The Disney Chef

Monday, November 24, 2014

School Bread


I know this is almost sacrilegious to say, but I've never had the school bread in Epcot's Norway Pavilion.  I know it's got a loyal, nearly fanatical fan base and I know saying I've never tried it is like saying I've never had the turkey leg or a Dole Whip...  But for some reason, I've never made space in my stomach to give it a shot.

The recipe is all over the place online and I've been saying for months that I'd try it, but like when it's at Epcot, I never got around to adding it to my "bake" list until now.  Doing a yeast bread that involves icing and custard, no matter how delicious it sounded, it seemed like it was a major investment in time...  And it was.  It's not a hard recipe, just one with a lot of
steps that takes longer than your average baked good.

I did follow the recipe exactly, but as anybody who's read this blog knows, making custard seems to never work out for me (as we can see here and here) and I was yet again defeated with this recipe.  While I got so, so, so close, I cooled it off too early, it was ever-so-slightly too runny still so I added whipped topping to thicken it off.  Brilliant solution that tasted fabulous, but I'm sure it made it taste less like it does in the parks.  Next time, I'll get pre-made custard or I'll just make pudding...  Which I mess up only about 50% of the time as opposed to 100% of the time.  Also, I ended up way more flour than the original recipe called for.  I'm not sure if it's because I might have used an extra half a cup of water, or if it just really needed the extra flour...  As written, the dough was so sticky and watery it was completely impossible to
handle.  And this makes a lot of school bread.  I ended up with 14 pastries.

I tasted this as it went along and it was really neat to see how each of the components came together to change it from being a regular yeast bread that was maybe even a little savory, like a dinner roll, but ended up being the right level of sweet and hearty.  I actually thought this would be like a doughnut when I decided to do this recipe.  It's more like Norway's answer to a sweet breads like cinnamon rolls, without the super sweet overload.  I really liked it and will go out of my way to have it next time at Epcot.


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School Bread
As is served at Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe, Norway Pavilion, EPCOT
 
Bread
°o°  2 pints water  
°o°  2 1/2 ounces melted butter
°o°  3 ounces instant or dry yeast  
°o°  2 - 2.5 pounds flour (with more available as needed)
°o°  3 1/2 ounces sugar  
°o°  1 teaspoon cardamom  
°o°  1 egg

Sugar Glaze  
°o°  2 cups confectioners' sugar
°o°  1/4 cup milk  
°o°  1 teaspoon vanilla extract  
°o°  12 ounces shredded coconut, shredded and toasted  

Vanilla Custard
°o°  1 2/3 cups milk 
°o°  1/4 cup sugar  
°o°  1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract  
°o°  4 egg yolks  
°o°  1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in cool water  

Bread
Add warm water to melted butter (about 90-95 degrees) and add yeast and let stand 2-3 minutes or until mixture starts to froth.  Add flour, sugar, cardamom, and egg.  Mix 5-10 minutes until dough stiffens, adding more flour as needed.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise 1 hour, or until dough doubles in size.

Punch down dough and roll dough into a thick log, handling as little as possible.  Cut dough into 5 ounce portions and roll into a ball. Do not press down!  Place them on a greased baking sheet and allow them to rise another 15-30 minutes, until the dough has risen and puffed, but not spread.

Bake in an oven preheated to 375 for 15 minutes.  Breads are done when they have a slight crust and the bottoms have browned slightly.  Let cool on a wire rack.  When cooled, hollow out an area for the filling in the middle of the bread, making sure to not go all the way through the bread.

Sugar Glaze
Combine all ingredients except the coconut to form a thick glaze.  Working quickly with one bread at a time, dip bread hole-side down in the sugar glaze and coat with toasted coconut.  Return breads to wire rack to dry.

Vanilla Custard
In a saucepan, bring milk to a boil.  Remove from heat and set aside, skimming away the
skin.

