*photo courtesy of Marc at NoRecipes.com

Due to fortunate and unfortunate circumstances, I ended up on the same flight to Orlando with Carol, aka NYCityMama. Neither of us were originally scheduled for that flight but prior to the official beginning of festivities, I already had a new friend. We arrived at the hotel with under 20 minutes to check-in, change, and meet buses leaving for dinner. I didn’t make it to the press room but Carol made sure to sign me up for breakfast to make sure I was taken care of. That is one sweet mama.

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Carol introduced me to Jennifer of In Jennie’s Kitchen, and Vanessa of Chef Druck Musings. These three have been long friends, but made me feel welcome all the way through, and made sure I didn’t miss out on a thing.

When we arrived at The Disney Chefs dinner, we were greeted with champagne. Several Disney chefs were showing off star dishes from their restaurant. First place was Sanaa from Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. The Shrimp in Green Curry Sauce served over a fragrant basmati rice. I scooped it up with the thin crisps of pappadum. The cucumber raita cooled as the chili oil brought heat. It was such a well-rounded dish that Marc of No Recipes went back for more three times!

In second place, Lamb Sliders with Tomato Marmalade from Epcot. The meat was so juicy but I didn’t like the bread as much, which is how I decided to place it second. Overall, I was impressed with the Disney food. It has come a long way since my last visit in 1996.

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That evening was so fast and furious for me, making new friends like Chris Barret of Think Gem and Stephen Fries of Cookbooks Live. Also, I finally met Carolyn Jung of Food Gal. She was here to judge the Pillsbury Bake-Off Sweet Treats category).

Sunday was a day full of seminars, my favorite being the first with Karen Page and Andrew Dorenburg. We even got a copy of The Flavor Bible, which is officially my favorite press gift ever.

After the presentations, some of the bloggers sat poolside. First, I chat with Amy of Cooking with Amy. A little later, Carol, Marc, Vanessa, Chris and Stephen were in the pool and I couldn’t resist taking some shots to use on them later.

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I was so sad that I didn’t bring a bathing suit (ok not really, you know I don’t like water) but I wasn’t lonely. Lori of My Wooden Spoon/A Cowboys Wife and Babette, founder of BakeSpace, made the time fly by. Both are as sweet as they look. Really!

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We headed to The Ravenous Pig 1234 North Orange Avenue, Winter Park, FL 32789 for dinner, which was supposed to be a gastro pub. Though I didn’t get that at all, I really enjoyed the Niman Lamb Loin. It was pink throughout and crusty on the outside.

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Monday morning, we were all-up early for The Pillsbury Bake-Off, ready for crazy fun. I felt so privileged to have press access, which meant walking the floor with 100 kitchens set-up. We could talk to contestants and see everything up close. I’ve been watching contests like this on TV forever and it was all right in front of me. We didn’t get to taste all 100 finalists, but of the ones we tried, we unanimously agreed on a Blogger’s Choice Award: the Candied Bacon and Apple Canapes made by Stephanie. Jaden of Steamy Kitchen has a whole post about that and Vanessa gives out 3 awards.

I was impressed with the integrity of the rules and judging. Very strict guidelines were kept. The one thing that bothered me was that they were all using induction tops and two people (to my knowledge) were given the wrong pans to work with, which must have messed up their timing and added stress.  Lori gets more in depth here. Marc has some great photos here. Don’t forget to check out Carol’s photo montage too.

At a lunch break, (notice I said lunch break and not lunch, I couldn’t eat a single thing), I got to talk to Jaden, Marc, and Tina of Carrots ‘N’ Cake about blog ad networks and different ways to monetize. Then, it was back to poolside, followed by a short walking trip around downtown Disney with Marc, Vanessa, Chris, and Stephen. I bought a Minnie Mouse apron. Hot or Cute?

Back at the hotel, we had a cocktail hour, dinner, and the announcements of the final four finalists, presented by Sandra Lee. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t get to taste a single winner. Humph! There’s more about the awards ceremony on Carrots’N’ Cake.

I had such a great time. Thank you to Pillsbury for sponsoring my trip to the 44th Bake-Off. We have a reunion planned already!

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