille, Truffles Grill, and Taps Wine & Beer. 

Last year, this annual event provided 21,000 pounds of food to Second Harvest, which gives food directly to homeless shelters, HIV/AIDS organizations, and other groups in Central Florida. To buy tickets for the event or donate funds to Second Harvest, visit  

Friday, November 2, 2012

Help to Feed New York's Hungry

Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin
supports City Harvest
It is difficult not to feel helpless after Hurricane Sandy left a path of destruction in New York, New Jersey, and several other states last week. Millions of people are still without power and running water. For those of us who cannot be there in person to help, there is another way. 

There are several funds set up to help those who are displaced from their homes. And you can donate to the American Red Cross. However, I have come across an organization that gets food to the hungry in New York right away: City Harvest. City Harvest has been around for years, donating food daily to New Yorkers living in poverty. In fact, the organization rescues around 115,000 pounds of food daily from restaurants, wholesalers, and others, and distributes it to community organizations.
City Harvest rescued green beans
and other produce from
North Point Terminal 

After Hurricane Sandy, City Harvest has expanded its services to neighborhoods hardest hit by the storm including downtown Manhattan, Breezy Point, and Far Rockaway. If you are a restaurant or food wholesaler in the city, please contact City Harvest. For the rest of us who simply want to get food to those who are hungry right now, visit to make a donation.

If there are other New York City organizations in need of support right now, let me know in the comments section below. Thank you for your caring and generosity.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Best Dishes at Epcot Food & Wine Festival

Beef Filet- Canada
Hmmm, what to try, what to try? There are always so many foods - and beverages - I like at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival that I have to be picky. Before I went this year, I asked friends and bloggers their favorites, and I downloaded the Food & Wine app (there are a few - the one I liked was FW Passport), which lists the foods and drinks at each marketplace.

First, we had to try the highly-recommended Beef Filet with Wine and Mushrooms at the Canada marketplace. The meat was cooked perfectly - medium - and was flavored so well. This was probably our favorite dish of the whole event. The Moosehead Beer in Canada is a light ale that was really smooth. 

Another favorite food of the evening was Crispy Shrimp Tacos from Mexico. The shrimp is light and flavorful and all the ingredients on the tortilla blend very well together. This station also features a Lime Strawberry Margarita, which fellow Food & Wine guests said was not that great. Instead, they recommended a "frozen vodka slushie" from the Smirnoff booth. Well, I tried all night, and could not find a Smirnoff booth. What a let down!

Trio of Desserts - Dessert & Champagne
We also loved the Escargots Persillade en Brioche at the France pavilion. It was actually prepared a bit better this year! My favorite dessert of the night was also found in France: the Creme Brulee au Chocolate au Lait, which tastes exactly like chocolate milk with a crisp carmelized sugar topping. Many times, restaurants mess up on Creme Brulee, so this was a pleasant surprise. 

Of course we HAD to try the Belgium Waffle with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream in Belgium. Who does not love waffles?! This waffle was cooked perfectly: crispy on the outside and warm and gooey on the inside. However, the Berry Compote was way too sweet and overpowering. Chefs need to leave much of this sauce off the waffle. 

We ended the night with White Chocolate Macadamia Mousse with Dark Chocolate Pearls at the new Dessert & Champagne marketplace. It had a nice spice kick at the end, but I was disappointed with the texture of the mousse. It was dense instead of light and fluffy. 

Kalua Pork Slider - Hawaii
We were so full, we missed eating one of the best dishes at the Festival: the Lobster & Scallop Fisherman's Pie in Ireland. I would highly recommend this delectable meal. What food and drinks have you tried at this year's Epcot Food & Wine Festival? Let us know which ones to try next time we go! The event runs through November 12.

