2014 Food and Wine Conference: Tales of a first time attendee

The Food and Wine Conference took place July 18-20, 2014 at the beautiful Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, Florida. Bloggers from all over the US, and the world, attended the food-centric event.

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It was my first time attending a conference of this nature, to focus on my food writing. I had interacted with a few of the bloggers online and via email, but nothing really prepares you to be part of a group of 300 dynamic personalities who are there to hone their craft, learn and celebrate the camaraderie started for many on #SundaySupper.

We were greeted by Food and Wine Conference Organizer, Isabel Laessig, and welcomed personally by Mr. Harris Rosen.

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Of course there was amazing food…

F&W tuna app

Prepared by the best…

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Emily Ellyn and Executive Chef Jorge Oliveira share some trade secrets over beef tenderloin.

Which was a wonderful way to break the ice and get to know people. As those who live and write about food regularly touch on, nothing brings people together like sharing a great meal.

The second day brought all conference attendees the wealth of information on many subjects. From SEO 101 with Dan Cristo and Nicole Cook to social media tips and tricks on G+, Twitter, Facebook & Pinterest from panelists Dennis Littley, Lora Amato, Brianne Izzo, Kim Vij and Amanda Boyarshinov. There was a wealth of useful information packed into each session.

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Lunch break provided the opportunity to let off some steam and enjoy the beautiful Florida day, BMW convertible courtesy of Fields BMW

Not everything was technical, we were treated to the vivacious personalities of Coryanne Ettiene and Jackie Gordon, who reminded us all to stay true to ourselves and to maintain our authentic voice. The cooking entrepreneurs in the audience appreciated the straight talk on taking prized home recipes into professional development, presented by Erika Kerekes and Michele Northrup.

In-between the sessions, attendees exchanged information, shared our takeaways and brainstormed on some of our individual challenges. The subject-matter experts, keynote speakers and brand representatives sat in on every session and welcomed questions from conference goers. There was a tangible presence of comradeship and support connecting each person from the seasoned pro, to the person about to sit at the keyboard for the first time to contribute their passion and knowledge to the blogosphere.

The feeling in the air was energizing, uplifting and inspiring; I left the second day of the 2014 Food and Wine Conference excited to delve into the final day of demos and work sessions.

Fields Auto Group provided the shuttle service to and from Rosen Shingle Creek and  The Rosen School of Hospitality.

Fields Auto Group provided the shuttle service to and from Rosen Shingle Creek and The Rosen School of Hospitality. We enjoyed riding in luxury & style!

Sunday’s schedule could be split up between demos and interactive sessions or a more academic lecture track. I would have loved to have attended all of the wonderful sessions, but was able to bounce between sessions to get the most for my individual needs. I took notes, pictures of slides, asked questions and felt like I was back in school at one point. So.Much.Great.Information.

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The last day wrapped up with Whitney Miller demoing and addressing the group on recipe development, her journey on Master Chef and making several of her dishes. Whitney was warm and approachable, answering questions and signing books after the session.

The conference was over, but the fun had not ended. What better way to celebrate this great weekend, than to share a Sunday Supper together? We headed over to Taverna Opa in Pointe Orlando to start the evening by enjoying a delicious Greek meal.

Our large group was entertained by a belly dancer, we danced on tables, danced around the restaurant and celebrated our wonderful journey. Together.

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Texas, North Carolina and Florida all represented by the bloggers in this photo.

A special thanks to all of the conference organizers, speakers, contributors and sponsors. Our host venues Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel and the Rosen School of Hospitality were extraordinary and very easy to navigate. Big thanks to all of the wonderful people I interacted with and all of the fellow food writers out there who took the time to pause (Wait, first take a picture of that awesome dish!) and share their experiences. I loved meeting and interacting with everyone!

I’m already looking forward to  the 2015 Food and Wine Conference and hope that you’ll join us. If you are reading this post and have any questions, please reach out by commenting or drop me a line.

SAVE THE DATE:

2015 Food and Wine Conference

at Rosen Shingle Creek

July 17-19, 2015

‘Bite Night’ on June 30th from Orlando Weekly promises gourmet experience [Ticket Giveaway]

Wouldn’t it be a treat to enjoy Orlando’s best restaurants at one place, for one gourmet evening? Throw in a Chef’s Challenge competition with four of Orlando’s top chefs and the whole night benefits Edible Schoolyard? The Orlando Weekly is making it all happen next Monday, June 30th from 7:00pm-11:00pm at the Orchid Garden at Church Street (122 W Church St, Orlando, FL 32801).

The Bite Night event is the grand finale of Bite 30 month, which expands Orlando Weekly’s restaurant week to 30 days of delicious prix fixe lunch and dinner menus. You can read about my own experiences enjoying Bite 30 at Taste Cook Sip on HypeOrlando.com.

