Food Fun at Epcot and West Orlando

Besides attending the Epcot Food and Wine Festival at Disney World this past weekend in Orlando, we tried a couple of new restaurants. Friday night, we ate at Longhorn in Winter Garden. This wasn’t new to us, but I ordered the grilled shrimp and enjoyed this dish with rice, a baked sweet potato, salad, and bread.

On Saturday, we ate brunch at Slate. This trendy establishment is located by Trader Joes on West Sand Lake Road. Weekend brunch menu items are reasonably priced and varied in selection. Our family shared the deviled eggs appetizer, and I had the toast points with smoked salmon for my meal. This wasn’t lox like I’d expected but real pieces of cooked salmon in a tasty mixture. While pricey for dinner, the restaurant is open during weekdays for lunch.

Slate

Since we weren’t too hungry for dinner, we took a walk around Disney’s Riverside Resort that is close to our condo. Then we settled into the lounge for drinks and appetizers that would serve as our meal. I enjoyed the cheese fritters that were fried cheese balls in a sweet red pepper sauce. My Mai Tai had lots of fruit juice but seemed to be light on the rum. The guys had the hearty gumbo soup.

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Sunday we went to Epcot for a stroll around World Showcase. Here we turned right and stopped first at the Caribbean marketplace. I passed on their seared grouper with pigeon peas and rice in coconut sauce, deciding to wait for further fare. One member of our party tried their Quesito puff pastry stuffed with sweetened cream cheese and guava sauce. At Patagonia, our son had the grilled beef skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Puree.

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My first taste was the mushroom beef filet mignon at Canada ($7.25). At Scotland, I had one of my favorite dishes, the crispy potato pancake with Scottish smoked salmon and herbed sour cream ($5.00).

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After getting my protein, I was prepared to saunter along in the ninety-degree heat toward France. They always have dishes I like but the portions are generous, and I decided to save my appetite. The guys each had the Beef Bourguignon, braised short ribs with mashed potatoes ($6.25). I’ve had it before, and it’s very good but filling. And it was too hot for their onion soup with gruyere and cognac. Nor was I ready for dessert, or I’d have had the caramel chocolate crème brulee. Don’t these descriptions make your mouth water?

Belgium had a dish I might have tried if I hadn’t already eaten meat. The beer-braised beef with smoked gouda mashed potatoes sounded good. Next time. Of course, you can get Belgian waffles here, too.

At Japan, our daughter had the spicy sushi roll ($5.75). I couldn’t resist the garlic shrimp and rice ($6.95). It’s as good as it sounds, although if you eat all the rice, you might get too stuffed for anything else. As it was, I’d wanted to try the smoked beef brisket and pimento cheese at the American Adventure, but was already getting too full. Their lobster roll and carrot cake sounded tempting, too.

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We dipped into the Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar at Italy to share a bottle of wine and to cool off in the darkened interior. It’s a quiet place where you can relax and recoup your energy along with your appetite.

Unfortunately, I didn’t recoup my hunger enough to try the Korean BBQ beef, the Chinese roasted duck with hoisin sauce or the chicken pot stickers, the Mexican chocolate flan, or the lamb chop at Australia. Next time, we’ll have to start to the left at World Showcase and go around in the opposite direction.

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Toward the end, I stopped at Farm Fresh for their savory mac and cheese dish ($4.50) that came with bacon bits and chopped green onions. It was my favorite taste of this visit. Their stewed chicken with mushrooms and spinach sounded good, but I couldn’t eat anymore. Or drink anymore. I might have liked to try the Mai Tai or pineapple wine at the Hawaii marketplace.

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Meandering past the Caribbean site again, we visited the new additions on our way back to Future World. We couldn’t resist the Chocolate Studio where we sampled the red wine chocolate truffle ($2.25) and the chocolate raspberry torte ($4.00).

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Note that vegetarian, gluten-free, and kid-friendly items are marked in the Festival Passport booklet. The Food and Wine Festival is open until mid-November. It’s especially pleasant once the season’s first cold front moves in and cools the air. Meanwhile, be prepared with umbrellas for the passing showers. And now that I’ve reviewed all these treats available there, I’m ready to go again.

That night, we didn’t feel like eating a heavy dinner, so we ventured to 33 & Melt, a grilled cheese emporium only open past 4:00 pm in the Summerport area of Windermere. It’s located amid townhouses in a residential district at a recreated town square. A few other shops are sprinkled in here with a lake toward the rear. I had the grilled brie with raspberry preserves sandwich. Entries come with salad greens tossed in champagne vinaigrette; a dipper of very tasty tomato soup, and a couple of pickle slices. It’s a small neighborhood place with a bar serving beer and wine, but it’s family-friendly and the food is good.

