Epcot Food & Wine 2014 – a few thoughts and reviews

foodandwine2014We hit Food & Wine the night it opened.  We made a few fastpasses and went primarily to ride the now closed Maelstrom (Norway) ‘one last time.’  I think I got Z to do that about 4 times.  I’m going to miss that ride when the recasting to Frozen is completed.  I can see why they would want to update and add interest to the World Showcase but to me, Maelstrom at Norway wasn’t as broken as some things.  It was, like most of Epcot, dated.  Epcot could use a big facelift, some additional country rides I think and in general a filling in of some of their huge empty spaces.   Our friend Karin was heading out of town on business so we hit the festival and Maelstrom with her before she flew off.  It was pretty uneventful (compared to a previous ride and ‘rescue’ by a Viking-style Norwegian when someone fell into the water on the ride.)  I’m serious about this.  If you want action and interest head to the parks with us.  Something peculiar is bound to happen.  It was the drooly rainiest night.  We didn’t eat much and just tried to stay dry.  I did have a Singapore Sling (*grampa’s cough syrup) which I love.  Give me Hendrick’s Gin and Cherry Heering any day.  I also tried a cheese plate in Ireland.  Love that Kerrygold with brown bread and chutney.

Our second trip was just the two of us on the hottest darn day of the summer!  Here is how that went…muffapinwheel

One of the huge empty spaces is being pressed into service for the festival this year.  It is the big round building that sits off to the side over the water as you make your way from the front entrance back to the International Market Places and is known as the Odyssey Center.  According to an online source – Lostepcot.com it was a restaurant and had a Rockin’ Mickey show once upon a time.  That site has some old info about other countries and rides that I wish would happen but clearly, are not on the agenda anymore.   We stopped in at the Odyssey center to scope out the booth they are housing which centers around craft beers.  It seemed like a fun bar atmosphere to me although I feel they could add some chairs or bar stools to the stand up tables.  I would like to see more of that in general if I could sit down and stay a while, taste the options, etc.  We tried one of the bar snacks, a Muffaletta pinwheel.  Honestly, it was premade and didn’t taste much likeany Muffaletta I’ve had recently.  No depth and a bit limp and the best part was a bread and butter pickle on top.   Kind of a miss.baohashtaco

Then we strolled on into the International Market Place (aka the countries) to begin trying treats that are mellowed out for the average guest but still tend toward tasty and are a great way to try something new without the pressure of it being your whole meal.  We started out on the Mexico side and worked our way around until we were stuffed.  We didn’t try everything and that leaves an opportunity for another day.

First stop:  Mexico.  I sampled the shrimp taco.  I tried for two main reasons.  It was National Taco Day! Hurrah for all things street taco.  And it said it had pickled habanero.  I wondered how hot it could be.   One of my absolute worst food experiences of my life revolved around habanero ice cream I had in Fort Collins, CO at Walrus Ice Cream.  They always have an experimental flavor to try (experimental means gross) and one time I was in they had habanero.  That ice cream made me cry.    But the taco?  It didn’t have that heat.  In fact it was a little nondescript but I liked it.  The shrimp had a bit of crunch and the onions and peppers had bite but not really any heat.  It would be safe for the majority of people to eat.

Next stop:  Farm Fresh.  I suppose farms are a ‘place’ that is foreign to most of us city dwellers but I don’t totally get it.  I think they could call it America and be as accurate.  But this stop had one of my must tries for this year.  A peppered bacon hash with corn, pickled jalapenos and hollandaise.  This would be a brunch rock star if you made it at home and …you should.  I probably will.  I mean fried potatoes with hollandaise.  Divine.  Side note:  This is a gluten free option which is totally a thing this year.

Round the world to:  China.  We stopped in China and I need to go back.  I had a couple of things I wanted to try from China but try to focus on one at a time.  This go I tried out the roasted duck bao.  I have a problem in that I love bao.  LOVE.  Something about that weird steamed bun texture and some fatty rich meat and bright onion or slaw condiments.  This one wasn’t too complicated and was fairly sweet and no heat.   It had some red onion to cut the sweetness and I went to town on it.

At this point we swang into Maelstrom for our last ride. (*sniff)  I tried to soak up the Vikings, the trolls and the feeling one last time.  I look forward to seeing the transformation and I hope that Frozen becomes a new happy place.papapricotflan

We headed back out in the heat to:  Africa.  Z wanted to try the stewed beef and mealie pap.  Pap is kinda grits/polenta like and the meat was stewed with tomatoes and okra.  I’d make this dish.  It is totally a Sunday afternoon long cooked dinner.  The meat was tender and I detected that distinct okra flavor that isn’t really native to the US unless you are living in the real South.  Sort of side note.  I hate that it is ‘Africa.’  I don’t really think that tells the right story.  Africa isn’t so generic or general as that would imply.  I think Epcot has the resources to do better and they should.