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Advanced tickets are going fast for $40 and if the event doesn’t sell out in advance, limited tickets will be available for $50 at the door. For the first time in one venue, enjoy creative dishes from: Cask & Larder, The Rusty Spoon, Txokos Basque Kitchen, K Restaurant, Sushi Pop, The Strand, The Smiling Bison, Santiago’s Bodega, Tako Cheena, Park Plaza Gardens, Iza Tapas, Range, A Shared Kitchen, Hamilton’s Kitchen, Whole Foods Market and Sweet! By Miss Holly.

Taste Cook Sip is very excited to give you a chance at a free pair of tickets to Bite Night, as detailed in the giveaway widget below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For all the latest Bite Night event details and updates, check out the Bite Night Facebook event page. Advanced tickets can be purchased online here, until the event is sold out. Be sure to follow @BiteOrlando on Twitter for ongoing promotions and all #Bite30 and #BiteNight updates. Bite 30 menus are available through June 30, 2014, a complete list of the participating Bite 30 restaurants and their menus is located online here. Follow @TasteCookSip on Instagram to see pictures of the #Bite30 meals we’ve enjoyed!

Food & Wine Conference brings foodies, bloggers and brands together! July 18-20 at Rosen Shingle Creek

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Whether you are a culinary student just starting out, an experienced home cook seeking inspiration or ready to start that blog,  July’s Food & Wine Conference #FWCon in Orlando, Florida should be on your radar. I missed last year and vowed: never again! This year, I purchased my ticket early and also was honored to be chosen as a brand ambassador for the #FWCon. More on that in a minute.

I’ve been following Sunday Supper on Twitter and Pinterest for delicious inspiration for when the family gathers around the table. Isabel Laessig, aka @FamilyFoodie, started the #SundaySupper movement and will be speaking at the Food & Wine Conference about how one day a week, becomes a way of life.

The conference schedule is packed full of entertaining events, informative speakers and great opportunities to connect with brands before, during and after the conference.

Who-Should-Attend

Consider entering one of the four main recipe contests, listed below.  I’m currently developing recipes for several of the contests it hopes that I find that perfect recipe by June 27th. I love chocolate, so the  The Dixie Crystals Sugar Brownie Dessert contest was a natural.

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Potatoes are near and dear to my heart and a staple side in our house. The Idaho Potato Commission has challenged us to come up with a recipe reinventing the breakfast potato.

Idaho-Potato-Recipe-Contest-large-2Davidson’s Safest Choice Eggs has a no-bake recipe contest, where entrants can use these pasteurized eggs in many different applications, without heating up the kitchen.

Safest-Choice-No-Bake-Summer-Recipe-Contest-Banner-2If you’ve had the pleasure of dining at any of the Rosen Shingle Creek restaurants, the final contest will be especially fun. Create a recipe inspired by one of the Rosen Shingle Creek restaurants listed here. Get creative!
Rosen-Contest-Enter-TodayThe prize packages for the various contests include FREE Food & Wine conference tickets, cash, trips and hotel stays. Official rules are detailed in each contest and remember, you have until June 27th to enter. So, take a few minutes away from pinning recipes on Pinterest and get to perfecting a few of your own recipes for a chance to win some great prizes and bragging rights.

Because I’m a #FWCon brand ambassador, if you use code LisaW you will receive discounted tickets to the 2014 Food & Wine Conference. Special thanks to all of the great sponsors who are contributing to this years conference and the surrounding events and contests.  Be sure to follow me @TasteCookSip and @WineChix to see how I’m progressing on my own recipes to submit and read my thoughts on this years Food & Wine Conference.

See you in July!

Food & Wine Conference Social Media Links:

Food and Wine Conference Website
Like Food and Wine Conference on Facebook
Follow Food and Wine Conference on Pinterest
Follow Food and Wine Conference on Twitter
Follow Food and Wine Conference on Google+

Christner’s Cutting Board Dinner Series presents: Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Stags Leap wine dinner

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Christner’s Prime Steak and Lobster is presenting another installment of their Cutting Board Dinner Series on Friday, May 30th at 7pm. The events are intimate and very interactive; guests enjoy a gourmet, multi course meal in one of Christner’s plush and private dining rooms. For this dinner, lucky attendees will sample through beautifully paired Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Stags Leap wines while learning a bit about the wines and food pairings. For a wine enthusiast, this is a wonderful opportunity to ask questions and get insights direct from the source.

I had the pleasure of attending a Christner’s Cutting Board Series dinner this fall, full post with pictures and details is posted here. It was an evening filled with great food and wonderful information, and towards the end of the evening there were a few unadvertised treats. I can only imagine what Christner’s, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Stags Leap are concocting for their big finish.

The evening consists of five courses of many of Christner’s signature dishes, such as Ahi Tuna, New York Strip, Beef Steak Tomatoes and Onions, along with dessert and five wine pairings. For a full menu and more information about this special wine dinner, please email Christners@Rockawaypr.com. While tickets are still available, they are limited.

Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster on Urbanspoon

 

Bleu 42- Chef Chandler Cook brings Southern finesse to sports pub fare

Sports fans glued to the recent NFL draft have heard the familiar offensive call, “Blue 42….Blue 42, hut, hut, hike!” many times during previous football seasons. Now you know the inspiration behind the name of Oviedo’s newest sports bar and pub. The casual eatery was the former home to the Oviedo Beef’O’ Brady’s and had a loyal patronage, something the owners didn’t lose sight of when switching gears from the Beef’s franchise and striking out on their own.

Bleu42storefrontChef and operating partner, Chandler Cook, and the Bleu 42 team didn’t want to lose sight of the sports bar roots. They hinted at the good things to come by spelling Bleu 42, like the cheese that appears on the menu here and there. The fun menu offers burgers, sandwiches, salads, wings, entrees and daily specials with a southern pub feel. Chef Chandler’s culinary schooling in South Carolina shines in daily specials, comfort food, seafood and fish that showcase his appreciation for fresh, seasonal ingredients. And, he cures his own bacon in-house.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle lime aioli & Balsamic Bleu cheese dipping sauce $7

Fried Green Tomatoes with chipotle lime aioli & balsamic bleu cheese dipping sauce $7

My table settled in and our friendly server answered a few questions, made several suggestions and then informed us of the fixed price dinner special for Mother’s Day. We ordered beverages and numerous appetizers to get us going while we decided on dinner.

In short order food started to arrive , each person at the table proclaimed the fried green tomatoes completely delicious. The coating was light, but with a nice substance and flavor. They were so tasty, that we would have enjoyed the slices of savory tomato to be cut a tad thicker, but we were very happy with the order. I can bet that the Bleu 42 fried green tomato BLT is a popular sandwich. The Mac N’ Cheese balls were luscious; saucy, creamy and cheesy goodness tucked inside a crispy exterior. The Bleu 42 signature Sriracha dipping sauce was a nice accompaniment. You could share this order…but really, the blend of sharp cheddar, mozzarella and gruyere could sway you to go solo on an order.

Mac N Cheese Balls. Cheesy and rich, with a hint of bacony goodness.

Mac N Cheese Balls. Cheesy and rich, with a hint of bacony goodness- four balls for $8

The fried calamari appetizer was a good-sized portion of crisply coated, tender and fresh squid. The ribbons were a satisfying option for those of us who aren’t fans of chomping down on the whole baby squids and therefore leave half the calamari portion behind.

Fried Calamari drizzled with Citrus Aioli $8

Fried Calamari drizzled with citrus aioli $8

The Ahi Tuna appetizer is a substantial portion of nicely seared tuna, drizzled with a house made Wasabi BBQ sauce. The sauce was play on sweet heat, with a slight wasabi kick. This appetizer could easily be a dinner option for someone, especially if sharing another appetizer with the table.

Ahi Tuna appetizer, seared yellowfin tuna with Wasabi BBQ drizzle & sweet potato crisps $11

Ahi Tuna appetizer, seared yellowfin tuna with wasabi bbq drizzle & sweet potato crisps $11

Chef Chandler stopped by our table to say hello and confirmed that it was our first time in. He then took the time to explain some of his thoughts on the menu and his cooking style. Through chatting, we found out that all of the fish is brought in fresh, whole and fileted on site. Everything is made in-house, from the sauces to the soups and desserts. The burgers are made from antibiotic free, grass fed beef and still priced at $8.00 -$12.oo, including a side of hand cut fries. We noted that he took the time to greet all of the diners seated around the restaurant, a welcoming touch.

Our party had arrived at Bleu 42 on Mother’s Day and lucked into a great fixed-price menu, with wine pairings included. So instead of opting for the burgers and entrees we were originally planing, we were swayed to the more decadent daily special. The three courses, with the three paired wines, was just $33 per person.

Bleu42signspecialsWe started with the She Crab soup, which was filled with sweet blue crab and a hint of sherry. I knew from first spoonful that Chef Chandler had lived near Charleston, South Carolina at some point in his life. This former Marylander appreciated the abundant amount of tender and sweet blue crab meat in this authentic and scratch-made soup. The pairing with the Sauvignon Blanc was very nice, as the bright acidity of the wine cut through the rich creaminess of the bisque-like soup.

She Crab Soup, daily special. Paired with Fishtale Sauvignon Blanc.

She Crab Soup, daily special. Paired with Fishtale Sauvignon Blanc.

Seared Jumbo Sea Scallops with fried kale, over yellow curry risotto, with Lemon Burre Blanc. Paired with Leese Fitch Pinot Noir, second course of fixed price menu.

Seared Jumbo Sea Scallops with fried kale, over yellow curry risotto, with lemon burre blanc. Paired with Leese Fitch Pinot Noir, second course of fixed price menu.