In a bowl, beat sugar, extract, and egg yolks until mixture has doubled.  Do not over mix.  Put mixer to low and slowly add several spoonfuls of warm milk to temper the custard mixture.  Then slowly stream milk into mixture and mix until just incorporated.  Transfer to a metal bowl or top portion of a double boiler.  Over a double boiler, slowly add the dissolved cornstarch to the custard mixture and stir gently and constantly until mixture thickens.  Do not allow to boil.  When warmed and thickened, move bowl to an ice bath to cool completely.

Once totally cooled, using a piping bag, pipe custard into pastry and finish with a decorative dollop or swirl.


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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Chocolate Lava Cake


Chef Ramsay says making chocolate lava cake is one of the hardest baked goods to make.  Cook it too little, it collapses on itself.  Cook it too long, it's basically a brownie that is slightly underdone.

Challenge accepted Chef Ramsay.

I've only actually had a lava cake twice...  The first time I made it myself, not really knowing what I was making.  I remembered it tasted good, but it was before lava cakes were really a thing and everybody I served it to thought I had just an underdone cake.  Dramatic effect was nulled by suspicious questions of "are you sure you cooked it enough?"  The second time I had lava cake was actually at a local Italian restaurant and it was overdone.  I cut into it happily waiting for my rush of "lava" and...  Nothing.  It was like slicing into a cake.  Talk about disappointing!

When I made this and got it right on the first shot, I'm not going to lie, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment.  Watching the chocolate flow out of the cake is just so fun and so cool.  I wish I could describe the taste...  It's really, really chocolatey without being sweet or bitter.  Since I'm a lover of warm desserts, this was the perfect mix of cake and gooey warmth.  It's a chocolate lover's dream!

The cake itself is very easy to make, it's the timing on the baking that's a real trick.  My three tips are make sure that you grease the dickens out of the custard cups for the cake and put a ton of sugar in to coat.  That makes getting it out so much easier, and it increases the chance that your cake won't fall or get nicked when you're taking it out of the custard cups.  Second, watch these in the oven like a hawk.  Your window of opportunity on getting this right is so, so, so short.  This more than any recipe I've done is relying more on judgement as to if it's done and not a flat cooking time.  Third...  When the top starts to crack, the center is firm, but it doesn't spring back when lightly touched, and the edges start to pull away from the cup...  Then it may be done.  Pull it out, run a knife around it, pop it out as gently as possible, and serve it immediately.

I think this is certainly one of the most fun desserts I've served in awhile and it was a huge hit around the house.  I loved how dramatic it was cutting it open and its the perfect non-traditional, almost fancy dessert that really makes an impact.  And it taste like heaven!


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Chocolate Lava Cake
As is served at California Grill, Disney's Contemporary Resort
 

°o°  8 ounces semisweet baking chocolate  

°o°  1 cup butter  
°o°  5 egg yolks  
°o°  4 whole eggs
°o°  3/4 cup granulated sugar (and more for dusting pans)  
°o°  1/3 cup all-purpose flour
°o°  powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 375 and grease custard cups with butter or non-stick spray.  Coat with granulated sugar and shake out the excess.  Set aside on a baking sheet.

In a double boiler, melt chocolate and butter until completely melted, incorporated, and smooth when mixed.  Remove from heat for about 10 minutes to allow it to cool slightly.

In a separate bowl, combine eggs and beat using an electric mixer.  After eggs are thoroughly beaten and are a lemon color, add sugar.  Beat vigorously for several minutes until incorporated and slightly airy, but still thick (like a custard).  Drizzle in cooled chocolate mixture and fold until blended entirely.  Sift in flour, mix lightly for another minute.

Pour into prepared cups until about 3/4 full.  Bake at 375 for 25-35 minutes depending on your container.  When the top is set, the sides are beginning to pull away from the dish, but the center does not spring back when touched, cakes are done.  Do not overbake.

Run a butter knife around the edge of the cake and dish to loosen, place a plate face down over the dish and flip.  If the cake does not come out, hit it slightly to loosen further.

Serve immediately dusted with powdered sugar and served with ice cream, if desired. 