Friday, October 26, 2012

My Favorite Things, Part Tres

When I come across high quality, yummy food products, I just have to share them with you. Obviously, food makes me happy, but healthy food that tastes great is what I get really excited about. Here are the top three things I have tried recently:

1. Sweetleaf came out with new Liquid Stevia drops that you can add to food, drinks, desserts, etc. The new Coconut flavor is my favorite. I add it to my almond milk protein shakes for a different flavor, and to coconut milk, pineapple juice and Malibu Rum, to make a dairy-free pina colada! Another new flavor is watermelon, and it tastes exactly like the fruit! What I am most impressed about with Sweetleaf is that the product is made with 100% stevia. I didn't realize until I started checking other brands such as TruVia, that they add other chemicals and ingredients in addition to stevia.

2. Lundberg Family Farm Rice Chips. These are made from organic corn and brown rice flours, so they are good for people on gluten-free diets. Plus, the sunflower seeds in the chips give them such a nice crunch. I really like the flavor I typically get: Sea Salt, but Lundberg also has Fiesta Lime, Santa Fe Barbecue, Wasabi, and many other flavors. You can find the chips at health stores, gourmet stores, and supermarkets.

3. Daiya Vegan Jalapeno Garlic Havarti-Style Cheese. Wow. This is really the closest thing to cow's milk cheese in terms of flavor and texture. And the jalapeno garlic flavor is not over-done. It adds a nice zip on tacos, in wraps and sandwiches, and when eaten by itself.

Have you tired these products? If so, let me know which flavors are your favorites!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Local Celebrity Chefs at "Books and Cooks"

Well, this looks like a very fun and educational event: "Books and Cooks" will be held this Thursday, October 25, at the Rachel D. Murrah Civic Center in Winter Park, Fla., from 6:00-9:00 p.m. This "culinary-themed celebration of literature", includes a panel of chefs, book signings, cocktails, and - the best part - a variety of food trucks! 5 Gastronomy, La Empanada, and Heartsong Bakery will be on hand to provide delicious, gourmet dinner and desserts.

The chef panel features Food Network Star finalist Emily Ellyn, James and Julie Petrakis, chef owners of The Ravenous Pig and Cask and Larder; Norman Van Aken, chef-owner of Norman's at the Ritz Carlton Orlando, and Heather McPherson, food editor at the Orlando Sentinel. All panelists will remain after the event to sign books and talk to the audience. James and Julie just came out with a new cookbook: "The Ravenous Pig: Seasons of Florida", that I am excited to get. The food is so on-point at both of their restaurants, that it would be nice to try making some of their recipes myself.

The $10 admission to Books and Cooks includes the choice of wine, beer, or a cocktail; and gourmet caramel popcorn from The Ravenous Pig. Tickets can be purchased at It is neat how a portion of the proceeds from book sales at the event will be used to support the Winter Park Library.

Where: 2050 W. Morse Blvd., Winter Park. Fla.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Take a Trip to Modern Tokyo at Sushi Pop

Making Peanut Butter & Jelly Sorbet
Sushi Pop restaurant in Oviedo is different than any other sushi restaurant I have been in. First, the decor: it's kind of pop-art-ish and I love the modern furniture and lighting. The hostesses and wait staff are dressed up kind of funky, with bright colors and purses slung across their shoulders. If you don't know the story behind it, it may seem very odd. However, Sushi Pop's executive chef and owner, Chau Trinh, was inspired by the "crazy clothes" that the young people in a certain area of Tokyo, Japan, were wearing when he visited a few years ago. 

After gazing at the surroundings, I wanted to get to the best part: the food. I have heard so much about this place from fellow foodies, in part because of Chef Chau's leaning towards molecular gastronomy. For example, one of the popular desserts at Sushi Pop is its Peanut Butter and Jelly Sorbet. This is a frozen concoction, made table-side using liquid nitrogen and topped with peanut butter powder and marshmallow foam. It is quite a show! In addition to the entertainment, I was blown away by how much this dessert tastes exactly like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Lobster & Almond Roll

Since this place obviously focuses on sushi, we were ready to be critical of each sushi roll. Fortunately, almost everything we ordered was delicious. I would highly recommend the Hot Mess, Gravlax, and Lobster & Almonds rolls. Red Hot's, which features spicy tuna, avocado, jalapenos and Siracha hot sauce, is ddecadent for those who like very spicy foods. The Butterfish roll was not one of the best - it just seemed like an odd fish to put in a roll. Even though this is a sushi place, it's other small plate dinners are delicious. I tried the Florida Snapper over rice and curry sauce. The crispy-skin snapper was moist and had an excellent flavor, as did the sauce. 

