2012 Disney World Food and Wine Festival

I cannot wait to be in Disney World again. Not only because I need my fix, but also because I will be able to participate in the Food and Wine Festival for the first time.

This year’s theme is Taste Your Way Around the World, where each country in Epcot’s world showcase will feature food and wine from their particular region. Although there aren’t details on the dishes to be served as of yet, I do know that there will be at least 12 new plates offered throughout. Considering I’ve never been, that’s 12 more I get to try out!

As always, Disney takes care of their guests with allergies. In 2011 alone, the Food and Wine festival had at least 13 gluten free options in various booths. This is only set to grow in 2012! Highlights last year included Argentina’s Grilled Beef Skewers with Chimichurri Sauce and Ireland’s Flourless Warm Lava Cake.

In 2012 there will be a Dessert and Champagne booth where I know I’ll be having a glass of bubbly, and an entire booth simply devoted to one of the great loves of my life – Cheese.

Here are some details:

17th Annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

September 28 – November 12, 2012

Registration for Food & Wine Festival Events Begins on August 14 at 7 a.m. EST

New for 2012 Epcot Food and Wine Festival

New Marketplace Kiosks & Offerings:

  • TERRA Marketplace – For the first time, a vegan kiosk will be introduced for 2012, featuring vegan dishes such as Trick’n Chick’n Curry with Basmati Rice, Chili Colorado with House-Made Chips and Cashew Cheese, and a new Dairy-free, Lactose-free Berry smoothie.
  • FLORIDA Marketplace – will introduce guests to fresh twists on regional flavors such as White Corn Arepa with Mangalitsa Pork and Sweet Corn, Florida Shrimp Ceviche with Fire Roasted Veggies and Crispy Plantains, and Key Lime Wine. L
  • Look for new kid-friendly dirnks at kiosks throughout the World Showcase, such as non-alcoholic smoothies and “Honest Kids” organic juices.

New Marketplace Chef Tours:

This walking-and-tasting tour around the World Showcase will offer VIP access to several international marketplaces and will take place each Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. Hosted by festival chefs, guests will learn culinary secrets while sampling five dishes and five beverage items such as beer, wine, and cocktails. Cost is $90 plus tax.

New Regional Lunches:

  • Due to renovations taking place at France’s Bistro de Paris restaurant, the French Regional Lunches will not be available in 2012, but will return in 2013.
  • Italy will continue its popular series of festival events at Via Napoli, as well as the exquisite White Truffle Lunch on November 4 at Tutto Italia Ristorante. The Italy Pavilion will be adding a new Italian Regional Food & Wine Luncheon in the recently opened Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar, pairing wines with casual, authentic dishes. Tutto Gusto luncheons will be held from noon to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
  • Cost is $75 plus tax.

2012 Epcot Food and Wine Festival Highlights

Marketplaces & Promenade
Over 25 international marketplace kiosks will serve up tapas-sized portions of regional specialties. Guests will get the chance to explore the World Showcase countries through their most mouthwatering foods and beverages!

Eat to the Beat! Concert Series
Nightly musical entertainment during the nightly Eat to the Beat! Concert Series. Enjoy a varied lineup of classic rock, soul, R&B, jazz and funk, including Boyz II Men, Smash Mouth, Gin Blossoms, Sister Hazel, 38 Special, Blues Traveler, and more.

Seminars and Demonstrations
Learn from the masters with the festival’s schedule of seminars and demonstrations featuring the fresh ingredients and secret techniques that go into some of the world’s most extraordinary dishes and drinks. Chef appearances by Robert Irvine, Rock Harper, Jamie Deen, Cake Boss Buddy Valastro, Andrew Zimmern, Erika Davis (from Top Chef Just Desserts) and others will share their talents during culinary demos.

Special Festival Experiences

  • Party for the Senses: October 6, 13, 20, 27 and November 3, from 7:30 – 10 p.m.
    guests may book any of 3 tiers for this event. Gratuity in included in the pricing. Both of the reserved seating options also include a specialty cocktail and early admission at 7:15 p.m.
    • A reserved table on the main floor is $170 plus tax
    • A reserved table in the premium Wine View Lounge is $270 plus tax
    • General admission is $145 plus tax
  • 3D Dessert Discovery: Features “3D” viewing of Illuminations while enjoying a variety of desserts. A selection of vegan and gluten-free desserts by Babycakes NYC Bakery will also be provided! Parties take place on select Fridays throughout the festival.

Happy Father’s Day!

Certainly if I had lived in Scotland 400 years ago, along the same time as my ancestors, this would have been my father and me!