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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Four Cheese Sauce


Ah, Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano...  What is there to say about Mama Melrose's?  I'll be honest, if it wasn't for the Fantasmic! Dinner Pacakge I probably wouldn't have eaten there...  Why?  Well, honestly...  I never knew it existed.  When I got the reservation for it the first time, I actually had to consult a map on where to find it.  In the dozen or so times I'd visited Disney, I think it was the one and only restaurant I knew nothing about.  And the reviews for it left me kind of cold.  Good, but not great seemed to be the general word-on-the-street.  I actually remember telling my family before we went that I kind of regretted we were eating there, but I really wanted the good seats to Fantasmic!.

Then, the refurbishment...

Two months before we arrived, Mama Melrose got a menu overhaul and a new chef and the new buzz was that the food was actually pretty awesome.  Then my little "I feel like there are better places to eat, I just want to see Fantasmic!" reservation turned into "Wow, I can't believe you managed to a reservation there!  The food is amazing and everybody wants to get a meal there!"

I love it when I stay on the cutting edge of Disney food trends through complete and total accident.

This four cheese sauce is actually still on the menu now, and after making it, I kind of regret not ordering it while we were there.  It's kind of a grown-up mix between mac-and-cheese and alfredo.  Not as in-your-face cheesy as mac-and-cheese, but not as subtle as Alfredo.  While I served it with just the sauce (as they used to do until about a year ago), so much can be added to this to make it pop even more.  Chicken, pork, bacon, pancetta, prosciutto, vegetables...  Right now, they serve this with sun-dried tomatoes soaked in sherry and broccoli flowers.  While they normally serve this with penne pasta, I went the rotini route (hahahaha) and it tasted just wonderful.  Such a great pasta for really absorbing sauce!

This is super easy, something my 4-year-old helped me make with no problems.  Plus, it was a big, big hit for dinner.  The only thing that would have made it better was to be able to go walk to front row seats at Fantasmic!.      


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Four Cheese Sauce
As is served at Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano
 
°o°  1/2 stick butter  
°o°  3-4 cloves garlic, minced finely
°o°  1/4 cup flour  
°o°  1/2 quart half-and-half     
°o°  1/2 quart heavy cream  
°o°  1 ounce Reggianto Cheese, shredded  
°o°  1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded  
°o°  1 ounce Asiago Cheese, shredded  
°o°  2 ounces Fontina cheese  
Melt butter and add garlic, stirring for 1 minute.  Add flour to make a roux.  After butter and flour mixture has thickened, add half-and-half and whisk constantly, bringing to a boil.  When mixture has thickened, add heavy cream and cheeses.  Mix until cheese mixture has melted and the sauce is smooth and creamy.

Serve over pasta.


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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Breakfast Potato Casserole


This is a recipe I would have never, ever normally tried, despite the fact that it did actually look pretty good.  However, two things caused me to rethink my continued ignoring of this beloved, popular, and by all accounts delicious dish.  The first is the fact that the readers of this website seem fairly obsessed with potato recipes.  Seriously, I hear requests for breakfast potato recipes all the time.  And the second is that with Maelstrom being retired forever, to be replaced with a "Frozen" attraction, I'm feeling a little nostalgic for all things that remind me of the Norway pavilion.  With all the attractions that have phased in and out over the years, Maelstrom is the one I think I'll most regret not being able to do one more time.

This breakfast potato recipe comes from Akershus, a restaurant that sometimes doesn't get the credit it deserves for the expansive and unique food options available there.  Every time I hear people talking about Akershus, it's always related to the fact that it's a Princess character breakfast.  Many times, I hear it mentioned as kind of the forgotten sister to the more popular Princess character breakfast at Cinderella's Castle...  Like "If you can't get into the Castle because it's booked, you can always try Akershus."  While it did for awhile have a great boost due to the fact that it was located across the pavilion from everybody's favorite Norwegian-inspired royalty meet-and-greet (Queen Elsa and Princess Anna), it seems to have again slipped to the status of consolation reservation for the people who can't get the other booking.