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Look at what waited by our doorstep on our return home. Was he out looking for a meal, too?

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Lobster Lovers Cooking Class

Lobster Lovers Cooking Class

We attended the Lobster Lovers class at Publix Aprons® Cooking School. My husband and I like shrimp better than lobster, but this menu looked too tempting to resist. We prefer the demo classes where students sit at white-clothed tables rather than the hands-on ones where you have to do the actual work. In the demo variety, after the chef makes each dish in front of us, we get to eat it with an accompanying wine. This makes for a gourmet meal complete with recipes and cooking tips.

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Grilled Lobster, Shrimp and Andouille Chowder paired with an Erath Pinot Grigio.

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This was delicious and filling, making it a good choice for a hearty winter soup. We liked the wine, a pleasant taste to our palates. Cooking tip 1: Maine cold water lobster is sweeter than warm water Caribbean varieties. Cooking tip 2: Rather than dunking shrimp into a pot of boiling water, put it into a pot when the water is room temperature and bring it to a boil along with the water.

Spiny Lobster and Mango Spring Rolls with Tarragon-Lime Aioli paired with a Benzinger Sauvignon Blanc.

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This was a tasty appetizer. I especially liked the aioli even though I’m not a big tarragon fan. Cooking tip 1: An emulsifier binds substances together like vinegar and oil. Examples of emulsifiers are mustard, egg yolks, and garlic. Cooking tip 2: Pasteurized eggs reduce the chance of salmonella if you are using raw eggs in a recipe. As for the wine, it didn’t seem to have as much body as the first one and was too light for our tastes.

Pan-Bronzed Lobster Risotto with Roasted Corn Relish and Orange-Sherry Reduction paired with a Layer Cake Chardonnay.

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I liked the lobster, sauce, and corn relish but there was too much risotto in comparison. Cooking tip, if I heard correctly: You can roast corn in its husk at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. I prefer my method, which is microwaving it in the husk for 4 minutes, chopping off both ends, and sliding the husk off. We really liked this wine choice, our favorite of the evening.

Peach Brown Betty with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream paired with a Chateau St. Michelle Riesling.

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This dessert was lip-smacking good. So good and easy to make that I might even make it at home once I lose the weight I’d gained here tonight. However, I’ll use store-bought ice cream instead of making my own. The wine was too sweet for our tastes. Cooking tip 1: Use frozen and thawed sliced peaches instead of blanching and peeling fresh ones. Cooking tip 2: Cinnamon is an anesthetic so if you eat too much, it can numb your tongue.

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Epcot Food and Wine

We had a great time as usual at our annual excursion to Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival. As it’s their twentieth year anniversary, I bought the hardcover cookbook. Here’s the cranberry bog, back again.

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Here is what we tasted this year.

Scotland: Potato Pancake with Smoked Salmon $4.25 (my favorite!)

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Dominican Republic: Grouper $4.75

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Canada: Beef Filet Mignon $7.50

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Belgium: Potato Leek Waffle with Beef $4.25 and Fruit Waffle $3.75

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Germany: Apple Strudel $3.50

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South Korea: Raspberry Wine $3.50 and South Korea Vegan BBQ $4.75

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Coming Next: Our Trip to Bradenton

 

Dining Out Orlando

September is Magical Dining Month in Orlando. You can visit myriad fancy restaurants for a fixed-price three course meal at $33.00 per person. It’s a fun way to try new places that might normally be too expensive.

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse

This two-story restaurant on International Drive has been open for a few weeks. The décor is contemporary, with most patrons seated in a cavernous room overlooking the parking lot. A few separate sections are available for private dining. Wine bottles in wall-sized racks add to the décor. An open kitchen is behind a barrier so you can’t see much. The atmosphere is lively but it lacks the cozy intimacy of other steakhouses.

We requested the Magical Dining Month menu. The Caesar salad was tangy and came in a generous portion. The loaf of bread served with butter was soft but unremarkable. The filet mignon at 8 oz was melt-in-your-mouth tender with a good flavor. This was the best part of the meal. The mashed potatoes and thin green beans—not so good. We ordered sautéed mushrooms on the side. These appeared to be Portobello mushrooms with pearl onions. As we’re not fans of green beans, we also got a side order of asparagus with sliced almonds. My companions liked the warm banana bread pudding with whipped cream for dessert. I had the chocolate mousse that came in a chocolate cup with raspberry sauce. The mousse itself was like a light pudding. It didn’t have the froth or airiness of similar dishes I’ve had elsewhere. Out of my entire meal, I’d say the beef was worth the ticket but the rest was fair.