In honor of Disney/Pixar’s Brave coming to theater’s this Friday, I thought I would share this touching video. Happy Father’s Day to everyone!

Disney Signature Dining without the Price – an Experience at Narcoossee’s

Wanting to do something a bit different on one evening of our last stay in Disney World, we decided to cancel our reservation at Contemporary’s The Wave, and instead attempt to snag a few stools at the bar in Narcoossee’s.

This is one of the best bars in Disney – not only do you get a signature experience, but also a lagoon view, a fireworks display from the Magic Kingdom, and the low noise volume that generally accompanies the more expensive of Disney’s dining options.

It’s also a wonderful way to dine signature without having to pay the generally doubled price tag, or use two dining credits if on the Disney Dining Plan. Any signature that has a bar is fair game, which includes Flying Fish, Jiko, and  California Grill, to name a few.

The servers were extremely nice, chatting with us before bringing out a bread service that included gluten free Tapioca rolls for me to enjoy. This was the moment I found out that Disney would very soon be changing to a different allergy-friendly bread, however. While I was reasonably upset by the news, it seemed the chef who brought them out was perhaps even more so. He informed me that it was not their (the Disney chefs’) decision, but a corporate arrangement dealing primarily with cost. Here’s hoping the new bread is just as good. Anyone who has tried it, please let me know!

After the initial shock of the bread bomb cleared away, we made some appetizer selections.

First up, Cheese – a classic, don’t you think? I feel it’s one of the things people order when they don’t know what to order, but it’s always so good, nonetheless! This particular platter had five different varieties, and was accompanied by the usual accoutrements.

Being the soup connoisseur that he is, my husband opted for the Shrimp and Crap Chowder. It turned out to be piping hot, creamy, and meal-worthy once another round of bread came and he could sop up every last ounce.

After glancing around the room at what other diners had ordered, I happily selected the Prince Edward Island Mussels. They came out in a rather large bowl that was filled half with Mussels, and half with a rich, buttery broth. Having also received more bread, I did my own fair share of sopping, as well.

Soon the fireworks began, and the lights were dimmed so everyone could take in the splendor. It turned out to be a fantastic evening – low maintenance, yet elegant. I believe we’re going to do this again on our next trip!

Goofy’s Candy Company

While at the beach last week, we decided to make the relatively short drive to Orlando for a day trip. It was opening day for the Hunger Games, which gave me the excuse I needed for satisfying my craving for Mickey Waffles, BabyCakes, and some other Disney-themed goodies to eat while on vacation. What could be better for that than a trip to Goofy’s Candy Company?

Our first stop was The Grand Floridian Resort. Dining with Alice and the Hatter at 1900 Park Fare proved to be very filling, so we decided against popcorn at the theater. But this meant we were very hungry when the movie ended! After practically buying out the BabyCakes bakery, we skipped over to Goofy’s and had a feast for the eyes before settling on anything in particular.

Goofy’s Candy Company is practically a Disney attraction in and of itself. Walking in, the deliciously tempting scent of melted chocolate hits immediately, but the source of that smell isn’t instantly apparent. This is because there are distractions everywhere! The brightly lit space is overflowing with candies and sweets of every shape and size.

The wall closest to the entrance is dedicated solely to by-the-pound candy containers in a rainbow of colors. While a long-time favorite of mine, I managed to conjure up some willpower and force myself to walk past. I had other treats in mind during this visit.

Upon another wall, row after row of flavored popcorn beckons. This was my first of several stops. I have a weakness for popcorn – one that goes beyond what is socially appropriate. Seeing flavors like Chocolate Caramel with Cashews, Cookies and Cream, and Chocolate Cheddar nearly made me feint with excitement. I know I spent a minimum of 5 minutes simply looking at my choices and debating which I should purchase.

But the main attraction at Goofy’s is the station that occupies the center of the store. Lining one side is a glass encasement filled with chocolate-covered treats that anyone would appreciate. Another side is devoted entirely to an array of Candy Apples featuring different Disney characters.

Neither of these are the draw, however. A large sign above indicates that customers can custom design their own dessert! Choose a base, topping, candy, and drizzle, and the bakers behind the counter will design it exactly to those specifications!

After circling the store like a couple of hungry animals, my husband and I finally made our selection. The Popcorn was the first item chosen – a variety pack, for obvious reasons. Also making its way to the checkout counter was a Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup, as well as a Custom Creation. This treat, which was so enormous that it took a few days to finish off, was comprised of a large Mickey-shaped Rice Krispy Bar, coated in Dark Chocolate, sprinkled with Peanut Butter Chips, and finally, drizzled with Milk Chocolate. Heavenly!