Heading on to:  Germany.  Ok.  I have to say that my favorite bite so far this year came from Germany.  Who would have guessed?  It was a doughnut.  Yeasty and filled with apricot jam that was just the right bit of sweet.  I don’t know if that is so German or not but it was so good.   If you have a limited budget and want to have a nice little dessert this would cover it.  Z also got the brat.  Ok.  I know I’m a bit ranty today but this was one place they could have done better.  Or differently anyway.  It had the splattiest messy heap of mustard squidged on.  It wasn’t tidy or helpful really.  I’d really like to see a bit more care overall on presentation.  I messed with several entrees to get a good shot.  They are pushing food out quickly but with little care.  The brat itself -tasty- but not pretty.messyweiner

The Festival this year is presented by ‘Chase’ and since we bank with Chase we got to go in the ‘lounge.’ The lounge is in America and has seating and video games, Freestyle coke machines, and cell phone charging stations.  Kind of a nod to something but I’m not sure what.  Z tried vanilla Root Beer and I had some lemony water before heading back into the heat.

Finished the uber-hot day with:  Puerto Rico.  This is a new stop this year and is a cute little area set up for a party with lights and ambiance.  We ordered one last dessert and a drink.  Z loves flan so he tried the flancocho.  A flan covered at the top with a bit of chocolate cake.  It was good but a bit more set than our favorite.  The flan didn’t come out of it’s baking tin so they just served it that way.  It tasted good even if it wasn’t photo friendly.  I also was dying of heat (and so did the logical – cocktail order)  so I ordered a Gasolina Sangriiia.  It was fruity and cold and I could have chugged the bottle if presented with it.  Very grapey.

Overall the festival feels a little ‘less’ than it has before even though there is technically more.  A little less technical and a little less stand out.  We still enjoy it and I do want to make at least one more visit to try a few more dishes.   So, I’m looking forward to that.  Hopefully a cool evening with no rain.

artist point

for Z’s birthday dinner we had the most outstanding meal we have had at a Disney Resort.  I gave him a short list of 6 or 7 restaurants to choose from for his birthday dinner that included all types of places – old favorites, new hotspots, disney and magical dining.  He perused the menus and chose Artist’s Point.  It is at the Disney Wilderness Lodge.

a blt for the ages

The Disney Wilderness Lodge is a monumental resort that is done similar to the Yellowstone lodge.  It is made of (faux I’m sure) timbers and has a grandly scaled room filled with fireplaces, sculpture, huge scale art in paintings and totems along with oversize comfy lodge seating.   The romance for me in this place is the memory of my childhood and the fantastic summer vacations our family took to these places.  Walking the trails and seeing paint pots, geysers, hot springs, indian paint brush and getting paid to watch for wildlife.  …First one to see a bear gets a quarter!
Typical of Disney, we were warmly welcomed to the restaurant by the staff and shown to our lovely window seat right away which overlooked the hillside outside with a splashing waterfall.  We had fun looking over the menu which features foods from the Pacific Northwest.
For an appetizer we had a divine blt.  It was totally deconstructed braised and glazed pork belly with braised baby heirloom tomatoes and microgreens.  The pork belly was a total revelation.  It was rich and meaty -unctuous but not one bit fatty.   I fell in love just in that moment.

crisp and fluffy gnocchi

I chose yukon gold potato gnocchi for my main.  The potatoes were transformed into fluffy light pillows nested in crunchy vegetables and mushrooms with dollops of fresh ricotta sitting in a narrow puddle of corn nage.  Z had a pork tenderloin done in a bit of Spanish style with creamy polenta and piquillo peppers and crispy jamon and crowned with roasted figs.  I kind of think I accidentally snitched his bit of jamon.    We were so delighted with dinner that we skipped dessert just to savor the experience.  We wandered the lodge and grounds looking at the waterfall, springs and geyser made only by Disney erupt into the humid evening and slowly made our way home.

aloha cuz

celebrated my birthday last weekend. My sister has been in the area for about 3 weeks on vacation-spending time between the beach, my parents and my house. So, I was able to spend a day with her and her kids along with dinner out on the the big day.
We had actually made reservations to hit ‘Ohana at the Disney Polynesian Resort about 4 months ago when I tried to get in there for our anniversary. It is a popular Hawaiian themed restaurant with a great view on the lake outside of the Magic Kingdom.
We were ushered in and told a line about Hawaiians giving you a loaf of bread and then you become family. They gave us a loaf and proceeded to call us all cuz.
We were also given a great seat right at the window with a view to Cinderella’s castle and them the food started coming. I hadn’t realized it is a family style all you can eat type place.
First came green with honey lime dressing followed by pork and lemongrass potstickers with a kind of carmelly drizzle and teriyaki wings. Then they brought out skewers of really good fire roasted meat, pork, chicken, steak and shrimp. We were impressed at the quality of the cooking over huge fires at the end of the room. Meanwhile, a guy played the ukelele and put leis on people for their birthday/anniversary and taught the hukelau. They brought out some excessive peanut noodles and steamed veg (brocoli and snap peas) and then closed with banana bread pudding with coconut ice cream and banana carmel sauce. Kind of excessive but a fun experience.