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Service was attentive. Our water glasses were always refilled. However, we waited a long time for the check. When it arrived, we’d been charged full price for one of the meals plus a separate charge for a salad, rather than the fixed price meal. This would have come to $39.50 for the filet plus $9.50 for the salad, or $49 instead of $33. This error didn’t please us, nor did the food enough to pay that much at normal pricing. Would we return? It’s doubtful. My favorite steakhouse is still The Capital Grille, or for a less expensive meal, the Outback.

Hemingway’s at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress

I liked the casual but upscale ambiance with an open kitchen, ceiling fans, floor to ceiling windows overlooking lushly landscaped grounds, wood tables, and potted plants. We had to ask for the Magical Dining Month menu. I ordered the Key Wester salad with greens, avocado, bacon, fresh red bell pepper and blue cheese dressing. Crusty puffs of bread like popovers were served with butter.

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The butterflied shrimp scampi was very tasty, served with some kind of pasta roll and fried green tomatoes. Crab cakes were another choice. The Key lime tart for dessert was lip-smacking good.

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Despite the delicious meal and the pleasant ambiance, service was poor. Our waiter ran between several tables and rarely stopped by. Another server refilled our water glasses, and she was efficient. We had an unusually long wait for the check. Then as we were waiting out front of the main hotel lobby for the valet (your ticket is validated at the restaurant), our waiter ran out to meet us because he had failed to scan our credit card, believing us to be hotel guests. He took our card and walked all the way back to the restaurant—down a long hotel corridor and outside along a boardwalk to a separate building. After fifteen minutes when he didn’t return, my husband had to retrace our steps to the restaurant to retrieve his credit card. This soured our entire experience. So this place has good food and a nice ambiance but the service needs improvement. Would we return? The normal food prices are reasonable and I enjoyed the meal, but after the credit card shuffle, my husband put this restaurant on the no return list. And note the expensive bottle of wine he ordered, we found online later at Total Wine for about twenty bucks.

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French Cooking Class

This past weekend, I gave a talk at Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore on Navigating the Rocky Road to Publication. We spoke about the different routes to publication, query letters, synopses, approaching agents, organizational tools, and more. My most oft repeated advice was to study the markets and network with other writers.

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We dodged rainstorms on the way home and stopped at Nordstrom so I could reward myself with this pair of shoes. It’s hard to find turquoise sandals in the strappy style I prefer. Aren’t they cute?

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That same evening, we attended another cooking class at Publix Cooking School. These are always fun. I like the demos where we sit and watch the chefs do all the work while we taste the fruits of their labor and sip a different wine with each course. Saturday night was the French bistro class. We received a taste of a Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc as a welcome drink. Our starter menu included a filet of sole with a brown butter caper sauce and a scoop of garlic mashed potatoes. This was delicious, served with a lovely Cote du Rhone white Reserve wine.

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I didn’t care for the next dish, a warm lentil salad with sausage. It didn’t smell appetizing to me, nor did I like the taste. We had another Cote du Rhone Vintus white, but I preferred the one above.

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Next came a grilled strip steak with a couple of large-cut French fries and a ramekin of Swiss Chard Gratin. I liked the vegetable dish but would make it with spinach at home. The meat was okay but a bit chewy for my taste, and the potatoes nothing special. I usually don’t eat steaks. I prefer juicy prime ribs or tender filet mignon when I eat out and want beef for a change. The red wine, another Cote du Rhone, was very good.

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The dessert, a dark chocolate mousse, was light and frothy with a semi-sweet taste that suited my palate. If I were making this, I’d add whipped topping. A sweet dessert wine topped off the meal.

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I highly recommend the Publix cooking classes if you have them in your area. You can do the demo class or a hands-on lesson, and either way you get a gourmet meal with wine at a reasonable price, plus recipes to carry home.

 

Epcot Food Festival, Day 2

Epcot Food Festival, Day 2

Today was overcast and hot so I couldn’t eat much in the heat. Only made it to two places again but the portions were generous and I wasn’t hungry after the hearty dish at France. We started off to the right past Puerto Rico. Next time, we’ll have to go in the other direction as Patagonia is new and a couple of things there sound good.

Puerto Rico
Braised beef with rice in vegetable sauce was very tasty and worth the wait in line.

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France
Wheat pasta gratin with mushrooms and Gruyere cheese very creamy and delicious. Also rather filling.

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Belgium
Our kids always like the Belgium waffle with strawberries and whipped cream.