I ordered the pan seared scallops, which came four to the order and resting on a generous portion of risotto. The jumbo sea scallops were tender and not over powered by the seasoning in the yellow curry risotto. The cook on the Arborio rice was good, not mushy and still a bit firm. I could have used a dash of salt, but with the addition of the acidity from the lemon burre blanc- the consensus at the table was the dish was just about perfect. Both entree selections were paired with the Leese Fitch Pinot Noir, which offered bright red fruit and didn’t overpower either entree.

Cornish Game Hen stuffed with herbs and roasted lemons, with roasted fingerling potatoes over a spinach & parsnip puree.

Cornish Game Hen stuffed with herbs and roasted lemons, with roasted fingerling potatoes over a spinach & parsnip puree.

Our table also ordered the Cornish Game Hen, which was stuffed with roasted lemon and herbs and came with roasted fingerling potatoes and a spinach & parsnip puree. The succulent bird was tender and juicy, with a subtle flavor imparted from the lemon and herbs. The hen was a very nice size and offered enough for an entree and to share morsels with the table. We all enjoyed the roasted potatoes and the flavor of the spinach & parsnisp puree. The bird and accompaniments was quite nice with the wine pairing.

Chocolate Mascarpone Cheesecake, made by Chef Chandler with flavors rotating daily.

Chocolate Mascarpone Cheesecake, made in-house by Chef Chandler. Cheesecake flavors rotating daily.

We ordered both the tiramisu and the the chocolate mascarpone cheesecake. Both were very decadent, but the cheesecake had us each clamoring for the last bite. Chef Chandler makes all of the desserts in-house, himself. He did mention the cheesecake flavors rotate and most always sell out on their busy nights. Word to the wise, ask about dessert when you arrive and reserve your slice before dinner ends.

Looking around the dining room, there is a fresh, red coat of paint, a new backsplash behind the bar area and several ciders and upscale beer taps are now beside the Bud Light and Guinness taps. The HDTV’s have been upgraded and when football season starts up, expect the local Philadelphia Eagles fans to once again descend upon the bar. And this season, Chef Chandler will great them with authentic Philly cheesesteak subs (with choice of provolone OR cheese whiz) and other themed daily specials. With the creative menu and the pocket friendly prices, we’ll be tasting our way through the Bleu 42 menu long before NFL preseason starts.

Check out the Bleu 42 Facebook page for updated specials (Taco Tuesday) with twitter and an email list being added any day. The website lists the full menu and for your use, I’ve included a picture of their new Happy Hour menu which is offered 4pm-6pm and 9pm to close, daily. Bleu 42 offers fountain drinks, unsweeted and sweet tea, beer, cider, wine and a full bar.

Bleu 42 will have a busy calendar of events year round. We received the heads up that soccer fans should enjoy- during the later rounds of World Cup, Bleu 42 will have themed food and drink specials while televising the matches. For those Trivia gurus, Wednesday night trivia will start on May 21st and look for live acoustic music on the weekends starting later this month. Nice to see such enthusiasm and creativity inside and outside of the Bleu 42 menu.

Happy Hour specials 4pm-6pm and 9pm-close, Daily.

Happy Hour specials 4pm-6pm and 9pm-close, daily.

 

Bleu 42 on Urbanspoon

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Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant opens first location in Orlando area. Let the wine flow!

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Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant has broken into the Orlando restaurant market with the first of two operations opening today in the Waterford Lake Town Center. Located next to the Pier One and just steps from the Regal 21, the winery and restaurant boasts two outdoor patios, several indoor dining rooms, a large bar area and separate tasting room which greets guests upon arrival. In addition to over 40 types of Cooper’s Hawk wines onsite, guests have the option of domestic and craft beers, a full cocktail bar and a full lunch and dinner menu available throughout.

Not sure about wine? Try a sampling flight, which will whet your whistle with 8 tastes of Cooper's Hawk wines.

Not sure about wine? Try a sampling flight, which will whet your whistle with 8 tastes of Cooper’s Hawk wines.

Cooper’s Hawk was founded in the Chicago area by Tim McEnry and his wife, Dana. Over the last nine years they’ve grown their love and appreciation of wine into fifteen Cooper’s Hawk Restaurants with four more restaurants opening by the end of 2015. The Orlando area is receiving a second location, which just broke ground last week. Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant on International Drive is slated to open in September 2014, look for more information right here on Taste Cook Sip.

Cooper's Hawk Blanc de Blanc had crisp acidity and was a nice way to start the tasting.

Cooper’s Hawk Blanc de Blanc had crisp acidity and was a nice way to start the tasting.

Upon arriving, guests can partake of a wine tasting while waiting for their table to be ready, or they can choose to spend their time more casually. (Maybe, enjoy a tasting and move to the bar area or shaded patio for bites.) Cooper’s Hawk offers a tasting of the month ($7), a sweet tasting ($7) and a Lux tasting ($12). Each tasting provides the sampler with an opportunity to get a feel for the Cooper’s Hawk wines. Not sure about wine? The friendly staff will give you some nice information to get you going and the helpful tasting sheets provide a nice guideline.

