Monday, November 28, 2011

Delicious Fun with Gingy at Gaylord Palms

Gaylord Palms Resort is an oasis in the midst of busy Orlando. Stroll along with serpentine paths lined with giant ferns, Cabbage Palms, and verdant greenery and you're walking in a botanical garden, the Louisiana bayou or an island paradise. Orchids, waterfalls, streams-- even a lake with a boat fit inside the hotel atrium. The behemoth structure seems like a biosphere. Why, one could live within the confines for days and never need to go outside.  
Waterfall inside Gaylord Palms Resort

 By Thanksgiving, the resort adds holiday sparkle-- twinkling lights, bows and thousands of poinsettia plants intermingled with the foliage.   The expanse is gorgeous and the gigantic tree simply stunning. 


To further help Floridians and vacationers ignore the 80 degree temperatures and slip into the holiday spirit, Gaylord Palms presents ICE. Visitors meander through a frozen village built in the Gaylord  Convention Center that's kept around 12 degrees. Ice carvers from Harbin, China were brought in to create the magic structures and statues which resemble detailed wax museum figures. This year the theme is Shrek the Halls and it is sooooo cooool !!! 

With Shrek and Donkey in ICE.

After exiting ICE (which means your hands are numb even though you're wearing gloves) sit down and test your decorating skills with Gingy- the gingerbread man made famous in the Shrek movies. Pick a gingerbread house, a gingerbread family or a  gingerbread cottage ornament kit which come with all the candy, icing and accessories needed.  

Working on gingerbread houses.

My friend Chris, her two daughters and I tried to creatively apply gum drops, candy canes, dots and sprinkles to our houses-- laughing all the way. We indulged ourselves in the sticky and delicious fun. I admit I had an edge as I've decorated gingerbread before, but we all had a sweet time together.  

Gingy was proud of our final creations.

The best part--they clean-up your mess!  So, run, run as fast as you can and catch the Gingy- man

Christmas at Gaylord Palms Kissimmee, Florida  

ICE and other activities are open 'til Monday, January 2, 2012 

Visit the website for hours, tickets and special packages. 

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Georgia Peaches, Pecans and Olive Oil: Oh my!

Georgia Olive Oil

Georgia is known as the Peach State for valid reason. Those delicious fleshy orbs of rosy nectar are truly fit for kings. Give me a fresh Georgia peach pie and I need nothing more- I'll eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

My next most favorite pie is pecan; I know- a dieter's worst nightmare.  But, the crunch of a roasted pecans suspended in congealed syrup brings sweetness to the lips and resplendent dreams of holidays past.  Can't resist that pie either.

However, Georgia olive oil?  Who ever heard of such a thing? I certainly hadn't until I attended a Southern Culinary Traditions press trip offered by Leigh Court at the lovely King and Prince Resort on St. Simons Island.

I first learned about the fascinating history of olives in Georgia (and other colonial cities) from Dr. Mark Hanley of Georgia Olive Growers.  Did you know the first olive trees might have been planted in Charleston as far back as 1670?  The British settlers arriving in 1736 found olive groves near St. Simons Island lighthouse. And, Thomas Jefferson arranged a shipment of over 500 olive trees in 1791.

Dr. Mark Hanley

Jason Shaw of Georgia Olive Farms in Lakeland, Georgia, then spoke about his 20-acre farm, planted with 600 trees per acre, a super high-density technique. This past September he recorded the monumental first commercial olive harvest east of the Mississippi since the late 1800′s. He claimed the groves are a work in progress, but the production seems to be off to a great start. 

For me, the highlight was tasting the golden green oil - extra virgin cold pressed Arbequina premium to be exact.  It coated my tongue with reckless abandon; the taste was clear, crisp and very buttery.

Tasting Georgia olive oil
The oil may not be on the market yet, but keep your eyes open.  Georgia is producing a serious bounty of home grown products, enough to make passionate locavores move to the state. 

Forget investing in the crude fields of Texas or Louisiana, why there's gold in the fields of Georgia.
Georgia Olive Groves

Read this and other food blog articles posted on Wanderfood Wednesdays.