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Eddie V’s
Another night on the Magical Dining menu found us ordering Lobster and Shrimp Bisque at Eddie V’s on Restaurant Row. It had chunks of lobster, fishy/salty taste, but I am more used to New England clam chowder.

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Excellent Scottish salmon with a few vegetable garnishes. We ordered a side dish of truffle mac and cheese, very tasty with crispy topping. Beef filet medallions very tender.

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Dessert choices: dark chocolate mousse with whipped cream and fresh berries, Crème Brulé and Bananas Foster cake with butter pecan ice cream. Elegant, modern upbeat interior and excellent service. I would return here.

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What are your favorite restaurants at Magical Dining Month? If you live elsewhere, does your community have something similar with fixed price meals?

Coming Next: Disney’s Fort Wilderness

 

Epcot Food Festival, Part 1

Our first day at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, it was hot and stifling out with little breeze. A cloud cover helped shade us from the sun, and for that much we were grateful. But it was still a chore to trudge all the way around World Showcase. It wasn’t too busy yet being a Friday so we didn’t have to wait in any lines  for long.

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We stopped by the Festival Marketplace to see the wares for sale. This building is next to Universe of Energy. A cooking demo was going on at the time. The Festival pavilion also hosts wine tastings and other events. There’s a section with chocolate sculptures hosted by Ghirardelli.

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Starting at the Canadian end on day one, I sampled the smoked salmon with sour cream and chives and potato pancakes from Scotland while my husband had the vegetarian haggis. My dish was oh so yummy that I’d gladly get it again.

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Next stop was France and their braised beef short ribs in cabernet sauce with mashed potatoes, a goodly portion and very tasty.

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Since we’d eaten breakfast earlier at My French Café in Windermere, we got full easily. The food combined with the heat made us lose our appetites. We ducked into the Mexican pavilion and went on the ride to cool off. If you’re not familiar with this site, go inside Mexico and head all the way toward the back to your left. The ride entrance is there. It’s a leisurely boat ride like It’s A Small World with colorful Mexicans figures singing and dancing. Too tired to continue, plus it was raining by now, we headed back to our condo to relax.

Coming Next: Day Two at the Food and Wine Festival

Check out my post today at The Kill Zone on the character I saw at Mall at Milennia.

What are some of the favorite foods you’ve tasted at the Food and Wine Festival?

 

Cooking School

Cooking Class

Imagine going to a gourmet restaurant, watching the cooks prepare your meal while following along with the recipes, and then eating a delicious four-course meal with wine pairings. This was our experience at Publix’s Apron Cooking School. It was a repeat visit for us as we greatly enjoy this experience. Tonight’s menu started with a crisp salad using curly lettuce with tomatoes, bacon, dates, and a warm walnut vinaigrette dressing. Dijon mustard gave this dressing a kick while maple syrup added a sweet element. Accompanying the starter was a Chateau St. Michelle Chardonnay. I liked this medium bodied white wine that sells for $12.99.

Cooking Tips: Cutting an onion releases an enzyme that causes tearing. To avoid this, leave on the root end. Remove the stem and peel, then slice through almost to the root. Turn onion and dice in the other direction.

To increase the juice from a fresh lemon, roll it on the counter first or microwave it for 8 seconds before squeezing.

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Next came a yummy Portobello mushroom and barley soup. Including carrots, celery, and onion, this was so good that I still smack my lips at the remembered taste. Truffle oil added finesse. I loved the nutty texture of the barley. The accompanying wine was a Pinot Grigio by Ecco Domani. This was good but I liked the Chardonnay better.

Cooking Tips: Cut your vegetables the same size so they cook evenly together.

And—Garlic burns so add it last.

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The main course was buttermilk meatloaf with stroganoff mushrooms and egg noodles.

This was perfection. The wine was a Santa Rita Reserve Sauvignon Blanc. I would have preferred a red wine with the meat dish.

Cooking Tips: Use a tube of tomato paste instead of a can. Then when a recipe calls for one tablespoon, you won’t have a whole can left over.
A roux helps to thicken sauces. It’s equal parts fat and flour. The fat coats the flour and allows it to be absorbed into the sauce. A roux can be light or dark.

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Dessert tempted our palates with warm banana shortcakes. The sparkling wine was a pink Moscato. It was all right but I wouldn’t buy it. I love anything with warmed bananas so this dish hit the spot to finish off the evening.

Cooking Tips: Baking soda helps things spread; baking power helps them to rise (or is it the other way around?)

To roll out dough, put it between pieces of parchment paper. The dough is easier to cut if you refrigerate it first.

