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.