However, people should really give this restaurant another look.  In truth, it has one of the largest, most expansive buffets on Disney property, and it's got a huge range of approachable and exotic foods for people who want to try something different, but also the classics that are not only kid-friendly, but iconic Disney foods (and of course you know I mean Mickey waffles).  But if the food doesn't impress you, the ambiance certainly should...  Honestly, the inside of Akershus is one of the most amazing, detailed, and flat out gorgeously authentic I've seen.  It's simply stunning.  You'd never in a million years think a building with such a humble looking outside would be so gorgeous on the inside.

This potato casserole recipe is one of Akershus's unique but signature dishes.  Honestly, it's
super easy, but holy cow...  It makes enough to feed an army.  Our family of 5 didn't even make a dent on the amount that was prepared, despite the fact everybody had heaping servings.  If I were to make this again, I'd halve the recipe for sure.  And, if I were to make this again (which I probably will because the kids loved it...  Which is good, because they'll be having leftovers all week and then some), I'm going to spread it out more, using a large serving dish, or maybe even two casserole dishes.  When I did it in a big heap, it took forever for the middle to get warm and even by the time I served it, the potatoes were still a bit crunchy and raw.

Overall though, this was a great dish that was a real crowd pleaser.  A somewhat fancier take on breakfast potatoes for sure, but I loved how creamy and rich it was with the hint of cheese.  It was savory without being overly salty, so it's easy to pair with sweet breakfasts like Mickey waffles, while still working perfectly with the savory breakfasts like ham and eggs.  Anybody who's eaten a breakfast at Akershus will recognize this flavor and maybe even look around and wonder where the Princesses are!


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Breakfast Potato Casserole
As is served at Akershus, Norway Pavilion, EPCOT
 
°o°  1 1/2 pounds diced prepared potatoes  
°o°  1 1/2 pounds shredded prepared potatoes  
°o°  1 small white onion, diced  
°o°  8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese, divided  
°o°  8 ounces shredded Jarlsberg cheese, divided  
°o°  8 ounces sour cream  
°o°  1/2 cup heavy cream  
°o°  salt and pepper to taste    
°o°  2 tablespoons butter  
°o°  2 tablespoons flour  
°o°  1 to 1 1/2 cups milk 

Preheat oven to 375.  

In an oversided mixing bowl, combine the potatoes, onion, 4 ounces of cheddar cheese, 7 ounces of the Jarlsberg cheese, the sour cream, heavy cream, and the salt and pepper.  Mix well.

In a saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour, whisking to form a roux.  Slowly add the milk and bring up to a light boil while whisking constantly to make a Bechamel sauce.  Once the sauce has thickened, allow to cool slightly, then pour over the potatoes.  Mix again so the entire mixture is moistened evenly.

Pour into a greased casserole dish (use two if necessary, the layer of potatoes should not be more than 1.5 inches or so) and sprinkle reserved cheese evenly over the casserole.  Cover with greased aluminum foil, being careful that the cheese doesn't come into contact with the foil, and bake for 35-45 minutes or until potatoes are softened and cooked through and casserole reaches internal temperature of 160 degrees.  After casserole has cooked completely, remove the foil and allow it to bake an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese has melted and browned slightly.

Serve warm.


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Monday, September 22, 2014

Pot Roast


When I was putting together my menu for this week, I had a definite plan in mind...  I wanted some stuff from Norway so I could do a proper Disney Chef sendoff of Maelstrom, I wanted a lot of dinner foods, some desserts, and I wanted a lot of hearty, fall food.  Around here, it's been dipping into the 30's at night, not getting above 55 or 60 during the day, so some heart warming food was a really good idea I thought.

And yesterday, when I made it...  The high unexpectedly reached 82.  So much for the warming soul food for a cold night...