House made truffles, in a variety of flavors. A truffle can be added onto a tasting for $1.

House made truffles, in a variety of flavors. A truffle can be added onto a tasting for $1.

Along with the wine tasting area is a dessert counter. We sampled several truffles and they were very tasty, I particularly enjoyed the Zinfandel truffle, dark chocolate ganache made with Cooper’s Hawk Red Zinfandel wine. All truffles are made by two staff pastry chefs and each month there will be a rotation of some flavors to highlight the season.

Cooper's Hawk Bordeaux Reserve barrel sampling station.

Cooper’s Hawk Bordeaux Reserve barrel sampling station with table side decanters.

On the way to our seats, we passed the Bordeaux Reserve barrel sampling station, this wine is bottled once per year, but available by the glass ($8.75) in the restaurants.

Pinot Noir, with table side decanter.

Pinot Noir, with table side decanter.

Once you are seated, the fun begins. If you order a red wine, be prepared for the table side decanter to arrive. Your server will walk you through using it or you can defer to their expertise. When looking at the large food menu, there are suggested pairings of wines (look for the bin numbers) if you are looking for some guidance with your meal.

Chef Matt's Cheese Tasting ($12.99), a wine friendly selection of cheeses. Available with a wine paring flight for one ($18.99) or two ($24.99).

Chef Matt’s Cheese Tasting ($12.99), a wine friendly selection of cheeses. Available with a wine paring flight for one ($18.99) or two ($24.99).

I love a cheese board and Cooper’s Hawk had a nice representation of cheeses that would work with many wines. I was informed that they will be swapping out the various artisan cheeses, so if you discover a new favorite- be sure to ask your server for all of the delicious cheesy details.

Caprese Flatbread (8.99)

Caprese Flatbread (8.99)

The Flatbreads would be a nice starter to share, the Caprese we sampled was crisp cooked and had several layers of flavors.

The Mexican Drunken Shrimp ($12.99) Large Shrimp wrapped in bacon, served in a Tequila Lime Butter Sauce and with Fresh Guacamole.

The Mexican Drunken Shrimp ($12.99) Large Shrimp wrapped in bacon, served in a Tequila Lime Butter Sauce and with Fresh Guacamole.

Chicken Al Pastor Stuffed Mushrooms ($9.99) Chicken Chorizo, Pepperjack Cheese, Cilantro, Crispy Tortilla Strips and a Chipotle Tomato Sauce.

Chicken Al Pastor Stuffed Mushrooms ($9.99) Chicken Chorizo, Pepperjack Cheese, Cilantro, Crispy Tortilla Strips and a Chipotle Tomato Sauce.

Asian Pork Belly Tostadas  ($8.99) Were a stand out, crispy pork belly coated with Sweet Chili BBQ Sauce won many compliments.

Asian Pork Belly Tostadas ($8.99) Were a stand out, crispy pork belly coated with Sweet Chili BBQ Sauce won many compliments.

A tapas style gathering of appetizers was accompanied nicely with several Cooper's Hawk wines.

A tapas style gathering of appetizers was accompanied nicely with several Cooper’s Hawk wines.

Cooper’s Hawk wine is available to purchase in the lobby. You may purchase by the single bottle or you may be interested in joining one of the Cooper’s Hawk Wine Clubs. Wine Club members accrue rewards points, are invited to private tastings and receive special discounts throughout the lobby store. I look forward to returning again to explore more of the wines and menu items. Check back for review updates and recommendations.

At Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant Orlando Tim Mahler, General Manager, shares a barrel sample of the Cooper’s Hawk Bordeaux Reserve. I thoroughly enjoyed the body and fruit in this wine!

Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: I was a guest at Cooper’s Hawk for a media preview event. No other form of compensation was received and the opinions in this post are my own. Cheers!

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The Coop: A Southern Affair, Offers Refined Southern Comfort Food [Review]

Chicken Tenders N' Waffles

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The Coop: A Southern Affair is the newest fast-casual concept from John Rivers of 4 Rivers Smokehouse. The much anticipated restaurant opened today in Winter Park as planned for lunch service.

Two large, bright dining rooms are filled with large family-style tables. Make new friends and share a table or bring the family down for a home cooked meal that will  keep your kitchen spotless.

Two large, bright dining rooms are filled with large family-style tables. Make new friends and share a table or bring the family down for a home cooked meal that will keep your kitchen spotless.

Upon entering the bright and open main dining room, customers place their orders at the front counter and receive drinks, sides and salad items along with a number. The friendly servers will deliver all of the cooked to order items table-side when ready. The Coop represents southern cooking and charm at it finest. With entrees priced $14.99 and under, including sides, The Coop also offers a great dining value.

The large beverage cooler is stocked with with iced down retro & beloved southern bottled sodas. (Cheerwine was stocked.)

The large beverage cooler is stocked with with iced down retro & beloved southern bottled sodas. (Cheerwine was stocked.)