We walked to Raglan Road with our purchases, and managed not to rip into any of it until we had an appetizer, a beer, and a better handle on our hunger. Moderation and all, right?

Germany’s Karamell-Küche in Epcot

There is simply nothing like the smell of warm caramel.

That was my first thought as I tumbled my way into Disney’s Karamell-Küche, located in the country of Germany at Epcot’s World Showcase. Once the aroma hit me, I found myself repeatedly coming back during my time in Disney World – it seemed to be addicting!

What did this German storefront contain before it was turned into a sweetshop? My memory blurs a bit, but I think it was a trinket shop that sold tiny porcelain figurines and the like. The food fan within me cried out for joy when I realized that something involving sugar would be replacing the expensive knickknacks.

The inside is just as authentically Old-World Germany as its exterior facade. Tiled walls, shelves housing earthen vessels (filled with Pooh’s honey?), and row after row of colorful confections.

With so much to choose from, my husband and I found it hard to make our selection. I’m afraid we held up the line somewhat, which had begun to snake its way around the counter and halfway out the door. Yielding to pressure, we hastily made up our minds. But that’s not to say that it would be my only time at that counter while on this particular vacation!

Isn’t Disney wonderful for allowing guests to see the inner-workings of some of their creations? I had to stop and admire the work that went into the making of all these Werther’s sweets. Each and every sugary bite is coated in Werther’s Caramel, and the German cast members that work at Karamell-Küche seem decidedly happy with their jobs. Who wouldn’t love to earn a paycheck from a candy-coated heaven?

I was surprised at the number of items that were Gluten free! Chocolate and Caramel covered Strawberries and Apples were among the most beautiful of those selections, as well as many caramel chocolates and other bon bons. But it was the sight of that caramel being poured over popcorn that really called my name, and my first purchase came in a white bag filled to the brim with sticky, popped corn.

Jeremy was perhaps just as traditional, selecting a Caramel-coated Chocolate Chip Cookie. He loved it so much, that it was hard to wrestle it away in order to snag a photo! Although we didn’t make any cupcake purchases, I simply had to leave you with one last shot of the beauty that is Karamell-Küche – enjoy!

Yak and Yeti at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

As anyone who is Gluten free will quickly lament, dining at an Asian restaurant can have its challenges. Soy sauce is laden with gluten, and getting around this key ingredient can be akin to dining at a French restaurant and asking them to hold the butter. But Disney always rises to a challenge.

Yak and Yeti and Disney's Animal Kingdom

For our latest trip to the World, we decided to try out a few new places – new to us, anyway. I had shied away from certain restaurants over the last few years for the above reason, but wanted to put my faith in the Disney chefs this time around. After a morning spent in Animal Kingdom running from one ride to the next – with breaks only for lion-spotting on a Kilimanjaro Safari – we hungrily approached our lunch spot at Asia’s Yak and Yeti. I tested the chefs, as well as my faith, and both were proved worthy.

The restaurant’s decor is very authentic, as several of the hosts pointed out during our short wait. We were welcomed to have a look around either before or after our lunch, in order to check out the artifacts that had been collected in the making of this dining locale. They claimed that wherever possible, owners had used antique furniture and relics. It really is one of the best themed restaurants in Disney World, but doesn’t get appreciated in the rush to get in and out quickly.

One of several colorful artifacts that make Yak and Yeti a unique experience

Yak and Yeti is one of the few park restaurants not technically Disney-owned, although I was unaware of this crucial detail until we had arrived at the restaurant and been seated. There on the table sat an unassuming advertisement that quietly announced the restaurant’s Landry’s ownership. Having had a not-so-favorable experience with special dining where outside ownership was concerned (namely at Marrakesh in Epcot’s Morocco), it was with trepidation that I opened my menu.

I was put at ease when our waiter arrived, having already been made aware of my restrictive palate. He informed me that Yak and Yeti caters to this request on a daily basis, and that we would both be happy with their most popular appetizer, which could be modified to be gluten-free. This order was taken and a chef was summoned to discuss entree options.

Gluten Free Lettuce Cups

We shared an order of the Gluten Free Lettuce Cups, which were so delicious they could have been made into a meal on their own. Minced chicken, chopped vegetables, and a gluten free soy mixture made these very reminiscent of the PF Chang’s/Pei Wei version. My husband informed me that he would never have known the dish was allergy-friendly.

Traditional Crispy Honey Chicken

After the chef came to give me my many options, we placed our entree order. Obviously feeling nostalgic after those Lettuce Cups, my husband ordered the Crispy Honey Chicken. We typically do not eat at Asian restaurants (much to his dismay), and this was a treat he couldn’t pass up. With the exception of a few grains of rice, he cleaned his plate – stopping just short of making it sparkle.