Regardless, making this made me so happy.  This is the kind of meal that I love to make.  A little bit of prep then you stick it in the oven and you're done.  And 50's Prime Time Cafe is such a great restaurant that really does American-style home cooking in a funky and fun kind of way.  I haven't been there in a few years, but I remember the food was fantastic, so it was nice to get a taste of a meal from a place I don't generally get to see on our trips.  In fact, it made me go through and re-do my reservations for November and try to grab a
table...  As far as good food, themed dining, and crazy guest experiences, 50's Prime can't be beaten!

I don't say it often, but this recipe is literally foolproof.  Even people who're not so great at making meat dishes will find that this one is super easy and just about impossible to mess up.  Plus, the oven does 90% of the work!  No turning, basting, tweaking, or otherwise messing with it.  I'd even say if you don't feel like browning it, you could probably skip that step...  I don't generally brown pot roast, and it comes out fabulous...  Though I have to say I liked browned meat and that nice little crust it formed.

This is such a nice, homey recipe...  Perfect for a fall or winter day where all you want is warming comfort food with little hassle.  And, as it turns out, it's apparently great for a surprise summer day in the smack middle of fall...


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Pot Roast
As is served at 50's Prime Time Cafe, Disney's Hollywood Studios
 
°o°  5 pound top or bottom round roast  
°o°  salt to taste
°o°  olive oil
°o°  pepper to taste
°o°  1 medium onion, diced  
°o°  2 carrots, peeled and chopped  
°o°  2 stalks of celery, chopped  
°o°  3 cups beef broth  
°o°  4 tablespoons flour
Trim excess fat off of the roast and season with salt.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a heated pan with a liberal drizzling of olive oil, brown the roast on all sides until evenly browned and put in a large, deep roasting pan.  In the olive oil, saute the vegetables until the onion is translucent and the carrots are a vibrant orange, but beginning to brown.  Add beef broth and scrape the bottom of the pan to bring up the caramelized vegetables and beef bits (deglazing).  Pour over the roast.

Using aluminum foil, cover the entire roasting pan tightly.  Roast in preheated oven for 35-45 minutes a pound, 2.5-3.75 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 160.  When done, remove from the oven and allow to stand in juices 15 minutes before serving.

To make gravy (if desired), add 1/4 - 1/2 cup drippings to a shallow skillet, add flour and whisk over high heat vigorously until the flour has broken up and the liquid begins to thicken.  If the liquid is boiling but not thickening, add a tablespoon more of flour and whisk vigorously.  When liquid has thickened considerably, add additional drippings (1-2 cups) or until gravy is the desired thickness.  Serve warm over pot roast.  


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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Cotton Candy Lemonade



When they told me how to make this at Disney's Pop Century Resort, I figured this was the easiest recipe on earth.  Really, it's not even a recipe it's just so blasted easy.  Then, what I thought was an easy recipe turned out to be a learning experience.

I was told that this recipe was "as easy as" putting cotton candy on lemonade.  I was told under no uncertain terms, put the lemonade in the cup, put the ice in the lemonade, put the cotton candy on top and "it would be fine."  It'd melt, but it wouldn't melt quickly...  Because when I ordered this at Pop Century the day it hit the menu (nice to be on the ground floor of a food craze at Disney, I have to admit), my cotton candy floated there for a good several minutes.  So I took what they said at face value and figured it wouldn't melt.

Lies.

I made this and as soon as I put the cotton candy on top, it melted and was gone.  I did this about five times with the same result.  Melted and gone in less than a second.  The only reason I can think of why this happened is because I used commercially bought bagged cotton candy while they use spun fresh cotton candy, or maybe they do something to it that they just forgot to tell me, like freeze it or something.  Either way, I put this in the lemonade, it was gone in about half a second, totally melted.  

That said, it was still a big hit, and the kids loved watching the cotton candy melt and disappear.  Honestly, I think they liked it far more than if it had just floated on there.  I have
to admit, it is cool to watch it melt, leaving behind a little poof of rainbow color that tints the lemonade a cool electric blue. And really, while it doesn't look the same, it certainly does taste exactly the same.  It really did bring me back to cool nights on a lounge chair outside of the food court at Pop, watching people play in the pools or stream back into the hotel after a day at the parks.  It really was quite nice.