I had the pleasure of sampling the menu in the weeks prior to opening and I’m happy to report that each item I tasted was delicious. Some menu items are downright, sinfully delicious.

Fried green tomatoes with a tradition cornmeal coating. Seasoned well, a nice nibble to start a meal.

Fried green tomatoes with a tradition cornmeal coating. Seasoned well, a nice nibble to start a meal.

Fried green tomatoes, Pimento cheese or deviled eggs make a great starter and will still leave room for your main and dessert if you share.

Pimento Cheese & Baguette Chips for $4.99 has a nice flavor with or without the bacon topper.

Pimento Cheese & Baguette Chips for $4.99 has a nice flavor with or without the bacon topper.

4 to an order, for $3.99 6 for $5.49 or 12 for $8.99.

4 to an order, for $3.99 6 for $5.49 or 12 for $8.99.

Also under the Nibbles section of the menu, The Coop’s Buffalo wings.  The Buffalo sauce is a southern spin on the classic offering a tangy, sweet heat on the meaty wings. Enjoy with either house-made Blue Cheese or Ranch dressing.

Sweet and spicy sauce is a nice twist to the meaty Buffalo wings. (Order of 6 for $6.99) Ranch or Blue Cheese available.

Sweet and spicy sauce is a nice twist to the meaty Buffalo wings. (Pictured, the small order of 6 for $6.99) Ranch or Blue Cheese available.

After the starters, choose from southern classics of Chicken N’ Dumplings, Smothered Pork Chops, Fried Catfish, Low Country Shrimp & Grits or get ready to tackle some delicious fried chicken. The chicken dinners are offered by the piece or you can order for a crowd in the larger family meal or buckets.

Chicken N' Biscuits, with Maple Bourbon Glaze and house pickles.

Chicken N’ Biscuits, with Maple Bourbon Glaze and house pickles.

The fried chicken is juicy and delicious, the savory coating is crunchy and well seasoned on my 2 initial visits. I hope that The Coop plans on selling this perfectly seasoned flour for our use at home. Boneless fried chicken breasts are tender and flavorful; the star of the Chicken N’ Biscuits and Chicken N’ Waffles.

Chicken Tenders N' Waffles

Chicken  N’ Waffles ($9.99)  and Organic Whole Roasted Chicken ($13.99)

I chatted with guests at the next table, who fully enjoyed their shrimp and grits and the substantial chicken and waffles. The Maple Bourbon Glaze will have you licking your fingers, and your plate, clean! So will the pictures and review posted by Veronica at Crave Central on HypeOrlando.com, check it out here.

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The New Orleans Po Boy, pictured with Oysters $12.99

I enjoyed the The New Orleans Po Boy with Oysters, a hearty sandwich filled with plump, fried oysters. The Creole mustard sauce is the perfect finish to this sandwich. The New Orleans Po Boy is a available with Shrimp, Catfish or Fried Green Tomato.

The Fried Green Tomato Po Boy, with Fried Green Tomatoes, fried shrimp and oysters.

The Fried Green Tomato Po Boy, with Fried Green Tomatoes, fried shrimp and oysters.

Grilled meatloaf melt -$9.99

Grilled meatloaf melt -$9.99

My guest ordered the Grilled Meatloaf Melt sandwich, a thick slab of Mom’s Meatloaf topped with thick cut bacon, melted cheese, BBQ sauce and served on Texas Toast. The meatloaf was juicy and well seasoned, we’ll be back for the full dinner portion of Mom’s Meatloaf very soon.

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Skillet Cornbread, Mac & 3 Cheese, Fried Okra, Southern Collards, Creamed Corn, Stewed Okra & Tomato

The sides are plentiful and a nice portion to share if you want to try more than one. On the menu you’ll note that “Plenty” is 2 sides and “Generous” is 3 sides and a cornbread. Macaroni and cheese is made with 3 cheeses and you can taste the cheesy goodness in each bite. The buttery crumb topping is a nice accent and I would be happy to enjoy this delicious side for an entree. The Skillet Cornbread is buttery, with a delicate crumb and a hint of sweetness- so good. Fried okra is cut into bite sized pieces and crisp-cooked, not one mushy bite in my serving. Collards are nicely cooked and seasoned, light on the vinegar. The creamed corn is a stand out; the creamy side is filled with plump, sweet corn and not pulverized kernels. Stewed Okra & Tomato packs a savory zing. The rest of the Fixins selections include Smashed Potatoes, French fries, Squash Casserole, Hoppin’ John, Anson Mills Creamy Grits and more. So much more!

Hand pies in seasonal offerings are easy to grab and go, or enjoy after your meal.

Hand pies in seasonal offerings are easy to grab and go, or enjoy after your meal.

Try to save room for dessert, as there are many choices in the Sweetie Pie case. Moon pies, banana pudding, hand pies and mini desserts are all portable and make a nice treat at home if you are too stuffed from dining in. Cinnamon roll bread pudding is a revelation. Read more about the desserts and get John Rivers Banana Pudding recipe over at TasteCookSip on HypeOrlando.com

Moon Pies are available in an assortment of flavors.  3 for $3.99 Pictured: one Peanut butter moon pie.

