Taste Cook Sip

Tasting, cooking, sipping and snapping through life in Orlando.

Francis Biondi talks about spring rolls and his exit from MasterChef

Francis Biondi is still cooking and perfecting the team surf and turf dish in his head. “Maybe if we had made a saffron crab cake with a radicchio salad and gastric to go with the Moroccan steak, our dish would have been elevated enough for the judges. I don’t know, our dish was a good dish, it was solid.” It was a bit surprising to see the duo that made a tasty dish, then move on to the dreaded pressure test. MasterChef judge, Gordon Ramsay, declared the dish “bland” and clearly expected more of the two solid chefs. Maybe things played out as teammate Courtney intended when she paired the teams; the judges automatically had higher expectations for the strong duo. Francis B shared that he felt like he was having an “off day”, but that he and Christian tasted the dish and it was good. He let Christian take the lead in picking the components in the pantry and took it as a challenge to push himself to up his game. He thought they had enough to move on to the next episode, as evidenced by his comments televised in the episode. Francis and Christian ended up headed for the elimination round, instead.

When the pressure test was announced as spring rolls, I thought to myself “He’s got this.” In my first chat with Francis B he mentioned growing up cooking with his family, so I knew he had to have made a ton of Lumpia in his lifetime. (Lumpia is a the Filipino equivalent to spring rolls.) The pressure test ended with Francis B exiting the show and a lot of viewers wondering “What just happened?!” Fellow contestant, Cutter, also had problems with his spring roll and had watched his duo challenge meal chucked in the trash. Shouldn’t Cutter have been the first choice to be eliminated? Francis B was equally surprised “It was hard to watch.” What about the outcry on social media? Francis B has been interacting with fans all week on his Facebook page, Twitter and more. “I seem to have a big following on social media, it’s been interesting to talk with people and hear their thoughts. I’ve even had offers for lessons on how to make doughnuts and spring rolls.” he shared with a laugh.

So about those springrolls…

“My filling was great. The judges came by, tasted and told me it was a really great filling. But I’ve never made a spring roll or Lumpia with freshly made pasta sheets. Lumpia aren’t made that way. I saw Dan using the pasta roller and thought maybe I should have gone that way, but I’ve always used the hand roller when making pasta. I got that pasta thin.” It all came down to the temperature of the oil in the fryer. “When you are in the MasterChef kitchen, it’s all about time constraints. If I had noticed that the fryer oil wasn’t hot enough before I put the spring rolls in, I would have dumped the oil into a dutch oven and done a stove-top fry. I guess not everything works perfectly, even in the MasterChef kitchen.”

So when Gordon Ramsay stopped by Francis B’s cooking station and declared the fried spring rolls anemic-looking before the judging, Francis took action and fell back on his roots. “Lumpia are cooked on the stove-top in a very shallow fry,” he quickly poured a small amount of oil in a pan and tried to get some color on his cooked spring rolls. The judges weren’t pleased and we all know the rest. Francis B has been busting out spring rolls ever since, this week he even posted a picture of perfectly made spring rolls ready for the fryer. You can look for some of Francis B’s in-depth thoughts on his MasterChef exit and some tips on making your own Spring Rolls on his new blog, in the next few days.

If you’ve been watching MasterChef you know that in past seasons there has been a occasional redemption challenge, when former contestants from the season get to battle for a chance back into the Masterchef competition. I asked if there was a redemption challenge this season and if we would we see him cooking on MasterChef again. His answer was neither a confirmation or a denial, “That certainly is a possibility. You’ll have to watch & see.” He would confirm that he will be on the finale show when the winner was announced.

Until then, Francis B is keeping busy working, gearing up to compete in several golf tournaments, working on his new food blog, accepting private chef work and collaborating on charity events, like the upcoming Share our Strength’s Taste of The Nation event to benefit No Kid Hungry on August 9th, 2014. He hopes to see some of his MasterChef fans and supporters at this great charity food event!

 

These are busy times for Francis Biondi, who is open to the opportunities that are unfolding. Maybe there is a way for him to pursue his love of food while also working in his golf aspirations? I would love to see him touring a few of the wonderful Florida golf courses and collaborating with on-site chefs on a featured dish. Does that sound like a Golf Channel show in the making? Maybe a highlight of a charity golf tournament or a special event at Bay Hill during The Arnold Palmer Invitational? Only time will tell.

Hal Boedecker from the Orlando Sentinel teased in his article this week that there may be Francis B Spring Rolls at Txokos Basque Kitchen at the East End Market this weekend. “I am making a bunch for the kitchen crew and bringing them in this weekend for them to enjoy,” Francis confirmed. Who knows, maybe a few lucky patrons will get to sample a Francis Biondi Spring Roll. Joe Bastianich called it early when he said, “Keep your eye on Francis B, he’s one to watch.” Indeed.  

 

The Fresh Market “Little Big Meal Thursday” & July 4th deals

The Fresh Market has recently opened it’s newest Orlando location in Lake Mary, giving another opportunity for gourmet food provisions and great sale items for savvy shoppers throughout the Central Florida area. If you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for The Fresh Market specials and a few minutes reading your email can save you cash and make quick work of your weekly shopping. 

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Just in time for the summer grilling season, The Fresh Market’s “Little Big Meal Thursday” promotion has several great burger options to get you through July. $20 feeds four and shoppers get to pick from gourmet beef, turkey and even vegetarian and vegan burger options. Also included in this summer meal deal are kettle chips, coleslaw, freshly baked brioche hamburger buns and a dozen chocolate chip cookies.

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Date Night Double Dozen is a fun new promotion on Friday’s that is sure to win your sweetie’s heart. $15.00 sets the stage for romance with a dozen roses (pick your color) and 12 Chocolate Dipped Strawberries. Valid every Friday through July.

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Fresh Market is also offering up great 4th of July Meal Deals, which can be picked up in store or ordered in advance online for in-store pick up, saving you valuable time. This week Fresh Market also has their regular Tuesday Specials, Weekly Specials and Weekend Specials- which means there is a ton of great savings to help with your holiday entertaining or restock your pantry and freezer after the holiday.

The Fresh Market currently operates five locations throughout the Central Florida area. Click on the store location links below for complete addresses, directions, phone numbers and hours of operations.

The Fresh Market – Altamonte Springs

The Fresh Market – Downtown Orlando

The Fresh Market – Dr. Phillips

The Fresh Market – Lake Mary

The Fresh Market – Winter Springs

 

“Bite 30″ expands restaurant week to a whole month. PS. What’s a Prix Fixe menu? [Review & Giveaway]

Prix Fixe, sounds fancy…and expensive, but thanks to Orlando Weekly’s Bite 30 month, a multi-course lunch can be enjoyed for $10 or $15 and dinner for $15 or $30 per person. Prix Fixe is French for “Fixed Price” and usually involves a separate menu, with several selections under a starter course, main and sometimes a dessert course.

Bite 30 started June 1st and runs through June 30th, so you still have a week and weekend to get out there and explore these tasty offerings. I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying K Restaurant, Artisan’s Table, Txokos Basque Kitchen, Paxia Modern Mexican Restaurant, Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar and Marlow’s Tavern – they were all tasty, service was great and all are worth checking out. I choose to review two venues picked from the least expensive menus for both lunch and dinner, specifically to illustrate that you can enjoy a fancy concept at a very affordable price.

Turkey Burger with Starter of  Sea Salt  & Black Pepper Fries.

B & B Junction’s Turkey Burger with Starter of Sea Salt & Black Pepper Fries. $10 at lunch or $15 for dinner with the addition of dessert and a beverage.

B & B Junction occupies the space that the original 4 Rivers Smokehouse built on Fairbanks Ave, just down from the intersection of I-4. The large covered patio provides ample seating and shelter during inclement weather, the parking lot is still small. Order at the counter and your food is brought to your table with a smile. B & B specializes in gourmet burgers made with local and fresh ingredients, is a farm to table establishment and all beef is grass feed. They also have a nice selection of craft beers on draft and in bottles. Lunch is $10, but dinner is the way to go for bargain hunters. The B & B Bite 30 dinner is $15, which gets you starter, main, dessert and a tasty beverage. The grass fed burgers are yummy, but don’t rule out one of the “Alternative Burgers”. The #11 Turkey Burger was moist, flavorful and delicious! This turkey burger is sure to satisfy and you can enjoy your crispy fries guilt-free. My hubby particularly liked the chopped onions and herbs flavoring the patty, and thought the crisp-cooked bacon was a scrumptious topper.

B & B Junction's Veggie burger with a side of onion rings

B & B Junction’s Veggie burger with a side of onion rings.

The #17 Veggie Burger came topped with goat cheese, herb aioli, apple, watercress and tomato. I’ve also tried the #18 veggie burger topped with seasonal wild mushroom, gruyere cheese, truffle aioli, watercress and tomato. The gourmet toppings are a nice treat and the veggie patty had good texture and was cooked nicely. However, on my visits the house-made veggie burger patty was seasoned with yellow curry, which I found overwhelmed the flavor of the deluxe toppings. If burgers aren’t your thing, no worries! Salads and grilled cheeses are included for lunch and add wings to the list for dinner. It’s nice that so much of the B & B menu is included in the Bite 30 special, giving diners plenty of options for lunch, dinner and even repeat visits.

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A pint of Midnight Oil craft beer from Swamphead brewery was included with the $15 Bite 30 dinner at B & B Junction.

While you are at B & B, pick up a free Loyalty Card and accrue points with each purchase, towards future discounts. Also, follow them on Twitter at @bb_junction or check their website to find out the burger of the week and their special events, like this great beer pairing dinner they had over the weekend.

Sad that you missed this yummy dinner? Sing up for B & B's email list or check their Facebook page for special events listings.

Sad that you missed this yummy dinner? Follow them on Twitter or check their Facebook page for special events listings.

I also stopped into Tartini Pizzeria & Spaghetteria in South Orlando for both the Bite 30 $10 lunch and $15 dinner, it was my first two visits to the restaurant. On both occasions I was greeted warmly and offered the Bite 30 menu without asking. (Bonus!) The sleek, contemporary interior was a bit of a surprise, comfy chairs and booths will have you wanting to linger over your meal. I mentioned in passing that the entry fixture looked like a Chihuly and I was told that it was, indeed, a Dale Chihuly chandelier. (Sidenote: If you had a chance to see the Chihuly touring exhibit in 2004 at OMA, you know that his work is a treat to behold. You can currently see a smaller Chihuly exhibit at the Morean Arts Center in St. Pete.)

Chihuly at Tartini Pizzeria & Spaghetteria

Chihuly chandelier at Tartini Pizzeria & Spaghetteria

There is a sleek bar which transitions to a large, focal, wood-burning oven. I asked about the set up and was told the oven was one of two of it’s kind in the United States, the other resides at Tartini’s second location in Apopka (not participating in Bite 30). The oven cooking surface raises and lowers, allowing for the oven-cooked items to be completed in just a few minutes.

Pretty neat, which sealed the deal in my mind and I ordered an oven cooked calzone. I was first delivered a complimentary order of bread, also baked in the wood-fired oven. It was made with seasoned pizza dough and served with herb infused olive oil, a yummy start to my meal.

Complimentary bread to start the meal.

Complimentary bread to start the meal.

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Bite 30 Prix Fixe menu, choose one item under each category. Just $10 for lunch.

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Beer Battered Mushrooms, a great appetizer choice for your 1st Bite 30 course.

A calzone that would fill up the hungriest of diners.

A calzone that would fill up the hungriest of diners. It is served on a 12-14 inch platter.

The beer battered mushrooms were very good. When the calzone arrived, I knew a takeout box would be needed. The large calzone was also served with a side of fresh marinara, which had a fresh and bright tomato flavor. The calzone had a crisp but tender crust, which was flavored with a bit of garlic infused oil.

Tartini Calzone with roasted red peppers, Bite 30 Lunch entree

Tartini Calzone with roasted red peppers, Bite 30 Lunch entree.

On my dinner visit, I headed down with friends so we could each sample a few of the starters, entrees and desserts- a fun way to explore the Bite 30 menu.  As with the first visit, the complimentary bread was delivered along with the Bite 30 and regular menus. We decided on a pitcher of Sangria to start (not included) and it was a fruity, but not too sweet, red sangria.

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Caesar Salad, course 1 of Bite 30 dinner menu at $15.

Pizza Pinwheels , course 1 of Bite 30 dinner menu at $15.

Pizza Pinwheels , course 1 of Bite 30 dinner menu at $15.

Truffle Fries, course 1 of Bite 30 dinner menu at $15.

Truffle Fries, course 1 of Bite 30 dinner menu at $15.

The table thoroughly enjoyed sharing these appetizers and each received compliments. The Caesar salad dressing had authentic flavor and homemade croutons. The Pizza Pinwheels and Truffle Fries were indulgences, but worth it!

Spaghetti Bolognese, course 2 of Bite 30 dinner menu at $15.

Spaghetti Bolognese, course 2 of Bite 30 dinner menu at $15.

Macaroni & Cheese, with Fontina and Parmesan cheeses in a Bechamel sauce.

Macaroni & Cheese, with Fontina and Parmesan cheeses in a Bechamel sauce. Course 2 of Bite 30 dinner menu at $15.

Lasagna with Bolognese sauce, Marinara on the side. Course 2 of Bite 30 dinner menu at $15.

Lasagna with Bolognese sauce, Marinara on the side. Course 2 of Bite 30 dinner menu at $15.

Margherita Pizza, (12 inch) course 2 of Bite 30 dinner menu at $15.

Margherita Pizza, (12 inch) course 2 of Bite 30 dinner menu at $15.

All of the dinner entrees received compliments, the Spaghetti Bolognese had a meaty sauce that hit all of the right flavor notes. Mac & Cheese was rich, cheesy and decadent- lots of oooo’s and ahhhh’s as the dish was passed. The Lasagna was layered with creamy ricotta and the meaty Bolognese sauce and served in a pool of the fresh marinara sauce, a nice contrast to the richer fillings. The Margherita pizza delivered vibrant flavors and a crisp crust.

Toasted Almond Cream "cake", course 3 of Bite 30 dinner menu at $15.

Toasted Almond Cream “cake”, course 3 of Bite 30 dinner menu at $15.

Chocolate Mousse Cake

Chocolate Mousse Cake, course 3 of Bite 30 dinner menu at $15.

Dessert arrived and the group enjoyed sampling two of the three Bite 30 dessert options. The Toasted Almond Cream Cake is a well-executed take on a classic Tiramisu. The lady fingers are soaked in almond liqueur instead of espresso and liqueur. The Chocolate Mousse Cake was a chocoholics delight, rich and fudgy.  

Each of us left with a take out box, a full tummy from our three course meal and a great experience from a new restaurant- all for $15.00 each (plus the cost of the sangria). I perused the Tartini regular menu which offered a nice selection of Italian favorites ranging from antipasti, classic entrees and pizzas, all priced affordably. I would love to see Tartini add a happy hour, or a few house wines, as the wine prices were a bit high for the brands being offered. Otherwise, each of us agreed we would be back to explore the regular dinner menu.

Bite 30 runs through June 30, 2014 and all participating restaurants and menus are located here. Bite 30 is also hosting “Bite Night”, a gourmet tasting event featuring some of Orlando’s top restaurants, a chef challenge competition with Kevin Fonzo of K Restaurant, Kathleen Blake of The Rusty Spoon and Julie Petrakis & James Petrakis of The Ravenous Pig and Cask & Larder. The cooking competition will be hosted by Hollis Wilder, three time Cupcake Wars champion on The Food Network. The evening benefits Edible Schoolyard Orlando and takes place on June 30th. Tickets are on sale now, event details and a two ticket giveaway are here on TasteCookSip, good luck and happy eating!

Bleu 42 Sports Pub & Eatery in Oviedo, local charm with great prices [Review]

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Bleu 42 Sports Pub & Eatery opened a few months ago in Oviedo, not far from the intersection of Aloma and Dean Road. My first few visits were surprising, but I’ve grown to anticipate the freshly prepared food at a fair price. The family-friendly sports pub is located in the space formerly occupied by the Oviedo Beef O’Brady’s. The booths and table configurations are the same, but the similarities end there.

The beef for the hamburgers is grass fed and hormone free. Toasted Brioche buns are brought in from Olde Hearth Bread. Fresh Florida fish and seafood is featured on the regular menu and the daily specials. Sounds fancy…and fancy means pricey, right? Not at Bleu 42, where the hamburgers start at $8.00 and that includes hand cut fries. Sauces, soups, dressings, desserts are made in-house, fish is brought in whole and cut down to keep waste at a minimum and costs down.  Even the bacon is smoked in-house. Curious about the name, Bleu 42? I explain that here, along with going into the background of the talented Chef and operating partner, Chandler Cook.

Soup of the day: She Crab Soup, a low country classic. $4.00

Soup of the day: She Crab Soup, a low country classic. $4.00

If you follow me on Twitter @TasteCookSip and I catch wind that the She Crab Soup is on the Bleu 42 menu…I tweet, usually just after I’ve secured my own order(s) of soup.

She Crab Soup has a delicious bisque-like, creamy base with chunks of delicious blue crab throughout and is usually finished with a hint of sherry. After tasting this scrumptious soup on my first visit, I asked if Chef Chandler was from Charleston, SC. Turns out, he is. There is a lot of low country love in that cup, so follow the Bleu 42 Facebook page and get the listing for all of the daily specials. (Note to former Marylander’s- She Crab Soup is very similar to a tasty Maryland-style Cream of Crab soup, the Blue Crab content alone will have you happy and thinking of home!)

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Fresh Florida Mahi Mahi sandwich with Cajun Fries, $12.50

I’ve enjoyed the Mahi Mahi sandwich on several visit, the fish is exceedingly fresh. The mild, flaky fish is perfectly cooked and a very nice portion. I’ve enjoyed it grilled (pictured here) and blackened, both were equally delicious. I like a good french fry and these are very tasty, with or without the Cajun Spice. My hubby is a burger enthusiast, the Bleu 42 burger piqued his interest immediately, the sirloin patty is stuffed with Bleu cheese and topped with bacon. He was very happy with the size of the patty when it arrived at the table. Our helpful server suggested he order the burger medium, instead of his preferred medium rare, due to the patty being stuffed with Bleu cheese. Good call!

Bleu 42 Bleu Burger, 8oz ground sirloin, stuffed with bleu cheese. Topped w/ house cured and smoked thick-cut bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion & citrus aioli. $12.00

Bleu 42 Bleu Burger, 8oz ground sirloin, stuffed with bleu cheese. Topped w/ house cured and smoked thick-cut bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion & citrus aioli. $12.00

The burger was exceedingly juicy and the medium cook allowed for the Bleu cheese-stuffed center to melt and get ooey-gooey delicious. The house smoked bacon was crisp-cooked and a substantial, thick cut.

The Bleu 42 burger does not disappoint.

The Bleu 42 burger does not disappoint.

We’ve enjoyed several appetizers and a prix fixe meal during our visits, stands-out starters include the Chicken wings, Ahi tuna appetizer and the Fried Mac and Cheese balls. Taco Tuesday specials are equally tasty, yet pocketbook friendly. $2 Smoked Chicken OR Pork Tacos, $3 Fresh Mahi-Mahi Tacos, $4 Short Rib Tacos. $2 Coronas.

One of the popular items on the menu is the Fish and Chips, the Haddock was fresh tasting and well fried. However, only two planks made up our order and one plank was more of a “fish finger” size.

Fish and Chips, tasty and fresh. $13.50 Just wish the portion was larger.

Fish and Chips, tasty and fresh. $13.50, just wish the portion was larger.

The Fish and Chip entree was enjoyable, but with the petite portion, this entree is for the light eater.

Bleu 42 has a full bar, with the usual bottled mixers for cocktails. I look forward to Chef Chandler incorporating some fresh juice mixers and interesting simple syrups into the bar as the restaurant moves forward. Several popular drafts and a standard bottled beer selection is available. The wine list offered some good by-the-glass choices.The full Bleu 42 menu is available online here. Check the Bleu 42 Facebook page for Happy Hour specials, live music, trivia nights, World Cup soccer viewing specials, NFL football specials and other special events and meals.

 

Looking to spoil Dad on Father’s Day? Chef Chandler is making a special house-smoked Prime Rib, served with Twice Baked potatoes and a side salad for just $17.00.  You may bump into us there, especially if the She Crab soup is also on the menu.

Bleu 42 on Urbanspoon

Father’s Day gifts, meal deals and freebies!

Father’s Day is around the corner, but there is plenty of time to pick up a fun gift, make a reservation or take advantage of deals at area businesses to celebrate that special Dad in your life. For a comprehensive list of area restaurants offering Father’s Day Brunch, visit Opentable.com here and book your reservation. If a round of golf is more his speed, be sure to check out area golf course conditions at Orlando Golf Conditions.com before heading out.

Make it a Father’s Day weekend and get a jump on the celebration- Saturday, June 14th there is a Father’s Day Scotch, Whisky & Bourbon Tasting at Vines Wines & Spirits located at 7585 W.Sand Lake Rd., Orlando, FL 32819. The tasting is $10 per ticket and Dad will be sampling Macallan, Highland Park, Nikka, Glenfiddich, Stagg Jr, Buffalo Trace and many more quality spirits. I’ve compiled an extensive list of Dad-worthy gift suggestions, Father’s Day sales, promotions and freebies over the past few weeks to treat Dad like a king, at any price-point.

Father’s Day Gifts

4 Rivers Smokehouse Brisket Candle

4 Rivers Smokehouse Brisket Candle: A unique, soy-based candle by Chef John Rivers. Each candle is handcrafted in small batches with great attention to detail to create the perfect blend of smoked brisket and aged hickory. 4 Rivers Smokehouse’s 18-Hour Smoked Angus Brisket is also available for mail-order. Candle burns approx.17 hours. Available online for $16.95

Amazon.com: $20 off $100 purchase with code DAD20CLT.

Amazon.com: Kindle, tablets and other electronic special deals and sales

Carmel Cafe: With every $50 Gift Card purchase, receive a $10 Bonus Card.

Cavallari Gourmet: Steak and grilling specials, including Certified Piedmontese Beef Sliders 2 oz. Buy a 12-pack for only $1 each slider. Shaved, paper-thin NY Strip for Philly Cheese Steak- $12.99 pound. Extended Summer Hours Friday 10:00am – 8:00pm, Saturday 10:00am – 8:00pm, Sunday 10:00am – 7:00pm.

Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress: Rates Start at $149 per night. Celebrate Dad with a Father’s Day weekend getaway Grand Cypress provides the perfect setting to treat dad to a weekend of poolside relaxation or 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus Signature Design golf. Resort golf packages and Florida resident rates are available now through Dec. 31, 2014.

Longhorn Steakhouse With every $50 Gift Card purchase, receive a $10 bonus card for use on your next visit.

Matthew Michael’s Experience: Offering a Father’s Day Package: Includes, Aveda grooming kit, cut and syle, hand & scalp massage, eyebrow grooming. Retail value of $80, now available for $60 through 6/15/2014

Olive Garden: Receive a $10 bonus card for every $50 in gift cards purchased. Promotion is available through June 29. Bonus cards can be redeemed June 30 through August 10, 2014.

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Peterbrooke Chocolatier of Winter Park has items from Jane’s Short and Sweet dipped shortbread to the famous chocolate covered bacon and special Father’s Day chocolate items. Wine and craft beer is onsite and available to dip in chocolate for a unique gift, call 407-644-3200 to place your order or stop by their shop.

The COOP in Winter Park: Limited-time Only Dessert from Sweetie Pies: Bourbon Pecan Pie- a pecan pie with a southern classic kick of bourbon in a rich flaky crust. $7.50

Tim’s Wine Market: Explorers Club Father’s Day Gift Pack $58 (3 reds, 1 white wine) a $75 value. New World Red Club Father’s Day Gift Pack $78 (4 red wines) a $98 value. Shipping is available for an additional fee, prices do not include sales tax.

The Spice and Tea Exchange in Winter Park: Has all the grilling essentials for your pit-master Dad and has great recipes available online.

Visa gift card: Save $10 on a $50 gift card at Publix WITH a $50 grocery purchase, coupon is available at the service desk. Offer expires June 16, 2014.

Father’s Day Meal Deals

Bleu 42 in Oviedo is serving a House Smoked Prime Rib dinner, served with twice baked potatoes and a side salad for $17.00.

Hamilton’s Kitchen at The Alfond Inn in Winter Park - Father’s Day Surf & Turf Special: Grilled Steak, Butter Poached Lobster Tail, Asparagus, Mash Potato, Sauce Hollandaise $35.00.

IKEAFather’s Day Brunch Buffet 10:00 AM – 1:30 PM, $12.99 adults / $4.99 children (12 and under) Purchase tickets in advance, Buffet is all-you-can-eat, with a select menu. Menu details here.

Olive Garden: Treat dad to a 2 for $25 deal at Olive Garden! Start with freshly baked breadsticks and choice of unlimited homemade soup or garden-fresh salad.Choose two entrees from five options: Shrimp Mezzaluna, Chicken Alfredo, Five Cheese Ziti al Forno, Ravioli di Portobello, Spaghetti with Italian Sausage. Share a dessert: choose two mini Dolcini, Black Tie Mousse Cake, White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake, Tiramisu

Pollo Tropical: Buy-one-get-one free quarter chicken meal with two sides by texting DAD to 52198 for a code to show at the register on Sunday.

Taverna Opa: Dad gets a complimentary meal with the purchase of any family-style dinner. Celebrate together as you watch live belly dancers and savor true Greek and Mediterranean dishes, such as the Chilean Sea bass for seafood lovers, grilled with garlic, dill, and lemon-orange zest and served with wild greens and rice. Or perhaps the Lamb chops marinated with fresh herbs and garlic, and served with lemon potatoes and yiayia vegetables.

The Palm Restaurant: Enjoy a 22 oz Tbone for Father’s Day for the special price of $49.00 and is also offering their Lobster Surf & Turf for two for $99.00

Yuki Hana Japanese Fusion: Special Father’s Day Menu served along with regular dinner menu for Father’s Day weekend. These special items are available for a limited time. Tasting (appetizer): 1) Waygu Tartar with Uni $22.00) 2) Oxtail Taco with Guchujiang, served with homemade pickled vegetables ($12.00) 3) Geoduck Carppaccio with fresh wasabi sauce and yuzu salsa ($20.00)  Special Entrees: 1) Lobster stuffed Angust NY strip, spinach cream sauce, cream corn ($30.00) 2) Aquarium sushi and sashimi ($30.00). Dessert: Chocolate Lava Cake, with candied bacon and salted caramel ice cream ($8.00).

Father’s Day Freebies

Bistro on Park: Join their email list for Dad to received a Free Bloody Mary or Mimosa, one offer per entree purchase.

Carmel Cafe Dine on Father’s Day and Dad gets a $10 Carmel Cafe Bonus Card to use on their next visit.

Chianti’s Pizza & Pasta, in Sanford: Enjoy a Free bottle of Chianti with every two entrees purchased.

Cocina 214 in Winter Park is offering Dad a free draft beer OR dessert of his choice, with meal purchase. Open 11AM-9PM and serving brunch.

Fleming’s Steakhouse: Fleming’s Father’s Day Brunch is $39.95, All Dad’s will be given a $25 Fleming’s Dining Card for a future visit. Details here.

First Watch Daytime Cafe: Free bottle of maple syrup for Dads at the Father’s day brunch.

Kasa Restaurant downtown is hosting their $35 Brunch 11-4, and giving Free Whiskey for Dad with a reservation.  http://www.kasarestaurant.com/specials.html

Peterbrooke Chocolatier of Winter Park is offering a FREE CHOCOLATE BAR (Milk or Dark) to the first 50 Dad’s who visit their Park Avenue location and check in via Facebook, Foursquare or Yelp OR post a pic of Dad in the shop and post Instagram.

Sweet! By Good Golly Miss Holly is offering a free Kid’s Cupcake Deco Kit with every 1 dozen minis ordered in advance. Kid’s Cupcake Deco Kit includes includes two mini cupcakes, Father’s Day themed decorations & a butter cream. FREE Kit with each advance purchase of a dozen mini cupcakes at regular price for pickup/delivery from June 10-15, 2014. 

Texas de Brazil: Make a reservation for Sunday and bring this coupon for Dads who dine, which entitles Dad to receive a free meal on a return visit.

Tijuana Flats (All area locations) One Free beer AND One Taco for Dad on Father’s Day, Sunday June 15th, 2014.

Father’s Day Contest

If you are handy with a smartphone, Lucky Buddha Beer wants to see a throwback or current photo of your Dad in their #LuckyBadassDad contest by tagging with the hashtag #LuckyBadassDad to @Luckybuddhabeer on Twitter/Instagram or by posting to the Lucky Buddha facebook entry form here starting Thursday, June 12th through Sunday, June 15, 2014. Winner will be announced Wednesday, June 18th, 2014. Photos will be judged by their creativity and originality, the winner receives a prize including tickets to a local sporting event, with an approx retail value of $500.

Get to know Francis Biondi, Orlando contestant on MasterChef

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Publicity stills used with permission by Fox broadcasting and affiliates.

‘Be yourself and let your personality shine though the food you prepare.’ is Francis Biondi’s advice to anyone interested in trying out for the hit show Masterchef on Fox. I had a chance to speak with Francis Biondi, Orlando’s own MasterChef contestant. If you’ve been watching along on FOX 35, then you know that this week Francis received high praise from the often critical judge, Joe Bastianich. Bastianich singled out Biondi as “the one to watch” and proclaimed his Burrata-stuffed meatloaf with Romesco sauce, delicious.

I asked Biondi if he had made his meatloaf recipe before the MasterChef mystery box challenge. The answer: it was his first time making meatloaf, ever. Biondi fell back on his Italian roots and lifetime of meatball making. ‘When you go into the MasterChef pantry, every ingredient you could ever wish for is there. Right off I wanted to use a mix of shortribs and lamb. I had enjoyed Burrata in Puglia with my family last summer, I knew that amazing creaminess would be something special and set my meatloaf apart.’

Burrata is a creamy, mozzarella based cheese. After stretching the curds to make the fresh mozzarella, the cheese maker shreds a portion of the fresh mozzarella and mixes it with heavy cream. That cheese and cream mixture is tucked inside of a fresh mozzarella ball. Burrata is perfect as a substitute for fresh mozzarella in most dishes. Looking for Burrata in Orlando? I recently picked some up at La Femme Du Fromage in East End Market to enjoy with sliced fresh tomatoes earlier this week. Tonda currently has a wonderful Burrata in stock for purchase or to be incorporated in one of her menu items at La Femme Du Frommage. Biondi will be posting his recipe for his Burrata-stuffed meatloaf with Romesco sauce recipe here, so you can recreate his gourmet spin on meatloaf.

Biondi shared a tip he would pass on to someone looking to audition for MasterChef or hone their culinary skills. He is a visual learner and started following chefs that he admired on social media, especially on Instagram. Chefs often take pictures of ingredients used in their signature dishes and the finished, plated meal. Following chefs online as they prepped and showcased dishes inspired Biondi to incorporate those techniques and ingredients into his own cooking. And now, Biondi is posting his own pictures to showcase his dishes. I asked Biondi if his time as a server at The Rusty Spoon or Cask and Larder had influenced him as a contestant on MasterChef. ‘Kathleen Blake’s passion and Farm to Table ethos, if you want to call it that, very much impacted me. One of my favorite dishes at The Rusty Spoon is the deconstructed lasagna, Kathleen creates intense flavors and her plating certainly caused me to step up my game. Working for James Petrakis was similarly inspiring.’ 

Looking for more on Francis Biondi and his journey on MasterChef?

 Ricky Ly recently wrote up a great article on Biondi on TastyChomps.com. Check it out for more great information and links to learn more about Biondi.

The Tampa Bay Times, talks about Biondi growing up in the Tampa area and his MasterChef audition experience.

My Fox Orlando recently interviewed Biondi, where he talks further about his inspirations in the kitchen.

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Publicity stills used with permission by Fox broadcasting and affiliates.

The three judges of MasterChef all have distinctive personalities, Biondi shared of his experiences, Graham Elliot is amazingly nice and so interactive with all of the contestants. Joe Bastianich’s silent stare is for real, you know right off if he doesn’t like a dish. Gordon Ramsay is awesome, remembers every little thing about you and he’ll look you in the eye and give you a firm handshake.’

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Publicity stills used with permission by Fox broadcasting and affiliates.

Be sure to tune into the next episode of Masterchef on Monday 6/9 on WOFL FOX 35 at 8pm. The Top 20 cooks are competing to feed 500 troops on a desert Army base and face a pressure test where they make blueberry pie. Did you miss this weeks episode? Catch it streaming online at FOX.com through Monday June 9, 2014 to watch the Top 22 competing and catch Francis making his stand out meatloaf.

Francis Biondi’s Top 5

Favorite Meal Growing up: I’m half Italian and half Fillipino, so we ate a lot of noodles. I’ve talked about my Mom’s pasta Carbonara being a favorite. I also love Pancit, a traditional noodle dish from the Philippines that that varies on which of the islands your family is from. My family uses glass noodles, shredded chicken, cabbage and other vegetables. 

Best Burger in Orlando: Really, that is tough because it depends on what you are looking for- but if I have to choose one, I’m going with Rusty Spoon. It’s amazing!

Beer: Cigar City Jai Alai, I’ve tried so many craft IPA’s and nothing comes close to Jai Alai for me.

Wine: I’m really enjoying Spanish wines right now, especially Tempranillo’s from the Rioja region in Spain. I’ve enjoyed trying them at Txokos Basque Kitchen at East End Market, Txokos has some great Spanish wines on their wine list. 

Cocktails: Going back to my Italian roots: Negroni, made with Compari and Gin. I like to head out to one of Orlando’s speakeasy type bars, like The CourtesyThe Woods and The Matador- all making great craft cocktails.

Follow Francis Biondi through social media:

On Facebook
On Twitter
Follow his Blog

Dear Orlando Tourists, [All of] Orlando is pretty magical

Dear Orlando Tourist,

Welcome to the City Beautiful! You already know there’s a ton of great things to do at Disney, Universal, Sea World and the surrounding attractions areas. May I recommend giving yourself one extra day to explore the local Orlando scene? USA Today, New York Times, Saveur and another national publications regularly cover the new and creative goings-on in the local Orlando burroughs.  In the past few years, we have receive a lot of national coverage as a growing dining destination.

Explore past the attractions, to enjoy local Orlando!

USA Today just released their 10 Best Orlando area restaurant list, and it’s a great list.
The New York Times Spends 36 hours off the beaten path in Orlando
Check out Saveur.com for their top 7 great eats in Winter Park

The James Beard Foundation has a growing list of nominated chefs from Central Florida’s local restaurants. Amazing produce grows year round, fresh fish and seafood is a short car ride away. Esteemed celebrity chefs like Wolfgang PuckNorman Van Aiken, Emeril, Todd English and Cat Cora have taken note and set up shop in Orlando.

Recently, Orlando Water Hole.com asked me for my advice to people traveling to the Orlando area. You can listen here in this podcast and find all the links to my local recommendations. I talked about my favorite haunts and listed interesting places to visit outside of the Orlando attractions area. That’s not to say that there aren’t a ton of great places dine and visit in the attractions area. There are.

If you don’t already, before you travel to Orlando be sure to look into the great local attractions area bloggers. I’d start by following Exploring Orlando, Taking The Florida Plunge, All Ears.net, In the Shadow of The Mouse and SeaWorld Mommy to get the scoop on all things of interest at attractions, plus a heads up on seasonal and special events.

Enjoy that Orlando has to offer- the big attractions that brought you here and the rich local flavor. You may find that all of Orlando is magical.

Shark Tank’s Plated.com; online meal delivery service swims into Orlando area kitchens [Review]

Not caught up on Shark Tank? ::Spoiler Alert::

The Plated.com meal delivery service was featured on the hit TV show Shark Tank (Episode 528) which aired April 4, 2014…spoiler alert- Mark Cuban liked them. The online meal delivery company started servicing select areas in 2013. You may have seen the Plated.com Facebook suggested likes and ads popping up just prior to the holiday season. I did and curious, I clicked on the links to inquire about deliver to Orlando. At that time, Plated.com was not delivering to Florida, but meal prep fans and aspiring chefs may now rejoice as Plated is delivering their full menu to Florida and most areas across the nation.

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I went through the full ordering process, having never been on the Plated website or seeing the available products or recipes beforehand. I had a good experience from first click to putting my completed meals on the dinner table. I’ll walk you through the basic steps to help you get acclimated. Customers head to www.plated.com and enter their delivery zip code and can then view the seven menu items available for the coming week or look ahead to menus for the next few weeks. The menus are broken down into three sortable categories, “Land” (beef, chicken, pork, etc.) “Sea” (fish and seafood) and “Veggie” (vegetarian). Portions can be ordered for 2, 4 or 6 people and each entree is inclusive of a side dish. For weekly meal planning, it’s good to keep in mind that all meals are delivered overnight via FedEx and arrive on Saturday. (A signature was not required for the driver to leave the box, so I didn’t need to be at home.) All nutritional information is available online and handy information is clearly denoted, from “Dairy Free” and “Low Fat” to “Gluten free” and all calorie counts are prominently displayed.

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There is a tempting picture of the finished dish and more importantly, a complete infographic of the included ingredient items and what (if any) additional ingredients you will need to have on hand at home. All needed kitchen equipment is listed, as well as the recipe difficulty and the full prep and cooking time. I used promo code getplated4 which entitled me to 4 plates (a $78 Value) and included 3 months FREE membership ($10 per month, x 3= $30 value) and was required to pay a $20 shipping fee. So, out the door I paid $20 and received an overnighted box of food, to make 4 meals. If that code is no longer valid (it is as of today, 5/19/2014) then use this link, which will get you 2 plates free.

Wait, back to the membership fee- what is that about? Good question! You’ll notice when you are clicking through the menus, there is flat price for each entree regardless of meal category- $12 if you are a member or $15 if you are a non member. It’s worth the $10 a month to subscribe, if you see yourself utilizing this service on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. If you get in on the getplated4 deal, you get the benefit of 3 months for free to see if you will use the service. Also, if you order 4 entrees at a time, the shipping fee is waived. I placed a second plated.com order and was charged $48 in total for 4 entrees, or $12 per meal.

But, that is kind of a lot of money per person to cook your own meal, don’t you think? I felt it was pretty comparable to a grab and go meal to reheat from the grocery store or mid-range take out. After sampling two meals, Plated.com is delivering very nice quality ingredients to make a semi-gourmet meal. This service is not aimed at a family on a budget, this service is aimed at households with a bit of disposable income who appreciate the convenience of fresh food being delivered and portioned out for quick and easy assembly and cooking.

Who should think about using Plated.com: Someone looking to gain cooking knowledge, the user-friendly website with video tutorials and included 8 x 11 recipe cards helps to take the intimidation out of the shopping and cooking process. Those looking to watch their portion size, as the entree is just enough for the number of individual portions ordered. Anyone looking for a fun date night, either by impressing their date by having the meal ready, or by having a cooking class type date at home. Any home cook looking to expand their cooking repertoire. Face it, we all get in ruts and Plated.com is a fun way to try out some new recipes and someone else does the shopping for you. Gift cards are available and this would be a great engagement, wedding or anniversary gift.

Final email confirming my delivery is on the way, Plated.com box arrives with recipe sheets to greet and labeled Plated.com ingredients being unpacked.

Final email confirming my delivery is on the way, Plated.com box arrives with recipe sheets to greet and labeled Plated.com ingredients being unpacked.

The quality of the ingredients was nicer than I anticipated and I made two recipes that were new to me. As I seasoned cook, I enjoyed the variety of the recipes and the convenience of the inspiration. The items showed up at my front door, packed well, labeled clearly, fresh and appropriately chilled. I followed the recipes as written and found them complete and easy to follow. For those visual learners, the recipe cards included pictures of the various steps, which was helpful. I was also impressed with the completeness of the meals I ordered, the sides were healthy options with grains, fresh gourmet vegetables and included all condiments that I may need. Meaning, I didn’t have to spend extra money on those special condiment items for that one recipe. And, those special items aren’t currently taking up valuable space my fridge, possibly to be thrown away 6 months from now after never being used. (Can you tell, I’ve been there?)

ngredients for 2 different meals, 2 portions each. Top meal is Flat Iron Steak with Onion Marmalade and Spring Farro. Bottom meal is Southwestern Shrimp and Grits with Leeks and Asparagus.

Ingredients for 2 different meals, 2 portions each. Top meal is Flat Iron Steak with Onion Marmalade and Spring Farro. Bottom meal is Southwestern Shrimp and Grits with Leeks and Asparagus.

I had decided to cook both meals in one evening, back to back, to see how the timing worked out. I picked two meals where most of the cook and prep was in the side dishes, so I could cook up the proteins quickly and serve them together. Everything was as advertised; I only required water, EVOO, salt and pepper to taste. One caveat: the onion included for my onion marmalade & spring faro salad was about the same size as the shallot included for the shrimp dish. I knew my onion loving family would want the amount of marmalade included in the Plated.com picture. I used double the amount of included onions to get the generous amount of marmalade I included in my finished picture, which matched the Plated.com finished picture. That said, I had lots of the tasty farro salad leftover, enough for a nice lunch the next day.

Plated.com meal complete, one portion pictured. (With the addition of some onions I had on hand.)

Plated.com Pan Roasted Steak with onion marmalade and spring faro salad. One portion pictured. (With the addition of 1 onion I had on hand.)

The family weighed in, proclaiming the steak tender and delicious. The onion marmalade was very tasty and a recipe I will use regularly in the future with other dishes. The same can be said for the Spring Farro. There was chopping and dicing of many veggies, but nothing was difficult and the end result was worth the prep time. Nice portion and good value = thumbs up. I had a good amount of the Spring Farro remaining, which I added diced chicken breast to provide a nice lunch for the next day.

Southwestern Shrimp and Grits with Leeks and Asparagus.

Southwestern Shrimp and Grits with Leeks and Asparagus. One portion pictured.

Southwestern Shrimp and Grits with Leeks and Asparagus was also delicious. The portion allowed about seven to eight large shrimp per diner, the Florida Gulf shrimp cooked up beautifully. If you have very hunger diners, you may want to supplement and add a few more shrimp to the dish. If you do, there is plenty of seasoning and veggies to allow for the addition. (Scallops would also be a nice addition.) If I made this dish on my own, I’d think about jazzing up the grits a bit, but they were very tasty with the veggies and seasoned shrimp.

I’ve ordered another Plated.com shipment and I’ll post on my next experience, to see if it lives up to the first experience. Now that I’m paying the full price, the value per meal might feel a bit different. For now, I’d happily say that if you are looking to expand your cooking horizons, Plated.com is a nice place to explore.

Minus5° Ice Bar opens in Pointe Orlando on I-Drive

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Things are getting chilly in Pointe Orlando with the opening of Minus5° Ice Bar. The popular Las Vegas attraction has made it’s way to Florida, just in time to beat the Orlando summer heat. Guests don a parka or faux fur coat of their choosing and head into the anti chamber. After a quick debriefing and introduction, gloves are handed out and you enter the frosty Minus5° Ice Bar. I recorded our first few moments inside, so you could join in on the fun.

The bar offers specialty drinks, regular mixed drinks and several fun themed non alcholic beverages appropriate for the kids. I’m sure if you have a child who is a fan of the movie Frozen, this would be a fun stop in your time on International Drive. Children ages 7-15 can enjoy Minus 5° daily before 9:00 PM.

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For those adults looking for a fun club scene, Minus5° Ice Bar delivers with the vibe of an ultra lounge, sleek icy seats draped in faux furs to provide comfy seating. Every carved ice surface is lit from within with LEDs that provide a continuous light show and pulse along with the music. 

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The Palm Tree Room.

Sea shells, star fish and other sea life are frozen into the icy surfaces.

Sea shells, star fish and other sea life are frozen into the icy surfaces.

Grab a friend, or four, and partake of a Shot-ski. Ice shot glasses with the beverage of your choice.

Grab a friend, or four, and partake of a Shot-ski. Ice shot glasses with the beverage of your choice.

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Ice carvers kept a Florida theme for the initial decor. This space shuttle ice bench provides a nice spot to people watch. The theme of Minus5° can be changed several times throughout the year.

There is no limit to the amount of time you can spend in the frigid temps, but if you need a few minutes to warm up- have no fear, there are warming temps in the lobby gift shop. Along with t-shirts and other souvenirs, there are large screens flashing through pictures of Minus5° Ice Bar guests.

Bartenders mix up Minus5 specialty drinks or your favorites at a bar made completely of ice.

Bartenders mix up Minus5° Ice Bar specialty drinks or your familiar favorites at a bar made completely of ice.

Ice glasses are imported from New Zealand, coasters keep the ice glasses from sliding off of the icy table tops.

Ice glasses are imported from New Zealand, coasters keep the ice glasses from sliding off of the carved ice tabletops.

We sampled several of the specialty drinks included with admission and the Frosty Mojito and the Fro-Cinn made with cinnamon vodka topped our favorites. Various admission packages are available for visitors of Minus5° Ice Bar and range from a cool down package, without drinks at $17 for adults and $10 for kids, to more elaborate packages with drinks and souvenir photographs included. All packages include the use of parkas and gloves to ensure guests enjoy a fun but safe experience. 

Minus5 ° Ice Bar in Pointe Orlando
9101 International Drive, Suite 1198
Orlando, FL 32819
407-704-6956
Sunday-Thursday 3pm- 12am
Friday-Saturday 1pm-2am

Minus 5° Ice Bar on Urbanspoon

Start your engines! Ford EcoBoost Tour invites challengers to the Daytona Speedway on Saturday May 3rd


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Do you live for the following four words: “Gentlemen start your engines”? Maybe you head to the races regularly, maybe you prefer to race Gran Turismo on your Playstation. Ford is betting you’d like to test your driving skills on their timed tracks at the Daytona Speedway this Saturday, May 3rd. The Ford Motor Company’s 12-city Ecoboost Challenge Tour is providing opportunities to drive and explore all that the new Ford line up has to offer. For free.

All registered drivers will receive professional drive instruction at the “ST Performance Academy” prior to suiting up. There will be three closed-track experiences to test your driving skills on. First, climb into the new Ford Fiesta ST on a timed track and compete against fellow drivers to see who can lock up the fastest time of the day. Drivers are then welcome to experience the greener side of Ford on the challenge course pitting the Ford C-MAX Hybrid against the Toyota Prius.

If you’d like to end the age-old battle of Ford vs. Chevy, there will be the EcoBoost Challenge course where attendees will have the chance to take on the Ford F-150 versus Chevy Silverado, Ford Fusion versus Toyota Camry, and Ford Escape versus Honda CRV in head-to-head competition. Car enthusiasts won’t be disappointed as attendees will be getting a sneak peak at these 2015 Ford vehicles: Mustang, F-150, Expedition and Transit Connect Wagon.

If you are interested in attending on Saturday, May 3, there are driving slots available. Sign up at: http://ecoboostdrive.com/Form.aspx

Let’s compare times, I’ll be onsite for a media event where I’ll be racing against fellow bloggers and racing enthusiasts. I’m betting this girl can hold her own against the boys. If you’d like to follow along, check out @Ford_Southeast on Twitter with the hashtag #GoFurtherORL. I’ll be tweeting live on Friday from @TasteCookSip with the hashtag #GoFurtherORL.

Daytona International Speedway
1801 W. International Speedway Blvd
Daytona Beach, FL 32114
(Enter through Turn 1 Drive)