the food blog forum orlando, disney edition

If you told me that one day I would be pushing a candy-apple red KitchenAid Stand Mixer in a stroller around Epcot on St. Patrick’s Day, I would probably think you’ve had one too many green beers. And, if you told me that I would be pushing that mixer-filled baby stroller alongside a French-speaking, macaron-baking, Australian-born Canadian carrying a basket of chocolates, I would immediately know that you’ve not only been drinking but that you’ve also forgotten to take your antipsychotic medications.

But, it happened. It really did.

why, yes, i did win that mixer. yay, me!

I spent the weekend in Orlando for the second annual Food Blog Forum held in that city, but the very first one held at Walt Disney World. Disney was one of the sponsors and the host of the conference, and the hospitality shown to our group was really incredible. From the hotel rooms at the Polynesian (my son’s favorite Disney hotel), to the food served over the course of the two day conference, to the the complimentary park passes for the attendees and our family members, Disney did everything right.

Disney always does everything right. It’s their way.

While winning the mixer was a nice bonus of the trip, I was there to soak up knowledge and to have fun in the process.

Lessons abound at food blogging conferences, both inside the session rooms and outside them. Though I was doubtful whether I would walk away with any earth-shattering wisdom, I had a wonderful time and managed to gain tidbits of information along the way.

From Diane and Todd, the White on Rice Couple, we were taught that photography should be about storytelling. That is such a simple, common sense idea, but it’s one that gets lost amidst the props and pretty plates. I am quite grateful to Todd for teaching me so much about Lightroom, organizing my digital photos, and shooting in Raw versus JPEG. That brief round table session was very high yield. And aside from the photography genius, I discovered that Diane and Todd are a beautiful couple, on the inside and out – inspirational and passionate about life.

I learned from Dawn Viola’s session that she’s even more amazing than I first thought. She has such a passion and energy for life that I wish I could bottle it and add a few drops to my coffee each morning. I absorbed every tidbit of writing advice that David Leite offered to us. When his two sessions were over, I was left wishing I could pack him up, take him home with me, and force him to sit by my side while I write. Jennie’s and Kelly’s round table session on food writing was simply too short. I could talk to them for hours, especially since it’s the writing that has me so jazzed lately.

The highlight of Food Blog Forum Orlando wasn’t the swag bag of goodies or the page of notes that I took from the sessions. It wasn’t even the green beer that Mardi and I sneaked out to get after lunch, though that was pretty darn great at the moment. The best part of the conference was the coming together of friends and strangers to partake in a two-day event to celebrate food, to celebrate feeding others – whether with a fork, through the written word, or through the beauty of a photograph.

We honored the act of nourishing others, and I can’t think of anything better than that.

 

 * The top photo was taken by Aggie. Thanks for capturing the hilarity of the moment for me, Aggie.

 

I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately. I’m torturing myself with homemade cakes.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been revamping my eating habits. I’m eating healthier, and I’m eating smaller portions. Along with the changes in my diet, I’ve started running again. Well, a bit more walking than running, but I’m following a training program, and I know that soon there will be more running than walking.

chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting | the merry gourmet

After I had my daughter, I was heavier than I’d ever been. I joined Weight Watchers, even attended meetings, and managed to lose 45 pounds. I finally liked how I look in the mirror, but more importantly, I felt in control of my health and my life for the first time ever.

While I was losing that weight, I kept a bowl of candy – chocolates, my favorite sweet – on my desk. I might have one piece, but more often than not, I completely resisted. Looking back, I believe I put those chocolates there as a challenge to my willpower. A small daily test. As each day passed that I ignored that candy bowl, I felt more strong and empowered.

chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting | the merry gourmet

I’ve slid backwards these last five years, since having my second child, my son. Sure, initially my clothes weren’t fitting well because of baby weight, but after a year had passed, my only excuse was that I overindulged too often and regularly. Exercise was not a priority, and I sacrificed that part of my life for other things — work, spending time with the kids, cooking or blogging even. I’m an expert at finding excuses not to exercise.

I’m revamping my lifestyle now, and I feel great about it. I’m ready for change. More importantly, I’m ready to wear smaller pants.

So, I baked another cake (remember the lemon one last week?) this weekend. Maybe I’m testing myself again, just like I did with those chocolates that sat on my desk, begging to be eaten. I’m proving to myself that I can do this, that I am stronger than the call of desserts. Even chocolate desserts.

After eating one small piece of this beauty, I won’t have any more. The rest will be shared with family and friends.

And tomorrow, I run.

chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting | the merry gourmet

Yield: 10 servings

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Rich chocolate cake slathered in creamy vanilla buttercream. What could be better? Serve this cake for your sweetie's birthday and you'll earn yourself lots of hugs and kisses.

Ingredients:

For Cake:
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao), chopped
3/4 cup cocoa powder (Dutch process is preferred)
1 cup boiling water
1-3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, room temperature
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For Frosting:
4-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
4-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
4 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

To Prepare Cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper, then butter the parchment. Lightly dust the pans with flour, shaking out the excess. Set aside.

