July 20, 2014

Weekend in Orlando

I spent a fun weekend in Orlando attending the 2nd annual Food &Wine Conference and checking out Universal for the first time.  This was my third food blogging conference this year and it was well worth attending.

My favorite aspect of the conference was how well-run it was, with each presentation starting and ending exactly on time.  Oh and there wasn't a hallway full of sponsors like the last two conferences I attended, which can be very distracting.

I hadn't heard of any of the speakers ahead of time, but they turned out to all be interesting, funny and very knowledgeable about their topics which ranged from social media to SEO recipes to how to brand yourself.  Some of my favorites were Coryanne EtienneLora Amato and Erika Kerekes who created a cool product called Not Ketchup.

Food & Wine Conference

The conference was held at Rosen Shingle Creek, a massive resort that was ideal for the event.  It's a great place to stay in Orlando and it would be perfect for people flying in because everything you could possibly need is at the resort but for us it was too big.

It was annoying hauling our luggage from the parking lot big enough for Rosen's 1,500 guests, and even more annoying when we realized our wine opener was still in the car.  It seriously took 30 minutes to fetch it from the parking lot.  That being said, I would like to attend next year and it's so convenient to stay at the conference venue that I will likely stay at Rosen again.

I took the photo below from our 6th floor room which overlooked three out of the four pools as well as the golf course.  The area was beautiful and I wish we would have had time to check out the pools.

Having only one car now meant Chris could come to the conference with me or stay home car-less.  He choose Orlando, so I decided to split my time between the conference and Universal, which was just down the road from the conference.  After experiencing sticker-shock at Universal's ticket prices ($96 per day), we decided Florida resident annual passes were in our best interest.

I had read reviews on TripAdvisor warning not to visit in the summer and definitely not on a weekend due to the heat and crowds, but we figured we'd just go for a few hours and it couldn't be that bad.  We were wrong.  After only 3 hours we were exhausted and ready to leave.  However, we're still glad we bought the annual passes and are looking forward to our next trip to Universal in September when I attend the Florida Blog Conference, FLBlogCon, in Orlando.

This time we checked out just one of Universal's two theme parks, starting with Islands of Adventure, which has the older Harry Potter area (the new area in Universal Studios opened this month and is INSANE, as in 6-hour wait times for rides).  We loved visiting Hogsmeade and I think it would made a trip to Universal worthwhile for any Harry Potter fan because while we've seen a few of the movies I wouldn't say we're fans.

Universal Islands of Adventure - Hogsmeade

I'm back home for just a couple days because I'm heading to Wisconsin again for another work trip.  The timing worked out very well because my brother, his wife and their daughter will be visiting from Seattle at the same time and I'll also be able to meetup with my favorite Milwaukee food bloggers who are dining at Lazy Susan this week.

July 17, 2014

Watermelon Margaritas

We're just one week away from National Tequila Day on July 24th and I recommend celebrating with watermelon margaritas!  I was excited when asked to create a recipe using Casa Noble Tequila, so much so that I bought their Tequila Blanco ahead of time to get a jump start before receiving their Tequila Reposado in the mail.

I've slowly been stepping up my tequila game, starting with Jose Cuervo (which now makes me shudder), then 1800 and now Casa Noble.  I paid $41 for Casa Noble Tequila Blanco and found that it is well worth the price.  Even The New York Times' Tasting Report agrees that this is a phenomenal tequila.

Another interesting article comes from The Washington Post about orange liqueurs and the importance of splurging on Cointreau.  Here's the thing, an expensive bottle of Cointreau isn't needed to make these margaritas.  You need one mini bottle (50 ml) to make 4 cocktails, which costs about 2 bucks.  So you'll have plenty of money left to purchase some quality tequila!

I tried both Tequila Reposado and Tequila Blanco with this watermelon margarita recipe.  I typically prefer reposado for margaritas, but in this case I would definitely recommend both, which each have a hint of citrus that pairs well with orange liqueur.

I am not a fan of salt rimmed margarita glasses but Chris is, so I made pink salt for him :)  I recommend using a resealable plastic bag to mix coarse salt and food coloring, if you would like colored salt on the rim of your cocktail glass too.  Just dip the rim in a little lime juice before adding the salt.

After seeing cute watermelon margarita popsicles on Pinterest I knew I needed to try making them with a modified version of this cocktail recipe.  I liked the idea of using Dixie Cups instead of molds because tearing paper off seemed a heck of a lot easier than the tricky business of unmolding popsicles without melting them.

The final result is really cute but the shape is a little strange for eating.  I definitely prefer the shape produced by my popsicle molds, however after three attempts of using my molds I gave up.  I cannot explain why the recipe froze so well in Dixie Cups but was a slushy mess each time in the popsicle molds.

So the popsicle recipe became a watermelon margarita sorbet recipe!  The sorbet is only slightly spiked to allow it to freeze better, so if you want a boozy treat I recommend adding a touch more tequila before serving it.  It is currently really hot and humid here in Miami, so this sorbet was a great dessert to enjoy while sweating sitting on our balcony.

I recently bought new cocktail glasses via Amazon and I'm really happy with the Bormioli glasses you see pictured.  I love both the look and feel of them, and at 8 1/2-ounces, they're the perfect size for cocktails.

Disclaimer: I received Casa Noble's Reposado Tequila to review for this post, along with a Whole Foods gift card to create a cocktail recipe for #TequilaDay.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Ingredients (4 cocktails)

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 orange
  • 2 cups chopped seedless watermelon
  • 3/4 cup Casa Noble Tequila
  • 1/4 cup Cointreau (I use a 50 ml bottle)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice (from 3 limes)
  • garnishes such as lime wedges or slices of watermelon
  • To make orange zest simple syrup, combine the sugar, water and 3 strips (about 1-inch each) of orange zest (cut with a vegetable peeler) in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat , stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Let cool to room temperature, then remove orange peel and transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid. You'll have about 3/4 cup simple syrup and it will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.
  • In a blender, puree watermelon until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding solids and foam, into a pitcher. You should have about 8 oz (1 cup) of watermelon juice.
  • Then stir in 6 oz (3/4 cup) tequila and 2 oz (1/4 cup) each of simple syrup, Cointreau and lime juice.   Pour into ice-filled cocktail glasses, garnished with lime wedges and/or small watermelon slices, if desired.
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July 15, 2014

Pitas with Hummus, Radishes, Spinach & Feta

I'm on a pita lunch kick this summer because it's easy to vary pita fillings and they make a quick weekday lunch option.  The idea for a radish and hummus filling came from The Live-In Kitchen and I'm so glad Lindsay suggested the combination because it's a great one!

Slicing small items, like radishes, on my mandoline makes me nervous despite the hand guard so I pulled out the slicing disc for my food processor and was impressed with how quickly and easily it produced thinly sliced radishes.

I was happy to find pitas included in my big box of free items from Stonefire because I have a hard time finding pitas that aren't dry, which causes them to crack when being filled and they don't taste very good.  The Stonefire pitas I received were very soft, easy to fill and better tasting than any pitas I've tried before.  I only wish I could get a regular shipment of them.

For this filling combination, I chose my favorite type of hummus (Sabra roasted red pepper), along with arugula, spinach, radishes and feta cheese.  I thought the arugula and radishes together might be a bit too peppery but they were surprisingly good together.

I would love to hear suggestions for more pita filling combinations!  What's your favorite?  My other go-to pita lunch this summer has been the edamame pesto, feta & chickpea combo.