Malasian Coconut Curry

I chose to go with something a bit different, based on the chef’s recommendation and my own need for something other than the standard. The Malasian Seafood Curry was comprised of Mahi, scallops, clams, mussels, shrimp, zucchini, and tomatoes, all in a coconut red curry broth. While it traditionally came served atop a bed of jasmine rice, I chose to forgo that large amount of carbs and simply opted for the soup. To put it simply, it was amazing. The curry was rich, but not overly “coconuty”. The seafood was fresh, the vegetables cooked just right – had I eaten the rice I would have had to be rolled out, because I ate the huge bowl in its entirety.

After all this, there was no question about dessert. Aside from the fact that both of us were in a happy food coma, we knew that purchases of Mickey bars would be in our not-too-distant future. I could easily have eaten at Yak and Yeti more than once on this particular trip alone – it’s a given that we’ll dine here during our next Asian encounter at Animal Kingdom.

BabyCakes at DownTown Disney

The fact that BabyCakes NYC set up shop at Disney World’s Downtown Disney is not actually new information. I’ve certainly frequented their tucked-away shop at least once per trip over the last two years. But, I haven’t actually taken the time to wax-poetic about my love for this sweet shop in the way that it deserves.

BabyCakes offers treats for those that either have food sensitivities, or choose to follow a more “persnickety” diet (their own terminology). All natural, organic, and deceptively delicious, the sweets are free of most common allergens, including wheat, gluten, dairy, and eggs. They generally use agave to sweeten, and use it sparingly. This creates something that can be eaten without the sugar-induced coma of a Mickey Ice Cream Bar. BabyCakes is even certified Kosher and Vegan!

While Doughnuts and Cupcakes can hardly ever be classified as healthy, BabyCakes has done all they can to make them that way. Gluten free products are all made using Bob’s Red Mill rice flour or garbanzo/fava bean mix, and what little they offer that isn’t gluten free is made with spelt. Although Canola Oil is used for some things, their primary oil is Coconut, which has too many health benefits to list. Agave is low on the glycemic index, and while I might prefer if they instead used honey, I still find agave vastly superior to regular sugar.

The Downtown Disney location has an online menu, meaning you can go ahead and drool over what you’ll be ordering when your vacation nears. I can personally vouch for the Red Velvet Cupcakes, Banana Chocolate Chip and Pumpkin Loaves, and every single flavor of Doughnut.

The Doughnuts. How do I love them? Let me count the ways. They taste like nothing even remotely resembling healthy. Bordering on the cake-like, the consistency is very moist, slightly crumbly, and dense. One is enough to fill you up and stave off hunger, which means you don’t crave a box of them. They certainly aren’t your run-of-the-mill Krispy Kremes, not simply because of the alternative ingredients, but because they aren’t dunked in hot oil and fried. Rather, the happy ladies who spend their day creating these treats bake the doughnuts. And they are baked all day long, meaning that if you pop in for a late night snack, you won’t be purchasing something that’s been sitting behind the counter for twelve hours.

BabyCakes also offers two cookbooks. Simply bake your own if the above pictures made you unable to wait for your next trip to Disney! I purchased one as a Christmas gift this year, and will probably get a copy of both of them for myself in the near future. The original and much-talked about is BabyCakes: Vegan, (Mostly) Gluten-Free, and (Mostly) Sugar-Free Recipes from New York’s Most Talked-About Bakery

The second has just been released, and features more Doughnut and specialty recipes. This one is called BabyCakes Covers the Classics: Gluten-Free Vegan Recipes from Donuts to Snickerdoodles.

Some Photos courtesy of Little Vegan Planet and BabyCakes NYC.

GardenGrocer.com – A Different Way to Dine in Disney

If you are familiar with Disney World and have allergies, chances are you’re familiar with GardenGrocer.com. If not, then it may benefit you to get to know the company and what they do.

In a nutshell, Garden Grocer is an online grocery store that allows vacationers a way to get items they may not be able to find at their resort. This is especially useful when in Walt Disney World, because the small resort markets do not typically offer a wide variety of specialty items (and their prices aren’t very budget friendly). Garden Grocer offers tons of Organic, Gluten Free, and Kosher products that will help to supplement meals while in the World. They also have baby care items, health and beauty products, and prepared meals available.

Their prices are comparable to other grocery stores, and because they charge a minimal delivery fee, the stress of finding transportation to a real grocery store is eliminated! This is a wonderful tool to utilize for longer stays, especially in a villa-style accommodation where some meals will probably be cooked in the room.