Combine the chopped chocolate and cocoa powder in a small bowl. Add the cup of boiling water and whisk until chocolate is melted and smooth. Set aside.

On low speed in the bowl of an electric stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until combined. In another bowl, stir together the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients. With the mixer still on low, add the melted chocolate mixture, stirring until just combined, using a rubber spatula to scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

Pour the batter into the cake pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cakes in their pans on a rack for 30 minutes, then invert them onto the cooling rack to cool to room temperature. Note: Cakes may be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap at this point and refrigerated until ready to use.

To Prepare Frosting:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter on medium-high speed until smooth, about 60 seconds. Reduce speed to medium low and slowly add confectioners' sugar. Beat until smooth, about 3 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together salt, cream, and vanilla; stir until salt is dissolved. Add cream mixture to butter mixture, increase mixer speed to medium-high, and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Note: Frosting can be made ahead, up to 2 days, and refrigerated in a tightly covered container. Bring to room temperature when ready to use, and beat on medium-low in the stand mixer for 3 to 5 minutes until light and fluffy.

Frost the Cake:

To frost cakes, place 1 layer on a cake plate. With an offset spatula, spread top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, and spread frosting evenly over top and sides of cake.

I’ve been a fan of Kelsey Banfield’s blog for quite a while. What sold me on her recipes was how approachable and accessible they are. The fact that she makes the prep and cook time fit into a busy family’s schedule is really icing on the cake. And, what sold me on Kelsey herself is that she’s a warm and beautiful person. The only downside to Kelsey is that she lives so far away from me.

Kelsey’s new book,The Naptime Chef: Fitting Great Food into Family Life, has just hit the market. When her publisher, Running Press, offered to send me copy to review, I jumped at the chance. Not only do I have an unhealthy addiction to new cookbooks, but I adore Kelsey, and her book has been on my must-acquire list since I first learned she would be writing it.

The first recipe I tested was the recipe for herbs de provence popovers. I’ve never made popovers before, and I loved that the recipe didn’t require me to go out and buy a special pan to make them in.

Popovers are a beautiful thing, really. The billowy tops almost beg to have a finger poked in them, but I resisted. The popovers were loaded with herbs de provence, and the savory aroma that filled the house as they baked was intoxicating.

For lunch one day, I tried the recipe for couscous salad with blue cheese and dried cranberries. I’m trying to take my lunch to work more often, and these are the kinds of salads I look for. Couscous is simple to prepare, and with the addition of a light vinaigrette and the sweet and salty add-ins of pecans, blue cheese, and dried cranberries, this is one beautiful salad. It can be made ahead, perfect for that dreaded Sunday night weekday-lunch-prep-time.

The Naptime Chef is an empowering cookbook for parents, especially new parents who are struggling to find a way to eat well while working around a little one’s schedule. In fact, this is a great book to give to a new mom or dad – it would make a wonderful baby shower gift.  It’s not comprehensive, but it’s not meant to be. Kelsey’s book is just meant to show you that eating well while raising children can be done.

*    *    *    *    *    *

the giveaway

Running Press was gracious enough to allow me to give a copy of Kelsey’s book to one of my readers, so here’s your chance to get the book in your own warm little hands.

to enter:

It’s very simple to enter — no hoops to jump through. And, while I would love it if you followed me on twitter and liked my Facebook page, it is by no means a requirement.

Since the theme of this book is all about fitting wonderful meals into a busy family life, all you have to do is leave me a comment on this post with the answer to this question:

What is your favorite weeknight meal to serve your family, and how do you fit it in your schedule?

the fine print:

I’ll close comments on Thursday, March 15 at 5pm EST, and I’ll randomly select a winner from the comments. Please, only one comment per person, and you must live in the US or Canada to win the giveaway.

Don’t want to wait for the giveaway to end? Buy The Naptime Chef right now.

*   *   *   UPDATE!   *   *   *

Time’s up and the winner of this wonderful cookbook goes to…

Congratulations, Flavia! I’m sure you’ll enjoy Kelsey’s book as much as I’m enjoying it. I love the dinner suggestion, too. It sounds like exactly what I’d love to eat right this very minute, in fact.

Yield: 4 servings.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Couscous Salad with Blue Cheese and Dried Cranberries

Kelsey notes that this salad tastes better if made at least a couple of hours in advance, to allow the flavors to meld. Chill it in the refrigerator before serving.

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups (10 ounces) uncooked plain couscous
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 medium lemon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (4 ounces) dried cranberries
1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled blue cheese
1/2 cup chopped scallions (about 3), white and light green parts only
3/4 cup (3 ounces) pecans, coarsely chopped

Directions:

Prepare couscous according to package directions, making sure to fluff it with a fork when it's cooked.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Set aside.

Pour the prepared couscous into a large mixing bowl. Add the cranberries, blue cheese, scallions, and pecans and pour the dressing evenly over the top. Mix everything together lightly with a fork so the ingredients are lightly coated with the dressing and the mixture stays fluffy.

Taste the salad for seasoning, and add another pinch or two of salt if necessary.

Reprinted with permission from Kelsey Banfield's The Naptime Chef: Fitting Great Food into Family Life.