Moon Pies are available in an assortment of flavors. 3 for $3.99 Pictured: one Peanut butter moon pie.

Pie Shots, in seasonal Blueberry and Mississippi Mud $2.25 each

Pie Shots, in seasonal Blueberry and Mississippi Mud $2.25 each. The Chocolatey Mississippi Mud is rich and satisfying. Practically guilt-free in this petite portion size!

Be sure to request your Coop Troupe card at check out, a free rewards card which entitles you to various goodies as you dine and a surprise on your birthday. Like 4 Rivers, The Coop offers takeout and catering. If you drive by and the grand opening lines are too long, consider getting takeout! Our service inside was very friendly and we saw some familiar faces (staff from 4R Winter Park) who were happy to share some of their personal favorites.

It will take several more visits to figure out our menu favorites, so we relate to guests checking out The Coop for the first time. Check back here for updates, as we continue to taste through the expansive Coop menu.

The Coop on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: I was a guest in connection with media preview tastings. No other form of compensation was received and the opinions in this post are my own. Return visits from grand opening on, were on me. Cheers!

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Review: Purple Orchid Cafe Thai Food & Grocery

Purple Orchid Cafe is tucked in a shopping center off near the 417 and Colonial Drive in East Orlando.

Purple Orchid Cafe is tucked in a shopping center off near the 417 and Colonial Drive in East Orlando.

If you are active on Twitter, maybe you’ve seen a few messages bounce back and forth between Ricky from TastyChomps, myself and others on various places around town to grab a bite. After reading more than once about Purple Orchid Cafe, I had to put in on the “to try” list. I’m glad that I did! The small restaurant is pretty spartan in the way of decor, but packs a lot of personality in the kitchen and genuine hospitality from the friendly owner, Nisa Fanou, behind the counter. The menu offers a comprehensive selection of authentic Thai appetizers, salads, fried rice, main dishes and noodles.

When I visit a new restaurant for the first time, I like to order a familiar dish and a specialty dish if I’m with a guest. Why? This helps me gauge their style of cooking and get a baseline for how the kitchen operates. For example, when I ordered Pad Thai and requested it to be medium spicy, Nisa let me know that Purple Orchid cooks their Pad Thai one way and brings a spicy condiment tray to the table for guests to season to taste. We asked about the Pha-Ram and what protein she would recommend; she steered us to the pork or chicken.

The Purple Orchid kitchen has no problem kicking up the heat. Take note on the menu if the dish is spicy and if you are a person who likes spicy foods, ordering here “medium – hot” may be fine for you. “Thai hot” is, well, HOT.

Traditional Pad Thai, slightly  tart with faint head. Palm sugar and Tamarind give this dish its signature flavor.

Traditional Pad Thai, slightly tart with faint head. Palm sugar and Tamarind give this dish its signature flavor.

My guest and I ordered the Pad Thai with Tofu, which had great flavor and was a healthy dinner portion with lots of pan fried tofu chunks throughout. The signature tartness from the tamarind was present and the sauce finished with a faint heat. I added some of the accompanying ground chilies for more kick and found the balance I was looking for to counteract any sweetness. The noodles were cooked well and there was a great sauce-to-noodle ratio. I’d happily order again.

Pha-Ram, pictured with chicken. Guests can choose from chicken, pork or beef and level of spice.

Pha-Ram, pictured with chicken. Guests can choose from pork or beef and level of spicy heat.

We moved on to the Pha-Ram, a peanutty stir fry of the protein of your choice, served over vegetables and with a side of steamed rice. We opted for the chicken, which was all white meat and very tender. The peanut sauce was savory with little heat, as ordered. There was a nice mix of crisp-cooked fresh vegetables under the chicken, nothing was mushy or overdone.

Panang Curry, Tofu. Ordered spicy. Spicy heat was felt throughout this dish.

Panang Curry, Tofu. Ordered spicy. Spicy heat was felt throughout this dish.

We finished with the Panang Curry with Tofu, spicy, another favorite. The coconut milk curry had nice body and finished with great heat. The vegetables were cooked well and there was a filling amount of tofu included. The dish was served with rice, which almost soaked up all of the delicious curry sauce by the end of the meal. Each dish was under $10 as ordered; the prices were very reasonable and a great value for dinner.

There was a steady stream of diners in the small restaurant and take out orders regularly being taken over the phone. Nisa checked on us regularly throughout our meal and when I asked if they had the ground chilies in the small grocery section by the register, she walked me over to where I could pick up a sizable pouch. ($2.00) Again, a very friendly atmosphere that had me feeling like my grandma or aunt was checking in on me- I would not hesitate to eat anything Nisa suggested. I’m already looking forward to my next lunch or dinner visit to Purple Orchid Cafe.