However, this brings me to the second thing I learned...

This relaxing effect does not occur when you give it to children.  I was hoping I'd be the cool mom who gave everybody the cool drink for a birthday party.  Well, I was, but I also became mom of three children who should have been winding down for bed but were actually bouncing off the ceilings.

So many lessons learned...  


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Cotton Candy Lemonade
In the style of what is served at Everything POP! Food Court, Disney's Pop Century Resort
 
°o°  Minute Maid Lemonade, chilled  
°o°  water, chilled  
°o°  crushed ice  
°o°  cotton candy, any flavor and color 
Mix three parts Minute Maid Lemonade to one part chilled water.  Add ice.  After serving, top with cotton candy and watch it melt! 

Suggested that each serving is made individually and not in a pitcher.


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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival



This week kicks off EPCOT's International Food and Wine Festival, one of the largest and most popular events held every year at EPCOT.  A foodie's dream, this is your chance to experience the flavor of signature dishes from over 25 different kiosks and booths located all around the World Showcase.  From Africa to Australia, Hawaii to Ireland, there's something to excite everybody's palate  And running for a record 53 days, the longest span of the festival's 19 years, there's plenty of time to go back for seconds.

As somebody who's done the Food and Wine Festival for the last 4 years, and who's going back for more in November, I look forward to this event all year.  Not only EPCOT my favorite park, but Food and Wine is my favorite special event!  And after careful consideration, I've drawn up a quick list of my favorite parts of the Food and Wine Festival!

9.  The Food (and the Wine)

Ok, so this seems like the obvious choice, but really, it is kind of the cornerstone of the event.  Being able to sample a little bit of everything from various food-loving countries around the world is pretty awesome.  Not only are there kiosks from countries not normally featured in EPCOT, giving a breath of fresh life to what you come to expect from World Showcase, it's a safe way to try some food from the countries that are there.  For example, I'd heard the buzz on how great the food at the Moroccan restaurants are, but I couldn't bring myself to eat there...  I have so many favorite places to eat in Walt Disney World (especially EPCOT), the idea of wasting a dining credit on a new place that I may not like and sacrificing a meal somewhere I love...  Honestly, it stressed me out.  But after trying one of the sample-sized dishes (for a wallet-friendly price of less than $5) at the Morocco booths and falling in love with the flavors, I was inspired to try the Tangierine Cafe.  Now, Tangierine Cafe is one of my favorite quick service restaurants of all time.  Not that the visiting countries booths don't have incredible food too...  Two words: beef empanadas.  Those are worth the trip themselves.

Speaking of signature foods that are worth the trip:

8.  Limited Edition Dole Whips/Citrus Swirls (With Rum!)

Last year it was a Citrus Swirl with spiced rum.  This year, it's a Dole Whip with white creme de cacao.  The complete and total awesomeness of this sells itself.  What else is there even to say?

7.  The Ultimate Bang for Your Dining Plan Credit

The complaint I hear most often from people on the Dining Plan is their snack credits often get wasted or not used.  With so much great food available in the many quick service and table service locations around the parks and in Downtown Disney, people often just forget to cash in on the snack credits, or they think that the only thing they can get for them are
gummy bears and candy.  Wrong!  This is the best time of year to invest in a Dining Plan.  Why?  Because almost all the food offerings at the EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival are only one snack credit!  Canada's famous Cheddar Cheese Soup, Belgian Waffles with Berry Compote, Bratwurst in a Pretzel Roll, all of it is only one snack credit per item!  Any event that gets me Canada's soup for only a snack credit is a great event to me.  Yes, the portions are smaller than a full serving, but it's really not hard to make a mini-meal with only the small price of a snack credit or two.

Just be warned...  If it's an alcoholic drink, it's not covered.  And some of the countries are a better bang for your snack credit than others (don't ask me about the year I accidentally got 4 boxed chocolates on the snack credit that were available for .99 cents at the gift shop...  I'm still sore over that).  When in doubt, watch what people are walking away with or ask to see what you're getting before you commit.