Florida Snapper 
Don't forget about appetizers: there are so many delicious hot and cold tastings to choose from. My favorite - so far - is the Sauteed Schichimi Pepper and Garlic Edamame. The pepper and garlic give the traditional soybean dish a nice kick. Overall, I would recommend eating at Sushi Pop, again and again. With its expansive menu, you can try something new and different every time.

Where: 310 West Mitchell Hammock Rd., Suite 900, Oviedo, Fla.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Discover Sweets & Liquor at Epcot Food & Wine Festival

Photo by Jerry Blank
Guest post by Dennis Blank

Really. Virtually every type of dessert a person could want is available at 3D Disney's Dessert Discovery during the Epcot Food and Wine Festival. On Fridays - October 12, October 26, and November 2 -  Epcot visitors can pay $55 extra for this unique event. 

A few of the scrumptious desserts offered include: chocolate fudge, cream-filled pastries, homemade cookies, and Driscoll's over-sized strawberries. There were also a few meat, cheese, and bread tables. The new trend we noticed was berry-infused waters, including fresh cranberries floating on top of ice-cold drinking water.

3D Disney's Dessert Discovery is sponsored by Pinnacle Vodka, so the liquor is flowing throughout the evening: not just vodka, but also unlimited supplies of various rums, wine, and cordials are offered. Disappointing was the weak, lukewarm coffee and lackluster hot chocolate. 

Photo by Jerry Blank
In addition to the flambe dessert stations, something that really added to the atmosphere of this event was a three-piece band playing old Elvis and Beatles tunes, and pretty much any "oldie" song relating to sweets. 

Although you may have to wait 45 minutes to get into this event, we recommend checking it out as part of the great Epcot Food & Wine Festival. Other sweet events during this year's Festival include: Sweet Sundays, The Discovery of Chocolate, and The Discovery of Grand Marnier.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Napa at Peabody: Great for Special Occassions

Photo Courtesy of Peabody Orlando
Although it has been open for awhile, I just recently had the opportunity to try the beautiful, upscale Napa restaurant in the new Peabody Orlando hotel tower. Napa, featuring cuisine and wine inspired by California's wine region, has a great vibe and impeccable food,  particularly for special occasions. While we were there, several guests were celebrating birthdays and special events, or were out for a date.

I was impressed by the extensive selection of appetizers and entrees - including vegan and vegetarian options - at the restaurant. I was even happier after tasting the food, since it exceeded my expectations. We started with the "Taste of the Valley" appetizer sampler ($17) which includes tastings of popular appetizers including Orlando Brewing Red Ale Steamed Canaveral Clams, Pan Roasted East Coast Mussels, and Festival of Tomatoes. Each one was scrumptious. Our entrees - Meyer Ranch Natural Beef Filet ($42) and Whole Fried Yellowtail Snapper ($37) - were cooked perfectly. 
Whole Yellowtail Snapper

The filet was accompanied by a Maderia wine reduction and a Roasted Plum and Cherry Compote, and served with creme fraiche potatoes and broccolini. We could not get over how perfectly cooked the steak was and thought the wine reduction was the best part. The Starmont Cabernet, suggested by our knowledgeable waiter, paired perfectly with the filet. The flash-fried snapper was moist on the inside, but crispy on the outside, exactly as this style of preparation should be. It was accompanied by a delicious Cherry Tomato Escabeche Rice and Crispy Fried Plantains. Other house specialties include Cioppino, Florida Rock Shrimp and Crab Linguini and Focaccia Crusted Veal Chop.

The service was flawless, which is one of the reasons I suggest Napa for a special night out. Our waiter was very attentive and talked to the chef about my food allergies and they figured out how to alter dishes so I could still eat them. You can be assured that the servers will go above and beyond to make you feel special. 