Thanks to Georgia Olive Growers for the above photo.  Credit goes to Ralf Roletschek for the photo of the peaches and  Quinn Dombrowski for the pecan pie photo- both from Wikimedia Commons.   

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sing for Your Supper at the Aria Hotel, Prague

Coda Restaurant- A Restaurant Review


Anyone who knows me would never let me sing for my supper. I'm so off key, I'd be lucky to get scraps.  Fortunately, I didn't have to even hum a tune at the musical themed Aria Hotel in Prague. Instead, I was treated to a symphonic lunch of the finest Czech food in Aria's Coda Restaurant. This meal was certainly one of the high notes on my trip to the Czech Republic.

The Aria, a five-star boutique hotel with 51 rooms, is tucked into the historic area known as the Lesser Quarter, close to the Charles Bridge and just down the hill from Prague Castle.  The property adjoins the Vrtbovská  Gardens, Prague's oldest Baroque gardens and a UNESCO World Heritage site. These formal gardens (frequently missed by tourists) are stunning and a real treat for hotel guests who enjoy an exclusive entrance.

Had the weather cooperated, I would have dined at Coda's 360-degree rooftop terrace overlooking the Old Town, churches and river. Instead, I was seated in the enchanting art-deco restaurant that sustains a musical theme down to the plates. They are imprinted with caricatures of famous musicians.

My prelude was a creamy mushroom soup or “Kulajda“Soup that was made from wild forest mushrooms, dill, cream and poached egg. A few croutons were sprinkled on top to contrast the velvety smoothness. 

My entree was roast duck, a Czech staple known as “Vodňany“ Duck.  Chef David Šašek cooked the poultry to perfection--crispy on the outside and fork tender on the inside.  The duck was harmonized by sauerkraut and potato dumplings, a Bohemian specialty, and tasted like an Old World grandmother's homemade comfort food. Each bite yielding a mouth fulfilling pleasure.  
Chef David Sasek

Although my duck was roasted, Chef Sasek is known for using the French method of 'Sous-vide', a water technique that results in making meat so tender it almost needs no chewing.

Dessert featured gorgeous ruby strawberries that were drenched into aged balsamic vinegar and topped with Chantilly cream. The blend between the sweetness of the berries and the vinegar's pungency was melodious.

For an encore (had I been a hotel guest) I could have basked in the music library of over a 1,000 CD's or listened back to my room.  The Aria has a virtuoso feel, a mixture of classical, opera, jazz and contemporary touches. One could truly escape here, close to the best features of stunningly different Prague.

Read this and other food blog articles posted on Wanderfood Wednesdays.

If you go:
Aria Hotel
Aria Hotel - View from the Mozart Suite
Triese 9
118 00 Prague

Thursday, November 3, 2011

La Truffle Sauvage Wine Dinner: Lake Charles, LA

Restaurant Review
La Truffle Sauvage, Lake Charles, LA

I arrived at a driveway leading to what looked like an upscale brick home and stepped inside to find a restaurant glowing in candlelight. The tables were covered in fine white cloths with centerpieces of slim breadsticks surrounded by low votives.  This was La Truffle Savage Restaurant in Lake Charles, co-owned by Chef Mohamed Chettouh and Arthur Durham.
A banquet table had been set aside with hundreds of wine glasses and the popping of
champagne corks filled the air. Soon a waiter arrived with a tray of the bubbly.
How lovely, I thought; I'm very fortunate to attend this gourmet wine dinner.

Hors d’Oeurves
Copper River smoked salmon, Yukon Gold potato blini
Black Mission fig, Proscuitto di Parma
beef pailliard en crostini
N.V. Lallier, Brut, Grand Reserve, Grand Cru 

I was seated at a table for eight and Jared Cocke, a fine wine specialist was introduced.  He began by speaking about the French champagne we were sipping.  He explained that it came from Lallier, France; was a dry brut, grand reserve, and grand cru from a vineyard known for its chalky white soil. The clear taste was a perfect accompaniment to the hors d'oeurves of smoked salmon, potato blinis with fig and crostini topped with Prosciutto cheese over a slice of beef.