After dinner we took a monorail ride to the Magic Kingdom while the sun went down and then rounded off our trip with a breezy boat ride across the lake. I love the magic of Disney, the kind of false magic that is kind of dreamy and thought out. I notice the wear by millions of guests but still enjoy the show. We even found some funny art fish that we both loved in a gallery in the lobby. Aloha!

oh Canada!

Canadia Cheese Soup

ever been to Epcot and watched the gripping 360 degree surround movie they play in Canada?  Well, the music goes something like Canadaaaaa, oooooh Canadaaaa…. CANADA, OHHHH Canadaaaaaaaa and is one of those things that randomly wanders through your mind.  OFTEN.
Now, I love Canada, which I fondly call Canadia.  Growing up in Seattle we often went north to Victoria visiting the wax museum, Butchart Gardens, the rainforest, etc.  We went to the world expo in 86 in Vancouver.   A good friend Linda and I went to Canada on the Victoria Clipper the weekend I decided food and cooking would be my hobby.  Shout out to La to because she is having a baby any day now which will be her new hobby.
All that said, we had this great cheddar beer soup while we were at Epcot on Friday and bought the cookbook to recreate it at home.  I can’t find a link for purchase.
Wycliffe is home to a couple of voting precincts so yesterday I worked a little bit of a weird schedule, 10:30-8 or so and when I got home, about 8:30, Z had a pot of soup sitting on the stove waiting for me to spoon it up!  He is a great cook and so good to make me supper after a long day of crowds at work.
This recipe makes a massive pot. He made a couple small changes from the Le Cellier Canada area recipe, including a bit of extra cooking for the bacon and extra chicken stock as the thick factor kind of nerved him up but they were good changes This is a pretty easy soup to made and so great.

1/2# of bacon, cut into lardons
1 medium onion, 1/4″ dice
3 ribs of celery, 1/4″ dice
4 T butter
1 cup flour
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups milk
1# grated white cheddar cheese
1 T Tabasco
1 T Worcestershire Sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup Moosehead Lager

serves 10
1.  Cook the bacon, stirring until crisp in a 4 or 5 quart pot.
2.  Add the onion, celery and butter, saute until veg are soft – about 5 minutes.
3.  Add the flour, whisking constantly for about 5 minutes over medium.  Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil for about 1 minute.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
4.  Add the milk and continue to simmer for 15 minutes.  Do not boil after you add the milk.
5.  Remove from heat and stir in the cheese, Tabasco, Worcestershire, salt and pepper.  Stir in the beer.
6.  Garnish as you wish.  Serve with some toasty rolls.
The festival cookbook adds that you can add some extra milk if it is too thick but the addition of extra stock seemed to alleviate this problem.

epcot food and wine festival

we took the day off today and spent the day together at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival.  We left home around 10 and headed over.  We headed straight for the world showcase part of Epcot and began with the Mexico side of the park.  We took a few rides, the Mexican fiesta boat ride, the Viking boat ride,  watched a few movies in Norway and France, shopped our way through each country interspersed with tapas sized bites from food stalls from countries from around the world.
Here is what we tried:

Mexico – Corn and  Queso Empanada
China – Pork Potstickers
Italy – Veal Polpetini w/ Rosemary Breadstick
Morocco – Beef Kefta in Pita, Felafel in Pita
Ireland – Kerrygold Cheese Plate w/ Apple Chutney, Brown Bread and Irish Butter
Canada – Chicken Jalapeno Sausage w/ polenta and Cheddar Beer Soup

My overall impression is that most things had a bit of the Disney effect.  Meaning, not spicy or with much seasoning but good for the masses to try out items they might otherwise pass by.  The prices are a little high for tapas but we had expected that and it wasn’t just awful  We weren’t super excited about anything we ate in particular, until we made it to Canada.  Both items in Canada blew us away.  The sausage was both moist and spciy with polenta underneath to counter the spice with carmelized onions and roasted red peppers.  The Cheddar Beer soup – sharp white cheddar with a hit of spice lingering.  We buzzed by the festival booth to run through the cookbook.  Seeing the soup in there, we picked it up.  I am sure it will emerge from our home kitchen soon. We had a few bottles of water in the backpack and didn’t try drinks or desserts this time.  We rounded out our day by hitting the free tasting bar presented by Coke trying different pop shots for various countries and riding through the incredible Disney greenhouse in the land where they are researching ways to grow food with hydroponics and in different ways like vertically to support density or longevity.  It was really fascinating.  There is more than you could do in a day but we had a good one.