Meyer Ranch Natural Beef Filet
I was also impressed to find out that Napa is a "Farm to Fork" restaurant: the majority of the produce, seafood, and meat used in its dishes is sourced locally or regionally. The items that are not sourced locally are purchased from sustainable companies, such as grass-feed beef from Meyer Ranch in Montana. The restaurant is also environmentally friendly with automatic lights in its restrooms, in-house water filtration system, a composting program, and several other efforts.

Where: 9801 International Drive, Orlando, Fla.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Thai Must Try: Blue Elephant

Photo by Shad Bookout
I was thrilled to find out recently that our Lake Mary side of town got a Blue Elephant Thai restaurant, since International Drive sports the only other Blue Elephant in the area. This is upscale Thai cuisine at its finest. I appreciate how authentic the food at this particular location really is: the chef only speaks Thai!

When I first walked into Blue Elephant, I was struck by the beautiful decor, including fountains with floating flowers and candles, and an amazing glass light sculpture over the bar. After being greeted by an attentive server and manager - who visits every table - the next thing I was impressed by were the prices. For a place with such beautiful decor, I did not expect to see several choices of curries on the menu for $12.95 each (the traditional Basil Sauce Curry is one of the eatery's most popular curry dishes). Plus, the new restaurant is going to be offering several lunch and dinner specials.
Whole Snapper Rock - Photo by Shad Bookout

Although all of the appetizers were tempting, we started with the Tuna Tartar Wonton ($11), which includes rare tuna, avocados, wasabi, and jalapeno atop a crispy wonton. This was flavorful, and different from any other tuna tartar we have had. We also tried the B.E. (chicken) Dumpling which was so good. For $6, we were served six dumplings, so that was a great deal!

For dinner, we decided to try a couple of the house specialties as a treat. The Crispy Whole Snapper Rock ($24) was delicious and had a very unique presentation. The glaze - a sweet chili sauce with bell peppers and onions - slightly overwhelmed the dish, but the flavor was still amazing and the fish was cooked perfectly. We also loved the unique Crispy Duck Zee's ($19), crispy duck breast served with red curry sauce, pineapple, basil, tomato, lime leaf, and bell peppers. The curry sauce was truly the best curry sauce that I have had to date: very light and flavorful. And the combination of curry, rice, pineapple, and duck all worked together very well. The duck was slightly dry, but that is to be expected when a dish is fried.
B.E. Dumpling
Photo by Shad Bookout

We also were very impressed with the number of signature cocktails on the menu - two pages worth! - and how tasty they were. I would highly recommend ordering "Inspire", a mix of Mekhong Rum, pear liqueur, and ginger liqueur, and the "Thai Fantasy", which sort of tasted like a Screwdriver.

Where: 951 Market Promenade Ave., Ste. 1101, Lake Mary, Fla.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Can't Make it to Epcot Food & Wine Fest? Try Orlando Food & Wine Weekends

I love Epcot's Food & Wine Festival held every year from September 28 - November 12, but it is also great that two of Orlando's finest hotels are offering a delicious, alternative international event.

Orlando Food & Wine Weekends, held from September 28 through October 5 at Waldorf Astoria Orlando and Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, include several fun tasting events. "A Taste of Waldorf Astoria" on Friday and Saturday evenings, features tasting menus and wine pairings presented by visiting chefs from Waldorf Astoria restaurants around the world. For example, chefs will prepare menus from the Trianon Palace Versailles and the Waldorf Astoria Berlin. 

Bar du Chocolat treats
Meanwhile, the hotels' Bar du Chocolat and Champagne tasting event will feature a signature selection of chocolate treats from Waldorf Astoria's pastry chefs along with fine champagnes from Perrier-Jouet. The event is held every Friday and Saturday night. "Noche Latina" at the Waldorf Astoria is another fun event, with a mojito bar, cigar roller, flamenco dancers, tapas, and new world Spanish wines, all held by the Waldorf Astoria's pool on Saturday evenings.