6.  Special Events, Celebrity Sightings, and Character Surprises        

The EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival also brings with it several shows, seminars, and special events.  Some are included in your EPCOT ticket, some are separately ticketed events.  Guest speakers, even celebrity chefs, are often on hand for either demonstrations or as guests.  Many boards, blogs, and websites keep track of celebrities people have spotted in and around the festival.  Everybody from Guy Ferrari to "The Cake Boss," even Gordon Ramsay and his family have been spotted at various times in the festival.  Last year I spotted the lady who plays the Evil Queen in ABC's "Once Upon a Time" in the Magic Kingdom.  Of course, I can't guarantee that you'll see a particular celebrity just roaming the parks...  That's all luck.  But check out the speakers and special events schedule to see who's going to be around...  Getting a seat at their seminar or event is a surefire way to get a guaranteed celebrity sighting.  If doing a separate paid event isn't your thing (or they're all booked up), the easiest way to spot somebody famous is to keep your eye to the Eat to the Beat concert listings.  Sugar Ray, Smashmouth, even Hanson are all going to be playing during various days in a large, outdoor stage, and the concert is free with paid admission.  Some acts can be pretty popular, so check the showtimes and get there early.

It's also worth your while to keep an eye out for surprise character meet-and-greets.  I met Princess Aurora in a tucked-away place near The Land building.  The Country Bears were out in a space between Canada and England.  They randomly pop in and out and because they're unannounced and out-of-the-way, they're generally very short lines.

5.  The Crazy Weather

I always hear somebody make the mistake of saying "I bet Disney in the fall is so beautiful...  Nice and cool with lots of sun!". Well, Disney is a blast in the fall (it's a close second to the prettiest season at Walt Disney World, behind winter and the holiday decorations), but cool and predictable weather?  No way!  Heat can still be in the 90's, humidity could get high, and rain pops up from seemingly nowhere.  So why do I say I love the weather?  Because the milder evenings (which can still be hot) give you reasonable summer-like conditions in the beauty of fall.  And call me crazy, but I live for the thunderstorms that roll through Disney.  Usually they blow in, blow out, and make quite a show of it while they last.  Some of the most incredible weather events I've seen at Disney (hello rainbow over Spaceship Earth) happened during the surprisingly volatile fall days.  Added bonus?  The storms come in strong and furious and people tend to retreat back to their hotels or under shelter.  However, they tend to also pass pretty quickly meaning cooler temperatures and less people.  For the truly adventurous, there's a lot of fun to be had touring the park out in the rain!  Bring your ponchos!

4.  The Wine and Dine Half Marathon - 13.1 Miles of Fun!

For the last several years, the festivities at the EPCOT International Food and Wine are capped off with an event that draws between 12,000 and 15,000 runners from across the nation for the night race to end all night races...  The Wine and Dine Half Marathon!
 Entering it's commemorative 5th year this year, runners start at the ESPN Wide World of Sports, run through Disney's Animal Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and finish at EPCOT for 13.1 miles punctuated with special character appearances, live music, and of course, a Disco Tunnel.  After the race, runners stream into EPCOT for an after-hours VIP party featuring, what else?  The Food and Wine Festival!  The party lasts until 3am where exhausted but celebratory runners take a free glass of wine or beer and a $10 gift card (part of the free commemorative items awarded for finishing the race) can indulge in all the best EPCOT has to offer.  Last year I even heard a rumor that a group of runners walked onto Soarin and rode-through (that means they rode multiple times without having to get up) 4 times while catching a quick snooze!  The party continues the next day with special events in Downtown Disney and the influx of tired and sore runners coming back for more on the final official day of the Festival.  See somebody wearing a medal in the park?  Yell congrats to them!  They sure earned it!