I know that I will be using this option for our next trip to Disney World. It simply isn’t worth the hassle of trying to bring in a case of water and my myriad of gluten free snacks! Has anyone else used this before? I would love to learn of your experience with the service.

Disney World – New and Notable Must-Tries for 2012

It seems that like last year, Disney is branching out and attempting to please a greater variety of tastes and more discerning palate.

2011 saw the opening of a more specialized, sophisticated Mexican dining venue in La Hacienda de San Angel, as well as a new Tequila bar in the same Epcot country. La Cava Del Tequila has been quite popular among adults choosing to get away from the crowds and drink their way around the world. Disney also heeded the cry for pizza that actually tasted delicious, and Italy’s Via Napoli emerged with authentic, certified Vera Pizza Napolitana. Baby Cakes, NYC opened its doors in Downtown Disney, offering allergy friendly treats without refined sugar – something anyone would feel healthier indulging in.

Now that a new year is upon us, Disney is proving that they are no where close to finished with making Walt Disney World more than just a theme park. Healthier options, more specialty dining, and another “adult friendly” venue are making debuts this year throughout the world.

Katsura Grill

Epcot’s quick service venue Yakitori House has been transformed into a healthier, more specialized counter service restaurant. Sushi, Curries, Udon Noodles, Miso Soup, Edamame, and even Sake are served in an environment that was inspired by the Katsura Imperial gardens in Kyoto.

But perhaps the biggest draw to the Katsura Grill is the addition of an outdoor Sake bar. It seems that Disney has taken notice of the popularity of drinks in Epcot and expanded their offerings. While the menu features soft drinks, teas and even smoothies, the main attraction is the Sake Cocktails and selection of Sakes. It seems you can even purchase them by the bottle!

Gusto Wine Bar

Construction is well under way in Epcot’s Italy at the moment, where Tutto Italia is getting a face lift. But that isn’t the only change coming to this popular country. Gusto Wine Bar is scheduled to begin serving thirsty patrons in April 2012. Upon entering, one will get the feeling of being in an Old Country wine cellar. Exposed brick, stone floors and cellar walls with vaulted ceilings will create an authentic atmosphere, along with wine casks that support a vintage-esque bar. Like La Cava Del Tequila, guests will also be able to nibble on tapas and small offerings as they sit around a large fireplace in this cozy, intimate space. I, for one, am looking forward to having this space to relax – away from the outside noise!

Be Our Guest Restaurant

There are also changes taking place outside of Epcot. The Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland is undergoing a huge expansion, and along with it will come a few much-needed new restaurants for this theme park. It seems Belle is taking center stage, getting her own castle and restaurant. While it isn’t set to open until late 2012, the attention to detail and unique experience that Be Our Guest will provide will be well worth the wait.

The venue is set within the walls of Beast’s castle, taking up three large rooms – the cozy Library, the elegant Ballroom, or the mysterious West Wing. The West Wing will house the enchanted rose, of course, while the Ballroom will have a snow effect on the windows, making guests feel they are nestled warmly beside a roaring fire while a French winter lies outside. Like La Hacienda de San Angel in Epcot, Be Our Guest will be a table service destination during the evening, with counter service during lunch hours. This will allow any budget to experience the floor-t0-ceiling windows and murals throughout the space.

Not to be outdone by the Beast, Gaston will have a tavern located in the same area of Fantasyland, complete with Antlers on the walls and hopefully another large fireplace! This will be a counter service destination.

AMC Fork and Screen Theater

Downtown Disney also has a new addition to add to the mix. AMC Theaters now has a special offering, where guests can dine and watch a movie all-in-one. Of course, AMC already offers more in the way of specialty dining than most theaters – custom popcorn with sweet add-ins, Ice Cream,  a Coke Freestyle station, and even a full bar can be found upon entering. But the latest and greatest is a theater complete with tables and chairs in groupings of four, to allow theater-goers the luxury of the Big Screen and a great meal, too. A full menu – with appetizers, entrees, desserts and specialty drinks – can be ordered from the waitstaff.

Baby Cakes, NYC Cake Orders

Not to be left out, Baby Cakes has expanded their offerings to include custom cakes that can be ordered anywhere on-property. This opens up an entirely new world for parents and guests celebrating with one or multiple allergies. Unbelievably, these cakes taste just as wonderful – if not even better – than the cakes ordered from Disney’s main bakery, and are free of refined sugar, gluten, wheat, soy, casein, eggs… and are mostly vegan and Kosher!

Disney is proving year after year that they are listening to guests. Many of these new restaurants and specialty venues appeal to a growing list of Disney fans who may not fit within the normal mold. I hope to see more of this each year!