To whip cream, move your whisk back and forth rather than around the bowl.

Sugar in the raw is produced when sugar is spun at a high velocity and the molasses separates out. Molasses plus sugar equals light brown sugar.

**These tips are accurate to the best of my hearing ability and are subject to my interpretation.

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Publix Apron’s Cooking School is a fun and tasty experience. You can sign up for the demo or take a hands-on class. Either way, you’ll eat a wonderful meal and explore some new wines.

Epcot Food and Wine Revisited

Epcot Food and Wine Revisited

On our way to Orlando from the Necronomicon convention in St. Petersburg, we stopped at the Parkesdale Farm Market in Plant City. Alerted to this venue at the annual Strawberry Festival, we hoped to obtain some of the goodies for sale at that event. We were pleased to find the same delicious strawberry bread at the farm stand along with fresh fruits and veggies, jams and jellies and honey, and many other treats in their gift shop.

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From here, we moved on to Orlando and a revisit to the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. We started at the opposite end from last time. The beef filet at Canada was exquisitely tender with sautéed mushrooms to die for. The coq au vin at France was just as good, tender chicken on a bed of mac and cheese in a generously large portion. Nearly full by now, I passed up many other treats or shared in a taste by family members.

Canada, Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon  with Truffle Butter, $6.50
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Ireland, Warm Chocolate Lava Cake and Lobster Seafood Fishermen’s Pie
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France, Coq Au Vin: $ 5.50; Chardonnay: $5.75
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Near the American pavilion, a concert was underway. Here’s a sample of the Maine lobster roll from the Hops & Barley stand.
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Moving on, we sampled the Shrimp on the Barbie from Australia.
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My final sweet taste was the Rice Pudding with Berries from Scandinavia for $2.75
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Epcot Food & Wine Festival

We ate our way around World Showcase at this year’s Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. This event runs from Sept. 28 – Nov. 12 so you have plenty of time to get there. You need a regular ticket to get into the theme park and then you buy the sample foods and drinks as you circle the lake and browse the marketplaces.

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We turned left and hit the Terra stand first, sampling the Chicken Curry with Basmati Rice. While I like curry dishes, this one was a bit spicy. I wanted to try the Jerk Chicken Drumstick with Mango Chutney at the Caribbean booth, but the line was too long, so we moved on to Argentina. Here I had the Grilled Beef Skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Puree (tastes like mashed potatoes with pesto sauce). This item cost $5.00. I believe prices went up this year because I don’t remember many dishes costing that much before.

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I might have liked the Shrimp on the Barbie or the Grilled Lamb Chop at Australia but saved them for another visit. One of our kids got the Shrimp Taco at Mexico and I had a taste. Good!

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On to Scandinavia, another favorite. Their Swedish Meatballs with Lingonberries is the best—even better than Ikea’s meatballs. This cost $3.50 each and was well worth the price. My husband had the Taste of Scandinavia for $4.00. This was a plate with cured salmon and herring and shrimp salad.

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China came next. I’ve had their Potstickers and Chicken Satay before so passed on it this time. Also walked past South Korea even though the Mung Bean Pancake with Shrimp looked interesting. South Africa is another favorite with Filet of Beef and Smashed Sweet Potatoes. It’s one of the most tender cuts of beef around and done just right for $5.00.

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We moved on past vendors with plates of cheeses, a Brewer’s Collection for beer drinkers, and skipped the Apple Strudel at Germany. One dish sounded really interesting at Poland—Toasted Mushrooms, Carmelized Onions and Cheese Bread—but I’ll have to save it for next time. We breezed past Italy to the American pavilion where I zeroed in on my favorite dessert, the Pumpkin Mousse at the “Hops and Barley” counter. For $1.50, this is a bargain. It comes in a mini-dessert cup like you get in some restaurants these days. It’s so good, I had to buy the Festival cookbook for the recipe ($16.95 plus tax).

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I wanted to get the Coq au Vin with Mac and Cheese at the France pavilion because it was so good last year, but I was too full already. I passed up the whole other side of World Showcase, unable even to taste the Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon at Canada or the Griddled Greek Cheese with Pistachios and Honey or the Chocolate Lava Cake at Ireland. I did go for the Mai Tai at Hawaii for the hefty price of $7.50. Save your money on this one. While I tasted some rum, it was a pleasant fruit drink in a plastic cup.

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Now I’ve made myself hungry again. I need to go back to try all things I missed on this trip. Next time, we’ll start from the opposite direction.

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China Pavilion                                                  New Wine Cellar Lounge at Italy