1st Course
Pan Seared Natural Sea Scallop in the Shell
sauté spinach, sweet vermouth sauce
2008 Chablis, Domaine William Fevre, Bougros, Côte Bougerots, Grand Cru

The first course served was a jumbo sized scallop, seared to perfection so it was brown on the outside and still moist and tender on the inside.  The 2008 Chablis, another grand cru, came from a 25-acre vineyard using 100-percent chardonnay grapes. The flavor was crisp, vibrant and clean.  

2nd Course
Morel Mushroom Risotto
shaved White Alba truffle, Pecorino cheese, truffle oil
2001 Michele Chiarlo, Barolo, Riserva, Triumviratum

The next dish was a mixture of tantalizing morel mushroom risotto covered with shavings of white ruffle and Pecorino cheese, and a drizzle of truffle oil.  I could have ended my dinner here; this serving was delicious enough for the entire meal. The creamy kernels were accompanied by a classic pairing: a 2001 Michele Chiarlo, Barolo Riserva, Triumvaratum- a rare wine (that means expensive!) and blend of three vineyards, aged for 10 years.

3rd Course
Pheasant Breast stuffed with Leek & Fennel
ginger parsnip, carrot, zucchini and natural jus
2008 Chambertin, Domaine Louis Jadot, Clos-de-Beze, Grand Cru

This course consisted of a pheasant breast stuffed with leek and fennel and partnered with  parsnip, carrot, zucchini and natural jus. My table had a wonderful discussion on the joys of parsnips- a vegetable none of us had ever tasted growing up. The pheasant roll looked like a complex preparation, tasted non-gamey- more like a chicken thigh and was paired with an exceptional 2008 Chambertin, Jadot, Clos-de-Beze, grand cru.  Apparently only 1884 bottles were made from Pinot Noir grapes that were concentrated and aged.  The wine expert said it had great weight on the palate. My opinion- joyous.

4th Course
Tomato Tartare, Warm Goat Cheese, Kalamata Olive Tappenade
basil & lemon oil
2010 Chateau D’Agueria, Tavel, Rosé

I was getting quite full and thought this would be the course to skip. But happily, I did not, as the flavor combinations were some of the best I have ever tasted. I bite into a scrumptious mound of  tomato tartare with warm goat cheese and a crispy bread slice with dollop of Kalamata olive tapenade. The tomato was tangy,  powerfully vibrant and downright zestful. Just thinking about it, makes me wish I could taste it again. I  sipped pink and sweet yet spicy 2010, Chateau D'Aqueria Rosé.  Bravo.

5th Course
Roasted Lamb Loin
Pomme Anna, braised artichoke heart, asparagus, Bordelaise sauce
2007 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, SLV
The fifth course or main entree arrived as three slices of roasted lamb loin with sides of Potatoes Anna, braised artichoke heart, asparagus and a Bordelaise sauce.  The meat glistened a lovely garnet color and boasted a salt and pepper crust. It simply melted in your mouth.  This exquisite preparation seemed unworldly. The 2007 Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, SLV, the only wine I was familiar with, blossomed full bodied and the vintage was a great year.  Even I could perceive the cherry notes and loved the aftertaste

6th Course
Warm Peach Tart, Nectarine Gelato
star anise crème anglaise
2006 Gunderloch, Nackenheim Rothenberg, Riesling, Auslese

Dessert came as a colorful plate - slices of peach tart with a dollop of crème anglaise, nectarine gelato
and raspberry accents.  What a light and mildly sweet ending to the decadent meal. Along with it, I lingered on the German Riesling dessert wine with sweet and floral notes.

And if that wasn't quite enough, a dish of fine chocolate truffles appeared to bid us adieu.
Truffles from start to finish--at La Truffle Savage!

Lake Charles is fortunate to have La Truffle Savage and the extraordinary talents of the co-owner/chefs. They insist the restaurant maintain the highest standards and certainly proved themselves with this amazing wine dinner. I would happily return and highly recommend it if you visit Southwest Louisiana.

The evening was a preliminary event of the Lake Charles Rouge et Blanc Wine and Food Festival.
Wow, more wine--I could hardly wait.

Read this and other food blog articles posted on Wanderfood Wednesdays.
La Truffle Sauvage
815 West Bayou Pines Drive
 Lake Charles, LA 70601-7076
Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau