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Seven Tips for Getting the Most out of this weekend’s “ABC Super Soap” event at Disney-MGM

Jim’s significant other — Nancy S. — and her good friend — Angela R. — share their secrets for getting the most fun out of the “Super Soap” festivities, which are being held at WDW’s studio theme park this Saturday and Sunday.

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For football fans, it’s the Super Bowl. For guys who collect comic books, it’s San Diego’s Comic-Con. And — for Disney dweebs — it’s the National Fantasy Fan Club (THE club for Disneyana enthusiasts) ‘s annual convention.

But — if you’re a serious ABC soap opera fan — there’s only one place that you HAVE TO be this coming weekend. And that’s at the Disney-MGM Studio theme park, where the eighth annual “ABC Super Soap Weekend” is being held this Saturday and Sunday, November 8th and 9th..

The lovely lady that I live with — the ever-wise and patient Nancy Stadler — is one of these hardcore ABC soap fans. How hardcore? To date, she’s only missed one year of Disney-MGM’s “Super Soap” events. And Nancy’s now determined never to miss another.

How determined. Well, this coming Saturday is my parent’s 50th anniversary party. Which means — of course — Nancy and I will be attending this shin-dig (As will my ex — Michelle Smith — and my darling daughter, Alice). Mind you, the party is due to break up around 4 p.m. Which is why — at approximately 4:01 p.m. — Nancy and I head off for Manchester Airport. Which is where I’ll place my significant other on an early evening flight bound for Orlando. So that Nancy can at least catch the last day of this year’s “ABC Super Soap Weekend” event.

How’s that for dedication? Or obsession? (To be honest, I’m not sure which it is at this point.)

Anyway … Nancy and her good pal — Angela R. — have been doing these “ABC Super Soap Weekend” for so long now that they’re really old pros when it comes to working these events. These two now know how to get the utmost out of their days at Disney-MGM. They know exactly where to go to get the best pictures of the soap stars. How to avoid standing in extremely long lines. How to get into the shows that they most want to see. Where to catch a quick (and affordable) bite to eat before charging off to the next show.

So — seeing as these two have such a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Disney-MGM’s “ABC Super Soap Weekends” — I thought that I’d quiz Nancy and Angela. To see if I then couldn’t put together a tip sheet for those folks who are thinking about attending their very first “Super Soap” event this coming weekend and/or to help out those people who have been to previous WDW soap events and didn’t have all that great a time.

What follows is a distillation of my conversations with these two ladies:

The first key to having a good time at the upcoming “ABC Super Soap Weekend” at Disney-MGM is: Advance Planning.

Head out to the store NOW and pick up all the supplies that you’re going to need during your days at the theme park. The essentials are:

Plenty of film for your 35MM camera and/or additional batteries for your digital camera

Sunscreen

A big bottle of water

Some sort of breakfast item (As is usually the case on “ABC Super Soap Weekend,” the folks at Disney-MGM will throw open the gates to the theme park at 8:30 a.m. The only problem is that none of the shops or restaurants in the park will actually open ’til 9 a.m., Disney-MGM’s official opening time. So — if you’re looking to grab breakfast once you enter the theme park — you’re really out of luck here. Particularly since — by 9 a.m. — you’ll probably already be in line for your first show of the day. So be sure to eat breakfast before you arrive at Disney-MGM and/or bring a breakfast item into the park with you.)

Plenty of pocket money. (Once you get in that “ABC Super Soap Weekend” groove, you’re not going to want to break away to run to one of the park’s two ATMs. Speaking of Disney-MGM’s ATMs: The first one is located right outside of the theme park, just to the right of MGM’s main entrance. The second is located deep inside the park, inside the arcade area at the Toy Story Pizza Planet restaurant.)

A light jacket. Once the sun goes down, it can get kind of cool at Disney-MGM. So — if you’re planning on staying ’til the theme park closes to take in the Grand Motorcade as well as the Colgate Total Street Jam — you’re going to want a light jacket or a sweater to pull on to ward off a chill.

Your second key to having a good time at the upcoming “ABC Super Soap Weekend” event at Disney-MGM is: Arrive Early!

You’ve heard that “it’s the early bird who gets the worm,” right? Well, in this case, it’s the ABC soap fan who doesn’t sleep in who gets to make the most of her “Super Soap” experience. Which is why — since Disney-MGM is scheduled to open at 9 a.m. this coming Saturday and Sunday — you need to be driving into the studio theme park’s parking lot no later than 8 a.m. And be getting on line at the park’s entrance no later that 8:15 a.m.

Why so early? Because — as I mentioned earlier — the operations staff at Disney-MGM typically starts allowing guests into the theme park on “Super Soap” weekend around 8:30 a.m. And because — this year — there’s that whole new confusing FastPass situation to deal with.

What’s the problem with “Super Soap Weekend” and FastPass? Well — in years previous — if you wanted to get a certain soap star’s autograph, you just raced to the back of the theme park at rope drop, found the appropriate line and stood there. Sometimes for hours in the broiling hot Central Florida sun (Angela R. actually stood in line once for 2½ hours just to get her picture taken with “All My Children” hunk Cameron Mathison. She still maintains that it was worth the 3rd degree burns to spend a few moments up close with Cameron AKA Ryan Lavery). Just to be certain that you got some quality time with your favorite ABC daytime star.

But this year — with the hope that they can actually reduce the amount of time that soap fans have to spend in line at Disney-MGM in order to get their picture taken and/or an autograph from their favorite performer — the folks at WDW have decided to fold FastPass into the mix for this year’s “ABC Super Soap Weekend.” So now — in order to secure a spot in line (which guarantees you a chance to meet your favorite daytime performer at one of Saturday or Sunday’s “On Location” autograph sessions) — you’re going to need to get a FastPass.

This one rather significant change in the way the event is run — Nancy and Angela predict — will surely lead to disaster. At least on Saturday. Why for? Because the only soap fans who are aware that this change has been made are those folks who have read the October 28th issue of “ABC Soaps in Depth” magazine and/or those ladies who were smart enough to keep on checking out the “Super Soap Weekend” preview page over at ABC.com. Which you can now get to by following this link.

This means that there are literally tens of thousands of ABC soap fans who are — even as you read this — already en route to Orlando. Who have absolutely no idea that this major “ABC Super Soap Weekend” operating policy change is now in place. Then factor in that few — if any — of these folks have ever used FastPass before. And you have a sure-fire recipe for disaster.

Compounding what is sure to be already a difficult situation, there are only going to be three distribution points for all of these “ABC Super Soap Weekend” FastPasses. Folks who want passes to meet performers from “One Life to Live” only have to go as far the “Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular” theater, while guests who want to see stars from “General Hospital” will have to hike on over to “Star Tours” in order to pick up their FastPasses.

It’s the “One Life to Live” fans who are sure to raise the biggest stink about this change in the “ABC Super Soap Weekend” operating policy, though. For their FastPass distribution point is actually located all the way towards the back of Disney-MGM, near the “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire — Play It!” soundstage. And given the great distance that these ladies are going have to walk (hell, run!) in order to secure a FastPass to see their favorite “OLTL” performer, Nancy and Angela predict that a lot of these women are going to head over to Guest Relations at the end of their day. To complain bitterly about how they missed out on the chance to see their favorite “One Life to Live” star because they A) couldn’t find the right FastPass machine or B) the machine was already out of passes by the time they finally got to the back of the theme.

Mind you, Nancy and Angela say there is an upside to this situation. For — in the past — the folks who actually run Disney-MGM’s “Super Soap Weekends” have shown that they learn quickly from their mistakes. So typically what’s going wrong on Saturday is usually fixed by Sunday morning. So — hopefully — by this coming Sunday — the crack crew at WDW Operations will have sorted out all of the bugs that are inherent in this new “ABC Super Soap Weekend” FastPass distribution mess.

But — that said — anyone who’s thinking of attending this year’s “ABC Super Soap Weekend” needs to be aware that Saturday is going to be absolute bedlam at that theme park. As thousands of ABC soap fans only learn about this significant change in the event’s operating procedure AFTER they’ve made their way through the turnstiles. Which means that there’s going to lots of confusion, lots of angry soap fans stomping around …

Which brings us to our third key to having a great time at the upcoming “ABC Super Soap Weekend” event at Disney-MGM, which is: You have to attend both days of the “Super Soap” event.

This — Nancy and Angela insist — is a must. Why for? Because Saturday is both your and the staff of Disney-MGM’s learning day. Disney isn’t really going to know which soap stars the fans are most excited about seeing things until things actually get underway on Saturday.

Take — for example — last year, when MGM cast members were caught flat-footed by the huge number of ABC soap fans who desperately wanted to get their picture taken with / get an autograph from “General Hospital” performers Steve Burton (who plays Jason Morgan) and Vanessa Marcil (who played Brenda Barrett). The crush of the crowd got so great that Disney started handing out wristbands in an attempt to keep things under control.

Of course, that was something that Disney-MGM employees threw together as a stop-gap maneuver on Saturday. By the time Sunday rolled around, these WDW cast members finally had their act together, Which is why the next set of autograph sessions with Burton and Marcil went much, much smoother.

But it isn’t just the WDW cast members who are going to be learning things on Saturday. You too — the newby ABC soap fan — are going to learning the ropes too. Where to stand along Hollywood Boulevard to get the very best pictures of the ABC daytime stars as they ride in their motorcade. (Here’s another tip from Nancy and Angela: Go behind the giant Sorcerer Mickey hat in front of the Chinese theater. This is where the soap stars climb out of their cars before heading off to their “Star Conversations.” You can often get some great candid shots of the performers back here as the actors exit their autos.) When to get in line to guarantee yourself a seat for Linda Dano’s “Super Soap Talk Show,” etc.

To put it bluntly, folks: There’s a real learning curve to the “ABC Super Soap Weekend.” And on Saturday … Well … Both you and the staff of Disney-MGM aren’t going to have your act together yet. So don’t despair if you don’t get to do everything that you really wanted to do on the event’s first day. That’s what Sunday is for.

Which brings us to the fourth key to having a great time at the upcoming “ABC Super Soap Weekend” event at Disney-MGM, which is: There’s just no way that you’re going to be able to do everything. So don’t even try.

While it’s true that some ABC soap fans are truly dedicated (Last year, while waiting for Nancy and Angela to exit the event, I actually struck a conversation with a woman who had flown in from Nome, Alaska just to attend that year’s “Super Soap” festivities at Disney-MGM. Now that’s what I call dedication), it’s also true that there are limits to the amount of abuse that the human body can take in one day. One can only stand in the hot sun waiting to get an autograph for so long. Likewise, you can only listen to some many actors say (in an obvious attempt to curry favor) that “ABC soap fans are the best fans in the whole world” before you barf.

So try and be nice to yourself. Don’t stretch yourself too thin by trying to take in every single event. Look over the “ABC Super Soap Weekend” master schedule and just select the shows and events that most appeal to you. Then ignore everything else on the schedule (No matter how tempting some of these other MGM programs may seem) and just concentrate on getting into the shows you’ve already selected.

Keep in mind that — when it comes to “ABC Super Soap Weekend” — it’s quality, not quantity, that counts.
But — that said — you have to keep in mind that some shows at the event are going to be a lot harder to get into than others.

After looking over the entire schedule for this year’s event, here are the shows that Nancy and Angela believe will be this “ABC Super Soap Weekend” ‘s hot tickets:

:: The 9:45 a.m. “Motorcade and Star Conversation” with Kathy Brier, Kassie DePaiva, Dan Gauthier and Trevor St. John.
:: The 10:20 a.m. “Casting Call” with Michael E. Knight (Saturday only)
:: The 12:10 p.m. presentation of the special “ABC Super Soap Weekend” edition of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire — Play It!” with Rebecca Budig and Alicia Minshew
:: The 12:30 p.m. session of Linda Dano’s “Super Soap Talk Show” with Mellissa Archer, Kathy Brier, Kamar de los Reyes and Kassie DePaiva
:: The 1:30 p.m. “Motorcade and Star Conversation” with Chad Bannon, Tyler Christopher, Rick Hearst, Natalia Livingston, Greg Vaughan and Alicia Leigh Willis.
:: The 1:50 p.m. presentation of the special “ABC Super Soap Weekend” edition of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire — Play It!” with Kassie DePavia and Trevor St. John
:: The 2:45 p.m. session of Linda Dano’s “Super Soap Talk Show” with Michael B. Jordan, Michael E. Knight, Susan Lucci, Eden Riegel, Jacob Young and Walt Willey.
:: The 4:05 p.m. presentation of the special “ABC Super Soap Weekend” edition of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire — Play It!” with Eva La Rue and Aiden Turner
:: The 5:15 p.m. presentation of Linda Dano’s “Super Soap Talk Show” with Cameron Mathison, Aiden Turner, Kamar de los Reyes, Tyler Christopher and Ingo Rademacher (Saturday Only)
:: The 5:15 p.m. presentation of Linda Dano’s “Super Soap Talk Show” with Cameron Mathison, Alicia Minshew, Trevor St. John, Kassie DePaiva, Rick Hearst and Kelly Monaco (Sunday Only)
:: The 6:30 p.m. “Casting Call” with Rick Hearst (Saturday only)
:: The 6:30 p.m. “Casting Call” with Cameron Mathison (Sunday only)

So — if any of the presentations that we’ve listed above appeal to you ABC soap fans — be sure and mark your dance card accordingly.

Which brings us to the fifth key to having a great time at the upcoming “ABC Super Soap Weekend” event at Disney-MGM, which is: Always try and keep your sense of humor about you.

According to Nancy and Angela, these “ABC Super Soap Weekends” at Disney-MGM can often get pretty ugly. With shoving matches suddenly erupting between WDW guests and/or people screaming at the top of their lungs at one another, each soap fan accusing the other of cutting in line.

Obviously, people can get pretty passionate when it comes to their favorite soap stars. But Angela and Nancy would like to remind all of you who are thinking about attending this year’s “ABC Super Soap Weekend” event that this all is really just make-believe. That just because Jax and Greenlee and Nora and Erika come into your home five days a week doesn’t mean that they’re real. After all, not matter how glamorous these people may appear to be on the small screen, in the end they’re just actors who appear on a daytime TV show.

So — if you accidentally miss out on your chance to meet one of these ABC stars — it’s NOT really the end of the world. So please don’t throw a tantrum in public, scream or swear just because something doesn’t go exactly the way you hoped this coming Saturday and Sunday. Please try to keep in mind that there are 24,000 other people who are also trying to enjoy the event.

Which brings us to our sixth rule for having a great time at the upcoming “ABC Super Soap Weekend” at Disney-MGM, which is: Be courteous and considerate of others.

You want to make a thousand mortal enemies really fast? Then — as you’re entering a theater for one of the “Super Star Talk Shows” (Which are being held several times a day in the ABC TV Theater) — just plop yourself down in the middle of the row and refuse to move. According to Angela and Nancy, you’ll soon have hundreds of women screaming at you to “Move the f*ck down!” Which — of course — can put kind of a damper on the rest of your day at the theme park.

Try and be considerate of those around you. Remember when you finally get to the front of the line and are getting that photograph taken of you and your favorite soap star and/or getting an autograph from your favorite daytime performer that there are still hundreds of people behind you who also want some time with that actor. So try and have your camera ready, or have your pen and your autograph book within reach. Just so you don’t gum up the works once you get face to face with that celebrity.

And — finally — Angela and Nancy’s seventh and final rule for having a great time at the upcoming “ABC Super Soap Weekend” at Disney-MGM: Know where and when to eat. Know where and when to shop.

Okay. We’ve already discussed how you should handle breakfast on Saturday and Sunday morning. Now let’s talk about where you should get lunch and dinner while you’re at the “ABC Super Soap Weekend” at Disney-MGM. Sure, you can grab something quick off of one of the many food carts that you’ll find scattered around the theme park. But that stuff tends to be cookies, popcorn and ice cream. Which might give you a brief sugar rush, but won’t really give you enough energy to get through an entire day of slogging around a theme park.

So what are you supposed to do? You don’t want to waste all the time (and money) that you’ll need to have a proper meal at one of Disney-MGM’s sit-down restaurants like the ’50’s Prime Time Café,” “The Hollywood Brown Derby,” “Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater” or “Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano.” So what’s a famished soap fan to do?

It’s easy, really. Whenever you’re feeling hungry — Nancy and Angela suggest that you head on over to the ABC Commissary (which is located next to the Chinese Theater) and/or the Sunset Ranch Market on Sunset Boulevard (which is right next door to Disney-MGM’s Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith) . Here, you’ll find affordable, healthy eats that you get and gulp quickly. Which will allow you to use of your time taking in shows and/or searching for soap stars.

As for shopping … If you’re looking for those special edition “ABC Super Soap Weekend” pins and t-shirts, those items are usually on sale first thing in the morning at the shop that’s located to the left of Disney-MGM’s entrance. Which means that you actually can pick up these collectibles prior to entering the theme park and immediately take them back to you car for storage or just slip into the nearest bathroom (which is located to the left of the Guest Relations window) and slip on your new “ABC Super Soap” duds. Which means that you can be properly attired as you enter the theme park.

In closing, Angela and Nancy remind all you would-be “ABC Super Soap Weekend” attendees that the whole point of coming out to a theme park is to have fun. And that — if the crush of the crowds this weekend gets to be too much for you — just slip off for a half hour or so, find a nice air conditioned ride or attraction and relax / re-energize for a bit. (That’s one of the real ironies of the whole “ABC Super Soap Weekend” thing. With so many bodies jammed inside the park, you’d think that all of Disney-MGM’s rides and shows would be filled to capacity as well. But — instead — the opposite is true. Because all the soap fans are only interested in seeing their favorite ABC daytime performers and because most other WDW visitors tend to steer clear of the studio theme park on Saturday and Sunday because of crowd concerns, virtually every attraction in the park is a walk-on. Which is why — if you’re a Tower of Terror fan — tomorrow and Sunday would be a great day to rack up multiple rides.)

Also be aware of the opportunities around you. Take — for example — that somewhat hidden path near the bathroom over by “Star Tours.” This is the way that the Disney handlers bring the ABC soap stars to and from their “Super Soap Talk Show” sessions in the ABC TV Theater. So — if you’re looking to get some candid shots of the performers, this is a great place to hang out.

And — if after attending this year’s “ABC Super Soap Weekend” event — you have some tips of your own to share, feel free to toss them toward JimHillMedia.com. Where we’ll be sure and share them with the rest of our readers.

Beyond that, here’s hoping that everyone who attends this coming weekend’s “ABC Super Soap” event at Disney-MGM has a great time. And — if you see Angela and Nancy — be sure and tell them “Hi” for me, okay?

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse‘s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  ExpertGriller.com prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont

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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage

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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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