Purple Orchid Café & Thai Food Grocery on Urbanspoon

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Midnight Chocolate Cupcakes


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My friend Lauren at In The Spotlight on HypeOrlando.com finished reading the first book in the Divergent series with an intense craving for Chocolate cake. Lauren asked me to share one of my favorite Chocolate Cake recipes in her post here. Because it’s spring and strawberries are in season, I decided to adapt a delicious cupcake recipe to allow for some options. It comes together easily and can be made into a fancy one layer cake or doubled for a more rustic two layer cake.

Chocolate cupcakes can range in taste and texture. I fell in love with these chocolate cupcakes at Midnight Blue, a great downtown Orlando eatery that is no more. Sour cream is the secret weapon; the cake is moist and chocolatey, while being so light and airy. The owner and chef were kind enough to share their recipe with me and I’ve tweaked it over the years. The recipe below makes 12 generous cupcakes or one layer cake.

While complete enough to stand on it’s own, think about adding fresh strawberries or raspberries to balance out the chocolate. The cupcakes are delicious when paired with a sparkling wine. While these cupcakes are a great finish to dinner, they make a wonderful ending to brunch, afternoon tea or a bridal shower.

Midnight Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted by Lisa Wilk of TasteCookSip.com

Cupcakes
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp instant espresso granules
1/3 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup low fat sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins or cake pan with parchment. In a large bowl, beat brown sugar, sugar, cocoa, oil, eggs, milk and vanilla. In another bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and baking soda. Stir the dry ingredients into the cocoa mixture in batches, alternating with the sour cream, and mix until just combined.

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Sifting ingredients ensures a clump free batter. be sure to scrape down your bowl during mixing so ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

Pour the mixture in paper lined cupcake tins or 9″ cake pan.  If making cupcakes, bake for 20 minutes or until tester comes out clean. If making cake, bake for 30 minutes or until tester comes out clean. (Recipe should be doubled to make 2 layer cake, as pictured below.)

Chocolate Sour Cream Icing
1 cup low fat sour cream
2 cups confectioners sugar
3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
3 Tbsp semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a microwavable bowl, heat chocolate on high for about 30 seconds. Stir until smooth. In a mixer, beat south cream, confectioners sugar, cocoa and melted chocolate together until the mixture is smooth. Pour over the top of the cupcake. Chill prior to serving.

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To frost as a cake, you’ve got options!

If you’ve made one layer cake,  place on cake plate and top with the chocolate sour cream icing and then berries. Pour any remaining icing into a decorative dish to serve on the side or use as a dip for fresh berries the next day.

If you’ve made two layer cakes, you’ll need a layer of thicker frosting for the middle. Whip 2 cups of  whipped cream until stiff. (Or place 1 container of non dairy whipped topping in bowl.) Gently fold in 1 cup of  chocolate sour cream icing until fully incorporated. Frost cake layers and pour on remaining chocolate sour cream icing just prior to serving.

For added decoration to cake or cupcakes, melt 1 cup of chocolate chips on the stove-top over low heat, with 3/4 cup of heavy whipping cream, stir constantly until melted. Drizzle the chocolate sauce over the icing.

Store cake in refrigerator prior to serving.

Based on cupcake recipe from Midnight Blue restaurant,  from Vanda Hongsranont and Chef Devon.

Recipe yields 1 9″ layer cake or 12 cupcakes

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4 Rivers Smokehouse opens UCF location, The Coop coming soon.

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John Rivers opened his sixth 4 Rivers Smokehouse location today at 11764 University Boulevard, Orlando, FL near the UCF campus. Crowds of enthusiastic barbecue fans lined up starting at 6 AM today in anticipation of the lunchtime opening. 

“I am overwhelmed by the number of messages and sheer enthusiasm we’ve received from the East Orlando community,” said Rivers. “I’ve never seen such a high level of responses from a new location announcement, and am very excited about serving our good friends on the East side of town.”

Rivers has been very busy, as he is also planning and promoting the opening of much anticipated The Coop| A Southern Affair in Winter Park. That menu focuses on southern specialties, to include fried chicken, shrimp & grits, meatloaf and chicken & waffles. I’ve had the pleasure of previewing some of the food and it is delicious.

Scott Joseph is hosting his popular Supper Club event at the new 4 Rivers test kitchen this Friday, April 4th and the menu will be selections from The Coop. This event is sold out, however, Scott hosts the Supper Club dinners regularly.  Be sure to join his email list for the first chance at tickets to his next dinner and a first glimpse at what is happening in Orlando restaurants.

4 Rivers East Orlando Restaurant
11764 University Blvd.
Orlando, FL 32817
Smokehouse Hours:
Mon-Thurs: 11am to 8pm
Fri-Sat: 11am to 9pm
Phone: 1-855-368-7748

Coming Soon:
The Coop | A Southern Affair
610 West Morse Blvd.
Winter Park, FL 32789
Phone: 407-THE-COOP

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