For more information on these fun food and wine events (and special room rates), visit or

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What's New at Epcot Food & Wine Festival

Shrimp Ceviche at Florida Marketplace Booth
If you are like me and you look forward to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival every year, then you will definitely want to check out the new pavilions and food this year. Plus, the festival is a few days longer this year, kicking off September 28 and running through November 12.

New food marketplaces include a TERRA Vegan Marketplace booth, which offers Chili Colorado with House Made Chips and Cashew Cheese and Trik'n Chick'n Curry with Basmati Rice. The Florida Marketplace will also make its debut, offering dishes such as Florida Shrimp Ceviche and White Corn Arepa with Mangalitsa Pork Rillette and Zellwood Sweet Corn Salad. The foods, beers, and wine offered at each country's marketplace can be found here:

The Festival has also added VIP Marketplace Chef Tours. Every Wednesday, Food and Wine Festival chefs will host walking tours of the World Showcase booths. So, those on the tour can taste five dishes and five beverages from various marketplaces and hear about culinary secrets from the chefs. 

Party For The Senses
Party For The Senses - a culinary extravaganza where renowned chefs such as Robert Irvine cook for guests - is back this year. While you are tasting amazing, gourmet food, Cirque de Soleil performs! Note that this is a separate event from the regular festival, and costs around $130 per person, depending on the date. There is much more going on at this wonderful event, and I will update you on other things to do and see throughout the Food and Wine Festival.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Chocolate, Fudge, & Gelato, Oh My!

Designer Chocolate Shoes
When I stopped by Peterbrooke Chocolatier in Winter Park, Fla., to collect my prize the other day (a bag of Milk Chocolate-covered Popcorn), I was anxious to try everything new the sweet shop has to offer. First off, Peterbrooke's chocolate-covered popcorn is delicious, and why wouldn't it be? Anything covered in the rich, velvety chocolate made in-house has to be good! 

Yes, I said anything. Chocolate-covered bacon is one of the shop's best sellers, so I had to try that. I have never tried such a thing, so why not? The dark chocolate version is pretty good: I like the combination of salty and sweet. The bacon leaves a weird after-taste, though. Even though I am a bacon lover, I was not as into it, as I thought I would be. You definitely have to try it, though. Plus, Peterbrooke covers lots of other yummy things in chocolate, including strawberries, potato chips, and pretzels, and you can request other chocolate-covered stuff for them to make especially for you.

Co-owner Kevin Wray
scooping gelato
Even though Peterbrooke specializes in chocolates and delicious fudge (you must try the Peanut Butter Chocolate Fudge!), gelato is a big hit with its customers. Peterbrooke carries 16 to 20 different flavors on a daily basis, and I had to try all the new fall flavors. My favorite is Pumpkin Cheesecake, but you should definitely try Spiced Caramel Apple, Autumn Crunch, and Bourbon Caramel Gingersnap. The flavors are all so good and authentic, and I doubt you will find these unique flavors anywhere else.

Peterbrooke has such a wide selection of chocolates - including turtles, bark, and 72% dark chocolate bars - that is it really hard to choose which ones to buy. I would recommend the popcorn, first and foremost, but also the chocolate-covered oreos and all the sugar-free chocolate items. The sugar-free lines taste exactly like the regular ones!

I am also excited about the custom chocolates that Peterbrooke can make for Halloween, birthdays, weddings, and other special events. They even have shoes made out of chocolate. What is your favorite thing to eat at Peterbrooke? 

Where: 300 S. Park Ave., Winter Park. Fla.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mickey's Halloween Party - Not so Scary!

Mickey's Not so Scary Halloween Party is the second best event at Magic Kingdom, only slightly edged out by Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. This year, on select dates from September 11 through November 2, Mickey's Not so Scary Halloween Party is out in full force with special trick-or-treat stations, Mickey's "Boo-to-You" Halloween parade, and Halloween-themed fireworks.