While the half marathon is already long sold out by the time the Food and Wine Festival starts, the race for 2015 (which falls during the 20th anniversary of the Food and Wine Festival) will open for registration sometime in March of 2015.  This sells out in a matter of hours, so it's never too early to start planning for next year!  Want to get your feet wet with another run that also occurs during the International Food and Wine Festival that has slightly shorter distance and slightly lower demand than the Wine and Dine Half?  Try the Tower of Terror 10 Miler.  It's hotter and it doesn't take you through as many parks, but you're still doing an event during the Food and Wine Festival.

3.  Doing ___________ Around the World

Every year various families, friends, tour groups, frat boys, bloggers, and foodies throw down a gauntlet.  Sample one of every type of a particular food around the World
Showcase.  A lot of the times it's drinking-related (a beer at every kiosk around the world?  Yikes.), but I've seen everything from cupcake crawls to creme brulee challenges.  A challenge that has me sampling desserts from every country around the World Showcase?  Now that's something I can get behind!  I promise you, your stomach will give up before your mouth does.  To help you complete your challenge, make sure you grab one of the (free) Food and Wine Festival Passports.  It has each and every offering from every booth laid out clearly, along for a little space to check off each food you've tried.  If you want to go hardcore, go online and pull up this year's menu and have it printed on the back of a shirt and have your buddies check it off for you as you eat.  Hurrah for cheap souvenirs!

2.  Decorations Galore!

I love seeing Walt Disney World dressed up for the various holidays and I think everybody would agree the two best seasons for Disney decorations are Fall and Winter.  With Fall, you get this amazing layout of Halloween decorations, fall garlands, scarecrows, and
colorful, bright banners.  With Winter, you get the Christmas lights, garland, and Christmas music.  With the Food and Wine Festival starting at the beginning of the Fall decorations and ending after the parks have transitioned to Christmas, you are guaranteed to be able to enjoy Walt Disney World in some sort of spirited decoration.  And, if you time it right, you can actually start your trip with one holiday and end with the next!  Guests lucky enough to go from just before Halloween and staying into early November get the best of both worlds.  For example, if you go in 2014 and arrive the day before Halloween and depart November 6th, you can enjoy the end of the Halloween and the start of the Christmas celebrations.  If you stretch your trip out 10 days, you could, on the same trip, attend Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (my favorite separate-ticketed event at the Magic Kingdom) and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party!  How crazy is that?

1.  The People-Watching

The International Food & Wine Festival brings an eclectic group of people.  Families with kids, adults flying solo, honeymooners, couples without their kids, and plenty of locals.  So many people makes the sport of people-watching one of the most fun parts of touring the parks.  You see some people (sometimes with the help of that second mentioned item of the festival) do some amazing, crazy things.  We've seen proposals, break-ups, flash mobs, and everything in between.  Be prepared for spontaneous cheers (not always from visiting cheerleaders), random outbursts of singing, and people from across the world expressing joy and excitement to simply be at Disney.  Halloween Parties at Disney and other area parks mean you may catch people in their costumed-finest on the way to various events.  There are some insanely creative people out there!


There's so much to enjoy around the Walt Disney World Parks during EPCOT's International Food and Wine Festival, it's hard to come up with only eight and I know I missed something in my countdown...  So what's your favorite part of this special event?  Share below!

Regret you haven't made plans to travel down here for the festival?  It's not too late, and with all the deals and promotions running right now, it's surprisingly affordable!  And did you know that The Disney Chef will act as your own personal concierge for the trip, saving you time, money and stress?  As an experienced Disney explorer and foodie, I know just how to help families get the most out of their trip.  For more information on how to enjoy the vacation of your dreams, for either your whole family or just the adults looking to get away, email me at jerusha@thewdwguru.com or submit a request for a vacation quote here.

Can't make it this year?  Don't worry, I have you covered there as well!  Here are some of my favorite dishes featured in past year's International Food and Wine Festival:

Beef Bourguignon (France)
Nudel Gratin (Germany)
Spicy Sausage with Sweet Corn Polenta (Canada)
Dan Dan Noodles (China)

 
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