At the Halloween Party's Media Preview event the other night, I got to experience the party first-hand. I love how whole families wear costumes for this nighttime event every year. And of course, the trick-or-treating is fun for both adults and kids. The parade does not disappoint with floats featuring villains, candy for the kids, and watch for the neat "Undertaker" dancers. Because it is a special after-hours event, it is also quick to get on your favorite rides, including Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain. 

When you go to the Magic Kingdom for this fun Halloween celebration, one good place to eat is Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe. It has an extensive toppings bar for your hamburger or vegan burger. I ordered the Chicken Wrap, which was both flavorful and humongous - enough for two people!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Jekyll Island Food Disappointing - Some Gems

Shrimp Creole - Driftwood Bistro
When I am on vacation, one of the main things I get excited about is trying new food that is authentic to the region. While I enjoyed some of the dishes I tried during my recent trip to Jekyll Island, Ga., there was nothing special or unique about the cuisine. And, some of the restaurants did not live up to their hype. 

For example, Driftwood Bistro is the third highest rated Jekyll Island restaurant on TripAdvisor. I am not sure why that is. Most of the food was not up to par. We tried the Shrimp Creole and the Wild Georgia Shrimp Platter with fried okra (at $10.99 each for petite platters this is a pretty good deal). On the Shrimp Platter, we received only a few small, overcooked shrimp. The fried okra, however, was cooked perfectly with its light and airy cornmeal breading. The Shrimp Creole was also disappointing: it tasted like it was made from canned tomatoes and didn't have strong flavors or spicing. Perhaps I am spoiled by authentic creole dishes from New Orleans.

We had another less-than-stellar experience at Latitude 31 restaurant in Jekyll Island. While our seafood was cooked correctly, the white-tablecloth atmosphere and prices ($21-$30 for dinner entrees) do not match the offerings and service. We truly enjoyed the Snapper special with the most amazing garlic mashed potatoes. I didn't think the snapper needed the coating of breading and oil. Just honor the fish, and grill and season it correctly. The "Surf and Surf" with oysters and Georgia shrimp was flavored well and cooked right, it was just priced high at $25, for the amount served. 

Cornmeal Grouper - Courtyard Cafe
Fortunately, we were saved by the food served at the Courtyard at Crane, at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. For lunch, we ordered the Grouper with Tomato and Basil Topping, accompanied by Sweet Potato Fries for $12.95. The fish portion was very small, but it was cooked perfectly and I really enjoyed the bruschetta-style topping. The Crab and Shrimp Croissant Sandwich for $13.95 was okay, but did not have great or unique flavoring. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jekyll Hotel Features Old South Charms

Jekyll Island Club Hotel
It is like you are transported to a different era when you stay at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel in Jekyll Island, Ga. The grounds of the historic, 125-year-old hotel have a southern plantation-type of feel. It was so enjoyable to walk around the massive property, which features a chapel, a sea turtle museum, and several historic houses. I especially enjoyed walking beneath the massive oak trees, which must carry a lot of history themselves. They have withstood multiple tropical storms and the test of time. 

When staying at the hotel, it is nice being near the water and within walking distance to two seafood restaurants. Plus, Jekyll Island Club's rooms King rooms are beautiful: bathrooms include marble counter-top sinks and over-sized tub with jets.The hotel's queen rooms are smaller and remind me of a standard hotel room at a mid-scale hotel. There is a drawback to staying at the hotel, though. Because the hotel is historic and must be preserved in a certain way, room doors do not close well. That means you can hear other guests slamming their doors. You can also hear every other noise happening on that floor. It is definitely tough for people who are looking for a quiet vacation!
Driftwood Beach

Jekyll Island itself is smaller than I imagined, and it seems like there is only enough to keep a couple or family busy for a weekend. Driftwood Beach is a must-see, however, and many people rent bikes and kayaks, in order to see the natural beauty of the island close-up. It was too hot to do either activity when we visited over Labor Day weekend. Don't go there to relax on the beaches: the island does not feature the soft sand that we are used to on Florida beaches.

Stay tuned for the next blog post: I will review the best - and worst - dining options on Jekyll Island.